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To the north lay Scarlet Hill, a name no one in Bedlam City used anymore, instead referring to both the hill and the mansions turned sub-sub-divided-apartments surrounding it by reference to the Country Club which sat atop it, looming over the south-eastern parts of the city. Both were saturated with diesel exhaust from the Rook Island port at the mouth of the Manitowoc River. To the south lay the freezing waters and hard-packed, littered sands of Graves End Beach. And between north and south lay Bedlam City's answer to Skid Row, the neighborhood known for its most famous boulevard, "Ash Street". Sitting at the foot of the hill, it was not quite as drowned in smog as the Country Club, the trees and grass, not quite as withered and lifeless. At least two out of every three buildings sat empty and abandoned. Homeless people were everywhere, taking shelter in every nook and collecting cans and bottles almost as soon as they were discarded. The only businesses seemed to be invariably overcrowded homeless shelters, thrift stores, and the odd convenience store. Even the check cashing and payday loan storefronts with their neon "We Buy Gold and Silver" signs that seemed to be on every third block in Wolverton and Hardwick Park were too extravagant for Ash Street.

 

The odds seemed long, but the local fast food chain, Wunder-Chuk, was betting that there was an untapped market on Ash Street and in the Country Club. The grand opening of their new branch on Storch Avenue had kicked off earlier in the evening. Everything seemed to go smoothly until the "Clash of The Woodchucks". The local press managed to get their hands on the surveillance footage immediately, and had edited together and spread it like wildfire within an hour. On one side of the restaurant, the employee who had drawn the short straw and had to wear the Wally Woodchuck mascot costume walked up to the wrong little girl, mistakenly thinking he would make her laugh. Instead, she started bawling. On the other side of the restaurant, a true monster had appeared. Some sort of humanoid rodent, like a man with the head of a chipmunk, wearing a trenchcoat and wide-brimmed hat as a comically ineffective ineffective disguise, had walked up to the outdoor seating area carrying a battered, bloody young woman in his arms. He laid her down on one of the unoccupied tables, tore a diamond necklace from her neck, and turned to leave before the young girl's sobbing seemed to get his attention. He ran up to the mascot, slashed at him with bear-like claws, scooped up the little girl, since identified as "Emily Petrovic", age six, and ran off with her.

 

The mascot attacked by the "Woodchuck Man" was admitted to Downtown General with multiple lacerations, but nothing serious. He was being kept at the hospital while the doctors ran tests for any infectious diseases, but they expected to discharge him within the next couple of days. The battered young woman the "Woodchuck Man" had left behind, meanwhile, had been identified as Ashley Fairchild, age 21, a student at Belchner College. She was supposed to be starting her senior year in the fall, and she was engaged to marry her boyfriend, meat packing heir and fellow student Ethan Pfeffner. Now she lay in a coma at the Beth-El Hospital near Stone Ridge, and the doctors couldn't say if she'd ever wake up. Ethan had spoken with reporters, imploring anyone with information relevant to the investigation into his fiancee's assault to come forward. He made special mention of the diamond necklace the creature had stolen, stating that it was an heirloom passed down through five generations of his family. His grandparents offered a $10,000 reward for its safe return.

 

The police were technically searching for the girl and the "Woodchuck Man", but the most and of the Ash Street residents saw of their efforts was a patrol car creeping by maybe once every half-hour. Even that was an unprecedented level of police presence in the area, but it was unlikely to yield any tangible results. As soon as they learned of the incident, Dead Head and Mister Strix had taken it upon themselves to investigate. Their first stop was the restaurant itself, now closed and mostly deserted, save for a single patrol car in the parking lot, and a couple of reporters and unpaid gawkers milling about.

 

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"So my understandin'," came a gravelly whisper of a voice from behind a half dead shrubbery, "is that animal-headed folks ain't too common 'round these parts.  Y'all ain't got all them super science labs an' Doctor Moreau-types like Freedom City do, right?  So where d'ya think this feller come from?  An' where'd he go with lil' Emily?"

 

Get burger now?

