Time: Midnight - 3 Weeks Ago
Location: Lost Haven, Maine
The call for work on the back of an irritable Jacque, the glow of her phone telling her he called a total of three times back to back. While her time with the Duchess was relatively short, it was not short enough for the Parisian gangster. The Ambassador arrived to Lost Haven, one of the many discreet locations where The Shroud Syndicate cleared. Deep within the French Quarter, open to the sky an abandoned ball diamond, weeds and patches of grass grown over the sandy lot. Several black SUVs parked at the alleyway entrances, streets cleared of any curious bystanders.
Several pickup trucks towing trailers waited in a lineup, The Ambassador stood several feet in front of the line up - it was damnably humid in Lost Haven and a haze lit up by streams of headlights. The moon hidden behind banks of clouds. The perfect night to smuggle a weapons order over international borders.
Dressed in her light and dark gray chiffon pleated skirt, white low neckline tank and black quarter sleeved blazer, her asymmetrical diamond studded headband tucked above her ears, The Ambassador looked hilariously misplaced among the stern brows and darkly dressed gangsters surrounding her. They needed a large enough portal door to fit a vehicle through.
Lifting her hands slowly to the sky, she began her incantation.
"Grand et beau flot d'âmes, fais-moi voyager, dis-moi la sécurité, offre-moi tes plus beaux cadeaux. Volontiers, ne viendrez-vous pas à moi? Ouvrez-vous, ouvrez-vous à la volonté de l'Ambassadeur du Folk. Proche seulement de ma volonté en tant qu'Ambassadeur du Folk."
A fine mist of blue light lifted up from her the tips of her fingers trailing along her hands, flowing down her arms to her torso. Several feet above her head, a sliver of light appeared slowly lengthening to the ground and growing wider at each pass of the incantation. Her brow furrowed, eyes closed, warm dark boards of wood materialized from the ground up connecting to the arch frame, a large golden ring appeared in the center, finishing the door with it’s golden hinges to the left hand side. Light filtered its creases.
Without a word she approached the door, tugging easily on the ring to swing the door wide open to the other side. Briefly sticking her head through to check if the way was clear. As the door opened the Arcane Stream’s energy flooded the area, the grass became greener and grew taller, crickets reacted by chirping louder, those familiar with her smuggling operations breathed a sigh of delight - uncontrollable hair raising across all those present. Strange, pleasant and invigorating - magic saturated the air all around them.
Stepping away from the portal, The Ambassador retreated away to watch over from a building’s rooftop, allowing her fellow criminals to do their work. She knew her presence often unnerved them. Bach stood silently upon her shoulder, arms crossed - clearly stewing on something. They would have time to talk about whatever he had on his mind. For now he remained small.
Time: Shortly before midnight - 3 weeks ago
Location: Lost Haven, Maine
A sinister figure stalked the night, almost invisible as it dashed across moonless rooftops, barely making a sound.
David had to admit, his newfound powers had grown on him. Wearing what he had affectionately dubbed as his ‘Shadowplate’ not only made him a hell of a lot tougher, but also faster, stronger and nigh invisible in the right conditions. This was particularly true on a night such as this, where there was no shortage of shadows for him to hide in or, if needed, call upon.
In truth, the thief barely understood the extent of his abilities. His partner in crime, the elusive meta-hacker Deep, had begged him not to get involved in anything dangerous, at least until he understood them better. He had a point, considering recent events, but if he spent one more moment in hiding he was certain he would lose his mind. After all, with or without powers he was still the greatest thief who ever lived (haters be damned), and there were very specific reasons for him to move to Lost Haven: it was a hive of opportunities for one such as he to step out of the shadows and make a name for himself… ironically enough.
Besides, his time in the Maine countryside had been… less than delightful. What should have been a quiet getaway to recover and experiment with his newfound powers had turned out to be some of the most hectic (not to mention dangerous) months of his life. But those were memories he preferred to keep buried for now, and was glad to be back to civilization… or at least a semblance of it.
Of course, David firmly believed in making his own luck. He had long heard accounts of the Shroud Syndicate and their solid record as Lost Haven’s number one criminal organization. An impressive claim, to be sure. It didn’t take him very long at all to decide he wanted in on that action, and their reputation practically forced him to make a grand entrance… so he had devised a devious plan.
There was very little the thief could not accomplish with Deep’s aid, who had, of course, been reticent at first, and even gone as far as calling his plan ‘ridiculous’ (the gall). Fortunately, David knew how to nudge him the right way, and the digital magician had ended up caving to all of his desires.
As it turned out, the Syndicate’s peeps were clever enough to keep most of their shady and personal businesses outside the internet’s grasp. Whilst not a massive surprise, it was a little disheartening, and it did mean it would take some time for them to get a solid lead on one of their operations. Less tough, however, was finding some dope with noble intentions and low-grade super powers to assist David with his theatrics: enter Counter-Balance.
