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Mandoson is in.

Brace for shenanigans.








January 11th, 7:32 PM
Docklands, Bludhaven, NJ.


"Well... that sucked." The Hound said flatly, exhaustion evident even through the mechanical growl of his voice modulator as he unceremoniously dropped the large, rune-inscribed and just slightly gooey magitech apparatus in his hand to the ground with a loud 'clunk!' and flopped down on his ass, resting his back against the shipping container with a long groan. "We've really gotta stop meeting like this, Detective."

Jericho, for her part, just offered her local costumed weirdo something between a chuckle and a sigh as he sat down next to her, pulling a pack of smokes out of her breast pocket.

"Right? Between the magic cannibal, half the police force trying to murder us and now that—" She agreed, pointing toward the colossal frame of the blue oni before them, slumped on the ground in a pile, out cold and oblivious to the world, even as the holes in her skull began mending themselves shut with a rhythmic crunching sound. "Reeeeally starting to think I should'a taken the month off."

A bit of weary laughter escaped the two of them as Sasha lit up her cancer stick. Very nearly dying horribly a couple dozen times in the past week having clearly brought the two past the point of trepidation and straight into a feeling of 'Well, I guess we're doing this now.'.

Constantly dodging death had a funny way of bringing people together, after all.

"So what's with that ugly looking doodad, anyhow?" The cop asked, thumbing toward the contraption her masked compatriot had so tersely plunked on the ground as she took a drag.

"Some kinda scartech; Far as I can tell it bores little holes into it's host's skull and pumps processed red dust directly into their brain. Saw the same thing on the big red fucker from last week..." The hero explained, with a tired wave of his hand. "...Aaaand, apparently if ya rip it out, it puts the big angry oni it's attached too on the ground. Would've liked to have known that last time."

"Yeah, been meaning to ask about that; how did you manage to make that big damned block of modern art that's been thawing out in my station's jail the past week?"

"Magic murder bird."

"What?"

"Nevermind that." The Hound cut her off with a little wave before she could dig too deeply at that particular landmine. "The hell were you doing out here anyway?"

Fixing the shorter figure a suspicious glare that wasn't at all hindered by the fact that she only actually had the one eye to do so with, Sasha nonetheless let the smoke out her lungs and explained.

"Welp, remember what Muller said about The Sardinian showing up in a big damned container ship? I finally had a night where you weren't around and the whole damned universe wasn't trying to fucking kill me, so I thought I'd come down and take a look. See if he left anything behind I could get a lead out of." Said the near-amazon, before pulling the cigarette out of her mouth and waving it in the direction of the massive, blue-skinned woman that had been up until recently trying to murder them. "Instead I found that in a container bound for New Orleans— Because fuck my life— and, well..."

She then motioned to the scene around them, with shipping containers and machinery thrown about the place like children's toys, some of them smashed or in pieces due to the oni's fists. Many of them cut cleanly into halves and thirds due to the pair of massive, magical machetes she'd been swinging around like a fucking lunatic. And a whole lot of them covered in a layer of ice and/or paradoxically also on fire due to... well, a whole bunch of other things that had made their night very exciting.

"...I think ya know the rest."

To that, the Hound could only respond with a quiet nod and leaned his head back against the container behind them; it'd been one hell of a night. But not so much that it'd keep him quiet.

"Speakin' of 'leads', now that we've got a minute alone where we're not about to die, you finally wanna tell me what the Aquila wanted with ya?"

Detective Jericho frowned a little at that, she had promised to fill the little weirdo in a mask in about all that, but she really would've preferred not to, as some part of her took the whole scenario just a little personally. Even after he'd spent the past week on a seemingly endless cycle of saving her ass.

She sighed.

No getting out of it now.

"There's... a P.I. down in the Melville district, a guy named Maxime de Caen. We served together in the marines." She started, just a little hesitantly. "Vanguard hired him to poke around the Aquila's shit. And I guess he must have found something, because not long after that, the Sardinian's goonsquad started trying to get me to put him down. Guess they figured our... history... would make it easy."

"You were close?"

Sasha shot the so-called hero a little glare.

"We were married."

She gave a satisfied little grunt when that shut him up. Or at least stopped him from prying any further into her personal life.

He wasn't the only one allowed to hold secrets after all.

"So... where's this guy now?"

”Well, after you went ahead and saved me and my… our son, I swept by Max’s agency and took him into protective custody— Probably going on remand for that, kicking down my ex’s door and hauling him into the back of my car after the mob tried to get me to kill him and all.” She continued, looking just a tad displeased by the memory of it all. ”...That lasted a good three days before one of Muller’s boys tried to strangle him to death in his cell and wound up on the ground gargling around the remains of his jaw instead. So my bosses—through gritted teeth, mind you— handed him off to the GCPD for better protective custody.”

Tiredly, she rubbed the bridge of her nose. Trying to ignore how the figure seated beside her seemed to stiffen at her words as she carried on.

”And that lasted until this morning, when one of their own dirty cops had the dumb idea to put a knife in his belly instead of his throat. That guy was lucky a less dick-headed cop heard him screaming from the hallway and managed to pull Max off of him.” She continued, having the decency to look away from the hero who had gone dead silent by now. All but glaring a hole through her skull with those glowing eyes of his.

On some level, she did feel a little guilty about waiting until now to tell him all this, and could understand just why he'd be a bit pissed off about the whole deal, but, well... there wasn't any changing it now. So she bit her lip and kept going.

"After that, Commissioner Jasper had him moved to an off-the-books safehouse and around the same time, Vanguard looked in on this immense tapestry of failure that is both our Departments and started petitioning to bring de Caen into their own care." She finished, casting an uncharacteristically timid glance back the vigilante's way. "...Rumour-mill has it that he's to be moved to their HQ within a week, once the paperwork clears."

For his part, said vigilante wasn't screaming or cursing the woman out... just glaring at her in silence.

Though a sudden, sharp inhale from the smaller figure let her know that that was about to change really goddamn fast.

"Itai..."

Ah, but just her luck, there was a big blue oni waking up with a bunch of holes still in her skull to distract the hero from giving the chewing out she was both too tired for and just might have deserved.

...Wait, hold on.

Suddenly realizing what was wrong with that statement, the woman's head snapped right back to her front to lock in on the sight of the not-so-unconscious-anymore killing machine on the ground before them... which suddenly looked a whole lot less like the brutal engine of death and destruction she had seen not too long ago and more like... a kid who just woke up on the cold ground with a bunch of holes in her head as she whimpered, curled up into a ball and began to cry.

"Itai... Itai... Itai..."

Oh, shit. That was a kid, wasn't it?

She felt her face drop to her palm as that one hit her.

"...Christ."

A moment of... almost silence passed between the two erstwhile heroes as the big blue girl just sobbed there on the pavement, until the Hound's shoulders visibly relaxed and he finally spoke.

"Don't suppose you know any Japanese, do ya?"

"I, uhh... a little from my time in Oki, why?"

"Good." The flak-clad hero very nearly growled out as he got to his feet and carefully made his way over to the very scared, and still very large and freakishly strong teenager before him. "Mind saying something to calm down the big blue non-human that could still turn us into hamburger meat by accident?"

"Wait, yer not mad?"

"Fucking livid, actually, but we kinda got other things to deal with right now."




January 18th, 11:32 PM
Vanguard Plaza, Gotham, NJ.


Gotham was... different, Malcolm had to admit. And he wasn't entirely sure he liked it. Then again, this was the first time he'd ever actually ever set foot outside of his particular 'hub of urban decay', as a certain magic murder bird he knew often called it, so he guessed a bit of culture-shock was inevitable.

