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Hidden 8 mos ago Post by Indy Cooper
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Indy Cooper Deity-in-training

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Tiamat

Downtown Albuquerque

16:30 local


Darya fidgeted nervously with her backpack as she stepped off the bus, along with a few other riders, onto the scorching sidewalk of Montgomery Boulevard. The heat, which was withering to visitors in July, didn't bother locals all that much, as it was impossible to put of life and business until the cooler evening, and they dealt with it as best they could. Darya, for her part, opened up a mint green parasol and made her way down the I-25 byway and towards the FBI center of her home city.

The heat was intense, and she was unfortunately well aware of both how dehydrated she was getting and how much water was in her backpack alongside her costume. She knew that riding the bus in sweats was probably a bad idea, but she would much rather have dealt with sweating profusely than the awkward ride over in her full hero get up. And since Thunderbird had called her earlier and warned her that the agency would want a demonstration of her powers, she knew she couldn't afford to drink even a single one of the various water bottles or canteens, leaving her in misery as she walked.

As she approached her goal, she could see the red brick three story complex over the other buildings in the area. But as she rounded the corner, she noticed a small tent set up on the open space of dirt and scrub grass across the side street, with a single man underneath it. He sat on a simple folding metal chair, and a white card table loaded with paperwork on clipboards sat in front of him. To her surprise, he was actually dressed in what she had assumed all government agents wore: Black suit, thin black tie, white shirt, and black loafers.

Walking purposefully, she unzipped the main pocket of her backpack, pulling out her hood and goggles and hurriedly shoving all of her hair underneath it before approaching any closer. Immediately she regretted the colour choice her family had made. Black was not a good colour to wear in the high desert. Nevertheless, she strode forward. The agent behind the table stood up as she walked, and, seeming to read her mind, pointed off to the nearby fence around the FBI building, where three small privacy booths had been set. Darya felt her face glow with embarrassment as she veered off into the booths and changed as quickly as she could.

Coming back out, she was surprised to find another man and a woman standing behind the table. The second man was in some sort of gym outfit, while the woman now sat in a second chair, legs crossed and a clipboard across her lap. As Darya came up to the table, the first man spoke up.

“Alright, this is a new system, so we're going to do this as thoroughly as possible. First off.” He picked up one of the row of clipboards in front of him, pulled out a pen, and readied to fill blanks. “What do you go by when in that outfit?”

Darya's face heated up, but she mastered herself and said, “Tiamat.”

The man nodded. Both him and the woman scribbled something. The man in the gym clothes seemed to be examining her, which made her realise that her entire body outline, while compressed, was visible. She fought off the urge to cover herself.

“Are you willing to give your full legal name for records purposes? Before you answer, be aware that this will be kept confidential and will only be used for medical purposes or notifying next of kin.”

She shook her head. The man nodded and moved on without comment.

“What powers do you claim to have?”

This had been debated with her siblings before she left, and she said without hesitation what they had agreed upon. “Hydrokinesis.”

She noticed the gym guy and the woman look at each other for a second, though she couldn't decipher the meaning. The interview man pressed on. “On a scale of one to ten, how powerful would you say your hydrokinesis is?”

She couldn't detect any kind of sarcasm in his voice. In fact, he seemed to not care at all about the questions he was asking, though she chalked that up to bureaucratic efficiency.

“I don't know?” She said hesitantly. “I have never met another person with it, so I don't really have a measuring stick, you know?”

The gym guy nodded and the woman wrote something down. Following these questions were a lot of things that Darya had not been expecting, including queries as to whether she had health insurance and if she had next of kin she would like notified in the event of her death in the line of duty. She was well aware that they were trying to get periphery details on her so they could identify her later, and she resisted all of these resolutely, though she worried in the back of her mind that she may have accidentally given something away she wasn't aware of.

Finally, after half an hour of questioning, she was passed over to the gym guy. He made her stand out in the sunlight, and gave her another once over that made her self-conscious before he spoke up.

“Water powers, eh? So, tell me Miss Timid, what exactly can you do with water?”

Darya's eyes narrowed behind her goggles. She reached out one hand, and the water bottles in her bag, left thirty feet away by the table, moved on her command. The whole bag dragged across the sand, then accelerated into her hand. She unzipped the thing, taking each bottle one by one, opening it, and pouring it out. Instead of hitting the dirt, however, the water stayed in midair, forming a rough sphere that grew with each pour until she had a ball that was over two feet in diameter.

Staring at the man across the top surface of her sphere, she said, “It's Tiamat, thank you. Tye-ah-maht.”

The man grunted in recognition, and then paced around her ball of water. He poked it with a finger, which she made sure was dry when he pulled it out. “Alright, Tiamat, fair enough. You can make a ball. What else? I can't fight with a ball.”

“I don't want to hurt you, sir.”

“Then I suggest you control yourself. I don't need people who can't keep civilians out of the line of fire or avoid killing suspects. This isn't a military operation, we're not going in guns blazing, understand?”

Darya nodded, trying desperately not to stare at her feet. The man walked around the water ball, which was trembling slightly as her concentration faltered. He placed a hand on her shoulder, speaking much more softly than he had.

“Look, I know why you're here, and I appreciate that you've volunteered. This is dangerous, and I doubt you want to hurt anyone. It's why you put on the costume, right?”

She nodded again, staring at him through the goggles. He was a good foot taller than her.

“This is gonna be a bad time. I haven't seen a group like this before, and it's going to get bad out there. So we need to know you can handle yourself when the shit hits the fan, without endangering bystanders or the people you're working with. I don't foresee that being a problem with you, your power seems kinda on the weak end of what I have heard is possible.”

Darya bristled, barely controlling her temper. “I am not weak. I just can't carry around all of the water I can use on the bus.”

“Oh yeah? Well, let's see what we can do about that. What's your range?”

She blinked. Had she actually tested that limit? “Uhhhh. I guess a couple of hundred feet? I don't know. I'm. Um. Kinda new-ish.”

The man had left her side and sauntered back over to the opposite side of her water ball, which was distinctly more ovoid and had begun slowly rotating as her mind wandered. “Good, good,” he said, hands behind his back. “And how much have you found out you can use?”

Darya held her head a little higher, chin up. “I haven't found an upper limit yet.”

“Okay, good. I assume you can do more than just balls, you said that. Anything combat effective?”

Darya gestured. She knew she probably didn't have to, but it made it easier to visualise what she wanted. The ball of water quickly shifted into a flat plane more than six inches thick, blocking between her and him and covering her entire body. Another gesture and it shifted to cover her body completely, and then she lashed out with a basic punch into the empty air. The water flowed suit, moving like a snake strike across the gap and slamming past the man's shoulder, around his body without touching him, and then coming back to her. A few rapid fire punches threw fast moving, slightly hardened blocks into the dirt like shotgun blasts. She didn't want to show that the sand utterly killed her control, so she left those splatters where they were.

Lastly, she swept her leg out in a roundhouse and sent a sweeping sheet of water across the 'yard' and into the chain link fence, where it stcuk for a moment. To the untrained eye, it wasn't moving, but the grinding noise gave away what she was doing. The leading edge of it was paper thin, and the whole thing was rotating fast enough to give it the same cutting power as a low grade industrial saw. It swiftly broke through the fence before she called it back and reabsorbed it.

The woman was taking notes, now, she saw as she glanced over to the tent. No other heroes had showed up yet. The gym guy clapped to get her attention.

“Good stuff. That is certainly more than I expected. We can do some stress tests later. I noticed your body movements, though. You have martial arts training?”

Darya nodded. “Krav Maga, plus handguns, knives, and rifles.”

“That's great! We'll do a marksmanship test once we have the facility ready. I'm good with her, how about you Reeves?” That last part seemed aimed at the woman, who nodded and waived Darya back over to the table. The heroine let her water ball go, dropping it into the sand, and walked back. Reeves, she noticed, seemed to be in charge.

“Alright, Tiamat, everything looks in order. We'll notify you by phone call within the next couple of days as to where the training facility will be, once we've gotten more recruits. There, you'll be getting rudimentary training on working alongside governments agents both powered and unpowered, we'll do some stress tests on your powers since you haven't found some points we need to know, and then we'll be having a country-wide briefing from the Director.”

“So I am in?” Darya couldn't keep her voice from squeaking slightly in excitement. For her part, Reeves didn't seem to notice or care.

“Welcome to the team, Tiamat. Keep your phone close by.”




A cooling thunderstorm had rolled over during her interview, dropping the temperature swifter than she expected, so Darya was rather happy she had brought sweats. In a fit of high spirits, she decided to keep her costume on underneath them, and set off for downtown, aiming to hit up one of the eateries she rarely got a chance to go to. She was almost to Central Avenue, and fairly certain she wanted pizza of some sort, when she realised she hadn't brought any cash. Thankfully, her bank was only a block away, so she turned heel and made her way there.

The front of the bank was frosted glass, doors and windows both, facing out onto a small plaza with a massive fountain out front. This time of day, around five in the afternoon, not many people were here, but since the bank closed at six, a fact Darya was appreciative of just now, there was still a little business happening. As she walked in, she was suddenly aware of her need for a bathroom, so she looked around for the sign pointing the way. Two men were standing off to the side, discussing some sort of business, three people were in line at the teller's desk which was manned by a single put upon woman shorter than Darya, and a lone security guard sat at a desk. The guard gave her a longer-than-necessary glance, obviously suspicious of a girl in a rousari with a backpack, but she ignored his stare and located the bathroom, moving across the lobby with some haste.

A few minutes and some relief of her bladder later, Darya was washing her hands when she heard shouting from the lobby. She shut off the water quickly and listened, creeping silently towards the door. There were cries of terror and a few more shouts, and then everything sounded a little too quiet. Darya knew instinctively what was happening, and hoped she had enough time to do what she needed to before they figured out she was there.

Swiftly, she pulled her mask and gloves out and tugged them on, followed by her goggles. She turned on all three faucets in the bathroom, and with some distaste pulled the water out of the four toilets, both bowl and tank, adding to the growing puddle on the floor, because she was not sure about using the water ball form quite yet. She was pulling water from the pipes of the sinks forcefully, hoping they would hold up to the pressure, and moving it directly to the floor. When she had more than fifty gallons, she figured it was enough, but left the sinks flowing at less pressure to keep gathering, just in case. Thankfully, the robbers seemed to be too busy to have heard the bathroom overflowing, so she moved to the door, cracked it open just slightly, and peered out, careful to keep all of the water in with her and away from her feet so she didn't splash.

The bathroom was in a hallway coming off of the main hallway, so she had a view of most of the lobby from her position, though not of the desk or the doors. She could see two men pointing handguns towards the counter, and the shadow of someone else near the doors, highlighted by the afternoon sun. Okay, this is it, Darya. First solo mission. How do you disarm these guys with water? Her first thought was to simply cover them, but if they fired wildly in surprise, they might hit an innocent. She might be able to block the bullets. She vaguely remembered that water would do that, maybe a Mythbusters episode, but she didn't know how much it would take, and it would be a huge risk. And then she hit upon the idea of ice.

She had tried it before, and been surprised that with just a little extra concentration(which she had an odd amount of to spare, she had noticed, she could freeze quite a bit, and fairly quickly too if it was in smaller amounts. If she could somehow get enough onto the triggers of the weapons, she could block it up and stop them from firing. Getting into the barrels might be effective too, but far more dangerous, since she wasn't sure at all that wouldn't just send icy shrapnel into the civilians. The problem now was getting their guns to freeze before they shot her or the hostages.

Her thoughts were broken as the man near the windows shouted an alert. Apparently the police had arrived to either the silent alarm or some passerby noticing things through the glass front of the lobby and calling it in. Either way, they were here now. As the two men guarding the hostages moved to the front to see, Darya wasn't sure whether this new development was to her benefit or not. Adrenaline slammed through her system, causing her pulse to hammer in her ears and her breath to quicken. With them temporarily distracted, this was her chance.

She slid quietly around the corner, sparing a glance to the civilians and holding up a finger to her mouth through the mask, before looking at the three men at the front. Thank Allah, they haven't noticed. Water flowed along the ceiling of the hallways, gallons upon gallons of it, pouring up to the ceiling of the lobby fifteen feet above her. She moved quickly, along the wall and around the teller's desk, stopping when she heard voices.

A man was saying, “I know you've got a bunch of money around here somewhere, bitch. Tell us where it is if it isn't in the vault!”

“Sir,” a woman's voice said, quavering with fear. “I swear, we only keep enough money in the vault to cover a few days of activity. The rest is stored offsite. Look! We don't even have safe deposit boxes here, they're in Santa Fe!”

A thump and a cry made her wince. Someone had struck the manager. A second man's voice spoke up. “The cops are here, man, we gotta grab what we can and get the hell out.”

“Look around, maybe she's hiding another door or something.”

The last of her built up water now pooled along the ceiling. She was surprised to realise that she knew exactly how much she had up there, enough to fill the entire ceiling to a depth of two feet. It was essentially a wading pool that was currently spitting in gravity's face. The two guards had moved back to their positions and were yelling for the men in the vault. She had to move now, before she was discovered. The vault door was only a few paces from where she was, and when they cam out she would be in plain view.

Three streams of water shot down from her pool and slammed into the robber's gun hands as she rose up from behind the counter to see what she was doing. She used slightly more force than she expected, and all three dropped their guns in shock, yelling in surprise. One man's shouts were more of pain, and she realised she had broken his wrist. Quickly, the water still clinging to their hands froze over, and she directed yet more water at them, knocking them into the walls and freezing them to it. It didn't take much, since leverage was not easy to find when your limbs were stretched out. More water froze the dropped guns to the floor, encasing them enough to prevent their being picked up by anyone.

The two in the vault rushed out, one dragging a blonde woman in her forties with him by the hair. Both of them immediately noticed her, and one raised his gun at her while the other gave a vicious yank and hauled the manager around to face her. He was in the act of placing his gun to her head and making some sort of dire threat when both of them took the full force of two massive jets of water full to the face. She made the pressure as high as she dared, throwing them back into the vault with surprising force. Water kept pouring over them to keep them in place while she worked on freezing them down as well. When they were secured, she grinned under her mask I did it! Allah be praised, no one got hurt! The hostages poured out of the front door as she waved at the police to come in.

At first they were wary of her, but as she gently pushed the rest of her water out the door and held her hands up to show them she was otherwise unarmed and not a threat, they ignored her and moved over to the would-be robbers. Once they had guns at the ready and pointing, Darya let the ice go and melt off swiftly, allowing them to capture and cuff the suspects. A lieutenant walked up to her.

“I don't know who you are, ma'am, but you did good work. We might've been here all-” He stopped suddenly and shouted for a medic. Darya was confused, but looked down as she wavered on her feet, and as the adrenaline wore off she felt a stabbing pain in her upper arm. Looking down, she saw the blood and a hole through her costume, where one of the men in the vault must have gotten a shot of on her on reflex. She grinned at the lieutenant stupidly under her mask as he caught her and said, “Please leave the mask on. My family might be at risk, you know?” As soon as he nodded, she fainted.
Hidden 8 mos ago Post by Indy Cooper
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Indy Cooper Deity-in-training

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Nicole


Lost Haven Police Department
8:40 AM


Nicole sat, glaring at the one way glass, chained the same way she had been before. It had taken ages for them to process the scene, and while Patricia had argued against it, stating self defense, the lead officer on the scene had had no choice but to take her in until they could sort though the carnage. And now she had been sitting here all day. She knew she had gone overboard, but it had felt good to exact vengeance on the fuckers that had killed those kids, and Patricia's partner. She didn't even know who they were, only that they had to pay.

The door click, and a man walked in. he looked tired, almost worn out like an old dishrag, thin in spots. His greying brown hair was not at all combed and stuck up at odd angles, he had stubble across his face, and glasses that hung oddly off his long and crooked nose. His jacket looked as worn as him, brown and faded tweed, and he was busy fixing a misaligned button as he sat down. Once he had finished, he cleared his throat and set a small file and a voice recorder down on the table between them, then fixed her with his gaze. Despite his appearance, his eyes were focused and somewhat intense despite being a muted grey-green.

“Okay, Nicole. I assume you realise there are some serious questions surrounding your behaviour and actions from last night at the bombing and this morning?”

Nicky growled, “I was just doing what had to be done. They shot kids. Were gonna fucking shoot more kids.”

“See, I understand that. But there are...legal difficulties, considering the current environment and the sheer amount of carnage you left behind.”

“I don't give a fuck about the 'current environment'. What the fuck does that have to do with me?”

“Ah.” The man frowned. “So you have no idea who those men were?”

“Some child killing fucks. Who cares? They're dead now.”

He sat back in his chair and studied her face for a while. Nicky, for her part, glowered at him from underneath her bangs, leaning forward onto her crossed arms. It was some minutes before he spoke again.

“Nicole, does anyone in your family know where you are? That you're even alive? We can't check, since you won't give us your last name, but you're quite obviously a minor.”

She remained silent, though her glower worsened a bit.

“I'll take that as a no. Can you tell me what happened?”

“I killed some child killing fucks. Before that, a bomb blew me off a building. What more do you want?”

“Well, for starters, why aren't you dead? We have some spotty video that shows you taking on what amounts to a small army, and all you have to show for it is some prison jumpers insetad of the clothes you lost.” He leaned forward, intent.

Nicky sat back, attempting to cross her arms but restrained by the cuffs. She sat, silent for several moments. When he didn't say anything else, she snorted and said, “Fine, since you won't drop it.”

She missed his confused look as she continued. “There was a huge flash of green shit, and a bunch of gang bangers blew up my apartment. My whole family was killed. Except me. And now I can't starve, or sleep, or get hurt. Nothing. I walked here from Philly because Icon was here and I figured he might know someone, or be able to tell me what to do, but all that useless shithead told me was to go be a kid at this orphanage for troubled mutants or whatever. They seemed nice, and I was thinking about staying, when those fuckers shot it the fuck up. So I killed them.”

The man sat back again. This time he was taking notes. “Rough time,” he said, almost offhandedly. “I take it all of this has left you fairly angry?”

