Paragon City Stories: Death Becomes Her
Hosted and Narrated by TIMESHADOW
Act II, Scene 3
Place: Dark Astoria
The eerie red glow of the War Walls seems to be even more unsettling as the team exits the warehouse. It pervades everything, even making the night sky look as if it’s drenched in blood.
But none of that matters at the moment. One of the Heroes’ own is missing in action. Every resource must be set to work finding him. In this place, those who disappear have a tendency to do so forever. The thought of that happening to a fellow Hero, especially one so young, is simply unacceptable.
There’s little time for careful planning but it must be done and done quickly. As the group stands in the deserted streets, awaiting their marching orders, it’s clear to everyone that each second spent talking increases the likelihood of a horrible outcome for their lost friend.
Nyght tightens the grip on her shotgun and moves up to Linuial. “Any word from Stray? If not, how do you want us to split up to start looking?”
Jade keeps a firm grip on her axe, and shifts restlessly from foot to foot as she watches in all directions for any hint of an ambush.
Linuial turns to Paige once again. “Paige, dear, would you please see if you can contact Stray? Ask what she’s found, and if she still hasn’t seen Tim, ask her to meet us back here at the warehouse entrance.”
Paige looks at the skies in concentration… silence.
“No. I’m not getting anything. I can’t find Stray or Tahq from here.” Paige keeps turning around, looking past the team in every direction.
She’s restricted to keeping her ‘mental link’ open, instead of reaching forward into the area to search for them telepathically.
“Gah! This isn’t working. We need a plan. We can’t just march around yelling out ‘Stray!’ and ‘Tahquitz!’ and my telepathy is exactly tha–” Paige gets a look on her face and turns quickly like a rabbit that has heard an oncoming predator in the underbrush. “Stray!”
She continues talking out her replies to her when she’d normally just send them with her mind: “You found Tahq? No? Wait…” She gets a worried look on her face. “Where? In the– slow down!” Paige looks flustered as she continues to get the Kheldian’s thoughts, “Tell me, don’t show me… I can’t see what you see, I can only hear you, sweetie.” Paige listens a little more then says “Thanks.”
“Guys, you’re not going to like this.”
“Just tell us,” Linuial smiles.
Nyght steps closer, focused on Paige and Linuial, while Jade stays a step behind, keeping careful watch to the rear.
“Tahquitz told me if anything went wrong or I got separated to head to ‘First Light’. It’s a place that the Dream Doctor set up to keep heroes safe who get overwhelmed by the Banished Pantheon.” Paige says, then catches her breath to continue.
“Well, Stray just told me that the Banished Pantheon is trying to break the seal created by the runes that keep them from entering there. A large group of them. That’s the only Banished Pantheon gathering she’s found so far. There’s a chance one of them know where Tahquitz is.”
“All right, then, we’ll head straight there. No sense in scattering the team if this is our only lead.”
The magic-user lowers her hands, palms flat to the ground. She chants, there is a low rumbling roar that seems to come from somewhere underground, she reaches and pulls, and Stray appears in front of her.
“Adam, I see that you didn’t bring your hoverboard. I want you to stay here, and out of sight; when we get there, I’ll Recall you to us.
“Anyone else who wants to stay behind with Adam can. Everyone else, form groups by your travel power…Bubastis, that means you’ll be with Paige, along with anyone else using superjump. Thunderbird, you, Stray and I will be flying together in the lead. Stay together in your groups and follow Stray, myself, and the other fliers…teleporters, speeders, don’t get ahead of us. Watch for us to descend to land and meet us there. We’ll form up again when we are just out of sight of the Pantheon.
“Stay out of trouble, do not engage unless forced to, and if you do, tell Paige and I’ll Recall you out of there. We can’t waste time on secondary fighting, we need to get to that seal before it breaks.
“If everyone is ready, let’s move out. Stray, you’re on point. Take us in.”
The sanctum at First Light is one of the last safe places in all of Dark Astoria. The powerful runes there tap the earth’s leylines, consecrating the ground and barring entry to the menagerie of horrors that pervade the rest of the zone. The area’s relative security has attracted a small group of refugees. Some are magical, others mundane but they all share a commitment to continued survival that has empowered them to defend the site.
That is, until today.
As the Heroes arrive at First Light, they see that Stray wasn’t exaggerating in her assessment. The undead horrors of the Pantheon are swarming the site in an attempt to destroy its protective runes. They fling themselves mindlessly against the mystic shield, only to be incinerated in dazzling bursts of raw magical power.
The defenders are holding their own but they can’t risk venturing outside the bounds of the protective barrier. The sheer number of Banished Pantheon minions would make such an attempt nothing less than suicidal.
In the midst of the battle for First Light, the Pantheon’s shamans have erected a ceremonial platform. Made from scavenged wood, bleached bones, and covered in voodoo fetishes, it stands a ways back from the front lines. On the altar, four spirits slowly circle the bound and semi-conscious Tahquitz. Two shaman stand on either side of the teenager, chanting with their arms uplifted and eyes rolled back into their sockets.
“Oh, Ah don’t think so!” Nyghtshade snaps, seeing Tahquist’s plight. Expression cold, she swiftly reloads her shotgun and gathers herself to leap toward them.
Before Nyghtshade can move away, however, Jade halts her with a grip on her arm and a warning shake of the head.
“Nyght, I know Tim needs us, but we can just go running out piecemeal here. Wait and see what the plan is!”
Hand still on Nyght’s arm, Jade glances back toward Linuial, Paige, and the others.
Linuial has crawled across the roof of a nearby building to a point where she can look down on the scene with minimal danger of being spotted herself. She surveys everything in sight with great care, committing details to memory.
“Paige, please make sure that everyone stays out of sight,“ she projects to the teenager. “Surprise is our only advantage, and we are dangerously outnumbered.“
Then she turns her attention in another direction. “Xavier?“
She waits to see if the errant Praetorian will answer her call.
Paige, at the back of the group tries to run forward to see for herself what is going on, when she hears Linuial. She tells the team to hold fast their current positions and standby.
“Basti, I wish this were better circumstances, I’d love to catch up later when things calm a bit.” She says to her feline friend. “Looks like we’re partners for now.”
“What is it? What do you see?” Paige asks her, standing next to Basti.
“What’s up, Blondie?” Devereaux asks. His mental voice is steady but lightly strained. “Did you-“
A sudden grunt interrupts his words. When he speaks again, he seems to have collected himself. “Any luck finding Tahq?”
There is relief in her mental “voice” when Linuial responds to Devereaux. “Have you made your delivery? We need you here, and I can Recall you if you are ready.