It was the little things that got to him the most; Gotham was... a whole lot less grimy than his home on the other side of the Avalon— Not to say it was particularly clean, mind you, but it did remind the boy just how much the roads of his town could use a bit of paving and the buildings some serious rehab.

And on those buildings, the sort of Neo-Gothic style that dominated the local skyline was a far cry from the glowing holosigns and improvised, disorderly urban sprawl he knew and loved, where magitech had been so widely and somewhat forcefully adopted out of necessity that it turned the whole place into something that'd make a cyberpunk enthusiast wet in the pants and a city-planner's eyes bleed just served to further reinforce the notion that this simply was not home.

But that wasn't the weirdest thing.

No, that honour went to the fact that, while you couldn't take a piss on a Bludhaven street without hitting at least three different species and a gaggle of mages, Gotham was... somewhat barren in this regard. Very literally, for the former, simply having less in the way of demons and non-humans as far as he could tell, with those that actually were in town either hiding away in backalleys or dressing themselves to hide their otherworldly features as they ducked their heads and tried to keep a low profile. The latter? Well, he'd been here two days now and hadn't seen a single mage openly walking around in their traditional attire— Though honestly, it was a little harder to tell if that was just a fashion thing or them trying to keep mum about their true nature. Either way, he figured just walking up and asking would be a bad idea.

And only partially because he could be thrown into the back of a squad-car under suspicion of being up to something if the wrong person caught his accent.

The boy sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose a little through his mask, quietly freezing his ass off on a rooftop by his lonesome, as he had done the past two nights, across the plaza from Vanguard Headquarters waiting for... something to happen, before quietly pulling his face-cover up a bit and finally opening the box of pizza sitting beside him that'd been doing nothing but getting as cold as he was the past fifteen minutes to grab a slice.

He got about a bite and three chews in before he had to stop and just stare at the bloody thing between shivering and mentally dunking on this whole city.

"Wait, sherioushly?" The Hound managed, almost sounding pleasantly surprised around a mouthful of Gotham pizza.

He didn't have much time to think on that though, as he caught sight a column a GCPD cruisers pulling into the Vanguard parking lot, evidently unmolested by whatever designs the Aquila might have had for it.

Honestly, it was the only good thing Mal had seen in two days... discounting the slice of pie in his hand that is.

But then the power abruptly went out. For the whole city block. And the back up generators he damn well knew Vanguard had, simply didn't cut in.

And then the ground began to shake.

And there, sitting way up on his rooftop perch, Mal heard something that made him freeze even more than he already was.

"CHUGGA-CHUGGA-CHUGGA-CHUGGA-CHUGGA-CHUGGA..."

"Awww, hell..."




Isaac McKinley was... not having a fun time.

Which in itself, was kinda odd. Usually a night out in the marauder with the boys and his boss, Styx, the legendary Arcane Cowboy was a simple little adventure. They did their job, got their take, got their pay from the Don, then maybe had a few beers and went the fuck home. Sometimes with a few laughs along the way, sometimes without, but it was always an easy, efficient operation.

No it was the... extra baggage this time around that was causing him such concern. Well, him and everyone else in that damned armoured truck, if how his boss's hand had been on his revolver as he kept his eye on the extra body in there with them the whole time through the rearview was any indication.

Though between the quadruply-possessed girl in the back who kept rapidly alternating between snickering, muttering curses, crying and just generally foaming at the mouth as the four demons in her head went at eachother like ravenous dogs, and the out-and-out power-armoured monument to derangement that was the big red guy running in front of their vehicle, tearing up the street beneath his heels and screaming train sounds at the top his lungs as her charged toward their destination... he felt just a bit justified in that.

And was really starting to understand why the so-called Fearsome Five always seemed to do their level best to stay as far away from eachother as humanly possible.

Still, unlike the rest of his crew that opted to suffer all this in silence, he, to his own horror felt his mouth beginning to move.

"What the fu-"

And nigh instantly, he felt a hand clap down on his shoulder from the passenger seat.

"Son..." Came the familiar Texan drawl of his boss. "I strongly recommend you do not finish that sentence."

It didn't take Isaac very long to figure out why, as every fibre in his being screamed in protest as the deranged-looking blonde that had been strapped in at the far back of the vehicle was suddenly leaning over his shoulder and breathing into his ear through four mouths that, though they occupied the same place, were not at all synchronized.

"Lllaaaaanguage, Miiister McKiiinleeey...."

And that was about was about when four separate prehensile tongues a varying thickness and texture began snaking their way along his neck.

"Eyes on the road, Son. Eyes on the road."




"CHOO-CHOOOOOO!"

And not a second after those words echoed through the Gotham air, did the titanic frame of Bludhaven's Red Terror come slamming through the solid concrete walls of the Vanguard building and into the main lobby, arms behind his head in a classic 'Mr. Universe' pose as he skidded to a stop before all the armed Gotham cops and Vanguard security that'd been hiding in cover, guns drawn when they saw and heard him coming from half a damned mile away.

"DADDY'S HOME, KIDS!" The armoured maniac cried out to absolutely anyone who would listen in a sing-song voice. Either not knowing or just not caring about how much firepower was pointing at him at that moment as he began thrusting his hips in the general direction of everyone involved. "NOW WHO'S READY FOR SOME LOOOOOOVE~?"

In response, he only got three words out of whoever was in charge there.

"Fuck him up."

And enough firepower to damn near evaporate everything around him, though it all merely bounced off his magitech hull as he stood there polishing his armoured fingertips with a silken rag. Clearly not giving a damn about, or even feeling any of it as it failed to even scratch his race-car red shell.

In fact, as the gunfire slowly came to a stop, he opted to laugh instead and wave his now very shiny digit at them chidingly.

"NOW, NOW, NOW, KIDS... IF YOU START ACTING LIKE THAT..." He giggled out, slowly closing his mechanical which began to come apart and change shape. "DADDY'LL HAVE TO SPANK!"

And just as his fist seemingly reached it's final shape, a Vanguard scientist hiding behind one of the lobby's many columns poked his head out and quickly came to a bonechilling conclusion.

"That's a wave-motion gun... that's a fucking wave-motion gun! Everybody! RUN!"

"YEET!"

And that's about all the warning they got before the world became both very bright, and very loud.




Styx and his boy's entrance to what was left of the main lobby of Vanguard HQ was a lot less... thematic than the Red Terror's- The whole place now laying abandoned as whatever resistance there was had either been vaporized by the armoured psychopath or had retreated further inside with him hot on their heels, if the distant, but unmistakably familiar maniacal laughter and occasional tremor that rocked the whole place was any indication.

"Well then, can't say this is unexpected." The Arcane Cowboy observed with a low whistle as he adjusted his hat. "Not exactly what we're actually here for, though, ainnit?"

"LaaaaFayette drifts cloooser to perfection by the daaaay..." Came the... also not at all unexpected response from his erstwhile teammate...s "Iiiit is a beautiful thiiiiing..."

Styx just clicked his tongue at this and unholstered his weapon.

"Well, be that as it may, Quartet, Some of us actually have to work for our money." He said, just a bit of an edge working it's way into his voice. "So I don't suppose y'all'd mind fanning out and havin' an eye for anybody not invited to our little party? I'd rather not have to deal with anyone wearing a leather jacket or dog-shaped armour right now."

True to fashion, Quartet was on him in an instant, hovering before him to be just above eye-level and close enough to be nearly nose-to-nose and to push up the brim of his hat slightly. Apparently angry enough that all four instances of her mouth were finally moving in sync... though the four distinct voices that made up her warbling tone remained.

