[IC] The Light Fades Away Chapter 2: Shadow of the

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    Food, Pink, and Wytch Prod. Presents
    The Light Fades Away
    Chapter 2: Shadow of the Dragon

    The Freedom Five. Once, they were the world's most powerful team of superhumans. Founded by the super human David Jeremiah Duke, the team made its mark on history both in America and in the battlefields of World War II.

    David Jeremiah Duke, "Duke". The leader, an indestructible man, and the soul of the team.
    Evelyn Grace, "Dragon". A woman with immense speed, capable of hitting an opponent like a truck.
    Scott Baker, "Nightwatch". A man with senses and reflexes beyond what is humanly possible.
    John Wakefield, "Doctor Nucleus". A genius and the brains of the team, able to influence gravity itself.
    Ridley Leppelman, "Sacrifice". A spellcaster bound to a mysterious book and dagger, capable of powerful magic... for a price.

    Together they became a beacon of justice and hope for America. They brought about many great things in their wake, giving not just the United States, but the world hope for a brighter future. They may not have been the only supers about, but they were the most prominent and the most influential people of their time.

    During World War II, the team agreed to fight on the front lines, taking their abilities abroad. Yet war leaves more than just physical scars. Remnant, a super human powerful enough to topple even the Freedom Five threatened to bring the war to the shores of American. After a battle atop Hoover Dam, the villain was sealed away by Sacrifice's magic at the cost of Duke's life. The war ended shortly after, but at too high a price. Soon after the war's end, the team fell apart.

    The year is now 1979. The Vietnam War has taken a toll on the U.S. and its people. The government is paranoid and jumpy at the thought of Soviets and nuclear missiles, always looking for a way to buy themselves peace of mind at the cost of their enemy's. The people are angry at their country and afraid of what lies outside of it. The Grace Act; passed after Evelyn Grace's discovery of certain black-operations conducted by the government with the use of a super human; prohibits the international use of super humans in military operations. Some people blame The Grace Act for the American defeat in Vietnam. Some people blame The New Freedom Squad. Some people blame the government.

    The original Freedom Five has been apart for decades, but as tragedy split them up, it should only fit that tragedy will bring them back together.

    Previously In The Light Fades Away:

    Evelyn Grace, has been murdered in her own home. While the rest of the country prepared to celebrate it's Independence Day, the three remaining members of The Freedom Five have reunited. They are past their prime. Broken. Replaced long ago by the younger New Freedom Five. Yet they seek Dragon's killer.

    Perhaps for answers.
    Perhaps for vengeance.
    Perhaps for closure.

    They've set up a trap for Evelyn's assassin. In Ridley Leppelman's old home, the three have fortified and prepared. Now, night is falling and with it, any chance of turning back. They expect company, and they will get it...

    This thread is the continuation and next chapter of The Light Fades Away, a story by @foodforpigs, @Wytchfinder, and @Sir Pinkleton. The first thread (Chapter 1) can be found here: The Light Fades Away (Retired Superheros) | Page 5 | IwakuRoleplay.com
    #1 Sir Doobington III Esq., Feb 26, 2016
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2016
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  2. "...how long do we have before the siege, Nuke?"

    Scott answered Ridley's question in John's place, "I guess it depends. If this guy's any good, earliest he shows up might be tonight. If he's not, then maybe a day or two. Either way, I think we should set things up now, just in case. If he doesn't show, then we can leave them there for a while until he shows up."

    He glanced toward the living room, down at the carpet where Ridley had mentioned the seal. In his mind's eye, he tried to create a map of the house and the traps they were setting. A choke point in the hallway, Ridley's seal in the living room, and blocked doors to limit their opponent's options. If they had been the team they once were, it would've been a sound, air-tight plan. Now, it felt unreliable and flimsy. Like a leaky tub balanced on four weak, wobbly poles. Any wrong move from them would end badly. And it wasn't the plan, it was the fact that they were nowhere near their prime.

    "Alright, I think that's as good as we can get, considering what we've got. John, see if you can get some of that glue stuff going." He considered the gas John had mentioned but decided against it. They would be shooting holes in the walls and fighting in close quarters. Without protection the gas would affect them as much as the assassin, "Not the gas though. I don't think we'll have a way of using without being exposed to it ourselves. But put the glue in the hallway and see if you can make it colorless so he doesn't notice it until he's already in it. We'll put our traps behind the few doors we don't board up. Ridley, you get that seal going. I'll start setting the traps and boarding up the doors."

    Making plans and assigning roles made him feel a bit like Nightwatch again. He didn't know whether he liked it or not, but it was there. While David had always been the soul of Freedom Squad, and Evelyn had always been its voice, Scott had always been considered when it came to tactical approaches. Duke valued everyone's insight, and Scott had never been an exception. In fact, David had often asked him what he thought before forming any plans where a tactical approach was required. They all had their specialties. Figuring out the fastest and cleanest way to stop someone, either beforehand or in the middle of a bind, had been one of Scott's.

    "If we do this right and we're careful, we can get this guy. Maybe even alive if John's glue works." He rubbed his hands together, "All right. Let's get to work."

    As they spent the afternoon working on the house, Scott was given time to think. He tried to focus on the work, but he kept drifting off. He hadn't had time to grieve Evelyn. Since she died, the only thing he'd concerned himself with was catching the killer and finding out why. He hadn't taken a moment to sit down and let it sink in. Evelyn was dead. He hadn't seen or talked to her for decades, and now he never would. He'd never know if she had hated him after he left. He'd never know why she raised hell when it got out that the government was trying to track him down and “reclaim their asset”. Perhaps it was purely out of her sense of justice. But he'd never know for sure, at least, not from her. There were a lot of things he'd never know...


    It was April. Scott had been part of Freedom Squad for some time now and his little pet project had yielded fruit. The mobs and crime families that had stagnated the area around his old neighborhood were thinning out. Every month there were less and less of them. Crime reports had even fallen by a significant percentage. Scott had pruned them. Carefully taking them apart through the little game of chess they'd all been playing.

    It was all a matter of pruning the thorns one by one, from the smallest to the biggest. When a big head is taken out, the result is often chaos. Lieutenants often scrambled to make sure their asses were covered and they snatched up any men, goods, and connections. One group splintered into little groups, all competing for resources that had once belonged to a single, contained group. Every rung on the ladder was like that, but Scott had carefully pruned each chip away, surgically removing dangers before finally putting an end to that particular sect. Big Lou had been one of many. Back then, it had only made a small dent in their operations. Today, that dent had grown into a chunk.

    Scott sat cross legged atop an apartment building. Down below, four men stood with their hands in their pockets, smoking cigarettes outside the back-alley exit of a bar. Scott knew why. They were moving something tonight. That something hadn't arrived yet, but it would make a stop here, pick up some extra security and swap vehicles. He waited, but he wasn't waiting alone. Evelyn sat beside him. She'd taken a sort of interest in his little project. She'd seen him when he first started. Kept tabs on him and watched him knock a few pegs out before she asked him to join the team. Now, she seemed to like checking up on it here and there. Occasionally she tagged along. Right now, they waited and chatted quietly high above their mark.

    "And this shipment belongs to that Aldo guy, right?" Evelyn asked.
    "Sort of. Aldo's helping fund this shipment and he gets a cut, but in the end, it belongs to Billy Musco. His guys are the ones moving it."
    "Right, it's Musco's plan, but Aldo's helping. And taking it out hurts both of them."
    "Exactly. And it makes Jim Aldo think Billy Musco's incompetent. He stops helping him, so Billy's business slows down. Aldo keeps his money closer to his chest and doesn't fund any other up-and-comers in the family. Favors are valuable, but when you fuck up like Billy's about to, it gets a lot harder to call those favors."
    "You really think this kind of thing through."
    "Only way to work this job."
    "Really? Cause I distinctly remember a certain someone running around and leaving unconscious thugs wherever he saw them."
    "Hey, we all have to start somewhere. I remember reading about a different someone performing little stunts in the papers. What was her name? Impact? Impala?"
    "Har har, very funny. You know, Yeng beat me senseless for that when I first met him."
    "Sounds rough. He made me study Chinese when I met him."
    "Huh. I wonder which was more painful."

    They laughed a little, their breath visible in the night. Down below, the men held their own conversation while they waited, but at this altitude, their voices were faint mumbles. Scott pointed at a different alleyway across the street and a few meters to their left.

    "See that alleyway?"
    "The one with the clotheslines?"
    "Yeah. See the window with clothesline going into it? Third one from the top."
    "Yeah, I see it. What about it?"
    "I used to sneak out of that when I was a kid."
    "Really? You grew up there?"
    "Yeah. Back then, I'd climb out of it for all sorts of reasons. I’d sneak out at night cause I was mad at my parents. Sometimes to see a couple of friends since we used to think hanging out at night was cool for some reason. Sometimes to see girls. And the first time I went out as a vigilante, I went out that window. I think I must've been 16 or 17. I was just some kid with a piece of cloth over his eyes and head. I used to practice jumping across rooftops, looking for muggings or robberies. I didn't find any at first. When I did, they got into a car and I couldn't catch them."
    "Why'd you do it in the first place? Why go out at night and start trying to punch people?"
    "I don't know. I just sort of knew that I could fight better than most people with my abilities and I guess I saw all the crime that went on around here and wanted to try and at least do something about it. I remember the first guy I stopped. Some guy with a gun, trying to rob this woman. I tried to sneak up on him, but he heard me once I got close. I had a baseball bat with me and I hit his wrist. He dropped his gun and I just stood there, a 16, 17 year old kid who got this far and didn’t really know where to go from here. Though, when he tried to run, I caught up and knocked him out with the bat."
    "You had a baseball bat with you?"
    "It wasn't mine, I borrowed it. But yeah. The lady sort of freaked out and ran once she saw me. Once he was out cold, I didn't really know what to do. I was 17 years old and I'd just stopped a crime, but I couldn't think of what to do next. I just sort of tied his hands to a fire hydrant and ran home."
    "What? No, I ran."
    "No, car. Look."

    Evelyn pointed at the alley down below. A car was pulling into the alley. Three men got out, each holding a weapon. From where they were, it looked like shotguns. That would make close quarters tricky, but not difficult. Scott and Evelyn stood. As he prepared to descend down the side of the building, he gave Eve a quick request,

    "Once you see me jump down on one, move in and focus on the guys with the shotguns. Take them out first. It's less than a dozen, we eat thugs like these for breakfast."

    Evelyn nodded and sped off. As Scott slid silently down a pipeline, a second car pulled into the alley; right on schedule. Seven men became eleven. Three shotguns became five. But for two members of Freedom Squad, this was still little more than a warmup. The voices from down below became clearer.

    "Alright. Stuff's in the trunk. Move it into the other car and do it fast. I don’t wanna be out here too long."

    Nightwatch pulled the mask over his head, hiding his face. Not for his identity, but because it was the face the mobs had come to fear. The sight of Nightwatch had become enough to get some to simply surrender on sight. There was even an informal bounty the families had placed on him. $50,000 and a place of honor in the mob's chain of command would go to whoever brought in Nightwatch's corpse. The bounty had started at only $1,000. The rise meant Nightwatch had done his job right.

    The men were still talking as he positioned himself above one of the shotgun wielders. Eleven men. Two of them moving crates of something into a car, the rest standing around and keeping an eye out. A few kept their eyes on the buildings above them. They knew that when Nightwatch came, he usually came from up above. He stuck to the shadows and moved when he knew they weren't looking. Once he was ready to pounce, there was no hesitation.

    He dropped, his feet connecting with one man's shoulders and knocking him to the ground. The gun flew from his hands and clattered under one of the cars as Nightwatch swung an elbow into another's jaw and then turned to push someone else's face into his knee. The heavy crack of a nose breaking echoed alongside the sound of shotguns being pumped. Scott didn't bother with evasive maneuvers. He could already feel Evelyn coming. Someone shouted, “It’s the fucking Nightwatch!” Two men got their guns up and ready, only to have something rush by and hit them both. As it happened, that same someone from before shouted, "Fuck me, Dragon's ‘ere too!"

    Here and there, someone would get the air knocked out of them, or get thrown into a wall as she sped by. At the same time, Nightwatch engaged three attackers, twisting a wrist, turning to slam a fist into a temple, turning back to turn the twisted wrist into a hold. He blocked and redirected a punch while swinging the wrist in his hand around, keeping his prey in front of him with an arm twisted behind his back. He kicked the man in his hold, forcing his body forward and the arm back. The shoulder gave way and dislocated, but Nightwatch's prey only had a moment to gasp in pain before an elbow knocked him out. Scott dropped the unconscious man to dodge a knife blade just before Dragon's blurred form came and knocked the blade's holder back against one of the cars.

    Seeing Evelyn run was always something different for Scott. To his reflexive mind, fights were easy to choreograph around, putting martial art and raw personal skill to good use. He could see attacks coming and when he truly focused, the world slowed to a crawl. John had once called it, "Perpetual Bullet Time," whatever that was supposed to mean. But when he saw Evelyn, he didn't see her as a blur like everyone else. Her movements seemed almost normal. To his senses, Evelyn wasn't faster; everyone else was just too slow. To him, she ran like she would without her powers. And every now and then, they made eye contact in a slow-motion world. Eye-contact was cut short when Scott had dodge a burst of buckshot, however.

    He dodged, rolling behind one of the vehicles as little pellets spattered the metal of the hood. The mobster fired, pumped the shotgun, and fired again. He kept doing so, littering the car and the wall behind it with little holes and sending bits of metal and concrete sprinkling from tiny impact craters. He fired and fired until the gun clicked. That's when he noticed he the last one left. More importantly, that's when he realized he'd been allowed to empty his gun because he was being fucked with. He swore and fumbled with the shells in his pocket, trying to reload. He got a few in, pumped the round into place, and looked up. The last thing he saw before unconsciousness was Nightwatch's mask just before gloved hands throttled him and punched him once.

    And that was that. Scott rubbed his hands together and looked around now that the alley was completely silent. The entire fight had lasted less than a minute. Evelyn came out of a blur beside the second car and inspected one of the crates they'd been moving. Once she opened it, she was greeted with the sight of several Thompson submachine guns, all loaded and all ready for service in the mobs. Or at least they had been.

    "What is it with mob gangsters and the Thompson?"

    She closed the lid on a crate that would soon find a home within the police evidence room and walked over to Scott. She helped him tie their catch together on the sidewalk just outside the alley. After checking their ties and making sure they were secure, they made their way to one of the many police phones on the streets. The blue box stuck out from the ground, a little beaten and a little old, but still working. Scott removed his mask and picked up the receiver. After the call connected, he simply stated.

    "Frederick Street and Cordon. Bring a truck."

    With that, he hung up. He and the police station had a sort of silent agreement. Scott had been calling them like this even before he was registered as a superhuman. Back then, he wouldn't want to be anywhere near the crime scene once the police arrived unless he wanted to be arrested himself. Now it was just a habit, but it was easy and quick.

    As he hung the phone the receiver, Evelyn seemed to find it was amusing. She always had.

    "You know, it's funny that you always do that."
    "Why? I've seen Ridley do it. Are you making fun of him behind his back too?"
    "Maybe a little," she laughed, "He got it from you though. He didn't do it until he saw you do it."
    "No, I'm pretty sure he did it before he met us."
    "I remember otherwise."
    "Why don't you ask him, then?"
    "And get complete silence again? No thank you."
    "David likes him."

    She leaned against the wall of an apartment building as they prepared to leave the scene.

    "Hey, we're still set for Friday... right?"

    Scott shrugged and didn't shake his head, but didn't nod it either. Eve wasn’t satisfied with that answer.

    "Scott, you promised."
    "I know, I know. I promise, we’re set."
    "Sort of promise or actually promise?"
    "Actually promise."
    "Okay. You better. Or I'll be the one cashing in those 50,000 dollars."

    They both laughed. Scott shook his head, but he kept laughing.

    "Okay, okay. My corpse isn't that funny."
    "It’s kind of funny. You laughed."
    "Only because you laughed."
    "Sure, whatever you say." she made no attempt to hide her sarcasm, "You know, it's not that late. If you're worried about Friday, we could go home, change, go out while it's still dark."
    "Four in the morning isn't too late?"
    "Alright, it's a little late. Okay, but Friday for sure."
    "Friday for sure."

    "Friday for sure."
    Scott whispered and his lapse in attention sent the hammerhead slamming into his thumb. He swore and pulled his thumb away. He was nearly finished boarding up the doors in the hallway, but his mind had wandered for quite a while. He paused for a moment, checking down the hall to see if either John or Ridley were within view. They weren't, and he allowed himself to stop for a moment and take a deep breath. There would be a time to properly grieve, but not now. Soon. Just not now.

    He finished the last door and went down the hall to check on the others. Preparations were almost finished. Then all they'd have to do was wait.

    He rolled up to find John and Ridley nearly done with their own work. Ridley sat in armchair, looking quite weary, and John was just finishing mixing up his ingredients. While he went to spread them out in the hallway, Scott sat with Ridley alone. He broke the silence that had persisted for a few moments.

    "You remember that assassin that kept coming back? How he'd wipe the floor with us and we'd always just barely chase him off?"

    He didn't really know why he was bringing up Roche. Perhaps it was the similarity in situation. They had been hunted back then, they were being hunted now.

    "This Aftershock guy can't be any tougher than that. If we could handle Razor, we can handle this guy. We'll be alright."

    Scott's old habits were still kicking, apparently. He had a tendency to project his concerns on other people if he was truly worried, and then he’d attempt to soothe them. He'd often reassure other members of Freedom Squad when he was worried. He didn't know why he did, but he guessed it was because it was easier to reassure others than it was reassure himself. In a way, he was trying to put his fears in a place where he had some way to manage them.

    He was glad Roche was dead. Freedom Squad had a lot of enemies. Some were easy to handle. Some were a challenge. Some required the entire team. Some put the entire team to the test. Delroy Roche had been among the last category. Or as the papers had called him, "The Razor Killer" afterwards shortened to just Razor. The reason for the name was simple. He used swords and his targets always died by a blade. And Scott personally knew how much those blades stung.

    He remembered the first time he fought Razor. He was beaten black and blue, and the entire time he kept wondering how the hell this guy was able to touch him. Nightwatch saw everything coming, but when he fought Razor he felt as if he was always within easy reach of the man. He'd get struck by movements that didn't seem like an attack until the last possible millisecond. He'd get forced into positions where he had no choice but to take a hit. Roche attacked so viciously, so expertly, that Nightwatch barely ever had time to make any attacks of his own. What had frightened him the most about Razor was the way he’d fight.

