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Whatever Walked There, Walked Alone [IC]

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Nick Cimitiere knew he was in the right place when he saw the flood lamps illuminating the decrepit building. He parked the Pale Horse around the corner and walked up to the building. It was about six stories high, decorated in Art Deco style, and looked like it drove real estate costs down just by existing. Windows were boarded over, and it looked like it had taken a fire ax to get the door open. A news van was set up across the block, and two camera men were checking over their equipment. There was even a craft services table set up.

"Mr. Cimitiere?" Nick turned around. There she was again, Jennifer Simmons. She'd come to Lantern Hill Cemetery the night before with a business card and an information packet. She was dressed in jeans, a green windbreaker and sensible flats. She looked like she was actually dressed for a crawl through an abandoned apartment building rather than a press junket. "Glad to see you made it. Did you have any trouble finding the place?"

"None at all," he said. "My Ouija board doubles as a GPS." He took a look at the building. "You really think this place is haunted?"

"I don't think anything about it just yet," Jennifer said, "other than it's an eyesore.Did you take a look at the packet?"

He nodded. "Been abandoned for thirty years," he said, "and the only reported incidents started back in May? I don't suppose you guys found anything in the area that could explain it."

"We trawled the city records, put in some calls to the police department. They say a transient was found dead in the alley behind the building with a broken neck in August, but that's it. Nothing since the place was shut down. Does it usually take long for a ghost to form, or...?"

Nick clicked his tongue, "That all depends," he said. "Some are relatively conscious of their surroundings. Others are deep sleepers, lost in their own worlds, only waking every so often. A few... well, a few claw their way out of whatever comes after." He looked to Jennifer. "Either way, my expert opinion's not much out here. You want me to go in, or...?"

"We've got a few other... 'experts' coming in to look at the building. Do you mind waiting?"

"Not at all," he said. He went over to the services table and picked up a donut. "Let me know when we're going in."

Jennifer nodded, then went to talk to the cameramen. Nick kept his eyes on the building. As far as he can tell, nothing big was pinging his radar. If something was resting dormant in that building, it had the covers pulled tight and had smashed the alarm clock long ago. He wasn't picking up a trace.

Come out, come out, wherever you are...

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Remind me again why the heck I'm doing this? Don trudges up to the abandoned apartment building, having had a car service drop him off; he didn't trust his 1969 Pontiac GTO to still be where he parked it in this neighborhood! Heh, that's right, they really buttered you up with flattery, and a promise of a large donation to a charity of my choice! Shaking his head at how utterly idiotic it was to have been convinced to participate in this little charade, he walks over to where the camera equipment and a craft table had been set up. "Well, I'm here, though I still think this is a waste of my time and talents. I still don't see why a man with my credentials as a Nobel Prize winner is needed, any scientist could have done just as well."

He looks around at the gathered crowd. "Well, what's done is done, and I don't go back on my word(though you'd better make it a rather LARGE donation, my girl!)....so! My name is Professor Don Fried. I'm pretty sure most of you have heard of me, though I don't tend to advertise myself..." Don clearly looks rather uncomfortable with this whole affair, though he tries to hide it.

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From out of the darkness swung a black and white tentacled figure, making a smooth landing beside the craft services table. "Hey, everyone!" said Fusion, waving her arms cordially as she scooped up a donut and ate it underneath her mask. Eating through molecular fiber was a little weird, but she was well-used to that by now. "I hope I'm not late," she said, giving a friendly nod to the distinguished competition across the street with their fancy TV vans. "I know you needed an extra arm or two for this little expedition, and I'm ready!" She waved her arms, and laughed. Joan didn't believe in the supernatural, and was not particularly stressed by being out late at night.

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He looks around at the gathered crowd. "Well, what's done is done, and I don't go back on my word(though you'd better make it a rather LARGE donation, my girl!)....so! My name is Professor Don Fried. I'm pretty sure most of you have heard of me, though I don't tend to advertise myself..." Don clearly looks rather uncomfortable with this whole affair, though he tries to hide it.

