Leah Carpenter/The Evil Countess Crey

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This story contains a large number of spoilers involving the Janet Kellum story arc of the same name. It is also fairly violent, so be warned.


Chapter 1

Today was a normal day. Beat up more Nemesis troops in the name of great justice. To be honest, I was sort of half-assing it. Sneak past as many of them as possible to complete the specific objectives and let the police mop up the rest. At least I hope the police do... whatever. They break out of Ziggursky on a daily basis, anyway. I was sick as hell of them and those damn snipers. After I destroyed a Rikti impostor robot and brought back proof to Maxwell Christopher, he said some very beautiful words after extrapolating on Nemesis.

"I have no more leads, but my partner Janet Kellum might," started Max, "She's standing to my right. Thank you for all your hard work in defeating Nemesis."

"No problem. Anything for a citizen," I say, hiding my cynicism. I merrily walk twenty feet over to Janet and introduce myself.

"Hello. Max sent me," I open.

"Hello, Leah Carpenter. I'm Janet Kellum with the PBSA."

"Pleasure to meet you. So, what's your flavor? Circle of Thorns? Arachnos?" "Countess Crey is one of the most insidious villains operating in Paragon City today. You and I are going to bring her down!" I like her already. In fact, I like her a lot more than the Nemesis obsessed loser I wasted all that time with.

"I somehow doubt that, but you have my rapt attention. So, what's the first thing we shall be doing?"

"A woman named Pamela Thompson contacted me today and asked if you could help her find her missing daughter, Julianne. The catch is, the trail's more than a decade old." Damnit, I hate missing person cases enough without them being a dead trail. "Julianne disappeared when she was twenty-five, shortly after a brief stint in the slammer. Her mom's been watching your coverage, and she thought you might have what it takes to finally solve this case. She gave me the address of the old building where Julianne used to maintain a loft. Maybe you can find something there."

"I don't know what that has to do with Crey, but yeah, sure. Whatever. Investigate old building. Got it."

"According to her mom, Julianne was a good kid who wound up in jail after she tried to make waves for a crooked politician. It's a pretty sad story." She then gives me a map to some old building in Brickstown and sends me on my way. Couple teleports later, I'm right outside of it. Walking inside, I see that the place is overrun by Crey. Shocker. I guess this does have something to do with them. I do a standard sweep of the building, putting in extra effort in roughing up the little bastards. I find her old diary during my Crey pummeling, which has the usual. One vague lead that I can already tell will be what I have to follow. I take it back to Janet.

"Crey security was there?" starts Janet, "Curious. What do they care about a missing person case that went stale over a decade ago?" Because they're probably responsible for it. Idiot. "Perhaps Crey has something to do with Julianne's disappearance? They'd hate to see something like that come out now, right when they're gearing up for the release of their new computer operating system, CreyComp." You know, I will give Crey this much. Banking on Vista's mass disappointment was ingenius. Still, I sure as hell wasn't going to touch anything Crey produces.

"So, what's the next step?" I ask.

"I'm going to have a word with Pamela Thompson. She never told me the other heroes who investigated her daughter's disappearance wound up dead!" Spooooooooky. Yep, this is Crey. They probably all ended up as unwilling participants of the Revenant program. "In the mean time, you might as well go talk to that hero mentioned in the missing girl's diary. The Night Fox may have been the last person to see Julianne before she disappeared."

"Hit me up with the details," I say.

She marks down a location in Founders' Falls. "The Night Fox's retired now, but he still lives in a cave. He was really into the whole brooding hero lifestyle." Guess the world can't get enough of these losers. Some teleports later, there I am. I walk in to find... Crey troops ransacking the place. Surprise, surprise. Let the pummeling begin. I eventually find the leader of it, who is yet another of the disgusting Protector clones.

"Have you finished moving the Night Fox?" asks the Protector to bad suit wearing thug, who I wasn't able to hear, "Good. Clean this place of all evidence and let's get out of here," he barks to his troops as I walk up to them.

"It's the derelict! Get her!" I take them down like nothing. The Protector didn't want to go down, but his claws weren't any match for my electricity. Yawn. I head back to Janet.

"Crey kidnapped the Night Fox?" she asks, sounding surprised, "It sounds like we've got more on on our hands than a decade-old missing person case. Crey must have had something to do with Julianne Thompson's disappearance!" Oh, gee, imagine that. "Why would they be trying to eliminate all our leads?" Because they're evil.

"So, what do you think we should do now?" I ask.

"We've got to find out what Crey has done with that retired hero, the Night Fox. Not only is he in grave danger of becoming another unwilling donor for Creys disgusting Revenant Hero Project, he's also the only lead we have to the disappearance of Julianne Thompson. I'm beginning to suspect that girl may have fallen victim to some sort of Crey plot. The weird thing is, she disappeared years ago, back when Crey was just a European company of moderate means."

"You mean they weren't always this huge monstrosity?" I ask, sarcastically.

"No," she responds.

"So, what do you suggest I do?"

"One of the Crey agents on the street may know something. If I were you, I'd start looking in Crey's Folly; that's where you'll find most of them."

"You want me to just beat the information out of them? No investigation of rickety old buildings, no people to rescue, just walk up to Crey employees and put the hurt on them?"

"I guess in a manner of speaking, yes."

"You... are awesome," I say, "I'm rushing over there right now."

"Please be discreet about it," she yells as I run off. What can I say? This woman knows how to motivate. Some more pummeling later, one of them coughs up a file containing orders. It seemed that the Night Fox is going to be the latest donor to the Revenant project. Awesome. I take it back to Janet.

"Good work, Leah," starts Janet, "These orders you found should lead us right to the facility where the Night Fox has been imprisoned. I really hope he can tell us what happened to Julianne Thompson."

"I'm going to get lunch now," I tell her, "I'll be back in a little."

"Okay. Be careful. I think Crey is onto you." Like that's different from normal life.

