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- Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
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Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Disencanta - a mystic device that causes timed enchantments to discharge prematurely.
Lantern of Bishamon - a Japanese paper lantern with the kanji 毘沙門 on the front. If you place a candle made using a piece of your target (such as a hair or fingernail), it illuminates the site of their most recent misdeeds.
Crafted Changeling (addendum)
Faefolk no longer use them for cradle snatching purposes since their use tend to draw the attention of seasoned practitioners of the mystic arts, many of whom are far less tolerant than they were in the old days- and more willing make use of iron. Also a sample taken from a crafted changeling can also be used to track the individual it was imitating using tharmaturgical tracking spells.
Rather than taking such a risk these days faerie swap out a the child to be taken with an one of their patron's offspring (who said patron deems expendable) and place the changeling under a strong glamour to appear as the kidnapped child.
Anointed Deep Ones
An anointed deep one refers to any of eastern court decent who receives the blessing of Cthulhu before they fully succumbs to the transformation into a deep one; this blessing means that they will complete the transformation without losing sentience the first of which was Dagon.
Xuè-jīn Mùshī - WIZ-5 equivalent (Imbued)
The Priest of Blood-Stained Gold is the title of the chief warlock of the Zhāoshāng de Yōuhuàn the group that founded the San Francisco chapter house of the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom in the mid Fifties after the Los Angeles Chapter House fell apart figuratively with the 'disappearance' of its founder Lord Ataxia, and then literally when the Kern County Earthquake disrupted the spell that held it together.
The priest of their cult or Xuè-jīn Mùshī, is only chosen when after his predecessor is retired when he is no longer seen as useful. When a Xuè-jīn Mùshī is retired the Demon Lord takes his power back turning the old priest into a pile of bones and gold dust, the members of the cult then use his remains to perform a bone-reading to determine the identity of his replacement.
Zhāoshāng de Yōuhuàn
The Merchants of Suffering are a cult centering around the Demon Lord of the Hell of Blood-stained Gold, lead by their high-priest the Xuè-jīn Mùshī they seek to gain wealth harvested by the pain and suffering of mankind. Of course this means the racketeering, extortion, as well as the trafficking of weapons, narcotics and even people.
Although they make extensive use dark magic to maintain their dominance the Merchants of Suffering are not above using more mundane means and have deeply entrenched themselves in the Chinese Underworld as one of the corner stones of the Triad and the criminal underworld of Southeast Asia. Their influence has grown over the years and has infiltrated deeply into the Ruling Party in China and into several facets of the Underworld on the Western United States including the San Francisco chapter of the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom.
Situated in the ruins of Old San Francisco buried under China Town this site acts as the hub for most of the Dark Magic Activity on the Western Seaboard. It is also fairly inclusive in that unless one swears their eternal allegiance to their patron the Demon Lord of the Hell of Bloody Gold, they can only access the meager outer archives, however they are not above seeing to the needs of those who are not a part of their cult for the right price.
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Hidden Cave - Hesperus Peak
La Plata Mountains, Colorado
7:27 AM MDT
"Lady Kelsey," Sha Wujing stated as he entered the strange cave hidden in the side of Hesperus Peak, "I am here for Lady Chen's training for the day." The adept of the Jade Heavens entered as usual, however he was surprised to find The Wayfarer dressed for travel with a rucksack over her shoulder.
"I am afraid that your training session will have to be postponed for today most venerable Adept," Kelsey explained as she headed towards him. "Young Zhen-yu, as usual for children of this day and age, has opted to break free of the safety of the nest to adventure in the unrestricted the world beyond. Honestly I'm surprised that it has taken her this long to decide to do so- I expected her to do this much earlier given what I know about her."
"Why do you act so calm about this?" Sha Wujing asked concerned about the draconic-maiden. "You are aware that the Zhaoshang de Youhuan could possess the means to track her the moment she left the safety of the cavern."
"Yes, I am certain that they have the means and have likely sent out a bounty request to the mercenary networks to offer a reward for her retrieval," the teenage girl known as The Wayfarer explained, "however such an act of defiance and rebellion on Zhen-yu's part only demonstrates how far along she has come in her healing. Indeed I am relieved that she had finally decided to do so, I was beginning to be concerned that she would never be ready for The Handmaiden of the Tao's arrival."
"The Handmaiden is coming here?" Sha asked expressing further concern than earlier, "Is Lady Chen disrupting the balance of The Tao in some way?"
"In a way she was, although not in the manner that you think." The Wayfarer explained as she pat the old warrior on the shoulder. "This is the matter of paying a debt that the Handmaiden of the Tao's office owes to Zhen-yu's ancestors and the Maiden of the Northern Court of the Sky will need to be prepared when the time comes to face her destiny. You see Sha Wujing the four chosen maidens of the kingdoms at each Cardinal Points must face a trial of growth to drive their spiritual awakening this summer. Each trial will be unique to them and each they must face these trials without aide of allies from their respective Court unless it is dictated by destiny, although they will likely come to make new ones along the way, and Zhen-Yu's trial happens to require the participation of the Handmaiden of the Tao."
"That is all well and good however the fact of the matter remains what to do concerning Zhen-yu." Sha Wujing stated beginning to grow more concerned by the minute for he knew that his pupil still had far to go in her training.
"I shall leave that matter to you Sha Wujing," Kelsey explained as she exitted the cave while the Sand Priest followed her into the open air. "Still if you feel that you need assistance in this matter may I suggest that you reach out to your own old acquaintances, I understand that senior most of your old fellowship frequents this continent and has taken an active interest in the current Handmaiden of the Tao- perhaps he might be willing to assist you."
"One moment please- just where are you headed?" Sha asked Kelsey who was now making her way down the slopes of Hesperus Peak.
"To where my future meets another's past!" Kelsey stated without either turning around or breaking stride as she continued walking.
"Ingrid have you seen my right boot?" Tobias Olson inquired out of desperation, "I've been looking for half-an-hour and I can't find it anywhere!"
"What boot is tha-?" Ingrid began to ask as she entered the room to find her brother partially changed into an all too familiar costume. "Really Toby, I thought that you gave this up after that last time, it was sheer luck that the Denver Gold didn't catch you after that botched jewelry store heist."
"Ingrid, I swear that I finally have it figured out," Tobias stated in half-crazed desperation as he clutched Ingrid's shoulders, "I know how to get our family back into the big time again."
"We've been over this again and again Toby," Ingrid shook her head with a long and drawn out sigh, "the Blizzard Wizard is a relic of the past, honestly that name has gone from credible threat to joke to just plain forgotten in less than a century- just let it go away. Honestly, everything the family legacy stood for went south when grandpa busted after he should have folded and cashed in his chips. Do you remember what happened instead, the jewel in our family's mystic staff- an heirloom that has been passed down in our family since before the Coronation of Constantine was shattered into pieces."
"That was just because his teammates didn't have his back in that fight with the Justice Brigade." Tobias shot back at Ingrid with a dirty look.
"Yes but that didn't stop him from surrendering, instead he had the brilliant idea to try and use his staff while its foci was broken and then what happened- oh yes, he transmuted himself completely into ice. Our grandfather Soren Olson, the last Blizzard Wizard to be seen as a credible threat, turned himself into a gaudy piece of art deco that would have melted into a puddle if the Justice Brigade didn't keep it in an arctic display case," Ingrid glared back at her brother.
"Dad also had the same attitude that you do about this, you probably don't know because you were too young to be in the field but I was there with him when his new tech based equipment malfunctioned after he picked a fight with Shuffle's Sweepers in Minneapolis," Ingrid continued to lecture Tobias, "and if they weren't generous enough to drop us off at the Emergency Room he would have died instead of just losing half of his right arm to frostbite. Have you just been ignoring how many years he struggled to get used to that prosthetic clamp he has instead of a left hand?"
"That's just it Ingrid, I found a way to get our family back to the big time," Toby replied. "The Merchants of Suffering lost a major asset of theirs a few months back and it just came back on the radar, it's only a few miles away."
"Toby, have you completely lost your mind?" Ingrid recoiled in shock. "The Merchants of Suffering are a cult of hardcore black marketeers, they're bigger monsters than the Children of the Night for crying out loud, and if you do their dirty work they might pay you with a hole in the head as a bonus after giving you the reward they promised to shut you up and get their money back."
"It isn't about the cash," Toby shot back as he finally uncovered his missing boot in the closet, "I'll explain my plan if you let me."
"Fine but explain it to me on the way, you need someone with their head screwed on straight to be there to watch your back." Ingrid sighed in defeat.
"Okay, just remember to bring your gear and costume for this one." Toby added as he finished suiting up.
"Fine," Ingrid huffed as she left the room, and then muttered under her breath- "I just hope that I can still pull it off- damned freshman fifteen."
"You should be able to," Toby replied struggling to get his recovered boot on, "dad's been working on our costumes and gear with me on his day's off work."
La Plata Mountains, Colorado
POV: Zhen-yu Chen, Rose of the North
I had been making my way through the mountain's forests, taking great care to avoid any of the usual hiking routes, as my scaly talons allowed me a great deal of grip while I maneuvered among the scrub. True while my draconic body might not be the most aesthetically pleasing to the eyes of most folk, I had to admit that it had more than its fair share of power and agility packed beneath its reptilian veneer.
While staying away from the roads and hiking trails was good to avoid detection, it made it more than a little difficult to navigate- that was why I was more than a little thankful for the nearby river and the presence of tree moss. Okay I admit that before I changed I had never been in a real forest in my life (I was a city girl from Seattle what do you expect), but I had still picked up the odd tidbit or two- such as how moss only grows on the north-side of trees.
I had needed to stop what seemed like every hundred feed to so to reorient myself as I made my way down from the mountains. Pausing again to locate the nearby stream I saw a large grizzly bear going for fish in the stream with a cub nearby, I took in the sight for a moment to make sure that he didn't see me before pressing on to my destination. Don't get me wrong I could take him easy, but I wanted to party not go claw to claw with a grizzly, plus there was a chance that I might spark a forest fire if I panicked and used my powers.
Before I knew what was happening I heard a rasping snarl as a large beast barreled into me and knocked me to the ground. It figures, I took the time to avoid pissing off a mama grizzly only to get pounced on by a mountain lion. I was doing my best to struggle with getting the feral cat off of me and while I might have had the strength the beast currently had the advantage of leverage on me as it slashed at my back with its claws trying to rip me open.
I guess that I can count myself lucky that my transformation almost a year ago granted me such a tough hide, that and the fact that I was on my chest so that I didn't have to test how soft the scutes of my underbelly were against the mountain lion's claws. It took me a minute to reorient my arms, beneath my body but now was the time to fight back.
I pushed myself up with my arms throwing the beast off of my back but not far as he soon reared back to pounce on me again as I spun around to face the attacking feline. I had to time this just right, so as the mountain lion leaped at me- claws out stretched and fanged maw open wide, I fell back on a lesson from my youth.
Grabbing the forelimbs of the large cat and using my knee to add proper leverage I fell to the ground and used the beast's own momentum to throw him (at least I was certain that it was a him), right to the bear who was busy minding her own business trying to catch fish in the stream.
Now once again I had no real experience in dealing with the forest on its own (I'm a city girl after all), but even I had heard the old adage never get between a mama bear and her cubs. The old saying proved to have a very real truth to it as soon as the mountain lion got it's bearings again, the cat found itself face to face with roughly three-hundred and fifty pounds of a hundred-and-ten-percent pissed-off and over-protective mama bear.
The massive mother reared onto its back legs standing about nine-feet tall, she let out a long, low roaring-growl a she swiped her forepaws at the intruder who reared back to get a better distance. While part of me was more than tempted to stay and watch the fight I had other places that I would rather be, so once again I set off leaving my attacker to what promised to be at least a very painful experience in learned to be more careful in picking it's next meal- provided it lived to learn that lesson.
Sunday April 22nd
Main Base of the Tiewan Triad
Sai Kung District, Hong Kong
12:30 AM HKT
Tonight went just like any other of Min Deng, working until the sun crested the sky and searching the back roads of the internet; not the local version that The Party allowed but the actual internet. While his job might not be as outright profitable as running a sweet shop, running a gambling den, or even smuggling it was vital to the triad- any triad. His job was looking for information on both the new and the old: new ventures for profit, old ventures that were about to dry up, new markets for goods, old markets that needed to be abandoned.
While the day to day operations of the triad's major faces looking to become the next dragon of the group were important- without a manager to see that things flowed smoothly it would all be for not and the moment they became too weak a rival syndicate would move into their territory. Granted right now they had an ace in the hole but that ace was only good so long as they kept it a secret, for the moment someone in The Party found out they would extend an invitation to that ace who would then become bound to the Chairman's Party as a servant.
Still lately Beijing had shown their hand one time too many, everyone in the underworld looked on with fear and surprise when they had the astonishing foolish gall to try extending such an invitation to the current Handmaiden of the Tao of all people. Honestly Min did not know if it was hubris or stupidity that prompted that decision but their ambassador was lucky to return home alive; the Handmaiden of the Tao was known as one of the deadliest assassins in history often making her kills look like deaths due to natural causes, indeed it could be argued that she was less an assassin and more of a force of nature.
Granted their own ace in the hole, Lady Zhi was no slouch at assassinations herself; even years before her ascension last fall she had earned the infamous title of Yu Dushe (The Jade Viper). Now a far more elegant being everyone in the Triad knew her as Furen Yilong (Lady Radiant Dragon), a title too appropriate to a creature who was as graceful as she was deadly.
Too bad that the ceremony that elevated her to such heights was incomplete; who would guess that some distant relation whose ancestors had left mother China for the barbarous west would stumble into a crude mockery of the same ceremony, while Lady Zhi was undergoing a ritual cleansing and stole her future as the Maiden of Fire from her. At least Lady Zhi Chen took some comfort in knowing that the foreign-born teenie-bopper from Seattle's ignorance led her right into the clutches of the Zhaoshang de Youhuan.
The last time anyone in the Tiewan heard of that grotesque parody had her name taken from her by the Xue-jin Mushi and was forced to work as a living gem furnace at the greedy cult's whims. Although most considered it a simple rumor Min knew for a fact that Vanguard Hao Fang, one of the most likely successors to Dragonhead Tuo-zhou Tan, was setting aside funds to purchase one of the lowly wretches gem-stones from the Zhaoshang de Youhuan; likely it would be a gift to secure the favor of Lady Zhi Chen in his bid to become the Dragonhead of the Triad.
Then again for all Min knew it may be a gift to Lady Zhi's father Master Gui Chen to arrange a potential match between Lady Zhi and Fang's own son Ka-fei. While checking the posts for mercenary contracts and bounties Min saw something that turned his blood to ice-water, the Zhaoshang de Youhuan had posted that their gem-making slave had escaped and they were offering a reward for her capture and return.
Min was torn, the elderly head of their Triad had already retired at home for the evening, but as this news concerned his top assassin he deserved to know right away. One thing was for certain though when Lady Zhi returned from delivering the message to the Luen in Hong Kong about the consequences of trying to expand, she was not going to be pleased with this information, especially at the revelation that she had likely missed out on the prospect of tracking down this pretender and dealing with her personally.
Saturday April 21st
La Plata Mountains, Colorado
11:49 AM MDT
POV: Zhen-yu Chen, Rose of the North
Much to my surprise by the time I spotted what had to be Route 160 I was hardly out of breath at all, I guess all that training that I've been doing was worth it, I was probably in better shape than I had ever been in before those- unholy sadistic bastards kidnapped me and stuck me in that hole.
No, don't think about... that, I was free of those monsters now. Don't think about the cell or the whip or the dark, today is about cutting loose and having fun. Still even at the rate that I was going I doubt that I'd be able to make it to Durango before dark. With no cars in sight I jumped down from my perch in the pine trees and scrambled to the opposite side of the Route, and after taking the time to move a small tree branch partially into the road, once again moved up into the treetops to keep an eye out for a ride into town
Once I was settled in the treetops my mind couldn't help but drift back to a time when i could go out and have fun and the event that I knew changed my entire life:
Thursday September 28th, 2006
Fa-Hsing Buddhist Temple
5:04 PM PDT
POV: Zhen-yu Chen
"Why did I let you talk me into doing this?" Mai Ngyuen asked as she continued to polish the pillar in front of her. "I mean I'm Catholic not Buddhist, my family doesn't even go to this place, besides you haven't helped out at my church in a while."
"This isn't about belief's Mai," Hinegeshi Yamada replied as she continued to inspect the walls for cracks that needed to be spackled, "The Temple is a point of community pride and we need to do our part to make sure that everything is cleaned up from the Mid-Autumn Festival in time for the Ages Festival."
"Yeah, and the last time we did that Born-again Betty- Mary Dinh spent the three hours that we were there trying to convert us Catholicism. Besides these events are great to bring in the tourists and that is always good for drumming up business for the neighborhood." I remarked as I took care with my own pillar.
"Zhen-yu what would your parents think if they heard you saying something like that in public?" Hinegeshi commented slightly taken aback by my tone.
"They might say that it is not a good idea to do in within earshot of the temple's high-priest." Hy Kim said in a sheepish tone as I looked behind me to see that Master Fong Wei-quo was indeed here and clearly disappointed in my words.
"Miss Chen, since you are so concerned with the ascetics of our temple rather than the traditions and history that we are trying to promote perhaps you should spend some time reflecting on that history in solitude while dusting our store house."
"Yes sir," I sighed as I set my cleaning supplies down.
"What was that young lady?" The priest inquired as he raised one of his brows at my words.
"Yes venerable one," I replied as I bowed to the old man before taking my cleaning supplies with me.
"Oh and Miss Chen make certain to empty the shelves before you dust them, and not simply dust around whatever is on the shelves," The evil old man pointed out as I was headed to the storage house, "the job is more thorough that way and it is far easier to dust their contents as well when they are on the ground."
"Yes oh venerable one," I responded again while heading to the store room in question.
Not wanting to get on the old man's bad side, yes Buddhists do have a way of doing that usually by trying to help you focus on your task at hand- by way of negative reinforcement.
Case in point, this storage house as he liked to call it was the size of a walk-in closet and lined with shelves on both sides with the sole exception being the back where they kept a ladder so people my size could reach the top shelves. Pretty much needed since this shack had ten shelves from floor to roof crammed full of junk. "Oh well no moaning about it now, I might as well get started." I groaned as I got to work.
First making sure that a tiny spot outside was cleared off, I eye-balled the priceless antiques of my homeland. Part of me was certain while most of this stuff was made in china, I was also certain that some of it might have once advertised that fact in the form of a label. Now don't get me wrong- it was probably just the question of somebody's ashes needing a new urn, the fact is most of these vessels were just containers.
Now authenticity of the antiques aside I still had to make a major decision to bottom of bottom to top, not wanting to stress myself out overthinking the matter I flipped a coin: heads top to bottom, tails bottom to top. One quick flip latter the coin gave its answer...heads. I fumed before settling down, there was no reason to get hot under the collar, it was just as well; if I started at the bottom any dust that I got off the top shelves would just be drifting downward anyways.
There was also the fact that there was no way in any of the hells that I was going to empty the entire store room out before getting started, that would take too long and in Seattle one never knew when the weather would take a turn for the worse. I got the ladder and locked the sides of the thing into place, granted the metal monstrosity was older than I was but thankfully these things are built to last. With the ladder steady I got to work unloading the top shelf of the left side of the shack, being careful to only remove one antique at a time and setting it down before going back for the next down the row.
In all my progress was fairly steady as I neared the back of the storage room, as I removed a wooden box near the back I found the next occupant of the shelf was a rat about as long as my arm. As I recoiled back in shock the rodent lunged at me, I failed my arms as best as I could to keep the vermin from gaining a purchase on me and lost my balance on the ladder as I banged my arms against the shelves as I fell.
Out of instinct I moved my arms behind my head to shield it from the fall; that was when the vindictive rodent struck biting me in the back, although to be fair it was probably because I landed on the vermin. I was somewhat dazed but still in pain as I sat up and pulled off my turtle-neck to inspect the wound, ugh- yup I'd need stitches not to mention treatment for rabies. That was when an urn on the top shelf of the right side that I had jostled towards the edge succumbed to gravity, and fell right on me, on the upside the ashes seemed to help clot the blood from my wound.
Unfortunately the porcelain urn opened a few new ones when it broke on my back, also clotting the blood with the ash. Grossed out by the fact that I had centuries old dead guy open wounds on my back I was oblivious to the fact that I now had guests looking at me from the open door namely the same priest from earlier
"Young lady," the same priest from earlier asked in both concern and curiosity, "what on earth happened?"
"Venerable one," I grimaced in pain while trying to mind my manners, "it appears that I disturbed the meditations of one of your tenants. May I trouble you for a trip to the hospital; I am worried that it may not have been in the best of health."
"Of course we'll take my van," the priest replied, "you need to have those wounds looked after before they turn serious." If he only knew at the time how true that was or the full story about that urn I might have been better prepared for everything that would follow- well almost everything.
Saturday April 21st, 2007
Along Route 160
La Plata Mountains, Colorado
11:58 AM MDT
I was shaken out of my revelry by the screech of tires it was an SUV- it stopped briefly and moved around the branch by serving temporarily into the oncoming lane. This was obviously not my ride to Durango- just as well the thing had a sun roof and they'd have noticed me clinging to it on the way into town- chances are one of the vehicles occupants would have been armed too and I did not want to test my hide's resistance to bullets. It looked like I would be waiting a little longer.
The Bloody Bastard
Unincorporated Central Wyoming
Sitting on a currently vacant farm in Wyoming was a badly repainted Syndicate drop ship that had obviously seen better days. The ship looked as rough as the buildings on the dirt farm that it now occupied- rough, peeling, and had been screaming for a new paint job for so long that it lost its voice and just gave up trying. The only hint of new paint on the ship was a name that had obviously been brushed on with a roller which identified the vessel as The Bloody Bastard.
It could be said that there are many types of mercenaries in the world, strict professionals like some are strict professionals, and others have codes of conduct or honor that they adhere to without fault. As for those who claimed The Bloody Bastard as their own and claimed squatters rights to this slice of nowhere, these inhabitants were beginning the day like any other when they were in-between contracts, sleeping until either the crack of dawn (or noon in one's case).
Suddenly a klaxon sounded as a program onboard the The Bloody Bastard spotted something on a hidden corner of the internet and triggered an alarm in the dilapidated farmhouse nearby. To a great deal of reluctance those within the farmhouse began to stir, whether it was sleeping off a hangover or grabbing a little sleep after a late night doing who knows what- for all intents and purposes the Masterson Brothers were now awake.
"Dammit Lloyd I thought I told you to do something about that f*cking alarm," a massive slab of muscle swore as he rolled out of a bed that was so overtaxed by his weight that you could imagine that the springs were weeping in relief as a few assorted liquor bottles broke on the floor as he got to his feet.
"Stuff it Bufford," Lloyd replied as he flipped his brother off, "if it wasn't for that alarm we'd never get you up before the crack of noon and would miss out on a big scores."
"Knock it off you two!" an even bigger slab of meat than Bufford shouted as he came into the room. "So Lloyd- what's the news?"
"Give me a minute, Rod I'm just waking up myself." Lloyd replied showing far more respect to his older brother than his younger one. He switched on an old cathode monitor in front of him as he watched the feed from The Bloody Bastard, then after a few minutes to read the screen Lloyd filled his brothers in on the situation. "That cult of chinks that run that house of smoke n' mirrors on the West Coast lost a slave of theirs a few months back, some mutant dragon lady. They're offering five mil and a tub full of gemstones as a reward to anybody who brings her back alive and intact.
"I don't like dealing with finger-waggling kooks but money is money." Rod stated as he sparked up a fat cigar. "Lloyd get that cult on the horn and get'em to cough up any info that they have on the target- Bufford take a damned shower you smell worse than a no-tell motel after a bachelor party. When you two ‘er done meet me in the ship- we've got us a lizard bitch to haul in!"
Along Route 160
La Plata Mountains, Colorado
POV: Zhen-yu Chen, Rose of the North
Zhen-yu fumed from her perch, a few hours had passed and so far the only thing to drive by in the far-right lane of the Route were pick-ups and SUVs, both were way too risky she needed something she could hide in without anyone noticing ideally a car-hauler but she could sneak in the back of a semi just as well. Hell if it was one of those with an air-foil over the cab she could crawl into the gap between the cab and the roof of the foil and ride until Durango.
It sucked just waiting to see what would come along the road that she could use, but there were times that she had experienced waiting with far more apprehension than this. Still at least this time she could easily know the outcome, unlike that time:
Friday September 29th, 2006
Chen Family Home
7:13 AM PDT
POV: Zhen-yu Chen
Fresh from the shower after carefully patting my wounded back I went to put a new bandage on- okay I was stopping to stare at the wounds on my back, granted the rat bite would probably have stood out a lot less without the cuts from that antique urn. Talk about rotten luck, not only did a freaking rat bite me on the back but the one antique that I knocked off of the shelf and broke turned out to be a glazed ceramic urn dating back to the Shang Dynasty.
I had actually broken something that not only predated the unification of the three kingdoms; I had broken something that predated porcelain. Honestly if the head priest hadn't tried to calm my father down by telling him that it was an accident, I would have sworn that the paramedics would have had to have hauled in the Crash Cart for him while I was having Rabies Immune Globulin injecting directly into my now stitched shut rat wound while an attendant was retrieving my first of four rabies vaccinations.
Just to be fair though my dad grounded me until they were done, no not for getting bitten by a rat or breaking a vase but for taking five years off of his life by letting the priest tell him how much that urn was actually appraised for by the International-District's Historical Society- let's just say calling it a fat chunk of change would be a gross understatement. That and the fact that no one even knows for certain just who it was that was inside the urn yet. The head priest told me that one of their initiates was given the task to glue the urn back together again to see if they could shed a little light on that mystery.
All I have to save is whoever it was is giving me a rash, granted only the bite was stitched up and the cuts from the pottery itself were lighter but having dead guy in the wounds certainly didn't help matters any. Putting the fresh bandage on I wrapped a towel around myself then returned to my room. Now using my vanity, a hand-me-down from my cousin Mei, I saw that the skin around all of the wounds had this rough-looking red rash. Just to be on the safe side I rubbed some skin-cream from my dresser on the areas that I could see- better to treat it before it spread.
Washington Middle School - Girl's Locker Room
"Good lord Zhen-yu," Mary Dihn exclaimed as the recoiled in shock, "what happened to your back? Is it your father? Is he beating you? You know that no god-fe-"
Thankfully Hinegeshi was ready to end the tirade with the water spray-bottle that she kept in her locker, "Down Mary... down! She was dusting in the Temple's store house and a urn fell on her after she was attacked by a rat."
"Whoa Zhen," Amy Calvert recoiled both out of concern and likely the state of my back, "talk about a bad luck streak. Tell me that you went to the hospital because to tell you the truth it doesn't look too good."
"Yeah," I responded with a grimace, "three stitches for the bite, a bag of RIM and the first of four rabies vaccinations- I have to go in for number two this Sunday before coming back to school and number three after school a week from yesterday."
"Yuck," Sue Miller recoiled then did her best to change the subject; she never did like icky things, almost fainted last year when we had to slice open that pickled night crawler in science class. "So are you going to be at the Grease Pit this weekend? I hear that the Boned Snappers are going to be playing."
"Can't I'm grounded," I groaned at the unfairness, the Snappers were actually halfway decent for a garage band- not to mention a lot of girls were crushing on the drummer Steve Pitts (myself included).
"What but it was an accident," Hinegeshi shot back, "even the head priest said that nothing about it was your fault."
"One thing was," I sighed, "I let my dad ask how much that urn was appraised for, the nurse actually had to get the smelling salts."
"Still unfair, understandable but unfair," Amy commented before staring at my back again before I put on my gym shirt. "Still I would have that back look at by a dermatologist when you go in for your next shot- it doesn't look so good."
"I'll think about it," I replied mentally telling myself to stop by pharmacy on the way home for some Calamine lotion.
Sunday October 1, 2006
Seattle Children's Hospital
"And how long would you say that you've noticed this rash?" Doctor Sybil Libowitz inquired while she examined my back and shoulders.
"Since Friday morning I explained," as I patiently laid on my front while the doctor examined me on the table. "I was cleaning and redressing the wounds on my back when I first noticed the rash." I explained more than a little concerned about the increasingly angry red-pebbly ailment that was spreading over my back in random splotches and had reached my shoulders sometime over night.
"So do you have any idea what this is?" My mother Ni-Gao Chen asked clearly fearing the answer almost as much as I wanted to hear that they had a treatment to make it go away.
"As of this moment I don't have enough for a prognosis," Doctor Libowitz explained as she systematically probed the affected areas. "This almost resembles Shingles but given your age and the fact that you said that it isn't painful tells me this is not the case. Have you been exposed to anything exotic recently?"
"She was bitten by a rat a few days ago," mother blurted out almost going into histrionics, "Is it the plague? Oh please tell me that it's not the plague!"
"Misses Chen, please calm down," Doctor Libowitz begged my mother, "it's not the bubonic plague. First off that is spread by bites from infected black fleas not and your daughter was bitten by a common Norwegian roof rat, and secondly if the local rodent population did carry the plague our local outreach clinics to the homeless communities would have kept us well-informed."
"Now Miss Chen," the Doctor addressed me personally, "before we give you your second vaccination I'm going to take some skin and fluid samples from the affected areas to send to the lab for analysis. But if you know of anything else out of the ordinary that you were exposed to recently please let me know."
"The ashes," I blurted out, "it must have been the ashes."
"Ashes?" Doctor Libowitz inquired somewhat perplexed about my statement.
"Right after the rat bite me in the store room an antique urn fell on me." I explained somewhat hysterical myself now. "Whatever he died of must be getting ready to do me in too!"
"Miss Chen, please contain yourself!" Doctor Libowitz demanded, "It is unlikely that any ailment would survive cremation of the body and if that was the case someone else would have reported similar symptoms we are talking about particulates after all, but if it would console you I'll contact the Temple to ask them to send some ashes to our lab for analysis. In the meantime I'll prescribe a topical antibiotic in addition to the antibiotics that you are already taking and would suggest you to take an anti-histamine about every eight hours just to be on the safe side- also launder all of your bedding."
"We will doctor, I don't want this to get worse," I replied worried about what might happen if it did.
Thursday October 5, 2006
Seattle Children's Hospital - Isolation Wing
It had gotten worse, the ugly red rash had now spread to most of my body and I had started to swell up. I couldn't even bring myself to look in the mirror, just with my own eyes and from the looks of the orderlies I probably looked like something from a horror movie- maybe like that guy from The Fly, but certainly nothing like the pretty young lady of Chinese descent that I was last week.
Yesterday night the hospital insisted on admitting me for personal observation given that their test on all of the samples (including the ashes) came back inconclusive, my parents complied immediately, and I didn't blame them one bit. As what was effecting me was still unknown I was in the isolation ward more to prevent a panic then out of fear it would spread, I understood perfectly I would probably give some poor kid nightmares for life. Still I hadn't escaped my third rabies vaccination, one week till the last shot... if I made it that long.
As my bedside phone rang I picked it up somewhat dreading who it might be on the other end of the line. "Hello."
"Miss Chen I have several young ladies here to see you," the receptionist explained.
"No, please don't," I replied out of dread before finally adding, "but if you could please take to some place where they would use a speaker phone- please?"
"I believe that I can manage that."
I hung up the phone and waited- a few minutes passed and it rang again.
"Hello." I answered picking up the phone again.
"Zhen-yu what is the deal!" Hy Kim shouted from the other end,
First you stay home from school yesterday and refuse to let us visit, and now you're in the hospital tell the staff that you don't want us to see you, just what in the 999 hells is going on?"
"I don't know," I began to sob. "That rash is almost over my whole body now and starting to swell up; the doctors had to send my samples off to some lab on the other side of the country because nobody in Seattle could find out anything from the tests that they ran except the goop in my rash looked like stem cells. And I look like something out of a David Croninberg movie so if I don't make it I don't want you to remember me looking like this!"
I dropped the phone as I began to wail; no matter what I tried to do the tears just wouldn't stop.
"Hold in there Zhen-yu!" Mai pleaded through the phone, "No matter what you say we're here for you and we know that you'll pull through!"
As the others chimed in their support I continued to cry; no matter what they said at the moment I just didn't have their faith that I would make it, and I knew that if by some miracle that I did manage to pull through that I would never be the same again.
Saturday October 7, 2006
I looked from my hospital bed at the flowers that my friends and classmates sent; touched that they cared I knew that it obviously hurt them how I refused to let them visit in person. The fact is that I couldn't move, the rash had swollen so much that my hair had fallen out and I barely even resembled a human being anymore, I was just a mostly misshapen figure whose hideously naked form was thankfully hidden by a sheet.
There was no disguising it- hell the orderly whose job it was to try and give me a sponge bath early ran out of the room after lifting up my sheet obviously needing to throw up from the sight of what I had turned into.
I was just tired of it all, I shut my eyes and despite the fact that my ears were mostly swollen shut and just listened wanting it all to just end- there was no going back to what I used to be and I knew it.
I just took in the sounds of the sterile hospital room as I waited for the inevitable. I could hear my cardiac monitor slowly beeping as it struggled to register my heartbeat through my bloated form. The respirator did it's best to push air into my throat but all it could manage were shallow breaths. The IV feeder gently hummed as it tried to force saline into my body given that I had stopped eating two days ago.
I tried to open my eyes again to see the flowers and cards one last time but they refused to do so, I swore that I could feel my distended skin beginning to expand further as the cardiac monitor's beeping began to slow and my body began to force both the respirator tube and the IV began out. As the monitor beep turned to a steady tone I knew that it was over, Zhen-yu Chen was soon to be no more. Still part of me wondered what was going to come next. I anticipated my chance to ride the Wheel of Samsara, wondering just what was going to come next.
Saturday April 21st, 2007
Along Route 160
La Plata Mountains, Colorado
4:54 PM MDT
I was shaken from the memories of the end of my humanity by the shrieking of tires, finally a semi had fallen for my trap and as luck would have it this one had an airfoil over the cab. Rather than risk his load, which I could see from the side of his rig included Class-3 flammable materials; just his luck he was unwittingly about to gain another major fire hazard.
As the trucker go out to move the branch into the gully nearby I put my training wish Sha Wujing into practice, without making a sound I dropped to the branch below and used it as a springboard to leap from the tree to the back of the pickup and while staying low hoping to have the other drivers nearby ignore me scrambled along the trailer to the roof of the semi's cab where I settled in under the air foil. While this trek from here to Durango would have taken me hour on foot and more than likely have gotten my dragonic-self spotted a few dozen times over playing stowaway now was going to get me to town far faster and without getting caught.
Then after some partying I'd head back to the cave on foot under the cover of night and return so that the only ones to be the wiser would be Kelsey and Sha Wujing. Yep nothing was going to spoil my first chance to blow off some real steam since I became what I now am.
Sublette, New Mexico
Larry Smalls screamed as the drill not only pierced his skin but burrowed into his shoulder, part of him thanked God for small mercies when the tiny drill-bit broke off even if it did so embedded in bone.
"Oh bother," his sadistic captor replied as he went for a new tool to continue the torture. "Now I shall need to get a new one."
"Plea-please st-stop th-this, I'll confess to th-the cops, I'll tell them where to find the g-girls' bodies." Larry begged and pleaded in futility, "ju-ust sto-op th-his!"
"I'm sorry but no," his captor replied, once again denying him any mercy.
"But I'll confess, I'll admit to everything they put me away forever, maybe even give me the death penalty," Larry shot back isn't that what you want to bring me in and make me admit everything.
"Oh-ho-ho heavens no," his captor began to laugh from behind his mask, "You must be mistaking me for a vigilante or some contract killer- no you see I Xavar, am an artiste. One of the family's of your victims must have reached out and commissioned me, no you see your body is a canvas to me akin to a block of marble. It is my job- no, my calling to find the real you beneath this exterior and bring it forth for the world to see."
"Only after I am finished will I turn you over, that is after I have sealed your body beneath a preservative layer, what should I use this time- vinyl, lacquer, perhaps lucite."
The monster was dragged from his soliloquy by a ding from a nearby computer, Larry took comfort in the brief respite of another round of sadistic tortures and mutilation. His captor meanwhile was filled with fascination at the image on the screen.
"Yes such a rare form- such promise- such potential-" Xavar began to speak aloud, "YES! IT MUST BE FATE, SHE IS THE CANVAS THAT I HAVE BEEN LONGING FOR- SHE SHALL BECOME A TRUE MASTERPIECE- A TRUE WORK OF ART- NOT MERELY ANOTHER COMMISSION!"
With the mention of that word the psychopath turned to regard his captive held in place on a large metal X by several metal and leather straps. "If only I was free, but I have a commission to deliver on- such a quandry, I know- should you win this coin toss then I will let you keep my pet Muffin company while I go pick up some raw material for a solo work."
"Sure- sure go right ahead, chase your dream." Larry Small said looking at the image of the lizard-like mutant bitch who was going to be this freak's next target hoping that she'd kill him.
As Xavar went for a coin he briefly paused, "Oh there are two things I want you to keep in mind before you call the toss."
"Sure just get on with it," Larry shot back impatiently.
"I want you to think about which eye you like more." Xavar hummed as he polished the coin that he fished out of his pocket.
"And the other," Larry palled at that thought wondering what the second thing was and dreading it.
"Muffin is an alligator that my parents purchased for me when I was a child while on vacation in Florida," Xavar said in a low tone, "you'll be hanging over his pit to make sure that you don't even dare to escape while I'll be gone. Now heads or tails?"
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Boston North Station
9:50 AM EDT
POV: Randi Bridges, Rose of the West
By the time, our train pulled into Boston, Candace and I had hammered out our itinerary; we had agreed to make the Holocaust Memorial a stop on the way back to the train station- making it our final destination of the evening since we didn't have too much time to kill before the movie started. That meant our first stop would be shopping, granted this was for herself since Cadence said that she picked out a pendant for Chandra at Kameleon in Berlin a week and a half ago. She probably wanted to get something nice for her Aunt Pauline and her grandparents when they came to visit the Whateley Academy in May, given that they were all the family that she had left it made me glad to realize how nice I really have it with my own family.
Speaking of which I should probably look for a few nice things for my own folks, we didn't really do much other than see the sights when we were in New York, come to think of it maybe I should look for something nice for Vanessa as an apology for being such a jerk for all these years. The revelation of her condition last month came as a shock, to think that she's been living with the knowledge that she had the potential future of becoming a deep one hanging over her head had given me a new found respect for her. It also made me wonder where my dislike of her had come from in the first place; I guess that it might finally be time for me to make that long overdue appointment with Doctor Bellows.
At least you are finally starting to consider that matter my dear, I heard Jane relay over our link as I felt her presence from a perch onto of a nearby telephone pole, granted that you already gave her something that she had been lacking for years my dear, a hope for a happy future with your brother. Tell me how would it strike you to have a mermaid for a sister-in-law?
'I admit Jane it would make things interesting, especially considering that she'd have a lesbian faerie half-breed for a sister-in-law.' I mused back as our group began to leave North Station behind us and make our way down Canal Street.
You do remember Morrigan informing you that faerie are biologically bisexual by nature, maybe you just haven't met the right young man just yet; just give these matters time- you are still getting used to being a young lady after all. From what I have heard the young queen-to-be had nearly a year to come to terms with becoming a young lady before making her sojourn to the Whateley Academy. Meanwhile it has been scarcely five months since your own transition, while truly it has been an eventful period you need time to come to terms with yourself. Jane stated as she descended into lecture mode.
'Jane, remember I spent fifteen years growing up as a guy, I doubt that I'm really going to start taking an interest in men just because my plumbing's changed.' I thought back at her over our shared link.
And you shall spend far longer than that as a lady, you seem to forget that most faerie (even the more minor breeds) count their lives in decades (if not centuries) rather than years. Jane said reminding me of something that I'd have rather forgotten, the prospect at outliving almost everyone that I'd ever met.
Now you can imagine how Morrigan feels. Damn, Jane had evidently picked up on that stray thought. Remember Morrigan has been around since the Twilight of the Five-Fold Court and The Sundering and has been a mother before several times. She has outlived the Queen that she swore to serve and nearly every child that she has ever brought into this world, if she didn't have mother and Dagda- not to mention her duty to the Western Court- she would likely be a hollow shell of herself. As for yourself- aside from me you will likely have Beatrice, Greyback, Anu, Morrigan, Dagda, mother, Queen Tiamat, and of course her highness- and that is only who you know at the moment there are still the other two maidens out there.
'Thanks Jane,' I sent back as our group reached Market Street, 'I needed that!'
Anytime that you need my counsel Randi I will be here to lend a word and a wing. Jane explained warmly in her British tone.
"Would you care to let us in on the conversation Randi?" Candace asked with an impish smile from as she cocked her head the look made all the more adorable by the old-fashioned newsie cap that hid her ears.
"What conversation?" Saladin piqued ignorant of the matter, "I know that she isn't a telepath."
"She was talking with her familiar Jane, or you mean that you haven't noticed that crow that's been keeping a bird's-eye-view on us." Candace danced around the two of us now that we made our way along New Charton Street.
"Are you certain that it is wise to be talking about this out in the open like that?" Saladin asked out of obvious concern.
"It shouldn't be a problem- this gaudy bauble that you touched on the train was Morrigan's variation on Fey's privacy charm," I explained as Candace revealed the prism that she was wearing on a necklace to our caped escort. "As long as you don't go further than ten feet away from her we're golden, not even a lip-reader knows what we're really talking about in the open."
"Randi sometimes you are almost as bad as a techie," Saladin sighed as he shook his head. "You shouldn't rely so much on mystic relics and enchanted items, it can leave you vulnerable in the worst ways."
"Believe me Sayyid, I'm going to have an intervention of the worst way soon enough," I explained as we walked along. "Summer Vacation wandering the American Plains as a wild animal- no powers, tools or opposable thumbs, using only what a wolf has in its arsenal as a means of survival- it'll be beyond rough."
"Aw, does that mean that I won't get to see you in a swimsuit while I show off this bikini that I picked out in Berlin?" Candace asked giving me the puppy dog eyes with her lower lip all a quiver.
