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8 Nov 2016 11:45
Jimmy Fallon's face pisses me off so goddamn much

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Healer Team: Halvost and Defensive Support: Roless
- Failures -
γ€Žβ„€π• π•–γ€ γ€Žβ„‚π•™π•£π•šπ•€π•₯π•žπ•’π•€γ€ γ€Žπ”Όπ•£π•Ÿπ•–π•€π•₯』 γ€Žπ”Ήπ•£π•–π•Ÿπ•₯』



π•Šπ•–π•‘π•₯. πŸ™πŸœ, 𝟚𝟘𝟚𝟘 / / π•Žπ•šπ•€π•—π• π•£π••, 𝕄𝕒𝕣π•ͺπ•π•’π•Ÿπ•• / / π•‹π• π•¨π•Ÿ / / ~πŸ™πŸŸπŸœπŸ

Collab with @Lasrever [@A Filthy Yet Glamorous Slug With Nubs] @banjoanjo and @ERode


β€œChristmas, is there a particular reason why you’re getting closer to the frontlines?”

Oh, was Brent mad at them? Knowing that the blond's difficulties with doing anything coherent without blanking out, Ernie took the radio and answered for the team. "Sorry, old location got compr-- uh, it's not safe anymore. The mage was hiding a mic and--"

His train of thought was derailed by a sudden transmission. Strange voices, strange noises, and... was that screaming he could hear on the other side? Emma didn't seem to know the source so it wasn't from the support team. And there was too much screaming to consist of a three-person healer team, strike team or one of the snipers. The only team left that was travelling with a large number of people was Evac and...

Ernie blanched. They were the ones who had David. And if it was them who was screaming... What was happening? He cast a brief glance at Zoe before talking into the radio.

"Evac, what's the situation with the mage? Evac, can you hear me?"

"...and Brent would have a clearer view if we get into trouble again."

Remembering his own words, Ernie thumbed through the channels and switched to the amethyst-eyed sniper's.

"Brent, what's going on?"

Zoe had reached much the same conclusion - this had to be connected to David in one way or another. Had they missed a tracker when they searched? Another mic? Either way, this was on them. They should've killed him when they had the chance, and now Evac were paying for their mistakes. But out of everything, there was one thing that stuck out.

Why are they screaming?

They were supposed to be calm. If things weren't calm, there was every chance that Lawrence was in trouble. And it was her fault, coming off the back of her decisions. She wasn't sure if she considered him a friend, but... He'd helped her, given her a chance when she probably didn't deserve one, and now she might have gotten him killed. She'd stopped moving, fists clenched tight and an expression mirroring that of a rabid dog. Panicked, angry, and viciously afraid.

Not again. She couldn't do this again.

"I'm going out there."

β€œOffensive Support, Strikers, Healer Teams, Gregory. The APC has been attacked by three subnaturals. One male with olive skin, one female with black hair, and another with blond hair in a ponytail. Necks hidden. Don’t know their powers yet. Don’t message anyone on Evac team. Lawrence is down and the rest are missing.”

Three subnaturals with necks hidden. Aberrations. Fuck, fuck, FUCK. They must've come after David. Now one of their classmates was down and Marcus was badly outnumbered by what Ernie presumed were experienced mage agents. The long-haired aberration grit his teeth. He should have poured drain cleaner down that fucker's throat instead.

"There are three of them, you can't go out there!" he grabbed Zoe by the wrist but let go after remembering her ability. He opted to keep a firm grip on her covered shoulder instead.

Brent's voice sounded from over the radio. "Ernie, Zoe, Christmas, head northwest, away from my building."

"Healer comes first," Ernie insisted furiously, concurring with the tech mage's orders.

Zoe shrugged off Ernie's hand, her voice shaking with barely-restrained anger. This was irrational, and she knew that, to an extent, but that didn't change her priorities. "Then take Christmas and start walking. I'm no healer."

Events seemed to prefer simultaneous starts, at least from Christmas's limited perspective. No sooner had they wordlessly resolved to put David behind them both figuratively and literally than the sudden buzz of radio static sounded from apparently multiple speakers.

First it was one of their teammates, asking him in particular why the group moved as they did (and Christmas had come up short for an acceptable answer, anyway), then it was the ominous transmission from another group that sent only screams and muted noises through the speakers. And that prompted even more responses from others, asking the inevitable questions of "What."

He couldn't juggle this mentally. It was hard enough just thinking about where he should and shouldn't be on the battlefield, especially now when they didn't have the relative certainty of assigned locations. Trying to process it all at once was a huge mistake and Christmas felt that old panic rear its head against his heart and nerves.

Zoe and Ernie were saying something, and the tones of their voices were harsh. Biting. But he wasn't sure what he was supposed to do here. It had been simpler to let them make the calls, but now they and someone else on the radio were arguing. Meanwhile distant screams petered from all of their cuffs, echoing and replicating the sounds threefold.

He thought it sounded a bit like the white noise in his head.

"...U-uh..." he managed, the sound preluding a series of half-thoughts he didn't know how to piece together and voice.

Losing your goddamn minds like you did today will get them killed.

Prioritize your objectives.

Criticisms from a half-skimmed pile of evaluation papers swam around in Ernie's head. The objective was here. Healers as powerful as Christmas were a one-in-a-billion find. He couldn't fall into the hands of an Aberration faction. The objective was here and he couldn't have Zoe endangering that.

They had to stay back here. Because back here was safe.

Ernie's eyes widened at that thought. 'Safe'? He hadn't been thinking about Christmas at all. It was all for himself. Just like it always was. Even when a comrade, a friend, was facing certain death, Ernie was only looking out for his own hide. Marcus had stuck by him even after finding out how awful he really was. He'd scolded and advised him. He was a friend.

But as amazing and right as he was, he couldn't make Ernie a better person. Friendship had no meaning here in a warzone.

A golden noose shot from his hand and wrapped around Zoe's neck. Christmas was of no help here. It was up to him to make sure the team stayed together. Even if it meant dooming Marcus. Even if it meant he'd lose yet another person he cared about. Even if it meant that he would stay selfish.

"I'm sorry," Ernie murmured, looking sullen, "You can't go."

"It's not your choice to make. Let me go, Ernie." Zoe's voice was cold with rage, the redhead forcing herself to keep it level as she glared at the other aberration, but there was a note of something else underneath. Something akin to desperation.

Not again.

She was meant to stop this, to stop people from hurting them. That was why she'd made her choice in the first place-- So what use was she if she couldn't even do that? Every time someone tried to help her, she just had to go and fuck it up, leave them worse off than before.

After a few seconds of pulling at the rope, she began to realise it was hopeless to try and break it - At least without seriously hurting Ernie. And with his durability, holding back wouldn't be an option, so she couldn't afford to try. She tried to pull on the rope and unbalance him, but the guy was immovable. There was no way for her to run with the rope tight around her neck. No way out. Trapped.

No. No, this wasn't supposed to--

Her voice finally cracked. "Ernie, please."

He shook his head silently, ruefully. Selfish. Stupid.

"Christmas is..." he struggled to not choke on his rationale, "one of the strongest healers I've ever known. We can't let those Aberrations have him."

One good reason.

"Cal and Angel and Emma. All our classmates. They're important too. What if they need us and we're not there?"

Another solid point. So many valid excuses for this retreat, so logical and effective. Ernie wished that they could outweigh his own cowardly justification.

"Zoe, do you understand?"

Zoe was silent for a long moment.

Of course she understood. She knew it made sense, that it was rational and sensible to retreat. But it didn't make her feel better. The others were so far away, and... Fighting was the only thing she knew how to do, really. They needed Christmas to live, they didn't need her to run away so that could happen.

"I just don't see what difference I make." Zoe spoke almost inaudibly, weakly protesting the statements. Despite her arguments she wasn't looking at either of the others, shoulders slumped as she looked down at the floor. She wasn't winning here at any rate, and it was clear that the girl knew that to an extent.

It almost hurt to see her look so defeated. Almost.

"Throwing your life away won't make any difference either," he said quietly.

The rope returned to its loose state, releasing its hold on Zoe. He still had a bit less than twenty minutes left, and if she tried to run again he could easily leash her. Hopefully the whole thing will have blown over by the time his rope time ran out. Cal will have responded to Brent's call for help and the Evac team would get out with minimal casualties. Hopefully. A guy could dream.

"Cal's making her way over now," Ernie offered, "We'll go back to them as soon as it's clear. But for now we need to hang back."

"We both know that could be too late." Zoe nodded halfheartedly as the rope disappeared from her neck, rubbing her throat absentmindedly. This hadn't gone the way she'd hoped. None of it had, really-- Everything had just fallen apart when it got the chance, and a lot of it was on them. No, a lot of it was on her. At least until now, most of it had been her decision.

Forcing herself to at least appear composed, she sighed, sounding almost too exhausted to bother arguing anymore. "If we're going... then let's just go, okay?"

Ernie scratched his head tiredly and nodded, keeping the rope on just in case. What a mess. One hand ushered his teammates north while the other raised the radio to his mouth.

