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Manic Pixie Dream Girls [IC]

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Night was falling, and Eric LaCroix was a busy man. The first of the evening crowds of Riverside were filing in to the Black Petal Cafe, seeking something to keep them up and alert for a night at The Midnight Hour. Normally, Eric would be out on patrol at this time, but Callie had called in sick at noon, so he was helping to cover the evening shift. It didn't really feel right, not being out on the streets at this time, but he figured he could use a night off from exploring dump sites and released murder scenes. Besides, he was getting a little extra cash.

"Were you a juggler in a past life?" said Mike as he watched Eric work the espresso machine. "I swear, if I get more than three orders on back-up, I need to take a second to breathe."

"It comes to you with time," said Eric as he started steaming the milk for a cappuccino. "You start to develop parallel thought processes. Makes processing everything a lot easier." Just like when you're fighting multiple opponents, he thought to himself.

The sudden blare of a car horn caused him to shake, disrupting the pitcher. He recovered, but as he blended the milk into the espresso and delivered the cup to the customer, the single blare was joined by a cacophony of honking.

"What the hell's going on out there?" asked Mark.

"I'll go check," Eric said after finishing his order. "Mind if I take my twenty?"

"Go ahead," Mark said. With that out of the way, Eric made his way out of the Cafe and to the mouth of the alley, where he saw what was causing the problem. A man was dancing about the wire-thin median strip on Brook St. and veering out into traffic, causing cars to veer wildly to avoid him.

That is most certainly not normal... The sound of murmuring drew him away from the spectacle. A crowd had gathered at the base of an Eastern Seaboard Bank building to watch a man in a business suit attempt to scale the side of the building with only his bare hands.

"July!" shouted the man climbing the bank's walls. "July, I love you!"

And neither is that... With a flash of will, a black shadow to Tartarus opened behind him, drawing him into the private chamber of Hades' abode where his costume lay. After a few seconds, Nick Cimitiere stepped out into the night, trying to stop things before someone got hurt.

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Lynn was running on little more than pastries, iced mochas and bride-to-be fever as she dragged poor Erik around half of Riverside in search of the perfect bridesmaid gifts. She never bothered to make fully clear why his input was needed, other than some flimsy excuse that he knew his sister's taste the best, though her Christmas gift showed she actually had fairly good instincts in this area. Sporting her usual jeans, hi-tops and Freedom College hoodie, she briefly released the elder Espadas' hand to run up to a small shop's display, eyes wide with wonder.

"Omigod, look at those boots!" She turned to face Erik, excitedly pointing at the coveted footwear. "Tell me your sister wouldn't look amazing in those!"

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"I'm... not really sure there's a correct response to that," Erik admitted in a voice that was mildly amused if a little weary. The young man sauntered after his petite friend with his hands in the pockets of his wool-lined jacket, a knapsack slung over one shoulder. He suspected Lynn had insisted he come along more to get him out of the brownstone apartment building and out of costume at the same time than for his supposed fashion insight, but he had to admit to himself that she had a point, and he appreciated the effort. He spent more time as Jack of all Blades than as Erik Espadas lately, and it wouldn't hurt to balance those two sides of himself a little better. Besides, it was pretty tough to stay annoyed in the face of Lynn's seemingly boundless energy and good cheer.

The sound of blaring horns and shouting drew their attention away from the window display to the nearby street. "Huh, looks like a job for et cetera, et cetera," he drawled, slinging the bag from his shoulder and nodding toward the alleyway next to the shop.

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Gabriel normally tried to stick to "his territory" in Southside, especially when the sun was going down. There was always plenty to do. But today, he'd had a strange combination of whim and gut instinct to widen his routes.

So it was that he ended up being nearby when the screaming and honking started. It didn't take him more than a couple of seconds to buzz over to the scene. His eyes narrowed.

'Gut instinct, or divine direction? Guess that's one reason I've got the job...'

In a blur, he was flying down to the man dancing in the middle of the street. He wasn't the strongest person in the city, but seeing an innocent in danger gave him a surge of strength. He flew down, grabbed the man in a bear hug, and had them over on the side of the road (and not so coincidentally, near the man climbing the wall) within a few seconds.

