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To the Victor…
Chapter 4: To new Friends.  And Foes.
by Tog
(part 1 of 2)

Angela picked up the phone again.  This time she’d make the call.  She got to the 6th digit, and then hung up again.  No, she wouldn’t.  How could she?  Her parents thought that she was getting a place to live and a summer job to work her way through school.  She hadn’t told them that she had really moved to Paragon City to be a hero.  They never even let her sleep over at a friend’s house.  They’d freak out about this.  Still, she knew she had to tell them the truth.  She was just brought up that way.  Honesty above all else.  The lie had been eating at her since she first told it.

The last few weeks had been intense to say the least.  She arrived about 18 months after the invasion had been repelled, but now the streets were filled with thugs that moved in following the deaths of the heroes.  No better than rats, really.  She poured herself an iced tea and stared at the candle on the table, making the flame dance about.  She’d have to call.  Not tonight though.  Tomorrow would be better.

The morning sun streamed through the gap in the curtains and brought her out of her sleep.  A voice in her head said to call, now, before she could come up with an excuse not to. 

Too late.  She had to feed the dogs.  They were all quite old now, but still healthy and active; as active as 11 year old Irish setters can be.  She started breakfast and thought about the call she had to make.  Maybe she’d swing by her contact and see if there was anything that needed to be done.  She was sure there would be.  The city always needed something done.  She called up the landlord to say that she was going out for the day.  This was something she always did when she went on patrol.  If anything happened and she didn’t come home, someone had to take the dogs back to her parents’ house.  Her landlord had agreed to contact them if she died or vanished.

She headed for the hospital in Atlas Park.  She knew the doc would be outside on a smoke break about then and he might have a line on something for her.  She was right on both counts.  It seems that some rare jewel had been stolen by Circle of Thorns mages.  The problem was that their hideout was in Perez Park.  Even heroes were reluctant to go in there alone.

“Oh well,” she thought.  “Maybe I can find some other people there and we can team up for a while.”

She arrived at the gate, showed her security clearance to the guards and entered the park.  It was a desolate place.  Not as dirty as might be expected, but there were no people apart from the groups of gangs, and the gatherings of heroes there to try and push them out.  She checked the location of the cave where the jewel had probably been taken and found it was on the far side of the park.  Naturally.  She was trying to decide between going back to the tram and coming in from the Galaxy side, or risking a run through the park when a big guy dressed like a minotaur asked her if she wanted to join a team for a bit.  She agreed and was introduced to the rest of the group.

“I’m Tog”, said the big guy.  “This is Epim.  She’s sort of the Mom here.  She’s also a licensed shrink.   Lista, is well… don’t get too close to her.”  He said this with a wink and a grin.  Lista made a rude hand gesture in return and then blew him a kiss off of it.  “Entimangler is really a she but she looks really scary.  If you need help, yell for Ent and she’ll be there in a flash.  Those two are Jyn and Tonix.  They are a couple as well as a team.  They were running with Lista here when we met them.  That’s us, how about you?”

Angela looked at the group.  Tog was a giant.  Not freaky big like some of the others she’s seen, but big like pro football player big.  He wore a brown suit with full head wrap.  Horns, and even a tail, completed the minotaur look, except for the face, which had some sort of air filter in place of a cow head looking mask. 

Epim looked kind.  She was quite a bit older than the rest; maybe in her 30s.  She was dressed in a white and gold skirt, and had brown hair that flowed freely.  She had a look about her that seemed to say “everything will be just fine”.  It was kind of reassuring.

Ent was really tall and looked like a big, dark bug.  It... he, err she, didn’t really show any interest in talking.  Angela wondered if it... she, even could.

Lista was gorgeous.  Long flowing brown hair and dressed in a rainbow colored suit.  But there was something about her that was a little creepy in a strangers-with-candy sort of way.  Maybe staying away from her was a good idea after all.

Jyn had a hard look about her.  Like you really needed to earn your way to her good side.  She had dark hair tucked under a bandana, and wore black leather with gold highlights.

Tonix on the other hand was the opposite.  Friendly, good natured, and always joking.  He seemed to be the back-up while Jyn did the fighting.  He had a small mask over his eyes, and was dressed to compliment Jyn, in gold leather with black trim.

Angela was on the tall side for a normal woman, with long blonde hair and large blue eyes.  Her outfit was mostly dark gray with a flame graphic on the arms and legs.  “I’m Mourning Angel.  That’s Mourning with a ‘u’.  I can heal a bit if I need to, but I’m much better at making clouds of smoke and ash to stop them from, well-- from doing anything, really.”

“I love your accent!  Where are you from,” asked Lista.

New Orleans, born and raised.  I’ve only been away from home a few weeks.”

Welcomes were handed out and accepted, and the patrol resumed.  Behind a sandwich shop in the north east corner they found a big group of Hellions.

“Okay”, said Tog.  “Same plan as always.  Mourning, the plan is that I’ll make ‘em mad, you all come save me.  Lista, can you take the guy on the right?  He looks like a shooter.”

“I bet she’s already had the guy on the right”, said Jyn.  “You know, if we played the odds and all.”

Nearly everyone laughed a bit while Lista pretended to remember him.

With that, Tog strolled up to the edge of the pack until one of them saw him standing there.  “Did your mommy dress you this morning?” yelled the Hellion.

“Nope.  Yours did,” answered Tog; and it was on.

