Caution Advised
This thread may include adult content including violence, strong language or nudity, readers' discretion is advised.

Narrator

Fledgling
[Co-written by Maelstrom and Flag]

Flag opened his eyes to a separated view of the void that had previously impaled him. One eye saw nothing, but the other the heart of the temple. A view that had, only a breath ago, also contained Carmen. In her place was large male figure, seen from an angle that was uncomfortably familiar. No longer suspended in nothingness, but still buoyant in the inky water, the Sivoan kicked his feet and pushed with his hands to right himself as the man approached, humming a song that echoed around him.

“I'm so... helpless without you…”

The sarcastic vocals bounced off the walls, while the accompanying saxophone assaulted Flag's uncropped ears.

“I'm helpless alone... I need you darling…”

"[What fresh hell is this?]" The thought left him, drifting up to the Norwegian unbidden.

The man took a long, deep breath. He studied his opposite, eying in different degrees any visible marks on Flag’s body as if judging meat on a block. Focusing on a set of pointed ears otherwise unseen outside this dreamscape, he produced a cruel grin.

“I don’t think we were properly introduced… What are you?”

Being eye-level with the biologist's shoes triggered a memory associated with them and, though Flag had not intended to answer the man, the snarky response surfaced anyway. "[A diamondback, apparently.]"

Maelstrom sneered with a morbid laugh, “You’re entertaining... no wonder she wouldn’t let you go.”

He walked forward into the ink, not slowed by the thick liquid. The alien struggled to inhale as dark water splashed around him and this gave his enemy pleasure. Grinning, he loomed over the drowning man and pushed him further into the water, “Out there, you’re already dead!”

As the surface rose past him, Flag realized the odd position the biologist had here and grabbed his wrist with both hands. Pushing down and to the side so that the man no longer had hold of him, the Sivoan climbed up his arm until his head was once again free. Though he felt heavy and sluggish from the inability to inhale, he mustered up the strength to grab the man's shoulder and hoisted himself from the liquid void.

Flag was nearly clear of it when a loud crinkling noise greeted him with tension on his extremities. The strange liquid had solidified, holding him in place. A sound of stretched ropes replaced the crinkling and a weight crushed against his chest as the solid ink began pressing in on him.

There was a surface chuckle, “You think I’d come in here if you had any chance?” Envy glowed in Maelstrom’s eyes, in contradiction to his mood.

Flag glared down at the man, his previous five words ringing in his ears, and consequently echoing around the heart of Devalaya. Another power he couldn't defeat. Another accusation against his mortal state. He was back in his head again. Maybe he had never left it.

The lines were blurred.

Driven into the psyche of his victim, Maelstrom not only saw his memories, but felt them.

...“That man is important” a voice he identified as enemy spoke through a mask that did not match its speaker, “He knows more about her than any of us.”

“Out there, you’re already dead!” Those words came back ringing.

Flag focused on these words because they were likely true, though he felt not the burning that accompanies a lack of air.

The scene switched to the scent of a woman’s hair through crisp frozen air. She was looking at his hand and her warmth stirred his heart.

“Is it a crest?Her question almost startled him, ‘crest’ was exactly what it was. He wanted to test if she knew more, but he held back.

Your crest. “My wife’s crest.” He reached for her and held her.

A languid smile and the sensation of fingers on his arm. It was all perspective and he had everything he needed here.

Darkness fell over a map outlined in bronze. One planet, one moon, one sun…

It was frustrating, years of repeating seemingly senseless tasks and nudging things into place were quickly becoming undone by an unexpected madman that smelled like fish. If he could do it over again, he'd stop this trouble before it started.

A flash of a memory regarding what a pair of bolt cutters could do to human bones and a smile played at the corners of Flag's mouth.

A ritual in a bank, and the smile grew. Who said that he couldn't try again? He's been to this edge before.

The enemy was again here, unmasked, battling to the death on some familiar diagram. He was sure he would win, but the balance of power shifted, and he felt cold fear.

Another ritual, with gunfire. He might have even gone over. In fact, he was sure of it.

That coldness returned to snow covered grounds and the same woman ungloved her hands to take his. She traced the language on his skin with her fingertips.

"Thank you... I don't think I've said that," her voice moved something in him.

Her lacquered nail followed the first circle, the second circle, and rounded the last to return at the center…

Those fingers traced the circles he had walked a hundred times before. He even had his catalyst.

Maelstrom snapped out of the visions. They wanted the same siren. This new understanding only brought anger and he squeezed the neck that he held, “We… cannot co-exist!”

Flag stared down the man's arm, an expression on his face that would accompany laughter if he had the breath to produce it. The next time around he'd make sure this seaslug would not be a problem.

He prepared for the completion of the ritual, but stopped short as a crystalline tone pierced his thoughts from outside and echoed around the imaginary temple.

"Stay," she commanded, "stay with me."

Flag gave a slight affirmation to those words and closed his eyes, allowing the darkness to overtake him.

The professor almost braced for retaliation when he felt the life leave the other man and he himself was thrown back into his own connection with the temple. In it's awareness he saw the freak dead on the floor, abandoned by his siren who was now running from the the heart of Devalaya.

The sight evoked a haughty laugh from the supposed murderer. “She’s mine!”
 

Patty

Valkyrie
AMA
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Known Aliases
Patt, Patts, Petite, Amber Cecelia Argos, Valkyrie
Color #
8d8844
Thunder clapped, and the blonde found herself again in her own trailer park. She left her door swinging and headed down the road, but as soon as she crossed over the woods, she was back at the same spot. This happened over and over again, until she was too tired to run anymore.

It began to lightly rain.

Amber stood in mud, frustrated. She had thought she left this place far behind.

Just then, a black Mercedes-Benz turned in. It looked completely out of place. Amber was mesmerized. Beads of water rolled off its mirrored paint like it was something untouchable.

Out from the passenger seat came a suited man. She remembered him as the lawyer that had her sign things when she first joined VILE, but she hadn’t seen him much since. He held an umbrella out as he opened the car’s back door. From it emerged a young woman in this immaculate navy blue double breasted Balmain trench coat. Her dark hair was in a neat updo, and the only jewelry she wore was a rose gold Bulgari Serpenti watch. Crisp, shiny heels stepped onto broken cement. As she watched, the blonde felt a well of shame.

What were you doing at my crappy trailer?

This was Carmen Sandiego ten years ago, about the same age as present-day Amber.

The dreaming blonde followed the visitor. She was beautiful and at the same time authoritative. Her lips held a natural smile and the way she carried each step captured attention.

Amber called out, but she had no voice. She figured then that she was only here to observe.

Inside the tiny trailer, her mother was reading some papers while her father looked on. Carmen refused to sit, and the suited man spoke for her.

“It’s a court order,” the lawyer opened, “for the emancipation of Amber Cecelia Argos.”

Her parents said nothing so he continued, “We’ve agreed to these arrangements, my client’s nominee is here to witness.”

What arrangements? The observer glanced at the papers on the table and suddenly felt… wanted. She was used to neglect, and here was proof that (at one point in her young life) someone felt she was worth fighting for.

Her parents looked at each other, and Amber knew the look. This happened whenever they were trying to manipulate a situation. They probably talked it out before too, about how much they could get from the lawyer.

“This ain’t enough,” her father started.

“For what you make a year, Mr. Argos, our offer is very generous.”

“You come in here, take a man’s daughter and think you know how much is enough?”

“She doesn’t want to be your daughter, she ran away.”

“Why emancipation, then?” her dad argued, “So you can adopt her?”

“Amber doesn’t want to be anyone’s daughter, and frankly…” the lawyer gestured with his eyes to the chemical stains in their kitchen, “You’re not fine examples of parenthood.”

With her gaze on Amber’s father, Carmen squeezed the lawyer's shoulder, there was no need for insult, “How much do you want, Jacob?

The man frowned, “If you’re taking ours away, you could boost us into middle class. Only fair.”

The lawyer gave out a dry laugh.

Would you be willing to work for that money?” Her question pierced like a lance.

The long silence from both her parents showed just who they were. That money might have been spent on barbiturates sooner than groceries. Also, her dad would never conform to being hired. He liked his days spent on taking apart cars and selling scraps when he needed the dough.

“Remember, Mr. Argos,” the lawyer reminded, “we’re not obligated to compensate you at all, this is only so Amber can acquire the rights make her own choices, to keep her own finances.”

Jacob Argos crossed his arms, “You wanna make sure her hick parents don’t go asking her for money, that it?”

This started a staring contest that lasted until Carmen slowly moved to the table and wrote down something. Amber couldn’t see what that number was, but she saw her parents’ eyes practically twinkle.

To be delivered every month,” the thief slid that paper to the middle of the table, “until Amber turns 18.

The lawyer made an appropriately legal shrug and nod.

Without further hesitation, her father picked up the pen and signed the papers. Then her mother did the same.


The vision changed to later inside the black Mercedes, during a conversation.

“You didn’t have to come with me,” the lawyer said.

I did,” Carmen sighed, “I had to see it for myself.

“And?”