    When Yeng trained Scott, he trained him differently than he did Evelyn. Scott actually never learned Shaolin to the level she did. He learned something else. Eve and Scott had been the master’s favored disciples. Yeng was a martial artist at heart, and both of them had been prime candidates for his teachings. Evelyn picked up Shaolin immediately, and she became an expert in it. Scott was on his way, but Yeng sat him down one day. He told him he knew enough Shaolin, and that he would no longer teach it to him.

    "Did I do something wrong?"
    "No. I simply believe you are better suited to another form."
    "What kind of form?"
    "Do you know history of Shaolin?"
    "Just what you taught me. That monks created it to defend their temples."
    "True. But monks did many things in temples. Shaolin is great art. Powerful, but only meant to be used in self-defense."
    "I remember."
    "Yes. But life not so simple. Situation not always suit waiting to be attacked. Shaolin meant to be shield for temples. But if there is shield, where is sword? Like in all things, duality must exist for balance."

    "When Shaolin created, monks created sister art alongside it. It was to compliment Shaolin, but also rival it. To meld with Shaolin, but pull away from Shaolin. They made this to balance out Shaolin's creation in world and Shaolin to balance this art’s creation in the world. They created yang, so they also created yin. Something to push and pull Shaolin as Shaolin would push and pull it. Monks would spar, one with Shaolin, one with this sister art as form of meditation and reflection. Where Shaolin wait to defend, sister leap forward to prevent. Monks have many enemies long ago. Shaolin defend against invasion, but siege cannot be defended against. Siege must be broken. Sister art balances and protects what Shaolin cannot wait to defend."

    "This art, however, lost in time. Stolen long ago. Because of this, this sister to Shaolin has no name, no heritage, and no history. Shaolin became singular art of the monks and even change to reflect such a thing. But sister art still exist. Still meant to push and pull Shaolin."

    Scott asked, "I... don't think I follow. How do you steal a martial art?"

    "How do you steal anything? Take it and keep others from finding. Art still practiced by those who steal it. Sister art taken long ago but practiced in shadows. Art’s real name lost in time, but most who practiced it called it Yincang Hu.”

    Yeng stood and motioned for Scott to stand as well, “And I will teach it to you.”

    Scott had asked why Yeng knew this martial art, but the master was only as vague as ever. Either way, he followed as he was instructed. While Evelyn learned Shaolin, Scott learned Yincang. The little he knew of Shaolin was only used to as a base to build a mastery of this new art. It was a lot like Shaolin in some ways. Strikes were solid. Decisive. But unlike Shaolin, it was more aggressive. It encouraged the artist to close the distance and keep it closed rather than keep it open. Like Yeng had said, when he sparred with Evelyn, their movements rivaled one another. Their arts pushed and pulled when they sparred, and the two covered each other’s weaknesses when they fought as a team. Scott had once asked why he didn’t just teach them both martial arts, but Yeng had simply replied.

    “That would be like filling cup with tea until full. Only to pour in wine afterwards. You do not need both.”

    Yincang Hu made Scott incredibly versatile, especially when combined with his abilities. For the longest time, he figured Yeng knew this forgotten art because he was simply wise. It wasn’t until he met Roche that he started to doubt not only himself, but what he’d learned. It was when he realized the world held threats that slipped underneath even his gaze. He was wary of Roche for many reasons, but the biggest one had always been the one that bothered him the most.

    Roche knew Yincang Hu. And he knew it well. In fact, you could say he knew the art better than Evelyn and Scott knew theirs combined. The first time they fought, the assassin used Yincang Hu; both hand to hand styles, and those adapted to the use of a blade. Scott had never even seen the art applied to a sword before. Yet it felt like Roche had seen everything Scott could do a thousand times. He could anticipate what Scott would likely do and counter it just before Scott was able to pull it off. As soon as Scott was open, he’d unleash a furious set of blows. When Razor hit you, he hit you like a train. If he was on top of you, he was going to stay there and tear you to pieces. His strikes came down often, they came down quickly, and they came down hard.

    Every time Scott thought about Roche, there was always one particular image that came to mind. His eyes. Roche always fought you when he was close enough for you to see them from behind the slitted mask he wore. They had been a bright, soft green. A color as gentle as a grassy wind. But behind that mask, they were always contorted in rage and fury. If they hadn’t been the crazed, bloodshot eyes of a furious assassin, they might have been considered bright beautiful eyes. But Scott only ever saw those gentle greens behind fury, a mask, and a swinging blade. He could only thank whatever god existed that the man was dead.

    Razor had plagued their gallery of rogues for years. He’d disappear for a few months, only to come back. He was even placed in one of the prison cells John Wakefield had designed when they finally managed to capture him. John was often tasked with coming up with ways to keep captured villains from escaping. The Wakefield Containment Facility was designed by John with the idea of keeping captured superhumans alive. A prison to hold the kind of people no normal prison could. The team knew this place had been an emotionally difficult task for John, but it was a necessary evil. Personally, Scott had always felt everyone was better off with them in there, and everyone else out here.

    Each captive had a cell designed specifically for them. Roche’s had been nearly air-tight. There was no way out of it. It was essentially a box that could only be opened from the outside. John took escapes very personally, seeing as he’d designed their captivity. It made the blow so much worse when they heard Roche, somehow, got out. Several guards had been killed and even more wounded. All because he’d found a way to sneak a shoelace into his cell. John practically never swore. He abhorred swearing. But Scott would never forget seeing him throw a clipboard against a wall and scream,

    ”A fucking shoelace?!”

    John might have felt personally responsible for the lives lost. And making John swear took a lot. But Roche had been a lot.

    They’d all rested easy after a certain fateful night. Roche was back. For a few moments, he had Freedom Squad under his thumb. It took everything the team had and at the end of it, Roche fell twenty stories and was impaled on a broken street light.

    Roche was dead. His swords and mask were in the Freedom Five Museum in Washington D.C. with a little piece of paper under them describing how he had once been a threat, but now he was dead. And if Scott never saw that mask again, it would be too soon.

    Mr. Baker glanced at Ridley.

    “Might wanna get some rest. We don’t know this guy, but my gut tells me it’s gonna be an eventful night.”

    Aftershock better not be anything like Razor. They wouldn’t stand a chance if he was.
    #2 Sir Doobington III Esq., Feb 26, 2016
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2016
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  3. So Ridley?

    Which one of your friends is going to die next?,

    Samhain appeared within Ridley's minds eye, "You better give me a soul next if you want me to help you and your weak allies", he scoffed and lingered as if he was in the kitchen with the retired heroes. Duke had learned long ago as to why Sacrifice would sit silently and be unresponsive in moments, and Samhain was that exact reason. The demon of the book is demanding of attention and since the book was uncovered from the backyard; his power had overwhelmed Ridley. Listening to Samhain was important if you needed him to cooperate, and the demon exploited it without flinching.

    A soul, Sacrifice murmured as Nightwatch told him to prepare the seal in the living room, he looked down at the book and blinked. "I hear you Samhain", Sacrifice whispered under his breath and nodded to Nightwatch. "Got it", he said and rose from the table; reflexively reaching for the book bound in human flesh.

    When the group broke off to work on their separate tasks, Sacrifice put his head under the sink and drank water from the tap. He savored the sweet taste of reservoir water and set out to the living room. He was dizzy and his head felt like it was splitting open. He felt as though his brain was an apple and Master Yeng was splitting it in half with his hands, he reasoned it was probably his stunt that morning with the bleach; but that was the first breakfast he had enjoyed in years.

    From the shadows the demon's obsidian dagger formed in Sacrfice's right hand after he had moved some of the small furniture left behind and he walked to the corner of the room, where he began to tear the carpet. When Ridley purchased the house before his marriage he had set up the seal in the living room as a precautionary measure, and that was long before the baby and the burial of the vigilante known as Sacrifice. Unwanted memories flooded into Ridley's thoughts as he tore one corner of the carpet and sliced along the wall with the dagger, of his first wife Katherine and the first night they spent on their mattress in the living room of their new home; atop the same carpet. Sacrifice installed the carpet so that when the time came to use it, all that needed to happen was to cut the side that was bolted, now all he needed to do was push the brown shag and roll it up to the other side.

    The seal that was revealed appeared to be rather basic. A large circle with ancient araebic written along the perimeter and three triangles; Two meeting at the middle and one large triangle overlapping in the center. The black paint Ridley used years ago had seeped into the wood, giving the grain dark veins throughout the old hardwood flooring. It appeared to him that the seal was still functional as Ridley observed every corner closely.

    Sacrifice sank into the large armchair he had set aside in the kitchen, he collected his breath as he wheezed and coughed. He really wanted a FUCKING cigarette so he could simply relax, the events of the last couple days had stressed him to the point of desperation; and the taunting from Samhain didn't help. It was far easier to drown the demon with a bottle of whiskey and a cigarette than to manage the stress the way Sacrifice had dealt with it during the days when David was still alive.

    Sacrifice watched as Nightwatch wheeled to his side, he nodded his head to his former teammate and coughed loudly. He beat his fist against his sternum and listened a Nightwatch referred to the bladed maniac known as 'Razor'. Sacrifce hated the super-hunter more than he despised the police force.

    "Yeah I remember that son of a bitch", Sacrifice replied grimly, "Can't say I'm sad about his death, the bastard nearly took off my head that last time... sometimes death is the only solution... especially for trained killers and maniacs", he thought then of the psychopath he killed for torching houses and his old apartment building; Hellfire didn't want any saving and neither did Razor.

    A chuckle escaped Sacrifice's mouth when Nightwatch suggested he should get some rest, "I doubt I'll be able to sleep tonight," he coughed again, he wheezed and continued, "I still need to go collect an offering before this 'Aftershock' comes to kill us, shouldn't take me long though... as I remember this neighborhood has few a few pet owners..", It wasn't normal for Ridley to speak so casually about kidnapping someone's pet, but he wanted to be clear to his teammate what he was planning, and the old members of Freedom Squad weren't stranger to his dark powers.

    He removed Nucleus' old corduroy blazer and removed his black garbs from inside his robe, he donned his old vigilante uniform and decided against wearing the long robe with the red hood that he wore often back in the days when he was younger; he needed to stay hidden. He tucked his singed salt and peppered hair under his mask and struggled with his beard until he was fully shrouded, he felt stronger when he put on his old clothes and donned the mask, it was a though a piece of happiness was embedded in the fabric; but he knew that wasn't the case. After tucking the tome into his garb, Sacrifice left out the back door and he silently moved through the backyard, listening to the sounds of animals call in the night.

    Sacrifice didn't hear much, but he advanced down the alleyway slowly. Sometimes he would stumble upon a cat or even a skunk this late into the night, though he preferred sacrificing a cat if he had to; skunk smell tends to linger. With the help of some moonlight that peeked through the clouds of night, Ridley saw a sign on a fence, it read 'BEWARE OF DOG' and he caught himself about to cough, he caught his cough deep in his throat and wheezed it out silently as to not alarm the sleeping dog or dogs which could be on the other side of the fence. He climbed and landed on the other side, the backyard was to an extravagant home with a swimming pool, the house was two stories and the second floor had a balcony that overlooked the premises. A small fenced area jingled and crashed as a large German Shepherd thrashed and barked loudly at Ridley, the dog had seen him, and on popped a light from inside the home.

    "Fuck, fuck, fuck", Ridley swore under his breath and hid quickly behind a lawn recliner near the edge of the pool deck. "SHUT UP MURPHY!!", a woman yelled from the house in a high pitched shriek, and the night became still. Ridley waited. He waited long after the light was shut off and subtle sounds returned, he padded slowly and lifted the guard for the gate before the dog was in his face, the large creature tackled him to the ground and started to sniff wildly, though it didn't bark the animal still made a lot of noise as it huffed and snorted as he smelled the grizzled ex-vigilante.

    "Good boy Murphy", Sacrifice whispered to the dog and pet the beast, the dog seemed to be fairly old and it appeared to have a limp in one of it's hind legs as Ridley led the creature out into the alleyway. Once they got far from the backyard and back to the lonely backyard with the demented and twisted willow, Ridley knelt down and pet Murphy once more, "You're a good dog Murphy", and he hugged the creature as Samhain's laughter brought tears to his eyes.

    "I don't want to do it"

    You will.
    • Love Love x 2
  4. Clara, after offically finishing her rounds at the Twin Palms senior's hospital, quietly peeked into the rooms for each of her patients to make sure they were sound asleep. She had let in only a sliver of light in each of them as she crept down the hallways like a watchful angel, yet the expression plastered on her face was one weighed down by loss. It was awfully quiet now that Mr. Baker had been picked up by his friend. Not just quiet in the sense that there was no noise, you know, but because none of the other patients voiced what they really wanted, unlike Mr. Baker who was so, you know, honest n' direct n' stuff. At the time when other staff members were celebrating his 'passing', she had wanted to slap them all in the face, and tell them to get bent. Mr. Baker's first abduction, and though it was by a friend in the name of Independence Day, didn't even cause the other staff members to even be alarmed, and just thinking about that disgusted her. Did the other staff members have such a low opinion of the other residents as well? How shameful!

    There were certainly days, though. Mr. Baker wasn't the kind of guy to mince words with the rest of the staff, and was often abrasive and rude, using all sorts of colorful words. The engagements usually ended with her left to clean the mess the other staff members only made worse, by acting rude back. What a nightmare! Yet she knew she could handle it, and remained steady in her professional apperance despite Mr. Baker's attempts to get under her skin. It was a test for her to maintain her front persona, and keep it convincing; experience informed her far more than the 'book learning' endured through nurse's college.

    She vividly remembered the last day, Independence Day, when Mr. Baker had slapped down the applesauce she offered, and coyly said that it fell. Clara thought about Mr. Baker's strange friend, too. She couldn't forget the phone call when he lashed at her for no reason. When she met him, the way he moved and spoke was always a bit off, as though pressing himself through each action forward consciously and with great effort. She later found out from a colleague that he had even entered the wrong doors and got lost in the hospital wings for a while before he was guided to the main desk. Clara had been upset that such a, erm, 'unhinged' man had carted Mr. Baker off so easily for a joyride, you know? The staff should've stopped the man before he took five steps from Mr. Baker's room. The two men apologized, apparently, when they got back from their little trip, though she wasn't witness to it herself. The hospital merely accepted the form, and Mr. Baker was gone for good.

    She was outside Mr. Baker's room now. Another resident was already put into that room. When she opened the door slightly just to peep in, the first thing she saw was that the window had been cranked all the way open. Her eyes darted to the old woman clenching her sheets in her sleep, tossing and turning against the gusts of night air that were sweeping in. Clara pouted, opened the door just enough for her to slide in the room, and tiptoed to the window with long forward strides. When she was at the opposite wall, she took the handle and slowly cranked the window closed. Before she closed the window fully, saw an oddly shaped 'husk' of bark, how else should she describe it other than to imagine it was shedded like an outside shell of an animal, a couple of feet from the barred window.

    Clara looked out the closed window once more. What she didn't see was that there was a thin drill hole through the outside brick, slanted upward to where the crank was, and that the screen was underneath the bed. The screen was there. The metal grating was as well, but Clara didn't notice small metal solder mounds at many of its edge points.

    "Over the past couple of days, you've been acting very unhinged, and that's saying something considering even your usual self."
    "I've been going through a rough patch of sleep."
    "That's not the only thing, and we both know it. Look, I'm not here to lecture you on matters that don't concern the team. I'm only here a few days to regroup to assault the front line again with Dragon. However, you're going to have to change whatever it is that is holding you back from your duty as a soldier and as a member of Freedom Five."
    "Does this have to do with my relationship with Ms. Victoria Cohen?"
    "Whatever John Wakefield does off time isn't my business as team leader," stated Duke firmly. "but I need assurance that Dr. Nucleus remains able to perform to the very best of his abilities when required of him."
    "Was there ever cause to doubt?"
    "You scream in your sleep. Twice it was reported you woke up your barracks before you volunteered to be stifled, for their sake. There are dark rings still under your eyes. Are the nightmares are still coming?"
    Dr. Nucleus nodded. "I still remember that boy's face when I vivisected him in the name of science."
    "It was necessary, as you said. We had to be certain the Germans had the ability to engineer superhumans."
    Dr. Nucleus couldn't get the image out of his mind, of raising up the boy from Sacrifice's dirt grave from the earth with an antigravity field, as though he was a deranged necromancer. What was worse was thinking that he was on the edge of rationalizing human experimentation like the Nazis. At last he knew the gravity of Sacrifice's stone cold stare as a white bedsheet wrapped around the child's body like a ceremonial flag as it was carted to and then processed on an operating table like a slab of meat.
    "I'm concerned for your safety and of those around you. Regretfully, you have left me no choice but to address it, and it has become a barrier between us. The incident in question is that you were replaced mid-operation because you can't even keep your eyes open long enough to see what you're doing. You're a man whose standard is much higher than to allow that."
    "Are you challenging my integrity?"
    "Something has changed you, and it is your responsibility to fix it right back. You shouldn't have accepted the procedure in the first place. You should have had the awareness and state of mind to have prevented that situation from occuring. That is where your intergrity failed. You almost stabbed your eye with a scapel to rub it for God's sake! How many hours of sleep have you had in the past week?"
    Dr. Nucleus didn't reply.
    "Calculate it to the nearest tenth of an hour. That's an order."
    The young super scientist started to count upwards, but Duke could tell he was resetting his count constantly, second guessing his calculations.
    "Now." fumed Duke.
    Grimacing, Dr. Nucleus instantiated another count, this time completing it in a split-second. "10.4 hours, Sir!"
    "I didn't want believe the quacks upstairs when they judged that you aren't combat able. They say that traumatic stress is impairing you. "
    "Then believe me as I say that I am ready, willing and able to fight for my country."
    "I don't doubt your conviction, but I can't have you perform your duties if you can't even sleep."
    "I will tranquilize myself to sleep if I have to."
    "I'm not a doctor, but even I know that would harm your body. You are hereby stipped of all duties and confined to quarters until further notice. You need rest."
    Dr. Nucleus could see the pain in Duke's eyes as he gave that order, but he understood that a case of medical negligence was enough for a military discharge if neither were careful. Duke did what had to be done. There was no other option to retain the honor of Freedom Five, even if it wasn't his fault. There was also no other way to keep Nucleus on the team. It was a setback, but at least it was a workable one.
    "Any other orders, sir?" said Nucleus.
    "No, however, there is the issue with Ms. Cohen."
    "I thought she had nothing to do with the discussion."
    "This is off the books. As team leader, it isn't my concern. As a friend, it is."
    "What concern is it of yours?"
    "We're not here to make relationships; we're here to kill people. Having affection for her might've been enough to weaken your mind and make you lose focus to the cause."
    "She is not the cause of my problems! She's a remarkable woman and I'm not going to let you bully me into denying how I feel about her."
    "It might be difficult for you to accept, but the enemy is relentless. We're still under threat of metahumans that you have proven were engineered. Your attention to this conscripted civilian nurse hasn't gone unnoticed by the team. You don't see me going after girls. I'm saving that for when I get home. Here, you're going to have decide which of your loves is greater: the love for her, or the love for your country."
    "I love both, and that's all there is to it."
    "Loose talk can cost lives."

