Paragon Holiday Special, Part One (Lore)
1) Because Lore has really written us a full length short story here, we've broken it up into two pieces. We will be posting the second half on the 24th.
2) That makes three Lore updates for this month.
3) This month is not all Lore updates. That is all.
Master Magician held the tiny but sinister looking black object aloft with a flourish. “And with this, the Paragons’ mansion will indeed be plunged into… a silent night!” His evil laughter echoed throughout the chamber, reverberating and multiplying.
It did so until the sound of applause began (it was only Chariot, but he could sound like an audience applauding, so it was sufficient), at which point he immediately swirled his cape and bowed graciously and with aplomb. He strode away from the podium, pausing only to toss the chess piece to his “lovely assistant”, Lady Fortune, with a well-practiced motion.
“Give me that!” Lady Fortune snatched the chess piece out of the air. She wasn’t sure what made her more furious; Master Magician lifting the critically important magical object without her knowledge, him stealing the thunder of the announcement, or the fact that her long, intense labors had left her disheveled and exhausted in front of her allies. “You didn’t even work on the damned thing.” She stood beside the karaoke setup in the main room of the base, feeling foolish next to a long table covered with brightly colored festive wrapping and boxes. Her hair had long since tumbled free of its traditional wrap, and she was flushed and glistening with sweat. Most concerning, she had taken a role more direct than merely scouting: she was going to come uncomfortably close to killing someone herself. There was absolutely nothing about the situation that pleased her.
Master Magician tapped his temple in response. “The brainwork was mine. I allowed you to do the grunt work.” He took a seat in an overly padded, throne-like chair at the back of the room.
Lady Fortune was exhausted, her reserves of mana depleted. But when she felt better, she was going to make him regret that statement. She glared across the gathering of comfortable swivel chairs that stood between the karaoke stand and the big screen television. The space was large and clean but cluttered, very reminiscent of the bar it had once been. Master Magician met her angry gaze fearlessly.
Perhaps seeing the vengeful light entering her eyes, Agent Tower interrupted. As usual, his electronically modulated voice was nearly inflectionless, yet filled with a cold and efficient confidence. “Enough. Your labors are appreciated, Lady Fortune. Regardless, review the plan one more time. We need to check it for holes.” Agent Tower was cautious to the point of paranoia, as always.
“The plan is essentially complete. All I have to do is ritually wrap the packages by midnight tonight, before the festival officially begins. The spell Mister Death and I cast should cause the items I prepared to swap places with the Paragons’ at the moment they open their gifts, regardless of where that may be. This is due to the sympathetic magic in the samples you all recovered secretly from each Paragon during their public appearances over the past year. The death energy he implanted in each object will do the rest.”
“They will not be able to trace the items back to us? They have their own sorcerer, and he is even a noble demon.” Through the harsh electronics, one could hear an element of deep thought and concern, although Agent Tower did not move at all.
“No. Magical detection is my forte,” Lady Fortune felt annoyance creeping into her voice. “Besides, the spell is on these objects, not the Paragons’ actual presents. They might be able to sense something exactly as they open the presents, but only then, and it would already be too late. I even used chess pieces rather than Tarot cards, just to make sure that if any somehow survive, they won’t even associate the deed with us.”
Master Magician huffed a bit, annoyed by this detail.
“...not getting paid.” Judgment, leaning against a wall, broke his typical silence with a sullen tone.
Agent Tower slowly and precisely made a dismissive gesture. “Another reason we will not be suspected of the crime. I know you don’t like to work without getting paid, but this will pay off in dividends more important than money: tactical advantage.”
“I still don’t like this plan,” said Dame Strength as she slouched in her chair. She took a long pull from a large bottle of malt liquor before finishing her thought. “Not enough punching.” A few of the other members of Tarot chuckled in response. “I mean sure, we are villains and all that. Assassins. But this strikes me as, I dunno, TOO underhanded.”
“Dame has a point,” said Chariot. “If we don’t take the credit, someone else will, and then everyone will fear them as the guys that took down the Paragons.”
“Which means whoever does will catch all the heat.” Mister Death spoke slowly and with difficulty, his sepulchral tones chilling the air. “It’s a good plan. Not honorable, but sometimes you have to be pragmatic. Besides, sending a little present to your victim shows class. I assure you, the Paragons will be DEAD dead. Not… you know.” He straightened his tie. “Inconveniently deceased.”
Agent Tower was insistent. “There must be something that can go wrong. We should be prepared for it. How do we know this spell will even work?”
Mister Death grinned, but then he was always grinning, even when he wasn’t. “Magic is the realm of the impossible, not the precise. Even if nothing happens, nothing happens, and we are still safe. The Paragons will never even know how close they came to death. The plan is foolproof. The only way they could avoid it would be to somehow destroy the contents before opening the packages. Even if it doesn’t kill them for some reason...” He shrugged. “...we’ll at least get some gifts out of the deal.”
Chariot laughed with cruel glee. “We get to kill the Paragons and steal their presents! I love this holiday!”
