Of Masks and Marvels (Part 13)
Of Masks and Marvels
By Bek D Corbin
edited by Steve Zink
A Christmas time chapter for 'Of Masks and Marvels', dedicated to Steve Zink, for his tireless work
Sapphire adjusted her cards and harrumphed. "I just knew that there was gonna be a Blood Ritual in there somewhere. I'll bet the bitch was finding a Virgin in this day and age!"
Titan gave me a hard look over his cards. "Hey, Max, how come you weren't affected by this guy's pheromones?"
I held up three fingers. "Three reasons, Diego, and they all have to do with how we now think his powers really worked. Y'see, ol' Princey could generate and control a low-level magnetic field. While he could do other things with it - glide, use static adhesion to climb walls, defract light to create that 'turning into mist' effect, like that - what he mostly did with it was stimulate his own body, to amplify his strength, resist incoming damage and like that. He'd use this magnetic field to stimulate his own production of pheromones, electrochemically alter them, and then use the field to deliver a concentrated dose right in his victim's face. Instead of breathing in the pheromones and getting a mild dose through the lungs, which have all these defenses against that kind of thing, his victims would get them, bang straight into the bloodstream as they were absorbed through the eyes. And that's where it fell down in regards me. First, I usually have my own magnetic field up, and however unconsciously, I blocked his delivery system. Second, I was wearing my mask, which has those eyeshields, which blocked the direct input even more. And last, my magnetic field seems to take the 'spin' off of pheromones. With all that, all that Prince Fear really had to work with was his classic roman profile, long dark wavy hair, Olympian physique and rippling pectoral muscles."
Sapphire looked at me cross-eyed, "You call that all?"
I shrugged. "The pretty-boy type has just never done it for me."
Titan leered at me again. "And exactly what is your type, Max?"
I twitched my eyebrows at him over the tops of my cards. "That would be telling!" I'm gettin' the hang of this being female gig - never let a guy be absolutely sure of what you're thinking.
LADY LIGHTNING'S STORY:
Anyway, Chantraine and St. Leovrice decided to play cagey at this point - y'know, providing information as to the Prince's probable next step in exchange for whatever they think they can get. Hesczeck put them in separate cellblocks to cool their heels, and the dull, methodical part of real police work went into effect. I wasn't much use at this point, to be honest. I don't claim to be some great amateur detective, and I don't have a lot of respect for the breed. I just kicked back and let the professionals do their thing.
One interesting thing did happen - as part of his arrangement with Ilena Reyes, Hesczeck let her interview both St. Leovrice and Chantraine separately. They had an understanding that she wouldn't put anything on the air until we'd scuppered whatever piece of insanity that the Prince was planning. I got a look at the tapes of the interview - Man, those two have more nerve than a bum tooth after a chocolate binge! A more twisted, convoluted, self-serving load of Bee Ess I hope I never see! But it did give us one really good thing to work with - they had already begun to blame each other.
But the clincher came after the cops tossed St. Leovrice's hotel room - we shoulda known that he was dirty from the beginning. He had a freaking suite at one of the priciest hotels in town! They found his laptop computer, and a box of written disks. There wasn't any direct evidence, but what they did find was almost as useful.
They pulled Chantraine out of her cell and made sure that she had a court-appointed lawyer when she talked with us. When you're talking international jurisdictions, it always pays to play it by the book. Hesczeck dropped a stack of printout about as thick as a phone book in front of her. "Y'wanna know what this is?"
She picked up the title page. "Hmmm...It is in English and French-"
"We used a translator program. We got it off of St. Leovrice's laptop computer."
"'Prince of Blood - the Amazing True Story of one dedicated policeman's manhunt across two continents for a vicious blood-drinking monster.' What is this?"
"Well, apparently, St. Leovrice had decided that this scam had pretty much run its course - the Prince was getting too hard to manipulate, and every time you pulled this, the chance that someone would start putting it all together got that much greater. So, he was thinking past the point where he lets someone actually catch - and from reading this, Kill - the Prince. So, he was already working on the book that he was gonna sell to the publishers about how he 'single-handedly' tracked down the Prince and put him down. There are actually four possible endings - I guess he didn't want to waste too much time on re-writes. Oh, and Miz Chantraine? He 'avenges' your death at the Prince's hands in every single one of them."
