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Chicago in winter, what's there to say about it? It's cold, the whole city cast with a frost that's almost pretty. Snowfall has to be thick though, or it melts into a dirty sludge on the sidewalks and gutters. Even outside Chicago where the snow becomes fields upon fields of white powder, in the city it mixes with the grime and pollution to become a sickly gray sludge. Black ice makes the roads dangerous, and when the Hawk whips off the lake it comes with extra bite, sending people for shelter.

If it were a saner city winter would turn it into a ghost town, but people have to live. Anything short of a blizzard has people out, hustling to get by looking for the next gig, stressing about this month's rent.

I'll give it credit for one thing, a drop in street crime. I'd been bounding through the winter sky and broken up maybe three stick ups and a fist fight, lower than average. Only the most hardened corner boys had it in them to hold down their corner while their balls were catching frost bite. Hardened or bullied into it by a boss who wouldn't take bitter weather as an excuse. Cause no matter how bad things were a junkie still craved a fix, which meant there were still dollars to be made.

I watched Hector score a bag off one of the Haitian's dealers. I'd had this dealer tagged for a while, keeping track of which organization ran which corner, trying to figure out how the city was carved out between them. The borders fluctuated by the month, each one pushing against the other when they smelled weakness, but for the most part the territories were set.

I didn't see the good that could be done busting Hector over the head, beating on a junkie wouldn't make them quit, so I kept moving, looking for something a right hook could settle.

This wasn't just me aimlessly patrolling. I was working Misfit's case, my friend stitched up for a murder she didn't commit. But I was struggling for leads. This wasn't the same as kicking in a door and beating a gangster around. I needed to dig up cold hard evidence, and if it was a conspiracy involving the police, who could I trust to give it to me?

I crouched on the ledge of a building. There was a protesting going on in a park, angry faces rugged up, waving placards as a speaker bellowed at them through a megaphone. Anti-paras, demanding more be done to keep the city safe. All organized by the Committee for Community Vigilance. A determined group to be out in this weather. The media was reporting on the scene, Priscilla Takanawa gravelly beautiful as she spoke into a camera, the furious crowd boiling behind her. There was a thin police presence, a couple of squad cars with uninterested officers sipping coffee as they watched.
>>
"-killed my baby girl, killed her!" the speaker, a red cheeked white woman, yelled, "Killed her, melted her alive! My baby girl!"

"If it can happen to me, it can happen to you! How can we be safe, how can we forgive, why do we have to wait for another victim before something is finally done!"

I winced. A victim of Ooze. I'd seen what he had done, and to call it horrifying didn't do it justice. There were faces half melted I still saw in my dreams.

But there was shouting from the other side of the park. Counter-protestors, not as many as the thick crowd holding up signs calling for an end to the 'para-freak' menace.

A small band of mostly students, lead by a sign saying 'para-rights are human rights.'

And under the sign was a familiar face, scowling with uncharacteristic anger. Ayesha.

Clusters of the anti-para group broke away, confronting the small band of counter-protestors. Usually at these things I figure you can split a group along certain lines. Race, class, gender. But this was different. The men and women who went to confront the student protestors were as mixed as the ones rallied behind Ayesha's sign. The only thing uniform was their anger. High emotions lanced through both crowds, a thunderous energy building as the gap between them closed.

"Get lost with that shit!" a grown man spat in Ayesha's face. She didn't flinch, just glared up at him from under her sign. It was hard to make anything out in the generally angry buzz of the crowd, but he grabbed at her sign, and when she pulled it away, he grabbed at her.

A fist was flung from behind Ayesha, catching the man in the chin.

It was the starter gun that turned the angry buzz into a roar, the crowd's crashing into each other. Ayesha's sign and Ayesha herself disappeared from my view, swallowed up by the press. In a panic I looked for her in the mess of the crowd, protesting turning to riot. I'd have better luck looking for Waldo.

Slowly realizing something was up, the cops began to stir into action from their resting place by their cars.

>leap down to help Ayesha
>stay out of it
>>
Previously on With Great Power Quest: http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive.html?tags=With%20Great%20Power%20Quest
>>
>>4706759
>>stay out of it
If we go down as Hotspur we start a riot. But as Eric, we could. If we could change clothes somehow.
>>
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>>4706759
>stay out of it
These people are completely justfied by the way, at best paras are ticking time bombs, and at worst they're a livng and breathing weapon of mass destruction, maybe even worse depending how bullshit their power is (though in all fairness the power levels here are somewhat grounded).
Power corrupts absolutely. Give a man invisibility and he'll probably become a voyeur just because he can do it with zero repercussions. That's not even beginning to consider that these powers could fuck with your brain somehow.
Hell, Eric's already one bad day away from becoming a schizo rorschach style, we've already broken people's arms and shit
>>
>>4706759
>stay out of it
Eric=/=Hotspur
Not unless he's ready to own up to it
>>
>>4706759
>stay out of it
>>
I have to step out for a sec but I'll keep the vote open until I get back

I do think I should remind everyone that write-ins are always an option
>>
>>4706866
>>4706799
>>4706798
>>4706765
back

and locked in
>>
I watched the protest turn into a brawl. Part of me wanted to leap down and pull Ayesha out of it, the other part knew Hotspur bounding into things could only make them worse. And if I was being honest the protesters weren't wrong for being scared. I'd seen what guys like Ooze did up close.

The woman on the megaphone shouted for the fighting to stop but her words were washed out by the furious crowd. Maybe if I ditched the costume I could get in and pull Yesha out of there.

But then the police made their play, with sirens blaring in the distance as more arrived to the fray. Nightsticks fell on raised arms, men kicked and pulled from the crowd. I saw Ayesha reappear, dragged from the crowd by a cop, thrown around by a guy who could have been a linebacker. A nightstick caught her behind the shin, dropping her. Someone tried to run up on the cop to pull him off, but got a nightstick in the belly, driven hard to buckle him over.

Rage built the fire inside me but I pulled back from the ledge as a police truck drew up, armor plated and mean, with riot cops pouring out of the back all done up in riot armor with shields and sticks. When the gas canisters went off I knew it was too late to do anything, smoke fired to disperse the crowd, cops taking no prisoners as they set into both sides.

I watched Priscilla Takanawa jostle with the crowd as her producer tried to pull her into the safety of the media van, shouting into her microphone as she tried to lead her crew into the fray.

A fire started somewhere, sending up light into the building dark

The city was going crazy. There wasn't much I could do to stop it.

I bounded out of there, taking to the sky, leaving the riot behind me.

I had to focus on what I could do, not what was outside my hands.

Whatever else was going on in the city, I had a mission to focus on. Clearing Misfit's name.

>investigate the scene of the crime directly
>check in with Ms Grant for leads on the police side
>look into the Russian crew who had been the target of the murder
>>
>>4707010
>investigate the scene of the crime directly
Maybe we can see if a para actually killed the guy and work from there
>>
>>4707010
>investigate the scene of the crime directly

might be cleaned up by now, but it's a whole lot quicker than looking into another crew
>>
>>4707010
>check in with Ms Grant for leads on the police side
>>
>>4707010
>investigate the scene of the crime directly
use our super senses to find our own leads
>>
>>4707098
>>4707032
>>4707015
locking the vote in
>>
The scene of the crime seemed a good place to start, even after the cops had picked through it, it should still give up something. And I could see with eyes sharper than any human being.

It was a butcher's called 'Goran's', a front for the Russian mob. We called them 'Russians' but they were really a collection of Eastern European types, Poles, Slavs, Czechs, Ukrainians, and your garden variety Russians. I came in the twilight, winter stars overhead. It wasn't empty. The butcher was closing shop, a few track suit wearing goons out the front, keeping look out while fighting the cold.

Outside shadowing Sullivan and Baby Girl I'd never rumbled with the Russians, but I didn't expect them to be para-friendly. No gangster wanted a superhero poking around. They kept their guns hidden, this was Chicago not Donbass, but I knew they were strapped.

An old lady came out the shop coated for warmth, the little babushka moving with the slow gait of deep arthritis. The goons said good night but she gave them a sour look back. No illusions here about who the scumbags were.

The guy they claimed Misfit had killed was some boss figure, Anatoly Sharapov. Killed in his office, which from what I could tell was on the second floor. I vaulted high over the street, landing soft on the roof, cat burglar quiet. I was getting good at sneaking around.

There was no roof entrance so I shimmied down to a window. Enough of a finger gap to get a handhold, and then a flush of power opened it with a shark squeal. I flinched, listening for feet storming up the stairs. But I heard nothing as I slithered through the gap, closing it behind me. Just the flush of chill into the warmed upper floor could have been a giveaway.

I crouched in the dark, the lights all off. I figure gangsters aren't going to install cameras around where they did illegal business, but I did spare a thought for an alarm system. An untrusting people, gangsters.

Not much I could do about that though, except hope.

I looked for the office. The police had cleaned up the forensics, tape taken down, business allowed to return, so it took a couple of tries before I found the right seeming room.

It was small with no windows, and a small desk.

If there was anything still to find, I'd need to expand my senses,

>roll 3 x 1d100+10 dc 75
>>
Rolled 26 + 10 (1d100 + 10)

>>4707134
The scent of blood, the signs of a scuffle, the pin to a flashbang. Anything
>>
Rolled 20 + 10 (1d100 + 10)

>>4707134
Come on
>>
Rolled 11 + 10 (1d100 + 10)

>>4707134
>>
>>4707141
>>4707143
I guess the only thing we smell is our own fart kekw
>>
Jesus this went downhill
>>
Looks like we're not exactly detective material. No suprise there
>>
I focused on my inner flame, and through it expanded out my senses. Smell, taste, touch, everything increased exponentially.

The first smell to hit was the chemical bleach. The place had been cleaned, scrubbed of gore. Then the oak scent of the desk, the leather of the chair. The whole room felt far too clean, as if another living being hadn't stepped foot in it until after the unliving one had been carted out. What I didn't smell, and I couldn't know if this was proof of anything, was the smell of gunshots or explosives.

Maybe time and a thorough cleaning had stripped the room of its scent. Maybe it was a clue.

Then I opened my eyes, searching the gloom, gaze travelling over the desk, the chair, the filing cabinet. I paced around the room, wheeled back the chair to take a seat. He'd died sitting, Misfit had told me as much. She'd found him sitting at his desk, his head blown off. I looked across the room to the door, slumped the way I remembered the body being slumped, for whatever good it would do me.

It was strange but, if it had been an explosive, the sort Misfit made, wouldn't the force have knocked a wheeled desk chair over? Maybe not proof of anything, but curious.

I stared at the open doorway, churning over thoughts.

Anatoly Sharapov, why him?

Then I heard the stamp of feet on stairs, coming up.

I closed off my senses, moving fast and low.

Russian voices rose up the staircase with the stomp of their feet. I moved for the window I'd come through.

Wedging my fingers under it, the thing squealed again as I pushed it open.

This time though, there was a loud 'Hey!' behind me.

Chill air sucked into the warm hallway. I looked back to see guns drawn out from tracksuit bands.

Bullets splintered the glass above my head, showering down on my shoulders as I pulled myself out the window. Then with my feet pressed to the side of the building, I lunged off onto the next door roof.

Russian curses chased me out into the night, along with a few impotent gunshots. My heart pounded in my chest, sweet adrenaline flooding my veins. It wasn't a full night until someone shot at me.

I ended up deep in the west side, wondering if I'd figured anything out. It hadn't been a wealth of information, but I'd picked up a renewed certainty of Misfit's innocence. Everything about this was weird though. I could only hope to piece it all together in time.

For now a yawn cracked my jaw. I wished Misfit was the only person I had to worry about, but it was halfway home I got a text, then a second, then a third.

Kay - OMG Ayesha's in jail! In jail! :crying:
Ivy - Ayesha's been arrested. got caught up in a protest. parents are going down to bail her out.
Kemal - dude did you hear about the riot? I heard some girl from school got dragged off by the cops.

Shit. I put my phone away, let out a breath. It could never just be one thing at a time, could it?

And I still had to meet with Dr Zamani about the stone.
>>
Of course the news about Ayesha didn't stay on my phone. When I got to school the next day it was all anyone could talk about, the riot, and Ayesha being arrested. We waited for her to show, a silent anxiety, until she walked into home room with Ivy, a bandage on her forehead and a skip in her step.

"Yeesha!" Kay cried.

For all I'd seen her get walloped around by a cop just the night before, she looked good. All she did was wince when Kay hugged her.

"You idiot!" Kay followed it up, "What were you doing there?"

"Yo, what was prison like?" Zeke asked.

Ayesha crossed her arms, putting on a somber face. "Doing time changes a woman," she said, but couldn't keep it up and cracked a grin, "Pretty whatever, like waiting to be seen at the hospital really."

"They going to arraign you or whatever?" Dane asked. Ayesha shrugged.

"You could have been killed," Kay said, tears welling in her eyes, "Yesha you shouldn't be so reckless."

Ayesha's smile dropped. "Girl, after everything guys like Hotspur do for the city, dodging bullets every night, did for me, getting punched by a cop is the least I could do to stand up for him," she said.

"So you were on that side of the protest," Rufus said from his desk, "I'm not surprised." He said it with contempt. She glared back at him.

"All in the air we got people trashing on para-folk," she said, "Someone has to speak up."

"Paras are dangerous," Rufus said, "Whatever your 'boyfriend' might do, most of the rest are too dangerous to just let walk around."

"You hear what you sound like?" Ayesha said, "There was a time in Chicago folks like us weren't allowed on the North Side."

"It ain't the same," Rufus said, "Black folk can't blow up a train load of people with a bad thought, just because their coffee was cold. Neither can gay folks or whoever else. Para-freaks are different to us, Yeesha."

Dane flinched at the term 'para-freak'. I kept my face blank.

"Don't act like I don't know, Rufus," Ayesha said, "You didn't have the Creep come up into your home, looking to do...to do...and when he did what did you do? Hid in my room while Eric fought him off."

Attention swung around to me on that, most of the class both friends and acquaintances. Rufus looked put off by it, I hoped he didn't blame me.

"Don't even both, Rufus," Hunter said, "She's been brainwashed, part of the para-lover cult. It's not about logic with those types."

'Those types?' Rufus mouthed the words, as disgusted a look for Hunter as the one he'd had for Ayesha.

"Let's all just calm down," Kay said, "As part of the student council-"

The boo that ripped from the class had her back off.

"The student council should be looking into who the para-freak at school is!" Jeremy said, "We all know someone here is pretending to be normal. They're putting us all in danger."

"Shut the fuck up," Zeke spat at him.
>>
I tried hard not to look at Dane, and was glad Ivy kept her gaze detached, but Kay. Kay gave me a small, guilty look.

The tension in the room was boiling, I was worried last night's riot would be reenacted in the middle of the classroom.

>put my hand up and confess
>keep quiet, let it blow over
>>
>>4707188
>keep quiet, let it blow over
Confessing to this crowd would be the end of our civilian life
>>
>>4707188
>keep quiet, let it blow over
>>
>>4707188
>keep quiet, let it blow over
>>
>>4707240
>>4707196
>>4707194
locked in
>>
Still hate Kay. Dislike her more than the para-racists, some how.
>>
I kept my head down and my mouth shut. The hollering back and forth grew to a fever pitch, friends were getting in each other's faces as Ayesha drew back with angry tears, grabbing her ribs with a pained ache, while Kay stood in the middle of it all, floundering to keep some kind of order while tears of her own started to pour down her cheeks.

Then someone threw a chair.

It smashed against the white board, shutting everyone up, even made me jump with the hard bang.

"You're all infants," Ivy said, picking up another chair, "Sit down, shut up, or the next one is going at your head."

It cowed everyone, but no one was happy. No one except Jeremy, who took a vicious delight in the foul mood flooding the room.

The teacher came in to find us all seated, a low bitter mumbling passing between each friends.

My phone rumbled on silent and I pulled it out into my lap. It was a single word.

Dane - scared.

The Cold War carried through to lunch break, and my friends didn't sit together. Camps were forming, and guys like Dane were caught in the middle. He went and sat with Zeke and Hunter, down with the nerds. Trying to protect himself by throwing in with the anti-paras. I understood.

I stuck with Kay, Ayesha, Zeke, with Ivy attached next to Ayesha. It wasn't a happy lunch. Everyone was muted, with Kay and Ivy still not talking to each other. Kay sat half in my lap, marking me out with half an eye for Ivy. Ivy just rolled her eyes.

"It wasn't supposed to be like this," Ayesha said, then when she took a bite out of her sandwich stopped, dropping half chewed food out of her mouth.

"Gross," Kay said as Ayesha rubbed her jaw.

"You okay?" I asked.

"Just a bit sore," she said.

"Fist fighting a cop will do that," I said.

"Heh, yeah, maybe you should give me some boxing lessons," she said.

"It's like when we cha-cha but you try to punch your partner in the face," I said.

"I'd pay to watch Ayesha punch you in the face," Ivy said.

"No way, your face is too sweet for punching," Kay said, putting her head next to my neck. The gagging sound Ivy made made me smile.

"Now that's gross," Ayesha said, trying at her sandwich again.

"It's getting crazy out there," Kay said in a sing-song voice.

"It's just going to get crazier," Ayesha sighed.

"Nothing we can do about it," Zeke said over his lunch.

Ayesha gave him an annoyed look. "We can try," she said, "Like Hotspur tries."

"Or Semper Fi," Kay said, "Sometimes I think Hotspur would be better off letting Semper Fi handle things."

My guts squirmed as she hugged me tighter.

"Hotspur is an idiot," Ivy said, "So if you want to be an idiot too, go right ahead. I guess I'll be an idiot too and we can be a gang of idiots."

"Well then I guess I'm an idiot too," Zeke said, "What about you Eric, are you an idiot?"
>>
"Oh Eric is king of the idiots," Ivy said, "Biggest idiot I ever met."

"Harsh," Zeke said with a laugh.

"Well I don't think you're an idiot," Kay said, hugging me tighter.

"I wasn't joking though," Ayesha said, "About the boxing lessons."

>I can show you a couple of things
>Maybe you should talk to your uncle
>>
I'll be back tomorrow
>>
>>4707282
>I can show you a couple of things
No way this could possibly alienate kay further
>>
I tried doing the math on where we'd be in this quest if it was a one post a day quest and I think we'd be halfway through thread three

but I'd have probably paced it differently too if that was the case
>>
>>4707282
>I can show you a couple of things
>>
>>4707282
>I can show you a couple of things
>>
>>4707282
>Maybe you should talk to your uncle

I mean her uncle is our coach, what could we possibly teach her that he couldn't?
>>
>>4707282
>>I can show you a couple of things
Also, try to encourage the others including Kay to take up boxing. That might ease up Kay's jealousy, it's not like we're trying to get alone time with Ayesha... right?
>>
>>4707806
>>4707364
>>4707341
>>4707308
locked in
>>
I was surprised to be asked, and kind of flattered too.

"Sure, yeah, I can show you a couple of things," I said, "Meet you at the gym?"

"Oh no, Uncle Roy would throw a fit if he saw you teaching me to fight," Ayesha said, "He's got some old school ideas about girls fighting. Come around sometime, we can train in the backyard."

"Sounds good," I said.

"If you're going to keep going to protests maybe it would be a good idea to learn how to handle yourself," Kay said. I was glad Kay reacted positively to it, she wasn't jealous of Ayesha the way she was of Ivy. Not that Ayesha wasn't cute. She was really cute. I guess Kay either trusted me or trusted her. I mean it was Ayesha that talked me into asking Kay out after all. There was nothing to be jealous of...right?

Anyway, I arranged to hook up with Ayesha for private lessons. I mean, not hook up. Uh. Meet up.

If that was all I had on my mind maybe I could sort it out, but Misfit's case hadn't gone anywhere, and while I'd assembled some ideas, I didn't really have any evidence. And I knew Misfit was still holed up in Ms grant's safehouse, on account of the texts I kept recieving from her.

Misfit - bored
Misfit - BORED
Misfit - BORED!!!

As far as I was concerned her being bored was better than being dead or in prison or hell, being dissected by whatever federal agency was collecting paras like the Creep had implied. But I knew she wasn't the type to enjoy sitting alone in a room by herself, and the longer this took the more impatient she'd get. I didn't need her making any slip ups.

>check in with Ms Grant for leads on the police side
>look into the Russian crew who had been the target of the murder
>hit up Luis to see if he'd heard anything on the street
>>
>>4708023
>check in with Ms Grant for leads on the police side
>>
>>4708023>check in with Ms Grant for leads on the police side
>>
>>4708103
>>4708049
locked in
>>
I figured the best thing to do now was to talk to Ms Grant and get a better idea of the law enforcement side of things. We arranged to meet at Comiskey Park down in Armour Square around seven.

Like the Sears Tower it technically wasn't called Comiskey Park anymore, but try convincing the locals and you'd get a disgusted look. No one told anybody they were going to 'Guaranteed Rate Field'. You'd look a damn idiot saying something like that.

It was dark out, the only light coming from the stadium itself, a warm glow against the black sky. She waited for me in a wedge of parkland between the stadium and a neighboring school in a thick trench coat looked like it came out of the Eastern Front. Anyone looking for trouble was looking in the wrong direction if they went after Ms Grant, she packed a gun since her kidnapping and wasn't afraid to use it.

I landed in the tree behind her, perched on a winter bare limb looking down over her.

"Hotspur," she said.

"Ms Grant," I said, sitting on the tree limb, letting my legs dangle, "Thanks for meeting me."

"Your friend has really made herself at home in the safehouse," she said, "I've been getting complaints from my own friend about motor grease on her good towels and muddy boots in the kitchen."

"The perils of being a hero," I said, "Hopefully we can sort this out before things get dramatic there."

"You wanted to know about the investigation," Ms Grant pulled out a usb, threw it up to me. "The initial report with crime scene photos. Getting it required cashing in a couple of favors. I'm not Miss Popular with the Chicago PD."

"Do you know who they have working the case?"

"You can guess and it won't take you long," she said, "Detective Bohauer, you know her? The police liason with the DPA. Before they shunted her off to the DPA she was a homicide detective, good one too, but not good at the political game. Made an enemy out of the police commissioner, and didn't make enough friends to cover her ass."

"I don't trust cops, and I don't trust the DPA," I said.

"Smartest move is to not trust anyone," she said, "They gave her the case because it crosses jurisdictions, paranormal crimes and homicide. Maybe they figure she'll run with the set narrative for political reasons, or maybe they figure she'll be too busy putting out Penderose's fires to give it serious attention. If ever there was a man who knew how to piss people off."

"Last I checked the DPA was more concerned with harassing teenagers than finding real criminals," I said.

"A fair assessment, but since they've deputized Semper Fi they've been having more luck," she said, "They have her working the Shark case. Last I heard they have his home turf pin-pointed on an island out on the lake."
>>
All I'd ever seen Semper Fi do is rescue kittens and help old people cross the street. The idea of the blonde stick fighting a monster like Shark seemed almost ridiculous.

"They'll be moving on him soon," Ms Grant said, "Once they have him, you can bet Misfit will be her next focus. All while the Black Claw is running around robbing people while launching into theatrical soliloquies."

The Black Claw, that joker. I'd met him once, out of costume. Theatrical was an understatement. "I guess sticking up a few diners isn't on the same level as murder," she offered. "You know oit might be possible your friend is guilty."

I shook my head. "It doesn't track," I said, "If Misfit wanted to kill people she could do a lot more than just one gangster, and the way he was killed doesn't match up. I went sniffing around. I don't have hard evidence, but I know it wasn't her."

"All right," she said. I had her faith at least.

So the question was, what next?

"The move on Shark is tomorrow morning," she said, "This morning, technically, at dawn. Police boats will be backing Semper Fi up."

Maybe it was worth checking out.

"Bohauer might be there as part of the DPA, could be a chance to question her," Ms Grant said, "Or if you want somewhere more private, I can find her address. There's risks either way. I doubt the DPA will appreciate you crashing into their investigation."

"I don't give a shit what the DPA likes," I replied. Ms Grant smiled.

>tail the Shark raid
>visit Bohauer at her home
>>
>>4708128
>tail the Shark raid
We owe him one.
>>
>>4708128
>tail the Shark raid
We can see how the DPA and semper fi operate when the cameras are not on them.
>>
>>4708128
>tail the Shark raid
>>
>>4708128
>tail the Shark raid
>>
>>4708128
>tail the Shark raid
spy on the secret to semper fi's popularity
>>
>>4708170
>>4708155
>>4708145
>>4708135
>>4708132
locked in
>>
"I didn't think there were any islands in the south of Lake Michigan," I said, but my knowledge of geography could get hazy.

"There aren't," Ms Grant said, "Or there weren't. Shipping manifests reported the appearance of an island several months ago but it was dismissed as sailor stories. With the appearance of Shark though, and through satellite tracking, we found an island has appeared in the middle of the Michigan-Illinois nautical border. Whether it was Shark who made it or he's just taking advantage of it, either way its put a bullseye on his location."

Raising up earth from the sea didn't sound like it was in Shark's powerset, but I couldn't be sure. Still, it could just be another weird quirk of the Chicago Explosion. I'd never considered it might have a geological effect. Whatever had created the island though was besides the point, I wanted to get a look at Semper Fi and the DPAs operation.

If I could figure out how they'd framed Shark, maybe it could unlock how they'd framed Misfit, assuming they were the ones responsible.

The taskforce would be departing from Station Chicago, in Calumet Harbor, departing in the early hours to reach the island at dawn. A joint operation between the Coast Guard, the DPA and the Illinois State Police, all under the supervision of Special Agent Penderose.

"Operating off the USCG Mackinaw," Ms Grant said, "Meant for ice breaking and ship assistance, this is going to be a whole new kind of mission for its crew. The DPA is really putting things together as they go, an improvised federal agency, I have to give their director credit for that."

"Penderose?" I said.

"Penderose is just their head field operative, the DPA is run by Michael Miscampbell, used to be a station chief with Homeland Security before getting the director's job," Ms Grant explained. I hadn't considered there was a man above Agent Penderose, but of course there was. Everyone had a boss in the government, even their bosses had bosses.

"Well I should get moving if I'm going to crash their party," I said.

"You should be careful too," she said, "I know you think Shark is innocent, but he's still highly dangerous. Even if he was framed for killing the kid, he's still ripped living men apart."

I knew that better than she did, remembering the sight of bodies torn apart, the death screams as his jaw threshed into their limbs, the soft part of their bellies, spilling innards out across the wet docks. The gore dripping from his mouth beneath cold black eyes. I was under no illusions about what Shark was, only he didn't seem the type to kill a child.

"Good luck," she said.

I gave her a smart salute before launching away. While this detour wasn't specific to Misfit's case, I felt I owed Shark one after he'd pulled me out of Lake Michigan, and I had a suspicion their circumstances were connected. Helping one might help the other.
>>
I found my way down to Station Chicago, lit up in the dark as they readied for a night time operation. Boats chugged on the water, motors buzzing over lapping waves, the organized frenzy of activity as ships and personnel were readied for the mission. I was expecting some great big industrial site. What I found instead was a handsome white building with a broad red roof, looking like it could have been the home of a well to do family or some kind of surfer club house. It was only the presence of men and women in dark blue fatigues with bullet proof vests, handling guns, that spelled out what it really was.

Small boats in the harbor gathered around a much longer ship, the Mackinaw Grant had mentioned. There were no guns on these boats, just bright flood lights illuminating Lake Michigan's dark waters.

I lurked among the trees squatting, watching, my senses heightened to watch and listen.

A familiar sight waited on the steps to the Coast Guard station. Penderose in his long flapping coat, hunched forward in vulture-like posture, a smile on his waxy face. He spoke with a man who must be some kind of commander, a crew gathering in a school circle under them. The sight of Penderose made my fists tighten.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Penderose began, his voice caught on my power-sensitive hearing, "Some of you may already be aware of the purpose of this mission. We are taking bold steps to rid our country of a deadly menace. You've all heard of the Lake Michigan Shark, perhaps you've seen the video clips on youtube. Rest assured he is real, he is worse than you imagine, but today we resolve that threat forever. We will bring security back to the Great Lakes."

How many drugs had Nicky Bellevanche brought into and out of Chicago over the years, and how little urgency had these people reacted to it? But the threat of a 'monster' got things working much faster.

"We are not alone," Penderose said, "We know you are all experts in your fields, professionals with consumate experience, but to fight a para-freak we need a para-freak of our own."

As if on que she appeared, gliding down from the night with a flutter of her golden skirt. Semper Fi, floating an inch off the ground beside Agent Penderose, smiling with her hands on her hips. Golden haired and shockingly pretty, with a down-to-earth smile that sparked her eyes.

"I'll be with you every step of the way," Semper Fi said, "We'll wrangle this monster together. With your help we'll keep our city and our country safe."

A cheer went up from the Coast Guard. She flew up several feet with a twirl, her white half-cape fluttering behind her. The coast guard ate it up, cheering louder. I heard the snap of cameras, shutter stocks going off. There was media mixed in with the crew, hand selected no doubt.

Maybe that's all she was here for, the PR. Penderose joined in the applause.

"Get ready to ship out," Semper Fi said, "We have a fish to catch."
>>
Laughter broke out though I thought it was a weak quip, and the operation began. Now it was down to what I'd do. Getting into one of those boats wouldn't be easy, no matter the choice I made.

>steal a uniform and sneak onto one of the ships
>stay in my costume and find a place to stow-away
>>
>>4708287
>stay in my costume and find a place to stow-away

Penderose has talked with our civvy identity multiple times, taken an unnatural interest in us even. He'd recognize us for sure.
>>
>>4708287
I wonder if we could steal a camera and pose as media, scarf covering our mouth or something to protect our identity. Only if the media is actually tagging along for the mission though I guess.
>>
>>4708302
Pretty unlikely that they'd come along, but we could keep an eye out for someone with our height and build.
>>
>>4708287
>stay in my costume and find a place to stow-away
>>4708317
Media will definitely be onboard, probably to take a pic of the Shark once they catch him
Would it be ethical to have to Shark eat Pendrose? I wonder...
>>
>>4708287
>steal a uniform and sneak onto one of the ships

Maybe we can sabotage the Mackinaw before it gets to the island. Maybe buy us some time to warn shark boy
>>
>>4708318
I think it's more likely that the media will wait at shore. If the mission is a success, they'll get pictures when the agents bring back Shark. If the mission is a failure, they won't get any embarrassing footage.
>>
>>4708318
>>4708292
locked in
>>
Damn didn't even know we were live, I strongly suspect that semper fi isn't just a flying type, she probably has something like air mastery since she's capable of flight
>>
I really think Dane has to have some sort of other abilities he's hiding from us. Not having to sleep anymore is not on par with any other powers we've seen
>>
I briefly considered ditching my costume and sneaking on board the Mackinaw as one of the crew, but if Penderose was on board it would just take one run in for everything to go wrong. He'd met Eric Miller multiple times and would recognize me right away. I then thought about disguising myself as one of the journalists taking photographers. I could pass for a photographer, right?

