Of Masks and Marvels (Part 12)
Of Masks and Marvels
By Bek D Corbin
edited by Steve Zink
Titan shuffled and dealt the next hand. He called a hand of Stud Poker, straight up. I had a three of a kind, with two showing. I checked out the rest of the table.
"Hey, Maxine - you were saying?" Justiciar urged.
"Yeah, there you are," Iron John prompted, "you more or less broke into the Guildford house, and there's the Big Bad hisself, yappin' atcha."
"Yeah, what is it about those Euro-Trash types? Both of the imports I've dealt with seemed to think that there was some kind of rule that they hadda talk me into submission."
Battalion nodded, "Yeah, there was this one Swedish asshole called Ymir-"
Sapphire hit him with a bubble. "Wendell, it's Maxine's turn. This Prince Fear was saying...?"
LADY LIGHTNING'S STORY:
Lesse now - "You are Lady Lightning..." - his house - entering without permission - placed myself at his mercy - he has no mercy - Prince Fear. Right. Anyway, he's standing there, his cape billowing - don't ask me how he got his cape to billow indoors.
He fixes his eyes on mine and says, "So, St. Leovrice has found another hound to set after me. Again and again, he comes nipping at my heels, like a hound out of Hell. Is my damnation so important to him? Am I to be denied any chance of salvation, however fashioned?"
He walks up to me slowly, our eyes locked, one hand stretched forward, talking about how I am completely in his power, how my will is melting like warm wax, yada, yada, yada... Like it's something I haven't heard before.
I hold up my hand and say, "Just one thing - does Fabio know that you're cribbing his act?"
He gives me this 'Say What?' look, and goes for me. He's just about to grab me by the throat, so I bat his hand aside and punch him in the face. Then he gives a 'you hit me!' look, and I spike his foot.
Ted looked at me hard. "Oh, C'mon! Those heels of yours may look nasty, but they don't really qualify as weapons!"
"They do now!" I pulled one foot up on the table. I pulled the wider heel off my boot, revealing a two-inch sharp spike sheathed by the heel. [Author's Note: Thanks to Ken, a.k.a. Usmar, for the idea] "I can pop them off magnetically, and use them as surprise weapons, without having to walk on needle-points. Drove this little puppy right through his foot!"
Iron John nodded. "Yep. If they aren't flyers, taking out the foot first halves their ability to fight, let alone run away."
LADY LIGHTNING'S STORY:
Actually, when I spiked his foot, it should have gone right through. Instead, it didn't - It was my turn for the 'Say What?' look. He backhands me. Give Pretty Boy this - he's fast, and he's strong. Knocked me clean across a thirty-foot square room, and left a Lady Lightning shaped dent in the wood paneling. And he's talking again! Why do I get all the talkers?
Fortunately, I spend a lot of time getting slammed into walls. It just doesn't slow me down the way it used to. I set off one of by blinding flashes, and thundercharged into him. He went flying nicely, out of the room and into the hall. I turned to the Guildfords, to give 'em the old 'don't worry, Citizen' talk. They jumped me! Seven women and four guys, not counting servants. My first instinct was to shock 'em. Fortunately, I was thinking faster than I used to. Old Missuz Guildford is at least sixty, and obviously enjoys the services of her cook. A good shock could send her into Cardiac Arrest. I managed to shrug them off, and got my cape back from the guy - I think he was a nephew or something - who got it offa me.
Titan leered at me, "Gimme the nephew's phone number - I wanna ask him a few questions about his technique!"
"Sapph, he's too far away from me - would you hit him?"
LADY LIGHTNING'S STORY:
When I managed to get the Guildfords off me, I gave Hesczeck the word on my radio link, and went hunting for Prince Fear. I think ol' Princey chose the Guildfords as much for their house as for their money and contacts. Dee-finitely from the Stately Wayne Manor school of Architecture, lotsa dark wood paneling and parquet. I couldn't have set a more appropriate setting for a vampire-wannabe if I were a hack fiction writer submitting schlock stories for free on the Internet.
