Paragon City Stories: The Carnival Without
Hosted by UNINVENTIVEHEART
Act II, Scene 1
Place: Talos Island
Time Remaining: 18:00:00.
It’s been four hours after the police have dismissed you from Mirelle’s apartment. Just like some of the other victims, the word ‘scant’ was scratched on her shoulder on an otherwise unharmed but lifeless body. The ambulances took you to Steel Canyon Medical Center to get patched up.
Four hours since Steelhelm’s remains were taken for burial. A reminder that the danger is real, that any of you could be next. But as a cop would say, there’s time later to mourn his exit from the mortal realm. It’s not easy, but focus has to remain on the investigation. You have to move forward. You have to be more careful.
Four hours since you all subdued the masked man and turned him over to the police for interrogation. (M.A.G.I. was also en route to help contain his abilities during interrogation, so others don’t fall victim to his powers.)
Coupled with the hour spent in debriefing, and the hour spent in that apartment complex in Steel Canyon before the cops arrived, that’s six hours gone in total. There’s eighteen remaining.
Despite losing one hero, and the person of interest being found too late, fortunately Detective Martins counts this as forward progress. Unfortunately, interrogation takes time and he won’t give up information easily. You can’t count on a lead from him this early.
The good news? Because of the arrest, Detective Martins informed this clandestine Task Force that there was a bounty for him. Identified as Etienne LeMarchal, he is a Canadian ex-patriate who is in Paragon City on a work visa. He was in hiding for four years after his apartment in Brickstown was found ransacked with his wife and daughter killed. This isn’t uncommon with Carnival of Shadows converts outside of Vanessa’s typical recruits. He was a part of the Seneschalty: a handler who ordered the strongman around. It is suspected that he was the one who ended Mirelle’s life, since there isn’t a single bruise or ligation mark that would be indicative of the Strongman, let alone fingerprints.
The reward was enough to pick up some items and reimburse each hero for Monorail fares and incidentals claimed, with a little walking around money for each of you.
Detective Martins had two more leads for you to pursue, along with a reminder that the clock is ticking and there’s a chance that there’s not enough time to pursue all three. You’re standing in Talos Island weighing out your two options.
The cost in time? That’s up to you.
- Uder Von Trier who is in Croatoa, a carnie who is packing up to take off. He survived a Carnie infiltration of his circus firsthand and lived to tell about. But Carnies are on a loose-fitting schedule, so there’s no telling if he’s still breaking down tents, or if he’s already on a truck heading upstate. There’s only one way to find out.
- Harvey Mailor who is in Peregrine Island, a newspaper editor with a background in the Carnival of Shadows. He lead the investigation to take down Vanessa DeVore, however, he has broken off contact with the police after the latest attacks have occured, probably in fear of his life.
The Monorail will take 2 hours to reach Croatoa with all of the stops in consideration between Talos Isle and Croatoa, but Von Trier’s carnival is to the northeast of Salamanca… it’s been there for two weeks. But if he’s already skipped town, it’s three hours to get to Peregrine Island, costing five total hours.
The ferry to Peregrine Island however, takes an hour in calm waters and the weather is good today, but with Harvey Mailor missing, you can’t just visit him in his office. There’s no assurance you’ll find him in his office, or even in Peregrine Island.
You are all sitting at a booth in “The Dirty Duck” Bar and Grill, just outside of the monorail to make up your mind over a couple of sandwiches, burgers and fries. You don’t have a moment to lose, but three of the four of you were starving, so it wasn’t a bad idea.
Devereaux sits with his reconstituted team, a half eaten pastrami sandwich in front of him. After the events at Mirelle McClure’s apartment, he is committed to making their next move a carefully calculated one. The PPD’s leads have proven to be less than stellar. It comes as no surprise to him; the Carnival may be hedonistic but they are far from reckless. It is painfully clear that whoever is running the show in Vanessa DeVore’s stead is making a point to cover their tracks and tie up any and all loose ends.
