Paragon City Stories: The Carnival Without
Hosted by UNINVENTIVEHEART
Act II, Scene 4
Place: Peregrine Island
The trip out to the Cutlass Isles takes up valuable time. Not only is the PPD’s deadline approaching, you and your team are in a race to find Harvey Maylor before the combined forces of the Primal and Praetorian Carnivals. Everyone is tense with anticipation. Though no one speaks of it, it’s clear that the time for detective work is over. The only thing left to do now is fight.
Arriving at your destination, you quickly make your way to the industrial complex that dominates the archipelago. To your dismay, members of the Carnival of Shadows are posted on sentry duty. You’re obviously too late to mount a stealthy rescue. Besides, that wouldn’t put an end to the Carnival’s plans.
Now you have a choice to make:
- Rescue Harvey Maylor - You could make Harvey Maylor the priority and begin by rescuing him. However, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to do so without alerting the assembled Carnies to your presence and creating an opportunity for their leadership to escape.
- Take Down the Carnival - Alternately, you can prioritize the mission, ignoring Maylor for the time being in order to stop whoever is leading the Carnival’s forces and disrupt their operation. But the harlequins aren’t known for their gentle manner. Leaving Maylor in their clutches could prove extremely detrimental to his health.
“So, this is what’s going on,” Paige starts at the beach after the trip.
“From what I’ve learned from Mirelle McClune, the murders are done by the Carnival of Shadows,” she begins, “But the Carnival of Vengeance members are the ringleaders targeting those on Primal Earth with a Praetorian counterpart in their group. They are murdering them to take hold of their assets as a doppelganger and bankroll the Carnival of Vengeance’s operation here in Paragon City.”
“It’s not widespread as it could be, because not all of them match up. Some Praetorians in the Carnival of Vengeance do not have counterparts here. And some do, but their physical identities do not 100% line up. So, they are killing the ‘low-hanging fruit.’ We’d have seen this pattern if we spent longer on the case as the bank records haven’t caught up with our investigation. Of course, the impoverished victims are basically the downside of their approach. Not everyone in a parallel universe makes better decisions.”
Paige takes a moment to collect her breath. “With me so far? There’s more.”
“We got a problem: Harvey Maylor is camping on the West Beach after he heard about the killings, afraid of the Carnival of Shadows. They want him, not because of the doppleganger problem since there’s no financial gain in eliminating him. It’s purely for revenge. But if we save him, we could lose what we came here for…”
“On the East Beach, there’s a major Carnival of Vengeance Mistress waiting to escort them to their HQ here in Paragon City. Collaring her may break this wide open. But if we get her, that means we might lose Maylor for good.”
“For once, I don’t know what to do. If we let Maylor die, Paragon City loses a media leader, and that will be a very public loss. If we save him, we will lose the reward.”
“But what about their shoulders? The word ‘scant’ scratched into their flesh? What was that about?” Tahquitz asked.
“‘Scant’ isn’t as big of a deal as we thought. It’s a signal made to Carnival of Shadows working with the Carnival of Vengeance that there is nothing left to take from the victims asset-wise and the Carnies are free to dispose of them as they wish. Victims that are unmarked are still useable to the Carnival of Vengeance in some manner, so they shouldn’t be ditched yet,” Paige said.
“We’ve saved Von Trier. We didn’t make it in time for McClune, and if we let the ringleader go, this goes on,” Tahquitz lowers his head. “We’d cheapen the losses of Steelhelm and McClune if we don’t stop her.”
“My vote is to finish this”, he said, “Maylor’s someone we can help if we have time, but… forgive that it’s a trickster demon saying this… it’s a devil’s bargain.”
“Can you give me five minutes?” Linuial looks around the group for assent. She steps to one side, pulls out her cell, speaks into it quietly, puts it away. “This will increase our options,” is the only explanation she offers.
As five minutes tick into six, then seven, a Peacebringer appears, flying low over the water. Linuial waves, and the Kheldian drops a fabric bag onto the beach at her feet before departing the way it came.
The blonde woman opens the bag, withdraws a cloak and hood, and fastens them around her throat, pulling the hood over her head. She reaches back into the bag, and pulls out a very recognizable mask: gray, scales, red lines. She lifts the mask, places it against her face, drops her hands…and the mask remains in place.
She turns to the group. “I’ll go for Maylor…you can take care of the Mistress.”
“Divide and conquer in the face of a numerically superior enemy? How Stonewall Jackson of you.”
Devereaux takes a moment to consider the situation. Obviously they need to make stopping the Carnival of Vengeance their highest priority and of course Linuial is willing to risk it all to save civilians. Splitting up is far from a flawless plan, but arguing about it would mean wasting time they don’t have.