“The fuck are you, some kinda genius shrink? Do I look like I am having the time of my fucking life!?”

He shook his head. “Well, how long do you think this conversation has been going on?”

Nicky was taken aback by the question. “What?”

The pen stopped scribbling. “I have a theory, but I need to know how long this conversation has been going. I haven't been keeping track.”

“Uhhh.” She glanced around. There was no clock in view. “I dunno, a couple of fucking hours? You were sitting there waiting for an answer for forever.”

“Hmmm.” He stood up, and took the cheap little digital watch from his wrist. “Do me a favour,” he said, sliding it across the table. “Put that on and tell me what time it says.”

Nicky caught it, and stared at him for several minutes, fairly confused, before finally putting it on. It was an awkward procedure around the cuffs, but her wrists were skinny. The face was nothing but eights when she looked at it.

“What, is this some sort of trick, giving me a watch like this?” Her voice took on a sarcastic tone. “It's apparently eight hundred and eighty-eight point eighty eight o clock, asshole.”

“Excellent.” The man was smiling at her. “Go ahead and take it off and slide it back to me, please.”

She followed these instructions. Her anger was fading, giving way to curiousity. As he picked the device back up, he glanced at it and wrote something down. Finally, he showed it to her. It read twelve thirteen in the afternoon.

“When I gave this to you, it read eight forty-five AM.” She shook her head, trying to make sense of what he was saying.

“I suppose I should introduce myself. I'm Doctor Robert William Crawford. I have PhDs in Theoretical Physics and Psychiatry, and I specialise in helping people like you get a handle on their abilities and their lives after it happens. I was called in because something is obviously very special about you, but the police do not want you running about murdering more people.”

Nicky didn't know what to think about this, so she remained silent. At least he wasn't treating her like a child.

“Now, while it will require far more testing than I can do in a single interview, I think I know what has happened to you and what your power is, though you might not. Nicole, you've been temporally destabilised.”

He sounded excited about this, like he had just discovered something miraculous. Nicky knew what those words meant, but it took her a second to put them together and figure out what he was talking about. Even then, it didn't make much sense, but he was already gabbing on again. She wasn't really paying attention until he said something about custody.

“...and so we'll take you in at our lab. We can have a cot set up until we have more permanent quarters established for you. Obviously the Home is in no state to house anyone right now, and the police really don't want to charge you. Honestly, they're half convinced you deserve a medal.”

“Wait, what? A medal? Does this have something to do with the environment thing you were talking about?”

“Oh, right! I had nearly forgotten you didn't know! Obviously, with what you said, you wouldn't have heard about it. The men you so...Ahem. Vehemently put down...There is a terrorist organisation currently attacking most of the country, attempting to purge the land of everything not purely human. The Center was another target. Unfortunately, they seem to have fairly thorough records as to hideouts and whatnot, and they are hell bent on attacking anyone they deem a threat, including those who are normal and are simply helping metas like yourself. Terrible business indeed.”

Nicky stared at him for a moment before the door opened again and a detective came in and they began chatting. Her head drooped and she stared at the table, lost in thought. She was temporally out of the world, but she was still in it. Well, if he was a physicist, maybe he could fix it. In the meantime, that kinda, sorta, didn't at all explain to her why she was bulletproof. But one thing was obvious to her. While she was bulletproof, or maybe everything proof, she should be helping out against these assholes who were attacking innocent people. She didn't know a lot about being a hero, but she knew those were the sorts she was supposed to fight.

“Hey,” she said suddenly, not looking up. Both men looked over at her. “How do I sign up?”

“Beg pardon?” the doctor said.

“These fuckwads who are killing people. Someone's gotta be doing something, right? How do I get in on that?”

The detective snorted. “You're what, fourteen? I can't let you know that sort-”

“Shut the fuck up!” Nicky was suddenly on her feet, yanking on the chains. A violent humming began filling the room, like a jet engine starting up. The doctor stared at her, fasincated, while the detective back against the wall suddenly.

“Just shut up! I'm fucking unkillable! It's not like I'd be in any fucking danger! Ask fucking Patricia, motherfucker! I can help, way more than your sorry ass can!”

Nicky's vision was blurring. Was she crying again?

The doctor held up a hand. “Please calm down, Nicole. We can talk about that at the lab. The detective here was not aware of what you can do.”

“The fuck can she do? Why is she blurring like that?”

Nicky stopped straining at the cuffs and looked down at her hands. Her vision cleared up, and she saw that the cuffs had severely malformed, stretched as though she had been pulling them apart. She heard the doctor whisper something under his breath, but she only stared.

What the fuck is happening to me?
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Hidden 8 mos ago Post by Byrd Man
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Byrd Man El Hombre Pájaro

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Jock Sturgeon
Part II:
Three-Card Stud


Lost Haven
6:34 PM


The tall, skinny black man stood in front of a small crowd of people in the alleyway. He had in front of him a makeshift table made from a cardboard box and his long, thin fingers shuffled three cards overturned cards with lightning speed. For his part, the man looked straight ahead at the crowd while his hands did the work, moving so fast it seemed that they were blurring.

"One, two, three, keep your eyes on the cards and not me."

He stopped just as quickly as he started and looked at the half dozen people in front of him, grinning wildly.

"It's two bucks to play, winner triples their money. Find the ace and you can put me in my place. Even shove it in my face!"

Titters went out from the crowd. A few threw down their money, a total of eight dollars.

"Teamwork, y'all," the man said with a wink. "You gotta pick the winner as a team."

The bettors argued and debated on which card was the one hiding the ace. After a few minutes of back and forth disagreement, one man put a hand down on the middle card of the three.

"This one," the man said, flipping it over and revealing a three of clubs.

"No such luck," the dealer said with another grin.

He flipped over the card on the far right, revealing a red ace. He laughed and scooped up their money amidst the grumbles. He stopped and looked deadly serious.

"Look... I like you all, I do. What about double or nothing?"

The men threw down their money and he went back to work, shuffling and spinning the cards. I made my way into the small crowd and watched, getting close enough to catch the sleight of hand as he palmed the ace and replaced it with another card. The dealer made eye contact with me and allowed his head to bend in just the slightest nods. In our world that passed as a hail-fellow-well-met. Like myself, Jerry Lonnegan was a grifter who prayed upon the stupidity and greed of people. Whereas I tried to con them out of thousands of dollars at a time, Jerry was strictly short cons with his three-card stud and change raising hustles. He probably made about as much money as I did a year, but Jerry was out in the streets every day running his scams. That type of work ethic exhausted me. Jerry was way too talented for the quick scams he pulled. In the past he'd sign on with me to pull a few grifts, but whenever I had offered to bring him in as a partner full-time he always politely declined.

Five minutes later Jerry was folding up his card table and making up excuses to leave while the ones he'd grifted were walking away with annoyance. Another downside to the short con is that the mark is always right there when you pull the scam. In my games, usually the mark is angry enough to kill but I'm very rarely within killing distance when they figure out they've been had.

"What do you say, Jerry?"

"Jock, my man," he said with a smile. The hood accent from the card game had vanished. "What's going on?"

"Buy you a cup of coffee?"

"I'll buy my own. I can afford it."

We made our way to a diner down the street. I ordered a black coffee while Jerry ordered a caffè macchiato. It made the waitress pause and arch an eyebrow. Jerry winked at her and shrugged.

"So, Jock, to what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"

I sipped coffee that tasted like it had been brewed sometime during the Reagan administration and tried not to make a face.

"What do you know about east side burglars?"

"A little." Jerry sipped his macchiato with a pinkie out. To his credit, he didn't get foam on his upper lip. That was eighty percent of why I never drank the damn things. "You working a job?"

"Something like that. A job was pulled over on east side recently. If a pro was contracted out, chances are good that it was someone who works the area. It would have been an office break-in. Know of any specialist who do offices?"

"Maybe," Jerry said with a scowl. "And maybe I can let you know what I know, but only if you tell me why you want to know."

"You ever work as link in one of the Ambulance Chaser's chain?"

"Once or twice. Why?"

"What if I told you he was dumb enough to write it all down, everyone he used as a go-between in his jobs... and what if I told you someone broke into his office and stole it all those papers."

The color disappeared from Jerry's face. He stayed silent and sipped his macchiato. "I'd say that a lot of people are fucked."

I nodded and finished off my cup of caffeinated swamp water. "Right. And the only thing that stops them from being truly fucked is if I get those papers back... or at least destroy them. So, where do I start?"

----

Chinatown
11:09 PM


The apartment door's lock gave it up like a drunk cheerleader on homecoming. In thirty seconds I had popped it open, which was surprising since I hadn't used my picks in almost six months. It spoke less of my abilities and more to the cheap nature of the lock. It was funny since Fat Ricky Fat had a reputation as a smart thief.

I quickly opened the door and went inside. It was apparent that shit was sideways from the second I walked in. The living room was ransacked and furniture was overturned. The smell of something burning filled my nostrils. It was times like this that I regretted never carrying a gun. With a penlight as my only guide, I walked into the bedroom and found Fat Ricky Fat.

His corpulent body was sprawled across the bed. The source of the burning smell became apparent as soon as I saw his shirtless torso. Burn marks covered his chest and stomach, compliments of a hotplate that was resting on the bed and still burning away red hot. I crept towards him to try to find some clue as to how he died. No other wounds on his body besides the burns, nothing on his face like a bullet hole or stab wound. The only thing I could think of was heart attack. Fat Ricky Fat topped the scales at a good four hundred pounds. Working him over with the hot plate probably caused his heart to kick over. That meant that whatever they had been torturing him for, he hadn't given in.

The sound of the door opening caused my head to snap away from Ricky's body and towards the door. Someone was walking through the apartment. Their steady footsteps meant that whoever it was, the chaos in the apartment didn't deter them. Their footsteps were coming closer to the bedroom. Cursing, I rushed over to the window and opened it. I ducked out into the fire escape and closed the window just as a silhouette came into view in the room. I pressed tightly against the wall to hide from the unknown person while they walked through the bedroom. Even from outside, I could hear their footsteps in the apartment and hear them recede.

I took my chance and started down the fire escape. The apartment had an elevator and Ricky's apartment was on the sixth floor. If I could hurry I could see whoever it was just as they were coming out the building. I arrived at the bottom just as a black sedan raced from the building and into the dark.

"Son of a bitch," I said aloud and wiped sweat from my face.

Breathing heavily, I jumped the five feet from the fire escape to the ground and tried to catch my breath. The downside to cons over robberies is that cons don't provide nearly enough cardio. The brick wall of the alley was firm enough for me to prop against it and take an inventory of the night's actions. I was tired as hell, my one lead to this job dead and tortured, and some mysterious person pulling strings. I was back at square one. And worse, I had to be up early tomorrow morning for the next part of the Dunmoore game.
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Location: Smithy's drug and grocery store, Las Vegas (lobby)
Time: About 9-10 pm in the Evening




Ben was about to ask a few questions, his hands quickly tossed in a few steaks, before his nose caught something familiar. His nostrils twitched and flickered, trying to place the source. Instinctively his posture became ridge as his eyes panned the store’s scene. Several shoppers stiffened then collapsed, their figures dropped one by one for seemingly no reason at all. Unaware of his edginess, Ben’s lips pulled back to reveal his teeth.

A soft growl that rippled from his throat into the air. A warning to stay back to any knew a werewolf well. The hairs on the nape of his neck stood erect as his eyes widened, appearing to be angry. Inside his inner beast began to rise to the surface and for a dreadful moment, Benjamin thought he would be transforming right here and now.

“Friends of yours?” the teenager snarled toward the White Witch, his tone tensed and uncomfortable thanks to the scene quickly turning into trouble.

So much magic in one area that it was hard to tell which belonged to who as his mind tried to process it all. His fingers wrapped about the cart’s handle bar until the knuckles were pure white. Already his skin was tingling causing more alarm to swell in his breast at not knowing if it linked to his fear or transformation. Things became worse when the lights fizzled then popped, the room grew dark until only light came from the exit signs. It doused everything in a faint, crimson light. More fear poured into him the sensation flipped his stomach and twisted his insides. A nauseous waved over him. It pounded upon him relentlessly as he tried to calm himself, a feat that was much more difficult than originally he presumed it might be.

Benjamin met the golem’s eyes when she focused upon his little ‘group’. Already he was sweating and trying to keep himself human, a challenge that set him on fire inside. ‘Why the hell does this always happen when I want a normal day?’ In his mind’s eye, his wolf peered from the darkest corner and glared at him. It’s teeth bared in a low, warning growl to allow it out.

In a feeble attempt to remain in control, Benjamin turned his attention toward the newly arriving human. He was silent toward her subtle jab filled with self importance. The comment only farther pissed off his inner wolf. At any moment, he knew his strength in holding back the wolf would fail and all hell would break loose.

Benjamin’s eyes narrowed on Freya when she requested more time, his words spoken through gritted teeth, “Easier said than done. If you haven’t noticed, I’m not doing too well… shit.”

When Benjamin finished, heat swelled in his chest then exploded outward. Veins felt like they were set on fire as his figure crumbled, curling into a miserable ball. First the bone cracked and shifted, joints repositioned into more canine features. His muzzle extended forward causing the skin and clothing to rip, revealing blond fur underneath. Marie and others would notice there was less blood than in previous transformations, but it was still messy.
Hidden 8 mos ago Post by Byrd Man
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Jock Sturgeon
Part III:
The Touch


Lost Haven Financial District
9:34 AM


Sean Dunmoore knew right away that the two men coming into his office were cops. It was in how they carried themselves. Like they owned the world and they were doing him a favor by being here. He'd been around enough of them to know exactly how they acted and how they looked down their nose at guys like him.

"Mister Dunmoore," the cop in the lead said. He was tall with silver hair and a Roman nose. His suit was nice, but definitely off the rack. Too much for a city cop. His partner, shorter and bald, wore a similar cut suit.

"FBI," said Sean. "Am I right?"

"Special Agent Marks," said the one in front. Both men pulled out ID cards and flashed them at Sean. "My partner is Special Agent Robb."

Sean stood up from behind his desk and pointed a finger towards the two men. "Unless you've got a warrant I want you the fuck out of here!"

"We're here to help you," Robb growled at him.

Before Sean could utter another word, Marks plopped a manila folder on his desk.

"Read it and weep," said Marks. "Literally."

Sean picked it up and looked inside. There were photos, black and white surveillance glossies of Jackob Blomkamp on the street. Other photos showed the same man, but dressed differently. Time stamps in the corner dated the photographs as haven been taken over the last two years.

"The man you know as Blomkamp is a con artist," said Robb. "And damn good one, too. He's been in Lost Haven for at least two years now, pulling scams on stockbrokers and hedge fund managers all over the city."

"Bullshit," said Sean. "I'm as plugged into the financial scene as anyone, better than most. How come I haven't heard about it?"

A soft chuckle came from Marks' throat. He said, "If you were taken by this guy for a cool hundred grand, would you advertise it all over town?"

"That's how he gets away with it," said Robb. "The people he rips off are too embarrassed, or maybe too scared, to come to us. He ties people up in vaguely shady business enterprises and runs away with their money."

"What did he sell you on," Marks asked with raised eyebrows. "Dutch land grants?"

"African diamond," Sean mumbled.

"You're a smart guy," Marks continued. "I'm sure you had already seen through his bullshit. A guy comes out of the blue with a can't miss, pseudo-legal business enterprise. He butters you up with compliments, strokes your ego while he appeals to your greed. I bet you've already did some homework into his company, yeah?"

"Yeah," Sean nodded. "It's not on any Department of Commerce lists for diamond or jewel importers."

"See," said Robb. "And I bet he'll have a perfectly good excuse as to why that is when you meet him this afternoon."

Sean raised his eyebrow. "You know about that?"

Marks clucked his tongue. "We know about it all, Sean. Like I said before, we've been on this guy for a while. And we're closer. Closer than we've ever been. I know you've had trouble with the Bureau before, but that was with a different division. We're different. We want to put him away. And we need your help."

Sean nodded slowly before gesturing to the two chairs in front of him.

"Take a seat. Let's talk about this."

----

Little Ulster
10:24 AM


"Sturgeon, give me one good reason I don't kill you."

"There's no money in it."

Irish Tom Cafferty looked at me from over the rim of his pint glass and nodded.

"Fair enough, yea."

Irish Tom is, you guessed it, Irish. Ex-pat, ex-IRA, ex-con, ex... something else snappy. He's also one of the rare hitters for hire in Haven that is both affordable and good at his job. You know, for the blue collar man who wants to arrange a murder.

"You ever do any work for the Ambulance Chaser?" I asked as I grabbed a handful of peanuts from a bowl on the bar.

It was early morning still, but the bar was open and had enough people inside to justify staying open. I'd been here a few times before and knew the crowd that came and went were among the criminal fraternity of Lost Haven. It stayed open twenty-four hours to accommodate the crooks who worked nights and got plastered in the early morning.

"Here and there," Irish Tom said with a belch. "His money spends like the rest of 'em so I take it."

"How did you know it was him if he works with cut-outs?"

"Bloody envelopes," he said after a deep swig of his beer. "Only one who does it. He always puts the money in them envelopes like the Russian dolls, bigger envelopes with smaller ones inside and cash inside each one. I always get the last envelope with my cash and the target inside of it."

"Yep. You're the lethal pot 'o gold at the end of the lawyer's criminal rainbow. Jerry Lonnegan was your usual contact on these jobs, right?"

Irish Tom gave me a long, hard look that could have set me on fire if he had a magnifying glass.

"He told me, Jerry, I mean. He said he handed off an envelope to you last week. The Ambulance Chaser was stupid enough to write all his contacts down and someone stole it. He hired me to find it."

If Irish Tom's scowl was hard before, this new look was fossilized. The pint glass he was holding cracked from the grip he was giving it. I imagine he was picturing that glass as the Ambulance Chaser's head.

"The guy who stole it got whacked last night. He was tortured to death first, I'm thinking that whoever you killed found out about The Ambulance Chaser and his contacts, hired the thief for those contacts, and is now getting revenge. Jerry took the hint and got out of town. You might want to do the same."

