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The titan fell, it's carcass of wrought steel falling away as it's pilot ejected from the lifeless mass. That thundering of distant artillery mixed with the gargling fry of comms chatter like coffee and cream. With the dust clearing, Han finally found time to process everything that had just happened. It was a brief flash in the pan. All over before he could truly realize it.

This was not war as Han knew it.

His wars were controlled. Regimented. Though there was the occasion bump or bruise, Han never felt like he was in any danger back in the Nagelring; expect, perhaps, when his Lyran peers cornered him in the locker room. But he could always rely on the instructors during training. There was a safety net present, just out of sight.

Sitting in the cockpit of that Wolfhound, his head pounding and blood sticking to his gloves, Han was vividly aware that someone had taken the net away.

"Scheisse." He muttered, his chest rising and falling like the boots of a cadet in march-step. Though the immediate area had been cleared of threats, tension was still running through every muscle, tendon and joint. Try as he might, Han couldn't relax. Was he panicking? Is this what a panic attack felt like?

'Preposterous.' The boy growled in the depths of his mind. 'Bjornsons. Don't. Panic.'

Plebeians panicked. Cowards and greenhorns panicked. Civilians and the unworthy.

Noblemen did not panic. They were better than that- better than their baser fears. Han didn't hear fear in Captain Hart's voice over the comms link. Even the other cadets of the lance appeared to be holding their cool better than he. It was unbecoming of him. Unbecoming of a man of his status.

It was a fucking embarrassment to his very name.

Han squeezed his controls tight enough to threaten the circulation in his hands. He deliberately cut off his own breath, fighting to gain control over his own flesh and blood. He wouldn't succumb to this. Han carried the weight of his House's defamed name on his very shoulders, and he would not take part in dragging it through the mud. Han would not be like his father.

Willpower and time allowed him to wrestle control back. His breathing slowed, steady and rhythmic. Air filled his lungs and exited to the regimented count of one, two, three- one, two three. Each had to be delivered deliberately. Han let his fingers drop away from the throttle and sidestick, rubbing at the corners of his eyes with his sweat-soaked gloves. Children cried. He was no child. This was unacceptable.

"Ich-" He began over the radio, his voice catching. His tongue had slipped, falling back into his more familiar German in the moment. Just one more of a dozen mistakes Han had made in a matter of minutes.

"Pardon. I'll lead the push to the dropship, if you'd have me, captain." The boy's voice lacked the usual overwhelming confidence his lancemates might've become accustomed to over their short time together. It couldn't quite be described as shaky, but it was getting there.

His teeth sinking into his lower lip, Bjornson pushed down on the throttle, allowing his Wolfhound to begin it's advance toward the dropship. It loomed high above even the Olympic figure of the mech, marking it as truly colossal in size. "My probe is...offline. I would not put full trust in your instruments without it's protection in place." Han warned, the shame on his face thankfully hidden from view.

This had not been the glorious introduction to combat that Han had so often dreamed of.

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"The Watch is old. It's fadin', son, and maybe...maybe we should let it."
Attor Snakeslayer, to his last apprentice


Name:
Attor Snakeslayer

Rank:
Watcher

Appearance:
Mice have many enemies. Their foes come in any number of shapes and sizes. Great and small, from the tiniest shrew upstart to the vicious serpent monsters that tower above them, Mice have many enemies indeed. The greatest of these, though, is one often forgotten. Young mice in particular worry more about rats, weasels and lizards; they don't remember that foe of foes until their whiskers are long and their paws are wrinkled. Only in the final whispers of their years do Mice tend to turn their eye on the enemy that takes more Mice than all the rest.

That enemy, of course, is time.

And Attor knows it well.

Time's claws have worn him down. They have scratched, cut and bitten until that once proud soul is little more than a shadow of his former self, though the mouse would never admit it. His ugly coat, once black as midnight, now lies across his back matted, discolored and dirty. Eyes of unbreakable steel that once stared death in the face with unblinking courage have dulled and quieted, like the edge of an overused blade.

That was what Attor was, in truth: an old sword that'd seen one too many battles.

His right ear is torn; chipped like the brittle edge of a rusted dagger. His whiskers are long and droopy, nearly brushing against the ground when Attor goes to sit.

The marks of war and violence are prevalent across him, to the point where one would be hard-pressed to mark Attor as anything but an old soldier. Scars adorn most of his coat and body, from cuts to poorly healed burns and everything in-between. The worst of these injuries is a long, gnarly tear across his right forearm. A rat's blade tasted deep in his flesh many a moon ago, and Attor has had trouble opening that paw ever since. He was forced to relearn how to use both quill and sword with his left arm, though it's hard to tell he's not a natural lefty given how long ago that was.

Even the Snakeslayer's cloak has not aged well. Once bright like polished bronze, his mentor had remarked that Attor was more weasel than mouse, such was his slipperiness and savagery. Both of those traits have been worn down to the nub, much like the coloring of his cloak. Old bones don't dip and dive as they used to, and Attor finds little satisfaction in bloodshed anymore. His cloak is torn and discolored, covered in rough, self-made patches to keep it from falling apart. He's in dire need of a replacement, though the mouse would rather die than replace the last thing his master ever gave him.

Personality:
Attor Snakeslayer is the best storyteller in all the Kingdoms of Gnaw. Or so he would have you believe. He's had a fondness for stories since he was but a mere boy, sparked first by the tales his father would read to him before bed. Even as he grew older, stronger and wiser, Attor never lost that love, though there were fewer and fewer stories that he hadn't heard before.

So he decided to make his own.

It was easiest to find stories among the Redwatch. They were something of a living legend to Attor. And in their midst he decided to craft his own legend. He wasn't very good at it in the beginning, as all orators, writers and would-be tale-weavers can attest to. But he sharpened his verse and widened his expressions through the years, crafting newer and better tales as he went out and lived them for himself. That was how he came by his title: Snakeslayer. It was a story he'd gotten quite good at telling. Attor always attested to it's truth, though many called him a liar for it.

As time had helped him develop the art of speaking, so too it had worn down Attor's luster. For every tale he brought back of a vicious battle against the rats, or of a personal squabbled settled on the edge of a dagger, Attor's shoulders grew a little heavier. His smile a little slighter. The change was far from instant. Many hadn't noticed anything wrong with the mouse, even as his tales grew more grim, and his demeanor more somber. At some point, Attor forgot to keep telling of heroes, victory and bombastic adventure. He forgot the stories he'd fallen in love with as a youth.

He forgot himself.

At times, usually when Attor's quite drunk, he'll lament the passing of time. He'll lament the passing of the age of heroes, yearning for a return to a simpler era. An era where the Watch made sense- when the world made sense. A time when he would march into a village and be cheered for the band he wore upon his arm instead of shied away from, like he was a leper or a cutthroat. A time when Attor felt like a hero.

But he understands that the world doesn't work that way. He's resigned himself to the cold, unbending truth that the world no longer wants the Redwatch. Westercroft thinks itself above their help, and Glendale claims not to need it. The only place Attor feels at home is in Redfield- where he's more than content to make his final bed.
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Gobonauts: Invisible Invasion





"W-what do you mean you don't see them?! They're RIGHT in front of you, mom!"
Young denizen of Bison, Ohio moments before his demise





Summer break has dawned for the you and the other kids of sleepy little Bison, Ohio. It brings with it freedom from the crushing anxiety of school, endless relaxation in the town's (only) public pool, half-off sodas at the gas station and...

Monsters.

Unseen things, lurking just in the corner of your vision. You'd swear you saw something, yet when you turned to look, nothing was truly amiss. But you knew.

You knew something was there.

The adults don't see it. Your parents look at you like you're out of your mind. So you tried to shake it off- tried to keep it to yourself.

It kept happening. In fact, the sightings were getting worse and worse. You caught sight of more than just shapes. Full limbs, sickly green skin, and those horrific, beady eyes...

You're going crazy. Hallucinating. There was no other explanation for it, right? That was what you thought, until you finally let it slip to a friend-

And they told you they were seeing the same things as you.


The Setting









OOC Information



Da Rules:

Listen. I know that we're all busy people here, and that we've all got a lot to do and that this whole website's just a hobby. I fully understand when people drop out, or when they can't make time to post for whatever reason. I do all that same stuff too. However.

I've found that a lot of feet dragging and time wasting kills RPs, to put it plainly. So I'll be experimenting with a little more stringent a posting schedule than I tend to see kicked around. I'd like everyone to make time for at the very least a single post per week. It doesn't have to be long. If you shoot for two paragraphs and show me that you're putting in an effort, than that's more than enough. But I would very much like to see an RP that doesn't stutter out and die because of inactivity.

On top of that, I'd ask that your posts contain high school level spelling, grammar and structure. I don't need (or even necessarily want) essays, but there needs to be enough in your posts for other people to work off of. Like I said, two paragraphs or more is just fine.

Finally, I would ask that, above all else, you're respectful to everyone involved. It shouldn't have to be said that this is a game. It's meant to be fun! But being an asshat isn't fun; especially for everyone else. If your behavior is found to be grossly rude, then I apologize, but I don't want you here.

If you're committed to the above clauses, welcome aboard! I'm looking for as many recruits for the cause as I can get. The more the merrier. If you have any questions, fill free to ask, though I'm going to try and shy away from revealing too much about the fantasy aspects of the story. Hopefully you'll be diving in with roughly the same amount of information as your characters.

The Character Sheet:
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Ultimate One Universe: Year One Application



The Unflinching Traitor to Mankind...Blue Beetle!

"Where the hell are we?! Why am I falling?!"
"We are approximately eighteen thousand feet above sea level."
"Ah, ese puta madre! WHY?"
"No time. I'd suggest you brace for impact."





Full Name

Jaime Reyes

Alias

The Blue Beetle

Powers/Abilities

Synaptic Symbiosis Interface: The Scarab Parasite has embedded itself within the genetic code of the human being known as Jaime Reyes. It's fused together with his internal structure seamlessly, altering his physiology on a molecular level to make Jaime a more perfect host body for the Scarab unit. These changes make Reyes far more robust, even in his 'ordinary' form, and his energy consumption has been made two hundred times more efficient for added endurance at less of a cost. Most importantly, however, it is what allows the Scarab to communicate with Jaime telepathically.

Technological and Biological Assimilation: There is no singular race in the entire universe that can be described as perfect. Each has flaws- gaps in it's knowledge that can be exploited. The Scarab was designed to circumvent this flaw. It's body is the perfect blend of technology and biology, forged with the express purpose of assimilating and absorbing any and all tech it encounters deemed to be useful in the pursuit of perfection. Thus far, the Scarab has encountered nothing it cannot absorb within itself and make use of. Assimilated parts are typically 'upgraded' using other bits of technology already installed in the Scarab.



Origin

In a time when Pharaohs ruled and magic ran rampant through the earth, a great light appeared in the sky, followed by the thunderclap of it breaking through the atmosphere. An object from the sky, small enough to be held in the palm of the hand, would change the course of human history forever. But it wouldn't be the day it landed, for whoever had directed the Scarab here hadn't accounted for mankind's...superstitions. A tribe had seen it fall, and chased the fire in the sky to it's landing point. After much argument, it was decided that they had best hide it away- the gods would not want mere men meddling with their herald. The Scarab was placed within a tomb, deep in the catacombs of a mountain fortress for the dead. And there it would remain for thousands of years, forgotten.

