Hidden 5 yrs ago Post by HenryJonesJr
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I rush at her, swinging the blade, which she easily avoids with a sidestep. She slings one of her webs at me, using it to throw me through another wall; just as planned. The building groans in protest, and I pull myself back to my feet again. It's already close to collapsing in on itself, and I'm sure a bunch of the people around here weren't happy with the eyesore. I'm just doing them a favor, which just so happens to help me out too.

I wipe the blood from the corner of my mouth as she approaches, knife still at the ready. "... That the best you got?"

He comes at me again, swinging wildly with the blade. I dip below the strike, grab his arm, and toss him with another judo-like throw. At least I think it's judo-like. I dunno. I watched a lot of judo at the Olympics a few years ago. It's in a moment like this that I realize I really have no clue how to actually fight. I'm just getting by on my powers. Maybe I should work on that at some point.

Focus, Stacy!

Castle slides across the grimy floor and slams into another wall, which buckles from the impact. He doesn't stay down though. He spits blood all over the floor, probably not the first time that's happened in this germ trap, and smiles at me. That red and white grin just tells me all I need to know. Frank Castle enjoys this. He enjoys getting his ass kicked, and if this continues, I could really hurt this guy. Usually the bad guys stay down after I hit them a few times. But this? This is crazy. This guy is legit nuts.

The knife comes at me again, but he follows up his strike with a fist, and then a foot. He's a whirlwind of strikes. None of them land, but all of them slam through the walls of the derelict building. I dip and dodge out of the way as the two of us dance in this dusty dump. He doesn't stop though, at least not until I manage to web his hand to the floor.

I flip back away from him to catch my breath, when I realize the groaning of the building as become a constant. All around me, the walls continue to crumble. A huge chunk of ceiling from the floor above slams down, separating Punisher and I. As it does, I see him cutting the webbing away from his trapped hand. But at this point, there's more important problems to deal with. The sounds of crashing steel, glass, and plaster fill my ears, and I realize this building is coming down. Now.

I start firing webbing off left and right in an attempt to solidifying the structural integrity of the rotting complex. But I'm not gonna do any good inside.

"Shit," I curse my luck, realizing the Punisher is either going to escape or die here tonight. But if this building comes down, it could injure innocent people around it, and I can't have that. I turn and fire a webline out of a gaping hole in the side of the nearest wall, and escape into the fresh air.

"What the hell is that!?" Peter asks about the sounds he hears through the comms.

"The bastard 'Super Shredder'ed me!" I respond as I swing around the building. I attach lines from the building to its neighbors, as I wrap the webline I'm swinging on around it. Dust, debris, and dirt shoot out the sides as the walls buckle and crumble. It looks like a full soda can being crushed by a vice, if I'm being honest. A soda can full of pee mattresses. Disgusting.

Thankfully, my webbing holds, and the final creak of the collapsing building echoes down the streets of New York. I let out a deep sigh, but the relaxation is brief, as the momentary silence is replaced with the scream of sirens. Before long, cop cars choke the street I'm on, and out of one of them comes my dad.

"Hey!" I do my best to mask my voice, more than I normally do. The cops point their guns at me, and I put my hands up, with my feet sticking to the side of a fire escape, "Don't shoot. Punisher is in there. Well, at least he was. Be careful."

Before any of them can respond or, knowing cops, shoot at me, I swing off.


"Impressive," Black Tarantula smiles as the scene plays out on the screen in front of her. "And you have the drone constantly follow her?"

"No," the man next to her responds. "So far it's not fast enough to keep up with her swinging. But it shows up when there's sufficient police presence. Where there is crime and suffering, there will be Spider-Woman. The more data I acquire about her, the more I can refine my designs, and find out how to replicate the process that created her."

"You want to make more of them?" the Tarantula asks in horror.

"No, not exactly," the bespectacled man chuckles softly. "Similar...but more...let's just say obedient. Our contract says we need to start human trials years from now. But this is science. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I hope to provide the world with a new generation of Captain Americas, my dear. To ensure the human race can protect itself for the day that these...gods and monsters decide to subjugate us. Across all history more advanced races always wiped out the less advanced ones. It's only a matter of time before that happens again."

"Mhm," Black Tarantula nods. "And how can you guarantee obedience?"

"A matter of biology," Doctor Otto Octavius leans forward, his bespectacled face suddenly illuminated by the screens and drone footage. The Oscorp scientist had tracked the crime lord down days ago, after the Spider-Woman had foiled the hit at the docks. How he knew about the Silk Syndicate's presence in the city was unknown, but he wanted to help with the Spider-Woman situation. He is ambitious, possibly more so than the tarantula. All he wants is to push his field of understanding and combating the new metahuman threat forward, in a way others seem to be afraid to do. "All across the animal kingdom are examples of workers and warriors compelled to protect their homes at the command of their kings and queens. All it takes is discovering the correct combination of variables, my friend."

He smiles as he watches Spider-Woman swing away. He was handsome, if disheveled. A true scientist in look. His auburn hair hangs around his ears, and is in a perpetual state of mussed. His strong cheekbones save his slightly-chubby face from being plain. "Just a question of variables. Shall we proceed with the next experiment?"

"Let's," Black Tarantula smiles before putting a finger to their ear. "Enforcers, I'm sending you Spider-Woman's coordinates. Move in, and neutralize the target."

Octavius leans back and produces a bowl of popcorn from below his desk. He trows a handful into his mouth and begins munching on the popped kernels, "I do hope this show is as good as you're promising. So far, it's living up to my expectations."
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Hidden 5 yrs ago Post by Hexaflexagon
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A cold wind danced through the Federal Military Memorial Cemetery carrying with it the promise of rain. The gentle wisps sending flashes of gooseflesh across Natasha’s neck. Natasha didn't mind the cold that much, even before the injections had dulled her senses to the elements, it had a comforting familiarity to it; ghostly echoes of a woman's warm voice that came to her in sleep singing Казачья колыбельная песня on some cold January night. She held onto that strange comfort as she pressed her hand traced the letters carved into the cold granite of the grave marker - Captain Ivan Petrovich Bezukhov.

The service was a very small affair only a priest and Natasha in attendance. Дядя never had a family of his own besides Natasha, he was a man that was married to his work and to the betterment of his country, and his country repaid him with not even a nod of recognition in return, the inescapable nature of the world of wetwork: it was part of the job to be forgotten, to be lost amongst histories countless pages. Natasha knew that he would of been fine with it, probably preferred it that way. Yet some small part of her still knew that he deserved better.

She caught a glimpse of a face, frozen in time, in the fresh polish of the grave marker. It was a face far displaced from the young girl that Дядя had rescued from the rubble of an apartment building in Stalingrad. Despite that and even in his old age Дядя’s wrinkled face would brighten wherever she had a chance to stop by the hospital in Presnya.

“Моя маленькая лиса”

Eventually though he stopped remembering. Her face lost to the fog of age. It was hard to lose somebody like that. It was around that time that she stopped going to the hospital.

She looked down at the piece of embossed paper that was clutched in her hands. It was one of those prayer cards that the nuns handed out to people on the street. The priest had given it to her after the service. On the front was a depiction of the Crucifixion and on the back was a simple prayer that was supposed to help guide the dead onward.

On the very bottom of card was a small sequence of numbers that couldn't be seen but felt through a series of slight indentations - a cypher and one that Natasha knew all too well.

The message was simple.

Saint Petersburg - A Few Days Later

Three kilometers up the Fontanka’s rambling path through the center of Saint Petersburg, where the casual passerby are able to catch glimpses of a lost time amongst the aristocratic palaces that clutter the river's embankment, just past the Egyptian Bridge where tourists wrapped in scarves and coats could take pictures next to iron sphinxes and great columns inscribed with hieroglyphics, down the boulevard there is an art gallery called the Сердце - the Heart.

The gallery was a small and homely affair, the entire space roughly the size of some of the reading rooms of the palaces that surrounded it. The space within spartan in its sentimentalities: the paintings hung upon bare walls and a single desk were a receptionists typed away at a computer. Outside a small electronic sign advertises their newest show - a selection of up and coming artists from the neo-cubist movement.

From the sidewalk staring up at this flashing sign was Natasha. She looked like any of the other migrants that frequented the area: small men’s black t-shirt thoroughly shrunken, a pair of black jeans, and a fur-lined aviator jacket that hung to her frame. She looked down at the watch that adorned her wrist. One last look was tossed down the empty boulevard before she entered the gallery, the soft sounds of a electronic chime ringing out as the door opened.

She strode over to the counter and leaned an arm against it, a pair of glasses rose up meeting her eye. The receptionist was a young woman in her late twenties with her hair pulled into a messy bun, she was dressed in a sharp alabaster pantsuit that blended in perfectly with the gallery’s interior. She met Natasha’s eyes with the easy smile that came from years of customer relations.

“And how can I help you today Ma’am?” The voice held a pleasant sing-song ring to it.

“Ah yes, I was on the phone earlier with someone about an appraisal?” Natasha responded with a mock-heistance.

There was a flash of recognition across the receptionist’s eyes as the command phrase was spoken. She nodded to herself before typing some command into the keyboard. She looked back up smiling.

“It seems that you do have a scheduled appointment. If you could follow me Ma’am.”

The receptionist moved away from the desk deeper into the gallery space. Natasha was lead to the back of the gallery beyond where a passerby could gaze in from the street. There as they came up to a blank wall, the young women pressed an unseen switch which made a section the wall flip revealing a sophisticated optic scanner. Natasha tapped her foot as she waited for the receptionist to lean into the device and for another section of the wall to slide away revealing a door. Taking a heavy key from her jacket pocket the receptionist opend the door revealing a dark space. She gestured with her other hand from Natasha to enter.

The door closed behind her as Natasha entered the darkened space. Bright halogen bulbs snapped to life illuminating the space around her. Natasha peered through squinting eyes at a small featureless cube empty save for the single unremarkable chair that sat in the middle of the room and the strange pair of what looked like trapezoidal goggles that rested upon it.

With a slight shrug Natasha took a seat in the chair and placed the goggles over her eyes. She pressed in the small switch built into the device’s side. A small hum began to reverberate throughout the room, the hum grew in intensity and pitch swallowing the world around them, and finally the world around Natasha faded away with a flash of supernova white.

Natasha came to she was staring at an unfamiliar wooden ceiling as the cries of seagulls filled the air. She quickly realized she was on a bed of some sort the silken sheets clinging to her like a cacoon. She turned her head to trace the sounds of the birds and found an open balcony that overlooked the sea. Unassumed with this whole charade Natasha pushed herself out of the bed and walked over towards the balcony. As she approached she could hear the sounds of two voices talking amongst themselves.

Stepping out onto the balcony she could almost feel the wind against her face and the warmth of the lazy noon sun.

“It’s amazing how close our programmers have almost come to the real thing isn’t it?” A voice called out on Natasha’s left. She knew its somber inflections well.

“It is.... most impressive Director.” Natasha remarked as she regarded the pixelated faux-flesh of her hand before turning towards the voice.

There in an old wicker chair sat a older man dressed in a simple navy blue bathrobe tied at the waist keeping his washboard chest exposed to the sun. As Natasha stared at him she couldn't help but notice the slight flickering and shifting as the Director’s face was swapped with another. Nobody, not even Natasha, knew the Director’s face or even his name for that matter. The man, or who they can only was a man given the avatar’s he chose to present himself with, prefered to keep his anonymity in tact.

“I am sorry about Captain Bezukhov, I know how much he mattered to you.”

“Clearly not sorry enough not to drag me out here” Natasha thought to herself as she outwardly smiled and give a nod. “You are too kind Director.”

“Yes, well we should get down to way I summoned you.” The Director explained as the tonal shift signed to all the time for pleasantries was over.

The ever-shifting man gestured towards the older woman, maybe in her late forties or early fifties, in a stainless white lab that sat next to him. There was a familiarity in the face that struck a strange chord with Natasha. It was something about the structure of the face and the lab coat that she was wearing... it almost reminded her of.

“You remember Dr. Lyudmila Kudrin do you not?” The Director asked wearing the smile of a man that already knew the answer to his own question.

“Doctor Kurdin.... It has been a very long time.” Natasha answered years of training allowing her to suppress the surprise in her voice. The last time she had seem Lyudmila Kudrin, Natasha had been a girl of barely thirteen years, strapped to an operating table to be injected with an experimental drug cocktail. She had always figured that the doctor had died... yet given how those injections had affected her own lifespan, she shouldn’t of been surprised.

“Natalia, always one of the strongest and look at you now.” Kurdin’s pride-laced voice came out as a worn smoker’s rasp like sandpaper rubbing against glass.

“In recent years Doctor Kurdin had been placed in charge of operations at the Red Room” the Director explained to Natasha. “Recently she came into some information regarding sensitive information pertaining to the Department.” The Director gestured towards Kurdin to continue.

“Do you remember Yulia Orlova?”

A flash of memories bombarded Natasha: a smiling face, laughter, and tears. Then they were gone.

“Yes. She vanished almost ten years ago at this point didn’t she?” Natasha answered trying to pull any information she could from Kurdin’s face.

“Indeed, during a shared op between the two of you in Shanghai wasn’t it?” Kurdin pushed with a smile.

“There were unforeseen complications.” Natasha answered back cooly.

“Don’t worry Natalia, I’m not here to interrogate you about your past failings.” Kurdin explained with a wave of her hand. “Our agents have found Yulia.”

“Where?” Natasha answered a little too quickly.

“Markovia,” Kurdin replied with a knowing smile. “That is not all it if our agents reports are to be believed she has with her a child.”

“A child?” Natasha replied the disbelief thick in her voice. “That is impossible. The injections are supposed to make us...”

“Steril?” Kurdin finished with something of a shrug. “That’s what we thought at least. Yet something always manages to fall through the cracks.”

The Director who at this point had been watching the exchange quietly cleared his throat. They both turned to look at him.

“Romanova, we are sending you in to assist the Doctor in this complicated matter.” The Director explained his composure give away nothing but his tone carried volumes - this was to make up for Shanghai.

“What do I need to do?”

“Kill Orlova and bring us the girl.”

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Hidden 5 yrs ago 5 yrs ago Post by Simple Unicycle
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Simple Unicycle ?

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12:34 AM; July 7th, 2018
Outside A Recently Collapsed Apartment Building; New York City


Blood runs down my face as I leap out of the collapsing building through a window... And subsequently scream as I realize that the window was three stories up. I land in a pile of trash, thankfully (or unthankfully), and groan in pain as I pull myself to my feet. I continue to limp forward, hearing sirens from the front of the building and seeing the Spider-Woman swinging around the building and shooting webs at it in an effort to control its collapse. At least one of us was making sure no one would get too hurt.

I struggle into a nearby alley, collapsing behind a dumpster with a grunt. Shakily, I reach into my pocket, pulling out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. I stick one in my mouth, lighting it up and taking a drag. I close my eyes, releasing the smoke from my lungs with a sigh. Maria always complained about my smoking, and as soon as the kids were born I went cold turkey; I picked it up again in the last few weeks since their deaths.

I let out a chuckle at the events that had transpired. I was going crazy. I should really just stop this silly crusade, change my name, move to another country, live a new life. But something compelled me to keep going. Keep killing in the name of justice, or whatever it was now. At this point, killing was all I knew; I had forgotten what being a loving father and husband was like, what being an upstanding boy scout cop was like, or even what being a decent person was like.

Honestly, I was afraid. Afraid at what I had become, what I had done. I've killed dozens of men in the last few days. Honestly, I wasn't sure this was what I was expecting to happen when I started this; I'd gone from hunting after the men who killed my family to fighting a superhero. Quite a serial escalation, that. And, being more honest, I wish she had killed me. I wish I took too long to cut through that webbing and was crushed by the rubble. I wish I was killed in one of the gunfights I had been in this last week. I wish I was killed alongside my family.

But as usual, the wishes went ungranted.

I pulled myself back to my feet. The cops would be searching the area for me, more than likely. I needed to keep moving, get to my gun stash. It wasn't too far. I'd swing by Dave's in the coming days, and we could work out some sort of battle plan. So far my plans had just consisted of go in and kill everyone who gets in my way, but if I kept doing that I'd get killed. I'd have to strike from the shadows from now on, go after the Manfredi family one member at a time. With my luck though, I'd still end up in at least ten more gunfights before this was done.

About half an hour later I arrived at the derelict warehouse I called my safehouse. There were so many other abandoned warehouses around that I wouldn't have to worry about anyone calling the police. I was alone for at least half a mile in every direction, especially at this time of night. I lifted the cloth covering a table, and took a moment to admire the merchandise I had taken from Greco. Say what you will about the man, but he had top of the line shit. I was able to steal enough ammunition for all the guns to supply a Goddamned army, too.