Irish Tom grunted. "Anyone comes for me, I'll be waiting with my gun and a bottle of Jameson."

I admired Irish Tom. A lot of people complain about how they were born in the wrong decade or time or whatever, but in Tom's case it was true. He was an Irish killer who belonged in the wild west as a gunslinger. I sometimes thought the same about myself. I would have been right at home in the court of some European king in the 1600's, pretending to be a long lost relative and grifting him for every piece of gold. I could have made millions.

"Before you get too many sheets in the wind, Tom. How about you tell me all you can about this hit you did last week. And let's hurry it up, I gotta become a South African diamond executive in a half hour."

----

Le Cigare Volant
12:10 PM


Sean saw Blomkamp's mouth moving, bits of crumb were attached to his lips from the fine French meal the two men had just partaken of. But while Blomkamp spoke, Sean wasn't paying attention to anything he said. His thoughts were still on the meeting with the FBI agents. They laid out their plan clearly, including the trap that would be set here at the lunch meeting. Yes. It was perfect.

"Mr. Dunmoore," Blomkamp said with a puzzled look on his face. "Are you listening?"

"Yes," said Sean. "Your board of directors agreed to my counter proposal and will go into business with me to sell off their diamonds."

"Correct," Blomkamp said with a smile. "It's a matter of logistics. You see--"

Blomkamp, or whatever his name was, continued to talk but Sean was starting to tune him out. Instead of his words, he focused on the man. It was so obvious that he was a phony from the start. The mustache looked like the fake that it was, his clothes seemed a bit disheveled. He was far from the put together executive Sean had met yesterday. Was there a difference, or had Sean just been blinded by the money to pay attention to what he saw?

"I had one question," Sean interrupted Blomkamp mid-sentence about customs regulations in maritime Africa. "I am curious. I did some research into you, Mr. Blomkamp, but it seems as if your company is not listed among known diamond importers and exporters of Africa. Care to explain?"

"Ah, yes." Blomkamp laced his fingers together and sighed. "You see, sir... I have to come clean. My company has only existed... for two weeks."

Blomkamp took off his glasses and wiped at the sweat on his forehead. Jesus, thought Sean, this guy is really good.

"The truth is, Afrikaans Tool and Mining is... what you would call a shell company. Yes. The diamonds are real, but who I work for is not that fictional company, but instead the president of South Africa himself. This plan to smuggle diamonds out of the country and sell them is part of his plan to secure monies for him and his family in the event of an uprising that needs him to flee the country. There. I've said it."

Yes, thought Sean, you sure had. The FBI agents were right. A story that would conveniently explain away the paper-thin nature of his company, and a story that Sean could not verify. It's not like he could call the president of South Africa, could he?

"Here," Blomkamp handed Sean a cell phone. "President Zuma is on the line. Speak to him."

Sean had to suppress a laugh when he heard the man on the other side of the phone. Somebody doing a piss poor imitation of Blomkamp's more believable South African accent introduced himself as the president and explained that he was happy to work with Sean and looked forward to a long and prosperous business arrangement before they quickly ended the call.

"How much do you need to start with?" Sean asked after handing the phone back to Blomkamp.

"Estimates are from two to five hundred thousand US dollars. Can that be arraigned?"

"Yes," Sean said with a grin. "Easiest thing in the world to write you a check."

"Cash," Blomkamp said with a frown. "It needs to be cash, sir. Cashing a check here or in South Africa will leave a paper trail."

"You getting busted at the airport will lead to a bigger paper trail," said Sean. This was part of it, the FBI agents said. Don't be too eager to say yes. Raise questions and make him work for it. If Sean went along too easy he might become suspicious.

Blomkamp smiled. "I have diplomatic immunity, so they will never search my luggage when I fly home. No need to worry about that."

"Fine," said Sean. "Let me call my broker and accountant, see how much cash I can get my hands on and we'll do the deal."

"Very good," Blomkamp said with a bow of his head. "The more the better, sir. Guards and custom officials do not come cheap."

"I doubt they do."

The two men shared a laugh, Blomkamp at the mild joke and Sean at the fact that their entire conversation had just been recorded thanks to the wire taped to his chest. Blomkamp ordered two glasses of champagne and the two men toasted.

"To the success of our task," said Blomkamp.

Sean clinked glasses with him and laughed before adding his own toast.

"To both of us getting just what we deserve."
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Hidden 8 mos ago Post by Byrd Man
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Jock Sturgeon
Part IV:
Clip Joint


The Pepper Mill
9:04 PM


I walked through the loud music and flashing lights of the strip club with something approaching envy. Not envy towards the men and the beautiful women in their laps, but to the women sitting on the men's laps. Flashing a little bit of their flesh got these men to empty their wallets on dances were they could not touch them, a rule that was violently enforced in the club, and pay for watered down drinks that cost twenty dollars a pop. There's a con that you can run out of these places called the clip joint, but it just involves jacking up prices on dances and drinks and making up fees to charge marks. It was a needlessly greedy con in my opinion. These places were licences to print money if you could work them right.

I found the Ambulance Chaser in the back of the club, mid-motorboat in a private booth. The Stafford Twins sat off to the side of the booth, both of them on their phones so they wouldn't have spotted me even if I had come in leading a marching band. The stripper spotted me, though. She paused in the middle of grinding on Fitzwaller's lap to star at me. I liked to say that I kept eye contact with her... but that would be a lie.

"If you're gonna watch, it's gonna you twenty bucks," said the stripper. "No free previews, hun."

"What are you doing here, Sturgeon?" Fitzwaller asked.

"Looking for the future ex-Mrs. Sturgeon," I said before smiling at the stripper. "Hi, I'm Jock. I have a lot of money, very weak impulse control, and I don't like pre-nups."

The twins were back on the job before she could respond. Two sets of arms, one strong and the other not so much, found themselves wrapped around my arms and were pushing me away from the booth.

"I just got a few questions," I tried to yell over the music.

"Stop," said Fitzwaller.

He nudged the stripper off his lap and started to stand, until he realized he was in no physical position to stand and not show off his -- what's a good legal pun? -- gavel, there we go. Yeah, standing would show me and the rest of the club his gavel.

"Be brief, Sturgeon."

The twins let me go and I looked at them with the smuggest look I was capable of before turning back to their boss.

"When you set up a... asset liquidation."

"What?" asked Johnny Stafford. "What's that mean?"

"He's talking in code, dumbass," said Jimmy Stafford. "When the boss sets up a hit."

"Way to crack the code," I said with a sigh. "Fitzwaller, how many go-betweens deep is the chain when you... set up a hit."

"Five or six deep," said Fitzwaller. "Well insulated."

"Okay," I said with a nod. "And one more thing, did you take pictures of the burglary?"

"Yes, with my phone. Why couldn't this wait until the morning, Sturgeon?"

"Because I have an idea. Just... text me those photos and I think I'll have an answer by the morning."

I started to leave, but pulled up short.

"On more thing," I said as I produced a card and handed it to the stripper. "If you ever want to make real money, give me a call."

---

Chinatown
11:40 AM


Back to the scene of the crime. I mean that in the most technical sense since there is in fact crime scene tape on Fat Ricky Fat's apartment door. The door was unlocked, but a large red piece of tape ran down the door as a seal. I cut it with a box knife I always carried and slipped inside. The smell of blood and death were still heavy in the apartment and the clutter from the ransack was a little more tidy. I assumed the cops had cleaned up after processing the scene.

It was in the middle of the apartment that I tried to put the puzzle pieces together. Fat Ricky Fat breaks into the Ambulance Chaser's office. A sloppy job from the pictures Fitzwaller sent me. Door was left open, the safe was wide open. He takes off with all of Fitzwaller's incriminating documents and... ends up dead. He was tortured so it seems that he wasn't prepared to give the papers up to whoever was the torturing him. Soon after Ricky Fat's death, our handsome hero Jock Sturgeon breaks in and finds Ricky Fat dead just as the possible killer returns to look through the apartment. The lack of time they spent here in the second time meant that they either found what they were looking for quickly, or they knew someone had been here and high-tailed it.

I decided to bet on the latter assumption and go through the apartment to see what I could find. It's highly unlikely Ricky kept his burglar stash in the apartment, but I look in all the conventional places like bookcases and under mattresses. I found a couple grand in hidden money and some very weird porn that I'm sure Ricky would have destroyed before he died.

Nothing in the living room worth mentioning. The kitchen had a sink full of dirty dishes and a fridge filled with old takeout containers. The cabinets were stocked with snacks and sodas and, I guess for the hell of it, a box of granola bars. I started to close the cabinet door before I stopped suddenly.

Wait.

Granola bars?

Fat Ricky Fat's nickname wasn't one of the ironic ones. He was a four hundred pounder, the textbook definition of morbidly obese. Why in the hell would a guy who inhaled Little Debbie cakes have a box or health food? I reached up and plucked the box from the cabinet. It was crudely opened and heavy, heavier than a box should be. I flipped it open and found pay dirt inside. Paper rolled up tightly with a rubber band and stuffed inside the box.

I took the papers out of the box and unrolled them. On top was the network Fitzwaller used in his most recent job. He was right, there were six cut-outs between himself and Irish Tom at the very bottom. The client nor the victim were listed on the paper. But that didn't matter. Because there were two names in the middle of the chain that told me all I needed to know.

It all clicked into place and just like that, I knew who Fat Ricky Fat had stolen the documents for, and who had killed him. I sighed and rolled them back up and stuffed them into my pocket. It would all have to wait until tomorrow afternoon. I had an appointment bright and early tomorrow morning to steal half a million dollars from out under Sean Dunmoore's nose.
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Hidden 8 mos ago Post by Demonic Angel
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Location: Las Vegas, Smitty's
Time: Present Day, Evening

If the falling humans weren’t enough to scream something was happening than the flickering lights surely would have. The everlasting feeling of eyes shifting with their movements, as if someone or something was standing inside the room, studying them closely. Then again there was a rather ominous appearance towards certain areas inside the enclosed room. Yeong’s eyes crept towards her left, meeting eyes with what seemed to be a very tensed up Ji, making her almost regret coming here. She knew what her twin was feeling at this very moment. Not only because of their sixth sense but because of the familiar giggling which entered the once stilled air.

The young woman sighed as her figure slwly lowered towards the ground, as if to sit down on the floor, but this was far from the truth. There was another reason that the younger werewolf was doing this action. A single scent that seemed to tingle fea, raged, and hatred inside her heart. The one single scent which took everything away from the two without a second thought. A bit lower the werewolf went as if to ready a strike against something that made some of the human’s clothes shif. To be honest, or at least what the young woman could see, the things were small in size. Though this was mostly guess work from the clothing. Either way this was adding you to another shitty day in the making.

The youngest sibling’s head flickered back and forth as her ears strained to listen to the strange sound that continued to travel through their safe zone A subtle kick caused the girl to glance towards the person who tried to get her attention. If it wasn’t for the fact of her twin’s tensing figure. ” Okay? Now why are you acting so strange Ji. You’re usually the level headed one so why,” She started thinking to herself as a familiar scent filled her nostrils. An animalistic anger filled Yeong’s form, rage igniting inside the werewolf’s heart, as sadeness yanked each heart string.

” Great the bitch came back. I was beginning to wonder when we were going to see her again. Looks like we’ll get a chance to fucking kill her now. Unless she’s planning to hide behind that piece of metal.” The girl whispered. Another kick to her side made the youngest sibling sigh. ” I know. Wait for the correct timing before making a move.”

The two allowed the others to speak while mentally plotting their attack or that was what they thought before Ben turned. So much for the perfect plan. ” Looks like it’s time to kick some asses unless they wanna run.”
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Jock Sturgeon
Part V:
The Sting


Lost Haven Financial District
10:28 AM


"Something wrong, Mr. Dunmoore?"

Sean didn't realize his hands were shaking until he saw Blomkamp looking down at them. In his right hand was the small key to a safety deposit box. He stood with Blomkamp in the basement of his bank among the hundreds of other safety deposit box. The bank president escorted them down and handed Sean the key before quietly excusing himself to go back upstairs. Blomkamp carried an empty briefcase to carry the cash.

"I'm fine," said Sean. "I just... never had anyone else with me to do this before."

Blomkamp nodded. Sean hopped he bought it. The wire on his chest was aided by a button camera on the lapel of his suit. The FBI agents wanted to see the con man take the cash. After they had in on film, they would be waiting outside the bank to with a pair of cuffs to escort him to jail.

"I'll help," Blomkamp said with a sly grin.

The two men pulled the long lock box from its place on the shelf and carried it over to a table. Sean opened the box with his key and pulled it open. Stacks of cash were nestled in it along with legal documents, loose jewelry, and a pistol. Sean pushed the pistol to the side and grabbed for the cash. Hundreds bundled in ten thousand dollar stacks began to quickly fill the briefcase until a cool half million sat in Blomkamp's briefcase. By Sean's quick count, at least another fifty thousand dollars was left after this raid.

"Mr. Dunmoore," said Blomkamp with a sheepish grin. "If I may be so bold. In the event of overages or underestimates, would it be possible to get the rest of the cash from this box? Whatever we don't need shall be safely returned to you in either cash or investment."

Sean almost laughed out loud. The nerve of this man! He was already robbing him of a half million, and he was asking for more? The greedy son of a--

"Sure," Sean said with a grin. "I trust you, Jackob."

What the hell, thought Sean. He was about to be arrested and all this money would go back in his lock box where it belonged. He'd think he got one over on Sean, at least until the FBI agents showed up with their guns and badges. Then Sean would have the last laugh.

"So kind," Blomkamp said as he grabbed the rest of the cash and stuffed it into his now full case. "If it is alright will you, I will go upstairs and get the manager to come down here and be on my way. I will be on a plane tonight back to Africa and call you once I am safely on the ground. Know that your investment is in safe hands."

The two men shook and Dunmoore smiled. If he had a mirror he would see that it was a smile with no humor in it.

"Of course. I look forward to our long and fruitful partnership, Jackob."

Blomkamp bowed graciously and started upstairs with the case. Sean took his time locking his safe deposit box and placing it back on the shelf. When he was sure enough time had elapsed he started back upstairs. The confident smile on his face disappeared when he entered the lobby and saw... nothing.

"All done, Mr. Dunmoore?" asked the bank manager.

"Where's..." Sean started before trailing off.

"The gentleman you went down with left a few minutes ago. He said you would be up shortly. Is th--"

Sean cut him off as he ran through the lobby and out the door. Blomkamp was nowhere to be found, neither were the two FBI agents. Cursing, Sean pulled out his phone and dialed the number Special Agent Marks had given him. It rang a few times before it picked up.

"FBI Lost Haven office, how may I direct your call."

"I need Special Agent Marks' cell phone."

"I'm sorry, sir, who?"

"Special Agent Marks. I'm Sean Dunmoore. I need to talk to him right now."

"I'm sorry, sir, but there's no agent by that name in this office."

"Are you serious?!," he growled. "He's an FBI agent, partner is Agent Robb. He--"

Sean stopped talking. He almost dropped his cell phone when it hit him like a ton of bricks. Special Agent Robb. Special Agent Marks. Robb. Marks. Rob marks. The receptionist tried to talk, but she couldn't hear anything except Sean's loud and crazed laughter.

----

Lost Haven Financial District
11:08 AM


"Stick 'em up!" Joey Baggs groweled, his right finger in the shape of a gun.

I let out polite applause as he and Harry the Hat slid into the coffeeshop booth across from me. Both men were still in their fake FBI windbreakers and suits while I had shucked my Blomkamp disguise off as soon as I got away from Dunmoore.

"Bravo," I said with a slight bow. "My two star players. I've got something for you."

Two stacks of twenty-five thousand dollars seemed to appear on the table in front of me.

"That looks like more than twenty grand," said Harry the Hat.

"It is," I shrugged. "But not much more. I was able to squeeze a few extra bucks out of the mark. Take it while I'm generous, fellas."

The two con men grabbed the money and stuffed it into their clothes.

"What did I tell you," Joey said to his partner. "Easiest money you'll ever make, working with Sturgeon."

Harry the Hat nodded and looked at me expectantly. "You'll let us when you got another con going on, Jock?"

"If I'm in need of your services, I shall call."

I slid the check from my coffee and breakfast sandwich towards the two men and started to stand.

"Now pay my bill. It's the least you can do."

"Where you going?" Joey asked. "We pulled off a hell of a score, Jock. You don't wanna celebrate."

"No can do, fellas," I sighed. "I gotta go solve a murder."

---

Little Ulster
2:39 PM


I caught Jerry Lonnegan in between three-card hustles. He had the card table tucked under his arm and was waiting for a bus by himself. Jerry walked the same route on alternative days. If you knew Jerry as long as I had, you knew about where he'd be at any given day.

"Jock," Jerry said with a wink. "How's tricks?"

"Tricky," I said. "How's running the short grift?"

"Tricker still."

"Why'd you do it, Jerry?"

His big grin disappeared. He started to shake his head in denial, but I held a hand up to stop him.

"I found the list Fat Ricky Fat hid in his apartment. You two were part of the same chain in the Ambulance Chaser's last hit. Not only that, you two two links together. Whose idea was it to break into Fitzwaller's office and steal the paperwork?"

Jerry looked from left to right, stopped when he saw a cheesy ad for Fitzwaller on the side of the bus stop. Someone had drawn a cartoon dick right next to his mouth. Under normal circumstances, I would have laughed my ass off.

"Me," he sighed. "I've been thinking about it since I heard from one of the Stafford twins that the lawyer writes it all down. So, when a burglar turned out to be my contact in the chain... how could I resist, Jock?"

"So Ricky breaks into the office, makes it obvious he broke in, and steals the paperwork that Fitzwaller would give anything to keep. But Ricky doesn't share, does he? He hides it and tries to blackmail Fitzwaller by himself so, you did what you did to him."

"Had he told me where they were, he wouldn't be dead," Jerry said coldly. "It's his own fault, the fat fuck."