"Brent. Heading to the location now."

Subdued after his failed attempt to say anything cohesive, Christmas bit his lower lip and followed Ernie, trying to put aside his self-deprecating thoughts until a better moment. He stared at the moving feet in front of him instead, counting the steps and letting his mind linger on simple numbers so it wouldn't find out that he had been--and still was--entirely useless. Far more than anyone here.

Oblivious to all the drama, Brent's voice sounded through the radio once more. "That's good. Get as much distance as you can from my location, cause it's gonna be attracting attention very soon."
Healer Team: Halvost
- Lurkers -
γ€Žβ„€π• π•–γ€ γ€Žβ„‚π•™π•£π•šπ•€π•₯π•žπ•’π•€γ€ γ€Žπ”Όπ•£π•Ÿπ•–π•€π•₯』



π•Šπ•–π•‘π•₯. πŸ™πŸœ, 𝟚𝟘𝟚𝟘 / / π•Žπ•šπ•€π•—π• π•£π••, 𝕄𝕒𝕣π•ͺπ•π•’π•Ÿπ•• / / π•‹π• π•¨π•Ÿ / / ~πŸ™πŸŸπŸœπŸ˜

Collab with @Lasrever [@A Filthy Yet Glamorous Slug With Nubs] and @banjoanjo


They left "David" at an intersection where the residential lots met a street of small businesses smashed to rubble, the captive's pained sounds his only noises of protest now. On the phone display, Gregory had entered that same street, though a block north, and that much closer to the worst of the fighting. Faint vibrations through the ground denoted furious combat in the direction of both the offensive support team and the strikers while a flash of purple light shot towards the fray from an intact apartment building only meant the defensive supporters had to step in after all, rather than just wait for any stragglers to mop up.

It wasn't ideal, and Gregory so far out of position while a collector type prowled several blocks away only seemed to emphasize just how little control they had over the situation. Nothing seemed to be going as planned, especially when the distant, looming figure of Factory tried to stand again despite two of its legs hanging slack from its body.

It was all too much to take in, really. Just a few hours ago they had been playing at being students in a school, but they hadn't rehearsed enough to play at being soldiers on a battlefield.

Christmas glanced at the reddened skin around the edges of the blindfold, grimacing at the flesh seared by both the orange coloration of pepper spray and the burn of drain cleaner. His own injury sent a sharp pang through his neck as well, reminding him that they truly were taking an eye for an eye here. And then some.

The right thing to do was heal the victim. They had to be breaking some conventions of war here, he thought, but knew better than to undo the work of two testy Aberrations. Instead Christmas averted his eyes, because not seeing was always easier, especially when everything seemed so bleak--so unbecoming of teenagers who could barely manage themselves let alone a no-holds-barred match against a subnatural capable of this. He had zipped up Sander's jacket upon leaving earlier, afraid the flapping edges of the loose outerwear would catch on something and he'd be forced to leave it behind in a rush. Now he looked decidedly underwhelming in a blue hoodie that bloused around his arms and sagged where it hung low well past his hips.

But it was soft and it was warm, so he didn't mind the look of swimming in the clothes. He focused on those sensations instead of the destruction around them, the odd stains of dark and brownish red here and there, the occasional distant rumbling of something or other walking---prowling, and the clamor of his own pulse in his ears that the helmet seemed to insulate and amplify in his head.

"Hopefully this whole experience'll teach you not to mess with superpowered strangers," Ernie commented lightly as he secured David's ankles with more tape. It'd make it harder for Marcus to load the Arbiter onto the truck but at least there'd be less chance of him getting away. Not that there remained much chance at all, considering the healer team's handiwork. With a few more rough kicks to the torso and a violent coughing fit provoked by another direct spray of pepper, David was left on the road as a satisfied Ernie trotted back to his team's new temporary camp.

They were closer to the action now, a lot closer than he would've liked. Wary eyes scanned their whereabouts, determined to not let a second subnatural come as close as David had gotten. They wouldn't be caught off-guard a second time, especially now that the danger lurked closer than ever before. Ernie's gaze flickered back and forth between his phone and the window. The proximity of those dots, not good at all. He observed with worry as one large dot in particular sped down one of the main roads, close to Marcus' team. Too fast. Not good.

"Zoe," he called, successfully sounding calmer than he really was, "do we really need to stay here? I don't like the look of those big guys."

Zoe glared down at the map, trying to think things through. It was true, they were vulnerable in this position, and the big ones were worryingly close. Still, the idea of fleeing didn't sit well with her, and it showed.

"Not many options. East's closer to the fighting, North's practically all rubble, and we can't head back where we came from in case that mic had a tracker." She scowled at the rapidly-moving dots, looking more frustrated than worried. "Unless you fancy a hundred-metre sprint over open ground, South's out too."

After a second's pause, she sighed, managing to look even more annoyed than before. "There's an undamaged building to the Northwest. No real shelter 'til we get there, but I guess it could be an option." Despite the concern about their safety, Zoe seemed genuinely irritated at making the suggestion. It was dumb, but she felt reluctant to swallow her pride and run away.

"Mm," Ernie scratched his head as if he were actually debating the option. It was important not to show how much he wanted to take it, "I think that's a good move. It's not that much further from our current position and Brent would have a clearer view if we get into trouble again. Healer's safety comes first after all."

He chose to not raise the topic of David's proximity to the monsters, lest it affected Zoe's course of action. If ensuring their safety meant throwing the chubby bastard to the dogs, then so be it. Ernie was sure that Kardos and whoever monitored the radios would have caught wind of their captive, yet they had remained silent. If they actually wanted Halvost Team to bring David in, then they would have said something. But they hadn't so it was fine to leave him behind. That was Ernie's rationale anyway. Moral standing wasn't even on his list of priorities at the moment.

Christmas blinked at the suggestion, looking between the prone David in the street ahead and his teammates. He knew what they were doing, in a way, but grasping the essence of it--that of leaving someone to die, potentially--was eluding him in a way that felt almost relieving. He didn't want to think about his actions here, or his lack of action here. The morally right thing wasn't always the situationally right thing, he tried to assure himself, but the feeble attempt to lay out a justification only worsened that nagging guilt.

He hadn't protested any decision Zoe or Ernie had made, nor did he have a mind to after what happened with David, but it scared him to know that were the decision left up to him, he might have chosen the same thing, but after much longer deliberation.

Cold evening air and creeping shadows across the ruined ground pulled his eyes away from David whimpering in the distance, the dampness on his throat icy in the faint wind. He didn't know if something so small warranted the quivering figure across the broken asphalt. More things to not think about unless he wanted to risk finding out their exact weights on the scales of his fear and shame.

"Better get moving then. We can't afford to waste time."

The situation didn't sit well with Zoe, especially as she caught sight of their victim on their way out. It was obvious what the implications were here, and part of her wanted to fix it, to pretend she was better than this. But instead she kept walking, resolved to do what had to be done despite the bad taste in her mouth. For one of their own group, she'd face down the monsters alone if she had to, but David wasn't someone she cared about. And when it came down to it...

Well, everyone was selfish in their own way. And even if the others wanted to play hero, that was never her place, or her intention. Zoe may not have considered herself as a priority, but her teammates' lives had to be cared for, even if that meant there were victims paying the price. Evil, maybe, if you saw things in black and white, but ultimately necessary. Someone had to take responsibility.

Still, that didn't stop it from weighing on her conscience as the team approached their new location, leaving the constructs and David far behind them.
Healer Team: Halvost
- Aggressor -
γ€Žβ„€π• π•–γ€ γ€Žβ„‚π•™π•£π•šπ•€π•₯π•žπ•’π•€γ€ γ€Žπ”Όπ•£π•Ÿπ•–π•€π•₯』



π•Šπ•–π•‘π•₯. πŸ™πŸœ, 𝟚𝟘𝟚𝟘 / / π•Žπ•šπ•€π•—π• π•£π••, 𝕄𝕒𝕣π•ͺπ•π•’π•Ÿπ•• / / π•‹π• π•¨π•Ÿ / / ~πŸ™πŸŸπŸ›πŸ

Collab with @Lasrever [@A Filthy Yet Glamorous Slug With Nubs] and @banjoanjo


Ernie shrugged at Zoe's question. It wasn't like he had much information to work off either. "There are a lotta big factions out there. Mostly made up of Aberrations since... well, I shouldn't have to explain it to you. But who these Abes are probably won't help us much. What we need to know is how many are still gonna be after us and anything about their powers so we can tell the others." He looked to their captive. "Right, David?"

The thought that other mages would be after them froze Christmas's hands for a moment as he clumsily wound the gauze around his throat, fumbling uselessly with the bulges and bumps across the uneven wrapping and leaving the end dangling from one side of his neck when he couldn't find any tape to hold it together. How was he supposed to avoid both the machines and the enemies? The Commander had suspected another organization but the reality hadn't hit him until now.