But they remained on shore, happy to take snaps of the operation underway, more a PR team than actual journalists, reading tomorrow's brief on a successful mission.

So that left me with only one real option other than to ditch the whole thing, and it wasn't great. Sneak on board and hide out until we reached Shark's mysterious island.

I waited for the attention of the media to be fixed on Semper Fi before launching myself from the cover of the trees, to the far side roof of the station. Landing on its dark side, I looked down into the light flooded harbor, patrol boats being manned as the Mackinaw waited further out on the water, a long vessel heftier than the small unit boats circling around it. Penderose climbed onto a boat to be ferried out to the command vessel.

It wasn't a difficult leap, the ship being at rest. I landed above the bridge, skirting quick into the shadow beneath the crow's nest.

If it was cold in Chicago, on the waters of Lake Michigan it was brutal. I huddled down to wait, not sure how long this would take, stoking the fire inside me to keep out the cold. My suit was built for warmth, but the wind whipping down the waters had the bite of the Arctic to it. The crew of the ship felt the sting worse than I did, jackets zipped tight with watch caps pulled low.

I was glad for the dark blue of my costume, drawing into the shadows, but just in case I threw my senses out again, breathing in the crisp lake air, the diesel smell of the boat, and listening to the whirr of the engines and the soft chatter of the crew.

Chatter was right, more than a few had chattering teeth from the cold.

"-might get the Lake freezing over this year," one said, in a soft Minnesota nice.

"Setting out in winter seems crazy to me," said another, "You know how the lakes are, can go from nothing to madness in an eye blink. We're as like to sail into a squall."

"My uncle's boy got swept off couple years back workin' a freighter over on Superior."

"Oh yeah? That's a bad one."

I listened on to other groups, listening to the armed soldiers on the open deck, a man and a woman.

"You think she can take him? Semper Fi I mean."
>>
"Saw her benchpress a car on Good Day Chicago last week," the woman said, adjusting her rifle, "This para-freak is tough, is he that tough?"

"Benchpressing a car is one thing," the man said, "But it ain't fighting. And anyway, what kind of car was it?"

"Honda Civic I think," she said, sniffing.

"So a sedan right, that ain't no SUV or nothin'. You think she ever been punched in her perfect white teeth? Strong ain't all there is. She looks more a Playboy centerfold than a fighter, know what I'm sayin."

"She's a Marine though, I bet she knows how to fight. And if she can't do it, why don't you take a run at the Shark then?"

"Fuck the Marines, man, overrated jagoffs..."

The ship went underway, the chill picking up with the speed, a howling wind carrying over my hunkered down spot. As we were carried over the waters talk gave to quiet which became a pervading silence broken only by the chug of machinery, the whisper of the water split by the ships. I spied the skies for sight of Semper Fi.

A cloudless night on the water, the lights of Chicago fading behind us, opened up the stars above. It made the cold worth it. The cosmic arm of the Milky Way wrapped the sky like a comforting arm, the multitude of stars making up its white lane sparkling bright for the darkness of the sea and the sky, reflected in still waters, merging together to make the world disappear as if the ship moved through space itself with only its lights for guidance.

It stilled my thoughts, the sweep of stars all around me.

Who else did I know who had seen a thing like this? Whatever danger I faced, how lucky I was too, to be here right now in this moment.

Then I saw her, a moving dot on the sky, staying ahead of the ships but not racing ahead. Semper Fi.

We'd only met once but I saw her face everywhere. On magazines and in twitter feeds, grinning her perfect grin, blonde hair perfectly arranged on her shoulders. Heard her name in the gushing conversations of my friends.

Never a wrong word or a misstep made. And did no real good for anyone, as far as I could tell.

Maybe there was a little jealousy in my distrust. Maybe there was something rotten under her manicured apperance.

Either way I meant to find out just what she was made of.
>>
I listened for Penderose on the ship but where ever he was he was keeping to himself. What I did catch was the ship's commander complaining about him, and complaining about the operation. It had been pulled on him suddenly, orders coming down from 'the top'. But that's what you get when you work for the military, your life not your own. I don't think I could live that way, taking orders. Cops, soldiers, spies, not doing what was right just doing what they were told and hoping someone else was making the right call.

Couldn't do it. And if Penderose was part of making the decisions, I'd bet 'right' didn't come into it.

Smaller boats raced at the flank of the Mackinaw, search lights off, skimming over the star-reflecting waters. How many all up in this operation? Felt like they weren't taking chances.

How much longer until we reached the island? I had to be patient. I hugged my knees to the chest, looking forward, waiting. Patience was a skill I'd had to cultivate as a super hero. I wondered what Dad was up to. I think he had a date with Ms Flores tonight. I wondered if he would ask her to move in.

I wondered what Kay was doing, then I wondered what she was wearing, then I tried not to think. I had a date with her coming up. She'd sure be mad if I died before we could make it.

I must have fallen asleep, as my chin jerked up from my chest. The boat started to slow, the lights turning off. The stars began to lose their shine, a mark of dawn coming.

Ahead on the water was a low shape, breaking up the flat horizon with jagged teeth. Shark's island, it was little more than a rocky outcrop jutting out of the lake. I rose into a crouch, hard hammering.

"Is this an arrest or animal control?" one of the crew joked, the clatter of their guns getting ready as the Mackinaw and its support gliding up slow on the island.

The closer they got the bigger it got. No vegetation grew on the uneven rocks, the water spraying white against its flanks. It looked a miserable cold place. But there was a parting in the rocks, a nasty uneven hole. A cave, and no doubt Shark's dwelling.

Above us in the glow of dawn light, Semper Fi stood, her cape fluttering behind her, white boots untouched by the waves as she began to descend.

"Come out Shark!" Semper Fi called, "Come on out! We have a warrant for your arrest!"

"Come out with hands raised or we're coming in!"

Beneath me Penderose stepped out onto the deck smirking, head bowed forward.

The world was silent, waiting for a response.

Then a large hand hooked the lip of the cave mouth. An armed built of muscle, covered in scarred gray skin emerged, then the pointed face with its open mouthed row of teeth under small dark eyes. All eight feet of Shark emerged, birthed from the darkness of the cave.

"Who stands upon my threshold?" he asked, the alien voice carrying over calm waters, "Disturbers making demands of a shark. By whose authority are demands made?"
>>
"By the authority of the United States of America," Semper Fi replied, smirking as she drew lower to the water, until it leapt to lick the toe of her boot.

"No mortal power compells a shark," Shark said, "Least the rotting corpse of a dying dream. We are childer of greater things than thy masters, with greater purpose."

"You're a criminal and a murderer," Semper Fi said.

Shark's small nostrils flared. "There is a smell to truth, yet you stink of lies, and lies are the enemy of all natural things."

"I'm here to arrest you, not endure riddles," Semper Fi snapped, "Now will you make this easy and surrender, or are we going to do this the fun way?"

"A shark cannot surrender," he said.

Semper Fi's grin grew across her perfect face, a strange light appearing behind her eyes. "The fun way it is," she said, and with a shocking speed streaked toward the hulking Shark.

>dive in to help Shark
>sit back and watch
>deal with the crew while Shark and Semper Fi fought
>>
>>4708483
>sit back and watch
>>
>>4708483
>deal with the crew while Shark and Semper Fi fought
>>
I'll be back tomorrow, and I'll leave the vote open until I'm back
>>
>>4708546
Thanks for running bullpen
>>
>>4708483
>deal with the crew while Shark and Semper Fi fought
Our boy Shark has got this
>>
>>4708483
>sit back and watch
I am not sure why you guys are intent on helping Shark, he's not a friend or anything. This is super bad PR for us.
>>
>>4708483
>deal with the crew while Shark and Semper Fi fought
From the little we've seen him of, he can handle himself for a little while we'll do a little clean-up
>>
>>4708483
>deal with the crew while Shark and Semper Fi fought
I want to find a way to stop this that doesn't end in sharks capture or a bunch of people getting torn apart by shark
>>
>>4708600
I didn't realize we were more concerned with PR than doing the right thing.
>>
>>4708783
That's just classic PR guy, he really cares about it a lot and talks about it at least once per thread
>>
>>4708785
Dead wrong cockfag, I care about pr but would never advocate betraying an innocent for it
>>
>>4708783
I'm not convinced this is the right thing, though. Shark is in fact a murderer, even if he didn't kill that child he's being framed for killing.
>>4708785
I think there's a couple of us PRfags.
>>4708808
He's not an innocent.
>>
>>4709181
For me it's less about his innocence and more about how he saved our life and seems to have some kind of insider knowledge about the nature of the Chicago explosion. And he's a possible imperfect ally against the shadier forces involved in this whole shitshow.
>>
I really hope this progresses toward an eventual Justice League-esque group of parahumans. I picture Hotspur as the goodhearted but more jaded guy with less than reputable connections that's a mostly unofficial member of the group.
>>
>>4708502
>>4708563
>>4708693
>>4708758
locked in
>>
I'm not in the best shape today but I'll pull something together
>>
>>4709486
nah
the good thing about the setting are the grounded powers, no one is JL tier.
>>
>>4709495
Don't push yourself Bullpen, hope everything is okay!
>>
>>4709500
you're probably right

but I'm also an idiot
>>
>>4709498
If relative power levels are low across the board in the setting then nobody needs to be JL tier
>>
>>4709525
Hard to be a global authority when people with guns are still dangerous.
>>
>>4709527
Yeah that's fair, by JL-esque I just meant an organized group of superheroes with a common goal. Not necessarily the same power level.
>>
Semper Fi drove fist first toward Shark in a blur of white and gold. He swung an arm up, caught her by the arm before her fist could drive into his nose, and swung her overhead, bringing her down hard onto the rocks. Wind burst out of her in a gasp of pain, but she didn't lie still. Instead she rolled onto her back, swung her feet up over her head, and sprung up into a handstand, driving a double kick into Shark's chest and breaking the grip he had on her arm.

Semper Fi had some moves, and from the dazed look crossing Shark's face, she had some real strength too.

The guns on the boat tracked the fight, soldiers moving closer to the stern, fingers closer to their triggers ready to pop a shot off if their girl looked like she was in trouble.

Hardly fair, in my opinion.

I sprung from my hiding places, down to the ship's deck to even the odds.

>roll 3 x 1d100+25 dc 60
>>
Rolled 18 + 25 (1d100 + 25)

>>4709548
>>
Rolled 41 + 25 (1d100 + 25)

>>4709548
>>
Rolled 65 + 25 (1d100 + 25)

>>4709548
they made semper fi in a lab!
>>
>>4709555
trips on a pass
>>
>>4709563
lmao that's basically a crit right?
>>
>>4709566
Not even close, I only rolled 65. Don't think the bonus factors in or we'd have crits everywhere.
>>
"Yo!"

A soldier turned to take my fist on his chin. I don't know if 'soldier' is the right word for the Coast Guard, but they were wearing military fatigues and carrying rifles, so 'soldier' would do. Either way he crumpled as I kicked him into his friend, sending them over board.

My surprise didn't last, I grabbed the barrel of a gun swinging for me, felt it buck as the soldier let off a shot, then brought me fist hard through it, bursting it into pieces. I threw the left over length of rifle barrel at another, then weaved low among them before they could scatter.

A liver shot hurt generally, a liver shot from me left a woman writhing on the ground. I controlled my blows as best I could, I didn't want to kill anyone, but the soldiers weren't doing me the same favor. Gun shots burst around me, and I could only credit fear for hitting their friends for their poor accuracy. One of them had the bright idea to pop some smoke, rolling a hissing smoke grenade under my feet, a thick plume of gray smoke opening around me.

I kicked it back into them, my eyes protected from the stinging smoke by my goggles, face mask keeping my lungs from being overwhelmed by the choking gas. The soldiers weren't so lucky, and I was a shadow in the smoke hunting each one, taking them down.

But while I was doing that, the fight on the island continued. Shark threw Semper Fi, skimming her over the water like a stone, but she turned mid-air and rocketed back toward him. The hit she landed was a thunderclap, buckling his knees, sending him wobbling back. She followed it up with a snap kick to the side of his head, knocking him to his knees.

"Yes, now there's a good look," she purred, floating above him, "On your knees." Then her smile turned into a vicious snarl as she drove her clenched fists down onto his beck.

"Hotspur!" Penderose's voice cut through the smoke and caught my attention, "What do you think you're achieving here? This is obstruction of justice, and I can have you in cuffs as sure as the Shark."

"Penderose," I said, "You call this justice? I know Shark was framed, he's no child killer. If you call this justice I'll be happy to obstruct it."

Penderose's flat look was as good as a furious glare from someone else. "You stupid boy, you don't know the waters you're jumping into." He didn't draw a gun or make any threats, he didn't need to. He had the authority of the government behind him.

Behind us Shark rose, swinging a massive fist that caught Semper Fi on the chin, cracking her head back. The bulging fury on her face, blood streaming from her perfect nose, would never make the cover of Time Magazine. She swung forward, grabbing him by the head, pulling him off the ground. Pulling him up into the air.

"Son of a bitch," she snarled, "I'll pop your head like a grape."
>>
"No!" a new voice, and we all looked to the mouth of the cave. A girl in a wet suit stood in the opening, hair wet and tangled around her shoulders. She could have been a teenager, she looked Asian, she also looked terrified and desperate. "Let him go! Hiu! Hiu!"

Her English was broken from panic.

She picked up rocks and started throwing them at the hovering woman, but they missed their mark.

Shark thrashed in Semper Fi's grip, punching her in the gut, grabbing at her arms, her legs, gnashing his teeth at her face, but she was either too tough or too blinded by rage to feel it. What she did do was keep squeezing as he dangled, a long catch in her grip, a long drop to the water. She was going to kill him.

>intervene directly, attack Semper Fi
>tell Penderose to call her off
>>
>>4709618
>intervene directly, attack Semper Fi

distract her by asking if people are getting good video
>>
>>4709618
>intervene directly, attack Semper Fi
>>
>>4709618
Intervene directly

Do we have to attack her? Could we take a picture of her with flash to get her attention instead
>>
>>4709618
>intervene directly, attack Semper Fi
2v1
Hotspur loathes fair fights
>>
>>4709658
write ins are always an option
>>
>>4709658
I'm not sure that would tear her out of deathgrip mode.

We could try pulling her off him instead of hitting her though. I'd be down for that.
>>
>>4709658
I sort of think that Shark's appearance would kill any sympathy anyone would have for him, making Semper Fi still look like a hero in the midst of a life or death battle for the protection of everyone.
>>
Hiu is Indonesian for shark. Talk about foreshadowing. Postshadowing? Idk.
>>
>>4709674
>>4709691
Fair enough, guess we're punching GI Jane
>>
Also popping heads like grapes sort of seems like Semper Fi's modus operandi, especially if she's actually responsible for the framejob on Misfit
>>
>>4709668
One day some anon is going to suggest a completely idiotic write in and win the vote with it I hope to be that anon.
>>
>>4709666
>>4709653
>>4709626
locking in you guys fighting her

I feel the write-ins didn't have enough broader support
>>
I took a running leap, lunging up into the air.

"Yo GI Jane!" I yelled, "Put the fish down!"

Hurtling across the lake, I swung a power burning fist for her head.

She spun.

"Hotspur?" she said, confusion overriding her rage.

Before my knuckles could find her perfectly sculpted cheek, she swung Shark into me, knocking me down and sending us both into the water with a heavy splash. Shark got up, body trembling. Water soaked into my trousers as I rose up from the water, boots slippery on the rocky beach of the Shark's desolate little island.

She hovered above us, staring down with blank eyes, dawn's light a halo around her shoulders.

I swallowed, falling into a boxer's stance.

"We fight together?" Shark asked, water dripping from his hide.

"This time," I said, switching to a southpaw stance.

"You've made a big fucking mistake, Hotspur," Semper Fi spat down at me.

"She smells of death, and death dealing..." Shark groaned. I don't know what that meant but it didn't sound good. Either way, I'd made my choice.

And when she swooped down from the sky, she gave us no other choice.

>roll 3 x 1d100+10 dc 80
>>
Rolled 71 + 10 (1d100 + 10)

>>4709763
All right so she can fly, she has us and definitely Shark beat in mobility. Lean on that boxing experience and use her anger against her, get her pissed enough to attack us full on and hit her with counters.
>>
>>4709773
barring a crit-fail...
>>
Rolled 77 + 10 (1d100 + 10)

>>4709763
Kick his ass seabass!
>>
Rolled 22 + 10 (1d100 + 10)

>>4709763
first roller saves us
not to avoid critfails
>>
>>4709777
Nice roll anon
>>
She came for me, head hunting, a falcon swoop. I swung my head out of the way, feeling the force of her blow whistle past my ear. A counter punch lunched from my right caught her above her eye, swinging her off path and right into Shark.

He grabbed her by the calf, swung her overhead, slammed her down on the rocks. Swung her up to do it the same way the other direction, but she twisted her legs, catching his arm in a lock as she brought him down with her, some kind of jiu-sitsu shit. She grabbed him by the arm and I heard the pop as it came out of its socket, Shark thrashing in pain.

She rolled away before the heel of my boot could stomp her face.

Problem with ground work I figure, is when you're fighting more than one guy.

She got to her feet, a vicious snarl on her face, chin streaked with blood. This was far from the photoshop perfect model they trottted out on 'Good Morning America', there was nothing wholesome about the killing rage in her eyes.

"You stupid little shit," she spat, "You're fucking with the government now."

Instead of trading threats I shot a jab for her throat. First one missed, which made her smile, but my next one was a feint, twisting into a back hand blow which knocked the smile from her face. She flew back out of reach, breathing hard, seething. Made to look a fool and not liking it. Beside me Shark got up, popping his arm back into place. Pain didn't show in those small black eyes.

"I'll paint this goddamn rock with your guts," She hissed, the mad light in her eyes.

Behind me the girl called, "Hui!" again, grabbing at the side of the cave.

Semper Fi saw her, and smiled. I twitched with concern, seeing her play. She dove between us, straight for the girl.

I tackled Semper Fi mid-flight, dragging her onto the sharp wet rocks. We tumbled down the jagged surface, water spraying around us. I pulled at her face, trying to hook her eyes, her nostril, something to get leverage and pain. But for all she could fly she knew the ground better than I did. I battered at her but it didn't help as she twisted her position, slippery from the wet, getting under me, getting her arm around my neck until I was struggling in her grip, breathing fast as her arm tightened, breathing hard as air struggled to get through. My brain getting fuzzy.

She was under me and behind, twisting me up.

But I wasn't alone. Shark's foot caught her behind the ear and her grip eased, enough I could slip my hand between her arm and my wind pipe, driving my elbow into her side.

I rolled free, struggling to breathe, my throat tight and sore.

Semper Fi crouched on the wet rocks, a wet blonde cat hissing at us both.

"She's a bag of crazy," I croaked.

"She stinks of mistruth and violence," Shark said, "The violent hand of a cruel master."

Semper Fi rose up from the rocks, breathing hard, eyes wide.

"Enough!"

Penderose had stepped off the boat and onto the rock, hands stuffed into his coat pockets, head crooked to one side.
>>
"That's enough Semper Fi," he said, "Stand down."

"But sir," she started.

"Goddamn it Emma that's an order," he said.

She wilted at his barked command, floating down to earth. So her real name was Emma.

Penderose looked to Shark, looked to me.

"So here we are," he said, "And what have we achieved?"

The gunboats circled the island. Circled us as the Mackinaw sat still.

"I stand with the full authority of the federal government," he said, "If you think beating up a few federal agents will keep us away, you're mistaken. Now I don't know how you think this will go, but I am placing the Shark under arrest. The question now is, am I placing you under arrest as well?"

I turned to face Penderose, keeping my boxing stance. "He's innocent," I said.

"That's for a court of law to prove," he said.

"Hiu!" the girl stumbled from the cave, running to grab Shark, like her skinny body could offer any protection, "Please no. He rescue me. Me and us, others. Bad men take us, make us do things for them. Bring us so far here. Then Hiu come, free us. Please."

Penderose's nose wrinkled in disgust. "Human traffickers," he said.

Then other faces appeared in the cave mouth. Young faces, some as young as six or seven, boys and girls. They wore the same wet suits, some wrapped in blankets. Shark stood motionless as they crept down from the cave.

"We could call this child abduction," Semper Fi said, gliding around to Penderose's side, "Paint a really bad picture for the press. 'Shark abducts, eats children'."

A certain sympathy entered Penderose's face. "No," he said, "What we have on him is enough."

Penderose whistled for the battered crew.

"Let's get these children back to shore, get them some where dry and warm," he said.

Semper Fi nodded, and as if she'd never promised to murder us, picked up one of the smaller kids, held him to her side.

"Don't worry, Semper Fi is here now," she told the boy. But he stared, not understanding a word she spoke.

Penderose glared at both of us, me and Shark, then looked back to Semper Fi.

"Wait," he said to her, then smiled his greasy smile, "I have an offer for you, Mr Shark."

"A shark has no title," Shark said.

"Shark, then," he said, "I'll offer you a choice. If you surrender yourself I'll see to it these children are given the best possible care, protected under the UN asylum charter, given a safe home and a pathway to citizenship. Or you can resist, and they go straight into ICE detention. Which do you prefer?"

Anger roared through me. Using children, the victims of sex trafficking, as blackmail material. There really was nothing beneath him.

"Make your choice," he said, "If a shark can choose."

Shark didn't move. He looked down on the children being gathered up by the soldiers.

"You motherfucker," I said. Penderose's smile grew.

Then Shark looked to me. "A shark cannot see the righteous path," he said, "Please, fire-bearer, choose for me."

>tell Shark to surrender
>tell Shark to run
>>
>>4709869
You're trying to bluff me with cards you don't have, Penderose. You and I both know the media is waiting for you on the shore, and you're gonna use these kids against Shark either way. You can't get away with "rescuing" them and then throwing them into a detention center.
>>
>>4709869
>tell Shark to surrender
"I'll come back for you."
The "righteous path" is to save the children, and that is what Shark wants. If Penderose doesn't keep his word, when we break Shark out (and there will be a when), there will be all the more hell to pay.
Is what I was going to say but this Anon >>4709882
has a bigger brain than I do so supporting him
>>
>>4709869
>tell Shark to run

Nothing is stopping him from throwing them to ICE even if Shark surrenders. On the other hand, if he really wants to do the right thing he'll give them asylum even if Shark runs.

Also thanks Semper Fi for confirming that they're just making up whatever shit they can to justify arrests.
>>
>>4709882
>>4709869
Yea this basically. Also kinda looked like Penderose might have a soft spot for kids
>>
>>4709882
okay I guess this wins out and is a variant of telling Shark to run?

either way locked in
>>
"You're trying to bluff me with cards you don't have, Penderose," I said, "You and I both know the media is waiting for you on the shore, and you're gonna use these kids against Shark either way. You can't get away with "rescuing" them and then throwing them into a detention center."

Penderose made a ghoulish smile. "You make a great many assumptions about me, don't you Hotspur?" he said, "Have it your way. We'll turn a blind eye to your friend the Shark today, finding these children will at least keep this operation a success, but tomorrow expect us to come with more...prejudice."

He looked to the Mackinaw, to the sunrise, then back to me. "We should be going," he said, "I suppose you should find a way back to shore as well, unless you plan to be late to school."

My brain went numb at the implication.

"I can assume many things as well, Hotspur," he said, "But be sure, I am gathering the evidence. We'll have your name soon enough, then we'll have you. Just as we'll have your little Misfit too."

Semper Fi strode past with a smug grin, holding the child on her hip.

The Coast Guard gathered up the hollowed eyed children, ushering them onto the Mackinaw, unsettled by the looming presence of Shark. The girl who had tried to help Shark grabbed for him, sobbing 'Hiu! Hiu!' as she was pulled away.

"Cahaya," Shark said, "Do not fight them."

She settled, nodding through fat tears, letting the soldiers guide her away.

It couldn't have been easy living on this rock in winter, with only a cannibalistic shark man as a guardian. The children looked sickly and weak. He may have done his best but these kids needed more than he could provide. Kids, some of them were my age. They'd all seen and done things I'd shudder to imagine. I couldn't entirely fault Shark his methods when it came to dealing with scum like their abductors.

We watched the children load onto the ship, then watched the ship draw away, patrol boats flanking it.

I was a long way from shore, with no clear way back, alone with the hulking Shark.

"We are comrades now," Shark said. It was all he said, before turning to slink back into his cave.

Penderose wasn't wrong. If I didn't get moving I'd be late for school.

>ask Shark for a ride back to shore
>explore his home , school can wait
>>
>>4710031
>ask Shark for a ride back to shore

no offense Shark but your home doesn't look too glamorous and we really don't want to be late if Penderose knows we're in high school
>>
>>4710039
Supporting
Shark is a chad
>>
>>4710031
>ask Shark for a ride back to shore
>>
>>4710031
>explore his home , school can wait
This island is linked to the explosion and I can't guarantee it'll stay intact for long
>>
We might also want to advise Shark to relocate

So semper and her squad can't just nab him tomorrow
>>
>>4710048
>>4710043
>>4710039
locked in

I'll update tomorrow though

tired
>>
>>4710167
Thanks for running!
>>
sick today. I'll be back next week. I'll try to notify everyone the day before
>>
>>4711292
Sorry to hear that, hope you feel better soon.
>>
>>4711292
no worries we'll be waiting
>>
>>4711292
Sorry to hear that Bullpen, hope you feel better!
Do you think it's the coof?
>>
I'll be running tomorrow
>>
>>4714492
with my trip this time
>>
The Mackinaw disappeared on the horizon, the girl Cahaya standing alone at the back, holding us in sight for as long as possible as we did the same. Shark and I watched it dip over the line and then fall out of view, alone on the rocky shore with only a cold wind for company.

"You can't stay here," I said, "They'll be back for you."

"I can live in the waters," Shark said, "This island was only needed for the children, discovered by chance."

Fair enough. I looked back to the open mouth of the cave. Deep, dark, and gloomy. Curiosity itched the back of my hand, but Penderose had been right. If I wanted to get to school I'd need to head back to shore now.

"I don't suppose you can give me a lift back to Chicago," I said, "Its just I'll be late for school and attendance effects my grade so uh..."

He looked down at me with the same fixed gruesome expression he always wore.

"Your efforts to live a normal life border on the farcical," he said, "You are no longer a human being as they are, you are meant for a higher purpose."

I pulled down my mask to scratch my neck. "Maybe," I said, "But that doesn't get my chemistry homework done."

Whatever Shark thought he knelt down so I could grab a hold on his dorsal fin, then once my grip was secure, took a step before diving into the cold waters of Lake Michigan.

The shock was as bad as Semper Fi's blows, the cold water soaking into my costume, rushing across my face and up my nose, choking for a second as we cut through the waters at a shocking speed. Then we rose, breaking from the water. I gasped for air, sucking it down, near as cold as the water itself. For my benefit Shark swam close to the surface, skimming his way toward the distant Illinois shore.

We must have swam for hours but Shark showed no sign of tiring. Why would he, after all, he is a shark. When we stopped it was at the mooring of a north side harbor, private yachts bobbing in the waters. I climbed from the freezing waters, water splashing off me, soaked through the thick material and the spider-weave undershirt. Merriweather hadn't designed the costume for swimming, and it sagged heavily on my frame. The only thing keeping my teeth from chattering was continual flushes of power, but it was starting to wane, tiredness taking its toll.

I looked down at Shark, his head bobbing above the waters.

"We'll fight together again," he said, "We who were reborn in the light of the Falling Star are bound by fate, for good or ill."

"If its against the DPA goons you can bet on it," I said.

"Against all who would twist good to evil and truth to lies," he said.

"Sharks sure have a sense for the philosophical," I said.

"A shark knows itself, and is not easily decieved," he said. Then with that last pronouncement, his head dipped beneath the waters, and he was gone.

Great.
>>
I had enough power to get back to my hideout and to change, drying out when I did. The cold was starting to get to me so I tied my Bulls scarf tight, buttoned up my denim jacket. Hunger pangs buckled my legs, I hadn't been so hungry in a while. It wasn't as bad as the time after fighting Houndmaster, but it still put a crimp in my step.

Before heading to school I stopped by Luis' store.

Christmas decorations had been set up, trees stencilled in the windows with holly and jingle bells strewn under the window frame. D-Mark and Smokey were inside helping decorate, wrangling a plastic tree into the corner, fake presents set up underneath it.

"Careful, careful, careful," Luis told his employees as I stepped in, the electric chime singing 'Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer. "Hey, Rico, how you doing? You look like shit."

He got a pack of donuts out from under the counter and slid them over to me as his cat wrapped its tail around my leg while rubbing up against me, drawing its mouth across the toe of my shoe.

"Feel like shit," I said, popping the day old powdered donuts in my mouth.

"Man I figured you must have come from there, wild story," he said. So the media had broken the story about Shark already? I hoped Penderose had done the right thing, and put the kids in protective custody. "Fire burned down half the complex."

"Fire?" I said through the mashed up donut in my mouth.

"Oh, so it wasn't you?" Luis said, "There was a fire over at the big science lab last night, what's it called."

"Fermi," D-Mark said, getting the tree placed in the corner, Smokey starting on the decorations.

"Fermilab, that's it yeah, burned out the main building. TV said it was an electrical fire but I figured it was something else," he said, tapping his nose.

Fermilab was where Dr Zavani had taken the stone, some kind of Large Hardon Collider style project out Batavia way. I swallowed.

"So that wasn't you?" Luis said low, bending close at the pale shock on my face.

"No," I said, "Not...not directly."

Had the owners of the stone found where it was, or had the lab's experiment on the stone started the fire? I couldn't know until I checked it out, and either way it was alarming. But that would have to wait until after school. I chugged a can of pop and ate another couple burritos before Luis gave me a ride out to school. I didn't talk on the drive over, just let Luis' chatter pour over me.

