Hidden 4 mos ago Post by John Table
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New York City
December, 1939

"Whaddya think?"

Sandy Hawkins showed off his yellow outfit complete with red gloves, boots, and a red domino mask. It was a stark contrast to Wesley Dodds' suit, fedora, and gasmask. Most masked men and their sidekicks had some sort of matching theme or motif. Hourboy, Bulletgirl, and STRIPE all mimicked the look of their mentors. Sandy, however, was going another way with it.

"You'll stand out," said Wesley. "That's for sure."

"That's the point," said Sandy. He had the cocksure certainty of any other teenaged kid. It made Wesley proud, and yet slightly fearful. There was a fine line between confidence and arrogance. And in their line of work, arrogance could get you killed. "The others want to follow in someone else's footsteps. Not me. I want to chart my own course."

"Plus, The Sandboy doesn't roll off the tongue," Wesley said with a smirk. "Does it?"

"No, but... Sandy The Golden Boy? Look out criminals of New York!"

Sandy shadowboxed with a barrage of quick punches. He was certainly physically capable. Ted Grant himself had said Sandy was a natural fighter. That was high praise from the champ. Wesley hoped their partnership would work as a perfect compliment. The Sandman's detective skills and planning alongside Sandy's swashbuckling physicality was a perfect match. He was a little unsure about bringing Dian's nephew into his crusade like this, but the boy had been so adamant after finding out Wesley's secret. It was either do it under Wesley's watch, or let the boy go maverick on his own and surely end up hurt or worse.

"Do me a favor, Sandy," said Wesley. "Don't... tell your aunt about this just yet. If Dian found about it, she'd go ballistic. Especially if something happens."

The kid winked at Wesley.

"Don't worry, Uncle Wes. With you watching my back I know I'll be safe."




New York City
Now


Wesley Dodds stared down at the medicine on his nightstand. The clock ticked beside the many pill bottles and told him it was just past three in the afternoon. He'd been up a day and a half now, over thirty-six hours since he'd been told about Sandy's murder. Almost twelve hours since he confronted Frankie with the truth of what she'd done. He was so tired now. Not just physically, but emotionally, mentally, spiritually. He was tired of this world and tired of living. He felt his age for the first time in a long time. Dian was long gone, and now Sandy was gone with her. What did that leave him left with? A few JSA friends floating in the flotsam and jetsam out there. Kent was somewhere lost in his magic realms, Carter was still alive but Wesley hadn't seen him in fifty years. Courtney and her kids were active but with their own lives that Wesley never really took part in. So... what was left for him in this world? What was so worth sticking around for?

He shook a handful of sleeping pills loose from the bottle and held them in his hand. Kind of poetic, actually. Take a bunch of these and fall asleep never to wake up again. And endless sleep. He walked to the kitchen to grab a glass of water. The sound of a soft knock on the door made him pause. He put the pills on the kitchen counter beside the sink and walked towards the door.

"Wesley Dodds?" Detective Paul Gold stood at his door, badge in hand.

"Yes, sir," he said, doing his best to pretend he had no idea who Gold was. "Can I help you?"

"We need to talk. It's about your nephew, Sanderson Hawkins. Mind if I come in?"

Wesley thought about the small pile of pills on the kitchen counter and shook his head.

"Umm, actually, there's a diner not far from here where we can talk. Besides, you look like you could use a cup of joe."





"Francesca -- Frankie -- confessed pretty quickly once we woke her up and got her into an interrogation room."

Wesley and Gold sat in a booth. It was two over from the booth Wesley and Sandy had sat in thirty years earlier in the lead-up to their falling out. Gold stirred sugar into a cup of coffee while Wesley listened to him talk. He kept a hand on his chin, his fingers hiding his mouth as Gold told the story that he already knew, the story he'd led Gold to discover with his breadcrumbs.

"It was greed, simple as that. I'm sorry but that's what got your nephew killed, Mr. Dodds."

"He wouldn't be the first victim of it. And he certainly won't be the last, detective..."

Sandy looked out the window of the diner, not daring to meet Gold's eyes.

"I just... I wish he'd come to me if he needed money. I feel like he would have if we'd been on good terms. We hadn't spoken in nearly thirty years because of me. I was angry at, well, a lot of things. I lashed out at Sandy because he was an easy target. All he ever wanted was to make me proud. I never got the chance to tell him that I was sorry. That I never got to tell him how much I loved him and how proud
I was of him."

"I don't believe in an afterlife," said Gold. "Not harps and angels and shit. But I think Sandy, or whatever is left of him in this life, is watching and knows that."

Wesley shrugged half-heartedly. He had seen so much death and violence over the years it was hard to believe in anything close to a heaven or a benevolent god. But there was the dreams, though. That dream that punched through Wesley's medicated veil to let him know Sandy's death had not been a suicide. Was it just coincidence... or maybe some sort of final message from Sandy?

"I do have two questions though," Gold asked, an eyebrow raised slightly. "Sandy's collection of Sandman memorabilia. It looks like some items were missing, and a costume was one of them. But nothing in his records indicated he sold off any suits or costumes to anyone."

"Interesting," said Wesley.

"Furthermore, I did some research. Your nephew operated as a masked hero known as The Sandman."

"That's right."

"But Sandy was the second Sandman. He went public with his identity in the 70's. But the first Sandman never came out, and nobody really knows who he was. I say 'was' instead of 'is' because as old as Sandy was, if the fist Sandman were still alive... he'd have to be old. Practically ancient."

Gold let the silence hang between them, his eyes fixated on Wesley and a ghost of a smile on his face. Wesley met his gaze without blinking. A knowing look passed between the two men. Gold slowly nodded his head, the closest to a thanks for the help he would ever muster.

"You look tired, Detective," Wesley finally said. "All this coffee isn't good for you. Might need to get some sleep."

"That's my next stop after here, Mr. Dodds. Home and my warm bed and cold wife." Gold stood and put some money on the table for his coffee. "You know I actually know of the original Sandman very well, probably better than most. My family has a lot to thank that man for, you see. My grandmother was a woman named Meg Turner. She had rough upbringing, Mr. Dodds. Used and abused by all kinds of men. She came to the city in the 30's and found herself turning tricks to survive. She almost was killed by some serial killer called The Tar-"

"Tarantula," Wesley said softly. He felt a lump forming in his throat. "Yes... Sandy always said that case was one of The Sandman's best."

"Yes, and my grandmother never got to thank the man who saved her life. After that night she was able to get off the streets and live a normal life. He changed her life. And plenty of others. I mean, I wouldn't be standing here right now if not that that man. Neither would two whole generations of children, three if you count mine and my sister's kids. All because one man did the right thing. Her one regret was she never got to shake his hand and give him her thanks."

Gold stuck his hand out. Wesley could feel the tears streaming down his face as he and Gold shook hands.

"Thank you, Mr. Dodds. And I am truly sorry for your loss."

"Thank you, Detective," Wesley said. "Get some rest... pleasant dreams."






A candy-colored clown they call the sandman
Tiptoes to my room every night
Just to sprinkle stardust and to whisper
Go to sleep, everything is alright


Wesley watched the sleeping pills disappear down the flushing toilet. He'd dumped them all into the water and flushed. He'd thought about Gold's words on the way back home. He knew exactly what he was living for now. It wasn't for loved ones, or really for himself. It was for the dreams. Like it had been some ninety years ago when they first started. Dreams of human suffering, dreams of horrors that had happened and horrors yet to happen. It was the dreams that the Sandman had even existed in the first place. And it was the dreams that kept him alive for as long as it had. Of that he was convinced. It was his purpose, his destiny. He slipped under the covers and prepared for sleep to take him. His eyes felt heavy as he blinked once, twice, and finally a third time before his eyelids rested in place. Within thirty seconds he was asleep. And for the first time in decades, when he slept he dreamed.

I close my eyes then I drift away
Into the magic night, I softly say
A silent prayer like dreamers do
Then I fall asleep to dream my dreams of you.


In Washington Heights, naked women moved to a hip-hop beat as they cut and packaged drugs into little baggies. They weren't completely naked. Topless and bottomless, yes, but they all wore rubber gloves and surgical masks. At one large table, six women packaged cocaine while six more packaged heroin at an adjacent table. They were naked to prevent any stealing. Though in truth each of them were illegal immigrants and had too much to lose by skimming any of the top. Raymond Jones still made them strip because... well, he got off on the power trip. Raymond watched the girls working from the catwalk landing above the floor.

In his dreams, Wesley watched Raymond smile. Two rows of razor-sharp metal teeth shinned in the trap house light.

In dreams I walk with you
In dreams I talk to you
In dreams you're mine all of the time
We're together in dreams, in dreams


Wesley watched the masked man slowly glided up the rickety stairs like a ghost. Muscle memory kicked in when he reached the landing where the crew was sleeping. Check the corners, clear the rooms, plan your escape, kill as soon as you have eyes on the target. Wesley saw flashbacks go through his mind, killing a Somali pirate with a sniper rifle, garroting an Al-Qaeda cutout in Iraq. The masked man didn’t believe in the stereotype of born killers, but he was a killer now thanks to Uncle Sam. Like a chunk of coal the government had applied pressure and polished him up to turn him into a sparkly diamond of murderous potential.

Three guys were passed out on piss-stained mattresses. He kept the flashlight beam low and was able to make out one figure in the dim light. His target acquired he aimed.

"Bang."

Recoil shot up his elbow as he fired off a suppressed shot.

"Bang. Bang. Bang."

Three rounds hissed through the room, three bullets exploding the three men's heads. He fired off three more to each man's heart to be sure they were dead before he started down the rickety stairs.

"Creak."

Without another look back the masked man disappeared into the night.

But just before the dawn
I awake and find you gone
I can't help it
I can't help it
If I cry
I remember that you said goodbye


The bald, malnourished old man stared out blankly from his cell inside Arkham. His straightjacket was wrapped snuggly around his waist, his arms secured. The name on his breast pocket read J. Dee #102589. His face held a healthy amount of gray stubble, his lips cracked and dried. His glazed over eyes slowly tracked around the room and looked at something that wasn't there.

"I can see you," he said in a raspy voice. "Yes, you. Wesley Dodds. Hello... I can't wait to meet you. 'Badubabua... Goodnight sweetheart, well, it's time to go... Goodnight sweetheart, well, it's time to go...I hate to leave you but I really must say... Goodnight sweetheart, goodnight."

It's too bad that all these things
Can only happen in my dreams
Only in dreams
In beautiful dreams


Detective Paul Gold looked over the strange crime scene. Two armed robbers were laying face down on the pavement, snoring their asses off while their guns lay beside them. The two men had tired to take off a night time armored car as it restocked ATM machines around the Upper East Side.

"It was the weirdest thing," the security guard said to the patrolman interviewing him. "These fuckers had barely started their spiel when they get smacked in the face by some gas. They started coughing and collapsed right away. Next thing I know they're sawing logs. I look over to my right and there's this guy standing there with a... goddamn gasmask on. He has on some kind of wide brimmed hat. He just tips it at me and turns around, says something about sleep well tonight or something, I dunno. Jesus Christ... I gotta stop working nights..."

"Gasmask, huh," Gold said. His eyes glanced up the side of the nearest building. He followed the path of a fire escape. For just a moment, he thought he saw a flicker of movement somewhere on the building's rooftop. A small smile formed on his face and he turned to look at the security guard.

"You might be right... we could all do with a little shut eye and a visit from the sandman."

END:
PART I
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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Bork Lazer
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The Sanguine Symphony 1.1








Normal Sunday mornings usually didn’t begin with poking dead bodies.

In the line of work as a vampire hunter, nothing was sacred and acting ignorant of that truth was a fool’s gambit. Fighting against the forces of the night for Eric sometimes felt like keeping a candle alight in a blizzard. The wax dwindled, the wick shriveled and the flame dimmed but the light was there and having a candle in a snowstorm was better than no candle at all.

Telling himself that doesn’t seem to matter as the corpse’s lifeless pupils penetrated through his shades, almost accusing. The surgical bay around them has been vacated under the pretense of a foot surgery and not for medical malpractice as Whistler flicks her penlight into the victim’s mouth as if she’s searching for treasure. The old vampire hunter’s last eye flicks back and forth in its socket with an unnerving energy.

The corpse was a grisly mess. The cheeks are sunken in like a mummy, lips flecked with dried blood and spit as the tongue is rolled out, askew to one side of his cheek. Their Nirvana band t-shirt is stained in the middle, a dark bloom of blood tinging the yellow fabric a ruddy brown. His crotch is mincemeat and the right knee is twisted like how a child would play with a barbie doll. It’s that type of crap that makes his blood boil. All that mighty vampire clan talk of honour and status didn’t matter in Eric’s eyes when all he saw them do was play with their food like some vindictive feral house cat. A tag was wrapped around his right foot with “Evan Langley” written on it hurriedly with a marker pen. It was no one that he’d never know in the short list of people that were willing to put up with him.

There was a burst of conversation outside the bay doors which momentarily made him freeze. Whistler paused in the middle of her medical examination, looking at Blade and putting two fingers on her lips. His hand was locked around the grip of the sliver parang in his belt scabbard whilst Whistler toyed with the derringer on her arm holster. The chatter faded and with that, the tension seeped out of both their frames and Whistler resumed her work.

“ So? What’s it look like?” He speaks up, leaning against a wall.

“ Well, satch, like I said before, if it walks like a duck, acts like a duck and talks like a duck, a duck is a duck.” Whistler glumly spoke, unconcerned with the human blood on his fingers and washing it off in the nearby sink as if she was a foreman at work. “ You didn’t need to call me all the way out here for my opinion. This is as textbook as it can get.”

“ You sure we never shot a few geese while duck hunting before?” Blade questioned, prodding the bite wound around the neck curiously with a finger.

“ Satch, I poked around every nook and cranny he had to offer. You know the signs. Miniscule puncture wounds on the right carotid. No abdominal swelling. Dried skin. Obvious as I’ve ever seen it. Who else could have done this?”

“ You forget the fact that it ain’t a complete exsanguination. Any vampire worth their salt would have drained the body dry as a husk.”

“ Minor detail, satch.” There was a skip in Whistler’s voice, either of amusement or doubt. He chose to believe it was the former. She began packing the various metal instruments she took out into a blanket before zipping it up into a toolbox. “ It doesn’t take a genius to put it together. This town has the largest vampire population in the south and everyone’s out drinking and having fun in the biggest festival this side of the bayou. Simple as 1 plus 1.”

“ Are we sure it ain’t a ghoul?”

“ Ghouls like ripping more than they like sipping, satch.”

“ Chupacabra.”

“ The South hasn’t seen them in decades and they don’t like coastal regions.”

“ Loup-garou.”

“ S-seriously?” There was a loud guffaw from Whistler followed by a hacking wheeze. She then zipped up the toolbox and shook her head, fixing him with a tired stare of derision.

“ Satch, ever heard of Occam’s razor? You’re making this a hell of a lot more complicated than it needs to be. We just have to figure out which vampire would be stupid enough to tweak the nose of every clan in this swamp and break a century old tradition. Hell, we’ve had some personal experience with a very well known independent in these parts….”

They didn’t even need to say the name as Eric rubbed his palm over the right side of his neck, hairs tingling, as he remembered those fateful words.....

I’m a dead man, vampire slayer, yet I embrace my fate. a man who is stuck between two savage worlds.

“ It’s a possibility. He fled his ass up-state the last time we met, though. He’s gone.” Whistler’s raised eyebrow wasn’t giving him any confidence when he said that. Looking to change the subject, Eric pointed towards the body. “ Did you glean anything else from him?”

“ Oh yeah. I almost forgot.” Whistler fished a waspy square of yellow paper out of her pocket and handed it to him. “ Found this in the back of their jeans.” She paused before smiling sheepishly. “ And a roll of 20s.”

He took it from her and looked at it closer. The way it had been folded in the man’s pocket made it almost unreadable but he could make out one sentence on top of a image of a poured chalice of wine.

“ You are cordially invited to the Crimson Carnival. Purview exotic offerings and indulge in the finest of New Orleans culture at 8 PM on this Friday at Callan Contemporary.”

SHOW TICKET AT ENTRANCE



So, that was how he died. Eric crumpled it as he considered the new facts in front of him. The outline of a basic plan formed in his mind as he rubbed the remains of the paper in between his fingers, reducing it to shreds.

It would be fun to visit the Warehouse District after so long.



Once the rest of the humans had departed the gallery, the pristine white hallways and industrial concrete floors were for once absent of the conversations of rich investors and the chimes of champagne glasses. It was here that Dalton found a semblance of peace and something resembling sleep. It had been a full moon since he was turned and already, he found his former human falliabilities wanting. It was after the first day he turned when he realised he could no longer hear his heartbeat. It took weeks to realise that he no longer found the tastes of his favourite steakhouse appetising. Worst of all were the restless nights where he could no longer fall asleep.

But it was a small price to pay for immortality. His clan head reassured him that it would take time for him to transition as all newly Turned did. Thus, they had him currently acting as a glorified security guard. If that was what his clan head desired of him, he could not deny his request. Dalton couldn’t help but feel as thought it was a position unbefitting of his current. He should have been out on more pertinent missions with the clan, helping expanding their interests towards the northern states rather than assist with local recruitment.

His partner didn’t seem to mind, though. Eddie Baxter was a veteran of the clan, one who had found comfort in the hierarchy and had no ambition to move up the chain of command. They were in the midst of a conversation as they patrolled through an open area of a gallery where a bronze statue depicting the features of a man contorted in agony were illuminated by an overhead spotlight.

“ So, what did she taste like?”

“ Oh, fine. Had a bit of a fruity zest but I blame the swill the cattle put into their system.” Eddie stopped and then pulled out another box of cigars. He grabbed one with his teeth and then offered the box towards Dalton. “ Smoke?”

Dalton murmured a thanks as he took out two cigars and placed it in between his gums, letting Eddie flick open the lighter and char the tips. He took a lick of the aged tobacco, the warmth of the fumes suffusing his frigid blood. He and Eddie had gone through their fourth box this night out of pure boredom. Their lungs were probably full of tar by now but if there was one positive thing about being Turned, it was that vampires were nigh immune to intoxication and most drugs that humans were susceptible to.

Most new recruits learnt that the hard way when they were found trying to drink their sorrows at the nearest bar in the French Quarter.

They turned around into a right corridor that was still in the middle of construction, plaster walls and tarps thrown onto the ground with numerous oil paintings leaning onto the side of the walls. It was when Eddie grabbed him and then forcefully pushed him back from taking another step. His eyes looked at Eddie accusingly for an explanation but Eddie shook his head and then, slowly allowed him to peek over the corner.

There was a man in a trenchcoat. His brown hair was dressed in a bushy afro and he had a gangly figure where his arms seemed to grow off the side like tree branches.His back was currently turned towards them as he examined a watercolour canvas painting hanging on the wall. There was something off about him that made Dalton shiver.

Eddie’s eyes, however, were slitted and narrowed as his tongue flitted out and began licking his lips hungrily. Dalton placed a hand on his partner’s shoulder and Eddie looked back questioningly at him.

“ Eddie, don’t. “ He whispered. “ I know what you’re thinking. It’s Mardi Gras.”

“ Oh, come on. “ Eddie rolled his eyes. “ Just one little snack. You and me. We’ll hide the body and no one will be the wiser. Look at my face and tell me that you can go teetotal all week for tradition sake.”

“ You know our orders, Ed. If you don’t - “

“ Screw you, man. If you aren’t going to do it, then, I’ll get rid of this stupid human.” Eddie snarled and then, confusion furrowed his brow as he looked towards the spot where the human once occupied. It was empty.

“ Hey, where did the cattle go?”

“ Right behind you.”

Dalton has known Eddie for a month now to know how good of a hunter he is. He’s watched him snap the necks of a dozen humans in a dozen heartbeats and wrestle unruly vampires from their clan with one hand tied behind his back. Outside of a few members in his clan, Eddie’s strength has always been an assurance to him that they were indestructible. That nothing or no one could kill a vampire and get away with it.

His perceptions are destroyed in three seconds.

One.

Eddie’s fanged mouth closing onto the stranger’s throat.

Two.

A flash of sliver so bright that it could be mistaken for sunlight.

Three.

Blood.

An ocean of it.

His eyes blink and there’s an eight foot blade of holy sliver lodged into the surface of the concrete floor. A gout of blood stains his midnight security uniform and everything around him in a eight foot radius scarlet. Eddie’s torso and legs are twirling apart in opposite directions, the two halves steaming like roast meat from where the metal cut . The blade wasn’t even in the realm of being called a sword. It was more of a guillotine than a weapon, a piece of metal that had been bent and buckled over time and centuries into something that could contain its primeval strength.

The shock wears off when the stranger...no...monster lifts the blade up and whips away the blood which seems to boil off and slide off the lustre. He hefts it on his shoulder and underneath those shades, the monster looks at him with a lazy stare, as if waiting for him to make his move.

So, Dalton runs.

And then, his entire world is fire.

His nose is filled with the acrid stench of garlic and urine as a jar of something is thrown towards his back, cracking open and spilling its contents all over him. He writhes in pain as the achilles heel for generations of vampires over millennia leeches into his skin and burns his veins. He howls, screaming for help and yelling countless curses into the air.

“ FUCK. ED! You bastard! When my clan hears about this, you and all your loved ones will be hunted to the ends of the earth!”

“ Funny. I stopped taking that threat seriously after I removed the head of the 200th vampire that told me that.” He feels a foot flip him over on his back. “ Or was it the 415th? I lost count.”

Dalton blinks the scalding mixture of his bloodshot and then examines the figure more closely who killed Eddie. The shadows of the exhibit blots out most of his features but he can see a full-toothed grin glinting in the dark, fangs pointing out eerily. The gears in Dalton’s mind turned as he began processing what just happened.

A vampire who killed his own kind.

A vampire who was known for killing his own kind with swords.

There’s only one individual in New Orleans who fits into the mould of countless horror stories and legends told to him by his fellow vampires.

“ You’re - No, it can’t be you. You’re not real!”

The Blade replied by lifting up his foot and stomping down on his left ankle. The bone fragmented underneath the heel of his ironshod boots into a thousand pieces and Dalton could only make a whine of pain, head leaning back in surrender. He felt fingers dig into his throat and then, slam him against a nearby wall.

