Paragon City Stories: The Carnival Without
Hosted by UNINVENTIVEHEART
Act II, Scene 2
Time Remaining: 14:30:00.
After driving the Rikti from Talos Island, you and your team are exhausted but there is simply no time to rest. You quickly make your way to the monorail station and catch the first train to Croatoa. The two hour ride gives you a much needed opportunity to relax and recuperate.
Upon arriving in the now infamous section of Paragon City, you all make your way northeast in search of Uder Von Trier’s carnival. Stopping on the outskirts of their last known location, you find that the show has not yet moved on. However, the carnies are packed up and ready to make good on their exit within the next hour or so. You now have a critical decision to make in regards to your approach:
Using a copse of trees for concealment, you and your team put your heads together in an attempt to decide which method is best. Whatever you decide to do, you must act quickly. Time is not on your side.
Covert - A stealthy entrance will allow you to avoid any suspicion on the part of the troupe, a very good thing considering the members are likely to be on edge after their previous run in with the Carnival of Shadows. Adding to the potential threat is the fact that you don’t know if there are any superpowered individuals among them. However, making use of this method will cost you valuable time.
Overt - Honesty is the best policy…right? Simply stating your intentions will allow you to avoid the time consuming task of making your way to Uder Von Trier undetected but it carries with it a significant danger. The Carnival of Shadows has infiltrated this act before. The members are sure to have misgivings when it comes to outsiders. You could be waylaid or, worse, outright attacked by them in a misguided attempt to protect their leader.
From their hiding place among the trees, Devereaux, now back in his natural form, takes a moment to peek out at the circus grounds. The seemingly eternal autumn foliage of Croatoa prevents him from getting a clear view but he can make out several people milling about the campsite. The performers, still dressed in their colorful working attire, are packing the last of their things.
“This won’t be easy,” he says to both the team and himself. “Under better circumstances I’d say we should just walk in there and avoid the risk of trying to sneak around but considering we’ve got zero intel on these guys, going in quietly is probably our best bet. The last thing we need is another fight on our hands, especially after all the fun we had back on Talos.”
Deveraux smiles in spite of himself. Though battling the Rikti cost them time, it also gave him valuable insight into his teammates.
Tahquitz, though young, has proven himself to be exceedingly brave. He took on multiple Rikti with little regard for his injury. The otherworldly invaders weren’t much in the way of facial expressions but he could swear he saw shock in their eyes when the teenage hero let loose with searing gouts of flame and frozen projectiles of all shapes and sizes.
Paige, too, acquitted herself well. The girl was scared, he could’ve discerned that even without his telepathic abilities, but only a madman wouldn’t have been. Still, her sonic blasts had been an invaluable asset when dealing with the Heavy Assault Suits. A few waves of her hands disrupted their sensory equipment and stove in their armor. Blind and vulnerable, they were easy pickings for Brutes, Scrappers, and other melee-centric fighters.
But perhaps the most impressive was Linuial. She had proven true to her word, using her empathic abilities to heal the wounded and top up the resolve of everyone within her line of sight. To say they couldn’t have done it without her would have been an overstatement but she was certainly worth her salt.
Making a mental note to say something about their good work later on, Devereaux turns to address his team. “Anyone have a problem letting me go in first? Nothing personal but I’ve got a much better chance of finding our guy without getting spotted.”
“There is nothing preventing us from doing both,” Linuial points out. “You are certainly the most qualified for subterfuge,” here she nods to Devereaux, her expression unreadable, “but that does not preclude one or more of us also approaching more directly. Tahquitz, I think,” she nods at the boy and smiles, “has a perfectly legitimate appearing motive to do so…he can ask to join the circus. I doubt anyone would even question it, with his appearance and abilities…he would actually make a fine addition to a circus.
“I can approach under the guise of having an urgent message to deliver to the manager of the circus, and I can read the emotional state of the people I pass. While not telepathy…I cannot tell what they are actually thinking…I have still found that understanding the mood of both individuals and groups can also yield valuable intel, especially if I can overhear any conversation.
“Paige…I’m sorry, I know you would prefer to be part of the action, but if we should decide to try this, you would be most helpful remaining here as backup…an ‘ace in the hole’ if you will.
“If we do this, we should approach from different directions, and Tahquitz and I should move in a few minutes apart. I should fly directly from the train station…Tahquitz can approach from the University, around the lake, walking as if he is searching for the circus…Devereaux should approach from the northwest.
“I will, of course, defer to the rest of you.” She smiles briefly, without looking Devereaux in the eye.
“Too many moving parts,” Devereaux counters. “With quiet work like this, simple equals believable. Two complete strangers show up on the same day, within minutes of each other, both of them looking for access to the troupe? If I were Von Trier, I’d have my people toss you in the lake.”
Then, with a slight inclination of his head toward Linuial, he adds, “But you may be onto something. Sending one of us in under a pretext like that is a solid idea. If that person could cause a disturbance on site, we’d have a chance to separate Von Trier from the others and get the information we need.”
Devereaux knows that either way, this is risky business. Were it not for the potential threat of other telepaths hidden among the circus performers, he would shun infiltrating the camp altogether and simply reach into the target’s mind to get what they’ve come for. But the best way to fight a psychic is with a psychic and the PPD’s dossier on Von Trier included records of several phone calls between the circus owner and known mentalists in the wake of his run-in with the Carnival of Shadows.
Such a brazen use of Devereaux’s powers is likely to alert any psionically aware individuals nearby. It would all too simple for one of them to investigate the intrusion and reveal him as the culprit.
Recognizing that the choice has been made for him, he looks Tahquitz squarely in the eye. “Tahq, you are the best candidate for a job like this. It’ll be tough but, if you want, I’ll pick one of my stealthier forms and cover you from the shadows as best I can.”
Linuial inclines her head toward the Praetorian, nods to Tahquitz. “If that is your decision, I will remain here with Paige, then. Without getting closer, I wouldn’t be able to sort through so many emotions to get anything useful. If Tahq is to create disturbance as part of your plan, then I cannot respond to any such disturbance, planned or not. Devereaux, if you get in trouble I assume you can signal us with your power. Tahq…” here she hesitates, “…I don’t know what to tell you, other than if you get in trouble and need our help…scream in your mind with as much energy as you can.” She looks worried.
