"Si, es Patricia."
"Buenas dia, senorita Renaldo. This is Simmon Marious, we met at Mayor Elhill's Civic Pride Black Tie fundraiser last Fall," he recounted with quiet confidence.
"Ah, yes! How are you, Mr. Marious?"
"I am doing well, I hope the same can be said of you," replied Simmon.
"I cannot complain, although the hot summer looks to be a bit unpleasant. Isn't it a pity about Mayor Elhill, though?" asked Patricia.
"Wonderful, and yes it is a shame about the Mayor. Port Alexander is losing a good man. The reason for my call is the upcoming party being hosted by Alex Ladilot for the Russian Ballet."
"Ah, yes, I am so looking forward to it! I simply love the ballet!" gushed Patricia.
"Oh, you've heard of it?," feigned Marious with surprise.
"Of course, it promises to be the hit of the season. Alex has been planning it for simply months."
"I was hoping you'd be free to accompany me, Alex does have a penchant for such things," asked Simmon.
"Well, this is a surprise. Still, I think I might be free."
"If you have other plans, I understand. This is frightfully short notice, Alex's invitation caught me by surprise as my mind has been elsewhere. My apologies." stated Marious awkwardly.
"I'm teasing you, you silly man. Of course, I'll go with you."
With a sigh of relief, "Oh goodness, you made me feel like an awkward schoolboy Patricia. It will be a splendid evening, I'm sure. "
"Where are we sitting at the ballet?" asked Patricia. "Ah, in my box, of course," replied the suave Mediterranian. "Until then." "Ciao," came the reply and with it the conversation ended.
* * * *The curtain fell, and after a moment of silence, applause erupted from the darkened theatre. The members of the Russian Ballet appeared in front of the curtain and bowed. The applause reached a crescendo when the young prima ballerina and her partner took the stage.
Afterwards, the crowds milled about in the lobby waiting for their limousines to arrive and sweep them to their destinations. The destination for the fortunate ones, was the palatial home of Alex Ladilot, whose apre-ballet party was expected to be the hit of the season. Decorators and contractors had spent the last week preparing the house and grounds, and even as the beautiful people entered their cars, caterers were preparing the massive amounts of food that would be needed.
* * *The party was in full swing, only the guests from the Russian Ballet had not arrived. The band, "The Swingtime Saloon All-Stars", played swing, classic rock, and big band hits by the pool. Mayor John Elhill admired the Russian themed decorations with members of his staff. A cluster of rich club-kids tried to look bored.
Then the guests of honour arrived, with the ballerina, Katarina Orinova Kraustich leading the way on the arm of Sergei Fitinkin, the promoter. Ladilot greeting them in halting Russian, learned just for the occasion. Then the troupe dispersed into the crowd.
* * *Katarina Orinova looked carefully as Alex Ladilot demonstrated country line dancing while the "All-Stars" vamped. She followed the steps and the crowd burst into applause and laughter, which after a moment she joined.
With a sound like a pistol shot, one of the arc lamps nearby exploded, showering the crowd with glass powder and eliciting a few screams from some of the women. The sound dipped then started to build again.
Then the stage on which "All-Stars" stood exploded. Pieces of their equipment flew everywhere; a woman near Deputy Mayor Rick Adams went down when a flying cymbal from the drum kit hit her in the stomach. The band members themselves went flying up and into the pool. Miraculously, no one was killed.
In the silence, more lights exploded; a ripple of explosions passed around the light-rigging, shattering one bulb, then skipping one, until half the lights had been shattered, and the exterior had been plunged into semi-darkness. Now and then another light would explode.
The crowd panicked. Some began to run for the gate that led out, others ran toward the house which was still well lit.
Simmon Marious threw an arm around Patricia Renaldo to shield her from the exploding glass and calmly inquired of her "Are you OK?" under the stampeding crowd.
"Si, but what are we to do?"
"I think it best that we get out of here," said Marious while ushering Ms. Renaldo toward the gate to the awaiting limosines.
