Paragon City Stories: Death Becomes Her
Hosted and Narrated by TIMESHADOW
Act III, Scene 2
Place: Dark Astoria
The efforts of the Heroes and their Tsoo allies have culminated in the now desperate battle raging in a forgotten corner of Dark Astoria. Mot, the Banished Pantheon’s ultimate deity, has revealed itself in a way no one could have prepared for. Either through manipulation or simple devotion, it has managed to consume the Death Shaman, Akpan, and is now using him as the core of its hulking avatar.
The Heroes have concocted what some would call a mad scheme to bring Akpan back from the depths of Mot’s hell and turn him into an ally in their fight. But that’s much easier said than done. Mot controls its Sentinel fully and has directed it to annihilate the forces arrayed against its will. All the while it draws on Akpan’s suffering, using the despair of its former servant to fuel the Sentinel’s overwhelming onslaught.
Fen Monique has managed to set her righteous fury aside and has reached out to her nemesis in an attempt to garner some knowledge of whether or not the shaman can help them. Only time will tell if she and the others can succeed. If they don’t, it will mean death not only for them, but the entirety of the world.
On the ground with the Tsoo, Devereaux continues his mad dash. Always weaving unpredictably, he’s acutely aware that to stand still is to invite death.
It’s a fact that’s demonstrated when a Tsoo Enforcer stumbles over a root protruding from the ground at the base of a tree. Moving much faster than its squat body would suggest is possible, the Sentinel of Mot stabs downward with its bony claws.
There’s a scream followed by a triumphant roar from the Sentinel. It lifts its arm from the earth, revealing the young Tsoo impaled and lifeless at the end of a jagged length of yellowed bone.
“Damn!” he curses aloud before shifting to take the form of Henri, the Syndicate Sword Master.
Using the swordsman’s telekinetic abilities, he pushes hard toward the ground. Physics takes over and he’s launched into the air toward the monstrosity. As he passes near the joint connecting the beast’s forearm to its tricep, he lashes out with one of the wickedly curved blades he holds in each hand.
To his dismay, the strike caroms harmlessly off the Sentinel’s armored hide.
“Excellent,” he mumbles under his breath as the ground comes racing up to meet him. Another telekinetic push slows his descent and he lands harmlessly, immediately launching himself back into a dead sprint.
“We’re not gonna last long against this thing,” Devereaux projects along the mental switchboard. “Tell me you’re having a pleasant chat with Akpan right now.”
Jade can see the Sentinel is incredibly heavily armored, and leaps back and forth around it, searching for a weakness to exploit.
yOu hAve nO chAnCe agAinSt mY SenTIneL, wITtleSs flEa!
“Is that the best you’ve got??” she shouts derisively. She begins singing, loudly if not entirely in the right key, “Mot, Mot, bo-bot, Banana-fana fo-fot, fee-fi mo-Mot… Ass-hole!!“
Jade still has the Axe of Undead-Slaying, and as she reaches the end of the chorus, she leaps up behind the back of a massive knee, figuring it could be one of the more lightly armored points in the joint, and hews mightly at it with the axe - reasoning that the Sentinel has to qualify as extremely Undead!
Abandoning her usual self-defensive posture, the blonde woman from another time soars into the sky. This is no time for the defensive buff that Hover gives her.
She flies directly at the Sentinel’s insectoid visage, swinging wide to arc around it as a claw belated reaches up in an attempt to grab her from the sky. She aims her flight at the back of his head, but before she can make contact, another claw reaches back, and she slips sideways, and into a backflip that ends some distance away.
Placing her hands on either side of her head, she chants ancient words, while the Sentinel turns its attention to closer prey. When the chant is finished, a whistling tone announces the psionic attack she releases. In a lesser target, it would bring them to an immediate halt, frozen in mid step, but the Sentinel shows no notice at all.
“Paige“, she projects toward the girl, “tell everyone that they must use their own judgment from here on out. Everyone other than Adam has faced boss fights before. They know the strategy. Ants fighting a juggernaut. Swoop in, use their strongest attacks, retreat and let someone else move in. Stay alert and try to get out of his reach before he can target you. Do NOT stand your ground.
“If you want to join the fight, Paige, do so. Just be certain you use the same strategy. Don’t expect anyone to help you or save you…you MUST retreat immediately after every attack. But keep your mind clear enough that you can still keep everyone informed of what is going on.
“Give Adam a quick heads-up on the strategy. Don’t try to direct him…he’s going to have to do some quick growing up.“
Her flight becomes an aerial ballet, pirouettes and pinwheels such as this Earth has rarely seen, as she sets off healing auras over groups of fighters, then casts Heal Other on individuals who have just taken attacks from the monster. Performing a barrel roll over a snapping claw, she throws out a hand, sending a pale green lance of light to connect with Tahquitz.
Swooping low over the ground, she casts several protective buffs on the crouching Nyghtshade, before soaring once again over the beast’s head. She makes another dive toward the back of its neck, but once again is swatted away as a claw nearly closes on one delicate ankle.
Pausing in mid air, she holds both palms toward the Sentinel. “Monique,“ she projects toward her mental image of Paige, “…Akpan’s suffering is increasing by leaps and bounds. It won’t take much more of this for him to lose his sense of self entirely, and then we can’t reason with him at all.“ Unexpectedly, swinging once more toward the beast’s back and neck, she performs a somersault and manages to hit the back of its head…with a blast of healing green energy. This she follows with another spell: Clear Mind.
“Do what you can…!“ she projects, before a swinging claw finally manages to connect, and she is swept out of the sky to crash into the ground immediately in front of the Sentinal’s feet, lying quiet and unmoving, the target of her injunction unspoken.
Nyght has caught Linuial’s urgent admonition, and redoubles her efforts to fight through the Sentinels near mindless hostility and reach the dying Shaman within, so turned within that she doesn’t see the elfin woman struck from the sky.
“Akpan, AKPAN!” Nyght sends desparately, “ Answeh me, please, Akpan, we’ah heah to help you, to save you from this torment!!”
Nyght feels a faint brush against another consciousness, and immediately plunges deeper into the chaos of the Sentinel’s mind. “Ah heah you, Ah’m heah, can you heah me? Akpan, Akpan!!”
“Wha– who— aaaiiiii!! Oh god, oh dark god, Lord Mot Lord Mot please make it stop, make it STOP!!”
”Theah you are, theah you are, Akpan!!” Monique sends urgently, as she latches onto his thoughts. “Ah’ve got you, Ah’m heah foah you–”
“YOU!?!” Akpan screams, as much in fury as pain. “YOU!!! BITCH, it’s your fault, it’s all your— aaaahhhhhhh! You, it was supposed to be YOU“ His thought ends on a rising shriek, “Aaaaahhhhhh!!”
Tahquitz, receiving a spike of healing from Linuial from gets his attention as he sees her get knocked to the ground…
“Lin!” He yells as he dives into a fire spiral to her on the ground. Picking her up, he has to make haste as the Sentinel prepares to stomp on them both. Tahquitz opts to run with her instead of trying to take off as the foot comes swiftly down next to him, as the other one lifts up. He switches to the other direction to dodge that one as the sinewy and horrid mass crashes behind him, he spreads wings once more and takes off, narrowly missing the other foot trying to kick him into a hillside.
