Paragon City Stories: Death Becomes Her
Hosted and Narrated by TIMESHADOW
Act I, Scene 1
Place: Talos Island
It’s a typical day on Talos Island. The boardwalk named for Michael “Spanky” Rabinowitz is bustling with tourists despite the winter chill. The statue of the fallen giant, Talos, looms over the zone that now bears his name. Somewhere in the back alleys, the Warriors and the Tsoo are locked in their seemingly endless power struggle. Yes, all the wheels are rolling along smoothly.
The same is true for the superpowered residents of the brownstone owned by one Fen Monique. Though the charming southerner is better known by her heroic moniker, Nyghtshade, she’s still their land lady. Some of the tenants are even aware of her unusual circadian rhythms. She sleeps deeply from the time the sun crests the horizon, only to rise again when it dips beneath the island’s blue-water bay. Though there are some good natured comparisons about a sordid connection to Transylvania, all the residents of Monique’s apartments are content to let her rest whenever she feels the need.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the occupants of two large utility vans parked just outside the building. On the contrary, they are singularly intent on disturbing the peace and quiet of this otherwise uneventful day.
It’s been a month after returning from Agua Caliente with PulseFire and Paige. The trip wasn’t what he expected.
For Christmas, everything went fine. Grandma Elena was back on the Firewater, but her opinions on white people and politics were tame to what she usually said. Aunt Azucena made amazing food. And his cousins put together a music festival the girls never heard on this side of the Mississippi, playing loud Banda music at the base of the mountain radiating out through the desert skies. When the sun finally did set, the starry skies slowly twinkled to life… partially dulled by the city lights of Indio and Cathedral City. The temperatures dropped, the itchy wool blankets came out, hot tea arrived, and the bright bonfire kept them all warm as Elena told them a story about the stars in the night skies and how her people protected them in the ancient days. Her old raspy voice echoed in the valley floor, reverberating off of the mountain behind them as she spoke.
But the rest of the week… he did notice that Lisa and Paige were not getting along. By the end of the week, they didn’t get along whatsoever. When he tried to suggest things to do, the girls couldn’t make up their minds on anything, leaving them stuck in town for the most of the week. On the last night, tired of being stuck in the hotel, Tim went with Lisa to go see a concert in Pioneertown. A rockabilly act, Surfer Blood, was playing in the desert burg. Lisa found that comical as there she was in a dusty old saloon in a fake western town made for the movies with no bodies of water in sight. Paige opted to stay at the room alone.
The following morning they packed and prepared to leave, Azucena pulled him aside and asked Tim if he’s visited his father’s grave since he left. He didn’t answer her, just gave her a hug and said “I miss you so much,” before stepping on the shuttle to the Airport.
Upon coming back, Lisa went back to work at the Performing Arts Center. Today, Tahquitz is taking Jade up on her offer to work out together, when as he exited the train station in Talos Island, his phone rang…
“Hey Paige, what’s going on?” Tahquitz asked.
“It’s Liz. She’s locked me out of my apartment again. Another romp. What are you doing right now?”
“I was heading to Jade’s. Lisa’s busy so we were going to workout.” Tahq replied. “Wait a sec. Isn’t your name on the lease?”
"Yeah. But every time she does it, she adds $100 to her rent as an apology.”
“Even so, that would piss me off. If that was my place, she’d be on the curb in a week. I don’t know why you put up with that.”
“She pays both of our shares of the rent for the most part. And at this rate, I’ll have enough to get that super-expensive Anatomy book next week. Anyway, I’ve got nowhere to go, mind if I hop a train and join you guys? I’m in no mood to workout, I just want to finish up some homework. Maybe the three of us can catch something to eat later.”
“Not the most peaceful place to read Einstein.”
“Not quite Einstein. But if I tell you Immanuel Kant, you’d be confused.”
“Immanuel can’t… what?”
“Immanuel Kant– Forget it.”
“You sure the Library won’t help?”
“I just got back from there… and it’s Field Trip day. A bunch of High School kids are running through the place like it’s a cafeteria. It’s louder than you guys by far.”
Tahquitz thought for a second, then replied, “I’ll ask Jade, but I don’t see why not… Yeah. See you in a little bit, then.”
“Cool. I’ll hit the trains. Bye!”
Tahquitz hung up. Opening his wings, he takes flight to the Brownstone where Jade and Nyghtshade live.
Jade has agreed to do some sparring with Tahquitz today, to assess where he needs to focus on getting back up to speed with his martial arts training. Which meant cleaning up the apartment, something she’s of course put off till the last minute, as usual.
She lives on the ground floor of Monique’s brownstone building, and the layout is essentially the same: large living room, relatively spacious kitchen, dining room area between the kitchen and the back bedroom, and the usual apartment amenities.
The difference for Jade’s apartment is that the hardwood-floored “living room” has been converted into a martial-arts / dance studio. Aside from a low corner table, a rack of Chinese weapons, a jumble of strap-on weights, and a number of rolled workout-mats in one corner, the room is open and bare. One wall is lined with mirrors and a ballet bar, with a modest stereo nearby, and a Wing Chung dummy stands near another corner, in front of the windows looking out over Moniques garden and a tall wooden fence.
The studio walls hold a few bamboo Chinese water-color scrolls, several framed action-shot posters of Bruce Lee and Jet Li (one shot of the latter as The Monkey King), and a couple of San Francisco posters, one a painting of the Golden Gate Bridge and the other a large photo-shot of the famous Japanese Tea Garden. The room is well swept, and the hardwood floor gleams.
Jade’s kitchen is clean and fairly spartan, although today a delicate Chinese teapot sits on the counter, next to a San Francisco 49’ers mug and another mug with the Bruce Lee quote, “There is no weapon more deadly than the will.”
The dining room area has instead been set up as a smaller ‘rec room’, with a couple of bookshelves crammed with books, a comfy loveseat and stuffed chair, a couple of end-tables and a set of TV-trays, along with a 40” flat screen TV on a small entertainment cabinet.
Jade has just finished grabbing up odds and ends of clothing and flinging them helter-skelter into the bedroom in the back, when her doorbell rings.
“COMING!”, she bellows, as she trots to the front door and flings it open.
“Excuse muh, miss. You think you could halp out Peregon’s yuth by giving to the Eyoo-nited Way?” Tahquitz says in a terrible southern accent reminiscent to a bad community theater play of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Jade shut the door. He knocks again.
Tahquitz says laughing when she reopens it. “I’m kidding. Sorry. No, I’m serious about this one, I’m actually here to get my ass kicked by a girl,” he says with as straight of a face as he can. “You can help with that, right?”
Jade grins in return. “Don’t let Monique hear you butchering her Southern accent that way. But as for offering a little ass-kicking, I think I can manage that. C’mon in.” She steps back so he can enter.
“You can toss your coat in the rec room, just past the kitchen.”
Tahquitz has a duffel bag in one hand, a coat in the other, and a towel around his neck. His wings are starting to draw back into his shoulders as they recede slowly.
“Got a place I can change?” He asks as his skin starts forming pale white patches around him. “Well, clothes anyway.”
“Sure, bathroom’s down the hall there just past the rec room.” Jade points helpfully past the kitchen.
“Want any ginsing tea before we start?”
“Sure… Back in a minute.” Tahquitz has blond patches in his white hair as his face turns white and the last of his black skin headin towards his chest.
In his gi, Tim is ready, towel in hand as he heads to the kitchen for a cup of the hot tea. “So, Paige wanted to know if she could sit in on this session. Not for practice, her roommate needs the whole apartment for something.” Tim says, not wanting to cut Jade into her business in case she didn’t tell her about it. “Is that alright?”
“Sure, the more the merrier. We can drag the stuffed chair out and she can curl up in it and watch, or if she wants to try a few moves, that’s cool too.”
Jade lifts the teapot and asks, with all seriousness, “49’ers or Bruce Lee?” She hovers the teapot above the mugs, ready to pour.
“I need… emotional content.” Tahquitz says nodding to the Bruce Lee cup.
“So, when I left middle school, I was a blue belt in Aikido. I was almost ready for Purple but break falls and weapon training tripped me up. That was three years ago. That’s about where I am.”