The pair joined the crowd streaming toward the gates, pressed through to the waiting cars. Finding an empty limosine amidst the chaos of fleeing guests, Marious helped Patricia Renaldo inside and said "Driver, take Senorita Renaldo home." Turning to Patricia, "Others may need help, I really must return."
"Take care," she cried from the window. As Marious watched three other partygoers joined her in the limo, then it began to slide away.
* * * *"It figures, The first night of relaxation that I get in a while ..." Deputy Mayor Rick "The Bull" Adams thought to himself as he checked the wounded person next to him, helping her to her feet. Then he headed towards the area of the explosion like his namesake, pausing to check if there were any more wounded. As he ran he barked out orders like the old quarterback he was, using the forcefulness of his voice to get people to help those who need it and to try to calm the crowd a little.
There was a little pocket of order around the Bull, while outside his immediate range, things were still chaotic. Every now and then, another bulb would explode, keeping the crowd keyed up. The crowd had split into two basic groups; those fleeing to the cars, and those fleeing to the safety of the house.
* * * *Seeing the carnage all around him, The White Knight's alter-ego headed for his car, where his Armoured suit awaited. He reached the trunk and popped it open.
Another explosion shattered the night, and he looked up to see the gateway to the estate collapsing, trapping the remaining party-goers within the walls and one woman beneath the rubble. Those on the inside turned, almost as one, and ran toward the house.
Hearing the crumbling gateway, Marious made his way toward the screams to see what he could do.
He saw the woman pinned under the rubble and moved over to help her out. A slab of masonry had fallen across her legs and trapped them.
Eyeing the slab of concrete Marious sought to grab a couple of panicked guests to assist him in removing the weight. "You! Give me a hand here! Help this woman!" he called out to a distinguished gentleman looking to and fro amidst the chaos.
The man came over and together they lifted the weight, which came off surprisingly easily. They hustled the woman into a car and sent her off to the hospital.
A moment or two later, the White Knight appeared on the scene and began to provide a helping hand to the rescue efforts.
* * * *Knowing the panic could be more dangerous then the exploding bulbs , Rick continued to shout his orders trying to calm people or at least limit the panic to non dangerous levels. He headed for reach the stage, figuring that where the explosion centered would probably be the place he would be most needed.
As he ran, he pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911. When the operator came on, he instructed her to get medical and fire units to the area immediately.
Rick checked the stage on the off-chance the sound system might be functional, but he quickly realized that there was nothing there in one piece. The crowd had scattered away from the site of the explosion, and so Rick turned and headed for the house.
Rick made his way to the manor, helping up those who fell and shielding those who might be trampled. His voice was getting horse from his seemingly useless yelling. Once at the structure he looked for the plug for the strung lights -- the manor lights should be enough light to allow the guests to see and unplugging the strung lights should stop the exploding bulbs that kept resparking the crowd's panic.
After unplugging the party lights Rick made his way inside the house, found a chair to stand on and hoped that in this enclosed space his calming voice would do more good. "Everyone calm down, we're safe now!"
"If only that were true," came a voice from high above the crowd, "but I fear you are in more danger now than you were outside." Standing on the balcony the ringed the ballroom was a tall man in a dark cloak. Perched on his shoulder was a large black bird, although it was impossible to tell exactly what kind. "For in here, you are at my mercy." To punctuate his words, the man raised a hand, and jets of flame shot up from the floor in front of each of the doors and windows. "Let the games begin."
* * * *Watching the car zoom off away from the madhouse, Simmon Marious backed away into a relatively deserted area silently cursing his unpreparedness. Not having his broad-brim hat was an inconvenience. He pulled out his goggles from an inner pocket and unfastened his cummerbund tying it across his lower face. Ripping the tuxedo shirt from his chest would substitute as a bandana of sorts and covered his crown. "A bit more color than I like but still should serve its purpose." Bare-chested and clothed in black, the goggle-wearing "pirate" wandered back toward the estate to see if he could help any others stricken by the tragedy.
He stopped at the ruined gate and the pit left by the explosion, then shrugged and vanished to reappear on the far side.