Every movement of his head pulled on the light gash and the shoddy bandaging only irritated the wound further, so Christmas held his head as still as possible as he turned to look, dissipating the healing mist when everyone seemed all right. There was a steady panic building in the back of his head, held back only by the rush of fear and adrenaline and the light scent of cologne on the large, blue jacket draped around him. Sander had promised to finish the fight quickly. He just had to hold out until then--whenever "then" was.

Zoe sighed, doubt crossing her expression. The torture session had more than dealt with everything, meaning she didn't particularly want to hurt the kid. Part of her already knew her actions could be seen as despicable. It wasn't normal to be so ready to hurt someone else, to revel in it like she had. Ernie had let her, and he'd fired the first shot, but she'd been the one to really carry it out. That probably made her morally reprehensible in one way or another.

But if the information would help the others, then what did David matter to her? It was necessary, like it or not, and once she got started, she'd enjoy it either way. They didn't need to find out. Irritated by her moment of uncertainty, she shook her head, face set into a resolved scowl. Whatever it took, she had to be willing. "You heard him. Start talking, or we start round two, and you are really not gonna like round two."

"You may as well kill me then. I don't know any more than he does. They didn't tell me anything they didn't have to--and that's almost everything," Cain replied, fresh ear still ringing with the memory of pain. He winced reflexively at the mention of another torture session, blinking as the white, sparkling mist around him disappeared. "You have a healer," he commented almost nonchalantly. "Pretty effective one, too, if he can heal back an entire ear."

Zoe gave David a blank look, clearly bemused at the obviousness of the statement. "I wouldn't be surprised if you were lying to me at this point, so don't push your luck. No way to tell, though..." An idea sprung into her head. It was true, after all. They had no way of verifying information, but if these people were a threat, well, there had to be others that did.

She looked at Ernie, standing abruptly. "I need a second to think. See if he has a phone on him or something in the meantime, I guess."

"Tagging out? Sure," Ernie replied, sparing a look at Christmas' terrible patch-up job. Urgh, he should've just insisted on doing it for him. The long-haired boy fiddled with the roll of medical tape he'd taken from the kit and walked over. If he lived long enough for a next mission, he'd need to bring along some actual duct tape. Or handcuffs. Maybe those Brent-style tech goggles too, or just a small pair of binoculars.

He gave the captive a hearty squeeze of pepper spray as he approached. Sprayed some into the Arbiter's mouth and nose too, in case the effects would last longer that way. The captive immediately cried out, curling up and clutching his eyes and coughing violently. While the stocky boy was indisposed, Ernie rolled him onto his stomach and sat a knee onto his back. Arms behind the back, sleeves rolled up. The tape was deftly wrapped around the entirety of David's joined forearms, fingers taped up along with them to keep him from grasping any other sneaky weapons. Like straitjacket arms, Ernie noted, only behind his back. He'd have to reinforce these impromptu handcuffs with duct tape if the house had any.

"It's important to check the seams and stuff. Shoes too," Ernie commented as he searched and patted, "You wouldn't believe how many assholes try to sneak tiny knives in that way. It's really..."

And there it was. Ernie's features contorted into something between fear and rage and he held the microphone aloft for Zoe to see. How much had they heard? Enough to know that they had a healer. Enough for the healer team to be in serious danger. Fuck, he really was an idiot.

It was almost disappointing. He'd tried so hard to keep it together when Zoe was melting this guy down bit by bit. He'd reined his Stigma in line so that Christmas wouldn't have anything to fear. He wanted to believe that he could overcome that pure glee he felt from someone getting tortured physically and emotionally. Resisting it was supposed to be the first step to becoming better. But David here was so fucking adamant on testing them, wasn't he! As much as he didn't want it, Ernie felt his grimace morph into a grin. At the sight of that smile and the microphone, Christmas blanched and turned back around, shaking visibly.

David thought he was going to die? Ernie would make sure he received so much worse before that.

"It's really such a pain in the ass, isn't it?" he laughed that same giddy laugh from that day in the alley and launched a heavy steel-toed boot right into David's teeth. Brutal stomps and kicks rained down on the boy with no resistance. Ernie only stopped when he realised that he'd gotten blood on his shoes.

As Ernie lifted the microphone, Zoe's eyes widened. Shit. She thought back over their conversation. How much had they given away? Christmas' abilities, her own as well. Nothing about their location, but there was still every chance they were in danger. They'd been careless. She glanced at the healer briefly, hoping they hadn't just completely fucked him over. As the beating commenced she watched with a grim smile, deciding she didn't much care to step in until Ernie stopped. Once he did, she walked over and placed a hand on his shoulder.

"I'm with you on this, but try not to kill him yet." She looked at their battered victim, before shaking her head. "Mind if I take over? I might have an idea, but I'll need to properly disable him. Contact--" She remembered the microphone, stopping suddenly and gesturing for Ernie to get rid of it. He nodded and went to the next room, the kitchen. The bug was placed in the fridge for the time being.

"What's the plan? Does involve getting away from this location?" Ernie asked once he returned.

"Yeah, we're gonna have to move anyway. But I'm thinking we should bring this guy with us." She poked David with her foot. "He's not a threat anymore, but he might know more than he's telling us. We don't have any way to verify his info, but USARILN might. If we can get him to the trucks, or maybe hand him over to the evacuation team so they can take him back... There's a chance we find out more about them."

Normally she wouldn't even consider it, but now that they had him tied, his power didn't mean shit. On a personal level, just killing him felt unsatisfying, and more importantly, thinking about everything that had happened up until now gave her a bad feeling about all this. It made sense to take whatever advantages they could. She shrugged, trying to gauge whether her teammates had any questions. "That make sense?"

A nod. "Yeah, sounds good," Ernie smiled, "So what were you saying before about disabling?"

"Well... As it is, he could pull a disappearing act as soon as he's out of my range. I can snap his tendons or blind him or both, then he's not going anywhere without help." She spoke matter-of-factly, barely sparing David a glance. Just had to focus on the plan. "Could do it now or just before we hand him over. Ideally I'd wait to make transport easier for us, but it'd freak out whoever we're handing him over to."

"I wouldn't snap anything that'd make it hard to walk him around..." Ernie scratched his head. Wasn't tendon the tough, muscley stuff you were supposed to cut from beef? He didn't pursue the matter further, "Blinding is something we could definitely do though. Wait here."

He headed to the kitchen again, re-emerging with a bottle of drain cleaner. The chemical was liberally poured onto some dressing from the first-aid kit, which was taken back from Christmas, now adamantly turned away from the horrifying scene behind him. With another generous drizzle of cleaner onto David's forcibly opened eyes, some bandages, and medical tape, the caustic dressing was turned into an impromptu blindfold and wrapped around David's head. With his hands secured behind his back, there was no way he could remove it and avoid irreversible damage to his vision. It was more subtle and a lot less messier than whatever Zoe would have done.

"Does that work?" Ernie turned back to Zoe, looking a bit too proud for the nature of the work he'd just done.

"Can't fault your efficiency, at least." Zoe grinned approvingly, before it occurred to her that their classmates probably wouldn't take the same view of things. Leaning down to pull David to his feet, she spoke a touch more seriously. "If any of the others blow up at us, I'll say the torture was my idea. I doubt they'll blame either of you for not arguing with me, considering my track record."

"Your...track record," his brow furrowed as he repeated it. He helped get David to his feet, wiping the cleaner from his hands onto their captive's shirt. Once his invulnerability vanished, he'd feel the chemical sting. He was going to have to wash his hands. After a pause, Ernie used the shirt again to wipe the excess off of David's face.

Truth be told, he hadn't been thinking too hard about what would come after this. But if they were going to hand this tortured victim to the Evac Team and Marcus, who already knew about Ernie's dark side and would inevitably think worse of him...

The Aberration frowned. He didn't like how tempting Zoe's offer was.

"Let's just think about that later," Ernie replied hastily, "I need to wash my hands now. You call the Evac Team."

Zoe nodded, grabbing the radio from her belt as Ernie walked away. "Fair enough. Transmit." She kept one eye on David as she spoke, her expression unreadable.

"Evac? It's Zoe, Halvost team. We're gonna need you to pick up a rogue subnatural. The threat's been contained, but we can't afford to keep him with us. Over." Putting the radio back, she glanced towards the fridge. Wasn't sure if she should just leave the mic there, but bringing it with them seemed like a bad idea. They could retrieve it after the fight was done, maybe.

For now, they had more important concerns. She grabbed David by the arm and called out to her teammates. "You two ready to go?"

Thanks to half a bottle of soap and some furious scrubbing, there only remained a slight tingling from the chemical once Ernie dissipated his invulnerability. There wasn't much reason to keep it up now that the threat had been blinded and beaten and bound. He wanted to have the full twenty minutes for later, if needed. The remainder of the first aid kit was shoved back into his backpack and zipped up. His half-used magazine was switched out for a full one. He grabbed his puffer jacket from where it had fallen to the floor beside the couch and handed it back to the healer. Now he was ready.

"Let's move quickly. I don't want to find out if that mic had GPS on it. Christmas, keep your hand on that neck. When we get to the next location, I'm gonna fix that up properly."

