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Hidden 4 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by Hound55
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Hound55 A Create-A-Hero RPG GM, Blue Bringer of BWAHAHA!

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Isaac stood on the stoop and waited. He rang the door bell again and let his impatience wash over him. Let it fuel him, as his brow formed a scowl. He waited for the old man and felt exposed standing in the unseasonable warmth of the middle of the day, dressed all in black, perspiration beading behind the mask.

“Alright. I’m coming! I’m coming! Hold on!”

Isaac listened to the gingerly old footsteps of the man on the other side of the door, and with the perfect timing that came from someone who had been doing his “masked crusader” schtick as long as he had, stepped forward as the door was being opened to take the older man’s space – giving him leverage on the door if necessary and cutting down the amount of time he’d have to recognize who was behind the door.

But the leverage on the door wasn’t necessary.

There was only resigned recognition on the old man’s face, and a sigh. He’d been expecting this would probably happen eventually. Just hoped it wouldn’t be to now.

Kick that can down the road.

* * * * *


Isaac woke with a start, as if he were exploding into consciousness. It was that way most days. He dropped the leg rest on the recliner where he’d slept through the day and swore as it swung through the pile of empty beer cans at his feet.

He stood up with some effort and swept through the deluge of cans on his way to the bathroom door for his morning… mid-morning-- *sigh* --afternoon ablutions.

The daily regimen consisted of the loud deep exhalation of a single man using the bathroom with no cause for regard for anyone else as there was nobody else to bother, before moving on to his morning ritual of checking the level of fur on his tongue, fuzz on his face and generally swearing in disgust at the face he saw in the mirror. Followed by making a passing attempt to rectify those shortcomings.

Afterwards, as he was now both lighter of bladder and facial hair, he staggered back to the living room to collect the spread empty cans that allowed him to sleep at the end of the night before.

More swearing when he excavated his Law and History college work beneath a number of cans which evidently weren’t as empty as he had thought at the time. He poked his head around the corner and checked the time on the microwave. The windows had all been covered and it was impossible to tell the time in his house by ambient light.

College wouldn’t be happening today, so he shrugged and with a sigh put his schoolwork up on a bench to dry.

He dumped the garbage bag of empty cans by the outside bin and took the opportunity to scratch himself in multiple places at once, yawning deeply as he continued to try and wake up. He waved at a neighbour who was mortified at his state for this time in the afternoon. She scarpered back inside and he smiled at his daily effort to keep the street’s property value down. He staggered back inside to shower and get himself ready.

It may be bright and… not too early… in the afternoon here in Terraria. But in Lost Haven midnight was fast approaching and with it, so would the Vigilante.

* * * * *

His mass reassembled through the quantum macroteleporter in an orange closet, the paintjob telling him he’d been sent to the Little Ulster property he leased. He swept the excess sugar out of the closet and in a few short minutes a non descript car burst from the garage, its driver’s expression stern and stoic with purpose.

But not with complete focus.

He swerved between cars as he tore towards the city center. Shaking away the nagging thought, as he drove distracted.

He stood atop the parking garage, his grapple gun aimed across at a distant building. It wormed its way back into his brain and he shook off the thought before firing.

Three frustrated attempts later he was being pulled across town on the grapple line’s thick cable.

He broke up a mugging in the park, but still the thought bothered him further. He took a stray elbow to the brow that redoubled his focus briefly, and he set to work making sure that one would be going to the infirmary rather than a jailcell.

But his concentration still waned and drifted.

He swore at himself and headed back to his car. This couldn’t continue.

He drove to one of his properties. He pulled a photo from his workboard and circled one of the names. He punched the board in frustration as he left with a grunt.

* * * * *

He stood on the porch and beat the door bell again. A scowl of frustration and irritation with himself crossing his face as pouring rain fell down his mask.

“Who is it, Hon?” His wife asked as the old man got to his feet, slid slippers on and shuffled over to answer the door.

“I don’t know… I haven’t got to the door yet. You stay here, it’ll be fine.” He replied to her.

“Should we call the police?”

“We don’t even know who it is yet. I’ve got the piece by the door, but if you’d feel better, get the cell and wait in the closet. If you hear someone coming and not my voice, then dial 911 and just stay quiet on the line.”

The doorbell again.

“Alright! I’m coming! I’m coming! Hold on!” The old man yelled from inside the house.

He left his glasses on the bedside dresser and shuffled down to the front door.

He put one hand on the doorknob and slid the entryway drawer open, hovering his hand over the Desert Eagle before finally opening the drawer and seeing the drenched man in the black on the other side of the door.

“Aww geez… I almost shot you.”

“No. You didn’t.” The Vigilante replied matter-of-factly, without any hint of an apology for the hour of his call.

“What is this?” Gunny asked, quickly regaining his composure. “Did you not get the last drop?”

The pair had a deal. The former Colonel Lewis ‘Gunny’ Bracken made dead drops of armaments in return for… Well, it seemed to be in return for not having to deal with this strange man showing up at his house at weird hours for confusing reasons. Reasons like this.

“This has nothing to do with the drops.” The Vigilante’s voice crackled through distorted by his voice modulator.

“Then what is this?” The old Colonel asked in an exasperated tone. “I thought you weren’t going to just drop in anymore after last time?”

The man in black drew a slightly damp photograph from inside of his clothes.

“Do you recognize this man? I know I’ve seen him. I know it. I just can’t place him.”

Gunny took the photo and held it up to the stoop light. He took a second look and squinted, before handing it back.

“I can’t make it out.” He finally replied. “Too blurry.”

The Vigilante looked up at the older man, and recognizing he wasn’t wearing his glasses, nodded his head in frustrated acceptance.

“Fine.” He grumbled.

“Anything else?”

“No. That was it.” The pair stood there uncomfortably long before the mechanical voice punctured the silence. “Thanks, anyway.” The voice modulator seemed to drain it of any sentiment.

“You seem even more uptight than normal.” The former Colonel called to the man in black as he walked away, down their front path in the pouring rain.

“I don’t like loose ends.” He replied, as if that explained everything.

* * * * *

Back at his workboard, an unmasked Isaac straightened it from the earlier punch he’d given it and put a strike through Gunny’s name.

He ran his hand through his hair in frustration and circled the other name once more. He knew it was going to come to this, but for some reason had wanted to protect him from these questions. As if there was need to protect a bulletproof man from anything. But he knew more than anyone that there was more than just bullets in this world to protect someone from.

He circled “Icon” once more and knew there was no more avoiding it.
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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by eravicis
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eravicis resident healer

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L O C A T I O N: Somewhere in New York City
T I M E: Present Day ( July ) Sometime around 10 AM to 1 PM

Benjamin threw on a tee shirt with the blocked out words of IT'S ABOUT TIME written across the front. The shirt, being out an off-white with the print in faded black ink, gave it an intentionally aged look. On his lower half was one of his few surviving pairs of good jeans. He held them up with a belt that had a few trinkets dangling from it. Mainly a lucky rabbit's foot and a spinning coin.

Feeling completely dressed for the outing, he slipped out of his room and moved down the stairs. When he reached the bottom, his pace slowed. His hand reached out then carefully cracked the door open. He risked a glance before closing it behind him.

Last night his parents returned. Daniel simply slipped into bed and passed out, unconcerned about the whole situation. Mainly that Benjamin had arrived home first. It didn't matter to him, but it wasn't the case with the Dragon Lady. The woman had been subtly stalking him ever since.

Seeing his chance to escape, Benjamin bolted for the back door. It clicked softly behind him as he stepped onto the concrete steps and toward Athena waiting for him with a wide smirk on his lips.

"Quick, let's get out of here. I managed to escape her claws, but I’m not sure how long it will last." Benjamin urged great haste with his tone.

Athena nodded, decked out in a sun hat with a pastel blue shirt with billowy sleeves and string that comes from the collar. With black shorts, the top hanging low on her hips and wrapped comfortably around her butt, and some comfortable, gently worn grey chucks, she looked ready for an outing in the city. On her back was a small black backpack with golden accents. Sunglasses helped hide her features from under the brim of her sun hat that when she turned toward Benjamin, she grinned.

"Glad you managed to escape, even if it's for a short while," Athena said, falling into step next to him as she followed after him with a hand on her hat for minute adjustments.

"Where are we going?" she asked after a moment.

“Umm…” Benjamin pressed his finger to his lips, imitating thoughtfulness. After a moment or two, he once more returned to smirking at her.

“You’ll have to guess or wait until we get there. But, I do know that you’ll like it though.” He gestured toward the bus stop with his thumb indicating they needed to use it. The large metal beast was already drawing to a stop at the sign, waiting for the line to enter.

Athena huffed as they made their way to the bus. Once cleared and paid for their fare, they found a discreet spot in the back to sit and Athena began to try and guess all the possible places where they could go. Already ruling out all of the possible places that might be overly crowded, she guessed their mutually favorite places in the city, but since it had been more than a handful of years since she was last here, her guesses were varied.

After changing buses a few times to get to their desired destination, Athena was starting to wane in her guesses and she opted to watch the scenery pass in the hope she could figure it out by where they were going.

Recognizing the streets, she eyed Benjamin as the bus rolled to a stop so that they could walk the rest of the way on foot. She held her breath, not wanting to be hopeful for something as magical as a show. Stepping off, Athena replaced the sunglasses as the buzz of the city blared around her, humidity and heat greeting her from the manufactured air-conditioning of the bus.

“This way. Need to move fast before the tickets run out.” Benjamin stated, giving her a hint and gesturing his head toward a very famous building: The Lincoln Center.

Athena was unable to help the squeak of surprise, the corners of her lips pulling up as her heart skipped beats.
“Figured you might want to enjoy being a paying viewer rather than an actress in a show. Especially with things being put on hold.” He watched her reaction as they walked through the crowded sidewalk.

She laughed, beaming at Benjamin with a look of disbelief and utter elation. "Benjamin! For real? Honest? I can watch a show?" It almost looked like her eyes was sparkling with anticipation when she leaned in, grabbing his arm in excitement.

“I don’t see why not? There’s no rule in the universe that you, of all people, sit and enjoy one show. You've worked hard enough to earn it.” His hand came out to push her along as a gruff man pushed his way through, his eyes glared at the younger pair. Benjamin just rolled his eyes. He didn’t care. Right now, all that mattered at this moment was Athena’s reaction.

“So, let’s get going. I think the play is about a man named Hart Moss and has a rotating stage, something I think you’ll like.”

Athena didn't notice the gruff man tried to push past them since all she could think about now was the show. Instead, she was further pressed against Benjamin, which worked out because her hands separated from his arm to jump and give him an excited hug.

"Yes! I've heard about it—ah, thank you so much, Ben!" She exclaimed, gleefully squeezing him in a tight and near breathless hug. And then he's free, Athena grabbed his wrist and started running to the Lincoln Center.

Zooming through the people with surprising agility, she nearly dragged Benjamin to the box office with her energy barely contained as she fidgeted in place.

Benjamin’s eyes widened and his feet pushed to keep up with her. For a small girl, he realized quickly she could move fast. As the growing line forced them to stop, he reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. When they finally reached the window, the woman took his debit card and then gave them the tickets. He passed one to Athena before ushering her inside.

One of the male ushers took their tickets and showed them to their seats. With a gentle nudge, he let Athena slip in first and get comfortable. He followed suit while they waited for the seats to be filled out.

The moment they got to the ticket counter when they finally settled in their seats, Athena was unable to hide her excitement as she tucked away her sunglasses and hat. Her eyes practically sparkled, words spewing quickly in a mix of Chinese and Korean as she smashed the languages together, and the continuous tugging of Benjamin's shirt. The tugging, the excited gibberish, and the consistent number of hugs she kept throwing his way had her positively beaming between her fits of giggles.

Once Benjamin let her into the seat, she slowly began to settle down, reading through the offered pamphlet that was filled with information regarding the actors and actresses that were to take part in the play. Since Athena had been mostly abroad, unfortunately, the names aren't familiar, but that didn't tamper her excitement and curiosity toward the play. Glancing around the theater, she was glad they got one of the higher box seats since it made things easier when they needed to leave.

When the curtains slid open to reveal their grand stage, she was shaking Benjamin's arm in her enthusiasm.

And then her attention was entirely on the revolving set of the play. So engrossed, she became quiet, gaze focused on the words that were passionately spoken from each actor and actress and their turmoil that came to life. Athena watched as Moss Hart made attempts in writing plays that they would eventually reach stardom. The extensively large stage spun between each scene, each change in interactions between each actor and actress—personal, intimate, and deeply felt that Athena was enraptured. Recognizable buildings and architecture of The Bronx slowly changed into different scenes as Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. The lights and the extra effects on top of the revolving stage left an impression, and she was mesmerized.

It ended in success with the renowned and triumphant release of the play Once in a Lifetime. It was the beginning of one of the most renowned collaborations in American theater. And it was when the curtains drew to a close after the final bow and applause from the people that she leaned back, breathless.

"That was wonderful!" Exuberantly, she turned to Benjamin and again, reached around his neck to give him another hug and slumped once more back into her seat. "I haven't gone to see a play in so long—thank you, Benjamin."

Her voice went soft, her longing apparent as she stared at the stage.

“I’m glad you liked it and that’s payback for the surprise you gave me,” Benjamin stated as he rose from his seat and held out his hand to help her.

After a moment, Athena turned her head to Benjamin and took his hand, making sure she had all of her personal belongings before following him out. Only when she was steady on her feet did her hand drop from his and she quickly fell into step next to him.

“I’m feeling a craving for ice cream, what about you?” he asked.

She hummed, lightly placing a finger to her cheek in thought. "That actually sounds like a lovely idea." And then looked back to him as she donned her hat. "Do you know any good places to go?"

“Depends on how far you want to go. Grom, though pricey, has some good gelato and among good reviews. If you don’t mind taking a bus, the other option is Emack’s and Bolio’s. They got some unique favors ranging from cereal to candy.” Benjamin began to file out, gesturing for Athena to keep close and move with him.

Keeping close to Benjamin's side, she seemed thoughtful. "I don't mind either option," she said with a grin. "After all, it's your city—and you know me, I'm always up for an adventure." When they stepped outside, once more, she placed her sunglasses back on when the sun greeted them from the darkness of the theater.

"How about—whichever you think is best?"

“Not much for overly sweet stuff so leaning to Grom. I'd rather pay more for something savory than getting something I won’t really enjoy.” He pointed out, deciding based on his own preference than hers to save them time.

At that, Athena gave a nod of approval.

As they exited the theater, they chatted about the storyline. It had become obvious that Benjamin had lost interest about half-way through as he struggled to fill in the gaps. He finally admitted the only reason he ever went to the Lincoln Center was for the orchestras. Getting on the bus, the trip to Grom was a shorter one than if they had walked.

As Benjamin stepped off, he pointed to the building, and inside they went. He fell into the line before he spoke again.

“So, what do you want? I can get them while you wait by the door. We can eat outside and enjoy the day. Sound fun to you?” It took him a bit to realize there were no tables or chairs in the establishment. It primarily ran on orders made to go.

Athena was already looking at the options in the glass and refrigerated showcase of gelato. With a finger on her chin in thought, she hummed. "That sounds good." She nodded. From behind the counter, there was a young woman who was asking if their orders had been taken already. They were next in line, but she was offering samples that gave Athena a grin.

"Which one's your favorite flavor?" Athena turned to him.

“Stracciatella, with dark chocolate. Not milk.” Benjamin pointed to a white gelato with swirling chunks of chocolate within it. It seemed to be a more traditional style from Italy rather than the more modernized favors of raspberry or mango.

Tapping a finger to her chin in thought, contemplating her choice. When it was their turn, she asked for sample tastes on a few of the flavors and finally settled for one that was coffee-based and cookies. She took a small spoonful of her order and made a noise in the back of her throat indicating her pleasure.

As they stepped up to order, she set aside her order to pull out her wallet.

The clerk smiled then pointed at the card reader, indicating that Athena swiped it when the order was rung up. In a well-practiced phrase, she thanked then gave them a number. 19. It seemed when the monitor’s red numbers changed to it, they could pick up their order. Right now, the order said 16.

Benjamin sighed and then gently pulled Athena to the side while the next customer made their order.

“Coffee and cookies? Really?” he teased.

Athena lightly shrugged, despite the fact he was teasing her. "So sue me, I'm forever a kid at heart," she quipped. "And it's my favorite, ok?"

Benjamin shook his head then looked to the number display. The red number had changed to theirs finally.

“How about you go find us those seats and I’ll bring these out for you?” Casually, he moved to the pickup side of the counter and grabbed the containers. He balanced one in each hand as he carefully avoided others pulling into the pickup section then leaving with their own orders. The place appeared to have gotten packed during their conversation causing him to frown. With a bit of time and awareness, he managed to exit the building. His head turned about to locate Athena.

Athena gave a nod at his suggestion and moved to find a seat. Unfortunately, it was a busy place so it didn't leave very many options. With no seats available, she stepped outside to find a spot outside in the shade that they could take cover. Pulling her hat a little more over her eyes to shade her from the sweltering sun, Athena made do with an alcove just in front of the store and took a seat.

Humming one of her songs, Athena pulled out her phone to begin checking for recent news and emails from her manager. With how engrossed she was in her emails and texts, she didn't notice Benjamin exiting the shop.

Not seeing her, Benjamin closed his eyes. His nostrils flared as he inhaled a deep whiff of the air and twisted his head, catching which direction had been strongest. Every step, he paused and repeated the process. Finally, his eyes caught her toying with her phone in the shade. Rolling his eyes, Benjamin plopped down beside her.

"Athena? Athena, your gelato. Grab it before it melts, or worse mine does!" He stated, the bag bottom rested under his foot and his hand presenting her container to her. His other one held his, placing it in his lap for safekeeping.

Lifting her gaze, her eyes widened to grab a hold of the gelato. Athena set the cellphone in her lap. "Sorry! I was checking my emails and texts from my manager," she explained as she started to take a spoonful of the frozen delight. It's only when she had a spoonful in her mouth did she continue. "Mmm! So good!"

People walked along the sidewalk, moving to and fro about their day that Athena started people-watching as she ate her gelato. "It's kind of nice not to be mobbed by the press," she mumbled.

"I can see that and you were ignoring the world. I had to sniff you out." Benjamin stated. His hand moved his and began to dig in. He savored the taste, both enjoying the gelato and the peace.

The pop idol merely grimaced, not for the fact he had to sniff her out but because she was engrossed in her phone.

"Or horrible dragon ladies. I haven't done this for a while and didn't realize I really missed it. I can not remember the last time I've done something this normal without something shitty happening shortly after."

Athena nodded, listening quietly. There was another spoonful of gelato in her mouth, slowly savoring the frozen delight as the summer heat rose from the sidewalk. The spoon was left there as she listened.