“Good choice.” Jade poured out a generous mug of the ginsing tea for Tim, and emptied the rest into the 49’ers mug.
As she sipped her tea, she continued, “I started out training in Wushu, although I’ve added in other styles that work well with it. We’ll stretch, and then start slow with some basic sparring moves, and see how it goes.”
“Sounds good.” Tim says, sipping the tea. “My prior sensei told me impatience was my biggest fault. Then when I got my powers, that… didn’t help.”
“But those aren’t going to be used. And the wings are gone, so without those three, I’m an average kid.” Tim finishes the last of the tea and sets Bruce Lee on the counter.
Jade tucks her oversized Marvel Superheroes t-shirt into the band of her long loose pants, shrugs on a pair of rubber-soled canvas shoes, and gets Tahq to help her lay out a pair of exercise mats. They take a while to do a series of stretches, and then move to the center of the room.
“We’ll start out with a few minutes of sticky-hands, to see how well you anticipate moves and blocks. If you get a strike in, good, but we’re working slow for now, and pulling punches. Ready?”
Jade positions herself in front of Tim, and sinks into a low stance, left arm loose, right extended to lightly touch his wrist.
Tim has his hand on Jade’s wrist as he watches her for movement.
Aikido normally demands that all attacks are from a defense stance, but for practice, that would make a boring start of two people asking each other to move first. So Tim moves to the midriff in a pulled punch to see what Jade does.
Jade’s wrist promptly drops, following his own without losing contact, and sweeps his attack to the side before resuming her stance, wrist extended. “Good try. Again.”
Tim goes back to rest and waits… then tries a uppercut feint, to pull away and move to a body blow at her left rib.
Jade doesn’t fall for the feint. Instead, she slides almost effortlessly to the side, deflecting his blow and slipping in beside him, attempting a slowed strike to his ear to see how quickly he’ll recover and block it.
Tim’s failed gambit caught him as Jade’s arm pierces through his attempt to strike her side. His arm on the outside of her is too slow to stop her from reaching his ear.
Her hand stops short of hurtful contact, just a light tap and a smiling nod from Jade.
“Yeah, I’m out of practice.” Tim admits, as they reset and start again.
She pulls her punch at the last second, gives his ear a flick instead and slides back out of reach.
“Okay. Let’s see if you’ve remembered any of your forms.”
Seeing his blank expression, she shifts terms. “Katas, then, let’s see if you remember any of your katas.”
There is a series of thumping noises, then a rather large, if muffled, crash out in the hallway, followed by several men’s voices raised in anger and frustration, underlined by a particularly deep, if youthful, voice: “…dammitall, I TOLD you not to touch that! Don’t touch the boxes marked ‘fragile’, I’ll carry those myself! If you broke anything, your boss is going to be paying ME your salary…for the rest of your sorry life!” followed by a string of targetless inventive of a particularly colorless nature.
Jade lifts a hand before Tim can start a kata, turns and crosses to the apartment’s front door. Opening it, she looks out into the front foyer, where a large crate lies on its side, one burly gentleman still stooped as if he’d tried to break its fall, while another glares at the younger person.
Eyebrow raised, she addresses the furious youth. “Problem?”
Several men in olive coveralls with embroidered patches on the sleeves and over the breast pocket can be seen in the foyer and outside the exterior door, which is propped open with a rock. In addition, there is a young but quite well-muscled man in a white undershirt with a design of crossed swords on the chest. His hair is long, sandy-red, and pulled back into a ponytail down his back. His bare arms are colorfully tattooed from the shoulder to the back of his hands, and he is wearing blue and white sneakers under his loose-fitting jeans.
An odd metallic rod dangles from a hook over his right hip, attached to a wide leather belt inset with eyelets. He has a broad strap around his left wrist extending downward to rest against his left palm, which doesn’t appear to fulfill any obvious purpose.
He swings his head around in mid-curse, spots Jade, checks himself.
“Oh. Sorry. Didn’t mean to disturb anybody.”
He looks back at one of the moving men, jerks a thumb toward the staircase; they go back to picking up boxes and pieces of furniture and hauling them upstairs.
Returning to Jade: “…I’m the new tenant. Moving in today. Guess you’re Jade. Didn’t plan on hiring clumsy movers, but…”
He shrugs, then looks back to follow the workmen’s train heading up and down the stairs.
“Hey, no problem,” Jade replies cheerfully. “And yeah, I’m Jade. Or Terry, your choice, I’ll answer to both. Nice ink, by the way. So, let me know if you need any help getting settled, you know, milk, cup-of-sugar, running off Tsoo…”
She grins again, tosses him a wave, and ducks back into her apartment.
“So, Tim. Remembered any of your old katas yet?” Jade prompts.
“Okay, first…” Tim moves into form.
“Second…” he changes to the next.
“Third… Fourth…” and it’s clear from here he’s making it up as he goes.
The knocking and banging noises continue for some time, but there are no further audible signs of breakage, and the sporadic cursing eventually dies away.
Paige walks on the train platform in Talos Island towards the exit. Her backpack is full of books and notes, she is walking through the streets towards Nyghtshade’s house.
Christmas? Unforgettable. It was her first time outside of the East Coast in her life. California is a strange place to be if you’ve lived anywhere near the Atlantic. Agua Caliente was a bit run down, with a bunch of shanties and manufactured homes on the reservation, but at the land where Tahq’s Grandmother resides sits a newly constructed large 2-story ranch house that dwarfs the other homesteads. Probably part of the money he sent to the Reservation after he got paid by Det. Martins. Her backyard set right at the face of a mountain where Tahq said he started to make his climb to the cavern where he got his powers.
But after Christmas, Lisa became very controlling once again and almost everything Paige wanted to do, she was against. She was relentless in negating anything involving her to the point where it was almost childish. And this time, Paige was not going to put up with it. They fought ever since they left Elena’s house and it got worse as it went on.
This was at the cost of the rest of the vacation, which on Friday, Tim and Lisa went out to a concert without her. Paige instead got out of the hotel room and caught a cab to visit a restaurant in Indio. She managed to find the one mexican restaurant in California that did their job terribly. No spices, the cheese was sharp, and the beans were cold on the sopas she ordered. She didn’t finish the meal, but paid to leave the restaurant and just went for a cheap salad somewhere else. She returned to the hotel room hours before they did and went to sleep early.
On the flight back to Paragon City, Paige sat away from the couple and got a window seat by herself. She had a lot to think about: Tahquitz, PulseFire, Nyghtshade, Linuial, Jade, Bubastis… and the mystery of who or what Orion is. And those months apart… half of her trapped in Shiara slowly losing her composure, with Shiara tormenting her in her real body. The solitude and fear from those months… now fully realized as one. A small tear came to her eye thinking about it as she shuddered relieved that at least that much was finally over.
Not to mention how she’d explain any of this to Devereaux the next time she saw him.
Back in Rhode Island, her mind has focused elsewhere. As soon as she came back, intense training from Damien Bellerose resumed. Her return to PCU one week after she came back was successful, but not without conditions… the Dean of Admissions put Paige on a light course load restriction only allowing her to take part time classes for this semester. And Damien is practicing for a revue in New Orleans for Mardi Gras right after her training sessions, which means he’s not as available as he used to be.
So outside of school and training, she has a lot of time on her hands lately. And it’s not hard to guess where her mind is currently at. That is until she gets to Monique and Terry’s place. Two moving vans and a young man is muttering at the staff carrying things upstairs. She is waiting on the sidewalk for a break in the traffic of hand-carried furniture to make it to the foyer door.
“OK, OK, I think I’ve seen enough,” Jade tells Tim, shaking her head. “The good news, your moves are still fairly clean. The bad news - looks like you’ve got a lot of catching up to do here. Still want to consider One: working with me and learning some WuShu moves in addition to general drilling to get you back up to strength and speed, Two: finding a Akido shifu…er, sensei to catch up on your original style, or Three: choosing something else to study?”
The question is straight-forward, but Jade is still smiling.
“Well, two can come later. I want to get back up to strength first. Except for combat, I haven’t really exercised in a while. I’m too comfortable with my powers making up for a lack of general discipline. And in recent missions, it shows.” Tim says frankly.
“So, first year Wushu.” He says, standing straight. “If that works for you.”
