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Current Don't leave me, baby! Middle of winter, I'm freezin' baby! - It's cold, and Gucci Mane lyrics work for most any context when slightly edited.

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Posting after Christmas.
Draven will be gradually working his way inward as he searches for signs of the Rebellion and looks for clues/contacts/cells of its presence throughout the near rims, but anyone looking for some interaction on the Outer Rim right now is welcome as well.
Draven Windu

I.i: Out of the Darkness




Wind whipped as blades against the traditional Jedi garment Draven wore. He had been hiding on Or Tuma so long his hair and beard began to match the nigh-pure white coat of the planet's surface. Honey-skin showed no signs of age despite the decade and a half which Draven resided there. Typical rigors of Jedi training absent--owed to his hermitical life--he had the spring and spirit of a man ten years his junior. He was, no doubt, still in his physical prime and perpetual winter made him look and feel so. No contact with the outsidee world, he had spent the last fifteen years biding his time and waiting for some sign of hope. In all these years, he heard nothing; it did not help him that he had not bothered to break himself from isolation in order to seek out this elusive hope--better yet, do as a Jedi should and initiate a rebellion against this galactic tyranny himself. Draven couldn't, if for no other reason: his years of training and meditation did nothing to rebuff his cowardice.

Draven Windu lacked his father's iron will, but his capacity for empathy was deeper. He was frightened of what was out there, afraid to step out into a galaxy which surely did not mirror the same one Draven abandoned; more than this, he was afraid of how far the wraith hand of the Empire reached. Not since the Purge had he felt the Light's beat, but he had felt it dying. Now, he sensed nothing at all--and if he continued in this manner, he would never sense it again in his lifetime. There had to be something, someone out there who had rallied against the great monster. He knew he could not continue in this impotence, much as he desired it. Or Tuma's seasons never changed, and there was no appropriate clothing but robe and thick bantha hide. Few Bantha existed on this torpid rock, instead the Bantha came into Draven's possession thanks to some bargaining with the local Twi'lek population. It was a gift--and a people, most importantly--he was fond of, unbeknownst to the people themselves.

This Twi'lek settlement and its dwellers called to mind pictures of Raylah's stories she used to tell Draven about her homeworld. Yet, none of them were her. There was no love there, Draven assured himself. It was the sole, interpersonal relationship he had left, and in truth it had become the one thing tethering him to the world around him. Without it, it was likely he would retreat into meditation for the rest of his days. Attachment is what his patron Jedi were adamantly against, it bred reliance on things that did not last, and those only became gateways to pain. Draven rebelled against those teachings then, and he did so now while warming himself inside igloo-style lodging and sitting net to a rising fire. In Draven's right hand there was a cup of Bark tea, bitter and almost coarse as chewing bark itself. It went down hard, but it settled Draven's uneasy stomach.

In a small chair in front of him sat a tall Twi'lek male, he was considerably older than his ilk. Torvin Drallis was old, even for a Twi'lek, in his dark red face there was wisdom. Torvin spoke,

"Is this truly what you want to do?"
"Really? I am not sure. I believe I am ready, but the world has changed so much." The elder Twi'lek chuckled during the beat, his personal confirmation of his advancing age and his own slipping understanding of a passing world,
"Well, we don't need you bothering us anymore, hm?" Torvin continued, Draven sawed a smile on his face. Draven knew Torvin was right, he had grown accustomed to the people--not so much the near desolate planet itself.

Draven finished the Bark tea and rose to his feet, the Jedi robes he dawned were somewhat stiff from the chill of the outside wind. The fire, which burned too bright and hot for a few sticks of wood, kept burning its at an ominous height. Draven gave Torvin a nod, a solemn acceptance of Torvin's advice, but Draven knew not what he were to do, but he knew where he was to go: a merchant planet nearby, Nag Ubdur. If the hand of the Empire reached far as Draven suspected, he would find answers there, where life bustled. Back to his personal hermit hole he went to procure his weapons, none of which he could use in the open once he visited Nag Ubdur for fear of the eye of the Empire. He would use other measures. He moved to the small ship the Twi'leks and himself built. It was time to step back into the world.
@TheUnknowable I know Illum--the traditional source for crystals--was pillaged by the Empire not long after Palpatine came to power and few crystals exist there. I don't know if other planets are abundant in crystals or, more importantly, if those planets that do have a vast source of crystals have been found and raided by the Empire.
Oshea Jackson


"I don't call myself the Grandmaster for nothin'."



Fuzz crackled over his radio as he blitzed through to the nearest entrance. The alarm's blare shrieked and invaded his ears, and for a moment it unsettled his concentration. He scanned the hallways in search for guards, and then he found them. They were alert, weapons drawn and hunting for intruders. Oshea put his back against a nearby wall and occasionally peeked around the corner as the guards fanned the halls. Oshea had to time it right--sure, Oshea could take them both out in a few seconds, but there was no guarantee that one of the guards wasn't a mutant. Still, the aim was twofold: he couldn't just knock the guards out and leave them there, they would die that way. He had to knock them out and get them to safety, and Oshea didn't know how much time he had. He pulled out his radio and communicated to Cassandra,

"I'm goin' in. If you hit me up and I'on' answer, tell Pietro I hate him and tell Allison I love her".

Oshea chuckled to himself.

Then he clipped the radio on his hip and whirred, the only thing any naked eye could see was a momentary red streak as he went to incapacitate the group of guards one by one. A swift circle, he grabbed two by the backs of their heads and went to smash them together. There was another guard whose shoelaces Oshea attempted to tie together and then push over. There was one last guard remaining in Oshea's visage, who he tried to sneak up on from behind--blinding collapse of distance between himself and the unaware guard. Oshea through a hook toward the guard's temple which--if it landed---was sufficient enough to knock the guard out.
posting tomorrow
Urban Rumble


December 15th, 9:13 PM
Brooklyn


A hunt based only on trophies taken falls far short of what the ultimate goal of a hunt should be. It is a simple end game. A memory preserved in a captivating form. For a true hunter, the real prize is in the communion he shares with nature and with his prey. To pit yourself against a worthy opponent - a fellow hunter - in his native environment, where he reigns as king.

This was something Maxim Zarov understood well. He hunted the Tiger, yet the Tiger also hunted him. This was the source of their connection, a bond that embodied the spirit of the hunt itself. Many thought of that spirit as a mere metaphor, but he had learned otherwise as Nimrod the Hunter. By pushing himself to his absolute limit, by stalking through the frigid winds of Siberia with only his barest skin for protection. By facing the world’s most dangerous predators with only his wits and instincts to guide him…

By constantly - willingly - enduring these hardships, forcing them upon himself, he awakened something inside him. He understood now what that was. It was something man had lost long ago when it became “civilized”.

It was a hunter’s instinct, a power that let him transcend his limits as one of these domesticated drones and recapture the essence of the apex predators his ancestors once were.

It was upon understanding this that Maxim Zarov was transformed into Nimrod the Hunter. And that path had brought him here, to his greatest prey yet. A prey that at long last had returned to prowl these streets at the top of his game. His blood practically burned with excitement in this moment.

It was time for the hunt to begin.

Standing atop the roof of one of many of the delipidated projects that dotted the landscape of this urban jungle, Nimrod pointed his flare gun to the sky. With a squeeze of the trigger, a bright red signal ascended.