"You've got two options, Jerry. Option 1: You leave town, I tell the Ambulance Chaser I found the paperwork in Fat Ricky Fat's apartment but don't mention you, as far as Fitzwaller is concerned he'll be none the wiser. Option 2: You stay in town, I tell the Ambulance Chaser I found the paperwork in Fat Ricky Fat's apartment but don't mention you, as far as Fitzwaller is concerned he'll be none the wiser... but I tell Irish Tom what you did. And he's not gonna take too kindly with you being so careless with papers that have his name on it."

It was a hell of a thing, seeing someone as dark as Jerry going pale from fright.

"You're a motherfucker, Jock, I--"

"I'm a friend, Jerry," I spoke over him to drown him out. "That's the only reason I'm giving you a choice. Any other crook, I tell Fitzwaller the whole tale and sleep soundly while you sleep with the fishes. This is me at my most generous, Jerry. What's it gonna be?"

Jerry stared at his feet for a long moment before shrugging.

"Fuck it. There's marks all over the country."

"I hear LA is lovely this time of year."

"One more question: How did it go with Dunmoore?"

"I cleared a half a million."

His grin was back and he clapped his hands together.

"My man!"

I nodded and turned away from my friend and disappeared into the night.

End
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Hidden 8 mos ago Post by Crosswire
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Crosswire

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Pacific Point- Bed, Bath, and Beyond

Mentions:(Kyra Muller)@Dedonus



One moment Gum was running, gunfire cutting through the store scenery behind him like a knife as he moved. Then he heard the opening of doors and the smashing of windows as round cylinders splashed across the floor. Before his racing, adrenaline poisoned mind could fully process what they were they burst.

Light and sound. Like the death throes of an angel. His insides were shook as they struck him, nearly rattling his brain in its cavity as he was thrown back.

In an instant everything was gone.

His vision reduced to snow and his hearing little more than a razor sharp whine. The young boy couldn’t even feel properly as the splintering, root deep pain in both sets of hears blacked out every other sensation. Gum had crashed backwards into one of the store walls, crushing the cheap white plaster with his impact and not even realizing it.

Though his senses no longer spoke to him Gum remained standing. Propped up against the wall, one hand digging claws into the plaster as the other awkwardly clutched the rifle he had picked up. The young boy, bleeding from the ears, crying from the eyes, and standing on shaking legs did not fall.

“I can’t. Not here! I didn’t tell mom where I was going...she’ll get mad. Dad, Analis, I can’t die here! I DON’T WANT TO DIE!”

Feline teeth biting into his lip hard enough to draw blood Gum lifted the rifle and aimed it forward. All he saw was white and could barely feel the weight of the rifle against his arm as his nerves pulsed with white hot pain. For all he knew the robbers had guns pointed at him and were a breath away from firing. Steeling himself the boy began to curl his finger around the trigger when-

“Freeze!”

His vision swam and at the very bottom of his ear drums Gum could almost swear he heard something amongst the white noise.

“Drop the weapon and put your hand in the air!”

The noise came again and this time it was accompanied by images, albeit crude outlines of them. Figures, man, tall and bulky pointing things at him. Gum whole body shook as it seemed he was surrounded by the robbers. But slowly things came into focus. Clearer shapes, sharper colors. Eventually the letters S.W.A.T became clear.

“Drop your weapon or we WILL shoot!”

Finally the voice came in properly, though only barely. Gum’s breathing slowed as he realized that it was the police he was surrounded by and not the robbers. Relief began to pour over him.

“I’m safe. The police are here and I-”

Gum stopped, dazed eyes going wide as the hot wetness against his face reminded him.

Moments before he’d pulled the trigger on one, or was it two robbers? They were pointing guns at him and he got ahold of a gun so it made sense. He’d seen it done in games, movies, in virtually everything. It’d been so easy Gum had done it without thinking. Without needing to think about what to do or what he had done.

Without realizing he had killed someone.

“Ahh. Ahhhh. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Gum began to scream. His entire body trembled as the situation caved in on him. Water soaking his clothes, blood on his face, barely able to hear, barely able to see, with police pointing guns at him in a Bed Bath & Beyond he had snuck out to in the middle of the night.

Gun slipping from his grip Gum clutched the top of his head whimpering in pain as three SWAT officers rushed him. Sprinting up to him one lashed out and buried the butt of their shotgun into the boy’s chest. Bile spewing from his lips and ending his cries, Gum was struck by telescopic batons as the two remaining SWAT officers beat him to his trembling knees.

“What’s going on over there?” Another SWAT member yelled, and the three made looked to one another.

“The subject resisted arrest and has been detained.” One said in a flat, almost monotone voice. A lie the questioning officer simply nodded to, oblivious to the truth.

-

Devil slipped on his blinders and ear seals moments before the flashbangs flew into the building. Senses gone, back pressed against a wall of a store shelf, he considered for a brief moment warning the others. But only for a moment. Feeling the stun grenades shake the room through his bones a smile crept across the professional robber’s face. Images of his team writing on the floor blind eyes and trashed eardrums brought momentary catharsis.

Peeling the covers from his eyes and the caps off his ears Devil was greeted to moans, groans, and the sound of police issue boots splashing across the floor. Raising his hands above his head he waited patiently as one of the SWAT teams swept into view, weapons raised.

“FRE-”

“Yes, yes, freeze. Don’t shoot we surrender!”

The robber leader’s announcement was met by disoriented groans as all but one of his men lay on the floor clutching the sides of their heads. Tower still stood, weaving back and forth on shaking legs, fingers still curled around the grips of his microgun. His own ear seals fell to the floor with a splash as he blinked, shaking his head as his vision had been reduced to nothing but white.

“W-wha-”
I said we surrender.” Devil’s town deepened as he looked between the blinded Tower and the SWAT officers, their fingers tightening around their triggers at the mere sight of the hulking man’s gun. With a heavy, almost pained, groan Tower threw up his hands and sent his microgun crashing to his feet.

Dropping to their knees the SWAT team rushed in, practically grabbing Devil and Tower by the throats as they cuffed them and the other conveniently floor criminals.

“Area has been secure. Conducting a further sweep of the building but all hostiles appear to be accounted for.” One of the SWAT officers announced over the radio to the police line outside.
Hidden 8 mos ago Post by VATROU
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VATROU The Barron

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And




In


The Birdcage and the Canary


Leading down into the depths of the sewers Sewer Gator had shown Eva to the entrance of the Hero Diner, a place owned by Rosie the Riveter. Taking off to meet up with another hero Sewer Gator bid his farewell as he debriefed Rosie in his usual if eccentric way. “The Legions of villainy have been laid low this day under the mighty weight of justice and her hammer of virtue! For I am the chip at the bottom of the bag that is still crispy, the leafy greens your parents tell you to eat that make you stronger! For no matter where evil rests the sandwich of justice will be there to serve a heaping of tuna!”

Eva stared he made no sense, a man who could easily be mistaken for someone right out of Street Fighter with the outrageous costume choice to match. Sewer Gator’s pose and subsequent departure happened faster than she could process with a wide smile and simultaneous salute.

“So. Covering the basics you’re a would be hero. Who is not as helpless as we were led to believe.” Rosie spoke up as she sat down a glass jar full of coffee on top the wooden tables lining the rather pleasant underground diner. “According to Gator might have had a hand in the Pacific Point event that was all over the news.”

Stick-It note kid who had until now been washing plates spoke up himself. “From what we got maybe the caller just didn’t know too much of the details. But maybe you should lay low for now, we aren’t a target we’ll see about collecting info from the caller. Maybe trace the call bring in the Blue Beagle for that if he’ll stop trying to eat the scraps on the tables.”

”Look, I can handle myself. It’d be nice to find out why someone tried to kill me though.” Eva said as she took a seat.

“Well miss, what was it. Pendragon. I know asking personal information is difficult in our line of work.” Rosie said gruffly her age showing through her voice and mannerisms. “But since you do have abilities of sorts we can rule out regular revenge schemes, as the assassin was for normal humans.”

“So.” Stick-It note kid said. “You must be someone important to somebody, pissed off regular folks with money. And I doubt it was for texting and driving.”

”I’m not important no more, just someone trying to make sense of this world.”

“But it sounds like you were, so. If I may ask can we start from the top?” Rosie said as she set down a plate of appetizers.

Eva sighed as she eyed the old clock on the wall then began to reveal as little about herself as she could. Things she hoped would help but still keep some privacy, after an hour or two their questions had stopped and all that remained was what to do now.

“Even if you don’t bleed bullets hurt. These are trained assassins, and it seems more will come. Stick-It note is correct, laying low or getting out of town would be better.” Stick-it Note Kid spoke as he munched on a cold fry.

Merlin watched, carefully planning when to butt in. It was about time Eva met Salamander and his protege and this was a perfect excuse to do it. Perhaps I have something.” Merlin said floating down from the ceiling as if she could pass through walls.

”Merlin. Course you’d show up now.”

”I am Merlin, well one of them, that is more complicated than I wish to fully explain, but her getting out of town is what I want right now. I have some people I want you to meet.”

Rosie was not thrilled to have this half naked street walker enter her diner, but she and Pendragon knew each other. And had some degree of trust. “Your manner of dress is highly inappropriate.”

”And I find this establishment lacking. If one could call this dingy place a restaurant.”

“If you have the means to leave the city it might be best to spend a few days away while the rest of us look into this matter, Pendragon you’re young. Fighting alongside Icon and the playboy knight although impressive hasn’t prepared you yet. Come back after a few days. We’ll give you some pointers.”

”I. Yea might do that. But Merlin you had something.”

”After me.” Merlin said as the doors to the hidden diner opened to reveal an expansive library.

“Does anyone understand what’s going on?” Stick-it Note Kid said. “When did doors to libraries open up down here, or ever?”

“You see odd things, teleporting is often the strangest kid.” Rosie said lighting a cigarette.

---

Berenice made a corkscrew turn in the air, causing Sunheart to scream yet again, they had been doing this a good hour already, and while the siren was having her usual fun, she could tell her new friend was not enjoying the flight time.

Are you not used to being off of the ground so far?” she asked, aiming her mouth somewhere near her waist.

Her response was to feel a warm spot growing along her thigh. Sunheart had let go of the contents of her stomach. So she swooped down as fast as she could(something her tiny compatriot did not approve of) and landed on the beach below her nest, carefully washing herself without drowning the girl.

You know, you are going to have to get used to this if you are going to accompany me any length of time.

”I know!” said the girl, scrubbing her chin with the water beading on Berenice’s thigh feathers. “But perhaps the lessons can be slowed a bit> I have never been away from the ground at all except for climbing walls!

Berenice grinned at her little friend. “Maybe think of this as a very high wall that moves around?

She was rewarded with only a grunt of disapproval, so she decided to sit and wait for Sunheart’s stomach to settle before taking off into the evening sky again.

---

”Welcome to the ass end of nowhere. Where biting insects are the least of your worries. We’ll be going up a bit farther.

”Great. And me without my bloody bug spray.”

The two entered the forest where Salamander and the unknown Siren waited up ahead soon spotting a clearing where the sea breeze struck Eva in the face and the sight of the run down and nearly destroyed shack remained as the only reminder anyone had once lived here. Trees thinned out as few toppled over while the wild grasses grew unchecked by even nature herself.

”So who lives here that we have to meet?”

”Some interesting folk. Ah.” Merlin said as she spotted Salamander leaned against a tree. ”Here is one now. Meet Salamander. A acquaintance of sorts.”

Salamander grinned as the two moved up near him. “Seriously? This is the one the blade chose?”

The clearing echoed with laughter. And in the human’s ears, the laughter echoed off of itself, so that it became an endlessly repeating and building crescendo, bouncing off of the edge of perception and back until it was so loud her teeth vibrated. At the same time, Salamander's body split into a thousand crows, who flew so low and fast past her face that she probably couldn’t see anything but black shiny feathers. And then suddenly, without warning or transition, everything was back exactly the way it had been, and he was laughing normally, though now, instead of his old travelling clothes, he was wearing a torn denim vest, ripped up jeans, and sporting a mohawk of violently iridescent purple. He was still laughing, although it sounded normal now.

“This is going to be fun,” he said, in between chuckles. “If the bird says it’s fine, she can camp here. It’ll probably be safer than anywhere else for the moment.”

”NO, nope, no. Bloody hell and god save the queen and that fucking jazz.” As Eva snapped out of whatever Salamander had done to her.

Meanwhile Merlin sat floating above the ground simply relaxing.”Yes yes, it was just a few seconds. You’re fine. Now yes Excalibur chose her. She’s not even used to such parlor tricks barely wet behind the ears I'm afraid. Now where is your girl? I don’t suppose she’s more house trained than this one.”

”Standing right here.”

Salamander stuck two fingers in his mouth and blew what should have been a shrill but normal whistle. What came out was a hawk’s hunting cry, and it had that same echoing quality, though this time it rang about the clearing as if it had a mind of its own and it was looking for something. Out of the evening sky came an answering call, though clearer, and out of the gloom came a fast-flying feathered menace that would make most furred mammals run for cover.

As Berenice came in to land, she wondered half-heartedly why she had answered so readily to that call, but that thought immediately left her mind as she landed on a nearby tree stump, talons gouging out chunks of bark to reveal bright white wood beneath. She shifted a bit to fold her wings behind her, then folded her arms to try and look authoritative. After all, this was her nest. The overall effect, however, was more like a five year old trying to assert dominance in a room full of adults. She might have been serious about it, but no one else was buying it.

”That. I. Um, Bollocks, big bloody bollocks. On one hand I’d like to say, Birb lady. SHE’S A FREAKING BIRB! On the other. You are um. God you smell like you took a bath in the Hudson. Soap, lady it’s a thing.”

”She is more pungent than I imagined.” Merlin said erecting a barrier to mitigate the smell between herself and Berry one the Siren would likely fail to notice.

”Well this is all fine and good but why are we meeting?” Eva said as she held her nose.

”Perhaps we thought you could use some practical experience. And help this, speci, um. Lovely creature here explore what she is truly capable of.”

Berenice stared at the two newcomers. While her eyes were mostly human shaped, they were still the great golden-black orbs of an eagle, and had somewhat more intensity than most would expect from a human head. Then again, the rest of her body detracted from ‘expectations’ to begin with.

I know what soap is! What is a Hudson, though?”

Salamander put his palm to his face and shook his head before glancing over at Merlin. “Shall we put that at one for yours, then? I’m afraid mine is a bit younger than normal. You can feel the power, though, yes? My old apprentice may have overdone himself.”

”Throbbing with power. She does have potential. More so than what I am currently working with.”

”Have you considered a nice bubble bath, or I could just have Dickens lick you clean. He won’t eat you promise.” Eva looked towards Merlin and said. ”You plan on tossing us into trouble aren’t you?”

”Not trouble, heroics, a test. A trial of your abilities, honor and likelihood of dea, defeat. A guideline and Berry needs a good influence. And the Hounds need stopping.”

”She plans on giving us trouble, first time she dropped an alien on my ass. Um big creature. Yeah. And the Hounds are bad people, killing good people and destroying lives, mages, sirens like yourself and anyone we like.”

Salamander looked at Berry. “It will also give me a good idea of where I need to start with you, and where your capabilities lie, so that I can teach you more effectively.”

Berenice nodded throughout all of these statements, though she gave off the sneaking suspicion that she might be nodding more because she thought that’s what you were supposed to do rather than because of any sort of actual understanding. And then she bent low, folding one wing over herself, looking like she was after an elusive itch somewhere. After several moments, she came back up. She smiled at Eva, displaying her unusual mouth of teeth.

”Okay, We will do this...whatever it is you are talking about. And you can get me some soap, maybe.”

”I skipped out of tracking my own assassin for this. Fine. Just. Can we get you washed up first? You smell like someone threw up on rotting meat.

”I do have a bath, although that is not the smell of rotting meat.”

”I will regret asking won’t I?” Eva said as the four of them stood in the middle of the clearing as Berry perched herself on the stump with the cabin behind her. Eva held her face with her right palm before swaying to her side back and forth. ”Gah! Weird things keep coming, why can’t this world be normal. Take out meals and tv dinners with games on the weekend. But fine. Fine. I’ll play your dumb game, take your tests.”

”For a legendary hero in training you while about the simplest things. And this is what I get for dealing with children always wanting to be pampered.”
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Hidden 8 mos ago Post by Indy Cooper
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Indy Cooper Deity-in-training

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Meanwhile...


Deep in the desert of New Mexico, near the US-Mexico border

Smoke curled up from the burning sage, leaving the entirety of the inside of the cave with it's earthy scent. The heat from the small campfire only accentuated the terrible, oppressive might of the sun raging outside on the canyon face, and its light did not reach the very back of the cave at all. The only sound other than the crackling of the fire was the small battery-powered radio that vainly tried to fill the space with its sound. Currently, the news was on, and a report about a bank robbery in Albuquerque was wrapping up.

At the mention of water powers and new heroes, unnaturally glowing green eyes snapped open in the darkness. The scrabbling sound of claws on stone rang for a moment, and then a coyote strode out of the darkness. Unlike most animals of its type, this one was huge, almost the size of a puma. It's coat was severely ravaged by mange, and it gave off just the feeling of being deranged and diseased. And then, as it approached the mouth of the cave, it's bones creaked and cracked, and midstride, if shifted into the shape of a well-muscled, disheveled man, wearing an old bear skin. Mucus ringed eyes that stared out into the waning afternoon light.

"So," he muttered, half to himself and half to the raging spirits that he felt around them. "One of them has finally appeared here, outside of the guarded lands. And with useful powers it sounds like." His awful mouth broke into a grin, revealing nothing but blackened stumps of teeth. "Soon, little hero, I shall eat your heart. And then I will have my revenge."




The coast of Maine


Fell light without source caused the salt-rimed rocks to glisten strangely behind Sebastian as he worked. His condition was not yet improved enough to stand, but he could work in a sitting position, and he was no longer close to death enough to avoid working any longer. Abaraxis shuffled gleefully from foot to foot behind his master, watching as the runes were painted painstakingly onto the stone walls of the cavern. Almost half of the surfaces of the cave were now covered, in maddening, twisting patterns. The scorched remains of his private notes were suspended in the air around him, and he frequently checked back on them, working half from those, and from memory where the damage was to great. Abraxis had almost not caught the remains in time to halt the removal spell the old lizard had done when he burned the book, so the time reversal only repaired so much of it.