 

"No, Mutt, not now.  That stuff probably ain't good for ya nohow.  So anyways," Strix sensed the voice turn back towards him, "ya really think we'll find any clues here?  I mean, even if we do find, like, a hair sample from the chipmunk-man, it's not like we got a lab where we can analyze it... do we?"

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Mister Strix

 

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"So my understandin' is that animal-headed folks ain't too common 'round these parts.  Y'all ain't got all them super science labs an' Doctor Moreau-types like Freedom City do, right?

 

"No, not common at all. Mad science wouldn't be sustainable here. They'd find plenty of potential test subjects no one would miss, but none of the other resources they'd need. And there just aren't that many metahumans in a city like Bedlam, period. Our personal experiences aren't the typical sample set."

 

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"So where d'ya think this feller come from?  An' where'd he go with lil' Emily?"

 

"I don't care where he came from, just where he went after he took her."

 

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"Ya really think we'll find any clues here?  I mean, even if we do find, like, a hair sample from the chipmunk-man, it's not like we got a lab where we can analyze it... do we?"

 

"Feel free to conduct whatever investigation you see fit. But when I said I wanted to come here to 'pick up the scent', I wasn't speaking metaphorically." The man in white sniffed at the air, then gagged. "ACK. UGH." He nodded. "Yes, there it is. I'll be able to follow the trail out of here. But first, I want to collect a sample of Ms. Fairchild's blood from that table. Mind if I borrow that shovel?"

 

He crept up to the restaurant's outdoor seating area, clouding the minds of those around him almost by reflex. He wedged the shovel's blade between two of the outermost wooden beams making up the table, then heaved, snapping off a piece of wood about a foot and a half long. The loud crack drew everyone's attention for a moment, but after a few seconds of silent staring, they returned to what they'd been doing before. Strix brought the chunk of wood back to their hiding place, handing the shovel back to Dead Head.

 

He licked the dried blood caked onto the wood. The blackness at the center of his eyes expanded like a cloud of ink to fill each entire eyeball. He stared off into space for a few moments. Then his head started violently jerking in seemingly random directions. Bones in his face started breaking. Cuts appeared in his skin, though as usual, they didn't bleed. He dropped the wooden block and fell down to a sitting position.

 

The spontaneous wounds on his face started healing while he spoke, almost as quickly as they'd appeared. "Pain. Terror. Nothing we didn't already know from looking at her. Someone beat her within half an inch of her life. I might get more by digging deeper, later, if I have to..."

 

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"There's a fair chance he took her back to where he come from," he countered, pulling out his shovel from its pocket dimension and leaning on it.  "An'd knowin' where he come from can help us figure out motive.  That's an important thing detective types look for, yeah?," his rictus twin twisted briefly into a smirk.  "Was 'e a human that got changed into a critter?  If so, did he know one of these women?  Or was it a critter that someone tried t'change into a man?  Or some alien from outer space?  A twisted faerie critter from some other dimension?  Man, I hope it ain't one'a them, they can be such a headache..."

 

Chicken nuggets?

 

"No, Mutt!  C'mon, focus -- you sniff out any gopher-folks?"

 

Dead Head stared blankly at Strix as he did his thing with the blood -- the undead can have killer poker faces.  "Hunh.  Didn't know ya could do that.  Good t'know."

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Mister Strix

 

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"No, Mutt!  C'mon, focus -- you sniff out any gopher-folks?"

 

"Right. The dog. Easy to forget about him when you can't see him. He's been with us the whole time? I think his sense of smell's even better than mine. If I can pick up this stench, and believe me, I can, then he should be able to."

 

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"Hunh.  Didn't know ya could do that.  Good t'know."

 

"When someone wants to join the Lodge, I don't ask for a blood sample because I'm thirsty. You're a necromancer, right? So I don't need to tell you that blood has power. It soaks up psychic resonance like a sponge. Everything that happens to a person, everything they do, everything they feel, it leaves echoes in their blood. When I get a taste, I can look into their past, like how Mutt here can smell what a mortal had for dinner last night. When I approve someone for membership, it's because I looked at the worst thing they've ever done and I decided it wasn't terrible enough to exclude them. And when I sink my fangs into this 'Woodchuck Man', as much as I'm dreading putting my face that close to the fur that left this stench behind, I'll find out exactly what 'motivates' him."