“I’m not even going to ask where that came from,” he says, eyeing the blonde dubiously. “But you’re not going alone. You don’t bring much in the way of firepower and some fighting’s pretty much guaranteed.”
“Take Tahq with you. He can easily pass for a prisoner. Paige and I will go after the Mistress.”
Linuial shakes her head. “I can move faster alone. I’m not going to do any fighting. I just need to get close enough to Maylor to use Recall to pull him out and stash him somewhere safe. I’ll be back to be your support before you notice I’m gone.” She looks up at the Praetorian, hazel green eyes staring straight through his sunglasses and into his brown-black almond shaped ones. “I’m trusting you to keep Paige and Tahq safe until I get back.” A slight smile quirks the corners of her mouth. “I know that’s asking a lot…avoiding throwing them into the deep end, and all, for their own good, of course…but I’m confident you can do it. And will. Because I ask it of you.” With a laugh, she turns away, draws the cloak tighter around herself, and walks briskly across the strand and out of sight.
“That is a very strange woman,” Devereaux laments as Linuial makes her exit.
“Well, I guess it’s settled. Paige, I need to know everything you can tell me about the situation on the East Beach. Especially this Carnival Mistress who’s running the show.”
Taking a cue from Linuial, he turns and begins making his way toward their objective. As Paige starts to fill him in on the dangers they’re about to face, he casts out with a quick telepathic message.
“I hope you know what you’re doing, blondie.”
Paige walks with Tahquitz and Devereaux… “I only know what Shiara had on her. Her name is Pronoea. She can fly, uses an energy whip, negative energy does nothing to her… but…” Paige concentrates on her memories while in contact with Shiara.
“…You’re not going to like this, Dev. She also has psychic abilities like we do. Tends to read the minds of her opponents passively and dodges them like she’s a pre-cognitive. Nash and GIFT worked with me when I developed powers three years ago… I’m not good enough to think one thing and do something else. And Tahquitz would be just as much of a liability.”
“But is she good enough to stop all three of us at once? She can’t protect herself and any henchmen that are with her, I’m sure.” Tahquitz asks.
“When under the gun, she’s all about self-preservation… she’ll offer them up without an afterthough. But she’s taken on 5 D.U.S.T. Soldiers and lived to tell about it,” Paige warns.
“There’s one way I can obscure my thoughts, but I don’t do that unless I have no concern for who is left alive around me… When you’re talking to me, I’m really Tim. I’m in control of what’s going on.”
“But if I allow Tahquitz to come to the foreground and ‘be himself’… there’s a lot more that he can do and handle that I can’t.”
Tahquitz has a sullen look on his face “But there’s a downside to having ‘unlimited’ potential for power… If Blasters have restraint problems, he is the patron demon of that problem. I can’t stop him when I do that. Against the Clockwork King in a parallel dimension he made quick work of him. Demons can cast off psionic attacks like rainfall. But I couldn’t come back to control, so everything was attacked… Cogs, Oscillators, Dukes… they couldn’t pile on enough to stop him. Even heroes. I was a helpless passenger in my own body watching him hurt people that I care about. I’ve had eight superheroes defeat me to get him to finally stop.”
Tahquitz raises his head and looks forward again “So that would be like bringing a Silverback Gorilla with a vest made out of landmines to a gun fight… then deliberately shooting him in the toe to piss him off. I’m not going to do that with you guys on the island.”
Devereaux lets out a long, quiet whistle. “D.U.S.T, huh? Those guys were no joke. If she’s that good it’s a safe bet I won’t be able to influence her psychically. Still, I can’t afford to go in there defenseless…”
He thinks for a moment before continuing. “The Widow’s my best option against someone like that. Masking myself won’t be entirely effective but it should keep her from getting a lock on my moves. A whip doesn’t offer much defense. If you two can keep her distracted, I should be able to get in close and deal with her fast.”
He stops walking abruptly and casts a serious gaze over Tahquitz and Paige. “Listen, I meant to tell both of you this after we left Talos but we kept getting sidetracked. You’ve done one hell of a job so far. From what I’ve seen, you’re gonna be some serious heavy hitters one of these days. But this is different. We’re up against people who don’t have any qualms about killing. We already lost Steelhelm, I don’t need any more coffins on my conscience today.”
Lowering his voice to add a bit more gravitas, he says, “When we do this, I need you to give it everything you’ve got. Can you manage that?”
“Short of losing control, yes, I can,” Tahquitz nods to Dev. “Just give me the chance.”
“I’m better from an hour ago. I’ll have time to fall apart later,” Paige says, “There’s no time to waste. If we’re going to face her, it’s got to be overwhelming from the start.”
The course of action decided, you and your team set about the tasks at hand. Splitting up is a risky move and poses several challenges that you must now overcome.