Then there is the other problem in the room. Their newest addition, the blonde mystic who calls herself Linuial, is an unknown quantity. Devreaux has not done well for himself by placing faith in enigmas. On top of that, she is a do gooder. Her willingness to jump blindly into a situation in order to “help” sets his alarm bells ringing. Still, there is a lot of money on the line and he has little choice but to work with what he has.
“Maylor’s our best bet. I’ve had a few run ins with him before and his intel has always been solid,” he says around a small bite of pastrami and sourdough. “But if he’s gone off the grid it’s a safe bet somebody’s after him. The guy may not be a hero but he’s no coward. I’m up for tracking him down but it’ll probably involve another fight.”
Casting his gaze over Tahquitz, Paige, and Linuial in turn he asks, “Think you guys can handle that?”
Linuial’s eyes drift across Devereaux’s face, half-lidded, relaxed, but there is an undercurrent of assessment to that gaze. “I will, of course, defer to you; this is your mission, after all, I’m just along to fill in. As backup.” She clearly is not finished speaking, as she lifts the tea bag from her cup, presses it against the side of that cup with a spoon, drops it behind the cup into the saucer. Rather than drinking, she toys with the handle of the tea cup.
Once again, she lifts her gaze to Devereaux’s face, lets it rest there. “However…if I may offer a bit of advice…if you…if we…go to Peregrine, we might eat up all of your available time in searching for one man. The outcome is uncertain, no plans can be made beyond that search, and you might not ever get the chance to seek out Von Trier. On the other hand, if we go to Croatoa, there is a fixed target. Either Von Trier’s circus is there, or it is not. If it is, we have found one of the missing, and a mission goal is completed. If it is not, there is still time to go looking for Mailor. There is less time, but we have two opportunities, and a solid plan.” She smiles pleasantly at the Praetorian, inclines her head in his direction, lifts her cup, and devotes her attention to blowing on it, sipping delicately.
Tahquitz is working his left hand, able to open it and close it now. He’s thankful for that as he finishes the last of his smokehouse burger. The fries are nothing to write home about, he had two or three of them and is fine letting the rest get cold.
The doctor said the Cortisol shots and pain killers would keep him in fighting form, but it will only last for about twelve hours. After that, all he can do is manage his pain, and his hand will go back to it’s stiffened state. When that happens, his only choice is to rest it and let it heal properly. If there’s any major fighting left, it needs to happen and happen quickly.
But who’s going to be the bigger threat? A carnival roadie, or a newspaper editor?
Tim thinks to himself, “Carnies tend to be of the tribal mentality… they regard their coworkers and managers as family moreso than other occupations. Now throw in superpowers into the mix, as I’m sure that even without the Carnival of Shadows it’s foolish to think the entire staff isn’t capable of having superhuman abilities, and a carnival could be a powder keg. A diplomatic approach would be best. And unless we’ve got the upper hand, I make for a lousy diplomat. Working with Devereaux, I’ve got a better chance… Paige told me about him making 5-7 Hotel Employees cringe in pain at once, I wish I could have seen that.”
He continues thinking, “But Mailor’s got no powers, everybody knows that. The carnies in the apartment got the drop on me, that was my mistake. I won’t let that happen again. I can’t. And if Mailor’s in trouble, we’re wasting time eating as it is. If we get to him before it’s too late, Linuial can work her magic on him and keep him safe as we dispatch them.”
Tim remembers that the primary method of Carnival of Shadows attacks is the draining of souls from their victims. But… he’s not sure how that would go down with a 2,000+ year old demon living inside of him. Tahquitz reassuring him with the thought of if it comes to that, I’ve got a nasty surprise in store for them.
So, what’s more important: an interview, or saving someone’s life? “I think Devereaux is right. We need to find Mailor as soon as possible.”
Fiddling with her salsa and chips, Paige is lost in thought listening to the others at the table… “Mailor’s a press-type,” she thinks to herself, “even if we do find him, those people tend to be VERY eccentric people. Not just quirky, but idiopathic borderline personality types who are highly delusional. You kind of have to be to work in the press… so many people hiding things, so many press releases, the deadlines, the pressure, everyone’s vying for a bigger desk.
