It had been two weeks almost to the day. He'd cleaned up since then. Quieted things down. Kept as much of it as he could under wraps. So when the missive came through smelling of mall kiosk perfume asking him, the Tiger King, in flowery prose, to join one Iroi for a dinner meeting, Markus had only assumed that something had sprung a leak.
Truthfully, he was under no illusions that the knowledge of what transpired at his home the night of October the 9th was becoming an open secret among the Tigers, even if it was mostly hearsay. There was only so much scrubbing that could cover up the sight of the blown-apart, though already under reconstruction, rooftop penthouse that was well purported to belong to one Markus Weiss.
The truth, or at least a version of it, would've gotten out sooner or later. And that meant that it was time to start making preparations in anticipation of what comes next.
"Makin' requests, huh?"
Markus hadn't touched his plate. Immediately he'd realized that they were not here to discuss the few scrapes and scratches that he still carried from his... Eventful evening upon the previous fortnight. At least, it hadn't yet come up.
"Listen," he began, leaning forward in his chair and propping one forearm longways on the table. "All's well 'at ends well, right?"
He recalled that day vividly, too. The memory was hard to shake when he was forced to live with its reminder every day. His eyes trailed briefly to the sight of the Tiger mussing around Passeri Park's head. Intangible and invisible though he was, Markus couldn't suppress a slight wince that came as the Tiger spectre batted playfully at the idol's tresses.
Not wanting to seem... Strange, Markus blinked a few times as if he were clearing a lash out of his eye before he focused back on Park, herself. This was strategy. The strategy? Don't let her know how much bargaining power she has right now. He pressed his presumed advantage, leaning in further.
Hector stared at the girl with a grim expression as she gave her disjointed retelling of events, at somewhat of a loss at how to continue things with the girl. It was a troublesome situation, but it seemed she did take care of some real dirty work for him. And if she could do that… maybe she could be more useful once he could calm her down.
“I’m a member of the Scarlet Phoenixes, do you know who they are? We’re in charge around here.” Hector briefly considered grabbing her arm to hoist her up, but instead only stood up himself to look down at her.
“That man was bad, but he’s gone now. Nobody will hurt you here.” The metal protruding from his concealed hand began to retract further up his arm, turning the machete into a smaller, far less threatening blade that stuck out from his metal-coated hand. He wasn’t being entirely truthful, still intent on offing the girl if he had to, but with the lack of immediate attack, he let his guard drop a little. “And you won’t hurt me, right?”
If only his fellow gang members could see him now, negotiating instead of going straight to violence. He was sure Lyric would be proud anyway.
“Scarlet Phoenixes?” The girl said in confusion. She hadn’t heard of them before, mainly thanks to her amnesia, but Raquel understood after context was given. Based on what he asked before, the man in front of her must have been sent to kill the man that she ate.
“A bad person?” The girl stopped and thought about it. The memories from when she had attacked the man. They were a clearer and…
She remembered that her hungry. It had been a while since her last meal and it drove her crazy. That was the man appeared. He had turned and started talking, but she didn’t hear what he was saying. Then she began to run. The man started yelling and then…
Her arm was blown off. Then her leg. Finally something hit her head.
Everything was so red. It was so beautiful. Like a polished ruby glimmering under the moonlight.
She stood back up and bite off the man’s head-
The girl immediately paled. That couldn’t be it. He attacked her first, he should have. There was no way she’d. Her chest felt tight. Yeah, it was like the man in front of her said. That guy was bad, he had to die. She didn’t do anything wrong, she acted in self-defense.
After calming herself down, she looked up at the man from the Scarlet Phoenixes. She hesitated and doubted if she could stop herself from harming another person. But if she could…
“Yeah… yeah… I won’t hurt you…” In a despondent manner she looked back down at the solid pavement pooling with blood.
For the briefest moment Markus' mask of aggression slipped. He watched in awe and surprise, as though he were one with the milling crowd around them, as Roland floated effortlessly overhead. Then the fury returned. The frustration. The envy. Every move, so effortlessly executed, made Markus feel clumsy and childlike by comparison. Undoubtedly, in these first, opening forays alone, the crowd had determined which of the two of them should be the victor. Unfortunately, one man's mind had not yet been made on the matter, and he would not give it up without a proper fight.
When Roland opened his mouth to speak it only strengthened Markus' resolve. He wondered if a side effect of his potential was that Roland always said the wrong thing at the wrong time.
"Fuck you," Markus snapped back, loud enough to be heard. "Ya gonna dance around all day or are ya' gonna fight, huh?"
The question, it seemed, was rhetorical, for in the very next breath Markus was off, riding a column of ice that emerged before him, anticipating his moves, before wake and rider both came barreling down like a tsunami of frust upon their lackadaisical opponent.
For a moment or two after Jesper's sudden proclamation, one that spoke of violent retribution, there was stilted silence. Nanami blinked in confusion, having not meant to cause distress. Milo was shocked mute, his thoughts whirling as he tried to process what had happened, and what he should be doing now. As always, Nanami broke the silence first.
"Hey, now. We're just playin' around, ease up!" Nanami said in a kind-of-apologetic-but-not-quite way. He seemed a bit put off by Jesper's display of pathetic weakness. Milo figured he'd lose interest in the boy sooner rather than later, and where would that leave any of them? They'd caused distress, however unintentionally. Milo thought the least he could do was try and make the wrong right again.
"What my friend's trying to say," Milo interjected, but not before shooting Nanami a withering look, to which the other boy merely replied with disgruntled confusion. Milo went on, "Is that we're sorry. We didn't mean to frighten you, I—" Milo paused. What waws he going to say, next? What was there to say? Sorry that my crazy friend chased you? Sorry that you reacted like you did? Definitely not that last bit.