It wasn't until 1968 when Dan Garrett, a young archaeologist on a dig in Bialya's famed tombs, that the Scarab was uncovered once more. Dan knew the object was different the moment he lay eyes on it. Fearing that such a momentous discovery would be stolen from him by his peers, Garrett hid the Scarab away, smuggling it back to his college campus in the United States. Garrett studied it for decades, never letting another soul know of it's existence. He obsessed over it's origin, chasing after extraterrestrial conspiracy theories in search of answers until the day he died. No one knows when Dan truly passed; he was out traveling the world on his unending quest one day when he simply...vanished. His estate chose to donate most of his belongings- including, unfortunately, the Scarab- to the Smithsonian Museum.

There the Scarab would remain on display until exactly a week ago. A small group of students all the way from El Paso, Texas had managed to scrounge up enough money to afford a visit to the world famous museum. Sixteen year old Jaime Reyes was among them, dragged along by his history-obsessed best (and only) friends, Paco and Brenda. He'd rather be nearly anywhere else, if he were honest; he finally got the chance to travel, but they wanted to go to a museum? Jaime, bored to tears by the tour guide, decided to slip off and explore on his own. That was when he ended up in the Bialya section: and that was when his life was ruined. The Scarab decided to awaken for the first time in three thousand years, bursting forth from it's exhibit and forcing itself down Jaime's throat.

Reyes blacked out. He didn't wake up again for quite some time.

And when he did, he found himself sitting across from an agent of SHIELD.

What makes this character 'Ultimate?'

When I set out to to create the Ultimate version of Blue Beetle, I had two goals in mind: Reworking the Reach to be more than another alien race that wants to conquer earth, and emphasizing how absolutely terrible it would be to be Jaime Reyes. He was your everyday, ordinary High School kid before one day an alien parasite forced itself onto his body and tried to make him a cybernetic murder machine that betrays the entire human race. That's terrifying! And I feel as if most versions of the character don't really explore just how frightening a situation this would be. So, I plan to rectify that.

Supporting Cast

Paco Tejas: Jaime and Paco have stuck together through thick and thin. They met all the way back in Kindergarten, and haven't spent more than a week apart from one another since. Paco's one of many middle children in a family of eight. He loves his family to death, but by God if he can't stand how crowded his tiny house is.

Brenda Del Vecchio: The coolest person willing to associate with Jaime, Brenda's been part of the gang since seventh grade. Both her best friends were made aware of her...less than ideal home life a long time ago, and they've done their best to support her through her struggles.

Ted Kord: Ted Kord is the owner and CEO of Kord Industries. Based out of Metropolis, the tech company is best known for it's advances in nanotechnology- it's one of a handful that's managed to avoid being devoured in the ever-growing titan that is lexCorp. Ted has always fashioned himself as a self made man, and he'll be damned if he sells his soul to anyone.

The Brotherhood of Evil: Yet to be encountered.

La Dama: A faceless crimelord and the queen of Texas's underground. Real name unknown. Influences stretch all the way down to various Cartels in Latin and South America.

Jasper Sitwell: The agent assigned to interrogate Jaime after the Smithsonian Incident. Special Agent In Charge of the Blue Beetle Operation.

Sample Post

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The Blue Beetle stars in...The Runaway: Issue #2
Previous Issue




Unknown SHIELD Facility

"Shoot him, NOW!" Agent Sitwell roared, still reeling. His head was pounding after he'd been ragdolled by the twig-armed teenager, but he couldn't let that slow him down; Jasper knew that, despite his age, this kid could and would kill him in a split second if given the chance.

All bets were off now as the trio of armed SHIELD agents standing in front of Sitwell lifted their sidearms and opened fire. Deafening cracks reverberated in the tiny, metal room, muzzles engulfed in flame as lead poured out from their guns onto the captured metahuman. And they kept firing. And firing. The twists, snaps and pops of nine millimeter hollow point rounds exploding against metal caused Sitwell's ears to ring.

The ringing didn't stop, even when the gunfire did. A series of dry clicks proceeded three magazines hitting the floor, the agents quick to go for the replacement each carried on his belt.

Sitwell pushed himself up off the ground by his forearms, rising on shaky legs. "Did...ya get him?" There was a sour taste in Jasper's mouth. He kept his gaze away from the kid, knowing that the image of his body filled would holes wouldn't leave his brain for months. No matter the threat he posed, it didn't change the fact that it felt- and looked- utterly wrong.

An ear-piercing shriek filled the cabin, like a Glock shoved into an industrial blender. That sickeningly inhuman stuff lathering Jaime Reyes's flesh twisted and writhed like an anguished animal. From the living metal came the chunks of shattered bullets, squeezed out from it's pulsating mass. They clinked against the floor one by one, dozens of ineffective rounds rolling along beside the fallen monstrosity.

Jaime's palm hit the ground.

'Jaime Reyes.' That voice, deep and warm, played in his ear. It possessed a resolve that could make mountains flinch. 'You are in mortal danger.' It repeated, serene and unaffected by the pounding it had just taken. 'Let me help you.'

The child was shuddering and shaking, his every muscle tensed near to the point of snapping. Jaime could feel his throat constricting, his mind warped by fear and shock. He couldn't believe what was happening to him. It was some kind of fever dream, or...or a nightmare. None of this could be real.

But it was real. He'd felt each and every one of those bullets smack against him. It didn't hurt through the alien material covering his fragile form, but Jaime could not deny that he had felt each shot. Jaime let his mouth drop open, his voice broken by fear, barely above a ragged murmur, but it came all the same.

"Help me."

And Jaime blacked out again.

---

Gunfire, screams, and the sound of ripping metal echoed inside the kill box as the Scarab attacked. Eldritch shrieks of the damned poured forth from the living metal monster inhabiting Reyes's body.

Sitwell threw his broken shoulder against the interrogation room's closed door, blood splattered on his face. It might've been his, or it might've been Jameson's; he didn't know. He half ran, half hobbled away, his hand running up to grasp his communicator as his voice echoed over the emergency channel.

"We have a rogue metahuman on deck four, near the interrogation room! I repeat: Rogue metahuman, deck four, by the interrogation room. I need a heavy containment squad down here yesterday, damn it!" Jasper had dealt with superpowered freaks before, but this was the first case where it had gone so wrong. He knew the docs were full of shit when they said the Object was gone; those scanners had to have been faulty.

He held his pistol tight in his grip. It was a revolver, chambered in .45 Colt. He'd tossed away the more standard Glock after it failed one too many times to put down the type of shmocks he had a tendency to run up against. More than a few metahumans and mutants had gone down under Sitwell's sights.

This was the first time he'd seen it do absolutely, less than nothing against a target.

---

Jaime let out a low, sickly groaned as he wobbled, threatening to fall over. His eyes fluttered open, dizziness still clinging to his mind like a wet blanket. He knew this feeling well- it was the same one that had overcome him right before he woke up to this nightmare. "Ugh...Ese, you gotta warn me before you do-"

His whining was cut short when he caught sight of three dead men laying on the floor around him.

Then he threw up.

A clank resounded as he fell onto metallic palms and knees, bile flooding forth from his opened maw onto the floor. It smelled like feces and urine, coalescing with burned gunpowder and gore. It was the most disgusting concoction of odors that Reyes ever had the displeasure of experiencing. Not to make mention of the mauled and mutilated human cadavers that assaulted his eyes alongside it.

'You appear to be malfunctioning.' The Scarab commented, his voice tinged with concern.

That concern went unanswered. "Dios mio! What the hell did you do?! Did you make me kill these guys?" Jaime still wasn't over the fact that he was talking to a seething blob of alien armor, but neither that thing nor the agents that attacked him were giving Reyes any time to process what was going on. They were all expecting him to just roll with the punches and go along with it, but he was having a hell of a time just keeping himself from passing out.

'They were a threat to us. Lethal force was necessary in order to neutralize that threat.' The explanation flowed smoothly from the nonexistent tongue of the voice in Jaime's head, as if it made the most perfect sense in the world. Reyes almost puked again.

"Oh, fuck you, those bullets were bouncing right off of us! You didn't have to do any of this!" He protested. Something was beginning to replace the fear and shock now that the guns had stopped firing and he was given even a second to think. It was beginning to be overshadowed by anger. "What, were the people in the museum a threat too?! Explain that one, amigo, 'cause that's how we ended up in this mess!"

'I don't understand the question. What people are you referring to?'

"The ones you slaughtered right after you fucking crawled down my throat. Creepy ass...goop...Y'know what? No. No, get off me. Get the hell off me! I am done now! Take me fucking home!"

There was a pause, and for a moment Reyes feared he'd pissed off the murderous flesh machine. But that baritone voice appeared once more, speaking right inside his head for only Jaime to hear.

'I apologize if our bonding was unpleasant. However, you are incorrect; we have both been offline for several hours immediately following the bond. This is normal, as your body needs time to adjust to my interfacing with it. It is impossible for us to have attacked anyone- on top of that, I would never commit such an act. It would go against my primary directive.'

More silence followed, though this was from the boy. He knew they'd slaughtered those people- he could remember bits and pieces of the incident, and the SHIELD guy had talked about it like they'd seen it all on camera or something. Yet, as Reyes listened, he felt a deeply disturbing trust in the voice. Like it couldn't possibly lie to him.

Khaji Da continued. 'Escaping this place should be our primary concern. Then we will decide whether it is safe to return you to your nest. Your concern for the lives of our attackers is noted. Though I do not understand it, I have amended my combat protocols to reflect your concerns. Be aware, however, that this will affect combat effectiveness and may endanger our lives if the enemy employs deadlier armament.'

Jaime finally let out a long, disgust-laced sigh. He was frustrated beyond belief. "This is just...this is crazy. I'm going crazy." Shaking his head, the teenager was forced to go along with more of the insanity. His only other option was to pray to God SHIELD would help him get this thing off of him. Reyes knew that he was better off not trusting the shadowy government agency that hadn't existed until six months ago. INFO Bugle had taught him that much. "Fine. You're the expert here, ese. How do we get outta this place? Whatever...this place is." A black site? Was he in some kind of testing facility?

'Agent Sitwell hasn't gotten far with his injuries. He should know where the nearest exit point is. My bio-scanners have pinpointed his location- it should be appearing on your map momentarily.'

"Map? I don't have a-" A transparent blue image, like a hologram right out of Star Wars, popped up in the corner of Jaime's vision. "Oh. Map. Got it." A ping appeared on the three-dimensional plain, pointing out the exact location Agent Sitwell had retreated to. It looked like he was in another room just around the corner. "Your...uh...'bio-scanners' pickin' up anything else, amigo?"

'Expanding my net.' Khaji Da responded, processing the request. Several more blips appeared on the same level, though they were significantly far off from their current position. 'Sweep of the area complete. You have eight more organics on the approach. Time of arrival is roughly eight minutes based on your natural foot speed.'

---

The broom closet's lock clicked shut. It was cramped inside- filled with every manner of highly toxic cleaning chemical known to man, as well as more brooms and mops than he could shake a stick at. Sitwell did his best to steady his breathing, quieting his pounding heartbeat.

Things had not gone according to plan, that much was sure. The kid wasn't supposed to be dangerous anymore- the docs had assured him of that.

'If I get outta here in one piece, I swear to God I'll ring all'a their necks. Poindexter bastards.'

Jasper kept an eye on the door and tightened his digits around his weapon, the revolver's grip slick with sweat. He cocked his head to the side. He thought he'd heard something. It was faint, and distant. 'Footsteps, maybe...?