I was hunting around, and Princey nailed me from on high. I don't think he can fly, but I wouldn't be surprised if he can climb like anything. He knocked me into the inevitable antique furniture. But that left him wide open for a particularly nasty jolt. The man just smiled. He reached out, grabbed me, and slammed me into this really nice rosewood Chippendale table. *Owch!* Splinter City! Well, since the Chippendale obviously wasn't gonna be going up for resale any time soon, and my main attack wasn't doing the job, I broke off a leg and made like Dr. Van Helsing by way of Barry Bonds.
Unfortunately, the Prince was quicker than I was, and all I was connecting with was Air. The Prince connected with a kick that set my ears ringing. I gave him another flash, and caught him right in the labonza. That really knocked the wind out of him, and I started racking up some points on his pointy little head. I had him down for the count when the Peanut Gallery butted in again. I gave them one of my dazzling flashes, only expecting to shake them up a little; they all screamed like I was pouring acid on them.
The Prince was lookin' around at his little helpers, like he just heard that his accountant had put all his money in a Dot.Com stock. He yelled, "What have you done?" and dove at me. From this point on, the fight was pretty much the Prince's. He was fast and strong, and he did everything that he could to keep me on the ground and at close range. As he fought, he kept ordering the Guildfords individually to do this or that. They seemed to be having a hard time getting their heads together, and were just wandering around, like they were trying to figure out what they were supposed to be doing. I was able to get off a few lightning bolts, but those he didn't just dodge, he shrugged off. My most effective attack against him was my dazzling flash, but every time I formed an arc with my hands, he'd knock them apart to prevent the flash. He was getting in a few really good punches of his own, too.
One of my bolts went wild, and destroyed the side of one of the display cases in the hall - I think it was holding yachting trophies or something blue blooded like that. One of the Guildfords was leaning on it, probably trying to remember her own name. The case pitched over, and started to fall onto her. She was so out of it that she didn't even see it coming. Prince Fear ran over and caught the case, and was barely able to hold it up. Seeing as how I blasted the blasted case in the first place, I went and helped him hold it up. He yelled for one of the Guildfords to get her out of the way, but they weren't in any condition to help.
Then we heard the sound of the front door being kicked in. Hesczeck and the rest of my backup were there. The Prince kind of dissolved into a mist of some kind. The mist retreated down the hallway. I was handed the classic supervillain choice of Evils. I could save Ms. Guildford and let the Prince escape, or I could somehow get a handle on a bank of fog, and let a more or less innocent woman be crushed to death. This is a choice?
I looked around the table. Everyone nodded his or her understanding. It was an old trick, and a dirty trick - it was also a very effective trick.
LADY LIGHTNING'S STORY:
I yelled down the hall, "Civilian Down! Bogey's headed your way! Take him down!" Since I was unable to push the damn display case off, it bore me down until I was almost crushed along with Ms. Guildford against the floor. I put all my strength into angling the display case away, off of us. Ms. Guildford was out, so I got her on her back, and checked for wounds. Then I spotted something interesting - when I checked her PERL (Pupil Equal Response to Light, a standard check for head trauma), I noticed that her pupils were dilated, and contracted almost to pinpricks to my penlight. As I was checking her temples for softness, Hesczeck and the SWAT boys came storming in.
"Where is he?" Hesczeck shouted.
"What are you talking about? He was headed right for you, in the form of a body of fog! Didn't you have that Cryogenic spray ready?"
"Yeah, we had the sprayer all ready. We heard some running footsteps, but nobody came past us. How is she?"
"Pretty good, considering that Prince Fear pulled the old 'Lesser of Two Evils' gag on me. Be careful; if St. Leovrice's story holds true, she and the rest of the Guildfords may still be under his influence. No saying what they might pull."
Actually, they just kinda staggered around in a daze, thank God. The last thing I needed was the most powerful family in the state jumping all over me. St. Leovrice then came in with his aide, and started chewing us all out for our incompetence. They started to tend to the Guildfords, claiming prior experience in helping Prince Fear's victims.