"Sorry sir, but you'll have to sit tight for a bit until you regain your senses."

With that, Gabriel sent a pulse of sonic energy into the man, locking up his whole body as he let him go and strode a few paces away, trying to get a better idea of what all might be going on.

That's when he noticed the man dancing on the ledge of another building. Uttering a curse under his breath, he flew towards the man, hoping to bring him to ground level (and perhaps immobilize him as well).

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Nick was glad to see Gabriel swooping down to grab the man out of traffic... and then his eyes tracked upwards to see a man dancing on a ledge across the street, singing some song he couldn't make out over the din of traffic.

Ah, Spring, he thought, when a young man's thoughts turn to suicide. Spectacular, romantic suicide. He walked out onto the sidewalk, towards the crowd gathered under the man trying to ascend the bank. So, what's doing this? Could be a succubus... always one of the old "lonely heart" ghosts... or maybe some nymph who doesn't really care about heartbreak...

He heard the crowd gasp around him. His head whipping upwards, he saw the young man was grasping on to his handhold with only one arm, desperately reaching for it with the other. "I'll get up there!" he cried, seemingly unconcerned with a messy end. "I'll shout for you from the rooftops! You'll see, July! You'll see --"

Suddenly, ectoplasmic arms erupted from the side of the building. The young man's hand slipped, but before he could fall, they grasped him tightly, hugging him against the wall. "Braver men have done stupider things in the name of love, my man," he cried up, "and died worse deaths. I recommend just sending flowers."

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"Huh, looks like a job for et cetera, et cetera,"

Lynn's ears perked up at the sound of the frightened crowd. "Oh crap! I'll meet you over there, bud!" With a sharp in-rush of air, the changeling shrank down to her tiny pixie form and zipped her way through the throng until she had sufficient altitude to see what exactly was going on. She caught sight of several men in various stages of 'about to die', and dove down to nearest one; grasping his jacket collar with her diminutive yet mighty arms, she lifted him clear of the ledge with a thrum of her small gossamer wings. Craning her neck, she yelled in his ear.

"So forgive my rudeness, but what the hell, dude! Are you that eager to die?"

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"Gotta learn that magic costume change thing..." Erik sighed as he ran into the empty alleyway and pulled a royal blue greatcoat from his bag with one smooth motion. Soon, the lithe form of Jack of all Blades was swinging into the air on his grappling line. While the buildings in this part of town weren't as tall, the acrobat's graceful, twisting movements quickly built up his momentum, sending him rocketing over the bus in a blur as he scooped up the man attempting to balance atop it. "Look, I know the public transit fees are crazy, but you're just gonna have to pay the fare like everybody else!"

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Gabriel's muscles were groaning in protest as he flew over and grabbed the man dancing on the ledge. Somehow, he kept a tight grasp on him, even as this man was also harmlessly paralyzed. It took him almost a minute to fly down and set the man next to the first person he'd rescued. He then walked over and took a few deep breaths, trying to catch his second wind. It was about that time he noticed the other heroes present, and gave them all a wave and a nod.

"Thanks for pitching in, everyone. I, whew, don't know if I could have gotten to all of them myself. Not in time, anyways."

A deep frown was upon his face.

"So what the heck's doing this?"

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"Hey, Gabriel," Nick called up as he guided the hands of ectoplasm, which were slowly passing the delirious man down to the sidewalk. "Don't know what it is just yet. Could be some wacky love spell. Could be pheromones. Could be drugs. Or it could be the suicide pact is the new hot way of saying, 'Sorry I forgot our anniversary.'"

The hands finally worked the struggling man down to the pavement, where they lay him down. The second he tried to make a run for it, however, they grabbed at him again. "No!" he cried. "No! Please, I've got to show her how much I love her!"

"Yes, I hear sidewalk diving is a much better romantic gesture than, say, chocolates," he said. He paused when he noticed something about the man; despite the fact that he'd just been freescaling a building, he didn't seem that flushed. He certainly did seem short of breath, however, and even as he struggled to break his spectral bonds, he seemed to sway and stumble within them.

