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Monday, June 4th

6:16 PM

Eric LaCroix had just gotten off his shift at the Black Petal, and was enjoying the time before his night job began. Usually he'd go right back to his apartment, bolt down a sandwich or something pre-made from Trader Joe's, then get on the makeup as soon as twilight hit and head out to Lantern Hill. But one of the things about getting closer to the Summer Solstice was that twilight got later and later, which gave him a bit more downtime. So, with some cash from tips in his pocket and not much else to do, he decided to head over to Pyramid Plaza.

For a resident of Freedom, Eric never really got much chance to check out the landmark plaza. Sure, there had been the luncheon for various practitioners that had been thrown soon after he'd settled down in the city, but his day job usually kept him around Riverside and his night work didn't often take him to places so peaceful and well-maintained. As he walked away from the food court, a pulled pork sandwich in his hand, he took the time to take advantage of the rare peaceful hubbub.

It said a lot that the chorus of screams sounded more familiar. Setting the pulled pork sandwich aside, he found a place in the shadows to duck away to the back corner of Hades' demesne where he kept his work gear. Within a few seconds, Nick Cimitiere was back out in the world of the living, scanning the street for the source of panic. He found it across the street, as dozens of people were running out of an apartment building that looked like a fortress carved from marble. He thought about stopping to ask someone about what was going on, but figured a skull-faced man stopping them in a time of crisis would not help anyone. So he danced around the crowd, pushing his way into the building and towards the horror within.

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"Outrageous!" Kimber Storm exclaimed enthusiastically, flitting about a few steps in one direction then another as she attempted to take in as much of Pyramid Plaza as quickly as she possibly could. The teenage ghost had reached her absolute limit for boredom staying cooped up night after night in the Claremont Academy dorm room she shared with Indira Singh while the more meat-comprised students slept. With the sun down, she was actually able to walk about the people of Freedom, presenting herself convincingly as an ordinary girl and with so much to see in the city just beyond the school's walls, bending the curfew rules had seemed not only acceptable but a moral imperative! It hadn't taken much at all to convince Indira to come along and between invisibility, intangibility, shapeshifting and stealth training it hadn't taken much to slip out undetected, either.

The famous plaza had been the first stop Kimber had insisted on and so far it seemed to be living up to the enthusiastic poltergeist's expectations. She alternated between pointing out every little thing she spotted to her roommate and being distracted by some other curiosity. Scrunchie fastened sideways ponytail bouncing about her shoulders, it was all she could do to keep her feet rooted to the ground. When the screaming began, however, her attention focused entirely on the panicking crowd fleeing from the nearby apartments. "Yikes! What's going on over there? Let's check it out!"

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Not that she was too likely to admit it, but Indira was usually more than happy to sneak off of campus - partly because it was a relatively harmless way to do something she wasn't supposed to do, but mostly because there was only so much she could do at Claremont before going completely stir-crazy. She needed to be doing things - she needed to be exploring, or running, or stalking. Too many hours in a small room (even in good company) and she was literally climbing the walls.

Kimber's enthusiasm was nothing if not infectious, and she was all smiles as her friend (figuratively) pulled her around the Plaza to see the sights and smell the smells. Screaming stole the smile from her face, though, and as soon as it started her head snapped around in a way that probably would have hurt if she'd had a proper spine. "Yes, I think that we should," she replied, eyes shifting to pure black and then back again between blinks. "Though it may be best if we change first."

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Nick managed to swim against the human current and push his way into the lobby of the apartment building. The place was a wonder of faux-Art Deco, a call back to the glory of the Thirties. Plush red leather couches against black marble plinths, and a grand brass grate over a wide, sweeping fireplace at the rear. There was even an old-fashioned elevator at the back, complete with iron lattice over the door. This was a place for money, and people who were willing to pay a lot for a taste of the past.

And it was much more occupied than Nick expected. Only none of the occupants were flesh and blood. Half a dozen statues stood or sat in the lobby, resting on the red leather or at the front desk. Some seemed relaxed and natural, others tensed up as if waiting to pounce. And on more than a few faces, Nick saw an expression of fear.