There was silence from the woman. On the radio, some old Platter’s version of “Stand by Me” started to play. Outside the window, old structures against a backdrop of mundane trees flew by.
 

Neb

The VILEiest VILE to ever VILE a VILE
AMA
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Known Aliases
Nebuchadnezzar (Neb) Ullyss (formerly Kid Kidman), Kitty, Seryy Pripyat
Color #
323E4F
Neb lay upon the laboratory floor, watching the glow of the fire dance through her closed eyelids. With every smoke-filled breath she dimmed further, until at last she came upon the abyss. Suddenly a pair of hands yanked her from the ground. A deafening blast shook the walls, a flash of heat roll against her back.

And then... nothing.

The girl cautiously opened her eyes. There was no smoke, no sound. Only the fire remained, twisting around her as she floated in darkness. There she hung as it thawed what ice remained in her muscles. Streaks of errant flame came close enough to mark her, but she had to endure.

This fire was her rage; the mindless, feral savagery she’d adopted from the laboratory animals as a child. It had often been her only defense against the torment she’d endured, but while some people were able to hold such anger, the girl was not one of them. The longer she used it, the hotter it grew, until she began to burn.

At last she was forced to let her anger go. In its absence cold terror seized upon her heart, clawing its way through her skin with icy fingers. She reignited her fury to melt it back, but her already injured skin blistered in the heat. Over and over she traded sides, desperate for relief, until the last of her energy was spent.

I can’t do this anymore.

Dimming sparkles of aquamarine shed from her hands and feet as entropy set in. The girl curled into a ball and cried.

Through her despair something warm and real pressed against her cheek. She grew solid beneath it. The space around her calmed. She felt it again; an unseen hand, less tangible, yet just as reassuring as the first, pressed her scattered body back into form. More reached out to embrace her, comfort her, stroke her cheek and smooth her hair. The girl closed her eyes and relaxed within them.

“This is what you really want, isn’t it?” asked a voice she more felt than heard. Neb languidly opened one eye. The darkness had given way to muted purples and maroons. At first she saw no one, but as she watched, a woman formed before her out of smoke.

“Who are you?” Neb asked.

“That is not something easily answered.” She replied, her voice as warm as a summer night. “Suffice to say, I’ve always been here.”

The girl furrowed her brow in thought. “Then why haven’t I ever met you before?”

“You have, and you haven’t. It’s rare for you to perceive me this directly, but your friend’s touch has woken you just enough for you to be aware of me. Dire as the situation is, I’m happy to see you again.”

The woman came close and placed her hands on Neb’s cheeks, giving the girl a chance to see her face more clearly. The smoke haired woman had a handsome face with high cheekbones, full lips, and almond-shaped, azure eyes. Her hair remained as smoke, billowing about her in thick, black waves.

“I know you.” Neb said, mesmerized. The sound of her voice, the sight of her face elicited such emotion that it sparkled in her skin and resonated in her bones. She could swear she had a name for this woman, that the woman had a name for her.

The woman smiled. “You’ve grown so strong.”

The girl melted a little more, but her face showed doubt. “I don’t feel very strong.”

“Because you’ve exhausted yourself fighting your fear instead of facing it. Only by reclaiming yourself will you ever to feel whole again.”

“Face it? Face him? I can’t do that! You saw him!”

“You are not a child anymore,” the smoke-haired woman replied as she placed her hands beneath Neb’s arms. Together they rose through the air until the purple mist began to thin below them. Through it the girl could make out the faint outlines of the temple complex, dotted with a dozen tiny flickers of light. Most of them clustered in one area, but a few lay beyond them. Only one, the brightest, was in motion, pulsing in rhythm to a flutter on her wrist.

“And you are not alone.”
 

Carmen

Queen of Crime
AMA
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Color #
850000
[Co-written with Maelstrom's writer.]

Returning to the marked ‘throne room’ above the heart of the Devalaya was a route that not only comprised of many steps, but also featured an unusual drop in temperature. It was not unlike a trek straight from the Mediterranean Sea into the Alps, only compressed into a much shorter distance.

She discovered Kraus and Emil where she left them and navigated past their sleeping forms. Kraus had a zippo lighter in his pocket, which she took for measure. Winding through another path, she found Captain Meiru in the signature trench and Nevon Blair near her. Both were also unconscious. It seemed likely that they missed Carmen’s exit with the Oscar’s crew only moments prior. While she was touched that they risked returning for her sake, she wondered if they would have made it out and avoided this trap.

A moth, its intricate glowing patterns pulsing slowly, flew down to her line of sight. It then began to break apart. Inquisitively she reached for the remnants of wings and the fading creature clasped to her hand fervently as it disintegrated. Her remaining light sources began to follow suit, dissipating into darkness.

Footsteps surrounded her and she turned to see a rendition of herself at nineteen. The clothes she wore were typical of that age, and if she remembered correctly, she may have sported this outfit the day she arrested Gunnar Maelstrom. Of course while she could barely recall, details of it must have been encapsulated in the Norwegian’s memory.

Logically, she ignored the vision.

Nevon’s backpack held worthy equipment and she decidedly borrowed a flashlight, flares, and a collection of round matte black stickers that seemed to be electronic tracking nodes.

Carmen continued up to the highest chamber and her young mirror followed.

In front of the stony trunks that sealed the throne's entrance, her breath released vapor. It was cooler now than when she was last here. Her nineteen-year-old self stood directly behind her, watching.

We were so young,” the youth told her, “We made decisions that we couldn’t possibly have understood.

These words were disregarded by the wiser.

This is cheap, Gunnar,” she spoke with some provocation, “What are you trying to show me?

Thick vines that enclosed the throne room ripped opened with a loud groan. Bright lights streamed over her, a warm invitation to enter.

She refused.

After seconds of stillness, there was thunder, frustration exhausted in the very material of the temple around her. From the split vines walked a man. He was in his early forties but he looked nearly a decade older. The lines on his face marked less battles won than years of sun damage. By this point, he had been hiding aboard a ship off the coast of Guinea with a cargo of stolen African art and shark fins.

This was the Marine Biologist on the day of his arrest. He smelled of fish blood.

Drenched in salt water and rain, his outstretched right hand held a Heckler & Koch P30. Back then, the P30 was a relatively new gun, one he had taken off the body of a Norwegian Customs Officer named Hessen Larson. One week from these events, the woman would be at Larson’s funeral under a different name.

“Do you remember how close we were?” Maelstrom spoke through his own avatar. “You knew everything about me,” he continued, “you were oh-so relentless!

His pointed gun fired with muted accuracy. The bullet hit the youth behind her. She heard her own voice cry out and felt the vibration of her collapse. But she did not turn around.

“What if I had pulled that trigger, then?” He taunted with a grin as if he had been in control of her life and death.

The urge to interact physically was high, but the thief stood firm.

You tried.

At these words, the scene played out as it did in the past. With his hiding place exposed, there was no hesitation on Maelstrom’s part. In the dark he gripped the P30 only momentarily before the young detective quickly disarmed him. From the Norwegian’s perspective, the vision ended with the chin of her leg striking his jaw.

The ground shook again, an indication someone did not quite enjoy reality. As the glow from the throne dimmed, Carmen could see into the chamber. The chair was empty. Rationalisation urged her to go claim it, but her instincts held fast her feet.

With that decision, the insects returned. The largest Atlas flew in front of her and gently landed between her brows. Its wings covered her eyes and she closed them in response. In the stillness, she was reminded of the truth. At nineteen she understood well the concept of right and wrong, and while her decisions were not without consequences, she was willing to take responsibility for every one of them.

The moths fluttered away and she followed those wings down to the slumbering search team. As if reciting a ritual, the same Atlas that touched her brow moved to perch between the eyes of Acton Roux.

And suddenly, she was in Paris.
 

Acton Roux

V.I.L.E.
Color #
351c75
[Co-written with Carmen]

Acton had been experimenting inside these numerous dreams. They were not truly dreams, but a form of forced hallucination. An Entity behind these visions, he believed, was nearly as clueless as he.

The world he now lived, and consequently aged in, was but a figment latched upon the energies of existence. In other words, ghosts of the past were activating flashes of electrical pulses in his brain, both with and without his permission, under the command of a singular mind. When he allowed them, the ghosts led him to the darkest recesses of his psyche, but when he was able to gain better command of them, they were intrigued enough to show him other aspects he desired.

He journeyed, in his own mind, back into his laboratory. But instead of an exact replica from his memory, he adjusted it for a place more suitable of experimentation in this state of existence.

What he feared most was that he had no indication of how much time had passed in the present. He could not know if his body, and thus the bodies of his peers, had deteriorated beyond rescue. When he thought of them, at times, he was able to catch glimpses of the experiences of his peers. Despite not being able to communicate with them, it eased him to know that they were all somehow still alive.

The Entity followed him as a lingering cloud, for he saw it in nearly everyone’s dreams. It twisted into dread and lies inside the visions of those he visited. He had walked through ACME headquarters, seen an American farmhouse and a trailer park. He flowed past something Russian, through to dark inky seas, and then straight into the deserts of ancient worlds. In Babylon, however, the darkness was alleviated. Clear blue skies and calm winds suggested the presence of greater peace.