“ Was that real enough for you? I came here because one of you bloodsuckers got uppity and decided to buck tradition for once.” The vampire slayer took a photo out of his sleeve and waved it in front of him. Blinking through the pain, Dalton saw that it was a close up photo of one of the cattle, their faces dried to a husk. “ Take a real good look at this. His name was Evan Langley. He took a visit to this exact same art gallery before one of you guys decided to drink him dry. Who did it?”

“ I don’t know! No feedings are allowed during Mardi Gras per the Rosarius Agreement signed by all clan heads in 18 -” There was a tear of flesh and Dalton screamed once more, his throat hoarse, as a inch-wide oaken stake was planted into his belly. “You fuck! You - you staked me!”

“ Correction. I staked you in your pancreas. That’s just four inches below where your heart is. Now, you better hope my aim’s off cause I don’t plan on missing the next time.” “ I know all that crap you bloodsuckers spoon feed to your members. Just because you don’t feed doesn’t mean you can’t do other shit during Mardi Gras. You were planning on turning someone who was visiting this little gallery of yours, weren’t you? Someone rich. High profile. A real upstanding human who you could use to add some muscle to your clan.”

“ Fine. Fine! You got us! We were using this gallery to search for viable targets, cattle who had enough money to finance our trafficking operations in the south! But this?! “ Dalton’s panicked eyes flickered to the photo still in Blade’s hand. “We’d never feed. Please. I’m telling you the truth!”

“ You better hope so or …….” Blade paused as his head turned to the left.




Eric could hear it. It wasn’t a single voice. No, it was dozens or hundreds of voices in some obscene choir, an amalgam that was stitched together in a twisted symphony. He let go of the vampire, letting him slump to the floor in an incoherent mess of whimpers and whispers.

A hooded person had just turned around the corner of the hall and was now looking at him. He pulled out a stake and realised that today’s night was going to be a long one.

“ Shit.”
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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Bork Lazer
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//Bloodletting 1.1//






//Location: New England, NYC//


“ We forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

The priest opens his rheumy eyes, placing one hand on the leather bible, as the casket is lowered into the damp yawning earth.

“ Amen,” Eric says along with everyone else attending the funeral. The word comes out awkwardly, as if he’s learning to speak for the first time. The procession is private and small. Too small, Eric thinks. Jamal deserves a better crowd in his mind. He can count the number of attendees on his fingers and he can recognise fewer faces in the stony faced crowd. Hannibal would have come but he was busy rooting out a group of Adze in Venezuela.

It is a matter of respect that they have attended Jamal’s funeral. Vampire hunting is a profession that demands few friendships and personal relationships. So, Eric doesn’t know whether his apprenticeship with the old hunter was a blessing or a mistake. It feels more and more like the latter as his grave, an old mouldy wooden casket, is lowered into the earth.

He and the veteran vampire hunter had made several bets about how he would end up dying, making potshots at each other about the most ridiculous ways that they could go down fighting the bloodsuckers.

He’d never imagine it would be something banal as prostate cancer.

It wasn’t a thing he could behead with a blade, impale with a wooden stake or burned with napalm. It was pure coincidence. Chance. The same chance that had made him a dhampir, met with Jamal and now, watch him die a slow and wretched death in the ICU.

He was tempted, dammit, tempted to Turn him. Make him whole again, but, he’d be spitting on Jamal’s memory if he did that and damn his soul forever to the blackest pits of hell. It was selfish, he knew it was selfish, Jamal taught him it was the most selfish thing he could do, every molecule in his being knew that embracing his true nature would be his downfall.

So, why was he disgusted with himself?

Someone taps his shoulder. He turns around and takes a look at who did it. Her features are aristocratic, the contours of her face cut like a marble statue. Her long blonde hair is tied into a plait that rests on her left shoulder. She’s dressed in a more well-maintained trench coat than his with considerably less dried blood along with a better tie. Slate gimlets look at him from under the veil of her funeral hat.

“ So, you must be Jamal’s protege that I’ve heard so much about.” She stuck out a hand. “ I believe I haven’t introduced myself before. My name is -”

“ You’re the Van Helsing,” Eric gruffly remarked.

“ Not a man for pleasantries, are we?” She continued forth, a note of irritation passing away in her melodic accent. “ Yes, I am Rachel Van Helsing and you are Eric Brooks. The Blade. That is what others of your kind refer to you as?”

“ They’re not my people.”

“ My apologies. I didn’t mean to offend.” She replied back in a tone that didn’t sound the least bit sorry at all. “ I was quite saddened when I heard about his death, although it must have been more of a shock to you, given that you spent more time with him than all of us combined. Most of us knew him as a man who preferred the company of himself rather than others. When the news spread that he was taking on a dhampir as an apprentice, we thought it was a joke. Seeing you in the flesh, though……..” Rachel kept quiet for a moment before continuing on. “ Nevertheless, he was a highly respected hunter amongst us. His accomplishments were legendary. Being chosen to be under his tutelage must have been quite the honor for you. For a dhampir. ”

Did he hear….bitterness in her voice? She turned her head away, looking towards a nearby thicket that had two stumps in the middle of it. One had been swallowed up by the foliage and grass, the bark bleeding grass, whilst the other had a clear shoot erupting from its center.

“ You could say that,” Eric muttered.

“ I have to ask, though.” Rachel paused and speaks with a note of curiosity. “ Who was Jamal to you?”

“ He was my….” Eric briefly paused, struggling to find the right words. How could he encapsulate his and Jamal’s relationship in one single sentence. Father figure. Teacher. Savior. Companion. Coworker. Boss. So much of his life had been dictated by Jamal and now, he felt somewhat directionless, a man in a maze.

“ He was my light.”

Eventually, he was the only one left standing amongst the hundreds of dead rotting in the dirt. Outliving your friends, your family…...did Dracula have to witness this same shit repeat over and over again? No wonder that fucker’s tantrum decimated most of Europe.

There were too many memories here in New York. Too much of the past closing up on him like a coffin. He looks down at the nickel plated 44. revolver Jamal handed to him. He flips open the barrel, the blessed silver rounds glinting like diamonds in the apertures. He takes a look around, cocks the revolver and lifts it gingerly towards himself, his hand shaking.

“ Well, there you fucking are.” A voice like cracked glass pierced the miasma of solitude. “ Hard one to find, aren’t ya, you little shit.”

Eric twirls around, his trenchcoat flapping as he points the revolver towards the source of the noise. It’s an old geezer who looks more mummy than man. His skin is cracked and withered, the cataracts underneath his horseshoe shades almost seem to glow in the dawn night and he can hear the wet unsteady rasps of his lungs, like a machine past its warranty. Yet, the polished beech staff clasped in between his knobbled fingers is planted in the dirt like a fence post and his spine is straight and unyielding like an oak tree.

Eric holsters the revolver and grumbles the stranger’s name with distaste.

“ Stick.”

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Hidden 4 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by Master Bruce
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Master Bruce Winged Freak

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The Gotham City Diamond Exchange
12:40 AM


"If anyone wants to make for the door, feel free to do so now. Just don't expect any of my guys to take too kindly to your inhospitable behavior."

The after-hours workers at the Exchange had already been forced to their knees by a group of masked men brandishing high-powered rifles. Each mask was of a different animal - one, the muscle of the group, was an Ox, while the two men guarding the entrance were a lion and a tiger, respectively - but it was the three commanding the room that stood out most. The tallest, lankiest member wore a Shark's head, brandishing a large duffel bag full of tools that he'd just used to break open the safe. The middlest one wore a Vulture's head, holding up a large and very intimidating body-strapped minigun that had easily cut through the reinforced front entrance doors within seconds. And the shorter, normally sized one - wearing a Fox's head - was holding up a cellphone that was set to voice chat with the group's leader, who sat idly by in an unknown location miles away. His features hidden by an affixed charcoal skull, save for his wild eyes, the individual on the small screen placed his hands together and casually leaned forward from what looked to be behind a desk. While few had ever seen him without his mask, most knew his name extremely well, given that he'd spent many years terrorizing Gotham's East End district: Roman Sionis, known more commonly as The Black Mask.

"You may be asking yourselves how this is going to go. You may even be thinking that if you'll co-operate with us and let these gentlemen take what they came for, you'll be spared any undue unpleasantness and be allowed to walk free. You'd only be partially correct."

Black Mask's voice echoed loudly from the phone's speaker, commanding the attention of every hostage that had even considered keeping their head down and waiting out the scenario before it escalated into something truly horrific. The False Face Society of Gotham hadn't earned their reputation with kindness, as their leader had been proven a highly sadistic madman since even well before he'd suffered a disfiguring injury that had permanently grafted the death's head mask to his face. This personality type seemed only to attract like-minded individuals, from extremely violent ex-cons who had beaten their rap or been able to afford a mob lawyer that could get them off to complete schizophrenics whose visual and audio hallucinations compelled them to commit acts of cruelty. Sionis was able to keep them all under his thumb with a simple ploy: attain lots of money and considerable power. And when lacking in either, work fast and dirty to replenish. This was a time of replenishment, unfortunately for everyone else in the building.

"My empire is expanding rapidly. Gotham is looking for a new figurehead to steer the direction of organized crime, and while some of you may think that role belongs to someone like The Penguin, being the respectable businessman that he is, you would be sorely mistaken. Black Mask is the false face of this false city, no one else."



"And one can't be the 'face' of anything without a boatload of scratch. Boys?"

As if in a trance, each armed thug repeated Mask's mantra in a cold, dead baritone.

"Black Mask is the false face of a false city."
"Black Mask is the false face of a false city."
"Black Mask is the false face of a false city."
"Black Mask is the false face of a false city."
"Black Mask is the false face of a false city."
"Black Mask is the false face of a false city."

Sionis made a gesture with his fist, indicating that they cease their chant.

"As they said. We're cleaning out your tainted wares, seeing as though they were bought and paid for by the mob families that your employers have spent so many years trying to distance themselves from. And why wouldn't they? Such a mark on your clients' reputations must be removed like a cancer attacking the nervous system: with immediacy."

The Lionhead and Tigerhead audibly chuckled at this, having been the former muscle for those aforementioned families.

"That's just sensible business. We're simply extending the courtesy of cutting out the middle man."

On cue, the Vulturehead raised the minigun and opened fire into the ceiling, causing every hostage to either scream out in abject terror or to drop directly onto the floor in an attempt to dodge the onslaught of dust, plaster, and debris that exploded out from above them.

"And if anyone tries to call the cops before business is concluded? Consider that a preview of coming attractions."

Pulling the camera closer to himself, Black Mask's breath behind the mask became audibly elevated, creating a tense, horrifying image of a man who seemed overly excited at the prospect of death and destruction should anyone be brave enough to fall out of line.

"As for the rest of you, don't worry. You'll be free to leave once we do. The only stipulation to this rather generous deal is that some of you... won't be leaving entirely unscathed."

Pushing ahead a cart from within the vault, a man wearing a Panda mask presented a large rectangular object hidden beneath a heavy tarp. Stopping in the middle of the showroom, the Pandahead swiftly removed the tarp, revealing something that made each hostage turn a shade of white: a large timer attached to a couple of gasoline barrels, which had several pieces of dynamite strapped to them each and wired to a panel behind the display. It became evident that despite the robbery, Black Mask was playing for more than a few expensive cases of diamonds. He was on a quest for blood.

"And yes. That is entirely what you think it is. Shark?"

The large Sharkhead made his way over to the timer, setting it for three minutes flat. Despite many of the hostages calling out for mercy, the thug didn't hesitate to flick the bomb's activator switch. A loud ticking began, and the gunmen quickly shuffled off to collect duffel bags of wares that the Tiger and Lion had piled up next to the entrance.

"Remember to scream, ladies and gentlemen. It'll be the last sound most of you will be able to generate on this mortal coil. And nothing lasts in the memory of the survivors, if any, longer than a scream."

3:00

Giving a condescending parting wave, Black Mask's image disappeared from the phone instantaneously as the call was cut. The Foxhead took the butt of his gun and smacked it hard against a hostage's jaw, knocking the man hard onto the ground before lifting his weapon and training it back onto the hostages. The elder men and women shrieked, while the younger men and women quietly sobbed to themselves, unable to process that this was actually happening.

"None of you fucks make a move! You heard Black Mask, you're already dead! Doesn't matter how you die tonight, whether by a bomb or by a bullet! I'm happy to oblige either way!"

As many of the hostages began whispering silent, tense prayers to whomever they believed in, a miracle seemed to happen. One by one, the lights in the room seemed to quickly and violently disperse under an unseen attack by a projectile force. Spooked, the masked men fired wildly into the air, unaware of what was happening, but doing the job of unwittingly taking the rest of the lights out for the third party that had seemingly arrived.

"Black Mask isn't in a position to give orders."

With the lights having completely blackened out the room, the Foxhead began to back away from his starting position, holding his weapon tightly against his chest as he strained to look for any source of visibility. All he could feel next was the tightening of some sort of cable, as it wrapped itself around his neck and lifted him rather effortlessly off of the ground and into the rafters - where he promptly fell unconscious from the pressure of an executed blow.

"...and neither are you."

The other False Faces began to panic, hearing that distinctive growl of a voice seem to reverberate from all around the room at them. Obviously being in Gotham, they recognized the voice immediately. And despite each of them being hardened criminals with multiple homicides under their belt, a few immediately considered dropping their weapons and running. There wasn't a man in this city that had tangled with The Bat and won in over fifteen years, and none of them felt particularly confident that they were about to be the exception. Especially in pitch black conditions, where they couldn't even see their guns infront of their faces, much less some living bogeyman who had made a regular habit of bringing down guys like them.

2:00

"Fox? Fox, where are you?! Where did you go, man?! I can't see shit!"

The large man, Shark, heard the sound of crackling leather behind him. Turning and firing his weapon wildly, he watched as a few bullets sparked off of the walls and illuminated the dark figure that was gliding directly towards him. With an impressive wingspan covering his descent, The Batman only made a single expression as he closed in: one of unbridled rage, a look that tore through the thug's soul and made him immediately regret his already questionable decisions in life. Before he knew it, he was out too, and all that had given his location away was the gruesome sound of hard bones shattering under soft flesh.

"AAARGH!"

Landing on the floor with a silent backflip, The Dark Knight's cowl gave him a readout of the darkened room through a sequenced infrared and night vision HUD. The Vulturehead was beginning to back towards a wall, still keeping a firm hold on the minigun. Batman sneered, realizing that if the idiot started opening fire, the room would be littered with the corpses of civilians at best. At worst, he'd strike the gas canisters attached to the bomb, blowing all of them sky-high. An additional sensor in the cowl indicated that the Vulturehead's pulse was rapidly rising, all but guaranteeing such a drastic measure would be taken soon. With a careful reach into the back of his belt, The Batman produced a remote Batarang, patterned with an artificial intelligence that could allow the wielder to control the path of its trajectory.

"S-Stay back! I'm warnin' you, freak! J-Just let this one go and back off! Back off or I'll shoot everyone in this fuckin' room, you hear me?!"

Raising the Batarang behind his head, Batman ignored the fact that if this didn't work, he'd provoke the man into jumping the gun and launching an assault. So this had to work, and it had to be done in one shot.

"I hear you."

With a careful pause, the eyes behind the cowl's lenses closed. He vaulted forward and tossed with precision, leaving the projectile to sail through the air and fly just above the Vulturehead's position. Automatic sensors in the Batarang locked onto the criminal's position, and after a spin, the metal shuriken came flying back down in an arc, driving a hard thrash into the back of the Vulturehead's skull. As he stumbled forward, completely taken off guard, Batman leaped into the air and drove both boots into the Vulturehead's chest, sending him careening directly into the wall behind him. The impact shook the room, and Batman landed, standing over the unconscious form of the Vulturehead as he remained partially embedded into the now caved-in bricks.

1:00

The Ox, Lion, and Tiger still remained, but Batman's attention was brought directly to the bomb. The fifty-nine-second countdown had already begun, and he wasn't surely engaging with the remaining three would be as beneficial towards getting the hostages out of harm's way. Sprinting for the bomb whilst searching in his belt for a pair of pliers, The Caped Crusader immediately felt an immense amount of pressure hit the back of his spine. Knocked to the ground, Batman immediately crawled onto his back, only to find that the Oxhead had gain a clear advantage over his peers: on top of his mask, he had managed to find and strap a pair of night-vision goggles to his face.

"Heh. Not so scary when youse isn't under the cover a' dark."

Throwing a massive punch directly towards The Dark Knight, the Oxhead's fist merely dislodged a chunk of plaster cement as Batman rolled backward. Throwing down a haymaker, the Ox forced the vigilante to go on the defensive, launching his knees up and catching both of his enemy's hands onto the armor surrounding his knees. Neither hit seemed to phase the Oxhead, seemingly boasting a high tolerance for pain.

"That all youse got?"

Spotting the Lionhead approach out of the corner of his eye, having followed the sounds of the scuffle, The Caped Crusader removed a grapnel gun from his belt and fired the harpoon-shaped hook directly at the Lionhead's shoulder, piercing it so hard that the hook became stuck in the wailing criminal's flesh. With a massive tug, Batman swung the Lionhead's body and tossed him directly into the Oxhead, sending him backward in a more staggered state as the Lionhead collapsed in a heap. The Caped Crusader steadied himself for another attack, shooting the Ox a glare.



"I can always give more."

Lunging himself into the air with a front flip to provide the necessary momentum, Batman brought down a hard elbow into the Oxhead's chest, followed by a flying roundhouse kick, a hard Muay Tai knee to the face, a series of jabs to the criminal's sternum, and finally a swinging haymaker uppercut. The Ox stumbled backward less than gracefully, managing to hit one of the diamond displays to narrowly catch himself from falling. While his enemy wasn't far from out, he wasn't exactly down either. Feeling a tightness begin to swell up in his lungs, Batman couldn't help but think to himself that if he were just a few years younger, this would have been over by now. But in the forefront of his mind, the vigilante remained fixated on the timer for the bomb. The limitations of age being a factor or not, all of them were quickly running out of time.

0:30

Wrap this up, Bruce...

Momentarily caught off guard by the stakes at hand, Batman snapped back to attention as soon as the Oxhead composed himself and began to rush towards the masked vigilante. Nearly four hundred pounds of sheer muscle shook the room as he approached, and to The Dark Knight's right, the other one still standing - the Tigerhead - had managed to find one of the fallen guns, preparing to use the noise of the conflict to aim directly at him. There were at least a couple of methods to quickly take out one of his attackers now, but there weren't many to take both out at the same time. Less than that to take both of them down and dismantle the bomb. But there was certainly a way, if he timed it just right.

0:20

Tucking and rolling just as the Oxhead was inches away from grabbing him, Batman pushed himself off of the ground and straightened himself into a full-body double kick. The heels of his boots landing squarely into the Oxhead's spine, The Dark Knight watched as the Tigerhead's gunshot, originally meant for him, pelleted the shoulder and kneecap of the Oxhead. Unable to keep himself standing for very much longer after that, the Ox shrieked in pain as he tumbled over much to the Tigerhead's surprise, falling directly into him with all four-hundred of those aforementioned pounds. The two men collided so hard that they sent the cart that held the bomb backward, giving it a rolling start as Batman grabbed the cart and started pushing it with a run.

0:10

Giving himself no time to think it over even once, The Caped Crusader let the cart loose as it rocketed towards the door to the vault of jewels that had been left wide open after the robbery. Hearing the bomb smack against the back of the wall inside, Batman sprinted directly for the vault door and grabbed it with both hands, pushing the entirety of his strength into pulling the massive metal door closed. After a momentary struggle, the vault door eventually gave in, it's hydraulics snapping firmly shut just as Batman counted the timer down under his breath. There were less than three seconds left by the time that he dived backward, leaped over a nearby display, and braced himself.

BOOOOOOOM!


Papers went flying, powdery bits of debris from the ceiling dropped like pellets of hail, most of the hostages screamed in the firm belief that their lives were over, the glass in each display case shattered instantaneously and something in the floor seemed to shift. But upon opening his eyes, The Batman looked out and breathed a sigh of relief. No one had been harmed, much less killed by the blast. The vault had been strong enough to contain it. Black Mask's plan had been foiled, even if only for the moment.

Rising to his feet, Batman slowly caught himself on a display, feeling the tightness in his lungs return. It was only a fleeting feeling, but it was enough to make him stop for a moment to collect himself. Then he began to breathe heavily, just as strained as the night that he'd nearly sent the thug working for The Clock King plunging towards certain death. He didn't know what was wrong, specifically, but he could feel that something was. It didn't feel like a heart attack, though experiencing any sign of one would have been perfectly understandable at that moment. And with Alfred's still-too-recent death still fresh in his mind, the possibility of a stroke was certainly ruled out...

Nevertheless, The Dark Knight rose into a straight stance as the hostages finally began to realize that they hadn't been blasted to kingdom come, and that they had in fact just been saved. Some of them crossed themselves and began a silent prayer, others looked towards the void of the darkness to try and catch a glimpse of their savior. The only thing that Batman himself noticed was that the Tigerhead - the only one still conscious, after all this, was still reaching in vain for a gun. He was partially crushed under the Ox, but was determined to get a shot in regardless.

The Batman stomped on the thug's hand as he moved past, hearing a satisfying crack of several fingers followed by a loud yelp. With all of the False Facers now incapacitated, all that was left to do was tie the would-be thieves and murders up for the police to collect. But as Batman searched for several pairs of cuffs that were stashed away in his utility belt, a message sent directly from Commissioner Gordon's phone appeared in the bottom left of his cowl's HUD.

City Morgue... Fifteen Minutes
Come Alone


The Dark Knight sighed to himself.

At this point, he was far past in the mood for anything else.

Perfectly timed as always.




"Thanks for coming on such short notice."

Commissioner James Gordon entered the waiting elevator and turned, holding the door open for his caped companion. Despite his overwhelming tiredness from the fight less than an hour prior, The Batman nodded once and complied, taking a step forward and turning towards the front as Gordon pressed the button that had been labeled 'the icebox' by a joking attendant. Even for their usual level of secrecy, Batman could already tell that something was different about whatever this was. Jim wasn't one to keep anything regarding a case very close to the chest with him, as the nature of their relationship relied on transparency. As much transparency as a man who had yet to divulge his real name to the other could manage, at least. Still, his observation of Gordon's body language indicated that the Commissioner was unusually tense for this type of meeting. The Dark Knight remained silent about this, out of respect for an old friend.

"Of course."

"I heard about the Diamond Exchange robbery. Black Mask?"

"Still in the wind. We press hard enough, Sionis will eventually play his hand."