Either this is one hell of a performance art piece, or --

He got his answer immediately as a loud hiss rose from the other end of the lobby. Immediately, he wrenched his eyes closed, not daring to make contact with whatever might be there. No sound of footsteps, so odds were none of the Gorgons had decided to make their presence known in Freedom... but the slow coil of flesh across marble told him that Medusa might be pleasant compared. After all, you could reason with her.

Great. A basilisk. And me without a rooster...

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Trying to keep track of everything in the lobby was a hell of a thing with your eyes closed - and that was before Nick took into account the gigantic, poisonous snake with a petrifying gaze slithering about. He could hear it pushing forward, sliding over marble and leather. The hissing was growing louder, and he could feel the thing rearing up. He raised his arms in defense, trying to do the best he could.

The fangs went right through the sleeve of his jacket, but fortunately, they'd taken the brunt of the assault. The bite didn't even break skin - and Nick sighed in relief, given the tales about basilisk venom. But he couldn't allow himself a moment to relax. The second he felt the fangs slide free, he swept his hand out, ravaging claws rapidly forming from pooled ectoplasm. He hoped to snag the claws on scale or fang or something --

-- but the basilisk was quicker than its bulk indicated, already withdrawing from the necromancer and waiting for the next move. And that is how Ghost Girl and Wraith found him as they entered the lobby - with his eyes closed, desperately seeking a giant snake.

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Having stopped only long enough to find a quiet place to shift out of her human guise, Wraith entered the lobby just in time to see a man with a face like a skull fighting hand-to-hand with a giant, ferocious, unreasonably strong-looking snake-like creature that was apparently hell-bent on causing as much mayhem as possible.

Finally, finally something on Earth made sense. Except for the skull-faced man - that was just weird.

She almost laughed as she launched herself across the lobby, hands reforming just in time to give the creature a friendly tap...that is, to have two giant hammer heads on clearly boneless limbs swing straight into its body. "I do not mean to assume too much," she politely noted, sparing a glance at Nick from the corner of one of her three solid black eyes, "but your fight would likely go much better if you kept your eyes open so you could see your enemy. Are they injured?"

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Having flickered into her heroic persona as quickly as Indira had melted into her natural form, Kimber was just behind her friend, floating through the air with her tattered reaper's cloak flapping in a breeze that technically passed right through her unhindered. "Woah, freaky snake-critter-thing!" she observed perceptively before spotting the hero already on the scene and brightening as she clapped her hands together.

"Hey, it's Nick! Hi, Nick! Wow, you're totally awesome at tracking bad guys down, eh? We just happened to be nearby, but I'll bet you were all doing detective stuff and everything! Oh, this is Wraith, by the way! Sorry, being totally rude!" She turned back to her roommate and indicated the skull-faced necromancer enthusiastically. "This is Nick! You'll like him for sure, he's all about finding bad ghost and sending them to the afterlife and stuff like that." She wasn't entirely up on all the details but that sounded like something of which Indira's goddess would approve. "Say, why're you covering your eyes, anyway?"

Finally remembering why they were there, she blurted, "...oh, right! Monster!" Swooping down she delivered a haymaker of a punch to the snake creature that naturally passed right through it's scaly hide and sent her into a bit of an uncontrolled spin. In the process, however, her unliving chill sapped a bit of the powerful beast's strength, slowing its movements.

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"Good to see you about, Ghost Girl," Nick said. "And the monster in question is a basilisk. Its gaze can be a lot more dangerous than its bite, as I'm sure any of these fine people could tell you. That is, if they weren't petrified. Kinda curious how your friend can take it head on --"

He chanced opening his eyes, and caught a girl made of flowing metal pounding the stuffing out of the basilisk. "Ah. That would explain it." The basilisk hissed in Wraith's face, flecks of venom flying harmlessly over her metallic form, and attempted to gaze deep into her eyes. Wraith felt something like sunlight passing over steel, but nothing more. "And while I'm at it..."

Nick dove forward, claws outstretched, reaching for the back of the basilisk. As he did, however, Wraith delivered another uppercut, sending the giant snake's coils tumbling out of his path. As it brushed by his head, he shut his eyes once more, waiting for another chance to strike without risking some time as a lawn ornament.