"Unfortunately no, if you think that Morrigan can be a taskmaster then count yourself lucky that you'll never meet Greyback in this lifetime." I shuddered at the memory, of our last special trip through the hidden paths of the Dreamlands- hidden because he's probably one of the few beings in existence that can take them and survive. "But how about I make it up to you, Granny Bridges owns a surfside Bar and Grill down in Corpus Christie. She's coming for Visitor's Day at the tail-end of May; she might let you spend the summer there if you want."
"Hmm, Summer in the Sparkling City by the Sea- eh," Candace, mused for a moment. "You wouldn't happen to have any ulterior motives for this would you?"
"Well I was going to chaperone Heather and her friends on their trip to see Grandpa Rob and Granny Eleanor for part of the summer, but because of my new responsibilities that was a no go." I sighed as I admitted my ulterior motives, "it was going to be their first summer together, and personally after what happened back home Heather and Sherrie need a little fun."
"I'll think about it Randi," Candace mused as we continued towards Downtown Crossing, "I'll thing about it."
Boston North Station
POV: Bea Carson, Rose of the East
Gloriana pushed my chair as we made our way down Causeway Street to make our way towards the Prudential Center I couldn't help but take in the sights, granted I had seen Boston before through Vicky's eyes (oh how she hated to be called that) it was another to see it with my own.
"Enjoying your first trip to Boston?" Eve asked as she walked alongside the two of us with a type of poise and grace that I couldn't help but feel a teensy bit jealous about.
"More like enjoying my first trip anywhere," I admitted, well maybe that wasn't particularly true, I had been plenty of places in the Dreamlands including the city of Celephaïs which was so large that it would take someone thousands of years to take in for its entirety. Not that I didn't have the time, given that a night in the Dreamlands could equal up to a year in the waking world. "This is the first time that I've ever been anywhere other than Whateley remember, personally I can't wait to get out of this chair and do it on my own two feet."
"Give it time," Gloriana reminded me as we made our way onto Staniford, "this kind of physical therapy takes time, and according to the doctors you are making incredible progress. What they're really astonished by was how fast you mastered using your hands why didn't that give you as much trouble?"
"Because I always have hands, legs are another matter entirely, not that I dislike my other form it's just not all that useful just yet. Maybe once my chore this summer is over I might be able to visit the refuges in the Wild Lands or the Jade Heavens, you know maybe experience the other half of my heritage."
"You know I always wanted to learn how to scuba dive." Eve mused as we approached Cambridge Street. "There are a number of people that would actually be envious of your other form, just think of all that you can see that most other people can never be able to with their own eyes. Just how deep can you go anyway?"
"I don't really know but Palacia Argentum where Evania lives is about thirty-five hundred meters below the surface of the Silver Sea," I explained as we finally got to Cambridge Street to take a short detour to Joy Street.
"I'm sorry American here, I'm not intimately accustomed with the metric system," Eve sheepishly admitted as she continued along, just what is that in the Standard System?"
"Over two miles," Gloriana explained which made our way to Joy Street, "don't even ask how many atmospheres of pressure that is either, still her people can probably live even further down since that isn't even the average depth of the ocean."
"Evania isn't that the girl we're helping you shop for, I think I remember seeing her on that unbirthday video that was put-up on the school's intranet." Eve mused for a few moments, "I still can't believe that shy slip of girl is a princess, so what are we going shopping for clothes, jewelry perhaps?"
"She's got more heirloom jewelry than she'd ever know what to do with, and what she really wants she'll be getting in a few months." I began to explain a few things. "You see Evania's the King of the Silver Sea's grand-daughter, not that he doesn't have others mind you. Her mother Lirtosia was the King's oldest daughter and with the way she died he took it rather hard- ever since then he's kept her rather sheltered, that party was really the first time that she's been in the human world and one of the handful that she's ever been away from home."
"Yikes talk about over protective," Gloriana said breaking her stoic veneer, "Let me guess her potential status as a member of the Whateley Student Body is that present?"
"Bingo, still she might run into an issue given that she's supposed to be a student ambassador." I began to state my line of thought, "You see she'd really have no problem with clothing, outside of her student uniform she's going to be expected to wear native articles of clothing for photo-ops on occasion. While there are a fair number merfolk designers who live along the Silver Sea's shoreline, they tend to focus on apparel only, in other words we're going to be shoe-shopping."
"Shoe-shopping for someone not even present can be a little tricky Bea," Eve said as she brought up a point. "As is matching looks, I really hope that you planned ahead."
"Sorcha gave me photos of the formal and evening-wear that she has along with moldings of her feet, from what she told me fashion-trends in the Wild Refuges operate on a three-year cycle, most of the changes during those trends are minor alterations and adjustments." I explained as we rolled along down Joy Street, "Still given that they don't wear them all of the time when they do wear shoes they usually stick to Grecian sandals, the Jade Refuges are much the same way traditional slippers or geta all the way."
"I guess that makes sense," Eve chewed over that tidbit in a way that as a member of Venus Inc left a sour taste in her mouth, "why fuss over something that you rarely need to wear. Wait wouldn't normal clothing be much the same way, I mean all that sea water ruins most fibers especially if it's wet all the time."
"Not for silk, also keep in mind that they're not wearing wool or cotton, and synthetics are non-existent in the Fair Lands because it makes faefolk break out in rashes." I began to explain what I've begun to learn from my perusal at the Hall of Echoes. "They also use types of sea plants native to their waters like breeze frond and shoal weed to make types of cloth called vyun and quofa, granted that magic is used in weaving the bolts and recycling the scraps, still what they make with them works in and out of water."
I took note of their current disbelief, along with the fact that we had stopped. "What did you think that everyone was nude or followed the fashion-sense of Walt Disney's Little Mermaid there or something?" Their silence spoke volumes; at least I got a good laugh out of it.
Meanwhile the groups of students from the Whateley Academy were traversing Boston- some more cautious than others, unaware that events were now in motion that would affect them greatly. Within a townhouse on Grove Street his telephone's obnoxious ringing rudely awakened an individual still asleep in a bed that he was sharing with two young women.
Aas the device rang the rather large man rose from his slumber, clearly irritated that he was forced to awaken so early after such a long night. With an almost phantasmal grace, he climbed out of the king-size bed barley disturbing the two beautiful women who only moments ago had been curled alongside him.
Now with the cordless receiver in hand he pressed the answer button to voice his ire, "This had better be important, otherwise you're in the running for a Darwin Award."
"Someone is indeed a nominee for a Darwin Award Carcharoth, however I believe that particular honor has passed me by once again." An all too familiar woman's voice echoed across the line.
"Well- well- well, Erzebet Scatch to what do I owe the honor of hearing your lovely voice so early in the morning," Carcharoth stated in a sarcastic tone. "I heard your crew was in the Big Apple clearing some items for transport from some of our old vaults to that underground warehouse that you have in Kansas."
"I was however someone in the Warehouse's staff decided to pull a fast one yesterday," Erzebet began to explain the details.
"Evidently one Greg Paulson laid down an extra reception ritual behind a concealment charm, then used his duplicity to clean out Dark Vault Eleven." That detail woke Carcharoth up and shifted his gears from zero to majorly pissed-off in three-point-two seconds. "Unless I'm mistaken Dark Vault Eleven is yours from back when you went by Lycaon, or am I mistaken?"
"Nope your dead right, and when I find this piss-ant he's just going to be plain dead!" Carcharoth growled as he began to transform into his more bestial state.
"Simmer down my dear," Erzebet pleaded over the phone that was beginning to crack in his grip. "That wasn't all he stole from The Circle, on his way out he also made off with the two Royal Atlantian Diadems that Madam Eventide was having shipped to my facility. Unfortunately for Mister Paulson my faithful employee Shuffle spotted him boarding a plane bound for Boston, he likely was taking his spoils to his buyer and given the city it's likely to be a member of the Children of the Night- possibly even The Necromancer himself."
"Let me guess," Carcharoth said licking his fanged chops, "a Search and Destroy mission for The Circle; gladly that punk Darrow's had it coming for decades."
"No we need you to infiltrate, observe and gather intelligence first." Erzebet chided him leading the most dangerous wolf on the planet to groan, "Now I know from your record that you despise recon missions; however given what we know of your pack we believe you are uniquely qualified in infiltrating Darrow's nameless lackey's working for the Boston Chapter House. Make sure that they keep an eye out for the crowns, and the most important irreplaceable pieces of your own collection, they are to keep them from disappearing without blowing their own cover. Now if necessary you are to sacrifice trophies that only have sentimental value in order to ensure that the real valuables are recovered, or as Mister Domino puts it 'Trim the fat to save the choice cuts.' Is that understood?"
"Yeah, doesn't mean that I have to like it though," Carcharoth admitted as his two latest pack mates woke up displaying their lustrous coats and pleading eyes. "Still I suppose that it is time for my new pack to have their trial run, alright send me the details and I'll get started."
"Very well I shall have Baud Rate send over the details momentarily," Erzebet explained and a few moments latter a rather chubby hand reached out through the phone with a rather thick folder.
"Useful fellow that you have," Carcharoth mused as he began to thumb through the folder's contents. "Amelia Hartford would be pissed if she found out that you have a means of data transmission that she can never hack in a million years."
"Amelia has plenty of other bees in her bonnet, now unfortunately until the rest of the crates here in New York are securely transported to my Underground Warehouse in Kansas my agents and I shall be unable to join you until likely early evening at my best estimate." Erzebet regretfully explained to the ancient agent, "So please try to delay them without showing your hand until then, still help should be on the way soon."
"Understood," Carcharoth explained as a he sent a few mental messages to his pack mates elsewhere in the city before hanging up the phone.
"Is there anything we can do for you my Lord?" Sasha Patel a graduate student at Cambridge working on her Master's in Management asked earnestly.
"Yes my Lord," Naomi Whittington a research assistant at MIT specializing in robotics proclaimed, "We are ready and willing to serve you in any way possible!"
"I am afraid not my dears; you must understand that it is too early for blossoms as new as yourselves to be presented to the world, there is too much of a risk that you might get pruned by someone who lacks my fine taste. Please go back to your normal lives for today, let your old selves return to their routines, and I shall signal you if I have need of your assistance." Carcharoth commanded the two young ladies nodded as they headed for the shower downstairs with their clothes in hand, not minding the show they were giving their new master as they did so. "That's right there are others who are already in place, no reason to risk sending in a new face when a familiar one can achieve the goals while hidden in plain sight."
Irish Famine Memorial
POV: Randi Bridges, Rose of the West
"It's hard to believe that many people could die from a lack of potatoes," Candace said with a numb voice. "One million people dead just from one crop failing."
"It was as much an act of genocide as the Holocaust, the Potato Blight hit all of Europe but only in Ireland could it be considered a famine. People were starving to death while locally raised meat and grain was being exported by the English as cash crops, and during the whole mess landlords were evicting people left and right when they couldn't pay their rent."
"Not that most of the English cared, at the time most of them saw the blight as a solution to the Irish Problem and treated the locals like they were vermin; there was a saying at the time, 'God might have sent The Blight but the English caused the Starvation.' Even the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire had more sympathy towards the Irish than Queen Victoria, a number of the British even thought that the famine wouldn't even go far enough to solve their problems, is it any wonder that people in Ireland are still mad about it to this day?"
"It is always old hatreds that give rise to terrorism," Sayyid admitted with a bitter taste in his mouth as we left the memorial, "it is much the same way for a good number of the Palestinians who blame the Israelis for taking their homes."
"Unfortunately there is no easy answer to that question, they didn't want to stay and get caught in the crossfire of the war with Sino-Egyptian War." I shook my head. "The sad fact is that there's too much bad blood and religious dogma standing in the way for people to negotiate that matter with a clear head."
"Is there ever an easy answer when religion and politics are both involved at the same time like that?" Sayyid asked in an equally somber tone.
"Now there is no reason to stay so down in the dumps," Candace cried as we moved along Washington Street. "The past is in the past, just because we need to learn from it doesn't mean we need to live in it. Doing that is part of what feeds creates a cycle that changes people for the worse, if someone pays for debts or misdeeds like those it should be because they are genuinely sorry about doing them not because someone is being shamed into feeling that they are obligated to doing something, doing that only causes problems in the long run."
"You sound like you know this from experience?" I asked curious to learn more about my roommate including why she wanted to start dating me so soon after meeting me, though if I found out it was out of convenience I was going to be pissed.
"You could say that," Candace said eyeballing a jewelry store- Barmakian from the name on the door. "Hey Randi, want to do some browsing?"
"Alright but only to window shop," I explained as we walked in with Sayyid following close behind.
POV: Bea Carson, Rose of the East
As I rolled down the sidewalks with Gloriana pushing my chair I took in the sights, sounds and even the smells of the park around me. All around I could see family's and couples alike taking a moment out of their busy schedules to take in the beauty of the park itself. I suppose given how I have spent most of my comparatively short life at Whateley, which is relatively unspoiled in its place in the White Mountains I am a little sheltered from either how sterile or cold an urban environment can be. I guess that I'll have to take time to rectify that matter when I finally get a hang of walking.
The Frog Pond was a bit of a misnomer, I don't think that I saw a single frog making their way along the surface of it although I was certain that I spotted several ducks having made their way back on the return trip from wintering in sunnier climates down south only a few months before I was born. Come to think of it there's a lot of things that I've never seen with my own eyes before I was born, for example this was the first time that I've ever seen a public park along with several different kinds of birds.
As Gloria rolled me slowly along the park's sidewalk I spotted a family walking their dog, and as they did so it stopped to sniff me no doubt able smelling the mermaid in me and wondering just why I smelled different. The man stopped to apologize, "Sorry about that, Nelly is just always excited to meet new people."
"That's perfectly alright," I laughed as I stroked the sides of the dog's face giving her a brief scratch behind her right ear, "she's just being curious. Having a pleasant day at the park aren't you girl- who's a good girl?"
Nelly barked in reply as she licked me on my cheek and continued with her owner on her walk.
"I would have thought that would have bothered you more than it did?" Eve asked somewhat confused by my actions. "Most girls dislike something that would mess with their makeup."
"She was just being friendly, besides I can always touch it up later." I explained as we made our way along the park thankful that neither of them noticed me slip the mini-spiral out of my fanny-pack o'plenty and mark that item of my ever expanding to do list. "Besides that was the first time that I ever got up close with a dog, it was really interesting."
"Really, I thought that you were friends with that Bridges girl from Poe?" Eve asked out of curiosity. "What's her moniker- Foul-Lens?"
"Faolan and I am, but then she's not really a dog, she's a wolf." I began to explain, "Besides I've noticed that she has issues dealing with personal space."
"That's not really that surprising; you know that monster that pulped Counterpoint about a week before Belpheobe whammied his ability to mimic healing factors?" Gloria explained as we came to Charles Street. "I heard that thing was once possessing her."
"You mean like demonic possession," Eve grimaced as a look of concern etched across her face. "No wonder she had issues, I mean I knew that Mrs. Redstag used to be in her head but something that used Counterpoint like a chew toy did too, that would give anyone issues."
"If only it was for a short time too," I shook my head as we crossed the street thankful for the privacy charm hidden on my wheelchair, "According to Jane it was actually for several years, she didn't even remember having a real dream until Mrs. Redstag left either."
"Yikes," Eve proclaimed as she looked shocked at that little revelation, "you mean that she never had any growing up? That sucks!"
"Speaking of dreams Bea," Gloriana interjected shifting the conversation, "do you have any of your own. This is your first trip to Boston and you're more concerned about doing things for other people, just what do you want to do?"
"Too many things for one day," I sheepishly admitted as I retrieved my notepad from my bag, "and most of them are plans for after I'm ambulatory."
"A lot of people go through life in a wheelchair Bea," Eve stated jumping into the current conversation, "they don't let it limit them- why should you?"
"Those people don't have any other choice Eve, this is just a temporary measure for me," I explained before flipping through my notepad. "Besides I doubt that I'll be able to run a marathon sitting down."
"There are still a lot of things that you can do in the mean time," Eve protested desperate to defend her position. "Have you tried basketball?"
"Yes, and not too many people are in a rush to play a game of hoops with me." I droned as I took a sideways glance at couples going by in swan boats, a quick jotting with my pen added that one to my ever expanding list."
"How about you consider things that you can do in your mermaid form?" Eve asked as we made our way across the wooden bridge on the west side of the park. "I mean swimming the English Channel would be a breeze, heck you could probably be the first person alive to explore the depths of Lake Eerie."
"Lake Eerie might be interesting, but until a certain situation is dealt with the ocean is considered hostile territory." I explained without exposing those two to the truth about the Deep Ones, fact is that while I might trust my fellow Underdogs or Capes like Gloriana with that kind of info, declared super-villains to be like Heartbreaker were another story.
"Why would the ocean be hostile to a mermaid?" Eve asked her curiosity now stirring. "Does this have something to do with those Atlantian terrorists that are always making the news?"
"Let's just say that there are hostile groups out there that are kept out of the news for a number of reasons," I sheepishly worked my way around the truth, after all how would the world react to the fact that there was a small army of gradually mutating monsters living alongside them, they can barely handle living with mutants."
The Necromancer's Lair
Within the hidden sanctum of the dark sorcerer Charles Darrow alias The Necromancer and current unwilling host of the former Queen of the Whateley Academy's Alphas clique heard a ringing coming from the entrance to his sanctum proper. It took him a while to make his way to the entrance, mainly having to deal with the wards that both kept his sanctuary hidden and his guest protected from the wrath of the would-be Sidhe Queen's curse.
When he finally reached the entryway, he enabled the monitor, much to his distaste he recognized the guest who intruded upon his efforts in adapting the inscribed mithril that he had recently acquired. "Funny I thought my payments were current, I doubt that my dues were delinquent enough to warrant a visit from the Order's High Priest himself or is my nephew just wanting to come and pay me a social visit."
"Darrow you will grant me entrance immediately, The Esoteric Order of Dagon demands your services!" The man in the obscene golden mask and dark robes on the receiver ordered.
"Now is that any way to talk to your uncle, also I owe the Order scant lip-service for I have moved to serving other masters that the High Priest of a High Priest of a High Priest." Darrow scoffed in disdain.
"Just because you made alliances afforded to you by our Order doesn't alleviate you of your obligation to those who you were born into, nor does it change the fact that the blessing of Our Lord which you postpone through your regimen of rituals will be bestowed upon you one day." The High Priest of the Esoteric Order of Dagon berated Darrow from his place upon the sorcerer's own threshold. "You still owe The Order a great deal, and if you complete the assignment that you are about to receive then not only will you likely be owed a debt to one of the other cults of the Great Ones, it will likely lead to your own Anointment."
Naturally, this caught The Necromancer's interest immediately, Anointment meant that even should his rituals fail and he eventually succumb to his ultimate fate as a Deep One he would still maintain his own sanity. Indeed that had been one of his previous motivations towards attacking the Kellith, for if anything the elimination of the greatest threat to Greath Cthulhu's throne would earn him the Anointment- which given time would make him Dagon's equal maybe even his replacement.
"Alright I shall grant you entrance to my antechamber, but no further." Darrow activated the blasphemous series of mechanisms that worked upon his entryway opening it to another entrance in a small room behind the main door, forming the arcane equivalent of an airlock. Unfortunately it was his obscene amount of security that led to Hekate's Master leaving the insufferable brat in his care, how he wished she had been too slow to escape Aunghadheil's wrath to spare him from putting up with her.
As the outer entry fully closed, the inner entry opened allowing the High Priest of the Esoteric Order of Dagon access to The Necromancer's chosen abode, "You are fortunate that we have need of your services Darrow, otherwise this insult to the Order would not stand."
"The Order stands much child, among the society's that seek the return of the Great Ones we are considered a joke," The Necromancer scoffed. "In many ways as is the Great Father himself, you and I both know that he was just an inhabitant of Eastern of the Five Fold Courts who survived The Sundering and then sold his soul to the Dead Cthulhu who lies Dreaming for power and the rest of his people in an act of treason."
"The truth is written by the winners, the Eastern Court's time in this world is past and those of its blood are bound in service to the Great Father, which is all the truth that the world needs. Still that does not stop foolish dreamers from trying to undo the deeds of beings that are far beyond them, including the Great Father's victory over the Eastern Court." The High Priest explained in a tone that underscored his annoyance at this fact.
"There are four beings that appear to be created specifically to meddle in ways the ways of the Great Old Ones; we have received word that two of them are in Boston at this very moment." The High Priest stated as he produced a folder. "Here is what we know, you are to find them and kill them, and unfortunately all we obtained access to was pictures of their aliases and their codenames. The Order would appreciate if you would draw out and eliminate them, the means is left up to you just make it permanent it shouldn't be too difficult both of them are far newer to their abilities than that Sidhe heir-apparent who has been vexing you lately."
The Necromancer opened the folder and read the two names that were listed withing: Aletheia and Faolan.
"Oh and while I'm here we appreciate the work that your minion Wilbur is doing for us, now if you don't mind I'll leave you to decide how to carry out this little errand." The High Priest of the Esoteric Order of Dagon snidely remarked as he returned to the mystic airlock to exit The Necromancer's Hideout while Charles Darrow began reading the dossier that his nephew had left with him.
Tello's - Downtown Crossing
POV: Randi Bridges, Rose of the West
"Randi- Randi what's wrong," Candace called out in a panic as I heard her voice somewhat distantly. "Sayyid we need to get some help, Randi's gone totally blank!"
"No she did not Candace, you asked her if that dress your trying on made your butt look big, that is a fairly normal response for a guy- evidently she still has it ingrained into her." Sayyid laughed trying to keep it together from outside the dressing rooms.
"Really what's so scary about that question," Candace asked with her eyebrows raised in disbelief. "It's not as if I asked her does this dress make me look fat?"
"Gahhh!" Those words tore into me as I ran into the changing room and curled into the fetal position.
"Randi, come on- I didn't mean that," Candace said as she was shaking my shoulder trying to elicit a response, "I was only using that as an example, I mean I've spent most of my life with my aunt but even I know not to ask that question."
"Okay but never try and ask me that one again," I demanded as I uncurled and stood back up.
"Really though, I was serious, you see I kind of want to draw attention to my tail without making it look like I have a fat butt in the process." Candace said as she struck a model's pose trying to emphasize her backside- made all the more striking by the optical camo net over her tail, "Tell me is it me?"
"Well the style is but to be honest I think that you would look better in a deeper shade of red, maybe wine or burgundy- also you might want to wait till you're a little older before buying that kind of dress." I explained, as I looked her over, "That looks like something for junior or senior year at least, not something for a freshman soon to be sophomore."
"Geez- what's your deal Randi?" Candace asked as she struck another pose, this time emphasizing her chest. "I didn't think that you were so much of a prude."
"That's not it, it's just that your still growing into your BIT and it just seems like a waste to me to get something that nice if you'll grow out of it in a few months;" I admitted trying to cool down my hormones, "although yes it does look very good on you."
"Randi, why did you have to bring logic into a shopping trip?" My vulpinesque roommate pouted as she leaned forward, unconsciously emphasizing her chest even more- man there are times that I am glad that mister mind-of-his-own is gone. "One of the points is to fantasize a little- still thank you for the compliment." She added before giving me a peck on the cheek.
"Hey fairy tales aren't always as saccharine as people remember." I rolled my eyes as I took one of my own picks and made my way into the dressing room.
"Oh I don't know," Candace sang as she grabbed my fifth appendage and gave it a little scratch, "I happen to think that this faerie tail is pretty adorable."
I all but drooled as I could see my face blushing like a tomato in the mirror, "Gee- Candace easy in public- Cottage secret remember. Come to think of it, you never even explained to me why you took an interest in me in the first place- it had better not just be because I'm your roommate."
"No," Candace said as she averted her eyes and took a few steps back. "You see- well it's- complicated."
"So am I, so please tell me Candace," I said as I tried to look her in the eyes- while she tried to avoid doing so (which is normally my problem), "you've been avoiding this for a while but we need to talk about this. Tell me just why you want to have a relationship with me."
"Okay but you see it's a little embarrassing," Candace deflated with a sigh, "you see it stems back to when I first saw you in New York when you were receiving your award alongside your little sister. At first I was flirting with you because- well I thought that you were cute, then I saw you transform for the first time."
"So you have a thing for werewolves?" I asked with a little trepidation- oh lord please don't let this be Twilight thing- I despise that series!
"No," Candace said as she shook her head, "do you remember when I talked about how my mother died?"
"Yeah," A part of me softened as I remembered the experience that she had from that psychic attack less than a week after she arrived at school, "it must have been heartbreaking. I can't imagine what it would have been like losing my mom if I was that young, especially if it involved never knowing my dad either."
"It was the worst time of my life," Candace said as her voice sounded a little distant, "even being kidnapped and tortured by the MCO didn't come close. I was so close to just shutting myself off from the world that it was scary, if it wasn't for Gertrude I would have just withdrawn from reality."
"Just who is Gertrude," I asked knowing that it wasn't the name of one of her friends that she arrived at school with, "was she another one of your friends?"
"In a way she was my best friend," Candace admitted in a sheepish tone, "she was a mixed breed husky that my grandfather rescued from the pound when I was five. Gertrude was always there when I was upset growing up, and when I found out about mom she was curled up on my bed next to me right away- she barely left my side until I was ready to deal with the world again. The crazy thing is your wolf form looks just like her, if you don't believe me I could get my grandma to bring a few pictures with her. I know that it's stupid, but I always felt safe around her- that's part of why I curled up next to you that time you fell asleep in the floor you looked just like her."
"Candace- it's okay," I said as I patted her on the shoulder, "well I admit it is a little odd knowing that I remind you of your old dog- but I guess that I can deal with odd knowing my family."
"Yeah they seem pretty nice," Candace said as she leaned into me, "I was amazed at how your dad stuck by your mom when Professor Id's potion turned her into a monster- made me wonder what my dad would have been like."
"Candace- anyone who would refuse to get to know someone like you has no business even calling himself a dad." I said as I stared at her in the eyes.
"Thank you Randi," Candace said as to my surprise she hugged me and I returned the favor. It was odd used to I had a bit of a problem with other people touching me but I had to admit- it felt nice just sitting there holding onto each other. I knew that we couldn't do this forever- especially since the beast was beginning to demand its second offering of the day, but I guess that we could spare a few minutes just to enjoy the moment.
Bsiques - Newbury Street
POV: Bea Carson, Rose of the East
"Okay Bea you're right on the color and style but to be honest a dress like that one in the picture calls for wedges not flats- although not necessarily platform wedges." Eve did her best to explain, "Still considering all of the time that you spent in Vicky's head you should know this by now."
"Um Eve- you're a bit off there, you see I was in her astral shadow not her head." I did my best to explain things for her, "I could see everything that she saw and hear everything that she heard but that was all I could do. I couldn't smell anything- I couldn't taste anything- I couldn't feel anything, and through all of that no matter what I did I couldn't communicate with anyone- it was sheer torture."
"Geez, after seventeen years of that, it's a miracle that you're not crazy." Glory said in exasperation.
"Well the thrill of finally being able to be a part of the world helped a lot." I began to admit sheepishly before deciding to drop a little bomb about Cytherea, "Also it wasn't seventeen years, you see I didn't fall into Vicky's astral shadow in this life, it in one of her past lives and I remember that one and every single one since."
Okay I know that my confinement wasn't her fault but the girl's attitude and callus nature had worn on me over the centuries, this would be my only payback for enduring that though.
"Okay now you're pulling my leg," Eve explained as she got out a pair of two-inch heels in the same shade of green as the earlier flats that I selected, "I mean I've heard of people claiming to have past lives but this is a little ridiculous."
"Oh but I'm telling you the truth and Victoria's personality has been the exact same in all of them, " I explained as a sour expression crossed my face. "I won't tell you who she was or anything like that, no that kind of secret is her responsibility to tell, not mine since she remembers too."
"Okay I guess that I can buy that," Eve mulled it over, "after all we go to school with a demon princess like Carmilla and some claim that Nikki is some kind of reincarnated Fairy Queen, not to mention that weirdness with Bladedancer- so I guess that the idea of past lives aren't that far-fetched."
"Yes and after a while I just accepted my existence and just tried to learn all that I could. By the time that she was Victoria Godwin I had long become used to everything, still I didn't like her very much or the way that she treated others or used people."
"Good," Gloriana stated as she came back from returning the discarded shoes, "if you ask me the best type of payback that you can give someone like Victoria is to turn out a better person than she'll ever be!"
"Way to ham it up drama queen," Eve rolled her eyes at the queen of the Cape Squad, "still you have a point. Bea as we were telling you earlier you need to focus more about learning how to be you, maybe next week you need to take a little time away from studying and papers and try to find a hobby? Take a look around campus check out the clubs and places that you've never been before who knows- you might find something that you're interested in trying out."
"I think that I will," I replied considering the matter a bit, I was already caught up with my various papers for my freshmen year courses, slowing down a little bit to finish my work towards my sophomore years standard courses couldn't hurt. "Besides I need something to fill my card next year when I become a full-fledged student, maybe joining a club could help do that."
The Long Dark Hall
In a space between spaces a figure walked down a tunnel etched with ancient quarried stone, he walked with purpose yet there was a weight upon him as he did so, almost like one could see that he was doing something that was necessary but distasteful.
After what seemed like forever, he exited a causeway that rapidly turned into a statue of an Ancient Egyptian Priest. After a minute or two it transformed back into a causeway again and three women wearing masks of a porcelain-like ceramic, a horned crown made of a dark metal, and garbed in leather- bustiers, gloves and riding boots with spike heels made their way out.
"Ekdikeo, Miseo, Skleeros- it has been a while since we were all on assignment together," Greygus stated with an almost weary tone, "I had hoped that the need for all of us to be working together wouldn't come anytime soon."
"As much as we enjoy your company Greygus I know what you mean," Ekdikeo replied as she shook her waterfall of dark earth-toned locks behind her she did so. "Is Erzebet going to be contributing anyone to this operation?"
"Not right away, The Hangman and Papa Houma would be a liability given that The Necromancer is likely involved, Dead-Zone works solo given that his powers would interfere with anyone else's, Shuffle is currently busy in New York, and Sureshot is overseeing the Number Cards although both he and Scratch should be joining us later." I explained giving the leader of The Furies the current heads-up. "Carcharoth is currently handling matters on the other end, and hopefully he uses digression this time."
"Speak for yourself," Skleeros almost seemed to shudder with anticipation of the potential battle to come, "I like my operations like my down-time hot, messy and preferably with a whole hell of a lot of screaming involved."
"I must apologize for our sister Greygus," Miseo stated taking the time to speak as her own bloody curls almost seemed to droop in embarrassment, "she never was one for digression despite the fact that this mission calls for a great deal of it."
"Believe me I remember from that escapade in Istanbul back in '43." Greygus sighed betraying his lack of enthusiasm for the task at hand. "Meanwhile we need some information, I hate going in blind."
Greygus lead the group through the passages of the Boston Chapterhouse of the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom to his intended destination- the concierge.
"Greygus it's been a long time, to what do we owe the pleasure of this visit," Stanly said in a jovial tone at least before he noticed the trio of women behind him, then his expression shifted to fear. "Wait a minute are those the Erinyes, holy smoke the rumors are true- the Circle's back! I have-"
Stanly's panic and lunge for the panic button was cut short when Greygus blurred grabbed the man's out-stretched arm, rolled up Stanly's right-sleeve and pressed his palm fist against it. All of the sudden the storm of panic on Stanly's face subsided to an eerie calm, when Greygus withdrew his fist two things could be seen Stanly had the tattoo of an oddly stylized bird on his forearm and Greygus was wearing a ring that was the mirror image of the tattoo with one exception- it had Stanly's face.
"Sorry about this Stanly, I hate using these things however we can't risk The Necromancer knowing that we're here and I need info. Look on the bright-side though this way the Erinyes don't have to torture you and your boss can't kill you for betraying us." Greygus remarked as he stepped back on the other side of the concierge counter confident that Ekdikeo's illusions made it appear that nothing was amiss.
"I understand sir." Stanly replied in an even tone of voice, "What do you require of me?"
"I need to know movements in and out of the warehouses that the Children of the Night make use of in Boston and to know if anything was sent or received lately." Greygus explained to the concierge whose self was currently in his thrall due to the Bak-Ba subsuming his Ba (self), a nasty method of doing business that Greygus thought were distasteful but sometimes necessary. "I also need you to tell me the current roster of The Children of the Night along with their current locations and assignments."
"Certainly sir, I will retrieve that information momentarily." Stanley replied as he got to work. "The current roster of the Children of the Night, consists of The Necromancer, Lycanthros, Arch-Fiend, Lady Darke, Jaberwock, and Arcane-Knight. At present they are preparing for an attack on two students from the Whateley Academy who are in two groups- here is the information on their targets."
Greygus looked over the information that Stanley had pulled up on his monitor and shook off his earlier melancholy; this suddenly became far more personal that it had earlier. "Ladies, it looks like a slight change in plans," Greygus said in a tone that you could almost hear him smiling from beneath his helmet. "It looks like we're going to get to play the part of the Calvary for a change."
Staff Lounge - Whateley Academy
Whateley, New Hampshire
Morrigan looked at Headmistress Carson, as the woman walked by the staff buffet, despite looking as young as she always did there was the obvious sign of worry upon her face. Taking a wild guess as to the cause Mrs. Redstag resolved to talk to her.
"Let me guess," the regent of the Wyld Fae interjected as she caught the woman's attention, "worried about Beatrice being in Boston."
"Of course I'm worried," Carson shot back in a frosty tone, "my daughter is in the same city as a monster that has attacked my students three times this school year. Why shouldn't I be worried?
"I never said that you had no reason to worry," Morrigan stated as she set her tray down at Elizabeth's table, "you are a mother whose daughter is away from home and out of your sight for the first time, if you weren't worried I would call you naïve. I am just as worried about my protégé being there as well, I just hope that I've prepared her in case the worst happens."
"Just what is Faolan to you, and for that matter just what is this Destiny of the Maidens that I keep hearing about?" Elizabeth demanded as she looked at Morrigan with a mother's fury in her eyes, "I know that she needs to rescue her uncle this summer but there is more to it than that, or am I wrong?"
"Elizabeth, if I may be so bold as to use your first name," Morrigan spoke in a weary tone, "you know that full sidhe cannot volunteer such information for free like that. However given that you are her mother I will tell you what I can, but not here- meet me tonight at the Jolly Drayman in Berlin for a few drinks and I shall consider your company payment enough for an explanation."
"Alright Morrigan," Elizabeth eased up, "but I shall hold you to your word."
"Elizabeth," Morrigan stated as she shot the Headmistress a steely glare, "faerie might bend the truth, we might mislead or use wordplay, but we do not lie when we give our word."
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Las Vegas, Nevada
6:57 AM PDT
POV: Paul Ledoux
I was brimming with both anticipation and trepidation; this was the first time that he had ever been to Vegas as well as the first time that I had ever disobeyed my mother. Okay she'd be beyond furious when I finally got home, but according to the guys this was the first sign that I was really starting to grow up or as Matt reminded me- "A little rebellion is perfectly normal in a teenager."
I took in the scenery of the West Side of Las Vegas as we drove along the freeway, not as majestic as the world famous Vegas Strip mind you but still impressive to a small town guy like myself. Then felt a sharp pain in my right arm, I looked down and sure enough, there was another crack-like mark just like the scratch I still had on my face from the fight the other day, I did my best to avoid looking at it especially touching it. Soon we exited the Oran K. Gragson Freeway via the cloverleaf that dumped us onto South Rainbow Boulevard, as continued to make our way into Vegas.
"See Paul- Rainbow Boulevard," Steve said with a light-hearted laugh. "Vegas is already trying to make you feel welcome!"
"Oh-ha-ha Steve," I said as I rolled my eyes. "What do you suggest I visit San Francisco next?"
"Heck no, Nevada may be hot but at least it's a dry heat." Steve remarked before saying. "Although if we do head to San Fran, maybe we could convince the folks at Alcatraz to take Danny off of our hands for a little while."
"Don't make promises that you don't intend to keep kid," Matt said with a smirk making Danny give us all the evil eye. "By the way I hope that nobody ate, a big breakfast, cause we're going to a place to get our nosh on that isn't a buffet."
"Good thing I was too nervous to eat when I was sneaking out," I said as the beast made his presence known once food had been mentioned.
"Hold on guys we're boxers," Walt said bringing up an important point. "We need to be careful so that we stay within our weight-classes."
"Walter after breakfast I'm parking this beast in one of the garages on The Strip." Matt explained as we made our way off South Rainbow Boulevard and onto West Sahara Avenue. "We're going to be hoofing it until we leave to head back home, all that we need to do is skip lunch- so just consider this Brunch instead of Breakfast."
"Alright but still nobody go too crazy," Walt cautioned as we pulled off of the street and into a parking lot.
"Gentlemen welcome to Hash House a Go Go." Matt said with a manic grin on his face.
I wondered what it was all about when a waitress named Kelly came in and lead us to our seats.
Nevada Test and Training Range, Nevada
Cautiously Slither made his way around the commissary, as usual his disguise was flawless it had taken him days of surveillance to pick out the right member of the base's personnel to switch out with and it took no small amount of patience. Despite popular misconceptions to the contrary, even with the meticulous amount of discipline and professionalism at a top-secret facility like this one- there was still an amount of small talk.
Small wonder that men in the military armed with assault rifles and machine guns can still keep their pleasantries even when they kept to their duties. Then again, in a world with super-spies, infiltrators and shape-shifting mutants making sure that someone was acting like themselves was vital- because any abnormalities could clue you in to an infiltrator.
Still there were always your anti-social types, those who never really fit in anywhere, never talk to anyone and always keep their mouths shut. Find folks like that and you have your disguise for infiltrating a base- it had taken him a day or two but he found his in Rob Harris. The man was as dull as dishwater and blended into the background like old spit on the wall, it was perfect. He spent a day learning the ins and outs of his routines, and then when the day was over followed the chump back to his room, slipped in through the vents and tranquilized him without a struggle.
Slither had even had more than ample time to slip off base last night and make for the rendezvous point to pick up the final details of his part of the plan. At least then, he could leave and get a decent meal, the chef at this base should be taken out to shooting range and used for target practice- during a live fire drill.
"Morning Rob," One of the many personnel at the base said as he walked past Slither not even realizing the imposter for who he was, Slither followed with Rob's characteristic lack of acknowledgment thus reinforcing the illusion. He only had to buy time until it was time for his shift to be alone with the gems in less than three hours, then the plan would commence. It was hardly a flawless plan, there was no such thing, but as long as everyone was careful, they all stood a chance at pulling the caper off.
Hash House a Go Go
Las Vegas, Nevada
POV: Paul Ledoux
"Whoa it's a good thing that I'm off the boxing team," I said as I stared down at my now empty plate. "Otherwise Coach would yell at me for breaking my diet, great grub though."
"You're not off the team yet and you're not the only one he's going to yell at because of today." Steve said before he tried to silence a belch that slipped past him. "At least you're not going to get it from Coach Kendrik from the gym and Coach Frost from the football team. He's already pissed at me for 'creating the situation' that got that D-Bag Jeff suspended so late in the season. At least our substitute quarterback Miguel was able to pull off a win yesterday; honestly I don't see why he's the sub and not Jeff, he's obviously a better player."
"I can give you the answer to that one Steve," Matt said as he climbed into the hummer's driver seat. "Coach Frost tries not to let anyone know it but he's a giant bigot; just look through the yearbooks and see how many people who aren't white make the team. You know about Drey Riggs our Defensive Lineman over at Boulder City High right?"
"You mean the guy everyone calls Hoover Dam Junior?" Walter inquired before digging a little more. "Why? What about him?"
"When we were in Middle School Coach Frost stuck him on the JV team," Matt all but growled at the memory. "Drey nailed it in try-outs but Frost never even gave him a chance, if he did maybe we could have nailed the State Championship and went onto regionals."
"Makes sense," Steve said with a sick expression on his face. "The only reason that he couldn't do the same to Miguel is because all of the folks other than Jeff that tried out were hopeless; you could tell a number of them were trying out to make their dads happy."
We got into the car and buckled our seatbelts as we headed for the MGM Grand Hotel. "Hey we're not guests, and won’t you need to pay to park?" Walter asked bringing up an important point.
"Nope, parking at their garage is totally free for everybody-" Matt began to explain the ins and outs of the system. "That is provided that you come in to get your parking validated at the front desk. They use that as an excuse to lure folks into the casino that aren't guests of the hotel itself fortunately you're all under eighteen so they won't dare try to do that, and since I know better I'm fine."
After a short drive back on Sahara Avenue we got onto the Las Vegas Freeway, soon enough we could see The Strip in the distance. With every minute on the Freeway, the strip itself began to loom closer and closer as we could make out the giant hotels, resorts and casinos in the distance- Sin City, the Home of Second Chances. Mother always claimed that it was cesspool of depraved individuals like my father, which thought made the crack along my face ache.
Now that I think about my father, it was weird how I never really considered looking for him; from what I had gathered through mother's condescending lectures over the years he lived in Vegas. Then again, what were the chances of me ever meeting him, I didn't know his name, or for that matter even what he looked like and Las Vegas is the largest city in the state and swarms with tourists every year- I'd have a better chance of finding a needle in a barn full of hay.
Eventually the Las Vegas Strip was no longer in the distance it was all around us, it was amazing I was actually here in one of the largest tourist Mecca's on the planet- mother would be beside herself if she knew. I guess that it's a good thing that even if she figured out that I left to go to Vegas with my friends that I never told her just where we were going. Wait where did that thought come from? I shook my head in confusion; I never thought of mother with anything but absolute respect in mind- it was weird. I suddenly winced as I felt a similar pain to earlier in my left leg, what the hell was going on with me?"
Eventually Los Vegas Freeway split, Matt took the left fork that had us heading east until it spat us out onto West Tropicana Avenue; I could already see the famous Excalibur to my right then a bit further down the street our destination- The MGM Grand. We curved to head north as we approached the parking garage, all once we entered the massive structure all doubts left my mind. Something told me that I needed to come to Vegas today- and why not, this would be my first time seeing an actual pro-boxing match live.
Area 51 Research Complex
Nevada Test and Training Range, Nevada
It was time, Slither still disguised as Private Rob Harris took his spot in the rotation entering the vault as fellow soldier Private Ed Waring left. The two passed by each other without saying a word as Ed left to go through the body scanner built into the tube. Still as high tech as what the military had in this black budget base there were still those who had tech that was beyond their concept of bleeding edge. Once Private Waring went into the body scanner the door to the vault then shut tight, it would not open again for another half an hour for the next shift.