 

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"More or less, yeah," he glanced over at a spot of air near one of the dumpsters.  He glared at the spot a moment, made a "get on with it" gesture, then turned back to Strix.  "An' y'ain't wrong on that, he can sniff out things 'cross dimensions.  So if it is somethin' supenatural, he should still be able t' track it."

 

"Really hopin' it ain't, though," he muttered.  "Damn faeries...."

 

"Oh, sure, I know all about blood magics an' such.  Heck, y'ain't the first vampire I run with.  Never did much care fer it, too messy fer my likin'," he said, unaware (or uncaring) of the large fly that had just landed on his face and was crawling across his eyeball.  "I'm a people person, I prefer talkin' with folks, dead or alive."

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GM

 

The pungent scent trail of the Woodchuck Man led the pair on a weaving path deeper into the neighborhood around Ash Street. The proportion of empty buildings to ones still in use declined noticeably in favor of the empty ones as they pressed forward, and they saw fewer people, even homeless people. The night grew so quiet it was distracting.

 

The first point of interest on the trail wasn't the Woodchuck Man himself, or the missing girl, but a corpse. From the look and the smell of it, it was an old corpse, several days at least. It had been badly burned, but the fire had gone out long ago. Mutt and Strix could both pick up a faint lingering smell of gasoline.

 

The charred body was curled up on the ground in a back alley, up against the wall. There was a graffiti tag sprayed on the wall above it. Large block letters in multiple garish colors declared "NOWHERE MEN".

 

While they studied the corpse, a swarm of cockroaches poured out of a nearby dumpster. They moved with uncanny coordination, stopping in the alley next to the corpse. They stopped crawling and stood still once their bodies spelled out the words "GET OUT".

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"Okay, so, seein' a corpse was not unexpected.  A burned corpse, though, that's a twist.  An' the roaches..." He cocked his head, "eh, ain't th' first time I've faced a swarm'a roaches."

 

He knelt beside the corpse, opposite the roaches, and tried to shoo them off with one hand.  He turned slightly to address Strix, "mind if we try things my way?  Don't think there's much blood left here fer ya to sample."

 

He reached out and touched the corpse's forehead with his right index and middle finger, and closed his eyes.  "If'n you can hear me, I'd like t'help.  Folks call me Dead Head, ya may've heard'a me since ya crossed over.  C'mon back an' lemme help find who did this to ya.  An' if ya got any unfinished business, I can help with that, too."  Though his eyes were closed, the blue-green flames seemed even more intense, and was now stretching out, snaking down and around his right arm, across his hand, and spread over the corpse, outlining it in the same eerie power.

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Mister Strix

 

"After...the change...before we took over the club, I used to squat in an abandoned basement not far from here." The man in white was never particularly talkative, though more with Dead Head than anyone else Burt had seen him with. But actually volunteering personal information, unprompted, that was practically unprecedented. He raised a hand to his own nose when the pair entered the alley. "The fumes are still here, but they're barely lingering. Gasoline was definitely the accelerant. But this person burned days ago. Days, and no one called anyone in, no one moved the body, no one said or did anything. I lived here for most of my life, but sometimes this place still surprises even me."

 

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"Mind if we try things my way?  Don't think there's much blood left here fer ya to sample."

 

"Not at all. I didn't just bring you along so I could borrow your shovel."

 

While Dead Head worked his literal magic, the man in white walked up to the swarm of coordinated cockroaches.

 

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GM

 

When Mister Strix got close to the cockroaches, a few of them immediately rolled over and died. The rest scattered back to where they came from.

 

The same blue-green fire which had emanated from Dead Head to coat the charred skeleton suddenly erupted from its eye sockets. The head jerked to the side and up, pointing itself at Dead Head. The blackened jaw bone started falling open and clacking shut, knocking bits of soot off its teeth, as a hoarse whisper, a voice with no mouth, told its story.