Infiltration - Rescuing Harvey Maylor depends entirely on stealth. If you can manage to get in and out undetected then all is well. Failing to do so will alert the Carnival and force you to call for help, distracting the other members of your team from their mission.
Seek and Destroy - You now know that the Carnival Mistress is on the eastern beach but her exact location remains a mystery. Interrogating one of her minions is the fastest way to find her but with members of the Carnival of Shadows among the ranks, there’s a very real possibility that a captive may psionically alert their comrades and bring the full force of the enemy bearing down on you.
Paige runs up to a hill with Devereaux and Tahquitz and motions for them to get down.
She waits for 2 minutes until she sees her opportunity… a lone Acolyte walking their way away from a cadre of 4-6 henchmen. She reaches into his mind…
Paige sees inside of Deimos, a Wrathful Acolyte originally known as Brent Griffin who gets pleasure out of the torture of others. He’s known to withhold medical treatment to victims, threaten “kidnapped” family members to come to harm when the only one he had was the victim alone, and telling children that their parents killed someone and their whole family would be going to jail if they didn’t give up their parent’s whereabouts.
But in all of his deeds, he hides the fact that his greatest weapon is his own greatest weakness. Deimos fears being tortured himself more than anything else. Paige creates an auditory hallucination in his earpiece, with Pronoea telling Deimos that a ship has been seen on the south shore and for him to investigate it. She pushes into his mind what he’ll say next out loud, “I’ll be right back.”
She gets him to walk over the hill, then all of the sudden, the island falls away to reveal his childhood bedroom at 5 years old with him collapsing to the ground and his older sister sitting on his chest, arms between her knees, too weak to get up. Brent is screaming to be let go, but his 16 year old sister is intent on playing a 20 minute game of “Quit Hitting Yourself!”
In the real world, Paige concentrates as she makes a carnie tell his cohorts, “I’ll be right back,” walk over the hill without even seeing the ducked heroes, and at the base of the hill, out of eyeshot from the Carnival of Vengeance, then fall on his back whimpering softly and quietly, “No… no…. stop it Lydia… I’m going to pee if you don’t stop…”
“Devereaux, he’s all yours.” Paige says with a grin. Once the illusion is in place, it doesn’t take much concentration to maintain it for her.
“What did you do to him?” Tahq asks puzzled. “And who is Lydia?”
“It turns out he’s a goon who loves to torture people and yet, is afraid of torture himself. Lydia is his older sister, and alpha tormentor,” Paige explains, “But when he gets to the bawling stage I don’t think I’ll be able to quiet him, so we don’t have much time.”
Linuial strides through the ranks of Jugglers, Fencers, and Strongmen. The mask marks her as powerful and ruthless, and her demeanor, head high, shoulders back, with a firm tread, confirm that impression. None dare to accost her or speak to her. The wave of subtle fear that follows her like a wave is almost palpable.
She passes the last group of Carnies and steps onto the beach. Maylor is sitting on a wooden crate set onto the sand, three Illusionists and a Dark Ring Mistress standing around him, other Carnies scattered around the beach. Without hesitation, Linuial crosses directly to the prisoner, confronting the Mistress face-to-face. She speaks not a word, but waits for the masked woman to drop her gaze, for a second. Nodding, she turns toward the man, gagged and tied. She takes a moment to survey his emotional aura, turns, and strides back the way she came.
Unmolested, as soon as she is out of sight around a shoulder of the hill that rims the beach, she turns to the side and begins to climb. At the top, she removes the mask, lowers her hands, and begins the Recall that snatches Maylor out from under the noses of the immediately panicking Carnie on the beach. She holds a finger to her lips as the man gasps, then nods compliance and understanding.
As she removes his gag and starts untying him, she whispers, “Stay here, and stay quiet and out of sight. Another of my people will Recall you to Peregrine. Wait with them until we come for you. You’ll be safe.”
He nods again, visibly relieved.
She pulls out her cell phone. “Jon, I need you and Jimmie to come to Peregrine,” she says quietly. “I’ll Recall you to me, and then have Jimmie Recall you and a rescued prisoner back to Peregrine. After that, stand by…I don’t think I’ll need anything else, or the prisoner, but it wouldn’t hurt to be prepared. Oh, by the way, the rescuee is named Maylor.” She waits for confirmation, nods to Maylor and reminds him by pressing a finger to her lips again, to which he nods. She seats herself in the grass.
Her phone buzzes, she Recalls Jon Smith, nods to him, then at Maylor, replaces the mask, and walks away. She addresses her mental image of Devereaux. “Done. On my way to you now. I’ve created a distraction that should make your job easier. Oh, and don’t burn my ass.” She chuckles to herself. “And, by the way, you shouldn’t try to teach grandma how to suck eggs. I’ve been doing this since your most remote ancestor got a gleam in his eye, Baby Boy.”