And three more rows of eyes suddenly opened up on her face.

"And just when did we start taking orders from you, mortal?"

"Why, when Firefly said ya did, ladies." Styx responded, not missing a beat. "Now git."

That seemed to do the trick, as the amalgam being known as Quartet snarled and complied; dividing and firing off her essence to the three other cardinal directions of the building in a flash of light.

...And also leaving one remaining blue-skinned demon in that spot their amalgam had been before, floating awkwardly in place while pushing the man's hat up with her now undisguised demonic forehead.

"I, uh... like your hat, Mr. Styx."

"Why thank ya, Darlin'." The masked man chuckled as he took a step back and turned to leave, motioning for Isaac and the rest of his boys to follow behind him. "Don't let yer sisters hear that though, it'd make 'em right angry, right quick."

"I'm really sor-"

"That neither!"





The Hound could only grimace as his night went from bad, to worse, to holy fucking wow in absolutely record time. Though he was, in some reptilian part of his brain, just a little astounded by what he was looking at; The Fearsome Five, as individuals, rarely did anything out in the open anymore. And the last any of them actually got together to do something like this, they were conquering Bludhaven.

Yet now, here three of five were, absolutely wrecking Vanguard's shit.

'Just what the hell does de Caen have on these people?'

That thought aside, a long exhale escaped the boy as he shook his head, stood up, pulled down his mask, and at least attempted to psyche himself up for the pure balls-out insanity of what he was about to attempt—

"Fucking hell..." He growled, raising his arm and firing off his grapple line toward the Vanguard complex. "I guess we're doing this now."

Taking on the Fearsome Five. With not much more than a grapple, a few knives and a handgun.

It didn't need to be said that this was probably not going to end well. Hell, he was very likely going to fucking die here. But even in the midst of all that, there was one other prevailing thought in the back of his head that now screamed like a klaxon and just wouldn't shut the hell up until it aggressively forced it's way out of it's mouth the moment where his feet left the rooftop he'd been camping out on.

"...Goddamn, I miss my magic murder bird."

And with those final words, Malcolm Talhaiarn plunged directly into what was most assuredly going to be the toughest fight of his life.




January 2, 12:05 PM
North-East of Atlanta, Georgia - Near US Highway 85





To say Duncan was a bit surprised about Verra's guarded reaction would be a bit of a lie; their last meeting hadn't exactly been... a fun occasion, and he'd had the distinct feeling that this whole thing wasn't going to go down with a chorus of sunshine, rainbows and happy funtime music. Still, it did make the man's shoulder's slump a little, as his own somewhat less finessed grasp of speeds approaching ludicrous allowed him the rare privilege of watching the woman plop her little sister's ass down onto the bench seat of a picnic table.

It did bite him a little that the woman's first instinct was that he was jumping her, truth be told.

In retrospect, he probably should've caught Lexi before she had launched herself at the famed Skirted Speedster. That would've been the smart thing to do, and that one was on him. But despite having not seen her in years, Duncan's gut told him she'd never actually hurt the poor girl and the thought that she could have just as easily put the small cyborg through the bench as on it only really occurred to him after the fact.

...And then the young'n in question began to tear up. Quite understandably so.

A little sigh escaped the man as he pinched the bridge of his nose.

This was turning into a very long day.

"That, Vee, is your sister." He finally said, looking the speedster dead in the eye. "She arrived at the crossing at Land's End this morning leading a group of refugees. And the only thing she wanted was to see you again, so I brought her to you."

His arms crossed. A very distinctly Duncan brow was raised.

"Seriously, when have I ever tried to pull a fast one on you?"

Whatever else the Champion could've said to his former teammate died in his throat as Nano abruptly stood up, electricity arcing through her body and asking for help... moments before launching herself at several times the speed of sound into the brick wall of the rest stop. For the briefest of seconds, Duncan just stood there. Almost dumbfounded. Eyes flickering red and homing in on the impact site of the teenager-turned-battering-ram to make sure she was alright.

"...Oh, fuck my mouth."

And in a heartbeat, the only trace the man had ever even been standing there was the divot his foot left in the ground as he all seemingly popped into existence crouching over the unconscious girl with a single step, gently lifting her up slightly to rest against what was left of the wall instead of laying face down in a pile of rubble and brushing some of the dust off with just a hint of a worried expression.

"I swear to God, Kid, you are just one heart-attack after another, aren't ya?"


January 1st, 11:15 PM
Smitty’s Fine Meats, Mealtide District, Bludhaven, NJ.


”Vistara mo tana lo?” asked Aelia, her hands hovering over the girl’s injured ankle. An orchid filament wrapped itself around the injured limb, conjured seemingly from thin air by the mage. Though it hissed like a raw steak that had been thrown onto a skillet, it didn’t seem to cause the girl any notable pain.

After roughly a minute, Aelia stood and dusted her gloved hands of the dirt that was never on them. “Volkra ton!”

Still eyeing the hooded figure with no small amount of suspicion, the tiny albino child nonetheless gave a few experimental swings of her leg. Eliciting just the most miniscule sigh of relief from the flak-clad (and still a little bloodied) figure behind the two girls— Frankly, between turning the oni into a modern art piece and that big damn red lightning bolt earlier, some part of his psyche was half expecting the poor kid to explode... or melt... or turn into a buncha friggin’ spiders or something at Aelia’s touch.

His eyes shifted slightly over to the hooded woman in question. Still not entirely sure what to make of her, but just a teensy bit more at ease now that he’d seen her do something that wasn’t absolutely wrecking a drug-fueled, magical berserker or dancing about a room filled with body parts.

A teensy bit.

That train of thought came to an abrupt halt, however, as the young one, apparently satisfied that her ankle was not completely fubar’d, gave the previous magic murder bird a curt little nod of thanks before kicking off the counter-top… where she stayed, hovering a solid two feet off the ground.

’...Okay, what?’

“It’s called magic, mortal,” said Aelia, smirking.

Before Mal could let fly with the particularly sarcastic selection of words he had for Miss Lumena in that moment in time, the half-pint albino had locked eyes with him and was now floating less than half a foot from his face. Staring into his own with grim determination.

The lad, for his part, just stared back.

”...And this is?” The increasingly tired-sounding hero asked, around the same time the girl’s expression went from ‘determined’ to ‘downright constipated’.

Apparently dissatisfied with the effort from… whatever the hell it was she was doing. The girl placed a hand on his forehead. And then both on the sides of his head, looking increasingly frustrated as she went.

“Ta… vad… siorchaedh!?”

”Uhh… sure?”

Aelia tilted her head as she observed this exchange, stepping between the pair. Quirking a brow at Malcolm, she then turned to the girl and smiled, lowering her head slightly as if to offer it up to the child. ”Kava mo vad na? Makala ‘English’ so vana nas.”

At… whatever Aelia had just said, the child relented in her efforts to do whatever it was she was trying to perform on the boy’s skull and, after a moment of sighing, gave the hooded figure a little rap on the noggin’ with her knuckle, clearly still a little frustrated about the whole affair, if her face was any indication.

“Pray tell, is there something wrong with your brain, Peasant?”

A beat of silence passed after that. Save for yet another sigh from Malcolm.

’Oh, great… Stereo.’

“You needn’t touch him to reach that conclusion, ohoho!” chortled Aelia, covering her mouth. “But levity aside, we really ought to free the other prisoners here. I’m sure they’ve had their fill of the scent of their peers’ freshly carved backsides.”