---

From the colluding point of the warehouse’s top floor, Marvin sat. There were minimal lights, only the whistle of a kettlepot of tea. The sofa in which he sat had its dark blue drowned out by the navy blue glow cast through the window; on the TV in front, on the television was a sitcom. Marvin was, for the first time since he donned that accursed suit, relaxing. He only saw the red flare through his peripheral vision, at which his head turned and trailed its ascent to the heavens. Marvin grabbed the remote control and shut off the television. He sat alone in the dark, an ignition of annoyance, anger, and wear, and excitement lit his spirit.

Someone had gotten his message.

Lifting himself from the comfort of the sofa, be moved through the darkness of the warehouse’s top floor. Marvin took the industrial sized elevator all the way to the basement level where he was combing through which one he would wear for this challenger: the red one? No, too bright. Not enough impact resistance. The blue one? That one was for underwater. The newest white one was still unfinished, the magitech one he had been working on since March proved ineffectual still, though physically complete. Then he opted for none.

He had fought numerous enemies in that suit, and in some sense it restrained him; he had an image to uphold when he bore the mask. The Tiger was the hero, the symbol of hope for the small community he vowed to protect; Marvin was none of that. Marvin was a cowardly kid from Detroit who had begun to relish the predatory nature of his name for the power it gave him over others. That red flare meant that the one who Tiger had been hunting--and the one who spared his life--had decided to come collect Tiger’s head and place it on his mantle.

But tonight, he was getting Marvin, and Marvin was an entirely different animal. It didn’t take long for Marvin to ascend up the industrial elevator and step through the front doors of the warehouse; in the silence of Brooklyn’s streets, the creak of the large warehouse doors was audible to one such as Nimrod. Marvin walked into the full visage of the one who was hunting him. It was time to end this.

--

Nimrod’s eyes widened from his hidden vantage point even as his heart sank into the pit of his stomach.

What was this? Why did he not come garbed in the pelt of the Tiger? Was that not the true form of this hunter? Why would he come for him as a mere man? Was he looking down upon him? Did he think him such an easy opponent that he did not need his weaponry?

No. Something told him that they were perhaps more alike than he ever suspected. Nimrod had often abandoned his weaponry - despite having a virtual army’s wroth of ordinance at his disposal - to confront the deadliest of his prey with no advantages. This was what he was doing now. He didn’t simply seek victory...no, he wanted to prove that he was stronger, that his prowess was greater. That he was the true top predator here.

How could Nimrod not oblige this?

He had made plans to confront The Tiger. Had laid traps, had prepared for him to attack from multiple avenues. Had brought weapons that would overcome his extraordinary ability to heal. So much work had gone into tonight...and yet he would throw it all aside to meet him in unarmed combat, in their most primal and savage state.

Leaping to the ground only a short distance from Marvin Hayes with an impact that he surely heard, Nimrod had little desire to mask his presence at this point. In full view of the other hunter, he discarded the rifle on his back, letting it clammer to the pavement. It was soon followed by several sets of pistols and even his hunting knife and hat.

Finally, Nimrod placed his hands over his mask and discarded it as well. Staring down Marvin Hayes - a man of comparable size and build to himself - with an intensity only another predator could appreciate, he widened his stance and spread his arms apart.

--

As Nimrod descended and landed only a few feet from Marvin’s gaze, Marvin looked him up and down. Marvin’s countenance was deflated, he had imagined a man skilled as Nimrod would be… grander! Then again, Marvin was sure Nimrod himself thought the same. Marvin scanned his eyes up and down Nimrod’s thick frame--his muscle was all built from natural hunting, Marvin gleaned: tigers, bears, alligators, panthers. Nimrod’s muscle was more raw, more natural, unlike Marvin’s whose build was sculpted by a mixture of weightlifting and the cardio which came with his line of work. Marvin admired physical manifest ferocity when he saw it.

Marvin assumed no stance, he never did. Stances were rigid, they telegraphed movements and springloaded muscles when they need not be. If Marvin was right, Nimrod was beyond a normal human, much like himself; actually, it was apparent given that he hadn’t completely destroyed his legs upon descending from the building. Marvin smiled before he spoke,

“The fuck is you?” the intentional elegance of the Tiger was lost on Hayes, this was a subtle mental stratagem. It was easier to disarm one who expected the mysticism of a figure to engulf the man behind the shroud.

--

“I am hungry, as I hope you are,” Nimrod replied.

It would be the only words he spoke before he closed the distance between them in what was virtually a single bound. He did not move as a man would in this instant, but rather like a wild beast. Fingers acted as claws, and his teeth glinted beneath the moonlight as he leaped towards the other predator.

Despite being in mid air - which should mean a lack of mobility, Nimrod quickly twisted his body in much the same way a cat would, ironically. Sailing clean over Hayes in the process, he lashed out with his bare fingers to slash them across the former champion’s back. Although he lacked claws and his nails were trimmed short, the Spirit of the Hunt granted him claws every bit as effective as his opponent’s namesake, a shimmering light seeming to emanate from his his fingertips.

Landing on his feet, Nimrod crouched and assumed a primal stance, a highly fluid and mobile posture that would allow him to counter anyone that attempted to battle him as a mere man.

Nimrod was brutal, primal, and animalistic. Marvin had stylistic counters for such a wild form of fighting, but he would not utilize them yet. It would give Nimrod a chance to counter, and if Marvin was to win this bout, he would have to control the hand he played. When Nimrod leapt and bounded up and behind him, Marvin rather expected what was next, when the claws sliced his back, Marvin instinctively stumbled forward; the open wounds in his back--the claw marks (his own insignia) carved in. It was the flash of pain and his own flesh tearing that Marvin twisted after he had regained his footing. Blood seeped down his chocolate back, priming it a crimson red.

Marvin’s next movements were light as a ballerina’s, and so strange a way of closing space that it created somewhat of an optical illusion: a grande jete, Marvin elevated himself up and forward on a slight angle to nearly indiscreetly close the distance between himself and Nimrod, then with the left leg planted, the other swung upward, thrown from the hip and around to the side of Nimrod’s corresponding arm. To block it, one would have to reach across his body or risk having his bicep bludgeoned. And if Nimrod moved, well, that was all the better. Marvin had something for that, too.

Marvin Hayes’ movements were as swift as he had hoped they would be. He had observed him on the hunt before, but one could never truly know the power and speed of their prey until they were standing right before them. His own body had already began moving as these thoughts raced through his mind, for he could not afford to contemplate his actions. No, instinct would be his guide here, and it had resulted in him nearly falling flat onto his back...only to twist and contort himself once again at the last moment and land on his hands, his lower body twisting at the waist as his own leg swung upwards in an arc to attempt to slash the extended limb of his opponent.

He could feel his heart pounding in this moment. He was excited. He did not know what move his prey would make next. Unlike so many animals he had grown accustomed to hunting, unlike any other human, this man had something Nimrod had been craving for such a long time: unpredictability.

The heat of his blood rushing through his veins was his reward for this exchange, and he wondered if he would be victorious again, or be the one whose pelt would adorn a wall.