Linuial waits momentarily, turning away from the other three. Turning her head to look over one shoulder, she locks eyes with Devereaux; her gaze is not friendly. She lifts a finger at her side, beckons, and continues her turn to walk out of earshot of the two teenagers.
Before the Praetorian can speak: “On Talos, you charged into battle with the Rikti, dragging two minors with you, without giving us any warning, without telling us which plan you had decided on, without giving me time to buff all of you first.” Her voice is again very quiet, and very piercing, her eyes fixed on the background. She makes no further attempt to cover her rage. “You could very well have gotten one or both of them killed, and that moment it would have taken to gather together for buffs might have saved their lives.”
She turns abruptly, raises a hand to stop him responding. “I will be too far away to be able to resurrect Tahquitz in time if he is killed…that death will be permanent.” Again, her appearance does not change in the slightest, and yet something drops away from her, and without changing in any way, Devereaux begins to feel as if she is looking down on him, rather than up. “Rest assured, if that happens, Hero Corps will receive my full report…and they are very protective of their underage Heroes.
“You are a man…at least, you appear to be one…I assume you have known the pain of hero-death many times, and are inured to it. These are children…there is no reason they should know that pain any more than necessary until they are older and better equipped to handle it. You have already disclaimed any responsibility for your part in the fiasco at Mirelle’s apartment…I expect you to continue to refuse to take responsibility for your actions in the future. Know this: if you get yourself killed I will do everything I can to save you, but if you do die, you will simply be one more out of tens of thousands, and I will not mourn your passing. If one of these children dies because of a decision, or lack of one, which you make, there will be consequences that you cannot simply brush away with a stack of money and a weekend bender.”
Turning, she walks back toward the two teens.
Without looking back to see if Devereaux can hear her (he can), she adds: “…imagine Tahquitz’s life to be a cargo container of diamonds, that you must get safely home if you are to possess it. Perhaps that will motivate you sufficiently.” She says no more.
Linuial’s sudden outburst catches Devereaux off guard. “And just when I was starting to think she might not be so bad. Damn…” he mumbles under his breath as he follows her back toward Paige and Tahquitz.
Before she can get too close to either of them, Devereaux reaches out and places a hand on her shoulder. Firmly, but not enough to imply a threat. This woman has second guessed and lectured him at every turn. Until now, he’s been cautious about responding too aggressively for fear of her unleashing some eldritch ability he has no way to counter. But this last round of headbutting has convinced him to disregard that concern.
Linuial spins around abruptly at the contact but she doesn’t spew hell-fire from her eyes. At this point, Devereaux isn’t sure he would care if she did.
“All right,” he says, the usual easy eloquence gone from his voice. “I’m tired of this game. Here’s a heads up for you, Blondie. Those two aren’t children; they’re heroes. Risking their lives to protect the innocent is what they’re supposed to do.”
He’s truly seething now. He wonders if this animosity for Linuial’s worldview has always been inside him? He quickly decides that the answer is irrelevant; it’s too late to turn back.
“I took us into that shit show back there to illustrate a point. They signed on to wear the capes, they need to know exactly what that’s gonna mean for them. Maybe it’s a Praetorian thing but I’m not of the opinion that swaddling them in your protection is what’s best for them or the success of this God forsaken mission.”
Mystical intimidation factor be damned, he’s had it with this woman’s high minded ideals. “They don’t need a mother, Linuial, they need partners; people who’ll trust them enough to carry their own fucking weight. They need us to be that for them and, frankly, the sooner you get off your high horse and realize that, the better chance we’ll have of finishing the day without sending one of ‘em home in a body bag.”
His tirade finished, it’s now Devereaux’s turn to walk away. As he begins to, a final thought strikes him. He’s not sure why but he tosses it back over his shoulder anyway. “Steelhelm was enough for me.”
Paige leans into Tahquitz and whispers, “Sometimes I’m glad I don’t have parents. Were your parents like this?”
“I wouldn’t know. My Mom died giving birth to me, all of Dad’s arguments were with me and nobody else.” Tahquitz said.
“The only way I’d do this is covert. If any of them can fly and give chase, that’s when Paige and Linuial come in, I’ll lead them right into an ambush. If we’re walking right up and being forward, then I’m not going in alone.”
“… also, you guys DO know that Tahquitz was a trickster god, right?” Tahquitz’s skin started to blanche back from the charcoal black color to brown, then caucasian as Tim Verne’s original form returned. Blonde haired, blue eyed, and very Californian in appearance… “I’m not quick to change, of course, it takes a few seconds, and I can’t do what Devereaux can as my limit is my own body mass…”
Tahquitz then grew a foot and a half, but lost most of his bulk as his musculature thinned to compensate for height. His face thinned out, revealing brown eyes and dark brown hair, as his skin tone resembled a more Hispanic/Native American appearance. “Great for running and spy stuff, but useless in a fight. If I’m weak in my normal form, I’m super squishy like this.” He then shrank back to become what he was.
“And that’s all I got… I can’t change into anything at will, though. I got to practice at it to have something consistent. But this form does best for combat.” Tahquitz said as his skin darkened again and his musculature returned, looking at Devereaux and smiling, “That Psi Shift thing is way cooler than what I can do.”
He then turns to Linuial, “I appreciate your concern for me Lin. No one has watched over me since Azuria took me in when I started, and I know how rough that first year was. But I want to do what I can to find out who is behind these murders, too. Besides, I got one of these…” Tahquitz shows a Cyan wrapped energy-bar titled “Awaken”. “If it gets real, I’ll take a few bites and high tail it as soon as the coast is clear.”
“So, I guess I’ll stay here and wait to be called for backup… or serve as a psychic switchboard for Tahq.”
She pushes “Testing, 1, 2, 3!” into Tahquitz’s mind….
“I got it, I hear you!” Tahquitz says, irritated from the volume.
“Hear what? I didn’t say anything.” Paige grins.
“You said ‘Testing 1, 2, 3!’ just no–” Tahquitz looks at everyone smiling at him. “You all suck.”
“Buck up, Buttercup. You make an excellent Bird-Drone,” Paige looks at Linual, “So, ready for the show?”
Linuial is smiling, that open, easy smile that hides nothing. She stands with her arms folded. Nodding first to acknowledge that she has heard Paige and Tahquitz, she turns and focuses on the Praetorian.