"It sounds like she's been busy keeping you rather occupied doing asinine things then," she said, taking another spoonful of her gelato. "It's a good thing I'm here for a while so I can always just sneak you out of the house."

"Worst part, I wish I could blame her for it. Getting a bit seemed to open a can of worms and normal for me is a fucking joke. Between trying to deal with my own issues, we kept getting dragged into more and more. Finally, when it was done, poof—everyone's gone, leaving me to drown." Benjamin sighed, and then clenched the wooden spoon.

"I am now starting to understand why Duff doesn't trust anyone besides other werewolves. People do not have an instinct that roots them to a pack and make them care. They can simply give you the bird and leave."

As she continued to listen, the wooden spoon stilled in her mouth. Pulling it out partway through what felt to be a vague explanation of what's been happening, Athena dropped her head onto Benjamin's shoulder. She popped another spoonful of gelato into her mouth before speaking.

"Is that why he's so angry?" She hummed thoughtfully. "Sorry I wasn't there to toss you a life preserver—wish I had been." And then sighed. "I didn't know you were in such dire straits, Benjamin. I would've come flying over here if I had known. But, at least you have someone, right? Through all of it? I mean, you have Duff, at least?"

"Duff was kicked from his. He challenged the alpha and lost. Barron introduced me to him afterward, his figure was sickly thin and depression dragging him down. It saved me. We bonded immediately as pack mates and he had been a great help." Benjamin smiled, finishing off his gelato.

Around the moment he finished, Athena did too, setting the spoon into the cup as Benjamin spoke.

"You couldn't have known or likely helped. According to Duff, non-wolves have no instinct that drives them to create pack bonds. Mixed packs are doomed to failure since there have been no recorded successes. But, it doesn't stop me from bonding with others—it's just one-sided." He looked into space, enjoying her head weight on his shoulder. His free hand reached for hers and clasped it in his own, giving it a squeeze. A selfish need for comfort.

Watching his hand reach for hers, Athena couldn't help the small smile. She squeezed back as though in silent promise. "Still, it doesn't change the fact that I wish I could've. It sounds like you went through a lot and it makes me appreciate Duff, even though he seems to see me as a threat."

She squeezed his hand again, setting down the empty gelato cup to the side of her. "Don't get me wrong—I get why since you explained it. But, I guess he's afraid we'll bond? Or at least, you bond to me because if I leave or something, it hurts you, right?" Her voice softened, worry evident in her tone.

"It seems to happen whenever I stick around someone for long enough. And yeah, it would. The best way to describe a bond is like my very existence is centered around you, from your emotions to your presence, and when people leave… my center, my motivation vanishes. I would miss you in the worst possible way."

Benjamin spotted a trash can nearby. Taking his finished container and hers, he tossed them inside alongside the wooden spoons.

"When White Witch left after the hound attack, I didn't have the motivation to live. I just stopped eating, moving, or doing anything. The wolf inside me had given up and… it impacted me."

It was a bond that Athena couldn't understand, but had a vague idea, based on his descriptions. Did the person he bonded with have an idea as to what they were doing when they left Benjamin? The idea of leaving him at all already hurts, but it was probably nothing compared to what he felt.

With her hand in his, the other moved to grasp his arm and squeezed. Athena didn't have a lot of words that she could use that would reassure him.

"I'm here—I know I can't promise a lot, but I want to be here for you." No promises, but this will do. "I'm glad he was there for you to connect so quickly to become pack mates."

Benjamin glanced her way. A softness entered his usually indifferent and distant eyes, seeing her in an appreciative light.

“I didn’t think it would nearly kill me. So you can’t blame me for being worried about it. I’m also the mutt that decided to sniff a gun barrel and it went off in my muzzle. I’m really lucky that werewolves have high regeneration or I might not have a nose now.” Benjamin chuckled at the story that had been retold to him.

Lifting her head to rest her chin on his shoulder, she scrutinized his face. "You're honestly just too curious for your own good sometimes." With that, she released his arm, and with their hands interlinked, she tugged him to his feet. "Come on, let's go—we still have a whole day of stuff to do!"
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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by nitemare shape
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nitemare shape GM of Create A Hero and Star Wars: Legacies

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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by nitemare shape
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nitemare shape GM of Create A Hero and Star Wars: Legacies

Member Seen 1 day ago

In the three days since Icon had shown up at his doorstep, Lyger had kept his promise to the cobalt and silver hero. He had searched high and low for any clue as to who had attempted to assassinate Alexa Winstone, and thus, who it was that had discovered his secret identity. The very same people who had left a note for Icon, a note with a small insignia, a symbol which announced themselves.

He had tracked down every lead that came his way, he pounded what little information was to be had out of any lowlife thug that seemed to have any possible connection to this shadowy group of assassins. He learned that someone had put a hit out on all superheroes, no matter what city they called home. He learned about assassination attempts that had been carried out against others, and he even came across someone who had been looking to cash in on such a bounty at his expense.

However, much like Arthur and Icon before him, Lyger had learned absolutely nothing about whoever this group was. None of the lowlifes that he had tracked down who supposedly had any connection to this mystery organization knew anything about him. Either that, or they were more afraid of them, then they were of him.

He had even reached out to Harry, who had up until that point been enjoying his retirement in a beach house in Maui, having put this life behind him after nearly five decades of service. He had hoped that perhaps Harry may have come across this symbol before, or, through his contacts in the espionage industry, knew someone who had. However, the old man hadn't gotten back to him with any information that could help him come any closer to solving this mystery.

Frustrated by his lack of progress, he decided to end his nightly search early. He hopped down from his perch on the ledge of Mac's Place, a local dive bar which was popular with criminals and thugs, as well as those who were simply down on their luck. Since his return to Crown Ridge, this place had proven to be a good resource in his search for answers, as those who tended to have the information that he needed, also tended to frequent Mac's in order to drink away their troubles.

But not tonight.

On this night, Mac's was nearly deserted. So after descending to the street, he made his way to the side alley where he had stowed his motorcycle and revved up the engine and raced off into the night. He moved through the streets, traveling at speeds well over one hundred miles per hour. The speed was cathartic in a way, it helped him think.

Soon, he found himself back at the abandoned post office which sat atop the Den. He pulled the bike up onto the secret lift which would bring him down into the heart of his base of operations. After punching in his security code the lift made a slight groaning noise, which had gotten louder over the last few weeks, and was something that he had meant to bring up to Ash, but for some reason had failed to mention up to this point.

Once the lift came to a stop, he directed the bike to its parking spot next to what was left of Kaiju, which was currently being worked on, as well as the remains of his previous bike, which met an unfortunate end due to an accident several days prior. Once he parked the bike, he took his mask off and was about to ask Whisper if she had heard any updates on their mysterious foe, however, he noticed that the woman sitting in the seat usually occupied by her, was not in fact, Whisper.

Instead sat a beautiful young Asian woman, tattoos covering her arms and chest. She wore an expression of amusement as she recognized the look of shock on his face.

“Who are you.” Lyger said as he stepped toward the young woman ready for whatever she might through at him.

“This is the guy?” She said incredulously as if calling out to someone.

Suddenly, Lyger felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned to face the person, swinging his upper body around, prepared to strike. But when he saw that it was Whisper, he immediately lowered his fist.

“Cassie, what's going on.” Lyger asked, confused.

“Kyle, we need to talk.” A familiar voice said from the shadows.

Lyger looked to the source of the voice, and much to his shock, saw Harry emerge from the shadows cast from the corners of the Den. Lyger just stood there, speechless as the old man approached him, placing his hand on his shoulder. Harry looked into the younger man's eyes and nodded as he smiled proudly at what his protege had accomplished in his absence.

“Kyle, this is Kenna, my granddaughter. However, full introductions have to wait, we have something urgent to discuss.-” Harry said. He paused for a moment and his face took on a slightly darker expression. “-I got the note that Icon had given you, and I came right away.”
“You know who these people are.” Lyger said simply, to which Harry just nodded.

“Kyle, it's time I told you about The Eye of Osiris.” The old man said as he motioned for Kyle to sit.

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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Dedonus
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Dedonus Kai su teknon;

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The Mandela Effect: Part 12

"90's" Aubrey Adkins | Will Grant

Pacific Point, CA

Will sighed. How could that night have gone so wrong? It had all started long before he and Aubrey had been chasing after the bird lady, who had first mistaken Aubrey as the villainess, Black Widow and then fled the scene. Deep down, Will knew something was up as this pursuit turned into a wild goose chase, but he did not want to say anything.

Eventually, Aubrey pointed towards an old, abandoned warehouse and claimed she thought she saw the bird lady duck inside. Whether because Will was getting tired because of how late it was or Aubrey had promised that they would head back home once they had checked out this last building, Will just followed along. After the two of them had scoped out the place, they found one of the windows, just large enough for a person to fit through, had its glass knocked out if.

Aubrey insisted that Will take a quick look inside, as she claimed that her spider half could not fit through the window. Despite knowing that a spider’s abdomen was far more malleable than the rest of its exoskeleton, Will nonetheless stepped into the window to do a quick scan, just so they could head back home. And that’s when he was shoved from behind. He was shocked when he discovered that a giant, spider web had been spun inside the factory.

Just like a cat, Will landed safely on all fours. Although the web seemed stable enough to Will, due to its malleability and slanted angle, Will still had difficulties standing upright. Therefore, he would have to crawl to move around on the web. Because this web did not have many blemishes and imperfections, Will surmised that Aubrey must have planned this. In her current over-caffeinated state, there would have been far more holes and irregularities in the web if this were a whim of the moment. He was kicking himself for not trying harder to convince her to head home. He was just too much of a push over.

“Aubrey?” Will called out, “We should be heading home.”

There was no response. As the factory had been long abandoned, none of the lights inside were working. Besides the faint glow of the streetlights outside and the occasional passing-by automobile, the inside was shrouded in darkness. The little light that did reach inside gleamed off of the silky strands that composed the web Will was stuck in.

Will took a deep breath and sighed.

He then felt a sudden vibration from the web, originating from behind him. He immediately spun himself around to face in the direction of the vibration. As he squinted his eyes, he saw the silhouette of a giant spider crawling towards him. Once the spider had approached a little further towards Will, he recognized who it was from the human torso grafted to the spider body and he therefore lowered his guard.


She gave no response. Instead, he saw her doff her bomber jacket and tossed it to the side. She then lay down on the web, reclining on her side. She patted a spot on the web just a foot away from her, as if she were indicating to Will to take a seat next to her. It took a moment for everything to register in Will’s head, but he finally crawled over and took a seat next to Aubrey.

“This has been an amazing night, Will,” Aubrey finally spoke while she pulled off her mask. “But do you know what would make even better?”


Aubrey then lurched up and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. With one swift motion, she pulled off his mask and planted a kiss on his lips. At first, he was surprised by Aubrey’s sudden movement, but once the initial shock wore off, his hands instinctively found their way to her hips, or at least what should have been her hips, considering her drider physique. For a few more seconds, they continued to kiss. Yet when Will realized what he was doing, he abruptly broke it off.

“This isn’t right,” Will finally admitted.

“What’s wrong?”

“I can’t cheat on her!”

“But didn’t you say that I am her? I just look and think differently from her.”

“Of course, but it feels wrong. I don’t know how I could ever look her in the eyes again if I—” Will paused for a moment, almost as if he could not muster the courage to say it. “If I did this!.”

After Will voiced his protests, tears began to pour from Aubrey’s eyes. This turn of events caught Will by surprise, as he did not believe she would break into tears after he had rejected her advances.

“Was it something I said?” Will tried to uncover what had caused this outburst of tears.

“Yes,” she finally replied, temporarily putting a stop to the waterworks.

“Hey, this isn’t a you problem. This is a me problem. I just don’t think I could live with myself knowing that I screwed my girlfriend without her knowing.”

“That’s not it.”

“Then what is?”

“It was when you explained your Aubrey’s situation. There’s no magical portal with which we could crossover into our home realities. There’s no mind swapping machine that will return us to our proper bodies. Do you know what that means for me?”


“Whenever you will restore your Aubrey, I’ll be erased from existence!”


“I mean, am I even real or is my persona based on false memories that make me think I’m a different version of your girlfriend.”

“I—I haven’t thought of this in that way. I—"

“The irony. Ever since I received my powers, I thought I was invincible. Yet, once this realization had dawned upon me, that I don’t have much time left to exist, it caused this paralyzing fear to penetrate my entire core. I don’t want to go out without spending one last special moment with you.”

As Aubrey was speaking, she had been slowly closing the gap between her face and Will’s, as if she were intending to kiss him again. She had also been running her hand up the inside of his thigh. Yet, when she was mere inches from his lips, she pulled her head and hand away from his body.

“Yet, you’re right that I should try to see things from your Aubrey’s view. I don’t know how I would feel if my Will’s first time was with an Aubrey from a parallel universe. I feel so conflicted.”

The waterworks began once again after Aubrey had finished speaking. Seeing that her inner conflict was eating away at her, Will inched toward her and wrapped his arms around her in a comforting embrace.


“If you don’t want to have sex, I’ll respect your wishes. But—” When she looked up into Will’s eyes, he saw how her tears had reddened her eyes. He just could not resist the puppy-dog eyes she was giving him. He then used his hand to rotate her head towards him and held his lips just inches away from hers. Aubrey, in turn, pressed her lips against his and held the kiss for a few seconds before they parted.

“Okay,” he whispered into her ear.

“Are you sure?”

He paused for a moment before he confirmed his decision again. Aubrey could tell that his hesitation signaled that he was not one hundred percent sure about this decision. She wanted to reiterate the way out she had offered just seconds ago. However, she, too, was conflicted inside. She so wanted to go through with this. Yet she didn’t want to force Will into doing anything he did not really want to do.

Once they had come to an agreement, they tried to pull off each other’s shirts. Yet, when they realized that they were trying to do this at the same time and, as a result, were getting in each other’s way, they each paused and gave off a short, awkward laugh.

“I’ll go first,” Aubrey took the initiative and volunteered. “This top had been giving you a sneak peek all night. It’s only fair.”

With this decided, the two of them tugged on the bottom of Aubrey’s top and pulled up. After they had pulled the top over her head and past her full locks of hair, Aubrey proudly displayed the highly-ornate, spider web pattern bra that had already been partially visible through the spider-shaped cutout on the front of her 90’s era costume. Then it was Will’s turn. He fidgeted a bit as his girlfriend helped pull off the skintight top of his costume, as he was not used to this sort of attention.

“Could you help unzipping the back of my costume on my abdomen?” Aubrey asked as she reached back for the hooks on her bra. Will, on the other hand, gave a puzzled look as he glanced back and forth between her face and her arachnid abdomen. He took a deep breath before answering to calm his nerves.

“Alright.” He crawled over on the web. Once he was positioned next to her abdomen, he found the zipper at the base of where her back transitioned into her cephelothorax.

“Wait, how do you usually get into this?” Will asked as he realized that the zipper would have been out of Aubrey’s normal reach when entirely unzipped.

“Oh, you have no idea how much it sucked getting into this for the first time,” Aubrey answered as she looked over her shoulders. She had already pulled off the straps of her bra over her shoulders and discarded it. “I don’t know what I would do without my power nullifier being able to almost instantaneously swap me into my costume.”

After hearing her answer, Will turned his attention back to the zipper. Once he had passed over her cephelothorax, he pressed his hand against her abdomen to help him continue to unzip the costume. Her abdomen had a weird consistency that lay somewhere between firm and malleable.

“You need help getting out of the rest of this?”

“I’ve got this,” Aubrey stated as she flipped herself on her back. She curled up her eight arachnid legs and tugged up on the fabric that rested on the underbelly of her cephelothorax. Because they had loosened her costume by unzipping its back, there was enough slack to allow Aubrey to get at least one pair of her curled legs underneath the fabric. With each leg underneath, it made it that much easier to pull her other legs inside. Once all eight legs had been withdrawn under the fabric of her costume, she began to straighten out her legs slowly and repeatedly. With each push, she made progress towards removing this portion of her costume. Eventually, her legs were entirely free and she easily used them to toss off the remaining fabric on her abdomen to the side.

“So, what do you think?” Aubrey asked as she rolled onto her side.

“Interesting,” Will replied, “you took off your costume just like a spider would remove its exoskeleton during molting.”

“You’re such a nerd,” Aubrey rolled her eyes before shooting a webline from her wrists at her boyfriend and dragging Will towards her. “But that’s why I love you.”

Will was taken by surprise by Aubrey’s move, partially because he was nerding out about his knowledge about spiders, and partially because he just was not expecting it. Before he knew it, his body was smashed up against hers.

“Ready?” She whispered into his ear while she slowly wrapped her arachnid legs around his body. Will’s heart raced as he gazed into his girlfriend’s eyes. His hands awkwardly ran up and down her body. Despite the numerous physical differences between his Aubrey and this one, her face looked identical, as if he was looking at a split image of hers. Yet, as he peered at such a familiar face, the guilt that had initially warned him not to do this crept back into his head.

“I can’t do this,” Will suddenly blurted out before wiggling his way out of Aubrey’s eight-legged embrace.

“I shouldn’t have pushed you so hard,” Aubrey admitted in response as she wrapped her arms around her chest and pivoted her human half towards Will.

“What the hell was I thinking?”

“Will, you can’t be so hard on yourself. These are extraordinary circumstances!”

“Yet I still feel like an utter trash boyfriend.”

“Then will you at least let me rest in your arms, if this will be our last night together,” Aubrey requested as she patted the web stranded beside her. Will paused for a moment as his mind debated whether doing so would betray the relationship he had with his Aubrey. Eventually, he crawled back over to her. Once he was reclined on the web, Aubrey rolled on her side and rested her head against Will's torso. He, in turn, wrapped his arms around her body.

“If the relationship you have with your Aubrey is anything like the one I have with my Will, I know she truly loves you.”

Although he knew that she was trying to make him feel better, her words merely fanned the flames of his guilt.
Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Fallenreaper
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L O C A T I O N: Somewhere in New York City
T I M E: Present Day ( July ) Sometime Around 8 PM

The sun began to set over New York's skyline, drowning the restless city in growing darkness. Cars zoomed by as they flooded the streets with zooming lights and sounds. It was a backdrop that comforted any city dweller. Lamp posts illuminated the sidewalks with pale yellow light. In the area where Benjamin lived, only Athena and he was important. He tuned out the humming of night owls flocking into clubs, bars, and more to focus on her.

He could talk for hours with her, just because he missed her so much. These moments in their lives were fleeting, and he cherished them. Distracted by their conversation, the hair on his neck abruptly bristled. Benjamin's lips pursed then turned to the right, his eyes gazing upward.

