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"Oh no," Lina whispered, terror palpable and still mounting.

Luckily, it was not much cause of concern (yet), Chester's goodwill sparing many from being rounded up. Cerulean was the one major exception, his authority a potential threat to the emerging peace, Saff hard to excuse due to his attack on the king. Within the company his defeat sent ripples to his lieutenants across the Blue, the shock and anger quickly morphing into determination, sails unfurling compasses set to the Great Horn Archipelago.


The coming week was one of rest and recovery. With the coming and going of the Four Color Festival, and the security offered by Johannes, the conflict with the Companies faded quietly, both sides going back to their business with their losses taken, some more than others.

The mission of the Balder Knights completed, the man had taken his leave with no small fanfare. The 'Hero of Melonberry' was something of a mystery, one not easily associated with the loud drunk, Chester, who'd been making himself infamous in ways the Hero was famous. Surely, no one in their right minds would even entertain the possibility of them being one in the same. With Johannes' parting, he merely left a message for Chester, faring him and his crew well.

Tidying up the Breeze, Lina slipped off her navy blue hat, fanning herself with it, before taking a look at the horizon, seeing a number of vessels in the distance. Squinting her eyes, the sails of blue seemed ominous. Alone on the ship, to her knowledge, she swallowed, keeping a low profile, hoping it was nothing major.

Location: New York City, New York
Hounded – 3.04

Interaction(s): None
Previously: 3.03

Feet sluggishly tramping down another alleyway, Bruce had an awkward sway in his step. The chill air of New York’s night in this winter was nothing to turn up a nose at. Falling asleep at the wrong place could prove to be unfortunate, but spots of warmth would often be targets for patrolling officers herding the wayward homeless away. If Bruce had known of spots free from that kind of policing then he wouldn’t need to keep up his walk, his movement intended to keep warmth coming from his body. His legs could take it, certain, but at this point he was more afraid of his mind. No progress was being made, much of his time spent on getting by day to day rather than finding Brian. Maybe that was fine. He hated living like this but it would get better in the coming months when the weather cleared., he quickly realized. It wouldn’t last. He couldn’t last. He’d felt it when seeing people herded out of a subway station. He was going to try and stay the night there, as he’d seen others doing, but bad luck left him bearing witness to police forcing them outside in the middle of a freezing night. He hadn’t even been a part of it, yet he still felt frustration. Anger that those who’d been at their lowest from whatever circumstance or sacrifice, incidental or deserved, were now being pushed around and put at even further risk. His head as throbbed, but the moment he felt a flash of green he ran from those emotions.

And now it was even worse. Sitting so low for so long, Bruce looked up and saw skyscrapers hemming in the starless night sky, knowing that if he looked back down he’d see the struggle and despair in those at his level. Those who’d been crushed and could not move. But Bruce could move, and act, and that was exactly what he was afraid of.

Ears perking up as he heard a dull thud around the corner, Bruce was glad to be ripped out of the shades of his mind, if only for a moment. That relief was gone as soon as he turned the corner, immediately ducking backwards. It was just a glimpse, but that brief moment of sight quickly contextualized everything he could hear from now as he witnessed a man being mugged. 3 others, maybe 4, surrounded him. Maybe he was fighting back, but Bruce couldn’t tell, aside from the pounding of fist on flesh, the scuffle of shoe scraping against the moist alleyway pavement. At one point there was a cracking sound, then the stomping of legs breaking out into a run.

And Bruce didn’t do a thing. He didn’t even think about lifting a finger, just of keeping his head down and letting it pass. Any twinge of anger he felt at the idea of someone victimized for no reason needed to be suppressed. Had to be suppressed. And once it was over he peeked his head out. Someone in a winter coat lay flat on his front, arms angled oddly from the fall. A faint light caught his eye, Bruce dared to get closer, spotting a phone on the ground. Leaning in, he noticed why it hadn’t been taken: the screen was cracked from the scuffle. Not knowing the state the man was in, Bruce picked it up, seeing that it was on a call screen, ‘91’ dialed. Swallowing, he struggled with the cracked touch screen, hands trembling as he pushed the screen away, pulling up a browser, using some of the phone’s data for his own ends. He’d thought about what he might search for some time now, and it came as easily as the broken screen would allow. And finally he had a street name, an address. Glancing down at the man, his feelings were muted. His relief at his goal being within sight had overshadowed any pity he felt at the victim, and that in itself sent a pit down his throat and through his stomach. Going back to the call screen, he finished the emergency number, letting it get picked up before immediately hanging up and placing the phone down. He had no idea if it would work, basing his actions off of things learned second hand, but as he moved on he wasn’t looking back. He couldn’t look back, for every moment he lingered on those events was another moment he’d regret. And he couldn’t regret it, for had he gotten involved he might not be able to hold himself back. He told himself inaction was for the best because he had to believe it.

Going to a main road, Bruce had no intention of skulking about anymore. His expression was cold, and approaching the first person he saw, an older man whose wrinkles deepened as he was forced to acknowledge Bruce’s state of filth, he stood his ground, too desperate to think of others at the moment.

His voice came, raspy, and broken, words unintelligible. Clearing his throat of what felt likes weeks of bile and mucus with a guttural hacking, Bruce finally spoke. “Where’s Neapolitan street?

Location: Washinton D.C.
Till Death – 1.02

Interaction(s): None
Previously: 1.01

A overcast clouds releasing a slight mist kept the setting sun well out of sight, the slick roads reflecting only lamplight in the early evening. The slap of shoes against damp pavement accompanied Don’s steps as he went to the door of Perry’s Diner. Wiping his feet on the mat he stepped inside, the sickly scent of cooking meats and fried foods filling him with a guilty appetite. Just as he wondered if he’d arrived first or not, he heard a despondent waiter pleading with his date. “Ma’am, please put away the cigarette.”

“I wasn’t going to smoke them!” the seated woman insisted, a black coat over her pharmacy clothes, fresh off of work. An opened, red pack of cigarettes sat on the table next to a glass of water, one of them being rolled in her fingers despite her insistence otherwise. Swooping in, Don snatched the one out of her hand and slid the pack on the table away from her. “Excuse us.” he muttered, taking a seat across from her in the booth. Eyes, narrowed, Holly insisted, “I wasn’t! I don’t have a lighter!”