“Don’t worry. He won’t make it that far.”
Devereaux reaches out, slipping into the thug’s mind. Careful not to disrupt Paige’s illusion, he starts the search for the information they need.
“Filthy bastard,” he thinks as he traverses the psychic landscape. The man’s mind is polluted by a combination of his experiences with the Carnival of Vengeance and his own twisted psyche. Torture, fear mongering, outright murder, debauchery of all kinds are on full display.
Thankfully, it doesn’t take him long to find what he’s looking for. The sadistic acolyte holds the Mistress who calls herself Pronoea in high regard, and not just for her cerebral assets.
“Well that was pretty damn disgusting but I got what we need. We’re good to-“
He stops speaking abruptly as Linuial’s message reaches him. “How to suck eggs…your lingo’s as old as you are, apparently. Hurry up and rendezvous with us. I’d hate for you to miss the party.”
“Linuial’s got Maylor,” he tells Tahquitz and Paige by way of explanation. “It’s time for us to do our part.”
“…and yet you understood the reference without Googling it…“ Her mental laughter fills his mind, light and without sarcasm. “Game, set, and match. You’ll see me walking among the Carnies…don’t mistake me for one of them.“ She adds, “I told you I’d be back before you could miss me. I’m ready whenever you are, I’m close to the eastern beach.“
She crosses toward the eastern beach, and waits for her team to alert her to their presence. Wherever she walks, the real Carnies edge back nervously, trying not to be obvious about it.
“Okay, I’m going to break the enchantment. Tahq, my wrists are skinny and brittle. I’m not a knockout kind of girl. You mind doing the honors?” Paige asks.
“No problem…” Tahquitz cold-cocks the Carnie across his temple and watches his neck, arms, and legs go limp, then asks “Couldn’t you just knock him out mentally? Like make him think he’s sleeping while he’s sleeping or something?”
“Give me a break. I’m new at the mental stuff.” Paige shrugs. “This is the first time I did this, too. The first time you could make fire out of thin air, did you go target shooting immediately?”
Tahquitz started to reply, then Paige cuts him off again, “–don’t answer that. I know what you’re going to say.”
“That’s starting to get ann–” Paige raises her finger up to cut him off again.
“If it helps, she’s not reading your mind. You’re just predictable,” Devereaux digs.
“Now come on. Pronoea’s going to need a ride to get her people off this island. You can bet when their boat gets here, it’ll be loaded up with reinforcements. We need to be gone before that happens.”
“Sorry… we all can’t have world bending revelations every 12 minutes.” Tahquitz says under his breath, “Was I a jerk whenever I learned a new power?”
So far, your forays against the Carnival have been a rousing success. You and your team have rescued Harvey Maylor in addition to pinpointing the group’s leader.
However, the most difficult task lies ahead. The Mistress you are about to face is not a threat you can afford to underestimate. In order to minimize the risk, you decide to rely on a time honored strategy.
The Pull - You’ve decided that the best course of action is to try to separate the Mistress from her minions. Once you’ve eliminated the small fries, you can deal with the real threat. But, as with everything, there’s a significant risk of failure. If that happens you’ll be forced to face the entire cadre of villains at once.
Tahquitz prepares to come up with a plan for the situation… Sniper shot might work on a telepath if he’s far enough to avoid her mental range, and who knows how far she can reach? But nothing slows someone’s mind like cold… There’s a chance he could be caught, but if he drops from the skies and hits her at once… it would be dramatic, but it could work.
“Okay, I can freeze the bird lady, I just need to find an ang–” NO! His left arm is starting to throb. The cortisol shot is wearing off from earlier, and that hand is necessary. “Damn it! My left hand’s starting to hurt again. I need both to freeze the ringleader…”
He looks up to the others… “I can still do something, but I need more help than I thought I would. How can I help?”
There is a flurry of frantic activity as Carnies stream off the western beach. Cries are difficult to make out from their distance, but the louder cry of “Maylor’s gone!” is barely audible over the chaotic roar.
In response, Carnies also begin to trickle into the interior from the eastern beach. Linuial surreptitiously begins to back away, trying to get her back against a hill, a building, anything. She pulls the hood further down, as the mask is now just a liability, but removing it is not an option.
Paige thinks for a second, then begins with her idea… “I don’t think we can do much for your arm, but I can try something… I remember in Gym Class when a Rikti Bomb was about to land on the building being able to send a thought to about 30 middle school kids to get out of the building 3 seconds before it collapsed the roof. I didn’t get them all in time, but 20 of the kids were saved from being crushed to death.”
“Perhaps the same frequency I use to put villains to sleep sonically can be sent through telepathy over a entire field full of them. The problem is that Pronoea won’t be affected, but rather it will cue her into our presence. So once I act, someone has to be there ready to do something to her. Tahq, you can still fly right even with the arm injury? Can you do what you did to Dev back in the Apartment Building when I cue you?”