A large, aged house towered over them. He recognized it as the old Jefferson's place. Abandoned for several years, rumors of haunting figures and strange suicides surfaced. When things were normal, he never really believed any of those tall tales. The wild imaginations of his fellow students.

As he tightened his vision on the third story, a curtain moved ever slightly. The hazy image of some small figure stared back at him. His breath stalled in his throat. Benjamin's feet grounded to a stop, unable to move. Something was off with that house.

Athena, in mid-conversation, stiffened much at the same time as Benjamin did, but she looked toward Benjamin rather than where he was focusing his attention. The hairs on the back of her neck lifted, prickling her skin as a shudder shook her, and her heart both raced and fell at the sensation of something cold washing over her.

Pale, she slowly lifted her gaze toward where he was looking at, sensing something was incredibly wrong with the house they were staring at.

"Benjamin?" she called out to him, in a soft voice. "What-What are you looking at?"

Benjamin watched the figure flow backward and fade into the darkness. The curtain falling back to shroud the interior. Athena's voice brought him out of his distracted focus. His attention shifted to her, his nostrils flared at the fear. He took a moment to calm himself.

"I thought I saw something in the window." He chided himself for scaring her more.

"I just never paid attention to the rumors about this old place until now. Thinking back... I'm now wondering if there was any truth to them.”

She shivered, as though cold, gooseflesh appearing on her skin as she regarded the building. Athena wrapped her arms around herself, trying to find where he was looking. Blue briefly flashed in her dark eyes, sensing energy much darker than she had ever experienced before entered her view. Copying Benjamin, she took her own breath to steady herself.

"That's—" Athena laughed nervously, "not scary, at all, nope." After a moment, she turned to Benjamin, when she couldn't see anything, the negative energy disappearing from view.

"What are the rumors?"

Instinctively, Benjamin curled his arm about her shoulders and pulled Athena closer. Letting her draw warmth from his elevated body heat. His hand rubbed her outer arm to give her comfort.

The gooseflesh stayed on Athena's bare arms for a moment, letting him rub her skin until the bumps faded to smooth skin once more. Athena sighed, sounding comforted by the touch.

"You're lying." He tried to sound teasing, but the effort failed. The teenage boy sighed then moved on.

"It's rumored that a really long time ago, a family moved in. They had a single kid who suffered from depression. During those days, they didn't understand how to treat a mental condition like that. The parents got fed up with the boy's moping and it drove him to commit suicide."

He paused for a breath.

"They say he still haunts the house and that any children who moved in, would suffer the same fate. Often driven to it by the ghost."

Dark grey eyes flitted to the house once more, shimmering to that faint luminescent blue again, bleeding in from the edges of her iris to her pupil. "There's something dark there, something dark and..." She trailed off, wrapping her arms around Benjamin's torso for reassurance.

She blinked, shaking her head. "We should get going—" She tugged on his arm, trying to move away from the building, giving the impression she was afraid of the house.

But her eyes remain focused on the building.

Benjamin had been about to say a thing when he felt her tug him. He frowned but didn't resist. Without much resistance, he started to move and follow her lead. His worry peaked at the back of his mind upon seeing Athena's reaction to the house. Her eyes were naturally strange to watch the shift from normal to blue.

"All right, no problem. It's giving me the creeps too." He easily caught up to her side then reassured her. "Duff and I will check it out later. He's got some experience with this stuff."

Athena nodded, but her hands released his wrist when they were away from the house far enough that she couldn't feel the negative energy reach her. Taking another breath, she relaxed. While she's not entirely happy with the circumstances that soured their outing, she cast one more glance in the direction of the house before they left.

~ x ~

T I M E: Present Day ( July ) Sometime Around 1 AM

Later that night, once she was certain that Benjamin had gone to sleep, she waited another twenty minutes to feel the energy in the mansion to make certain that all was still.
With a nod, she quickly assembled the necessary pieces and began the call.

"Hello?" she greeted, though keeping her voice quiet.

Morrigan's image appeared in the water's rippling surface. Her lips curled into a smile and eyes narrowed on someone outside the frame. From the corner of her eye, she noticed Athena's image appear on her side. Immediately, she shooed off whomever she chatted with and turned to her follower.

"Athena, it's so lovely to hear from you. I'm ready for your report and I hope it's good news." Her fingers intertwined in front of her lips, patiently waiting for the younger girl to speak.

Athena nodded, eager to get started with sharing the news. First, she quickly broke down the information regarding Baron and Benjamin's strange encounter with someone in Vegas that led to his trip back here. In their time together as they tried to piece together his missing time, she shared briefly information regarding his transformation and the meeting with Baron and Duff shortly after.

Summing up her news, she ended with the negative energy in the house that had ended their day together.

"There's a lot of negative energy there that I don't think it'll just stop with the people in that house," Athena said with a hum, frowning. "I think Ben and Duff are walking into something really—" She used a Chinese word, but it roughly translated to "evil."

"My dear, evil is subjective," Morrigan stated, indifferent to the term used. She never really cared for heavy morality. The elder woman quickly moved on as she addressed the root of the issue.

"Still... I don't like what you've told me about that house. Have you done any digging into the history of it?"

Athena nodded but said nothing else for a moment. "Not yet, not since Ben told me about it—I've only learned about it just a few hours ago. I know something's lingering there—a lot of negative…" she frowned, trying to find the right English word, "darkness?"

She shook her head. "I planned on doing some digging tonight before Ben and his packmate, Duff, go out tomorrow to investigate. I have a bad feeling about this, Morrigan—like Ben is walking into something dangerous."

Morrigan removed her fingers from the front of her mouth. She thumped her nails on the wooden desk as she slipped into thought. Her eyes glossed over in their usual fashion before she rose upright. Her voice continued to speak, though the distance muffled it slightly.

"Umm, I might have something that could help. Was it demonic or other? Did you get a heavy sense of ancient essence?" asked Morrigan, the sounds of her shuffling through her library.

Athena paled as she remembered the feeling of the energy there. "Ancient, like it's been there for a while," she said. "It's like a bunch of spirits got stuck together in the darkness and can't leave."

She shuddered.

Morrigan nodded. "Go on, anything else to note of it? It's not human at least so a simple banishment spell won't do."

Gooseflesh broke out across the surface of Athena's skin as she continued to remember. "It's like it was trying to take what isn't theirs, and make it theirs and didn't care about the repercussions. Malicious and filled with dark energy that made even Ben see something. I know it wasn't a spirit, but it's pretending to be one."

Morrigan finally pulled a book out of a slot in the bookcase. "Here it is. From what you've described, it's demonic or primal in nature. Something very dangerous."

Athena nodded, watching Morrigan move about the room, curious.

She moved toward a crow and set the book down, the creature hopped from one foot to another in its excitement. Her finger brushed the feathered head causing it to settle down.
"Once we're done here, I'll send a book over to help you identify what it is. After that, contact me again and I'll send you something to deal with it. For now, learn all you can over that house. It's important."

The woman sat down again as she faced the water bowl. "Do you understand me?"

Athena nodded again. "Understood." She tilted her head in question, thoughtful. Though she looked like she was about to ask a question, she paused, humming in thought. "I'll contact you as soon as I figure it out." A sense of determination glinted in her eyes.

“Anything else, my dear?” Morrigan asked, her eyes locked onto Athena’s.

Athena shook her head. Not until she got the book in her hands to study would she have any questions. Even then, the gooseflesh had yet to fade fully from her skin, still spooked from the memories.

"No, I think that's all," Athena managed to say with a small smile, paler than she had been at the start of the call.

“My dear, if you get any paler… I might have to suggest you take some baby goat’s blood, cinnamon, and mix it in some tea. For now, try to get some sleep. I know you mortals need it.”

Morrigan waved her hand then rose upright. Whether she was intending to send the book right away or later, was unknown.

Athena nodded and ended the call. She sat there for a moment before she stood up. A noise outside of the room startled her, and she couldn't seem to get warm. A little more than spooked, she grabbed her phone and charger and crept out of the guest bedroom toward Ben's bedroom.

She hesitated, biting her lower lip. And then she knocked before she could change her mind. "Ben?" she softly called out. "Can I sleep with you?" Her voice airy, wispy, and unlike the strength, she had earlier in the day.

Benjamin twitched, his eyes scrunched and his lips smacked. In a half-sleep state, he pushed himself upright. Propped against his elbow, he rubbed the grit from his half-lidded eyes.

"What's the matter? Still spooked?" he mumbled.

Athena padded quietly into the room at the foot of his bed. "Yeah, a bit," she admitted. Her energy was distorted since she hadn't expelled her stress yet. "I… can't get warm and I keep remembering…"

Benjamin inhaled then slid over. His hand patted the mattress, indicating where Athena could lay.

"Come on, let's see if we can change that."

Walking deeper into the room, she quickly plugged her phone charger in and set the phone in the bed before burrowing herself under the blankets. Even at the distance of how they were on the bed, she could feel his body heat spread through the blankets.

She sighed in contentment. However, it's a different story for Ben since she was ice cold.
Benjamin's arms wrapped about her. Tightly embracing her as he buried his nose into her shoulder, enjoying her scent. His body began to roar to life with a fresh wave of heat. An instinctive response to her ice-cold skin.

"Damn, you're cold." His warm breath washed over her skin.

Athena shuddered, a soft hum when she was pressed against her back against him. A different sort of gooseflesh broke out across her skin but settled quickly.

His slow, even breathing tickling the skin of her neck tingled down her spine. She tried not to be aware of how his arms wrapped around her waist and idly thought about wearing more clothes than just a t-shirt.

But, with her own personal heater as strong as Ben, she warmed up quickly and fell asleep soon after.

~ x ~

T I M E: Present Day ( July ) Sometime Around 7 AM

Benjamin's eyes opened slowly. His jaw extended and a long yawn escaped his lips. A small burn rippled across his muscles, leaving a pleasant ache. His arms began to peel themselves back from Athena's figure. It was then... he realized something.

She wore only a t-shirt and no pants. He blinked a moment then groaned at his stupidity. Why didn't he wear more than boxers last night? It was too late to regret now. With a gentle movement, he managed to push off the blankets and shift around her. Noting her cooler temperature, he quickly pulled them back over her.

He needed to get dressed and head downstairs to fix breakfast. Emma wouldn't arrive until around 8 am and it was only 7 am. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he moved to the bathroom to complete his morning routine. Secretly, he was lucky not to have 'poked' Athena in the middle of the night.

Fortunately, she wasn't bothered by Ben leaving the bed, but the departure of his warmth let her own body temperature drop again. Having yet to expel the surprising negative energy from the night before, Athena's brows furrowed, her body curling into a small ball.

Benjamin headed downstairs. His feet thumped as he hurried down, skirting into the nearby kitchen. He popped his head into the fridge to see what he had. Bacon and scrambled eggs sounded good, he thought.

His hand reached for the carton and snatched up the bacon. He shut the door with his foot. Setting the items on the counter, he began to prepare the eggs and bacon for breakfast. When he finished, he fixed Athena and himself a plate. His meal naturally had mainly raw bacon due to cravings.

After setting them on a tray, he began to haul it up the stairs.

Images flashed through her mind's eye, flitting to and fro with no certain path or reasoning. All Athena can think about was trying to wake up and hope this dream didn't turn into a real nightmare.

Benjamin smacked the door, hoping to get Athena's attention. He realized fairly quickly, he hadn't thought it fully through enough. He pressed his head against the door.

"Athena, can you hear me? I need you to open the door and I got breakfast," he stated loudly.

She jolted awake, sitting upright with her heart suddenly racing as though she had been running. Athena was ice cold again, but the sound of Ben being on the other side of the door had her run a hand through her hair, quickly combing it out. It took another second before her racing heart calmed to a more reasonable pace.

Quickly, she swung her legs over the side of the bed and ran to the door. Seeing the breakfast, she made a wane smile.

"Breakfast?" she murmured, hiding a yawn behind her hand. Her nails weren't painted this time around, revealing purple-tinted nails, indicating how cold she was. "Gimme a sec."

Scurrying off to where her things were set aside, she pulled on a pair of shorts, and then, after two minutes of washing her face and cleaning up, she was back in his bedroom for breakfast, looking refreshed.

Benjamin balanced his tray as he slid through the door. He gritted his teeth, wondering how Emma did this so easily, before setting it down on the bedside table.

"I hope you like scrambled eggs and bacon. I couldn't remember if you had special diet requirements or not." He passed her plate over then taking his own, the scent of raw bacon causing his mouth to water. His figure lowered to the bed, sitting close to Athena.

Realizing how it might look, he averted his gaze and explained, "Raw meat is better for me. Dig in, you look like you need it."

Athena nodded, sitting cross-legged as she tugged the tray over to her. Watching Benjamin for a moment more, she couldn't help the small smile again. "It's fine as long as I go for a run after this," she said, picking up a fork. Snickering, she nudged him with her elbow.

"Not like last night told me anything about the raw meat—" Another snicker as she popped some scrambled eggs into her mouth. "Thanks for the breakfast."

Benjamin chuckled as his hand gripped a strip of bacon in his fingers. He raised it then lowered it into his mouth. The raw texture of the meat and fat coated nicely against his teeth. It slid down his throat, drawing a small pleased growl.

Between bites, he smiled then spoke. "I figured you needed something after yesterday. You were cold as ice."

Athena shrugged between bites, already half of the meal near finished. She seemed hungrier than she looked. Lifting her hand and gaze to him, she pressed the back of her fingers to his arm, still ice-cold as she was late last night.

"I need more than a 'something,'" she said, seemingly amused. Withdrawing her hand, she resumed eating. "It's what I'm hoping my run will help me fix it."

Benjamin's skin rose and accelerated his heat into her skin. His fingers stopped half-way from picking up another strip of pork as he watched her. Eyes locked on her with concern and worry.

He opened his mouth to say something when a loud smack hit the window into the loft. Instinctively, Benjamin jumped and shot his head into the direction.

"What in the hell was that?" He set the plate down then rose onto his feet, moving to the loft’s only window.

A small crow pecked at the glass. It cawed and fluttered, eager to get inside.

Athena visibly flinched at the noise, glancing around to find the source. When she saw none, she tapped her fork to the plate for a moment before recollecting the conversation the night before.

Quickly, setting aside the food and utensil, she left the bedroom after Benjamin. Upon approach in the loft, she spotted the crow.

"Oh!" Athena reached forward, opening the window and let the crow in by gesturing for it to hop onto her outstretched hand. Tugging off the parchment and the small vial, she tucked those into the small little pocket of her shorts.

"Benjamin, this is a friend of mine, you could say," she said and turned to him. "I believe they got worried about me." She sounded sheepish.

Benjamin looked completely baffled. His eyes shifted from the bird to Athena, watching the creature. It cawed then gently pecked her hand seeming to want something.

At the peck, Athena shifted, moving to the bedroom to grab a few pieces of bacon and egg before walking back out to the loft to feed it from her hand.

"I was about to ask if it was a friend of yours—I guess I got my answer. Does this have anything to do with the house yesterday?" He stood there, waiting for an answer. Though he wasn't angry in the least.

"Yes, sort of." Athena furrowed her brow as she let the crow continue to snack. "I didn't like the energy that the house had and it left an impression on me. So, I consulted with Morrigan about what it might be. But, since I just had a vague feeling, it's not a lot to go on."

Benjamin exhaled, his crossed arms fell to his side. "I guess some help is better than going in blind. Is this why you're out of sorts?"

Athena nodded.

With a bit of rowdy playfulness, the crow nipped Athena's finger. Its sharp beak broke a bit of the skin causing her to bleed slightly. Another gleeful caw escaped its mouth as it darted side to side, like some feathery dog.

Despite the new cut, Athena seemed used to it and smiled at the crow. Her fingers rubbed on its form, giving it the affection and love it deserves for coming all this way.

"There's always a balance, something I noticed when my abilities came to me. With so much negative energy, it'd take all of my yang energy to compensate. Or positive, I suppose." Looking over at Benjamin, she tilted her head in thought.
"Just give me a bit and I should warm up soon," she said with a smile.

Benjamin took a sharp inhale before his body relaxed. His eyes still fixed on the crow, tensing a bit at the drawn blood and fighting down his primal urges. It was mainly to rip the thing's head off for hurting her. Thankfully, only her reaction gave him a reason for him to hold back. The teenager's discomfort faded.

"All right, do you need anything?"

Once the crow was satisfied with the affection, she let the crow go and shut the window. Sticking her cut finger into her mouth, she gestured for them to head back to the bedroom and finish their breakfast before going about the rest of the day.

In the next few hours, after some tea and asking Benjamin for a run, Athena was successfully balanced again. Now, they were hanging out in his gaming area, watching a movie.

~ x ~

Benjamin's arm began to tingle before he shifted off the couch back. He rubbed it a bit to get some feeling back into it. His eyes watched the conclusion of the action movie as he leaned over and reached for the remote. He clicked the DVD off and set it down.

He rose upright, stretching then looked at her. "I'll call Duff after the run. It gives me time to think and sort out how we should approach this. We might have to wolf out and explore the property at night."

His arm already reached out for his pair of shoes. With an easy heel hook and toe tap, they slipped on easily.

"You ready to go?" He asked.

Athena nodded, listening as she grabbed some clothes. "Sounds good—lemme get changed and we'll go," she said as she disappeared into the bathroom, only to quickly reappear sporting a black sports bra, accents lined in hot pink, and black-camo colored leggings. Slipping her phone into a small pocket lined into the leggings, Athena's lilac sports t-shirt slid over her chest to hide toned abs.

After slathering sunscreen on all of her exposed skin that had the scent of something faintly beachy, she grabbed her own sneakers to slip on.

"I'll be following your lead so lead the way, Benjamin," she said with a grin. Popping a wireless earbud in one ear and a black sweatband around her other wrist, she looked prepped. Coupled with her faded pink baseball cap and her long hair pulled into a braided ponytail, she looked ready to challenge whatever run he was going to take them on.

Benjamin just finished trying his shoes when he rose upright, catching sight of her. Surprise sparked in his eyes as he looked her over. He never recalled her looking so... appealing before. His heart rate quickened briefly before he shook away the thoughts. Coughing a bit, he cleared his throat enough to speak clearly.

"Right—I'll take us past the house so you should brace yourself. I want to make sure it's completely abandoned."

Athena nodded.

Gesturing for her to follow him, he took them downstairs and out the back door. They encountered Emma searching for lunch. She pulled out of the fridge and spotted them. Flashing the escaping pair a smile, she asked a question at their retreating backs.

"Before you two leave, how's chicken and avocado wraps and a side of fruit salad sound for lunch?"

Benjamin stopped then turned around.

"That sounds good to me, what about you Athena?"

Athena nodded with another smile at Emma. "Sounds fantastic." Moving to the fridge, she grabbed a water bottle and grabbed another to throw it in Benjamin's direction.

