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alderwitch

The One, The Only [IC] (Closed)

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Another day, another stupid pointless task for a city elder. Today, it took Jack to the Kirby Muesum of Fine Arts. There was a special show that was being cycled through that was focusing on art from the 1940s era of War-Torn Europe. As pretentious art shows went, it was pretty high on the list. As usual, security was state of the art at the museum which made the morning's events quite so surprising.

It was shortly after lunch time when the klaxion bells of the alarm sounded and security guards swelled out of the woodwork like high end FBI Agents, rounding up people and shutting down exhibits. Jack did happen to glance down and see where the bulk of the activity was down the hallway that led to the wing on Blitz-time Britan.

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Stupid though he knew it was go in without his costume, Jack vanished and headed down the corridor, nearly invisible to any forms of detection. If he was caught like this, he could always say (truthfully) that he was going in to make sure that none of the artifacts his patron cared about were being molested. What were the odds, really? He paused, thought about that, then ran faster. If he'd learned anything about this business, it was that they always took out what was important. He passed among security guards, invisibly, and thought unhappily of Stesha.

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None of the rent-a-cops were anything close to on par with noticing Avenger despite being highly paid members of their field. So with ease, Avenger was able to sneak into the British wing. There were a few missing pieces although the bulk of the exibit remained untouched. The piece that Avenger had been sent to check out, of course, was missing. In this case, it was an original by Madge Gill, one of the classic examples of 'outsider art' which was a fancy term to describe things that were drawn by people on the fringes of society, or occasionally reality. In this case, the woman drew pictures she was guided to by a 'psychic friend'. Clearly a low point in his daywalker errands.

In any case, the piece was missing from its empty stand. In its place was a cartoon-style bomb, complete with fuse but instead of traditional black with 'TNT' the bomb was laquered in red and gold in a distinctive scarab pattern. As messages went, it was not the subtlest.

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"...so that's why I called you," Jack finished explaining to Elena's cell phone some several minutes later from the pay phone across the street from the museum. "I'm not going to mess with anything that looks like a bomb in a museum, but the police seem pretty concerned about it. The red and gold colors were a pretty obvious message to you; I took a close look and it looks like whoever did it was trying to copy the Scarab's markings directly. Honestly, I don't know why anyone would want to steal this painting in the first place."

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"It isn't just a message, Jack. It's a calling card. And it means one of two things. An 'old friend' wants me to know that she's back in business. Or a new player has taken up the mantle, and she's calling out her opposite number."

"The picture itself could be a red herring. Ms. Gill's art was mostly fueled by grief over losing her young daughter. She might have been a low-level medium of some sort, or the picture could be a red herring. The rumored psychic nature of the content might just be another way to bait me specifically. What's more important is that Ms. Gill was British, and my old foe was a disgruntled expatriate who specialized in stealing foreign treasures from American soil."

"Stay on the scene. I'll be right over. We'll use our individual talents to gain discreet access to the scene. I want to investigate this personally. And I have certain tools at my disposal that the crime scene technicians lack."

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The Scarab put up her psychic cloak, almost as an afterthought, and flew to the museum as fast as she could. She hovered past the guards and police and museum personnel, at last coming to the room that was now missing a Madge Gill original. She touched down onto the ground, and sent a quick telepathic message to Avenger. Keep an eye out. I'm going to see what there is to see.

She knelt down, closed her eyes, and concentrated as her forehead touched the floor. She tensed, then relaxed, attempting not to force her way into the past so much as to open herself up and let the past flow into her mind.

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The postcognition was... irritatingly and familiarly fuzzy in someplaces. Whoever this pretender was, they had Bombshell's frustrating knack of somehow seeming blurry to psychic senses.

What Scarab was able to tell for certain was that the individual that stole the pieces was very, very good. Presumabally a she, had slipped in sometime in the first morning rush and had ghosted in among the crowd and gone through once looking at the exhibits. The clothing she'd used was discarded in a vent in the women's restroom. Then she'd somehow managed to lift the pictures off the wall bold as brass tacks and slipped out the sky-light.

The tapes for the day were blank, much to the cops frustration and Scarab could tell that she'd slipped back in after the alarm had gone off and swapped the tapes in the chaos. Many people were probably going to lose their job over this incident. The Kirby museum prided itself on its security.

The one thing of great interest was in addtion to the three paintings that had been lifted, one small display with a necklace had also been tampered with. In this case a very good forgery was left in its place.

The 'bomb' was very obviously nothing more than a hollow paper-mache and paint piece. There was a very small fire cracker slipped in for the fuse but it had been left in place unlit by design, not by accident. It was much larger than the firecracker that was slipped into the top.

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Avenger kept an eye out, moving with effective invisibility to watch Scarab as she worked and to make sure no one else was coming. We need to find that bloody painting. I was here to verify its existence for some of my, uh, backers. He had a feeling Scarab would know what he had in mind about that. Not to steal it. Just to make sure it was in good hands. You said you knew this person? Anyone I'd have heard of?

