Paragon City Stories: The Carnival Without
Hosted by UNINVENTIVEHEART
Act I, Scene 3
Place: Steel Canyon
The window in the bedroom is shattered, shards of glass under the woman’s body. They can hear the sound of the traffic below.
As Devereaux and Paige confirm that Mirelle is, indeed, deceased, they hear a loud crash from the kitchenette, and rush back into the living area to see a man wearing a bronze cylinder over his head, chains binding the mask to a massive belt, standing over Tahquitz’s body. Behind him is a man in a business suit, wearing a Pagan Mask. From what they can see in the background, kitchen cabinet doors thrown open, a jumble of pots on the floor, the two must have been searching the kitchen when the heroes entered.
The living area is a shambles, with scorch marks on walls and ceiling. A lamp with a paper shade lies on the floor next to a tiny table, flames threatening to spread to the rug underneath.
The man in the business suit raises his hands, like pistols, to point them waist-high at the pair. The threat is obvious to the Paragon City heroes.
As Tahquitz begins to stir, the strongman, arms crossed, stomps firmly on the boy’s hand reaching for the destroyed medical device, resulting in a yelp of pain.
It is just at that moment that Ironrealm barges in through the open hall door. The man in the business suit rotates at the hips, and the room is filled with the sound of a blast furnace as volumes of flame erupt from his hands, hitting Ironrealm square in the chest, gouts of fire splashing to either side. Ironrealm lowers his head, bringing his shoulders up to his ears, as he forces his way forward. Before Devereaux or Paige can act, they see the flames stop, the man draw both hands back and above his head and thrust them forward, oddly with no sign of burns on them. An even larger ball of fire explodes from those hands, hitting Ironrealm full in the face and chest, obscuring all sight of him. The door way is obliterated, the fireball crashes past it into the hallway, and Ironrealm no longer stands inside the tiny apartment.
The businessman snaps his head back to glare at Devereaux and Paige, hands now turned back to point at them, a tendril of smoke from one of them the only reminder of what has just happened. The strongman merely waits, arms crossed, one foot still mashing Tahquitz’s hand into the rug.
Linuial, a tiny woman in a pale blue mini-dress with straight blonde hair reaching below her waist, staggers, then stops stock still, one hand reaching out to the brick wall beside her. She swings her head back-and-forth, until she focuses on a point inside the building, then tilts her head upward. Her gaze focuses on the shattered window on the seventh floor; she winces as if in pain, shakes her head, reaches down to take out her cell phone.
“Chris…” she speaks into it, after touching the screen twice, “…can you take over for me on that errand for Kip? I have an emergency, here.”
“Another stray cat?” The disembodied voice is gruff and sarcastic, but Linuial only smiles in response.
“Yes, I’m afraid so. Tell everyone that I might be a bit late getting back to the base. Don’t wait on dinner for me…this might take a bit.”
“You need backup?” Chris’s voice shifts to concern.
“If I do, I’ll call again. For now, just make sure Kip gets his supplies…Jon is waiting on that adapter.”
“Will do. Be careful, Lin.”
Absentmindedly, she nods toward the screen, brushes a finger across it, replaces the phone in her pocket.
A glance through the building entrance reveals the confused-looking security guards, the snoring desk clerk, the streaming fire nozzles. Puddles are beginning to form on the floor. Linuial sighs and shakes her head.
Launching herself into the air, she flies across the intervening space to the open stairwell door. Landing, she takes the more cautious path of walking, almost silently, up the stairs, her hair dripping, her dress now limp, her forehead plastered with a few damp stray blonde hairs. At the sixth floor landing, she strains her eyes upwards, and begins the final climb. Reaching the turn in the stairs half-way up, Ironrealm’s limp body becomes visible, one arm dangling over the top step.
Linuial sighs again, her shoulders drop. It’s already obvious that she is too late to help the Tank. She turns her attention to the waves of pain she feels from the apartment ahead, and begins to cautiously, quietly, approach the fire-licked opening where the door once was.
Paige, after catching her breath, has found her faculties back in regular order as she presses her fingertips to her forearm and creates a vibration from rubbing her hand to push a shockwave to send the Pagan pugilist straight out of the window almost effortlessly. He flies backwards seven stories into a planter… with his head and helmet ringing on the cement-block corner with a ping. She “reaches” for the planter mentally and finds he is still in the land of the living, but having a very peaceful nap.
That leaves the businessman in the Pagan Mask. Paige moves her wrist back and turns toward the attacker… her ribcage stings after a fall on the stairwell as she winces and grabs her right side. She knows she’s in trouble now.