"Yep. Pages 346-, 392-, 453-, and...470, respectively," Hesczeck informed her while double checking his copy. "Personally, I thought the 'death' he had written for you on page 453 was very touching, a little awkwardly written, but I think that's just the translator program not picking up on the nuances of the original French. But I have to wonder - exactly how did the Inspector plan to entice the Prince into ripping your arms and legs off?"
Chantraine skipped ahead to page 453. She read it, and first went pale, then beet red. She broke into a fusillade of furious French. I don't speak that much French, but I didn't have to follow the gist of what she was saying.
Iron John sadly shook his head. "Max, Max, Max...stooping to dirty cop tricks! Tsk, tsk, t-" I interrupted with a slice of cheese in his face.
LADY LIGHTNING'S STORY:
Once she got the gutter language out of her system, Chantraine decided to buy as much good will as she could. She gave us the address of the rental locker place where the Prince kept his coffin, and the name of the asylum where she first ran into him.
Yeah, he slept in a rental locker - coffin, candelabra, creepy accent pieces, the whole shebang. Sanchez really came through when she checked the place's Dumpster. It seems that like most people, the Prince thought that when they threw something in a trash can, it just vanished.
* Woof! * What a rat's nest! Pages and pages of numbers and calculations, notes in French, paperback books of bullshit 'occult lore', astronomical and astrological nonsense, racetrack results, shipping and freight schedules, US Geological Survey maps, newspaper and magazine clippings of every kind, and three books of poems by the Romantic Poets with pages cut out. It was such a complete mish-mosh that it would take a psychic to sort it all out.
Fortunately, I happen to know a psychic.
Hesczeck wasn't terribly happy about me calling in Madam Hex. But, given the rather tight schedule we were on, he decided that if things were already this weird, how much worse could a proven psychic make things?
Wendell looked around the table. "That reminds me - how come Amy never plays Poker with us?"
Iron John idly played with his cards. "Hex hates playing Poker - she doesn't like playing a game she can't win, and if she does win, people start making 'cheat' noises. Besides, she says 'not listening' to people thinking about their hands gives her a headache."
LADY LIGHTNING'S STORY:
When Hex came into the room, she reacted like somebody'd slapped her in the face.
"The man who slept here was completely insane," she declared.
Sanchez muttered, "Like we needed a psychic to tell us that!"
Hex ignored her. "He is very afraid. No, desperate. His thoughts lack real focus - plenty of blocks and obsessions, but no real focus. He lacks center, as the Zen masters would say; he has lost his confidence in his sense of self. He's afraid that he's lost the thing that makes him human. He has no sense of what's real and what's a fantasy. He has personalized his own baser instincts and separated them from himself."
Hesczeck leafed through the psychiatric report that the Paris asylum had e-mailed him. "Pretty much what the French shrinks think. DeVille admitted himself because he was afraid that he was losing his grip. He was having problems keeping facts straight, and people kept agreeing with his worst fears. Being admitted didn't help him much, 'cause the shrinks kept going along with him, and so did the other inmates. He didn't have any way of looking at his pheromone power, and people just kept agreeing with him, no matter what he said. Hell, it may have been the absolute worst thing for him, after getting under the thumb of Chantraine and St. Leovrice. He was so desperate to get some kind of objective input that he opened himself to almost everything. The psychos just fit him into whatever insane little worlds they'd built for themselves, and he let them. Normally, the doctors try to avoid letting that happen, but DeVille's pheromones kept them from doing that. Then Chantraine happened along, and decided that he was too much a class act to waste in a nut factory. And so, Prince Fear was born."
Wendell held up a finger. "Hold it. How did this Chantrain broad keep from being affected by the pheromones?"
I shuffled the cards and started my deal. "When the cops patted her down, they found a bag full of garlic, wolvesbane and a whole bunch of other herbs. The cops think that the aromatic alkaloids of the garlic and other herbs interfered with the pheromones. How she happened to be wearing a bag of garlic around her neck when she met DeVille, she wouldn't say."