Soon, he would be...well, not whole. Several sections of his flesh were pale and dead-looking. The right half of his face was mostly enchanted metal and bone at this point. The metal had been too precious to get much of, so his right arm up to the elbow and both legs, plus a massive section of his torso, were now made mostly of of stone, magicked to move like the flesh he had lost.

The twisted voice of his familiar reached his ears. "How soon before we can begin, master? How soon before I can claw the girl's face off? How soon befor eyou can reclaim the source?"

"Shut up you little wretched monkey," he growled, though not with much feeling. He understood his creation's feelings, however, and said slightly more patiently, "Shouldn't be long now. Maybe one more day and one more subject and it should be ready."




Lost Haven Police Headquarters, Downtown


The desk sergeant was not at all happy to be dealing with Ophelia, she could tell. She wasn't surprised, or concerned, that he was uncomfortable or intimidated by her. Many people were, these days. It had little to do with the powersuit, or the elaborate jewelry that adorned her neck and ears, or the intensity of her black eyes. It wasn't her Asian heritage scaring them with latent fears of being racist, or the expensive car she drove. It was her confidence, her self-assurance that whatever she did, it was right.

Ophelia worked for...well, she wasn't entirely certain on that point. She knew that her orders did not come from her nominal bosses, the board of directors for International Genetics Corporation. They seemed to only be a front for something else, but for the time being, until she knew how to move up in the company, she'd toe the line and be a good worker. And she was good. She had been assigned to the Acquisitions department, which she had originally assumed was the same department as in any other company and was going to be tasked with formulating mergers and buyouts. This was especially confusing considering her background in psychology and corporate espionage, but she had shrugged it off.

She was shocked to find that her actual job was to track down these new 'metahumans' and either recruit them to another portion of the company or, at the very least, obtain some of their DNA. She was very good at her job, which was what had led her here, to this hole-in-the-wall town that was apparently larger than anyone at the office had assumed. But their attention had been especially drawn by the rumours of an unkillable woman. The desk sergeant, however, was being particularly obstinate.

"I've told you before, lady, I'm not allowed to give out that sort of information on an ongoing investigation."

Ophelia sighed. "I understand that, Sergeant, but I am looking out for the girl's best interests. My firm has been trying to find out any information on her whereabouts for some time. She has quite the substantial inheritance coming her way."

"I don't know what else to tell you, miss. I could direct you to her current guardian or place of residence, but both of those are kinda up in the air at the moment."

"Alright, fine." Ophelia dug into her small purse and pulled out a business card. "Well, when the information becomes open, please have the detective in charge of the matter call me."




Somewhere over the Atlantic


Émile Lambert glanced over the documents for a third time, trying to figure out what the connection might be. This was her first job as what amounted to an apprentice for Interpol, doing sidework for them because of her abilities while she went to college to study criminal justice in Paris. This job, however, she had been specifically called in the help because her powers matched the suspect's so perfectly. She was, however, mostly relegated to information retrieval and interviews due to her age, and even then she was mostly there to collate, take notes, and observe.

Still, this 'Forge' they were after smelled almost familiar in her mind. The pattern of behaviour, the way they seemed to plan everything and then suddenly decide to go off an improvise when it honestly didn't seem necessary. Everything seemed off, somehow. But, since similar crimes had popped up in Italy, France, and England, the FBI had called Interpol in to try and figure out what, if anything, could be gleaned. In the meantime, she was going over the files for the dozenth time, trying to decide what, exactly, this training exercise (for her) felt so damn similar to something in her memory. For the millionth or more time in her young adult life, she wished Zoë was here. She would have pointed out some obvious connection Émile would never have spotted on her own.

But Zoë was gone, disappeared into the world, and Émile, along with the rest of her family, had finally come to grips with the fact that her estranged sister was most likely dead or drugged out, and nothing she could do was going to change that. She sighed, gazing out the window, and wondered how many hours before they landed in New York.
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Hidden 8 mos ago Post by fdeviant
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fdeviant Witch o' the Pineywoods

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Augury

Part 3


Location: Smithy’s Grocery Store, Meat Isle – Las Vegas, Nevada
Time: Late Evening, Present Day




Marie chuckled as she watched Benjamin eagerly huff the packages of meat, his eyes widening in hunger and anticipation with each stride past a different succulent cut. It was a little macabre, she admitted to herself, but it was equally amusing seeing a young wolf so enamored with an otherwise mundane sight.

The three of them, Ben, Katarina, and Marie, or maybe four counting Holt, engaged in small talk during the brief ride to Smithy’s, Marie taking in the lights of the Vegas strip the entire way, Ben being stoic as ever, and Katarina curiously commenting on every building and billboard they passed, acclimating to the modern world a little more with every observance.

Not long after their arrival, the trio was met by the group of siblings, Yeong and Ji striding quickly ahead of two strangers. Marie caught a few glares from Yeong while cautiously greeting the hired help, a pair known as the Dover twins. They were metas, unlike the rest of the group, each of whom possessed some supernatural talent or affliction, and their presence reminded Marie of her time in West Virginia. It had been some months since her last meeting with a metahuman, let alone two. She only hoped that her time on this “team” would fare better than her last.

And then it all fell apart.

The first body to fall was a woman picking up assorted cheeses just behind Marie, then a janitor putting down a wet floor sign. One by one, every normal denizen of Smithy’s was rendered unconscious by an eerily familiar ethereal mist.

Marie, Holt spoke from Marie’s shoulder in an incorporeal form, I know this magic . . .

Before he could finish, the place went dark, emergency lighting quickly buzzing to life in the wake of the blackout. The soft light falling from the ceiling was just enough to illuminate the tops of shelves and cast a pale glow on the laminate floors, but shadows crept up in corners, collecting in pools that shifted unnaturally.

The Fey, Marie thought, looking around, allowing her vision to shift focus that she might see beyond the illusion of darkness. As a witch of great skill, the Sight came naturally to her, but it hadn’t been trained in some time. For now, all she could make out in the dark were pale apparitions of varying sizes, all gathering around a central figure.

Bonsoir, ladies and gentlemen.”

The voice rang like falling nails to Holt and Marie. They knew this woman’s identity long before she introduced herself, the touch of her magic carrying a familiar sting to Holt, her presence sending shivers down Marie’s spine. This was she; the vile harpy, the fetid wench, the loathsome bitch that took Joseph from them.

Marie burned with seething rage, The Ambassador’s words adding fuel to her fire. She ignored the sorceress’s comments, engaging in a mental debate with Holt while she and her minion spoke.

She felt the touch of witches fire the last time we met. Even with her new toys, I doubt she’s a match for us.

Hold fast, Marie. You are not the first to underestimate the Ambassador. Joseph believed himself invincible when last they fought . . . and it was his end.

He was alone, Marie’s thoughts were heavy and sharp, cutting at whatever sensitivities Holt possessed, but I’m not. I possess Gwyneth’s power, I have you at my side, along with three wolves, an elder vampire, and two metahumans. What can she . . .

Hubris. Holt interrupted. You hold a portion of Gwyneth’s true power and are accompanied by two strangers whose strengths you do not yet know, a vampire with no knowledge of the modern world, two temperamental young wolves who care not for you, and one fledgling wolf whose transformations are brought on by any amount of strenuous activity. In fact.

Holt pointed a wispy claw at Ben, who had doubled over in pain much like before in the museum. All these sights and smells, the strange appearance of the attending fey, creatures he had likely never seen before, as well as a giant magical construct and the sudden mystically induced sleep of dozens of humans; it was all clearly too much for him to handle so early in his transformations.

Marie looked at him, wincing at his screams and contortions.

You . . .you’re right. Marie quietly responded, attention shifting between the Ambassador’s slow approach, Ben’s ongoing transformation, and the female Dover going over some half-assed plan of attack. We’re not ready for this . . . but I can’t let get away with what she’s done. Put some distance between us, surround the Ambassador in flames like before.

Holt nodded, floating down from Marie’s shoulder and charging through the ragtag group towards the Ambassador, ignoring the fey at her aid. But as soon as Holt reached their group, as he felt the flames of Marie’s rage engulf him, ready to envelop the enemy in enchanted fire, he stopped, staring down the Ambassador and her faery familiar, unable to advance.

Holt! Marie issued another mental command, but the result was the same.

I-I cannot. Holt responded in frustration, stuck between the opposing groups, his only choice to retreat. Something stands in my way . . . I can do nothing against her. I sense no barrier or ward that hinders my path, I can do nothing.

What the hell is going on? Marie wondered. She lifted her left hand, casting it in the Ambassador’s direction with a small flourish, small sparks falling from her fingertips meant to spout flames that would entrap she and her comrades. But as they neared the faery entourage, they vanished, withered away in the air.

It was the same as Holt, Marie’s magic hadn’t failed, it just couldn’t touch the Ambassador. If there were a ward or some other protective magic in place, Marie would know, Holt would see it, they could find some way through it or around it, but this wasn’t the case. What was stopping them?

And then she felt it. A familiar pull, a silent song that called to her in a faint voice like her own. A piece of Gwyneth was near. Then she remembered, the smallest fragment of a memory drawn forth, a meeting that she had attended with the Ambassador, yet this was only their second time seeing one another. How had she known where to find Marie? How could she protect herself without detection? Why . . .

”That bastard,” Marie spoke aloud, moving around the Dover twins, filing in front of a kneeled over Ben. She was acting on a hunch.

”What did you give him?” Marie questioned the Ambassador, words coated in venom. ”How did you manage it, huh? What could possibly . . . it doesn’t matter. If what I think is true, then you can’t hurt me either, none of you can.” Marie gestured to the Ambassador, Bach, Mandate, and the fey surrounding them. ”Not if she orders it.”

Marie spoke loudly and slowly enough for the others to hear, hoping that this revelation, if proven true, would halt her compatriots from acting on impulse and engaging in a fruitless battle.

As much as Marie wished to end the Ambassador for her past transgressions, other things were at stake.
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Hidden 8 mos ago Post by nitemare shape
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nitemare shape

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Icon and Lyger stood atop Crown Ridge’s tallest building, Brady Tower. Only minutes ago, the two heroes fought off a contingent of Hounds of Humanity thugs who had ambushed Lyger, and very well may have killed him had it not been for Icon’s timely interjection. Sadly, if Icon hadn’t arrived in time, Lyger wouldn’t have been the first to fall victim to the Hounds. There had been reports of such attacks all across the country, not only against a number of super powered heroes and villains alike, but against civilians as well. Most recently, Icon had heard of the attack on Chris Arthur and a new speedster out in Pacific Point, as well as the attack that left Arthur’s home a smoldering crater.

The Hounds were stepping up their attacks, becoming more brazen in their assaults, and it was clear that the terrorists did not care who got hurt in the crossfire. They needed to be stopped, and fast.

“You wanted to talk, so talk.” Lyger said bluntly.

“Obviously you’re aware of what’s been going on. These attacks, they’re getting worse.” Icon told him.

“Tell me something I don’t know. We need to stop these Hounds before they can kill anyone else.” Lyger said.

“That’s exactly why I’m here. We worked together pretty well during the Pax crisis, and I think that if we work together again, we can stop the Hounds from doing any more damage.”

“I usually work alone.” Lyger told him.

“I know, but I think we’re going to need you on this.”

Lyger thought about what Icon was saying for a moment and realized that he was right. However, if they wanted to end the Hounds’ threat quickly, they’d need more than just the two of them.

“We’ll need the others, Arthur and the rest of them. When you get them, call me.” Lyger told Icon.

“How will I find you?” Icon asked.

“You didn’t have much trouble tonight.” Lyger quipped before reaching into a compartment in his belt and pulled out a small device. “But you can use this, it’ll connect you with the com system in my mask. You’ll be able to reach me through that.”

Icon took the device and nodded as he turned to take to the skies. However, Lyger called out to him again.

“And Icon…thanks.” He said as Icon leaped into the sky and rocketed away back toward Lost Haven.
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Aubrey Adkins | Amanda Allen-James


Though Slipstream was more than happy to take out these creeps, as Arachne had suggested, she watched as several more truckloads of the paramilitary jackboots arrived on the scene, which meant to her, that even with the advantage that their powers gave them over these thugs, perhaps a direct assault wasn’t the best course of action. When she saw that the Hounds were advancing on them, she knew that there was no way they could win with a straight up attack.

“There’s too many of them, I think we should put some distance between us and them, then figure out what we’re gonna do.” Slipstream said after a momentary pause.

Arachne peaked over the paramilitary vehicle that the two metahumans were hiding behind. The Hounds were quickly approaching their position. While they could risk it and try to take on the men, the odds for success were against the two women, not only because they were outnumbered, but also since the Hounds appeared to have been prepared to deal with Slipstream, which has neutralized their metahuman advantage over their human assailants.

“I think you’re right. But I need a distraction to escape. I’m not sure if I can dodge the bullet barrage that will be aimed at me while we try to make our retreat.”

“I think I have an idea.” Slipstream said with a hint of uncertainty in her voice.

The icy sheen that glistened on the pavement was a problem. It was a simple fact that she could not run on ice, so in essence, the Hounds should have taken her out of the game. However, since she gained her powers, she had suspected that her speed would allow her to not only cover great distances in a short time, but allow her to travel in ways that were not only unconventional, but impossible just about anyone else. She did not know if the plan would work, but now was just as good of a time to give it a try. She didn’t have much of a choice, if she didn’t distract them, both she and Arachne were dead. If this didn’t work, she and Arachne were dead. The only thing she had going for her, was the fact that the truck they were crouched behind had shielded the area immediately behind it from the ice, which would allow her to get some traction. On the other hand, there was only about a half a dozen feet from where they crouched and the front side of the nearest building Slipstream gathered herself for a split second and began running. She ran from the truck to the side of the building, and then she ran up the face of the building. Quickly she turned and ran along the side of the building to the next one, and then the one beside that one. She little more than a pinkish purple and chrome blur as she ran from building to building, and then zipped off down the street from the Hounds and their deathtrap. She had gotten nearly to St Louis before she turned around and raced back.

Happily, she found that her distraction had worked. Arachne had been able to get away from the Hounds, and was keeping an eye on them from several rooftops away when she returned. Slipstream tapped Arachne on the shoulder, slightly out of breath.

“So...now what?” She asked, panting as she tried to catch her breath.

“I would suggest going home and sleeping in our warm beds, but that would not be very heroic of us,” Arachne told Slipstream after she had returned from distracting the Hounds so that she could slip away without the human terrorists noticing. “I guess we’re going to do the one thing that any sane person would never do: follow a group of men who only moments prior had pointed their military-grade firearms at us. It’s not like someone has already tried to blow my brains out tonight.”

Meanwhile, the Hounds had already finished packing up their equipment and piled back into their paramilitary vehicles. Since their target had escaped via the intervention of a second hero, the Hounds began to speed away, leaving nothing except for the icy street as evidence of their presence. Even though she was a metahuman, Arachne knew that she could not keep up with their vehicles, especially if leave the city. However, Arachne was in luck since the hero she had helped save from the Hound did have the speed to match the Hound’s vehicles.

“Do you think you could trail them without being seen?”

“Yeah, no problem.” Slipstream replied. Though she thought she sounded confident in the plan, she was anything but. These guys had already proven to be more than she could handle alone, and even with Arachne with her, she felt deep down that this was way above her pay grade. “But I think I’ll let you take the lead on this...you seem to do the whole sneaking around thing better than me...I’m more of a straight forward, rush in, rush out kind of girl.”

“We need to figure out where they’re heading. You can run infinitely faster than I can, so the Hounds could never shake you off their trail. Once we have learned where their base is, we can figure out what we should do next.”

Slipstream and Arachne watched as the Hounds rolled out of the area. Instead of immediately rushing off after the terrorists, she hung back a bit, allowing the Hounds to put some distance between them. Once they were a few blocks away, Slipstream took off after them, zipping from building to building, ducking into alleys as she moved in an attempt to avoid being seen. Slipstream repeatedly did this for more than two dozen blocks as she followed the Hounds down Ocean Avenue, one of the main throughways in and out of Pacific Point. Slipstream wasn’t sure exactly how far she’d followed the Hounds’ motorcade, as her sense of distance is somewhat distorted when she uses her super speed. A distance of several hundred miles could have seemed to have only been a few miles. However, this did not seem to be the case in this instance. The Hounds led her just outside of the city limits, to an old decommissioned gas station much like the ones you would see while traveling along the old historic Route 66.

The station itself was nothing out of the ordinary. There were a few old fashioned pumps in front of the station, and what had once been a two stall garage. It certainly didn’t look like the secret base of an evil terrorist organization bent on the destruction of an entire segment of the population. Slipstream stayed out of sight as the Hounds pulled into the parking lot. As the vehicles pulled up to the double garage doors, the doors slowly opened, and to her astonishment, the dozen or so vehicles that she had been trailing entered the garage two by two, until they had all vanished from sight and the doors closed behind them.

Once the Hounds had vanished into their hideaway, Slipstream turned around and no longer under the restraints of secrecy, raced back into the city to the rendezvous point with Arachne.

“I know where they are, and if we hurry, we can take them down.” Slipstream said, perhaps sounding much more confident than she actually felt.

“Back already?” Arachne asked as she was halfway finished weaving a spiderweb hammock. Since she knew that it was time to go, Arachne wadded up the spider silk and discarded it. “I hoped I could get a little breather while you were following them.”

“I would have been back sooner, but you know how bad traffic can be on the 73 Freeway.” Slipstream quipped before watching Arachne roll up the web hammock that she’d been building. “Sorry to interrupt your nap.” she said with a smirk before she began to fill Arachne in on what she’d discovered.