A sharp creak came from the other side of the door moments before he watched a sharp dent form in the metal. Then a crash from the other side, and the dent snapped open as a closed fist appeared through it. The sound of grinding, tearing steel was hell on Sitwell's ears, even as the closet's threshold was torn from it's hinges and tossed away like yesterday's trash.

Standing on the other side was the short, imposing figure of an alien in blue and black armor. Eyes of unfeeling yellow seemed to stare directly into Jasper's soul. He brought his revolver down, popping off a single shot at point blank.

It bounced off of Jaime's head, doing no more than make the boy flinch. Well. Flinch, and then tear the gun from Jasper's hands and toss it over his shoulder. "Why does everyone keep shooting me?!" He moaned incredulously.

The SHIELD agent gave an undignified scream when Reyes grabbed him, dragging him out of the janitor's closet. "Lemme go!" He shouted, just as he was dropped to the floor directly onto his butt.

"Alright...So I just ask him where the door is?"

Sitwell blinked, glancing around. "Ex...excuse me?"

'Unless we can find schematics for this structure, yes. Interrogate him.'

Jaime looked at the fallen man hesitantly. "T-tell me how to get outta here." He stammered.

The look on Jasper's face was some mix of terror, disbelief and confusion. "What? Why...Why would I tell you that?"

"Cause I gotta get outta here, man! You locos are gonna kill me if I don't."

"We won't. Just surrender yourself to me and I can- I can make sure that you get the help you need."

"Oh, yeah, because you seemed SO concerned for my safety when you SHOT ME IN THE FUCKING FACE."

'Your interrogation skills leave much to be desired, Jaime Reyes.' The voice in his head sighed. 'Allow me.' Jaime watched with stomach churning disgust as his arm transformed right before his eyes. His hand receded into his body as his second skin twisted and swam, a construct like an infected, living cannon replacing it. Spindly, insectoid spines kept the weapons platform stabilized as the rest of the arm appeared to pulsate and breathe like a living organism.

Jaime was jerked forward by the Scarab, the cannon pointed into Sitwell's face. It gave an animalistic whine as the interior began to glow a deep blue, radiating heat.

Sitwell gulped, his eyes drawn to the gun in his face. "Right. Exit. Can do." He squeaked.
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Attor Snakeslayer's Attributes:
STR: 12 - The brawn of his youth hasn't diminished quite as quickly as his speed
CON: 14 - Thirty years in the Watch has left Attor with plenty of scars. His mettle is well-tested
DEX: 6 - His joints only work half the time; he's learned to make good use of the other half
CHA: 12 - Attor has always been a friendly soul, and his love of story and song (almost) never steers him wrong
INT: 12 - One of the few things he has more of now than he did in his youth is wisdom
LUC: 6 - Many of Attor's close calls in the line of duty can be attributed to luck, but his black fur undercuts that idea
REP: 3 - Talking plainly of the Watch's fate has destroyed much of the good-will he built up over the years


Equipment:
Longsword: Once a finely crafted blade worthy of any Watchmouse, Attor's sword has seen better days. One too many struggles has left it ragged and old, with several chunks cut into the crossguard and hilt. Thankfully the blade itself remains whole, though Attor fears it's nearing it's breaking point. Named Ratfang for the many rodents it has cut down over the years. Two points.

Dagger: A seventh inch blade with a conservative crossguard and leather-bound hilt, Attor's dagger is his newest piece of equipment. Begrudgingly made the replacement of his old sidearm after it snapped off in a weasel's thick coat, his new knife comes practically straight from the forges. It's yet to earn a name, or truly have it's mettle tested, but the smith assured Attor of it's quality. Three points.

Traits:
+Encyclopedia of War: Attor's been fighting longer than many Watchmice have been alive. He's seen every battlefield a mouse could imagine, and fought every creature that preys on the Gnawer kingdoms. He knows where to best strike a snake, how to lead a Rat mob into a proper ambush, and the effective range of Weasel javelins. Knowing is half the battle, after all, and Attor's had decades to learn the ins and out of conflict.

+Old Mouse in a Young Mouse's Game: Another facet of his experience, though with a far more focused application. Many a younger, faster and stronger mouse has fallen while Attor remains. He has outlived a great many of his peers, and this fact cannot be readily ignored. Though he grows older, slower and weaker by the day, the Snakeslayer continues to rise to the challenge through one, critical factor: raw, untempered skill at arms. He's crossed blades with a hundred foes, receiving and delivering his fair share of licks through the years. Each fight he managed to walk (or crawl, as the case may be) away from was another notch on his blade. Another battle to learn from. Attor can cross swords and hold his own against anyone in the Redwatch.

-Arthritis is a Bitch: These bones have seen better days, that's for damn sure. Spending decades on the move has been hell on Attor's body, and he's slowly but surely losing more of his edge. Joint inflammation is common, especially after a particularly taxing march or fight. He lacks any real semblance of stamina, and is prone to tiring out long before an ordinary mouse would. A fight not won in thirty seconds is a fight lost for the legendary warrior.

-Traitor: A word with the power to send Attor to the hangman if it catches enough traction. His...less-than-popular political opinions have earned the mouse a great deal of ire from the Redwatch's more outspoken and zealous proponents. There are several important people that would see Attor either dismissed, silenced or- more extremely- hanged for his beliefs. His talk of disbanding the Watch threatens the very fabric of the organization, and such a divisive opinion has earned him a great deal of ire. Attor's just lucky that the label hasn't caught on quite yet, though he's painfully aware of the fact that his reputation hangs by a thread.

Trade:
Entertainer: An odd occupation that his parents were vocally opposed to, but ultimately what Attor was most passionate about. He was a travelling orator, writer and professional windbag. Most of what Attor did amounted to reading other, more famous mice's books to children- he would occupy their attention for hours at the behest of their parents, keeping them out of trouble for a handful of coins. Occasionally he'd get the opportunity to upgrade his audience from children to drunken adults at a tavern; that earned him more, but it turned out that drunkards had trouble following basic story structure, so most of what Attor did was tell easy, dumb jokes for a few hours.

Friend:
Beorn of Riverfield: A Watcher posted along the Westercroft border, and a dear friend. Attor and Beorn fought side by side against a rat incursion, bogged down in hostile territory for nine months straight. Without a supply line of any kind and scarce food, their unit was forced through the metaphorical ringer. Everyone got close. Not everyone made it out. By the time the rats were pushed back and their team reconnected with civilization, Attor and Beorn had developed an unbreakable bond. They continue to share sporadic letters to one another, and have spoken often of retiring to Glendale someday to spend their last days doing nothing but fishing for waterbugs.

Enemy:
Audrey of Mappleton: An aging Watcher that's seen nearly as much violence and bloodshed as Attor himself, Audrey was once a mouse that he could've called a friend. They were never extraordinarily close, but she was someone he had served with on several occasions, and a warrior that Attor believed he could count on in a tough spot. That had changed. Somewhere along the line, when the Snakeslayer's loyalties shifted, he found himself at odds with Audrey. She had always been a staunch supporter of the Redwatch, and her loyalty to the cause had seemingly only strengthened with time. The world needed the Watch more than ever now, she'd say; hearing Attor bemoan what they had become, and speak of disbanding the order she so loved, made Audrey's blood boil. She was one of the mice pushing to put Attor into an early retirement. Attor is well aware of her ire, and makes damn well sure to steer clear of her.

History:
Born in a tiny Redfield hamlet in the middle of nowhere, Attor felt trapped. His father had drilled into the young mouse's mind ideals of heroism and tales of grand adventure. With an imagination captured by stories, Attor set out from his village as soon as he was able. With book and song in hand he traveled throughout Redfield, honing his craft. It wasn't until he had encountered a mouse of the Watch that he aspired to join their ranks.

He hadn't proven to be a natural soldier, but Attor was a quick learner and a savage fighter. He was mentored by Vaegir of Fenhold, passing the Greenband trials by the skin of his teeth. Through Vaegir's guidance, Attor went on to serve the Redwatch faithfully for nearly thirty years. He fought every sort of enemy the Gnawers faced: weasel and rat, squirrel and rebel- Attor was even the lone survivor of a vicious battle with a Snake- earning himself a lifelong surname spoken with scorn and awe in equal measure.
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The Blue Beetle stars in...The Runaway: Issue #3
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Unknown SHIELD Facility

The klaxons blaring in the distance were a grim reminder of where Jaime was, if the bleak steel walls weren't enough. He was trapped in the center of a labyrinth of nearly identical hallways and rooms, being pursued by men who sought to end his life for a crime he didn't commit. The only thing that gave him even the slightest chance at getting out alive was the alien that had forcibly bound itself to Reyes's body. He didn't know what the creature was or what purpose it came to earth for: part of him wondered if it was best he never knew.

Right now, as he pressed the barrel of a cannon against the back of a agent of the federal government, the only thing Jaime was worried about was getting out alive.

"Hurry up, ese! Which direction? Which way?!" He snarled, trying to mask his anxiety with aggression.

Jasper Sitwell came to a screeching halt at the intersection of hallways, his gaze slipping over to the signs drilled into the walls, though Jasper didn't need the reminder. He knew this place like the back of his hand. "I'm...I'm thinking, damn it." The man hissed back, his dull hair slipping down his face as he heaved in another, tired breath. "Give me a moment."

Something searing and slimy touched the small of his back, shoving Jasper hard enough to make him stumble forward. "I don't have a moment!" Jaime reminded. "Your soldiers are gonna show up and blow me full of holes any second now if we don't get moving."

With a weary nod of his head, the agent pointed down the left most hallway, beginning down it at a jog. Reyes pushed him forward, upping the pace. He didn't have time to waste with Sitwell dragging his feet.

"Listen, kid..." He started, his jaw quivering as he tried to find the right words. He had to find a way to convince Jaime to stop. "Nobody wants to hurt you, okay? You're just a kid, but that thing you're wearing-"

"Do you think I want this?!" The teen snapped back. "What, do you think I woke up this morning all 'Do you know what I wanna do today, I wanna go have an alien crawl down my throat and force me to murder a much of people! That sounds like a fucking blast!'"

"Then let us help you!" Jasper turned, his gaze soft and his heart pleading. "SHIELD can get it off of you, but we need you to cooperate with us."

'He is lying, Jaime Reyes.' Khaji Da interrupted, his inhuman voice blaring like the alarms screeching overhead. 'These men wish you harm. I sensed it- that is why I activated.'

It felt like somebody had set a jackhammer off inside Jaime's skull. He grit his teeth, his brow furrowing as he tried to make sense of it all. Could he actually trust these SHIELD guys to help him? Why the hell would he want to listen to the alien robot trying to control him? Then again, why would Reyes trust the guy who ordered him to be shot?

"Just- just shut up!" Reyes finally screamed, slamming a palm against the side of his head. "Both of you, shut up!" He needed time. Time to think, time to reason, time to come to a good decision. But that was the trick: there was no time. Every moment he spent in indecision was a moment where men with guns got closer and closer.

They rounded another corner, coming up to an end in the twisting halls of uncaring steel. Several elevators were positioned along the walls, and there appeared to be no one nearby. Sitwell came to a stop, turning to face Reyes.

The boy looked inhuman. It was difficult to reconcile the black, chitinous figure with the lanky young man he'd apprehended hours earlier. His shoulders were broader, arms more defined- like the armor had weaved musculature for the boy that he hadn't had before. Long tendrils with sharpened, razorish points gleamed in the artificial light; Sitwell was sure those could puncture him like a grapefruit if Reyes were so inclined.

Of course, Jasper was much more worried about the plasma cannon hanging limb at the teenager's side.