LADY LIGHTNING'S STORY:
Being in the storage locker that Prince Fear had used for a hideout was giving Hex a headache. So, we got her out of there and let her work on the pile of scribblings that Sanchez found in the Dumpster. She said that she judged them on the 'emotional charge' of each paper, and sorted them into five piles. Then she left us to figure out what the ones that had the greatest charge might mean, and split to get the woofles out of her head.
In the pile that had the most intense charge, we found sheets of convoluted mathematical calculations that I, having a good understanding of Math, determined had no real basis in reality. They all seemed to result in a figure of 144. There were lots of trial diagrams, pentagram-in-a-circle things, which envolked various supernatural beings. We ran the names through a computer at the Humanities department over at the U. Some of them - Dispater, Belial, Raum, like that - belonged to greater demons in the Catholic demonologies. Others - Metatron, Adam Cadmon, Keraphiel - were names of high-ranking Angels. This was looking worse and worse. But one kept popping up that had no listing: Sjael-Ionu. Not an angel, not a demon, not a pagan god. And it seemed to loom large in the Prince's conjurings.
There was this one stack of papers, more of those bogus astrological calculations that suggested that the Prince had managed to force his figures to indicate that the optimum time for the 'ceremony' was THAT NIGHT.
Titan smirked. "Isn't that the way it always is? Normally, these kinds of special conjunctions can take years, even centuries to form; but when a supervillain really wants 'em, they're always just around the corner!"
LADY LIGHTNING'S STORY:
Yeah, yeah, very funny, Diego. Unfortunately, none of this gave us a really good idea of exactly how or what, let alone where the Prince was gonna perform his blood sacrifice. Which meant that we had to wait until either somebody spotted the Prince, or he made his big move, we just had to wait - kinda like what we're doing now. And since we figured that one of the Prince's pheromone-powers was that he could make people not notice him, the former was a real long shot.
Wendell gave me a hard look. "So, if this was so all-fired important, why didn't you call US in on it? I mean, I expect that kind of shut out from Hesczeck, but you, Max?"
I returned Wendell's hard look, glare for glare. "And I could ask, 'where the HELL were You guys?' We put in a priority request for assistance, but nobody answered! So, I will ask - Where the HELL were you guys?"
I turned my glare to each person at the table in turn.
Sapphire blushed, and said something about a niece's recital.
Battalion hectically looked to either side and made excuses about not getting the page.
Justiciar gave an embarrassed grin, and said, "Would you believe...?" in a Don Adams voice.
Titan buried his face in his hand of cards.
Iron John just sat there, refusing to be cowed, and said, "Hey, I have a life!"
LADY LIGHTNING'S STORY:
Y'know, back when I was a civilian, I always thought that when Spider-Man had to handle a huge crisis all by himself 'cause the Fantastic Four and the Avengers just happened to be out of town that episode, it was just lazy, slopping writing. Now, I'm not so sure.
So, there we were, hanging around on pins and needles, waiting for Prince Fear to make his move. The only break we got was some guy in blues who was really into word-puzzles figuring out that Sjael-Ionu was an anagram for Jean-Louis. Jean-Louis, which is the Prince's father's given name. Which would have been a real big breakthrough, IF we had the Prince on a couch in therapy.
For a while, the only lead that came in was that a busload of school kids visiting from Germany was two hours overdue on their trip from the airport to their hotel. It must have happened almost exactly at the stroke of sundown, but we still didn't have any way to track where they went. The bus turned up empty a little later. Then another bus-ful of kids went AWOL, this time from out of town. Finally, a busload of local kids who were on a field trip to an evening concert of the local philharmonic sped off without the teacher who was riding herd on them. The three groups of kids added up to about eighty. We figured that if it was the Prince behind all of these disappearances, and he was figuring to sacrifice all of them to an imaginary demon to get back a soul that he technically still had title to, then he was trying to fill the 'magic number' of 144-"
Wendell looked confused. "What's so magical about the number 144?"
Sapphire tossed a two and a five. "The number 12 is supposed to be very powerful - 12 apostles, twelve signs of the zodiac, like that; and 144 is 12 times 12."
LADY LIGHTNING'S STORY:
Right, he was trying to get 144 kids together so he could kill them. God, I hate dealing with nuts. At least with sane ratsasses like Gunhawk and Kraken, you know that at least there's a rational reason for what they're doing, no matter how selfish or crass. But...aaahhh- anyway, we waited for a few hours, and there were no reports of more disappearances. At least, there were no reports - with those pheromone powers of his, he could whistle away an entire troop of Brownies, and their Den Mothers wouldn't see anything wrong in it.
