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Writing. Cosplay. Musical theater. Smiling. Sunshine. Classic horror.

Give me witty banter or give me death.

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Where was Berkano, Oren asked?

Trying to find a way to save the hostages she didn't know were already safe.

Jeddah, like many other runes, had immediately started sprinting across the ash-dusted pavement. Her compassionate nature did not allow her to sit and wait for orders.

Unlike Silvarse, Volkir, and the more fortunate Amity, however, Jeddah did not have the skill and thirst for battle and desensitization to danger woven into the fibers of the muscles that had propelled the others into sheets of flame. She needed to find a safer way in. She couldn't help the helpless if she was dead.

But as she rounded the corner, she spotted a small cluster of people, a few paces down an alley. Some of them were mere teenagers. Some of them had their phones held high.

"I caught it through the window a second ago."
"Oh my - did you see that? Someone else is in there!"

"Hey," Jeddah cried, incredulously jogging to them. "Get out of here. What's wrong with you? Get as far away from here as you can!"

This might have gotten no response if it wasn't for the sudden explosion that rocked the ground and burst windows even here on the other side of the house. The spectators stumbled back and scattered, disappearing around the next corner. Jeddah could hear their shouting tandem with the flickering of her rune. She pushed her hair out of the way and placed her hand on it. Her stomach was it knots.

One man, however, hadn't moved.

"Hey. Sir," said Jeddah, approaching him with urgency. "You need to leave."

"You're here," he acknowledged with a charming half-smile. He stood with his hands in his pockets, looking calm as can be about the fire and chaos.

"Yeah, well, I'm - I'm chosen by the gods," Jeddah said weakly.

"Oh. Well in that case." He didn't move, looking at her like she was a dumb kid playing make believe.

He seemed like a real douche canoe, but that didn't mean Jeddah wasn't going to save him from his own stupidity. Sufficiently flustered and annoyed with his smug, terse replies, she looked toward a patch of weeds crowing in the cracks of the cement and coaxed them to shoot upward, growing ten times their length in the space of a second. Then she turned around and showed him the rune on the back of her neck.

Now his curiosity was piqued. He examined the marking, twirling something in his pocketed hand.

Now, Jeddah thought, he would take her seriously. It did not come naturally to the sweet natured girl, but she mustered her most authoritative voice. "You need to get out of here, now, or - "

Those were her last words before cold steel slit deep and clean through corotid, jugular, and trachea.

Spire - Fenrir, Fenris Wolf, Fenrisulfr, but Spire for now - held her up with one arm around her waist and the one with the short combat blade grasped in her hair while she sputtered and gagged and jerked against him, so that he could easily pull her further from the main road while continuing to examine the marking with a calmly satisfied air.

The smell of the bright thick blood cutting theough the scent of the fire and the charred meat and the much closer traces of the coconut soap in her hair was a pleasant distraction from his task, but the berkano rune on her skin was clearly fading, like a trick candle in a strong wind.

It disappeared entirely at the same moment as Jeddah's blood soaked body went entirely limp.

"Yes," Clifton began in quick reply to Madison's query. "Myself along with the--" but whoever and whatever was going to happen would never leave his mouth.

"Miss Amity!" Clifton shouted as he saw her trajectory. He tried to tell her to wait, but she was gone. No, no, no. Blasting inside with no backup? She could not be in two places at once. She could not both fight the creature and ensure that the civilians made it out safely. And the structural integrity of the home seemed to be decreasing every moment. Concern and frustration roiled in the agent's chest as his bright eyes darted among the remaining rune bearers. This required a snap response.

But there was no semblance of organization here, or even illusion of oeganization, just scattered individuals who were either unsure of what to do, or brashly taking matters into their own hands.

Silvarae, her posture coiled for battle, had followed Amity's lead and was charging into a flame-licked window frame, scattering blackened shards of glass.

Volkir was close on her tail, a tinge of bloodlust in his expression, as potent as his earlier sugarlust.

Thank the gods, the civilians came stumbling and coughing their way out of the hot smoke.

Clifton rushed forward to help the woman with one of her children. The little ones were lagging and she had one in her arms.

There was an almost unnoticeable balking at the prospect of touching the filthy ash-covered kid, but he took him from the woman's arms gently nonetheless and hurried him farther from the house, jerking his head for the others would do the same for the other straggling civilians.