"...he's anemic," he said. He looked across the street, to where Jack of All Blades was carrying another man off the roof of a bus, who also seemed to be struggling in the hero's arms. "Hey, Jack, good to see you again! Don't suppose your helpless romantic looks a bit pale and woozy?"

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Grim slowly lowered her captive down to street level, still holding on tightly to his collar; once his feet were on terra firma, she resumed her own size. She recognized Gabriel from a trip to prison several months ago, but the other hero was unfamiliar. She offered a casual wave with her free hand.

"Hey there Gabe, nice to see you again." Then her gaze fell on Nick. "You. I don't think I know." She extended her hand for a surprisingly firm handshake. "Grimalkin, pleased to meetcha." The changeling jerked a thumb in Jack's direction. "I'm in the Interceptors with Zorro here. So what're we thinkin', guys, mind control?"

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"Buddy, seriously, I will slap you," Jack was telling his passenger irritably as his arcing swing brought them both down to the ground near the other heroes. "So shut up a minute, alright? Hey Bones, Padre. Actually, yeah, now that you mention it, guy looks like he skipped the free juice and cookies after donating blood." Keeping a hand on the mumbling man's collar to keep him from stumbling off again, the swashbuckler took a look at the other lovesick victims. "Gotta theory?"

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"I have a couple, actually."

Gabriel had clearly caught his breath, and now started to pace back and forth, a frown on his face, hands clasped behind his back.

"First, the facts as far as we can tell. We have several men who speak of "loving" a women named July, Summer, and so on. Second, they appear to be stripped of their proper faculties, putting themselves in large amounts of danger. Third, they appear anemic...or perhaps just low on blood.

One possibility is vampires. That fits with the blood and the loopiness, at least. Another might be succubi. I've seen a couple work their wiles on mortals, so it's possible. Strong possibility of leanansidhe, especially with the names they're crying out. Though why they'd take blood..."

He shrugs.

"And I guess there's the Japanese yuki-onna, but...no one here has even a bit of frostbite. Unlikely."

He suddenly realized he'd given a mini-lecture on the subject, and gave an embarrassed cough.

"I, uh, kinda did some studying more recently. Kept fighting demons and the like, figured "knowing my enemy" a bit better might come in handy."

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"Hmm." Nick considered the man wrapped under hands of ectoplasm. "Well, if it's vampires, that would make sense. They sometimes hunt in packs, and they do have the mental whammies. Not sure why they'd send these guys off doing hideously stupid things, but the bite does weird things sometimes -- they could be experiencing withdrawal. Succubi... tend to hunt alone. Hell tends to have issues with teamwork. So could be there's one really busy succubi, or a bunch of them set aside their differences long enough to do... this."

He paused. "Now, leanansidhe... it's possible. Some fairies just don't care what happens once they've got what's theirs -- they could have just cut these guys loose while they were tripping on glamour and moonbeams." He looked down at his particular paramour. "I'm normally good at dealing with restless types, but this guy's got it bad. Gabe, I don't suppose you've got a way to calm him down so we can corroborate our theories?"

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When the various theories are suggested, Grim slowly shakes her head. "I bet you any money it's the fae; we all suck so much, only this time maybe literally." Stroking her chin, she considers her lovesick captive. "Well let's try fighting fire with fire, I guess."

She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and just let the glamour flow out of her body; the small brunette suddenly seemed to glow from within, and the rich smells of the forest, spring flowers and just a tantalizing hint of musk filled the nostrils of all present. Her eyes opened, deep brown portals like grottoes one would gladly loose oneself in. Her hair curled like vines, and when she spoke it was like a small gentle hand playfully running down the spine.

"Hello, friend! Stay awhile and talk with us! Tell us tales of love and passion, and young men driven mad by desire!"