There was a lot to think on. Not just Misfit's case, who I was starting to believe was framed by Semper Fi directly, but the problems surrounding Shark, the mystery of an island appearing in the middle of Lake Michigan, and potentially an attack on Fermilab. It could never be simple, could never be one thing at a time.
>>
And that was before remembering my problems with crime gangs, and my personal stuff. Kay and I were still in a weird place, a date might help fix it Saturday night, but I also had agreed to train Ayesha, and there was all the tension at school around paras and the paranoia that was hurting friendships and causing needless drama.

And the suspicion that Penderose knew who I was, he just couldn't prove it.

Getting dropped off at school felt like getting dropped off at a different combat zone, one that could be just as devastating.

Despite trying to get to school on time I was still on the late side missing home room and the first ten minutes of English. Ms Flores didn't give me grief over it though, benefits of her dating my Dad. Not that she would have anyway, she was a nice lady, who perked up bright when I slid her my homework.

"Take a seat Eric," she said. I slid into the one next to Dane.

A pencil jabbed into my back. "You look terrible," Rufus said.

"No sleep," I said, starting to yawn. Maybe I should have called in sick, it was a struggle to concentrate. It had been a full 24 hours since I'd last got any sleep, and I could split it with fistfighting a super powered jackboot too. I might be super human some of the time, but I had my limits.

"Same," Dane said with a smirk. If we could trade powers right now I'd do it.

It was hard to focus on the whiteboard, even with Ms Flores writing on it.

>just put my head down and get a quick nap
>focus Eric, don't be weak
>>
>>4715832
>just put my head down and get a quick nap
>>
>>4715832
>focus Eric, don't be weak

My extreme paranoia is telling me napping now would be a sign that we were doing something earlier that could get back to Penderose.
>>
>>4715849
I feel like being visibly super exhausted is just as incriminating
>>
>>4715832
>just put my head down and get a quick nap

Yeah we are just a regular kid who sleeps during class. There is always one kid who wants to sleep.
>>
>>4715844
>>4715890
locked in
>>
I couldn't resist my book as a pillow.

Just five minutes, I thought. Just to rest my eyes. My eyes were heavy and my head fogged up. Just enough to clear my head...

Dead eyes on living faces stared up from the earth.

The bell rang and I jerked up in my seat, gasping. The classroom was clearing out, Ms Flores wiping down the whiteboard. I pushed my bags into my backpack, stumbling out of my chair mumbling, staggering to the door.

Ms Flores watched me go with lips pursed in concern. I rubbed my eyes. I don't know if the nap had done any good, my head was still foggy. The hallway seemed disjointed, people going from one class to the next all in a rush, but it had an unreal feeling. Or maybe too real, my brain too tired to cushion the strangeness of life. The noise of people little different from ugly animal sounds, their movements odd and uncoordinated. Ignorant of everything outside what was in front of them.

I stopped to get my head, leaning back on a locker squeezing my eyes shut.

"-know Martin? I heard he-"

"-Christie's pregnant, and it's not-"

"-into that shit, man, try someone-"

"-dunked on hard, we suck this season-"

"-beneath the earth, waiting to rise-"

Aimless chatter all about nothing. What was important. Basketball, children in wet suits with hollow eyes, mystery fires in laboratories, going bowling with a girl. Farce, pantomime, play-acting. I was too tired, but my thoughts were starting to organize.

I shook my head. Not farcical, not a joke, the stupid, mundane normalness was important. Getting to talk trash about nothing was something to be protected, should be the way things are. Let my head be full of horror and no one judged worse for not sharing it.

"Hey," a warm hand on my shoulder, "Are you okay?"

I opened my eyes to Ayesha's concerned frown, eyes twinkling behind her glasses.

"Tired," I said through a yawn. She massaged my shoulder gently.

"Burning the candle at both ends, huh," she said, "Make sure you don't burn yourself out." Then she handed me her notebook. "Here, my notes. I don't need them but since you slept straight through."

"Thanks Ayesha," I said, slipping it into my bag, "You don't have to."

"Yeah, I guess I don't," she said, then squeezed the bridge of my nose like she'd done the night we'd followed her on her date. "Anyway, Dane wanted to talk to us all about something. You coming?"

I blinked. "Sure," I said, hiking up my bag. I didn't like what he might be saying.

We skipped out on class to meet behind the library. Me, Rufus, Zeke, Hunter, Ayesha, Kay, even Daphne, brought by text message to wait for Dane in the little garden kept back there.

He was waiting, sitting on a bench, looking nervous as hell, reminding me of Jude right before he'd come out to me. I guess it was like that in a way, waiting on the judgement of his friends.

"What's up?" Zeke asked, sitting down next to him.
>>
"You wanted to talk to us about something?" Kay said, "If you're coming out well, you guys all know I help run the LGBTQI support group through the student council, tragic bisexual that I am."

"No, uh," Dane said, "No, I'm not gay or bi or whatever. Not that I'm, you know, not that it's bad to be or..."

"So what's the score then?" Hunter asked, "You've been real squirelly about something."

Dane swallowed, looking at me. "I think you guys should know something," he said, "I wasn't going to say but...but we've all been at each other's throats and I thought, if I told you, maybe it would..."

"Tell us what?" Ayesha asked.

He breathed deep. "I'm a...I'm a para-freak. Or a para-folk...para-human, whatever the term is."

A stunned look swept over Zeke's face, then realization had him spring up from the bench. But it was Hunter who spoke first.

"Wait," Hunter said, "No, that's...you're wrong."

"I know what I am," Dane said.

"No, see, there are signs," Hunter said, "I heard Dougie Hicks say-"

"Fuck Dougie Hicks!" Dane spat, "I know what I am and I know what I'm saying. And I don't have brain worms and I'm not a lizardman from beneath the earth. Goddamn it Hunter, would you listen to me instead of some jagoff you don't even know?"

Hunter blinked. "I..." he said, "I'm listening, dude, sorry."

"Are you Hotspur?" Ayesha asked.

Dane snorted. "I wish," he said, "No, I'm just...I was walking home from a pizza joint that night, you know. You guys remember, when the Explosion happened. And there was a bright light, and it hit me, punched through me. Then I...I woke up in bed at home, but that was the last time I woke up. I don't need to sleep, haven't slept in months and I...I don't need to eat either, or use the bathroom, or get tired when I run. I tested it once, I ran three hours straight without losing a breath."

"You're serious," Rufus said with growing belief.

"Yeah Roof," Dane said, "I've been wanting to tell you guys, I told Eric but...but I haven't told anyone else, not even my parents."

"Why tell us now?" Rufus said, "Like, why not earlier or not at all?"

Dane looked tired despite his powers. "Maybe I thought if you guys knew, if you could put a face to the term 'para-freak', you'd all calm down, be less scared. I'm still me, I'm still the same Dane I always was. You guys know that right?" he said.

"We know that," Ayesha said, "Right guys?"

But everyone was less certain, most of all Zeke.

"You told Eric?" he said, a strange injury in his voice. Dane and Zeke had been friends since elementary school. Dane had barely known me half a year.

"He kind of figured it out," Dane said, "But I had to tell someone."

Zeke grabbed his friend by the shirt. "You could have told me," he said, "You could have trusted me."

"I'm trusting you now Zeke," Dane said, bewildered, "I'm telling you guys but...but I need you guys not to tell anyone else. Please."

"You can trust us," Daphne said.
>>
Could he? I looked to Rufus, and to Hunter. The prejudice in their eyes, and the uncertainty in everyone else's. Something flickered inside me, a touch of power and an odd instinct.

>maybe we could swear an oath
>let Dane handle this
>>
>>4715990
>maybe we could swear an oath

Peach Garden oath parahuman edition.
>>
>>4715993
>maybe we could swear an oath
>>
>>4715993
>maybe we could swear an oath
>>
>>4715993
>maybe we could swear an oath

BLOOD OATH
>>
>>4716001
>>4716003
>>4716010
>>4716048
locked in
>>
"Maybe we could swear an oath," I said.

"An oath, what is this Ancient China?" Rufus said.

"What do you know about Ancient China?" Daphne said.

"Only what I've pieced together from Dynasty Warrior," he replied.

"I'm serious," I said, the flicker of power inside me rising into a steady flame, "We make an oath to protect Dane's secret, swear it hear, together."

"Okay weirdo," Daphne joked, rolling her eyes. Maybe it was being tired, or maybe it was something else, but her glibness sat wrong with me. Still, I put my hand forward.

"There's some really bad people out there," Kay said, "Who do bad things to para-people. So, you know." Kay put her hand on mine, smiling. "I'm in it."

Ayesha's was next. "If this is what Dane needs to feel safe," she said, then elbowed Zeke, "Come on." Zeke's hand went on hers, a small pile. Next came Daphne's, quick to join in. We waited on Rufus and Hunter.

The ugly look on Rufus' face softened. "You know what, fuck it, you're my boy Dane, whatever I think about para-freaks as a whole I'm with you."

We waited for Hunter. "Man I..." he said, shaking his head, "I don't know if I...but..."

He closed his eyes, then put his hand on the pile. "Okay, but this is weird," he said.

Dane was last and I locked eyes with him.

"We swear to keep faith with you," I said. My palm clenched into a fist, knuckles whiteneing as a shudder of power went up my arm, words not really understood coming to my lips. I was seized by something, something like the feeling I'd had when I fought Houndmaster on the rooftops of Chicago, and tapped into something deeper, something alien, "We swear to tell no one your secret. On fire unburning, we swear."

"This is goofy," Zeke started but an elbow from Ayesha shut him up.

"I swear it," I said.

The fire in my arm grew hot, my skin pimpling, sweat starting to crawl down the back of my hand. I saw a shudder go through the others, a disturbed look cross their faces. They pulled their hands away as if burned, shaking out their fingers. Daphne sucked the tip of her finger, tears in her eyes, while Ayesha stared at her palm.

"What was that, did you do that?" Zeke asked Dane, a painful look on his face.

"Did what?" Dane said,

"I thought...my hand was burned," Rufus said, "Like the hot end of a lighter got stabbed in it."

"You guys just imagined things," Dane said, "Got caught up in the moment."

"It didn't feel bad to me," Ayesha said, "Felt like...warm water."

"See," Dane said, "It's just imagination. If Ayesha felt something different..."

"Maybe," Rufus said, holding his hand close.
>>
It was Kay who was looking at me with a soft frown, which turned into a little smile when she hooked my arm, laced her fingers through mine. "That was a good idea," she said, and kissed my cheek.

Then Ayesha also gave me a look, tongue planted in her cheek with thought, while the others kept looking at Dane.

"Well I hope you feel better now," Zeke said, "You goddamn freak of nature."

Ayesha elbowed him again.

"I'm just teasing," he said.

"Thanks guys," Dane said, face flushed with relief, "I really needed you guys to know. Maybe we can all go back to being friends again?"

Maybe, I thought, looking over the others. But the bell for next period rang, and whatever we wanted to say fell to silence as we rejoined the school.

Me, I walked in silence mostly wondering what I'd done, why I'd done it, and what it could mean. I walked holding Kay's hand, soft and warm in mine, and she gave it a gentle squeeze. There was something more to me and more to my powers than just being able to run and jump faster than everyone else. Just like there was more to the Explosion and more to the stone. I had been talking weird, speaking words out of a scholastic fantasy book, but everyone had been so swept up in Dane's confession it must have slipped their notice.

Mysteries in mysteries.

One thing was for sure, I had a lot of work to do.
>>
I threw the Latin Reaper into his friend, knocking them both down in the alley way, before stepping forward and driving my foot under his chin, snapping his head back.

There should be a sign or something hanging in my neighborhood, like a line-up for gangbangers and hoods. 'Ass Kicked Here - Free Of Charge.'

I'd taken a break from my investigation into Misfit to clean up a corner. It had been collecting garbage, both literal and human. The last of the garbage booked it down the street and I let him go, breathing hard, fists tight.

It felt good, an honest fist fight. It was simple. Don't die, put down the other dude. We all knew the rules.

Investigating wasn't as simple, running down leads, clearing names, handling the complications.

Agent Penderose had made front page news 'busting' a human trafficking ring, rescuing a band of exploited children. Talk was they were going to give him some kind of medal. All while Shark was treated like a horror villain, demands being made for his, or as some papers said 'its' arrest. Illinois didn't have death row, but the argument was he was more animal than man, and should be 'euthanized' for public safety.

Load of shit if you ask me.

And the closer it got to Christmas, the year drawing shut, the colder it got.

What a time to be hitting the streets.

>pick a primary and secondary focus

>keep working the Misfit case, run down leads
>keep working Navaja, the cartel and crime fighting
>investigate the mystery of the stone and the Chicago explosion
>focus on training, boxing and powers, to up my game
>focus on daily life, take it easy. I'm burning hot and maybe burning out
>focus on school, can't let my grades slip
>>
>>4716117
>investigate the mystery of the stone and the Chicago explosion
People died for that fucking rock. Not going to let it get taken away
>keep working the Misfit case, run down leads
Lets finish what we started. Need her back on her feet asap so she can help us with stuff. Bind her to us with the oath
>>
>>4716117
>investigate the mystery of the stone and the Chicago explosion
>keep working the Misfit case, run down leads
The stone is super important and we've neglected it for too long
>>
>>4716117
>investigate the mystery of the stone and the Chicago explosion
And secondary:
>focus on training, boxing and powers, to up my game
>>
>>4716126
>Bind her to us with the oath

best not to make assumptions about what happened there

what it was and its effects are unknown to Eric
>>
>>4716117
>investigate the mystery of the stone and the Chicago explosion
>keep working the Misfit case, run down leads
>>
>>4716134
>what it was and its effects are unknown to Eric
oh snap stuff is serious when the QM steps in
>>
>>4716117
>investigate the mystery of the stone and the Chicago explosion
>keep working the Misfit case, run down leads

If only because we should probably follow up on that bigass fire.

Also if we can clear Misfit we can probably clear the other paras and ensure we don't stumble on a corpse we get blamed for later on.
>>
>>4716170
>>4716146
>>4716129
>>4716127
>>4716126
locked in 'investigate the stone' as primary and running down misfit's case as secondary.

but Eric still has a date with Kay and boxing lessons with Ayesha
>>
Bros, I think we might end up burning out like this.
>>
This stuff was on my mind all through the week, all into my Saturday, and my date with Kay.

I hadn't heard from Dr Zamani and I was worried. I'd left the stone in his keeping, and he'd promised to contact me with any results, but so far I'd had a deep and troubling silence from his end, even after I sent him several texts. I'd have to check his office out at U of C at some point, if only to make sure he was okay.

The crash of bowling pins broke my attention though, jerking me from my thoughts.

We were at Waveland Bowl, same place as our first date, and Kay had just made her first strike. She hopped on the spot hissing a long 'yes!'

"What's up with you, hot stuff?" she said, dancing her way over, "Something on your mind?"

I managed to smile but it wasn't convincing, so she ran her fingers through my hair, trying to pull me out of my brooding.

"Your problem, Eric, is you don't know how to switch off," she said, "Anyway, you're up."

My bowling skills were above average, but I was distracted enough I got a split and failed to pick up the spare. I was still beating Kay, who was just happy not to get a gutter ball, but not by much.

We weren't the only ones here on a Saturday night. Kemal and his cousins had a lane to themselves not far away, and we'd swapped a word over the urinal. Brian, the school drug dealer, was skulking around making deals. I didn't recognize anyone else.

"I'll get it the next time," I muttered, taking a seat as Kay stepped up.

"You getting hungry yet?" she asked, picking up a light pink ball. I was always hungry. "I could kill for a hotdog and a shake."

Waveland Bowl had a little kitchen thing attached called 'Alley Dogs'. The food was greasy and a bit nasty, but it went down okay and it was convenient. I got out a twenty Dad had given me for the night, went over to order some food. The girl behind the counter turned around, blonde pony tail tied back from her face.

"Welcome to Alley Dogs, what can I get you?" Ivy asked. Seeing me though and her forced cheerfulness dropped. "Oh, hey."

"Yo," I said, swallowing, "Uh, what are you doing here?"

She looked at me with a smile that spoke the depths of my stupidity.

"Working, right," I said, "I thought you uh, your parents are rich."

"If I want to be emancipated I have to prove finiancial independence," she said, "So its between this or a sketchy modelling contract. I don't know about you, but I think paying a fifteen year old to lie on a car in a bikini is pretty dodgy, don't you?"

"That can't be a serious job offer," I said.

"Sweet, naive little Eric," she said, "Now what can I get you?"

"Couple of dogs, milkshakes to go with it," I said.

"With fries?" she said.

"Of course, I'm not a heathen," I said. She smiled, punching in the order. "So how are you doing with the Carvers?"
>>
"It's sickeningly wholesome," she said, "Can you imagine, a family that loves and supports each other? I could gag. The sooner I'm out of there the better."

"Yeah, I had a kind of crazy Thanksgiving," I said, "Turns out my cousin is in love with his adopted sister."

"Oof, now that's my kind of steam," Ivy said, swapping the change. "How are you doing?"

"What, me and Kay? We're good," I said, "Great even."

"Yeah, I didn't mean about that," Ivy said, serving up the dogs, "I heard you crashed out in English."

I shrugged. "I can handle myself," I said.

"Sure you can," she said, "You're a big tough guy. Not fifteen years old and trying to figure stuff out. Couldn't be you."

"Tell you what, if I take an L I'll let you tell me I told you so," I said, picking up the dogs and shakes.

"I won't though," she said.

"Won't what?"

"Tell you I told you so," she said, "That's not...what I want."

I stopped a second before heading back to Kay, checking Ivy over. "Just get home safe, don't worry about the 'I told you so's," she said, turning away to occupy herself with the soda fountain, head down.

My throat was tight as I walked back to the bowling lane. Kay waited, smiling pretty in my denim jacket, and attacked her hotdog with glee. I slung an arm around her, not much appetite but eating anyway, picking at the fries.

Get home safe. Well that was never a certainty.

Kay and I made up that night, the two of us, ending it sweating despite the chill in my hideout, a mattress laid down with a worn out comforter. If my night ended there I'd call it a night well spent, but I meant to find out what was going on with Dr Zamani sooner rather than later.

Kay watched me get dressed. "You are one sexy bastard," she said as I pulled on my costume's jacket. "I just love the way it fits." She got up, feeling over my chest and shoulders in the costume. "My boyfriend is a bonafide superhero."

"Yeah well, give me a kiss for good luck," I said.

She did just that, and took her time about it. Our tongues returned to their respective mouths.

She grinned as I picked her up, throwing her over my shoulder as I leapt up to the high window, laughing as I launched out into the night. She threw her arms out, cheering as we sailed through the cold dark night. Always a thrill to walk her home in a way only I could.

But once she was safely home, skipping up the drive with her cheeks glowing warm, the joy inside me turned to something serious, a sober mood coming on.

Fermilab had been burned out, with no word from Dr Zamani. I had to get to the bottom of it.

>cut to the chase, head to Dr Zamani's office at the University of Chicago
>don't go direct, call Ms Grant first to see what she'd heard about the incident
>>
and I'll be back tomorrow
>>
>>4716293
>>don't go direct, call Ms Grant first to see what she'd heard about the incident
i feel like we should have some more contacts within the gov. other than Ms. Grant and all, spread our connections.
>>
>>4716293
>>don't go direct, call Ms Grant first to see what she'd heard about the incident
>>
>>4716293
>cut to the chase, head to Dr Zamani's office at the University of Chicago
If the lab was burnt down we might not have time to involve Ms. Grant
>>
>>4716293
>don't go direct, call Ms Grant first to see what she'd heard about the incident
>>
>>4716293
>>don't go direct, call Ms Grant first to see what she'd heard about the incident
>>
>>4716293
>cut to the chase, head to Dr Zamani's office at the University of Chicago
>>
>>4716421
>>4716481
>>4717043
>>4717066
tied in
>>
>>4717414
locked in

shit
>>
Ms Grant had introduced me to Dr Zamani. They'd gone to college together, and as far as I could tell good friends. Maybe she had heard something I hadn't.

Crouching on the top of a skyscraper, I called her. It was late, but I doubt she'd refuse to pick up.

It took a couple of calls when she picked up.

"Hotspur, do you know what time it is?" her voice was slurred as if pulled from sleep.

"Sorry Ms Grant," I said, "But I need your help, it won't take long."

"Maddie is everything all right?" a man's voice faint from the other side. Ms Grant got lucky, good for her. Good for him.

"It's fine Albert," she replied, voice muffled like her hand was on the reciever. Then to me, "What's this about?"

"I heard there was a fire at Fermilab," I said.

"You think it was arson?" she said.

"I'm trying to get in contact with Dr Zamani, but he isn't returning my calls," I said.

"Javid?" she said, "You think it has to do with Javid?"

"I loaned Dr Zamani something, something he took to Fermilab for experimentation," I said, "Now there's been a fire and I can't get in touch with him."

"I saw him yesterday for lunch," Ms Grant said, "He didn't seem himself, as if he hadn't slept. But he's a nervous guy anyway, I didn't think much of it."

"Do you have his home address?" I asked.

"Of course."

She texted it to me.

"If he's in danger, Hotspur," she said, a drawn out silence ending in a breath, "If he's in danger, please help him."

"If he's in danger Ms Grant, its most likely my fault," I said, "So I'll do my best. Sorry for calling so late."

We hung up and I looked down at the city. It wasn't much but I knew he had been alive as of yesterday, which was something. The question was what to do next.

>head to Zamani's office
>head to Zamani's home address
>>
>>4717462
>head to Zamani's home address
>>
>>4717462
>head to Zamani's home address
>>
>>4717462
>head to Zamani's home address
At this hour he wouldn't be in the office
>>
>>4717462
>>head to Zamani's home address
>>
>>4717481
>>4717498
>>4717504
>>4717506
locked in
>>
I decided to check his home address. The odds of him being at his office weren't good anyway. I punched it into Google Maps then bound my way through the city, above the light gloom too high for the people bellow to see.

Dr Zamani lived in one of those neighborhoods that could generously be called 'formerly poor' but could more accurately be called 'gentrified', the working class priced out as their flat houses were bought up for the 'charm' and affordability, then torn down and replaced with commercial units meant to sell for a good dollar price. They'd tried something like that in my neighborhood but had the bad luck to do it right before the housing crash way back when I was little, long before we moved to Chicago.

The address I got was for a handsome two floor house, the kind of place in a worse neighborhood might fit three households but here only had one. Trees shaded out the front, black ink impressions in the night, the lights off inside. There was a car in the drive.

Walking up the front porch, the door was half open. It tickled suspicion in me, and I drew on the flame of power inside me until it was a soft roar, my senses picked up, strength drawn forward and ready for trouble. Still I walked slowly, quietly, angling my way through the front door.

The frunchroom had carpet lain down, an old and often used couch sat in front of a tv. Pictures framed on the wall showed foreign saints and holymen, with a tapestry written over with scrawling Arabic text. A beaded curtain seperated the room from the kitchen, and a staircase lead to the next floor.

In the dark I listened, hearing the squeeze of old floorboards under bare feet above, soft breathing coming down from there, and from in here.

I looked for the hidden stranger I knew was lurking, and I saw him by the glint of his gold chain.

He didn't look like a member of the Zamani household. He leaned against the wall at the foot of the stairs, watching with hooded eyes. He was a light skinned black man in a black turtleneck and black blazer, black jeans, with dark gloves. The only color on him was in the thin gold necklace he wore, the gold clip on his earlobe.

And he sat on the sofa too, frowning in thought, and leaned on the wall next to the tv, looking up to the cieling. And stood behind me, beside the door.

And he carried a gun.

"I know you," he had a tired voice, to match his tired eyes, "You're the superhero."

The one who spoke was the one by the stairs.

"Hotspur," he said, gloved hand flexing on the grip of his gun. Even though he was talking to me he kept his eyes on the staircase.

"They call me Sundowner," he said.
>>
The one on the couch stood up, the one by the tv smiled. I didn't like the smile, it was vicious, coyote like. I didn't know what they were. Clones, duplicates, something else. but I was surrounded.

"Javid?" a voice from upstairs, an old man with a thick Persian accent. "Javid?" then something I didn't understand, barefeet fitting into slippers, beginning to shuffle to the stairs.

"I'm looking for the doctor," Sundowner said, "If you want to do this here, I'll have to do for the old man too."

"You were going to do for him anyway," I said. Sundowner, the Sundowner who was talking, smiled the same coyote smile.

"Javid?" the old man called.

"Here or outside, either way," Sundowner loosened his jacket with a roll of his shoulder, "The doctor isn't home."

>here is fine by me
>step outside
>>
>>4717567
>step outside
this vote is about where we're gonna fight him right
>>
>>4717571
well its not to swap business cards I'll say that
>>
>>4717567
>step outside

such a depressing name, sundowner. why not sunriser? how does it even tie into the clones?
>>
>>4717567
>step outside
>>
>>4717578
maybe he specializes in killing old people at night
>>
>>4717611
>>4717578
>>4717571
locked in
>>
"Outside," I said. I didn't want the old man caught in the crossfire.

Sundowner smiled, gesturing with his gun. The copy by the door gestured to the open door. "After you," he said.

Outside on the frost covered grass, I listened to the crunch of his shoes before turning around.

Sundowner popped his tongue in his cheek, looking me over. "That's a nice fit," he said, tugging at the lapel of his coat, "I should get myself a costume. Maybe a mask, but I'm too pretty."

The other Sundowners, his copies or his duplicates, wandered around the yard, casually ambling until they were all around, under the tree, checking under the hedges, looking everywhere but at me.

"What kind of name is Sundowner anyway?" I said, "I can't figure what that's got to do with your powers."

He smiled, rubbing his chin. "See, I had the name before the powers," he said, "You know what a 'sundown town' is?"

I shrugged, it sounded familiar.

"There were these towns back in the day, still are in some places, where traveling black folks are told bu good white folks, 'if you're still here by sundown, there'll be trouble'. A lot of people like to think they were only a thing in the South, but you could find places like that all over. Many a wandering black man went missing on account of sundown in the wrong town. It's a cold story, horror story. Still gets oldheads twitchy."

"So what comes with sundown these days?" he said, "Well these days I guess I do. Sundowner."

The eyes he had spoke of stacked bodies in unmarked graves, lives disappeared into the night.

"Cute story, a killer with a sense of social justice," I said, voice dripping with contempt.

He grinned. "But you know also there's another thing," he said, "Sundowning, when old folks get confused, they see things, don't know who they are or what is what. I guess that..." his image blurred and then three of him stepped away in three separate directions, "...is a good reason for the name."

Shit. There were six of him now.

But something he said, were they all real? I'd only heard the one talk, only heard the one breathe, only seen the one interact with anything physical. So these 'clones' were just illusions. I listened for the scuff of feet, the crunch of frost covered grass, watched for the mist from cold breath on a cold bruising night. But even if there were tells he still moved fast, his copies moving faster, and he had a gun.

He only needed one good shot.

>roll 3 x 1d100+15 dc 80
>>
Rolled 71 + 15 (1d100 + 15)

>>4717697
Only one is real? Phew, I was worried that no matter how well we did here he'd still have a backup clone in the house ready to take a hostage.
>>
Rolled 42 + 15 (1d100 + 15)

>>4717697
check my 100
>>
Rolled 42 + 15 (1d100 + 15)

>>4717697
>>
>>4717701
pass

I'm wondering when the first critfail will happen though
>>
>>4717711
I thought we had critfailed once already? I definitely remember the one crit success. I like how they're rare enough to actually feel special.
>>
>>4717703
>>4717707
no love for the dubs I see
>>
The copies rushed around me in the small backyard. I expanded out my senses, my hearing, my vision, until the thin street light filtered through the trees became enough to light the dark.

A glint of gold on an ear lobe was my warning. I turned in time as the gun shot split the night, missing me but pocking a hole in the tree and splitting my ear drum. The silencer made it hard to know just where the shot had come from, and he didn't stand still long enough for me to check.

"So who are you working for?" I said, lunging to toward the hedges, "Navaja, the Alphanet Gang, someone else?"

The questions weren't for no reason.

"Call me a free agent," he said, "Working by commission."

My ear twitched and I drove for the source of the voice, bursting through a copy sending it coiling away into mist.

"Clever," Sundowner grunted from behind me, the next shot clipping my shoulder. A thin smear of blood and a hot needle through my skin, but it had only been a graze. "So I guess you've figured some of it out."

I turned to the barrel of a gun raised. I lunged to the side, but the copy just smiled, mouthing a 'bang' and miming the recoil. Then the real gunshots opened up and I leapt behind the tree, breathing hard. Sundowner didn't play.

"Dr Zamani's got something doesn't belong to him," he said, "I mean to get it. Figured I'd snatch up his old man, get it back that way. Better than what others have planned. I'm not the only one looking for him."

"My guess is he got that something from you," he said.

I closed my eyes, listening for the crunch of grass.

"So in a way, you're responsible for all of this," he said, "When you cut to the bone of it."

Anger flared the fire inside me, guilt too. He wasn't wrong, but there was nothing right about it either.

"Playing with fire and putting innocent lives on the line, you're cold blooded Hotspur."

For all my guilt I was glad he was a talker. I had his voice, and I had where he was.

I ducked out from under the tree, the gunshot ripping over the top of my head as I dived low, sprinting for the real deal. A copy leapt in the way like it would do some good but it broke apart against my charge as I narrowed in on Sundowner. He brought his pistol up, silver plate glinting in the moon's weak light, a look of alarm behind the sights.

The gun fired a fraction of a second after I knocked the barrel aside by the silencer, bullet splitting twigs from the hedges. My fist walloped Sundowner in the jaw, staggering him back. I grasped his gun hand, jerking it away. He squeezed the trigger in desperation, bullets gouging the lawn, the beat of the gunfire probably waking up the neighborhood. He raised his free arm up to block, grabbing himself behind the ear in a protective stance. He knew boxing, but with my second punch I mixed it up, landing one under his ribs and maybe breaking a couple, then again in the gut until he doubled over retching.
>>
I pulled the gun free from his hand, crumpling it into a fist, dropped the twisted metal on the grass next to him.

"Call it sunrise or sunset, but you're done Sundowner," I said. He held himself on his knees, spitting up.

But then he sprang, a switch knife flicking open in his hand. Pain lanced across my thigh, the deadly point stuck half an inch in before I could catch his hand by the wrist. I ripped his hand back and twisted his arm, his cheeks flaring in pain.