Chapter 2

I head over to Bianco's in Faultline and take a seat in the common area. I order the usual meal of scallops and bread pudding with a constantly refilled glass of pink wine. The lunch of champions. Just as it arrived and I was about to start eating, some guy in a bad suit sat down beside me.

"You're Leah Carpenter, aren't you?" he asked.

"How astute of you," I respond dryly.

"Wow, the Leah Carpenter. I'm a big fan of your's."

"Cut the act. Take out the collapsible SMG from your holster and the Glock from your boot. And the knife wrist piece. And the grenade in your right pocket. While you're at it, take off your ear piece as well." He looks at me for a second, then does everything I told him.

"How did you know?" he asked, actually sounding surprised.

"You haven't been working for Crey very long, have you?" I ask him.

"I finished training a couple weeks ago," he responds.

"Okay. To answer your question, it's because you guys are so cookie cutter. You all wear counterfeit Armani suits that aren't even tailored. They're all just five sizes fit all and look horrible on most of you. Not to mention that it's obvious that they aren't even made at the same time from the same materials. Your pants have a slightly different texture than your vest. And don't even get me started on that thinly disguised Kevlar vest doctored up to look like a dress shirt."

"So we look bad in these suits," he responds.

"It's not just that. You all carry your weapons in all the same places and no matter how hard you try to hide it, the bulges appear. And while I doubt you can hear it, I can hear the high pitched whine of your chemical regulators. And that's before we even get into how you guys almost always walk around with this same attitude. Acting like you're some sort of debonair badass on the-"

"Okay, you got me," he interrupts.

"While I know that Crey still wants their test subject back so they can further the development of those 'Paragon Protectors', what specifically brings you here right now?"

"The countess doesn't like your current investigation and it would be in your best interest to stop," he says. I do a poor job holding back my laughter.

"That's it?" I ask rhetorically, "Just a polite 'stop or die' threat?"

"I was told to rough you up if you don't cooperate."

"Right. Let me point out some people in this room. Over at that corner is the Pointman, a good old fashioned soldier. Looks like he brought his machine gun with him. Sitting across from him is the Emerald Archer. At the bar, I see Madam Blaze, Absolute Zero, and Throttlerocket. And that's just people I recognize. Even if you, with your basic training and your couple weeks experience bullying the local magazine editors from printing bad news about your company, could ever hope to take me down, do you think you can take all of them? At the same time? Give me a break."

"You'll regret this," he says, reaching for his stuff. I slap his wrist very hard.

"No, this is not your stuff any more. Now, go home to mommy."

He stares at me with a lot of hostility for a brief second before he walks out the door, defeated. If only they were all like this. I just barely start my meal when a middle aged army man walks up to me.

"I like how you handled that goon. Real professional. But why did you let him go like that?"

"I didn't let him go," I answer. We both glance outside to see that same goon being apprehended by the police.


"See, this is why I like this place. It's really popular amongst heroes and the staff here know when they need to call the police." A waitress picks up all the weapons left behind by this goon and takes them outside to the police.

"My name is Colonel Louis Jericho."

"Leah Carpenter. Pleasure to meet you, Colonel."

"Oh, just call me Lou. I was wondering if maybe sometime in the future, you would like toooooooo..." he drifts off as I see him looking in the corner. Guess Madam Blaze caught his attention. Same old story.

"Go get her, tiger," I say, sarcastically.

"I'm sorry, that was rude of me," he quickly says.

"Don't need to explain to me. Go on ahead."

"Well, it was a pleasure to meet you. Good luck handling those Crey goons." He then walks off to find that person that was simply too attractive for him to ignore. The usual. I finish my now lukewarm lunch and head out.

Some teleports later, I'm with Janet again.

"Welcome back. Have a good lunch?" she starts.

"About the same as usual, really," I respond, "So, what's your next task?"

"Well, Leah, you did a great job finding out where Crey took the Night Fox. Now all you have to do is go in and rescue him. With any luck, he'll be able to tell you what happened to Julianne Thompson all those years ago. I'm certain Crey had something to do with her disappearance."

"Sure thing." She marks down another location.

"The Night Fox hasn't worked actively in years, but he used to be a really remarkable hero. I know you won't let him down." I go to the building, which is, of course, infested by Crey. Joy. Time to send more of them to the hospital. I cut a swathe through, eventually finding some guy with male pattern baldness and a minor beer gut handcuffed to a chair with a Paragon Protector and some bad suits by him.

"...oh, we don't need you to do anything for us," I start to hear as I approach them, "just your silence and your DNA should be enough."

"You won't get away with this!" says the Night Fox. Cliched. I take that opportunity to step in.

"You again?" yells the Protector. I guess it was the same guy as before, although it's so hard to tell them apart. They all reach for their weapons, but it's already too late for them. Once again, the Protector just refuses to go down, but it eventually happens. I break the Night Fox out of his chair.

"I'm here to save you, Mr. Fox," I say.

"What is all this about? I've never dealt with these people before, yet they had a whole army attack me."

"It's something about a Miss Julianne Thompson. Happen to know anything about her?"

"Yeah, I remember Julianne Thompson. Bright kid, wanted me to work with her. In fact, she wanted to gather a whole cadre of superheroes to fight for her causes: the war on drugs, government reformation, stuff like that. Lofty goals, but I had to turn her down. I mean, it's hard to trust an ex-con, you know? Julianne went to England looking for more heroes I guess. In fact, I heard she died there."

"Oh, she's dead? Bummer. You might want to just leave the country for now. Crey's not going to just let you go this easily."

"Thank you for rescuing me, fellow hero."

"No problem. Have a good one."

Chapter 3

I head back to Janet and tell her what happened.

"So, the girl we've been looking for has been dead for more than ten years?" she says, sounding surprised, "That's a real shame, Leah, a real shame. I'll break it to her mother. Maybe I can pull some strings to get Julianne's body shipped back to the states quickly; that way she can be buried in her family plot. That's the least I can do for her poor mother."

"Cold comfort, but I guess it's the best we can do," I say, "Do you have anything else for me?"

"Not at the moment, no."

