The Return of Nevermore part 25

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Joselyn looked around her, feeling surprised and more than a little confused. She’d expected to step out of the Face’s portal and find herself in the middle of Baltimore, but wherever she was, it was definitely NOT Baltimore.

The ground seemed to be made of some sort of smooth granite, though it had ribbons of glowing crystal running through it. When she looked up and out, instead of the expected Baltimore skyline, she saw an unbelievably vast night sky. It was darkness, marked by countless scatterings of stars and even random swirls of light and color. The scene before her was as beautiful as it was surprising.

“No,” the Face gasped. “Not here…”

Joselyn gave him a curious look. “I take it that you didn’t intend to bring us here…”

“No,” the Face responded grimly. “I certainly didn’t…” He hesitated a moment, then admitted, “I have spent a great deal of time in this place…far more than I want to think about.”

“Okay,” Joselyn said slowly. “Then why are we here now?”

“Because I invited you,” a new voice announced from somewhere behind Joselyn, who jumped in surprise and snapped around to see the speaker. Exile stood there with a faint smile, seeming almost amused. “Welcome to my home…”

“Exile,” Joselyn blurted out in surprise.

“You brought us here,” the Face accused her angrily. “How…?”

Exile gave a dismissive wave. “Come, Richard. You know quite well that every time you travel through your portal, you briefly pass through my realm, even if only for the smallest fraction of a second. It was a simple matter of intercepting you.”

“But I thought you couldn’t use your powers,” Joselyn exclaimed, not sure whether she should be surprised or angry. She glared at Exile accusingly, awaiting an explanation.

“The laws of this realm are quite different from those of your world,” Exile explained as she gestured to their surroundings. “This realm dampens my powers and halts the problematic ripples. In addition, this realm is insulated from your world, so I can feel free to use my powers here without causing any unintended harm…”

“Unintended?” Joselyn asked with a raised eyebrow.

However, at the same time, the Face demanded, “Why did you bring us here? We’re on an urgent mission…”

“Urgency is a matter of perspective,” Exile responded with an expression that suggested that she was humoring him. “But I can assure you, this detour will not be a waste of time.”

The Face was silent for a moment, and Joselyn had the impression that he was glaring at Exile. Finally, he asked, “What game are you playing? Earlier, you were very clear about not being able to interfere.”

“Richard,” Exile said with a sigh. “At one time, you actually enjoyed spending time with me…”

Those words caught Joselyn’s attention, but as surprised as she was over what Exile was suggesting, she was even more amazed by the fact that Exile reached up to the Face’s mask…and removed it. She held the mask in her hand, staring at it for just a moment before looking him in the face.

The Face just stood there without his mask, letting Joselyn see his real face for the first time. She’d never heard of anyone else getting a look at the man behind the mask. He was handsome…and he looked vaguely familiar. In fact, he reminded her of an actor that she’d seen in a few old movies, including one that she’d watched with her mom just a couple weeks earlier.

“You’re Richard Corso,” Joselyn blurted out, staring at the Face in stunned disbelief. He was the actor from that movie.

The Face quickly looked at her, scowling as he did so. “I haven’t used that name in a long time.”

Joselyn just gaped, wondering what her mom would say when she found out that the Face was one of her favorite movie stars, one who’d disappeared without a trace over two decades earlier. She had questions, a lot of questions. However, she was pretty sure that they didn’t have time for all of them.

“I thought you couldn’t take off your mask,” Joselyn pointed out awkwardly.

“Normally, I can’t,” the Face admitted. “I am under a curse that traps me in another dimension…this dimension to be specific. The mask is the only thing that lets me leave this place, and whenever I remove the mask, I return…”

“I created this mask for you,” Exile said in a quiet voice. “I made it so that you could leave…”

Exile gave the mask back to the Face, though she seemed almost reluctant to do so. Suddenly, Joselyn realized that Exile was lonely. She couldn’t imagine how difficult it would be, having someone else, then actually helping them to leave you.

“I know,” the Face responded, giving her a sad smile. “And I appreciate your gift, more than I know how to express.”

“You can express your gratitude,” Exile teased him, “by coming back to visit me more often. It would be nice to have someone to talk to.”