The healer just responded with a barely perceptible nod, wincing again at the movement before following Ernie. His mind was still parsing the recent events and with each passing second where the rush of action faded, he felt the oppressive danger of fear. But he couldn't panic now, because who knew what would happen? Ernie and Zoe were terrifying, even if it had been a necessity, and he avoided looking at the battered prisoner they had just obtained.

The pulsing pain from his neck reminded him to ignore the inevitable guilt from the knowledge that they'd maimed a fellow mage, but David didn't look any older than the rest of them, and he was still making those horrible, pained noises as they dragged him along. He shivered from both the cold and the freshly renewed anxiety, doubled in force and almost debilitating in effect. White knuckles gripped Ernie's jacket while they walked and Christmas told himself it would be over soon. A lie or a truth, he didn't dare guess.
Healer Team: Halvost
- Victims -
γ€Žβ„€π• π•–γ€ γ€Žβ„‚π•™π•£π•šπ•€π•₯π•žπ•’π•€γ€ γ€Žπ”Όπ•£π•Ÿπ•–π•€π•₯』



π•Šπ•–π•‘π•₯. πŸ™πŸœ, 𝟚𝟘𝟚𝟘 / / π•Žπ•šπ•€π•—π• π•£π••, 𝕄𝕒𝕣π•ͺπ•π•’π•Ÿπ•• / / π•‹π• π•¨π•Ÿ / / ~πŸ™πŸŸπŸ›πŸ˜

Collab with @Lasrever [@A Filthy Yet Glamorous Slug With Nubs] and @banjoanjo


Ernie was already on edge. He didn't need a sudden scream from Christmas to fuck him up even more. His grip on the pistol was too tight for him to fumble with it as he whirled around, aiming the weapon at... nothing? The scene before him looked as dishevelled as when they had arrived, tables slightly knocked and half-empty teacups, yet Christmas looked like he was about to implode from fear. Instinctively, Ernie summoned his rope in his left hand but his shaking pistol was lowered from the sight of the empty room. Thank god for safeties, or else he probably would have shot himself in the foot. The rope was thrown in a loose coil around Ernie's shoulder, freeing his hand for a two-handed grip on the firearm.

"What's the matter?" Ernie hissed, only briefly glancing at the healer. He needed to keep his eyes open for whatever was out there, if there was anything at all.

Zoe had abandoned her search as soon as she heard the scream, mentally cussing herself out for leaving the others alone. She paid little attention to her surroundings, fear and anger overriding practical concern. It was a matter of seconds before she reached the room, coming to a stop near the door as she scanned the area for any sign of an attacker and found nothing. Seemed like the only thing of note was the panicking Christmas. For now, she stayed silent, deciding to see what the kid had to say.

"The--wh-what--" A small cry of pain cut off Christmas's words as he lifted the bloody hand to reveal the inexplicable cut on the side of his throat. "I d-don't--" His trembling surpassed communication, but he didn't have much to say anyway. The sudden slide of cold metal against the unprotected section of skin had scared him witless, especially when he couldn't understand what had happened.

"Keep some pressure on that cut. Zoe, get the first aid kit out of my backpack."

Useless. Looked like Christmas wouldn't help them much if they wanted to find this enemy. Ernie glared at the cut on the Arbiter's throat. Something had definitely attacked them. The location of the wound was too deliberate to have been a random, accidental fall. It was just dumb luck that Christmas hadn't gotten his entire throat slashed under the watch of two Aberrations. Ernie had been an idiot.

His heart pounded as he slowly came to terms with the situation they were in. They had no idea what they were dealing with. And he had no idea what to do. The only absolute he had in this scenario was the invulnerability that came with his rope, so he threw an arm around Christmas' shoulders and pulled the boy closer, tentatively raising the pistol at the empty room. His arm would defend against any knife that came close to the blond's neck again. First thing, they needed more information before they could act.

"Let's try some 'yes or no' questions, yeah? Maybe that'll be easier," Ernie struggled to keep his voice level, "Did you see what hurt you?"

Christmas was about to shake his head, but the sting of the cut reminded him why that was a bad idea. Through the soft whimpers he managed a "N-no?"

"Do you know if it was a monster? Or a mage?"

"...N-no."

Ernie sighed and looked hopelessly to Zoe. Maybe she would have a plan.

Cain glanced between the three subnaturals nearby, eyeing the golden rope closely. The smart thing to do here would be retreat and wait for them to lower their guard again, but he didn't know if he would get as easy an opportunity as this one. Aside from the larger group that had spearheaded the assault, another set of three had a girl with a monstrous leg and arm and the last set of subnaturals he thought he could take on had piled into a vehicle.

The injured blond kid didn't seem ready to retaliate with anything, so Cain wrote him off as a lower threat. The two X's had to go first and the girl who had come running seemed less prepared.

While the two other boys talked--or tried to--Cain stepped softly towards the red-haired girl.

Zoe had listened to the conversation with growing concern. Something had definitely attacked Christmas - The wound was too deliberate to be an accident, but the constructs weren't exactly subtle going by the laser from earlier. It seemed likely that she would've heard if one of them got in, unless it was abnormally quiet. So, a subnatural? Maybe, she couldn't be sure. At least there wasn't anything here.

Was there?

Her eyes widened in sudden realisation. Nothing had left the room. She'd gotten there too quickly, she was too on edge not to have noticed any movement, and the others were covering the window. Whatever had attacked them, it could still be--

"Christmas, mist!" Her concentration shifted away from her surroundings as she turned to the healer, enough urgency in her tone to be verging on panic as black spiralled across her skin.

The healer obeyed instinctively, Zoe's tone of voice rushing adrenaline through his shaking frame as the blood from his neck vaporized into shimmering white and enveloped the space around the three.

At that moment, Cain dashed for the girl's throat just as white light wrapped around his torso.

Frantic energy surged through Ernie as his gaze flickered around the room. Zoe must've seen something he didnt, something he didn't catch. Of course it was a subnatural. Any wound like that was too precise to be a monster. The Aberration whirled about, hoping to catch a glimpse of any clue. Then a form by Zoe, a body of light that was just a bit too solid to be like the rest of the mist, appeared and Ernie blanked out. Fear and trepidation seized his body and he quickly fired two shots at unknown's torso.

The knife barely nicked Zoe's neck and the stocky boy with a buzz cut was on the ground, visible in his dirty jeans and brown sweatshirt as he clutched at the bleeding, but healing wounds on his chest. Gasps came out wet and bloody in the meanwhile, however, and his large kitchen knife lay forgotten beside him.

Zoe brought her hand to her neck, glancing at the blood for a second before nodding, satisfied that the injury wasn't major. Seemed she seriously owed Ernie one. She was slightly surprised that she'd been right, but as her gaze locked on to the boy on the ground, she felt something settle over her. Kicking away the knife to the other side of the room, she knelt down and grabbed him by the throat with a smile. No powers, yet. She was going to enjoy this.

"Tell us what you're doing here, and I might kill you quickly."

Cain was still coughing up blood from the two puncture wounds to his lungs, but as the healing progressed he found the gall to scowl at the Amazonian redhead. Big girls had never been his strong point.

"No," he finally answered.

Ernie shot the boy once again in response to the insolence, knowing that the mist would heal it. The unfortunate target screamed satisfactorily from the new injury. A waste of ammunition, for sure. But he was pissed, as reasonably as anyone would be when suddenly attacked. Plus, making that prick scream felt really good. Ernie noted the white streak on his face, though it only drew up more questions.

"Don't be an ass," Ernie spat coldly at the stranger before addressing Zoe. They both knew what was going to happen here, didn't they? This was probably the reason they got teamed up. He nodded, "I need to tell the others and fix up Christmas. I...Take your time, I guess."

"I was hoping you'd say that." Zoe looked at Ernie with a slightly disturbing smile, before turning her attention back to the guy on the ground. "Slowly it is."

Ernie turned away, trying to ignore the excitement his Stigma had brought at the sound of the screams. That was a moral problem for after the battle. There were more important things to deal with, like the condition of their healer and the presence of subnaturals. Easy one first. Ernie pulled the phone from his belt, holding the push-to-talk button. "Team Christmas just got attacked by a rogue mage. Situation's been handled but please stay alert. I'm sure there are more of them around."

Very sure. No solo mage would be nuts enough to attack USARILN personnel in the middle of a monster attack.

Now came the more annoying part. Ernie looked over to the blond boy who was watching the proceedings with both terror and morbid fascination. Not wanting to deal with whatever anxiety that would come from a nervous wreck like Christmas watching a torture session, he took the smaller teen by the shoulders and turned him away. Ernie faced both Christmas and the scene with a deliberately blank face as he reached into his backpack.

"How's your neck?" he asked, unfurling the first aid kit.

"Um..." the reminder of the pain made Christmas wince, but he didn't pause too long, still harried by the fraying nerves of what had almost become a disastrous situation. "...'m o-okay."