"You should know when you're beat," I said, the pain in my leg alive even as I stood tall over him.

"Shit, you got me," Sundowner said, but to make sure I put a fist in his face, knocking him out cold, hanging limp from my grip.

I dropped him on the cold grass. Blood was starting to seep from my leg. My costume was stab proof around the chest but my arms and legs were a different matter. Sundowner had picked his spot, an inch off from a major artery. Lucky it was shallow. A throb of power and the pain ebbed. I didn't have time to bleed.

Staggering back into the Zamani house, I found the old man in the frunchroom standing in a bath robe. He was an old Persian gentleman, hair bright white on a yellowing brown face, nose so bold it put me in mind of an eagle.

"Javid?" he said, "No, you are the hero, the Hotspur." His English was imprecise but mostly fluent. "You have seen my Javid?"

"No sir," I said, "You should call the police, there's a very dangerous man knocked out on your lawn."

He nodded. "Yes, yes, but my Javid, he is not home."

"Where is he sir?" I said, "His life is in real danger."

The old man shrugged. "Maybe at his office, maybe with his girlfriend," he said, "Nice girl, but not muslima."

"Do you have a number or an address?" I said.

"Yes, yes," he said, taking pencil and paper, scratching one out. He handed it to me. "You'll find my boy?"

"I mean to," I said. Despite the cut on my leg and the graze on my shoulder.

"Good, good," he said, "I call police now."

He shuffled to the kitchen, where a landline was attached to the wall. Retro.

>check the girlfriend's address
>check Zamani's office
>>
>>4717744
>Alphanet
Alphabet
>>
>>4717745
>check the girlfriend's address
>>
>>4717745
>check the girlfriend's address
>>
>>4717745
>check the girlfriend's address
man we're gonna look really stupid if he's just hanging out at his office
>>
>>4717774
We may never recover from that level of embarrassment. I think chances are good he's hiding out at his gf's though, since people after him know his home and office addresses.
>>
>>4717774
>>4717764
>>4717750
locked in
>>
The girlfriend's address was...all the way over the other side of town. My leg throbbed, so did my shoulder. I'd taken Sundowner down but he'd gotten his own in.

Before the cops could show up I booked out of there. I wasn't sure but I might have a warrant out on me after my run in with Agent Penderose.

When I landed near the heart of down town I sat on a ledge, grabbing my thigh, squeezing. Blood dribbled out of the cut but it was starting to scab over. A bit of power had the pain ease up. Then I touched my shoulder, grabbing the bloody graze, squeezing it, sealing it shut. Good, okay. I tried Zamani on his phone but still no answer, so I tried his girlfriend.

I tried a second time, then a third, just looking to reach one of them to leave a warning.

"Hello," a man's voice said, "You're looking for Shelley? I'm afraid she's tied up right now."

I knew the voice. I knew it.

Houndmaster.

"Nice and tight, she isn't going no place. So if this is the thieving piece of shit muzzie, I'll give you one chance to save her life. You bring the stone back to her place, and I'll let her go. But you, kid, sorry to say but your number is up."

I listened, stone cold with rage.

>I'll be right over
>hang up, try to find Dr Zamani first
>>
>>4717840
>hang up, try to find Dr Zamani first
Damn, of course that would happen
>>
>>4717840
>hang up, try to find Dr Zamani first

dang where all these mercs coming from
tell houndmaster he has some nerve taking to us like that after our last encounter
>>
>>4717840
>hang up, try to find Dr Zamani first
Fuck
>>
>>4717849
I don't think pissing him off would go well for the hostage
>>
something came up, so I'll be back tomorrow

vote stays open until I do
>>
>>4717840
>hang up, try to find Dr Zamani first
>>
He thinks he’s talking to the doctor, but last time I checked we beat his ass pretty badly in our last fight, if he knew it was us...

Better to just hang up, as much as I love the idea of scaring him chances are he’d just get more prepared, and even if he got scared he’d just endanger the hostage more.

I hope we crit against him again though, it’d be hilarious if we actually get him hesitant to fight us in the future
>>
>>4717840
>I'll be right over
Yeah actually fuck this guy, I bet he's still scared shitless of us.
>>
>>4717840
>I’ll be right over
Oh shit I just realized the hang up and say nothing option doesn’t mean we still head right over and take him down. I don’t want to leave him alone with a hostage any longer than we have to
>>
>>4717840
>I'll be right over
Use that same spooky monotone voice we used last time we kicked his ass. Tell him we'll tear him apart if a hair on her head is harmed.
>>
>>4717844
>>4717849
>>4717854
>>4717988
locked in
>>
I hung up the phone without saying a word. The last thing I needed to do was to tip off a sadist like Houndmaster.

But he'd answered a question for me. Dr Zamani was most likely at his office. Good, I wasn't far from the University. As much as I was worried about the hostage, I was as worried about Zamani and the stone.

Running to the edge of the building, my body still aching from my wounds, I leapt out into the night, stars spiralling around me as I flung myself across the city toward the segregated little town called the University of Chicago.

Dr Zamani's office was in Eckhart Hall, a red roofed building in a big gothic style on the University campus. It housed the mathematics department, his haunting ground. Winter had stripped the trees outside and lain frost across the windows, icicles beginning to build along the sills. Winter had left the ground barren, and as night advanced a light snow began to fall, flecks of white drifting through the sky.

It looks like we'd be having a white christmas, and the University was suitable decorated, with fairy lights and tinsel strewn around. Couldn't call it a merry one, not for Dr Zamani at least.

I crouched in my best impression of a gargoyle on the medieval style slats of the Eckhart Hall roof, peering down on the barren grounds of the college campus.

Empty, save for a pair of motorcycles, bright white and parked out the front.

Stunt Crew MC. I could only believe they were here for one thing.

Going through the front door was a waste of time. I think I remembered where Zamani's office was. I shimmied down the side of the building, gripping on sills and railings until I had the right window. A power driven kick stoved it in with a smash of glass, myself and the winter chill bursting into a cramped office.

A man broke away from a woman sitting on his deck, a tight scream of shock from both of them, her dress pushed up her hips, his jeans half open, a knocked over bottle of wine hissing out white bubbles into the carpet. She pulled the top of her dress up while he slapped his hands over his crotch. A Chinese couple.

Not Dr Zamani.

"I'm looking for Javid Zamani," I growled, trying to mask my embarrasment with affected grit.

They both pointed to the wall. One over.

"Thanks," I said, hurrying out of the room into the hallway. Christmas cards were hung up down the hall as decorations along with twinkling lights.

I wasn't alone.

A pair of bikers came down the other way. Bikers with shotguns, bikers I knew.

Sullivan had let the peroxide fade out of his hair, had growin it long into looping brown curls. Baby Girl on the other hand had chopped her hair off and dyed it blonde. But I knew them in an instant.

And they knew me.

"Hotspur," Sullivan said, but he didn't raise up his gun, not right away, "Best you walk the other way."

"I was thinking the same to you," I said, "Shouldn't you two be on the run?"
>>
"There's no running from the Midwest Cartel," Sullivan said, "We got a shot to save our lives though. Get back the package from the doctor, and we earn Navaja's clemency."

"Then you can see where we have a problem," I said.

Baby Girl cocked her shotgun. "Indeed we do," said Sullivan.

>fine then, let's dance
>maybe there's another way
>>
>>4718875
>maybe there's another way
And here I thought you guys were smart. You're already persona non grata with Navaja for life after the shit we pulled. I've made contact with the source who is gonna tell me where your friends are. And this is just one more thing getting in the way of me finally holding up my end of the bargain.
>>
>>4718875
>fine then, let's dance
>>
>>4718875
>>maybe there's another way
Cartels don't forgive & forget. The only way she doesn't take your heads is if she isn't able to.
>>
>>4718875
>maybe there's another way


Yeah I'm also pretty sus about them getting clemency. Why does Nav even want the package? Did Ixion just put a billion dollar bounty on it or something?
>>
>>4718989
>>4718955
>>4718901
locked in
>>
I bet Navaja is gonna be in deep shit if she fails yet again to get the stone, might be worth bringing up
>>
"Maybe there's another way," I said.

"One that doesn't get our heads cut off?" Baby Girl said.

"If you think getting the stone with Navaja will square things with her, you might not be thinking things through," I said, "But you play ball with me, and I'll get you your friends back. I've contacted my source who can locate them."

"You been dragging your feet on that score, Spur," Sullivan said.

"I've had a lot on my plate," I said, "Like a bunch of assholes trying to hunt down an innocent scientist."

Sullivan grinned. "Fair," said Baby Girl, slinging her shotgun on her shoulder.

"Now I don't want to break your jaw or give your girl another concussion," I said, "And you don't want to pepper me with that birdshot. You know it won't end well for you, we've danced that tune enough times by now."

"So what's the play?" Sullivan said, "Navaja expects something. She's put a call out on Dr Zamani. Unless you mean to help us run and hide, but that takes time."

"I can help you hide," I said, "Maybe. As for Navaja, I'll figure that out. But if we throw down now you know how that will go."

"Maybe it goes the other way this time," Baby Girl said, but I could tell she didn't believe it. With the shotgun or the sword on her hip, either way I was a paygrade above these guys now. Didn't make them harmless, but the odds were in my favor.

But Sullivan nodded. "Shit you just had to show up right as we find a get out of jail card," he said, "Okay, we do it your way Hotspur. Between you and Navaja's mercy I figure you're the safer bet."

"Let me go in and talk to Dr Zamani," I said, "Then we'll figure this out."

I moved to the door, the outlaws watching. I didn't trust them exactly, but I think I understood them now. They weren't suicidal, and I knew they kept their word.

I opened the door.

And two prongs struck my chest with an electric crackle.

Dr Zamani's teeth clenched behind a taser, the wire hissing, but the fabric of my jacket was too dense for it to penetrate. When he saw it was me though, he lowered the taser with the decency to look embarassed.

In a word he looked like shit. The pits under his eyes were dark and ghoulish, his face unshaved with wiry, patchy black hairs. His clothes were dirty. There was a sleeping bag behind his desk in the cramped little office, papers mixed with junk food packets. He must have been camping out in his office since the fire.

"I told you to be careful Dr Zamani," I said.

"Hotspur," he said, then glanced over my shoulder to the doorway, "I was, I am. It wasn't...they called it an electrical fire but...there was a dead janitor, a custodian, missing uniform. And the stone, lucky I had it but...They have called, they have e-mailed, thy have left letters. They know me."

He was barely coherent. He picked at some sugary treat on his desk, scarfing it down, then slurped from a thermos. He was jittery, uncoordinated.
>>
"Are they going to kill me, these boogeymen?" he said. He knocked over his sphinx paperweight as he opened up his bag. He didn't notice, just pulled out the stone in a trembling hand. "Here...take it..." he said, "I don't want...want to be involved with this."

I took it from his trembling hand in my steady one, slipped it into my jacket's inner pocket.

"Did your friends at Fermi discover anything?" I asked.

The sound Zamani made was either a laugh or a sob.

"I did not used to believe in evil," he said, teeth clenched in a tired face. "Only energy, but what's inside the energy? What lives inside a particle? I do not know, I do not know anything." He grabbed his framed phD off the wall, then dropped it in the paper bin. He looked at me as if I might understand. "I can't hold onto it," he said, "I'm a coward. But someone has to, you can't let them have it."

"I won't," I said.

Then my phone buzzed. Dr Zamani's girlfriend.

I answered.

"Rude!" Houndmaster said, "Hanging up mid-conversation. Now hold on, I have someone else on the line."

Then whimpering came over. "J-Javid," a woman's voice, "He...he's..."

But before she could say more the voice cut back to Houndmaster.

"Me and Shelley have been having a grand ol' time," he said, "Just killing the hours waiting for you. Now are you going to be a man and bring me the package? There's no rush, but you should know I'm enjoying myself a bit too much here. God this is a real dynamite gal you've got!"

"Javid!" her distant scream cut off with a hard crunching blow.

"Now quit dragging your feet," he said, "I'm waiting."

I looked to Javid, who sat on his desk with his face in his hands, trembling. He wasn't built for these things.

>I'll be right over
>hang up, let Houndmaster think he was talking to Dr Zamani
>>
>>4719048
>I'll be right over
>>
>>4719048
>I'll be right over
>>
>>4719094
>>4719055
locked in
>>
Can't wait to fuck houndmaster up. He should hope his prosthetics come off easily, they're all getting torn off either way.
>>
"I'll be right over," I said into the phone.

There was a dragged out silence, followed by a soft 'fuck', then he hanged up.

I looked to Dr Zamani, sitting on his desk. "A very bad man has your girlfriend hostage," I said, "I'll do what I can to rescue her."

"Shelley?" he said. I could tell I'd just made a bad night worse. Let's hope I could stop it from becoming a night of horrors.

"There was a hitman at your dad's trying to do the same thing," I said, "I dealt with him, your dad is safe. I'll do the same for your girlfriend, now what I want you to do is get yourself somewhere safe. I have a couple of...friends outside. They can help protect you until morning. Now call Ms Grant, she can arrange a safe house."

"I'm coming with you to Shelley's," he said.

I shook my head. "No, you aren't. I move faster alone and you'll just get in the way. Call Ms Grant."

"Madeline," he said, reaching for his phone. While he did that I stepped outside, where Sullivan and Baby Girl were waiting.

"Your night's just getting flipped upside down," I said, "I'm going to need the two of you to run protection for the professor."

"Bodyguarding a geek, you're asking a lot of favors, Spur," Sullivan said.

"Are you in a position to say no?" I said. Sullivan sucked a tooth, then shook his head. "Now you're going to meet up with someone, the DSA you kidnapped, she's going to help you all out."

"Oh we're bound to be her favoroite people," Baby Girl mocked.

"She'll see the sense in helping you, whatever your history," I said, "I can't come with, and I can't hang around, so I need to trust you here. Trust I have your word."

I held out my hand.

Sullivan looked at it, then with a pained look grabbed it.

"Word is all an outlaw has," he said, "You got mine on this, for tonight."

"Sully has my proxy," Baby Girl said.

It would have to do, I was in a hurry and had to book.

I left Dr Zamani with them, a nervous lamb guarded by wolves. I ran for the window, crashing my way out, glass and frame splintering around me as I cannon balled out of Eckhart Hall.

Snow was falling in gentle flurries, with a cold rain starting to drizzle through it. A cute picture in doors, in the warmth of a home, a bad night to be out. Snow melted on my shoulders as rain soaked into my suit, a bone biting chill setting through that only my power kept from slowing me down.

Shelley lived in an apartment downtown, near the Loop. One of those highrise buildings that could fit a thousand or more lives inside, all stacked on top of each other, pressed in by buildings much the same, a cramped condition of humanity and city living which was some how spun as a luxury. I searched for it among the city lights, buildings half dark from people put to bed, others lit up from lives being lived. The street lights beneath my feet became a glowing carpet of light as I dived from building to building, ignoring the chill.
>>
The festive season was in swing, though Christmas was still far away. Some buildins had set their lights to red and green to paint a festive picture on the skyline, banners declaring holiday spirits were draped from banner poles. Barren trees were strewn with twinkling lights to make light in the dark and electric life in the dead of winter. Spruce trees festoned with lights stood tall in park spaces and on boulevards.

People were out even this weather, carols and other Christmas tunes blasting over speakers, with carolers busking for the foot traffic.

For Christmas, Chicago went hard.

But it barely registered as I flicked from building to building, my purpose set, destination urning in front of me. I checked the address, the apartment number, counted the floors and the windows, looking for light.

But when I found it I saw darkness, a black pit in the side of the building. The riot of noise from the city benaeth my feet died away as I stared at the black hole.

It was a long jump.

I stepped back, then running, lunged from the roof.

Glass broke around me, breaking into the darkness, breaking into silence.

The room was dark. The lights cut out.

I listened.

I heard nothing but the hum of the fridge.

Then a crack of light to see by. The apartment door just opened, the chain broken, the lock busted out. Dark glass on the carpet, and something else. Stains. I brushed my fingers along the tracks, fingers coming up dry. I sniffed, drawing in with a hound dog sensitivity. Blood.

My heart struggled to beat. The stains made a trail.

I traced the carpet with my hand, stroked it. I pulled up something, a clump of hair, long and curling, torn straight from a scalp, strands glued together with dried blood. I looked up to where the trail lead.

An open door leading to greater darkness.

A bedroom.

I rose from a crouch, willing my heart to beat, willing myself to breathe. I stepped for the doorway, senses high in case of ambush. But I heard nothing, nothing. But the smell....the smell...

I reached for a light switch, flicked it on.

And the breath went out of me as my heart dropped.

Large blue eyes stared from an ivory face, framed by locks of curling chestnut hair. A beautiful face, perfect save the red crust running down from her nose. Staring. Staring at nothing but a last moment of horror, her lips slackened, eyes gleaming. Arms outstretched to either side, tied to the headboard of her bed. Naked, with blood all down her perfect pale body, with what had been cut out of her pooled between her legs.

Shelley.
>>
I had watched Jude gut a deer over Thanksgiving.

Bile rose in my throat. I flicked off the light, hand to my mask as I swallowed back vomit, stumbling out of the bedroom.

My phone buzzed.

"Sorry for standing you up Hotspur," Houndmaster's voice cracked with malice, rage and fear, "But I left you a little present, its the giving season after all. Afraid I made a little use of it first, but I'm sure you can forgive me."

"You're a fucking coward."

He laughed.

"Don't worry, I got plans for you," he said, "You and anyone else who gives a shit about you. I'll make what I did to Miss Shelley there look like a dream. I owe you after all, for my drones."

No," I spat, "Not for the drones. For scaring you. I scare you. And you aren't used to that are you? You're used to being the scary thing, the demon in the night."

He was silent on the other end. "The night is made for demons," he said, "You're walking in our world now. Now you know what that means."

"I walk with a fire," the words were strange and not all my own.

He was silent, I could hear his rage and fear in his heavy breathing.

"We'll settle this, you and me, soon enough," he said, then hanged up.

Coward, I thought again. Coward. Hot rage and a sickness grasped my chest. Hot tears burning my eyes. I should have come when he'd first called. I shouldn't have trusted a creature like him to wait. I shouldn't have lost sight of...of an innocent woman in danger. My mind so fixed on the stone.

I'd brought them into this. Dr Zamani, his family, his friends. Houndmaster had killed her, but I'd put her in his sights.

I...I...

I fell to my knees, choking back a sob.

How could I...how arrogant was I...

The smell of her came from the darkness. I pawed at the carpet, shivering. I couldn't stand to look back, to face her.

"I'm sorry," I said, and how empty it sounded, how childish. I struggled to stand, slumped down on the couch in the dark. I stared at the phone.

>call Zamani and tell him what had happened
>call the police
>call home
>don't call anyone, just leave
>>
>>4719192
Hunt down Houndmaster immediately, let's finish this on our terms.
>>
(someone was likely to die tonight. if you'd gone to Zamani's office first he'd have recieved a call from both Sundowner and Houndmaster, and you'd have picked who to rescue, Shelley or Zamani's dad. If you'd gone to rescue Shelley instead of looking for Dr Zamani, Sullivan and Baby Girl would have walked away with his head, possibly the stone. Unfair, but that was the plan. You can't always rescue everyone, or know every variable)
>>
>>4719197
Yeah I figured as much. Still hurts though. I think the logic about going for Zamani first was that if we had the stone our chances of saving Shelley would have improved.
>>
>>4719186
>There was a dragged out silence, followed by a soft 'fuck', then he hanged up.
hahahaha I love it

also fuck

>>4719197
Thanks for letting us know we didn't monumentally fuck up

>call Zamani and tell him what had happened

honestly zamani should have returned our texts asking how he was before it ever got to this point

don't say that to him though

we should also really follow up on what we're doing for Sullivan, we've been asking a lot from him with nothing on our end to make up for it
>>
>>4719197
That's fair, I figured when the Dr was actually in his office that it might be something like that. Shame though, and we got the stone back, but what did we even learn about it!? Nothing beyond it being dangerous to let the enemies have. Was hoping it was benign and we could just hand it to the enemies to fret over without worry of them getting anything out of it, but instead we got all the danger of them wanting it from us with no clue how to benefit from it ourselves!
>>
>>4719219
I agree about Sullivan, we gotta do more to ensure he feels he can trust us, though I feel Misfit's framing takes priority, but I wish we could somehow take care of both at the same time
>>
>>4719223
We need Sundowner's power but buffed for actual clones, so we can do the 50 things at once we need to
>>
>>4719197
would he have killed shelley if we hadn't spoken on the phone?
>>
don't forget to vote on an option

>>4719230
not in the same way
>>
>>4719192
>call Zamani and tell him what had happened
Hound master dies tonight.
>>
>>4719239
>>4719219
>>4719196
calling Zamani then hunting for Houndmaster
>>
I stared at it, time outside my thinking.

Then I reached down and found a number.

It took a second before he answered.

"Hotspur," Zamani's voice tight, nervous.

I tried to speak but only a soft noise came out.

"Hotspur, is everything, what happened? Is Shelley...?"

"I..." I managed. Just sounding the visible broke the spell, the rest stumbling out. "I'm sorry Dr Zamani...Javid. I was...I was too late. He..."

"What do you mean too late?" he said, "What do you mean? Hotspur, what does that mean, what do you mean? Hotspur."

"She...I'm sorry," I said, "I'm really, really s-sorry."

I couldn't hear the silence on the other end through my own sobbing. How pathetic I was. Without saying anything he hung up. I sobbed down at the light of the phone screen.

Rain and snow swept in through the shattered window, the howl of the wind crying through. I pulled up my goggles to rub at my eyes, forcing back the tears, forcing them back until they became hot, hot, angry tears, as rage swallowed up my horror and misery.

Houndmaster.

Rage like I'd rarely felt took hold. My teeth grit in a shaking jaw, all of me quivering, glaring through hot tears at nothing.

Houndmaster.

I'll kill him.

I staggered to the broken in window, glass crunching under my feet, snow whirling by my shoulders as rain seeped into the carpet.

I looked down on the sprawl of the city, the festive lights twinkling across the cold night.

Houndmaster.

He was down there somewhere. Somewhere in the city. How far could he have gotten?

My rage grew into a strange kind of calm, a focused concentration of hate.

I had to find him. I had to end him. Tonight.

But the city was so large, with so many places he could be.

>roll 3 x 1d100 dc 95
>>
Rolled 85 (1d100)

>>4719292
YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE
>>
Rolled 94 (1d100)

>>4719292
Expand our senses further than we ever have before. Get that +10 bonus
>>
>>4719297
so close

>>4719303
oof so close!
>>
>>4719304
haha fuck, come on we gotta get somethin for that roll. take a sanity hit for that +1
>>
Rolled 77 (1d100)

>>4719292
100 incoming, prepare your bungholes
>>
>>4719320
no dice

that's a fail
>>
>>4719303
The sheer suffering.
Also you guys are straight-up retards, why did you reveal ourselves to Houndmaster? How did that serve us in any way?
>>
I leapt downto the street, landing hard on the cement. The shock barely registered.

Chicago is the third largest city in America by population, with a combined metro population bordering on ten million, but I was determined not to let him slip away.

I searched the alleys around Shelley's building, the dumpsters and the car park. I expanded out my senses, hoping to track him by scent if need be, listening for the distinctive gait of a man with prosthetic legs. But all my expanded senses did was draw in the chaos of the city down on my head, the bright Christmas lights burning, the car horns bleating into my ear drums, the sound of carolers rising into a wail as the stink of human life invaded my nostrils.

I ducked my head, eyes squeezed shut, stumbling down an alley more powered by anger and hate than any reason.

Houndmaster was a black ops warrior, with years of experience. He knew how to slip away into the night. Darkness was his friend.

But I carried a fire, and I was determined. For a moment I thought I caught his scent, heading up a boulevard with its share of merry-goers, couples strolling along admiring the brightly lit trees from under umbrellas. A few gasped in surprise as I stumbled through, hunting the Houndmaster.

"It's the superhero," the girl's voice was a nail in my ear. I had to close off my powered senses.

I came to the foot of a spruce tree, covered in golden light, an angel with a trumpet topping its peak.

The scent faded and I slumped, chest heaving under the light of the tree, the sound of 'Silent Night' drifting past from a chrous of elderly volunteers on the far side of the park.

"Are you okay Hotspur?" a kid asked.

I looked up into the face of a boy maybe eight years old, hand held by his mother who looked worried under an umbrella. I had no strength to answer.

"Merry Christmas," the boy said.

"Merry Christmas," I croaked, forcing myself onto my feet.

Houndmaster was gone into the night, swept up by the bone bruising hawk wind. The question I was left with now was only how he'd reveal himself to me, and what further ugliness and horror he would unleash when he did.

The sickness of grief took me home. I didn't even think to change out of my costume, but snuck in through the bedroom window, stripping off in the dark.

The bullet wound in my shoulder had closed, leaving a ridge of scar tissue on my flesh. The same had happened to the knife wound on my thigh. Closed up, white scars a momento of my dance with Sundowner.

A mew at the window and I saw the mangy cat sitting on the fire escape, shivering in the wet snow. Winter had been hard on the little cat and it was skinnier than ever, its fur matted in ugly patches. It clawed at the glass in faint hope.

I barely had the strength to let the cat inside.
>>
I lay on the bed, felt the small cat curl up against my warmth in the bed. I lay unsleeping, staring up at nothing, the image of Shelley engraved behind my sight, his threats playing over in my memory.

Shelley became Kay, became Ivy, became Ayesha. Became Ms Grant and Misfit. All my friends took her place, then my Dad, even my Mom.

I stared up at nothing, until finally sleep came, and as it took me the only sound I heard was the pur of the cat against me.
>>
see you guys tomorrow
>>
>>4719350
Christ
The way you make us feel the frustration too
God damn
Okay guys, the feds will pin the murder of Shelly on Hotspur. What do we do
>>
>>4719350
Thanks for running!

Looks like we discovered accelerated healing at least. I never did expect to catch Houndmaster, too much his area of expertise plus he knew we'd be chasing him mad. Would have felt weird if we did.
>>
And this is why I think degrees of success or failure are good things for any dice reliant quest. 1 point away from a near impossible DC and the result seems like it is the same as if we hadn't rolled above a 50. Would have been better if failing by 1 had lead us in the right direction, maybe prompted a second more reasonable DC or having to choose a smart correct prompt.

Oh well, maybe this will at least harden Hotspur the fuck up and make him realize sometimes you have to kill if you want to protect. If we had ended hound-man after our 1st fight, this chick might very well have lived.
>>
>>4719524
I dunno man a fail is a fail. Yeah it sucks to fall short by only one, but we didn't meet the DC so that's how it is. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
>>
>>4719695
idk I kinda agree with anon
kinda sucks that a minor failure (off by 1) is treated the same as a major failure (off by like 80 or something)
of course maybe the QM really DID treat this differently

if they didn't, eh what can you do
now hotspur will learn a valuable lesson so at least this leads to character development and actual stakes
>>
>>4719524
Nah it was competely fair, it was evident that the QM didn't really plan or thought we'd immediately try to chase him down. The fact he gave us a chance at all was nice of him
>inb4 muh railroading fags start screeching
>>
>>4719524
I can understand the frustration, but there's not really a point in having a set DC if it's not followed. And the chances of us finding one specific person in a huge city deserved to be very small.
It does look like we might be going the Punisher route.
>>
Things we know about Houndmaster:
Military background
Uses advanced military drone tech and prosthetics, has connections with whoever is capable of making those
Either contracts for the cartel or Ixion
Probably needed facial reconstruction surgery after our most recent fight
Doesn't seem to be a para human
Modis operandi is killing with a Bowie knife, might even be a habit from before the prosthetics and drones
Anything else?
>>
>>4719994
is our uncles brother
>>
>>4720074
I doubt that, but Uncle Karl could be a lead if they intend to use him for the same sort of thing.
>>
>>4720074
Houndmaster isn't Uncle Karl
>>
It had been days since and I'd barely moved. My eyes were set to the screen of a dead tv.

I was aware I'd had breakfast but I couldn't remember the taste or what it was. Dad talked but I didn't really listen. Ms Flores was in the kitchen wearing one of his Pistons jerseys.

It was another week of school then Christmas break, straight through to the New Year. The kind of thing I'd have been excited about last year. Now I approached it with dulled senses. Weary, just wondering what fresh horror the new year would bring.

I'd kept the stone out of their hands. I still wasn't sure who 'they' were. Ixion, the government, the cartel, someone else altogether. All it had cost was the life of an innocent woman, dying in a way they didn't have words for.

No, there was a word. Satanic. It was melodramatic but it fit. Her death had been satanic, a devil's sadism. But there were no devils, just men. There was evil in the world and it wore a human face.

And the worst thing was her death stopped nothing. It didn't make the papers or the news, the social media updates, nothing. As if it hadn't happened. Erased. It troubled me as much as her murder itself. As if it had been swallowed by the city.

Covered up by whoever held Houndmaster's leash.

I was too tired for rage.

Ms Grant had left me a text asking to meet, to talk about what had happened. Kay had sent me a text too, wanting to hook up. So far I'd left them both unanswered.

But I saw Dad frown when he came near me. He chalked it up to being moody teen, or maybe he thought it was some kind of seasonal blues, but he was giving me my space. For now. Caught up in a new relationship, going out, I saw the guilt there, as if he felt he was failing me somehow.

He didn't need to know. Knowing put him in Houndmaster's sights. Him, Ms Flores, everyone else. It was enough to make me choke with guilt.

How many more people would I put in danger because I was playing hero? How many more would die?

>answer Ms Grant's texts
>answer Kay's texts
>ignore them both for now
>>
>>4720550
>answer Ms Grant's texts
We can't quit now. Others could die while we're sitting here brooding.
>>
>>4720550
>answer Ms Grant's texts
>>
>>4720550
>answer Ms Grant's texts
>>
>>4720552
>>4720571
>>4720579
locked in
>>
I can't quit. I couldn't sit and brood. Not while there were still men like Houndmaster out there.

I opened Ms Grant's message. It was from yesterday.

Grant - We need to meet ASAP.

I typed out a reply, clipped and to the point.

Me - Where. When.

It didn't take long before she sent a response.

Grant - Tonight. 8PM. Wrigley Field.

I looked outside. It was getting dark and snowy. I typed back my reply.

Me - Go Cubs, Go.

"Where are you going?" Dad asked as I got up, heading for the door.