"I...could've taken you wherever I wanted." He started, his throat dry and rasped. One wrong word could mean his body imploding in on itself in a shower of slag and gore. "I could've- could've run us around in circles until backup arrived. Or I could've taken you to containment. It...it would've been easy, honestly." Sitwell locked eyes with the creature. Those unblinking, yellow slits. Impossible to read. "But I didn't do that, did I? No, I brought you here-"

Motioning back to the set of elevators behind him, Jasper continued more confidently, finding his stride. "This is the only way out. Up to level one. I did what you asked me to."

He could see Jaime was already jerking forward to head toward one of the elevators. 'Kids these days,' Sitwell mused. 'Always in such a rush.'

With a sigh, he held up a palm. Sitwell was surprised when Reyes actually stopped and looked at him instead of continuing on. It gave him a little bit of hope that this could be handled peacefully.

"I did it to show you that you can trust me. You have a choice to make. You can just walk out of here, yes. You can leave right now- but we're going to follow you. We're going to follow you and, eventually, we're going to catch you. Because that's what SHIELD does. And...if you leave, you'll be giving up any chance at being absolved of this. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

From the ever-blank look on the inhuman faceplate, it was hard to get a read on the kid. And he wasn't offering any words to help Sitwell along.

"I'm saying that you'll be blamed for what happened. You'll be sent to a very...very bad place that no one gets out of."

Reyes finally spoke up. He turned away, his voice but little more than a broken whisper. The kid was terrified to his core. "But I didn't...I didn't do anything wrong. It wasn't me."

Sitwell just sighed. "No one's going to believe you if you run away. So stay. Tell us what really happened. We can get that thing outta ya, and we can make sure that you go back to your family soon. You have my word on that."

The two locked eyes again, and Sitwell swore he saw the mask soften, as impossible as that'd be.

"I..."

'I committed no wrong, Jaime Reyes. You know that. If you let them take me-'

"You're a LIAR!" Reyes suddenly roared, sending Sitwell stumbling away with a start. Jaime ignored him, focusing his full attention on the voice inside of his head. "You're the whole reason this happened- you killed those people, not me. Not me. It wasn't..."

Another pause, as if Khaji Da was weighing his response. 'You know I am telling the truth. Our minds are as bonded as our bodies. You would know if I was lying. But I'm not- and you know that. These people will never believe me. I will be punished for crimes I did not commit.'

"What...are you asking me to do?"

'Help me find out what really happened while we were offline. We cannot do that if SHIELD parts us.'

"Kid...I don't know what that thing is saying to you, but don't listen to it, alright? Listen to me. You can't trust it."

'I can do things these people cannot. You've seen that. We will find the truth where they will fail. Help me, Jaime Reyes.'

"Kid. Are you listening to me? Kid!"

'Help me find justice for those that died.'

The sound of rapid footfalls and growing voices spurred Jaime to action. No time to think. He had to make his choice- right then and there.

And he started for the elevator at a sprint, casting one last look at Jasper Sitwell as he passed him by. Jaime expected to see betrayal, or disappointment, upon the agent's face. But all that was there was hardened resolve. This would not be the last time the two saw each other- Reyes was sure of that.
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The Blue Beetle stars in...The Runaway: Issue #4
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Unknown SHIELD Facility

The elevator doors sliding open was matched by the sliding of rifle bolts. That threshold was met with the cavernous roar of a dozen guns, each pouring hellish amounts of fire into the tightly backed interior. Jaime didn't have even a moment to prepare himself before he felt the sting of exploded rounds striking against his body.

If he wasn't wearing the Scarab's chitin Reyes would've been torn apart in less than a second. Still, he felt every individual shot ring against his chest and against his skull. The armor squirmed, hardening like steel around every super-sonic bullet, catching it in that liquid shell. Most of the energy was successfully diluted and absorbed; but a volley of thousands was nearly enough to overwhelm the Scarab's natural defenses.

Reyes let out a blood-curdling scream, equal parts pain and terror, as he felt burning lead stab into his gut. He threw his arms up in front of his face, letting the bullets stop inside of his arms instead of his skull. Anguish spread like fire through his sinew and marrow, forcing the boy down to his knees. He'd never been shot before...it was a pain without compare.

Another sound played in synchrony with his cry. A far less human shriek, like that of the damned. It's meaning was less clear to Jaime than the one upon his own lips. The Scarab's emotions were...less than human, and difficult to read.

Was it pain that Khaji Da felt?

Or was it rage?

Either worked in equal measure, Reyes realized, as he felt his own arms lower of their own accord. He felt them shift unnaturally, melting and melding with the chitinous exterior until a pair of wicked blades were all that was left.

Both pain and rage were sufficient motivators to violence.

This was the first time Jaime didn't immediately black out when Khaji Da took control. It was the first time he would get to see what the Scarab was like in action.

It was somewhere between a beautiful dance and a stomach-churning massacre.

Every movement of the Beetle was quick, precise and measured. Jaime felt himself lurch, his arm splaying out toward the closest SHIELD agent. These men were armored, surrounded in a shell of plastics and titanium plating. Soldiers. Yet even still, those wicked, wicked blades wielded on Reyes's arms seemed to slice through them as if the armor wasn't even there.

Both of the first man's arms were sliced deep, straight to the marrow. Hee let out a terrible, agonized cry as he hit the floor. Khaji Da knelt down, the blades retracting to let his fingers take hold of the agent's fallen firearm. It was automatic assault rifle of unknown make and model- likely a SHIELD exclusive tool for dealing with beings like the Scarab.

Their weapons proved less than adequate this day.

Thin, snaking tendrils coiled from the chitin, grasping the gun like a hundred tiny fingers. They pulled and tugged at it, dragging the rifle down into the ever-growing mass of otherworldly material. Jaime felt just a little sick as he watched the two become one.

His ears rang painfully at the cacophony of gunfire that followed. Each of the eleven soldiers sent to apprehend them went down, his or her limbs exploding in a crimson mist as they went down. Reyes wanted to protest the sickening sight, but the pain in his stomach told him that Khaji Da had done what was needed.

'At least they're still...alive...'

The sentiment rang hollow, but there was no time to think on it any further. Life and death hung by a thread, and it was all Jaime could do to press onward. He ran from the elevator, making a break for the large gate on the other end of the room. Stacks of cargo crates strapped together filled the room, standing sentinel beside barrels of what Reyes assumed to be oil or gasoline.

His arm transformed once more, the newly assimilated rifle mutating into the Scarab's plasma cannon. Reyes raised the heavy device, his teeth gritting together as he felt streams of heat bow over him. An explosive sphere of energy tore the door in twain, melting through several inches of solid steel like it was tissue paper. Climbing through, Reyes was hit in the face by two things:

A massive gust of wind, and the realization that he couldn't see anything but clouds for miles. No land, no sea, no trees; at first he thought a fog must've fallen over the airstrip, but it was made readily apparent that was not the case.

"Uhh...Where are we?"

'We appear to be twenty four thousand feet above sea level."

Reyes could only scoff at the ridiculousness of the claim. "Well how the hell are we gonna get outta here, ese? Can...we fly?"

'Not yet. Approach that pad to your right.'

He turned, eyeing up the ground. It took him a second to take notice of the square indent in the metal. "A trap door?" He muttered, starting toward it at a jog. He felt unsteady in the beating, merciless embrace of the zephyr. "What's under here-" Hesitant fingers reached down into the indent, finding some purchase underneath. With a heave Jaime lifted, surprised by how easily it seemed to give way. Metal screeched in protest as gears were turned. Something-likely a safety lock- snapped.

The doors were forced open, revealing the vehicle nestled inside. Some kind of fighter jet, Jaime could tell, though it wasn't a model or design he was familiar with. "So this is how we get outta here? Can you fly this thing?"

'Not exactly. Place your hand upon it.'

Reyes reached down and did so, and immediately felt a shock run through his fingers. He watched the armor on his arm bend away, revealing the flesh underneath as it splayed out over the metallic hull of the airplane. Tendrils of ebony snaked around toward the back end of the jet, wrapping their inhuman feelers around the engine.

With a heave and a monstrous tug, Khaji Da broke the engine off the back of the jet, dragging the hefty object toward Jaime. Another merger, much like what had happened with the gun, made Jaime's skin crawl- literally, in this case.

"What're you-" His mouth snapped shut when he felt something stab into his back. Craning his neck over his shoulder let the teenager catch a glimpse of the mutating hunk of technology now protruding from his back. It looked like what an ant might conceive to be a jetpack- covered in a hard shell and pulsating like a living entity. It was a disconcerting sight, to say the least.

Khaji Da wasn't going to give his human host time to process what was happening. 'I will explain when we are out of danger. Running flight protocols.'

Jaime's body jerked upward without any further warning fast enough for his head to whip forward, his chin smacking his chest. He briefly wondered of this was how his dog felt whenever he tugged on her leash- if he was tugging her at somewhere between mach 1 and 30 through open air.

His terrified, less-than-dignified screams were cut short after they'd risen high enough for Jaime to get a full look at the structure he'd been kept prisoner on. Or, more accurately, the flying aircraft carrier he'd been on.

"Shit." He whispered under his breath, eyes as wide as saucers. "That's...cool."

Then he heard something of a sputtering from behind him. Then he stopped going up.

And started falling down.

'Odd.' Khaji Da started, amidst the screams for help from his young partner in crime. Ignoring the prayers for help from the boy, the Scarab attempted to rationalize what was happening. 'Perhaps I should have mentioned this earlier, Jaime Reyes, but when I was reactivated in the interrogation room, I noticed that several of my files had been corrupted. Included in these were memory, mission parameters, and several of my unit's basic functionalities such as flight controls-'

"Holy shit!" Jaime screeched, his arms flailing helplessly through the clouds as he plummeted toward the earth at terminal velocity. "I'm gonna die. I'm gonna die. You killed me- you fucking killed me-"

'Not to worry, Jaime Reyes. This unit is designed to survive atmospheric reentry. We should be perfectly safe.'

"S-SHOULD BE?!"

'Theoretically.'

So Jaime Reyes screamed. And he screamed. And he screamed some more, until his throat was too raw too continued. He screamed until the clouds broke and he saw the ground approaching.

Then he hit.

And everything went black.
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The Blue Beetle stars in...The Runaway: Issue #5
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Baltimore, Maryland

A sound like clanging metal jolted Jaime Reyes awake as he felt something smack against the side of his skull. He could make out the sound of several people arguing, but their exact words were hidden behind a haze of head trauma. He'd just...He'd just fallen out of the sky. For a moment, he thought he might've been dead, but that incessant whacking on his helmet felt all too real for this to be some kind of hellish fever dream of a lost soul.

"-Stop pokin' it, Johnny! Seriously!" A young voice cut through the fog with his high pitched, broken warning. "W-what if it ain't dead?!"

This 'Johnny' character responded with something of a half grunt, half snort. "Youse saw it, same as me! God damn thing fell down from space!" Another impact knocked Jaime's head to the side. "You think it's an alien, Billy? Or maybe it's that bat fella from Jersey!"

Billy scoffed, as if that was the most ridiculous thing he'd ever heard. "That look like a bat to you, dumbass? It looks like some kinda...some kinda bug. Like a big ass, scary ass bug. So-so stop fuckin' pokin' it! We should call the cops."