The well known idiosyncrasy about ballet is that each movement if used as a template for movement and mixing those movements to execute strikes, whether they are just being started or in motion, is that its movements are only to serve as a chaining method: one strike into another, make the opponent believe you have fully committed to one motion when you have an entirely different one planned. When Nimrod had twisted his body and went to throw his leg up to cut at the extended limb, Marvin twisted his hips through the kick--the first only a means of deflection, it was the second leg which held the true power behind the turning strike.

Nimrod’s claws had only served to follow the path of Marvin’s leg, like when a boxer rolls his body along the momentum of a punch to lessen the impact, the motion of Marvin’s first leg turned what would have been a deep gash if Marvin had loaded himself down and thrown real might behind the decoy leg into a small scratch. Marvin’s second leg winded around as his body gave fully to the full spin of the split roundhouse and went to devastate the outside of Nimrod’s committed outstretched leg, namely the upper thigh.

A whirlpool of blood whipped about as Marvin spun, the back of his grey hoodie in tatters; the blood had begun to congeal slowly.

Nimrod grunted in pain when the hard impact of Marvin’s follow up kick impacted his thigh, but he nevertheless allowed the force of the strike to carry his limb back to the ground. Ignoring the searing jolt that worked its way through his leg, the hunter rose to his feet while slashing out at the other man - a single, fluid motion. They gave Hayes something other than attacking to worry about as he reoriented himself, a second to once more locate an avenue of attack. He could smell the blood in the air now, almost taste it. He felt more alive now than at any other point in his life!

But patience was also a valued trait in any apex predator, and he did not strike again after he regained his feet. Instead he merely crouched low and fixed his eyes to the body of his prey. It was a body built by machines in a gym, but it was an effective and awe inspiring example of such a thing. It was, however, a common form for athletic young men...and that allowed Nimrod to know the meaning behind every ripple his abs, every twinge of his sinew. High or low, a punch, kick or tackle? Perhaps a headbutt, even.

This time, it would be Hayes that would need to make the first move.

No sooner than Nimrod idled, Marvin knew what he was doing. It was the same thing Tiger did when he hunted less skilled victims. The problem with a passive position was quite the same problem one faced in chess: no matter how careful you were, not every move was an intricate weaving toward winning--some came with aggressive usurping. This in mind, Marvin zagged himself toward Nimrod, his own body only slightly off kilter of a straightforward charge, Marvin was only desiring one thing.

Marvin used his gathered forward momentum and quickly thinned his body so that he was in somewhat of an orthodox boxing stance and he threw a zipping hook for Nimrod’s side. In his blaze of speed and the seamless transition into the Western boxing orthodox stance, Marvin was making his next move aggressive and subtle all the same. He wanted to get Nimrod to think about doing precisely what was on his own mind. If he bit, Marvin would execute the next step.

Nimrod saw the hook coming, gently easing back to allow it to sweep past his stomach. The tension in his muscles told him that Hayes was not going all in on this attack, and he had proven himself fond of feints. Lowering himself into a crouched position without ceasing the momentum he generated with his dodge, the hunter began to slide around behind the boxer. Lashing out with a vicious leg sweep that was withdrawn just as quickly, he almost simultaneously slashed at Marvin with his hands in order to dissuade him from either attempting to strike him or try for a grapple.

Instinctual aggression would not win this day for either of them, it did need to be tempered by the caution of nature’s ultimate predator: man. Domesticated though they were, they were nevertheless merely victims of their species own success.

Nimrod had done what Marvin wanted, the crouch, the attempt to train himself to Marvin’s back, precisely why Marvin had positioned himself slightly to the side of Nimrod when Nimrod was standing, and thus Marvin could place his dominant leg where it would allow him to mirror Nimrod’s turn. When Nimrod moved to execute the legsweep, Marvin utilized that unnatural contortion provided to him by his indefatigable balance and landed himself on one hand soon as the sweep came. Atop the one hand he spun: capoeira was not a useless fighting style as many had thought.

With a brief and compact twist, Marvin dropped his second hand down to support the weight of his first, and using his legs as his primary guard, twisted himself into Nimrod’s guard diagonally, just out of reach of yet another claw swipe. Unloading the force that travelled up his legs and hips, he performed an au batido, both of Marvin’s heels went to drive into Nimrod’s frame as it maneuvered. The duality of capoeira, its fine defense against low and crouching attacks, as well as its ability to transition in and out of vertical and ground positions and onto one’s feet was remarkable.

Nimrod had seen this fighting form before in South America. He had never thought particularly much of its overly flashy techniques. It apparently had once been Brazil’s premier martial art, but the emergence of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu had toppled it from that throne. Still, any fighting technique in the hands of this man would undoubtedly be effective, and so underestimating it was not an option. His previous approach had been unsuccessful, which warranted a new strategy.

He had never been one to eschew taking hits. He did not fear pain, not from animal and not from any man. Charging forward in an inhuman burst of speed, Nimrod felt the impact of Marvin’s hard kicks, receiving them with nary a wince despite their obvious power. Wounds were common for predators of all shapes and sizes, and had been a common facet of his life as well.

His acceptance of Hayes’ attacks had allowed him to close on him, however, and with his hands as they were, the soft underbelly of his prey was now exposed. Slamming a foot down upon one of those hands as his first action, he neck launched himself towards his midsection. If the martial artist tried to fall back or right himself, he would be ready...otherwise, he would sink both claw and tooth into his flesh and rend him.

The transition from the graceful capoeira dance following having one of his hands stepped on was not a smooth one, as his weight had suddenly been forced onto one arm. To twist backwards would mean being gutted, to twist sideways would require an unnecessary amount of force and a movement too awkward to be executed safely. The only way was the opposite direction, let Nimrod’s momentum lead him forward.

Marvin pushed himself up, a showcase of his own superhuman strength and did not lift himself up over Nimrod entirely before one of Nimrod’s claws cut across the bicep of Marvin’s supporting arm. A spray of blood shot out even as Marvin landed with his back facing Nimrod some feet away. Blood drained down his right arm and the one portion of the bloodied grey hoodie was now sleeveless. Nimrod matched Marvin’s each step--it was clear to Marvin now that Nimrod had been studying him for some time.

A man with this much experience and prowess, and with those ‘claws’ proved himself to be the deadliest threat Marvin had yet faced. Was he a metahuman? No, if he were only a metahuman, his fingernails would not cause gouges this deep! Unless… how was it taking Marvin this long to figure it out? Wherever this Nimrod got his abilities from, they were either another machination of magic or… something else…

Marvin squinted.

He turned himself to face Nimrod fully. Marvin slid both legs apart and crouched, an ambiguous ready stance which belonged to no particular school of martial art. He couldn’t shake the thought; even a metahuman would have been knocked backward by a au batido; Nimrod had bulldozed right through it, as though ignoring the damage. Something Marvin only saw out of movies. Marvin had landed two good hits, neither of which phased Nimrod in the slightest! Wait…

“Hell fuckin’ naw!” Marvin said, he did not follow up.

Nimrod genuinely looked puzzled at the other man’s exclamation, his head tilting ever so slightly to the side.

“ ‘Hell fucking ‘naaah’?” He echoed, his accent struggling with the expression. Very curious. He preferred not to speak once the battle had begun, but this was the first time he had actually bothered to stop and listen to the curious lingo used by those who lived in this area.

