Hidden 4 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by BCTheEntity
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BCTheEntity Taco Tuesday is the true path.

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Prelude: I Stand Before You Naked To The Eyes

Today was a bad day for Anthony. Despite the bright sun out, despite taking a walk to a local park, his mind was in a pit, and had been for the past four days now. The impending doom of his family’s pet cat weighed heavy on his mind on top of all his usual problems, and he couldn’t bear to be stuck in his house another day. He had to get out of there, at least for a while. After all, wasn’t sunlight supposed to help with depression or something? Was he even clinically depressed, or just feigning it, the way a lot of “self-diagnosed” ill people typically did?

Bah. It didn’t matter so much, anyway. It turned out, in fact, that the park was hosting a fair today, an unexpected event for sure, and a few minutes of walking around in the bright colours of the rides and stalls already had him feeling a little better. Not much, and he could only wonder how long it’d last, but for the time being, he’d take what he could get. Going around in one of the better examples of human positivity might take his mind off of the more negative aspects of human nature for a time.

As he finished off a hotdog- well, a regular sausage in a bun, but he’d never liked frankfurters as hotdog sausages, and they didn’t have those anyway, so a hotdog that officially was- he pondered out loud about what to visit next. ‘I could go on the merry-go-round again,’ he considered, stroking his chin. ‘Or maybe the giant slides...? No, those are meant for kids, they’d ask what the hell I’m doing if I went on that... then again, maybe not? That’s guy’s going down just fine...’

As he considered his options, he walked past a small tent that was at first unassuming, merely blue and red stripes with a sign on a post out front. After a moment, he turned back to look at it again, this time actually reading what the sign said: “Fortunes Told Here! Only £1.50 per fortune, free if you’re unsatisfied!” His expression twisted into a frown initially. “Fortune tellers.” Scam artists, one and all, he reckoned - psychic woo, ghosts and magic and all of those sorts of things, evidently didn’t exist, and it was plainly immoral to take advantage of other people’s beliefs for money, no matter the scale.

Then again... I know their tricks. If the fortune teller tries to get information out of me by being vague, I can just tell them I know their scam and walk off, he considered. After all, it’s free if I’m not satisfied with it, right? Thus, begrudgingly, he stepped toward the tent, cautiously sliding one flap aside to gain entrance into quite a dark room, containing not much more than a crystal ball on a stand, and a short woman with grey hair in a bun and a seemingly-dramatic robe, whose features made her seem quite old indeed.

‘Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh, a newcomer...’ the lady immediately crooned. Oh, lord, she’s already putting on an act. ‘Eeexcellent, I knew you’d step in here, sir, yes I did!’ she continued, pointing at him with one gnarled hand and crooking her finger. ‘Come, come, tell me, what brings you to my tent?’

‘Er, well,’ Anthony began, grimacing briefly as he tried and failed to garner more detail from the woman’s face, ‘obviously I wanted my fortune read. Or at least I’d try to get it read, if it’s worth anything.’

‘Mmmm, so you did, Anthony Blaire.

‘What...?!’ Anthony immediately took a step back, eyes widening. What in the hell had just happened? How had she gotten his name? He certainly didn’t have it on his person directly, it wasn’t like he’d had anybody tell her... ahh, but he did have something with his name on it. His phone. And of course, technology was advancing in leaps and bounds nowadays; obviously, she’d read his name off of some device or other before he’d even entered the tent. He really needed to shut off his phone’s WiFi or Bluetooth whatever before heading out.

Back on his feet, relaxed once more, he stepped back toward the woman. ‘Alright, very clever, I admit,’ he allowed. ‘You caught me off-guard, well done, I guess that means I can give you a bit more of my time.’

‘Heh. Nobody ever expects me to know their name at a glance,’ the lady bragged with a crude smirk. ‘I know what you’re thinking, boy, and it’s no feat of technology that granted me that insight. Perhaps, if you’ll allow me, I might read your palm initially?’

‘Hrm. Alright, then,’ Anthony agreed, rolling his eyes as he held his hand out to the woman. Her grip came quickly, almost too quickly for somebody her age, and it was shockingly strong to boot, the fingers running across each line of his hand at a measured pace, their nails seeming deliberately dug into his skin hard enough to cause heat and friction, until he finally jerked his hand free with a scowl.

‘Next you’ll say, “that’s quite enough!”’

‘That’s quite enough! You- wait, what?’

‘Heheheheheh! Cold-reading, my boy!’ the lady cackled again, seeming to take great glee in Anthony’s discontent and dismay. ‘With, dare I say, a touch of...’

‘Don’t you dare say it, you old-’ He forced himself to calm down again, yet the woman’s smile still seemed to mock him so. ‘Listen, you. I’ve had a bit of a shitty time recently, and right now, I’m thinking you’re just making things worse.’

‘Ohh, I saw, young man, I saw. I see death in your future.’ Oh, lah-de-dah, great observation Sherlock. ‘Yes, death... so much death, more of it than you can imagine being involved with.’ Er, okay, that’s weird to hear.

‘Yeah, uh, right. Look, ma’am,’ he tried to segue, ‘can I just get my fortune read? I wasn’t really trying to get involved with any, uh, anything more than some fortune telling stuff, okay?’ He was, suffice to say, more than uncomfortable at the moment.

‘Oh, of course, of course I’ll read your fortune,’ the woman murmured, suddenly much more kindly-sounding than before. What on earth was with her changes in tone? ‘In fact, I insist upon it. You’ve offered me something interesting, veeeery interesting... I need to see more...’

What the hell is with this lady? Anthony wondered, a concerned frown plastered on his face. It’s like she’s crazy or something. I’m not sure I’m actually safe here... but it’s not like she’s anything other than a crazy old lady, right? Worst thing she’ll do is try and whack me with a cane or something, most likely. His fears assuaged again, but his expression remaining concerned, he stepped up to the crystal ball, realising belatedly that fortune telling required cards on a table. What, was she going to tell his fortune on a ball with a screen inside it?

‘Now, just place your hand on the crystal ball, my boy, just you do that...‘ Apparently so. Sighing, he pressed his hand against the ball... huh, that seemed like real crystal, at least from this angle. No doubt her angle happened to have a screen hidden by the internal imperfections in the ball’s material, but hey, maybe it’d be fun to watch the reflection in her eyes.

What she did next was odd. She didn’t put her own hand on the ball itself - go figure - but she did start to engage in a sort of odd prolonged breathing in. He could hear the air getting sucked into her pursed lips, but no external breath out, and for an old lady, that was impressive. For the first fifteen seconds, anyway. After half a minute, Anthony was starting to wonder when she’d exhale, and after another thirty seconds, he was boggling at what seemed like an impossible ultra-extended breath. How could... that was physically impossible, surely?!

Then, all at once, his hand seemed to start burning. Or, well, something like that. It was hot and tingly, at least, and there was some kind of pressure, but particularly painful it was not. If he had to compare it to something, he might suggest a sort of localised heat stroke, or using the heat of a radiator to try and get rid of pins and needles in a dead arm. And the old woman was still inhaling! How could anybody do that?!

Finally, she stopped sucking air in through her mouth, and his hand stopped... being warm, he supposed. Anthony pulled the appendage away to check that it was alright, that nothing had in fact gotten singed, but caught a hint of chuckling from the woman. Chuckling turned to full laughter, and to his horror, that became howling roars of mirth, the crone’s eyes wide and bulging, her mouth stretched wide to expose her teeth as she cackled with unsuppressed glee.

‘Finally... FINALLY!’ she screeched, glaring straight into Anthony’s eyes as she rounded the stand and headed toward him. ‘I found you at last! You’re him! You’re the one... AAAHAHAHAHA!‘

‘Jesus Christ, do not touch me, please,’ the young man begged, trying his best to get away from her without letting her leave his sight. ‘I will literally pay you any amount of money to let me leave oh God please-

‘Hahahahahahaha! Nooooo! No charge for you, dearie!’ she shrieked, gesturing with her arm as if to draw him back toward her - only for him to actually be pulled back toward her, feet scraping across the ground, as if tugged by some irresistible force.

‘Oh, shit! What the f-’ Anthony’s voice was cut off as the woman’s hand clamped tightly over his mouth, leaving him vainly trying to pry his head away from her, whatever force that had dragged him in now proving immovable to his skull. In fact, he was sure he felt something like thorns digging into his back if he tried to pull away too hard... what the hell was going on? Was this... was this real magic?! Or psychic powers or some shit? How else did he explain being stuck in place like this?

‘No need to charge you, sir, not at all,’ she continued to rave, eyes bugging out as she rooted around in her robe for something, found it, then pulled forth a Goddamn arrow. It was ridiculous, much longer than most arrows had any right to be, with a standard wooden shaft, and yet a head made of ornately-carved stone. This would be... hell, he didn’t have a clue. Way older than Medieval, though, for certain! More importantly, what was the big idea here? Was she about to stab him, oh shit oh shit...!

