Paragon City Stories: Death Becomes Her
Hosted and Narrated by TIMESHADOW
Act I, Scene 2
Place: Steel Canyon
Thankfully, the Talos Island base portal isn’t too far from Nyghtshade’s brownstone. Though short, the trip is made somewhat awkward by the tension surrounding the entire situation. Upon arriving in the cozy sanctum belonging to Starfire, the group of unconventional heroes led by the immortal healer, Linuial, some much needed rest can finally be had.
But there’s still the matter of trying to make sense of what happened only a few hours ago. The obvious questions are at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Just what does the Banished Pantheon want with Fen Monique and why were they willing to loose a Giant Monster in broad daylight to get hold of her?
It’s quite a zoo at the Starfire base. More and more people seem to be arriving, and the babble of over-mixing conversations make it difficult to figure what is and was happening.
“Okay, you can put Monique on the padded bench by the fire…she’s woken up there before, and it should be less disorienting. Blood, see if anyone is hungry or needs drinks. If anyone is injured, step over here to the med bay and I’ll check you over and heal you if necessary.”
As the red-and-green giant nods and moves to chat with the incomers, Adam watches, then sidles up to Blood Nut.
“…got a beer?” he says in a low voice, “…and then I think I need some carbs…” His voice is shaky, and he looks around…then makes his way to another of the couches facing the fire pit, where he plops himself with a tired groan. It isn’t long before his head begins to bob against his chest.
Tahquitz is sitting at the fireside, playing a small soft tune on a Harmonica, not very loudly or fast paced. He sees Blood Nut tapping his foot.
This being his first time at Starfire’s superbase, he is duly impressed. Very outdoors. He likes it. Not like his supergroup’s base at all, which is a lot more subterranean. The fire crackles on as he continues playing.
Paige is staring at the sink in the restroom next to the Base Portal. Rinsing her arms and hands after that fight, she’d rather have a shower, but that’s not in the cards for the next hour or so as everyone shuffles around the base after she arrived.
The upside of one of her friends being attacked? She’s able to quiet the din of questions about her own situation temporarily… while a whole new barrage begins. How did Monique escape from her captors the first time? And if they spent all of these years without trying to recapture her, why now all of the sudden? And did her husband’s disappearance have anything to do with this?
All those weeks seeing Monique’s apartment, as a haven for living at nighttime, she hasn’t connected the reason why the alarm systems, the shutters, and the daytime tenants downstairs have been put together for all this time. It’s not because of her curse. It’s because of her past. The tenants are her first line of defense.
It’ll be sun down momentarily, and Paige is wanting some answers along with everyone else. She is checking herself in the mirror, then straightens herself up and takes a deep breath, before stepping out. She heads to the fire pit with the rest of the arrivals in waiting.
“Not how I wanted to spend my weekday afternoon…” Paige says to the men sitting around the pit, “Any news?”
Jon Smith smiles amiably at the young girl, lifts the glass he’s holding.
“Actually, I was hoping to get some news from you guys. All we know is that you started showing up, Nyghtshade wrapped like a mummy. I assume she was asleep at home…were you there? What happened before you showed up on our doorstep?”
He turns to look at Adam, but by this time, it’s pretty obvious he’s out like a light.
Tahquitz continues to play softly as the cyborg asked Paige about the situation. She can say it better than he can, anyway.
“We were all in Monique’s building. Jade and Tahquitz training, I was doing homework off to the side, and Adam was moving in. We thought the vans across the street weren’t full of Banished Pantheon waiting to invade her apartment. Jade and Tahq went to protect Nyght as we fought a massive beast, Adamastor?”
Paige looks down, “Anyway, the kidnapping was foiled, they retreated, and her building is more or less in shambles. And we’re left wondering why.”
The blonde cyborg sits up abruptly.
“Adamastor?!” He whistles appreciatively. “I’m surprised you guys aren’t at the hospital instead of here.”
He looks across the room and down the hall, where Blood Nut is just barely visible as he tends to the guests. “Hey, Blood!” he calls. “Come here and listen to this. Adamastor showed up at Monique’s brownstone!”
“But that’s the weird part. We… didn’t defeat him. After we got him outside and began an offensive, he vanished. Can Adamastor do that?” Paige asks, “I’m kind of new to the Banished Pantheon myself.”
Tahquitz stops and takes a breath, “Nope.”
“Adamastor isn’t a typical beast. You can defeat him, and he comes back, but most fights with him… heroes either win and we don’t hear from him for days or weeks at a time, or he finishes what he starts and the National Guard and Hero Corps come in.”
Tahquitz takes his harmonica back up and continues playing.