Once Slipstream had disclosed the location of the Hound’s base of operations, the two superheroines headed out. While Arachne had enhanced speed that surpassed the regular human, her speed could not match Slipstream’s. Therefore, she essentially played a game of catch up: Slipstream had to periodically stop while she waited for Arachne to arrive. After several stops, Arachne and Slipstream finally arrived at the not so abandoned gas station.

“I have a bad feeling about this.” Arachne muttered to Slipstream, since the gas station seemed unguarded. The two women slowly approached the building, placing the old fashioned gas pumps between themselves and the station.

Slipstream and Arachne watched the double garage doors that the Hounds’ vehicles had vanished behind intently, looking for any signs of life. Slipstream stood up straight, emerging from their hiding place.

“I know that being a spider-centaur thing isn’t the most incognito thing in the world, but you’re not really helping.” Arachne whispered to Slipstream as her new ally revealed herself from their cover.

“Relax, they don’t even know that we’re here.” Slipstream said with a shrug of her shoulders just before the sound of gunfire suddenly erupted. Bullets flew past their heads, barely missing the heroes as they ducked back behind the old style gas pumps, which luckily had been dry for quite some time.

“Yup, they know we’re here! They know we’re here!” Slipstream cried out as bullets ricocheted off of the tanks which kept them out of the direct line of fire, at least for the time being.

“And what gave you that idea?” Although the gas pumps were sufficient for giving Slipstream cover, Arachne’s drider physique made things a little bit more difficult. While her upper body was not a problem, her spider half, especially her legs, could not be hidden entirely behind the pumps. She knew that the two of them had to do something unless they wanted to become swiss cheese. Although the simple solution to this problem was having Slipstream disarm the Hounds, if their confrontation earlier that night taught her anything, the anti-metahuman terrorists were prepared for her. They needed a different approach.

“I’m going to create a distraction. Then you should be able to work your magic.” Arachne quickly told Slipstream once she had made up her mind. She then leaped up and landed on the gas station’s awning that would have been used back in the day by the customers to get their vehicle out of the elements. When she had touched down on the awning, she began running forward towards the building, while the Hounds poured their bullets at the awning.

While Arachne’s “spider-sense” gave her an uncanny ability to anticipate an enemy’s attack. However, she still needed the space to dodge any specific attack. With enough bullets concentrated in a single area, even if she knew that the bullets were coming, there might not be a way for her to move out of the way without getting hit by a different bullet. Therefore, as she crossed the awning, Arachne performed what could be best be described as a dance, since she had to move back and forth, right to left and back so that she would not get hit by a bullet.

She had almost reached the gas station’s main convenience store roof, when one of the Hounds’ bullets grazed Arachne’s hind leg. Due to the pain in her leg, Arachne tumbled forward and fell to the floor of the roof. Even though the wound burned, she had enough willpower to pull the rest of her spider abdomen off the awning so that it would not catch a bullet. She then peered back at her wound. Although her blood stained the cloth around her wound, her healing factor had already started to clout up the wound. While some plain still lingered, she would be fine until it could completely heal in a couple minutes.

Seeing that Arachne had been hit by the gunfire, Slipstream decided that it was up to her to take the heat off of her new friend. She left the relative safety provided by the gas pumps and in a purplish pink and chrome blur, began running literal circles around their attackers, drawing their fire away from the slightly injured Arachne. Slipstream zipped from the pump right to the nearest Hound, who had his gun trained on Arachne, and with a simple shove sent him flying backwards into one of his compatriots. As Slipstream made her way around the old service station, taking out Hound after Hound, Arachne had been given ample time to recover from her injuries and rejoin the fray. As the two women took the fight to the Hounds of Humanity, the thugs began to retreat inside of the garage. The double garage doors began closing behind the retreating Hounds, who had left their unconscious cohorts to fend for themselves.

“They’re getting away!” Slipstream cried out as the doors inched toward the ground. However, she wasn’t planning on letting that happen. She accelerated toward the descending doors. As she approached the doors, they were almost completely closed, leaving less than a foot between bottom of the doors and the ground. As she reached the doors, she went to the ground and slid under the doors like a baseball player sliding into second base. She had barely come to a stop as the doors closed behind her. A cold chill ran down her spine as she realized that she was alone in the garage with who knows how many Hounds of Humanity terrorists, and no way out. She spun around to face the enemies behind her, only to find that there were none. Instead, she found that she was in an empty garage. There was a sloping floor that led to another set of doors that looked to lead to a subterranean level underneath the old service station.

“Great. Just great.” Slipstream said to herself as she looked around the garage looking for a way to get the doors open again. Then, on the far wall she saw what looked like a set of controls hanging down from the wall itself. The controls was about the length of a surge protector and had two round buttons, one red and the other green, on the face of the device. She took the device in her hand and with little else to lose, pressed the green button. The double garage doors creaked and moaned as the began to ascend into the ceiling. When the doors finally came to a stop, Slipstream looked out to find Arachne standing just outside, looking into the empty garage.

“It looks like we’re going down.” Slipstream said as she pointed to the entry to what she assumed was an underground base of some sort.

“Why does it not surprise me that these roaches would have a secret rat nest underneath this place. While rushing down there doesn’t sound like a good idea, I’m not camping out here all night.”

Slipstream nodded to show her agreement. Therefore, the two superheroines descended into the lair of this Hounds of Humanity cell, prepared to react to any sort of ambush that the Hounds might have prepared for them.
Hidden 8 mos ago Post by DearTrickster
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DearTrickster The Quiet Sinner

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Judge and Jury

Part I, The Alchemyst


Location: Shadow of the Moon Occult Curiosities – Chinatown, Lost Haven
Time: 2 p.m., One Day after Present




“Aw! I thought finding the siren was the exciting part, she ends up having a grandpa wizard bird.” Carrie lamented to Charlie walking side by side down the sidewalk. Busy afternoon traffic zipped by them, the pair of women set a leisurely pace across town. Neither comfortable having the same conversation on the bus.

Yeah I could have used your help, I mean look at my arm.” Charlie held up her bandaged forearm, frowning. She wore a loose white t-shirt and jean shorts, slung around her shoulder was a beat up brown messenger bag and in her other hand she walked with her staff. Her long blonde hair tied in it’s pigtail braids. While Carrie beside her wore her long brown hair down, bangs pinned out of the way with bobby pins. She wore a navy blue sundress and sandals.

When Charlie woke up the following day after a long restful sleep, her and her family had a long talk about starting up a neighbourhood watch, even if they could only get the block of neighbours to lookout for trouble it was better than isolating themselves. More news confirmed Hounds of Humanity were not above attacking orphanages, monstrous people pulled right out of a horror story. It fuelled the need to prepare, have a plan, something to feel more secure in their day to day. Necromancers seemingly paled in comparison. Charlie was convinced if they were careful, they could skirt under their radar.

Carrie insisted to meet up and go over every detail regarding Berry, she wasn’t as much help as Charlie hoped Carrie cited the clues Salamander gave for his identity could be linked to a slew of entities. She promised with some research they could puzzle it out. Their real goal though was to visit Shadow of the Moon, Carrie needed to restock some of her supplies. The little occult shop was one of her favourite local places to shop.

They strode up noticing the broken glass glittering in the sun from the broken shop window all over the sidewalk. The pair of them went around it, cautiously entering the shop Carrie’s expression pulled tight with immediate worry. It was a disaster inside, shelves were toppled over glistening with an unknown liquid, broken glass littered from the display cases. Things were swept aside, stomped on, it looked like it had been ransacked. Though nothing seemed to be missing.

Holy shit.” Charlie gasped.

A rustling could be heard in the back of the shop, like more things being tossed from shelves, metallic clanking and shifting jars. There was the audible screech of something sharp being dragged across the floor. A few moments later, Madalena appeared from the storage room, a waste basket with a rusty wheel in tow and a broom in hand. The bin was already filled nearly to the brim with debris, everything Madalena knew she couldn’t salvage or what had been soaked in kerosine.

Entering the main store, she looked up at the two women in surprise.

”Sorry about the mess, ladies,” she apologized between sniffles. Her eyes were red and puffy, her red hair wildly tossed over shoulders, visible bruises circling her wrists. ”The store will be closed for a bit, as long as it takes to get some of these shelves back up . . . and the windows replaced . . . and the lights fixed . . . and, well, it’ll be a while.”

She kept her head low, focusing on sweeping up and trying to look put together, barely getting a good look at her visitors.
Carrie raced across the store and hugged Madalena tightly. “Oh, Maddi! You poor thing! What happened? Are you alright?”

Charlie stepped through the mess picking up the odd thing in her hand, turning it over. Some of it sticky from the kerosine. Charlie noticed the bruising, the rest of the garbage she was toting alone. The sight of Madalena had a burst of sympathy instantly from the alchemist. Who would attack a shop in the middle of the day? Who had such arrogance?

”Oof,” Madalena was taken by surprise with Carrie’s hug, but she allowed herself to fall into the embrace once she realized who she was. ”Carrie? Oh, bless you girl, I didn’t know it was you! I’ve had a rough day, as you can see.”

Madalena chuckled, allowing herself the comfort of having others to share in her dismay. She could see the abject horror on both of their faces, how they felt for her suffering.

”I got paid a visit by a few of those Hounds about an hour ago . . OH! You ought to be careful out there, Carrie. I didn’t think those bastards would go after someone like me, but if they’re willing to go this far to send a message, you better believe they’ll be on you next.”

It was Madalena’s duty to protect her brothers and sisters in the craft, at least, it was now. With the knowledge that the Witchfinder General was stalking the east coast, she knew that none of her kind, be they Wiccan practitioners or true witches, were safe.

Carrie held her out at arm’s length then took the wastebin out of her hands, gently guiding her shoulders to the back of the shop. “Here, take a break let me make you some tea. Oh, and I almost forgot to introduce my friend.” Carrie paused gesturing to Charlie - who waved a little. “This is Charlie Croll, Charlie this is Madalena she runs Shadow of the Moon.”

She tilted her head a little then said, “Hey, wish we were meeting under better circumstances. These assholes are on the news every other minute with some new horrible thing.

Carrie nodded then squinted at Madalena, “Something’s different about you Maddi. Did you get a haircut? I don’t want to be rude but your whole aura is totally off, not just ‘cause you were… just attacked.” Carrie pursed her lips, realizing how insensitive that must of sounded.

Charlie forced herself not to roll her eyes at aura. “That was pretty rude, Carrie.

Carrie squinted at her instead.

Madalena turned to Charlie with a smile.

”Really, there’s no harm done, and it’s always nice to see a new face, even when times are tough.” Madalena responded after Charlie’s quip at Carrie. She looked back at Carrie for a moment, gaging how much she wanted to reveal.

Madalena had seen Carrie come and go over the past year or so that Shadow of the Moon had been in business, she was a repeat customer, even managed to make it to a couple of the Sabbat gatherings hosted in the altar room across from Madalena’s office. In that time, she’d seen the things Carrie purchased, took note of them. She knew Carrie for a witch, one who’d ignited that vital spark, way back then, but it was now that she could see her as a sister, as two carriers of the Cunning Flame.

Perhaps this was part of Puck’s plan for Madalena.

”Well, I guess a couple of things are different, but mostly this.”

Madalena gestured to a candelabra that sat on the far side of the shop near the entrance. There was only one candle remaining after the Hound attack, but the rest of it was in good shape. With a small motion, the candelabra flew into Marie’s open hand. After gripping the handle, the lone candle lit at her behest.

Carrie’s smile was large and bright. “Oh my goodness! Maddi! Who? When?”

Charlie whistled, “Nice, you managed to trick the Hounds into thinking you weren’t a witch. Smart.

She bent down to her knees then gathered more broken pieces of what appeared to be a small statue of some deity she didn’t recognize. “If we’re being honest here, Maddi, I’ll tell ya right now not to bother calling your insurance company for a quote.

She leaned her staff against the counter laying the pieces down, arranging the pieces together. It was made of clay, easy and basic enough to pull back together. She pulled out an old napkin from her bag, using a sharpie to write out the simple alchemical formula for clay. She laid the palm of her hand against the statue pieces then concentrated, the symbols glowed briefly the statue pieces skittered under the counter then stilled when she removed her hand. Tilting it back up she grinned, it was seamlessly back in one piece. “Miraculous repair! There’s nothin’ a Croll can’t fix.

Madalena looked at the spectacle with wide-eyed wonder. She had seen more magic in the past three days than she could ever have dreamed of.

”An alchemist? That’s amazing!” she exclaimed, setting the candelabra on the counter. ”Y’know I just got a couple of books in on medieval alchemy last week? Did you know that alchemical formulae share basic structure with the geometric circles used by high magicians of the time? I think they were likely developed as a method of capturing the virtues inherent in alche . . . I’m rambling, sorry.”

Madalena had become somewhat of an academic in the past few months, taking in as much mystical content as she could . . . even though her focus was on early-modern witchcraft.

Charlie stared for a few seconds, the apparent rosy colour bloomed across her nose and cheeks. Her heart skipped. Carrie noticed Charlie blushing, she had a twinkle of knowing in her eye. Charlie dusted off her hands then reached for her staff not trusting herself to comment coherently she nodded.

”Anyway,” she continued, ”The same person responsible for this,” she pointed to the lit candelabra, ”also came up with the plan for hiding it from the Hounds. The only reason I made it through this ordeal alive is because their records were a few days behind. I gained these powers right after the Salem attack.”

Madalena turned to Carrie.

”You heard rumors of Robin Goodfellow poking his nose around Lost Haven, or Puck I guess, I’m not really sure which one he prefers. Anyway, he’s the one that introduced me to all of this, got me to sign his book, or, someone’s book, in exchange for my help with the Hound problem. Never figured an imp would be so tall . . . “

Carrie’s excitement dimmed a little, “Are you sure...? He’s…” She searched for the right word, “A tricky entity. These are terrorists - they’re extremely dangerous. What does he have you doing?”

Charlie asked before they got to far into it, “Who is Puck?

“I’ve told you about him before, Shakespeare wrote about him.” Carrie insisted, Charlie shrugged. “We’ll talk about it over some tea.” Carrie dragged a stool over dusting off some glass then sat Madalena down on it. “I’ll be right back, Maddi is an encyclopedia where witchcraft is concerned.” She said pointedly to Charlie then turned back to Madalena, “Charlie just graduated with her masters in chemistry.” She said happily then practically skipped away.

Don’t think I don’t see what you’re trying to do, Carrie. Charlie thought, Carrie shot a wink over her shoulder before disappearing as if hearing her thoughts.

”Really? I was a chemistry major for about four weeks at a university in Georgia.” Madalena beamed, focusing her attention on Charlie. She was relatively good with new people, always the positive sort, very charismatic and complementary. ”Nothing compared to a literal alchemist, though. That’s why I switched to history and anthropology . . . never got my master’s though.” Madalena trailed off.

Then had a change of heart? Opened up an occult shop, the witch population here in Lost Haven isn’t huge but it’s pretty tight knit. Something about surviving in a city home to superheroes.” Charlie responded, in how she thought sounded smooth enough. “We’ll get you back up to normal.” She said earnestly.

Her eyes panned around the store again, “My family runs our own little shop on the east end called Croll Corner. So we gotta stick together.” She smiled brightly.

Madalena responded with a warm smile of her own. It was nice to be involved with other merchants and artisans in the area . . . even if the circumstances of their meeting weren’t ideal.

”Damn right we do! Is it a shop for alchemic goods and services? I’ll admit, I’m still pretty unfamiliar with all that this city has to offer in terms of magical whatever-the-hell. Certainly never knew about some demon tavern in the city . . .” Madalena trailed off again, her mind racing from one subject to the next.

”Sorry, I’m a little scatterbrained these days.” Madalena apologized, trying to change the subject.

It’s okay, I hardly noticed.” Charlie reassured her.

”Have the Hounds given you and your family trouble?”

She shook her head, “No, the shop is mostly decorative giftware and repair. We don’t advertise our alchemy, Carrie’s family and few others know the secret in our miraculous fixes. We think we’ll be okay, but we’re starting up a neighbourhood watch. Not much we really can do against men with guns but y’know…” She pursed her lips, nervously tapping her staff. “Better than nothing, right?

Usually you see folks like Icon, or Iron Knight swoop in then end the trouble before it really gets out of hand. White Witch helping defeat Doctor Diplodoc and taking on the Silver Sorceress. They ended up breaking out of jail, anyway. I mean, where are they all now? Picking fights in Walmarts then tearing up Chinatown.” She stalled a bit, then said quietly. “Maybe we took them and what they did for granted.

Falls to us little guys to do something.

That made Madalena think.

Surely Puck didn’t mean for Madalena to go against the Witchfinder General alone. He had foreseen the Hound attack days in advance, given her just the right amount of information to make it through alive, and he hadn’t bothered to show up afterward to help clean up the mess. Maybe Carrie and Charlie coming along was part of his plan, maybe she was meant to recruit others to the cause.

”About that . . .” Madalena sat forward in her seat, looking for Carrie to make sure all parties heard. She was certainly within earshot, the walls weren’t that thick. ”Puck came to me a couple days ago because he thought I was his best shot, flattering right? He said that since I had no history of magic, the Hounds could be convinced not to kill me on sight. Puck wanted me to get cozy with them I guess. I offered to be an informant on the magical community and they gave me this.”

Madalena pulled out the burner phone, tossing it around in her hands a couple of times.

”Before they left, I overheard them say something about the ‘Witchfinder General.’ I’m guessing that’s who Puck wants to stop. He was more worried than I thought someone like him would be. Makes me think this Witchfinder is a bigger threat than any regular Hound.”

Charlie ran her thumb under her lip in thought, “What will you do? They’re going to expect something from you, probably hoping you rat out a coven to them. Like any witch worth an ounce of salt would turn their backs on their own.

Carrie came through with a small tray of various sized mugs, strings of tea bags hanging out their sides. “Witchfinder General, hmph. For Puck to recruit you specifically is a big deal, Maddi. Do you need any help with nailing some basics?” She placed one in front of Madalena then in front of Charlie, she grabbed another stool shuffling to sit beside Madalena.

The alchemist scratched her head, all meaning of Puck sailed over her head. “Why is he such a big deal?