Behind them now, Zoe placed her hand almost gently on the side of the guy's head. Still hadn't done anything, but making contact meant she could affect him whenever she wanted. Convenient, really. Just to make clear what she was capable of, she drew her thumb down the boy's cheek, melting a single strip of flesh as she locked eyes with him. "I can break down any part of your body I want, fast or slow. Every time you piss me off, I'm going to make it worse. So let's start simple. What's your name?"

Cain had screamed as his flesh felt like a thousand needles had pierced it along the path of the girl's touch, before the subsequent horror of realizing a part of his face had peeled off set in. The pain quickly subsided under what he realized was some kind of healing effect that had already taken care of his bullet wounds by now.

He gnashed his teeth, both from the residual agony and the dilemma in front of him. Crazy X here or the crazy X's over there? God, were they all this fucking insane?

"David," he offered instead, because unless someone in their group was a lie detector there was no damn way they'd tell between one lie and the next.

"Okay then, David. Truth is, I don't give half a shit what your name is, but I'm getting a bit of hesitation here. So we're gonna go rapid fire with these answers, right? If I think you're hesitating... Well, I'll be pretty upset." Zoe's tone was almost conversational as she looked down at the arbiter. Maybe he was telling the truth, maybe he wasn't, but it was more difficult to lie without time to think.

With a smile, she focused her power on the sole of David's right foot. The effect was slightly slower, since she wasn't in direct contact, but fast enough. Supposedly being hurt there wasn't fun, and she needed to make a point. "Next question. Who sent you here?"

He felt an itch in his foot and he had wisened up enough to realize he shouldn't be dismissing any sort of sensation on his body at this point, including the healing effect that seemed to counteract the girl's powers.

"No one," he answered too quickly.

"No-one? Huh. You know David..." Zoe nodded, smiling pleasantly as though accepting the answer, before placing her hand at the top of his ear and locking eyes with him. "I really don't like liars."

Without giving him time to register the words, she dug her fingers into his ear and pulled down. Melting it clean off. He still had another one to hear her with, and she had no intention of giving him time to recover. She was far past resisting her Stigma - This was the most fun she'd had in ages. "Let's try this again - Who sent you?"

He howled with the sudden pain of it, tears stinging his eyes and the blur of his vision didn't even matter because all he was seeing now were flashes across his sightline. Cain wasn't even aware how loud he was screaming until the healing mist finally mended the wound, regrowing an ear in the process over several minutes. His blubbering only subsided when he finally processed the giantess's question.

Between heaving breaths he finally admitted, "They'll--they'll kill me."

Zoe looked at him disbelievingly, before laughing and shaking her head. "You think I won't?"

Ernie eyed the interrogation session over Christmas's shoulder as Zoe continued her handiwork, ignoring how the healer visibly flinched at the latest, visceral scream. "We're probably gonna have to make a break for it soon, if that guy has friends who know our location. Not speaking from experience or anything here, but it's probably not a good idea to run around with an open neck wound."

Christmas put his hand over the wound again, as if assuring Ernie that was enough of a measure. The Aberration frowned.

"You don't want me to help you?"

"I'm...uh...o-okay."

What was the kid playing at now? "So you can fix yourself up?" Ernie raised an eyebrow and offered the first aid kit.

"Oh..." Christmas took the first aid kit tentatively. "O-okay."

Ernie rolled his eyes and took a step back. He'd let this slide for now, even if he'd probably have to redo it for the kid later.

"I don't think it's going to matter who kills me if I tell you." Cain groaned at last as the odd feeling of healing and regrowth faded once the injury was gone. "Crossing them's just as bad as crossing the USARILNs."

That caught Ernie's attention. Not even the Senators had that sort of reputation. The Aberration looked up from his spot across the room and called out. "These people. They were all Aber-- X-marks, right?"

"...You know them," came the quiet response.

"Maybe. Did they mention their names or anything? Their motives? 'Big, scary gang of X-marks' covers a lot of groups these days."

"Not Cat's Cradle, I'll tell you that much. But you...you know."

Zoe looked between the two in confusion, deciding her interrogation was done with for now at least. "One of you mind telling me what the hell is going on?"
γ€Žπ”Όπ•£π•Ÿπ•–π•€π•₯』


π•Šπ•–π•‘π•₯. πŸ™πŸœ, 𝟚𝟘𝟚𝟘 / / π•Žπ•šπ•€π•—π• π•£π••, 𝕄𝕒𝕣π•ͺπ•π•’π•Ÿπ•• / / π•‹π• π•¨π•Ÿ / / ~πŸ™πŸŸπŸšπŸ


Ernie's horrified gaze traced the path of the laser as it seared through the sky, obliterating the strike team's chopper in a single shot. The Aberration reeled back from the window, refusing to take in anymore as flaming metal rained from the sky. This class of rookie mages --children-- were supposed to take down a monstrosity like that?

"Oh my god..." Ernie breathed, despair lining his expression. He wasn't going to make it through this, was he? Not against robotic beasts that could bring a whole town to its knees. Not against a storeys-tall titan that had just annihilated the likes of Sander and Cal, their strongest chance against Factory.

Oh fuck. Cal.

He'd been so stupid. He'd been so caught up with his own situation that he'd barely thought about how his classmates would make it out. Selfish as always. Shallow guilt congealed in his stomach but was vastly overshadowed by his growing fear. His vision went indistinct and he barely registered Angelique's voice. He barely registered anything until--

"We're FINE! Stay focused!"

A sudden snap back to the task at hand. Ernie couldn’t help but feel a relieved grin growing on his face. That was far too close. He wasn’t new to the experience of loss but he wanted to avoid it if possible. Even when it concerned friends he’d met only a week ago.

The Aberration returned to his lookout by the window with a renewed determination. They were lucky that time. It was an effective reminder of what was at stake here, and what he should have been doing instead of standing around in a daze when comrades were lost. Useless reactions like that would help no one.
Healer Team: Halvost
- Setting Camp -
γ€Žβ„€π• π•–γ€ γ€Žβ„‚π•™π•£π•šπ•€π•₯π•žπ•’π•€γ€ γ€Žπ”Όπ•£π•Ÿπ•–π•€π•₯』



π•Šπ•–π•‘π•₯. πŸ™πŸœ, 𝟚𝟘𝟚𝟘 / / π•Žπ•šπ•€π•—π• π•£π••, 𝕄𝕒𝕣π•ͺπ•π•’π•Ÿπ•• / / π•‹π• π•¨π•Ÿ / / ~πŸ™πŸŸπŸšπŸ˜

Collab with @Lasrever [@A Filthy Yet Glamorous Slug With Nubs] and @banjoanjo


Angel's message and Marcus's response fell on deaf ears as far as Christmas was concerned. He wasn't sure he'd have the presence of mind to inform them even if his group did run into stray creatures. There was a disturbing amount of certainty that he would simply panic or run instead. As for civilians, he wasn't sure he'd care enough about them if he was in danger.

Not nice. Trying. And in a devastated town he was sure that if the decision came down to saving himself or another person, he'd save himself first. He wasn't strong enough to take a third option and maybe save them both. He wasn't even strong enough to protest what Sander had fixed for him. So long as it was an undetermined future person tormented by Ernie and not him, he thought he might never work up enough courage to care.

...I'm sorry.

Zoe had walked them only slightly towards their destination, stopping the group in an intact building and waiting on the offensive support group to reach what appeared to be the main swarm marked on their maps.

Ernie checked the map on his phone, holstering the pistol briefly. Wisford was an annoyingly well-settled town. Big enough for the healer team to arrive too late if anyone on the support team got severely injured. Big enough to make his cowardice clear if anyone paid attention to his map marker for too long. What a pain. At least they would be stationed on the outskirts of the town, unlike the other healer. Compared to Allison's group, they had a much safer position, considering the distance and the escape routes available. It was an easy compromise between being close to help and being far enough to run away. They had the luckiest pick of destinations out of the other teams, it seemed. That was fine with him.

Marcus' voice rang through the radio, mentioning the rescue of civilians. Ernie frowned. He hadn't once considered having to share Christmas' blood with the Regulars but now that it was brought up in his mind, Ernie was adamant in keeping the team away. He didn't need some soft-hearted sap endangering them because they believed that 'every life matters' or some shit. As far as he was concerned, those Regulars would just have to suck it up. This healer team had more important people to prioritise, more important places to be.

"Support team's getting close," Zoe said, looking at her own map, "We should go too."

Ernie glanced once more at their designated destination on the edge of town. Fine with him. He put away the phone and drew his gun. "Yeah. Okay."

Despite the distance, they made it to the location--a fairly untouched, two-storey house--in little time. Ernie was hesitant about camping inside the building itself (large houses and monsters made a deadly combination, as he knew all too well) but they waited indoors nonetheless, by the windows. The two Aberrations kept careful lookout, their eyes constantly flickering towards the streets and the roofs, scanning for any signs of danger.
@banjoanjo, enjoying your peek here?


