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Lobisomem panted and shook her head blearingly, her muscles burned even as a tang of blood filled her mouth. Was this...was this too much? Given she had fought an ant, traversed the sewers, nearly stopped a train, and fallen down with the train, maybe this was a little much. Her lips twitched as a slightly artificial taste came to her tongue, and her mind started to...tickle? What was that?

 

Her eyes met with the Many-Mind, and the tickle in her head vanished (though not forgotten), replaced with a terrible block on her mind, urging her to take their side...as if. Lobisomem let loose a series of snarls, "A rat is a rat. No more, I tire of this all." Her muscles screamed and fought, but she still hobbled forward and swung her claws down once more.

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As the blood trickled down Lobisomem's throat, the psychic power of the Many mind fused with her own...

 

....flashes of memory....

 

the memory of rats in the sewer...before everything changed....

 

....the King of Rats, Vermin...to whom all must bow....for he is the demon king...bound to Filth...

 

...then, the Doctor....his chemicals and toxins poured onto the rats....

 

...many died....many were worse....

 

...but one changed....the first of the many....the Many-mind...

 

...A disease that spread...and every infected rat changed too...

 

...and now...together they formed something beyond human intelligence....if together...

 

...but apart...they were only as before...the rat...and nothing more...

 

All these thoughts dripped into Lobisomem's head via psionic infusion. All these thoughts, and more. She got a sense of the Many Mind - a new mutant species of rat, that could psionically boost the mental powers of others of its species nearby. In large numbers, their intelligence and power was extraordinary. But as their numbers dwindled, or they spread apart, so did the strength of the commune mind. 

 

These thoughts flowed through her brain, as yet another mutant rat snapped in half, rent asunder by her claws...

 

 

 

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"Stronger than any beast... Let's test that."

 

Arcturus reached for the pipes on the wall nearest him. Wholly invested into the motion, he tore the huge pipes off of the wall and began to bend them with a disturbing amount of ease--rats still scrabbling inside them as he closed them off into a tangled, closed-off ball.

 

The great bear growled, annoyed and angry. Marcus wasn't the sort to harm another living creature, no matter how evil, and while Animus felt no such guilt, the Beast Rune was still bound by Marcus's will. It really was rather annoying. Still, it wasn't as if he didn't have options on how to deal with the upstart rat pack.

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The rats of the many mind squealed as the giant bear twisted metal like paper, scooping them up into a steel prison. 

 

And from down the tunnel, a swarm of rats scuttled. Ferocious. Angry. Totally obedient to King Vermin. 

 

"See! My army will rip you asunder!" hissed Vermin, eyes blazing red as he gloated on his imminent victory against the many-mind. 

 

They will not! Call of your minions or we will shoot!!!! replied the many mind. 

 

Vermin turned around, fearful now, and gazed at Filth, who was holding a gun to his own skull. 

 

"This...vessel..is...your....link....to....the....world...." mumbled Filth, mouthing the words of Many mind who had overpowered the man psychically. "We....will....kill....him....and....you....will....be....sent....back....to....your....hell....." he groaned, eyes glazed, finger ready to pull the trigger on the gun at his temple and blow his own brains out. 

 

"Send...your....army....away....."

 

 

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Once Arcturus had a better handle on the situation, the worse it seemed to become. Though his own mind hadn't been overtaken by the rat collective, it seemed that Filth wasn't so lucky. Marcus at least had Animus to cover him; the Beast Rune was an arrogant taskmaster but they at least shared mutual interests. Filth and Vermin didn't seem to have that kind of relationship.

 

Then again... Vermin was a demon. Seeing the army of 'normal' rats alone made Animus wish Marcus had held onto the warding coin instead of wasting it on the humans in the subway cars. In the meantime, Filth's plight seemed to be 'waking up' Arcturus's human half.

 

"Release him. Now. Or..." Arcturus held the balled up pipe in both hands and gave it a brief but vigorous shake.