That meant that Slither had thirty minutes to get the job done before leaving for the rendezvous with Slyde. This would be like taking candy from a baby, he already knew that there was no video surveillance inside this security vault only pressure sensors where the items in question were kept, that ensured that no video footage could be taken from the base. This also meant that if the weight were ever off from the pressure sensors in one way or another then an alarm would sound alerting the bases armed security personnel. There was also an audio sensor in the room, which would trigger if any sound ninety decibels would trigger it, which was one of the reasons the floor was made out of rubber tiles. It was fortunate that thanks to Professor Id- Slither was prepared, after all- the Professor was the person that the Zodiac Cartel came to after murdering Captain Cosmos to help them figure out and harness his Zodiac Gems.
He could easily provide Slither with near-perfect forgeries of the gems since he had a chance to thoroughly study the real things years ago, granted there was no way that he could sneak the fakes in through his pockets. Fortunately, Slither's physiology wasn't entirely human anymore, satisfied that he could now work away from prying eyes Slither distended his jaw and reached down into his stomach with his right hand. Soon he grasped his target, removed the plastic pouch containing the fake gems, and reconnected his mandible to his upper jaw.
After moving mouth from side to side in order to make sure that it was properly reconnected, Slither walked over to his target getting the fakes out and leaving the now open bag on the ground. Now it was time to concentrate- this would be the make it or break it time. Carefully he opened the case containing the gems, making sure to do it slowly so as not to set off the pressure- after a few agonizing minutes the altered agent had the case fully open.
Now was time for the hard part, one by one he exchanged the zodiac gems for the forgeries that Professor Id had manufactured for this occasion careful to make each switch near instantaneously. He was down to the final one- the Libra gem when he felt a sneeze coming on he did his best to hold it since the hundred-mile an hour gust could slightly rock the case and trigger the alarm long before he was prepared for it not to mention trigger the audio alarm as well. Desperately Slither held it in as he slowly made the exchange; the moment seemed to have finally passed. He quickly put the gems inside his case, Slither delicately shut it and swallowed the package once again- just as if he had last night after the meeting before he sneaked back onto the military instillation.
With the case once again safely secured, Slither his adjusted his uniform to maintain the illusion of military decorum as he heaved a sigh of relief. Unfortunately, the sneeze that he had held back took that opportunity to slip out and tripped the audio sensor. Almost immediately, a group of armed personnel marched into the room weapons ready.
"What the hell just happened Private Harris?" Sargent Ingendorf said as a walked in past the other soldiers.
"Sorry sir, I sneezed sir, I tried to hold it in but it slipped by me sir." Slither responded flawlessly impersonated Private Harris as he did so.
"At ease private, you were near the end of your shift anyway." Sgt. Ingendorf observed. "Resume your post, Private Pierce will be in 0930 hours to relieve you."
Sgt. Ingendorf and the soldier filed out of the vault as the door sealed itself shut behind them. After they had left Slither already began to layout his plans, he'd make his to the rendezvous point with slide during the interim between the end of this shift and lunch, then return to fill out his other three guard shifts over the course of the day. Yes he'd wait until well after light-out to make his true escape then leave the real Private Harris to be discovered not long after not reporting in for duty tomorrow.
Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom - Las Vegas Chapter House
Lord Khamsin's Office (Formerly Lord Ataxia's Tomb)
Lord Khamsin of the Obsidian Circle sat in anticipation at his desk, he was almost done reviewing the requests from the legitimate businessmen who ran Vegas behind the scenes over matters that they felt his organization needed to look into for him. He smirked at the matter; most of these people were Mafia dons or lieutenants- the type of folks who were not used to asking for anything unless it was not really a voluntary request. However they also knew that times had changed from the old days, they needed someone like him in order to survive- more so than ever.
It was ironic, back when he went by the name Lord Ataxia he was the shadowy figure who fronted Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal the capital to invest into turning Las Vegas into the resort town that it was. He also invested a great deal in sending several billion in bullion to the United States government over the years to acquire territory in Nevada itself. Granted most of that territory was then leased back to the government for the rate of one cent per acre a year (on the public books it was still government land), but for beings like himself money was inconsequential next to dominion.
He had also helped the Vegas families restructure and reinvest in the eighties when the FBI came to sever their control on the casinos; a lot of people would be surprised to know that most of the entertainment and resort companies that publicly owned and operated the casinos and resorts today were actually partially owned by the cosa nostra. He had also convinced them that the rackets of old were actually bad business to have running in Vegas itself, after all why break the law to make a few quick bucks when you can have a steady stream of capital from legal operations that don't scare away the customers.
Indeed at this rate he'd be more than ready to host dinner this evening with Miranda and her mother this evening, things were indeed looking up.
Suddenly the phone at his desk rang, in what was becoming a casual reflex since taking a more public role in running the Chapter House Lord Khamsin answered. "Hello Las Vegas Chapter House this is Lord Khamsin, to whom am I speaking?"
"Lord Khamsin I have some bad news," Greygus's voice came through loud and clear along the phone line. Last night someone entered Dark Vault Eleven, they also made off with the two Atlantian Diadems that Mistress Nyx had stored in Vault 2. Erzebet Scratch's people have tracked the thief to Boston; we think that the Necromancer or someone connected to him are involved."
"I understand Greygus," Lord Khamsin said as he dismissed the illusion of humanity that to appear as himself once more then activating his armor. "I will be there as soon as I can."
"No you misunderstand sire," Greygus replied over the phone clearly desperate. "I'm just calling to report my status, not invite you to the party. I already contacted the others and most will be there, when I did, Brimstone gave me some of his usual clairvoyant BS. He warned that no matter what you should not join us in Boston, evidently something is going to happen in your neck of the woods and he claimed that if you miss it then you will regret it forever."
Bonanza Gift Shop
Las Vegas, Nevada
"Geez whoever called this place the world's largest gift shop wasn't kidding," Steve said as he looked over the merchandise on the shelves. "Granted most of the stuff here is just junk that folks who come here bring home as cheap souvenirs to their friends.
"Yeah no kidding," Danny rolled his eyes as he flicked the noggin of a Dean Martin bobble head. "I mean who would want to buy Rat Pack bobble heads?"
"Someone who's a fan of them Danny," Walt commented while looking through the T-shirt racks. "Besides for Vegas history buffs the Rat Pack are a big deal. Hey a Joe Calzaghe t-shirt, who'd have thought they'd have this?"
"Who's Joe Calzaghe?" Matt commented busy filling a shopping basket with a few odds and ends, likely requested souvenirs for his friends in High School.
"He's the current WBO Super Middle Weight Champion, he used to be the IBF Super Middle Weight Champ as well but he had to relinquish that title because he opted to turn down a mandatory bout against a contender from Germany in order to defend his WBO title against Peter Manfredo. He's also currently undefeated," Walt explained while he continued to examine the t-shirt, "Just my size too."
"Man we're picking up a lot of junk," I said as I looked over the baskets. "Maybe we should pick up a tote-bag or two to keep it on us, this stuff would be too visible in Matt's hummer."
"Yeah you've got a point," Matt agreed with my assessment, after all there was only so much that the security on hand in the MGM Grand's Parking Garage could do.
So we walked over to the tote bags that were in the gift shop- all of which displayed the logos or marquise of famous casinos of the past and present. On impulse, I picked out one for the Luxor, while Walt picked up one for the Casino Royale. Danny got one for the Excalibur, and Steve picked out one with the Cesar's Palace logo; the only weird thing was that when Matt picked out one for the Aladdin (what's now Planet Hollywood) part of me winced. Really, it was weird, why would that affect me.
Just like earlier I felt a sudden sharp pain this time on my chest, I didn't even need to look I knew that there would be another crack-like mark on my body just like the last few times. What the hell was causing this, all of a sudden it looked like I was beginning to develop cracks along the surface if this kept up I'd look like I was a human equivalent to a crazed ceramic pot- that is unless I broke. 'Guess it's a good thing that mother was making me quite boxing,' I thought to myself yet a part of me wasn't so sure about that idea.
I mean I still had no idea just what that phone call she made the night after Paul attacked me was about, let alone just who she was talking to on the other end. Then there were those odd visions I'd been having- just what were those about? Both had happened when something touched the first scratch mark that appeared after Paul had tried to beat the pulp out of me, yet nothing happened when I had touched the one that appeared on my right arm on the drive to Vegas. I needed some answers, just what was going on?
10 miles North-Northeast of Groom Lake
Near - Extraterrestrial Highway, Nevada
Slyde was waiting with a distinct lack of patience for her rendezvous with Slither, especially since there was a good reason for doing so given the fact that this operation had needed the assistance of a monster like Professor Id and his organization didn't sit well with her. Granted Slyde and the others baring the same moniker as her in the Slyde Procurement, Courier and Delivery Agency were mercenaries- they were also mercenaries with standards.
In all thirty-six years of the Slyde Service's operation they had never once killed or harmed another person directly in pursuit of their goals; the only offensive ability that their special suits even had were designed to subdue assailants. Professor Id was well known in the Underworld as a Lord of War and a Merchant of Death, he had been doing this for well over a hundred years and showed no sign that his actions would ever weigh on him. Indeed if this was his operation, The Dispatcher would have never approved of submitting her to this job.
However this was being conducted by The Syndicate or more specifically by Vendor and Star Broker, Vendor being an individual who acted as the Black Market auctioneer of unique items that Syndicate members would pick up during a job and wanted to fence for some capital. Normally Vendor worked alone during this after all it was often just a matter of finding the right parties that would be interested in the merchandise. However when the item in question could lead to the creation of a new mask, such as a suit of power armor, a mystic artifact, or a power gem; that was when Star Broker got involved.
Star Broker was Dominus's talent spotter, it was his job to find those with promise as super-villains and guide them toward what they needed to make the most of themselves...within the Syndicate of course. Mostly this involved setting those already with gifts or powers up with the right mentors in villainy, however sometimes it involved acquiring artifacts. That was why Slyde (or more accurately Sylde Courier 3) was waiting along the road for that slime-ball Slither, especially since she was so close to one of the American Government's most heavily guarded black budget military bases. If she was caught here, something told her that no one would ever find the body- still she was getting a three million dollar cut out of the five million that the Syndicate paid the Sylde Agency for this job.
Still she almost lit out of there like a rocket when she saw a soldier approach, but stopped when said soldier shifted into Slither. "Not only are you running late but you almost gave me a heart attack," Slyde said as she clutched her chest in emphasis. "Well, did you procure the items?"
"Yes, and the reason that I'm late is because there was a guard patrol that was too close to my exit route when I set off my diversion." Slither laid down his counter argument. "So do you have my employer's contribution and instructions?"
"Just what do you think is in that burlap sack over there?" Slyde said indicating the object in question. "I also have a pack of food scent to ensure that the native scavengers will tear it to shreds, the tote bag is in a bus locker in Vegas, I'll switch the package over to that for the drop once I get there- I don't want something as awkward as that to slow me down."
"Understood, I've got to get back undercover and return to base before I'm missed." Slither said before he shifted back into the form of Private Rob Harris and made his way back to Dreamland.
Now that he was gone, Slyde got to work assembling the bracers with the gems as per Professor Id's instructions. It was odd but each had to be placed in the bracers in a specific configuration, something about a feedback problem- evidently it was something that had taken the late Captain Cosmos years to figure out to properly arrange them in his original bracers. Naturally, this was something that Id figured out rather fast on his own, mainly from the bracers themselves and photographs of Captain Cosmos in action.
Slyde had to hand it to him, Professor Id might be a complete and total immoral sociopath but his skill as a scientist was nothing to sneeze at- even in a world with the likes of Gizmatic and Doctor Diabolik. It had taken Slyde half an hour to finish assembling both bracers but any job worth taking was worth doing correct the first time. Satisfied with her effort Slyde took the bracers and the instructions (which she glanced at out of curiosity- he obviously went to a lot of effort to idiot proof these things) and placed them all in her hard-shell back pack. It was a long way to Vegas and she had a schedule to keep if she was going to make in time for the exchange at the MGM Grand Casino.
Caesar's Palace Aquarium
Las Vegas, Nevada
I look on as a demonic beast spreads its wings and shrieking as everything is consumed in fire, "Man- how much did they spend on these cheesy animatronics."
"Eh, it's something to keep little kids entertained, plus it's free." Matt said as we saw the end of "The Fall of Atlantis". Most of the other daytime attractions here cost money.
"Besides it's also a free aquarium, and who doesn't like looking at the fish and letting their thoughts drift." Steve said with a grin. "Come on, it'll be something just to set your mind at ease."
"Then I must be weird because I don't really find aquariums all that relaxing." I admitted with complete honesty, "I can't help but think that the only thing between us and several thousands of gallons of water is a couple of inches of Plexiglas. Just one imperfection, one tiny crack and the weight of all of that water will spread and before you know it you're pushed off your feet and drowning in the resulting tide."
"Did your mom not watch you properly in the bath tub when you were a baby or something?" Danny said as he stared at me with an odd expression.
"Who knows," Walt sighed. "No offense Paul but sometimes I wonder about your mother, is she just over protective of you or is it something else?"
"I wish I knew," I replied before feeling another one of those sharp pains- this one on my left arm. On impulse, I decided to give part of my motivation for coming along. "Something that was weird, the other day after Jeff attacked me; I heard her talking on the phone. There was something about stepping up a schedule, and maintenance; then they talked about getting me somewhere for a rendezvous. I only heard one half of the conversation and it just felt creepy to me."
Everyone was looking at me like they were shocked, it was probably a good idea not to tell them about the town hazy visions or the pains that I'd been having since coming here- then I winced as I felt another pain this one on my back. "I think I need to use the restroom- please excuse me." I said before I made my way away from the group to the men's room. Thankfully, one of the stalls was unoccupied.
Once inside and the door was shut I decided to fulfill bit of morbid curiosity, I took off my shirt and dropped my pants to try and have a look at the sources of pain that I had felt since coming into Vegas- I almost wish that I hadn't. "What the heck?"
While the mark on my face was just one straight scar-like crack, these new ones were not. These new cracks were like the spider-web cracks that you'd see on a damaged windshield, they were not long but each originated from its own point. Out of fear I touched the crack on my chest, surprisingly unlike the mark on my face it did nothing. Just what did it mean? Does this have something to do with that; maintenance mother was talking about over the phone?
I shook my head trying to clear my thoughts, now was not the time to be thinking about things at home- besides I'd cross that bridge when the time came even though I doubt that it would be a pleasant trip. I put my clothes back on and left the restroom, desperate to get my thoughts off of what had been going on at home that night- and just what my mother was up to.
Boulder City, Nevada
With her thankfully short morning shift now over for the day, the woman known as Melanie Ledoux came back to her house. Now it was time to work on her real job and not just the one as a diner waitress that she kept up for the sake of public appearances. "Paul get a bag together, your uncle Felix is going to meet us at the airport!"
Surprisingly she didn't hear a reply to her demand so Melanie shouted again, "Paul grow up and face the consequences of your actions, you are going to your Uncle Felix's place in Illinois to learn some discipline and there is no talking your way out of this!"
Once again hearing only silence in response Melanie charged up to Paul's room and threw open the door, which she had long ago made sure to break the lock on- only to find the room empty. In desperation Melanie tore around the room looking for signs of habitation, when she noticed that the boy's bag was gone her mind drifted back to Paul's plea from the other day, one that she had shot down habitually and only half listened to when he made it. "Shit, that son of a bitch is going to ruin everything!"
Melanie raced down to the phone in the kitchen (which she had made certain long ago was the only landline in the house) and dialed the same number she had a few days ago. "Hello it's me the brat's gone, I think that him and the punks that he hangs out with left for Vegas!"
"Hey don't blame me for this one; you're the one who insisted that I keep him here until it was time." Melanie defended herself to the accusations on the other end of the phone line, "And I've been doing the same job that I always had, your cheap work has obviously worn off."
"No I don't know where he went and good luck finding someone in Las Vegas," Melanie responded to another set of inquiries coming through on the phone. "What about one of those tracking spells that I've always heard about, there's bound to be something that you can use to hone in on him?"
"Hey there's no need to take that tone with me. If you can't you can't." Melanie recoiled at the irate man's shouting coming through the receiver, "Yeah of course I've still got the equipment, so we're going ahead with Phase 3 already; fine just tell me when and where. And remember to bring me what you've promised me, because if you try to double-cross me I have a package containing everything about our deal set to be sent to the brat's father."
"Fine I'll acquire the target and then meet you at the airport terminal for delivery- yes I know it has to be where we did this last time give me some credit." Melanie then hung up the phone, went to her bedroom, and went to the back of her closet to a floor safe that was hidden behind her dress shirts. After dialing in the combination, she retrieved a small parcel wrapped in brown paper and twine- "It's finally time to get this job over with."
Las Vegas, Nevada
Together our group made our way through the King Tut's Tomb exhibit inside the Luxor, with Danny snapping pictures with a disposable camera. Granted that this wasn't a free attraction but ten bucks was a small price to pay to see the real artifacts before it went back to Egypt and replaced with display replicas for the permanent exhibit. "Can you believe this guy was in charge of a country when he was our age?" Danny said as he snapped a photo of the pharaoh's throne.
"Yeah became king when he was nine and died at eighteen," I said as I took in the exhibit. "Nine years of rule and still nobody knows what killed him, some people even claim it was a curse."
"Who knows," Matt said as he looked at a stone slab. "There are some capes running around that claim to use magic but there's no real evidence one way or another if that stuff is real."
"Yeah right Matt, if it's magic how would anybody use science to study it?" Steve asked with a laugh.
"Experiment and observation," Walt replied with a wry smile. "You know the scientific method, just because we can't explain all of the forces behind it yet doesn't mean that we never will."
"Yeah you may be right," Steve conceded to Walt's observation while I looked over the rest of the exhibit. There was one scene that was a reproduction of hieroglyphs from King Tutankhamen's tomb wall that caught my eye, given the people with animal heads it was likely one of their religious myths still one of the figures drew me- mainly because I couldn't figure out just what the animal that was represented was supposed to be.
That was the moment that the pain started back up again, this time it was several locations at once- mostly on my back and chest. Just what the hell was doing this to me, was this why mother wanted me to never go to Vegas? That though briefly scared the crap out of me, was I going to die. Was this going to keep on going on until my body was so riddled with cracks that it'd smash into tiny pieces?
"Hey Paul," Walt said as he looked at me out of concern. "Are you okay; you seem a little out of it today?"
"Yeah I'm good, just the thought of someone kicking off this young is kind of a little freaky." I said desperate to change the subject. "I mean this guy ruled a country at an age where most of us haven't even figured out what we want to do with our lives, it just kind of puts things in perspective."
"Yeah say, any reason that you're still in that button-up from this morning?" Walt asked noticing that I had begun to sweat a little from his earlier grilling. "You could just use the restroom to put on one of the T-shirts that you picked up earlier like I did."
"No I'm good," I said nervous that they might notice the crack marks on my body.
Bonanza Gift Shop
Las Vegas, Nevada
"Pardon me might I speak with your manager?" A young man said to the clerk at the front desk, obviously rather upset.
"Sir there is no need for that, I can see if an item is in stock in our warehouse if you can't find it on our shelves." The clerk said desperate to avoid an incident with the obviously agitated customer.
"I don't think you understand," The customer said before flashing a Syndicate member card. "I need to see your manager- now!"
"Right away sir," The sales clerk said as he rushed to the back in a panic only to return a few minutes later with an equally distressed manager.
"Now sir what can I do for you this fine day?" The manager asked clearly sweating bullets.
"You can give me the Joe Calzaghe t-shirt that you were supposed to put out there at one o'clock sharp!" The Syndicate operative explained in a tone that was about as serious as a heart attack. "It's the key identifying mark for a very important pick up that I have to make from a courier today!"
"I'm sorry sir," The manager replied sweating bullets. "We only had the one that your employer gave us, and the note said to put it out at seven sharp, not one. I even have it on me, see."
The manager turned over the note to the operative who looked and cringed. "Geez that looks like both, looks like somebody's hand-writing's going to get them raked over the coals. I'm going to need a picture of the face of the buyer and anyone he was with pulled off of your security camera and faxed to this number- I trust that I have your cooperation on this matter."
The stunned into silence the manager took the card just before the operative left for the changing room and pulled out his cell phone. "Hey boss, I've got bad news and worse news; the bad news is that your secretary has lousy hand-writing, the worse news is that someone else has the shirt I was supposed to be wearing- you need to put out an alert because the couriers going to make the wrong switch in a couple of hours."
"Understood, I'm headed to the safe house to await further orders." The courier ended the call and walked out of the gift shop shaking his head, a couple of people were going to have a very bad day, one was the person who wrote that note- and the other was whoever was going to intercept their package without even knowing what they were in for. Either way it was no skin off his back.
MGM Grand Casino
Las Vegas, Nevada
Our day was almost over and I was still getting these pains, thankfully, there was nothing noticeable on my hands or face yet but still I was worried. We had arrived back at the MGM Grand and were making our way to the arena for the undercard bout.
Walt almost fell and dropped his tote bag when this lady bumped into him and fell over herself. "I am so sorry sir," the lady said as she grabbed her own tote bag from the floor. "I am in a hurry and wasn't watching where I was going please excuse me." The lady walked off in a hurry while Walt got up himself.
"Alright that was weird," Danny said as he stared at the retreating woman. "Nice legs though."
"Easy horn dog," Matt said as he nudged his little brother. "We need to get to the arena before it's too packed- otherwise it will be a nightmare getting to our seats."
Around the corner, the woman observed the group and sent off a text on her cell phone, ATTN DISPATCH: PACKAGE DELIVERED!
The Solstice Lounge - Owner's Office
Las Vegas, Nevada
At the Solstice Lounge, a shady member's only nightclub of the beaten path of the Vegas Strip the owner known only as Miss Bliss was in the middle of pre-opening inventory. Admiringly this type of business wasn't very becoming for a woman of her lineage; however, life had not been kind to her. A twist of fate had cost her family their social standing, title and most of their wealth, indeed had it not been for her own foresight and preparation then Miss Bliss would have suffered her mother's fate.
Instead, Miss Bliss had taken those retainers whose loyalty she had gained and what little personal wealth that she could manage and create this club, which began as a hole in the wall and with her personal effort had grown into a proper business- especially with the side services that she, offered for the right price. Speaking of side services the phone that was ringing inside of her desk told Miss Bliss, that her other services would be requested this evening. "Hello, this is Miss Bliss to what do I owe the pleasure of this phone call?"
"Oh Vendor, this is a rare honor, yes I'll have two of my best men on it; that is if you would be so kind as to provide me with any descriptions of the targets that you have in mind." Miss Bliss said, as her smile was growing wider. "Oh! That's even better! Now just remember I don't do favors- if I recover the items in question they are mine to do with until you come here pay me for my troubles and claim them."
As she hung up the phone, the pictures came in over the fax machine, after a few minutes Miss Bliss took the new stack out into the lounge. "Shakedown, Dirac, I have a job for you!"
MGM Grand Casino
Las Vegas, Nevada
"Man Ferdinand might not be a belt contender yet but he sure is getting there." Danny said brimming with excitement as we made our way away from the arena now that the undercard bout was over- just to stretch our legs and maybe grab a quick nosh during the one-hour intermission before the main event.
"Whatever you say Danny but if you ask me he still has a ways to go," Walt stated as he shook his head in disbelief. "He had visible tells for every time that he was about to throw a hard left and if Gutierrez hadn't been so punch drunk he would have noticed the opening Ferdinand leaves after every three punch combo."
"Whatever you're just sore because you were rooting for Gutierrez." Danny said before he walked right into Steve's back. "Ow- why'd you stop?"
"Don't look now but we're being followed, two guys one big and ugly and the other rail thin and gnarly." Steve explained in a hushed tone, "Follow me and don't act like you notice them- something about this gives me a real bad feeling."
We made our way along the promenade in a lazy circle working with the flow of the traffic briefly I saw the individuals that Steve had indicated- they were definitely not here for the match. Eventually we made our way back inside the hallways of the arena that were mostly deserted. Until the big ugly bruiser from earlier found his way into our path.
"I believe that you have something that doesn't belong to you," he said in a gruff tone cracking his knuckles to emphasize his threat. "Turn over what's in the Casino Royale bag now before I work you over."
"I'd do what he says if I were you," Thin and gnarly behind us bared our retreat. "Shakedown is really impatient- put it to the test and you won't like the results."
Granted that the pair didn't have us completely fenced in but running didn't look like much of an option. Matt stepped away from the group cracking his own knuckles, "Danny something tells me that they wouldn't like us around to talk to the cops, take Paul and Walt and run. Steve can you give me a hand?"
"Don't even ask!" Steve said as he joined Matt as Danny took the two of us by the hand and pulled us into a run we had made it pretty far down the hallways before Walt dug in his heels.
"Walt! What the hell are we stopping for?" Danny said with fear etched across his face.
"They want something in my bag," Walt said before he threw down his tote bag. "I want to see just what that is." He unzipped the tote to see what was inside. Instead of his part of the cargo of our purchases from earlier, including a cute watch that he had planned to give to Angela Garcia a girl on the cheerleading squad that he said he had a crush on, there was two metallic arm-bands studded with a dozen gemstones between them and a print out.
"What the heck is this stuff?" Danny asked in amazement.
"Those two didn't look like normal criminals," Walt began to put two and two together. "These must be power-items off of some retired cape."
"And they even come with instructions." I said as I looked over the print out. As I was skimming over the list, Walt put them on- thankfully, there was an R and L inside to let him know which arm was which along with an arrow. Just as he had closed the left arm-band, the brute called Shakedown came around the corner holding dragging Steve and Matt along the ground.
"Kid you've just made your last mistake," Shakedown said as he threw his cargo to the side- neither our friend nor Danny brother looked too good at the moment all they could do was groan. "Now give up and we might let your friends live."
"Paul how do I use these things?" Walt asked in desperation.
"It says that you touch the gems to activate them, they're marked with zodiac signs." I said as I relayed what I had finished reading. "You can use one for an entire day or as many as three at a time but only for an hour; I suggest Taurus, Cancer and Leo."
Walt at the time to press two gems before Shakedown punched him into a wall. "Wait what does Leo look like?"
"Like a circle with a pony tail!" I shouted before Shakedown charged me and with a brutal backhand sent me flying into the wall with a vicious smack. As I slide down my vision began to blur, those cracks that I had felt earlier were all over and audible now. I could feel bit and pieces of me breaking off and falling away everywhere, after I felt it on my hands I shakily looked down they were smaller any covered in- was that blood.
I had scarcely had time to think when the unthinkable happened- my face fell into my shrunken bloody hands.
McCarran International Airport
At one of the busiest airports in the world Miranda Salazar awaited the arrival of her mother from Mexico, naturally for a woman in her condition she was not alone, a couple of elder djinns named Tiwawet and Anubis (who was interesting enough her patron's son). Her mother's plane from Oaxaca after its brief layover in Mexico City had already arrived however; she was still dealing with customs while the airport checked the woman's passport. Thankfully Miranda's own worker's visa was current, she had still yet to decide whether or not to apply for citizenship it might be complicated by the fact she was a djinni now (even if that may not be a permanent state).
However for her daughter; well she was going to be born in this country if she had any say in the matter, given that the girl's father who had connections in high places was going to be taking care of her- she doubted that she'd have anything to worry about. That and she could always come and visit her ancestral home in Oaxaca and learn about her heritage that went all the way back to the Zapotecs. Miranda smiled her currently disguised face- that looked just like the one of her birth as she stroked her heavy stomach feeling the new life growing within her.
Suddenly Anubis stood with a stern expression on his face, "Lady Salazar I regret I must leave for the moment, I sense something that I feel I must investigate." He said with a bow before turning to our companion, "Lady Tiwaret will you please keep her safe?"
"Anubis you know better than to ask me if I'd keep a mother to be and her unborn safe-" Tiwaret's eyes drilled into Anubis while she laid on the sass. "I'll guard them with all that I've got."
"Understood," Anubis said before he vanished in a swirl of dust- that nobody around noticed thanks to a spell of occlusion that he had cast no one would notice us unless they were looking for us.
After he had left, the woman next to us dropped the crochet needle that she was using to knit what looked like a scarf. Minding her manners Tiwaret went to pick up the needle however the moment she touched the object- the rotund djinn fell to her knees in weariness.
That was when the woman took a pair of bronze shackles that she had been hiding in her bag and slapped them on Miranda, they made her feel as weak as Tiwaret must have now. With a steely look the woman met her eyes, "It's nothing personal dear; it's just business." Then a bag slipped over her head from behind- at first, she couldn't fight back now she was having to fight to stay awake- and losing.
I could see it this time, a woman with the head of some kind of canine was struggling against a number of hooded men as they took something away from her, "No! Give me back my baby girl you monsters!"
Wait a minute just what was this perspective, it wasn't the baby's, she was right over there- the kid also looks a lot like her mother- well maybe a little more human and horse-like rather than dog-like. I think that I've heard of this before what was it called again- oh well it's supposed to be some kind of a way of seeing the past by touching an object. Hold the phone she said baby girl, and I'm not touching an object I'm just touching my face- granted it had fallen off my head but that was beside the point.
One of the robed figures approached the screaming bundle that I was still a little uncertain was me, "Now we seal this half-breed under a shell of living mud. She will live within a golem made from the dust of ruins until it is time for her to offer her life unto our master before the setting of her sixteenth sun."
With that, this pool of mud began to rise in dozens of gooey clods. Soon the clump that I was seeing through and dozens of others swirled around whoever this girl was until the glob I was in went for her face-
MGM Grand Casino
Las Vegas, Nevada
I came out of that vision to see Walt holding his own against Shakedown we might even get through this alive. Steve and Matt would even be okay the printout said that the Virgo gem could be used to heal; I assume that meant the self and others.
Still we should have remembered that Shakedown wasn't alone, just as Walt hammer-tossed the brute down the hallway thin and gnarly appeared. Suddenly thin and gnarly's shadow began to darken and spread until finally it was under Walt's feet -then he actually began to sink into the shadow.
"What the hell!" Walt struggled to work his way free of the shadow but it was no use, the shadows then began to leap up to grab him and pull him into their depths. I desperately tried to move but by the time, I could raise my now shrunken arms he had vanished into the depths.
"Shakedown, I'll deliver our guest to Miss Bliss," The shadow manipulator said as he began to sink into his own abyss without an ounce of panic. "Oh and please see to his friends in any way that you see fit."
"Got it Dirac," Shakedown said as he got to his feet. "I think I pick, no witnesses, and a quartet of missing person's cases." Shakedown said as he licked his chops and began to stalk towards me, "I'm hungry and this one's pre-tenderized."
As he got closer, I screamed a lot louder that I thought was normal- just thinking about how I wanted to keep him away from me. That's when a fierce gust of wind began to blow between the two of us pushing Shakedown back; he was actually struggling to walk against the gale.
Somehow, I was doing this I was making this wind happen, as the gales began to blow to dry the reddish mud from earlier (which I had earlier mistaken for blood) began to dry and flake away. Now that they had been blown, free of debris I noticed that although smaller my hands were shriveled- they looked feminine, like those of a girl. Unfortunately, my sudden interest in the condition of my non-existent manicure caused me to lose focus on keeping Shakedown away, causing the wind to die down.
This momentary lapse gave Shakedown enough time and traction to haul me to my feet by my neck and pin me against the wall. "Man you're a weird looking young lady, oh well- bon appétit!"
Shakedown opened his mouth to take a bite out of me with what looked like a mace nailed him across what I assume was his temple, this both staggered him and made him drop me. When he turned around to face his attacker that's when I saw my rescuer, he was dressed it what looked like armor with an Egyptian ascetic, with a helm like that of a black dog of some kind and was wielding a staff shaped like a shepherd's crook with a weighted ball at the butt.
"I suggest that you seek your meal elsewhere." The man stated, "The girl is under my protection."
"Like hell!" Shakedown screamed in rage as he tried charge the man only to have his foe nail him multiple times with the butt of his crook. Once Shakedown was visibly staggered my rescuer used the crook itself to pull Shakedown's left-leg out from under him causing the brute to fall over before nailing him in the head with an arced strike from the butt of the cane knocking the brute out cold.
"Just who are you?" I asked as I struggled to get my feet working again. "Why are you here?"
"Since we are in public child you may call Dirge," The helmed man explained. "As for why I am here, it is to escort you and I presume your friends to meet someone very important." Dirge struck the butt of his crook against the ground as dust began to swirl all around us while I could feel that we were being taken somewhere, and the only question on my mind was were we being dragged into an even bigger mess than the one we just got rescued from.
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Round Rock, Texas
9:54 AM CDT
POV: Joan Drucker
By the time, I had returned from my morning jog, which I usually did a lot earlier in the morning, Mallory and Erika were wide-awake and arguing over the remote.
"Come on- it's Saturday morning, what's wrong with watching cartoons on Saturday morning it’s a tradition." Mallory said while trying to snatch the remote from Erika.
"Cartoons rot your brain Mallory- everyone knows that," Erika shot back trying to keep one-step ahead of Mallory. "Besides they’re for kids, and I'm watching the Today Show."
"Cartoons are not just for kids Erika," Mallory said as she scrambled for the remote. "Besides the Season Finale of Ben 10 starts in four minutes and you can stand to miss out on Campbell Brown for one morning."
"Um, Mallory if you really want to watch cartoons the TV in my bedroom gets cable too." I said trying to play peacekeeper between the pair.
Not wanting to take the chance that she was going to miss the first few minutes of her show Mallory tore up the stairs towards my room that I showed to the two of them last night, while leaving Erika dumbstruck.
Finally satisfied that the remote was now hers Erika turned on the big screen and tuned in just as Campbell was about to begin the fashion corner.
"Trouble in paradise?" I asked as Erika was settling into watch the news programs summery of the events of the day.
"It's just a little frustrating with her sometimes," Erika sighed as she pulled her legs against her to rest her chin on her knees. "Here we are almost in high school and she's still acting like a little kid."
"Erika there are some adults that still act like kids," I said as I toweled off. "The important part isn't what you enjoy in your spare time, but how you handle responsibility in the real world."
"Think what you will Joan, however you have to wonder how her hobbies will reflect on her in the public eye as we go to high school." Erika shot back, I shook my head as I made for the bathroom- I wonder how she would react if she knew the full truth about my family. Oh well, a quick shower and then I would scope out what further security measures I needed to take before the other guests got here. Granted dad's security system and Dame Scratch's wards are top notch but they're just gadgets and spells- there are still ways past them if you have the right tools or knowledge.
At least we had one of the organization’s demi-succubi to help, because the last thing that I wanted to do was for one of our guests to find out the truth about mom and dad then blow our family's cover. I remember reading the stories on Arc-net kids of super-villains being raised under fake names bouncing from city to city, country-to-country all to give them a vague sense of a normal childhood.
Jan and Mal Diabolik were one of the more well-known cases, but their story was also an all too familiar one. It was almost formulaic: the hidden kids of a super-villain get the secret of their parentage drug out into the light, a crusading district attorney shows up to take them into protective custody as a political maneuver. Then an angry and often armed mob of past victims and Humanity First show up to enact vigilante justice by proxy- oblivious to the fact that kids never had anything to do with their parent's crimes. Then the super-villain parent shows up to take kids away to Kardonia; then a year later it is turned into a low-budget television movie.
As for me living in suburbia with my real parents and long-time normal friends whose parents aren't part of the dark-side of the spandex as well, I was very a-typical of being a super-villain's kid let alone for the kid of a married super-villain couple. Yeah, I hate to be a pessimist here, but I'm waiting for that other shoe to surrender to gravity.
"Just keep in mind that we're going to have to help party-proof the house in an hour before Elinore and her posse arrive, to set things up." I explained as Erika was taking note of the latest Health Guru being interviewed, honestly it was obscene how many fad diets were out there milking the public like dairy cattle.
Brown-Jaffe Family Estate
While Joan and her friends were having a slow start to their day Elinore Jaffe, the girl who leaned on Joan for the use of her house for the pending party, was getting things together at her own home with the aid of the few servants who were not busy preparing the grounds for her father's guests.
"Madam Elinore, are you certain that you will be requiring the mix-table for tonight?" One of the maids asked in a professional tone.
"Of course, Elaine," Elinore said with a warm smile at the maid in question. "This will be Joan Drucker's first party at her own house; I want it to be something for her to remember."
"I am certain that her parents will make her remember it well enough once they get back into town." Said maid grumbled under her breath as she complied with her mistress's request.
Now that the maid had left the room Elinore's mother Leanne came into the room, "Elinore are you certain that this is a good idea, you know the truth about the Druckers are you certain that this is a good idea?"
"Of course, I am, and believe me I of all people am well aware about the Druckers." Elinore stated with a smile, "And believe me I am giving Joan exactly what she deserves, it's long overdue really."
Apple Creek Apartment 204
While Elinore was preparing to give Joan what she deserved, in a sparsely furnished apartment on the other side of town a young man was engaged in a web-chat with the camera turned off.
"So you understand your mission Faux-05?"
"Yes, our current accumulated intelligence indicates that Walter Drucker is the most likely suspect for the information that we desire. I am to use the party to gain access to the Drucker home, enter Walter Drucker's home office during the party and retrieve any data and security codes that I am able to do so." The man known as Faux-05 whose face was barely visible in the low light, "If for some reason that I am unable to gain access to his office, then I am to look for Walter Drucker's home lab and after gaining access upload a copy of his hard-drive and then leave all obtained information at the current dead drop."
"Good, now remember Faux-05, whatever you do- do not get caught, the last thing that we need is for the organization's method's to be made public. If that happens you've blown the cover of every agent of ours on assignment. Should you be captured you know what to do."
"Understood," The man known as Faux-05 stated before adding. "The Grand Masquerade shall continue!"
"The Grand Masquerade shall continue!"
Upon closing the chat and powering down his laptop the hidden individual features began to shift until his appearance changed to that of a much younger man, someone that Joan and Elinore would have recognized from their school. Unbeknownst to them The Grand Masquerade had infiltrated their town and even their class, and their current target was one of the key researchers of Axcel Incorporated, Walter Drucker- Joan's father.
POV: Joan Drucker
When the Today Show was done with and Mallory was done with watching cartoons (at least for now), we got to work cleaning up for tonight's party. Yeah, I know the place was going to be even worse than our slumber party had left it after the party was over but still it was the principal of the thing to have everything look good for the guests. Besides I admit I had indulged in a few of Elinore's house parties before; okay the fact is that they were a blast, honestly though; you had to wonder just where she got the energy for that and keeping up with her school work.
Most people wouldn't know it by looking at her but like me, party girl Elinore was on the honor roll- just how she managed to find the energy to do this and trough a house party what seemed like every other week was one of those mysteries that I'm sure man was not meant to know.
Just as I was almost finished, dusting the entertainment center the doorbell rang. Setting down my Swiffer I went for the door, only to find Elinore, a couple of Junior Varsity football players, and a few members of the school's AV club could be seen helping-out with the van in her drive-way while two more were pulling up alongside the curb. I could clearly see them getting out folding tables (probably for the food), better set those up in the backyard to make it easier on the carpet.
"Hello Joan," Elinore said as I opened the door. "Would you like to show us where we can set everything up?"
"Sure, follow me around to the back yard and I'll show where we can set up the refreshments on the back porch." I explained as I began to lead them around back to the gate.
"Pardon me," Larry Krum from our aforementioned Audiovisual Club asked as he brought out a pair of turntables. "Is it alright if I go inside to start setting up the sound equipment?"
"Sure, go right inside; just be careful if you need to move the furniture around in the den." I replied as I opened the door to help them since his hands were full, thankfully we didn't have anything too valuable in the den- well other than the TV.
After Larry walked into the house with the turntables, followed by another couple of junior varsity football players and a table, I guided Elinore and the rest of the group into the backyard to setup on the porch. As I did so, Evan Vickers was eyeballing our pool as he setup one of the tables.
"Yeah, my folks said that we can use it during the party," I smiled as I answered his unasked question. "We only have a few house rules about the pool: No glass bottles anywhere near the pool, no trash, and wait ten minutes after eating."
"Seems fair," He responded, meanwhile Reid Duram brought around a steel tub with Carlos Puckett's help.
"What is that for?" I asked curious about the steel trough.
"Caned drinks," Reid explained. "When we go to the store later we're going to pick up a few cases of assorted soda and a few bags of ice, then toss them in half an hour before the party starts. Elinore doesn't want to risk some idiot sneaking in a bottle of vodka and spiking the punch bowl again like Blake Russel did during last-year’s spring break bash."
"Oh yeah," I remarked before explaining, "I missed out on that one because I was home with the flu."
I laughed to myself at that memory; I was so delirious with fever that day that I could swear that my teddy bears were dancing. Later mom told me that one time that I was trying to convince her that Mister Fuzzles was trying to waltz with Fluffy while she was changing out my cold pack.
"Good thing that you did," Reid continued as he got out the garden hose to spray the inside of the tub while Carlos held it steady. "Three of our classmates drank themselves sick."
After the tables were arranged and the tub was set upside down in the grass to dry, Carlos helped me sweep the porch of any dirt and debris while Elinore helped Evan to begin stringing up some cheap paper lanterns, around the perimeter of the overhang. Meanwhile out in the yard Reid was staking down a few tiki torch holders, they were going to fill them with a normal lamp oil to draw the evening bugs away from the porch. Thankfully, it was still too early for mosquitoes to be a real problem- citronella oil stinks when it burns.
As we were about halfway done we heard some shouting coming from inside, I rushed in to see smoke coming from the sound equipment and Larry desperately wielding a fire extinguisher.
"What happened?" I asked in astonishment trying to hear over the sound of the smoke alarm going off, thankfully we didn't have one of those emergency service systems setup around the house.
"There was a short in the electrical system," Larry explained over another shot from the fire extinguisher. "It started in the mixing board and surged to the speakers, it looks like the sound system for the party is shot."
"Just be grateful that I unplugged it before it caught fire!" Erika exclaimed with a cross expression on her face, "I thought that you knew just what you were doing with this equipment!"