"Right. Let's just hope that whenever he does, we can contain the collateral damage. With Freeze out there and whatever the hell Clock King is doing, the last thing we need right now is another loose end running amok on the streets."

Batman narrowed his eyes. He knows that Jim didn't mean it in the way it came out, but the vigilante couldn't help but feel that it was a passing judgment on his ability to keep this madness contained. But then again, it wasn't as if it were a thought that hadn't already crossed his own mind. At any given moment, it seemed, there were threats out there that could start a rampage capable of tearing Gotham apart. He'd done his best to keep them at bay, but it had never quite been enough to keep them all in Arkham at once. There was always at least one errant psycho on the loose. Had The Dark Knight pushed himself even harder towards the beginning, he imagined, this would never have been the case. But there was always something to be said for the fact that he was still only one man.

True, there were others now. And there had been others since toward the beginning. Robin had been the first, followed by Batgirl, and the rest seemed to fall into place as the years all blurred together. But there was never a moment when The Batman didn't consider Gotham City to be his own personal responsibility. Never a second where he didn't blame himself for not holding back the chaos as well as he could have, whether that was innately true or not.

"I'd actually meant to catch you up to speed on a few things last night, but I figured I'd be better off staying out of whatever you and your, erm... friend in the stars and stripes were up to."

The Batman outwardly ignored the comment. This was hardly the first time that Gordon's inherent bias against the so-called "superhuman" community had come about. Through no fault of his own, Gordon was an honest cop who had worked most of his life trying to establish order in a city full of chaos. The only times that he had frankly encountered anyone with special abilities on the streets of Gotham, they were usually the kind to try and lay waste to the men and women under his employ. The world beyond Gotham was one that he didn't fully ever understand, and The Dark Knight suspected that he wasn't a man who cared to. As far as he was concerned, there was the world that the men in capes and the superpowered individuals lived in, and then there was the real world. The fact that Gordon knew that Batman didn't possess any sort of special abilities was probably one of the only reasons that he'd come to trust the vigilante. No such complications to consider.

Though Gordon also didn't realize how needed the conversation with Director Rogers really was. The Caped Crusader was used to periods of self-doubt. It was the nature of the mission to reflect, to question everything. Fleeting moments in time where he was forced to scrutinize his own worth and assess whether he could pull himself out of the darkness. But the night that he nearly let that man fall was one that had shaken him to the core - perhaps even more than he'd known at the time. Before speaking to the Captain, Batman had considered whether it was time to re-evaluate whether he could do this anymore. Steve's words of encouragement, not to mention his fairly blunt honesty was enough to inspire the vigilante to weather the storm.

After all, he was right. It wasn't his job to keep doing this forever, as much as he had spent the years telling himself otherwise. It was his job to shepherd in the next wave of people willing to put their lives on the line to protect the innocent of Gotham. And as far as a legacy was concerned, The Batman realized that he could do alot worse than what he had. It was enough to shake him from the darkest thoughts that had kept him up that night.

"You know, speaking of the crazy times that we're living in. My daughter Barbara just received her doctorate over at Arkham."

Batman had already known this. Though he hadn't personally responded, the former Batgirl had shared her excitement over the new position with the rest of the family. There were congratulations shared, plans made to celebrate in person. The truth was, The Dark Knight didn't know how to feel about it yet. Though he would always fully support Barbara in whatever endeavor that she sought out, his growing cynicism towards the capability of Arkham Asylum to keep maniacs like The Scarecrow, Two-Face, Victor Zsasz and other regular denizens of it's hallowed halls made him wonder if her efforts weren't more useful out on the streets as Batwoman. But he wasn't one to criticize, especially when Barbara's idealistic crusade was one that he desperately wished that he could believe in.

"Congratulations. You must be proud."

The Commissioner smirked. "Oh, I am. Immensely. She strong-armed me for too many years to do something more about the situation over there, and I would always have to tell her that it wasn't a lowly cop's job to ensure that a high-security mental asylum kept it's inmates at bay. You just had to trust in the institutions that put them in place, no matter how many times they let us down. Barbara never believed that was enough."

Batman glanced over his shoulder at Gordon, who lit a fresh sample of tobacco in his pipe.

"Do you worry about her being over there? It isn't exactly the most ideal environment."

Gordon scoffed, with a light smoke billowing out of his nostrils.

"Only in as much as any father worries about his little girl. But I've learned time and time again that she's made of much sterner stuff than her old man ever was. She knew the risks long before now, and she understands any potential risk that comes with spending time among the patients. Besides, it isn't as though I could talk her out of it if I even tried. Stubborn as her mother, that one..."

The Dark Knight couldn't help but relate. He had always harbored some doubt in the idea that his own sons - whether it be Dick, Jason, Tim, or Damian - truly understood the risks necessary to embark on the same line of work that he'd trained himself to take on. When they initially became Robin, Batman had intentionally made it hard on all of them. Tried to get them to see that this path wasn't easy, that they were better off pursuing something resembling a normal life. But they each had their reasons, an unstoppable drive to keep trying to stay ahead and keep up the good fight. Even if he worried, he'd never be able to say that he hadn't been proud of them for defying his attempts to warn them and become something greater than he could've imagined.

Though in two notable cases, that journey was still a work in progress...

"Anyway, I just thought you might like to know that there's at least one doctor out there that we can both depend on. God knows, I've had my doubts about that place since the beginning. But if Barbara can make a difference with these nutjobs, maybe Arkham can still be salvaged."

The elevator dinged, indicating that they'd reached their stop. As the doors slid open, Gordon went ahead and indicated that Batman followed. Despite his apparent optimism regarding Barbara's promotion, The Dark Knight couldn't help but feel like his old friend was hiding something as they advanced. Like he was nervous and trying to use small talk to hide the true intent behind this visit. It wasn't more than a few steps forward before the vigilante felt it necessary to address the elephant in the room.

"Jim. Why are we here?"

Gordon was evasive, at first. But as they reached the end of a long hallway, he started to relent. There was hardly any point in keeping something from a man that many considered, though never himself, to be "The World's Greatest Detective".

"Three days ago, we got word from the Coast Guard that a stiff had been found in Gotham Harbor. They were conducting a routine test on the purity of the water leading into the reservoir. Scared the hell out of a couple of divers, but we eventually flushed the body out and had it returned here for forensics to I.D."

Batman raised an eyebrow. That's all?

"Those results came back this morning. And when I found out who it was, I made sure to prioritize our John Doe as a classification one. Autopsy results were to be for my eyes only, and it'll remain that way until I decide it's necessary to lift the veil. But I wanted you to see this before anyone else. The only other one to know at this point is Montoya, and I trust her to keep it quiet."

As they entered a chilled room that was practically littered with metal slabs and corpses obscured beneath white sheets, Gordon led Batman to a storage locker at the west end of the room. The Joe Doe had been marked under 'evidence', much to The Dark Knight's surprise.

"Do you remember the Moxon gang?"

Batman reacted to that, in as much as he could hardly forget.

"Lew Moxon. One of the city's earliest known gangsters. Preceded Carmine Falcone and the Maroni family by a few decades. Died of heart failure a decade ago, but lived well into his nineties."

Gordon gently pushed aside a slab on wheels that was blocking his way.

"Yeah, that guy. Well, there was a regular that Moxon used to pay to carry out a few low-level hits. We had him booked at least twice a year for thirty years, though he never quite made it to the state penitentiary. We actually thought we had him on a bigger case, once, but it turns out that there wasn't sufficient evidence to hold him. Save for an eyewitness who was stationed abroad. I heard that once Moxon cut ties, he sequestered himself in The Narrows. Became a junkie, eventually succumbed to the lifestyle. A sad end to a sad life, really."

Despite Gordon feeding him the details, The Batman was at a loss as to who he could be talking about. Most of Moxon's regulars had died well before the mobster passed away, and the few who lived remained at the criminal's side in his final days. The family had dissolved soon afterward, with their empire being absorbed by what was considered, at the time, to be Gotham's five families. Moxon's representatives had even tried to coax the head of Wayne Industries into taking a share, but he was swiftly turned away at the gate. Batman knew this because he distinctly remembered that day. Alfred had insisted on sanitizing the gates just after the man had left.

"Who was he? Did you need me to run some additional tests?"

Gordon paused, then sighed.

"No. Not really."

Opening the drawer to the storage locker, Gordon slowly pulled out a still-damp body. It had partially wasted away, the skin being translucent and all of the blood having long been evacuated from the now blued veins. Batman was actually shocked at the state of decay, given that it already told him that the body had been deceased for nearly two years. The Harbor should have easily torn what was left off of its skeleton, especially if it had been down there for that long.

Approaching the corpse from the other side, Batman immediately examined the head. An obviously old entry and exit wound stood out just left of the temple. That was sure to be what had killed the man, though The Dark Knight wondered if that was simply a way to hide the true method of expiration. Either way, the man had been clearly murdered.

"Batman, listen..."

"This man hasn't caused anyone any trouble for at least the last twenty-four months. If you're worried about whether this will start up any lingering gang war between the other families, you said it yourself, Jim. He was small-time."

Gordon's tone became harsh. "Would you just listen to me for a second?"

Looking up at his friend, Batman stood back from the body.

"I called you here because I knew you'd want to hear it from me. The victim's not just your average John Doe, and once word gets out of who he was, it'll be a media circus. I just wanted you to have a first crack at it, since it's probably in your best interest to get a lead on this."

The Dark Knight sneered.

Whatever had spooked Gordon so much about this case, the vigilante was getting tired of this.

"His name."

There was a long, almost deafening silence between the two.

"Chilton. Joseph Chilton."

And all of the world around them suddenly went mute, save for The Commissioner's next unbelievable words.

"Joe Chill."
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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Kyoka
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Kyoka Sleepy

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She-Hulk - Gamma World Tie In #3
Location - Gamma Base




Jennifer had spoken briefly to Amadeus Cho, in the short amount of time that she had to get acquainted with him she got the feeling that the young man had a heart that was in the right place, and a brain on him that quite frankly was beyond her, but his inexperience and youth left him a little lost, unfocused and unsure on what to do and how to do it. That part was something Jen had first hand experience with. In fact if Bruce hadn't been there to guide her at the start of all of this then she had no idea what would have happened.

She did her best to hand out some words of support and friendship to Amadeus, some people in her field might argue that being a super hero or whatever they would call themselves is not something that should be done. That it is a burden that is placed on certain people in this world, however Jen was of another mind, she would champion anyone who willingly stood up and wanted to make a difference. Of course if the person doing so would only be getting themselves and others hurt, that is a different matter altogether, but with Amadeus, he certainly had the strength and the wits to really make a difference.

The visit was a short one, but Jennifer made sure to promise that they could talk things over at a later date, however for now she had to send Amadeus on his way back home, because there was something going down and by the sounds of it, it was nothing good. With Amadeus here they would have another thing to distract them from sorting out whatever was going on, they just couldn't risk that at the moment.

Once the meeting had been concluded, Jennifer made her way towards the quinjet that Bruce had spoken of earlier, accompanied by the agents who had been on guard while she was speaking to Amadeus.

Jennifer listened intently to what Bruce had to say, the more scientific stuff went a bit over her head but she was able to get a basic grasp of the situation, and what a frightful situation it was.

If this isn't stopped then there could be thousands of people effected, tens of thousands even. The result of such a thing occurring was almost unthinkable. Each gamma mutation appeared to be different for each person, the outcome of such an event was almost unpredictable but one thing could easily be said about it. It would change the world forever.

Jennifer couldn't help but smirk to herself a little. Well let's hope they aren't all as tough as Bruce here, because if so... Spidey and I are in for a rough ride. As She-Hulk Jennifer was certainly what one would consider a powerhouse, even among the Super Hero community, but compared to Bruce? There was little question in her mind that when her cousin transformed and the only way to stop him was through fighting, she would likely not be able to.

Ah maybe that wouldn't be so bad. Carte Blanche to punch as hard as I can as much as I can does not present itself everyday.




Standing right outside the dome of Gamma radiation she was beside Spider-Man as Bruce stepped first straight through the 'wall' that was before them. Bruce almost immediately started to show signs that he was beginning to have an outright tussle for control between himself and the Hulk, signs that Jennifer was all too familiar with seeing.

Quickly she stepped through the 'wall' of gamma radiation to stand beside her cousin, alright transformed into the She-Hulk herself she felt a brief, pleasant sensation that coursed through her body as a wave. Jennifer never did quite understand why Gamma Radiation and things related to it felt so nice for her, almost like eating a very nice meal or enjoying an ice cold beverage when you are dying for refreshment.

Jennifer gazed into the distance hearing the sounds of pounding along with the thunder from above. Evacuation might be a bit of a pain... I'm going to hold out hope we somehow get this dome to disappear. She thought to herself as she stood silently beside her cousin. Readying herself for what was to come.
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S E A S O N O N E : H O M E C O M I N G
Location: The Xavier Institute - Westchester, New York
New Mutants #1.05

Interaction(s): @Retired


It was a locker room, not a dressing room. They called it training, not rehearsal. Yet, some part of him still felt as though the Xavier Institute operated a lot like the Murderama.

Not that he was complaining. The familiar elements helped make the rest seem somewhat less alien.

The morning classes had followed the assembly as though it had been any other day. People had whispered excitedly over the team assignments, which seemed to have created new cliques that were cause for either anguish or celebration. As for himself, Cherub couldn’t have said how he felt. Aside from that he would have preferred to have been on a team with Evan.

...who he’d only met today, and then only because Evan seemed the only one willing to talk to him.

It seemed like whoever Evan was a clone of, they both had some connection to Warren Worthington. The fact that Cherub had no idea what that connection was had made him aware of how very little he knew about the man he portrayed on the X-Babies. After all, what was there to know? Cherub was supposed to just be the X-Man Angel. It was really just about flying and looking the part.

He didn’t actually know anything about who he was supposed to be.

The blue-skinned child had changed into the black and gold ensemble that formed the uniform for when the students trained their powers under the supervision of the school. The meeting place for the team was out on the lawn, so the boy had stretched out his wings and taken to the air.

The campus fell away beneath his feet. The boy’s blond hair free and wild in the breeze as his metallic wings seemed to resonate with a peculiar hum as they flared back. As the youth was lifted up, the rapidly shrinking mansion seemed to dip. The horizon rolled in a dizzying blur, as the ground was replaced with an endless blue sky.

It was so different from the polluted smog of Mojoworld.

The horizon rolled in another dizzying blur, as the boy rotated back toward the ground. He shot down from above like a speeding bullet, sailing down and then arcing across the roof of the mansion. The peculiar hum seemed to resonate again, as the techno-organic wings flared outward as the boy arrested his momentum. The child’s body seemed to bounce upward briefly, before his wings folded in against his back and he dropped back to solid ground.

He knew three of the four – Katie, Bobby, and Sammy – mostly just because they were either in his same classes or, in the case of Bobby, because he was popular with the underclassmen. The fourth, a girl who seemed Bobby’s age, had an impatient look on her face as the blue-skinned youth walked up to the group.

The fifth was one of the teachers, though Cherub wasn’t sure he knew what she taught.

“My name is Dani Moonstar,” the woman announced. “While I am in charge of your training, you will address me by my codename; Mirage.”

At the mention of codenames, a few eyes were cast his way. To be honest, he was still confused over this idea of codenames. He hadn’t even realized Angel wasn’t Warren Worthington’s actual name. “X-Babies only have one name,” the boy offered with a shrug.

Seriously, why did these people need, like, two or three names or whatever?

“I've got several tests for you today so I can determine where you're all at individually and as a group.”

Just like the Murderama back home. She called it a test. He called it a scene.

Directing their attention to the hedge maze, the woman offered, “This maze will be the first. Earlier this morning I took it upon myself to see how fast I could make it to the center. It took me almost seven minutes.” Pausing there, she got their attention again before adding, “I'm giving you all five to make it there.”

The boy’s head just went back. Five minutes? He could fly there in under five second...

“And no powers. We're doing this the old-fashioned way.”

Oh, the boy thought. Though, now that he thought about it, he was pretty sure Katie couldn’t fly. He knew Sammy couldn’t fly. So, he supposed that wouldn’t work for everyone anyway.

At the start, it seemed two people were going in different directions. The impatient girl was off like a shot, even as Katie called after her.

Bobby was the other, who uttered something under his breath and gave a dismissive gesture as he was just walked away from the maze.

Un-believable! Katie snapped, at the realization that the teenagers had just split off on their own. Then, motioning for the two boys to follow said, “Stick together. Hopefully we catch up with Last Action Hero.”

As the trio of kids jogged into the maze, Katie asked, “Sam, Blue, either of you got any ideas?”

“Uh, one of us could see over the hedge walls if we lifted them up?” Sammy ventured aloud.

“Recon,” Katie mused with a nod, slowing to a halt as the group arrived at their first choice of which way to go. “I like it,” the girl remarked, reaching into a bush to snap off a twig.

Stooping down, the girl made an circle with an arrow pointing left. Then, straightening back up, looked at the three and said, “We mark our turns in case we get backtracked.”

“What’s the point?” Sammy asked, as the three broke into another jog through the maze. Katie marked another turn, as the boy explained, “If Dan... er, Mirage, couldn’t do it in five minutes, what chance do we have?”

“That’s not the point,” Katie offered flatly, marking a third turn and then jogging on.

“What do you mean, that’s not the point?” Sammy tossed back at the girl, throwing his arms out as he said, “That’s, like, the whole point!”

The girl shot the fish-faced mutant a brief glance as she replied, “It’s a test, right?”

The two boys exchanged a look, then both gave a nod back to the pig-tailed girl.

“What is it that you think she’s evaluating?”

“But, she said...” Sammy began.

Oh! Cherub murmured, the proverbial lightbulb going on over his head as realization of what Katie meant sank in. “Not, like, navigating the maze. But how, like, we navigate the maze.”

“Close enough,” Katie remarked, coming up to a stop. Turning back to the boys, she said, “Lift me up.”

The simple request turned into a brief demonstration of cheerleader stack techniques, after which the pig-tailed girl’s head peeked just over the top of the hedge. “We’re turned sideways right now. We need to try going right again,” Katie noted, as she hoped back down.

The kids were probably already going over four minutes, and were not going to finish anytime in the next sixty seconds.
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Olavris XI
53 Billion Lights Years from Earth


“JIMMY! JIMMY! JIMMY! JIMMY!”

The alien crowd in the arena cheered as Jimmy Olsen stood in the middle of the colosseum, dressed in full battle armor. He held his sword high above his head and yelled in triumph. At his feet was the unconscious and broken body of Bolphunga the Unrelenting. Emperor Parnivores watched the audience’s unrelenting approval with seething rage. This puny earthman had been able to defeat all the empire’s best champions again and again. Today marked his twelfth successful battle since his arrival on Olarvis.

Parnivores stood from his throne and waddled to the edge of his luxury box. Inside the small room was more food than the average person on Olavrais XI consumed in a year. He looked out at the rabid mob and their defiant hero. The games were meant to distract the hoi polloi from their problems, but this little worm seemed to be reminding them just how tenuous the emperor's grip on power was. Jimmy Olsen looked up at Parnivores and pointed the edge of his blade towards him.

“Is this the best the mighty empire has to offer?”

Jimmy spat at the ground beside Bolphunga.

“Perhaps the emperor would like to come down here and face me?”

A roar went through the crowd. Parnivores heard whistles, applause, and even jeers directed towards him. He narrowed his eyes. He was rapidly losing control of things. The time for games had passed. He looked down at Jimmy and showed the human a cruel smile. He still had one more trick up his sleeve.

“If our champion wishes for a challenge, then he shall have one.”

The emperor flashed hand signals to the men working the arena controls. The entire floor of the colosseum began to shake. Jimmy looked around confused. Somewhere from down in the bowels of the arena, something roared. Those in the crowd that knew what was coming began to fear. As they should, thought Parnivores. Was it overkill? Maybe. But he had to remind the people of this planet who their emperor was.

“Allow me to introduce the empire’s greatest weapon. The scourge that destroyed the Omixplar Uprising, the executioner of the rebellion high command, the devourer of dissidents. The Monster of Badoon.”

The iron gates leading into the arena opened and out lumbered the massive creature.



It roared at Jimmy and began to charge. Jimmy adjusted the metal bowtie on his battle armor and readied his sword.

“'Stay alive. Maybe spit some blood at the camera. Just stay alive.'”




Helena, Montana


ARGUS analyst Jasper Sitwell watched drone footage of the fight between Superman and the metahuman facial scans identified as Arthur Blackwood, a very dangerous metahuman wanted for multiple federal crimes. It was hard at times for the drone to follow what was going on down below. Superman was faster of course, CENTURION rated as Alpha-One on the metahuman scale for a reason, but Blackwood was still fast enough to make it hard to track his movements. So far they'd torn through parts of downtown Helena. Destruction wasn't ideal, but so far no other people had been harmed.

Stillwell's eyes flicked towards the corner of his computer monitor as an alert popped up on the screen.

INCOMING COMMUNICATION: ARGUS HQ

“Sitwell,” a gruff voice said through the speakers. “This is Director Waller, patch us through to your feed.”

With a few clicks of the keys Waller had full access to what Sitwell could see.




Superman’s eyes glowed bright red as he bombarded Blackwood with his laser vision. The energy shieldsBlackwood projected managed to stand up to the intense heat and force of the blasts. The two men were on opposite sides of Helena’s main street. Superman had done his best to clear out the area as they fought, even driving Blackwood away from more populated areas of downtown so police and other emergency workers could clear the area.

While Blackwood continued to protect with the shield on his left arm, his right hand he thrust outwards towards Superman. Bright purple daggers of pure energy flew from his palms and right at the Man of Steel. He broke off his laser vision attack and leapt into the air to avoid the daggers. Blackwood saw him take the bait and leapt into the air to meet him there. At the apex of the jumps, both men met and swung at each other.

The force of Blackwood’s punch rattled Superman’s teeth. He could pack a punch, alright. But the force of Superman’s blow could level buildings. Blackwood shot off to the west of the city as Superman fell backwards east. He hit the pavement hard and shot right back up, flying west to find where Blackwood had landed.

Blackwood landed in a forest area about four miles west of Helena. Superman found a grouping of fallen trees where his body had crashed through the area. But there was no sign of Blackwood. Superman floated just below the tree tops and listened hard for any vital signs. He could hear Blackwood’s heartbeat fluttering as he ran west from where he’d landed. He took off after the fleeing Blackwood. The man was moving fast, at least three times as fast as a normal human could move.