Tim Verne is in a dream-like state between consciousness and unconsciousness as his brain shut down his senses from shock. As long as Tim has been 15, his body has two souls trapped inside of it. Himself, and a 2,342 year old Raven Demon who was charged with protecting a mountain people as penance for his master’s crimes back in Agua Caliente. Of course, Tahquitz never bothered to learn English since before being defeated and trapped in a altar, as the Cahuilla people spoke in their native tongue and had no need for it.
Still, Tahquitz finds it easier, faster and more efficient not to communicate to Tim with words and sounds, but rather with images, sensations and raw emotions.
He’s been slowly peeling back his life for Tim since he’s been trapped in the young boy’s form, showing him the ravages of other tribes, pack-hunting animals when the food chain was still a equal opportunity program, and various conquistadors who canvassed the mountains seeking a new home or settlement. His most recent tale for Tim was a flashback on such a group: Snr. Santigo de la Amezcua Cabral led his men from the Idyllwild forest to Agua Caliente seeking converts to capture to bring back to his mission, trinkets to plunder, and women and children to bring to his servitude under his strange religion.
Of course, Tahquitz didn’t employ reasoning or logic when it came to interlopers, he served under his geas to protect the mountain and it’s people from harm. So, he caused harm in kind… and it was as the conquistadors would find, a biblical torment. Imagine a windstorm sweeping fire on marching troops at will razing an entire encampment in the dead of night, then when they all ran back to the safety of the Baja California coasts, watching the burning forest frozen solid with blasts of ice and freezing rains to stop the fires from spreading.
And less than 20 miles away, all the villagers of Agua Caliente did see was a plume of smoke rising in a moonless night sky. Quiet, hard to see proof of their patron God hard at work.
As Tim’s eyes slowly open, he feels pressure come off of his hand as Paige sent the henchman flying out of the room.
Behind the feature obscuring helmet, Devereaux’s eyebrows rocket up in surprise. He had let Paige enter the room first after they had discovered Mirelle’s body. Upon first seeing the two assailants, he had kicked himself for the lapse in judgement but with her quick thinking and considerable show of power the girl has proven once again that she is more than meets the eye.
That still left the matter of the pyrokinetic. Devereaux is familiar with the skillset; the Syndicate had actively encouraged its members to advance their psychic powers so it was hardly uncommon to see the fire starters around. This one is different though. Most pyrokinetics had an almost nervous energy about them, as if the fire they could so freely manipulate was actually trapped inside them. The man in the mask stands stock still, hands outstretched, almost daring him to make a move.
Devereaux taps into the Night Widow’s psionic abilities in an attempt to mask his presence from the enigmatic enemy. The odds of such a trick actually working against another psychic, especially one as powerful as this masked man, are slim at best but it’s worth a shot. Besides, all he really needs is a momentary distraction. Using the athleticism the Night Widow’s form lends him, he vaults over Paige from behind, nearly bowling her over in the process.
“Nice job with the Carnie,” Devereaux thinks to himself as he sails across the room. “You managed to neutralize the threat without killing him. That’s Heroism 101, after all.” But he is no hero. Deploying the Widow’s signature claws, he slashes downward with a vicious strike, using the force of gravity to lend extra power to the blow. Aiming to sever the masked man’s carotid artery, Devereaux fully intends to end this confrontation without any further casualties.
As Linuial surreptitiously approaches the blasted doorway, she hears a slight hum, and the sound of a large object crashing through a window, followed by sounds she is unable to interpret.
Throwing caution to the wind, she snaps out a few words in a strange tongue, and jumps from one side of the doorway to crouch in the hallway against the far edge of the burned hole, swinging her head to visually scan as much of the room as she can as she leaps. A ball of green light appears, surrounding her body and extending partially into the living room through the blasted door. The green light ebbs and flows.
The tableau she witnessed in her dash from one position of cover to the other revealed a shattered window, a young girl rubbing her arm, a boy with black skin lying on the carpet, not African-American black but really black, as black as the charred body by the stairwell, and a Night Widow standing, claws dripping blood, over a masked businessman whose ravaged, blood painted shoulder and neck demonstrate all too clearly where the blood on the Night Widow’s claws came from.
Reappearing in the doorway, she presses her hands to the sides of her head. A throbbing whistle is heard, and the Night Widow is struck full-on by a mental command to stand perfectly still, that command enforced by piercing pain.
She drops her open hands toward the floor, there is a low rumble, then she reaches towards the girl, closes her fists, and makes a yanking motion. The girl disappears, reappearing in the hallway next to the woman. Linuial puts a hand on Paige’s back and gives her a shove toward the stairwell. “RUN!”
Turning back to the room, she drops her hands again, there is the same rumble, reach, and jerk, and the masked man in the business suit disappears and reappears lying in the hallway at her feet.