"I do!" Larry shouted back clearly insulted, "I've worked with this system a dozen times. It was likely problem in the circuitry from wear and tear that caused the short in the first place; there was nothing that I could have done to predict this happening short of opening up the board itself and taking a look inside!"
"I'm going to call the fire department and ask if they can send someone to check out the safety of this equipment," Erika stated which launched me into a panic. If the fire department were called, they'd have to file an incident report with the police department of the brief electrical fire. Incidents with the fire department meant that the police would likely send someone over when my parents got back home, something that we had always managed to avoid.
Sure, a lot of people make jokes about the police however, they are paid and trained to be observant, and there was always a risk that an officer would be observant enough to see past my parent's wards. All it would take was one cop sensitive enough and the delicate house of cards that were the illusion wards keeping the truth about our family hidden from prying eyes would be torn to shreds- along with the only home that I had ever known.
I don't know how it began but in that moment of total panic when all of the sudden everything clicked- "Hold the phone call Erika, I know what to do!"
I don't know how did but I did, my hands moved like a blur as my heart thundered in my chest as I unplugged all the connections on the mixing board and carried it down into my dad's lab in the basement, the one for his day job at Axcel not the hidden super-villain one in the sub-basement. I grabbed a pair of gloves from the tub and a tiny Philips-head screwdriver before I plugged in the soldering iron, in no time I had the casing off the mixing board and was ready to look at the guts of the equipment.
I knew from a glance that the mixing board was a mess, but it was far from unsalvageable. I went over to my dad's workstation and began to pull out the necessary components for the repairs- before a stray thought hit me. Going with my new insight, I grabbed an empty plastic tray and began to select a series of resistors and diodes from the trays that my dad used to keep everything organized then put on a mask and turned on the overhead vent.
Speedily I got to work replacing the burned-out resistors on the circuit board and then splicing the new resistors what were rated at a much higher capacity then the ones then I replaced them with. Then to follow I began to strip out the old diodes, transistors, inductors and capacitors; although most of them were perfectly fine, they were too weak for the modifications that I was making.
One by ones I carefully soldered in the new circuits on the board instinctively knowing just how much the board itself could take before it would break. It was weird I was moving without any wasted motion, every move of the hot soldering iron was made with perfect precision. I knew exactly what I needed to do without even needing to look up the original’s registered blueprints.
I just fell away from the world as I worked, I knew what I was doing and I was almost done. Sure enough, as the circuit board was repaired now better than new I moved it to the side and as I went for the first of the speakers. I carried the bulky thing back to the normal lab in the basement ignoring its size given that it didn't feel that heavy.
Like the mixing board, I open the thing up and got to work, once again my hands began their delicate complex dance as I improved the speaker before likewise moving it aside to work on its mate. I was a blur of details as I began my final improvement on the sound system even adding a slight coat of resin to the outside of the cup so the tonal quality would be a little deeper.
No wait there was still the turntables themselves, what point was there in improving the speakers and the mixing equipment when the source of the music itself was still the same. With the last speaker aside, I went back and picked up the turn tables marching them back downstairs to the basement lab despite Larry grabbing on and dragging his heels to keep me from taking then, a quick jab with a capacitor that I had pulled off of the mixing board persuaded him to turn loose of them.
Soon I had the turn tables disassembled as I began to work, it was quick work soldering the new wires in place then coating the now fused ends with a thin coat of liquid rubber. Then I began to work on the guts of the machine, before I knew it I had upgraded the turn table like I had the speaker. Finally, all the sound system was improved, there would be no need for Erika to call the fire department who would file a report that would call the police who might discover the truth about my family.
I tried to relax as I walked back into the living room but all around me I saw things that I knew that I could improve easily with what I had around the house, the microwave, the oven, the refrigerator, the coffee pot, the television, the lighting system, my dad's custom security system it never seemed to end. All I needed to do was for my eye to catch sight of something and automatically I knew what I needed to do to fix it, to improve it, to make it more efficient, to make it work even better than before.
What was going on? Why couldn't I stop seeing things this way? Oh no, I realized it I had begun to manifest in a house full of people with my parents over a thousand miles away in another time zone and the only person in the house who could help me was a demi-succubus who would have to risk blowing her own cover to help me. I began to shake as my panic and paranoia began to cloud out my previously clear insight, there was nothing that I could do my life was over. I began to shake and hyperventilate as Elinore and Mallory grabbed me, when I collapsed to the ground.
I couldn't hear a thing that they were saying above the sound of my own thundering heartbeat, but I could see the looks of fear on their faces as my vision began to blur. Soon that blur faded into darkness-
"What happened?" Erika asked out of clear concern, "What was all that about? How was Joan able to do what she did? Forget the fire department; do I need to call an ambulance?"
"I'm surprised that I don't need to," Larry grumbled while stroking his hand. "Just how was she able to drag me like that, not to mention pick all of that stuff up? It took two of us to bring in the mixing board and the speakers, granted that we're not the strongest folks around but she was able to carry them easily.
"Not unless you never want to see your friend again." Nicole said as she came down the stairs having been drug out of Walter's office half an hour ago by all of the commotion. "Unless I'm mistaken Joan, just manifested."
"Manifested, hold the phone, do you mean Joan's a mutant?" Mallory said as she looked at her friend in awe, "But she can't be a mutant, she looks the same as she always does?"
"Well if she just manifested it should take a while before any physical changes happen." Nicole began to explain to everyone present. "That is if she displays any physical changes at all, some mutants look just like everybody else, and I hope for her sake that this is the case."
"Well she's already violent enough," Larry grumbled. "She shocked me for no reason."
"Judging by what she was doing she might be a tech-focused mutant," Nicole did her best to explain. "From what I've seen from the ones at Axcel they usually get very into their work and they get about as territorial around it as a dog does over their food bowl while they're working."
"But will she be alright?" Erika said with her earlier panic only somewhat mollified, "And how do you know so much about mutants?"
"The boarding school that I went to when I grew up had a special course that they taught whenever someone manifested." Nicole calmly claimed telling the relative truth, "Ruby one of the girls in my grade manifested and her feet transformed into hand-feet like a monkey, you'd never know by looking at now when she's wearing shoes."
"Will she be alright though?" Elinore asked fixing Nicole with a look that said far more than she was telling as she brought a cold pack from the freezer for Joan.
"It's too soon to tell," Nicole admitted aloud, "why don't a couple of you fine gentlemen take her up to her room. Erika, you can help Mallory since you’re so interested and already know where it is you can keep an eye on her."
"Roger-roger," Mallory chirped as she led Carlos who had Joan's shoulders and Evan who had her feet up the stairs to Joan's bedroom.
"Erika, please check on her every once in a while with a thermometer." Nicole advised before explaining, "They also explained about a condition called Burnout, keep an eye on her temperature and for any physical abnormalities. I'll keep my cellphone on me at all times, if you notice anything outside of the norm please call me."
"Where will you be?" Erika asked curious where the adult supervision for all of this would be headed.
"At the Whole Foods store picking up some organic energy bars," Nicole confessed to the teenager. "Joan was going full tilt before she crashed that likely used up a lot of calories and she might need some more fuel on top of that, I'm not going to risk there being any chemical interactions while she's stabilizing. Elinore you're coming with me, you need to pick up some drinks for your party anyway right? We can make this one trip since your people's vans left after you were done unloading."
"We're still going to be having the party!?!" Erika exclaimed in disbelief.
"Maintaining the veneer of normality is also important, from what I learned at this point psychology can actually influence mutation to some degree." Nicole stated. "Joan was expecting this party to happen and the more normal that she feels when waking up the better."
"What about us," Larry and Welsey from the AV club said bringing attention to themselves. "What are we supposed to do?"
"That soldering that Joan did on your equipment must have set by now," Nicole stated. "You might want to setup your equipment and perform a sound-check, just do it quietly you don't want to wake up Joan before she's ready to do so herself. Also, unplug anything in there that she was working on so that it doesn't start another fire."
As they left Nicole looked at Reid who was still with everyone else, "Please see that they don't touch or take anything. Oh, and lock up that room after they have all of their equipment out, I can't imagine that Mister Drucker will be too pleased that anyone was using his workroom while he wasn't home to supervise; the last thing that I'd want to do is explain why anything is missing."
"I've also called Dr. Paola Abrams, she's one of Axcel's company physicians, she'll be here soon. She has a good deal of experience with mutants and will be able to tell everyone if Joan is any real danger." Nicole said giving everyone still in the room a little bit of relief. "Remember to let her in when she gets here and show her to Joan's room, and she's the only one that you’re to let in other than us understand!"
"I understand," Erika nodded as Nicole and Elinore left the house.
POV: Joan Drucker
"-ck s_e's c_ming to!" I heard as I struggled to get my eyes open, only to find Mallory and a lady in a lab coat waiting for me once I did.
"Let me guess," I asked already knowing the answer, "I'm a mutant."
"I would say that it looks very likely," the lady said as she looked into my eyes with an Ophthalmoscope (okay I was curious and I looked up the name) to begin a standard checkup. "Your pupil response looks good," she said as she checked my right eye then my left, "Were your eyes always hazel?"
"Yeah!" I said as the aching started, "Did I grow antenna, a tail or anything?"
"Nope, it doesn't look like you show any signs of Gross Structural Dystrophy," the doctor said as she moved on to check my ears. "I'm Doctor Paola Abrams, the staff physician at Axcel for special needs employees."
"Oh, have you ever gotten to examine anybody with wings?" Mallory asked brimming with curiosity, after all this was the first time that she ever got to talk with a doctor who regularly examined mutants.
"Miss Trombly for the last time, even if I have, I wouldn't be able to tell you." Doctor Abrams replied while she finished examining my right ear canal. "If I told you that it would be a breach of doctor-patient confidentiality.
"Mallory's been trying to grill you for details has she?" I chuckled knowing my best friend all too well.
"Ever since I got here an hour and a half ago," Doctor Abrams dryly responded rolling her eyes before getting out a tongue depressor. "Now open your mouth and say ah!"
I did as she told me while she pressed down on my tongue with that disgusting piece of wood; honestly, I hated having these things in my mouth unless they had a popsicle wrapped around it- preferably strawberry.
"Tell me," Doctor Abrams asked as she examined the inside of my mouth. "Have you ever had your tonsils removed?"
"Yuh, wehn ah waf seben, wuy?" I said trying to talk with the stick pressing down on my tongue.
"Well they're back, and given that your friends told me earlier about your escapades I'd have to say that you're likely a combination of Exemplar and Gadgeteer." Doctor Abrams said as she threw the tongue depressor in the trash and made a few notes on her pad before getting out a probe thermometer. "Hold still."
"Wait I thought that Exemplars were what they call those hard body Mister Universe and Miss Olympia types." Mallory observed, "Joan doesn't look any different from before."
"Exemplars are a widely-varied group even across the same power rating Miss Malveaux, their looks are affected by what experts call a Body Image Template or BIT some look what you’re thinking of but Exemplars can vary widely some even looking as normal as Ms Drucker."
"Sorry to disappoint," I remarked just after the thermometer beeped.
Doctor Abrams took out the thermometer and read the results allowed, "Ninety-eight point six, so far everything looks normal but I still want you to keep an eye on yourself and ask your parents to schedule a follow-up with me. Now take off your shirt, I need to check your breathing."
I did as Doctor Abrams asked and pulled my shirt off right before she placed the cup of the stethoscope on my back at least this time the damned thing wasn't ice cold, "Breathe in... Breathe out." I could feel as the cup switched sides, "Breathe in… Breathe out."
"Good," the doctor said as she maneuvered around until she was in front of me, applied a blood pressure cuff, and then placed the stethoscope over my heart. "Now relax and breathe normally," I waited a few minutes as she inflated the cuff and counted my pulse.
After a few moments the deflated and removed the cuff and began to return her equipment to her bag, "You can put your shirt back on Ms Drucker. Now everything seems normal, although they seem to be a little too normal for someone in your current situation. You might be what the literature refers to as an Exemplar Two; you see although your vitals see to be perfectly normal at first glance, they just seem a little too good to be true for someone that should be under the amount of stress that you are. You might want to have your parents bring you in to come and see me for rudimentary powers testing, it might help you to learn a bit or about the brand new you- in the mean time I suggest that you enjoy your party."
"Alright Doc, thanks for the House Call on the Weekend," I said as I got up the aches now fading feeling more like I had gone through a five-hour workout then ten rounds with a steamroller.
"Thank the company health plan," Dr. Abrams said as she headed for the stairs.
Meanwhile Mallory stared at me like a puppy dog who someone had just asked if they wanted to go for a ride in the car.
"Can I help you Mallory?" I asked more than a little perturbed at the attention.
"I'm sorry- I just can't believe that I'm friends with a real live mutant," Mallory trying to keep herself from squealing like a fangirl. "Can I catch it?"
"It's a matter of genetics Mallory," I deadpanned, "it's not like I'm just a werewolf who can turn people by biting them."
"Oh, that's good; I don't think that I'd look good in fur." Mallory mused for a second, "I mean who’s ever heard of a ginger werewolf."
"Just tell me that we have something to eat," I groaned at her shtick.
"Yeah, Nicole picked up a of box of organic power-bars for you." Mallory said as she pulled a box labeled strawberry yogurt from under the bed, "I called her and told her what you'd prefer when she got to the grocery store."
"Never change Mallory," I said as I pulled her in for a hug, "never change."
"Aw if I don't then how would I ever get to fly?" Mallory asked with a pouty expression.
"Get a pilot's license after you turn eighteen." I dryly answered her as I dug into the box.
"Spoilsport," Mallory said as she stuck out her tongue at me. The more things change the more they stay the same.
POV: Joan Drucker
It was weird I polished off an entire box of energy bars less than three hours ago, and I was already starting to get hungry again; manifestation must have really took it out of me. Well it was either that or I was getting the freaky metabolism that Energizers were known for- which I hope not the last thing that I needed was to act as if I had the munchies twenty-four seven. As I made my way down the stairs I noticed that everyone had finished setting up inside, Erika must have really helped party-proof the house; okay to be fair Elinore's experience at being a party animal was probably to blame.
In the den Larry and Wesley were busy arranging a portable rack of vinyl records and arguing over the playlist for the party. "No, I'm telling you that we need to kick things off with "Dare", The Gorrilaz are always good to kick things off." Wesley was doing his best to argue what was obviously his order of the playlist.
"I'm telling you Wes, The Gorrilaz aren't even popular anymore." Larry groaned, "Let's start off with Finger Elven's "Paralyzer"; it just came out so no one's tired of it yet."
"Um, Larry," I said as I approached the pair. "I'm sorry about earlier, with the capacitor and everything. Honestly I don't know what I was thinking!"
"It's alright," Larry said as he looked into my eyes. "Honestly, it's not just working as good as new, my equipment is better than it was new. I did a sound check earlier, I've never been able to drop the bass that deep before; whatever you did it wasn't just science it was art."
"Yeah and Larry here was stupid enough to interrupt an artist while she was working, I'm surprised that she didn't bite you." Wes chuckled as he tried to switch one album for another only to get his knuckles slapped.
"Anyway, if you feel the need to upgrade any of my equipment again feel free to do so." Larry said as he glared at Wesley.
"I'll keep that in mind," I chuckled as I headed around the bar and into the kitchen.
I had just started browsing through the fridge for last night's leftovers when Elinore came to catch my attention. "I wouldn't get too full if I were you, we've got catering going to set up in the back in a little bit. Given that we're celebrating your first time having guests over and toasting to your continued good health, I admit that I decided to go a bit overboard."
"Elinore during that party at your family estate for your last birthday, you decided to supplement the backyard barbeque that your parents threw with a luau complete with Kailua pig and traditional Polynesian dishes." I said with a raised eyebrow, "Then you everyone in the school and their families to attend on top of the guests that your parents insisted on inviting, I'm surprised that your dad wasn't beside himself with bigwigs that he was trying to impress with his little princess."
"Ugh don't remind me, I know when keep up that act for daddy's friend's to act the part of his darling angel for the press when he needs me too." Elinore seemed to groan over her familial obligations, "To be honest the reason that I organize these parties is to give myself a chance to be me around people that really matter, not the press or the good ol' boys that dad needs to impress so much. No I mean my real friends- the people that I spend so much time with at school laughing and having fun. Sometimes I envy everyone at school not having to go around all day wearing a mask if they don't want to- at least they don't have to live a lie."
"Everyone has their secrets Elinore, even at school people hide pieces of themselves from others. Besides doesn't your dad have your older brother to show off as well?" I asked still keeping my own secrets all too hidden although she did have a point my parents (secrets aside) with their glamour charms active got to be mostly themselves in public. Granted that they had to keep mom's love of combat and dad's habit of technical practical jokes toned down, as far as anyone knew my mom was just a grown-up tomboy who loved cheering for the local football team and dad was a inventor with a weird sense of humor.
"Oliver busy over on the East Coast attending a boarding school for blue bloods in Connecticut called the Chilton Preparatory Academy, he only comes home during the holidays when he's not busy hobnobbing with the Old Money Upper Crust of New England." Elinore said with a sigh, "Every time I see him it's like he's further transformed into a caricature of a normal human being, dad wanted to send me on the same regiment of school's as Oliver after Elementary School- fortunately mom backed me up when I put my foot down. Still in exchange for getting to stay myself I have to put on airs for a bunch of self-important blowhards and smile for the camera till my face hurts."
"Anyway, what I was talking about was that I splurged a bit on the spread for the party. It's going to be the basic party staples- wings, pizzas, and sandwich trays, only because of the special occasions I decided to go with local quality and made a few phone calls." Elinore smiled which made me more curious. "Mainly to DoubleDave's, Hoody's and Pluckers, though no Fire in the Hole from that last one; the last thing that we need is two meatheads goading each other into trying for the Wall of Flame."
"True, but still why go to all of this trouble- why single me out?" I asked wanting to hear her response. "Why did you choose my house?"
"I'm a lot more observant than most people give me credit for Joan," Elinore said as she looked me in the eye. "I could tell that you've been distancing yourself from your friends lately- not a lot but the signs were there if you knew what to look for- almost as if you were gradually preparing yourself to make a break from your old life. Let me guess- you knew that you had the mutant gene and were gradually distancing yourself from everyone so they wouldn't suspect when you cut them off weren't you?"
Ouch, I don't know what hurt more the accusation or the fact that she was right and I had been doing it without realizing it. "Let me guess, your silence means that I hit the nail on the head?" Elinore's penetrating glare turned into a side-ways glance.
"I just didn't want anyone to get hurt when the mobs of mutant haters began to come to town," I sighed in defeat.
"I thought so," Elinore shook her head, "well at least that was my working theory after you manifested. Anyway, just enjoy the party, have some fun, let off some steam and worry about the details when your parent's get home- after all that part is a family matter."
The guests were now beginning to arrive and after coming in the door one at a time they were beginning to get a feel for the house that Joan Drucker and her family had called home for over a decade and a half. Still one guest was not there for the ambience or to have a good time relieving the growing pressure of the encroaching final exams and their soon to be status as freshmen, no if anyone who was familiar with police procedures made it a point to observe Joel Gibson they would have recognized that he was casing the house.
Sadly, the only ones who would have recognized this were occupied; Joan herself was concerned with maintaining an illusion of normality now that (like her parents) she was a mutant. While Nicole was busy working on a paper for her college courses, casually Joel observed the scene then after Matt Savage went in the hall bathroom he made his way to the DJ table, and caught Wesley attention.
"Excuse me the hall bathroom's occupied, is there one upstairs?" Joel asked trying to be candid.
"I think so," Wesley pondered while his cohort Larry was busy with the mixing board. "Should be free too, I don't think that I've seen anyone go up the stairs either."
"Thank you," Joel said as he made his way up the stairs, although he passed the bathroom and opened a door that looked far more professional only to find that to his surprise the room was occupied.
"Can I help you?" Nicole inquired as she looked up from her laptop and her paper while she glared at the intruder.
"Oh, I'm sorry I was looking for the rest room," Joel said using an act of teenage befuddlement to cover for his annoyance.
"You just passed it, this is Mister Drucker's home office and I am the adult that they asked to look after things while they were away," Nicole explained clearly annoyed at being disturbed, "now if you don't mind I have a paper that I need to complete."
"Okay- okay sorry," Joel said as he purposefully stumbled out of the door and made his way to the real second floor restroom to keep his cover. Once he was inside, he clenched his fists in annoyance before his face briefly shifted in a way that was unnatural, with a bit of concentration his face went back to normal. To maintain the veneer in case anyone might be listening Joel flushed the toilet and began to wash his hands off- it was time for Plan B.
POV: Joan Drucker
The guests had arrived a little while ago and things had started off great, especially now that I had hit the spread on the table- Elinore wasn't kidding about splurging while none of the places the food was from was out of the price range of the average person for lunch, party trays were another story. After a little time watched two of the playa's trying to serve each other with their moves to Mink's "Glory of Life" and I decided to partake of the buffet on the porch. I made a few choice picks and grabbed a diet cola from out of the tub then went to sit down on a hay bale that Elinore's folks had supplied as improvised benches.
I had just policed off a slice of the veggie version of Dave's fave and was about to dig into some lemon pepper wings, when I heard someone say the M word. "I'm telling you if they only gave mutants just little more benefit of the doubt things would be a lot better." Mallory began explaining to one of the members of the student newspaper.
"They did then things like the Fool's Fight and madmen like Gizmatic and Deicide happened." Dillon Goddard one of the thankfully few real junior members of the local H1 branch at our school shot back.
"When you get right down to it mutants are people, just as good and just as bad, remember human history is full of nightmares and monsters. The Nazi Regime, Pol Pot, Torquemada, all of those were products of human nature at its worst, and if those monsters are two ancient for you Professor Id popped back up in New York a couple of months ago, and everyone knows that monster really is human." Erika responded trying to use reason on the matter. "People are always going to be afraid of things that are different, but we can't let it create more problems. Besides the more marginalized and isolated a group becomes the more it creates a climate for reactionaries to recruit from when the more moderate members have nowhere else to turn, for example just what would do you think happen if someone who grows up believing Humanity First rhetoric becomes a mutant?"
Dillon didn't have a response for that, "Yeah what's the reason for all this doom and gloom besides everyone seems to be enjoying the music and that wouldn't have happened if Joan didn't fix and juice the sound system."
"What would that have- to- do- with..." suddenly Dillon's eyes widened up as he came to the obvious conclusion, thanks a lot Mallory.
"Oh my god, I'm at a mutant's stronghold, and she's trying to brainwash us!" Dillon shouted as he slowly backed away. "Th-that's it I'm calling the cops the MCO will come and put you in prison where you belong."
"And tell them what, that a mutant is throwing a party at the home that she's lived in all her life, and trying to hypnotize her class mates with a store-bought copy of Mary J. Blige's The Breakthrough." Elinore stated as she came out into the backyard, "Go right ahead, I'm sure that father's attorney would appreciate the workout when I volunteer him to help the one's Axcel Incorporated will likely appoint to defend her, besides according to their doctor who examined her she just manifested a few hours ago."
"Think about it every one- something like what Dillon is suggesting requires planning- not to mention a motive outside his blatantly bigoted paranoia." Elinore stated to everyone at the party, especially since the music from the inside had stopped. "Besides even if she has the skills to do what you suggest I doubt that she have the practice to employ them like you claim. Not to mention even less of a reason to so in the first place, I doubt she'd be stupid enough to do something where she'd be suspect number one."
"Just you wait freak," Dillon shouted as he stormed out the side gate of the backyard, "I'll see that the MCO locks you away in a hole where monsters like you belong!"
"The MCO have no power outside what the government gives them and their on thin-ice in Texas right now after that mess in Dallas last January." I stated my case as Goddard slammed the gate closed in rage. "You want a monster Goddard look in the mirror, because you're showing all the makings of one."
The entire party meanwhile was silent as a tomb then I heard a pair of hands clapping, another soon joined that and another until the sound filled the backyard and the house. "Okay folks I heard," Wesley say through the DJ mike on the stand the one piece of equipment of his that I didn't touch, "Now that the spitting cobra's gone, how about we shake-off the venom with some sweet jams."
As Nickelback's Savin' Me began to play the tension began to leave the party, while everyone seemed to let the recent development's go while they returned to enjoying themselves. Surprisingly no one had decided to avoid be as I stated to get back to my wings, I noticed a few of my classmates staring at me not out of fear- but curiosity. 'It's probably the first time they've ever known that they were in the vicinity of a real mutant.' I thought to myself, 'I'll probably get mobbed by questions before the party's over.'
While everyone was focused on the verbal sparring between Dillon Goddard and Elinore Jaffee- Joel Gibson took the opportunity to make his way to the stairs to the basement. After circumventing the lock on the door with his student ID him down the stairs to the basement, the most likely location of Walter Drucker's lab (making certain that the door to the stairs themselves was shut first). Seeing the standard keypad lock in place he took out bag of white powder, common talc, threw a handful against the keypad then gently blew against it as he put on a pair of latex gloves.
Soon the numbers one, two, six, nine and zero showed prints, taking a cue from the number display above the keypad that this was a date he went through the intelligence that he memorized about the Drucker's themselves. Walter and Alice were both born in the seventies and the number seven had obviously not been pressed in a while, now Joan on the other hand. Confident in his first-choice Joel keyed in 06111992, immediately the door unlocked allowing him to slip inside the lab.
The inside of the lab was very organized, unusual for an inventor in Joel's experience, yet it still took him time to find the computer itself. Once he turned on the hard drive he found to his chagrin that it was password protected, nothing that he hadn't dealt with before he slipped a USB port devise out of his pocket and it began a password cracking program. It took a good several minutes for the device to complete its work but now the password was complete and the computer started up.
Satisfied at the way his work was going, Joel replaced the password cracker with a modified external hard drive that began to copy all non-system files on the computer itself, now all that he had to do was play the waiting game.
A half hour after Joan was outed as a mutant her fellow students started to make their way to her obviously intent on learning a thing or two about mutants in the process from the horse's mouth, with the attention getting to her she excused herself to the upstairs bathroom. Meanwhile unbeknownst to everyone, while Dillon Goddard's little H1 drama in the backyard. While a number of their classmates seemed to be gathering the courage to ask Joan some very personal question, Mallory noticed that the side light was on and decided that it was ruining the atmosphere in the backyard, while she went down the hall to turn it off, that's when she noticed Joel Gibson coming out the door to the basement.
"Hey what were you don't down there?" Mallory asked, "That door was locked."
Joel tried to ignore her then when she grabbed and pulled him by the arm external hard drive slid out of his pocket, fortunately, he caught it before it hit the tile floor, unfortunately for him Mallory saw it as he caught the thing. "Wait is that a hard drive? Why would you have one of those at a party? Oh, my god you're a spy!"
That did it after replacing the hard drive in his pocket he pulled out its other occupant as he slipped behind Mallory, and grabbed her with his left hand as he held a glock to her temple in his right. "Now listen here, I wanted to do this quick and clean but you just complicated matted so you and I are going on a little trip. Just remember be a good little girl, and I'll turn you lose without needing to ventilate your skull."
POV: Joan Drucker
I was making my way back down the stairs when I saw Mallory being inched towards the front door with a gun to her head, immediately that same feeling when I repaired the sound equipment kicked in and I flew into action. I raced into dad's office and ignoring Nicole's inquiries of what was going on uncovered the hidden emergency safe under the throw rug. After opening it with my palm print I took out an imperception charm, (that dad had gimmicked to look tech-based) and one his shock gloves, and put both on.
Now satisfied that I was ready I carefully made my way back down the stairs with the attention that Mallory's captor was drawing thankfully aiding the charm and carefully made my way behind him before he backed into the entry hall. The adrenalin must have begun to get to me because everything looked fuzzy, still I had my plan and Mallory and her kidnapper were almost in position as I slipped in the alcove that led to the dining room, thankful that there was no door.
As the kidnapper opened the front door and backed his way out of it I followed him and Mallory outside neither noticing me thanks to the charm, then once we were all outside struck. In a swift motion, I grabbed the gun and flipped on the safety, hit him with the zap from the glove, then as he spasmed pulled Mallory free, and threw her to safety under the bushes while forcing him to drop the weapon.
My adrenaline began to die down when I turned back to her would be kidnapper, onto to see that he had pulled out a second gun. I could only stare in shock as he pulled the trigger and I felt round after round punch into me, as I began to fall I must have been seeing things because I could almost swear that I saw Elinore and Nicole appear right behind him and Nicole was pulling a spaded tail from the man's back.
Nicole knelt over Joan's fallen body as she assessed the girl's injuries, meanwhile Elinore glared own a Joel's fallen body knowing that he was paralyzed. 'How is she?' Nicole felt Elinore ask her mind to mind as to them the entire world seemed to slow down.
'Bad, one of the bullets punctured a lung, another nicked one of her arteries, while a third is lodged near her spine.' Nicole replied to Elinore's inquires. 'I'm using my telekinesis to keep her from bleeding out but that won't work forever, I don't suppose that you know any healing spells strong enough to handle this?'
'I don't even think that mother knows healing spells strong enough for this,' Elinore replied, as she knew what needed to be done. 'Joan, can you hear me, this is Elinore please don't pass out yet.'
POV: Joan Drucker
'Waht s et?' I asked not with my mouth but oddly enough with my mind.
'Joan this is important, you're going to die at the rate that you'd be bleeding out, Nicole is doing what she can to keep you alive but she can't keep it up forever.' I felt Elinore tell me in my mind. 'There is only one thing that we can do to save your life, you know what that is but you have to give us permission to do that. Now one question, do you want to live or die?'
Even being in shock from the situation I knew just what Elinore was talking about granted that I had more than a few questions but there was no time for any of that. I wanted to live and I would accept the consequences as they came, 'Doo et!'
Elinore's leather wings unfurled and her horns and tail appeared revealing her nature as a succubus- not a demi-succubus like Nicole, but a fully-fledged succubus. She leaned in and kissed me on the lips and I felt a poke as her tail pieced my skin, 'It figures I find out that I can hodgepodge things together only to become a hodgepodge myself.' After that thought passed through my mind I felt Elinore's tail begin to pump something into my veins that burned like fire. Soon I would no longer be human by most definitions of the word, I thought that my climb to become a hero would be difficult before just being the child of super-villains- now I was about to become a demi-succubus- literally a Hell fiend.
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Five Miles from Boston Harbor
11:17 AM EDT
The four students from Whateley looked on in awe at the gently breaching leviathans before them in the chilly waters of the Atlantic Ocean, "Whoa," Heather said in awe as she saw the Humpback in the water emerge to spout, "I wish that sis was here to see this!"
"Well you know what they say about high school girls on a shopping trip." Aries remarked as he snapped some more pictures from the camera that he borrowed from Loophole. "Still I know what you mean, when admin asked me to watch a groupof middle school girls this wasn't what I was thinking about, but wait till mom and dad get a hold of the pictures that I send them from this- talk about 'I wish you were here.'"
"Got that right," Sherrie said as she looked on, while part of her wished that one of the whales would get close enough for her to touch the gentle giant of the deep. "Say can you give me a few copies- I want to send some to my dad."
"Only your dad?" Arnold asked slightly curious, only to take in Sherrie's expression when he asked, "Oh I'm sorry I didn't know."
"No she's still around," Sherrie replied in a slightly morose tone as she looked on at the family of humpbacks in the distance swimming together in the chilly waters of the North Atlantic, "it's- just complicated."
"Hey you still have us Sherrie-bear," Mirabel sang as she hugged her friend's side with her left arm, "besides I heard from my folks that your mom's getting some much needed therapy right now. She just got help from the wrong kind of people after your brother's accident; remember you never know what tomorrow will bring."
"Yeah Sherrie," Heather said as she held her new friend's left hand, "please don't let that get you down, you never know what will happen in a few years."
"Thank's you two," Sherrie smiled as she snaked her left arm around Heather for a group hug, "I needed that!" At that moment, Arnold Harvey took the opportunity to snap a picture of the moment and capture something other than the Humpbacks on film.
POV: Bea Carson, Rose of the East
"Now miss, these moccasins would be ideal for the outfit in that picture would you like to try them on?" The sales clerk whose nametag said Mindy asked me.
"Actually the one that we're buying them for is the girl in the photo," I sheepishly admitted.
"I see," Mindy mulled over this information. "Do you have her shoe size?"
"Yes, she's a size 4.5 I also have something that should help the measurement," I explained while pulling out a little something that looked like a rubber mannequin’s foot with something blue on the middle. "Although this should help to see that they fit properly."
"What- is- that?" Mindy inquired with her in mild sense of shock painted with a touch of curiosity.
"It's a flexible rubber molding of her foot," I began to explain. "It's filled with gel and capped by a flexible latex bubble, let me demonstrate it."
I grabbed the shoe that the woman picked out and slid the molding inside the bubble at the top bulged albeit only slightly, "Good this pair should fit perfectly once the leather loosens up."
"Um- where did you get that?" The sales woman asked somewhat nervously, not surprising although the police of Boston were mostly accepting of mutants and metahumans the regular public was bound to have at least a little apprehension.
"It was from a girl that her mother used to tutor," I replied telling the complete truth after all Sorcha did give it to me along with the photos of Evania, Glory and Eve took in the explanation with a touch of amusement having watched me give it three times already including once to themselves. "She's just a few years older than me; I think that she's planning to apply to MIT next year."
"Well if she's clever enough to come up with something like this I'd say that she's a shoe-in," Mindy remarked as she flashed us a saleswoman's smile.
"Ugh," Eve recoiled as she heard Mindy's remark while Glory and I just winced. "Please no puns, that one was awful."
"Everyone's a critic." Mindy sniffed as she put the moccasin away and went to get out another pair based upon the next photograph.
"Just those with good taste," Glory shook her head before she turned to ask me. "Sorcha really came up with that?"
"Oh yes, she's really clever and loves to examine things to see if she can come up with new ideas for them." I explained, "She got this idea from one of those stress toys that the eyes bulge when you squeeze them."
"Maybe you should introduce her to some of the inventors at school," Glory remarked as she thought about the matter. "It might help inspire some of them to think outside the box that they're currently in for new applications."
"That might not be such a good idea," Eve said in a mildly panicked tone, "Imagine what would happen if she did that for someone like Delta-Spike."
"Ugh, good point," Glory shuttered before telling me, "On second thought forget I said anything!"
"Why, what's the problem with Delta-Spike?" I asked somewhat curious about the matter, I mean I know about her problem with electrical surges.
"You mean aside from a complete lack of common sense?" Eve said as she looked me in the eye, "The girl was the one who shut down the last Inventor's Fair."
"Heartbreaker something always happens at that thing," Glory rolled her eyes, "It's always something blowing up, catching fire, or going out of control that shuts the thing down, besides common sense is something that lot seems to train themselves to ignore."
"Not always," Eve retorted with a smile, "sometimes it's something going out of control and catching on fire right before blowing up! Honestly the inventors that we have at the Academy are crazy."
"I don't know," I replied aloud, "Arnold seems to be pretty nice."
"Arnold, I didn't know that she was friends with Aries?" Eve asked somewhat curious about my comment, the Mastermind in her starting to shine through. "Besides he's not an inventor...is he?"
"She might mean Arnold Fletcher; he's one of the Spring Transfer students that made it into the Motor-Heads." Glory began to explain, "Remember the last time Bannermann got detention? It was because he broke an engine block to one of the Academy's jeeps that Fletcher was transporting back to the motor pool to reinstall after repairing it, the dork thought that it was some valuable secret invention Fletcher he was stealing for nefarious purposes or something stupid like that."
"That's Bannermann for you," Eve giggled, "all bluster and bravado with no brains included."
"Here I am miss," Mindy said as she sauntered back in, "now madam for that next outfit may I suggest ballerina slippers." Mindy said bringing out a black leather shoe with a slight flat heel.
"Say, Bea it's getting close to lunch, what do say after we're done here that we go grab a bite?" Eve asked as I brought out the test foot again.
"Sure! How about we go for sushi?" I asked as I slid Sorcha's little innovation into the shoe causing the gel in the top to bulge considerably. "I'm sorry but this one is too tight, maybe we could try a different one."
"Certainly," Mindy said as she took the shoe and returned to the back.
"Well- what about it?" I inquired further as I looked at Glory and Eve who both stood as if they were shocked by my suggestion, "Was it something I said?"
POV: Randi Bridges, Rose of the West
"I just find it weird that you two wanted to spend more time in Bath & Bodyworks than Expressions of Boston," Sayyid stated with a clear tone as the group waited on their food. "I always thought that American women enjoyed shoe shopping- or am I wrong and that is just a total stereotype?"
"Well some might Sayyid- but the fact is that I doubt you could call either Randi or myself normal." Candace explained as she rested her chin upon her interlaced fingers. "I actually prefer your more durable athletic shoes to something more fashionable, and Randi is more of a hiking shoes girl- so in that department the two of us are golden."
"Besides Candace and I both have at least twice the amount of hair as most other students at school so we tend to go through hair care supplies a lot faster." I explained somewhat embarrassed at the fact, that and considering that both of us train on the athletic side of things we also go through bodycare products rather fast.
"Among other things," Candace said as she stared at me, "no offense dear but I think that it's time that you picked up a new gi from the student store- and burn the old one while you’re at it."
"Candace- please, you know that it is against federal law to burn hazardous materials," I replied as I felt a smile on my face, "and after two months training with Anu and Morrigan I am fairly certain that thing qualifies. To tell you the truth I have a few scent jars in my bag with the smell of those things contained inside- if I get someone like Bloodwolf in the combat finals I'll have the perfect weapon to use against him."
"Randi that is cruel, sneaky and devious- you are becoming more of a proper young lady every day." Candace sniffed as she brushed off a shed tear of pride. "Still I just wish that some of the fragrances in that place weren't so strong, I mean my sense of smell hasn't increased that much but still yikes."
"I know what you mean Candace," I shuddered in memory of my last trip to the Parks Mall back home, "I hated going to the Mall before I changed, and afterwards I have to be on constant alert for those trigger-happy psychos armed with perfume bottles. Really some of those scents are too much, and it doesn't help that some women keep spraying it on until they can smell it- don't they realize that they build up a tolerance to strong smells if they're around them all the time?"
"No Randi, I don't think that they do," Candace sighed as she shook her head out of shame for a part of our now mutual gender, "though you'd think that they would notice the reactions of everyone around them."
"Well to be fair a lot of guys try not to let that show," I sheepishly explained. "It's mostly about it not being polite to point something like that out to a lady- mainly because it would embarrass them in public. And if my brother Chuck or I did that well- dad would tan our backsides."
"Well you don't have to worry about things like that anymore," Candace said with a coy smile on her face.
"Let me guess, because the tail would get in the way?" I asked somewhat wondering just where this conversation was headed.
"No because you have me to look after your backside," Candace stated in a singsong tone, "And I take a great deal pride in my work on protecting a precious work of art."
Once again I could feel that Candace had me impersonating a tomato, although I was embarrassed part of me was glad that I was with someone that not only felt something about me on a personal level but considered me to be attractive. I guess that deep down I still thought of myself as the geeky butterball that I used to be rather than young lady that I had become.
'Of course Randi.' I felt Jane explain over our link. 'such things take time; just remember that no matter how composed some of the girls around you appear to be- all of them also had an awkward stage too.'
Finally, the bus boy, whose nametag said Larry by the way, came with our orders. "Alright that's one Bison Burger," he said setting down my burger in front of Sayyid, "one Curry Chicken Marsala," he continued giving me Candace's rice bowl, "and one Spicy Falafel Flatbread," and finished up by giving Candace Sayyid's sandwich. "I apologize but your smoothies will be a few more minutes, and if you need anything else please don't be afraid to ask."
After the waiter had walked out of sight we swapped plates and started on lunch, I guess it just goes to show even if the food is good it can still be tainted by the service.
Artames Holdings Warehouse - Southside Shipping District
Deep within the building a number of individuals kept on retainer for the Boston Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom had been busy for the last hour. Greg Paulson, a mole that the Arch-Fiend had inside of the New York Chapter House, had arrived at the rendezvous from his motel with a bug-out bag filled with the contents of one of the belated Obsidian Circle's Black Vaults. Ever since everyone present had been busy waiting nearby while Lady Darke and the Children of the Night's client, a member of the Esoteric Order of Dagon, stood nearby watching.
The going was slow given that Greg Paulson had to pull the boxes out one at a time for the group's supervisors Hanna Ring and Carmen Boucher to open and examine the contents, catalog them and have someone move them off to the side. All of this while they waited for the object that the order wanted was a single object that would be in the loot, granted that none of them had a clue what the object was or did but knowing the type of things that dark magic types were interested in that was probably for the best.
"Hanna can I take a minute to make a couple of quick phone calls?" Trenton Haney asked drawing her attention as she handed him a box containing several jewelers boxes each containing intricate rings made of some black substance. "I have reservations at a restaurant with my girl friend and I need to cancel."
"Alright but make certain you're within earshot of everyone else and speak loud enough so that they can hear," Ms Ring replied harshley as she inspected another box this one containing a couple of dozen loose antique keys. "The last thing that we need is a security breech, especially working for The Necromancer."
"Understood, and careful with those old pine boxes, I'm wearing work gloves and I'm still getting scratched up like crazy- wonder if I'm going to need a tetnus shot." Trenton said as he took the box containing the rings away to place on an empty shelve before coming back to the group and taking out his cell phone. "Hey Zoe, its Trent I'm afraid that I can't make it tonight, they're making me pull overtime at work. No I can't take off, this is an important client my boss would terminate me if I did.
While Trent was busy pleading over the phone with his girlfriend, Hanna's eyes lost focus for a second as she used slight-of-hand to pocket an antique silver key from the box while she was inspecting it. As suddenly as this happened her eyes went back to normal, and she continued inspecting the keys as if nothing had happened, granted that she noticed there was only twenty-three keys in the box rather than twenty-four she waved the experience off, "Must have counted one of them twice by mistake."
"Wait a moment," The representative from the Esoteric Order of Dagon called out as he approached the group's ramshackle assembly line.
"Hanna seemed to glare at the man in hatred as her body tensed up slightly, almost as if she was waiting for something.
That faded once again as she cultist approached Carmen who was busy inspecting a long custom crate. The nameless young man reached in and withdrew an oddly designed yet ornate staff that looked like it was expertly crafted of a kind of salmon-hued coral and a type of black rock (possibly basalt) with the top adorned with a sickly yellowish pearl.