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"Hm!" Wraith thrust her face closer to her enemy, giving it the evil eye right back - and she had more eyes to stare with. Whatever this neat 'basilisk' thing did to turn people to stone, it clearly didn't work on her, and she had sincere doubt that venom would either. She'd just have to watch out for those teeth....

She was a little conflicted, though, her sense of joy at finding out where the Earthlings had hidden the fun animals deflating. "I was not aware that those were not simply statues," the metal heroine admitted, flowing around the basilisk to deliver a series of strikes that were clearly intended to harry more than hurt, trying to turn its attention away from her incorporeal roommate. "That does rather take the fun out of things."

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"Ohmigoodness, it turns people into statues? But then-- oh. Oh, so we're not people. Well, that's just discriminatory, is what that is," Ghost Girl opined huffily as she caught up to speed with the creature's ability and its relative ineffectiveness against either herself or her roommate. As Wraith kept the beast distracted, the phantom's eyes lit up in understanding, recognizing the opening the alien huntress was creating for her. Rolling up one sleeve of her cloak purposefully, she dove down through the air and plunged her arm into the back of the basilisk's head, rummaging around as her undead presence drained the strength right out of the creature's muscles with a terrible chilling sensation. "That oughta take some of the fight out of him!"

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The basilisk swayed on its feet, obviously enervated by Kimber's touch. That still didn't stop it from diving at Nick, attempting to headbutt him to the ground. The change of tactics from just trying to bite him definitely caught him off guard, and the basilisk almost succeeded in knocking him down - though he managed to gain his footing at the last minute, none the worse for wear. "Not about people," he said, "about flesh. You're ectoplasm, and your friend is... I'm guessing that's metal." He took a wild swing at the basilisk, but the blow had knocked him off his game enough that it went wide once more. "Means you guys have a distinct advantage, while I'm trying very, very hard not to make eye contact here."

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"I believe that flesh is overrated," Wraith sagely noted, ducking around behind the basilisk as her hammers disappeared and her body sprouted a rather impressive number of long, boneless arms. Everywhere the basilisk could possibly turn there was just another flexible metal limb, and by the end of it the thing's body was criss-crossed in thick lines of silver that all came back to a body fighting to use its two clawed feet to stay put. "I do not believe I have seen creatures that can turn flesh into stone - is it magic?"

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"Probably!" Ghost Girl chirped cheerfully in response to Wraith's question, circling around the pinned beast in a wide arc. "Sounds like magic, don't you think? I guess it could be like a mutant-- ooh, or an alien! But Nick mostly fixes magic stuff, so there you go, eh?" Coming around the basilisk's head, the phantom placed both fists on her hips and leaned forward to glare directly into the creature's deadly eyes. "Either way, you should be ashamed of yourself, mister! Going around scaring people, turning them into statues and everything! I know you're probably scared of the big crowd but that's just no excuse!"

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"Yeah, it's magic," Nick said. "It's one of those things that no one's really been able to pin down. Some say it's one of Typhon's lost kids --"

As he rambled, Nick lost his concentration for one second, and ended up meeting the eyes of the basilisk. He tried to seal his eyes shut, but he could already feel something taking hold deep in his body. It was like he'd been plunged into ice water then rolled around in wet cement. His muscles strained, trying to fight off the desire to seize up and calcify. After a few terrible seconds, the strange sensation went away, and he was back on his feet.

"Huh." He took another swing, but his muscles had gotten one hell of a taxation from resisting the stare. The basilisk easily dodged the idle swat. "Guess it doesn't come quite as advertised."

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Wraith wasn't really in a position to do anything fancy at the moment, but neither did she feel comfortable letting the thing go after Nick's apparent near-miss with the creature's eyes; even with the basilisk not concentrating on struggling free, she didn't want to risk letting go long enough to try to cover its head.

Instead she put the squeeze on it, tightening her many metal limbs. "Do we kill it?" she asked, glancing at Nick. "I do not want to risk lethal force if it needs to be alive for us to save the others. Nor would I want to kill it if it is intelligent, or too rare - it would be a great shame to remove one of the only good creatures around."

