Paragon City Stories: Meanwhile at the Superbase
Hosted by UNINVENTIVEHEART
CHAPTER II, Scene 8
Place: rooftop of an old brownstone in King’s Row’s High Park
Leaves have fallen, snow flurries have begun, and winter is closing in on Paragon City. Life, or whatever passes for it for Fen Monique, has rolled along, night after night, with patrolling and overseeing apartment building maintenance and tenant needs, with caring for her own home and cats… and keeping a high profile in her neighborhood and around the city.
She’d like to tell herself that she’s just been to busy to follow up on Paige’s advice about talking to any of the others in their ‘team’, but being an good honest Catholic, she can’t bring herself to swallow the lie.
Despite the discomfort of the impending conversation, she knows she needs to talk to at least one of them, and finally calls Linuial and asks if they could meet for a quick chat.
Almost on a whim, she gives the address of an old brownstone in King’s Row’s High Park, and suggests Linuial meet with her on the building’s rooftop, if it’s convenient.
And then she settles on the rooftop corner, legs folded neatly beneath her, cap billowing a bit in the evening wind as snow flurries swirl around her, and the streetlamps of the small block-sized parks’ below begin to glow.
The moon is hurtling her mad way across the night sky, setting the airborne frozen water crystals alight, tiny glowing candles of magic dancing. The pale form is dancing along with them, as it becomes visible passing briefly across the moon’s face, then circles and pirouettes lower and lower, until the flimsily dressed figure alights soundlessly on the edge of the roof.
Linuial waves to Nyghtshade, brushes melting spots of wetness from her skirt while ignoring the others. She is wearing her usual ubiquitous costume…blue minidress, her only nod to the flurries being pastel blue hip boots, and long sleeves to the dress. Her blonde hair hangs straight, below her waist…she brushes absentmindedly at a snowflake that has somehow survived its landing on her long blonde eyelashes.
She wraps an arm around Nyghtshade’s shoulders and gives her a quick squeeze before settling on the edge of the roof next to the undead woman, laughing, tossing her head back to glance up at her beloved stars.
“Evening!” she laughs. Is she greeting Nyghtshade, or the night itself?
Nyght accepts the hug, even seems to appreciate it. She nods in greeting to Linuial. “Thank you foah comin’.” An eyebrow lifts as she takes in Linuial’s outfit.
“Are you cold? Ah didn’t think… We don’t have to sit heah in the snow if you’d ratheh go somewheah warmeh.”
“Are you cold?” the tiny woman answers question with query. She drops her eyes to her own outfit, raises both hands in a shrugging motion. “I’m fine, but if you want…”
She leaves the offer unfinished, smiles softly.
“Ah’m pretty much always cold,” Nyght admits. “Can’t make any body heat, but Ah can feel the cold. Ah used to think that was so unfair… like all this isn’t unfair.” She spreads gloved hands and smiles faintly. “You get used to it, though, and Ah can always get warm again if Ah’m inside somewheah that is.”
“But when it’s snowin’…. Ah just like bein’ outside, you know? Because… snow.” Her smile widens wistfully. “We neveh got much of anythin’ in the way of snow back home in N’Orleans. Ah always get excited seein’ it heah in Paragon. Or the Ski Chalet.”
She glances downwards, at the fire-escape below, and admits, “And… Ah used to live heah. In the little apartment right undeh us. Just a walk-up bedroom and a bath, but really, when Ah was startin’ out heah, what moah did Ah need? Sometimes it’s just nice to go back to wheah things started.”
The elfin woman holds out one arm, palm upright, allowing the dancing candles to alight in her hand, turning instantly to glittering sky tears from the warmth.
“We never had snow in the forest…There is so much I can’t remember, but when you came to visit me while I was lost, you found some memories for me that I had lost for thousands of years, and that is one of them. There was never snow in the dancing place…but I think I remember that my Mother lived earlier in a place that was always winter. It must have been beautiful.” She smiles at the thought.
“That sounds wondehful. Ah’m glad you got some pieces of yoah life back. And that you don’t mind the cold and the snow.”
Monique pauses, realizing that in some ways she’s stalling, and so comes down to it.
“Ah’ve been meanin’ to talk to you foah a while, since back when Paige was oveh for Halloween, but one thing and anotheh….” She trails off, looking embarrassed, then admits, “No, that’s not true, not entirely. Ah’ve been kind of avoidin’ it, but you all have a right to know, and Ah should have brought it up sooneh….”
Linuial reaches over and takes Nyghtshade’s nearest hand in her own warm one. It is startling just how warm it is in the snowy night.
“Dear, whatever it is you want to talk about, just relax and talk.” She laughs again, disarmingly. “I’m not sure what it is, but you can always talk to me about anything you like. There doesn’t have to be a reason…just wanting to is enough.”
Her smile is as warm as her hand.
Monique nods, and seems to relax a bit. “Ah was talking with Paige a while ago, and she asked me about mah belt.” She fingers the metallic jointed belt, an almost unconscious gesture. “She was curious as to why Ah always weah it, and Ah realized Ah’d never really talked about that with any of you. Afteh Ah explained, she pointed out that it would probably be important to do so, so….”
Linuial nods. “Go on. Monique, it doesn’t have to be important, you know. It could be your favorite recipe for cherry cobbler, if you just want to share it with me. That’s enough. I have quite a lot of room for memories, you know.”