“Then what are we waiting for? Let’s wrap some gifts,” said Master Magician, though he did not stir from his throne.
Harriet Ross caught a glimpse of herself in a hallway mirror and chuckled. With her hair undone, maskless, no makeup, and clad in pajamas and footie slippers, she was not at all the image of the leader of the Paragons, premier heroine of Titan City. She preferred it that way. On a cozy night, in her small but warm apartment, she gripped a steaming mug of hot chocolate, looking forward to holiday DVDs and falling asleep in an overstuffed chair. Life was good.
She could not help growing a bit wistful, remembering the days when she had shared the place with her sisters; the days before the costume and the mask and the other name. But her sisters had families of their own now, and the Holidays were family time. She had called them on the phone and wished them well, and thanked them for their presents. The apartment seemed a little large and empty with them gone, but soon she would fill it with nostalgic songs and cartoon voices, and all would be well.
It was an even-numbered year, so the traditional charitable activities and celebrations done in the name of the Paragons were being officiated by Peyton, aka Particle. She relished the time away from the limelight, although when it was her turn, she did enjoy giving to the less fortunate and helping ensure they had a happy holiday. Like her, Peyton was unmarried, so he was mostly free of family responsibilities during the holidays -- although she was sure that a man as charismatic and smart as he was never lonely during the holidays.
Harriet paused, tv remote in hand. Was she lonely?
Her answer was the sound of Ride of the Valkyries from her cell phone. She didn’t have time to be lonely.
Peyton’s voice was as cheerful as ever; public appearances energized him, rather than exhausting him. “It’s after midnight, Harry. Wanted to catch you before you opened your gifts.”
“Wrapped the show up right on the dot, eh, Peyton? Hot date tonight?”
“Something like that. You busy?”
Harriet sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. “We’ve been over this, Peyton…”
“No no no. This is legit this time. Just let me bring you over to the mansion for a picture of you opening my present. You wouldn’t refuse a hero a single innocent picture on the holidays, would you? It’s for the press.”
Harriet smirked, despite herself. “I’m all civvied out. Would tomorrow work?”
“Ah, just suit up right quick. You’ll look great. Please?”
Harriet was a little taken aback to realize that she was actually still wearing the armor, retracted into armlet form on her left arm; the one without a hand. She had forgotten it was there, it was so like a part of her these days.
“One picture and then you pop me right back, you hear?”
“Give me a few minutes.”
A few minutes and a disorienting wrench later, Harriet was ambushed by a group a festive mischief-makers yelling “Surprise” and blowing various party favors at her. It was all she could do to keep herself from dropping instinctively into a battle stance.
The gang was all here. In holiday colors.
Harriet looked around the small drawing room they had assembled in. Behind her, stockings were hung above the fireplace with care, and twinkling lights decorated the curtained windows to one side. On a low table, beneath a tiny decorative tree, was a small collection of wrapped boxes in holiday colors. But by far, the greatest spectacle was the Paragons themselves.
“You all had holiday themed versions of your patrol outfits made.”
Arianna (Codebreaker), looked cozy in her now fur-trimmed hoodie and gloves. Harriet was shocked to see her step forward primly and clear her throat. She was going to make a speech? The room quieted in anticipation.
The words came out by rote, Arianna’s eyes scanning the room as always. “You are always saying the holidays are family time. Now is family time.” Without meeting Harriet’s gaze she stepped back to stand alongside the others, to the applause of her fellows.
Corwin (Cambion), with a devilish twinkle in his eye, offered Harriet a heavily spiked mug of egg nog. Wrinkling her nose at the smell, she waved it away. “Aw, live a little” he chuckled. “What’s the holidays without a little temptation?” He slowly turned in place, showing off the candy canes and snowflakes that decorated his overcoat in place of the usual cabbalistic symbols. Harriet smiled her appreciation. With a wink and a finger to his lips, he pointed upward, drawing her attention to a sprig of mistletoe dangling from one of his horns. He waggled his eyebrows and Harriet backed away, chuckling. “But ...tradition!” he faux protested.
Feodor (Vodnik) elbowed him out of the way. “To rescue I come! Cheating, I am, being already green. You have met angel and little goblins?” His gestures indicated a lovely young woman and two adorable kids, dressed in more normal holiday garb; sweaters, shirts, and the like. Zharptitsa, Alex and Lisa. The children had gotten so big since she had seen them last!
And so it was for the next hour or so. Everyone hugged everyone. Hot beverages were consumed. Peyton amused everyone with his powers, then bored everyone with his explanations. Melissa (Arrow Shade) duelled with Zharptitsa via pictures of their respective children. Overclock trounced the kids repeatedly in video games, despite his best efforts not to. Jennifer (Memory) led the group in some traditional songs and games.
But very soon it was time to open presents.
Feodor’s wife and children were zapped home, and the Paragons gathered for a quick toast. Each of them had gotten only a single present for one other, and that with a low maximum worth, to avoid embarrassment; a factor when only some of the Paragons were rich. Everyone insisted that Harriet go first.
END OF PART ONE
Written by - Timothy 'Kitsune Nine-tails' Ross
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