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The Last Picture Show [IC]


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April 17, 2011

8:13 PM

It was actually kind of refreshing when the ghosts came to Nick Cimitiere, instead of the other way around. He'd started the evening at the Lantern Hill Cemetery, making conversation with the ghost of a courier, when the police had come around.

"Gentlemen, I'm pretty sure I can offer an alibi for whatever it is you think I did," he'd said.

"It's not like that," the lead officer had responded. "There's been an incident in Parkside. Could use your talents."

After that, he'd gotten in the Pale Horse and driven after. Once he'd found parking in the neighborhood -- itself probably a sign of some cosmic malignancy -- he'd followed the officers to the Victorian. A monument to an earlier, more noble time of cinema, it stood out amongst the high-rises, corporate offices and modern studios. On the sidewalk outside, several ambulances were set up, tending to patrons who looked shaken and not quite there. A police detail was set up as well, and the entrance was cordoned off with yellow barricades.

Nick scanned the crowd, looking for the seniormost officer; once he was sure he'd found her, he walked over. "So, what's the situation?" he asked.

"Was hoping you could tell us," she said. "Arthouse crowd filed in for a showing of The 400 Blows around 7:15. Around 7:45, something... happened in there and the audience and ushers came rushing out, screaming. The more cogent ones keep giving us stories about horrible things happening on the screen and reaching out to them; the less seem to be in a minor catatonic state."

"Silver Scream?"

"It's possible. She's shown a liking for this theater before. But that's why we brought you in."

Nick turned to the Victorian and opened his senses to the flow of death. The sheer blow of sensation sent him reeling; once he got a grip on himself, he tried to keep his eyes on the Victorian. It was like staring into the heart of the sun, in a way. The building seemed soaked in the very essence of death, drawn up from some dark pit.

"That's... not normal," he said. "Very not normal. Perhaps she passed on to one of the underworlds briefly and dragged something back. If it is her." He turned to the officer. "This is really gonna wound my pride, but... I think I may need some backup on this one."

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Overhead, Caradoc, the shining knight, flew down from his patrols, his body rippling as he shifted back from the magical dimension where he lived. "Greetings, officer!" he shouted to the police below, the flaming dragonsbreath from the jetpack on his back darkening the sidewalk beneath him. "What seems to be the trouble inside your theater?" He was shouting a little too loudly to really seem that convival, but on the other hand his dragonpack was roaring quite loudly! His magic sword in hand, the gleaming silver knight was every inch the shining, perfect hero.

Harrier was nervous; too nervous. He'd been outside of Freedom City lately, making public appearances and saving people all over New Jersey, and though he'd enjoyed that very much he felt strange above all these admiring eyes. He'd told Miss Americana what a good feeling that would be, and it was...but still, in his heart of hearts, he expected the screaming, the terror, the desperate struggle below, and it felt odd. That was one of the things that had drawn him out here in the first place from his dreams. It was...not like the rest.

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In some cities, being an ambulance chaser wasn't much of a compliment, but ever since she'd come to Freedom City, Wander had found that trailing the sound of sirens was a good way to find trouble while out on patrol. Tonight there was plenty of noise out in Parkside, from the wails of police cars to the wails of people, to the loud jetpack roar of a hero she'd never seen before. The trouble seemed to be coming from an old theater building, one that looked sort of run-down around the edges but still generally nice. It didn't look like a fire or anything had gone at it.

Perching on a roof nearby, she could make out the jetpack knight and one other man who she was betting was a superhero as well. That might be enough backup, but it never hurt to drop in and offer a hand, she figured. In this case, that literally meant dropping off the roof and walking over to where the other heroes were converging.

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As Wander strode forward to join the heroes already on the scene, a flash of royal blue swung though the air, landing lightly in the space between them. Jack of all Blades brushed hair out of his eyes with one hand as he rose from his crouch as retracted his grappling line with the other, grinning broadly. "Hey, Bones, shoulda known you'd be around when the hair on the back of my neck stood up," he greeted Nick with a gesture vaguely like a salute before turning to the young woman approaching, and offering her a deferential nod deep enough to edge on being a bow. "And Slug- ah, Wander, too. The badassedness of the situation is on the rise." Though they more or less mended fences, the swashbuckler was careful to be on his best behaviour with the Claremont student. "Sir Galahad is new face, hello! What's going on?"

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It was funny how his contacts in the city worked out sometimes.

Gabriel had bee on a fairly standard, quiet patrol, when one of the veteran police officers from the Southside precinct waved him down to ground level. It was quickly explained that there was "some really freaky stuff" occurring at a Parkside Cinema building. Gabriel hadn't needed much convincing to get involved.