"Uh..." Milo inched closer to the boy before he was at eye-level with him. He uncurled his arms from around his sketchpad. "That thing..." He indicated to Jesper's drone. "Is cool. I-i tried to draw it!" He hastily added before he had the chance to think better of it before sealing his fate with the final word on the matter:
Post Arc 1/Pre Arc 2 — Sometime After September 17th, 2021
Geronimos, Central District
Raph was about to double down—dig himself in a little deeper, like a tick, if only to fill the steadily expanding gap of silence that had permeated the cab since his bold proclamation—when the car jerked suddenly and violently upon its wheel meeting the curb.
Jostled, and nearly thrown from his seat (seatbelts, be damned), Raph took a moment or two to comprehend what had just happened... And when it clicked, all he could do was laugh. When at last he comported himself, wiping the corner of one teary eye, Raph sputtered at last, “Smooth, darling. ~"
When August accused him of coming on too strong, Raph couldn't exactly deny it. He nodded along, somewhat thoughtfully, before he responded in kind, accusing, reaching, and perhaps projecting just a little, “Well, it's what you want isn't it? Otherwise, what are we still even doing here?" He gestured vaguely to the car, the road, the night. Them. Together. He felt suddenly emboldened, as if the liquor in his system were finding its second wind, hitting its stride.
“You can feed me that line about not wanting to burn bridges or make enemies all you want," he leaned forward in his seat, draping himself over the center console that separated the driver and passenger side seats.
“But I think what you really want..." He was dangerously close, now. “Is to be known... To be tasted. To lose yourself in somebody else."
Raph didn't know what he was saying, anymore. He didn't know what he was about to say next. Only that he found himself believing every word, found himself hanging on every syllable.
No wonder all the best poets were miserable drunks.
Jozef sat beside the heater, sprawled in a big chair and draped in a knitted blanket. It wasn’t the comfiest setup, given the quality of student accommodation furniture, but you wouldn’t be able to tell seeing Jozef curled up like a cat, blinks elongating as he grew drowsy in the warmth. It wasn’t Jozef’s preferred way to spend his afternoons, not usually finding relaxation in idleness, but after a gruelling semester, a break was long overdue.
When his roommate called his name, he blinked a few times as he regained alertness, sitting up to face his partner. Seeing the book in Gideon’s hand, he already had some suspicions about what would be asked of him, but he smiled simply at the satanist. He was used to the whole living-with-a-devout-satanist thing by now, and truth be told, it didn’t bother him one bit. Sure, he wasn’t passionate enough to join Gideon’s club, but he never had a dull conversation when the topic came up, and he was never one to turn away from the unfamiliar anyway.
Jozef stretched his arms out, a couple of small clicks emanating from his joints as he clambered out of his chair. “Demon? Like, a demon demon?” He couldn’t help but laugh a little, not in a mocking way, but in amusement at Gideon’s subtle expression. He was serious about this, huh?
“Ah yeah sure, what’s the worst that could happen anyway?” He sauntered over to Gideon, hands kept warm in his pockets as he leaned over to try and get a glimpse at his roommate’s book. “What’s step one?”
Post Arc 1/Pre Arc 2 — Sometime After September 17th, 2021
Outside Lab Icarus, North District
Raph whistled. He could see—or perhaps, for lack of a better word, feel—fresh waves of discomfort radiating from behind that mask. He had struck a nerve. Now, all that was left to do was go deeper. If he was being forced to suffer her presence, then the least he could do was ensure that she would suffer his in return. He leaned forward, elbows perched upon the tabletop that separated them, fingers steepled in front of his face. He put on an inquisitve expression and leaned even further forward, invading her personal space somehow, despite the table's interference.
“You've lost track? Or perhaps you simply can't count that high." He made a little noise, one that seemed like it was caught halfway between a scoff and a snicker. “In either case... Must be a lot." He leaned back, suddenly growing bored of this mock-interrogation. When she asked him her question he merely shot her a cheeky sneer and replied in a mocking voice, “I dOn'T lIkE tO tHiNk AbOuT iT."
Raph was bored. He was ready to move on from this conversation, this place, this company. He would settle for two out of three.
Standing with a jolt, he nearly toppled the table as he stood beside it and stretched. “Hm, I wonder what's happening in Central today. ~"
Raph had thought that this would be hilarious... So hilarious, in fact, that he'd half-forgotten what it was he was doing here. So hilarious... That he'd forgotten to consider what would happen once the knocked door was answered. The memories hit him like a wave. Of the dark. Of the doctors... Of what they'd done to him. Of what they'd made him do. And of his purpose here. This unholy retribution.
With a hand shaped like a claw he snatched at the masked-man, fingers grasping for purchase around his throat.
“I'm your comeuppance, darling." Raph said in a sing-song voice, though it barely belied the simmering fury that lashed against its bonds, wishing to break free, and break everything.
With effort, Raph hoisted the man up by his neck until his feet dangled below him. All the pain, all the rage, a lifetime's worth of suffering... Raph wouldn't have traded it for the world. Because through that suffering he'd become what he'd always known himself to be.
With all his might Raph threw the man bodily backwards into the warehouse before stepping in after him, crossing the threshold with a visceral flourish, fingers splayed, arms wide and welcoming. He was a preacher on Sunday morning and the mingling mass of faceless soon-to-be corpses was his congregation of death.
Even Hector deserved the night off every now and then.
Through years of heavy commitment, far more now in the past few months, there was little Hector could call a hobby. Even his frequent nights being a scourge upon the nightlife district couldn’t shake off the feeling of newfound responsibility, not without enough shots to forget where he was. It was all go with him. It was even hard to see his Phoenix friends as friends, without thinking of them also as his soldiers in the gang wars. The only things that truly soothed his soul nowadays were the company of a fine-looking man or woman, and his little corner of the internet.
Technology wasn’t much his thing, and from the blunt way he texted peers, and the fact that few phones survived his rage more than once, it would be safe to assume he was disinterested in it altogether. But when nights were long and he was alone, he always had her. His devotion only grew in recent months, her philanthropy not gone unnoticed, and his consistent positivity had garnered him quite the following among the idol’s fans, Hector becoming one of the prime online voices to listen to when it came to all things Passeri Park.