About an hour later, Hesczeck got a call from the Police Commissioner. It seems that the one of the Guildfords that was still up and running had a little talk with the Mayor about putting St. Leovrice in charge of the Prince Fear case. Never mind that St. Leovrice isn't on duty anymore with the French Central Criminal Investigation Directorate, let alone in the local Pee Dee. So, anyway, St. Leovrice was de facto in charge of the case. He said that the Prince was gonna break into the museum and steal the helmet, sure as church bells on Sunday morning. Of course, the Great Detective had a sure - fire plan that would put ol' Princey on ice - as long as we followed his instructions to the letter.
St. Leovrice's plan was a variation on the old 'apple in a jar monkey trap'. A duplicate of the helmet was to be made, and a tracking device was to be placed on the duplicate, and then forgotten. It was only there so that the Prince would find it, since he'd be expecting something. The duplicate helmet was to be affixed to a heavy, life-sized metal statue. But, inside the statue was a pressurized canister of tear gas. The way that St. Leovrice read the situation, the Prince would use his mist form to get in, and drag the heavy metal statue to the nearest convenient place of concealment. The nearest storage room was cleared so that there was just enough room for the Prince to work. In Stage Magic, this is called a 'Magician's Force'. Then he would snap off the head of the statue at its neck, to reduce the weight he would have to carry. This would spray the tear gas in his face. He comes out of the room, gasping for breath, and gets a face full of a powerful sedative in a DMSO carrier. I keep him from running away until the sedative kicks in. The Prince was to be kept under sedation until they could figure out how his mind control power works.
Battalion and Titan looked at Iron John. He just nodded sadly. "Yep, they can do that. In cases where a prisoner's supernormal abilities pose a clear and present danger to the jailers and the other prisoners, the courts allow 'Extraordinary Measures'. Keeping you so zonked that you can't think straight is actually one of the milder things they can do, if you're nasty enough. 'Sides, the Courts get real nervous when they're dealing with someone who can control other people's minds. They gotta be as hard as steel, or people start wondering."
LADY LIGHTNING'S STORY:
St. Leovrice decided to force Prince Fear's hand by releasing an announcement to the Media that several exhibits were going to be removed for repairs. The Crown of Wisdom wasn't specifically mentioned, but he was sure that the Prince would read between the lines and figure that the Crown was actually being removed to keep it out of his clutches. Naturally, just saying that outright would be too forward for the Great Detective, too obvious!
St. Leovrice decided on 'moving' the Crown right after that big Benefit shindig for the Post-Absurdist wing of the museum. The rest of the museum would be closed off, padlocked and heavily monitored. There would be a Big Name Superheroine (Three Guesses Who!) making an appearance at the Gala. So the Prince - who preferred to do things quietly - would opt for going in through a window. There were going to be three windows that would be left unsecured, so that the Prince would have something to pry open, as to have an escape route. Those windows would have hidden cameras watching them. When we spotted the Prince, we would very quietly start securing the windows after him. The idea was that we would keep him running into blind alleys and playing keep away with the helmet, only letting him rest in order to waste time until Sunrise. Then, Vampire, mutant, psycho, or whatever he was, his powers wouldn't work, and we could throw a straightjacket on him. Not a bad plan, all things considered.
The night of the Benefit came. Just rent a video with an excruciatingly boring Cafe Society party on it, if you wanna know what the party was like. Your Stalwart Heroine was seen, and had her picture taken with Very Important People that I've never heard of before - or will again, if God is kind. The party dragged on for hours. For some bizarre reason, nobody seemed to want to go. At Two, the crowd was just as thick as it was at Nine.
Then, the tenor of the evening changed. The Upper Crust Stiffs were even crustier than usual, and they were all glaring at Your Stalwart Heroine. The lights went down - not out, but down - and you could hear Prince Fear say in an oh-so-dramatic over-voice (like I've never heard a PA system before!) "Really Lady Lightning! Did you think that fool St. Leovrice could outwit ME? Indeed, I couldn't have orchestrated a better venue for myself if I sat down with the Mayor and planned it out!" And he does Stock Supervillain Laugh #3.
Battalion interrupted me. "Stock Supervillain Laugh #3? Is that the one where they throw their heads back and howl like demented hyenas?"