“We found Tim, but he is being held captive by Banished just outside First Light. There is a minor war going on between the Banished trying to destroy the protective wards, and a very small group of defenders trapped inside. We need to join them, but even with our combined forces, we will still be heavily outnumbered. Either way, we’ll need to expose ourselves to the Banished in order to effect a rescue for Tim.“
“First Light? Never heard of it.” he says with another grunt. “Delivery’s done. The Tsoo are plenty happy. They’re saying we-“
He bites off the next word and a shock of pain streaks across the telepathic channel. “Sorry about that. How minor is this war, exactly?”
“Xavier, you have two seconds to say ‘no’ or I’m Recalling you right now.“ There is no mistaking that she means business.
Nyghtshade shifts restlessly, grip tight on the shotgun. “How long are we goin’ to wait heah?“ she sends to Linuial, tension palpably mounting as she thinks of the shamans quite possibly draining away Tahquitz’ life while she waits…
“Not lettin’ them kill that boy and turn him into somethin’ like me,“ she adds, edging forward slightly, while Jade watches her closely.
“Monique, something is wrong with Xavier,“ she sends back.
“Keep a close eye on Tim…come up here with me, to get a better view…and if he is in actual trouble, tell me and I’ll Recall him up here.
“I didn’t want to do it without a plan, as that will just cause the Banished to start looking for us as soon as he disappears, but if he is going to be injured anyway, I’ll have to.“
Linuial slides back from the building’s edge, stands, lowers her hands toward the ground, and begins chanting.
Nyght relays Linuial’s message to Jade, and then moves to the roof and takes the position Linuial has just surrendered, laying flat at the roof edge.
Nyght focuses on Tahquitz, scowling at the shamen and the hovering Spirit Masks.
She realizes she should not have risked using her telepathy, but doesn’t feel anything bad has resulted from doing so, which Nyght counts as encouraging.
“That’s not a good idea,” Devereaux warns. “Golden Fist has a plan for dealing with the Pantheon. We’re talking terms right now. You pull me out and the whole thing could likely go to shit. Tell me what you see. I can come up with something from here.”
He waits to see whether the healer really is crazy enough to risk their mission just to suit her whims.
She drops her hands, stops chanting.
“Xavier, first you tell me why you are in pain if all you are doing is negotiating with the Tsoo. I’m not playing around here. If you can’t come, that’s fine, I’ll work something out myself. But you have to do some explaining before I tell you anything else.“
“The Tsoo have a…unique style of negotiation. We’re sparring. Not my idea but when they saw the form I was using they wanted to see if I could hold my own. I took down some of their Inkmen and next thing I knew, the big man himself wanted to go a few rounds.”
“It’s weird, I know, but I can’t leave now. They’d never buy it if I backed down. You said yourself that we need their help to get this done. Now, if you don’t mind, I need to concentrate. They don’t call him Golden Fist because it sounds cool.”
“Very well. Let me know when you are finished there.“
She drops to the roof and crawls forward to speak with Nyghtshade. “Xavier is too busy with the Tsoo to join us. We’ll have to save Tim and First Light on our own.”
“You need to let the other heroes down there know we’re here,” Nyght suggests, voice low. “If we can create a diversion, it could help them mount an attack.”
“For that matter, Linuial… the Pantheon may already know Ah’m heah. They knew exactly wheah Ah was in Talos. But if they only know wheah Ah am, then we could use that as a diversion as well. Ah could go out and confront them, distract them like Ah’m tryin’ to save Tahquitz, while you all strike from the side and the heroes down theah attack from the front. And… if things get too dicey, then you could have yoah friend pull Tahquitz out, back heah to safety.”
“Monique, I’m going to keep an eye on Tim. Please go down and bring Paige up here with you.”
Frustrated, Nyght nods shortly and slips off the back of the roof. She drops to the ground, moves to Paige, and explains the Linuial needs them up on the rooftop.
As soon as the woman and girl join her at the rooftop edge, Starfire’s leader speaks softly so that only they can hear her.
“Paige, I need you to get a message to one of the defenders inside First Light. Let them know that we are here, and give them our numbers. Ask what we can do to help. Let me know what they tell you. Explain to them that we have a Recaller, but I don’t want to pull them out if it means allowing the wards to collapse. Ask if they have a Recaller with them.
“While you’re at it, keep an eye on Tim. See if you can get a message to him, see if he’s conscious, let him know we are here, but not to give us away…but let him know help is on the way. If he seems to be in real immediate trouble, let me know, and I’ll Recall him to me. But wait until the last possible moment, because once he disappears, all Hell will break loose.
“Monique, I am going to ask you to do something very risky, but it’s our best chance to get to Tim right now.” She points to a building almost on the opposite side of First Light. “I want you to go to the roof of that building,” she continues. “Move slowly, stay out of sight, circle around as far as you need to…right now I think they are more interested in Tim than they are in you. Once you get in position, let me know you are there. I want them to think that we all are there with you. In the meantime, I am going to move Starfire to a different building, and hopefully they won’t be able to track us. As soon as I hear from the defenders, I’ll decide on a final plan.”
She waits for them to agree, then climbs back down and gathers her supergroup and their allies for the move.
Nyghtshade nods, seeming relieved to have something positive to do, and slips away into the darkness to move around the perimeter and take up a position on the roof of the building indicated. There, she slides cautiously to the front edge, just close enough to peer over and watch the activities below, and those around Tahquitz.
Once there, she sends the briefest telepathic message, via Paige’s link, to let Linuial know she’s in position, and then settles to keep watch and wait till Lin has new orders.
Paige looks for one of the defenders in First Light using her telepathy, as she sees for the first time with her mind what she hasn’t been told… Tim is laying on the altar, semi-conscious.
“Tim! TIM!” She cries out to his mind.
“Paige… trying… to… … must not…” He weakly calls out… “Remember Pe- Pe-…” He can’t get the word out.
“HANG ON! We’re coming! Don–” Paige begins to relay Linuial’s instructions, when she feels a surge of energy erupt from him.
“Not… much… time. If my… eyes… eyes turn… white… …” Tahquitz is getting weaker.
“Tim! Hold on! White?!”
“If… my eyes… are… white… RUN.” Tahquitz says, then fades into a coma. The same burst of energy comes from Tahq’s body again, radiating outwards.
At that moment, Paige recalls the conversation her, Linuial and Tahquitz had before they attacked the Carnival of Vengeance on their first mission. When Tim warned her of what happens when Tim is no longer in control.
“Oh, my God.” Paige whispers. She then focuses on a villain in First Light near one of the wards… a Mastermind named Major Pentecost who is directing his mercenaries to defend the rune from the swarm of Banished Pantheon who is slowly overtaking them.
“Sir! I’m a friend, sorry to talk in your head like this, but we’re here to help! Stand your ground, we’re coming soon!” Paige sends to the fighter.
“Lin? Bad news.” Paige starts off.
Linuial pauses in directing her troops into various hiding places. “Go, Paige.“
“I did find someone in First Light to relay the message that we’re coming, so we’re good on that end…” Paige hesitates before continuing.