    Dr. Nucleus didn't have to think twice about why Duke said it. After all, the new medics that were sent to the front were hospital staff members, not trained soldiers. They might be the ones to blab where enemy ears were located. He didn't think that of Victoria, but there could be no exception. The exception couldn't be made for him either; nobody could trust a man who naturally spoke in paragraphs given the chance on matter how smart he was, nevermind one who was criminally sleep deprived. The matter was sealed when, confined to quarters, he found out that Ms. Victoria Cohen had been transferred to another military camp later that day. The nightmares continued for another week. Dr. Nucleus was left to stew on Duke's grave warning. Loose talk can cost lives, as could a mind that lost focus of the mission. It was of dire importance to keep the sacred Commandment, no matter what.

    Clara closed the hospital door behind her and continued to continue her rounds. When she was headed back to the front desk, that is when she heard the phone ring. She picked it up hastily.
    "Hello, Twin Palms hospital, Clara speaking, how may I help you?"
    The young nurse didn't have to wait two seconds before she knew this voice wasn't any she was familiar with. The call immediately felt out of place. A phone call so late at night to an elderly hospital? Most calls would wait until morning at least, or just after lunchtime.
    "No, sorry the hospital is closed to visitors right now. Huh? You want to know where Mr. Baker is?"
    The voice on the other end of the phone seemed agitated at her non-answer, and angrily pressed the question again.
    "I don't know where Mr. Baker is. There have already two calls about him you know."
    There was a pause, and then the voice asked about the phone calls.
    "Another one of Mr. Baker's friends, yeah? He was alone before yesterday, and now all a sudden his old friends seem to want to come to pay him a visit. Never in all my years have I seen any friend come to visit Mr. Baker. It's not my place to judge, but I really can't understand why people would wait for something else to happen beforing visiting him. It just seems so cruel. I visit people just to catch up, you know?"
    The voice insinuated from that information that he was gone.
    "He's gone, yes. His first friend that visited signed the transfer forms. His name? I don't remember. I already told you, I don't know where he is."
    "Yes the information is logged but I'm not at liberty to go into the record room. Oh I know you want me to make an exception but I can't. No I agree it's not fair but I can't just be telling everyone patient information, you understand, right?"
    "I'm sorry that I couldn't be more help. I wish you the best of luck in finding your friend. Uh-huh. Okay. Bye."
    She looked at the call director phone again. It must've been her imagination, but it looked like the phone was blinking wrong. For a second it looked like the previous call had come from an internal phone, because it had been a button appeared to be blinking green two spaces from the left on the top row; it was clearly the button to the top left, must have been, red to specify it was an outside call.


    John Wakefield was having noticeable difficulty in making his glue colorless. The corn syrup formula he was using, with an incorrect ratio, resulted in a very noticeable amber tint. He repeated the process of boiling, sifting, and stirring with tenacity, until he got an acceptable result. He became sweaty from the steam rising from the pot and from the exercise, his arms aching from the grueling process. Time seemed to be squeezing at him like a vice also; he had an unpleasant vision of being stabbed while stirring the glue in his metal pot like a housekeeper. As new confounding factors came into mind, such as glue effectiveness, the time it would take to fully dry, and process to ensure uniform surface level application against the floor, he was tempted to curse.

    He didn't curse once during the process. It was to assure himself that despite being one of the next intended victims, that he would not succumb to the trap of blaming happenstance. He had made a choice to make a stand with his teammates, to claim vengeance against Dragon's killer. He could've just stayed home a coward when he read the headline that Dragon was Dead, and waited to be killed. Nightwatch was putting his glue project to shame as he started to board up windows with plywood and nails with the power and efficiency of a well-oiled machine. John never asked questions about whatever Sacrifice was doing, but he supposed that whatever curse Sacrifice was planning to go for to be a really good one.

    As he started to paint the floor with his homemade glue, John's mind jumped to the concept to what he was painting. At first this concept didn't make any sense, because the paint was colorless, and he was only applying steady, straight, and boring strokes from closest to farthest from the staircase. The algorithm was so simple, after all, that even his jumpy mind could follow it sufficiently. Despite his knees aching from systematically crawling backward on the floor, he had done it at last. He put his eye level to the ground. Small differences due to imperfect strokes were there, but as John stood and looked from above, the areas untouched by light left no sign that the floor had been tampered with.

    At last the connection at the start was made. It was a painting of something invisible, covered by the dark of night. A metaphor, perhaps, of the remaining Freedom Five, shouded in the shadows of the ones that departed from them, of Dragon and Duke, invisible yet a presence not to be ignored. John couldn't help but think that now that he made the connection, despite it being so stupid. Was the glue protecting the floor, or smothering it? What does stickiness have to do with anything? It was a trap, designed to be a trap. He had a sudden want for the assassin to step on his worthless art so he could use his remaining gravitons to keep him there for the kill.
    Mr. Wakefield then got to work with boarding parts of the upper floor where Nightwatch couldn't reach. Nightwatch had told him not to open any door on the main floor unless he got express permission from him directly first. When Sacrifice had returned, he was told once where the traps were located. Mr. Wakefield didn't begrudge Nightwatch for his separate treatment. It was no longer a secret that he needed additional help with remembering things; all he had to remember in Nightwatch's simple model was that if he opened a door without permission, the penalty was pain of death.

    The former hero had been asked for how to keep the floor sticky, or was he asked? Either way, John didn't remember who or when. I'm glad you asked. It's quite simple really, though a bit smelly. All I have to do is apply a layer of hot water to the surface of the sticky floor. This will reverse the old bonds of the glue enough to brush a reapplication. The glue should last about 6 hours normally, if my calculations are correct.

    Being confined to quarters presented an opportunity for Dr. Nucleus to exercise Yeng's meditation techniques. It was frightening to be alone with his own thoughts, attempting to find focus in a hurricane of thoughts. Yet he had found it again, the quiet eye of the storm.

    He was different from the Nazis, and always would be. He never saw people as means to an end, to be used, to be degraded for a cause. Dr. Nucleus recalled the procedure done on the corpse of the young boy, forcing himself to recall every detail of it. Every incision made to the body had purpose, and never did he bruise out of anger, hate, or impatience. He wanted to understand the young man; the tragedy was that an operation was the only way now that the boy was dead. The Nazis had taken away his life by using him as a war-pig, letting him loose to the front lines in an attempt to break enemy formation. HIs notebook held his careful scrawls when he found inconsistencies, such as much denser and irregular nerve cluster formations along the arms, as well as plastic 'grounding areas'; the boy's cranium was like a helmet with arrayed suction cups on the insdie. The irresponsible bastards had used such a primitive means as a safety precaution to prevent an electrical overload of the brain. Similar plastic cups were found underneath his skin tissue for every other areas of his body, but this held the same potential for complications; even if the boy's muscles didn't tense up under paralysis, blood hemorrhaging hadn't been accounted for, especially brain vessels which could theoretically pop under intense electromagnetic pressures. It was later found out by Dr. Nucleus that the Nazis had employed a crude method to place the plastic in, as though an afterthought to toying with the boy's nerve 'wiring'. It was evidently all done with needles, directly injected just underneath the boy's skin layer. Each plastic spot was small, like a pinprick, but there were countless thousands of such pinpricks along the skin. It was likely a team of about six scientists got to work to cover every square inch of the boy's body, thrusting him with needles for hours in every conceivable direction; likely the boy had to remain standing and awake. There were quite a lot of puncture wounds that were thicker than a regular skin pore, consistent with needles moving around without a care after a puncture was made; quick in, quick out. The cruel process probably made the task unnecessarily harder, as trickles of bleeding would have to be mopped up by cotton to continue stabbing in a predetermined lattice of points. Working inward to confirm his initial hypothesis, the main mechanic behind the boy's electrical powers was unsurprisingly just as crude. After presumably exciting neural structures with stem cells to grow into larger trees, the Nazis phased in a metallic ion solution in the boy's blood it was even more conductive. More symptoms consistent with steady tin poisoning were found when Dr. Nucleus followed the lead of pale skin and corroded esophagus, consistent with frequent and excessive vomiting; he found concentrated tin-bile within the liver and intestines. The machines to generate the electricity were basically motors with about a 80% efficiency in generating static electricity at the base of each arm; storage was charged up nerve stems up to a point cluster at the end of the arm. At a certain threshold, the electricity spanned out from the arm; the internal plastic grounding made the path from out from the arms the easiest, in addition to the fact the boy had been wearing thick soldier's boots, whose bottom was of a thick plastic. Internal burn marks went along the edges of the plastic grounding areas where the crude injected plastic didn't cover. It didn't change the reality that on top of organs being pushed in by electromagnetic pressure, the boy had been cooking himself from the inside due to waste heat generated by the motors. The surface damage was concentrated especially at the fingertips where there was no plastic, which is why they appeared so black from the outside also. The reprehensible internal damage was even worse, as the cooking effect on organs due to heating created scabs and made the tin-poisoned intestines even more sickly in appearance. There was no saving this boy in such a state, even if he were still alive. The boy had been stripped of all his dignity, programmed with Nazi propaganda, used, then discarded to die. The Nazis didn't even plan for him to live more than two months.

    When Nucleus broke from his meditative trance, he saw that the Sacrifice was standing by the door. When or how he got in without making a sound didn't matter. Sacrifice wasn't there to ask about the nightmares. Sacrifice knew the nightmare. He loomed shrouded in his hooded black robe like Death, cold and silent.
    "I buried the boy again today." said Dr. Nucleus solemnly; he could feel tears flowing down his face. "The right way this time." He knew Sacrifice would know what he meant. Dr. Nucleus had already buried the boy after the operation, as other professionals were satisfied enough with his careful writings not to keep the cadaver for further study. It was with reverence that his mind buried the memory of the boy.
    Sacrifice's hood moved in the very short motion of a nod, or perhaps it was Dr. Nucleus' imagination and only air had took it. Sacrifice departed shortly after just as silently into the open world like the air of a crypt: John's crypt. The cool, fresh air filled his quarters, replacing the old. The nightmares started to fade and sleep returned to Dr. Nucleus. Soon he was back at his prime, restful and completely aware, always beyond reach from everyone else to his true emotional self.

    John attempted to rest at the top of the staircase after the work was done, having a partial view of the hallway he coated with sticky glue, as long as he stayed low on his chest. It was close to midnight and there was no sign of the assassin. All he had to do was stand up to get a full view. All he had to do, mainly, was amplify the natural gravity from the altitude he had, imposing downward like a king of the hill. He imagined Duke starting at the base of a large hill as he did for his own training, with Dr. Nucleus's job to keep him down. Duke always managed to push through, taking the whole hill down if need be. The stakes were different now. This wasn't a training exercise.
    His eyes closed once, and suddenly he was falling down through a bottomless void, until he smacked against cold black and white tile, much like that of the floor of the old home they were using to stage the trap. As he stood, however, he realized the tiles were strictly black and white, with no intermediate grout. Large pieces towering him in size rose from the ground like spectres, materializing on the squares. He was on the White side.
    "What is the meaning of this?" he stated accusingly. There was uncertainty in his voice. He had felt something like this before, like the shadow of a forgotten nightmare.
    "You will find out soon enough."
    The voice sounded too familiar. Before John could even think of how to move the pieces, the pieces were morphing. The familiar peices of a game that he mastered were turning into large animals. John had no concept for the game forming around him; he could no longer rely on even the heuristics of playing chess. He was out of his prime and in a completely new situation. It was unfair.
    "That isn't the attitude of the Dr. Nucleus that know." stated the feminine voice. "Dr. Nucleus was an Amazon explorer in the established mythos, bravely venturing unknown parts of the world for the simple joy of discovery."
    "A lot has happened to me. You won't get the fight that you want." To Mr. Wakefield's sudden horror, perhaps it was. Perhaps it was just a way to humilate him before his death. "I won't allow it!"
    "The entire game has changed." pressed the voice. "Dragon is dead."
    A paper booklet materialized above John and landed in front of him. John picked it up from the ground and studied it quickly, impatiently, angrily. Jungle (board game) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia The goal was basic enough; get a piece to a designated square, the Den, before your opponent, pieces captured by rank, except for traps, which negated rank for capture.
    "This is a child's game." Mr. Wakefield grumbled. "What's your goal in this?"
    "I cannot say."
    "I will figure it out with or without your help."
    "Is that so?"

    He couldn't tell if the question was out of remorse or blithe mock pity. John was suddenly behind the game board, with the board and its pieces as regular size. The suddenness of the change in perspective shook him, because he was now placed at the level overseeing his living animal pieces as though he were a demigod. To his left and right were Master Yeng's dojo walls. He was now wearing an explorer's outfit, just to mess with the theme even more. He tossed off the hat in defiance. http://i.imgur.com/shNKjOS.jpg

    The person across from him first appeared as Clara, the way that she had appeared in her night dress in his nightmare when both Nightwatch and Sacrifice were sleeping at his house. The face then morphed into another, with the outfit changing into a Victorian style dress. Distinctive black gloves covered her hands as her fingers wiggled in anticipation above her own pieces. The patterns in those gloves made the connection in Mr. Wakefield's mind and he looked at the face again. It was hers; it was Victoria Cohen's. Duke was right, yet again, in a side comment he once made; nurses really were Dr. Nucleus' kryptonite.

    "So you are trying to break me." said Mr. Wakefield. "You have no idea where I am now, do you?"
    She didn't reply.
    "It doesn't matter. You won't make the connection. Dragon isn't dead. Not here."
    At once his piece of highest rank, the elephant, poly-morphed into a green dragon. Ms. Cohen poly-morphed her piece reflexively into a red one. The game started when Mr. Wakefield moved his lion piece forward.
    "Duke always led." Ms. Cohen agreed.

    Ms. Cohen made her move in a split second, then waited with crossed arms. Mr. Wakefield understood Ms. Cohen's style very well, and that hadn't changed. His memory, though piecemeal, could never forget the contrast of her kind personality front with the ruthlessness in how she played games. Her tactic was to be alarmingly quick in order to bully, seeking to overwhelm her opponent in a show that she accounted for all possibilities. Mr. Wakefield, even in his prime, delayed his moves in chess against her on purpose, because that was how to direct her aggression into unfocused anger.
    "That won't work this time." Ms. Cohen added. "If you don't make your move in thirty seconds, you lose the game."
    "Hogwash!" Mr. Wakefield desperately moved any other piece to the right, just to end his turn. The thirty second rule wasn't in the book. Ms. Cohen had made that rule up. It was unfair, yes, but it wasn't him to accept it as unfair. As she said, that wasn't his attitude.
    The game developed, and Ms. Cohen was gaining overwhelming piece advantage. His animals were being butchered, though he did get some retaliatory kills from it, but he appeared desperate. Mr. Wakefield was starting to panic. His attempts to keep his favorite pieces alive was used against him.
    "Did you already forget the special abilities of your animals?" Ms. Cohen taunted. "I'm really disappointed."
    "It isn't over."
    "It is. Your dragon is cornered by my rat. My dragon still lives."

    It was true; eventually his dragon and her rat were diagonal to each other. In the original rules, rat (rank 1) beat elephant (rank 8) because it was supposed to burrow in the brain of the elephant. It could also not be killed by the elephant because it was too small to hit. If dragon moved up, rat moved right. If dragon moved left, rat moved down. Rat burrows into dragon's back. He moved his dragon left.
    "So you have given up." Ms. Cohen said.
    "Dragon is dead." Mr. Wakefield admitted, sadly. He watched as the dragon was torn to shreds. The red dragon advanced to his side of the board. Turns continued, but it looked like Ms. Cohen was just toying with Mr. Wakefield now, slaughtering animals with the dragon.
    "Now it's over."
    "No." Mr. Wakefield replied defiantly. "My rat has been waiting in the water for its chance. In four moves, I win the game."
    Ms. Cohen looked at the board again. She had been played. His panicked nature was a con. Her moves had been so swift because of that, and she had missed the obvious. Her piece that was also closest to Mr. Wakefield's Den was also four squares, but Mr. Wakefield was the first move. Her dragon couldn't block his rat. Her other pieces were too far from the rat to intercept, having killed other animals. There was no possible path to intercept the rat. She lost.
    "Now get out of my mind!"

    John woke up suddenly, his heart was beating fast as he looked at the wall clock. The match had apparently only taken about twenty minutes, because Ms. Cohen's moves were lightning quick, so the time had been all his, carefully spent to the last second. His mind remembered that there was a smile on Ms. Cohen's face when the dream had ended, which was strange. Ms. Cohen never smiled when she lost a game, not even once. Her face always remained as stone when that happened. Perhaps she got what she wanted.

    He looked over the glue covered hallway, yet undisturbed. He presumed he would've heard gunshots, or died, if an assassin had entered the house when he was out. He presumed Nightwatch was in the living room, and it was better if he didn't know where Sacrifice was. It made a surprise attack by magic more potent. He took out his walkie-talkie and whispered into it.
    "I think we have a problem, over."
    "What is it, over." was Nightwatch's swift reply.
    "It's Ms. Cohen, over."
    There was a long silence. "You were just dreaming. She's dead, over."

    She was dead, wasn't she? The dream felt so real that he had forgotten that plain truth. Mr. Wakefield could only remember portions of memories, the ones that were the most emotionally charged.
    It had been at the end of the war Freedom Five travelled back to London in celebration. They had won! Now the Freedom Five were going about their own ways to end some unfinished business. The first thing that Mr. Wakefield did was track down Ms. Cohen. It had been easy. He didn't forget her promise to take him to her favorite spots when the war was over. Cross-referencing on the street information, he optimized travel and found her sitting on her favorite bench. They talk about their brief get together at the military camp. They hugged each other.

    Cut to being in Ms. Cohen's house. Mr. Wakefield commented, 'Oh, it's that time again.' She asked what he meant. He replied, 'Tea time, of course.' He didn't expect an English person to slip up something so routine.