I picked up the kevlar vest I had also taken from his store, and looked over at the cans of spray paint littering the floor, left behind by some kids who had been tagging the warehouse long before I started to use it. I grabbed a can of white spray paint and set the vest down upon the table, before shaking the can and beginning to spray.

After a few minutes, I was done. I lifted the vest, and smiled slightly. Dave had a pretty decent idea of me wearing an outfit with a hugeass skull on it. Too bad it wasn't spandex, or purple. But I think it suits me.

I slid the vest on.

It didn't matter if I had to follow him to the end of the earth. Silvio Manfredi would die before the year was out.

... Probably in a few days.
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Hidden 5 yrs ago 5 yrs ago Post by DocTachyon
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DocTachyon Teenage Neenage Neetle Teetles

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”The Ranchero of Miracle Mesa” - Prelude

New York City, New York --- The Offices of Ramon J. Solomano

The Solomano Building was a wicked skyscraper, jutting out of the maw of a cluster of otherwise unimpressive and derelict constructions. Its only access was a side alley, carved out after a short but ferocious legal battle to wrest control of the few feet of land it took to construct from their previous owners. It didn’t so much as tower into the sky as it reached for the stars and petered, the top content to curl back into itself and slump. If you could make your way past the gangbangers that prowled out front you’d find a wholly unremarkable collection of bored office workers slurping stale coffee. That is, until you reach the top three floors: The Offices of Roman J. Solomano.

George “Big Caesar” Vincenzo shouldered open a carved wooden door three times his size. The mobster straightened his suit coat as he went in, brushing flecks of dusts away and swearing to himself. He flinched as his shoe squeaked off the last bit of linoleum entering the office. The door creaked closed behind him.

It was the only room in the building to have a barrel vaulted ceiling. Long slabs of polished tile led to an oaken desk that seemed rooted to the floor. At the far end of the room, Roman J Solomano stood, staring out the picture window that dominated the office with a vicegrip on his tumbler glass.

“You got good news for me, Vincenzo?” Solomano said.

“Well, uh,” Big Caesar gulped, “Word just got in that the, uh, cops rolled out on The Punisher. But he, uh, got away…”

“God fucking dammit!” Solomano’s tumbler exploded across the tile and his gloved fist cracked into the windowpane. Caesar could see Solomano’s scowl reflecting in the spiderwebbed glass.

Big Caesar put his hands up, palms out, “Least he’s got more of Silvermane’s guys to go through, right?”

Solomano massaged his temples and turned around, plodding to his desk. The desk was crafted out of gnarled and knotted wood, as if grown out the ground itself. He sank into his swivel. He straightened the pens on his desk, and for just a moment, he stopped. His eyes snapped to Big Caesar’s.

Solomano’s eyes were piggy little things, hiding in the deep holes of his skull. He steepled his fingers and rested his chin on them. His gaze burned holes out through the back of Big Caesar’s skull. Caesar looked away.

“You must have forgotten why they named me The Hand, Vincenzo.” Solomano’s voice came out small. He pulled a black, leathery glove off of one hand. The back of his hand had a rune crudely carved into the stretched, white flesh. The scar was raised from the skin, healed over in the years since it was etched, but it still boiled an angry red.

“They gave me this,” he stabbed his left hand into the scar, “because it means fucking power.” He slammed his hands into the table and swiped everything off of the desk, sending cups of pens shattering against the floor.

“Because of that murder-fetishist jackoff, and everybody like him, this doesn’t mean shit anymore.” Solomano threw himself back in his chair. He put his elbows on the desk and slumped into his open hands.

“We got that Spider-bitch right on our doorstep, and less than three hours away we have a goddamn god that can knock anything we throw at him out of the sky. Next thing we know, Captain America is gonna leap out of the comic books and kick my teeth in.” Solomano said. Big Caesar nodded slowly, his chin was tucked into his chest and he stared at the ground. He dropped to his knees and started to collect the scattered pens.

“Maybe… Maybe we could try running more guns to our guys? Better hardware might shut ‘em down?” Big Caesar looked up at Solomano, starting to raise his arm to shield his face. Solomano pulled away from his hands, into the middle distance.

“The Spider stopped an armored car. At full speed. It’d take a goddamn tank to stop her. We need more. We need powered enforcers. We’d need a god on our side.” He said. His eyes were red rimmed, the lids drooped low.

Big Caesar nodded. “Or a demon.”

Solomano looked Big Caesar up and down. His eyes flitted to the fragments of ceramic and glass littering the ground. Then to the ceiling.

“God forgive me. Get me my books from the thirteenth floor, Vincenzo. We need to make a deal.” The scar on Solomano’s hand began to pulse a dark blue.
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Hidden 5 yrs ago 5 yrs ago Post by Morden Man
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Morden Man

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Landing Deck, Pegasus Helicarrier

High above the Atlantic Ocean the battle reached its twenty-third minute. Reed Richards and Sue and Johnny Storm worked in unison to repel an endless wave of attacks from Namor and Namora. Reed’s impossibly malleable form wrapped itself around their limbs, constricting and binding them, while the siblings Storm took their turns launching ranged attacks. The Atlanteans showed no sign of tiring.

In fact the more Namor fought the stronger he seemed to get. Reed could feel his prying, searching fingers digging into him in an attempt to tear him apart with his bare hands. For a few moments Richards had feared that he really might. This Namor seemed stronger than the one in their world.

Fireball after fireball peppered Namora. Johnny endeavoured to draw her away from her cousin. She was smaller than Namor – and markedly weaker – so Storm felt less terrified by the prospect of her man-handling him like a children’s doll. For the most part his assessment had proven correct. He had, however, underestimated her speed despite having witnessed her despatching Ben with ease.

As the battle inched towards its thirtieth minute, the Fantastic Three began to show signs of fatigue. The Atlantean encroachment reached further and further each wave. Soon Reed’s attempts to frustrate Namor by entangling him backfired.

The Atlantean used the lasso-like Reed to pluck Johnny from the sky and twisted Reed into a makeshift rope to throttle Storm with.

“Sue!” Reed called out to his fiance as he recognised that Johnny’s face was turning purple. “We could use a little bit of help here!”

Sue’s eyes widened as she noticed her brother was in danger – and she fired a construct at Namora that sent her barrelling towards the edge of the Pegasus.

“Enough,” Sue said as she raised a hand threateningly in the Atlantean’s direction.

“You dare to command me, woman?” Namor laughed. “I have the blood of Emperor Thakorr coursing through my veins.”

Had Namor known Sue Storm better he would have recognised the look in her eyes.

“It’s not your blood you should be worrying about.”

A hard-light construct appeared around Namor’s neck. It clamped so tightly and suddenly that he released the Reed rope and Johnny fell free from his arms. Storm gasped for air desperately and clambered away from the Atlantean who had begun to float above the ground.

From across the Pegasus, Namora spotted Namor clawing at his neck to try to remove the construct. “Cousin!”

As she went to break towards them the sudden appearance an orange hand wrapped itself around her leg.

“Oh no, you don’t. Let’s see how you like a taste of your own medicine, Little Mermaid.”

Ben Grimm had spent the best part of half an hour swimming back towards the Pegasus. His head was still ringing from the force of Namora’s punch – but he was conscious enough to know that he wasn’t about to let no fish-woman ambush Suzie.

He held onto her leg as she tried to claw her way towards her cousin.

“That sensation you’re feeling?” Sue Storm said as she again tightened the construct around Namor’s neck. “That’s desperation. Something tells me it’s probably not a feeling you’re familiar with but you will be once I’m finished with you.”

Johnny’s voice was still ailing from the chokehold Namor had placed him in. He watched on as the King of Atlantis struggled in vain. Beside Johnny, a discombobulated Reed began to re-form.

Namor’s prying had all but fried Reed’s brain for a few moments but once he had returned to the land of the living his mouth fell agape at what he was witnessing.

“You’re going to learn what it feels like not to be in complete control for once,” Sue shouted. This time her voice, so calm and soothing usually, was laced with hostile intent. “You’re going to learn what it feels like to watch your world burn all around you.”

Reed placed his hand on her fiance’s shoulder in an attempt to coax her out from beneath her rage. It had been Sue that had stressed calm at first – but seeing her only brother on the brink of death had awoken something within the Invisible Woman.

She had been reminded of a time that young Johnny had almost choked to death on some chewing gum as a kid. It was a few years after their father had been sent to prison. Sue was all that Johnny had left. So when she found him purple, airway blocked, near death, her whole life had come crashing down around her.

And there, if only for the briefest of moments, she recalled who that had felt.

“Sue,” Reed murmured to his fiance without an ounce of judgement in his voice. “Sue, this is not who you are.”

Her breathing slowed and slowly Sue regained her calm. Namor had slumped to his knees, hands rubbing his throat and Adam’s apple, as he tried to take stock of what had happened to him.

“You almost killed me, you stupid woman,” Namor snarled.

Johnny Storm smiled a proud smile. “And she still could too, bozo.”

“And then what? What is it that you think would happen afterwards, you mewling ignoramus? Every able-bodied Atlantean would take up arms against the surface world and fight until the oceans frothed with blood.”

Though a little worse-for-wear, Reed Richards sensed his opportunity to reason with the Atlantean king for a second time.

“There must be some way to end this peacefully, Namor.”

This time there was a flicker of indecision from Namor. It was brief – almost indiscernible to the normal eye – but Reed spotted it. Something had changed in his mind.

Namora however was still determined to bring Gardner to heel. “No more bargains, cousin. Let us end this once and f-”

“Would you quit your bellyaching already? None of us would be in this mess if you’d just told Carrot Top to shove it,” Ben shouted.

Namora’s features twisted with rage and she prepared to charge the Thing for a second time. This time Ben seemed prepared for it. Before she could move, her cousin Namor clamped his hand around her arm to keep her in place. The indecision had gone. Atlantis’ king had decided upon a course of action.

“I have a proposition for you, Reed Richards.”

“Oh, I don’t like the sound of that at all,” Ben whispered to Johnny sheepishly.

“I will pledge to put an end to my war with the surface world immediately – I will even disavow my right to exact vengeance against that buffoon Gardner – in exchange for a simple boon.”

Reed’s ears pricked up. In one move he could put an end to a conflict that all of Nick Fury and SHIELD had failed to for decades. It wasn’t just the lives lost. It was the prospect of cooperation with a culture whose understanding of technology and magic would help fuel groundbreaking new technologies. Who in their right minds would turn down such a deal? There was no price that wasn’t worth paying for such a thing.

At least Reed didn’t think so until Namor named his price.

“Your mate.”

The words struck Reed like a punch to the chest. “Excuse me?!”

Namor smiled wryly and looked directly at Sue.

“Never has someone defied me the way you did, Susan Storm. You would make for an incredible mate were you not a feeble surface-dweller – but you look strong enough to survive a single night with the King of Atlantis.”

Johnny had heard enough. First Namor had almost choked the life out of him and now he thought he could treat his sister like chattel to be bought and sold. Johnny was going to show him what real pain was.

“I am going to burn you alive, you no-good son of a b-”

Before the insult left his mouth, Sue strode forward and extended her hand in Namor’s direction. “I agree.”

Reed could feel his heart in his throat.

“Sue, you can’t be serious?”

His fiance did not so much as acknowledge his question. Instead she stood resolutely before Namor waiting for him to shake her hand as an equal. The Atlantean king glanced down at the hand, as if unfamiliar with the custom, until Sue prompted him to shake it.

“Do we have a deal or not?”

Namor relented and took Sue’s hand.

“Yes, Susan, we have a deal,” Namor agreed. “One day in the near future I will call upon you and you will be my honoured guest for a night. Rest assured that I will be true to my word – the debaser will come to no harm by my hand or any acting on my behalf. That much I promise.”

Namora fumed from within Namor’s grip. “This is an outrage.”

“Silence, Namora.”

As if emboldened by Sue’s defiance, the Atlantean heiress refused to be ordered into silence.

“You would trade my honour for one night with this surface-dwelling pigl-”

Where Namor’s words had failed, his eyes succeeded. He turned to Namora with a look that made her turn white. His rough hands had tightened around her arm to the point that she could not feel her forearm. She feared him, as all Atlanteans feared their king, as he was the rage of Poseidon.

“Forgive me, my king.”

He nodded in acceptance and let her arm slip from his hand. With their bargain struck, he also released Sue’s hand. There was a tense moment when Reed and Namor locked eyes but the king seemed nonplussed by the super scientist’s displeasure. Ben and Johnny watched on, shocked, as Namor and Namora turned to leave.

The long tentacle that had been holding the Pegasus in place unfurled and the Atlanteans rode the arm down beneath the surface.

The Fantastic Four stood alone on the edge of the Pegasus staring at the sea beneath them. They were lost for words. Reed’s sense of betrayal hung so heavily in the air that it was almost tangible. Sue dared not look in her fiance’s direction. Only Ben dared break to the silence.

He rubbed his jaw where Namora had blindsided him earlier and then looked over at Johnny despairingly. “What a revoltin’ development.”
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Hidden 5 yrs ago 5 yrs ago Post by Afro Samurai
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Afro Samurai Like a Raisin in the Sun

Member Seen 10 mos ago

Azania, East Africa
A Bunker
July 7th, 10:30 a.m.

”Morality is the first step toward cowardice.”

- Ulysses Klaue

A plume of cigar smoke trekked through the entire room. Full light made it clear to each man to whom they were speaking: one Ulysses Klaue, physicist and Nazi son, the other a veteran of war and former army man turned dictator. General Magnus Moore nestled his little nation on the southeastern tip of Africa near the Cape Coast, and it was the only nation in all the 55 countries of Africa with a predominantly white population. Moore, like Klaue, were here today with a single interest: a hermit kingdom’s metal.

Behind Moore stood his Supremacists: Voortrecker, Captain Blaze, Barricade. Across from Moore was Klaw, the origin and cause of the smoke-filled room. As host of this meeting, Moore took the involuntary pleasure of speaking first,

“Ulysses, is it? Yes, son of the renowned Colonel Fritz Klaue--Baron Strucker’s bulldog.” at the insult, Klaue stopped puffing his cigar, his legs remained propped atop the round table.

“Something foul come from your mouth about my father again and I may have to get unfittingly violent, General. Understood?” he blew smoke in the General’s face. As bodyguards do, Moore’s meta-men moved to attack, Moore waved a hand at his trio dismissively.

“Mr. Klaue jests, vriends. Let us address our business, Mr. Klue. I am told you are the finest, ehm, contractor in these dark lands. Is that correct?”

A gruff laugh escaped Klaue, he drew from his cigar again and puffed the ensuing smoke from his nostrils. Klaue plopped his head back on the chair, eyes closed as he soaked up the euphemism. Contractor. How nice of the General to dally. Klaue had no time for his nicieties, there was money to get, and the General’s love for language was too above Klaue for him to care.

“I kill people, General. People like you hire people like me--” a prod of his own chest, “to get rid of people like the Wakandans. That is why you brought me here, right? Problems with the cat man?” Moore smiled, a little flustered at how callous Klaue was. How rushed he wanted everything; that was not a quality of a thinking man. Moore wafted a hand at Barricade, his resident brute, who retrieved a silver metal case and laid it on the desk.

“Calling them a problem is an insult to our people, Mr. Klaue. They are simply a nuisance. A nuisance” the suitcase clicked and its lid opened, "which will be swiftly dealt with this time." Inside the velvet inseam of the suitcase lie a Vibranium coated bullet. Barricade spun it around so it was visible to Klaue. Klaue swept his feet from atop the roundtable and leaned forward.

“Well haven’t you just outdone yourself today, hey!” a boisterous laugh which turned to a cough, mucus and phlegm rattled his chest. Too much smoking. He would give it up soon is what he always told himself.

“I tend to.” smug and arrogant Moore was, he had masterminded the first ‘invasion’ of Wakanda in 1941. He had masterminded self-experimentation, siphoning and manipulating the DNA of his people to keep himself young.

“Your orders,” Moore continued,

“Orders?” Klaue objected,

“Forgive me. Your… payment... will come after you have assassinated their King. You will meet my man in the States for the specifics of your assignment.” a picture passed his way,

Klaue raised an eyebrow and scratched his head in confusion, “are you sure this is the right, uh, ‘guy’? He’s, y'know. . . white.” Moore let on another of those smug smiles,

“Yes, of course I am sure, Mr. Klaue, I am always sure. They call him the White Wolf.”