The Hellions turned and fired at Tog.  Ent and Jyn ran headlong into the fray looking for the guys that had enough sense to not rush up next to a 400 pound guy in a cow suit holding an axe.  Epim and Tonix did what they could to keep everyone standing and Lista took out the guy on the right with a few rapid ice blasts.  Once everyone was bunched up, Lista unleashed a cone of frigid air at them.  Those who were not already engaged were engulfed in fire and ash and pretty much taken out of the fight.  As the scrappers moved from one foe to the next, Lista and Tonix continued to pick them off at range.  The fight was over very quickly and apart from being a little out breath the team came through unscathed.

Angela looked at the empty bit of street where the fight had just taken place.  It was over so fast.  On her own, she’d have never been able to do that, and if she had, it would have taken forever.  She decided that this was group she needed to hang out with more often.

Jyn’s phone rang and from what they could hear, it sounded like it was from one of her contacts., “Hey guys, I just got an emergency tip that there is an office near here that’s under attack from the Vahz.  They want us to clear it out and make sure they don’t make off with any of the bodies.”

Epim put her PDA back into her pocket.  “Looks like Jyn’s office is right over there, then we can see about getting back that jewel.”

Everyone agreed, and they entered the office.  At first it seemed empty, but then the group rounded a corner and ran right into a large group of zombies.  This was a hard fight, but in the end, the group stood victorious.  Now that they knew what they were up against, they were a bit more cautious.  As they moved from room to room, the jokes kept coming.  The team unity got better.  All in all, things were going amazingly well.  For a moment, Angela let her guard down and laughed.  It had been a long time since there was something to laugh about.  She was still smiling to herself when the Embalmed Abomination dropped from the balcony above.  She tried to choke it in a cloud of ash and smoke, but the power wouldn’t come.  Nothing happened.  Ent turned too late to hit it and the explosion was horrible.  When the flash and noise had cleared, Ent was face down on the floor.  Epim approached and with a grand, sweeping arm motion, brought Ent back from the brink of death.  In her mind, Angela’s momentary lapse of concentration had nearly killed a teammate.  She made a silent vow that it would never happen again.

In the last room on the second floor, they found a body of one of the office workers.  He was too far gone for even Epim’s magic.  Lista examined the body and found some papers folded up in his pocket.

“Hey.  No one here does anything electrical do they?”

None did.

“And Vahz don’t have any electrical abilities do they?  I mean, I know about fire and gak.  The Morts and Reapers have blades and crossbows, but have any of you ever seen one of those S&M guys use electricity?  This guy was zapped.”

“Could he have been electrocuted by something shorting out when they attacked?” asked Tonix.

“I don’t think so, Ton.  Epim, come see what you think.”

Epim looked at the body.  He had several electrical burns all over his chest, but nothing that seemed like it might be an exit point.  “It looks like contact burns, like he was hit with jumper cables.  That is odd.  What’s that paper you found?”

“It doesn’t make any sense.  It’s a grid with a list of symbols down one side, and a list of dates across the top.  Next to each symbol is a playing card and there are numbers written under the dates in each grid.”

“You think it’s a code?”

“Could be”

So, do we have a code breaker?” asked Tog.

“Well,” said Angela “it might be the list of someone trying to crack a cipher.  The first step is to count the number of times each character appears.  With a long enough message, you will get a pretty good idea of what symbols mean which letters.  E is the most common letter, so the symbol for it should be the most common.  You will also see patterns, like double letters.  Two letter words are nice because there aren’t very many of them.  That’s why you need to take out all the spaces, or add in spaces where they don’t belong.  I’d guess that this guy found a cipher that appeared on each of the days listed and he’s trying to crack it using all of the messages at once.”

“Then what’s with the cards?”

“Again, just a guess, but it’s probably easier to work with something common, like ‘ten of clubs’ than it is ‘clockwise squiggle with a little tail on the right.  He probably just assigned a common symbol to each of the complex ones to help keep it straight in his head.”

“Why would there be 52 symbols then?  And why cards instead of numbers?”

“It might have more than one for some letters, to avoid doubles, or to throw off the count.  It might have numbers and punctuation.  It might be that every symbol that is represented here by a face card is just ignored.  It might not be English.  There are a lot of reasons.  By itself there just isn’t really enough to start on.  As for why not numbers, I’m at a loss.  I’d use numbers.  Maybe he was just more comfortable using cards.  Something to use hands on, without having to make them.”

Tog spoke up.  “Okay, so we don’t know what this is, but I think we can all agree that it’s important, so we’ll make a copy then take it back to your contact, but now we need to answer another question.  If none of us have electrical powers, and the Vahz don’t have them, then who killed this guy?

Angel answered, “No.  The questions we need to answer are ‘who was this guy, and who’s going to be waiting for him to come home tonight?’”

“Way to kill the mood,” said Tonix.  “I mean you’re right and all, and I feel really bad for not even considering that before now, but damn.”

“Mourning with a “u”, remember?”

Lista continued the search of the man’s pockets and turned up a driver’s license and a few other bits of information.  It looked like he worked for the Paragon Times and lived in Skyway.  Now they could focus on who killed him and why.

They all thought about it a bit more as they cleared the rest of the building.  They found four other bodies, but all four were definitely killed by the Vahzilok.  None had anything that looked like electrical burns.

After dealing with the office, getting the jewel back was a simple task.  The team seemed to function as one, and fights were over almost as soon as they started.  Each person checked in with their contacts and got a few more tasks, though nothing really remarkable came up; mostly just sweeping the groups of gangs off of the streets.  This gave them a little more time to talk.  At the end of the day, Angela had found her first real friends since grade school. 

Today was a very good day.

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