    Cut to a chess game match later that afternoon at a sparsely populated outside park. (It was after a day excursion, maybe to a museum?) He is surprised on how lightning fast her moves are, and how the pieces clapped against the table, like mini lightning bolts. She kept giggling and making playful comments despite the force applied to the game pieces. His mind cannot escape the connection to the German tactic of blitzkreig, overwhelming the enemy to prevent retaliation. The first game he lost. The second and third game he won, using real world time by waiting on purpose to diffuse the impact of Ms. Cohen's aggression, and manipulating in game time more carefully so he never lost any through raw calculation. Ms. Cohen was forced to take Mr. Wakefield's lead; she was just as quick with her moves but there wasn't the force as before. She also sat in complete silence, her eyes fixed on the board only until the match was complete. After that, the silent spell appeared lifted. Mr. Wakefield took her by the arm, and they walked some more along the river.

    Cut to after a late night stroll later in the week. Mr. Wakefield begins to discuss plans for moving back to the United States. Ms. Cohen asks if there'd be jobs there. Mr. Wakefield guarantees to support her until she inevitably found a
    profession suited to her intellect. He turns to walk back to a hotel after walking her to her doorstep. She asks him if he'd like to come in for some tea. He replies, 'This late at night?' She grabs him by the hand, and shifts closer. She looks up longingly. Their eyes meet. They kiss. Fade to black.

    Cut to Nightwatch, with a curt call to meet him at the predetermined rally point. He says that there are loose ends, and that there are those that would wish harm to Jewish refugees seeking to find a new life overseas; these Nazi terrorists sought to cause panic and instability back in the region. John asks what this has to do with him. Nightwatch states that, during his investigation for a lead, he had seen Ms. Cohen having a short discussion with a suspect. Dr. Nucleus resents the implication, but Nightwatch tells him to follow the evidence, like he always had.

    Cut to his own apartment. He slept through more nightmares, though they appeared foreign to him. They were choatic, with no locus of control, focusing on the events around the camp where he was stationed at with Ms. Cohen. They were not his own. He woke up and checked the window. It was still night. He looked at the time again. Given the time and place the sun should be 2 degrees above horizon. The illusion shattered. The real sunlight pierced through the false image, burning it like fire through projector film. He called Nightwatch, on a hunch, saying that Ms. Cohen was likely on the move again. An hour later Nucleus was called back. During the hour he would've lost if he had trusted the time, Nightwatch had confirmed Ms. Cohen had met with two more people in a secluded alleyway, which appeared to be more co-conspirators. Nightwatch then asked something of Nucleus that he never imagined doing, for the greater good.

    Cut to when there were only a few more days of the two week vacation in London before boarding a cruise ship to the United States. John can only think of betrayal as she is smiling and serving him a continental breakfast of toast, bacon, and eggs. She says it can be every day that she does this when they move. She then picks up on it. She puts a kitchen chair beside him and starts to smooth back John's hair tenderly, and she can see sweat on his brow. She asks what's wrong. He says that there are some really bad people that want to hurt the Jewish refugees that want the life they're going to share together. She agrees that's terrible. She then asks if he's worried he can't be sure they'll be safe. He says not to worry, because they are safe. She kisses his forehead. She says enemies would look anywhere; how could he be so sure? He replies that they'd be hidden in plain sight while they wait. Still dangerous, she claims. John puts a finger on his nose. 'The lions will see the wary souls through. The last shall be first and the first shall be last, when the rest of the world sleeps.' She kisses him on the cheek, then says that she has some errands to attend to, to tie up loose ends before sharing the new world together. Dr. Nucleus uses her rotary phone when she leaves and calls Nightwatch.

    Cut to Mr. Wakefield boarding the boat with his luggage, alone. Nightwatch had told him that he infiltrated their base by following the initial suspect to the group meeting, and confirmed the worst. She was the leader of the terrorist movement, under a section claiming to be under control of Remnant. She had held a meeting stating that they were close to fulfilling their task; she had reported to have finally broken a high ranking military official. She ordered search routes to focus only on Trafalgar Square at night, the timeline being before main cruisers were scheduled to take people home, which was three days. The landmark spot became an area for one sided slaughter as one man took out twenty-plus men, paralleling the legendary sea Battle of Trafalgar. Mr. Wakefield's tip wasn't as helpful as Ms. Cohen had eagerly believed. Her greed overlooked the fact that Trafalgar Square spanned a very large area, she had left her men too sparsely separated, and vulnerable to covert attack. Not a single person from that terrorist cell was left alive. Nightwatch had shot Ms. Cohen through the head with a sniper rifle from a window at the Charing Cross hotel. Nightwatch had been told by Nucleus she had a subtle way of burrowing into a mind, and that the method was best unknown.

    Upon further reflection, it was obvious she was a superpowered being, able to invade thoughts subconsciously through conversations, and even alter dreamscapes in order to break people. Mr. Wakefield's relationship was too good to be true, also obvious now that events had already transpired. In turn, Ms. Cohen took the verbal hint of where the refugees were located, instead of realizing that she didn't ever break the man. Her greatest blunder was the assumption that Mr. Wakefield, honest and good, was incapable of deception. In the end, she trusted him more than she should have.
    Mr. Wakefield felt empty, yet strangely content. He didn't feel the sickness that he did when thinking about the corrupted, electric youth he had vivisected. The boy deserved a better life. He wouldn't bury Ms. Cohen; in his mind he placed her on cold cobblestone, and let the alley rats eat her.

    Clara yawned, and then started thinking about her answer to the other two calls that asked where Mr. Baker was. If she could get the number of the man that took Mr. Baker first, perhaps she could get express permission from that man to allow the others to track him down, or at least inform him that others were searching, and were likely old friends as well. It was certainly worth a shot. Being a head nurse definitely had advantages. She looked through her keyring and confirmed one for the records room was still there. Clara didn't use this key very much, because the records room was a very boring place, and she didn't want to think about the times she was forced to play the role of a file clerk during her internship years ago.

    She walked to the records room and opened the locked door. Clara walked to the table, and, unsurprisingly, the papers for Mr. Baker's transfer were on it. Everyone around here was too lazy to take the time to file papers. This held important information in case the hospital had to prove that the transfer was a legal one; they had to show beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Baker was traceable, pending any investigation over a missing person's report. It was the sloppiness that Clara begrudgingly tolerated. It was then she heard the short, distinct ruffling of feathers behind her, which made absolutely no sense. She turned around. There was nothing. She really needed sleep; these night shifts weren't for her, you know? Clara took out her personal notepad.

    "John Wakefield." Her eyes scanned further down the line. "Trained Medic, and a Ph.D. Holy cow!" Clara exclaimed. It was a great surprise to her that such an unhinged person was a doctor, but then again, profs were said to have similar eccentricity. "You gotta be kidding me: it's a house in the Edric Estates?" She made a short whistle. "Fancy. No wonder Mr. Baker was eager to go. When I retire that's a place I'd like to be." She pouted a little. "Lucky guy. That's where I wanna be when I retire."

    With that she walked over to the main desk again with notepad in hand. It was getting real late. It would be rude to call the house so late at night. Maybe she'd call tomorrow.
    A intruder covered in black was above Clara, suspended on the ceiling as claws lapped over the common metal and drywall ceiling profile. Black feathers made the intruder's fall light and soundless as the person nimbly slipped through the decreasing gap as the door as it was closed behind Clara. The intruder walked over to the table like Clara had, and stared at the address on the table.
    #4 foodforpigs, Mar 28, 2016
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2016
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  5. It took incredible effort on the side of Mr. Baker to heave himself up to the top floor on his own using the handrail as support. He had proven himself whenever he lifted himself into Mr. Wakefield's' car, but Mr. Wakefield still couldn't ignore the feeling of letting him to his own devices as he had made the glue for his sticky trap. It felt a bit callous on his part to do so. However, Mr. Wakefield remembered that this man could probably break him like a twig if he so intended.

    At the end of planning, the main and upper floors looked like this:
    Main Floor:

    Top Floor


    Outside the house, the tall grass started to sway. If a person had been looking outside and had a very keen eye, perhaps they would've seen that some of the grass appeared to be on an J-shaped approach path. At the edge of the back yard fence, the grass fell off the back of the interloper like sod. Behind the cover of the tree, the black-clad assassin climbed up the wooden fence with protruding claws, perched on top of the fence momentarily like a cat. It made the first leap to the tree itself and quickly climbed up to the top, before taking out a small set of binoculars. The eyes narrowed when the assassin saw that the upper floors had been boarded, but not on the bottom floor where the assassin could see. The binoculars looked down to the kitchen area that had an intermediary wall preventing the assassin from seeing anything else.

    The assassin perched up the dead tree in patient contemplation over the best approach to this situation. The target was Nightwatch, a man who could supernaturally react to physical attacks before they even happened. The killing plan had always taken into account of the supers' powers first, not last. Everything else was just petty details. It was ideal if Nightwatch couldn't see it coming, but too much time had been given trying to track him down in the first place. Dr. Nucleus had acted first, and had the insanity to pull a man from the hospital without any paperwork, throwing a wrench in the perfect plan. Dr. Nucleus was likely inside with Nightwatch. Dr. Nucleus and Nightwatch were notorious for having plans, and plans within plans. Doubt started to enter the assassin's head, but the assassin shook out of it.


    The outer skin appeared to boil at the sides of the assassin, underneath the assassin's arms. Gliding like flying squirrel, with thick tissue underneath, the assassin landed softly on the roof. The claws grew longer like a hawk's, and the assassin was starting pull back the ceiling shingles just above the empty room north from the superhero's position. Meanwhile, the outer skin was starting to boil again, as the skin appeared more grey and thick like a rhinoceros', in combination with alligator scales.
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  6. Within the Twin Palms Senior Hospital Storage room, a dark figure rummaged through the filing cabinets. It wasn't taking things; it was putting them back. The figure wore an intern's uniform and a large brown satchel hung from one shoulder. They heard footsteps from outside and stopped, turning their head to the source of the sound. The footsteps stopped, opened a door, and then closed it before walking away.

    Fucking Clara. It's late at night and she's still checking on the patients. They're sleeping. What else is there to see? The figure resumed with the one last stack of papers in need of filing and then he'd be home free. The transfer papers for that Baker guy who got moved today. The footsteps passed by again and he almost swore out loud. The pay wasn't worth getting caught and he was jumping out of his own skin here. He shook his head, mouthing, 'Fuck this.' and threw the papers on a nearby desk. He opened the door just a crack and squeezed through before making his way towards the back door of the building. On the way there he could've sworn he saw something on the ceiling out of the corner of his eye, but once he tried to find it, it was gone. Probably his imagination.

    'Man, I need some sleep.'

    As he snuck out through the back door that led into the parking lot, he could faintly hear Clara answering a phone. It wasn't until he was sitting in his car that he let himself breathe a sigh of relief. Young, in training, and broke as hell, Geoffrey Elms drove to the same point as always to make the drop and get paid. The brown satchel contained copies of all the most recent documents pertaining to Twin Palms' activities. Transfers, manifests, whatever. A few months ago, some shady people had approached him and offered to pay him to get info like this out of the hospital. $500 per drop sounded way too good to be true, but Geoffrey was desperate for cash and it sounded easy enough. Twice a month or so he'd make copies of whatever was new and drop them off at the same place every time. It was weird that someone wanted documentation from a hospital, but in all honesty, he didn't really care. It was probably some competitor looking to beat them in a corporate smackdown or something. Point is, he got paid to make copies. It wasn't very hard and nobody gets arrested for making copies. It's easy money.

    He stopped in the same alley he'd visited for every drop. A door with a bare yellow light bulb above it sitting in an alcove. The walls and metal door were covered in a colorful myriad of graffiti. There was a slit at eye level and a larger slit around waist level.

    'Real spy-movie lookin'.' Geoffrey thought as his knuckles made hollow knocks against the door. The eye slit opened up and a pair of sunglasses were briefly visible before it closed again. The one at waist level followed and he stuffed the bag through it. An envelope with five hundred dollars in cash was passed back and the ritual was complete.

    "Don't be late next time."

    Whatever. Time to go home. The only thing on Geoffrey's mind as he drove to his stuffy apartment was whether there was still any leftover pizza in the fridge.


    In the moments when he was alone, Mike Spitzer was a rock legend. With his feet kicked up on the desk and his back resting against the swiveling chair behind him, he was in the perfect comfort spot for his badass air guitar solo. The little radio on the metal desk blared out the riffs and Mike strummed them against the air. His blue Hawaiian shirt made a colorful backdrop for his strumming fingers while his other hand pressed the invisible frets somewhere around the hairline of his long, messy brown hair. The smell of marijuana hung in the air, mixed in with that of an air freshener sprayed afterwards in an attempt to cover up the former. Mike didn't hear the footsteps behind him but he jumped when the brown satchel landed on his lap.

    "New stuff." Donny Rodriguez, the other guy who worked here, hated the smell that clung to the air after Mike got done smoking a fat one. The nasal in his voice suggested he was pinching his nose, "That dude from Twin Palms just stopped by. Late again, but whatever. Sort it out, man."

    Mike nodded and coughed, turning the nob on the radio down as he placed the satchel on the table. Donny had, like, a breathing problem. Asthma or something, and despite Mike's attempts to tell him that the green was totally harmless, Donny didn't want to take his chances. He went back to the room outside their little "office" where they'd set up a sofa and a TV in the same room as the door, and of course, designated a no-smoking area. Like this was a college campus or something. Mike scoffed and got up with a groan. The phone hadn't been ringing very much today. It was a quiet night which was just fine with him. Nothing besides a couple of drops, but Donny handled those. But such is life at The Hotline.

    Back in the late 50's and early 60's, this 'service' had been some kind of spy thing. An unbiased information network. It had some other name back then too, but Mike didn't really know what it was. It was still just as hard to get in, though. You needed to know the right people and those people needed a lot of money. But once you were a member, you were the network's priority. The Hotline, as it was now called, still believed in the same thing it always had. Information, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, is always important. And there's always someone out there who wants it. So, provide those who need it and are smart enough to find us with information. And The Hotline's archives are vast. Mike's 'office' was only one of many hundreds, perhaps even thousands in existence. All offices were linked together. If one didn't have the information you wanted, they'd call one who did. And if they still couldn't find it, then the information probably doesn't exist. No piece of information was too insignificant and nothing was too trivial. Whether it came from city hall, a graveyard, a hospital, or The Pentagon; if it was documented, The Hotline would find a way to get it. Geoffrey Elms was a single cog paid to sneak documents out of his workplace illegally for some extra money. That wasn't their only way of acquiring information, of course. Mike heard they even employed professional heist crews to procure some of the more sensitive data, and even more rumors about actual spies and stuff on The Hotline's payroll.

    Back then it used to be through radios and it was quite professional. You could almost imagine the polite man in a suit on the other end of the line. British accent and everything. Nowadays, The Hotline was using the more tech savvy generation to move more data. It was simply faster and easier with people who knew the latest ways to get information around. No more ham radios and coded messages. Of course, that meant people like Mike replaced the polite men in suits, at least in the U.S., but the increase in efficiency spoke for itself. The Hotline generated a lot of money, and that was the most important thing. Where that money ultimately ended up, or even where it came from in the first place, no one really knew for sure. No one knew who was behind The Hotline. Maybe it wasn't even a who, maybe it was a them. Who knows. With a place as good at analyzing information as The Hotline, tracing their money flow would be next to impossible. To Mike, none of this mattered so long as he got paid. And boy did he get paid. Just to sit at a desk, listen to the radio, and answer the phone a few times a day.

    Mike was about to start sorting the documents into the mountain of carefully organized filing cabinets behind him when the phone rang. He stopped and plopped the bag back down on the desk. When it came to a call, The Hotline prohibited letting any call go unanswered. The phone clicked off the receiver as he brought it to his ear,

    "Hotline, what do ya need?"

    A voice like granite came from the line, "Baker. Scott Baker."

    Mike rubbed his eyes, "Gimme a sec, dude."

    Sheesh. This guy called like once a week and asked that question. He always gave him the same answer. The paper trail behind Baker disappeared years ago. Mike set the phone down, looked through the filing cabinets like he always did, fingering his way through the relevant section and coming back empty. Again. He sat down and brought the phone back to his ear. He leaned on the desk, his arm pushing up against the satchel,

    "Look man, I- oh shit! One second."

    The satchel fell from the desk, spilling its paper entrails in a small arc. Mike sighed and began to scoop up the sheets, pilling them together in his hands. He placed the mess back on the desk and decided he'd sort them later, after this call and maybe a fatty. The phone was back in his hand when something caught his eye. A sheet near the middle of the pile was exposed just enough to reveal two small words among the jumble of documentation.

    S. Baker

    He pulled the sheet out, dragging it and all the other documents stapled to it into the light. He brought the phone back to his ear without taking his eyes off the sheet.

    "Well, it's your lucky day."


    Scott checked the gun in his hands for the hundredth time. This wasn't his first stakeout, but the chances that it would be his last were a lot higher than he would like. The house was quiet, making every little sound seem disproportionately loud. Maybe he had just gotten too old or maybe he was out of practice, but he kept having trouble keeping himself focused on the task at hand. The silence and time gave him plenty of opportunities to think as well. But if he was going to get stuck in thought, he might as well try and make it useful.

    Aftershock. In his mind, Scott went over the mental profile he'd built up around the assassin from what little information he had. They did this for money, at least that's what it looked like. The fact that there was a lot of money moving around before they made a move made two things clear. They were being paid, at least partially, in advance and they were charging a lot of money for their work. Someone only gets to make those calls when their merits are impressive and well-known. Aftershock is a professional. Like any professional, Aftershock most likely studies up on the target before they attack and gets to know them as well as they can. If they specialize in metahuman targets, they themselves are probably metahuman. Besides a likely proficiency in close quarters combat (Evelyn died from a stab wound, suggesting the fight was up close), there really isn't much else on Aftershock.

    Yet another disadvantage was that Scott had been well known in his day. Who he was and what he had done was well known. It would give Aftershock plenty of research material. Aftershock probably knew how he operated and probably even suspected a trap. With every passing moment their plan was looking more and more like the desperate last stand that it felt like.

    Someone landed on the roof.

    His senses weren't what they used to be, but they were still good enough to cover the roof. Somebody was up there. Scott turned to John and put a finger to his lips, then pointed straight towards the spot on the roof were he felt them. There was no doubt about it. Aftershock had decided against a ground entry and was going to try and go in through the roof. But he wasn't about to lie down and die. He was going to make this work.

    He turned to John and half mouthed, half whispered, "Aftershock." Then pointed the gun, following Aftershock's movements with it. He whispered again, "Get Ridley. Wait by the stairs." John crept away and around the corner of the hall while Scott slowly wheeled himself in the same direction.