So it was that the final member of the "merry little band" made his presence known with a small sonic boom, even as he slowed drastically, lowering himself to the ground. He glanced about, taking in the various individuals present.

"Nick, good to see you again. You as well, Wander. Jack, hope you're not getting into too much trouble. And...I haven't had the pleasure, sir. You may call me Gabriel."

He offered "Caradoc" a handshake and a warm smile, before turning to face Nick (who he'd been told had also been called in) with a more serious expression on his face.

"So. What are we looking at?"

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"Good to see you again, Gabriel," Nick said. "And good to see you too, Jack." He looked to the young woman with the swept-back hair and the knight in shining armor. "Don't think I've met you before. Name's Nick Cimitiere. I mostly deal with ghosts and whatnot."

He turned his eyes back towards the Victorian. "Which is probably what we're dealing with here. Apparently the audience paid for French New Wave and got one hell of a horror show instead. Cops think it could be Silver Scream, pulling her usual act... but I'm not so sure. The building certainly feels like there's some potent death mojo going on inside... real potent. There's something big in there." He adjusted his jacket. "And I guess I'm going to go say hi to it."

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"I am Caradoc!" boomed the putative mystic knight, giving the theater a mistrustful look, or so it seemed from beneath his full-face mask. He shook Gabriel's hand as he came in for a landing on the sidewalk, feeling a little bad at being dishonest about his identity in front of so many people he knew. Gabriel, Jack of all Blades, Wander...well, they are all good people, and powerful as well. But I promised Miss Americana I would try and keep the secret! He was glad to see Wander hadn't yet attacked the Terminus; a natural assumption he made thanks to her lack of visible wounds and the look of sanity in her eye. "You are my betters," he said, keeping a space at the rear of the group. "I will follow and provide rear support."

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"It looks like the civilians are being cleared away," Wander observed, looking around at the milling people. "It should be safe enough to go in, anyway." She looked over to Nick. "If you've got some insight into the magic or whatever it is going on in there, Jack and I can run interference for you, and, uh, Caradoc can cover our retreat. And if something's in there that's got a mind, Gabriel can probably talk it into calming down or whatever." She drew her bat and headed toward the theater, pausing only if the others disagreed.

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"Well, hey, I don't know about better," Jack assured Caradoc encouragingly with a casual wave. "Better looking in this extremely flattering bodysuit, sure, but..." The swordsman trailed off as Wander got right to business, suggesting a plan of attack. "The kid volunteers me for meat-shield duty because she cares," he explained to the others with a wry grin. "Aw, who am I kidding?" With a grandiose snap of his fingers, the metamagi drew a spark from the marquee, a ribbon of lightning streaking down to his outstretched hand where it solidified into a crackling energy blade. "Who ya gonna call, amirite?"

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"It's a decent enough plan. Caradoc seems like a good rearguard, and I do my best work out of arm's reach. And hey, maybe I can talk the free-floating, full-torso, vaporous apparition down from its rampage, so Nick can send it to its rest."

Gabriel's sporting a cheeky grin by this point.

"But if we're the ones they're gonna call, I suppose I'll be Dan Aykroyd."

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"And I am, as always, Bill Murray," Nick said. "Well, this ghost, whoever it is, isn't going to exorcise itself. Let's go show it the exits."

He strode forward, pushing open the doors to the theater. The inside was just as opulent and grandiose as the outside -- red, plush carpets ringed the lobby, illuminated by dim chandeliers above. The concession stand was set aside in a nearby alcove, and posters of everything from Citizen Kane to The Rocky Horror Picture Show hung on the walls, delicately preserved behind glass. French uttered forth from one of the theaters -- likely The 400 Blows, running to the end of the reel. Nick took a quick measure of his surroundings; the spectacle of luxury was somewhat ruined by the scent of spilled cola and stale popcorn. And something... else.

"Decay," he muttered. "Faint, but it's all over. Like a charnel pit, only with better lighting." He turned to the others. "Keep your eyes open," he said. "If we're dealing with a ghost here, it's got some major issues."

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"That's crazy, I can't be Harold Ramis," Jack protested, stepping past Nick into the theatre as the necromancer paused to take stock of their surroundings, joining Wander on point. "Are you calling me Rick Moranis, Bones? Because I will straight up fight you if you're calling me Rick Moranis." It took his a few moments to determine whether the rancid smell was actually there or a manifestation of his metamagi senses' synesthesia. "Okay, ew. Any idea what we should be watching out for, here?"

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Caradoc had no idea what they were talking about, but he laughed a short fakey laugh anyway just to be polite. It was what all the heroes besides Wander were doing. Was it a joke of adults? He didn't really understand most jokes people told, and they could usually tell when he was faking, but he thought it was important to at least pretend to understand. How else was he ever going to learn to fit in with normal people? Everyone seemed to banter with each other so easily, but he doubted he could do the same. As the others entered the theater, he waited at the last for them all to enter, cocking his head as the scent of death gently wafted out the doors. Harrier knew the scent of death well; very well.

