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To Serve and Protect (IC)


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John Smith's most recent job had run well past sundown, and the closest bus had still dropped him ten blocks away from his shabby Downtown motel. Five blocks into his hike, he spotted a yellow Chevy Camaro 5G with its driver-side door hanging open. It was parked on the right side of the street, facing him head-on, a couple blocks away. The passenger door was adjacent to the sidewalk, but closed. He thought he could see someone in the passenger seat, but the driver seat was empty. There was some kind of dark lump sitting on the street behind the open driver door.


Twenty stories above Smith, Arrowhawk perched atop the crumbling faux-Gothic stone facade of a half-empty tower. Even with half the lights burned out on this street, her eagle-eyes could read the license plate, confirming that the Camaro belonged to Mike Donaghy, the Scarpia family associate she'd been stalking for the last few weeks. He extorted protection money from several lower-tier businesses in the worse parts of Downtown, and she'd planned to intercept him along his usual pick-up route. One of those businesses was a convenience store a few blocks away. She'd doubled back on the most likely route when he didn't show. From above, she had a much more clear view of the situation. It was obvious to her that the lump in the street behind the car door was a person, halfway into the fetal position but unmoving.

Edited by Grumblefloof
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Mister Strix inspected the stationary vehicle as closely as he could without touching anything. The black discs at the center of each of his eyes expanded slightly when the sweet smell of blood filled his nostrils.


As he almost always did while prowling the nighttime streets of Bedlam City, he broadcast a psychic command forcing anyone around him to ignore his presence. It wasn't as powerful as the complete control he could seize of a victim's mind by looking directly into their eyes, but it was usually effective. Usually, but not always.


Both Arrowhawk and The Tattered Man felt a gentle nudge when they observed the scene, as though whenever they looked in a certain spot, an invisible hand grasped the backs of their heads and pushed it an inch or two to the left or right. They pushed back against that force, and started to hear a whisper.

Do not see me.

At first, they couldn't make out the words, but as they continued to resist the invisible hand, it grew louder.

Do not see me.

Still, they looked in those places It didn't want them to look, and the deep voice took on an echo. They both started to feel a headache.

Do not see me.

Finally, a vague, spectral suggestion of a face, with furious black eyes appeared in the air in front of each of their faces.


But still they defied It's command. With those final words, the face vanished as quickly as it had appeared. Their headaches disappeared with it. Now they could both see a man in white they somehow hadn't noticed a few seconds ago, creeping around the parked Camaro.


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Arrowhawk rubbed at her temple, teeth gritted. She'd had gods try to do this to her before. And this... thing... was no Loki. It was there, rummaging through a car. And it looked like it'd done something to Donaghy. The outline looked like a caped man. Another caped crusader? A mob enforcer? He was in all white. A member of one of the supremacist gangs?


It didn't matter much to her, she'd need to find out. Either way, Donaghy wasn't getting his money tonight. She stepped off the facade, wind in her face, eyes closing for a moment before she turned, grapnel in hand, smoothly gliding to the pavement at a much more reasonable pace, boots lightly touching the asphalt without very much of a sound. The sound came when she leveled an arrow at the back of the white figure's head, eyes tracing down the wooden haft to the cold, metal head as she sighted. "I can see you."

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John had felt the nudges of the ghosts before, this was not that. He moved quickly, but quietly, up to the strange figures. One was dressed in white, the other was some blond with a bow. He had no idea who was who or what, but he had little to fear from them.


So he appeared from the shadows beside them, trying his best not to look threatening. He had no idea who these people were, yet, and he'd heard too many rumors of other crime fighters in the area to go in swinging. If the blond shot him, he could always vanish, change his face, something.



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Once they got closer to the car, Arrowhawk and the Tattered Man could both clearly see the two dead bodies. The man in the passenger seat wore a leather jacket over a polo shirt and dark khakis. His right hand was shoved under the left breast of his jacket, and he had a hole in his forehead about the right size for a person to stick their finger into. Most of the top half of the passenger side window was broken. The man curled up on the ground behind the driver side door wore a dark blue tracksuit. He had his hands pulled tightly behind his back, and he was covered in blood and bruises. Arrowhawk recognized them both immediately. The man on the ground was Mike Donaghy, and the man in the car was his "business associate," Jimmy Burke.