"Okay. I'm going to take the rest of the day off. Shall I meet you here tomorrow at, oh, let's say nine?"

"Sure. Be careful. I heard that Crey is gunning for you."

"That's just my normal life. Anyway, good night."

I head back to my secret apartment in Faultline to play video games and browse the internet for a few hours before I go to the Tower of Shadows to sleep for the night. I go back to Janet the next morning at nine sharp.

"Good morning, Janet," I open.

"You're not going to believe this!" she starts.


"I just got word from Julianne's mother! According to her, that body that was buried under Julianne's name wasn't hers at all! Now, that may just be grief talking; after years of hoping for her return, Mrs. Thompson may not want to face the fact that her daughter's gone for good. But it got me thinking. I've got a hunch about who that body might belong to, Leah; now I just need you to check it out."

"How did you do all that so fast?"

"I'm just that good," she responds, sarcastically. It's nice to see she's getting it.

"So, what do you want me to do?"

"I want you to take a lock of hair from the body over to Cadao Kestrel, the voodoo master. He should be able to perform a ceremony to reveal the dead woman's name."

"Sure thing. Where is he?"

"Oh, he's right over there." She points to the man, who waves back.

"Couldn't you have taken it over yourself?"

"He wanted a hero to bring it over."

"Ooooookay, then. One delivery, coming right up." I walk over to Cadao.

"Thank you, Leah," he starts, "One moment, and the true name of the dead woman will be revealed. Could you just hand me that bag of chicken bones?" I fumble through his materials before I find what he asked for. "Thank you. The name of the dead woman is..."

"Annnnnndddd?" I ask.

"Clarissa van Dorn? But Clarissa van Dorn is Countess Crey! Van Dorn was her maiden name. Leah, something is very, very awry."

"I can't say I'm surprised. The person in charge of Crey is, herself, not even who she says she is. Well, thank you for helping."

"Any time." I walk back over to Janet.

"I knew it! According to Kestrel's magic, that body belonged to Clarissa van Dorn. That means that Countess Crey isn't the real Clarissa. No. Countess Crey is Julianne Thompson, the girl we've been trying to find. After she found that her prison record prevented her from gaining power the honest way, Julianne killed the real Clarissa, assuming her identity, and married Count Crey under false pretenses! Leah, this is the biggest break we've ever had against the countess. We may even be able to convict her for murder!"

"Somehow, I don't see this working out like that. I mean, we have what? A voodoo expert's testimony that this is her? And it's not even like it's specifically Julianne that must have taken her place. Could be any number of people."

"No, I'm sure of it. It must be Julianne."


"All right, Leah, this is huge. Countess Crey is guilty of murder, and you're going to bring her in! I'll put the word out to the police and the media. You go reel her in."

"Yeah, sure. Where?"

"My sources think she's inspecting a Crey facility in Brickstown. Check it out."

Chapter 4

I arrive at the facility, which is just a bit too creepy for me. It has trap written all over it, but I get that feeling from half the things I do nowadays. It's a standard facility and has all the same things such as an excessive amount of over-equipped security and a lot of projects going on. Lot more security cameras than usual, too. Guess I'll have to make a stop by the surveillance room. I start the pummelling, which is almost boring now. It's as though no matter how many of them I hurt, it won't ever let me get over what they did to me.

I finally make my way to the main room. The security chief was checking his emails on his computer and the bad suit goon near him was just picking at her fingernails. She notices me, jumps to her feet and dashes over to the chief. After some inaudible words, they both come towards me.

"I'm sorry, did I come at a bad time?" I start, "I could come back in a minute."

"No, you're just in time," says the bad suit.

"What, you have something special planned?" I ask.

"No. We're just gonna beat you senseless."

"Ahhh. Guess we're on the same page, then."

About twenty seconds later, I have both of them taking a painful nap. I couldn't find any doors, so this had to have been the end of the line. I decide to browse the security chief's email to see if there was a clue to the whereabouts of the countess. There wasn't anything terribly useful, but I did find something interesting.

'Security Chief Whitney:'

'I do not take Howard Quigley's threats lightly, and neither does the great lady we both serve. If he is bent on causing trouble, Quigley has the brains and the knowledge to disrupt the CreyComp launch. To forestall this possibility, please send a team to take him to our new re-education facility. Once he is loyal to Crey, we will have no more to fear.'

'Security Chief Alvarez'

Disappointed by the fact that the Countess was nowhere to be found, I bring back my pidly information to Janet.

"She wasn't there, but I found this email if it helps," I open.

"Leah, I've got some very bad news," she responds.

"You don't say."

"The countess has a lot more power than we realized. We know she's guilty of murder, but the media won't report on our findings. And I can't get a single judge to sign a warrant for her arrest! But that's not all."

"I don't like where this is going."

"She's used one of those judges she has in her pocket to get you on the city's most wanted list! She has you on breaking and entering, assault, and theft of Crey technology! Leah, if you can't prove your activities were part of a legitimate investigation, you're going to spend the next 50 years rotting in the Zig!"

"How come I can be beat to shit right in the courthouse and they get away with it, but even after I exposed several of their conspiracies, they just have to claim petty assault, theft, and tresspassing to get me booked for fifty years?"

"Because unlike you, they know how to spin a story."

"Oh, yeah, that. So, what now? Because this certainly isn't ending with me spending the rest of my prime in prison."

"If we can't find some proof of her guilt, you may be arrested on Countess Crey's trumped up charges. We don't have a lot of leads to go on right now, but I think we should start by rescuing this Howard Quigley. Based on that e-mail you found, he sounds like an ex-Crey employee with an axe to grind. If we can get to him before Crey's mind control goons, maybe he can help us prove the countess is up to no good."


"It looks like Quigley's got a new job over at Gaffnet Consulting. Here's the address. Oh, and I'd suggest sticking to the back alleys whenever possible. Remember, you're a wanted hero."

I head over to the office. I just know that Crey will be there. They always seem to be one step ahead. What a surprise for me to be right. I plow my way through to Quigly.

