Chronicles of a Caped Crusader: Long Shadows: Part Seven
The spell cast by Morguss and the Three had been successful; the Defenders had arrived too late to stop them from resurrecting Captain Nefarious. Morguss cackled evilly at the gathered heroes and her leer turned more cruel. She turned to look at Nefarious and bowed.
“Welcome back, Captain Nefarious,” she murmured as she doubled over, sweeping the floor with her wand.
Lady also perked up, her body still seemed mostly stunned from the blast, but her head turned to look at Nefarious, a grin of pure glee stretching her face to the limits. Chloe wanted to blast her again, just because she was mad and because the Lady's grin was incredibly disturbing, but she didn't, instead focusing on the spectral form of Nefarious standing on the pedestal. She noticed that he wasn't all there physically yet and wondered if there was a way to send him back before he finished his return to the world.
“Why have I been summoned here?” he asked, his voice calm and emotionless.
“Master!” Lady shrieked. “I've brought you back so you may continue your mission, your reign of terror, your conquest of the world!”
“Did you now, Lady? And not alone, I see. You had to do it with the help of some denizens of this world who are more wicked than I ever was?” he asked surveying his surroundings, taking note of the Three.
“Yes. With their help, you will be more than you ever were before. No one will stop you this time. Your revenge will be complete and everything in this miserable world will be yours as it should have been!” she shouted, her voice laughing.
“Shut up!” Chloe screamed at her, finally snapping. “Dream on, Lady. We're not backing down, regardless of how much more powerful he might be. We beat him once, and we can do it again.”
“Hush, Morphica,” Loraine said putting a hand on Chloe's shoulder.
Nefarious turned his face to look at the four Defenders, his gaze coming to rest on Judge Hog.
“Regardless of whether or not you could actually stop me should I return again to plague your lives, you would never back down, would you? I trust you've not changed much in the years I've been gone, have you, Judge Hog?”
“It has been a very long time, Marcus,” was all Judge Hog said.
Nefarious nodded. “Is Vicki all right?”
“No. Your legacy has not ceased to plague her. It took her daughter and turned her into a monster modeled in your image. To this day, you're still destroying her life,” Judge Hog replied, his voice cold.
The emotionless mask of the spectral Nefarious cracked, pain appearing on it. “I forgot to tell you about Iniquitous. I knew he would not take the easy way out, continue living a normal life. I knew he would ultimately decide to follow in my footsteps, but I never imagined he would have the gall to attack my Vicki.” The pain gave way to intense anger. “Stop him. Stop Veronica. There is a safe deposit box in a little bank on Kiko Island, Box 223, under my real name. The tellers will let you access it with the password AHNaAV. I left an assessment there of Iniquitous for safe-keeping. I thought a day might come where I would pit you against him; it was always meant for you, a clue to see if you could use it to stop him. This many years in the future, it might be of no use to you, but I leave it to you still, on the chance it might help you. This is all I can do now. Tell Vicki I'm sorry. I thought I was making amends that day in Faerieland. I did not mean to destroy her twice.”
“I know you didn't; she knows you didn't,” Judge Hog said, the cold vanished and some pity in his voice.
“Master, what are you doing?” Lady asked, the glee having left her face and an uncomprehending blankness taking its place.
“I'm at rest, Amanda. I'm not coming back to be a slave to my boredom and these wretches. I was always my own creature. For good or evil, I chose my own path. I chose death, and this is where I'll stay. Summon me no more; this will always be my answer,” Nefarious said, turning to look at her again, a fury on his face that made her cringe.
He looked back at Judge Hog, a slight smile tugging at the corners of his beak. “Keep being the hero, Judge Hog. You're still good at that. I'll plague you no more.”
With that, the spectral form dissipated, the head-casing returning to its prior form. Lady writhed on the floor, screaming in fury and agony. The Three had also vanished, probably deciding to cut their losses and leave when they realized Nefarious was not going to submit to them. Loraine trained her blaster on Morguss again, but before she could fire, the sorceress teleported away.
“We've got Lady back in custody, and Nefarious was not resurrected,” Loraine said, speaking into her communicator to the other Defenders. “Morguss escaped, but she might still be in the area. Keep a lookout for her and try to take her into custody as well.”
Chloe turned to look from the writhing Lady to Judge Hog. He was looking thoughtful, and somewhat distant as he stepped up to the pedestal and took Nefarious' headcasing. Loraine walked over to Lady, turning her blaster to a mid-level stun, and blasted her. Lady stopped her writhing and lay still, her eyes still roving.
“She has a nasty tolerance level,” Aisheena commented.
“She docile enough to get the cuffs on,” Loraine commented, cuffing her. “So long as she can't access her magic, she's helpless. Bring the hood.”
Aisheena handed Loraine a hood, one that was magically sealed to cut off all sound, and put it over her head. “Let's get her back where she belongs.”***
Chloe walked into the lounge in the Defenders HQ, dressed in civilian clothes as asked. It was two days after they had taken Lady back into custody, and the night before Judge Hog had sent her a message to come to work dressed in casual clothes rather than her usual business suit. Upon arriving at the HQ that morning, she had been directed to the lounge.
Judge Hog was sitting at a table dressed in his usual incognito look. There were two morphing potions before him on the table. One was the same species and color that Chloe was currently, and the other was a Pink Acara morphing potion. There was also a pink wig sitting there. Immediately, Chloe realized what was going on.
“You want me to impersonate Veronica? Is this about the files Nefarious told us about?” Chloe asked, remembering that prior to joining Iniquitous, Veronica had been a Pink Acara rather than a mutant one.