Despite all that, it all felt quaint in the grand scheme of things. Hector wasn’t a nobody, not if you asked him anyway, but she was in a whole other world. Almost a divine being, something he could never touch, until tonight. Initially, he brushed the email off as a scam, a cruel trick, one that made his blood boil enough to almost start rampaging. How dare someone mess with his feelings like that. But then he realised it was no scam, it was a dream come true, and ever since he confirmed the credibility of the invite, it took over his thoughts. Even when he was performing executions on the banks of the river around South, a section of his mind couldn’t stop thinking about the night he would meet Passeri Park.
He combed his hair back, slick with enough product that the smell emanated strongly from his head, combining with his cologne to create a unique, but not necessarily unpleasant odour. He had brought a new(ish) jacket, one not filled with tears and holes, just warm enough to fend off the bitter chill of winter. It remained open, so all who saw him could get the full view of his official Passeri Park t-shirt. Not originally owned by him, and he’d never tell you how he obtained it, but it was part of an older line of merchandise that he hoped would garner some appreciation from his idol. He was never too good at dressing appropriately for situations, but even the least attentive of his peers would be able to tell that something special was going on. He didn’t even try to look good on dates, and with his reputation, one would believe he didn’t need to for anyone, but he didn’t waste time before heading to the concert, leaving all questions back home unanswered.
The concert had been incredible, better than Hector could ever hope for, better than any crappy phone camera video he had reposted for his fellow fans. He didn’t even live-blog the event for his following, too caught up in the moment. For once he was just a man enjoying a show. Not the Pharaoh, Queen of the Phoenixes, not the man that made his rounds of the district every night to keep up appearances, not the vengeful presence haunting the city, delivering his sense of justice. Just Hector, music fan.
The part that should’ve felt the most like a dream, as he was led away from the bustle of the arena by some overly-attentive staff, Hector felt the most grounded he had been in a long time. When he walked through the door and caught sight of the singer, closer than ever, a smile that could be construed as sleazy grew on his face as he walked up to her, almost like he was the more famous of the two.
“It’s so great to see you.” Hector’s own voice caught him off guard. It was a lot softer than the gruff tone he expected, a bit timid. Perhaps he was more star-struck than his body language let on. Quickly, he took a seat and took care with his next words.
“It was a great show, you never fail to impress. Just seeing you is more than I could’ve ever dreamed of, I just hope you know how much this means to me.” Though his words were sappy, he had regained control of his voice, returning it to his usual strong, confident tone.
Raph wanted to rise to the occasion. He wanted to fire back, to finally visit upon this thorn in his side the sting of every insult, every blow, every humiliation that Raph had borne over the years one hundred times over. To prove once and for all, to Bash, to himself, that he was the more worthy successor, that he was the favored one, the rightful heir.
But the truth was he was too tired. Too weak. If he tried to stand now he was as liable to topple over onto the floor before he even got the chance to take a swing.
And besides all that, his power—his Potential—was locked away, still.
He could feel it. Rather, he could feel the absence of it. It was like someone had caged his heart within his breast, lashing a chain of cold, wrought iron around his very soul.
His head pounded. His stomach was performing somersaults in his belly. He most definitely did not have the energy to match Bash's at the moment, so instead he let it slide. Shrugging nonchalantly, he turned and began to fish around in his pockets before coming up with a crushed pack of cigarettes. He flipped back the fold and rifled around inside for a relatively unscathed one before popping it up and pinching it between his lips before beginning his search anew, this time for a lighter. And as he searched, he parted his lips to speak again. To poke the rabid dog's cage. For fun.
“So," he said through pursed lips, trying hard not to let his unlit cigarette fall. He was preoccupied with his search for his lighter, wondering if he'd discarded it in the scuffle, but that didn't mean he couldn't poke a little. “Instead of leaving me to die, you took me to... A café?"
The more he regained his bearings, the more... Peculiarities he began to notice regarding his current locale, the least of which were the cats. One glossy black cat seemed particularly attached to Bash. Curious.
Raph spoke slowly. He wanted to drag this out, even though he was beginning to suspect the conclusion. “More precisely, a cat café..? May I ask... Why?"
As if on cue, a tall, blonde man—Raph presumed he was the... Waiter?—approached their booth. He loomed over them and wore a fox's smile that made Raph uncharacteristically uneasy. He dropped his unlit cigarette into his lap, as if sensing the disapproval emanating from the figure. Even so, he was about to tell the man to piss off but he beat him to it.
"Anything more I can get for you two fine gentlemen?"
Sensing an opportunity, Raph decided to forego his previous plan of attack and try something... New.
"Why, yes. I will have... Hm, the most expensive drink on your menu. Put it on his tab, please! ~"
The wicked smirk that flashed, ever so briefly, over the genteel gentleman's face told Raph that he'd not only found a kindred spirit here, but also a co-conspirator.
"Coming right up, sir. Happy to serve a friend of such a valued customer."
Past Midnight, October 9, 2021 | Between Arc 2 and Arc 3
Markus' Penthouse, West District
CATCH A TIGER BY THE TAIL
Markus fought her only briefly before relenting to her aid. It was all he could do not to let his body crumple now that it had something, someone, else to lean on. He thought about sneering her, chastising her for being too weak, or too much of a pussy, to take her chance while she had it. But he didn't much fancy the idea of her changing her mind and so he bit his tongue. He was in no position to be talking trash. Though when she started to try and wheel him out of there he gave her grief.
"No.” He grumbled hoarsely, and held his ground, refusing to take another step toward the door. "No doctors.” He wasn't about to put his life in the hands of whatever schlummy back-alley chopshop Dagger had in mind. Neither was he willing to be paraded around the West District looking like somebody's worn-out chewtoy. His grip on the gangs' factions was tenuous at best. If they saw him like this, if they saw what others had done to him, it would've been only a matter of time before some other chumps got it in their heads that it might be time for a revolution.
