Best Laid Plans

From the Story Arc: Grim's Gamble

Previous Story in the Arc: Negotiation by Victoria Victrix (Friday, November 10, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Just Rewards by Victoria Victrix (Monday, November 13, 2006)

(posted Saturday, November 11, 2006)

She had thought she had it all under control. She had a good team. She had a good plan. They were going to be able to take Grim Gambol down—

And then it all fell apart.

She and Aedan had wanted to do this on their own if they could, but Grim was too strong, and he had Circus Master and the whole mob of circus zombies with him—and Circus Master could do things she’d had no idea of. . .

So the team had swooped in and they had thought they had him. He was down—

And then he was gone. Most of the team even left, each of them thinking that one of the others had Zig-tagged him. Astra had been sure of that; sure that someone, probably Mori, had done it to keep her from…

…from killing him.

But then Tigerbright saw him again, and she realized then that Circus Master had just gotten him away long enough for him to recover. Which, being as he was a ghost…probably took next to no time. So they all went back to Bloody Bay—

But not in time for them to stop him taking down Tigerbright. Longbow evac’d her…Tasha went down and they got her as well.

Star joined up but…like Aedan, Star couldn’t dent either of them, and then...

Well, by then, it wasn’t an ambush anymore. And that was when things not only fell apart, but blew up. Grim and Circus Master were all over the map, and Circus Master went to ground in an Arachnos stronghold where they couldn’t go. Not that they didn’t try…and get chewed up so badly by guns that Shuma had to be evac’d too, and Keet.

“If'n ya'll surrender right now, I won't hurt ya'll or them 7 kids I got in my lil hidy hole,” Grim called out on the public comm. channel. “In fact, I'll take 'em out and make sure they don't get hurt no more.”

Then came the unexpected. “If'n ya'll keep fightin', though, I'll go an' drive a bus full o' brats inta a brick wall, just ta watch 'em burn.”

She went cold, ice cold, and her insides just knotted up. < Astra-- > Kyne began.

Astra locked her down.

A bus full of kids…

“I'm waitin'.”

Circus Master kept babbling about some list he was writing and how they had all made it. She hung frozen in mid-air, leaden. …a bus full of kids… She could see them now, see the bus being run into a wall, hear the screaming, see the little faces, terrified, at the windows as the flames embraced them….

“I want ta remember watchin' that bus burn.”

“Astra, do something headstrong.” Garent called out over their channel, as the rest searched for the magician, to try and take him down. If they couldn’t do that, it was hopeless.

No, it was already hopeless. And Grim was…Grim was….

“Astra, Aedan. I'll be seein' ya'll around, I guess. When ya'll read about a bus accident in the paper, ya'll just remember that ya coulda done the heroic thing and stopped it.”

“We're here waitin' for you and your clown, murderer.” Aedan’s voice sounded so brave. “If you can't face us, that's your own fault.”

“I'm goin' ta get a big bus, too. Lots o' doomed kids all at once.”

…the heroic thing… Heroic? No. She wasn’t heroic, she wasn’t brave, she just couldn’t face…

“No Aedan, I can’t do this!” she cried. “We can't I can't let him kill any more people!”

She dropped into human form, Kyne held firmly down. Aedan stared at her, aghast, as she landed on a wharf beside him. “Astra, if we turn ourselves over, we won't be saving anyone anyways.”

“The two o' ya'll can stop it, if'n ye get it through yer heads that I ain't in the mood fer making arguin' 'bout it.”

Aedan was trying to shout in her head, but she had him locked out. “Come get me!” she screamed over the common channel. He grabbed her shoulders and shook her. “Don’t you dare give up!” he shouted at her.

“Where all ya'll, girl. I'll be happy ta come an' scoop ya up.”

“Where you fought Aunt Vickie and Aedan the last time,” she replied, dropping to her knees. She wasn’t going to fight. How could she, when she could see…

“Remember what Dad told you! Get ready to fight!” Aedan said fiercely. “LISTEN TO ME!” He tried to shout it telempathically at the same time, and she lost her shields and almost lost her hold on Kyne. But the ones still left standing were no longer planning or…or anything. They were talking about retreating to the choppers.

And if they retreated…Grim would be free to….

“I can't let him kill any more kids—“ she said desperately.

“Yeah? How are you going to stop him if he has you at his mercy? Huh? Use your head, damnit. You're smarter than me! Act like it!”