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Wander didn't laugh or participate in the banter, instead she held her bat a little tighter as they walked into the theater. "Dead bodies," she murmured, stepping away from the group to scan the area for escape routes and potential threats. "It smells like human decay in here." She could make that assessment with perfect assurance. Out of habit, she looked up towards the ceiling, checking to make sure that the upper levels and the chandeliers were structurally secure and not about to fall on anyone beneath.

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Gabriel chuckled as he, Nick, and Jack engaged in a bit of pre-adventure banter. The chuckle died on his lips when he got a good whiff of the scent in the theater. His smile fell away, replaced by an entirely serious expression.

For just a moment, his mind pictured a street in Southside, teeming with chattering undead. Another moment, and he saw the body of a young man, cut down before his time for a dark ritual. Both images were quickly suppressed by his mind, as steely resolve made its way to the forefront. His hands flexed and unflexed, subtle waves of sonic energy flowing across his fingers.

"Yet another sign this isn't Casper the friendly ghost. This is pretty potent. I'm not sure I could just talk this ghost down; I suppose we'll have to see when it comes to that."

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"Okay, ew. Any idea what we should be watching out for, here?"

"Well, I could say 'the usual,' Nick said. "Walls weeping blood, creepy little girls, maggots in the popcorn, things being hurled at you. But... I'm not sure. This place... whatever's going on here seems to be painting a thick coat over everything. It feels like being in a crypt." He shuddered. "Or an abattoir."

"Yet another sign this isn't Casper the friendly ghost. This is pretty potent. I'm not sure I could just talk this ghost down; I suppose we'll have to see when it comes to that."

"It all depends," he continued. He tried to focus very hard on the lobby, which felt like it was slipping away from him, for some reason. Even the French from the nearby theater seemed to have grown muted over the past minute. "Some ghosts do come into power like this. Either after they've been stuck to this plane for long enough they've become part of the scenery, or they've gone down to one of the Underworlds and dragged something back up with them. It's possible to reason with them; sometimes it's more like hostage negotiation than anything, but --"

Nick's reverie was cut off by the ringing of a telephone. After nearly jumping out of his boots, he tracked the noise to behind the concessions counter, where a small black phone rested next to the popcorn. He picked it up, and the pressed the button for the speakerphone. "If you even think of saying 'Seven days' or 'I'm your boyfriend now, Nancy', I swear --"

But there was no sound. For a second, at least. Then, a dull, regular drone emerged from the other side of the phone -- an air raid siren. The sound echoed through the lobby; for some reason, Nick wanted to move, drop the phone, get away, seek cover, but he couldn't. He was rooted to the spot. After an eternity, the siren was interrupted by a muffled explosion, and the sound of a storm washing over him. Through the wind, a voice could be heard clearly whispering:

"So does oblivion take mankind into her arms like a lover."

The roaring wind cut off suddenly. The phone remained off its hook. There was no dial tone.

"...yeah, I'm thinking we've moved several steps past 'negotiation' right now."

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With a slow, measured stride, Caradoc walked to the phone, picked it up, and hung it up on the wall. "We should not let them talk," he suggested, his voice tight. "Nothing they say will be good for us to hear." Inside the armor, Harrier was growing more and more uneasy at the corruption of this place. He had experience with the dead, a very great experience indeed, but this place felt strange even for that. Of course, the dead I have known were quiet...eventually. He imagined this place as if he were hunting the walking dead; those who had survived the initial destruction of their world's defenses and were now poisoned ants wriggling their death throes in the unbreachable edifice of the Terminus. He opted not to mention that metaphor aloud, instead wondering how the dead had come in the first place. "I do not know your history. Has there been some carnage here?"

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"Whatever's in here, we're not going to do anything by standing here except freak ourselves out," Wander suggested firmly. "It could be anything from a woken-up ghost to some kid with illusion powers and a nasty sense of humor, but whatever it is, we'll deal with it when we find it. The witnesses reported that they saw weird and creepy stuff when they were in the theatre itself, right? Let's go check it out." Bat held at the ready, she headed towards the theatre where lights flickered and sound played, keeping an eye out for any hint of further disturbance.

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"But at least it's a vaguely poetic kinda creepy," Jack noted with exaggerated optimism, keeping pace with the teenage powerhouse, sword at the ready and lithe musculature coiled. "You're handling this pretty well," he noted quietly to Wander, before hastily adding, "Not that I didn't think you would or anything, but I got the impression the ghoulies were sort of a sore issue for you." The swashbuckler kept his hushed tone conversational, and while the brief glance in her direction held a touch of concern, his footing suggested that he was perfectly confident the young woman had her side of the front line well accounted for.