Like so many others, Counter-Balance had been part of the first, honest to the Gods wave of metahumans to be created by what was arguably this generation’s biggest fuck-up. Steve Cook had been (debatably) blessed with the ability to locally increase the mass of a given object or person: in other words, he could make stuff very, very heavy, but with the caveat of being able to focus on only one at a time.
Truth be told, there had been other candidates who might’ve maybe been more appropriate for what David had in mind. Cook was a low-tier hero at best, and was better known for his flashiness than his effectiveness. However, he was a self-proclaimed punk, and had decided to use his superhero persona to further push his ideology. Armed with a ‘thunderball,’ a pinned up vest and a flashy spike mohawk, he could hardly contend with other more powerful metas out there… but he could definitely screw someone’s day up.
When Deep asked him why he was so insistent on picking him, Noir went on a considerable rant denouncing the plethora of punk ideologies which had been born out of the original movement, and explained in great detail why he thought most punks were a bunch of “silly tossers who cannot make their mind up.”
So, evidently, he couldn’t help but screw with him.
Under the pretense of being an anonymous ally, the thief had been feeding Counter-Balance information on the Syndicate’s operations. Nothing major, of course, but feeding him little morsels of intelligence had proven enough to both earn his trust and make him a minor nuisance to the Shroud’s thugs.
Tonight, however, was the big one. Deep had finally managed to locate one of their major smuggling operations thanks to a small slip-up by one of their underlings. All it really took for the tech-genie was a poorly worded text and they were in business.
The shadowy avatar finally settled on a nearby rooftop, taking a privileged place to watch the scene unfold, removing his Shadowplate to access a slim, virtually flat backpack beneath it, where he carried the bulk of his tools. As his shadow returned to its rightful place, it revealed a simple outfit, all in black, of course. Most notably, the thief wore some kind of ‘tactical turtleneck,’ lifted all the way upon his nose, allowing only his eerily blue eyes and the top of his head to be visible, pitch, curly hair moving lazily with the wind. The thief produced a pair of small binoculars, grabbing onto them with a couple of tight, leather gloves.
“Why, hello there… There’s a blue haired lady here, looks like she’s in charge of overseeing the operation,” he commented as he spotted the lady who seemed in charge, her outfit sticking out like a sore thumb against the backdrop of the muscle moving the weapons, “I’m confused, though. I see the trucks, but I don’t see any airplanes, or tunnels, or any way to actually smuggle a damn thing. Are you sure this is the right place? Or a weapons smuggling operation, for that matter?”
“Positive,” Deep replied simply, “These people are extremely secretive, I wasn’t able to get very much in the way of exact details... and you forget, pretty much everyone who’s important in the organization has some kind of superpower. You’ll just have to wait and see what happens, I suppose.”
“Fair enough. I wish you could see her outfit, though. Seriously, what is up with all these super powered people? Did Pax Metahumana just totally impair their ability to wear discrete clothes?” he asked, barely able to contain his amusement, “I mean, she’s not even wearing a mask, I can totally see her face!... Her very, very pretty face.”
“Would it kill you to focus?” Deep came in through the earpiece.
“Oh, please, the game hasn’t even started yet. Would it kill you to relax a little?” he countered, “You’re just bitter that you can’t enjoy the eye-candy.”
“Well, it’s hardly my fault that creepy thing you do with your shadow rejects those tech-lenses you invested a fortune in. I’m lucky I can hear you when you remove it,” Deep pointed out, “And I must insist, this is not a…”
“Hush! She’s doing something… Talking to thin air, she is,” David interrupted him, observing with interest, “Wait, what the…”
“What? What is it?”
“... I’m not sure, mate. Hold on, what is… oh, my days…”
“Seriously, what is it?” Deep insisted, slightly unnerved that he could not see the events unfolding for himself.
“Well, I’m still not a hundred percent sure what I’m looking at, Deep, but if I was a betting man I’d say she just opened up a bloody portal… Wait, scratch that. That’s definitely a portal. Large enough for those bloody trucks to go through, I might add.”
“Seriously? That is remarkable… and perfect timing, too. Our man’s GPS says he’s closing in on the scene. You should head to the ground,” the man in the chair advised.
“Ooooh, seriously? Where’s the silly wanker?” the thief asked excitedly.
Deep gave him the man’s coordinates, and soon enough, David spotted the flashy hero. Ordering his shadow to embrace him again, the man clad himself in darkness, and proceeded to very carefully crawl down the building’s side. He had recently learned he could actually stick to surfaces if he wished to… but it did very little to ease his vertigo as he looked straight down a dozen stories.
“Easy now, easy…”
In Counter-Balance’s defense, he did try his very best to be stealthy as he infiltrated the small plot of land. At first, he followed him in the shadows, making short work of whatever gangster the amateur hero hadn’t spotted himself. As it turned out, the stress of multiplying someone’s weight several times was usually enough to make them black out, but the thief still saved the young hero from getting a bullet or two up his arse, knocking or choking out the men he missed before they knew what hit them.