"No, dear, that's Stock Supervillain Laugh #4. Stock Supervillain Laugh #3 is the low, rumbling dismissive laugh that's half-way between a chuckle and a snicker, the one they do when they think they have the drop on you."
Iron John interrupted me. "Sorry, Maxine, but that's Stock Supervillain Laugh #6. Stock Supervillain Laugh #3 is the soft, sneaky snickering one they do in anticipation of doing something really nasty."
Wendell held up a hand. "So, which one is the classic out-and-out Bwah-Ha-Ha-Hah?"
Sapphire bounced a pretzel off his head. "That's Stock Supervillain Laugh #1! Everybody knows that!"
LADY LIGHTNING'S STORY:
Okay, okay, Stock Supervillain Laugh Number Six! Anyway, on cue, a few of the VIPs pull back a screen, and there's Prince Fear, lounging in the closest thing he could find to a throne, with a bunch of debutantes draped around him, playing at Ladies in Waiting. This guy has been reading way too many old Fu Manchu books!
He snaps his fingers and barks, "Bring her to me!" A couple of middle-aged guys in tuxedoes jump on Your Stalwart Heroine from behind, to keep her from flying out of harm's way, and the rest of the Dior-swarm dog-pile on top of her. In a mass, they drag her into Prince Fear's dark majestic presence. He grabs her face in one manicured hand, and says-
Justiciar jumped in, "He says, 'Wait! This isn't Lady Lightning! This is a double!"
I glared daggers at him. "Way to step on my lines, Ted!"
Ted shrugged and justified himself, "Hey, it was a tad obvious! First, you kept talking about yourself in the Third Person; Second, having a decoy for the Badguy to focus on while you get the drop on him isn't exactly a new idea; and Third, there's No Way that you were gonna let that bozo St. Leovrice call all the shots!"
I bounced a pretzel off his head.
LADY LIGHTNING'S STORY:
Ah, yeah, right. He picks up that we put a policewoman - name of Helen Coyle, by the way; I hope she gets that paid sick leave that Hesczeck recommended - in one of my spare cost- uniforms, to stand in for me. He's about to give the 'spread out and look for her' command, when I dropped down into the courtyard from the roof.
I landed and did a five-count. When I was reasonably sure that as many people under the Prince's control were looking at me as possible, I set off another of my blinding flashes.
Most of the VIPs reacted as the Guildfords did - they screamed and generally flaked out. Of course, that could have just been the cheap champagne that they'd been serving after 10 PM.
But a few of them - about twelve - were wearing sunglasses. Either the Prince was learning about me as quickly as I was learning about him, or these guys were too cool to stand. They jumped me, and took me to the ground. I got rid of them with an electrical pulse, just in time to see the Prince kicking in the door of the European History wing.
I shrugged off the Trendoids, and radioed Hesczeck that the Prince was inside the building, and to have the SWAT guys stationed at the windows that St. Leovrice had left open for him.
Whatever else about him that may seem Vampiric, Prince Fear never picked up the 'eerie silent gliding walk' bit. I could follow him by the sound of his footsteps clomping down the halls. Unluckily, I also had to run - you do NOT go thunder-charging around a museum full of priceless relics. I mean, I have enough lawsuits dogging after me as it IS!
He made a beeline for the Museum's restoration workshop, where the bogus Crown of Wisdom had been made, and the real one was still being stored. I heard a couple of shots from inside the workshop.
When I got to the door, I saw the Prince standing over St. Leovrice, who was sprawled unconscious on the floor. He had St. Leovrice's assistant, Jacolyne, in a headlock with his left arm, and he was holding up the Crown of Wisdom in the other.
The Prince turned to look at me. "That fool St. Leovrice thinks that I am merely some sort of super-powered madman. I am not. I am one of the Damned. I know the instruments of my Salvation, as a child knows his mother. Nothing will come between my Salvation and me. Not St. Leovrice, not all the superheroes ever born - not even YOU, my beautiful Angel of Wrath."
Mind you, I'm only mentioning the crack about the 'Angel of Wrath', 'cause it shows exactly how cracked he was. I thought he was buttering me up, trying a little psychology on me. But then, he started talking again and I saw that he was trying to talk himself into something.