His arms raised, not expecting it. His fingertips managed to catch it and spare his foot a bit of pain. A brief look of annoyance had been spared in at Athena.

Closing the fridge behind her, she moved to Emma to give her a quick hug. Her eyes glinted with amusement when she caught Benjamin's look of annoyance. He'll live. "Morning and we'll see you later!"

And then quickly moved to Benjamin to follow after him.

Emma chuckled as she smiled, preparing the chicken for the meal. “Don’t be late coming home.”
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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Dedonus
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The Mandela Effect: Part 13

Will Grant

Pacific Point, CA

The orange glow of the morning’s first light shown through the windows of the abandoned factory where Will and Aubrey had spent the night. The silky web that the young couple lay upon sparkled in the sunrise’s rays. With each passing second, the light creeped up across the room until it had reached the two slumbering metahumans.

Once the morning rays struck Will’s eyes, he began to rouse from his slumber. As he pried open his eyes, it took him a moment to remember where he and Aubrey had spent the night. Aubrey still had him in a vice grip while she continued to slumber off her caffeine overdose. For a few more moments, Will just lay there as he contemplated how he would wiggle out of her embrace without waking her up. He had to contact the Immortals about turning her back to normal, at least mentally. After what had happened last night, he had to get this done as soon as possible. Plus, since she expressed her anxiety over ceasing to exist, Will thought it would be better to fix his girlfriend before she woke up.

After Will had ran everything through his head, he began his attempt to free himself. Every movement he made felt painfully slow. Yet this was how he had to make his escape, as any sudden movement might wake Aubrey up. Although it took Will quite some time to pull himself out of her clutches, he was finally able to free himself. Yet, even once free, he also had to be careful while moving around the web, as the vibrations could rock his sleeping girlfriend enough to stir her awake.

But before Will could escape from Aubrey’s giant web and call the Immortals, he had to first the parts of his costume that his girlfriend had pulled off his body. Luckily, she had only gotten to his mask and the part of his costume that covered his torso. Otherwise, there would have been one awkward meeting if the rest of his costume had fallen through the gaps of the web and lost in the darkness below. He found his mask stuck to the web next to Aubrey. His costume’s top was just hanging by a thread and he barely caught it before it fell.

Once dressed, Will was about ready to make is way outside, but he peered back at his little sleeping beauty. Even though he was only going to be outside only long enough to contact the Immortals, he knew he could not leave him in her current state of dress. As he looked around for something to drape over Aubrey’s body, Will discovered that the pieces of her costume had not been as lucky as his. He managed to find the bomber jacket she had been wearing and he laid it over her torso. He also stumbled upon the part of her costume that covered her spider half, although that was not such a difficult task due to how much fabric made up that part of her costume.

Now that Will had covered up his girlfriend, he crawled away from the center of the web, where Aubrey was sleeping, to the edge of the silk structure, while trying not to create too many vibrations over the web. After he had reached the wall, he carefully lifted himself off the web and began to scale the interior wall of the abandoned factory. Exiting through the same window, through which Aubrey had first pushed him, he reached the roof and retrieved the small communicator that the Immortals had given him when he had visited them two nights before.

“Do you know what time it is?” Will heard a robotic voice speak through the communicator.

“I’m sorry about the early call, but I think we need to get Arachne back to normal,” Will first responded. However, after what Talus had said registered in his head, he spoke again. “Wait, do you even need to sleep?”

There was a long pause over the communicator before Talus made his answer.

“Touché. Anyways, we’re be over as soon as I can get in contact with some of the others. They, unfortunately, have to sleep. Anything else you need?”

“If you guys have a spare of Arachne’s normal costume, I would recommend you bringing it. She’ not going to be happy with her current one.”

“That’s such a shame. Vol looks great it her new one!”

“You’re lucky she’s didn’t hear that or she would knock your head off,” Will responded. But then he realized something. He had not seen the costume that belonged to the Aubrey from the parallel reality until that night. “Wait, how do you know what it looks like?”

“The paparazzi can be brutal! Although they weren’t able to get any close-ups, the few pictures they did snatch up have made the rounds on the news cycle.”

Will began to panic. Earlier that morning, alt-Aubrey had gone into work. Even if she had somehow escaped the ever-watchful lenses of the paparazzi’s cameras, she nonetheless participated in that month’s photoshoot for the modeling contest she had been unwillingly signed up for by some shapeshifter. How long would it take for people to start connecting the dots? How long could she dodge this public outing by claiming coincidence?

Because Will was so occupied with the possibility that his girlfriend’s secret identity might have been compromised, he failed to recognize the buzzing of his spider sense that had been slowly building up in his head. By the time he did feel it, it was far too late. All of a sudden, two giant bird talons wrapped around his shoulders and lifted him off the rooftop. The shock of the unexpected ambush caused Will to drop the device that the Immortals had lent to him for contacting them.

“Are you there?” Talus asked when he heard the commotion on the other side of the communicator. After no reply was given, he sighed. “Vol is so going to kill me for this.”

A Few Hours Ago

While the two lovebirds were still fast asleep, an inconspicuous black van bumbled up to the abandoned factory. Once the vehicle had pulled into what would have been the factory’s main loading dock, the side door of the van slid open and a handful of men and women, all clad in black military gear. Although the arrest of Travis Murdock and the confiscation of their main cash of weapons had been a blow to the cause of the Hounds of Humanity, they nonetheless had not been eradicated. Like a horde of cockroaches, the remnants of this anti-metahuman terrorist organization had crawled back into the shadows. While the Hounds could not show their force like they could back at the height of their power, they could still wage their crusade against unnatural humans from the shadows.

Willie Tate sat in the driver’s seat. Although he was basically a glorified chauffeur, since he had only recently joined the local Pacific Point cell, he had finally felt a sense of belonging. Before then, his life had spiraled out of control once superhumans had made their presence known to the world. He had left his roots in Ohio after his brother, Doug, made the untimely decision to visit Lost Haven right when some jerk opened up an interdimensional portal to a realm inhabited by demonlike creatures. Yet, his family’s luck did not reverse with the change of scenery. The opposite, in fact, was the case. During the chaos brought about the Game Genie’s actions, Willie lost both his home and job, forcing him to take on odd jobs just to scrape by. And it would be his luck to pick the wrong horse in the battle between the Hounds and the metahumans.

While the other Hounds skittered inside to set up the explosives, Willie sat restlessly in his seat. He knew that the twilight hours were primetime for superhero patrols. If they were not careful, some unsuspecting hero could stumble upon their little operation and spoil all the fun.

Out of the corner of Willie’s eye, he thought he saw something swoop overhead. He rubbed his eyes and then tried to peer at the sky to make sure he was not seeing anything. Nothing was there, although the sky was too dark to make out anything from above. Willie therefore concluded that his eyes were just playing tricks on him.

After a few minutes had passed, Wille heard three taps against the exterior of the van. This nearly made Willie jump out of his seat, as he thought some costumed crusader had gotten the jump on him. However, when he turned his head to look at the rear of the van, he saw that all the Hounds had finished up inside and were ready to go. Willie wiped the sweat from his forehead and gave off a relieved sigh before beginning of the van’s engine. Once the van was operational, this small cell of Hounds disappeared into the darkness.

Back to the Present

Whoever had snatched up Will from the abandoned factory’s rooftop had already flown several blocks before she dropped him off on a nearby rooftop. At first, he was surprised that he had made a soft landing without needing the use of his alt-reality self’s spider powers. Although it took Will a few moments to figure out who the winged figure was, once she had made one circle around the rooftop before landing, things started to click in Will’s head.

While Will had never met any of the Immortals prior to his encounter with them two nights ago, he had read about them on the internet out of curiosity concerning who were the heroes his girlfriend was hanging out with. The Immortals had mentioned two nights ago that they had not heard from Firefox recently. Reckoning from the woman’s costume, Will concluded that he had finally found her, or rather, she had found him.

Will did not need to be a rocket scientist to knew something was off. As her name hinted at, Firefox should have vulpine attributes. Yet, the woman who stood before him possessed no foxlike features. Instead, her arms and feet seemed to have become hybrids of the respective appendages of birds and humans. However, because Will had been so preoccupied by the mismatch of Firefox’s name and her animal characteristics, he did a doubletake when he finally realized there was something almost uncanny about what was human about her. If it were not for her Avian traits, Will would have sworn that she looked as if someone had spliced her head onto Aubrey’s non-drider body. Although everything below her neck was not identical to his girlfriend, there were not many people running around with comic book physiques, despite this being a world full of metahumans and magic.

“Thank God I was able to get you out of there before anything bad happened,” Firefox finally spoke up once she had landed.

“Wait, what kind of danger was there?”

“I don’t know what they were up to, but I do know that nothing good could come from a pack of Hounds.”

When Will heard that the Hounds could be involved, a panic immediately struck him. Although he knew that his girlfriend had already faced these creeps and came out victorious, there would not be much she could do fast asleep, let alone altered into a parallel universe version of herself. Plus, even though the Immortals were on their way, would they be able to come in time before whatever the Hounds had planned comes to fruition.

“But Arachne is still in that building. We need to go back for her!”

“You mean Black Widow? That villainess can handle herself just fine.”

While Will could have guessed that this Firefox had a different history than her counterpart from his world from her appearance, her not recognizing her own teammate sealed the deal. Although some people have mixed the two up because they both are driders, their wardrobes and general appearance was different enough for even the least observant person to tell the difference between the hero and the villain.

Will knew there was no point trying to argue the difference between his Arachne and the villainess Black Widow. Therefore, he needed a different approach to convince Firefox to get his girlfriend out of the troublesome situation she was in.

“Yet, aren’t we the good guys? We don’t leave people behind for a gruesome fate, even if they’re villains.”

“Always the moral compass,” Firefox muttered. She reached out with her hand and ran it down the side of Will’s masked face. “I always loved that about you.”

Will was taken by surprise Firefox’s actions. While he did not want to jump to conclusions, he guessed that she believed they had a prior relationship, maybe even a romantic one. It would explain why she had snatched up him alone, or why she fled from her little scuffle with Arachne when he showed back up after he had handed over Moon Bunny to the authorities.

He then jerked his head away from Firefox’s avian hand. While he had struggled with the moral conundrum concerning his girlfriend, this was simple. He would not fall to temptation. His conscious, that had troubled him so much when trying to figure out what he should do with Aubrey, made everything oh so clear. Although Firefox was attractive, there was no way he would risk compromising his relationship with Aubrey.

“The Silver Sorceress must have done quite a number on you,” Firefox concluded aloud when she saw Will pull away from her hand. “But we’ll deal with her later. You stay here while I check to make sure Black Widow is clear from the building.”

She then placed her hand on Will’s shoulder and then dove off the building. With her feathered arms, she soared over the nearby rooftops.

“Well, this could have turned out way worse,” Will concluded as he watched Firefox fly back towards the abandoned factory.
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Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Dedonus
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The Mandela Effect: Part 14

Aubrey Adkins

Pacific Point, CA

When I finally woke up, my head felt like someone had ran it over with a semitruck, then placed it in reverse, and proceeded to drive forward again. I have not felt this hung over since I was a freshman in college. Yet, I had no clue why I was hungover. I need an insane amount of alcohol to even begin feeling buzzed because of my superhuman physiology. While caffeine has a similar effect on me as alcohol does on normal people, I know that I had not consumed enough to give me such a splitting headache.

Once I could finally think straight after the ringing in my head had subsided, yet not entirely gone, I suddenly realized that I was no longer in my apartment. I found myself lying on a giant web that seemed like something I could create, but I had no memory of making it. How did I even get here? I remember falling to sleep in my own bed last night.

I then heard the faint buzzing of my cell phone reverberate through the abandoned factory’s dead silence. I really hope it didn’t fall down to the factory’s floor. Although my phone was clearly still functioning, a fall like that would probably force me to buy a new phone. God, that would suck, as I had just purchased a new one.

“Where could it be?” I muttered aloud as I scanned the web just in case it had somehow stuck to the sticky strands. While I was looking around, I suddenly felt something made of hard plastic in my hand. When I peered down, I discovered a cell phone had spontaneously appeared, as I knew it had not been there a few seconds ago. But this could not be my phone, as it looked nothing like mine. Sure, its design does match my tastes and therefore would be something I might have bought, but I have never seen a model like it.

<You have received one new email from Viera. Would you like me to display the attached images via my hologram projector?>

I was definitely not expecting the cell phone to speak without me using one of the usual prompting phrases that normal AI, like Siri, would normally possess. This thing is way more advanced than I would have thought from my initial inspection of the device. I guess you really can’t judge a book by its cover.

“Sure,” I answered. However, after I gave my response, I suddenly realized something. Why would my work be sending me image files? My photoshoot for August was scheduled for later this month. What could this be?

Then “my” phone emitted the projection just in front of me. What I saw was quite bizarre, for several different reasons. First, the image was not a 2D projection. Instead, the phone must have extrapolated from the image file and generated a 3D replica of the scene captured by the camera. In fact, the hologram was almost as realistic as those hologram cubes that the Game Genie used.

But the weirdness did not stop there. The “me” in this illusion was wearing the exact same softball uniform that I had picked out when all us Viera models had to divide up several sports related occupations for the August issue. But this should have bene impossible. I never participated in this photoshoot! God, was that damn shapeshifter screwing with me again?

Yet, the bizarreness did not end there. The image looked like someone had loaded it into Photoshop and had turned up the ridiculousness of my comic book physique to 11. What was up with the thickness of my hair? My softball uniform, in turn, did not fit my body in the picture, as it had been tailored to my actual body. God, if I wasn’t already ridiculously stacked, I probably would have been mortified at how it looked like someone had stuffed two overinflated balloons under my shirt.

I then continued to slip my finger across the phone’s touch screen. With each swipe, the next image from the photoshoot appeared before my eyes. Once I finally arrived at the last picture, I gave out a sigh of relief. This imposter could have done way more damage. Sure, there were some sultry poses, but this other me did not do anything ridiculous, like stripping off her clothes.

“Alright, turn off projection,” I told the phone. Since I did not see any visual buttons that would have turned off the hologram, I guess asking the phone to terminate that function would have been my best bet. And Sure enough, the phone followed my request.

Ever since I woke up, something was bothering me. Something felt off. Up until now, I could not quite place my finger on what it was. I probably could explain this feeling partially from my mind being groggy from just waking up and partially from my preoccupation with my discovery that someone was impersonating me again. Yet, when I realized that the silk of the giant spider web I had be reclining on was making direct contact with my skin, I contorted my human half and peered over my shoulder. What I saw just compounded the confusion I had felt ever since I woke up.

“Where the hell are my clothes?” I muttered aloud once I realized that the only articles of clothing left on my body were some spiderweb-patterned fishnet stockings and my usual red boots I wear whenever doing my superhero work. I did find the part of my costume that would cover my spider half lying next to me, but the rest of my costume was missing.

It was in this state of undress that I realized that the “me” I saw in my supposed photoshoot was not an impostor or a manipulated and doctored picture of me. Well, I guess there still could be an impostor, but I looked exactly like the woman in those pictures: the hair, the even more ridiculous body proportions. What the hell could have caused this?

<You discarded your wardrobe during a romantic encounter with your boyfriend last night>

“What?” I asked when I was taken off guard by such a specific answer, let alone an answer at all.

<You asked what happened to your wardrobe. I provided a factual response.>

What the hell is going on? First I have no memory of how I got in this abandoned factory. Now, I apparently participated in a romantic evening with Will that I have zero recollection of. This was feeling like I have been stuck in a bad dream.

“Do you know what happened during our...err...‘romantic encounter?’ We didn’t have—” I felt so ridiculous asking a cell phone what had happened last night. While I asked my question to this futuristic device, I found this gray bomber jacket on the web where my human half had been lying. I had never seen this jacket before, but it possessed a patch on its sleeve that matched my spider icon on the back of my costume. While it was the middle of summer in Southern California, it was better than staying topless. At least it appeared that the sleeves had often been rolled up to elbow length. I began to place my arms through sleeves of the bomber jacket when the phone replied to my question.

<You and your boyfriend engaged in a short bout of foreplay and some cuddling before you both fell asleep. No bodily fluids were exchanged outside of saliva during osculation and perhaps sweat through physical contact.>

That was quite a peculiar way to say that nothing really happened. Yet the news was much welcomed. I don’t know how I would have felt if my first time with Will had happened during this gap in my memory.

“Alright, could you explain how I got—” I interrupted myself as I continued to have difficulties with this bomber jacket. I was able to zip it up halfway, but the rest of the way felt like trying to zip up a suitcase overflowing with clothes. “My God, was this even designed to zip all the way up?”

<Please repeat your request>

“Sorry, just having a little wardrobe difficulties here,” I answered as I finally was able to zip the jacket all the way up. Wow, this thing is quite tight around the chest. Anyways, how exactly did I end up here in the first place?”

<Before your romantic encounter, you and your boyfriend went on patrol. You then proceeded to lead him to this place on the pretext of following an unknown, winged assailant.>

“Will has powers? How could that be?” I asked when I heard this new revelation. The artificial intelligence within the phone seemed to be ‘thinking’ before it responded to my voice.

<You are correct that he should not have powers. Yet, evidence from yesterday seems to contradict this. I will project an article documenting your escalades. It will take me a moment enhance the accompanying image due to its poor quality.>

“What? How could it be the 8th?” I exclaimed as soon as I saw the publishing date of the article that was being displayed by the phone.

<Today’s chronological date is indeed the 8th of July. Is this an issue?”

“But it can’t be the 8th. I clearly remember it was the 5th when I fell asleep last night. How could I have lost two entire days?”

<Checking logs. Error. Yesterday was the 7th, not the 5th. My logs indicate that you were indeed active yesterday. While the amount of caffeine that was in your bloodstream could have wiped out your memories from last night, I cannot explain the rest of your memory loss.>

Well, that would explain my splitting headache that I woke up with. But whatever erased my memory must also be linked to my my change in physical appearance. Otherwise, I have no other possible explanation for losing two entire day.

Meanwhile, ‘my’ cell phone had finished enhancing the picture it had been displaying for the pass couple minutes. Although the image displayed clear alterations to my superhero costume, the color scheme and some design elements remained familiar. The bomber jacket the “me” in the picture was wearing was identical to the one I found this morning. Once I saw the jacket, I was confident that the image was not doctored. That was me, or at least some version of me.

“Phone, could you juxtapose one of my Viera photoshoot pictures next to this image? Could you pick one that has a similar pose as the currently displayed image?”