Her internal monologue continues: “Von Trier on the other hand sounds like the kind of guy who pictures girls like me as sex objects living aimlessly, just waiting for a prince or a father figure to take me away. If I had a gun that was only capable of killing men like that, I’d be a serial killer by now. I can bring a four-story building down with my sonic attacks if I time it right, but the wrong kind of jerk grabs me by the arms and I’ve had it. And I’m nowhere near as practiced in mental capabilities as Devereaux. That Psi-Shift thing is awesome, I’ll have to talk to him when this is done and see if he does private training.
“But what else can we do? Splitting up isn’t likely to work. Devereaux is the only one with enough offensive capacity to work alone out of all of us. Tahq has power, but he’s as weak as I am if someone gets the drop on him… we just saw that ourselves. And Linuial seems nice, but most empaths know that their strong suit isn’t offense. If Mailor was sitting at his desk, then we could split up: bring the pain to Von Trier with Dev and Lin, and send us squishy kids to tickle Mailor’s feet until he gives up the goods.
“Mailor is a wild goose chase. Von Trier is probably an idiot… an erudite, if anything. That leaves only one choice that makes sense…”
Paige grabs another chip, scoops up some salsa, and takes a small bite… It’s white corn salsa, which is oddly sweet. She might ask the chef for the recipe another time.
She clears her throat, and says “I think Linuial is right. My vote is to go seek out the Carnie in Croatoa.”
“So we got a tie? Boys versus Girls, here? Looks like I do have time to finish these fries,” Tahquitz mumbles, “although they suck.”
“Just eat ‘em,” Devereaux says, waving a hand in Tahquitz’s direction. Enhanced senses are not part of his suite of abilities but a life spent gathering information has taught him to make use of all the tools at his disposal. “You took a decent beating back there. We can’t afford to have you passing out again.”
He turns his attention back to Paige and Linuial. “As for our next move, I can’t say your argument doesn’t make sense but it’s still a shot in the dark, albeit a less time consuming one.”
That said, he focuses solely on the blonde newcomer. Mystic or not, that gaze of hers is unnerving. “But before we go any further, let’s be clear. This isn’t a part time deal. I’m not gonna lie; I trust you about as far as I can throw you but, like it or not, you’re on the team now.”
After a brief pause to emphasize his point, he adds,”And just so we’re clear, our mission isn’t to ‘find the missing.’ We’re here to take down a killer and get paid.”
The blonde woman blinks, thoughtful, then smiles at Devereaux, an open smile without guile. It might even be a bit sad. “I will be equally candid with you. I am here to keep you alive, and prevent any unnecessary collateral damage. You are welcome to the ‘pay’,” here she waves a hand above the table, including all three. “…I will be adequately compensated, I need nothing else. I understand,” here she turns her gaze full on the Praetorian, “that you do not trust me. I only ask that you trust that I will preserve your health, and your life, to the best of my ability to do so. A divided house cannot stand…a team full of distrust cannot succeed.” She settles back in her chair, still gazing, calmly, at Devereaux.
“My God, it’s raining altruists in Paragon City. Steelhelm rejected the pay, now you too?” Paige lightly giggled, “What are the odds?”
Collecting herself, Paige sees the increasing emotional emphasis between Devereaux and Linuial, then begins, “I don’t think we need a unanimous decision here, but we do need to get some priorities straight between us. Devereaux, you’re right in that the objective is to stop the killer. But we are heroes, and job #2 past that has to be to protect civilian lives even if you don’t agree with it. Otherwise, it’s clear Linuial will have issues continuing to help us. In return, Devereaux, you are in command of the rest of us. We’re at your disposal from here forward,” Paige leers at Tahquitz, “agreed, Napoleon?”
Tahquitz quickly swallows a mouth full of french fries and ketchup, “What?”
