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Well, the kid had to admit it; despite all the ups, downs, assorted pratfalls and kicks to the ass, both of the emotional and very literal kind he'd taken over the years...

This, in particular, kind of sucked.

Laying there in the snow, on the side of a mountain, halfway naked and halfway drained of the red stuff all while propped up on his side by the four-foot piece of steel rebar sticking through his chest, This really was a new kind of low Malcolm had found himself in, all things considered. Not that he could really do anything about it mind you; if the trio of bullets in his gut, the femur sticking out of his thigh and the grinding that rang through his chest with every breath was any indication— His number was pretty thoroughly up.

Though contrary to what you'd think, the longer he lay there, soggy and freezing in a heap of powdery snow painted in his own blood, the less he started to worry about it.

Maybe it was the hypothermia starting to set in. Maybe it was that crack to his noggin that made his head all fuzzy and made one side of his face numb.

Or maybe, just maybe, after all the dumb shit he'd been though in his short, turbulent life... he'd just about stopped giving a damn.

...Well, save for his newly-acquired kickstand. That thing could just fuck right on off.

Letting out a slight, pained hiss as he shifted his shattered frame to try and better brace against the weight of the damned thing, an action that probably caused him more trouble than it was worth if the new wave of coppery red fluid that gargled up from his throat and also handily let him know that his left shoulder was also dislocated— Something he'd missed in the hodgepodge of everything else that was wrong with him right now. Something he only acknowledged with a weak, rueful chuckle and a little shake of his head against the snow.

So, this is how he was gonna go out, huh?

Survived all of his own shenanigans in the Blud, the night that led to his mum's death, a literal goddamn train-wreck, and all the myriad of other shit over the past two years... and after all that, he was gonna kick the bucket bleeding out on the side of a mountain in his goddamn underpants.

His train of thought paused for a second there, and his body went just a little bit more limp as something that tried to be another laugh gargled it's way up his throat.

'Yeah... that kinda checks out, in retrospect...' the boy admitted internally, as the the rise and fall of his chest steadily began to slow down, and he strained to keep his increasingly heavy eyelids open. Eventually failing even at that.

His breathing became shallow. A cold numbness began to snake it's way up from his broken limbs to his bleeding core and the world around became increasingly more muted as a growing emptiness— a gnawing void— spread steadily across his ailing consciousness, leaving him strength only for one singular thought;

'...Time to pack it in.'

That numbness worked it's way up his spine, but it didn't bother him much. Nor did the freezing cold, the howling of the wind around him or the labour of his soft, irregular respiration. All of it drowned out by an inky, black silence that consumed the world beyond his sealed eyes.

...But then, there was something else. A dim, orange hue from beyond the veil of black that was becoming his world. With some reserve of strength from an unknown place, the boy forced an eye open, one last time... followed by the other. And the call of the void chipping away at what was left of his conscious mind abruptly halted.

For there he found the first light of the rising sun.

Small threads of memories began to push their way up from the depths of his mind; of getting up extra early to sit on his dad's lap on the balcony as a small boy, of his mum coming home late from work in the early morning, passing out on the couch and him carrying her to bed in one of the few ways he had to show that he still cared... hell, even the clanging of the pot and ladle Vee used to use to get him out of bed when he was 'invited' to join her on a run at the crack of dawn.

The cold numbness receded. And an ebb of warmth slowly began to take it's place as his breathing regained it's strength.

He'd always loved a good sunrise.

His eyes turned towards the protruding bar of steel in his chest. And that smouldering ember of warmth in his body slowly broiled up in flame as he came to a particularly poignant conclusion—

That he'd like it a helluva lot better without this fucking thing sticking in his chest.

Slowly, shakily at first, his one good hand rose out of the snow to grasp it, and he began to pull. A pained hiss became a gargled cough. Then a growl. Then a scream that drowned out the grinding of bone and the mulching of flesh as inch by inch, the rebar came out the way it came in. And with one final wet 'crunch!' and a defiant roar, the offending bar of steel was dislodged from his chest and promptly tossed away with all the strength he could muster as his head rose to search the area around him, eyes coming to rest on one tree in particular.

With that one good hand, and outright ignoring or no longer giving a shit about the agony that filled every fibre of his being, he dragged his broken frame across the snow towards it. Snarling, coughing up blood and swearing the whole.

Oh, Malcolm knew he was going to die on this mountain.

But if he was going to control anything about his own life, it'd be how he met it's end.