As soon as the second image appeared, an acute dread washed over me. The costume that I had wore ever since I became a superhero used a mask that covered my entire face. But this alternative costume from this image left my jaw exposed. Although it would require someone examining the image under a microscope, it was only a matter of time until someone made the connection that both Arachne and Aubrey Adkins had undergone several bizarre physical changes. Maybe I’m just being paranoid, but I have tried to keep my driderness under wraps ever since my run-in with the Pacific Ghost a month ago.

After a few moments, guilt crept into my mind. For this entire time, I had been keeping my parents in the dark about my superhero career. I convinced myself that ignorance was bliss. But if my identity as Arachne were outed because of these images, the little white lies I had told my parents to keep them from worrying about their little girl would be all unraveled.

“Phone, could you call my parents?”

<Dialing. Would you want me to convert it to a video call?>

“No, no. Just audio.”

While the dialing tone of ‘my’ phone softly echoed through the abandoned factory, something dawned on me. I had yet to reveal my secret identity on my own volition. My friends from college deduced my identity from my voice. The few heroes who had learned of my real name discovered it through various means other than me voluntarily giving that information. In fact, I might not have told Will about my arachnid condition if I had not slipped up and revealed one of my spider legs.

The butterflies began to flutter in my stomach. The feeling intensified with each ring of the dialing tone. Maybe I was not ready for this. My hand shook as I reached for the touch screen of the phone. However, before I could cancel the call, I heard my mom’s voice echo through the phone’s speaker.

“Aubrey! Your dad and I have just finished up some yard work. Your dad left to grab us something for lunch, but he’ll be home soon. How is our favorite daughter?”

“Mom, I’m your only daughter.”

“Yet, it doesn’t make it any less true. So, how is the West Coast treating you?”

“Oh, it’s fine,” I answered my mother. Yet, the butterflies that lingered in my stomach caused my voice to fluctuate.

“Aubrey Rose, you wouldn’t be calling your parents just to say you’re fine. Is there anything wrong?”

“No, no. There’s nothing wrong,”

“Aubrey Rose,” my mother repeated.

“Fine, I have something I need to tell you, but I don’t quite know how to say it.”

“Are you pregnant?”

“What? No! That’s ridiculous. I’m not pregnant.”

“Aubrey, you can’t blame me for asking. How is a mother supposed to act when her daughter denies anything being wrong despite the tone of her voice?”

“Okay. But promise you won’t freak out.”

“Alright, alright. What do you have to tell me?”

“Fine, I’ll just say it. I’m Arachne.”

“Oh, I didn’t know they were making a movie about her. That sounds like a wonderful opportunity!”

“What? No, that’s not what I mean. I’m not playing her in a movie. I am her!”

After I made my clarification, my mother did not provide an immediate response. Dead silence was the last thing I wanted to hear. Damn it, what have I done? I must have freaked my mom out with the image of me with a giant spider fused onto me. Had it been the right thing to call and tell them the truth? Surely hearing this from me was better than from the news, right?

“Mom?” I cried out into ‘my’ phone.

“Sorry, Aubrey. I just can’t get my head wrapped around what you said. Arachne is all spidery and creepy-crawly. You’re nothing like that.”

“I know this sounds impossible, but I wouldn’t lie about something like this.”

“When did this happen? How?” My mom asked.

“Do you remember that scare at the hospital when I went missing for a day after I suffered that injury that we thought was going to cut my last year of college ball short?”

“Of course, I do. I was worried sick every single moment of that day.”

“Something happened to me while I was gone. Although my leg was miraculously healed, I gained another condition, one that caused me to take on those spidery characteristics.”

“Why didn’t you tell us about this, Aubrey?”

“I was afraid. I wasn’t sure how you would respond to the news of what I had become. I still wanted to be your little girl and not some giant spider creature.”

“Oh, Aubrey—”

“I’m so sorry I lied to you and Dad,” I began to break into tears as a wave of guilt washed over me. “I thought it would be easier to tell you little white lies instead of revealing the bizarre world I joined when I had received my powers. There were things I just could not explain without revealing my condition. Would you have believed that I got my job at Viera because a shapeshifter impersonated me? Or that a breast reduction you suggested me to get a few months ago would have been a waste of money because my powers would have made them grow back? God, I don’t know how you and dad believe me when I said that I actually liked the ridiculous size of my boobs.”

“Your dad and I just wanted you to be happy with who you are.”

“And I have started to accept the new me. But I’m so sorry for lying to you. I didn’t know how to explain the extraordinary things that had been happening to me.”

“Aubrey, I’m you’re mother. I’ll always love you. It’s my maternal instincts. Sure, I’m disappointed that you thought we wouldn’t accept you and what you have become, but I understand why you did it.”

“Thanks, mom,” I said while I wiped the tears out of my eyes.

“Is there anything else you want to talk about?”

“No, I don’t think I have anything that can top what we just discussed. In fact, I probably should be heading out soon.”

“Alright. But could you call back this evening so we can talk with your father about this?”

“Sure. I can do that.”

“Remember we love you, Aubrey.”

“I know. I love you, too.”

And so, the phone call was concluded. I felt like I had removed a heavy weight from my heart, now that I gotten my secrets off of my chest. Sure, I was not quite ready to make my identity public but telling my parents about it was a good first step.

I finally stood up on my eight, spidery legs and stretched out my limbs. I was quite ready to get the heck out of here. After I had tied up my unruly locks of hair into a ponytail in a vain attempt to control it, checked out my immediate vicinity and found a large window that I guessed I could just barely squeeze out of. By the time I was sticking my human half out of the window, something else dawned on me. I almost left the rest of my costume behind; I needed to retrieve the remaining pieces, else I would be leaving too many breadcrumbs of my identity.

I therefore hopped back down to my web. Because of the lack of light that was reaching the building’s floor, I basically would be wandering blindly in the dark if I were to descend and search for the rest of my costume. Instead, examined the power nullifier around my wrist. Although its design was definitely different from my own, there were still some similarities. One function of my power nullifier allowed me to recall my costume, even when I wasn’t wearing it. I assumed the power nullifier I was wearing shared that function.

After I located what I believed was the button that would initiate the aforementioned function and pressed it, I waited to see if anything would happen. In my rush to retrieve the missing parts of my clothes, I overlooked that it would also affect the bomber jacket and leggings I was currently wearing. As soon as I noticed that they were dissolving off my body, I quickly pressed the button again. This not only stopped my clothes from disappearing, but it also started to cause the rest of my costume to cover my body. In a few seconds, I soon was clad in the weird alternative version of my costume that my phone had shown me before I called my parents and revealed the truth about me. Well, at least my spider half was now covered up. Despite my lower half being arachnid in nature, it never felt right leaving it exposed.

At that same moment, I heard the soft beating of some feathered wings from outside and something landing right on the window I had intended to use as my escape route. I recalled that my phone mentioned that I had supposed encountered with a villain with wings last night. My mind wondered whether this person had found me again. Yet my spider-sense was not going off in head. I soon got an explanation for my internal warning system not going off when I heard Kyra’s voice come from behind me.

“We need to get out of here,” she warned me.

“You have no idea how relieved I am to hear your voice, Kyra,” I responded, but when I turned around to face my teammate and friend, I was shocked at what I saw. She had somehow been changed, much like I had been. She no longer had her fox features. Instead, she had pointy, almost elflike ears, along with elongated arms covered with avian feathers that made her limbs look like bird wings. Furthermore, unless I was mistaken, the physique of her human half almost reminded me of my own figure before whatever the hell had happened to me.

“Kyra, what happened to you?”

As I spoke up for a second time, I saw a puzzled look form on Kyra’s face.

“How do you know my name?” Kyra urged me to response.

“Kyra, it’s me, Arachne.” I tried to explain, but her expression did not change. Maybe this could explain how I lost two entire days of memories. Unless out of sheer happenstance, the changes that both of us had undergone must be related. Maybe it had also changed my own memories, too, and it took my healing factor a few days to restore my original consciousness. But that still leaves a few questions unanswered: who or what did this to us and how could it be reversed?

“Bleaching your hair and taking a cover name won’t fool me, Black Widow. So answer me, how do you know my name?” Kyra asked for a second time. After she had spoken, she then hopped down onto a ledge that the giant web I was standing on was connected to.

“Don’t you recognize me? It’s me—” As I spoke, I pulled off my mask and revealed my face to Kyra. “Aubrey.”

As soon as Kyra saw my face, her face went pale, almost as if she had seen a ghost. She pressed her hands against the wall behind her and her legs began to buckle, although she still had enough composure to keep her footing.

But before either one of us could utter another word, several large explosives ignited on the first floor of the building. The flash from these explosions momentarily blinded me. After that, I could not recall much else. There were only bits and pieces of what happened before everything went black. The web gave out from underneath me, while Kyra and I plunged down to the factory floor with the entire building caving in on itself.
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Hidden 27 days ago Post by Gallows
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Son’s of Cain Part 1

Dr. Jacob Regan

Lost Haven, ME

Present Day, 1800 Hours

Woe to them! For they walk in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain…Jude 1:11

A stack of paper sat on the corner of a table recessed in the back of a pub. The building was tucked away to the southeast of Bristol college and was relatively difficult to find. That was sort of the point for the man who sat in the last alcove on the left at the very farthest corner of the room from the entrance. It was not so much for lack of an interest in people or some rejection of those around him. Mostly it was for his sanity and to avoid any undue contact with his students from Bristol. It was close enough that one of them might accidentally appear here one day. It was a truly terrifying thought as it would mean that he would have to do his grading in his home. That or find a new place to hide; of which there were few such places left. Of the thirty or so students left in the class there were twenty-eight completed papers. One of the missing two needed an extension which he had happily granted since part of her building had been damaged in the latest round of Hero versus Villain foolishness that had occurred in Lost Haven. The second missing paper troubled him since the thirtieth member of their class had not been in class for a whole week now and all his attempts to reach the young man had met with silence. He had already advised the police of the missing student but it made no difference so far. Wherever Jonah was he hoped the young man was safe but in this day and age that was a fleeting hope.

The pen in his right hand traced lazy figure eights in the air over the offending paper that he was rereading for the third time. It was unusual for him to encounter undergraduate work which gave him pause in grading. The truth was that for all his student’s intelligence they were usually less than gifted in Ethical Philosophy since the class in question was technically on the list of writing intensive general education courses the College offered. He had found long ago that he needed to allow for this in the class. That had been an acceptable compromise and he was clear with his students that he understood they were mostly there to check a box but he expected them to put in the work. Mentally he had to reclassify the class essentially pass or fail based on effort and degree of comprehension. It was not that they needed to synthesize much new thought but if they could at least show him in their writing that they were attempting it. That was acceptable.

This paper however was different. Truthfully he suspected Amanda was destined for more. It distrubed him truthfully because he saw much of himself in the woman. She was late to college starting her degree at the age of twenty-eight. Really only seven or so years younger than him. It made for a strange dynamic since most of the others in his undergraduate classes were nineteen, twenty at the most. He had asked his students to determine what they thought was the largest problem with the ethics they most identified with and to expound on it. Most had gone with Utilitarianism and he’d seen many of the same reasons about not knowing the fullness of one's actions. Some had taken on how it was easy to manipulate or hedonistic. It was all pretty standard stuff which he understood. He’d seen a handful of virtue ethics papers, even fewer duty ethics papers, and then this. Amanda had presented him with a serious problem. Instead of selecting from a lengthy list of philosophers with varying takes on ethics she had taken on the idea of ethics as a whole and using the fact that she was convinced Descarte had made an insufficient argument for us to be able to trust anything beyond the contents of our own mind. She was essentially advocating that we engage in practical hedonism as it was the only logical course in a world where we could never be sure what it was we were dealing with.

To say the paper was unique would have been an understatement and he wasn’t sure if she was just pushing the envelope or if maybe the topic of the paper had been too simplistic for her. The real problem that he was wrestling with was that there was an ethical dilemma the paper presented. On the one hand she had really done exactly what he had asked for. And well too. On the other hand she was clearly advocating from a set of ethics that were bordering on the abominable so could he really give her the one hundred percent on the paper the rubric dictated he should be giving her.

His thoughts were interrupted by a thunk from across the table. He looked up over his reading glasses. A lean, green eyed, mischievous looking brunette had slid herself into the bench across from him. A smile played at his lips as she took a pull from the dark beer firmly grasped in her calloused hands and looked over at him. “What are you musing over Jacob? You don’t usually ruminate like that.” His sister smirked at him as she took her second drink from the beer. It was basically gone after that. It always amazed him how Ashley could consume. Pizza, beer, academic engineering papers, her various lover’s souls, it didn’t seem to matter much to her. Officially she was Dr. Ashley Marie Reagan. As it turned out their family was very smart but her doctorate was in engineering and she refused to be called Dr. Reagan like her older brother was.

”Well, I have a student who is pushing me with her insistence on writing controversial papers and I can’t have her thinking its okay to advocate selfishness and hedonism as a form of proper ethics just because someone has failed to properly provide evidence for us not to engage in nihilism.” he watched as his sister delicately spun the paper around and began to read. After reading through it once she cocked her head and read it again before spinning it back around and handing it back to him.

“You should give her a zero and tell her to come to office hours. When she does, ask her to blow you and when she’s pissed about it refer to her paper for your reasoning. Just be sure to drop the act before she accuses you of sexual misconduct.” Ashley peered over the table at her brother who had taken the opportunity to pick up his own neglected beer. He nearly choked on it at the suggestion.
”Do I have to explain to you why that is wrong on so many levels and requires I engage in deception?” He scowled at her across the table and she just smirked back. “But you thought about it. She must be hot.” Ashley pushed the paper back across the table. “Just give her an A and tell her you want to talk because you want to be sure she understands she’s using some form of straw man fallacy.” Jacob tilted his head and gave his sister another inquisitive look over the glasses. ”I don’t follow. You think her paper is fallacious in its argument.” Ashley shrugged “Sort of. A straw man is where you mock up an argument that looks like what someone else is proposing and then you knock it over suggesting you defeated it. She’s saying that because we can’t be sure of the contents of our own minds we can’t trust our senses and she’s saying Descarte couldn’t use God as a good reason to overcome that. But that’s bullshit. Lost Haven got invaded by literal Demons. She’s ignoring current evidence in favor of attacking a weak argument from an old philosopher instead of taking the argument in its strongest form.”

Jacob contemplated his sister for a long moment before writing ‘one hundred’ on the top of Amanda’s paper and adding it to his neat stack. ”And that dear sister is why I keep you around” Picking up his beer he tapped her glass and sat back to drink with her since it was friday after all.

The street was dark outside as Jacob left the dar. It wasn’t closing time but his sister had called a ride share service an hour prior and he’d figured it was best to get a move on while there was still light and relative quiet. The buzz of the alcohol was strong in his head making him feel fuzzy. With his brown leather case slung over his shoulder he dug his hands in his pockets and started up the street. It was rare for him to make use of his own vehicle, especially so on a night where he had planned on drinking with Ashley. His slighter sister was a good gauge for when he needed to call it quits since about the time she needed to call a ride was when he could still walk home safely. Rounding the corner he peered both ways across the street before half jogging across it. Relatively few cars, he wasn’t sure if it was Lost Haven’s recent troubles or just the time of day. As he entered the alley across the street he got the strangest tingling feeling on the back of his neck. Had he been sober perhaps it would have made him stop and look around. Tonight however the thought didn’t even slow him down heading into the alley.

What finally gave him pause was a pair of dark red robed individuals who appeared at the end of the alley suddenly as he was just getting to it. Coming to a halt he eyed them suspiciously. This didn’t look good. There were all sorts of strange people in Lost Haven but this seemed malicious. Starting to turn he realized there were rapidly approaching footsteps from behind when he was suddenly struck violently. The whole world tilted sideways and he realized that it was in fact him that had tilted sideways as his cheek hit the paving stones of the alley and he could feel the moisture from the ground. Suddenly his perspective shifted again as he was dragged to his feet.

Looking down he realized blearly that he was being dragged to the back of a van which had been pulled up in front of the head of the alley. This was bad but he really couldn’t do anything other than make an agitated noise. A bag was thrust over his head and then he felt another impact. Then. Nothing….
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Hidden 8 days ago 8 days ago Post by Fallenreaper
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Fallenreaper ღ~Lil' Emotional Cocktail~ღ

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L O C A T I O N: Somewhere in New York City
T I M E: Present Day ( July ) Sometime Around 10 AM

Benjamin led the way down the street. His feet thumped the pavement as cars drove past, the drivers' eyes barely sparing the pair a glance. Trees expanded across the neighbor's yards breaking up the blandness of the concrete. All the houses had similar, or identical, architecture interwoven into their designs. Each one still held its own identity.

He took a sharp turn onto the worn road leading to the old Benson's place. The place they crossed paths with last night. Benjamin's eyes widened when he spotted the moving van parked outside. About four men were hauling out anything from dressers to couches through the door. Benjamin cast a worry glance at Athena as they continued onward, not straying too close to the place. A nearby grey Subaru Forester rolled into the driveway and ground to a stop. A small family of four began to exit including twin boys.

"We need to head home, now," Benjamin stated.

He quickly backtracked farther down the street and onto a side alley, heading to his house.

After exchanging a worried glance in Benjamin's direction and a quick nod of agreement, they ran back home. Much of her earlier coldness had dissipated with only a few of its residue still in her system that she knew tea would fix with no problem. Still, she cast another look back at the family moving into the house with trepidation.

They ran back home and quickly thanked Emma for lunch as they took their food upstairs. Athena finished the lunch and then swiftly hopped into the shower. Only when she's finished with her shower and her routine, she returns to the loft, still drying her hair with a towel.

"I guess you'll be heading out to investigate the house later?"

Benjamin held his cellphone to his ear. He silenced her with a finger as he continued his conversation, Duff on the other end. He continued to pace while he held the one-sided conversation.

"Yeah, I'm still here. Sorry, Athena walked out of the shower and distracted me."

Donned now only torn jean shorts sitting at her hips and a loose grey baggy shirt with short sleeves, one corner of her shirt tucked into her shorts. Her long hair was quickly drying but her towel continued to dry her hair. Athena sat down on the sofa as she waited for him to finish the phone call.

He paused, listening to Duff's gruff voice before he continued.

"Anyways, there's an old house in my neighbor. I never paid it much mind... until now. Athena and I were walking home in the evening when we both sensed something. I saw a dark, shrouded figure in the window. A child, I think. Athena sensed something dark and wrong within the house."

Benjamin waited for a reply.

"No shit, that's why I want you to come over and we can check it out. If something is in my territory, I want it out now."

Nodding, he finally ended the conversation.

"Kay, I will see you shortly." He hung up and set his phone down, turning to Athena.

A reassuring smirk crossed his lips, answering her earlier question.

"Duff is coming over in an hour or two. So do you need anything before we get ready to go?"