Unbeknownst to the youthful vigilante, his approach was sloppy and why sneak when one was as close as he to taking the biggest gang in Lost Haven down a peg. Lifting a leg, sticking out a tongue for better accuracy, Counter-Balance aimed his makeshift weapon at the closest gangster and threw with impressive amount of strength, far more than what the gangster expected receiving a knockout blow from an 8-ball only grazing under his chin, the gangster staggered a bit before falling onto his back. Counter-Balance pumped his fingerless gloved fist, quickly running over to check if the gangster was still breathing. Blood leaked out the side of his mouth.
Finding a pulse, the punk stood back up pleased as ever to not have missed - for once. He grinned, pressing himself up against the wall eyeing the scene before him.
Thankful for his generous tip, they were right once more. It was a huge operation, the vehicles would be easy but the gangsters with guns was another problem all together. He approached the ball diamond, crouching low, eyes on the trucks at the front of the line before the portal. Small cars were easy but the bigger trucks would take more effort and concentration. Looking left and right, his mohawk flat and tall peeking above the bank of fog.
At the edge of the ball diamond, he came to a stop crouching low lifting a hand to the truck, he closed his eyes focusing on the body of the vehicle willing his powers to drag it down. Several moments passed without anything happening, slowly a creek of metal began - steel complaining against the sudden new weight. All the cargo in it’s bed pressed down further and further, the driver popped out of the driver’s side watching in confusion as the truck crumpled under the weight into the ground, tires bending out of the wheel wells. The driver turned to her fellow gangsters, they nodded warning others of possible metahuman interference, as another vehicle began to do the same.
Gangsters from all sides fanned out, guns levelled in front of them - mounted flashlights clicking on creating hazy beams of light searching for the vigilante. Sweeping through the grassy patches of weeds.
A text message was sent to The Ambassador asking her to standby, warning her of interference. She sat forward with some interest, scanning the ground below. It wasn’t very often anyone got close.
Counter knocked another thug out with his thunderball. His partner turned around to shoot but was met with an intense force, his body feeling incredibly heavy all of a sudden as his vision became patchy.
“Feel that? That’s the weight of the establishment weighing down on you, dude!”
The gangster barely heard the punchline as he blacked out under the equivalent of 6 Gs of force. Counter-Balance didn’t much care for this, mentally congratulating himself for his efficiency and, as far as he was concerned, well-delivered punchline.
David, on the other side, found himself a bit busy avoiding his premature death. Gunmen disappeared in the long grass without as much as a sound, an unseen stalker prowling in their midst. There was only ever a warning of his predatory approach, their flashlights flickering nervously as he got closer, but they never knew any better, their numbers dwindling at a speedy rate.
The thief had to admit, as much as he’d detested the use of violence in the past, this was kind of fun, in a twisted way. Using his powers gave him a thrill, not unlike that of stealing a priceless object, or walking out of a door with a big haul without anyone being none the wiser. The gangsters’ obliviousness to his sneak attacks was gratifying, to say the least, and almost comical as he lifted their own firearms to smack them in the face, or jumped on their backs like some kind of jungle cat, quickly putting them to sleep.
Soon enough, the punk found himself with very little in the way of a defense, unaware of the flashlights disappearing around him, some pointing briefly upwards before joining the rest of the fallen weapons; and men.
The Ambassador watched on, clear as day to her were the lights disappearing her phone lit up with increasing urgency. With a sigh of resignation, she knew it was time to put a stop to the meddler. Taking several steps back from the edge of the building, tucking a bit of hair in vain behind her ear. A click of her heels she took off at a run leaping off from the edge and arcing through the air, gracefully landing atop of a van - the enchantment softening her touchdown toes first then standing flat-footed. The quake of the vehicle beginning to crumple beneath her feet The Ambassador scanned past the portal for the culprit, spotting a ridiculous punk with a mohawk approaching.
Counter-Balance laughed with triumph, spinning the thunderball in a perfect circle. “Boss Lady finally came to see what all the noise was about, huh? Nothing can stop a revolution!” He shouted, sticking his tongue out he took aim for his final target. Remaining gangsters around him shouted aiming anew, while The Ambassador hadn’t batted an eye, a tell tale bit of blue light surrounded her right hand.
The cue ball suddenly stopped spinning, a befuddled look crossing the punk’s face, the chord twirling in an almost silly manner along his side. An unexplainable sense of dread seemed to suddenly rush through him, and on instinct, the vigilante turned around.
“Yow!” Counter-Balance fell on his backside. He could swear he’d seen the shape of a man holding his thunderball, his outline barely visible in the dim light… but when he looked back up, the figure was gone. Along with his weapon of choice.