Nick raised his eyebrows at the "Nobel winning" part, but extended a hand. "Name's Nick Cimitiere," he said. "Guess you're the scientific expert for our little ghost hunt. I've seen it done before -- they send a 'mystic' in, they send a 'skeptic' in, then have 'em take turns dissecting anything that could be taken as proof of a ghost." He looked up to the building. "Between you and me, I can't exactly get a signal off this building. Which means even if there is something in here, it's too weak to ping the radar... or very good at camouflage."

From out of the darkness swung a black and white tentacled figure, making a smooth landing beside the craft services table. "Hey, everyone!" said Fusion, waving her arms cordially as she scooped up a donut and ate it underneath her mask. Eating through molecular fiber was a little weird, but she was well-used to that by now. "I hope I'm not late," she said, giving a friendly nod to the distinguished competition across the street with their fancy TV vans. "I know you needed an extra arm or two for this little expedition, and I'm ready!" She waved her arms, and laughed. Joan didn't believe in the supernatural, and was not particularly stressed by being out late at night.

Nick took a look at the woman with tentacles growing out of her back. "Don't think we''ve met," he said, extending a hand. "Nick Cimitiere. What brings you in on the spookshow?"

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"Heh, truth be told, I've lived too long in Freedom City to be called a true 'skeptic'. I do realize that there are things which science can't explain, and that there might be more to these 'mystical' and 'supernatural' phenomenon than just folklore and fairytales. That said, though, I don't automatically assume EVERYTHING unexplainable is a result of a ghost or something." Don gives Nick a crooked smile.

When the new arrival swings out of the darkness, Don is taken aback a little, though he smoothly transitions to a grin. " The name's Don Fried, and a few extra hands never hurts, though I don't think I caught your name, Miss...?"

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A taxi pulled up across the street, and out stepped Dr Estelle de Havilland (aka Gossamer), the noted chemist, socialite and superhero; she wore a khaki photographer's vest over her usual blue-and silver protective jumpsuit. The driver popped open the trunk, and Estelle sent several tendrils in to hoist out three very different pieces of luggage: a stylish leather overnight bag, a solidly-built equipment case that rolled on set of small swivel wheels, and a large traditional backpack, complete with a rolled-up sleeping bag strapped to the bottom of the aluminum frame. She extended a large bill via a friendly tentacle to the driver, who happily accepted it an drove off into the night.

Unfurling her hair to maximum photogenic effect, she stepped across the street, he luggage in tow, and offered a friendly wave and dazzling smile to the press as she headed towards the loose cluster of fellow paranormal investigators.

"Hello, hello! Goodness, aren't we a diverse lot!"

She noted Fusion's tentacles, raised her eyes to examine her own mass of flexible limbs and grinned.

"Well, I always knew we'd have to meet one day; let's do our best not to tie each other in knots, shall we?" She offered the masked heroine a friendly handshake. "Dr Estelle De Havilland; a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Fusion."

She then turned to the others. "Professor Fried, nice to see you again, and you are be...?"

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"I'm Fusion," said Joan amiably to Nick, shaking his hand with a perfectly normal, though very strong, human hand. "The studio felt you needed someone along who can handle themselves in a variety of possible situations, and I have a few friends in the field of journalism who steered me your way." Nick saw her wink through the huge white eyeblobs on her costume. "In plain English, they hired me as muscle. I can lift that van over there over my head and fight in the dark, so I'm your go-to girl for this sort of thing."

"It's Ms, actually," said Fusion to Doctor Fried, moving along quickly now that they'd made introductions. "Frankly, I think you're right to be a little skeptical of this situation. Not that I doubt any of you," she added cordially, "but I think we're too eager to attribute to magic what can ultimately be explained by science. I've seen my share of freaky stuff," she added, waving her tentacles with a little laugh for emphasis. "but I believe that what we call magic is ultimately what we haven't yet explained through science."

Fusion met Gossamer's gaze unflinchingly. "Oh, it's you. Yes, I'm familiar with your work, Doctor. Hello." There was a cold, short handshake, and then she was back to talking to the others.