The White Knight looked up at the sound of explosions from the Mansion and saw flames rising inside the windows. Turning to the crowd remaining outside he says "Citizens! You are safe here. Remain calm and await the authorities. I shall deal with this." He raced over to the shattered gate, just in time to see the piratical looking man vanish and reappear.
* * * *Knowing his position on the chair was a bit precarious Adams stepped to the floor to speak to the cloaked man. He tried to keep the crowd calm by the force of his words, paying attention to the conversation between him and the cloaked man.
"What is the point to all this?" Adams asks the man with the bird. "To scare these people? There's got to be more to it then that. You expect us to play your game but you have yet to mention any rules. It's the rules that make the game. If we are all at your mercy then it only seems right to give us a chance. You would enjoy something of a challenge, beating us when we knew what the game is. Winning a game that is played only in your head can't be rewarding."
Rick glanced around the room for something that could be thrown, and was pleased to note that the room was cluttered with objects that might serve as a missile in a pinch: glasses, vases, punchbowls and so on.
Rick then spun the chair around, glancing at the windows to see if the flames are blackening the walls or spreading as he straddled the chair and waited for the man to explain.
The flames issued up from flowerpots which had been placed beneath each window. They burned with a hot flame but seemed in no danger of lighting the nearby curtains or walls.
The man on the balcony spoke, "You misunderstand the nature of the game. You are not opponents, simply pawns." He uncoiled a whip and flicked it lazily in the air. "As such, you need not know the rules. You merely move when and where I tell you." The whip cracked, and at the far end of the ballroom a small explosion shattered the cable holding up a chandelier. It plummeted to the ground, scattered the crowd and sending broken glass flying.
"Great, I'm going to get my butt kicked just to keep the guy interested until the police show up." Rick thought to himself as he tried to judge the distance he would have to keep to stay out of the range of the whip.
"Now, listen you Zorro want-ta-be. I've found that playing the other team's game is never a good idea." Rick tried to sound confident as he got up from his chair and grabbed the punch bowl. "I think I'm going to try to change the game a little."
Rick flipped the punch bowl upside down on top of one of the flowerpots holding it there to catch whatever flame does not go out. He kicked open the window and yelled at people to get out.
The ones nearest him made a break for it and started climbing out the window.
The Wanderer had begun to approach the house, and was surprised to see the light dancing in one of the ballroom windows suddenly go out, followed by the crash of the window breaking and the exodus of people after that.
He paused for just a moment, and was joined by the White Knight, who had made his way around and over the ruined gate.
The two men raced for the house and the window.
The villain lashed out with the whip, "I do not require all of you, so flee, and be grateful for your puny lives!" The whip curled around the waist of a woman running toward the window. "This one shall suffice for my purposes." He yanked back and the woman was jerked off her feet. Hand over hand, he pulled her into the air and started to drag her up to the balcony.
He pulled her up to the balcony, commented, "Fainted, what a pity and placed her on the railing over the ten-foot drop.
Outside, the Wanderer and the White Knight arrived at the window and quickly helped the last few people out the and sent them off on the path to safety. Only Rick remained inside, with the punch bowl over the firepot. On the other side of the ballroom, perhaps 14 meters away, the strange man and his bird supported the unconscious woman over the abyss. (Well, abyss is rather strong. Over a 4 or 5 meter drop, though.)
"@(*&$%" Rick thought to himself as he saw the newly formed hostage situation. He can think of nothing that would guarantee the girls safety.
"Well, If you don't like an unconscious hostage, I'll be happy to take her place. Then you get a knight for a pawn. A pretty good trade in anyone's book." Rick said as he tried to run interference as WK and the pirate set up some kind of plan.
The Wanderer instantaneously appeared next to the Deputy Mayor checking on his condition before turning his attention to the antagonist. "I don't know where you come from, but party crashers aren't welcomed in Port Alexander. Release the woman and maybe, just maybe, I can wangle you a proper invitation to the dessert bar," said the Wanderer with an accusatory point.