At Jon Smith’s shout, various Starfire members start showing up in the main room from corners of the base, Brother Mathias wiping green reagent from his hands, Anya polishing a newly finished Enhancement, Quake shows up with a finger tucked inside a book marking his place.
The room erupts in a cacophony of voices, all asking questions on pretty much the same theme: what happened, why was Adamastor there, how did it start, what did it have to do with Nyghtshade and her brownstone.
Blood Nut disappears briefly, and returns with a tray and begins dispensing drinks. He sets Adam’s beer bottle next to him, before seating himself on the floor near the fire pit.
Paige recounts the story for the members of Starfire, answering questions as fast as she can.
“Adam here, he kept him on his knees!”
“No! The first time I tried to hit him, he smacked me like a fly!”
“So, there I was, staring him down trying to figure out how my scrawny bones was going to make that giant leave the building…”
Then the inevitable question, “Why did they try to kidnap Monique?”
Paige looks down, and says what’s in her mind, “I… I don’t know. I’ve been trying to figure that out all afternoon.”
Linuial’s cell rings, and when she answers, it’s Jade requesting entry to the base. Shortly, the young woman trots out of the portal into the base entrance, still in her workout pants and Marvel T-shirt, but with a laundry bag tossed over her shoulder, and a couple of hastily applied bandages on her forearms.
Tucking her cellphone inside her pocket, she calls out, “Hello? It’s Jade….”
Linuial bustles over from the med bay. “Here, let me see that,” she says, taking the laundry bag and depositing it without ceremony on the entry floor, then taking Jade’s hands one at a time while she inspects the damage.
A few words in a long-forgotten tongue, green glowing light, and Jade’s wounds are completely healed, the bandages now unnecessary.
“You need anything? Water? Something to eat? The rest are in the main hall by the fire pit…we’re trying to put together what happened and why.”
“Wow, thanks,” Jade says sincerely. “It was just some electrical burns, but thanks.” She follows Lin back toward the others, looking around and adding, “Monique’s OK, yeah?”
Jade nods hello to everyone, and drops crosslegged to the floor by the firepit.
“Yeah, the ‘why’ is the big question. Maybe Monique will know.”
Jon Smith glances up as Linuial and Jade enter the large room. “By the clock in my head, it should be sundown soon.” He glances over at Adam, pointedly.
Blood Nut gets back up. “Yeah, he said he needed some food. Looks like he’s having a sugar crash. I’ll get it.”
As he passes Paige, he adds, “Who is this guy, anyway? Nobody introduced him. I’m assuming he’s okay, as he’s with you guys.”
He continues his route out of the room.
“He’s Adam. He’s a new tenant of Monique’s… and a new hero, freshly registered. He’s taking things very well, but this is all new to him.” Paige says, “Without him, we’d be hamburger for sure.”
Stray looks up, interested. “Really? How’d he get mixed up in you guys’ fight?”
“By moving in while they attacked… Terrible luck.” Paige says, “Didn’t get a chance to settle at all.”
“…while they attacked? You mean he was coming in one door as they were coming in another?” Quake is now interested in the story as well.
“He just finished with the movers before they raided the building. After we regrouped in Jade’s apartment, we went straight here after I called for help, so he hasn’t had a moment to rest until now,” Paige says.
As the scent of pizza starts to drift scross the room, the tall cyborg gets up and walks across the room, disappearing only seconds before he reappears, following Blood Nut, who is balancing 3 pizzas across his ample arms. Jon carries another 2, and the two Starfire men begin distributing the trays and rolls of paper towels around the crowd.
As Jon walks behind Adam the younger man begins to rouse, blinking, and then looking around the room. Seeing the motion, Jon pauses to wrap a paper towel around the crust of one piece, and makes a one-arm reach to present the slice to the Brute, who accepts with obvious relish.
Tahquitz stops playing his harmonica, wipes it off and pockets it away.
“This has been fun, but I smell… food.” Tahquitz says, “Thanks, Jon!”
“…ummmph…” Adam makes a thumbs up. “Whatever angel provided this, thank you from the bottom of my heart…you just saved my life.”
He goes back to munching.
“Fighting takes it out of you…” Maggot Man agrees.
“Think you guys can fill us in while you’re eating? I’m still a bit foggy on what’s going on here. Banished Pantheon, and Adamastor show up at Nyghtshade’s brownstone during the day while she’s asleep. You guys fight them all off, with the help of a new tenant, is that the drift of it?
“Anyone know why you were targeted? It sounds like you think it’s something to do with Monique, but could it be someone else in the brownstone?”