Finally, we got a break - and I'd like to mention that it was plain, old-fashioned police work that did the trick - a black & white unit spotted one of the missing busses parked in an alley, partially covered over with a tarp. Since even Prince Fear would have problems herding that many kids unnoticed long distances, the cops focused their efforts in that part of town. They found the other two busses, but nobody noticed large numbers of kids going through the streets at that time of night.
I was let in on the brainstorming session to try and figure out where the Prince might have gone to ground. There was some talk of sending some blues down into the sewers to check that - oh Christ, more sewers - when Sanchez had an epiphany-
Battalion smirked, "She had an epiphany? Right there in the squad room? How embarrassing! I hope they made her clean it up herself!"
I gave Titan a look, and he slapped Wendell for me.
LADY LIGHTNING'S STORY:
Thanks, Diego. No, it occurred to her that Saint Augustine's, an old church dating from the turn of the last century, was in that area. Not only that, but there were clear lines of transit from where the busses were left to the west church door. Y'see, Saint Augie's had that row when the Archdiocese wanted to shut it down and sell the property, 'cause the church itself was so old that renovating it and bringing it up to Building Regs would have been more expensive than the land value. But it's a beautiful old church, and the parishioners were up in arms about the sale. They got a restraining order, and they've been holding vigils and the whole magillah. They sent a squad car to check it out, and the chains securing the outer door had been removed.
"Hold it." Iron John held up a finger. "HOW did Prince Fear, who thinks that he's a freakin' vampire, manage to haul his butt into a church, let alone manage to keep over a hundred scared kids under his power there?"
"Good point. But, y'see, last month there was that thing in the papers where they discovered that crackheads had found a way into the church, and were using the nave as a crack gallery and crash pad."
"So, they desecrated the place." Sapphire raised her eyebrows and nodded in understanding. "And since it was written up in the papers, the Prince probably read about it, and figured that a violated church was probably not only a good hideout, but the perfect place for an Unholy Ritual."
LADY LIGHTNING'S STORY:
Right. We figured that the Prince would wait until the stroke of midnight - what can I say? The man doesn't have an original bone in his body! - to begin the sacrifice. The police quietly surrounded the building and SWAT got ready to go in. Then we got a report from one of the snipers overlooking the church. He'd managed to get a good look in, and he said that there were at least a hundred kids there, all milling around listlessly. But here was the real bad news - Prince Fear had the kids stashed in groups all over the place. There was no way that we could go in, separate the Prince from the kids, and get them out.
I got the microphone and asked the sniper, "Can you see the altar?"
"Yeah. So what?"
"Can you see a knife, a straight razor or any other kind of weapon that he might use? Or nooses, hung from the rafters?"
"Nope. As a matter of fact, there ain't nothin' on the altar. Wait a minute - I see him. He's walking around, going from group to group. He's holding something in his left hand."
"Can you get a good look at it?"
"Nope. It fits completely within his hand."
I signed off. "Shit. He's wired the place to explode. I'd bet dollars to pebbles that the thing he's holding is a 'dead-man's switch. All he has to do to set it off is take his thumb off the button."
Kaustmeyer, the FBI agent on the case, gave me a 'I'm gonna humor the amateur in tights' look, and said, "If he's going to try to sacrifice the children and save his own soul, why blow himself up?"
"Think about it! Some part of his mind knows that even under his pheromone control, the kids aren't just gonna sit there and let him kill them one at a time! Besides, I don't think he really likes what he's doing - his delusion might force him to kill One, maybe Two kids, but not 144 in a row! Besides, it would take him all night to do it that way! He'd either lose his nerve, or someone might interrupt."