It wasn't raining at the moment, but it had rained on and off throughout the day. Both Arrowhawk and the Tattered Man could tell that it hadn't rained since before these men were killed, because the blood pooled on the ground hadn't washed away. But it had rained recently enough that the ground was still wet, and every gutter and pothole still contained a puddle. When they approached the car, they both felt a chill, and they could see that all the puddles near the car were frozen solid, unlike their counterparts even a block away in any direction. The windows and windshield of the car were completely fogged up.


Edited by Grumblefloof
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The man in white flinched when he heard the archer's voice behind him and the pull of her bowstring. When the man in the trenchcoat followed up with a greeting, the man in white gritted his teeth and cringed.


I'm relying too much on the hypnotism. Most people's minds are weak. But too many of them aren't. I'm already getting complacent. Sloppy.


While the man in white still had his back turned to the other two vigilantes, a noise echoed from his throat that sounded exactly like the growl of a tiger, the type of noise a human shouldn't be able to make. He slowly turned around to face Arrowhawk. His skin was so pale, she had to concentrate to see the seams where the mask ended and his face began. It didn't look like he moved from the spot where he stood, but it was difficult to tell with the massive white cape flowing around him.


His voice had the same deep echo as the growl. "It doesn't look like these men were killed with arrows. That buys you three seconds to point the bow somewhere else."

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Arrowhawk frowned at the new man's approach. This was all too unusual. For one thing, generally people took a telling when she threatened them. Secondly, it seemed a lot of capes had converged on this one spot. Thirdly, things were fogging up and freezing. 


Taking a sharp breath inwards, she decided to simply the situation. "Elsewhere, you say?" she asked, before a small smile formed on her lips. She swung the bow downwards and let go of the string, the arrow scything towards the white-clad man's knee. She was no Tyr, or John Fraser, but she could certainly shoot a stationary target, and shoot it she did, the arrow penetrating just below the knee joint. "Does there work?"

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The man in white didn't move a muscle as Arrowhawk loosed the shaft at his leg. Her arrow hit the man's kneecap with a loud *THUNK* and then bounced backward, flipping halfway over itself in the air before clattering onto the pavement a few feet away. At first, it seemed as though he might be wearing some kind of armor. The arrow hadn't drawn a single drop of blood. But it had torn the fabric over his knee, revealing that there was nothing between it and the man's unnaturally pale flesh. The arrow had broken his skin, but the that skin mended itself so quickly that the observers thought they might have imagined seeing it cut at all. The arrowhead was deformed, crushed like an empty aluminium can. It looked as though it had been fired at a brick wall.


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"Now that we've gotten that out of the way, we have a murder scene." He looked at the two of them. In Bedlam, there weren't as many costumed villains as there were in, say, Freedom City. John trusted no one, but he trusted his anonymity and abilities well enough. If things got ugly, he could just leave.


"Bedlam is a bad place to be, but I doubt a murderer would be investigating the scene of their own crime." He looked around. 


"You don't know me, and I don't know you. Last time I trusted someone I died. Didn't stick." He looked down at the murder scene. "However, if we costumed freaks could keep our aggression pointed at the right targets, we might do something useful in this god forsaken town." 


"So, does anybody have any information on who we're looking at?"


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As the man in white spoke, his mouth suddenly seemed to double in size, while the rest of his head remained the same. There almost didn't seem to be enough room for it on his face. All four of his canine teeth elongated into fangs, and his eyes turned completely black.


"I thought it would take longer for me to show up on their radar. I underestimated how well The Family knows their city. Hiring talent from out of town to set a trap for me, that was a smart move. Murdering two people, just to bait that trap, that wasn't smart at all. Even for the Bedlam Mob, that was low. Whatever they paid you, it was too much."


The man in white roared exactly like a lion or a tiger as he lunged at Arrowhawk. He moved so fast he was a blur. His fists seemed to be in two or three places at once as they swung at her.

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Before Osla could even react there was a fist in her face and in her gut. The draugr was scarily fast and strong, and she was in melee range with it. It was all she could do to bring up her bow, pushing back with it like a quarterstaff as she put a couple of paces between her and the monster. "You think I'm the killer?" she asked incredulously, paying no heed to the man behind her urging them to be sensible and just talk it through. Why would she do that? She was fairly sure her nose was bleeding. "You eat people," she continued incredulously, sounding more weary and confused than anything. 


Stepping back in, she delivered a quick snap kick to the draugr's stomach to put it off balance, before hitting it open palmed in the face. Only between its face and her palm was an enchanted length of wood, and on her hand gauntlets giving her preternatural strength. Her bow hit the creature in the head with an audible thud.