These images did not happen often, but when they did, he was often rejuvenated. Renewed, with the notion that he must work to break this horrendous spell. He had concluded sufficiently that, while they were all individually hypnotised, some must begin to wake before all of them may wake. His efforts were not enough, he must find another.

One moment in this eternal night, while he did not feel as if he was being watched. He returned to his research and the diagrams if his conclusions. The doctor sensed a friendlier shadow and rose to see golden eyes peering towards him. The lady watched his reaction and she came nearer, at first with uncertainty, but then a smile graced her red lips.

Tu peux me voir?” Her question was unusual as the answer would be very obvious, yet he felt a wave of relief. He could see her very well and in the flesh.

You have been observing me?” Acton returned her query with one of his own.

She sighed a happy exhale and embraced him. He felt no warmth from her body nor could he smell the scent of her usual perfume. Of course he would not, these were unreal circumstances.

You seem well, are you?

Am I?” He returned, “I thought you were free of this, if you are also wandering these planes, we may not have much hope.

I’m awake,” she assured him, “I saw you, as well. Out there.

Are you safe? There is an Entity out to dissect our will, I have sensed it in and out, but largely I believe because… I am, your former partner, Chase Devineaux.” He said that in case this Entity returned.

Her eyes questioned him, and then understood in a flash of brilliance.

Your suit remains impeccable,” she acknowledged, and Acton nodded with a smile, “And you’re right, someone is watching. Perhaps not momentarily, but I don’t have much time before he seeks me again.

Then we must work quickly.”

He showed her his diagrams, for in dreams, he could not fully write words. These were images of pathways he believed were possible to connect waves of the sleeping brain. Some were images of what he saw in the dreams of others. She paused at one image of a city before a conical tower.

This is what I know,” he said, “now tell me if I am correct about this ‘entity’.

That entity is Maelstrom at the temple’s controls,” she picked up Acton’s work, “I can allay him, but confronting him now isn’t wise. I nearly made that mistake.

How did he come to control the temple?

I put him there,” she confessed, “I’ve never regretted anything so quickly.

Acton developed a sudden urge to implore her to rest, but he could not know the situation outside of this hallucination. He could only watch with intrigue as she looked through his drawings and began to comprehend his ideas. It was as if his purpose had been fulfilled, to provide a facet of clarity to one so wise.

He’s focused on me, I need that to shift,” her attention turned to the image of Babylon, “In your travels, did you feel anyone free of his influence?

I did not feel I was watched in ancient Persia,” he told her, “but there were so many people, in the thousands, I could not tell which was the dreamer.

You’ve seen into everyone’s hallucinations?” She inquired after some analysis.

I have but mere glimpses,” he pushed papers around, “and many dove so deep into their psyche that I cannot comprehend their hallucination. But I believe if some of us become aware that we are dreaming, we may begin to wake and lead others to wake also.

Finding the dreamer among an entire a city could be impossible.

But you may have time, without prying eyes,” Acton advised her, “If you enter other dreams, Maelstrom may find you before too soon.” The Frenchman considered, “Do you believe the Persian could be Flag?

She shook her head, “I know where Flag is. He needs rest.

The doctor felt an unusual bitterness in her dismissive words, but again he was not one to question. He must presume that this Maelstrom had followed her into Flag’s psyche and it resulted in something terrible.

Thank you for this,” she took his hand, “The next time we meet, may it be more celebratory.

He nodded in agreement.

Je te souhaite une bonne continuation,” melodic intonations were laced within her polite goodbye.

Bon chance a toi aussi,” he replied, wishing her luck as she had wished him well, and she was gone.
 

Joe Kerr

VILE Trickster
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Known Aliases
Joey, Joseph,
Color #
8a2be2
Upon opening his eyes, Joseph was greeted first by a fuzzy white light punctuated by an odd creaking noise. As his surroundings came into focus, he was immediately made aware of three things.

First, he was in a somewhat comfortable but gaudily decorated hospital room; flowery wallpaper with a deep green background did not go well with pastel purple.

Second, he was a little stiff and had an odd but not altogether unpleasant buzzing sensation in his head.

Thirdly, the creaking noise was actually the rocking chair at the foot of his bed; a rocking chair currently occupied by a certain special Agent.

Upon seeing Joseph awake, said agent vacated the chair and moved to approach him, offering a one word explanation.

“Morphine”

With the mystery buzzing explained, Joseph relaxed slightly as memories started to overtake him.

He had been driving towards the orphanage, a large bag of toffees for the kids in tow. The road leading up to the estate was beautiful as always, winding through the forest of sycamores and red oaks. The sky was a vibrant blue and the sun was shining brightly, the picturesque views marred slightly by a small plume of smoke.

Wait, smoke?

Doing a double take, Joseph’s heart lurched as he realized the smoke was originating from the estate. Speeding towards the main gate, he was greeted by a couple of loud explosions and could only watch in horror as large columns of fire erupted from what had been the main building.

Giving no heed to his own safety, Joseph attempted to rush through the main doors only to get blown back by another blast of flames. Amid the inferno, he could hear the screams of children futilely pleading for help; each cry pierced his soul, accompanied by the acrid smell of burning flesh that promised to haunt him for the rest of his earthly existence.

“No! Not like this, No!” Joseph screamed in anger as he attempted again to enter the blazing mansion, only to get pulled back by a strong pair of arms.

“No Mister Kerr, you’ll only get yourself killed. The children can’t lose you too.”

Joseph turned toward the source of the German-accented voice to see Eartha Brute, charred, bloody and seemingly standing on force of will alone.

His respect for the kindly caretaker grew tenfold as he observed the large blade sticking awkwardly in her side. He nodded for her to continue with what he was sure would be her dying words, watched mutely as she gestured towards the hedge maze.

“They were the only ones I could find. Make sure they live on, for all of us.”
With what strength she had left, she grabbed onto his arms, not willing to let go until he acceded her request.

Nodding through tears, Joseph watched as Eartha’s grip slipped and her eyes closed for the last time as she breathed her last words, “Thank you, Joseph.”

“Rest in peace, Eartha.”

Saying a small prayer, he laid her body down before rushing towards the maze of carefully trimmed bushes. Placing his fingers in his mouth, he let out a shrill whistle, an action that he and other members of the family had used to summon the children together.

Slowly, one small head peeked out from behind what Joseph knew to be a secret alcove within the maze. He nodded kindly to the young girl who let out a meek smile in response before disappearing again. Moments later, a small ruddy girl reappeared, holding the hand of an even younger boy.

Recognizing him, they ran to him and started crying into his arms as he enveloped them in a firm but gentle hug; Ignoring the searing pain in his arms and shoulders, he wiped away their tears before examining them. They were both relatively unscathed save for the small knick on the girl’s elbow and the abrasion on the boy’s knee.

With urgency, he beckoned the kids to follow him towards the car, only to freeze at the sound of a foreign voice. Hastily, he dragged the two kids back to the secret alcove and signaled them to stay quiet. Silently the trio observed the source of the unknown voice walk out and pause at Joseph’s car. The stranger turned, his laughter momentarily paused as his eyes scanned the surroundings and slowly honed in on the maze.

“Follow me”
Joseph hastily commanded the brother and sister to stick close to him as he crawled out the back of the alcove.

Stumbling out the secret exit of the maze, Joseph picked up the young boy and nodded to his sister; silently, they ran as fast as their legs would carry them, zig-zagging through the vineyard and heading out the back gate, into the refuge of the surrounding woodlands.


Chase shifted awkwardly as Joseph continued to shed tears for his fallen brethren; the detective conceding that perhaps skipping that empathy improvement course had been a mistake.

“Uh, hey, if this is a bad time, I can come back later…”

“..it’s my fault…”

Devineaux froze as Joseph cut him off, repeatedly chanting the same phrase with his eyes glazed over.

“It’s my fault…”

“Uh..Joey?”

Without warning, Joseph lashed out.

“It’s my fault!!! It’s my fault they’re all dead. I should have been there, I should have got there earlier. I could have intercepted them, sounded the alarm earlier..”

Despite homicide not being his area of expertise, Devineaux had attended enough cases to recognize the signs of grief. Unable to say anything that would be of help, he chose to do the one thing he could and offer silent, albeit uneasy, companionship to the broken man before him.

Minutes bled into each other as both men lost track of time during Joseph’s ranting . Finally, Joseph began to quiet down.

“You were wrong…”

The detective’s only response was a truly puzzled expression.

“...about my role, I mean. You said I was the fixer and the mechanic. You were wrong on both counts. I was supposed to be the protector.”

Chase started to open up his black book and record the information, only to pause with his pen hovering over the paper. Giving himself the excuse that it wouldn’t stand in court anyway since the accused was under great distress, Devineaux closed the book, kept it back in his coat and leaned back on the rocking chair to continue listening.

“It was my job, with assistance from Ken’s data, to spot possible threats to our family and take the...appropriate measures.”