“Don’t mind her, she’s the equivalent to a magical stick in the mud. Doesn’t know much at all outside alchemy.”

Cliff notes please.

Madalena smiled, it wasn’t so long ago that she was in Charlie’s position . . . well, not quite. Unlike Charlie, she had the knowledge of a wide array of occult topics centering around witchcraft, but missing a few of the finer details.

”Puck’s basically the Devil, or one of them, or His brother . . . actually, I don’t know what he is.” Madalena took a moment to think about the lore of Puck and what she had gathered from their last meeting, as well as the knowledge he’d gifted her.

”Ok,” Madalena continued, ”I think I got it. So basically, Puck, or Robin Goodfellow which is his actual name, is this old timey spirit that’s been around for pretty much as long as anyone can remember, BIG name in the witching world. He and his brothers, the imps, are kinda like witchy gods who have all sorts of involvement in history and events, they’re pretty much all tricksters, but Puck is like the head trickster among them.

“He’s got this tavern, bar? Tavern? Sure, a tavern called The Red Devil where he services and houses all kinds of magical folk and issues magical contracts via his band of merry witches. You guys actually know of one of them! The White Witch works for Puck, but she’s . . . somewhere else right now. Anyway, The Red Devil is somewhere in Lost Haven, kinda, like it’s not here but it’s pretty much here.”
Madalena stopped before she went down another rabbit hole.

”Does that make sense?”

Charlie stared, “Oh. Um, sure. Witch-Devil-Trickster-...Thing. Filed directly under Witchy Woo. Got it.

“Yeah! I’ve always wanted to visit Red Devil, I had no idea White Witch worked for him. Rumours and stuff but that’s cool!” Carrie said then took a tentative sip of tea, “That’s a relief, it might not be the superheroes doing something about the Hounds but real forces are moving against them.”

Charlie nodded conceding, “Yeah you’re right. It’s a bit of relief we’re not completely without a paddle. Brings me back to my first question though, what are you going to do Maddi? If White Witch is off doing her own thing, it sounds like you know her personally. Do you have anyone else to help you?

Madalena blew over the surface of her tea before taking a sip, wincing at the heat but continuing to take regular sips regardless. She hadn’t stopped to consider exactly what the plan was from here. Sure, she’s managed to get the Hounds off her back for now, but they would be calling soon, and Puck hadn’t checked back in with her to offer any insight. Perhaps he was testing her?

Madalena’s generally cheerful expression turned grim as she was faced with this dilemma.

”I . . . I’m not sure. I just assumed that Puck would chime in when the time was right, but he hasn’t yet. When he gifted me these powers and what knowledge he could, he told me that I was under his care, that he would always be watching and waiting . . . guess the time isn’t right yet.”

Madalena looked down into her lap, lost in thought.

Charlie and Carrie shared a look of thoughtfulness as well.

We could always lend a hand.” Charlie blurted, without much of a second thought. “Y’know, it’s the neighbourly thing to do.

Carrie stared at Charlie, “What help will we be against the Hounds of Humanity? Hmm?” Carrie said pointedly, “You’ve already got a certain necromancer to worry about. We’d be better off reporting this to the police.”

Oh right, like they’ll believe an Imp named Puck gave Maddi witch-status and that the Hounds are targeting her specifically winded up changing their minds ‘cause she convinced them she’s not a witch.” Charlie tapped the counter. “I’m standing right here in the middle of the mess watching her leviate some candlesticks and my skeptic’s voice still isn’t completely convinced. If Maddi is going to be an informant, a mole - a believable one we gotta be smart about this. We could help eachother out, hit two birds with one stone.

Charlie looked hopefully at Madalena. “Turning over information about this necromancer of ours could solve your problem. A legit target to keep the Hound’s busy and win their trust.

Carrie sipped her tea, reluctantly noting, “I mean… it could work.”

Madalena perked up; this was exactly what she needed! Puck certainly wouldn't want her to rat out any of the actual witches, fey, and other associates of his in Lost Haven, but details regarding an errant necromancer causing problems for the local populace? Maybe Madalena could manipulate the Hounds into doing some good.

”That sounds like a great idea! And even if they don’t catch the bastard, it’ll show them that they can trust me . . . well, more than they do now.”

Madalena looked around at her shop, then back at Carrie and Charlie. It was a small price to pay for the takedown of villains like the Hounds.

”The men that did this to my shop haven’t been gone for long, but I figure we’ve got some time before they call in a favor. Mind helping me tidy up?”

Charlie and Carrie nodded draining the last dregs of tea from their mugs. Carrie and Madalena armed with brooms and dustpans collected the remains of broken products from everywhere in the store, assembling them into neat tidy piles. Glass, wood, brass and stone objects from various spiritualities were gathered. The shelves and display cases would be the last of the repairs along with any surface areas pock marked by destruction, kerosene would need to be removed as well. Charlie removed her notepad scribbling away her alchemical values placing them beneath the broken pieces.

Carrie looked at the rows of various things they collected and asked, “Are you sure you can handle all of this by yourself Charlie? This is a lot.”

She grinned, confidently nodding. “That’s right, it’s been ages since you went out scavenging with me.

Carrie tapped her chin in thought, “It has been a few years, I remember when we were kids - fixing a broken glass used to exhaust you.” Carrie laughed at the memory.

Let’s just say I’ve had my fair share of practice.” There was an unmistakable twinkle in her eye. With that said she began working the miraculous repairs. With some help from Madalena, a couple hours worth of work and touchups the shop was restored once again. It was as if the Hounds were a bad dream.
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Hidden 8 mos ago Post by nitemare shape
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nitemare shape

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Hexed was one of Crown Ridge’s premier occult shops. Though the proprietor of the shop, Lindsey Walsh, didn’t actually believe in the occult herself, she saw that there was a real opportunity to cash in on the superstitions of others. With the help of some cheap costume jewelry and a Gypsy costume that she purchased from a local theater group’s surplus warehouse, she brought to life her new alter ego, Madame Ravenfeather. From her shop, she sold wands and chalices, herbs and ready made spells. If it had an occult feel to it, and she felt that she could make money from it, it could be found within the walls of Hexed.

In the back corner of the shop, Chrissy Jones sat in her booth, which was concealed by a heavy royal purple curtain. It was from this booth that she gave psychic readings to those who were looking for answers to their problems from an alternative source. More often than not, they were not really looking to know what the future holds for them. Sometimes they were not even really looking for answers at all; instead they were looking to be told what they wanted to hear, to find comfort in a situation that they really have no control over.
Across from Chrissy sat Sally Simmons, a portly woman in her early fifties who simply radiated grief. As an empath, Chrissy felt the woman’s sadness like a punch in the gut. It was a profound sorrow that could only accompany a great loss. Using the woman’s grief as a guide, she had been able to confirm that it was the death of a loved one, and through her conversation with the woman she learned that the source of her sorrow was the death of her 22 year old daughter, who had passed away in a car accident on her way home from college. Sally’s daughter, Beth had been on her way home for summer break from Boston University when her car was t-boned in an intersection by a teenage girl who was sending a text message and ran a red light.

“I feel that Beth is at peace.” Chrissy said as she took Sally’s hands in hers. “Though she is gone from this plane, she is not gone. It may sound cliché, but she lives on in you. And though there will always be a void that you won’t ever be able to fill, it will get easier. Beth will always be with you, nothing, not even death will ever be able to change the bond that you have.” As she finished speaking, Chrissy closed her eyes and began to concentrate, not only was she able to feel people’s emotions, but she could , in a way, control them. She could take on the emotions of others and replace them with different emotions. In this case, she took some of Sally’s sorrow onto herself. Not all of the sadness, because she felt that it was unfair to rob the woman of the opportunity for closure. So instead she just took away some of the pain, and replaced it with a sense of serenity. It didn’t take away all the pain, or even most of it. However, it was enough to make it somewhat bearable, and Chrissy could immediately feel the change in the woman, and in herself as she took on the woman’s suffering as if it were her own. Although it was a temporary side effect of Chrissy’s powers, she felt a very real sense of loss, and truly understood what Sally had been suffering through.

Then with the sound of squealing tires and car doors slamming shut, Chrissy felt another set of emotions entirely:

Fear.

Hatred.

Anger.


Suddenly, the front door of Hexed exploded inward, sending glass and wood flying into the shop like shrapnel. Fortunately for Chrissy and her client, the heavy curtain protected them from the flying debris. Chrissy pulled back the curtain just enough to peak out into the store, and saw what looked like nearly a dozen men dressed in head to toe black body armor and wielding heavy firepower. It was upon seeing the men storming Hexed that she realized that the day that she dreaded had finally arrived.

The Hounds of Humanity had come for her.

“Stay down.” She whispered to Sally as she stepped out from behind the curtain, anger and fear gripping her as she went to face the men that had been terrorizing the meta human and supernatural communities for these last few days.

As she stepped from behind the curtain, the Hounds turned their attention to her, training their weapons on Chrissy. However, before they were able to pull the triggers, a large oak table that had a number of stones, gems and herbs displayed upon it suddenly lurched forward, colliding with several of the jackboots which send them crashing into the wall. With the remaining Hounds still distracted, Chrissy bound toward one of the men, who saw her just in time to turn his weapon back on her. However, she grabbed the muzzle of the gun and bent it back and upward, rendering it unusable. Then she hit the thug with a knife edged chop to the throat which brought the man to his knees.
Suddenly, the sounds of something falling caught Chrissy’s attention, as well as the attention of the Hounds. Sally Simmons, who had remained hidden behind the curtain couldn’t sit still any longer, and in a panic attempted to flee. However, in the process she had tripped and fallen into the curtain, pulling it down off of the curtain rod that kept it in place, bringing the wooden rod along with the curtain, and herself crashing to the floor with a thud. The Hounds turned their weapons on her and opened fire, just as Chrissy raced over to where she sat on the floor and dived at her. As she made contact with Sally, the older woman felt a sudden sense of vertigo as she and Chrissy simply vanished just as the bullets struck the patch of floor that Sally had just occupied seconds before.

When Sally opened her eyes, she wasn’t able to suppress the urge to vomit, and emptied the contents of her stomach onto the sidewalk where she now found herself kneeling. She looked around, and realized that she was familiar with the area in which she now found herself, but was baffled as to how she had wound up on Atlantic Avenue, as “The Strip” as it was also know was more than a dozen blocks away. Then Sally began to look around for Chrissy, who was nowhere to be found. So she just sat there for a moment, trying to gather her bearings, and as she did so, she could have sworn that she could hear the sound of footsteps, clearly belonging to a woman running away.

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Hidden 8 mos ago Post by Dedonus
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Dedonus Triangle Attack!

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Christopher Arthur III | Maya Hoffman

A hospital in Virginia

Maya sat in a chair beside Chris’ hospital bed, clinching his hand. Although Chris had survived the Judicator’s attack on his mansion, he did not walk away without a scratch. In fact, he did not walk out of the burning ruins of his Virginian home, since the medical response team had to cart him out. Even though he was able to survive orbital blast by using some nearby tech, Chris was rendered unconscious by the attack, leaving him in a coma.

Unlike the average citizen of the United States, Chris had the best doctors, the best facilities, and the cutting edge medical technology at his disposal. While the medical team had not quite figured out this problem yet, it would only be a matter of time before the doctors had sorted it out, or at least that is what Chris’ loved ones believed. But at the moment, no one had answers.

When she had heard what had happened at Chris’ mansion, Maya dropped everything and rushed over the hospital. Even after Chris’ butler departed with Veronica, Maya still remained behind into the twilight hours of the night. In fact, most of the hospital staff had gone home before Maya was ready to leave. While he appeared to be sleeping peacefully, Maya wished she could do something to help.

“Sorry, but visiting hours are almost closed.” One of the nightshift hospital staff peaked his head into Chris’ room, alerting her to the hospital’s hours policy.

Maya nodded to acknowledge what the man told her. She then started to gather up her belongings and planted one last kiss on Chris’ forehead before turning to leave. However, as she headed for the door, a male nurse walked in with a bag of medicine that was for Chris’ IV.

“I think Chris already received his last dose,” Maya told the nurse who had just entered the room.

“That must be a mistake,” the nurse defended his reason why he was giving more medication to Chris.

“Could you just get the doctor or check his chart first?” Maya insisted, for the well-being of her boyfriend.

“If you don’t turn around and walk away, people will think that you knocked off the sleeping genius,” the nurse threatened once he pulled out his pistol from behind his back and pointed it at Maya.

Had the Hounds returned to finish the job? Maya thought as she backed away far enough where the nurse was comfortable to turn his back to her once more. What could she do? She probably could stop him if she were to revert back to her Nagini form, but that would also cause her to oust herself as not being human. What would Chris think? Would the fact that she saved him trump the shock of the fact that she had a serpentine body?

There was no other choice in Maya’s mind. She had to act. No matter how Chris would react to the truth, Maya knew that saving the man she loved would be worthwhile. Therefore, she yanked off her necklace that repressed her Nagini characteristics and made her move. She launched her snaky tail forward and wrapped the man’s hands, preventing him to connect what she assumed was poison to Chris’ IV. She then began to constrict her tail around his arms so that he might drop what he was holding.

“Drop it,” Maya commanded.

“You’re a meta,” The Hound goon disguised as a nurse gasped. He dropped both his gun and the bag of poison because the crushing pressure of Maya’s constricting tail caused excruciating pain. A chill shot down his spine when he saw that Maya was then wrapping her tail around his body, just like a python would do to its prey.

“You’re staying here with me until the cops show up.” Maya told him while she pulled out her cell phone and started to dial 9-1-1. However, the Hound goon would not allow himself not to have the last word.

“Never,” he barked before he started to crunch on something that had been hidden in his cheek. After a moment or two passed, white foam poured out of his mouth and his lifeless body tumbled to the ground.

Maya was shaken by what the man had just done. Instead of being incarcerated, he would rather take his own life for the cause of the Hounds. She immediately released her snaky grip on the man’s corpse and slid her necklace back around her neck, returning her human form. Once she looked normal again, she rushed out of the room and tried to find someone to report what had happened. Minus the part where she turned into a Nagini, of course.
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Hidden 8 mos ago Post by Afro Samurai
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Afro Samurai The Chrome Child

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[Part 1]
Herald the Strangers


Location: Lost Haven University, Lost Haven
Time: Present Day - Morning


The late morning sun shone through the chemlab windows on the west side of the LHU’s campus, a couple students working on their individual summer projects were minding their own business while one tall lab assistant bobbed around the lab, periodically recording sample readings, preparing bunsen burners for later use. The university’s chemistry labs rather quiet, providing little work for its assistants. Her blonde hair was tied into pigtail braids, clear safety glasses sat on her head and green rubber gloves poked out from her white lab coat pockets. Charlie Croll made her rounds, bored but with plenty to occupy her mind with. The past few days had been full of mysteries and excitement. Returning to the mundane helped to sort her routine back to normal.

She thought of Berenice and Salamander, thought of the risky plan she was hatching with Maddi. It felt like the city itself was simply waiting. Like it was overdue. Terrible news was gracing the headlines everyday, pumping fear with every grim news reporter.

Lost Haven University was hosting it’s orientation for new prospective students, the majority fresh outof high school to check out their respective department buildings and campus dormitories. Having graduated with her master’s, she felt pangs of nostalgia watching teenagers wander through the hallways.

Hassan stood in the back of a procession of his peers as they all trampled off the bus rented by Lost Haven HS. A mixed class of juniors and seniors whose college acceptance test scores were just good enough to warrant admission and those who scored perfect in every category. Hassan was amongst those who were just good enough to get in. He always hated high school, although he figured college would be worth it if for no other reason than the high school girls who had matured into women. Travelling in the dead middle of the group, he had intentionally situated himself next to his platonic high school sweetheart, Akila. She didn’t care for him of course, but he was too naive to relish in the hint.

She stood in front with Hassan in tow behind her,

“So! College, huh? Pretty dumb if you ask me.” Hassan was smug.
“You think everything is dumb. Maybe college would teach you something!” Akila opined,
“Yeah, well. . .” embarrassment choked the contours of Hassan’s face, “you aren’t that smart yourself.” he muttered,
“Excuse me?”
“What? Oh, nothing! Nothing! I uh… you smell good.”
“GROSS!” Akila weaved amongst the crowd, abandoning Hassan to his woe in the sea of other middling and disinterested members of this visit.

It was apparent to him at that moment that he should probably throw away the balloons with the smiley faces that he was going to use to ask her to the upcoming school dance in the fall; it was an odd gift, creepy even, but Hassan was no artist, nor did he have a mind for design. Maybe he should have taken his sister’s advice and just approached Akila like a normal human being.

“Real smooth, kid.” Pantheon interjected.

No one asked you, idiot.

“I can hear that too, you know.” Pantheon returned.

As the group approached the university’s interior, Mr. Kleinschmidt halted the entire group and turned to speak,

“Alright kids, you know the. . .”

Blah, blah, blah, blah. This was such a waste of time.

With Carmine in the hospital the University of Lost Haven found itself one professor short in the Archeology department, so David opted to fill in as his substitute, and after a quick staff briefing and mass e-mail he was now filling in.

Today’s plan was to wait for the orientation groups to come by, and show them what their class was about. To teach and guide the next generation of adults is what many teachers, and professors, would say is their reason for choosing their chosen profession. However, for David, he never thought he would have the patience for teaching, let alone the drive for giving brain draining lectures every day. Today he was only here to replace Carmine, David blamed himself for his injuries, because even with all his power, he still let his best friend get hurt.

Although David had some negative feelings about teaching, he didn’t mind the small task of helping to advertise the Archeology department, it even meant that he could use campus facilities, like a shower. He also appreciated the small reprieve this gave him, doing something simple, and normal was certainly a change from his rough first day in Lost Haven.

That harpy woman, Birdneice, was it? Uskriss and his shaman powers, the Moloids underneath the city.

“I just went along with all that?” David mumbled to himself as he went took another sip of his coffee.