    Aftershock had just cut through the roof and dropped into the room next to the bathroom. Scott felt him freeze up and remain where he'd landed. Scott stopped moving at the same time as Aftershock and was just as motionless. Aftershock was blind behind those walls so he was listening for noise in the house. With any luck, he'd hear John moving around downstairs and act on that. Breath control was an essential part of infiltration and Scott hadn't forgotten. He controlled his breathing, keeping his heart rate low, producing as little noise as possible. He waited for Aftershock to make a move.


    Aftershock's cat-like eyes could see as clear as day inside the dark room. Her ears, as sensitive as a bat's, could even make use of echolocation to feel her way around. There was one problem though. This room was empty and these walls didn't let her see or echolocate what was beyond. She heard someone moving down the stairs. Was it Baker? Or someone else? Had Baker figured her out already or were they just getting antsy? For efficiency's sake, she had to assume that Baker had already made her out and knew she was here. The person walking down the stairs was either bait or someone positioning themselves for a trap. She wouldn't fall for it.


    What was taking him so long? Aftershock hadn't moved for almost a minute. He must've have figured out John was sent as a trap. Fuck. If he'd fallen for it, he might have moved down another floor and they would've had him right over Ridley's seal. This had just become a game of wits. Scott versus the mystery assassin. Trying to predict each other's actions and disarm each other's traps. Aftershock must not know his current state. With his legs out of commission and his age, fighting back would be difficult; but Aftershock didn't know that. He was being cautious. Probably assuming they were going up against Scott, able bodied and ready. They weren't taking any chances. Aftershock was a professional, no doubt about it.

    His senses kept everyone on the mental map in his head. He felt John and Ridley downstairs. Aftershock, crouched in the room next to him. He felt trapped. Ridley's seal was useless with Aftershock up here. John wasn't of the right mind most of the time, and he was stuck in this goddamn fucking chair.

    'Relax. Don't get emotional on me. That's how you make mistakes. Think.'

    He agreed with himself. He had to keep his head on straight. This used to be so much easier, but he could do this. So long as he kept a cool head. His breath remained controlled, his heartbeat steady. He needed to make Aftershock move out of the room. The assassin had gone from a still crouch and was moving towards the door to the hallway. Aftershock turned the knob slowly, and pushed. The door didn't move. Aftershock didn't force it. They were still unsure as to whether they had been made out or not, so they weren't taking chances. Aftershock was moving again, trying the other door now. That one was bolted as well, but from the inside of the empty room. Aftershock started doing something to the boards. After a few moments, the only hint that Aftershock had removed a board were the assassin's movements, traced out by Scott's sense. It gave him an idea.

    Scott took his shoes off and started to leave his chair. Silently, he used his arms to raise himself up and place his legs on the wooden floor. Slowly, he slid himself down until he was lying on the ground. A short, quiet crawl and he was at the entrance to the thin hallway, merely inches away from the glued floor. Aftershock was moving into the bathroom. They saw the rigged shotgun and they saw where it was pointed. They'd likely realize the second floor was a trap by now. He needed Aftershock to think the trap was just outside the empty room; not the wide hallway he was in. That way, the assassin would rush in through the bathroom door and step in the glue.

    Aftershock needed to think Scott was positioned in the wide hallway and aiming down the thin one. He was at the intersection of the two, so his line of fire was concealed to Aftershock. It could be either hallway. He needed Aftershock to think he was getting the drop on Scott and attack through the bathroom door; landing in the glue. So he put into play the next step of this new plan. He fucked up on purpose.

    He turned his head toward the stairs and hissed John's name, loud enough for everyone in the silent house to hear; Aftershock included.


    There were quiet steps up the stairs; though not as skillful or as silent as a trained infiltrator's. Instead, they had that civilian quality to them where their owners are merely trying to be quiet. Once they were next to Scott, he whispered, again, loud enough to make sure everyone heard.

    "Empty room down the hall. Door on the left."

    However, he instead pointed at the bathroom door north of them, placing a finger to his lips. He mouthed,


    They got the idea. The two focused their attention on the bathroom door.


    Aftershock crept into the bathroom in complete silence. Compared to her, a shadow was clumsy and noisy. There was a double barreled shotgun at about chest level in the room. It was held in place by wooden boards arranged above the toilet and a wire went around the room and crossed in front of the door. Opening the front door would push it into the taught wire and snap it. The weight it was holding up on the other end would fall, pulling a second wire tied between the weight and looped around the gun's trigger and trigger guard. When the weight fell, the loop would be tightened and end up pulling the trigger in the process before snapping; firing both barrels. No doubt the gun was also modified so the trigger was loose and would provide almost no resistance. Clever little trick, but it wouldn't work on her.


    Her advanced sense of hearing picked up the sound of his voice effortlessly. He was calling for backup and the sound of someone coming up the stairs was his reward. Big mistake; now she knew where he was. She paused. Perhaps a little too big of a mistake. This was Nightwatch she was hunting. Would he really make a mistake like this? Perhaps he was starting to panic.

    "Empty room down the hall. Door on the left."

    They seemed to think she was in the other room. She made a judgement call and decided her skill would be enough to even the odds. Her skin began to bubble in preparation. Once she had finished developing her natural armor, she drew her blade and prepared to pounce. The shotgun trap was easily disarmed and the only thing standing between her and her quarry was a barred door. Perhaps Nightwatch would provide as much sport as Dragon had. He'd certainly played his cards well up until now.


    Aftershock was moving. Drawing a sword. Scott's assumption was correct, Aftershock preferred to go in for a close kill. He steadied his hands and aimed his weapon at the door. Any second now. Scott's reflexive abilities picked up Aftershock's attack before it happened. Just as it began to happen, Scott screamed out his queue.


    In a single, sudden action, the door buckled and splintered as Aftershock crashed through the wooden barrier with blade drawn. She leaped through the air, the vicious length of her katana gleaming and her eyes focused on the kill. But she realized her mistake once the arc of her jump hit its peak. Three bullets, all fired within a split second of each other, found her body. Her toughened skin kept them from harming her, but their little impacts changed the course of her leap. She began to fall, her descent aided by Wakefield's intensified gravity. It turned her leap into a dead drop. With the weight of her toughened skin and the force of John's gravity, she hit the floor hard enough to buckle the wooden boards. She landed on her side and another even more unwelcome surprise made itself known. The floor was covered in some kind of adhesive. She couldn't stand up.

    She walked right into it. She cursed herself. That was sloppy. Such a mistake should've been above her. She had been overconfident. She should have known that Wakefield and Baker combined wouldn't be anything like fighting Dragon. Even Sacrifice was here by the looks of it. She had vastly underestimated her opposition. But she would make sure this mistake wasn't her end. She acted quickly. More rounds pelted against her skin and Wakefield's gravity forced her into the floorboards. She drew back her free arm and with muscles enhanced by her abilities, she pounded the ground with her fist. It didn't take much with the gravity already weighing it down and she fell through the second floor onto the first.

    When she landed, she did her best to peel off the boards stuck to her arm and sides. She threw her flak grenade up through the hole she'd fallen through to buy herself more time. Arching her throw so that it would land near the three men, she tossed it only to grit her teeth when a bullet ripped through the grenade before it even cleared the hole. Straight through the ignition cork at the top between the fuse and the primer, neutering the explosive. It fell and bounced harmlessly next to her, the primer sparking and fizzling away.

    It was a little trick Scott had picked up during the war. Shoot a primed grenade in just the right spot, and you can cut the fuse off before it detonates. His voice echoed from the upstairs room,

    "The seal, go, go!"
    #6 Sir Doobington III Esq., Apr 10, 2016
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2016
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  7. The remaining members of freedom five had successfully prepared the home for Aftershock's attack, with just one thing left to set into motion. Sacrifice paced the living room as the other men stayed on the top floor, he looked to the book in his left hand and back to Murphy, the dog limped around the room and sniffed at Sacrifice's boots he placed in the center of the seal he painted so many years ago. He walked over to the German Shepherd and scratched behind the beast's left ear. His fate unknown, Murphy licked the scruffy man's face. Which only made Sacrifice's decision that much harder. To himself he thought grimly, Murphy can help me... my body is useless in this fight, but the dog will help us survive... at least one more day.

    You're running out of time Ridley, if you take any longer your friends are going to already be dead.

    Sacrifice hesitated and looked down at Murphy, the dog looked back up at Sacrifice and whimpered quietly, sensing the dark presence in the book and the sudden shift in the mood. The book had a strange smell that the dog had never smelled before, but the beast knew it was bad. Murphy went close to sniff the book more but darted away as Sacrifice set it down on the appropriate page. He peered down and observed what needed to be done within the pentagram and held you his hand to draw Murphy closer, he crouched low and waited . The dog licked his fingers and nuzzled against the back of his hand. Sacrifice drew the obsidian dagger of the book from the shadows and gripped it tight with his right, sweat pooled against the bone handle in his palm.


    The smooth rock tore cleanly through the dog's flesh, Sacrifice moved his left hand over the beasts muzzle as it's life bled from it's throat onto the wooden baseboards of the living room. The German Shepherd jerked and seized, but it soon subsided as Sacrifice spoke the ancient words of the book, Murphy's life fading, " l samhayin 'aqdam hdha aldm, w kulub min aljahim 'useaa, l bahith yaseaa li, wasawf alssiad yusbih farisatan , manh li sureat waquwwat hdha alwahsh fi mqabl 'annaha alrruh, l taeaqqab waqutil l 'iiradatik , w tahda eindama dhahab farisat min hadhih al'ard ."

    To Samhain I offer this blood, a hound of hell I seek, for a seeker seeks me, the hunter will become the prey, grant me the speed and strength of this beast in exchange for it's soul, to hunt and kill for your will, and subside when the prey is gone from this ground.

    Sacrifice's eye's darkened and was sent into a trance. The grizzled face of the ex-vigilante stared blankly as the dog's body was severed and spread across the pentagram with his puppeteer-ed body in order to complete the ritual; just as Nightwatch heard the assassin.

    As if melting or seeping into the floorboards, the blood within the pentagram along with the organs and entrails of the dog; dissolved. Black smoke coalesced in the center of the room. Sacrifice's body laid limp over the book, lifeless from the spell.

    Wakefield's gravity broke through the second floor and sent Aftershock tumbling into the area adjacent to where the ritual took place. When she landed, she did her best to peel off the boards stuck to her arm and sides. She threw her flak grenade up through the hole she'd fallen through to buy herself more time. Arching her throw so that it would land near the two men, she tossed it only to grit her teeth when a bullet ripped through the grenade before it even cleared the hole. Straight through the ignition cork at the top between the fuse and the primer, neutering the explosive. It fell and bounced harmlessly next to her, the primer sparking and fizzling away.

    Something cold dripped on Aftershock's face from above her head. Her nocturnal eyes looked at the warped muzzle of a dog, though the dog didn't look like a regular dog. She shed her skin quickly and the second floor floorboards remained on the ground as she slithered and jumped to the other side of the room, crashing into the chairs by the kitchen table. The dog was all flesh with no hair, it had yellow eyes and black teeth, it was unnatural. "Sacrifice", Aftershock whispered under her breath.

    Sacrifice smelled her. The woman with the intent to kill. She wasn't the only one. Through the eyes of the beast, Sacrifice growled and padded forward as his body gained the remainder of it's strength within the pentagram. He barked ferociously and leaped across the room at Aftershock, his sharp obsidian teeth clashing against her blade as she arched her back and sent him flying into a cupboard. There was a loud crash as the cupboard snapped and smashed into the tile, from the wreckage, Sacrifice leaped again and tore a chunk from her right thigh. He tasted her. Sacrifice spat the flesh from his mouth and chased her up the stairs as Aftershock ran from him. Aftershock needed to distance herself and booted Sacrifice in the nose and sent the dog body back down the stairs.

    When she arrived up the stairs, Aftershock was greeted by Dr. Nucleus and Nightwatch, along with a giant hole in the second floor. She turned around briefly only to see Sacrifice growl low and pad slowly up the stairs. Sacrifice had smelled her and tasted her, she wasn't leaving alive.
    #7 Wytchfinder, Apr 24, 2016
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2016
    • Nice execution! Nice execution! x 1
  8. Aftershock came barreling up the stairs, leaping over John and Scott. Sacrifice's spell chased her up, forcing her to change her positioning. She knew one thing; she wouldn't be able to fight all three of them in such a tight space, despite her proficiency in close-quarters combat. She would have to separate them.

    She couldn't fight them like this. She'd have to split them up.

    The sound of a grenade pin springing out of it's position rang out in the small room and a canister leaking a sickly looking gas landed right behind Scott and in front of John and Ridley. John was the first to cough and instinctively recognize the gas. He covered his face with his sleeve and stumbled back, while Ridley's new form tried to get through the gas, only to choke and gag as the noxious fumes proved impassable. Scott could only move forward, crawling around the corner and into the thin hallway to avoid the unfurling cloud of gas. He coughed as he pulled himself forward, moving toward the only area he could. Aftershock, aware that she may not get another chance, moved in for the kill. She dropped to the floor and went after Baker as the man tried to crawl away, further down the hall.

    Scott was thinking even as he retreated. If he could just get to Ridley's old study, he might buy enough time for Ridley and John to come back, or maybe arm the trap and get a chance to even the odds. Anything to get the upper hand. He rolled onto his back after a few feet and fired down the hall at Aftershock, but in his state, he couldn't hit anything. Aftershock was too fast, and he was too tired. He could only slow her down. He rolled back over and began dragging himself again. But he wasn't moving fast enough. He had to pull himself along with his arms, something that was already difficult without the burning pain in his chest from a combination of gas fumes and exertion. He swore. If only he had his legs. If only he was still the man he used to be. If only his fucking legs would move he might come out of this alive. He cursed every cell and muscle fiber in his legs. He cursed himself.

    He never should have taken that jump, all those years ago. Or at the very least, it should've killed him.

    Now wasn't the time to go digging through old regrets. Aftershock was on top of him. He was at the end of the hall, just under the window. He raised the pistol, but they both knew how many rounds were left. They'd both been counting. The pistol clicked when he squeezed the trigger, the sound of Scott's death knell. The door to Ridley's study was right next to him, but none of that mattered. She had cornered him. His back was against the wall quite literally, he was exhausted, and he was out of ammo. He had seconds before he'd feel that blade pierce his chest. Aftershock, ever the true professional, didn't allow any last words. The sword went up. Scott wouldn't give her the satisfaction of begging.

    "Fucking do it, then."


    Neither of them had shouted. The shout's owner didn't wait for an introduction. Something smashed through the window just above Scott and tackled Aftershock.

    She was hit with what felt like a small truck. It threw her backwards at least five or six feet, even with her reinforced body. When she looked up to curse whoever had cost her a well earned kill, she was met with a pair of hands wrapped around her throat and two words.

    "MY KILL!"

    Her body was picked up by the neck and her head slammed into the wall once, twice, three times, and then a fourth before one hand moved to her leg, held her up high overhead, and slammed her through the wall she'd just been beaten with. It gave way, plaster and wood breaking away and sending her flying into the room she'd entered the house through. The sound of breaking wood and crumbling plaster were interrupted by two words,

    "MY KILL!!"

    A voice like granite. Movements both blindingly fast and forcefully violent. The assassin, the monster, brutality incarnate himself.
    Delroy Roche.

    Scott backed up against the wall. Since the attack started, he'd kept his cool. Despite the odds, despite the dangers, he'd operated with a clear head. But now he was seeing a ghost; a vengeful spirit. And it was a terror he thought he'd destroyed so long ago. His eyes were wide, his heart pounded.

    "No.... no you're dead. We killed you..."

    Roche turned his head and looked at Scott. He saw them again. Pale gentle green sunken and lost in fury and rage. A pair of green meadows surrounded, pierced, and tainted by bloodshot wastelands. The eyes of Delroy Roche cut deeper into Scott than any blade ever could.

    Razor turned his attention back to Aftershock. Scott wasn't the only one horrified and confused by his presence. Aftershock was well aware of the reputation Roche carried with him. In the shadowy world she lived and worked in, his was a name that carried weight. Many, many rumors surrounded the man. His origin within a clan of elites that had since been wiped out, all save for him. That their skills, skills which survived only through him, put them among the best of the best. And that over time, Razor had lost himself more and more to a deep rage, channeling it into his technique. A once graceful set of skills that had grown rotten, ugly, and violent as their sole survivor was lost to fury.

    But one warning topped them all. Should one ever run into Roche out in the field, steer clear and stay as far away as you can. It doesn't matter how good you think you are or how experienced you believe yourself to be. Razor isn't an opponent. He's a force of nature. Seemingly undying. Ever unyielding. Always without mercy. The best way to survive him is to never meet him.

    Some had tried. Skilled and talented warriors, the best of their kind, would decide they would be the ones to rid the world of Delroy Roche. To veterans, they were seen as fools. Despite warnings, many still tried. Those who actually found Roche never returned. In Aftershock's shadowed world, Roche was simply a force they avoided when it started to come near. He was a hurricane you traveled away from when it came too close for fear of its vicious winds.

    Aftershock had never fought Razor. She was one of the best, but she'd never tested her mettle against Razor. Whether she actually wanted to or not, she didn't have a choice. Razor ripped both of his blades out from their sheaths. She barely had time to raise her own before he was upon her. He moved frighteningly quickly, and his strikes were brutally powerful. She parried his first swing and was nearly thrown off balance by the force of the blow. His twin ninjato slammed against her katana, threatening to send it flying from her hands. Sparks flew from the blades as they clashed. She barely had time to recover before the blades were coming back. Again, she barely parried. Then they came again. And again. And again. With every clang of steel, Aftershock barely had enough time to recover from the last swing before another one came. She tried to lock swords with him and buy herself some time.

    It wasn't until their blades were locked together and his face was inches from hers that she almost began to regret her decision. The eyes. The terrifying bloodshot eyes that seemed to emanate war itself from behind the slits in his mask. She was almost thankful when the headbutt came and she stumbled backwards.

    This fight was one sided, and in the empty room, it was like being inside a shark cage; with a Great White in the cage with her. She needed to even the odds. She barely dodged his next swing, darting away from him and into the hall. A heavy pistol tore chunks from the walls around her as Razor fired at her retreat. She leaped down into the hole she'd made earlier and landed on the first floor. The odds were against her now. This operation might be salvaged if she could even their grounds. She wasn't done yet, not by a long shot. They didn't call her one of the best for nothing.

    She was given a second to catch her breath before she was forced to dodge. Razor landed where she had been. Muscle, bone, steel, and crushed the floorboards underneath.