“Alright, I need a safe place for Deborah Harry. Got any ideas?” Tahquitz thinks to himself.
Paige, leaping from hill to hill to avoid combat is a little occupied to play reconnaissance.
“Sorry, a little busy avoiding being stuck to the wall…” Paige said running from spines being fired from the Sentinel’s body in her direction, “If she was awake, I’d say a Teleport to the hospital, but that won’t fly. I think the closest safe spot is Scintillating Prism… I might be wron–” “AAAAGH!” Paige yells as she narrowly dodges a spine.
Adam Masters “hears” Paige’s voice in his head, pulls up short to listen closely.
He’s gradually getting used to this new world he’s only joined a handful of days ago. It’s a tough challenge for an eighteen year old, but he finds it invigorating, and even to his liking.
He watches Devereaux as the Praetorian shifts from one form to another, then performs precisely the approach that Paige urged him to take, apparently at Linuial’s behest. Attack, retreat. Attack, retreat. He begins to notice a subtle rhythm developing, then it abruptly breaks into a completely different pattern.
Another moment or two, and he nods to himself. “Got it!“ he thinks, as he darts forward between the Sentinel’s legs, raking the electricity shield against one leg, while swinging a weight-backed blow with the laser sword against the other. The shield is useless against the thing’s exoskeleton, but to his surprise, the laser actually penetrates. It isn’t much, more of a scratch than a cut, but now he knows that a laser, at least, can do some damage against their towering foe.
Jade flings herself aside in an impressive leap as the Sentinel’s massive claw swipes toward the back of the knee where she’d been chopping.
But she’d seen that the chitinous armor there was thinner, to allow the knee to flex, and the Undead Slaying Axe had opened a cut there. Not a huge one, but a start.
The giant claw sweeps out and forward again, crushing an attacking Tsoo warrior. But Jade is not forgotten.
yoUr faMily, yOu anCestoRs, neVer foRgavE yoU foR abaNdonIng yOur hEritaGe! Mot mentally roars.
“Fake News, Pal!!” Jade sends back, brushing Mot off by lustily belting out, “I’m a lumberjack and I’m O-Kay!!!” as she springs in again, hewing mightily at the same spot on the back of the Sentinel’s knee.
The axe bites deeply, its magic actually enhanced by that of its foe, and Jade suspects she’s hit what passes for a tendon. The joint buckles and the Sentinel lurches unsteadily for a second.
Instantly Jade flings herself aside in the other direction, but is not quite fast enough this time. She’s clipped by the answering swipe of the claw, sending her tumbling like a badminton shuttlecock through the air well away from it. She hits the ground in a tumbling roll, but when she finally comes to a stop, she does not immediately rise.
During his 180 spin behind the Sentinel, Jade’s attack catches Adamant’s eye. He notes the cleft Jade’s axe makes, and is about to call to her, congratulating her, with a thought that they should combine their attacks, when she goes flying across the battlefield.
“JADE!” he shouts, and begins springing towards the fallen girl.
Linuial’s eyes flutter, then blink. She looks up into the face of the black-skinned Tahquitz demon.
“Tim,” she says softly, “I’m okay. You can put me down.”
As he lands, she places a hand on his shoulder, using it as support as she struggles to her feet. “Thank you, dear,” she tells him with a smile before kicking herself back into the air.
As she circles over the Sentinel again, she sees Adamant taking strides across the battlefield. She swoops low to shout at him.
“Adam! Mind yourself! Leave her to me!”
The teenager hesitates, glancing up, and nearly trips over a stone jutting out of the ground. He just manages to catch his balance as a chitinous foot descends towards him, and throws himself into a roll just in time.
Jade is well clear of immediate danger, and the empathic healer drops to her side, muttering spells, colored lights springing up around her and the martial artist. Within seconds, she has a hand under the younger woman’s arm and is helping her stand, checking her over one more time before giving her a quick hug and soaring once more into the sky.
Nyght remains where she is, on her knees and hunched forward, eyes blank as she fights to maintain her hold on Akpan’s thoughts.
“It doesn’t have to be you eitheh, Akpan! Tell me how to free you, Ah’ll set you free from this!”
”Take my place!!” he pleads.
“OK, tell me some OTHEH way to free you!!” she snaps.
”You want me to betray my god, I won’t betray him, I won’t.. .not again, not again, I’ve betrayed him, I’ve betrayed everything…”
Seeing that he’s sliding into a downward spiral of despair, Nyght cuts him short. “NO, Akpan, yoah god betrayed YOU! He’s always meant this torment foah you! Show him yo’ah moah than that and tell me, HOW - DO - AH - SET - YOU - FREE??”
His thoughts seemed stronger, as if he were rallying. “….why should I trust you?”
“Well, of all the stupid… Because, dummy, what’s yoah otheh choice?!? Tell you what, if yoah so happy heah, Ah can just leave–“
”Nooooo!” he wails, “Save meeee!”
“Thanks, Linuial!” Jade wobbles to her feet and inhales, centering for a second, and rubs her shoulder ruefully.
“That’s some serious mosh-pit shit going on,” she says slowly, staring back to where the Sentinel is stomping, clutching and smashing at the rest of the team.
Then with a grin, she adds, “I love a good mosh-pit! And I think my Axe here is definitely layin’ down the beat! Comin’, Adam?” She turns, ready to leap straight back into the fray.
“Jade, wait!” the young swordsman calls. He snaps his shield off, waves the laser sword over his head.
“Your axe, and my sword! They both managed to cut that armor! We should try to strike together!”
He runs over to the woman, an eager grin on his face. “What’s your target?” he says in a low voice. “I’ll follow your lead. Ladies first, you know?” His laugh is wild, free, and predatory.
“Same spot,” she replies quickly. “Quick cut-and-dash pattern, till we slice through a hamstring or get the big sucker to fall over, put him at a disadvantage. That’s my plan. Dash in, cut on 1 - 2!, then dash off again in different directions. Then reform and hit him again. You up for this?”
Paige makes a sonic-assisted leap into the skies away from the Sentinel as she tries quickly to stop evading him and start controlling what is going on for a change.
She sees that the Sentinel is quickly and aptly fending off an entire army of combatants, but is missing a group that is exploiting a weakness in his attacks… he keeps turning against the wall to prevent Starfire from targeting his back.
“Tahquitz? Meet me at the tree 200 yards behind you on the hill? I’ve got an idea…” Paige sends to him, as she thinks up a plan.
Devereaux stands with a cadre of Tsoo in the shadow of an old oak draped in hanging moss. He’s grateful for the rest-bit but finds far more value in the opportunity to observe the battle.
“It seems your people have found an avenue of attack,” Golden Fist pants.
“Looks that way,” the shapeshifter replies, still wearing his syndicate guise. “But this isn’t some mindless animal. It was distracted before. They won’t do much good if we can’t keep it that way.”
Golden Fist doesn’t respond. He simply nods in acknowledgement and signals to his men. Together, they rush back towards the Sentinel.
Using telekinesis to propel himself forward in bounding strides, Devereaux first matches, then overtakes the Tsoo leader. Sabers at the ready, he reaches out across the psychic network to Paige.
“I WiLL rELiSh yoUr DEaTh MOsT oF aLL, prETeNDeR…”
The voice, like a cold whisper in his mind, nearly makes him falter in mid-step.