With the towel still loosely hanging around her neck, with most of her hair now more dry than damp, she lightly shrugged. Leaning forward on her knees, she tucked her chin into her hand with her elbow on her knee and regarded him with a contemplative look. "I'll need to have a cup of tea, but otherwise, not really?" She hummed thoughtfully.

She stood back up, moving toward the book she received from Morrigan. Opening it and skimming through it gave her an idea of what she ought to be looking for, but without more information, her idea of what the entity was limited. Athena closed it again to lean against the table where she had set the book to continue drying her hair and look in Benjamin's direction.

"I'm prepared this time, so, we'll wing it," Athena said, hoping for the best.

"You sure about that?" Benjamin looked uncomfortable at the suggestion.

He looked to his window and sorted his thoughts, considering how to best phrase it. His hand rubbed his neck a few times before just uttering the words in his head, in a blunt fashion.

"Duff's and my experiences with winging it, usually end in destruction. I don't want you to get hurt." Benjamin chanced a glance at her to observe her reaction.

She waited for a beat, observing Benjamin with an unwavering look. "The best we can do is investigate the house and try to find out what the entity is," Athena said with the slight tilt of her head. Her hands stilled the towel.

A gleam flickered in her eyes, looking away, and she flashed a derisive smile. "I won't get hurt, I don't think that's something you ought to worry too much about." Righting herself to continue drying her hair, she moved toward the bathroom as she continued with the planning.

"Well, how about we go in, and just try and find out where the source is? And if things go wrong, we get out."

Benjamin continued to watch her until she looked away. He chewed the inside of his mouth a moment as he brushed his lower face. The boy paced a short distance from his sofa to the wall and back again, debating on his part in the conversation. He knew that look.

"I disagree, nothing ever works out that easy." He paused to face her retreating back.

"Duff and I have regeneration abilities. What abilities do you have?"

Popping into the bathroom and quickly finishing the remainder of her after-care shower routine, her hair was pulled into a single braid down her back and walked back toward Benjamin.

"A multitude of them," she said thoughtfully. "Like you, I can regenerate, but it's circumstantial and I can see energy. Which, now that I say that aloud, sounds weird, so it's definitely something you have to see to understand." Athena sounded sheepish. "Otherwise, I don't have anything in the way of combative abilities so I can't help you in a fight, unfortunately."

"Which is likely to happen. We don't know how violent this spirit-or whatever it is- might be. Do you have any way to keep it from messing with you?" Benjamin asked when she finally came out of the bathroom.

His arms crossed over his chest as he prepared to stand his ground. He stared at her with a hard edge to his expression and patiently waited for her reassurances. Watered down or not.

Athena didn't seem bothered by the hard edge in his gaze as she continued to think. "I should be fine—it won't get to mess with me like last time since I was caught off-guard," she said with a hand on her chin in thought. "I'll have to see if I can mess with it instead, if I have to."

Benjamin could tell his attempt to be intimating failed with Athena. Forced to admit he lost the battle, it chaffed his pride and irritated his protective wolf. He snorted then glanced at the nearest clock. As he suspected, barely a few minutes had passed since they started this conversation.

"Fine. Just promise me, if things start looking really bad then you leave. I don't want to see you hurt." His voice held some pain when he considered the possibility.

Athena looked up, breaking her musings at the possible defenses she could use to combat the entity. Walking over until she stood just an arms' length from him, she reached over and tapped his arm.

"Hey, I'll be okay, Benjamin," she reassured with a smile, her voice soothing. "If anything happens, I'll leave, but I won't leave you behind if I can help it. You and Duff, okay?"

"All right. We got some time to kill." He turned away and walked to the sofa, picking up a controller.

"Want to play something while we wait?" Benjamin gave a softer smile that filled with warmth.

Nodding, she grinned. "Yeah, let me grab some tea and then I'll be down to kick your butt," she said with a confident smirk.


The hours flew by faster than Athena and Benjamin expected before Duff arrived. Emma climbed the stairs with the gruff older wolf in tow. She knocked on the door before Benjamin rose from his seat, placing the game on pause, then opened it. He gave a smile and thanked Emma, gesturing for his 'uncle' to enter.

With bushy, salt, and pepper eyebrows, Duff looked Athena up then down. Despite the meeting with Barron yesterday, the wolf still clung to his caution.

"All right, so what's the plan with this thing in your territory?" He grouched and he took a seat on a nearby chair.

Benjamin inhaled then looked at Athena. He hoped she might explain better about what she sensed than he could.

Athena set the controller down on the coffee table and regarded both wolves with a subtle lift of her brow. Crossing her arms, she glanced at Benjamin once more as he looked to her.

"The plan is for us to go in and find out what exactly this entity is and then come up with a plan to get it out after we have more information," Athena explained. "Call it a scouting or a reconnaissance mission, and try not to engage more than necessary. Then we'll regroup outside. Clear?"

Duff huffed under his breath then asked another question. "What exactly are we looking for? I'm assuming you're going to try to identify this thing."

Her brows furrowed in thought. "We'll use a black light to find traces of the ritual or whatever may have summoned the creature, if it was summoned. To be honest, I'm not too sure of what we are looking for, considering we saw it at a glance, at a distance." Humming aloud her thoughts, she continued, lifting her gaze to the older wolf. "That's what this mission is for—reconnaissance."

Duff stiffened, then forced himself to relax. "Can we set a time limit because I rather not provoke it any more than we need to. I've dealt with a poltergeist before and the longer I stuck around, the angrier it got. I rather not have knives stabbed into my head."

Athena nodded, agreeing. "It's day time, but I think we should limit it to about two hours, at most. Sounds good?"

Benjamin took this opportunity to interrupt Athena's next reply. He stepped toward Duff causing the elder wolf's head to dart into his direction. Though Benjamin hadn't done much, a small and subtle language played out. One between an Alpha and his Beta.

"Well, we can pass ourselves off as stray dogs if we need to. I'm not sure if Athena has a few spells up her sleeve?" His eyes looked back at her, checking to see if she had any better ideas.

Duff scoffed. “Have you seen us in wolf form? That’s as ideal as trying to pass off a bear as a throw rug.”

Athena tapped a finger to her chin in thought. "If it comes to passing off as something, I could probably make you appear more like a dog, if you want that, and I can make myself appear invisible and make both of you also invisible if you wanted that," she said without waiting a beat, immediately after Duff's remark. "It won't last long, but it'll be long enough for what we have to do."

Benjamin bit his lip. “I don’t have much information about the family that moved in. I don’t know if they are dog lovers or what. We could try a few different approaches.”

He paused long enough to grab his soda and down a drink before continuing.

“First, as much as I hate taking the risk, we can observe the family’s routine. The kid might be less willing to chase off a ‘lost’ dog than the parent might be. If we can get in, we can guard the family and search the house while looking normal.” Benjamin noted as he continued to weigh the idea in his head.

“It at least allows us to get a more clear idea of their daily routine.” He looked at the other two to see if they objected to his idea, deciding to move on when they didn’t.

“Athena, it might be a good idea to alter Duff’s or my werewolf appearance to be more mutt-like. We are considered really large ‘dogs’ and there’s some unnaturalness to our anatomy on close inspection. If this doesn’t work, we can come up with a plan B. Maybe becoming friends with the kid?”

Duff spoke up. “I’m not wearing a collar or getting chipped.”

Athena seemed amused as she glanced in Duff's direction, but nodded.

Benjamin sighed, frowning, before making the choice for them all. “Then I will. Athena can be the owner since it looked like the kid was around our age. That means we need to head to the nearest Wal-mart to print out a tag and buy some supplies.”

And Athena nodded again. "Sounds good. Let's get going and start this, shall we?"

“We should consider plan B first before heading out and get our story straight when or if the kid starts to investigate. I don’t want to underestimate him and have this thing blow up in our faces.” Benjamin noted as he considered a quick cover story.

“Athena, do you have an address registered in your name?”

Athena hummed. "I do not, unfortunately, since I'm still a minor. Everything is under my dad's name or my company's name. Probably best if we play it where I'm on vacation, hence an address I could use." Chewing her bottom lip, she tilted her head and crossed her arms across her chest.

“That’s what I was thinking. The tag still needs a valid address or the moment they don’t see one, they might suspect things are off. I just didn’t want your actual name connected with your profession. Last we need is a fan stalking you again.”

Athena shuddered at the thought. "We can use my company's public address, since, it would mean you do belong to me, but can be technically vetted through my company. Instead of their phone number, we can use Duff's on the dog tag so that when they call, Duff picks up the phone instead."

Duff rolled his eyes at the mention of Benjamin belonging to her. “I do sound the oldest so it makes sense. Just don’t let her tug you around too much, Benjamin.”

The popstar lifted a brow in Duff's direction before looking in Benjamin's. Her arched brow remained as she looked on curiously. "Tugging?" She blinked. "Do you want to be tugged on with the collar and leash on?" And then lightly frowned in confusion.

For a moment, Benjamin didn’t know what to say. His inner smartass wanted to make a comment, but he knew it might’ve been taken the wrong way. Duff managed to save Benjamin from incriminating himself.

“Please, can we just cover plan B? The scent is overwhelming at this point and I’m feeling nauseous now.”

Athena's confusion was apparent, but said nothing and glanced between the two males.

“Duff, that’s enough. But you are right, we need to consider plan B.”

“What happens if the kid calls the pound?”

“That’s why I suggested a lost dog instead of a stray. I'd rather not be chased by the local animal control and worst case scenario, even if they do pick me up, at least, they'll have a number to call.”

“I hope they don't decide to spay you while you’re there.”

Athena winced.

“Moving on.” Benjamin snapped as he ignored that statement, mainly for his own comfort.

“If I’m chased away, we have Athena come to the house looking for her ‘dog’. Maybe coaxing the kid into helping by placing up posters or just walking around the neighborhood.”

Athena merely nodded again, lifting a hand to her temple as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. "At the very least, it'll give me an opportunity to talk to them and go from there. The conversation can go either way, but I'd like a few pictures of you and me for reference so they can see it instead of just using a lost poster. That way I can show it to them on my phone."

And then she winced again. "How much evidence did we want to provide, at this point?" She shook her head. "If I'm a doggie parent, wouldn't I have, uh, what, loads of pictures of my dog on my phone?"

“Depends on your storage and if your phone has been replaced. I know a kid at school that has only a few pictures of his dog on his phone. Most of your pictures could be at home, which you’re not. Also, it depends on how long you have had the pet too. Less time means less chance to take pictures, right?”

Duff interrupted. “Let’s go get the stuff, and we can gloss over the details along the way. You both will have to squeeze into the truck as it doesn’t have a back seat.”

Already, the older man lifted onto his feet and began to move toward the door.

Athena moved to grab her cellphone, wallet, and a hat to follow Duff as she and Benjamin continued to talk details.

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Hidden 8 days ago Post by nitemare shape
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nitemare shape GM of Create A Hero and Star Wars: Legacies

Member Seen 1 day ago

Black soles moved with purpose. Beating the dark concrete as steam rose from manhole covers and drains. Just as all seemed its darkest as they beat a trail into the thick of a city, there was a sudden explosion of light, which gave proof to the destination...


Isaac Fontaine was dressed in a crisp long-sleeved, button-up office shirt and black pants with a set of dress shoes. An outfit designed with the paradoxical outlook of a man looking like he was trying to stand out, who in the process looked just like any other. Looking over the crowd he saw that his choice of wardrobe had been on point for that objective. About 80-90% of the men in this place were dressed similarly. Looking to blow off steam after work, or distracting themselves from the insanity of the world which existed outside of the night club’s walls.

Isaac slipped between the crowd and finally sidled up to the bar; a television set – rendered mute by the cacophonous mix piped into every ear by the DJ – rested above the bartender’s head on the back wall as he went from customer to customer, taking drink orders and cash in a frenzy whilst dispensing cold booze. The tv was on some local news channel, a recent shooting at a private company's press conference. He could tell as much even without the sound, just from the bright visuals. A young woman standing next to Isaac turned away from her friends and looked him up and down. Isaac cursed at himself inside his own head and tried to focus on the television, even though it really had nothing of interest.

The press conference was the unveiling of a new initiative. One designed to provide housing for the homeless. Why is it that these were the types of people who always seemed to wind up in the firing line? "Hey! We'd like to better the lives of the poorest amongst us--" Bang!!! Fucking high-powered sniper shot to the goddamn head. Fortunately it hadn't been her head, but the intent was clear. Typical. Depressingly typical. Still... he personally knew there were good people on the case. Hell, he'd come to see one right here tonight.

“HI!” The young woman yelled, louder than she’d intended and in an ear-ringingly high pitch – even moreso than the music. Isaac turned and offered a smile so full of courtesy that it had no room for warmth. “BUY ME A DRINK AND LET’S SEE WHERE THE NIGHT TAKES US!”

So much for low profile… Still wincing from the tone of her voice, he used it to offer a crestfallen expression. “I don’t really have time to hang around… but…” Isaac signalled the bartender, and gestured an invisible line down the bar for the girl and her friends. The bartender nodded and set to work making duplicates of their drinks. “…so, I’ll have to raincheck.”

“Now I REALLY have to make sure my name doesn’t leak in this place.” Isaac thought to himself.

The bartender brought the last drink over, and then turned and addressed Isaac. “And what are you having?”

“Gimme three… Cape Capes? What’s that like?”

“Ah! It’s a micro-brew. Small independent craft brewers around here make it. ‘Cape’ as in the geographical feature and ‘Capes’ beca—“

“Yeah… yeah I get it. Alright, give us three of those...” Isaac said reaching for his wallet.

“Can’t. State law. No more than two drinks per person.”

“They’re not all mine.” Isaac lied. “My friends are over there on the other side of the dance floor, fighting through the people trying to find a table.”

“Have you got I.D.?”

“You’re kidding me…” Isaac was in his late 20s and due to his own chosen past time had a weathered face that looked more likely to be in his 30s. The bartender didn’t budge or crack a smile. Isaac scowled.

Isaac reached in and pulled out a card. The bartender inspected it and handed it back.

“…and when your friends show me their I.D. THEN they can get THEIR drinks.”

Isaac’s eye twitched ever so slightly and involuntarily.

“Fine. Give. Me. Two. Cape. Capes.” He said in an ice-cold, stilted fashion that could have cool his own beer from between the most gritted of teeth.

“What about your other friend?” the bartender asked, smiling wryly.

“Fuck him.” Isaac pulled a bunch of wrinkled bills down and - slapping them down on the counter, rather than in the bartender's hand - covered his own and the drinks for the girls. He crossed the dance floor with his two bottles, muttering under his breath.

“We live in a city where people are flying around, where the gates of Hell opened up and demons poured out, and where wizards and witches can stir THEIR brews with impunity and I’M the arsehole for wanting more than two brews of my own…”

* * * * *

Scott stood at the DJ booth watching as DJ Starchylde spun his tracks as few in Lost Haven, or the entire East Coast for that matter, could. Normally, the Queens of Nowhere would be playing a set on this night, but with the recent attack on Alexa and the ever present threat to his family and friends, Scott talked Clara and Keira into postponing their performances until after the entire situation with Alexa's attempted assassination had been resolved. Of course, he felt guilty for not telling them the entire truth, however, he felt that the less they knew, the better.

The fact that Scott had been able to find so little information on whoever it was that was targeting him was maddening. He had swallowed his pride and went to both Arthur and Lyger for help, and neither had been able to turn up much in the means of useful information. However, Lyger did say that he knew a guy who might be able to help, and he would be sending him a copy of the note, and seemed hopeful that perhaps this “Old Man” as Lyger had referred to him, would be able to help. However, Scott seemed less than optimistic about how much help this person would actually be.

He was just glad that Alexa's physical wounds were healing. Truth be told, her electric powers had a strange side effect. They supercharged her body's biometrics, and enhanced her body's natural healing process, giving her a bit of an enhanced healing factor. Due to this, she was already mostly healed from the assassin's bullet. She no longer needed a sling, which she still wore as to not raise questions about her injuries. In fact, she was ready to get out on the streets and turn the city upside down looking for whoever it was that had attacked the press conference and killed so many of her associates. However, he had been able to talk her down, and convinced her that she should lay low for the time being.

“What's on your mind, Bro?” Eric had yelled from behind him as he approached the DJ booth, patting Scott on the shoulder as he took his place next to him.

“Oh, you know, the usual.” Scott shouted back over the music as he looked out at the crowd from the DJ booth. The Hub was packed, which was good. Not only had the nightclub bounced back in the aftermath of the violent Hounds attack, but it seemed to be going stronger than ever. Not only did the club's successful return mean that both he and Eric would have incomes to live on, but it also provided Scott with a distraction from his current woes.

Isaac found a table after circling around a few times. There were precious few, encouraging more people to get up and dance. Isaac however wanted little more than to sit in the dark with his own thoughts.

He considered this yet another metaphor for the clear differences between the pair of them.

The big blue, bold hero comfortable in his own skin… and the man in black in the shadows. Planning, plotting and shrouding himself in mystery. He patted his chest pocket to make sure the photograph was still there. Isaac took another swig and started peeling the label. Glaring across the room at him, but entirely consumed with his own thoughts. What he was going to say.

He was standing on the DJ station talking with his friend between mixes. Eric Dean was his name. Joint owners. Friends. Partners.

Another swig. More label. Still glaring.

When he turned, Isaac never flinched away. Kept glaring. And began tapping the bottle with his finger.

As Scott looked around the dance floor, something, or rather, someone caught his attention. Sitting across the dance floor at one of Scott's favorite tables, he found a man that he didn't recognize staring at him. He looked for a moment to see if perhaps the man looked away, or perhaps for something to jog his memory if he had somehow met this person and had simply forgotten.

While there was something familiar about the man's body language, a sharp smuggness that seemed somewhat familiar, Scott simply could not place the man, who was maintaining eye contact, and had nodded at him slightly as he began tapping the bottle with his finger. Whoever this man was certainly seemed to know Scott and was making it plainly obvious that he had something to say. Without saying a word to Eric, Scott left the DJ booth and made his way across the dance floor to the mystery man's table.

As he approached the table, Scott kept firm eye contact with the man. He wondered to himself if perhaps this was the man who had tried to send him a message by attempting to assassinate Alexa. Then he noticed something. A small detail that told him exactly who this man was. He noticed the man's knuckle on the finger that he used to tap on his beer bottle. The knuckle was mangled, an injury that he had received some months earlier while fighting side by side with Icon.

This man was the black clad crime fighter known as Vigilante, and that revelation did not make Scott feel any more at ease. Every time that he had encountered Vigilante, it was unnerving. The masked man had always hinted that he knew who Scott was, and seemed to have something that he wanted to talk to him about. However, it was almost like it was a game to him, as he never came out with exactly what it was that he wanted to say. Instead, it was more suggestions and innuendo. It was as if Vigilante had been toying with him, and enjoyed whatever game it was that he was playing.