“But remember when we were headed North past Peregrine Island and Tahquitz warned us about his past? He’s close to going Super Saiyan on everything. He warned us if his eyes turn white, we need to leave.”
“Paige, I need to you concentrate on communicating with your defender contact. Let me worry about Tim. Who did you speak with?“
“This one guy… he looked like a military captain from Rogue Isles. Has a bunch of soldiers surrounding him fighting off monsters, at the northwestern rune next to the highway bridge.”
“Did you tell him how many people we have?“
“No, I was distracted by Tim.” Paige says, looking downward.
This is taking too long… the elven woman thinks.
She turns toward the building, lowers her hands, and Recalls Paige.
As the startled teenager turns toward her, Linuial puts a finger to her lips in warning.
“All right, Paige,” she says softly. “Let’s try this again. What was the name of the man you contacted? Do you know?”
She conjures up an image of Nyghtshade. “Monique, can you see Tim from where you are? I need you to keep an eye on him and contact me if you see anything change, especially if his eyes go white.“
“Lin, Tim’s stopped movin’, and his eyes are rolled back,” Nyght replies quickly. “If we’ah goin’ to do somethin’ foah him, we need to do it soon.”
“Monique, I know, but as soon as I pull him all hell will break loose, and I need a few minutes to try to get some information. Just keep an eye on him, okay?“
She turns back to the teenager.
“Just keep an eye on him,” Nyghtshade mutters under her breath, “and hope they don’t kill him and raise him right back up again while we’ah waitin’….”
She remains at her post, though, and watches the shaman, the Spirit Masks and most especially the captive teammate, as she tries to decide how much longer she’s willing to wait before moving to try and save him.
“I saw a memory of his uniform, his name… Major Pentecost.” Paige says, “He’s dishonorably discharged for killing a superior officer. That’s all I could get in that short of a time.”
Linuial places her hands on the girl’s shoulders, stares deeply into her eyes. “Tell Pentecost how many people we have. Then tell him that we have a Recaller, but I don’t want to pull them out and leave the runes unguarded. Ask him if they have a Recaller inside First Light. Then tell me what he says.”
“Sir! We have…” Paige says aloud, then switches to telepathy. She reports what Lin asks of her. “How many are in your unit? Do you have a recaller?”
“He’s able to teleport himself. There’s eight men he’s fighting with and 13 others with him, 12 fallen, and 7 wounded.”
“Paige, please concentrate. I need to know if they have a Recaller…someone who has Recall Friend. I need to know if they can Recall US inside the warded area or not. If so…do not tell them to do so, I still need more information.”
“Do you have Recall Friend?” Paige asks him.
She nods yes.
Linuial’s phone buzzes, startling everyone nearby.
She steps to one side, answers the call, speaking softly. “Oh, wonderful!” she exclaims, then speaks again, nods, and puts the phone away.
She turns to Paige, smiling. “Jon’s recovering,” she says, then drops her hands, and Recalls…
Quake, a 12 year old boy in jeans and a stylishly ragged tshirt proudly proclaiming “Paragon Pretties World Tour 2014”, appears next to her.
“Paige, please ask Pentecost to Recall me to him. ASAP.”
Landing inside the warded and protected area known as First Light, Linuial looks around quickly. She nods thanks to Pentecost, gives him a brief thumbs up, before dropping her hands toward the ground.
“Monique, hang tight, you’re about to take an unexpected ride,“ she projects, then chants, and Monique finds herself standing next to Pentecost, as well.
Without hesitation, she lowers her hands again, chants…and Taquitz also appears, sprawled out supine on the ground next to them.
“See to him, Monique,” she says, before turning and waving back at the area she had been standing in.
At her signal, Quake reaches and pulls…and Linuial appears once again next to Paige.
The shaman abruptly cease their spell casting when Tahquitz disappears. Their eyes dart rapidly back and forth in search of the missing captive.
Before the full realization of what has just happened can dawn on the acolytes, the Banished Pantheon spirits waver in their previously steady path around the altar. The brightly colored auras surrounding the ritual masks swell in both size and intensity. Without warning, the masks representing pain and death splinter with a sharp crack.
A sudden, violent tremor rips through the air. The atmosphere waxes both hot and cold in the span of an instant. There’s a sound like the keening of some primal beast, drowning out the clash of arms. In its wake, the battlefield falls inexplicably silent.
Still lying on the ground inside the protective shield provided by the runes, Tahquitz opens his eyes. They shine a ghostly white against the usual ebony of his face.
“Oh, crap….” Nyghtshade mutters, crossing the distance between them in one move and dropping to her knees beside Tahquitz. “Tim… Tim, can you heah me?”
Through Paige, Nyght warns, “Tahquitz’s eyes are definitely all white now!”
Taking to the air, Linuial throws herself across the sky at her highest speed, chanting as she goes. She pauses long enough to turn, reach, grasp, and jerk, and the white-eyed Tim/Tahquitz appears next to her, now a quarter mile east of First Light, and begins to fall out of the sky.
“Tahquitz!” she screams at him. “I’m Tim Verne’s friend! You remember me! We’re allies!”
“What the hell!?!?!” Nyght shouts, leaping to her feet and looking wildly all around. “Wheah did he go??”
“He’s gone, Tahquitz just vanished, does anyone know wheah he’s gone??” she sends frantically to anyone on Paige’s link who’s listening.
Disoriented, Xolotl sees the blonde human and screeches at her nonsense. He fires an ice block around her midriff to try to unbalance her flight and cast her down to Earth.
He sees the source of the energy the demons stole from him and flies with furious anger towards both shaman who see the dark monster in the sky coming for them. He prepares for a reckoning.
Falling, Linuial frantically projects toward Paige: “Paige, put Stray in charge of Starfire. Follow her orders as you would mine.
“The Tahquitz demon is heading back toward the remaining Masks, and he looks p…“
The message ends abruptly.
“Stray! You have Lin’s orders! Starfire is yours to command.” Paige says aloud, then runs to the ledge to see where Tahquitz is flying towards the First Light battle.
“Tahquitz! Talk to me! What–” Paige reaches forward to his mind, only to open her eyes wide. A deluge of old memories that are clearly not Tim’s. Ones of conquistadors stabbing the Aztec people, fields on fire, temples falling and a pronounced God of Storms on the overlook moving his hands to cast the very hurricane that leveled Xoltichuan, where he was summoned into being.
Paige shakes off the link like she did before with the Banished Pantheon and tells Nyghtshade, “I can’t reach Tim. He’s gone. Whatever that is, it’s not him.”
Jade had watched Linuial fly off, Tahquitz appear beside her, and then Linuial had plummeted toward the ground while Tahquitz flew off toward the B.P. shaman.
“I’ve got Linuial!” she calls out to Paige, and then leaps up and out toward where she saw the elfen woman drop from the sky.