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Hidden 5 yrs ago Post by BlackSam3091
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BlackSam3091 A Glorious Failure

Member Seen 4 mos ago

Star City, The Glades, Night

The gun spoke thunder, spewing hot lead, breaking the night’s silence. The bullets missed their target. A costly mistake on the gunman’s part.

The scream came of its own accord, muscling its way out between Dinah’s lips before she could stop it, before she could even think about it. The silence that the gun broke, the cry shattered, along with all the windows in a block radius. Shockwaves rippled through the air before slamming into the gunman, hurling him from his feet, the gun dropped from nerveless fingers. He might have let loose a scream of his own before the streets concrete robbed consciousness from him, but if he did its noise was lost in the echoes of hers.

It took a minute for the adrenaline to wear off, for her heart to stop pounding that Tony Ramone beat. She didn’t feel out of breath, but her lungs were demanding air, like they just wanted the taste. Maybe it was just her bodies way of telling her that ‘it’s good to be alive’.

Movement in the deepest shadows of the non-descript Glades alley had her dropping into a balanced crouch, fighting instincts finely honed and ready to rock. Ted Grant, look at me now. A heartbeat later she realised she needn’t have gotten so worked up. There were no more horrors left here, no more asses to kick. Not tonight. The disappointment that welled up in her chest at that realisation surprised her.

“It’s alright, you can come out. Bad guys down.” She called into the darkness. A moment later two figures moved out of the gloom, halting and slow, like they weren’t sure they wanted to give up their cover just yet. The way the Glades had been recently Dinah wasn’t sure that she blamed them.

The woman held the boys hand and positioned herself in front of him protectively. Mother and son, Dinah figured. They both had that hollow-eyed, drawn out ghastliness that seemed distressingly common amongst those living in the glades now. It had been a while since their last good meal. It hurt to look at them, both so threadbare and destitute. It made her feel like their suffering was her fault, that she had done this horrible thing to them, or at the very least wasn’t doing enough to help them. Guilt made her avert her gaze, made her turn from them. She had to make herself busy.

First, she checked the thug. He was still breathing, thankfully. It was some hit he took, and while Dinah didn’t mind breaking a few bones here or there, she drew the line at killing, even scumbags who tried to rob women and children. It wasn’t for her to play God, even in a Godforsaken place like this. Then she pocketed the gun. There was more than enough hardware on these streets. She’d dispose of it later. She thought about dropping the Star City Police a call, to let them know there was trash needing collecting, but decided against it. It would just go ignored, like all the other calls she’d made before. Sure, the guy would be able to walk free as soon as he was awake, but what else could she do?

The mother and son were still staring at Dinah, motionless. Voiceless. Hopeless. Their faces were blank, but Dinah felt like she could read them like books. They couldn’t countenance anyone going out of their way to help them, not for free. They were just waiting for the other shoe to drop. That’s what living in the Glades did to people now. It was the anathema of innocence. It broke her heart to see it.

“You’re safe now.” She said. They didn’t react. She forced a smile, and held an open hand out to them, beckoning them onwards, out of the dark. They didn’t move, not a muscle. She couldn’t say she was surprised, but it hurt nonetheless. She tried not to show it, fixed a fake smile, like that could make anything better. “Well, good luck.”

Luck. Like that was what they needed. They seemed to share the sentiment, their blank gazes accusing her of some nameless, hateful crime.

She turned her back on the pair and headed down the street, fists clenched tight and a weight on her chest.

“Thank you.”

She spun, but the pair were gone, no sign of them ever being there in that dark, empty alleyway.
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Hidden 5 yrs ago 5 yrs ago Post by HenryJonesJr
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Swinging home from the confrontation with the Punisher, I can't help but feel like a failure. I had the chance to take a dangerous man off the street tonight and I failed horribly. How can I expect to protect this city from real, credible threats when I can't even take down a normal guy with a knife. The news shows videos of Superman tearing apart an army of killer robots like it's a walk in the park, or Wonder Woman snatching a freaking plane out of the sky. And what do I do? Bungle a fight with crazy cop and almost drop a building on some innocent people. I mean, I didn't even figure out what he was trying to do with the building supports until it was too late. A mistake like that could kill me against anyone else.

"So you're uncharacteristically quiet," Pete's voice breaks through the silence of my return home. "What's on your mind, Spider-Woman."

Well, Pete, your uncle is dead because I was a crappy, selfish jerk. Because of that I decided to become a real-life superhero. Instead of doing that, though, I'm just winging it and failing horribly.

That's what I want to say. I want to lay my heart out for Pete. Tell him all I'd like to do right now is go to his place and watch some crappy movie on Netflix and make fun of it, like we did when we were younger. Instead I can't find the words to really express what I'm feeling, and the noxious cocktail of emotions swimming around my belly have me confused on what I even want from him.

Gotta love being a superhero with teenage girl hormones. Super fun. Would not recommend.

"I dunno, Pete," I respond, flipping head over heels just for the hell of it. "I should not have let Punisher get away tonight. I should have gone after him after the building collapsed. Then the cops showed up and I left. Just left the mass murderer to escape or die or attack the cops that were there. Who knows. All I know is I feel sick about it."

He considers my words before responding. One good thing about Peter Parker is he's always going to think about the conversation he's in, assuming there isn't some weird science problem going on at the same time. Peter is probably the most considerate person that anyone could ever meet.

"Gwen, I don't know what it's like to be you right now. How could I? You're a high school kid who could flip the school bus with one arm tied behind her back. But I do know who you were before a spider bit you. You think it changed you. Maybe it did, physically. But you're still Gwen Stacy. You're still the person who always stuck up for me when Flash Thompson stole my toys during recess back in the day. You're the person who stuck up for Mary Jane when everyone at school thought her nothing but trash. You're the person who helps people, Gwen. Maybe it's not about saving the city. Maybe it's about saving one person at a time. The rest will come in time. But I know who you are, Gwen Stacy. You were a hero before you put on that mask. At least, you were to me."

"Thanks, Parker," is all I can choke out after that. Like I said, the most considerate person that anyone could ever meet. If I heard what he just said come out of anyone else's mouth, I'd have thought they were just bullshitting to make me feel better. But with Peter I know he's sincere. He is always sincere. Even in that moment after Uncle Ben's funeral, after we put his father and my surrogate father in the ground, when I told him about my powers, he jumped at the chance to help. That's who Peter Parker is. Always thinking about others instead of himself.

"Any time, Stacy," he responds, and I can tell he's smiling. "Now, get yourself home. I'm sure you're dad's gonna need some support in the morning."

"10-4, Pete," I smile. "I'll talk to you tomorrow."

As I cross into Queens, I take a shortcut through an industrial park. It's been a long night of swinging and stopping buildings from falling down, so I assume my webshooters are close to empty. The last thing I want to do is walk the rest of the way home. That would not be fun in the slightest.

Unfortunately, it turns out to be the worst move I can possibly make. Halfway through the park, my webline snaps above me, and I tumble again to the ground as my spider sense flashes a brief warning. I manage to catch myself this time, and swing safely to the asphalt below. I stand, listening to the silence of the night, waiting for whatever just attacked me to do so again.

It doesn't take long, another, stronger warning courses through me, and I can hear a faint whizzing approach through the air. Giving myself over to instinct and my enhanced speed and agility, I prepare to dodge the incoming projectiles.

The first comes towards me from my right, low in a rising motion. I corkscrew over it, planting my right hand as I land, which allows me to spring off the ground when the next projectile heads straight for it. This time I come down in a crouched position, and have to bend completely backwards, Matrix-style, as the third and final projectile skims far too close over me.

I take a moment to catch my breath, before my spider sense warns me of incoming from the opposite direction. I have to repeat everything I just did, except in reverse. That's when it hits me, "Were those...boomerangs?"

I don't have time to really consider the ridiculousness of being attacked by Outback Steakhouse, because the largest fist I've ever seen takes a massive swing at me from my left, forcing me into a retreat. After a few back hand springs, I look up to see a monstrous mountain of a man. Standing close to seven feet tall, with arms as big around as my entire body is, the bald, tattooed man has a nasty, mean, toothy-grin on his face. He looks like if Ivan Drago had a big dumb cousin crossed with Zangief from Street Fighter. In a white tank top, grey, tactical-looking pants, and combat boots, I all but expect him to have fallen out of a World War II movie or something.

"Prepare to be sqvashed, insect," he grunts stupidly in the most obnoxious Russian accent you've ever heard.

"Actually," I crouch down and raise an index finger at him, "spiders are arachnids. Not insects. Easy mistake to make, but the whole eight-legs thing is kinda key. So don't worry big guy. Now if you had said bug, that'd be-Whoa incoming!"

He attempts to slam both his Volkswagen-Beetle-sized hands down on me, but I easily twirl to evade his attack. As his arms collide with the ground, I web him to the ground and wave, "Now you remember what I told you about the difference between arachnids and ins-Dang it!"

From behind the too-large human comes another enemy. Small, and agile, she runs up the back of her comrade and comes flying at me with a kick straight out of Mortal Combat. She's dressed in a magenta-like ninja robe, and her long black hair is wrapped in a braided ponytail that trails behind her as she soars through the air.

I slide away, but she manages to catch my hood as I do. She twirls me around and manages to deliver an elbow strike to the left side of my head that has me seeing stars. With a speed that is almost superhuman, she delivers a few more strikes before I manage to put some distance between the two of us.

"Jeez, lady," I try and catch my breath. "I'm impressed. That's the best I've been hit in a long time."

"Enough talk," she snarls.

"Oh well I was always told to talk out my feelings rather than fight," I sigh as she comes rushing towards me again. "Ugh, such poor conflict resolution. I'm gonna have to talk to HR."

While she may be quick for a normal person, she's not quick enough. She'll be joining her Russian friend in webby prison soon enough.


"Oh crap."

I look down to see a small, silly-string like ribbon of webbing escape my shooters before nothing but air escapes them.

"Tonight really, really sucks." The martial arts lady comes at me strong and fast, meaning I'm gonna have to take her down as hard as I can.

She attempts to come at me with another combo, but this time I'm ready. Super speed and a sixth sense that warns you of danger really comes in handy with hand-to-hand fighting. The only blows she lands are glancing, and I barely notice them. After I duck under a roundhouse kick, she's exposed. I drive my palm into her chest, knocking the wind out of her and sending her flying into the pavement. It's not enough to do any serious damage, but she'll have one hell of a bruise.

I approach to deliver the knockout blow, but as I raise my fist, a sharp pain rolls down my arm and something goes taught on my wrist. I look up to see the end of a whip holding me in place. With a great yank from whoever is holding it, I snap backwards, and receive a kick in the gut from its owner.

Looking up, I find a well built man with a scarred face and buzzed brown hair smiling malevolently down at me. He's wearing some sort of cowboy duster over a t-shirt and jeans. Not your normal hitman look, but hey, what do I know, I'm new to the ins and outs of organized crime. He grabs me by the throat and snarls, "Don't you know it's not polite to hit a lady?"

"I am a lady you freakin' goon!" I respond, snatching the duster and tossing him into his ninja lady-friend. "Honestly. Big Russian strong guy, little lady karate chops a lot, and American cowboy wannabe? Who are you guys? The Stereotype Squad? The Formulaic Force? It's gotta me something like that, right?"

While I stand there gloating at what I think are my three enemies, another wave of bladed boomerangs come my way, and this time one of them finds their mark, gashing me across the shoulder pretty good. Deeper than Punisher's cut on my thigh, but still nothing too major. Hurts like hell though, and I can feel the blood trickling out of the wound.

"Sorry about that, Sheila," an Australian accent comes from the shadows. From them steps a man in a blue beanie with wisps of fire-red hair escaping from underneath. His tanned face is peeled back with an imp-like grin. Underneath a grey duster, seriously what's with these guys and dusters, a bandoleer filled with boomerangs crosses his chest. "But you pissed off our boss. And when that happens, you become the Enforcers' problem to deal with."

"Oh my god," I chuckle as the pain and the exhaustion of the night begins to catch up with me. "The boomerang guy is Australian! Come on you guys! Lean out of the stereotypes! You can be whatever you want! Society will accept you for what you want to be!"

"You talk to much," the boomerang guy seethes as he approaches me. I drop down to one knee, feigning that this is it. He plays with two of his bladed weapons as he gets closer. He tosses one at the webbing holding the big, dumb Russian down, and catches it deftly as it returns to him. Once he's within striking distance, I spring off the ground and throw my shoulder into him.

As he sprawls to the ground, the whip guy tries to hit me again, but this time I'm ready, and catch the dangerous end. I pull him off his feet and swing him into the martial artist, crumpling them both to the ground.

Unfortunately, it leaves me open to a devastating punch to the gut from the big guy. All the air leaves my body like a popped balloon, and I fall to my hands and knees. He picks me up over his head and tosses me like a doll into the river. Water floods my nose as I hit the water, and I come back to the surface hacking and gasping for air.

I let the current carry me away from my attackers, but as it does I hear the big guy yell, "Consider this a varning! Stay out of da Black Tarantula's business!"


Parker Residence

It takes me an hour to walk from where I get out of the river to Pete's house. I probably should go home, but I already know Dad's gonna be at work all night, and I don't want to be alone. Not after a night like this. Even with super powers, sometimes you just need someone else in the house with you in order to sleep.

I scale the house up to his window and tap quietly against the glass. From the other side of the blinds, small lamp pops on, and then a shadowy figure sits up in bed and groggily makes its way towards the window. Two of the blind slats part, and from between them come a surprised pair of brown eyes.

"Gwen?" Pete's muffled voice asks, perplexed, before the blinds come up and the window opens. "What are you doing here?"

"Just let me in," I respond wearily. He removes the screen to the window, and I hop in. Flopping down on the bed, I throw my mask on the ground. I sit up as Pete sits next to me. I bury my head into his shoulder, "I just got my ass kicked by four weirdos."

"Yea...you're...uhh...bleeding still," he says looking at my wounds. "And...I'm gonna be honest. You kinda smell."

"Yea," my voice is muffled by his shirt. "I get thrown in the river. Can I shower?"

"Yea," he nods. "Aunt May is fast asleep. It takes a bullhorn to wake her up."

"Thanks," I smile and grab a t-shirt and shorts from his drawers. "Just like old times when we were kids."

The water in the shower turns pink as the blood mixes with it. I let the water pound on my face, an attempt to wash away not the stink of a New York City water way, but the feeling of failure I feel covering me. First the Punisher gets away, and now some jackasses working for the new crime boss in town hand me my lunch on a silver freaking platter. I don't know if there's been a worse night of superheroing in this new and wonderful age, but there sure have been better.

After I dry off and change, Pete patches up the cut on my shoulder and my leg. Neither of us say anything. He knows I'm hurting more than just physically from the night, and I don't have anything of value to say, really. I'm exhausted and embarrassed. All I want to do is watch some crappy movie as I fall asleep.

Once he's done bandaging me up, he says, "So, Manos: The Hands of Fate or Space Mutiny?"

"Oh god, Manos," I respond. "I can't deal with Blast Hardcheese after tonight."

So Peter queues up possibly the worst, and funniest, movie ever made, and the two of us lie down together, laughing at the ridiculousness. It should feel weird, but it doesn't. It feels...natural. Like maybe everyone is right and this should be normal. Maybe I should be with him.

"Peter...," I say and he turns to me. I should tell him everything. I should tell him what happened the night Uncle Ben died. I should tell him it only happened because I was a selfish jerk. That I let the guy go because he hurt the man who helped deliver my mom a death sentence. That I thought he deserved it, and because of that Uncle Ben paid the ultimate price. I know that it will never work out between the two of us if I keep that secret. Deep down I know that.

But instead of telling him, instead of doing the only thing that can really make us right, I kiss him. I kiss him hard and passionately, releasing years of pent up desire and throwing away the indecision. He kisses me back, eagerly, and when we stop I bury my face into his chest yet again and fall asleep.

Good job, Stacy, I think as I drift off. I'm sure this is going to end super well. Good job.
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Hidden 5 yrs ago Post by GreenGrenade
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Sometimes he’d catch himself reaching for an arrow.

He could be eating breakfast. Exercising. Playing catch-up with the world. Something would move in the corner of his eye, or he would hear some sound – approaching footsteps, the crackle of leaves, a door’s strained creak – and all of a sudden he’d be back on the Island.