 

"FIRE...I was sleeping...drunk...took most of a bottle to sleep through the night in those days...those last days...water splashed all over me...not water...oil...smelled like gas...like the worst vodka I ever choked down...voices...whispering...LAUGHING...so much laughing...why are they laughing...couldn't see...blurry...the booze...the gas...then the fire...then nothing. Please don't make me stay here. I hate this place..."

 

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Burt raised an eyebrow at Strix's sudden confession, but said nothing, concentrating on the person before them.  "I'm so sorry, man, so very sorry.  That's a horrible way t'go, I know."  Strix could tell from his tone that he did know, from first-hand experience.  "I'll letcha go in a bit, I jus' need one thing from ya.  Just one, then I'll letcha get back t' Sleep.  Can ya remember anythin' about the ones what did this to ya?  Anythin' they said, or wore... maybe a glint from a piece'a jewelry caught yer eye..."  He held the corpse's hand, and stroked its cheek softly.

 

There's gotta be a reason they did this.  Was this fella sacrificed, t' summon up that thing?  It cain't have jus' been fer... well, no, this is Bedlam, maybe it could'a been...

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GM

 

The burnt skeleton shook its skull back and forth. "Blurry...laughter...flames...that's all I can remember. Sorry. I didn't see so well back then. I needed new glasses. Couldn't get them. Booze made it worse. But I couldn't sleep without the booze. Too cold. Too much. I don't like to remember. If I knew what had been waiting for me, I'd have killed myself so long ago. Even Hell would've been better than Bedlam."

 

While the corpse spoke, Dead Head noticed pigeons perching on top of the buildings on either side of the alley. There were only a couple at first, but as his conversation progressed, more and more of them flew over and sat down. They all just sat, motionless, staring down at the trio.

 

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"Okay, okay," he sighed, "I know life here's rough, an' I'm sorry.  I'm workin' t' fix that.  An' I'm sorry it ended so bad for ya.  I'll letcha go back, now, git some rest.  I hope things're better for ya Over There."  Dead Head took his hand from the man's cheek and held the corpse's hands in both of his.  His rictus grin momentarily slackened, and he gently blew out the blue-green flames around the corpse, releasing the spirit.

 

He released the corpse's hands, laying them gently in their lap, then rose and tuned to face Strix.  "Sorry, man, this seems t'be a... well, I don't know what, honestly.  Coulda been a sacrifice, to summon up that gopher-man.  Coulda been some... unrelated attack.  I do know one thing, though," he jerked his thumb back behind him, "them birds seems mighty interested in what we's doin'.  I'm thinkin' whatever influenced them roaches is doin' th' same with 'em."

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Mister Strix

 

The man in white glanced up at the pigeons. "We're being watched. It's obvious. They're being obvious. They want us to know. They warned us. Told us to leave. I'm not leaving."

 

He won't say it. He doesn't want to say it. He doesn't want to face the reality of this place.

 

"It could have been a sacrifice," he growled. "A summoning. Or it could have been...fun. They could have tortured and murdered an innocent person, for fun."

 

He turned and glared at the graffiti. "When I lived here, I saw that tag, more than once. I never gave much thought to it. Could've been some kind of artistic or political statement. Could have been a gang, but not much of one. Nobody on Ash Street has anything to steal." He clenched his fists. "But this...if this is what they do, then it ends tonight."

 

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GM

 

The scent trail of The Woodchuck Man continued to lead the pair on a twisting path through Ash Street's back alleys. The flock of pigeons followed them, always keeping their distance, always looming above. The pair found three more charred corpses, all older than the first, though it was difficult to tell by how much, days or weeks. One was also just sitting out in the open, curled up against another alley wall. Another had, after the fire had gone out, been unceremoniously shoved into a overflowing dumpster that, judging from the layers of dust on the outside and the state of decay of the contents, didn't appear to have been emptied in months. The last was sitting in the burnt-out and rusted husk of a car. The words "NOWHERE MEN" were spray-painted near each one. The souls who had formerly occupied those bodies had stories just like the first one. Multiple voices, none familiar. Laughter, gasoline, fire, and death.