“Well, I see you do have a pair,” she says softly. “I was beginning to think you were never going to recover from your fear.
“I meant what I said about ‘consequences’. You appear to have spent most of your life avoiding them as best you can. Here, you will not be able to. Tahquitz,” she nods in his direction, “is a teenaged boy, full of testosterone and a belief that nothing can stop him. You will probably not understand this, or accept it, but he looks up to you already; to him, you represent a ‘man’, and he will try to emulate you at every turn. His judgement is not to be trusted…he thinks of himself as a Hero, as you do not, and it will cause him to take chances you never would. If you do not treat him as the less-than-full-grown man he is, you will get him killed.
“If you are, indeed, a man, and not another overgrown teenaged boy, you will step up and treat him, not as an equal, but as one who will follow you to Hell and back without ever considering what it might cost him. You are pragmatic…he is not. You know when to call it quits and run…he does not. He does not have your battle experience and training, and that, alone, is why you should treat him as less than your equal.
“One thing is a truism: ‘You do not spank a baby with an axe.’ I can feel that where you came from, where you grew up, such concepts were never a part of your life. You had to survive, or die, and no one ever treated you as a child, so you never learned how to protect others.
“Now you are here, in another place, and you no longer have to fight for your life every day. You are desperately trying to hide from a growing awareness that you are rapidly losing your edge, your battle skills are deteriorating, and it frightens you more than anything else. For the first time, you are finding that life can be good as well as safe, and for the first time, you actually fear death. You are uncontrollably angry with yourself for these feelings…so you take that anger out on me, thinking it will relieve you of it. It won’t. It will return.”
She frowns, thinking. “You are incredibly intelligent…you would not have survived if you were not. You were always focused on your own survival…you needed to be. However, that is no longer true. The trade-off for peace and safety is learning to work with others. I hope you learn it before your past catches up with you here-and-now, and you find your end through your own stubbornness and refusal to adapt. You have always adapted before…now you must do so again. To survive.
“As you can teach Tahquitz how to be pragmatic, if you only take the time to do so…so, too, you can learn from him. He has much to teach you…if you let him. He was born to this world, as you were not. Do not treat him as your equal…treat him as the child he is, and the teacher he can be to you.”
Turning away from Devereaux, she addresses the boy. “Tahq, your excuse is that you want to join the carnival. Your human form will not help you with that, you don’t need it. Don’t weaken yourself. Tell them that you have always been shunned, and you want to run away, and show them a few simple displays of your powers…not too much, just something flashy and loud. If it looks like you are in trouble, yell for help and get out.”
She turns to Paige. “Come on, we might as well find a soft patch of grass and get comfortable. It looks to be a long afternoon.”
“A good afternoon for spying from afar… Have fun, boys.” Paige heads behind the treeline, looking forward to a game of hill-side people watching with Linuial. “Now, about that hair…”
Tahquitz wonders to himself, “Paige is younger than me… On what planet does she get to tell me what to do? Linuial can play ‘Brain CB Radio’ too, righ- Aw, forget it.” He heads toward Devereaux anxious to do some recon and get the plan.
Devereaux begins to retort but then thinks better of it. “If she wants to play the wise old sage, let her,” he thinks to himself. “We’ve wasted enough time already.”
Turning back to Tahquitz, he gives a cocky but genuine smile. “Raven…trickster, right. I should’ve known you’d be able to shapeshift in some way. Getting the drop on me isn’t easy, Tahq. Well done.” He claps the young hero on the shoulder. “Now, we’ve got work to do, you and I.”
Linuial’s condescension still prickles but, satisfied that he’s made his point for the time being, he addresses the team as a whole. “Okay, so Tahq and I will go in quietly. I’ll fly cover for him and try to spot Von Trier as soon as he shows himself. Paige, I’ll need you to link all four of us. The form I’m planning to use won’t let me access my other powers.”
Devereaux considers leaving it at that but then thinks better of it. “You’re our comms, girl. I know it’s not the most glamorous job but this isn’t gonna work without you. Make sure you’re on point.”
With that, he is finished waiting and deliberating. Taking a brief pause to perform the necessary routine, Deveraux shifts yet again. This time he wears a Praetorian form. Clad in the navy blue and smoky gray of Praetor Sinclair, he has fully transformed himself into one of Chimera’s Basilisk ninja.
Speaking in the shinobi’s voice, he says, “Let’s get this show on the road…no pun intended.”
“Wait.” The tiny woman begins chanting, a melodious sing-song in another language, and balls of differing colors begin forming and disappearing around her. They have seen this before, they are the “buffs” she talks about, giving them all boosts to their existing abilities.
Despite the contentious deliberations, your team has chosen to make use of stealth as opposed to a more direct method. Dividing your strength is risky but could make getting the information you need much easier…provided you’re able to pull it off.
As your designated teammates approach the campsite, several members of the circus draw up in challenge. This is the moment of truth. If you’re able to convince them that your motives are genuine, the plan will continue unabated. If you fail to do so, however, you’re very likely to have a fight on your hands.
Just as they leave the safety of the forest, Devereaux feels a light touch on one shoulder. He hears Linuial’s soft voice behind him, couched so that only he can hear. “Devereaux, you have chosen to reject my advice. That is your prerogative. But there is one thing more I think you should know. I do not know how old I am…but I do know that I have been alive for more than five thousand years. In all that time, I might have learned something useful about this dimension that you find so puzzling.” The touch, and the voice, are gone.
Linuial’s tease at a revelation surprises Devereaux but he doesn’t break stride. In his natural form he could simply continue the conversation telepathically but his current choice won’t allow it. It’s a bothersome quirk. Unless he plans to use the form of another psychic, every transformation means choosing between his psionic abilities and whatever the imitation can do.
He could always respond via the link Paige has created but that would be like whispering a secret on a conference call. Instead, without looking back, he raises a hand in acknowledgement.
That done, he breaks away from Tahquitz at a sprint, using the preternatural speed of his current form to first cut away from the camp; then circle back toward it from a different direction. Since the show is getting ready to leave town, there are no barricades or other obstacles to stop him from entering the grounds. Dashing silently from one source of cover to the next, he takes up a position behind a large pile of equipment.