The young man and one of the delivery men are in a discussion so she doesn’t want to interfere with an introduction.
Paige dodges the work line from the movers and knocks on Terry’s door.
“Yeah, that…” Jade breaks off at the knock, and turns back to open the door. She smiles as she sees the young girl. “Hey there, Paige. C’mon in, I’m just figuring out how to torture Tim here.”
Terry steps back to let Paige in, and casually flicks a hand toward the kitchen. “There’s sodas in the fridge, or a little ginsing tea in the pot, although it’s probably gone cold.”
“And if you want a stuffed chair to curl up in, I can make Tim here carry it out here for you,” she adds, with a wink.
“I have been walking the last two hours straight, a chair would be nice.” Paige says, lowering her backpack onto the floor between the studio and the kitchen. She unzips her bag and pulls out her textbook.
She reaches for the teapot and it’s still warm. “Thanks Terry.” She grabs a small cup from the drainer and pours a glass.
Tim grabs one of the chairs that was removed and brings it into the studio for Paige to sit in. “One plush chair. Basically a pillow with legs.”
“Thanks. Don’t mind me, I just need to finish a chapter or two.” Paige says sitting down, as she tucks her legs under and opens her book. She takes out her reading glasses and put the tea on the floor next to the chair.
The foyer is now completely silent and empty of living bodies. An errant scrap of waste paper lies forlorn in the middle of the floor.
Outside the brownstone, the two utility vans sit innocuously. Parked nose to tail, they appear entirely benign.
That is until the sliding doors open, disgorging shambling husks of what were presumably men at one time. The Dry Chambers, hulking zombies armed with antiquated Lee-Enfield rifles, lead the way. In their wake are several smaller monstrosities. Shriveled and wearing the last scraps of some long defunct military uniforms, they carry crude and rusty tomahawks. Universal to the shuffling horrors are the glowing runes carved into their chests.
The ghastly procession crosses the street, heedless of being seen in the daylight. It takes only a moment for the moving crew outside to notice the unnatural presence coming toward them. One of the men screams and breaks into a run, only to be shot down by a slug from one of the Chamber’s guns. Undeterred, the rest of the crew follows suit, leaving a clear path to the door that the zombies make use of as quickly as their decayed limbs will allow.
Meanwhile, in the driver’s seat of the van, a dark skinned man wearing a simple white jumpsuit raises a cell phone to his ear. In a voice filled with gravel he says, “We have begun the operation. Be ready to receive her.”
Jade had just instructed Tim to give her 25 right-side roundhouse kicks when there are screams and weapons fire outside the building. “What the…. hang on, Tim,” she blurts, as she darts to the studio side windows, which show fleeing people running away down the sidewalk but do not cover the front of the building.
“Might want to ‘suit up’, Tim,” she calls, springing toward the door. “You guys wait till I check it out–” she starts to warn as she yanks her front door - facing the foyer - open.
But she doesn’t really expect them to wait. After all, at their age, she wouldn’t have…
When the gunshot fires and Jade heads to the windows, Tim’s flesh starts to turn black, as his wing phalanges tear at his gi.
“I bought several of these for a reason.” Tim looks at the open vans out the window and curses himself. “Walked right by these without a clue. Are they in the building?”
“Holy Crap!!” Jade exclaims, as her open front door reveals the monstrous undead creatures swarming into the foyer. She slip-steps outside her own door, springs down the wall to the fire alarm, and yanks the lever down.
The air is filled with a raucous klaxon alarm, guaranteed to alert the other residents to a problem.
With a quick breath, Jade focuses her chi before springing into action, attacking the one nearest the stairwell.
“Don’t let them get up the stairs!” she shouts, “We need to bottleneck them here!”
“Wha–? What are these things? I’ve seen Vahzilok, but I’ve never seen these before.” Paige says in disgust… “They smell worse!”
“Banished Pantheon! I’ve seen these runes. What they’re doing in this neighborhood of Talos Island is beyond me.” Tim says, running up to meet Paige at the doorway.
“Important thing to remember: unlike the Vahzilok, they are as close to a zombie movie as it gets. They don’t feel pain, they don’t get wounded. You can’t kill them, you have to STOP them.”
Tahquitz charges his fists with Ice, and starts a Bitter Freeze Ray on one of the husks walking to their door, then lets out, flash-freezing the dried up corpse into an ice block. The weight of the ice made him topple over, shattering the ice and separating the torso into pieces.
“That hurt, I can’t do that twice in a row. Get to work!”
“Alright. Let’s ‘stop’ some zombies.” Paige says, entering the foyer behind Tahquitz, with parts of his gi on fire as he began to fight.
She focuses on a dry husk who is training a musket on her. He draws the butt of the gun up to try to fire, as Paige leans forward and does a sonic-assisted leap away from Terry’s door as the musket fires. The blast of rocksalt knocks the door back against the wall and Paige is three feet behind the husk.
“Here goes…” Paige creates a soundwave with a clasp of her hand to her left forearm, drawing to her wrist to try to blast the husk’s shoulder apart and succeeds, causing it’s left arm to fall off. The undeterred husk turns around and drops the rifle to lunge at her. “Gah!” She leaps back with a yelp at how fast he is. Deceptively quick when it comes to close quarters melee.
She remembers Damien’s training exercises, and his advice. It’s more effort to use the arms when her voice is more accurate, quicker to fire, and capable of multiple shots. Time to put the training to practice. She draws in a breath and with precision, chirps at a ultra-high frequency several holes in the husk’s torso. They hit it like metal slugs, with one final warble hitting the body and cleaving it in half. The pieces stop moving.
“Okay, I see what you mean, Tahq.”
Jade has turned and sprung to the base of the stairwell, as several advancing Dry Chambers bunch up, raising their rifles.
She leaps forward, throwing herself into a Dragon’s Tail spin kick, knocking two of them off their feet and backwards into more advancing Chambers and Husks.
The remaining Chamber fires, but it has been jostled badly by the kick, and the bullet discharges into the heavily plastered ceiling.
Jade follows up with a high Crippling Axe Kick, literally taking the zombie’s head off at the shoulders and sending it bouncing off across the foyer. The zombie’s body wavers in place, now unmotivated, and she yanks the weapon from its hand and slings it up the stairwell, then drops into a low stance as more Chambers and Husks stumble over the fallen bodies, but continue to crowd in.
“There are no words for how gross fighting these things is!” she grimaces, resisting the urge to shake slime and decaying flesh from her shoe and instead searching for the next target.
“Aw, what the fuckin’ shit…”
Adam Masters carefully places the two pieces of the glass display bell he had been trying to Superglue back together onto the floor amid stacks of cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, and crumpled brown butcher paper, puts one hand on the ground, and launches himself up onto his feet in the direction of the hallway door.
Yanking the door open, he takes long strides in the direction of the stairwell, yelling, “…WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON DOWN THERE?!”
“We’re under ATTACK!” Jade shouts back up the stairwell. “BANISHED PANTHEON!”
She sidesteps hurriedly as another Chamber takes aim and fires, and the bullet vanishes into the drywall, then crane-kicks it over backward.
If you can help, NOW’D be a GOOD time !”
“…banshee….what?!…” the tattooed man mutters to himself as he takes the stairs two at a time in the direction of the ground floor.
Four steps from the first floor landing, he clenches his left fist tight into the pad in his palm, and a self-sustaining circle of electricity, about 3 feet across, erupts, centered around his fist, a fraction of an inch away from his forearm. In the same motion, he reaches with his right hand for the cylindrical metal object dangling from a hook on his belt, jerks it free, and raises it crosswise in front of himself as he takes the last four stair steps in a single leap. A laser-red rod springs from the cylinder.
Landing lightly, knees flexed, he Deflects a dehydrated body on his left while Hacking another on his right, neatly slicing straight through the thing’s chest, heart-high.
“Holy shit!” Jade exclaims, as the red laser slices through one of the Husks advancing on the stairwell, and adds with a fervent sincerity, “Welcome to the party!”
She springs forward, grabbing a rifle from one Husk and twisting it as she leaps high, clamping her legs around a second Husk’s neck and allowing gravity to continue her arc.