 

A few minutes after the fourth burnt body, the pair heard screaming echoing from a nearby alley.

 

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"Nothin' in common," he grumbled after the fourth, "men an' women, young an' old... I just cain't..."

 

Face it, Burt, this place is different.  You've been t' hellholes before, sure, but none like this.  Strix may be right, this could'a been just fer... "fun."  But Strix's definitely right on one thing: we're endin' this.  No place should be like this, not fer th' livin', and not fer th' dead.

 

"Okay, then," he turned to Strix, nodded, "let's look at it from that angle.  Well, a non-ritual one, at least.  Maybe these is turf markers, or like scarecrows.  Or maybe it is just some firebugs.  I ain't clear on th' timeline," he looked around, trying to remember where each body was, "but if the one we found in the dumpster was their first, maybe they tried t'hide what they did, but they's gettin' bolder with each one.  We might should ask around 'bout the 'NOWHERE MEN' tag, see if anyone-"

 

The scream cut him off.  His head snapped around in that direction, and then he was off, as fast as his tireless legs could carry him.

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GM

 

Dead Head peeked around the corner into the alley where the screams came from, and the first thing he saw was the back of The Woodchuck Man. The orange-brown fur peeking out around that hat and trenchcoat was dirty and matted, with scabbed skin poking through between the tufts. His arms were raised in the air, waving his claws around, as he chittered and squeaked and screeched. Beyond him, in the center of the alley, were half a dozen young Caucasian men, all wearing pristine polo shirts tucked into khakis, all with expensive haircuts. The were each holding some kind of improvised weapon, a baseball bat or a crowbar or a pipe wrench. Dead Head recognized one of them from the news clips as Ethan Pfeffner, Fairchild's fiance. The young men were the ones screaming, with a mixture of angry bravado and genuine fear. A "NOWHERE MEN" tag was painted on the alley wall, almost directly above them. Beside it, another swarm of cockroaches used their bodies to spell the words "GO AWAY". Beyond the men, at the other end of the alley, Dead Head could see a bald man in tattered clothes, hovering about a foot above the pavement, with his arms stretched out in front of him. His skin and eyes both glowed with a pale blue light. He moaned, "UHHHHHHNNNNNGGGGHHHHUUUUHHHH!" as he floated closer to them.

 

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Hunh, well, there's Groundhog-Man... mob'a yuppies... roaches... an' some sorta floatin' fella, which they definitely see... but no sign'a Emily.  Crud.

 

He looked for Strix, to tell him to go after the floating blue man and get him away from the mouth of the alley -- he could reach him quicker -- but he was nowhere to be seen.  Hope he's already on th' way.

 

"I'm here t'help," Dead Head stage-whispered to the Woodchuck-Man.  He crouched down as low as he could, then sprung up, with enough force to tear muscles and ligaments in his legs.  He soared over the manimal and landed in a heap, then slowly rose up before the crowd.  Everything slithered and snapped back into place, and he faced the crowd.  "Hey there, fellas," his gravelly whisper of a voice came out as warmly as it could, "whatch'all doin'?  Got some vigilante justice in mind?  I'm normally all for community get-togethers, but 'fore y'all go beatin' on Murray here, y'all might wanna turn yer attention yonder," he pointed to the far end of the alley, and the strange floating person behind them.

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GM

 

While Dead Head had gone around, Mister Strix, as he often did, had gone up, and over. Dead Head heard the flock of pigeons perched on the roof overlooking one side of the alley start flapping and squawking as they flew away, and he saw Strix's silhouette replace them against the night sky.

 

"ZOMBIE!" The young men did not appear to be comforted by the sight of Dead Head landing beside them. They kept screaming, as much at each other as at the paranormal creatures surrounding them, which they did not appear to distinguish between. "WEREWOLVES and ZOMBIES! We NEVER shoulda came back here!" "Nut up, wusses! Let's take our streets back from these freaks and get it back!" A couple of them moved to take panicked swings at Dead Head with their wrenches and crowbars.