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Nick took Gossamer's hand. "Nick Cimitiere," he said. "I'm the resident spook expert. And on the spook note..." He turned to Fusion. "I've seen a lot of theories on ghosts, myself, from the folks who try the more academic approach. Psychic echoes, the consciousness recorded on some medium we can't realize yet... I'll give 'em credit, they do a good job. From what I've personally seen, though, I do believe there is something above the ken of most of us. Then again, could be I'm mistaken -- could be what I think are gods are psychic gestalts or hyper-advanced aliens. Whatever they are, though, they've still got some of my respect."

Jennifer approached the group. "The crew says the thermal cameras are up and running, and the sound's solid," she said. "Let me know when you want to enter."

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"Hello, Dr. Havilland, I see they've roped you into this as well. Heh, I'm pretty sure we've most definately filled out the 'expert' portion of this program!" Though he smiles at the good doctor, inwardly, he's steaming a little. 'Oh, you're the only one who would talk to us!' 'Everyone else said no!' 'We basically got laughed out of the house!' So, they could get other people after all, eh? I'm going to have 'words' with the producers after this is over, and they better be giving up a good portion of their gross profits to my charity when I'm done, or so help me...!

He turns to Jennifer. "I'm ready whenever everyone else is."

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"Oh, it's you. Yes, I'm familiar with your work, Doctor. Hello."

Estelle's head jerked a little as if she'd been struck in the face; she barely heard Nick's introduction as she absently shook his hand while her analytical mind tried to figure out exactly how she could have offended this woman.

I've heard about haunted houses having 'cold spots', but really! I'm surprised I can't see my breath!

"Hello, Dr. Havilland, I see they've roped you into this as well. Heh, I'm pretty sure we've most definately filled out the 'expert' portion of this program!"

By the time Professor Fried approached her, she was able to shake her head clear of such disturbing thoughts.

"Mmm, indeed, Professor; let's hear it for the hard sciences, eh?" ;)

"The crew says the thermal cameras are up and running, and the sound's solid," she said. "Let me know when you want to enter."

Hefting her various bags in long golden limbs, Gossamer nodded.

"I'm as ready as I'll ever be, Jennifer; please lead the way!"

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Fusion frowned behind her mask, wondering if she's been too abrupt with Gossamer. No, she decided after a few moments. Gah, look at that hair! Joan shook it off after a moment, reminding herself that plenty of people thought she looked like a freak too. Concentrating on the task at hand, she said out loud, "I'm no scientist," she said breezily as they approached the big old house, "but I think if we just keep our eyes open and stay patient, we'll figure out what's going on." She hmmed for a moment, casually swinging from the elaborate woodwork as they reached the broken-down porch. "If I'm providing the muscle here, I should go in first. If you hear any girlish shrieks, come in fast so you can save the ghosts." And with that, she headed right inside, sliding right underneath the closed door and into the building!

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Nick went in right after Fusion. He could hear Jennifer and the camera man juggling their wares behind him. Gotta admire her verve, he thought to himself.

The second he crossed the threshold, Nick opened his senses up again. He had the sense of something faint, like radio static. The stuff of small death -- rotting wood, wiring with no power, rats in the walls. But nothing solid, nothing coalesced. Nothing undead. The place was quiet.

Jennifer seemed to have noticed him taking the building's measure. "Do you sense anything?"

Nick shook his head. "Maybe our guy's a deep sleeper," he said. "Where do you want to start?"

"Well," Jennifer said, "there was a noise violation complaint back in July -- someone heard banging in the basement -- there were reports of strange lights on the third floor in June, and... well, the police report on Varguilles -- our dead man -- says they found pieces of glass from a broken window on the second floor on his body. Your choice."

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"If I'm providing the muscle here, I should go in first. If you hear any girlish shrieks, come in fast so you can save the ghosts."!

Despite herself, Estelle was really starting to dislike Fusion, and muttered snippily under her breath.

"'If I'm providing the muscle here, I should go in first.' I can lift six tons, you tentacled cow..."