“I think I can numb it enough to carry it out.” Tahq says making ice cubes in his right hand and holding them with his left. “I can’t completely freeze her, but enough that she should be considerably slower.” Tahquitz says.
“So, fly to 3,000 feet and divebomb her on your command, then? Works for me.”
As she backs away, Linuial addresses her mental image of Devereaux. “Maylor’s guards have finally decided to admit to their failure, and the alarm is rising. I see Carnies running into the interior from the western beach, and someone must have alerted those on the eastern beach as well. Pronoea almost certainly knows something is up…I don’t know how much time we have before our team is discovered. As well as myself, I might add. I can’t get out without attracting attention…what do you want me to do?“
“We have a problem. Looks like Linuial’s rescue tipped off our buddies.”
“Damn, this is bad.” His mind races as he tries to decide on a course of action. Leaving Linuial on her own was a stupid decision to begin with and now, thanks to that lapse in judgement, the clock is ticking even faster.
“Okay, here’s the plan,” he says, finally coming to a decision. “I like your idea, Paige. Disable as many of them as you can. Tahq, once she does, you bring everything you’ve got down on the target. Don’t worry too much about precision; your job is to hold her attention without getting yourself killed. I’ll handle the rest.”
Responding to Linuial’s warning, he broadcasts a telepathic missive. “Stash Maylor somewhere for the time being. If we get caught, he’ll be as good as dead anyway. We’re making our move on the Mistress who’s running the show and it’s likely we’ll need your skills. Get over here as fast as you can.”
That done, he turns back to the teenage heroes. “I’ll get as close as I can without raising any alarms. Once I do, don’t hesitate. We screw this up, all of us might end up laid out on a slab.”
“Maylor is safe with my people at the Peregrine ferry. I’m already closer to Pronoea than any of you, but if she sees my Vengeance mask, the jig is up. I’m surrounded by Shadows Carnies…if I make a run for it, I’ll be spotted. Are you in a safe area? If not, I’d just be jumping from the frying pan into the fire…“
Devereaux is surprised at Linuial’s relay of her location but he adapts quickly. “Actually…that’s perfect; stay there. I’m going incommunicado. If there’s anything else you need to say, have Paige pass the message along.”
Devereaux gives a final nod to Paige and Tahquitz. The two have come a long way on this mission. Now it’s time to end things. His body ripples and changes, reacquiring the Night Widow form that caused him no end of trouble at the site of the Primal Mirelle McLure’s untimely demise.
“Try not to die,” he says in the female covert operative’s voice. “Linuial might turn me into a toad or something if you do.”
Paige heads to the hillside where the majority of the remaining 5 Carnival of Vengeance are… or is it 6 now? She thought that guy they knocked out was #6… must have miscounted.
She signals to Tahquitz to take off, then reaches out to the field and does some snooping on her quarry. She finds a familiar soul among them, “Lin! Good to see you! Cover your ears in a second… or your brain… cover… uh something. I’m going to put these guys to sleep!”
Tahquitz takes off pointed at the opposite direction of the beach… His back expands to a set of wings to aid in flying faster than he can without them… After reaching a distance where the beach is out of eyeshot, he shoots up to reach a high altitude, then flies over the beachhead… “On the count of 5… Ready?”
“One…” He drops out of his ascent at 3,000 feet, 90 degrees pointed down in a freefall, wings spread and pointing outward.
“Two…” He sees where the Mistress is set up. Some minor corrections to land on the ground directly next to her. 2,400 feet.
Paige runs over the hill and does dual duty.
She delivers the sonic attack that emits a tone to put people to sleep, while pushing that same tone out to all of their minds. She sees two of the Carnies drop asleep as she continues the mental and aural onslaught.
“Three…” He has his position to land in sight and does a 180 degree roll to ensure he’s going to land correctly facing her. He casts off the ice he was holding in his left hand to numb his injury. 1,600 feet.
“Four…” Tahquitz draws his wings in to accelerate his fall. 1,000 feet.
“Five… and this part hurts.” At 200 feet, Tahquitz opens his wings to change from a head-first fall to feet first, then cups them to give a slight de-acceleration before landing next to the attendant. He casts Chilblain immediately knowing in microseconds he’ll be 10 feet away from her on the beach directly facing her. He sees the attendant look up moments before he strikes the ground… hard.
Tahquitz lands on the beach like a black lightning strike. Paige advances past the sleeping Carnies, running to meet him and ready for anything.
“Let’s hope this works…” she says as she gets to 200 feet away from the Attendant and closing fast.
