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October, 1956
Boston, New England


It was late. So very, very late.

Her mother would be upset, Susan knew. She would take a switch to her for not coming home by her curfew. But she didn’t care. It was better than being back home. She hated it there.

The clouds overhead obscured the evening sunlight, a faint blue lingering in the sky just before the twilight.

She could just barely see the blacktop in front of her, but the chalk outlines of the hopscotch drawing were still clear enough for her to play. Throwing her hacky sack onto the third square, she began to hop her way to the end of the small series of squares. She was the best hopscotch player in her class. She hoped she could one day become the champion of the National Hopscotch League.

That existed, right? She didn’t just make that up?

Regardless! This eight year old would much rather play by herself here any day than return to her mean ol’ mom and her stupid rules.

Reaching the eighth square, Susan quickly turned and set her eyes on the hacky sack. With barely a pause she began skipping her way back to it with only one foot. She hadn’t needed two in ages. Only a hopscotch amateur needed two.

When she at last reached the 4th square, she easily leaned over to pick the hacky sack up. As she began to rise, she heard…something.

A scratching sound, like nails against the pavement but louder. So much louder. Another flash of chalk-like white caught her eye, and her jaw slowly dropped as she stared down at the message writing itself into the blacktop.

She began to tremble. She wanted to run, but…but her mom would be so very angry at her! She didn’t want to get switched.

“There once was a young girl,” she slowly read the message aloud. “S-she enjoyed playing hopscotch. She enjoyed playing it a lot…”

The chalk continued to etch itself into the blacktop, and even as she could barely stand straight due to her quivering, Susan continued to read. It felt like she couldn’t move now. “B-but the girl’s grades in East Boston High School weren’t very good, and she liked to disobey her mother. She likes to stay out far, far too late…”

Susan froze when it named her high school. She could hardly even breathe now, much less think of running.

“Her p-parents,” She choked out, “Rachel and Henry, were often so upset at l-l-little Susan’s disobedience that they would strike her with a switch, over and over again, sometimes until she bled.”

The warmth of tears running down her face did little to soothe the biting chill working its way up her back. The words continued, scratched into the blacktop by…by something. “B-but then someone started watching little Susan...watching her at school. Watching her sleep.”

The warmth of liquid now worked its way down her leg as she struggled not to collapse under her own weight. “W-w-watching her...disobey her mother and p-play h-h-hopscotch…”

As the message continued to be ripped into the black asphalt, Susan found herself no longer able to speak to read the final part. Her lip trembling, all she could do was slowly look behind her as those bright blue eyes grew wide.



“SUSAN!” Rachel screamed, searching for her daughter, a flashlight tightly clutched in her hand. Night had fallen, and she hadn’t come home. It wasn’t the first time the girl had stayed out past her curfew, but never before had she remained out after it became completely dark.

She’d already looked all over their neighborhood, and so the school blacktop was the only place where she could imagine that she might be.

Sweeping the flashlight across the black surface, Rachel’s eyes finally settle on the hopscotch drawing where her and the other children often played. Unfortunately, her daughter wasn’t here, either, just…

A hacky sack. ...And a single shoe. Susan’s shoe.

“S-Susan…?” Rachel muttered, her eyes growing moist, the light continuing to drift over the blacktop until it at last fell over...a message.

There once was a young girl.
She enjoyed playing hopscotch.
She enjoyed playing it a lot.
But the girl’s grades in East Boston High School weren’t very good, and she liked to disobey her mother.
She likes to stay out far, far too late.
Her parents, Rachel and Henry, were often so upset at little Susan’s disobedience that they would strike her with a switch over and over again, sometimes until she bled.
But then someone started watching little Susan...watching her at school. Watching her sleep.
Watching her disobey her mother and play hopscotch.
And then, at last, he caught her all alone one night.
Don’t turn around, Susan McKenzie.
KINDERFRESSER


Dropping her flashlight to blacktop beneath her, Rachel fell onto her knees in horror as a tearful scream ripped its way past her throat.

She would call the police immediately...but they never found any trace of her daughter.




8:48 PM, October 26th, 2020
Brooklyn, New York


“And that’s all he was doing, Mr. Williams? Playing ‘Grand Theft Auto 6’ online?” Agent Curtis Cruller questioned the father of Travis Williams, age fourteen.

The middle-aged man slowly nodded. “Yes sir. I came in to tell him supper was ready, and...and all I find was his headset laying there on the floor.”

Nodding to the parents of the missing teen, Curtis pressed the red square on his smartphone to end the recording of their interview. “Thank you for answering my questions, Mr. and Mrs. Williams. If you’ll excuse me.”

Stepping away from the clearly frightened parents, Curtis wasted no time in stepping through the open door of Travis’ room. Swarming with police officers as they combed over every inch of it in search of some kind of forensic evidence to clue them into what had happened, they paid him little mind.

Shifting his eyes over the headset as the police continued their forensic work, Cruller slowly approached it. “You’ve taken your pictures already, right?”