He grunted for Dagger to help him over to a dining room table that was more-or-less still in one piece. He groaned—a pained, frustrated sound—as Dagger helped ease him into one of the high-backed wooden dinning chair. Though his body was wracked with pain, his mind was already working out his next move. He needed to be healed, but he couldn't afford to be seen in public like this. And he couldn't just invite anyone up into his inner sanctum. It had to be someone he could trust. Someone he could control, or crush, if the situation demanded. At last, he came to it, but when he went to find his phone his hands came up empty. If he was lucky it was still beside his bed. If not it was buried somewhere amidst all the chaos.
"Call the Knight kid. That little puke owes me. In tha' meantime—” He winced as he adjusted his position to face his would-be savior. "There's a—nngh—medkit... In the kitchen closet. Need ya' ta' patch me up.” He lifted one bare arm to take a look at the grisly wound at his side. He grimaced at it, then at Dagger. Elise Cutter. The name was on the tip of his tongue. I saved you, he thought, eyes burning with fury at the thought of her betraying him here, of her turning her back on him when he needed her. In his mind, it had become a foregone conclusion. And was just a taste of what was to come. If this night went wrong—well, more wrong—then his reign would surely be at an end.
He got up. He didn't need her. He didn't need any of them. Never did.
The King took one wobbly step toward the kitchen, then another, then—a loose piece of refuse slipped out from under his foot, and before he knew it he was falling.
Pre-Arc 3: September 30th, 2021 - Just before 11pm
Outside Red West, South District
Milo didn't say what he wanted to.
He wanted to say, "You're not a person, you're a monster." But he didn't fancy being hauled out of the car and killed on the spot so he kept his trap shut. Besides, he was more than happy to ride this entire evening out in relatively peaceful, if only slightly awkard, silence.
But that wasn't to be. When Hector opened his mouth and asked his question, Milo again immediately had an answer for him.
Again, Milo did not say what he wanted to say, what was on his mind.
He wanted to say, "I'm going to fight fire with fire until it's all out." But if Hector (or at least, Milo's imagined version of Hector) would've killed him on the spot for insulting him, he did not want to find out what he'd do if he knew that Milo intended to dismantle the gang that he so very clearly loved, perhaps more than he loved anything else in the world.
Instead he asked, "Is this part of it?" In a tone that sounded snarkier than he'd intended when he'd thought about it. He was sunk down in his chair, arms crossed tight over his chest, glasses and beanie low. In a voice as low as his glasses and his beanie, he added sincerely, "There are things that I'd like to protect. The Phoenixes protect their own. Don't they?" He asked, turning the interrogation back on Hector with a glare.
A murmur rose up amidst the gathered throng of families. All in attendance appeared to agree: what had started as a tentatively promising display, especially croming from one so lowly, had ended on a wrong note. The eyes, and the judgment, of the enclave were now upon the Bae family, and as its representative, Hifumi bore the brunt of that shame.
However Shen, for his part, did not understand that what had just transpired, with the dropping of the knife and all, was not part of the act itself. He was eager to know when it would be appropriate to clap. Eventually he grew bored of waiting, and when Hifumi had settled himself back at his station, Shen peered but briefly at the other faces seated around him, as if to give them one last chance to chime in, before he began to clap, alone, and in earnest. What was more, and in a display of flippancy that even caused his lax uncle to wince from the sidelines, the young Jack of the Azure Dragons called out across the open space, cupping his hands around his mouth to let his words carry. “Wonderful show! Please teach me some time!”
The silence that followed was brief, but deafening. At the very least, the eyes and the ire of the great clans had been diverted away from the Bae family's shame. For now.
Sensing that the time to move things along had drawn near, the Dragon King pushed himself to his feet, helped up by attendants in red, servant garb on either arm. Once he was up he clapped his hands together once to gather the attention of those who had strayed and get this show on the road.
"Well... There you have it, folks! My nephew." Faa said by way of both an explanation and an apology, eliciting a few scattered chuckles from the gathered parties.
Before long, the Ceremony had progressed, with various other houses and their representatives taking the stage in their given time. Some were impressive. Some were more like Hifumi's. The shadows grew longer in the courtyard as the clouds wheeled overhead. Until at last it came time for the final demonstration. By way of introduction, Faa nodded to his attendant who promptly removed the low table from before Shen's placement. Shen rose from his seat and padded softly into the center of the arena.
Without much fanfare, he began his forms. The crowd was still and silent as Shen performed, thin ribbons of iron mirroring the fluid movements of his body as he went through his motions. At one point, he spooled a thread of silvery metal through the air overhead, passing it hand-over-hand as it shimmered like a comet tracing a path through the sky, lit only by reflected torchlight of the arena. At another, he dazzled the congregation from the Yin Family by making their teaspoons dance along the rims of their cups. It all built, and built, incorporating more and more complicated maneuvers that barely seemed to phase the young man. In fact, he looked almost... Bored.
Shen retook the center of the stage as he began his final form. From his stance, he launched a flurry of kicks, his robe billowing like the clouds themselves. His feet left the earth as he flowed like water from one stance to the next, and on each one he fell into perfect position with enough force that the candle-flames fluttered, accompanied by the sound of snapping fabric. When his final stance was struck, Shen reached out and took hold of every piece of metal he could find. Utensils, pens, jewelry, the bones of the ampitheatre itself. He felt them all. Eyes closed, he flexed them like fingers, and was greeted by the sound of groaning metal. Somewhere a woman in the crowd shrieked as her earrings had begun to levitate of their own accord. Faa's countenance darkened. He stood, this time without assistance, though hobbled.
"Shen, that's enough... ENOUGH!"
As quickly as it had come the danger had passed. Shen stood straight in the center of the arena and bowed. His demonstration had concluded. The faces of those he passed as he made his way back to his mat were haunted, though they failed to catch his eye.
Shen swelled with pride as the man piled on the praise.
“No! It came to me right away!” Shen peered down at Li with his new friend, though he did not join him on the railing and did not, by comparison, move nearly as much. Even so, Shen agreed, nodding contentedly along with the man's assessment. Li did look very much like a Li.
When he elected to feed the birds, Shen did not protest. Instead, he took a handful as well and doled it out to those he thought hadn't gotten enough of the first handful.