A momentary flicker of concern crossed the face of the, ah, "terrorist," but was quickly replaced by one of cunning. The bird lifted slowly off his shoulder and flapped heavily to the top of a nearby bookcase. The man began to remove the whip from around this victim. "Does your offer still hold, Mr. Adams? Or are you now feeling safer, since a protector has arrived? The Wanderer, I assume, although your outfit seems atypical." The man finished removing the whip, then with a sudden shove pushed the woman off the front of the balcony, catching her around the waist with an arm so that he was the only thing between her and a nasty fall to the floor.
Rick didn't appear to hesitate when he was given the offer to exchange himself for the helpless woman. He had faith in himself and his two compatriots to make sure everything worked out.
"The offer still stands. An exchange in hostages. Me for her. It's a pretty simple deal." Rick answered. "Now, how do you want to do this?"
"No, Mr. Adams, I think you are not entirely suitable for my needs," he gently slapped the woman across the cheeks, "Wakey, wakey, my dear." He looked back at where the Wanderer stood by the Deputy Mayor. "Now, why don't you two just go out the way you ... err, no ... out the window, I'd prefer to keep an eye on the Wanderer. Ah, my dear, you've woken just in time to see your rescuers deserting you!"
The woman looked out, then down and screamed.
"The game ain't going to play that way." Rick replied. "Nobody is deserting anyone. Now Mr. Whipster, The Only power you have right now comes from the hostage. You harm her, you lose that power. So right now is your chance to negotiate and I'm one of the better people for you to negotiate with. Right now, as far as I know, nobody has been seriously hurt. That works in your favor. Those are the only points going your way."
Rick put on his best poker face as he delivers this speech, trying to stall for time. His attention was mostly on the arm holding the girl, memories of how fast he could do the 100 meter, and hopes that he hasn't lost too much of his speed.
The man loosened his grip a little and the woman screamed again and grabbed at his arm. He looked annoyed and started to free himself.
Suddenly everything happened at once.
The Wanderer took a slow step toward the assailant, holding out his hand palm up. "Listen to the Deputy Mayor, let the woman go as a gesture of ..."
He was cut off as Rick noticed the villian and his hostage starting to wrestle and sprinted across the floor yelling like a man possessed, "AURRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!"
Apparently, that was the distraction the White Knight had been waiting for, and his lineslinger shot through the window and up to the rafters, he came sailing through the window, shouting, "You've killed before, and you will answer for your crimes. You are under arrest!"
The villian shoved the woman free and she tottered for a moment on the brink, then fell over the side. Rick raced for her, but could tell he was going to be too late. With a gentle pop, the Wanderer appeared beneath her and caught her easily.
The man snapped his whip out at the White Knight's cable, "Damn you all." The whip cracked through the sound barrier and the swing-line parted. The Knight gracefully flipped in mid-air and landed on the floor near the Wanderer and Rick Adams.
"I shall remember this, believe me," shouted the man as he turned away, with a crash and a spray of marble dust, the staircase exploded. The man ran through the door which led back into the rest of the house. The bird took heavily to the air and flapped after him.
With the crash of exploding marble the Wanderer instinctively turned his back to shield the woman in his arms. After waiting for the debris to settle, he turned to the Deputy Mayor "Are you okay? Do you need any help?"
Rick looked to the girl waiting in the Wanderer's arms. "Thanks," he told the tuxedoed hero. "I've already called for fire and medical so let me take the woman and you two go after that guy."
"If you are able, I believe this dear woman needs medical attention," said the Wanderer with concern in his voice gently handing her over to the Deputy Mayor. Watching the duo make their way to the window and safety, the Wanderer turned to the White Knight with a bow -- "After you, yon Whippersnapper awaits."
Adams took the woman from the Wanderer's grasp and carried her to a couch. He made sure she is alright speaking gently and reassuringly. Once assured of her well being, the Deputy Mayor helped her out of the window and back toward safety.
The two heroes made their way quickly up the rubble and to the door which led into the rest of the house. A long hallway was visible with doors on each side. Visible at the end of the hall was a sweeping staircase which led down to the ground floor and the main entrance to the house.