As Jade continues to torque downward, she twists and yanks the rifle free from the first husk, hand and most of the forearm still attached, and uses her legs and fall to bodyslam the second one into the floor. Driving her elbow into the second one’s face pulps it pretty thoroughly, and she releases it and rolls back up to her feet, swinging the butt of the rifle into the head of a third.
“I am so taking a shower after this…” Paige mutters as she shoves a lifeless corpse off of her body when it falls the wrong way. Upon doing so, two Chambers are closing in on her before she can get up.
As a shot in the dark, she tries to reach out to them, and just like in Crey’s Folly, there’s no mind left to reach. These monsters are fed by a spell, so her telepathy is useless on them.
“Alright. Can’t tell these Scarecrows to get lost without a brain.” She instead does dual duty: using her arms to send soundwaves to sever the limbs on the right Chamber, while blasting holes in the left one with her voice. In ten seconds, the left one drops, and she is able to stop the right one with additional blasts, leaving a left shoulder and arm to crawl around that she smashes with her heel.
“Good thing I’m in sneakers.” She smiles, and runs up the stairs to attack more of them.
“Looks like we got us a knight apparent! Nice.” Tahq looks at the new combatant quickly as he dodges a haymaker from a Dessicated Chamber, then turns around and sidesteps to watch a Dessicated Husk swing their Hatchet into Tahq’s path, and into the Chamber’s forearm.
Normally, this would be brilliant, but since the Pantheon are immune to pain, they just change their stance and try to subdue Tahquitz, only to have their two arms flash frozen together. The conjoined corpses are now trying to act as one.
He sees an aluminum broomstick on the ground, then charges into one of the two stuck together undead and runs the broomstick through the two torsos, and into a third one, then froze the ends shut. Facing opposite sides of each other, back to front to back, Tahquitz knocks the three over into a tangle of limbs of prior defeated minions at the base of the stairs…
“Fortunately, they’re also stupid. That’ll hold them for a few minutes,” he says watching them try to figure out how to get the stick out of their torsos and get up at the same time, both resulting in failure. Tahq doesn’t waste too much time as he charged to the door to fight the rest of the chambers and husks blocking their exit.
Adamant rams the edge of his shield into the face and chest of a Banished, while completing the rightward moving sword swing in a loop and coming back the reverse direction, disecting another corpse diagonally from the neck to the armpit.
“…are those things going to thaw…?” he shouts in Tahquitz’s direction, glancing at the still struggling-if-pinned collection the young Hero has created.
As the severed head-and-arm begin to crawl across the floor towards him, he Slices low to remove the hand from the wrist, halting the head’s progress. Finishing the swing behind himself and over his head, he extracts his shield just in time to Slash completely through the bifurcated face and its skull.
In the van, the disguised figure oversees the battle as best he can through the brownstone’s entrance.
“As we expected,” he says, the phone still pressed to his ear. “They are not enough to break the Heroes. Release it.”
At the command, a loud creaking sounds as another zombie, larger than the others, lumbers out of the second van. Ensorcelled like the rest, a lurid green glow emanates from the now empty sockets where its eyes had once been. Its mouth hangs agape, strands of connective tissue holding the skeletal visage in an eternal, silent scream. It shambles forward toward the brownstone, unsteady on legs that are missing flesh and tendons at the knees.
“That will serve,” the man says approvingly. “Move to claim her now.”
Tahquitz is at the door, staring outside. He hears the young man’s question, answering “Yeah, ten minutes in winter air. Easy… but you all might want to come down here. Now.”
In the foyer, Jade notices the determination of the zombies to keep pressing forward toward the stairwell. “Boy, these things really want to get upstairs,” she mutters, and then her eyes widen.
“Crap, Monique’s upstairs. And she’s…” Jade cuts off, not sure who Monique has informed her about the curse…
“New Guy, unless it’s you these zombies have a serious hard-on for… then we really need to keep them from getting upstairs…. you guys don’t think they can climb the fire-escape, do you??”
Distracted by the dilemma, she is caught in a Husk’s arms, but breaks the hold and nails him in the chin with a high-kick, toppling him over backwards.
“Guys, I have a bad feeling about this. Can you hold the fort here while I check on Monique?”
“Sure, but I’ve got a 10-foot-tall wicker man outside who looks like he could drop kick one of these vans into the wall.” Tahq calls up to Jade.
“Oh, no.” Paige says running downstairs to see what Tahq is talking about.
“Divide and conquer? Sword guy, Jade, protect Monique. Tahq and I will work on… him. That work?” Paige calls up the stairs to Terry.
The first round of invading Husks defeated, Jade eyes the two young heroes, and suddenly shakes her head. “No, let’s do this. Everyone into the stairwell, and Paige, you and New Guy take up a position on a landing halfway up. The big one could be hampered in the stairwell, and give you both easier shots.”
“Tahquitz, you and I head up to the top floor. Maybe I’m wrong, but if not, we’ll tackle whatever’s up….” Her eyes widen, at a sudden realization. “Where’s the Shaman, there’s always a Shaman. Hurry, everyone!”
With that, Jade darts into the stairwell, but instead of taking the stairs, she stands in the middle and springs straight up, leaping several floors high before having to alight and prepare to move higher still.
“Mmm. Damn it!” Tahq says, slamming the door shut to the apartment. “As if that helps.”
He leaps from the bottom floor and flies up the stairwell with one motion of his wings, then folds into a human dart, yelling “Duck!” to the swordsman and spirals up to where Jade is standing before touching down.
Paige runs to the bottom of the stairwell, and takes a deep breath, then lets out a shriek on the three stuck-together Chambers taking out two of them as they fall loosely off of the broomstick, then stands on the broomstick and makes smaller chirps to decimate the third one bit by bit.
She runs up the stairs to meet with the swordsman, “Hi, I’m Paige. You?”
Adamant finishes off his final opponent, then glances up to follow Tahquitz’s gaze out the front door.
He takes a long, hard look at the much larger “zombie” staggering its way toward the front door, then glances up the stair well as first Jade and then Tahquitz soar upward.
With a sour expression, he begins the climb up the stairs, muttering to himself.
Glancing at the girl who follows him, he replies, “Adam.”
Stopping with one foot on the next step, he turns to look first downward and then upward again.
“HEY…JADE!” he calls upward. “I TAKE IT YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE IN CHARGE WHEN THE LANDLADY ISN’T HERE. I THOUGHT SHE WAS OFF SOMEWHERE ELSE DURING THE DAY, DAY JOB OR SOMETHING.
“…EITHER WAY, A STAIRWAY IS NO PLACE FOR SWORD PLAY. NO ROOM TO SWING. UNLESS YOU HAVE A LARGE AREA UP THERE TO FIGHT IN, I’M HEADING BACK DOWNSTAIRS WHERE I CAN ACTUALLY FIGHT.”
“YOU’RE RIGHT,” Jade shouts back down, as she prepares to leap the rest of the way down, “I’M NOT THE BOSS. OF EITHER OF YOU. DO AS YOU THINK BEST.”
Gathering herself, she springs up the next few flights to the top floor, and waits for Tahquitz to join her.
As the Heroes rush into position, Adamastor enters the foyer. Stooping and drawing in its skinless shoulders, it just barely manages to wedge itself through the brownstone’s door.
Chips of plaster and a fine dusting of pulverized drywall fall to the floor as the monstrosity begins to scan the room for something to kill.
“Alright, let’s kill a voodoo doll.” Paige says, “Ground level, stairwell, either works for me,” she looks to Adam for an answer.
“Alright. Let’s get to Monique.” Tahquitz says catching up to Jade on the stairwell. “You’re right, I forgot about shamans being the ringleader. Hurry!”
With Tahquitz right behind her, Jade focuses her chi with a will indomitable, opens the stairwell door, rightly figuring that all the shouting in the stairwell has pretty well eliminated any element of surprise, and sidles out onto the spacious landing in front of Monique’s door, ready, she hopes, for anything.
Tahquitz meets Jade at the landing. “Okay, how do you ‘knock’? From what Paige told me, once she’s out, she’s dead to the world.”
Suiting action to word, Adam pulls shield up to his chest, brings the power sword close to his body, and bounds down the stairs again, two at a time. As his vision clears the foyer ceiling, he sees the behemoth focus the green light it uses for eyes on him.