Whatever Blackwood was running towards, Superman could tell there were more people there. He counted at least three dozen more heartbeats. Was it a camping sight? More civilians meant more chances for them to endanger someone, more chances Blackwood would do something dangerous and desperate.

Superman broke through a clearing and found Blackwood. Along with thirty men in body armor and rifles. Painted on their chests was the number 100. Blackwood flashed a bloody smile on his bruised face.

“I got backup, motherfucker.”

“Good,” said Superman. His eyes began to glow red. “You’ll need every bit of it.”

The members of the 100 opened fire as Superman charged.
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&




New York City
January, 1942

“I’d rather die than talk.”

The German man stared at Wesley and Ted through swollen eyes. Heavy rope kept him tied down to the chair he sat in. A single naked lightbulb hung overhead and cast the room in harsh lighting. They were in the Queens industrial park. This seemingly empty warehouse was where they’d found the headquarters of the Fourth Reich. The man tied to the chair was SS Colonel Hans Mueller, the German war machine's foremost expert in covert operations. Wesley and Ted were dressed in full attire as The Sandman and Wildcat. Somewhere outside, there was a loud crash.

“Time’s running out, pal,” Ted said, hitting the guy with another one-two punch. The German howled as a tooth broke off in his mouth.
“Where’s the bomb?”

“Let me gas him,” said Wesley. “Just a little to get him to talk, not too much so he falls asleep.”

“We got orders from Green Lantern. He stays awake.”

Orders, thought Wesley. Like they were soldiers and Alan Scott was their general. Wesley didn’t recall signing up for that. Another thump from outside, this one closer. Wesley’s hand went to the gas gun on his hip.

“There’s not enough time. Whiz may have made light work of the Baroness, but I’m not sure Starman could handle--”

The thick metal door leading into the room groaned as it collapsed in on itself. The twisted metal door fell to the floor hard and a figure stepped over it into the room.



“Guten tag, my American friends,” Captain Nazi said in heavily accented English. “Or perhaps I should say ‘gute nacht’ to the Sandman?”

Ted entered a fighter’s stance while Wesley pulled his gas gun. He already knew the gas had little effect on the German, but it may be able to give him and Ted enough cover to fight. He was nowhere near as skilled as Wildcat, but years of study in the Far East gave him a proficiency in the martial arts. He’d try his best.

“Who shall I kill first?” Nazi asked with a raised eyebrow.

Ted answered for him as he charged with his fist held high. Nazi shook his head and prepared to hit the ex-heavyweight champ with a punch so powerful it would punch a hole through his chest. His first struck some invisible barrier and bounced the punch back. Nazi and Ted both looked around for what had caused the blow to stop.

Wesley could see what it was clearly: An ankh, large and rippling with energy, appeared between Nazi and Ted. In a blast of bright yellow light, Fate emerged.



𝕐𝕠𝕦𝕣 𝔽𝕒𝕥𝕖 𝕙𝕒𝕤 𝕒𝕣𝕣𝕚𝕧𝕖𝕕, 𝔸𝕝𝕓𝕣𝕖𝕔𝕙𝕥 𝕂𝕣𝕚𝕖𝕘𝕖𝕣.

Doctor Fate assaulted the genetically-enhanced Nazi with bolts of arcane power, as Wildcat danced around their enemy, sneaking in punches where he found openings in their enemy’s defenses.

“You’re late, Fate.” Wildcat grunted between blows.

A sorcerer is never late.” He said, throwing Captain Nazi against the warehouse’s steel structural beams with a telekinetic blast. “I was fighting Nazis in Scotland less than ten minutes ago, I would say that I made very good time getting here.

“What are Nazis doing in Scotland?” Ted asked, putting their Aryan adversary in a sleeper hold.

I think you’d sleep better at night if I didn’t tell you.

The Sandman could only laugh ruefully as Ted dropped Captain Nazi, and Wesley stepped in to gas him. Doctor Fate cast another spell, and four glowing ankhs manifested around their enemy’s wrists and ankles, holding him in place.

“Now let’s have a talk, Captain," said Wesley. "There’s a bomb somewhere in this city that will go off in an hour. Tell me where, exactly, it is and how we stop it. And speak quickly. The sands of time run swiftly.”




New York City
Now

Kent knocked loudly on the apartment door, waited five minutes for signs of life, checked his daily planner to make sure he had the correct address, and knocked loudly again.

Wesley? I know you’re alive in there. It’s only me.” He called into the door. Letting himself into the apartment would have been trivial for the most basic student of sorcery, but this was a friendly visit, which did not beget breaking into an old man’s home.

The door opened slightly after a few locks were undid. Wesley peered through the door, still with its chain lock in place, at Kent, who looked back at him expectantly. Wesley wasn’t sure when the two men had last seen each other. Their last attempt at a JSA reunion was around the 50th anniversary in 1990. He knew they’d seen each other there back then. Wesley had missed Alan Scott’s funeral, preferring to pay his respects without the attention of the press.

“Good morning… afternoon, actually,” Wesley said. “One second.”

He closed the door before unlocking the door chain and opening the door fully. He wore a Brooklyn Dodgers baseball cap on his head and his reading glasses hung down the bridge of his nose. He beckoned him into the apartment and started back down the hallway.

“Long time no see, Kent. How in god’s name do you still look younger than me?”

Some of us haven’t had the luxury of retirement.” Kent called after his friend, laughing. He hung up his hat and coat, and followed after Wesley. “Evil sorcerers, dark gods, dimensional invaders… I swear it never ends. How have you been holding up?

“I wake up, do my crossword puzzle, go to a diner, maybe the park. That’s been my life for the past thirty years.”

Wesley searched through the kitchen cabinets for mugs. The last thing he wanted to do right now was explain his last few days in detail. But, word got around. There was no doubt the whole reason he was at his door to start with was because of what happened with Sandy.

“I have some tea here in the cabinet if you’d like a cup.”

Sounds blissful.” Kent sat down, bones creaking, and sighed heavily. “That would be lovely, thank you.” He watched Wesley for a while as he fixed them each a cup of tea. He looked strong, he stood straight, and he moved purposefully; all things that one should be immensely grateful for at their age, leaving aside the supernatural forces that sustained them both. There was no cure for ennui, and Kent was immensely relieved to see his friend in good spirits.

I assume you already know why I’m here.” Kent said as Wesley filled his kettle, deciding to get the difficult part of his visit out of the way. “I’m very sorry about Sandy, he was a good sidekick, a good hero, and a good friend. Carter and Hector both send their condolences as well. Do you know when the funeral will be?

“I imagine later this week.”

Wesley took a seat across the table from Kent and laced his fingers together.

“Courtney is taking care of the arrangements for me. With… umm… Frankie now in police custody, Courtney and I are Sandy’s next of kin. Not biological, either of us. But family nonetheless. Those of us still alive and able to attend will be there. It seems at this age, Kent, it’s only the funerals that bring us all together again.”

Kent nodded thoughtfully as Wesley spoke, before adding, “I’ll endeavor to be there, and I’ll let the Halls know as well. Hector and Sandy were partners when he took over as Sandman for you, I’m sure he won’t want to miss it.

He sighed again, looking at the kettle boiling on the stove. “You’re right. It’s the only thing that breaks through the haze of nostalgia that most of us- what’s left of us- have retreated to. We’d rather just sit around in our trophy rooms and play ‘remember when’ than see another old face that reminds us of our own.” He looked back at his friend. “You look good though, Wes. I mean that. You look like you still have something to fight for.

“I sometimes wonder if that’s the case,” Wesley said as he stood.

He shuffled to the stove and began to pour the boiling water into two mugs with teabags in them.

“Next year I’ll be 113. One hundred and thirteen. I was born in 1908. I know I’m preaching to the choir on this, as it were. But how have I lived this long?”

He walked back to the table and placed the tea on the table. But he stood where he was. A look of contemplation crossed Wesley’s face. He sighed and removed his Dodgers hat. Underneath the cap, where once a white head of hair stood, was now a head of hair that was white with several spots of brown in it.

“This just started happening. My hair seems to be getting its color back, Kent. I’m going the wrong way.”

Kent stared at his tea, fussing with the bag as Wesley spoke. He thought about his own age. Chronologically he was 122 years old, just edging out Wesley but still coming in under Carter’s 125. While Nabu had frozen his age at 61, on the day that he had been chosen to become his Champion of Order, his body at this point functioned more by magical means than biological. Wards, enchantments, and alchemies had enhanced all of his natural functions to levels that defied physics, all for the explicit purpose of ensuring that he would not instantly perish when battling alien mutants and other aberrations such as the “Super Man.” Temporally, his being was likely older than his chronological age by orders of magnitude, as he had spent significant time in such realms that moved at a different timescale than Earth. Despite all of that, he still could not get his knees to stop hurting, nor his upper back, nor his shoulders, nor hands.

He felt the strain in his knees as he rose at once, looking over Wesley. He wasn’t a medical doctor, but he knew much of eastern medicine and spiritual healing. Ever the pessimist, only Wesley could complain about actually getting younger. He felt the other man’s face, running his fingertips gently over his sunken cheek. There had always been a strangeness to Wesley, he had sensed it since they first met, but he knew no more of it, and that was all he could find here.

I can’t tell you much, Wesley. It’s just you in there. Have you changed anything recently? New diet? Medication?

“Yes… actually.”

Wesley stepped away from Kent and walked back into the kitchenette. He put his hands on the counter and looked at his old friend.

“I stopped taking the sleeping pills. For the first time in nearly fifty years… the dreams are back.”

Kent looked seriously at Wesley, and then sat down, crossing one leg over the other as he looked at his friend curiously. He picked up his tea and sipped it. The Dreams… That was the strangeness about Wesley. His dreams, which Kent had always harbored a pet curiosity about. His professional nature was too strict to be overcome, but he had always desired to sit in one of Wesley’s psychic dreams in séance. Well, “psychic” was the wrong word, because Wesley wasn’t psychic, that was the strange thing about it. This was something else and the lure of the unknown had always tugged at Fate.

Well, clearly your dreams carry a vital part of you. Or you’ve been rewarded by a higher power. Or the pills were making you sick. If I knew where your dreams came from, I could give you a better guess, but I don’t wish to disturb your privacy.

Wesley looked confused for a moment. He took off his reading glasses and let them hang by the chain around his neck.

“Kent, don’t you remember what happened back in ‘54? It was me, you, Dian, Sandy, and Alan. I slept while the four of you had some kind of séance. You looked into my dreams. Dian and the others said they saw a man, skin as pale as bone, with stars for eyes staring back at them. I have no idea what you saw, but I remember you being unconscious when I awoke. You had no memory of what you’d seen in my dream, and I guess you have no memory of that even happening now.”

A cold shock ran through Kent, he looked at Wesley very seriously. There was a small tremble under his eye as he said, “Wesley, who was with you in ‘54? It couldn’t have been me. I didn’t join the JSA until ‘62.” In the fifties, before Nabu, before he became Fate, he had been an archaeologist, studying ruins and artifacts from ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.

“No,” Wesley said softly. “That’s not right. By ‘62, I was retired as The Sandman. Sandy took my spot on the JSA. Alan would have still been leading the team back then, but a lot of the first generation was retiring. I think Jack had passed the mantle to Starman on to Courtney’s father, Ted. The team pretty much faded away by the early 70’s as even the second generation lost interest.”

Wesley frowned slightly at Kent’s memories.

“What’s going on, Kent? Don’t you remember the 40’s? Fighting the Fourth Reich? FDR himself gave us presidential medals of freedom for saving the city. We lost Whizzer to Psycho Pirate in ‘47. Hold on…”

Wesley shuffled into some backroom for several minutes. When he came out, he held a framed picture in his hand.

Kent called after him, “In the forties I was in Tunisia. Rommel, the Desert Fox. A worthy foe.

“I kept very little of my Sandman stuff after I retired. Sandy had it all, and I’ve been slowly moving stuff here to my apartment. But look…”

He passed Kent a photo of the Justice Society of America. It showed Alan Scott, the Green Lantern, in the middle of the group with his arm raised and his power ring on display. Wildcat and Starman flanked him on both sides. Black Canary, Whizzer, and Hourman were to the right. To the left of Wildcat were the Sandman and… Dr. Fate.

“We took this in early 1940. Not the inaugural meeting, but the first one we had a photographer at.”

Kent accepted the photo, hands trembling slightly. He stared at it for an uncomfortably long time, before closing his eyes to perform a psychometric reading. He could feel the presence of every person that had been in the room, including himself, as well as the photo’s age. It was genuine, a completely authentic article. And the more he thought about it… He could almost feel as though he remembered this

Kent took a firm breath, collecting himself. Normally something like this he would assume to be a trick, or some temporal hiccup, but given his most recent encounter with Destiny, he was particularly wary of any possible disturbances in the past or future. Pocketing the photo, he looked back at his friend, no longer with the genial regard of Kent Nelson, but the unflinching gaze of Doctor Fate.

Wesley, I hate to cut our social call short, but this requires my prompt attention. If… this,” He made a general motion at Wesley’s face and hair. “Progresses further, especially if it gets faster, call me.” With the practiced motion of a stage magician, he produced a card from inside his sleeve. It was a shiny piece of golden foil paper with the dimensions of a business card. There was nothing written on the side Fate offered to Wesley, nor was there anything on the other side when he accepted it and turned it over.

He was half a step out the door before he stopped himself and turned back to his friend again. Kent took Wesley’s hand and put another on his shoulder. “It was good to see you, Wes. I’m very sorry about Sandy. Be well.

With that he left. Wesley, peeking through the peephole after him, saw him take two steps away from his apartment door, and vanish in a glimmer of golden light. Wesley locked his door and leaned against it, trying to comprehend all that had just happened between him and Kent. He remembered a bit of poetry from his schoolboy days that seemed to apply to both men.

“‘That is no country for old men… an aged man is but a paltry thing.’”
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Red Robin #6 - A Decent Plan
Location - Snowy Cones Ice Cream Factory, Gotham City, New Jersey.



“If you have a plan then you better tell me how you wish it to be executed.”
Robin


If there was one thing that Tim never expected to hear, it was Damian coming to him for an order. As such, the former boy wonder found himself pausing momentarily, as his mind raced to process the comment he had just heard. Finally, he released a smile. It would seem that the boy's time amongst the Titans really had changed him. He really was growing. Normally he would've gone in swinging with that sword of his, claiming his way was the only way. As such, this was a much better outcome indeed.

Swallowing the urge to make a joke about such an occasion, he gave his companion a respectful nod, before laying out what he had in mind.

"First things first, we need a way in without being seen. We enter through the deliveries entrance. Sure there are a few guys there, but a well-timed distraction should get us past..."

Red Robin's grappling hook rocketed through the skyline before them, latching into the crumbling brickwork of one of the factory's chimneys. He was already in the air by the time it made contact, with him beginning a downwards swing as the rope grew tight, his cloak billowing behind him.

His wrist flicked outwards to his right as he moved, releasing a series of projectiles out into the night. They spun rapidly as they moved towards their targets, shattering the street light just outside the factory's yard. The formulary illuminated area of concrete fell into darkness, followed by a series of confusing yelps from a small number of its occupants who had been keeping watch.

Just as Tim had predicted, the two individuals currently smoking outside of the loading bay took the bait, with them stumbling forwards towards the outer wall in an effort to discover what had just happened. In their absence, Tim descended, with him landing onto the bay with a quick roll. Satisfied that Robin had followed suit, he ducked his head as he moved under the partially closed door and into the warehouse.

"Once we're inside we need to disable Freeze's eyes and ears. Normally I'd suggest triggering a lockdown, before cutting the power with a localized EMP. Goons would be locked outside, meaning we'd have Freeze to ourselves. But he's too smart for that. He'll probably have overrides and even a backup generator. And if he doesn't? I don't want to risk accidentally disabling Nora Fries' cryo-chamber. As such, we'll just override the cameras instead."

Upon arriving in the warehouse, Red Robin towards the right wall, behind a series of crates. Poking his head out above them, his eyes scanned the room, searching out for any cameras. He soon spotted a number of them, their flashing red LEDs acting as targets. Tossing a number of small circular devices of his invention towards Robin, he gestured towards them, before scurrying stealthily towards his own targets.

The metallic discs chimed with a satisfying beep as he attached them against the side of the cameras. Once connected, the cameras were his to control, with them now outputting repeated footage from the last few nights. It was an easy trick but a necessary one.

"We'll have a lot of these cameras to disable, so I say we take a side of the building each. We loop around, before meeting in the southern corridor. That's where we'll find the entrance to where Freeze has set up shop."

Giving a nod across the room towards Damian, Tim turned towards down one of the nearby side corridors. Despite his speed, his movements were silent as he dodged and weaved from wall to wall, slotting on more of his CTV Disruptors as he went.

It was all going perfect until just after placing a disruptor, the door to the nearby restroom opened before him. A lone man, a heavy parka wrapped around his sweaty body, stepped out into the room, his hands fiddling down at his pants to do up his flies.

"Get there without being seen, and we're golden."

There was no time for Red Robin to dart into the shadows and hide. The man's eyes were already on him. He'd been spotted. Now he needed to act.

Before the man could even let out a gasp, Red Robin was jolting forward with the flat of his palm. He needed to stop the man from talking, so he collided hard against his windpipe. The goon stumbled backwards against the door, clutching his throat as a wheeze escaped him.

Then Red Robin was upon him once again.

Reaching forward with both of his hands to grab him by his jacket, Tim pushed forward with his body weight, pushing him through the door, losing his balance and causing his shoulders to disengage. With the shoulders disengaged in this manner, his arms swung open, opening himself up to the vigilante once more.

Tim yanked him back towards him, before bringing the side of his head down against his oncoming nose.

As the man's body drifted into unconsciousness, Tim helped ease them down onto the floor. Heaving, he moved him across the room, pulling him inside one of the restroom stalls, before taking a glance at the mirror. Tim let out a heavy breath, as he moved to wipe some blood from the top of his cowl.

It hadn't been a pretty job, but a necessary one.

Leaving the restroom, he continued on his route towards the southern corridor.
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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Sep
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Sep Admiral EvilScottishGuy

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It was a tense flight back to the Helicarrier from San Francisco, as soon as they touched down a couple of agents led 'Thor' through the hallways to a room that was suspended midair, massive shock absorbers attached. Not that Thor would notice it but the cage was reinforced with whatever vibranium S.HI.E.L.D had managed to acquire in the first five years of Hulk being a menace to society. Steve wasn't terribly fond of Furys concept of now 'owning' the Hulk. He valued Banners input as a friend and an ally, and he couldn't argue that the Hulk seemed to obtain his own special kind of results.

Steve was just glad that in his trip to track down the extra-dimensional entity, that Banner hadn't destroyed a large portion of a city. Steve was stood up when Thor entered the room, as the self-claimed demigod moved into the most logical seat available Steve turned around and walked towards his own chair, grabbing it by the back he spun it around and sat on it backwards facing Thor across the table. "So. I hear you want to be the King of Earth. What's that about?"
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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by TGM
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Location: Gotham City, USA
Issue: Return of the Prodigal Son - #5


“Get there without being seen, and we're golden.”
Red Robin

Drake’s suggestion was a basic assertion. Everything they did unless specifically meant to draw attention was about not being seen. It was a nonsensical comment but for once Damian decided to allow Drake to state such idiocies without mockery. If they were going to be efficient in this plan of theirs they needed to both keep their emotions under control and it seemed so easy to disrupt Drake's concentration to Damian. His retaliation for bringing up Wilson made that rather apparent.

As the two broke line of sight with each other it was something Damian made a point to remember.

It didn’t take long to deal with the cameras.

The use of hacking devices was not new to Damian—the League used them when they deemed it necessary. Assassins had adapted since the dawn of time and Damian was a very good assassin even if he didn’t do the ‘killing’ part of the task anymore. While Drake’s reliance on technology annoyed the thirteen-year-old he also knew that in situations like this there were little other options. If Damian destroyed the cameras as opposed to manipulating them they would alert the guards and Freeze to their presence. While Damian was not afraid to do battle with the entire compound, it was not the most effective way to achieve his goals.

And he would achieve them.

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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Natty
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Natty

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Red Robin #7 - A Decent Plan Fails
Location - Snowy Cones Ice Cream Factory, Gotham City, New Jersey.



It wasn't long until Red Robin found himself approaching his target. Sliding silently along the wall, he moved to the corner before him, stopping to wait for a moment as he listened for any sounds of movement. The southern corridor looked just about as dingey and run-down as the rest of the factory. Yet it was colder here, evident by the fact Tim could now see his breath before him every time he opened his mouth. That meant that he was close. That meant Mr. Freeze was close.

Tim was just grateful that his suit was insolated.

Satisfied that he couldn't hear anything, Tim finally moved his head to peep around the corner. To his surprise, he wasn't alone. Thankfully - or not quite so thankfully, depending on how you looked at it - it was only Robin, with the young teenager leaning against the wall ahead, waiting.

Releasing a smile, Tim found himself relaxing as he came out of hiding, stepping forward towards his compatriot.

"I won't lie, I honestly thought I'd have you beat." He joked, flashing Damian a smile, as his eyes examined the closed pair of double doors before them. "Have any trouble? Had to put a guy to sleep in the restroom."

"There is no contest in which you could best me." The overgrown tyke responded, stepping away from the wall and to his side. After a brief pause, he continued. “But no, unlike you, I had no trouble.

Tim stifled a laugh and shook his head in response. He wasn't used to Damian being so chatty.

He continued walking as he talked, the former boy-wonder analyzing the door and the frame around it. Cold and metal, it was certainly sturdy, yet from a proper glance, it didn't look like it was alarmed. But with Freeze, you could never be so sure.

Hedging his bets, he moved down against it. Giving Damian a quick signal to get into position, his hand slid over the handle. Metaphorically crossing his fingers, he tried to turn it, and low and behold, it turned.

They were in. Or at least would have been, if, at that moment, an ear-piercing scream hadn't hit them.

The childish shriek tore through the night like thunder, causing Red Robin to stumble against the door in surprise. He was astonished to turn his head and find a young girl stood before him. She was wrapped up in a coat several sizes too big for her, with blonde pigtails sticking out of each side of her head. Tim would've called her cute if it weren't for all the screaming she was doing as she pointed her finger towards the two vigilantes in a state of fright.

Clearly, she wasn't on the "Batman hype" like most kids her age. Which meant that now their cover was blown.