It took every fibre of the detective’s being to not probe further or cast Joseph a skeptical look.

“Some protector I turned out to be...they’re all dead and I’m still here. I’ve let them all down.:

“Now you’re the mistaken one.”

Joseph paused and looked at Chase with a startled expression; the detective taking his silence as a signal to elaborate.

“You didn’t fail everyone. Those two kids we found crying over you, you did manage to protect them.” he stated in his usual clinical tone.

Despite himself, Joseph let out a small chuckle.
“You know, if you’re going to comfort someone, you should try and sound more sympathetic.”

“Wasn’t trying to comfort you, just stating the facts.”

Releasing a deep sigh, Joseph turned toward Devineaux and asked the first question that came to mind.

“Are they ok?”

“The kids? Yeah. A little banged up but otherwise fine. My sister’s taking care of them at the moment.”

“Good.”

After a brief moment of silence, Joseph added with utmost sincerity and the barest hint of cheek “Give Sophie my thanks.”

Predictably, his quip was met with a raised eyebrow and a head shake from the agent in grey.

“How did...nevermind, I don’t think I want to know.”

Chuckling between several wheezy coughs, Joseph moved to sit up, only to discover his right wrist had been handcuffed to the bed.

Seeing Joseph’s questioning look, Chase decided to ease his fears.

“Relax. You’re not under arrest. It was for your own safety in case you thrashed about again. Nightmares, you understand.”

Joseph replied via a simple nod and fell back on the pillow to gather his thoughts. Chase sat back down on the rocking chair, content to let him regain his wits.

For a while, the only sounds in the room were the rhythmic creaking of the chairs interspaced with Joseph’s own heavy breathing.

Before the silence could get too suffocating, Joseph decided to ask a random question.

“Who’s the doctor?”

Devineaux replied in his usual neutral tone.

“Acton Roux, you know him?”

Joseph resisted the urge to laugh at the irony; briefly he wondered if the agent was aware of Dr Roux’s reputation for moonlighting as a ‘family doctor’.

Sitting up slowly, he took a deep breath and stared solemnly at Chase.

“So? You going to ask?”

Devineaux’s expression remained neutral as he replied with a respectful nod.

“How about I tell you what we know and then you fill in the blanks?”
Joseph immediately recognized the statement as being a sort of olive branch; Devineaux was in his own way showing sympathy to him and the thought simultaneously brought both warmth and shame to Joseph.

Choosing to ignore that the man lying before him was cursing his own weakness, Chase Devineaux whipped out a small black notebook and began recounting the facts.

“As you are probably well aware of, I have had colleagues watching the mansion and orphanage for some time.

At approximately 1330 hrs, my colleagues reported several unknown vehicles stopping approximately 300m east of the compound. Among the occupants of the vehicles were an older unknown male and a younger female.

At 1340 hrs, the unknown male walked up to the front gate of the compound accompanied by the female who we identified as Patty Larceny. She opened the gate and led him and the rest of their team into the compound. They were last seen headed towards the orphanage.

At 1350 hrs, gunshots were heard followed by the first of many small explosions

At 1351 hrs, the first flames were witnessed coming from the orphanage. More gunshots were also heard.

At 1358 hrs, you arrived on the scene

At 1359 hrs you were caught in multiple explosions while attempting to enter the now burning main building. You sustained numerous 2nd degree burns, four bruised ribs and a mildly fractured shoulder.

I won’t go over what happened to you since you experienced it first hand.

At 1407 hrs you, along with two young kids, were recorded as fleeing into the vineyard, at which point we lost track of you.

At 1410 hrs, the unknown male left along with the young woman we believe was Patty Larceny.

At 1415 hrs, local law enforcement, fire department and a few of our boys arrived on the scene

At 1430 hrs, I arrived on the scene. After being briefed, I gathered a small team and tracked you through the woodlands.

At 1445 hrs, I found you passed out on in a small cabin with the two kids crying over you. I checked your pulse, determined you were alive and notified medical personnel to attend to you.

You’re welcome.”

Joseph didn’t respond immediately; the notion that Patty had been the one to bring him here, that she was the herald of destruction was confusing and upsetting. To his knowledge, there had been no major blowouts between her and anyone else in the family, although, something had been troubling her since her last undercover mission.

A clearing of the throat broke him out of his reverie and he turned to look at the source of said sound.

“Devineaux, before I fill in the blanks, I need to know, how many casualties or bodies did you find?”

The normally stoic agent actually squirmed almost imperceptibly at the request; to Joseph, Chase looked more than a little uncomfortable, if such a thing were even possible.

Seeing the resolve in Joseph’s eyes, the agent relented and flipped to another page in his little black book.

“We’ll need you to confirm the identities of course, but we have identified over 20 different bodies.

First there was the body of the female caretaker we believe to be Eartha Brute. She had multiple burns and a suffered extensive blood loss from the stab wound in her side.

Within the Orphanage itself, we came upon the charred remains of a woman we believe to be Sarah Nade, as well those of 14 kids, one of which was clutching to what appeared to be a teddy bear.

Elsewhere in the compound we also retrieved the bodies of individuals we believe to be Ken Believitt, Vincent Fumigali, Flag and Neb.

Both Flag and Neb had numerous defensive wounds and had numerous bullet wounds. Vic and Ken were both executed, single GSW point blank to the head.

There were also a few other surviving casualties we assume were the mansion’s staff…”

“...Nevon...”

Chase blinked at the interruption and waited for clarification on the statement. Joseph would oblige moments later in the same, slightly haunted tone.

“...the kid with the teddy bear was Nevon. Eager young kid who never went anywhere without that bear. Got into many fights with the other kids over it too.”

Devineaux sat down again and waited patiently for Joseph to continue, knowing that this was something that could not be rushed.

“There was only one kid in the orphanage with glasses; his name was Daniel. He wanted to be a detective when he grew up.”

Devineaux nodded and let out a non-committal grunt but otherwise stayed silent.

“The kids you saw with me are Zack and Ivy; siblings who love getting into mischief. Zack is younger and a little bit of a chicken, especially when it comes to snakes.; Ivy is the older sister and starting to develop into a bit of a tomboy.”

The agent paused his note taking when he detected sobbing. Looking up, Chase was greeted with the sight of a tearing Joseph Kerr.

“Did you know, whilst we were hiding in the woodlands, they confessed to me that they felt so guilty they were alive when everyone else was dead. They said they weren’t with the rest of the kids because they were outside being punished by Eartha when it all went down. It was Eartha’s idea for them to hide and wait in the hedge maze. To think, if they hadn’t gotten in trouble, they would have become casualties too.”

Deciding to take a small gamble, Chase cleared his throat, causing Joseph to look up at him.

“Joey, you may not be able to protect them anymore, but you can avenge them. As you used to say, help me help you. Tell me who you saw, do what you do best and give me info that I can work with, so that I can catch the bastard that did this to them...to you.”

For awhile, Joseph just started blankly at Devineaux, causing him to wonder if another meltdown was imminent. Instead, Joseph let out a small sigh before his expression morphed into what the detective recognized as his ‘business face’.

“Dr Gunnar Maelstrom.”

“Who?”

“You may be more familiar with his other aliases - Poseidon, Aegir, The Kraken, Leviathan”

The Detective raised an eyebrow at the quartet of nautical nicknames; each one had appeared at one time or other on the FBI radars but the Bureau had ever been able to put a face to any of the names, let alone suspect that they were the same person.

“By day, he is a respectable scientist specializing in Marine Biology and Oceanography; by night, he is one of the most feared figures in all of Europe; a Machiavellian crime lord overseeing a vast empire spanning all of Scandinavia, Eastern and Central Europe, and, according to rumours, even India and Ceylon.”

Chase nodded stoically, unwilling to show just how caught off-guard by these revelations he was.

“He fancies himself a real-life Moriarty; smart enough to never get caught, except for his nasty habit of taking young women as secretaries or personal assistants, then killing them when they get too nosy.”

“So Jenny Diver, Lucy Brown and Lotte Lenya…:”

“No, only Jenny. At least, according to what I managed to dig up, it was only her that had been his secretary at one point. The other two were her former roommate and her cousin respectively; I’m kinda surprised you didn’t give me that information off the bat, or did you not know?”

Not getting any reply from the detective, Joseph continued.

“I had a theory that Lucy and Lotte were merely loose ends to be tied up,” Joseph paused, the distaste on his face clearly evident.

“But I needed proof, that was one of the reasons I had been on my way to consult with...Kenny; my other motive was to confirm my suspicions about Maelstrom being in town again. In the end, I ran into the devil himself instead.”

A single word leapt out at the detective.

“Again? Wait, you’ve dealt with him before?”

“It’s why he has it out against us, especially Carmen; We were the ones who got wind of him wanting to take advantage of the recent economic crash and expand his empire onto our shores. We pulled many strings and successfully sabotaged his attempts, in the process, sending him back to Europe breathing threats and swearing vengeance.”

“So you suspect he did this for revenge?”