‘And your next line is, “For the love of God, what’s wrong with you?!” Go!’

‘For the love of God, what’s wrong with you?!’ Anthony exclaimed, finally succeeding in wrenching his head free of her grasp, only to realise she’d done it again, she’d predicted his very words. How, how, how?

‘Aaahahahaha! You truly were worried, weren’t you?’ she mocked. As she did, he felt his arm wrenched upward by the same invisible jabby force, and the arrow... placed surprisingly gently into his palm. He still wasn’t sure she wasn’t planning on stabbing him, but at this point, he really did rather have to go along with it.

‘Erm... s-so no charge?’ he mumbled out a bit meekly, prompting yet more elderly giggling. ‘No charge, no charge,’ she continued to ramble gleefully, ‘not for you. You, lad, have a much longer road ahead than you know... you, Anthony Blaire, have fate to work with! Yes, indeed, fate is on your side,’ she proclaimed ‘for you are destined... TO RULE! THE WORLD! AAAAHAHAHAHAAHAHAAAAAAAA!’

After far too long, the force let Anthony go, letting him topple him to the ground with the arrow clutched betwixt his fingers. Scrambling to his feet, he hauled himself out of that godforsaken tent in a panic, the mad old fortuneteller’s laughter following him like a guided missile until he was out of the fair and practically halfway across the park, collapsing to his knees and gasping for air once she was no longer audible. At some point, he must have unconsciously realised that he had a damn arrow in his hands, and stuffed the thing under his shirt and into his trouser belt, only mildly conspicuous unless somebody thought to look closer. Thank goodness it hadn’t cut him; he’d have to be careful about that until he could take it out and put it somewhere safe.

It took a good five minutes for him to finally get his breath back, in part because his fight-or-flight response refused to relax for a long while. Once he did, he took it upon himself to trudge, as slowly as he could, back toward the fair. The path into town was all the way back there, after all. And maybe he’d have to pass that tent again, after all, and that’d be fortuitous, wouldn’t it? He could return that arrow to the crone, after all.

By the time he got back to where the tent of misfortune had been, it was gone, signpost and all, with not a hint of its former presence to show that anything had ever been there to begin with. Well, no sense wasting time looking for it, he supposed. I wouldn’t even have handed it back to her anyway. Crazy people shouldn’t have weapons, should they? Especially not crazy old women with telekinesis.

Today, he felt, was still a bad day. A bad day made worse by a most strange and disturbing experience. He’d feel better once he was safe and sound back in his damn house.




Prologue - Speedwagon Foundation HQ, in Washington, D.C.



The director and C.E.O. of the SWF - some preferred SPW, but that simply didn’t fit as an acronym in Louis’ mind - sat at his desk, pondering the meeting that was about to take place. Ten minutes to ten, ten minutes before talking to a group of individuals who he knew could probably end his life with ease if they so wished. Yet he felt not an ounce of fear or worry. For one thing, he had years of experience handling both Stand users and other esoteric supernaturals, he knew the best strategies, the best options to take if things turned sour. He would not fall to a mere troupe of psychic maniacs, if indeed they were.

For another thing, he’d called them here in the first place. If there was anything at all to be concerned with, coincidentally, it was how thinly the SWF’s resources were stretched right now. The current situation, suffice to say, was infeasible to keep in check without extra support; most of Washington’s people were scattered far and wide handling the apparent pandemic, the facility in Dallas was being real slow in getting their own people over, and it transpired that of all their units, only two remained with any supernatural abilities of their own - their pet assassin, and their pet crocodile. Neither would be reliable alone, or even together, not with their respective skill sets and temperaments.

Thus, Louis had been forced to call for external help. He’d put the SWF’s reach to good use, and found himself with quite a few good options. Of those he contacted, though, only three had returned any interest - another hired gun, even more unreliable than the one under the Foundation’s thumb, but skilful in his own right; an ex-wrestler, his path followed and his steps traced, with a long history of Stand combat that made him quite useful indeed; and, God forgive him, a young civilian woman affected by the illness, complete with Stand, who he was quite certain was only interested because she was hard up when it came to money.

Pragmatism had won out, and all three had been called in to assist, alongside their other agents. Two Stand users did not add up to a full diplomatic or investigative force, but five just about made it; thankfully, the one agent had woken up recently, and the other would do as asked given the right incentives, so it was just a matter of having them called in alongside the newcomers.

Five to ten. They should be showing up by now. That, or they were bored and waiting for him to bring them in. Sighing, Louis pressed down on a panel in his desk, bringing up a screen that flicked on rapidly to reveal a security feed. He probably ought not to have that there, but every so often, he found himself with nothing to do, and enjoyed looking around to see how everyone in the building was getting along. For now, he changed the feed channel to the camera covering the waiting room leading to his office, observing to see who was here yet, and who was yet to arrive.
Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Old Amsterdam
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Blue leaned against the wall, her eyes peering out from Raven hair tinted red as she inspected her scythe. Currently folded up, it looked like a big stick, she thought with a fond smile.

She'd woken up just two days ago and her Employer had already contacted her. A smirk pulled at her lips as she waited, curious what the mission was going to be exactly. She loved when she got sent out, always bustling with that "Oh boy here I go killing again!" energy. Not that the killing was what mattered, no, it was the hunt that mattered. That's where the enjoyment was, systematically destroying and capturing the Mark and watching as the futility and fear set into their soul.

It was an art, really.

Her smirk became a grin at the thought.

She'd been told there were going to be others this time, however. Troubling, but she'd been told that she was to work with them and not plaster their blood all over the wall.

Shame, that. Red was such a pretty color.

She looked up at the security camera, giving it a bright smile and a notably obvious wink.

"I can't wait to meet my.... Allies." The words were quiet, a hint of emotion behind the sweet tone as she smirked into the camera, flicking her scythe open to inspect the blade casually.

Soon...
Hidden 4 mos ago Post by knifeman
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❣ Out of My League - Fitz and the Tantrums ❣



“More than just a dream… More than just a dream…”


Mieke opened her eyes, and immediately pulled her uncomfortable blanket over her head, groaning. The bright sun was giving her a headache, and the music playing through her phone sounded like the loudest thing ever in the silence of the motel room. It didn’t help that she had only gotten maybe four hours of sleep. It wasn’t that she wasn’t tired; dealing with the absolute hell that was airports in general just to take an hour-long flight had left her exhausted. The only reason she hadn’t passed out as soon as her head hit the pillow was that the bed was the worst. Just the least comfortable thing.

She reached out from under the blanket and blindly groped for her phone. Eventually, she gave up and sat straight, throwing off the blanket. She shut off her alarm and took a moment to enjoy the quiet before getting out of bed.

Taking a shower did the trick to wake her up, but the long process of drying her hair made her eyes start to droop again. Once she was dressed and on the bus heading to the HQ of the Speedwagon Foundation, she started to ponder why they could have wanted her.

Of course, it had something to do with the illness she had recently gotten over, and possibly the apparition she’d been seeing. What the hell was it, anyway? She had never hallucinated before; maybe she was still sick? What if her brain was deteriorating and this was the first sign of her impending agonizing death?

Shit, she was starting to tear up. No, not on the bus! Not in public! She wiped at her eyes, trying to get rid of the tears before anyone could see. A shape started forming in front of her and she had to stifle a gasp. Her hallucination showed up again; and much more solid than before.

It didn’t seem as scary now that she could see it clearly. It looked sort of like a fancy bird girl, and it— she was crying too.

Mieke smiled a little bit. Guess she’s a cry baby just like me.

The apparition disappeared as the bus came to a halt. It was her stop.

Entering the imposing building, Mieke’s anxiety only escalated. Thankfully, she didn’t cry again, but she still felt awfully out of place. She was staring intensely at the floor when she entered the waiting room, so she took a few moments to notice the imposing-looking woman already there. And then she took a few more moments to notice the scythe she was holding. Was that a normal thing around here?

“Um, hello. N-nice to meet you.”

What had she gotten herself into?

Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Lugubrious
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“And you're certain it doesn't have cheese?”

The cashier could keep herself from rolling her eyes, which would in the eyes of Dairy Queen's policies be considered a rude gesture to any customer, but she could not keep the unamused flatness out of her voice or the trace of a sneer from her lips. Even though she'd only been working at this location for less than a year, it felt like a lifetime. Every day people came by with the same stuck-up attitudes and flagrant disregard for common courtesy, their complaints seldom differing by more than a few words. It felt like a role-playing game where she'd exhausted all the NPCs' dialog options several times over. If not for the numbness, it would have been infuriating. This customer, in particular, rubbed her the wrong way. Huge and imposing, with a ridiculous mustache, stupid outfit, and an annoying smile she knew was an overdone fake, he was surely testing her patience. More than a minute to figure out what he wanted to order? Changing his mind mid-order? She bet he did this all the time, probably at every fast-food place he stuffed himself at.

