For Persephone Gray, life was good. She was raking in money from her art shows, with a few stolen goods on the side. She had a whole team of heroes at her beck and call to make sure that the world didn’t get taken over by anyone terrible while she wasn’t paying attention. And, of course, she had a new pet. A chameleon looked at her dolefully from its perch atop an obscenely large diamond. Persephone blew it a kiss. Yes, life couldn’t get much better than it was now.
She sighed blissfully, basking in the sunlight that streamed through the open window. The smells of freshly baked bread and an overabundance of cologne wafted upwards…and something else. Persephone sniffed, and the familiar tang of acrylic paint filled her nostrils. But there was something…off about it. And it was growing stronger.
A flash of color, the skyline replaced with a shoddy replica of itself. Persephone stumbled backwards, tripping over a book she had left in the floor. Something was coming in through the window, something big, and bright, and much too colorful. “Helloooo big sister!” it said.
The colors condensed into a man in knockoff designer clothes with a too-white grin. “What, aren’t you happy to see me? Your little brother, back from the war! It must have been a hundred years since I saw you last, don’t I get a kiss?” Persephone glowered at him. There was no conceivable way she was related to someone so garish. She reached for the nearest paintbrush (which was, of course, being used as a bookmark, rendering much of the page illegible). The man reached out his foot, stretching like he was made of putty, and kicked it away. “Nuh-uh! Don’t try anything funny!” he said, wagging a finger. Persephone scowled. “Funny is what happens when a tourist tries to talk to a cab driver in Paris. What I’m going to do to you is more messy and horrifying than funny.”
Something large, and iridescent, and hard to look at emerged from a painting, pushing aside the sheet Persephone had thrown over it. It gibbered and oozed, moving rapidly towards the unwelcome intruder. He looked at it coolly, then reached out and tapped it once. The unspeakable horror became a pool of what looked suspiciously like lime Jell-o. “If you’d let me finish please,” he said, and sat down on the end of Persephone’s bed. “Now, you’ve held the ‘heir of Dorian Gray’ mantle for over a century now, and I’m sick of it. I think it’s time for me to have a turn. As you can see,” he gestured at the puddle on the floor, “I have plenty of power of my own. But nothing turns out right! It’s all…counterfeit. So I figure, I lock you up for a few decades or so, and the REAL power will come to me. So let’s get this over with, shall we?” He stood up, and grabbed for Persephone. She punched him in the face, hooking her leg around his and yanking at the same time to take him down. He didn’t budge. His face was melting, sucking her hand in. She couldn’t move her leg. “Now now, that wasn’t very nice. I’m going to send you to MY Painted World now, so you can have a time-out. I’ll let you out when I have the full power of Dorian Gray. Ta-taa!”
And then there was no one in the Parisian flat but a small disgruntled chameleon and a Counterfeit man.
In the Children of the Damned HQ, the Mysterious Stain on the ceiling in the rec room was changing. Slowly, letters formed out of unidentified brown sludge. NEED HELP. TRAPPED. THIS IS PORTRAIT IF IT WERENT ALREADY OBVIOUS they read.
Of course, the Counterfeit Man took notice. In his not-quite-right world, he clicked his tongue, and followed the signal Portrait had inadvertently left. “If you can’t play nicely, your little friends will have to have some time to cool down as well.”
He stalked the corridors, letting his fingers trail over the walls. Where he touched, the base was drawn into his realm. The contagion spread, and he disappeared.
But not without leaving some guards. Knock-off doubles of the team stood ready, each hungering to become the One and Only, the original.