Back in the dirt and the forest, sticky with sweat and blood and ducking, something hot and fast flying past his head, as he reaches for his quiver and pulls out an arrow, his heart pounding in tandem with the gunfire. And as he takes aim he can feel his shoulders tighten, and he fills his lungs with air until they press against his ribcage, breathing out in an explosive burst as he lets the arrow loose. It meets its target with a thud, slamming into the gunman’s chest – the gunman, who lets out a windless cry, a wild shot from his rifle echoing through the woods. He’s on the ground now, and Oliver takes a moment to watch as the life leaves his body, his chin covered in red, the wooden shaft of the arrow rising up out of his sternum like a flag erected to lay claim to his life –

– and Oliver would remind himself that he wasn’t on the Island anymore. His hand would lower itself from an imaginary quiver, taking its place back by his side, and he’d let out a shaky breath, trying for the thousandth time to get used to the idea that he didn’t have to fight anymore. That he was safe. It always felt like a lie.

Today was no different.

“Itchy back, Mr. Queen?” asked John Diggle.

The bodyguard stood in the doorway to his father’s old study. It was a large room, filled with old books and mahogany, the smell of paper thick and oddly comforting. Thea said that after the Gambit sunk, Mom had often come in here to think. It made her feel close to Robert. He’d spent so much time there… So Oliver would come in here, too. To feel close to both of them.

“Hm?” Oliver lowered his hand, turning to face Diggle. “Oh, Mr. Diggle. Yeah, actually, it’s – it’s kinda killing me. Do you mind…?”

The man stared at him blankly, unsure of how to respond. He was tall, built like a truck. Ex-S.H.I.E.L.D., apparently. Oliver had met a few ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives on the Island. They weren’t that tough.

He smiled. “Kidding.”

Diggle returned a smile, but it wasn’t genuine. Not really. He seemed almost on-edge, as if something was bothering him. Rigid and unmoving, like prey that knew it was being hunted. It wasn’t the first time he’d been like this around Oliver.

“Everything okay?” asked Ollie. “Thea giving you a hard time again?”

“No, sir. Your sister’s fine, getting ready to leave in a couple of minutes. I just thought I’d check in on you, see how you’re doing.”

“Oh. Right. I’m doing pretty fine. Just thinking on stuff,” he said. “What about you? How’s the security life treating you?”

“As well as it always does, sir. I can’t complain.”

“Not even a little bit?” he joked.

“Not at all, Mr. Queen. You and your sister are great employers. So was your mother.”

It was like talking to a brick wall.

Oliver straightened up, walking towards Diggle. The bodyguard’s eyes never left him, following him across the room.

“Can I ask you a question?”

Diggle nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“Why do you always look like you’re about to fight that Superman guy when I’m around?”

He blinked. “Come again?”

Oliver met his gaze, and held it there.

“Are you scared of me, Mr. Diggle?”

Diggle hesitated, taken aback.

“To tell you the truth?” he dropped his eyes, “Shitless, sir.”

He sighed, massaging the back of his neck. His jacket arm almost split as he bent it, his bicep flexing into that of a giant’s. “I can’t get a good read on you.”

Oliver gave a perplexed smile as he crossed his arms, leaning against the doorframe. “Why would you want to?”

“With all due respect, Mr. Queen,” he said, “I’m ex-Special Forces. I know damaged goods when I see them. And I just can’t tell whether you’re the dangerous kind.”

“I was alone on an island for five years, Digg,” laughed Oliver. “The most damage I have is from boredom. And starvation.”

“Right,” he said, looking no more at ease than before, “Well, I’d better get going, sir. Your sister’s probably waiting at the car by now. My apologies if I was out of line.”

“Oh, psh-aw,” said Oliver, “I was the one who asked. I’ll catch you later, Mr. Diggle.”

The bodyguard nodded his farewell, his shoes creating a small echo as they clicked against the tiled flooring. Oliver watched him walk down the hallway – this tank of a man, who used to be a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, and a Green Beret before that. This man, who had probably seen his fair share of bloodshed and suffering. This man, who was scared by the twenty-eight year old son of a dead billionaire. And as he watched Diggle get further and further away, Oliver clamped his jaw tight, trying hard to repress a shudder as a thought ran through his mind...

… that Diggle had no idea how right he was to fear him.
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Hidden 5 yrs ago Post by AndyC
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AndyC Guardian of the Universe

Member Seen 19 hrs ago

I don't know how much longer I can keep this up.

It feels like every time I manage to bring one of these things down, two more jump in to take its place. Individually, they can't do a lot of damage, but while I'm in the air I've got nothing anchoring me in place, so every time I'm struck it sends me tumbling. I can crack through the armor on one as long as I can land a punch, but every time I miss, I'm just wasting more energy.

I'm starting to get tired. And more than that, I'm starting to get mad.

These things are incredibly advanced, intricately designed pieces of state-of-the-art hardware, that probably cost tens of millions apiece. Whoever built them is very smart, and very well-funded. And they're using their intelligence, their vast resources, and their cutting-edge hardware, to try and kill me.

I can't help but take that a little personally.

One of them clips my knee, and the world becomes a dizzying blur for a moment as I tumble head-over-heels. Another plants its feet into my back and shoves me back towards the ground, and a few seconds later I feel a dozen hard blows across my back, sides, and head. Everything is just stars and blurs of colors, followed by a cacaphony of noise, quickly muffled by an immense crushing pressure.

Now everything's dark, and the air is choked with dust.

It takes a few seconds, but I eventually get my bearings and figure out what's going on.

I've been knocked into a construction site. I had pinballed back and forth between solid steel I-beams before crashing down into a portion of the half-demolished building, which then collapsed on me. I'm now buried under maybe twenty or thirty tons of concrete, steel, and drywall.

Which, for me, might as well be like being at the bottom of a pile of leaves. But even shaking that off, as I wriggle my arms free so I can make my way back towards daylight, takes energy I can't afford to keep spending. I need a breather, a way to put some distance between myself and the robots so I can regain some strength, or else I'm going to burn out, and then I'm in real trouble.

Emerging from the mound of rubble, I look across the construction site, and see a crane with a wrecking ball attached.

"Now we're in business," I say to myself, bobbing and weaving between plasma blasts from a half dozen of the killer drones as I rush towards something I might be able to make into an equalizer.

The chain that holds the wrecking ball is massive and thick, the kind they use for anchors on ocean liners. I can fit my whole hand inside one of its huge, rust-covered links. I get a grip on two of the links and begin to pry.

"Nnf, come on, just--*rgh!*" I wince as more blasts of superheated plasma sear into my back. My shirt is fairly shredded at this point, as are my jeans. The cape, though, looks like it's brand new, and actually gives me a small bit of protection from the incoming fire. Whatever it's made of, it's always been nearly as tough as I am.

My arms begin to burn as I pull against the massive steel chain links. My hands start to shake


.....a little.....




The chain snaps, and the wrecking ball comes free, nearly six tons of solid steel wrenching on my right arm as the weight of the enormous ball hangs from it.

I'm losing steam fast, and I'm in an awful lot of pain. But now I've got myself a weapon.

Swinging the wrecking ball like a mace, I catch two of the drones and slam them into the side of the already half-ruined building.

Another tries to catch me from behind. Yanking hard on the chain, I pull the ball back to me, then juke to the left at the last split-second, this sends the ball speeding through where I just was and crashing into the drone, shattering it to bits.

I take to the skies again, getting clear of the buildings and swinging the wrecking ball in wide arcs overhead.

Twelve more drones circle around me on all sides, each looking for an angle to attack, none wanting to get within reach of my makeshift morningstar.

I actually find myself grinning. Now I can fight them on my terms.

"Okay," I call out to the swarm of robots, "whoever's controlling you, they can shut you down now and end this, or I can end it by--"
































"....what.....what just happened....?"

Everything feels....off. My entire body feels half-numb, tingling like a leg that's fallen asleep after sitting on it for too long. There's a strange smell in the air, whiffs of ozone like a blown fuse, mixed with traces of the stench of rancid meat. Even the colors I'm seeing are slightly off, like trying to watch TV with rabbit-ear antennae that aren't quite lined up.

I blink a few times, shake my head, and the world comes into focus.

I'm by the shore at Hob's Bay. Smoke billows up from half of the rooftops around me, the buildings damaged but still standing. The sounds of panic still resound through the air, sirens and alarms and confused shouting.

And scattered all around me are the remains of the killer drone swarm.

I.....I don't know what happened, what I did during the past few minutes...

....but I guess......I guess I won?

Picking up the half-crushed head of one of the robots, I frown. I don't like the idea of losing time like that. Even when fighting the Parasite and nearly losing consciousness half a dozen times, I never got to the point where time passed by without me knowing it. If I'm not in control, there's no telling what kind of damage I could do.

On the other hand....I can't deny the wave of exhiliration that's building up inside me. I was attacked by an army today, a literal army.....and I came out on top. I'm getting stronger, faster, better, and there's no telling when or even if I'm going to reach an upper limit.

Still, whatever happened, it took everything I had, drained my energy reserves almost completely. I can barely hold myself up, let alone fly. I need to get out of here, recharge and recuperate before the person behind the drone attack strikes again.

More to the point, I need to do some digging and discover who's doing it, so they don't get a chance to strike again. And I can't do that if the MPD or the National Guard gets a hold of me while I'm still running on fumes.

Limping away from the area, I find a back alley where I can fold up my cape, turn my shirt inside-out to hide the logo, and put on my glasses, which miraculously remain untouched in my pocket. Strange-- I thought I left them with the rest of my stuff in the janitor's closet back at the Planet.

Superman's done for the day. But maybe, after I rest up and compare notes with Lois, Clark Kent can get back on the job.
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Hidden 5 yrs ago 5 yrs ago Post by Simple Unicycle
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Simple Unicycle ?

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Time Is An Illusion
The Inner Workings of A Twisted Mind

The phone on my desk was ringing, singing a siren's song that commanded I answer it. I obliged. "Hello?"


I hung up the phone. It was a bad line and a prank call, someone spouting insane babble, I couldn't make sense of it. But the caller's voice sounded familiar and strange at the same time.

The letter on my desk was dangerous, the hand writing all pretty curves. I read it.

"You're in a comic book, Frank."

Suddenly it all came back to me. Thought bubbles and words hanging over scenes of intense action, me gunning down man after man on my twisted journey. I sought revenge for the death of my wife and two children at the hands of criminals, using my skills acquired during my time as a marine serving in the Vietnam War to aid me. I was also assisted by a guns supplier and veteran hacker named Microchip. Occasionally I'd clash with or even partner with some teen in red and blue spandex calling himself 'Spider-Man.'

But that's not right. It wasn't me, it was someone else, another Frank Castle from another world maybe. I couldn't wrap my head around it.

All I knew was that I was in a comic book. Funny as hell, it was the most horrible thing I could think of.

The phone rang again. I answered it.

"Wake up, Castle! You're not going to kill another cop!"

I hung up the phone. It was a bad line and a prank call, someone spouting insane babble, I couldn't make sense of it. But the caller's voice sounded familiar and strange at the same time, and I felt an overwhelming sense that I had done this before...

The letter on my desk looked different and the same. I read it over a second time.

"You're in a play-by-post roleplaying game, Frank."

Suddenly it all came back to me. A character sheet detailing my life up to this point, my skills, how I was different from my mainstream comic book counterpart, and an example of what kind of stories I would provide. Post after post of stories, all with fancy headers with my face and name plastered on the top. Fancy colors denoting which person is speaking and a sudden shift from the third person to the first person in between stories in order to sound more 'noir'.

But that's not right. I was real, I knew I was, at least I think I was. I couldn't wrap my head around it.

All I knew was that I was in a play-by-post roleplaying game. Funny as hell, it was the most horrible thing I could think of, but I had said that before so take that with a grain of salt.

The phone rang once more. I answered it.

"Snap out of it, Frank! You're having another Max Payne dream!"

I hung up the phone. It was a bad line and a prank call, someone spouting insane babble, I couldn't make sense of it. But the caller's voice sounded familiar and strange at the same time, and I felt an overwhelming sense that I was going to get hit with a copyright strike if I didn't stop...

Light engulfs me.


10:47 PM; July 8th, 2018
David Lieberman's House; New York City

Dave was practically squealing like a fangirl when I threw off my trenchcoat to reveal the kevlar vest. "Haha, holy shit! You did the skull thing after all!"

I rolled my eyes, fighting back a laugh. "Hey, if Spider-Woman can go around wearing a costume, so can I." I slid the vest off to avoid burning up too much. Even at this time of night it was in the high 80s; try walking around in a kevlar vest and a trench coat at those temperatures. At least I knew what Hell was gonna be like when I got there: not unlike wearing winter clothes in Arizona.

He paused, then asked, "How'd you get away from her anyway? She's faster than you, stronger than you, and she can shoot webs out of her wrists."

"Lucky break I guess. Took one hell of a beating though. But it all worked out for the best."

"If you being hunted for gunning down dozens of mobsters in addition killing two cops and destroying a building is things 'working out for the best', then I don't even want to see what things going bad is like."

That gave me pause. I'd killed two cops. It was a hard pill to swallow. Two of my friends. Two sons or brothers or fathers whose families would never see them again. Two innocents, dead by my hand. Spider-Woman was right. Innocent people had died that night because of my actions. That was why I needed to start planning instead of rushing in like nothing mattered. I didn't care if I died, but if another innocent got caught in the crossfire... I didn't know what I would do.

After a moment of silence, I cut to the chase: "... I'm gonna need your help, Dave. I need you to dig up the homes of Manfredi's top guys, get me layouts and the like. I'm not gonna go all John Woo anymore, or at least I'm going to try not to. Too many innocent people have died already."

Dave nods, looking oddly pleased. "Good thinking, man. I was hoping you'd realize that wasn't for the best." He takes a sit in front of his computer, typing away at the keyboard and clicking around. After a couple of minutes with the occasional muttered curse word from Dave, he's done.

"I'll send the house plans to your phone, as well as the addresses and the names of the guys living there. Good luck, Frank."

I pull out my phone, seeing a notification pop up; a text from Dave, with several folders attached, the folder names being the name of the owner, their rank in Manfredi's operation, and the address. I pocketed my phone, nodding, "Thanks. I'm gonna need it." What a team we made. One's a psychopathic vigilante with nothing to lose, the other's a nerdy cyber crimes cop with die hard loyalty. They shoot bad guys! Someone should get me into contact with Fox, because boy howdy do I have a show pitch for them.

I grabbed my duster and threw it on to cover up the vest, before stalking off into the night. I'd strike tomorrow. For now, I was going to plan out my attack. My first target: Lawrence 'Squid' Loman, a mid-ranking member of Manfredi's operation. Not too low that his death wouldn't make any splashes, but not too high that it would make Manfredi extra paranoid. No, that would come later.

I released a sigh of frustration as I began to walk back to my safehouse. God, I wish I hadn't started my crusade in July.
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Hidden 5 yrs ago Post by Master Bruce
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Master Bruce Winged Freak

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Gotham City, Wayne Tower
The Cave
5:27 PM

I feel cold.

Immediately, my eyes flutter open and a nerve in my neck begins to twitch. Feels like my entire body's covered in sweat, like I'm laying in a pool of it. The minute that I move my arm, however, the silk of a sheet from the upstairs bedroom brushes against my skin in a way that feels like it's burning. My eyes sting, my ears are ringing, and everything feels off balance. I sit up and look around at my surroundings. Seems as though I made it back to The Cave in one piece, as I stare at the poorly parked black and heavily armored motorcycle sitting off in the distance. I look down at myself and realize that half of the suit is still on, below my waist. My side is covered in a thick bandaging from Deadshot's cut. Alfred had to have been down here at some point, because I don't remember tending to the wound myself. Infact, looking down at the sprawled out mess of the rest of the costume strewn about the floor - cape, cowl, torso armor, belt, and gloves - I suddenly realize that I don't remember much of anything about last night.


Hurts too much to move. Pulse is pounding. I reach up to massage the headache that's throbbing at the base of my skull, and realize that there's a sharp pain emanating from my left arm. I stretch out my arm to reveal an IV hooked up to a makeshift monitor. Some sort of liquid I don't entirely recognize coming out of the drip. I try and reach up to inspect it, but immediately start shaking. A chill is beginning to overtake me again. Even in this condition, I'm starting to remember fragments. The fight with Deadshot. The poison tipped blade. My encounter with the police. Harvey.

"Thank heavens you're awake. I had begun to think a funeral procession was in order, lad."

I look up, surprised to see Alfred standing over me. I don't know how much time has passed since I've awoken, or how much I've missed in the interim. But I sure as hell don't remember him entering from the elevator that leads to the upstairs study. Clearly, my senses are still affected by the toxin.

"Alf... red."