The Face was silent for a moment before nodding his agreement. “I’ll come visit,” he quietly promised her. Then, his expression turned serious. “But I don’t think you brought us here just for a visit…”

“Yeah,” Joselyn jumped in. “I thought you couldn’t interfere…”

Exile gave her an amused look. “I can’t interfere in your world, at least not without serious consequences. However, we are not in your world…” She gestured around them, smirking faintly.

“You’re going to help us?” the Face gasped in surprise.

“In what small way I can,” Exile responded.

“You still can’t help us directly,” the Face said in understanding. “But there are other things…” Exile smiled faintly.

“Baron Nevermore had to gather a great deal of power in order to open the way for his queen,” Exile said.

Joselyn nodded at that as she wryly replied, “Tell us something we don’t know.”

“Nevermore did not have enough power to open the way entirely,” Exile responded, giving Joselyn a flat look. “The Queen of Ravens had to supply the rest of the power from the other side. She had to tie her powers with all of her followers, protecting them from the rigors of the journey so that they would not arrive completely helpless. And even now, she continues to strengthen them…”

“So, that was why she wasn’t joining in the fight,” the Face mused with a thoughtful expression. Joselyn watched in curiosity, still amazed to see any expression from him.

“But I thought the ravens were weak from the trip,” Joselyn said, giving Exile a curious look.

The golden woman nodded. “Indeed, they are, though they would be far weaker if their queen were not supporting them.”

“So,” the Face mused with a faint smile. “The Queen of Ravens is their weak spot… Without her, the rest are helpless.”

“They are reliant on her,” Exile agreed. “However, even now, I would not consider her weak or helpless…”

“You’ve got that right,” Joselyn added bitterly, remembering the way the Queen of Ravens had killed Icarus, with little more than a gesture.

“As of now,” Exile continued with a scowl, “the ravens are at their weakest… They have all expended a great deal of their power, and even more, they are still unstable…”

Joselyn gave her a curious look. “Unstable?”

Exile smiled faintly. “They are not yet…synchronized to your world. You could say, that they are suffering from the dimensional equivalent of jet lag. However, that will fade quickly as they regain their strength, and once it does, each of them will become more independent...less reliant on their queen…and far more dangerous.

Joselyn stared at Exile, having a lot of questions. However, her powers were tickling the back of her mind and providing her with a few answers.

“They’re desperate to spread fear,” Joselyn said as she put the pieces together. “They didn’t even wait long enough to set up camp before they attacked us… They need to make everyone afraid of them as fast as possible so that they can recharge…”

“Correct,” Exile agreed. “And the process of feeding in your world will also help them stabilize…and make them far more difficult to remove. Once this happens, the queen will be free to turn her full power to other tasks, which will make it virtually impossible to stand against her.”

“So,” Joselyn said with a loud sigh. “We either take her out now…or we’re all screwed.”

The Face scowled deeply as he responded, “I already suspected much of this. What we need to know is how to defeat this queen.”

“Yeah,” Joselyn added. “Somehow, I don’t think her army is just going to stand aside and let us take pot shots…”

Exile just smiled faintly, though it was an almost predatory smile that sent chills of anticipation down her spine. “I believe, I may have a solution…”

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

Gwen stared up at the imposing stone arch, shivering from the dark and malevolent magic that radiated from it. She was caught between the urge to stare at it, and the desire to look at something else…anything else.

Though Gwen had examined the arch and the portal that was still tied to it, she hadn’t been able to learn much. Of course, that shouldn’t have surprised her since she was still fairly inexperienced with magic.

“I hope my dad gets her soon,” Gwen said with a sigh. After she’d examined the arch as much as she could, she’d sent her dad a message, knowing that this was something he was better suited for than she was. “Maybe he can figure out something I can’t.”

“You did good,” Alleycat told her, though she didn’t bother looking at Gwen. Instead, she was looking at their surroundings and keeping watch.

“That thing is pretty damn creepy,” Deadbeat exclaimed. “And trust me, I know creepy.”

Gwen looked to Deadbeat, whose head was flopped over to one side a bit. She shuddered a little at the sight, agreeing with him completely. If anyone knew creepy, it was the zombie hero.