He bails over the banister from the middle of the bottom stair case, barrel rolling on his back, to land in a crouch, throwing his arms wide for balance.
He has no idea the power of what he is looking at, only that it doesn’t look like something that he would normally pick a fight with on his own.
“Here’s hoping you’re weaker than you look,” he mutters to himself.
Arriving on the landing just outside Nyghtshade’s apartment, there are no signs of an attempt to breach her heavily secured door. Even better, none of the Pantheon’s grotesque servants are anywhere in sight. The heroes are able to breathe a much needed sigh of relief.
That feeling evaporates when the multiple alarms the undead heroine uses to deter intruders begin to blare from within.
“Crap crap crap crap….” Jade mutters, yanking loose from beneath her shirt a leather thong with a set of keys.
“C’mon,” she calls to Tahquitz as she springs to the door, inserts and turns the keys, shoves it open and leaps into the apartment, already in a defensive crouch as she searches the darkened living room and kitchen.
“I can lead if you want, I’ve got better eyes for this.” Tahquitz blinks, then opens his eyes, to pull back a nictating lid inside revealing bird like yellow irises. “It’s not heat vision, but I can see movement in the dark easily.”
“OK,” Jade replies, voice low. “Her bedroom’s in the back, past the kitchen and dining room, and to the left around the corner. I’m right behind you.”
Jade draws a slow breath, focusing her chi again, and enhancing her senses, hoping to help spot anyone who’s stealthed, or at least hear them. She falls in behind Tahquitz.
Tahquitz makes his way through the living room, with Jade’s hand on his shoulder for guidance. He heads to the kitchen and dining area, where the floor changes from hardwood to cold stone tile he can feel with his bare feet. The two come to the corner where he turns and begins to proceed to Nyght’s bedroom.
“Nothing so far,” Tahq whispers.
A blast of arctic air lashes out in the darkness. It carries huge, wet snowflakes and small but wickedly sharp ice crystals along with it. The sudden gale howls outward from the greater darkness beyond the doorway to Nyghtshade’s bedroom.
A voice, booming over the shrieking winds, calls out. “You’re fortunate I don’t have time to kill you at the moment. There are far more important things to do.”
The tortured groan of twisted metal rings out and the bedroom is suddenly flooded with afternoon sunlight, revealing a shaman of the Banished Pantheon in full tribal regalia. He stands with his back to the window, casting a shadow over a distinctly feminine figure bundled from head to toe in what appear to be bed sheets.
Without another word, the shaman rises slowly off the floor, buoyed by the very same winds he commands to keep the heroes at bay. The sleeping form of Nyghtshade follows suit.
“She is our creation,” he growls, voice still raised above the din. “And we will do with her as we see fit!”
“Owning people. That’s cute.” Tahquitz shields his eyes from the glare of the sudden light as well as the wind and ice debris spinning all around him. Jade’s hand loses contact with him understandably as he tries to move forward.
“Damn… I didn’t want to do this, but it’s risking Nyght’s property, or her life…” Tahquitz thinks as he readies a Blazing Bolt to aim at the shaman, then he sees the shaman rotate Nyghtshade’s body in the air, using her as a human shield.
A loud growl leaves his mouth as he pulls his fist back. “Who’s behind this? Lughebu? M’Teru? Ullutay? Or he who shall not be named?” Tahquitz says, “Yeah, this isn’t our first time with the Banished Pantheon,” he says motioning to Jade.
With a wordless cry, Jade springs forward, forcing her way through the buffeting winds, plowing past Nyghtshade’s floating form and going instead straight for the Shaman.
“The hell you will,” she shouts as she slams into the Shaman, hitting him with a powerful chin strike and then wrapping her arms around his throat in a choke-hold.
The force of her impact sends the Shaman backwards out the 5th floor window, with Jade still locked to him like a bulldog. Teeth gritted, she continues to choke him, heedless of the fact that the only thing saving either of them from a 5-story drop is his power over the winds…. which she is working hard to shut down.
“Screw that noise…” Tahquitz dives out of the window, wings tight against him and ready to try to either pull Jade free and leave the mage alone, plummeting to his death, or to take them both on a flight to continue battle somewhere else.
Jade is working hard to strangle the Shaman unconscious, but he still has plenty of fight left. He clutches her arms and jolts her with a heavy shock of electricity, but though she cries out in pain, she does not lessen her grip.
That having failed, and his vision starting to darken, the Shaman calls down a bolt of lightning, a desperate move, as he’s calling it on both of them. Tahquitz has to dodge frantically as the bolt spears down from the sky, striking Jade and the Shaman, and throwing them violently apart.
Jade, stunned, drops away, and the Shaman lets the winds carry him out of reach, at least temporarily, as he gasps frantically for air.
Tahquitz sees Lightning Bolt strike Jade, yelling, “NOOO!” His wings curl into a lift form as he uses a technique to boost his flight speed he was taught by the Birds of Prey supergroup. He closes in to Jade, 20, 10, 5 feet, then grabs her. He banks at speed, causing him intense strain as he fights gravity with their combined weight… and the coming building that could be their final immediate resting place.
A second later, the raven clears the building, soaring up the face of the west wall with mere inches, clearing it with Jade in tow and rounding off to fly her back to the bedroom… that is, if he makes it in time.
Tahq clears the window with Jade, tumbling back into Nyght’s bedroom just the furious Shaman looses another lightning bolt after them. They hit the floor, as the sizzling bolt arcs over them, striking the dresser and shattering the mirror.
“Unngh… What the…” Jade mumbles, eyes fluttering open. “Are we dead yet?”
“If I let you die, then I’d have no sensei. Can’t let that happen. How’s Monique? Is she protected from the light?” Tahq asks.
“OK, good point,” Jade mumbles, making it up to her hands and knees and pointing to Monique’s inert, sheet-wrapped body. “Shove her under the bed, the Shaman might try again. And make sure the sheets don’t come loose.”
Jade staggers to her feet and sidles to the window, peering out. “I don’t see the Shaman.”
Tahquitz wraps Monique in the sheets to prevent the sun from making contact with her and starting with her feet, eases her off of the bed. With his hands under her arms, he gently lowers her cold body to the floor, then wraps the arms themselves up in the sheets. He gives her face two times around with a sheet, very loosely, then slides her under the bed carefully.
“I apologize in advance for any dust when you wake up.” Tahquitz says, then bundles the last sheet into a wad and stuffs it under her head. He then knocks the comforter and duvet off to the same side to look like the bed is disheveled from her kidnapping.
“Like she isn’t here,” he laughs. “How are you, Terry?”
“Feels like I got hit by a truck. What’s smoking….” Terry looks around to make sure nothing’s on fire, then returns her attention to the window, but still sees no sign of the Shaman.
“We can’t just stay up here, he might come back. And we still need to get back down to Paige and the New Guy,” she admits after a moment, having finally caught her breath.
“We need to move her. Pull Monique out again, I’ll carry her down the stairs. Want to go first, in case there are any surprises?”
“Alright.” Tahquitz pulls Monique out again, as his wings begin to slowly retract, “Paige was telling me about this when we flew out to California, now it’s my turn,” he chuckles. He sits Monique up and separates her knees, taking the left hand in his left and right hand in his right, he lifts her up like a backpack, “Hold onto her for a sec…” Terry holds her back as his grip changes to her thighs and his back leans forward to prevent her from falling backwards.
“Just make sure she doesn’t tip backwards. I can get her down the stairs.”
With Nyghtshade herself secured, at least one part of the Pantheon’s plan has been thwarted. The collateral damage to her bedroom is unfortunate but it’s a small price to pay compared to whatever dark purpose the twisted cultists must have had in mind for her.
Now the only thing left to be dealt with is the massive undead horror rampaging a few floors below…
Paige is second guessing her agreement to challenge the downstairs monstrosity known as Adamastor. It’s green eyes are leaking a mist she doesn’t even want to imagine what it’s made out of, a green rune glowing on his chest, an imposing muscular frame she swears was a golem or beast made of the earth if it wasn’t for the rotting flesh.
And it is coming their way. She looks at Adam, “Alright. This will be weird, but stay still for a second.” She emits a high frequency that doesn’t hurt the ears, but makes it harder for Adam to hear in general for a moment until the pitch becomes something similar to tinnitus.