Tapping into his borrowed powers again, he suppresses his own presence, ensuring that anyone passing by will have to concentrate to recognize that he is even there. It’s no invisibility but the trick is useful provided no one looks directly at him.
“Tahq, I’m set up just inside the camp. I can see you from here. Just keep walking calmly and remember your cover story,” Devereaux projects out into the ether.
He has no idea how much “spy stuff” Tahquitz has been involved in but he hopes the boy can act as well as he fights. “…Maybe a little better than he fights,” he whispers to himself.
Linuial settles to the grass beside Paige. One part of her mind smiles and chats with the girl about their hair. Another part reaches deep inside and spreads her awareness as far and wide as she can manage. The bustling camp grows slowly louder and louder in her mind…not truly sound, but feelings, emotions. As it builds to a cacophony, she is, as she expected, unable to sort any single thread from the roar. She waits for any emotion to leap out of the crowd.
Tahquitz enters the fairgrounds without anything on him except in his pockets. His shirt is off, with white and grey body markings resembling tattoos on his otherwise black flesh, a green headband, and an old pair of tattered jeans to complete the look.
He heads to the ringmaster’s trailer and checks the corkboard for possible vacancies… flips through the postings. “Line Cook, Animal Handler, Fortune Teller… bah. Trapeze Artist? I don’t wanna die, plus I sucked at Gym.”
Then, in the corner of the corkboard, he finds something he DOES have experience in… “Motorcycle Specialist: Must have experience with 150cc Dirt Bikes, to be used in close proximity in tricks and stunts, including the round cage. Special talents welcomed.” Tahquitz remembered the one time he scared the Vahzilok in the sewers by lighting himself on fire and running and screaming like a wraith until he found the good doctor at a sewer alcove. It also worked to get out of parties and meetings he didn’t like when he had no interest in anyone involved or present. Of course, being a demon he’s immune to fire and ice damage (otherwise, he’d have problems using his own powers), but they don’t know that.
“Okay, now we’re cooking with fire… Let’s talk to the Stunt Captain.” Tahquitz headed to the Big Top, passing Carnival staff and patrons alike until he reached another, stubbier trailer that was lit up! A couple of knocks… “I think this might be it!”
The Stunt Captain has a motorcycle started and running as he rides up to the start of the ramp… He’s got the bike in neutral and running and hands it to Tahq, along with the helmet. “Alright, mate, let’s see what you got.” Tahq sees a couple of ramps, a small 360 degree curl (low height, inertia, piece of cake) and a hoop of fire… inside his heart of hearts, he laughs menacingly… “Perfect.”
He cranks the accelerator to rev the bike, pops his helmet on, and gets the thumbs up from the spotter that the track is clear. One pump of the handle, shift into 1st, and lift the feet. Time to become a “burn victim”.
He hears Paige giggling in his head. “You saw all of that?” She responds… “Of course I did… great plan!” Tahq shifts past second to third to push torque as he approaches the first ramp.
As she finishes a braid of Linuial’s locks… she stifles a giggle… “Nice!” slips out of her lips.
Ut oh. After ten minutes of silence, now Paige is in trouble. Linuial is going to want to know what she laughed about… can she sense her subterfuge if she tries to lie about it?
“I take it Tahquitz is keeping you amused…” the tiny woman smiles.
“No, there was a…” Paige scans the fairground… “Firebreather. He had one of those bars lit on both ends and flipped it in the air, then caught it while in a handstand.”
(Paige sees there is no firebreather visible from their vantage point…) “He’s gone now.”
“Paige, you are not an accomplished liar.” Linuial smiles. “There is no show, and everything is packed up, or should be, as they were supposed to be leaving within the hour. If there is any firebreather out there, it would be Tahquitz.” She laughs softly. “I’m sure he’s busy doing something he thinks he isn’t supposed to, and you are enjoying his antics. Otherwise, you would have simply told me what you were laughing at. Don’t worry, he is supposed to be causing trouble. I take it he is accomplishing that, and keeping you entertained as well.”
There is silence for a while, until Paige drops her hands, and Linuial reaches up, explores the braids and wildflowers by touch. “I’m sure that looks lovely, Paige, thank you. It should be just what I need. And now, I believe I’ve waited long enough.” She stands, glances down at the girl. “Don’t look so surprised, Paige, Devereaux didn’t order me to remain with you, I volunteered. And now I’m volunteering to join the party. Keep in touch with all of us, but stay under cover.”
As she leaves the shelter of the trees, she rotates her ribcage forward and up, balances her weight on her toes so that her heels won’t sink into the ground, and begins placing one foot directly in front of the other, forcing her hips into an exaggerated s-curve motion, moving her shoulders in opposition, right hip forward, right shoulder back. She takes a deeper breath and begins breathing shallowly. She is halfway across the open area before the first roustabout looks up from his work and lets out a long, low wolf whistle.
Two more roustabouts have joined the first as she approaches the edge of the camp. One makes smooching noises at her, another draws a heart on his chest with a finger. She lowers her chin, cocks her head, and looks at the nearest out of the corner of her eye, giving him a coy smile. She extends a hand, touches two fingers to his chest, and murmurs, “Well, hello, there, boys, I don’t imagine there would be any food around here, now would there?” Her voice is pitched higher than normal, and flows like Tupelo honey. “My belly button is trying to shake hands with my backbone, and that is just not attractive.” She turns her gaze to the second one. “…or if you don’t have any food, maybe a drink? I prefer bourbon…” she winks at the third, “…but I will drink whiskey in a pinch. Do you happen to have a pinch of whiskey anywhere abouts?’
The first two, larger men, turn to each other and begin shouting about “being first”, while the third, a much younger, slighter man, bows at the waist, his eyes huge, and offers her a ham-sized paw. “Er…ma’am…I don’t think my mama is finished packin’ her pots yet, I think she mighten be able to rustle you up sumpthin’.” He blushes as she gracefully places her fingers in his palm, and takes a step forward, turning her head to call over her shoulder, “…better luck next time, boys,” while the two larger men break from their argument to look after them, buffaloed and angry.
Were stealth not his prerogative, Devereaux would laugh out loud. Instead, he settles for a smile behind his form’s feature obscuring mask.
Darting from shadow to shadow, he’s pleased to find that most of the circus’ members have gathered to watch the newcomer show his stuff. “Nicely done, Tahq,” he floats across their mental link as he continues the search for Von Trier.