"Wh... What... happened."

Can't speak. Mouth feels like cotton. He moves to my side, monitoring the IV to ensure I haven't mistakenly removed it.

"Shh. Try and rest. You're safe here, Bruce, as long as you remain still. You just need to try and allow the anti-toxin to do it's work. Fortunately, Mr. Fox was accommodating enough to synthesize one. Which is a miracle, given neither he or I were able to identify the strain of toxin that's flowing through your bloodstream."

I stare up at the ceiling of the bunker, looking at the vague reflection cast off of the metal tiles. Needless to say, I look like hell. Doesn't even look like I've shaved in days. That's when my eyes widen and I suddenly grab Alfred by the arm.

"How lo...ng?"

He reassuredly places his hand on mine.

"Three days, I'm afraid. You've been out cold ever since you arrived back on the night Mr. Dent was attacked."

I stare back at the mention of Harvey, and he holds his hand up.

"And before you ask, he's fine. A bit of intensive surgery, but his condition stabilized by that morning and he's going to make a full recovery. I gave him and Ms. Kyle the excuse that some prospective business dealings had forced you to leave the country before you were able to see either of them."

Laying my head back down, I breathe a sigh of relief. Truthfully, I knew Harvey wasn't likely to die from the injury, but it's still a head wound. He could've bled out and suffered serious trauma before he even made it to Gotham General. I'm not exactly sure how I'm going to square my sudden disappearance away with Selina, given she has a tendency to try and pry her way into every facet of my life that she knows exists, but I'm sure I'll think of something by the time I can get back on my feet. If Lucius' anti-toxin works, of course.

"Tha... Thank you."

Alfred nods.

"Of course, lad. The only thing I'd say to do for me in return is to pick up your own damn mess, once you're able. I may play the part of your butler, but that doesn't mean I am one."

I smirk, then cough, feeling a horrible pain wrack up in my lungs.

"Ah. That would be the anti-toxin working it's way into your chest. You had better avoid speaking any further. I'll be back to check on you in the hour, once I've placated our guest upstairs."

Looking back over at him, I try and express confusion at the last part of his statement.

"I'm afraid that Ms. Kane and her father had yet another falling out, and she requested to stay the weekend. I wasn't in the position to deny that request, nor were you in a position to object. I gave her the same excuse as I did the others, so rest assured, your alibi has been taken care of."


My cousin, and one of the last of the entire lineage of the Wayne and Arkham bloodline. Her father Jacob was my mother's brother, part of the once-great Kane family that had changed their surname after my great-grandfather Amadeus brought scandal to the family name and forced them to sever their ties. Now Arkham Asylum is the only standing testament to their half of the family apart from Jacob's military career. And it's a career that he's unfortunately tried to force onto my sixteen-year-old cousin, who's been rebelling against him ever since.

We haven't developed much of a relationship, given I was out of the country for ten years of her life. But she doesn't mind hiding out in my ivory tower to escape her father's influence, now and again. All that I really know about her is that we share a common past. Kate's mother and sister were murdered infront of her when she was roughly the same age I was when... my life changed. That fact makes me wish I could be there for her more than I've been.

But with the way things are in Gotham, my interpersonal relationships with friends or family have to remain secondary while I try and figure out a way to maintain a balance in both sides of my life. It's the sacrifice I have to make to give everything I have into this. Gotham won't see a day beyond the crime and violence if I'm too busy trying to give everyone who needs Bruce Wayne to give them the time of day.

"Good. That's..."

As I start to say it, I notice that the room's beginning to spin. Darkness takes ahold of me and I feel myself begin to pass out. For a brief second... I see my parents standing behind Alfred. Watching over me, despite their faces appearing blurred by the years I've spent without them in my life. My vision fades as their body language seems to indicate either pity - or disappointment.

I feel even colder.

Gotham City, Precinct 27
6:08 PM

"Doctor Crane, you're Gotham City's leading expert in criminal psychology and the one most qualified to speak on the subject of today's panel. What would you suggest is the reasoning behind The Batman's apparent escalation from thrashing purse snatchers to targeting public officials? Was it merely a personal vendetta against District Attorney Dent, or is there something else at play?"

Captain Gordon watches a bespeckled elder man with long and thin black hair adjust his composure as he's signaled to speak by Jack Ryder, host of Gotham's premiere evening talk show and generally obnoxious piece of television garbage, GCN's Creepers. The Captain recognizes Doctor Crane from a number of previous appearances, given that his daughter watches the program with a startling amount of regularity. Were she not about six months away from her eighteenth, Gordon would have a mind to enforce having her never watch it in the first place. But as she explained to him time and time again, between her studies going into college and her current daytime job as a librarian, a little bit of brainless entertainment is needed to balance out the influx of academia.

Still, she could always find something a little less unbearable than this dreck. Like one of those "Watchmen" cinematic universe movies that Barbara tried to go to every opening weekend, the ones that Gordon never fully got the appeal of. They were the kind of movies that he imagined led to the creation of someone like Batman, who took the messages of those characters and decided to apply it to real life. If he was even the type of person who enjoyed movies.

"I think what we're looking at, Mr. Ryder, is a person afflicted by a growing paranoia of the world around him. Clinically speaking, this Batman is a dangerously unstable individual with a tendency to display characteristics of an aggressive authoritarian. A mentality that dictates his every action. He believes that he alone represents the law in Gotham City. Perhaps, in theory, he seeks to challenge Harvey Dent's position as a member of public office as a means of enforcing that in his own mind, aswell as the minds of the citizens who he relies on to live in fear of him. And as often is the case with these extreme personalities, challenging the District Attorney was never going to happen in any way other than enacting his given pattern of brutality."

Ryder nods, taking in the information that Crane doles out.

"Ah, yes. That's been a running theory of yours. You believe Batman wants the people of this city to fear him, and not just the criminal underworld?"

"Undoubtedly. Fear, as I've often cited in my books on the subject, is a powerful motivator for ninety percent of how our subconscious operates. The fear of losing one's place in society, for example, or the fear of isolation from others. I believe that The Batman, whoever he really is, has felt out of touch with society for some time and seeks to reclaim his place through these theatrics. He wants to project an illusion that he is more terrifying than death itself, not unlike the serial killer David Berkowitz of the 1970's."

Ryder shoots Crane a look of skepticism.

"Really, Doctor? A comparison between Batman and The Son Of Sam murders? That seems like an ill-advised road to go down, given that our vigilante has yet to offer a single casualty in his one-man war against the scum of the city."

"If I may inject, Mr. Ryder."

Another member of the panel, Professor Hugo Strange, is given the spotlight as Ryder introduces him through an on-screen prompt that details previous his accolades, up to and including acting as the current administrative head of Arkham Asylum. Strange is considered a figure of extreme importance throughout Gotham, and Gordon has even met the man several times. He seems to know what he's talking about, at least in terms of how to run a house dedicated to treatment of the criminally insane.

"While I will not go as far as to endorse my colleague's assessment of The Batman's reliance on fear, as I find Doctor Crane's insight into the subject to be somewhat biased, I do believe that he is correct is assuming that the provocation by Harvey Dent was seen by The Batman as a direct challenge to his authority as a man who's delivered exceptionally radical results against the escalating tensions between the criminal fraternity of Gotham. This deranged man craves the satisfaction in lording himself over the meek and timid, that much is clear. But he does so fearlessly, and without regard for public safety. I would go as far as to say he is a classical sociopathic narcissist, uncaring of the consequences of his actions. Why else would he shoot a well known figure of the criminal element as Salvatore Maroni and contradictorily allow him to live? It is a primary function of his psychosis. He wants these individuals to be free to carry out their deeds so that they may give him the satisfaction of a repeating cycle of violence."

Crane tries to hide his flustered reaction to Strange's assessment, Gordon notices, but nevertheless seems to back down.

"It's... certainly possible. Professor Strange is a well respected member of his field, and I take his word with a tremendous amount of respect. However, I do believe you're intentionally downplaying the role that fear plays into The Batman's psychosis. Why would, if I may, he present himself as a fearsome creature of the night if he were fearless? More to the point, why hide his identity behind a mask if he does not fear the repercussions of his actions? I would argue that his methods indicate that he believes criminals to be a superstitious, cowardly lot, and he seeks to capitalize on this by appearing as something more than human in the eyes of his victims. That gives him the sense of power that you're describing. Inflicting fear is a power unto itself, after all."

Ryder holds up his hands.

"Gentlemen, gentlemen, as fascinating as this war of ideologies is to entertain, we're getting a little off subject. Do either of you have a definitive rationale of why Batman attempted to assassinate Harvey Dent? Doesn't this turn of events seem rather out of character to either of you, despite the evidence?"

Strange mulls over the question.

"Perhaps so, Mr. Ryder. But who am I to argue with the Gotham Police Department, who named Batman explicitly as the primary suspect in the attack on Mr. Dent? Though I understand why such a leap of logic would be confusing to your viewers, it is not entirely out of the realm of possibility for The Batman to see the District Attorney as an extension of a corrupt system that supports the criminals he seeks to torment. Perhaps my theory of seeing Dent as a threat is inaccurate, given the perception of The Batman's actions up until now."

Ryder laughs.

"I'm sorry, but... are you accusing Dent of being on the take? Did I just hear that right?"

"Absolutely not. I find that Harvey Dent is a respectable man, and I myself was a contributor to his campaign. But that is not to say that The Batman has a delusional fixation on the idea that Dent could be hiding a secret affiliation with the criminal element."

"Right. Just trying to make things clear, on that front. Do you have anything else to offer, Doctor Crane? What about you, Doctor Quinzell?"

The blonde woman to the right of Professor Strange shrugs.

"Not ta be glib on the matter at hand, but it's all greek to me. I don't deal with the whackjobs like this in my line of work. And whoever The Bat is, I find him ta be whackjob numero uno. He's half'a the reason I keep my door locked at night, not ta mention the reason I ain't exactly linin' up to use any public transportation at night. So him takin' a potshot at Dreamy Dent ain't exactly news ta me. I just hope the cops get off their asses and take the guy down so's I can sleep at night."

Ryder taps his pen against a pad of paper and chuckles.

"Fair enough. And so the question goes out to you, audience. Reach the show on Facebook and Twitter at the handle GNN underslash Creeper to give me your response: Is The Batman a danger to the public at large? Do you even believe that he's the one responsible for the attack against Harvey Dent? And moreover, what are your theories as to who Gotham's biggest anonymous celebrity really is? I'll warn you right now, if anyone says that I may be The Bat, you can guarantee that those messages will be overlooked. I barely have the endurance to run this show, let alone beat criminals to a pulp. A big thanks to my panelists for the evening, as we draw the program to a close, but before we cut to a word from our sponsor---"

Finally, Gordon catches himself watching for too long and turns the television off, sighing to himself as he stares back at the growing case folder dedicated to Batman sightings. Even though he was the one that was forced to write the report indicating that the vigilante was the prime suspect in Dent's shooting, something about it just didn't add up from the start. As a seasoned cop, Captain Gordon knew when the line between vigilante and murder suspect began to fade. And even if Dent did try and antagonize him by openly calling on his superiors to put together a task force to arrest the man, Gordon didn't think that Batman was capable of taking such an act personally. It just didn't line up with his M.O.

Hell, the only times he was recorded as utilizing a firearm thus far was to shoot to wound. None of them were ever intended to kill, as Dent's injury was life-threatening. Not that it made Batman any better in his mind, given that the man was still a dangerous vigilante who could inspire imitators, but Gordon was convinced that there was something else at play during all of this and that Batman just managed to find himself at the wrong place at the wrong time. He hadn't even openly attacked the officers attempting to arrest him, despite the open opportunity.

It just didn't make any damn sense.

Looking ahead at the precinct outside of his office, Gordon raised his voice so that everyone could hear.

"Hey! Anyone seen Montoya around?"

Everyone looked at eachother and shrugged.

"Last we saw of her was when she went down to archives, Captain. You know, showing the new guy around with The Bat case."

Gordon narrowed his eyes, looking down at his watch.

Agent Nashton had requested access to Archives three hours ago. Sergeant Montoya had been meant to report back long before then to begin her rounds. Though in all honestly, Gordon wouldn't be surprised if Montoya hadn't been allowed to leave as Nashton expounded about a dozen different, intricate theories about The Batman's methods, his identity, and his reasonings for possibly wanting to kill Harvey Dent to anyone that would listen. He'd become something of a pain in Gordon's ass already, and he'd only arrived in Gotham three days prior. He didn't trust the man, even if Commissioner Loeb said he had jurisdiction over the entire precinct.

Reaching into his phone, Gordon began to text Montoya to ask if everything was alright - only to realize that he had received a series of messages just moments ago. The number was one that he didn't recognize, but they were addressed specifically to him in the log-line.

"What the hell?"




Gordon skeptically downloaded the attached video and pressed play. He assumed this was nothing more than a hoax, given that there was no video evidence of The Batman's existence on public record. The department had long assumed that whoever he was, Batman had an active EMP device hidden on his person to prevent cell phones from capturing his likeness, as eyewitness testimony to his appearances commonly featured a complaint of their devices malfunctioning as soon as they tried to take a photo or video of him in action.

But as soon as the video started playing, Gordon's eyes began to widen. EMPs generally only had a minimum field of potency, and this video was captured using a security camera from faraway. It showed two men fighting to near death against eachother, using moves that were only clearly possible with significant training. The first was Batman, and it was the first time Gordon had gotten a decent - abiet faraway and grainy - look at him. The cape was the first detail that he hadn't expected, but it did explain why most of the witness testimony asserted that he had wings. And the mask covered less of the man's face than he expected, given the jawline was exposed.

What caught his attention more was the figure that Batman was fighting off. Armed to the teeth and firing some sort of wrist-mounted canon off as the vigilante sought to gain the advantage, this enemy combatant was wearing a uniform more in line with what an assassin who didn't want to be seen might wear. And the guns were being fired to try and kill, immediately indicating the intent. Gordon wasn't entirely sure, but he thought it was a definite possibility that the other man was the one who'd tried to assassinate Dent.


Combing over the messages again, Gordon was surprised to see a third message following the initial one and the video attachment. One that displayed a rather unique emblem that he hadn't seen before. The Captain narrowed his eyes, wondering if this was the first sign of exactly what he'd feared would come about The Batman's appearance in Gotham: imitators similarly looking to take the law into their own hands.

"Damn it..."

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Hidden 5 yrs ago 5 yrs ago Post by Sep
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Sep Migs Mayfield - Core

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Iris hugged her dad, arms stretching around his neck. “Hi Dad!” She yelped as he squeezed her during the hug, lifting her off her feet. As she landed again she chuckled and pushed his chest, which in turn pushed herself away from him and onto her heels on which she rocked before standing before her father. Her rock, he had always been there and as much as she hated to admit it him being in the CCPD made him a pretty useful source of information, something the Captain had caught onto before telling him that he had to be careful with what he said to his daughter.

Iris on her part didn’t try and pry sensitive information out of him anymore, she didn’t want him to lose his job after all. Instead she simply used him to get the same information all the other news outlets got, albeit a little bit faster than everyone else. Her boss had called her ‘Central Cities Fastest Reporter’, if he only knew.

“Hey Sweetheart.” He looked her up and down, he always performed a customary scan to make sure she was okay. Iris doubted that he even realised he did it anymore. She took it as flattery as it was intended. A fathers job after all to look after his daughter, if only he knew what she was capable off. “Before we start, the official statement of CCPD is this Hydro-Man as he called himself is a potential suspect in the murder case of Alex Raymond. We don’t yet have a motive, but the method of death seems to be blunt force trauma. A lot of force was used, so if it wasn’t Hydro-Man it was definitely some form of metahuman.” He sighed as he leaned against the hood of his car. “This is crazy sweetheart, things used to be so simple. Water was wet, gravity made things fall. Now? There’s a man who can fly, a woman who can catch planes and there’s one in central city who can move like a blur. It’s ridiculous.”

“Can I quote you on that?” She chuckled slightly.

“No of course not, quote me on asking all these freaks to turn themselves in, or stop using their powers to destroy and disrupt my city. It’s getting out of hand.”

“Can do Dad.”

He stood up, dead serious. “As for you, you know that if you ever see any of these guys or any form of danger-”

“I run the other way, of course Dad. I know.” He smiled, and she smiled back. “Don’t you have anything else you can give me on this Hydro-Man? All you’ve given me is information that I could have gotten from the mayor. In fact-” She scanned her notes. “-all you’ve told me that the mayor hasn’t is that he was killed by way of brunt force trauma. You have to give me something more to go on-” She put a hand on his shoulder. “-after all, what use is having a father in CCPD if you can’t get any useful information from him when you’re trying to write a news report.” She sighed out of false frustration. “Anyway I’ve got to go, I’m meeting Barry at Jitters.”