Brilliant yellow hair, pale blue dress, and blue-white limbs sprawl haphazardly across a rocky crest, a thick icy belt melting slowly. There is no movement.
“Paige, is this what you talked about last Octobeh?” Nyghtshade sends quickly. “About Tim’s inneh demon gettin’ loose, and how when that happens, nothin’s safe from it?”
Xolotl lands at the Banished Pantheon shaman who released him and bellows a command…
“YOU WHO ARE SO LOW WHO BEARS NO NAME. NOT EVEN A NUMBER! RETURN MY ENERGY OR I WILL CLAIM YOUR SOULS AS MINE!”
Unfortunately, this was yelled out in Nahuatl, so it wasn’t really understood by anyone.
The shaman both answer with attacks as a torrent of lava forms around his fists. Xolotl fires forth into a horizontal geyser, sublimating their bodies into smoke. The pain and rage coarse through his eyes as he sees the Banished Pantheon circle him to try to overwhelm the demon.
Deep in Xolotl’s mind, Tim is crying out for help, for anyone to stop him from, but not even a well trained telepath could hear his words. So Tim begins to fight for his own consciousness.
Paige watches in horror as Tahquitz just killed the shaman who held him to the altar and starts to set fire to the Banished Pantheon.
She’s horrified by what she is watching… but she can’t look away.
“Y…y…yes.” Paige replies to Nyghtshade. “Take my advice… HIS advice. Get everyone who has a soul out of there now. Run. Hard and far.”
“Abandon the wards heah? You know the otheh defenders heah won’t leave. And Ah won’t leave Tim out theah, runnin’ amok. Ah can’t do that, Paige.
You get yoah people out if you have to, Ah undehstand.”
“Hey… hey, if anyone’s listening, I’m here with Linuial.” Jade tries sending. “Doesn’t look like anything’s broken, but she’s out cold. I’ll stay with her till you evac her, or she wakes up. Can anyone hear me?”
>“Paige! What the hell’s going on over there?!” Devereaux roars the question across the psychic landscape. “Tahq and Blondie have gone dark and I can see you losing your shit from here!”
Indeed, the shapeshifter’s technicolor psionic view of his sometime teammates has been wrenched into chaos. Both Tahquitz’s and Linuial’s minds are wan and dim. By contrast, Paige’s usual violet glow has erupted into a flashing riot that he can clearly perceive as near panic.
Paige is going into panic.
“Nyght is staying with the defenders. They’re going to face Tahquitz eventually. Linuial is unconscious with Jade watching over her, and Stray is here with me and Starfire on the roof.”
“Tahquitz is off the reservation, so to speak. Tim lost consciousness… and control.” Paige said in response to Devereaux, “We’re in bad shape.”
With so many defenders down, the shambling husks are piling up on one corner of First Light, apparently intent on overwhelming the Wards there. Nyght shifts to that side and begins firing the shotgun into the seething mass of undead bodies at nearly point-blank range.
Fire and reload, fire and reload, fire and reload… She picks them off with grim determination, and wonders how much longer the holy ammunition will last.
“OK, we are not staying here,” Jade mutters under her breath, as she carefully gathers Linuial into her arms, trying to hang on to the Undead Slaying Axe as well.
Gathering herself and careful of her burden, she leaps back toward where the rest of the Starfire had been gathered.
“If you guys can hear me, no shooting me down. I’m bringing Linuial back!”
Xolotl smashes through the Dry Chambers and Dessicated Husks like a volcanic lava rock through ice. With the last of the phalanx on this side of the runes defeated, he then turns to the contents of the runes inside, in First Light. He marches forward only to run up against the barrier and be repelled. He then turns to the rune and begins to concentrate energy from his hands to try to overload it to gain entry.
Meanwhile, Tim is searching through the mind of Xolotl to find the one memory he uses to try to sooth him… it was back in Tarasques. It was a filthy young human boy who tried to put the leaves back on an autumn tree as the wind plucked them off. Xolotl found the human to be kind and generous to try to give the tree back it’s source of food, even if misguided and naive. But when Tim happened on this memory, Xolotl winced in pain as Tim focused harder and harder on that memory.
Out in Dark Astoria, Xolotl began screeching as it grabbed it’s head standing before the rune as Tim’s eyes returned momentarily for a glimpse of his blood covered hands on his forehead.
“Paige! PAIGE! HELP ME! HEEEELLL–” Tim lost control again as the eyes turned white and Xolotl redoubled his efforts to destroy the rune single handedly. The cry was loud enough both in his mind and his now gravel-laden voice to be heard by anyone.
Paige hears Tim’s cry, “Tim! Stay with me! Tim! No!”. She is beside herself with the situation as she hears everyone coalesce into one loud voice.
“Paige, tell Stray…”
“Paige, ask Starfire if they can…”
“Paige, we need to keep the runes…”
“Paige, is Linuial okay? I haven’t heard…”
“Paige, send Nyghtshade help…”
“Paige, where is Tahquitz?”
“Paige, take this down…”
“PAIGE! DO YOU HEAR–”
The young girl reached her breaking point. “ENOUGH!” was heard in everyone’s mind at once. “Jade and Linuial are on their way back. Nyghtshade is standing her ground with the defenders, and if we don’t help her, First Light is lost, as Tahq is destroying the runes that we’re supposed to be protecting, but I just watched him turn two Banished Pantheon clerics to nothing in seconds. You want to fight someone who did that after knocking Linuial out of the skies?”
“Stray, you’re in charge. Take command, we’ll follow your orders. Until then everyone else SHUT THE HELL UP AND LISTEN!” Paige, exasperated, turns and watches her friend from the temporary safety of the rooftop as he continued to tear at the rune piece by piece… as Nyght fends off the Pantheon with the remaining defenders.
She then looks in horror at some of the defenders laid slain by Tahquitz lifeless at his feet with blood covering his body, putting two and two together. He killed some of them. The defenders of First Light. The people that they were sent to protect.
“Tim. Please. Keep fighting. Don’t give up.”
The platinum-blonde cat-girl in the white-and-lilac miniskirt walks calmly to stand in front of Paige. She gives the girl a lop-sided smile.
“Rough day?” she asks, pleasantly, if a bit ironically.
She shifts into her Nova form without warning, the concussive blast of air sounding like a small explosion. She flies a few feet into the air, and announces, “Quiet, everyone! Listen up, Lin put me in charge!”
Returning to the ground, and to her original form with a second explosive report, she again smiles at the teenager.
“All right, Paige, you only have to listen to me right now. Take a deep breath, and talk to me, with your mouth, and tell me everything you know.”
She listens carefully, nodding, as Paige spills everything in a frantic rush, ending in sobs as Stray gently pats her shoulder. “It’s okay, Paige, you’re doing great,” the older woman tells the girl.
“Do you think you can send out a few messages for me, if you don’t have to listen to more than one person at a time?”