"This is what we were looking for," the man stated as he turned to Lady Darke who had joined him amidst the mess of the operation, "tell your master that he may use whatever else is found among the haul as he sees fit, I shall see to it that the Order rewards him appropriately for this artifact."
"I will inform him as soon as possible," Lady Darke said with a lady-like curtsey that the man ignored as he trod off with the box containing the staff. "Alright everyone, I need to talk with the Master, keep doing what you are doing and remember no one quits until that bag is empty and its contents are cataloged!"
"Yes Lady Darke!" everyone replied in unison as they got to work on her request failing to recognize that one of their own had already helped herself to a piece of the loot.
POV: Bea Carson, Rose of the East
"I still can't believe that you wanted to eat at a place that serves raw fish," Eve said in astonishment as I used my chopsticks to pick up another piece of tuna sashimi, as our conversation was far more candid now that our privacy charm was back on.
I gave Heartbreaker a sideways glare as I savored the expertly cut slice of sock-eye, after I swallowed and took a sip of the hot green tea I replied to her comment. "What? Do you think merfolk eat an all kelp diet?"
I sighed as I set my chopsticks down on the tray. "That story that Evania told us about her mother and the cowrie snails was just- that a story, Sorcha explained that Lirtosia was her tutor when she was younger, they enchanted those shells during one of her lessons back when she was Evania's age the cowrie shells were just the raw materials that they used. Keeping a hold of that little fairy tale is probably just another way that she uses to remember her mom."
"The fact of the matter is that our diet is rather protein-heavy; remember most warm-blooded sea animals eat several times their body weight every day. Thankfully I don't need to yet since I spend most of my time out of the water and in a wheelchair but still don't use fiction as a reference for us."
"Actually I'm more amazed that you can actually use these things," Glory said as she struggled to use her chopsticks properly.
"Well most of the refuges are in lands heavily influenced by oriental cultures," I began to giggle at the sight of the aspiring hero struggling to hold the utensils; "I thought that it would be a good idea to learn how to properly eat the local cuisine if I ever chose to visit that part of the world."
"If I were you I'd be careful over there," Eve stated up after swallowing a bit of udon, "the word around school is that when the ambassador from China met Bladedancer he gave her something with an enslavement spell on it. Apparently it's a possible reason for why a good number of American born Chinese preternaturals decide to visit their ancestral homeland and then never come back."
"I'll be careful besides there are ways to the access the four Jade Heaven refuges outside of mainland China," I explained as I poured a little soy sauce on my rice, "you just have to know where they are and how to access them."
"Um, Bea I'm sorry for all of the things that I've said so far it's just- well- that The Little Mermaid was one of my favorite movies growing up," Eve began to explain. "I guess part of it was the fact that Ariel was a bit of an outsider who wasn't concerned with how others felt about her. But don't either of you two ever tell anyone that I said that- ever!"
"My lips are sealed," I replied with a smile.
"I'll keep that little secret if you show me how to use these things." Glory said as she struggled again with her chopsticks right before breaking them, "Oh come on!"
"Here," Eve replied handing Glory another set of chopsticks and waited for her to break them apart, "now take the bottom stick and steady it between your thumb and middle fingers while keeping it against your index finger."
Eve waited for Glory to handle her instructions before she continued, "Now take the second stick and pinch it between your thumb and index finger, just make sure to keep them close to even."
"I think that I can take it from here!" Glory puffed as she tried to grab a piece of shrimp tempura only to have the fried sea bug twirl about in the bento box.
"You might want to practice a little pinching with them before you try to pick things up," I snickered as Glory blushed.
"Not a word about this to anyone at school!" Glory shot the two of us a steely-eyed glare. "Not one word!"
"Now Gloriana," Eve said in a sing-song tone, "everyone at Whateley knows what happens in Boston stays in Boston."
"I thought that was the Arena?" I asked somewhat confused.
"Same principal," Eve puffed out her chest while Glory rolled her eyes.
Artames Holdings Warehouse - Southside Shipping District
"Hey hurry up with that next box Paulson," Carmen barked out at Greg as he seemed to struggle with the mystic bag. "We are getting paid by the job not the hour here."
"Keep your panties on you nag," Greg grunted with both of his hand reaching far into the bag, "this next crate is fucking heavy- I think that we're starting to get to the big stuff."
"Hey Trent," Carmen called out to one of the grunts that she had working for her, "get something to speed this along from the tool cabinet!"
"The gloves or the bracelet," Trent replied back as he made his way over to the cheap metal cabinet by the side of the room.
"The bracelet, the gloves can go a little haywire inside of enchanted items," Carmen replied then paused for a moment. "On second thought bring both we can always use the gloves to put the stuff up."
"Good idea," Trent said as he grabbed what looked like an engraved bronze bracelet and a pair of high-tech gloves from the cabinet. "I guess that's why they pay you the big bucks."
"No they pay me the big bucks to take the job in the first place, people like The Necromancer tend to make an example of the middle-management if anything goes wrong." Carmen shouted back as she waited for Trent to walk back over.
"That is a fairly accurate assessment Ms Boucher," Lady Darke remarked as she looked up from the trashy romance novel that she had been reading Carmen could swear that she'd recognized its cover from the last time that she passed by the magazine rack at the super-market.
"Figures the skank would read bodice rippers." Carmen muttered under her breath as she shook her head.
A few minutes later after Trent gave Paulson the strength bracelet Greg set down a hefty wooden crate right in front of her. Fortunately, Carmen already had a crowbar standing by next to a claw hammer; once the lid was pried off she looked inside to see a nasty looking battle-axe. "Yikes," she said taking in the sight of the sadistic design of the weapon. While the main blade looked rather standard albeit it looked like the surface of the blade behind the edge had been knapped, the mounting balance resembled the blade on a guillotine and at the top of the mount was a triangular bladed mount. "Dammit, this thing is a war crime waiting to happen!"
"Makes sense," Paulson said as he began to return to work, "The place that I got this haul from used to be Lycaon's personal storage vault at the New York Chapter House."
Everyone of the crew working stopped and stared at Greg Paulson in horror, "What you mean you broke into the Dark Vaults and cleaned out the personal storage room of the single most homicidal operative that the Obsidian Circle has, are you crazy or just stupid?" Trent shouted in fear.
"What's the big deal?" Greg asked as he continued working, pulling out the next crate from the Bug Out Bag. "The Obsidian Circle is long gone- everyone knows that. Aside from Madam Eventide, Conte Enigma and a handful of operatives like the Erinyes and Greygus they're all dead or gone forever with no hope of return."
"No they're not you idiot, Mister Domino and Mistress Nyx were seen just a few months ago with Erzebet Scratch at the Dallas Chapter House, there's a good chance that she's a member now too." Treat shouted in hysteria.
"Yeah and the word is making the rounds that this Lord Khamsin who popped up recently is a newly revitalized Lord Ataxia, he was seen in Laos leaving the Mountain Temple of the Tong of the Black Madonna's with Baron Impie just before The Syndicate gave it a paint job." Carman shook in fear, "Apparently they killed several cultists and made an example of the high priestess."
"Just rumors," Greg scoffed of their concerned, "besides there is no way that Lycaon is still around, Doc Celsius blasted him to ash after Champion numero thres pinned him to a concrete wall with a steel girder like a freaking mounted butterfly. There is no way anyone can come back from that- it would be impossible!"
While everyone else was taking in the revelations of just whose stolen merchandise they were handling Hanna was staring at the axe that Carmen had just revealed- seeming to take in every detail of the axe and especially the crate- brushing past Hanna as she did so.
"Ouch," Hanna briefly recoiled in pain looking down at her hand and noticing a scratch, she shot Carmen a look. "Geez Carm, you might want to watch it with that ugly ring, where did you get that thing anyway."
"A date I was on a few months ago gave it to me as an appology gift, to be honest he was a ten in the looks department but his personality drove him down to a seven." Carmen explained as she shook her head, "At least I got something to remind me not to make that mistake again."
Suddenly Lady Darke's cell phone rang, and with a flick of her hand she flipped it open. "Hello?" She paused to listen, "I understand, sir I will be there at once!" She hung up the phone and glared at the people still working, "Finish up and don't take anything, or we will find out."
None of the workers took that threat lightly as they diligently kept up their work even after Lady Darke left.
AMC Loews Boston Common 19
POV: Randi Bridges, Rose of the West
"I have to say that place needs to refine their balance of spices a lot more," Sayyid huffed, "they are a long way from making falafel worthy of the price that we paid for it."
"I know what you mean," I said running my tongue through my teeth, "they overcooked that bison, some people need to know not to treat all red meat like beef. Heck even Bobby V's back home handles ostrich better than that place treats buffalo."
"Well at least my chicken marsala turned out alright, though that waiter could really use some better glasses." Candace explained as we lined up for our tickets, "Really though when did you have buffalo before?"
"My family went to Colorado during the summer back when I was twelve," I explained as I reminisced about the experience. "We went white water rafting on the Arkansas River and visited the Garden of the Gods, and while we were there ate at a place called the Buckhorn Exchange it was a game restaurant and I had the buffalo."
"It must be nice to go on a real family vacation," Candace said with a faraway look in her eye. "Oh! Sorry Sayyid!"
"Why I have been places with my family long ago," he explained, "a few years ago we made the Hadj together to Mecca, it was amazing to go there and just take in the history of where it all began."
"I know- I mean I know my family's from England," Candace began to elaborate. "My Aunt Pauline even told me that we're in the Domesday Book it says we're from Norfolk."
"All I know is that my family's from all over," I groaned getting into my mixed ancestry. "So I guess that you can say I'm as much of a mutt among the faefolk as I am in my heritage."
"Oh Randi," Candace said as she shook her head, "that joke was awful."
"Well they say that every masterpiece has it's flaws," I puffed up my chest as we headed inside the theater.
"Of course you're still very much a work in progress dear," Jane commented over our link.
'Oh very funny,' I rolled my eyes at the bird's remark.
"I know- I just wanted to check in and say that while you're in the movie I shall be busy keeping an eye on your friend Beatrice," Jane explained as I could see her aerial view of Bea's group.
'Keep an eye on them until afterwards too,' I replied, 'there's a lot of nastiness in this town and the last thing that I want is for her to get hurt.'
"Understood, I shall endeavor to do so. Jane replied as we took our seats. Somehow, I know that it was too much to hope for this trip to be uneventful, but right now, I just hoped that this movie wasn't going to suck.
Children of the Night's Safehouse
Around the main hideout for the Children of the Night, there was only one occupant present to attend to duties around the loft- Arcane-Knight. The rest of the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom actually didn't know all that much about the haunted suit of medieval-styled armor. Some actually thought the he was a medieval monstrosity like the legendary Black Knight of Arthurian Legend or a forgotten Thema-Agenta of the Third Reich that had recently been unearthed- rumors that Arcane-Knight took advantage of when he could to build a reputation across Europe as hired muscle.
Unfortunately, when he arrived stateside he ran into a snag in Boston, The Necromancer- as it turns out being a spirit possessing a suit of armor was a major disadvantage for Arcane-Knight when it came to Charles Darrow, mainly because he could be manipulated with necromancy. Darrow then proved to the Arcane-Knight that just because you lacked a body it did not make you immune to pain and torture. He soon learned the horrible truth that if you knew how you could inflict even greater torment upon a non-corporeal spirit than you could a living person, because if you pushed a living person too far they could die of shock.
"Hey Sir Buckethead," Lady Darke quipped as she came into the hide-out, "is the boss here yet? I was kind of busy supervising something for an important client of his."
"No he is not you pompous strumpet," Arcane Knight growled in reply as he maintained the vigil that Darrow had ordered him to since the day prior. Just because he had no biological needs did not mean that he could not get bored out of his skull or in this case his helm. "The only members of your legion of reprobates to arrive are the mongrel and Darrow's pet."
Sure enough, Lady Darke walked past the haunted suit of power armor (trying to trip him as she went out of pure spite) she found Lycanthros and Arch-Fiend waiting in the meeting room. Soon Arcane-Knight followed The Necromancer into the room and shut the door a split-second after Jaberwock popped into the room and his usual chair.
"Now I trust that everyone here received the information on our targets from the concierge?" Darrow stated as his gaze swept the room, noting the affirmations that the Children of the Night were giving him- Darrow continued his speech. "Good- now as you all know are targets are two young mutants that are currently in the Boston in civilian guise known as Faolan and Aletheia, they are to be located and terminated by any and every means necessary."
"Where can we hope to setup the ambush?" Lady Darke inquired eager to begin preparations for the operation.
"Therein lays the rub, Faolan and Aletheia despite being students at the same Academy as the whelps of Team Kimba that we have encountered appear to be far less- ostentatious. Our usual informant has provided us little information to go on in this affair. Faolan I have learned is a young lady that the Valkyrian has taken under her wing as a protégé, there is little information to go on concerning her however she encountered an operation of Professor Id's in New York not long after our last encounter with Team Kimba."
"Did that encounter yield any information?" The Arch-Fiend stated eager to learn of his targets de-jour.
"Unfortunately little, all that I have gleaned is that she is a spell-caster of a moderate amount of talent and ability," Darrow replied in a cross manner. "All that our informant has given me is that she supplements her abilities with weaponry, given that the Valkyrian is tutoring her we can make no assumptions- she could possess medieval or modern weapons and there is a good chance that such armaments could be enchanted."
"And what about our other target?" Arch-Fiend asked in a harsh tone, "Boston is a very large city and we need to know as much about our prey as possible to not only find them but terminate them."
"All that I have is that she is a healer of unmeasured ability, most other information about her is unknown," Darrow growled in frustration, "which is unfortunate given that between the two of them she takes priority. All we know is the likely routes that they will take to leave Boston are either Hanscom Field or Worchester if they are traveling by plane or the North Station if they are using the rail."
"Am I the only one who sees the obvious," Lycanthros laughed, "we don't have to find them we only have to draw them out into the open."
"Easier said than done snosage breath!" Lard Darke shot back with a hateful glare, "We know next to nothing about them and after our last fight with those Team Kimba kids, I doubt that two rookies like these would be bull-headed enough to rush into a fight with us."
"There is more than one way to trap a hero," the skin-walker wickedly smiled, "if you can't use their bravado to draw them in there is always their conscience. Hey Wilbur, have we refilled the stables since last October?"
"Not completely, the cops are monitoring our usual sources and our emergency sources are now being reconsecrated on a weekly basis," Arch-Fiend reported wondering where this was going. "At present we're only at sixty percent capacity."
"Well prepare to restock again," Lycanthros laughed darkly, "because I'm about to be brilliant."
"Wow," Jay-Arm starred at the woman sharing a table with himself and Titus and Nicoletta, "Just wow!"
"Now, young Mister du Chantraine I would think that the son of Hexmaster and Troll Bride would be far more difficult to impress." The woman observed in a voice so rich that he almost seemed to slip on her words. "Or is my reputation impress you that much?"
"No- I mean yes, Miss Sera," Nephandus said almost tripping over his words, "I'm sorry it is just even in the circles that my parents run in the thought of meeting a legend of your caliber over lunch- is still more than a little overwhelming. Not to mention what you look like under those masks you wear, it's just that according to your order's reputation it's hard to imagine anyone with a human face under those masks."
"Understandable," Helena Sera (who was also secretly known as Madam Eventide) quipped before taking a casual sip of her wine, "Among my group there are several who cannot so easily do so as easily as I would."
"So what would one have to make the acquaintance of such a lovely vision more often, would I have to gain admission into your group?" Jean-Armand asked desperate to cut to the heart of the matter.
"Please child, I am a happily married woman," Helena replied- her voiced tinged with melodic laughter, "and as for the Circle itself, you would have to be nominated by one member who sees potential in you and then be chosen to perform a task by another. After that happens the entire Circle must vote on your admission, and quite frankly you are far too young and green to be perusing such a goal at your tender age."
"Hah, if one does not begin to pursue greatness when they are young they are more likely to fall short later on in life," Nephandus proclaimed with pride emanating from his being.
This only elicited a sigh of disappointment from Madam Eventide, "Child you are falling into a trap all too common for those who delve into the darker aspects of the mystic arts, power is a means not an end unto itself. If you pursue any path along the mystic arts, it should be with greater goals in mind then merely accumulating power in and of itself, doing this leads too often to folly and disaster. Just look at your own mother for the price of such folly."
"Poor Tilda tries to take on the Green Witch to gain access to the treasure trove of artifacts under her possession and what happens in return, it costs her the wedding rings that your father gave her to control her insatiable appetite." Madam Eventide remarked as she relayed knowledge about Nephandus's mother that was not well known. "Then far more recently she comes to your academy with forged documents seeking to enslave The Artificer after the being has already inscribed herself with her own mystic runes making that being her own master and in the process seeks to steal that Chaka girl's enchanted mithril knife. Instead she winds up banned from her son's school for damaging property, theft, fraud and assault not to mention coming dangerously close to violating the neutrality pact."
"Come now surely you can't hold my own mother's actions against me," Jay-Arm replied as he tried to turn on the charm.
"Child your own recent actions concerning the Angel of Hell's Kitchen more than illustrate the fact that you are far from ready for a place among the Obsidian Circle." Helena explained carefully laying down the facts, "Ours is not a place for short-sighted aspirations, we have far greater goals in mind than you can currently fathom. The sad fact is Mister du Chantraine is that you have yet to demonstrate the maturity that we look for holding a chair in The Circle."
Before Nephandus could object to this observation Madam Eventide dispelled the privacy spell around them as the waiter arrived with their orders. Jean-Armand was stunned- his first attempt to gain access to the Obsidian Circle and their ancient library of texts and already he found out that he was further from the starting gate than he dared imagine. At present, he only had two and a half more years to impress Don Astio with his abilities before the later graduated; he would need to plan carefully if he wanted to succeed.
Food Court - New England Aquarium
"That was so cool," Heather squealed as the group sat down for lunch just off the boat from the whale-watching expedition.
"I know what you mean," Sherrie remarked before turning to Aries, "Hey Mister Harvey- can you send me some copies of your pictures so I can print them out for my scrapbook?"
"Sure, I'll send them to your email later; this is a digital camera after all." Arnold replied as he patted the device in question, "Still why do you girls only want to go to the Aquarium and not shopping or something?"
"What with how often that nut job and his goon squad have attacked our classmates in Boston this year, are you mental?" Mirabel asked as she looked at Arnold as if he had grown a second head. "No thank you- maybe we'll go to a couple of the memorials but I want to play it as safe as possible."
"Oh come on," Arnold said as he rolled his eyes at the girl's comment, "That's just the Kimbas everyone at school knows that he has it out for them for embarrassing him last October and getting one of his thugs caught."
"I don't know," Heather said a she set down her egg salad sandwich, "Reverend Haskins always says that the more irrational magic types won't hesitate to get revenge by proximity."
"That might be," Arnold stated before picking up another Reuben from the basket, "but how would he even find out about everyone being in town today." Arnold hated lying- he knew exactly how The Necromancer would find out about the Whateley student body's travel plans to Boston, but Sebastiano had no reason to sell out anyone that was on this little trip to that psycho- right?
"Fine-" Mirabel gave into the logic of the matter, "maybe a little shopping too after all we didn't get too much of that done in New York."
Ann Taylor - The Prudential Center
POV: Bea Carson, Rose of the East
"Now miss these flats would hardly do anything for that outfit you are wearing," the saleswoman whose name tag read Melanie said as she flashed her eyelashes.
"I am certain that they would miss," I explained trying desperately to get my point across- for the seventh time, "but we are birthday shopping for another person."
"Oh come now- what is the fun of a shopping trip if you don't splurge on yourself a bit?" Melanie asked before presenting a set of heels to me, "Now wouldn't these heels look absolutely yummy on you?"
"Okay let me take this in; you are trying to sell high heels to a girl in a wheelchair..." Eve looked at the saleswoman like she had grown a second-head (granted that at a school attended by Jimmy Trauger wasn't that unheard of). "What wrong with you?"
"Whatever do you mean?" Melanie said as her long eyelashes flashed past her baby-blue eyes, "They would clearly look darling on her!"
Taking a quick glance at the label and price tag of the shoes in question I put two and two together as Eve exclaimed, "That's it we're out of here!"
Before Melanie could get in a word edgewise, Eve guided my wheelchair out of the store with Glory trailing behind. "What was that about?" The Cape asked clearly wondering what the big deal was.
"Really, you didn't notice anything wrong about that saleswoman?" Eve asked somewhat perplexed that the queen of the FSA hadn't caught onto the clues that
she herself had noticed.
"Well she seemed a little- soft in the head but otherwise no, why?" Glory shook her head as the three made their way around the interior of the Prudential Center.
"The feather-brain act that woman was putting on was just that- an act." Eve said zeroing in on the real problem. "Those were a eight-hundred dollar pair of Prada designer pumps that she was trying to sweet-talk Bea into buying, that woman wasn't ditzy she's on commission."
"Eight-hundred dollars for a pair of heels," Glory looked stunned as she recalled her prior trip to New York escorting the Bad Seeds. "Honestly do we look like we have that much money?"
"It might be my fault," Eve explained with a sheepish expression, "she might have recognized me from my modeling work with Venus Inc. and given that the two of you are beyond the norm in the looks department she probably thought that you were lesser-known models in the same agency."
"Really?" I asked Eve somewhat shocked, "Me- a model, are you serious?"
"Hey you have your mom's looks with a touch of the exotic Bea, once you get a hang of your land legs you'd be a shoe-in." Eve explained as she looked me in the eye, "Besides if merfolk plan to become more common-place the designers would definitely want to sign one up, maybe you could ask Pristine to help you look into it when she's not busy."
Holy cow, me a model, well I did want to travel when I grew up and if there was one thing that I knew models careers took them all over the world. Yes this was definitely something to look into- when I finally mastered my lower limbs.
Artames Holdings Warehouse - Southside Shipping District
"I think that we're finally at the end of this," Greg Paulson stated as he pulled out another box. "Ah I remember this one, snagged it's one of a pair on my way out from a different group, and thought that they looked valuable."
He brought the crate over to Hanna who opened it up to see an intricate crown, "I'm not sure who's Vault they are from but they looked valuable, so how much do you think I can get for them?"
"If you are lucky you will get a swift death!" Hanna replied as she stared at Greg with eyes that glowed a vicious crimson red.
Greg recoiled in fear as he turned around looking for help from the others working in the warehouse, but no matter who he looked at, they all had those same eyes. He eyeballed the entrance only to be grabbed by grabbed by Carmen Boucher.
"You are going nowhere until our master arrives," she explained her voice far different from her normal native Bostonian tone.
"Y-your m-m-master?" Greg stammered in fear as he found it impossible to tear himself away from the woman's iron grip.
"Yes our master," Trent growled his voice brimming with hate, "The one you stole from Lycaon or as he is now called-"
"Carcharoth!" The black-furred werewolf adorned in modern tactical armor with Grecian hoplite flair seemed to roar as he made his way into the warehouse. The monster was at least eight feet of crap-your-pants terror, with a rage that Greg had never seen in his life all around everyone transformed into a myriad of lupine forms as they sank to one knee in an obvious display of fealty.
The sole exception to this was Trent who was bringing over a box from the shelves that he had put away only a little while ago. Now as much of a werewolf as the rest of them Trent took the crate now cradled under his arms, "I believe that this is something that you are overjoyed to see again master!"
"Indeed young one," Carcharoth stated as he took up that nasty looking axe that everyone recoiled over earlier. Then strangly enough in his growling tone he almost seem to coo to the axe, "Ah Vrede- you are truly Surtr's masterwork, your blade looks a little dull after all of these decades but don't you worry we'll soon sharpen you in our favorite way."
"W-w-well I guess that you're going to kill me now," Greg stammered as he looked at the monster knowing that the inevitable was coming- still he had an ace up his sleave, "of course if you do that you'll never get the other crown back, you do know how Bug-Out Bags work after all."
"We can always turn you." Carmen explained as she flexed her right-hand causing a hidden micro-hypodermic needle to flip into place, she turned to look at Carcharoth like he was god and asked, "Please master allow me to do this, there is no need to let that scum's foul-taste be-foul your palate."
"No child- his fate is not ours to decide and this wretch's death would only sully Vrede's reputation." Carcaroth smiled with his fang-filled maw as he stooped down to look Greg right in the eye. "No whelp, your fate will be decided by the woman you embarrassed with this escapade, and you will find that Erzebet Scratch can be far more creative in inflicting her punishments than I. Still if you were wise you would turn over the other crown as well as cede the ownership of your Bug-Out Bag to Ms Boucher here, after all I only have to give you to Erzebet Scratch alive not intact- I doubt that she would mind too much if you were missing a limb or two after the stunt that you pulled. Meanwhile I have a call to make to Madam Eventide; I think that she deserves to know that her property in hand as is the thief who dared to take it. So ask yourself, is this touch of drama really worth an arm and a leg?"
Helena had just finished with her desert when her cell phone rang with the tone of a gently strumming harp, curious as she had turned off the device when she entered the restaurant and knowing that it only turned itself back on when about one of a couple of dozen individuals called she took a look at the caller ID.
"Pardon me but I have to take this call, it's an important associate of mine." Madam Eventide gently laughed as she excused herself from the table, once she went around the corner, the reincarnated Greecian Goddess of Magic wove a effortless glamour of privacy around herself and called the number back.
"This had better be important Carcharoth I was enjoying a late lunch with my daughter and Don Astio while sizing up a potential minion," Madam Eventide snapped into the phone.
"I waited till you were done eating, the waiter's part of my pack. Anyway I just thought you might want to know that I have reacquired one of the two crowns of the Atlantian Princesses that were stolen from your Vault. While the other is in hand in a fasion- along with the poor bastard who stole from us and the almost all of my things." Carcharoth replied back with a hint of dissatisfaction in his deep voice.
"Almost?" Madam Eventide replied out of concern, "You mean that something went missing?"
"Unfortunately my pack-mate and the colleges that she turned with one of my new enthrallment rings, could not stop one of the Esoteric Order's priests from reacquiring the Staff of Dagon without prematurely blowing their cover to the thief, the Order, and Lady Darke in the process."
"Drat, that thing will make our operation this summer in the Middle East a pain in the neck." Madam Eventide said as she grit her teeth in frustration. "Please tell me that they didn't acquire the Trumpet of the East as well!"
"No, fortunately that was stored in Greygus's Vault." Carcaroth began to explain, Remember we were both on that particular mission, and both of us felt that it was too risky to keep them in the same Vault."
"Good because you know what would happen if that thing was blown prematurely," Madam Eventide stated with the underlying danger dripping from her voice.
"Hey even I'm not crazy enough to do that!" Carcaroth barked through the speaker, "Speaking of Greygus, he found out that Darrow's crew are going to try to bump off the fish lady and the mutt, we don't know the how yet but you and Astio might want to join me, Greygus and the Erinyes to crash hit party."
"Count me in! I shall go inform our youngest member," Madam Eventide explained as she hung up her phone dropped her glamour, rejoined the group at the table and reactivated their earlier privacy charm.
"I am sorry Astio however Carcharoth has just informed me that Darrow will be making an attempt on the lives of the maidens soon." Madam Eventide explained to her fellow member of the Circle.
Titus Bannon aka Michele Soranno turned to his girlfriend (secretly his fiancée) and explained, "I am sorry my dear- but business calls."
"There is no need," Nicoletta Sera replied in her rich Sicilian accent, "I understand just do me a favor beloved. Make Charles Darrow regret interrupting our date by daring to interfere in the affair of the Obsidian Circle!"
AMC Loews Boston Common 19
POV: Randi Bridges, Rose of the West
"Well that was interesting," Candace stated as we made our way out of the movies, "A serial killer instead of a case of covering up second degree murder."
"Yeah- I guess that doesn't have quite the same punch anymore and they had to make the neighbor a slasher villain," I said with a look of distaste in my mouth, "though I could have done without the pool in the basement, ugh."
"Really Miss Bridges, you should know that in this day and age you cannot do a suspense-horror movie without a gross-out factor." Sayyid said in reply.
"Well excuse me for being someone who enjoys the pre-slasher classics," I said with a huff. "Besides the cop being the cousin of the teacher was just too ham-fisted, I haven't even taken Police-Procedures yet and even I know that they wouldn't allow someone with a personal connection anywhere near a case like that since it would cloud the officer's judgment."
"Well you are right, at least in theory however things like that can happen in real life," Sayyid explained with an once of distaste in his voice. "Anyway where would you two young ladies like to go next?"
"Copley Place," Candace explained, "We're meeting Bea's group over there to help them with some shopping before we go to the memorial."
"Oh joy, more shopping with teenage American girls," Sayyid humorously groaned.
"Hey none of that mister or we'll make you hold onto our purses at the front of the stores," I threatened Sayyid while trying to keep a straight face.
"I'll be good," the middle-eastern cape squeaked out while trying to make himself seem small.
The Stable - Boston Sewers
With clear purpose Darrow and Arch-Fiend stood above the gates that held their hidden army far below the streets of Boston. The pair stared down into the pens to see the hordes milling bellow while far less than they would like for an event such as this they knew that they knew that they would have to make due with what they had on hand.
"Well my Arch-Fiend- open the gates," Darrow bellowed as he smiled beneath his armor, "Let the people of Boston remember that some names are earned."
The Arch-Fiend complied with his masters orders, the heavy doors opened up and slowly the contents of the Stables walked out into the sewers- zombies that his master had created through his own methods made their way out of the pens. Possibly this time they would make it to the surface before heroes began to interfere.
"Yes my shambling hordes go forth and wreck havoc," The Necromancer proclaimed with wicked glee, "draw the Maidens of East and West out of hiding so that I may slay them and add them to your number!"
Residence Inn - Back Bay
"Master the sensors that you have set up tripped," A young lady said with exercised deference, "Well the motion-sensors have, the bio-sensors still show negative."
"Just as I have predicted child," The massive man said as he rose from the couch, "one of the locals has provided us with the distraction that we need. Now I suggest that you get ready- I am meeting with one of your long lost brethren after all."
"Yes master," the young lady responded with a barely visible look of hatred in her eyes as she arose from the top of the line portable monitoring equipment to enter the bathroom in their suite.
"And one by one the pieces fall into place," The man replied in a pleased tone as he stared out the balcony and into the Boston afternoon. "Although how this game turns out remains to be seen."
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Woodrow Wilson Middle School - Parking Lot
10:49 AM CDT
POV: Chandra Defrank
After almost three hours on the road the Van, driving non-stop ever since we left Arlington Heights we finally spotted our destination. It took a few minutes to get to for the van to into one of several empty parking spaces of Woodrow Wilson Middle School's parking lot. After waiting for Coach Mulholland to cut the engine we began to climb out of the van grateful to stretch our legs after the drive; granted this hadn't been our longest trip across the state, but it was definitely one of our longest without a stop along the way.
I took a minute to take in the neighborhood around the school, the homes nearby had obviously seen better days granted it wasn't nearly as bad as where I used to live in on the Westside of Chicago. No- this was more a small town that had given way to gentrification rather than the urban blight that I grew up seeing, just a bunch of homes that needed a little TLC that folks hadn't felt much of a need to get around to or maybe just hadn't been able to afford to do so.
"Alright Ladies," Coach Mulholland said as she blew her whistle at us. "Get to the locker room and get ready, the game starts at fifteen after, now remember it's not important whether you win or lose just that you give it your all, I won't ask any more of you and I won't accept any less. So, get out in there and get ready to give the crowd your best."
"RIGHT!" The team and I shouted as one as we left for the locker room to change into our game uniforms.
I admit it, it was a little difficult to find the locker room here without going into the gymnasium proper but we found it none the less. For the third time today I got dressed, as did everyone around me- and like usual I saw Deb trying to take sideways glances at everyone as we did so. I mentally rolled my eyes at the ridiculousness of her trying to hide it, everyone else on the team already knew that she did it (even Maria and Erica); heck we had a pool going to guess when she'd finally come out of the closet- I was down for a week after she had her sweet sixteen party.
I admit some of the other girls were a little apprehensive at first when they figured it out (which for most of them happened last year), but that settled down when Candace told everyone on the team that she was bi and not really interested in anyone of them that way. Although that little confession helped assuage the anxieties of everyone else on the team; it also disappointed poor Deb who'd clearly been crushing on Candace. Fortunately, she got over that bit of drama after a week or two, after all we weren't even in high school yet there was no reason to think that anyone of us had found the one just yet; still it killed us in the semi-finals last year- I just hope that poor Deb didn't blame herself.
Now that everyone was ready we joined the home team in the gym, the game still wouldn't start for ten more minutes so we used the time we had for stretching and some light calisthenics to limber up. By the time we were in the middle of Iroquois Twists the referee blew the whistle, this was our cue to take our places on the court- our line up decided well in advance.
"Alright everyone, welcome to Woodrow Wilson Middle School in the great city of Moline, Illinois for the first half of the Illinois Middle School State Girls Basketball semi-finals; today we have \ last year's semi-finalists our own Moline Lady Wildcats up against last year's quarter finalists hailing from Arlington Heights- the Lady Cardinals." The announcer began to rattle off into his mike that was setup on a table courtside. "We are about to get underway as the referee begins the tip off-"
On cue the referee tossed up the ball, from what I had heard the Lady Wildcats had switched to their alternates a week back due to a hamstring injury two weeks ago and a sprained wrist last week. Given the unknowns I wanted to stick to the defense to get a taste of their second stringers, so I only half-heartedly leaped for the ball to let the other team captain gain possession; still I made certain to give the girls the signal- left arm higher so they knew to try and keep to defense until I gave the signal to go in for the kill- still they also knew to take the offense when the chance presented itself.
"And the Wildcats gain possession as the Cardinals go on defense as we begin the first period!"
I vaguely heard the announcer but for now my attention was focused on the court, not the commentators, not the audience- just my team and the opposition; specifically, Faith Sherwood the captain of the Lady Wildcats. Soon I drowned out all other sounds everything became white noise- everything except the echoing bounce of the ball as Faith dribbled down the court as my team began to dance, just because we had Iet her team have the ball at the tip-off didn't mean that I was just going to roll over like an over-fed housecat.
No, now was the time to taste the unknowns on the Wildcats team; because of Maya Stockton's hammy and Anna Gable's wrist we were stuck with their alternates Liz Ernst and Lola Felton. Deb and I spent a week going over the Lady Wildcats past games for the season, looking for each of the player's tells, those little habits that a seasoned baller could use to play circles around them on the court. Everybody has these tells, ourselves included, but a seasoned player can usually hide them for a quarter or two- no these signs usually popped up in the third quarter when fatigue and desperation started to show.
The problem was we only had seen one game with Liz Ernst on the court and that wasn't enough to get a measure of her, and we had nothing to get so much as a taste on Lola's style. I put my faith in my team to put the heat on to these second-stringers while I danced with Faith herself, and damn this girl was not making it easy. Then again, most teams had a problem taking us seriously, Marcy and I were the only players on the Lady Cardinals who fit the stereotype- most other teams probably thought like Victor did that Nita, Alice and Deb were just a bunch of wanna-bes.
This was a view that most players abandoned after the first quarter, our team might not fit the view of what most people would have for a basketball team (middle school or otherwise), but we took the sport seriously. Like Faith soon learned when her pass to her newish teammate Lola Felton was intercepted by my teammate Alice who drove it towards Wildcats end of the court, granted Sydney Hillmand and Nadia Sloan were on her like flies on spilt lemonade. Still they weren't on her enough to keep Alice from passing to Nita who a second later sent the ball right through the hoop to put us on the board with two points.
In the meantime, I hung back taking in the game while keeping an eye on the ball around the three-point line of our goal, but once I gave the word Nita and I would switch places and our Center would be back guarding our side of the court while I would use what I'd gathered of the other team to bring the hurt to the Lady Wildcats.
Morrison Family Home
Arlington Heights, Illinois
As Gertrude "Trudie" Defrank made her rounds in the modestly large home of the Morrison family, cleaning as she went she couldn't help but feel that something was... off. No matter how impossible it was- she felt like someone else was in the house and that was impossible; Elliot Greer was the only other person on the property and he was outside weeding the lawn, and knowing Elliot he wanted to get as much of the grunt work done as possible before it warmed up outside in the afternoon.
Trudie went through a mental checklist of all the residents of the estate, after all she considered it her job to keep mental tabs on everyone just in case either one of her employers needed to get in touch with anyone. Oscar Morrison was busy negotiating with some foreign investors at the Rolling Green Country Club, likely the negotiating was being done somewhere along the back nine rather than in the club house. Ruth Morrison was busy at her law firm, from what Gertrude could gather Mrs. Morrison's law firm was working on a major case to block a corporate merger- likely something anti-trust related.
Other than herself and Elliot the only other staff who lived on premises were the Sotos and near as Trudie knew both of them were out. Ramiro, the household's handyman was out picking up granite samples from a wholesaler over in Waukegan for a few remodeling projects that the Morrison's were planning- all Trudie knew was that part of it had to do with granite countertops for the kitchen. Speaking of the kitchen Leticia was out doing the grocery shopping for the evening, as well as picking up the cake for Chandra's birthday (hopefully her little girl wouldn't fill up too much on ice-cream after the game).
Speaking her Chandra, she and Marlina (the Desoto's daughter) were going to be over in Moline for most of the day because of their game, it was hard to believe that her little girl was turning fourteen today- where had the time gone. Trudie teared up as part of her prayed that her dear Raymond would make it home to attend their girl's sweet-sixteen party next year.
Albert Morrison, the couple's one and only was playing over at his friend Wyatt Gorman's house with a few of their mutual friends, although more than likely this playing had more to do with watching the party Wyatt's elder sister Sienna and her friends were having in their backyard pool- that image just cause Trudie to shake her head, boys will be boys after all.
Still as much as logic told Gertrude that she was currently alone in the house, she couldn't shake the feeling that someone else was watching her- and no, she did not mean the nanny-cam near the liquor closet. Carefully she walked the halls of the houses three-wings, two-floors, basement and attic- eventually she had to admit to herself, "Get a grip Gertrude this house is less than twenty-years-old there's no way that its haunted, you're just imagining things now get a grip, finish cleaning and wait for your baby-girl's birthday."
After she had left a young lady in a tattered cloak materialized and stared in the direction that the woman departed. Shaking her head with a bemused smile across her face, "Poor woman, a house doesn't need human death to touch it for it to be haunted," the current Wayfarer known only as Kelsey commented as she noted wisps about her while she traveled to her intended destination. "Memories and attachments make their own phantoms in time, and every plank of wood is taken from the slain corpse of a tree whose life of decades was ended for lumber."
"Still that is neither here nor there," Kelsey continued as she entered Chandra's room. For a moment, the bearer of the Wayfarer's mantle took in the room idly wondering if the past that no longer existed had something similar for her, still that was just an idle fancy and the mystic had an important task to take care of. Kelsey rummaged around in her ruck-sack for a moment until her right-hand found the object that spoke to her more in a matter of intent then actual speech my place is here. Taking the insistent item, Kelsey laid it on the bed for a moment- letting the object in question (a intricate yet simple coronet) sample the presence of the one who lived here.
A solid minute passed as the item in question took on a new shape, a simple helmet, one designed much lighter and slimmer than one for a bike. Oddly enough the maroon helmet bore an outline across it similar to what it had just been- that of a crown.
Satisfied that what had been done was- Kelsey pointed her scepter of office, the Staff of Undertone, at the newly minted helmet. "Gift chosen to be given by fate not man, adorn yourself now in the garb of this occasion as only you can."
In a brief shimmer of prismatic light a wrapped box appeared around the helmet; then after taking something far more mundane from her rucksack (a fine-point marker) Kelsey wrote on the wrapping: From: A friend To: Chandra, on the name tag.
"Well that was that now to let fate take its proper course, certainly tomorrow shall prove memorable for this birthday girl as much as the furture to come." Kelsey took in her handiwork as she tossed the marker back in her rucksack before she faded from sight once more. Still as careful as Kelsey was that day while she made her way from the Morrison family home, Eliot couldn't help but wonder why the front-door opened and closed once more with no one entering or leaving.
Woodrow Wilson Middle School - Gymnasium
11:27 AM CDT
POV: Chandra Defrank
The first quarter was over and the Wildcats were twenty-seven to twenty-four, I had finally got enough of a feel on Liz Ernst to gauge her movements on the court and workout how to deal with her. Lola Felton though still managed to elude me; either she was just so new to the game that she was still working to develop her own style and rhythm, or she careful not to put her on the table so that another team could analyze her and dissect her skills- something told me it was the first one she just seemed too... green to have that level of cunning down in Junior High.
Whatever the case Lola was a tough-nut to crack, fortunately Alice and Marcy were able to skirt her enough to keep up; still I have to figure Lola out before half-time otherwise the second half could be brutal. At least we had control of the ball again, thanks in no small part to Nita's tight and borderline unpredictable changes of direction and Nita keeping between her and the Wildcats.
In no small amount of time Nita was just outside the three-point line and appearing to line-up a shot for a three-pointer, at least to the untrained eye. Having this strategy down pat I took my spot in front of the three-point line only a few steps from the court's boundary lines. As Lola lunged to steal the ball away from Nita, my snarky co-captain bounced the ball of the back-board where Deb was waiting though so was Sydney. Unfortunately for Miss Hillmand Deb wasn't there to take a shot, but to intercept the ball and ball it back to me- which she did. Soon as that ball was in my hand I took the shot that I had been lining up and once again the ball arced towards the hoop.
The ball hit the basket and circled the rim like used bath-water circled the drain, fortunately this time the ball followed the course of fate as it went through to play with the net briefly before making contact with the gym floor. Dimly I noted how the students manning the announcer table announced that we now had a six-point lead of thirty to twenty-four; that wasn't what was on my mind though, the most important thing to me was that I had caught a glimpse of Lola's tell- the sign that almost every early player makes when they are about to make a move.
The fact is I had less than a period to go until half-time to work out if what I saw was the real deal- if not we'd just have to play our hearts out and try to win without a complete strategy. Just because I didn't like it, didn't mean Plan-B was bad, just that it was a hassle. Of course, there was no reason that I couldn't get Plan-C ready for either case, as we returned to the bench I walked over to where Marlina and Erica were warming the bench. "Stop warming the bench ladies, I want you off on the sides doing warm-ups!"
"Does that mean we're playing the second half captain?" Erica piqued, her voice almost dripping with eagerness.