But this didn’t matter. He couldn’t allow his adrenalin become diluted by his puzzlement. Raising his fingers - coated in Hayes’ blood - to his lips, he tasted his prey. In that moment, his pupils seemed to become dilated as he once more assumed a primal stance. His entire body seemed to ripped slightly, as did the air immediately surrounding it, as if some strange force was at work.

Nimrod knew well, of course, that this was the Spirit of the Hunt reacting to the taste of blood, the ultimate mark of success for any predator. Exhaling a measured breath, he began to growl. A subtle, almost inhuman noise that rumbled up from the depths of his throat. For the very briefest of moments, the fighter before him would not see a man but a lion, towering and savage.

With a speed no normal human could hope to possess, Nimrod leaped forward with a roar. His “claws” swiped down at Marvin with a great weight behind them, and even more so his body descended with a certainty behind it that would make altering his course considerably difficult.

Lest Marvin be unseamed, he had to swallow his awe of the mighty lion he had just seen for but a brief moment in time and roll his ass the hell out of the way. He made due within but a fraction of time, and only because Nimrod had decided to leap to the heavens instead of outright attacking. That lion, Nimrod’s capabilities, a simple deduction. He had seen it again and again, and each time it was the same,

”It all has a tether.” Marvin had briefly studied the mystical martial arts following his trip to Elysium when he was but a wee vigilante. There were many variations, though; body, elemental, spirit. Which one was this? Marvin strained to put it together while deftly--and at this point instinctually--dodging, maximizing almost every fiber in his metahuman body to avoid being cornered and slaughtered. Adrenaline’s heat blazed through his veins inasmuch as it did Nimrod’s, though Marvin got no special powers from his. Lucky bastard.

Marvin kept trying to gather his thoughts and shuffle through all he had studied of the mystical arts. Elemental? No, so far as Marvin could tell, Nimrod hadn’t yet levitated a boulder with his mind or ignited Marvin on fire with his mind. That wasn’t it, then; body? Nimrod wasn’t a metahuman, so that made sense--it was almost the most logical conclusion. Other than this there was both spirit and chi. Both were inextricably tied to the mystical body martial arts.

”Explains the sudden burst in speed and strength. Explains the ‘claws’ too. Can’t see them, but I feel them like a motherfucker. Marvin thought to himself. Now the matter concerned how to disarm it. If it really was brought about like Marvin assumed--by hunting--physical strain, then its manner of channeling had to be something similar. Try for the chakra points? It was a wager, Marvin didn’t know if it would pay off.

What he could at least partially deduce is a lack of maneuverability while this ‘empowered’ form of Nimrod was active given his inability to change directions in midair as he did earlier. Marvin could use it to work for him somehow, but he couldn’t wait, either. He would get overwhelmed, and Nimrod had studied the surrounding area well, but how well? That would be plan B. Plan A was to allow whatever spirit was within Nimrod to work its own counterintuitive magic.

Nimrod’s gaze remained locked - almost unblinkingly - on the former boxer at this point, not even a slither of humanity present in him at that moment. That low growl continued to hang in his throat as the hunter slowly circled the other man, his posture no longer resembling something a human should normally be capable of. He now walked on his top knuckles, his body distended into a feline-like posture. His heavy breaths were clearly visible on the air, puffs not of exhaustion, but of excitement.

In another burst of speed - this time without even so much as a roar to herald it - he was upon Marvin again, but this time choosing to come from below rather than with a leap. Furthermore, it wasn’t just those powerful “claws” that attempted to close in around the ex-champion, now his jaws had joined the hunt!

Stretching open his mouth, Nimrod’s human teeth could ever so briefly be seen as the terrible maw of that lion that had been glimpsed before as it attempted to close down on the side of Marvin’s neck - just adjacent to the shoulder - to pin him down on the ground alongside the claws. If he was successful, the hunter would attempt to reposition his biting grasp to rip his throat out.

The average reaction time for a human to commit an error was .0025 seconds, in these few seconds, the mind and body are disjointed. Men like Marvin and Nimrod were different. All that was necessary was a millisecond of an opening for Marvin, and it was imperative he strike while Nimrod was semi-feral. When Nimrod burst forth again, Marvin made a rough calculation; Nimrod was certainly faster than himself, in the few feet of distance between himself and Nimrod, Nimrod had closed the distance in but a few seconds.

”45 is fast as I go, a lion is 50. He’s faster than that. Stronger, likely, too. Two steps before, then.” By the time Marvin finished his thought, he had attempted a roll, but was swept back by his the hood of his torn sweatshirt, it was the only reason he hadn’t had his actual neck clamped in Nimrod’s jaws. If this was going to work, it had to work now; he had to keep at least one arm free.

Nimrod had missed his target - the neck - but found another: the lower shoulder of the same side he had initially lunged for. Biting down on it with every ounce of chi-fueled might that existed within his body, he also attempted to sink one set of claws into that same unfortunate limb as the remaining set tried to slash open Hayes’ stomach. This resulted in him completely ignoring one side of the boxer, but in his state of primal savagery, this had yet to register with the brutal hunter.

His weight was now pressing down on the other man who, although they were the same size, seemed much smaller than him now. Attempting to rip his arm clean off from the shoulder, the frenzied predator released a muffled growl. His sense of reason had been completely consumed by the Spirit of the Hunt that now ran through him, making him one with the combined essence of his past kills.

He was determined to add the spirit of Marvin Hayes to that power of his next.

From the chest flowed the source of chi energy and its connection: it was the heart, the center, and in some manuscripts, the root of its power. To stop the flow of chi from its center was to cease its flow entirely. At least, that is what Marvin understood. The spirit lion’s teeth clung deep into his flesh, and though his body was already attempting to mend the wound, it didn’t stimy the anguish! This moment was life or death, and Marvin struggled just as much as Nimrod did, fighting tooth and nail to protect himself from being disemboweled.

He had kept the one arm free as he had desired; and his only light of hope from dying here and now was that single opening. .0025 seconds was all it took for a normal human to miss his one opportunity, for his body and his mind to become disjointed and he make a costly mistake. For Marvin, this margin was smaller; thus, he clenched his free hand into a fist and in a violent turn which tore muscles in his lion-clamped arm from the shoulder all the way down, he used his free hand and exploited his one opening.

With a single, controlled, deliberate blow, Marvin lunged his free arm directly into Nimrod’s exposed chest as he writhed! The sound was gruesome, Marvin’s fleshly fist colliding with the steeled-like skin of Nimrod’s solar plexus--the center of where his chakra was--in aim to shut off his connection to the very spirit of the hunt which flowed through him and turn him into but the mere man he once was.

Nimrod was consumed by a heightened state of bloodlust in this state, unable to contemplate or even remotely consider the vulnerability in his defenses he had left exposed in this moment. So delighted at the taste of his prey’s blood was he that he was caught completely off guard by the hard impact to his chest. In an instant the lion’s jaws vanished as did its claws, and the man known as Maxim Zarov could only blink in confusing as he - ironically - instinctively recoiled and balked at the taste of blood and raw flesh in his mouth.

Carried off the vigilante by the combined force of the strike to his chest and the reflexive retreat he had made, Zarov reached a bloodied hand up to grasp at his own pained chest. Staring down at Marvin for a moment as he attempted to regain his barings, reality required only a moment to at last snap him back.

He was in the middle of the hunt.

