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Soul in the Iron (IC)

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15th July

Rene was at work once more on what he, naturally considered to be a masterpiece. The colours swished and swirled until they formed something he clearly recognised. Arcturus' Beast Rune, this time made of bolted and welded Iron.

"" he said, unsure of its meaning. However, the background clearly showed the sewers of Freedom City.

He knew Arcturus was always curious about the beast rune. He was unsure if he could offer any answers, but perhaps he could point the ursine hero in the right direction.

He picked up his rather antiquated telephone and gave Marcus a call.

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Most of Marcus Irons's summer days were spent hanging around the library--whether it was the main library or the Parkhurst Hotel's, he had done a considerable amount of reading. For the moment, though, he'd given up, and was sitting in his room when his phone rang. He reached over and stared at the screen, realizing he'd also missed a few calls. First thing was first though--answering the most recent one.

He recognized the number; he'd set up his phone so that people on his contact list would always show up. He hadn't seen much of Rene since the warding of the Parkhurst Hotel was finished. Marcus wasn't entirely sure if it was a good or bad thing, but he figured he should answer his phone anyway and find out.


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"Ah, Monsieur Marcus!" said Rene cheerfully, beading up his painting with an eye as he spoke. "I have just painted an..amusing little picture of your rune. I have not a clue what it means. But it means something, I would wager..."

Rene started to pack a coat and his brush as he was on the phone.

"If you have time, and seek answers, I'll meet you at Smith street... do you know it? out of the way, not very interesting. Oh, and bring some sturdy boots..."

Rene put the phone down and marched out the door, wearing his normal shoes.

Well, it was Marcus' mystery wasn't it. He was too old to go marching down a filthy old sewer...

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"Amusing? ...hm."

Rene's phrasing gave him pause. He stood up and began drifting around the room, looking for his 'traveling' stuff. He had his costume, of course, and a pair of sturdy boots that would withstand his transformation. There wasn't much else that he could think of bringing at first.

"Smith Street... yeah, I know where that is."

He looked over at his desk; it was half-covered in about four dozen pewter stones the size of Scrabble tiles. Marcus was a Physical adept--a mage whose power was more physical than elemental--but that didn't mean he didn't know a few tricks outside his Beast Rune form. The Light Rune was just one of the ones he'd been working on--it wasn't perfect and he wouldn't get many uses out of the limited magical power, but it seemed like a great opportunity to test his creation. Just in case, though, he stuffed a flashlight into his pack before heading out the door.

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Rene called up Marcus the next day from Parkhurst hotel. He had spent a few hours at the scrying pool. The nice thing about the sewers, he decided, was that there was plenty of water to scry with.

Not that he had seen a lot of activity. Plenty of rats, plenty of horrid filthy water. A few cleaners.

But he had seen a few cowled figures wandering this way and that. And a few ominous ripples in the waters.

It was, in any case, enough to point Marcus in the right location.

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Between the calls from Rene, Marcus kept busy, finishing up a project he'd put off for a considerable amount of time. He wasn't entirely prepared for how intensive creating runestones could really be, and it was the first time he'd done so without help. To make things worse, the Light Rune could only be created in direct sunlight, meaning that he had to do something he almost never did on purpose: wake up early. Nevertheless, it paid off in the end, even if the rune wouldn't last forever. He closed his hand around the small pewter tile and its warmth filled his palm.

Well I'll be. It actually works. Now hardly seemed like the time to feel accomplished, however; he had somewhere to be.

The drive was largely uneventful; he returned his phone call from his roommate at Claremont, who only wanted to tell him that he was moving back to Freedom City in three weeks. It was difficult to believe that school was that close all over again. He wasn't entirely sure what his junior year would bring, and after that mess he'd gotten involved in several months before in Pennsylvania, he wasn't eager to go running off to play hero again. He'd gotten himself into enough trouble with the staff at school.

He parked a few blocks away from Smith Street and decided to walk the rest of the way there.