She laughs softly.
Monique clears her throat, and nods. “So… about the belt. Ah do weah it all the time. M.A.G.I. made if foah me. This big gemstone heah, it’s a garnet. M.A.G.I taught me that garnets have always been talismans of magical protection - against harm, against evil, so that’s why it’s set into the belt. And the belt itself, you have to look kind of close to see it, but theah’s little magical symbols engraved all oveh the metal parts, too. The garnet and the belt, both, the’ah heavily warded. Magically warded.”
She smooths a hand over the massive garnet set into the belt. “In part, it’s meant to protect me from bein’ ovehwhelmed by mah Curse, to keep the Hungeh from drivin’ me to do somethin’ terrible. To keep me from becomin’ somethin’ terrible. And, so, it’s also to protect eveh’one around me. From me, or what the Curse wants me to become…”
“That’s why Ah’m always wearin’ it. Because the Curse is always theah. Always somethin’ to fight off. So, Ah neveh take the belt off save foah a moment or two, when Ah’m changin’ clothes. It’s that important.”
Linuial tilts her head to examine the belt more carefully.
“What a wonderful work of arcane craftsmanship, Monique. And beautiful as well.” She nods her approval. “Can I touch it?”
She waits, smiling, for the reply.
“If you like,” Monique agrees quietly. “It won’t hurt you, it’s not warded to do that.”
Linuial releases Nyghtshade’s hand, and reaches down to gently touch a fingertip to the garnet…closes her eyes…nods…then her hand retreats, she opens her eyes, smiles, and nods again.
“I rather thought so,” she murmurs, then, louder, “…thank you, Monique.” Her smile broadens happily.
Monique stares at her, puzzled. “What? What did you find?”
Linuial cocks her head to one side, giving Nyghtshade a long, measuring look.
“…you mean you don’t know?” she asks, still smiling, rather coyly now.
“Ah know it’s supposed to keep me from becomin’ a monsteh, a soulless killeh,” Nyght replies somewhat tersely, clearly not amused.
Linuial breaks into an open, delighted laugh.
Yes, of course, dear. It is a fine artifact, and it will fulfill its desired function as long as it is intact, you have nothing to fear on that front. Perhaps…” here she hesitates, still smiling…a bit impishly, perhaps? “…perhaps the rest is still for you to discover.”
Nyght pulls away, stiffening perceptibly. “This isn’t somethin’ to joke about, Linuial. Ah’m sharin’ somethin’ shameful heah, because Ah thought you all needed to know what kind of safeguards have to be put on me. Because Ah thought you all deserved to know what Ah deal with night afteh night, how serious it is. Because Ah thought you all needed to undehstand… well, what Ah am, and… what Ah might someday become, if not foah things like this belt.”
Linuial shakes her head, her smile fades away like the melting snow on her shoulders.
“I would never joke about such a serious thing, Monique. I’m sorry you consider this to be a thing of shame, because it is also such a thing of beauty, and power. I will only say this: Whatever you have been told about this artifact, there is more to it than you know. A telepath would never sense it…it is hard even for an empath to detect it…but there is a greater power at work here, and it works in your favor. Never forget that…and never doubt it.”
Her face suddenly somber, she looks away into the distance…as if teleported away to another place, another time.
“Ah… well…” Monique stammers, embarrassed now by her outburst, and by the affirmation her friend has tried to offer. “Just… well… thank you. Foah that, thank you.”
“This greateh poweh… are you talkin’ about God?” Gloved fingers touch her chest, where a rosary rests beneath her outfit.
Linuial heaves a great sigh, then turns to look at the woman next to her.
“We could spend the next week, or month, or year, debating what God is, or was, or will be.” She sighs again. “I recognize two entirely different levels of ‘God’, and how would I apply that to what you recognize by that name?” She shakes her head. “M.A.G.I. did their work, and they did it well, and you can and must trust in that. For the rest…if you took that belt to Azura today, I suspect she would tell you that it is not the same as when it was given to you.
“There is nothing to fear, Monique. Think of an acorn growing into something…greater. That, I think, is all I should tell you now. You’re not ready…”
“…but perhaps what you have long feared is not as great a danger as you were once told…” Her voice drifts off into the night.
Monique blinks, considering that, and is silent for a bit. But, finally, she nods slowly, smiling again.
“Thank you foah the reassurance. Maybe the belt has been makin’ me strongeh all this time. Or, Ah don’t know… maybe Ah’ve been makin’ it strongeh, the longeh Ah resist. Eitheh way, thank you. Ah appreciate the comfort.”
The tiny woman smiles once again, in that open, easy way she has that seems to reach across great expanses of space, and possibly even time itself.
“Good! That’s a great way of thinking about it. It will do for now.” She tosses back her head and laughs, then stands, shaking out her skirt.
Looking down at Nyghtshade: “…would you like me to entertain you with a bit of my people’s dancing?”
Without waiting for an answer, she steps into the air, and begins an aerial ballet centered only a yard or so above Nyghtshade’s position, echoing a dance Nyghtshade saw in a place out of time…
Nyght settles back on her elbows, smiling entranced as she watches the graceful aerial movements of the small elfin woman, who seems almost to be partnering with the drifting snowflakes themselves.
Despite the cold, Monique feels an inner warmth, and smiles, content.