After a moment, Gwen started to look around them, at all the buildings that surrounded the ruined park. She could see them, those nasty little monsters, creeping around the edges and watching. Glamour Girl had chased the monsters away, but not very far. They were still there...waiting for any opportunity or sign of weakness.

Glamour Girl floated up into the, acting as a beacon to warn away the monsters. So far, it was working, but Gwen didn’t know how much longer before either Glamour Girl got tired, or the monsters became impatient and tried again.

“I hope the Face is able to bring reinforcements soon,” Poison said, also watching the monsters with a wary expression. “Of course, with the way things are going, he may be looking to us as reinforcements.”

“This thing might be a wild goose chase,” Glamour Girl said as she landed back on the ground and looked up at the stone arch. “I can feel the darkness from it…but the real threat is the Queen of Ravens.” She clenched her fists and scowled deeply. “She’s the reason I have my power. I was given them so I can stop her, but I can’t do it here…”

Glamour Girl looked like she was about to say something else, but when she opened her mouth to speak, she screamed instead. Gwen was shocked and a little confused, until she saw the black spike emerging from Glamour Girl’s stomach, and the figure that was rising up from behind her.

“Foolish creatures,” Lady Minuit hissed with a look of pure hatred on her burned and damaged face. Black ooze moved around her charred body, with several tendrils stretching out, one of which had been used to impale Glamour Girl from behind. “Did you truly think that you could defeat one such as I so easily?”

An instant later, another tendril lashed out with incredible speed, slicing through Deadbeat’s head and sending it flying before Gwen could react. Then Lady Minuit lashed out with three more tendrils.

“Look out,” Alleycat cried, leaping at Gwen and knocking her aside, barely in time to save her from being struck. However, Alleycat left herself in the way instead, and a black tendril snapped around her neck and began squeezing.

“IREFAY,” Gwen shouted as she threw a fireball at Lady Minuit.

Poison leapt to the side, barely avoiding the tentacle that came at her, then she immediately charged Lady Minuit. Then, just as Poison was about to punch Lady Minuit with her glowing green fists, another tentacle managed to snap around and grab her ankle from behind, yanking her feet out from beneath her so that she hit the ground face first.

“Reezefay,” Gwen exclaimed, trying to freeze their enemy since she seemed to recover quickly from the flames. However, Lady Minuit used her oozing black tentacles to raise Deadbeat’s body, which blocked the spell. The monster dropped the frozen and headless corpse a moment later.

Gwen gaped with growing fear, realizing just how dangerous Lady Minuit was. If they were having so much difficulty defeating her, how could her father and the other heroes possibly defeat a whole army of beings like this?

Glamour Girl howled in pain, and suddenly, her entire body was engulfed in the swirling multicolored light of her aura. The black tentacle that ran through her immediately burned away and vanished while Lady Minuit yelped in pain and jumped back, now missing one tendril.

“I know that power,” Lady Minuit exclaimed, glaring at Glamour Girl with her glowing red eyes. They were filled with a dark and twisted malevolence. “You possess the power of our ancient foes…”

“And I’ll use it,” Glamour gasped as she dropped to the ground, catching herself on her knees. Blood pooled beneath her, and it clearly took a lot of effort for her to look up at Lady Minuit. “I’ll beat you… I’ll take you all down…for my family…”

Lady Minuit laughed, though it was a cold and cruel laugh. Just as Glamour Girl tried to gather enough energy for an attack, a tendril suddenly lashed out and caught Gwen, who shrieked in terror. A moment later, she was held up in the air by several tendrils, right between Lady Minuit and Glamour Girl. Lady Minuit was using her as a human shield.

“Witch Girl,” Poison gasped trying to come to her aid, though she was too caught up fighting with the tendrils that wrapped around her legs to do much good.

Alleycat frantically fought against the tendril that was wrapped around her throat and choking her, and just as she seemed to be making progress, another tendril slashed out, slicing her stomach open, right before she was lifted up from the ground, being used as another human shield.

“My queen will be pleased if I bring her your head,” Lady Minuit said, her attention locked on Glamour Girl.