The family was more or less safe.

But now three rune bearers were inside an increasingly unsound building, rearing up to fight with a Jotun in possibly the worst possible fighting ground Clifton could imagine.
Clifton went tight-jawed at Madison's almost-comment. He merely nodded.

He set a white-knuckled hand on the side of Madison's chair so he could twist himself to face the rune-bearers. They had so little time that talking was almost meaningless at this point, but he had to throw a

"Remember to stay close to your groups. If you can. You're stronger together," he said, his voice still deceptively calm. The fact that Amity and Makorai had decided to venture off on their own grated at him. But in his hurry and theirs, there had been no time to stop them. He could only hope they were safe, and that their reckless abandon didn't get Dawn hurt. He cast an apologetic nod at the girl. He would watch her back if nobody else did.

"And this goes for all of you, but especially if you lack combat experience: hang back. Use your ability at a range, if you can.

They had arrived at the right road. And there was Makorai. Thank the gods.

Now, hopefully Amity was close. For all he knew she had rocketed to the wrong part of the city and was storming around with no idea of the Jotun's location. Clifton kept talking. There wasn't time to say everything, but he had to fit as much as he could.

"Jotuns can be outsmarted. You'll go a lot farther with a little guile than a lot of brute strength. We're a lot better off if we can catch it by surprise. Don't just--"

Makorai's shouting could be heard through the window of the car. The flare went up, casting a crimson glow like a bloody lighthouse.

Or just go ahead and draw the Jotun into face to face combat.


So much for stealth.

Clifton climbed out of the passenger's seat and threw open the back of the vehicle.
No sooner had Oren finished her dry words of lecture, Clifton wrenched open the door (the second hardest anyone had seen a door burst open today, after Amity of course; hard to follow that) and let himself into the room.

An actual out of place hair brushed his forehead, a sure sign that he had scurried from his office to hallway to gymnasium in a tremendous hurry. More worrisome, however, he didn't even bother to smooth it back. Something was tremendously wrong.

But you wouldn't know it from the quick but businesslike manner in which he began to deliver his message:

"Hello again, rune bearers. I hope your training has been going well. I'm afraid I have a rather urgent request. The wall on the north side of the city has been breached, and we have a...a somewhat dire Jotun situation. I have report of one fatality so far."

He cleared his throat, his mouth twisting at the corner as if he was trying to prepare himself to lick the inside of a dumpster. Clearly, he didn't like the orders he was about to give.

But he had orders too.

He spoke very quickly, both to convey a lot of information in a short time, and to get it over with.

"We have people to deal with these situations, but our usual strike teams are out of the city on other business. Those of us remaining are only the minimal level of security. Normally I wouldn't--The organization wouldn't put anyone in the field without adequate combat training, but many of you have some background, and you know what they say about desperate times. If you would please bring any weapons you wish and follow me."

A large, slick, black SUV-like vehicle awaited them outside, gutted of its middle and back seats and lined with inward-facing bench seats to make room for more passengers, giving the impression of a SWAT van with a much more inconspicuous exterior. Clifton popped open the back and gestured the rune bearers inside before climbing into the passenger's seat. Madison was driving.

Clifton gave Maddie a sidelong glance, silently conveying his thoughts on this matter.

He was in no hurry to find out whether the rune bearers being "chosen" meant they could or could not die until they fulfilled their ultimate mission. This was absolutely the worst idea he could think of.
A moment earlier, Clifton had reluctantly left Mitch to her own devices when he received a short message in his earpiece. Silvarae had gone into one of the fugue states he'd noticed in her file.

He could tell keeping track of this group was going to be like herding cats. Not just cats. Cats and disobedient dogs who were chasing the cats.

Fortunately he knew how to handle the situation.
With a brisk stride, he headed outside to the gates.

"Miss Silvarae," he said as he approached, his voice taking on a more authoritative tone than any of the Rune bearers would have heard before. He felt he needed to infuse the proper amount of authority to make it clear this was an order: "Return to the meeting room, have a seat, take some refreshments, and -- oh. Interesting."

His voice dropped its firmness and he resumed his usual good natured smiling. The look in the young woman's eye was not one of a girl in a trance. Maeve had just released a hand on her shoulder. Furthermore they had started to walk back toward the building. Then the theory seemed to work in action.