"Are you okay?" I open, "Did they inject you with anything?"

"No," he responds quickly.

"Okay, good. I heard you used to work for these goons?"

"Sure, I used to work for Crey. In fact, I was the lead developer on their new operating system, CreyComp. Let me tell you, we put together a sweet software package. But Crey wasn't happy with it. They kept asking me to insert extra patches of code, routines they had already built and tested independently. I got the feeling that there was something shifty about it. So I bailed. I put a monster Easter egg in the code: if you hit ALT + CNTRL + O while you have the options menu open, it brings up a picture of the countess morphing into a weasel. I left the company for good, and I told them they'd be sorry. I guess that's why they came after me."

"Okay. I have a friend coming to pick you up. You'll be about as safe as you can expect."

Chapter 5

After I help get Quigley on his way to the safehouse, I stand there wondering what I should do. While I had been trying to stay out of sight, it's just so hard with such an overpopulated city. I was thinking how surprised I was that there hadn't been any police around when I then notice a police car in the distance. I quickly duck into a side alley, thankfully without being noticed. I hate sticking out like such a sore thumb. After waiting for about ten seconds, I start to walk back out when something blocks my sight and starts dragging me backwards. Reacting on instinct, I pour a ton of electricity around me until I feel the grips loosen, do a heel turn, and just blast electricity in their general direction. After I hear a few thumps, I take the black bag off my face and see some Knives of Artemis operatives twitching on the ground.

Within a few seconds, I see some Malta goons approach from all sides. A gunslinger, some sappers, a Zeus Titan that was scraping the sides of two buildings as it approached. I could already tell that they wanted something because I was well within their blasting range, yet they hadn't fired a shot yet. They soon have me cornered, with them staying back about 30 feet.

"Hello, Miss Carpenter," starts the gunslinger, "We've waiting a long time for this."

"What the hell do you want?" I ask. I already know that they want my blood, but who knows? Maybe it's something specific.

"We got an interesting phone call from Crey," starts the gunslinger, "Seems they managed to get enough dirt on you to put you on the Paragon top 10 most wanted list. They offered us a lot of money and a manufacturing deal in South America in exchange for us to silence you. We also intend to use you as a bargaining chip to get some of our operatives out of prison."

"And....." I start, knowing that this can't be all if he's talking to me.

"We've been keeping tabs on you for a long time, Miss Carpenter. You have what it takes to get the job done. The Malta group is always looking for more operatives to aid us in our pursuit of freedom."

"Freedom... ha."

"If you join us, we'll make you disappear. Everyone will think you're dead. You'll be given a choice of a tour of duty anywhere in Africa or South America that you wish. You will be treated as a full member and be given access to the same services. For example, we could find a way to remove your curses."

"What, you guys? Ha. I doubt you even know the five types of magic energy."

"Primal, divine, demonic, celestial, and chi. You are a chi type."

"...okay..." I respond. Killjoy.

"What do you say?"

"Join your little club and I get a new home, a large paycheck, and full benefits with dental coverage. And all I have to do is harrass, smear, or kill any meta-humans that won't conform."

"So, are you in?"

"I'm thinking... no. I like being able to look at myself in the mirror."

"You'll rot in Ziggursky for the rest of your natural life, with your only way out being to join Lord Recluse and his fanatics. Are you sure?"

I decide to let my actions speak for themselves. I throw a lightning bolt at the gunslinger, who only flinches just hard enough to knock his hat off. Right on cue, the sappers all start streaming their beams on me, draining me of power and significantly lowering my energy. I knew it was coming and braced myself as they all circled in. The gunslinger scoffs at me.

"A poor choice," he says as he picks up and dusts off his hat, "I guess you're not ready to join us yet. Bag her."

Just when the sappers are within a couple feet of me, I start my contingency plan. I pull out my hidden S&W revolver and with cold precision, I shoot the cables that lead from the guns to their backpacks. With a satisfying fwoosh, their units malfunction and their jetpacks activate, sending them flying in a random manor. I guess all that Virtua Cop did come in handy. Forgetting that this is a five shot instead of a six, I try to shoot at the gunslinger, who hasn't even moved yet. He laughs as my gun clicks.

"What, you want to have round with me? Fine. Go ahead, reload." He assumes the classic old west duel position. I look at him for a second before tossing the gun away and running towards the fire exit on the nearby building. Even if I thought I could outduel him (fat chance), I didn't have any more bullets. He didn't make any moves as I swung up the side of the platforms with all the grace of a retarded monkey. I was about two floors from the top when some missles destroyed the top part, with the explosion just barely being out of my range. I try to get in through a window, but I'm greeted by a very thick bluish grey wall in the same style as is used by the Crey labs. So that's why I never seem to see any windows in these office building labs.

As I was trying to break down the wall to no avail, I felt a lot of heat. I look down to see that this Titan was cutting the side of the fire exit off. I brace myself as the lasers pass by me, severing the fire exit and causing the whole structure to teeter over. It stops about halfway, leaving me dangling over the middle of the alley. The guard rail breaks to a combination of my weight and the laser cuts. I just barely manage to grab into the floor with one hand. While I try to get a better hold, I notice three of the Sappers all jetpacking towards me. Their guns were glowing at the end but they hadn't fired yet, suggesting that they were running on limited but still usable power.

The first one gets in range and tries to lunge his rifle into me, which I barely avoid by swinging upwards. As I descend, I grab the rifle between my legs. He tries to wrestle it out of my grasp, but I hold firm. I spot another Sapper closing in. I drag the grappled sapper into his path, who inadvertantly shocks his buddy. The shocked sapper spasms, losing his grip on the rifle and flying off in a random direction. To my surprise, the inflictor drops the rifle and tries to punch me. I guess the rifles were one use only in this state. His punch lands, but it doesn't have a whole lot of force (no doubt because of the awkwardness of it). Hoping for the best, I use my legs to lunge the rifle I was still holding into him. It shocks him, causing him to spasm and fly off in a random direction. The third sapper gets within range and takes a lunge, just barely missing me as I swing upwards again. I kick the rifle out of his hands as I come back down, sending it barrel first into one of the unconcious Knives of Artemis mercenaries. Poor her.