Lol, just browsing through and looking at an RP that has been confirmed to Not Suck by the news bulletin, don't mind me.
γ€Žβ„€π• π•–γ€ γ€Žβ„‚π•™π•£π•šπ•€π•₯π•žπ•’π•€γ€ γ€Žπ”Όπ•£π•Ÿπ•–π•€π•₯』



π•Šπ•–π•‘π•₯. πŸ™πŸœ, 𝟚𝟘𝟚𝟘 / / π•Žπ•šπ•€π•—π• π•£π••, 𝕄𝕒𝕣π•ͺπ•π•’π•Ÿπ•• / / 𝔹𝕒𝕀𝕖 / / ~πŸ™πŸŸπŸ™πŸ˜

Collab with @Lasrever [@A Filthy Yet Glamorous Slug With Nubs] and @banjoanjo


By the time she exited the truck, Zoe had managed to put most of her concerns to the back of her mind. No point in worrying, really - there was nothing she could do to change the overall situation. Still, it seemed like standing around waiting for something to happen was kind of a waste of time. She'd sorted things out with Ernie, but the other member of the team wasn't someone she could say the same for. Frankly, the kid seemed too fragile for her to have even considered spending time with him. At this point though, there wasn't much choice in the matter.

Christmas wasn't too far away when she caught sight of him, but was seemingly talking to another boy from the group. Judging that interrupting the pair wasn't worth the potential confrontation, Zoe took a moment to look around. Had to wonder what state this place had been in before this subnatural became a thing, but the group was at least far off enough from the danger that there didn't seem to be a need to worry yet. 'Yet' being the key word in that sentence. As Christmas' companion walked off, she gave it a couple of seconds before calling out.

"Hey, Christmas, mind if I come over there?"

"...Huh?"

It was a voice he didn't know and Christmas whipped around, thoughts quickly trying to rearrange themselves and figure out who this was--a face from a classroom came to mind, but nothing further, so he settled for the next best explanation: the other person on his team? Maybe. But he had been so focused on Ernie's name in that list he had forgotten to commit the third person to memory.

"N-no?" He quickly added, "I-I don't mind. Sorry."

Zoe figured that was as much of an agreement as she was likely to get. "Why're you sorry? Just thought I'd talk to you myself before we go get Ernie." She headed over towards him, noting the complete lack of recognition on his face. Wasn't exactly together, was he? Reminded her of stuff.

At the realisation, her voice seemed to lose a lot of its sharpness as she continued. "I'm Zoe, by the way, just so you're not stuck on names. You doing okay?" She considered extending a hand, but quickly realised that it wasn't a good idea. No point taking risks if she didn't have to.

"Um." He didn't have a good answer for that, so he nodded to the question before following up with a "Chris-Christmas."

It took him a few seconds to remember she already knew his name, so he mumbled a quick apology and looked down at her shoes, waiting for her to continue.

Again with the apologising? Zoe sighed, deciding to just move on. "Okay, it's my job to look after you out there, so I'm gonna need you to listen to me and not panic once we get moving. If I tell you to do something, there's probably a reason, and I'd rather we all just work together without anyone causing problems. Sound good?"

Christmas nodded, afraid of irritating his apparent teammate. She had her own brand of callous demeanor distinct from his experiences with Kusari and he wondered if he'd end up pissing her off, too. The light rain tapping against them and the desolation stretching ahead of them certainly didn't work wonders for anyone's mood, but Zoe at least seemed marginally more at ease with the battlefield than any teenager should be. If nothing else, that was a small relief.

Okay, he definitely wasn't very talkative. Almost seemed like he was scared of something or other. Still he'd agreed, and deciding that'd do for now, Zoe grinned. "Glad we're clear. Guess we should probably find Ernie before we actually figure out a plan. No point explaining everything twice."

Assuming that the kid wouldn't cause any problems, Zoe started to look around for Ernie. Took a little longer to spot him than it did Christmas, annoyingly, but at least it wasn't too difficult. Didn't take long enough to really get on her nerves anyway. He was standing near one of the buildings, seemingly having put the armour on already. Had guns, too - hopefully he actually knew how to use them. With a grin, she decided to head over. "Found him, I think. Come on, Christmas."

Ernie rolled his shoulders, testing the weight of the shoulder holster. Seemed fine enough. He'd managed to adjust the leather to rest on the fabric of his singlet to avoid chafing while he ran around. The wishalloy had been applied to his torso and legs, the remainder of the bolts kept in his backpack in case he'd need it later. The only problem now was his jacket. He had worn it for the cold journey but he couldn't exactly have it tied around his waist in battle, or taking valuable space in his pack. The truck seemed like a good place to leave it but an easy way to lose it too, and he would rather keep it in sight where he knew it wouldn't be lost. It was a silly thing to fret over but that's what made it such an effective distraction. Luckily, a potential solution presented itself in the form of Zoe and Christmas. He waved to his Aberration teammate as she approached but only regarded Christmas with a carefully neutral glance.

"Hey," a smile was attempted to match Zoe's grin. He nodded to her casual oufit, "Armored up and ready to go?"

Christmas stepped a bit further behind Zoe as Ernie greeted them, his eyes fixed on the ground.

Glad that her other teammate at least didn't seem too freaked out about all this, Zoe looked down at her t-shirt before responding to Ernie's comment with a chuckle. "Yeah, well. Didn't really seem worth getting body armour, you know?"

She glanced at Christmas, deciding that the kid didn't seem likely to say much for whatever reason before turning back to Ernie with a shrug. "So, you think we're ready for this?" By which she meant him and Christmas - She already knew she could cope.

The dark-haired Aberration raised an eyebrow at her response. Maybe that spare wishalloy would come in handy sooner than he thought. He slung his backpack onto his back as he replied. Hm, overall weight was satisfactory.

"Don't know about you but I'm ready as I'll ever be," he remarked honestly, "Can't do much of anything that I haven't done already. How about you? You are wearing some of that wishalloy stuff on you, right?"

"I grabbed some. Didn't get it on yet, but I'll probably just stick with the torso stuff out of what I picked up." She spoke casually, although irritation flitted briefly across her expression. It was kind of a pain to keep track of everything, and it'd only get more annoying once things really got started.

"I can just wear it over my clothes anyway - all my stuff's in the belt." As she spoke, she checked her pockets, eventually finding the larger section of alloy. "See? You two wanna talk or something while I get this on?" The last part was punctuated with a stern look at Christmas. She didn't know what was up with the kid, but it'd probably help if her teammates would actually communicate. Zoe assumed he was just freaked out by the battle or something - seemed logical.

Christmas quailed at the look, but managed only a quick glance at Ernie before looking back down at the ground. Ernie looked back, the healer's frightened glance confirming that they weren't going to be on small-talk terms anytime soon. Whatever. Hopefully it wouldn't affect the mission too much.

"Nah, I think we're good," Ernie said offhandedly, suddenly looking very interested in fiddling with his belt.

At that, Zoe frowned, looking between her two teammates before beginning to wrap the alloy around her torso, silently trying to figure out the situation. This was weird. Something had to be up between the pair of them, even she could tell that. Just her luck too, being stuck on a team with two people who couldn't even look at each other. Things like this made her wish she was better at being subtle, but instead she spoke bluntly as she finished putting on the armour.

"Right, one of you gonna tell me what the problem is? Ernie, you seemed all ready to talk before and suddenly you're going quiet. And Christmas? I don't know if you're normally this jumpy or what, but if there's something on your mind then say so."

There were way too many things on his mind to just voice them so Christmas nodded to the comment, but remained quiet.

"It's nothing," Ernie said equally as bluntly, "Christmas already looks kinda nervous. I didn't know if it was a good idea to freak him out more with battle talk."

She couldn't find out about what happened. No one could. It was already bad enough that Marcus knew. He didn't want the only real Aberration out of the class to despise him. But maybe she would kinda understand...?

No. Absolutely not. Not even his fellow X-mark could know. Ernie breathed, trying to think of a way to divert the conversation away from the subject of him and Christmas.

Zoe wasn't fully convinced, but there wasn't time for her to actually get to the bottom of this. Ernie's explanation seemed reasonable, but Christmas' reaction left room for doubt. She couldn't really tell whether he was agreeing with the 'jumpy' comment, or agreeing that there was a problem. It'd be easier if the kid wasn't such a mess.

When she spoke, she was keeping an eye on Christmas, deciding he was more likely to react if there really was something up. "So that's what we're going with. I think it's kinda late to pretend the fight's not happening, Ernie, jumpy or not." She sighed, shaking her head. "I'll leave it for now, but if you get me killed 'cause the pair of you can't work together, I will find a way to haunt you both. Clear?"

Christmas seemed to sink further into himself at the admonition and his eyes were unable to look at even the space around Ernie, let alone the person. He managed a fixed stare at Zoe's calves instead, nodding again.

"Sounds good to me," Ernie nodded, incredibly relieved that the topic was glossed over.

Argh, was Zoe angry at them now? Having shredded connections with both his teammates seemed like a fatal situation. Maybe it would help him to oblige a different request.