“Thash tha thingh,” Tahq says with his mouth full before swallowing, “The Storm Shaman we stopped from abducting her… he said something like ‘She is our creation… we can do with her as we see fit.’ Like she was theirs to pick up like take out pizza.”
“The runes on her belt are from Banished Pantheon. I know that much, so they may be right in saying they had a hand in ‘creating’ her, or cursing her, anyway.”
“Let me see…” The elven woman shakes her head at a proffered slice, her eyes reaching into the distance. “Monique told me, long ago…Someone was paying the Banished Pantheon to create an undead for them, and Monique was the victim they chose for that purpose. Something went wrong, and she wound up sort-of in between, if I understood what she was saying. I’m guessing that she was supposed to be stripped of all independent will, and obviously that didn’t happen.
“So, yes, they would look on her as property…actually ‘raw material’.” She frowned even more deeply. “And yes, it would be fair to say that they ‘created’ her, what she is today, even though it is not what they intended.
“I wonder…do they think they can complete the project, at this late date? Is the original ‘buyer’ still around?
“Maybe most important of all, was there something ‘special’ about Monique, that caused them to choose her in the first place?”
It’s the little rituals that root us, that give us a lifeline in a stormy world. For Monique, waking each night is one of those little rituals. As the sun slides below the horizon each evening and consciousness returns, she draws a slow breath, savoring the feel of it, of lungs expanding not because they need to, but because she chooses it. Eyes still closed, she stretches beneath her blankets, a deliciously languid, comfortingly ‘human’ movement of arms and legs, before finally opening her eyes and facing another night.
But this time, as she slowly inhales and stretches, her hand encounters vertical wood rather than the soft expanse of her bed, and her eyes snap open, sweeping the scene around her as she instinctively tenses, ready to strike out if need be.
But then, she recognizes what she’s seeing. “Starfire?” she murmurs, sitting up abruptly and realizing she’s on a padded bench with a wooden back, still in her filmy nightgown, and covered merely by a sheet, which is now slipping down.
Baffled, she looks around the room at Linuial and Jon, Blood Nut, a number of others she assumes must be members of Starfire, as well as Tahquitz, Paige, Jade and Adam, one of her newest tenants, all sitting near her and engaged in conversation and pizza.
“What…? What am Ah doin’ heah? In mah nightgown??” she demands of the others, as she grabs for the sheet and pulls it up back up to cover herself.
“Sure. The Banished Pantheon tried to kidnap you, while you were asleep,” Paige says, “…so we stopped them and brought you here.”
Monique stares blankly at Paige as she struggles to make sense of that, and can only manage, “What?”
Linuial seats herself on the stone floor near the fire pit, surveys the gathering.
“Look, everyone is getting bits and pieces, here. Can someone please just start from the beginning, fill everyone in, including Monique? And introduce us all to your new tenant, Monique? We don’t need to know details, just what happened, and what needs to be done next. Jade, maybe you’d be the best person to start, as you appear to have been a witness to more than anyone else. And it might be best to hold the questions until the end.”
Jade has been chowing down on pizza and bottled water, feeling - although she’d be loath to admit it - pretty wiped out from the demands she’d put on herself just a short time earlier.
She looks up as Linuial speaks, though, and nods, setting the crust of pizza down on a napkin.
“Um, yeah, OK…. I’m another one of Nyght’s… Monique’s tenants, you know. So, Tahquitz had come by my place, on the ground floor, to get some pointers for martial arts practice, and his friend Paige came by too, to just hang out. So, we were just getting started when we heard a crash in the building foyer, and it turned out Adam here was moving in, and his movers had dropped something, so… so we met Adam. And then went back to practicing, and Adam went upstairs with the movers.”
“Then, I don’t know, what, half an hour later?” she says, glancing to Tahquitz for confirmation on the time, “we heard gunshots outside, and people screaming, and I looked out my side window and I could see civvies, er, civilians, running away down the street, but I couldn’t see who was shooting. So, Tahquitz here did his winged-black-and-glowy-thing, and I opened the door to go see what was going on, and there were a bunch of zombie Pantheon guys, some with rifles, some just with cudgels, you know how they are, but they were IN the foyer, they’d yanked the front door off the hinges and they were swarming inside the building!”
“So, Tahquitz and Paige and I rushed out to try and stop them, and there was a fight, and Adam…ant… Adamant here, came down too, and we were all fighting them and trying to figure out what the hell they were doing at this end of Talos… much less inside the building, and I could see they were real focused on getting to the stairwell, so I thought we should get up the stairwell first and try to….”