“That should help you from being stunned,” she says to him telepathically, “I’ll be able to hear you no matter how loud it gets.”
Weapon in one hand, shield on the opposite arm, Adam can’t act on his initial instinct to grab at his ears, so he winces and ducks his head between his shoulders, ending the motion with a sideways and angry glare at Paige.
“What the Hell was that?” he snaps. He doesn’t wait for an answer, but stalks forward toward the walking mass of corruption.
The thing moves slowly, he notes. Good. One advantage to me.
He moves to the side, away from the stairs, and backs against the far wall, splitting the distance between the stairs and the shattered entry door.
Turning off the electricity shield, he motions with his left hand. “Hey, you…Ugly!” he Taunts, “Yeah, I’m talking to you. You want a fight? I gotcha one right here…”
Instead of rushing the monster, he waits, patiently, for it to turn its attention to him, and begin walking across the foyer, shoving a small table out of its way as if it didn’t even exist.
Paige tries to reach into the monster’s head, but recognizes that as a mistake… “JoIn Me. TaStE tHe FlEsH oF tHe DaMnEd. SuCkLe At ThE fRuIt Of MaDnEsS. bEcOmE mY–” The voice becomes more persuasive and easy to listen to, then she feels herself becoming more passive and interested in listening to it, before she comes quickly to her senses and cuts the link off.
“Nope. I just went through that, I’m not doing it again. Nope, nope, nope, nope. No!” Paige instead considers a more physical solution to subduing the monster.
She starts to running forward, then tries to leap up and plant a Shockwave in his chest, but Adamastor swats her away like a fly. Paige tumbles into a shoulder roll and recoveres. “Note to self: just as quick as the little guys when in close quarters.”
Adam watches Paige’s attack, realizes he’s losing the monster’s focus.
“Hey, Ugly!” He sidles along the wall in the direction of the shattered door, still making the “come hither” motion with his left arm and hand.
Adamastor’s path now turns to follow the swordsman, bringing it within arm’s reach of the tattooed man.
Adam turns the shield back on, swings with ferocious power against the descending piledriver, and reaches under the shield’s edge to Slice halfway through the monster’s right knee. It staggers, but catches itself.
Paige collects herself, and watches as Adam slices the left knee of the monster. “Nice,” she says to Adam as she runs up on his flank and yells out several shots in succession on the cut, as she widens it further. This causes flesh to fall away from the leg and exposes a legbone.
She then moves backward and using her arms to form a Shockwave, she tries to get the monster onto his backside. It’s not as effective as hitting him on impact, but should be enough to give Adam another opportunity to strike.
When Paige’s attack lands, Adamastor stumbles backwards a bit, but doesn’t fall. Hopefully the stumble is enough.
Adam winces at the noise, but doesn’t allow it to break his concentration.
Fortunately, the girl wasn’t able to knock the monster off its feet, so he continues with his planned maneuver. He bends his knees, drops his weight, rolls to his right side, kicks hard against the wall he had been leaning against, sending his body into a spin that results in him sliding, on his back, between Adamastor’s legs.
His right hand and sword now positioned so that he can reach the monster’s right knee once again as he slides, he Hacks at the inside of the knee, coming very close to severing it entirely.
Another attack on that knee, and Adamastor is going to lose the lower leg.
Adam completes the slide, jumps to his feet, turns off the shield, backs up, and Taunts again.
Turning the shield back on: “Hey, Gorgeous, what do they call you in the Halls of Justice, Banshee?”
Paige smiles for a second, “Just Paige. I’m not big on nicknames.” She comes up with one last idea on how to make a lasting impact on the monster.
With her arms, she creates a low vibration that rumbles the building and starts to rattle anything not nailed down, but not like her Shockwave. She then amplifies it and runs behind the monster in a moment he is not paying attention and strikes it in the back. The low vibration is now permeating through his body and is self-maintaining. She then creates a counterwave and strikes in the same spot on his back.
The effect is like a internal sonic bullwhip on his joints, having a 50/50 chance of either causing the joint distress, or dislocating it. Adamastor howls at the loss of control, as he tries to get his shoulders, arms and knees to respond. It won’t last as the pure strength of Adamastor will eventually reseat the dislocated joints, but not all at once.
“You’ve got about a minute. You want to break his leg, now’s your chance!” Paige says walking past a crippled Adamastor that can’t do anything to her.
Adam Masters plainly doesn’t recognize that the monster has been incapacitated by Paige’s assault. With only her verbal prompting, he edges carefully forward, balancing on the balls of his feet, shield ready to ward off an attack, sword arm bent at the ready for a wide swing.
Remaining behind Adamastor, he closes the gap cautiously, trying to remain out of the monster’s “eyesight”.
As he senses that the “minute” is coming to an end, he charges forward, ramming the sizzling shield against Adamastor’s left thigh, while swinging the powered sword against, and completely through, the right knee, completely severing it, before jumping backwards to avoid the behemoth’s fall.
“Hey, Beautiful,” he calls, without taking his focus from the giant, “…you got a boyfriend, or anything?”
“No, but there’s an explanation why…” Paige watches the monster intently, as she looks for any vulnerabilities she can exploit. “I started college really early. Most college boys won’t date a 16 year old, and for good reason. And most boys in high school either think I’m inaccessible because I’m in college, or make dating frat boys seem less troub…”
Paige stopped mid sentence as she is watching Adamastor’s leg being reformed in front of her eyes… “We’re in trouble, Adam. Big trouble. MOVE!” Adamastor began to stand up as she is running away from him.
“Noyoudon’t…!” Adam snaps, thrusting his shield between the monster’s descending fist and the retreating girl’s back. A twist upward with his shield arm forces his adversary’s arm up as well, and he Slices with all his strength through the thing’s torso, just below the rib cage.
Fully expecting the damage to heal itself immediately, he glances quickly over his shoulder and leaps backward, in front of Paige, shield in front, swordarm raised behind.
Over his shoulder: “Sixteen, huh? Jailbait? Still, I’m eighteen. You have any interest in sharing a Coke with an ‘older man’ after this is over? I promise not to…do anything you don’t want.”
“….how about Sonic Siren, then? Or just Siren? It means a woman that attracts men. I’m Adamant…it means hard like a diamond.”
“Oooh. You just trapped yourself there, Adamant.” Paige says while using her arms to cast soundwaves on weak spots where the flesh can’t grow back as fast. “If Tahq and Jade fails and Nyghtshade is missing, this won’t be over for quite a while.”
“And nicknames like that…” she says with a smile, then keeps smiling “Siren implies that my singing is all that villains should look out for.” Of course, as she says this, Adamastor kicks his one good leg into where Paige isn’t looking, and trips her.
“GWAAAH!” She’s now within feet of being crushed.
Adam turns his shield off, jumps forward and grabs Paige by one ankle, yanking her to a position lying on the floor behind him.
“…would you stay behind me, Screaming Mimi!” he snarls. Without time for the shield to fully deploy, he can only swing the broadsword in a short arc in front of himself. The front of the monster’s foot flies across the room, the rest lands solidly in Adam’s midsection.
With an “…OOF…” of expelled air, he is shoved backwards, but manages to stay on his feet, trampling Paige behind him as he struggles.
The shield finishes materializing, he sets his teeth, grins, and stalks forward, rotating his sword in a figure 8 around himself, faster and faster.
“Watch this, Jailbait,” he instructs.
After losing a few fingers and a hand to the whirling red light, even Adamastor appears to regain some form of instinct for self-preservation, and backs up, briefly, studying the man with the sword.
Jade and Tahquitz have made it down to the 2nd floor, and Jade suggests they leave Nyght there long enough to join Adam & Paige in their fight.
Tucking the unmoving, sheet-wrapped body back in a corner of the landing, Jade drops down the stairwell to the bottom of the landing, and pops out into the worse-for-wear foyer.
She sees that Adamastor seems to have Paige and Adam bunched together on the other side of the foyer, where Adam seem to be holding his own with his whirling blade.
Jade dodges around to flank Adamastor, gathers herself and leaps high, striking the monstrosity in the ribs with a Eagle’s Claw kick. She can feel it’s ribs stoving in, as she drops to the floor, waving her arms to get its attention.