But rather than mastering it and proving himself the superior hunter, he had allowed it to consume him. Turn him into a mad, unthinking beast. That was the danger of entering that state. He had thought that with all his experience he could control it, but it would seem he still had room yet for improvement.

Exhaling slightly, Zarov slowly coiled his bloody fingers into fists and raised them in a surprisingly orthodox posture, one Hayes had undoubtedly seen in his career as a boxer.

Marvin’s breathing grew heavy--it was a mixture of adrenaline, pain, and fatigue. Once more was he pushed to the height of his abilities; though the open wounds were gruesome and blood poured from his mangled arm at an alarming rate, Marvin rose to his feet using the one good arm he had. His healing was not so advanced that he could yet heal major injuries to muscles, tendons, or bones. The ribbons of his hoodie fell off him, revealing his dark skin and sculpted upper body.

Marvin would not give up this fight, no matter if he had one good arm or two; and when Nimrod assumed that orthodox boxing stance he had seen time and again, a sinister smile fell across Marvin’s face. Without his chi, Nimrod was a normal man, one who--Marvin assumed--had never fought a true champion of the ring at his own style. And if he had, Marvin would show him why he was the champion and Nimrod was the challenger. Marvin called up the fist belonging to his one good arm and assumed a southpaw stance.

Marvin spit out thick globs of blood which coated his lips. His mostly unkept bushy buzzcut and untrimmed beard nested the morsels of hemoglobin in their blanket. Marvin ushered Nimrod forward.

“Come on then, mothafucka!”

Zarov knew well of Marvin’s healing abilities. While he didn’t believe he could recover from wounds so severe as the ones he had inflicted upon him in his state of frenzy, he didn’t wish to take any chances. He had to take the initiative while he was losing blood, while he was weakened. Even the most rudimentary boxing enthusiast knew that when your opponent had suffered an injury, you should attack them in that location. Obviously, this would be the first place they would think to defend, but that did not make it any less of an effective strategy.

Moving in at peak human speeds, Zarov weaved to Hayes’ injured side and attempted to deal a rapid series of straights to his injured shoulder and arm, wishing to aggravate the wound. His form was tight, his punches short so as not to expose his limbs, and he had turned to the side to minimize himself as a target. While he may not have ever been a champion, he practiced no martial art that he had not mastered thoroughly.

He had injured Hayes as a predator, and now he would finish him as a man!

Even with a bad arm, Hayes mobility was what saved him from the latter half of Nimrod’s attempt at an onslaught. Boxing was not all about the arms you had at your disposal, but the rest of your body just as well--it was head movement and in this case, footwork. Nimrod rushed in, a fool’s tactic, Marvin danced around him, limp arm dangling like putty as the blood began to slow. He had assumed a southpaw stance for this very reason, as natural protection against the ‘wear down the injured body part’ strategy--one he had employed during his career several times.

Nimrod had clearly practiced the fundamentals, however, Marvin recognized that right away. His overzealousness at trying to slip Marvin’s guard and attack Marvin’s weakened back side only let Marvin weave himself away from Nimrod, where Marvin would occasionally slap Nimrod’s lead hand down--to toy with him. To taunt him, and remind him that it did not matter how much he trained, he was no professional--Nimrod had not faced the greatest in the world. The disadvantages to having only one arm and attempting to box were, of course, that one had to be extremely selective with when, where, and how hard he punched.

Marvin had to wait him out, just as he had Christopher Ives. Nimrod had just shown himself to be bullish, but Marvin did not yet know what would incite Nimrod the man. He was sure, however, that he would find out. For now, he would keep his head slipping and rolling and his feet bouncing.

“I’m BAD, man! Too fast! You know you can’t touch me, mothafucka!” Marvin taunted, it was beginning to feel like old times again.

Maxim’s brows knitted at his opponent’s elusiveness. He had been so certain going in that he would be able to bring down an injured Marvin Hayes. He was bleeding all over the ground! He had only one arm! It wasn’t as if he was poorly trained, he had sparred with many amateur boxers throughout his life and bested them all with little difficulty.

But then...boxing was never his passion. It was never his career. Maybe it was arrogant of him to assume he could best this man at his own game. He had agreed to hunt him specifically because he was extraordinary, after all.

Right, of course.

In his daze after being shocked out of his predatory state, he had made the absolute worst mistake a hunter ever could: he had disrespected his opponent by underestimating them. Disgusting. It sickened him that he fell prey to such an amateurish pitfall, delirium or no.

But that would end here. He could not beat this man in a contest of boxing, that much was apparent...but that was merely one of many martial arts he had learned of his lifetime. The way Marvin moved his head to dodge any potential strikes was without flaw, but he had allowed arrogance to slip into his form as he occasionally batted aside his strikes. This offered no inherent advantage beyond potentially insensing ones foe...on the contrary, it was here where Zarov saw his opportunity.

Continuing as he had, throwing straights at Marvin’s injured side, Zarov feigned frustration and anger. His brows knitted slightly, his lips pulled back from his still blood-coated teeth, and his face contorted in rage with each taunt he received. He would continue this for a time, secretly waiting for Hayes to extend his arm just a sliver - an inch, even - too far.

That would be when he would fall back on his Judo training and seize the distended limb, throwing Hayes to the hard pavement below before taking their fight to the ground. He was certain Marvin had trained in how to “ground and pound”, but he doubted he had his years of grappling experience with both man and beast. While the boxing ring was Hayes’ home, grappling was his.

When one is taunted, there is tangible change. Change less ethereal than knitted brow and pouted lip. Hayes continued his taunting, he enjoyed it personally, but it stuck him odd when Nimrod had not expelled his apparent rising anger on the obviously wounded Hayes. The ring taught him more than how to throw a jab or a hook, it taught Marvin how to read people and decipher their emotions. Marvin couldn’t figure what Nimrod was thinking, but Marvin felt something wrong about his demeanor.

Aware of his condition, and once the blood itself had congealed, Marvin was keen on keeping this fight on its feet. Marvin knew he had only one good arm--Nimrod knew it, too. If this fight was to rapidly shift, Marvin would have to do whatever possible to maintain the integrity of his lone fighting arm. He had some training in grappling, sure, but it certainly was not his strongsuit; it was in the more traditional grounded martial arts: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and BJJ transitions, in which he shined on the ground.

How would Marvin keep the fight standing? Could he goat Nimrod into shooting for a takedown? Marvin knew if Nimrod got close, he could still half-utilize kickboxing to keep Nimrod at range, and if the fight did go to the ground, his mixing of styles would help him so long as he was not stuck in a grapple. Marvin ceased slapping Nimrod’s punches away, he could sense the viper in the opposing hunter--he was waiting for one small overextension. What Marvin didn’t do, though, is stop his dancing. He weaved in and out--intentionally.

Something was wrong.

Marvin was no longer slapping aside his straights. Had he figured out his game? If so, he would have to admit to being impressed by his ability to read him so expertly. It was apparent now that his previous strategy wasn’t going to work. This meant he had to improvise. Outsmart him, a task that was clearly easier said than done. He could feel the cool night’s air against his chest, however, a sign that his shirt had been partially unfastened.

This had likely occurred during his earlier state of bloodlust...and it afforded him an opportunity that he wouldn’t get a second shot at.