“LiAR, BEtRaYeR, ThEIf…”
“Oh, fuck you!” he shouts defiantly. “I am what I have to be. If I felt that bad about it I’d already be dead.”
The Sentinel’s hulking form turns to meet the charge. It roars, swinging its oversize claws again in an overhand swipe meant to rend flesh or, failing that, simply crush its attackers.
He leaps to one side, his foot sliding dangerously in the grass. Judging the opportunity more important than regaining his balance, he draws his blades in close and lays them parallel atop one another. A moment later, he sweeps the swords outwards and sends a blade of telekinetically compressed air scything toward the beast.
“HOw mANy dIEd BeCAUsE oF yOu?”
“Many,” Devereaux admits. “But if you think that means I’ll-“
The rebuke he had been about to make is cut short when the Sentinel sweeps its arm sideways, blocking the attack and catching him with a sidelong blow that sends him careening across the field to land in a heap.
“YoU sEE, fALsE gOD? yOUr DEaTh CoMEs aND iN iT, i wIlL CoNSuMe yoU.”
“I hope you…fucking choke…” he spits as he struggles to get back to his feet.
Nyght’s head lifts as she realizes what he needs. “You have to fight him, Akpan! You have to throw off Mot’s hold on you!!”
“I can’t betray Mot again–”
“Mot betrayed you, Akpan! You weah neveh his Chosen, neveh his Favored One, you weah always just a tool to be used and discarded, always just anotheh meal !! Mot betrayed YOU! So throw him off!”
“I can’t……” His thoughts are weak, but she can feel a faint core of anger stir deep beneath his pain and fear.
Nyght ramps up the urgency of her plea. “Of course you can! You weah always strongheh that he knew. You weah strong enough to know you wanted moah, you wanted wealth and poweh, and you weah strong enough to go foah it and hang the consequences! You weah strong enough to fool Mot, to fool all of them. You weah neveh any god’s puppet!!”
Monique cam feel it somehow through their link, can feel Akpan’s anger and resolve strengthening, whether through her words or his desperation, she doesn’t know or care as long as it is working.
“Be that man now, Akpan, be strong enough now to deny a petty god that couldn’t see what you really are. Be strong enough to defy any god stupid enough not to see yoah worth ! Be strong enough to defy him foah what he’s puttin’ you through heah! Be strong enough to spit in his eye and tell him ENOUGH!”
“Goddamn it !!” Akpan roars as he suddenly rallies. “Goddamn you, you stupid bitch. And Goddamn YOU, Mot!! You HEAR ME, MOT!??! Goddamn YOU, FUCK YOU, MOT, FUCK YOU!!!!!”
The Sentinel suddenly plunges a massive claw into its own chest, pulls forth Akpan’s limp body and flings it away.
Shed of the unholy chrysalis that was keeping him alive, Monique can feel the Shaman’s mind slipping away, sliding toward a cold darkness. Hastily she sends a last thought. “Foah whateveh it’s worth to you, Akpan… Ah foahgive you. Ah foahgive you foah all of it.”
With an effort, Nyght wrenches free of Akpan’s mind as the last of his life fades away, and looks upward at the Sentinel.
The Sentinel still stands, but its movements seem sluggish, uncoordinated.
“Shake a leg, Adamant!” Jade calls as she leaps back toward the Sentinel, landing lightly behind the same leg as before,
With Adam right on her heels, she shouts, “One - TWO!!” and they strike together, Axe and laser-blade simultaneously cutting deeply into the back of the knee joint.
“And away again!!” Jade calls, hesitating a split second to make sure Adam gets clear. The joint buckles and the Sentinel staggers, falling to one knee as long clawed arms flail for balance.
Jade barely leaps clear of it in time, but she’s laughing as she lands beyond its reach and turns back, readying for the next attack.
Adamant gauges his swing to coincide with that of the Oriental girl, swinging just slightly faster so as to add extra strength to the axe-head’s connection.
His blood singing in his ears, he laughs wildly, as hours and hours of practice against still and swinging objects come to fruition against a living and terribly dangerous foe. “This,“ he tells himself, “…this is what I was born for!“
As directed he leaps wide in another direction, pirouettes on one boot-toe, and crouches, ready to spring again, before looking around to check on Jade.
From her circling vantage point, Linuial watches over her troops, Adam most of all. He seems to be doing well, and shows no signs of taking damage…yet.
She darts downward to throw Heal Other in Devereaux’s direction, and adds several buffs as well, before soaring upward to take a wide swing around the outside of the Allies, chanting without break.
“How are you doing?“ she projects toward the Praetorian. “Anything else I can do to help? Psionics aren’t going to have any effect at all now that Akpan is dead.“
Tahquitz waits for Paige to leap ahead and plant herself into a firmly rooted rock right in front of where the Sentinel is facing Starfire, but far enough not to be within reach of the putrid gladiator. Once Paige is in position, Tahquitz dives into a fall, reaching banking speed as he pulls up and flies forward. In this moment, he is watching the Sentinel turn his back momentarily, exposing it to Tahquitz during his swift dogfighting run. Microseconds with which to move. One moment of hesitation or ill-timed early fire, and he’ll miss his target.
A double-fisted charged blast of Hoarfrost and Rime Ice into one of the Sentinel’s suspected weak spots, causing his shoulder blades to stiffen shut. The Sentinel’s sinews cracks the ice, allowing free movement of his arms once more as he pivots to face Tahquitz, who is already whizzing past his horns and far afield…
…as Paige sees the Sentinel turn to face Tahquitz flying past, exposing his back to her. Stupid move. Her earplugged ears is the only subtle clue an onlooker would have to her plan, and even with that, a set of earmuffs to cover even those.
“IF your ears are at all sensitive, I’m sorry, but this is all the warning I can give… if you’re physically behind the Sentinel, cover them… NOW!” Paige sends to everyone in the vicinity of the Sentinel.
She digs her hands into the ground and takes a deep breath… her practice with Damien Bellerose is coming to the fore as she prepares her voice, lowers her tongue, and fills her lungs with diaphragmatic breathing…
…and lets out a focused peal of a scream that is targeted right at the ice Tahquitz left for her. The cold bones hardened by the ice are vibrating in turn with the ice itself, causing the soundwave to have a stronger effect on the expanded bones as she increases the intensity in the span of three seconds. The shriek is enough to cause an audible snap in the air as the bone cracks, forcing the Sentinel to howl with furor into the night skies from the pain.
Seeing the howl of the fiend, Paige does a sonic assisted leap straight up into the blood red moon, as Tahquitz catches her on a return path and flies her to the same spot 200 yards away… too far for the Sentinel to quickly reach.
“I’m okay, Blondie. No need to worry about-“
His response is cut short again but not by a blow.
“Devereaux.” The voice is lilting, charming, seductive. The image of Claire, the Dark Ring Mistress wafts up from the ether of his mind to stand resolutely before him.
“You can’t be serious right now. I’m more than a little busy.”
“Devereaux,” she says again, her expression obscured by the porcelain mask she wears. “Just listen to me. Please? Just this one time.”
He grunts in annoyance but acquiesces. “Fine,” he grumbles. “Just make it quick.”
“Thank you,” she says earnestly. “He’s right, you know.”
“Who’s right?” he asks quizzically.