"Somebody's already done it. No way we was the only two that saw this fella hit the ground. Say, is it-"

Right as Johnny went for another swing with his tire iron, he felt it suddenly halt in place. The 'bug' had it's claws wrapped about the tool, and it's eyes were wide open. Though it's face was set in unmoving armor, he swore he saw anger bubbling just behind those lifeless yellow eyes.

"Shit!" Johnny dropped the iron just as the monster started to crush it in it's hand. He backpedaled, his back hitting the crater he'd found the bug in. Billy scrambled forward, helping his shell shocked friend climb up it's steep basin. "We gotta get the hell outta here! Run!" The two turned and started at a dead sprint for the car on the other side of the empty lot, but they didn't get far. Not before Johnny felt a force like a linebacker's tackle hit him in the spine. Crumbling to the ground, the scruffy twenty-something made a disgraceful attempt at rolling to his feet.

Jaime put a stop to his fleeing when he pressed his heel into Johnny's lower back. "I'm getting really tired of people like you hitting me." He snarled. Clawed digits reached down, pulling the Baltimore local up by his neck. He dangled there, his feet kicking at thin air as his hands wrapped around the monster's.

"P-please, man, I'm sorry- don't kill me, please!"

For a moment, Reyes felt a flash of satisfaction at the power he now wielded over this guy. Once upon a time, a guy like Johnny would've made easy pickings of Jaime- he was small, skinny and never could defend himself very well. But there was strength in his arms now. Strength to do to guys like this what they used to do to Jaime.

"Give me your wallet, keys and phone and I'll consider it." He growled, throwing Johnny onto his back. The man was quick to obey, shaky hands digging through his pockets until he'd spilled everything he had on him onto the ground before the alien monster. "Gracias, ese. Now get outta here before I change my mind."

Neither of the two men needed more than that. They ran like hell out of the lot, making for the street beyond with speed that would've rivaled the Flash on her best day.

'Well done, Jaime Reyes.' Khaji Da finally added after they'd both vanished around a corner. 'You have secured us an alternate means of transportation.'

No response came for several moments as Reyes stared out into the street where they'd disappeared, the pilfered items remaining in the dust at his feet. He felt a twisting, gnawing guilt in his gut like a dagger slicing through his innards.

"Yeah, well, I'm already a murderer and a fugitive. What's a little Grand Theft Auto too?" No humor laced it's way into his words, only the toxic pangs of sin and wrongdoing. It was one thing to fight for his life- one thing to take the blame for whatever happened in the museum. But this?

Jaime was in control. His own hands had contemplated stealing another person's life. His own words had brought him to this place. Slowly he bent down and scooped up the keys, phone and wallet before making a move for the car. Even as he climbed into the driver's seat, Jaime wondered how far he would have to go if he continued down this path.

Khaji Da must've sensed the boy's guilt, for the scarab's voice played inside of his mind. 'It was necessary.'

"Was it?"

'SHIELD will be upon us at any moment, and we must return to the museum. I believe the secret to repairing my corrupted files lies there.' There was a momentary pause, as if the being was contemplating how to word it's next point. 'Your concept of morality is flawed, Jaime Reyes. You spare the lives of others, risking your own in the process. You feel...guilt...for doing what you need to in order to survive. These considerations will get you killed. Cast them off, Jaime Reyes.'

He reached up, his claws wrapping about the steering wheel. His hands were not his own. Covered in that layered, insectoid material and glistening like onyx, they were distinctly inhuman. Time dragged on and minutes passed with Jaime doing nothing but staring at those hands in total silence. Khaji Da attempted to break the silence.

'Jaim-' He was not allowed to finish.

"Shut up." Reyes snapped. "Just- for one second- stop. Talking. I can't go anywhere covered in...you...so if there's anyway you can-"

The skin peeled away, snapping and bending to reveal the sickly looking flesh underneath. Jaime's flesh. It looked like he hadn't gotten any sun in months, and there was a sickeningly sticky residue left in the armor's wake. He watched the chitin fold backward over itself until it disappeared underneath his clothing. A shaken hand slipped down to pull up his T-shirt, revealing the armor hidden underneath.

It was a stark reminder of who really owned his body now.

Jaime had to take a moment to adjust the rearview, just to look himself in the face. He'd never seen himself so white before. His hair, usually so wild and untamed, was slathered against his skull with whatever substance Khaji Da left behind.

"This deal's getting worse by the minute." He grumbled under his breath as he started the car.


Washington, D.C
One Hour Later


One shower in a dirt cheap motel room later and Jaime was- reluctantly- standing before the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Police tape was drawn between the entrance's massive pillars of marble, and a veritable army of FBI, SHIELD and local law enforcement agents were moving in and out of the broken doorway. The summer sun was obscured behind it's vaulting roof, casting the evening shadow over his head.

"This is a bad idea, ese." He whispered under his breath, his head kept low. He'd bought a ballcap and a pair of sunglasses at a kiosk on his way here, but it made for a pitiful disguise when facing down a hundred trained cops. "How are we supposed to get in there without getting spotted?"

'These men could not stop us if they wanted to.'

"Dios mío, ese, we're not attacking these guys." Jaime spun around, trying to act like he was lost and not at all suspiciously searching for a way inside. "Maybe we can...I dunno...distract them? Get them all to go somewhere else while we head inside?"

'If you insist, I will require one of their communications devices.'

With a shake of his head he began to scan the area more closely until his gaze fell upon an armored vehicle bearing the mark of the FBI on it's side. Several agents were gathered around it, though it looked like they were starting to disperse. Taking in a sharp breath, conscious of all the myriad of ways this could go wrong, Reyes started toward the command post.

He waited until they had all gone their separate ways, the vehicle's sliding door shut and presumably locked as they climbed the steps toward the crime scene. Jaime made sure the coast was clear before jogging up to it, trying the lock. "Damn." He rasped. "Can you-"

The Scarab knew what was desired before Jaime had even finished, his right arm quickly covered in it's protective shell and his digits replaced by hyper sharp claws. He stabbed the claws into the space between the door and the rest of the vehicle's frame, trying to break the lock.

"Hey, what the hell do you think you're doing, kid?" A voice, gruff and aging, called from behind him. Reyes turned to see a man in beige khakis and a polo, the badge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation worn about his pencil-like neck.

"I was just-" Reyes started, only for his free hand to whip forward without his consent, slamming into the agent's nose with enough force to snap it. Jaime's eyes went wide in shock, looking down at his bare hand-

'He doesn't need the armor to...'

'Secure his communications device, Jaime Reyes, quickly.'

There wasn't time to think about it, no matter how horrifying the revelation. It wouldn't matter if the FBI arrested him and sent him back to SHIELD. Reyes bent down and tore the radio from the man's hip. He placed it into the extended part of his chitin, watching with the same sickening disgust as the melding process began. He felt the radio become a part of him, slithering up into the armor and disappearing without a trace.

He could hear static in his ears. Inside of his ears.

'Name an important building in this city.'

"W-what? Why-"

'Now.'

"T-the capitol building? I guess? What the hell are you-"

'A seat of central governance, I presume. Good.'

Then Reyes felt a tingle in his throat, and suddenly, the ability to speak was stolen from him. Yet he felt his throat rumble all the same, his mouth opening as a voice not his own spoke from Jaime's body. "There has been a chemical attack on the capitol building. I repeat, chemical weapons have been unleashed on our capitol building. All units, please converge immediately."

It felt like someone had struck Jaime right in the stomach, but it worked. His soul may be damned, but the plan worked. He could see the panic spreading through the police and federal agents as the message spread between all of them. It overtook every emergency channel in a matter of seconds.

Jaime didn't know it at the time, but that same message would spread across the internet like a virus in mere minutes.

'TERROR ATTACK IN WASHINGTON, DC?'

The world would know the voice of Khaji Da, and it would bring with it the first seeds of terror and lies.
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The Blue Beetle stars in...The Runaway: Issue #6
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Jaime could barely control himself. The sounds of terrified voices clambering for the truth rang through his skull, interlaced with mind numbing static. He wanted to scream; despite that, however, the Scarab was urging him to be utterly silent.

Heavy footfalls of a dozen agents and law enforcement officers abandoning the crime scene as they rushed to contain the catastrophic attack they'd been warned of sounded like the stampede of a panicked herd. Shouting men tried to explain the situation to their confused and fearful colleagues. Leaders and authority figures fought to maintain some semblance of calm among their troops as well as themselves.

In the mad rush of it all, Reyes was able to slither inside the museum, though he was regretting just about everything that had led him to his current hiding place. His head kept low and his body scrunched together, he remained tucked away inside an exhibit filled with stuffed recreations Bengal tigers.

Several minutes passed before the last of the men had stumbled out of the room, a palpable silence falling over those marble halls. Reyes pulled himself out from behind the large fake cat in front of him, stumbling into the center of the room as he let out his first full breath since he'd been forced to hide. It was also the first moment he'd gotten to think beyond his own mortality and to the wider consequences of his- or the Scarab's- actions.

"Shit...shit...Shit!" He snarled in a half-whisper, his hands gripping the back of his head. "What the hell is wrong with you, ese?! Why would you ever think that was the right call?!"

'Inconsequential. This task is too important and time runs out. It was the most effective tool we had outside of a frontal assault.'

"I wouldn't call a terrorist attack inconsequential." Reyes was in complete disbelief. Everything he learned about this thing inside of him was driving him closer to the edge. Yesterday he wouldn't have ever considered robbing someone or faking a terrorist attack as necessary, but this...monster...was twisting it's claws up into his head. It was making him do things he normally never would.

Worst of all, Jaime believed it. He was trying to fight it, trying to argue, but Khaji Da's every word radiated with an unshakable honesty.

Was the Scarab just that convincing?

Or was it changing how Jaime thought and reasoned? How he viewed the world? And- most disturbing of all other possibilities- how he weighed right and wrong?

'Advance, Jaime Reyes. The truth lies near.'

And so he pressed onward, moving deeper into the museum at a swift pace. Despite his many concerns and worries, he could not turn back now- returning to SHIELD custody without evidence of what truly happened meant imprisonment. And Jaime didn't think he could live with what he'd done if he simply turned and ran.

Their destination was the Bialya wing, marked by the torn banner above the entrance and the rolls of police tape surrounding it. Ducking underneath the flimsy barrier, he was finally witness to the massacre the Scarab had wrought with Jaime's own hands. Though the bodies had been removed, blood still stained the floor and walls where his cannons had torn into human flesh. Bits of soot and ash mingled together in neat clumps around chalk drawings of where the dead had lain. Chunks of melted marble had merged with equally superheated glass into malformed sculptures standing testament to the fiery power that had disrupted this once peaceful place of learning.

"Alright...Y-you said you knew how to find out what made us do this, didn't you?" Jaime asked, his mouth dry and his stomach filling with bile at the none too distant memory. It was burned into his mind like a brand, never too far from the surface.

'That is correct. The device you acquired from 'Johnny' is still in your possession, is it not?'

Jaime reached into his pants pocket, pulling the smartphone out. It was an older model, and the screen had been cracked, but it worked well enough. "Yeah. What should I-" His armored hand shot out without warning, plucking the device from Jaime's grasp. It began the integration process, it's living material slipping into every crack and crevice of the phone, tearing it apart from the inside as it absorbed the technological marvel.

'This technology will prove...useful. I will need access to your memories, Jaime Reyes. Brace yourself.'

No time was given for the boy to raise his voice in argument, pain immediately resounding within his skull. It felt as if someone was digging their fingers into his brain, sliding their nails along his cerebellum and tearing out bits and pieces. Reyes let out a screech, his hands snapping up against the sides of his head. He could feel the armor expanding over his body once again, in tandem with the tendrils reaching further into his mind.