“Of course,” Lieutenant Armstrong replied rather tersely. “We know how to do our jobs, believe it or not.”

Ignoring the woman’s tone of voice, he reached down to pick the abandoned gaming accessory up with his hands, the plastic gloves that he had stretched over them upon entering the room protecting them from contamination.

They were cheaply made, and slightly bent. If he had to guess, it was the sudden impact with the floor that did this to them. It was just like the other disappearances. No trace of the victim, beyond perhaps an overturned chair or microphone.

“I suspect we won’t find any DNA evidence this time, either,” Curtis muttered under his breath.

It was beyond frustrating. In all his years in the FBI, he had never encountered a case like this before. This was seventh incident that had occurred in the past week, and the third he had been called in for. But he hadn’t had any more luck than the NYPD.

Honestly, he was at the end of his tether. Kids were disappearing at their computers without a trace, and he didn’t know how to stop it. The only connection he could identify was that they had been playing online games at the time.

His partner, David Ramsey, hadn’t had any more luck than him.

There was only one individual that could possibly be skilled enough to pull these abductions off in Brooklyn, and he was in the hospital right now, as his partner was in the process of confirming…




9:22 PM
Brooklyn Hospital Center


“I’m not certain if you’ve been keeping up with the news, Mr. Hayes, but there has been a series of child abductions plaguing the Brooklyn area this past week,” Agent David Ramsey explained, leaning forward in the hospital chair beside the bedridden boxer.

Easing back, the well-dressed agent folded his arms. “Adolescents and teenagers alike, disappearing without a trace at their computers as they play online video games. Forensic investigations have yielded no trace of a kidnapper. It is unlike anything we’ve ever seen.”

“There are few who could have accomplished such a feat in Brooklyn,” David’s eyes narrowed on the injured man, his lips set into a modest frown. “In all of New York, in fact. Many suspect a certain masked vigilante of being behind these abductions, though I wonder…”

His eyes swept over the bandages that were clearly visible beneath Marvin’s hospital gown.

Moving was anguish. His right arm was in a sling, and his left served as the catalyst for transmission of IV fluids into the rest of his maimed body. He was grateful the shooters missed his spine and that he could afford to position his head enough to face Ramsey’s direction. Marvin’s eyes once more fell on the news report and with the aid of the visual before him, Marvin fought the cloud wearing over his mind and reserved the remainder of his mental faculties to parse what Ramsey said. Abductions? In his city? Cowards. None of these dopes would try anything like that if he were on the streets. Unbeknownst to Marvin, what the FBI--and now he, himself--were dealing with was not human at all.

Marvin tried to inhale, the bloat of pain too fat for him to complete his attempt. Halfway through the intake, his chest decompressed and he let out what oxygen he was able to take in before he spoke,

”Guess the jig up, huh? Errbody know n--” it slipped his mind that he wasn’t in action right now, Marvin did away with the common speech he used when conversing with the people of his neighborhood while he was unmasked. He opted instead for the level of speech used when the mask was on,

”I guess everyone knows now, huh? You think you have everything figured out… then you don’t.” Marvin shifted as much as he could in order to get comfortable, an inescapable contortion brought about by the prohibited change in level along the bed forced the next few words from Marvin’s mouth through gritted teeth,

”You know who I am, Mr. Ramsey, so you know well I would not spend my time, money, and resources kidnapping the children I aim to protect. I think your friends at the bureau and those beat cops you all have been sending to my neighborhood know that as well. So yes, Mr. Ramsey, you are right to wonder; just don’t be irrational when you do it, huh?” A strong return, perhaps too strong a reply for one who was only trying to help him. Marvin, nor Tiger, were never enemies of the badge unlike some of his fellow commonmen and vigilantes.

The light in the room was particularly bright, the sound of the television an increasing irritant. Another slight shift, and he clutched the hanging remote from the side of the bedrail and used it to cease the sounds. His senses were going haywire.

David’s brow furrowed in irritation at the condescending tone he received from the hospitalized vigilante. He seemed to think himself to be in a far better position than he was, but at the moment such a thing did not matter. He wasn’t here to have a dick-measuring contest with the other man, he just wanted to find out what happened to those kids.

“Mr. Hayes, we know your persona - ‘The Tiger’, yes? - has been active for almost a year at this point,” he revealed, feeling it was necessary to lay at least some of their cards on the table in order to accomplish the task at hand. “In that time, have you encountered anyone capable of snatching these kids from their homes without leaving a trace? Perhaps another vigilante?”

The FBI was aware that they had gathered in New York back in March during the riots. Whether or not that had continued to associate with one another since then, however, was a mystery. If they had, perhaps they could at last identify a likely suspect. One other did come to mind, in fact.

“And on that note, have you had any interactions with the individual calling himself ‘Superman’?” David leaned forward slightly, awaiting his answer.