For the first time in the fifteen minutes he’d known her, Malcolm and Aelia were actually on the same page, as he nodded and retrieved his knife from the hand of that hobgoblin he’d made acquainted with the table earlier.

”Agreed.”




January 1st, 11:45 PM
Corner of Fifth and Keele, Mealtide District, Bludhaven, NJ.


’Well, that was a new sensation…’ Mal thought, just staring down at the street below, where the odd blend of Bludhaven’s finest, parts of the fire department and even a few lay-sisters of a local, but familiar coven of white mages were tending to the at least four-dozen terrans— human, non-human and mage alike— he and that crazy woman who was occasionally a bird had rescued about twenty minutes prior. Even though she’d vanished into thin air immediately afterward.

He was… somewhat unused to that kind of attention. There was a hell of a lot more eyes and cameras pointing at him the moment he’d walked out that door, Sasha’s boy in his arms and everyone else in tow, than there had ever been in the past seven years… There was also that split second where he honestly thought he was going to be abruptly evaporated by all those guns and magic pointed his way the minute he walked out the door, but that was beside the point.

It was… odd. So odd in fact that the minute he had put Bobby down, he had fired off his grapple line and got scarce as quickly as he could, simply out of impulse. But now, sitting there on that same water tower as earlier and staring down at Sasha sobbing uncontrollably and clutching her boy and all the other good things below, it felt kind of… right.

...Whatever fuzzy feelings were going on in his head at that moment, he shunted them off to the side as some more pressing concerns came to him at that moment-

Namely, that after all that workout he’d had tonight, he was covered in sweat. And it was frickin’ freezing out here. And he was just realizing this now.

”Okay, I think that’s enough for tonight.” The boy said to himself, rubbing his arms for warmth and turning from the scene.

There was a warm subway station somewhere with his name on it.




January 2nd, 01:30 AM
Caernarvon Central Station, Old Bludhaven.


Tired, half-frozen and still all bruised and bloodied, Mal was only halfway paying attention as he meandered into his subterranean home- a subway station long since abandoned after an ammunition ship caught fire and detonated in the harbour during the Great War, levelling Blud and about a third of Gotham as it went up.

A relic from a much happier time in the city’s history, with walls decorated with marble and old fashioned stained-glass that still shone on some days with what little light filtered down here through both the ruins of Old Blud and the city above, he’d made it work— The city never really got around to cutting off the water supply, being a quagmire of red tape and corruption even before the Aquilas took over, after many nights spent in the library and spying on the city’s utilities department, he’d managed to figure out how splice back into the power-grid. Getting his hands on free cable and internet was pretty easy after that. Building his own shower and some of his own furniture? Less so.

Still, it was home.

His nice, quiet little refuge from the outside wor-

“Welcome home, Malcolm!” said Aelia, standing before the closest equivalent of a dining room table he had, a large spread of food strewn across it. Where she had obtained this food was a mystery only she held the answer to. “I have prepared for you a minor banquet to congratulate you on your conquest of the vile man-eaters that dared to prey upon their betters!”

Mal just stared at the blonde before him. Then at the big mahogany boardroom table before her. Then at her again.

”...Come again?” Was all he could manage, head tilting to the side slightly. ”I… what?”

He removed his mask. A look halfway between incredulous, confused and somewhat disturbed adorning his features.

”How did you…? Why are you…?”

A bit more sputtering followed before the boy finally managed to catch himself.

”You know where I live?”

Aelia nodded. “Difficult as it may be for you to accept, I am indeed not a ravishing figment of your forlorn mind!” She gestured to the food spread across his table, smiling. “My cooking abilities are unfortunately one of the few areas of expertise I’ve yet to master, but I suspect you’ll nevertheless find it an enjoyable meal when compared to the meager sustenance you’ve been forced to endure up till now.”

Pulling out a chair for him at the “head” of the turntable, she circled around it to take her own seat, unfolding a napkin beside the silverware that she had also obtained through unknown means. ”It shall also offer us a splendid opportunity to finally converse in a quiet and calming environment!”

The boy just stared at the woman for a long moment afterward, still not entirely sure how he felt about her, nevermind how he felt about her in his home.

The loud rumbling of his stomach, however left even less room for argument than the ludicrously powerful interloper in his dining-room ever could— He’d only managed to get a leg and a few bits of popcorn chicken at the shelter earlier before Mog consumed the whole lot of it, after all.

So, removing his flak vest, gloves and rolling up his sleeves, he complied… albeit cautiously and still keeping his eyes on the woman the whole time.

...Something that became increasingly difficult the closer he got to this ‘minor banquet’.

’’Yet to master’, my ass.’ Mal couldn’t help but think, trying his level best not to gawk at the veritable pile of culinary perfection before him… or salivate at the scent of it.

A herculean feat in itself, even without a brain and sensory system as high-tooled as his.

Licking his lips slightly, but managing to keep himself under control, the boy’s eyes crept back up towards his impromptu guest’s again, effecting a half sheepish, half still very confused expression.

”Thanks…” Was about all he could manage at first, fidgeting in his seat slightly at the new, rather alien sensations of both having someone over and having a decent meal on his table. Nevermind this woman who brought both. ”So, uhh… what did’ja wanna talk about?”

Among all the things he’d been through that night, this was perhaps the one thing he was unabashedly un-equipped for.

Big flaming oni included.

Folding her hands neatly on the edge of the table, Aelia watched him eat with some apparent interest as she spoke. “Your captivating abilities, for one. From my observations of you over the past month, I’ve been forced to conclude that you are neither a mage, nor does the blood of this world’s titans flow through your veins.”

“Yet it is undeniable that what I sense within you bears a strong resemblance to the Arcanum that I wield,” she continued, never breaking her precise and upright posture. “It is, however, the differences between them that intrigue me. There is...a rawness about your power.”

Mal choked a little on his… lobster thermidor? Is that what was in his mouth right now? How the hell did this happen?

That was a question for another time, it seemed. As he took a swig of his drink, ice-wine to his further surprise, in an attempt both clear his throat and his head to respond to that particular bombshell.

”Pardon?” The boy finally wheezed out, wearing a face of pretty well-earned surprise now. ”So… you’re saying you think I’m some kind of mage, but not quite?”

That was a bit much to take in, after all. Especially after seven years.

Aelia smiled, pleased to hear that he had been able to follow everything she had said up till this point. “Precisely so! I’ve never witnessed any power quite like your own in my nearly two centuries of life. Why, if I didn’t know any better, I would say you were utilizing harmonics.”

Aaaaand, she lost him again. Leaving Mal to just stare at this woman who was both completely dominating this conversation and nonchalantly upending everything he thought he knew about himself over the span of a few minutes. He did pack away that bit about her age in the back of his brain, however, as it was one of the few things the blonde had actually told him about herself- Though he found it a lot less surprising than perhaps most would, this girl was still a toddler compared to Mog, after all.

Still, he had a lot of questions.

”That… isn’t exactly a term I’m familiar with. And I’ve spent a fair amount of time around magical beings on both sides of the hypothetical magic fence.” He finally stated, after a moment of mulling over the words in his head. ”And, before that, you know so much about me, but…”

He put down his knife and fork. Propping up his chin on his hands as his eyes lit up again.

”Who are you, exactly?”

“I am Aelia Marcella Lumena, as I said before,” she continued to watch him, her smile never dropping. “The daughter of Lilith, Queen of the Succubi, and an unknown titan of fire. The adopted daughter of Avaerus and Faulia Lumena. I am a representative of the Consortium, the foremost military power in the universe, and the original and rightful rulers of Gaia.”