Kaustmeyer's partner, Dawes, nodded. "That fits the psych profile we've compiled. According to the psychological evaluation that they did in Paris before the pheromones got too strong to resist, Henri-Paul DeVille was having strong Id-based urges, probably a side effect of his own pheromones on himself. He submitted himself for observation, because he was afraid that he might lose control of his urges and hurt somebody. In time, DeVille personalized these Id-urges into a 'demon' that he named Sjael-Ionu. Chantraine came along and focused this fantasy into the 'Prince Fear' persona. Then St. Leovrice entered the picture and dangled the carrot of a magical 'salvation' to motivate DeVille to steal high priced objets d'art. His 'salvation' from these urges that his Ego and Super-Ego tell him are wrong is all that he has left to live for - he'll do anything to achieve, especially now that Chantraine isn't here to tell him that he needs just one more thing."
Since Daws obviously had a clue, I talked to her. "When I fought him at the museum, he was very insistent that quote, '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', unquote. What if we can convince him that he has too many kids in there? He'd have to stop long enough to let however many kids go-"
Kaustmeyer liked that. "Yes - it's part of Standard Hostage Negotiation procedure. Get them to start letting hostages go, and keep finding more reasons to have him let more go."
Dawes grimaced. "Kaustmeyer, that's procedure for trapped crooks and terrorists - that playbook doesn't work with psychotics. They're so wrapped up in their scenario, that trying to reason with them only makes the situation worse. We have to somehow derail his plan - throw off his schedule, remove some crucial element, and introduce a complication that he won't be able to neatly fit into his delusion. If Lady Lightning's right, and this guy really doesn't want to hurt anyone, then we have to find an excuse for him not to."
I looked up at the stained glass window that predominated the apse of the old church. "Maybe we can get the Archbishop to talk to him - get His Excellency all togged out in his miter and crosier, to offer DeVille absolution."
Sanchez shook her head. "Nice idea, but it won't work. Even if he would do it, His Excellency's in Toronto at an Ecumenical Council of some kind. And we can't just dress somebody up like an Archbishop, 'cause DeVille's exactly the kind who would know what the Archbishop looks like. Prob'ly expect 'im to speak Latin, too."
Hesczeck looked up at the big stained glass window, and then gave me a measuring glance. Chewing on a toothpick, he mused aloud, "Ol' Princey kept calling you 'Angel of Wrath', did'n he?"
Now, I can only guess what it was like inside, but I imagine that it was something like this-
Picture the inside of the church, all dark, poorly lit by a few area lamps, set so that the light won't show outside. The walls are light, but most of the area is dark wood, which soaks up most of what light there is. Almost a hundred and fifty kids, none older than twelve, all huddled around in groups of about ten to twenty, all of 'em not sure what they're supposed t'do. The big pale man told 'em to stay, and they feel like they gotta do as he tells 'em, like they would their mother or father. Prince Fear is prowling around, making sure that everyone is where they oughta be, double and triple checking that he has enough and not too many, also making sure that his pheromonal hold on them is still working. Then he walks up to the altar and-
Sounds of Trumpets! Light floods the stained glass window, filling the church with the Glory of the Almighty! A lower portion of the window explodes into the church, revealing an Angelic figure wreathed in the very wrath of Heaven!
"Angelic figure wreathed in the very wrath of Heaven? Jeez, Max!" Titan snorted, "Think of yourself, much?"
I gave him a sour look. <hmmmppphhh!> "Try and set a scene!" I folded my arms across my chest and pouted. "Well, then! If you're not interested in my story, why don't we listen to Wendell's riveting dissertation on the German incursion into France through the Ardennes?"
Justiciar, Sapphire, and Iron John looked at each other, stricken. Ted beat the others to the punch, slapping Diego upside the head. In a placating tone of voice, he said, "Okay, okay, no need for threats!" Wendell screwed up his face in a 'Say What?' grimace. "You were saying...
LADY LIGHTNING'S STORY:
Yes, as I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted, Hesczeck had four searchlights trained on the stained glass windows, and the opening strains to Mozart's Requiem blaring out of ten PA speakers. I had used a glass cutter to weaken an easily replaced section of the window over an area where we were sure there were no children that could be hurt by falling glass. We were waiting for the sniper to tell us that the Prince was in the right area for the optimum psychological effect-"
Battalion struck a quoting pose and entoned, "Sun Tzu says: Each battle is won in the minds of the rival commanders. The actual combat merely proves that which already resolved."
I picked up a handful of pretzels and threw them at Wendell and yelled, "Am I ever going to get to finish this story?"