Jade pauses, frowning, and says, “OK, TMI… Short version is, I was trying to figure out what the hell was going on, and realized we hadn’t seen a Shaman, and there’s always a Shaman around with these things, and then it hit me that maybe this was a diversion while the Banished Pantheon went for Monique, who as, ahem, ‘asleep’ upstairs. So, since the zombie hoard had been whittled down a bit by now, Tahquitz and I rushed upstairs to see if Monique was OK, and her door was OK and shut, but then the alarms went off inside, and I got my keys and unlocked her front door and we rushed in and found that a Storm Shaman was in her bedroom and had her up wrapped up in her sheets like a mummy, and he busted out a bedroom window and the metal shutter, and gave us a little speech about how she was their creation and they would do as they saw fit with her, while his winds were starting to pick her up and move her toward the window, so I yelled “Like hell you will” and attacked him and knocked him back out the window and tried to choke him, and Tahquitz came out and joined the fight, and there was some lightning and I got stunned, and next thing I know we’re back in the bedroom, the Shaman is gone, and there’s an unholy racket going on downstairs again. So…”
She has to pause for breath, but doggedly continues, with an apologetic look toward Monique, “So, we took Monique downstairs and there was freakin’ Adamastor crashing and bashing around in the foyer, fighting Adamant and Paige, so Tahquitz and I joined that fight, and we all managed to draw Adamastor back outside, and then he went all green-foggy and vanished.”
“So we called you, Linuial, because we didn’t know where else safe to take Monique, and that’s pretty much that. Except to say that we didn’t know it was Adam’s first day here in Paragon, and he did a hell’v’a good job fighting Adamastor, and so did Paige and Tahquitz.”
Cutting a look toward Monique, Jade hastily adds, “And the front entrance is pretty wrecked, Monique, and you’ve got a smashed out bedroom window, but I caught the cats and took them and all their stuff down to Livvy’s place, and I gave her your list of contractors and building inspectors and asked her to start calling around to see about getting everything fixed again. So….”
Jade trails off, looking around at the rest of the group for what she’s sure is going to be a storm of questions, as she tentatively reaches for another slice of pizza.
The tiny blonde woman leans back on her hands, blinking.
“Well,” she says, before anyone else can comment, “that’s certainly a story.”
Leaning forward, she rises to her feet, walks carefully around seated bodies, ankles, and knees, and approaches the young Brute.
“Adam, was it? Adamant?” she inquires, offering her right hand. “I’m Linuial, the leader of Starfire, a Paragon City supergroup, and this is our base. You’re welcome to stay here as long as you need to until your apartment building has been repaired. From Jade’s account, it seems you’ve earned your keep the hard way.”
“…yes, ma’am, I mean, thank you, ma’am,” the young man sticks out his hand, then yanks it back and starts scrubbing it back-and-forth against his jeans leg before taking Linuial’s hand and shaking it. “Adam Masters, ma’am. Yeah, Adamant is my registered Hero name. Just got here today, I guess you’d say I just fell off the turnip truck. Didn’t have any idea things would be so…exciting. So soon.”
He blinks, looks a bit nonplussed. “Thank you for the pizza, too. I guess it’s your pizza…ma’am.”
Linuial laughs, free and easy, as is her wont. “You’re welcome, Adam. Always a pleasure to welcome a new Hero to our city.”
She turns, indicates one person at a time: “Blood Nut, Maggot Man, Anya, Quake, Stray, Brother Mathias…where is Pangea?”
Brother Mathias speaks up: “…we were getting low on the pizzas, so she’s making a quick grocery run.”
“Ah. Well, you’ll meet her when she gets back, Adam. I guess you already have met Monique, Jade, Tahquitz and Paige. I think that’s it for the introductions…everybody can get to know each other better…later.
“Now that that is out of the way…questions? Monique? I imagine you’re still getting your feet under you, anything you need to know?”
As an empath, Linuial would be able to tell that during Jade’s somewhat rambling explanation, Monique’s reactions had run the gamut from indignant at the description of the assault on her building, to appalled at the description of a Shaman invading her home, to shock an worry during the account of the damage to the brownstone.
And now, her emotions have settled into a sick despair.
Monique’s sheet has slipped down again, and as she notices, she murmurs a few words or a phrase in what might be Romani and is suddenly wearing her costume.
Quietly, she murmurs, “Ah thought we weah done with all this. Ah thought afteh Carmine and Akpan weah arrested…” Her hands move to cup the massive garnet on her metal belt, and her voice trails off.
Linuial crosses to the bench where Nyghtshade is sitting, waves to her to “scootch over”, and seats herself by the undead Heroine, taking one of Nyghtshade’s cold hands in one of her warm ones.