“I can’t promise I’ll avoid ambushes. Don’t forget I’m the only one out of this table that can’t read minds. And trust me, you DON’T want to try to read mine.”, Tahquitz said, remembering the first day he spent with Azuria at M.A.G.I. “I gave my first trainer nightmares for weeks before she’d consider training me again. But I have no problem deferring to you two going forward.” Tahquitz says as he looks at Devereaux and Linuial. “I’m not the careful or tactical type. Never have been… I’m just raw energy looking for direction. Just tell me where to go and tell me when to fire.”
“So, if Devereaux is in charge, then that means we’re going to see Maylor then because that’s what he wants? Or are we still trying to convince each other on what to do? I don’t mind clearing the air here, but I also don’t want to be here all afternoon.”
The waitress walks by the table and deposits the checkbook with different receipts, “You guys said separate checks, right? Here you go.”
Before she walks away, she looks at Linuial, grinning, “I love your hair by the way… very natural. I couldn’t get mine to behave like that without layers of hair spray.” She smirks before walking back to the counter whistling a familiar song.
The restaurant is mostly vacant except for a couple of dedicated boozehounds at the bar, and a small peppering of individual business types out on lunch, either meditating on each bite, or on their phones. No one seems to be paying attention to your table at all before or after the waitress dropped off the checks.
“Eight bucks for a tiny dish of salsa? I liked it, sure, but not that much.” Paige puts her “good arm” over the back of the booth and sits up, yelling back at the waitress, who is already past the swing doors into the kitchen past earshot, “And who charges for refills of water?” She sits back down, looks at Linuial, while shuffling through her purse for her payment and tip, “So is this a compromise that works for you?”
“As I said, I am happy to follow your lead.” Linuial dropped a couple of pieces of colorful paper, INF, the script Heroes were paid in Paragon City, on the table. “You don’t need to worry about me abandoning you…I keep my word, I am here to help you and keep you safe.” She starts to add something, pauses, seems to think better of it. After a moment of consideration: “I assume you’ve worked with empathic defenders before, but I’ll give you a quick briefing, just so there are no misunderstandings. Check with me before any anticipated fight, I’ll increase your abilities. I’ll be following Devereaux…empathic healing is line-of-sight, so make certain you can see me at all times, my job is to keep him alive and in extremis I won’t have time to chase you down if you wind up around a corner. I don’t plan on doing any fighting…my sole responsibility is to keep you alive, yours is to keep me alive so I can do that. Is there anything you want to ask me?”
“Other than what the waitress said, how do you get your hair to look like that? I get these weird fly-away st–”
She sees Tahq’s eyes glaze over and Devereaux tap his fingers impatiently… “Uh, nevermind, I’ll ask later.”
Deveraux addresses Paige first. “Listen, YOU’RE heroes. I’m a contractor brought in to do a job. I’ve got nothing against protecting the innocent, especially since our friend here has graciously agreed to forgo her share of the reward, but none of that means anything if we don’t accomplish objective number one.”
Reaching into his jacket, he removes a sleek black case about the size of his palm. He removes a few bills and places them on the table. Before closing it, he takes a brief moment to glance at the red emblem of the Syndicate emblazoned on the inner lining. The organization had its problems, that much is undeniable, but at least Wu Yin and the Suits knew how to run an operation. This motley crew is barely scraping by. It is time to change that.
“Like I said, going after Von Trier makes sense in so far as it saves us time. While we’re doing that, I’ll check with some of my contacts and see if I can’t dig up a lead on Maylor. Going in blind has cost us enough already. That stops now.”
Devereaux turns his attention back to Linuial. Her constant state of subdued cheerfulness smacks of something eerie. He could attempt to read her thoughts but he is well aware that people gifted in the magical arts are often moved by a will not entirely their own. Instead, he decides to take her up on her offer and simply ask.
“Just one. What exactly are you?”