With one last straight for good measure, Zarov suddenly threw his shirt open and back over his arms in a single motion. In the time it would have taken him to throw another straight at the wounded boxer, the hunter instead swung his shirt towards the champ. His bobbing and weaving was - again - exceptional, and it was unlikely he could have ever hit him with something as small as a human fist. A shirt, on the other hand, offered a far larger “net”, with a pair of holes just perfect for snaring that well-shaven head.

Pulling downwards as the shirt swept over him in an effort to throw off his balance for just the briefest of moments, Zarov immediately moved to scoop the other man’s legs out from under him with his arms - a standard but highly effective grappling technique. Should he succeed, he would immediately descend upon Hayes and give his wounded side hell under he either bled to death or blacked out.

And here was perhaps Zarov’s most critical error of their entire bout. Not only would a shirt--with holes in it--be enough to unbalance Hayes, but he had just given Hayes an extra weapon. The problem with grappling, and wrestling indeed, was that while one man was scrambling to grasp the limbs of a target, the man who was standing was the man with the leverage, and as Marvin’s Jiu Jitsu skills were not anything he had practiced in public, it would be among the harder of Marvin’s styles to have studied in action.

The descent was soft enough where Marvin’s wounded shoulder and arm had a pain string up it, but it was not hard enough to rock Marvin or disorient him. All it did do was kick Marvin’s mind into overdrive--he knew he was potentially in trouble now, no sooner than Zarov had slithered himself into Marvin’s guard did Marvin immediately put his fresh legs to work. Marvin bridged his hips, and denied Zarov leverage on such a slope, it was a matter of muscle memory that Marvin moved to trap Zarov’s dominant arm and moved to enclose the wrist tight in the clasp of his good arm, and using the leverage to aim to pull Zarov’s arm across Marvin’s own body, Marvin moved to slip his nearest leg against Zarov’s hip and his other leg aimed to slither just above Zarov’s opposite armpit. Marvin’s first aim was to deny Zarov his leverage from guard so that he could not pull his head up: Marvin’s second was to execute a world-class armbar.

Zarov had believed his strategy would work, but Hayes had displayed skill in an art that he was not aware he was familiar with: Jiu Jitsu. He had never witnessed him using it on the street, and so had assumed he had practiced less intensive regimens to compensate for his preference in the striking arts. He had, after all, only been active for less than a year! How could he have attained a sufficient level of skill to perform a perfect armbar at such a high speed? There were professional MMA fighters that were much slower and less precise!

His arm was now locked into the technique, but...no. No, it wasn’t perfect for but one reason: he only had one usable arm!

Reaching up with his still free hand, he cupped it over the other man’s grasping palm. Hayes was stronger than him, but he wasn’t so strong that just one arm could overpower both of his. Gritting his teeth, Zarov pulled back and began to overpower the armbar. His lips turning up into a smirk, he knew that once he had broken the hold, he would have Hayes right where he wanted him: on the ground, in his world.

And that was what Marvin wanted. He wanted Zarov focused on breaking the armbar, using up his energy while Marvin controlled the ground: because then he wouldn’t be focused on what Marvin had coming next. There was a certain shift, which happened with the speed of a hummingbird’s beak, where Zarov had found himself face down as Marvin had quickly used the leverage he gained for himself and slipped the unsuspecting Zarov into a BJJ transition which required no strength of one’s upper limbs, but rather Marvin’s legs: armbar-to-oma plota.

Slipping both of his not yet locked in legs downward and into the armpit of Zarov’s dominant arm after sweeping out, Marvin used his superior strength and balance to ensnare Zarov’s arm wrenched backward between both of Marvin’s legs, while Zarov himself would have sat in face-down-behind-up position. Marvin clenched his powerful thighs against the helpless shoulder and pulled back, wrenching the entire arm and shoulder well beyond its limits and nearing complete shear. From this position, with Marvin elevating himself upward to maintain leverage on both Zarov’s body and evening his own weight out, he maintained the dominant submission and would have no qualm about breaking Zarov’s arm entirely.
Marvin knew he had to keep leverage at all times and keep himself set in dominant positions when he had them and to keep himself moving when he didn’t.

...This was it. He had been outmaneuvered, plain and simple. He had been foolish to try and take this man on without the spirit of the hunt flowing through him, even if he was wounded. He knew that he possessed powers beyond a normal man, but he thought he could win nevertheless. Perhaps he deserved this loss for discarding his weapons to begin with, but how could his honor as a hunter allow him to do otherwise?

Maybe Marvin Haayes had read him better than he ever had the other man. It was possible that he understood he could not win in a contest of weaponry, where he could employ lethal explosives, sniper rifles from more than a mile away, decoys and traps, and so he challenged him in an arena where he could.

Zarov react instantly, raising his free hand and slapping it against the pavement repeatedly. “Tap! I am tapping!”

Marvin was a predator, he was a warrior, he hunted those who thought themselves hunters and he brought them all down--but he was not a man without mercy. Marvin released the hold after Nimrod’s concede. Using his one good arm, Marvin struggled to his feet; it was apparent he was exhausted. Caked blood spots decorated his dark face and body. He stood over Nimrod, cold hazel eyes piercing the defeated fellow predator.

And all Marvin felt for him was respect.

He reached his one good arm out to Nimrod; beads of sweat rushed down his entire body, Marvin shined like black oil.

Zarov grasped the hand and used it to pull himself to his feet. Standing tall once more, he took a step back, but bowed his head slightly. “I concede defeat this day. You read my character flawlessly to draw me into your ‘ring’ here, on the street.”

Rolling the shoulder of the arm that had been subject to a quick round of abuse just moments earlier, his eyes darted over his shoulder. He should probably tell him about the explosives, before someone in the rundown project accidentally detonated them. Still, first thing was first.

“I was hired by a man named Alessandro to hunt you, but as my employer was killed due to my unwillingness to hunt a wounded prey, I decided to pursue you for my own reasons,” he explained, sliding his shirt back over his chest before fastening it. Placing his helmet back over his head, his hat was soon to follow. His voice from that point on had a metallic bent to it.

Raising his hand, Nimrod the Hunter pointed to a building in the distance. “I had intended to lure you there. You may want to disable the explosive charges I placed at key points of that buildings structural foundation. You may keep the decoy on the roof as a trophy - a reminder of your victory here.”

A bomb! Marvin sighed, weary eyes glanced at the building that Nimrod pointed toward,

“I should’a broke ya damn arm anyway. How long I got?”

A metallic chuckle resonated from the mask at this question, Nimrod strapping his rifle and pistols back in their proper places. His head turned, the crimson visor glinting in the night. “You can at least enjoy the holiday season in peace, that much I promise. But do stay sharp, Marvin Hayes...Tiger. A true hunter can strike without warning.”

With a sudden kneel, Nimrod launched himself ten feet in the air to seize the steel staircase of the adjacent project. With the grace of a monkey, he scaled the building until he was able to vanish over the rooftop.

Marvin watched him go, the hand of his lone good arm supporting the torn arm against his side. Above, in the highrises of the projects, Marvin could hear the windows of the hundred or more residents opening at once, and some began flooding the street after exiting the bottom of the main complex. Tiger stood in the circular entrance of the projects with its denizens watching their unmasked protector admire whatever it was that they themselves could not see. It was only when Marvin heard the pattern of small footsteps colliding against concrete that Marvin was torn back to reality and turned toward the source of the sound.