And goddammit, he was gonna get to watch that fucking sunrise.

With one final snarl of effort, the boy closed the last of the distance between him and the tree, and with considerably more effort, hauled himself upward to rest his back against it. Chest heaving from the exertion as he finally got a chance to relax, knitting his eyes shut again for a moment, as slowly, steadily, a satisfied smile made it's way across his features.

But then... there was a crunch in the snow behind him... then another...

His eyes opened, wearily his head turned in the direction of whatever the hell that was, and then...

"SomeBODY—"










Keystone City, Missouri
Morning, January 1st


"—Once told me the the world is gonna roll me, I ain't the sharpest tool in the sheeeed...~"

"Mrrrngh..."

...And from under the covers, a pillow and about four hundred some-odd pounds of dog, Mal was suddenly, but only barely, awake. Clumsily and sleepily waving his free hand around in the vague direction of his alarm-clock radio in want... no, desperate need from within his cushy coccoon to shut the damned thing up. This was not at all helped by his canine blanket's sudden decision to stop faking being asleep and immediately go after him with a pair of big damned paws chaotically bapping and digging at the only thing keeping him safe from an aggressive amount of tongue and dog slobber.

This titanic struggle between a boy, flailing, half-asleep and trying desperately to slay the dread dragon of 90's Pop-Rock and his dog, who was going to love him whether he wanted it or not and would not be denied lasted for all of forty-five seconds before the latter finally locked down on the former's struggling appendage and bodily threw him from his bed and to the hardwood floor. Leaving our boy Mal juuust enough time to groan, roll over onto his back and just start to get up before being bowled over by his ecstatic pooch with enough force to send the both of them sliding across the floor in a heap and into his bathroom where his head would smack against the tiled walls, casting a definite failure upon his desperate quest to actually sleep in today.

Fortunately, the way he was now, he barely even registered the impact. Doing more damage to the wall than it did to him.

Unfortunately though, it did seem to come in time with the abrupt sensation that both hemispheres of his brain were attempting to part ways with one another as his vision flickered to some brief, incomprehensible swirl of orange and red. It passed as quickly as it came, as it always seemed to in the mornings. So fast in fact, that all he managed to get out was a pained hiss through clenched as his whole body tensed for a moment, before he relaxed resting his head up against the divot in the wall he'd made with his skull, staring at the ceiling as his now-empty lungs sucked in as much air as they could.

A few minutes of silence followed, until a quiet whine caught his attention. Wearily, his head turned downward, finding the face of his former assailant staring up at him from his lap, now very still and eyes wide and watery in a very puppy-dog expression of apprehension and remorse.

Numbly, his hand went to her fuzzy belly, giving it a tired little rub. Something he was rewarded for with a (now very gentle) lap on the chin and the light, rhythmic 'whap!' of her tail on the floor.

"So, girl... ya hungry?"

The whapping only got louder with that. And despite his current state, Mal couldn't help but smile a little and give her a wee scratch under the chin.

"Aight, alright..." He said, giving her a few more affirmative pats on the belly and starting to lift the old girl off of him "Just gimme a few minutes to get cleaned up, will ya?"

The dog, for her part, whined and wiggled a bit halfheartedly to try and get out of his grasp, but eventually gave up. Letting the lad roll her onto her feet and, with one final worried look and whine his way, slinked off out the bathroom.

Finally alone, Mal took a few more minutes to catch his breath... and wait for that ringing in his ears that'd been there since his little neurological anomaly a few minutes prior to finally wind the hell down. Before bracing himself against the wall and hauling himself up onto shaky feet in front of the sink. Opening the tap, taking a drink and splashing his face a little to help drive away those last little bits of residual nausea. Before opening up the medicine cabinet, reaching inside, picking out one particular little bottle and... pausing.

He gave it a little shake.

No rattle.

With a low exhale, he calmly dropped the empty vessel into the trash, shut the cabinet back up again and with something that sounded an awful lot like a defeated sigh, leaned his head against it.

"...Crap."




A quick shower, a thorough brushing of his teeth and a clean set of clothes later, Mal emerged from his lair and ambled his way down the stairs, feeling— or at the very least looking a little better for that hot shower.

...Aaaand, already the dog was upon him; More gently this time, though. Opting to just slink along next to him so her side was always touching his and rubbing her head against his chest whenever he stopped. Instead of, y'know, just leaping directly at his face like the excitable, colossal pupper she was— Something Mal quite appreciated, as a matter of fact, even if it did make walking just a bit of a chore.