"Just over to Kay's for some homework," I said, "I shouldn't be out too late." I figured it was hard to argue with doing my homework when my teacher was sitting at the kitchen table.

"Homework...with the door open," he said. I managed to smile. "Be careful out there with the black ice. It's a killer."

"Sure Dad," I said, "Ms Flores. Maybe you guys should keep the door open." Ms Flores blushed, turning her attention to the dishes in the sink. Dad just looked up and away, scratching his neck. They were worse than me and Kay, it was embarassing.

But I was happy for him too. Dad needed the win.

I took myself over to the hideout, changing into my costume. I kept the stone in the inner breast pocket, not trusting it with anyone else or having it out of sight, not after what had happened to Dr Zamani's loved ones. If anyone was going to be in danger it would be me and me alone. I could handle Danger. I liked it.

From there it was across the city, leaping great bounds. But it lacked the usual joy as I whistled through the sky, the fire dull inside me, numb to the freeing sensation of breaking through gravity to sail across the night. Everything had lost its flavor since that night.

Wrigley Field was an old school ballpark that had become too historic to change. 'Wrigley Field - Home of Chicago Cubs' declared the sign out the front. It was practically abandoned in mid-winter, snow building up against its side to melt and freeze across the sidewalk, turning into a thick dark slush in the gutters.

Dad didn't care for baseball and to be honest neither did I, but it was a hallmark of Chicago and I could respect the culture. Still, I wasn't here for anything like that. I was looking for Ms Grant, who stood in a windswept coat near the entrance, her dark hair pulled back from her face in a tight bun. I landed on the marquee above her.

"You wanted to talk?" I said.

She frowned up at me. I slid down the sign to drop in front of her.

"We need to talk," she said, "About Saturday night. About giving my number to the man who kidnapped me."

"Sullivan and Baby Girl," I said.

"They belong in prison. You know he killed a deputy when he kidnapped me, right? And then he turned me over to the Outfit for execution?"

I could understand she'd be sore about that.

"Did you help them out?" I asked.

Her teeth clenched together in a frustrated grimace. "Yes," she said, "But it was a close thing. I've arranged for a safe house."
>>
"Thank you," I said.

"You are so close Hotspur, so close to being a criminal yourself," she said, "I heard about your fight with Semper Fi. The DPA is currently looking for a judge to sign a warrant for your arrest and its taken every political favor I have to quash it. Obstruction of justice, aiding and abetting a fugitive, assaulting a law enforcement officer. It's only a matter of time before Director Miscampbell gets the signature he needs."

"I'm shocked I don't have a couple of warrants already," I said, grim humor to fit my grim mood.

"You can thank me," she said, "By filling me in. What happened? I know about the hitman at the Zamani residence. The Weeknd looking cat."

"Sundowner," I said.

"He escaped police custody by the way, split himself into ten copies and had the cops chasing his illusions all over the city. The DPA are using his escape as ammunition, saying the police 'aren't capable of handling para-freak criminals'. Maybe they aren't wrong."

Sundowner didn't strike me as the type to hold a grudge like Houndmaster, but I kept it in mind.

"Baby Girl and Sullivan were on their way to take out your friend Javid Zamani," I said.

"This is connected to the fire at Fermilab," she said, not a question but a certainty. I nodded. "And the thing you needed him to look into." I nodded again. "Now tell me what happened to Shelley Cybulski. He tried telling me something but he was too choked up. Murder, I'm guessing."

Murder was putting it gently. Murder, torture, who knew what else. There was nothing I put past Houndmaster.

"Her killer is still on the loose," I said, "Protected by someone powerful. Powerful enough to cover his tracks. And you should know...he might come for you."

Ms Grant smiled, tugging back her coat to show a gun in a shoulder holster. "He's not the only one."

I admired her confidence, but worried she underestimated the threat. "He's dangerous Ms Grant...Madeline. More dangerous than anyone else you've run against."

"When I find him, I plan to kill him."

Alarm lit her eyes. "We made a deal, Hotspur," she said, "No killing. You aren't a cop, you aren't protected by the state, and even if you were it would still be illegal. You start killing criminals and you'll have the whole country turned against you, and there's no legal argument I can make to protect you. There's no self-defense case to be made when you put on a costume and go looking for a fight."
>>
"You don't know this man, Madeline," I said, "He isn't a gangbanger, or even another a hitman. It's not just the killing he enjoys, its the hurting. He's more like a paid for serial killer."

"So we catch him, lock him up, and throw away the key," she said, an adamant set to her chin. "Believe me Hotspur, with everything I've seen in my job there's people I think don't deserve to exist, but we aren't a grand jury, we can't be outlaws and win the fights that really matter. I'm telling you this so you understand, if you start killing people, you lose my support. Understand?"

I understood, but I couldn't help feel she didn't understand me.

>give her my word I won't kill Houndmaster (true)
>give her my word I won't kill Houndmaster (lie)
>accept her terms generally, but insist Houndmaster is an exception
>>
>>4720706
>accept her terms generally, but insist Houndmaster is an exception
In a perfect system, this man would already be in jail. His connections make him immune to the justice system.
>>
>>4720706
>give her my word I won't kill Houndmaster (true)
I mean we can still break a few arms and legs if it comes to it
>>
>>4720706
I chose the mission, the stone, and Zamani over an innocent woman's life. What am I supposed to do with that? What would you have done? I could have killed him once, I beat the shit out of him instead while he tried to slice me open with a bowie knife like he did Shelley. Now he threatens to do the same to the people I love. Penderose is close to figuring out who I am. How do you think that feels?
>>
>>4720706
>give her my word I won't kill Houndmaster (true)
I was on the fence about my actual vote here, but I've decided that Eric shouldn't be a killer. It'd be too easy to abandon morals. What would his mother think? I do think we need to vent to her so my write-in stands. Eric is clearly at a breaking point. Maybe stress the need for more allies, Shelley died because we were working alone and the baddies weren't.
>>
>>4720725
>>4720813
locked in and will include the write-in dialogue
>>
My throat tightened on hot acid. My hands gripped into fists.

"You don't know what you're asking," I said, "You don't understand. I chose the mission, the stone, I chose Dr Zamani over an innocent woman's life. What am I supposed to do with that? What would you have done? I had a chance to kill him once, I beat the shit out of him instead while he tried to slice me open with a bowie knife, just like he did to Shelley. Now he's threatening to do the same to people I love. My friends, my family, even you Ms Grant."

"And on top of it all Agent Penderose is close to figuring out who I really am. How do you think that feels? What do you think I'm supposed to do?"

She stared at me, then folded up the wrist of her coat. "Look at something," she said. She traced marks on her wrist, white bumps pale against her dark skin. "Do you remember how we met?" I nodded, "See these? They're from when the Outfit had me cuffed and strung up, hanging from my wrists. They beat me, stripped me, they electrocuted me. I don't want to know what else they were going to do to me before they killed me."

"I understand fully how you feel, how Shelley must have felt right up until the last moment. I got lucky, you saved my life, but you've got to know kid, you can't save everyone, and you can't blame yourself for the sick things other people choose to do. You didn't put the knife in Houndmaster's hand, and you didn't send him to Shelley's apartment. It was bad luck is all."

"I could have gone to her first," I said.

"Yeah, then Javid could have been killed, or his father. You said yourself they had killers coming for them, both of which you stopped. You saved two lives that night, don't forget it just because you didn't save three."

"Will that comfort her parents, or Javid?" I said.

"You can't save everyone Hotspur," she said, "And killing Houndmaster might not have stopped a different killer showing up at her door. Don't make his evil your fault."

"You didn't see how she died," I said.

The cold wind blew down from the lake.

My voice cracked raw. "I won't kill him," I said, "Even if he deserves to die."

Relief cleared her face, her hand went to my shoulder. "I know," she said, "And I know it isn't easy. But if we want to beat the real evil, we need to do better than killing. We need to dismantle their systems, their organizations. We can't just cut off their head, we need to work to make sure whoever steps up next will be weaker than the people who came before, until we can get rid of them for good. This is a war, not a battle, and we need a grand strategy."

"The Cartel, the Outfit, Ixion and whoever else," she said, "We need to take them down as a group, not just one or two of them. And I need you, and what you can do, to do it."

The great cause, I thought. The real fight. It burned in Ms Grants eyes with a zealous fire.
>>
"Sullivan and Baby Girl," I said, "If you can make a deal with them, they can help you take down the Midwest Cartel. They can name the middle managers who organized the robbery, set them against the Russians. Sweeten the deal they might even give you names in the Outfit. As I figure they're shit out of other options."

"They told me you promised to help find their missing friends," she said.

"I will, I'm working on it. I have a lead."

"And Misfit, the Shark, the para-freak crackdown," she said, "I'm doing what I can but its outside my skillset. The DPA are becoming a law unto themselves, and so many anti-para social groups are cropping up."

"I have an idea about that as well," I said, "I'd bet money Semper Fi is the real murderer, framing Misfit on behalf of the DPA." Her eyes sparked at that, a finger to her chin in thought.

Before we parted ways Ms Grant took my old phone and swapped it out for a new one, with a new number for me to call her on. Just to be safe. If Houndmaster had the old number he could potentially track me down. It was shrewd thinking on her part, we couldn't take any chances.

There was little left to talk about now, and I wasn't in the mood for talking anyway. She'd gotten the promise out of me she wanted. I'd spare Houndmaster's life. But before I left I looked back.

"And Ms Grant?" I said. She looked up from her phone, "Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas Hotspur," she said as I launched up into the howling winter night, her words half swallowed by the whipping winds.
>>
taking a short break but will be back
>>
It was Christmas. The first Christmas without Mom.

Mom had never been a religious person, but she had been festive, particularly around Christmas time. She'd enjoyed putting up a tree, decorating it with ornaments the more home made and terrible the better. She'd garland the living room with tinsel and set mistletoe above every doorway, playfully kissing Dad, and giving me a peck on the cheek any time she'd catch us standing under it.

That was until last Christmas, where she was too sick to do much, but had instead instructed me on what to put up, how to do it, smiling all the while as the general in her rest commanded her little soldier. The gifts we'd gathered she tenderly unwrapped, cherishing each fold as if she already knew this Christmas would be her last. Taking each gift as if they were worth more than the few bucks spent on them, hand writing thank yous to everyone who sent her something. Warm and happy, holding onto her joy even in the grips of her painful battle against the cancer chewing up her insides.

Her absence was every where in the partment, in the lack of decoration, in the little tree Dad had put up in corner of the living room, a lonely pair of gifts sitting under it. He'd picked it up from Luis' store, the two not knowing each other or their shared connection, but Dad had a lot of nice things to say aboot him when he brought the tree home.

"Great guy," he said, "Gave me a discount and a free decoration, the little angel there, see? Mom would have liked it."

It was the exact kind of terrible decoration Mom would have liked. Dad did make an effort to decorate the tree at least, with all the hand painted clay ornaments he and Mom had made over the years, held on by old coat hanger wires.

What the plan was for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day was still anyone's guess, though Dad said Ms Flores had invited us to spend Christmas Eve with her, if we wanted.

I shrugged, my mind not set. Dad had gotten her something but I still hadn't bought anything for Kay. I'd been so distracted with the high drama of my other life Christmas had practically snuck up on me.

I should definitely get her something though. I only had a few dollars spare, the change left from what I'd borrowed from Dad through oot the last few months. It was a questioning ticking in the back of my head as I made my way over to Ayesha's for our boxing lesson.

>buy her something nice, she liked musicals and stuff
>make her something, school was still in and I could sneak into the wood shop
>give her something, maybe one of Mom's decorations
>>
>>4720894
>buy her something nice, she liked musicals and stuff

missed the kill vote, I'm glad we decided not to
>>
>>4720894
>make her something, school was still in and I could sneak into the wood shop
I still don't think Kay is the person that keeps us sane like grandma was for grandpa
>>
>>4720894
>make her something, school was still in and I could sneak into the wood shop
asking for dad's money is shitty we need a part time job or something
>>
finally the day of the rake has arrived
c*nadians will get what they deserve
>>
>>4720963
>>4720917
locked in
>>
I'll make her something. A present made is worth more than anything bought, it's what Mom used to say. Maybe it was one of those things parents said to explain why they couldn't buy their kid something, but when I thought back on the gifts I really cared aboot, it was always something she'd made for me, crudely whittled or glued together.

I wasn't much of a craftsman but I'd do my best.

In the mean time I had another raft to teach. Ayesha was worried aboot defending herself, and had talked me into giving her some backyard lessons. I texted ahead. Even if the Carvers had given me open access to their home after taking down the Creep, it was still the polite thing to do.

Mr Carver met me at the front door, wearing a brown cardigan and moccisan slippers.

"Hey, my man," he said, letting me in. Like any good home in Chicago the igloo was heated against the winter, and I slipped off my jacket and scarf, dropped my gym bag. It was going to be sweaty work, if I followed Coach Jackson's example. "Afeni is in the kitchen, Ayesha's upstairs," he said, "Ivy's at work though, kid sure has a strong work ethic."

"Thanks for doing this," he said, "When I went down to bail my baby girl oot of prison, the bruises she had, why I just aboot lost my mind. We're planning legal action, there's no reason for a grown ass man, least of all a cop, to whoop on a fifteen yar old girl like that."

The protest had almost slipped my mind, I was so caught up in other things. It had been ugly from what I'd seen of it, and Mr Carver looked to upstairs with grave concern. Maybe Ayesha was dealing with the stress of it more than she was letting on too. You could hide a lot behind a smile.

"I'll be oot the back," I said.

"You do you, and you're welcome to stay for dinner," he said.

I waved to Mrs Carver in the kitchen before stepping oot into their backyard. Dead grass, a winter stripped tree, and a bench were aboot all there was. I pulled a couple of boxing pads oot of my gym bag along with a set of gloves, all 'borrowed' from the gym. I'd get them back before Coach Jackson or Diana noticed they were gone.

I stalked the space of their backyard, feeling oot its measure. It wasn't as big as the backyards we got back in Indiana but it was more than I had now, it was as much as you could expect living in a big city like Chicago. Room enough, and bigger than the garage.
>>
I warmed up with a shadow boxing routine, working on speed, working on combinations. There was no element to boxing training that was pointless, people from the outside maybe just didn't understand the point. Take the speedbag for instance. It wasn't just aboot drilling quick punches, it improved hand movement generally, which a boxer needed for defense. Ignorant folk thought boxing was just a game of hit the other guy, slugging it oot. They missed the subtle movements, the positioning, the hidden layer to the fight left oot of the end of week highlights.

It was boring stuff unless you loxed the art, and I had to admit I was falling in love with it.

I was deep in a routine when the backdoor opened.

"Yo," Ayesha hopped down the backstep, hands behind her back, contacts in and glasses left inside. She wore black tights and a loose yellow hoodie, and a smile of course. I couldn't picture Ayesha without a smile. "Ready for the one two, one two three?" she said.

I resisted the urge to smile back. This was serious training, not just hanging oot.

"Are you?" I said, going over to my bag. I'd built up a sweat already, hot enough underneath to cook. I pulled off my outer-shirt, down to a sleeveless tank top.

"You're not too cold are you?" she said, looking up to the clouds, "Personally I love the cold, but I suck at handling it."

"Me?" I said, "I'm fine. Thank my Northern European heritage, we're an Ice Age people. Neanderthal DNA." I'd heard that some where, Dad maybe when he'd splash around in ice water back home.

"Oh yeah?" Ayesha said, keeping her smile, but when her eyes went down to my shoulder there was a quirk in her eyebrow. "Where'd you get that?"

A bullet from Sundowner's gun, I thought, but brushed it off. "Fell off my bike," I said, slipping on the boxing pads. "Lace up, I'll take you through some combinations."

"Okay coach," she said with a smart little salute.

What she knew aboot throwing a punch could make a pamphlet. A light pamphlet with words in large bold print. She hit in exactly the way Deontay Wilder didn't.

And its not like she was oot of shape. Sure she was a girl, a little under average height, but I saw Ayesha in the gym, hitting the squat rack, doing the road work. Watched her sweat it oot, with the muscle starting to show. But her movements were better suited to the dancing we'd done together, it lacked the connection of foot, hips, shoulder, fist. All of a body driven through a punch and into the other guy. And maybe she lacked the anger to actually hurt someone.

Which was a problem I didn't know how to fix.
>>
But I could work on her form at least.

"Remember to drive up from your feet, and snap through your hips," I said. When she threw the next punch I lowered the pads. "Watch me," I said, throwing a jab. She did, it was a little better, but still lacked something.

"All right, I'm going too..." I said, starting to position myself behind her, "Do you mind if I get a bit uh 'hands on'."

"Sure coach, just don't let Daddy see," she joked.

I swallowed, a nervous little buzz. It's not like I'd never held Ayesha's hips before, in dance practice. But maybe not from behind like this. I slipped off the pads and just went with it, putting a hand on her hip, the other on her shoulder.
"You want a bit more of a twist," I said, "Up from your feet, kind of...use your core. Din't throw the punch just get used to the movement."

"Like this?" she twisted in my hands, feet flexing the right way.

"Yeah now throw in the punch and..." she snapped her fist forward, a decent front jab. "That's it! You got it!"

A new kind of pride jumped up through my chest, and Ayesha hopped on the spot with a little cheer.

"But you have to do it again, and again, and again," I cautioned, "And remember you're a five foot five teenage girl, you won't be knocking anyone oot."

"Sure thing coach," she said, enthusiastic to continue. I took her through how to jab, how to cross, and how to hook. Three basic punches she could work into fundamental combinations, I figured it was enough for her to start with. Then I put on the pads.

By the time we were done she had her own sweat on, and pealed the hoodie off, slumping down on the bench. Steam poured off her golden brown shoulders, sweat dripping down the neckline of her black tank top. She fanned herself like it wasn't mid-winter with a few days to go before Christmas.

"Thanks Eric," she said.

"It's no problem," I sat down beside her, fishing oot my water bottle.

"Maybe I'll get shoulders as big as yours," she said, flicking my deltoid.

I tried not to blush. I didn't think of myself as having big shoulders, though when Kay and I were...intimate...she sure did like them. Either way I had to admit I'd come a way from the scrawny kid who'd first turned up in Chicago. Not just bigger but harder, more calloused.

"Hey, that reminds me!" she sat up, slapped my knee, "I got you a Christmas present. Wait right here."

She hopped up and raced inside, leaving me in the backyard with the sound of traffic. It didn't take her long to come back, holding a little golden wrapped box.

"Here," she said, handing it to me, "It's not much but...and you can open it now or later, I don't mind."

I took it. Whatever it was it fit in the palm of my hand.

>I'll open it later
>Open it now
>>
and that's all for today. I'll run again in a couple of days. Vote stays open until I do.
>>
>>4721117
>igloo
igloo, eh?

oh right, some fucking april fool's filter.

fucking hell.
>>
>>4721121
>Open it now
>>4721131
I'm just wondering what "raft" was filtered from.
>>
>>4721189
typo, it was meant to be 'craft', playing off the 'I wasn't much of a craftsman' line
>>
>>4721121
>Open it now
Open gifts in front of the giver
>>
>>4721121
>Open it now
>>
>>4721121
>Open it now
>>
>>4721124
There something wrong with your u key?

I was wondering why Eric turned Canadian all of a sudden
>>
>>4722055
Look at the date anon, mootwo is trolling canucks
>>
>>4721516
>>4721444
>>4721430
>>4721189
locked in

running for a while tonight if anyone is around
>>
>>4721124
I noticed you misspell out alot.
>>
>>4727097
I got work in the morning, but I can sleep. Just caught up from the archives too.
>>
>>4727113
can't*
>>
>>4727097
I'm here, though that's not much
>>
I pulled on the ribbon, unfolded the golden wrapping. A little ring box clicked open.

Inside was a little wooden carving, it took me a second to tell it was a dog, one of those little curly tailed Japanese dogs.

Ayesha looked anywhere but at me. "It's really dumb," she said, "I like making things, you've seen the home knit sweaters I wear, and well I've been getting into whittling lately and I made this and it made me think of you and well...it's not good so if you think it sucks that's fine and you don't have to keep it."

I rubbed my thumb over the grooves of the wooden dog, feeling the hand carved texture.

"I didn't get you anything," I said.

Ayesha smiled. "That's cool, you've done enough for me," she said, "You've rescued me from two supervillains, I mean that's got to be worth at least one Christmas gift. And now you're teaching me how to take care of myself."

Nobody had made me anything before, nobody except Mom.

"But if you do want to get me a gift," she said, "My birthday is in a couple of weeks. It would be cool if you could be there, my sixteenth and all."

"I was thinking actually, if you want to defend yourself maybe look into learning something like BJJ," I said, "You should keep training your striking, but for a girl your size it can't hurt to learn how to handle yourself on the ground." I remembered Semper Fi wrapping me up with her legs on the rocky shore of Shark's cave, feeling helpless in her grip until Shark kicked her off. Size and strength never went out of the equation in a fight, and there was no cure for being a small teenage girl, but the more tricks she knew the better.

"Hell I should probably learn some grappling too," I said.

"Will do coach," she said, "Now I've got to clean up, Malcolm's coming around and we've got a date."

Malcolm, her boyfriend. Her college aged boyfriend just waiting for her sixteenth birthday. I didn't like Malcolm but she was glowing at the thought of him, so I let that lie.

I stashed the little wooden dog in my bag. I could stand a shower too. Ayesha jogged inside and upstairs, leaving me to slink into the kitchen where her mom was sitting, reading something on her tablet.

I always got the feeling Mrs Carver didn't like me, even after saving her family from the Creep. It wasn't anything active on her part, she wasn't rude or mean, but she wasn't particularly warm or nice either. Suspicious might be the right word. And that's the feeling I got when I came in.

"My daughter," she said, "Has had a fortunate life."

It wasn't just an invitation to sit, more an order, while Ayesha was upstairs showering off. I sat at the kitchen bench while she got up, went and made a cup of hot cocoa.
>>
"My husband and I built a life together, a decent middle class kind of life. But you should know, I'm from the South Side originally, the real South Side. Not those gentrified hoods."

I listened, wondering when she'd get to her point.

"I got out based on my looks, went to California to make a little money, then came home to get a proper education," she said, "But I haven't forgotten what violent men look like."

She slid the hot chocolate over the counter to me.

"I had two brothers coming up," she said, "One you know, the other you don't. Roy went to a dark place and pulled himself out. LeSean went somewhere darker, and drowned there."

"You think I'm a violent guy?" I said.

"I think I know what a bullet scar looks like," she said, looking at my shoulder, "And you'd need to be a strange kind of white boy to get clipped by a stray and lie about it."

"My daughter likes you Eric, my husband does too, but me, there's something about you you aren't telling us," she said, "So if you are my daughter's friend and not just one of those boys sniffing around hoping she'll look their way, I want you to tell me, or I can't be comfortable having you over. I won't have someone in my house who might put my baby in danger. Not one who will lie about it."

I stared at her and she stared back, seeing right through me, the hot chocolate going cold between us.

>tell her the truth
>there's nothing to tell Mrs Carver
>>
>>4727133
I appreciate every participant

>>4727110
Thank the April Fool's filter.
>>
>>4727140
>tell her the truth
>I just got done rescuing a scientist, his girlfriend was butchered by a psychopath I couldn't bring myself to put done when I had my chance, so if you want me to stay away, that would be great actually. Just make sure to stock up on ammo and unconventional security systems for the house, and find someone to teach Ayesha how to fight better, because I am so far in the deep end that gang bangers are far and away the most polite people I punch.
>>
>>4727142
>Thank the April Fool's filter.
The Canadian thing?
>>4727163
>to put done when I had my chance,
down*
>>
>>4727140
>there's nothing to tell Mrs Carver
we are NOT telling everyone this shit as far as he is concerned we live in the bad part of town and that's that
>>
>>4727187
Huntsman is still walking, I'd rather at least the parents know we're Vigilantes than risk him or the other groups finding our friends and loved ones. We aren't fooling Mrs. Carver with not telling her were trouble at the bare minimum.
>>
>>4727140
>>4727163
Eh, change to just
>Tell her the truth
PTSD isn't something to drop I guess.
>>
>>4727192
I'm fine tell her we're trouble but what's the point of a secret identity if we tell a dozen people

I say we lean towards mundane crime trouble and steer clear of anything super
>>
>>4727140
>there's nothing to tell Mrs Carver

>"I live in a rough neighborhood and didn't want to worry my friends"

struggling to understand the logic behind straight up telling this woman we hardly know when it took 3 tries to show Misfit our face, not even our name.
>>
>>4727140
>there's nothing to tell Mrs Carver
I'm a strange kind of white boy then.
>>
>>4727214
Because she already knows we live in a bad neighborhood, and doesn't believe the few wounds she sees on us as simple rough hood life, especially when she used to be hood herself.
>>
>>4727234
>>4727214
>>4727187
locked in
>>
I took a long sip of the cooling hot cocoa, the marshmallow inside melted to a soft fluffy layer.

"There's nothing to tell Ms Carver, I live in a rough neighborhood is all," I said, "I don't want my friends worrying about me just because I got caught in the way of a drive-by. If that makes me a strange kind of white boy, then call me strange."

It's not a lie exactly, there was plenty of violence on my block, but if I'd put Mrs Carver off my scent she didn't buy my story completely.

"Hell, I got stabbed in the face a couple of days before I even met your daughter," I said, rubbing the scar on my cheek with a grin. She didn't share my humor.

"Some folks are magnets for trouble," Mrs Carver said, "Others go looking for it. Ayesha gets herself into enough trouble as it is."

I couldn't fault her for being worried, especially with Ayesha's activism taking a new, more dangerous turn.

"I'll be keeping an eye on you Eric," she said, "If I feel you're bringing more trouble into my baby's life, you won't be welcome around here anymore. Am I understood?"

The last thing I wanted to do was bring more trouble into Ayesha's life. Not after everything with Houndmaster.

"Understood," I said.

She took my empty mug over to the sink, as outside a car horn honked. Ayesha came skipping down the stairs in a bright yellow dress, whisking her coat off the hook. "That's Malcolm," she said, wrapping her neck in a scarf, face still shiny from the shower.

"See you at school," she said, popping a kiss on my cheek.

"Be home by nine!" Mr Carver called from the frunchroom.

She waved from the front door before hopping out.

I guess that meant it was time for me to go too. I said my goodbyes to the Carvers and on the walk to the bus pulled out the little carving Ayesha had made for me. It sat in the palm of my hand, an alert little dog, ears up.

It reminded me I had to make something for Kay for Christmas. Something intimate, something meaningful.

Something that would make her feel special, and tell her what she meant to me.

It was a thought I carried through to the next day, at school, when I snuck into the shop room while the others were at break. Woodworking stations, buzzsaws, all the potentially hazardous heavy equipment you could need to make something by hand.

I stared at it not really sure where to start, the smell of hot wood and saw dust heavy in the air. I really didn't know what I was doing, but I'd give it my best shot.

>roll 3 x 1d100
>no set difficulty but the higher the roll the better the end result, crit success/fail is still in effect
>>
Rolled 28 (1d100)

>>4727271
rollen
>>
Rolled 40 (1d100)

>>4727271
>>
Rolled 26 (1d100)

>>4727271
Nat 100 baby
Mona lisa sculpture
>>
Rolled 23 (1d100)

>>4727271
>>
>>4727277
Eric makes something on the bad end of average but not outright terrible
>>
I tried making her something out of metal, something she could hang on a necklace. I put on a facemask, taking a sheet of metal, and stencilled out something I thought she'd like, something doable.

A seashell, it seemed easy enough.

Until I nearly cut my finger with a saw, shaved flecks of metal dropping in loops from the sheet. I wiped my brow above the safety goggles. Safety signs reminded me every where I looked of the dangers of losing an eye or cutting off a finger. I'd heard a kid earlier in the year had taken off half his hand when he'd been screwing around in here, before I'd transferred in.

I thought about Kay and what she meant to me. The calm she brought into my life, the normalcy, and the good excitement when we were alone together. The freckles on her face, the green in her eyes, the soft red hint to her auburn hair.

The clock was ticking to my next class and I had to call my work finished. I thought it was pretty okay considering, I just hoped Kay would appreciate it on effort at least. I punched a hole in the top lip for a chain to pass through, then wrapped it in gift paper, stashing it in my back pocket. Then I thought she'd probably hate it. It was stupid, it was badly made garbage.

No, I was being dumb. She'd dig it.

It was Christmas Eve's Eve, the last day of school before the new year. Gifts were being swapped around, people were chatting about their Christmas plans. I hadn't had the money to get anyone anything outside of the little seashell I'd made Kay.

I was surprised when I found a couple of gifts wrapped on my desk.

"You've been having a rough year," Rufus said, slapping my arm, "So the team put the hat out, chipped in to get you something."

"Oh yeah? Thanks guys," I said, sliding it into my bag.

"It's cool," he said, Hunter and Tim behind him.

The other was from Kay. "You know, its our first Christmas," she sat, hugging my arm, "I thought I should get you something special, but don't open it until Christmas day."

"I got you something too," I said, pulling out the wrapped up seashell. Her eyes lit up at the wrapping paper.

"This'll be the first thing I open at midnight," she said, tucking it into her coat pocket. Then she gave me a soft kiss.

It wasn't a serious day of class, most of it was spent joking around, even the teachers were blowing it off, putting on DVDs instead of any kind of lesson plan. I felt like I watched 'Glory' three times.

Kemal caught me at the end of day, swaggering down with his big grin. "Yo Eric-o! Catch you for a second homey?" he said.

I stopped, waiting by the exit.

"We're going to have a big thing for New Years," he said, "Everyone's going to be there, a night to really say goodbye to this crappy year. I was thinking you'd like to be there."

"It's been crazy, you know," he said, "Real life superheroes, supervillains, all this stuff like it's the end of the world. We could all stand to blow off some steam."

I had to agree on that.

"So you in?"

>hell yeah
>I would but...
>>
>>4727297
>hell yeah
>>
>>4727297
do we have any other plans for that night
>>
>>4727315
crime fighting, probably
>>
>>4727297
>hell yeah
>>
>>4727297
>hell yeah
>>
>>4727350
>>4727332
>>4727302
locked in
>>
"I'm down," I said.

Kemal grinned. "Great, see you there. The address is in the group chat."

So I had plans for New Year's Eve at least.

For Christmas Eve we were supposed to be spending it at Ms Flores'. Maybe I should start calling her 'Carmen', she and Dad were getting more serious than I thought. I know Dad was thinking about asking her to move in.