Ramsey was direct, he had some swagger. Marvin respected that. If he didn’t dread the tinge of pain awaiting him if he smiled, he would have--instead, he softened his countenance and voiced the internalized appreciation,

”Between you and I, Mr. Ramsey, I spent most of my time dealing with footsoldiers; I haven’t had a real fight since the last time I was in the ring. One day the bums stopped showing up after I had cracked their heads a couple times and left a few of them on your doorstep. None of those idiots are smart enough to make kids disappear without a trace. I’m sure you know that I know that you know I have tabs on everything that happens in Brooklyn, so I would have known if some half decent wannabe started snatchin’ my kids up off the street. Which leads me to believe that whatever you’ve been looking for isn’t something you--or me, for that matter--are going to find if we think we’re looking for some normal dreg. Hell, all the shit I’ve been through in the past couple months, whatever we are supposed to be looking for might not even be of this world.”

Marvin had grown weary of magic, truly. He hoped whatever this new threat was had a beating heart, breathed oxygen and walked on two legs. Even with his penchant for preparation against human threats, not even the reputed Tiger was prepared for the otherworldly.

”You have no leads at all? the question about Superman he circumvented. Marvin had seen clips of what Superman did to those two thugs, and Marvin nor Tiger would enjoy a visit from him, healthy or otherwise.

David was quick to note that Hayes had skillfully dodged his question, but chose to ignore it. He likely wouldn’t gain a satisfactory answer even if he tried to press the issue. Instead, the agent simply shook his head in frustration. “No DNA evidence, no strands of clothing, no trace of the victim. All we have is the pattern.”

In truth, he had already considered the possibility that they might not be dealing with something even remotely human, but...well, he didn’t truly wish to think about it. The FBI simply were not equipped to deal with something like that, not yet. He hoped somebody higher up than he was had some plan on how to deal with this insane world they were now living in, because he sure as hell didn’t.

“If it was an ‘otherworldly’ threat,” David looked the other man directly in the eye, “how would you approach it? What method would you employ to track, capture or if necessary, destroy it?”

Silence.

For once in his life, Marvin had no answers. Suits and gadgets were only effective against the corporeal, and Marvin’s attempts at harnessing magic were thus far ineffectual. No, no, there was always some tether. Magic itself may be above nature’s routine, but it still needed a way into the world through some substance; this rule was a constant, an internal logical consistency. It was such for Arcana, it was such for Elysium, it was such for this.

You said something about video games? Now, this may only be coincidental, but I would investigate whatever patterns the disappearances share. Whatever this thing is, it has the same tendencies of a serial killer; they target one type of victim, usually. I’d investigate your records for any cold cases, any old disappearances to see if there are any anomalies. See if any adults have been captured. If no adults have ever been targeted that you know of, find the similarities in the kinds of kids who disappeared: are they troubled? Orphans? Rich? Poor? Of a certain ethnicity?” Being so long winded with broken ribs was never a pleasure, so when he ran out of breath it took him a moment and an audible expulsion of injury for him to begin again,

“And if that fails, then I have. . . other ideas.”
these measures he would never divulge to Ramsey, one always needed leverage.

David listened quietly to the advice of Marvin Hayes, noting the wisdom in it. Yes, of course, if they were dealing with something not entirely - or even remotely - human, then there was no reason to limit their investigation to the current year or even the current decade. As for his other recommendations, they were already running extensive background checks on the kids who had been targeted.

“All of the victims had been troubled in one way or another,” David confessed, against his orders. He had been told to reveal only what was necessary to the vigilante - a criminal himself - about their investigation, so he had withheld this detail up until now, even when Marvin had asked if they any leads. “A lot of them had criminal charges. Alcohol, drug use, gang violence in some cases. Others were known to be troublemakers, even if they’d yet to be arrested.”

He noticed he was speaking of the kids in posthumous terms, and that alone sent a chill up his spine. Had he given up on them being alive? Admittedly, it did seem unlikely that whatever was doing this would have left them unharmed, but...who could really say? Logic had seemingly flown out the window a year ago.

”Troubled kids. Makes sense that whatever it is snoops around my neighborhood then. The place is filled with them. Do you have kids, detective?”

David nodded once. “One, a boy. Nine years old. He likes gaming like these kids.”

Though he had never been in trouble before. He was a good kid, never even had a complaint from the teacher.

”I only ask because once this thing knows we are after it--if it doesn’t already--it may come after your son. Who knows how far it can reach or how vindictive it is?”

Again his mind whirred, this time painted with a spurt of frustration. If he was going to face this threat, he had to get out of this hospital, and he had to do it before every child in Brooklyn disappeared. For now, he could only ask a favor--something he hated doing, as favors always require recompense. Owing a man is something Hayes’ father, minimal though he was, taught him never to do; it meant that so long as you were indebted to someone else you were, in a sense, beneath them. At least that was how his father explained it to him, but Marvin’s father was never the wisest man in the world, either.