But she wasn’t smarter than Aedan was. And she wasn’t brave. She couldn’t face having more blood on her hands.

“Get to the chopper folks!” Aedan called.

She closed her eyes in agony.

“No...not...” she heard Mori say, “W-wait... just... I can...”

“That's a whole lot o' death, Murdock kids.”

Mori swore.

“Ya'll might want ta consider givin' up without no arguin'. Ya'll just killed a whole busfull o' brats.”

“I surrender,” she called out, and turned off her comm-link to the rest.

“You're an idiot,” Aedan swore, as Mori stared. “And no one is surrendering. Go! Get Astra out of here.”

“I AM SURRENDERING!” she shouted, eyes burning.

Aedan slapped her. “Stop!” he screamed. “You will not! You won't disservice Mom, Dad, and everyone that's ever counted on us like that!”

And the kids? She knew Grim would do it. She knew he could. She couldn’t bear any more dead kids.

“Sestra—“ said Star.

“Someone, port her out of here NOW!” Aedan shouted, as she disabled her chips again, making it impossible for anyone to get a lock on her. He grabbed her arm. “We’re done here, let’s go!”

He might be. Well, she was too, in another way. Foxglove…he might get her out. He would get her out. He’d told her mother as much.

She had to believe that.

Had to.

“I’m surrendering,” she said flatly. “I have to…no more dead kids.”

“And what am I going to tell Mom and Dad? ‘Sorry, I let my sister get herself killed?’ You're acting stupid. He'll kill them even if you do surrender. HE DOESN'T CARE!”

Now it was Star, pounding at the inside of her head. < You must make that decision, you are willing to surrender the both of us? On the chance that he will not kill those children? HE WILL kill those children. >

“You want Zarya to be right?” Aedan shouted at her. “You're acting like a child! Grow up! We have to leave, and now! I won't let you throw yourself away for nothing.” He looked around, frantically. “All of you! Watch her. I'm getting Dad. Protect her while I get Dad.” He turned back to her. “Don't you do anything. Don't give yourself up.”

“.... makes me sick.” Mori muttered.

< That is the choice you must make, sestra. > Star was saying. < You and I, for the chance that it will keep it's word. >

No, no…Star was going to try and follow where she went…

“I won't wreck no bus, even if it's just ya'll, girlie,” Grim called out. And that was all she needed. Shifting to Nova, she shot up into the air, and fled, all her chips disabled, and her comm.. locator off.

And her team, which was her team no longer, in pursuit.

“I’m trying to get away from them!” she called, desperate to make Grim understand she was trying, trying to surrender to him…. “They won’t let me surrender!”

< Sestra! > Star shouted in her head.

“Well, ya'll better convince 'em.” Grim replied.

“I can’t!” she sobbed, flying blindly now, at top speed.

And then, someone she couldn’t shut out of her thoughts, anymore than she could really shut out Aedan. “Listen to me right now, Astra. Get back to Paragon. NOW,” called Blaze Phoenyx.

Sobs tore through her Mefnanim throat as Circus Master sang crazily, over broadcast, “I guess, you’ll say, what can make me feel this way!? My giirl! My girl! Talkin' 'bout, myyyy girl!”

“Daddy, I can't,” she wailed. “He's going to kill a whole bus full of kids!”

“My girl!” sang Circus Master.

“Your brother told me. Get back to the chopper, now. Last time I'll say it,” her father ordered.

Somehow she found a little more speed.

“I can't. I can't let him do this!”

“Astra! You come home NOW! I'm not playing. I won't let him do it.”

And how are you going to stop him? You couldn’t before… …the hands…the…head….”How are you going to stop him?” she sobbed. “How?”

Star was calling, calling…< Astra! Sestra! Where are you?>

“The best way I know how. Where is he?” her father demanded. Her mind was being ripped apart, her heart was already torn in shreds…

And that was when she saw him. A skeleton, dancing in front of her, wreathed in a shroud of shadow.

There was a moment of absolute terror.

Then nothing.

Grim Gambol caught his limp prize as she fell out of the sky with a cackle of triumph. She’d been easier to knock out than he’d thought, just a good hard whack with his spells and she’d gone tumbling down. Knocked into her human form. Now to get her back, turn the brats loose and wait for his payoff from the blond girl

Or not, and get his payoff from Garvey.

Either way, he won.