With a bit of effort, she focused back on the issue at hand, sending a few of her own tentacles (yes, she was being a bit of a hypocrite) out with tweezers to take samples off the floor, walls and ceiling and deposit them in separate zip-lock bags for later analysis.

"Well," Jennifer said, "there was a noise violation complaint back in July -- someone heard banging in the basement -- there were reports of strange lights on the third floor in June, and... well, the police report on Varguilles -- our dead man -- says they found pieces of glass from a broken window on the second floor on his body. Your choice."

The heroic chemist chuckled. "Ah, the classic Scooby-Doo dilemma: do we split into teams, or do we stick together as a group? There are plus and minuses to both, of course." Her eyes wandered off in Fusion’s general direction. “Personally I’d rather split up...â€

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Six tons, huh? I'm sure that'll help us if some sort of 98-pound weakling ghost shows up. "Splitting up is one idea. Might make the logistics easier," said Fusion shortly, standing in the middle of the room as long suckered tentacles stretched further and further out from her waist to encircle dark corners, her head cocked as she felt the air currents move in the darkened old place. "But staying together will help if whatever's lingering around here does show up. The more eyes, and hands you've got, the better."

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"Yeah, I recommend sticking together, too," Nick said. "If something does turn up... well, we've only got one camera man, it seems."

"Two," Jennifer said, adjusting a boutonniere on her jacket. "It's not exactly adjusted to pick up thermal signatures, but it will relay back down to the van."

"All right, so we're covered for visuals," Nick said. "But if there is something here, you probably want as many witnesses as possible who can verify it. And more importantly... well, there's safety. This place is run down, and the last thing we want is someone walking out on bad flooring because they heard something weird while everyone else is in the basement."

"All right," Jennifer said. "Was thinking of slow and methodical myself. So, where do you -- ?"

Jennifer was interrupted by the sound of metallic knocking -- muffled, but still there. Nick looked upward, almost immediately before the knocking began. "Yeah, there's definitely something up there," he said.

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Estelle nodded in agreement with the others. "Agreed, we stay together."

Jennifer was interrupted by the sound of metallic knocking -- muffled, but still there. Nick looked upward, almost immediately before the knocking began. "Yeah, there's definitely something up there," he said.

Despite Gossamer's years of scientific training, the hair on the backs of arms stood on end when she heard the sound coming from somewhere overhead. Her eyes scanned the ceiling apprehensively.

"Did we all just hear that? Did we get it on tape?"

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Fusion looked up at the ceiling, her tentacles sliding through the air soundlessly, and reached up to press them against the ceiling overhead as she felt for the source of the vibrations. "I heard it, but what did we hear?" the inquisitive octopus asked. "It's amazing what the power of psychological suggestion can do," she said with determination in her voice. "A couple of guys with hammers in a so-called haunted house can get away with murder. Though I don't think that's exactly what happened here..."

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Jennifer looked to her camera man, who gave her a thumbs up. "We got it on tape," she said. "Though we should probably go upstairs to see if the guys with hammers would be keen to give us an interview."

Nick nodded as he led the group upstairs. If it's guys with hammers, they must've been dead for a while, he thought. I know I felt something up here. But where the hell is it?

The second floor had held together a bit more than the first, probably because few had dared to test the integrity of the staircase. Once upon a time, it had probably been a rather cheery set of apartments. But that had been a while ago. The wallpaper was peeling now, the doors were splintered -- some were off their hinges entirely -- and traces of graffiti lined the walls. It was somewhat drafty up here; Nick could feel the cold leeching in through his jacket. Not a cold spot, though...

"Nothing obvious in the hallway," Jennifer said, making a show of the obvious herself. "It probably came from one of the rooms."

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"Nothing obvious in the hallway," Jennifer said, making a show of the obvious herself. "It probably came from one of the rooms."

"Well, let's step carefully then; this floor doesn't inspire me with much confidence."

Estelle indicated Fusion with a nod. "Between the two of us, we should have more than enough safety lines in case the floor gives way." She turned to look at Nick, Jennifer and her cameraman as she offered a few free golden tendrils.