Putting the loose cigarette back before sliding the pack aside, Don murmured, “Why do you have cigarettes and no lighter?”Holly pulled back, one finger running along the edge of the table, like a scolded child. “I only just bought them, I’m supposed to quit.” Don’s mouth tightened to form a thin line. “I’ll treat you for dinner then, because you’re not getting them back.” Slipping them into the pocket of his light blue coat, he took it off and left it on the seat, before nabbing one of the menus left upright in a wire holder.

Taking up a menu herself, Holly hissed, “Tell me you wouldn’t need a smoke after that little acid trip.” Don winced, looking around carefully. The waiter had left them to decide their order, and the place was rather quiet at this hour, the only other guests well on the other side of the diner. The appliances of the open kitchen and fans made a baseline noise level that would keep them from being overheard, but Don was still wary. “Look, I don’t know what I’d call that but lets not bring drugs into it.” Squinting at his menu, he said, “Anyway, you’re looking...well.”

Holly snorted. “Oh, you definitely need glasses. I know I got fat, don’t try to smooth talk me. I swear, the next person who calls me ‘young lady’ is going to get my fist down their throat. And you’ve had better days too, while we’re at it. God I forgot what a tight ass you had, not that saggy thing.”

““It does not sag! And don’t make me talk about this in public!” Holly just cackled. Rubbing his brow, Don didn’t know if he could handle this woman.

The two went quiet as they decided, the waiter coming back around to give them drinks and taking their orders. One they had their orders on the way, two glasses of iced tea in between them, Holly’s with no ice, they were finally free to talk. Holly cracked open a few packs of sugar, beginning, “So, some aliens want us to put on costumes and fight bank robbers from the sounds of it.”

Don sighed. “I’m not up and up on this superhero stuff at all, there’s so many of them. And I don’t even They took us to space and then put us back? If they can do that, why not just take all the bad guys and throw them into a black hole...”

Holly snapped, “Oh get off yourself. ‘Bad guys’? Who do you think you are? Look, I don’t know what some Lords of chaos and order want with Earth, but if they chose us of all people to fight, then do you really want them making other choices for us?” Stirring her tea, four empty packets of sugar bunched up on the table, she took a sip through a straw as apprehension crossed Don’s face. “No, I guess not.”

Holly continued, “Anyway, I didn’t get taken anywhere. Or, well, I remember it, but I was still at where I left from, if that makes any sense. My coworkers who found me said I’d just zoned out. When we got sent back, they were all around me, trying to figure out if something was wrong. So it’s like, our minds are the ones who become heroes, but not us, really.”

Don’s brow furrowed. So their minds were taken away from their bodies? At first it left an unsettling feeling, but on further through he realized that it kept their actual bodies out of harms way, though who knew what would happen to them if they got hurt. Even if they could fight without being in danger, where would they even begin? Trouble didn’t just happen every day, how were they supposed to find out about it? Just watch the news all day? Hell, Don didn’t even know how to do it. He was stuck in place, only uncertainty ahead.

“Holly, I don’t think this is a good idea. We’re too old for this. We’ve got a kid, and he’s got kids now. We can’t be superheroes, that’s...” Don trailed off, noting the blank look in Holly’s eyes. “Holly?” Leaning in, she blinked, but her eyes didn’t move, they were just focused on some point just past him. She moved lightly with her breathing, and occasionally she’d shift her posture slightly. “Holly? Holly?” Don continued to whisper.

I’m fine you mope. Her lips hadn’t moved at all, her voice only among his thoughts, a sensation he’d felt not to long ago while his senses had been hurtling through space. The voice was different too, younger, just like it had been then. Try it. Just think about it. That same feeling.

Don froze, glancing around the diner. The kitchen was as busy as ever, no plates being dished up to come over to the table, no guests appeared to be paying them any mind. They had a moment, so Don readied himself before daring to try.


Blue and black overtook him, before Don came to, a murky, cloudy sky far above him, brown roof tiling below. Even in the weather, his outfit, the hero costume, kept him from feeling any discomfort from moisture or temperature, which gave him a slight, disconnected dissonance. Glancing about the neighborhood, he started to piece together where he was. It took him longer than he should have from his unfamiliar, second story perspective, but he was at the same house he’d been at for decades, just on the roof. Aside from the faint sound of the light rain and the occasional car, he could also hear a low hum, one familiar, but muted. At once he was familiar with what was going on around him as the masked hero, but also he could hear the diner in the back of his mind, furthering his disconnection.

Though it was dark, he still felt open, naked, worried that his neighbors might see him. Body feeling immensely light, he managed to float, before steadily dropping down to the backyard. Reaching for the glass sliding door to the inside, it was locked tight. “Holly?” he spoke, before realizing his mistake. Holly? Where are you?

Look, I don’t know how to explain it any better. Just feel it, like earlier. No, I know, I’m at my house. Are you at yours? Wait, what? I assumed we would just go where we needed to be, like last time.

Heart racing, Don was worried. Wait, are you in trouble? Holly’s voice had been relaxed, though now it had been raised in response. No, everything’s fine here, I just...

Perched on the corner of a building over a city square, Holly slid to a sitting position, legs dangled over the side of the building. Where it had been late evening in D.C., here it was more of a late afternoon, the sun still burning brightly on its descent. The square was abuzz with people moving about, the weather temperate as far as Holly was concerned. Towering in the middle of the square was a pillar topped with a bronze statue of an angel, one of its arms holding up a crown.

Mexico City, Mexico

Well, just don’t ask me to tell you what’s going on because I have no idea. I think I’m in Mexico. Or, well, maybe. My geography isn’t the best.

Well, come back in time to eat. Don offered helplessly.

Location: Navapo, New Mexico
Hounded – 3.03

Interaction(s): None
Previously: 3.02

“Hello, am I speaking to Brian Banner?”