 

The Woodchuck Man established a pattern where he would move forward a couple steps, then back again, not making any real progress but creating the illusion of advancing on the men. He kept waving his claws around and squeaking and screeching menacingly. The glowing blue man kept floating forward, very slowly but steadily.

 

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GM

 

Two of the six fratboys started swinging their improvised clubs more aggressively at Dead Head. "YEAH! We're MAN enough!" One of them even connected, caving in a couple inches of his skull, though Dead Head didn't feel it as anything worse than a tickle. Two others screamed and ran at the glowing blue man, swinging wildly. One swipe of an aluminum baseball bat smacked the side of his head with an audible *THUNK*. His eyes glowed brighter for a moment, and his moans took on a harsher rasp. "ERRRRNNNGGG!" His arms flailed just as wildly in turn. Meanwhile, two of the fratboys in the middle of the pack, lacking their friends fighting spirit, huddled together back-to-back, nervously glancing back and forth at either end of the alley.

 

Suddenly, as the brawl began in earnest, an earthquake struck the alleyway, or at least, it seemed like an earthquake at first. Upon closer inspection, the ground wasn't shaking. Rather, the cement was somehow dividing itself into detached blocks, which then rapidly rose and fell above and below street level, seemingly at random. It was as if the alley had turned into a giant game of Whack-A-Mole beneath their feet.

 

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Posted (edited)

Dead Head teetered and wobbled, but -- perhaps because he was so used to shambling -- he managed to stay on his feet!

 

Think, Burt, think.  Groundhog-Man ain't attackin', he's movin' all defensive like.  He's more a-feared of them than anything.  I would spook 'em all, get 'em t'run th'other way, but that blue fella's floatin' there and he don't look none too friendly.  An'- oh, there's Strix now... ah!  Looks like he's thinkin' th' same thing I am.  Alright.

 

He swayed slightly, and started groaning, louder than the blue man at the end of the alley.  He altered the flow of the mystical energies coursing through him, accelerating the decay of his body.  Flesh putrefied and sloughed off in patches, falling wetly to the ground.  He reached out with both hands, the nails grown to rough, ragged edges.  He lunged now and again, jaws biting at air, fetid tomb-breath washing over the boys. 

Edited by Dr Archeville

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Mister Strix

 

As quietly as his namesake, the man in white descended from the rooftop overlooking the alley, his enormous white cape spread behind him, the lining cut in the pattern of a bird's feathers. Against the night sky, it looked every bit the giant pair of wings it was tailored to resemble. He landed hands and feet first against the blue glowing man, sending them both tumbling to the ground head over feet. When they stopped, Mister Strix had the glowing man on his back. The man was pinned beneath Strix's knees, and Strix's hands were clamped like a mechanical vise around his throat.

 

A path to the mouth of the alley beyond the blue glowing man was clear.

 

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GM

 

Dead Head's horrifying visage made the two youths attacking him grow pale and hesitant with their swings. One of the youths in the middle of the alley started to back away from him slowly. The one standing next to him turned around and started running, as did the two who had been attacking the blue glowing man.

 

It wasn't until the literal upheaval in the alley knocked all the fratboys on their backsides that Dead Head got a good look at one of the piles of trash resting against the wall in the middle of the alley, and he realized that it wasn't a pile of trash, but a person, another homeless person passed out in a drunken stupor. The tremors had knocked them halfway out of their improvised bedroll, but they barely stirred. Dead Head also caught a glimpse of the metal gas can sitting next to him, visible now that the fratboys weren't crowded in front of it. The tremors knocked the gas can over onto its side. The contents quickly spilled out all over the alley. Another quake hit the can just right, and caused a spark. That spark turned the alley into an inferno.