"Anyone for a tether?"

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"I can't tell how stable the floor is till someone actually walks on it," agreed Fusion with a frown. "We'll have to get up there and inspect it personally." When no one seemed terribly interested in riding with slick black tentacles instead of shiny gold hair (just as she might have expected, Joan thought irritably), she stretched up her arms, grabbing to the ceiling rather than the floor upstairs, and headed up to the second floor!

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Fusion was able to tread across the floor lightly, her tentacles helping to alleviate areas where enough pressure might have brought the floor boards shattering down otherwise. Nick and Jessica, meanwhile, politely accepted the offer of a tether from Gossamer. "Last thing I want to do is break my neck for ratings," said Jessica.

Nick walked from room to room, trying to find the source of the disturbance. "Nothing... nothing... nothing..." His eyebrows shot up at one room. Something died here. Might be our culprit, but..."

"But what?" Jessica asked.

"The signature's weak," Nick said. "Like it wasn't even human. Animal ghosts are rare -- the instinct to avoid death is present in most species, but rarely comes with the true cognizance of what death is. Even then, it's rare that an animal ghost comes into any real power -- occasionally, you get something like a barghest, but in most cases, it's just a dead version of the animal it was."

That was when Fusion began to feel a slight tremor in the room near the rear end of the hall. Something large and multitudinous, like the claws of a thousand rats scrambling across a hardwood floor.

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"There's something down the hall. Something...a lot of somethings. Feels like rats." Fusion had felt rats before, and as she drew her teeth back in a snarl, she remembered just how unpleasant that had been. "I don't know if any of you have seen a rat swarm before, much less one jacked up on somebody's powers, but they're tenacious little bastards. They go for the throat, and they can climb walls and ceilings. If you've got some way to hit a whole lot of little things at once, get it ready. Right now, we're going to see them before they see us!" And with that, Fusion whipped out a tentacle and yanked open the door where she'd heard the noise.

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The room was dark, and what little could be seen appeared rotted and ruined. Whatever it had once been, it had been large; even with the cameraman's light, the shadows stretched out into the distance. There was, however, no sensation of scurrying. At least, not anymore.

Jessica turned to Nick. "Did you get something there?"

"A brief moment, yeah. It was like being mentioned stirred something out of rest."

"So this place needs, what? A spiritual fumigator?"

"Perhaps. But once something's called up, it usually doesn't go back down so easily. I wonder..."

"Hey!" Nick's reverie was interrupted by the cameraman. He was pointing across to the apartment right behind them. "I thought I saw something scurry into there!" He took a step closer to the threshold --

"Don't --"

It took less than a second. The shadows grew thicker around the cameraman's ankle, then snapped shut. He fell over, screaming as something dragged him into the apartment. Nick barged forward, chasing after the man.

"Where the hell are you?" he shouted. But nothing answered.

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A nameless dread was building in Estelle's stomach; it might have been merely her mind playing tricks on her in such a highly suggestible setting, but it felt like an instinctual response to something very real, but just outside of her perception.

However once the hapless cameraman was snatched, it became instantly clear that any fears she had were entirely justified.

"Where the hell are you?"

"Damn it, I'll see if I can reach him!" She sent several tendrils darting after the man, shooting down the corridor like frenzied golden snakes. Send her hair forward into the complete unknown was always unnerving, and she felt mildy sick to her stomach at the thought of what she might end up touching with her sensitive fibers.

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Joan was never one to hold back in combat, especially when innocents were threatened. Fusion took a more brute-force approach to the problem. When the cameraman, the guy she was supposed to be guarding, was taken away, she smashed her tentacles through the doorframe, cracking and crumbling wood, then used the rock-solid anchors as points to launch herself into the apartment feet-first. "I'll send you back to the afterlife heads-first, you grabby bastards!" she called. She'd faced some pretty scary bad guys in her time: she wasn't afraid of no ghosts! Well, maybe she was a little. But what kind of hero ran away when the going got tough?

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