“Oh?” He questioned, only half-listening as he watched the birds peck up the crumbs. “But it is nice to be alone sometimes, isn't it?”
Even as he said it, Shen found himself thinking that, were he alone right now, he would've missed meeting his new acquaintance... And for that fact, he was happy to not be alone.
Now that was a breaking point for Gideon. He had never been one that was too good with blood. He was okay with minor cuts, and while he preferred to substitute goat blood with cranberry syrup, he could still use blood in his rituals. But injuries, murder scenes, and gruesome battles were enough to make Gideon lightheaded. Forced cannibalism from a bowl of someone's gore and blood? Definitely a no-go.
If Gideon had not turned himself around, Gideon knew he would've thrown up. But now instead, he was white as a sheet, cold sweat trickling down his neck, and taking deep breaths to steady himself. He clenched his fists at his side. This was all to become a better villain. He needed tolerance for this sort of stuff. Despite repeating that to himself, when the sounds of Mr. Barlo gurgling and choking reached Gideon's ears, his composure began to wane.
"Whose body parts even is that?" Gideon asked nobody in particular. He scrolled through his phone as he began to read aloud the intel he was given, "I thought that this guy's the biggest incel known to mankind. And his mother is not in our registry.... so..."
Granted, it was pretty damn likely that Gideon didn't do his homework right. He hadn't been given much time to research Mr. Barlo before he was tasked with extracting information from him.
"I suppose this is the only time he's ever felt the insides of any of the women he had an unrequited love with though," Gideon snorted humorlessly. He put his phone back in his pocket and turned towards the flaming trash can cart, letting the rays burn into his retinas. Using that blindness, he turned back toward Mr. Barlo, thankful that he couldn't clearly see the blood that soaked the front of his shirt, or how it was splashed all over his face. "Mr. Barlo, you can talk at any time, you know. Then the pain will stop."
Mr. Barlo didn't respond. Gideon couldn't tell if he was strong willed or if it was because Raquel was essentially drowning him in blood and gore. Regardless, it made Gideon sigh. Obviously, this wasn't working.
"Okay, Raquel, pow-wow time," Gideon declared, "This obviously isn't working, so we need something that both of us can equally contribute."
It seemed like Mr. Barlo didn't even flinch at the fact he was swallowing his potential significant other. Raquel internally sighed as she emptied the bowl down his throat. She went through all that effort in trying to make that dish. Using tomato soup and various parts of a pig was quite an effort. How chefs like Lin do, it was beyond her. Cooking was a taxing effort. Though it seemed Gideon was enjoying himself. He even turned himself around to snicker; she really had him wrong this entire time.
"Well, he won't have any cells left after we're done with him." Raquel joked. Dancing around the maimed man, she twirled and spun before stopping right in front of him. Raquel bent over to have a closer look at Mr. Barlo. It seemed like he was numb to all the pain after everything they did to him. They couldn't have that. "True. At least he won't die a virgin, I suppose. I heard people care about that nowadays." Raquel responded to Gideon's heartless retort.
"Something that we could do together? Hmmm." Placing a finger on her chin, Raquel tapped it and pondered what they could do together. For the most part, Raquel only performed solo torture. Sure, Ozma was there sometimes, but she was only here to provide her with the tool. What could she and Gideon do together, so they can have equal amounts of fun? That's when it hit her.
"Foie Gras!" Raquel snapped her fingers. Lin often told her about a variety of dishes. One of them was a technique that involved stuffing a live duck with food before killing it and serving it as a meal. She turned to Gideon and then back at the stacks of mountain dew. "Gideon, you'll feed, and at the same time, I will eat him." It was a brilliant plan. Having both the sensation of being force-fed a liquid while being consumed at the like livestock would send sensations to shiver down the spine. Plus, she would also get to taste mountain dew. She always wondered what a mountain's dew would taste like. Turning to Gideon, she grinned.
"Brilliant, right? I bet Hecty would be so proud of me." Raquel gave a shark-like smile at her fellow veteran. "Of course, I know what parts now to eat to ensure he's just barely surviving." Walking up to Mr. Barlo, she grabbed him by the back of the head. Cocking his head up, Raquel forcefully pried open his head with only a hand. "This is your last chance, Mr. Barlo." She grinned. The anticipation was killing her.
it felt as though everything was moving in slow motion as celestine watched the situation unfold and realized they would not be able to get out of this without the use of violence, which was rather upsetting if she were being honest. the man wielding the firearm was the most bothersome, shooting bullets wildly and hitting celeste twice in the sternum, a third bullet grazing her cheek; she took note of darius getting shot in the abdomen no more than a couple of seconds later. these were definitely going to bruise.
"please, why do you insist on being difficult? i do not want to hurt any of you, but i will if-" celeste cut herself off as suddenly there was empty space where the women had been, glancing down and seeing them laying on the floor; the same thing had happened to darius moments before he got shot, and it was not because any of them had slipped. one of them was an hp, most likely the one that still sat at the table, appearing incredibly calm despite the chaos surrounding him.
unfortunately, because of celeste's hesitation, both women had managed to get up, moving in opposite directions and leaving her to choose who to pursue. she kept only one knife unsheathed and lunged at the taller of the two women; just one of the many nameless serpent grunts that she had no connection to, and yet the guilt she felt for what she was about to do was overwhelming. celeste grabbed the woman, one arm crushing her against her chest as she lifted the knife to the traitor's throat, "i truly meant it when i said i did not want to harm any of you, and i apologize for what i have to do," celestine paused, taking a deep breath, "please forgive me."
the knife cut the traitor's throat with ease, like slicing butter, and blood sprayed from the wound. celeste released the body, flinching as it hit the floor with a loud thud and watching with a horrified expression as the head rolled too far to one side. she had not intended to cut so deep, but the head was barely attached to the woman's body, and the only relief celeste felt was knowing the traitor had died quickly. though it did little to help with how nauseous she felt.
celeste whirled around at the other woman's shout, eyes wide, "i told you what would happen and you did not listen! i am sorry for what i had to do."