Throwing caution to the wind, Linuial activates her flight ability, soaring directly upwards at great speed, hoping Tahq’s entry will distract the Carnies just enough…
The onslaught on her hearing is excruciating, but she fights to maintain her flight, along with beginning a chant. The ball of light that is Clear Mind erupts…there is no one in the sky for it to buff but herself, but at least it should keep her from passing out from Paige’s attack, even though the resulting ring in her ears leaves her nearly deaf.
Reaching an apex, she throws her self downwards again, trying to reach a point central to her team, changing to Hover for its defensive buff a mere couple of yards above the sand, and begins a different chant, her signature green glowing ball of healing light extending as far as she can cast it.
“Move fast, people,“ she thinks at Paige, “…your squishy healer is here, and completely exposed. I need damage here, or taunt, or we will be seeing each other next at the Hospital…“
Even for an experienced combatant like Devereaux, the action occurs in what feels like a fraction of a second. The eardrum bursting wail of Paige’s sonic attack, Tahquitz’s frosty assault from the air, and Linuial’s ascent into overwatch, all of them happen at near light speed.
Not one to be caught napping, he deploys his claws and lunges toward the Carnival Mistress, hoping to end the fight before it really begins.
But his opponent is no amateur. In a flash, she draws her whip and sends the lash scything out in a wicked arc toward him. Drawing on the Widow’s peak reflexes, he’s able to contort his body to avoid the weapon while keeping his feet.
Though her movement is hindered by Tahquitz’s ice, the Mistress is able to contort herself just enough to avoid the charge. He slides by her, only managing to land a glancing blow. Still, when he raises his arms into a defensive posture he’s pleased to find that his claws are tipped with blood.
As soon as one throb of Healing Aura ends, Linuial presses both hands against the sides of her head. Her teammates are all uninjured and untired. There is an opening of only a second, a lifetime in battle time. She waits, chanting…and waits…trusting that her three compadres’ attacks have caught the attention of all the Carnies…and finally finishes the spell and takes her shot. Subdue sears the Mistress’s brain, temporarily immobilizing the woman with the same pain Devereaux has felt. “Take her now!“ she thinks, as she switches to casting buffs on the team.
Devereaux darts in and out, ever mindful of the whip as it whistles past him only to snap back around with a crack. They’re locked in a dance now. The first one to miss a step will lose and unlike the rest of the team, he’s not outfitted with one of those fancy hospital teleporters.
The Mistress is as good as Paige said she was. Her movements are fluid, each strike leading smoothly into the next and keeping him from the opening he needs. Fortunately, his chosen form allows him to keep pace. Though it’s stressful, he’s constantly mindful to move just enough to dodge the unconventional weapon without leaving himself exposed.
“What I wouldn’t give to just be able to shoot her,” he thinks but he knows that’s a pipe dream. A mental blast wouldn’t affect the Mistress nearly as much as he needs. Were he an actual Night Widow, he could rely on a poisoned dart launched from his wrist but his metamorphosis doesn’t allow him to imitate anything that isn’t part of a subject’s body. Even his claws are just extensions of his bones made to look like steel, rather than the metal itself.
Just as he’s beginning to realize the futility of this fight, Linuial creates the opportunity he’s been looking for. He dashes forward and, coiling his muscles like a snake, leaps the distance between him and his opponent. Sailing across the gap, he extends an arm and pulls his hand back. Right on queue, a long, flat blade juts out from the underside, aimed squarely at the space between two of the Carnival Mistress’ ribs.
He stares, unblinking, as the look in her eyes goes from one of confusion to fear and finally outright shock. The quiet hiss of the blade entering her body bursts in his ears like a thunderclap.
Tahq had the best possible ticket to the show.
Devereaux is a sight to behold in melee. Every step an exchange waiting to be met, every strike a challenge waiting to be answered, every dodge revealing a possible weakness to strike at again. It’s almost like a ballet, except that the dancers are trying to kill each other.
He sees that Devereaux is struggling at one point, so he stops being mesmerized by the fight and steps forward to assist, and then he’s on his backside in the sand, feet buried.
His landing displaced a significant quantity of sand, but it’s not the loose variety that’s upshore, it’s the tightly packed variety that is semi-wet but under the right depth and condition the water displaces the removed sand and turns the sand into a suction-ready mud that if he’s not careful will result in breaking his ankles as well as his messed up hand. As he unburies his feet, he sees Devereaux catch the mistress and the dance come to a close.
“Paige, ask Devereaux if he can hold his own against the minions for a couple of seconds if I pull you and Tahq out,“ Linuial casts. “We’re going to be swarmed in seconds, and we have no exit strategy.“
Paige walks around the camp surveying her work. Five carnies on the ground asleep, Devereaux engaged with his quarry, Linuial in the air keeping tabs on the fight, and Tahquitz on the beach digging to get his feet unburied, she knows the carnies will not be asleep for very long.