A long pause came from the other end. Betty’s heart was racing: she didn’t know if he was going to stay on the line or not. A part of her suspected she needed him to. There was no rationale behind it, as she wasn’t even sure what she was expecting to find out, but with this being her best hope of finding a way to help Bruce, as much of a longshot as it was, if it slipped through her fingers then she didn’t know what she was going to do.

“...Who are you again?” came the silvery sound of his voice. Goosebumps shuddered down Betty’s arms, Brian’s words splintering her thoughts, pulling foreboding memories out of places her mind hadn’t reached in years. “You seem to be a little confused, Elizabeth. I’m guessing you go by Liz? This is Brian Bush.”

“Actually I was named from my grandma, so it’s Betty.” There was another pause, then a short rush of air, the beginnings of a laugh garbled by the phone line before a howl erupted in full. “Betty Ross!? Well shoot me in the head and chuck me off the side of a building I knew that name sounded familiar! God, little Betty grew up and now she’s writing sensational pieces on muties. How’s your tea kettle of a father doing? Son of a bitch blew his top every other hour so he’s gotta have a heart condition or two at his age.”

Betty didn’t know what reaction he was trying to draw out of her, but she pivoted away from the pace he aimed to set. “I’m sorry to say, but I didn’t send that email to talk about your work. I wanted to ask a few questions about Bruce.”

“I mean, do you need to? Can’t you just ask him yourself?” That gave Betty a bit of pause. Perhaps she’d taken the metahuman related news cycle for granted. “Well, I found your current name through a postcard you sent him, so I assumed you were in contact. You didn’t hear? About the Hulk?”

There was a round of shuffling from the other end. “Give me a minute.” Betty waited as long as it took, listening to him walk a few steps, hearing the sound a keyboard going. The next audible thing she heard from his mouth was, “Well, I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t that.”

“I have some unpublished insights, but I’d like to talk to you personally. Anything you might know that may have led to this. I-” Betty came to a stop as Brian’s laughter, a derisive chuckle, finally got to a volume she couldn’t ignore. “Well that’s just funny. Miss ‘10 Ways to Spot if Your Child is Hiding Powers’. That article is suddenly a dozen times funnier than it’s supposed to be.” Betty felt her grip tighten on her phone. It should have been something easy to shrug off: she’d certainly felt a sting every time she remembered that article, but that was the pain of lacking foresight. This was mockery from the man who’d fathered someone currently in legitimate danger, who was believed to be a legitimate danger by powerful people. As he finished laughing, Brian wondered, “Did you really assume Bruce and I are in contact? I never really thought he’d reach out to me. I’d never go back to me. If he kept that postcard he’s more of moron than I thought possible.”

“It was by the trash,” Betty stated. Knowing she couldn’t let Brian get the upper hand, she opened her mouth to speak, but his words went over hers. “Can-” “Yeah that’s what I thought. I know what this is really about. You just want to pick my brain regarding Bruce. Well, sorry, I’m not interested. I’m not interested in him and he’s clearly not interested in me. I moved on along time ago. Moved away even. You should remember, he was crying at your place when it was happening.”

Oh, fuck this man. Starting to boil, the only thing keeping Betty from exploding was that she was legitimately stunned at his complete disregard for Bruce, which in turn cracked open a vault she had yet to strongly consider, so much blocked out or poorly remembered from that period in her life. “So, sorry to take up your time, but-” “What did you do to Rebecca?” Silence.


Shaking his head, a hand scratching at his short black hair, Brian’s eyebrows arcing as a notification popped up on the corner of the display. Pulling his phone away from his face, his hand lowered to pat down his wiry goatee while his thumb went to work on his phone screen. Bright colors and a cheery tune played for a moment as he went to work, collecting his daily bonuses, before clearing his throat and going back to the phone. “Sorry, you still there? Something important came up.”

“If that was a game I just heard then I swear-” “Oh calm your tits. You grew some right? Anyway, I thought I was done with this shit 20 years ago. You fucking journalists are more interested in pushing your twisted narratives then reporting anything real. Funny you haven’t done an article in a while. Since the Hulk thing, right? It’d draw in the clicks too. Really makes you think. But no, I never touched...I didn’t kill her. I loved her. They say sometimes that if you love, you should let go, and maybe I should have let her go before I put...whatever that was inside of her. But I couldn’t. So if you know what’s good for you then you should let Bruce go, because if he’s smart enough he’ll keep far away from you.” Brian paused, blocks sliding together in his brain as he made a smooth connection.

“What I do is none of your business you disgusting creep.” Brian grinned, the sleeves of his black sweat bottoms brushing the floor as he took a seat on the recliner in his dimly lit apartment, the light of the nearby computer screen lit with green. “Oh, but you’re trying to make it my business. You wanted to talk to me, didn’t you?” In the silence, Brian took great joy in imagining Betty’s frustration and anger. The responding voice was less mad than he’d hoped.

“Wanted too, but having actually talked to you, I can’t imagine anyone ever wanting to go to you. Bruce is probably just keeping to himself. Sorry to bother you.” Brian clicked his tongue chidingly. “On the contrary, I’ve been seeing someone. Funnily enough, her name’s Elizabeth too! She goes by Liz though.” Letting that hang in the air, his tone relaxed. “Anyway, I should apologize. You’ve been a big help, I didn’t know how far out of the loop I was. I just got a little heated there. If you’re ever in the area I’ll treat you to dinner, to make up for it. And if you want to pick my brain about Bruce well...I’ll think about it.” No response. She hung up.

Letting his arm fall, Brian turned his head to look out the window, the shades slightly ajar, the city lights in the night peeking through into half lit apartment. Standing up, he flicked on a standing lamp, illuminating it properly. The apartment was fairly upscale, but its current state was one of disarray. Loose packages of food and boxes once housing new computer parts littered the ground, the nearby kitchen area had counters covered in old dishes and cookware.

Bruce was coming. Brian chortled to himself. Betty had made it clear to him: if that boy cared for his father he was an idiot, but that wasn’t going to keep him away. No, Bruce had always been soft, weak. If he could turn into some big green monster then he wouldn’t want to go to someone he might hurt, oh no, he’d go to someone he didn’t care as much about. There was something else too. Betty mentioned her unpublished insights, wisely kept to herself. If Brian could trust that they were relevat, then he could trust in his hunch that Bruce was on his way.