William West looked more awkward than he had ever seemed. “Iris, about Barry-” she raised her hand to stop him.

“-I don’t have time for the whole Barry romance talk. I have to run.” She turned and walked away.

Iris heard him shout after her, but she didn’t have time for that now.
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Hidden 5 yrs ago 4 yrs ago Post by GreenGrenade
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The Glades, Star City.
The sun is hiding.

“Okay, so, again… just to be absolutely clear… why don’t we have a bodyguard with us?” asked Tommy Merlyn, glancing around nervously as they crossed into the Glades.

“Mr. Diggle’s with Thea right now,” said Oliver. His blue eyes surveyed their surroundings with a coolness that was absent from Tommy’s, taking in the ruins as if the sight of them didn’t make his blood boil – as if he could keep it temperate, and cold, and control his emotions. His scarred knuckles were white, hidden away within his green sweatshirt’s pockets.

“Right, right. And you have no one else in your security team?”

“Nope,” said Oliver. Colour rushed back to his knuckles as he flashed Tommy a grin. “Digg’s a one man show. What are you so scared of, anyway? You could’ve brought one of your security guys along, you know.”

“I could’ve, yeah,” agreed Tommy, returning his grin, “But where’s the fun in safety from muggers and murderers? ‘Live dangerously,’ and all that.”

“That’s the spirit.”

They walked down a narrow street, corner stores and cafés beaten down into piles of brick all around them. People stared at them as they passed, dirty and hollow, as if their souls had left their bodies, unwilling to stay in their shells as they slowly died. Tommy’s grin had since faded, replaced by the same nervousness as before. He was out of place here. This poverty, this sadness, and him – they didn’t mix.

Oliver would have felt the same, once. But the past few years had been eye-opening.

He knew his place now.

“I don’t get it, Ollie… Why do you come here? It’s so…”


Tommy nodded.

“Because I don’t like living the way we do, when these people have to live like... this. Coming here, it keeps me honest. Reminds me that I should be doing something.”

Oliver didn’t mean that as a jab, but Tommy flinched anyway. The young Merlyn knew how frustrated Oliver was at his father; Ollie had expressed his irritation at Malcolm Merlyn more than once to Tommy, pinning much of what was happening – or what wasn’t happening – in the Glades on the mayor and his inaction. It was unfair to heap it all on Tommy, Ollie knew that, but there were times when the frustration built up so high that he couldn’t help but vent. It was either that, or pick up a bow, and he’d be damned before he did that again.

“You know, you didn’t have to come with me, Wiz. It’s fine if you want to go home.”

A small smile formed on Tommy’s lips. “Still not used to being called that again. ‘Wizard.’ Heh. Never gets old.”

A sad silence threatened to settle over them.

“Nah, I’m staying here, man. No way am I flaking out on a chance to make up for lost time. Anyway, I… I’ve been meaning to come here. I’ve put it off for too long. The Glades are my home, too, y’know?”

“Yeah,” said Oliver, sympathy in his eyes, “I know.”

Tommy’s mom had made the Glades her second home. The neighbourhood had always struggled, even before the earthquake, and Rebecca Merlyn had been one of the people determined to help it. Her free clinics were havens for its residents, and her kindness had earned her renown throughout Star City. Tommy would often visit her there as a kid – it was often the only time he got to see her, so busy were the clinics.

She’d done so much for the Glades. It was almost poetic, really, that she died there, too.

A scream broke the silence, took Oliver back to the Island. Shrill. Afraid. Desperate. Without thinking, Oliver launched forwards, following the sound that had so often led him towards death – towards scenes of blood and violence and horror – running, Tommy’s alarmed shouts falling on deaf ears, his own mind’s protests going unheeded, his heart hammering with purpose. Oliver rounded a corner, into a broken-down alley of mortar and debris –

Three men had a girl pinned against a wall. She was no older than sixteen, skinny and frail, a child of the earthquake; the men were big, strong, and healthy, not from around here. Not from the Glades. One of them held a switchblade at her throat, another holding her arms. The remaining man hastily worked to undo his belt as the girl screamed – they didn’t bother to cover her mouth. They knew that no one would come.

They thought.

The man undoing his belt turned his head in time to see scarred knuckles. His Adam’s apple crashed into the back of his throat as Oliver hit him, and he collapsed to the ground, choking. Anger flashed across the other two’s faces, and they made to attack Oliver at once. He didn’t let them. He went for the switchblade first, lashing out with a crescent kick to the man’s wrist. The knife flew out of his hand, and Oliver elbowed him in the throat, sweeping him across the shins. His face smashed into the ground as the last man standing swung at Oliver’s head. Oliver blocked, grabbing the man’s wrist, and as he pulled the wrist towards himself he struck the man’s elbow with his forearm. A sickening crunch echoed through the alleyway, and the man sank to his knees, shrieking louder than the girl had. Oliver’s knee rammed into his nose, and all was silent.

All besides Tommy.

“Holy shit, Ollie.”

Oliver’s clothes were stained with the would-be rapists’ blood. His teeth were bared in an a beastly snarl; he breathed heavily, his shoulders hunched, fists clenched by his side. As his breaths grew longer and deeper, his thoughts started to drift back to the present, and he realised how he must look to his best friend, stooped over these lowlives, covered in their blood.

This was the first time in months that he’d had to do this. To give in to the Island. He looked at Tommy, who stood at the end of the alley, his eyes wide with shock; he looked at the girl, who was silent now, her fear replaced by blankness. He felt sick.

He tried to convince the girl to go somewhere else – somewhere safer. Where that was, he didn’t know. The Glades were a gamble, and everyone stuck there had to take it. There was no guarantee of safety. No guarantee of making it through the day. He just hoped that he helped her take the right risk.

And after that… After that, Tommy asked him for an explanation. “What the hell was that back there?”

Oliver sighed, and ran a hand through his hair – the hand not covered in the men’s blood. “Something… something I’ve tried to leave behind. Something I need to leave behind.” His eyes met Tommy’s. They looked back at him with confusion and concern. “I wasn’t alone on the Island, Tommy. Things… things happened there.”

Horrible things.

And he didn’t want to talk about them.
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Hidden 5 yrs ago Post by Byrd Man
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Byrd Man El Hombre Pájaro

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Fred Waltham yanked the paper from his typewriter and crumpled it up. He tossed it over his shoulder, where the ball of paper joined the dozens of other pieces. He ran his fingers through his hair and sighed. Waltham reached for the bottle of bootleg hooch beside the typewriter and took a long slug of it, not even bothering to pour a glass.

Standing, Waltham walked towards the window of his hotel room and looked out. He had a clear view of the bright Hollywood lights from the fourth floor of the Chateau de Rivau. A pair of searchlights somewhere off in the distance announced the location of some new movie premiere. Further away he could see the giant “HOLLYWOODLAND” sign erected up in the hills, flashing off and on even in the middle of the night.

“Fuck Hollywood,” Waltham said under his breath. “And fuck Pinnacle Pictures.”

He walked among the discarded pieces of paper, grabbing the liquor bottle as he passed by the desk, and started for the bed. After taking another deep drink, he got down on his knees in front of the bed and did something he’d never don in is life: Frederick Waltham prayed.

“Please… whoever or whatever is out there, please help me. Hear my prayer: I need… inspiration.”

On cue, there was a gentle knock on the door. Waltham stood up and walked to the door before opening it gingerly.

“Guten Abend,” said a cheerful voice with a thick Austrian accent.

Standing in front of Waltham was a middle aged man wearing a dark three-piece suit, matching sunglasses that hid his eyes, and a straw boater hat with a dark red band around the crown.

“Who the hell are you?” asked Waltham.

“Why, I am the man you just requested,” the man said with a large smile. “Someone to help you with your problem. Ask and ye shall receive, isn't that the saying? May I come in?”

Waltham stepped away from the door and started back into the room. He stopped when he noticed the man still stood at the doorway.

“There are rules to this,” he laughed. “You have to invite me in.”

“Come on in…,” said Waltham.

The man smiled and walked into the room. He looked over at Waltham and rubbed his hands, raising his eyebrows above his glasses.

“Now, what seems to be the problem?”

“Look around,” he motioned towards the paper on the floor. “I’ve got until tomorrow night to turn out a screenplay for Pinnacle Pictures. Fucking Eddie Mueller, that Yiddish bastard, has been on my ass for weeks now. He wants some kind of swashbuckling, Douglas Fairbanks malarkey. And I’ve got… nothing. This has never happened to me before. I am drawing a complete and total blank.”

“Inspiration can be provided,” the man said in a warm and comforting voice. And then he added, “For a price.”

“A price?” asked Waltham. He scowled in his confusion. “I thought miracles were free?”

“Miracle?” the man asked before it dawned on him. “Oh… you think I am?”

He laughed softly and removed his sunglasses, showing Waltham a pair of burning red eyes with large, solid black pupils.

“I am afraid I represent another firm.”

Waltham started to back away from the man. With every step he took back the man inched forward, the same placid smile on his face. Waltham stopped when he found himself up against the hotel room’s wall. The man slipped the sunglasses back on his face.

“I am something of a capitalist, Mr. Waltham," he said. "You read the papers, yes? Business is booming across the country. The stock market climbs ever higher with no signs of stopping. I am as much a representative of these times as much as I am a representative for any place of perdition. And in these times, perhaps more so than any other time, anything can be had for a price. Including what I sell, Mr. Waltham. I offer whatever you desire the most, the deepest wishes of your heart, at a fair price.”

“What do you want, exactly?”

“Why, your soul,” he said brightly. “In exchange for that you will receive inspiration for your current project, as well as a lifetime of ideas for movies. Movies that will grant you fame, fortune, and renowned. Frederick Waltham: Hollywood legend. Your name on the silver screen, in books, and on monuments. You will be remembered forever. I offer immortality, Mr. Waltham. For that reward, what does a meager little soul matter?”

Waltham pushed past the man in the suit and went back to the window. He looked out at the lights of Hollywood. He’d come here six years ago with nothing but a suitcase and an English degree from Brown, intent on making it as a movie writer. And now, after years of rewrites and ghostwriting and polishing scripts, he was on the verge of losing it all. He could have all he ever wanted. For his soul.

"What is a soul, really?" the man asked behind him, almost as if he could read his thoughts. "It's immaterial. An idea man created to make them seem a step above common animals. You trade that which is not there for something that is. Honestly, I think I should be charging you more."

The man stepped closer to Waltham.

"So, what shall it be?"

“Deal,” he said softly.

“Splendid,” the man said, clapping his hands together. “Please, follow me to your typewriter.”

“We shall enter into a covenant, Mr. Waltham,” the man said as he rooted through his suit pockets for something. “This is different than a contract, you see. A simple contract can be voided by one party of the other. I do not live up to my end, it is cancelled. Same if you fail to live up to your end.”

The man pulled out a large, silver knife with ornate, ancient words written on the side of the blade. Waltham had no idea what language it was, but he felt something old and powerful inside those words.

“A covenant, meanwhile Mr. Waltham, can never be broken. Once entered to, it cannot be backed out of. The agreed upon terms must be fulfilled. May I please see your finger?”

Waltham held out his right index finger and held it over his typewriter. The man placed the tip of the knife on the tip of his finger and slashed quickly, sending a spurt of blood flying. Waltham cried out as the blood spattered the typewriter’s keys.

“A sacrifice,” said the man. “Simple, but powerful all the same. Your blood has now consecrated the deal, sealing our covenant. I will uphold my end of the bargain.”

“Yes,” Waltham said softly. Even though his finger hurt like hell, his mind was focused elsewhere.What if, he realized, he told the story of a shanghaied lord who becomes the great pirate of the orient? “Yes!”

“You see,” the man said with a wide smile. “It is already working. Let me take my leave.”

Waltham was oblivious to the man’s comments. Instead, he sat down in front of his typewriter and began to work. He ignored the bleeding finger and the blood smeared on the keys as he typed. The man in the suit watched it all from the doorway.

“Enjoy your life, Mr. Waltham,” he said. “I’ll be seeing you.”


Laurel Canyon

“And if you know your Hollywood lore, you know the rest of the story.”

Jake Stowe took a deep drag off the cigarette in his holder. John Constantine had already finished his first cigarette was already on the second.

“I know it doesn’t end well,” said John. “But they’re all like that, aren’t they?”

“Inevitably,” said Stowe. “The only happy ending Waltham ever got was the ones he wrote.”

“So, what does Frederick Waltham have to do with you?” asked John. “Just lonely and getting up in years. So you wanted someone to tell a story to and hold court one more time?”

“Certainly not, sir,” Stowe said haughtily. “You already know my reputation as a connoisseur when it comes to the macabre nature of Hollywood. Along with stories, I collect items and artifacts.”

“Really?” John asked with a glint in his eye. “Such as?”

“I’ll show you.”

John followed Stowe through the house and down into the garage. It was set up like a makeshift museum, objects on display behind display cases. Along with the items were more photographs, crime scene photos mixed with shots of naked men and women doing depraved things.

“It’s odds and ends, really,” Stowe said as he watched John walk among the displays. “I have the knife that Lana Turner’s daughter used to kill her mom’s abusive boyfriend, mob enforcer Johnny Stompanato, the clothes Sharon Tate was wearing the night she was murdered by the Manson Family, an aborted fetus of Joan Crawford’s, the pill bottle that darling Marilyn Monroe’s last dose came from.”

John stopped and examined a belt that was behind glass. He could feel waves of powerful psychic energy radiating off of it. Like everything in the museum, it had a bad story behind it. But this one was newer than the rest, the wound still fresh and raw. He looked over at Stowe who smiled wide and without humor.

“That’s the belt Robin Williams hanged himself with. If you are as in tune with the psychic world as our mutual friend claimed, I’m sure you can feel something there.”

“Again," John said, his annoyance rising. "What does this have to do with Frederick Waltham?"

Stowe hobbled across the room towards John, speaking as he did so.

“I know you know about the auctions that the mystical LA underground have, yes? Ones where you can buy items, but not with money.”

“I’m aware.”

"Since I am not qualified to go, I send a proxy to bid in my stead. They pay in their own way, and I reward them handsomely. I recently purchased the camera of Harvey Glatman, the Lonely Hearts Killer. Are you familiar with it?"

John thought back to the auction from two weeks ago. The woman who traded away a year of suicidal depression for that camera. She had been working for Stowe and had been willing to forgo a year of happiness for that camera.

"More familiar than I would like to be," he said.

"Well, decades ago the typewriter of Frederick Waltham’s, the one with the blood on it from his deal with the devil, was up for auction and I lost it to another buyer. I've spent years searching for it. Finally, I have found it’s location.”

Now in front of him, Stowe reached out with a wrinkled hand and patted John on the cheek. John nearly recoiled at the cold and clammy hand.

“And you, Mr. Constantine, are going to steal it for me.”
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Hidden 5 yrs ago 5 yrs ago Post by Simple Unicycle
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Simple Unicycle ?

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9:13 PM; July 9th, 2018
Lawrence 'Squid' Loman's House; New York City

The reason they called him Squid was a funny story.

It was his first time dumping a body into the sea. Everything went as planned, they drove the body out there in a duffel bag filled with bricks, and tossed it into the water... And just as they did so, a squid popped out, and got hit in the head by the bag. It was a strange, surreal once in a lifetime event. God only knew why that squid was so close to the docks, why it came out of the water, and why it decided to wait until a bag was about to hit him in the face to pop out. The guys started calling him 'Squidkiller', which eventually just got shortened to Squid, and the name stuck. Everyone called him by the name now, even the ones who had never heard the story.

"Ey Squid?" Squid was pulled out of his recollections by the voice of Eddie, one of Silvermane's grunts. For some reason the old man was putting a lot of guards with the important members of his outfit. Squid had to feel a bit flattered that he was considered by the big boss to be important. It had something to do with that psycho cop that's going around and cutting them all down. Bah, that guy didn't know what was coming to him. Whether it was the cops, them, or that Spiderchick, he'd be put down soon enough.

"Yeah? What is it?"

"The cameras is down. Don't know what happened to 'em."

Furrowing his brow, Squid got up, following Eddie to the camera room. All the monitors showed static and red letters reading "NO CONNECTION". "What the fuck? What happened to 'em?"

"I already says, I dunno what happened to 'em, but it ain't good. I'm thinkin' someone cut the power to 'em or somethin'."

