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Electra

Picking up the Trash (IC)

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Stesha was far from home tonight, working in a new neighborhood, but it didn't bother her much. She was enjoying cleaning the weeds out of overgrown parks, adding flowers and generally nicening the place up. The parks here weren't generally dirty, they just hadn't gotten much attention beyond trash pickup in awhile. That just made it more fun to go through and really change it all up a little bit. She made a note to herself to put more grass seed in her bag for the next night, because it was almost all gone. She'd probably have been better off not doing the street edgings as well as she went by, but they looked so much nicer when they were all green.

She'd finished two parks and was just about to pack it in for the evening when she heard a weird noise coming from just around the fence she'd covered with ivy. It didn't really sound like a person, almost like an animal. But a big animal! Concerned, Stesha reached out and looked through the plants, and saw a strange black form! It took her a moment to place it. It was an imp, as Taylor had called it, one of those weird little creatures that had appeared in the shop the other day. They were bad news. Right now it seemed to be investigating the ivy, almost as though it could smell something weird about it.

Well, she couldn't just leave it out here, who knew what it would get up to? Stesha withdrew from the plants and extended a flower right over the imp's head. It grew for a moment, then exploded in a shower of pollen!

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The imp looked up in surprise, caught full in the face by the burst of pollen. Stesha sighed with relief, but the thing just coughed and spat, then looked directly at her! It began swarming up the fence, its intent obvious.

"Oh crap..." Stesha muttered. That really hadn't worked as well as she'd hoped. Maybe it was pollen that only put her to sleep. She sent a runner of ivy lashing out, trying to catch the creature before it made it to the top of the fence and over. If that didn't work... well, she wasn't sure what she was going to do.

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Just as the imp reached the top of the fence, the lasso of ivy caught it around the middle, wrapping around it like a leafy python. It made a raspy yelping noise and began to struggle, but Stesha was already on the move. She tossed a tulip seed onto the ground at the bottom of the fence. "Grow, grow, grow," she muttered, waving a hand at it. It sprang from the ground and grew, opening a beautiful orange and yellow blossom, and then kept growing.

It grew to Stesha's waist, then almost to her head, the petals cup now more than a foot deep. The flower grew up right around the packaged monster, and suddenly closed, like a cloth purse pulled by a drawstring. There was a quick gulping noise, and then the flower opened again, empty. Down in the stem, right near the leaf cup, an imp-sized bulge was just visible. Stesha quickly pulled out her phone, frantically thumbing through her directory. She punched the button for the one person who would know how to deal with this. "Taylor? It's Stesha, from the flower shop. I've got a problem."

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Taylor was actually at her apartment for once, just getting out of the shower when her phone rang. Ducking out from the tiny tub, she thumped her shin against the toilet bowl on the way out. Hissing curses in a smattering of languages, she half ran and half hopped to the phone as she grabbed her towel. It was times like this she was grateful that she lived alone. Well, times like this, and times like earlier when she'd had to teleport out of the apartment to deal with an outraged smog-elemental. Taylor wasn't sure that she'd ever get the smell out of her hair but half a bottle of shampoo later and she'd managed.

Wrapping the towel around, she grabbed the phone and flipped it open. "I'm here.."

It wasn't the warmest of greetings as her voice cracked through the phone, but only super-heroes had her cell phone number and she was used to it being bad news. Hearing Stesha's voice on the other end of the phone, her tone gentled and Stesha was treated to Taylor's normal voice rather than Phantom's 'cower before me' boom, "What sort of problem and where do you want me to meet you?"

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"I'm at Lincoln Street Park, down on the South Side," Stesha replied. Now that the danger was over, she decided it was a really good time to sit down. She slid down the fence to sit on the grass, ignoring the small struggles from the plant beside her. "I think I caught one of those imp things you blew up in the store the other day. But I don't know what to do with it now. I can't take it to the police, and it'll bite me if I let it go... you said they were bad, so I didn't think I should just let it run around."

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Lincoln Street Park. Lincoln Street Park... Taylor focused for a few seconds to fix the location in her head. "I'll be right-"

"-There." The sentance finished in stereo for Stesha as Phantom appeared not five feet from her. The figure before Stesha was covered from head to foot in a billowing cloak that snapped and crackled out of synch with the soft breeze. Under it, the woman was clad in a black leotard and leather boots and gloves. Her face was hidden behind a full facemask. Seeing no threat, Taylor went solid, and her booted feet touched on the ground.

She gave the area a sweeping glance before settling on Stesha. She walked over and knelt down, looking concerned behind the concealing cloth, "Are you hurt?"

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Stesha jumped about a foot at the sudden appearance of the cape-wrapped figure, staring until it dissolved into the much more familiar form of Taylor. She wondered where everyone was getting these wild costumes from. Maybe she should ask... but later. "I'm okay," she told Taylor, "I surprised it while it was looking at the work I'd been doing. It tried to attack me, but I managed to catch it." She gestured to the sapling-sized, bulge-stemmed tulip. "You're the only person I know who knows about these things. Sorry to call you so late, but I sort of didn't want to leave it go till morning."