'Sides, he'd only have to put up with it for a few more seconds. And then there was a leftover t-bone steak that was just calling his name, and if his supersensitive ears were telling him the truth, Grampa Duncan was still dead asleep and wouldn't be up anytime soon to tell him otherwise.

A cheeky little grin started worming it's way across his features as he opened the fridge, took out the saran-wrapped plate in question, liberated it from it's confines and left it on the counter on the way to the cupboard that Sadie's big damned bag of dog-chow called home. And only seemed to grow a little more as he had to slightly wrestle the now (understandably) excited pooch away just a bit so he could actually open the bloody thing and grab her good noms.

And then abruptly melted away in a heartbeat as he found it completely empty. Save for a sticky note in the back.

Mal froze. The dog froze.

Time itself froze.

Before slowly, deliberately the boy's hand reached inside and liberated the little bit of post-it from the cupboard's far wall, staring down at it with an unreadable expression.

"Mal, Buy more dogfood. -Grampa"

Numbly, the cabinet was closed again. And staring straight ahead, the boy took in long, pointed breath and let out a low, deep exhale. His head began to pound again. From beneath his armpit, Sadie was looking him square in the eye. Silent, motionless, waiting to see what he would do.

Turns out, what he would do was just sigh a little and scratch her behind the ear. Before his free hand rose up to the countertop, seized the plate bearing his precious, world-enhancing, big damned slab o' meat... and unceremoniously dumped it into her dog bowl.

"Bon appetit."




Sometime Later...
Garrison Road, Historical District, Keystone


Mal shuddered slightly as the world around him flickered back to that increasingly familiar red and orange, causing him to stumble a bit on the slush-covered sidewalk and brace himself against the red brick of a nearby building for a quick break.

These headaches of his were annoying when they'd first showed up a week or two ago. Now they were just plain getting old.

...Well, bright sides; it wasn't too bad out today, so he could get away with just a ballcap and the polypropylene neck warmer Mari had got him a few years back instead of something like a beanie or an outright balaclava (though he still wore his grampa's old bomber's jacket— less for the cold, more for the comfort). Also, he didn't exactly have far to walk; his destination— Kovalenko's Grub and Grocery— was only a block's walk away from home. And if Miss Kovalenko was still making those fried kielbasa sandwiches he'd eaten basically every damned Friday night after school when he was younger, he'd be killing two birds with one stone, then wouldn't he?

His stomach rumbled in agreement with that particular plan.

Shaking his head slightly and giving a little snort, he steadied himself back onto his feet and carried on his merry way. Head down a bit and neck warmer pulled up, keeping a low profile just like his grampa told him to. Though in reality, the old man'd probably be a bit miffed about his little adventure here, being pretty adamant that he should generally avoid places that might recognize him. At least, for now. And especially not without him or Mari nearby.

Objectively, a smart thing to do, given his circumstances. In practice however, it had become a bit of a sore spot between them; not being allowed to call Vee, Zoey or even Kara to let them know he was still alive was... well, not exactly how he pictured freedom would be like.

'Well, they've all probably moved on anyway...' The thought occurred to him, and his vision flickered a again.

It still hurt like hell, though.

The boy shoved those thoughts down. Hard. And kept on walking. Distorting vision and ringing in his ears be damned— he knew the way well enough that he could damn well find it by just counting his steps. And if the old man wasn't going to let him talk to his friends, he could at the very least let him get a goddamn sandwich while he did some groceries.

Finally finding the place and entering with a quiet, though friendly little "Pryvit.", Malcolm didn't waste much time picking up what he came for; going up one aisle to grab a big bag of Queenco dog-chow, stopping by the fridge to pick up a bottle of orange juice and then down another aisle to grab the biggest damned bottle of ibuprofen he could find. Though it was a bit of a slower going than he'd like, what with the increasingly loud ringing in his ears, that made him stop, check the prices of everything he picked up and do the math in his head when he realized he was probably going to be functionally deaf by the time he hit the register, on top of the pain in his skull and the rapid shifting of his vision between normal and something out of a bad acid trip.

...And that the store already had a few people in it, one of which kept following him around and getting annoyingly close to his personal space. Though he mostly kept his head down and ignored the guy— not that the guy'd be able to hear a damned thing the asshole had to say over the ringing in his ears, anyhow.