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I doubt it. Natalya Browning, a.k.a., Bombshell. Former British spy turned cat burglar extraordinaire. The painting was foreign in origin, which fits her signature. But Browning was just let out after doing 30 years in prison. She's in her 90s by now. Unfortunately, if it is a pretender to the throne or a new protege, she has the same resistance to my psychic powers as her predecessor.

Make yourself scarce, Jack. I'll meet you outside in a few minutes.

The Scarab hovered a few inches above the ground. She floated out of the room and into the museum lobby, toward the greatest concentration of police and museum officials, and dropped her cloak. "I need to speak with the detective in charge of this investigation. I have information that may be of use."

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Scarab was quickly escorted up to a tired looking detective. He looked classic and hang-dogged but his gaze was keen under his furrowed brow. He was standing in front of the brightly colored 'bomb'. Like Scarab, he'd obviously decided that while it was evidence, it was not explosive.

"Scarab, I had a feeling you might be showing up," he turned to the hero with a curious and expectanct look. "My boys said you had information?"

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"It would be rude, not to show up to the party after having received such an elaborate invitation."

"This perpetrator possesses a resistance to my powers, but my investigations were not completely unsuccessful. She hid her disguise in the ventilation shaft of the womens restroom and exited through that skylight. You may be able to find valuable fingerprints or trace evidence at those locations. If you do get any good prints, I would recommend comparing them against Natalya Browning, unlikely as that may sound. She was released recently. This crime fits with her pattern. And the ability to cloud my senses is a rare one."

"And that," she said, pointing toward the counterfeit necklace, "is a forgery. Your suspect stole the original along with the paintings. If you give me your card, I will call you if I uncover any other leads. I hope you will extend me the same professional courtesy."

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"We'll check 'em for prints and trace but this is as clean a lift as I've seen. No fingerprints even on your 'invitation'. The firecracker's storebought. The 'bomb' is just hollow, paper and paint."

The detective pulled on a pair of gloves and removed the fuse, sticking it in an evidence bag, leaving the ball with a two inch opening which he shined a flashlight in before tipping it over. A blank piece of paper fluttered out coming unstuck from inside, white on both sides and slightly off color as if aged.

"I am getting too old for this riddler b.s. I'll let ya know if we turn anything up besides blank paper and halloween props."

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Jack did indeed make himself scarce, letting Scarab handle the chatter with the detectives. He took the opportunity to slip all the way away, in fact, and find one of his nearby spare costume stashes. In the space of a few seconds Jack Faretti had transformed himself into the grim, gritty vigilante of the night: Avenger! And with that he slipped his way back into the museum, moving invisibly to the eyes of the police officers there...and immediately realized he had very little to contribute to the conversation. Bombshell, eh? So does she do the reincarnation thing too? Or is she more like your buddy Ace?"

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As far as I am aware, Bombshell has no immortality or reincarnation powers to speak of. Just some low-level mutations that happened to stymie my particular talents.

The Scarab waved her hand toward the blank paper, and it floated into the air for a few seconds. "I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss this, Detective. The discoloration around the edges is consistent with age, but also with several different methods of what the layman would call 'invisible ink.' This document should be tested, rigorously." The paper dropped back down into the detective's gloved hands.

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The detective squinted at the paper for a moment before sniffing it cautiously. Clearly a student of the hard boiled pulp era rather than a forensics student.

"Smells like lemon. You might be right." Pulling a lighter out of his pocket, he gave a rueful shrug, "I been trying to quit."

With a quick pass over the flame, the delicate swirls of cursive appeared.

'If you've got the tendency towards coloring in the lines that your predecessor had, you'll be with the cops so you'll have to forgive the riddles. I'm not interested in having our first meeting surrounded by Freedom's finest.

There are seven pieces that belong to me, held in public or private collections now all over Freedom City. I'm going to retrieve them. If you can stop me, I'll consider them yours. Seven items, seven nights. Winner takes all.

Your predecessor would know what I'd start with, but I'll give you a clue.

'When is a raven like a writing desk?'

Ta!

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So what does that leave us with? asked Jack curiously. Bombshell II? If I guess if there can be a second Scarab, there can probably be a second Bombshell... Jack was a little doubtful about the whole thing, especially when the riddle was passed onto him. Isn't that from Lewis Carroll? Are there any Alice in Wonderland first editions up for sale or something?

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That leaves us with homework to do. I'm heading back to The Lair now. You're welcome to join me if you'd like. I can always use a research assistant. Avenger received a mental image of Elena winking, grinning, and playfully smacking his elbow.

The Scarab nodded to the hard-boiled detective. "I will be in touch." Then she disappeared from sight and thought.

The reference is Lewis Carroll, yes. But the passage is misquoted. I don't know what it means yet, aside from a reference to her first caper. But we'll figure it out.