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Rene greeted Marcus on Smith Street, by a slightly rusted manhole. The rain drizzled down lightly, perhaps an omen of the dampness and wetness that was to come. Rene held up his umbrella. It was not cold, fortunately for his bones, but the air had a rather tepid feel to it.

If he grows some fur down there, that's going to smell... Rene thought. He thought briefly on the contents of the small bag he had brought with him.

"Ah there you are" he said to Marcus as he came round the corner. He pointed down at the manhole. "This is the place, rather you than me, but I wish you good fortune!"

He coughed, slightly guilty. "Man of my age cant go running around the Sewers, I hope you understand, *ahem*. Besides, I think this is a mystery for you to unravel on your own. Oh! and before I forget, a little gift!"

He passed Marcus his bag. In it was some official overalls with "Freedom City Sewage Department" written on it, a flashlight, bottled water, and a carefully wrapped up bar of soap.

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Marcus had never been a huge fan of rain; he preferred to stay indoors and sleep. He looked down the manhole, then back up at Rene, a single eyebrow raised.

"...you're kidding right? Aw, man..."

He slipped his bookbag off and took Rene's; One moment the Light Rune was in his right hand and the next it was gone, the golden rune appearing on the back before fading away. He looked inside at the uniform and blinked at the soap.

"I get the uniform but... what's the soap for?" He looked around, figuring he should probably find somewhere to change clothes. He wasn't much for disguises, but he wasn't planning on changing forms any time soon down below. The smell would assault his bear senses...

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Rene started lifting up the manhole. Well, very loosely doing so. That meant putting one hand on the handle, giving a token tug which would have barely lifted a dropped purse, and moaning...

"Ooh my poor back. I'm too old for this. Just a helpless old man. My knees are bent, my eyes are fading, and as for my hips...."

One eye curled round to see if Marcus was fully aware of his horrible pains.

"*ahem* Anyway, ze soap, my friend, is for ze cleaning once you have finished your date with destiny".

He indicated the man-hole once again.

"Down there. You are a big strong fellow, I am sure you can manage..."

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"...right." Marcus gave Rene a suspicious look before reaching down, moving the manhole cover himself. He was well aware that Rene wasn't the helpless elderly man that he pretended to be; he'd been exposed to the ruse too long to be fooled by it now. Still, he wasn't about to risk Rene actually hurting himself. His conscience would never let him live with himself.

"I don't even know what I'm looking for, but... eh." He looked around for a moment before slipping down into the hole, in the dim light from above and secluded from the world overhead, he changed clothes right there and then. The boots he wore for work at the zoo were more than sufficient, and he still had his costume on underneath, leaving him to stuff his cargo pants into his bag and hand it back to Rene. He was prepared enough; he'd brought his own flashlight, and doubted he'd need the umbrella he bought. Even in the dark, the Light Rune on his hand provided some comforting illumination. Still, he pulled out Rene's flashlight--the last thing he wanted was for someone to see him using magic. That could potentially be as bad as transforming in front of someone.

"Alright, here we go..." He shook the flashlight a bit before turning it on, pointing the beam into the uninviting darkness.

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The sewers, predictably, stank. The boots were a good idea, to say the least.

It was dark, smelly, and awful. A slow drip drip seemed to reverberate around the tunnels, and darkness was pervasive. It was straight out of a horror movie.

Marcus didn't wander down the tunnel long, before he saw another flashlight approaching, and the running footsteps of what presumably was a man...

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Surprisingly enough, the smell didn't bother him, at least not outwardly. His natural senses had grown so accustomed to his bear senses that this sort of thing didn't even bother him any more. The foul scents were still very much offensive to the senses, but he recognized that in bear form, it would have been much, MUCH worse. The stagnant water, the stale air, and the 'other' smells that he dared not mention... he was still very much aware of them, and concentrated just as much on keeping his stomach steady as he did on where he was going.

His heart skipped a beat when he saw the other flashlight... Then he realized that the footsteps were running in his direction. His disguise would afford him a decent cover story, but what could someone possibly be running from down here?