There stood two young children: one Hispanic, one African American--neither appeared older than five. In their hands they held popsicles; one orange, one red, and offered them to Marvin as he towered over them, open wounds and all,

“Here! Feel better!” Pedro Gomez smiled as he offered the frozen treat to Marvin; his mother, Juanita, ushered him inside soon as Marvin received the child’s gift. The African American boy and his mother remained, he didn’t speak at all--he only delivered to Marvin a poorly drawn crayola creation which depicted the Tiger mask--more in the form of a dog than a cat. Marvin appreciated it still.

There was a silence which prevailed over the Brooklyn air. Finally, it was safe. For once, the people of the Marcy projects could enjoy the Christmas season in peace. Marvin smiled, for the first time since he donned the mask, he felt true joy.
Caged No More


New York State Penitentiary
December 1st, 2020
3:30 a.m.

Whispers about who was behind the death of Don Carmine “The Snake” Persico, boss of the Colombo Crime Family, spread rapid. Whispers turned to audible words: it was The Tiger--or so everyone thought--Marvin never killed anyone, and never would. He had been framed by that hunter. A Cheytach M200, .405 caliber, perhaps the most powerful sniper rifle known to man. This was no discovery of Marvin’s, rather one of forensics officer Martinez--a man who Marvin had grown closer to given Marvin’s recent decline in available resources. Only the finest hunters used such a rifle, and typically only for hunting big game: the M2 00 line of Cheytach rifles had less bullet drop, virtually little drift. That explained why it tore through the M5 Aramid mesh plating like butter.

Marvin was so close to death, and he would never have seen it coming. Whoever shot him was sparing him, there was no reason for an enemy of his to refuse killing the man who had been a thorn in the underworld’s side for what seemed an eternity. To a degree, Marvin respected the mysterious hunter’s poise--it took a skilled man to watch the watcher. What Marvin didn’t respect was being toyed with, it was one of the few things which angered him; Marvin never played with his victims, he respected their skill, and he respected his own mortality. He was always aware that he could be bested--whoever was hunting Marvin clearly thought themselves invincible. Marvin would show him otherwise.

It was a cold December night, Marvin was waiting to be let out on bail; he had recently been arraigned and was being held until bail could be posted. What was left of his fortune was tied up in litigations and lawyer fees. When and if bail was posted before his trial, he was unsure whether he would even have a place to lay his head, let alone continue his training and his tenure as The Tiger. His musings were interrupted by the flash of a guard’s light, it was bed time. Marvin’s cellmate, a fellow African American was already sleep, he was around Marvin’s height and twenty pounds heavier. Marvin would sleep light; if the Colombo’s thought he was behind the murder of their boss, their greenbacks would know no color.

Marvin slept light intentionally. As expected, in the depth of night he heard his cell door open. Marvin awoke solemn: one hispanic man, 5'7, 210--a Southsider foot soldier named “Joker.”, a Nazi Lowrider footsoldier, “Bear” 6’2, 210; and one of their own, an Italian, “Pittsburgh” Pete, 6’1, 230. At least this time they had sent some guys who were in good athletic condition. On top of not getting much sleep, and the compounding stress from all these worrisome foes, Marvin would certainly let some steam off on these three. Oh, yes, and there was the other African American who happened to be his cellmate. Marvin stared at the bunk above him and watched as it creaked; he calmly removed his hands from behind his head. Marvin asked them only once after he stood up,

“Who wants to leave?”

Marvin got his answer when Pittsburgh Pete charged him with a crudely designed shank; Marvin secured Pete’s weapon arm and twisted it sideways, forcing him to drop the shank, then Marvin swung Pittsburgh Pete’s face into the concrete wall immediately beside. Pete’s skull bashed against the wall before Pete himself slumped to the cold concrete floor.

Next, the Nazi Lowrider, Bear, nearly as big and well built as Marvin, this one would take some time. Luckily for Marvin, the cell was 6x8, small enough to funnel one man at a time. Something told Marvin these men were too clumsy to know how to maneuver such a small space--he wasn’t. Bear charged forward, his gargantuan arms managed to get hold of Marvin! Bear landed two hard hooks, one to Marvin’s ribs, another to his jaw. Marvin stumbled back, dazed by the onslaught; that muscle memory he had to use against the Kinderfresser kicked in again, as Bear went to throw another punch, Marvin evaded. Marvin contorted his body between the narrow space of the bunkbed and the toppling body of Bear as the large, tattooed man with a well combed beard stumbled forward from the poorly executed attempt at a punch. A well aimed sidekick to the kidneys aided by Marvin’s superhuman strength propelled Bear’s body into northern wall with a hard thud.

As Marvin turned to deal with the last of the readied attackers, he had all but forgotten about the his equal-sized African American cellmate who referred to himself as ‘Boobie’. Boobie had pulled a homemade shank of his own from his slides and was merely waiting for the right time to strike. Meanwhile, Marvin was dealing with the Southsider, who was considerably smaller than the other men but much quicker. With his shank, he had managed to catch Marvin once in the arm and another time in the side, blood leaked down Marvin’s arm and his side, staining his orange jumpsuit trackpants. The shock of being stabbed and the realization of the pain were not far apart, Marvin let out a howl! What was just another encounter had just become a fight for his life--and it only made him fight harder!

When Joker went to stab Marvin again, Marvin latched a hand around his wrist and pulled Joker forward into Marvin himself before at the last second he let go and hammered a bone-shattering fist directly into Joker’solar plexus which sent Joker off his feet and flying backward toward the rails of the second tier railing where Joker almost toppled over but was saved by a quick lapse in momentum. Joker’s entire chest had been shattered, but cleanly. It was here that the night shift guards had realized their mistake, when they heard the clash of flesh against steel and realized it was not Marvin, whose death they were paid to look the other way for.

Just as Boobie was about to attack Marvin, the guards intervened. Marvin was taken to the infirmary for his injuries but the wounds healed within fourty eight hours. It was as though he had never been stabbed at all, there was no chance for infection, no sign of rupture at all. No matter how fast he healed, it didn’t cease the incessant desire to amass the rest of his resources and take down the Mob for good. His desire was, of course, not practical--and he had bigger things to worry about.

December 10th, 2020
Calogero’s resturaunt
Brooklyn, New York
6:00 p.m.

Bail had been posted, though he was still awaiting trial. The problem? He was virtually broke. The small portion of money he did have was relocated into the stock market, namely a major television corporation and some virtual currency. Tonight, he was dining by himself, intentionally, at the local Italian restaurant. The gesture was a subtle reminder that the mob had failed to kill him again. He could feel the pernicious eyes fixed on him by the wiseguy restaurant owners. The only reason they didn't throw him out was because he was a paying customer and the restaurant was packed tonight.

It was when he got outside that he got the greeting he was seeking. A trademark black limousine was trailing him as he walked. Marvin knew they were following him, and Marvin knew that the henchmen knew that Marvin knew he was following them. Marvin moved down an alleyway, he could hear the tires cease and the then the silence. The newest revolution of gunmen the dysfunctional Colombo’s had sent were second guessing the onis of their mission. The two gunmen, Michael “Mikey” Provenzano and Jimmy “Fish” Palmese, knew the fate they would suffer if they failed like the other eight people who had failed to kill Marvin Hayes.