It wasn't until he finally got in line and felt something cold and metallic poke him in the back of the head that he put two and two together. And realized he juuuuuust might've fucked up.

The tinnitus in his ears abruptly halted just in time to hear the racking of a shotgun behind him.

"Kid... what the fuck are you doing?" A voice called out in front of him. "You do know what this is, right?"

For the first time since he'd actually been in there, Mal looked up slightly, catching sight of most of a man in some really cheap looking jungle camo jumpsuit and a flak-vest with the word 'BAMF!' crudely spray painted in red across the front, though everything above his neck (which was festooned with one or two gold chains) was obscured by the brim of his hat.

"Man, kid looks kinda sick. Maybe he ain't all there."

"Shut up, Glen!"

"...I thought we weren't using our real names?"

"Shut up, Glen!"

Slowly, Mal's eyes swiveled to the left and towards 'Glen'; a more robust man dressed in a similar fashion to the man at the counter, though without the chains or the spray paint. A snub-nosed revolver under his belt as he shoved stolen twinkie into the mouth hole of his balaclava— Not exactly the picture of a hardened criminal, by any means.

"Leave him be." The MacAodhan boy's eyes snapped towards the counter again as that familiar low, husky tone of Kovalenko's hit his ears. Though the cold growl of her tone was something of a far-cry from the usually softhearted woman he remembered. "The register is here. Take the money and fuck off."

The double click of a hammer being cocked followed that suggestion, as 'BAMF guy' whirled around on the counter again, having to aim pretty high to stick his gun anywhere near the six-and-a-half foot tall woman's face.

And just like that, something... old clicked into place in some deep, primeval part of Mal's psyche. The orange, red and now a bit of blue beginning to creep it's way back into his vision.

There was no pain this time.

"If I wanted your opinion, lady, I'd put a hole in your head and listen to the Commie lies spilling out of your dead skull!"

"...What the hell, Mitch?"

"SHUT THE FUCK UP, GLEN!"

A low rumbling growl escaped the man with a shotgun, the one who'd apparently been following the errant teen around the store trying to politely inform him that he'd stepped into the middle of a goddamn robbery as he finally spoke.

"Stop playing Hollywood, grab the money and lets go."

The fact that Mitch seemed to visibly deflate at his words spoke volumes of what the man behind Malcolm was, something he noted in the back of his head. Right around the time those familiar distorted swirls of orange and red began to stabilize into solid shapes.

Some part of him was aware that he was now looking through the visor of his ballcap, through their armour and even through the men themselves. His hearing sharpening to pick up every little detail, from the slight crackling of the knee Glen must've blown out years ago to the drippy tap in the backroom.

Every muscle in his body began to tense, eliciting a slight crinkling from the bag of dogchow as his grip somewhat involuntarily tightened

"...In a minute." Mitch said, taking a step toward the seemingly mute teenager. "Kid's a bit of a weirdo, but I like his jacket. Think I'mma take it as a souvenir."

Another step forward, and his gun changed targets from the lady behind the counter to just under the brim of Mal's hat (Shotgun Guy taking his weapon away from the back of the teen's head and putting a bead back on Kovalenko in response), pushing it upward and off so he could look him in the eye.

"That sound alright with you, Princess—"

He froze, eyes widening to saucers at what he saw and all that smug leaving his tone immediately.

"...Oh God, no."

Almost immediately, Mal's groceries spilled to the floor as he caught Mitch's gun and hand in a vice-like grip with his left hand that crushed both and the crook's collar with his right, giving a firm yank to pull him into the headbutt that'd knock him out and terminate his scream prematurely. Shotgun Dude, for his part, immediately jumped back and held his gun at the high port, unwilling to fire the damned thing with Mitch's head being right there.

Glen, meanwhile, was struggling to get his revolver out from his belt and around his fat gut.

"Jesus Christ!" The most professional crook in the room let out, a split-second before Mal spun around and swung Mitch at him with all the effort it took most people to swing a twig. Knocking him right on his ass, and only giving him a split second to look up in wild-eyed panic as the teenager wordlessly proceeded to chuck his ad-hoc weapon at him like a spear and finish the job.

And that's about when Glen shot himself in the foot. Literally. Falling to the ground with a loud scream and a chorus of swearing. But he did manage to get his gun free, and with a war cry that was equal parts anger and terror, pointed his weapon at Mal and unloaded it as fast as his stubby fingers would move— Shattering the store's window and hitting his target exactly once. In the shoulder. Which bounced off with a metallic 'Ping!' anyway.