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Wander glanced at Jack out of the corner of her eye, shrugging just a bit stiffly. "Knowing that someone is trying to scare me actually makes it less scary. Either they're playing a game, or they're worried they'll lose in a fair fight. When something doesn't care if you're coming, or doesn't even pay attention to you,that's when you should start to worry. And there's not really a lot that scares me anymore." She looked at him, her expression utterly deadpan. "If the ghost jumps out, you can hide behind me."

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"Hm. Definitely not a friendly welcome. Whatever it is, it wants us off-balance. Reluctant. Scared. Let's not give it what it wants."

Gabriel's face was calm, resolute. While certainly odd, the strange voice from the phone wasn't the worst thing he'd seen. He made sure the image of that desecrated church, forever scarred into his mind, didn't have much time at the forefront.

"Wander's got the right idea, folks. Now, say it with me. 'We ain't afraid of no ghost'."

He gave the group a smirk and a wink, before settling into a calm mood as he followed a bit behind Wander, ready to give her ranged supporting fire, if it came to that.

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The theater was still dark from the showing; in the chaos, no one had thought to bring the lights up. Up on the screen, the film was running to a close, the camera zooming in on and freezing on the face of its young protagonist, who had reached the sea and had no idea of where to go next. The theater was a mess of scents -- spilled cola, crushed chocolate, old popcorn. It hung like a bouquet over the entire room, like it was covering something up. Nick felt his boot brush against a spilled tub; he picked it up, and looked at the sight within with concern. The tub was fragile, its waxy paper frayed and nearly torn open in places; the popcorn inside was stale and coated with mold, like something left in the trash for days on end.

"And today's secret word is 'rot'," he said. "The decay's got some sort of physical hold here. Our ghoulie likely incorporated here, touching things directly instead of just throwing up illusions. Means we're dealing with someone who likes to get their hands dirty. We can probably find a trail -- "

He was interrupted by a pounding noise, coming from the back of the theater. He looked up to the rear wall to see the light from the projector still flickering. "Either our ghost likes to make some noise," he said, climbing up the aisle, "or not everyone got out."

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Jack threw his head back with a resounding laugh at Wander's dry rejoinder, even if the sound did echo eerily in the abandoned theater. "Haha, alright, well played. Who says you're a humourless recluse?" Inwardly, the swordsman was more impressed with the teenager's astute reading of the specter's strategy of fear. In many ways, it wasn't too dissimilar to the overly verbose manner he adopted to keep opponents distracted in a fight.

Walking down the aisles between rows of seats, he looked down with a grimace, lifting his boot with some difficulty. "Euych, sticky." Following Nick's gaze to the projection room, he hopped nimbly up to balance on the back of a folding seat to gain a little height, smoothly drawing his grapple launcher in his free hand and firing it into the ceiling. The press of a button retracted the cable and brought the fencer up to the window in one smooth motion. "Knock knock," he murmured, rapping on the glass with the knuckles of the fist holding the hilt of his sword.

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Hanging from the ceiling, Jack could see inside the projection booth. The projectionist was lying at the base of the door, trying to keep his eyes away from the window. When he heard the rapping noise, he recoiled, and started pounding on the door harder. After a few desperate seconds, he chanced a gaze at the window, and almost began weeping when he saw the swashbuckling hero hanging from the ceiling.

As the banging increased in ferocity, Nick sprinted up the stairs, reaching the door and pulling it open. "Everything okay?" he said. The projectionist drew back from the door, choking back sobs. "...right. The makeup. Probably not the best of things in this situation. C'mon, let's get you out of here."

"There... you don't understand... something came out of the film. It's here... it's here..."

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Gabriel heard the cries of terror and was swift on Nick's heels, floating about the stairs and such. He frowned at the poor man's panicked reactions.

'Not just panicked. Terrified.'

He closed his eyes for a moment, not relishing what he was about to do...But this man needed to calm down.

The hero clad in white let his feet touch the floor, stepping slowly into the room with his hands spread in a gesture of non-aggression. When he spoke, his voice was calm, warm, friendly. The man might not consciously realize it, but in his bones he'd feel waves of soothing calm rolling off the figure in white in front of him.

"Hey. Take it easy, friend. We're here to help. All of us. Nick's not going to hurt you. Neither is Jack. We want to get you safely out of here. We believe you. It's okay now."

He walked forward a bit and crouched to eye level, just a few few away from the man.

"Just take a few deep breaths. Give yourself a moment. That's it. Now, just give us a quick bit on what came out of the film while we take you outside. It's safe out there. There's no need to worry."

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