Croft Estate – Monhegan Island, Maine November 19, 2012 1700 hours EST
A dark presence looms ever closer to the paint-peeled windowpane looking out onto a moon rising over the dusk of a blistery Maine high-tide. Mist pours through the cracks of the window into the Victorian tiled Hearth of the Croft Mansion, silently brushing the shabby and worn kitchen butcher-block table legs and gauze dress of the elderly woman of regal stature chopping meat nearby.
The mist forms into the shapely figure of a woman whose webbed stockings and black high heel shoes pierce its veil to reveal a dark beauty of raven hair and sharp features draped in a sultry black dress seemingly woven from shadow.
“Children, your mother is home!” shouts the elderly woman, unphased and focused on her task at hand.
Looking at the newly corporeal woman, she asks dismissively, “out playing with the mortals again, were you?”
“Hello to you too Nana,” Victoria Croft replied, ignoring the tone of her question and kissing her on her desiccated cheek, “I managed to get Martha and Gert’s lobster fleet off the harbor floor and back to the docks, but it took some effort…”
“Wasted effort if you ask me,” the elderly woman interrupted, waving the butcher knife around as she spoke, “Were this Martha and Gert sunk with their fleet?”
“Oh no Nana, they’re quite alive...”
“Shame that,” she interrupted again, “they’d be worth raising at least. Quality of our undead servants been slipping lately, and the Sapphic ones are hard workers.”
As if on cue, an animated skeleton dressed in the moth-eaten finery of a servant from days gone by, enters the kitchen and says with an affected sassiness, “You get what’cha pay for honey. Oh hey there Tori. The girls are causin’ a ruckus again. Ana’s upset that Gilly’s putting all of her prized bats in the belfry in sparkly little eyeglasses.”
Victoria purses her lips and pauses for a moment; catching a tell-tale ‘I told you so’ look from Nana before responding to the animated butler, “Why exactly is my dear Gillian doing that, Ossifer?”
“Oh, she heard one of her classmates mention that bats were blind, of course!” the skeleton said, bemused.
Victoria let out an exasperated sigh and folded her arms elegantly, “Be a good ghoul and bring my darlings down here please. I need to help Nana get their food packed for their first overnight in the graveyard.”
“Yer the boss dearie!” the skeleton said dutifully; moments later to be heard in the distance shouting, “Get down here you little monsters! Your mother wants to see you!”
Nana, finished cutting the raw meat into cubes, saying nothing, stared holes into the raven haired mother-of-two.
“Nana, please. I don’t want to have this conversation right now.”
“You give me two years and I’ll get all that disgusting sparkly pony and rainbows nonsense out of her head. The necropolis under Cairo still has openings for the Fall you know.”
“Nana, I refuse to make my child into something she is not, even if it’s ….unpleasant.”
Nana put down the last knapsack she was packing and pointed a gnarled finger at Victoria, “500 years it’s been since we’ve had a wretched fairy godmother in our family, and I will not see that record broken by your daughter. Ridiculous! Did you know your little Gilly would not even pack her body bag for the camping trip unless I let her line it with moss? Who wants to sleep in a body bag lined with moss??!! And, what, my dear, I ask you, is she even supposed to do with Fairy Godmother skills nowadays in this modern world? How many princesses are even left, hmm?”
Nana’s diatribe was interrupted by the sudden entrance of two balls of energy; one of fire, and one of glittering light. The balls of energy exploded in a flash of light and The Hauntress’s two children appeared.
A bubbly little girl in a pink dress and blonde hair rushed to hug Victoria’s legs, “Mummy!” she giggled happily.
“Hello my darling little girl,” Hauntress said with an uneasy but genuine smile.
“Gillian!” Nana yelled disapprovingly, “show some restraint! You don’t see your sister fawning over your mother like some sort of mortal!” Proudly, the ancient woman beamed, “Ah, my refined and powerful Anastacia. Look at her Victoria. Magnificent. She has your grandfather’s eyes.”