Linuial blinks, for the first time obviously nonplussed. “I…well…honestly, I don’t know how to answer that question.” She closes her eyes, her eyebrows lower ever-so-slightly before she opens them again. “I’m not ‘human’, if that is what you mean. I don’t have a word in your language, as my people have been gone from this world for so long that I doubt your English co-existed with them. I would call myself “El”, but that tells you nothing.” She taps a finger on the tabletop, looking thoughtful. “Perhaps if you can ask me something more direct…what it is that is obviously troubling you…I can set your mind at ease. A bit.”
Devereaux sighs. “Actually, it tells me more than you think.”
In an uncharacteristic move, he removes his sunglasses and sets them on the table, revealing almond shaped eyes so dark brown they appear black. He sets his focus unshakably on Linuial, meeting her steady gaze with his own. “Back in Praetoria I had some dealings with the Carnival of Light. They were essentially what this Earth’s Carnival would be if Vanessa DeVore had decided to do something with her powers besides indulge her own sadistic fantasies. As you can probably imagine, I saw my fair share of magic.”
“On one particular job, I was tasked with locating what was supposed to be a magical artifact. It took some doing, but I eventually found it in the possession of Arachnos’ Mu Mystics. I…let’s say, ‘neutralized’ them and got what I’d come for. When I handed it over to the Carnival’s sorcerers, they told me that it was from this dimension and was the legacy of El. At the time I was more concerned with whether they’d try to pay me in parlor tricks but when I made my way here I decided to do some research. There wasn’t much to find but that name kept popping up in everything I read.”
“So, if you’d be so kind, would you mind telling me exactly why a being from a mysterious race of magical beings is roaming the streets of Paragon City, Rhode Island?”
Linuial sits back in her chair. It is as if a cloak has fallen from her shoulders, revealing something…else. Something larger, even though she remains visibly a tiny woman. With an amused smile, she reaches up with her left hand, raising the golden hair to reveal a pointed ear. She drops it again.
“…and so…” she murmurs, her voice even softer, and yet ringing through the room as if it were coming from metallic bells, “…I have told you who I am. I expect the same respect…from you.”
“I already told you. I’m a contractor brought in to do a job.”
Though he’s smiling outwardly, Deveraux’s mental walls are locked tight. The intense concentration required to keep his defenses at their current levels is straining but he’ll be damned if he lets this woman mess with his mind again.
“And now you know what my issue is all about.” Taking his sunglasses from the table, he slips them on with an informal air that further belies the amount of effort he’s exerting. “I sussed it out after we put our boy, Matchstick, in cuffs. Your psionic abilities are tied to your voice. When you make a suggestion the way you just did, that ringing in the background compels the subject to obey. It’s the magical equivalent of white noise.”
Devereaux knows he’s taking a big risk. Linuial may be a self-proclaimed pacifist but there can be no doubt that she has significant threat potential. Regardless, there’s no going back now. Making one last check of his guard, he plays the gambit to its conclusion. “I’m willing to bet you’ve significantly reduced the intensity compared to what it was when you pinned me back in Mirelle McClure’s apartment. Still, the fact that you’re willing to toss that kind of power around so casually doesn’t exactly inspire me to smother you with trust.”
Leaning back in his seat and crossing his arms over his chest, Devereaux waits for the inhuman’s response.
A crashing sound breaks the tension as a ad-hoc silverware and drinking glass sculpture Tahquitz made out of his dishes falls down at the table… The waitress peers over across the bar, then rolls her eyes.
“Sorry, I was in my own little world for a second.” Tahquitz puts everything back. “Don’t mind me.”
Linuial tosses her head back and breaks into a laugh, free and easy, real humor.
Still smiling, she says, “I said ‘respect’, not ‘fear’.”
“You are as much a ‘contractor’ as I am a ‘woman’. It is completely true, and at the same time, completely false. Now that you have revealed this much, I will require more candor from you, as I have given.
“First, you are entirely wrong about my voice. It is what it is, there is no ‘power’ tied to it. Unlike our girl-child here,” she motions gracefully towards Paige, “I have no power, no training in such things.