"Well then go and fix 'em!"

"Right, boss." With those words, Eddie went outside to reconnect the power to the cameras. Squid sat nervously in the room, staring at the monitors. If the cameras were down, that meant something screwy was going on. Maybe that Punisher guy was a serious threat after all. Bah, he's being too paranoid. Something probably happened with the fuses or something.

Everything would be alright.

One of the cameras came back on, the one nearest the power box. And all that Squid saw was the corpse of Eddie, a large red smile along his throat. "W-what the fuck?!"

The camera went out again. Then, the lights.

Muffled gunshots rang outside, punctuated by the screams of his men as they died. The gunfire lasted for a minute or two, before all was silent. Slowly, Squid reached for his gun...

"You can run on, for a long time... Run on for a long time... Run on for a long time..."

Singing... "The fuck?"

"Sooner or later God'll cut you down... Sooner or later God'll... Cut you down..."

Where the hell was it coming from? "Cut that out, you crazy bastard!"

"Go tell that long tongued liar... Go and tell that midnight rider... Tell the rambler, the gambler, the backbiter..."

Squid fired his gun off, shouting, "SHUT THE FUCK UP!"

"Tell them that God's gonna cut them down... Tell them that God's gonna cut them down."


"Behind you."

Squid's last words were a series of gurgled screams.


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Hidden 5 yrs ago Post by HenryJonesJr
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"YOU MADE OUT WITH HIM AND SLEPT OVER!?" Mary Jane exclaims far, far too loud. Like, way too loud. How anyone can think this is the correct and appropriate volume to talk about this. I mean, I know she lives for this kind of stuff, but she's known me long enough to know I am not about having my private life out and about. Screaming about my escapades in the middle of the mall is about the last thing I want. "Gwendolyne Stacy, you dog. Our punk-geek princess and our super genius are finally together as they should be. Told ya it was gonna happen sooner rather than later."

Shaking my head, I throw my arm around her, MJ's fire red hair engulfing my arm, "First, stop being so loud. Second, I don't know if we are 'together' or whatever."

That is unfortunately the truth. When we woke up, I hastily headed out the door after giving Pete another kiss. On my way out I ran into Aunt May, making this whole situation even more ridiculously uncomfortable than it already was going to be. If there was a picture next to the definition of nightmare in the dictionary it would be you leaving your best-friend-now-possibly-boyfriend's room in the morning wearing his clothes and running into his guardian.

I am totally not a mess. Nope. Not at all. Gwen Stacy, the girl who toooootally has all her shit together.

"Oh, girl," MJ puts her head against mine and looks at me with faux-sympathy, "you're together. No more fighting it. Just go with it and see where it takes you."

"You say that about everything," I roll my eyes at her.

"And look where it's gotten me. Lead singer in a band, gonna be the first person in my family to go to college, and dating the son of a billionaire," she winks. "I think it's working pretty well."

"I really hate it when you have a good point," I toss the top I was looking at towards her, covering her face. "We're gonna practice tomorrow, right?"

"Hell yea, girl!" she throws her hands into the air. "The Black Cats got themselves a gig next week too!"

My eyes go wide, "What?"

We are not ready for that in the slightest. We play covers...not super well, and have maybe half of an actual original song written. THat's about it.

"Yea, Gwen! Finally got a gig playing at some Brooklyn hipster beer garden. I...did have to lie about our age though. So pretend you're 21."

"Oh god, MJ," I put my face in my hands.


Stacy Residence
Later that day

Dad comes out of the bathroom cleanly shaven, showered, and dressed to the nines. Well, dressed to the nines in New York Cop Land is a suit and a tie. Like, a suit you'd get at Macy's. Not that Dad doesn't look all handsome dressed up, but it's not like a tux or anything. Still, he looks tired. We haven't gotten a chance to speak about last night, but I can already tell it's weighing on him. Coming so close to the Punisher, not to mention me in costume keeping a building from falling down, can't be easy. Add on top of that the threat of the Black Tarantula, something I really need to research, and you've got yourself one tired copper.

"So," he smirks at me as he catches my gaze, "I talked to May earlier."

Oh no.

"Dad, I-" he puts his hand up to stop me.

"I'm not going to lecture you, but I hope you're being smart."

"Smart? What are you trying to-" my eyes go wide as the realization hits me. "Ew, Dad! Stop! No! It's not like that."

"I'm just sayin'," he smiles, clearly enjoying my complete and utter embarrassment. "I don't want to see you throw away your futures."

"Dad. Stop. We just kissed okay." I can feel the heat from the blood rushing to my face. I'm probably as red as a freaking strawberry at this point. If I get any more embarrassed I may run the risk of a popped blood vessel or something. This is not the conversation I wanted to have with my dad, so I scramble to change the subject, "Why are you all dressed up?"

"Uh...a work thing," he winces as he looks at his watch. "And I'm already late. How about I tell you about it later?"

I shrug, "Sure."

He heads towards the door, and steps outside. Before he closes the door, he pops his head back inside, "You kissed, huh? Didn't I tell you that you and Pete shoul-"

"LEAVE!" I glare at my father who laughs hysterically at my reaction.


Ditko Luxury Apartments

Otto Octavius twirls the wine in his glass before taking a long, slow sip. He savors the deep red, noting hints of cherry, oak, and caramel in its body. A strong vintage, to be sure. The meal in front of him had been fantastic, now nothing more than a ruin of culinary delights. On the other side of the table sits the Black Tarantula, a cipher even to those that know the crime lord.

"Having the best chefs in the city prepare a meal at your beck and call is certainly impressive." Otto smiles before taking another sip of red. "But I have to wonder what the occasion is?"

"Isn't it obvious?" the Tarantula raises an eyebrow. "The Enforcers are all I needed to take care of Spider-Woman. With your drones and their help, no one will stand in my way to the top of the New York crime world."

At this, a fit of rolling laughter escapes from Doctor Octavius. So much so that he pushes his glasses onto his forehead as he puts his hands over his face. Finally, as the laughing subsides, he sighs and looks into the eyes of his new business partner, "This belief is folly. The Spider-Woman is not some worthless thug that is handed a gun and thinks they're the king of New York. We are talking about a higher form of life, my new friend. She will adapt to what you throw at her. She will beat your Enforcers at some point. That is all but certain. She may even beat you one day. That day will come sooner if you underestimate the adaptive capabilities of superheroes. She is an alpha predator. She may take her bruises here or there, but make no mistake, she is at the top of the food chain."

The Tarantula considers the genius's words before responding, "So is there a way to even the playing field? To make the Enforcers a real match for the Spider?"

"In due time," Otto waves his hand as dessert is presented at the table. "All in due time. But tonight there is a police function I believe we should infiltrate. I have it on good authority that the commissioner will be appointing a new division to deal with metahuman activity in New York."


"And we should offer our aid," Octavius smirks. "My friends I told you about have been working on some weapons to help combat our superhuman scourge. What better testing ground than the streets of New York?"

"And you have an idea on who can sell them on this?"

"Oh I do," Octavius takes big bite of dessert and savors it.


Parker Residence

Aunt May sits across from Peter and I, beaming like she just won the lottery. Honestly, it should make me uncomfortable, but it doesn't. For all the years I tried to push away the thought of Peter and I dating, for all the times I thought it would ruin our friendship, I have to admit it feels natural sitting here next to him. Even after the awkwardness of this morning, I wanted to come back tonight. Sure, part of that is the fact that I have to find out who the hell Black Tarantula is and who the hell the goon squad he sent is. But I genuinely also want to spend more time with Pete, and to talk about what went down the night before.

"Now I just want to say, I'm not mad about last night."

Yes, May. The Cheshire-Cat-level smile on your face says enough.

"But next time please let me know when you'll be coming over."

"Sorry, Aunt May," I look down at my feet as they shuffle, searching for a believable excuse, "but my dad was at work late last night and I just didn't want to be alone. I didn't want to wake you up either."

"You're so considerate," she pats me on the cheek. "I'll leave you kids be. I'm sure there's a lot to discuss."

The two of us head to his room, and Pete gets to work searching for my new friends. Without turning from the screen, he explains, "Black Tarantula is the leader of the Silk Cartel. Origin is in Argentina, but in the last sixty-ish years they've spread out over the continent. They've become the most powerful gang in Latin America."

"What does it say about the Tarantula?"

He shakes his head, "Nothing. It's a title passed from generation to generation. Made to make it look like the leader of the cartel is immortal. Whoever bears the title is greatly feared. That's about all we have."

He goes back to working the keyboard. After a few moments of silence he asks, "So are we gonna talk about it?"

"Huh? About what?" I ask, keeping my eyes on the screen as he searches for the four people who jumped me.

"Uh, last night?"

Well that was obvious. Of course he wants to talk about last night.

"Oh yea," I respond sheepishly. "Last night."

"Listen," he starts, rubbing the back of his neck, "I understand if you don't want it to go any further. You were hurt and stuff last night, and it just happened. If it's that's it-"

"No," I cut him off, "no. I don't want that to be it. Everyone's been telling us for years we should do this, and after last night, I want to see where it goes. It doesn't feel weird. It feels..."

"Natural," he agrees. "Yea, it does."

We share a quick kiss before he goes back to work.


NYPD Headquarters

George Stacy shifts uncomfortably in his chair as the press conference gets underway. The stuffy summer air mixes with the air conditioning in the largest conference room in the building. The stuffy air is winning out. God forbid the city council pays to upgrade any of the buildings' HVAC units outside their own.

The heat isn't the only thing making George uncomfortable, however. He is here to be promoted. Given his own unit. Sure, he was one of the heads of major crimes now, but this is a whole different story. He'll be able to put his own team together, piece by piece. Only the most trusted will be a part of it.

And it will all be for nothing.

"Last night," the Commissioner starts, "two of New York's finest were killed in a shootout with the dangerous, mass-murdering vigilante known as the Punisher. During the ensuing chase and search for the vigilante, Spider-Woman got involved. The two individuals proceeded to fight in a condemned apartment complex, leading to the structure's failure and collapse. While Punisher ran, Spider-Woman made sure the structure did not injure any innocent civilians. For that we thank her. But last night shows that New York is beginning to fall into the same spiral of metahuman vigilantism that we see engulfing other cities like Gotham and Metropolis. That...is something we can clearly not allow to continue unchecked. In response, I am giving Captain George Stacy, an exemplary officer, command of the new Metahuman Response Unit of the NYPD. Captain Stacy will being building this elite unit in the morning, and they will bring not only the Punisher to justice, but any other person who wears a mask and takes the law into their own hands."

A round of applause rolls through the assembly as George goes to the podium to speak.

The Commissioner, meanwhile, heads for his office. He knows Stacy's speech will be fine. But he needs some peace and quiet. Having to call the families slain by one of their own was bad enough. Now having the mayor to breath down his neck to make this task force a reality.

"Tired, commissioner?" a sultry voice asks as he passes into his office. He's surprised to see a young woman, no older than twenty-five, leaning against his desk. Her tight, black dress clings to an hourglass figure threatening to spill out. Long, black hair flows down to her alabaster shoulders, and her almond-shaped, brown eyes look into the cop's longingly. "It's been a long few days."

"That it has, Miss...?"

"Hardy," she smiles and lights up the room. She offers him her hand, which he takes. When he pulls away, she brushes his forearm playfully. "Felicia Hardy."

"What can I do for you, Ms. Hardy?" he asks and offers her a seat.

She takes it, "I'm here with an offer. Your task force that you started tonight...how can it really fight someone like Spider-Woman?"

"I'm listening," he motions for her to go on.

"We can offer you weapons," she grins smartly. "Weapons that can actually give your officers a chance to save this city."

"And who are 'we'?"

She opens up her clutch and passes him a business card, "We are Advanced Idea Mechanics. You can call us AIM."
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Hidden 5 yrs ago 5 yrs ago Post by Eddie Brock
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Eddie Brock

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Sergeant Nick Fury ducked behind an outcropping, swearing beneath his breath. If he lived to see the end of this night, he was going to have a pointed conversation with someone from Army intelligence. By all reports, the locals had stationed a small defense force to guard the site; instead, the landing party had fallen upon damn near the full force of the Quraci army. If they hadn't used the cover of darkness to gain the element of surprise, Fury and his men might've been swatted away like so many flies. As it was, they had sustained significant casualties and found themselves facing an uphill battle against entrenched opposition. It's always the "simple" jobs that completely go to shit, Fury sneered as a stray bullet chipped away at his cover.

The sergeant seized this opportunity to take stock of his dwindling forces. When the firefight began, the Americans scattered like roaches, making it hard to keep track of them all. As Fury looked around, he estimated that about half the squadron was still up and fighting; the other half were injured, dying, or already lost. They hadn't been a large contingent to begin with, and each man downed reduced their strength significantly. In order to turn this fight around, they'd have to take down five Quraci for each American defeated. And that was only if Quraci reinforcements didn't arrive from the south and outflank their position. Simply put, things were looking grim.

Across the way, Fury watched as a corporal tended to a soldier with a leg wound. The injured boy couldn't have been older than nineteen. Feeling a pang in his shoulder, the sergeant looked down to see that he had suffered his own gunshot wound; the desert camouflage of his uniform ran black with blood. When he moved his arm, Fury felt the slug rubbing and tearing at the sinew of his shoulder. The real pain wouldn't come until later, though, when he had to pry the bullet out. Of course, at the rate things were going, he wouldn't live long enough to face that ordeal. Wincing through his discomfort, Fury raised his weapon and hit the mag-release. The cartridge tumbled to the dirt.

As he fumbled for a new magazine, Sergeant Fury dared to peek around the outcropping. In the darkness, he could make out little more than a row of muzzle flashes from where the Quraci were set up. A near-miss convinced the sergeant to put his head back down. No sooner had he gotten a handle on the next cartridge than something peculiar happened: the shooting stopped. There was a chorus of shouts in Arabic, and then the Quraci opened fire again, this time aiming away from Fury and his men. Never one to miss an opportunity, Sergeant Fury popped up and leveled his rifle at the nearest enemy. With his one good eye, the sergeant stared down the sights; yet before he could take the shot, something flashed across his field of vision, and the Quraci soldier dropped.

Straightening, Fury was at first surprised and then relieved to see a bright, metal disc hurtling through the air. Looking eastward, he spotted its source, a living legend clad in red, white, and blue. All the Quraci rifles were trained on Captain America as he broke through the line; he downed an enemy soldier with a vicious right hook, then tumbled for cover as his shield almost magically found its way back to him. Though this was not Fury's first time seeing the Captain in action, it was always a wonder to watch. The day was not yet lost, and with a surge of confidence, Fury stood and barked to his men, "If you were waiting for a miracle, you just got it! Let's go!"

He charged ahead, and the Quraci defense soon fell.


The two men entered the cabin in silence. Shuffling ahead of them, Scout beelined to the kitchen, plopping down on his haunches beside the table. His owner followed, retrieving a scrap-covered plate from the counter and offering the dog his share. As the pup began to lick at the bones, Rogers continued on towards the sink. He stood with his back to Fury, still every bit the imposing specimen he must've been in that secret Brooklyn laboratory all those decades ago. Turning the faucet, he began to wash his hands as he finally spoke, "So, how long have you known about this place?"

Fury saw no reason to lie. "Two weeks after you moved in," he admitted. As he gave his answer, he took stock of his surroundings. The cabin was sparsely decorated, though not without character; here and there, the Director spied keepsakes and mementos from Rogers' long life. It didn't come as a surprise that the man who once dressed himself in stars and stripes would have a sentimental streak. He had also become something of a huntsman during his self-imposed exile, if the rifles mounted to the wall were any indication. No trophies, though, Fury noted. He didn't glamorize the kill.

The sound of the faucet turning off drew Fury's gaze back to the front. Snatching a towel from the oven handle, Rogers turned around and began drying his hands. "I suppose I should feel grateful I've been left in peace this long, then," he mused. He leaned back against the edge of the sink and set the towel on the counter. Crossing his arms, he met Fury's one-eyed gaze with his own steely blue one. "Well, I know you're not here to recruit me for a weekly poker game," he said.

"I'm here to ask for your help, Cap," Fury answered.

Rogers shook his head. "I've done enough 'helping' for one lifetime, I think," he mused. Pushing off from the counter, he walked over to where Scout was trying to salvage every last morsel from a meal long-since finished. As Rogers retrieved the plate, he scratched the lab behind his ear, and Scout flashed his owner an appreciative look. Straightening, Rogers carried the plate back to the sink as he said, almost casually, "Besides, if there's one thing SHIELD doesn't lack for, it's help. Why don't you ask your new boy -- what's his name again? -- 'U.S.Agent?'"