Before long, he arrives at a trailer that bears a plaque with the Figgs and Lee logo beside the door. Wasting no time, he slips inside with all the practiced silence of a seasoned covert operator. The trailer is more spacious than it appears from the outside. From the antechamber, Von Trier’s voice can be heard. He does not sound pleased.
“You promised me we’d be ready to go within the hour,” he shouts. A brief pause, then, “I don’t care if you found a giraffe that can speak Spanish; I don’t wanna be here when they come back and neither do you!”
After a cursory scan to ensure there’s no one else around, Devereaux moves to peer around the doorway into Von Trier’s makeshift office. The man is on the phone, berating whoever is on the other end about the delay in their departure. After a few more angry exchanges, he slams the phone down in frustration. “Damn it!” he curses before standing, walking around the desk, and beginning to pace the room.
“Something the matter?” Devereaux asks when Von Trier’s back is to the doorway.
Startled, the alternative entertainer turns around abruptly, nearly losing his balance. “Oh God!” he screams and scrambles back toward his desk. Once there, he opens a drawer and fumbles around for a moment before coming back up with a revolver.
Unwilling to take chances and still a little agitated, Devereaux activates Kuji-In Retsu, a Ninjitsu technique that grants him control over his own time. Suddenly, Von Trier is moving at a pace that would make a snail laugh. Devereaux moves across the room and grabs the man’s wrist. Careful to avoid the gun’s trigger, he twists the joint while planting his other hand on a shoulder. Rotating at the hips, he slams Von Trier face first onto the desk.
Taking his focus off Retsu, Deveraux is jolted by the sudden return to normal time. “Relax,” he says as Von Trier struggles feebly in his grip. “We need to chat.”
“Ooooo, is that a motorcycle I hear?” she stops, looking to the side. She leans closer to the man holding her hand. “I just luuuuuuv motorcycles. They’re so…powerful.”
The man swings his head from their current path toward the sound of a revving motor, then back, plainly confused. He glances shyly at the woman, smiles. “Yeah…I like motorcycles, too. You wanna go look?”
Linuial purrs, “….ooooooh, could we?” She deftly swings around wrapping both arms around his beefy upper arm, coincidentally avoiding the clumsy grab he makes at her butt.
Linuial swings her head from side-to-side as they walk, asking empty-headed questions about every item she sees. She focuses her perception narrowly, using it as if it were radar, but as they approach the open area where the still-assembled motorcycle track centers among the Carnie-folk, feels nothing of Devereaux’s distinctive emotional aura. She starts to worry, until she sees Tahquitz’s head bobbing up above the crowd and then disappearing, as he hams it up.
Well, there’s one, at least, she thinks, even though Devereaux’s absence still disturbs her.
She allows her escort to draw her near the back of the gathered crowd. She cannot feel the teenager’s emotions through the crowd, but she can easily imagine what is going through his mind.
Dropping one hand, she presses it into the man’s lower back, dragging her other hand as she moves behind him from his left side to his right. He looks quickly to his left, starts to turn in that direction, as she slips past his right into the crowd, leaving him calling “MISS! MA’AM! I’M RIGHT HERE!” as he spins futilely.
Tahquitz is idling, moving back and forth on the open course… taking the dirt bike onto a hill and doing simple flips, then to a box jump for a 180 degree spin. This looks impressive in a circus full of talent, but really, it’s nothing. In the deserts, kids did this on their 80cc bikes off of sand dunes all the time.
And if the stunt failed, you had mostly plenty of time to bail out… and a nice cushion of silica drift sand to land in if you fell correctly. It was like a ball pit in a restaurant play area, with a far smaller chance of getting sick. That was Tahquitz’s biggest concern. Keeping his ego in check to pull off tricks, but not to go over the top as crashing meant failing the “interview”.
The time came where he had the last course of the track open to him. Mentally he repeated over and over… “Everyone, ignore my screaming. I am in no harm unless I call out for you all by name.” He levels out after the last jump, lands rear-tire first and collects speed for the ring of fire. “This will be like those Benny Hill reruns I watched with my dad.”
One minute later, a burning and wailing Tahquitz can be seen running up and down the center court with a majority of circus staff trying to extinguish him… but they have a hard time trying to catch the kid. Tahq is careful to avoid tents, children, and flammable objects, then collapses from exhaustion at the entrance still aflame as he transforms some “burn scars” on his body during the blasts of fire extinguishers aimed at him. Physically, he’s wailing and crying like someone told his 5-year-old self that Santa Claus was fake. Mentally, he’s laughing his ass off as the staff tends to his writhing form.
“Why don’t we start with why a guy who owns a circus needs a gun?”
“Get off me!” Von Trier shouts defiantly. Though he continues to try to wriggle away, Devereaux keeps a firm grip. “You people are sick!”
“You people? Is that a race thing?” Devereaux asks sarcastically. “I don’t take kindly to that kind of talk, sir.” To punctuate the point, he applies pressure and tweaks the carnival man’s wrist a bit farther. The motion earns him a yelp of pain from his captive and the comforting sound of the firearm clattering to the floor.
“Please,” Von Trier whimpers. “I’ll do what you want. Just don’t hurt me anymore!”
Taken aback, Devereaux releases the man. “Sit,” he orders, shoving him down into the plush leather swivel chair next to the desk. “Who, exactly, do you think I am?”
Uder Von Trier looks up at Devereaux, then blinks in surprise. “You…don’t look like one of them,” he says after a moment’s hesitation.
“One of who?” Devereaux asks impatiently.
“The Carnival,” Uder moans. “They’re back to torture me all over again!”
“Tell me about that,” Devereaux replies, making a show of kicking the gun well out of reach. Then he sends another thought to his teammates. “I’ve got our guy. Linuial, can you pull Tahq out of here from the treeline? I’ll rendezvous with you when I’m done.”
Linuial’s thought passes through Paige to the Praetorian. “I’m at the bike course, and Tahq is doing fine on his own. He’s drawn almost all of the carnival people down to the entrance and is keeping them thoroughly occupied…I imagine their accountant is having nightmares about lawsuits, insurance, and fat payments they can’t afford. Do you need backup?”