”Until I can get out of this hospital bed, detective, Brooklyn isn’t safe for anyone’s children. I don’t know how much manpower you have, but this thing knows it isn’t in danger so long as there is no one protecting the streets and it might become more aggressive as a result. Use whatever resources you can to protect those kids, detective. If all else fails, I have one last contingency; a friend of mine, if you will. Ironic, if you think about it.”

David exhaled, his hand clasped together at this point with enough force to cause his tanned knuckles to turn white. “Well, Mr. Hayes, I do hope this contingency plan of yours is a damn good one, for the sake of those children. And mine.”

He would be lying if he claimed that he hadn’t considered the possibility of whoever - or whatever - was behind this coming after his son. He didn’t live in Brooklyn, but as Marvin had pointed out, that wasn’t necessarily any guarantee of safety. No, the only thing that would ensure that anyone’s children were safe would be if they stopped the perpetrator of these abductions.

Reaching into his suit coat, David produced a simple card and laid it on top of Marvin Hayes as he stood from his seat. “This is my number. If you have any new information, give me a call.”

”How many buses do you have at your disposal?”
Oahea and fire? *coy smile.*

The Dawn After the LHU Massacre





As the sun rose, Pantheon sat atop the edge of a skyscraper, he swung his legs to and fro as they hung off the roof's edge. Glint across the horizon was a brush of deep orange. Clouds parted way for their burning master as the ever-dying star asserted itself against the heavens. On his caramel face the sun rested, warm glee manifested a smile along the warrior's countenance. Hassan hadn't slept, Pantheon didn't need to. It was a strange thing having twin consciousness' coiled. Thankfully, it was Pantheon's body within which both were trapped; whatever Hassan's human body once needed, Pantheon did not. Such a predicament helped on occasions when Hassan wasn't adjusting to his new role as a hero and desired to see a simple thing as a sunrise.

Hassan couldn't help but recall yesterday's events. Never had he seen such death, hatred, and loathe for one's fellow human beings. And never had he been one to cause the deaths of men until that wretched day. Detached moral implications aside, he was, in his own eyes, no better than the Hounds themselves. The louder Hassan became, the harder Pantheon fought back,

"I know what you are thinking. You and I know those men were no better than animals."
"But they were just like us! They were human, too!" Hassan retorted,
"Be that as it may, they would have had no issue killing you if I had not aided."
"That still doesn't make us right, man! We can't just... you know? We can't just, like, kill people 'cause. . ."
"Because? Pantheon raised his right brow,
"'Cause we got the power! Hey, don't interrupt me, you mother--"
"Does not your oom warn you of that foul language?
"Yeah, well, fuck you! How 'bout that!"
"I do believe I will be telling her of your infraction when we return home."
"We came here to watch the sunrise, stupid! 'Sides, I don't want to go home yet!"
"Then you must mind yourself."

Hassan groaned, it was audible through Pantheon's lips and rumbled from his diaphragm. When on equal grounds, their two conscious' kept one another level. Pantheon's ferocity was considerably dulled when Hassan could manage to wrestle himself forward; conversely, Hassan's apprehension and timid nature in the face of conflict was muffled beneath Pantheon's rage. From what Hassan read of past iterations of 'Pantheon', the Amim who was joined to the titan had to wrest total control of both minds, and quickly. The longer one waited, the deeper Pantheon's hold on the user became until the Amim himself was supplanted. Hassan had to make inquiries if for no other reason than his own safety.

"You told that girl with the ugly sweater you had been around for millennia, how though?" Hassan began,
"You will find out soon en--"
"Don't give me that mysterious bullshit. Give me some answers!" payback, no matter how incremental, was sweet.
"Everything your lineage has studied, mystical or physical, I am the sum."
"...What?"
"Deaf are we? ...Although your great, great grandmother was deaf, so I suppose a lack of hearing makes sense."
"Don't talk about my great, great grandmother!" Hassan stamped,
"She was a kind soul. She often had to change your grandfather's soiled diapers with her hands until I came along."
"T-TMI, dude. TMI." The imagery made Hassan shutter, "look, man, I need some answers here. What. The. Hell. Are. You? Do you, like. . . why pick my family to terrorize? What's the deal? Where did you get all these powers from?!"

Pantheon heard a soft sob; it was their mother. While Pantheon himself did not possess all-around supernatural senses like many of his ilk, any distress from an Amim he could hear a world away. There was a tear in the wind from the supersonic burst as Pantheon raced through the skies to get home, which took him but a few minutes.

--

Bibi Amim had been re-watching the news coverage on the LHU attack since it aired the previous day. So many children slain, and she was unsure if her only son was among them. If her son was dead, she would sue them all! The high school, the police department, the university, everyone! All 47 years of her life and she had never seen such violence! What was wrong with people these days? When she was growing up, people were different; more kind, more loving, more compassionate. The world and its inhabitants had gone to the dumps far as she was concerned. In her rose red slippers and matching bathrobe she sat; it was her fifth glass of wine in nearing twenty hours without respite. Tissues cluttered her dusty rug as she curled into the tan leather sofa; her mind latched desperate on the hope that someone, anyone who even resembled her schnookums would ring that doorbell. Bibi would spring up at the slightest knock!