"you bitch, i'll fucking kill you." the other woman snarled as a strange sort of armor formed over her skin, it almost looked like bone, and she charged directly at celeste.
celestine didn't have time to dodge out of the way and the air was knocked out of her lungs as both of them went crashing through one of the thin walls, hitting the ground just as hard. she wasn't given a chance to catch her breath before the armored woman started swinging, landing a couple of solid blows on the side of celeste's face before she was able to shield herself with her arms. her mind was racing as she tried to think of what her next move would be, stifling yelps of pain when something sharp began piercing her arms with each blow; probably something on her armor made to inflict more damage.
celeste knew she had to do something soon or her opponent would win. she had some sort of durability potential and although celeste was confident she could overpower the woman for a time, she wasn't sure how well she would fare in an all-out fight with her arms as damaged as they were. she was not about to risk leaving darius on his own to fend off three people, especially when two of them were hps.
with another deep breath, celeste moved her arms and took another punch to the face, which gave her a chance to grab ahold of the other woman's arm before she pulled it back to deliver another blow. tightening her grip, she yanked hard, pulling her so close that their noses almost touched.
celestine stared deep into the woman's eyes as she whispered, "forgive me.", and grabbed her by the throat with her other hand, fingernails digging into the soft flesh. instantly she was pulled into the other's memories and went to work erasing as much as she could, starting with what had just transpired.
perhaps this would be enough to get this woman to back off, even if only for a few minutes while she was still disoriented and confused after having her mind tampered with, but celestine wouldn't know if it worked or not until she exited her mind.
"the woman's" potential - bone armor - as the name suggests, she is able to create a layer of bone over specific parts of her body, but only a portion of it at a time. (ex: in this situation, she covered her hands, arms, and shoulders with armor, but that is as much as she can do) she can manipulate the bone further for other uses, like if she wanted to do additional damage (ex: spikes on her knuckles to pierce or tear flesh when she punches someone)
we probably should have named these random characters, but yk it is what it is also don't @ me about the poor description of this potential
After months of grueling work, raising funds and building connections (often through the business end of a fist), the Calico Agency was finally a reality. As its owner and sole employee, Eun Ji-Young was ready to make a name for herself as the West District’s premier financial protection provider (read: debt collector). It didn’t matter that her company was a second-hand laptop and a pile of documents on a small dining table in her dingy studio apartment in one of the seedier neighborhoods of the West District. She had her three-piece suit, the wind on her back, and a can-do attitude. That was more than enough.
She sat on the rickety wooden chair that came with the dining table, a cup of steaming green tea in hand. In front of her was the laptop, the screen showing the window of an empty chat room. She’d been staring at it for the past thirty minutes, waiting for the message that would jump start her Agency. She had spent the better part of the day cozying up to a creditor with a penchant for giving out loans to creatives, especially to people who run after fame and fortune on the stage. She figured that these debtors were high-profile enough to give her notoriety as a debt collector, yet easy enough marks that she wouldn’t have to resort to drastic measures.
This creditor, called Blue Miso in their circles, was foaming at the mouth to collect on a specific debt from a specific person. Ji-Young thought that the commission was a done deal when they met; the man was practically raving about all the creatively terrible acts he would commit to this up and coming idol. But here she was, two hours before midnight, with no further knowledge of the debtor aside from the fact that she was a performer. It was getting late. She was getting impatient. The floor beneath the table was worn from hours of foot tapping.
And then finally, finally, the laptop pinged and the message appeared on the chat room. There was nothing but a zip file attached. She downloaded it, opened it, and pored over the dossier on her first ever commision. Red eyes. Pale, bluish hair. Lips turned into a smile perfectly crafted for the cameras. Ji-Young gasped despite herself. She was hoping to snare big fish; instead, she was met with an exciting surprise.
Passeri Park. West District’s up-and-coming idol. Monster rookie. Knee-deep in debt.
The ideal first commission.
Before preparing to leave, she took one last sip from her tea, and grimaced. Teabags from the convenience store left much to be desired. There was no complexity, no depth of flavor, no floral notes or lasting fragrance. It was quite literally just leaf juice, and bad tasting at that. Ji-Young decided that this was the last time she’d buy tea from anywhere other than the finest shops. She deserved ceylon. She deserved a better life. She deserved having her family enjoy it all with her.
‘Passeri Park. Nothing personal, but I’ll be taking your money now.’
The apartment complex was less affluent than Ji-Young expected. It was only a step or two above her own, and only about thirty minutes away by walking. She strode forward with purpose, each step measured, her posture impeccable. She looked like a woman on a mission, and people could feel it. They steered clear of her. Even the receptionist at the ground floor only gave a half-hearted attempt to stop her from stepping into the elevator. She punched the number to her commission’s floor, and spent precious seconds in silence mulling over the best way to collect on Passeri’s debt. If possible, Ji-Young wanted to avoid… convincing her in places where the public eye could see. An idol’s appearance was her source of income, and Ji-Young respected that.
Ding, the elevator went, and she stepped out into the fourth floor. She walked with a measured stride, the clacking of her leather shoes echoing around the empty corridor. She counted the numbers as she passed them by; fifteen, sixteen, and finally seventeen.
She pressed on the doorbell once. Silence. She pressed it again. Finally an answer from within. Anticipation bubbled in the pit of her stomach. Or was it nervousness? Regardless, Ji-Young squashed it down. She was a professional. She would complete the job swiftly and efficiently. The door opened, and there she was: without makeup, wearing only simple clothes, but unmistakably the person she’d seen dancing and singing on TV.
Ji-Young braced herself, and stepped into the light streaming from the open door. Compared to Passeri, she was clad in sleek black, from suit to slacks to leather shoes. It was cute, watching the idol try to charm her way out of this. But nothing short of death would keep her from finishing the job. So much was riding on this.
“No, I am not a neighbor. My name is Eun Ji-Young, and I represent the Calico Financial Protection Agency,” she said, reaching out a hand as a courtesy. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Passeri Park.”