The pain stopped as quickly as it had begun.

And then Jaime watched with confused fascination as he stepped through himself. It was like a ghost, flickering and unreal; yet it resembled Jaime perfectly. He shuffled forward, gazing across the room as more of the ghosts materialized around him. Their faces and bodies were less defined, smothered and contorting in unreality. One of them stopped right in front of Reyes for a few seconds, seeming to stare right through him before it continued on.

"What is this?" He breathed.

'A simulation of the event based upon what you remember. We should be able to pinpoint details that you would have otherwise forgotten.'

Jaime could see that other-Jaime was beginning to approach a false version of the Scarab artifact. It was squirming inside of it's exhibit, tapping at the glass with ceramic, knife-like legs. When he got too close, a horrific, inhuman shriek thundered and echoed through the mindscape, disrupting the entire simulation for a half second before it all corrected itself. The scarab shattered into liquid, crawling and slithering toward the other-Jaime. Watching it crawl down his throat from an outsider's view was somehow even more horrifying than when he had actually experienced it.

Once they were bonded, and the chitin had snapped into place over Reyes, everything froze. Khaji Da had paused the simulation the moment the plasma cannon began to slip onto his hand. 'Here. I should've gone offline by now, knocking you unconscious in the process. We should be on the floor while I am restructuring your genetic code-'

"I'm...I'm sorry, what?"

The question went ignored, however, with the scarab continuing it's point unabated. 'But my weapon systems are active. Let us continue; perhaps the answer lies in who we targeted.'

Things started up again with the echo of an infested Reyes lifting a cannon toward the crowd. Light flared around the cannon's barrel, and the simulation once again blurred and flickered. It didn't correct itself as it had the first time, however, only continuing to destabilize. The faceless crowd were blown away like digitized dust in the wind. Then the wall began to disappear, piece by piece, pixel by pixel. Everything was black in only a few seconds, leaving only Jaime and his fake behind.

"What the hell...? Are you doing this?"

'I am not. I have lost control of the simulation.' An uncharacteristic pang of worry sounded in the lifeform's voice.

"'You believe you ever had control?'" Another voice, unfamiliar, rasped like rusted nails against a chalk board. A throaty, broken laugh followed, echoing from every direction yet from none at all at the same time. "'That is your first lesson of many, dear boy.'"

Something heavy struck Jaime in the back of the head. He felt his entire body buckle, pain spreading through his spine as the darkness melted away. He was on the floor in the museum again, something pressing against the top of his head. The last thing he saw before he lost consciousness was a pair of oxford shoes and the frame of a wheelchair.

The last thing he heard was that same, rasping voice. It came to his ears in the same moment he heard it whisper inside of his mind."'I am always in control.'"
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G R A V E S

• Tʜᴇ Dᴜɴɢᴇᴏɴ •



Graves shot an irritated look toward the fiddler, his fingers scratching the interior of his palm as he considered lopping her head off and tossing her back in with the slimes. After a moment's deliberation, he decided against it. Obnoxious as that experience was, Tiferet's magic had proven helpful. It was one of many reasons they were all still in one piece.

"Least one of us is having fun." He half chuckled, his throat still raw and dry from all of the shouting Graves had done in the heat of battle. It took a great deal of effort to keep himself from spiraling into existential despair because a video game was attempting to murder him; humor wasn't coming easily to the less-than-gentle giant.

Tif's overwhelming optimism helped him center himself, even if only a little bit.

It was enough to help him remain steady enough in mind to think critically on the argument Rael presented. He met her gaze, something between disbelief and shock brimming underneath his crimson pupils at the words that slipped from her lips.

Returning into that hellish pit? That was...nearly unthinkable. They had narrowly managed to slip away without one of them being crushed underneath the gelatinous tidal wave and consumed by the slimish horde. They would be testing fate by trying to go back inside. Yet, by that same token, some credence could be given to Rael's argument.

That room was far too well protected to be little more than another ambush. Those inlets were carved with intention; the creatures within were protecting something. The crossroads, perhaps? There were two other doors leading into separate halls. It could have meant this was the center of a spiraling labyrinth, and each hallway led back to this place.

Or it was but a single, near impossible obstacle on the long flight to make it out of this place. Suffice to say, if Graves ever managed to get out of there alive, he wouldn't be diving into another dungeon as long as he lived.

Silence filled the stony room. Everyone was considering Rael's words for themselves, absorbing the fact that they might be diving head first into danger once again. If this were still just a game, Graves wouldn't hesitate. He would be standing right beside Rael, likely spitting insults at the other party members for being so indecisive. Yet now...

Rael chose to break the silence herself. Well aware of the unspoken concerns of her compatriots, she offered a more thorough explanation, pleading with each of them to consider it closely.

Graves's arms went over his chest as he did just that.

He had never been much good at puzzles. Brute force was his primary method of problem solving, and when that failed, he tended to (begrudgingly) rely on others to make up for where his skills were found lacking. Still, he knew how dungeons worked, more or less. He knew they were more than blank halls full of monsters meant to be beaten down in short order. There was a story behind each- one he rarely paid much attention to.

"Well, uh..." Graves sighed, moving to run a hand through his thick locks. "There were four'a these big ass doors. So I'm thinkin' either the road splits off in a bunch'a other directions, or all of 'em lead back in there." It wasn't much that he had to offer, but he wasn't exactly Einstein, either. "The ceiling was grated too, like you'd see on a drain." It could've been to let in natural light. It reminded him of a drainage runoff, however; for what that was worth.

"What, Red, you think those things were guardin' somethin'? Like a way out?"

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Brenda and Paco star in...The Runaway: Issue #7
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Washington, D.C

Three Days Later


"♫I see your red door and I want it painted black...♫"

The parking lot for Tito's Pawn Shop was barren, save for a single white van pulled up in front of the store. Paint it Black blared through the rolled down windows at maximum volume, the voice of Mick Jagger rolling across the street and beyond. A bulky figure with broad shoulders and a chest like a barrel sat in the passengers seat, his meaty fingers stabbing away at the laptop resting against the dashboard.

"Dreeessed in their summer cloothes-" He half mumbled, half sung under his breath, his head swaying to the beat of the song.

Paco Tejas slipped a hand away from the keyboard just long enough to pluck up the partially cold coffee cup from beside him. There was an obnoxious pressure in the back of his head as he finished gulping down the liquid fuel and tossed the cup to the floor. He had to be on his fourth shot of caffeine by now; it made for a poor substitute for sleep, but neither he nor Brenda had gotten the chance ever since Jaime was abducted.

Paco had been an emotional wreck since he learned Reyes hadn't escaped. While the casualty list hadn't included his name, it wasn't like him to not at least try to let Paco know that he was alright. If Jaime wasn't picking up his phone- and he wasn't, Paco had called him a hundred times- then something had truly gone wrong. Three days of radio silence was bad, but just how wrong it had gone wasn't fully revealed until Paco stumbled across grainy security camera footage on vigilante.net in his search for more information on the incident.

It was almost too much for Paco to wrap his head around. Some kinda...monster...had stolen his best friend's skin and used him to murder a bunch of people. He wouldn't have believed it if he hadn't seen it with his own two eyes.

Brenda wasn't nearly as phased when he showed it to her. It was her idea to try and find Jaime themselves, rather than relying on the cops- she'd never been one to trust them. Paco had reluctantly agreed to go with her once he realized how serious she was about it. They'd sneaked away from the rest of their school group, rented a van from some guy Brenda swore her aunt knew, and started off on their rescue mission.

Or they would have, if they had any idea where Jaime was.

Thankfully it seemed like Paco was finally making some headway in his investigation as he clicked away. A number of people had claimed to have seen a creature matching the appearance of the museum monster. Some of them had to be false- like the one about it being in Metropolis- but another looked to have some promise. A portrait video shot on a smartphone showed Jaime's body snatcher holding a terrified man by the neck beside beside a small crater. Though no location was given, it didn't take Paco more than two minutes to find the account's IP address.

"Baltimore?" That was maybe a little over an hour from D.C. It wasn't much to go off of, he had to admit, but it wouldn't stop him. Paco pulled up google street view and started combing through some of the areas that matched the backdrop of the phone footage.

It was like trying to find a needle in a haystack, except Paco wasn't quite sure what the needle looked like, the haystack was actually massive city, and if he didn't find the needle soon then the needle would be dead. How was he going to explain that to the needle's parents when they got back to El Paso?

Still, he had to try. "Come on, Jaime, where are you?" He sighed, leaning back into his chair. It'd be a thousand times easier to find out where Jaime and his kidnapper had gone if he wasn't on the clock. He had about as much time to find out where they needed to go as it took Brenda to finish buying whatever it was she needed from the pawn shop, plus the hour long drive to actually get to Baltimore. He had to pray it was enough.

Thankfully for him, Brenda didn't appear to be in a rush. Paco brought his hands up to his face, rubbing the sleepfulness from his eyes. A field of patchy stubble stabbed into his palms from his full, rounded cheeks, reminding him once more that he'd forgotten to take a razor when he packed for their trip.

Almost as if on cue, the doors to Tito's Pawn Shop flew open, smashing up against the wall with an incredible bang that made him jump. A teenager with fiery hair stepped out, her face contorted in anger and a large case slung over her shoulder. The voice of a man screaming in Spanish coming from behind her managed to rise above the pounding of the music, his words filled with an intense vitriol that was easily recognized even if Paco couldn't understand a bit of it.

Brenda Del Vecchio spun around, her crimson locks flinging over her shoulder as she delivered an equally ferocious string of words that made Paco wince. A girl of that size shouldn't have lungs that big nor a voice that terrifying.

He slunk back into his seat, trying to pretend he hadn't just witnessed the tail end of whatever that was even as Brenda marched back to the van with a look of utter scorn etched onto her freckled features. The driver's side door was thrown open with even more force than the pawn shop's had suffered under. Climbing into her seat, Brenda unslung the case from over her shoulder and shoved it into Paco's lap.

Right when it looked like she was going to tone it down, Brenda suddenly stood, leaning partially out of the door. "Go to hell you limp-dicked bastard!" She screeched, her fist shaking at the man even as the doors of his store glided shut. Finally the girl fell back into her seat, stewing in her anger and frustration in a palpiable silence.

After waiting a safe three minutes, Paco reached forward to turn down the music before he cleared his throat and turned his tentative gaze over to his other best friend. "So, uh...what was that all about?" He hazarded to ask, half expecting to get an ear-full.

A violent glare was shot in his direction, though thankfully it gave way with a tired, exasperated sigh. "Sorry, Pac." Brenda apologized quietly. "I didn't mean to take that long, but that..." She bit down on her tongue, swallowing the choice words she wanted to spit out. "...Guy..was giving me shit. Boatloads of shit." She reached over, plucking up the weighted case with surprising strength, moving it back into the next row of seats.

"Ah." Paco pretended that was somehow a viable explanation of everything that had gone down, but he wisely chose not to pry. Instead, he focused his attention on whatever it was she'd spent so long trying to acquire from 'Tito.' "So what's in the case?" He asked, pointing his eyes back toward the object.

She shrugged. "Insurance." Vague and cryptic, two words that fit Brenda like a snug jacket. "Now, please tell me that you know where we're going?"

His cheeks flashed red as Paco went to rub the back of his neck. "Well, uh..."

"Pac..."

"No, no! I know where to go!" He brought his hands up in front of his chest defensively. "Sort of. I got an IP address that leads back to Baltimore, but I gotta find the exact neighborhood manually."