Fury shrugged. As Rogers set to the task of washing his dishes, he took the opportunity to look around a little closer. Drawing near to Rogers desk, he discovered a stack of newspapers from around the world; all current. It seemed that Rogers wasn't as detached from things as he made it look. "Agent Walker might've been able to help me, but I'm afraid he's already tied up elsewhere," the Director explained.

With his back still turned, Rogers offered, "Isaiah, then."

Again, the Director deflected. "Bradley's currently in an assisted-living facility in upstate New York. While the serum he received kept him physically capable all these years, his mind couldn't hold up. He's got the mind of a ninety year-old Alzheimer's patient in the body of a nineteen year-old Olympian." He paused to let this revelation settle; after all, he knew that Rogers and Bradley were close once upon a time. Even on days when Isaiah couldn't recognize his own family, he always, always remembered Captain America.

At that, Rogers glanced over his shoulder. "I'm sorry to hear that," he replied with full sincerity. After a moment, he returned to his task. "Regardless, you already knew what my answer would be; you knew it the second you left DC. So why don't you tell me why you're really here, Nick? What could be so important that you'd come all this way looking for my help?"

Fury hesitated. "It's Qurac," he stated simply. At that, Rogers' posture shifted. His shoulders stiffened, and he stood up straighter. Fury continued, "I'm not here to ask for an endorsement of the last half-century of public policy. I'm not even here to convince you to come out of retirement for good, even if I think the world still needs you. I'm just here to ask you to help clean up a mess we made more than twenty years ago."

After a moment, he gave a humorless laugh. "Has it been that long? I guess you really can't outrun your sins forever," he spoke darkly. Rogers grit his teeth. Even as every fiber of his being fought against it, Steve knew what he had to do. He turned off the faucet again and spun to face Fury. There was a look on the Director's face that almost approached sympathy. Steve sighed, flashing Scout an apologetic look. "When do you need me?" he asked Fury.

"We're headed back to DC tonight," the Director answered.

Steve nodded. He took another deep breath, trying to make peace with his decision. In truth, he didn't know if he even still had it; he had been out of the game so long, and he hadn't gotten any younger. But he was still Captain America, and he had to try. Wringing his hands, feeling the rough calluses beneath his fingers, he said, "Alright, well, give me fifteen minutes to get my affairs in order. I've gotta make a call." In a place this remote, friends were scarce, and Steve hadn't gone out of his way to be sociable. Still, there was a gentleman who ran the hardware store in the nearest town with whom Steve had a good relationship; he could trust him to take good care of Scout.

Just under fifteen minutes later, Steve emerged from the cabin, a heavy duffel bag slung over his shoulder. Fury stood by the SUV, waiting patiently; Agent Bordeaux, somewhat less so. When he reached the car, Steve afforded one last longing look at his home. It would never be the same after this. The Director introduced Bordeaux, and Steve regarded her with a polite, "Ma'am." Whatever thoughts the special agent had about their guest, she kept them to herself. They all crammed into the car, which seemed a bit more spacious when its backseat didn't have to accommodate a 6'3", 250 pound man. Conversation was sparse, with Rogers clearly ruminating on his decision to come along. All Bordeaux could think was that he looked pretty good for a man about to eclipse the century mark.
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Hidden 5 yrs ago 5 yrs ago Post by Simple Unicycle
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Simple Unicycle ?

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12:03 AM; July 22nd, 2018
Roscoe Street Station; New York City


The last two weeks had been spent knocking off Manfredi members and their guards. I had killed three made men so far, along with God knows how many mooks. Manfredi's probably pissing his pants, and the cops were organizing some sort of metahuman response team, to take down folks like me. I suppose it was kind of flattering that they thought I was a meta; little did they know that the only secret to how I had killed so many people without taking a scratch was a pinch of skill, a tablespoon of determination, and a dash of rage. Serve with guns. You got yourself the Punisher.

I step off the train and breathe in the air of Roscoe Street Station, much as I try not to. The place isn't exactly renowned for its cleanliness. It was close to my safehouse, amidst a sea of derelict buildings housing crackheads and bums. I pass by a homeless man who stinks of booze laying on a mattress of old newspapers, dropping a few quarters into his cup as I go.

The Glock shifted nervously under my coat. I felt exposed here. But more importantly, I felt like someone was watching my every move. I looked around, finding no one but myself and the homeless man. Maybe I was just getting paranoid. No one knew where I was, not even Dave. And if they did, I'd get to them before they could think to tell anyone.

A voice from behind pulled me from my thoughts. "You Frank Castle?"

I turned around. I hadn't seen the guy while I was scanning the station, which meant he had come out of one of the bathrooms. He looked like some kind of vagrant, dressed in unwashed clothes with greasy hair and a bushy beard, carrying nothing but a guitar case and the clothes on his back. He looked far too tensed to just be some homeless musician; eyes taking me in as though calculating how big of a threat I posed.

Somehow, I felt like he wasn't going to tell me I had won the lottery.

"Maybe I am. Why do you care?"

"Nothin'. Just wonderin'. He looked me up and down. "Cops and the mob want you dead. You haven't been making any good impressions."

This guy's picture must have been next to the word 'bad news' in the dictionary. It felt like the gun under my coat was burning through my clothes and searing my flesh. "I'm not looking for trouble. Just walk away. Whatever money you're being offered isn't worth it."

"Sorry, Mr. Castle. It's just business. Look on the bright side: you'll be putting my little girl through college." The guitar case in his hand cracked wide open, and he had pulled an MP5 from it in a matter of two seconds. I barely had time to dodge before he opened fire, hitting the air where I once was. The homeless man woke at the sound of gunfire and, upon seeing a man shooting at another guy with an SMG, did the smart thing and booked it.

I pulled the pistol from under my coat, firing at the man. Just as I did, he leapt out of the way, firing simultaneously and missing by the smallest fraction of an inch. I rolled backwards, managing to get into a kneeling position. I fired off a round at the man, who rolled on his side out of the way of the shot, firing blindly as he went.

I heard the click of an empty gun; it was his. The half moment of hesitation between trying to fire the gun and tossing it was enough for me to get a shot off, clipping his shoulder. It didn't send him to the ground, but it did slow him down enough that he couldn't instantly pull another trick out of his sleeve. I stood up and ran to cover in the brief moment I had, while he pulled a handgun out from under his jacket and fired in my direction.

The metal trash bin shook with every bullet that struck it, and I knew that after another few shots it would fall over and leave me exposed. So I did the only logical thing, and jumped out from my cover, firing off a few rounds in the man's direction. He leapt to the side just as I did, also firing. We landed right next to each other, both of us sticking our gun to the other's head and firing.

*click* *click*

We were both empty. I had forgotten to reload after the latest gunfight I had been in, and he had spent most of the clip on the trash can. We both jumped up to our feet, and swung our pistols at each other, landing a hit on the other's face and staggering back. We reloaded. To any passerby it must've been a sight to see; two men doing the exact same things in sync with each other.

As soon as we reloaded, the two of us jumped in opposite directions and fired at the other. One of his shots struck my leg, one of mine struck his off-hand. Once we got up we took to strafing around in a circle, the two of us firing at each other and narrowly missing, before coming to a stop and aiming at the other's head. Another click from both our guns. I was out of ammo; judging by the look on his face, so was he. Our ballet of gunfire had come to an end. Now we would be dancing to a different tune.

We threw our guns to the side and began to fight in a flurry of fists and feet, each of our strikes narrowly missing their marks or being deflected. Occasionally one of us got past the other's defense and landed a hit, but it wasn't long before the other returned the favor. We were two connoisseurs of death, equally matched in skill. It'd take some sort of divine intervention to stop this fight. If it wasn't for fatigue eventually having to set in, we'd probably fight for the rest of time if we went uninterrupted.

But we didn't go uninterrupted. A train came barreling past us, drawing our attention to it. I recovered just a moment before he did, giving me time to go for a throat shot; he fell to the ground, gasping for air. I didn't completely crush his airway like I had hoped, if the sounds of wheezing breaths was anything to go by, but he'd definitely be feeling that in the morning. Still, just because he was down for now didn't mean it wouldn't stop him from coming after me later.

I pulled the small derringer out from my boot. Why didn't I use it after we were both empty? For starters, by the time I got it out he'd have me on the floor and would be kicking the shit out of me. Second, it had been a while since anyone gave me any trouble. I wanted to have an actual fight, if only to make sure I didn't get rusty before I started fighting the really dangerous guys that Manfredi had.

I took aim at his kneecap and fired, eliciting a blood curdling scream from the man. I wasn't going to kill this guy and make an orphan. Sure, he might've been bullshitting me or cracking a joke when he mentioned his little girl, but I wouldn't chance it. Maybe I was starting to grow soft. Maybe I wanted to let him live after pushing me for the first time in what felt like ages since I'd started this crusade. Maybe I just didn't want that little girl to grow up and come after me for revenge.

Whatever my reasons, I walked away from the crippled man, already mentally preparing myself for my last raid before I struck at Manfredi himself.
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Hidden 5 yrs ago 5 yrs ago Post by DocTachyon
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DocTachyon Teenage Neenage Neetle Teetles

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”The Ranchero of Miracle Mesa” - Strings: Part One

“The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.”


Texas --- The Desert

It was only a few hours since they... Emerged. Vigilante still wasn’t sure quite how to describe it. One moment he was on his knees on a slab of brimstone, with a Demon Lord’s claws wrapped around his head and his friends waiting for death all around him. The next he was lying in a bed of sand, all his broken bones and scars knitted together like nothing had ever happened.

The walk to town was silent. Each man seemed content to contemplate what it meant to be well and truly alive again. The crunch of the sand beneath seven sets of boots. True, fresh Texan air swelling their lungs. It was unlike anything in hell had ever been. The sky twinkled with stars instead of crackling with fire. The wind whistled instead of howling. It was almost enough to make Vigilante forget what had happened there. If it weren’t for the screaming.

It started as a quiet throbbing in the back of his head once he accepted Mephisto’s deal. A little reminder of what he’d done. The closer Vig and the six others drew to Warpath, the louder it got. Every footstep raised the voice a decibel. The voices, rather.

“Vengeance. Must. Be. Done. Vengeance. Must. Be Done. Vengeance! Must! Be! Done! VENGEANCE! MUST! BE! DONE!” It was a cacophony. If Vig focused on it, he became more aware of it, more in tune with it. Somewhere in recesses of his being, there was a swirling, pulsating vortex of fire and shrieking skulls baying for blood and retribution -- and it was trying to pull him in. He tried to shake his head and clear himself of it, but it was always there, gnawing. Begging him to let it out. He felt the pressure on the back of his eyes. It was all he could do to ignore it and continue his slog through the desert. He needed a goddamn drink.

Warpath, Texas --- The Crossroads Saloon

The Crossroads Saloon was The Bar at the End of the World. It had been in Warpath since the early 1800s. It had survived attempted buyouts, a handful of shootouts, a few arsons, and countless charms and curses placed upon it by wannabe sorcerers. It was there when Vig was born, and would likely be there long after he died. Hex probably still recognized it, the paint chipping off the cheapest boards available and the subtle scent of watered down booze. To Vig, it smelled like home.

Not a word had passed between the men, but a thousand years worth of teamwork had cultivated a silent understanding between them. Drink came before discussion. The only stop they made was to exchange their clothes for something more pedestrian. Costumes and armor weathered by hellfire were exchanged for worn out jeans and dusty flannels liberated from the boarded up shack Vig used to call home.

The place still had the same swinging “cowboy” doors, with all the little holes and nicks in ‘em from various nights of drunkenness and debauchery from the few locals who attended the slag heap. Vig pushed through first. It was empty. The tables sat deserted, with a handful of stools askew. Some lay overturned. The barkeep idly wiped dust motes from glass mugs, but his eyes snapped to the door as it swung open. The barkeep set the glass down. His hands dropped below the bar.

“Greg Saunders? Why, we ain’t seen you around here in a long time, feller.” The barkeep said.

“Yessir.” Vigilante nodded and tipped his hat.

In an instant, a sawed-off was in the barkeeps hands and Greg flinched, slamming onto the ground on his back. His revolver was in his hand before the shotgun’s report reached his ears, and his finger squeezed the trigger as buckshot obliterated where he’d just been. His pistol cracked in his hands and the barkeep’s hat disappeared, Greg adjusted his aim down a micrometer.

“Boy, you best think about where you next aim that shotgun,” Greg said. He could scarcely hear himself over the ringing in his ears.

“Jesus H. Christ, Williams, what was that?” The swinging doors behind the bar burst open and an old man in a droopy bucket hat hobbled out. His eyes flickered over the scene. He slapped the gun out of the barkeep’s hands.

“Goddammit, you dumb son of a bitch! Don’t you know who that is?” The old man said. Billy Gunn hadn’t changed much in the… Well, however many years Greg had been gone. He still wore the same hat, pulled low over his face with as many buttons and as much memorabilia that would fit plastered over it; and he still walked with that same limp. Greg slid his pistol into his holster and drew to his feet.

“But what if he’s a --” The barkeep couldn’t finish his sentence before Gunn’s hand cracked across his face.

“You think a changeling could aim like that? Git yer keister in the back.” Gunn elbowed past the man as he passed and planted both hands on the bar.

“Things have changed ‘round here, boy. Where the hell have you been?” Gunn said. He gestured to a barstool.

“I’ve been… Around. Coast’s clear, Frank.” Greg said, stepping up to the barstool.

The titanic frame of Johnny Frankenstein shouldered through the doorway. Greg could see the buckshot pellets dug into his skin, with fresh holes blown in the many-sizes-small shirt. Somehow he seemed less undead under the flourescent lights of the bar. It helped that he had a cowboy hat pulled over his head scars, and that the seams in his patched-together body were covered, mostly.

“Sir.” Frankenstein tipped his hat to Gunn and sat down next to Greg. The stool shuddered under his weight.

The rest of the Seven filed in, one by one. Sir Justin seemed to stumble as he came in, evidently suppressing his instinct to bow. Lee Travis came in next, cracking that big wide grin of his. Then was Sylvester Pemberton and Pat Dugan, each giving low nods and shuffling to stools of their own. Lastly was Jonah Hex.

The bounty hunter stood in the doorway a moment, looking the bar up and down. He stepped to the left wall, and moved a hanging picture a hair to the left.

“Heh. Still there.” Hex righted it and pulled up a stool. Gunn’s eyebrows were furrowed, and his eyes scanned over each of the bar’s new patrons. He opened his mouth to ask a question, but Greg cut him off.

“Gunn, what… Exactly happened while I was gone?” Greg asked. He pulled off his brown cowboy hat and began fiddling with the brim. He locked eyes with Gunn’s baby blues.

Gunn sighed. He scratched the back of his head and stared at the ceiling for a moment, his face scrunched in thought.

“Three years is a long time to up n’ abandon Warpath, Greg. Since you split town, things got…” Gunn gulped, “Well, things got weird.”

Greg exchanged a glance with Frankenstein. Hex looked up from his hat brim. Three years. It felt like a thousand.

“I got some kinda acquainted with weird in my time away.” Greg said. He reached across the bar and placed a hand on Gunn’s shoulder.

Gunn looked deep into Greg’s eyes, searching for some kind of truth in them. He swallowed.

“Every now n’ again we get hit by… Well, to put it to ya straight, gentlemen, monsters.” Gunn reached down and put the sawed-off on the table.

“Williams back ‘ere thought you was a changeling like we’ve been callin’ em. Nasty ‘lil buggers. Takes your friend’s face n’ kills you with it. N’ that’s just one o’ the many we’ve been gettin’. SHIELD's been tryin’ it’s damnedest to help, but with the metahuman business n’ everything, they don’t have much by way of resources to spare for a lil’ town like us.”

Sylvester shot up in his chair. “Metahumans? By God, SHIELD finally let the cat out of the bag.”

Gunn nodded. “Lotsa cats in that bag, then.They got a boy up n’ Metropolis who just spent his day rippin’ apart a bunch o’ robots.”

“Well, we’re whistling Dixie if we think a fella all the way in Metropolis will help you, pal. Or us, for that matter.” Lee said.

A moment of silence washed over the bar. A thousand years of combat, but Greg may as well have been back where he started. Knee deep in demons and without any kind of backup.

“I’m sure we’ll figure something out, Billy. Pop always did, n’ I’m sure that we can, too.” Greg said. By now, the voices had settled into a steady chant.

“Vengeance. Vengeance. Vengeance.”

“I’m more than sure.”
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