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There was a horrible pause as everyone seemed to freeze, unsure of the shifting sands of fate. 

 

Filth broke the silence. 

 

"I....We...would...rather....lose...a...part...of....us...I....than...have....us....I.....all....destroyed....by....the....Vermin...." he muttered. Filth was sweating heavily, and the gun to his temple was trembling. 

 

"We....must....have....the.....Vermin....King.....call....off.....his....army...."

 

"Never!" hissed Vermin, although his eyes blazed with a lesser light. "You must be destroyed!"

 

"...Then....so....will....you....when....we....pull....this....trigger...." mumbled Filth, his sweaty finger pulling just slightly on that sweaty trigger. 

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Arcturus took a big, deep breath. At its core, the Beast Rune only cared for Marcus's safety. Marcus, on the other hand, was another matter. The morality was annoying. It wasn't a fight that Animus really wanted to deal with...

 

"Vermin. Stop." Arcturus's voice hadn't changed, but he seemed much more even-keeled, less arrogant. His back was still turned to Vermin, though, and the demon rat could see the magic of the Beast Rune radiating underneath the thick layer of fur.

 

"Let me explain what will happen. If you kill this kid.... I will destroy you. All of you. I'll even resummon the demon JUST to spite you. On the other hand... if you walk away now, you might--MIGHT--have a fighting chance. Those are your choices."

 

I'll admit, the Beast Rune quipped, I didn't see that coming. And you ssid dealing with the demon was a bad idea.
OF COURSE it's a bad idea. I'm not doing that.

So you're lying? ...color me impressed.

Shut up.

 

Arcturus looked back over his shoulder at Vermin. "That means YOU need to back off too."

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"We...will...walk....away...." mumbled Filth. "If....the.....vile....demon....rat....will.....let....us....."

 

Vermin hissed, eyes blazing red. 

 

"I have no choice, it seems" he said, exploding with frustration. "But you will release Filth from your grip first!"

 

"No...you.....are....not.....trustworthy....lies....deception....misdirection....is....your.....nature.....we.....will.....release.....when.....we....are....escaped...."

 

"Never!" hissed Vermin once more. "You will make him shoot himself once you are escaped! Why should I trust you!" came the sly toxic words from the Demon Rat. 

 

"Then....the.....beast....and....the.....lizard.....must.....give.....word....and....break.....the.....stalemate....."

 

"That is....acceptable...." hissed Vermin back, slyness oiling its words. "What say you, my lizard and bear friends?"

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"You have my word, " Arcturus replied. He gave a quick glance back at Vermin. "And I am NOT your friend. You saw the coin. If you don't hold up your end... remember, I can be way more creative than that." That part, at least, wasn't a bluff. His time separated from Animus had made Marcus a rather resourceful magician. Of course, he doubted Vermin would make any of that easy if it ever came to that.

 

Arcturus was silently seething at being put in the position he was in. Somehow this had gone from a train wreck to... well, a different kind of train wreck. It seemed like a metaphor for his entire life.Above all else, he wasn't going to let Filth be a casualty in a war between rats. That was just silly. If anything, the thought crept into Marcus's mind to talk Filth out of the whole thing. Was he bound to the demon? There had to be some story there... and now he REALLY wanted to find out.

 

That was going to have to wait.

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Lobisomem froze as the memories and thoughts of the rats poured through her skull, ears flattening tightly against her head. Perhaps it was her separation from her pack in her youth, but she had never become aware that such a melding between mind and memory could even happen, even among fellow telepathic creatures. Her clenched jaws softened slightly, so they were a pack too? Only good together...her chest ached, she didn't want these memories, not like this.

 

Out of the corner of her eyes, she blinked as Filth suddenly pressed his gun to his own head. Instinctively, likely because of the memories swirling in her head, she wasn't surprised when the Many-Mind took credit. They would kill the man. What she was surprised by was the many other rats gathering, he was a demon, to summon so many, and her scales rippled with nervous energy. She was too tired to fight off a swarm if it ended up dissolving into a fight. So she stood still and watched, not even attempting to dispel the rat memories from her mind. The beast, Marcus, made a good negotiator. She was almost impressed.