I think we're gonna find out real soon, cub, the Beast Rune chimed in from the back of his mind. Marcus slowed his pace, gripping the flashlight a bit more tightly.

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The footsteps got nearer and nearer, slowing slightly as they reached Marcus.

Eventually, Marcus' flashlight cast some illumination on the figure.

"Wha! Hold up!" said the Man, wearing the same bright yellow overalls as Rene had given him, with the same Logo. He briefly put his hand to his eyes shielding himself from the flashlights dazzling illumination.

"You...you can't go down there!" gasped the man, partly out of breath, partly shaken with fear.

"There's something down there... something in the water...I...I...can't remember but it felt horrible, spooky...flashes of teeth, swimming through the tunnel....we gotta get out of here!!!!"

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That old geezer... why does he never give me any details? Marcus looked the man over, then pointed the beam just past him. The warmth of the Light Rune in his right hand was mildly comforting, but the sewer worker's shaken demeanor was practically contagious. The Beast Rune buzzed at the back of his mind, wordlessly pushing him to focus.

"..uh huh." Marcus looked skeptical--it was mostly an act. He believed the worker, of course, figuring that whatever had scared the wits out of this poor guy was his goal. Several things instantly bothered him though, including the nature of whatever it was swimming through the sewers... and the fact that it was swimming. A brief chill ran up his back at the thought of deep water. Rene had sent him down here for this, though, and he had to go through with it. It was hard to say whether it was morbid curiosity or plain stubbornness that was driving him, but he wasn't about to turn back now. He gave the other sewer worker a comforting pat on the shoulder as he stepped around him. "You look terrible... Go ahead and go if you want; I'll cover for you if anybody asks. Besides... what could possibly be down here?"

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"You look terrible... Go ahead and go if you want; I'll cover for you if anybody asks. Besides... what could possibly be down here?"

"Yes yes... terrible..." gasped the man, looking slightly vacant. "I don't know what's down there... I just get a, sense that there was something..."

He started backing off the other direction "Ill go..." he mumbled "...I just feel so...I can't explain it..."

He walked backwards, away from where he had come and Marcus

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I know that look.

Marcus had seen people visibly shaken before. He'd done it to people in his bear form--so whatever the worker saw must have been terrifying. Fear's effects on a human being were rather unmistakable. This guy had it written all over him. Added to that was the fact that his clothes were torn and wet--clearly he'd been in the water and attacked by something. Marcus couldn't imagine him doing that to himself.

Were he a better mage, the Calm Rune would at least temporarily ease the guy's mind. He didn't have that kind of time, so instead, he walked the sewer worker back towards the manhole he'd come through; it was the nearest to the surface, and Marcus hadn't gotten himself so horribly lost yet that he didn't know his way back. Once the civilian was escorted to safety, Marcus headed back towards his original direction.

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As the worker walked back with Marcus, he started coughing, then stumbling.

Finally he bent over double

"Ahhhhgh..." he mumbled, but his voice sounded quite strange.

"...it's coming...it's coming..." came the gargling, rasping voice, as the man started to grow, elongating and warping in a contorted manner. He looked up, his eyes deep black, his skin mottled green and deformed, and his teeth huge and pointed.

And as he grew further, a familiar rune appeared, glowing faintly, on his forehead...

"...we are waiting for you!" came a half-voice from his mouth "...this thing is just an experiment...."

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Marcus didn't even make it halfway back before his body started to change, stretching and breaking the limits of his clothing. He took several steps back, an odd mixture of surprise and fascination as the man changed... all that was instantly gone when he saw the Beast Rune on the man's forehead. "Son of a..."

Hey, don't look at me, kid; this ain't me. Well... not really.

What do you mean 'not really?!

Now is NOT the time for 20 questions, cub.