Just as I did that, the panel I was holding comes loose. I just barely manage to grab onto one of the straps on this sapper, dragging us down a couple feet as the jetpack adjusts to the added weight. He tries to force me off, but with each punch he tries to throw, we wobble in some direction. I guess these things just weren't designed to handle this sort of thing. I noticed a miniture SMG tucked into a side holster as we struggle. Using my wings, I manage to move us towards what remained of the platform through flapping. I guess they are useful, after all. Once we ended up under it, I use one hand to grab the platform and another to grab the SMG, kicking him away with both my legs. I then unload several bullets into him, all of which were absorbed by the kevlar vest but the straps to his jetpack were severed, sending him plummeting down. The jetpack, free of its weight, shoots up like a missle, colliding with the structure and shaking it enough to snap off the portion I was holding. I fall down below, with my fall being broken by a Knives of Artemis mercenary. Poor her.

I lie there for a second, coming to grips with the horrible pain I was feeling from that fall. I notice that the gunslinger was still just standing in that same place, arms crossed. I quickly jump to my feet and aim at him when he fires a shot at my gun, knocking my arm back and having my spray of bullets go up in the air. Another shot later, the SMG goes flying from my hand. I have to give credit to the fact that he certainly does know what he's doing. He then starts taking other shots into me, which, surprisingly, weren't piercing me, but knocking me back with a lot of force. I end up with my back to the wall, at which point, he starts shooting these bullets that were forming blocks of ice. He froze both my wrists to the wall, then my ankles, and, as if just being thorough, my tail. He holsters his guns and walks towards me as I struggle to break free of the ice constraints. He takes out a syringe and uncaps it as he starts to get close. I start to feel the block around my right wrist shatter. Just as it broke and try to punch him with my free arm, he stabs me with the syringe, causing me to black out immediately.

Chapter 6

When I woke up, I was in some dingy old cell. I had some sort of tether that went around my shoulders and across my chest, which seemed to be attached to some sort of line. There was a door in the middle of the wall across from me that only had a thin slit covered by some type of glass as its feature. It was also my only source of light. I just sit there, not really feeling like trying my luck, when I hear someone speak.

"Miss Carpenter, please come to the door. We wish to speak to you."

I get up, almost stumbling as I feel the large amount of pain from all the places I got shot earlier. I look through the slit to see a man wearing a simple suit and tie.

"Welcome to Ziggursky Prison, Miss Carpenter," starts the man, "I am Martin Jaeger, the head warden."

"Pleased to meet you," I reply.

"Do you know why you're here?" he asks.

"Because Countess Crey trumped up some charges. I believe they were assault, theft, breaking and entering?"

"And corporate espionage."

"This gets better by the minute. I bet before I know it, she'll pin the next murder on me, too."

"Usually, we wouldn't have you in Ziggursky before a trial, but the brutality of your crimes and the fact that you have intentionally avoided the authorities suggests that you are very dangerous."

"I'm honored to be considered that. By the way, why can't I hear anyone else? I always heard horror stories that it's impossible to sleep at night due to the raving lunatics."

"You're actually the only inmate of this particular block. We were told that you had powers that could interfere with equipment, so we had to take you to one of the cells that didn't have any electronics controlling the doors. The only thing electronic here is the camera system and it would be foolish of you to try to knock that out."

"Don't you get a lot of inmates who could do that?"

"Yes, but most of the time, they have already been convicted and we can implant the sapper devices to keep them in check."

"Ahh. That makes sense."

"Your trial will begin in two months. During this time, you will be kept here and given one meal a day."

"Wait, you mean to tell me that I have to lie here, no bed, no pillow, and nothing to do in a dimly lit for two months?"

"Our resources are spread very thin. We can barely house the constant wave of people coming in. We're already investing in three bed bunks now and putting six to a cell. We've started shipping out the normal people to places outside the city. Anyone with superhuman strength or abilities has to come here."

"That's bullshit. How the hell do you expect anyone to reform when this is the sort of treatment they get? How do you expect anyone to even keep their sanity?"

"That's not my concern, Miss Carpenter. I'm supposed to hold you until the trial."

"Bullshit. Give me a damn pillow, at least. Come on. Take it from Nosferatu's cell or something. I think if anyone deserves to go pillowless, it's him."

"Nosferatu broke out four days ago. Don't you read the news?"

"But I put him here three days ago... how long have I been unconcious?"

"The men that brought you in said they injected you with a 144 hour serum and gave me a specific time you'd be awake. It's currently 12:30 on January 8th, 2008."

"Oh, for the love of... CreyComp comes out in a week."

"Yes, it is. I already have a shipment coming in to upgrade our systems."

"Wait... you can spend 200 dollars per network edition copy to upgrade this prison, but you can't spend 2 bucks on an extra pillow?"

"Our software budget hasn't been expended yet. Our pillow budget has been, though. Besides, pillows are for humans."

"What the hell is that... oh, you think I'm some monster?"

"I know you're a monster."

"That's insulting."

"I'm sure your wings, tail, claws, and scales speak volumes of your humanity. I'll be sure to put you with the other dragonkin after the trial. Anyway, I'm due for an important meeting. Please don't claw the walls." He starts walking off. Maybe it was the side effects of the serum, but I start screaming at him while pounding the door.

"Get back here, damnit! Get me a damn pillow and apologize for that remark! I'm not a monster! Get back here!" I hear a loud beep and my tether system violently snaps me back up to the corner of the wall. Now I understood why next to nobody that spends any time here reforms. This was almost as degrading as being a lab experiment.