 

And now came to a decision.

 

"I'd rather not fight, my only task is to find the doctor. You will go free...if you don't hurt Filth, at all. Vermin, you will let them go, or I will devour you. You both have my word."

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Again, there was a pause whilst the words and sincerity of them were considered. Chewed over, one might say. 

 

"Holy God Damn Popcorn! What the hell...!" screamed Filth as he dropped the gun and danced from one foot to the other in serious agitation. 

 

Your words are considered. If you do not hold true to them we will muster every might we have to destroy you and everything you value...came the voice of the many mind in the minds of Lobisomen and Arcturus. 

 

Bang! Bang Bang Bang!!!

 

"I'll kill you, you ass crack scum! You were going to make me shoot my brains out!" screamed Filth as he shot his pistol again and again into the scurrying pack of Many Mind rats. One of them caught a bullet and sprayed rat brains (with arguable poetic justice) all over the sewer. Not that you could make this place more filthy. 

 

"My friend didn't make any promises...." gloated Vermin, quietly. 

 

Stop him! Kill him! You promised our safety! shouted the Many mind into the skulls of Arcturus and Lobisomen. 

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"Whoa! Hey!" Arcturus immediately moved to grab Filth; the instinct was less about protecting the mutant rats than it was that he didn't fully trust his aim. Despite the fact that Arcturus healed pretty quickly when the Beast Rune was cooperating, pain was pain. Bullets still hurt.

 

the fact that Arcturus was much bigger than Filth wasn't lost on him. He was careful enough that he grabbed for Filth's gun arm and held it above his head. He couldn't even say that he blamed the kid for the way he reacted.

 

Vermin's gloating didn't go unnoticed.

 

"I swear I will put you in a box and drop you off in a monastery somewhere."YOU said you'd call off your army. Pretty sure the kid is part of your army. Or did I get that wrong?"

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Filth kept firing even when Arcturus grabbed him by the wrist and shoved his gun upwards. A few more bullets exploded out of the gun, chipping away at the sewer tunnel. 

 

Click click click...he kept firing even when the clip was empty. 

 

"Hey man...let me go! Ill bite their heads off! Do you know what they did to me?" he screamed, furious. However furious he was, he was a fraction of Arcturus' strength and could no more wrench free than he could paint the moon green. 

 

"He is not part of my army" explained Vermin, very pleased with the turn of events. "I never said he was, and you should not have assumed so. He is my friend" he said, velvet and poisonous. 

 

"Yeah man, Vermin gives me power!" agreed Filth. 

 

"It is the rats of the sewer that are my army, and they are obedient. See?" explained Vermin, his eyes blazing red. And with that ruby f lash, the vast army of mind controlled rats, dominated by Vermin, started dispersing with alarming speed. 

 

 

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Lobisomem's head jerked to the side, shocked squawking noise escaping her stiff neck. "Vermin!" She nearly shrieked, black eyes somehow flashing with noticeable fury. A rat was dead, there was no way they were forgiving such a betrayal. "Traitor! Liar! Bastard!" Her mind continued to create insults, even as she turned her eyes toward the Many-Mind and attempted to reach a sort of calm. It was...very difficult. But somehow she managed to direct toward the Many-Mind.

 

"Stay your fangs!" Her voice still reeked with anger, and she spoke harshly to Filth for a moment: "Shut up!" before returning to the conversation, "Don't strike! Leave, you can still disperse, I swear that this being will get its comeuppance!" Her argument was weak, and she knew it, but she had to try.

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We look forward to the hour when you rend flesh and crush bones...replied the Many mind in Lobisomem's head. The demon King of Rats should die!!!