"Fine." Marcus closed his eyes, stowing the flashlight into the bag. In the next instant, he opened them, an arcane circle bursting outward from his feet as his the Beast Rune burned through his shirt. In an explosion of energy, Marcus was replaced with a snarling Arcturus, the pack barely hanging over his shoulder. He slammed one fist into his padded palm, the Light Rune flashing against the back of his hand as he did so. "Let's dance, handbag." He extended his right hand and a dazzling burst of light shot from his fist, illuminating the cavernous tunnel for a brief second. The light was a lot worse in intensity at the crocodile's face, where he was aiming...

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The light flashed directly into the Crocodile's jet black, soulless eyes. It couldn't turn fast enough, and trashed around.

Blinded by the fierce illumination, the creature nevertheless lunged forward, snapping its jaws wildly, although ineffectively. Nevertheless, it clearly conveyed a huge amount of power, its tail and body contorting in the water, splashing fetid water all around, including over Marcus.

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Arcturus hopped backwards as the crocodile flailed at him, snapping its jaws viciously. The last thing he wanted was to get bitten, but he didn't want to hurt the guy either...

...well, Marcus didn't. Arcturus was pretty much of the mind that snapping at him constituted an act of war. Arc lunged forward, swinging a balled-up fist upward at the gator-beast's jaw.

I'd rather not knock the guy out, but... where the hell did he get this rune from?!

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The mighty punch of Arcturus connected, and lifted the crocodile a few feet of the floor as it continued to thrash around. It landed, dazed by the weight of the blow. It seemed he had picked a foe just as tough, large, and strong as it was. Or more so.

It landed heavily and thrashed around a few seconds, struggling to find its feet.

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Glad you paid for those boxing lessons, junior.

Yeah yeah... damn, we're gonna have to get him out of here to fix him.

And the only way he's goin' quietly is if he's unconscious. It's a win-win!

Arcturus crouched and then lunged forward, throwing his body weight into the beast. He aimed his forearm at the beast's neck, pinning him against the wall and keeping those slavering jaws away from the rest of his body.

"Who did this to you? Tell me and I might not tear your hide off, lizard."

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"The Cult of the Beast..." spat the creature, as it writhed in the Arms of the Bear.

"They are waiting for you, fool!" it hissed, as it writhed in Arcturus grasp. The thrashing was unnatural now, and Arcturus could feel the thing shrinking back to its original form again. With a few more horrible twists, the sewer worker was lying on the ground, in the Bears arms.

His clothes were shredded and he looked even more dazed and frightened than before, perhaps not helped by having a giant Bear holding on to him. He started screaming in terror.

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Arcturus immediately dropped the guy as he reverted. He didn't say anything as the sewer worker started screaming; he took a few steps back into the darkness.

Guy's got quite the pair of lungs on him.


Marcus frowned; he didn't particularly like scaring innocents. He hated being looked at like some sort of freak, and hearing the sewer worker's screams echo through the tunnels only made him feel worse. Still, if he could save the guy and others like him from magic they clearly couldn't handle...

Cult of the Beast. Not even a little bit familiar... but at least I know where these guys keep coming from. Somebody's using the same runic magic as I am...

Similar. Not the same. There's at least a little bit of synergy with us.

Arcturus looked down at his right hand; the Light Rune flashed a few times against the back of his palm before fading, its magic spent after the Solar Flare spell he'd cast earlier. It made him actually feel better about the Beast Rune that had 'infected' the sewer worker; etched in the way he usually did it, runes were more or less temporary.

They said they were waiting for us, right? ...well, let's not disappoint.

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As soon as Marcus let the poor worker go, the man had made a dash for it in the opposite direction, leaving Marcus free to penetrate deeper into the sewers.

The smell, if anything, had got worse, and the water deeper. Something itched in his skin, drawing him further and further down the sewers, guided by instinct.

Some time later, he started noticing faint chalk malkings on the walls. To the idle observer they would probably just be put down as badly scrawled numbers, or a code. To Marcus, they looked vaguely like runes.

And he was drawn to an Iron door deep down the sewers, up to his knees in filthy water, with a strong chalk malking on the door.

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