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When Arrowhawk kicked the man in white, it felt like kicking a stone statue. There didn't seem to be any give to his abdominal muscles, and the kick definitely didn't seem to throw him off-balance. Her words, however, momentarily stunned him. He stopped flailing at her, and opened his mouth to speak, but she didn't have time to consider his reaction before the bow-strike combination she'd spun her body into connected.


Her palm didn't just shove the side of her bow against his face. She shoved the enchanted wood into his face, carving a gash diagonally across his skull, several centimeters deep. She had to pry her bow free, and when she did, he collapsed onto the pavement. His mask couldn't hide the fact that there was now a concave pit filled with shards of bone, teeth, and cartilage where his face used to be. He didn't move or make a sound, and he didn't bleed.

Edited by Grumblefloof
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John's whole body tensed up as the two of them fought. He closed his eyes as the vision flooded his mind. A strange, clear view of what had happened. He walked over to the driver and bent down to examine him.


"Preliminary review of the body suggests that the driver was beaten to death by a blunt object. Not an axe, not a bow, not a fist. A club, a police baton." He had been completely unaware of the fight, unaware that Arrowhawk hit Mr. Strix as hard as she had. "The killer was not a cop, not a real cop, anyway. Perhaps not even human."

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When the Tattered Man closed his eyes, his mind was flooded with a series of vague, semi-coherent images, like a waking dream.


He sat in the driver seat of the yellow Camaro, where he saw the flashing lights of a police cruiser in the rear-view mirror. He pulled over.


The uniform worn by the police officer didn't look right, not like any uniform John Smith had ever worn. It looked more like a Halloween costume or something out of an old movie. He couldn't get a good look at the officer's face. The brim of his cap cast a shadow the streetlights couldn't pierce.


John heard the driver offer a bribe.

"Is there a fine? Can we just take care of it right now?"

He heard the cop's reply, detached but oddly upbeat.

"Step out of the car, please."

He heard the driver threaten the cop.

"Do you know who I work for?"

He saw the cop handcuff the driver. The passenger muttered an obscenity, then reached into his jacket for the 9MM semiautomatic pistol John somehow knew was in there. In the blink of an eye, the cop drew a massive revolver - magnum, it must be - and put a bullet between the passenger's eyes before the 9MM cleared its holster. Then John saw the cop go to work on the driver with his baton. The passenger died instantly, but with the driver, the cop made it last. The driver died, eventually, but first, he suffered. He pleaded with the cop, and the cop talked, but the cop didn't really reply to anything the man was saying. He talked past the man, rather than to him. The cop never raised his voice. He never even used profane language. He seemed almost cheerful as he beat the man to death.


The last thing either the driver or the passenger of the Camaro saw before he died was the blurry image of an inhumanly pale white face. John couldn't tell whether the white man was the cop, or a second person. He couldn't make out any facial features, except for a big smile. Too big to be human. Almost too big to fit on his face...

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Arrowhawk took a step back as the figure collapsed at her feet, surprised at how brief a fight that had been. She brought a hand to her mouth, smearing some of the blood trickling from her nose across her cheek. "That was... unexpected," she conceded, glancing at the other figure... who seemed to just be standing there. She let out a long, hard sigh. "Well. Undead in the streets of this city. It would be churlish to expect you to contribute." She rolled her eyes and ignored the other man's searching of the car and general... spaciness. 


Bending at the waist to peer down at the corpse's curious wound, her fingers prodded the edges of it. No blood. Curious even for the undead. "It definitely wasn't human!" she said a conversationally. 

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The forensic evidence the Tattered Man saw matched the more coherent details of his vision. Arrowhawk didn't find much of it on her own, but she noticed most of it on a second look over the Tattered Man's shoulder.


The man in the passenger seat of the Camaro had a hole with approximately the same diameter as the Tattered Man's thumb in the middle of his forehead. When he walked around to the passenger side of the car, he could see that the entire back of the man's skull, and the passenger window behind him, had both been reduced to bloody, jagged holes. The sidewalk was covered in blood and chunks of broken glass and human brain and bone. The bullet had probably been a high-caliber magnum round with a hollow point.


The driver was curled into a fetal ball on the ground, behind the driver door. His hands were still cuffed behind his back. His body was covered in so much blood and so many bruises, and so many of the man's bones were broken, that he was almost unrecognizable as human. The shape of the bruises were intimately familiar to the Tattered Man, the kind made with a police issue wooden baton. He could even see a couple of wood splinters stuck in the dead man's skin, pained black on one side. The driver side of the car was covered with tiny dots of blood spray.