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"She gets kinda bored with animals that aren't like van-sized jaguar slash stag beetle monsters with a bazillion acid dripping pincer arms and all," Ghost Girl supplied for Nick in a lowered, confidential tone, nodding along as though to indicate that it seemed to her to be a very endearing quirk. Flying back around, she stuck her arm right through the basilisk's face up to her elbow, giving the creature a disapproving look as she rooted about. "Well we're not gonna kill it! It's not a bad basilisk, it just made some bad choices! But we should probably knock it out a bit, right?"

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"No, we don't need to kill it," Nick said. "These things are plenty rare. Reason they're known as 'creatures of myth.' But..." He drove his ectoplasm-gloved fist right into the basilisk's jaw in a powerful uppercut, sending its head bucking up against Wraith's enveloping form. The head lolled, the eyes spinning in their sockets - Nick closed his eyes just in case - before finally closing, the giant snake going entirely limp. "...it definitely needs to be taken care of. Now, question is, who's gonna take care of it? Animal Control's a bit outmatched here... wait, I've got it. Wraith, drop the snake."

As Wraith let go of the basilisk, Nick spread his hands. The shadows of the lobby grew darker and stretched out towards the serpent, dragging it down into them. "There. The place of shadows should hold it until it comes to. And before it does, we can drop it off with someone more suited to keep it." He looked around the lobby, to the petrified residents. "Hmm... this might be more of a problem. One sec..." Nick pulled out his cell phone and dialed a number.


"Hey, Adrian. There was an... incident... with a basilisk in City Center."

"A basilisk? I can... safely say that's a new one. At least, in Freedom City. How many petrified?"

"Six. That we know of. Anything we need to do?"

"It should right itself soon enough. The basilisk's petrification abilities are more about subduing prey than slaying it. Their venom's a potent enough necrotizing agent that it can dissolve stone."

Nick looked at the sleeve of his jacket and was remarkably glad that he hadn't gotten to find that out. "All right. Guess that just leaves the matter of where it came from. I mean, I don't suppose basilisks are native fauna in New Jersey..."

As Nick said that, Wraith realized that the odor of the snake stood out immensely in the lobby. It wafted in from the general direction of the elevators. If she could track it, she might be able to find where the serpent came from...

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Wraith blinked, her three black eyes focusing on nothing for a bit as she...well, it wasn't sniffing, exactly, what with the complete lack of a nose, but some other sense had clearly gotten her attention now that the fight was over. It was kind of all over the lobby now, and all over HER, which meant she could probably....

She dropped to the floor, arms becoming legs and legs gaining an extra joint as her body sprouted a thick tail and her neck grew a mane-like series of short, thin tendrils that waved in the air like they were tasting it. She shuffled back and forth for a moment before loping toward the elevator, head low to the ground. "Ah - I believe I can answer that last question, at the very least. The basilisk either took the elevator or climbed the shaft - I can very likely follow its trail back. The scent is...very distinctive."

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Nick looked over to the elevator, then up to the ceiling. "Guess we're going for a ride, then," he said.

The elevator proceeded upwards towards the penthouse - at least, it did after Nick politely talked it into doing so with the voice of all rust. I need to send Hecate a fruit basket for teaching me that one, he thought as he took a flanking position. If the penthouse had been storing a basilisk, then who knew what else might be up there? The doors clicked open, and Nick spun out -

- to find nothing too obviously dangerous. Instead, he got a view of Pyramid Plaza catching the last rays of sunset, a furniture set that looked like it would cost him five years' salary, and a rough and blocky statue standing incongruously in the middle of it all. Upon stepping closer, he realized that it had the shape of a woman, her mouth caught in a silent scream.

"Looks like we found the tenant," he said. "And it looks like she got a good look. Wonder where the snake came from..."

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Rather than hope the scent would lead her anywhere immediately interesting, Wraith set out to check the room...by climbing along the walls, her four legs apparently not finding the task any more difficult than going across the floor. It was admittedly mostly to keep her from disturbing too much of the room (as opposed to its occupants), but the unusual vantage point did turn up something interesting.