“Mot, of course,” Claire replies in a tone that suggests she thinks him foolish for not understanding. “He does have a point. You are as guilty as he says.”
“Oh, come o-“
“Mademoiselle, is right, mon amie,” Henri suddenly cuts in. Devereaux turns instinctively at the sound and finds the Frenchman staring at him with his one mischievous eye. “Bad as he is, this Mot is not wrong about you.”
“Not you too, Henri,” Devereaux says, trying to sound exasperated. Despite the effort, there’s something in his voice that sounds dangerously like a plea.
“Oui, me too,” Henri says and raises his hands in an apologetic gesture. “You were my friend, mon frère, but it would be a lie to say you were ever good.”
“So what is it you want me to do?” Devereaux asks, looking from one to the other. “Admit that I’m everything this…this thing says I am and throw myself on its mercy?”
“Yes,” the two say in unison.
“You’re not good,” Claire scolds, her voice resolute. “So why keep making excuses? You know you deserve what’s coming to you.”
For his part, Henri only nods his assent, silent determination brimming in his remaining eye.
In the real world, the one outside Devereaux’s mind, he stands motionless. Inextricably frozen and unresponsive on the field of battle, he takes no notice of the Sentinel as it gets to its feet and lurches unsteadily toward him.
Nyghtshade catches sight of Devereaux’s highly uncharacteristic pause in the midst of combat, and the fact that the Sentinel is moving toward him.
“Devereaux!” she sends sharply to him, “You’ve got the Sentinel’s attention!”
Something faint pricks at Devereaux’s consciousness but he pays it no mind. He’s rapt by the debate roiling inside his head.
The Sentinel continues its shambling advance. Adamant and Jade’s blows have hurt it. Losing the source of its negative energy has hurt it even more. Still, it stumbles across the field, drawing ever closer to the shapeshifter.
“What is the point of all this?” Henri asks, echoing Claire’s sentiment. “Please, mon frère, do not mistake my intent. I love you as my own but you are a callous and selfish man. You always were, from the time we first met.”
The words cut deep. It takes some effort to resist the urge to flinch away. “You son of a bitch!” Devereaux snaps. “I saved your life! When you were bleeding out in the tunnels, I was the one who kept something of you alive!”
“And what sort of life is this?!” Henri barks back angrily. “Trapped in your mind, living through you!” He laughs scornfully. “I wouldn’t even be here if you hadn’t been so careless!”
This time, Devereaux does flinch. After so many years, the memory of the Sword Master’s death is still fresh. “I…” he begins but the retort trails away harmlessly.
“And what about me?!” Claire chimes in. “You told me you were saving me!”
Devereaux whirls on the woman in a flash. “I gave you a choice, goddamnit! You were as good as dead!”
“And what am I now?” she asks, her tone condescending. “Caged up, waiting on your beck and call. Don’t tell me you call this living.”
Nyght can see that Devereaux seems oblivious to her warning. He hasn’t moved, and the Sentinel’s lurching gait has brought it nearly within reach.
With a muttered expletive, she gathers and throws herself toward him in a long flat leap, far longer than should be humanly possible. Her intent is to plow into him and carry him out of the reach of Mot’s creature, and in fact she does connect with Devereaux just as the Sentinel clutches at him with a chitinous claw.
Deveraux is knocked clear, the force of the impact sending him tumbling away. But the claw catches the end of Nyght’s fluttering cape, and her momentum is abruptly checked as her body swings forward and jerks sharply, caught at the shoulders by the cape.
The Sentinel lifts her into the air, to dangle before its myriad red eyes…
After dropping Paige off to safety, Tahquitz takes to the sky again to survey their handiwork…
Only to see that the Sentinel of Mot has a hell of a regeneration rate. The bone they broke has already fused back together. It’s clear that the two of them alone aren’t powerful enough to faze the avatar.
“DAMN IT!” Tahquitz yelled as he sees Devereaux standing opposite of the beast. “Either Devereaux is in an epic staredown with the Sentinel… or something’s wrong.” He then sees Nyghtshade knock Dev out of the way, only to see the Sentinel swipe at her and lift her up… “Want to check on Simon Templar? I’ve got to help out Steel Magnolia here…” he thinks to himself for Paige to hear as he dives downwards towards the claw holding his benefactor.
Devereaux feels a sudden jolt followed by an abrupt reorientation in physical space. Still, he disregards it in favor of the events taking place inside his mind’s eye.
“Honestly, Devereaux, just give it up,” Claire mocks. “You’re not a Hero, you’ve said that yourself, and this honorable Rogue thing is crap. You care about yourself, nobody else.”
“I…” Henri hesitates. “She is right,” he says sternly. “There was a time when I hoped you would be…better. That time never came. Now you must face the consequences.”
“Damn you…” Devereaux says weakly. “Goddamn you both.”
“AnD nOW yoU SeE,” the voice of Mot drips into his mind, as inexorable as a rising tide. “I hAVe KnOWn YoU fRoM tHE BEgInNInG. sO MAnY mINdS tO DEVoUr, sO mUCh DElICioUs sUfFErINg…”
For a moment, just a moment, Devereaux laments. Memories of a hard life, a life in which only the strongest and most cunning could hope to survive, surge over him in a flood. Anger, hatred, pain, and loss ride that wave of recollection. The emotions surge relentlessly, battering him until the thought of oblivion rings as sweet as silver chimes.
“Enough of this!” a new voice bellows. The thunderous baritone peals like distant thunder.
“What?” Devereaux asks, disoriented by the sudden clarity in what had just been a maelstrom of regret and despair.
“You!” the speaker bellows. “You are either a weakling or a fool! How dare you let this…this abomination do such a thing! I had nearly convinced myself that you were worthy of me! Disgusting!”
The imperious indignation makes Devereaux bristle. “And where were you until now?!” he shouts into the ether. “Fucking around in my head, pulling cheap pranks like some kind of overgrown child!”
The disembodied voice roars with laughter. “Had I known you would deign to face a god, even one so disgusting as this, I might have been more inclined to lend you my assistance.”
Devereaux remains silent, merely staring into the fog of his own mind with a steady glower.
“Now that’s more like it,” the resounding voice chuckles. “Shall we?”
“Fuck. You.” Devereaux spits, anointing every word with malice. “Let’s get this done.”
It feels as if the entire world has shifted on its axis. Coming back to reality, he realizes that it’s him, not the earth, that’s been reoriented. He groans as he picks himself up and notices that one sleeve of his carefully tailored shirt has been ripped away.
With the fabric gone, the striking colors of a Tsoo tattoo reaching from his shoulder to his elbow are exposed to the open air. The artwork depicts a rotund man in traditional eastern dress perched atop a mountain peak. He clasps a thunderbolt in each hand, poised to hurl them down into the billowing clouds below.
Devereaux stares at the image for a moment, then locks his gaze on the Sentinel of Mot. Seeing Nyghtshade in its claws, he feels something hot bubble up inside him.
“You,” he growls in a rasping whisper. “You call yourself a god? Please, you’re just a freak!” As he speaks, the distinctive smell of ozone fills the air and a faint crackling sound begins to build around him.
The Sentinel seems to take notice of the insult and manages another roar as it locks its red eyes on him. Each one is filled to the brim with murderous intent.
“Go back to the circus…YOU FREAK!“
With those words, the Praetorian vanishes as a storm of lightning rips itself from his body. The current surges, bolts of electrical energy lancing out to scorch the ground black at his feet.