Strangely, while a great deal of the man's blood had leaked out onto the pavement beneath him, the person who beat him to death managed to avoid leaving a single footprint in it.


Nothing had been stolen. Both of the dead men still had their wallets and jewelry. The driver licenses identified the driver as "Michael Donaghy", and his passenger as "John Doyle". On close inspection, Arrowhawk immediately recognized Jimmy Doyle, Donaghy's right-hand man. Both wallets were still filled nearly to bursting with cash, several thousand dollars each in hundreds and twenties, and Donaghy also had a separate money clip in his pocket with a few thousand more.


The most subtle clue the Tattered Man found, but also the most striking, were the tire tracks. A second car had been parked immediately behind the Camaro recently, possibly the police cruiser he saw in his vision. The recent rain had dredged oil up from the pavement and turned dirt into mud, and the second car's tires had picked up both, along with spots of blood and bits of broken glass. Along with the occasional stain of burnt rubber, it all mixed together and formed a broken, but consistent trail. But that trail didn't make sense. It didn't go around the Camaro, but through it. There was a T-junction a couple blocks ahead, and the trail led up to it, and through it. The tracks continued onto the sidewalk, right up to the (intact) outer wall of a boarded-up empty storefront.


Edited by Grumblefloof
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When Arrowhawk and the Tattered Man completed a circle around the Camaro, they realized that the man in white was no longer laying on the pavement. Before they had a chance to react, they heard the unearthly reverberation of his voice behind them.


"I don't...eat people."


Don't I? Is it a distinction without a difference?


His previously shattered face was completely intact. Only the marks on his mask gave any indication of the injuries Arrowhawk had inflicted.


"I don't know what a 'draugr' is. But I'm not what you think I am. I didn't kill these people."


He brought his knuckles up to his mouth, and licked a drop of Arrowhawk's blood off his fingerless glove. His tongue, like his mouth and his fangs, was also two or three times as long as it should have been. When the blood hit his tongue, he shuddered and closed his black eyes for a moment.


"And neither...did you. You were...hunting them."


He walked slowly around the car. His boots didn't make a sound or leave a print, even when he stepped through a puddle in the gutter, breaking the thin layer of ice that had formed on top of it and freeing the liquid beneath. He traced a bare finger along the broken glass of the passenger window, then along the blood spatter on the driver side. Then he placed the finger in his mouth and sucked the blood off of it. He shuddered again. 


"It was a cop. A cop...and something else."


As the man in white spoke, both Arrowhawk and the Tattered Man realized that, not only was the air around the Camaro noticeably colder than anywhere else in the city they'd been this night, because of that they could each see their own breath, and each others...but neither of them could see any mist coming from the unnaturally large mouth of the man in white.


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"We're not looking for a human. At least, not a normal one." John said. He himself was unnatural, so the fact the man in white didn't seem to be breathing vapor didn't bother him. He'd met all manner of freaks in Bedlam, and the rumor mill conjured terrors from thin air. 


He was alive, but somehow moreso, or not at all. He wasn't an expert on medicine or the supernatural. However, he was a former cop, and that training was very useful, especially here.

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Arrowhawk stalked around the vehicle, hunching down beside the dead men. She pulled out the money clips and dispassionately examined the money. She let out a sigh. Weeks of work wasted in a careless act of violence. 


When the undead creature stood back up, she turned with a start, gritting her teeth. She turned to him, blue eyes glaring out from under her cowl. The glare became sharper as he licked a drop of her blood off his knuckle. "Another drop of that and next time I'll decapitate you and throw you in the sea," she said matter of factly. "And in future bear in mind that mob assassins do not wear this," Osla pointed her thumb at the white hawk icon on her chest, "Also perhaps it would be best not to try to roughly use mesmerism on capes when you're inside a dead man's vehicle."


She threw the wallets and money clip to the ground in front of the man in white. "Mike Donaghy is an associate of the Scarpias, the other man is Jackie Smith. I had spent weeks tracking them both. Whoever got there first didn't kill them for their money. But there aren't bite marks. Cop narrows it down, but not by much." Arrowhawk suddenly tilted her head and looked at the man in the coat. "What intrigues me, is what you mean by 'not normal'. And how on Earth you figured that out."

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She turned to him, blue eyes glaring out from under her cowl. The glare became sharper as he licked a drop of her blood off his knuckle.