Gauging his reaction for only a brief moment, she pressed on. “I came to Bludhaven to investigate a string of murders committed against the mage population that had, for some unfathomable reason, taken up residence here.”

Daughter of the Queen of the Succubi and... a titan?

As in, those things from Greek myth? That Wonder Woman occasionally went on about when she was on the news? A freaking god?

He was having dinner with a goddess?

That was… another thing he was going to tuck away in the back of his mind, as his face fell slightly and the glow in his eyes receded. He wasn’t entirely sure he’d be in his right mind to actually believe that statement (though honestly, who would?), but it did sort of explain just what he saw when he looked at her with his full range of vision, so he kept mum about his skepticism.

Partly because it’d be impolite to call the self-professed goddess a liar after she’d gone through the trouble of (probably) saving his life and then making him dinner.

Partly because, goddess or not, he was absolutely certain she could kick his ass.

Still, getting back to the topic at hand, and stiffening just a little at the particular subject matter involved.

”Firefly.” The boy finally said, sitting up a little straighter and, if at all possible, suddenly paying even more attention. ”You’re looking for Firefly.”

“Firefly, hm? Is that what he’s calling himself now? I suppose even demons can be influenced by the bizarre ‘costumed heroics’ trend that has consumed the mortal population,” said Aelia, seeming almost bemused that he had adopted such a name for himself.

”No, that’s just what we call him… it.” Mal corrected, with a sharp wave of his hand. ”Mostly on account of all the fire… and the flies he feeds the charred meat to.”

Pausing for a moment, the boy leaned back in his chair, knuckles rapping on the table a bit as he thought.

This was… a bit of a touchy subject for him, after all.

”Nobody’s even sure what it is… hell, nobody’s even seen the damned thing and been around to talk about it afterward, as far as I can tell.”

He took another swig of ice-wine and finished his thought. Much quieter now.

”Well, almost nobody…”

Aelia, sitting exactly as she had ever since she first took her seat, dipped her head. “I have met him. He is a Baron-class demon of fire. I encountered him some years ago on another world, but he managed to elude me through some rather dastardly and underhanded tactics.”

Malcolm’s eyes flipped back toward the woman, flickering back to orange again out of what was clearly habit when he didn’t have to actively suppress his abilities.

He was familiar with that terminology, having spent the past seven years in the frequent company of a (often naggy, occasionally cuddly, constantly mother-henning) demon. Long enough to pick up on a few things, at least.

”Any idea what a Baron-class demon is doing in the pocket of the mob?” The boy asked. ”Seems a bit beneath his paygrade, doesn’t it?”

“Oh yes, it is. His motive is perhaps the most baffling aspect of this mystery, given that this world has become quite a perilous hunting ground over the past decade,” said Aelia, at last pouring herself a glass of icewine. Rolling it about her glass thoughtfully for a moment, she drew a modest sip from the edge. “The only suitable explanation I have been able to offer is that he is perhaps working for another demon--one far superior to him in power.”

The boy just silently made a face at that statement, and indeed the entirety of this conversation.

”Well, then. This has been… enlightening.” He finally said. ”Any other bombshells you’d like to drop on me tonight?”

Aelia took another sip from her icewine, her smile broadening ever so slightly as she extended a hand towards him dramatically.. “Oh Malcolm, the only reason you’re feeling so perplexed and disturbed in this moment is because it is but our very first conversation! I assure you, the best has yet to come!”

If there wasn’t a big plate of fancy seafood in between his head and the table, Malcolm would’ve put his head into it. As it stood, he made do with just screaming internally with all the force his mind could muster.

”Oh God no.”

Aelia’s smile broadened still. ”Oh God yes.”








January 1st, 08:40 PM
Back Alley, Caernarvon District, Bludhaven, NJ.


It was the same old song and dance Jimmy Lau had been at for just shy of two years now; making his twice-weekly trek back to that same old alley, the frame of his dad's old alice pack clicking with every step along the way. Yeah, that'd be about right— Two years since that (very literal) ogre, Bloodtooth, and his goons showed up at his dad's restaurant one night right at the start of February looking to gently coax them all into giving their fair share for 'The Development of the Neighbourhood.' Two years since his old man, having not been prone to taking a lick o' shit from anybody in true ranger fashion, giant or not, responded by promptly knocking down and making a cool half-dozen of 'em regret a whole lotta shit via the end of his bowie knife when they didn't respond well to the words 'Fuck off'. Before the big green asshole managed to grab a hold of him and rip his fucking arm out of it's socket, before slapping his big sister around a bit and carting the girl off over his shoulder as a trophy. Two years since he was running for his life, scared absolutely shitless with the big bastard's goons hot on his heels.

...And two years since they chased him down this particular alley and ran into a fiery eyed nightmare. One who was very unhappy to see them.

Now, he didn't see much. Not in the dark, and certainly not while hiding behind a dumpster, hands over his ears to drown out the gunfire and all the panicked screaming and trying his level best not to piss himself on the off-chance that whatever the hell was in that alley with them would smell it. But what he did see, once all the screaming and sheer noise abruptly came to a stop, was the masked figure that approached him soon afterward, crouched down beside him even as he flinched away, put a hand on his shoulder and asked, in some deeply mechanical facsimile of a man's voice—

"Are you alright?"

It was at that moment that Jimmy realized he had just met The Hound. Not some horrifying monster or vengeful demon sent to punish the wicked those kooky little urban myths made him out to be; but some guy in a mask who'd just saved his life.

To be fair, though, he wasn't exactly sure what expect when it came to the Bludhaven Bogeyman.

...Well, someone a little taller, maybe.

They talked for a bit... or, it'd be more accurate to say the masked vigilante patiently asked him questions while he bawled his fucking eyes out, before he was led to the front door of a coven of White Witches (the concept of which was met by yet more terrified bawling which was only finally halted by a firm smack up the back of the head and a curt "They're good people. Stop that.") and the man simply vanished when he wasn't looking.

Two hours later, he was clinging to his sister like she was the most precious thing on the face of the whole fucking world while those white witches he so feared were in the next room putting his dad's arm back where it was supposed to be.

And though the local outlets never spoke an ounce of it, word-of-mouth over the next few days said that Bloodtooth had been found embedded a foot into the street, ass-first, having apparently been defenestrated from fourteen stories up. Very much alive, but doomed to never walk again without the aid of the kind of healing magics the super-max prison he was headed to was definitely not going to be giving him.

And so it was, that Jimmy Lau had been doing this same old song and dance for just shy of two years now; making his twice-weekly trek back to that same old alley, the frame of his dad's old alice pack clicking with every step along the way to change the batteries in the little wall-sticking lamp they'd got at a hardware store fastened above the mural of a dog's head his sister had painted on the wall in honour of the man they'd met that night. Taking it in shifts with his dad and the girlfriend he'd met at that coven back then to pick up any stray bits of trash around the place and to make sure that it, and the smattering of thank yous, well-wishes and even a few runes for luck scratched and painted around it from those who'd learned of this place and had such nights like theirs would never be obscured in the dark.

'Least we can do, pal.'

He thought with a tiny smirk as he pulled off his pack to get to work.

Because while the rest of the world could laugh it's ass off at the very concept of such a thing existing in this city, in this tiny corner of it, at least...

...There was hope.






January 1st, 8:45 PM
Factory Floor, Smithwick Textiles, Bludhaven, NJ.


"Oh, shit, that's right! Yer still new here, ain't cha?" Sasha managed, finally reigning in her raucous laughter enough to regain her composure "Ya haven't heard that one yet!"

"By all means, enlighten me." The Sardinian deadpanned in response. Somewhere between 'Curious' and 'Just about done with this shit'.