"St. Leovrice keeps sending Angels and Gods after me. Only they have the power to resist the charms of the Damned. You think that I want these things to increase my power. But I do not. I only want my Salvation. I am too cursed for God to save me, so I must forge my own Salvation, whatever the cost."
I edged forward, but the Prince tightened his grip around Jacolyne's throat, and she gagged. "Please," he said, almost pleading, "do not make me break this woman's neck. I only want to secure the sanctity of my soul, and it would befoul my fate to shed one more drop of blood than is absolutely necessary."
He caved in the wall behind him with a mule-kick, and dragged Jacolyne along with him as he went into the next room. Going through the hole after him would be stupid, and going around the hall to the door was what he was expecting. I thundercharged through the wall after him. He had set the Crown down just long enough to throw an office chair through a window. As I came through the wall, he picked it up again and perched himself on the window. He let go of Jacolyne, and dropped. Jacolyne screamed, and slipped on the ruin of the windowsill.
The Prince's plan, of course, was a replay of the old 'Choice of Two Evils' gag. I made my own choice - I flew after Jacolyne, caught her, and powered her safely down to the ground.
I caught a glimpse of the Prince heading upwards over the roofs. As soon as Jacolyne was safely on the ground, I powered up to the roof after him.
Too late. Not a trace of him. Not that I was all that concerned.
The others around the card table glared at me. "Okay! Okay! So, having a superpowered nutcase running around IS something to be concerned about! But I was sure that I had it under control! Listen..."
LADY LIGHTNING'S STORY:
Both Jacolyne and St. Leovrice were a little battered, but the Paramedic said that they were both fit to travel. Back at the Hall of Justice, St. Leovrice was in a fine voice, blaming the local PD in general and me in particular for screwing up his plan. "How else would he know of the substitution? How else would he know exactly how to completely counter my maneuvers and author this debacle?"
Hesczeck took St. Leovrice's abuse in stride. "Debacle? I wouldn't say that... After all, we managed to keep an entire dance floor of potential hostages from getting hurt, prevented him from getting what he wants, and managed to plant a tracking device on him."
That actually managed to shut St. Leovrice up. And I thought that it would take stapling his lips together. "Parole ce qui?"
"Y'see, Inspector, while we agree that you are probably the world's authority on Prince Fear, it's kind of obvious that He pretty much has Your number, too. It's sort of hard for you two to surprise each other. So, since the Prince was expecting you to substitute a phony for the Crown, we unswitched the swap, putting the Crown in the safest place possible - on the statue that he thinks the phony is on. Right now, he's hauling ass for his hideout, with a tracking device hidden in the Crown."
"But the first thing he would do is check the Crown for any such device, and destroy it."
"Which is why we put one for him to find inside the cap, and hid another inside that great thumping paste pearl. Sorry to pull this on you, Inspector, but our first priority isn't catching the Prince; it's keeping the public safe. Trying to catch him in the museum would have both endangered the Benefit guests, and probably destroyed a couple of hundred million in relics and artwork, all to save a gewgaw that's worth, what, five, six Mil, tops? Besides, there's a good chance we can also recover the other stolen items."
St. Leovrice nodded hesitantly. "Bien. Tres Bien. But the Prince won't be fooled for long. How soon will the tracking device give his location?"
"Hard to say. There are some really confusing signals coming down, probably interference from all the Media broadcasting. But we should be able to get a fix as soon as the Media Swarm stops broadcasting in an hour or so."
"Bien. Bien. And where is the real Crown?"
"Oh, it's still at the museum. They're gotta mix up a solvent to un-epoxy the Crown from that statue, first thing in the morning."
St. Leovrice straightened up, and smiled. "Very Good! Better than I could have imagined! I would love to, as you say, hang around, until you get a fix on Prince Fear, but it is late. Besides, it is only a few hours until dawn, and once he's gone into his coffin for the day, we can track him at our leisure. If you will excuse me, I wish to get a few hours sleep. I want to be fresh and alert when you finally 'slap the handcuffs on him'."
With that, he and Jacolyne left.
Hesczeck grinned at me. "Now the fun really begins!"