Odette saw Counter-Balance fall, she peered into the haze. There was a murmur passed among the gangsters, they were holding their ground - listening for movement looking to The Ambassador for instruction. She stood just above the windshield on the vehicle.
“That is enough,” She called out, whispering the beginnings of a ward spell pausing only to finish her warning. “Your meddling has gone on far too long as it were.” Her accent pronounced as her tone was sharp.
Looking to the gangsters she waved her hand to signal them to move forward. They spread out in a semicircle inching closer. While she had only wanted to launch the ridiculous revolutionary into the ocean, small-time metas still had a circle of friends, connections. The Shroud Syndicate operated under the radar, respecting the status quo the metahumans had over Lost Haven. They would always proceed with caution much less itchy trigger fingers.
The punk stood up, his eyes widening as he saw the gunmen approaching. Fear kicked in, coupled with confusion, and he raised his hands, ready to go all out in a haphazard fashion.
However, the fight was not fated to happen. Something grabbed him by his ankle, pulling strongly enough to make him fall, his face getting more intimately acquainted with the ground than he would’ve liked. He panicked as the dark beast dragged him along the ground, crawling, a screech filling the night air as he disappeared under one of the trucks, a trail of fingertips carved unto the ground in their wake.
The punk could barely focus, on what was attacking him, and before he knew it, the dread shadow-man’s weight was upon him, impeding any use of his powers, lest he wished to be crushed under the weight. On instinct, he threw a punch, blindly connecting with the ominous figure’s chin. Several of his knuckles popped with an unpleasant crunch.
There was a moment of silence, a few long seconds in which not a thing could be seen, or heard. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the punk’s limp body flew across the air, landing on the truck’s hood, mere feet away from Odette. A preliminary inspection would show that the anti-hero was out cold, but still breathing.
“Your security sucks,” came a deep, ominous voice, its location hard to pinpoint.
Almost as if on cue, a shadow tendril shot out of the dark, taking a hold of one of the gangster's weapons and tossing it far from his grip. The rest of the gunmen starting aiming around wildly in search for a target, but then a second tendril whipped another gun out of nowhere. And then a third. This went on for a few moments until what remained of her entourage found themselves weaponless, too unnerved and surprised to act without instructions from the lady in charge.
“Case in point,” the disembodied voice gloated.
Shaking her head, glaring at her unarmed cohorts, “They will be dealt with later, as for our star punk for tonight. . .” Odette stepped off the roof of the vehicle, landing once more with a soft touch to the ground she snapped her fingers and those who still had their wits about them jumped to picking up Counter-Balance, dragging him out of the way.
The sorceress turned from left to right searching for their unseen helping hand, a few theories running through her mind as to what or who decided to stick their nose into their business tonight, she safely guessed it was a man - most likely metahuman by the sound of his voice and ego to match.
“We would like to thank you in person, preferably. Nobody really goes out of their way to help our operations unless they want something.” She said, beckoning impatiently, “While the night is still young.”
“Very astute,” the thief commented as he appeared by her side. Even out in the open, he was hard to see, his outline only visible by the contrasts in the light, his form blacker than the darkest of nights, “I want a job,” he told her simply, “I’m new in town, and you people don’t exactly have a platform where one can just drop their CV,” he joked, “It… came to my attention that our resident idiot here had been causing some trouble for you, and I’ve been following him around in hopes of meeting someone in a position to get me in,” he elaborated briefly, not wanting to give away too much just yet.
Pursing her lips momentarily as she looked the shadowy form up and down, sidestepping to get some perspective, not a flinch at his sudden appearance, “Work? We are always recruiting competent… metahumans? Our organization’s ranks have been slowly expanding to those with unique abilities.” She said, curiosity settling her gaze on the opaque outline of his body, “A request I can easily fill in return for your help here tonight.” She squinted at where his face was supposed to be, quietly noting, “Boons are always repaid in kind.”
“One moment,” Retrieving her phone from her purse she called Jacque, speaking in French calling him to this side of the portal.
A tall, sharply dressed man appeared from the portal’s light, a black scarf covered the lower half of his face with just a pair of dark brown eyes over the edge of the cloth, a wide brimmed hat sat atop his head. Shiny black loafers without a scuff, navy blue suit, Jacque - much like the other leaders in the Syndicate were mysterious figures.
“What do we call you?” Odette asked turning her attention back onto their shadowy meta.
David raised a brow behind his shadowplate as the well-dressed man appeared, but did not express his surprise, “You can call me… Noir,” he said, after a moment’s consideration, quite pleased with his chosen moniker.
Bemused by the name, Odette smiled, “How appropriate, you may refer to me as The Ambassador.” Lifting her hand to shake, “This is Jacque, he leads The Shroud Syndicate’s operations in France.”
He nodded a heavy gaze on Noir scrutinizing him before looking over the damage left by Counter-Balance.