One would wonder, how had it come to this situation? His day off, the one Eric would normally spend terminally online and feeding himself with artificially-flavored snacks that would make even the toughest of nutritionists stare in disgusted disbelief (That is, whenever Katya didn't drag him outside in order to experience more of the city's "wondrous sights" ).
That coveted day had been occupied by an activity that felt extremely out of left field from the detective.
Just a few days ago, the famous singer Passeri Park messaged Eric, the two of them had remained on casual contact after their meeting, that evening on the investigation of the concert's "accident". He kept repeating to himself that he was just trying to be a decent person, simply going along with the other party's friendly advances, but perhaps the memories of a different time had some weight on the matter? Such thing was probably best left buried. But for now, he had to cooperate with what he had been asked to do: To help the singer talk some sense into the young minds from North District out of the evil temptations of drugs.
Or, at least that was the idea, but to the surprise of no one, almost every attempt so far had fallen on deaf ears. Eric came back from the nearby hot drink machine, holding a pair of coffee cans in his hands, quickly finding his way back into his seat alongside Passeri, who quickly welcomed him with a bunch of questions. As she spoke her last words, he held the second can close to her face, his fingers lazily holding unto the top as he offered her the drink.
"Well, that's not easy to answer, you know this already, but these kids can be tough nuts to crack"
He opened his own coffee can, taking a prolonged sip, enjoying the feeling of the hot beverage warming him up from the inside on this chilly winter day. He stared back at Passeri, his shoulders lowering as his body relaxed.
"I did say I did this before, yeah, but I can't say I was all that successful on my end...But there was something that helped, actually"
He turned his body 45 degrees in order to meet her gaze properly, crossing his legs in the process, his hanging foot playfully moving around slightly.
"My partner and I, I guess we sort of give off a dynamic that works well enough, he's definitely a lot more passionate than I, and that would often help catch the attention of a few, and that's where I would come in, getting into the fine details of it all"
He looked up, gazing at the cloudy, grey sky in contemplation as he lightly tapped his phone against his chin.
"I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's important to catch their attention with a striking first impression, you know?"
Peyton's eyes sparkled with entertainment as he watched Raphael's reaction play out in his body, expression and words. It was apparent that Raphael liked Peyton's position, on his knees and leaning back on his heels, eagerly looking up to await his fate. Peyton had to suppress a grin, it was quite deviant of Raph-- not that it was a bad thing.
But all of this was just a messy attempt at hiding the true fear that Peyton felt. Submitting was a mistake. In such a helpless position, if Raphael decided to attack, Peyton would have no chance at escape. Peyton's heart was beating rapidly as he waited for Raph to decide what to do. His limbs buzzed with adrenaline, urging him to fight or flee, but Peyton could simply just sit there and wait. And somehow... he was content and okay with putting his life in Raph's hands.
When Raph spun around, Peyton let out a sigh of relief, one that he hadn't been aware he was holding. He rose to his feet, squeezing as much blood out of his pants as possible. He chirped, "For a moment, I really thought you were going to take me out like the rest of them! You had me scared there!"
"Everything worth killing was already dead. Is that so?" Peyton jogged to catch up to Raphael, falling in line to the taller boy's side. There wasn't anyone left worth killing, huh? That didn't seem like the case, Peyton thought, as he stared at the dark haired hemomancer. A crocodile grin stretched Peyton's lips as he said, "But I'm st--"
Peyton caught himself in his thought before he could finish blurting out what was going through his mind. But I'm staring at someone worth killing. Evidently, his bloodlust hadn't been sated yet. Why did he think that he should kill Raphael? Why did he think it would be great to turn Raph into pulled pork there and now? It was a frankly scary thought. What was wrong with him? He had caught himself having such thoughts on increasing occasions ever since he was blessed... or cursed with his new Potential. Peyton muttered as he rubbed a bloodstain on one of his hands, "Something must be wrong with me."
Besides, Raphael's bloodlust had just receded. There was no possible good reason in provoking him again. And there wasn't any good in potentially making Raph think that Peyton was challenging him, with how Peyton acknowledged Raph as his superior despite lacking the years of experience that Peyton had.
The two of them left the alleyway, releasing them into the shithole streets of the North. It was dark save for bits of lighting that came from the streetlamps and various small shops that were still open late into the night, such as convenience stores, the taphouse whose alleyway they had left, and some suspicious-looking massage parlors. Peyton's stomach growled, and he realized that he was famished. Using his Potential had really taken a toll on his stomach. Yes, that was why he had such perverse thoughts. That had to be the reason.
"Man, I'm starving," Peyton stretched suspiciously, eager to cover up his near slip-up, "What do you think about getting a late night snack? My treat, of course."
Gideon and Jozef's Dorm Room, New Oasis Central University
January 11th, 2022 | Post Arc 2
The Trials of Belial
Gideon was rather surprised by Jozef's willingness to partake in the summoning. It almost seemed like his roommate didn't leave any thought toward the dangerous implications of such a ritual. This was about a demon possessing Jozef's body after all. Gideon would be safe within the summoning circle, but Jozef's body was out of his control. Or perhaps Jozef didn't believe that such a ritual could be real?
"Yes, a demon demon," Gideon confirmed, "Possession and all if you're okay with it. Don't worry, it doesn't hurt."
Gideon began rummaging around the cramped room, grabbing the items he was going to need. Finally, after he was satisfied with his repitoire of items, Gideon took out a box of chalk and kneeled down on the ground. The faux hardwood flooring, which might've once harmonized with the rest of the room, had its finish worn down by generations of students. Now the ground was rather rough, and the perfect surface for chalk. Rather awkwardly, Gideon drew a sprawling, jagged, and bent looking circle on the ground Gideon had never been good at making circles. He looked up from his work, grimaced at its flaws, and then tossed Jozef a chalk.
"Can you start with copying the stuff on this drawing?" Gideon asked, showing his roommate a picture of a demonic chalk circle, complete with pentagrams and various demonic symbols. It was a fairly complex circle, and would doubtlessly take the two of them quite some time to finish imitating.