When the conflux of energy finally dissipates, Devereaux is gone. In his place is a tall, impossibly well built man dressed in a blue and red bodysuit. Gauntlets, greaves, pauldrons, and breastplate, all polished to an impressive sheen, adorn his body. On his head is a Corinthian helmet, the spaces for its wearer’s eyes, nose and mouth covered by a fine mesh.
The Prateorian has donned the form of an Imperial Defense Force Olympian Guard.
“You thought you could break me,” Devereaux says in a menacing tone that seems to split the very air. “I’ll hurt you for that.”
Dangling in mid-air, Nyghtshade twists and turns, trying to get a grip on her cape’s shoulder-clasps and release them. One finally comes free, leaving her hanging off-kilter and making the 2nd clasp even harder to work.
Fortunately for her, the second clasp suddenly rips free of her costume. She drops to the ground and rolls to her feet, sprinting clear of the Sentinel’s reach.
Only then does she see the transformation Devereaux has undergone. Assuming it to be merely another of his shape-shifts, she sends, “Devereaux? Are you OK now?”
Tahquitz whispers only one word… “Steelhelm…”
Dive-bombing Adam and Jade, she throws every buff she possesses on the pair, lingering long enough to complete the complicated chants needed to activate them, one after another. If her rawest fighter is going to continue to run some of the greatest risks of all, she will do her part as empathic healer. It is her responsibility, after all, that he is even in harm’s way, his first week in the City of Heroes.
An explosion of power distracts her long enough to swing her head around, still chanting, looking for its source. Unable to see what has just happened from her low-to-the-ground position, she finishes her chant and soars upward, to survey the area.
She finally locates a burned and blackened circle, and within its center…
“By the death of my people!” she cries out, her eyes flying wide open, her expression surprised, worried, a bit shocked…perhaps even horrified?
Nyghtshade’s question reaches him but he doesn’t answer. In truth, he can barely even perceive her presence. It’s lost somewhere beyond the roar of blood in his ears.
Leaping into the air, he streaks across the distance and slams into Mot’s creation. Striking its midsection with a blow that shakes leaves loose from their boughs.
The Sentinel reels, collapsing in on itself from the sudden impact. Its feet slide backwards, carving furrows into the soil as it scrabbles for purchase.
Seeing the beast struggle fills Devereaux’s mind with a new feeling. Pure, completely mad, satisfaction.
“Gotcha, you overgrown bastard.”
Stunned into inactivity, the elfin woman hovers in place. Tears begin to form in the corners of her eyes as they follow the red-blue-and-gold figure.
“…Xavier…?” she whispers.
Jade, who has no clear idea of the mechanics of Devereaux’s shape-shifting, just assumes he’s pulling a Presence Attack. Taking advantage of the distraction of his assault on the Sentinel, she waves to get Tahquitz’s attention, then sings out, “Second verse - same as the first!” and leaps behind the staggered monstrosity, aiming to cleave that weakened knee joint through the instant Adamant joins her.
Visibly shaking her self, Linuial concentrates on pulling herself together.
“PAIGE! PULL EVERYONE OUT! EVERYONE, TSOO INCLUDED! BROADCAST TO ALL YOU CAN REACH: DISENGAGE! I SAY, DISENGAGE AT ONCE! FALL BACK! STAND READY FOR FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS!“
She drops like a rock through the scarlet-sable sky, coming to a halt mere inches above the sward. Silently, she maneuvers herself behind the transformed Devereaux, and approaches him, trying to remain out of his line of sight. Alighting, she walks forward, slowly, without sound, until she is a few yards away from him.
Lifting her hands, she begins chanting softly, as colored lights form around her, and she directs them toward the figure of Praetoria’s Emperor.
“…I’m here, Xavier,“ she tells him, her mental voice calm, soft, soothing, even though tears are streaming down her cheeks. “I’m with you.“
Nyghtshade cautiously approaches, taking a flanking position to Linuial and this unexpected version of Devereaux, and sends privately to Linuial, “Mr. Devereaux’s not respondin’ to me. Any ideah what’s goin’ on heah?”
“You shouldn’t be,” Devereaux rumbles aloud, not deigning to turn when he addresses the diminutive blonde standing in his shadow.
He takes a step forward, then another, beginning a slow and deliberate advance toward his wounded enemy.
“Neither of you,” he calls back over his shoulder as Nyghtshade makes her landing.
The words said, he plants his feet and motions to the Sentinel. One hand upturned, the fingers rising and falling in short, sharp motions. It’s a classic and unmistakable taunt.
The chitinous monstrosity keens a battle cry and ploughs forward, it’s mouth open and head lowered to bring the colossal tusks jutting from its face in line with its target. Its massive feet pound the turf, flattening the grass like sheaves of wheat beaten down by a strong wind.
As the Sentinel draws near, a beam of crackling energy lances out from the eyes of Devereaux’s helmet. It strikes the beast in the same knee where Jade and Adamant struck before, burning through the armored exoskeleton to incinerate the softer flesh beneath.
All at once, the lower half of the Sentinel’s leg is shorn clean away. The dark avatar pitches forward to crash in a tangled mass of bony plates. It screams in rage and pain, thrashing on the ground.
“Team effort, Shugah,” Nyght calls out in response.
She shifts position deftly, to make sure she’s out of reach of any giant flailing limbs, and instead concentrates, bleeding away energy from the monstrous creature and dissipating it in all directions.
Now that she is close enough, Linuial is able to make out that the figure in front of her is not Emperor Cole himself, but one of his Olympian Guard.
She heaves a sigh of relief, brushes a hand across her cheeks, launches herself into the air.
Hovering above and slightly behind the Praetorian, she begins to chuckle.
“Trying to keep all the fun to yourself, Xavier?“ she teases him. “Selfish as always…“
With no one to heal, she places her hands on either side of her head, and begins a particularly long and complicated spell.
“Paige, tell everyone it’s all right to join in, just be sure they stay behind Xavier…I don’t want any collateral damage from friendly fire. Tell Adam to stay out of it…he’s done enough for one day…and if you wouldn’t mind, no more sonic attacks of the kind that might surprise our fighters. They need to be able to focus on avoiding the Sentinel.“
“Hey, my plan failed, no need to tell me twice,” Paige said back to Linuial in reply, then spread her orders to the others. She stands next to Adam after he was told to stand down, watching the scene, waiting for a moment where others need support.
Linuial smiles to herself before replying. “Paige, I’m not saying your attack failed. I can see that your work with Damien has sharply increased your control and power, as well as finesse. If you do have any attacks now that can be focused on the Sentinel and not make everyone grab their ears…including me…“ she allows a chuckle to slide across the connection, “then, by all means, use them. And if not…you got a good one in, dear, and you have every right to be proud of it.“
“I’m not upset, Linuial. I had enough force to smash a building in that scream, and he still healed from that. Tahquitz, Adam, Jade and I have a ways to go before we’re as capable and powerful as all of you guys.” Paige said, “We’ll help any way you need, but right now, staying vigilant is the best we can do.”
Jade has taken up a position near Adam. She shifts restlessly back and forth from foot to foot, anxious to help but useless at a distance. And Linuial’s orders had been clear, that everyone stay behind Devereaux, perhaps especially in his new form.