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The man froze for a second, then relaxed, a warm smile spreading over his face. "You're like May," he said. "Have you ever met May? Thought it was a weird name for a girl for at first, but now I know it couldn't be anything else. She's like... sunlight, and roses, and all that greeting card stuff. Met her at the coffee shop when she was new in town; we got our drinks mixed up. Funny how something like that happens. She's a sculptor, or a found art expert, or something that requires petty theft. We went dancing in the park, broke into old warehouses, rode bikes down the Boardwalk at midday..." He sighed. "She's wonderful."

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Gabriel closed his eyes for several long moments with a sigh. He took a few moments to collect his thoughts, before stepping forward and speaking up.

"While that gets us some information, Grimalkin, perhaps a more calming touch will help?"

Gabriel turned to the man, a slight smile on his face, his whole manner screaming "relaxed, easygoing, and friendly". The fact that he was sending waves of calming sonic energy towards the man ought to help matters.

"Listen friend. You ought to take it easy for a few minutes. I know you're all hopped up on warm fuzzy feelings, but you look a bit pale there, buddy. We're getting some doctors out here to check you out, just in case. We'll let you out of those arms when they get here. But while we're waiting, you mind chatting a bit?"

He smiled a bit brighter at the man wrapped in ectoplasm.

"You get anything particularly interesting at the warehouse? Or were you guys just doing it for kicks? She say why she had to step away while you went bank climbing? I mean, I get trying to impress a lady, extreme as your idea may be. But she's nowhere around here, is she? Did she have an appointment or something?"

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The man calmed down immediately, and turned to Gabe. "No," he said, "there wasn't anything in the warehouse. We just broke in, did some graffiti, climbed around on the rafters. Did... other things." He blushed a little at that, then frowned. "She hasn't been returning my calls lately, though. She didn't come by the coffee shop, either. Her roommate always said she was at work. After a while, I just... wanted to do something desperate. Just to see if she'd notice."

"Well, that seems perfectly reasonable," Nick said. "Except for the parts where it isn't. Did this girl ever engage in anything... kinky? Drinking blood?"

"What? No!" He paused. "At least... I don't think so. There were some nights I'd wake up with pains in my neck and my thigh, but other than that, nothing. Why all these questions? She just... look, she helped me. Before I met her, I was stuck in an accounting job, focused on nothing but the next step up the pay grade. She... showed me there was a real joy in life. She helped me find myself. I... I love her for it."

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"So take up a pottery class," Jack grumbled as he narrowed his eyes at the amourous victim. It was faint, but the lingering traces of mental magics wafted about their new friend like cheap perfume tickling behind the metamagi's eyeballs. Pointedly not looking too closely at Grimalkin's glamour drenched form, he scratched the stubble on his chin thoughtfully. "Fae tend to be kinda flaky, but the warehouse thing still seems kinda random. This graffiti... what kind of stuff are we talking? Just words or symbols, sigils and so on?"

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"Just... some scribbles," the man said. "She told me to paint what I feel, and I just let the pen do the talking. Started with just lines, but it built up into landscapes, birds, finally murals. She took a turn, too; her stuff was a bit girly, but it had a real charm to it."

"Girly how?" asked Nick.

"Lisa Frank by way of Ren Faire. Castles, unicorns, banners, thorns... she really liked to add to my landscapes. Chalk drawing, stones, like she was on a real British kick."

"Or just reminiscing on home," Nick muttered. He looked to the lovestruck man. "I don't suppose there's any way we can take a look at this artwork? Did you remember the address?"

The man reddened a little. "Um... heh, heh... I don't think it's that important..."

He sighed. "Okay, what is it?"

"Well, uh... she kinda set up shop there. She liked the... conditions of the warehouse. Did I mention we were kind of... 'inspired' when we did this?"

"Inspired how -- oh. Ohhhhhh." Nick paused. "Listen. I won't tell if you won't. There are probably more important issues here than a little grass. Now. Where is the place?"

The man exhaled. "2162 Marsh Place. If you see her... she didn't do anything wrong, okay? She just... it's just her way of doing things."

"Yeah, I'm sure it is." Nick turned to the others. "So! Think we should go check out the hot box of the Fair Folk?"