“You know, I'm starting to get sick of people playing games with my personal life. What do you want, Vigilante?” Scott said, more of a statement than a question.

Isaac twitched slightly at the word 'Vigilante', before furtive glances to any nearby made it clear that the bar was far too loud, and everybody seemed far too busy enjoying their nights, for anyone to have caught his nom de guerre. He gathered himself, sullenly stuck his tongue deep on his cheek and kicked out the chair opposite, to make room for the larger superhero to sit.

"You sound something like how I feel." He finally spoke up in considered response, once again glaring at his fellow hero. "I'm a little surprised you'd accuse me of playing games, when I'm willing to come here with THIS face..."

Icon looked down at the empty seat.

"I figured you'd know me well enough to know I wouldn't be here if I didn't have to be. Even if you barely know me at all."

"But considering the week you've had, I guess I'll ignore the attitude." Isaac nodded to the chair, whilst making it a point to not ignore the attitude.

Scott pulled the chair out and took a seat across from Vigilante. He sat for a moment in silence as he sized up the man sitting across from him. With everything that has been going on, Scott didn't know that he could trust this man, although he has always stepped up to help out when he was needed, Vigilante seemed to know too much about everything, and never stuck around long enough to make his intentions clear. The fact of the matter was, Scott didn't know whether Vigilante was a hero, or if he was playing a long con of some sort.

“Sorry.” Scott said after a moment. “It's just that you seem to know a lot about me, and I know absolutely nothing about you...and with somebody out there sending assassins after my loved ones, I've just run out of patience for playing guessing games. What is it that you want?”

"I am here because..." Isaac squirmed awkwardly in his seat, grimacing and looking at the people around. "It is difficult for me to say, but I--" He sighed out a low growl and finally spat it out between gritted teeth.

"I. Could use. Your help." He leaned back, not making eye contact and putting the beer bottle to his lips.

Scott was taken off guard by Vigilante's admission. Of all the things that he had anticipated coming out of this man's mouth, a plea for help was not one of them. Scott still didn't trust this man, at least not yet. He closed his eyes for a moment and concentrated on Vigilante. He focused on the man sitting across from him, drowning out all of the other noise in the club, and kept his attention solely on him. He listened to the man's heart rate, which remained remarkably steady. There was no indication that he was lying, though that didn't necessarily mean that he was telling the truth either. Though, he was not sure that this man could be trusted, he decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.

“I see.” Scott said as he looked the man in the eyes. “What's going on?”

Isaac reached towards his chest pocket for the photograph, before hesitating and instead crossing his arms over his chest.

"You're right. I'm the guest here... coming in, glaring at you from the corner and dumping my problem on you. Given the current circumstances its a bit of a dick move. I've heard she's at least on the mend. What leads have you got on yours so far?" He bluntly changed tack to more comfortable ground, as he hated asking for help. "Then I'll show you mine after."

Scott was surprised by the sudden change of topic, however, he decided to just go with it. So he told Vigilante about what had happened that day, about the multiple angles that the shots had come from, about the hooded figure in the window, and about the note. He had memorized the contents of the note itself, and was able to recite it verbatim. When he began to describe the image of the stylized eye that was left on the note, he was suddenly interrupted.

"I'm gonna stop you there. Gotta pen?" Isaac laid the beer label flat on the table, and took the pen. "This eye... did it look something like this? Or This?"

He drew a rough sketch of two different types of similar eyes with a few rudimentary lines. Then looked at his bare fingers, and considering his prints said "I'm keeping this." As he pocketed the pen.

Scott looked closely at the two images that Vigilante had just drawn. After several moments, he pointed at one of them.

“It's not perfect, but it definitely looks like this one.” Scott said as he recalled the image which had been burned into his brain since the day of the shooting. “Yeah, this looks like the one.”

"One of these is the Eye of Ra, the other is the Eye of Horus. Don't ask me which is which, I can't remember. I'm not an Egyptologist and it's been years since I've been there and saw these... but it sounds like you've got yourself some clowns with a hard-on for Egyptian mythology."

“So, what does that mean?” Scott asked, not entirely following Vigilante's explanation.

"Well, I'm not an Egyptologist... like I said." His eyes wandered, not wanting to meet with those of the hero seated opposite. "But the Eye of Ra represents the feminine counterpart - the feminine aspect - of Ra. You know... their head honcho of gods. And by the feminine aspect, I mean... picture an angry broody mother hen. But with ultimate power. Basically the violent aspect of the all powerful sun itself. Pissed off, all-powerful violent wrath."

Scott listened as Vigilante went on, and he honestly didn't like what he was hearing. If Vigilante was correct, then he knew that Alexa, nor anyone that he loved would be safe, possibly ever.

“Well, that sounds pleasant.” Scott said, his tone carried a distinct hint of gallows humor.

"Well, actually, yeah. Bad news is I kind of hit you with the pleasant part first." He started tearing the label off the second beer. "If it's the Eye of Horus... Well, myth goes that Horus' eye can only be taken by the most evil of things. The way their lore goes, Horus' eye was torn out by Set - a jackal-looking god who was the personification of evil, darkness, chaos, the desolate wastes of the desert itself... pretty much everything negative you could really imagine an Egyptian attributing to something. Good news I suppose is, there's few people its more satisfying to punch in the face than those who actually self-identify as evil. So I guess there's that... but..."

Isaac leaned forward, his voice barely above a whisper.

"The Eye of Horus has mathematical connections. Was used to represent various basic fractions pivotal to understanding the fundamentals of the world they saw around them. For a people who lean as much into symbolism and metaphor, there's an allusion to inevitability in there. A constant. Anyway... when Horus had his eye torn out, the myth goes he offered it to Osiris - his father - looking to restore his life."

"So, like I said, I'm no Egyptologist. But if it's the Eye of Horus... It could just be cult idiots who want to say they're a bunch of badasses. Or it could mean 'sacrifice'." Isaac looked at Scott with genuine concern. "And if they've marked Alexa for sacrifice... even if she pulled through, that might just mean they're going to make another attempt.

“That's a problem.” Scott admitted. “But the bigger problem is that they're ghosts. I can't find any trace of them anywhere. I went to Iron Knight, hoping that with his STRIKE contacts he might be able to find something. He wasn't. The only thing I could find was that the same symbol started popping up in Crown Ridge. Lyger's looking into it on his end, but he hasn't found anything yet either. I'm about at my wit's end, I don't know where else to look.” Scott said, the frustration that he felt becoming all the more obvious with each word.

The Vigilante winced noticeably at the mention of S.T.R.I.K.E. "Yeeeah, nah. I wouldn't be asking the Tin Man's happy family." He said rhythmically tapping the bottle again, looking away whilst thinking of options for a few seconds.

Scott took note of the man's visible reaction to the mention of STRIKE, and wanted to ask him about it, but decided not to just before the words escaped his lips. He didn't know what Vigilante's issue with STRIKE was, however, it wasn't important at the moment. Maybe he would ask him another time. However, he couldn't let it go completely.

"Maybe hold off on Crown Ridge until you get some kind of idea who you're dealing with. If the symbol's been more prevalent that may be the source. And if it's the source, they may think you're trailing them before you really have enough information to do anything about them. They think you're tailing them they're going to apply pressure the best way they know how. That would mean her."

Scott looked down at the table after Vigilante had finished. He knew that the man was right, that if he went directly after whoever these people were without knowing more about them, he would be at a distinct disadvantage. He only knew that they were in Crown Ridge, he didn't know WHERE in Crown Ridge. However, they knew exactly where he was, and more importantly, where Alexa was. It wasn't something that he was willing to risk.

"That's what you'd do?" He asked.

"Me? Hell no." He said with an unsettling laugh. "I'd probably go charging in head first like an idiot, beating information out of people as I go, get myself shot in the process and then spend the rest of my time making every single one of the pricks regret having shot me in the first place... But then, I think you could probably aim a little higher than what I'd do."

"So, what would you suggest I do? I can't just let these guys run free. But you're right, I can't go after them when I don't know who they are." Scott finally said dejectedly.

He took another swig, and scratched the back of his neck.

"So maybe try West." He suggested. "There's a bunch of cape and cowl types out at Pacific Point. History based guys. Call themselves Immortals. They've got at least one Greek guy... An Egyptian guy. Calls himself the Son of Osiris. Whether it's Ra or Horus, he'd have answers. Either way it's family. Plus, interesting thing about the Egyptians, they saw magic in names and language. Their whole language was pictographic - hieroglyphs. You take him your note, maybe he can even get you a line on exactly where it came from."

"I've heard of them. They do good work.-" Scott said before a brief pause. "-You really think they can help?"

The man shrugged. "Don't know. Don't know them like I know you. Never worked with them before. I just make it my business to at least try and know all the big players at least a little." He returned to peeling the label before looking up again.

"But you know how it is. There's generally some kind of code of at least common courtesy between us types. I doubt they'd tell you to take a hike."

"Don't know them like I know you." The words burned in Scott's psyche for a moment. This man did seem to know him. Not just his secret identity, which was concerning enough, but this man, whoever he was, seemed far too comfortable with him, like they were old friends. And the man had practically said as much during one of their previous encounters. In fact, every time that he had crossed paths with Vigilante, he had hinted at some sort of past relationship between the two; which Scott found quite puzzling, because he had never seen this man before in his life. He found it somewhat unnerving, and he intended to find out exactly what kind of game this man seemed to be playing. Though he got the sense that this man truly meant him no harm, he still found the entire situation uncomfortable.

However, despite his misgivings the man had proven himself a worthy ally, showing up during each major crisis that the heroes had faced up to this point, from D-Day to the meta domes, to the Hounds of Humanity. And here he was again, helping Scott with his own personal crisis. If anything, Scott felt that he should trust this man, even if he found it difficult to do so, because somehow, he knew that Vigilante wasn't being completely honest with him.

"Look.-" Scott said as he reached into his front shirt pocket, producing a business card and placing it on the table, before sliding it across to Vigilante. "You've been there when we've needed you. I don't know you-" He paused for a moment as he gathered his thoughts. "-but I think that I can trust you. You may have heard that we're putting together a team, the media is calling us 'The Guardians.' We'd love it if you'd be a part of it." He asked earnestly.

Isaac reared back away from the table as if it was on fire. He dug his own head into his shoulder and lifted his forearm up to the card.

"That-- That is not going to work for me." He muffled through his shirt, whilst pointing at the card and gesturing for his cohort to remove the card. "He made those, yes? Tin-Man? God knows what's in there. Almost certainly GPS. Radio transmitter? Nano-tech camera or voice receiver? Yeah, no..." Scott picked up the card again, glancing at the flimsy plastic with some thought before pocketing it again.

The other man, slowly started to relax more as the card was removed from line of sight.

"This is a man who could plausibly connect that network to voice and facial recognition software with less effort than it takes you or I to check our email. That is not going to work for me. The team, fine. But that? No. That's not going to happen. I'll give you a way to get in touch with me. There's a reason this whole thing you're going through right now is happening to you and never to me...no offense." Isaac said, whilst being deeply offensive.

"Oh... That reminds me--" He dug into his chest pocket for the photograph. "--the whole reason I came. I've been running further investigation after the whole Pax Metahumana thing. Loose ends... bother me. And whilst I was looking for leads to track down that mimic/power stealer Effigy I managed to pull this image of an associate who was helping Doctor Diplodoc and his merry band of nutcases - I think he supplied them with components to make their metahuman bomb." He passed the photograph across the table. "The old man in the hat. Can you recognize him? I'm sure I've seen him before but I just can't place him anywhere."

Scott looked at the photograph that Vigilante had handed him. He had been under the impression that they had caught all of Dr Diplodoc's associates back during the crisis, which now seemed to have taken place so long ago. However, the possibility that one or more may have gone undetected was not out of the realm of possibility. So he looked intently at the photo, which did show an old man in a hat, however, he didn't know what Vigilante expected him to find in a blurry photo.

"I don't know. The picture is too blurry. I can't make him out." Scott said apologetically as he handed his contemporary back the photograph.

"You're kidding me?!" The other man hissed, leaning forward. "You can pick out a window cleaner falling off his perch from 10,000 feet, but you can't see--" He stopped abruptly, before letting out a singular snort of a chuckle. The gears were turning. He smiled and returned the photograph to his pocket. "--that's OK. I think I might actually be able to take this one from here..."

Scott looked at the man as he tucked the blurry photograph away. Clearly, the fact that he couldn't help identify the old man in the picture had given the Vigilante another angle to work from. Though he didn't know what that particular angle might be, he was glad that he could help him reach whatever conclusion that he had come to. This man, this...Vigilante always was working the angles. He always seemed to be one step ahead of everyone else, and he knew things.

Things that he shouldn't know. If this new partnership was going to work, he needed some answers. Scott drew a long, slow breath and looked down at the table for a moment, before raising his eyes to meet Vigilante's.

"How is it...-" Scott said trying to choose his next words carefully, then deciding to just come right out and ask. "-that you know so much about me? You act like we're old friends, dropping hints here and there that we've known each other, that we have some sort of past. But we don't. I don't know you, so why is it, that you seem to know everything about me?"

“Mmm…” The Vigilante mumbled, having rocked back to take a gulp of his beer. “Ah! That’s a sticky one. I mean, I could tell you, but there’s no way to corroborate my story at all, so you’d just have to chalk it up to blind faith, regardless.” He lifted the beer back up to his mouth and with no small measure of surprise, saw that the other man was still awaiting an answer.

“I suppose you have always been more open to things like that than me, though.” He sighed, he put the beer back down and looked from table to table again casually to once again check for eavesdroppers, before leaning forward.

“The truth is… I don’t know you. I know a version of you from a parallel – well, almost parallel – universe where I knew you for quite some time. It wasn’t EXACTLY you. There were a few cosmetic differences, for instance I don’t know why but your surname’s different here. Your hair is… slightly off-putting, if I’m being honest. But for the most part, as best as I can tell, you’re mostly you. In fact, I think that was the point…”

“So yeah, cards on the table, I’m from an alternate Earth.”

Scott sat there for a moment as he processed what Vigilante had just told him. Though he wasn't entirely sure if the man was telling him the truth, or it was just another one of his games, it was, to his knowledge the most candid answer he was likely to get from him. And as far as Scott was concerned, although he had no way of knowing if the man was being straight with him or not, he really had no reason not to believe him, and as crazy as it sounded, he kind of felt that Vigilante was telling the truth.

"Well, that's not the craziest thing I've heard this week." Scott said. "So, where do we go from here?"

"Mmm..." He murmured. "This crazy world we live in." He drank again.

"Well, I'm going to chase down this." He tapped his chest pocket where the photo rested. "And you've got your own West Coast lead to chase down now as well. But then--"

He sighed deeply. It was a lie though. He felt far more comfortable giving help than asking for it.

"--then I guess I can try and see if I can dig into this thing you're going through as well. Maybe find some answers. But that might take a while. I'm spinning a lot of plates at once at the moment. It's hard enough living a double life... I'm stuck with three and a scumbag alternate self... But yeah, I'll dig into this. As for the Guardians. You'll hear from me again, we'll find a system. We did before."
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The Mandela Effect: Part 15

Aubrey Adkins | Kyra Muller (Earth-201)

Pacific Point, CA

Well, I think I can officially mark this down as one of my worst days. That’s saying a lot because I have had quite some doozies. First I woke up in some strange factory without an idea how I got there or what had happened in the past two days to make me look like an exaggerated version of myself. Then, Firefox showed up and looked nothing like herself, nor did she seem to recognize me. And now, the building spontaneously exploded! I am starting to debate whether the splitting headache from my caffeine-induced hangover or the ringing in my ears from the explosion.

I found myself inside a pocket of the debris of the now defunct factory: bricks, metal, pipes, and whatever else was in the building. Although the water levels in the pocket were not rising at any significant rate, the dampness of the floor indicated that the explosion caused the building to cave into its basement. I noticed my webs were intertwined with the patchwork of debris that surrounded me. I guess it probably was the only thing keeping the bubble from collapsing on itself.

I then heard some moans across from me. I had been so occupied with the peculiar situation I had found myself in that I had forgotten that Firefox had entered the building right before the explosion went off. She was just now shaking off the fall, but what I was more worried about was the rebar that pierced through her thigh and the blood gushing out of the wound.

“Kyra, you’re leg!”

“I’ll be alright,” Firefox shrugged her wound off as she propped herself up on her feathered elbows. “I normally could just melt it, but I would exhaust our oxygen supply in the process. But a hand would be appreciated.”

I approached my friend, gripped the base of the rebar, and applied my spider-strength on it until it snapped. I tossed the piece of metal to the side and returned my attention to Kyra, who was already pulling out what remained of the rebar. But I was surprised when I saw Kyra’s dripping wound nearly instantly heal itself.

“See, good as new,” Kyra pointed towards her leg.

First Kyra had my physique and now she has a healing factor she never had before. If she had been a drider instead of a bird lady, I would have guessed she had become a near copy of me! Was that what happened? But who did I become until my healing factor started to fix me up? And if Kyra did become a near replica of me, why didn’t she become a drider? Whenever we get out of this pickle, I really need to get some answers.

“So now what? Should we start digging our way out?”

“We probably would cause a cave-in before we could get anywhere near the surface. Our best bet is to wait and hope Will brings some help soon,” Kyra replied as she sat up against the wall of the debris pocket we were trapped in.

“Wait, you saw Will?”

“He seemed to have been calling someone when I picked him up. But what’s peculiar is he wasn’t supposed to be here for another two weeks.”

Well, this just further confirms that we’re both being affected by the same thing. Sure, her memory loss was longer than mine, but it definitely was a symptom.

Wait, what the hell did she mean that Will wasn’t supposed to come to Pacific Point for another two weeks? Does that mean they’re—but that’s impossible. Unless that futuristic phone was lying to me, we’re still an item. Yet it sounds like she has become me in all but name, face, and theme animal. This is so messed up.

“Since all we can do is wait, I have a question of my own,” Kyra spoke up again.

“Sure. What is it?”

“How are you here?”

A suburb of Columbus, OH, Earth-201

October, 25th, 2008

Will struggled to break the surface of the green liquid he had found himself submerged in. Yet, calling it a ‘liquid’ was generous at best, as it was rather a sludge or a goo, extremely viscous in nature. Worst still was the substance’s near sentience. Whenever Will would come close to the surface, he would sink into the liquid. He was pulled. This made Will’s situation ever more problematic, as he had not been able to catch his breath.

Yet, despite the clear risk of drowning, the green goo presented another, more present danger. Once, when Will managed to break the surface with his hand, he tried to use a webline to pull himself out. However, once Will was again dragged down, the spider silk almost instantaneously disintegrated after it made contact with the liquid. Will did not want to admit it, but the green liquid was trying to dissolve everything it has engulfed, including Will.