 

Dead Head recognized one of the fratboys who's been swinging at him as Ethan Pfeffner, the fiance of the woman laying comatose in the hospital. He managed to roll away from the flames without so much as a singe. None of his friends were as lucky. The two youths at the far end of the alley, who had been attacking the blue glowing man, were safely beyond the reach of the fire, having already fled as it was igniting. But the other three, the two in the middle by where the homeless man was sleeping, and the other one who had been attacking Dead Head, they were all caught in the flames, and now they were screaming in terror and pain. The one in the middle of the alley who had started fleeing was still running, still on fire as he ran past Strix and the blue glowing man with his two friends, escaping the alley and returning to the open street.

 

The blue glowing man struggled against Mister Strix's iron grip, to no avail. His eyes glowed brighter, then his skin did likewise. The blue aura spread briefly to Mister Strix, but it didn't seem to have any effect, and he seemed not to even notice it. The man groaned, and then his glow shifted to a different shade of blue, a darker one. This time, Strix flinched, shutting his eyes tightly and grimacing. But whatever happened, he quickly shook it off before it affected his grip on the glowing man.

 

When the fire erupted, the Woodchuck Man squealed, turned his back to the alley, and took off running.

 

Ethan staggered to his feet, bracing himself with his baseball bat, and then took another ineffectual overhead swing at Dead Head, missing and hitting the ground with a *THUNK*. "Give me back the damned necklace you freaks!"

 

Near the same rooftop that Strix had just descended from, a brick pried itself loose from the wall, and fell. It smashed into the back of Strix's head, bursting it like an overripe melon. Strix's cowl was now more like a bag, loosely holding together a chunky stew of brains, blood, and bone. He fell limply to the side, laying motionless on the ground.

 

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Posted (edited)

Jeezus!

 

Fire rarely bothered Dead Head anymore.  Not physically, certainly, even as the flames licked around him, burning his clothes, for his flesh regenerated as quickly as it burned.  Emotionally was another matter.  Yes, his second death had involved an exploding gas main, that torched him & all his friends who were at that New Year's Eve party, leading his family and surviving friends to assume he'd died.  And the first few times he'd encountered a burning building, or saw a charred corpse, it triggered some unpleasant flashbacks.  But he'd run into enough of those by now that it barely dredged up those feelings.  Which was good, because he had people to save.  Unpleasant, ignorant people, but people nonetheless.

 

He stopped the altered flow of necrotic energies through his body, letting it resume its usual dried mummy-like state.  He held up his left hand to Ethan and the other frat boy with him (who was on fire), and used his right to point to the unconscious and dying and on-fire frat boy behind them in the middle of the alley.  "Your friend is dying.  I can feel it.  Help him."

 

Hoping they would choose helping their friend over pursuing vengeance against the Woodchuck-Man, Dead Head did not wait for a response, and ran to the dying frat boy and the still-unconscious (and  burning) homeless man.  He ran a quick assessment, and figured that if the frat boy's friends were coming to help, he could focus on the homeless man.  He batted out the flames with his own hands, heedless of any damage it caused.

 

Edited by Dr Archeville

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GM

 

Dead Head's flesh grew back faster than the fire could scour it away. He didn't look any more monstrous after smothering the flames on the homeless man. The man was unresponsive, but breathing. He reeked of booze even over the stench of the gasoline. He'd taken some second and third-degree burns on his arms, but they were far from life-threatening, at least unless they got infected.

 

"...Dammit." Ethan finally lost his nerve. He did as he was ordered, tossing his baseball bat aside and doing his best to smother the flames on one of his friends. "Dammit dammit GODDAMMIT!" Unfortunately, his best wasn't very good. Not only did he fail to put out his friend, but he wound up lighting himself on fire.

 

The other two fratboys left in the alley both stopped screaming and fell to the ground, motionless but still burning. The screams of the fourth one echoed from the nearby street as he ran away.

 

The blue glowing man slowly floated back to an upright position, hovering about a foot over Mister Strix's corpse. He looked at the fire in the alley, moaned again, then turned around and floated out into the street.

 

Dead Head felt a familiar tingle in the back of his head. Someone close by was using some kind of psychic power.

 

He could also see movement under Mister Strix's cowl, as the vampire's head put itself back together.

 

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