“Okay, that sounds like something that needs elaboration. Who are Carmine and Akpan, and what do they have to do with this attack on your home?”
With a heavy sigh, Monique replies, “Carmine was a Family Boss in N’Orleans. You know, The Family? Ah offended him, well, sassed him off, actually, and he chose use me as a weapon to kill mah first husband, Tony.” In a somewhat smaller voice, Monique admits, “Tony was a Family Boss, too, although Ah didn’t realize it when Ah married him… Anyway… Carmine told me, afteh Ah’d sassed him, to tell mah husband that someday Carmine would own eveh’thin’ Tony had. Eveh’thin’.“
She is quiet for a few seconds, before continuing, “Anyway, Carmine went and found Akpan, a Death Shaman. The Banished Pantheon is pretty big down in N’Orleans. And he worked a deal with Akpan to come up with a twist on the usual Pantheon curses. He wanted a ‘special ordeh’, as it weah. Someone who could kill people by suckin’ away theah lives. The perfect enforceh, and also the perfect weapon. No fingehprints, no alarmin’ cause of death. And Carmine wanted that killeh to turn around and give him all that lifeforce. A walkin’ Fountain of Youth.”
“He had anotheh part of the spell that would activate afteh Ah was turned - killed, and raised up again - and it would have forced me to do whateveh he ordehed, the way the Pantheon ordehs theah zombies… but it depended on both me and him bein’ present togetheh.”
Monique’s voice has grown husky with the remembrance. “Would have worked, too, but… when Ah realized what Ah had become, what Ah had… done… Ah ran away. Ah fled across country to Paragon, and went to M.A.G.I., and begged them to help me find a way to bring somethin’ good out of what Ah had become.”
Her voice trails off, but it’s plain to Linuial she’s still holding something back.
After a moment, Monique straightens and looks around at the rest of the group. “Theah’s moah. Ah came heah to Paragon, and Ah learned how to be a, a hero. M.A.G.I. referred me to the Dauntless Reverie, and they took me in. Ah met Loang, and we fell and love and planned to marry. And then Carmine and Akpan showed up, and he activated the otheh end of the Curse, and collected me right out of mah apartment, while Loang was out. And.. it worked, Ah couldn’t fight him…”
Her expression is bleak, but warms. “But Loang and mah Dauntless, they found me, they stormed the place, and broke the ring that was controllin’ me… but even befoah they did that, he… Carmine, he ordehed me to kill them and, and Ah wouldn’t. Ah wouldn’t do it… it was a horrible struggle, and a neah thing, but Ah wouldn’t hurt them.”
She sighs. “So, Carmine and Akpan got arrested and sent off to the Zig, and mah life got back to normal. Till.. till now. That was all neahly seven yeah’s ago… Why’d the Pantheon come attack me now?” she finishes, somewhat forlornly.
“Well, that’s one thing we should put to rest,” the tiny blonde says, pulling out her cell phone and jabbing rapidly at the screen.
A couple of minutes later, she hands the phone to Monique. “I called the office of the administrator of the Zig…you can see for yourself where Carmine and Akpan are.”
“Carmine’s dead,” Monique says flatly. “Somebody or somethin’ killed him the night he arrived at the Zig. But… Ah neveh really followed up on Akpan. Ah just didn’t eveh want to think about eitheh of them again.”
Almost reluctantly, she takes the phone, talks with the Zig officer at the other end, and - after giving her name and Hero Registration info - asks if Akpan is still being held there, or has been transferred elsewhere.
After listening a moment, her hand drops to her lap, phone cradled in lax fingers, her expression stricken. “Akpan… Akpan escaped, moah than a yeah ago…..”
Linuial reaches to take the phone from the undead woman. “All right, then, we pretty much know who is pointing a finger, and who he is pointing at. Now what? Monique, you can’t go back to the brownstone, and as long as you aren’t there, I assume the other tenants won’t be molested. Do you want to stay here? None of the people from your deep past would know you were associated with Starfire.”
Monique stares down at her gloved hands, cradled in her lap, as she mulls over her options. Finally, she concedes, “The Dauntless have a base, a really nice one, but, but it’s kind of a ghost town these days. So… stayin’ heah… might be best. Safeh foah mah tenants, at any rate.”
She raises her gaze to meet the small elven woman’s. “Thank you, Linuial. Thank you foah yoah help. And hospitality.”
She looks to the rest of the group, to Tahquitz, Paige, Adam and Jade. “Thanks to each of you as well. Ah am blessed to have such good friends.”