“Yes I see,” Hauntress said curtly, “and how many times have I asked you to not let her play with them? Anastacia my dear put those back in the jar where you found them.”
“But mom!” the little girl in crimson and black whined.
“You can play with them again when you’re done packing, now go finish up,” she said, pointing toward the open door.
“Fine!” Anastacia said, her eyes and fine dragon scales that contoured her hairline glowing orange with fury before she turned again into a fireball and rushed up the sturdy and sculpted stairs.
Kneeling down, she turned her attention to Gillian, who was shyly holding one of the little pair of glasses she conjured for the bats.
“What good work my dear!” Hauntress said, “But, bats don’t actually need these, my love.”
“But, but, but what about what Timmy said in school? ‘Blind as a bat?”
“Well…” Hauntress paused, reflecting on her children’s amazing capacity to stump her on a more frequent basis and trying to come up with an adequate response when a hatch in the kitchen floor opened, revealing a handsome and well-dressed red-skinned young man with horns, cloven hooves, and a pointed tail.
“Saved by the devil,” Victoria thought to herself. Finishing her sentence with Gilly, she said, “Well….that sounds like a good question to ask your Uncle Dante during your camping trip.”
“Okay mommy!” Gillian said happily as she rushed into her Uncle’s arms. “Uncle Dante!" She squealed with glee.
The young devil picked up the little girl enthusiastically and hugged her, “How’s my little angel?”
Gilly giggled as Dante swung her around the kitchen; only stopping to put her down when he caught Nana’s glare.
Victoria smiled at her brother, “Thank you for coming home to take them Dante. You’re doing me a big favor. These Golden Age Heroes have some questions for me and then I have to get my office set up at the College. I shouldn't be in Millennium City long though. I should be back in a few days.”
“No problem sis, but, make sure it’s only a few days. Monster’s union wants me back in New Jersey by mid week.”
“What’s going on?” Hauntress asked with concern.
“Pine Barrens have been devastated and they don’t want me exposed. Want me packed and out of there until the area’s had a chance to recover from the Hurricane.
“What are you going to do until then?” she said, putting a supportive arm on his shoulder.
He sighed, “I don’t know. The Jersey Devil gig has been steady work for over a century.”
Tori smiled wickedly as an idea flashed in her mind, “Here’s a thought. Why don’t you come to Millennium City with me? I could use help with the girls now that Ossifer’s off to Palm Springs to get his bones bleached next month.
Dante shrugged, “Oh God good! He’s been yellowing.” Smiling, he continued, “Could be fun. I’ll think about it.”
Tickling Gilly’s belly and lifting her into the air again, he asked, “What do you think about that, my little angel? Do you want me to come live with your mom and your sister and that nasty, nasty butler?”
“Yes!” she squeed loudly, much to the distain of Nana; who grimaced at the sweetness as she cleaned the remaining meat off the counter.
“C’mon!” Dante said happily, “Let’s go tell your sister the good news!” before disappearing into a puff of Brimstone.
Hauntress, pleased with the recent sequence of events, took the packed lunches from the counter and followed her brother out of the kitchen; thanking Nana for her help.
“You want to take this family and our proud traditions off a cliff, don’t let me stop you,” her Nana scoffed.
As Hauntress left the kitchen, Nana stared at the empty kitchen and said hollowly, “Bone appétit.”
<to be continued in Millennium City>
Global: @Zenbuddhist (City of Heroes) @Savesh (Champions Online)
As the Praetorian War in Paragon City came to a close, an unusual and rare peace (such as it was) settled over the denizens of the various neighbourhoods and protected zones. Yes, there were still mad gods and gangs and robots and aliens, but the world seemed to have come back from the brink of the insanity of full-scale war.
Ian Robinson, for his part, seemed finally able to pursue the life he might’ve taken had he not become Green Taipan. He resumed his tenure with Portal Corps and offered his service a xenobiologist and dimensional scout. It was a rewarding life. He even considered what it was like to just be him and not a hero, not a mutant, just him. Doing the work that he was maybe born to do.