"It means that I want to keep that possibility open," I replied as I pointed of to the sides, "now get warmed up, we might need you." The two sixth graders got to work warming up while the five of us took the opportunity to rest for a moment- this game wasn't over just yet.
Camp Alpha - Mess Hall Kitchen
Outside Hillah, Iraq
8:40 PM ADT
"And as they go into half-time the South Middle School's Lady Cardinals lead the Woodrow Wilson's Lady Wildcats thirty to twenty-eight," a certain young man read off the latest scores for the game over the shortwave radio on the shelf, "the winner of this game will go on to face Springfield Calvary's Lady Saints in the State Finals.
All around the members of the most vital portion of any army, the mess hall staff, was hard at work cleaning the pots, pans and utensils from that night's dinner as a voice read the play by play on an odd-looking radio on a nearby shelf. Just as the announcer breaked for half-time Major Kepling made his presence known, "I still say that thing is a security hazard, I'll never understand why he lets you have it."
Sargent Ray Defrank responded to the Major's inquiry, "Because the techs inspected it last year after Sargent Caruthers son sent it to him for Father's Day; it's only a receiver that can pick-up shortwaves off of our antenna. All someone needs to broadcast to it is the frequency, a ham radio and a cellphone; besides we're only allowed to use it when three or more people are in the room."
"What the heck are you listening to anyway?" Major Kepling asked as he eyeballed the mess hall staff, "This better not be some attempt to cheat on the base sports pool!"
"It's a middle school basketball game sir," Corporal Wesley Cutler explained," Sarge's little girl is the captain of one of the teams and this is the Illinois state semi-finals."
"Yeah, a friend of a friend is broadcasting the game to us," Sergent DeFrank explained, "I really wish that we had this last year, granted my girl's team wound up losing."
Taking a long look at the device Major Kepling asked out of curiosity, "Just where does Caruther's boy go anyway MIT?"
"No sir, Berkley," Private Sorenson chimed into the conversation.
"Berkley?" the Major raised an eyebrow at the image that school typically conjures to the military. "Really?"
"I know sir, but it's still one of the top ten tech schools back state-side." Private Soreson elaborated, "In spite of its...reputation."
Sighing and shaking his head Major Kepling heaved an exasperated, "Very well but remember 2200 hours is still lights-out; any personnel caught with that thing on after then will be helping muck out the latrines- am I clear?"
"Sir, yes sir!" the men resounded despite knowing that meant they'd likely miss the most of the second half of the game.
Woodrow Wilson Middle School - Gymnasium
12:20 PM CDT
POV: Chandra Defrank
Halftime had come and gone and the Lady Wildcats had rebounded with a vengeance, although I was now certain of Lola Felton's main tells in regards to how she thought on the court they didn't keep the rest of her team from mounting one hell of a comeback from the first half. Although we had managed to hold onto a two-point lead going into the half, the Wildcats came back with a vengeance; each member of their team had scored at least once in this period putting us nine-points behind them at thirty-five to forty-four.
It looks like while I was busy dissecting Lola Felton's playstyle the Lady Wildcat's team captain Faith Sherwood had done the same to us, she and her teammates had spent period dancing around us and the clock was ticking down. I had to face facts, unless we got the ball back from them fast and scored soon (preferably with a three-pointer we could be going into the final period with the Lady Wildcats having a double-digit lead on us.
I briefly closed my eyes and shook myself as I heard the noise of the gym echo through my head; the cries of the crowd in the bleachers, the movement of high-tops on the floor, and the all-important din as the ball rebounded against the laminated floor- echoing across the gym. This was no time to start doubting myself; I had to get it together and keep it that way, my team- no my friends depended on me. Candace had put her faith in me when she named me team captain before leaving for high school, and after everything she had gone through lately the last thing that I wanted to do was betray that trust.
As it turned out my team wasn't going to let me get psyched out either, while I was getting my cool back Nita had hatched her own scheme to get our mojo back. a moment or two after I had opened my eyes back up Nita had intercepted a pass between Sydney Hillmand and Nadia Sloan, immediately I saw it we were nearly in position for our fourth desperation play. Like all of our desperation plays this was a make or break attempt for a much needed basket if we made it , but we needed this to have a chance at eking out a win in the final period.
At first the play went as smooth as silk; Nita passed the ball to Alice who in turn dribbled it a few feet onto the Lady Wildcats side of the court before passing it to Deb. Unfortunately Marcy was the next in the chain and she was being guarded by Liz Ernst; this meant that we'd have to break our established rhythm and play it by ear.
By this point Nita was on our side of the court and I tried to flash a four while giving the impatient I'm open sign, Deb got the message and passed the ball to me narrowly missing an interception by Faith Sherwood in the process. I caught the ball and moved to dribble it inside the three-point line before stopping as if I was about to go for a basket; fortunately Nita obviously saw my message and she was in position in time. I passed the ball to Nita as the clock began ticking down its final minute in the third period; she caught my pass and made the shot just as the scorer blew the horn.
This buzzer-beater was going to make or break our game in the final period, I held my breath as it was in the air only to let it out as it entered the rim and passed through the net. The score was now thirty-eight to forty-four; we had narrowed the Lady Wildcats lead down to six points and I had a strategy for the next period. Once we left the court I made the call, "Alice, Deb- you two can call it a day," the two sat down without a word of complaint, they knew that now was the time to mix things up.
"Erica you are taking over for Alice, Marlina you are taking over for Deb." I explained as I laid down the roles for the last eight minutes of playtime. "They know our normal plays, so let's switch to our backups."
"Hold on a moment," Erica took that moment to speak up, and I inwardly groaned knowing what was about to happen, "why does Marlina get to sub as power-forward? I mean I'm as good a player as her."
I steeled myself before giving Erica the look to show that there would be no objections. "Because Marlina is lighter on her feet than you are, plus this is more experience for next year, remember win or lose in a few months you two will be part of the main roster, you need to learn to play to your strength's not your ego...Am I clear?!?"
"As ice captain," Erica replied as she backed down joining Marlina in limbering up while the rest of us rehydrated for the final period.
Wyatt Gorman's Room - Gorman Residence
Arlington Heights, Illinois
"What did I tell you," Wyatt grinned as he like his friends stared through binoculars into the backyard of a house in the next neighborhood two yards down, at a group of cheerleaders practicing their routines in unitards (rather than their usual uniforms), "a clear view of the Rolling Meadows Junior Varsity Cheerleaders."
True to his word the boys had a clear view of the JV Cheer squad as they were rehearsing new routines for the coming University Interscholastic League (known to most as UIL) tournaments, and apparently oblivious to the sixth grade middle school students ogling them from a corner second-floor bedroom three houses away.
Still all good things come to an end, and before their voyeurs knew it the Cheerleaders decided to call it a break and went back inside that house likely to cool off and get some drinks. "Well...now what?" Bryson Darden asked their host "Is the show over?"
"Naah, they are just taking a break," Wyatt tried to reassure Bryson as well as the other three guys in the room, "besides we have our own refreshments lined up." Their host pointed out the cooler in the corner.
"And in the meantime I have something we can look at," Albert Morrison spoke up as he pulled a folder out of his backpack, "does everyone remember Candace Reynard- the captain of the girl's basketball team last year?"
"Yeah, she disappeared over winter break," Clemont Rictor spoke up, "the rumor is that she began some freaky dangerous mutant and was snagged by the MCO. Damn shame too- that girl was hot in so many ways."
"Really gave you a boner didn't she Clem!" Finn Estes laughed at his friend's comments.
"Hey she did that to everybody," Wyatt stated, "heck from what I hear most of the seventh graders were drooling over her last year."
"Can you blame them," Albert commented trying to get everyone's attention again, "anyway the rumors were half-true, my house-keeper's daughter Chandra is good friends with Candace. Apparently, Candace and some of her friends were nabbed by those suits at the MCO in Phili but got away later. Anyway, when Candace got back in touch with Chandra she emailed over some photos and since it was on my old computer and since I still have admin access and I made some copies of my own."
After Albert was finished he handed out the printed pictures which astonished his friends.
"Well she did wind up freaky," Clemont remarked while staring intently at the pictures, "but as my gramps would say it's more the James Brown kind than the side-show kind."
"Yeah- no kidding," Finn replied as he looked at his own short stack like playing cards, "hope nobody calls PETA because she sure wears fur well."
"I do have one complaint though," Wyatt pointed out, "that tail would make it hard to admire her rear." The near pun was enough to earn him some thrown pillows for the effort.
Woodrow Wilson Middle School - Gymnasium
12:30 PM CDT
POV: Chandra Defrank
So far my strategy had paid dividends; the little change in our roster had given our chances a much needed shot in the arm. The fact was while Faith Sherwood knew about the tells of our main roster she didn't have enough intel on our second-stringers, and with there being only eight minutes of playtime left and an six-point lead to defend she didn't have the time to dissect Marlina and Erica's play-styles.
The uncertainty the Lady Wildcats had over our current tactics, and the fact that we had switched playbooks to accommodate our new players, who were also fresh and well-rested. This had given us enough of an edge to begin bridging the gap. Erica and Marlina had scored a basket each and Nita had just now taken a shot from outside the three-point line. I all but held my breath as the ball circled the rim before going inside and out the net, we were just one point behind (we would be in the lead though if Sydney Hillmand hadn't made a basket a couple of minutes ago).
Victory was almost so close that I could taste it, for the first time since I could remember we actually had a real chance of going to the state championship; something that we had slip through our fingers a year ago when a foul sprained Candace's wrist and ankle in the second half. Still we still had at least one more basket to obtain, a few minutes to do so, and the Lady Wildcats now had the ball- this was going to be a nail-biter.
Liz Ernst was heading down towards her team's side of the court dribbling the ball, I moved as fast as I could to block her advance as was Marcy. Apparently Liz saw that the two of us were nearly on her, she stopped and passed the ball off to Nadia Sloan, unfortunately for them Marlina intercepted the pass and was headed towards the basket. Still Lola Felton was there waiting and moved to block her, still she had chosen to do this just as Marlina was taking her shot at the basket- and Lola made contact with Marlina.
The referee saw this and the whistle was blown freezing the play-clock and the game. "Personal foul- Lady Wildcats Number 17. Two free-throws awarded to Lady Cardinals Number 41."
Less than a minute and a half was left in the game, and Marlina took her place on the foul line- clearly nervous. Before she took her shot I set my hand on her shoulder, "Relax, we still have time to make a basket- just have fun."
Marlina smiled back, "I will captain." Then with a smile on her face, she made her shot and it was nothing but net... we were now tied. Still with one shot to go Marlina made her second shot, it wasn't nearly as clean as her first but it still went in- we were now in the lead.
"Okay ladies, let's bring the heat!" I barked before the ref blew his whistle signaling for play to resume. Marlina had given us a one-point lead and we had seventy-six seconds to keep it, each of us picked a member of the Lady Wildcats and stuck making sure that Faith couldn't advance or pass. It was nerve-wracking but before we knew it the horn blew- we were going to the Illinois State Championships- if only Candace could be here cheering from the stands.
Camp Alpha - Mess Hall Kitchen
Outside Hillah, Iraq
9:36 PM ADT
"You have one heck of a kid back home Defrank," Major Kepling remarked as he exited the kitchen.
"Yeah sarge," Private Sorenson cheered as he hung tossed his apron into the laundry hamper for the camp wash, "one hell of a birthday girl you got back home as he left the mess headed to go clean up."
"Don't I know it, way to go CB," Sargent Ray Defrank smiled as he turned off the receiver. Part of him regretted that he'd missed out on so much of his own daughter's life, it had been over five and a half years since the War on Terror had begun and he had been stationed at Camp Darby outside Pisa at the beginning of his second tour of with the 405th Army Field Support Battalion. Granted he had just been a cook, but being in Italy had given him the rare opportunity to learn from the locals while serving.
Still once the mobilization order had been given Ray, along with half of his squad had been reassigned to Kandahar, Afganistan. He had spent three-tours there fueling helicopters and soldiers alike, right up until he had been transferred to Iraq, Camp Alpha. As he made his way over to the showers, likely to be running all-cold given that lights-out for his barracks was twenty minutes away. Still it wasn't like there would be a line for cold showers and given that he had opted to have the camp barber shave his head a while back for hygiene reasons a shower only took him two or three minutes.
True to form Ray was out of the shower and back to the barracks with minutes to spare, although once back he found a good number of the staff from the Mess Hall waiting for him Private Becker was the first to speak up, "Well Sarge, how did the game go?"
Ray steadied himself with a dour expression, while slipping into his fatigues then turned to the men and belted out, "My baby and her team are going to the State Championship!"
This prompted a round of applause and cheering in the barracks that went on right up until the base guard strolled by with a call for of, "Twenty-two hundred hours, lights out!"
After saying his prayers and climbing into his bunk; he stared at the ceiling of the structure, they had needed something a bit more sturdy thanks to occasional middle-eastern sandstorms (not to mention the reflective surface made it more difficult for insurgents to send a long range attack their way), after a few moments he smiled and whispered, "Happy birthday baby girl!"
1:16 PM CDT
POV: Chandra Defrank
"I mean I still can't believe the feeling of what happened captain," Marlina all but vibrated as the adrenaline from the game shot through her body as if on a cannonball run, although to be honest I was only paying her half as much attention as I should. I mean I know how rude it was but the sight on the of my order being made, I was transfixed like a moth before a flame.
It was weird but for as long as I remembered the sight of a barrister or barista at a ice-cream parlor made me transfixed, almost as if I was looking out at some half-forgotten memory. Of course, my Grandma Mertle blames my bizarre fascination with ice cream parlors on my dad taking me to Margie's Candies and splitting a sundae with me when I was three. Granted part of me wonders just how much weight that story has not that Granny Mertle has ever told an outright lie in her life, but she has been known to stretch the truth every now and again.
For example while her story of meeting my late grandfather during the civil rights movement was somewhat believable, the story about him being from a town in Texas that had been racially integrated since the Old West was really far-fetched- I mean that state had the largest Klan membership in the country. Don't get me wrong but as much as I loved her Granny Mertle was full of whoppers just as crazy as that one.
"Chandra your food is here," I was shaken back into reality suddenly aware that my team and the waitress were looking at me out of concern. Somewhat mortified I took my turkey sandwich and hot fudge banana split off of the tray while the waitress walked off with a somewhat bizarre look on her face.
"Geez Chandra a little early for a sugar crash," Nita chuckled you haven't even eaten it yet, "if that's how you crash from the sight please warn us when the real thing is about to happen so we can clear the blast radius."
"Geez," I responded as a deflated in the booth, "I'm not that bad am I?"
"Are you kidding," I heard someone call out from a booth on the other side of the restaurant, "you're worse than a teenage guy at a Ferrari dealership."
I turned to hear just who was calling out, that's when I spotted them- the entire Woodrow Wilson Girls' Basketball Team was in the restaurant...and we were on their home turf after whipping them on the court. My old days on the Westside of Chicago began to fill me with all sorts of morbid possibilities but I knew that I had to do something to diffuse the situation.
"Listen we aren't here to start anything," I did my best to explain, "I just thought that we'd enjoy one of your local establishments before heading back home."
"Hey chill out lady, it was just a basketball game." Faith Sherwood called out, "Besides there was no shame in losing when you were playing like that, I mean girl with moves like that I expect you to skip JV next year and go straight to Varsity."
"Long as you're not upset," Marlina mentioned never breaking eye-contact.
"Just at myself for not scouting more alternates before mid-season," Faith groaned as she shook her head, "still I can't blame you for stopping by some swear by Whitey's but there's nothing like finding a place with real history that's non-chain."
"I know just what you mean," I laughed back as the two of us settled back into our groups the brief moment of tension now forgotten while the local team migrated to a closer booth.'
"Still some of those plays were sick," Sydney Hillmand commented before spooning a scoop of something with strawberry syrup into her mouth. "It's a good thing that we won't have to face you next year."
"Yeah most of our team will be at Rolling Meadows next year," Marcy pointed out while staring at her shake. "It'll just be me, Marlina and Erica left to pull together another new team; I just hope that I'm up for the task."
"Oh you'll do just fine," Nita laughed back, "I mean Chandra was worried about the same thing when Candace left her in charge and look at us now- we're headed for the finals- even Candace was unable to get us this far last-year."
"Speaking of your ex-Team Captain- whatever happened to her," Anna Gable whose arm was in a sling, to further immobilize her sprained wrist. "I mean I heard that she was doing gang-busters early in the season at Rolling Meadows and then she drops off the face of the Earth over winter break, what's the big deal."
"The big deal is that she sprouted a tail during a visit to Philly and was snatched by the MCO." I stated with an admittedly dark tone to my voice, "She and a bunch of old friends from her old hometown were detained and probed by those ghouls until they were rescued. She's fine now but I understand they are currently in some kind of secure location on the East Coast, at least that's what she told me."
"So she's a mutant," Liz Ernst blurted out with a shocked look on her face, "doesn't that mean that your city school district had to pull her awards or something?"
"They debated it but decided against doing that," Deb retorted trying to keep a hold of her temper at anyone bad-mouthing Candace, "besides her changes were pretty physically pronounced so they doubt that she had any powers before winter-break."
"Now if you don't mind I want to finish this split before it becomes ice-cream soup." I stated as I started to dig back in trying not to demonstrate the fact that I had never gotten an brain-freeze even once in my life.
"Man if I had known you liked ice-cream this much I would have asked someone to serve soft-serve in the stands during the game to distract you." Faith commented with a smile on her face.
"You mean that you would have tried to use my love of ice-cream to help you win," I humorously glared at her knowing that it was a joke since no school would ever allow something that potentially messy in a school gym. "I had no idea that you planned on becoming an evil genius."
"Oh no, my plans are far more diabolical than that," Faith grinned like a shark, "I plan on attending legal school and becoming... an attorney!"
All of us including her own team recoiled in mock-terror at that proclamation, her co-captain Sydney Hillman was the first to speak up, "Gee captain I had no idea that you were that evil, I mean I planned on auditioning for your evil henchman, but I don't know if I want to put in the work to become a para-legal."
"And that my apprentice is why you fail," Faith retorted in a dire crackly tone right before both teams began to sing The Imperial March from the Star Wars movies, this went on for about a minute and a half before everyone in the restaurant began to crack-up- all in all not a bad way to start the festivities for my birthday.
VT's Crib - The Sandos Residence
Arlington Heights, Illinois
"That oreo doesn't know what she's missing," VT barked out to thin are as he started filling a tote bag with stuff that he'd need for the trip; store-brand water bottles, cash, a junky leather jacket if the temperature fell too much, and a fully-loaded Heckler & Kochs P30S (just in case).
"Yeah laugh at me and my crew like we're a joke," the youth snarled as he looked out the window to see his bud T-Slam pull up in their low-rider with the rest of his crew (guess getting held-back twice in grade-school was worth something after all). Glad that his parents weren't home, his dad was still giving him grief about VT choosing to go street and hang with his homies; VT snuck down the stairs of his home sand to the low-rider waiting in front of his crib.
"So dawg, you ready to kick-it north-side style in Chi-Town?" T-Slam asked him as Shake-O (or as his parents called him Shawn Orwell) moved over from where he was reclining in the back-seat of the modded and custom painted '82 Chevy Impala.
"Sure thing homey," VT replied back gesturing as he did so. "First thing we'll cruise around the local hoods before busting some moves, you do have the gear right?"
"Sure do the box and the tape is in the hatch and Shake-O brought the jams." T-Slam replied as he gunned the engine.
"I got east-coast, west-coast and everything in between." Shake-O patted the retro-style beat-box at his feet, "and this bad boy is going to blow any of those locals away if our sick moves don't beat it to it. By the way what's the name of the jam factory we're crashing after we're down cruise'n the hoods?"
"Rust-tic," VT shot back, "on account of it's in the old steel town, don't know if the place used to be a warehouse or a factory but either way you know the sound in that place is going to be out of yo' mind."
"Yeah so what're we doing hanging around here in cracker town," Scoots (formerly known as Laurence Fishburn) blurted out from his post riding shot-gun, "lets burn rubber to where the real action is!"
"Heard that Scoots," VT replied as he gunned the engine before they took off, after all he and his boys felt there was no reason to go low and slow for a bunch of super-squares in the burbs.
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Artames Holdings Warehouse - Southside Shipping District
2:45 PM EST
Greg waited in terror, no matter where he looked all around Carcharoth's minions were there to meet his gaze- if not the beast himself. No, Greg was under no illusions that monster could snuff out his with as much effort as he could snuff out a candle, still that might be kind compared to what Erzebet Scratch was going to do to him when she got here.
Greg was certain that without a shadow of a doubt that he was destined for The Hangman's noose, everyone in the Grand Hall knew that Scratch was the only one who could control that monster and the word through the grapevine was that she had dug him up again a few months ago- around the same time Plagiat disappeared. You didn't have to be too much of an insider among the Grand Hall staff to know that Plagiat had done something to royally piss off Scratch years ago and she never forgave him for it- evidently that something had been his undoing just like taking this job from the Children of the Night had become Greg's.
Suddenly- a movement among his captors caught Greg's eye, one of the wolves was clutching her stomach. "Ugh, I apologize master," Hanna said in distress as she hunched lower clearly in distress, "my foolish other half must have eaten something that is disagreeing with us."
"No need to suffer on my account my dear." Carcharoth huffed as he sat on a nearby crate. "This is Greygus's operation, until we hear back from him we have nothing but time on our hands."
As Hanna lowered the ectoplasmic shell to resume her human form, granted it was still controlled by the persona of Carcharoth's thrall she stepping out behind the warehouse to make use of one of the nearby row of port-a-johns.
A few moments later Carcharoth's cell began to ring, picking it up as fast as possible the Norse beast all but barked out. "Greygus it's about time, I need to know where and when we need to go in order to get into position for the attack."
"You and your pack can stay right where they are for now Carcharoth, your orders are to secure the stolen crates until Erzabet Scratch and her men arrive to transport them to the new warehouse."
"Are you daft," Carcharoth growled in response, "you're going to pass up the power my pack can bring to the field and go it solo."
"Power is the operant word Carcharoth, this side of the opperation require tact and finesse, areas in which your new pack are currently untested. Besides this is not a solo operation, the Erinyes are with me and we are standing by waiting to act; also Madam Eventide and Don Astio are both in the area should we require backup. Now remember you have your orders, stay put until Scratch or her people arrive- I don't want to have a repeat of that incident in Istanbul."
Before Carcharoth could object to this state of affairs Greygus ended the call leaving the lupine god furious, "Damned daddy's boy, he always has to bring up Istanbul, how was I supposed to know that herd of goats would stampede into a crowded market. What the hell are you staring at?" Carcharoth shouted right in Greg Paulson's face for staring at him during the call a situation that lead to the man soiled his pants in abject terror.
Halfway between the warehouse and the row of port-a-johns the thrall version of Hanna felt the presence of something and prepared to summon her shell to take care of this intruder when her eyes lost focus once again. This turn of events gave her watcher, a man wearing a cloak gave the appearance that it had been stitched together from a variety of forest leaves, ample time to bridge the distance between them with a flying leap.
However this action seemed to come a moment too late as Hanna's eyes refocused, and with a snarl she began to summon the ectoplasmic shell afforded to her as a thrall of Carcharoth. Unfortunately for Hanna it seemed that her earlier troubles chose that moment to rear their head as she doubled over and proceeded to regurgitate while at the same time a mysterious and viscous golden liquid seemed to bleed out of her nose to join the growing puddle of vomit
Hanna had heaved for well over a minute as the mysterious liquid meticulously separated itself from the puddle of bile and began to take shape. Meanwhile still shaky from her ordeal and the light-headedness of the simultaneous nosebleed, Hanna once again tried to transform when the cloaked figure took a handful of dust from a pouch at his belt and blew it in her still gasping face.
"I still have trouble believing how well this stuff works even after all these years." The man mused as he closed the pouch and shook the remainder of the dust from his hands.
"Say what you will about the Olympians dear," the puddle replied as it solidified into a woman dressed like she was more at home outside of civilization among the woods and trees, "but they certainly knew their artifacts. Those sands from Hypnos's cavern are enough to put almost anything to sleep."
"I hope riding around in another one of your Uncle's minions was not too uncomfortable Hedgewitch my dear." The man replied as the woman known as Hedgewitch began to rifle through Hanna's pockets.
"Think nothing of it Jaegarsman," Hedgewitch smiled as held out the same silver key that Hanna had pocketed earlier. "As unpleasant as my Limbic Puppeteer spell can be, it was more than worth it to get old Howard's key back from the Obsidian Circle, now we need to get this back to Fray as soon as possible."
"Such a shame," Jaegarsman sighed as he looked back at the unconscious body of Hanna Ring, "more people whose lives and beings have been enthralled to serve your wretched uncle's whims."
"Do not weep too hard for this woman and her comrade's my dear," Hedgewitch stated as she slipped the silver key into her robes while slipping Jaegarsman a brief yet tender peck on the cheek, "this is hardly another group of innocent isolated villagers. Still I wouldn't wish their fate on anyone- well almost anyone."
Their task now completed Jaegarsman and Hedgewitch seemed to melt into the
nearby shadows leaving Hanna slumped over asleep on the concrete.
Copley Place - Back Bay
POV: Bea Carson, Rose of the East
It was almost Three O'clock by the time Randi and her group arrived, granted we were only waiting inside for about seven minutes but still it was obviously making Gloria antsy sitting by the waterfall while Eve and I talked shop about the various goings on around campus and Venus Inc. in general. Honestly no matter how she liked to play it Eve wasn't anywhere near the bad girl that she pretended to be, besides I knew had a feeling she was too more of an anti-hero in the making to be a real dyed-in-the-wool villain.
"Hey Randi," I called out waving my hand at the trio, "what was keeping you three- we've been waiting?"
"About two hours of Shia LeBouf butchering one of Hitchcock's classics." Randi remarked as her group came closer to mine.
"Not that he didn't look yummy while doing it." Candace said while grinning from ear to ear. It was odd, now that I think about it this was the first time that I've met Randi's roommate Candace but I couldn't help think that there was something... familiar about her. It was odd I usually remembered everything that I saw, a skill that I refined over the course of my earlier existence trapped in Aphrodite and later Victoria Godin's astral shadow. Never mind, maybe the answer will come to me eventually, I thought to myself as I filed that feeling away for another time.
"I'll just have to take your word for it Candace," Randi replied as she rolled her eyes while Candace touched the privacy charm that they had been carrying to ours (it was explained that this synched them to each other and doubled their range), "there is a lot more to acting than looks and LeBouf is still far from polished in those regards."
"Geez Bridges," Eve said with a brief stretch as she stood up, inadvertently causing both Randi and Candace to stare, "you really need to take the stick out- when was the last time you sat through a scary movie just to have fun."
"I don't know- how long has it since there was an original horror movie." Randi remarked with a smirk on her face.
"Likely before any of us were born," Eve snidely remarked as she stared at my fellow maiden, "you are a weird one Bridges."
"Of course I'm weird," Randi shot Heartbreaker a look, "why else do you think that they put me in Poe."
"She does have a point," Glorianna said as she wheeled me over to them, "Poe does seem to be the dorm for people with- issues. I mean we are starting to understand what your issues are Sayyid and well- there are Hippolyta and Jade."
"Hey don't go lumping us all into the same basket case," Candace said with a smirk, "each of us is our own brand of crazy and the asylum is our playground."
"I am fairly certain that Miss Horton would object to that statement." Sayyid replied
"Oh you know how House Mothers are, we just let them think that they're in charge. Poe is our Wonderland and we are all a little mad," Candace giggled gleefully with a goofy grin upon her face, "now shall we enjoy some tea while we throw ourselves an unbirthday party. So have you got the Evania's gifts all picked out or do you need a little help from yours truly?"
"Actually we are pretty much done on that front," I said as I searched my usually impeccable memory our earlier stops, "I might still keep an eye out though. Anyway we still have enough time in the day to enjoy ourselves."
"Hmm, in that case I have an idea for another project that we can work on." Eve mused as she seemed to be evaluating Randi with her eyes.
"This had better not have anything to do with your other group of friends Miss Hilton." Gloria said in a tone that conveyed her intent to keep the Mastermind from trying anything while she and Saladin were there.
"Oh no Glorianna my dear, nothing quite like that." Heartbreaker explained while grinning from ear to ear. "Besides my conspirator is here already, am I right Miss Reynard?"
"Um, Candace," Randi inquired in a bewildered tone as she turned to her roommate, "just what is this about?"
"I'm sorry Randi but this is something that your mentor Mrs. Redstag asked me to do for you." Candace said as she looked at me while matching Heartbreaker's expression as best she could with her lightly freckled face. "She told me that while the southern tomboy look is fine most of the time you really need to expand your wardrobe beyond those and our uniforms."
Up until now I had only heard the expression, 'Like a deer in the headlights,' now I think I saw the reality in Randi's eyes, she began to back up, almost as if she were about to run. I really couldn't understand the reason for this, it was only a shopping trip.
"Man look at her," Rich remarked as he took a swig from his bottle of coke, "I bet that she hits the gym till the treadmill cries uncle."
"She's still nothin' compared to Candace." Rex grumbled.
"Are you certain that this is what you wish to do with your trip to Boston?" Stormwolf inquired as he took a sip from his own canteen.
"Yup, what is the point in being alive if you can't enjoy the little moments of calm between the storms Adam." Rich smiled as he reclined against the bench. "I mean you took that Police Procedures class right? What we have here is an excellent chance to practice profiling, just take your pick of a subject and analyze them like you would a book in a literature course. See if you can read the story of their life, in the way they live."
"Interesting and this is the only reason that you do this," Adam Ironknife asked with a raised eyebrow.
"That and a futile attempt to get Rex here's mind on some girl other than Candace Reynard," Rich said as he shook his head with a forlorn sign, "poor shmuck's been mooning over her since grammar school completely oblivious to his permanent residency in the friend zone."
"I am not," Rex Holloway objected, "she just isn't ready yet for the type of person to have a serious long term relationship yet."
"Denial is more than a river in Egypt Rex," Rich sighed as he shook his head, "so Adam care to give it a whirl, who knows you might spot a threat as we play."
"Point taken, let me see?" Stormwolf mused as he began to scan the walkers by in the park.
As Stormwolf began to join in on Palleon's game Rex kept thinking of ways that he could go off on his own, he had an appointment to keep.
Wednesday April 18th, 2007
Twain Cottage - Common Room
Whateley, New Hampshire
The school day was now over and done with, it was officially break time for the rest of the day, granted most students used this break for club activities or working a job on campus to pay for their tuition. Still unlike other students Rex's parents were reasonably well of thanks to their positions at Ford, and as for interests...well- he had only one real interest that he was pursuing. Still he had plenty of time to do that now that Candace was attending the same school as him once again rather than living one state over and on the other side of Lake Michigan.
Right now Rex had the time to enjoy a room all to himself, Max was likely either busy with training in the Dragon's Dojo or else spending time with Sonia if she was taking a day off from her internship at Doyle. Although he would never say it Rex was jealous of his roommate; Max and Sonia had been head over heels for each other since before he had known them- and he couldn't help but wonder why Candace didn't feel the same way about him.
At least being alone in his room gave him time to think, as he passed the front desk Mister Filbert caught his attention, "Hallenbeck, you need to pick up your mail every day." The House Father stated as he gave him a thick stack of mail bound with a rubber band. "Remember this is your responsibility, I don't want to have to deal with a phone call from the school's post master again if you let your mail pile up again."
"Yeah- yeah," Rex rolled his eyes at the old man, "I'll remember to do that."
"You had better, the janitor needs an assistant to clean out the showers, Montana's shedding and his fur has been clogging the drains." Mister Filbert hinted as he leveled an even glare at Rex, "Remember, don't make me waste my time to tell you these things again or I'll find something that you can occupy your time with!"
"Understood sir!" Rex recoiled as he took the bundle of letters and all but limped off with his proverbial tail between his legs. A few minutes later after locking himself in his dorm room to be alone like he planned, eventually his mind turned to the stack. Sure enough some of it was inter-school junk mail, a few letters from relatives, an invitation to his cousin Annabeth's wedding in May (which he wouldn't be able to attend due to school), generic junk mail.
Eventually Rex stumbled across something odd, it was marked urgent but he didn't recognize the name on the envelope. "Who the heck is Eddie Black?" He asked aloud, well whoever had sent the envelope was local; the return address was a Post Office Box in Boston. After a moment of trying to figure out the mystery Rex opened the security envelope, oddly enough a business card with an odd logo on it came tumbling out; he ignored the card for the moment and focused on the letter.
Dear Rex Hallenbeck,
I am aware of a problem that you have and might have a proposition that you might find interesting. I have been around for a while and have a way that could help you gain either the heart of the one you seek or heal the one who seeks you. If either of these options sound appealing to you come meet me at the Union Oyster House at Five O'Clock in the Afternoon Saturday the 21st, show the card to the man at the door.
Setting the letter aside for a moment, Rex picked up the card. On the front was his full name in a plain font and on the reverse was an odd logo, after a moment Rex's eyes shot wide open with fear.
Saturday April 21st, 2007
It was getting closer and closer to this Eddie Black's deadline, and Rex had to find some way to ditch Rich and Mister Straight and Narrow. Even if Rex decided to turned down what this guy was offering he had to be there to make sure he would keep quiet, Stygian might be able to give them a head's up about trouble coming their way from the New Olympians but there were plenty of wannabe heroes around campus who would love to have the reputation of Hercules who killed half of them during his labors.
Still just how would he give the two of them the slip, Rich had known him for years and after that mess in Philadelphia would be hard pressed to let Rex go anywhere alone. As for Stormwolf that stickler had his orders, he was going to stick to the pair like glue all afternoon, he would know right away when Rex tried to go off on his own. Yes this would be tricky but it had to be done- for the sake of his friends.
Copley Place - Back Bay
POV: Randi Bridges, Rose of the West
"I am not going to have these Baroque torture devices on my feet." I growled as glared at Heartbreaker.
"These aren't torture devices Randi," the Mastermind in question stated as she struggled to keep me still, "these are three inch heels, honestly I've seen you where cowgirl boots around campus before so what's the problem?"
"The heels have a lot more surface area, not to mention they're only half the height." I explained while shooting her a look. "Honestly why do ladies torture themselves wearing these things?"
"Perhaps the young Miss would like these better," a sales clerk whose name tag read Dominique said as she held out a pair of shoes with heels about half the height of the sadistic platforms that Eve had me try on for size. From the look of her she was in her early twenties, although I could tell from her accent that while she wasn't a Bostonian native, probably a college student from one of the nearby cities.
"Why are you all doing this to me anyway?" I turned as I asked my fellow
"Mrs. Redstag's orders remember," Eve explained as she craned her neck down so that she could look me in the eyes with a wry smile, "you really need some more formal attire for certain school functions, and that means women's shoes."
"And Eve told Nikki during one of their clubs photo shoots, asking her how to get involved, Nikki came to me with this so we could arrange this little get together." Candace further elaborated with that foxy grin on her face that made me feel torn between frenching her and running away as fast as I could- granted that because she was a speedster that would be a pointless waste of effort. "Besides consider it a valuable social experience, something tells me you're not the kind of girl that has really done this with other girls your own age."
"So let me guess, it's give Randi a makeover time." I grimaced in trepidation at what I saw coming.
"Only if we can find a groomer here in the mall," Bea remarked with a disarming smile. "Besides you have one advantage over all of us, your purse literally goes with anything."
Knowing that what was coming was more of the same, and hearing Jane laughter through our link, I decided to go ahead as I stood up wearing the new pair of shoes that the store clerk had brought me. Okay these weren't so bad, I admitted as I took a few steps, taking a look at the price on them told me that they weren't one of those ultra-expensive pairs- looks like Dominique would be getting at least one sale off of me. "I think I'll take this pair."
"Alright- if you don't mind I'll hold onto these at the register while you and your friends shop around a little more," Dominique explained while she took the shoes, that's when I noticed a slight awkwardness in her left arm- Bea saw it too right away.
"Miss- are you alright?" Bea inquired as she looked at the clerk in concern. "You look like you hurt yourself."
"Oh it's nothing, just a touch of tennis elbow from a match a few days ago." Dominique explained as she went to get another pair of shoes from a nearby display, a pair of wedges about the same heel height as the previous pair. "Now miss if you liked that pair these might fit your tastes as well."
As I took the pair from Dominique, Bea wheeled her chair around towards us. "Miss, while my friend tries those out do you mind if I have a look at your arm," Bea inquired with her usual pleasant tone, "I have kind of a gift with these things."
"Alright," Dominique accepted the unusual request, "I guess it can't hurt." As she bent down to offer Bea her left arm, Bea began to massage the appendage while subtly applying her healing power, so as not to make the results seem too obvious. It took only a minute or two but while they were busy I finished trying out the wedges, they were odd they gave my gait a touch of an arch, yet still felt like my usual flats.
By the time I was done so was Bea, "Whoa!" Dominique exclaimed in a mix or surprise and relief, "talk about having magic fingers."
"You're welcome," Bea smiled in reply although I could tell by something in the tone of her voice that something was troubling her.
Roof - Best Buy
Jabberwock was almost tempted to take off his mask to wipe his brow off as he went about configuring the device in front of him. Granted the former contract mercenary had no idea what it was- only that it was another gift from Darrow's out of town friends, the implications of that gave Jabberwock almost as much of the creeps as the machine itself.
"Why did I wind up like this?" the merc grumbled as he kept up his work, okay he knew the answer to that question was two-fold. He owed Darrow a lot for springing him from Roxbury-C last month, and unlike Matterhorn his rep hadn't recovered from the blow of getting tossed in jail by a bunch of kids. Matterhorn might have been used like a club in that fight that they were captured in last year but at least he was seen getting payback for that earlier fiasco.
Right now he was between a rock and a hard place, Darrow was the only person that would hire him at the moment and also felt that Jabberwock owed him big time for breaking him out of lock up. Couple this to the fact that Nightgaunt was in police custody and Vamp had flown the coop and had probably taken Nightgaunt's power gems with her. This meant that the Children of the Night were hiring and Jabberwock had gotten the job whether he wanted it or not.
The next opening in group was filled when a merc from Europe came to Boston a week later trying to look for information about that Tennyo girl from Team Kimba. All Jabberwock knew about this Arcane-Knight was that we was a ghost haunting a suit of mech-armor and he had some connection to the Knights of the Eternal Presence. Since the word around the underworld was that she had blown that group up along with Man Bot straight to hell at NORAD-C last December he had likely come stateside looking for payback.
Well the joke was on him, Arcane-Knight was in Boston for less than a week hunting for intell when Darrow used his hocus-pocus to enslave the ghost in that overblown tin can into serving him. Speaking of which, "Hey tin man, I got my do-hickey setup here in Fenway, how much more work have you got to do in over in Upham's Corner?"
"I finished ten minutes ago you reprobate, I am currently enroot to the rendezvous site at Shamut now." Arcane-Knight shoot back at Jabberwock over their coms. "Let us get this farce over with, I want to get back to wishing that I had never encountered any of your foul lot."
"Yeah, yeah, we love you too," Jabberwock mockingly said and then after turned off the transmitter on his com added, "you overblown renaissance fair lawn jockey."
Copley Place - Back Bay
POV: Bea Carson, Rose of the East
"Come on Bridges," Eve urged held out an outfit, "you know it's the only practical choice given your... condition."
"No way in hell Hilton," Randi stood her ground- clinging against the wall of the changing room."
"Be reasonable Randi-" Glorianna huffed as she tried to pry the demi-fae off the side of the stall and back onto the ground, "the Spring Cotillion is- *ugh* a few weeks- *ugh* away."
"Please Randi," I spoke up trying to reason with her, "you know that attendance for Freshmen and Sophomores is mandatory- the only way to avoid going is if you're bedridden or confined to your dorm room."
"Forget it," Randi all but barked, "there is no way I'll be seen anywhere on campus in this thing- I mean the back's so low it's beyond indecent."
"I realize the problem Bridges, but given your... furry friend in the back, we don't have too many options." Eve replied as she tried to reason with her.
"I don't see what's the big deal Randi," Candace replied as she strolled out of the next dressing room wearing a pinkish orange (what I later learned was tea rose) dress in a similar style with the back (with the exception of two ribbon-thin straps that crossed mid-back) likewise down to her tail (which she made visible once she closed changing room door). "I mean you'll likely look fierce in it once you get into it." Candace finished with a smile before pirouetting and letting the dress's low back draw attention to her exceedingly bushy vulpine tail.
I didn't need a few hundred years in Aphrodite's astral shadow to know that there were the beginnings of a relationship stirring between my fellow Maiden and her roommate. Granted I also knew from Victoria's present incarnation that Candace was also the reincarnation of the Cadmean Vixen, oh well that fox wasn't dangerous until Dionysis ordered it to steal and eat children
"Th-th-that's easy for you t-to say Candace," Randi stammered out while turning her head- as she tried and failed to disguise the fact that she was blushing as red as a radish, "you spend most of your time in our room naked as a jay bird."
That little revelation made the rest of us all look at Candace a little differently, I mean yeah I know mermaid- but really as I explained to Eve and Glorianna earlier merfolk are no strangers to the nudity taboo. Well it's not so much of a taboo- more of wanting to eliminate drag while we swim outside our aquatic cities.
"Um- Bea," Eve said somewhat shell-shocked, "Bridges is a faerie right."
"Yes- well- partially, about as much as I'm a mermaid." I replied curious about where this was going.
"Is it true that faeries can't lie?" Eve asked still somewhat dumbstruck.
"It's more like most of them fell that lying is beneath them." I sheepishly revealed, "Faeries are perfectly capable of lying, it's just that a good deal of them have this nasty massive superiority complex and consider lying an act of those who aren't clever enough to bend the truth to serve their needs. At least that's the way it goes for court faeries."
"Oh- Randi's telling the truth all right," Candace admitted with a smile, "I just like to sleep in the buff that's all. It's just hard for me to relax and go to sleep when I feel constrained like that- on the other hand maybe if I'm the one doing the constraining..."
That little comment caused Randi to hit the floor of the dressing room in a shocked heap, although thankfully she was uninjured.
Candace blew a breath across the tip of her right finger like it was a gun, "There you go- I got her down so you can get her to try on the dress. Still in my personal opinion, it's just not her style and the way the color clashes with her eyes something is atrocious."