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"No, you did the right thing." Taylor said firmly. "Actually, if its the kind that have been causing me problems, I'll be downright grateful. I keep turning them into clouds of smoke. Not so useful for the questioning."

That was most frustrating. Taylor had discovered that a year or two of training to blast something in the first place was very difficult to unlearn. How difficult to unlearn? Eight imps and counting. She glanced over the squirming plant with an expression of what could only be called grim satisfaction under the brim of her hat. The day was certainly looking up.

"Can we take a look at it, or would you rather I just take it in the plant?"

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"I don't know if we can get a good look at it here," she admitted. "It's too dark, and the imp is all black and wrapped up in about three yards of ivy. But I can make it go pretty much anywhere. The flower just gets really small and disappears, but I can make the thing inside come out of any other plant big enough. I don't know how it works." She shrugged. "It's magic." That was an answer she'd been accepting for more and more things lately, really. "Do you know a place we can go with it?"

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"I have a friend that I can take it to if I can't get some answers out of it, but I don't want it to get away." She looked around consideringly, "What about deep in one of the less popular parks. Somewhere there's also a light?"

She reached up to touch her amulet once more and her costume replaced her civilian outfit. Privately, Taylor wished the spell also came with a 'hair drying' option as she felt her wet hair bound up against her skull under the hood. Ah, well.

Once within her costume once more, Phantom reached in her cloak and pulled out what looked like a rather battered map of Freedom City and pointed to one of the parks on it, "What about here?"

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"You want another park?" Stesha asked, a little surprised. "Okay, but not there. That's all open space and trees. He might get away, and you'd have to poof him. Here." She pointed to another spot, a smaller park. "This is actually an old old graveyard that got swallowed by a park. It's got a little fence around it, and some streetlights close by. I put flowers all over it the other night." She waved at the giant tulip, which sank into the ground as though it had been swallowed up in its turn. "You want to steer, or should I?"

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"Its your park," Phantom said with what could have been a smile under her hood, offering her gloved hand, "I have a feeling your travel is a good deal gentler than mine."

She braced herself for the usual wrench-pop of dislocating from one area to another, pleasantly surprised that she was correct and Stesha's teleporting was much less disorienting than the void. Warm and sunny mostly... although the fresh grass smell she could do without, it was really quite pleasant. She waited with a calm stillness for the transport to be over and once it was flickered insubstantial for a moment before she shook herself and solidified once more.

"Sorry," she appologized as she'd almost ghosted through Stesha. "Bad habit."

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They popped out of an elm tree on the edge of a very old graveyard that was totally blanketed with flowers. "It seemed so sad," Stesha murmured, after dodging Taylor's near-miss. "The stones are all so old, nobody was decorating them anymore. So I did. Don't worry about where you step, I'll fix it up before we go." She stepped into the mass of flowers, over to where moonlight and streetlight were combining to make one bright patch of ground. Bending over, she touched one of the tulips growing there, which soon ballooned into the same sort of giant flower, complete with the bulge in the stem.

"Ready?" she asked, even as she plucked a bit of creeper from the fence and grew it into a rope between her hands. At Phantom's indication, she nodded to the flower, which bent over and seemed to vomit its captive out onto the ground. She immediately tossed the new vine over it, wrapping it again preemptively.

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Taylor had to shake herself completely into the mind-set of her alter-ego. It was harder than she thought, having parts of her life that crossed the divide and she squared her shoulders under the cape hoping that after seeing her in action, she could still count Stesha among her very small group of friends. Summoning her protection she cast a spell that would allow them both to understand the creatures...speech such as it was, she glided forward and grabbed it by its scrawny neck.

"Tell me who you work for!" It was a demand, not a question, and her voice boomed over the stillness of the graveyard. Underneath the cloak that seemed to move in direct violation of the wind patterns, lighting cracked across a field of night as if to punctuate her insistant words.

The creature in her gloved hand tried to bury black fangs in her hand but her grip on its throat was firm and Stesha's vine kept it lashed in place. It was warty and black. The skin looked almost slick to the touch and it had thick leathery wings that struggled against the vine around its body. All in all it was a hideous little beastie.

"Tell me!" Phantom demanded again, her teeth gritted and she gave it a little shake before it croaked, "Maaa...ster. Master!"

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Stesha jumped at the abrupt change in her colleague's voice and demeanor, not to mention the special effects going on under the cloak. She was beginning to suspect that it was not a costume that could be purchased, even at a specialty shop. She took a couple of steps back to let Phantom do her work, though she couldn't help but feel the teeniest bit sorry for the pathetic little creature, even if it had tried to attack her earlier. The thought crossed her mind that she was much happier to be watching from this half of the interrogation. If she'd been stuck in that implacable grip, she'd probably have spilled any knowledge in a heartbeat.