So much for that plan of his.
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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Dead Cruiser
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Dead Cruiser Dishonour Before Death Better You Than Me

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#4
E A R T H ' S M I G H T I E S T III




Thor had been somewhat impressed with the sight of the ship, parked nimbly in the narrow city street. So, Midgardians had starships now, interesting. Somehow this world continued to surprise him. This was an exciting era for this world, the impending conquest of the stars, and they would need the Allfather's blessing more than ever. With that thought in mind, he boarded the ship, ducking down so that he fit into the cramped cabin. Now that he was inside it, he was less impressed. It felt uncomfortable and primitive, and that feeling only deepened after the thing took off. While Thor figured he would probably survive falling from their altitude, he still did not like thinking about how likely it felt, and distracted himself with idle chatter.

While this envoy was not much of a conversationalist, only answering in clipped, one word sentences (if he answered at all), Thor prattled onto him none the less. He regaled the man with tales of valor and glory as he had done for the vikings in the bar he had just left. Occasionally he would subtly slip in a probe to gauge the status of Earth's defenses, such as asking Banner what Earth's planetary defenses were. He never got answers to those. After a little more chatter about his baby brother Balder, Thor snapped his fingers as he remembered something. Thunder rumbled outside.

"I haven't introduced myself still. Pardon my rudeness. I am Thor, Son of Odin, Prince of Asgard, and God of Thunder. And you? I don't want to keep calling you 'lackey.'"

Soon after, they were landing in the hangar bay of a much larger ship, and once more he was struck with a mix of appreciation for human ingenuity, as well as nausea from the unstable rocking of the ship underfoot. Stepping off the craft into the hangar, Thor noticed that all of the Midgardians around him were wearing masks, presumably to because they could not breathe at this altitude, and were tethered to the floor. Only he and Banner walked about without precautions against the thin air nor being sucked out the hangar door; Thor thought this interesting, and followed Banner through the ship's winding corridors. Mercifully the interior of this mothership was not as cramped as the craft he had arrived on, with wide halls meant to accommodate smaller vehicles and heavy machinery.

Thor did his best to keep track of his position on the ship as Banner led him along, and as far as he could tell where they stopped was somewhere on the ship's underbelly. Banner directed him into a small, bare room, with only on old man and two flimsy chairs within. There were no windows in the room, and every surface was metal. It immediately smelled like a trap to Thor, but he stepped inside anyway. He took a seat in front of the old man as he felt obliged to do, and he felt like he was sitting in a child's play-chair as it groaned under his weight.

When the old man said his piece, Thor pulled a face. "If that's what your lackey told you," he said, gesturing back toward to door to indicate Banner, "Then he's misled you, as I've said no such thing. Your Earth has had a king since long before I was born." Glancing back to the door to see if Banner was listening, he added as a whispered aside, "I would keep an eye on him anyway, he seems mistrustful."

Thor cleared his throat and straightened up in his chair, making it buckle slightly further. "Now, if you truly are the claimant lord of the Earth, or he is at least listening, and I too have not been misled, I will say this," He was about to proclaim the kingship of Odin over the Nine Realms and relieve this fool of his head, but he had a rare moment of reflection. If he had cut the envoy's head off, he wouldn't have gotten this audience. Talking had gotten him this far, maybe it could get him further. He felt very good about this idea, as it seemed to ring true with his father's order that he learn to rule justly. "I come to you as a savior, not a destroyer." Thor finished after a breath. "My father, the King of Asgard, has been King of your Earth, Midgard, for eons. Human kingdoms rise and fall, but they know how to pay tribute to the Allfather, or at least they used to. If Odin were to come here, now, he would be deathly cross with what he found, and many lives would end before his wrath was sated. It's in the best interest of you and all of your people to resume paying tribute to my father, your king."

The old man sat across from Thor did not seem impressed, studying him silently. Thor sighed heavily, running his hands through his golden hair as he tried to think of how to impress the enormity of the threat posed to them upon this man. He tried to think of what his father would do, but only conclusion he came to was to tell a long-winded story. Worth a shot, he supposed. "I have been to this world before, many times in fact, just... not lately." In truth, at the time of Thor's banishment he was already midway through a thousand-year probation on using the Bifrost due to some... overzealous escapades on Vanaheim. "Once, I rode at the side of a brilliant general of your people. We battled through your deserts on the backs of... what were they called... Ah yes, Elephants! Beasts worthy of Asgard!" He realized he was getting distracted and got back on topic. "This Midgardian conqueror was as fierce as any I've met, and I told him of the glories of Valhalla, and that he could join us in battle across the Nine Realms. You know what he did? He broke down in tears, as he had not known there were other worlds, and he had not managed to conquer one." Thor paused, seemingly for effect, but mostly because he was trying to remember his point. "What that taught me was that you Midgardians, even the champions of your people, you are not ready for what will come to your world if you do not kneel. Asgard is a power that has conquered worlds many times more powerful than your own, and if you are lucky, Odin will only send Asgard's legions, and not draw auxiliaries from the other realms under his command."

Thor once again tried to get a read on the old man, and again was getting nothing. He groaned, standing back up. "Alright, to Hel with this." Fast as a lightning bolt, he drew his axe from the space between space where Loki had hidden it, and threw it to the floor between himself and the old man. It stuck fast into the floor, its blade digging only a thin groove into the floor (much to Thor's surprise), but its exquisite construction and balance allowed it to stand on its blade regardless. The rest of Thor's disguise disappeared at that moment in a flash of greenish light, Loki's glamour pulling back to reveal Thor, the barbarian prince of Asgard, arrayed in furs and maille, iron gauntlets, a heavy golden belt, and a red cloak that whipped like a whirlwind blew through it.

"I bear you and your people no ill will, so let us make this as bloodless as possible. Send your most powerful champion to face me in battle, and when I best him, you will see that your struggle is in vain. I will show you the strength of Asgard and the wisdom of rule under the Allfather. What say you? Bring me Earth's mightiest hero."
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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Roman
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SEASON ONE Sensation & Wonder
PUNISHER #3

Featuring @John Table as NYPD Officers Clemmons and Bolt


Blood was still warm on his face when Frank left the pit. Videotape clutched in one hand, he ascended the stairs like he was climbing the shore of the river Jordan. He kept walking until he was out of the building, and then breathed deep of the fresh air. It smelt like it had always smelt; like work unfinished. Pete Castiglione was behind him now, dead in the factory down in that pit, the invisible fourth corpse. No one would mourn him. Frank wouldn't miss him. Pete had been a walking cadaver ever since Frank put down his vest over ten years ago; he'd just finally put the corpse to rest. His body screamed - he'd gotten complacent in 'retirement', and now his bones and joints ached, muscle memory working on old presumptions. But rather than resisting or ignoring the pain, he embraced it. Pain drove you. Pain meant you were alive. And Frank felt very alive.

He looked at the VHS tape still in its plastic bag, clutched in his hands. Both were splattered with blood; Frank looked back up and absentmindedly wiped his palms on his jacket. Ace. Ace had sent those men, those animals, to collect whatever filth this was. The photos were damning enough; Frank hesitated to discover what was on this tape.
Something that someone didn't want to be found. Ace?
Not Ace. Ace was stupid, and a thug, and undoubtedly possessed some unsavoury chapters of his life, but he was a middleman. He was so essentially a middleman that he had made a living of it with his security firm, being the middleman between jobs that needed muscle and muscle that needed jobs. The three men had been more muscle; the tape was just another job.

Ace lived across town, deep in the hive of Hell's Kitchen. It wouldn't be a long walk.

-


Ace's block was quiet as Frank approached, the night still dark as he arrived. He stood on the street below the building, craning his neck to look up at the windows. There was only one light on, and as Frank watched he saw a figure moving within; as it approached the window, Frank flattened against the wall as Ace slid open the window and leant out, searching up and down the street. Searching for his muscle no doubt. There was a phone pressed up against his ear. Frank had to focus to listen - but his ears were sharp.

"Nah, they ain't back yet. I told you I'd call when I had it." A pause. "Well shit, if it was that important you coulda got it yourself." Another pause. "No sir. I understand sir. I apologise. The men I got were solid men, sir. I trust them to get the job done."

Ace moved away from the window and Frank lost the conversation. Instead, he stepped away from the wall and made his way to the building's entrance. The door was locked, but Ace's buzzer rang true; he didn't even question who it was. Stupid, just like Frank knew he was. The elevator was out, but 7 flights of stairs went by quickly as Frank found himself darkly eager to visit his justice upon a man he loathed. As he reached Ace's floor, Frank's heart pounded and he had to clench and unclench his fists to keep the adrenaline at bay. As Frank pounded forcefully on the apartment door with one hand, the other went to his belt, unclipping the large, heavy torch that hung there.

Frank heard the sounds of locks being un-locked and chains being un-chained; he poised himself, stanced and ready to spring forwards on the balls of his feet. The door opened an inch - maybe two - and then Frank launched forward, crashing into the door shoulder-first and bursting it open. There was the crunch of wood-on-bone and Ace was already stumbling back, reeling as he clutched a newly-broken nose in one hand and put his other in front of him to ward Frank off. Frank kicked the door slam-shut behind him and advanced, torch held high. Ace's skin paled as he recovered and recognised his attacker; there was a brief exchange of words:

"P-Pete?!"

"Not anymore."

And then Frank brought the torch down, and Ace's world went dark.


The next morning.
NYPD Detective Oscar Clemmons watched the rain roll off the windshield of the car in steady streams. A feeling of foreboding was forming in his chest, and it grew stronger the further away from downtown Manhattan they drove. Clemmons was a housecat these days. He worked Narcotics as the esteemed warrant and affidavit processor. It was his job to overlook every scrap of paper detectives filed on drug raids and make sure all the I's were dotted and T's were crossed. He went in at nine and left at six every day, Monday through Friday. He hadn’t been on the street in a long time. And he hated every minute of it. And he knew that was just what the bosses wanted.

So… why now? Why was he being summoned to Queens?

“What do you think is going on?" Bolt asked.

Walter Bolt was the closest Clemmons had to a partner these days. The much younger detective also worked the administrative desk for Narcotics. His tour of duty was a punishment instead of a semi-retirement. The goof had ‘accidentally’ shot up his squad car one night. If not for the fact his uncle was a captain he would have already be out of the NYPD and working mall security in New Jersey. Bolt would get another chance, though, thought Clemmons. He was too young, too ambitious, too well-connected to just linger at a desk like Clemmons did. For Bolt, the position was a waystation. For Clemmons it was purgatory until he finally pulled the pin.

“I have no idea but I don’t like it,” said Clemmons. “We get called up by a captain, no less, to come out to the scene. No details given. Something is up... I just don’t like what it could mean.”

“Think this is our shot to get back into real police work?” Bolt asked, his eyebrows raised. “Getting called up to the the Show, Ozzie!”

“You’re adorable,” replied Clemmons. “But the NYPD doesn’t work like a farm league, Walt. It’s an animal. It chews you up and spits you out after a certain time. It’s still chewing you… and it spat me out a long time ago and moved on to stronger prey.”

They passed over the Queensboro Bridge and to Clemmons it felt like they were passing over some invisible point of no return. Maybe Bolt was right. This seemed heavy. Seemed important. Whatever was waiting for them in Queens, it would end his days shuffling papers in a downtown cubicle.

-


“Where the fuck is his head?” The crime tech asked the other.

"It's all over the fucking place."

Clemmons could feel the hairs standing up on the back of his neck. He looked over the gruesome crime scene in the bottom of this little cellar and felt déjà vu. He was suddenly back in Brooklyn in 2008. A group of human traffickers had been operating out of a Russian nightclub in Brighton Beach. They’d done awful stuff to the girls they imported from Eastern Europe, regardless if they were willing or not. A man went in with guns and a machete and turned the place into a goddamn abattoir. Clemmons was one of the first detectives on the scene that day. He remembered the blood and bodies and the flames… along with the skull.

His skull.

And here it was again. Just like before it was drawn in the blood of his victims. Clemmons, for the first time in nearly twenty years, craved a cigarette. Something to do with his hands and mouth. He knew his hands were shaking. He was at least holding up better than Walt. The kid had to excuse himself almost as soon as they went down into the little hidden room. Clemmons had no doubt he was puking his guts out somewhere far away from this mess.

The flash of a crime tech’s camera snapped Clemmons out of it. He shook his head slightly and observed his surroundings. Three dead men, brutally killed… one headless. The pulp and blood spray around the neck stump indicated his head had been pulverized by some blunt object. A scattered collection of photographs that were… lurid by themselves. One of the dead bodies had the misfortune of having a crowbar shoved inside of it. It stuck out of the dead man’s rectum like a flagpole. Clemmons assumed the weapon that had caved the headless body’s skull in would be the crowbar.

Clemmons took a deep breath and tried to compose himself. Two homicide detective and a white shirt looked at him sideways. The white shirt was no doubt the local precinct commander. It would only be a matter of time before more members of command made their way down to the scene

“It’s him,” Clemmons finally said, swallowing hard. “The brutality of the murders, the fact that he left jewellery, the seemingly suspicious and criminal connections of the victims, and most importantly… that….”



“Make no mistake... Frank Castle is back.”


The same morning.
Axel 'Ace' Munez woke slowly, groggily, and with a throbbing headache. His face felt sticky and warm, but it was only when he attempted to move his hand that he realised his wrists and ankles were bound by thick rope, tying him securely to the wooden chair he was sat on. Panic began to set in, and his shaky gaze whipped around his apartment looking for escape. Instead, his eyes settled on the large TV that had been moved from his front room to sit right in front of him. As his vision focused, he could make out his reflection; and then the reflection of Frank stood behind him. Ace opened his mouth to yell, but was suddenly struck on the back of the head, rocking him forward and dazing him once again; Frank moved around Ace to stand in front of him, and then wrenched his back back roughly and stuffed a tea-towel into his mouth. He followed it up with a punch to the stomach, and Ace folded over again, groaning and wheezing through the towel.

Frank stood and took a long look at Ace's beaten, bloodied frame, tied tautly to the cheap chair. Then he spat, and turned around to fiddle with the TV.
"Little surprised you still had a VCR, Axel." Frank said, sliding the tape through the flap of the machine and hitting PLAY; the flat-screen 4K TV comically burst to life with assorted static reminiscent of the 90's, before an image became clear through the pixels and scanlines. Frank moved to stand behind Ace again, who whimpered slightly as what was contained within the video became clear.

It was that pit again, except this time not abandoned, instead almost bustling with figures crammed in. Mattresses were shared by two or three bodies each, and others sat in foetal balls on un-occupied areas of floor. There was a layer of grime that touched everything, and even in the dim light the skin of the captive girls glistened with sweat and grease. The video moved through this lake of woe, wading through suffering that ranged from wailing to catatonic; then a large hand stretched out in front of the camera, ghostly and surreal in its perspective, and roughly seized one of the trafficked women. She was young. One of the youngest there.

The video cut sharply. Out of the pit now; instead, somewhere outside in the dark, the ground dirt and dust. Off in the background some rippling whites made the suggestion of the moon reflected upon the water. The chosen girl was being manhandled by two men, and a sneering laugh could be heard from behind the camera, a derisive callousness lingering hauntingly.

The men began to assault the girl, and Axel turned his head. Frank seized it in a steel grip, forcing Axel to bear witness.
"No. I want you to watch. I want you to see what these men did to those girls."
Axel watched. By the time the TV cut out to a merciful inky blackness, tears were rolling down his face. It took little more convincing from Castle for the details of his 'employers' to be handed over. All that was left was the bullet.

Axel almost welcomed it.
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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Zoey Boey
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B A T G I R L




Batgirl decided against pizza after all. She needed someone to talk at her. Sorry, Bruno. Instead, she was going to visit an old friend. One of the first people she ever truly met in Gotham. It wasn’t long after her dramatic night time escapade from the camp that saved her that Cass found herself on the brink of collapse again from the cold.

Jackie Fujikawa Yoneyama took her in first. The owner and proprietor of Jackie’s Noodles.

Making sure she wasn’t followed, Batgirl knocked on the back door of the ramen restaurant. A steel door squashed into a hollow alleyway where dumpsters and cats waited quietly.

Jackie opened the door and furrowed her brow at the woman in front of her.

“I liked your first costume better.” She said, Batgirl blinked and then looked down at her lithe, dark, armored outfit.

“What’s with the shoulder plates? Aren’t you supposed to be sneaky?” Jackie set a hand on her hip.

Batgirl raised her arm and then knocked on the metal. Glancing around she pushed her way inside.

“I didn’t invite you in. It’s impolite, Cass!” Jackie criticised, though she was smiling at the back of her guests head as she dove into the secluded kitchen. Batgirl hummed, frowning and turning to face the woman. Bats crossed her arms.

“...Fine. Batgirl.” Jackie relented with a smile.

Batgirl beamed.

“Tchuh. You sure are proud of yourself for weaseling that name off of the old Batgirl, aren’t you? Relentless little parasite, huh?”

Batgirl nodded.

“So. What brings you into my ramen shop?”

The dark vigilante extended a single, folded twenty dollar bill. A can of cheap ramen noodles cost a buck at most. Jackie rolled her eyes and accepted the money. It didn’t help that Batgirl didn’t understand the concept of change and never took the ‘free money’ when offered. Jackie would just have to donate it later, or something, since there was no way she could really accept money from this clueless kid.

Batgirl disrobed right then and there in the kitchen, piling her armor and most of her outfit in the corner. Only the skin-tight white leotard underneath her outfit, form fitting pants, and boots were on now. An odd outfit but nothing that screamed ‘I am Batgirl’.

Jackie’s Noodles was mostly empty, especially at this time of night, but a grandpa was in the corner enjoying some noodles away from it all. The place wasn’t run down, but it was definitely home-cooked. Nestled in between several other brick buildings, the restaurant had the looks of the 80’s. Not as a deliberately evocative design, but because it’s owner ran the shop back then and the old lady didn’t feel like having it changed.

Soon a steaming bowl of noodles was placed in front of the teenager. Jackie scoffed, offended and baffled, as Batgirl reached into the hot bowl with her bare fingers. Jackie smacked Batgirl on the head and she winced apologetically. The owner shoved a pair of chopsticks into Batgirl's hand and she got to work shovelling noodles into her mouth with those instead.

Waving to the other customer, Jackie sat down on the booth across from Batgirl.

“So. What’s on your mind, young one?”

Jackie blinked in surprise as Batgirl pushed the now empty bowl of noodles in front of her. Never got used to that.

Batgirl sighed and stared at the window at the street. At first she focused on the buildings, the neon, the reflection of the moon in one of the perma-puddles of the streets. Then she focused on her own image, back-lit by the restaurant.

Jackie reached into her jacket pocket and produced a small pocket dictionary type book book.

Batgirl smiled, small, and signed…

<Bored.> Her fingers moved in the intricate, recognizable patterns of ASL.

Jackie didn’t need to consult the book for that one. She’d started to learn sign language ever since she met the young Cass about a year ago.

“Bored? Bored how? Aren’t you...running around all day long? Getting into scraps?”

Batgirl nodded slowly, and then shrugged, a ‘meh’ expression on her face.

“You are a freak, you know that?” Jackie said good-naturedly, shaking her head. Batgirl giggled girlishly with an admitting nod.

Batgirl thought for a moment.

<B->

<Goo-.

Even her hand had a stutter, it felt like. Language struggled to come to her in any form, even one only using the body. Still, of everything she had learned, ASL appealed to her the most.

Jackie waited patiently.

<Goons.>

This word made the older woman squint, and she consulted the pocket dictionary for a moment.

“Goons, huh? Big man not letting you take on the heavy hitters?”

Batgirl nodded again.

“Well why don’t you just...ask him?”

The girl glanced down, poking her fingers anxiously together.

“Mmh. Here’s my advice. Actions speak louder than words, don’t they? You’ve always been that type of girl. If you think you’re ready to take on some tougher guys, then do it. Just do it.”

Batgirl’s eyes widened in surprise. Partially because she came to receive the exact opposite of that advice. Mainly because…

(Take them on! You’re invincible!)

...of that. But if even Miss Yoneyama was saying it, then maybe it really was a good idea..? Find a big bad guy and just take them on?

(No, don’t take them on. Wipe the floor with them. You don’t need superpowers, you’re already superhuman.)

“Just-” Jackie backtracked a bit. “Don’t be stupid about it. Hmm. I’m regretting giving you this advice now that I’ve seen that look on your face.”

Batgirl was bouncing slightly, but chilled out. Jackie was right. She had to be smart about this. If she went up against a more powerful villain and lost (that won’t happen) or worse, got someone else hurt (literally impossible), then she might be punished. But what if she asked, and he said no?

No, you know what? I’m gonna do it. I can win. I’m getting rusty, only fighting common street chumps.
(If you can call it fighting.)

...Maybe I should hang around someone who really might convince me otherwise. I want to be sure.

(You ARE sure!)

Yes, I am! But, maybe it can wait one more night?


Batgirl groaned, face palming. One more night of this sidelines crap sounded tortuous.

Well, it’s my own fault, isn’t it? Batman hardly knows anything about me, I’m such a shut in. Maybe if I actually tried hanging out with people they’d trust me more. Duh doi!

(Yes but, we both know you don’t like doing that. You saw it before I did. You could put both chopsticks in Jackie’s eyes and she wouldn’t even have time to blink. She’s old, frail, and slow.)


Growling, Cassandra set her hand on the table and clenched her fist. Jackie frowned, recognizing what was going on. “Sorry, young one. Must be hard for you to see the world like that.”

Frustrated, Batgirl stood up to leave. Vanishing into the kitchen, Jackie followed shortly thereafter only to see the armor and the clothes gone. She was fast. Jackie wondered how many people would dip out of social interactions if they could just disappear witohut a trace like that. Opening the door, which had somehow also closed silently, she peered up into the cool night. A cold, abandoned alley-way was her only companion.

"...That Batman ought to teach her some manners."




It had been eleven months since Bruno Tilgen had first met the Batgirl. The new Batgirl, not the old one with the red hair. Back then she wasn't Batgirl, not really, but the name politics of the Bat-Family were a mystery to the criminal world. How people learned to start calling 'Batgirl' 'Batwoman' and 'Robin' 'Red Robin' was beyond him. Did they spread the news themselves discretely? He didn't know.