“…Why-“ Devereaux begins to ask but then stops himself. If the woman wants to take a stroll, fine. It might even improve her disposition to see Tahq holding his own. Getting out won’t be as simple without Linuial’s teleportation but that’s a hitch not worth arguing about. “Nevermind. And no, I’m good. Enjoy the show.”
Turning his attention back to Uder, he asks, “So the Carnival’s after you again, huh? Little ironic, don’t c’ha think?”
Von Trier responds with a sardonic, “Har, har.”
“I’ll admit, that was in poor taste” Devereaux says with a shrug. “Jokes aside, I’m no Carnie. Believe it or not, I’m here to help.”
At the mention of help, Uder’s ears perk up. Is that a tear gathering in the corner of his eye?
Devereaux decides to ignore it. “I need to know what you know but I’m running high on priorities and low on time. So, Mr. Von Trier, just give me the highlights. I’ll let you know when I’m interested in details.”
Relieved that all of her teammates are currently safe and accounted for, Linuial turns away from the crowd at the entrance. A few more people run past her on their way to the scene, but they pay her no mind, as Tahq’s screams continue to draw them in.
So…Devereaux has found their target. Apparently, he is also under cover, or at least, not out in the open. On a hunch, she begins looking for the trailer that might be Von Trier’s office. As fewer and fewer people remain around her, she begins extending her focus, still casting side-to-side as she walks. She senses the Praetorian before she sees the sign, zeros in on it. She senses calm, determination, and a sense of purpose from one of the inhabitants, near hysterical panic from another. That latter is not Devereaux.
“Paige, please tell Devereaux that I am outside the trailer and about to come in. Tell him not to ‘shoot first and ask questions later’…I don’t want to get blood on my tunic. And tell Tahq to let you know when he is tired of his game and wants out…I’ll pull him to us. We have cover.”
She waits for acknowledgement that Devereaux has gotten the message.
Paige is keeping track of three things at once… Devereaux’s interrogation of Von Trier, Linuial’s southern belle intervention, and Tahquitz’s pseudo-convalescence. It’s keeping her fairly busy, as she is trying to follow details that matter, and drop out on small talk… but it’s not easy to “switch on” when something happens.
But Paige isn’t overwhelmed enough to ignore a distant conversation, as she drops it all listening to a young couple flirting and headed her way. “Give me a second, Lin… I’ve got company… nothing serious, but I’d rather they don’t see me.” She runs away from both the fairground and the treeline she was at toward higher ground.
Paige finds another vantage point, as the couple lands around where she was laying to keep track on everyone. They start making out. This is when Linuial told her about Dev’s status, “That’s good news, Lin, because it looks like we can’t rendezvous here anymore. A tattooed couple apparently wants to relive their teenage years.” She got Linuial’s update and pushes the info to Devereaux and Tahquitz.
Clothes start coming off. A shirt lands on an anthill near the couple that Paige avoided while sitting there. “Good luck with the insects, guys… they do bite,” she says quietly.
“What’s your name?”
“Do you have an ID on you?”
“Are you in the Entertainer’s Union? Do you want an Equity Rep present?”
The fake screaming and writhing continues, answering all the questions. Surprise, surprise, a traveling circus doesn’t have adequate first aid kits. Tahquitz has noticed the Stunt Captain say “when EMT arrives, our insurance coverage is probably going to get cancelled… I just learned they don’t cover auditions.” His guess is there is about 3-5 minutes left before the ambulance arrives and he’s in real trouble. He can continue playing a victim with them, but at that point it’ll be harder to escape.
“Excuse me,” Devereaux says, halting Von Trier in mid sentence. “Seems we’ll have a friend joining us. She’s…uniquely qualified to help.”
At that same instant, he hears the trailer door open. “Come on in,” he says, being careful not to raise his voice anymore than necessary. Tahquitz’s performance may be world class but there’s always the outside chance that someone in camp just doesn’t find a flaming motorcycle crash all that entertaining.
Linuial glides into the room with her usual air of quiet cheer. “Linuial, meet Uder Von Trier. We got off to a bit of a rocky start,” he motions toward the gun on the floor, “But he’s not so bad. Matter of fact, he’s been very helpful.”
As he speaks, Devereaux moves to stand behind Von Trier’s desk. “Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement; he’s blown this thing wide open.”
He places a hand on a stainless steel lock box that’s sitting on the desk. The latch is undone and a quick flick of his hand raises the lid. Reaching inside, he comes up with a theater mask. At first glance, it looks like one a harlequin would wear. But upon further inspection, it’s clearly not for a clown. Rather than the porcelain white of a stage mask, this one is a deep gray. Blood red markings delve down from the forehead and up from the chin, ending at the eyes and lips respectively. Most unusual of all though, the smooth varnish that marks most theatrical masks is not present. Instead, this piece is covered in scales.
“I’ll give you a dollar if you can tell me where this came from,” Devereaux says, his voice jocular but a decidedly serious expression on his face, “I’ll give you a hint. It’s nowhere good.”
Hearing the invitation, Linuial pulls the door wider and steps inside, locking the door behind her. She moves to the office, surveying its inhabitants and contents in a quick swing of her head. Nodding to the Praetorian, she listens quietly, then peruses the mask he lifts from the lockbox.
A quick shake of her head…one braid begins to unwind itself, a wildflower drops to the floor. “I am not that familiar with the Carnival of Shadows. I’ve fought them many times, but they were not one of the groups that I studied in particular.” With a nod of deference, she continues, “I would appreciate it if you could fill me in.”
“Oh, this is going to be good!” Paige listens in intently… “Too bad you’re busy Tahq, we finally got a development!” she pushes to him.
“Not here,” Devereaux says, nodding toward Uder. “Tahq’s little sideshow is just about finished. Pull him out, then meet up with Paige. I’ll explain when we’ve got a few less agitated circus types swarming around.”
“You mind if I hold onto this?” he directs the question at Von Trier who simply bobs his head in acquiescence.
“Great, thanks,” he replies cheerfully before returning the mask to the box and closing the lid. “Oh, and don’t worry about me, Linuial. I know that’s kinda your thing but I wouldn’t be worth my asking price if I couldn’t get outta here on my own.”
Without another word, he picks up the lock box, moves to the door, unlocks it, and disappears around the corner. Not even the quiet creaking of the trailer door signals his exit.
“…getting dizzy from screaming so much… Two minutes or I’ll pass out…” Tahq says between screams.