“Not just revenge. There’s more to it. The fact that you didn’t find Carmen’s body proves it; he’s got something else up his salty sleeves and he needs her alive for it, likely to be the perfect scapegoat”

“You seem to have him figured out.”

“Not all of it. I still don’t know where Patty fits in, why she helped him. I can’t figure out what he could have on her.”

“New assistant?”

Joseph didn’t reply but it was clear from his expression that he found the idea rather disconcerting.

For a moment, the detective wondered if things were a little more complex than Joseph let on; his experience pointed to some sort of romantic subplot but wisdom prevented him from following this line of questioning.

“Chase, I need a phone.”

“What?”

“I need a phone.”

“Why?”

Joseph replied with deadpan expression.

“To make some calls.”

“You don’t need a lawyer. You’re not under arrest.”

“Not what I had in mind. I was going to make some calls to get you the info you need in order to bring Maelstrom down.”

“You know where to find him?”

“He’ll come to us...as long as you do as I say…”
.Joseph trailed off before going into a sudden but extended bout of hacking coughs.

Chase said nothing as Joseph continued to cough violently; with great calm, he moved over to the bedside dresser, poured a glass of water and silently offered it to the injured thief.

Gratefully accepting the proffered glass, Joseph downed the water with some difficulty before taking a moment to catch his breath.

Devineaux waited patiently and was soon rewarded with Joseph turning to him, staring at him with a look of extreme gravity.
“Devineaux, whatever you do, do NOT declare Carmen dead or even let it get out that she’s suspected to be dead.”

“Give me one good reason.”

“Fail-safes Devineaux, we have them in place so that if anyone tries to eliminate Carmen, certain previously unavailable pieces of info and evidence against every major crime family in the world will be released by our select agents to certain international law enforcement agencies.

You might think it advantageous to you if this info gets leaked out but it would only throw the world into chaos. Try as you might, the international criminal structure won’t disappear just because the leading families are taken out of play; the young lions will fight among themselves for the throne, caring not how many lives have to be sacrificed along the way.

If I didn’t know better, I would guess Maelstrom actually wants this to happen so he can swoop in and expand his own empire.”

Joseph’s determined eyes bored into Devineaux’s own.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m not…”

Joseph never got to finish the sentence as another bout of violent coughs struck; this time though, the coughs seemed to grow in intensity, rising to a crescendo of Joseph beginning to spew out blood.

Chase’s eyes widened substantially at the sight before him and moved swiftly to call for help.

The last thing Joseph heard before he blacked out was Devineaux yelling “We need a doctor, now!!!”
 

Nevon

ACME
AMA
findcarmen.com
Color #
6a99a6
[Thanks to everyone who helped me look this over, and to Carmen for adding her take]


Barbara Rosen was looking grave. She was always serious since Prague, but today, more seemed to be on her mind. The CEO was standing behind her desk in thought. Leaning against the giant table with his arms crossed was Mikal Darsha. And sitting in a black leather chair nearby was Carmen Sandiego herself.

Ivy held the door for her brother and Nevon, the tension in the room didn’t lighten much.

They don’t need to be here,” Carmen spoke as soon as she saw the boys.

They should, we need the man power,” Mikal pointed out in his Israeli accent.

Ivy shrugged, “
Everybody grows up sometime.

Rosen nodded, “
Sit, let’s get this over with.

She put down a brown envelope, and then on top of it an SD card. It was a Kingston, 64GB, black and clean, no markings except for a sticker with the date 19-December. Blair’s heart suddenly felt cold.

Yesterday, we received this, and it took the audio team 12 hours to get something,” Rosen didn’t waste time explaining, she had a copy of the file on her computer and started playing.

There was elevator music, ’Sleigh Bells’ sung by the Platters. Then a fight broke out, at some points the grunting of multiple men could clearly be heard. There was a stray silenced shot or two that ricocheted off metal. The elevator bell rang and noise faded in. Crowds could be heard in the background.

Someone shouted in Czech to the crowd in the audio, and Nevon turned to Zack who shook his head and leaned closer to try understand.

Run. He has a gun,” Carmen translated, and at the same time Blair recognized Chase’s voice as the shouter. “Get out,” she continued, “man with gun, get out.” Her words were calm, but strained.

There was more indistinguishable shouting and screams. The one recording the audio then spoke to someone else in Russian.

Follow, follow,” this time Zack translated for them, “Cut him off, and get the car.

A shot rang out and shattered glass, Nevon thought it sounded like a high caliber sniper round. That triggered some kind of alarm.

The recorder spoke again, and Zack translated, “
Stupid. Making a mess.”

There was more echoing, and running through crowds then another fight and some cursing in multiple languages. The microphone shifted around producing hisses and pops along with more grunting. A pause came, the man recording was heavily breathing. He said something, but it was cut with static.

Chase’s breathless chuckle was clear. Nevon glanced at Mikal and saw his knuckles fisted white. Carmen looked unmoved, but her ringed fingers curled tight into the arm of her chair. Ivy rested her head in her palms, covering her eyes meditatively. Zack’s face was livid, and Nev noticed he had been holding his breath.

Chase’s husky voice started speaking something in Russian, the man laughed. When Chase spoke his last words, two shot sounded through a silencer.

Call yours, we are done,” the man recording said in English after a few seconds, possibly to more than one person, “Tell her it’s done.

Another voice further away said, “
Get to the car, wrap [him] up, let’s go!

The recording stopped, but everyone stayed silent a while longer.

“What did he say,” Nevon turned to his best friend, “at the end?”

Looks were shared among the people who understood Russian.

Darsha shrugged.

Zack Monaghan looked exasperated, “
I’m sorry man, but it sounded really cryptic, he might have been delirious by then.

If you need to know,” Carmen answered Nevon’s question, “He said: ‘The canvas was shot through by two bullets. One planted just above the other.’

He is poetic,” Mikal’s brows were tightly knit.

The lady in red tilted her head before speaking, “
It’s a reference to ‘The Shot’ by Alexander Pushkin, Russian poet.” Nevon waited to hear more because it seemed like that was a clue, but Carmen stayed silent.

Then he knew he’d be double-tapped?” Ivy asked about the kill shot.

Mikal nodded, “
I guess he knew.

F**k them,” Ivy made a long exhale.

Everything we just heard fits with the timeline we have,” the younger Monaghan added, “who found this recording?

Rosen offered insight, “
Argos found it during a raid, she was supposed to be here for this briefing, but...

Mrs. Rosen,” Renee Grovesnor announced on from the intercom, “Argos, Grovington, Storm, and Jordan are here.”

The four entered and traded greetings.

Deric and Lee went on to report that their new vehicles checked out fine. The Pilot and Amber Argos flew in together from interrogating suspects somewhere in or around Hawaii. All four had heard the audio. Jordan and Storm had a meeting with Rosen earlier this morning and Eugene and Amber were briefed as soon as the audio team extracted the sound files.

You’re okay, listening to that?” Grovington asked the woman in the black leather chair, and she accepted his concern with a weak smile.

Hey, why nobody ask how I’m feeling?” Mikal’s joke made Ivy chuckle.

So how are you doing?” she asked the Israeli.

I have been better.

“Man, that was heavy,” Nevon confessed, “In a city like Prague, and only a few streets from ACME Czech.”

Yeah,” Amber looked down in thought, “I think about that too. I’m going to need that weekend in Bali to clear my mind.

You two need the vacation,” Deric chimed in, “Don’t want to keep newlyweds from their honeymoon.

Eugene and me are heading to Moscow,” Mikal announced, “Lee and Deric, you’re going to Warsaw?

Lead there said Tweed was sighted,” Lee nodded.

Zack, you’re our pointman at base,” Deric added.

Got it,” the Monaghan brother replied with a salute.

Nevon nodded, “And Ivy and Carmen are going to Prague.”

Why?” Mikal flatly asked the question that was on everybody else’s mind but somehow escaped Nevon’s understanding.

There was a long pause before Carmen answered.

I haven’t—” she sighed and tried again, “I need to see it.

OK, that’s fine,” Mr. G’s nice tone wasn’t like anything Nevon had heard before, “you take your time.

Apparently Blair wasn’t the only person to notice the tone and CEO Rosen cleared her throat.

This meeting is adjourned,” she announced, “Go have your team briefings and report to me with anything you find.

Everybody got up and started moving out. Carmen stayed to speak with Rosen. Lee and Zack grouped up with Ivy while Deric talked to Euge and Mikal. They were exchanging information, like professionals.

Hey,” Amber pulled Nevon aside to kiss him, and he felt honored just to have her attention.

A girl like her didn’t come by every day. While they didn’t always get along, the Devalaya incident and the murder in Prague really brought them closer together. She saw a teacher in Chase, and so did he. The news devastated them both. So the day Rosen and Carmen shook hands to join forces, Nevon took his chance at getting to know Argos better. He was glad he did, really glad.

“Hey you,” he held her hips, “I need to go cry or something, that audio really hurts.” He’d always found it easy to tell her exactly how he felt.

Cherry Garcia?” she suggested their favorite ice cream, “You can have all the chocolate bits, I just want the cherries.