His hand took her own, the shadow enveloping it unpleasantly cold to the touch. Moreover, depending on her own personal fear of darkness, she might’ve felt a sense of discomfort beyond that of mere cold, “A pleasure to meet you both,” he noted as he shook her hand, his touch gentle to avoid crushing her hand. He turned to the other foreigner, offering his hand to him in turn. Jacque kept his hands in his pockets, nodding again.
His touch sent goosebumps up her arm to the nape of her neck, it was entirely strange. Retracting her hand, it slowly grew warm once more traces of the arcane stream from her earlier ward chased away the cold. Very curious.
Adjusting her sleeve idly, “You can clearly move through the darkness, where do you specialize in? Security, intimidation, thievery, smuggling?”
She commented resting her chin against the palm of her hand, looking to the portal, “You may have some stiff competition in smuggling ops against myself.”
“Not that anyone could really compare to what I offer.”
“Okay…” the shadowy figure said to himself as the silent Frenchman made no attempt to shake his hand. He then turned to regard the Ambassador, a cheeky smile playing on his obscured lips.
“Why, I’m just about the greatest thief who ever lived,” he stated smugly, his deep, muffled tone matter-of-fact, “There is nothing I cannot get my hands on if I put my mind to it. Nothing. And no one’s even gotten close to catching me, so far,” he bragged as he walked over to one of the trucks the punk had allowed to sink into the ground, observing it for a moment with his hands upon his hips, “Though I suppose all that other stuff you mentioned comes with the job. I’m not shy about pulling my weight around.”
With that, he kneeled, grabbing the truck from underneath. It took everything he had, the man clearly straining as his obscured form tensed. Of course, the loaded truck was too heavy for him to lift on his own, but with a little knowledge of physics, and the aid of the wheels, Noir managed to budge it just enough to roll the front wheels out of the ground. The thief grinned to himself, slightly surprised he’d actually managed.
Jacque nodded once more, finally speaking up, “Alright, good enough. I’ll draft up a contract, Noir you will be working under my direction.” He walked up to Odette patting her shoulder, “You, Mademoiselle. Please see to getting this mess cleaned up.”
“Of course.” She replied about to move but he kept his hand on her shoulder, she shot him a cold look.
“Please also note while you are responsible for his recruitment, he is working for me - any issues or misconduct will be dealt with by me. Understand? Do not take it upon yourself to punish at your whim.” Jacque said, while his tone was neutral he squeezed her shoulder to emphasize the boundary he set.
She sighed shortly through her nose, irritated, “Fine.”
Jacque released her, out of his pocket he tossed Noir a burner cell, “You’ll hear from me soon enough, Noir. Good evening.” He turned walking over the threshold back to Paris.
The thief snatched the phone out of the air, smiling to himself, “You too, ‘boss.’”
Her irritation evaporated as Jacque disappeared, the Parisian Syndicate leader was allowed to draw his boundaries even while the chaffed with Odette’s. She turned back to Noir, “A thief, the greatest one the world has ever seen. I’ve never known a thief not to have an ego to match, regardless you will have the opportunity to prove yourself.”
“Lost Haven’s resident thief had been recently vacated. They are big shoes to fill, as I had known them personally.”
“Mhm, whatever you say, ‘Mademoiselle,’” the avatar mumbled in an almost dismissive manner. Now that the power dynamics had been established, he was not as concerned about impressing her or even staying on her good side. From what he’d heard and seen, it seemed like she had some kind of history taking matters into her own hands, and a slip on her behalf might prove a boon to him, “So, what’s his deal? You know…” he flourished his hands, though the motion was hardly visible, “What can he do?”
Locking her hands behind her back, business returned to usual the remaining gangsters went to work dragging their unconscious coworkers to be propped up - first aid kits being opened. Cleaning up the product. “Good leadership and impeccable taste in fashion.” She answered, laying a hand against one of the crumpled trucks - various pairs of eyes from local Sidhe appeared in the shadow of the truck looking up to their Ambassador.
“All you have to worry about with Jacque is following his instructions, you get paid for the work done,” Odette said, not unkindly making a point that it would be fruitless to ask anything else about him.
“You will be seeing more of me before Jacque.”
“Understood,” the man shrugged, locking his own hands behind his back in a similar fashion as he walked next to her, his shadowplate making it impossible to discern where his eyes fell, “Well, there’s something to look forward to, at least,” he commented, his natural disguise and neutral tone making it very hard to tell whether he was mocking her, flirting, or being entirely serious.
Looking to Noir, gazing at his face her curiosity turning over the mystery of his powers, his body language obscured by shadow with his face - his tone was the only clue to discerning what he was thinking let alone what he meant. “My company alone is a gift,” Changing tact, mirroring his tone, “Or a curse depending on who you speak to.” Letting that comment hang before moving onto the other side of the truck. Sidhe followed behind her, invisibly taking up positions around the tires - ready to lift the machine.