“...Yes sir.”

The red-whiskered mad nodded, received his card back, and stepped to the side. A few moments later his milkshake came out. After turning it upside down in her franchise's characteristic display of the concrete ice cream's consistency, the cashier handed it over, who held it in his hand. Minutes passed, with the large fellow standing patiently by for his order to appear. As the wait approached the four-minute mark, the ice cream in his hand began to melt over the side of his cup, though he didn't notice until the cool, sticky liquid trickled onto his fingers. Aghast, he rushed over to the utensil counter, pulling out napkins to try and mop the mess up. Twice he looked over to the main counter, but no orders seemed to be coming, so at last the beleaguered man simply dropped the whole shebang through the hole into the trash can. The dispenser had, unfortunately, run out of napkins. Popping over to the main counter, he asked, “Excuse me, do you have any spare paper towels?”

Looking over from the customer she'd just dealt with -the last in line- the cashier grimaced. “Oh, did you spill everywhere?”

Bushy ginger eyebrows furrowed, and their owner pulled his dripping hands back. The notion of giving her the response he felt she deserved did occur to him, but he took a more positive route. With a strained smile he replied, “No, I didn't. If you wouldn't mind, may I have some pa-”

“Arthur!”

Arthur St. Anger glanced over to the young man who held a brown bag in his hands—his order had arrived. “Thank you,” he told the deliverer, and opened the bag to retrieve the napkins nested inside. After wiping his hands and disposing of the remains, he headed for the door without another word to the waiting taxi outside.

“Thought you said you'd be less than six minutes?”

As Arthur piled in, he gave the cab driver a sheepish look. “My apologies!” He replied, some of his annoyance coming through in his tone. “Things took longer than I thought.” He glanced at his watch. “Nine-thirty rush, I suppose, though I must have just missed all the people.” The cab began to move, resuming its journey to the destination Arthur requested at the airport, for which a supposedly quick stop at Dairy Queen had been a detour. Another year, another taste of American fast food. Would have preferred a Subway, but this was on the way, and after a long flight surely a little indulgence is understandable. Settling in, Arthur retrieved his Grillburger, but something yellow and gooey perched on the light sandwich's patty caught his eye. He gave a great sigh. “Delightful.” Good old bland, tasteless American cheese. Couldn't these stores just use cheddar? Or deliver the milkshake along with the food so it doesn't get a chance to melt? Ah, well. I imagine the employees aren't paid enough to care. I understand that such work is tiresome and unsatisfying, but that doesn't mean they need to take it out on us by doing a poor job. Still, a shame that his early lunch turned out so disappointing.

He shot a furtive glance at the cab driver, who appeared to be minding the road, as usual. Holding the cheeseburger in one hand, he spread the other's fingers wide, facing the palm toward it. Unseen to his oblivious chauffeur, a silvery glimmer filled the back of the car, and on its heels came a purple-tinged wave. The sandwich began to vibrate, growing blurry, until out from it popped a wedge of American cheese. When Arthur examined the former cheeseburger again, he found no trace of the distasteful contaminant. “There we are,” he murmured to himself as he placed the cheese inside the bag, quite pleased. “No problem that a little innovation can't resolve.”

-=-=-


Staring at the great white building with hands on his hips, and his suitcase resting beside him, Arthur declared, “So, this is the domain of the eminent Speedwagon Foundation!”

Eyes half-closed, the cab driver threw him a look. Did this guy just not have a filter between his brain and his mouth, or did he imagine himself narrating for some reality drama? “Uh. Yeah. Just like you wanted. That'll be ten eighty.”

Arthur removed his wallet from a zipped pocket in his purple slacks, and from it produced a ten and a one. The process took him a few moments, since unlike Canadian money the bills shared a very similar if not the very same color, but he did not mind. There wasn't a lot of American cash remaining, afterward, but he could always get more, or just use his card. Once paid, the taxi driver appeared to forget that Arthur existed, pulling away without even waiting for the former wrestler to distance himself from the vehicle's tires. Arthur, however, just chuckled. “Hm. Whether in Ottawa or Washington, living in a big city means living life a mile a minute. Then again, even Ottawa wasn't this rushed.” He turned his eyes back toward the structure that, to a Canadian, could practically have been the White House. After grabbing the handle of his bag, he proceeded down the walkway bordered by well-kept lawns, toward the front door situated in the middle of the grandiose building's three arches. He wiped a small shred of lettuce from his mustard shirt and straightened the front from where it had ridden up during the cab ride, then put on a contemplative face. “So, here it is. The gate to a secret world, hidden in plain sight. Let's see what you have in store.” He pulled open the door and sauntered inside.

Staff ushered the new arrival to a waiting room, relieving him of his baggage as he went. Upon pushing open the door, he found himself in a neat little room with tables, chairs, plants, and a few paintings, stately as one could ask for. In that first moment he also saw that he wasn't alone. Two young women had arrived before him, one in garb he could only describe as gothic with dark hair and expression to match, and the other far more delicate-looking, with purple hair and a shrinking demeanor. Neither looked particularly amicable, but that wasn't Arthur's problem. “Good morning!” he thundered. “I wasn't told much, so I didn't expect others to be summoned as well, but I am nevertheless glad to make your acquaintance.” He slammed himself down in a chair, figuring that neither particularly wanted to shake hands, though his decision to refrain from entering what they might consider their personal space did not mean he would leave them alone. “My name is Arthur St. Anger. Perhaps you've happened to hear of me? In my earlier years I was a wrestler of some renown, though I don't like to boast...too much, that is! Either way, it's always a great pleasure to meet people like you, tied together as we are by the threads of fate.”
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The Saudi terrorist's knuckles cracked as his fist collided with the face of his American prisoner. He rubbed the knuckles, easing their pain, as the white man spat another glob of blood onto the dilapidated floor. "Where is the shipment, American pig!" he demanded to his bound captive, growing more and more impatient. He received no response beyond a knowing wink, as though this man before him were in the middle of some sort of courtship routine. Such brazenness filled him with anger. Anger enough to grab a nearby assault rifle, and slam the stock into his prisoner's gut.

"Oof!" gasped the bound man, more for the air forced from his lungs than any expression of pain.

"I ask you again, filthy swine! Where is the weapon shipment you were hired to guard? You have no idea how imaginative I can get when I grow impatient!" To emphasize his point, the Saudi placed his gun's barrel against his captive's nether region. This time the bound man's response came much more passionately, though far less desirable. He spat a bloodied tooth out, nailing the Saudi on the nose. The armed arm recoiled in disgust, wiping away the sanguine fluid and saliva using the sleeve of his own shirt.

"Have it your way. You wish you live a life of sin, you enjoy this pain so much, I am happy to provide." A shot rang out, punctuated by a yelp of pain and a wheezing. The bound man's knee was now bleeding, limp and useless. He'd never again be able to walk without assistance. "Where. Is. The shipment?"

A brief pause followed, as the man worked himself through the pain, waited out the ringing in his ears. Finally, he answered. "My notebook," he stated simply. "Page 27."

The Saudi spat on him. "My men have already gone through that notebook. There is nothing in it but musings and writings in various languages. We translated it and it is all nonsense. If you think you're dealing with a fool, American, you do better to remember who is tied up right now."

"There's a hidden flap," gasped out the captive, lifting his head up to stare into his handler's eyes. He already had one torn out, and his remaining eye was red from internal bleeding. The Saudi could not help but be proud of the damage he'd caused this American. "On page 27. With instructions on the inside."

Curious, the man strode over to a nearby table, which housed all of his prisoner's personal effects: a revolver handgun, wallet, mobile phone, keys, shoes, various colored pens, and a worn down notebook. He picked up the latter and flipped over to page 27. After a few moments of inspection, he found exactly what the man had described: a flap of paper folded in on itself to look like the page was otherwise normal. Carefully, expecting some sort of trick such as anthrax or the like, he peeled the page over, but found no such treachery. What he did find, however, was almost just as displeasing. Rather than any set of coordinates, or instructions from the American military, it was more of the calligraphy nonsense, just two characters in Japanese kanji.



Pursing his lips at first, he then ground his teeth in frustration. His hands shook, practically vibrating like a jet engine in an attempt to calm his rage, as he snapped shut the notebook and placed it back upon the table. "Still you do not understand the predicament you are in. I had not imagined you could possibly have been this... I believe the word is stupid?" He took a long, deep breath, and calmed himself. There would not be any joy in what he was about to do if he were blinded by rage, after all. "I will get the information out of you. One way, or another."