Of course Dad had also made it clear I didn't have to go to Ms Flores' if I didn't want to. He was understanding like that. He knew I had a girlfriend who I was serious about too.

And I had other things on my mind. Things not of the 'giving season' exactly. Houndmaster was still out there, along with all the ordinary evils of the city. It didn't stop just for Christmas.

>go to Ms Flores' anyway
>spend Christmas Eve with Kay's family
>spend it fighting crime
>>
I'll be back tomorrow, vote stays open until I do

Hope you guys had a good Easter
>>
>>4727381
>spend Christmas Eve with Kay's family
>>
>>4727381
>spend Christmas Eve with Kay's family
>>
>>4727381
>spend Christmas Eve with Kay's family
Even if they don't like us
>>
>>4727381
>spend Christmas Eve with Kay's family
>>
>>4727381
>spend Christmas Eve with Kay's family

hey Kay's dad
>>
I can't run today on account of a family member being in hospital for heart surgery, I'm just too distracted.

I should be free tomorrow
>>
>>4728282
No problem man, remember that real life always takes precedent over the game, we appreciate you anyway
>>
>>4728282
Hope the surgery goes well
>>
>>4728282
Do what you need to man, hope it goes well.
>>
>>4727925
>>4727494
>>4727459
>>4727444
>>4727423
locked in
>>
>>4729844
Ok, I hope you good today
>>
>>4729851
still getting my writing mind together but I am running today
>>
File: 1458630547719.jpg (88 KB, 650x650)
88 KB
88 KB JPG
>>4729855
It'll be okay.
>>
"I was going to spend Christmas Eve at Kay's," I told Dad over breakfast.

"First Christmas with a girlfriend, I get it," he said, "Before you go, I need you to run something up to Mr Green. It was delivered to our floor by mistake."

Mr Green was the old, old, old man who lived up stairs. We'd never really had much to do with him, and the only visitors I ever saw him get was the outpatient nurses who would check in on him. Dad slid me a stack of letters and a brown paper package over the table.

I hitched them under my arm. It shouldn't be a problem, knock on his door, hand them over, then head out for the Whitman residence. I went out and up the stairs.

The door was closed. Of course it was closed. Top floor and there was no where to go but down. I knocked on his door, waiting for a response. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Then I knocked again, looking for a doorbell.

Inside came the rattle of a chain, the hard thunk of a bolt being slid back. The door creaked inward, into a stiffling hot room. Mr Green liked his heat.

As for Mr Green himself, I saw the back of him, the back of his wheel chair, moving back from the door, through his front room back through another open door. The air was heavy with dust, I held back a sneeze. There was a dull thock-thock-thock of a clock against the wall, a tall grandfather clock the sort you only saw in cartoons.

It wasn't the only clock on the wall. Mr Green had a collection, all reading different times, all ticking or thocking in a soft orchestra, barely audible but a constant tick in my ear. The heat, the ticking, and the thick, visible dust motes dancing in the air, pricked on my nerves.

"Mr Green?" I said, but the wheel chair didn't stop. I moved the package under my arm. "I'm Eric, from downstairs? There was a package left for you at our door."

The wheel chair slowed to a stop. I waited, awkwardly, for some kind of invitation to come inside or set the packages down. "I don't know an Eric lives downstairs," he said, "Martin Kuklinski lives downstairs."

"Mr Kuklinski used to live downstairs," I said, "We moved in after him."

"What happened to Martin?"

"I don't know, I think he passed away," I said. He'd been a very old man, from what I remember Dad saying, as old as Mr Green.

"Can I come in?" I said.

"You can put the package on the kitchen table," he said, before continuing into the other room.

I stepped into the dusty room, walking through to the small kitchenette. It had a sense of undisturbed living, a place unused to and unwanting guests. The fridge had no decorations, no photos or magnets. There was an old landline on the wall and under it a leather covered book with old paper browning with age. Dishes sat unwashed in the sink, food left on the stove. Spiderwebs had cropped up over a chair, connecting it to the table by narrow threads.
>>
I set the brown package and stack of letters on the table. The letters, as I figured, weren't personal. Bank statements, appointment reminders, insurance deals. I wasn't sure about the package.

It was a lonely, empty home in decay. A sad sight for Christmas Eve.

"Is it still Chicago out there?"

Mr Green's voice from behind me. I turned around. He sat in his wheel chair, not looking in any direction. He couldn't look in any direction, the eyes in his head were milky white orbs too small in the pits of his dark face. His hair was an ash gray, grown out into a wild, unkempt afro that along with his thick gray beard, gave him a mane of wild coils. I couldn't guess if he was 80, 90, or 100. He wore a red dressing gown, no slippers leaving twisty, horny toe nails hanging out.

"Chicago?" I looked to the window. Dirt clouded the iron barred glass. Not that he could look out there anyway.

"The city," he said, "The city. It's always been a battleground. But I don't know if the war is over."

"War?" I said. Like Vietnam, or World War 2?

"I fear we lost," he said, "Lost to the Man. Lost to the Company. Do you know if the war, the war is still going on?"

He sounded like an old Panther. Maybe he was.

"What do you know about magic, the arcane, and the occult?" he asked.

Not the uh, not the follow up I was expecting.

"You do not have to believe," he said, "It's only enough that they believe. Playing with things they don't understand."

"I don't know what you're talking about Mr Green," I said.

The old man fell silent, looking confused.

"They came with the White City," he said, "Holmes was their man."

>I have to go
>Sit and listen to the old man
>>
>>4729932
>Sit and listen to the old man

Sometimes being a hero isn't just about fighting crime.
>>
>>4729932
>Sit and listen to the old man

Even if not worth it, we don't have anything better to do and we can just keep the guy company for a sec, being a hero doesn't just mean punching punks all the time
>>
>>4729932
>Sit and listen to the old man
>>
>>4729932
>>Sit and listen to the old man
>>
>>4729932
>Sit and listen to the old man
>>
>>4729992
>>4729947
>>4729944
>>4729943
>>4729939
locked in
>>
"The White City?" I said, taking a seat.

"The World Fair," he continued, "No one cared about Chicago before the World Fair. It opened Chicago to the world, and the world to Chicago. Emperors came, men and women from a hundred nations. And they came too, like they always do, skulking in their halls of power, leeching off the people. The Company, and Holmes was their man."

"Sherlock Holmes?" I said.

Mr Green frowned straight ahead like I had soap scum for brains. "More Jack the Ripper than Sherlock," he said, "H.H Holmes, their killer, their bodyman, and their garbage chute. He took people from the street, woman and children, fed them to their machine. Fed them until they were fat. The Company, they've never just been interested in money, in normal power. They want to transcend it, they want more. They want a deeper control, a control like nothing else can give them. They've been working for years, all in different ways, working to meet the things between, the people outside."

"The Company has a thousand names and none. The Free Gardeners, the Knights of the Golden Circle, the Hermetic Order, Project Blue Book, the Hellfire Club. More than we could ever find, many unaware who they truly worked for or what they were working towards."

He was sounding like Dougie Hicks and the rest of the conspiracy podcast crew. The fevered imagination of an old blind man cooped up in solitude for who knew how long.

"I was with the Panthers," he said, "The original Panthers, when I found out, when I was shown, when I saw it was the same fight. They thought I was crazy. They didn't believe, but they don't have to believe. When the people from outside come in, belief will have nothing to do with it."

"Your father never believed me, James," he said, "Neither did his father. My own son called me crazy."

"But I know what we did. We stopped them once. Me, Brother Ishmael, Penny Quinn and Lord McCoy. A band like you'd never expect, but we stopped them, we stood guard against the dark but now...now our fires are going out. And the dark is closing in again. The Company, the Company is evil, and evil doesn't rest. It waits, it waits, it waits. waits in the dark for the dying of the light."

"You have to start a fire James," he said, reaching a blind hand out toward me, the veins stark against the withered claw of his hand, "Wake up the people, hold back the dark."

He thought I was his great-grandson, could I tell him the truth? All I did was put my hand out for his blind one to grasp, and when he did a smile grew in the depths of his wrinkles and wild gray beard.
>>
"I wish I could stand with you," he said, tears beginning to travel through the wrinkles under his eyes, "Speak the words of power again. But I'm too old, I can't even stand. I have nothing left to pay the toll. But I can teach you. The power is in your blood. They tried to take it from us, breed it out of our line before the war set us free. Bring the books I left your father, the words are hidden in its pages, and I'll teach you the right-hand path, as Brother Ishmael taught me."

"Promise me, James," he said, the claw tightening on my hand, the blind eyes widening, bright as small stars in the darkness of his face, "Promise me you'll find the books, James, promise me you'll learn, and start a fire against the dark."

>I promise
>Sorry sir, but I'm not 'James'
>>
>>4730052

>I promise...but I'm not james sir, but I promise

New quest found, find out if we got magic powers instead of sci-fi like we originally thought
>>
Also "the company" sounds suspiciously like a certain group of super rich assholes who hire serial killers to take out nerds
>>
>>4730052
>I promise
>>
>>4730052
>>4730056
>I promise... I'm not James, sir, but I promise
>>
>>4730117
>>4730056
>>4730081

locked in
>>
I'd heard so many strange things and run into enough weirdness I wasn't going to ignore the man outright or dismiss what he said as delusional, and beside which he seemed so desperate and lost. I had to do something.

"I promise," I said, "But I'm not James, sir, but I promise."

Old Mr Green frowned.

"Not James?" he said, "You're...you, that's right, Eric, the boy downstairs. The one who sneaks out the window late at night, the one let's the cat in. I'm sorry son, I get confused sometimes, I...what I told you wasn't meant for you."

His grip loosened, as he pressed his thumb to my palm.

"To learn the right-hand path you need a certain hum in your soul," he said, pressing his thumb deeper into my hand, "Brother Ishmael called it a 'harmonious mind'. And your soul, son, is full of static, full of anger. This is not a path you can walk. To approach the threshold with an imperfect mind is to court obliteration."

"But...but I can see there's a path for you already set, with your own fire to carry," he said, "There are many roads in the dark, you have yours. I felt something like it once, long ago."

He let go his grip on my hand.

"If you want to help me," he said, "If you want to help the city and all our fragile little world, find my James and bring him here, bring him with the books. Do this for me, please."

"I promise, sir," I said.

"Thank you," he said, smiling now. But the smile slipped into a confused frown, tucking his bearded chin into his chest. "Are you..." he started, "Are you with the hospital? I thought Nurse Chen was coming today."

"I'm just...dropping off a package," I said, "It's on the kitchen table."

He nodded in a confused silence. Whatever was wrong with him, there was nothing I could do to fix it, but I made a mental note to look for this 'James' at some point. Even if he was just a sick old man with a fertile imagination, finding an old man's family so he could spend time with them wasn't a waste of time. It was Christmas after all, and he was alone in a boiling hot apartment, alone with his thoughts and the shifting phantoms of his mind.

I caught the bus over to Kay's after saying goodbye to Dad. We were both dressing our best for the night. Dad had on a new cologne, that I borrowed. I tried styling my hair but gave up. It was uncooperative. I needed a haircut, I was starting to get shaggy. Well Kay would have to deal with how shaggy I was getting.

Christmas in Chicago was as segregated in its way as the rest of the city. In my neighborhood the best you'd get for decorations was strung up fairy lights struggling to add Christmas cheer to a run down block, with commercial cut out trees put up in shop windows. Out in the nicer parts of town though, families went ham. Homes were turned into bright lit carnivals, with glowing red electric Santa Clauses' and golden angels occupying every space that didn't have some kind of nativity scene squeezed in.
>>
The Whitman house had model reindeer on the roof all lit up as they danced along the shingles, with Rudolph's nose constituting some kind of air traffic violation. There was a Santa in the back of the sleigh and another in the drive, and another, just a bearded face, grinning down from above the entry. Every gutter and windowsill had been wreathed with bright lights and a fake tree glowed with an electric green malevolence in the yard.

I could feel the ice caps melting at the heat and power throbbing off the display.

And written in lights across the garage door: Merry Christmas!

Sheesh.

The winter sun was going down when I knocked on the door. Kay answered in a short red Santa dress with black stockings, a pair of antler horns on her head with her face painted to look like a deer. It wasn't what I was expecting, but I liked it.

"Hi," she said, then glanced up at the mistletoe hanging from the doorway.

"Hi," I said back, scooping down to give her a kiss.

She took my hand and led me in.

Her family and a whole bunch of people I didn't know crawled through the house, filling it with chatter. It was more than I was expecting, a hot human press of noise and heat. Aunts, uncles, cousins, family friends. She led me through them by hand until we breached the perimeter of the Christmas tree, stacked with presents underneath.

Her dad stood in a Santa suit, no need for padding under the coat, with a thick white beard hanging from his ears.

"Ho, ho, ho!" Officer Whitman said when he saw me, "If it isn't Eric! Now have you been a good boy this year?"

Trust a cop to ask a question like that.

"I bet you have been with Santa keeping an eye on you," he said, "Well lucky for you Santa heard you were coming over just in time to get you a present." He picked out a gift and pushed it into my chest. "But remember, Santa is always watching." The grin through the fake beard wasn't friendly.

"Let's get some food," Kay said, pulling me away. What I wanted was to get Kay alone while she was in that dress.

Turkey, chicken, and a cranberry sauce covered my plate, adults talking past us as they guzzled eggnog, beer and champagne. Kay got me a can of pop and I set in to eat.

"We're opening presents at midnight," she said, "I can't wait to see what you got me!"

I smiled while my guts grumbled. She was going to be disappointed.

"I got you something too," she said with a wink, sitting thigh to thigh beside me on the couch.

It was all more than I was used to for Christmas, which was usually just me, my parents, and a few of their adult friends with no where else to go. We'd rarely spend it with the extended family, living on other sides of Indiana. That was what Thanksgiving was for. But I liked it too, the large family, the sense of community, the noise and light. With the world cold and empty outside it wrapped me up like a warm blanket.
>>
The hours trickled over until it was close to midnight, snow starting to fall in picturesque drops outside, melting on the heat of the Christmas decorations.

Presents were being handed out, called by name by Officer Whitman in his Santa costume. I sat and listened, until my name was called, the gift from Kay. Most of the gifts went to the youngest children, some just new born babies.

Then when the hour was almost midnight and people were eyeing their wrapped presents hungrily, there was a knock on the door.

"Go see who that is, honey," Mrs Whitman told Kay.

She hopped down from the couch, hurrying over to the latch. I felt something crawl under my skin, a nervous worry, and in a hot second as she unlatched the door the image of Houndmaster, waiting with his knife, flickered into my mind.

I was half up and about to shout 'stop!' when the door flew open, and it burst over Kay's face.

A snowball.

"Ten points!" Ivy said in the doorway, grinning in a purple coat with the snow falling around her shoulders. Ayesha blushed behind her, and behind them Ayesha's parents. To say I was relieved didn't do my feelings justice. My chest unclamped and I could breathe again.

Snow dripped down Kay's face, her eyes wide and face pale under the deer makeup.

"Told you she wouldn't be happy to see me," Ivy said over her shoulder.

"Well it wasn't the nicest hello," Ayesha's mother said, a scolding look on her face, "Now apologize before I make you sorry."

Ivy rolled her eyes. "Yeah, you're right. Sorry Kaylee," she said, "You guys still have any food? We brought a pumpkin pie."

"Please, come in," Kay said, stepping aside with icy politeness.

"Afeni, Robert!" Mrs Whitman said, kissing Mrs Carver on the cheek, hugging Mr Carver, "We thought you wouldn't make it."

"Had to pick this one up from work," he said, thumbing at Ivy, "Roads are kind of lousy tonight, so we walked over."

"Kay, take their coats," her mom said. Ayesha shot Kay an apologetic smile as they slipped out of their winter wear.

"Oh hey, its the boytoy," Ivy said, walking over to me, clearly not knowing anyone else either, "Merry Christmas loser."

If she was being more of an asshole than usual I could guess why. She wore a ceramic mistletoe hanging from a choker.

"Ayesha got it for me," she said, seeing where I was looking. "I didn't get you anything. I didn't think you'd even be here."

"I didn't get you anything either," I said.

Kay marched back from the coat room and wrapped her arm around mine, glaring at Ivy.

"I got you something," Kay said, holding my hand tight. Ivy rolled her eyes.

"Could it kill you two to get along, just for Christmas?" Ayesha said, looking tired of the both of them. I flinched, the both of them growing icier.

>support Ayesha, encourage them to bury the hatchet at least for tonight
>it wasn't any of my business, and I don't want to make things worse
>>
>>4730197
>put your arms around ivy and get with the actual best girl instead of the trash in makeup were with
...but actually

>support Ayesha, encourage them to bury the hatchet at least for tonight

Bitches,heel!
>>
>>4730197
>support Ayesha, encourage them to bury the hatchet at least for tonight
>>
>>4730205
>>4730227
locked in
>>
"Ayesha's right," I said, she usually was, "You guys need to cool it, at least for tonight."

Ivy sighed. "Mom and Dad have put their foot down," she said.

"So what do you want, a Christmas Truce?" Kay said, "If so, you're the Germans."

"I'm happy to play the bad guy," Ivy said, "Since you're always desperate to pretend to be good." Kay bared her teeth in a fake smile.

This is not how truces are negotiated. Ayesha came back with a pair of drinks, one for each of them.

"It isn't even Christmas yet," Ivy said, "Real Christmas is in January."

"Da, comrade," Ayesha joked. It was easy to forget Ivy was Russian, or Ukrainian, or whatever. Generally Slavic on her mother's side. She proved it now by slipping into some Russian, nothing anyone else understood, but it sounded teasing as she sipped the egg nog. It made Kay uncomfortable, at least.

"We should open our presents," Kay said, squeezing my hand, pulling me away from our friends.

I opened the package from her parents. It was a sweater, price tag clipped off, but nothing fancy. Then I opened Kay's. It was a copy of Hadestown, her favorite musical. She pressed it to my chest.

"I thought, now we could listen to it together, even when we're apart," she said, "I think you'll really like it. It's sad, romantic, and just makes me cry." I wasn't really into musicals but I could see it meant a lot to her. I kissed her on the cheek, setting it aside.

Now it was her turn to open my gift. She unwrapped the paper, revealing the rough tin seashell.

"Oh," she said, picking it up, looking it over, "Oh that's uh, really neat."

"I made it myself," I said, holding back my blush, seeing her disappointment, "You know, I'm not really any good at making things, but I thought maybe, you know. You'd like it."
>>
"Oh Eric," she said, eyes getting wet, "That's so sweet."

"And you know," I added, "Its a seashell because you're uh, your eyes. They make me think of the sea. The ocean you know. I thought you could...put it on a necklace or something."

"Oh Eric!" she cried, bottom lip giving a wobble, holding it tight in her hands. She leaned in to press a kiss on my lips, "I've got just the thing!" She hopped up and dived up the stairs, running for her room.

The snort behind me turned my head. "Have you even seen the ocean?" Ivy said with a smug eyebrow raised.

"I've seen Lake Michigan," I said, "It's kind of like the ocean."

"It really isn't," Ivy said, "But boy, that was a good line. I bet Kaylee's all tingly between her thighs now."

"Whatever dude," I said. She was just picking a fight.

"Kind of looked like junk to me too," she said, "If a guy gave me something like that I'd tell him to go make something better."

"It's the thought that counts," I said, "And not everyone is an asshole, you know. Kay appreciates the effort."

"Hey, I appreciate the effort too," she said, "Not some one-and-done garbage though. If someone's going to give me something it needs to be more than their first try."

"Jesus you're in a mood," I said, "What, because you promised not to hack on Kay you're hacking on me now? Could it kill you to be nice for a night?"

She blinked like she'd been slapped, then narrowed her eyes with a grin.

"Oh because Eric wants us all to be the getalong gang, we've all got to do what we're told?" she said, "Despite what you think the world doesn't revolve around you."

Before I could snap back with something, Kay came skipping down the stairs, her seashell hanging from a silver chain around her neck. Ivy stalked off with a tight snarl. Kay watched her go with a suspicious smile.

"What's got into her?" Kay said.

Christmas cheer, I thought.

"Anyway, what do you think?" Kay asked, brushing the tin seashell.

What I thought was grabbing the back of her head and pulling her into a long kiss.

A witness to it, one of the anonymous adults, whistled. "Down boy!" a woman called.

Whatever. Kay shivered as we parted, cheeks glowing.

"W-wow, some kiss," she said. "Um," she bowed her head into my chest, "I'm sorry about Ivy, how I get with her. I know she's your friend, but there's history there. Bad history."

"I know," I said.

"But you're right, I should make more of an effort to...to leave the past in the past. And to not be the clingy jealous girlfriend. That is totally not who I am. And you know, she's living with Ayesha now, and Ayesha is one hundred percent my best friend. So what I'm saying is, I'll do my best, for tonight."

She smiled up at me, and it set a warm glow through me.

She kissed my cheek. "I have other presents to open," she said, dashing off.
>>
It left me alone in a crowd of strangers, the only people familar the Carver family. Mr Carver walked over, chewing on deviled eggs.

"Hey kid, Merry Christmas," he said through the egg.

"Merry Christmas, sir," I said.

"Your dad here?" he said, looking through the crowd, as alone as I felt.

I shook my head. "Spending it with his new girlfriend," I said.

"Ms Flores right, the English teacher?" I nodded. Then he grinned. "Ms Flores, damn."

I don't think Mrs Carver would appreciate that, but she was busy gossiping with Mrs Whitman and her friends. I took a long sip of an alcohol-free egg nogg, looking for people my own age as the party started to wind down. I'd lost track of Kay in all the Christmas cheer, Ivy and Ayesha too.

I moved around looking for company until a voice caught my ear.

"So, do you think you're ready to go all the way?"

It was Kay's voice, outside a window, sitting on the back porch. The three of them, Ivy, Kay, and Ayesha, caught in a private conversation. I didn't mean to eavesdrop. I didn't mean to, but I did.

"Are you?"

Ivy's voice with an icy return.

"Oh Ivanna, I've been and gone already now."

"Seriously?" Ayesha squeaked.

"Eric and I...we've taken the next step."

"Was it...how was it?"

"Are you really asking how good my boyfriend is in bed?"

"No! I mean, losing it. What's it like? I heard it hurts."

"It can hurt," Ivy said.

"Not with Eric, I mean, it did but not in a bad way. And in bed he's-"

"I don't think you should be talking about it," Ivy said.

"Ayesha asked! I mean, just because your first time was..."

"...are you going to go there?" Ivy said.

"Sorry, no. Anyway, we're asking about you Ayesha."

"I mean, I really like Malcolm, like really like," she said, "So I...I think I will but I'm...nervous?"

I really shouldn't be listening to this.

"Are you on the pill?" Kay asked.

"Yeah, but not for that."
>>
"So I mean, okay, but who else is there? Zeke, Rufus, even Hunter? A complete stranger? I mean, if its your first time it should be with someone you like."

"Ew, please, don't mention my guyfriends like that," Ayesha said, "Its wiggy, you know."

"But that's what I mean, if you do want to have sex, you should do it with the right person," Kay said, "And if you don't want to have sex, its cool too. Asexuality is a thing."

"I'm just worried its all he might want," Ayesha said, "Bragging rights or whatever. That he's just putting on an act to get me to...to open up."

"You're overthinking this," Ivy said, "Just have fun. You'll be sixteen, not betrothed to wed. If he turns out to be a jerk, make sure the next guy isn't. And yeah, okay, I'll back Kay up, if you don't want to, don't do it."

"Is this real life, Kay and Ivy agreeing?" Ayesha said.

"It's rare but it happens," Ivy said, "We agree on what, climate change action, nuclear disarmament, and our best friend not being pressured into having sex?"

"More or less," Kay said, "We'll support you whatever you do, even if it means pretending not to hate each other."

"Right," Ayesha said, "You know its funny, you say that but you two used to be really heavy."

"Ancient history," Ivy said.

"Yeah well, it turns out Ivy will kiss just about anyone anyway."

Now there was the ice, back again.

"I mean she kissed you, she kissed Eric," Kay said, "Eric said it was no big deal but, hey."

"Oh so that's why you're clinging to him like a cat in heat," Ivy snapped, "You're jealous. Jesus Christ. It really wasn't what you think."

"Okay well if that's the case why don't you show me, kiss me," Kay said, "Prove its not a 'real' kiss or whatever."

"I can't kiss you like that," Ivy said.

"Why not?"

"Because I don't love you."

A knife slid into my chest. The silence beyond the window was long and nervous, the only sound Ayesha swallowing. I wished I was anywhere else, but I didn't pull away.

"So you do love him?" Kay said, her voice light with anger.

"I...I don't...I didn't mean to say..." I'd never heard the kind of confusion from Ivy like I'd heard right then, lost and struggling for words.

"Well Merry fucking Christmas!" Kay yelled, "Newsflash Ivy, he's my boyfriend, not yours, and he doesn't love you!"

"Fucking hell Kaylee do you have to be so teen drama?" Ivy said, "This is what you really wanted isn't it, a nice big dramatic fight to end the year on."

"Come on guys," Ayesha tried, she really tried, but there was no putting it back. The truce was broken.

"You don't even know him, not really. I know secrets about him you couldn't even begin to believe," Kay said.

There was another silence, this time the only sound Ivy's heavy breathing. "Like what?" she snapped.

Don't say it, I thought, don't.

>time to leave
>interrupt their conversation
>>
back tomorrow
>>
>>4730315
>interrupt their conversation
>>
>>4730315
>interrupt their conversation
>>
>>4730315
>interrupt their conversation
>>
>>4730315
>time to leave

Let her break our trust, we can finally get rid of her!
>>
>>4730315
>time to leave

Unlike >>4730746
who apparently is willing to ruin Eric's life if it means leaving Kay, I trust her to not spill the Hotspur beans. Pretty funny if she just says we have a mole on our butt or something.
>>
>>4730315
Keep listening.
>>
>>4730315
>>time to leave
>>
inb4 Ivy tells Kay we went back in for a second kiss
>>
Kay's gonna get gwened at this rate
>>
Rolled 2 (1d2)

there's a tie so I'm going to roll to see where we go

1 Eric interrupta
2 Eric dips
>>
"Like wouldn't you like to know," Kay replied with a sultry meanness.

I shouldn't have been eavesdropping, but I also didn't like being another pawn in Kay and Ivy's tit-for-tat game. With a furious blush I downed the last of my drink as I briskly walked away, hoping both of them wouldn't say or do anything too stupid.

Now I just wanted to go home. I was sick of every holiday turning into a drama. It felt like there was no where I could go in my life that didn't turn into some kind of scene. Either dealing with other people's drama or having my own super powered existence crash into my normal life. It would be nice to be normal, at least for a day or two.

It was dark out and snowing. I stood near the front door feeling like I wanted to hit something or have something hit me. Now that's where things got simple, the knife edge of a fight. The stakes were high but everyone understood the score. You knew who was with you and who was against you.

Maybe Shark had the right way of thinking.

But...maybe not too. The dark was a lonely place to be.

My phone buzzed. A text from Dad, from my grandparents and cousins, from other people.

Dad - Merry Christmas kid, see you in the daylight!
Grandma - A happy Christmas to you my precious grandson. May the light of the saints and angels brighten your winter season and give you the gift of a happy new year.
Grandpa - Merry Christmas little bear. Stay safe on the river.
Jude- Merry Christmas ya big jerk :)
Kemal - Yo, have a happy xmas homie!
Dane - Merry Christmas. Sending this text late because I can't sleep
Zeke - Happy holidays. Xmas is for pagans but have fun anyway
Rufus - Happy holidays, hope you dig the gift

And the other phone buzzed.

Misfit - Hapy Xmas. Mine is boring hope yours is 2.

Messages from friends and family. Nothing to do with being a superhero or anything, just simple, uncomplicated well wishes. Where was Shark but alone in the waters of Lake Michigan? I felt sorry for him, sorry for what he'd become, unable to appreciate even something this simple.

Life could always be worse.

I watched the gentle snow fall, thinking about where else I could be with different choices made. If I had gone to meet Kemal the day I'd got my powers, would I have still become Hotspur? What would have happened to Mrs Valdez, or Ms Grant, or Ayesha? What would have happened to Dad? If I hadn't found this new purpose, would he still be sitting drunk on the couch?

Questions without clear answers.

I guess I should just appreciate life for what it was.

"Hey."

I looked over my shoulder. Ayesha leaned in the doorway, watching the snowfall.

"What's up?" I said.
>>
"The truce is over, the cold war is back on," Ayesha said, "God it really is annoying isn't it? I just want to bash their heads together."

I looked back to the snow falling onto the hot glow of the Christmas decorations.

"You can't force people to get along," I said, "Even if you really want it."

"Yeah, things just can't go back to the way they were," Ayesha sighed, "Kind of like the Explosion, right? People act like if we just round up all the para-folk and lock them away we'll get the old world back, but I don't think that's how it works. Some things are just...irreversible."

"Don't you just wish people could see each other honestly?" she said, "Without all their own drama getting in the way. Their fear, their resentments. I wish people could love each other, love themselves, at least a little bit more."

"Some people are just ugly," I said, thinking of Houndmaster, thinking about the things he'd done and promised to do.

"Some people," she agreed, "But most people are pretty okay."

I smiled. "You really do have faith in people, don't you?" I said.

She shrugged, looking embarassed. "What's the alternative?" she said, "To be suspicious and guarded and cynical? That's not how I want to be or what I want the world to be. And I believe, you know, I actually do believe we make the world through how we think, what we say, what we do. So I'm going to think good, say good, do good. If I can...I mean...that's just..." she trailed off into a blushing silence. "Maybe I am naive."

>maybe a little
>not at all
>>
>>4731490
Shit, just got off work
>>
>>4731571
>not at all
>>
>>4731571

>maybe a little
It's not a bad thing though
>>
>>4731571
>maybe a little
>>
>>4731586
>>4731589
Don't kill the spark.
>>
>>4731571
>not at all
I think we'd all be better off if people were a little more like you. A blind guy saw me honestly earlier and he said I was full of anger. Maybe that's why when I try to do the right thing all I can do is hurt people.
>>
>>4731571
>>not at all
>>
>>4731571
>Maybe a little,the world is a crazy place ayesha, and I think it was Jesus or Buddha who said that it's better to be a warrior who enjoys his days on a farm, than to be a farmer at war

Shit analogy I know but Hotspur is neither naive enough to give her an absolute not at all,but we are a hero so we're not a cynical bastard who thinks the worst of everyone, we just know that sometimes in order to do good than force must be applied
>>
>>4731571
I'll switch>>4731575
to the write in>>4731639
>>
>>4731571
>not at all
>>
>>4731669
>>4731639
>>4731589
>>4731586
locked in
>>
>>4731686
Which won?
>>
"Maybe a little," I said.