“I’m gonna need to pick up a little...”


Phone dropping onto the couch, Betty sat up, moving away as if Brian’s slimy voice had contaminated it. Her hands trembled in anger as she brought both of them up to rub at her temple. She’d thought she could deal with someone else’s anger after having been brought up by her father, but this man was a level of despicable she couldn’t fathom. All the snide remarks, the genuine disregard for those in his family, let alone anyone else. Betty felt tears rimming her eyes from sheer frustration. The bruises, cuts, and tear stained faces of Bruce and Rebecca kept floating to her mind. If she did take up his offer, hopefully he was smart enough to keep out of arms reach because slapping him upside the head was about the nicest thing she could think of right now. Fast food would be ideal: no silverware to consider taking to his face.

Body shaking as she kept herself contained, visualizations of herself kicking a hole in her wall held in check, Betty instead brought her knuckle to her mouth and bit down. So much anger and nowhere to release it.

Location: A Far Away Star System
Till Death – 1.01

Interaction(s): None
Previously: N/A

Inky blue gases stretched and weaved, the interstellar medium completely engulfing the long dead solar system within. At the end of its length, a black hole gradually ate away at the fluid matter, its pull drawing spirals that rippled throughout its reach. Several light hours in the other direction, the beating star of the system, slowly crumbling, still gave form to the interstellar medium all about.

Along this way, beyond the reach of the cloud, a blue form came into order from the space between space, wispy tendrils wiring together, bending at perfect, precise angles. A human would have recognized its shape as a face, the contours leaving large holes for eyes as they built a forehead, nose, and mouth, the endpoint much like a mask. And as it formed, around it, similarly coming from nothing, a black cloud billowed to life, pulsing with an orange and red glow. Spots like eyes shuddered, other parts of the face seeming to form before breaking apart, only to come back together, never quite resembling what it was before, the voice low like distant thunder. “All life goes to its end. Destruction follows all creation.”

The thought was finished by the other, the tone clear and soft like a bell. “But life must be given its fair chance.”

Terataya, one of the Lords of Order, an astonishingly powerful being in their own right, had never expected to be approached by the Lord of Chaos, T’Charr. This plan had been a thought in their minds for a blink in the length of the universe, but as things were, that was all the time needed for the balance to shift in all the wrong ways. They knew their target, the proposed lynchpin of everything. They each had their suggestion for the champions, but in her search, Terataya had gone out of the original plan, and had no expectations for things to go smoothly. But T’Charr was ahead of her.

“You have chosen?”

“I have. A pair. For us to choose individually, while we may find fitting representatives, to force them into working together without prior contact could produce disastrous results. But in my search I found those who know conflict and peace. Creations of love and the pain of destruction. It is a change in plan, but...”

T’Charr was quiet, face broken apart, but he spoke again just as it reformed. “Very well.” Terataya was surprised, albeit pleasantly. “Earth faces great chaos. I had made my choice, but...order. Order is what the Earth needs. Not in excess, but as the scale shifts in the favor of chaos, I may defer to order.”

Agreement reached, there was no need for further words. Their respective glows intensified, one of the lines forming Terataya splintering off, beaming into the distance. Following along, a ball of orange fell from T’Charr, dropping through the cosmos after that blue line, circling it as black smoke fumed out a trail behind it, speeds surpassing what was known to man as the shards of power found their place.


Washington D.C.

Planting the butt of the broom on the driveway, a knobbled hand brushing away at the sweat under his gray bangs, Don Hall admired his work, the driveway now perfectly clear. Snow wasn’t a big problem the once or twice a season it met the city, but Don wasn’t about to let it be any sort of problem. Ducking into the garage, he shivered at the cold, moving past his light blue pickup, closing the garage door as he slipped his white winter coat off his sturdy shoulders. Hanging it up once he was inside, he walked through the small laundry room and into the lower hallway of the two story house. Reaching the living area, he let out a groan as he plopped into his couch seat, the off-white cushion well worn.

Around him was nothing but quiet. The powered off TV in the living area, the adjoining kitchen, the rooms upstairs, even the heater: all was quiet. Don rubbed one hand on his leg, creating extra warmth from the friction while the other scratched his throat, the skin looser than he remembered. As his body relaxed the aches started up again: his knees, the arm he’d broken a few years ago in a fall, his sides as he’d continued to shiver. Mind concerned with busying himself, nothing he could do came to mind. The grass was dead and had no need to be mowed, nothing was broken that he could remember, he was all stocked up on groceries. He’d just seen his son Hank’s family over Christmas. He’d called Holly and, well, she didn’t seem happy to hear from him.

Ears ringing in the silence, he grabbed the remote and turned on the TV, letting the news reporter fill the room with sound, any sound. Anything to keep him from picking up things in the distance, sounds he always misheard as calls for assistance that weren’t really there. He hadn’t lived with anyone in years but he’d never stopped hearing Hank or Holly call out his name, even though they were nowhere near. He hated it. He hated how no matter how much he rubbed his legs trying to get warm, it felt colder in here then it did out there.


“I’m taking my break.”

Getting up from the desk, Holly’s pudgy form, clad in navy blue, moved off without as much as nod from her coworkers in response to her gravelly voice. Wrinkles straining from her tense expression, she glanced at the clock reading ‘3:13’ before moving from the back area to the neighboring hall, outside of the reach of general store’s customers. Normally, the office served as a break area for pharmacy staff, but Holly Granger went a bit further, out through a glass door into the smoking section. Wiping away moisture from the bench situated in the walled off section, the sky open for smoke to pass, her hands flexed for cigarettes that weren’t there. “Oh fuck,” the woman hissed under her breath. Thin nails scraped at the line of her thin, white hair, swept back behind her ears. Bowing her head, she felt a headache come on in her frustration. She’d been trying to quit: she needed to quit, but dammit if she didn’t want to kick herself right now.