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"While that gets us some information, Grimalkin, perhaps a more calming touch will help?"

The intolerably lovely Grim frowned and muttered to herself. "You guys said you wanted him calm...ah, forget it." Noticing the pointedly nonchalant look on Jack's face, she checked her reflection in a small conjured mirror. "Whoa, that's a bit of overkill; sorry, guys." She shook herself like a wet dog, and the exotic glamour floated away in tatters, leaving her merely gosh darn pretty. "There we go, a bit safer, eh?"

"Yeah, I'm sure it is." Nick turned to the others. "So! Think we should go check out the hot box of the Fair Folk?"

Crumpling the mirror into a ball of nothing, Grim nodded. "Yeah, sounds like it. Damn faeries are using the 'lovable screwball' routine to worm their way into these guys' hearts; that's low."

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Gabriel shook his head as the man talked of needing excitement in his life.

"There are other ways to get excitement in your life. Next time, look into paintball or something."

He regarded Grimalkin with a raised eyebrow.

"I suppose "overkill" covers it pretty well. The important thing is we found out information."

He frowned deeply as he spoke his next words.

"Yes, I'd very much like to speak with this mysterious Fae woman about why she's leaving innocent men so bamboozled they'll dance in traffic to impress her. "Low" doesn't quite cover it."

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"The nerve, stealing your shtick like that!" Jack raged with mock ferocity, shaking his fist and giving Grimalkin a teasing look. He stopped short of giving Gabriel a hard time about his reaction to Lynn's display; the fencer didn't see much difference between the pixie's glamour and the white-clad hero's sonic nudging, himself, but he didn't feel the need to argue the point just yet. "So..." he drawled innocently to Nick as they started off, "think this is like a sex magic thing? I'm asking for purely tactical reason, of course."

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"Could be, to be honest," Nick said as they walked on. "If we're dealing with leanansidhe, they've been known to use their beauty as a weapon. There's a reason their name translates roughly to 'fairy lover.' They've got the power to tap into a person's life -- through blood, sex, devotion, the ways vary -- and turn it into energy. They're said to prey on artists because the routes are more open, like well-traveled paths. But once they're in, they usually take a share for themselves."

The warehouse they'd been pointed to was, despite the description, rather solid. None of the windows were broken -- or if they had been, they'd obviously been replaced -- and the doors seemed to sit firmly on their hinges. A length of chain was wrapped around the front door, held in place by a sturdy padlock. Nick measured it in his hands. "Pretty damn thick," he said. "And I left my lockpicks at home. Anyone else know how to charm a lock?"

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"Hawt," Jack opined with an affected accent at Nick's explanation. As the group reached the warehouse and encountered the heavy lock, Jack stepped forward to get a closer look, tugging fussily at the hem of his greatcoat. "Huh. Brass. Figures. Well, clearly this is going to require delicacy. A subtle precision! Patience and restraint!" A tiny flame appeared in the fencer's left hand as he flipped his lighter between his fingers, the spark surging like a living serpent to his other hand even as he whipped in a diagonal slash with a sudden burst of speed. The padlock and chain clattered to the ground in several, red hot pieces, while Jack took a step back and gestured grandly. "Ladies first."

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"The nerve, stealing your shtick like that!"

Grim pursed her lips. "Hmm, guess I walked right into that one, huh? Well at least when I bamboozle a poor schmuck I have the decency to have feelings for him." She gave her teammate a playful wink. "Just don't tell Colt, alright?"

As Nick explained the leanansidhe's modus operandi, the changeling began to feel a little sick to her stomach; the thought of what she could do with her own powers if she entirely without morals chilled her to the bone.

"Ladies first."

The shapeshifter bowed in return and replied in her best Scarlet O'Hara, a hand on her modest chest. "Why thank you, kind suh; it's nice to see there are still a few gentleman up North." As she crept forward, she began to fade from sight until only her voice hung in the air like a mere gust of wind, and the door seemed to open by itself. "They might still be able to see me, but I figure it's worth a shot." Her keen senses on alert, she took a soundless step inside.

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