"You came to talk strategy, yeah?" he piped up again, eager to fix the atmosphere, "I'm almost definitely the sturdiest out of us, unless you've got some Hulk power I don't know about. Do you think I should be personal meatshield for our healer? Ah, but I have some kind of stopping power with my rope too..."

Ernie scratched his head. He hadn't thought of many applications for his upgraded power yet. And even if he wanted to, he probably lacked the strategic intelligence for it. Hopefully Zoe would have more ideas than him.

Zoe nodded, glad to be talking about something actually practical instead of trying to figure out her teammates' drama. "Ideally we avoid needing a meatshield in the first place, but I've got nothing on the defensive front. Unless we run into any other subnaturals, I can't do much offensively either. The rope might be our best bet if we're up against the constructs - Find a way to trip them or get them stuck on something and then run like hell, 'cause I don't think we're killing them."

With a glance out at the battlefield, she sighed. "If we do run into subnaturals, then I can hopefully handle them. We've got free reign on the kill order, right?" Smiling a little too much for that statement, she directed her attention to Christmas. "Just to confirm, that mist thing you do is blood, right?"

It took him a minute to notice Zoe was talking to him and not about him. "Y-yeah." More rapid nods followed the statement when a sudden anxiety flared about Zoe not hearing him the first time. He didn't want to try her patience.

Subnaturals. Ernie nodded grimly, recalling his own warning for Marcus. Zoe's apparent enthusiasm for 'handling' any potential human threats was only mildly disconcerting. Reminded him of the things he feared back in Reno. But he of all people had no right to judge another Aberration's character. At least Zoe would be able to take on any subnatural enemies without a moral dilemma. In the end, all that mattered is that it would keep them safer than what an Arbiter could provide. Ruthlessness was what made mages strong, after all.

"Gotta make sure we don't run out of blood too. Maybe pick and choose who gets healing?"

"...U-um..." Christmas's hands pulled at the long hem of Sander's jacket, and he wished the owner was there at the moment. He was afraid to say much around either of his teammates, but he had to make sure they wouldn't rely on him to--oh, god--choose who to heal, especially when he couldn't tell one injury from another. He should have learned, but there were a lot of things he should have done over the course of 18 years that he never had. "I don't--don't know h-how to...ch-choose." A quick breath in and he finished what words he could muster at the moment. "...Sorry."

"There goes that idea then." Zoe was slightly surprised at Christmas showing any kind of dissent, but shrugged. "Honestly, unless it's something pathetic, I'd rather not pick and choose with the others anyway. If there's a lot of injuries, we could try and heal them in groups so we're not wasting blood." Even if it wasn't going to be fatal, Zoe didn't like the idea of her teammates running around hurt. It was meant to be her job to look after the people on their side, right? That was why she had to be willing to do what it took.

"That's only part of why I was asking. If, and only if, we run into any hostile subnaturals out there, I'm gonna need your permission to use my power on you in case we get separated, Christmas. As a precaution." It didn't dawn on Zoe how threatening that would sound to anyone that didn't know what she did about how her own ability worked, so she appeared fairly relaxed as she said it.

"...H-huh?"

Zoe looked at Christmas with what she hoped was a reassuring smile. "I can use my ability through other living things I touch. Best way I can describe it is like a disease or something. I can control how fast it works too, so it should be an itch at most." It was difficult for her to actually put into words, but she figured it got the meaning across well enough.

"Point is, blood's organic, right? If someone got a hold of you, it means you could maybe use that mist to defend yourself so long as I'm not too far away. I'm not one-hundred-percent sure, but it seems like it'd make sense."

There was a tinge of horror in Christmas's eyes as he looked up and didn't know where to stare for a second. Zoe's shoulder seemed a safe enough location to process what she had suggested. He didn't know if it'd work--and she needed to...inflict him with an illness? No. Poison him. Just an itch, she said, and he wished he had paid attention to the video feeds last Monday.

But it was a better idea than the absolute nothing he had to offer.

He didn't know if it was okay to let her poison him, but that was just in case, right? It probably wouldn't happen. Just in case, he reminded himself.

"O-okay."

"Wow, you sound really strong," Ernie remarked. Zoe had figured out a trick she could use with her power. Which meant that Ernie was getting a lot closer to becoming the official deadweight of the group. He wasn't sure how he felt about that so he tapped the side of his backpack.

"Healing in groups is a smart strategy. But if we can't round everyone up for whatever reason to save blood, I've got a first aid kit in here. Might be able to do a temporary fix if Christmas can't. Do you guys know any first aid?"

"Not me. Sounds like a good idea though, if you know what you're doing." Zoe nodded. Their situation still wasn't exactly safe, but she was starting to feel a little more confident about all this. "We can always look for supplies while we head through the town, too."

It had been more than a full month since the last time Ernie performed any sort of first aid during a mission but it was probably for the best to leave that detail out. Didn't want to lower team morale right before they moved out. He considered asking around to see if either of them had any gun but that would mean potentially giving up his protective weapon at some point. He didn't want that.

"That's a good idea," Ernie nodded yet again. He wasn't going to stop doing that anytime soon, was he? Not with Zoe coming up with such useful bits every few seconds. He was very glad that she was here with them.

"So we've talked powers, supplies, general tactics. Anything else we need to go over?" he asked, thinking as he went along. He suddenly remembered, turning to Christmas.

"Have you armored up?"

When the silence stretched a bit long and Christmas realized Ernie was addressing him, he nodded briefly at the ground, still doing his best to organize his scattered thoughts on the periphery of a battlefield. His arms hugged the loose jacket closer to his torso and he kept his fears at bay with the thought of returning to--and returning the jacket to--its owner.

"Oh, are you cold?" Ernie examined the boy a bit closer, misinterpreting his actions. Or maybe he just really wanted a solution to his earlier dilemma. Or maybe he was still trying to make it up to Christmas. Whatever. Ernie held up his dark jacket, "I'm not gonna be using this in the mission and I don't want it taking up space. Do you want to borrow it for a while?"

"...Huh?" Between Zoe's fail-safe plan and Ernie offering a jacket when he was already wearing one, Christmas was nearly at his limit trying to comprehend the enormity of both their mission and their target. Ernie's proffered jacket seemed as much an abnormality as everything else about the situation, but he didn't want to cause any sort of commotion between a tall Aberration who seemed versed on the battlefield and the other Aberration who needed to torment people for satisfaction and Stigma relief. Christmas stared at the article of clothing for a second longer. "I can--can hold it f-for you."

"Awesome. Ooh, maybe you should hold onto my leftover alloy too. Just in case."

Ernie pulled the remaining wishalloy from his backpack and zipped the two pieces into the pockets on either side of the jacket before handing it to the Arbiter. Christmas took the jacket reluctantly and did his best to fold the lumpy material over one arm, leaving the other free in case they needed him to hold more stuff.

"Thanks, buddy. Welp, I don't think I have anything else to say. Zoe, you got anything?"

"Nah, I think I'm good." Zoe shook her head. "Just gotta wait and see what happens once we're out there, I guess."

Callan | Ernie


𝕄: π•Šπ•–π•‘π•₯. πŸ™πŸœ, 𝟚𝟘𝟚𝟘 / / π•Œπ•Šπ”Έβ„π•€π•ƒβ„• 𝔼𝕒𝕀π•₯ / / β„‚π•’π•žπ•‘π•¦π•€ / / πŸ™πŸœπŸ™πŸ˜
Collab with @Baklava@banjoanjo

β€œThe striker team will remain out of the engagement zone until enough of Factory's creations have been baited and annihilated to allow unhindered access to Factory itself. Deployment will commence once appropriate."

Fuck.

Callan balled her hands up into fists as she listened to the plan. She'd have to sit in the back and wait for her turn to fight. While the others went ahead and took on a swarm of those things? Her mind buzzed with discontent. She wanted to protest. To explain that she could easily take on those contraptions AND 'Factory'. (Probably.) But Kardos was an intimidating figure. Not that she was physically scared of him, of course, but it felt wrong to so blatantly go against authority like that. Especially when it came from a man who, like Zhang, seemed to have it exuding from every pore.

Gathering her things, Callan's eyes wondered towards Sander and Chris-- as they had several times throughout the briefing. She noticed right away that Sander had forgotten his gear. Forgetfulness or overconfidence? She snatched it up, but before she could pass it off, the soldiers were already marching them into the trucks. Leaving little wiggle room. Fortunately, her usual crowd managed to gravitate towards the same area.

Taking her seat between Ernie and Siena, Callan refrained from being too chipper. An easy task most of the time-- including this one. She noticed Grant and Building Cleaver sitting across from her as well as Brent on the other side of Siena. She wasn't very familiar with any of them and didn't want to mess with whatever mojo they might have going. Pulling her earbuds from her pocket and starting to untangle them, Callan turned to look at Ernie, softly nudging his arm to catch his attention.

"Hey," she smiled tentatively, speaking in a low volume, "You alright?"