Dropping her hands, palms up, she makes a lifting motion, chanting softly, and the bloody body begins to rise, shoulders first, head hanging, turning gently, then his head tilts back, and he drops again, his feet returning to the hallway floor.
Tahquitz opens his eyes slowly as he sees Paige and the masked assailant disappear out of the room. Now he’s lying prone, with a Night Widow in the room, claws covered in blood.
“If Arachnos has taken an interest in the Carnival of Shadows, this is a new twist”, he thinks to himself… his analysis is stymied past that thought from a throbbing head trauma from the force of that carny’s fist slamming into him. It’s not concussion-level bad, but it’s severe enough that if this happened in his High School parking lot, it’s clear he lost the fight.
He’s too dazed to put up a proper defense against the idle Widow and scrambles slowly backward. With no inspirations to use, all he can do is mutter to her “So …what happens now?”
Paige, briefly disoriented from the teleport, gets her bearings first… she’s in the hallway. North is left, forward is East… Okay.
As she reaches the stairwell door, she slows her pace. There’s no more bangs or whams or other onomatopoeia indicating danger anymore. She looks down the hall to where toga-woman is with the pyrokinetic, yelling down the hall “if you’re trying to wake him up, I’d tie his hands and legs back first. Your call, sweetie.” She tries to reach out mentally to find out what her deal is–
Paige is interrupted as she feels shooting pain from her ribcage again… she tenderly presses where the pain is… yep, unnatural flexibility and more pain. She broke a rib from the fall. She starts breathing shallow to avoid further irritation.
She holds back from crying overtly, but her eyes are turning red from doing so. “Licking envelopes has one thing over heroism,” she says to herself, “The pay sucks but at least the Medical Bills are non-existent.”
Devereaux is thoroughly confused. One moment he was standing over their assailant, watching his lifeblood drain away. Then, in a flash of green, the soon to be corpse vanished.
His first instinct is to check on Paige; the girl has thoroughly impressed him of late. He tries to turn his head but is immediately halted by an excrutiating pain that wracks his entire body. Gritting his teeth against the intensity, he searches for the source but the slightest movement brings on another wave of nauseating pain.
After a moment or two frozen in place, Devereaux begins to notice something odd. He can feel another presence in his mind. Closing his eyes and working carefully, he delves deep into his psyche and begins to seek out whatever is debilitating him. Thankfully, the pain does not come.
The process is slow and deliberate, a misstep could cost him his mobility or worse. It takes nearly all of his concentration so he is only barely able to hear Tahquitz speak from the floor. From behind a tightly clenched jaw he manages to grunt, “Not…now…”
Tahquitz had only one other run-in with Arachnos this far… like in real life with a spider, you either act fast, or get bit. More hesitation isn’t going to end well for him. She’s clearly distracted and in distress, but those claws might spell trouble for him if he tries to slip past her.
He draws back his arm to charge up a shot. He musters up what little energy he has and releases a cold blast of ice…
… at the Night Widow’s feet, freezing them in place. This gives Tahq enough time to crawl to his feet slowly and stumble right past her. “Paige better be somewhere close by… I can’t do much more at the moment without passing out,” he thinks to himself. Too stunned to fly, too weak to attack further, he walks toward the exit and the hallway.
To the left, there’s a woman in a blue toga looking over the other attacker. Pretty, sure, and not old enough to be his mom, but definitely old enough to be his math teacher. And he’s never seen her before. To the right, he sees a small shoulder behind a corner wall clad in purple and pink, sitting on the ground.
“That’s the girl I came in with,” he murmurs. He starts stumbling her way.
Paige wipes away a light tear as she concentrates on her breathing. She hears bare feet walking her way, which could only be one weirdo in her group of weirdos.
“So, you still live, Taco-meats?” she laughs lightly, followed by a stinging reminded not to overuse her lungs as she coughs gently and winces again. “Sorry, it looks like I beat myself up more than I helped people. Just like in real life. How’s your head?”
“About as bad as your cough. But I still remember second grade, so I don’t think I’m missing anything. No need for an ambulance.” Tahquitz leaned against the wall opposite of her. As the pain in his head subsides, his hand starts to magnify as he starts rubbing it out of necessity… he tries to make a fist but can’t close it all the way. That’s not good. His best attacks require the use of both to release energy, and with one mitt that hurts to close let alone blast with, that’s a big problem. He looks at Paige, who is looking down the corner at the EXIT sign towards the stairwell.
“I’ve never seen a power like that before. You rub your arms together and people go away… kinda like a Cricket. Why don’t you register that as your superhero name?” Tahq says jocularly.