“I have no problem forwarding things along, but when everyone is asking me for a response at once, I get tied up. I’m good at multitasking, but no one is THAT good.” Paige says.
Devereaux shakes his head, a mixture of annoyance at being bereft of information and reluctant pride from Paige’s commanding gesture playing through his mind. “Nicely done, kid,” he thinks to himself with a little chuckle.
“Hey, is there any way we can speed this up?” he asks Golden Fist.
The Tsoo boss merely raises an eyebrow. “Would you rather it were done properly or done fast?”
The shapeshifter sighs, redoubling his commitment to patience. “If they’ve gotten themselves into as much trouble as I think they have, there’s a very real possibility that they could die out there. You realize that?”
Golden Fist’s expression betrays nothing. “And what concern is that of yours?”
Not deigning to answer, Devereaux turns his attention back to the Heroes’ predicament. With Paige having effectively barred all unnecessary communication, he reaches out to the only other telepath on the scene. “Talk to me, Nyghtshade. What’s going on over there?”
“Apparently Linuial got knocked out, so now Stray’s in charge; Tahquitz got captured by the Banished Pantheon and then went all ragin’ demon on ev’ryone; First light is about to be ovehrun by the Banished Pantheon, assuming Tahquitz doesn’t kill both the B.P. and us all first; and Ah’m still not supposed to use mah powehs so I’m reduced to shootin’ the hell out of zombies with a holy shotgun. “
“So, you know, just anotheh day in Dark Astoria,” she replies tersely, as she continues to pump shots into zombies.
Devereaux laughs in spite of himself, drawing a quizzical look from Golden Fist. He waves it off. “You capes sure know how to throw a party.”
When he continues, he’s serious and deliberate. “Listen, forget about Blondie’s little moratorium on your powers. You might be the only one who can help Tahq now and that shotgun’s not worth fuck-all anymore. You can drain someone without absorbing their energy, right? Siphon it off and release it. Use it to blow the Pantheon away yourself, I don’t care. If what Tahq’s told me is true and that demon is sharing his body, you need to weaken it so he can take control again.”
“Amen to that!” Nyght responds almost eagerly. “Will do.”
And with that, she lowers the shotgun and turns to face Xolotl, where he is working on destroying a Ward.
“Sorry, big guy,” she murmurs, as she concentrates, reaching out to begin draining massive amounts of the demon’s energy and health, and using it to bathe all the First Light fighters within reach.
Some she takes into herself, and it’s a jarringly charged feed, as if she’s grabbed a live wire, but she uses much of that to begin round-robin boosting each fighter’s speed, reflexes, and recovery, before turning back to Xolotl and feeding/sharing yet again.
Xolotl is wailing at a pitch that is almost as potent as one of Paige’s shrill cries. But in the dining of noise, Tim is calling to Nyght.
“Monique! Tell me that’s you!” Tim calls into the ether hoping he can reach her. But Xolotl rebukes him and shakes Tim’s voice back to the background as he prepares a fiery charge to Monique’s midriff.
“Now! You got to drain him now for all you’re worth! It’s your best chance!” Tim cries before silence claims him.
“Undehstood, Tim!” Nyght sends hastily, using her own telepathy although she can’t be sure the boy can even ‘hear’ her.
She drops the shotgun and concentrates, hands palm up and clenching into fists as she focuses on Xolotl and attempts a massive drain from the demon.
Everyone around her is bathed in the backwash of intensely strong energy she’s pulling from Xolotl. Nyghshade stands there, rooted to the spot, eyes wild as she attempts to channel so much lifeforce, and in no position to dodge if this fails.
Xolotl feels this massive draw on his power and starts to summon a Hurricane as the winds in Dark Astoria begin to twist the clouds into a counter-clockwise whorl in the zone. As the gale-force winds begin, loose objects, dead parts from the Chambers and Husks start to roll down the streets, and thunder breaks over the scene as Nyght drains the demon.
To Starfire and the people on the roof, they see a whirlwind form that obscures Nyghtshade and Tahquitz as it begins to swell outwards to cover the runes and starts to assault the buildings in Dark Astoria.
But in the eye of the hurricane, Nyghtshade’s eyes turn as white as Tahquitz as she sees nothing but white and a figure stand in front of her. A thin, gaunt man a couple of inches taller than her, grey hair, beard, and smartly dressed. But from his dark eye sockets and sunken in face, it looks like he could use a sandwich.
“Hello Monique,” Tim says. This is an older version of Tim she is seeing.
“Do Ah… do Ah know you, Sir? You look… familiar,” she replies, feeling oddly removed from the tumultuous here and now of only a few seconds ago.
“I’m Tim. At least, a Tim you may know at a later time in your life.” Tim says to her. But as he talks, the grey in his hair starts to turn blond. The crows feet gently begin to smooth. And his wrinkles start to fade.
“I need to explain to you what is happening right now. It will only take a moment. When you started draining me, were my eyes white?” Tim asked.
“Yes, they weah, they’d gone completely white. They turned just a moment or two befoah Ah had a chance to begin to drain you. Things… things happened.”
“What does it mean, when yoah eyes go white? Is that what happens when you lose control of yoah demon?”
“Yes. Tahquitz is the form of the Aztec god Xolotl and a mortal man. Xolotl himself is immortal, and can never die, but his body was lost hundreds of years ago when a shaman of the Serrano People, Konvaxmal, bound him to a mountain and let him rot. So his spirit is bound to the necklace I wear. A symbol of my pact with the demon.”
“I was on death’s door when I met him. I fell 200 feet, broke both of my legs, and I had nothing to subsist upon but weeds and driftwater from the rains on the mountain. I was about to die as Xolotl showed me his pain and suffering those years as his body rotted away. But he offered me a way out. I could wield his power as a willing host if I allowed him to use my soul to restore his energy.”
“If I didn’t accept his offer, I would die right there and his slumber would continue. But if I did, I would continue to live. I wouldn’t be a ordinary kid, I could become a superhero. I was 15, stupid, and naive. Guess what choice I made?”
Nyght nods. “Ah don’t need to guess, Ah can see it. And at least you had a choice.”
“But Tim, yoah demon, this Xolotl, is out of control now, and hurtin’ us as well as them. How do we help you regain control again? How can we… how can Ah… help you befoah it’s too late?”
“As you can see, Xolotl, not to mince words, is a bit of a dick. He became this way as the people he was sworn to protect from the invading Spanish armadas turned on him. Humanity became his enemy. I’m trying to teach him about the world we live in, and it’s not swift. The language barrier is too great. I don’t know if I can convey what worth the world has in the time I have left.”
“There’s two things that Xolotl gave to me. First, like you, my curse gives me incredible abilities. Unlimited ones, in fact. Azuria confirmed this in tests, as very few heroes have the power to burn down the sun itself if they need to. I’m not saying this with ego or pride, just recognition. I can light a stick on fire without any effort. But on the opposing end of the scale, I can destroy a planet or star, but it would take everything I’ve got and it would be my last act. That’s what unlimited means.”
