Negotiation

From the Story Arc: Grim's Gamble

Previous Story in the Arc: Mercy Street by Astra Kyne Murdock (Thursday, November 09, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Best Laid Plans by Astra Kyne Murdock (Saturday, November 11, 2006)

(posted Friday, November 10, 2006)

Vickie Victrix was hardly the most powerful magician in the world. She was scarcely the most powerful in Paragon City. Really, she wasn’t even the best at her specialty of techno-shamanism. But she was quite good at several things.

One was research. Through massive computer searches, through checking occult libraries and occult librarians, through delving through her own books, she had discovered no few things about the “dancing ghost.”

One was that there had been things like him around for a very, very long time. Only one at a time, and they usually faded out after a few years, but they were never caught, never exorcised, certainly never killed.

Score one for the bad guys.

It was said that they were reanimated from the spirits of those who had been unjustly accused and executed, and that the spirits in question had to actually make that bargain—also “said” to be for doing a hundred years of evil on earth—at the time of their deaths. They had an affinity for objects of great evil, sometimes going to lengths to obtain them. That matched with things that the three Reds, Zarya, Zakat, and Zvesda, and Crimson Tao had discovered in conversation. Also what Garent, Mandy, and Mori had turned up.

Score one for the good guys? Well, information wise, anyway.

She also knew now what he wanted, thanks to the aforementioned, and her own researches, and Sera out and out buying the information from one Shadow Talon—whose contact info she had taken the precaution of getting. You never knew when an informant in the Isles would come in handy.

A body. Interesting.

Another thing she was good at was patches. “Good enough is enough for now.” Slap a bandaid on to buy you time for the big fix. These were her bandaids. Get the twins safer. Stop the murders. Then think about the bigger picture. The more time you bought, the more time you had to come up with the right solution,

Now, she had already done some negotiations herself. Grim had agreed to drop the contact in return for the original “file”—which wasn’t a file at all, but a police evidence box—on Jack the Ripper. This “file” had disappeared around 1913; she had looked long and hard for something that she hoped would be evil enough, without giving Grim any kind of occult weapon. But now that she knew he also wanted a body…she could up the ante.

She pinged him, magically. Now that she had fought him once, she could do that. She was hoping for “friendlier” contact with this too. If she could, she would keep him talking long enough, close enough, to get his full magical signature. Once she had that….

She couldn’t control him, but there were a lot of options open to her if she wanted to make trouble for him.

“It's the elf chick, spooky,” she said dryly. “I have some sureties for you to look over and another....option”

“Some what? Ain't those those college clubs that's all girls?” He really was as dumb as a box of rocks. But he was cunning. She was not going to underestimate him, or let him think for a minute that she was talking down to him.

“Something to prove to you that the file is the real deal,” she said. “And a.....call it a backup offer. Pocket D, upstairs bar. I'm by the outside windows.”

She stared out the windows at the very odd view, until she felt his presence. “And there you are.”

“Howdy, darlin'.” Him calling her “darlin’” made her skin crawl, since that was the pet name both Ranc and Red used with her.

But she wouldn’t show it. “Howdy. I managed to get the owner of the file to send me a little something. Something I think you might not need CM to identify.”

“All right.” He sounded slightly dubious. “Ya'll got it with ya or somethin'?”

Among the things in the box had been the now-withered but preserved half-a-kidney that had been sent to the police from one of the Ripper’s victims, along with the “I fried and et it, it was very nice” letter. She had persuaded the owner to shave a tiny slice from it and send it to her. She was ninety nine percent sure that the file was genuine, but she wanted one hundred percent—and she wanted him to know too. She was going to be trading the elven sword with which she had been knighted for this—with Robin’s blessing, since there were kids involved. She offered the bit of kidney to Grim in a tiny glassine box. It looked like a dark brown fingernail paring.

He held it a moment, and she sensed….something…surging through and around him, responding to the object. Power, of a sort. “That sure 'nough has a bit o' evil floatin' around on it,” he said finally. “So, ya'll got the rest with ya? We can wrap this up all civil like right now, if'n ya do.”

“I can't get it yet, The owner and I are negotiating. He's a tough cookie,” she admitted. “The handle I have is that he can't show the file around. I have something about as good that he can.”