Upstairs, Hassan's younger cousin, Shati, was just waking. She was a freshman in high school, an attendant of LHU, in fact. An acne survivor, she was sported features similar to that of Hassan; soft jaws, rounder nose, full lips. She had large, oval eyes and honey colored iris' to accompany. Her father, Bibi's brother, James (who preferred to use his Americanized name instead of his given, Billah) was serving a life sentence for the murder of the man who attempted to kidnap his daughter. Shati's mother, an addict and the girlfriend of this very same man, had not shown face since the trial. How deep were the pangs of addiction that Shati's own mother would use her as collateral for a fix. Shati herself suffered from night terrors of her own, similar to those Hassan used to have in regards to Pantheon, but hers were not magical. Doctors all believed she was borderline schizophrenic with the kinds of visions she saw. Rahna Amim, the family's most experienced Homo Magi (of this generation) suspected her cousin was also attuned to the mystic.

Bibi could sob no more, and she shut off the television; no longer could she stand to hear those words on repeat,

"Dozens dead, more injured and missing in horrendous terrorist attack."

As Bibi rose to prepare breakfast for the house, today it would be shakshuka and toast. Bibi was rummaging through the refrigerator when she heard her niece descending the stairs. Shati had her hind-length hair wrapped in her headscarf, she hadn't yet tied the Hijab. It was, in Shati's mind, too early for that. Plus, she would end up taking it off later in the day anyway, she couldn't stand the strange looks from all the other teens when she wore it to school. Bibi, however, was not particular about her niece's subtle defiance, and much as she coached Bibi about their heritage and customs, Shati was a modern woman who saw the Hijab as a symbol of oppression. Bibi turned on the burners of the stove and found her two favorite cast iron skillets: one given to her by her grandmother when she was 16, the other she bought at a garage sale for $3. A thrifter, Bibi was. As she was pouring her oil into the skillets, Bibi lifted a salutative smile toward her niece. The creases of her face deepend aongside her mouth as she did,

"Morning, Titi! Breakfast?" with dazed expression, Shati brushed the sleep from her engulfing eyes and returned,
"Shakshuka? Again?" Bibi frowned, in the lines of her frown she crushed Shati's disrespect,
"If you don't like it Shati, you can cook for yourself!" the rest was lathered in Arabic. Shati put up little resistance, for she was the absolute worst cook in the family, though with time she figured she may get better. If not, well... fast food existed for a reason. It was around this time that Bibi usually asked Shati about what she did at school the previous day. Today was not fitting for such questioning, but Bibi--ever the soldier of the family--mustered strength,

"So..." an inhale, Bibi continued, "how was sch--" the doorbell rang. Shati's head whipped toward the wooden door and Bibi's gaze trailed alongside her niece's. Outside Pantheon stood.

"You think they're gonna know it's me?"
"I doubt it; and given your mother and her affinity for that cast iron skillet, I would say brace yourself."
"Ain't you invulnerable or something?"
"It still hurts. It always hurts, even after several millennia." Pantheon winced at the thought of all the brunt damage he had taken over his incarnations.

The door swung open, Pantheon's gargantuan frame and black garment filled the hole of the doorway like a black hole; Bibi screamed and shut the door. From inside, Hassan could hear her shout,

"TITI, GO GET THE SHOTGUN!" and a patter of feet up the stairs. Some minutes passed before the door swung open and Bibi had the shotgun cocked and readied in both hands while Shati marshaled both of the cast iron frying pans.

"Who. The. Hell. Are. You?!" Bibi demanded. Boyish as ever, Hassan pleaded,
"Mama, it's me! It's Hassan!" Bibi's face sunk. Then it filled with rage. She pulled the trier and let the buckshot off right into Pantheon's chest--when the ammunition merely clanged off his chest and atop the concrete porch, Rahna took a swing with the cast iron skillet. When the head of the skillet made contact and subsequently snapped in two, Bibi briefly turned her rage on her niece,

"You broke my damn skillet! Go in the house!"
"But I'm alr--" Bibi gave Shati the look. Shati's lips fell air tight and she retreated into her room upstairs. Bibi turned her vision on the man who claimed to be her son. A lie, she thought. How could this abomination be her son? He was too tall, too muscular, too modelesque to be her boy. Bibi squinted. She had always heard of the stories about magic and her family, but she was the black sheep who didn't believe the fairy tale. Now, even when confronted with the truth, she would not be assuaged. And she would not be afraid.
"If you're my son, what was the first birthday present I ever got you?"
"Uh. . . uh. . ." Bibi tapped her foot,
"A lime green bicycle with training wheels." Pantheon recounted for Hassan,

Bibi squinted again. In a panic, she shut the door once more. What if this man was an impostor? How does he know these things? Is he a stalker?! Then Bibi remembered the stories her grandmother used to tell her of a magical warrior who seemingly appeared within every generation of the Amim line; a being forged of the deepest practices of the mythical: Pantyhose. Panther? Pant--something or other, she never payed much attention. Her eldest daughter had told her of something similar, but age nor time had softened her to what she believed were just tales spun to make her family feel more important than they were. But, what if they were right? There was one person she knew would know something about this panthwhatever, Rahna. She phoned her daughter no sooner than the idea came to her and Rahna answered.