As Gideon worked on recreating the drawing, a thought occurred to him that he would need to say something to the demon if he ended up summoning it. In the stories that Gideon read, people would often request some material good from the demon in return for their soul. Riches. Fame. Love. But as this was an off-the-cuff summoning ritual, Gideon's mind was drawing a blank.
"If this works, you know how demons will make contracts with people?" Gideon asked, "Do you have anything you want from a demon, Jozef?"
"I-- no, okay, what the fuck," Gideon initially raised his arms in disbelief before slapping them down to his side in resignation. "Just please start from his backsi-- back so that I don't have to watch it."
With Raquel's enthusiasm towards such a barbaric form of interrogation as the go-to compromise between the two of them, it was obvious that they were never going to see eye to eye. Rather than squabble about it, Gideon felt that getting it all over with felt like the best idea. After all, as long as he was unable to see Raquel do her thing, Gideon would survive.
Gideon plugged his nose and did his best to convince himself that the blood on Mr. Barlo's shirt was tomato soup as he approached the man. That way, he only felt slightly nauseated as he got near the man. He snapped off the nozzle of the watering can, turning it into a contraption suitable for force-feeding soda to Mr. Barlo.
"Come on man, just spill the beans," Gideon begged Mr. Barlo, who was now slumped with defeat in his chair. Using his Potential, Gideon projected the thought into Mr. Barlo's mind, "The pain would all be over if I just come clean. Otherwise I'd be better off dead."
Oddly enough, even with the motivation, Mr. Barlo refused to divulge any secrets. Gideon sighed in frustration, then began to tip Mr. Barlo's head back to pour the soda in. But as he did so, he realized that Mr. Barlo's body was rather slack, putting up no resistance whatsoever, and his eyes drooped.
"Mr. Barlo?" Gideon asked. He needed to make sure that Mr. Barlo wasn't mentally damaged by the interrogation. Otherwise, extracting information would prove to be difficult. When Mr. Barlo didn't respond, Gideon repeated with more urgency, "Mr. Barlo?!"
When Mr. Barlo still didn't answer, Gideon slapped him a few times, to no avail. Gideon set down his watering can and pressed two fingers to Mr. Barlo's neck, looking for a pulse. Five seconds passed. Then ten. Gideon adjusted where his fingers were in the hopes that he was just bad at finding a pulse. Nope. Nothing.
"Raquel, you're not going to like this," Gideon said, "Mr. Barlo is dead.We killed him."
Gideon was horrified. If not for prior experience around dead bodies, Gideon would be running around in panic. Instead, he simply paced back and forth next to the flaming trash can. This didn't count as his first kill, did it? No, Raquel had been the one who had fed Mr. Barlo the bowl of blood. Was Hector going to be mad? What were they going to do with the body? How were they going to extract information now? Did Mr. Barlo die a virgin?!
Finally things were starting to look bloody. Gideon and her were on the same page, same table, same everything. Her stomach was killing her over not eating throughout the entire interrogation. With Gideon's backing, Raquel could sate this hunger.
Leaning forward to Mr. Barlo, she grinned. "It's time for the main course." She whispered into his ear. Though something was strange, Mr. Barlo had become more boring at one point of the interrogation. Gideon seemed to be reaching the same conclusion as he spoke to the man. There was seemingly no response from their target. Raquel's fingers traced along Mr. Barlo's neck.
Her face froze at the same time as Gideon started yelling. There wasn't a pulse at all in the man's body. Gideon had the same idea as both of their fingers touched the same place. They both looked at each other. "Well, no shit." Raquel responded back at Gideon.
AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. Hector was so going to kill her. What were they going to do? Their prisoner was dead and everything! It wasn't like she could eat the body and erase the evidence. Though Raquel stopped for a moment and bite off a bit of the man's neck. "Hmmm, Mountain Dew tastes strange." Raquel off-handedly said as she chewed on the meat.
She looked back at Gideon. "It's your fault." Raquel declared. "You murderer! I didn't know you could be this cold blooded!" Ignoring the fact that Mr. Barlo started to look like a balloon after eating her tomato soup, Raquel decided to blame everything on Gideon. "You must have loaded the Mountain Dew with too much Mountain! Mr. Barlo, couldn't handle all the dew!"
Backing away from the body, Raquel shivered. "How could you! That man was a virgin and you still killed him!? There's a statistic that 100% of people who die as virgins go to hell!" Well, she made that statistic up. Still, Gideon was a monster. Raquel was impressed with everything did up until this point. Even she didn't kill people by giving them so much mountain dew that they died internally.
Twas a lovely spring day. The weather was pleasant, warm enough to not require the heavy coats of winter, but not too warm that exercise became a chore. The non-evergreen trees were in bloom, colorful pale flowers lining the branches, floating in the air, and scattered on the ground. A sky of clouds cast a cover of shade over the ground.
The nice weather didn't stop Gideon from wearing his barista outfit though.
He was walking to a car dealership with a certain violet colored boy in tow. That person of course was Zulin, and Gideon had gotten him to help Gideon pick out a new car. A car would help lessen the hassle of traveling from his school to the coffee shop, and sometimes even to the Phoenix HQ. And it would be much more convenient especially when it was a pressing issue.
"I've never bought a car before, and everyone else is busy..." Gideon had said to Helva as he begged her to allow Zulin to accompany him to the car dealership. It wasn't a lie, but it belied the true reason why he had called upon Zulin to join him. He just wanted to hang out with the cute lil munchkin of a paragon villain. And it was tough talking to people. Gideon needed someone to support him if he ever got tongue tied in the middle of talking to a salesperson, and he got along best with Zulin.
"What kind of car would a good villain drive?" Gideon asked Zulin as they approached the front of the simple but modern-looking dealership. From the lack of age in its structure, Gideon guessed that the building was built after the hurricane had done its damage. "One of those black limo-shaped cars? No, those are probably out of my price range. A white van? But that would make me seem like a creep, not a villain. A sports car? Ugh... what to do..."
Gideon didn't know why he thought Zulin that he was the car expert somehow.