It was hard to believe in the inherent goodness of people after running up against guys like the Creep, Houndmaster, and Ooze, not to mention the general ugliness of the urban decay I bounded through most nights. And it wasn't as if the ugliness was on the part of the poverty stricken communities so much as it was the city surrounding them, the boundless wealth of the diners at high class restaurants literally sitting above the struggling masses as they dined on global delicacies while grandmothers struggled to get enough bread for the week. Of the cops beating down a junkie while wall street financiers drove from gated communities to high rise office spaces without having to once look out their tinted windows.

But at the same time, I'd seen people risk their lives to help a strangers. For every Creep there was a Misfit running around doing what good they could with what they had. Women like Ms Grant trying to build a better world. And even Ayesha, protesting, fighting, living for what she believed in. Ayesha, who had more reason than almost anyone else I knew to be cynical about things, after everything she'd been through with the Creep, the police, just being who she was.

It was admirable, in its way.

"It's not a bad thing though, trusting people," I added, seeing her withdraw a little, "Still, the world is a crazy place, and we need to be ready to fight. Was it Jesus or Buddha or someone who said 'it's better to be a warrior who enjoys his days on a farm, than to be a farmer at war'?"

"Sounds like a message in a fortune cookie," Ayesha said, "But I know it's not enough to say 'I'll be good'. There's a reason I asked you for boxing lessons. But I can admit someone can be against me and not be a bad guy. Like the anti-para-folk protestors. I'm not dumb, I know they're scared for a good reason, they aren't evil. I just think they haven't realized what they're asking for, or that they're being used by the really bad people. The end result, after detention, internment, what happens next? I can't imagine anything good."
>>
"People are good," she said, "Systems are rotten. Systems take good people and turn them against each other. Cloud the issue, cloud ideas like ethics and morality, spread apathy and nihilism so that people just give up and accept things as they are without believing it can be different, the world can be different. 'Vote Blue No Matter Who', 'Make America Great Again', all snappy little slogans while the bad guys keep pillaging our world and our communities while we bicker with each it just..."

She shook her head with a frustrated little growl.

"Sorry," she sighed, "Went on a tangent there."

"Maybe people are good," I said, "Maybe not. I don't know, I think people are mostly just complicated. They do good when they can afford to, but otherwise...most people don't know themselves, not really, not until they get put in a situation where they have to act, or not act. Most people never end up there, and just want others to do the work for them, or to turn a blind eye and not worry about it."

She looked tired, even if she was smiling. Tired of her friends fighting, tired of the state of things.

"I used to just hope for things, I thought just saying and thinking the right things was enough," she said, "Until Hotspur showed up. He showed me we have to fight. So I might be naive Eric, but I'm not stupid. I know we have to fight for the world we want."

Did she know or guess that I was Hotspur? I don't know, but Kay came out before I could say anything, looking sad. Then behind her came Ivy until it was the four of us out on the porch, silent as we looked up to the night with the snow falling softly from the dark.

And I thought about who wasn't with me and who wasn't waiting for me at home. The constant absence that ached in unconcious ways.

Merry Christmas, I thought. Merry Christmas, Mom.
>>
The gift I got from the team was a brand new set of Jordans. I'd never owned shoes this nice or comfortable before. Grandma and Grandpa had sent me a cool hundred dollars with a new wallet to put it in, something made of leather, more adult than the velcro strap cartton wallet I'd used before. Dad got me a new jacket, one of those ones with a hood. I still preferred his old denim jacket though.

Still, it was a good Christmas overall. Quiet though, for Christmas Day. I met Dad back at the apartment and we watched some basketball. Not talking but not needing to talk.

As good as it was to spend a quite couple of days for Christmas, with a new year looming I still had a lot of work to do. Hotspur work.

I owed favors that needed paying back, and friends in need of help, not to mention the remorseless fight against crime and corruption in the city.

>pick a primary and secondary activity
>track down 'James' for Mr Green
>wrap up finding Sullivan and Baby Girl's missing friends
>keep working the Misfit case
>keep digging into the mysteries of the Chicago explosion
>work the Navaja case
>stick to general crime fighting
>>
>>4731752
>wrap up finding Sullivan and Baby Girl's missing friends
>work the Navaja case
Our list is getting way too long, these are sorta related so let knock em out
>>
>>4731752
>wrap up finding Sullivan and Baby Girl's missing friends
>keep working the Misfit case
In that order
>>
>>4731752
Primary
>wrap up finding Sullivan and Baby Girl's missing friends
We've stalled enough on this, the only reason that they're helping us is because they think we're honorable like them, it's not gonna be pretty if we don't do anything soon

Secondary
>work the Navaja case

We're close, we know where she is and we can take her down easily enough, we have literally no leads on any other mission
>>
>>4731752
Primary
>wrap up finding Sullivan and Baby Girl's missing friends

Secondary
>work the Navaja case
>>
>>4731752
>wrap up finding Sullivan and Baby Girl's missing friends
>keep working the Misfit case
>>
>>4731752
>wrap up finding Sullivan and Baby Girl's missing friends
>keep working the Misfit case
>>
sorry guys, had a black out at my place
>>
Rolled 1 (1d2)

okay I'm going to flip a coin

1 is pursue the Navaja case
2 is keep helping out Misfit
>>
>>4732099
okay so before the new year we're going to visit Andrew Givens in prison to find out the location of the missing Stunt Crew MC bikers, and then keep building a case against Navaja

See you tomorrow
>>
We need a set contingency plan for what happens when our identity gets revealed. Would Grant put us in witness protection or something? Just go on the run? Give up our civilian life and go full time as Hotspur?
>>
>>4733073

Giving up the civilian life or working with the government sees like the only viable options
>>
no game today on account of exhaustion
>>
>>4733404
Fair, got to get ready for work early in the morning myself, good night madman.
>>
>>4733073
We would be fucked, it's either make a backroom deal with the government or go on the run. Grant wouldn't be able to protect us at that point.
>>
Kay would be a good girlfriend if Eric was just a normal guy. She thinks her hot boyfriend just happens to throw on a flattering costume and help people sometimes. At the risk of sounding edgy I don't think she understands the darkness in the Hotspur part of Eric. Or maybe she just isn't willing to acknowledge it. Ivy gets it though. She's seen the brutality firsthand and even warned us against killing her rapist. And she still loves Eric anyway. Kay allows Eric to have a separate life where he can pretend to be a normal guy, but Ivy accepts the normal and abnormal parts of Eric. The only question is if its better to have that pretend normal life on the side or someone who understands that Eric is both a violent vigilante and a messed up teen. Thanks for listening to my pro-Ivy TED talk.
>>
>>4733931
to be fair I'm not sure we've ever talked to Kay about the bad stuff but I see your point
>>
>>4733873
my vote would go to all in with a serious move against DPA, releasing paras on the condition that they help us take down Ixion. unless we find a more specific target through our old neighbors cryptic intel
>>
>>4733943
Another thing that concerns me about Eric's relationship with Kay is the fact that he was worried that Kay was about to reveal his identity as Hotspur. If she was trustworthy Eric wouldn't have worried at all, and she wouldn't have even alluded to some massive secret about Eric. She shouldn't have tried to get a kiss from Ivy either considering their history.
>>
>>4733931
As a lurker, I'd just like to say that you are very convincing and well reasoned, but I still think Misfit is 10/10 cutie material.

Also, love triangle of Ivy-Eric-Ayesha (post breakup with her current boyfriend and Eric his current girl of course) when?
>>
>>4733931
Hard disagree. Ivy would be the gf if we were normal. She's too out there to keep us grounded. Kae is ideal for that.
>>
>>4734534
>ivy would be the gf if we were normal

Nigga how? Ivy is a bitch, a lovable bitch who I WANT, but still a bitch

The only reason we even talked to ivy and got past all her "ivy-ness" is because of our work as Hotspur
>>
>>4734842
If the only reason she'd date us is because we're Hotspur, that's even more proof that she's the wrong one.
>>
>>4735029
>the only reason she said she loves us is because we're Hotspur

Really, fucking really!?

Have you been reading the same quest as everyone else, the reason we got to get past the bitchiness is because we got our ass beat and met her little sister, but the reasons that she said that she loves us just now, that's all Eric, not a single bit of her affection is because of Hotspur, it's all Eric

Kay just thought we were hot and were quickly becoming one of the cool kids, she knows nothing about Hotspur and with the way she idolizes semper fi and her general attitude she's not trustworthy at all.

My biggest regret in this entire quest is that I wasn't there to try to stop anons from revealing our identity to her, now there's a guillotine over Eric's head ready to drop on us the second we get into some stupid teenage drama, because that is inevitable
>>
>>4734842
>The only reason we even talked to ivy and got past all her "ivy-ness" is because of our work as Hotspur

>>4735131
>the reason we got to get past the bitchiness is because we got our ass beat and met her little sister

hmmmm

>the reasons that she said that she loves us just now, that's all Eric, not a single bit of her affection is because of Hotspur, it's all Eric

Seems like a pretty big assumption

What does Ivy know about Hotspur that Kay doesn't?

Ivy knowing who we are is just as much of a guillotine. You complain about Kay's attitude, when Ivy is far worse on that front. Just look at her behavior from the beginning of the party. I'm less worried about Kay who stays at a good baseline than Ivy with her wild swings.
>>
>>4735184
Ivy is probably struggling with her first Christmas without her kid sister
>>
>>4735184
>Knows about Eric being Hotspur, who is willing to keep a promise to a little girl on his own reasoning
>Goes out of his way to protect his friends and help others either as Hotspur or his normal dork self
>Treats her as a person when no one was willing to give her the time of day, expecting nothing in return
>Genuine nice guy that did more in a few months to make her happier than her parents ever did.
Wow, its almost like your brain damaged.
>>
>>4735184
In fact, I'll add a bit of a comment for Kay since you bring her up.
>Hang out with Ivy and was into her badgirl ness to go bi for a bit
>Snide as shit to most people she feels below her, nerd group, Hotspur until she knew it was Eric, ect
>Seems more into the badboy angel of dating Hotspur on top of Eric
She is a Mean Girl in a Nice cheerleader body,
>>
>>4735184
>>4735225
>>4735234
Actually, just thought of something else
>Ivy: Knows Eric has been Hotspur more or less since our start, and has not only kept her mouth shut, actively helped us keep the secret at points to give us a chance to protect the school
>Kay: Barely a week and not only is she taking great joy in thinking she's the only one to know Eric's secret, but seems to get off a little dangling the fact she knows "secrets" about us in the middle of a damn Christmas party out of spite to Ivy, and jealousy of both Ivy and Ayesha being into Eric/Hotspur respectively, even with us dating her. On top of her unresolved emotional issues with Ivy being her ex.
By far and away Kay is more likely to fuck up and blurt it out in an emotional outburst than Ivy is.
>>
anyone around for a late run?
>>
>>4735260
im game
>>
>>4735260
I am off on weekends, lets roll, I want to be involved live.
>>
okay give me a sec to get started
>>
>>4735260
Let's do it
>>
>>4735271
I'm here
>>
>>4735248
>>4735234
Those are only your interpretations of her motivations, which I disagree with.
>>
>>4735292
>Disagree
>Multiple threads of consistent action can be ignored like an opinion
Get out of here and go back to Plebbit. Your personal taste is irrelevant.
>>
Test:
Reddit
>>
>>4735308
Hmmm, weird. It went through without being called spam. Meh, whatever.
>>
>>4735307
>>4735307
So is yours though. You're the one treating your own beliefs about the emotions and feelings of these characters as facts. Last time I checked you weren't the QM, you don't know what you claim to.
>>
File: 1501380292042.png (322 KB, 600x682)
322 KB
322 KB PNG
>>4735323
>Ivy literally admits to liking Eric this thread
>Everything leading up to it is magically up to interpretation just because
So you are either genuinely retarded, shallow and retarded, or trolling.
>>
It was the day after Christmas, and it was time to pay back a favor.

Stateville Correctional was about an hour out of Chicago, in north Joliet. It was a township of its own off the highway, a gated community of armed guards and inmates. I'd sent a few people here myself by now, and it was one of those inmates we were going to see.

By we I meant me and Luis. I'm a minor, I can't visit an inmate without adult supervision, so I'd talked Luis into driving me out and coming with me to see my 'Uncle' Andrew. It wasn't a long drive but it was cold, the heating in Luis' beat up old cadillac busted. Driving past snowed over fields toward the barbed wire fences of the prison.

I'd never been to a prison before. My context was all movies. The first thing I discovered is its a lot quieter than I expected. The armed guards at the front gate, at check-in. The other visitors talked to each other softly, like they were at a library or funeral home, everyone a little on edge.

It put you on edge, everything about the place was designed to be as unwelcoming as possible. The buildings were old brick like something from the start of last century. We didn't get a look in at the prison cells or the yard, it was all kept out of view. All we saw was the front desk, the sign in sheet handed over by an uninterested black guard, and a dryily delivered run through of expected protocol.

"Any touching has to be above the table and in view of the guards," he said, "No material is to be handed back and forth. If there's any disruptions the visit will be cut short. No shouting, no fighting, nothing like that. You aren't allowed to bring in cell phones, ipods or anything else. No tobaccoo, no drugs, no weapons. If you give us cause we are permitted by federal law to search your vehicle."

"Once you take a seat you keep the seat, no musical chairs. If you need to use the toilet at any time you will be searched when you're done," he said, "Full cavity search, so, try to hold it in."

The guard walked us back to the visitor's room. It was like a school cafeteria but without the food, just a vending machine in the corner. Luis went over and got a can of pop before sitting down.

Other guests waited anxiously for their loved ones. Mostly women with restless children, mostly black or brown though there was a share of white faces other than mine.

We waited five minutes before Andrew Givens shuffled in.

Inmates in Stateville wore a blue collared button shirt and darker blue jeans. It was a uniform look, and a different kind of one than he'd worn in his life as a financier. In a weird way the blue suited him better than the gray suits he'd worn previously, but prison hadn't done much to change his saggy cheeked, sad eyed look. He was Andy Dufresne from Shawshank, but without the innocence. Andrew Givens most certainly killed his wife and his brother, there was no ambiguity about why he was here.
>>
He pulled back a chair, sitting across from me.

Luis cracked open the can of pop, the sharp sound drawing a look from a guard.

"Uncle Luis?" he said, a small nod for Luis, "So, what can I do for my nephew."

"How's prison, Uncle Drew?" I said.

His flat look matched his flat tone. "It's prison," he said.

"I'm surprised the DPA hasn't-" I started but he cut me off with a raised hand.

"Those ghouls don't need to know," he said, voice soft, "And the less people know the better."

"You could be helping people," I said, "Maybe it could help you cut down some time."
"Time off a life sentence," he said, "I'm already middle aged, kid. There's nothing waiting for me outside anyway."

"But you're willing to help me," I said.

Andrew Givens curled his shoulders inward. "Helping you won't get me dissected," he said, "We hear stories about what's going on in DPA lockup. There was a kid here who had some para-ability, when they found out he was scooped out in the night during lights out. I might have given up on the world but I still want to keep my skin."

"So help me here," I said.

"You want me to find someone for you, I need a name and a face," he said, "Unless you've smuggled in a phone, I don't know if..."

I nodded to Luis, who opened his coat to show a print out on the inside jacket. The faces, mugshots mostly, of the missing guys with names printed underneath. Andrew skimmed over them, lips pursed, nodding.

"Okay," he said, "I can tell you two things. Four of those guys are all in one place, and they aren't moving. Castle Rock State Park. Dead, if you want my opinion. The other three are, not much but they're definitely moving. Out near Pine Creek."

"Nothing but farms out that way," Luis said, "Real small towns, places no one goes."

A good place to hide, I figured. Andrew rattled out a string of numbers, coordinates, and I tried to keep them in my head.

"I don't know what this is about," Andrew said, "I don't want to know. The less I know the better."

"But if you could do me a favor," he said, "I...could you check on my daughter? Don't tell her I asked but, I understand why she won't forgive me and I don't expect her to but I just need to know she's being taken care of by her foster family. My...ability, it doesn't let me 'see' the way you might think. I know where she is but not how she is. If you could check in on her...let me know..."

A father worried for his daughter, but a father who had murdered the girl's mother. I was conflicted.

>sure, I can do it
>I don't think you deserve to know
>>
>>4735343
>sure, I can do it

honestly he's better than Kay's dad
>>
>>4735343
>sure, I can do it
We can't judge, we wanted to kill someone recently
>>
>>4735343
>sure, I can do it
This isn't even a question, guy still cares for his girl even if her mom was a hoe
>>
>>4735343
>Sure, I can do it
>>
>>4735328
If you don't understand what I'm saying you can ask me to explain more in depth. There's no need to lash out like this.

>>4735343
>sure, I can do it
>>
>>4735364
Your trying say events that happened and the reactions and actions to them are magically up to interpretation.
>>
I don't mind shipping drama because it means you guys are invested in the characters and their relationships

but when you guys argue please keep it respectful, let's not call each other retards or morons or whatever

we're all here to have a good time
>>
>>4735387
I hate people acting disingenuous more than anything else, especially when proof is written out and then ignored. This isn't about shipping, its about that guy being intentionally retarded.
>>
>>4735392
You're saying Kay/Ivy/Eric feel this way because so and so happened. So and so may have happened, but you have no way of knowing the character motivations or how they felt because of so and so. You're being disingenuous when you claim you do.
>>
>>4735408
Actions written by the DM speak for me, you trying to pretend that is an interpretation is the most asinine thing I've heard today.
>>
>>4735412
>>4735408
okay please calm down
>>
>>4735412

>>4735248
>Kay: Barely a week and not only is she taking great joy in thinking she's the only one to know Eric's secret, but seems to get off a little dangling the fact she knows "secrets" about us in the middle of a damn Christmas party out of spite to Ivy, and jealousy of both Ivy and Ayesha being into Eric/Hotspur respectively, even with us dating her. On top of her unresolved emotional issues with Ivy being her ex.

Literally what you wrote, my dude. Might want to read your own posts.
>>
>>4735418
Just ignore em, they're not really affecting other questers enjoyment and I hope they don't affect yours either
>>
>>4735422
And? Literally just a TLDR of what happened in the this and last thread. For that specific topic. That's not an interpretation, and if you try to say it is your insane.
>>
>>4735418
this>>4735425
Don't mind us, go on with the questing.
>>
>>4735418
What >>4735425 said they just need to get the autism out of their system
>>
>>4735422
>seems to get off a little dangling the fact she knows "secrets" about us

>>4735427
Your interpretation, right above. Personally, I thought it was something she said in the heat of the moment. Her thoughts when she said that were not written into the quest, so there's no way for anyone but the QM to know. QM has asked us to stop, so if you still can't understand I'm not going to waste any more time explaining it to you.
>>
>>4735433
>Won't waste any more time explaining
>As he has explained nothing and can't argue against a single point of character action in the quest so far beyond stretching the term interpretation to it's limits
But whatever, you're braindead or sub literate, and we got a convict's daughter to likely rescue in a random encounter style event from muggers or something.
>>
seems unanimous

locked in
>>
"Sure, I can do that," I said.

"They don't tell me where she's living," he said, "But..." he tapped the side of his head, then gave me the neighborhood she was living in, a place in the outer west side. Not a bad neighborhood by any stretch.

"I'll check in on her, let you know," I said.

"Are we done?" Andrew Givens asked, eyeing the guard.

Luis finished his can of pop with a satisfied gasp.

"We're good," I said, "Unless you want to talk about something else."

Andrew shrugged. "There's not a lot to talk about," he said, "They don't tell you the worst thing about prison is the crushing boredom. Shower time gets tense, but mostly its a lot of sitting around."

"What were you expecting, Oz?" Luis said with a grin, "You going to become leader of the Aryan Brothers or something? You're in the clink now, best you get used to a lot of sitting on your ass and keeping your head down."

"It's better than I deserve," he admitted.

We said goodbye to 'Uncle' Andrew and signed out with the bored guard. Our visit hadn't been rung with emotion like many others, there were no tearful goodbyes or talk of parole. we were in the visitor's carpark before we knew it, thinking of the next move.

"I should fill in Ms Grant, hook up with Sullivan and Baby Girl," I said as Luis pulled out a vape pen. I was surprised, he didn't seem the vaping type.

"Trying to quit smoking," he explained around a cloud of smoke. I waved the cloud out of my face. "I figure, from what you told me," Luis said, "You're looking at something real sinister going on. Those bikers, they aren't in a normal prison or we'd know about it. So they're in some off the books place, who knows why."

"Certainly paints a worrying picture," I said as we got in the car, started our way back to Chicago leaving Stateville and Joliet behind us.

There weren't a lot of adults I could rely on. I felt bad about pulling Luis into this. He was just a shopkeeper running a corner store, taking time out of his day to help me out while putting himself in real risk. I'd seen what could happen to civilians brought into the wrong side of this world. Luis had dodged a lot of danger already, but now with guys like Houndmaster out there, pure bred psychopaths with no one to pull them back, the danger was heightened even more.

The last thing I wanted was to come to his store and find him gutted like a fish.

I scribbled down the coordinates for the missing bikers. Out near Pine Creek, Givens had said. I didn't know that side of Illinois, the countryside. All I really knew was Chicago, and Chicago and Illois weren't always the same thing.

I figured they were probably being held by whoever had come down on us after taking out the truck. The men in the black military helicopters, the unknown powers who had been studying the stone. Government probably, maybe military, maybe connected to the DPA but maybe not.

A whole lot of unknowns were at play.
>>
"So are you going to go bust those guys out?" Luis asked, "Seems risky."

I shrugged. I didn't have a plan yet. Frankly it was running up against these kinds of mysteries that reminded me I was all of fifteen. Busting hoods was one thing, running against the government another.

>meet up with Ms Grant, she'd have an idea about what to do
>meet up with Syullivan and Baby Girl seperately, get their view
>>
>>4735480
>meet up with Ms Grant, she'd have an idea about what to do

Ought to at least be able to look up detention facilities in the area.
>>
>>4735480

>meet up with Sullivan and Baby Girl

We found out where they are. Busting them out was never part of the deal
>>
>>4735501
While that's true I think we could find out a lot about what's going on with the stone if we go there.
>>
>>4735501
this >>4735509
plus we kept them waiting for a while and asked for additional favors on top of what we already got. I feel indebted.
>>
>>4735509
Sure we could shadow them like at the bank, but the less Grant knows the better. Last thing we need is her poking around about where the bikers are at then a day later it being hit.
Very incriminating if you ask me
>>
>>4735480
>meet up with Syullivan and Baby Girl seperately, get their view
This one has to be completely off the books, if Grant starts sniffing around those sites even her position won't be enough to protect her.
>>
>>4735480
>meet up with Syullivan and Baby Girl seperately, get their view
changed my vote
>>
>>4735480
>Syullivan
whoops
>>
>>4735480
>meet up with Sullivan and Baby Girl
>>
>>4735523
Yeah I'll change too, this is a good point. I'm sure Mrs. Grant knows how to be discreet, but better not to risk it at all.
>>
locking in seeing Sullivan and Baby Girl
>>
I figured on this one I didn't want to put Ms Grant in further danger, better to just keep it between me and the Outlaws.

I sent Sullivan a text asking to meet. Grant had set them up in a safehouse, who knew where. Before we got back to Luis' store I got a reply, agreeing to meet. Luis parked around the back, shaking out his coat.

"Back to work," he said. D-Mark had been left in charge, with Smokey holding down the block out the front.

Smokey waved and said, "Happy New Year, Rico," as I passed. I shot him a wave back, but my focus was on the hideout. Meeting up with the outlaw couple meant switching from Eric to Hotspur.

It was cold in my hideout even if I'd set up a heater beside the old mattress. Sparse and nothing close to hotel living, I shivered as I stripped from my normal clothes and pulled on the warm hugging embrace of my outfit. Snow had gotten in through one of the windows, melting into a puddle in the far corner. I pulled on the gloves, flexing my hands, then put my folded up clothes and brand new Jordans under the comforter.

I pulled up the dog carving Ayesha had made for me, carved by hand, its tail up and ears alert. I slid it into my breast pocket, beside the stone. Then I leapt up to the high window, wedged myself outside, and from the side of the building lunged into the sky.

City life the day after Christmas was quiet, people still resting from the yuletide. A few people were out though. I met Sullivan and Baby Girl behind a greasy spoon cafe in the near north side, one of those formerly working class areas that was starting to show the wear and tear. Give it another couple of years, some more decay, and it'd be a prime location for gentrification.

I waited on the diner roof, hunger up, the smell of cooking fat teasing me from under my feet. I kicked aside a broken beer bottle, waiting.

They arrived with the rumble of motorbikes. Baby Girl slid off, pulling off her helmet to show her peroxide blonde pixie cut. Sullivan had grown his hair out, let the bleach fade so it was back to his natural color. It gave him a look like Patrick Swayze, an actor Mom had been in love with.

They wore bike leathers but not gang colors, and no weapons I could see though I'd bet they both had pistols in a shoulder strap. They came around the back, waiting for me by the dumpster. Sure enough when they zipped down their jackets, the guns were there.

"Yo," I said, dangling my legs off the roof.

Sullivan looked up, Baby Girl keeping a look out.

"You got some news for us?" he said, "It's about damn time. You aren't exactly the most celeritous motherfucker."

"Celeritous, is that your word of the day?" I said. I saw Baby Girl smile. "I've found your friends, or at least I know where they are. I don't have eyes on them, but then the deal was never to break them out."

"What's the word?" he said.
>>
I told them what Andrew Givens told me, how most of them were dead, buried in unmarked graves out in the middle of no where, but how three should be alive, and where they were being held.

"Pine Creek?" Sullivan said, "I don't even know where that is."

"Do you have the coordinates?" Baby Girl asked.

I did, and when I gave them Baby Girl put them in her phone, bringing up a map.

"It says its just grassland," she said, "Between farms and a state park. But if this is some kind of black site, they will have covered it from sattelite view."

I nodded, it made sense. If they could cover up a gunfight on a busy highway, hiding their base of operations or whatever this was would be cake.

"The closest town is called Rochelle," Baby Girl said, "We knew a Rochelle once, remember?"

Sullivan grinned. "Oh I remember. Those two nights in Vegas were something else," he said. I blushed at the implication, happy to be wearing a mask.

"So now you know your friends are alive, some of them at least," I said, "What's your plan now?"

The outlaws swapped a look. "Try to break them out," he said, "We made a pact, they're our brothers."

"I don't like our odds," said Baby Girl, "Not just the two of us."

"I am not of the suicidal inclination," Sullivan said, "But regardless we have to honor our word. Near as I can tell though, these guys are your enemies too," Sullivan said, "We could ride against them together. We'd need the help."

I'd expected them to ask something like that, and I was certainly curious enough about what this group was up to, but throwing in with wanted criminals wouldn't look so good in the papers, or starting a war with whoever controlled this operation. And I had a lot on my plate already, dealing with the DPA, Navaja, and the other organized crime in the city.

>I've got enough on my plate, count me out
>Count me in, I want to know what they're doing
>Tell them to hold tight, let's investigate more first
>>
>>4735622
>Count me in, I want to know what they're doing
I'd love to investigate, but how?

We're already keeping Grant out of this and I see no other leads, let's get this over with

But

>don't go as Hotspur, ask them to get you some generic bikerwear and a helmet, wear a mask under the helmet just to be safe
>>
>>4735622
>Count me in, I want to know what they're doing
no time like the present, putting this off for a later date just puts another task on our list. After this we need to clear misfit's name and team up with her to finish up the rest.
>>
>>4735622
>Count me in
On the condition that they disguise themselves so they look like fellow vigilantes rather than wanted criminals.

>>4735633
I thought about this too but we'll probably be driven into using our distinct powers.
>>
We're attacking a government blacksite, this isn't gonna go public. We're already this group's enemy, I'm sure they know we have the stone.
>>
>>4735642
All the details might not go public, but if a security camera gets a shot of us with Sully or BG I bet they'll happily publish it to get us out of their hair.
>>
>>4735633
This
>>
File: IMG_20210410_005938_796.jpg (84 KB, 1280x797)
84 KB
84 KB JPG
Just wanted to say thank you for running this Quest, being in love with it. being wanting to draw some concept to Hotspur but not really used to draw with only text references, hope you like it.
>>
File: IMG_20210410_005937_358.jpg (55 KB, 1280x800)
55 KB
55 KB JPG
Here's another one. God I wanted to post since weeks, needing a vpn to post is pain.
>>
>>4735669
Nice work Anon, this quest deserves more fanart and this is a great start!
>>
>>4735673
Thanks!
>>
>>4735672
>>4735669
thanks a lot anon, that's really cool
>>
>>4735679
You welcome Qm, keep up the good work!
>>
>>4735633
>>4735636
>>4735637
locking it in
>>
"Count me in on this one," I said, "I want to know what they're doing. If they're the original owners of the stone, I can't imagine they had anything good planned for it."

"But I won't be going as Hotspur," I said, "You'll need to find me some leathers and a helmet. Hotspur can't be seen running around with criminals like you."

"Criminals like us? Now here I thought we were becoming friends," Sullivan said.

"Of course we won't just drive in guns blazing," Baby Girl said, "We'll need to scout the area first. You are good at sneaking around, Hotspur, but for this we will need to apply greater skill."

"You think your ninja training will be enough?" Sullivan asked.

Ninja training?

"Don't call it that," Baby Girl said, "The techniques of the Mizuno family line are-"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm sorry," Sullivan said as if cutting off a lecture he'd heard dozens of times before.

"Ninjas are white boys playing pretend," Baby Girl said, "I am a kage-musha."

"The shadow warriors of the Pacific rim," Sullivan said as if I should understand what that meant. She could call herself whatever she wanted, at the end of the day she was still a criminal. If she was some kind of stealth warrior it certainly explained the sword as more than just costuming, and explained why their heads had stayed on their shoulders so far.

"Let's get this done sooner rather than later," I said.

"I can ride ahead, scout, and report back," she said, "Then we can hit the place at dawn."

"And if you don't report back?" I said. Baby Girl shrugged.