"Rahna, this is oom. You been dating some guy named Panteock?"
"Who?" Rahna said, amused,
"Pant--one second..." she opened the door again where Pantheon stood, "what did you say your name was?"
"Hass-Pantheon" Bibi slammed the door shut once more,
"Pantheon!" she began again,
"No, why would I--Oh. Oh, no! Oh, shit. Don't move, mama! I'm on my way!" the screech of tires was evident, the line went dead.

Shati sat on her bed upstairs cursing her mother under her breath as she usually did when they fought.

Bibi held her shotgun barrel to the window, her curtains sprung wide open and aimed at the man on her front porch to let him know she would be having none of his bullshit today.

Hassan rocked back and forth on his toes, nervously grinning at the woman who birthed him and was now pointing a gun to his head. What a fine 'welcome home' celebration this was.



The Tiger: An Interim
March-October, 2020.

March flew by, Marvin had--for the most part--spent the rest of April and May cleaning up the criminal gangs in and around Brooklyn. By June, crime in Brooklyn had dropped to nearly zero; consequently, the city began to speak. Whispers of Brooklyn’s mysterious vigilante spread similar as the wildfire which engulfed New York City months earlier. In the wake of crime’s depression in the Brooklyn area, Tiger was able to focus his efforts on other things. Come the end of July, he was able to finish his mixed martial arts training, achieving inhuman levels of prowess in: Taekwondo, Judo, Boxing, Greco-Roman wrestling, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Muai Thai, and Krav Maga to name a few.

He had also went about setting up cameras on every street in Brooklyn, including alleways. All of which programmed to the same frequency as the magic detecting satellite he helped Grim build earlier in the year. There was little which occurred in the city of Brooklyn which escaped the Tiger’s watchful eye, normal or mystic. Earlier in the month of July, he had thrown Independence Day festivities; a block party for the entire Marcy housing projects. There were school supplies for the kids, fireworks, Marvin had even partnered with the local homeless shelter and invited the city’s disenfranchised for the celebration.

Not all the month of July was peace for the Tiger, he watched vigorous as Grim, Lady Arcana, and several other vigilantes he had never seen before repelled rebel forces in the Middle East. A hundred thousand men or more versus six or seven vigilantes, and the vigilantes won. Marvin was tickled at the sight, if there was any inkling of desired secrecy in the vigilante community, it was now gone. It was national news. The repercussions--good or bad--meant the citizens of New York would grow to love or hate masked men such as himself; which way the public leaned Marvin could not yet tell; the populus (and he, himself) were still new to this ‘hero’ phenomenon. Marvin was unsure how much longer he could shroud himself behind the Tiger’s mystique, the public eye was well set on the hero community, and though he personally did not care too much about having his identity exposed, to have his veil lifted would mean he would have to begin anew. One could never be sure what enemies one may make in this line of work, no matter how secretive one attempted to remain.

Marvin had assumed there were others like himself out there after meeting Lady Arcana, Grim, the Tree, and the others during the riots. Since then, he had been watching them all--creating countermeasures for each one. A swell of joy fluttered within as he imagined Grim was doing the same. Nice improvements on the jet, by the way. I’ll need to tell her when I see her next. As July waned, The people of the Marcy projects were watching him, too. News of vigilantism around the nation focused the Marcy residents’ formerly unconcerned eyes on the large warehouse which overlooked the whole projects as though it were some five star hotel high rise. They begun to wonder just who--or what--had suddenly made their slums crime free. But many of the citizens, like the criminals Marvin had preyed upon, never heard nor saw anything.

July faded into August; the dead of summer was never Marvin’s favorite time of year. His suit oxygenated itself, but it was still partly made of leather and on those arid summer midnights when the air was still and the people of the projects slept, Marvin was leaping across the city’s rooftops. Even with the projects relatively safe, the Mob began entrenching itself in the five boroughs once more. Marvin drove the dregs of the mob from his part of town with a lightning ferocity; he had not taken out the upper brass. In truth, he did not intend to; there were grander threats worthy of his attention, the Mob’s infighting would assure they took care of themselves sooner or later. A few sightings of Brooklyn’s resident vigilante by the city’s insomniac and night owl population, and murmurs about the moniker of the Brooklyn mask spread: ‘Claw Man’, ‘Kitty’, ‘Jaguar’, all feline related. Marvin heard the whispers and each guess amused him.