It began to shake, the Sidhe went to shuffling the pieces back together, smoothing the earth back in place. Grass growing anew, they happily fed off the energy pouring out of the portal.
Noir observed the strange phenomenon with interest, invisible forces beginning to fix the damage done with remarkable efficiency. So she was not only capable of opening portals… he made a mental note, intrigued by the development.
“Is that why the boss-man feels the need to babysit you?” he poked, “I have to say, he doesn’t seem very confident in your ability to control your temper,” he mused in an almost idle fashion, “Don’t worry though. I don’t mind a spanking every now and then,” he added, biting his tongue immediately. Sometimes, he just couldn’t help himself, and the anonymity and protection his shadowy armour provided made him a bit too cocky. Something that would need fixing, he thought to himself.
Gangsters nearby froze, looking up from their work only to watch. Bach broke his reverie of thought snapping to attention as well. Eyes narrowing.
Odette saw his attempt to get a rise out of her, she didn’t need to read his body language to know that. While it was a barb it proved he was willing to play. Poised, she rubbed the little grit between her fingertips, “Jacque and I have worked together for a long time, while he believes and likes to assert his control he knows he only exists today because of me.”
Looking to him again over the hood of the truck, “Never underestimate the power of a loophole, Monsieur.”
The men’s reaction did not go unnoticed by the shadowy figure, who admittedly revelled in having an audience for his performance. It took him all he had, however, not to let out a sonorous “hah!” at her choice of words. Was he not, after all, a breathing, living loophole? He could practically taste the sweet irony in his mouth as he smiled.
“That so? I’ll be sure to keep that in mind, Mademoiselle,” he began, starting to walk up the truck’s side, hands still behind his back, “Indeed, it would seem to me that you speak and carry yourself with an authority beyond that of a common smuggler. And judging by how your men soil themselves every time you so much as glance sideways at them, I’d say I’m correct,” he congratulated himself, now on top of the truck, and about to make his way down, “So enough about Jacque. Why don’t you tell me more about yourself? I assure you, you have my undivided attention,” he stopped short of the ground, his body standing fully horizontally at face level with her.
She raised her brow at him, “Do you want my CV?” No small amount of sarcasm, “I do not think you would believe me if I told you anything about myself. I deal in the strange and fantastic. As for the men and women here tonight, they know what my expectations are. None of which have been met.”
She tucked a bit of hair behind her ear, it was time to gauge Noir as he tried to do the same to her, “Unless you are open minded to the things that linger at humanity’s periphery.”
This was all apart of the verbal gymnastics.
David screamed internally at this. He was not, under any means, willing to discuss the true nature of his powers, partly because he was certain that explaining that bleeding out on top of an ancient bauble had prompted the primordial Greek God of Darkness to bring him back to life as his superpowered avatar sounded as crazy as it was a mouthful. No, Pax Metahumana was a much more convenient story. And still...
“Are you serious?” he asked, allowing the incredulity to ooze in his muffled voice, “Were you spaced out earlier when I took out a metahuman without anyone actually seeing me? Or when my shadows disarmed your men? I know you were checking me out when I bench-pressed that truck, don’t even try to deny it,” he raised a finger and gave it a little shake, fist on his hip, “And that’s not even… wait, why am I justifying myself to you? I’m standing on the freaking side of your truck! But no, no,” he seemed to change his mind, arms crossing and turning slightly around, which led him to be looking straight up into the sky, “You’re right. I’m a total skeptic and will be absolutely close-minded about the ‘strange and fantastic,’” he added, perfectly mimicking her French accent.
She watched him opaquely pose like an energetic shadow puppet, and slowly her eyes lit up with mischief, “I love skeptics.”
She tapped her chin, eyes floating to the left trying to remember what she could show. He was amusing, egotistical and thought he was smarter than everyone else in the room. With the ability to sneak and blend into the darkness, she smiled at the prospect of a perfectly good pawn Noir would be.
She gestured to him, rolling her eyes, “To check you out would mean being able to see more than an opaque mass of shadows,” She grinned rather slyly, “Unless that was your true goal, to peacock about and get my attention. I certainly would not mind if you were to drop your concealment and show me your face.”
Sidhe moved on from the truck, heads bobbing beneath the haze onto the next vehicle, setting to work. The Ambassador turned her back to him, walking on to inspect another vehicle. “Tell me, Monsieur. What is difficult to believe in the portal’s existence? Life spills out of it, making the very air vibrate with energy.” she paused facing the light, “That I willed that rip in time and space to appear where I wanted it to, to guide us to another place of my choosing. Exerting pure control over a component of our reality.”
“If I were to get poetic about it, of course.” She waved off the sentiment with a flick of the wrist, “Regardless, for not only helping my operation tonight and providing some entertainment. I have a gift for you.”
“In my culture, we tend to repay favours tenfold.”
Curious as he was, this gave Noir reason to pause. The thief had led a wild life even before he obtained his powers, and recognized the underlying danger in her offer.