“My psionic abilities are those of the mind, nothing more. I am not a telepath, I’m an empath. I feel what others do. If I have need of a weapon, I must concentrate, just as you are doing now. All of my psionic abilities are dependent on certain hand gestures. I cannot harm you without warning.
“My most powerful attack requires a full two seconds to gather, and any distraction will cause it to end a-borning. I am a Defender, not a warrior. I require the services of others to protect me so that I may heal them, and their protection if I am to step out of character and attack. I am no threat to one such as you. If I were not capable of healing myself, you could destroy me with a single blow.
“The ‘attack’ I made on the Night Widow wasn’t an attack. It was a simple command to stand still, as I could not risk her attacking me while I was pulling the innocent and injured from the room. It would have done you no harm at all had you not tried to move, and would have worn off in a second or two by itself…it is an instantaneous event, and sometimes fails, so it was a calculated risk on my part, as it is one of only two such harmless ‘attacks’ I possess, which might have slowed down the Widow’s attack for a second or two. I knew it would take time to teleport the girl and the dying man out of the room, and to save his life, and you could have rendered me unconscious with a single blow. For her sake,” she gestures toward Paige, “I couldn’t take such a risk without trying to prevent it as best I could.”
“The pain you felt was empathy, nothing more. I, too, felt it, as I must. It is the price I pay for my choices.
“And you,” she continues, “must bear some responsibility for your own predicament, by chosing such a form to take, and by trying to take that man’s life.” She frowns deeply at him, before she returns to her former smile.
Linuial drops her eyes for a moment, straightens. Her demeanor returns to that of a quiet-spoken human woman, tiny in stature, mild in nature. She smiles kindly at Paige and Tahquitz, waves a hand for Tahquitz to finish the last of his french fries.
“I did not know you had such fear in you, my friend,” she continues in a soft voice to Devereaux, without looking at him. “When you said you knew of my kind, I thought you understood. I will not make that mistake again.
“You are more than you seem, that is obvious. And less. I will support you, and heal you, but if you wish my powers of defense to be at their most effective, you must also trust me. It is a pity…for you…that you cannot do so.
“And I must trust my life to you, when you do not trust me.” She sighs, sadly. “It is not a well-chosen match.”
She drops her head, stares at her fingers as she flexes them in her lap.
“Whatever you tell me about yourself will only increase the efforts I can make on your behalf, to keep you safe.
“There is one thing I must ask you, that is important to me. This ‘legacy’ you speak of…what form did it take?”
“No, it isn’t.” Devereaux lowers his arms to the table. He has completely misread this woman, at least according to her.
His ego would have him continue arguing solely to avoid the irritation of being wrong but he is, first and foremost, a realist. Had he been right about her powers she would have reacted, even if only in a miniscule way. Either she’s perfected her poker face or she’s telling the truth. As for the rest of her story, that remains to be seen.
“I never claimed to know anything of your kind other than the name. The research I did led to either whack job cults run by people who think the President is Cthulu or theses written by Antiquities majors who’ve seen Indiana Jones one too many times.”
As he talks, Devereaux slowly dismantles the barriers he erected around his psyche. Not enough to leave him defenseless, just enough to allow him to breathe a little more freely. Linuial, whatever she is, did manage to pick up on some of his feelings, even with them in place but so far she hasn’t given any inkling that she’s lying about being an empath as opposed to a full blown telepath like himself.
“To answer your question, it was a mask. Seems it doesn’t matter what universe you visit; the Carnival is always after one mask or another.”
The skies darkened and did so quickly. A collision with the building follows that shakes the lights and knocks the ceiling tiles down over the bathrooms. If the Television was turned up, three minutes ago you would have noticed newscasters telling Talos Island citizens to take cover from a surprise Rikti Invasion.
Not anything to take the blame over, the TV is behind the bar pointed away from your table. Without sports on the set, the bar mutes the audio during the slower hours.
Another collision on the street is from an Unexploded Rikti Bomb, sending a passing car into the air 400 feet away on it’s roof. It’s safe to assume the roof crash is the same thing. The driver got out of the window and high-tailed it out of there.