Chapter 7

For the rest of the day, I just lie there, wondering if this was my fate. Eternal abuse in the prison system that I have sent so many people to. In a way, it's almost ironic. The warden did come back a few hours later around meal time, sarcastically apologizing for the lack of raw human meat on the 'menu' and 'reclaiming' my prison uniform. "Clothing is for humans," he says. What bullshit. So now I'm tied there, naked, no doubt in direct view of a security camera, and all I can do is just count how many scratchings there are on the walls. Lovely.

After a few hours, I finally manage to fall asleep. My dreams prove to be insightful yet again, showing me a scene where the dragonkin prisoners are tearing apart my wings. I know that they're extremely hateful of humans and would hate me even more for looking like them. Somehow, I also sense the warden watching, laughing, trying to figure out how to make things even worse. I wake up to what I thought was a nearby noise, but nothing was happening.

I try to go back to sleep when I then hear this drilling noise coming from the wall on the other side of the wall to my left. I pass it off as being routine repair work, but then I remembered that there wasn't any hallway linking in that direction. I start at he wall, trying to figure out what's going on as seven more drillings occur. About fifteen long seconds after the eighth drilling ends, I hear a loud explosion and a rough square section of the wall overlapping my cell and the hallway gets pulled off. A gust of wind blows through my cell and while it's nighttime, I'm momentarilly blinded by a floodlight. Within a few seconds, I make out that these are Sky Raiders.

"Leah Carpenter?" asks one of them. I then make out that this is Officer Chalmers, who I put behind bars quite a few times. I guess he really hated me quite a lot to be here right now.

"You'll never get a cleaner shot," I say. Somehow, being killed by the Sky Raiders seemed preferable to staying in Ziggursky.

"Oh, please. You think I hold a grudge?" he asks.

"Most usually do."

"Well, we were paid a lot of money to come here and spring you, so all is forgiven... for now."

"That's comforting." Just as I say that, I hear a lot of footsteps coming closer. I guess the guards aren't total crap. The other Sky Raiders take positions in the hallway and gun down the guards, with Officer Chalmers using his machete to cut off my restraint system. Once they're off, he drags me to my feet by my shoulder.

"Hey, watch it," I start.

"We weren't hired to be gentle as well. Now, we have some very important business to attend to and you're going to have to come with us."

I think about my options. Letting an established villain group rescue me would probably destroy my image a lot more than this corrupt trial. However, my other option was to just sit there, probably get beaten to shit by Jaeger's corrupt guards and have this attack added to my charges. It was a no-brainer.

"Do you have any clothes?" I ask.

"We didn't plan on you being like this. You'll be fine. Let's move."

We step around the outside to get in the hallway. I just walk along while the Sky Raiders mowed down guards. It hurt to see all these innocent people getting killed for being in the way, but I didn't really have any other option. We round a few turns and eventually come across a blast door.

"We're almost there, men. Remember the procedure."

The other Sky Raiders start taking out spike charges and drilling them into strategic parts of the blast door. While they do that, I noticed one of the bodies of a guard was about my size. I take the opportunity to strip her of her pants and shirt, putting them on about as well as I can to accomodate my other features. I also put on the holster with gun just in case.

"Fire in the hole!" yells one of the men. They all back off from the wall, dragging me along to the safe zone. One explosion later, the blast door has a large hole in it. We proceed through, the others gunning down guards as they pop up. We make our way through a normal cell block full of all sorts of dangerous people cheering us on. I guess even without us actually being there to rescue them, we were doing good by their standards to be killing off guards.

Eventually, we get to a good at the end of a hallway past the cell blocks. The Sky Raiders gun down the hinges of the door, tearing it off to reveal the warden and his female secretary in a compromising position. She's the first to see us and screams.

"Get out of here," orders Officer Chalmers, "We're here for the warden." Officer Chalmers tosses her clothing to her as she runs out, panicked. The other Sky Raiders apprehend the warden viciously and drag him to Chalmers.

"We meet again, Marty," says Chalmers right into the warden's face. It seemed he had been waiting for this moment a long time.

"Evening, Chalmers," responds the warden, "How's the knee?"

"Oh, it's doing fine now that I have a robotic joint there. By the way..." Chalmers then shoots out Marty's knee. As he starts screaming in pain, Chalmers walks over to the file cabinet and starts ruffling through it.

"Stop screaming, you friggin' pussy. That's probably only half as painful as what you had your guards do to me."

"What the hell are you looking for, Chalmers?" asks Marty.

"Oh, this," he responds, holding up a huge ledger.

"You won't get anything out of it without the code," says Marty, making some sound I can only guess was laughing.

"What, you mean the code to your oh so cleaver Playfair cipher? Why, it's Marty. Let's see what your latest entry is... oh, you're due to meet some Crey in about twenty five minutes."

"Goddamnit," yells Marty in response.

"Okay, now the next part. Order the remote extraction of Leah Carpenter's sapper units."

"Or what? I'm sure the army will be here soon." Chalmers responds by taking out a choice page from the ledger, writing "Code = Marty" on the top, and walking over to the fax machine.

"This page is pretty good. It shows that you were responsible for the recent Arachnos assault and their ability to circumvent the security network. If you don't comply, I will fax this first to the local news station, then to Longbow."

"Screw you. I'll do it."

"Good," responds Chalmers, tossing Marty the wireless phone, "If I sense one iota of your 'secret' code or Leah appears injured in any way, the faxing begins." Marty punches in a couple numbers on his phone and starts talking.

"Hello, Jason? Yes... I can't really talk about your baby shower now... yes, they're here right now... look, release Leah Carpenter. No funny business... look, you're as guilty as I am, so just friggin' do it." On that note, my shoulder implants come out painfully and slide down my back. Sort of sickens me that Crey is giving this loathsome technology to the prison system. I feel the energy come back to me.

"Are you okay, Leah? Did all of the implants come out?" As Chalmers says this, the men holding Marty seat him in his executive chair.

"I think so," I respond, unsure.

"Go ahead and test it on good old Marty here." I go ahead and give Marty a minor shock as repayment for his abuse of me earlier. Not too much, though.

"Yeah, I'm at full capacity," I say afterwards.