As plans went it was a loose one.

"For this kind of stuff Baby Girl works better alone," Sullivan said, "She don't need a shitkicker dragging her down. She knows her business."

She pulled her helmet back on, giving us both a thumb's up.

>maybe I should go with you in case you need back up
>trust her and hang back with Sullivan
>>
going to call it a night here. I should be back tomorrow but I'll let you know
>>
>>4735730
>trust her and hang back with Sullivan
Let's ask him how he and Baby Girl got involved with the Bikers
>>
>>4735730
>trust her and hang back with Sullivan
Eric is not stealthy, we always get into a gunfight or worse
>>
>>4735730
>trust her and hang back with Sullivan
>>4735754
We've done stealth shit sometimes, and we're definitely cut out go it, what with the heightened senses and agility. But stealth with more people is always harder.
>>
>>4735669
Kek, that scene is always funny.
>>
>>4735730
>trust her and hang back with Sullivan
Can we ask him about relationship advice?
>>
>>4735730
>trust her and hang back with Sullivan
>>4736094
I don't think that's a boundary we should cross
>>
>>4736107
I mean we are helping him bust his guys out. And its not like anyone else we know has nearly as much ass thrown they're way besides him.
>>
>>4736116
I think keeping the Eric half and the Hotspur half as separate as possible is a good policy with these guys.
>>
>>4736262
Fair, Sullivan being honorable doesn't change his criminal behavior I guess.
>>
pretty lousy again today so I'll run tomorrow
>>
>>4736833
Good night then mate.
>>
>>4736107
>>4736094
>>4735780
>>4735754
>>4735738
locked in
>>
>>4738885
Time too party
>>
Whatever a 'kage-musha' was, her business was her business. I hanged back with Sullivan while Baby Girl peeled away. He just watched her go, riding off into unknown dangers, barely a tick of concern on his face.

It must be something to have such complete trust and faith in another person.

This did mean though that I had time to kill in Sullivan's company, and behind a greasy diner with no company but rats sorting through the garbage in the dumpster and the pigeons roosting above our heads, their shit splattered across the concrete.

They were an odd duo. Ruthless criminals, but with a certain code of honor. I don't know if I respected them, but I felt I understood them better than some of the other crooks and villains I'd run up against.

"How did you guys end up in the Stunt Crew?" I asked, if only to fill the silence.

"You want a life story?" he replied with a crooked smile.

"Whatever you want to tell, man, we got time to kill," I said.

Sullivan leaned back on his bike, striking up a smoke. He took a long draw before talking, letting the cigarette smoke fill his silence.

"Well you could say we're natural nomads, so the life appeals. You could say we're natural outlaws too. Mostly we just aren't built to fit into the normal arrangements of life, neither one of us. Wear a tie, work an office, stack a shelf. Get married, buy a home, have a couple kids we send off to school every morning. Drag along until we get too old and have to be moved into care, start wetting ourselves in a hospital bed while waiting for visits from kids that never come. A long life of nothing."

"A man needs to live true to himself or die a different sort of death."

I could understand some of it. "But that doesn't mean you need to be a criminal," I said, voicing my second thought.

Sullivan shrugged. "I could blame my daddy or the cards life dealt me, but the truth is its fun. To live on the wire and gamble your life every time you step out. You understand that, I think, when you put on your costume. And aren't you just an outlaw yourself? You're no cop, Hotspur. The state don't hold your leash."

"I'm no criminal," I said.

"Didn't say you was," he said.

"And your partner, Baby Girl?" I said.

He smiled. "You know that's her name? It's not some cute nickname, its all they put on her birth certificate. To her family she's just another soldier. Nah, not even that. She's a tool, a living piece of biological equipment. She was supposed to kill me, you know. Me and a couple of other boys raising hell on the west coast. We got up to trouble with some bad people, so the Kage-Musha were hired to wipe us out. They figured us for a gang of punks so they gave the job to a little sixteen year old thing barely stepped out of the family compound before. Instead we partnered up, took out her own family. We've been riding together ever since."

Hell of a story, I thought, if any of it was true.
>>
"You guys seem to work well together," I said.

His smile faded. "I love that woman with every burning inch of my soul," he said.

"More than the outlaw life?" I asked.

It was a question made him stop and think. Then he raised his thumb and figure, the smallest gap between them. "By about this much," he said, his smile back.

"You got someone like that in your life, Spur?" he said.

>I think so
>I'm not sure
>>
>>4738945
>I'm not sure
New concept gained!
>>
>>4738945
>>4738951
Actually gonna switch.
>I think so
He's been straight with us so far as we've known him.
>>
>>4738945
>I'm not sure
That absolute trust is not there with Kay
>>
>>4738945
>I think so
>>
Rolled 2 (1d2)

flipping a coin

1 is I think so

2 is I'm not sure
>>
>>4739062
So it shall be oh dice gods
>>
"I..." I said. Did I have someone like that in my life? Could I really say that about Kay? I loved her, but...but to have that kind of 'ride or die' trust. We'd never been tested like that, and when I thought back to Christmas eve, when I thought Kay might spill my identity over a dumb fight with Ivy, my reflexive fear, I just couldn't be sure. Maybe it wasn't her, maybe I was the one who didn't have the sense of trust.

"I don't know," I said.

Sullivan nodded as if he expected it. "Yeah, most people don't," he said, "Even some who think they do find out they're wrong when it comes to the push. Until you've burned in the fire together, you can never really know."

After that there wasn't much left to talk about but to wait. He went into the diner and came out with a couple of melts, the cold climbing as the sun started to sink. A cold end to the year. We'd gotten unlucky up here unlike everyone else with climate change, with the 'polar vortex' kicking our asses every couple of weeks in winter, bringing down arctic winds as a consequence of the decaying ice caps.

Sullivan dipped to pick up a set of leathers and a helmet for me. I changed in the back alley, shivering until I was dressed, keeping my mask on under the helmet and stashing my costume in a gym bag. It wasn't Stunt Crew colors but we were obviously outlaw bikers and not out for a weekend drive. It wasn't too different from what I normally wore, a little looser on the shoulders and around the seat of my pants.

"Not a bad look," Sullivan said, "We'll make an outlaw out of you yet." Then he kicked up onto the back of his bike, lying across it with his hands behind his head, getting some sleep. Me, I couldn't rest. I was a nervous coil thinking about just what we were about to do, running against some kind of secret government base, unsure what we'd find in there, unsure we'd even get out with our skins.

It was getting toward midnight when Baby Girl returned.

I'd have thought she'd need some rest. All she did was pop some pills and chug a drink. I didn't know what the pills were, I didn't want to know.

"It's where you said," Baby Girl said, "Out near Pine Creek, up by the state park. It's military I think, underground. There's a main entrance made to look like a farm house and barn from above, but its manned by soldier types. I got in through a ventilation shaft. Underground people still need to breathe. Inside...its built like, I'm not sure. Some mix of a laboratory and a prison. You'll need to see for yourself. I think I know where our brothers are being held."

"Can we get them out?" Sullivan asked.
>>
Baby Girl nodded. "It won't be easy," she said, "You'll both have to move exactly how I move to avoid cameras and pressure sensors. We need to do it tonight. I got the sense this is the kind of places switches up its security to make sure people can't plan a break in, or a break out."

"This is the kind of place where if they catch you, they don't just arrest you," she warned.

"So let's go," I said. I wanted to clear this debt between us, but honestly I was also curious. I wanted to know just who these guys were and what they were doing. I couldn't think of a better way to find out than to get my own eyes on it.

"Well then hop on," Baby Girl said, patting the seat behind her as Sullivan pulled on his helmet. I slung on behind Baby Girl. When I placed my hands carefully on her hips she giggled.

"You can grip her a bit tighter 'en that kid," Sullivan said, "Don't worry, I'm not the jealous type."

When I did, swallowing a nervous lump, Baby Girl faked a moan and said 'Strong hands!'

I blushed under the helmet as Sullivan ripped a snort of laughter, revving his bike.

Then her bike burst forward and I was forced to hug her fully, grabbing tight if I didn't want to fly off, bent over her as she bent over the bike, cement flying under us as the polar winds whipped up.

We weaved through the city, from concrete sprawl out to suburbs, then from the suburbs to the dark open country of Illinois. The roads were empty except for stray headlights, which soon faded away leaving the roads abandoned save for the cold howl of the wind around us.

Haunting was the word, riding through an empty world of dark fields under the star-strewn sky, winter's grip on the land around us, in the very air we breathed. The winter night, cold and dark, no place for living things save the few noctrnal creatures capable of surviving in this wasteland. I could believe this was a world for demons, dark shadows moving over the snow, leaving no tread but their presence known in the growing chill, the retreat of life at their presence.

But there was warmth in the motorcycle rumbling underneath me, in the body of the woman I held onto, and in the fire burning in my chest. The night was made for demons, but I walked with a fire.

Or rode with one.

We drove for hours through the night, not talking, not able to over the gusting winds that howled down from the north and the roar of the bikes. There wasn't much to talk about other than fear, a backbeat under my skin. Maybe some people thought I was fearless but that wasn't true, I was scared all the time doing this stuff, and now more than ever as we set ourselves out against this mysterious foe.

Baby Girl took a dirt road off the highway, a winding long track poorly managed, cutting her headlights as we drove slowly over the uneven ground.

Now she talked. "We'll need to walk most of the way," she said.

Can't just drive right up, I guess.
>>
Sullivan pulled up beside us and we dismounted, Baby Girl removing her sword from her bike, belting it around her hips.

"Follow exactly as I do," she said to me, not to Sullivan. There was no need for her to speak to Sullivan, all they had to say was exchanged in a glance.

She started into the forest, barely a whisper even from her boots on the snow. I stepped into her small foot prints, trying to take her as literal as possible, without quite the sashay in her hips.

She lead us through the wilderness of the state park, knowing her path, trusting we trusted her. This was far from a night time hike in the woods. Who knew what the winter dead trees hid?

Then she lead us to a stop.

Crouched beside a cleared spot of snow.

"Ventilation shaft," she said, squatting over a grill, warm air flushing out of it. She worked it out of place. A black hole yawned under us, a small one.

"Tight fit," I said, uncertain about what we were doing.

"I'm used to 'tight fits'," Baby Girl teased. Even nervous as I was, I blushed at the innuendo.

She slithered into the hole, arms stretched overhead, either waving goodbye or waving to follow as she disappeared.

"You next," Sullivan said. I nodded, dangling my feet into the hole, curling my shoulders inward. Warm air rushed out, with a vapor haze where it met the frigid cold of the world above.

I took a breath as if I were diving into a pool, then without thinking, dropped in after Baby Girl.

It was no water park slide. "Use your elbows, your knees," Baby Girl said, her voice rising from above. I wedged my limbs in awkward positions, becoming some kind of vertical climbing crab as I moved down the shaft after the biker. I winced at every clumsy bang as I climbed down after her.

There was no way they couldn't hear us. There was no way they wouldn't find us. There was no way they didn't have eyes on this possible entrance. It couldn't be this easy.

>roll 3 x 1d100+15 dc 80
>>
Rolled 64, 19, 26 + 15 = 124 (3d100 + 15)

>>4739240
>>
>>4739246
I'll take the first result of that
>>
>>4739246
Wow, pretty low rolls
>>
>>4739250
Shiiiit
>>
so still need two more rolls
>>
Rolled 89 (1d100)

>>4739240
>>
Rolled 40 + 15 (1d100 + 15)

>>4739240
>>
>>4739261
Oh thank god
>>
>>4739261
Nice!
>>
>>4739261
passed

give me a sec
>>
lets goooooooo
>>
It felt as though we were crawling for hours, though it couldn't be true. Compared to outside the heat in here was stifling. I was sweating under the leather biker gear, wishing I could zip open the jacket just to air it out. And then, without warning, my feet shot through empty space and I almost fell, catching myself on the side of the shaft.

Baby Girl had landed soundless open the floor beneath me, an ink blot in the dark. It was a fair drop, I steadied myself, calling on my powers to soften my fall. I landed next to her, then Sullivan landed on her other side.

The clink and groan of an engine masked our steps, the heat overpowering. Some kind of machine took up most of the room, maybe the power supply of the subterranean base. Baby Girl's orders didn't stop there, we moved single file behind her, staying low as she moved toward a door. It was open by the width of a straw, and she swung it outward. From out of her pocket she drew a security card, where she got it we didn't know and couldn't ask.

We entered a corridor, lit up with bright lights, the floor covered in linoleum casting a shopping mall glow under our feet. The wrong kind of footstep would make the ground squeak. A cheap kind of warning system, but kind of clever too.

I felt like Scooby Doo stepping carefully behind Baby Girl, the three of us in a line as we moved down the corridor, staying closse to the wall. Then a sound up ahead, muffled voices. Baby Girl stopped, we imitated her. There was no need for signals or warnings if we followed her first order, 'move exactly as she did.'

We'd come up on a t-section, and up the other corridor came the squeaking footsteps of guards chatting. Even in a place like this, people were people.

"-for a transfer to Red Base," one said, his voice becoming more distinct, "Get back into the real action. We're soldiers, not mall cops. I didn't go through SEAL selection just to stand around."

"Enjoy the gig while it lasts," the other guy said, "You saw the preview on those drones being produced. They'll have us replaced by robots before you know it."

They wore blue caps and bright yellow vests over blue fatigues, not looking like any kind of soldiers I'd seen before, but their guns were legit enough. They wore a funny kind of badge on their shoulder, three chevrons, two red, one black, with a line of stars underneath.

The one complaining stopped to sneer at his friend. "You know your problem Rollo, you-"

But he stopped in shock. Baby Girl moved quick, running soundless, driving up with her hand in a funny wedge shape. It slammed into his muscular neck, driving a dent into his throat. The sound he made was full of choke and spit, forgetting his training as he grabbed for his collapsed wind pipe.
>>
Baby Girl didn't wait, her leg swept the other, dropping him before he could shout a warning, rolling over the top of him to drive her fist down hard, over and over, into his throat too, leaving him gasping like a fish, trying to draw his gun. Baby Girl kicked his hand away, getting up, stomping her heel down into his face again and again, caving in his nose, caving in his teeth, leaving him shaking out his life on the ground.

They died ugly, quick, and mostly silent. Baby Girl picked one up by the feet, Sullivan took the other, and they dragged them away, back to the heat of the boiler room. Sulliven took one of their guns, some kind of compact machine gun with a snub barrel.

Sullivan and Baby Girl might live wild, dirty lives, but they were lives stained in blood, some of it innocent. I couldn't forget what they were just because they looked good in leather.

"We aren't supposed to kill people," I said.

"Don't talk," was all Baby Girl said.

She led us back the way, past small blood stains, down the way the guards had come.

If she had a sense for this place, I didn't. So far it seemed to be a maze of tunnels all criss-crossing each other, with no sense of a central location or more to it. Maybe she was avoiding those places. Even close to dawn there were people around. There were no signs, I guess the base personal were expected to get familiar with this place.

But the deeper we went the closer we came to a sense of location, the corridor widening out into an entrance. We stepped out onto a gangplank leading across an open space. Beneath us was some kind of auditorium or operating theater, currently empty. There was a medical tang to the air, the suggestion of anesthesia and bleach, the suggestion of surgery. Dissection.

We crossed the gangplank hanging above the pit, crossing to an opposite entryway.

Now we were in what could only be called a prison, two floors of cells, one on our level, another below. The cells weren't large, they had a small cot and a toilet, clear screens facing out offering no privacy. Most of the cells were empty, lights off.

The others though...

If the occupants noticed us they made no sign. They were beaten up, defeated. Baby Girl and Sullivan ignored them, looking for their friends, but I looked them over. Then felt a cold wave run through me as I recognized one of them.

Thunderchild. He sat under a bright light, pits under his eyes like they didn't let him sleep, dark skin gone ashy. They'd hacked off his locs, bound his arms in some kind of straight jacket. He didn't look up, just stared at an empty spot.

My attention was caught by a hand slapping on glass.

Eugene Nguyen, the Creep. He stared, tried to speak but I couldn't hear him through the glass. He looked as bad as Thunderchild, but he had his mind, eyes shimmering bright, focused on me.
>>
I checked for Baby Girl and Sullivan, who had climbed down to the bottom floor. I looked out over the railing, checking on what they were doing. Baby Girl pressed her key card to a panel beside a door, the screen door sliding open.

"Come on buddy," Sullivan said, pulling out a gaunt prisoner. The biker didn't talk, he was mute, barely responding. Whatever had been done to him, the same was done for the other two bikers, who barely managed to walk when lead by the hand. Didn't seem to want to walk. They pulled away from Sullivan, back toward their cells, reminding me of fussy, tired children.

"We're breaking you guys out," Baby Girl said, "Come on, we need to move."

I looked to Thunderchild, to the Creep, to the other prisoners who must have been para-freaks, like me.

We'd come for the bikers, no one else.

>but I can't leave Thunderchild behind
>and I need to stick to the plan
>>
>>4739373
>but I can't leave Thunderchild behind
>>
>>4739373
>but I can't leave Thunderchild behind
>>
>>4739373
>but I can't leave Thunderchild behind
>>
>>4739373
>but I can't leave Thunderchild behind
>>
Could we release everyone and start some chaos?
>>
>>4739427
write-ins are always open
>>
I feel like we could work out an oath with the Paras we release here to keep them in line. Just leaves a bad taste in my mouth leaving anyone here. Plus they can help us destroy this place.
>>
>>4739419
>>4739415
>>4739411
>>4739407
locking that in
>>
I put my hand to Thunderchild's glass screen.

I couldn't leave him behind.

Baby Girl and Sullivan half dragged their friends up the stairs.

"Hand me the card," I said

"We got who we came for," Sullivan said, "We didn't come for anyone else."

"We need to move, Hotspur," Baby Girl said, "Opening the cell must have tripped an alarm, we have little time."

I stared at the screen, Thunderchild sitting behind it, unseeing.

The fire inside me rose. I drew back my hand.

And drove in my fist.

The plastic door burst off its frame, dented inward. Pain rolled up my arm, but the fire inside me rolled it back. Whoever these cells had been built for, they hadn't been built good enough to hold me.

Thunderchild looked up, a spark in his eyes.

"Can you walk?" I said.

He licked dry lips, then hesitantly nodded, struggling to get to his feet without the balance of his arms. Behind me the Creep beat on his own cell door, shouting muted. I grabbed Thunderchild around the shoulder.

As much as I didn't want to leave anyone behind in a place like this, a guy like the Creep wasn't exactly a priority. He actually was guilty, and guilty of trying to hurt one of my best friends.

"I got you," I said.

"For the love of Christ," Sullivan growled. Baby Girl stepped out, drawing her sword, cutting the straight jacket sleeves off. Together we pulled the bindings off him so he culd walk free. Clumsy, but free.

He stopped to stare at the prison cells. The para-freaks had come to the glass to watch. Some shouted silent, crying, hitting the screens. Not wanting to be rescued themselves, crying tears of joy to see one of their own break free. A fat woman wept, barely able to stand, some creature all made of vines slithered across the clear plastic of his cell. A young guy might have been in his mid-twenties grinned ear to ear.

Thunderchild stared out over his fellow inmates.

"Let's go," I said, tugging on Thunderchild's arm.

He stumbled after me, barefoot.

Our exit wasn't as stealthy as our entrance. It couldn't be. Whatever had been done to the bikers they barely seemed human, they made Thunderchild seem like an image of strength. Their eyes were vacant and steps shuffling. It wasn't so much about rescuing them as herding them.

Whatever had been done to them had left them in an unnatural, near catatonic state.

We were crossing the gangway over the medical theater when the door to the prison cells slid shut with a sharp click.

"Intruders are in the surgical ampitheater," a voice over a sound system. It wasn't urgent, the tone was relaxed easy listening. "Intruders with escaped detainees. Threat Level is zero-zero-three."

The exit before us slid shut with a locking click, the glowing lights overhead shifting to a cold blue.

"Aw shit," Sullivan said, drawing his revolver from under his jacket.
>>
There were exits beneath us, in the surgical room, but it was a drop. I didn't see we had much choice.

"Can you port us down?" I asked Thunderchild.

He stared at the cold white ground under us, then nodded.

"Grab...hold..." he said. I gestured to him for the others, each of us grabbing an arm or a shoulder.

He sucked in a breath.

A thunderclap rolled through the auditorium, bouncing back to us from around the room. I felt myself twist inward, like I was being flipped around, like going up in an airplane but also not at all like that.

I swung out and almost fell over, underneath gangplank and on the operating theater floor. The others weren't much better, Sullivan leaning on Baby Girl, their friends bewildered, crouching in terror.

Thunderchild stood upright, shivering, eyes wide. Slowly a smile started over his face. He looked to me with brighter eyes.

"Let's book," he said, stepping more confidently down a corridor.

"Threat level is increased to zer-zero-two," the calm voice spoke.

"This is not the way we came," Baby Girl said, keeping pace with me and a more confident Thunderchild. I recognized more of the strut from the basketball court in his stride. "I don't have a map to this base Hotspur."

"Hotspur, huh?" Thunderchild said, "So you're the big hero. You changed your look."

"For this job," I said, "You know the way out?"

"I know how they brought me in," he said, "But I can't port where I can't see."

We walked through a room of old medical equipment, stretchers lined up on the wall, strechers with reinforced straps. A pair of swing doors opened into a corridor. We went up rather than down.

"Going that way just takes us back to the cells," Thunderchild said.

"Who runs this place, the DPA?" I said.

Thunderchild laughed. "Those jokers? I wish. I was in DPA custody all of two minutes before they handed me off to these other guys, and they didn't like doing it when they did."

"Do these guys got a name?" I asked. Thunderchild shrugged.

"We best be ready to fight out way out though," he said, "Speaking of, hold up."

We came to another t-section. "Which way?" I asked.

He shrugged again. "Listen," Baby Girl hissed.

There came a distant stamping, picking up in sound and vibration. Down one way came a, what could you call it, a formation of soldiers behind riot shields, caps switched for helmets. They carried rifles but didn't have them in hand, instead holding up some kind of long tube like a grenade launcher or something.

And they didn't come from one way either, they came down the other direction too, blocking it off.

Shield walls in every direction but the way we came, with guns behind them.
>>
"Subject 108, return to your cell immediately!" a harsh woman's voice barked from behind the shield wall to our left, "Intruders, on the ground now with hands behind your head! This is your only warning."

"Come on Sgt Buchanon, no need to be mean," Thunderchild replied.

"Subject 108, this is your last warning!" she barked, "Come on Shahbaz, don't make us do this."

"Same to you, Fiona," he called back, "You ain't seen me cut loose before."

He looked relaxed, calm even, glancing to me, to Baby Girl and Sullivan.

"You had to know you'd be fighting your way out," he said.

"Goddamn it Hotspur," Sullivan said, "If you've got us killed, I'll kill you myself."

It was Thunderchild grinning through his puffy tired eyes. "Be cool," he said, "We got this."

Then he grabbed my shoulder.

>roll 3 x 1d100+30 dc 75
>>
Rolled 86 + 30 (1d100 + 30)

>>4739623
>>
Rolled 29 + 30 (1d100 + 30)

>>4739623
Let's thunder-clap some cheeks
>>
Rolled 3 + 30 (1d100 + 30)

>>4739623
rolling to not vomit
also I doubt our extra 10 seconds freeing thundy was what got us caught Sullivan
>>
>>4739643
so close to a critfail

lucky
>>
>>4739644
I'd say it's unlucky it even got that close!
>>
"Don't kill anyone!" was all I had time to say before being pulled into Thunderchild's wake, the boom rolling down the corridor. We flipped around above the soldiers, and Thunderchild threw me down among them before disappearing with another crashing boom.

I was disoriented for all of a second before I struck down, a bowling ball crashing into pins, scattering soldiers. I picked myself up as they started adjusting, disciplined against surprise so I drove out a haymaker, cracking open a visor and shattering the face behind it.

"All right you motherfuckers," I said as he dropped with a groan, "Let's dance."

I ducked a swung baton and grabbed a rising knee, lifting the soldier up and swinging him into his friends. They tried to press shields in around me, tried to contain me like I was some helpless kid at a protest, but a wild upper cut flung open a break in their defence, then a long cross struck the face of a shield, smashing another soldier off his feet. Thunderchild grabbed a soldier, pulling him away and dropping him down from above our heads, then grabbed another and swung him around, teleporting mid-swing to appear behind me, swinging him into his friends.

One of those long tubes went off, firing a hissing smoke grenade bouncing and jittering under our feet, choking smoke kicking up around us. I caught it on the toe of my boot and kicked it away, then swung a back hand, cleared some breathing room as thunderous booms rolled up and down the corridor, Thunderchild plucking soldiers off the ground and flinging them around in every direction..

The fighting was too thick for anyone to shoot any kind of gun without risking their friends. I grabbed the back of my head, elbow raised to catch a baton, fired a punch into their gut and saw them collapse, spitting up under their visor.

Stab proof vests, bullet proof vests, I'd yet to find a Hotspur proof vest.

I drove my forehead down on the dome of a helmet and the visor popped off showing a dazed face, a headache building up behind my own eyes. As I turned a baton whipped around and clocked me acrooss the jaw, flipped around in a grip and jabbed me in the gut. The baton weilder must have been Sgt Buchanon, the suggestion of a brown hair whisping out around a hard clenched jaw with feminine lips sneering. She had her shield up at a funny angle, jabbing me overhand with the edge, trying to force me back.

I grabbed the edge of the shield and pulled it forward, dragging her off balance, and plating a hook behind her ear, knuckles denting into her helmet. She rolled down to the ground, gasping.

Thunderchild and I stood panting together in the scattered heap of soldiers. My knuckles hurt, my belly growled, and my jaw started to throb.

We'd made the military elite look like grade schoolers caught in a bar room brawl.

Then the click of guns opposite caught our attention.

With their friends down of course, that meant the soldiers opposite were now free to shoot.
>>
Baby Girl and Sullivan tensed as they prepared to meet the hail of bullets.

"Hold your fire!" a commander's voice, one that had the soldiers unconciously straightening up.

"Threat level is increased to zero-zero-one," the voice over the PA said, amused.

The ranks broke to reveal an officer. He wore the same badge as the soldiers, but wore a dress shirt and slacks, no vest or body armor. He didn't even carry a side-arm. He was tall and dark, maybe fifty but still fit, with an ugliness about him that was more personality than appearance. He gave his own soldiers a look of such withering contempt I almost felt sorry for them.

"You goddamn morons," he said he said to us, "Do you have any idea who you're fucking with?"

"You'd be surprised how often I hear that," I said more tired than smart-ass, but he didn't like it.

"CIA, SAC, the Harlem Globetrotters?" Thunderchild said, much more smart-ass.

The cold look he gave us was no doubt the last look many people had ever seen.

"My name is Colonel Vandieman," he said, "And this operation is under my command. We have a charter with unique powers that exceeds any you're aware of. If I want to bury you I can, with your miserable shithole of a city along with you."

I was used to threats by now.

"Human experimentation," I said, "Illegal detainment. I bet there's murder and other things going on here."

"You aren't human," Vandieman said, "And you aren't walking away. That is government property you're trying to steal."

Thunderchild's teeth clenched in rage. "Property?" he said, "The fuck did you just call me?"

I held him back.

"Colonel, really, there's no need for such language," a new voice, old, kindly and vaguely European.

She came up the other way, bent backed and smiling, dressed in a neat Irish tweed blazer. behind her walked a younger woman, pretty but with a blank face, dressed in a civilian suit with hands before her. A strange pair.

"Didn't I warn you something like this must occur? It was inevitable," the old woman said, "We planned so closely for a break out, we didn't prepare for a break in. Your anger is a mask for your own insecurity."

"Doctor Auken," the colonel said, "Now isn't the time for your interference. This project is a military-"

All the doctor did was raise her finger, but it shut him up.

"This project," she said, "Far predates your mandate, or your involvement. Now do be quiet colonel, I wish to speak with our guests."

She turned a kindly smile on me. She might have been seventy years old, grandmotherly, but the way Thunderchild tensed up beside me in fear, I didn't let the wrinkles in her smile fool me.
>>
"You are the vigilante," she said, "The Hotspur. I watched the videofeed. Watched you fight. Very enlightening. Very clever to work with criminals and wear a disguise, but the truth is visible to those with the eyes to see it."

"You took something valuable from us," she said, "Perhaps we should be grateful you took it, and not the other interested parties. I wasn't sure about you at first, I thought you might be working for...someone else."

"I don't work for anyone," I said.

"No?" she replied, "I believe you do. You work for six million someones, the people of Chicago. I commend it, I do! I also work for someone, and its not your government or your agencies. I work for the billions of people who call this planet home."

"So unlike Colonel Vandieman, I know you're not a threat," she said, "Not a deliberate one. Neither is poor Thunderchild behind you. He's a victim of circumstance and zealous curiosity. But I will do you a favor, a bargain if you will. It will allow you to walk out of here unharmed, all of you, and keep Colonel Vandieman from doing the silly military thing and try to attack you. You see he is a soldier, and thinks in terms of war. But I'm a scientist, and as a scientist I think in terms of collaboration."

"What's the trade?" I said.

"The stone of course," she said, "Give us back what you took and we shall be, what is the expression? Square. You'll not hear from us, and we hope not to hear from you. It will be as if we never met."

"And if I say no?" I said.

"Well," she said with a regretful smile, "You always have a puncher's chance, yes?"

>take the deal
>tell her to shove it
>>
and I'll be back tomorrow
>>
>>4739725
>tell her to shove it
>>
>>4739725
>tell her to shove it

We Rolling with the stone
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>>4739725
>tell her to shove it
Make a show of reaching into our pocket and pull out a raised middle finger
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>>4739725
We have no guarantee that she won't double cross us the second she has the stone. Then again I don't think bonnie and clyde are going to be happy with us throwing away a get out of jail card like that.

Does she know for certain we have the stone on us? Because if not we could just lie to her and tell her we'll drop it in an abandoned industrial area.

Hell if that works we could tip off every other player looking for the stone, and have them slug it out in a free for all. But only if everything goes right
It's crazy, a huge risk, anybody with half a brain cell knows better, and just might work

>write in
>only an absolute moron would have the stone on their person. We'll arrange a dead drop AFTER we're safely away
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>>4739897
+1 to this
we get away free and we still keep the stone
>>
>>4739725
this>>4739897
>>
>>4739897
I think she can tell we have it
>>