His advice still stood, so he simply picked up where he left off, but with his usual cordial address, "And if they've already gone in to train, you're welcome to join them. I can catch you up on anything you might have missed."

Clifton turned to give a meaningful look at Madison. He would very much like to discuss the details of what had just transpored--but not in front of Silvarae and Maeve. "Mr. Lovette," he greeted simply instead. "I trust you'll be joining us to introduce yourself to the others?"
Clifton showed the first sign of being off-put when Kana called him a serial killer. She just wouldn't drop the murder thing, would she?

That was demeaning. He would never kill for pleasure.
Serial killers were despicable.
Killing without being paid for it.
How base.

He recovered his cool, externally anyway, though he felt himself breaking into a cold sweat just watching Kana sweep her serpentine tongue over Mitch's face. Mitch had so confidently dismissed him that he didn't intervene, merely taking half a pace back toward the room where the rune bearers waited. But he couldn't just leave if the girl might actually try to devour her. "I will be certaim to save you one, Miss Ingram." And he gave her one last questioning look to make sure she was still confident she had this thing under control.
Clifton made sure they had made it some distance from the rune bearers before he allowed them to stop. He didn't flinch at the sight of Kana's rows of fangs, merely raising an eyebrow. He'd seen stranger things. It seemed that now should be the moment that his cordial demeanor would vanish, with the pretenses dropping and all that. But apparently the politeness wasn't a pretense at all, because it didn't go away.

Clifton's lips twitched at Kana's implication that he smelled like cleaning products. It was just hand sanitizer. (Or...maybe she caught a whiff of that bleach from yesterday?) Then again, he knew she wasn't wrong about the clean freak bit, and... to be honest, she was only a stone's through away on the mass murderer thing.

He elaborated on none of this.

"Cleanliness is next to godliness, they say," said Clifton simply. He did not offer a reply to her query about how many people he'd killed.

Rather personal question, that.

"I have no intention to incite violence, Miss Kana, if that is indeed your name. But now may be the prudent time to ask who you are and what you are doing here, as well as to request an explanation of precisely what you are, if you'll forgive the rather coarse inquiry."
Careful. Cool to the touch. If she meant them immediate harm, she was hiding it well. But then why was she here? Because if she was a spy of some kind, she was perhaps the worst one he had ever met. He gathered from the runes' comments that she had entered through the window. What kind of spy would choose such a flimsy and easily disproven cover as 'I'm a rune'?

"How rude of me. Clifton is the name."

He made no visual response to the voice in his ear, as though he didn't hear it at all, but his actions proved he read Mitch loud and clear. He had been here long enough to know that when Mitch made a suggestion, you wanted to follow that advice.

Clifton feigned relief at Kana's explanation, which he wouldn't have bought even without the bluetooth in his ear. He was no entry-level flunky. He knew who his superiors were.
"Pleasure to meet you, Miss Kana. My apologies. I wasn't made aware of such an exercise."

He could see what Silvarae was doing as she positioned herself. He made eye contact with her and turned his head ever so slightly. No, implied the subtle, momentary narrowing twitch of his eyes. Don't engage. He had a similar subtle look for Oren, whose hostile interrogation, though not at all off-point, was lowering the temperature of the room to uncomfortable degrees, and he needed this Kana Cerulean comfortable.

Snakes, suggested Volkir. Perhaps he was onto something, there, if in no other way than in the metaphor of the snake in the grass.

Clifton addressed the room at large. "Oh, I'm sorry, would you all enjoy the refreshments and each other's company a moment longer?" he asked. "Cut Mr. Moons some slack, Miss Oren. Not all of us have your impressive dedication on the subject! You are correct, of course. Perhaps you can give the others the, ah, spark notes crash course on basic runes. While you're here, Miss Kana, I believe Mr. Jamesons had some documents about the Jotuns near base 5 that he wanted to pass up the chain of command in person. His break begins in a moment, so would you mind taking a detour to his office before we begin here?" He placed a friendly, light hand on Kana's elbow and gestured toward the gaping doorway, taking a step as though to guide her into the hallway. "Mr. Jamesons and his classified information. One can hardly blame him after what happened in Chicago, though, can they?" He laughed, the picture of ease.

Yeah, ugh, I think I lost the majority of what I actually wrote there.
Everything is the worst. D:
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