“Second, it comes at a price. The second gift that Xolotl gives me is this. What you see before you right now. You’ve noticed I’m starting to get younger?”
“Yes, Ah can see you are, although yo’ah still older than the Tim Ah know. What does this mean? Are you talkin’ to me from the future somehow? Are you caught in some kind of time loop?”
She pauses, looking startled, and adds, “Am Ah caught in a time loop now? Are we not heah in First Light any longeh? Or… or are we in yoah mind now?”
Tim smiles and laughs to reassure her, “You’re absolutely fine, Monique. Time is slowed down in my mind, and that’s where we are at right now. I’m glad that Xolotl’s energy is keeping your hunger under control. In fact, if you had an urge to feed again tonight or tomorrow, I’d be shocked. I don’t about eating food again, but the wellspring you’re drinking from should be very satisfying.”
“But the second gift he gives me is this. When I became Tahquitz, I learned that if I wasn’t malnourished and infected from broken limbs untreated, I would live to the age of 77. That’s not what I look like now.”
“My curse isn’t damnation, it’s oblivion. Every time I do something that’s within what any other blaster would find to be in the wheelhouse of human energy or potential, I’m fine. But those moments when I need to do the superhuman, I lose part of my future. When Xolotl walks the earth in a Tim suit, he does so at the cost of a day a minute. Right now, I’m 53. If linear progression continues as it has… I won’t live to see 30.”
When Tim says this, the firmament of his mind shakes and the bright white haze begins to darken… “Monique, we don’t have much time left. Remember! When my eyes turn from white to blue… you’re not draining Xolotl anymore, you’re draining me. Monique! When that happens, I need you to stop. Do you hear me?”
As Monique hears that, a massive gust of wind returns as the scene changes to a hurricane breaking apart all around her. Light debris falling out of the skies, a couple of cracked windows on the building that Starfire and the team are standing upon. Jade with Linuial in tow are visible bounding in the sky towards them as Nyghtshade is kneeling on the ground with Tim, as a human man with blue eyes as she continues to feed on him.
Tim weakly mutters the same words as she heard in his mind, “Mo… nique… I … need you… to stop…” The energy is still flowing as rapidly into her as it was when Xolotl was attacking the rune.
Monique can see that it is no longer the demon she is feeding on now, but Tim. An innocent. And his lifeforce is dangerously pure and sweet. Tasting it, drawing on it, taking it into herself is an unspeakable ecstasy!
For a second, she kneels there, clutching his body, feeding without thought, without care…
And then horror overwhelms her, horror at what she’s doing to him, what she is dancing on the edge of becoming.
With a shrill, almost inhuman scream, she leaps away from his body… leaps clear of the wards, and flings herself off into the ever-present night of Dark Astoria, trying to flee the sheer unutterable guilt of what she’s just done, what she so nearly couldn’t stop. Trying to flee her curse. Trying to flee herself.
As Paige began to take Stray’s orders down for everyone else to hear, a hurricane formed in the First Light area where Tahquitz and Nyghtshade were standing, as the Banished Pantheon were lifted off of the ground and tossed like burlap sacks. Most of them landed hard away from First Light and hit with enough impact that they did not get up again.
But as soon as it formed, the hurricane dissipated, breaking apart from the bottom up as she saw the rune where Nyghtshade confronted Tahquitz. She was crouched over him draining his body before she screamed bloody murder and ran off into the streets.
“NYGHT! COME BACK!” Paige sent out to her, but it was met with silence. She looks up to Stray, “This is NOT good.”
The catgirl Stray surveys the scene laid out before the watching group on the rooftop.
“Paige, tell me…is that our Tahquitz, or is that the demon? Or both? Can you reach the boy telepathically? Is he conscious, and who is in control?”
She sweeps the general area, noting the bodies lying akimbo and still, the ones gathering themselves and struggling to rise. It seems that more of the Pantheon were injured or killed; now the numbers of the two opposing sides appear to be nearly equal. “At least we have that going for us, now…“ she thinks.
“Tim! Are you with us?” Paige asks the supine superhero, hand resting on his forehead.
“Cricket, I feel like I’ve been through 20 years of deep sea diving,” Tim said in his mind, “…but I’m glad Monique stopped me. Say, where is she?” Tim doesn’t get up, if someone was next to him, he’s snoring… hard.
“She ran away when you came back.” Paige said.
“Tim’s alright. He’s sleeping… and in control.” Paige said to Stray.
“Then go after her… you guys didn’t leave me when I needed help. She needs the same.” Tim said, mid-yawn. “Excuse me, I’ve got Lisa here… we’re having an Ice Cream fight during August…” Tim said, drifting out of conscious thought, “You might want to get out of my head now. It gets weird from here.”
“Thanks? I guess? Didn’t need that visual.” Paige said, letting Tahq rest up.
Jade has returned with Linuial, who hasn’t roused yet. “Think we should send her to the hospital?” she asks Stray, worried. “Nyghtshade usually has mediporters.”
She glances down toward the warded First Light area, where the remaining fighters are still trying to head off the remaining Zombies, and the remaining Spirit Masks are still circling the now empty ceremonial platform.
“What’d I miss? Want me to head down and help out the guys down there?”
Devereaux can feel Tahquitz’s resurgence. The teenager’s mind, a mass of concentrated blue light to him, transitions from a dim mote into something substantially brighter. The radiance is pale and weak but he knows that’s to be expected. Though he’s not well versed in magic, he’s seen the fragility of others who’ve had their minds subsumed by foreign entities.
Just as he’s beginning to relax, a wave of panic washes over him from somewhere else on the psychic plane. He feels something familiar in the emotion and begins tracing it backwards toward the source.
He’s surprised to find that the sudden flare comes from Nyghtshade.
Her mind, unlike Tahquitz’s or Paige’s, is heavily shrouded. He knows the haze that surrounds her in his mind’s eye is the result of heavy psionic shielding not unlike the safeguards he keeps around his own psyche. In the case of trained and experienced telepaths, those barriers can be almost impossible to circumvent and are often filled with traps to mislead and destroy anyone stupid enough to pry. That alone is one of the primary reasons he’s never attempted to delve into the heroine’s consciousness. Limiting himself instead to simple psychic communications.
But Nyghtshade has never allowed her guard to slip before. Feeling the rush of fear that burst out from behind her safeguards, he knows something must have gone wrong.
“Nyghtshade,” he calls to her with carefully measured urgency. “What’s going on? Tahq didn’t kill anyone important, did he?”
Monique had fled almost blindly from First Light, fleeing straight away until she found herself landing on a heap of rubble next to a highway overpass. Large shipping containers lay tumbled about, some half full of the rubble, some shut up tight. But one had a door slipped ajar, and she ducked inside it, running on instinct like an animal going to ground.