"Another drop of that and next time I'll decapitate you and throw you in the sea."


"And I wouldn't hold it against you. I might even thank you. But you still don't understand. Voices echo. Steps leave footprints."

Most of them, anyway.

"And actions leave their mark in the blood. The psychic resonance in yours was the quickest way to make sure you were telling the truth, and to find out what happened to them."

The man in white allowed himself a half-grin.

"Besides, it's not like you would've wanted it back."



"And in future bear in mind that mob assassins do not wear this," Osla pointed her thumb at the white hawk icon on her chest.


The man in white waved a hand across his own torso.

"For whatever it's worth, they don't generally dress like this, either. Neither imagination nor theatricality come naturally to the type of mind the Mafia attracts."



"Also perhaps it would be best not to try to roughly use mesmerism on capes when you're inside a dead man's vehicle."


"I wasn't using it on 'you.' I was using it on everyone. Get over yourself."



"What intrigues me, is what you mean by 'not normal'. And how on Earth you figured that out."


"By 'not normal,' he means the man in white with the big smile. And yes, I understand how that looks. As for how he knew that...I'm curious myself."


Edited by FloatyPotato
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"Deaths produce powerful spiritual impressions." John said. "I can enter a sort of trance-like state, giving me visions of the death. Those visions are the impressions left by someone, either killer or victim. They're usually pretty scrambled, making it hard to figure out what's happening in them." 


He was certain that would raise more questions than he was prepared to answer, but he didn't care. This case was a strange one, and he could use some cooperation. Frankly, neither of them were quite in the range of human ability anyway. He had his own questions about their behavior. 

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Osla turned to the vampire and gave it a withering stare. "'I didn't do it to you, I did it to everyone'? Stunning defence." Rolling her eyes, she turned back to the tattered-looking man. 


"Fill me in. What did you see. Did you get a good look at the killer, beyond it being inhuman? What kind of inhuman?" Strapping her bow back to her side, she crossed her arms and looked pensive. "It used mortal weaponry to kill these men. Why would it do that? Most non-humans don't need weapons to kill humans. Unless it wanted it to look like a 'normal' killing?"

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Osla turned to the vampire and gave it a withering stare. "'I didn't do it to you, I did it to everyone'? Stunning defence."


"I think we can all agree that I'm doing the people a favor by hiding myself from them. If given the chance, wouldn't you prefer to forget you'd ever met me?"


Imagine how angry she'd be if I'd told her the whole truth.

The blood of the dead men is already turning sour and bitter as the last echoes of their lives fade away, but her blood is by far the sweetest I've tasted yet.

She's not human. Not entirely, anyway.

There's a vigor and vitality there not to be found in the veins of any mere mortal.

I want more...





"The passenger died quick, but the cop took his time with the driver. The man was at his mercy. He could have tossed him in the back seat of his squad car and taken him anywhere. But he tortured the man to death right here, on the street, out in the open. I don't think he cared what it looked like, or who saw him. And somebody must have seen him. Someone always sees. Someone always knows."


Edited by FloatyPotato
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"The killer was pale, possibly pure white, with a massive, inhuman mouth." John said. "I don't know what kind of thing it was." He paced, briefly, looking around.  He was trying to piece something sane together out of all of this.


He shook his head. "Hits are usually cold, brutal, but quick. Don't want to linger, don't want to be seen. Whoever did this didn't care. May have been trying to send a message. This doesn't look like anything I've seen before." He couldn't wrap his head around a motive, or a killer. Not yet, at least. 


"Canvas the area? That sounds like a good idea." He looked around the area. "Someone probably saw something. Here's hoping they're inclined to talk."  



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The man in white pointed down at the pavement. "What do you two make of this?" He stepped around the car, crouched down to peer under it, then walked into the street ahead of it. He knelt down onto the ground, leaned his face less than an inch above the road, and sniffed. "The tire tracks you found. These spots in them are definitely blood." He turned and pointed at the driver's corpse curled up behind the open driver door. "That man's blood, specifically." He walked back toward the other two vigilantes. "That means a car must have driven through that pool of blood under him. But how is that possible? His car hasn't moved, and what's left of the driver doesn't look like it's been run over." He turned back toward the broken trail of tire tracks and followed it, down the street, to the end of the T-junction, then up onto the sidewalk and all the way to the abandoned, boarded-up storefront. "And the tracks go right up to this wall. But the wall wouldn't be intact if a car had driven through it..."


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