“OK babe,” Nevon laughed, “Man, I’m really happy you’re home.”
 
AMA
findcarmen.com
Known Aliases
Farmboy, Calamity, Stormblood
Color #
006600
(sorry it took so long, been super busy with work)

Deric felt more than heard what he assumed was a drop of water falling somewhere nearby. It felt like a sudden wave washing over him, almost pulling the world around him away. Deric saw what looked like a ripple flow through the darkness surrounding him.

Fear... worry... regret...” Deric heard a familiar voice echo through the void. “They’re nothing but bullies; They give you nothing. They only take. The only way to beat them is to opt for happiness. Everything boils down to the choices we make.

“No,” Deric said, rising to his feet. As he stood, the void shimmered and disappeared, leaving the living room of the Storm family farmhouse along with his doppleganger, who now had a confused look on his face..

No?” ‘Deric’ asked, an edge of contempt in his voice.

“No,” Deric repeated. “No more. I realize who you are now. I am done letting you run my life.”

You’ve been letting me ‘run’ your life multiple times. I wouldn’t say I’ve done a bad job, per se,” the double chided. “What’s so different now?

Deric raised the gun his double had given him and aimed it right between the double’s eyes. “Choice,” Deric said, coldly. “My brain, my call.”

Ha ha ha,” The other Deric didn’t even try to hide his derision this time, letting out a huge belly laugh. “You know you can’t actually kill me right? I am after all, a part of you. Besides, what would you be without me?

Now, it was Deric’s turn to smile. “Time to find out,” he said before pulling the trigger. The gun didn’t go off like it normally would, but it and the doppelganger faded into nothingness.

Remember,” ‘Deric’ said before he faded, “I’ll always be here...

“Maybe,” Deric responded. “But I don’t have to listen.” Releasing a breath Deric hadn’t realizing he’d been holding until the other Deric had faded, he started to relax a little bit.

Great googly-moogly,” a gravelly voice said, breaking the silence. “I thought he’d never leave.

Deric groaned.

“Oh, for the love of...” Deric swore, turning around to face the next phantasm this place seemed to conjure from his psyche. He turned to face an older man a few inches shorter than himself, dressed in a grey flannel shirt and dusty blue jeans. Silvery grey hair framed a warm, leathery face with a slight five o’clock shadow plastered with a wry grin beneath eyes the same deep blue of his own.

Easy there, Stormblood,” the older man said with a familiar drawl, holding his hands up in a placating gesture. “Not here to fight, just talk.

“Riiiiight,” Deric deadpanned.

Aw hell, boy,” the older man swore. “Listen, I’m just here to help. You’re just seeing me as someone you know would help you, no questions asked.” Deric had to admit, he had a point. He would be more willing to trust his grandfather than anyone else.

“And who was the other guy?” Deric asked.

Ever hear the phrase ‘you’re your own worst enemy’?” Deric didn’t have an answer for that. “But what’s your issue, then boy?” his ‘grandfather’ asked.

“I figured after I got rid of my evil twin, I’d be getting out of here,” Deric replied, frustration coloring his words. “Guess the impromptu therapy session ain’t done yet.”

Not just yet,” the older man agreed, nodding at the remaining occupant of the room. Cali’s doppelganger was still seated where she’d been when the other Deric had turned the lights out.

“What do I say?” Deric asked.

Whatever you need to,” the old man said. “You were right before. This is your mind; you decide what happens here. You know exactly how to get out of here when you’re done... How do you wake up from a dream that you realize you’re in?

Deric’s eyebrow rose up skeptically. “Seriously,” he said. “I just need to close my eyes???”

The old man shrugged with a smile, and turned to leave.

“Wait,” Deric said, reaching out. “That’s it?”

Yep,” the old man said. “My job’s done here. The rest is up to you now. Keep the faith, Stormblood.” The old man faded away as he left the room, leaving Deric alone with Cali’s doppelganger, who was now standing as the furniture had all disappeared too.

Thanks Pappy,’ Deric thought as he turned to face ‘Cali.’ As he looked at her, he could still slightly hear that same music that had been playing ever since he found himself here. She was dressed in the way she was the last time he saw her. While he was happy to see her, it came with a physical pain. He had tried to move on when she up and left, but deep down he knew he was still stuck in that moment when he realized she was gone and not coming back. ‘No time like the present,’ he thought as he approached her.

“Hey,” he said to her, unable to think of anything else to say in the moment.

“Hey,” ‘Cali’ replied.

“I missed you,” he blurted out, trying to keep the emotion in check.

“I know, menino,” she said, grasping his hand softly. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“Why did you leave?” he asked, eyes starting to moisten. The words just began to flow. “Was it something I said? Something I did? Something I didn’t do? Something I...” He was silenced when ‘Cali’ placed a finger on his lips.

“Deric,” ‘Cali’ said, shushing him. “You know darn well that no one makes me do anything.” Deric chuckled before placing a kiss on her finger. He noticed the room around them start to dim a little.

“It seems our time is almost up,” ‘Cali’ surmised.

“No,” Deric said, a sharp pain appearing in his tone. “I don’t want to lose you again.”

‘Cali’ gave him the look she always did when he did something charming but stupid. “Silly, silly irishman,” she gently chided. “You’ll never lose me. I’ll always be right here, menino,” she said, putting a hand over Deric’s heart. Deric put his hand over hers and squeezed gently. “You need to go; the others need you out there.”

I need you, though,’ Deric thought as he released her hand. He felt a tear start to roll down his cheek.

“Remember,” she said, before standing on her tiptoes to lace a light kiss on Deric’s lips, “I wouldn’t be here if you didn’t know that I loved you as well,” With that, ‘Cali’ wrapped her arms around Deric in a arm hug. Deric returned the embrace, trying to hold on to the moment for as long as he could. As he felt ’Cali’ fade, the pain it brought was soothed somewhat by a feeling of warmth where she had been. As she faded, so did the room as well.

Before the room disappeared, Deric could hear some more lyrics from the song. This time, however, they stirred a more hopeful feeling then they did before:


I know I will never start
To smile again
Until I smile at you


With a sad smile on his face, Deric felt resolve begin to spring up in his spirit. ‘Time to go,’ he thought as he closed his eyes. As he did, the world he was in fell away. As he returned to where he was when this started, Deric felt a dry wind blow across his exposed skin.

Wait a minute,’ a last thought went through his head, ‘a dry wind???
 
Last edited:

Eugene

Airfield Staff
AMA
findcarmen.com
Known Aliases
Euge, Earl Jr.
Color #
003366
If there was a circle of hell applicable to Euge, it might have been the bureaucratic monotony of a desk job. Even after recovering from the crash, he had never been able to obtain the proper clearance to fly like he did before, instead destined to waste away in an administrative role. Today promised to be worse, as an intercom notified him of a very unwelcome guest

This was the third time in a month this clown had waltzed into this particular admin building, always whistling that same stupid song. Euge tried his best to ignore the butchered strains of “If I Had You,” hoping that maybe this time he would just keep walking. It wasn’t to be though, as he slid into Euge’s office, seating himself without a word before kicking his feet up on top of the desk.

Make yourself comfortable.” Euge grunted, his dark glare bouncing harmlessly off the man. As Euge studied him, his features began to ripple, as if reflected in a wind driven pond. The dark youthful complexion giving way to a face wrinkled from exposure to the elements, pinpoint grey eyes framed by a heavy brow and close cropped white beard. As quickly as it happened, the screaming wrongness in the back of his mind dulled again, and his features snapped back.

“So, Colonel Grovington. They give you another ribbon for killing off the full caliber battle rifle system?” Euge’s hackles went up at how colonel rolled off his tongue like the punchline of a joke.

Cut the cloak and dagger BS. Everyone in this building knows your outfit.” Euge looked back to his paperwork, not really caring if the barb landed. “Is your entire sales pitch really based around annoying candidates to death?

His obnoxious smirk went even wider, if such a thing were possible, and he leapt from his chair, gesturing animatedly as he talked.

“I watched every helmet cam in the squad; I watched the skinnies propaganda videos; hell, I watched the slow-mo replay. Fact is, everyone in there would have been paste if you hadn’t bought that wreck down like you did. You saved 8 lives and they pin a medal on you and retire you behind a desk? We need skilled operators like you in the field, or at least teaching hands on. You really want to make driving a desk your career? Medical out. We have places for people with your talents. If you want, I can ask General Crozier if you can bring this desk along.”

Euge abruptly stood up, his roller chair catapulting into the file cabinet behind him

I’m giving you 60 seconds to fuck off before I call base police.” Euge was seeing red now, the pistol squeezed so tightly in his hand he was sure it had fused into a solid block.

“Go ahead, call them.” His features rippled again, this time staying formed into the face he wore before, a cruel smile worming across his lips.

This definitely isn’t how it happened.
 

Ivy

Commander
Known Aliases
Iv', Ives
Color #
008080
Over the past few hours, Ivy Monaghan learned a few things about this David Collins. He was born in Ireland and then moved to the UK. He went into fintech and one of his major investors was Nadia Álvarez’s family. He was now helping to run a conglomerate that held two of Argentina’s banks and invested in nearly a quarter of its property market.