She disappeared behind a curtain for a moment before pulling it aside to reveal a door, and through the door...mirrors? "There is a cage here that might serve to hold a creature whose sight petrifies," she reported, glancing back out through the doorway. "There is also...an egg, I believe. But I am not sure if it is a basilisk egg or some other type; I am not familiar enough with the species."

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Ghost Girl was a little too impatient to wait for the elevator to make its way upward, flickering out of sight and passing invisibly up through the ceilings and floors of the building. She was, at least, careful enough to wait for Nick exit and follow the more experienced hero's lead, continuing into the room before reappearing as if suddenly moving into the others' peripheral vision despite being right in front of them. She let out a whistle as she floated about the apartment. "Wow, this is all pretty swank--yee!" She cut the thought short as she came face to face with the petrified woman, flinching in surprise and backing away slowly. "Sh-she is going to turn back, right?" she asked Nick nervously, heading over to the doorway Wraith had uncovered with a quick glance over her shoulder at the statue.

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"She should," said Nick. "Eldrich told me the petrification thing is just to subdue prey. It's a powerful enchantment, but a lot of that power's wrapped up in the sheer effect. Without something to sustain it, it usually fades within an hour. I can probably crack it, if need be, but everyone should be back to normal before the night's out."

At Wraith's word, he made his way to the private chamber, his eyes first drawn to the myriad occult knick-knacks across the walls. "It looks like the Bennigan's in Hell," he said, his eyes drifting from grimoire pages to rune-inscribed swords. His eyes finally fell on the cage, a shifting maze of mirrors with small murder holes between them. "Yeah, this looks like it held the basilisk. Clever technique - keep it from looking at you by giving it larger prey to size up, and make sure there's enough space to observe without letting the full gaze through. 'Course, it doesn't work with a broken mirror. Talk about seven years bad luck."

From the mirror, his attention drifted to the egg, resting in its bizarre incubator. "Hmmm... never seen anything like this, but cryptozoology isn't my specialty. Maybe Eldrich could --"


Nick took a step back as a long, narrow crack spread along the egg. "Okay. Just because she had a basilisk doesn't mean that whatever's in there is automatically dangerous --"

A flap of egg went flying away as something thin and pointy broke through. As the hole widened, a thin, barely-chitinous scorpion tail began to snake out.

"Okay, forget that. Everyone on defense."

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"Hm! Wraith hummed a little, scaling up along the wall to the ceiling where she could get a better view of the egg. She tried to at least sort of temper her curiosity with caution, though - her 'mane' of little air-tasters pulled in and got replaced with a single, mace-tipped tendril curling below her. "Two strange creatures in one day - this is very fortunate. ...ah. I do not mean to imply that I am glad anyone was hurt, of course, but they seem to be alright and it is so rare to see such interesting animals...."

Her head was bent back to glance at the other two, she looked very sheepish for a four-legged wall-climbing metal being. "It is just very interesting. I wonder what it is?"

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"Nick!" Ghost Girl objected reflexively passing easily through the layered mirrors to float between the necromancer and the hatching egg. "It's only a baby whatever-it-is! Don't scare it!" Evidently oblivious to the irony of that statement coming from a poltergeist, she turned around and leaned forward in the air, hovering almost horizontally to get a close look at the protruding tail and cracking eggshell. "Besides, what's the little guy going to do to me, right? C'mon, you're almost out, you can do it!" she addressed the wicked looking tail encouragingly.

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The scorpion tail poked fully through the egg, scything away at the remnants of shell like a machete cutting through weeds. The last bits of shell fell off the plinth, leaving a small fuzzball with a barbed tail in the middle of the incubator. Slowly, it uncurled, revealing something like a lion cub... but not quite. The tail was an obvious giveaway, but then there was the head. Instead of being the somewhat angular, protruding face of a feline, it was somewhat more rounded, as if it was taking after a baby's head. The creature scanned the room, looking over the three heroes... and its eyes fell on Kimber, first and foremost.


The small cat-thing pushed against the door, opening it from the inside. In an instant, it was crawling across the floor, rubbing up against Kimber's phantom legs - as well as it could, of course.

"It's a manticore," Nick said. "And here I thought they'd give live birth. Just when I think I've got everything down..."

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