I was with Hesczeck and two others in the darkened workroom of the Museum, when two figures silently walked in without turning on the light. One opened up the strongbox with a lock-pick, and pulled out the Crown. He put the Crown on the worktable and pried the pearl out. He put it on the table, and stretched out his open hand toward his companion. She reached into her purse, pulled out a ball-peen hammer, and handed it to him. He smashed the pearl with a few strikes, and searched through the rubble.
Hesczeck turned on the lights. "And exactly what do you think you are doing, Inspector?"
Inspector St. Leovrice gaped at us, the hammer still in his hand.
Hesczeck went into formal mode. "Yves-Armaund St. Leovrice, you are under arrest for Breaking and Entering, Conspiracy to commit Grand Larceny, and Attempting to Destroy Evidence in a Felony. You have..." Well, you know the rest of that bit.
St. Leovrice started to blither, but I stopped him. "Stow it, St. Leovrice. The only reason that you'd Break and Enter into that strongbox to destroy that phony pearl is that you thought that there was a tracking transponder inside it. BUT if Prince Fear had stolen the decoy, as you thought, then you would think that this was the real pearl off the real Crown. Well, it is a paste pearl, but that's the real Crown. The only reason that you'd think that was the paste pearl with the homer inside it, is that you swapped the two Crowns, so that Prince Fear would steal the decoy from the workroom, leaving the real Crown unwatched on the statue. But you thought that we'd double-switched you, and the Crown with the homer was still here in the museum. You had to destroy it, before we figured out the double-cross."
St. Leovrice babbled, "But you said that you switched it back..."
I smiled nastily. "We Lied."
It took the crowd around the Poker Table the better part of five minutes, and a lot of shuffling around of pretzels, to get it all straight. Sapphire gave me a nasty look and started mumbling, "The pellet with the poison is in the vessel with the pestle..."
Iron John was strumming his fingers on the table. "And HOW did you know that St. Leovrice was trying to pull a fast one?"
"Well, I'd like to say that it was obvious from the beginning, that it was all too 'Professor Van Helsing chasing Dracula' by way of 'Dennis Nayland-Smith tracking down Fu Manchu' to be real. But, I can't. I only got hip to the sting when Princey not only walked in on me, but called me by name. Now, I know that I didn't set off any alarms, and as much as I'd like to, I just don't have the kind of reputation where somebody from France would recognize me at first glance. Nope, he was expecting me specifically. And then, the Prince was so careful with his catspaws, making sure that none of them came to any harm. It just didn't fit.
"So, I came here to AEGIS HQ, and put in a long distance call to Les Paladins in Paris and talked with Seraphine, the superheroine who first butted heads with Prince Fear. She told me that not only didn't St. Leovrice head the Prince Fear case in Paris, but also, she never even heard of him before! She has better connections on the Continent, and asked around among the European supers who fought with the Prince. What got back to me, either through Seraphine or one-on-one, was that St. Leovrice only came into the picture in Landesburg, Germany. Which, of course, meant that he could play the 'visiting expert' to the hilt. They seemed to have a pretty well developed scam set up: Prince Fear would set up shop in the city where his intended target was, and use his mind-control powers to subjugate a wealthy and powerful local family, as he did with the Guildfords. He would manipulate them into spending lots of money that he could pocket. Then St. Leovrice would pull into town and pay a call on the local police, warning them of the 'terrible monster' that was plaguing their fair city. He would guide them to the household where Prince Fear was holed up, and he'd make sure that they had either a superhero or a kickass SWAT team along to make the Prince move out."
"But, if they were in it together, why would St. Leovrice need to force the Prince out?"
"Patience is not only a virtue, Diego, it's a skill, learned from much practice. All will be revealed, as Hercule Poirot used to say. After the Prince was forced out, St.Leovrice would go to work on the family, and convince them that he was the only person in the world who could be relied on to bring the faux-Vampire Lord to justice. Whereupon they would shovel large amounts of money at him to help him do it."
Iron John wasn't buying it. "But how could he rely on these people - who, if they're that rich and powerful, probably have a well-trained Con Artist sense - to just obediently hand over large amounts of money to a perfect stranger?"