“Heya, Ugly, come on over here, I’ll dance with you!!” she shouts, hoping to get it to turn away from the others, hoping to give them clear shots.
“Who’re you calling Jailbait?” Tahquitz says landing next to the new guy. A stern look is on his face. “You know I’m her brother, right?”
“He didn’t mean anything by it.” Paige says, getting to her feet. “I’m alright.”
“In that case, Hi. Name’s Tahquitz. Tahq for short.” He says, then switches to fire, “Alright, Dog Food Barbeque…”
Tahquitz begins to fire salvos into the giant monster’s shoulders and chest with fire, then switches to ice on his extremities.
Adam glances at Tahquitz, makes a face. “She said she was sixteen, that makes her jailbait, doesn’t it? Brother or no brother?” The whirling blade continues its motion as he begins to stalk forward again.
“What…do I need your permission to offer her a Coke? Or does she have to ask your permission? Get real…”
Without warning, the blade stops and Adam crouches low, slipping under a haymaker. He comes back up to his full height, jamming the shield back into the once-injured knee yet again, while carving away at what is left of the thigh muscle, then backs away, skidding his feet along to floor so as to push any debris aside.
“Hey, Jade,” he calls. “Is this blackbird over here your boyfriend? He’s a bit rude and stingy.”
“Let’s play ‘The Dating Game’ after we get this thing OUT of the building, ‘K?” Jade snorts, launching a Cobra strike into the damaged knee joint, breaking bones and forcing the knee back in a direction it was never meant to go.
Adamastor staggers, having lost the support of that leg, however temporarily, and lists heavily to one side.
“Hey, hey hey, over here, Dead-Meat,” Jade taunts, trying to get its attention as she edges closer to the torn open front entrance.
“We need to get this thing outside and into the open, where you guys can go full bore on it without bringing the building down on top of us,” she urges the others.
“Both good points. Prince Valiant? You seem to have his attention. Got any ideas?” Tahq says while looking at the new guy.
“Tahq. Be nice.” Paige says, then looks at the doors. “But that’s not a bad idea… Adam, can you get him pissed off at you and run outside? Tahq, freeze the floors after Adam runs out the doors, then fly Jade outside to start an attack.”
“And what are you going to do?” Tahq is watching Paige as she approaches him backwards while staring down the monster.
“Two words: knockback.” Paige says, eyes steady.
“You got it, Harmony,” Adam nods. He begins the figure-8 maneuver to cover himself as he stalks past the giant and steps out onto the raised porch. “Hey, I kinda like that…Harmony. It suits you,” he tells Paige.
“…if feather head over there is your boyfriend, you could do better…lots better…” he continues without looking at Jade, turning the shield off and making the “come hither” motion with his left arm. “Hey, Garbage Head, you wanted to get past my sword, didn’t you? Meet me outside and we can have some real fun…”
Taking quick glances over his shoulder, he slowly and carefully backs down the steps, one at a time, the shield still turned off, his sword arm relaxed at his side for once as he minds his balance while descending. Every couple of steps he stops long enough to Taunt the monster, then continues the descent until he reaches ground level and backs up a few more feet.
He turns the shield back on, but his sword arm remains by his side.
Jade is crouched low and silent as Adamastor’s attention is drawn to Adamant’s slow retreat out what’s left of the foyer’s front entrance.
It staggers upright again, or as upright as it can get in the confines inside the building, and limp-steps after Adamant, but hesitates halfway across and slowly turns its head back toward the others, as if just remembering them.
Jade wonders fleetingly if in fact it has anything like a memory, but this isn’t the time for getting side-tracked.
“Yeah,” she mutters to Tahquitz and Paige, “might be the time for slippery floor…”
“Alright, time for a building renovation.” Tahquitz is aiming downward while he hovers to create an Ice Patch around the entrance, down the path to where Adamastor is, and finally, beneath his feet.
“Jade, need a lift outside?”
“I’ll wait till Paige gets him out the door…”
She pauses, looking at the girl. “Think you can get him outside, or do you need me to help force him that way? Not that I think I’d be any better on the ice than he will….”
Adam turns the shield off and makes the beckoning gesture again, shouting, “…hey, you, Ugly!…” over and over again.
Can’t hurt… he thinks to himself…
“I just need nothing between him…” Paige locks eyes on the monster, “Me…” she slowly leans forward, “And the back wall.” She motions behind her.
Paige takes a deep breath and preps her arms. She leans forward at an incline angle, then forms a Shockwave to Adamastor’s chest. Then she leans forward to the point she’s about to fall, and does a sonic assisted leap to two feet in front of where Adamastor slid back 50 feet and does it again.
Finally, as Adamastor slides even faster to the door, Paige does another sonic assisted leap from the ice to the back wall to do it again in a ‘dolphin kick’ to return twice as fast and deliver a final Shockwave at speed on Adamastor’s form one last time, sending him 210 feet further at twice the speed of her initial Shockwave attempt.
Adam turns his shield back on and pivots on one foot as the giant hurls completely past him. He smiles as he leaps forward, hacking with the sword, gouging with the crackling shield, backing up a couple of feet to take a new position, and then attacking again.
He doesn’t even bother to dodge the occasional swat Adamastor aims in his direction, only slashes away more rotting flesh, or allows the blow to slide across sword or shield and then land across his back and shoulders, shrugging off the impacts with a grunt or two.
Jade leaps forward, riding the ice the way one might a water-slide, and tumbling off the edge before she plows into Adamastor.
Rolling to her feet, she circles the monster to place herself on the opposite side from Adamant. “Divide and Conquer!” she calls out, and leaps forward to try and smash the knee-joint again, buckling it sideways this time.
Standing several blocks away, the suit clad man watches as Adamastor slides out into the street. In that moment he’s thankful for the wherewithal that compelled him to leave the van and retreat to a safe distance. With a sigh and a shake of his head, he reaches for his phone again.
“They are stronger than we anticipated,” he admits to whoever is on the other end of the line. “For now, we retreat.”
Moving slowly so as not to seem too conspicuous, he delves into a breast pocket and removes an impossibly small shrunken head. Running a thumb over the leathery skin, he begins to chant in a foreign tongue. In response, an eerie green mist swirls outward from the grotesque implement.
At that same moment, a billowing cloud swallows up Adamastor. It disappears almost instantaneously, completely consumed by the fog. Only the detritus of battle remains to mark its passing.
“So much for that,” Jade exclaims, straightening. “Magic…”
She shrugs, and turns to face the wrecked entrance. “Monique is going to have a fit…”
She turns back, to face the others. “Of course, we did save her life, so…” she adds almost mischievously. More seriously, though, she continues, “I’m guessing we probably did, you know. Thanks, all of you, for helping.”
“Of course.” Paige says, “Is everyone alright?” She’s clearly out of breath after her last gambit and fight-or-flight is paying it’s toll on her now.
“And what the hell was all that about?!!”
“There was a Pantheon Shaman upstairs, and he was trying to steal Monique while she… er…” She glances to Adam, who clearly hasn’t been told about Monique’s ‘condition’. “Um, he caught her unawares, and she was, you know, unconscious when we arrived, so he was trying to drag her out the window…. but Tahquitz and I stopped him.”
“I think all the zombies down here were supposed to be a some kind of diversion, and I almost fell for it.”
His final swing failing to connect with anything solid as the monster dissolves, Adam finds himself about to topple forward. He manages to catch himself…only then does he feel fatigue starting to flood over his body, catching him by surprise.
His first battle, he muses, glancing around, noting the other fighters. No victory. No finishing blow.
It’s a bittersweet moment…more bitter than sweet. He turns the shield off, as well as the sword, twists to click the sword handle to its connection on his belt, finds himself struggling clumsily to fasten it as his fingers don’t seem to want to obey his commands.
He takes a deeper breath, begins to walk toward Jade. “What the hell was that all about?” he asks, his voice hoarse from his exertion.
Tahquitz thinks back to a prior incursion in Dark Astoria when it was all foggy and full of ghosts. The Dagger of Cueyto he used to stop a Spirit of Desire turning a local IRS branch office into a bad Community College play… except with sacrifice scenes.