LADY LIGHTNING'S STORY:
Harumphh! Anyway, there I am, floating in mid-air, shedding enough electricity to light up Broadway, hopefully looking like the Wrath of God incarnate.
At this point, the music cuts out, and the throat mike I'm wearing sends my words to the PA speakers: "HENRI-PAUL DEVILLE, WHAT IS THIS THAT YOU DO?" All this time, hoping and praying that he's too far-gone to wonder why a messenger of God Almighty is speaking American accented English to a Francophone.
He is rooted to the spot, looking at me with his mouth hanging open. Remember, this is what he really wants - for God to notice him, and strike him down, so that he'll know that there is Justice and Order in the Universe. So that he can stop doing all these evil things. So that his father will forgive him. He starts talking very fast in French. Fortunately, when Hesczeck came up with this plan, we saw this coming, and had an instant translator feeding it back to me. He was saying, "Child of Light! You have No Dominion here, in this unclean place of darkness! Begone!"
"HENRI-PAUL, IS THERE ANY PLACE IN CREATION THAT IS NOT THE DOMINION OF OUR FATHER?"
"My forsaken Soul has no place for your blessed touch! I am Damned! Leave me to work my Salvation as best I can!"
"WHO FORSOOK WHO, HENRI-PAUL? WHY HAVE YOU COME LOOKING FOR THE GATES OF HEAVEN IN THE ENTRAILS OF INNOCENTS?"
"Leave me to my work, Lovely Angel of Wrath! I have searched for centuries in the shadows, and this is my only escape. The Demon Sjael-Inou owns my soul, and I must pay the price he demands! Leave me to this horrible thing that I must do!"
"CENTURIES, HENRI-PAUL? IT WAS ONLY FIVE YEARS AGO THAT YOU TOOK COMMUNION ON SAINT DENIS' DAY, AND DRANK THE BLOOD, AND ATE OF THE FLESH AND ACCEPTED THE GRACE OF THE LAMB. NO DEMON OWNS YOU, HENRI-PAUL. THE ONLY HAND THAT STEERS YOU TO THE DOOM AHEAD IS YOUR OWN. YOU CANNOT FORGE YOUR SALVATION FROM THE DEATH OF CHILDREN."
Iron John held up a hesitant hand. "Not to break your stride, Maxine, but how did you know that DeVille had gone to church on that day?"
*sigh* "It was in his psychiatric record. He was allowed to go to a local church on St. Denis' day and took communion. His doctor made a note that he was greatly relieved by the fact that he could still go to Mass.
LADY LIGHTNING'S STORY:
Okay, while I'm pulling off this Cecile B DeMille sermon on the mount rip-off in midair - and probably pissing off every theologian in town in the process - Scarapelli's SWAT guys are sneaking in and waving little phials of Essence of Garlic under kids' noses. When the kids come to, they're hustled out as quickly as possible. The Bomb Squad is there, trying to find every incendiary packet that the Prince has laid. Fortunately for everyone, the Prince is a lot of things, but a bomb expert, he ain't!
But, you can't win 'em all - the molding that one of the bomb squad guys was using as a foothold to get to this one particularly hard to get at packet under the Choral Balcony gave, and dropped him a good twelve feet onto a wooden pew. He ain't gettin' out of the hospital any time this week. And almost as unfortunately, it snapped the Prince out of the spell I had him under. He looks around, sees the SWAT guys, probably notices that at least one-third of the kids are gone, and starts to freak. "You LIED to me!"
I ripped off the throat mike, and tried to talk to him in the voice of another human being, rather than a celestial messenger. "NO, Henri-Paul DeVille - YOU lied to Yourself! YOU told yourself that you were damned, so that you'd have an excuse to do whatever vile thing popped into your head. Chantraine lied to you - yes, we know all about Chantraine. Hell, we know more about her than You do! You didn't know that she's a Con Artist with a rap sheet longer than your arm! You didn't know that she's been in cahoots with St. Leovrice from the beginning! You didn't know that they have been leading you around by the nose - all those 'mystic artifacts' that you have stashed over there? They're forgeries foisted off on you by Chantraine and St. Leovrice. They switched them for the originals in the museum, and let you get chased by the police and various superheroes while they strolled off with the real pieces. You have been a dupe from Day One, Henri-Paul! This is the first thing that you've done in years, that hasn't been a part of their plan!"