Rather than retreat back inside, she took a seat, grimacing at the cold and the wet. Letting out a grunt, a hand hovered over the metal bench, shaking in hesitation before she slammed it down. Letting it out was better. Her curses, pisses, and moans barely reverberated through the glass into the hall, largely slipping up to the sky where they would fall onto no ears. A part of her definitely wanted to take her rancor inside. Give someone else a piece of this hell. But her legs didn’t move from their spot, the only thing rising being the fire in her belly as she continued to grumble at the only one who could hear her.


A moment after a blue light filled his vision, Don was left star struck at the next sight to come to him. Before him stretched countless lights, most of them white, pulled flat and long, edge to edge in his vision. At once, he felt like he remained still, yet clearly he was moving at a pace he could barely comprehend. His body did not seem to be his in the same way. Looking at his hands, white and blue swirled together in an extraterrestrial glow. He didn’t seem to have form, but he was here. He breathed without breath and could hear the rush of the empty void. Then there was another sound, one ringing in his mind, not making words, just echoes of distress. Reaching out to that nostalgic voice, he called mentally, Holly!?

Don!? Is that you!? Her voice had a roughness to it, a friction that gave him warmth from the pleasant memories he’d shared hearing it, yet Don was also left confused, not understanding how it lacked the scratchiness it was supposed to have. But he left that aside for now. I’m right here.

As soon as those words came out, he could see something else, another shape. Its silhouette was tall and feminine, strands of fiery red trailing from the head, the body and mixture of of white and red like nothing known to his imagination. Before he knew it, he drew closer, reaching out his hand. In her reflex, her own opened up, but she didn’t reach out. Please, he asked.

Taking the leap, she grasped his wrist, Don clasping his hand around hers in return. Even if only in this moment of fear at the unknown, they would meet it together.

Then, it all returned to stillness. Feeling his eyelids, he wrested them open, struck breathless at the view of the cosmos before him: the swirl of a black hole engulfing an aurora, speckles of starlight visible beyond it. Looking down at his hands, he became aware of his form. His hands were clad in white, a light blue spandex jumpsuit coating a body much more toned than he’d been in decades. Running his hands across his face, his smooth skin was under the cover of a white cowl, a short cape flowing behind his shoulder blades. “Uh...” Those his voice should have gone deaf in the void around him, he could still hear it, questions piling up.

“Don!” Holly’s voice called back at him. Turning about, if being swept away to some unknown spot in the galaxy hadn’t been enough to empty his mind, seeing Holly again certainly would. Her hair a long dark red, it matched the wing shaped domino mask over her eyes and the red stream of ribbons trailing as a cape. He couldn’t draw his eyes away from her, the woman similarly much younger, skin tight suit generously revealing a figure that left him starstruck. He’d forgotten how much that playful bounce in her motion made his heart race.

“Good god, you got hot,” she said, taking the words out of his mouth, placing her hands on his chest as they clung to each other in the drift. One of his hands fell towards her read but she slapped it away. Senses restored, he gave a light shake of his head before keeping his arms to the side, ignoring the stab in his heart he was too distracted to linger on, letting his attention return to wherever it was they were. As once he looked back up, he quickly became aware of the two massive faces floating with them in the dark as they finished forming, their sizes closer to that of skyscrapers. “Holly!” Don called out, grabbing her by the shoulders and turning her about. “Oh what the hell.”

“Don Hall and Holly Granger: we have chosen you to restore balance to your home world. I am Terataya, a Lord of Order.” The voice was clear, pleasant.

“I am T’Charr, of Chaos.” The name the booming voice gave in itself was less like a name and more like a roar, Don reflexively gripping an arm around Holly’s shoulders at its resonance. “And it is chaos that threatens your world.”

“We have fashioned your forms after the heroes that aim to protect Earth. We do hope you discerned our intent.” Don was just feeling more lost by the second.

Pushing herself out of his grip, Holly floated forward. “...To bring order to Earth?” she presumed.

“To bring Balance.” T’Charr’s form shattered as it moved its position a bit closer. “Holly Granger, your powers draw from chaos. While at its worst, chaos is disarray, instability, and irregularity, it can also be change, adaptability, and contention.”

“And you, Don Hall,” Terataya began, the blue lines etching form splintering, dashing across the region, looping around to the side, now closer to Don, who turned to see the lines reform. “Order is stability, integrity, peace, but if left unchecked it can be stagnation, complacency, or stubbornness. Chaos can be born from excessive order.”

“And vice versa. Order alone cannot bring balance to Earth, as other Lords may believe. And as such, they may not necessarily be your allies.”

“But...why us?” Holly wondered.

“It does not have to be you. We will give you a week to decide if these mantles are yours to don. Do what you shall as a hero, commune with us if you need, but first and foremost you must rely on yourselves, and each other.”

Don looked back to Holly, admitting, “I just don’t really...”

Holly turned about, floating back over to him. “What, you don’t want to give it a shot?”

“You are taking this way too lightly! I’d assume it was a dream if you weren’t!” “Don, don’t you raise your voice, I’ve been done with that shit for years.” “Well sorry if the giant space faces and this superhero nonsense is getting me a little touchy!” “Oh, touchy, huh? You were touchy before they showed up.” “Yeah, and you have room to talk!” “I’m not the one making excuses!” You are intolerable.” “And right into the ad hominem, which in case you didn’t know means: go-”

The two forms engulfed by light, they were pulled back from where they came, gone in a flash. After a moment of silence, T’Charr noted, “More chaos then I was expecting from a choice I deferred to you.”

“Change and adaptability, even contention, as you said. Let us hope it is change for the better.”


“-fuck yourself!”

Stirring to a start, Holly was grasped with a strong chill. Her body suddenly back to the heaviness she was used to, she looked around to see several coworkers looking on anxiously, having joined her in the smoking area, clearly concerned. “Get off!” She grumbled, shooting to her feet. Stumbling a bit, some hands reached out to help but she kept them away, retaining her footing. Moving past them, she went back to the hall, grateful to be back indoors. Going along the hall with no real direction except ‘away’, she felt more tired then ever, one arm on the wall to steady herself as she kept course. Buzzing coming from her pocket, she clumsily pulled out her phone, hands shivering as she took a look to see Don calling. Hanging up preemptively, she saw the time was now 3:33, a bit past the end of her break. After all that, she was going to need another one...
I'll get my first post up later today.