The waitress yells from the bar, “I’ll make a deal with you supers! Take the cash, you’re meal is on us if you can save my restaurant!” She doesn’t wait around for an answer, as she lifts up a floor hatch behind the bar and goes to the basement.
It looks like you’ll have to come up with a decision on a much shorter timetable after the bombs are taken care of.
“I thought you have to wait 30 minutes before doing combat recon if you want to avoid cramps” Tahquitz says as he springs up and flies out the doors.
He flies to the roof to get a idea of the sitation.
The roof indeed also has an unexploded Rikti Bomb waiting to go off. The timer on the display is yellow, so you need to act fast on that one.
The bomb on the street, on the other hand has a blue light, so there’s some time to take care of that one. So far, it doesn’t look like any portals are on the ground with Rikti soldiers coming out to wreak havoc yet.
Flying back to the doorway, he says “We’ve got to get to the roof, guys… we got a bomb close to exploding. The street bomb has some time on it.”
“Alright, guys, don’t laugh at this.” Paige starts skipping out of the restaurant entrance, but every skip she does, she bounces higher each time. It looks like when she skips, the vibrations of her legs against each other creates enough of a sonic wave to propel her higher and higher, until she clears the two story restaurant and lands on the roof.
She then begins working on the roof bomb with sonic blasts. She sees a crack in the bomb casing she can start to work apart with concurrent blasts.
Tahquitz flies over the building with ease and lands next to Paige, “I keep telling you… Cricket would be a great name for you.” Paige is already working on the bomb casing.
“Apply heat as directed…” Tahquitz starts blasting shot after shot of fireballs into the crack, with bits of bomb flying away from the device.
“Alright, Tahquitz, stop! I’ve got it!” Paige runs to the bomb and pulls on the crack harder and harder until the casing panel cracks off!
“See that tank right there inside? On the count of three, hit it with everything you got!” Paige shouts to Tahquitz while in a sprint away from the bomb and towards the ledge where he’s standing… The bomb display changes from Yellow to Orange, indicating they have less than a minute to act… “THREE!”
Tahquitz then charges a sniper shot at the bomb, inhales, then holds his breath while he lets go. The curling fireball hits the mark dead on, with the display deactivating as the bomb falls to pieces.
“Can you tell I’ve disarmed bombs in Steel Canyon before?” Paige beams with pride grabbing Tahquitz by the shoulder, “Great job!”
Without a word, Linial stands, soars into the air, and out the door after the boy. As she flies, she chants, and the green ball of light reappears, throbbing and waning.
As soon as she locates Paige, she descends to the rooftop, the whistling, pulsing ball of light now covering the girl. She fixes her gaze on the shattered bomb, frowns disapprovingly. She shakes her head, looks around for the boy, confirms that he also appears to be unharmed.
“Paige, that was a very reckless thing to do,” she says quietly.
“As if this day couldn’t be a bigger pain in my ass,” Devereaux grumbles as he stands and walks out into the street. The unexploded Rikti bomb sits in a crater in the asphalt, looking for all the world like a giant metal egg from some massive bird.
Taking a deep breath, he calls up another memory. The garish flash of red and white against a clear blue sky. A man, his skin tinted a vibrant shade of green soaring above the skyscrapers of Paragon. Even more vivid is the Freedom Corps logo on his chest. After a moment’s pause, Devereaux takes on the form of a Longbow Radiation Warden.
The bomb’s display has changed from blue to yellow and it is beginning to release more and more electromagnetic and nuclear energy. Chaneling the hero’s powers, Devereaux begins to siphon off the dangerous emissions.
“Guys!” he calls toward the rooftop. “I could use a hand here!”
“Remember what I said, stay close to Devereaux. I’ll buff you when we are all close to him.” Without hesitation, she drops from the ledge, activating her ability to fly as she falls. The throbbing green ball of light moves with her, remaining centered on her body. Without looking back to see if the two follow, she flies directly to what she now recognizes as Devereaux from his emotional aura, switches to a hovering motion directly over his head, the green ball of light now covering him, and waits for the boy and girl to join her.