It was at that moment that Glen pissed himself.

And Mal, looking from the now very frightened man with soggy pants and a belly full of twinkies, down to the crushed glock at his feet and back again decided to arrange a meeting between the two via an abrupt bootfuck. Smacking the cake enthusiast dead in the nose with the mottled lump of steel and plastic, knocking him out, too.

A moment of silence followed all that. Until Mal finally let out a long exhale, and the world as he comprehended it returned to normal. Dull ache down the middle of his braincase included. He also suddenly became aware of the fact that somewhere in the middle of all that, he'd popped a bit of a nosebleed, something he mended with a quick yank down of his neck warmer and a wipe of his sleeve before pulling it back up, kneeling down, dusting off his hat, grabbing his groceries and heading towards the counter.

Even with his head down fishing for his wallet, he could feel the mountain of a woman staring down at him. And, frankly, it was more than a little bit awkward; Of course he had wanted to meet her again, eat a sandwich, joke around and shoot the shit like the good old days.

This... this wasn't what he had in mind.

Maybe it was best if he just lef-

The woman in question sat down on her stool and rested her cheek in her palms, looking at him with a blank expression.

"Malo Borets', is that you?"

He froze on hearing that old number, the nickname he'd earned the last time he'd had to whoop someone's ass in her store. But obediently, his head turned upward until their eyes met.

"Tak."

Slowly, deliberately one of her hands slid out from beneath her chin and extended towards his shoulder, a finger finding it's way inside that fresh bullet hole in the fabric where it lingered for a second, until finally she withdrew it again and gave it a hard stare for a solid ten seconds before turning her eyes toward her customer and showing him the distinct lack of blood on the end of her digit.

"...Clearly, I need to charge more for the sandwiches." She said with an absolute deadpan.

There was a moment of silence. Then a snicker from him, a snort from her as she strained and struggled to keep a straight face. And then finally the both of them just burst out into a fit of laughter and she pulled him into a loose hug.

"Is so good to see you again, little one! Where have you been?" She finally asked as she released him, hands still on his shoulders.

"Oh, ya know... here and there." Mal replied with a nervous scratch of his neck, suddenly realizing that for all his earlier desire to see a familiar face, he actually had no clue what to tell them when he did.

Luckily for him, Kovalenko either accepted that answer, or was just happy enough that he was here now that she didn't really care to pry further, as she threw on her apron and tied her blonde locks back.

"So, kielbasa on white with honey mustard, tak?"

"Uhh... yeah, tak. Thanks." The teen replied as the woman suddenly became a flurry of motion at the stovetop behind the counter.

"I'll try to fry it, but might not have time. Fat idiot emptied his gun into fucking street. Police will be here soon." She called out in a... surprisingly casual fashion as she dropped a dollop of duckfat onto her pan and pushed it around with her spatula. "Speaking of, there are zipties in the far aisle, next to funnels. Would you mind making sure our idiots don't go anywhere?"

"Yeah... sure..." Malcolm said, pushing himself off the counter and doing as he was told. Still just a teensy bit weirded out by how well she was taking all of what just happened.

He didn't make it two steps before she whipped another curveball his way.

"...So when did the whole 'Glowing eyes' thing start, anyway?"

"The what?"
I'm in.








Bay 1-B
On the Liberator

With a slight rocking, a pair of curt chirps and a low whistle from the cockpit, the Dog came to an easy landing on board the Liberator... Well... mostly, anyway. As subtly, almost deliberately, the starboard landing strut hit the deck juuuuust a little bit sooner than the others, causing the whole ship to recoil just enough to throw Toryn off mid-step and have to catch himself on the wall on the way out.

The extremely sarcastic series of chirps to the tune of "You're welcome." the Jedi received when he cast a glare down the hallway back at his trusty droidcore— who was already ignoring him and booting up a game of Mando Kart on one of the free monitors in the cockpit— did little to allay his suspicions.

"Thanks, Teeth." He ground out, shaking his head a little before turning away and carrying on.

Not like he was going to be long anyhow; snatching up a few fuel and power cells from his kitchen table and sliding them into his bracers as he went, eliciting a slight chirp in his ear as a few green notices appeared on his helmet's HUD to let him know the replenished state of his wrist-mounted blasters and flamethrower as he force-pulled his lightsaber off the coffee table and into his hand. Latching it to his belt as he made his way toward the boarding ramp.