Ernie had chosen a seat in a far corner to give Sander and Christmas the option of staying the hell away from him. He didn't need the added stress of that particular situation, since there were so many other things to occupy his mind. His bulky belt had been taken off for now, resting at the top of the backpack by the bundle of Wishalloy he'd been given. Sitting around with all that equipment around his waist did not sound like it would make a comfortable three hour drive. Ernie fiddled with the buckles of his helmet, clasping and unclasping them around the outer straps of the backpack that weighed down on his lap. Simple, rhythmic motions. It was soothing, in a way. Hopefully the truck would be loud enough so that the clicking wouldn't annoy anyone.

Truth be told, the truck chamber only served to remind Ernie how real everything was. He would be in the line of fire soon, even with the tactical position he'd been given. Talking happy like what he'd done at breakfast would be almost impossible soon. It was getting harder to talk like there was going to be an 'after the mission', to smile and plan future hangouts as if they weren't about to go up against a hulking metal beast and meet their deaths. Cal's presence next to him was a reminder of that. Yeah, it was getting harder to smile too, but she was able to manage it. Cal was strong so she could do it. So he guessed that the good thing to do to smile back.

"Eh," the corners of the Aberration's mouth flickered upwards, "Nervous. Last time I had to sit on a long drive was when we got trucked to East. These seats get kinda sore after a while. How about you? Your nap make you feel any better?"

"Yeah," she nodded. Me, too.

She watched his expression carefully, eyebrows briefly creasing with effort. He really did seem alright, didn't he? As personal as their conversation earlier had seemed, she really didn't know Ernie all that well. But she'd easily decided she knew him well enough to want him to be okay. To come out of this alive.

"I'm alright. Nap did me a whole lot of good," she shrugged and sank back in her seat, turning her attention to the cords in her hands again. Trying to untangle them while looking at Ernie hadn't done her any favors.

"That's good to hear," he replied simply not expanding any further on the subject. Talking about how nervous you were never made things better. He looked to Cal looking at him, then to her clumsy efforts at untangling her earphones. The sight brought a genuine note of amusement to his expression. Ernie nodded to her hands. "What do you listen to to get you pumped up?"

"Never actually been a huge fan of super-hype music," she smiled, making some progress, "I like the relaxing stuff. Soft hip hop... R&B... chillstep," she stifled a yawn as her fingers kept working. "I dunno. Lots more. You?"

What the heck was a chillstep? Ernie nodded politely, acknowledging internally that he probably shouldn't ask to listen along to whatever she was about to listen to with those still-tangled earphones. He shrugged. And as for what kind of music he liked...

Whatever Liam felt like listening to.

"Rock and stuff like that, mostly. I like having something upbeat to listen to in the morning. But I like the old-timey jazz stuff too. Helps me get to sleep sometimes."

It probably wasn't a good idea to mention that his like of the 'old-timey' stuff had come from his parents. Better to keep the talk simple. Something to take the edge off of both their minds.

"Good stuff. Love jazz," she grinned, but immediately set her jaw as she ran into another cord-based obstacle. Daintily tugging at the seemingly impossible knot, she muttered, "I'd love to listen to anything if I could just... get this... stupid..." The rest of her sentence got lost somewhere in the loops.

"Ooh, really? That's cool. My friends always said I didn't look like the type to like it," Ernie chuckled.

Geez, she was taking a while to unravel that knot. And why the heck was she pulling on it like that? Whatever, this was getting tiring to watch. He reached over to take the pair from her with a "Here, let me", trying to unwork the knot from the plug instead. Huh, this was harder than it looked.

"Earphones are such a pain sometimes, right?" he said, grinning as he handed the untangled pair back to Cal, "Do you have any singers you like? Etta James is always a classic for me."

"At last!" she smiled knowingly.

"Oh my God, THANK you," Callan scoffed at herself, shaking her head as she plugged the buds into her phone, "Yeah. They are. I just don't want to break 'em. This is my fifth pair."

"Alicia Keys is my go-to."

"Yeah, yeah, that one!" Ernie laughed. His spirits were lifting gradually with every passing second of conversation. It was nice, "I haven't listened to her in a while, I think. Besides the stuff that's on the radio."

That name meant almost nothing to him. Guess that's what happened when you spent seven years with no reliable source of internet connection and only a handful of radio stations to pass the time. Ernie was going to sound more and more out of touch if this topic went on.

"I hope you don't mean fifth pair since you arrived at East. You didn't try switching earphone brands?"

Callan laughed, "Breaking things is kind of like my other super power. And it doesn't discriminate between brands. Before I came here, I'd been using the same skullcandies for like three years."

"Three years is pretty impressive. I have to buy new ones every few months."

The anxious buckling of the helmet clasp had stopped by now. Ernie smirked.

"Hey, we've got that fancy wishalloy stuff. Maybe you could ask Heph to make you a pair of unbreakable earphones!"

"I wish!" Callan sniggered, still trying to keep her voice down. As the conversation rolled on, she forgot now and again, but didn't ultimately feel that bad. Marcus had Emma, Siena apparently had Chris, and-- for now-- she had Ernie. Just as friends, of course. They talked more about music and the frustrations of 21st century technology until the sway of the truck rendered Callan too tired for words. Falling into silence, she put her buds in and, glancing at rows of knees and shoes, simply listened.

Arms folded, she eventually started nodding off-- or trying to. Three restless shiftings in her seat later and she finally gave in to the allure of Ernie's shoulder.

Ernie froze as he felt a warm weight settle on his right side, roused from the gentle haze his own earphones and music had brought. Was she really sleeping now? Only hours or so after her last nap? And on his stupidly bony shoulder of all places?

She really is superhuman.

His friends at West had always joked that he could pierce a lung with his elbow. Sharp corners were just a consequence of never eating more than what he was used to back in Reno.

He chuckled silently, careful not to shake his body too much in case he woke the girl. Here he was, on his way to a Category 3 mission, and he was thinking back on stupid jokes instead of his impending doom. Guess he had Cal and her conversation to thank for that.

Was it weird, for her to be resting on him so suddenly? No, it just meant that she trusted him. That they really were friends. The pang of guilt he should've felt from that realisation was easily brushed aside. There were other things to think about. And it wasn't like he minded that she was using him as a pillow anyway, as long as he didn't get any of that hair in his mouth. Or drool onto his jacket. That would be a nightmare. Besides, he had said it himself. Long drives made him sore. With the monotonous bumping and swaying easing a bored yawn out of him, a nap seemed like a very good idea.

So he settled into his seat. He hugged his backpack a little tighter and he let his eyes flicker to a close as his head drooped forward and his earbuds rang with the gentle voice of Etta James. He slept with a peaceful, grateful smile still resting on his face.
Ernest Mars



𝕄: π•Šπ•–π•‘π•₯. πŸ™πŸœ, 𝟚𝟘𝟚𝟘 / / π•Œπ•Šπ”Έβ„π•€π•ƒβ„• 𝔼𝕒𝕀π•₯ / / β„‚π•’π•žπ•‘π•¦π•€ / / πŸ™πŸœπŸ˜πŸ˜



He was ready when they arrived. It was his own way of taking what little control he had over these circumstances.

When the soldiers came to collect him, Ernie was sitting in the foyer of the administration building they had been briefed in that morning, listening to something on his phone and hugging a backpack to his chest. Lunch had been consumed. His backpack was packed with everything he usually brought to missions, along with some new equipment he’d requested on Tuesday. He was dressed in his combat outfit; loose navy blue singlet, cargo pants, and work boot. Almost identical to what he wore for the game on Monday, apart from the dark jacket to defend against the weather and his hair tied to keep it out of his face. His dorm possessions had been packed into neat boxes and given to some fellow transfers from West. If the worst came to pass, Ernie didn’t want his detergent collection to get thrown into some USARILN dumpster by the guards.

Being prepared was good. Failing to prepare was preparing to fail, right? But as the time crept closer towards the mission, as the minutes passed without Marc or Cal to distract him from the near-inevitable, more and more did Ernie feel that he could do nothing but sit in that lobby and wait. Just wait, and nothing else. Because nothing he could do personally would have any effect on that beast.

At least the wishalloy was something to look forward to. A safety net in case his rope failed him like it had against Allison. Ernie craved that extra sense of security. The parts about contact-dependent powers and pockets was rather concerning though. He’d need to leave his arms and shoulders untouched if he wanted to move around quickly with the rope coiled around him. Anything below his armpits would be fine to cover. He’d probably need to pee beforehand too.

Then came the other equipment. Ernie cringed slightly at the thought of carrying more tools on his belt. The pistol and tomahawk were already weighty enough. Luckily there were some pistol shoulder holsters in the armoury box. His Makarov and two of his magazines would rest on either side of his torso. The currently sheathed tomahawk would stay on the right side of his belt, newly accompanied by the pepper spray and baton on the other side. The knife, though made redundant by the axe, went into his backpack. Just in case. Maybe Zoe would want to dual wield some knives out there? Hopefully it wouldn’t just be a useless weight on his back.

Lunch had been consumed. His backpack was packed. He was dressed in his combat outfit. He had all the equipment he could feasibly bring along. Ernie was as prepared as he could possibly be. There was nothing he could do now but wait.

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