I had him on the ropes, so I pulled out my big finish. I pulled out two silver holy water sprinklers, the kind they use in purification rituals, and showed them to him. "Henri-Paul, one of these sprinklers has only ordinary tap water in it. IF you are indeed one of the Damned, you will burn when it hits your skin. Care to prove your contention?"
He was confused, and hesitated. The part of him that needed to be 'Prince Fear', the unholy terror, couldn't back down in front of the part of him that needed to be a normal decent man. He bared his fangs and hissed, but shoved both of his hands forward. "Prove yourself Wrong, Woman!"
I sprinkled each of his hands with one container. Both of them began to boil and scorch, but he managed to hold onto the deadman's switch. He hissed and screamed, "YOU LIED! They're BOTH Holy Water!"
"No, I didn't lie - they're both ordinary tap water. I never said that either one had any Holy Water in it. _Just_ Regular_ Tap _Water_." And I poured them out, in demonstration.
His voice quavered, a mixture of hope and fear. "Just _normal_ water?" He looked at his hands as they began to heal the burns. I'm _Not_ Damned?" He fell to his knees and started to cry. "Oh, Mon Bon Dieu, what have I done?"
Without thinking, he finally let go of the deadman's switch. The three remaining incendiary packets went off. There were about thirty kids left in the Choral Balcony, which was where the last of the packets were. The blast tore out the already unsafe supports on the balcony and it started to collapse. Henri-Paul (can't really call him the Prince anymore, now can I?) screamed like his newly refound soul was being torn out. "Noooo! Not an innocent!"
He leaped a good sixty feet, and caught the falling edge of the burning balcony. He somehow planted his feet against the wall and kept it from completely falling. I flew up and tried to help him, but he waved me off. "NO! Get the children out! Go!"
I looked in his eyes. God, I hope I never see eyes like that again. Such painful, glad sanity! He looked at me with those terrible blessed eyes and said, "What is redemption without penance?" How do you argue with a man in the throws of a religious ecstasy?
The SWAT guys and I managed to get the children out just as DeVille's feet finally gave, and the balcony came crashing down on top of him. It took six SWAT guys to keep me from trying to dig him out of the burning rubble.
The backchat around the table had gone quiet. Sapphire took the bull by the horns. "So, did they find him?"
LADY LIGHTNING'S STORY:
When the fire died down - the fire fighters were right there, and had been while we were setting up the whole 'Divine Messenger' scam - they didn't find anything. Maybe the fire consumed him. Maybe he was sane enough to realize that even if an Impaired Capacity plea flew here in the States, he was still wanted for Capital Crimes in countries that aren't so lenient. Maybe the trauma sent him back off the deep end. I dunno. I do know that when all was said and done, that Henri-Paul DeVille was a good man, with a fierce love of his God, and strong sense of right and wrong. If 'Prince Fear' ever makes a comeback, I think that I will have a very strong ally in Henri-Paul.
Ted started to shuffle for his deal. "So; what about St. Leovrice and Jacolyne...er, Chantraine? What happened to them?"
"Oh, they were charged with enough Felonies to see them still in prison when the Next Millennium rolls around. After all, they were the primary motivators for all of 'Prince Fear's' crimes, and they all but drew maps for him, so they are legally responsible for each and every one of them. Right now they're cooling their heels in the Federal lockup, while the various countries involved settle who gets whom for what. Personally, I'm hoping that they get shipped off to Greece to serve their sentences."
Wendell ditched three cards. "Why Greece? You want them to work on their tans?"
"Ah, no. Y'see, when they hit Athens, they picked on the Elpinikeas family - very big noises in Greek politics. While the Greeks may have learned a lot of their penal philosophy from the Turks, with the Elpinikeases keeping an eye on them, I rather doubt that St. Leovrice and Chantraine are gonna pull a 'Midnight Run' out of any Greek jails.
Having done my duty in the story department, I surrendered the floor. We were saved from a detailed explanation of Guderian's Ardennes campaign when we got the news that a bunch of thugs in high-tech battle armor were blasting their way into a bank.
TO BE CONTINUED