    "My... kill..."

    He leaped towards Aftershock, crashing his steel against hers and moving the fight into the kitchen. Aftershock dodged and parried his strikes. She did better against him now that she was over the initial shock of his appearance. He was pushing her back, but she felt that she could hold her own against him for a while. Maybe even turn him against her opponents. Fighting Roche felt like backing away from a rampaging elephant, but if she could redirect that rage, she may be able to turn the fight to her favor.
    • Love Love x 1
  9. The gas from the grenade irritated John's skin and eyes as he moved back from the cloud of poison gas. Taking out a handkerchief from his pocket, while keeping his sleeve arm at the mouth, he stuck it in his pants and urinated into it. The silver lining, John supposed, was that being old had the advantage that it was easy to piss on command; being scared only guaranteed the last drop would be expelled. He heard the war cry of a man he had thought long dead, of Razor, and he thought himself delusional as the same cry engulfed the house. The poison gas cloud was still rather thick as John heard the clashing of steel from the empty room to the right of the hallway. Hugging the wall, he continued to stay low, and replaced his sleeve arm with the urine rag. It was a common military practice, and though John had forgotten the science and doubted it would be effective, the convention of it was easy; couldn't make the situation worse, anyway.

    He couldn't see the silhouette of the demon dog that was presumably still in the cloud. John's legs locked as he heard another crash of a door as Aftershock ran barreled into the hall with a juggernaut in hot pursuit. John blanked out for a moment, having accepted his death; he would've pissed himself again if he hadn't already done so. Elephant gun! his thoughts screamed, as he fired his gun, which merely clicked because there was no ammo. By then the two assassins crashed onto the bottom floor, where the fight continued. His heart beat at an alarming rate, now yearning for that elephant gun; just thinking about a 4-bore blowing away the bottom half of Aftershock in grisly detail renewed his resolve.

    The poison gas cloud was rising steadily and dissipating now. John took this as his chance to move from the staircase and crawl underneath the gas cloud, urine rag still pressed against his face. Aftershock would not separate the remaining Freedom Five. While crawling, he could hear the sounds of the trench; the screams of wounded, the loud commands of officers, and of artillery fire. He was no longer the juggernaut, shaping the battlefield by redirecting artillery fire and bringing down the 'weight of the world' onto his enemies. He was at the edge of no man's land, powerless, not daring to raise his head in fear a bullet would pierce his head. He then felt a mouth drag him by one sleeve, while two arms dragged him by the other until he cleared the cloud. There were two beings now seen at his level. The first was a demon dog with impatient yellow eyes, while the other was on the ground too, but not by choice.

    "Elephant... gun." John wheezed.
    Scott shook his head. Scott knew they didn't have one. John's mind was locked in an older time. Elephant guns were pretty much obsolete by WWII, though he got the gist of John's wish against Aftershock, since conventional guns failed to pierce that animal hide of hers.

    Sacrifice bore his obsidian teeth at the two in irritation, with chunks of Aftershock flesh and skin between them. John closed one eye and made an inexact bore size with his thumb and index finger. Scott furrowed his brow and pointed to the last room beside him, pressing an index finger to his lips to be silent, opening the door to that room quietly. This shotgun had pretty big barrels, which was good, though it still had to be armed, and it wasn't precisely an elephant gun. John looked at the shotgun, and then back at the demon dog in contemplation. He then crouched by Sacrifice while Mr. Baker got to work with arming their last trap. Sacrifice tilted his head the same way dogs do when they're confused, if only to exaggerate his emotion so there was no ambiguity. John parted the lips to make a wide opening with his mouth clenched, running his finger across the top line of teeth. He then mimed pulling a tooth out by extraction forceps, with repeated tool-clenching motions with his hands, and really selling the struggle of pulling out the tooth. Sacrifice pawed John's foot twice, as though to say Stop - just stop.

    As Aftershock ran from Razor, it revealed that her right thigh had been torn out. Razor saw that there was a heavy mass of grown bone near the top of the missing section instead that cut into the skin; a very crude way to stop circulation from above and hence stop the bleeding. It was a wonder Aftershock was still moving as fast as she was against him. In the closed space of the kitchen, the fight became enclosed like a corridor, between table and dividing wall from the living room. Aftershock understood the folly of before she could reach the end of the living-room kitchen divider; the sword she wielded was pried and thrown aside by a scissor combination of Razor's twin swords.

    The twin swords then both followed through quickly to finish Aftershock off. Aftershock raised her thick skinned arms against the blades; the swords cut in deep into them but by the time they made their way through, Razor didn't feel the steel against soft flesh. Nothing was underneath the thick skin. Aftershock had molted, detaching herself from her arms. Aftershock split her own arm-husks with Razor's twin swords stuck in them, a unique variation of a trademark 'way of opening' to a martial art that Razor knew full well. Razor anticipated Aftershock's knee attack to his thigh and parried it, having let go of the arm husks his swords couldn't budge out of. Enraged, Razor grabbed onto Aftershock's head and slammed her against the wooden kitchen table, which broke the table into pieces. Razor dodged a retaliatory kick from the ground; it was too slow having been the one with the extra bone mass which stopped the bleeding. He took it and in a spectacular circular throw of superhuman strength, bashed her and sent her flying through the dividing wall into the living room. Clearly the way to kill the thick skinned nuisance was internal bleeding. Razor saw that she chose to stand again, though his attacks were clearly taking their toll.

    "你是我进化的方式。/ Nǐ shì wǒ de yǎnbiàn zhī lù." yelled Aftershock.
    Show Spoiler
    "You're in the way of my evolution."

    "龙八姿势是不是你的。你会死模仿她。/ Lóng bā zīshì shì bùshì nǐ de. Nǐ huì sǐ mófǎng tā."
    Show Spoiler
    "The eight postures of the dragon aren't yours. You will die mimicking her."
    Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bajiquan

    "我是第一个!/ Wǒ shì dì yī gè!"
    Show Spoiler
    "I was the first!"

    Aftershock stabbed herself in the leg with a syringe filled with a strange liquid. Razor charged at Aftershock to close their encounter and kill Scott for good. Aftershock's guttural growls and screeches were like that of an awakening demon as her skin bubbled out of control like boiling water spilling over a black cauldron; some of the boiling Aftershock tissue spilled onto the floor the same way, wasteful and without direction. Razor's new attacks were as enraged as before, they could only fracture the first layer of a new carapace forming around her. Razor couldn't shake the image out of his head of the fighter now dead, that image superimposed on this abomination. Aftershock couldn't find an opening in Razor's powerful fighting style, and so she created one through the ways of opening. She got a couple of solid blows in and grabbed at Razor's neck. New tissue continued to bubble, building around Razor's neck, about to cover his mouth whole, in order to suffocate him to death from the throat and the mouth at the same time; Razor's neck was surprisingly strong and thick, like a bodybuilder's bicep. Razor was certainly a very worthy specimen of a man. The man eventually felt limp in her grasp.

    Police sirens flared in the far distance away from the house, piercing the night air. Aftershock's now primal mind reverted back to her singular mission of killing Nightwatch, and the rest of the Freedom Five. It wasn't the ideal, but it'd have to do. She threw Razor back into the kitchen before running back up the stairs. Razor opened his eyes and crinkled his neck. This wasn't the night he had hoped for anymore.

    Aftershock looked at the glue trap and the shotgun trap of the top floor, renewing her rage at the three that thought they could plan against her. Her eyes darted to the last room at the end of the hall. She charged there. She didn't care if they had a shotgun or whatever else they had. It wouldn't be enough to kill her. The projectile would deflect harmlessly. The demon dog would be swatted down and crushed into pulp before its teeth could pierce her thick skin again. She opened the door, the sight strange to her. At the corner there was the demon dog, smiling wickedly with a gummy smile, with two men on the ground. The first man was directly under the barrels of a large shotgun mounted on a small table, with palms on both sides of the barrels. The second man was behind, his eye at the sight, almost like he was positioning a ground mount machine gun. The trigger was pulled. The last thing that Aftershock saw was a flash. Obsidian black buckshot had burst from the barrel at accelerated speeds, due to a localized anti-friction zone from within the barrel induced by John's anti-gravity particles working from all sides interior to the shotgun barrel itself. The buckshot pierced Aftershock's entire face and she crumbled to her knees, dead. Parts of her outer layer skin were starting to fall off as goop, with the consistency of expired milk.
    • Love Love x 2
  10. Aftershock's corpse was not a pretty sight. Face blown apart, body mangled, and all the excess tissue practically melting off; it was hard to believe that the thing before them had once been human. Aftershock had made the biggest mistake in her career. She'd lost her head and made several reckless moves. Whatever she'd done to end up as this... thing, that was what killed her. She could've made a strategic retreat or find a way to buy herself a moment's reprieve and reassess her situation. Instead, she chose to go into full power and proceed to rampage towards her target. She'd attained power, but she'd lost the most important element in a tactical face-off. She'd lost control of the situation and she'd lost her insight. Power didn't mean anything in a fight like this, control and foresight were the most deciding factors. She'd forgotten what she was doing and who she was fighting. Nightwatch was used to fighting enemies more powerful than himself. He specialized in it. Compared to the rest of Freedom Five, he'd been the weakest when it came to the sheer spectacle of power. But he had been the most adept when it came to tactical expertise, recognizing key weaknesses, and exploiting them. When fights rose into the superhuman scale, Nightwatch was almost always out-powered, but not outmatched. The moment Aftershock lost her head and went from a careful operator to a giant, rampaging monster, she'd lost the fight. With Nucleus and Sacrifice with him, the odds had tipped too far away from Aftershock. Together, they'd sealed the coffin she built for herself.

    Scott dropped the shotgun and propped himself up against the wall opposite of Aftershock's melting body. He was out of breath and covered in sweat. This used to be so much easier, and it was almost disheartening to see how much age had affected them all. A few decades ago, this fight would've been a cinch. The police sirens outside absolved the rest of his fears, however. He knew Razor would leave because of them. He wanted a personal fight, not a warzone. He wouldn't move in for the kill like this.

    "We did it..." he panted, "We made it..."

    He glanced at the shotgun. Using Ridley's obsidian teeth had been a stroke of genius on John's part. John never ceased to surprise with how he applied his scientific knowledge. Even now, he still had a few tricks up his sleeve. Aftershock's recklessness had given them the perfect opportunity to finish her off. John's teeth idea had ensured their success. They'd only had two shells, and Scott had emptied them out and replaced the pellets with Ridley's teeth. It'd be tough to explain things to the police, but for the moment, at least they'd survive. Roche wouldn't be a problem, at least for no-

    John gasped. Scott's head snapped up to look at the doorway and see Razor standing in it. He'd underestimated just how badly Roche wanted this.

    John tried to stand up and do something, but a kick threw him into a bookshelf. Razor wasn't leaving. He wasn't going anywhere. After all these years, he finally had him. Downstairs, the sound of police thumping against something echoed up to them. They shouted and demanded to be let inside, but Razor had blocked the doors and the stairs. It would take them a while to get in. Razor grabbed Scott by the lapels and dragged him up. He looked him dead in the eyes. Razor tossed him back, expecting him to stumble but stand against the wall. Scott's legs simply crumpled and he fell back down.

    Razor's eyes went wide. He drew his sword and held it over Scott's thigh. He let it drop and cut into him. Scott gasped and grunted in shock, but didn't cry out in pain. He couldn't feel it. Razor's eyes went wider. And he screamed.

    "No... NO!!!"

    He pulled his blade away and screamed again, thrusting his fist through a wall in anger. Scott didn't know why... then it clicked. Razor couldn't touch him anymore. Not like this. The ghost of a furious man punched the wall, tearing through the plaster and wood. Realization dawned on Scott. It was almost funny. Funny enough for him to laugh a little at Roche. He'd finally beaten Razor. And he'd done it by getting old and becoming weak. Without his legs, Razor's kill was no longer the glory it would've been. Without his legs, Razor would simply be snuffing out an old man with no more difficulty than he'd have with an infant. Time had claimed Razor's kill. Scott's laughter was interrupted when he was picked up and held against the wall,

    Didn't think you were afraid of old men, Roche."

    He threw Scott down, but didn't touch him any further. The police had gotten through the doorway, now they were trying to remove the barricade blocking the stairs.
    Roche sheathed his blade. It was over. Nightwatch was no longer any kind of challenge. Not in one-on-one fight. But there might just be another way. He had just killed Aftershock after all. Perhaps he could still get his kill.

    "I know who sent Aftershock here. Her client is the same as mine."
    "Then why'd you stop her."
    "Because you're my kill. Not hers. I do not need payment or an excuse to take your life. She was simply an inconvenience in my way. But let my client think you killed her alone. You aren't my contract."

    Scott didn't like this. Roche was winding him up.

    "What do you want?"
    "My contract is Evelyn Grace's daughter. I believe you call her Eagle Eye. My client wants to set forth a chain of events, and Eagle Eye's death is a necessary part of it."
    "Why are you telling me this? Why would you put your client's plan and your contract in danger?"
    "Because I want you to try and stop me."

    Roche still wanted his kill. If he couldn't have Baker as a combatant, he'd take him as a strategist. This kill meant more to him than anything, and he was willing jeopardize his client's plan and his contract in order to get it. Whoever hired Roche on a job that involved Nightwatch, even indirectly, didn't know just how far Roche would go. But Razor was unafraid of any backlash. He began to walk towards the window.

    "It has been many years. I'll kill you yet."

    He was out the window and gone. Scott covered the wound on his leg with his hand and grimaced. He couldn't feel it but that didn't mean bleeding wasn't a problem. The police downstairs finally broke through the barricade and came up the stairs.
    #10 Sir Doobington III Esq., May 1, 2016
    Last edited: May 8, 2016
    • Love Love x 1
  11. His prey had died, and the body Samhain had given Sacrifice faded into smoke and dissipated into nothingness. The teeth that claimed Aftershock's death blew out of existence like the extinguishing of a candle, small streams of black smoke filled the room and disintegrated.

    The sirens outside stirred Sacrifice awake, frantic, he reached for the book. Razor is also here, he thought to himself as he scrambled, Knowing that bastard, he will be out of here quick, he immediately put on his black facemask and gathered his clothes pile on the floor in the kitchen, slightly mangled from the fight but it didn't matter. Sacrifice placed the book and all of his clothes on top of his vigilante robe; the brown long sleeved robe with a red hood of the masked man. The seal in the living room had faded along with the spell, the floor eerily clean of all stains. A dog's collar sat on the floor silently.

    Sacrifice heard Razor upstairs and the ruckus that followed, the man was being really loud and angry about something. He doesn't have any time to do any serious harm to Nightwatch or Dr. Nucleus, Sacrifice thought grimly, the cops are already here and if he doesn't get out soon he will be in deep shit... though not as deep as if I fall in to police custody. Back in the old days of Freedom Five, Sacrifice tried to make it clear to the team that he and the book should never be compromised, that the book needed to stay with him or it may fall into the hands of someone who would use it for much darker deeds, in any chance he would be captured he would need to avoid it at all cost. Sacrifice had explained to the team, "The book's secret is important, there will always be a need for balance between good and evil, any public knowledge of the book can tip the scale drastically. It is my responsibility to hide it and find a way to destroy it when the time comes.."

    The hero inside Sacrifice wanted to stay, to help his old teammates fend off Razor, but the loud banging on the front door made him jump back into focus. He needed to run.

    Always the coward, Samhain scoffed, his layered voice echoing as Sacrifice's ears rang with sounds of more sirens and Razor's yelling, You could kill all those humans outside if you give me your right hand, he said deviously. Sacrifice didn't answer him, he didn't have the time.

    As the police attempted to force their way through the door, Sacrifice dashed to the backdoor and pulled at the boards of wood nailed to block the door. He pried as his adrenaline coursed through him and he tore the first two boards and struggled to get the third free as he coughed and hacked on the back of his hand.


    While staked-out on a strip of highway outside the north side of the city, Brian Quintana, a young cop on night patrol; heard a report from his radio:

    "Gunshots at Edric Estates, calling all units", the sergeant's voice chimed, "Be alert, and don't do anything stupid until SWAT gets there!"

    "Sign me up, this road is quieter than a dead librarian", Brian said to himself as he shifted gear and set toward Edric Estates, he craved action. Ever since he was a kid he wanted to fight crime and someday he planned on taking the detective exam. He reasoned that the faster he made it to Edric Estates, the faster he would get his promotion and he wouldn't need to stalk cars on the road. He sped to Edric Estates and went through several red lights without his lights flashing or his siren. He was the first one on the scene and parked around the corner, "Quintana at Edric Estates", he called on his radio.

    "Roger that Quintana, Lopez and I will watch the front", replied Swanberg, the other police vehicle parked directly in front of the home, their siren waking the neighborhood.

    "Copy Swanberg, over and out", annoyed, Quintana threw the radio at his dash, "Fuck I hate Swanberg, he was a piece of shit at the academy and now he keeps trying to make me look stupid ever since he recently got made into a detective", Quintana knew that Swanberg was into some dirty business, but he didn't know what yet; someday he planned to find out.

    He sprinted into the alley and determined the house, a twisted tree in the backyard that eerily creaked in the moonlight. Quintana opened the gate and entered the backyard, he readied his flashlight under his service pistol as he waited with himself between the back door and the back gate. The radio attached to his uniform was silent of chatter as loud yelling and a couple crashes could be heard from the inside. Looks like someone was digging a hole today, he thought as he looked around the yard, he chilled in the night breeze as his mind came up with possible scenarios. All his anxiety stopped as he heard movement at the backdoor. He heard a man coughing and the doorknob rattled. Quintana readied his pistol.


    Sacrifice opened the door and found himself masked face to face with an officer of the law.

    "FREEZE! DROP THE BAG", Quintana yelled and aimed his flashlight at the dark figure, his face was hidden and all but his hands were covered in black. A brown sack over his shoulder.

    Sacrifice stood still, he waited for the instant that the pig would mess up. this wasn't the first time he ran into an officer; he was a very sought after vigilante in his golden years.

    Both men heard two loud gunshots, a shrill cry, and what could only be described as the sound of a sword decapitating a police officer. Quintana fired his pistol and sent the bullet past Sacrifice's shoulder and through the little window at the top of the backdoor. Sacrifice charged the officer and slammed his head into the young man's chest, leaving Quintana winded and on the ground in front of him. Sacrifice punched Officer Quintana in the face as hard as his old hands could and darted to the back gate. He opened the gate hastily and turned east, his boots splashed in a puddle from the recent rainfall that same evening.