It was here that things began to turn for the worse.
He began to feel ill, as if he’d contracted an alien flu or virus. There would be bouts of tiredness, there would be bouts of dizziness, but nothing that lasted too long. His Treatment X was modified, the feelings subsided. And yet…something lingered at the back of his mind. Maybe the last two years fighting the Praetorians, losing two of Paragon’s finest were just taking their toll on him. And yet….
After one particular headache, the thought began to occur to him.
Maybe someone’s tampering with my serum.
How was that even possible? He wasn’t a trained chemist or scientist like Nurse Midnight or a genius researcher like Gold Falcon, but he was the world’s premiere authority on Treatment X (it didn’t really matter that the treatment itself had been abandoned in the 1960’s as being too unsafe for normal humans) and if anyone could find out what was wrong, it’d be him.
The results of testing a sample revealed the impossible. Someone had been genetically engineering his serum (produced in the Greylock labs and on site at Portal Corps) to atrophy his powers. And in the process lower his immune system to the point of collapse. It could be a hero mind-controlled, it could be one of the dozens of research scientists at Portal Corps who had access to his lab there.
But he was dying, and time was running out.
It wasn’t until the day of the Light that everything got turned on its head. The leads had narrowed for him, and there wasn’t time to tell everyone that he was more than sick. The sooner he could find the source virus that changed Treatment X, the better. The best bet was a Polish research scientist, Jonas Abram.
Why was that so damn familiar?
Ian had taken up a position to stake out his apartment in Kings Row, the commute out to Peregrine Island a lot easier and safer than it had been during the War. The horrible shooting pains in his hands he had to put aside, even though he knew that the next time he used his claws, the bleeding would take that much longer to stop.
Finally, Abram came out of his apartment. And he looked just like…
The Light was unlike anything he’d ever experienced in Ouroboros, in Cimerora, even in the ethereal realms of Night Ward. The whole city shimmered and shifted in front of him like a curtain of sound and color and his senses reeled. The identity of the man he was looking at was swept away because the man himself was swept away, the very hint of his existence stripped back like a searing fire. The same fire Taipan felt through his body, his nerves, his blood.
When he finally started hearing sounds again, he was in cuffs and his hands were bandaged up to the elbows. His claws were gone, he could feel that. But whatever had just happened had also saved his life somehow. The headache, the pain, they were all gone.
‘Green Taipan, huh?’ came the voice of the policemen in front of him as they wheeled him on a gurney out of a hospital. ‘And an Australian and caught on the scene of a botched kidnap attempt. Your boss sure doesn’t train ‘em like they used to.’
‘Especially not in jail,’ another voice came.
Wherever he was, they thought he was…someone’s minion? Lux would never let him hear the end of it…
What came next was the hardest thing he ever had to do. He flung himself backwards off the gurney (even though he was still attached to it) and used the entire thing as a weapon even as the cops drew their guns. A swing left and a swing right later, and they were both down, unconscious. Throwing himself out of a second-story window on a gurney was not his best idea, but by the time it landed, it meant he had a free hand to unlock the other cuff and go on the run.
The city, Millenium City, wasn’t too different from home, other than he could never call himself Green Taipan again. But there was an option.
By the time he’d redesigned his costume and figured out that the Green Viper was an attempting-to-reform vigilante who had defected from the very same VIPER organisation and he’d presented himself (in passing) to the authorities who initially wanted to arrest him, the internet and television was abuzz with the news of heroes appearing from another dimension. His dimension.
Maybe the Golden Age Heroes made it, he wondered. Who knows who else did. And of course the big question loomed…if they could get home again.
But this city had its own problems, its own wannabe dictator in Doctor Destroyer. And an island of dinosaurs. And gangs.
And Proud Citizen would just love the fact that he’d finally learned how to use escrima sticks.
This wasn’t his home.
But it’d be good enough. G.