That got Grim’s attention. “Ya'll have what?”

“It's.....neutral to good, not evil,” she told him. “It's a sword. Not a lot of use to you.”

He nodded. “All right. I ain't got no need fer a sword, anyhoo.”

“I just want you to know this is no bull I am talking,” she went on. “I can get it. I can get it to you. But it will take time.”

She needed to establish she didn’t buff, and she always delivered. He nodded. “I believe ya, lady. I'll better be quick, though. Them kids ain't gonna last forever.” She winced.

Time for the second offer. “Now...well, here is something else.”

“Huh? Ya'll got somethin' else ta show me?”

“Not to show you but.....another offer,” she said carefully.

She had caught him off-guard. “Uh, all right.”

“You want a body,” she said flatly.

Now she did have his attention. “How do ya'll know that?”

She smirked. “A little bird.”

He seemed to rearrange his spectral bones into a posture of more attention. “All righty. Ya'll gonna get me one?”

She demurred. “So, do you know anything about Underhill? Where the Elves live?”

He shook his head. “Not a durned thing. 'fore I saw ya'll, I thought elves were just stories.”

She gave a dry laugh. “Heh, I'm not an elf you know, I just know them.”

He peered at her with interest. “Ya'll ain't an elf? Why does everyone call ya'll that, then? I can't see yer ears ta check. Hair's too long. It don't matter none, though.”

“Cause I was knighted by them,” she hazarded, “And maybe cause I'm short and cute. OK this might take some—“

Just then, a zombie in a the costume of a circus strongman stumbled into the bar, interrupting them. “--oh heck,” she said, “--send in the clowns.”

“Well, lookie here,” Grim said. “That done looks like one o' Yogi's boys.”

And in came Circus Master. “Has anyone seen a zombie?! I've found his marbles but lost him!”

“Grimmy, you still got the box?” she asked. “If you have, pass it to him>

There was some foolery between the two of them, then finally Circus Master looked in the box, after shaking it by his ear. “Sure, you're golden. As gold as black can be.”

Then she handed him the list of what was in the file, which, besides the verified letters from Jack that the public knew of, contained three more it didn’t—clothing, the kidney—and the ID of Jack himself. Small wonder the file had been stolen…by one of MI5. Jack the Ripper had been Prince Albert Edward, Queen Victoria’s grandson, familiarly known as “Prince Eddy.” Quite the Royal scandal that would eclipse anything subsequent generations had done…

CM thumbed through the list. “Seen it, seen it, seen it, rerun, rerun....”

“So, satisfied?” she asked.

He looked doubtful “I don't know, sure it's got the evil, but it doesn't even glow or anything. It lacks....pizzazz. Showmanship is important.

“Files do tend to be dry,” she replied. “But you want evil, this thing is loaded with it. : Rage, hate, revenge.... It's got it all. And on top of that, a Royal scandal.”

“I s'pose it'll do,” said Grim.

“Eh, I guess we can get some Crayola markers or soemthing and pretty them up, Grimmy,” Circus Master suggested. “Or some highlighters, those are pretty bright and flashy.”

She gave a mental shrug. This file would never, ever see the light of day, so as a historical document…it was pretty worthless. Anything these goons did to it would only lessen the evil, and that was good. Besides…it was dead papers and a dead issue being bartered for two living kids she loved very much.

“Now. Maybe....I could get you a body,” she said, going back to when they had been interrupted by the arrival of Grim’s buddy.

“What kind o' body?” He thought he was hiding his greed, but he wasn’t very good at it. “Garvey promised me an extra good one.”

“It'd be very different from the sort of thing you've been looking at,” she admitted. “Might be better. Might be worse.”

“Shoot, Garvey said you could choose,” Circus Master said unhelpfully. “I bet he'd let you have that boy's, the one you’re supposed to get. Stupid brat.”

“See, I don't know exactly what you are looking for,” she continued, maintaining calm.

“Beat him up with his own body! HahahahAHAHAHAA! What a sitcom.”

Moron. “The one thing I can tell you is this—“ she went on. “It will look exactly the way you want it to.”

“With its eyes?” Grim suggested.