He sees Paige looking at him, “Cricket, was it any of these symbols you saw?” he thinks out loud hoping she hears him. His memory focuses on the Banished Pantheon rune alphabet. “These are the same runes on Monique’s belt she tries to keep hidden. Why didn’t I think of that until now?”
“Not trying to be mean, but that is something you are going to have to ask HER about. And I encourage you to.” Paige sends to his mind, “That’s something between friends, and I’ve ruined the trust of one already with you.”
Tahquitz lowers his head… “I’m sorry. I wouldn’t have called Devereaux unless I was certain you were in harm, and when I saw Crey’s Folly on TV…” He didn’t get a reply.
Jade straightens, facing Adam’s anger without any sign of being intimidated. “As I was saying,” she continues patiently, “it looks like the Banished Pantheon set this attack on the building as a diversion, while they tried to kidnap Fen Monique from her apartment upstairs.”
“Tahquitz and I got up there in time – just barely – to stop a storm Shaman, big boss in the Pantheon, from dragging her out the window and getting away with her. So, yeah, you probably helped save her life. Because the Pantheon like to kill things.”
Realizing what she’s just said, and Monique’s special circumstances thanks to the Pantheon, Jade winces ever so slightly at her choice of words.
“Well, I’m famished. How about an early dinner. I fly, I buy? … while you guys watch the place? What do you guys want?” Tahq asks, “Even you, Adam, was it?”
Adam stares at Jade for a long moment. He’s finding it difficult to think, as waves of exhaustion descend. I need a beer, he thinks. Or water. Water would do. No…a lot of beer…
“Look, I can see you think you’ve just explained everything, and I’m really dense, but you haven’t explained anything. I have no idea what a Banshee Pavilion is, the landlady told me she was never here during the day, I don’t know what a shama is or why it would be dragging people out of windows…and is fighting monsters for free supposed to be part of the rental on this apartment, because if it is, I think I’d better start looking for a quieter place to live. No offense.”
Finally having had enough, he sags, then lowers himself to a seated position, still breathing deeply. “…and the least you could do is offer a guy a beer. Or water. Or a date. In that order.”
Tahquitz remembers the movie, Blazing Saddles and laughs. “That limits me to water, I’m afraid. I’m too young to get beer, and I think you’d be happier with a girl.”
With no one taking him up on food, he just stands and listens.
“We’re kind of on lockdown here, but if you give me your number…” Paige says. “You might have potential… if you can knock off the Jailbait and Screaming Mimi talk, that is.”
She sees Tahq’s eyes widen and turns her head, “And I can’t drink… it ruins my best superpower.”
Jade pauses, regarding Adam thoughtfully after his tirade, before remarking calmly, “You really are new to all this, aren’t you? New to heroing, I mean.” Ruefully, she conceded, “What a way to get your feet wet…”
“So, OK, I’ve got beers at my place, assuming the building’s not coming down on us. And sodas,” she adds for Tim and Paige’s benefit.
Cautiously - concerned this time for the foyer’s integrity - Jade leads them all back inside and waves a hand at the kitchen and the fridge. “Help yourself. I’ll… er… I’ll be right back, and then we can talk.”
With that, she sprints up the stairs to the second floor, where Monique’s sheet-swathed body still lays right where they’d left her. With a sigh, Jade shrugs Monique up over her shoulder, fireman-carry style, and starts back down the stairs toward her place. “Sorry, Monique,” she murmurs, although knowing Monique can’t hear her, “but looks like Adam’s going to find out sooner than later.”
Moving slowly, Adam climbs to his feet, follows the others into Jade’s apartment. Glancing around, he heads for the fridge and the promised beer, returning to throw himself into a chair before twisting the cap and taking a long pull.
He stares at the cap in his hand, fatigue plain on his face.
He glances up as Jade returns, showing every evidence of carrying a dead body over her shoulder.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa…!” he sputters, jumping to his feet. Leaping forward, his arms outstretched, he comes to a clumsy halt, halfway between trying to support Jade and trying to take her burden, his expression shifting between concern, alarm, and disgust.
“What in hell…I think you people better start explaining yourselves, before I call PPD…”
“Hold on Adam! That’s your landlord… we’ve got… some explaining to do. She’s fine, you’ll see her soon.” Paige starts, “Just sit down for a second. Tahq, you might as well hear this too.”
Jade sighs again, adding, “Don’t get your briefs in a twist, Adam. This is Monique, and she is not dead. Not exactly. Sit down and I’ll explain.”
She lays the tightly shrouded body on one of the rolled out exercise mats, furthest from any windows, but does not immediately pull the sheets free. Instead, she asks Tahquitz and Paige to raid her bedroom and grab all the blankets from the bed, while Jade fetches a hammer and nails from the kitchen, and Adam stares in consternation as they nail the blankets over the windows, blocking out light at least in that corner of the house.
At last Jade kneels beside Monique, carefully peeling the sheets back and checking her. To all appearances, Monique appears merely to be sleeping - unless one notes she isn’t breathing.
“So,” Jade begins without preamble, “it’s not supposed to be my story to tell, but you deserve answers, and, well, she’s in no shape right now to give them. She probably would have, eventually, Adam, once you got to know her better, but…”
Jade clears her throat, and then plows right in. “She’s cursed, OK? Her powers come from the curse. The Banished Pantheon killed her, and then brought her back, but she’s changed. She works at night, has to avoid contact with the sun because it hurts her now, and during the day when she has to sleep, she’s like this. I’m not sure anything can wake her once she’s down for the day… and I don’t think it’s safe for her to stay here right now… but I’m not sure where else to take her that would be safe. She’s got a SG base, but I don’t know how to get into it. M.A.G.I. maybe….? I don’t know.”
“Oh I know a particular woman who would gladly give her shelter. Linuial would be here in minutes if we say the word.” Paige says, “But the transportation is weird… Jade, you and I have been through that.”
Adam stands in the middle of the room, following all the activity with an expression of baffled worry. Eventually he looks around, spots the beer bottle he had dropped when he made his precipitous leap toward Jade and her burden, the contents no longer bubbling out onto the floor, adding to the creeping puddle. Moving slowly, he walks to the kitchen and rustles around until he finds a dishrag, returns to mop up the mess. He finishes by picking up the bottle, emptying the dregs down the sink, wringing out the dishrag and laying it across the edge of the sink, then fetches another beer, opens it, and takes a deep slurg, before leaning back against the sink, still watching the rest of the group.
“Powers…” He drags the word out. “So…she’s a Hero, too? Cursed? What, some kind of ‘vampire’?” He looks far from reassured.
“Look, I just moved in here today. Yesterday I was back home at my parents’ house. I just got my Hero card. I haven’t even gotten my first assignment, I was supposed to check in tomorrow morning for the first time.
“Is this all supposed to be ‘normal’? Because nobody warned me about it, not the landlady either.” He peers at the shrouded figure, his brows knitted.
“You can talk to her sometime about how the curse works,” Jade replies cautiously, but adds with some feeling, “But she’s got a level 50 Security Clearance, which you really don’t get by being bad. In fact, you’re gonna have trouble finding anyone nicer than she is.”
She turns to Paige and once reassured that Linuial can keep Monique safe, Jade nods and Paige makes the call.
Then as they wait, Jade, Paige and Tim take turns filling Adam in on the life of a Hero in Paragon City.
“Adam… Sweetie. You’re doing fine. You’re taking this pretty well all considered.” Paige says, smiling. “You are very brave.”
“But ‘normal’… that word is kind of relative in a city like this. You and Jade might be the two most normal people in this room. I’m a mutant, and Tahq here is possessed by a Raven Demon from the Cahuilla Indians. If you meet Linuial, you’ll meet a woman who has more years alive than any of us combined. And Devereaux…” Paige giggles, “is FULL of surprises.”
Paige picks up her phone and dials Linuial’s superbase. “Hi, is Lin there? We need some help…”
An otherwise normal day in the City of Heroes has quickly devolved into chaos. Undead monsters, cultists with elemental powers, and a kidnapping attempt in broad daylight. But then again, that’s all perfectly normal in Paragon.
With the immediate threat neutralized, there’s nothing left to do but wait for help to arrive and enjoy the last golden rays of daylight as the sun begins to sink, casting the sky in a brilliant mixture of fiery orange and gold.