“What was that David?” Another staff member in the lounge asked. The lounge itself was mostly quiet, due to the other teachers also enjoying the silent morning in peace while a tv softly played in the background, along with the occasional ruffling of a newspaper. This was what David needed to center himself.

“Oh, uh, nothing.” David quickly blurted as he took another sip, looking out the window an odd sight caught his eye. Several black vans began to drive up awfully close to the campus, the fact that they drove up to block exits was suspicious enough, but there were a good many of them. Far too many to be visitors, especially in the summer, and the orientation kids all came here by bus.

“You guys see this?” David asked outloud, pointing towards the windows.

Hassan and his classmates were divided up into small groups pertaining to their specific interests and majors each would like to take. In groups of four they were tethered off: some met with Chemistry professors, Mathematics professors, Biology professors, Nursing, Business, English, Philosophy, Art, History, Pharmacy, Occupational Therapy, and some even cessated into Geology and Archaeology. Hassan didn’t care who he went with, he doubted he wanted to go to college anyway. So, he decided to feign interest in the less popular Archaeology faculty members whose faces shared the knowing disassociated gleam present in each of the approaching student’s eyes. Who wants to study Archaeology of all things?

Hassan and James McNair, the resident LHS Chess Club champion for two years straight, followed the Department Chair to his office. As the trio walked, Hassan admired the interior design. It was an old campus garnished with silver busts of the founders and plaques commemorating the service of long retired professors and principals since the University’s inception. Marble floors were finished and waxed, a modern contrast to the elderly walls which drew one’s attention from the walls themselves to the floor and vice versa. Sun smashed against light and dark melanated skin from the clear highrise windows above where one could see the newly built buttresses displaying their dominance over the hapless and finite humans who the buttresses themselves had seen come and go for nearly a century.

Regardless of how much disdain Hassan harbored for this tour, he could appreciate fine artwork when he saw it. Soon enough, they were near the Department Chair’s office and Hassan watched as the white-haired gentlemen rustled his keys into the lock and promptly opened the door.

“Find a seat anywhere, gentlemen.” The trio stepped into the sunlit room littered with growing and withering plants alike.

“This one needs a little water, doesn’t she?” Collins smiled as he withdrew his water cannister from the third top shelf of his bookcase where there were ironically few books. He showcased his stewardship before seating himself in front of the two boys.

James was a little too eager to obey. Hassan teetered to a seat of his own afterward. The Chair, whose golden plated desk tag read Daniel Collins, began his spiel:

“Well, sirs, let’s get right down to it! Here at Lost Haven University, we pride ourselves on innovation, contribution, creation; particularly so for our Archaeology and Geology departments--though between me and you” he whispered, “no one wants to study fucking Geology!” Collins and McNair laughed, Hassan also gave a chuckle. He appreciated when people spoke their mind.

There was an open window situated behind Mr. Collins, Hassan had been staring absent mindedly into the window when he saw the parade of black vans encircling the Eastern section of the school. McNair and Collins were exchanging what they believed to be jokes while Hassan’s eyes followed the growing trail of black vans winding around the building. From what Hassan remembered, black vans meant trouble.

”Remember when I said we had much to discuss?” Pantheon butted in again.
“Yeah, and?” Hassan was getting sick of these intrusions.
”Duck.”

Pantheon’s warning couldn’t have come sooner, because that is when Hassan saw them. Six men brandishing assault rifles Hassan had never seen emerged from the sliding doors of a single van. Then another six, and then another six. These men donned all black paramilitary attire--it was clear they hadn’t come to welcome potential freckle faced freshmen. These were the men Hassan had seen on the news.

These were the Hounds of Humanity.

For a split second, everything moved in slow motion. Hassan saw Mr. Collins get his skull destroyed by a 5.56mm round. Reigning chess champion and valedictorian, James McNair’s heart exploded seconds later from another 5.56mm. Hassan tossed himself on the floor as the office was sprayed to oblivion. Then the glass broke, a smoke bomb had infiltrated the small office. Apparently Hassan wasn’t the only one facing peril, the earth seemed to quake as he heard the screams of peers and teachers alike, flesh ripping open, bones mushing against the unheaded blasts of a Kalashnikov--human bodies unseamed and unzipped limb by limb from a storm of weaponized hatred.

A few moments ago David spotted several men leaving the few vans he could see, all carrying gear, guns, and none of them looked police. So he assumed they were the terrorists from the other day, the Hounds of Humanity.

“One of you call the police, I’ll hit a fire alarm!” David shouted as he moved to the doorway, a second later gunfire broke out near the front, and then from all across the first floor. David’s brows furrowed in worry as he ran, he sprinted behind several of the unwatched corners to change. Not stopping for a second David once again borrowed the powers of the earth, becoming Terra Firma.

David was still thinking like a normal human, so he ran out looking for a staircase to descend, but as he rounded a corner he stopped in surprise. A group of the Hounds had just climbed a staircase, their guns already trained on a couple of the other staff members walking around, they had frozen in fear as they stared at the Hound’s gun barrels.

“No!” David shouted as he jumped towards them, his hand reaching out, it wasn’t going to be enough, he wasn’t fast enough to block the bullets. But he didn’t have to be, with but a thought his body crackled with lightning, electricity swirled around his body. David brought his arms close, electricity gathered in his hands, then he threw out an arm, sending out several thunderbolts towards the Hounds guns, stopping them from firing, or throwing off their aim widely.

”Hah, shocking, isn’t it?” David taunted loudly.

They all shouted out various grunts of pain, or obscenities to help deal with the pain. Not allowing them to recover, David leapt towards them and crashed in the group, sending them down the first floor, or rolling uncontrollably down the stairs. David stood up again and rushed a Hound member, he sent a punch into the man’s gut, throwing him into a wall several meters back, but an explosion to his side sent him flying into another room.

The debris and dust from the wall flew out into the air, landing on the crumpled remains of the classroom wall was uncomfortable, but David ignored it, and dashed into the man that just shot him, forcing him into his allies, and knocking them all down.

Smoke swelled the room, Hassan fell into a spurt of violent coughs. He had involuntarily alerted the Hounds to his presence. Lucky for him the smoke was still thick; Hassan’s head was overcome with aches, the combat boots of what seemed an entire garrison of soldiers thundered through the shattered hole which used to serve as a fine source of daydreaming for Mr. Collins. How quick a simple thing turns horrendous! Never before had he felt such pain. Every sliver of his corporeal knit pinged with sharp episodes of burning distress.

As his body seized up and he heard the clash of the steel toed boots grind against the marble office floor, he could also tell the smoke was beginning to dissipate; he shut his eyes in a vain attempt to shield himself from everything that was happening. Maybe this was just a prolonged vision, he was having more than usual these days--and they typically began with fits of full body throbbing and stabbing aches. But, like every night, they soon converged into one of the visions, whether it be the all white oracle looking figure or Pantheon himself. But this time it was no dream or vision, Pantheon stood right before him. He had freed himself.

“Take my hand and live. Reject it, and die.” Pantheon presented his ultimatums with the requisite poignancy.

Hassan objected not, but as soon as he reached for Pantheon’s hand, the two merged. There was a resounding flash as the two entities joined. When the blinding light had died down and the smoke was clear, there stood Hassan reborn as the mythical titan of his lineage, Pantheon.

What proceeded next could only be kindly referred to as a slaughter. The Hounds rippled Pantheon with bullets, but each either crushed against his frame or ricocheted off his body. He slung one into a building adjacent the school; another he backhanded into the bookcase once belonging to Mr. Collins. He grabbed two by the neck and promptly crushed their esophagus’. Tossing these aside, he felt a tinge swing down his spine as one attempted to shoot him with a tranquilizer--its needled had bent inward on itself. Pantheon smacked both hands together to form a thunderclap, the condensed pressure from the clap pushed the remaining eight into the streets and atop some parked cars.

Pantheon stepped over the bodies of the two dead Hounds and set his predatory eyes on his victims. If he did not kill them all, he would make sure they regretted the happenstance of their existence.

Meanwhile on the western side of the campus, over the intercoms the alarm began to sound. An automated voice alerting everyone of a Yellow Alert, cautioning students to find safety. The message replayed twice, finally one of the students spoke up. One of the two male students in the lab with Charlie commented irritably. “It’s the summer, why the hell are they doing a practice drill?”

Charlie shrugged at them, remembering their names were Jordan and Matt, “Don’t know.

The first gun shots rang through the halls making the trio jump, automatically they turned their instruments off then ducked underneath the counter, hissing, “What the fuck!

Charlie ran to the lights darkening the lab as more gunshots drowned out the intercoms. The natural light illuminated the lab regardless, soon the chorus of screams followed the violence. They stared at each other, terror clear in their faces.

Her hands shook with fear fumbling for her cellphone, dialing 9-1-1. As the dial tone rang, the warnings on the intercoms were cut off with a brief tap-tap test on a microphone. A clear, delighted voice spoke.

“Goooood morning, kiddos. My name is Lawrence and if you’re either dead or haven’t figured it out yet the Hounds of Humanity are here to clean up a few things.” The clatter of a desk chair in the background was audible, the speaker making himself comfortable. “We all know, the filthy metas and magic heathens walk among us. Most notably passing for normal in school. Naturally the best place to start cleanup would be the metahuman’s favourite city and favourite school, LH university.”

Charlie’s stomach flopped as the small voice of the 9-1-1 responder pulled her attention, “The hounds are at the university! The school is on lockdown and there’s guns going off!

There was a slight pause and the responder immediately said, “Stay on the line with me-”

Charlie cut the phone call, the other students looked at her like she was insane. It really was rather insane, she would soon find herself later agreeing with that. She texted her mom first. In a quick message she said her love you’s and assuring she was alive, what was happening. She pocketed her phone tearing off the lab coat not giving it a second thought. In her locker outside the lab was her staff and backpack, the gunshots never seemed to cease and as they were - they were sitting ducks waiting to be found. The lab was on the second floor with big bay windows facing east.

Lawrence carried on, his enjoyment warming his chilling message, “Now kiddies, there’s no real way to tell you apart so we’re not going to discriminate. For those who are not meta or magic take some comfort in how your name will be remembered in a fancy plaque for this tragedy. Your blood will serve as a tribute to the greater good, bleach can’t remove that… oh what’s the word? That sacrifice. Anywho, to those who choose to fight we’ll see you at the hostage round up in the courtyard.”

She said in a hurried whisper, chilled to the bone once Lawerence was done talking. “Move when you can, they’re going to make their way to every room. I have to go.

“No!” Jordan snapped, then whispered, “Charlie you’re dead if you leave!”

I can’t stay here.” She said, with a firm breath she crawled out from the desk, neither Jordan or Matt brave enough to stop her they weakly begged watching her go. Carefully approaching the door, the gunshots moving closer, terrified steps racing past the laboratory door. She peeked over the window then slipped out looking both ways. She made a dash for her locker, hands shaking as she messed up her combination not once but twice. When she unlocked it she jerked the door open pulling her staff free first with a sigh of relief then her backpack stocked for a trip into the junkyard after her shift.

She had an old Lost Haven University sweater packed away, she pulled it on then immediately brought up the hood. She grabbed her goggles and face mask, tying the mask sloppily pinching some hair then pulling her goggles over her eyes. Her heartbeat in her ears she failed to hear the telltale metallic tink of a smoke grenade rolling down the other end of the hallway to her right. A professor sprinted by her, she pulled on Charlie’s sleeve shouting at her to run. Charlie recognized her seconds before she was shot where she stood, dragging the alchemist down with her in a dead heap. Blood splashed up Charlie’s arm, while the dying professor gurgled her last gasp for life. On the ground Charlie was face down, feeling every twitch from the professor.

Black boots came stomping behind her, while the smoky haze of the grenade filled her vision, she held her breath. She had no urge to fight, fear had frozen her where she lay. While one pair of feet stopped to check if they were dead, satisfied they moved on more gunshots making Charlie flinch. When the boots disappeared it was several heartbeats later the dead professor’s weight ceasing her in a fit of panic, the warmth of her blood soaking into her sweater. She gasped like fish out of water, the material of the mask being sucked against her open mouth. She threw her arms up to shove the body away. When she was free she scrambled across the hall back up against lockers, choking back sobs staring at the body. Charlie coughed against the smoke, the grenade still billowing out the gas. Fumbling, crawling several feet toward the grenade, she reached out covering her hand with the sleeve of her sweater slamming it against the steel, using alchemy to seal it.

Shallow gulps for air, she croaked the periodic table, trying desperately to focus. “Hy-hydrogen… helium, lithium, boron, cuh-” Charlie gasped, “C-carbon.” Slowly, she began to calm down as she recited the periodic elements, when she reached tin she forced herself to stand tracking back to her staff. When she stood upright, she saw at the far end of the department building the exit to the courtyard had men stationed at the exit. Panic nearly overwhelmed her once again, only this time clear words reigned her terror in.

Her mother’s words came to her from a familiar memory. “An alchemist is never truly trapped, you think and you act. Do not look for an escape, make one.” Gingerly her fingers wrapped around the solid sycamore wood, her thumb finding some smoothed gold. Picking it up she convinced herself of one thing.

I will survive.
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Jock Sturgeon
Prologue
The Lamplighter


Lost Haven
2:30 PM


Everybody needs an outlet. Crooks aren't any different. I once knew a hitman who loved to collect stamps. Most violent guy I ever knew, but he was as delicate as a surgeon when it came to those little pieces of paper. He always wore a dust mask and latex gloves, the whole nine yards, whenever he handled his stamps. Someone once made fun of him for the hobby. The smartass soon regretted it, as the hitman took an entire book of stamps and made the guy eat them all. And you thought licking stamps was awful? Other guys do other things. Mob capo Gary Gigliello is known to play in like a dozen fantasy sports leagues, most of them with teams ran by other wiseguys. It's only natural in a career where you have a ton of downtime between jobs.

I was currently in that downtime portion. After bilking Sean Dunmoore out of over half a million dollars, I decided to lay low for a while. I mean, the money alone would ensure that I didn't need to do another hustle for at least a few years. I'd still pull a con before the money ran out, but the money meant that I could afford to be picky about the mark and the con. So that explained why I was currently in the middle of the Lamplighter's mystery section.

So my thing is books.

I love them. I know I haven't opened up much about my past. That's more of a choice on my part instead of poor storytelling. When I was growing up, books were the closest thing I had to actual school. I never went to school thanks to my mom. I followed her around the country as she went from one scam to another, always with another man I was told was my uncle. One of those uncles, short-con grifter named Chicago Mo, taught me to read when I was seven. "Books are how you escape," he told me with a wink. A pissed off crooked cop broke both Mo's kneecaps the next day.

He was right, though. Those books were how I got away from the harsh reality that was my mom and I outrunning cops, crooks, and anyone else she happened to have irked at that particular time. Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn were better companions than Chicago Mo and One-Thumb Dave that's for sure. And it was from books that I learned about different people -- both real and fictional -- and different places and different experiences. When I was a teenager I found history books and poetry.

I was fifteen when I discovered crime fiction and really fell head over heels. The classics like Chandler, Hammett, and Christie were amazing, but there was also the new giants like Elmore Leonard, Ellroy, Connelly, and Block. Shortly after discovering all these works I announced to my mom that I wanted to be a detective. She slapped me so hard I could taste color for the next few days. The slap ended that notion for the most part. I think that's why I enjoy my side business of private eye for crooks so much.

Mom killed my law enforcement notions, but not my love of books. I still make time to read during the middle of jobs. I always have a fiction and a non-fiction book I'm rotating between. Right now I've got Slayground by Richard Stark and Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic by Tom Holland on my nightstand. I was close to the end with both books, which is why I was back at the Lamplighter with some of that Dunmoore money burning a hole in my pocket.

"That can't be all of it?"

"It's books, Milo. I make enough to feed my family, but that's it. I'm not exactly rolling in it."

"Bullshit!"

The sound of argument a scant aisle away drew me from whatever mystery Hercule Poirot was in the middle of to my own. I peeked around the corner and saw Saul, the Lamplighter's owner, pressed against a shelf of books while a taller man crowded him. I assumed the taller man was Milo. He wore a black suit with a white shirt and no tie. I put his height at about six one, an inch above myself, but plenty of room to tower over tiny Saul. His swarthy complexion and thick eyebrows put him as either Mediterranean or Easter European. Milo had a thick finger in Saul's face. Both men were too engrossed in their conversation to notice me, but I still backed up out of sight.

"Have the rest of my money or I will burn this goddamn place down. Paper books make the best kindling, Saul. Remember that."

A loud smack cut through the air. I heard Saul gasp, followed by Milo's heavy footsteps as he walked away towards where I had been earlier. I waited a good thirty seconds before turning the corner. Saul was on his feet, but on the verge of tears. A large red welt was already forming on his right cheek.

"Jock," he said in a voice that was too high and too full of false enthusiasm. "How are you today, sir?"

"Saul, who's Milo?"

"You heard that?" Saul was back on the verge of tears. "He is... no one."

"He's either an extortionist or a loan shark, Saul. Which is he?"

Saul started to weep. On instinct, I put an arm around his shoulder and let him lead me to the back room. It was there that he told me the story.

"I needed money, Jock. To open this place with. The bank wouldn't give me a loan. A bookstore was a bad investment, they said. It was too risky to borrow the cash."

"So you went to Milo," I said with a nod. "And he gave you the cash no problem."

"Yes," Saul said with a sob. "He gave me all I needed, he said he loved books too and he wanted to help out a fellow Armenian. I didn't know..."

I frowned. "The interest. That's how these guys get you. What's the interest?"

"Too high! It's so high, I'm still just paying off the interest after five years in business. And business has been slow, Jock. The past two months I haven't been able to afford to pay Milo and provide for my family. He's been coming by. Today was the first time he threatened to burn the store down, the first time he hit me."

I thought of this store catching fire. All these books, all these stories and people and different worlds that are within their covers. All of it turned to cinders and ash. I thought about it. And I found that the thought made me mad. The maddest I've been in a long time. And when I get mad, I start to scheme.

"Saul. Tell me all that you can about Milo. I think I may have a way to save the store and get him off your back."
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