I'd have posted my sheet yesterday after it was approved, but hey, what if someone else wanted the hotly contested Hawk and Dove?

Location: New York City, New York
Hounded – 3.02

Interaction(s): None
Previously: 3.01

Even in a city known throughout the world for its long, historied past with the hotdog, Nate and Frank’s Franks had a certain affinity for gathering customers. The kitchen, tactfully planted by the street, allowed for any walking by to catch the scent, and if they didn’t feel like coming to the nice and warm interior in this mid-winter cold, then hey, there was a counter and register accessible right from the street, and if there wasn’t a few dogs ready to go at any given time then something was very wrong in the world. As for the taste, well, any decent place could get serviceable quality dogs and toppings, but the real secret was in the buns. A little sweetener gave them a near imperceptible smoothness to the taste, but the real trick was in steaming the buns. Grilling was more effective in a service environment, but Nate and Frank agreed that the crunch was meant to be in the onions or peppers, not the bun. Steaming however could lead to sogginess if made to sit in heat for too long, so the accessible access leapt over this hurdle with flying colors, like the vibrant paper tray it was served in.

So, compared to the pickings Bruce was usually able to scrounge up, to find one of these dogs, about a quarter of it bitten off, the rest sitting in an open trash can only barely touching the side of the garbage bag, well, it was nothing short of a miracle. All the little nuances in its construction were lost as Bruce rubbed his hands together, trying to get them to a state where he could pretend they were clean before carefully snatching it up. The cold frank was the only protein he’d gotten in what felt like ages, and the sugars in the ketchup and mustard, the variety of flavors in the relish, onions, even the pungent sauerkraut, all mixed together in a slurry of things his body was craving. Why someone would get ketchup and kraut on a dog was beyond him, and of course meat in general wasn’t something he’d normally partake in. But for all its repugnance, Bruce accepted it without much thought to any other option. These past few months he had been stuck with trying to gather cans and bottles for recycling to try and get some kind of snack, otherwise subsisting on garbage much like this. He’d practically been subsisting on popcorn: no one who got any at Target ever finished the whole bag.

Down to the end, all that remained was the area near where the previous owners bite had been, his fingers carefully gripping that end so as to not touch what he’d been eating, leaving Bruce at an impasse. His mind revolted against him, decades of conditioning regarding basic hygiene creating and odd contradiction in his fresh revulsion (one he didn’t really find rational given that he’d had no problem eating the rest despite literally pulling it from the trash). The other thing holding him back was that he’d noticed a young girl staring at him. She’d just been holding hands with her mother, the woman trying to flag down a taxi, while she just watched silently, eyes wide in abject distaste. Bruce paused, forced to imagine himself from the outside. Not as a man at his lowest doing what he could to survive, but as a filthy parasite living off of scraps and looking like nothing anyone would want to associate with. His ragged puke green coat that was missing half its buttons, and the overly baggy jeans that would be falling off if not for the extra layers underneath. The real capstone on his ‘clearly stolen from a clothing donation box’ wardrobe was definitely the red and green Christmas themed pajama top wrapped around his neck like a scarf to guard against the winter chill. Filled with a sudden desperation to get out of sight, he felt nauseous with himself, holding his breath and shoving the last bite in his mouth. Resisting an urge to gag, he turned away, forcing himself to choke down what he’d gotten. He’d let himself feel like garbage later, eat it now while he could.

Aiming to get out of sight through a nearby alleyway, he was immediately stopped by a mangy doberman that had been minding its own business. At Bruce’s approach it turned about, gnarled fangs bared as it barked, the booming yelps keeping Bruce at bay, the man quickly turning to keep going along the sidewalk. Feeling eyes on his back, he kept his head down and kept moving. The swirl of crowds and lights and towering buildings all felt the same to him. He might not even be in the New York metropolitan area any more for as far as he knew.

Bruce had been mulling about New York for the better part of December, now into January. His autumn had been spent traveling cross country: walking, hitchhiking, sneaking onto a train once, all to get here. But now that he was here, he didn’t know where to go. He didn’t remember his father’s new surname. It used to be Ti- something, it hadn’t been Banner in around 20 years now. He knew he was a neurogeneticist, but the name of the lab had escaped him. The information was too specific to just inquire about, yet Bruce couldn’t think of a way to get to a computer where he could search properly. There were options of course, but the prospect of approaching anyone left Bruce, well…

He was afraid. Even just walking down the sidewalk left him with people averting their eyes after that initial moment. They saw him, the thin beard, the scraggly bangs just barely reaching over his eyes, the ragged clothes. And then once they understood, they looked away. He had become invisible. For a fugitive apparently wanted by the military it was the perfect disguise, especially now that he was across the country. But what establishment would give him access? What person would let him borrow their phone even for just a few minutes? Perhaps it was a smaller hurdle then he was making it out to be, but even the thought of daring to ask again or trying to explain himself paralyzed his vocal chords. His first few attempts had been eye opening. People took out their phones and pretended to busy themselves. One outright responded to his request, a simple “Can you help me?” with “Not you.” And now, just the thought of asking put a lump in his throat. Retching, he didn’t know how much longer he could live like this. Some of his teeth were loose, suggesting malnutrition. His body being in bad condition was fine to a point: all he knew was that he couldn’t reach any near death state, or else that would come out again, and hurt who knew how many. Face tensing as he swallowed the vomit that had started to bubble in his throat, he needed to ask someone again, no matter how much it hurt, because he knew if nothing was done it could be even worse.

Turning down another alleyway, Bruce looked up to see another person just ahead of him, a woman in business attire, clearly in a hurry. Going after her, he tried to call out, but his words stuck in his throat, thanks to how little conversation he’d been making. As she picked up her pace, fearfully looking back over her shoulder, he himself sped up a bit. His heart rang with fear, the part of his mind wanting so dearly to get out of this predicament threatened him, as though it was a last chance. A flash in his mind, a brief visualization, involved more force, he just needed to chase her down and make her comply. The potential opportunity he’d stumbled across in the alleyway, granted by his desire to be away from prying eyes, twisted into an intrusive desire, one that just as quickly filled him with a deep shame. As she made for the other side of the alley, his legs stopped, wobbling as he lost his strength, his will. Stumbling backwards, he landed against the side of a dumpster, the bang of metal sounding out before the immediate area was cast in quiet, only the crowd and cars beyond the alleyway audible.