“Yes. I don't want to attract attention by going as myself, and the least likely way to attract attention, even if you have the password, is to be family. You're almost the same age as Veronica, and the last anyone knew of her, she was a Pink Acara. We'll go down there on a ferry, you'll pick up the files in the safe-deposit box, and you can be returned to the way you look now by the end of the afternoon.”
“Okay, that makes sense,” Chloe said, picking up the morphing potion and uncorking it.
She downed it quickly, shuddering as the changes rippled through her. It wasn't an unexpected sensation, Chloe had used morphing potions on dozen of occasions in the past, both for personal and work related reasons, but the natural reaction of the body to the metamorphosis never changed. There was a full length mirror in the corner, and she grabbed the wig and stepped in front of it. She expertly twisted up her hair and pulled the wig on over it. Like all the wigs the Defenders owned, it fitted on expertly, looking at though it were her own hair. She teased it a little to make it fall naturally, then slipped a headband on over it.
“Okay, I'm ready. When does our ferry leave?”
“Soon. We should get going,” Judge Hog said.
Chloe followed him to the lift, and they rode down to the bottom level of the building. From there, they took one of the underground lifts to one of the secret exits from the HQ. They came out in a little wax works museum that featured semi-famous artists from the last century. There was no one there, but that wasn't surprising, given that it was clearly meant not to be a big tourist draw. They exited the building, and Chloe found herself looking out at the harbor.
They got onto the ferry to Kiko Lake and waited around until it left. The trip there was only half an hour, as it wasn't far from Neopia Central. They talked a little about unimportant topics, local news mostly. They didn't draw any attention; they probably looked like family, a niece and an uncle maybe, going on a day trip. When they reached the harbor on Kiko Island, Judge Hog pointed at a little coffee shop.
“I'll be there at one of the outside tables,” he said. “You know the address of the bank, right?”
“Yep, Kiko Island's little branch of the National Neopian. It's about a five minute walk from here. I've got this,” Chloe said.
“Of course you do. See in you in a few,” Judge Hog replied, walking over toward the cafe.
Chloe turned and walked up the road, heading in the direction of the bank. She walked along casually, so used to undercover missions that she didn't even have to work at being casual and calm any longer. She reached the bank and pulled open the door. The little building was mostly empty, there were only two patrons making withdrawals or deposits. She walked up to one of the open tellers and smiled at them.
“Hi, I'm Veronica. My mom and I were going through some of my late uncle's stuff, and we found that he had a safe-deposit box here, took it out about twenty years ago or so. His name was Marcus. It would be number 223. Is it still here?” Chloe asked.
The teller asked her to wait while she checked their records. Chloe leaned against the counter, looking bored while she waited. After three minutes, the woman came back.
“Yes, that seems to be the case. However, even as his next of kin, I can't surrender the contents to you unless you can provide proof in the form of the password for the box,” the teller explained.
“Oh, yeah, that,” Chloe said. “It was AHNaAV.”
“That is the password. I'll bring you the box.”
The woman came back a minute later, carrying a box. Chloe opened the box, keeping her expression neutral as she opened it. True to what Nefarious had said, it was a just a document in a plain folder.
“Huh, I'll withdraw this. It looks like it's probably schematics for something; my uncle was an inventor. Mom will want these; she keeps all of his blueprints as keepsakes. You can cancel the box now,” she said, tucking the folder under her arm.
The teller nodded and wished her a good day. Chloe walked out of the building and back to the cafe. Judge Hog was sitting at the table where he said he would be, drinking a coffee. There was one waiting for Chloe across the table in front of the opposite chair. She sat down and handed him the file. He glanced inside for a moment and then tucked it into his coat.
“I'll look at this in greater detail when we arrive back that the HQ,” he said.
Chloe sipped her coffee and said, “Who would have thought Markus would be helping us, and after all these years. I hope something in there will yield information that'll be useful.”
Judge Hog looked at his watch and told her they needed to leave. The cups were to go, so they picked up their drinks and walked back down to the harbor. They got on the ferry and a few minutes later, they were on their way back to Neopia Central. The ship was rather empty, and Chloe found they had the bow of the deck all to themselves, which meant no eavesdroppers.
“Hey, Boss?” Chloe said, getting Judge Hog's attention. “You okay? About everything that happened? I know things went really wrong, and in a direction we did not contemplate, so...”
“Yes, we made a mistake on a grand scale,” Judge Hog admitted. “However, we have a little more information on Iniquitous because of it, which was always the point, and we now know that despite the fact that reviving Marcus is possible, it'll never happen. After all these years, there is some closure for me. I couldn't save him that day, but I now know that he is at peace, real peace. He'll always be my arch-villain, but I did what he wanted. I was his hero and we saved the day. It's not much, it's not my idea of how things were supposed to end, but as he said, he was always the one who chose his path. If that was how he chose to end it, then we'll just have to let it be.”
“It's a pity he couldn't have turned that mind to good,” Chloe said thoughtfully, leaning back against the rails and staring up at the sky. “Neopia might be a vastly different world today if he had.”
“Perhaps it would have been, but as it stands, it's a good world; one worth fighting for,” Judge Hog replied.
“It is,” Chloe agreed. “Which is a good thing, since I'm sure we still have a long fight ahead of us. Even if we bust Iniquitous, we'll always have to deal with the Meerca Brothers. Fyora knows they make me want to give up and let the world go just because dealing with them is a nightmare.”
Judge Hog started to laugh and she joined in. “In spite of the Meerca Brothers, I think it's fairly rewarding job.”
She nodded her agreement and looked out to the horizon where Neopia Central was rising into view. She smiled at the sight of her home. It was a good world.