With Linuial present to increase Devereaux’s ability to siphon off radiation, the bomb deactivated successfully. The restaurant is safe.
But the invasion isn’t stopping. Off in the distance near New Troy Hill, a bunch of dull green lights start to open and Rikti Officers start pouring out. Heroes from various streets and neighborhoods descend on the hill to handle the teeming masses, with an occasional portal opening outside of the hill to let a few Rikti sneak up on people.
“Okay, I’m thinking before this gets out of hand, let’s get going… anywhere is better than here. We got the train station ahead of us, or do we want to chance running across town to get to the Ferry?” Tahquitz asks everyone, “Not all of us can fly after all.”
“Devereaux!” the tiny woman shouts, spotting the activity from her higher vantage point, pointing up the hill as the pseudo-Longbow looks up at her. “We need to move! Now! You’re the leader…decide!”
“Tahquitz,” she continues, “I can teleport Paige to us once we know where we are going.” She pauses, looking around for the girl. For the first time, she notices that Paige is no where in sight. Twisting her head, she finally locates the girl, still on the cafe rooftop, shakes her head. Sometimes she wonders why she even bothers to explain Empathy to teammates. Well, at least the child was out of range of the second bomb.
Paige thinks to herself, “I’ve been in two of those invasions in the past… both ended with me in a hospital bed. My expertise ends with bombs and portal sabotage.”
She shouts down below, “We’ve done our good deed for the day… I’m a YES vote for booking it.” Paige says with exasperation seeing the hill surrounded with portals reaching the skies, errant blasts and arrows flying out of the melee, and shockwaves from tanks making their presence known to the world.
Rikti Mesmerists and Soldiers are starting to rush out of the portals to subdue the heroes on the hill.
Oh, and Heavy Assault Suits are starting to appear… they’re surrounding the melee, and a peppering of them are appearing at random street corners. Consider the situation escalated.
Devereaux turns to Paige, a smile on his lips. “Weren’t you saying something about civilians being a priority?” His voice drips with sarcasm. “Time to show off those chops!” he shouts as he launches himself into the air, racing toward the hill.
Despite the show of bravado, he is fully aware of the danger he’s leading the team into. “Let’s hope we can get out of this without another body on our hands,” he thinks as he hurtles into the fray.
“What can I say? I AM FORTUNE’S FOOL!” Unfortunately, Tahquitz takes to bravado like a moth to a flame.
“Hang on Devereaux! I’m coming!” Tahquitz takes off from the rooftop, then kicks on After Burner to catch up.
“Damn!” Linuial spits, uncharacteristically. “…as much a child as the other two…” she mutters under her breath, switching back to flight and following Devereaux as quickly as she can.
Paige skips down from the roof in a controlled fall pulsing a light sonic wave to soften her descent.
“Oh, no… Not her too.” she whimpers as Linuial takes off after the guys. “‘Civilians being a priority’ doesn’t matter if I die from it… I can’t handle this riot!”
Paige reluctantly gets everyone’s things from the booth at the restaurant. The waitress comes out from the cellar, “Thank you guys for turning a disaster into a routine insurance claim! Your lunch is on us!” Paige looks back at the bar, “No problem… thanks for lunch, I’ll have to get that recipe for the salsa next time.” “Oh, no problem! Anytime!” Paige hears an explosion in the direction of the hill… “I… uh, got to go! Take care!”
As her tiny legs run down the street, Paige mutters to herself, “The only cure for idiocy is an early death… I just hope it’s not mine.” Paige charges up a Sonic Barrier and hopes for the best.
And so the Rikti Invasion became a temporary distraction from the mission at hand. Fiends were crushed, psychics were tested, corruptors were up and down from the highs and lows, tanks found a new resolve, controllers hugged their nearest empaths, and blasters were running out of endurance like always.
And sure enough, 30 minutes later, the Rikti found humility once more as the heroes drove them back and shut the portals once more, making Talos Island safe once more.