...The little half-snort he got in response severely slid that scale towards the latter. The continued shrieking through the radio wasn't helping things either.

"Oh, just... some kinda infernal creature spawned from the depths of hell itself to punish the wicked. If local legend is to be believed." Answered Jericho, with just a bit of a shit-eating grin and a little shrug, too. "Y'know, ravenous, utterly ruthless, inescapable. That kinda thing. Nothing yer powdered and pampered Tim Burton fever-fuckfest-spawned ass can't handle, I'm sure."

Sasha had never actually bought into any of that crap, truth be told. And in her mind, this was, best case, either that power-armoured jackass from the other side of the Avalon coming down off their high pedestal to bother to give a shit about the city that was about a fifteen-minute's drive over a bridge from their own, or worst case, some actual maneating species of monster and/or demon that would soon kill them all anyhow.

The latter, most likely. This was Bludhaven after all.

No, the only thing she could really be sure of in this particular moment was the fact that she was tied to a chair by some creepy old man who was in the habit of waving a magic friggin' cleaver in her face. And honestly, with her son in captivity and thing's looking increasingly like she was about to become the next meal of this outsourced Hannibal Lecter, she was more than happy to have something stupid going on in the background she could use to put the fucker's attention off of her and hopefully buy her some time and figure a way out of this. Preferably before the afore-mentioned 'something stupid' made it's way to her and put her in it's stomach.

Fuck this factory, fuck these guys and fuck this guy in particular. Her boy needed her.

For his part, that guy in particular just scoffed.

"A demon who punishes the wicked? I knew people from this city had a problem with education, but I did not think you were that ignorant."

If Jericho took offense to that, she made a point of not showing it; She had shit to do after all, like finally taking a few experimental tugs at the rope binding her wrists to the back of this chair now that there wasn't anyone else around who might see her do so.

'Silk. 'Course this fucker'd go for the weird bondage shit.'

"Well, if ya don't believe me, you could always ask your friends about the police reports they had to file about an ogre taking a fourteen story swan-dive a while back." Jericho responded evenly now and leaning forward slightly, eliciting a long and loud 'Creeeeak!' from her seat. "Oh wait, you can't. Because he's on every single channel ruining their collective shit."

Despite the abruptness of her tone, Sasha was grinning on the inside— The loud protests of her involuntary throne, both in her ears, barely heard over the pure pandemonium coming in over Amadeo's walkie-talkie and felt through her arse via the wood beneath it as she subtly shifted from side to side told her many things she wanted to hear about it... Namely that it was an old, termite-ridden piece of shit they probably pulled out of an old storeroom somewhere in here where it'd most likely been sitting since the seventies.

Even if she couldn't break the rope, she could sure as shit break this chair if she got a minute of not being menaced by a big magic cleaver.

She wasn't exactly a dainty flower of a woman, by any means.

"And you've got, what, twenty-something channels on that fucking thing? Little uncanny, innit?"

Now, her only real problem was getting this whackjob to turn his eyes from her and give her an opening. And that there would be the tricky part, as, with few exceptions, he'd been pretty dead set on staring at her with that big creepy smile of his the whole goddamn time they were here— Something she could still see quite clearly, even with the power out, those stormclouds outside blocking out the moonlight and the only real source of light in here being the red glow of the big fuck-off knife he fully intended to carve her up with.

Well, not right now, though. Now he just looked pissed.

"I'm getting awfully tired of your incessant rambling, Miss Jericho." The Sardinian said lowly and outright murderously as he did the exact opposite of what the bound cop needed him to do and stepped forward, raising that knife of his again. "I only barely tolerated your piddling attempts at wit earlier, and now I simply don't have the time. So if you do not mind, I think it is about time for us to part ways."

'Well, shit...'

Okay, now she really needed to think fast. And God help her, in that moment she was trying, but coming up rather alarmingly blank— More insults clearly weren't gonna do the job, and trying to talk down with a cleaver-armed psychopath sounded like it'd go about as well as fucking in the name of virginity. And if this guy was even half as quick on his feet as he was apparently strong, if she even tried what she wanted to do, she'd get a mouthful of cleaver before she even hit the damn ground.

The detective didn't want to admit it, but shit was starting to look a little grim... and, now that she thought about it, quiet.

...The hell happened to all that screaming, anyway?

Her answer came in the form of a knife suddenly plunking itself directly into the back of Amadeo's shoulder. Eliciting a chorus of screaming and, for the first time that night, swearing as he whirled around on his heels looking for whoever threw that. And perhaps more importantly, not at her.

'That'll do.'

Without further prompting or thought, she summoned up all the strength she had left in her beaten body to heave her and that shitty old chair she was in into the air to land on her side. Grinning ear-to-ear and cheering in her own head as the damn thing came apart. Something that didn't go unnoticed by the Sardinian who quickly turned on her again, blade raised and bloody murder in his eyes... just as the familiar 'clack!' and reeling of what she registered as one of those early grapple launchers some of the rangers were running around with during the war rang in her ears.

And something vaguely human-shaped, with glowing orange eyes slammed into the crazed old man's back, knocking him over her and out of her view.

Not that she was complaining about that, not in the least. Even as she growled and hissed out every profane thing that she could squeeze out of her teeth while trying to work her bound wrists under her feet in an impressive act of gymnastics that probably would've been a lot easier without a bunch of cracked ribs and a shattered orbital bone. She wasn't sure what it said about her that she actually had an easier time focusing over all that scuffle and insanity going on just out of view, but she didn't really have the time to dwell on that right now.

The cleaver that whizzed by her head when she finally managed to get her hands to her front and sat upright, however. That gave her a moment of pause. Even moreso when it stopped in the middle of the air just passed her and went whipping back the way it came... Something that, despite everything she'd been through that night, still put a dumbfounded look on her face as her one good eye followed it all the way back to the fight she could only barely make out in the dark; looking more like one red streak trying really, really hard to catch a pair of floating orange orbs in this light. So much so that it was perfectly willing carve straight through anything that got in his way, old machinery, concrete pillars, a wall or two when it was doing it's boomerang impression again. The works.

It was at that moment that Sasha realized she just might've been in way over her head with this shit.

So caught up in all the pure pandemonium was she, in fact, that she actually had to remind herself that she should be running away now.

"Okay Sasha..." She growled, willing with all her might to peel her gaze from the demented lightshow before her and actually get to the all important business of getting the fuck out of dodge. "Time to go... time to go..."

She heaved her battered body off the ground and, to her credit, made it about two steps... before falling back down on her face with a muffled chorus of swearing. With all the adrenaline that'd been coursing through her that night, it was only when her chin smacked off the concrete floor that she fully registered just how badly these people had fucked her up.

She didn't have much time to ponder that, however, as a blood-curdling scream suddenly echoed off the walls of the factory floor... followed by something that sounded like an odd combination of meaty and metallic landing at a roll and coming to a stop by her head... followed by a loud 'CLANG!' and then, nothing.

"Hooooly fuck did that suck." A low, modulated voice came from behind her, followed by what she recognized as the clicking of handcuffs and the cadence of boots on approach. "How the fuck does a guy that old move like that?."

And like some terrible cliche, the clouds outside finally parted just enough for the light of the full moon to shine in through the big windows of the old textile mill allowing her to finally see what the hell was going on.

...Starting with the severed finger, bearing a rune-encrusted iron ring laying on the ground right in front of her goddamn face.

"...The fuck?" Came her immediate, gut reaction as she instinctively lurched herself away from the disembodied digit.