"Ah! You come to a very important point! You see, almost everything about the way that Prince Fear worked was based on one thing - he could manipulate the minds of others, but he wasn't a mentalist. You see-"
"Pheromones!" Sapphire interrupted. "I get it! They're these airborne hormones that affect other people - male pheromones make women aroused, and vice-versa!"
Wendell shook his head. "Doesn't work. Maxine said that men as well as women were under his spell - how does something that only affects the opposite sex put the whammy on both sexes?"
I tried to take back control of the story. "Actually, Wendell, pheromones don't just affect sexual attraction - they apparently factor into a whole range of social interactions. Besides, Prince Fear was able to put very specific spins on his pheromones. But, he needed to be in pretty close proximity to the people that he was manipulating. Even then, the longer they were in range of his pheromones, the longer and deeper the control ran. While they were under his control, he ran some pretty heavy mind games on them, real dominance mind-fucks, each tailored to the individual."
"But what about the people at the party? They were only exposed to him for a few minutes! He couldn't condition all of them in that short a period of time!"
"From what I heard later, he had his minions run the unconditioned ones past him like a conveyor belt. By the time each was personally 'introduced' to the Prince, they'd seen a couple of other people 'enslaved'. After that, Mob Mentality and the Power of Suggestion did the rest.
"Anyway, Prince Fear's pheromones are actually just a kind of chemical power of suggestion - it fades if it isn't periodically reinforced. As it fades, the successor emotions to whatever the Prince was playing with take over. Anger and resentment follow fear. Resentment and bitterness replace lust and submission. Now, remember that the Prince's 'hosts' were people who weren't used to submitting to anyone, so they tended to come out of their 'trances' pretty mad. St. Leovrice made sure that he was there while Prince Fear's 'hosts' were still suggestible, and planted the idea that he was THE Man to get revenge for them. So, he got these really savvy people to give him money for nothing, by playing on their desire for revenge.
"Then, the next part of their scam kicks in - St. Leovrice, with his 'sponsors' backing him in the local government, sets a 'trap' for the Prince. He uses some really valuable knick-knack that he can reasonably credit to this 'Richard the Lionhearted's Sack of Acre' story as 'bait', and makes sure that there's someone he can blame for screwing up the 'trap'. This is where Jacolyne came in. Prince Fear thought that he had her under his power, and was using her as a Mole in St. Leovrice's camp. At least he thought that. You see, she was part of St. Leovrice's scam. She'd tell Prince Fear whatever St. Leovrice wanted him to know, and she was pretty good at the power of suggestion herself. She'd tell the Prince about a pre-planned 'flaw' in St. Leovrice's traps, open security doors for him, and warn him if anyone was getting close to him when St. Leovrice didn't want them to.
"Anyway, at this point, St. Leovrice makes a switch of some sort, and Prince Fear makes off with a decoy, with the police and local superheroes in hot pursuit. St. Leovrice quietly makes off with the real McGuffin, and hits up his 'sponsors' for more funds to carry on the hunt. Then St. Leovrice chooses a new locale and a new dingus to steal; Jacolyne puts the word in Prince Fear's ear that this new dingus is the next step in his quest, and off they go on the next thrilling episode of 'The Hunt for the Vampire Lord'.
"After I finished comparing notes with our Comrades in Arms Abroad for a few hours - oh, By The Way, Diego, Primadonna in Rome wants to know if you're single - I thought I had enough to go to Hesczeck with. It turns out that he was pursuing the same idea from the official side of the street. When I met with him, he told me that he'd been in contact with the Cops on the other side of the Pond. It seems that St. Leovrice was an Inspector with the French Central CID, but that he 'resigned' a few years ago. The implication was that St. Leovrice was bent."
Iron John asked, "Bent, as in 'occasionally does favors for the well connected', Bent, as in 'Looks the other way and sometimes tips off the baddiesí, or Bent, as in 'Crook with a Badge'?"