 

"Well then, that was a spiteful little dance" commented that very same demon King of Rats as he scuttled up Filth onto his shoulder. "It did not go to my taste, but we are all alive"

 

He danced over to Filth's other shoulder. Filth seemed most happy to have his little friend back. 

 

"Now then, shall we finish off the doctor? It is from his hand that the many mind sprung, and whom knows what else? He started with fungus, then ants, and moved to rats. I worry he is perfecting his art and moving to larger beasts..." he growled. 

 

The many-mind, for their part, started scuttling through the pipes and away from their bloodied remains. 

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"I know exactly what they did to you. Calm down." It was easy for Arcturus to say in the moment. When it happened to him, he was hardly as level-headed about it. His gaze turned to Vermin, his eyes narrowed. "Your 'friend', huh? Hm. We'll see."

 

Arcturus couldn't say that he particularly liked demons. They weren't evil exactly just... morally flexible in ways he didn't agree with. Even then, most lesser demons seemed pretty harmless. Vermin was just a schemer, and Filth was a pawn. THAT was the part he didn't like. As the conflict died down, he tore away at the balled up pipes, allowing the few trapped mutant rats left to escape. He shook his head and followed Filth afterward, keeping his bear form for the time being.

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"Trust me, I look foward to that hour too." She felt a tightness in her jaws that she heavily disliked. She hated, hated how their agreement had led to more Many-Mind dead. That was not the agreement, her agreements ended the way they were supposed to, not a twisting of words! Yet the demon was necessary, for now at least. She hoped Marcus didn't try to stop her or anything when her time came, he seemed honest...

 

A sigh escaped her throat, and she trunged after Vermin with narrowed eyes, clearly walking a bit slower than she had started.

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And so...one walk down long abandoned sewer tunnel later...

 

There was a dim light far ahead. More of a glimmer, really. 

 

"There!" whispered Vermin. "Doctor Tonic has set up his laboratory there. Far beneath Freedom City. Forgotten, abandoned. Careful, careful, he is not to be trifled with. He is dangerous, yes. And who knows what precautions he has taken? What other beasts he has made?" he said slyly. Vermin was not exactly afraid, but he was cautious. Very cautious. 

 

"And watch for the sound" whispered Filth. "These tunnels, a footstep echoes for miles. Very hard to sneak up!" he added, with a filthy  grin to match his mood. 

 

"We have taken you to the Doctor. Now, what will you do?" asked Vermin, beady eyes on Lobisomen and Arcturus, studying them carefully, alive to any opportunity their actions might offer. 

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Lobisomem had almost started falling behind before she noticed the group slowing, and Vermin's voice slithering through the air. She froze mid-step and narrowed her eyes, ears rotating outwards before her voice soundlessly breached the air. "Traps? Trivial. As I am big, I am certain I would trip any traps first, thus, for you, I will proceed first. Follow if you must, but do not disturb me."

 

She could take it, despite her exhaustion she knew her reflexes were still animalistically quick and her scales were strong. She'd survive...though she hoped she could avoid the traps. In a single movement, she was clinging to the walls and proceeding to the ceiling, holding her breath briefly before her horns faded their light and she started to blend. Her eyes roved over the tunnel, blinking into a type of vision that would hopefully spot anything heat related...and then she moved, slowly creeping and not even scraping the ceiling with her scales.

 

Just. Not. A. Sound.

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Arcturus wasn't a particularly stealthy person. He could be... but he had been using magic more steadily than he had in a while. It was what his training and rehabilitation had centered around, sure, and he could handle his bear form without any trouble, but most everything else he tried on the same scale caused... issues. It was probably better not to go that route unless he absolutely had to do so.

 

"If he didn't hear the subway car accident, I think we'll be fine," he muttered. There was really no way he could be sure of that. His mind turned to the survivors of the crash; keeping the rats at bay with the warding coin was an even better decision than he'd thought after encountering the mutant rats. He had to remember to make more of those any time he had to come down here again.