Currently, Bruno was sitting in a homey little trailer house on the far outskirts of Gotham city. His hulking form was cradling a beautiful little boy. His name was Bartholomew. A white tank top covered up Bruno's dragon tattoo, which had inturn devoured those evil markings underneath. In the kitchen, Bruno's gorgeous wife Helena was cooking dinner. The TV was on, some game of football, and Bruno held a little bottle in the child's mouth. This quiet little moment...Bruno felt like he didn't deserve it. What did he do to get redeemed? Sure, he had a kid. That made him want to give up the life of crime. But what about all that hate in his heart? Where did it go off too? Bruno wondered if it was just hidden inside. Waiting for an excuse or a moment to come out.

When he first met the Batgirl (the new one, not the old one) he was nothing more than a common henchman to her, no doubt. At the time, she was no more than a kid in a set of pajamas, though, so. Maybe they were even. Of all the things Bruno had been in his life, 'humbled' wasn't one of them. Ever since he was a kid he could always rely on his fists to intimidate others and get his way. Ontop of that, his experience and self-styled training had made him a formidable opponent. More than that; one of the best bruisers in the business.

So when he was having his men beat up on a squealer, and he saw some scrawny little girl in a home-made suit, he didn't expect much.

Percival, Jamie, Leonard, and Christopher. All four of 'em were under Bruno's command. They were good, solid men for the cause. Together they were teaching a snitch, Jacob, a lesson. They were going to beat the shit out of him, and then kill him. They were well within Aryan Brotherhood territory. Infact, this little beatdown was going down right outside a bar populated entirely with white supremacists. Bruno’s Bar, named after it's proprietor. Out front, “Bruno’s” lit up the street with a flickering red neon light.

Batgirl had a sense of smell like a shark. Violence and blood always drew her in, and she always responded in kind. Bruno now knew she had a good heart, but she was not afraid to hurt people. None of those 'super heroes' were. Never mistake kindness for weakness.

All of them noticed her when Jacob noticed her. She must have let him know she was here, because if she wanted to, she could sneak up on near enough anyone. When everyone turned around, they saw her descend from some kind of narrow rope, a smile on her face...




...and they began to laugh. This immediately wiped the heroic smirk off her lips and she stood up straight, frowning (more of a pout, really) and placing her fists on her hips.

Jacob, however, was willing to take any savior he could get. If she had that bat symbol on her chest, she had to be good for something, right?

The girl cut a slash across the air, and then pointed her finger to the alleyway to the left of the encounter. 'No more', she was saying. 'Time to leave.' Backlit by the evening street at dusk, she was painted red by the stained window panes of the bar's back entrance. Chatter and music were muffled by the wall.

Even with being as deep into gang territory as they were, nobody wanted to risk shooting a gun. Sure, the floods had slowed down police response time significantly. But why push their luck? It wasn't like the good old days where one could rely on a crooked cop to look the other way. Interfering with the law was a bit riskier. No, best they take care of this quietly.

"Percy." Bruno had said. At the time, he was shirtless. Two bold, red, nazi swastikas were tattooed on his chest. Much to his shame now, he was going to have what he considered a harmless child in a costume killed. "Kill her. We don't have time for this, there's a game on."

Percy nodded. "Yes sir, right away, sir." Oh, good Lord above. Almost worse than all the violence and bloodshed was the way they LARPed as an army. Almost worse. It was just embarrassing to look back on, now.

Producing a switchblade, Percival nodded to Jamie, and he shouldered his baseball bat. Together they went to take out this would be vigilante child. Regular heroes of the human race, the both of them, as far as they were concerned. It probably helped that she was an asian girl. Sometime Bruno wondered where those boys were now. He hadn't seen them in a while.

Of course as we all know, Batgirl didn't die that day. Moving forward in a blur, she took the fight to her enemies. Percy was on her right, Jamie on her left. Sweeping one of Jamie's legs out from under him with one leg, she hopped up into the air and cannon kicked the off-balanced Jamie. He practically flew backward into the wall, smashing into it and going limp. The strike launched Batgirl right into Percy, who's knife flew useless out of his hand as she wrapped her arm around his neck and spun him right into the hard ground. Bruno blinked in surprise.

Leonard, knowing how this hero stuff worked, drew a knife from his pocket and went to take poor Jacob hostage. But the thin line went through Bruno's legs. It was sharp on the end, apparently, puncturing into Leonard's hand. Screaming out, he was pulled far, far forward, towards Bruno's legs. The big man turned around to see Batgirl but as she pulled, she flipped over Bruno and landed directly on Christopher, stomping his head into the ground. It must have been a jump of thirty feet or more, and ten feet high.

Leonard began to choke, for in a single movement with her wrist she pulled his arm up and wrapped it around his neck. A few seconds of squeezing later and he fell unconscious. All of it happened so fast Bruno couldn't act on it. Now inbetween Jacob and Bruno was Batgirl, only her limbs and a sharp wire to her name. Some utilty belt.

"...Boys!" Bruno shouted. "We got a problem!" Through the glass window, he observed the men inside starting to react.

Batgirl looked down at Jacob, and then jerked her head towards the alleyway exit on their right. Then, she whipped out her wire towards Bruno's face. The supremascist already had his hands raised defensively, and the sharp thing glanced right off his arm. Batgirl was a little surprised that she didn't even seem to draw blood. Bruno was no mutant or metahuman. But like Batgirl, his body was a weapon. He was to be one of the most dangerous men in the Fourth Reich someday. He would serve under the most powerful members of their future society. At the very least, he was already a powerful lieutenant in Gotham.

Batgirl kept up this barrage, and Jacob used the opportunity to escape. Bruno went to chase after him, but Batgirl wrapped the wire around his wrist. In a flash of movement that Batgirl seemed to predict, he pulled her towards him at high speed. A clothesline was coming her way, but the warrior curled up into a ball and pushed right off Bruno with her legs. He stumbled back, blocking it with his arm. She crashed right through the red window and into the bar. As Bruno pulled on the wire connecting the two, he realised she had severed the connection. The weapon would be of no more use to her.

Rolling to a stop, she shot up to her hands and feet. Looking at her were twenty-seven toughs preparing to investigate the commotion outside. A smart phone hooked up into a speaker system, playing country music, paused. The last song had just come to an end. Batgirl brushed some glass off her shoulders. A ceiling fan whirred. Glasses were set down. The confederate flag loomed on a wall. Football was playing, mute, on an old TV set in the corner. Corridor shaped, the bar was a long line with a main entrance, a side door, a door to the kitchen to the left of the counter, and a final door that lead to the general bathrooms. One pool table, game ongoing, was available in the corner. Besides the bar stools themselves, several round and rectangular tables were available to sit at. It was a busy night, but in these trying times, people liked coming together.

Bruno saw Jacob disappear around a distant corner. Growling, he turned away and approached the broken window. Observing the frozen scene, he made eye contact with a confused man who turned so stare at Bruno.

Picking a shard of glass out of the back of her hand, Batgirl flicked it onto the wooden floor panelling. Like a pin dropping, it broke the silence.

"Get her!" He commanded.

It happened fast. Everyone around Batgirl shot out of their seats, while people further away rose slower, the fight still a short distance away. The first of the twenty-seven men in the bar went for a straight punch directly to the side of her head. Leaning back slightly, she had it pass by the tip of her nose. Snatching it, she rotated under it and forced him to his knees. There was a pop and his arm was dislocated. A swift knee to the face silences his alarm.

Twenty-six. Thump. Batgirl smirks. A silent gesture says everything for her. ‘Come and get it.’

Music once again filled the tavern as the bartender’s phone randomly selected a song from their preferred sections.



This band, though fitting their genre, had yet to be blacklisted. It was a bit too youthful and subversive for their taste. Fun, Bruno had later found, wasn’t really allowed in their belief system. Only posturing.
Two men obliged Batgirl’s request first. One from the front, one from the back. Navigating between chairs and tables wasn’t easy in such a short notice. Everyone was going to hone in on Batgirl’s position eventually, of course.

The one behind her went to wrap his arms around her in a bearhug, but she slipped right between the narrow gap between his legs like she was made of nothing but shadows. Swiftly she kicked his groin and then his back, sending him into his compatriot. They were both down for now, but not out. Another man produced a knife, but she got to him first, chopping into his throat and then slamming his head on the table he was rising from. Twenty-five. She had to reach up a little to do it, for she was one of the shortest people in the room.

Three came at her at once. One man just wanted to bowl into her, the others intent on beating her down. Using the blade of her forearm on his shoulder blade, she stopped the tackling man and then cranked his neck, spinning him to the ground. With a rotating kick she knocked the second man backwards, ducked under the third man’s punch, and delivered a jab into his liver. Like he was hit with a bean bag gun he dropped, vomit reaching his throat. Twenty-four.

Sliding forward she elbowed the second man in the nose. Yanking him over her shoulder, she slammed him back-to-back onto the tackling man, flattening both. Dust kicked up from the ground and they both felt themselves rattle hard against the foundations of the building. Neither of them would be getting up. Twenty-two.

There was a deep chuckle to her right. Rising from his bar stool, a nearly seven foot tall man wearing a thick fur coat loomed over her. Nearly four hundred pounds of protected muscle. He took a practiced fighting position. A grin on his face. “You’re-” His knee hyperextended as her foot cracked into it. Dropping onto the other one, his raised arms were bypassed by a palm thrust to the nose that sent him reeling and unconscious to the ground. Twenty-one.

Now people were beginning to take this fight more seriously. Nobody had had much time to react or evaluate the situation. Knives, bats, and clubs were being drawn. Some toughs reached for guns.

Bruno was still outside, watching from through the broken window. In disbelief, he shouted. “Just shoot her!” But nobody wanted to risk hitting their allies. She was in the thick of them all. Normally, the fight would be over by now!

Batgirl leapt forward, going on the offensive. It truly was like being attacked by a five foot five flying rodent. One man raised his hands in anticipation, preparing to defend himself, but the moving shadow over took him. He doubled over and ate dirt, his legs hanging over his head for a moment for laying flat. Twenty. Rolling forward, she thrust her leg from a sitting position into a man’s gut. Front flipping, yet flying backwards and up, he crashed onto a table. Realistically speaking, a girl her size shouldn’t be able to produce that much power with all of her body. But here she was, delivering gunshot strikes and smashing into her enemies like they were made of paper mache.

“She’s a mutant!” One man declared, holding up his pistol.

That was nineteen. Onto the next one. Or rather, four. Indeed, four, armed with baseball bats and pipes, had finally managed to surround her. All of them swang at her at the same time, and she slipped between the blows like water between their fingers. One brought his baseball bat down on her. She punched it, meeting force with force, and for a brief baffled moment he stared down at his shattered weapon. A palm thrust to the chest knocked him out and sent him sprawling into someone else’s legs. Eighteen.

As for the other three, Batgirl crouched on one leg and spun, sweeping the legs out from under all three at once. It was like they were in the way of hazardous machinery. All of them tumbled to the ground. Wrapping her arms around the thug in the middle’s leg, she threw herself back-first on top of him and wrenched it upward, breaking it. Her fists shot out on either side at once, knocking the other two out cleanly. An elbow to the mouth silenced the painful shout of the leg-broken thug. Fifteen.

A machete came chopping towards her head from above. Trapping the blade between her palms she projected it cleanly out of its wielders hands and embedded it into the ceiling. She brought her legs up over and past her own head, flipped, pressed her palms against the floor, and propelled herself feet first into the wielders head. Sprawling, he was knocked out and she was in the air. Fourteen.

Bruno had been undergoing a struggle of his own. The reinforced steel door was locked tight, for some reason. He remembered being frustrated. He hadn’t been out there long, but from the grunts, shouts, and impact noises, his boys weren’t winning.

“Open the damn door!” Bruno growled in frustration, pounding his fist on it. The windows were too small for him to easily get through. If he dared, he felt like Batgirl would just woosh over to him and beat the hell out of him while he was still halfway in. Having underestimated her once, he was not quite stupid enough to do it again.

Another machete wielder was waiting for Batgirl’s jump arc to fall right onto the edge of his blade. But she spun in mid air and kicked it as he swung, the heel of her foot collided with the blade and bent it out of shape, knocking it out of his hands. When she landed, she charged her shoulder into his center of mess and sent him soaring over the bar counter and into the many glass bottles and the mirror. The bartender duked, and when he emerged, he produced a handgun. Of course, she was already upon him by then, wrapping her arms and legs around him.With a squeeze and a pop of his neck, he fell unconscious. Twelve.

Bruno burst down the door, his strength and speed announcing themselves to everyone in the room. They had seen her vanish behind the bar counter, and while they had a moment, seven of the twelve remaining toughs, thirteen if you counted the newly arrived Bruno, produced handguns.

“When she shows her face,” Bruno stated clearly, “waste her.”

Batgirl peaked her head up for a fraction of a second, clocking the entire room and situation without being noticed. A bottle from one of the many broken shelves was rocketed at one of the overhanging lamps. It shattered, and toughs fired their guns without target or reason. Another bottle was flung at yet another light, and Bruno realised what was going on. When the TV also broke, it was clear to all that it wouldn’t be long before the entire bar was bathed in darkness. With only the barest light from the outside night world and the distant blue light of the bartender’s phone keeping them company. That damn song was still playing, hooked up to the bar’s sound system.

Bruno, ever prepared, reached into his pouch and produced a flare. Lighting it with a pull, the chemical reactions sizzled it to life and preemptively lit up the room with a red glow. Broken glass shattered and scattered, and soon the bar was lit with nothing except that flare he had tossed onto the ground.

“I’ve got five more in here.” Bruno said, handing one flare to the guy on his left. When he did, though, he realised he was no longer there. Someone shouted in surprise and confusion. Gunshots went off, punctuating the red glow with bursts of sharp yellow. In those bursts he saw Batgirl on and in between the ceiling beams, moving manically, animalistically around the room like a flying rodent stuck in an attic. Every time he thought he spotted her, she was in a different place.

That was eleven, ten, nine. Bruno picked up a now unused gun. Flare in his hand, he lit it. “There!” He threw it at Batgirl right as she hit the ground. Four handguns were trained on her from less than twenty feet away, a light source at her feet. At that moment, she should have been toast. Bruno pulled the trigger, expecting the girl to jerk back and then slump to the ground as he’d seen so many times before. There was a cavalcade of gunfire. But then Bruno saw it. For the first time, he witnessed how she ‘saw’ them all. Saw them for who they were and everything they wanted to do and be. Their bullets tore the air, the wall, and clattered onto the street behind her. But none of them hit. Pops of yellow light illuminated her weaving between every vector of death like a thread through a needle. Easy side steps, graceful pivoting of her torso.

The man in front knew it was over when he felt her hand cusp his wrist and push the gun up towards the ceiling. A great, pulling force overtook him, willing him over her shoulder, through empty space, and crashing into the wooden and brick wall of the bar. Eight.

His gun was removed from his hand and whipped towards the man to his right, his trigger finger breaking. Batgirl had turned her back on an armed man, and surely, he thought, he had her now. But alas, she sidestepped before he pulled the trigger, and his bullet smacked into the wooden paneling. Her leg lashed out without looking, and bent his arm out of shape. Spinning, she kicked him across the face and spiralled him to the ground. Seven.

It was a full three sixty, bringing her around just in time to catch a punch heading for face. At this point the thug wasn’t surprised at the idea that this little girl could stop his jaw-dislocating punch despite being nowhere near his weight class, but feeling it was different from seeing it. It was like he punched a springboard or a sandbag, and then her fingers wrapped around his hand and pushed his wrist back, breaking it. She jammed two fingers under his ribs and he’d wake up several hours later in the gang's infirmary. Six.

Batgirl felt him before she saw him. She leapt up and over Bruno’s cut kick aimed for her back. Bruno was in the middle of the road when it came to height and size when compared to his fellow gangsters, but Batgirl had perceived that just like her, he could fight well above his weight class. He dashed underneath her to meet her while she was still in the air. But she caught onto a ceiling beam and redirected, launching herself to the ground. As Bruno closed the short gap between them, a tough launched another punch at her in the dark. Sweeping underneath a nearby round table, she emerged from the other side and kicked it up and into him, the flat of the table crushing his nose and face, sending glasses flying. Five.

At this point, Bruno knew he was running out of time. No doubt his remaining members were ready to break and run. He had to show that they could still win, which he believed they could. Now that he was probably in the fray. He grabbed the still upright table and swung it at Batgirl. She backflipped away from it, and someone who had picked up a gun fired it at her. While she managed to avoid that shot, Bruno surged forward and finally forced Batgirl to block. The blow pushed into her forearm, and through his knuckles Bruno felt the ropey, taught muscle underneath her sleeve and skin, dense and twisted.

Batgirl skidded back, and Bruno brought his fist around for another punch, and then another, and another. A quick combination of powerful blows that were all deflected or dodged, but he was on her, not letting her get away. She brought her elbow in for a counter attack, but Bruno braced himself and swung down. Both hits connected, and though it felt like he had sprinted chest first into the end of a flag pole, it was very gratifying to see Batgirl finally have to grit her teeth and take a hit.

Batgirl rolled backwards along the ground, causing a few more shots to miss. She vanished under yet another table, and Bruno realised that she had snatched up and snuffed out one of his flares as she did so. “The bathroom light!” Bruno shouted. One thug without a gun made a mad dash across the bar to try and get to the bathroom. The lights were still on in there and would light up the bar.

The round wooden table she was under propelled towards Bruno, utterly ruining a game of poker. Without hesitation he punched through it, breaking it in half around him. When it was done, he saw that she had gotten to the gunman and disabled him with a high kick. Next to him a tough scampered away, frantically attempting to block or avoid her strikes, but she pounced on top of him, pinching under his arms and sending him collapsing to the ground. Four and three. Only two of Bruno’s men remained standing.

The nearest man began to flee, putting distance between him and Batgirl. She chased him down, but a broken half of a table interrupted her. Dodging backwards, she had to reckon with Bruno who had picked up a fallen gun. Firing off two shots, she dodged both, and on the third, the gun clicked. As she approached she swatted the gun out of the air as he threw it at her. From his sheathe he produced a thick-bladed combat knife and swung it out at Batgirl, giving her pause. Cartwheeling away she crushed the last flare under her foot, submerging the bar in total darkness. In this interminable yet brief moment, the final thug finally opened the bathroom door and white light spilled into the tavern. Bruno reacted fast, slashing out at Batgirl’s abdomen. He cut fabric and drew blood, but it was a superficial wound at most.

Three, four! Two of his troops rose unsteadily to their feet, recuperating from the hits they took earlier. They wanted revenge. Bruno kept swiping with his knife, forcing the vigilante to retreat. He was too fast and too powerful to be easily countered and taken out while he had support. Light caught her face, and Bruno remembered being frustrated at the wide smile plastered there. Both recovered men scrambled to reload fallen guns and begin firing. Casting a long shadow on the ground, Batgirl took stock of the situation once more. Bruno, the biggest threat, in front of her, and a man behind him. One man far to her right, taking cover in the bathroom and guarding the light. Two injured men to her far left, loading guns.

Surprising Bruno, Batgirl’s retreat immediately stopped. He felt her hands gingerly touch the back of his bare shoulders as she flipped over his head and to his unfortunate teammate. Turning, Bruno swatted Batgirl’s trailing leg, knocking her arc off course. She landed and had to duck back from her targets defensive swing. She kicked him away and had to roll out of the way as Bruno stomped down hard on the space where her head had been. Click click, guns were loaded. Now they were aiming and waiting for their moment to fire. She had dodged towards the gunmen. Bruno’s fighting partner ducked to the ground, while Bruno braved the possibility of friendly fire to take advantage of Batgirl’s forced evasive action. Ducking under a table, she escaped from Bruno’s grab and then had to dodge out of the way as he picked it up and aimed to slam it down on her. She weaved between more gunfire, but took a hit as Bruno threw a chair at her back. With a quiet grunt she stumbled forward, and a bullet grazed her shoulder.

Bruno threw another chair and it missed, slamming into the bar counter and breaking the bartender's phone, abruptly ending the music.

She cartwheeled forward, turning just as Bruno shoulder charged into her. Pushing off of him, she backrolled gracefully, taking no damage, but found herself right between two gunmen. Acting on instinct, they both pointed their guns at her. Bruno saw the gears turning in her head. Both gunmen fired at nearly the same time. Batgirl lunged towards one, and as she did, reached out and purposefully took a bullet in the arm. It didn’t pass through somehow, her body was too durable. Bruno barely saw it happen, but later he would realise that that bullet was at an angle right where it would hit the other gunman in the head. All she could think to do at the time was sacrifice her own body, so she did.

One stopped firing as he realised his mistake, but the one she lunged at was palm thrusted up, bouncing off the wall and put down for the rest of the fight. Back to three. Bruno didn’t relent, but this time he over-extended. As he engaged in another combination of punches, she deflected one punch cleanly and chopped him in the throat. This caught Bruno off guard, and there was a rattling noise like a machine gun. Only as the pain and the breathlessness reached him did he realise that her arms were working overtime to deliver a barrage of rapid-fire blows to his bare chest. Like she was using the swastikas tattooed there as target practice. This finished with a palm thrust using her good arm that caught under his upper chest and launched him up, right to the ceiling, where he crashed into and broke one of the ceiling beams with his back. In disbelief, Bruno fell face first flat on the ground with a heavy thud, pieces of rood raining on top of him.

Batgirl held her bullet wounded arm as she casually, unmolested, dodged bullet after bullet until she literally single handedly took the man down. She broke his wrist, pulling him by the arm, and did a light thrust with her finger into his neck. He collapsed, paralyzed. That was three and four both down. There were two men left.

Plus Bruno, it turns out. Brimming with silent fury he emerged, breathless, from the pile of wood. Batgirl’s eyes widened with surprise as he managed to grab her slender neck. Squeezing her as hard as he could, he lifted her up, her legs trailing behind, and then crushed his empty hand into the floor. It took Bruno a moment to process the pain of the wood splinters in his palm, and the fact that somehow, someway, he had lost her. She’d brought up her hands to his fingers, pulled them swiftly loose, and then hooked her feet around a ceiling beam. Bruno turned and cut the empty air with a knife, fearing she would attack him from behind. Instead she traversed the ceiling beams.

Bruno tried to wheeze out a warning, but he was exhausted. Bruno’s fighting partner from earlier ran to his side to pick up another fallen gun. Batgirl’s shadow appeared directly in front of the light beaming from the bathroom. The man inside yelped and shut it, locking the thick wooden door tight. Imagine his surprise when her fist punctured the wood like a battering wrap, wrapped around his collar, and slammed his face into the door.