...Pausing only for a second as he heard a loud, droidish screech from the cockpit. But carrying on soon afterward with what must have been a shit-eating grin beneath that helmet of his as he heard the long-series of sweeping chirps and beeps that followed immediately afterward and put two and two together—

"Yeah, you can just suck on that blue torpedo, you little shit..."

...Which, he realized, may have been an awkward thing to say out loud as his eyes turned forward again and found Talik waiting for him at the bottom of the ramp. Arms crossed and giving him a particularly sour expression... though he didn't let that bother him too much as he put his looped his thumbs into his belt and approached at a casual gait— the subtle twitching of her lekku telling him more of about what was going inside her head than her face ever would anyhow.

Coming to a stop in front of her, juuuust at the part of the ramp that would leave them at roughly the same height (the twi'lek having a few inches on him most of the time, as she was oh-so-fond of reminding him), the Mandalorian finally spoke.

"Kept ya waiting, huh?"





Not my greatest work, but here he is.

Might have to make some edits here and there, was kinda half-asleep by the end.










Nau'ur kad be Dral
Isle of Kad Ha'rangir, Mandalore

”Son of a- Toryn, I’ll meet you when you get here. I’ve got another call coming in.”

And then the line went dead, leaving Toryn to just pause and stare at his inactive comm link in silence for a solid few seconds before his arm flopped back down to his side and he carried on.

"Well, that kinda figures..."

The Mando grumbled and shook his head ruefully— not out of any offense, mind; Talik was a busy lady these days what with that whole 'Rebellion spanning a good chunk of the galaxy'. Life was like that, he got it, and he'd never be so petty as to hold that against his old friend, even if that five minute call was the most he'd spoken to the twi'lek in a year or two now.

Rather, it was her timing—

Juhn, bubbly lil' blue-skinned bundle of hugs that she was, might forgive him for running off again less than two hours into his Founding Week holiday (Not even long enough to remember to take off his armour, in fact), even after he'd been off-world for a solid three months... but that didn't necessarily mean he was going to be forgiving himself so easily; Though he'd never say it out loud— least of all to a friend in need— this neglect of that most curious of Mandalorian traits, the innate need to be at home with clan and kin, well, it was really to starting to nag at him, truth be told.

"Heya, Toryn!"

Wearily, the Mandalorian's head rose and came crashing back to reality, catching perhaps the least helpful sight for those heavy thoughts in his head; Juhn's mother, Tanis, with the sleeves on her mechanic's coverall rolled and a bit of grease smudging her cheek as she waved him down with a warm smile and Rhea, grinning like she hadn't a care in the world. Or at the very least, for any of that dirt and grime she got on her while helping her mom pull the repulsor out of that old work-speeder she'd had up on blocks behind the house since he got back.

The smile on the Chiss woman's face noticeably fell slightly and whatever she was about to say died on her lips as she got a better look at him and realized what he was up to, a conclusion his niece seemed to come to as well as her grin outright melted her eyes cast down and she just walked right past him to meet her twin by the lake.

If Toryn felt bad before, he felt like an outright bag of shit right now.

"...'Nother assignment, Kiddo?" Tanis stated more than asked, crossing her arms and raising a brow.

His shoulders slumped a little as he cast a glance Rhea's way.

"That obvious?"

"Well, you're all geared up, spacing out and heading for The Dog like my foot's already been up your ass, sooo..." She replied with that cutting precision her people were known for... but also just a bit of her own trademarked smirk and humour. "Like a whore on 'Shaddaa, Tor."

Toryn ducked his head a little and scratched the back of his neck through the armourweave, though he couldn't help but let out a bit of a rueful laugh, something she joined in on with her own snicker.

He'd taught her that one, after all.

"So I take it there's no way to pass this one on to someone else?" Tanis finally spoke as the moment of mirth passed. "You really gotta go?"

"A friend of mine's in trouble, Tanis." Toryn said, shaking his head but at least sounding a little less down about it now as his visor rose to meet her eyes. "Can't turn my back on that."

The Chiss just sighed in response and lowered her head in thought for a quick second, taking a two toward as she did.

"Alright, alright... you do what you gotta do, I'll talk to Ruusad and the girls. Maybe butter 'em up with Founding Feast desserts or something." She said, opening her arms wide with false exasperation, dramatic flair and a sarcastic smirk. "Now get over here and pay your toll, you little shit."