“Alright… Dev, Lin, there’s a clearing northwest of here close to the lake. Want to meet up there?” Paige asks, “Tahq’s almost out of breath.”
“I need a moment, Paige.” Glancing sideways at Von Trier, Linuial drops both hands, palms facing the floor. There is a low rumble, like a miniature train is passing under the trailer. Reaching forward in the direction of the entrance, she closes her open hands into fists, and jerks back toward her self, her left forearm horizontal, the right vertical, ending with her fist by her right cheek. Tahquitz, a bit worse for wear, appears in the room in front of her.
She gives the boy a quick once-over, feels that he is startled, and a bit confused, but is settling quickly.
Turning to Von Trier, “I’m sorry about my comrade.” She slips her Paragon City Registered Hero card from her pocket, holds it where the carnival master can see it, replaces it.
“If you would like, I can have you placed into protective custody with the PPD. A Hero can be assigned to you as temporary security until we can get this all cleared up.” She pauses, giving the terrified man a chance to collect his wits.
Von Trier all but falls over himself in his babbling attempts to accept, eyes wide, shaking.
Linuial nods to him, points at Tahquitz. “Did you see how I pulled that boy in here?” Von Trier bobs his head as if it was going to fall off, although Linuial can see that he is still too much in shock to truly understand. She sighs, it will have to do.
“Tahq, I’m going to leave you and Von Trier locked in here. I’m going to make my way to the treeline, and I’ll pull both of you directly there from this room. Keep the door locked, and do not allow him,” she points at Von Trier, “to answer any hails from outside. It won’t take long for me to get in position, just stay calm, and keep him from doing anything rash.”
Seeing understanding in the boy’s eyes, she turns to the door to the room, examines it, and carefully locks it from the inside. Stepping through, she pulls the locked door shut. Again she examines the trailer door to the outside, again locks it from inside, glances quickly around…she notes that there are now carnival workers running back-and-forth through the trailers, obviously searching for something…she can hear the sound of a siren in the background now, see red-and-blue flashes of color against the underside of the surrounding trees, reflecting back from some of the angles of trailers. A roustabout spots her, sets up the cry of “HEY, RUBE!” which then echoes back from all sides.
Pulling the locked trailer door shut, she jumps straight up into the sky, activating her flight ability as she does so. Soaring vertically until she can no longer see figures on the ground, she makes a wide circle before heading for the trees and the rendezvous.
Tahquitz gets the chance to catch his breath and stop his head from tingling from the exasperation of rapidly screaming for 7 minutes straight.
He looks at Von Trier as his “scars” recede into his skin and he brushes off burnt portions of his beltline. “So, how’d you get into the circus? I’m a recent orphan myself, so that stuff interests me a little bit.”
Von Trier doesn’t look like he’s in the mood for small talk at the moment. Tahquitz feigned, saying “No problem… Devereaux isn’t a friendly guy, I get it. Well, if you want to talk, I’ll be here.” An empty invitation, but if things wind up going ‘good cop/bad cop’, what does it hurt to plant the seed early?
Your task complete for the moment, it’s time to debrief. Your team rallies at the designated meeting point.
Everyone is anxious to hear the new found revelation. Will it finally shed some light on the source of the enigmatic murders? And, more importantly, is there enough time left to do anything about it?
Linuial drops from the sky, hovers for a moment, drops to the ground in front of Paige. It is the work of a few seconds to recall Von Trier to her side from the trailer, a minute to rest, and then recall Tahquitz as well. She scans the area…Paige has chosen well, they have a good view of the camp, as well as the tattooed lovers. She doesn’t see Devereaux, but doesn’t expect to. She is certain he will make his presence known as soon as he arrives, and with his ninja speed, he should be only seconds behind her.
Devereaux races through the trees toward the meeting place. His thoughts are racing too. “Why?” he thinks to himself, careful to keep the question off the mental link. “Why would they be here? More importantly, what could they possibly want with-“
The clearing in sight, he pulls up short. Where there should be three people, he counts one extra. Though he’s still some distance away, the shinobi’s enhanced senses allow him to clearly see that the uninvited guest is Uder Von Trier.
Devereaux sighs in exasperation. “Why am I even surprised?” he mumbles. Resigned to dealing with the situation as it is, he allows his form to slip and returns to his natural state before approaching the others.
As he steps out from the dense foliage he looks directly at Linuial. “And you brought him along because…?”
Linuial greets the Praetorian with that open smile he is getting used to seeing, before she considers his question.
“As a contractor, I suppose it’s not something you would be familiar with, but as a Paragon City Registered Hero, I am essentially a deputized officer of the law.” “I’m da fuzz, Bugsy,” she continues in a high-pitched nasal tone, then laughs. Dropping back into her normal voice, “You may be here for your bounty, but I truly am here to prevent a murder, and if we leave Von Trier to his own devices, I’m quite sure the Carnival will make sure he doesn’t see sunup. Especially as he no longer possesses that…” she points at the lockbox.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of the matter, once you decide what you want the team to do next. You won’t be responsible for his safety, I will.”
“Besides,” she continues, turning to Von Trier, “I didn’t hear you ask him a particularly relevant question…” Pinning the Carnie master with her gaze: “Sir…does the word ‘scant’ mean anything to you?”
Devereaux simply shakes his head. At least she isn’t trying to lecture him about the virtues of protecting life this time. But knowing Linuial, that will probably come later.
“You didn’t hear it because I didn’t ask. He’s just a pawn. No offense.” The last bit is directed toward Von Trier, who doesn’t respond. Instead, he continues to stare blankly at the tunic clad blonde.
“Don’t even try,” Devereaux says telepathically. “She’s pretty, I know, but you don’t want any part of that.”
The circus owner’s head snaps up suddenly and Devereaux smiles, cocking his head and tapping a finger against his temple to indicate where the unsolicited warning came from.
“That being said, you weren’t entirely wrong,” he continues, addressing Linuial.
Pausing briefly, he opens the lock box again and takes the strange mask in hand. “The Carnival will definitely come after him again,” he says, staring intently at the unusual accessory. “Just not the one you’re thinking of.”
Linuial turns all her attention on Devereaux and the mask he holds. She peers at the object, seeking further information, but finds none.
Nodding to the Praetorian, she prompts him with the obvious: “You know something.”