“Devereaux, do you think you can handle her for 2 minutes? Linuial is going to start teleporting us–”
One of the Carnival of Vengeance Attendants sneaks up and strikes Paige directly in her kidney. She tumbles to the ground wincing from the surprise shot.
“They’re waking up. What is our way out anyway?” Paige pushes to Linuial, “I don’t think we discussed that part of the plan.” Paige turns 180 degrees and creates a sonic wave that knocks her assailant 45 feet back into the field tumbling. She looks down and two more Carnies perpendicular to her are now starting to come awake after her attack… “I shouldn’t have done that.”
After Devereaux gets the Mistress under control, he looks further away. He sees Linuial in the skies casting spells and then Paige, but he sees something she doesn’t… He then sees a Carnie sneak up on Paige and suckerpunch her in the back. Tahq manages to dig one foot out, then throws caution to the wind and pulls the other one out, suction and all.
He starts running downfield to Paige as she throws a Carnie backfield sonically. He is ready to assist with knocking some heads around himself. He catches her as the Carnies start waking up.
“There’s an upside to growing up on the streets versus growing up in the suburbs… girl, you can take a hit like a champ,” Tahquitz says as his fists start to charge… an Icy left hand, and a Fiery right hand, “Let’s do this.”
“Oh, don’t worry, I’m going to pay for that later,” Paige says as she passes Tahquitz a small package… two small orange foam earplugs. “By the way, you might want to put these in your ears.”
“I can only Recall one person at a time, Paige, with a one second wait between. It will take two seconds to pull you and Tahq to safety, and before I can pull Devereaux, he’s going to be alone and facing all your knockouts waking up plus more coming to the beach from the interior, which is why I need to know if he thinks he can stay on his feet and fighting for two seconds against those odds. I can’t separate the team if it means losing one of you. If he can’t, I may have to start pulling Starfire here to help get you off the island.“
“You underestimate me,” Devereaux broadcasts as he regains his normal form and, along with it, his usual powers.
He quickly checks on the fallen Mistress. She’s unconscious but still breathing. “Missed the lung. Was that my doing or yours?” he wonders aloud.
“Go ahead and start pulling everyone out. I’ll see what I can do to buy you some time.”
With his immediate safety assured, he braces himself and closes his eyes. The memory is a rather old one so it takes a considerable amount of concentration to recall it clearly. A burning building, people screaming and trampling each other to get away. In the middle of the chaos are a group of orange skinned thugs, their laughter at the wanton destruction bounces off the rafters.
Once again, the unassuming man is gone, overtaken by one of his many guises. He now wears the form of a Big Dog, one of the hulking bruisers that led the Fixadine addicted Praetorian gang known as The Destroyers.
“Time for fun!” he shouts in a rumbling barritone as he turns and levels an approaching Seneschal with his now ham sized fist.
Linuial smiles to herself. Switching from Hover to Flight, she gives her team one final cast of Healing Aura, then flies straight upwards, angling slightly over the water to confuse any potential trackers. When she has difficulty seeing people on the beach, she shifts south, to a sheltered grassy area with overhanging boulders that she had noticed opening onto the southern sea. The few Carnies that had been hanging around the area have been drawn to the battle site, and it looks like the safest spot in the Cutlass Isles for the team, short of flying all the way to Peregine, which she doesn’t have time for.
She settles to the ground, lowers her hands, reaches toward her unseen teammates, and yanks, and Paige appears next to her. A pause, the same action, and Tahquitz also appears.
“Xavier, are you still having fun, or are you ready for retrieval?“
Devereaux just manages to catch Linuial’s question through his drug induced battle euphoria. Scanning his surroundings, he finds himself to be the only functioning combatant within a decent radius. There are more Carnies in his field of vision but the sight of their defeated comrades and bloodied leader is keeping them at a safe distance.
He downshifts with some difficulty. The Destroyers always loved to fight. Pulling any of them away from a conflict was never a small feat and that went double for the Big Dogs.
With a laugh that he’s not entirely sure is his own, he responds to the healer. “I think we’ve all had enough fun for one job. Get me outta here before they decide to bring in some real firepower.”
“You’re all clear Linuial. Grab him!” Paige says. She gently rubs her lower back where the Carnie punched her… “Gah! That’s bruise country.”
Recalling the altered Devereaux, Linuial tells the group, “Stay here, I’ll be right back.” Before they can protest, she is gone, flying around the corner of the island.
Her faux Vengeance disguise still in place, she alights on the eastern beach near the real Mistress’s body. She reaches for the mask…and realizes the woman is still alive. Smiling to herself, she surveys the wounded body carefully, then leaps into the sky and returns to her team.