Somewhere, a village is looking for its idiot. “However you want it to look, it will. When I bring it to you, it will look like a big faceless wax doll. When you move in, you will make it into however you want it to be. You want it to look gorgeous, it will.
Monstrous, it will.”

“Pfftt.” Circus Master dismissed. “You don't wanna be faceless. You won't get far on your looks then. No man is easier to identify than a faceless one!”

“How's a wax doll gonna do all that?” Grim wanted to know.

“Because it's not a wax doll,” she said patiently. “It's what's called a Changeling. It’s made out of magic in the Chaos lands Underhill.”

“It's a flesh doll, and you carve a shape into it,” CM said, finally making some sense. “Make what you want, but they tend to be faceless, and just change into other people, mimicking stuff.”

“There is a catch,” she continued, “Once it comes out here in the real world, it will start to fall apart. You have to keep recharging it with magic, with life energy. You can do that with your powers.”

There was a further catch she didn’t intend to tell him. She’d get someone to create this thing so it got more power from the death of someone evil than someone good. And the death of someone outstandingly good? Well, that might just permanently harm the thing.

“I ain't got no life in me,” Grim objected.

“Pfftt, you can do that by killin' folk, sucking out their life,” CM pointed out..

“You can steal it from other people,” Vickie repeated. “You do that already.”

“Yeah, I do,” he said with pride. “Yeah, what are ya'll wantin' fer this body?”

“If I give you both the file and the body.....” she continued. “I want you to bargain that you will never kill another innocent. That leaves a lot of people you can take out.”

“Can't do that, sweetheart,” Grim said flatly.

“Not killing innocent people isn't so evil. He won't be happy. Probably add more years.” CM pointed out. “Probably take away your stuff too.”

Grim nodded. “Aye.”

She snorted. “Oh come on....outside of children there aren't a lot of innocents in the Isles. EVERYONE there has dark secrets—“

“There's more than ya'll think, missy,” Grim said and “Who says we only kill people in the Isles?” Circus Master added.

“All right....let's limit it to kids then.” She hadn’t really expected to get that. You started from the moon and you bargained down to green cheese. “No one under 17.”

“Okay, lemme think fer a sec,” Grim said.

“For the file, you drop Garvey's contract. For the body, no more kids.”

“I got me a lot o' time here on the Earth, darlin'. Ferever is longer fer me than fer you.” He thought a moment longer. “How's about 25 years o' not killin' kids?”

“Fifty,” she countered instantly. Fifty years was a long time to find a way to take this thing out.

“Um...” he said slowly. “Thirty...five. Yeah. 35.”

Thirty five was still a good long time. “Done.”

“One more thing,” Grim interjected. “How long will this changelin' body live?”

“As long as you keep recharging it?” she replied. “As far as I know, at least 200 years.” Oh, but he had better be meticulous about that. Every time it went too long, it shaved a few more weeks, months, years off the lifespan. And she was betting that Grim would be too stupid to recharge it the way it needed. “If you miss feeding it, all bets are off. You have to take care of your pets, Grimmy.”

“We got ourselves a deal, then.” He nodded with satisfaction. “How often do I have ta feed it?”

“It will tell you, and it will depend on how good the last feeding was,” she said honestly. “Now look, this stuff takes time—“

“Okay,” Grim replied. “How much time we talkin', sugar?”

“It will be no later than Friday,” she said, and with emphasis, “NO LATER. The changeling isn't so bad but the owner of the file is a tough cookie. So even if you get the twins, you hold onto them till Friday.”

“That's fine,” he seemed agreeable enough. “If'n ya'll don't have the Ripper thing t'morrow, ya can bring me that body an' the file on Friday, ta trade fer Aedan and Astra. I ain't guaranteein' they'll be all peachy if'n they try ta fight me, though.”

There was some more foolery, through which she kept an easy smile on her face, even though her hands itched for a sword of undead slaying to run them both through. Finally, she said, lightly. “OK. I'm gone. Tata GG, CM.”

“I'll be seein' you by Friday or them kids ain't never seein' nothin' again,” she heard, as she left the bar.

She went home and scrubbed herself down for an hour. She had never felt quite so unclean.

But she had her patches.