Life as a vigilante was not glorious, especially for Hayes. Most of his time was spent in the warehouse where he watched the world as it progressed. Part of him wished he was out there participating in its advancement, establishing relationships; but so is the isolated life of his line of work. While the world advanced technologically, Marvin watched. He designed and installed into his current suit a rotation of different visual nodes: one for night vision; there was another for motionsense; in borrowing from Grim, thermal and heat vision, and by replicating the design of the magic sensory satellite’s features, a node for visualizing magic energies large and small within a long radius.

He continued working with the samples of magic energy he attained in March, but he made no great advancement. August lulled, and Marvin’s desire to stir swelled; he travelled around New York, pursuing the night life. Clubs, bars, ballrooms; he figured it best to spend some of that money he had saved and network with some of the city’s rich and depraved. He forged friendships with some of the city’s most powerful politicians, bankers, crime figures, and celebrities. Come the middle of September, there was no member of New York’s elite who Marvin didn’t know. He opened small non-for profit organizations, started a martial arts gym, and was in the process of mapping out a minor trucking business; in part so he could replenish some of his disposed wealth, and in part to draw the eye of some of those same crime figures he had become friends with. After all, the crime bosses knew Marvin, but they didn’t know it was Marvin himself who was also terrorizing their illegitimate kingdoms.

Or so he thought.

A brisk October morning, Marvin was out for a jog. New York winter was approaching unfettered. Marvin typically wore the torso piece of the suit underneath his workout clothes in case he did need to act suddenly; lately, Marvin was not as sharp. Maybe it was the lack of crime, maybe it was because his galavanting had softened him; he was beginning to enjoy the softer things in life--fine wines, jewelry, women. Lots of women. His in ring persona never quite left him, though he hadn’t been inside a ring in almost a year. When the mask was off, he was still loud, abracious, cocky. The dissonance between himself and the Tiger had to remain wide, lest a being keener than himself deduce the two parts were in fact one whole. So when Marvin failed to notice the gunmen trailing him on his route, enhanced senses and all, it was only indicative of one cold fact: Grim was right.

No matter how many gangs he took down, how many charities he opened, or how much he tried to protect an entire city when he was only one man, eventually he would slip. Whoever had been watching him was waiting, documenting every mistake he made. Each shot boomed louder in his ears than normal; and for a mere second between hearing the gun’s blast and the initial impact of the first shot, Marvin knew today may be his last. The first round hit his shoulder blade and exited through his right bicep, the second tore through his glutes and splintered his hip, the third burst through his back inches from his spine and curled out through his abdomen. A fourth hemorrhaged his hamstring and blew through his knee entirely.

Marvin fell face first into the concrete, in the middle of the slums he swore to protect. The masked gunmen kept firing, Marvin still clung to life; and had it not been for the returning fire of two drug dealers, the gunman who stood over him may have had time to deliver the coup de tat. The two drug dealers, men who Marvin knew but never bothered even during his escapades as Tiger, stood over his dying body. One of the two, named Lamarcus, spoke first,

“Aye, ain’t that Marvin?”, the other man, Trevon, added,
“Oh shit, yeah, that is him!” then Lamarcus chimed,
“Why they hit son like that? Fucked his shit all up!” Trevon, one who always got excited at the sight of violence, almost giggled at the comment,
“On god they did.” both were hardened to even a gruesome sight as this, a lull fell over the interaction for a few seconds as they pondered. Lamarcus spoke again,
“We gone help ‘im or what?”
“Shi’, migh’ as well.”

When Marvin woke in the hospital a few days later in King’s County Hospital, he was bandaged nearly from head to toe and hooked up to several tubes. On the television above his bed there was a news report,

BREAKING NEWS

“Jennifer Greene with Channel 52 news. Several days ago, a man was shot and left for dead in Marcy’s Brooklyn housing projects. A police investigation launched into the shooting uncovered that the victim, 24 year old Marvin Hayes, former Middleweight IBC boxing champion, may be connected to the new vigilante presence sweeping the nation. More at 6.”


He must have left the warehouse key in his pocket!

A pan of the skycamera fixated on the warehouse, there were police wagons and swat vans trying to break down the front door, to no initial avail; after prodding with a battering ram, the defensive measures activated. A massive flashbang followed by a torrent of non-lethal armor piercing rounds sent the streamlined officers careening backwards. On the lower levels, the gunrack walls in the ballistics lab flipped around, an array of weapons exchanged for blank hollow steel walls. On the fourth floor, where his engineering room was; more importantly, where his official and prototype suits hung along every wall, the hollowed partitions opened in back and the mechanized arms from which the suits hung were reverted into the hollow spacing. When the walls closed, they were as regular walls should be. One would not know the walls were actually hollow unless they had built the infrastructure themselves. As for the engineering drawings themselves, they remained. Marvin figured he would be caught someday, and should someone attempt to replicate his designs, they couldn’t build them the way he had so it was of little consequence.

A knock on his hospital room’s door; the FBI. A tall, slender man in a creme trench coat sauntered in and flashed his badge. In a detached voice, he spoke,

“Marvin Hayes! David Ramsey, FBI! You and I need to have a chat, hm?” Mr. Ramsey showed his badge as confirmation and pulled the blue hospital chair next to the railing of Marvin’s bed.