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Phantom's expression was carved from stone and lit from her whitely glowing eyes, as she tightened her fist around the imp's neck and shook the creature again. It scrabbled for freedom, snapping and growling at the hands that held it. Scowling, Phantom gave it another shot but she was starting to doubt the mental capacity of its ability to even give answers. She hissed in a voice almost as inhuman as the creature, her voice echoing hollowly in the graveyard, "What where you doing? Why are you here?"

It struggled for a few mome moments before sagging in her grip, "Ssssspying. Masster sssaid follow. Sssaid watch. Watch you. Where went. What did. Ssssaid watch."

This was directed almost defiantly at Phantom who released the imp with a disgusted twist of her lips. Without another word, she glided close enough that the edges of her cloak were close enough to brush the imp before it vanished with a last crackle of power into the inky blackness within. She remained looking down at the vine for another long moment before she turned to face Stesha, almost reluctantly. Phantom left the hood and mask up when she turned her attention back to Stesha, counting on the coverage to sheild her expression at any look of shock or horror on the other woman's face.

"There's a telepath among the Knights. I'll take the imp to her. She might get more from it than I was able to."

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Stesha's eyes were wide as she watched the whole thing, but when Phantom turned to her, she saw Stesha with her head craned sideways, obviously trying to get a look inside the cloak. When she noticed Taylor looking, she straightened up with a sheepish little grin. "I was going to ask you where you got your costume from earlier, but I somehow don't think that's a costume shop standard model. And remind me never to get in an argument with you! Where did he go?"

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Relieved that Stesha wasn't freaking out, Phantom glanced left and right and then lowered her voice, "Don't tell anyone, but, its one of the things that came with the whole 'great power' bit. I've tried and tried to get it to include pants but all I get is leotard, gloves, thighboots. I don't know why that's the uniform. It just is. It's fortunate cold weather doesn't affect me anymore because this is all I have to work with. Thankfully, the cloak conceals pretty much everything."

She gestured down and opened the cloak to demonstrate before she let it fall down once more in concealing robes as she tried to figure out the next answer to Stesha's questions, "Well, I'm out of synch with every dimension, the cloak's just a manifestation of my power. I put him in a fold. A little pocket between dimensions. It's handy. I've fit a car in there before, once."

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"Mmm, I don't think I could pull off the leotard look," Stesha said, a smile tugging at her lips. "But the cape and mask is very impressive. I'd probably tell you anything you wanted to know. Can I go with you?" she asked suddenly. "I know it's not really any of my business, but if he was spying on me because you and I had a meeting together, I'd kind of like to know."

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Taylor hesitated and she reached up to push her hood off and pull her mask down, looking much more like the woman that Stesha had met - minus the glowing eyes of course. It allowed Stesha to see the thoughts flickering accross Taylor's face as she spoke slowly, "I'm happy to have you along, Stesha, but I'll have to check if its alright with the Scarab. We'll probably have to use one of her holding cells, but I'll ask. If she's not willing to allow it - which I doubt she'll care over much - I'll tell you everything we learn."

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Stesha nodded at that, impressed at the caliber of heroes that her hero friends associated with. "The Scarab, wow. I thought he was a guy, though. But he died, that's right, so this is a new one. Well, if I could come along, that would be great." She flapped a hand at the giant tulip, shrinking it back to its old tulipy size. "My hero name is Fleur de Joie, by the way," she added a little belatedly. "I'm sure she's probably never heard of me, but I have to at least use it sometimes," Stesha said with a self-deprecating grin.

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"I'll see what she says. A brief word of warning, however, you might end up with her talking in your head. Its certainly more efficient but occasionally startling." Phantom warned her as she replaced the mask. She had to dig around for half a second in her cloak for the cell phone she'd stored earlier. After checking that there were no messages, she flipped it open and placed a call to Scarab.

"It's Phantom. I need your help."

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"It's Phantom. I need your help."

Phantom's telephone signal beamed over to the nearest cell tower, shot up into space, bounced off a few satellites (mostly without the knowledge of their legitimate owners), which scrambled its contents almost beyond recognition, and fell back down to Earth at the command console of The Scarab's Lair. As with all correspondence to and from The Lair, tracing or decoding the message would have been next to impossible. "Phantom, this is The Scarab. I am happy to provide whatever aid you require. Meet me in the command center down in The Lair."

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"I have a friend that I'd like to bring with me. She was assaulted and I believe it might have been my fault" There was a dry self depricating humor as she added, "Fortunately, she managed to capture one of the blasted things. Fluer. She's known to some of the Knights. Do I have your permission?"

Her smile flickered quickly under the hood of her cowl. After working alone, it was rather nice to have friends to count on.

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"Yes, go ahead and bring her in. If you use your customary method of transit, it will not reveal the location of our base. And if she turns out to be...untrustworthy, that can be dealt with. But I doubt you would ask to bring her here if she was not. We can place your suspect in one of the holding cells for the time being."

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