Retreating into the darkness inside, she had moved to the back of the container and huddled there, head down, hood slipped forward, arms wrapped tightly around her knees, doing her best to keep her mind blank, to avoid thinking about what had just happened. About what she’d let happen.
She crouched in the dark, in horrified shock, and tried very hard to think nothing, feel nothing, be nothing.
Nothing at all.
And yet… Devereaux finds her. What’s going on, he asks.
It’s not a question she’s ready to answer.
Instead, she tightens her mental shields, curls tighter in the dark, willing herself to not be seen, not be found.
Stay away, it’s not safe, I’m not safe, I’m not safe….. she thinks to herself, before she tamps even that down.
Stray, in her catgirl form, kneels next to the supine Linuial. She checks her over carefully, head to high-heeled sandals, then sits back on her heels, smiles lopsidedly…and hauls off and belts the elven woman across the face with her open hand.
She’s about to swing back with a second wallop with the back of her hand, when the blonde woman coughs, arches her back, her eyelids fluttering, then reaches up with a hand to catch the Kheldian’s wrist in mid-swing.
Stray’s smile turns into a grin. “Enough?” she chuckles, one eyebrow raised.
“…yes…please…thank you…” Linuial’s voice is weak and crackling, but clearly audible.
Stray slides a hand behind Linuial’s shoulders and helps her to sit up, while the elven woman begins to chant, a green ball of light circling her own body. Within seconds, the healer is able to stand, wavering, with Stray’s help.
Linuial continues to chant, until her stance is firm and strong. Pressing one hand to her forehead: “…okay…somebody clue me in. What did I miss…?”
There is a brief exchange between the two Starfire leaders, resulting in Linuial nodding her head, and surveying the panorama laid out before them.
“Stray, take half of Starfire down there, and attack one of the Masks. Thunderbird, take the other half and do the same with the other Mask. Accept any help from the defenders, but stay on your guard…Don’t assume that the alliance will hold for all the Rogue Isles people.
“Paige, Jade, remain with me, please. Adam, you go with Stray’s group, and follow her orders.
“Quake, thank you very much, but I think you’ve risked more than enough. Head back to the hospital…keep an eye on Jon, if you will. I hope I won’t need you again.”
The Starfire leader turns to Paige. “Are you all right, dear? Can you tell me what is going on with Monique? Take your time…it’ll be all right.”
“You saw Tahquitz lose control. I saw him lose control… Lin, he killed innocent people and almost destroyed First Light himself. So, Monique rushed and drained him. He tried to cast a giant storm to stop her, but it broke apart, and afterward, Monique ran away.”
“Tim’s fine, he’s fast asleep. She stopped him, but I can’t tell why she ran off… I tried talking to her with my mind and she broke the link I had with her.”
Linuial places both hands on Paige’s shoulders with a gentle, reassuring pressure. “Paige, I need to be absolutely clear on this…you’re certain Monique tried to drain the Tahquitz demon? That she succeeded? This is very important. Tell me every detail about it that you remember. It’ll help me to help Monique.”
“I saw her at first try to drain him to heal the defenders how she could, then I saw her stop healing them and try to drain him harder… Before the storm appeared, I could swear her eyes turned… White. Just like his.”.
“But we’re pretty far up. I might be wrong about that. I saw them when the storm cleared and Monique’s back was to me, so I couldn’t see her face anymore.”
“I see,” she replies. After musing over this for a few seconds: “Paige, without trying to contact Monique, can you tell, telepathically, where she is, physically? If I was to go looking for her while you remain here, could you guide me to her?”
“If she replied to me, I could point to her like a compass. But she… hasn’t. All I can say is she went that way…” Paige points to the alleyway she ran towards to enter the darkness. “I can try to search for her, Lin, but it’s open season for me if I do that. I reach into a typical person without telepathy and they may or may not notice me.”
“But if I reach into another telepath, they can reach back. Especially here, there’s too much… risk.” She shudders at the thought of the Banished Pantheon minion she tried to dominate earlier, knowing he was merely a conduit into the Shaman that controlled him earlier.
Linuial brushes her lips across the teenager’s forehead before letting go of her shoulders. “That’s fine, Paige, you know I don’t want you putting yourself at risk. You’ve done wonderfully, and I couldn’t ask any more of you.” She smiles warmly.
Looking up toward First Light, she concentrates on her inner image of Devereaux. “I’m sure this is a bad time, but I need to ask you a question,“ she projects.
“Always seems to be,” Devereaux jokes. The desire to lay into the healer for keeping him in the dark and allowing what should have been a simple rescue to morph into a near catastrophe burns.
He shoves it aside. “Go ahead.”
“We took care of the immediate crisis, Tim is safe, First Light is intact, no casualties on our side, we’re engaged in mop-up now. Only thing to resolve is that Monique…Nyghtshade…seems to have frightened herself into running off by herself and hiding. She’s not responding to telepathic ‘tells’.
“Is there any way you can locate her telepathically and guide me to her physical location? I want to check up on her and see if I can talk her down. I can just Recall her to us, but I want to keep that as a last resort, I don’t want to upset her further.
“After that, we’re pretty much done here, and we can meet you wherever you designate.“
“Can’t do it” he says firmly. “I can only tell where a person is if I’m linked up to them. Nyghtshade keeps some heavy duty shields around her mind. They’re similar to mine in terms of quality. You’re better off just reeling her in.”
Linuial sighs deeply. Well, she thinks, …that’s that.
She turns to Paige. “Paige, dear, is there any way you could link me up to Monique directly? Allow me to speak to her through you? Even if she’s not responding? I don’t want to Recall her to us without warning, and I’d like to try to reason with her first.”
“Okay, go ahead,” Paige says to Linuial, “She’s all yours.”
Linuial closes her eyes, and imagines Nyghtshade, every detail, particularly her emotional aura.
“Monique?“ she asks, very softly. “It’s Linuial, dear. One immortal to another. I know you’re upset…can you trust me enough to at least let me know that you are alive? You know I’m worried about you.“
There is a hesitation, long seconds of silence, before Monique finally replies, her response clearly strained, “Tim. Is he… did… Did Ah kill him?”
The healer allows her smile to flow over the psychic connection. “No, dear, he’s fine, in fact, he’s back to his old self, asleep, and snoring happily away. You saved him, dear. You saved us all.“
She waits to see what kind of reaction she gets.
“Dumb luck, then…” Monique doesn’t sound especially relieved.
“Linuial, Ah left, Ah… fled, because Ah lost control. 10 yeahs Ah’ve been fightin’ this, magic belt and all. 10 yeahs doin’ evehthin’ I could to make shoah Ah neveh, neveh fed from an innocent, and then…. One second Ah’m feedin’ from a demon, and that’s fine, but then, the next, it’s Tim, and Ah’m still feedin’, and… and it was ev’rythin’ Ah was always afraid it would be.”
