Paragon Holiday Special, Part Two (Lore)
Stick around, Titaneers! Have you been good or bad this year? Let's see what's under the tree... tomorrow!
But now, let's see how the Paragons end their holiday!
Hefting the basketball-sized box, Harriet gave it a gentle shake. From the heft and a small rattle, she immediately had an idea of what it was: one of those annoying transparent enclosed puzzles Peyton loved so much. It was going to be awkward: Harriet could not bring herself to feign liking the gift itself, but maybe she could instead honestly express her appreciation of his thoughtfulness.
Prompted by her impatient teammates, she tore the box open. As she did so, Arianna gave a tiny gasp.
Harriet looked at Arianna, but the younger Paragon’s expression was unreadable beneath her festive mask. No one else seemed to have noticed, so with a modicum of caution, she reached into the box and retrieved ...a chess piece? A queen, to be exact. Arianna deftly flipped herself behind the couch she had been seated upon. “Yellow green!” she cried. Harriet froze.
Arianna’s English was not the best at the best of times, and when she was surprised (which, with her talents, was incredibly rare), it deteriorated completely. Still, the Paragons had taught her a color code to indicate the danger level of something she had noticed; a code that she had practiced until she could use it instinctively.
Yellow green, however, was a new one.
Overclock was first to speak up, naturally. “Harriet; I am prepping the medical, containment, and analysis facilities right now.” Harriet, holding her exact position otherwise, nodded.
Peyton was next. “Molecular analysis of the item reveals nothing unusual. Hardwood, precisely machined; manufactured. No fingerprints. No diseases. No explosives or mechanisms of any kind, and no ‘black box’ areas I cannot identify. Harriet: that is not the gift I got you. But it was, until the exact moment you opened the box.”
Next was Corwin. “I am not picking anything up spectrally, not even traces, but I will get my ritual implements to make sure.” Adjusting his wire-rimmed spectacles nervously, he glanced about the room. “Nothing has penetrated the wards. Only Holiday spirit in here.” He hurried out of the room.
Jennifer put her fingers to her temple. “No evil gloating thoughts nearby.”
Within an hour, the Paragons were gathered in their War Room in the basement. Harriet had been poked and prodded and given a clean bill of health. Other than that, they were baffled. Through a warded and force fielded transparent containment unit, they were looking at a set of eight ordinary chess pieces, all black, no pawns.
Harriet looked earnestly at Arianna, translating her explanations as best she could. “So, you picked up on the weight shift when the gifts were substituted. And your ...pattern analysis tells you that this was something serious, not just a prank? But it failed somehow.” Arianna gave a cautious, hesitant nod.
Peyton shook his head. “That doesn’t make sense. Someone somehow set up these things to kill or harm or mark us when we opened our holiday presents, then just ...forgot to arm the payload?”
Corwin steepled his fingers. “Sympathetic space-warping magic of some kind could perform the substitutions. But in order to prevent the, er, payload part of the spell, you would have to somehow destroy the contents of the package before opening it. Diabolical, if I may use the expression.”
Peyton rubbed his chin. “Destroyed. Would teleporting do it?”
Peyton sighed. “As I have explained on multiple occasions over the past several years, despite your eyes glazing over whenever I do so, when I teleport something as I did with all of you today, I demolecularize it on a quantum level…”
Peyton was suddenly dangling from Feodor’s outstretched grip. “You are meaning to tell me you disintegrated my wife and children?”
Peyton wrested uselessly at Feodor’s grasp. “They are fine! You are fine! I have done this dozens of times before and I never hid what I was doing…”
Harriet’s voice was calm and quiet. “Put him down, Feodor. Focus.” Feodor obeyed immediately, straightening Peyton’s holiday uniform for good measure.
“Permission to make a phone call.” Feodor said, flatly.
He exited the room, with one backward glance at Peyton. “I will be looking forward to our next hand to hand training session.” Peyton gulped audibly.
Harriet looked over at Melissa. Her eyes were wide. “Go home to your kids too. The rest of us have got this. That’s an order.” Melissa nodded in response, leaving the room so swiftly and quietly, she seemed almost to teleport herself.