David introduced her to the team she’d be working with. One of them had been on the plane and in the car as pilot and driver. He was introduced to her as Alaskan Eugene Grovinton, but she almost didn’t recognize him. He had his signature square jaw, but he was thinner and somehow more friendly. There was something attractively ernest about him, and he wasn’t at all cynical. She had to wonder if the pilot in her other life was more like this one, maybe she should get to know him.

Next was a couple, Deric and Calina Storm. Both were covert agents based in Argentina. Calina was seven months pregnant, but she seemed tireless. She and Tanya Erzin had been categorizing information since Nadia’s disappearance yesterday. Deric Storm and his younger assistant, Nevon Blair (both Americans) were the real boots. They had been gathering a small network of informants that were trying to pin down activity. Ivy almost felt unneeded here, considering everyone’s experience.

Their base was the Álvarez home, a single-floor sprawling villa overlooking the city of Buenos Aires. Twenty-two full time staff took care of this place, that was more people than Ivy commanded in any operation. With the way staff treated him, Monaghan had to assume that this was also David Collins’s home. He confirmed when he told her that Nadia’s parents retired to Spain some years ago and left the place to them.

The plan was to have David wait for a ransom note of sorts, while the ground crew tried to pinpoint Nadia’s exact location. What they had to go on was a line of text from the missing Álvarez to her campaign manager Tanya Erzin.

Get Ivy Monaghan.” The text was plain and simple, and Ivy felt so guilty for not being able to answer any of their questions.

To see if anything triggered, she went for a walk around the house.

There was a study with a library, fully stocked with books mostly on history and politics. Pictures lined the walls, of friends and family and famous people from Hollywood to world leaders. A desk on one side of the room looked like Nadia’s. Pens and pencils were neatly in place, a macbook pro sat in one corner next to an ipad and some paper notes. Snapshots of Nadia and David were in one desk drawer, saved for maybe a photo album. They were so cute, they even had a monogram made of their names. Ivy touched the pencil drawing of an intertwined D and N.

That was my silly idea,” David was at the door, “She was busy with the campaign and I had time on my hands.” He shrugged, “She hasn’t seen it yet.

“You both look so in love,” Ivy hinted to the pictures, “I’m glad you found each other.”

He nodded, “The campaign complicates things, slightly.

“What do you mean?”

There are probably things that should be addressed, but we haven’t had much time,” he looked through the pictures too, stopping at Nadia’s smile, “And then this happens.

Ivy sensed there might have been a strain in their relationship and thought she was in the best position to give insight, “Hey, where I come from, the world tears you apart. I don’t mean you-you, but um, generally,” she walked closer to him, “I think you’re really lucky to have found each other in this life. Anything that stands in the way of that, you should probably ignore.”

He stood there, just thinking, and the younger detective wondered if she’d overstepped her boundaries. She also wondered about her life. If she could somehow go back to it, what she’d do differently. She might learn a few more languages, and talk to a few more people… stop killing plants...

You’re of course, right,” he finally said, “She’d say that as well. I’m sure that’s why you get along.”

“Sure,” Ivy paused, “Nadia’s made an impression on me too.”

* * *

The rest of the night, Ivy was awake, scanning through photos and videos of events leading up to Nadia’s kidnapping. It was one image after another, and she was starting to see ‘ghosts’ in between them. Remnants of a photo overlapped into other photos.

She began to have this feeling of dread. Ever since her father was injured on duty, she felt every second without action meant something bad in this line of work. That if she didn’t find any evidence, if she couldn’t get a lead, she’d be too late. And maybe in this case, she was too late. Her heart was pounding and she had to leave the desk.

Breathe, Ives, come on. Why would not finding Nadia give her such a panic attack?

Suddenly, her tired eyes caught a familiar sight. A tall man with a dirty blond mustache and a cap, looming over the shorter Argentinians in many of the shots. For some reason, she hadn’t seen him until now. And of course, she recognized him straight away, because in another life, she had scanned through a mountain of files on this guy.

“Holy ---- !” She said to herself and grabbed the clearest photo she could find to see it better.

It was Gunnar Maelstrom. There probably won’t ever be a ransom note.
 

Chase

Director
AMA
findcarmen.com
Known Aliases
Boss (situational)
Color #
536373
[Cowritten: Carmen/Chase/Acton Roux]

In the grand palace, sages and seers scrambled to find rhyme and reason. Questions floated, why the tower disappeared, where it may have gone, which gods were angered? For hours on end, these ‘wise men’ bickered, some chanting and praying while others recited from ancient texts. Some were demanding sacrifices. Smoke and ashes stung at the Crown Prince’s senses as he sat as witness to this madness.

Around evening, a strange perfume caught his attention and he looked up to find a woman in the crowd. Light from the setting sun lit her eyes and they pierced through him. The beat in his chest tightened as her gaze slid from him in search for someone else. And then she flowed behind arguing scholars, fading from his line of sight. The hall boomed once again with a barrage of voices. Hearing enough, he rose to leave before he lost patience and ordered them all executed.

Koresh escaped the noise to his private hammam where at least, if he submerged under the warm water, he could temporarily dowse this insanity. Servants ignited lanterns and started the flow of natural spring water, infusing it with aromatic oils. When they were done preparing his favorite water vapor pipe, he had them dismissed.

Now relatively alone, with the necessary company of personal guards, he eased into the water. The setting sun painted its canvasing sky with waves of lotus colored clouds. Under this padparadscha hue, he contemplated the missing behemoth that once dominated his view.

Something seemed off.

It’s strange; how you’ve managed obscurity in this hermetic dream,” a feminine voice crescendoed and he turned to find its owner seated upon an alabaster bench at the pool’s edge. “I search through the sages, the warriors, I even checked the king and his advisors…” Her words did not make sense initially, but as she spoke, each syllable seemingly repeated until it became a series of sounds that he understood, “but you were hiding as the Valiad. To be certain, I had to wait until all your layers were denudated.

Studying her with intensity, his vision darted to the guards that stood barring entrances.

They cannot see you?

The pale-skinned female narrowed her assassin’s eyes. He could not discern her ethnicity, but she was certainly not Persian. She resembled a mix of all things, and nothing. But he felt a familiarity with her expression, and recalled that he liked the shape of her nose, very much.

She must have sensed his cognizance, for she moved closer and asked, “Do you know me?

In the water, he shrugged with his lips, holding a momentary frown at her boldness. If his guards could see her, he’d have her executed for returning his question with one of her own. And yet, that voice… “Who are you, to me?

A friend,” she replied quickly. That, he felt, was not entirely truthful.

And so, who am I to you?

Desert winds rustled date palms outside his balcony as she considered her answer. “Let’s not be cryptic.

Unsated but also undeterred, Koresh rose from the basin and walked on honed limestone to a serving table.

Haste breeds lies,” he poured red liquid infused with jasmine from a decanter into two ocean-blue kylixes, “and hesitation breeds regrets.

He offered her a chalice, which she accepted but did not imbibe.

You’re testing me,” she stated flatly, but he understood her nuances enough to guess she found it amusing.

I am trusting you,” he corrected with a hint of mirth. “Granted, you are the one here with means to conceal a weapon.

Meeting you with a concealed weapon would be folly,” her stance shifted, yet she remained understandably focused. Something about that last word… ‘folly’. A response came mind, one that made no sense, but he decided to say it anyway.

Folly, was stealing ACME tower…” he remembered the event as soon as he completed the words. Celebrating a minor victory for this feat of recollection, he proceeded to put the ornate glass to his lips and drank.

While she stayed externally unmoved, he observed her drawing a controlled breath. “Of course.”

Not one sway outside civility, she returned to the alabaster slab, the sapphire cup clasped between her slender fingers.

I had suspected all this was a grand nightmare,” his voice was compassionate as he sensed her desire to talk. “So then, what is it I must know?

Do you feel yourself waking?

I don’t think so,” he took another drink, “am I meant to?

Then this isn’t working.” Her disappointment elicited from him a raised brow.

You’ll need to elaborate,” he seated himself in a camel hide chair, “I’m guessing we’re still at the temple?

We are,” she confirmed. An explanation proceeded about the ivory carving now in his breast pocket, the throne room, and how she temporarily dealt with the madman. The Devalaya connected her to Acton, who came to the conclusion that if enough people were aware, everyone would wake.

He listened, and while he commended her strictly non-violent approach, he could tell those very ideals were wearing her down. Negotiation and evasion were her core, if she could not find solutions within either, she often resorted to complete negation. He wondered if she knew that.

So… energies within this temple tapped into minds,” Chase recounted, “and Maelstrom is utilizing this to keep everyone asleep?

Yes.

But you…” he hinted with intonation, “are not affected.

She was silent, he figured, because she understood where he was going. A fresh glint in her eyes and the timely diversion of her gaze betrayed her signature frigidity. It occurred to him that underneath this placid demeanor, she was battling a dilemma.

Lives depended on her now. Some time ago, she would have trusted her instincts and left while she could. He felt that he should remind her.