She brought Gwen closer to her, close enough to put her hand on Gwen’s shoulder. The touch of the villain sent cold chills through her shoulder and all down her spine. Gwen wanted to scream, but she didn’t want to give the monster satisfaction. Instead, she desperately tried to think of a spell that could save them.

“The rest of you shall merely provide me amusement,” Lady Minuit added with a cruel laugh. Her hand closed around Gwen’s throat. “Now, scream for me child…”

“Never,” Gwen gasped, only to feel the hand at her throat squeeze tighter.

Suddenly, the hand at Gwen’s throat jerked and released, as did the tendrils that held her up. She dropped to the ground, just as Alleycat and Poison did at the same time.

“What,” Gwen gasped, jumping back away from Lady Minuit before she suddenly realized that the woman was now missing her head. Lady Minuit’s headless body collapsed to the ground, as did all of the tendrils coming from her.

“She’s dead,” Alleycat exclaimed in surprise.

“And so are we if Glamour Girl doesn’t get up,” Poison added a moment later, pointing out to the monsters that were once again starting to approach them. Most of them were coming cautiously, though one large one that looked something like a black scaled gorilla was more impatient than the rest and was leading the charge.

“Just great,” Gwen muttered with a wince, taking a deep breath and preparing to cast a spell.

Before Gwen could do anything, the scaled gorilla suddenly came to a halt as his head exploded. His body collapsed to the ground, while the rest of the monsters came to an abrupt stop. One monster took a few more steps forward, only to have a large hole appear through his chest. He collapsed to the ground right behind the gorilla. That was all that the rest of the monsters needed before they turned and ran back to the shadows.

“What the hell just happened?” Alleycat demanded.

“It seems we have a friendly sniper,” Poison answered, slowly looking around their surroundings with a scowl. When she didn’t see anything, she turned to Glamour Girl, “How bad are you hurt?”

“I was impaled,” Glamour Girl snapped sarcastically, still on her knees and making no effort to get up. Instead, she held her stomach and grimaced in pain.

Gwen rushed over to the injured heroine, trying to think of what she could do. “Ealhay,” she said, trying out a new spell that she hadn’t practiced yet. She hoped that this healing spell worked, because she didn’t know what else they could do. After watching Mannequin get killed, she didn’t want to see anyone else die.

“Incoming,” Poison yelled, bracing herself for another fight.

“Damn,” Alleycat snarled. “They just keep coming…”

Gwen looked up and saw a woman flying towards them. When she was closer, Gwen could make out that the woman had short blonde hair and was wearing a grey and black costume, which had the same design as Poison’s costume.

“Stealth,” Poison exclaimed in obvious relief. She smiled faintly as she added, “She’s a friendly.”

Stealth came in and landed beside them, though she kept a close watch on the monsters. None of them made a move to attack again.

“Agent Briggs,” Stealth greeted Poison with a smile of her own. “Good to see you, though I’m a bit surprised…”

“I’m using the handle of Poison for now,” Poison told her. Then she chuckled and looked around their surroundings again, adding, “At least now, I know who our mysterious sniper is…”

“Harbinger,” Stealth agreed, gesturing in one direction. Poison looked in that direction, then gave a brief wave. “For some reason, she was the only member of our team who could get through that barrier. She came in alone, trying to make her way here so she could take out Baron Nevermore.”

“Unfortunately,” Poison told her with a sigh, “she’s too late. Baron Nevermore has already left this location, along with an even larger threat.”

“Damn,” Stealth muttered.

“Is the rest of Sanction close?” Poison asked.

Stealth shook her head. “No. Harbinger came in alone, then once the shield dropped, I came in to scout the area and provide backup. We heard that your camp was attacked by armed forces, so the rest of my team just went to help.”

Gwen watched Stealth, feeling a little confused about who this woman was, as well as this Harbinger person they were mentioning. However, Poison had said they were part of Sanction, and that provided something of an answer. Sanction was a team that worked for the Developed Affairs Department, just like Poison did.

Poison nodded thoughtfully. “So, you two are the only ones here…”

“At least you are here,” a new voice announced, immediately drawing Gwen’s attention. Gwen gasped in relief as she saw her dad standing there, with Lady Knight right beside him. “And in just a short time, we’ll need all the help here that we can get.”



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