“These kids are starting to piss me off…,” Devereaux mumbles under his breath as he finishes undoing the psionic command. With it gone, he can focus his attention on other things.
Reaching out with his telepathy again, he finds Paige nearby. The light of her mind pulses intermittently, a clear sign that something is disturbing her. He could easily delve in and discover exactly what it is but he holds back. The girl has proven to have potential. It would be a shame to risk spoiling it by violating the sanctity of her thoughts for what could be a trivial piece of information.
Instead, he sends a telepathic message. “You alright, girl?” Looking down at the ice encasing his feet, he continues, “I’m a bit…tied up at the moment. Seems our friend, Tahquitz, doesn’t like my new look. I’m a little embarrassed to say so but I could use a sonic blast right about now.”
“What? Something cute, squishy and annoying?” She sees Tahq stop smiling and look surprised. “I hate that name. Besides, somebody else has already taken it. They can keep it.”
She remembers when her foster mother, Kathy, was going over ideas of what her superhero name should be. Cricket was one of them, along with Katydid, The Flea, and Grasshopper… Paige hates bugs, why would she want to adopt one of them as a name? It’s not like she has any better ideas. Her best one she came up with was “The Purple Siren”, until Kathy reminded her that she can’t sing to save her life.
Then she hears a voice… Devereau called to her about his predicament, and it strikes her that she completely forgot about him, as she is crestfallen… “Tahq, did you run into a Night Widow in the other room?” He nods. “What exactly did you do to her?”
“I froze her feet to the ground.” He sees Paige struggle to get up, so he helps her as she screeches “NO, THE OTHER SIDE!” That must be where she’s hurt from the ripped up costume. He gets her on her feet as they return back to the apartment door. As he walks her to the doorway, Paige brings him up to speed on what happened, including Devereaux’s change.
“Well, I’m glad I went for her feet… For a second, I was about to drive a icy spike through her heart,” he said aloud, then backtracks, “or is it his heart? Or is it one of those gender binary things… it’s heart? Every time I ask someone the rules always change.”
Devereaux turns his head toward the doorway. “Gotta tell ya, Tahq, you’ve got a long way to go. Now, if you don’t mind, could one of you two brave champions of justice do the magnanimous thing and free me?”
Not willing to risk any further confusion, he reverts to his natural form. The ice around his feet makes the transition less than pleasant but there is no point in gambling on the young hero’s willingness to trust the word of what appears to be an enemy.
Tahquitz warms his good hand and spreads it over the ice block like a heat knife, with displaced water hitting the floor where it once stood. He reduces the block enough for Devereaux to slip his ankles past it and leaves the rest to melt.
“Sorry about that. When I hear ‘Psi Shift’ next time, I’ll know what to expect.” Tahquitz grabs his left wrist and tries to close his hand again, but no luck… it doesn’t even look like he can hyperextend his knuckles either, like his fingers are locked in place and are forced open.
“So, where’s Mirelle? I didn’t see her when I flew in, just the GWAR reject and Eyes Wide Shut over there.” Of course, he’s not really a fan of either, Tahquitz was talking past his age. GWAR had a cameo in Empire Records, which his dad told him was required viewing, and as for Eyes Wide Shut, he’s heard of it, but it sounded boring. Sex with masks? Who cares?
“She…won’t be joining us, I’m afraid,” Devereaux says as he raises each leg at the knee and rotates the ankles in turn.
“Since you’ve got the energy to make jokes, I take it you’re all right.” In spite of the debacle that the investigation has become, a smirk makes its way to his lips. “Somebody wanna tell me what just happened and where our dead friend ran off too?”
“Well, our savior is down the hall working on the pyrokinetic. She must have thought you were a threat as a Night Widow, so that’s why she tagged me and not you.” Paige looks at Tahquitz with a glare, who in turn looks at Devereaux and mouths “Sorry” to him.
“She probably figured Tahquitz as unconscious or dead. As for Ironrealm, I’m afraid he didn’t make it,” she looks down, “it’s too bad, I didn’t even get to know the poor guy.”
“Our what?!” Devereaux asks incredulously, ignoring the bit about Ironrealm. His death is unfortunate but it was clear the Cimereroran would not survive an assault of that magnitude.
“Do you two have a friend I don’t know about? Don’t get me wrong; withholding information is all well and good but considering I’ve been immobilized in SEVERAL ways over the last few minutes, I think it’s about time for full disclosure.” He turns his gaze to Tahquitz in particular. His earlier mental probe clearly revealed a mystic presence. Paige, surprising as she may be, does not strike him as the type to traffic in the arcane.
You gather and introductions are made. The suited man is restrained, PPD is called, and you settle down to wait for their arrival.