However, she realizes that just because the Sentinel is a Big Threat, there’s no reason to believe it’s the only threat. With that in mind, she keeps watch in the other directions as well, just in case any other Banished Pantheon are thinking of a sneak attack.
Nyght continues draining the Sentinel at an astonishing rate, managing to bathe Devereaux and even those behind him with substantial boosts to their health and energy.
“You don’t need to do that,” Devereaux calls to Nyghtshade. “In fact, it’d be better if you got clear.”
He bends deeply at the knees and launches himself high into the air, propelled by the might of his transformed body. When he reaches the zenith of his jump he stares down at the Sentinel as it continues its vain attempt to stand.
“iNSoLenT mORtAL! THiS mEaNS NoTHinG!”
Mot’s voice, once all consuming, now barely rises above a far off shout. It pales against the building sound of thunder that reverberates across the expanse of his mental landscape.
“I WiLL tEAr YoUR sOUl aSUNdEr!”
A bit of the old sarcasm returning, Devereaux quips snidely. “You will try.”
Stooping like a falcon, the Praetorian rockets back toward the ground. He draws a fist back and feels a rush of pleasure as energy runs the length of his arm to burst into a roaring storm of lighting.
The target of his wrath grows in his vision as he hurtles downward.
“You should be running!” he booms from on high, a warning to the Heroes and Tsoo alike.
“EVACUATE! THIS IS NOT A DRILL!” Paige yells mentally to all heroes, “HEAD TO THE CEMETARY WALL AT THE BULWARK NOW!”
“Let’s go! From what I know about Devereaux… he doesn’t kid around. Run!” Paige yells to the heroes around her.
“Time to go!” Jade exclaims, gripping her axe firmly with one hand and wrapping the other arm tightly around Adam’s waist. “Hang on, Adamant!” And with that, she leaps them both away toward the designated rally point in a long, high arcing jump.
“Good girl,“ the tiny blonde woman thinks to herself, approvingly. Paige’s maturity has increased by leaps and bounds, and she now feels confident in leaving the teenager to her own devices.
She leaps high into the air, Flight carrying her up until she meets the Praetorian, to back flip into a trajectory that mimics his, only slightly behind him.
“I haven’t died yet, and believe me, I’ve weathered greater powers than even you have, even now!“ she laughs, no longer the calm, sedate chuckle she usually uses, but wild, animalistic, sybaritic, with a touch of the same visceral pleasure she is bathed in, streaming from the Praetorian.
Caught off guard, the 18-year-old swordsman, at first nonplussed, begins to grin. He turns an assessing eye on the older woman, and his grin turns to one of approval.
Nyghtshade waits a beat to be sure all the others are bugging out, and then leaps away from the park, arcing high into the air and out, to land on the rooftop of a nearby skyscraper. She crouches at the edge to watch the Praetorian’s descent, determined and ready to return if at any point it looks like he’s in trouble.
“But I want to watch!” Tahquitz thinks to himself, getting no response. This was kind of in jest and kind of serious as he felt that he was at high enough of a ceiling that the lightning attacks from Devereaux couldn’t reach him in the skies…
Then a spark crackled past his right side with a dull crack, followed by a rumble as the bolt’s energy reverberated off of the ground.
“Oh, fine…” He turns around and catches a fast moving current of wind downwards to the Bulwark.
As the mismatched coalition scrambles away, Devereaux keeps his eyes focused on Mot’s Sentinel. To his surprise, it lifts its multitude of eyes to meet his stare. The bloody orbs are dissimilar in size and shape but uniform in the emotion they convey.
Hatred. It’s not the blaze of anger that’s sometimes misconstrued as true hate. This is cold and unadulterated. Looking into those eyes, he finds the same icy malice in his own heart.
And then the world explodes.
He jams his lightning shrouded fist into the center of the cluster of eyes and the energy concentrated there erupts. Bolts of power arc in every direction, culminating in a blinding flash of brilliant white. Bands of blackness swirl and mingle in the detonation and a scream, the Sentinel’s scream, rends the air.
The blast of arcane and Incarnate energy lingers, forming a dome of black and white that almost manages to overtake the lurid red of Dark Astoria itself. A rush of air forced outward by the explosion shatters windows and shakes trees down to their roots.
Then, as suddenly as it burst into existence, the storm fades, revealing the Sentinel of Mot. The insectoid creature is intact save for its missing leg. The amputated appendage lies where it fell, steaming in a rapidly expanding pool of oily black liquid.
The monster’s mouth is open, frozen in the edifice of its final cry. Its once near impenetrable hide has turned a porous, chalky gray like pumice from a lava flow. Cracks are already appearing in the carcass, spreading fast across the vast expanse of its inert body. Its eyes, once leering and malevolent, are dark now. They stare emptily at nothing.
Holding a hand to his head, Devereaux stumbles away from the fallen avatar of Mot’s will. Back in his natural form, he takes a moment to check the tattoo on his right arm. The thunder god is there, alive with faintly glowing colors.
“Claire?” he calls inside his own mind.
The Dark Ring Mistress doesn’t answer.
“Henri?” Again, there’s no response.
“Finally,” he laughs.
“And what about you?” he asks, expecting to hear the rumble of distant thunder.
It doesn’t come.
“Finally,” he says again and savors the silence that greets his words.
Falling back as Devereaux approaches his target, the empathic healer reverts to hovering nearby, ready to throw a buff or healing aura if needed.
They are not.
She casts an unneeded ball of green light over the stumbling Praetorian, then descends to the ground nearby. A glance around reassures her that her talents are not needed elsewhere, either.
She glances at Devereaux, subtly holds up her palms in his direction. Whatever she senses, she keeps to herself.
She looks up at the red-black sky and sighs. It will be good to get back to the base.
The blast and shockwave blow out windows up the side of Nyghtshade’s skyscraper vantage-point, and nearly tumbles her off the roof. But she fetches up against a tangle of HVAC ductwork and hangs on till things subside.
Recovering from the visual effects is not so easy for her. The explosion flash has whited out her night vision.
“Linuial, is everyone OK? Is Mr. Devereaux OK? Ah can’t really… see right now….”
“Monique? Are you hurt?“ Suddenly worried, Linuial searches for Nyghtshade’s distinctive aura, then leaps into the sky to settle near her, casting healing auras over the undead woman.
“Xavier is fine…for now…as fine as he ever is, anyway.” She laughs, lightly. “Everyone seems to be okay, they all got out of the way in time.”
She takes Nyghtshade’s face in her hands. “Are you still having trouble seeing?”
“Um…Jade…you can let go, now.” He grins. “…or not…I don’t mind…”
Nyghtshade is somewhat the worse for wear from this excursion. Her cape is gone, and a shoulder of her costume torn from where it ripped away. Her hood is thrown back, and her hair disheveled.
But the blank unfocused look begins to fade from her eyes, thanks to Linuial’s ministrations. “Thank you,” she says wearily. “It was like usin’ a starlight scope and then having a flashbulb go off in mah face. Ah hadn’t expected Mr. Devereaux to go nucleah on the Sentinel…”
Nyght blinks hard a few times, and holds her hand in front of her face, turning it this way and that until she is satisfied she can focus on it again.
“We’d best get back down theah,” she sighs, rising to her feet. “Afteh you.”