“Okay, that’s settled, then.” She pockets the phone, glides to her feet. “I’m happier with you here, anyway, Monique. Anyone who wants to volunteer for guard duty can join you here in the base. There will be activity all day long anyway, while you need to sleep…we have some pretty heavy hitters here, and all battle honed. The Pantheon won’t sneak up on you again…and there’s no way they can hack through our base portal security.
“That should buy you some time, and give us and any other allies you want to bring in time to come up with a plan for a long-term solution.”
“Theah’s one complication, though, that makes mah sittin’ around heah all night, tucked up safe and sound, a bit problematic,” Monique sighs.
“Ah still need to patrol some time tonight. Some time, ev’ry night.”
“Oh, yes, you do have your…needs…”
“We’ll just have to set up a schedule, who can accompany you on patrol. I’d be happier if you could have two escorts every night…would it be okay if it was early in the night, so people can get some rest later on? I promise you we’ll find something here you can entertain yourself with for the rest of the night. Would an hour or two of patrolling suit your needs?”
“Prudent,” Monique agrees quietly. She looks toward the others, waiting for their reaction to all that’s been shared so far tonight.
“Tahq, did you get the name of the Shaman you guys faced?” Paige asks him. He looks at her and shakes his head.
“Monique, if there’s anything you need outside, consider me your errand girl. Anything at all, you got it,” she says with resolve. “Whether it’s candles, a good book, or leads on Banished Pantheon movements from PPD or other supergroups, just say the word.”
When Paige mentions books, he leans into Terry and whispers, “I think you and I can go visit a library of our own… in modo loquendi…“
Terry shakes her head, grimacing. “Guy, I so do not speak Latin.”
“All the same, sensei… you know someone who does,” Tahq whispers, “… and his library is the place to go for magic-centered threats.”
Jade stares at him, eyes narrowed, until she finally figures out what he’s driving at. “Oh! Yeah, sure, we could go to the ‘library‘. Any time. Maybe in the morning.”
Nyght shifts, drawing attention back to herself. “Yoah right, of course, Linuial, it’s moah considerate if Ah get the patrollin’ out of the way early in the evenin’. Ah can go any time, wheneveh you all are free.”
“Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I can clear some room from my schedule…” Tahq reaches for his pockets, “Hmm… must have left my phone back at home. That makes things considerably easier. Count me in.” He smiles.
“I can come with… I think I missed my medication for the evening, but I’ll be fine.” Paige said, then looking at Tahq, who is watching Adam intently. It’s clear Nyght wants to talk to him alone, but he’s not getting the hint.
“Ah can certainly wait, if you want to duck home and take care of it,” Nyght nods. “Ah wanted to talk a bit with Adam first anyway, since he’s new to the buildin’. The brownstone, Ah mean.”
“I’ll be fine without it. Tahq, you mind coming over here for a minute?” Paige asks loudly enough to break his concentration.
“This was about to get good…” Tahq thinks to himself, “Why do I need to come with you?”
“Has it occured to you that their affairs are none of your business? Let them talk, I wanted to visit Maggot Man if he’s here. You’d like him, anyway.” Paige said, motioning for him to join her. He reluctantly does so.
Monique shifts her attention to her newest tenant. “Adam? As you’ve no doubt figured by now, Ah’m Monique, Fen Monique, yoah new landlady. GIFT coordinated on yoah behalf foah yoah apartment, and Ah meant to introduce mahself to you this evenin’, but… well, things apparently kind of went to hell in a handbasket while Ah was, um, down foah the count.”
“Ratheh than givin’ you the standard ‘welcome to the buildin’ speech, Ah’m guessin’ you might have a few questions, afteh what happened this afternoon?” she adds encouragingly.
Adam Masters has been watching everything going on around him with a wary expression. He finishes off one last bite of crust, wads paper towels between his hands and tries to remove as much of the greasy residue as he can.
“Ms. Fen, I was told that I’d be getting a good place to live, not too expensive, and that my landlady would be at work all day long, so I’d need to plan on speaking with her only at night. That made sense, at the time.
“Next thing I know, there’s a war taking place in the building lobby, people are screaming at me to come help fight some kind of zombies, then I’m ordered upstairs to protect someone, which turns out to be you, and it’s someone’s fine notion to have a swordsman with a four-foot-long laser blade and a three-foot-wide pure electricity shield fighting on a two-foot wide staircase.
“Then it’s an eight-foot-tall zombie with my name, for Christ’s sake, and the only thing I want to know is…
“…is there any way out of the lease contract I signed for this apartment?”