Holding up his rifle in order to put more bullets in the prisoner, the Saudi swung around with fiery hatred in his eyes. Yet as soon as he did, those flames turned icy cold, overcome with utter fear. "What... What is that?!" he cried out, pointing directly at the mirror which hung on the far side of the room. His prisoner glanced over, then glanced back, followed by a half-hearted shrug.

"I would take heed of mirrors myself, had I a visage as yours." His words were no longer pained, his breathing no longer exerting great effort.

"You cannot possibly tell me you do not see that monstrosity!" bellowed the Saudi, a tremble becoming visible in his movements. Steeling his mind and intent, the man brought up the rifle to his shoulder. "To Hell with you, beast!" he cried, pressing down on the trigger. Shot after shot rang out, black powder combusting, propelling small bits of metal shrapnel, colliding with smooth aluminum glass and sending more bits of shrapnel about. Whatever it was the man believed himself to be shooting, it was not dying. At least not in his mind, as he continued to fire until the cartridge depleted.

The man swore in Arabic, taking cover as he loaded a new cartridge of ammunition into the rifle. Meanwhile the prisoner merely sat in his chair, calmly behaving himself as though he were attending the most normal event in the world. A second later and the door bust open, three more Saudi men entering with guns of their own. <"Leader, what is happening?!"> cried out one in their native tongue.

The leader popped his head out of cover, pupils dilating wide in terror. <"Move, you fools!"> But his warning was met only with confused looks. <"No! You shall not take my brothers in arms!"> Now armed with fresh ammunition, he unleashed his fury once again, this time with tangible results. Unfortunate, bloody, results. Whatever he believed he was firing upon, it was on top of his men, but of course there was nothing there, and so the bullets had only one place to go. Each of the three men fell, barely able to let out a gasp of surprise before dying on the spot, slain by their own leader. He could scarcely believe what he was seeing.

"American! What devil have you brought into my home?!" He trained the gun back onto his prisoner, who could only shake his head.

"You seek out a spectre, an apparition. What you seek simply does not exist." He struggled a bit against his bonds.

"No! I know I see it! It is right there before me! Answer, or I kill you now!" He placed his finger on the trigger.

"The dead cannot easily speak. Kill me and remain ignorant. Break these bonds, and I may yet reveal answers." The man raised an eyebrow, expressing some sense of urgency.

The Saudi paused for a moment, glancing between his prisoner and the horrific monster. Quickly he came to a conclusion. "Ok." Sprinting a mad dash, the Saudi made for his captive's chair, ducking and jumping above imaginary tentacles reaching out to grasp him. Thankfully the beast was limited to the mirror, and so its reach was limited. He made it safely to the prisoner, and got to work untying the man.

"It is done," he stated curtly. "Now, answers, American!"

"Graciously," began the no-longer-prisoner, rubbing some relief into his wrists. "Perhaps to start, I should inform your noble personage of some stated confusion. You see, when I said that you seek what does not exist, I referred not to the monster you see. That beast is very real, and I lay eyes upon its form as easily as I see you."

The Saudi narrowed his eyes in frustration. "Get to the point, American. How do we kill this abomination of Allah?"

"Another misunderstanding." The man shook his head. "We do not kill it, for it reflects your heart given form. The weapon shipment you seek does not exist. I was not commissioned to protect weapons. I was commissioned to kill your group." As the man tried to piece together how each of this man's statements were supposed to fit, the man held up a small reflective object: a shard of the mirror that had broken off. A tentacle reached out from the surface, smacking aside his assault rifle with great strength, then immediately snatched his neck in a vice grip. Attempts to breathe only caused greater suffering, as opening the airways allowed the tentacle to force out more oxygen. He was lifted up from the ground, feet limply dangling below, skin turning a rather grotesque purple. Then, all at once his suffering ended with a violent neck snap. In the same instant, the creature utterly vanished and his body fell limp to the floor.

Not a second later, a little jingle played on the nearby table as the man's phone lit up, vibrating against the wood. "Dear me, a busy day." Gritting his teeth through the pain, the man stood up from his chair, holding onto it for balance, and limped over to the table. Once there, he kept balance with one hand on the table, while he answered the phone with his right. "Salutations."

"Is this a Mister Leonard Skinner?" inquired a smooth woman's voice.

"It is," Leonard confirmed, as he began to draw something on the table in his own blood.

"My name is Desiree, and I work for the Speedwagon Foundation. We have an interest in your set of skills, and will pay you quite well. Are you interested?" Leonard paused a moment, not to think it over, but to finish his symbol. Drawing in blood was a messy art, and the symbol had to be absolutely perfect in order to function correctly. "Mr. Skinner?"

"Yes, color me intrigued, Miss Desiree. I have finished a commission very recently, and find myself eager to create greater art. This piece... Could not fulfill me."

"Glad to hear it. I am transferring funds into your off shore account right now to cover the plane ticket. We'll be in touch."

The phone call abruptly ended, just as Leonard finished the Nordic rune he had been working on. Already he could feel its effects working magic on his body. He swore he could see clearly out of both eyes, the bleeding had stopped, and he no longer felt any pain, but he dared not move from his spot. "Not like last time. I must remember, it takes a bit before it becomes real."





A lone motorcycle pulled up in front of the Speedwagon Foundation headquarters. The paint job could only be described as a work of art, with intricate colors creating a sensation for the senses. On each side it bore large plastic saddlebags, filled with the owner's personal possessions. Riding atop, no helmet, was the imposing, large, and muscular Leonard Skinner. He parked the bike out in front, handing the keys to a nearby valet without a single word. He then made his way into the building, guided by an employee of course, until brought to the room he was to wait for further instruction.

Upon entering, Leonard spied three other individuals already present, though none looked to be representatives of the Speedwagon Foundation. He took each one in, understanding their aesthetics. One was a small girl with, he estimated, an even smaller skin. She looked as though she could break down at any moment, on the verge of tears. Another womon was present, this one certainly a woman and not a girl. Everything from her demeanor to her stylization spoke to Leonard, and what it said was "mercenary." Just because they had common ground did not mean they could get along, however. The third however, he told a different story... A story that Leonard had been following since age five.

Despite his interests, career, and all other aspects of life, Leonard was still an Alabama boy, and down in Alabama they enjoy their wrestling. Before him was one of the Canadian greats he had followed, the mighty St. Anger! Leonard's eyes lit up for just a moment, before he forced himself to remain professional. Damn, this was going to be difficult.

Leonard approached each one of his peers in the room, and handed them a business card. Each card had been customized and hand drawn himself, with a personalized introduction, and his name. He spoke not a word as he handed out these business cards. Not a word, that is, until he handed one to Arthur. Once the card had exchanged possession, Leonard took out his notebook, flipped to one of the back pages (which remained blank) and held it before Arthur, with a pen. "I find myself humbled before an icon of my childhood. Would you honor the memory of an Alabama boy with your autograph?"
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While she waited, Blue thought back to the last time she had been awake. Memories were odd things, really, striking a fancy whenever they pleased.

That time had been a short segment of her life, she'd only been awake for about 40 days before she'd clocked out for a while. But there had been a lot of waiting around then, too. The Mark had been crafty, a challenge, and her Employer wanted evidence of something or another. Probably important but whatever it was she couldn't remember it.

And then this woman walked in, all full of beautiful sadness. Practically palpable, really. She brought on another surge of memories, from a time when she'd gotten in 6 Marks before it was time to sleep.

"Please, please don't kill me! I didn't know, I didn't mean nuthin, it wasn't my fault! Tell your boss I'll pay! I promise! Just - just put that fucking Scythe down! Please!" the man begged.

That had been a disaster.... For him. He had irritated her with all the fucking begging and attempted deal making. God damn trash, so pathetically weak he hadn't been worth the 3 hours of torture before she killed him.

Her smirk smoothly transitioned into a wide smile as the woman greeted her. She was about to reply when another entered, a big block of a man. Ah, now that was a man. She could imagine how his body would break with a few....key..... Stabs. Ah, those ones were always the best. Thinking themselves mountains and gods among mortals, and a little thing like herself slashed them down in minutes.

Their fear was delicious.

Now this one introduced himself. Arthur. Not one she'd heard about, but then again why keep up on this 'wrestling' thing when her awake time was better spent chasing Marks?

Though she did wonder if this way that same 'wrestling' that she'd overheard mothers telling children after being caught fornicating with their husbands late at night while she prowled the rooftops? Mhmm. She would address that momentarily, first the little -

Ah. Well, the third had chosen that time to enter, causing her to frown in irritation. Couldn't they give her a chance to address everyone? How could she slide her way through their brains if they weren't giving her time?

Ahh. Now he caught her eye. A subtle flair, a sense of power. If she had to guess he'd be a paid man, perhaps one enjoying the Art like herself? Mhmm. He deserved a deeper look.