"Bent, as in 'Crook with a Badge'. It seems that he didnt' even work in Robbery or Homicide - he worked in Bunko for almost twenty years. During which time, he apparently picked up every trick from a very tricky bunch. He started by taking bribes from grifters, upgraded to shaking grifters down, and then actually helping them out for a cut of the take. But you can only get away with this kind of thing for so long; the Paris version of Internal Affairs caught up with him, and gave him a choice of resigning with a pension to spare the Department any embarrassment, or doing a couple of decades in prison and losing his pension. He took the pension."
"So, how did he get his hooks into Prince Fear?" Sapphire wanted to know.
"Well, apparently, he heard about Madam Dainbault spending all that money so mysteriously, and came sniffing around the Dainbault nephew looking to see what kind of money there was lying around that he could get his sticky fingers onto. He was there, pumping Honoree Dainbault for information - and probably a retainer - when Prince Fear attacked. He spotted the Prince getting into a car - probably being driven by Jacolyne - and got the licence plate number. He tracked down Jacolyne, who was leading the Prince around by the nose, and managed to cut himself into the deal. Apparently, his refinements on the scam she'd been running on the Dainbaults was good enough that Jacolyne didn't sic the Prince on him."
LADY LIGHTNING'S STORY:
St. Leovrice and Jacolyne were handcuffed and taken into a questioning room. St. Leovrice was fuming, "You cannot hold me! I have Diplomatic Immunity!"
"No, y'don't. Diplomatic Immunity only applies to members of the Diplomatic Corps, their immediate families, and employees of Embassies and Consulates - of which, you ain't none. You ain't even an official member of the French Central CID anymore. Y'see I had a nice long talk with Chief Inspector Bassel. We're gonna bill you for the Long Distance costs." Hesczeck turned to Jacolyne. "Now, You, we're having a little trouble pegging. But you are not Detective Sergeant Jacolyne Marie Montargne, who is currently still working the Burglary detail in Marsielles. So, who are you, lady? We don't need your real name to deport you, y'know. Being in the country on a phony passport and visa is an automatic deport."
Jacolyne started crying, and said, "I am Jenevive Beaumont. I was a psychiatric worker at an asylum in Paris. I worked with a very difficult patient named Henri-Paul Deville, who had the unnatural ability to bend others to his will. Somehow, I could withstand his power, and so Deville depended on me to help him form his sense of reality. He was slipping into psychosis, unable to tell fantasy from reality, largely because everyone around him agreed with him, no matter what he said. Then St. Leovrice found out about poor m'siuer Deville, and had my parents kidnapped. For months, he forced me to play on Deville's fears and fantasies, to construct the 'Prince Fear' persona-"
St. Leovrice grumbled, "Her name is Jolie-Anne Chantraine, a confidence artist since the age of six. She specialized in victimizing mental patients and their families. I only found out about the Prince after she sent him to kill Honoree Dainbault. Her photograph, fingerprints and criminal record are on file at the Paris CCIDF office."
I was less interested in that than a very specific point. "Wait a minute! Are you telling me that 'Prince Fear' isn't just an opportunistic prettyboy with a superpower? He really believes all that crap he's been spouting?"
Jacolyne looked up at me with genuine fear in her eyes (at least, I think it was genuine fear - you can never tell with these bunko artist types). "Mai Oui. You see, we got him to steal all those things by convincing him that they were necessary for a great mystic ritual that would cleanse his soul of all his sin. We manipulated his 'divinations' and 'astrological calculations' to indicate which treasure that we wanted him to steal, and which family to use as a front. But if I am not there to keep a leash on him, his dementia will convince him that he has everything he needs to complete the ritual, and he will try to 'steal back his own soul', as he puts it."
I felt an icy chill run up my spine. "Ritual? What kind of ritual?"
"For a Vampire Lord? What else? A Blood Ritual."
WILL PRINCE FEAR ACTUALLY TRY TO REGAIN HIS SOUL AT THE EXPENSE OF OTHERS' LIVES?
WILL LADY LIGHTNING ACTUALLY MANAGE TO SAVE PRINCE FEAR FROM HIMSELF?
WILL IRON JOHN ACTUALLY MANAGE TO DRAW INTO AN INSIDE STRAIGHT?
Find out in the next Fang-Gnashing, Pretzel-Noshing Episode of "Of Masks and Marvels'!