Batgirl turned to face the last two standing thugs. Bruno, and the one lucky guy who had avoided punishment so far. Both of them aimed semi-loaded guns in her direction. Batgirl went left as yet more shots rang out. She ducked under a table, fluttered under another, bounced off a wall into the ceiling beams and then dropped somewhere. Both of them lost sight of her in the newly restored darkness. Bruno reached for his flare again.

Thwack, crap, swish. There was an odd sound and something pushing through the air. Bruno rolled to the side, ducking behind the counter. An object whizzed past his head and cracked the wood. The lucky man ate teeth as a similar small object smashed into his mouth. He cried out, took another object in the ribs, and then two more, further sounds of snapping from the other side of the bar. He collapsed as Bruno lit his flare. Pool balls, he noticed now. Without looking, he tossed the flare into the center of the bar. Poking his bald head up over the counter, he blinked as he saw Batgirl with a pool cue, dexterously lining up a shot. She smacked the tip into the orange striped 13 ball, it nicked off the edge and careened towards him. He ducked as it smashed into the counter and bounced into the wall. Maddeningly, he heard a smug chuckle from the other side of the room.

“So.” Bruno managed to raise his voice, holding his gun up and leaning against his cover. “You save some punk snitch, come into my bar, and fuck up everyone and everything in it?” He asked. “Takin’ bullets for people? Not killin’ anyone? Comin’ at us in bat pajamas? For this fuckin’ city? Why?”

No response. “What? Got nothing to say?”

“You little bastard.” Bruno chuckled ruefully. Then, as fast as he could, he stood up and aimed his gun at Batgirl. She was closer to him, only a few feet away, having walked over while he talked. Much to his surprise, she had pulled down the confederate flag, a symbol that had no meaning to her at all, and flung it towards him, flat and flapping in the air. He fired into it, missing entirely.

Spinning through the air, she came at him feet first, so that she would land behind him while facing him. Grabbing the corners of the flag she pulled it down and wrapped it around his face. In some kind of strange visual metaphor, he was blinded by it and nearly helpless as pistol-like punches slammed into his face and nose. When he went to throw it and her off of him, she just went with it, now wrapping his legs around his torso. Like the beat of a drum, her fist rocked his skull. Each one was like a bullet.

How he stayed conscious, he’s still not sure. If he were to guess, at that moment, he simply rose to her challenge. He backed up into the wall to try and crush her against it, but only stunned himself further. She wasn’t there anymore. Silent, she landed in front of him. He tore the flag off his bloodied face. Roaring, he struck out with her. She dodged it and used her knuckle to jab into his elbow. It went limp and heavy. Then she went low, poking her finger into knee, which also went dead. His knife came out of nowhere, slicing towards her face. Effortlessly now that they were alone, she pushed the arm aside and pinched his wrist, and static filled his hand. The knife clattered to the floor, useless.

“You…” Bruno slurred. “You can’t save this city from itself. You stupid fucking hero.” He spat blood onto the yellow symbol on her chest. She regarded him silently. Backlit by the red flare, he couldn’t make out her face.

“It’s impure...corrupt...diseased. The only way it can be saved...is with fire! Our children, the real children of America will...will rise!” Bruno wasn’t sure why he was saying what he was saying, and Batgirl could tell. He was just trying to spew some party line bullshit to go down with dignity, expecting her to finish him off at any moment. But it didn’t come.

“...what? What are you waiting for? You beat the shit outta everyone else!” Bruno demanded, trying to gesticulate. He was like a puppet with some of his strings cut. He collapsed onto the wall behind him, keeping his head up.

“We’re soldiers. In a war.” Bruno kept talking, and Batgirl said nothing. The only reason Batgirl showed up was to save the man they were going to kill, and the only reason she ended up in the bar was because it was the easiest way to avoid Bruno’s attack. After that, she just lost her footing and got swept away in the river of violence. Jacob could be anywhere right now. He could be dead, even. Wasn’t she supposed to be protecting people?

Batgirl brought her hand over her bullet wounded arm.

“...how the fuck am I gonna pay for this shit?” Bruno wondered aloud, letting his head rest against the wall. He sniffed. Fallen thugs in the bar started groaning and shuffling about. With a quick scan of her eyes, Batgirl could tell they would be no threat for hours to come.

“I mean...what would've happened if I just told everyone to fuck off?” Bruno asked. “Like, instead of ‘get her’. Just told everyone to leave you alone and come later. What would you have done, huh? Play darts?” He squinted at her.

“There’s nothing in here. It’s just a place we know people don’t like to come around. We like to drink. And so you beat the shit out of us and, so what? Not like it was self defence. You could've left anytime, with how fast you were.”

Still, Batgirl said nothing. But she was listening.

“So why...did we fight? Was it...payback for all the people we killed and hurt? Pain for pain? Eye for an eye? In that case...why not just kill us?” He spat more blood onto the ground. “‘Course, that wouldn’t make a difference either. Someone would just take our place. That’s how it always goes.” He added. Criminals kill more criminals than anyone else, yet there’s always more criminals to take their place. Fresh bodies for the conveyor belt.

“...this whole thing was just fucking pointless.” Bruno concludes a rueful smile on his bloodied lips. “I guess you saved that coward Jacob, for now, huh? We were only killing him for payback, anyway. Not like he could’ve squealed twice. Took advantage of the chaos, rght? With all the flooding, people like him are vulnerable." He explained.

“What are you, anyway? Japanese? Mutant?” Bruno squinted at her in the darkness. She pulled back her hood, revealing her masked face. “You’re not like any Batgirl I’ve seen before.”

Batgirl shrugged. Bruno said nothing, and neither did she. As if to explain herself, she pinched her lips and brought her finger across them like she was closing a zipper. Before Bruno could say anything more, she left him and began to explore Bruno’s Bar. The sound of the doors to the back rooms being opened and shut broke the quiet.

Faster than he expected, she returned with a framed photograph. A photo of Bruno smiling with his wife Helena, obviously pregnant. She showed it to him.

“Yeah...you...y-you don’t get it. I’m doing this for him.” Bruno said emphatically.

Batgirl tilted her head, giving him a look that was so baffled, so utterly uncomprehending, that he recoiled in surprise. It was like he had just spoken the most profoundly inane sentence she had ever heard.

‘All of this violence you admitted was pointless. For that baby? How?’ Bruno heard his own voice reflected back on him from Batgirl. In that moment she saw his paradoxical thinking laid bare, his soul all twisted with self-inflicted evil and violence, lashing out at the world for reasons it didn’t understand.

Rage flared up in Bruno’s heart. “Just get the fuck out of here!” Bruno shouted, strained. “Don’t bring my family into this, you fucker! Next time I see you, I’ll kill you!” Batgirl retracted.

“I’ll skin you alive and mount your head on my wall, you bitch!” He coughed. “Fuck off! Go away!”

Slowly, Batgirl receded, backing away from his insults and angered shouts. On the far side of the bar, a man clumsily clambered onto all fours. The masked girl pushed open the front door and vanished into the night.

That was how it started.

Thankfully, he later learned that she tracked down Jacob and escorted him safely out of Gotham, where he was never seen or heard from again. At least, not by his people.

“Bruno?” Helena’s sweet voice floated in from the kitchen, tinged with concern. He snapped away, realising he had drifted off.

“There’s someone outside.” She peaked through the blinds. “I think it’s…” Helena trailed off.

“Take junior here.” Bruno said, serious. Walking into the condition, he handed their child off to her. He, too, peaked through the blinds.

Percival, Jamie, Leonard, and Christopher. All four of them, his most loyal men, had found his humble abode. Narrowing his eyes, Bruno said to his wife, “Hide in the bathtub. I’ll take care of this.”

“Bruno…” Helena said. Bruno looked at her.

“Be careful. For our boy.”

Nodding, Bruno planted a kiss on her forehead and went to meet his ex-fellows outside. First, he opened the screen door, and then, the metal door on the outside. Grey clouds hung overhead, the sun breaking through and casting rays of light onto the Earth below.

“Colonel Bruno,” Percival said, a cigarette in his mouth. “Where have you been? The cause needs you, brother.”

“I’m retired.” Bruno replied simply. “Everyone else from the Bar has moved on.” Bruno could say that, now that he paid Batgirl to rescue Trent. Officially, his chapter of the ‘Aryan brotherhood’ was disbanded. “And you should, too.”

“Come on, now. Don’t be like that.” Percival, that sleazeball, moved his cigarette from one side of his mouth to the other.

“You’re one of the all time greats. Don’t throw it away for...for some girl!”

Bruno narrowed his eyes. “I have a family now. And I’m retired.”

“...Think of it this way, Bruno.” Percival said, his crew straightening behind him. “The One Hundred could use you, Bruno. And with what you’ve done, you’ve set back the Day of the Rope by ten years or more. Your little vanishing act can’t go unanswered, can it? Please, Colonel. Come on home. To your true family.”

He could see it in their eyes. They had thought he’d gone soft. Underestimated him. Killing, vengeful intent. Bruno was setting a bad example for the troops, was he?

“You know...” Bruno said, watching them reach into their waistbands. They thought they were so smart, so subtle. “I’ve given up violence." His eyes darkened. "But I'm not that out of practice."

Bruno was upon Percival faster than they expected. His gun went off into the dirt. Hoisted by the shoulders, the stronger Bruno threw him into his fellows, knocking all four prone. Guns were scattered, but Leonard and Christopher maintained hold. They might be fast enough to draw on him! Bruno ran forward, rage filling his heart.

“Leave, my, HOOOOOOOOME!” Bruno’s shout turned into a beastial roar.

Burning red hot, a great gout of flame rose up from Bruno’s chest. From his mouth it erupted, heavy and burning like magma. Descending upon all four members, they shrieked in agony as they were incinerated, no, melted.

Skidding to a halt, Bruno fell onto his back and pushed himself away from the on-the-spot funeral pyre. The scent of roasted flesh filled his nose. Eyes like saucers, sweat on his forehead, Bruno just watched as his ex-comrades turned to ash in front of his very eyes.

“...What...in the fuck?”

He was in trouble.
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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Sep
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Sep Admiral EvilScottishGuy

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Steve didn't even flinch as the Demi-God transformed in front of him, rose up a axe and slammed it down on the ground. It made more of a dent than he thought it would but didn't break through the cage. "You were not misled, you just didn't listen. Earth is not one people, there is no King of Earth, there are Presidents, Prime Ministers, Kings, Queens, Chancellors, Chief Executives, First Ministers... at no point in history Earth has been united as one front."

Steve stood up, signalling 'Okay' to one of the cameras. "You come claiming peace, to be a force for good and yet you come demanding that we kneel in servitude and that it is for our benefit. Then you go on to say how your father will merely conquer us if we don't fall in line. We've already staved off one alien invasion."

Steve sighed. "You claim to say you want what's best for us, say you understand us but even a thousand years ago Earth was a divided planet with hundreds if not thousands of religions. We even have a hero who comes from an Island forged by the Greek Gods." Steve worked his way towards the door, turning back face Thor. "If you truly come in peace, this is your last chance to stand down and talk to us, or go back where you came from. If you're here to conquer. We'll treat you as such."
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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Hillan
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Hillan I'm a writer - Lying's what we do.

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Previously: Something Ends
Chapter 2: Something Begins


Their pact was made, the sacrament had been signed. By the laws that held the very foundation of the universe together, the contract was ironclad. And from this union, the dead witch rose in a pillar of flames from her altar. The building was shaking with the presence of the demon overlord Trigon who tried to make his triumphant return, only to be foiled at the last moment. Where once a girl had laid, instead of a being not quite mortal, yet not quite divine stood. The flaming pillar erupted as the silhouette became clearer, revealing the yellow flames ordaining the naked cranium of the dealer of divine justice.

The feeling? It wasn't possible to explain. It felt like everything at once, the girl understood she wasn't in control anymore. Filled with holy fervor, she could smell everything all around her, all of the sin surrounding her, and in this congregation of Satanists, sin was plenty. They were killers, abusers, liars, rapists, sadists, and every other mortal sin you could imagine, all while pretending to be her family, her community. For once in her life, the girl who had been known as Raven got to let go of that tight leash she had always held on to her feelings. She wasn't afraid of her father using this moment of supposed weakness to bring an end to the world. She trusted the power of her pact, and while it locked her in a new form of bondage, it came with a sense of freedom she had never felt before. That knot in her stomach became unleashed the anchors she had put on all of that happiness, all of those moments of true bliss she had ignored out of fear, all of the laughs she had muffled. The tears she had held back, the sorrow she had hidden, and the anger she had choked.

It overcame her, while she wasn't in the possession of eyelids anymore, the flame burnt brighter as she looked around the scene, finding the preacher scorched on the ground, two of the other congregation members on the ground, shocked. Their red, demonic eyes filled with surprise. Raven felt her body move on its own accord, and she let go. Giving in to that anger she had never been allowed to feel. Every tantrum she had wanted to throw, was all unleashed. Her body was engulfed in righteous flames, fed by her anger she leaped from her altar and pounced on the closest demon. Her high school teacher Miss Dodds. She grabbed the math teacher by the neck and felt her neck snap under the strength of her fingers, yet still keeping on moving, Trigon's influence keeping the vessel alive. With but a thought, the being in charge of her body lit Miss Dodds on fire and she was reduced to ash in mere seconds.

Six came at here, six were turned to dust by an outstretched arm and hellfire being spouted from her palm. One of the chains that had bound her previously found its way to her hand, she used it to lasso another one of her assaulters. She felt her bloodlust increase, she wanted to punish the wicked. Her ballet teacher, Svetlana used her demonic fangs to bite the Rider in her arm, drawing a drop of blood that soon turned out to be poisonous to the demon, burning her mouth from the inside out till there was naught but a gaping hole in Svetlana's face.

"She is MINE!" The demon roared as Nicholas Reese, the Jock in Raven's high school and the boy who was her first kiss grabbed her from behind, trying to hold her, Trigons voice shaking the building. Raven's burning skull headbutted the boy from behind, the six eyes blinded by the fire. He roared as Raven's body was freed from the grip, the chain was ignited in the fire as it whipped through the air, cutting the boy's left arm clean off, curling the chain around his neck as the arm fell to the ground. Dragging the boy's body to his knees, The Rider placed her hand onto his forehead.

"I'll sear you to your soul. Trigon should feel that." As his eyes lit up in orange and then yellow, before being engulfed by flames, a human voice crying out in pain in the last second. Raven's mind registered the change in tone, yet felt her anger growing. Three more came at her, attacking, her body moved, dodged, and brutally killed all of them in naught but a few seconds. As she felt their blood burning on her skull, something in her started to change. Her anger started tapering off... Was this... Truly justice?

Her burning chain-whip found its way around the neck of Eli River. When Raven was 9, he had been her best friend in the world, and the first person she had shown her magic to. He had told her that her powers could be used for good. Yet, her father's influence left Eli clawing and scratching at her, even while subdued. Her hand rose and was coated in holy fire, about to destroy him, demon and mortal soul.

"Wait..." Raven tried to stop for a second.
"His soul is wicked, that's why Trigon could get his roots in. He must be cleansed!" Her mouth spoke with a voice not her own, as she felt her hand sear through the 17-year-olds neck. Raven felt that anger sour into a different emotion. She didn't want this.

In the corner, she saw the remaining 10 or so gathered, holding the dagger that had penetrated her heart earlier, bloodletting each other with it, one of them consuming the other's blood as the rider walked towards them, each step of her feet leaving a burning footprint behind. The chain whirling around her as she attacked, only to find the face of her mother covered in demon blood, as her eyes grew brighter and then darker, as red wings spurred from her back and horns grew in her forehead.

"We're not angry. We're just very disappointed!" Both her father and mother's voice echoed at once from the body of her mother, the demon attacking the joined forces of Raven and the Spirit Of Vengeance. They traded blows, the Rider tearing parts off of the demon with each strike, Raven wanting to hold back, she wanted to save her mother. Cutting off her one wing, Trigon's voice cried out in pain, an arm and then her horns, leaving her with but one wing and one arm. Which the Rider easily got a holdoff and began pulling on, in each direction, each second the desperation of Trigon's last vessel became ever more apparent.

Raven begged the spirit to stop. They had won, Trigon was beaten back. Just spare her mother.

"Please!" Raven's soul cried.
"Vengeance shall be mine!" The Ghost Rider retorted as Raven felt her own hands tear her mother in half. And another surge of all of those emotions came at Raven. Her Astral Self was projected as she felt the blood of her mom flood her, and as the astral projection took the shape of a blackbird and then into herself, the room went black, all of the lights, the fires went out, including the one coating Raven's own body, just a girl and a bunch of bodies in the dark, destroyed and burnt crypt.

Next:... The Caretaker And How Raven Got Her Wheels

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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by webboysurf
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webboysurf

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Location: Lower East Side, Manhattan - New York City
Something Sinister #1.03: Can't I catch a break?

Interaction(s): None


Peter grunted as he rolled over the side of the rooftop towards an alley, plummeting towards the ground after being thrown some fifty yards by Doc Ock. Instinctively, Pete raised both his arms and fired off two weblines to catch himself between the two buildings on his right and left. His muscles strained to catch him, already beginning to burn from exhaustion. He barely had a second to catch his breath when he felt a familiar tingling sensation running up his spine behind him. Learning from his mistake, he released his left line to swing right, spinning around to face the street entrance of the alley. Vulture had tucked his wings and was attempting to tackle Spider-Man in mid-air, but Pete still had some speed and energy left in him. He lifted his left wrist to fire a quick spray of webbing into Vulture's face, blinding his adversary temporarily. Adrian Toomes cried out in surprise and extended his wings, which began scrapping along the sides of the narrow alley. Pete smiled as he released his current webline upon impacting against the wall, and kicked off to tackle the Vulture. "Come on, Adrian, I've done that to you so many times. How do you still keep falling for it?"

Spider-Man latched on to his adversary, alternating hands to fire off webbing against the nearby walls and attaching them to his adversary. Vulture desperately tried to spin around in the alley, but his wings didn't afford him much maneuverability in such a confined space. Spider-Man's eyes scanned over Vulture's flight suit, his HUD highlighting the wiring and helping the engineer to make sense of the technology he was seeing. Peter eyed a few wires, and shrugged as he pried back some of the armor plating and pulled on a couple of wires. Suddenly, the jetpack on Vulture's back fired its thrusters and the two accelerated upwards... only to suddenly slow and strain against the web trap Spider-Man had lain. As the threads began to tear, Spider-Man reached back in towards the exposed wiring with both hands as he looped one leg around Adrian's arm to keep steady. He sighed and pushed the copper ends of the wires back towards their connectors, praying he had enough of an understanding of the system. To his luck, Vulture's thrusters were cut and the two were suddenly shot back towards the ground. Spider-Man rolled over Vulture's body and kicked off his adversary to try and land on the adjacent rooftop.

Of course, Peter was too focused on his maneuver to trust in his instincts. He felt a tingle running up his arm that he assumed was just a jolt of electricity. Now he knew it was a warning as a long mechanical arm had wrapped around his torso as he suddenly felt a sharp pain in his chest. Spider-Man watched as another tentacle had extended down into the alleyway to catch the Vulture before he impacted against the ground, lifting the villain up and setting him on the rooftop. Doctor Otto Octavius smiled at his arch nemesis in his clutches, powerless against his enhanced prosthetics. "Your old tricks won't work on me, Spider-Man. I've been waiting for this."

Spider-Man was pushed down and backwards into the wall of the building on the opposite side of the alley, the brick bending and bowing to the great force demonstrated. Two of Ock's arms moved of their own volition towards the Vulture, and exposed soldering irons to quickly patch up Adrian's flight suit. Spider-Man got his legs beneath him and quickly pushed off from the wall with great force to try and knock Ock off balance, but found instead that Ock's other tentacle arm came in at the last second to grasp Spider-Man's right leg by digging into his calf and yanking him down. The two arms worked in tandem to pull the hero away from the wall and stretch out his leg, with Peter screaming in pain at the sudden strain on his muscles. Leaning into his instincts and summoning all of the strength he had, Peter reached up and pried back the appendage wrapped around his chest. Doc Ock kept a bemused smirk on his face as his eye twitched in acknowledgement of the pain his limb was being caused. With his chest free, Spider-Man fired a webline down towards an old metal trash can lid in the alley below and yanked it up to his hands as he began dangling from Doc Ock's tentacle. Spider-Man slammed the trash can lid into the arm in between two of the expandable segments that formed the mechanical arms. As a result of cognitive feedback, the claws at the end of the arm retracted and Spider-Man began falling once again. He reached out and fired out a quick webline to pull him to the opposite wall from his adversaries, clinging on with his feet and one arm as he looked back at them. His breathing had become shallow as he felt the sting of blood pooling from the wounds in his chest and leg. "Come on, Doc... I'm gonna have to sew this back together."

The Vulture stood back up to his full height and extended his mechanical wings out, the independent shards of metal resembling feathers reflecting in the daylight. "Why don't we give this another go, Otto? Squash this bug once and for all?"

Doc Ock smirked for a moment, before tilting his head and lifting one of his human fingers towards his ear. He looked away from the others for a moment as he focused in on what he was hearing over the comms, and shook his head in frustration. "It's not part of the plan, Toomes. Take him to see our mutual friend."

Peter's spine tingled and he attempted to launch himself from the rooftop, but Ock's reaction speed with the tentacles was faster than the hero remembered. As Spider-Man had begun twirling through the air, the mechanical limbs grasped his wrists and held him aloft as Toomes charged forward, mechanical talons on his feet latching onto Spider-Man to keep his arms in place as Vulture took off Southwest towards Greenwich. Peter struggled in his uncomfortable captivity as he looked up at the Vulture. "Taking orders from Otto now? I thought you didn't work for anyone, Adrian."

Spider-Man felt the talons dig in a little deeper in response as the Vulture soared briefly over the New York Skyline, before ultimately diving down towards the city streets. "I'm not taking orders from nobody, Spider-Man. But we can talk this over more once you've been eaten."

Peter opened his mouth to speak, but found no words as he desperately tried to process Adrian's words. That is, until his train of thought was interrupted by the sign of absolute chaos below. Standing in the center of Empire State University's Main Quad was a hulking being made of writhing red fibers known as a symbiote. Or, more accurately in this case, a very specific symbiote by the name of Carnage. Peter's jaw screwed shut as he watched Carnage's arm transform into a spear and extend through the police barricade, impaling a police officer and pulling him closer. Carnage's jaw unhinged and grew in size as his tongue slithered out to carress the officer's face.