He reminded her a little of that one misguided fool who had attempted to kill her. A reverse game of cat and mouse, that had been. A little bit of intrigue. She'd decided to honor that man, actively using her little pet. He had seen it, though whatever abilities he possessed had been entirely inferior to her own. A shame, that. But alas, not everyone could be interesting.

He recognized this 'wrestler', however. A bit of fanboyism, it seemed, from a time past.

Oh well, before anyone else could interrupt she closed her scythe with a flourish, her eyes lighting up excitedly as she preformed an elaborate bow, her staff clicking the ground for emphasis.

"Ahhh, such wonderful people. A pretty little lady, a big strong man, and...." she paused, letting her smile turn back into a smirk, "...a fellow of unquestionable taste. I am Blue, and my talents shall become clear in time. I hope this arrangement shall prove.... Interesting."

She settled in on the arm of the young women's chair, lightly brushing against her arm. "I must say, I absolutely adore your hair. I think we'll get along just fine."
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Sigh. Great, it was time to get up... Stupid sunlight, stupid alarm, stupid meeting. Why on earth did he have to go? It's not like he could contribute to the conversation or anything like that. Alas it didn't matter in the end, the boss wanted his scaly ass over there, though he was already late. It turned out that this was the fifth time the alarm had rung. "Ah shit I slept in... Well it's not like Hogan was going to move his ass anyway. Stupid lizard."

The handler rolled out of bed and made his way downstairs, Hogan's mansion was pretty massive. The man stumbled into the kitchen, his movements affected by a great lack of sleep. Raising one hand the man rubbed his eyes and the bridge of his nose, cleaning off the crust that'd built up while he slept. With his free hand he pulled a phone off the wall and made his way towards the back yard, swinging the back door open with a yawn. "Hogan it's time to go! Get you ass out of the pool!"

The man's only reply was a rumbling gargle. "C'mon you lazy prick you've had days to get ready for this! Don't give me a hard time!" Again he was greeted with a rumbling gargle, though this one was slightly softer. "Fine then. I'll just call the boss."

The man quickly rang up Louis' office, patiently waiting for the line to pick up. "Hey Louis it's Simon, just ringing it to say I'll be running a little late." Simon would get interrupted by the sound of a loud splash and a low snarl. "Give me a second." The line went quiet for a moment, the only sounds being footsteps. Then suddenly loud splashes kicked off mixed with a decent amount of cursing. "Come on you bastard!" The splashes continued along with the sounds of extreme effort. "Gah shit you fucking bit me!" Simon's voice was a little distant now, whatever was going on on the other end was moving away from the phone. "This stupid lizard is giving me some trouble Louis! Just start the meeting while I sort this out!" The sounds of Wrestling would continue until Louis decided to hang up.
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Well, it seemed to Louis' eye that everyone who was going to showed up on time, give or take a few minutes. Agent Blue had been there already, with a seemingly-uncanny awareness of being watched, and though he knew down to a science exactly what she could do, his primal lizard brain still prayed she was just guessing. Over the next few minutes, so too did the new recruits show themselves - the pink-haired civilian Mieke first, sadly even weepier than he'd anticipated, though evidently pleased to introduce herself and be introduced to Laurie. Next, the wrestler Arthur, boisterous as expected, and even more keen to say hello. And finally, the hired gun Leonard - surprisingly slow to show, as it happened, though more interested in St Anger than in any other character there.

Hogan had failed to appear at all, as expected. A phone call, a minute from ten, about summed up what had happened - the crocodile was being recalcitrant again, and it'd take some time to get the creature to come along. Sighing as the clock finally hit ten, Louis put the phone down, pushed the security monitor back into the desk, and tapped the button on his comms device, saying into it 'Send them in,' before folding his hands together and awaiting their arrival with a bit of a smile.




The receptionist, receiving her boss' order, responded to him with a simple 'Yes, sir,' then turned to the folks in the waiting room and uttered 'The boss is ready to see you now, ladies and gentlemen' with a polite, almost refined formality. The short hallway down to his office ended with a pair of heavy wooden doors, opening automatically after but a moment's pause into a room that was designed, not sparsely, but simply, with a soothing sky blue tone to the wallpaper and paint alike, a few varnished wooden shelves with knick-knacks and electronics from various time periods within the past century scattered about, and a heavy, equally-varnished wooden desk taking up a good portion of the space.

And sitting behind the desk, the CEO of the company.

'Greetings, ladies and gentlemen. Some of you may know me, most will not, but I am the leader of the Speedwagon Foundation, Louis Armstrong,' he introduced himself. His voice was not exactly harsh, but it didn't quite reach kind either. "Professional", perhaps. 'Three of you are here at my request. One is here because they are, indirectly, an employee of mine. They may ask their Employer about that.' He didn't look at Blue specifically whilst he said so, but he would glance across her mid-sentence just as he was glancing over everyone else, to see that she got the message.

'And you'll have one more agent joining you shortly. As to why you're here,' he began explaining quite bluntly, 'that'd be because we have an epidemic on our hands. Not a usual epidemic, I'm afraid, or the SWF would be more than capable of handling it directly. No, this is an epidemic that kills most who contract the illness as surely as a bullet through the brain - and those who survive through it develop abilities that I'm sure you're all familiar with. Except, perhaps, Miss Mieke Choux.' He gestured to the pink-haired girl, all but singling her out.

'She, whether or not she is aware, has been a victim of this epidemic herself, all the way over in her home state of Massachusetts. This goes to show just how far the contagion has spread, though its effects thus far have been largely centralised within Washington D.C. and the surrounding states of Maryland and Virginia. As a result of her affliction, she nearly died. In exchange for surviving it, however, she has developed what we know as a Stand - invisible to those who lack one, and capable of altering the world in amazing ways.

'But again, most of you know this already,' Louis noted with the slightest coy smirk, fading as quickly as it arose. 'The problem, ladies and gentlemen, is that this infection is consistent with that inflicted by something called a Stand arrow - I imagine you can guess what that does. Unlike the average Stand arrow, however, the disease seems to strike people down as if it were airborne, leading to a much higher infection and subsequent casualty rate than any Stand arrow could achieve.

'And... a much higher rate of new Stand users,' he admitted with some annoyance. 'Frankly, it's been an incredible strain on the SWF's resources simply to find and educate these new Stand users, let alone try and manage the epidemic's effects on top of that, or stop those Stand users who see their powers and think "gosh, I reckon I could kill or harm a lot of people with these", or "heavens, I've gained superpowers, time to put on a costume and fight crime recklessly".' About now, he seemed to realise his voice was getting heated, and took a breath before continuing. 'In the end, we've been left with two free agents, plus a triad of new hires.' Again he gestured, this time toward the group as a whole. It seemed he wasn't one for moving around much when he spoke, save his mouth proper.

'So, ladies and gentlemen, you have two jobs. One: go where we tell you to go, find the Stand users we believe to be in a certain area, and either inform or subdue them. Preferably without killing them...' His glances moved rapidly and purposefully between Blue and Skinner before he finished his sentence. '...we don't need more civilian deaths, and we especially don't need any innocent blood on the SWF's hands.

'And two: if you can find any leads, any hints as to what might be causing this illness, anything you could follow up on... by God's will, do so with all haste,' he implored the foursome. 'The longer this lasts, the more are going to die, and the more difficult things are going to become, for all of us. And yes, we've tried to track the infection pattern. It seems... inconsistent, somehow. Hence the difficulty.' The first minor hint of confusion entered the man's face, quickly smoothed over.

'Any questions?' the CEO asked, leaning back in his chair just a fraction now that the main portion of his speech was over. 'We believe we might have a lead on one group of fresh Stand users already; time, as I said, is of the essence.'

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Blue slipped the card into her cleavage, slipping the man a sly wink. He probably didn't see it, what with that odd fanboyism going on.

Oh well. There would be time for that later.

She saw the receptionist, of whom she'd long forgotten about, move and she gave Mieke one last pat before she stood up as the woman waved them through.

The door paused momentarily, causing Blue's face to flicker with annoyance before she sauntered into the room. Hopping up to sit on the corner of the desk, she crossed her legs and spun her scythe staff lazily a few times until the man started talking.

He mentioned her Employer nigh immediately, to which she just shrugged. He'd already told her to cooperate with these people. So she technically worked for this Foundation? That was.... Intriguing. A quick mental note to contact her Employer about this later.

As he began to explain Stands and this epidemic, she leaned back to look at him better, lazily flicking her hand and having Paralyzer appear next to her.