Curling up, Bruce shuddered, terrified at the prospect of something inside himself, something that had nothing to do with the monster he’d been trying to keep buried. For the first time in a while, Bruce considered this world of heroes. If one had swooped down to stop him just now, then in retrospect it shouldn’t have been surprising; that had been exactly the kind of situation they were known to intervene in, helping those slipping through the cracks against anything that remotely threatened him. Bruce could be said to have a ‘superpower’ of his own, and the thought of being pushed to use on someone in a state of duress, against someone who was actually capable of doing good in the world, was crushing. On one hand, perhaps being stopped was best for everyone. On the other hand, what if he couldn’t be stopped?

Some while ago, the idealist in Bruce had considered the possibility of using his strength to do some good in the world, but that idea was quickly dismissed, as he couldn’t control it. But now he’d realized something much more demoralizing, that who he was just didn’t seem like hero material in the first place. As moisture seeped into his clothing from whatever melted snow or garbage mixture he’d fallen into, he became rather resigned to the idea that this was the best place for him after all.

Location: Navapo, New Mexico
Hounded - 3.01

Interaction(s): None
Previously: 2.05

Betty still hadn’t gotten used to the quiet yet.

Just around the New Year, it was now close to four months since the Hulk’s attack on El Diablo, and things had really only quieted down for Betty in the last few week or so. The bulk of it was done in just a few weeks, but some persistent types just kept trying to reach her. Some people just needed to know everything the could about Bruce, as if his case was something that could happen to anyone. Betty on some level understood: she’d be concerned about mutants and meta outbreaks for so much of her lifetime. It was an idea that had scared her, even still (given that she’d experienced it herself). But in going through the experience, she had her preconceptions shown in a whole new light. Imagination, formerly trying to put herself in the shoes of someone in her present position had only made her retroactively realize how little she’d really grasped. To have the obvious been in front of you the whole time without suspicion. To have someone you cared about being hunted like an animal by the forces keeping the country safe, forces she’d once lobbied for so they can do exactly what they were doing. Thinking about Bruce’s circumstances made her sick. Thinking about how for once the systems in place were working as intended gave her a bittersweet flash of hope, one that was buried as she thought about the kind of expressions she knew her father could make.

It was hard not to think about. Betty sat on the floor, curled over a mess of loose papers on Bruce’s side of their bedroom. He was sloppy when it came to his own space: there was old schoolwork here, lab paperwork, junk mail, confidential materials from the base, all shuffled together, the only real organization being chronology, newer stuff settled on top. He’d always shied away from Betty cleaning up after his messes. Despite everything, Betty couldn’t help herself, lips twitching in amusement as she realized how much he’d always been like this: trying to do everything himself while in actuality not really being able to manage it whatsoever. Helpless as he might have been, Betty couldn’t help but to find some solace in his persistence. She wasn’t going to give up on him, and she could hope that that trust wouldn’t be misplaced as long as she could trust him to stay that way.

Organizing some of his mess, fearing pests had moved in while she’d been out, Betty was at it for a good couple hours, back growing sore from her time spent craning over. Cheap, disposable gloves on, she’d gotten to his trash can, small container having been recently emptied, but bits of refuse still remained, fallen around it, ignored in the last dumping. And in that cleanup, there was a discovery, a postcard from the Big Apple. Betty knew Bruce had never been there, nor was he in contact with very many people, but a closer investigation drew a curious name from the sender. “Brian Bush.” The last name was an anomaly, the first name got her blood rushing. Other sounds faded out under her heartbeat, its sound pounding at her ears as she poured over the first lead she’d gotten in weeks. Attempts to find Brian Banner had only run into dead ends grown cold in her childhood, the same time he vanished from Bruce’s life. This postcard however was less than a year old, dated March last year, and if he’d changed his name…

Hopping onto the bed, she whipped out her phone, opening Facebook and typing in the name and location. He hadn’t been trying to hide, Betty had just been going about it all wrong. And there it was. Four men named Brian Bush in the state of New York, only one in the city of New York. Flopping down, her back as relieved as she was. It was something really: never before was she so glad to have a mess to clean up…


October, Previous Year
S.T.A.R. Labs, San Diego, California

“Dr. Desmond, you have a meeting.”

Glasses askew, head coming up from the desk, Mark Desmond snorted before pressing a finger on the intercom, saying without missing a beat. “Thank you, send them to my office.” Patting down his wavy hair, fixing his glasses, and letting his blurry office come into focus, he ignored the dozens of pages added to his word document from holding down the ‘a’ key in his nap, looking to a calendar on the wall and blinking as he tried to read the note he’d left for himself. Then he saw who he was meant to be expecting. “Oh shit.”

Leaping from his desk, throwing on a white lab coat, Desmond burst through the door and into the hall. Coat trailing behind him in his speedy walk, he headed towards the front desk, turning a couple corners until he saw a blue air force dress coat coming his way. A smile of relief crept to his face as he reached the man, hand extended, reaching for his lucky break. “General Ross, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you in person.”

A bit of trepidation showed on his face as he slowly returned the handshake. “Desmond? I was just heading to your office.”

“Oh no, that was my mistake, we’re heading to the lab. I’m glad I caught you. I was wondering, what drew you to my work in particular?”

Ross shook his head. “Not out in the open you...” The man bit his tongue, hedging his frustrations, admitting in exasperation, “This is classified. If word gets out its your head on the block, not mine.” Desmond went pale, step staggering before he resumed his course, the rest of their journey. Reaching lab 012, Ross was shuffled in before the door was closed and locked. Desmond let out a sigh of relief, turning to see Ross mulling about the rather plain lab, whiteboards blank, papers strewn about, several marked cages of white rats lined up on the counter by the wall had drawn Ross’ attention in particular. Look incredulous he scoffed, “That’s a thing, isn’t it...”