"Yeah, sorry about that." Came that voice again, sounding almost casual, despite it's mechanical growl. "Scartech— Let him boomerang his big fuck off cleaver back every time he threw it, so I had to get rid of it."

Rolling over onto her back, Sasha cast her one good eye back in the direction that had come from, finding a black-clad, mask-wearing figure in a flakvest approaching her with a knife in one hand, and what looked like a lead pipe he was lazily dropping on the floor with the other.

Her gaze fell upon the symbol painted onto his chest, broken only by singular horizontal cut clearly left by his previous opponent. And then rose to his eyes.

It took a solid half-minute for her brain to break out of it's incredulous haze to connect the dots.

"Holy shit, you're real...?"

To her surprise, that actually got a little snort out of her apparent saviour as he knelt down to start cutting the bonds at her wrists with his knife.

"Yeah, I get that a lot."

Which was just as well, because the woman was clearly too stunned in that moment to even try to supress the exact next thing that came to her mind.

"...I thought you'd be taller."

"That one too."





January 2nd, 01:15 AM
Sector 34, High Earth Orbit


Despite his best efforts to keep a lid on it, and having about a decade's worth of experience doing so, Duncan couldn't help but cringe just a little at being called 'The Champion' with such casual gusto by the young Lantern... Well, almost as much as he did when the voice called back on the other side and was, very clearly—

"Ooooo, it's a girl..." His mother immediately chirped in, now actually making a point of projecting a six inch hologram of herself over his shoulder to better keep on the pressure. Faux-elbowing at his cheeks and all.

Now she was just fucking with him. He knew that. But that still didn't stop the titanic facepalm that occurred right that second.

It was almost like they had a routine here.

"...God dammit, Mom. Can we not?"

And by the time his hand was clear of his face, the roughly Star Destroyer-sized craft that should never have existed in the first place was simply... gone.

'Okay, what?'

It didn't take him that long to figure out where it went though— The big, glowing green light behind him was kind of a dead giveaway.

Though it did give him a moment of pause.

'Moe, your kid is just a little bit ridiculous...'

And with that he rocketed off after the kid in question, easily catching up to his flank in less than a second and fixing him with a skeptical brow.

"I like your attitude kid, but do you have any idea where you're going?" He asked, just a little dryly. "There ain't exactly that many places to quietly put something this big down left."

A bit of a blanket statement, but true all the same; Any wide open space left in the Americas that wasn't filled with a screaming, rapey murdercult wasn't exactly prime land to be dropping a goddamn starship. And most of the less murder-rapey wildlands were not exactly prime candidates either.

He scratched his chin a little, mulling it over.

...

...Well, one came to mind. And some of the locals did owe him a favour or two.

Hitting a button on his gauntlet to hop on the open channel Preston had set up, the Champion asked only one thing.

"How do feel about Dwarves, Serene?"



January 2nd, 12:04 PM (EST)
North-East of Atlanta, Georgia - Near US Highway 85


It was around here, as far as he could guess as he slowed down to crawl in the air. Those subsonic footfalls, the obvious giveaway had come to a stop somewhere within about a mile of here. After that, it was all just memory, and tuning into all those little things he recalled about his old friend with his enhanced senses.

The sound of her distinctive gait led him east, over a bit of brush and toward the highway. That minute subsonic ringing of the speedforce moving through her, even when she wasn't actively using it narrowed it down even further.

The other subtle things he recalled? Her smell and even the familiar taste in his mouth? He made sure to keep that pretty mum, even as it led him to a small fruit stand beside the highway. Things were already awkward enough as is with the little eight-year-old girl he remembered from a simpler time riding on his back suddenly not much younger than he was physically, due to his inability to age without trying to figure out how to explain just how he comprehended the world without sounding like the kind of creepy anime girl who walks around with a knife and a big creepy smile.

Putting that as far from his mind as he could with a quiet shake of his head, the Champion's eyes locked onto one figure on the ground in particular.

And her peach.

...The fruit in her hand looked pretty tasty as well.

He shook that one from his head, too; between the hydra, his surprise encounter with a Nintendo copyright in orbit and having to cut through a kilometer of red tape at Land's End, these past twenty-four hours were clearly starting to get to him.

Touching down quietly and about ten feet behind the hero-in-cognito, not wanting to just ambush her like some crazy person (and, incidentally, inciting the wife of the standowner's other customer to abruptly buy up as many fruits as she could fit into her arms after a moment's staring), the world's favourite Canuckle-head let his passenger down. And cleared his throat.

"Vee. It's been a while."
@DocRock@pyroman@praxitilies@Mr Nim@Unknown100@Blazion

Forgot to add tags, buuuut...

Posted.






January 1st, 8:04 PM
Midtown Metropolis


Things were... looking pretty bleak in Metropolis.

For one, the traffic sucked, but that was to be expected on any given day.

Secondly, there was apparently a big damned snowstorm creeping up the coast towards them by way of Gotham and that other place no one cares about, so people were naturally in a rush to get home where it'd be nice and warm.

And... oh, yeah. There was the trifling matter of the leviathan beast of myth and legend rampaging it's way through Midtown, apparently not at all deterred by the fact that chunks of it's own seared flesh seemed to be falling off of it's body or that it's many heads were bound together by hardlight constructs. Which it savagely thrashed against both from the inside and from the out with it's colossal tail. Causing yet more mayhem in it's frenzied motions.

...Yes, pretty bleak.

The man responsible for managing to do that much damage to the titanic beast was down for the count. Most of the heroes present were battered, tired and running out of options. And the hydra, charming creature it was, simply refused to give up.

And somewhere in the midst of all this chaos, perhaps noticed, perhaps not, a tiny fissure appeared in the clouds overhead. And if one just so happened, by freak coincidence, to be pointing a highspeed camera up there at that exact moment, they'd catch something a little peculiar.

The Champion. Rocketing straight towards the Earth. Elbow first.

Before something from above slammed into the Hydra's body with enough force to send a column of rubble, concrete and bits of monster straight into the stratosphere and shatter every damned window in Midtown the fighting hadn't gotten around to breaking yet. As well as leaving one hell of a crater.

Suddenly, that hydra wasn't kicking up such a fuss. And as the dust began to settle, and the beast's now-inanimate heads began sliding out the back end of Preston's trap like some particularly nasty looking sausages to come crashing back down onto the ground, only to be intercepted and vaporized by a stream of red light before they could even begin their journey, there came the man responsible— Brushing off the still-smoking elbow of his jacket as he made his way out of his own crater.

"Well, scratch that one off the bucket-list..."

The Champion half-mused, half-grimaced, as he casually walked his way over to the rest of the gathered heroes. Sheepishly scratching the back of his head.

"Sorry I'm late. Everyone alright?"




January 2nd, 01:00 AM
Sector 34, High Earth Orbit


Duun Kad-El, last son of Krypton, Champion of Earth and all around guy who actually enjoyed being able to sleep in ocasionally was... just a little bit perturbed at what he was staring at right now— And it was only partially because his loyal and trusted teammate of the past decade or so had threatened to rob him of his junk via a pink space rock.

No, it was down to the fact that-

"That's the fucking Great Fox." Duncan deadpanned with sheer existential contempt that went unheard in the void of space. "Why is that the fucking Great Fox?"

"Duun, what are you so upset about now?" Chirped in his mother's AI from his gauntlet, just about the only thing that could catch what he was saying in the vacuum of space. "Do you recognize this vessel?"

A low growl rumbled in the Champion's throat. But he elaborated, though still casting a cynical glare at the massive ship hanging in the void a mile before him.