It was at that moment that the girl’s father came diving down out of the sun like a fighter plane, and let loose a barrage of energy-bolts that knocked the girl out of his arms. He made a grab for her, only to see the purple-black flash of Warshade energy snatch her away from him. With a snarl, he turned on the Kheldian—

They both fought like fiends, but in the end, since his prize was gone, he realized there was no point in wearing himself out. He had Circus Master port him away, and headed for St. Martial, fury in his brain and a plan to salvage the situation already forming.

Victoria Victrix had been monitoring the comm., mentally berating herself for being an absolute idiot. She’d overdone the secrecy. She hadn’t wanted JM to try and stop her negotiating with Grim—not that he could have, but he’d have made it messy—so she hadn’t told anyone about her deal but Sera.

Sera had probably held that information back from Johnny for the same reason.

But if Astra’s team had known she’d be ransomed within twenty four hours, they probably would have let her surrender. Johnny would have—to save a bus full of kids, surely he would have—and none of this would have gone so horribly wrong.

Well…there was no doubt that Grim would follow through on his threat.

Unless he had something else far more pressing to think about.

Time to give him a two-by-four upside the skull to let him know she was not someone he wanted to mess with.

She tuned her comm. to his freq and pinged him. “You'd better give me a couple damn good reasons to go through with this deal. I have one kid in looking for a bed in a psyche ward and a second one just about to go there.”

“'Cause I'll keep the deals we bartered on,” Grim replied, sounding miffed. “A body fer not huntin' Aedan an' Astra. The file fer not killin' kids for 35 years.”

“The deals were for kids that weren't damaged,” she said flatly.

Now he sounded even angrier. “Ya'll don't r'member proper. I said I'd keep 'em safe if'n they gave me no trouble. They gave me a heap o' it t'night.”

She snorted. “So? You expected anything different? You're dumber than I thought.”

“I told their maw that I'd accept their surrender in BB t'night and that I'd keep 'em all shiny an' new until Friday, when ya'll was payin' me off.”

Grab the offensive and keep it. “I'm holding the aces now.”

“Aces, what aces?”

“I don't care how many brats you kill in the Isles. That little girl did.” She made her voice snarl. “I can get a body and I can get that file and I dont give a damn about what you do. But you broke the two kids I do care about.”

“Wait, now I think I got a handle on what yer sayin'.” Grim replied. “Wait, now I think I got a handle on what yer sayin'. Ya seem ta think that I need ta get what yer offerin'. Them things're toys ta me. I was willin' ta make a deal fer 'em, but I don't have ta get 'em. Ya'll can hold 'em back, if'n ya'll want ta.”

Now tell him something that Circus Master probably already knew. She made her voice go soft and sweet. “But now I have something of you.”

“What's that, sugar?”

“You met with me in person sweetcheeks. I know your magical signature now,” she purred.


Her voice smirked. “That's for me to know and for you to find out. But I will tell you this much, I have you tagged.”

“I ain't sure what that's s'posed ta do for ya, but good luck with it. I'm good at hidin', though.”

“You just might want to think about how many people want revenge on you......”

Now he was losing patience. Good. He would be thinking about her and not about the kids he had and the ones he might get for a moment. And she had fulfilled the Knight-Guardian requirement of “fair warning.” “Look, I've had my fill o' silly threats fer one day. If'n ya'll decide ya want me ta stop killin' kids and stop huntin' Aedan an' Astra, ya just let me know.”

“You know what they say in my neck of the woods? Be careful what you wish for. You might get it.” He’d wished for revenge, which was why he was here now. She would be willing to bet he hadn’t thought of confining that to only his own revenge. Ah, magical loopholes. That would give her spell so much more strength.

“I don't 'member makin' no wishes, but whatever ya'll say.”

“I'm afraid you already did,” she said sweetly.

Then she cut off the connection. And started her own ritual. It was close enough to Halloween that the spell to open a Portal to the world of the restless dead was easier to do. She had Grim’s magical signature to mark it with. Once she did that, any spirit wanting revenge on him would be free to come pouring through that portal and into the world. She would bet there were a few of them.

An hour later she had her answer as the spirits came flying out so thick and fast it looked like a hive of angry bees. She smiled. Grim was a ghost. There was no way he could not be affected by other spirits. For the next several hours he would be way, way too busy to think about killing kids.

That would buy her time. Time to get the kids he had safe. Time to get her file and body and trade him on the original deal.

And just maybe, time to do something about four people she loved very much, who were currently in their own little hell.