"The army won't let you leave, Chalmers," yells Marty as the other Sky Raiders start wheeling him outside.

"Their best response time was 16 minutes and that was without the sort of delays we put in the detection system. It's only been 12 minutes so far. Anyway, we'll be keeping this book and you'll be keeping your job. If we find out that you attempt to either quit this post or cover up your tracks, we will release this book worldwide. Then you'll have to not only worry about how you will be spending the rest of your life as an inmate in this... lovely establishment, but also that Arachnos, Crey, Nemesis, and the Council will make sure they kill you the next time they pass through here. Oh, and by the way..." Chalmers then shoots Marty in his other knee.

"Owww, goddamnit... why?" asks Marty.

"I hate to imagine you getting off light. Have a safe trip," ends Chalmers, then kicking the executive chair to send Marty hurtling down a corridor. At the far end of it, I see a whole detachment of Paragon SWAT running in. The Sky Raiders start running back the way we came, pushing me along until I start running at their same speed. Just before we leave the cell block, they enter in some codes on the nearby computer and open all the cell doors. I see all the inmates running out of their cells, some grabbing the guns of fallen guards before we go back into the old corridor. Clever.

We go through the old corridors in relative peace, eventually getting back to my cell. The were a bunch of skiffs all by the hole in the wall, with a detachment of jetpack fliers fighting off the SWAT team firing from below. We get on the skiffs and all fly off, at which point, a huge explosion detonates under us, demolishing the branch of the building we just came from. We make it out, with the skiffs shooting down the two helicopters that spotted us before we enter the clouds.

Chapter 8

After a little less than twenty minutes, we're just outside Terra Volta.

"Okay, this is your stop," starts Chalmers, "You can get off now." I start to get off, but I still had some questions.

"Who hired you?" I ask.

"We used our anonymous contacts, so we don't know. We were told to give you this envelope, though. Anyway, one of our directives is that we are not to try to hunt you for the next week. After that period or if you try to attack us before then, we will resume hostilities. I'll be seeing you later, Miss Carpenter."

As he said that, they flew back into Terra Volta. I was left at the shore, without any idea of what I should do. I guess if Janet Kellum was still working with me even after the charges were first filed, she'd still be willing to do so now. I could only hope that she will show up at the usual meeting place. The sun was starting to rise, so I only had about two hours to sneak back to Founders' Falls before she would show up. Before I start swimming, I open the envelope.

To Leah Carpenter,

I've been watching you for a long time. Ever since your attempted lawsuit, I knew you had potential. With your later investigations into their conspiracies, I knew you'd be the one to finally break them. Crey's power over the press is almost as extensive as their conspiracies to control the general public through their products, advertising, and extensive private army. No normal hero would be able to fully unmask them because they could very easily censor the media, reclaim the evidence, and spring all their employees before the independent news prints could run the story. Not even Manticore, whose task force arrested Hopkins for about half a day, stands much of a chance. No, we need someone with a special hatred of them. Someone not afraid to snap a few spines and torch a few buildings out of pure spite. We need you.

I know Crey has hurt you as much as you claim. While they have censored your very existence in the big prints such as Time, Newsweek, the Tribune, and most others, there are plenty of underground publications that have been following you. You're on the right track investigating this murder case, but something way larger is right under your nose.

CreyComp has the potential to be the conspiracy to end all conspiracies. Already, they're looking at a market share of 80% just from pre-orders alone. No doubt, they used the usual subliminal advertising and bullying of publications to get glowing advance reviews. And odds are, they did put together something worth using, but this is Crey. They probably have a conspriacy involving their toothbrushes. And it's not just that their software would be on the computers of millions of people, no doubt giving them unbridled access to the personal and financial information of every last one of them. No, there's no doubt something much more sinister here. Some scenarios I thought of are truly frightening. This operating system could very well give control of the world to Crey.

I apologize that I hired the Sky Raiders to break you out. While I realize that this will destroy your reputation, desperate times call for desperate measures and Crey already tampered with the system to keep you locked away more than long enough to get CreyComp on 99% of the world's computers. Crey is working overtime to keep you down, which means you must be close to something major. They didn't put near this much effort into even the Paragon Protector coverup. All you have to do is keep digging and you will expose them. And while you think that they'll simply deny any involvement and get your story censored, the fact that Crey is pulling out all the stops to stop you suggests that they don't have that luxury should you succeed.

I can't offer much direct help. I'm in no position to assist in vigilante justice against our mutual enemy. However, I have arranged for some explosives to be available to you should you need them. The map on the back will take you to a truck. The keys are taped on the inside of the rear passenger side wheel. The manual for the explosives will be in the glove compartment.

Best of luck,

P.S. Avoid the streets as much as possible. The Malta group will most likely be hired to hunt you down again and they have eyes everywhere.

I had no clue who this Bill was, but I found it almost comforting I had someone who had actually been following my story. With this in mind, I started swimming.

Chapter 9

I make it to Founders' Falls eventually. It's times like this that almost makes me appreciate the rampant violence on the streets. The police are so occupied keeping all the Council, Circle of Thorns, and "renegade" Crey under control that they never stood much of a chance of spotting me. I get up from the water at the side and ducking behind the statues, I get behind the pillar near Janet, who was surprisingly early.

"Hey, Janet," I whisper over to her.

"Leah? Is that you?" she asks.

"Yeah," I respond.

"How did you get out of Ziggursky?"

"It's a bit complicated. I don't even understand parts of it."

"You look terrible."

"I feel about as well as I look."

"Come, let's go to my car before someone sees you. Quickly, Leah. We need to keep you off the streets as much as possible." We run over to her car, thankfully without anyone seeing us. She has one of those compact sedans, which is a large hassle for me. They never have enough room for me. I get into the back seat and lay down.

"So, what's the latest?" I ask.

"Quigley's story is pretty interesting, that's for sure. If he's right, the launch of CreyComp could be a disaster for more people than just Bill Gates. We'd better check out his facts." Suddenly, I had an idea who this 'Bill' was.