Spider-Man felt the talons begin to loosen as Toomes hovered above the scene below, and Peter took the opportunity to flex and push out from his grapple. He rolled into a dive straight down with his arms at his sides to begin closing the distance, before spinning in the air to deliver a powerful kick towards Carnage's head. Of course, Carnage simply turned his head to face the Spider-Man and closed his jaw. The symbiote tossed the officer across the lawn with a quick flick, and a dozen small tentacles shot out from Carnage's chest to wrap themselves around the hero as he got close. The tentacles pulled Spider-Man away in unison as his foot got within a few inches, and flicked the hero with tremendous force backwards into a granite sign that bore the name of the University. Spider-Man's body shattered the hard stone and sent searing pain up his back. Spider-Man rolled along the pavement of the main sidewalk for a few feet before coming to a stop on his face. Peter turned his gaze back towards Carnage, his mask wet with blood around his lips and his muscles aching in pain that begged for surrender. But Peter Parker got his hands underneath him and pushed himself back up onto his feet slowly. His breathing was labored after spending the better part of the last half-hour fighting the Vulture and Doc Ock across the Midtown skyline. "You're working with people again, Cletus? Didn't work out last time, did it?"

As expected, that provoked an attack. Spider-Man ducked and pivoted as Carnage's spear arm launched forward. This bought Spider-Man enough time to reach up towards his earpiece, tapping the communicator twice to patch him in to the local SHIELD broadcast. "This is Avenger 004 calling for immediate backup. Carnage on site... not sure how long I can hold him." Peter rolled out of the way as Carnage's extended appendage swung violently in his direction upon missing his first attack. When this too failed, the villain shrieked in frustration.

"Spider-Man, your situation has been deemed a class 2 priority. Stand-by."

Peter's shoulders slumped slightly in momentary defeat. One of the most dangerous and cannibalistic villains Spider-Man ever faced was wreaking havoc in the heart of New York City, and it still wasn't deemed important enough for immediate support. Carnage bound towards his adversary as Spider-Man fired a webline at Carnage to pull himself closer. Just as Carnage's hands reached out to grasp Peter, the hero slid along the pavement underneath the monster and sprung up on the other side. Spider-Man jumped horizontally to deliver a swift dropkick into Carnage's back, but it seemed to do little more than to cause the creature to stumble. The symbiote turned its head back to face the Spider, and Pete gave a small sigh as he backflipped into a more advantageous position on top of what remained of the granite sign. "Come on, Cletus. What do you have to gain from working with the rest of the Raft's petting zoo?"

Cletus didn't seem to be in a talkative mood, as his response was to launch both arms into the granite sign below Peter and pull himself towards the hero with great speed. Spider-Man jumped high into the air to try and dodge the charge, but Carnage seemed to read the play. A couple tentacles bolted out towards the Spider's foot and caught him in mid-air, cutting his momentum and forcing the hero to take the charge from the massive beast. Carnage pinned Spider-Man to the ground with his left hand, while the right hand's fingers sharpened into spindly claws. With a flash of speed, the symbiote dug the claws into Peter's abdomen. Spider-Man gasped for breath at the sudden piercing pain, reaching a free arm out to try and punch Carnage's arm to let him go. This only angered the symbiote, which responded in kind by twisting and pulling out the clawed hand. Carnage's slithering tongue coiled around the clawed hand to lick up the dripping blood as Peter felt his vision begin to blur. The last thing Peter saw as he desperately tried to cling on to consciousness was Carnage's unhinging jaw drawing near.

That, and a brief flash of movement out of the corner of his eye on the rooftop of ESU's Administrative Building.




Location: The Gamma Dome - Las Vegas, Nevada
Gamma World Tie-In #1.02: Under the Dome

Interaction(s): Hulk @Sep, She-Hulk @Kyoka


Peter finished zipping up the front of his radiation suit and patched up the velcro to keep it secure. The suit was bulky and uncomfortable, which was a far cry from the usual suits he sported. But he took it in stride nonetheless. Banner knew what we was talking about when it came to Gamma radiation, and turning into a large green monster whenever he was inconvenienced would definitely harm his whole "Friendly-Neighborhood" brand. So Spider-Man wore the inflexible radiation suit nonetheless, slapping his webshooters and a retractable adhesive sleeve over his gloves. While not ideal, they would work in a pinch to keep him mobile.

He had never really known Jennifer or Bruce well. Banner, while a member of the Avengers, seemed to prefer being left to his own devices. Besides, Peter always seemed to busy for social visits to his fellow Avengers. He never really saw anyone unless he was working. Speaking of which, he was reminded once again what he was here to do as the scientists skittered out of the ship upon landing. They were busy setting up their equipment, ready to do their jobs. And as they were, Peter realized he was drastically underqualified for something like this. Gamma monsters were a specialty for the Hulk and Banner, and She-Hulk seemed to be able to handle her own. Something told Peter that a few flips and webs weren't going to be able to solve this problem. But it was definitely worth a shot.

Entering the dome was strange. Passing through the green wall had some resistance to it, almost as if passing through a semi-permeable barrier. Probably because that is exactly what this was in a literal sense, if not the scientific. But a more emotional weight fell on him at the realization the very air outside of his suit was dangerous. A small display appeared at the very edge of the HUD for his costume's lens, feeding readings of the radiation levels inside and outside of his radiation suit. His gaze turned towards Banner, who seemed to be beginning his transformation. He gave a quick look to Jennifer, knowing from history he would have a better time reasoning with Walters than the big guy. "We should probably get an idea of what we're working with in here, so it might help if I can get a higher vantage point and scope out visually. Try to find us the quickest path to where we're going. Thoughts?"
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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by John Table
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Olavris XI
53 Billion Lights Years from Earth


Jimmy Olsen looked around at the faces gathered before him here in the Imperial Palace. They were as diverse a group as anything this palace had ever seen walk through its marble floor. They each represented every one of the various races, social classes, and religious beliefs that Olvaris XI contained. And Jimmy had needed everyone of them and their support in the war against Parnivores. The hard fought and bloody revolution had been waged in every city, neighborhood, and home across the planet. And how here they were inside the palace. Parnivores had fled shortly before Jimmy and his generals took the capital city, but everyone knew it was a matter of time before the emperor was caught.

The gladiator turned revolutionary nodded slowly at his troops. He still only knew so little about this planet, but even he was aware of the incredible feat his coalition had been. Tribes and races had put aside centuries and millennia of bad blood to unite under his banner. It was truly inspirational to him. He just regretted that he couldn’t put it on his resume.

“The war is over, but now comes the hard part,” said Jimmy. “History on my planet has shown when the revolutionaries become the government, they eventually morph into something just as bad as the power they overthrew. It happened with the French, the Bolsheviks, Paul Atreides from Dune, and even the New England Patriots who were scrappy underdogs once upon a time…”

He paused and gave them a gentle smile.

“But I know, in my heart, that the bonds we forged in the heat of war are strong enough to last through the new peace and the new status quo. You all showed me that no matter your skin color, your genetic code, your social status, or what gods you keep, you care about the fate of Olvaris XI. And those differences can be put aside for the wellbeing of the planet. I believe in each and everyone of you, your ability to do the right thing. That's how we make sure what comes next will be far more better and representative than what came before. And it is with that mindset we need to go forward and make this planet a--”

A chiming noise coming from Jimmy’s wrist cut him short. He looked at the signal watch strapped to his wrist and cleared his throat.

“I… have to go. Sorry, guys. Best of luck!”

He fiddled with the watch for a moment before he disappeared in a flash of bright blue light. The generals looked around at each other in what was becoming an awkward moment of silence.

“Sssso…,” a green skinned snake man hissed. “Uniting for a better Olvarisssss…”

The snake man suddenly pulled his blaster, along with the other generals. The group opened fire on one another all at once.




Washington D.C.


Calvin and Lois sat in the backseat of the limo with Pete Ross as the motorcade pulled onto 17th Street. The drive from The White House to Capitol Hill was a short one, though the heavy security that flanked the presidential limo meant it would be twice as long before they reached their destination.

“Jimmy fielded questions from the press this morning about last night’s event in Montana,” said Pete.

“He is the world’s foremost expert on Superman,” said Lois. She paused and gave her husband a smile. “Well… second most?”

“Something like that,” Calvin said to Lois. He looked at Pete. “Were they trying to get Jimmy to give them some kind of angle?”

“Trying to get his opinion on Superman playing politics,” said Pete. “But he knocked it out of the park. I can’t remember his exact words, but it was like criminals with political agendas are still criminals. Blackwood and the 100 are no different than the Atomic Skull.”

“He also went on some weird tangent about the nature of change and how nobody or nothing really changes when a reporter asked about our renovations to the Roosevelt Room,” said Lois. “I don’t know what that was about.”

Calvin shrugged. Sounded like Jimmy being Jimmy. He’d seen the news about his actions in Montana. ARGUS and FBI agents rounded up Blackwood and the armed members of the 100 after Superman was done with them. Overall it seemed Pete’s concerns were unfounded. There were of course those in the fringe media who scrutinized the actions of Superman, but they would do that no matter what. Superman had attacked a well-regulated and lawful militia, one commentator said, and he argued with the slippery slope who might be next. But Calvin saw what Blackwood had been dispatched to Montana to do. There was no way in the world you could argue he and his cohorts were anything close to peaceful.

“Cal,” Lois said, her hand reaching out to take his. “You look nervous.”

“I am nervous. Eyes of the world are about to be on me.”

Calvin looked past Pete towards the driver partition. It was closed and locked. Utterly soundproof.

“Before it was different. As Superman I don’t have to worry about big speeches. I just show up, save the day, and fly off. Tonight I have to convince the world with my words, and knowing full well that for about half the people watching it won’t make a bit of difference what I say.”

Pete held his hand up and started to search through his suit coat with his other hand. He pulled a cellphone from his pocket and answered it. After a moment, he glanced towards Calvin and passed him the phone.

“It’s for you.”

“Mr. President,” the baritone voice of Senator Morgan Edge said through the phone. “Can’t wait to see the speech tonight. I wish you well. Any jitters?”

“The normal stuff,” Calvin replied coolly. “I know you’ve gotten out of the habit of making much in the way of speeches, senator. You just kind of keep getting reelected no matter what.”

“I have a very loyal and grateful constituency back in Metropolis,” replied Edge. “I mean, you remember that first senate race? What was that your paper called me? Metropolis’ crime boss?”

“‘Crime Boss Tries New Racket: Politics.’ That was the Daily Planet headline, I believe.”

“Yep. All that mudslinging from you, your wife, and the paper and yet I still won. And I kept winning.”

“Any reason for this… social call?” Calvin asked tightly.

“Yes, actually. I want to give you a peace offering, of sorts. I know tonight you’re naming your supreme court pick. And I also know you had three names on your shortlist. I’m fine with two of them. But If you pick Justice Glastonberry, Mr. President, I will make it my mission to see that nomination goes down in flames. I will grant you Justice Woods as a nice compromise. He’s just moderate enough for me to stomach, and Judge Harrison wouldn’t be on the court long enough to really do that much damage. Any one of those two, Mr. President.”

“Is this the advice and consent portion of the Constitution coming to life?”

Edge chuckled deeply.

“It’s just me trying to help you out, Mr. President. You get your SCOTUS pick through and we both look good as bi-partisan allies.”

“But only on your terms.”

“That’s how negotiations work,” replied Edge. “The more powerful party tends to set the terms.”

Calvin didn’t respond. He saw both Lois and Pete watching his conversation with rapt attention.

“Thank you for your kind words, Senator. I’ll see you tonight.”




“Madame Speaker… the President of the United States!”

The sergeant at arms stepped aside to let Calvin make his way down the aisle of the House of Representatives Chamber towards the triple dais. The crowd erupted in applause as Calvin started down the aisle. He stopped here and there to shake hands and say hello to those on the aisles. He gave half-hearted welcomes and greetings. His mind was on the speech ahead, as well as Edge’s words. Despite all his talks about sticking to his guns… a guaranteed political win would be just the thing his new administration needed. But was it worth sacrificing a bigger, yet far more risky, win?

“Mr. President,” Senator Joe Siegel said, his hand out. “Good luck tonight.”

They shook hands and Calvin saw something dancing behind the old senator’s eyes. A small smirk formed on Siegel’s face and Calvin had the strangest thought that he and Siegel were on the same wavelength.

“Big stakes tonight.” said Siegel. “Lots of people watching. Stir the pot, Calvin, cause a little bit of trouble.”

Siegel winked as Calvin started back down the aisle. He stepped up to the rostrum where Vice-President Troupe and Speaker of the House Paula Hershey were clapping. After handshakes for them, he turned to look out at the crowd below. Members of the House, Senate, Supreme Court, and presidential cabinet were all gathered in the benches below. The members of Congress sat according to party affiliation, the now eight Supreme Court justices sat in the first two rows away from Congress, and Calvin’s cabinet members sat left of Congress. Calvin’s eyes looked up to the balcony where Lois sat. He waved at her as the applause began to fade.

“Madam Speaker, Mr. Vice-President, members of Congress, thank you for inviting me here for my first address. I wish to speak to all the members of Congress, along with the American people… the people who sent us all here on their behalf.”

Calvin paused. There was something awesome and scary to him about his new role. Superman was the most physically powerful person on this planet, yes, but that was raw power. Moreover it was just seemingly dumb luck he had those powers at all. Calvin had been sent here from Krypton not knowing the effects the yellow sun would have on his body. This power here, this power to address the nation, to shape and dictate the course of his country, had been given to him. He had been entrusted with it with the promise to speak on behalf of those who could not speak for themselves, act for those who could not act for themselves, and defend those who could not defend themselves.

“Our country seems to sit at some crossroads," he said. "Some precipice where we have to make a decision on what kind of country we will be. There’s been a lot of talk in our discourse lately about what it means to be American, who America is for, and what exactly were the intentions of the people who founded this great country. I think to continually look back in the past is to bog ourselves down in rhetoric, to stall any chance of progress. We must instead look forward. Instead of thinking about what this country was or is, we must instead think about what this country can become.”




ARGUS BLACK SITE
CODENAME: “THE SLAB”


Amanda Waller looked through the plexiglass window at Arthur Blackwood with something close to contempt. She noticed that through all the bruises and swollen eyes, the look on his face seemed to be mutual. Blackwood sat on the other side of a small cell. He reached for the heavy metal collar around his neck and tried to adjust it.

“Uncomfortable, isn’t it,” said Waller. “But then again that’s the point. In addition to negating your metahuman abilities, there’s a little psychological torture there. It’s just tight enough to be uncomfortable without restricting airflow. A little permanent reminder that you are always under my thumb.”

Blackwood snorted and spat a wad of snot at Waller. The phlegm thumped against the plexiglass before it slid down in a long, slimy streak.

“Let me out of this goddamn cage, you black bitch, and I’ll rip you to fucking shreds.”

Waller crossed her arm and laughed.

“I bet you would, Blackwood. But then again it seems like your track record against people of color isn’t faring too well these days.”

Blackwood stared ahead without speaking. Waller could see the embarrassment on his face. How could you call yourself the master race… and then go out there and get your ass handed to you by a brother, a brother in a cape no less?

“Let’s get serious,” said Waller. “This facility you’re in? It’s not on any government log or ledger. If anyone bothers to go looking you are in FBI custody. But nobody is going to go look. Nobody cares about you, Blackwood. You’re lower than the dogshit I wipe off my shoes. I can easily throw you into some hole somewhere and throw away the key. Nobody cares about the civil rights of some white supremacist asshole.”

Blackwood shrugged.

“And? I’ve been in enough fucking interrogations to know how this works. You showed me the stick, now I'm waiting for the carrot. I ain’t saying shit about who I was working for or what I was doing. I don’t stitch and I always stand tall, so do your worst, bitch.”

“I don’t care about that,” said Waller. “I have an entire army of intelligence operatives to find that out, Blackwood. But what I care about is you. That master race bullshit is just that, but you are… gifted. Special. And I like to think I have an eye for talent. Talent I can use, and talent that you can use to get out of this situation.”

Waller raised an eyebrow.

“Tell me, Blackwood… ever been to Louisiana before?”




Calvin let the latest round of applause die down. His promise to pass legislation to repair and improve the nation’s infrastructure drew a standing ovation from only part of the crowd. Perhaps it was the cost of the proposed legislation that kept the other part of the crowd from rising and clapping? Maybe, thought Calvin, but for the most part the same senators and representatives sat still no matter what Calvin said.

“As I try to look forward to the future of this country, a very important question hangs in the air. After Justice Herbert Hartwell’s sudden death, there now is an opening on the Supreme Court. By constitutional law it is my duty to appoint the justice to fill that seat. And given the nature of the court and its lifetime appointments, I want a justice who is right for today and tomorrow.”

Calvin’s eyes glanced around the chamber. He saw Senator Morgan Edge sitting comfortably along with a handful of like minded senators. He could hear Edge’s heartbeat quicken. This was the moment he was waiting for. And, like the America in his speech, Calvin was at a crossroad. But then he thought about his talk with his parents the other night, his role as Superman, and Senator Seigel’s words. Stir the pot and cause some trouble.

“Which is why,” he finally said. “I will formally nominate Federal Justice Syliva Glastonberry to take the seat. She is a fantastic jurist with a track record of decisions that were well thought out, well-argued, and always favored progressive causes. She will be one of those forward-thinking people that this country needs to fulfill that long ago promise that we are a nation of the people, by the people, and truly for the people.”

Calvin paused as another standing ovation rippled through the chamber. This time he made sure to lock eyes with Edge, who sat stone still in his seat. Calvin could hear his pulse and heartbeat were steady. No fear or anxiety. A small smile formed on Edge’s face as he continued to stare at Calvin.




Senator Morgan Edge checked the time on his phone and sighed. It was nearly three AM and his contact was late. Edge was in some drafty ass Civil War era bunker not far from the Maryland line. His contact had insisted this is where they would meet and discuss what had happened earlier in the night. Edge was finishing up a cigar when he heard footsteps approaching on the concrete from outside.

“Sorry,” Senator Joe Siegel said. “I got away from my after party as soon as I could, but that new Senator from California will not shut up about Napa Valley wine.”

Edge scowled as he tossed the cigar butt on the ground and stomped on it.

“Do you remember what you told me, Joe, on inauguration day?”

“I say a lot of things to a lot of people,” said Siegel. “It’s my job.”

“You said that the incoming president held you in quite high regard, quite high. Such high regard, in fact, that he had reached out to you already to act as an unofficial advisor on policy. And you said that if we worked together, we could guide---”

“Manipulate,” said Siegel.

“Guide sounds so much better,” replied Edge. “Sounds cleaner. But if we worked together we could guide the president’s hand. So, tell me, the first time we try to guide his hand, Joe, he goes off and does whatever the fuck it is he wants to do?!”

Siegel held his hands out.

“I thought we had come to some kind of agreement in the meeting that he would pick anyone but Glastonberry.”

“Right,” said Edge. “And it was your idea that I call Ellis just before he took the stage and threat--”

“A friendly reminder,” said Siegel. “That sounds so much better. Sounds cleaner. A friendly reminder of what was at stake.”

“And you spoke to him on his way to the dais,” said Edge. “What exactly did you tell him?”

“I told him good luck and whatever choice he made, it would be the right one.”

Edge shook his head and turned away from Siegel. His eyes inspected the old bunker curiously.

“It doesn’t matter. I have to do what I have to do, Joe. I’ll crush the nomination and he’ll have to come up with another candidate with his tail between his legs. So be it. Many a president have had their hopes dashed upon the rocks of the Senate. Why shouldn’t Calvin Ellis be different? Why did you want to meet all the way out here to talk about this?”

“This old bunker?” asked Siegel. “It’s lead-lined. Old school. You’d be surprised what kind of surveillance simple lead can block out.”

Siegel saw Edge turn to make another point. But halfway through his motion the man froze in place. Siegel blinked before he turned his head slightly. He looked to his right and smiled. Right at you.

“I’m sure you probably saw this twist coming right? Old mentor figure turns out to be not quite what he seems? But it runs deeper than that, actually. I’m not really on Ellis’ side, and I’m not really on Edge’s side. I’m playing a different game. One you have to see at a different angle or some… higher plain. Just keep reading and you’ll see.”

“Get some sleep, Morgan,” said Siegel. “You look tired.”

“I’m fine,” Edge grunted as he moved again. “Your boy in the White House is going to need all his strength.”

“I’ll think you’ll find he’s much stronger than you realize,” Siegel said, turning to you with a wink.
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Banner grimaced. It was like the Hulk was crawling underneath his skin, just dying to dig his way out. He had never realised how uncomfortable the change was, it was usually a flash of discomfort and pain but then it was passed as he was consumed and transformed. Receding into... nothingness. The back of Hulks mind? He wasn't really sure where his consciousness went when he changed.

This, however, was like someone took a hot iron and put it into his brain while insects crawled all over his body and underneath his skin. He couldn't give in though, not yet. Peter and Jen still needed Bruce Banner more than the Hulk. He was sure Hulks time would come, whether he liked it or not. "Yes Spider-Man, try to get up high. We want a -ugh- clear a path as possible to the tower. The longer we can avoid a fight the longer I can stay myself and try to figure this thing out logically."

There was a booming just up ahead, it was rhythmic. That's when he realised that it was footsteps. A large silhouette appeared through the green fog that covered everything in sight. A low chuckle echoed eerily, one that Banner recognised all too well. "Blonsky

"We've been waiting for you Bruce. He said you'd come-" The figure appeared through the fog. "-and here you are. Just couldn't resist playing the hero again." He eyed the suited Spider-man and She-Hulk up before focusing his attention back to Banner. "And with friends! Perhaps after I've beaten you to pulp the little Spider can give me some alone time with this girlfriend of yours." He gave a ghoulish wink towards She-Hulk.

Bruce stepped forward, turning to Peter as he did so. "Get out of here, I'll deal with this." He tossed his bag of equipment to Peter. "Take this, find whatever causing this and shut it down." His skin started to turn green as he turned back to Jennifer. "Get him there. You're doing to need him."

His armour flared, the gamma inhibitors flaring green as his outer clothes ripped away. He doubled over, convulsing as he grew taller, broader, stronger. Until he stood transformed.

"Come at me Banner"

Hulk slammed his fists on the ground, a shake that would be felt outside and far beyond the dome as he roared towards Blonsky.
"No Banner! ONLY HULK!"


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