"It's... from a damned video game I played as a kid." He explained, dryly. "With starfighters, tanks, submarines, fuzzy animals and a big floating fucking monkey head."

"Oh..."

There was a long pause after that.

"...Well, weirder things have happened, I suppose," The artificial construct of Karna El continued, unabated "There was that time you and that 'Grim' woman had to pretend to be a married couple in Monaco..."

If at all possible, Duncan's frown deepened even further.

"Can we not?"

"It was so cute though! You were holding hands, going to dinners, smiling..."

"One, it was just a cover. Two, Pretty sure Zo doesn't swing that way. Three, can we not have the 'grandbabies' discussion right now?"

"A mother can dream, Duun!"

And without further ado, but a whole lot of irritation, Duncan launched himself toward the bridge of the all-too familiar vessel, coming to a stop just outside the tinted viewscreen of the bridge, whereupon... he gave a little knock on the glass.

Though, despite his apparent outward grumption at the ludicrous situation he now found himself in, he couldn't help but do it to the tune of the Starfox 64 theme.

There are some things you only ever get one shot at, after all...











January 1st, 8:25 PM
Utility Room, Smithwick Textiles, Bludhaven, NJ.


"A magic cleaver? Are you shitting me?"

Julian could only stare back in silence at the... thing... watching him from across the room, sat there on a stool, leaning forward and staring right the hell back with eyes that quite literally burned like smouldering embers and gave off the only real light in this increasingly claustrophobic, dark room.

Perhaps it was some measure of indignation at just how easily he'd had his ass put on the ground that kept him quiet. The jolts of pain that shot through his face, knee and arm whenever he dared to move certainly weren't helping his mood, either.

Maybe it was how unnerving it was how downright... casual the creature became after it had disarmed him, disabled him and liberated him of his radio. Even going so far as to give an amused little 'Heh, always wanted one of these...' as it relieved him of his nightstick, holster and all and clipped it to it's own belt.

...Though, in all likelihood, it was probably down to that sudden and uncomfortable realization that, in all the past three years of working for these lunatics, not one of them had bothered to mention that the fucking Hound was real.

"Well, that explains a lot," The creature mused, it's eyes shifting over to what Julian very clearly remembered being a concrete fucking wall. "Sure as shit doesn't look like a mage..."

Despite the circumstances, the cop with less than rigid morals couldn't help but cocking a brow.

"The hell does that mean?"

...He also couldn't help but flinch a little as the being's eyes snapped back toward him, locking him with a silent glare juuuust long enough to make him regret owning a tongue. Before the being visibly relaxed again, and began fiddling with the radio, cycling through all of it's channels almost like a kid with a new toy.

"Iiiiit's a bit of a long story," The hitherto bit of local superstition answered dismissively as he pulled a roll of what looked suspiciously like electrical tape out of his jacket pocket. "But that's beside the point, what's the deal with the cannibal with a magic cleaver, anyhow?"

Muller, to his credit, only let out a little grunt as he sat himself up slightly to lean against the wall, the the effort still made him pant a little. Still, licking his lips as he gathered his thoughts, he answered.

The Hound had made it very clear what was going to happen if he tried to lie, after all...

"...Fucked if I know; But dude's old money— some kinda Sardinian royalty or some shit, I'unno— showed up about a month ago with a damned cargo ship looking for work and Phage hired him on the spot."

The Hound paused in the middle of unrolling a strip of tape.

"Cargo ship?" He asked, suddenly very intrigued. "What was he hauling?"

"I dunno, man. A million tonnes of soylent green or whatever the hell else a magic Italian cannibal would bring with him across the fuckin' ocean!" Jules reflexively snapped back at his captor... before finding his tact again and biting his tongue. "Look, I'm just a boot to these people. They don't tell me jack shit."

The Hound held that same silent glare on the man for a few more seconds.

"Yeah. I suppose you're right."

And then he stood up.

And very suddenly Jules wished he could just melt into that fucking wall behind him.

"Look man, I told you everything I know..."

"I guess you did."

The Hound took a step closer.

"A-and you said ya'd know if I was lying right? And I've been honest this whole time!"

The Hound nodded in agreement, giving the radio in his hand one last once-over as he stepped even closer.

"That you have."

"So... ya gonna let me go?"

The Hound only let out a soft chuckle at that.

"Heh heh... haaaa..."

...Even as he calmly taped the radio's push-to-talk switch down.

"Nope."




January 1st, 8:30 PM
Factory Floor, Smithwick Textiles, Bludhaven, NJ.


Amadeo Macellaio, was getting a little impatient, if the almost-twitch of his ever-controlled brow was any indication as he stood there, arms folded behind his back as he shifted his weight from the balls of his feet to his heels, almost like an antsy child.

He'd sent Muller out to deal with their little electrical problem a good fifteen minutes ago now. What was taking him so long? Julian was not a smart man, but up until this point, the Sardinian believed him to at least be a clever one. There was no logical reason he should have had to sit here in the dark this long.

"Well... this is nice..." Sasha piped up groggily, head rising again out of unconsciousness as she cast an eye about the now-dark room. "We havin' a fuckin' slumber party now, or what?"

The Sardinian didn't try to stop the twitch of his brow at that.

So uncouth...

"Just a little unexpected interruption before we start, my dear Miss Jericho." Amadeo explained, stepping over to her and placing a facsimile of an assuring hand on her shoulder. "But don't worry, I've already sent Mister Muller to go have a look at the fusebo-"

"Ya sent Julian for that? Are you really as fucking stupid as you look?" Sasha quipped right back over him without skipping a beat. "Man can barely tie his own shoes, nevermind change a fuse. So ya might as well get fuckin' comfy, because we're gonna be here a while."

No sooner had the words left her throat, there was something cold and metallic pressed against her cheek under her one good eye. A cleaver, if she was seeing right in what little light they had to spare.

One that quickly began to glow blood red.

"I suppose I will just have to take your word on that, Miss Jericho." Amadeo retorted, cheerily. "So we might as well get started, light or not."

"Oh, pound it up your ass."

That was, evidently, the last straw. As the Sardinian abruptly took hold the near-amazon's chin in a harsh grip, pressed his weapons against her skin, took a deep, excited breath and...

"Nope."

...Stopped.

His eyes flicked back over to his little 'work' table.

That... came from his radio.

Releasing his hold on Sasha's face, the older gentleman cocked his brow and walked over to the electronic in question. Picking it up with a curious expression, he pressed down the push-to-talk button to ask what that was about.

Only for it to immediately sound off with a loud 'BLOOP!'. Someone was still on the line.

And then the screaming began. Following what a man of his talents quite obviously recognized as the sound of crunching bones. Casting a quick glance back over at Sasha, who seemed just as confused as he was, he clicked over to the next channel to try and figure out what was going on.

...Only to find he couldn't get a word in through the panicked chatter of the rest of his men... which was quickly replaced by yet more screaming.

The next channel was much the same. Though this time he started hearing the din of gunfire from further within the old factory.

And the next...

-Click!-

"NO! NOOO!"

And the next...

-Click!-

"IT'S HERE! IT'S HERE! IT'S HERE!"

And the next...

-Click!-

"HELP MEEEEEE!"

And it was somewhere in that time that Sasha had apparently figured it out. Letting out as much as a laugh as her cracked ribs would allow.

"And just what the hell is so funny, Jericho?" Amadeo snapped, finally loosing his cool and wheeling on the woman who, for her part, just kept right on laughing in his face.

"Oh, nothing, just... I thought this night couldn't get any more crazy, yet here we are..."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Maybe it's the concussion talking... but I think you woke up the local bogeyman."
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