“He begged me to stop. To stop feedin’. And Ah didn’t even heah him. Ah didn’t stop, Ah just kept…”
“Ah lost control, Lin, and Ah don’t know if Ah’m safe to be around right now. That’s why Ah left.”
“I understand, Monique, I really do. Can I just point out one thing? Unless you intend to be completely alone for the rest of your life, sooner or later you are going to have to get physically close to someone innocent, without knowing for certain what will happen. You can’t find out if you are ‘safe’ without trying the experiment, right? It doesn’t really matter if it’s five minutes from now…or five years.
“You know I’m an immortal…you’re unlikely to do me any permanent harm even if you do lose control, and I’m pretty good at surviving and fighting back when I need to. Would you allow me to meet with you…and let’s see if you are still dangerous?“
There is a another pause, as Monique thinks that through. Finally, she cautiously replies, “We could try that… but not anwheah that yo’ah alone.”
“Ah can come back to First Light… and if the wards let me back inside, Ah guess that would tell me somethin’.”
“And… you need to let Starfire know that if Ah can’t control this, if Ah attack you, they need to take me down. Fast. Will you agree to that?”
“Of course, I will. That’s entirely reasonable. If you will allow me, I can Recall you here…I’ll be careful to bring you to an empty location, and you can enter the wards on your own, or I can Recall you directly inside First Light, if you wish.
“Whatever you feel most comfortable with.“
“Somewheah just outside the wards, if you will, and we’ll see if the wards let me inside. That’ll be the first test.”
“It’ll just take a couple of seconds to get in position. Hang on.“
She turns to the teenager. “Paige, I’m going down to First Light, and I’ll be Recalling Monique to me. Please maintain our connection until you can see that she is back here.”
With that, she lofts into the air, and flies to the edge of the line of runes encircling First Light, where there are neither defenders nor foes nearby. “I’m ready, Monique,“ she warns. Stepping inside the wards, she chants the Recall spell, carefully making sure to pull the undead Heroine to a point outside the wards, so that there is a magical line of defense between them.
She watches carefully as Nyghtshade materializes, her expression somber and concerned.
Monique stands a moment outside the wards, regarding them with a certain resignation. Finally, she murmurs what might be a prayer… or a plea, crosses herself, takes a deep breath out of habit as she squares her shoulders and… steps forward.
To her immense relief, the wards impede her not at all. Now inside their protection, she lets out a sigh, and turns to face Linuial, ready for the next test.
Nyght stiffens, and bites her lip hard. “Oh sweet Lord, Linuial… you practically glow. So much… stronger, than Tim…”
She closes her eyes, fists clenched, and shudders, but makes no move toward the elfin woman. After a moment, she opens her eyes again, and nods shortly.
“So far… so good,” she says cautiously.
Paige watches Monique as she steps across the runes and takes a deep breath. When she walks across, Paige exhales with a small satisfaction.
She doesn’t break off the connection between the two, even though they’re in the ‘walls’ of the First Light runes together.
Jade has watching the comings and goings with considerable confusion. Now, as Nyghtshade returns below, she asks Paige, “Do you have any idea what’s going on down there? What happened to Tim? What’s happening with Monique, why did she leave, and what are she and Linuial doing now she’s back?”
“For that matter, does anyone know what we’re supposed to be doing now?”
Paige turns to Jade and lowers her head, “Terry… I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, and he’s not very forward with this, but since we’ve all seen it first hand I don’t care what he thinks at the moment. Tahquitz has a bit of a Jeckyll and Hyde problem when it comes to his abilities… when he’s unconscious or down for the count, he loses control and the demon that’s responsible for his powers takes over. And that’s what you saw earlier when you rescued Linuial. Tahq told me when he gets like that, someone has to defeat him to get the human side of him to return to normal.”
“Monique tried to drain Tahquitz in demon form until he became human again… but I don’t think she let go and she ran off from it. Kind of like Batman? The line he must never cross? She… crossed it tonight. But not on purpose. Linuial I hope is trying to convince her of that.”
“As for us? I guess I’m the watchdog for anything suspicious or incoming, and you’re the muscle to keep them off of her back should it be needed. But again, that’s a guess. Haven’t heard anything other than ‘standby’ at the moment.”
Linuial smiles in relief as Nyghtshade crosses the warded barrier. She laughs softly over the undead woman’s comment on her “glow”.
“Welcome back, Monique,” she says. “Any other tests you want to run?
“Perhaps a hug?” She laughs again, free and easy, as is her wont.
She sobers, the hint of a smile lingering at the corners of her mouth. “Considering how much power you must have drawn from the Taquitz demon, I suspect it might be a long, long time before you need to ‘feed’ again. If you don’t feel ‘driven’ to feed now, you’re probably safer to be around than you ever have been before.”
She allows a moment for that to sink in. Watching the expression on Nyghtshade’s face, she reaches forward slowly, to lay a hand gently on the other woman’s shoulder.
“Now…we have a job to do, and I have a team to lead. Shall we?”
Nyghtshade’s response is still subdued, guarded. “Yo’ah right about the demon and mah hunger being sated. But it’s not about just hunger anymore. Now, it’s about… Appetite …and perhaps addiction. Ah’m in new territory, and… Ah just don’t know what to expect.”
Warily, Nyght watches Linuial raise a hand, preparing to touch her. Another test, she thinks to herself, and stiffens. She’s not certain what she’ll feel next, other than a tumult of caution, concern, fear of what might happen.
But the touch is just that, only a touch, and Monique feels no urge to spring on the elfin woman like a raging animal, or like a cold and soulless killer. With Linuial’s hand on her shoulder, Monique lets out a little sigh, and a bit of her tension. Her hand cups the garnet on the belt, more than ever grateful for its protection.
“So far…. so good…” she murmurs, and wonders if this will be her mantra now.
“Yo’ah right, we’ah not done yet. Lead on, Linuial, and Ah’ll do mah best to follow.”
The battle at First Light is over and Tahquitz has regained control of himself. Though the Heroes have managed to save one of Dark Astoria’s last bastions, their mission still isn’t complete.
The Banished Pantheon have dogged their steps ever since they first entered the blighted hazard zone. One would think that a major undertaking like this one would have drawn out Akpan but he and his cadre were absent. If this sojourn into Astoria is ever going to end, the mad shaman must be confronted and stopped. The fact that he hasn’t appeared since the ambush in Moth Cemetery is more than passing strange.
And what about Fen Monique? Her brush with the demon Xolotol pushed her to cross a line she swore she never would again but feeding on an innocent didn’t bring down the sky. Only time will tell if she can truly come to grips with the moral conundrum that faces her.
For now though, there’s still work to do. The Heroes say their goodbyes to First Light’s defenders and begin the journey back to the Tsoo base of operations.