She sighed, reaching up to grasp the bridge of her nose. "You're telling me nobody's talking about the alien they saw land in their backyard?"

It was his turn to shrug. "With the guy on the surfboard beating up superheroes in Central City, it's not exactly a slow news day. Who's gonna bother talking to one of the millions of people that totally, definitely saw a monster."

Brenda rolled her eyes. She didn't like it, but she had to concede that he had a point. "Well, at least we've got a direction." The van sputtered and groaned as she turned the key, only roaring to life after the third try. "Just...find me an address, Pac, okay? Jaime's been missing for way too long." Brenda cast her eyes toward her lap, her voice losing it's strength and tapering off as the full weight of it came down on her shoulders.

Paco reached over and placed a soft hand on her arm. "We'll find him." He stated confidently. "Jaime's tough. He'll make it through this. Once this is all over, we can go back home and get those burgers he really hates. It'll be just like old times." The two shared a small chuckle, the tension of the moment stolen away by memories of a world before everything was turned on it's head.

As they started out of the lot, Paco reached forward to turn the music back up. The fury of Rage Against the Machine played on full volume, blaring out of the rolled down windows even as they got out onto the road.

"♫Killin' in the name of!♫"

The parking lot for Tito's Pawn Shop was barren, save for a single figure draped in black that stood in front of the store.
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Brenda and Paco star in...The Runaway: Issue #8
Previous Issue





Washington, D.C

Brenda and Paco were too busy banging their heads to the pounding beat of the radio to notice reality snapping like a twig in front of them. Fifty feet ahead of their van, a decuplet of razor sharp, midnight black digits were cutting a hole in this fragile existence. The horizon where the road met the sky rolled and frayed like the edges of a piece of paper. Further the claws dug, revealing the blinding crimson sky of the other side. It bubbled and pulsated, akin to a body drowned in cancerous tumors.

Paco hadn't noticed it until he saw a flash of bark and leaves dominating the windshield. Before he could so much as let out a scream, the entire vehicle heaved, the front portion buckling underneath the sudden impact. Searing pain shot along the front of his torso from the seat belt digging into his skin to keep Paco from flying out of the window, sheets of broken glass scattering along the interior of the car.

Blood seeped down his forehead, crawling across one of his half-closed eyelids. Everything felt murky, as if he'd been submerged in milky water. A voice called out his name from beyond the fog.

"Paco!"

Was that Brenda? Was she alright? Why...why couldn't he feel anything?

"!oɔɒꟼ"

An ear-piercing shriek sliced through the heavy numbness clouding his mind. Paco threw his eyes open, allowing reality to slam back into him. He was pressing squarely back against his seat, several branches of an oak tree inches from piercing through his face. Bark, glass, dirt and leaves covered his lap. There was a stinging pain in his shoulders and the front of his head, but that didn't matter; he needed to find Brenda.

"B-brenda?" He coughed and sputtered, tasting blood on his tongue. He ran his fingers along the door, searching for the handle. There was another scream, though that one was different from the sheer terror he'd heard a second ago. Finally his fingers found purchase, and Paco shoved, forcing the van to open.

"What...What happened? Brenda?" He tumbled out of the car when he managed to get the seat belt undone. Every inch of his body burned and ached. Even as his hands and knees hit the asphalt, Paco felt like his skull might implode on itself. Rising to his feet was a monumental effort, and he couldn't do it on his own- he had to lean heavily upon the bent and contorted frame of the vehicle beside him for support. But he had to get up- he had to check on Brenda. "Please...please be alright.." He sputtered, limping toward the front of the car.

He came around just in time to watch Brenda get her head slammed against the pavement.

The branch she had clutched in her hand fell away from her weakening fingers, consciousness slipping away as blood seeped from her cracked skull. A figure draped in black stood over her, his shoulders heaving with each rasped breath.

He was shorter than Paco by several inches, and leaner, yet that didn't make him any less terrifying: for, after staring at the man for several seconds, Paco realized that it was barely a man at all. The dark clothes clinging to his slight form were alive. Ruminating, swirling like the inky blackness between stars. A thick cloak danced and twirled in the windless air, a sound like bubbling flesh following behind it's sickeningly impossible form.

Paco froze like a deer in the headlights, his eyes shifting erratically between his fallen friend and the monstrous attacker standing over her. His mind and body pulled him in two different directions: Paco desperately wanted to rush in to help Brenda, yet the sight of those wicked claws drained all the courage from his heart and the color from his cheeks.

That decision was made for him when the monstrous thing turned and looked into his soul with a smile of sadistic, otherworldly delight. "˙ɯǝɥʇ ʞɐǝɹᙠ" It spoke in a tongue of garbled static.

Engulfed in crippling shame, Paco ran.

Hot tears clung to the contorts of his rounded, young face, even as he crossed the street at a dead sprint. Arms pumping beside him, his feet tearing apart grass, he made for the fence surrounding one of many sizeable suburban homes on either side of the block. He...he wasn't running because he was scared. No, he knew he couldn't fight that thing- so he had to...call the police! He had to get to a phone and get help! What else could Paco do but run?

What else? he thought with hot bile threatening to spill from his throat.

Clearing the fence in a leap, he charged through the backyard and toward the house's door. Paco knew it'd be locked even as he tugged violently upon the doorknob. It stuck hard and fast, even when he slammed his shoulder up against it. "HELP!" Paco screeched, a fist pounding against the pristine wood. "Somebody help me, p-please!"

A sound like a popping blister resonated behind him, but Paco didn't notice it: for in that same moment the door was thrown open from the other side and he went tumbling into an unfamiliar kitchen.

Yellowing wallpaper and old, ugly tiling on the floors met his reddened eyes as he searched for some sign of his savior. Standing above him was an old man, a worried and perplexed look on his face. "You alright, son? Looks like your car's right messed up out there-" He held a decrepit hand down, offering to help Paco up from the floor.

Throwing his head from side to side, Paco leapt up, struggling to find his voice. "911!" He blurted out, spinning around to face the closed door. He couldn't hear anyone outside, but he was sure that thing was coming for him. "Call the cops a-and find somewhere to hide!" Sweat dripped from his every pour as Paco searched for somewhere else to go. Somewhere he could hide, or another way to run. The old man looked even more confused, but Paco's words had frightened him into moving as fast as his skeletal legs could carry him.

That pop sounded again, this time from behind him.

Paco didn't get the chance to react before he felt a foot slam against his spine. He was thrown forward, his momentum halted by the frame of the door smacking up against his nose and shattering it like glass.

He brought a hand up to hold it, turning about to face his attacker once more.

"!ɘm q|ɘH"

His own voice played back to him, filling meaningless sounds with that same, desperate croak he'd cried out in earlier.

He didn't have time to react, for by the time he was facing the metahuman, The man of living darkness was already twisting, his foot coming down at an angle to impact against the burly teenager's temple. Paco cried out in pain, his neck thrown to the side as he fell and hit the floor. Another foot sailed for his head, though this time he managed to throw his forearm up in front of it. His arm screamed it's protest, his marrow threatening to split underneath the weight of the blow.

Adrenaline was the only thing that let him scramble to his feet and make for the stairs.

Surprisingly, his attacker didn't lash out. He simply stood by and watched Paco stumble away. The sounds of his own pathetic mewling bounced back to him in a garbled reverse, off-pitch and filled with a heinous, malign mockery of Paco's terror.

"¡ǝsɐǝld-d 'ǝɯ dlǝɥ ʎpoqǝɯoS"

He snapped his eyes shut, half-crawling, half-running up the stairs. He didn't know where he was going. He didn't know why he bothered. But that ever present, howling desire to live brought his hands down upon the steps, driving his body further and further upward until he reached the top.

There was another sickly, fleshy pop, and a pair of amorphous feet of pitch black dominated Paco's vision. He threw himself back with a start, tumbling head-over-heels down the stairwell until the back of his head smacked up against the drywall on the bottom floor. His aching form refused to rise, the pain too great for Paco to do anything but lay there and stare up at his inhuman attacker.

This was it, he realized.

The figure swaddled in breathing void began to descend the stairs, a grin cut across his features face. A hood hid away everything above that wicked set of fangs. Slowly he reached out, letting his long, bony fingers carve lines within the walls as he began to slowly descend toward Paco.

"˙ɯǝɥʇ ʞɐǝɹq ʎɐɯ I ʇɐɥʇ oS ˙dɹɐM 'ǝɯ oʇ ʞɔɐq uǝɹplıɥɔ ǝɥʇ ɓuıɹᙠ" Like a broken voice recorder, he repeated the words of another, mimicking their voice as best his twisted vocal cords could manage. A cackle like that of a psychopathic madman, deranged and unhinged, followed; distorted and impossible as all the rest.

He was halfway down the stairs when the door was thrown open, and a sound like exploding thunder nearly deafened Paco. A spray of buckshot peppered the inky form of the creature as it let out a hideous screech. Space bent around it and it flickered out of existence; that same, disgusting pop heralding it's disappearance. A brief silence fell over the house, until the confused cry of the elderly man hiding in the living room reverberated through the house.

Brenda Del Vecchio pulled back on the pump-action shotgun's slide, an empty shell ejecting onto the tiled floor. Blood stained her neck and dripped down her crimson locks, her expression set with steely fury. "Like I said," she breathed, shooting a glare down at Paco. "Insurance."
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Brenda and Paco star in...The Runaway: Issue #9
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Washington, D.C

"What the hell was that thing?" Brenda exhaled, slowly lowering the firearm from her aching shoulder. Try as she might, she couldn't force her hands to stop shaking- whether that could be attributed to her aching head wound or that anxious knot in her stomach, she wasn't quite sure.

It had come out of nowhere. One second she was listening to the radio, and the next they were crashing into a tree that shouldn't have been there. Then that...that thing dragged her out of her window. It had kicked her, clawed at her and dragged her across the pavement. She tried to fight it, but it wasn't worth the energy; it could've killed her at any point during their struggle.

So why didn't it?

Still on the floor and reeling from his recent beatdown, Paco was staring up at her with eyes as wide as saucers. It looked like he was trying to say something, but for all the flapping his lower jaw was doing, no words were coming out. Only whispered mewling and gasps. Brenda didn't know if she wanted to punch him or hug him.

She settled on bending down and placing a small hand on his comparatively gargantuan shoulder. "I'm gonna need you to pull yourself together, Pac." Her words were delivered with a forced, unnatural softness. It took a deal of willpower for her to swallow her anger. "We need to find out why that thing attacked us and where it went. It must have something to do with what's happening to Jaime..." She couldn't imagine why it would target the two of them otherwise. A metahuman attack was rarer than a plane crash; or so the Daily Planet said. "But I...I can't do that on my own, Pac. So...come on. Get up."

Despite the flimsy layer of kindness and understanding his friend tried to speak with, Paco felt nothing but shame. He could see the smothered fury behind her eyes, and it only made the twisting knife of guilt feel ever sharper in his chest. Turning away, his gaze was cast over the destruction they'd brought to that poor old man's house by dragging the monster there. Thankfully he was unharmed- they all were- but it could have gone so, so much worse, and Paco would have no one to blame for that but himself.

"Alright." He muttered, pushing against the floor to bring himself back up to his full, towering height. He still felt small standing alongside Brenda, though it wasn't a physical smallness. "I'll help."