“Oh deah,” Monique sighs ruefully. “Ah had thought GIFT had explained to you what ouh apartments weah about. You see, some yeahs ago, mah husband and Ah wanted to establish a place wheah new heroes could find a place to live, in community, as it weah, with other heroes. Wheah they didn’t have to explain themselves, or deal with neighbors who eitheh expected them to be defacto security foah the buildin’, or who viewed them as a threat drawin’ trouble down on the otheh tenants. It’s supposed to be a place wheah the tenants all have heroin’ in common.”
“Ah know it’s been a terrible first day foah you, but Ah sweah, Ah’ve lived theah 10 yeahs now, and we neveh had the place attacked befoah. Oh, unless you count the Rikti, or… well, anyway, Ah apologize for what happened, and on yoah move-in day as well.”
“Ah’m not shoah why GIFT would claim Ah wasn’t home durin’ the day, unless they weah just tryin’ to protect mah privacy, in terms of mah special requirements. As Ah’m shoah you’ve figured out by now, Ah can’t really be awakened between sunrise and sunset, and Ah do most of mah patrollin’ and mission-work at night as a result. But Ah always take the concerns and needs of mah tenants very seriously, and make shoah any concerns or repairs are taken care of promptly.”
Expression a bit wry, she adds, “That will of course include prompt responses by contractors to start repairs on the buildin’ right away. But if you feel the risk of livin’ theah is too much foah you, or… if you feel uncomfortable associatin’ with me because of what Ah am, then of course we can cancel yoah lease.”
The young swordsman doesn’t look very reassured.
“I forgot to mention that when they brought you downstairs, you appeared to be dead. Obviously, you’re not dead. But ‘white as a ghost’ doesn’t cover it, and if I’d been banged around like a piece of cordwood, it sure would have woken me up.”
He still looks perturbed, as he gazes into the distance, trying to take it all in.
“I guess that ‘living among Heroes’ thing would be a good idea, since you put it that way. And what little I saw of the place, I did like. Wasn’t there a beach just behind the building?”
Monique nods, smiling a bit. “Yes, a beach, and the Boardwalk a little furtheh down. It’s a very nice location, one of the reasons we chose it, mah husband and Ah.”
Monique draws a slow breath, and then carefully adds, “You heard what Ah said earlieh, about the Banished Pantheon and mah curse. The fact of it is, they killed me, and raised me up again, but not completely. The curse rendehs me uttehly unconscious once Ah give in durin’ the day. You saw the effects of that. Ah have trouble with sunlight - not burstin’ into flame trouble, but I start slow-charrin’ fairly quickly. And Ah have to… well, the Curse gave me powehs, so I work as a Hero, but the long and short of it is that the way mah powehs work is by drawing away energy… life-force really, from criminals in the act of commitin’ crimes, which helps me subdue them foah arrest, and Ah can share that energy with othehs on mah team, to help heal them and replenish theah energy, that sort of thing.
“But, foah what it’s worth, you should also know Ah’m a practicin’ Catholic, attend evenin’ Mass several times a week, go to Confession regularly with Fatheh Brannigan from Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrows, and even particpate in Communion, if a slightly customized version of it.”
Solemnly, she summarizes, “So… the Hero Registry lists me as “Undead”, and they aren’t lyin’. Will that pose a problem foah you, knowin’ Ah live theah too?”
The 18-year-old stares at Nyghtshade in frank and open-jawed astonishment. After a second, he seems to realize that he is gaping at her rudely, and he snaps his mouth shut and ducks his head. “I’m sorry…ma’am. I didn’t mean to stare. Well, I did, but I didn’t mean nothin’ by it.” For a second, he appears to be too flustered to continue.
“Nah, if you’re a Hero, I guess that’s fine and all.” He glances around the room, his eyes landing particularly on the red-and-green horned giant Blood Nut and the catgirl Stray. He glances away just as quickly.
“It’s just…today was moving day, and tomorrow was to be my first day on the job, and I was supposed to receive training, I guess, and I…I just don’t know what is supposed to be normal around here…” His deep voice begins to rise as it takes on a slight edge of panic…
Monique nods sympathetically. “Startin’ out heah is rough. So much to learn, and so much that’s just plain bizarre. Ah remembeh the first time Ah saw one of the Vahzilok monstrosities, Ah was so flabbehgasted at watchin’ a zombie puke that Ah nearly let one sneak up on me. Seriously, who creates a creature that fights by throwin’ up on people?? But you learn the ropes, get used to things, and experience helps. You’ll do fine. Why, how many people can claim that even befoah theah ‘first day’, they tangled with Adamastor and walked away from it intact?”
She smiles encouragingly. “And if you have questions, you can ask anyone in the buildin’, they’ve all been through it.”