Jade belatedly realizes she’s still holding Adam tightly, and releases him. “We’d better head back over there,” she says hastily.
“Actually…” Linuial looks off into the distance. “Everyone seems to be okay…and I need to take care of something…”
Without a backward glance, she leaps into the sky and flies at great speed toward the distant horizon.
“Xavier…I leave it to you to wrap this up. See if you can make some sort of lasting agreement with the Tsoo…we might need them as allies again.“
Nyghtshade leaps from the roof of the building and lands near the others, takes in the scene before her, and walks slowly over to stare up at the petrified Sentinel.
“It’s not over, you know,” she says quietly, to no one in particular.
The response comes not from her teammates, and not aloud.
No, iT is nOt. moNique, heaR me. YoUr plAce is hEre, it hAs alWAys bEen herE, wiTh Me. yOu hAve no oNe elSe. youR fAmilY mOveD on. YoUr neW frieNds wilL leAve, as diD youR oLd. yoUr leader NirAnen wAs rigHt thAt yOur preSence amoNg thE livIng is uNnatuRal. YoU aRe waNtEd nOwherE, saVe hEre wiTh me. ThEre is nO plaCe foR yOu buT HeRe. StaY aNd seRve mE, my DauGhteR.
“Ah’m no kin to you or yoahs,” Monique retorts. But the protection of Tahquitz’s energy is nearly spent, and she is beginning to feel the terrible weight not only of Mot’s words, but of a barrage of guilt and despair.
aRe yoU NoT? YoU haVe murDerEd. YoU hAve tastEd thE liFe of aN inNocent anD dEsiRed to tAke it aLl. YoU weRE raiSed up fRom DEatH. dEath iS yOuR gIft. DeATh iS yoUr biRthrighT. wHo bETter tO serVe as mY beLOveD dAugHTer?
“Yoah a liar! Ah have a life…” she whispers, anguished by how expertly Mot hammers each and all of her deepest fears.
YoU hAve nOThING. NO onE. evEn yoUr marRiagE is a travEsTy. yoU droVe yOur huSband awAy. he hAs abaNdonEd yOu, foR hoW could anY mAn truLy loVe a CorpSe?
Nyghtshade stiffens under the unrelenting onslaught, the waves of shame, abandonment and fear it evokes. But as she hunches in reaction, a memory rises up between her and Mot’s attack…
They stood together on a Talos bluff overlooking the moonlit sea, a tall, heavy man in biker jacket and leathers, his neatly trimmed vandyke goatee a shade darker than the long red hair he wore drawn back into a ponytail, and in front of him a petite woman, heavily hood pushed back from the throat of the purple costume that covered her head-to-toe. A breeze toyed with strands of her auburn hair.
“But what if somethin’ happens to you while yo’ah away?” she asked hesitantly. “What if somethin’ happens, what if you can’t come back?”
Loang kissed her neck, tipped her chin up with one finger and smiled reasurringly. “You couldn’t lose me, I could be a thousand miles away and I’d still be with you.”
“If you were still alive,” Monique replied, voice soft with doubt.
He shook his head. “If something beat me down, I’d climb from the ten thousand hells to be with you.” He cupped a hand behind her and drew her closer. “As long as you want me around, mountains can’t come between us.” Gently, he rested his face against the top of her head.
She stood within his embrace, knowing she wanted him as much as he wanted her… and wondering as always if her feelings for him were only making things worse, putting him at risk. But held safe within his arms, she watched the falling leaves, the water lapping against the beach below. She felt his breath rise and fall beneath her cheek. She felt… at peace.
“I could be here forever,” he whispered, almost reverently.
Monique shook her head slightly, murmuring, “We can’t see that far ahead. We just have to be grateful foah today.”
Loang drew back to smile down at her. “With you a moment is forever. And I will never stop loving you.”
She reached up to touch his face, her own expression tender but somehow solemn. “Ah accept that. You must accept this. When the time comes that you change yoah mind, when the time comes that you realize you need to be with a livin’ woman instead… Ah will understand.”
Loang bent lower, bringing his face down to within a hairs-breadth of hers, and gazed seriously into her eyes. “Can you also accept it if I don’t?”
With a little sigh she relented, embracing him in turn. “Ah will accept whateveh comes, Beloved. Ah love you. Ah will always love you.”
Unexpectedly, Nyghtshade straightens, and the look in her eyes now has nothing now to do with guilt or anguish. Instead, her chin comes up, her eyes flashing with a sudden fury. “Oh, no sir, you do not get to speak his name!” she shouts aloud. “You stupid, pathetic, washed-up has-been of a god, you do not get to slander Fen Loang, or denigrate or belittle what we had togetheh. It doesn’t matteh wheah mah Loang is right now, it doesn’t matteh what ultimately happens between us – theah’s nothin’ that changes the truth of what we had and what we felt! Nothing!! So you just shut yoah nasty mouth right now!!”
Through Paige, Nyght sends, “If anybody’s got a plan to put this hateful little god back to sleep, now’s probably the time !!”
“Back to sleep?” Devereaux repeats incredulously. “I just blew it up…with my fist!”
He turns back toward the petrified corpse of the Sentinel and gives a weary shake of his head. “God or not, I’m done for the day. If there’s more work to do I’ll have to give you a referral.”
“I don’t think that will be necessary,” Golden Fist cuts in. He strolls past Devereaux, patting him on the shoulder. “I’m glad the merchandise worked as advertised. As you’ve seen, no tattoo is perfect but that one seems to have served you well. And I thank you for delivering Pha Xiong’s ashes. They are just what we need for this…job, as you put it.”
The Tsoo leader beckons to a cadre of his men and they rush forward. A Sorcerer carries an urn festooned with yellowed strips of parchment. Each one is adorned with calligraphy painted in a beautiful, flowing hand. He places the vessel on the ground and removes its lid reverently.
“This…thing and its peons killed many of my men here. It is only fitting that we are the ones to put it back into its cage.”
Reaching into the sash tied around his waist, Golden Fist produces the scroll the Heroes retrieved from the Talons of Vengeance. He unrolls it carefully and begins to chant. The red cranes on either end of the rod holding the scroll begin to glow. Then, inextricably, the sculpted birds come to life, flapping their painted bronze wings and dipping their heads.
As if in answer to his call, the urn begins to radiate with an iridescent light of its own. A cloud of ashes begins to rise from the container and waft on the breeze to cover the Sentinel.
“We will handle things from here,” Golden Fist says confidently. “As we always have.”
Kip Cantorum looks up from the pile of metal and silicon.
“Oh! Hey, Lin! I’m ‘bout ready for a break…” He glances at his watch. “Yipes, I need to get to the office…” He glances into her eyes, strangely tired and even a little…old. “Are you…?”
She smiles weakly, slides into a naugahide chair. “Go on, Kip,” she encourages. “I can stay now.”
As the engineer grabs handsful of tools and sweeps parts into a small cardboard box to be deposited under the bed, Linuial closes her eyes briefly. then sighs, and stands again.
She leans over the bedside, lays one hand flat on Jon Smith’s chest, watches as it rises and falls, breathes softly with him for a minute.
She bends close over his face, brushes her lips over his, murmurs softly, “…come back to me, my love…” before returning to the chair, closing her eyes…
Tahquitz texts on his phone off to the side:
Me: Need containment. Leyline runes, plinths, and a full re-warding in Dark Astoria. Bring a team.