Fray didn't even bother to look up from his workbench, where once again he was working on his hand, as Jaegersman and Hedgewitch entered the room. "I assume that you two pulled off the operation without too much difficulty?" Fray inquired not even bothering to turn and face the two. "I don't smell the scent of battle on the two of you so I gather that the pup is none the wiser."
"His minion saw me but given that she was busy heaving while she did I doubt that she got a good look." Jaegarsman explained while Hedgewitch calmly set the key the two acquired earlier at a clean place on the bench. "Not exactly like that mutt ever chooses the best and brightest."
"Sorry Fray," Hedgewitch apologized while shooting her partner and husband an admonishing look, "I know how my uncle is a sore subject for you given the past the two of you share."
"I cannot help but wonder if things could have gone different if I had managed to convince the Aesir to leave the pup be, I mean of the three he was the only one who wasn't an open threat from the beginning." Fray mused as he closed up the panels on his hand. "I mean I know the Norns foretold he would eat Odin, but the circumstances and events surrounding that prophecy still left a lot open to interpretation. It could have been a reluctant act of mercy to bring an end to Ragnarok but no we had to make him our enemy."
"Come now Tyr, you have seen what that beast has done over the years- all the lives that he has ruined or ended- he even bit off and swallowed your hand for crying out loud, how can you defend him?" Jaegarsman all but shouted in response before Hedgewitch's gentle touch told him to back down.
"That was only after I tried to bind him twice, even I could tell that he was suspicious after those heavy chains almost held him. You know the saying right: 'Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.'" Tyr replied briefly staring at his cybernetic prosthesis before getting up from his bench. "At that point he knew that something was up, I would not have been allowed to bind him with Glepnir without sacrifice. Before he was bound he was guilty of nothing except being the object of a prophecy, he had made no packs or slain anything other than wild boar to sate his hunger."
"Even after Fenrir left to Vaniheim to roam the dark forests of Svarthelheim he would show no sign of hostility to the Vanir when they came to play with him, no Vali the act that made Fenrir into the monster that is Horfin was not the circumstances of his birth it was the naked betrayal of someone that he called friend... me."
"Anyway I noticed something else while Uncle and his pack were securing the goods that the Necromancer's spy stole from The Circle." Hedgewitch interjected trying to steer the conversation away from Vali and Tyr's usual argument concerning Fenrir. "I noticed that he was in communication with Madam Eventide, it appears that she is in Boston at the moment and that there is another operation about to begin soon- I think that Greygus was mentioned. Also The Necromancer's minion Lady Darke appeared to have somewhere to be in a hurry, she left as soon as she turned Dagon's Scepter over to the EOD member."
"This is not good," Tyr began to chew over the facts, "if Greygus and Eventide are in the city it could very well be to strike a blow against the Children of the Night for The Necromancer's transgression. But if the Children of the Night are already on the move that means they have their own operation about to go down today, I heard from Morrigan earlier that the Maidens of the East and West will be in Boston today for shopping and sight-seeing so this can't be a coincidence."
"The fact that The Necromancer has recently met with the Esoteric Order of Dagon only confirms this, the last thing that the Order wants is for the Maiden of the East to succeed this summer in Operation Flipper Liberation especially since it would immediately put all of the pieces in place for Operation Clean Tide." Tyr stated as he went over to his gear and began to suit up. "I am sorry to ask this of the two of you so soon but we have to protect those two girls, the future of the merfolk and the fae upon earth depends on the survival of the two of them."
"As if I would ever let anything take the Maiden of the West from this world," Hedgewitch shot back, "not after my father's sacrifice and everything that girl has already gone through! As for the Maiden of the East, the descendants of Apsu's people have been Dagon's slaves long enough, it is long past time for merfolk to return to Midgard's waters free of that traitor's arcane tyranny."
"Thank you Auda," Tyr smiled before raising the face-guard to his helmet, "Narfi would be proud of how his daughter turned out- were he here today I am certain he would be smiling with pride."
"I know," Hedgewitch responded while she and Jaegarsman awaited Fray's preparations to join them on the streets of Boston, "mom too, wherever they are now. And while you wait I'm going to make a phone call to an interested party."
Morrigan's 'Office' - Beneath Shuster Hall
Whateley Academy, New Hampshire
Morrigan looked up as a very familiar right-hand held up a bottle of tea, she looked over her shoulder to see her husband's familiar face with a smirk on his face. "You know that you're not supposed to work on the Sabbath right?"
"Dear you and I both know that the original Sabbath wasn't Sunday," Morrigan replied as she took the bottle of ice tea briefly pressing it against her forehead, "that and I might be many things but a faithful Christian is not one of them."
"I know dear," Dagda chuckled, "I've seen you doing the sky clad commune with the Earth Mother enough times during our second honeymoon to know otherwise. So how do you like teaching again?"
"It's interesting, more than a few students are actually interesting in learning from a history teacher with first and second hand experience along with old fashioned research and degrees." Morrigan explained while looking over the papers that her students had sent her.
"How did you ever find the time to go to college?" Dagda asked out of curiosity, "I mean those missions with the Grey Barrow and all of the work that you do as the regent of the Western Court."
"Dear we were apart for centuries and most of my work for the Western Court was walking around with a target painted on my back," the Phantom Queen sighed. "I know that I didn't visit you but the fact is that Purgatory is not an easy place to visit unless you are either sent there or get there the hard way."
"I know it was just difficult," Dagda deflated in exasperation "all these years without you to be there."
"Why do you think that I made sure that the hotel we stayed at had handle bars on the ceiling and a bed with an Exemplar Four rating?" Morrigan asked with a hint of mirth in her voice, "Centuries of celibacy without even the gentle sound of your music or your poetic verses to keep me company was tough on me as well." Morrigan explained as she stroked her husband's face as if she were playing the strings of a dulcimer.
"All this time apart wasn't easy for me either," Morrigan sighed but at least I had my work to act as a distraction. "At least I had our son to keep me company."
"That is part of what I wanted to talk to you about," Dagda inquired out of concern, "How is Bodb Derg, he keeps making excuses whenever I try to talk with him."
"It's because he's ashamed," Morrigan explained, "he feels like he was a failure as a father and as a king. His daughters parted on bitter terms, Aebh died unable to recover after the giving birth to the twins, and he pressured her Aoife to take her place because he didn't want Lir to have too much influence over the grandchildren- which lead to the swan incident. By the time Aoife's curse lifted the Tuartha Dé Danann had agreed with the Nazareen to move Tir na Nog to the Wyldlands and they were stuck in the human world as mortals."
"Face it dear we cast a shadow that the boy, try as he might, never found his way out from under and into the sun. Even his line fell to the Famine, our only descendants are those of Brigid's son Cathasach from her second life's marriage," Morrigan admitted as she slumped in her chair, "at least there are plenty of them around. Speaking of children, I'm going to bar-hopping with Elizabeth tonight, she wants to know what being a maiden of the four courts implies, about Beatrice's future."
"She is not going to be happy when she finds out," Dagda explained as he glanced at a nearby map, "each of those four have difficult roads ahead of them, we can only hope that we can adequately equip and prepare them when the time comes for the task that lay ahead."
Just as he finished that sentence the phone on Morrigan's desk rang leading her husband to wait patiently as she fielded what was likely another call related to her new teaching position.
"Hello, this is Professor Redstag of the Whateley Academy History Department speaking; who may I ask is calling." Morrigan answered in her most professional tone after a few moments of listening her pleasant demeanor slipped into something that Dagda remembered all too well from the times when his people's cold war against the Fomorii turned hot, "No- I am afraid that I shall be unable to leave campus today, however I know someone that I think might be willing to assist you in this matter."
Morrigan looked at her husband with the fury that had led her to be known as the Phantom Queen emanating from her eyes and flowing across her face. "Dear would you be willing to run an errand to Boston real quick?" Morrigan asked with a very thin veneer of decorum to conceal her warrior's rage. "Charlie Darrow and his little gang of hooligans seem to have it in their pretty little heads to pick on Bea and Randi, would you be so kind as to give them a spanking with your stick?"
Dagda only smiled and shrugged, "I was just going to kick back with a keg and put on Masterpiece Theater, but this sounds like a far more entertaining evening. I'm going to go slap on some war paint, tell your friends that I'll be there in twenty."
Children of the Night's Safehouse
Charles Darrow smiled as he looked at the motion detectors ticking off the shambling horde's progress. Soon they would be to the transmission point, and he would earn liberation from the Sword of Damocles that he had been trying to shore up all his life. The fact is that this operation was both acting out the trial run of a system that he planned to use against the Sidhe Queen and her entourage in the future, if he had it ready back in January he would have succeeded in achieving a total victory rather than a partial one.
Still one of the real problems was that one of the most vital components to this system operating at peak capacity was thanks to Night Gaunt's incompetence, no longer available. As things stood Darrow he was relying on flawed copies of the Dark Force gems that he had made with a cultured dragon's pearl, if he was lucky these things would hold out a few hours, and then afterwards like his herd they too would have to be replaced. Still it was of little consequence, according to his contact at Whateley the Western Maiden was not a member of a team and only had a few weeks of informal combat training, while the Eastern Maiden had no combat training what-so-ever and required a wheelchair since she had yet to build up the strength to walk.
"This is Lycanthros reporting in, the broadcasters are setup and the substations are rigged, Darrow's loyal lieutenant reported over the com, "we are ready to begin whenever you give the word.
Darrow grabbed his helmet in one hand and the microphone in the other, "Then begin the operation, my ascension awaits!"
Copley Place - Back Bay
POV: Randi Bridges, Rose of the West
"Okay this one is more like it," I admitted to my classmates as I admired myself in the mirror. The dress in question was an earthy-green number that went down to my calves and the back only fell halfway down my own back, moreover the way the folds in... what did Eve call it- oh yeah the draping fabric worked so that I could take it to Cecilia in Dunwitch and get it altered for an easily concealed slit or fly for my tail.
It's been almost disturbing how much I've picked up on about women's fashion since I've changed, oh well since I'm going to be like this for the rest of my life I might as well adapt with the territory besides it's not like this new body has been without its benefits other than the obvious. For example if Candace really intended to wear that dress that she bought and showed off earlier at the Spring Cotillion, forget my earlier hesitation she'd probably talk me into a date without me giving it a second thought.
While I was giving the dress a few experimental swishes and turns to see how I moved in it the sales clerk, a young lady named Cassy, walked up behind me. "Would the young miss like to try on anything else, or would you like me to ring up the dress."
"I think that I will," I replied having appraised the merchandise- still I might need something, "on the other hand do you have any shoes that might go well with this dress."
"I think that we have a few pairs of low-heel open-toe wedges in the stock room." Cassy admitted before asking, "Would you happen to know your size?"
"Seven and a half," I admitted while I began to get undressed. I had the dress back on its hanger and had just picked up a blouse when I heard a scream. Fearing the worst I reached behind the ribbon on my neck and pressed the center gem on my collar to get my gear on (after throwing a quick illusion of myself at the camera in the dressing room- I hoped this was nothing but my gut told me otherwise.
From the blur that passed me Candace or rather Quickvix would be on it before me- considering that her combat training was limited to a few weeks of BMA and that incident with the fake Tiger Guards in New York I hoped that she was ready. As I rounded the corner to the stockroom a familiar smell hit my nose, I hope that I wasn't too late.
Copley Place - Back Bay
POV: Bea Carson, Rose of the East
I was sitting down, and leaning forward while Eve zipped up my dress when I heard a scream. Eve clearly didn't hear anything however before I could tell her anything we felt something zip past and by the time Eve opened the door to the dressing room and find out what was going on- Randi charged by in her full Faolan outfit.
By the time I had maneuvered myself back into my wheelchair, Gloria was already out of her own dressing room and in front of our own. "What happened?"
"I don't know we heard something, and then this blur went past followed by Randi in her business suit." I replied just as confused as Gloria was about the whole thing.
The three of us had left the dressing room when he heard Randi shouting from the stockroom, what we saw inside was shocking. Randi and someone that I took to be Candace were holding off what looked like the remains of a small group of zombies with a sword and a mace staff. Before the lot of us could do anything Candace knocked the last of them back with her staff followed by Randi slicing through its head.
"I-i-it t-tr-tried t-to eat me!" Cassy stammered in panic before Randi pulled a pouch from her purse and tossed a handful of dust in her face that caused her to fall asleep and partially vanish.
"Faolan, what is going on and what did you just do to that woman?" Glorianna demanded her FSA persona fully in command.
"Quickvix and I heard screaming coming from the stockroom and came to help, by the time that I got here Quickvix had already saved the sales clerk from becoming zombie chow and took out the shambler that tried to munch them with one of my knives." Randi or rather Faolan began to explain pointing out the severed zombie head pinned to the wall by a knife through its temple- smoke pouring out the end and more coming off the mithril blade after she pulled the now inanimate zombie head free.
"At that point more of them began to show up out of nowhere- literally." Quickvix pointed over to the corner of the stockroom where that was literally no way in or out. "At that point we did our best to take them out as they got here."
"As for the dust that's a potion of protective sleep," Randi stated as she took over for her roommate, "she'll be out and safe for the time being, the only reason that you even see her is because you already know that she's here."
Glorianna was about to continue her interrogation when Stormwolf's voice was raised over her Whately Security communicator. "Glorianna come in, abort trip, I repeat abort trip- Code Yellow. Children of the Night presumed active in area."
"Understood proceeding to retrograde packages for evac." Glorianna replied into her communicator before I snatched it away from her.
"That is a negative big dog, the packages will remain in area to assist." I proclaimed into the mike.
"That is a negative Aletheia," Stormwolf barked back, "you are not authorized to assist the police in dealing with cape level situation."
"Not to fight- to help evacuate the civilians to safety and assist the paramedics," I explained as adamant as I could. "I refuse to be lead to safety when there are still people in harm's way. Moreover The Necromancer unleashed mythos contaminated zombies and you are talking to one of the only three people in the city who can treat that should anyone get infected. Also stopping to render aide is the responsibility of every citizen not just police deputies like the Kimbas- we won't be fighting but we will be helping."
"Understood," Stormwolf answered admitting that for once someone other than Loophole out rule doctored him. "Is there anything else?"
"Yes send a speedster or teleporter to the Boston Rescue Mission," Faolan explained after I handed the communicator into her outstretched hand, "there is a large cauldron that you need to retrieve from there and bring to wherever the paramedics set up triage."
"Excuse me," Stormwolf replied in disbelief, "a cauldron from a soup kitchen?"
"Trust me it will come in very handy, just make sure it's clean," Randi replied back, "lives will depend on this."
Eve looked at me in the eyes while this was going on and asked, "Bea are you sure about this?"
"Eve," I explained from the bottom of my heart, "if I don't do this now I would be unable to forgive myself for the rest of my life."
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3:51 PM EDT
"Alright," Adam Ironknife began as he eyed a blonde jogger going by, now actively participating with Richard Tanner's game. "Post-relationship, I can see the pin marks on her sweatshirt where a fraternity pin used to be. Not a sorority girl from the looks of it, so she's focused on a real career instead of partying on the weekends- from the haircut I wager law student."
"Yeah," Richard commented on Adam's assessment, "something about her just screams law school student- plus it's the right time for attendees from Boston U's Legal School to be between class and showing up for any internships at the local firms. See I knew that you'd be good at this once you took the stick out, you might want to leave it out too."
"I have to keep up appearances as an auxiliary for campus security Tanner, you know that," Ironknife retorted as the stern demeanor appeared once more. "A more relaxed approach might work for a public high school's safety patrol, but our academy is far from normal."
"Still you might want to loosen up every once in a while," Richard explained as he scanned the park for another target for their game. "You hold on to the ball too tightly it can mess up your game you know."
"You know Richard the entire world doesn't revolve around American Football," Rex commented as he received a horrified look from his roommate.
"You know there are places in this country where you can be burned at the stake for heresy for saying what you just did- right?" Richard Tanner shot back with a horrified look.
"Oh, yes the fabled small towns of the Midwest where the Lights of the Night of Frigg's Day are worshiped, and held in great reverence and those who bath in their glow are honored akin to gods amongst we mere mortals." Rex began to outlandishly mock the moment, "Until of course those honored gods in mortal trapping are cast aside by the skin of a sheep to descend into a life of mediocrity, and from that moment on those fallen warriors of the grid of iron constantly look back on that glorious peak of their lives so much so that they constantly try to relive it vicariously through their progeny."
"Come on," Richard defended himself to his roommate, "sports teach valuable skills for the real world if you pay attention. They emphasize teamwork, discipline, planning, dealing with unexpected situations..."
Their conversation was interrupted when the sky suddenly faded to black, "What the heck?" Was all that the former running back managed to get out before his attention was drawn by a nearby scream. A mother having taken her child out of a stroller to change a dirty diaper had fallen back in horror, desperately clutching her infant, as a clearly undead figure emerged from behind a nearby tree.
Stormwolf and Palleon initiated their respective costume changes, Stormwolf's via a tech-brace supplied to Wildpack by Thunderfox and Palleon's by a changeling bauble on the inside of his watchband that Quickvix had purchased from her roommate. Now disguised the pair acted with Stormwolf using a gust of wind to knock the zombie back while Palleon had raised his aura and took one of the concrete blocks lining the path and threw it right at the now prone shambler's head ending its threat.
"I'm going to note the damage to public property in my report Palleon." Stormwolf remarked as the pair went over to help the woman and her infant.
"The block should still be intact Stormwolf," Palleon replied as he helped the mother to her feet, Boston Parks and Recreation should be able to reinstall it for cheap after the folks at ARC sterilize it."
"Are you alright ma’am?" Palleon asked the shaking mother who was clearly still rattled from the experience as her infant was crying from the ordeal. Numb and still in shock the woman nodded in reply.
"Palleon keep her safe," Stormwolf ordered as he tapped the communicator on his helmet, "I'm going to radio the others and the police."
As Palleon helped the mother settle down to their bench Stormwolf connected with police dispatch, "Boston PD this is Stormwolf, we have had a zombie attack in Boston Commons please send a dispatch and a hazmat team to my location."
"We will respond ASAP Stormwolf," an officer with police dispatch replied over his receiver, "but you need to know that we have reports of zombie sightings all over town, and emergency crews are currently on route to multiple locations."
"Understood," Stormwolf responded as he began to contact the other chaperones one by one. "Gloriana come in, abort trip, I repeat abort trip- Code Yellow. Children of the Night presumed to be active in the area- I repeat Children of the Night are presumed to be active in the area- over."
"Understood proceeding to retrograde packages for evac- over." Glorianna replied over the communicator.
Unfortunately, this was followed a moment later by a voice Adam recognized all too clearly, Beatrice Carson "That is a negative big dog; the packages will remain in area to assist- over."
"That is a negative Aletheia," Stormwolf barked back through his communicator, "you are not authorized to assist the police in dealing with cape level situation. Proceed with Gloriana to the evac locations- over."
"Not to fight- to help evacuate the civilians to safety and assist the paramedics," Aletheia explained refusing to budge on the issue. "I refuse to be lead to safety when there are still people in harm's way. Moreover, The Necromancer unleashed mythos contaminated zombies and you are talking to one of the only three people in the city who can treat that should anyone get infected. Also, stopping to render aide is the responsibility of every citizen not just police deputies like the Kimbas- we won't be fighting but we will be helping- over."
"Understood," Stormwolf answered swearing that he needed to keep other students away from Loophole. "Is there anything else?- over."
"Yes send a speedster or teleporter to the Boston Rescue Mission," Faolan explained showing that the two of them were together with Glorianna, "there is a large cauldron that you need to retrieve from there and bring to wherever the paramedics set up triage- over."
"Excuse me," Stormwolf replied in disbelief, "a cauldron from a soup kitchen- over?"
"Trust me it will come in very handy, just make sure it's clean," Randi replied back, "lives will depend on this-over and out."
A few moments later Palleon returned alone, "I left the lady and her kid in the care of a meter maid, apparently, the Boston Police Department is stretched really thin right now; the lady actually told me to call in Team Kimba."
"Fortunately, that group is confined to Academy Grounds for the time being, unfortunately though it seems their spirit has infected others." Stormwolf huffed in frustration, "Aletheia refused to leave and Faolan wants me to send someone to pick-up a Cauldron at the Boston Rescue Mission."
The pair was so focused on their mission they neglected to see an odd look on Deuce's face.
Somerset Club - Roof
Jabberwock secured his pack behind the Club's Marquis, waiting a moment for the visual cloak to take effect before taking out a pair of modified binoculars and searching the darkness that they'd blanketed the city with. Soon enough he spotted a zombie emerging from a nearby alleyway, as per orders he checked in with his current boss.
"Necromancer this is Jabberwock, come in Necromancer- over."
"This is Arcane Knight, the Necromancer is busy with other matters," the haunted suit of tech armor responded over the communicator, What is the situation- over?
"Latest package is secure and have spotted walkers on the surface," Jabberwock responded trying to sound professional despite his current indentured servitude to Darrow, "distribution system appears to be working- over."
"Roger- return to base to pick up the next package and proceed to the next location- over."
"Roger- be there soon- over and out." Jabberwock finished as he ended the communication, something about this part of the job was nagging at him but orders were orders.
Faneuil Hall Marketplace - Uniqlo
POV: Heather Bridges
"Yeah Heather," Mirabel took in her friend's appearance, "that looks sharp on you, respectable yet youthful. It really is you."
"Thanks Mirabel," I smiled as I gave the vest and dress combo another spin, "I wanted to get a few outfit ideas for when my family visits in a few weeks."
Great open mouth, insert foot; nice one Heather maybe with some help you'll be ready to navigate a social minefield alive by the time you hit freshman year, today's explosive ordinance was Sherrie's parental situation, "Oh- Sherrie, I'm so sorry I forgot about-"
"It's okay Heather," Sherrie waved off my idiotic faux-pas, "you’re excited to see your family again. It's understandable since they originally wanted you to wait until High School to attend the Academy. Besides the school arranged for me to have teleconferences with my dad while an academic advisor is present starting Parent's Day- so I still get to see him, just not in person."
Arnold shook his head as he stood uncomfortably in the middle of the store, "I can never understand how ladies can spend so much time in a store trying on outfits and never buy anything."
The trio exchanged glances as if conferencing in some hidden code, while Heather returned the outfits that she and her friends tried on to the sales lady. With this latest bout of window-shopping out of the way, the trio of middle school girls all but pulled Arnold outside of the store, only pausing briefly as they took note at how dark it was outside despite it being the middle of the afternoon.
"I am about to tell you one of the biggest secrets of the opposite-sex Arnold, and if you ever breath a word of this to anyone I will hurt you in ways that even Solange can't conceive." Mirabel explained as she locked her gaze with the unwitting triple agent of Whateley Academy, "Ladies who like us, are not of means, shop like this to determine what looks good on us from the upper-end lines so that later we can go through the thrift stores and second-hand markets to recreate the look using our own creativity along with a little self-modification."
"I know how to mend and tailor so we don't need to see Cecelia," I sheepishly explained not wanting to mention that I learned those particular skills from a brownie named Coutah during my previous life as Plagiat's mystically-enslaved servant Fetch.
"So basically, the three of you are going to use your memories and go hunting through flea markets in Berlin next weekend to Frankenstein together outfits for the Spring Cotillion." Arnold deadpanned at the trio who were fast proving to be a lot more quick-witted than the Three Little Witches who were now the bane of Tansy Walcutt's existence yet somehow equally as aggravating.
Arnold Harvey was quickly jolted out of his train of thought by Stormwolf's voice coming in over his intercom, Aries come in, abort trip, I repeat abort trip- Code Yellow. Children of the Night presumed to be active in area."
"Affirmative," Arnold replied over his hidden Whateley Security Communicator to Stormwolf, "proceeding to take packages to the point of emergency extraction" extraction- over."
"Sorry ladies but Adam Killjoy just called and the parties over," Arnold responded to the trio we now have to file out to the emergency site that Campus Security told the chaperones about before the trip, no arguing."
"Why would we argue about this?" Sherrie asked in confusion.
"Um, some students wouldn't like their fun to get cut short," Arnold awkwardly responded somewhat unsure about the way the conversation was going.
"Hey, my family are capes going back two generations," Mirabel retorted, "I know a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot when I hear it, besides after what I've heard about the last three times it's smart not to be in Boston when whatever it is hits the fan."
"And I would like to avoid another encounter with the Grand Hall," I commented, 'for the rest of my life if possible.' Then again from the look of things my thoughts were showing on my face...again.
"O-kay," Arnold responded somewhat flustered by the duo but not willing to look the gift horse of a trio of middle school girls who were actually willing to follow orders in an emergency rather than trying to play hero.
"Aries this is Stormwolf," the head of the Wild Pack responded over the radio, "Change of plans, I need you to make a trip to the Boston Rescue Shelter and pick up a cauldron that was left there. We are going to be aiding the EMT's and the police with crowd control, and somehow this pot will help-over."
"Understood Stormwolf- over and out." Aries replied as he looked over his charges for the trip, "Listen you three need to-"
"Mister Harvey I think that I know what this is about," I decided to speak up, "The Undry, Dagda's Cauldron, Mister Redstag left it at the Boston Rescue Shelter to help them stretch out their food donations- I think I know what the plan for it is too. With your permission, I'd like for Sherrie and me to retrieve it, if we use our powers we can get it to the gathering point while you take Mirabel there with minimal risks involved."
Arnold weighed the consequences and made a quick decision, "Alright, I need to get Mirabel to the rally point; remember bring the target to Boston General not Schroeder Plaza we are assisting the EMTs as concerned citizens not the Boston Police Department as deputized capes."
"Understood," I responded with a salute as Sherrie and I changed into our costumes before I took Animalia's right-hand and brought her inside one of the thankfully empty changeling baubles that was embedded in her belt. Who would have thought that rhinestone gun mom found in Grandma Collins's attic would be so useful in creating a super-hero costume?
Now that our duo was down to one, I demonstrated my power as I jumped into my reflection in the storefront and once again entered a place all too familiar to me The Place of Smoke and Mirrors. Back when I was Gretchen Franks or Fetch it didn't bother me too much but now that I was Heather Bridges and Apparitia the sheer isolation of this never-ending series of corridors began to get to me at times, a place where I could hold back time as long as I shut out the outside world- a place where there was no when for as long as long as I didn't look through the looking glass.
Okay back on task, now Stormwolf and Aries know but there was a good reason why I knew about the Undry and where it was. What no one, Randi included, knew was that Morrigan paid me fifty bucks a day to keep an eye on the thing in my spare time, and given how I could pop over and back in a few seconds for as long as I was awake to do so it was money well-spent.
The reason for this wasn't theft, given the fact was Dagda would know the moment his cauldron was moved, but rather to make sure that the thing was only used for food. In the wrong hands, Dagda's cauldron could do a great deal of damage to the modern world.
It didn't take me long to find my usual vantage point, a ladle that hung in the Shelter's kitchen that I almost always used to keep an eye on the magic cauldron (as long as the ladle was clean)- only this time the view was less than hospitable. When I looked through I saw a shambling corpse- a nasty, rotting, putrid, festering zombie being held at bay by two volunteers with supplies from the cleaning closet namely a mop and a push broom.
I took my eyes off the scene for a moment and shut out the noise so that time wouldn’t pass within the room giving me time to make a plan; I went to my homemade utility belt and withdrew a mason jar filled with fluid and a rolled bundle. Briefly unrolling the bundle, and selecting two of the miniature throwing knives from the bundle before reversing the roll and strapping it to my right-thigh (just in case). With the two blades held between the fingers of my right-hand I unscrewed the lid of the mason jar and dipped them into the elixir that sis gave me in case of emergencies.
Taking a moment to screw the lid back on before returning the jar to my belt and switch one of the soaked blades to my left hand, I turned my eyes back to the couple defending themselves from the zombie, sending my right-arm through the ladle’s reflective surface I made use of my experience playing darts (one of the few pass-times that I had as Fetch) and threw the knife until it found its mark- inside of the attacking zombie’s neck.
Almost instantly the corpse spasmed and slumped over, seeing that the two mission workers were now safe, I exited the surface of the cooking implement asking, "Are you two alright?"
"Wh-who are you?" The woman asked with a push broom between me and herself, "Are you one of the Children of the Night?"
"Actually, I work for your benefactors," I responded while pocketing the remaining blade while taking out a plastic bag to seal up the one that I retrieved from the now still corpse. "They wanted someone to keep an eye on that cooking pot to make sure that its gifts weren't being abused, but right now it's needed to deal with the city's infestation of shamblers."
"How can a magic cooking pot help against a zombie invasion?" The man in the room all but shouted. "And what is with that knife.
"That is a piece of information that you really are better off not knowing," I explained as I pulled Animalia from her hiding spot on my belt, not wanting to explain to them how that pot could be used to whip up a lot more than their soup d'jour
"Is this the package?" Animalia asked her friend who gave a nod in reply, "Okay folks- don't worry we'll have it back when this is all over."
"But what will we do if any more zombies show up?" the lady volunteer demanded.
I didn't have the heart to leave them without a way to defend themselves, so I removed the mason jar of elixir from my belt once again and gave it over to the volunteers as Animalia tucked the cauldron into her own belt a little gift from me, "Dip a knife in this to take down any zombies that show up, and if anyone gets bit have them drink some. Just remember to turn over anything that you use against these shamblers to ARC later to be sterilized- they'll know what to do."
"I'm ready to go Apparitia!" Animalia replied as I helped my friend return to the empty jewel on my belt again before leaping back into the ladle- next stop Boston General.
Artames Holdings Warehouse - Southside Shipping District
"My deepest apologies Master Carcharoth," Hanna Ring explained to the ancient pseudo-werewolf as she lay prostrate on the warehouse floor before him, "they took me out faster than I could act. I don't even know what they took, I have failed you beyond measure please allow me to pay with my life before I fail you again."
"Hanna- Hanna- Hanna," the beast chided with a shake of his bestial head, "that would be a waste. The thing about life is that it offers so many opportunities, you may have failed me today but instead of letting your disappointment at this failure drive you to your end- harness it and temper it into rage. Use today's doubts and disappointments to hone your fangs and claws so that when you strike out at our foes in the future so that you will make their ends as- creative as possible."
"Gee- I hope whatever it was wasn't important." Greg Paulson remarked from his current spot between two of the enthralled workers. After he realized that he was wanted alive his cowering fear from earlier had waned, besides Erzebet Scratch had the reputation amongst the member of the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom over actually having her head screwed on straight, even those who crossed her could still live- provided they didn't cross certain lines.
Greg Paulson was perfectly aware of those lines, concerning the safety and well-being of children; his only crime was being paid by one member to steal from another. Apart from the staff that his employer the Necromancer's clients in the Esoteric Order of Dagon were interested in he had everything here to be reclaimed- hell he could even say that he did them a favor by helping Carcharoth move his stuff from his old vault to Scratch's Warehouse.
Carcharoth's eyes all but flared at Greg Paulson's remarks, "You know just because Erzebet Scratch wants you alive doesn't mean that you need to be all in one piece." The monster stated as he stomped towards his prisoner while his two thralls held Greg Paulson firmly in place and at the beast's mercy. "I'm certain that a missing arm or leg wouldn't make any difference what-so-ever."
"Maybe but you had also told me that Erzebet Scratch would see to my punishment," Greg retorted as he struggled to avoid evacuating his bowels in terror- for a second time. "Wouldn't it be seen as an embarrassment to Mister Domino if his chief agent went against the will of the Obsidian Circle?"
It only took a moment to sink in but the demonic lupine was shaking with barely contained rage, his dark fur seemed to turn an even darker shade of black as it appeared to devour every stray photon of light that fell on it. With a dark glare that spoke of the beast's desire to tear the man apart like a ragdoll he proclaimed in a grave tone, "I hope that when The Hangman takes your soul that you have to wait centuries before he drains your soul dry and reduces you to nothing!"
After he stomped off in a frenzy Carcharoth put in another call to Greygus, "Greygus this is Carcharoth, tell me that you have a need for me in the field."
"Negative Carcharoth, the Erinyes and I are handling things just fine." The earth djinn replied over their secure line, "So far all we have on the streets are shamblers popping up out of no-where, no sign so far of the Children of the Night or their boss. We're doing what we can to herd the hoard away from the locals without announcing ourselves, we'll call you if we need the muscle but until Darrow pops out of his hole all you and yours will do is spook him into staying hidden. Remember the objective of this operation is three-fold: Step one- regain possession of the artifacts stolen from your vault. Step two; maintain stealth while reducing the number of enemy assets in the field. Step three, profit."
"That is not step three of the current plan Team Leader," Ekdikeo interrupted the line to deliver her usual dead-pan commentary.
"Killjoy," Greygus huffed back over the line, "anyway the current orders stand, wait until either Shuffle's Team arrives to relieve you from your post and take possession of objective alpha and beta, then you can join us in the field to keep objective gamma from taking action against delta and epsilon, but understand when you are removed from standby you are to follow my orders on when to engage."
"Fine but if the situation goes south then all bets are off." Carcharoth barked back growing even more impatient at being reduced to guard-dog.
"Fine but only to keep objective gamma and his assets from claiming or harming delta and epsilon," Greygus dropped his earlier facetious tone, "Over and out."
As the line went dead Carcharoth's ire only grew, Hanna took note of her Master's displeasure and smiled. Heaven help the Children of the Night when Shuffle arrived because when that happened she was certain that her Master would unleash his glorious wrath upon them.
Massachusetts General Hospital - Front Foyer
POV: Faolan: Rose of the West
I made my way through the door of Boston General to find Storm Wolf waiting and looking very cross, not that I could tell- he always looked like something had crawled up his butt.
"Bridges what took you so long to get here?" the leader of the Wild Pack security auxiliaries inquired as he stared me down.
Along Charles Street
Kayla Gross stumbled back as the high-heel of her left-pump broke, struggled to get back to her feet she could only scream in terror as the festering cadaver shuffled towards her.
Only two feet from her she looked on in horror was the rotted monsters opened its gap-toothed mouth intent on a meal. Knowing that she was finished she closed her eyes rather than witness the inevitable.
What she didn't expect to hear was a was a series of oddly crystalline noises, when the end didn't come moments later she reluctantly opened her eyes, there only inches away was the formerly ambulatory corpse with frost coating his body.
"What happened?" Miss Gross asked baffled at the sight before her, the answer came in the form of a voice from above... literally.
"The problem with being a room temperature sack of muck, there's nothing to keep it from being frozen." A young lady standing on thin air and brandishing what looked like an antique rifle stated before she oddly enough hopped down from her perch of- nothing to the street below.
"Um- ah- thank you," Kayla stammered in confusion at the young lady who was clearly in her teens despite the odd mask obscuring her face.
"If you want to thank me you can help me escort those with me to Boston General," the mysterious young woman explained while gesturing at the small trail of other Bostonians who had caught up with her rescuer- some of whom seemed somewhat worse for wear.
"Ah-, okay," the woman replied somewhat embarrassed at how she missed something so obvious; although the fact that she had nearly become zombie chow was more than a worthy excuse. Taking note as the young lady stabbed the frozen zombie with a knife before the left for the hospital.
Massachusetts General Hospital - Front Foyer
POV: Faolan: Rose of the West
A moment later a stream of civilians came pouring through the hospital doors some of whom were helping their fellow evacuees.
"I stopped along the way to help some civilians to safety," I remarked clearly displaying my prominent canine teeth as I gave Stormwolf a shit-eating grin (get that thought out of your heads right now you sickos- I only turn into a wolf). "Stopping to render aide is the act of a responsible citizen is it not? Plus, I don't think that hostile zombies have any legal rights-"
"I wouldn't joke about that," Quickvix explained as she helped a nurse load another patient onto a gurney, "before you know it there will be hearse-chasers arguing the rights of Necro-Americans."
"Can the comedy Quickvix!" Stormwolf barked out at my roommate, "Anyway Faolan, Aletheia explained that you knew of a way we could help stop the waves of the Necromancer's zombies. Apparitia explained that we couldn't do this without you when she and Animalia showed up with that antique pot."
Without a word, I walked over to where my little sister and her friend had setup Dagda's semi-legendary cooking pot with some rods to suspend barely off the ground, with an electric hotplate slid underneath and hooked up to an extension cord. "Waiting on you sis, did you bring the medicine?"
I smiled as I reached into my bag of holding and pulled out one of the mason jars that I'd filled with the Jar of Reality that Mrs. Redstag had left in my care- which was safely hidden in my dorm room back at the Whateley Academy. "I was coming to Crazy Town, like I wouldn't come prepared."
I poured the contents of the jar into the cauldron while sis turned on the hotplate underneath before closing the lid on the pot- now to wait about a minute for the magic to happen.
"Just what is this all about Faolan?" Stormwolf asked clearly growing impatient with the secrecy. "Just what are you and your group up to?"
"Well you see the potion that I just poured into the pot is an ancient elixir that was made long before the current age of civilization to deal with Mythos abominations," I began to explain to the head of the security auxiliaries. "When used on a normal person, whether they be human, mutant, fae, etc. the elixir acts as an antidote that neutralizes mythos elements in their system- it doesn't affect mythos based curses just physical elements and infections."
"However, when it comes to mythos beings or creatures animated by mythos elements; this elixir acts as a poison or neutralizing agent." I said with a smile, "In other words shoot a zombie with a dose of this stuff and it's just another non-reanimated corpse."
"She's not kidding," Apparitia explained while she stepped back from the now red hotplate, "I stuck a throwing knife covered in this stuff in the back of a zombie when Animalia and I were picking up the cauldron and it just keeled over without so much as twitching."
"Are you saying that you put yourself in harm's way?" Stormwolf asked to the point of accusing while he stared down my sister.
"Nope I threw it from inside a reflection." My sister did her best to explain, "Although it must have looked weird for those two volunteers to see an arm clutching a throwing knife sticking out the side of a soup ladle."
"That still doesn't explain why you needed to risk yourself by retrieving this thing in the first place."
"This thing as you call it is called the Undry, and has an enchantment that is very useful," I began to explain as Aletheia came over using her armor to hover in mid-air in her mermaid form of an accompanying doctor who was busy arguing with her, when they were close enough I took off the lid exposing a cauldron full of the ancient elixir. "It never runs empty so long as its contents are needed, usually this is used to feed the hungry but it can also be used to increase quantities of a completed potion."
POV: Aletheia, Rose of the East
"So, this mixture will really help us with the injured?" Doctor Kuzinich asked as he eyed the current contents of Mister Redstag's cauldron, "We'll have there is no way that we can sterilize this stuff for injection, and there is no way that I will authorize it for use on my patients."
"There is no need," Faolan commented as she gave the doctor a harsh look, "This stuff as you call it has served as an oral vaccine against creatures like these zombies for centuries. I even used it to treat just this sort of infection before; heck I've used it to treat infections from things far worse than these stupid zombies."
"Now everybody just calm down," Stormwolf advised as I swam in place it is still weird swimming in air I really need to get the hang of my land legs, "we have used this substance in the past dealing with hostiles before. It's not harmful to people only infectious Class-X entity based toxins.
"Such as what the Necromancer uses to turn cadavers into infectious zombies;" I added in, "we also have the police on their way to load it into tranquilizer darts to neutralize the zombies, but at least this way we'll have more than enough to help anybody who needs it, and give the police what they need to fight back."
"The real problem is we don't know how the Necromancer is distributing his horde in the city." Faolan grumbled knowing; I knew that part of her wanted to help but knew that if she did blindly that she might wind up causing an even bigger problem- one didn't have to be a telepath to know how to read people after all.
"Doctor K," I spoke up trying to grab the doctor's attention, "is there anything else that we can do? I'm only asking because it seems that you seem too stretched rather thin at the moment."
"Yes, but I'm not allowed to allow healer-type mutants to use their powers due to constraints placed by the laws and rules of the American Medical Association." Doctor Kuzinich responded showing that really his hands were tied on the matter.
"Are individuals with proper emergency medical certification forbidden from helping out?" I replied hoping to counter his argument, "I know that Faolan is a fully certified lifeguard and her enhanced senses might help out with triage."
Everyone turned to regard my close friend with a look of disbelief, "My grandmother insists on it for every family member who wants to work at her place for the summer."
That was everyone's turn to regard Apparitia given about the validity of her older sister's statement, "It's true but I'm too young to officially take the test."
"It's usually SOP for capes to get a copy of their Emergency Certifications with their alias through the Red Cross with the aid of DPA retained attorney and a properly redacted set of documents," Stormwolf explained as he pulled out his First Responders card out of his combat wallet (an ugly piece of work sold at the campus store and that's made of reinforced nylon- and comes in the same colors as the markers in a highlighter set). "You can read the strips to make sure their legit with the Red Cross's database."
"Alright, since you’re here for the time being I might as well see if any of your masks can help out." The Chief Physician surrendered to my offer.
"I'll stay here and help the kids assist the police," when they arrive Aries volunteered.
"Speak for yourself!" Nightingale stepped towards Doctor Kuzinich as she pulled out her own combat wallet and presented her certification card, "It may not be much but I am trained in Emergency First-Aid, it's all I can get at my age and my parents insisted."
"Fine," Doctor Kuzinich threw up his hands in defeat, "anyone any kind of medical certification report to the desk for volunteer sign-in and have your certification ID's handy- one of the Registered Nurses will assign you to a medical team. Remember you will only be assisting so stay out of the way unless they need you."
"You heard the doctor!" Glorianna exclaimed as she took charge, "Everyone with the proper credentials to the desk, everyone else stay here to help out with distributing the elixir to the hospital personnel and help the Boston Police Department once they arrive with the tranq dart loading station from the precinct."
Union Oyster House
Rex Hollenbeck stepped into the restaurant not knowing just what to expect, he had tried looking up this Eddie Black earlier in the week but the name was so generic that he might as well have been randomly pulling up pages on the internet. Still he promised that he could do something to bring him together with Candace and that was an offer that was just too tempting for him to turn down.
Still it was odd along the way he saw people panicking as zombies began to emerge into the streets, yet inside this restaurant it was as if nothing was going on outside- just what was going on here?
"Pardon me sir but do you have a reservation or would you rather wait to be seated?" the maître d' asked as he drew Rex's attention.
"Um- I was told that someone wanted to meet me here," Rex explained as he handed the man at the maître d's podium the card that came with his letter, "it said his name was Eddie Black."