    Quintana shook his head and rose to his feet, "You're not getting away that easy", he said to himself and placed his gun back in its holster. He darted after the masked man and leaped the same fence he saw the man climb when he reached the same location. Quintana gained speed and appeared to be catching up with the ex-vigilante.

    Sacrifice tried to weave his way through the alleys to lose his shadow, but the pig was persistent. He missed the days when he was younger and could outrun the old men of the police force, it seemed all the police force did these days is hire young boys and give them a gun. Sacrifice threw a garbage can on the ground in front of Quintana and the young man hurdled over the can with ease.

    Still running, but close enough to smell the man, Quintana reached for the man's robe-like jacket. He yanked at the black fabric at the front the man and saw a knife appear from what seemed to be the inside of the man's right sleeve as the masked man turned to face him. The sight of the knife sent a chill through Quintana, he thought he was going to die.

    The ex-vigilante cut the fabric between himself and the officer with reckless speed and booted Quintana in the testicles.

    "Sonofabitch!" Quintana winced and reached down for his service pistol as his stomach turned form the sudden impact between his jewels and the masked man's boot. His vision blurred as his eye's watered and the dark figure raced further south toward city center, Quintana did not want to risk a shot if he couldn't see if someone else was there. He saw the man turn right as the radio on his belt rang with the angry voice of Sergeant Pohl, his superior officer.

    "Where the hell are you Quintana! Report!"

    Officer Quintana looked to his hand at the torn fabric he still clutched in his fingers, He could have killed me, he thought silently and sank against a nearby wall, he could have killed me.

    Turning a sharp left, Sacrifice sprinted across the dim street lights and into another alley shortly after reaching the other side of the road. He tossed open a nearby dumpster and threw his old robe with the book and clothes inside before he scrambled in. He creaked the dumpster closed and propped it open with the shaft of a moldy mop, and then he stripped off the mask and all his black clothes. He tossed the black garb further into the dumpster and dressed himself in the clothes that Dr. Nucleus kindly gave him to wear, now ruined with the stench of human waste. Sacrifice wrapped the book in it's pocket inside his old brown robe and folded it.

    They will know to find me in central park, he thought to himself, the best place to hide is where the other wretches of the city live. Sacrifice passed out from exhaustion. The book remained in his possession for another day.


    At the scene of the crime, Lopez shook nervously on the tail of the ambulance as he gripped his left shoulder, he was cut with the same sword that cut off Swanberg's head. The scene replayed over and over in his mind of the fast blade slicing his shoulder and cutting his partners head. And the carnage that followed. So much blood.

    Staff Sergeant Pohl yelled into the radio from inside the house, "Where the hell are you Quintana! Report!", SWAT had broke down the door after Swanberg and Lopez engaged the masked assailant with the blade and the team said that inside were two elderly men, one had a wound on his thigh that was being treated and the other man's eyes shifted back and forth and mumbled to himself seated in a chair form the kitchen.

    "He got away sir", a voice replied from radio, the voice of what one could only assume was Officer Quintana, and it sounded in pain.

    "We know he bloody got away! Swanberg is down and Lopez is hurt, get your ass back here Quintana!", Pohl yelled violently at the radio, these young cops was getting on his nerves, Swanberg and Lopez were stupid to try and get through the front door without SWAT, and later he would need to assign an officer to go to Swanberg's home and talk to the man's poor wife.

    "Alright you two", he turned to the two elderly men, the strange one sitting in a chair and the injured one sat in a wheelchair, "Let's start hearing some answers." He stepped on a dog collar as he entered the living room and looked down at it confused before he looked back at the two old men.
    • Love Love x 2
  12. It progressed in terms of inches. Mr. Wakefield felt a sickness within his chest.

    The police officers that went upstairs had expressions of fear and disgust at the rotting pile of flesh drenched in a creamy liquid that had the appearance of expired milk. Aftershock's head hadn't been blown completely off; it was violently shredded to the point it almost looked like grapefruit pulp. At the base of Aftershock's crumpled, kneeling form, her outside layer of tough alligator rhino skin flopped outward like a lotus flower. Mr. Wakefield was directed downstairs by a SWAT officer, first dragged by the arm off the ground, then prodded forward with a hand, still with a firm grip on his rifle. The old man stopped twice, staring over his shoulder to look at the grisly sight. The SWAT officer gripped him by the shoulder before Mr. Wakefield fell into the large hole at the top of the staircase.

    Mr. Wakefield stumbled on the staircase, his legs suddenly feeling weak; the officer told him firmly to clear the space for the investigation team. Wakefield's eyes continued to shift often to the empty wheelchair and upstairs while he sat on a kitchen chair, positioned in the living room. His mutterings had the quality of a spoken mantra, of profound nothings, breath silent. Mr. Wakefield muttered to himself, wiping sweat from his brow as more police officers poured into the house. His brain was overloaded with physics equations, residue from calling to mind the equations necessary for the kill, and the only way he could release their neural hold was to speak in it, to get the thoughts out as desperately as he was trying to breathe out the carbon dioxide lulling him into a state of semi-consciousness on the verge of unconsciousness. After the SWAT team had made a complete sweep of the house and ensured that there was no more live traps within the house, a medical team was quickly sent in to Mr. Baker's wounds on scene. Mr. Baker could hear snippets between officers, mostly banter on how fucked the situation was.

    When the leg was tended to satisfactorily, upon orders of the police department, the witness was to join the other for preliminary questioning. When Mr. Baker was set beside Mr. Wakefield, Mr. Wakefield stopped fidgeting but his eyes continued to dart everywhere, unable to stop his muttering.

    "Alright you two", Sergeant Pohl said to the two elderly men, the strange one sitting in a chair and the injured one sat in a wheelchair, "Let's start hearing some answers."

    Mr. Wakefield's trance ended, as did his fidgeting from the intrusiveness of the voice. He sat still for a moment, his shoulders sagging as the weight of a world crashed on his shoulders. He started to breathe heavily again, faster and faster, about to pop. He put a hand over his mouth only after he vomited on the floor. Tears flowed from his eyes as a stream. Wakefield wept without shame with broken wheezing and coughing fits, appearing inconsolable. "Dead, dead." Dragon is dead. Dr. Nucleus was no distracted with the how to bring the assassin to justice. All that was left was Mr. Wakefield, the one who read the newspaper headline only a couple of days ago.

    Pohl sighed impatiently. This was going to be a very long night. Waiting for the old man to settle down, he turned to one of his co-officers who approached.

    "Maybe you should offer him a glass of water?" She appeared quite stern while saying it, though it did betray a hint of empathy. Her name was Sherley, easy to remember because she was sure about a hell of a lot of things. New blood to be sure, overconfident without the experience to go along with it. Pohl waved her off in disdain, to let another officer approach.

    "What of downstairs? Did you find anything?"
    "It's clean, sir. There was a torn down wall, but otherwise nothing of note."
    "Clean?" Pohl scrunched his nose. What the fuck! "Search again."
    "Do it." Venom dripped from Pohl's words.

    He wouldn't allow incompetence rule over his team. Swanberg was already dead. He was following an anonymous tip that suggested that this house was at the center of a meth op, but the police could never find sufficient cause to search the place. By all other accounts, the Eldric Estates community was squeaky clean. There was that infamous creepy tree outside this house, but that in of itself wasn't enough proof. Maybe in the old superstitious days, it could've been passed off as an evil ward, but not now. By the time he got back to looking at the strange old men, Officer Sherley offered Mr. Wakefield a glass of water, holding it for him as he sipped from the edge. Pohl stared at Sherley with narrowed eyes. Mr. Wakefield nodded in appreciation and she backed away to join the other officers in securing the perimeter while investigation was ongoing.

    "I must take a look at the body." said Mr. Wakefield.
    "You'll do no such thing." Pohl answered.
    Mr. Wakefield stared at the patch job of Mr. Baker's paralyzed leg. It was substandard work, at best. It didn't matter so much that it was paralyzed; if it wasn't, then he'd request the medical team for a do-over. He doubted the CSI team's ability if it was comparable.

    "It would be better if you both cooperate. Tell me what happened, from the beginning."

    Mr. Wakefield remained silent, because words wouldn't come to him. To him there was no more beginning; memories swirled in his head out of control. He just wanted to close his eyes and enter a deep sleep. Police came to report to Pohl that they couldn't find the buckshot that had killed the victim on the upstairs floor. They suggested to wait for CSI to arrive.

    "It shouldn't exactly be that hard to find." Pohl didn't bother to hide his frustration of another negative find. An officer said there was some metal pellets found on the floor beside the gun, but that they showed no sign of being fired from the gun. "Firing blanks can be lethal, but I doubt that blanks could result in what you've seen of the body. You already know this. Try again."

    The officers urged that they would need to bring samples to a CSI lab to determine the kinds of skin and milky substance around the woman. They suspected that it was some kind of full body suit comprised of different animal skins, and that the substance was some sort of lubricant, a fetish, maybe? It would only kind of explain the husk arms in the kitchen. The suit would have to be thick and layered to the point of hyperbole. They also needed different results to identify her. Her teeth appeared mostly intact. Their guess was that a dental record would be enough for identification. The other theory was that she could've been a super, but that still begged the questions of how that worked, and how they hell she was killed. They didn't consider that all traces of an assassin true alias would be wiped from existence, even information that could've been collected under the Grace Act. They also didn't know that 'teeth' was the answer to their buckshot riddle.

    Pohl's walkie talkie beeped. Pohl sighed in frustration and pressed the button. "This is Sergeant Pohl. What is it, over?" We lost visual contact of the suspect, over. He was silent; he breathed out. His voice was calm again, resigned. "Report to base, over." All across the board, resounding failure. The murderer of Swanberg got away and there were no answers to his questions. He heard another car revving outside.

    "Who is it now?" said Pohl. "CSI?"

    A pale man wearing a Tutankhamun mask and pharaonic clothing strode in. Pharaoh was trailed by the rest of the New Freedom Five, all in their uniforms.

    "CSI is on its way. You can dismiss your men now." said Pharaoh. "We can take it from here."
    "You're not FBI!" retorted Pohl. "Under the policies enforced by the Grace Act, you don't have the authority to command anything of me. All registered supers must follow the chain of command. Superpowers don't trump rank."
    "Not this time. As this nation's superhero team, we act as an official branch of the FBI, or have you forgotten? The main branch of the FBI is forming a new perimeter outside right now. You'll know what the result will be if you try and dispute it. They'll deem you and your team compromised from the unnecessary death and injury of two of your officers."
    "This is my case. Back off."
    "You're out of your league." said Pharaoh coldly. "The longer it takes for the circus you call an investigation to go on, the longer it will take to fix this mess. You can leave it to us, pretend it never happened, and get away with keeping your job."
    "Are you blackmailing me?"
    "I'm stating the facts."
    Pohl raised his walkie talkie slowly hesitantly and pursed his lips. "Calling all units on the scene, over. Return to base, over."

    In the background, Wyvern looked absolutely pissed off, eyes furrowed, staring at the two old men sitting on the chairs with fire in his eyes. Beside Wyvern was Eagle Eye, who contrasted with a look of concerned worry, eyebrows and mouth down-turned. Artillery stood firm and looked at Pharaoh; he couldn't hide his general disdain for this kind of politics. Wolfmoon stood way in the background, looking downward meekly near the entry way. There was still blood on the frame, Swanberg's blood.

    Soon the house was again empty; it was almost disturbing how quiet the house became. Pharaoh ordered the rest of the team to make sure no officer was left in the building, and for all of them to turn off their communicators.

    "Much better." said Pharaoh. "CSI will be coming. Under the law they agree to a complete non-disclosure policy, that upon failure results in a lifetime of imprisonment. I won't let this case become media sensationalized, I can assure you."
    Mr. Wakefield still looked distressed.
    • Love Love x 2
  13. Mr. Baker couldn't have been more relieved now that Freedom Five had shown up. The police cruisers, the news vans, the ambulances; all that would draw attention and blow their case wide open. So far they'd been working under the radar. If the news exposed them, they'd be getting more attention than they could handle. Thus, Mr. Baker was relieved. Relieved, but not completely happy.

    He sat back in his chair, unable to sit up. It was a shitty feeling. Being so weak, so fatigued, that the mere act of getting your muscles to contract in the correct configuration required to sit up was an order too tall for your body to fill. It was an oppressive sort of weakness, one that only worsened the more you tried to fight it. It's why caretakers rush to ease the sufferer of such a weakness back into rest. Always with the same kinds of phrases,

    "Don't try to get up. Relax." Pharaoh's voice was calm and clear; almost soothing, "You've both been through a lot."

    He turned to the rest of his team, "Search the house; let's be sure the police didn't miss anything."
    Whatever fire Wyvern carried behind his eyes, orders were still orders, so he doused it and began searching. The others did as well. Mr. Baker squeezed John's shoulder. That same weakness that kept him from moving also kept him from doing anything more to try and reassure John. It was another sickening symptom of his weakness. Pharaoh knelt so that his eyes could meet theirs.

    "You're safe now." He said to them both, "Whatever has happened, we can resolve it together. You're John Wakefield, correct? And you, Scott Baker."

    "Yeah." Scott answered for them both. The rest of the team was beginning to return with their all clears. They were all in danger; they just didn't know it yet. And regardless of what they stood for or who they were, he was going to have to trust them; tonight's events revealed that the remnants of Old Freedom Five weren't enough to curb the plot at hand.

    "What the hell happened here? What's that thing upstairs?" Wyvern spoke the second he was within view. Pharaoh shot him a look, but repeated the question. With a little more tact.
    "You can trust us. But we need to know what went on here."
    Despite his failing strength, Mr. Baker at least tried to ease himself into a more comfortable position. After a groan, he took it upon himself to do the explaining. John had had enough.

    "That thing used to be an assassin. Don't know their real name, but alias was Aftershock. She'd been hunting supers. We... We baited her into coming here so we could..." there was really no way to describe their plan as anything besides a foolish heroic antic, "so we could capture her or at least stop her."

    "Long story. But," he gestured to Wyvern and Eagle Eye, the latter who was now returning with Wolfmoon from the basement, "your mother. Evelyn. Aftershock's the one who killed her."

    It was Wyvern's turn to, once again, get mad, "What?! You're saying that thing up there killed our... You better not be lying, old man!"
    "Wyvern!" Pharaoh, Eagle Eye, and Artillery all quieted him in unison; a habit practiced as frequently as Wyvern's outbursts.

    "Yeah. It was her. But she's not the problem; not anymore. You're all in danger..." he pointed at Eagle Eye, "You especially."

    "The second assassin. The one that got away. We didn't expect to reel him in; shit I thought he was dead. He should've been dead. He came in here after things got violent with Aftershock." He didn't want to admit that they might not have survived if he hadn't shown up, so he didn't, "He fought her, weakened her a little. After she was done with, I though he'd kill us. But he didn't." Couldn't. "But he did leave us with some information."

    "Why?" Pharaoh was an analytical thinker. He didn't take things at face value, he figured things happened for a reason. He probably made a pretty good detective. Scott found himself kind of liking the kid, "If he may have intended to kill you, why'd he leave you with information instead?"

    "His real name's Delroy Roche, but they used to call him Razor." Scott still remembered the newspaper headlines proclaiming Razor Killer Strikes Again, Freedom Five Unavailable for Comment! "It's his M.O. He doesn't like an easy job. Especially if it's me. We have a little history. But he's always like that. He needs a challenge. He wants us dead, but he doesn't want us to lie down and wait for it. He's giving himself an excuse to come after me; and you're the bait."

    "What did he say?" Eagle Eye asked.

    "You're his next target," She was concerned by this, a bit afraid to have been singled out. "I don't know why. But he was very clear and what he wants is obvious. He didn't kill me because... because I'm not what he expected. So he's evening the odds, giving us time to prepare to justify a victory."

    Wyvern threw his fist into his palm, "But he's only one guy, right? You ask me, he's just crazy. One of him against us? We'll kick his ass." The others were forced to agree. One against five? Not a very fair fight. But Mr. Baker shook his head. The fight was unfair alright, but it wasn't Roche who was getting the short end.

    "You have no idea what you're in for. He's like nothing like the types you're used to. We used to have trouble with him. Back when we were the Freedom Five. But five on one's a warm-up in his league. You... You're all practically kids. You're all talented, but he operates on completely different level. The guys you fight are dangerous, sure, but they're not the kind of opponent he is. I bet most of them figure it's not worth dying over whatever they're doing. They'll fight, but not to the death. Just not worth it. But Roche... when he fights, he intends to fight until someone's dead. He plays for keeps. He doesn't participate in the whole, hero versus villain thing. Roche was- is the kind of enemy who'll kill you if you give him the chance."

    "There has to be some way to stop him." Eagle Eye said. She didn't like being singled out, and now that he was describing her hunter, she liked it even less.

    "We need..." Scott didn't know how to finish that sentence. He could only pass onto them the riddle he had once been given, "Do you all know who Shoushan Yeng was?"
    "Of course," Pharaoh nodded, "He trained your Freedom Five."
    "Yeah. He did. He also gave us some help with this guy, with Roche..."

    Scott and Evelyn sat across from Yeng. The small wooden table between them held a tea pot and cups for each of them, as well as an additional fourth cup. Yeng liked his tea, and his students had learned that aid and advice from Yeng is almost always received from behind a steaming cup. Yeng raised the kettle and tilted it over Evelyn's cup. The tea gurgled as it rose higher and higher within the wooden cylinder. He spoke to them both in Chinese; a tongue he was much more fluent and expressive in.

    "You've both an air of frustration. Shame, even."
    "It's why we've come." Evelyn responded, "I know we're not supposed to rely on you for answers but..." she didn't know how to phrase it. To admit defeat? Embarrassment?
    "We've come across someone we can't defeat. Alone or in a team. We think you might be able to help us somehow." Scott admitted both, but in doing so, gave good reason for suffering both. And conveyed the gravity as to why these ailments couldn't be allowed to persist.

    "I see." Yeng was filling Scott's cup now, "And who is this new enemy?" He finished filling the cup and began to fill his own.
    "We don't know much. He's appeared a handful of times. We always barely beat him back. But we don't think we can do it forever."
    "And why do you believe this foe is able to fight you so well?"
    "We don't know," Evelyn answered, "To be frank, we know almost nothing about him."
    "Master Yeng; this enemy fights with Yincang. He's mastered it. John and Ridley have been scrounging, looking for information. All they've got is a name that doesn't really mean anything on any record. Delroy Roche."

    Yeng stopped pouring for a second, his cup still half empty. Then he resumed. Nothing surprised Yeng, and neither did this; but it still made him pause the slightest of pauses. He didn't speak until his cup was full. Once it was, he began to fill the fourth cup.