Will was beginning to feel lightheaded from holding his breath so long. Small patches of his skin, where the green goo had already eaten through his superhero costume, had also started to burn. He needed to get out of here. He did not even want to imagine the alternative.

With what little remaining strength he had left, Will tried to swim through the viscous liquid towards the surface. The desire to inhale became harder and harder to resist after each passing second. Nonetheless, he persevered. He felt his hand break through; he was almost there.

But the green goo yanked Will back. Was this it? Will had used his last bit of energy, his last breath, and his last piece of willpower to escape.

However, at the same time, something had taken hold of Will’s arm and pulled him out, just like a person would do when drawing a string out of a hot pot of wax. When Will realized what was happening, he yanked up his mask until it uncovered his mouth and nose. He desperate gasped for breath.

A blue glow gleamed from Will’s savior. The light illuminated the room that would have otherwise been cloaked in darkness besides the faint green luminescence given off by the goo. Now that Will was not struggling for his survival and he could see his surroundings, he recalled how he got into this mess. He and Kyra were minding their own business at the Halloween party when chaos broke out. Will had been tossed into the basement by some invisible force at the onset of the chaos, so he was not fully aware of the damage that might have been done. But whoever was behind this surely was a serious threat. They must have known about Will’s metahuman abilities. Why else would they have specifically targeted him?

Will then glanced at his savior and saw a familiar sight: Athena, the Greek Goddess of Wisdom. At her giant stature, she was forced to hunch over even with the basement’s high ceiling. She lifted Will until he was able to cling to the ceiling. With one gesture, the goddess magically removed any of the ooze that still clung to the Spider-Man costume Will had worn to the party and repaired any patched that the ooze had eaten away. With her task completed, Athena vanished, leaving Will alone in the darkness.

“Well, I guess it’s time to see what the heck is going on,” Will muttered as he crawled towards the basement exit.

Will’s jaw almost hit the floor when he saw what had happened to the party in his absence. As he walked around the house, he found dozens upon dozens of what looked like mannequins made of unusual materials: glass, wood, fabric. He even thought he saw some composed of stainless steel and red plastic. But what really crept Will out was the furniture and the cups the mannequins held. All the normal furnishings had been replaced with horrible nightmare fuel: these items were created not with regular building materials, but rather with human body parts. It took Will a few moments to connect the dots, but he was horrified when he realized these were his fellow classmates and partygoers!

“Shit! Where’s Kyra?” Will uttered as he desperately searched the house for his girlfriend. Fortunately, if one could even utter that word in such a situation, his classmates were still garbed in their Halloween costumes, despite their bizarre shapes. Will was looking for a Firestar costume, although he prayed he would not find one in the hopes she somehow had escaped this horror show.

“Hey, who taught you to investigate? A blind man?” Will heard a nasally voice call out when he had entered the living room during his search. Will peered around the room for the origin of the voice, but he did not see a single soul. The only thing present in this room, beside the mannequins and the furniture-shaped humans, was a creepy ventriloquist doll sitting on the ‘couch.’ It was wearing a black dress suit with a red bowtie. Something felt familiar about this doll, but he could not put his finger on it. Will guessed what had happened to his schoolmates had unnerved him. He must have imagined the voice.

“Yes, I’m talking to you, fox humper!” Will turned his head back towards the doll. Was Will imagining this voice? As he approached the doll, an eerie sense of deja vu bothered him. Why was this creepy doll so familiar?

“What? Surprised we’re always watching?” the doll said as he spontaneously animated.

“What the fuck?” Will blurred out when he realized that the doll was alive. He immediately leapt away from the talking doll as soon as it started to move. He already thought the puppet from the TV series was creepy. This thing was ten times worse. Goosebumps broke out all over Will’s skin. Will had no idea why he had this irrational fear, despite what he had already seen in his young superhero career.

“Really?” the doll responded with a spine-chilling laugh, “You’re freaking out about a talking doll when you’re surrounded by misshapen flesh bags? And people call Slappy the crazy one!”

“Wait, shouldn’t you have red hair?”

The doll began to rattle with anger at what Will had said. His eyes twitched and he grinded his wooden teeth together.

“How DARE you confuse me for Mr. Wood, that two-bit hack! He only lasted as the main antagonist for a single book!”

Slappy then revealed a kitchen knife he had hidden behind him. Will was taken by surprise when the dummy leapt at him. He did not think the wooden doll could have the distance between it and him. Yet, before he knew it, Will was fending off Slappy’s knife-jabs.

“Keep your creepy hands off me!” Will shouted. With one swift motion, Will grabbed the hand Slappy was holding the knife in and ripped his arm from his wooden body. Slappy screamed in pain from the loss of that limb. While the demonic doll was momentarily occupied by his pain, Will tossed Slappy against the wall. The doll landed with a heavy thud.

The Masked Mutant warned me of people like you. This is only a setback!”

As the doll uttered these words, Will anchored it to the floor with his web shooters. He would have normally dropped something heavy on it, but he could not in this case because everything he could have used was actually a person and not an unliving inanimate object.

“What did you do to everyone?” Will demanded answers from the living dummy, but he only received laughter in response.

“Oh, I wish this were my master scheme. But you’ll aren’t quite my target audience.”

Slappy let out yet another creepy laugh after he revealed he was not behind everything. Will simply webbed the damn thing’s mouth shut, as he did not believe he could get any more information out of the living dummy. Plus, he did not want to hear that thing’s voice anymore.

Will then noticed a silver light shinning down the nearby flight of stairs. On the upper floor, Will found a glowing, silver door that he swore was not there at the beginning of the party. Whoever, or whatever, was behind this fucked up madness had to be behind those doors.

When Will pushed open the silver doors, he found a giant room that could not have possibly fit inside the house. He guessed the domed ceiling rose up to about 40 feet. However, considering what Will had seen so far, this did not faze him at all. In the center of the room stood a brunette woman clad in a silver dress.

“It is about time you arrived,” the woman declared in a condescending tone, “I thought you would have come sooner, but I guess you are still a teenager during the Aughts.”

“Who are you?” Will asked, “And what have you done to everyone?”

“You will know me as the Silver Sorceress in the future,” she responded, “You heroes have become quite the nuisance in my time, so I have traveled here to squash you before you can become a problem for us.”

Time traveling villains. This can’t be good. Will thought. Although he kept his head directed at her, his mask hid where his eyes were looking, allowing him to take better stock of the situation. The Silver Sorceress had several ethereal tendrils wrapped around her hands, as if she were holding a leash. Following the magical cords with his eyes, Will found an unconscious Matt, with the tendrils driven deep into his chest. The Silver Sorceress must have been tapping into Matt’s reality bending powers to cause all the horrors Will had seen downstairs.

“I had originally planned quite a poetic death for you, but I ran into an unforeseeable roadblock,” the Silver Sorceress began to explain. She snapped her fingers on her other hand and a billow of ethereal clouds arose from the floor and began to twirl about. Once the smoke had dispersed, another teenager had miraculously appeared out of thin air, a girl Will instantly recognized: Aubrey Adkins.

“Let her go!” Will begged, “she has nothing to do with this.”

“Au contraire, she’s as involved as you are. How sweet it would have been to kill to birds with one stone, to imprison her in some monstrosity and to watch her tear you apart, limb by limb,” the Silver Sorceress began to gloat, as some villains are want to do. As the witch spoke, she gestured with her free hand and caused Aubrey to levitate. The hapless blonde tumbled in midair, as if she had found herself unaffected by gravity, but still tethered to the same spot.

“I should have foreseen someone had taken precautions to protect both of you, no doubt the work of that Greek goddess. I thought I had been robbed of my revenge even before I broke the barriers of time and space,” the Silver Sorceress continued, “Yet, once my fit of rage had subsided, I realized this past was not identical to the one I had intended to travel to. The most minute details had been changed.”

“For instance, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that everyone’s favorite blonde was bereft of any metahuman powers. Or how romantic relationship between the two of you never materialized. Since I knew I had cast my magic flawlessly, I reveled in my consolation prize, the thought that my mere presence in the past had caused a butterfly effect that robbed her of these life experiences. I would almost admit that would have made my trip worthwhile.”

“If you can’t do anything to her, then let her go!” Will demanded again, “It sounds like this is between you and me.”

“Sure, I might not be able to do anything, but she can,” the Silver Sorceress gloated as she gestured to something behind Will. As he turned to see what the witch was pointing at, something swooped down and nearly grabbed him. Yet, he was able to roll out of the way at the last second. But when he got back on his feet, he was shocked at what he saw.

On an ledge that ran around the perimeter of the room, about a third way up the room’s height, a harpy stood perched, who resembled a creature Will recognized from a card game anime he used to watch back in elementary school. Even her outfit looked familiar. But on further inspection, Will recognized the woman’s face, her dyed red hair, and the yellow, red, and orange color scheme on her clothes.

“What have you done!” Will cried out when he realized that Kyra had been transformed into a winged beast.

“I found it amusing you and that supposed goddess of wisdom failed to extend her precautions to this fine feathered lady,” the Silver Sorceress mocked as she gestured to Kyra. “If I cannot fulfill my original plan, having your new squeeze do my dirty work is a fine compromise.”

While the Silver Sorceress had continued her gloating, her levitation spell ended, dropping Aubrey to the ground with a thud. Now free, Aubrey tried to crawl away while the witch was preoccupied with her self-congratulations. But the harpified Kyra leap off the ledge and swooped up Aubrey with her feet talons. She then darted towards the ceiling high above.

“My job here is now over,” the Silver Sorceress declared, “but I would recommend you hurry. My last instructions to our little friend over there was to start reverting things back to normal. It would be such a shame if your girlfriend would turn back to normal in midair.”

After the Silver Sorceress had muttered the words of her spell, she blinked out of existence, returning to her own time. Will noticed parts of Matt’s body was starting to flicker in and out of existence. Therefore, knowing the urgency of the situation, he scurried up the wall in the hopes of reaching the two girls before Kyra could return to normal. He found Kyra flying in spot at the apex of the ceiling. He had not noticed it until now because of the initial shock at her changed appearance, but her eyes were clouded and blank, as if she were not in the driver seat. He tried not to think about the possibility that she was helplessly watching everything like a prisoner in her own body. His first priority was to get both of the girls safely to the ground.

Will knew he did not have much time left, as one of Kyra’s fox ears had reappeared and one of her hands had returned to its original size and human shape. It would not be long before she could not keep herself and Aubrey airborne. He first tried to tackle Kyra and use a webline to keep all three of them from falling to the floor, but Kyra dodged out of the way. This was not going to be easy.

Will then descended from another webline until he had reached Aubrey.

“I’m going to need you to hold onto her legs,” Will suggested to the blonde teenager.

“What?” Aubrey asked, but she soon found out way. One of Kyra’s avian talons spontaneously changed back into an ordinary human foot. Aubrey screamed as she thought she was going to be dropped. Had the other foot reverted in turn, Aubrey would have fallen over 40 feet to the floor. She reached out and held onto Kyra’s remaining harpy foot for her dear life.

“I’m hoping this will help you until I figure how to get both of you down,” Will told Aubrey as he wrapped some spider silk tightly around her wrists so she would not have to hold onto Kyra’s ankles forever.

“Hurry!” Aubrey pleaded. As soon as she spoke, Will’s spider-sense began to blaze in his head. When he peered up, he saw that Kyra’s wings had finally given out. Now that Kyra could no longer propel herself in the air, she, along with Aubrey, began to free fall.

Almost as if Will were watching these events unfold in slow motion, he reached out in desperation. He barely managed to wrap his arm around the bottom of Kyra’s ribcage. He could hear Aubrey’s panicked streams as she was tossed about below.

“Come on, Kyra. Wake up,” Will whispered into the fox ear that had just reappeared on Kyra’s head. In fact, she had already almost returned to normal, including the Halloween costume she had originally wore to this party. When he peered down towards Aubrey, he noticed that the blonde teenager was now dangling from Kyra’s foot, as Will had not thought about the anatomical differences between humans and birds.

Will struggled to lift the arm holding Kyra to his webline so that he could free up his other hand. He had no idea how he was going to get out of this situation without Kyra waking up. What was he going to do? Even if he could somehow hold onto both women, how could he safely set down both of them from such a height?

When Will had finally clutched his webline with both hands, he heard Aubrey scream again. The webbing he had used to keep her attached to Kyra’s foot, had slipped off and sent Aubrey plummeting to the floor. Will managed to prevent her fall by hitting her shoe with another webline, but he strained trying to hold Kyra and the webline in one hand and Aubrey in the other.

With much difficulty, Will tried to pull up on the second webline and transfer it over to his other hand. Once his other hand was holding both the weblines, he started to draw Aubrey up, arm length by arm length. However, Will began to feel intense pain in the arm holding Kyra and the two weblines. Although Kyra was still knocked out cold, her body was burning up. Will was puzzled when he realized her kitsune features were slowly disappearing and the harpy appearance started to return.

Will tried to resist the burning pain, but eventually he gave into it. His grip on the two weblines loosened and Kyra slipped through his arms. Because Will was not holding everyone up with these weblines, the three teens started to fall to the floor. Panic began to set in Will’s mind. His heart raced. He needed to regain control of the situation. He reached out and snatched the webline that was attached to Aubrey. He also used his legs to catch Kyra, while he shot another webline to hold all of them up again.

Once this crisis passed, Will sighed in relief. But something felt wrong. The webline dangling below felt way too light. When he looked down, he saw that only a shoe was attached to the spider silk. The webline slipped through his fingers as Will experienced the numbness one experiences before an explosion of emotions slams into one who has experienced a loss.

“Wait, I’m dead?” I gasped after I heard her account of her supposed past. Throughout the entire retelling of this story, Kyra had not looked at me. And even still now she focused her glance at the floor. She didn’t have to say, but here body language told the entire story: she blamed herself for the death of her world’s me.

“Hey, you can’t blame yourself,” I tried to console Kyra, “If anyone is to blame, it’s that Silver Sorceress bitch. I’ve seen how she can do quite number on people.”

“Sometimes, I wish it were that simple to cast aside your guilt. God knows how I have gotten by these past few years without being able to get drunk from my powers.”

“I know, right? Although it’s fantastic I can down all the fruity drinks I want without wearing about a giant hangover the next day, sometimes you need something to take the edge off of our shitty lives.”

“Wait, you have a healing factor, too?”

“Well, I did find out the hard way that caffeine acts like alcohol when I consume too much of it. Once when I unknowingly got buzzed from eating some chocolate, I accidentally let slip that my friends and I thought my friend’s roommate was a porn star to her face. So embarrassing.”

I then heard Kyra give off a sigh. For a moment there, I saw a flash of a smile on her face. But as soon as I mentioned my slipup with Danielle, it suddenly disappeared.

“What? Was it something I said?”

“Well, it just reminded me of something that happened my last year of undergrad that I have tried to block out of mind the last few years.”

Long before Kyra had told me that story, I had already noticed she had kind of become a copy of myself. With the further confirmation of a relationship with a Will from her world, I think I could probably guess what she was referring to here.

“Please tell me a shapeshifter didn’t sign you up for the Viera modelling contest.”

“Oh, how I wish I could. What pissed me off the most was I had to turn down a couple offers from graduate programs due to some legal bull crap I didn’t even sign. How did you know?”

“The same thing happened to me,” I told Kyra, although I added a quick disclaimer, “Well, except for the grad school stuff.”

“So, I guess it’s safe to assume you’ve crossed paths with Katherine?”


“She was a human trafficker who used her powers to transform the victims she kidnapped according to the tastes of her clientele. It was super messed up.”

“Oh, her. Yeh, I had the misfortune of experiencing her handing work. I try not to think about her.”

“Considering you look like you’ve drawn the short straw between us, that’s reasonable.”

“Oh, I don’t normally look like this. I usually have a figure like yours, minus the feathers and claws.” I responded. I paused for a moment before I interjected another comment. “Although I wouldn’t be surprised Katherine was responsible for my current appearance, too.”

“See, we have more in common than you thought.”

Kyra sighed again.

“What now?”

“I know you’re trying to make me feel better, but it just makes me think I’ve robbed everything from you. I’ve stolen your powers, your boyfriend, and your life.”

I tried to figure out what I should say next. However, I never got a chance because a golden, mystic light shown through the gaps of the rubble above our heads. The debris began to shake uncontrollably until everything started to float. Little by little, the remains of the factory slowly cleared out. Hovering just in view was the Son of Osiris, sitting in a meditative posture.

I pulled on my mask before I prepared to climb out of the crater where we had been trapped. But after I had taken a few steps, I turned and offered a hand towards Kyra.

“Hey, I’ve got wings,” Kyra replied. She finally gave another smile before ascending into the air. Seeing that she didn’t need my help, I crawled my way up to the surface.

When I reached the surface, I found the rest of the Immortals waiting. Although both Odysseus and the Son of Osiris seem normal, I immediately recognized that Talus and Gajana were not. Out of the four of us who did not look like our normal selves, Gajana was dealt the best hand. He no longer had his elephant head. Instead, he looked the the Thing if he looked human and not all rocky. Plus, he was wearing a costume so campy that I would have guessed it was pulled right out of an old comic book. He even had an elephant head logo printed on the front of it.

I smiled when I saw what had happened to Talus. Normally he would look like a modern, sleek android. But now, he was a short, boxy robot, something straight out of the Jetsons.

Then I saw Will, dressed in a costume quite reminiscent of my costume. Well, I mean my normal costume. I shot a webline at him and dragged him into a big embrace. Even though I had faith that someone would have come to our aid, I would be lying if the thought of being trapped under that rubble didn’t cross my mind at least once. But when I wrapped my arms around my boyfriend, I noticed he was holding back.

“What’s wrong?”

“Are you back to normal?”

“Do I look like I’m make to normal?”

“Then that’s a yes,” Will said as he reciprocated my original embrace.

“Wait, we wasted all night trying to figure out how to restore your mind without your healing factor scrambling your brains!” Talus blurred out. An electric static masked his voice, which normally already had a slight robotic tone to it.

“Well, I’m not the only one with a healing factor here,” I replied while looking towards Kyra.

Meanwhile, the Son of Osiris had finished placing all the rubble into piles. With his work done, he opened a portal to the Immortals’ base.

We’ll make sure Firefox gets the proper treatment for her condition, the Son of Osiris telepathically communicated with the Immortals. He turned his head towards Will and me and specifically talked to us. Arachne, you have been through enough the last few days. So, go home and rest up. We’ll be in contact once you have recuperated.

Will and I watched as the five other Immortals walk through the portal. Soon we stood there alone with the collapsed factory all around us.

“So, ready to go home?”

“Am I ever?”
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