They couldn’t get the image of Alessandro’s--the man who attempted to kill Marvin in the hospital--severed head out of their mind. No one ever knew what happened to the first two gunmen who were sent to kill Marvin in October, either. In turn, Michael and Jimmy knew what would happen if they failed their mission as well. Then again, the Colombo family, already the most disorganized of the Five Families thanks to their infighting and constant changes in leadership--not to mention the death of their boss presumably at the hands of Hayes--had become the laughing stock of the New York mafia.

The Colombo name no longer struck fear in the hearts of New York’s denizens after it had failed to kill one man, what power did they really have over Brooklyn as a whole? Word was that Gambino was moving in on their turf already and that Colombo’s seat on the New York Commission was in doubt as well. Colombo was reduced from being the most influential family in Brooklyn, and the third most influential in New York to a tattered family with about as much influence as the present day Detroit or Milwaukee mobs. It didn’t pay to be a made man of the Family of the “The Snake” Persico.

But they still had power, and they still had the backing of the Commission--at least until the next sit down--and so these two foot soldiers were obliged to do their job. They exited the car, Marvin kept moving down the alleyway until he was swallowed by the darkness. Shiny black shoes clapped against cobblestone as they chased him down the alley; a shred of light illumined the grey of his hoodie as Michael and Jimmy raised their desert eagles and fired three shots a piece; there was a splash of blood: Marvin caught a bullet through the shoulder, one through the tricep, one through the left glute, one through the hand, and another through the ankle. The gunfire ceased momentarily; perched birds flew from their resting places and took to the skies.

Blood streamed down the alleyway toward the two gunmen and stained their shined shoes. They, like the first set of assassins, aimed to finish the job. As they neared the spot where they last saw the grey hoodie, they fired at the ground--presuming Marvin was gunned down--and it was only when the respective flame from their weapons shone on a… slab of concrete.

“Woah, woah, woah, Jimmy wait!” Michael said, “where the fuck is he?! Didn’t you hit the damn moolie, Mike?”

“I don’t fuckin’ know, Jimmy! I thought you had ‘im!”

“Well if I ain’t hit the fuck and you’s ain’t hit the fuck--where the fuck is. . .”

And lit through the gleam of a small hanging light attached to brick apartment backdoors there were a set of deep brown eyes offering color against the obscured dark of the alley.

“Oh shit. . .” Jimmy “Fish” Palmese and Mikey Provenzano muttered in unison, their bodies frozen with full and realized dread. Then there were screams.

Some hours later, police found the bloodied and half naked bodies of Jimmy Palmese and Mikey Provenzano strung upside down to a streetlight. They were barely alive. There were three claw marks--whose wounds were still opened and bleeding--sprawled from the chest to the lower torso of both men. It was the mark of the Tiger: Marvin was sending any would-be hunters, amateur or professional, a message--there would be no more mercy.



Volume 1

Issue 7

Afternoon, Present Day



Around the circular table the purveyors of the Amim family sat. At the head, the matriarch: Bibi, on the sides: Rahna to the right, Shati to the left; and the focus of the three women’s ire, intrigue, and worry sat with eyes dug into him at the opposite end of Bibi: Pantheon. Clad in the same abyss black he had been wearing since his transformation during the LHU attack, Pantheon beheld a look of worry of his own. Silence would have coiled the room if it were not for the crackle of skillet which cooked the half-scrambled eggs. A mightier flame singed through Bibi Amim’s pensive gaze as her eyes lay on the behemoth who sat across from her, this thing which purported to be her son.

Bibi unlocked her sealed lips in order to speak. Her attempt was thwarted by her eldest daughter, Rahna, who was unsure of how to begin but would save herself, her younger brother, and her baby cousin from her mother’s incessant questioning any way she could,

“Uh, so! Well, let’s, let’s get down to it!” Rahna shuffled uncomfortably, like the other women of the family, her ebony hair bellowed down a thin back, it swung about as she went to readjust herself in the chair, “I guess I should keep this short and simple… uh, this here” she pointed to Pantheon, “is Pantheon, as I’m sure you know, ma. How do I say this, uh--well, he’s, it. . . no. he’s, he’s us.

Whether from disbelief or indignation, Bibi rose from her chair and over to the stove where she killed the stove burners and grabbed the inferior pan and secured a plastic plate--though these were her children, none of them were deserving of her fine china this afternoon--and dumped the partially scrambled eggs onto the plate, the other portion of the eggs was beginning to form an omelette. Bibi carried the eggs to the table and set them down before sliding them across the table toward the behemoth in black. Pantheon glared down at the strangely cooked food before him: Hassan’s inclination was to eat them, human garbage can that he was--Pantheon would not touch such mortal garbage.

“Eat.” Bibi said, she was hospitable no matter what kind of mystical being entered her house, they would eat and they would like it.

“Ma, not now,” Rahna could sense the irritant her mother was about to be. Few channeled their passive aggressive feelings through food like Bibi Amim. Rahna continued,

“You remember how grandma used to tell those stories about the man who would come snatch us at night if we were bad? How he knew where we sleeped, what we thought? She was kind of right. Uh, that’s kind of what Pantheon is. Everything our family has ever achieved, he’s that… stuffed into one big muscled man who shares the same mind as your son.”

Bibi cackled, comically.

Shati paid little attention, she was much like Hassan in her apathy for gods and monsters, though she now could not deny them as previous. Her golden-brown eyes danced the length of the table to the man who had supposedly usurped her cousin’s place--yes, she would definitely use him in dealing with a few problems of her own in the future. A sly smile bloomed across her maturing face, she went back to scrolling on her cellphone.

Bibi stopped cackling, she wiped the tears from her eyes.

Rahna was becoming irritated. It was apparent to her she was the only one who understood the gravity of their situation, beneath the table she began tapping her foot against the wood floor,

“This is not something to be LAUGHING ABOUT!” it took nothing for Rahna’s temper to flare, it was instilled in all of the Amim’s in various degrees. Bibi furrowed a brow, a stern deflection of Rahna’s outburst. Bibi spurned back,

“WHO DO YOU THINK YOU’RE TALKING TO? I WILL--”
“OH MY GOD, SHUT UP!” Shati screamed,
“YOU ALWAYS THINK EVERYTHING IS A JO--” Rahna was cut off at the horn of Pantheon’s voice,

“QUIET!” the lights flickered in the room, silence reborn. Pantheon scanned his rainbow colored eyes across the table, his eyes finally settled on Bibi. Hassan had kept Pantheon silent up until this point, but had receded when the shouting began, leaving all too much room for Pantheon himself to assume control,

”Rahna is right. Once again, your lineage is in danger. What she is not telling you is that it is because of Rahna herself. I am sure, miss Amim, you know about the massacre at your university by these ‘Hounds of Humanity’; this is not the first nor the last of their activity. They are soon to hunt you and your children because of the nature of our bloodline. But these Hounds are secondary. The matter of my existence is simple: I am here to protect you and your progeny from extermination, but my appearance in any given generation of this lineage means that another threat is soon to return. A sorcerer, old as myself.”

A knock on the door and the screeching of tires. Hassan sensed something was wrong in his soul. He’d it wasn’t who he thought--he hoped it wasn’t the Hounds.
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