    "That is a name I have not heard in a long time, though I did not expect it to disappear from my life. It certainly hasn't." The last cup was full.
    "You know him?" Evelyn's face betrayed her surprise.
    "In a way I know him more than he knows himself."
    "Then you know how to stop him." Scott was a little too eager for answers.
    "You are right about the Yincang. Roche knows it well. Does he still specialize in the style of Elephant?"

    Yincang, like Shaolin, had its origins in five different styles, each named for the animals that inspired them. Shaolin had Tiger, Crane, Snake, Mantis, and Dragon. Evelyn herself favored the Dragon and Crane forms, often switching between the two, with the occasional switch into Mantis to throw off an opponent. Yincang's five were Elephant, Hawk, Deer, Badger, and Spider. Scott's favored style was that of Spider, though he often used a mix of Hawk and Badger defensively.

    "He uses Elephant well. Although I think he might have swapped through each style as we fought." Scott's sore body could only agree, "Master, what do you know of him?"

    Yeng stood. He picked up a cane he often used but didn't need and motioned for silence. He held the end of it up towards the ceiling and thrust it upwards. There was a faint crunch and he sat back down. A broken piece of wire and plastic fell from the ceiling.

    "Your officials trust me enough to teach you, but not enough to allow me any secrets. I have tolerated this, but my past is for your ears only."
    "Your past?"

    "Have either of you ever heard the name, 'The Steel Lotus'?" Both of them shook their heads, "Long ago, when the world was younger and in need of direction, eight warrior clans united and agreed that with their distinct abilities, they would guide the world and protect it. They came to be known in secret as the Eight Headed Dragon, for as one they were a mighty force with eight heads. They guided and protected the world for generations, but with time came growth in their differences. The Eight Heads, long having protected the world, began to bicker among themselves. Some believed they deserved to be rewarded for their service, while others wished to remain sworn to a life of secrecy. As the bickering became too much to bear, the Eight Heads became Six, then Four, then none. Afterwards, each clan existed on its own for hundreds of years."

    "But what's the Steel Lotus?"

    Yeng raised a hand for silence, "Of the eight heads, only four remained after those many years. The Steel Lotus, The Black Cranes, The White Horn, and The Bladed Grasses. Each remained alive in secrecy and in competition, their old fellowship long forgotten. They moved in shadow and struck in silence. They each wanted to protect and guide the world, but not together. Your foe, Roche, was once a pupil of The Steel Lotus. And among the many students I once had..."

    A younger, leaner Shoushan Yeng paced back and forth on the tatami flooring. In front of him, lined up, two dozen students practiced their forms. All of them young boys from different corners of the earth. Like him, they had once been boys with nothing but a life of hopelessness ahead. Orphaned, poor, or lost, they had all been given a choice very early on. Live out your life in your misery, or devote it to a greater cause. Boys of all races and names, choosing to hand their meager lives in exchange for strength and purpose. They kept their names, told that they were warriors, not drones. To think for themselves in wisdom and act in decisiveness. And to learn when their masters' wisdom should take precedence over theirs.

    Shoushan Yeng sported a sparse goatee at this point in his life, and his eyes would only grow wiser with age. His sense of humor, however, was still some years away; a sense of wise humor Scott and Evelyn would get to know well. He paced back and forth, eyeing each of the young men as they struck, changed form, struck, and so on in unison. Hasse needed to work on his Deer stance, his legs were positioned weakly when he switched to it, it made the form useless. Devraj's forms were fine, but he switched forms too slowly. Delroy... well his forms were perfect, and he moved between them quickly and accurately. Shoushan raised his hand, commanding the boys to stop. He bid them to pick up the training swords and begin sparing, and to practice applying the styles to bladed combat.

    "Roche was a diligent pupil. He learned quickly and he mastered what he learned even faster. His biggest flaw, however, was his unending desire to prove his mastery."

    The young pupil walked along an empty path. On his back, heavy sacks weighed him down and a rice hat was pulled low over his eyes to provide some refuge from the sun. The hidden grotto of the The Steel Lotus did not have the means to grow its own food. Instead, a pupil was sent once a week to the nearest village to buy grain and rice. The village traded food with the clan in exchange for protection. Bandits and robbers all knew the area was under the watchful eye of an ancient clan said to strike from the shadows and disappear into them in the blink of an eye. Those who strayed never lasted too long. However, there was the rare occurrence where a group went unnoticed at first; ignored until they struck. This was one of those times.

    The young Roche crossed a bridge, only to have three men step from the forest on either side of the road and block his path. They carried crude swords and spears, indicative of lack of resources but need for violence. The one in the middle carried a cheap revolver, stolen like most of their possessions. Three more men blocked the path behind the boy and wielded weapons as crude as the rest. The young man's eyes were hidden, the rice hat lowered low over his brow. From where he was, he could faintly hear the waterfall that hid the entrance to Lotuses' home. The man with the revolver seemed confident, he was merely facing a long young man.

    "Give us what you have, boy. All of it. Do it and we'll let you go. We want your money and your food, not your life."

    Roche said nothing. These robbers were either ignorant or foolishly courageous to conduct their business here. Ignorant or foolish, the smart thing was to simply let them have what little money he carried and the heavy sacks. The masters often instructed pupils not to resist robbery. Better to lose some grain than a student. Most of the pupils his age were not old or skilled enough to fight a group of armed men. But he was not most pupils. Delroy was close to the dojo. He'd bet that scouts were watching. Perhaps already on their way to help. But help was not what he wanted.

    "I'm not going to say it again. Give it to me or we'll get viole-nff"

    The rice hat hit the gun toting man in the mouth. The boy had thrown it at him, mocking him. The young man's pale green eyes mocked him now that he could see them. The armed men closed in.

    "That's your last mista-"

    He was unable to finish the sentence either. The sacks had hit the ground and the young man was on them like lightning. Strikes, punches, and kicks knocked the men around. A sword bearer was disarmed and struck off the bridge, landing in the river a few meters below them, clutching a broken wrist. The sword went into another attacker's foot and his spear was broken into two with a flat palm. The young man parried a sword swing with one piece of the spear and threw the other into a shoulder, the splintered wood painfully piercing the flesh. One by one, two by two, the group was tossed around until they all lay, groaning and clutching their injuries. The young man almost smiled at his own skill.

    He turned to pick the sacks back up and leave the fools to lick their wounds. Something clicked behind him. He froze and turned back around, slowly. The leader was back up, breathing heavily and swearing. He was pointing the revolver at the young man, bleeding from his lip and nostril. He was too far for Delroy to strike. Roche tried to step to the left and the gun followed him. He tried right, and it followed again. He wasn't trained to fight a gun. The man grimaced.

    "Should have just done what we said."

    The man gasped, shuddered, and his eyes went wide. The gun fell and he took a step forward. As he fell mid stride, the thrown knife protruding from the back of his head became visible to boy. The man fell with a thump. From the forest, a dark figure emerged. Its face was masked save for its eyes; a sash on its chest bore the image of a grey lotus. Roche sighed in relief,

    "Your timing was perfect; if it hadn't been for-" It was his turn to end mid sentence. The eyes on that figure; they weren't a scout. It was Shoushan Yeng.

    Roche dropped to his knees and bowed his head. A stance of apology and submission. If he had known it was Yeng who'd been watching, he wouldn't have been so... courageous. The master stood before him, and then gazed around at the groaning, injured men. He said nothing. He walked to the sack of grain and came back, dropping it and Roche's hat in front of the boy. Roche raised his head just a little. Perhaps Yeng was not angry, but impressed. He stood slowly, watching Yeng who had his back to him. The master retrieved a grey lotus from a pouch. It was a rare subspecies of the flower; grey and devoid of color, found only in the grotto of The Steel Lotus and serving as their namesake. Yeng dropped the grey flower on the bandit leader's body before stepping away. It was a mark the Lotuses left on their kills. A claim.

    When the master came back, he still said nothing. He picked up a broken shaft of wood, one that used to be part of a spear, and eyed Roche as if to say, "You did this?"
    Then Yeng simply pointed at the sacks. Roche picked them up and slung them back over his back. It seemed Yeng wasn't angry. Maybe he really was impressed. Roche felt good. Good enough to give the master a small smile.

    The shaft of wood struck him hard enough to jerk his head sideways. Yeng's punishment for being stupid, reckless, and disobedient. By the time the boy got back to the dojo, an ugly bruise had formed over his eye. All cleaning duties were relieved from every other member of the clan and put on Delroy who'd be doing everyone's chores for the next month.

    "He was... your student?" Scott asked.
    "I had many students in my time. He was one of many. I remember each of them."
    "If you taught him... then you can show us how to stop him." Despite this revelation, Evelyn was hopeful. If Yeng knew him well, then he knew him well enough to stop him.

    "Defeat is not as simple a concept as you think." He withdrew a wooden marble from his sleeve and dropped it into the fourth cup. The tea rose because of it, nearly spilling from the cup. He continued, "Roche was reckless in his youth, but he was bright. He held great promise and when he came of age, he fulfilled that promise. He was reliable in his missions. The Steel Lotuses' work required tact. What we did had many names. You could call us assassins, murderers, even ninja. But to the Lotuses, death was a balancing act. If one has acquired too much power and others suffer because of it, the Lotuses delivered him unto death. With the removal of one, the prospering of many could be ensured, thus harmony would persevere. Roche believed in what we did. Once he was allowed to truly serve, he felt great pride in what he did. To preserve peace through secrecy."

    This information was fascinating, but it wasn't enough for Scott, "But what makes him so powerful? Even if he's well trained, or skilled, or talented... we've faced others who you could call skilled or talented. What makes him such a danger? Why is he different?"

    "Your impatience shows when you feel the answer is close. The Lotuses held a rite, one practiced since the age of the Eight Dragon Heads. The Trial of the Phoenix, named so because it was believed that the ancient founder of the clan was taught this by the mythical Phoenix. When they came of age, each member would undergo a ritual of body and mind. They would drink an elixir whose recipe is as old as the clan. It changed them. I went through it, Roche went through it. All the Lotuses underwent the ritual. It was long and painful. Some did not survive it. But those who did came out of it reborn. Like the Phoenix." Yeng picked up the fourth cup. Its tea threatened to spill over the top because of the wooden marble, "They became stronger and faster. And their lives extended beyond that of an ordinary man. Do you know how old I truly am?"

    They both shook their heads, "Well, then perhaps I will keep a few more secrets from you." He said with a bit mischief, "But the ritual had drawbacks. Very few aged well with it. Those that managed to attain an old age without suffering any negative effects became the masters of the clan, the teachers. The rest... when they became old enough, the gifts of the Phoenix began to wear their bodies down. They did not age, but their bodies began to deteriorate. Their minds began to weaken and those left alone would often become rabid and dangerous. When a warrior attained this age, they were given one last duel. They were allowed to choose who would deliver them unto death in one last fight before their minds became clouded and foreign. Otherwise, the longer the effects were allowed to persist, the worse a warrior would become until he was no more than a rabid dog."

    "But the powers granted by the ritual were great... and some felt it was well worth it..."

    The full moon would provide more light than they'd like to have, but the Lotuses had to move now. A tyrant had begun to take hold in a nearby region. He had promised protection to the villages near him, but once allowed power, he had only taken from the villages. Or worse, ravaged them and left behind burning homes. After tonight, he would move to his fortress, newly built and provisioned with supplies that were not his. The Lotuses would strike now and prevent him sanctuary.

    Roche was perched atop the walls around the tyrant's current home. A rich manor, with extensive grounds. There were little houses of rice paper walls and tile roofs around the grounds, but their target was within the large building at the center of it all. Roche and his fellows, Devraj and Yosuke, moved silently. Each dressed in the colors of the night, obscuring all but their eyes. All three with a sword on their back and wakizashi dagger at their side. Devraj with a bow slung over one shoulder and arrows in a quiver on his waist in addition to his weapons.

    They moved silently. Any guard in their way was dispatched in complete silence. A blade from above, an arrow from afar, or shuriken from the shadows. They were fierce enough to eliminate an armored man, but stealthy enough to do so and have a working woman on just the other side of the rice paper hear and see nothing. They moved and killed silently until they were inside the manor. Devraj remained on the rooftops outside to cover for a quick exit should they need it. Moving room to room was more difficult, but for the two assassins, it was still child's play. They moved so stealthily, that the guards they did not need to kill heard and saw nothing. They were outside the lord's room in under a minute.

    Roche slid the door open carefully and then entered the sleeping man's room. Two women lay in the bed with him. Roche and Yosuke were silent in their deed. The man was dead and the grey flower was on his chest without so much as a stir from the sleeping women. In another handful of minutes, all three were away from the manor and headed back towards the hidden grotto and the dojo within. The bodies wouldn't be found until the morning. The nearby villages would see a prosperous decade with the removal of the tyrant and a good harvest.

    "I was proud of them all. The other masters believed that Roche was becoming a favorite student, but even they felt his potential. They were each a hand that struck in silence, but most importantly, in wisdom. Blood was not spilled unless it was needed, and the innocent were never harmed. However, this would not spell a prosperous life for the Lotuses forever. The Black Cranes, one of the other surviving members of the ancient Dragon Heads, had begun to stake their claim very close to The Steel Lotuses' home. Nothing came of this at first, but in time, The Black Cranes began to push closer and closer to us. Perhaps it was inevitable, but soon, violence broke out between the clans. It is unknown who struck first. Their warriors met ours in the field and for reasons unknown, they began to fight. Those who returned all had different stories as to what started the conflict, if they had any at all. But it spelled war. A war the Lotuses would not win.

    "After a year of fighting one another in the shadows, the Cranes discovered the home of the Lotuses and attacked. Both sides fought fiercely, but the Cranes won the day. The Lotuses were left dead and dispersed. I survived and fled. I found a new life, one to be content with. I could only pray that the other survivors within the Lotuses could find peace in their new lives. I sought other survivors but found none. I was forced to believe I was the last one left and that my prayers had fallen on deaf ears. But I was not the last of the Lotuses."

    "Stories came from the many secret corners of the world. Stories about how a lone swordsman that had begun to strike against and kill members of The Black Cranes. I knew it was Roche. Of all the Lotuses, he had been the most skilled... and the only one foolish enough to seek revenge. I had hoped he had found peace in a new life, to leave the past behind him and begin anew, but it was not to be. He hunted the Cranes, yet I did not think he alone could defeat another clan of warriors. I expected him to die trying, to find his peace through death if necessary. But he did not die. Little by little, he left the Cranes as broken as they had left us, yet it did not bring him peace. He vanished for some time, but every so often, I would hear of an assassin, skilled beyond reason. And each time I knew he had still not found peace."

    The Black Cranes. They were coming for this man. Another lord, drunk on power and money. But they would never get to him. He would kill them first. Roche's perch gave him a good view of the grounds below. The castle of yet another tyrant. When he saw the first of the three Crane assassins, he moved in. This lord, a man who Roche would have dethroned a few years ago, would now live if he killed these Cranes. But he was willing to give anything, allow anything, so long as he claimed his kills. The Cranes squatted atop a wall that surrounded the castle. They discussed the usual; tactics, exit strategies, possible resistance. They weren't ready when Roche's figure pounced in the middle of the three and two swords swung around.

    Two managed to dodge in time, the third escaped with a wound on his chest. At first they thought the lord had hired other assassins to protect him. When they saw the old, torn emblem of The Steel Lotus on the figure, they realized this was something much, much worse. Steel rang against steel atop the wall, loud enough to draw a bit of attention. The Lord's men were alerted and guards began to shout and mobilize. Roche parried three at a time, kicking, swinging, and punching his way through the fight. One wrong move, one sloppy dodge, and Roche struck viciously. The two swords swept up, and a trail of blood followed as they tore through flesh. One of the Cranes clutched a stump where his arm had been and barely had time to gasp in pain before he was knocked off the wall.

    There was a faint crack while the remaining two kept fighting, their fallen comrade reduced to a faint sound in the night. As the lord's men surrounded the wall, archers readied their arrows. A few shafts flew by. Roche used them to his advantage. A parry and a push left the second Crane assassin off balance. Two arrows struck him and he too was kicked off the wall.

    The last Crane could feel his lungs burning with every movement. The wound on his chest bled freely and he began to realize he had a few more seconds left. Less, actually. Another minuscule mistake and Roche was on him. His sword impaled the man and pulled him close. Close enough to gaze into his furious eyes.

    The lord's men found three dead assassins, but no killer. The lord ruled for decades afterwards, before passing the title onto his son.

    Yeng pointed at Scott, "The hatred and rivalry he feels towards you is only the most recent distraction he has given himself. Roche is unstable, hateful, and consumed by rage. He had his life taken away, then given to him in exchange for strength and purpose, and then taken away once more. The life he once took pride in, the people he once called friends, all that remains is a void he cannot hope to fill. I have watched him try many things. After the Cranes, he became ronin, then mercenary, and now a contract killer. Yet no victory can bring him peace." He put down the cup, its contents threatening to spill, "How does one stop a monster like this, then? If you cannot kill it..." Yeng's hand hovered over the fourth cup. With a single motion, he plucked the wooden marble out of the cup. The tea swirled for a moment before it calmed, far from the edge of the cup and no longer in danger of spilling, "You must remove what makes him a monster. In order to stop him, you must take his rage and his anger from him. You must grant him that which he needs most. You must grant him peace."

    "Peace? How do you grant a foe peace?" Pharaoh was as confused as Scott and Evelyn had been.
    "Didn't make much sense to me either. Still doesn't."
    "Well, we can plan our defense together. I believe we can best this opponent if we cooperate. But not here. We should move you both somewhere else."
    "Wait. There was one more of us."
    "One more?"
    "Sacrifice. He was here, but not anymore. I don't know where he went."
    "We can find him; but first we must move you somewhere safer. This place is getting too much attention."

    Artillery cracked open the blinds a bit, "Attention's right. Whole neighborhood's poking around."

    Outside, the neighbors had gathered to gawk and murmur. A few police had remained far from the house, setting up a barrier and trying to move the crowd along. Several people in their sleeping clothes and pajamas clamored. The police ushered them home, trying to get them to move along. With mixed results. The people were curious and frightened. Some more than others. A young girl with a camera was even escorted away after she'd tried to get a closer look. People in this neighborhood weren't used to crime; it turned events like this into a spectacle.

    Mr. Baker was hesitant. He didn't know whether or not to trust the new Freedom Five. But without much of a choice, he could only say,
    "There's a car outside the house. Small box under the passenger seat. Bring it with us."
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