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Scarab's psychic search turned up no one wearing a costume like Bombshells. The costume itself was on a manniquin inside Natalya Browning's empty and ransacked penthouse, in the center of what had once been an elegant living room. Memories of Scarab's past life supplied a room done in whites and golds with plush furnishings before it faded out to the grey and dust covered wreck of what it had been. In two of the empty squares on the wall, the asylum paintings hung but the masterpiece, the one Avenger needed to find was no where in the city.

There were fresh tracks in the dusty carpet and the costume was clean on the posed figure, complete with golden wig. In one hand the figure held a stop watch.

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"A stopwatch? She never stole a stopwatch...Oh no. Of course! She meant for me to find it! She knew how I'd come looking for her, and she left it as a message. Stopwatch...never a good sign."

The Scarab took to the air. Avenger heard her voice in his head, with an unusually harried tone to it. The transmitters here are almost impossible to trace. Turn on the scrambler and call in a bomb threat to this building. A picture, a map, and an address faded into Avenger's view. Hopefully the police will have the bystanders evacuated by the time I arrive. Just in case she really has upped the ante this time around. As soon as you've called it in, get up to the Plaza lobby and secure the vase. It's part of our history. She won't be able to pass it up.

As she frantically relayed instructions to her comrade, The Scarab flew out of her Lair and across the city as fast as she could, heading straight for the penthouse in her vision.

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Avenger moved fast, taking advantage of the fact that his breathing didn't change when he ran. A quick use of the scramblers told the police that there was a powerful bomb in the apartment Scarab had mentioned, his own ability to disguise his voice and the machines in the lair helping fool the authorities. He couldn't reach the surface by flying, so instead he simply ran; leaving the Lair and making his way to the vase Scarab had indicated at top speed. Maybe he was a little out of his depth, for all that he was still invisible in the crowd, but he was determined to do the right thing here.

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Avenger's hand closed on the vase at the same time a slender black gloved one closed on the other side of the rim. He got to stare into a wide pair of pretty blue eyes who seemed just as shocked to see him as he was to see her. Around them, people continued to mill unaware of the erupting fight in their midst. After a half second, the woman's eyes narrowed and she threw a mean right hook with her free hand while yanking the vase free with her other.

A small folded note came free from the bottom and floated to the ground in the midst of the scuffle over the vase. The woman in question was roughly five and half-feet tall and looked poured into the leather body suit that opened in a deep vee over her cleavage. Her blonde hair was loose down her back and fell over one eye. Her face was somewhat covered by a delicate domino mask but it more enhanced than concealed a heart-shaped face with wide blue eyes.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Scarab found herself breathless in an abandoned penthouse. There were small footprints back and forth in the carpet, and the first thing she noticed was the stop watch's cracked face. Well used to dealing with someone who has ESP, there was a note but it was folded up in an envelope and tucked under a book so that it would have to be opened manually and not have been obvious but for the small corner of paper between the books pages.

The note read: 'tick tick tick... did you really think I'd risk people who weren't already part of the game? 555-1010 XO - B

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Avenger jerked his head back as the lady's punch missed his face, struggling with her over the vase as best he could without breaking it. He gave her a menacing growl as they struggled, the look in the cold eyes behind his mask flat and dead. "Suggest you surrender now. Will be difficult to disable you without damaging the scenery."

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She met his eyes, looking wide and startled and downright delicate for a moment, capturing one full lip between her teeth. She looked down-right frightened of him. There may even have been tears. "Do you promise not to hurt me?"

Her voice was soft and husky as she dropped one shoulder in the beginning of a surrender, then as she felt his fingertips loosen, she twisted into a roll to pull the vase out of his fingers and cushioned it with her own body as she tucked and rolled away from him, coming up to her feet at the crowd's edge with a husky laugh. "Catch me if you can, hero."

And with that she was pelting away through the lobby and towards the front door.

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What was especially annoying about that little maneuver was that Avenger had been about to punch her in the face. He was an egalitarian that way. Teach me to get overconfident. He thought with irritation. He gave chase, plowing through the crowd like a battering ram to Bombshell's arrow. He dropped the banter now; though Jack might have enjoyed flirting with the sexy thief, Avenger didn't threaten. He promised, and punished. This time, he just grabbed her by the hair and pulled.

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She flew backwards with a gasp of shock more than pain, the vase shooting up to spin over and over in the air. Still on her back, Bombshell caught the delicate glass then, with wide eyes, rolled to the side to avoid being struck by the masked crime-fighter. She twisted her body, somehow coming to her feet and slipped the vase behind her back as she nimbly danced out of the way. She laughed, "Well you can tell it's a different era, I'll say. No one's chosen that method to stop me before. Something to think about."

Bombshell slid in again, this time leaving a lip-print as she pressed a kiss to the hockey-mask, "Time's up, luv. But, thank's for the dance."

And with that, to add insult to injury, she vanished in plain sight using one of his own tricks.

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