Desmond opened his mouth to explain, but Ross shrugged him off just as he got the first syllable out. “So, show me what you got.” Desmond nodded, confident as he brought Ross over to the cages, made entirely of metal. Gesturing for him to lean in closer, Ross did, focusing on the rat that was passed out in the corner. Desmond indicated the bars themselves, scratched and chewed like they were plastic. “We have to replace the cages every day.” Following his words, there was a bang, as one of the cages lurched upward and banged back down, as if of its own volition. Ross’ eyes widened, looking to see nothing of note, just a rat inside like normal. Desmond couldn’t help but find amusement in his reaction, not caring to hide his smile as he explained, “It slammed against the roof of the cage with its full body weight. Rats that could squeeze under a normal door easily could also chew through it in moments, or just break it down if it slammed into the doorknob enough. Well, they don’t have the tenacity or smarts for it, they’re rats. But they could.”

Ross shook his head, clearly impressed. “That’s what I was looking for: simple, raw, power. Not fancy tech that needs months of operating experience for it to go out of date in weeks: strength can’t go wrong.” Walking down the line of rats in cages, he explained, “War doesn’t stop changing. Years ago they said drones would replace men, and they did. They’re pricey but a bunch of insurgents in the desert aren’t going to be knocking them down. Drones are less likely to develop PTSD too. But we’ve got a new war. We can’t walk down streets with guns and tanks, we can’t send drones. We need people again, just different ones then the ones we had last time.”

Desmond nodded along. “A super soldier? Like-”

“I was thinking a full squad. It’s a waste to put just a captain...never mind, doesn’t matter. Now, what do we have to worry about? Constipation? Dizziness? Drowsiness? If commercials have laundry lists for whatever they’re advertising then what am I in for here?” Desmond clearly felt himself wince. Understanding, he turned off, reaching for one leaflet in particular. “There were some, yes. We obviously have a lot of human testing to go through but even in the current stage the subjects suffer from overheating through exhaustion and cognitive lapses. Even though the cognitive capabilities of rats only go so far, there are pretty clear deficiencies post injection of the formula. We’re not quite sure exactly what is lost, if it’s memory, processes, problem solving ability, but performance in tests previously taken by the same subject has gone down.”

Ross studied one of the rats, watching is mull about the cage, sniffing at the air. As if sensing the coffee on Ross’ breath, it got closer, reaching the bars, its teeth scrapping them and leaving a few metal shavings in its trail. Ross took a breath before raising his hand, thrusting his palm out where the rat was. The was a bang as the cage was knocked back, the rat leaping in panic, the others in the room similarly reacting to the noise. Desmond’s jaw went slack, the man unable to formulate a response while Ross stood up. His eyes were cold as he looked over, noting, “They still feel fear, so they can’t be that stupid. And if they can recognize authority, they can listen to orders.” Ross shrugged, casually stretching at his collar. “To be honest, that’s all I really need.”

Desmond froze. His mind was blank as he tried to work out what the General was getting at. “We’ll need dosages for a whole squad and its field commander, 13 men.” Desmond felt his heart fall out of place, energy fading like he was losing blood. “N-no, no. I’s still in the testing phase! It isn’t ready for human experimentation.”

Ross’ gaze fell, the man letting out a deep sigh. Shaking his head, he ran a hand across his mouth and chin, patting down his mustache. “You fucking scientists. Smartest men on the planet, but you don’t think. Ross leaned in, his few inch difference in height being all the more pronounced when that same difference was all that separated them. “This is the human experimentation. You won’t catch me saying soldiers are expendable, let alone anyone. But there’s a difference between a man and a soldier. A soldier signs up to put their life on the line for their loved ones, their country, and the brothers fighting by their side. Every man getting this formula is ready to die to protect you and everyone in this country. I’m not saying this lightly. They’re not my men, but a friend of mine who I see eye to eye with is working with me. This is a joint operation.” Ross had begun to pace, and now he took a moment to lean up against one of the desks, one leg still on the ground while the other hung a foot in the air. The rats behind him had started to calm, one running in its wheel, the squealing plain in the background. “Eiling and I get the big picture. Idiot chest thumpers and dump humpers get all up in arms about which branch is the best, like kids. That’s not the point: they’re specialized. The Marines are like a scalpel: they’re smaller but they’re there to get the job done as quickly and accurately as possible. You don’t make it as a Marine without a propensity for following orders. And the Air Force has the brains. This time they’re the ones holding the scalpel. The tech, the operational knowledge, the critical thinking, the eyes above. That’s why I’m here and not Eiling, he doesn’t know how to get what he wants without shouting, where I don’t need to. I just like too.” Desmond realized his mouth had been hanging open. He tried to close it, but only ended up gaping like a fish. “That was a joke.”

Desmond swallowed, admitting, “You raise a good point sir, but I think I’ll have to talk about it with my superiors…”

Ross forced a smile, “Of course you do.” Standing properly, he clapped a hand on his shoulder, saying, “You have my number. Stay in touch.” Desmond still starstruck, Ross moved towards the door, stopping just before he reached them, turning his head over his shoulder. “Oh yeah...does this juice have a name yet?”

Desmond’s head still spun. All he wanted was a grant to further his study and research, and now he was being given too much, too much advancement, too much funding, too much risk. Hand pulling at his collar, his neck felt exposed, like any choice he could make would end with his head rolling over the remains of his career. Something Ross said earlier sparked in his brain next to a jab his coworker had said last week about his project, Desmond spitting words as they came to mind, just as he was beginning to see success as his ideal path to salvation. “Block...buster?”

Ross stewed over the words, eyebrows going up in acceptance. “Yeah, that’ll do. Blockbuster. Hulkbuster. Fits like a glove.” Throwing the doors open he took his leave. Tension in the air going with him, Desmond let his knees give out, the man keeping upright only because his arms clung to the desk behind him. A few feet away, the rat that had been chewing at the bars no longer had any interest, sitting quietly in its wheel as it rocked back and forth, breathing heavily, the reflection in its small black eyes nothing but its cage.
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