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The dim light shone in the distance, and the pair of heroes crawled and scuttled quietly through the tunnel, aware of the sloshing of filthy water beneath them. It seemed Doctor Tonic was blissfully aware; they could not see him yet, but heard the occasional foot step, and the odd mutter. He was, presumably, experimenting, and quite absorbed in his work down here. 

 

Vermin - and Filth for that matter - would come no closer, and hung back. Curious, true, but not curious enough to get caught in the cross fire. 

 

And it seemed it would become a very complex crossfire. 

 

Dr. Tonic was experimenting on fungus...then ants....then rats....working his way up to larger animals....

 

Beneath them, in the sewer infested waters, two black eyes appeared. Something was in the water. Something big. Very big...

 

And alligator....twenty feet long, at least....

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Lobisomem didn't notice the immediate danger at first, taking a second to note that something very, very big was looking up at her. Reptilian, an alligator, cause of course.

 

She didn't speak out, as close as they were, she did not need her glowing horns giving away their position. She wasn't quite at the point of throwing away her hard earned progress like that!

 

Instead, her eyes snapped open, along with her mouth, and she bared her terrible fangs at the beast. She made no sound, she could only hope her appearance was enough to chase away any thoughts of attacking.

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For a moment, the alligator stayed still. Like a stone. 

 

The only sign was the faint sloshing off the filthy water. Then, with a gurgle, the alligator sank below the surface. Whatever primal force, whatever animal instinct, that had charged the teeth and fangs of Lobisomem, it had worked. 

 

The Alligator was a natural predator, and its great size had not diminished that mind set. But something instinctive had hit in. It was facing another predator of equal ferocity and strength. No easy prey. No easy meat. Even if it won the tussle, it would be scarred. 

 

Its primitive reptilian mind made up, the Alligator swam away...

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Well. That brings back memories.

 

Arcturus stared at the gator as it contemplated life in general; eventually it chose to take the path of least resistance and walk away. That was probably for the best had Marcus chosen to conserve magic and return to his natural form, it might have actually tried to eat him. The possibility of that hadn't completely passed though; Arc made sure to keep that in mind.

 

That wasn't an alligator. That was nearly a dinosaur.

 

The perversion of nature was something both Marcus and the Beast Rune actually agreed on. That, in and of itself, was more dangerous than anyone knew.

 

"Before this gets any further out of hand," he commented, keeping his voice down... "...you're not one of this doctor's experiments, are you?"

 

For a solid half an hour, Arcturus had been trying to figure out how to categorize Lobisomem. "Not Actively Trying To Eat People" was really the best he could come up with, but then again, Filth and Vermin also fit that very broad category. And he was certain at least one of them would try to clock him one if they were a little bit bigger.

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As the alligator slithered away, the tunnel was once empty bar the gentle sloshing of water and the breathing of Arcturus and Lobisomem. There was coolness, too, beyond what one might expect. Like the heat was being eaten from the air. 

 

Moving closer, Lobisomem and Arcturus could at least feel fairly confident they had the drop on the doctor. 

 

For there he was. 

 

He had constructed a makeshift laboratory. It was not exactly hygienic - far from it, but it was functional. Power cables living parasitically of the city network, lights set up over the small chamber. Computers, radios, cages, and glass ware of all types and sizes. A board on which a thousand scribbles fought for attention. 

 

There we also preserved dishes of failed experiments. It simply would not do to stare at the horrors pickled inside for long. 

 

In the centre, carefully placed, was a fridge with  hazard sign inside. Darwin-X was stored inside. 

 

The Doctor himself was a large man - over six feet tall and stacked full of muscle. He was in his forties, one would guess, with straggled hair and straggle beard both jet black over a tanned face. One might guess he was middle eastern or Mediterranean from his heritage. His eyes however were a deep blue, and almost bulging, set below a furrowed brow as he studied a set of computer read outs. He was half eating a bowl of noodles and lost in concentration. 

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