Well. . . fuck.

Oshea Jackson


"I think I'm slippin'."



Scarlet Witch, Sabertooth, Blob, Avalanche, Toad. For the Brotherhood to be so feared, only two of those names struck fear in Oshea's heart, and he had already seen those two in action. A subtle ache shot up his leg all the way to the center of his patella at the thought of being on the battlefield again. He grimmaced when the ache turned to a pinching clutch and he readjusted the knee brace. Everyone else was conversing, but Oshea wouldn't; the cheered spirit of the moment would collapse soon, then it was time to go. Nervous, excited, anxious, his emotions boiled and his mind hazed.

Oshea's hands shook violent, once again his mind zipped between thoughts: Would the rookies survive? Were his Converse matching? If they ran into one of the Brotherhood, how would the quadruplet fair? Would he even be fast enough to save them all if something dire happened? Would he fail them again? And once more was the angst, and then illumination. How sudden was his vision pulled in Allison's direction in the disquiet. A beacon. Since their conversation, he had always remembered her words,

but I wonder if I’m just a pawn. Something without much use other than to be there and be sacrificed. I mean, everyone at the plant seemed to be doing something useful, whereas I just kind of...was there

Except now the roles reversed, and he was the one in need of a little light. They would be working together on the upcoming mission, so maybe it was time for Oshea to muster up some courage and tell her how he really felt. Of course, he had thought of doing that before and managed no harvest and a second life or death mission was perhaps not the keenest moment to profess caritas for another being. Oshea was not rational.
Is the punisher taken?

Please don't be taken!


Heh. Heh. Heh. Blade's jingles tingle.
Blade

"I make sure the things that bump in the night don't make it to sunrise."
Eric Brooks Birthdate: Early 20th century ( Nearly 100 ) Male Anti-Hero/Villain

C O N C E P T A B S T R A C T:

To my knowledge--and in my opinion--Blade was always supposed to be Marvel's number one occult hunter extraordinaire; unfortunately for Mr. Brooks, Marvel mishandled the occult and after the Blade trilogy lost its novelty, Marvel's resident vampire hunter was shuffled to the background of the Marvel comics universe. My tentative plan with Absolute version Blade is to push him to the forefront of all things vampire related but to expand his gallery of hunted to more than vampires. I desire to plunge Eric into the supernatural underbelly to deal with all sorts of seedy otherworldly foes: witches, wizards, warlocks, demons, and more. Blade will, of course, also rear himself on the streets of New York to escapade with the Absolute universe's street level heroes from both worlds (hopefully someone makes Constantine as I've always wanted to see the two team up.) Absolute Universe Blade will be coming out of retirement at the start of his first chapter.

N O T E S:

Absolute Universe Blade had been hunting for a few decades before it appeared he had vanquished the Nightwalker population for good and decided it was time to retire. As a new threat emerges, the Daywalker returns to New York to uncover the shroud of his newest enemy. Absolute Universe Blade retains all the same training, powers, skills and combat experience 616 Universe Blade has, including his arsenal of occult-specific weapons and his two Adamantium swords.
Also, one more month and we will have reached six months! Excelsior!
@FantasyChic

I rolled for it, she doesn't yet, but just watch, she'll get one at the worst moment possible or something like that. The dice do not seem to like you people for some reason if the fight at the power plant didn't make that obvious.


Make the dice like us, darnit! For the sake of Oshea's physical wellbeing, pls, ty
Blade

"I make sure the things that bump in the night don't make it to sunrise."
Eric Brooks Birthdate: Early 20th century ( Nearly 100 ) Male Anti-Hero/Villain

C O N C E P T A B S T R A C T:

To my knowledge--and in my opinion--Blade was always supposed to be Marvel's number one occult hunter extraordinaire; unfortunately for Mr. Brooks, Marvel mishandled the occult and after the Blade trilogy lost its novelty, Marvel's resident vampire hunter was shuffled to the background of the Marvel comics universe. My tentative plan with Absolute version Blade is to push him to the forefront of all things vampire related but to expand his gallery of hunted to more than vampires. I desire to plunge Eric into the supernatural underbelly to deal with all sorts of seedy otherworldly foes: witches, wizards, warlocks, demons, and more. Blade will, of course, also rear himself on the streets of New York to escapade with the Absolute universe's street level heroes from both worlds (hopefully someone makes Constantine as I've always wanted to see the two team up.) Absolute Universe Blade will be coming out of retirement at the start of his first chapter.

N O T E S:

Absolute Universe Blade had been hunting for a few decades before it appeared he had vanquished the Nightwalker population for good and decided it was time to retire. As a new threat emerges, the Daywalker returns to New York to uncover the shroud of his newest enemy. Absolute Universe Blade retains all the same training, powers, skills and combat experience 616 Universe Blade has, including his arsenal of occult-specific weapons and his two Adamantium swords.
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