“...I think I’ll keep my face concealed if you don’t mind terribly. Besides,” he flipped off the truck, landing gracefully on his feet before returning to her side, “What would life be without a little mystery? As for your generous offer, I already got what I came looking for,” he pointed out, “And I would just hate to impose,” he lied.
The Sidhe turned at his refusal, the last vehicle’s reparations freezing in place. Turning her head from him, she bit the inside of her cheek. “I really do insist, Noir.” She said, “Allow me to show you what it is.”
Popping the pin on her clutch purse with her thumb, she cradled it with one hand while the other reached deep inside well past her elbow, feeling around for what she was looking for. Strange sounds of wood creaking, the skittering of glass, a long whistle from an instrument sounding like it had fallen.
Noir noticed the trucks ‘stopping in their tracks,’ so to speak. Understanding it as a sign of her displeasure, he decided it might be best to play along, after all, “Well if you insist...”
She brightened when she found what she was looking for, “Excellent.”
From deep within her purse the top of a lantern appeared first. Rough, hempen rope knotted and crisscrossing over a clearly handcrafted cylinder of amber tinted glass. No visible openings. Imperfections, age and the odd scratch down the length of glass showed The Ambassador was not it’s first owner. The hempen rope wrapped tightly down to its base, a handcrafted ornate wooden base - polished, smoothed, there were some words written on the base along with the artisan’s signature - legible to only those who could understand Common Fey. The glass was not entirely opaque but moss could be seen growing inside of it, to Odette she could see a sleepy spirit crouched - insect-like wings folded against it’s back, it’s body spotted with large spots. The lantern, on its size alone, could not under any normal circumstances have been able to fit in that clutch purse. By the time she finished pulling it out of her purse she set it down, the height of it alone standing just above her knee.
“For you, Noir. It is meant to forewarn you of danger when it glows - or so I have been told. Keep it inside your home, if you take good care of it such as polishing the glass, playing music, a view of the outside. The lantern will take care of you in turn.” She explained, “Please accept this as my gift to you.”
“Wha- where…” David started, confused, then stopped immediately. Great magicians never reveal their tricks, he thought, and that was definitely a great trick. He listened carefully to what she said whilst the back of his mind worked on it. It had to be tiny portals. He was certain of it.
The part of his brain that was focused on her took the strange device, careful not to show his wariness, “The way you speak of it, I almost feel like introductions should be made. ‘Hello Mr. Lantern, I’m Noir. You and I will be the bestest of pals, I’m certain of it!’” he joked, despite studying the item with interest, “Is that moss? Someone’s not been taking the best care of Mr. Lantern! Don’t worry, ol’ buddy, ol’ pal, we’ll get rid of that in no time!” he took one more moment to finish inspecting it, before adding, “Joking aside, it is a beautiful piece, and I do not mean to sound like an ungrateful jerk, but...How the hell is this thing meant to light itself up, or know I’m in any danger, for that matter?” he squinted behind the plate, “I can’t see any wicks or mantles…”
The Ambassador winked with a sly smile, “If only you could see as I do, Noir the Skeptic. Take good care of it and it will do the same for you,” she repeated.
He really had no idea, a thousand ideas came to her how to introduce the fey looking forward to the fun she would have.
She waved him off with both hands, dismissing the shadowy man, “Off you go, I have product to move and you are free to leave. You will hear from us soon.” Returning to business she turned on her heel, waving the criminals into moving themselves. Bach had watched on during the exchange from the safety of her shoulder, his eyes on the thief while her back was turned. Moderately curious as to how he’d treat the lantern but a curly smile formed knowingly aware of why Odette gave him that.
“Did you hear that Mr. Lantern? We are free to leave. How magnanimous of her, don’t you think?” Noir began talking to himself as he walked off, “It’s almost like she thinks we work for her. Wait, do we work for her? Oh well, it doesn’t matter either way, because you and I are a pair or rebels who live by their own rules! Like Tango and Cash. Or Starsky and Hutch. Or…”
This went on for quite a while until the man was absolutely sure he was nowhere to be seen, considering the large antique he was carrying around. Back at the rooftops, he removed his shadowplate, allowing Deep to contact him once more. Just one of the many curious side effects donning it seemed to have.
“Finally!” the metahacker came through, “That took you longer than I’d expected. Everything go according to plan?”
“It went beautifully,” Noir smiled, “Better than I’d hoped for, even. I need you to learn everything you can about a French fellow named Jacque. He’s my new boss, apparently,” he told him, before giving him a brief yet detailed depiction of the man, before proceeding to describe the Ambassador, “By the way, can you get a hold of the nearby security cameras?”
“Way ahead of you. I don’t have a direct angle on the scene, but I’m hoping I can find at least a couple of good shots of this Ambassador.”