You need to get out of this deathtrap,” he emphasized by finishing his drink. “Listen to your instincts.

Don’t you dare dictate,” she countered with fettered volume, “you wouldn’t leave if roles were reversed.

You’re right,” he took her wine, “but I’m stupid, and you’re smart.

As he brought the rim of the glass to his mouth, she put a hand over the cup.

Then tell me what you would do.” Her demand was gentle as she pulled the chalice down. “Because I refuse to run.

The wine in his grip felt momentarily toxic and he let her remove it. For as long as he had known this woman, she wielded an exceptional talent for arguing her point. And while he still believed in the logic surmised, her defiance became paramount and he was in no position to jettison her efforts. Resting his eyes, he inhaled deeply and then opened them again… only to find her nose inches from his.

I don’t want this to be misconstrued,” her hushed cadence was silk as her glance flicked from his jaws back to his eyes, “but—

Letting her speak might have been wiser, but wisdom was an empty notion to dreamers. Chase rose his palm to her cheek and traced a light thumb along the bow of her lips. He studied them with childlike fixation. In this grand empire of hallucinations, he couldn’t remember when he last touched something so real.

Gracefully, she lowered his wrist and began to climb upon him, perching a knee on the leather seat between his thighs. Her shadow shielded his face from lantern light and she held his head in her hands. Neck arching back, he locked eyes with her. If only he could see through them. For a fraction of time, a second, to be in her head—the things he would learn behind that veil.

Hesitation breeds regrets.” She quoted his words so beautifully he questioned if they ever came from him. He watched her tuck her lower lip between pearl white incisors, and then; almost impatiently, she quelled his thoughts—meeting his lips with hers.

She tasted of dulcet nectar, and yet the kiss was painful, deep and unyielding, like the sting of a bee. A low susurration rose from her throat, an audible request of which he made no protest. Whatever she wanted, could he provide, would be granted. And in this gradual cadence, he felt respite knotted among distress. This sweet aching was her emotion, unintentionally imparted onto his senses.

Plunged into this complexity, he felt paralyzed.

The hallucination began to shift into somewhere between dreams and waking reality. Layers of waves overlapped above and below. Anxiety and fear clawed at his skin, and beyond them all, a weight of emptiness.

Desire, want, lack -- or the idea of such -- became a spiraling maelstrom, collapsing into itself while attempting to fill its own void. Unnervingly, he felt its swirling eye staring dead at him—no—at her.

Finding anchor in her guidance, he gripped the arms that held him and woke with a sharp intake of air.

His heart was racing.

Her startled expression, lit by fluttering cerulean light, became his pacification. It seemed his waking surprised them both. Chase looked around to see his team asleep, trapped in their own nightmares.

Can you breathe?” Her question was odd, preconceived. Something bad must have happened, and his stirring brain began to assume the worst.

The detective nodded, indicating to his observer that he understood, but could not yet find the words. While his respiration was not restricted, he was being siphoned back into unconsciousness. No matter, this brief moment of waking clarity made all the difference. He could think.

The way he was looking at you,” his voice was hindered by torpor, “did he... touch you?

She did not respond immediately. Perhaps she was unsure of the question. Perhaps he had no right to ask. But that wasn’t going to stop him.

Maelstrom,” he repeated. This time, anger bolstered his words. “Did he touch you?

She measured the query sympathetically, and then responded with a concise “No.

Devineaux exhaled in acceptance of her answer, and then coughed in the cold air. There were things Amber Argos had told him that, once remembered, weighed heavily on his mind. With that initial bout of concern addressed, reason allowed him to construct solutions.

There were these… bands of lights,” he spoke between breaths, undulating, “I get it… what Roux was talking about... connect him to me.

She responded fluidly. Lithe fingers draped around his neck, and her forehead rested against his. But she paused with a subtle inhalation.

Chase,” she asked for his attention. The director, as he was falling asleep, only responded with a moan. “About the tower in San Francisco,” she whispered an apologetic tone, “I’m sorry.

This statement jolted within him the energy to move his head back and stare blankly at her.

Of all the time to confess, why now? Was she afraid of outliving him? Maybe one of them wouldn't exist after today, and this was an alleviation of guilt.

I've only seen it now, from your side... how it must have shaped your decisions.” Her explanation was guileless, almost uncharacteristically naïve.

She had wandered through his imagination. Concurrently, he felt the need to reprimand her for this breach of privacy and dismissively build his case against her words, but he hadn't the strength to do either. His gut told him to focus on her irises. The interactions of low incident lighting had turned them aqua, and he saw himself in them. It occurred to him that she was also seeing him in 'new light'.

Chase pondered whether accepting this apology would change things.

But things had already changed.

Looking back into her eyes, he saw endlessness; a skydiver staring at earth and infinity from the open door of a plane: intimidating, inviting...

Breathtaking.

He kissed her.

As soon as their lips touched, he was in free-fall, embraced by gravity and wind. It was the most honest he had been with himself in some time, and her tender response to the endeavor revealed his action was anticipated. With her warmth hushed against his breath, surging blood in his veins settled to a calm.

There was no promise of a parachute, and he couldn’t care less.

Careless.

That idiosyncratic self-accusation echoed into oblivion.

When he was aware again, he stood in a wood-lined Victorian room. Strange drawings and diagrams scattered on the floor. This was clearly a setting that would belong in the head of Acton Roux.

The Frenchman appeared, scrambling to put his research into a bag, but stopped short when he saw his visitor.

Hein quoi ?!” he shouted an exclamation, “Pourquoi es-tu nue ?!

Acton opened a wooden trunk and threw his guest some clothes and a frock coat.

Il vient, mon ami,” the doctor warned of danger as Chase quickly dressed. “He comes. We must hurry, he means us harm.

We can’t just run. We need to leave your hallucination.” Devineaux refuted while Roux hastily indicated how to fasten each article of the 19th century 'Belle époque' garments.

How can we expect to leave?” The Frenchman headed out the door, followed closely by the disheveled director.

Exactly the same way I entered,” he explained, throwing the coat over his shoulders, “Listen, you’re diagrams are right. There are layers, or waves, pathways connecting all of us. We gather everybody and we take the battle to his head.

Et c'est où?” Acton seemed to understand, but was still mildly perplexed.

Up,” Chase pointed to indigo skies where a large spiral now loomed, “dans le maelstrom.
 

Patty

Valkyrie
AMA
findcarmen.com
Known Aliases
Patt, Patts, Petite, Amber Cecelia Argos, Valkyrie
Color #
8d8844
Amber had no idea a deal had to be made to get her papers signed, but it made much more sense now. She remembered the day Carmen told her she wouldn’t have to worry about her guardians.

They were in London, worlds away from Ashville, Alabama. She was standing with the master thief inside a private capsule of the London Eye. It was 10 in the morning, and the early haze was just leaving the skyline.

By this time, Amber had been with the organization only 8 months, she celebrated a 15th birthday and started going to a ‘public’ school in the UK, which was equivalent to an American private school. She still spent her days around the usual safehouse, and had recently made a new best friend.

Teen Amber was talking about this when, as always, the woman with her listened until there was a pause in the conversation. She was about to say something profound, but nothing prepared the girl for what she would hear.

I have good news,” Carmen’s words matched her smile, “your emancipation papers came through.

The blonde saw her smaller self take in the news. There was a crystal clear set of laughter… and then Amber started to cry. She hugged the woman tightly.

“Oh my god, thank you,” she heard the 15-year-old version of her whisper. Then she threw her arms up and shouted at the top of her lungs as the capsule reached its highest point on the giant ferris wheel.

She remembered how it felt. It was like flying.

Guilt rushed through the observer’s veins. Watching her young self so happy made her present-self sick with disgust. An emotional one, she lashed out.

“Why didn’t you say anything?!” The dreamer yelled at the calm woman in red. The shout did nothing to disrupt the memory, but Patty continued her attack, “Why didn’t you tell me they wouldn’t sign unless you paid them?! Don’t I deserve to know?! Shouldn’t I know??!”

She felt the world darken around her. She was in the place of young-Amber, melting inside a warm hug. A pleasing perfume calmed her anger into a soft sob.

“Why are you like this?” She asked her imaginary Carmen.

All she could feel now was forgiveness… and she hated it.

Hey,” a deep male voice called to her, “Argos.

Patty turned to see Chase… shirtless. The contours of his muscles gleamed in the morning sun. He was wearing some sort of warrior cape and a belt over his waist that covered down to just above his knees. He wore leather laced sandals and while he didn’t have any weapons with him, Patts thought maybe he was missing a shield and spear.

“Dude, what?” Her brows twisted inquisitively.

Chase looked down at his clothes, or lack of it, “This is how you see 650 BCE?

The blonde chuckled nervously, she was never good with her history lessons. And then she began to notice everything in her dream disappearing into smoke.

Take my hand,” he prompted, “come on.

She grabbed his hand and wrist, then he pulled her up. Once she stood on her own two feet again, she was in a desert of black sands. The wind picked up and a massive army was gathering.
 

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