"Mhmm, yes. Though in my case I was born with my dear Paralyzer. We've been inseparable, all the more so since the Foundation began utilizing my particular skillset to make people go dead," her voice trailed out silkily. And then her eyes narrowed as the no-kill order was given. In an instant she was on her feet, palms slamming into the desk as her staff was flicked through the air before landing in her outstretched hand. "You want me, killer of hundreds, destroyer of the wretched who prey upon the weak, defiler of sick bastards, TO NOT KILL at all? Are you fucking inept? I don't sleep except once every several months, I don't stop, I don't get detected except when I let myself be, and you wanted me to - to - to play babysitter? To give soup to the dying? Oh! Or maybe the woman who's singlehandedly pulled out someone's intestines to hang them by can become a cute little perky nun and bathe the motherfucking destitute! That sounds like a fucking brilliant plan, bravo." With a huff she claimed as sarcastically as she could while she turned around, displeasure all over her face.

"At least I have a colorful group to engage with. This won't be a complete waste of my talents. And I'm sure you three will be miles more entertaining than this meeting has turned out to be." In a blink her and her Stand were across the room, where she was tapping her foot impatiently.

"Can't believe I woke up for a fucking no-kill order," she muttered angrily.
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Barely had Arthur completed his entrance than the parlor's door popped open again. Having received nothing from the other two so far, the businessman turned his eyes toward the newcomer, and they landed upon a well-built fellow with a rather punk rock aspect. His tattoos, fingerless gloves, earrings, and hairstyle -which the older man could best describe as 'faux hawk'- marked him as someone Arthur would not care to interact with under normal circumstances, but from the moment the stranger entered he seemed to have eyes for Arthur alone. He proceeded to pass out business cards to everyone, coming to Arthur last, who snuck a glance at his card to see the younger man's name. Leonard Skinner. This formed only the first gift the former wrestler was to receive, however, for in the wake of the business card he found himself offered a notebook and a pen. With some of his fondest memories still sharp despite the time that passed since, Arthur recognized the gesture a second before Skinner made it clear.

Before he could say or do anything, however, the older woman interjected with a rather weird, sweeping statement. Is she acting or something? Arthur wondered. Her words made him think that she saw the others, himself included, as mere tools valuable so long as they were 'interesting'.

A broad grin took over Arthur's face, and with a chuckle he accepted the man's request. “It feels like ages, but it's the same warm feeling as back then.” His muscles remembered the old motion, and in a flourish Arthur emblazoned his John Hancock upon the notebook page. After passing it back he clapped his new friend on the shoulder. “There y'are, son. I tell ya, at my age it's damned good to be remembered. I been saying since the beginning: my fans are the best there are.” Stepping back, he rested his arms by having each hand take a hold of its nearest suspender's upper portion, half-turning to the others as if to make sure they were watching before returning to Skinner again. “So-!”

He found himself cut off once again, this time by the secretary. Arthur blinked a few times, wondering how he hadn't noticed her presence. Of course, in the world of business the number of such people proved far too high for the average person to keep track of, and their duties and demeanor combined to make only a meager measure of significance, but could he really be so deep that he didn't register her existence? This is why I'm doing this...to get away from the numbing routine. Not bothered to bring up the rear, he followed the others down the short hall to the CEO's pleasantly-furnished office. Understanding almost immediately that Mr. Armstrong would be getting down to business, he crossed his arms and listened at rapt attention to his briefing. He mulled over each revelation as it came, the most shocking being the existence of some sort of sickness capable of granting Stand abilities. “Fascinating...” he murmured, lifting a hand to twist one edge of his mustache. Could that be what happened to me in St. Louis? It's possible, yet Miss Choux is the one he mentions as having contracted it, and this crisis seems fairly new. Regardless of his own origins, this sickness posed an incredible threat even putting aside its typical lethality. More than most Arthur knew the dizzying heights of power that the abilities of Stands had the potential to reach, and he didn't even necessarily need to look beyond his own feats to realize that.

Part of the way through, the strange woman started playing with that weapon of hers, and as Arthur glanced her way he witnessed her summon her Stand full in the open. A sleek beast-man, seemingly composed of futuristic materials—the businessman watched with raised eyebrows, his mind echoing with one word: 'brazen'. This woman was either out of her mind, crazy confident, or more probably, both. It took some panache to call out a Stand on a whim like this, even if its appearance didn't offer any hints to its abilities.

After the outline followed the instructions, and Arthur nodded along. Not too different from some of my own ventures, though I imagine this will be far more frequent and dangerous. He didn't think twice about being told to avoid unnecessary killing, since that already constituted a tenet he lived by, but not everyone in the group felt the same. His expression turned aghast as the women let loose an angry outburst that, while centered around her extreme displeasure at being told not to murder other human beings, also included the noteworthy tidbit that she'd already claimed hundreds of lives. “What...a handful,” he muttered, his voice sharp, as she wrapped up her tirade. Yet even then she wasn't done, for the next moment she vanished and reappeared across the room.

The gears in Arthur's mind began to turn. Teleporting itself and her. Though...it's seemingly nonsensical to use a Stand's abilities just to show off. Even someone possessed of supreme confidence wouldn't do that around people she doesn't trust, if she understood the number-one rule of Stands. Could it be that it -Paralyzer- is just incredibly fast? And with that name...surely people aren't still naming their Stands after their powers? Yet it seems plausible for this one. Perhaps it makes everything else slow. But speculation could continue for hours. He needed to do what he could in the time he had, and fortunately, he'd already laid the groundwork for neutralizing this troublesome Blue woman at a moment's notice if it became necessary. The way she spoke to and looked at other humans almost made him want her to try him.

Giving a slight sigh, he returned his gaze to Mr. Armstrong. “Assuming you'll give us the information we need to do what you ask, I've got no questions, and...” Arthur punctuated his determined declaration by clapping his hands together. “I'm ready to lend a hand.”
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❣ Lose Your Soul - Dead Man's Bones ❣




Mieke subtly retreated to the edge of the room and sat down in one of the chairs while the others were talking. Looking at the beautifully designed business card the tattooed man had handed her, she committed everyone’s names to memory. They all seemed like interesting people; she wouldn’t mind getting to know them more.

She mentally kicked herself, realizing that she hadn’t introduced herself, and if she did now, it would be awkward. Well, she would get an opportunity eventually.

A touch on her arm made Mieke jump a little bit, and she looked up at Blue. She smiled and blushed in response to the woman complimenting her hair, her face lighting up immensely.

“Ah, thank you! Um-“

She had been about to introduce herself, but she was interrupted by the receptionist ushering them into the office.



Mieke listened to the man’s speech, feeling more lost by the moment. A “Stand?” Was that the figure she had been seeing? And what was this about altering the world? She gazed at Blue’s Stand in awe. She had never seen anything like it; and the confirmation that her bird friend wasn’t just in her head was comforting.

So, their job would be to find other new Stand users and set them on the right path. It seemed noble enough, and it was hard to say no when this could be her mother’s ticket out of debt. Mieke breathed a sigh of relief when Armstrong said they wouldn’t be killing anyone. She couldn’t even bring herself to step on a spider, let alone take a human life.

Blue, however, didn’t seem to feel the same, and her outburst made Mieke jump and let out an embarrassing little “Eek!” She immediately covered her mouth, turning red and shrinking into herself.

She regained her composure by the time Armstrong asked for questions. Perfect, because she had a shitload.

She spoke up, wringing her hands, “Um, is there any more you could tell me about Stands? Sorry, I’m just… really in the dark here.”
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Grinning with pride, Leonard gratefully pocketed his now signed notebook. Before he could truly offer his sincere thanks to Arthur, the receptionist buzzed the four of them in. Leonard felt mildly irritated by it. He had only just arrived, after all! Barely gotten his foot in the door. Well, better now while he was still on his feet than after getting comfortable. Leonard took point as each of them crossed into the office of their new potential employer, Louis Armstrong, CEO of the Speedwagon Foundation.

Mr. Armstrong had proven himself to be quite the shrewd man, which was perfectly alright in Leonard's mind. He wasn't paid to stand around getting talked to, he was paid for commissions. The sooner he got out on the street, the better. Armstrong's instructions were incredibly clear: to find the renegade stand users and properly subdue, or educate, in order to prevent unforeseen consequences. At the specific instruction that killing would not be allowed, Leonard felt the man's gaze wash over him quite harshly, something which he felt had been fully unwarranted. Leonard wasn't a hired assassin, he was a mercenary, willing to do any job assigned. The instructions already excluded death in their base form, the added emphasis simply felt like he was being unfairly persecuted.

Now the other individual to receive this treatment, the older woman with the scythe, had proven that this added emphasis was one hundred percent necessary for her. Brazenly, she brought out her stand as casually as one might pull out pictures of their children, and provided a small demo as to its capabilities. In the blink of an eye she had relocated elsewhere in the room. All this accompanied by a tirade over the lack of killing, including thinly veiled threats toward their employer. Now this was just poor form. And here Leonard had thought she would be a fellow professional. Turned out she was just a psycho for pay.