The White Knight turned to Wanderer and says "You start checking from this end, I'll scoot to the other end and check that he didn't leave by the main doors, then I'll work back towards you". With that he raced the length of the corridor.
The Wanderer started down the hall in a cautious manner approaching the first door with a quick look inside around the frame. Each door experienced a similar modus operandi in this cursory investigation as the sweeping staircase got closer.
The White Knight reached the end of the corridor and looked down the staircase. At the foot of the stairs the main door to the house was open.
The Wanderer continued to check the doors quickly as he moved down the hall. The White Knight hesitated at the top of the stairs, debating his options.
Tum-ti-tum, thought the White Knight...
"Keep checking the rooms Wanderer! I'll secure the exit then backtrack towards you."
With that the White Knight leapt over the banisters to the floor below, rolling out of the fall then sprinting to the main door, looking around and listening for any other exits or signs of his quarry as he did so.
He stepped outside and saw a rather odd site. His quarry was clearly visible, perhaps thirty meters away ... being carried by the bird. The man and bird were six or eight meters in the air and making good time directly away from the house.
Meanwhile, the Wanderer barged into a delightful study dominated by a majestic mahogany desk and charming lithgraphs depicting fox hunts. A quick cursory glance showed nothing amiss, until his eye was caught by a bowl of chocolate toffees. With a blink, he stood aside the jar, removed one and popped it into his mouth. "Yum," he said while exiting and continuing on his search.
"Wanderer! Quick, this way! His raven is carrying him away!" the White Knight yelled to his compatriot, while aiming his linesliger at the escaping villain and firing it at him in an attempt to entangle him or the bird. In his haste, he forgot that the cable had been snapped in the building. The lack of a grapnel upset the calibration, and so the line went both short and wide and became entangled in one of the trees dotting the landscape.
He cursed himself for not using the backup on his other gauntlet, and activated his helmet radio on the police frequency, saying "Police, this is the White Knight, there is a murder suspect fleeing from the Ladilot Mansion, being carried by aloft by a large Raven... Yes, I *am* serious... No, I'm most definitely *not* on drugs..."
Upon hearing the White Knight's call, the Wanderer hurried to the head of the stairs and appeared in the doorway outside. There he saw the White Knight and the mysterious man being carried off by his winged saviour.
Having surveyed the situation, The Wanderer jogged up to the White Knight and uttered a cryptic, "Beware of bird droppings, my friend" as the audible pop revealed that he was no longer beside the armoured champion.
He reappeared directly above the bird and man. He lunged for the bird ... and missed. He had time for a single quip before smashing through the trees and into the ground.
'Whoops' thought the Wanderer as he came up empty on his grab attempt. "No bird in the hand, and a body in the bush. This is going to hurt..." trailed his murmur as he made impact with the trees.
After several moments of looking up at the ripped canopy of foliage that he had just descended through, the Wanderer slowly walked back to where the White Knight stood. A little worse for wear as there were numerous scratches and contusions, but a 'Don't ask' glance told the tale.
The White Knight disentangled himself from the tree while they watched in frustration, as the bird and its burden vanished out over the trees and the estate walls.
Rick excused himself from the group he is with when he saw the Wanderer coming his way. He held out his hand in greeting. "Thanks for the help back there. I think all that I was doing was pissing him off." The Deputy Mayor says with a grin.
"On the contrary, your heroism should be rewarded," complimented the Wanderer. "Although since said medal would come from your office that wouldn't look good, now would it?" said with the proper amount of mirth.
Adams face took on a more serious look as the masked hero barraged him with questions. "He really wasn't that informative. Just that he had some plans and that the hostages were the leverage he needed to accomplish them. I got the feeling that the White Knight had run into him before." "Hmm, I suppose it would be arrogrant to assume that we botched his plans so easily, and arrogance is not my bag, baby," mused the oddly dressed man. "Grabbing a hostage and discarding her so quickly doesn't sound like much of a plan. All it appears he accomplished was property damage, and an escape. This worries me. There is something we haven't discovered -- yet."