"Before we continue this case, I need to get some fresh clothing."

"I agree, Leah, but they're probably monitoring Icon."

"I get my tailoring done over the internet. I should have a set waiting to be picked up." With that, she starts up her car.

"Okay, what do I have to do?" she asks as she gets onto the road.

"I'll write down the claim code. Do you have something to write with?" She passed a fairly fancy PDA to me. I write down the code and pass it back. Within less than a minute, she's parked outside of Icon.

"Okay, here we are. What am I doing?"

"Say you're here to pick up clothes for 'The 8-Bit Wonder'. It's a six piece set. Should have a vest, shirt, skirt, underwear, socks, and shoes."

"Okay. I'll be back in a minute. Keep your head down." She walks in and less than two minutes later, she comes out with a stack of clothing.

"Thank you," I respond, starting to change into them.

"Don't change into them here. Where's your dignity?" she blurts out.

"Oh, it's not anything you haven't seen before," I start, "Besides, six months as Crey's experiment killed off all my dignity."

"Come on. You're 30. You should know better than this."

"Just don't look. This will only take a minute."

"I can't stop looking," she says, sounding embarrassed. You know, that confused remark is probably the best compliment about my appearance I've ever received. That depresses the shit out of me. I finish dressing, with Janet just staring at me.

"Okay. Where are we going now?" I ask, nonchalantly. While I realize that it was probably very inappropriate of me to have done that, I really had to get out of those wet, itchy clothes as soon as possible.

"We're driving to Faultline now," she responds, looking a bit flustered.

"According to that ex-Crey programmer, Howard Quigley, the CreyComp code was shared among three Crey facilities. You'll need to access the mainframe in each facility in order to get the entire body of code. Then maybe we can figure out if the CreyComp operating system is really part of some Crey plot."

"Okay. I take it the first facility is there. After I get all that?"

"Once you've got the full code, take it over to Justine Kelly, the software analyst. She'll tell us what we're dealing with." We stop across from a generic looking building, which has a couple bad suits walk in.

"So, is there any way you might be able to clear my name? At least get the police off my back?"

"I've been trying to pull some strings with my law enforcement contacts, but so far, no dice. You're still among Paragon City's 10 most wanted."

"If not at the top. Okay, I'm ready. Thanks for the lift."

"No problem. Watch yourself out there." I get out of the car and wait for her to drive away before I walk across the street to the building. It's just another Crey facility, with the usual security force. I noticed that they were actually using a detection system this time around because the alarm was tripped as I entered. Oh, well. I plow through until I get the data, then I walk out.

When I walked out, the sun was right in my eyes. During that second I had my hand blocking the sun, I felt something blunt and heavy hit me in the shoulder. Reacting instinctively, I do a sweep of electricity behind me. I then do a turn and see another Malta goon. Within a few seconds, I see more of them come out from the door I came through. Oddly enough, there weren't any gunslingers or sappers, so they weren't that hard to take out. After I dispatch them, I steal the cell phone of one of them and call for the next location. Next stop: Eden.

After a long hike through forests, I'm at the next facility. It had about the same level of security, which can be best described as "insufficient". Second piece in hand, I walk outside. Some Nemesis group ambushed me as they saw me walk out, apparently with the bright idea that they could exchange me for some of their prisoners. How naive.

After I take them out, I call Janet again. The next location is all the way in Independence Port... wee. It takes way too long for me to walk through the surrounding forests to make my way over there. Once I get there, I take out all my frustration on the usual security forces. Third piece of code, I then start walking over to Justine Kelly. As I swim by the train station, I hear something I never thought I'd hear in all my years.

"Extra! Extra! Leah Carpenter broken out of Ziggursky by Sky Raiders! 110 casualties and a whole wing of Ziggursky destroyed! Carpenter now number one on the most wanted list!"

I cringe as that last sentence gets yelled. It was like having my professional career torn apart by rabid wolves, only more bloody. I continue towards Justine, eventually reaching her.

"Hey, you're Leah Carpenter," she says, surprised, as I approach her.

"Yeah, yeah," I respond.

"There's a 10 million dollar price on your head," she states.

"Sorry, but you won't be the one to cash it. I do, however, have a package for you." I give her the three data discs.

"Yo, thanks for the code. Now get lost and let me do my thing. Soon as I know something, I'll get the word to Janet Kellum. Peace." She always did have the weirdest mood swings. I call Janet again as I start walking towards the water.

"I delivered the code," I start.

"Now that we have the full source code of the CreyComp operating system, we should be able to figure out if the program really is a threat," says Janet, "Now get out of sight, Leah. In case you forgot, there's still an APB out for you."

"Yeah. Okay, I'll call back in a little."

"Actually, hold on, Leah. I'm getting a call from Miss Kelly." I wait a minute, then she picks up again. "Justine just finished her analysis of that CreyComp code you recovered. She'd like you to drop by and discuss her findings."

"Well, that's convenient. I didn't even start swimming to a deserted cave yet."

"Justine sounded pretty upset on the phone. It seems that CreyComp is a much more devious program than we could have imagined." I walk back to Justine, who was still messing with her laptop.

"Aren't you the hacker extreme," I say.

"Check it, Leah," she responds, "The code you found proves that CreyComp is more than your everyday OS. It's actually a sophisticated mind control program. Get it? Crey uses subliminal messages, stuff no one would notice. The code encourages people to do a number of things: buy Crey products, vote for tax breaks for big business, and, above all, respect and adore Countess Crey. This is bad, Leah. Three quarters of the businesses in town already ordered this OS. You've got to get over to the Crey warehouse and destroy the disks awaiting shipment. Heck, you're already a wanted criminal. What have you got to lose?"

"Okay, blow up warehouse. Got it."

"You don't have to actually blow it all up. Just the discs."

"Nah, I'm blowing it up. Let's just say a mutual friend gave me some bombs to use specifically on those discs."

"Who, Bill Gates?" she asks, sarcastically.

"Heh. Well, I better get going," I say.

Chapter 10

Coming soon...

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