Overclock spoke up. “No one is claiming our demise on the news, at least not yet. No activity that is unusual for the holidays. I have been especially vigilant for any Rooks or Checkmate activity. Just the usual stuff.”
After a moment’s thought, Harriet stood. She stretched and yawned broadly. The remaining Paragons looked at each other, then at her in momentary confusion. Harriet smiled. “You know what? Go home, all of you. Be with your families, or otherwise enjoy the rest of the celebration. Whoever did this just tried to ruin the holiday for everyone, but they failed. We’ll find out who, and how, and we will get them. But for now, we are not going to let them win: we are not going to let them ruin our holiday. Happy Holidays you all.”
As the Paragons gathered for one last round of hugs, Jennifer spoke up with a touch of a humorous pout in her voice. “Aw, man… somebody stole all of our stuff!”
Chariot was channel surfing as quickly as the tv system would allow. “Nothing so far. Maybe they don’t have any servants or anything, and no one will find their bodies until the morning. Heck, maybe not until next week!”
Master Magician mused through steepled fingers. “Impossible. I am certain the Paragons do not do all of their own cleaning and meal preparations and such trivia. But they are soft. Perhaps they did dismiss the servants early for part of the holidays.”
“You’re a… freon… Scrooge.” Dame Strength slurred at him. “Hey, it’s after midnight. Toss me one o’ those damped things.” She waved her hand vaguely in the air, the other being currently occupied with holding onto a whiskey bottle.
Silently and deliberately, Mister Death crossed to the little table where eight carefully wrapped boxes were arranged in a circle surrounded by candles and other magical apparatus. On a couch near the table, Lady Fortune slept heavily, her fortune teller’s shawl clutched to her shoulders.
Retrieving a box, he strolled over to Dame Strength and handed it to her. Agent Tower spoke without deigning to move. “Is that safe? What if something went wrong and the chess piece is in there. Could she die?”
Mister Death shrugged languidly. “That would be unfortunate.”
It was too late to say anything more: Dame Strength wrenched the box apart and reached inside. “Oooh! It’s a… it’s a… what the fell is this thing?”
Master Magician scootched forward in his throne. “It’s a puzzle. I love those! Give me that!” He moved to grab it and Dame Strength effortlessly knocked him down with it.
“I hate farting puzzles! Give me another one!” Dame Strength roared.
Mister Death did so without delay. The Dame tore it open without hesitation. Her hand came out of the box empty. “What the -?”
Chariot was brandishing a cute plush toy depicting a unicorn. Via velcro, it was hanging from his arm, as if for dear life. It’s eyes glowed blue. He was still channel surfing at a blinding rate. “Hidden inside the unicorn was a set of wireless earbuds and a super high speed digital wrist mounted smart phone and media device, with a buttload of songs already loaded: mostly techno. Thanks a lot!”
Dame Strength wrenched herself to unsteady feet, scattering a pile of bottles as she did so. The overstuffed chair she’d been relaxing in slid across the room to one wall and shattered. “THAT’S MINE!”
Chariot did not so much as pause. “No, no. I distinctly remember you giving your present away.”
The Dame thought for a moment, then countered. “Gimme!” She lunged, but Chariot vanished from her grasp to appear behind her, laughing.
The Dame cast about to find Mister Magician hefting and considering another unopened present. “Mine!” she roared, lunging at him to find herself abruptly holding a pillow.
Slowly and deliberately, Agent Tower facepalmed. He heard the notification bleep of his communicator, and within his armor he looked at his heads up display to find a new message from Judgment.
PLEASE LET ME KILL THEM ALL, it said, as usual.
NOT YET, he replied, as always.
AS A HOLIDAY PRESENT? Came the reply.
Unseen inside his armor, Agent Tower had to chuckle at that one. He hadn’t seen that coming. He typed back, MAYBE NEXT YEAR.
Appearing utterly relaxed, with his hands seemingly motionless inside his pockets, Judgment gave a tiny shrug and exited the room. Dame Strength hefted a couch as a makeshift club, with a startled and disoriented Lady Fortune on it, and began chasing (a still channel surfing) Chariot around while Master Magician directed Mister Death to move his throne to safety.
For neither the first nor last time, Agent Tower wondered what he had gotten himself into.
Written by - Timothy 'Kitsune Nine-tails' Ross
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