A modulated little chuckle escaped Toryn as he stepped forward into woman's hug and wraped his arms around her in kind, something that had remained unchanged since he was a boy.

"Thanks, Tani." The Jedi said with a squeeze. "I shouldn't be gone long."

"See that you aren't— between you leaving and Dad being late, I'm not gonna have enough room in my fridge for all the leftovers." She replied with a snort and mock-annoyance. "But with any luck, you'll still beat the old man back here and he won't be all grumpy that his Verdika's missing."

Now it was Toryn's turn to snort, but he said nothing more as he squeezed a few extra seconds outta that hug to make up for lost time..

...Well, that is, until something suddenly occurred to him.

"Tani... aren't you covered in grease right now?"

He felt the near-human squeeze him tighter at that. And the impish grin form on her face through the armourweave on his collar.

"Yup."




On Approach to the Liberator
High Orbit, Mandalore

A short trip, a change of robes and a quick scrub of degreaser on his armour later and Toryn was in the hot-seat of that space-capable relic of a ship he called home.

And, as per usual, was currently arguing with it.

"No, I don't care what you say, Teeth. Keldabe's got it this year."

No sooner had the words left his mouth did the disc-shaped head-unit of an old T3-Series droid whirl around on it's roost atop the central console that divided pilot and copilot seats to fix him with some fascimile of a glare through it's optic sensor. Letting out a short series suspiciously sarcastic sounding chirps and beeps as it went.

Something that seemed only to annoy Toryn further.

"Oh, fer... Two Words— Canderous Fett. He's been kicking all kinds of ass since we got him back from Taris!"

This was followed by a few more agitated beeps and whistles. And Toryn actually taking his eyes off the control yoke to glare daggers through his helmet.

"The fuck do you mean 'Too old'? Guy's barely thirty!" He replied, the quick few chirps he got in response before he was even done talking doing nothing to improve his mood as he raised a hand at the increasingly irate droid's optic. "Okay then, wiseass who do you have for the cup?"

A short pause followed. Then two beeps, a whistle and a decidedly defiant doot.

"Concordia?"

The saucer-like head of his ship's droidcore nodded excitedly.

"...I oughtta melt ya down for that kinda talk."

Before the Mando Jedi and the droid that was hooked into his ship's hyperdrive, lifesupport and damn near everything else could get any further into it, however, there was a slight flicker on Toryn's console as the somewhat familiar voice of Talik's Comms Officer filled the ship's cockpit.

"Lucky Dog, this is Liberator, over."

Casting one final glare that screamed 'This isn't over.' even through his helmet at the synthetic (which responded with a sarcastic bobble of it's head), Toryn flicked a few switches on his console to open the audio channel as the distinctive shape of the Lucrehulk docked with Mandalore's new orbital ring steadily came into view.

"Liberator, Lucky Dog. Go ahead, over."

"Ah, there you are. Lucky Dog, we've got you on an approach vector and have been advised you'll be looking to dock. Is that correct, over?"

Flicking a few more switches on his console and stretching himself out slightly in his seat in preparation for the whole pre-dock rigmarole, Toryn replied;

"That is correct. Waiting for instructions, over."

"Alrighty then... Permission granted for Lucky Dog to approach and dock at bay One, O-N-E, B. Slow to twenty, two-naught within five hundred, five-naught-naught of the doors and five, F-I-V-E when past. Channel open, landing lights will be on. Good for readback, over." Talik's radio guy rattled off, quick and machine-like as if he'd been doing this all day, every day for years.

The Jedi just throttled down slightly and adjusted his roll a bit clockwise.

"That's permission for Lucky Dog to approach and dock at bay One, O-N-E, B. Slow to twenty, two-naught within five hundred, five-naught-naught of the doors and five, F-I-V-E when past. Channel open, follow the lights." Toryn said back in a tone that suggested he'd done this too many times to really give it much thought at this point. "Good copy, over?"

"Solid." The comms officer said in a suddenly less robot-y tone. "...And it's good to have you back, Toryn. Liberator out."

"Good to be back, Dex. I'll see you inside. Lucky Dog out."

All that done, the man visibly relaxed a bit as he started guiding his ship the rest of the way to Talik's gargantuan murder-donut.

"...But seriously, Concordia?"

Aaaaand the droid started chirping again, and back to square one they went.
I'm in.
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.
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