“Part of me wishes I didn’t.”
Devereaux lets the box drop into the grass. He holds the mask out for the group to see. “It’s from Praetoria.”
He closes his eyes for a moment, gathering himself. When he speaks again, there’s a clear difference in his voice. It carries the weight of a long and unhappy tale.
“I told you about the Carnival of Light. They believed in overthrowing Emperor Cole so they worked with the Resistance and my organization, the Syndicate, to make it happen. But our Vanessa DeVore was an altruist at heart. She believed in making sure Cole fell with as little damage to the people as she could manage.” With a small laugh, he adds, “You would’ve liked her, Blondie.”
He continues without waiting for a response. “But everyone didn’t agree with that approach. Some of her people wanted change so badly they didn’t care who got hurt. Vanessa always thought they’d come around eventually, her mistake. Instead, they formed a splinter group called the Carnival of War. They weren’t exactly hostile toward their former pals but it was a tense relationship.”
Taking a deep breath, he comes to the point. “That was all well and good until a third group, the Carnival of Vengeance, came on the scene. They were ultra violent and they only seemed to care about Cole in so far as he was part of some bigger agenda. Never did find out what it was, I was content to leave them be. There was always something…not right about them.”
Another pause, another moment to give the ghosts of the past their due. “This mask…it’s one of theirs.”
“I thought it would be a splinter group here in Primal Earth… I never considered the Praetorian factions that migrated here.” Paige feels a little silly for something so obvious escaping her thoughts.
“So, if the Carnival of Vengeance is here on Primal Earth, then are they picking up on our Carnival of Shadows tricks for murdering people? Or did they know how to drain souls all along?” She asks Devereaux.
Devereaux turns to Paige. “All of the Praetorian Carnivals were magic users. Light specialized in just that, light based spells. They could do other things but their primary MO was always illusions, hard light constructs, that kinda thing. War was pretty much the same.”
“But Vengeance…” Devereaux trails off for a moment, lost in his own memories. He quickly shakes it off and continues. “I ended up on the wrong end of ‘em a few times. Their magic was completely different. It felt…wild, more destructive. I’m no caster but I know hate when I see it and if the Carnival of Vengeance had anything, it was hate.”
Putting a hand to his chin in thought, he says, “I wouldn’t put it past them be in the soul stealing business. Whether it’s something they could always do or a trick they picked up here, I can’t say. Doesn’t really matter though. We’ve got our target.”
“I see…” the blonde woman murmurs. She reaches out a hand in request, waits for Devereaux to place the mask in it…turns it over several times. She runs her fingers over the shapes, smoothing the red lines, brushing her palm over the scales, exploring the inside of the mask by touch.
With a quick movement, she flips the mask upward, and nestles it against her face. After a moment, she removes it, holds it out toward the Praetorian.
“As I thought…” she says softly, as if speaking her thoughts aloud. Looking up and locking eyes with Devereaux, “…oh…by the way…I wouldn’t try that if I were you.”
She smiles, a little sadly.
“Are you crazy, Linuial?! Do you know what that thing does to psychics? Just keep it the hell away from me!” Paige read her dossiers back at the Steel Canyon PPD. Vanessa’s accounts on how Giovanna’s spirit made it to her body… the power of masks should not be trifled with.
She looks over to Tahquitz, “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not big on magic and spirituality, but I know what to steer clear from.”
“I guess I hit the psionic lottery with Tahquitz… he could easily destroy my personality and just go back to his demonic agenda… but stuck for over 1,000 years in an altar makes you lonely, I guess. He and I coexist…” Tahquitz said, obviously with Tim Verne’s influence at the forefront. “If Vanessa and Giovanni are anything like me, a part of her is willing in the transaction, Giovanni probably coaxed her to get to where she is now, and she’s approving of every step on the way. She’s no innocent in what’s happened. And whoever is doing this may be the same way, too.”
“But if the dominant force has obliterated their personality or suppressed them as a passive witness who can’t take control… then it’s all academic.”
Linuial smiles tenderly at the girl, nods. “I’m glad you know not to play with such things, Paige.” She reaches out and brushes a wisp of hair back from the girl’s cheek. She turns to Tahquitz, “…you, too, Tahq. Don’t allow that demon of yours to temp you into fooling with things you don’t understand.”
“No, we’re in agreement… I don’t need a third spiritual passenger in this body, especially a hostile one,” Tahquitz said.
“So, the Carnival of Vengeance tearing into Paragon City to get to Tyrant in the weirdest manner possible… we got a what, and a why… now all we need is a who. Who is doing this?”
“If you were me, doing that never would’ve crossed your mind.” Devereaux gives Linuial a sarcastic smile. “I have safer ways of getting information.”
He reaches into a pocket and retrieves his smart phone. “When I slipped out of the trailer back there, I gave my old friend, Pai Mei, another call. She gave me a lead on some weird things happening on Peregrine Island. People who run in circles like mine have been talking about seeing Carnival members acting strangely. Well, strangely for the Shadows, that is. Arcane rituals, babbling about stuff that’s got nothing to do with their usual interests, that sort of thing.”
Addressing Tahquitz, he says, “Cole’s long gone,” using the fallen dictator’s Praetorian name rather than the moniker more familiar to those from Primal Earth.
“I don’t know what the Carnival of Vengeance wants here and frankly, I don’t care. What I do know is that they’re bad for business. Everyone’s, not just mine. They’re unhinged and fanatical but they’re not stupid. If we’re gonna stop whatever it is they’re trying to do, we’ll need to draw them out.”
A mischievous grin makes its way to his face. Wearing it like a badge of honor, he waves a hand in Uder’s direction and says, “I’ve gotta thank you, Linuial. After all, you brought the bait.”
There’s some general discussion about the ethics of using a civilian to lure a group as enigmatic and dangerous as the Carnival of Vengeance but in the end your team decides that with the clock ticking and no other leads to pursue, it’s the best course of action to take. Your unwitting accomplice is less than pleased with the idea but a combination of reassurance, promises that he’ll be hailed as a hero, and a veiled threat or two convince him to do his part.
Following the information, you quickly make your way to the monorail station and, from there, on to Peregrine Island. You have some idea of what awaits you there but only time will tell. Will you finally be able to confront the killers and put an end to whatever dark machinations they have planned?