Montague Castanella: He who shall not be named? My boy, we’ve got a lot to discuss.
Me: Good news - Remember the Punhal Amaldiçoado? I disposed of it here for you. But that’s a footnote.
Montague Castanella: Ha! Centuries of men believing their souls were transposed to a dagger. And then that same dagger holding their soul needed to drink blood nightly from fresh sacrifices of naughty children, or they’d die? That is a footnote compared to the millions that kept Mot alive.
Me: For me, the dagger was just a little warm to the touch. But thanks for the history lesson.
Montague Castanella: I have a detail on the way. Percy Winkley will meet you at the site as soon as possible. Can you wait until then to leave or are you under duress?
Tahquitz surveys the scene of Starfire and his team conversing with Golden Fist and the Tsoo.
Me: Shouldn’t be a problem. I’ll meet with you at Steel Canyon for a debriefing. Also, there’s a heavy presence of Tsoo in the area. They helped, so be easy on them. I’ll let Golden Fist know you’re coming.
Montague Castanella: Wait, what?
As the Allies mill around, gradually separating themselves into their more normal associations, Tsoo gathered around their leader and the revered artifacts, Starfire chatting about the battle, Nyghtshade’s friends in their own small group, Adam Masters hangs back, a bit. He glances around, a certain longing in his eyes as he studies the supergroup members, gathered around the Nova form of the exotic catgirl Kheldian Stray.
He then watches the group of friends from the brownstone. He switches his attention back and forth several times, until his eyes stop on Jade, chattering away with animated gestures.
He grins, and walks confidently toward her, coming up to her side, giving her a nod of greeting as she glances at him, his grin widening when she acknowledges his presence.
Jade watches Adam approach, and realizes he might be crushing on her a bit. She knows she looks younger than she is, and yet a good 10 years older than he is, and doesn’t want to have to let him down if he pursues it.
So, instead, she opts for giving him a hearty clap on the back, a grin of her own, and the casual greeting, “Hey kid, you really held your own out there. When you go in to Hero Registration to get your security clearance, tell them about what happened here - and if they give you any guff or don’t believe you, then give me a call and I’ll come down and set them straight.”
Adam snorts, his grin widening as he looks down at the ground. His eyes remain lowered as he leans close to Jade, his breath tickling her ear. “Too young for you?” he teases, his voice couched only for her hearing. “Or too old for me? You didn’t seem to think so when you had your arm around me…”
He laughs heartily, gives her a wink as he turns to walk over to the Starfire group. As he takes a step, he calls back over his shoulder, “…tea…my place…Sunday morning.”
Paige walks past Starfire as she makes her way through the crowd, as some of them thank her for keeping them in the loop and she returns their affections with a smile. But something is eating at her composure. That moment between dreams and conscious thought where Mot showed her a glimpse of her supposed past. As she makes it to a streetlamp that hasn’t been lit in decades, she tries to recall her memory of that moment.
And it’s getting harder with each passing second. The room she’s standing in is losing detail. The faces of the other girls are indistinguishable from her own. The old man talking to her is becoming a mumble. The hands she looks down at to recognize herself become a blur.
And with a snap, it’s gone, just like a dream you rapidly forget when you wake up from your sub-conscious. But now, she knows something is at least there.
“At some point, you’re gonna have to stop doing that,” Devereaux says as he sidles up next to Paige.
“You keep trying to slink off on your own and Blondie’s gonna start nagging me again. I can hear it already.”
He puts on his most mocking imitation of Linuial’s voice. “Xavier, Paige is becoming far too anti-social for a girl her age and you’re encouraging her. If this keeps up she’ll be completely ruined. Go and hug her this instant or, by the Star Queen, I’ll follow you around signing elf songs until you want to rip off your own ears!”
“Sorry… I just needed a second to myself.” Paige smiles back at Xavier, “I had one foot off of the merry go round.”
She thinks for a moment, then asks, “Dev? I don’t know if this is something you can help me with… but I think when Mot had me in his grasp before Nyghtshade and Tahquitz helped me… I think I saw a part of my past. I can’t remember it now. It slipped away right after Mot did. I’m not even sure if it’s real.” She looks down and takes a worried breath. “I’m sure Mot toyed with your past, too. I understand now why people don’t talk about this part of Paragon City. It’s the cheapest of cheap shots.”
“Do you know any memory specialists or psychics who deal in mental blocks? If Mot did show me the past, it might be worth it to know who my parents were.”
“He didn’t have to,” Devereaux says in response to her assumption.
His tone is matter of fact as he explains. “I’ve done a lot of ugly things, kid. Some were necessary, some weren’t. Some of them I’m ashamed of, some of them I’m not. Either way, there’s plenty of material in my head to make a feature length mind fuck. No edits required.”
Realizing he’s straying into dark territory, he changes the subject. “But to answer your question, yeah, I might know some people who could help. Depends on how much time you’ve got, though.”
“Oh, I’ve got plenty of time in the next few months.” Paige says, “I have a feeling if I don’t work on this as soon as possible, I’ll lose the opportunity I might have to break the mental block apart… if it is there at all.”
“Thanks for your part in making sure I’m not ‘completely ruined,’” she giggles, “And I’m glad you’re here, contract or not.”
“It’s good to see you too, kid,” he laughs along with her.
“And it’s good that you’re free for a while.” A sly smile makes its way to his face. “Monaco’s one hell of a place. I think you’ll like it. I already changed my ticket but we’ll have to hurry and get yours booked if we wanna make the same flight.”
“I’m glad I had my passport updated when I visited Tahquitz’s family in California… we didn’t need it but he wasn’t sure if we were going to visit his relatives in… what was it… Cuah-hoo-tematch? Kwa-hootie-mach? I’m terrible with Spanish.” Paige says, “But I’m definitely in.”
“Y’know, I never did learn Spanish but I’m pretty sure Kwa…whatever it is you just said, isn’t proper diction.”
He chuckles again and places a hand on the heroine’s shoulder. “I can’t promise you anything but I’ll make sure you see the best people I know. They’re eager to meet you anyway, have been since I started talking about you a while back. It’s past time you met my team.”
Still laughing softly, he adds. “My usual team, that is. How I keep getting roped in with you Capes is beyond me.”
Mot, the ancient lord of the Banished Pantheon, sleeps once more. It’s taken a truly Herculean effort by the Heroes and their Tsoo allies but the dark god is finally silent once again. It’s influence still shows in Dark Astoria’s blood red atmosphere and the toothy maws that erupt from the landscape. What’s more, defeating it’s Sentinel has done nothing to hinder the Pantheon’s efforts to return their master to the world.
Mot will rise again, but not today.
Every member of the alliance has had their resolve tested in this battle but none more than Fen Monique. Forgiving Akpan, the Death Shaman who first raised her into undeath, required a true leap of faith. In the end, she managed to release her hold on the past. Even going so far as to grant her nemesis a final mercy, rescuing him from the clutches of the twisted deity he served.
Now, exhausted just as much in spirit as in body, the Heroes gather themselves up and make their exit from Dark Astoria. Running, leaping, flying, and even gliding through the very fabric of space, the weary combatants are untied by a ubiquitous sentiment. They hope they’ll never have to return to this place and face the horrors that still lurk within its walls.