Terry nods at that. “She’s right, we’ve all faced First Days, and dealt with weird stuff. And the Vahzilok… just don’t let them puke on you. Or blow you up, for that matter.”
“If you’ve got questions, feel free to ask me any time I’m around. Or I could got out patrolling with you sometimes if you want. It’s all good.”
Adam looks from Nyghtshade to Jade, and back again.
“Well…” he says slowly. “Ms. Fen, I don’t want to seem to be any trouble…but could I ask you to let me stay for…just a while…and see how it works out, and if I don’t like it, then can I get out of the lease contract? In light of you guys telling me this isn’t the kind of thing that happens all the time at your building…? Or do I have to make up my mind right now?”
“Shugah, the whole point of the apartment rentals in mah buildin’s was to make life easieh for you youngeh heroes,” Monique assures Adam.
“Please, don’t worry about the lease. Yo’ah welcome to stay as long as you like, and if you decide to leave instead, that’s fine too. “
The young swordsman visibly relaxes. “Okay, yeah, I appreciate that, Ms. Fen. Sorry about all the trouble, and all. It’s just…really confusing. For me. Being new, and all.”
Monique nods sympathetically, and then chuckles. “But look at it this way, on yoah first day in yoah new apartment, you’ve moved in, fought zombies, rescued yoah landlady, and met some of yoah neighbors and a whole supehgroup of new people, and been invited in foah pizza and beer. Not too shabby, Hero.”
Blood Nut breaks out into a roar of laughter…impressive from such a large man.
He winks in Adam’s direction. “Yeah, that about sums up the Heroing business.” He gives a thumbs up. “You’ll be fine, kid. Stick around here and if you’re any good, Lin might invite you into Starfire, and you can help pay for the pizza.”
He turns, still chuckling, and walks back into the commissary to clean up a bit, as other Starfire members begin to return to what they had been doing, as well.
Nyghtshade rises smoothly to her feet, looking around the group. “Ah suppose we might as well getting the patrollin’ oveh foah the evenin’. Theah’s plenty of places to choose from heah in Talos. Who’d like to join me?”
“Um…patrolling?” Adam asks, looking a bit confused as yet. “Is that something…I should do…or…”
“Well, you’ve had a busy day already,” Nyght replies, “so if you feel like yo’ah done foah the day, that’s certainly fine. But, if you wanted to come along, what we’d be doin’ is lookin’ foah crimes bein’ committed, and workin’ to stop the criminals from preyin’ on innocent civilians. And we’d be in a group, so…. yo’ah welcome to join us, if you’d like to.”
“Ah guess the long and the short of it is, you can choose whetheh you want to patrol tonight. Because of mah curse, Ah don’t have that kind of choice. Ah need to… Ah have to seek out that life-force, at least in small part, in ordeh to keep the…” She hesitates, struggling to admit this to a new person, but grits her teeth and continues. “To keep the Hungeh which is mah curse undeh control.”
Her hand strays almost automatically to her belt and the massive garnet set into it. She looks down, adding, “M.A.G.I. made this belt foah me. It’s heavily warded with magics to help me resist the demands of the Curse, to help me stay in control, so Ah don’t… well, accidentally ovehdo the, um, feedin’. So Ah don’t… kill.”
Her voice trails off, and she stares down at the floor for a moment, before continuing, “So, if you want to come help me patrol tonight, Ah wouldn’t turn it down. It’s easieh on me, when Ah’ve a group workin’ with me when Ah patrol.”
“No, I…it’s okay. Now that I’ve gotten something to eat, I’m getting my second wind. This is something everybody does? ‘Patrolling’? Should I go along to learn how? Or are they going to teach me that tomorrow?”
The confusion on his face is still obvious, as he wavers between two decisions.
“Ah’d say you’ve already got an excellent head start on things. If you come along tonight, you’ll have a chance to see how different heroes work, and a chance to learn a bit moah about how a team works togetheh,” Nyght offers. “Ah’d be glad to have you with us.”
“Okay, if it gets too late, can I head back to the apartment? I still need to get up early in the morning for my first day…”
“Of course,” Nyght nods.
Adam looks his relief. “Okay, I’m in!” He smiles back at the more experienced Hero.
With Starfire graciously offering up their base as a refuge, the team can focus on other matters. Of immediate concern is Fen Monique’s need to sate the hunger her curse plagues her with. However, that’s a simple thing compared to the looming specter of the Banished Pantheon and their twisted agenda regarding the heroine.
As gear is checked and everyone makes ready to hit the streets, it can’t help but be noticed that the group has no more answers than when they first arrived at the base. Considering how determined the Pantheon seems to be to acquire their target, that lack of information could be the most dangerous thing of all.