"My, my, my..." the artist began, shaking his head. "The Speedwagon Foundation must truly be in dire straits as you say, Mr. Armstrong. I had been under the impression that I would be operating with fellow professionals. Imagine my surprise to find these partners to in fact be a woman who values bloodthirst above her job, an untrained and ignorant child, and an unpunctual no-show. Thus far Mr. St. Anger shows the greatest promise."

Leonard posed by waving his left palm in front of his face, holding that elbow with his right hand. The shaking of his head matched his hand in opposite. "Young miss, to explain the nature of stands would take a fair amount of time which I believe should be better spent performing our task. Should you find it agreeable, I am most capable and willing to provide details along the journey. Now, as for questions, Mr. Armstrong..." Leonard flipped his fauxhawk to the other side. "I have but one, as it pertains to our given secondary objective. Perhaps more for the benefit of Miss Blue here, and her... Eager anticipation. As we investigate what causes this outbreak, what instructions shall we follow in regards to the perpetrators, assuming any exist?"
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Simon grunted as he dragged himself out of the pool, a very grumpy crocodile close behind him. "Look at what you did to my Pajamas! You better be getting paid real good for this assignment. With all the clothes you've destroyed you owe me big!" Hogan snapped his jaws once and continued to waddle behind Simon, flipping his tail slightly as he went. "While I go change you can climb you scaly ass into the van. And if I come out and find you not in that van, the ass kicking I just gave you will feel like a light massage!" With that Simon stormed up the stars and started to change into some non destroyed clothes.

Meanwhile Hogan dragged himself through the mansion, his movements almost painfully slow. The massive crocodile making no real effort to do as Simon had told him. Though he had slugged his way out of the front door, nudging it open with his head and walking through. Though when he got to the back of the van he simply stopped moving and sunbathed, a slight hiss escaping his gaping maw.

Simon was still wrestling with his shirt as he sped down the stairs only to see hogan lazying about next to the van. He wasn't at all surprised and slowly finished sliding into his white shirt. He walked up to the back of the van kicking hogan when he got close enough. "C'mon bog breath hop in." Simon tapped a large button under the boot (Australian way of saying trunk) of the car, the back started to open up and a ramp slid out from the back. It wasn't anything fancy just something to make it easier for Hogan to get in. Hogan let out a brief gargle before making his way up the ramp smacking Simon's leg with his tail as he walked past him. "Cheeky shit." Simon said as he patiently waited for the Hogan to haul his ass into the van, hitting the button again as the lethargic lizard made himself comfortable.

The drive to the Speedwagon HQ was rather shot given that Hogan lived in the property directly adjacent. Simon let out a sigh as he climbed out of the car, rubbing some of the excess sleep from his eyes. Popping the boot open again he glared at Hogan who was making no signs of movement. "Move it." He said clearly unimpressed with Hogan's behavior today. Hogan snapped his mouth once and started shuffling backwards, Simon helping him along by pulling his tail. Hogan now out of the car strolled towards the HQ building struggling a little bit with the stairs but nevertheless getting up them anyway, his second obstacle was much easier being a simple door, he simply butted it open as Simon caught up with him.

Simon let out a yawn as he knew he'd soon be rid of the recalcitrant reptile. The doors to the office within arms reach, that's when Simon noticed. Hogan was five meters behind him laying there on the floor, mouth wide open. "You're actually the biggest piece of shit." Simon received no response aside from Hogan's continued his. "Come one move, this isn't funny hogan." Hogan still made no signs of movement, still hissing. Simon took a deep breath and walked up to Hogan standing in front of the crocodiles massive jaws completely unfazed. "Now Hogan." Again hissing was the only response. "Alright then you want it the hard way." Simon then raised his voice so that everyone who was in the Louis' office could hear, "Bring it you leather backed asshole!" Hogan finally responded, but his response was a lunge.

Hogan and Simon started brawling in the waiting room, Simon blasting out profanities as Hogan snarled and roared. The brawl was brief only lasting maybe 30 seconds, but the confrontation was surely loud enough to be heard in great detail. After a moment of silence the door swung open, Simon's boot planted firmly on Hogan's head. "Ok boss I'm here."

Simon got off Hogan's head and pushed open the door so Hogan could walk in. Hogan made a rumbling sound before hesitantly walking into the office, though he got a good kick in the side from Simon. "Well. That's my work here done. Louis, Red, everyone else." With a nod to everyone and an exaggerated bow Simon backed out of the room and walked off. A distant cry of joy could be heard as Simon walked off. Hogan sat motionless in the room, the only thing he moved was his eyes. Looking at all the different people in the room.
Hidden 4 mos ago Post by BCTheEntity
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Behind his sunglasses, Louis closed his eyes and endured Laurie's outburst. His man had told her she could be uppity, but... well, he supposed the notion to take away from that was, she ought to consider getting a hold of herself. And he wasn't going to reprimand her just for getting upset, after all. If it affected her work, the team's job, then he'd think about that.

Once her outburst was done, everyone else had their fair share to say: Arthur St. Anger offered his support, granted that Louis would explain what they were to do in a given situation. Mieke Choux simply asked for more information about Stand powers, whilst Leonard commented on how, ahem, unprofessional the rest of the team was, whilst also offering to explain Stands to Mieke in more depth as they worked. And, of course, asking about what to do to those spreading the illness.

'We don't know that anyone in particular is spreading it around,' he explained. 'If it is the fault of a lone individual, then by all means ensure they can't spread it further. If that means executing them, then so be it. Otherwise...' He was interrupted by the sounds of argument, one-sided, followed by a hell of a ruckus. Ah, so Hogan had finally shown up.

Thirty seconds later, the door opened up, the visage of a man with a boot firmly planted on the head of a very annoyed crocodile making itself known, before the crocodile was encouraged to enter, and the man took his leave in prompt, some might even say impolite fashion. He really hated Hogan, it seemed.

'Thank you, Simon. As always, your work is appreciated,' Louis called after him, before sitting back in his chair and uttering 'Ladies and gentlemen, the man who just walked out was our late arrival's handler. Let him be; he's been useful in the field of ecology for a long while, though one might not recognise as much for his usual work. As for the crocodile,' he continued, gesturing to the crocodile, 'say hello to Hogan, our fifth Stand user for the day, the other remaining SWF agent, and your ally for the foreseeable future.'

A question peaked in the man's mind about whether or not he should explain what Hogan's ability actually was, but he imagined that would be unwise. He'd seen quite plainly the thoughts going through Arthur's head the moment Laurie showed off her power; revealing one's Stand ability was not something one did lightly, around anybody else, and he reckoned Hogan would be quite upset with him if he did. If he wanted to show his worth, he would. Chances were that he didn't, but alas.

Instead, he returned to his previous train of thought: 'As I was saying, this could also be a wholly natural phenomenon, perhaps a natural fluke in the evolution of the Stand virus? In which case, it'd merely be a matter of shutting that phenomenon down.' He grimaced a bit, knowing that if that were the case, they'd probably be in more trouble than they realised. At least if it were the effects of somebody's Stand ability, putting them in hospital long enough for the Foundation to gather them up and quarantine them would end the matter cleanly.

'Either way, I trust you will all have the capacity to tie up any loose ends cleanly.' Louis' hands folded over themselves, and for the first time, he smiled. 'Last chance to ask anything else you have in mind. Either way, you'll be sent the information about our initial lead shortly.'

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Mieke didn’t particularly appreciate being called an “untrained and ignorant child,” but she reminded herself that it was, honestly, the truth. Still, she appreciated Leonard offering to show her the ropes.

“Thanks. That would be a big help.”

She listened as Armstrong continued, her stomach twisting at the mention of potentially having to “execute” the perpetrator. When she answered that letter, she hadn’t agreed to possibly killing someone. There was no way she could go back home and continue life as usual after that.

“Well,” she thought, trying to calm her nerves, “Maybe they just don’t know what they’re doing and we can talk some sense into them. Or maybe it’s not even a person doing this at all! It could be literally anything!”

She was making a valiant attempt at being optimistic, but it wasn’t really working.

What was behind the door when it swung open did a much better job of wiping her mind clean. It looked like a man wrestling a crocodile. Definitely not anything she expected to see today. Her expression was blank as she regarded her last teammate. The crocodile, not the man. Obviously.

Armstrong introduced him as Hogan, and Mieke reacted the only way that made sense to her.

“Hi, Hogan.”
Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Old Amsterdam
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Blue rolled her at the proceedings yawning absently. When the other hired gun made the snide remarks she merely raised an eyebrow and flipped him the bird.

And then the final showed up. Cocking her head to the side, she looked at the reptile as the handler left. Mhmm. What did he remind her of?