"Yes, you must be Rex Hollenbeck," the nameless gentleman in the suit explained, "Mister Black is expecting you at table five."
The greater then marked Rex's name off the list of expected arrivals before escorting him inside the building. Without a word the member of the Neo Etnaian team followed the greeter further into the building to a booth that had to have been table five. The man that Rex presumed was Eddie Black was dressed in a suit that looked like it belonged in a movie set during the Victorian Period, yet given that it showed no signs of being vintage to that time period- meant that he could afford to have it custom made.
"Welcome Mister Hallenbeck," Eddie Black said as he took notice while pausing from the cup of tea that he had been drinking, "I have been expecting you. Sir you may leave us- I believe about three trays of the House Special should be sufficient."
"Very well sir," the maître d' stated before adding, "however if you change your minds, I shall leave the menu here and the waiter will be ready to take any additional orders."
"Of course," Mister Black waved off the greeter as Rex settled in across the booth from his host.
After the greeter left, Eddie Black set down his teacup and acknowledged Rex for the first time, "I see my invitation arrived on time, for your little sojourn into Boston. I take it that my promise piqued your interest."
"Yeah," Rex replied as he scrutinized his host, "a complete stranger learns where I am, how to get in touch with me, and knows enough about me to offer me exactly what I would want; of course, I'm going to come and see what this is all about."
"Now young Mister Hallenbeck, I am hardly a complete stranger; in fact, you and your friends came to my attention a few months ago." Mister Black began to explain further drawing Rex's attention.
"That is also how things remain so calm in here, I have an upgraded version of the device that I employed at the ballrooms of the Waldorf-Astoria in New York operating here," Mister Black stated as he smiled and laced his gloved fingers together. "Only rather than amplify panic here it is programmed to amplify calm, combined with a perception filter that I installed on the restaurant’s threshold. Panicking civilians and zombies will just walk right by; I even put a little something in here so the Necromancer's distribution system will bypass the restaurant; so, provided that you slipped away from your school mates we are free to talk."
Rex's eyes narrowed in fear, just an arm’s reach across the table from him was one of the biggest criminals in the world, he was in a restaurant in downtown Boston with Professor Id. One wrong move and Rex knew that he would be a dead man before he ever had the chance to truly become a man; he had no way out and because he had gone to the restaurant in secret leaving Ace behind in his place, then nobody was on the way to rescue him.
All Rex could do was hear the super-villain out because that was likely the only way that he'd ever get out of this alive. Still the million-dollar question remained, just what did Professor Id want with him?
Copley Place - Roof
"Jabberwock here- Final package in place boss," Jabberwock stated as he took a lookout at the commotion at Massachusetts General, "still no signs of the targets though, or any capes aside from the local flavors- I even spotted the freaking Lamplighter over on Geneva but our targets are all no shows- over."
"Unfortunately Aletheia and Faolan appear to be cut from a different cloth than Team Kimba," Darrow grumbled over the radio, "Still I have a good idea where they are, radio chatter on the police band is talking about a number of known and unknown heroes assisting the doctors at Massachusetts General- chances are good that our targets are among them-over."
"Okay," the warper rolled his eyes at his current 'employer', "I'll pop-over to the hotel across the street and survey the situation- over and out."
As soon as Jabberwock had left the area a winged figure materialized and touched down on the roof.
Taking a moment to survey the area for anything unusual the masked woman, in what appeared to be armor inspired by the Ancient-Persian Anusyas, tapped her com.
"Ekdikeo here- Jabberwock appears to be on the move again, still no sign of the real Children of the Night- over."
"Roger- continue surveillance Ekdikeo," Greygus replied in her earpiece, "do not engage- we want Darrow's crew out of their holes and in the open when we strike- over.
"I hope they pop out soon then," Skleeros interjected, "Carcharoth is panting like a mutt watching the kitchen stove, when Shuffle's crew gets here orders or no orders he'll be on the front lines in this fight- over."
"Unfortunate but true," Greygus sighed over the com, "All that time on his last major assignment did nothing to smooth over his rough edges- all it did was make them more pronounced- over."
"Understood," the eldest of the Lilin replied as she took to the air once again, "proceeding to next destination- over and out."
Marriott-Execustay - Roof
Now on the roof of the Marriott Hotel in downtown Boston Jabberwock pulled out a pair of binoculars and observed the hospital bellow, "This is Jabberwock, I'm observing Massachusetts General and am prepared to give my report- over."
"Very well Jabberwock," Darrow responded, "Tell me what you see from your perspective- over.
"At the moment, nothing more than a series of cop cars coming and going every few minutes, " Jabberwock stated as he looked through his binoculars, "they seem to be picking something up- over. "
"Yes, this seems to reflect what I’m hearing over the police band," the Necromancer mused for a moment, it appears that one of our targets or their associates have a potion that can neutralize my zombies; the would-be heroes are arming the police with tranquilizer rounds full of this potion."[/i]
"Well I guess that this plan is a total bust," Jabberwock laughed as he leaned back more than ready for the weekend to begin. "at least the Esoteric Order of Dagon got the staff they had our mole steel- right- over.”
"Not necessarily," Darrow replied with a dark laugh, "you see when a threat fails to lure a hero out of hiding then just play on their conscious. Now it’s time to show you what those packages were for."
Jabberwock heard a beep before a series of explosions rang out around Boston, "What did you just do?" the mercenary asked with a singing feeling in his gut.
"Plan B, I had you set a series of C4 incendiary-explosives around the city, way more than police and emergency services could deal with. Our targets and every mask in the city will be out trying to save anyone caught in the blasts and resulting fires; we already know that the mermaid is a healer- she will not be able to stay away from helping- over and out.
As the Necromancer hung up the line on his end Jabberwock felt numb, just what had he signed up for?
Boston Opera House - Roof
Greygus shook in rage and despair as he listened to the cries of fear and panic; it was hard enough to stay out of this when it was just zombies involved, but trapped people. He gripped the brick before him so hard that it began to crack as he did his best to restrain himself. Darrow was going to pay for this; the Obsidian Circle’s blessing or not- the Necromancer needed to be brought to task for this atrocity.
"That's it," he barked out at the chaos unfolding in the streets of Boston, "mission be damned I have never let anyone die if I can help it!"
As Greygus was about to go into action a trio of winged figures descended on him from above and with a gesture bound the djinn with a weathered and rusted chain that had obviously seen better days. "Greygus I know that you hate things like this happening, but we cannot show our hand too soon. If Darrow and his servants know that we are in town they will go to ground, and we might miss our shot at him."
Greygus quaked in fury at the actions of the Erinyes, although he knew that their actions were the proper one to take in the situation; still a darker part of him that he hated to give attention to reminded him that he still had an ace up his sleeve.
Struggling for a moment Greygus tapped his communicator to the disbelief of his fellow operatives, a few moments later his ace answered, "Yeah Greygus, this is Carcharoth, any new developments?- over."
"Yes Carcharoth, a new mission," Greygus explained in an even tone, "as soon as your relief arrives, you are to hunt down the Necromancer and use him as a chew rag- over and out!"
The trio of lilin elders looked at Greygus in shock as he ended the communication; still the djinn knew that no matter what the outcome today would be a day that the Necromancer would never forget. The simple truth was that there were times the densest warlocks in the Grand Hall needed to learn that there were some lines and even beings that even they shouldn’t cross- and there was even a possibility that Darrow or at least that apprentice that he was safeguarding would live to learn this.
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Massachusetts General Hospital - Emergency Triage
5:05 PM EDT
POV: Faolan, Rose of the West
I took a few deep whiffs of the policeman before me, while he did have some injuries from scuffling with the Necromancer's shamblers it wasn't obvious to the nurse whether or not he'd been infected (well at least not seriously so)- believe me an enhanced sense of smell is both a blessing and a curse.
"No he's clean," I turned to Nurse Ingendorf who was still weirded out of someone wearing a cloak and face-mask helping her out. "I can't smell any active necrosis."
"Are you certain?" Nurse Ingendorf asked me as she stared over to a table full of cups of Reality Elixir. "Thanks to that antique cooking pot you brought we have plenty to go around."
I turned to the nurse and shook my head, "I'm certain, aggressive infection from these kind of things carries a distinct odor; although you should give everyone a dose before you discharge them just to be on the safe side- staff included, priority should go to the heavily infected and the anti-zombie darts. And before you ask no you don't want me to describe what the infection smells like- especially since you just ate."
"How do you know I just got back from lunch?" The nurse looked at me odd as we continued looking over the patients in our assigned rows.
"Turkey and provolone with yellow-mustard," I observed with a couple of whiffs, "can't tell what vegetables but it didn't have pickles, relish or onions. My sense of smell can trump most bloodhound's, it often comes in handy but it makes laundry day three circles of hell on earth- especially my workout clothes."
"So, you can really tell all of that from my breath?" The nurse asked as I stopped near one patient.
"This one," I eyed a man with several clear bite marks, "and you better give him a double dose, we don't want to risk him turning in here and risking contaminating the staff or any other patients."
As the nurse went to retrieve a dose of the elixir from the tray the patient did his best to retreat, crawling into a corner with a dangerous look in his eyes.
"Get back, I don't want another of you freaks to get your unholy witchcraft anywhere near me." The man shouted out in fear.
"Witchcraft?" The nurse looked at me out of curiosity, "I mean does this count, it was made in a cauldron?"
"Personally, I'm Methodist, and a cauldron's just the grandfather of both the Dutch Oven and the wash tube." I replied trying to defuse the situation with a little levity before turning to the patient, "Now sir, you are seriously infected by one of those monsters from outside, you need to take this medicine or chances are you'll become a danger to yourself and others."
"No way you witch, get back," as the patient swung at us I stepped in brush-blocking his swing with my right-arm and then after baring it with my left, moved in and snaked and immobilized his right-arm with a half-nelson before tripping him forward with a back strike to his knees with my right leg so that he couldn't use his height as an advantage on me.
As the rather difficult patient struggled I reiterated, "Sir you are taking your medicine one way or another!"
"Just what do you mean by that?" The man snarled back while struggling in futility against my hold.
"She means that we'll have to resort to this," Nurse Ingendorf explained at she reached down to the next level of the cart to retrieve a rectal bulb and a plastic syringe tube. "If you refuse to have the medicine administered orally we can always bypass the stomach and administer it directly to the intestines."
"No," the man tensed in panic and from the smell of it peed his pants a little, "you can't- I swear that I'll sue."
"Sir you have been exposed to a dangerous biohazardous substance with mutative properties that will make you a danger to yourself and others." Nurse Ingendorf explained trying to keep up her bedside manner but even I could tell that she was beginning to lose her patience with this particular patient. "This compound is a neutralizing agent to said substance, we have seen that it has no effect on healthy individuals but attacks and renders the contagion inert. Now keep in mind you have two choices here, but both of them involve you taking your medicine- so please decide, every moment you delay increases the chance of complications."
The difficult patient finally relaxed in my arms and responded with, "Fine, just get this psycho off of me."
I finally let go and let the ingrate get to his feet while muttering under my breath, "Attacks a nurse and has the nerve to call me a psycho- what a hypocrite."
The man took his medicine and followed the nurse’s instructions to: "Please go to the second waiting room for observation." Once the man was out of sight Nurse Ingendorf turned to me, "Nice moves back there, you didn't even let the freak comments get to you."
"Ever since I changed I've been getting used to it," I huffed, "I might as well start getting used to it now; I'm going to have to deal with worse for the rest of my life."
"Very mature attitude, judging by your voice you can't be any older than a teenager."
"Thanks I- agh!" My conversation was interrupted when I heard the distant sound of a series of explosions; with the Necromancer's shamblers roaming the streets I knew that this was no coincidence.
"Are you alright?" The Nurse asked as she helped me up, "I thought I heard a car backfiring."
"That wasn't a car..." I stated with as my concern bled into my voice, "if I'm right about what just happened things just got a whole lot worse."
Union Oyster House
"You know eating an oyster should be considered something of a perverse and barbaric practice if you think about it," Eddie Black- who Rex Hallenbeck now knew to be none other than the infamous Professor Id commented as he took a freshly shucked oyster from his plate to gaze at the naked creature sitting inside of its own shell. "Here they are abducted by the thousands from their homes on the sea floor have, pried out of their shell by a knife, exposed to an environment that is completely alien to them all so hairless primates can devour them alive."
His brief moment of philosophy done, the enigmatic individual slurped up the oyster off of the shell before depositing the empty shell in the bucket at the end of the table. "Why are we sitting here eating?" Rex asked trying to cut to the truth of the matter, "I thought that you had something to discuss with me?"
"You colonials... always so impatient, always in a hurry to go nowhere as soon as possible even when all you do when you get there is wait impatiently." The guised Professor Id observed in a bemused tone, "It is hardly proper to discuss business during a meal- explaining a few particulars first is one thing, but it is quite rude to talk while eating. Besides the Necromancer's zombies are still roaming the streets and Darrow himself recently detonated a number of explosives all over town, provided your double does not reveal your ruse to your comrades and classmates no one will discover your absence for some time. Now enjoy the meal, I understand this is one of the finest establishments on the Eastern Coast to enjoy these fresh-shucked morsels, and given that you are my guest I am covering the meal."
"But why chose me?" Rex inquired desperate to learn at least something before his host was done dining. "There were a ton of others at that ceremony, why single me out."
"Because you are the only one of your group whom I would have anything to offer and would be open to an arrangement with me Orthus." Professor Id revealed to a shocked Rex. "Although given my understanding of your prior incarnation I thought that you would be more interested in the Chimera than the Cadmean Vixen; then again Hesiod never was one let miniscule details like clarity get in the way of his poetry."
"Still child there is no rush...unless that is that you wish to take part in the chaos that is going on outside, I am certain that it will not be long before the Children of the Night themselves make an appearance. I have also seen the signs of other parties being active in Boston today, and given that your classmates known as Team Kimba, are not in the city either I can only postulate what either group intends to do with the succulent morsels visiting this fine city."
As if to illustrate a point his host slurped another quivering naked oyster off the remaining half of the shell that it once called home. Nervously Rex took one of the oysters off of the tray and began to partake of the bivalve, he was starting to get a little hungry and something on his stomach might help ease the tension in the air- even if only slightly.
Massachusetts General Hospital - Main Entrance
POV: Aletheia, Rose of the East
I was busy helping Animalia at the dart loading station when the nearby officers were coordinating with Captain Tilley of Boston's SWAT team (yes, I know that it sounds redundant to say that but from what I've learned the T stood for Tactics and not Team).
"We have at least seventeen confirmed blasts scattered around the city," Lieutenant Doyle explained to the Captain over a map of the city, "so far none of them appear to be any further west than Cutler Park or south than Readville. The problem is that because of the zombie situation we're spread thin as is and the fire engines are having trouble getting to the scenes because of the congestion and debris."
"That bastard really hit us with a one-two punch this time, good thing that the remaining prisoners from Roxbury C were relocated to Galveston Bay and Attica B, the last thing that we need in the middle of all of this is a repeat of January." Captain Tilley observed, "At least the power company did something about the brown-outs right away; these zombies appear to be coming from dark areas and now that we've got the street lights on that should limit where they're popping up, now what's the status of our local capes?"
"Dynaman's trapped in his armor," Lieutenant Fulton began to lay down the situation, "a few moments after he arrived on the scene someone tagged him with an EMP generator and nobody can get close enough to remove it since his area is swarming with zombies. Speed Queen is helping us with dart distribution, she should be back momentarily and I don't have a clue where Skyhawk is at the moment."
"And I was just informed that Team Kimba and their associates have been effectively barred from coming to Boston in the wake of what happened last January, "Lieutenant Grabber explained, so we can't expect any further caped help from our usual paranormal auxiliaries."
"And the DPA put a freeze on the city deputizing any further underage paranormals out of fear of escalation in regard to the Children of the Night," the Captain huffed, "the only upside is that while this is obviously their work we haven't seen any confirmed sign of The Necromancer's crew out in the middle of this mess."
"This might be another strike at the Kimba's," Lieutinant Gregory postulated while he chewed over the details. "He might have received a tip that a group of paranormals would be in town today and is doing this to provoke another confrontation."
"Possible but unlikely," Captain Tilley replied, "we had visitors from the same facility in-between the Arch-Fiend's Trial back in November and the Necromancer's multi-pronged attack back in January. No, I have a feeling that there is something else to this, he's obviously trying to lure out someone but who is the real question. Most of the masks and capes here had no direct connection with any of the three confrontations between Team Kimba and the Children of the Night."
"Meanwhile we're already short-handed and so are the paramedics," Lieutenant Doyle pointed out, "and given the pressure on the department we can't send any of the capes helping out here into a combat situation."
"Combat is one thing but emergencies are another," Captain Tilley mulled the situation over, "go around and give some of the masks emergency status to assist the Paramedics and the Fire-Fighters especially the healers and the heavies, right now we need every pair of hands we can get."
I couldn't help but hear everything that the Captain was saying- I know I can't even walk quite well yet but people out there needed help. There were friends and families who were desperate as their loved one's lives were on the line, I had seen it hundreds of times when adherents begged Victoria for her aide or mercy in both her identity as Aphrodite and later as Venus; some of whom she granted clemency but then again this was a woman who set in motion the long and bloody Trojan War all for her own petty reasons.
Sunday April 15th, 2007
I stood alone shrouded in fog; I could hear something dimly crackling around me and a smell that made me want to gag. However, no matter where I turned or how far I walked the fog would not lift; this went on for no telling how long until my foot finally nudged something, as I looked down I saw him laying sprawled on the ground his robes torn and matted in blood.
While I was focusing on the body a sudden gust of wind dispelled the fog- I looked on in horror as I realized just where I was...Troy, the ancient walled city in Asia Minor that had been razed and ransacked after Odysseus gambit with the wooden horse finally allowed the armies of the united city-states of Ancient Greece access after years of conflict that cost the lives of many a soul on both sides of the conflict. A conflict that I bore silent witness to like so many others from the shadow of Aphrodite whose meddling had orchestrated the entire affair, what not many knew was that she had done it as an action to further draw the eyes of Ares; beginning her affair with the God of War while her husband Hephaestus toiled making weapons for who-so-ever beseeched his aid during that long series of battles.
All around I could see the victims of that long and futile conflict; a conflict that resulted from Paris judging Aphrodite the fairest of three goddesses of the Dodecantheon of Olympus (Artemis to her credit abstained from the contest as she was not interested in such matters). Hera, Athena and Aphrodite each offered Paris a bribe to find her fairest, but Aphrodite's promise to make the most beautiful woman in all of Greece fall in love with him was the bribe that he chose. That choice caused Helen, wife of King Menelaus of Sparta to leave her husband, and sparked a ten-year conflict that cost Paris his life and destroyed his city.
All around I could see the casualties of that fateful day that the people of Troy met the naked wrath of Grecian iron dories; women- children- the elderly all dead and for what so Aphrodite could gloat about her beauty to her kin on Olympus and navigate Ares into her bed. While I was surveying the carnage with tearful eyes I felt something grab my leg- I looked down and it was the specter of the corpse at my feet.
All around I could see them, the restless specters of the dead lost souls who had by the Spartan King's orders never even been granted even the minor dignity of a battlefield pyre let alone burial. Instead they were left for the as carrion for beast and bird to scavenge and as for their beliefs unable to pay Charon they were denied the both the Ephesian Fields and the Plains of Asmodai, instead they became shades to torment the living. All around I could see the accusations in the hollow eyes of those shades; why didn't I do anything, I who was so close to the one who sowed the seeds of their suffering. Yet for spirits this angry there was no answer that would quench the phantom flames of their fury, I could do nothing as they swarmed me taking out the vengeance that they had so long been denied.
I woke up in my bed in Dickinson drenched in sweat from the nightmare, Blinky lapping at the salty drops as he tried to sooth me with his loving purr-filled nudges. Mable looked at me out of concern but my voice remained silent, there was nothing that I could say to explain this that she would truly understand.
Massachusetts General Hospital - Emergency Triage
5:41 PM EDT
The sight of all those weeping children, mothers and wives as they cried in anguish still haunted my dreams, part of why I spent so much time in the Dreamlands. The rare occasions that I chose to dream instead of exploring my grandmother's domain had more than once saw me haunted by the specters of those who suffered for the amusement of Victoria's past incarnations, those pleading hollowed eyes demanding to know why I didn't even try to beg on their behalf all the while deaf to my explanations that I could only watch from the fickle goddesses’ shadow.
More than once I awoke dripping with sweat my voice frozen in a silent scream as Blinky lapped at my perspiration before trying to apply a little purr therapy of his own. Troy wasn't the only place that would haunt these nightmares, Aphrodite's crimes were many and I had the names and faces of all those occasions burned into my soul like a scar; I would carry that burden forever, I know that I was innocent of her indiscretions but I owed it to her victims to grant other's the mercy and aide that they were denied.
Finally, here was my first chance to do some real good in the world to replace those tears of helplessness with those of purest relief, I didn't care if it meant that I'd need to use my outfit to swim in the air as long as it allowed me to finally help others. Even if that tiny nagging voice in the back of my mind reminded me that after I got back home to Whateley that mom would likely ground me until I was thirty for taking this risk, I knew that it was one that I had to take- I refused to welcome anymore phantoms of guilt to haunt my conscious.
Morrigan's 'Office' - Beneath Shuster Hall
Whateley Academy, New Hampshire
Morrigan continued through Thursday's homework assignments that her students had turned in yesterday; giving weight more towards content than mechanics (her subject was European History after all not English Grammar). Still part of her mind was on Randi, Heather and Beatrice and the chaos that was going on in Boston; she wished that she could rush to their aide but her responsibilities kept her here and even at the speed that her husband could travel it would still be two hours till he could arrive on his own.
She also owed it to Elizabeh Carson to explain about the duties of the Maidens of the Four Courts, she knew that there was no way to sugarcoat this matter and the Headmistress of Whateley was bound to be more than a little mad at her- part of her wished that she wasn't bound by her geas not only to the late queens of the Western Court but to the Five-Fold Court as a whole. Morrigan understood how important Randi and Beatrice's fated missions were (as were those of the other two she had yet to meet) but she just wished that there was a way to spare them the risks that they entailed.
As much as her thoughts strayed she was still able to fairly grade the assignments, multi-tasking was something that she had learned to do so long ago part of her wondered if she could boast to have invented the method. Still this split in her attention left her diverted enough that she noticed the door to her office open, and Nikki Reilly was peaking around the corner.
"Miss Reilly," Mrs. Redstag spoke up without glancing up from the current paper that she was grading, "I wondered when the future Queen would stop by- are you finally ready to take me up on my offer to help you better prepare for your accession to the throne?"
"I doubt that offer would still be open," Fey, the most powerful spell-caster of the student body spoke up, "although someone with your abilities would have likely known by now that Aunghadhail is gone. How could I be the future queen of the Faerie if the spirt of the late Paramount Queen, the Daughter of the Burning Oak that was in me is gone?"
"Yes, Miss Reilly I am well aware of what happened at ARC I attended her funeral in the Grove remember, and though it was unfortunate- the sad thing is that it was bound to happen sooner or later." Morrigan explained while continuing to markup the homework assignment in front of her.
"Excuse me!" Nikki all but roared as her glamour began to build radiating her anger. "Bound to happen, this was a part of me- Aunghadheil was important without her the last of the True Queens of the Fae and now she's gone forever and you say that it was bound to happen!"
As Nikki's fury continued to build akin to that of a bonfire, Morrigan looked up from her work and calmly set down the red papermate that she had been using on her desk. She briefly closed her eyes and then unleashed her own focused glamour, while Nikki's was one of heat and fury- Morrigan's was something that felt ancient, not merely old but ancient much like Aunghadheil. While Morrigan was no True Queen she was in truth one of the Oldest Sidhe on the planet; all light within the small room appeared to have been drained away into Morrigan who shinned with a glow that was both otherworldly and intense, it was obvious that while Morrigan may have been named the Queen of Phantoms as a cruel jest by the royalty of Summer and Winter- it was a name that was fitting in more ways than one.
The fight briefly taken out of her, Fey all but blanched at the experience. Now that Fey's fury had subsided, Morrigan saw fit to lower her own glamour back to its normal ambient level, "Well that happened, if you still wish to talk about this Miss Reilly please shut the door and have a seat."
The former host of the fourth Paramount Queen of the Sidhe did as she was asked and had a seat in front of Morrigan's desk, after taking a moment to straighten the stack of papers that she had been working on and setting a hand-carved wooden paperweight (a gift that her son Bodb Derg had given her a few months prior when he received news of her new position) on the stack. Taking a moment to take in the young Mutant Sidhe- Morrigan calmly observed, "As I stated earlier, you are clearly concerned about what the late Queen Aunghadhail's dissolution will mean to the future of the Faerie and yourself given that you have had so many tell you that you are the future Queen of the Fae- the Crow of Winter that the Kodiak bestowed upon you makes that clear."
"Alright- yes I am," Nikki explained steadying herself, "I mean I know that I am one of the most powerful spell-casters at Whateley even without Aunghadhail but with her I was on an entirely different level- even if...
"Even if making use of Queen Aunghadhail's powers in such a manner had their consequences such as the swath of forest that became blighted after your fight with Maelstrom." Morrigan guessed Nikki's line of thought, "I know that this might be hard for you to accept Miss Reilly, but Queen Aunghadhail's time by your side was never meant to last your entire life. Although Sidhe such as ourselves are long-lived we are by no means completely immortal; we are after all creatures of the kingdom of nature and death is as much a part of the natural world as life, Queen Aunghadhail knew this and endeavored to do her best to prepare you for the paths that laid ahead of you."
"So, what are you saying?" Nikki inquired quaking in a mixture of fear and uncertainty.
"What I am saying was that the true reign of Queen Aunghadhail ended with her death during The Sundering, but that's in no small part to the enduring will of her soul she was able to seek out others searching for what she needed to impart unto what remained of the Western Court- an heir-apparent to her throne." Morrigan revealed with a sly smile, "It was not Queen Aunghadhail's destiny nor her intent to completely return to this world- such an act would be a perversion of the Nature of both the World and the Western Court. She was preparing you to take her place- as the new Paramount Queen of the Western Court."
This revelation obviously left Nikki in shock, "Y-you mean!?!"
"Queen Aunghadhail's purpose wasn't to find a way to return," Morrigan explained in a solemn tone, "it was to find someone worthy of being her successor- the next Paramount Queen of the Western Court is you Nichole Susanne Reilly! At least you will be the next Queen after you complete the ancient Rite of Ascension, heir apparent or not there are rules in place for a reason."
"So, let me guess," Nikki spoke with a bitter-sweet smile, "are series of dangerous and deadly quests for the throne."
"Not really- at least not normally so, after the time for morning the late Queen was passed first her heir must come of age- fortunately you are already sixteen so that is a non-issue. Next you must meditate in a place of nature's power for your royal name and symbol of nature to reveal themselves unto you and your arbiter, Queen Aunghadhail did not always have that name nor was she always known as the Daughter of the Burning Oak; fortunately, the Heart of the Grove is more than adequate for this task."
"The final rite will take you into the Wildlands of the Fae-Realm on a day important to the cycle of nature (such as a solstice or equinox); you must be coronated in the presence of a World Tree in a ceremony consisting of key members of your court, which in this day and age would be the Council of Regency. I will handle the arrangements for this part when fell that you are ready to undertake the journey, you may even bring your friends; however, they must provide their own meal- I'm afraid that the stories about Faerie Cuisine may have a basis in reality."
"Somehow, I doubt that would be a problem," Nikki replied with a minor laugh, "if there is one thing that Ayla knows it's how to prepare food for a trip. Although I thought that there were no more World Trees; from what I heard they were all destroyed during The Sundering and the Heart of The Grove isn't even close to being one."
"Not all of them, just those in the lands of the Center Court, or as you know what remains of it- Modern Earth." Morrigan explained, "Yggdrasil is more than a myth just so that you are aware, as many of the stories of that tree had a great deal of truth to them."
Old Colony Apartments
POV: Faolan, Rose of the West
How was it that I knew that today would turn out like this? This was supposed to be a simple date in Boston with my roommate Candace...okay I knew that she weaseled the date out of me but come-on I who was I to say no to the second hottest freshman red-head in Poe. Still something always seems to hit the fan in Boston this year when freshmen Poesies try to have a pleasant day on the town, this time it was The Necromancer (a local Grand Hall middle-weight and recurring pain-in-the-neck for the school) blanketing the city in darkness and unleashing a swarm of mythos contaminated zombies on the city before detonating a series of bombs.
The nasty part- these bombs weren't simple blocks of plastique, from what others filled me in on these were incendiary explosives. So yeah, they blew stuff up and made a very big boom, but they also started fires when they did so. That meant while the police were over-whelmed with taking care of the walking undead and the paramedics were busy treating the injured and infected at the city's hospitals, the Boston Fire Department was struggling to combat fires while evacuating buildings and apartments all over town.
Still they were overwhelmed so the police sent a good number of the students who were helping out at the hospital to help the fire department. Fortunately, not everyone got stuck doing this, Candace and Aires were sent to help Speed Queen deliver the elixir darts to police all over the city to help deal with the shamblers and prevent any police or civilians from joining the ranks of The Necromancer's mythos zombies.
Healers, those with first-aid training or healing spells in their arsenal were pared with those who could take the heat or use their powers to search for survivors trapped by the explosions and the fires. Guess it was a good thing that my cloak was rated up to withstand heat at the level of surface magma and volcanic geysers so I could help Saladin clear any survivors as we alternated floors. Still it was awkward using Sydan while keeping my body fully concealed within my cloak, but I've been burned enough times growing up to know to keep my hand away from the stove.
I'm also just discovered that my dwarf-forged blade doesn't conduct heat past the hilt, guess that bearded smith packed this sword full of features that I've yet to discover. Still I filled that train of thought away for later, according to the headcount downstairs there are at least twenty people still left in the building and I had already rescued eleven of them, I hoped that they would still be alive when I got there. While my cloak protected me from the heat- the smoke was another matter entirely, while I did have an oxygen tank it was for scuba gear (Morrigan mentioned that next month would include aquatic combat training) not fire-fighting so the mix was slightly more oxygen rich to cut down on the bends.
Honestly, I don't know how Pero del Fuego does this all the time while keeping that cheery attitude; I'm not exactly the sunniest person to begin with and the idea of coming to the rescue only to find those you came to save burned to a crisp was heart-breaking. When my last stop lead to the discovery of a couple who had been killed when the ceiling above them collapsed sending an antique dresser on top of them I had almost lost it, I still collected them anyway- their relatives deserved not to be devastated by the loss of false hope.
Randi enough with the melancholy- I can see signs of three people two doors down, Jane thankfully messaged me pulling me out of the dumps, All three are alive but the balcony above them collapsed into their terrace they're trapped between a wall of rubble and fire.
'I wouldn't go in through the door anyway,' I replied back through my link to the stormcrow, 'that would just make a backdraft plus part of the floor fell and is blocking the door. Tell me is the terrace of the room to my right collapsed too?'
No, but how do you plan on getting them out?
'Trust me,' I replied to Jane, 'I should have just tackled this problem from the outside anyway.' Without another message- another thought, I cut through the lock into the apartment next to the room where the people trapped by the fire were and moved through the apartment to the balcony. After opening the balcony door, I went outside to survey the balcony next door, as Jane told me the balcony above collapse into the balcony bellow blocking the patio door. I knew Sydan would be sharp enough to cut through the concrete, steel and glass- it had to be- people's lives depended on it being sharp enough to do the job and I was damned certain that container with the fake pearl a few months ago was made of tougher stuff.
One quick peek in through the glass saw the family inside trying in vain to break the double-paned balcony window hoping that if they did that they could squeeze through the gaps still uncovered by the rubble. When the family saw me they didn't know what to make of me, thanks to Jane helping me to interoperate their faces, I saw hope fighting fear in their eyes. I motioned for them to move aside and after they complied Sydan cleaved through glass and concrete sending parts of the door and rubble into the apartment, I hoped there was enough room because I didn't want to risk shifting the weight of the debris in the ledge any more.
The family inside saw me through the window, but unfortunately from the look of things their perception of my arrival was not good. "Who are you? What do you want? Why did you do this?" The father shouted in panic while his wife was huddled in the corner protecting their son.
"My name is Faolan, I'm here aiding the fire department to evacuate the building." I calmly stated as I locked eyes with the father to convince him of my sincerity. "There's burning debris blocking your door so I need to get you out through the window- just try to move the rubble out of the way."
That was when I began to hear creaking coming from the balcony, crap clearing that debris must have shifted the weight to the front and as things stood any more shocks to the buildings structure might trigger another floor collapse. Crap, I couldn't risk more rubble being shifted and time was even more vital- I switched to Plan B and fished two unmodified changeling baubles out of my bag while telling Jane to 'warn everybody on the ground'. "Change of plans, this terrace is starting to give. We can't afford to waste time."
The couple immediately noticed the same problem I did the hole was too small for an adult, "So you can't save us, just our son."
"I'll save your boy but he'll be saving you first." I stated as I tossed the pair of changeling baubles through the opening I made, "Here use these, place them on the ground then I need your son to push one of your hands into the pendent- like he's trying to push you inside."
"What!?!" The father shouted at me as if I'd grown a second head, "Are you insane!"
"Sir this ledge isn't getting any more stable and when it goes it might take the floor with it, and those pendants are the same things that are in my bracers." I explained back as I returned my blade to its sheath to demonstrate this fact. "Now trust me, your balcony could go any time now."
Still keeping as low to the ground with her son as she could to avoid any smoke that might have come in from the hallway, the wife pleaded with her husband, "Dear- right now we don't have much of a choice besides trusting her." To demonstrate her point the woman took one of the pendants that I had tossed inside- held her son's hand too while she pressed her own to the jewel and following her instructions the boy pushed his mother inside.
The father seemed to hesitate for a moment- at least before the balcony began to creak again, this time so loud that the father and son both heard it above the crackling of the fire. Evidentially reality forced his hand, the father took the other pendant and told his son, "Go ahead Jeremy."
With a slight bit of hesitation showing on his trembling hands, Jeremy followed his father's instructions and pushed his father into the gem like his mother earlier before looping both pendants around his neck for safekeeping. Now it was young Jeremy's turn as he crawled over the ramp that my blade had made in the rubble to me, "They're safe right?" he asked pleading with his eyes through his soot stained face as I took the child in my arms.
"As long as you keep them that way," I replied doing my best to reassure the child with a nervous smile while I prepared to use my boots to run down to the ground, "now hold on tight and don't try to do this yourself." With Jeremy in my arms as he clung to me for dear life I jumped off the balcony and stopped in mid-air, Jeremy looked on in awe as we stood on thin air.
While I began to make my way back to the ground like I was running down a ramp carrying my wide-eyed passenger with me Jane gave me a message through our link, Randi we have a jumper on the north-side of the building and Saladin has a wall of flaming debris blocking his way!
'Crap, I'm on the south-side and I have a passenger, I'll get there as fast as I can.' I replied back, 'You also need to get everyone to clear away from the front of the building two balconies worth of rubble is about to go street level.'
Roger, I'll tell the fire crews over their radios. The stormcrow responded as I did my best to circle the building from the outside hoping that I could make it in time while informing my passenger, "Change of plans kid- one of your neighbors is trying to escape the fire the hard way. So, hang on things are about to get even freakier!"
Careful not to drop the passenger clinging to my front like a baby koala I moved my right arm to let my pinky select the green button on my hidden pump. Once I felt the subtle vibration of the gadget telling me that a stream of simple carbs was about to be injected into my blood-stream I shifted into my werewolf form and began to circumnavigate the building.
Outside Old Colony Apartments
POV: Aletheia, Rose of the East
I was applying my ability to help a man vent the soot and ash from his lungs while his wife looked on with concern from where the paramedics were looking her over. A few moments later he expelled the ash-filled air from his lungs he caught her gaze, he was still shaky from her experience but they would hopefully enjoy a long life together.
I was about to move on to treat a patient with a cut in his forehead from a fallen ceiling tile when I heard Jane's voice over the radio of the fire engine. "Attention all ground personnel; get clear of the south-side, balcony collapses imminent! Also get the nets we have a top floor jumper on the north-side!
Acknowledging the warning, the firemen manning the hoses stepped away from the building, unfortunately they needed everyman that they had to fight the blaze. There was no time to wait for anyone else and there was a possibility that Faolan wouldn't make it in time. I decided to throw caution to the wind, and leave the triage area.
Wheeling away from my last patient I transformed into my mermaid form while engaging the air-swim ability of my armor to get air-borne. I knew that time was of the essence as every second counted while I swam at high-speed to circle the building to try and catch the jumper before they decided to entrust their survival to the tender mercies of gravity.
Unfortunately, a nearby tremor as the heat of the flame further weakened the building made the decision for the lady, I couldn't reach her in time and the enchantment on my armor wouldn't keep us airborne while protecting us from the fall, it didn't work by half-ways- one or the other. Fortunately, this mermaid is more than a one-trick pony; I went for my left-bracelet and drew out my trident. Time seemed to slow as I drew a bead on the woman (I know that it was just the adrenaline rush but it still felt that way), I hadn't had much training with this aspect of the weapon but there was no time to perfect this.
I activated the vortex ability while aimed at the plummeting Bostonian hoping that the whirlwind would work as an air-cushion because if it didn't she'd leave her mark on the city in a way no-one wanted. When I let-a-rip with the trident the woman's fall was briefly reverse by a pocket of air, but I knew this wouldn't last long. As the first aerial vortex began to dissipate I let loose another to take its place, although one far less powerful than the first and juggling the woman mid-air; I knew that Faolan was on her way and she'd have a far easier time than I would helping the woman make her way to the ground than I would. Plus, I only had enough experience to do this feat while stationary; as things stood I could only keep her aloft not slow her fall to a safe speed.
By about the twelfth burst of the trident Faolan finally arrived in her werewolf form clutching a boy with her left-arm that was hanging onto her for dear-life. I sent one more vortex of air to juggle the woman for one last time while Faolan charged with all she had to grab the woman around the waist with her right arm.
Adrenaline and panic still coursing through the rescued woman's mind she briefly tried to struggle with her canine rescuer, "Let me go you monster!"
"Stop-it lady, the mermaid and I are here to help." Faolan did her best to explain to the struggling rescuee without dropping her or the boy. "Now stop thrashing around so we can go and get you checked out by the paramedics!"
I could tell the woman didn't entirely by poor Randi's explanation but at least she seemed to be willing to play around until we got back to the ground. Faolan and I circled the building as we made our way back to the ground triage area, in time to see Saladin helping the paramedics look over some of the other rescuees. While I returned to my wheelchair and transformed back to my human form the woman dashed away from Faolan without so much as a thank you to either of us and headed for the doctors, however the child however calmly let go and lingered beside his rescuer.
He looked up at Randi still slightly in shock and asked Randi, "How do I get them out?"
Faolan hit one of the buttons on the inside of her right vambrace (likely the red one considering how fast she turned back to normal). Now back to her more human form Randi got down on one knee to look the child in the eyes and told him, "Exactly the way you put them inside, just make like you are pulling them out instead of pushing them inside the jewels."
At first I was confused by the conversation but I soon saw the pendants around the boy's neck and put two and two together. Evidently the boy caught on as fast to the instructions as I had at reading the situation; he set both pendants jewel side up on the ground reached down with each hand and pulled from both gems. Immediately a man and woman that each bore a resemblance to the child emerged from the changeling baubles.
The boy's parents huddled together around their son grateful that their family had gotten out of the building safe and sound, Faolan obviously was just as glad as I was at the sight- no-matter how she tried to hide the warm smile that just bloomed across her face. Still when she turned to go and join Saladin in talking to the firemen she was stopped when the boy grabbed her cloak, "Miss, you forgot these." In his right-hand the boy held out the two changeling baubles that he had just freed his parents from.
Faolan looked at the boy and shook her head, "You earned those tonight child, I'll try and get someone to stop by and see your parents later to tell you how they work."
"Thanks' nice lady," the boy said with a wide smile and as he went back to hugging his parents while I wheeled over to my fellow Cardinal Maiden (maybe Randi and I should think up a name after we finally meet the northern and southern maidens).
As we made our way back over to Saladin, I turned to Faolan, "I thought the price for one of those was a foolish act?!?"
Without meeting my eyes Faolan replied, "Jeremy trusted a strange woman in a mask who cut her way into his burning home with a sword that he could put his parents inside two pendants and then that he would be safe if she jumped off of a collapsing balcony with him."
"But those are signs of bravery not foolishness," I shot back rather disappointed with my friend.
"Those are two sides of the same coin Aletheia," Jane explained as she returned to her perch on Faolan's shoulder, "the only true difference is determined after the fact- just as I explained to my partner a moment ago through our link. Now we had best turn over the other survivors to the paramedics, Saladin just cleared the last of the people from out of the building."
"The paramedics and the morgue, I got as many out as I could living or not," Faolan explained as she steadied herself from trembling with a potent cocktail of anger and grief now we had a brief moment of calm. "Th-the families of those who didn't make it- they deserve to know as soon as they're ID'd. I-it should much easier for the cor-coroners to do that if they aren't- *SNIFF* if they aren't..."
I took Faolan's hand and looked into her eyes, "You did the right thing, no matter what anyone says later you did all you could and then some."
Faolan did her best to dry her eyes before she unloaded the survivors to receive help from the paramedics, and those who weren't so lucky to receive a bag to protect them on their way to the city morgue.
Old Colony Town Home - Roof
Jabberwock looked through his binoculars at the scene across the street, after searching seven of the detonation sites he found one with both targets assisting. There was no mistake to be had: the one who was just running in mid-air fit the description of the secondary target way too closely, while the mermaid that he had just observed swimming alongside had to be the primary target.
"Jabberwock to base, both targets have been spotted at the old apartment complex at 25 James O'Neil Street," the currently indentured mercenary relayed over the radio, "Waiting for instructions- over."
"Good time to move onto Phase 3, shadow them en-route to their next location." Charles Darrow ordered over the radio, It's time to strike!- over and out!"
Jabberwock switched the radio over to active mode as he prepared to assume a more active role in the operation, unaware that he was under surveillance by another party with plans of their own as evident when Ekdikeo materialized and alerted her sisters over their shared link, Everyone on high alert, the Children of the Night are about to come out of hiding to pounce on the maidens. Prepare to begin counter-operations.
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