As she lands near them, she removes the cloak, spreads it on the grass, drops the mask she has been wearing all this time into the center of it. Without explanation, she then reaches…jerks…and the wounded Mistress appears on the grass. Linuial removes the Mistress’s mask, drops it on top of the first one, and wraps them both in the folds of the cloak.
She kneels over the unconscious woman, begins chanting. “You must be losing your touch.“ In Devereaux’s mind, her mental voice is sparkling with laughter. “…she’s still alive.“ More serious, she continues out loud. “We’ll see what Azuria can get out of this one…but I’d say we’ve pretty much solved the mystery, as well as putting an end to the murders, at least, for now.”
She smiles at the other three. “It looks as if your bonuses are intact.”
“To be fair, my specialty is espionage, not assassination” Devereaux replies. He does his best to sound nonchalant but he can’t keep his own laughter from bubbling over. “You did well, blondie. Thanks for the assist.”
“What about you two? Any missing limbs? Internal bleeding?” he asks Tahquitz and Paige. He knows full well that they’re all right but dark humor is a long standing tradition after a combat operation. “If you’re not, just make sure you die before PPD gets here with our money. I’ll dedicate your shares to charity, promise.”
He accompanies the joke with a broad, genuine smile that reaches all the way to the rims of his glasses.
“Is Charity the destination or the recipient? If I’m donating my money to a woman I’ve never met before, I want dinner first,” Tahquitz says.
Paige is looking out at the ocean towards Peregrine Island… she turns to Devereaux and says, “Yeah, good luck fighting Rhode Island for that money. If I die before I turn 18, they’re going to funnel it straight to welfare. Charity’s not going to dinner on my dime.”
She turns to Linuial… “You’re still doing this for free? Not even train fare?”
Linuial smiles, relaxed and calm again. “As I mentioned, as a Registered Hero for Paragon, I get paid my usual stipend of INF any time I work on City business. As leader of Starfire, we’ll get our usual supergroup allocation.” She shrugs. “We have our group, which isn’t large, but we aren’t wanting…we manage to make our monthly base rent without any problems.” She smiles again. “I don’t need any part of those extravagant bonuses you three were all so interested in. Tahq, Paige, I think putting them into your college fund is a great way to spend them. As for you…” her grin takes on an impish flavor, as she looks at Devereaux, “…I’m sure there’s some way you can find to spend it all…try not to do it all in one night, okay?”
She reaches out to Paige, pulls her close, kisses the top of her head. “You did wonderfully, Paige,” she continues. “You were very brave, and you knew when to jump in and act like a Hero. I’m very proud of you.” She winks at Tahquitz. “You, too, demon-boy. You fought like a champ. But we are going to have a chat later about sucker-punching non-combatants, demon or no demon.” She laughes, tosses her head.
Paige hugs Linuial back, “Thank you, that means so much to me!”
The fight concluded, your team waits patiently for the PPD to arrive. It’s been a long and trying mission but, somehow, you’ve managed to come out on top. There’s still the matter of rounding up the remaining members of the Carnival but you’re all too ecstatic and, frankly, exhausted to worry about that right now.
You all settle down on the far end of the island to rest and enjoy a golden sunset. In the distance, you can just begin to hear the sound of boats approaching.
The fiery orange sunset is gorgeous, but Paige is beginning to waver on her feet, and Tahquitz is in obvious and growing pain, flexing his injured hand and massaging it as it begins to swell once again.
Linuial repeatedly casts Healing Aura, but begins to worry about the team; with the alarm set up, Carnies are canvassing the small island for both Maylor and Pronoea, there is only so much she can do…they are exhausted, and the tacos they had earlier were only a snack. As the gold-orange deepens to red and purple, she makes her decision, stands, takes out her cell phone and calls on Quake, a member of her supergroup Starfire, to teleport her directly to the Peregrine Island ferry where he, Jon Smith, and Maylor are waiting. From there, it is the work of a few minutes for her to teleport all the members of the Task Force team to the same location, as well as the unconscious Mistress of the Carnival of Vengeance.
The PPD Captain in charge of Peregrine Island and its environs gives you orders to proceed directly to PPD headquarters in King’s Row, where Detective Martins is waiting for you.
At the PPD HQ, you are quickly if summarily debriefed by Martins. It being clear that your original mission had been completed, and well short of the deadline, paperwork is signed and notarized, and Devereaux is issued a Paragon City check for his portion of the reward money, while Paige and Tahquitz receive statements indicating that their bonuses would be deposited to their accounts the following day when the banks open.
“I know you are all tired, and rightly so,” Martins then tells you, “but the Mayor has called an emergency session to discuss this mission, and you are required to appear, in case they want to ask you any questions. I’m heading over to City Hall myself right now. She promised to have food ready for you when you get there. Don’t keep the Mayor waiting.” Matching deed to word, he turns and heads towards the roof and the PPD helicopter that is warming up there.