"Mhmm, you remind me of a couple times I had Targets come running to me from swamps and shit. Crocodiles are alright by me, for that. Though maybe you were the Croc each time? Mhmm." She walked over to the beast, running a hand along his lower jaw. If he tried to snap she could stop him. Everyone knew a child could hold their mouths shut if they tried. Right? Mhmm. Oh well. "Well, I think we'll get along just fine, at least, big guy."

With that she flashed a smile to Mieke and the others before sitting down cross legged next to Hogan. "Can we wrap up, then?"
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Leonard opted to ignore the woman, Blue, and her especially crude response to his analysis, seeing her action only from the peripheral of his vision. Such a manner only served to solidify his initial assessment, and deserved nary even a glance back. The younger girl's reaction had been far more favorable, and showed the necessary respect. Between the two of them, he knew which needed nurturing and which would be best kept on a leash. And speaking of leashes...

In the middle of Mr. Armstrong's explanations, a mighty raucous could be heard just outside. Turning round on heel, Leonard raised an eyebrow in interest, while preparing his pen. If this was an attack, he would be ready. Then the doors burst open, revealing a Speedwagon employee standing triumphant, victorious over a large reptile. That is when the man... Left? Wait, so this wasn't the last member of their little entourage? Then came the reveal from Mr. Armstrong, that the final member of the group was to be this crocodile, named Hogan. The normally eloquent speech of Leonard vanished momentarily, replaced by a dumbstruck awe, revealing his natural Alabama drawl.

"You've got to be fucking with me." This was unprecedented in Leonard's work. Sure, he had heard of animals that gained stands, and with those stand they had become sapient, but never before had he laid eyes on one. Blue appeared rather unimpressed by the situation, even comfortable, while the little one was so far lost on everything that she merely treated this as normal. Well, this was his life now, he supposed. Armstrong's money was as good as anybody's.

Leonard shook the surprised from his face, kneeled down in front of Hogan, and held out one of his hand-made business cards to the crocodile's right eye. "Leonard Skinner. We shall be partnering together alongside these fellows." He then placed the card back into his jacket pocket (after all, what would the lizard do with it?) and turned back to Louis Armstrong. "If I might deign to be so bold, Mr. Armstrong, while I question not the benefits of such a companion, and surely he possesses a stand of great help, what means shall we have to walk about the public with a man-eating reptile of herculean proportions?"
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Hogan's gaze continued to drift around the room, he'd anticipated that all his co workers would've been shocked to see him, though Red and Mieke proved him wrong. Well at least Red did for sure, Mieke looked a little absent. Possibly she just had no idea what on earth was going on. Either way it didn't matter to Hogan he was just here because it was his job. Hogan fixated on Red, she was getting awfully close and he wasn't sure how comfortable he was with that. His mouth started to slowly open and he lifted his head up slightly making sure that the woman got a good view of her mouth. And she just ended up patting him on the chin anyway. She was insane in some degree, or she knew about his stand and how it mad Hogan as dangerous as a kitten in most cases. Hogan let out a soft rumbling sound as Red ran her hand along his lower jaw. Simon never pat him like this, Simon always kicked him.

As the pat ended Hogan's his mouth closed quickly and he lay his head back onto the floor. Her guess about swamp missions was one hundred percent accurate, though it took the comment to remind Hogan that he had in fact been sent on those missions. Though he remembered something about avoiding the agent he was supposed to be helping. Though he couldn't exactly remember why, it obviously wasn't anything important, probably just to avoid getting in their way.

So the reactions of the women seemed to be fairly positive, there was the little tiny girl who seemed a nice. Looked like she'd need a lot of protecting. Then there was Red who gave him a little pat, so she was on the nice list. But it seemed like now it was time for the men to respond to Hogan's entrance, and this reaction was a little more along the lines of what he expected. Just a plain you've got to be fucking kidding me though that was the extent of the surprise. Hogan's eyes followed the man's hand as it, while he was hoping for another pat all he got was some card with writing one it. Of coarse Hogan had no idea what this writing meant though he did now know the name of the man holding it out to him. Leonard Skinner. He'd have to keep an eye on that one, Hogan couldn't trust someone with Skinner in their name. Though while his name was fishy the man made a decent point bringing up how to get Hogan around town. Hogan had never gone out himself, that'd involve a lot of effort and probably minimal returns. That and the fact that the Speedwagon personnel didn't want him out and about scaring the shit out of people, which also seemed reasonable.

The only person left to meet was the largest one. Though from looks alone the man didn't strike Hogan as anything nasty, but he couldn't help but get images of wrestling with this man out of his head. He looked like he'd be way more fun to wrestle than Simon, mostly due to the fact this fellow had a good amount of meat on his bones. Hogan could respect that.
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From the moment Armstrong first mentioned it, the notion of a fifth stand user who would be joining the already-assembled quartet of misfits did dwell in the back of Arthur's mind. Since that individual did not appear, however, he'd allowed it to drift there for the sake of focusing on his new acquaintance's briefing, having figured that whoever that person would be would bear thinking after arrival. When the sounds of a commotion, punctuated by a man's colorful language, reached Arthur from the hall, he suspected they might be heralding the elusive fifth user's sudden appearance, but never for a split second did he imagine that this individual would be anything other than the speaker. Of course, he did wonder with no small amount of curiosity what was causing all the hubbub.

When the door burst open, Arthur turned to look along with the others, and as if someone had given the man an electric shock he jolted upright, eyes flown wide open and eyebrows ascended to maximum altitude. Before him lurked a snaggletoothed reptile of monstrous proportions, so out of place it might have made him laugh if the thought of ripped flesh and crushed bones didn't factor in so strongly. “Crocodile...?” he murmured beneath his breath, any intelligibility lost into his mustache. Eyes still glued to the beast's leathery hide, he gave the rest of his attention to Armstrong for the explanation he felt he very understandably deserved. Only after Armstrong introduced Hogan did Arthur dare to blink, shaking his head to make sure he hadn't misheard that this primeval monster would be occupying the very role he had so surely felt belonged to that Simon fellow.

The others seemed to recover more quickly. Perhaps they'd seen crocodiles before? The same couldn't be said for Arthur, whose chilly home harbored remarkably few of them, though legends of the creatures' destructive power were not nearly as rare. He'd been planning to ask Armstrong for assurance that this animal was trained, but the sight of the crazy woman just reaching down and petting it convinced him his question was moot. Patient and docile, or...maybe... Arthur watched with slight disbelief as Hogan seemed to read the card Skinner offered him. Intelligent. Comparable to human. The more Arthur thought about it, the more ridiculous his own recalcitrance seemed to him. All the things I've seen, and this is where I decide it's too weird? A moment later, the businessman found he could not suppress his mirth any longer. “Bahaha! Incredible! I've only ever seen one other animal that had a Stand, but to work alongside one? Now I'm excited.” Crossing his arms, he gave to his new ally a respectful nod. “The name's Arthur. Good to meet you, Hogan.” His attention returned to Armstrong, though his planned assurance that 'anything else we can work out among ourselves' fizzled out when Skinner brought to light a reasonable concern. After its resolution, and receiving a questioning glance, he shook his head told the man, “I'm good. I'll look forward to this lead of yours.”
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At least the party was accepting of Hogan's assistance. If one of them had been frightened of crocodiles, Louis wasn't sure what he'd do about it; as it was, at least three of the other four were perfectly happy to have him on, if initially confused, whilst the last... Leonard could probably explain everything to her adroitly.

Then came the matter of transporting Hogan around. To this, Louis' smile only widened, now showing pearly white teeth. That was a game he'd played before.

'Why, I'd have imagined you would have ferried him in your vehicles. Or better yet, paraded him around in broad daylight. After all, who would question a group of crocodile handlers so confident they keep their charge off a leash?' he joked, chuckling lightly. He continued, more helpfully, 'Though, if your transportation isn't fit for purpose, we do always have an unmarked van or two available for transportation purposes. On the west side of the main building, there's a decently-sized white garage. It has a sign out the front, you can't miss it.

'Speaking of transportation, if that's all, then you're dismissed.' Immediately, his tone and expression shifted back to neutral professionalism, and now that the meeting had ended, his attention turned to a set of files within a desk drawer. It was clear he didn't expect or want to ask twice.

Once everyone had stepped outside, any portable devices on their person would ping as they received a new message from an unidentifiable number, reading as follows: Your first target likes to frequent the various botanical gardens and arboretums of D.C., though unfortunately, we don't have enough information to determine precisely which one he'll be at on any given day. As far as we can tell, he has been frisking people of their possessions, with some sort of comedy act involved in the matter. Considering this latter piece of information, it might also be worth researching open nights at clubs and any comedy acts being planned in the D.C. area. Further information would not be forthcoming, nor would efforts to message that number back; one would presume they had no more than that to offer in the first place.

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