“Excellent. Let me know as soon as you find something on them. Oh, this is going to be fun, isn’t it, Mr. Lantern?”
“I beg your pardon?” Deep asked, confused.
“Oh, never you mind. The Ambassador gave me a gift.”
“A gift?” Deep asked with great skepticism, “You shouldn’t take that with you before you scan it for tracking devices and bugs.”
“What is this, amateur hour?” Noir asked in turn, “You take care of your end of the job, I’ll deal with mine. Noir out.”
“Noir?” Deep asked… but David had already cut him off.
Time: The Following Day
Location: Noir’s Penthouse
“YYou are being very unreasonable, Lampy. How the hell am I supposed to clean out that moss if there’s no bloody way of opening you up?”
David sighed. He’d actually been going crazy trying to open the antique lantern once he’d polished it up. At first, he’d treated it like a puzzle, a challenge of sorts. Later, it had evolved into a day-consuming mission, the man losing his nerves several times. There was not a lock in the world that could resist, but this thing had no locks, or any way of opening it up, for that matter. He’d actually considered smashing it out of sheer frustration, just to ‘win,’ but he realized the satisfaction in that would be fleeting, at best, and followed by instant regret.
He sat in his living room upon a comfortable couch, a pleasant shade of soft grey, whilst the lantern rested on a low table made of a beautiful, dark brown wood (lignum vitae, to be precise). He wore a pristine white shirt, tucked into some dark jeans, coupled with a nice pair of velvet-like ankle boots, a similar colour to that of the table.
He passed a hand through his hair, regarding the lantern intensely as a thought crossed his head. He placed both hands on the edges of the lantern, where the amber crystal met wood and began concentrating.
Minuscules tendrils of darkness eventually spread from his fingertips, prodding and pushing until they found a minuscule gap in the virtually airtight device. A triumphant grin spread over his face as the darkness began to slip, eventually scrubbing off the moss before completely enveloping it, crushing it inside its obscure grip. The tendril thinned out again, carefully exiting the way it had entered.
The lantern’s spirit alarmed she climbed the surface of the glass away from the tendrils, tiny suction cups allowing her to scale the smooth surface with ease. Her pupiless, bulbous eyes, watching intently. Pressing her nose against the glass to watch what he did next with her bedding.
David kept his concentration as it guided it across the room to the kitchen’s bin. He lifted a second hand, a second tendril shooting out to crack the bin open and, tongue sticking out, he forced the end of the tendril to ‘chop’ itself off, the moss contained within falling in the garbage before his dark limbs dissipated entirely.
She huffed, sliding back down to the bottom pouting. Kicking her feet out.
“Hah!” he exclaimed, wiping a bit of sweat off his forehead. They were an odd thing, these powers of his. He could actually feel the things he touched, even the minuscule particles of moss as he’d grinded them up and carried them over. With a big smile, he took a hold of the lantern and placed on a slim table looking out into the city, a record player at the ready next to it: he was nothing if not committed to his jokes.
“So, what kind of man are you, Mr. Lantern? Rock n’ roll? Pop? Indie? Reggae? Please don’t say punk,” he added, smirking, “No… I think you’re into the classics, aren’t you?”
The man took out an old vinyl from his collection, extracting it with care before placing it on the record player, a number of instruments filling the air with a slow, catchy melody. David closed his eyes, hips and arms swaying from side to side as he walked backwards, ready to break into song.
“I’ve got youuuu, under my skin. I’ve got youuuu, deep in the heart of me. So deep in my heart, that you’re a part of me…”
Almost as if on cue, the tell-tale ring of Deep’s private line joined the tune in a somewhat cacophonous manner. David did a final twirl on the spot, before taking the phone.
“Talk to me,” he smiled, “Please, please tell me you’ve found something.”
“I have,” Deep replied, “I couldn’t find anything on this Jacque character of yours, but your Ambassador, on the other hand… well, she was almost insultingly easy to find.”
David’s eyes widened with glee, “I’m all ears.”
“Actually, I’m sending you the link right now.”
David’s phone beeped, the man opening it so fast he barely had time to read it:
“Paris, France, with a little flag, of course,” he began reading out loud, “Fashion, beauty, lifestyle, all between some colourful stars, and… ‘Paris Opera House Ballet Soloist?’”
That last one caught him off guard, a wolf-like grin plastered on his face as he perused her instagram pictures, “22k followers? Dear Gods, is this woman not concerned at all about…” he stopped, a devious thought entering his mind, “Hey buddy, when’s the next show at the Paris Opera House?”
It barely took a moment for Deep to reply, “Three days.”
“You fly out two days from now, a full week before you return. Tickets are in your e-mail,” Deep answered simply.
“Am I really that predictable?” David laughed.
“Yes, yes you are,” Deep replied simply, amused.
“You’re a legend, mate. Thank you,” David smiled.
“I know. I...”
David had already hung up, making his way to his walking closet to choose which suits he’d be taking.