"Good." Brenda nodded, punching his shoulder before taking her gun back up in her hands. It's weight was worse than she remembered- it'd been a long time since she was allowed to fire a shotgun. "Put that big brain of yours to work." She took a step away, her gaze remaining on the big guy expectantly. He was her best bet at figuring all of this out.

The wheels were already turning within his mind as he traced his eyes over where the 'fight' had happened, following it from memory as best he could. Paco spun around, pointing down to the floor where he'd fallen. "It could've killed me here," his finger shifted a few feet to the right, "or right there. I was on the ground twice, defenseless. But it didn't." Why? Was it toying with him? That display on it's way down the stairs certainly made it seem so. That, and the weird...playback of his voice. It had said something on the stairs, too; something Paco hadn't. But he didn't manage to catch it.

"Yeah, yeah...Me too." Brenda nodded. "You think it wanted to, I dunno, kidnap us? Like they did Jaime?"

Paco stopped. He looked over at her, his brow furrowed in concentration, his earlier fears forgotten as he cycled through the events and every possible reasoning for the attack that he could come up with. "Maybe." He whispered. Suddenly he jerked forward, making for the door at a rapid sprint. Brenda had to scramble after him to keep up.

They stepped outside of the house, Paco already part way through the backyard. He pointed at the pulsating gash in reality. "There!" He shouted, climbing up over the fence to continue toward it. An uprooted tree was sticking part way through the wound, their van twisted around it's trunk from where the two had crashed into one another. "It came through this, but it's still here." Paco stopped in front of it, spinning about to face Brenda. "But why?"

An audible pop like a needle through a blister sounded mere inches behind Brenda. ˙dɹɐM 'ǝɯ oʇ ʞɔɐq uǝɹplıɥɔ ǝɥʇ ɓuıɹᙠ" The voice of another filtered through it's crooked mouth, broken and unintelligible. Paco shouted out her name in warning, but it was too late-

That thing had already reached around and wrapped one of it's clawed fists around the shotgun. She fought against it's ironclad grip, pushing, pulling and shoving with all of her strength in an attempt to force the gun out of it's hand, but to no avail."No, no- damn it!" Brenda roared, throwing repeated elbows back into the monster's ribs. It let out a cackled, reversed laugh before slipping it's other hand behind Brenda's collar.

It lifted her up with relative ease, tossing her into Paco's chest with enough force to make him stumble right back into the tear in the world.

Paco let out a scream as his vision was consumed by a bleeding sky, and he started to fall.

...

And he fell.

...

And fell.

...

And fell...



Bzzt

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Rebooting now...



There was nothing but 𝖉𝖆𝖗𝖐𝖓𝖊𝖘𝖘.

What is life except an endless, throbbing mɒɘɿɔꙅ?

A ņ̴̯͕̜̟͉̪͙͓̣͉̯̠̔̅̕ỉ̴̲͔͋̐͑́͂̾̿͐͂̍͘g̵͚̊̀h̵̢͚͈̤̫͓̬͔̜͖̼͎̼̎̔̈́̽͋̽̌t̵͇̦͚̝̏͌̏͆̑͗̂̽̐̚͘͝͝m̶̨̡̳͕̞͓̳̱͖̤̭̜͎̰̆́́ą̸̧̱̹͖̬͙̼̜̦̀̎͑͗͆̓̕͠͝r̴̨̘̱̱̯͔͙͍̝̙͇̩̍͐̌͂́́̾́͐̄̽͘͠͠e̷̙͋͑̀ of your own making?

We are it's ɘɿuɔ.

§êê ¥ðµ §ððñ~
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The Blue Beetle stars in...The Runaway: Issue #11

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The Blue Beetle stars in...The Runaway: Issue #10
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El Paso, Texas?

From atop the Fall carnival's Ferris Wheel Jaime could see the ocean world of O'erlanii burning. Fire so black it consumed the sun raged within the tumultuous sea, the inferno's tide crashing against the big wheel's weathered frame. Metal sang it's protests at the testing of it's mettle, though through some act of God it managed to hold.

Terrified people cried out in confusion and horror, their gaze cast toward the sky as it bled crimson tears. Many of them remained in their cabins, though others had been dislodged and thrown out into the burning ocean. A few clung to the frame of the Ferris Wheel, screaming for help that could never arrive.

Reyes gripped the sides of his capsule, holding on for dear life as it swayed and bucked. "Holy shit, holy shit-" Nothing made sense. His mind was a mess of frayed nerves and fog, refusing to answer Jaime's pleas for answers as to where he was and what was happening. As far as he was aware, this was his existence: he had lived within this death cage hanging over a sea of shrieking pyre for the entirety of his life.

Something impacted against the opposite side of the pod, causing it to swing and creak. Reyes spun around, his gaze snapping to a pair of eerily familiar yet all-together alien eyes.

A harsh, yellowish glow radiated from those unflinching orbs, like rays of sunlight filtering through a window. There was an undeniable hatred burning behind them- a near lustful desire to see Jaime gutted and his blood spilled into the sea. Those eyes sat upon a body shaped like that of a giant man, though it was covered head to toe in a living suit of armor. He thought he recognized it's insectoid, blueish and black surface, yet he knew he had never seen such a thing before.

It reached a clawed hand into the enclosed cabin, smashing through the glass to grasp at Reyes. The fingers managed to pierce his jacket and tear it from his back, bu he slipped away, pressing his back up against the other side of the tiny pod. He glanced back over his shoulder at the raging storm below, and then to the monster before him. To die shredded within that thing's maw, or to be cooked alive while his lungs fill with salt water- a damning choice, but one he made without even thinking.

Jaime Reyes leapt into the water, his armor slamming into place over his fragile fresh as he submerged himself within the depths. A ruined city of octopean statues sat sinking into the sand, with buildings carved out of intersecting parallel lines and perfectly spherical triangles. Beaked aliens with three legs and six, tentacled arms swam away from Reyes in terror, their impossible screams echoing in his head like the roar of a mistuned piano.

Drawing forth his many tentacled arms, Reyes's sound cannons were given shape. He turned those terrible weapons on the A'askvarii, the intense, thunderous noise enough to turn their muscle into itself. Bones exploded within their bodies and eyeballs popped like balloons.

From their horrid carcasses came streams of cancerous flesh given unlife. Those malformed crimson tears that had infested the aliens's bloated bodies came screaming at Jaime through the water, taking on phantoms of their previous forms in their rush to devour him.

And in his fury the Beetle destroyed each and every one.

***


Unknown

Someone had shoved a bag over Paco's head the moment he exited the portal. He landed in something cold and fluffy: snow, he assumed; but he hadn't been able to so much as open his eyes before he felt the sack cloth shoved over his head and everything was forcibly made dark.

"If you vant to keep your feet, you vill keep walking." A thick, guttural voice commanded from behind Paco. He felt a rubbery palm push up against his back, forcing him to stumble forward. It was enough incentive for him to pick up the pace.

He'd noticed the air tasted artificial inside. Almost sterile, even.

Brenda let out a near silent huff of defiance from beside Paco. He couldn't see her, but it wasn't hard for him to imagine that she still stood tall despite the circumstances.

Their captor must've caught the sound, because it was soon followed by a meaty whack, and a wince from the girl. "Defiant to the fery end, eh? Ha. So very schtupid. And yet so very...Amerikan." There was something strange about his voice. It was a throaty, almost...stuffy sound, like his mouth was full of mucus. It made Paco feel ill just listening to that wet, sticky noise he called 'speaking.'

"I'm Hispanic, asshole." She hissed back. Paco smiled underneath the hood, though he said nothing to back up her.

"You vill be dead if you don't schupt up."

The trio descended down several sloped corridors and a few flights of stairs, twisting and turning through a labyrinth of cold hallways. They had to stop at three doors, Paco noted, as their German taskmaster unlocked each with something that sounded like a mechanical keypad. It took approximately twelve minutes for them to reach the bottom of wherever they were meant to go, each of those minutes spent in agonizing silence, save for the sound of that wretched creature's sickly breathing.

Then, all at once, they came to a stop. Paco felt the heavy chains on his arms drop to the floor, followed by the sound of a pair of boots clicking against steel. The sound grew softer as it gained distance until the closing of a door silenced it completely.

An intercom buzzed and spat static, muddling the words of a quiet voice on the other end. It took a moment for the static to subside and the voice to become intelligible. "Take off the bags, please." A man rasped in something of a weak, half mumble. Paco reached up with slow, unsteady hands to pluck it from his brow.

More darkness waited him, even blacker than the last. 'What...Where are we?' He wondered, reaching out into the darkness to find some kind of anchor. He didn't like being stuck in what felt like a wall-less void. His hand brushed up against something that quickly smacked it away without a modicum of restraint.

Ah, Brenda.

An electronic click sounded behind them, causing Paco to spin around just as a television screen came alive. It offered enough light for him to make out that they were in a relatively small room, with one door behind them and another to their immediate right. Brenda went to check to see if she could open it while Paco turned his full attention to the screen.

An image appeared first- an image of an artifact, not unlike a giant bug made of ceramics. It was some kind of Egyptian statue. It took a moment's thought, but he recognized it as the vessel that had infected Jaime in the museum's security camera footage.

Just as he thought of it, the image changed, showing a grainy still from that same incident. Jaime, his body having succumbed to the parasite, was turning upon the crowd. Even thinking about what happened made Paco feel nauseous.

The intercom buzzed again. "I call it Iuvenis Parainsectum," the voice breathed into the microphone in a slow, methodical tone, "a rough translation would be 'Parasite-Insect' Beta, or junior. But we just call it blue for short." He chuckled, the noise like nails clawing through a nasal canal.

"Where the hell's Jaime?" Brenda shouted, her gaze whipping around the room's ceiling in search of a camera. She found none, though the look on her face told Paco that she was sure the two of them were being watched. Closely. "What've you done to him?"

Another long, drawn out laugh came through the static. "He's quite alright...for now." He paused, letting that vague warning hang in the palpable silence for several moments before he continued. "If you would like to see him, I'll need you to promise to behave. Do I have your word?"

Before Del Vecchio could say anything to potentially screw this up, Paco jumped in. "Yes!" He shouted, far too enthusiastically for the girl glaring in his direction. He ignored her. "We just want to make sure he's alright."

The door to their right popped open. Beyond it lay a sterile, tiled room, with many banks of servers lining each wall. A number of workshop tables and strange, almost sci-fi machines were set up in the center in such a way that they formed a clear path to the sheer wall of glass on the other side of the room. Brenda moved passed Paco without hesitation; she didn't do more than flinch at the sight of the familiar figure stood there.

Warp, cloaked in living darkness, stood sentinel beside a most unassuming man.

He was frail and horribly thin, to the point of showing clear signs anorexia and muscle atrophy. His head was completely blank, save for a single liver spot dominating the front top of his forehead. What drew Paco's eye, however, was the wheelchair he occupied. Two legs, twisted and useless, lay out on supports; his upper limbs were similarly positioned on the chair's armrests. It didn't look like they'd seen use in at least a decade, perhaps even more.

"Hello Brenda, Paco." He gave the ever slightest nod of his head toward each, his neck shaking uncontrollably as if the action was the most difficult thing in the world for the aging gentleman. "My name is Doctor Caulder..." With a look, the doctor seemingly ordered the monstrosity beside him to take hold of the wheelchair and turn him about to face a console set directly against the glass. He placed a single, weathered digit underneath one of many switches on the board. "You want to see your friend, yes?"

"Yes." Brenda muttered reluctantly. "We...we do."

Caulder flicked the switch, and the lights beyond the glass came on.
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