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Vanguard#1- Kings and Shields(IC)


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May 7th, 7.54 P.M.

There was a rumor going around the vagrants and homeless of the Fens, mutters and whispers of a vicious night-stalker, a holdover from the brutal Moore era of the city when the streets were feared even in the wealthiest districts, and the Fens was considered nearly suicidal to live in for more than a week. It was said that it, she or he prowled the borders of the Greenbank and Fens, searching for petty crooks and drug dealers to slaughter in fits of bloodied justice, leaving messages carved into the nearest flat surface justifying the presence of the inevitable splash of blood marking the only known remains of the victim. The monster knew everything about its victims: their names, habits, tastes and haunts all revealed to them, as the crude messages always revealed.

With a crunching noise of grit underfoot, Marceau Suvou, the King of Suits in the House of Cards and as he said of himself "passably competent in crime-fighting" alighted on a roof overlooking the scattered warehouses and rail yards, office buildings that once tallied the wealth that flowed into the city and the docks that accepted the world's tribute, all slowly decaying, all rusting away and being gradually forgotten. He scanned the long flat buildings glinting in the dusk light and growing star and moonlight with shining blue eyes, observed the myriad of hiding places fifty human monsters could hide in with ease, and swung down from the side of the crumbling soap factory he had perched on. Landing with a soft thud, he retracted the pronged head from its crevice in the wall high above, and slipped noiselessly into an alleyway that, unknown to perhaps 98% of Freedonians, led him directly into the old Percy-Edward railway yard, just behind the main freight yard.

This is going to take a while he told himself resignedly. At least he had some clues...

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Clark Noble was tired.

The school year was officially over, and for the first time in a while, Clark actually found himself able to think... and all he could think of for the moment was catching up on sleep. As disheveled and neglected as his apartment was, his couch was still comfortable, and after a few minutes of channel surfing, he was dead to the world.

Clark had visions before. They weren't exactly common, but since finding his father's shield, he learned just how deep his ancestry ran with respect to the destiny of the Crusader legacy. He often had vivid dreams of lives lived long before. Being a history teacher, he'd even been able to confirm the existence of one or two of the personae he seemed to become when he slept. This time, though, felt vastly different. Clark's eyes snapped open and he gasped as if he'd been drowning; for a moment, he forgot where he was. His living room slowly shifted back into focus, and the nightmare he'd had suddenly seemed incredibly elusive as far as details were concerned. All he was left with was a feeling... a very bad feeling.

That address... have I been there before? He sat up and rubbed his face vigorously, trying to remember. He remembered an old freight yard in the Fens that had seen better days, and then the railway yard beyond it. The words "Percy-Edward" stood out in his mind, along with a transparent figure of a man he'd never met before. There was a sense of urgency, the deep-seated feeling that he needed to be somewhere yesterday. He blinked a few times at the clock and frowned.

7:45... ...crap. He hopped up and ran into his bedroom, quickly donning the red and white costume of the Crusader. From there, it was out the window and down the fire escape, onto his motorcycle and off into the Fens, towards the old railway yard he saw in his vision. His shield was strapped to his back as he sped through the streets, eyes narrowed with concentration as he hurried to get where he was going... even if he didn't know why yet. He was convinced that he'd seen the future rather than the past, but it seemed unusually bleak. He didn't like it at all.

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The Percy-Edwards raiway yard had fallen on hard times since its heyday earlier in the last century. A sentence that could be applied to anything in Greenbank or the Fens, but especially suited for the aging industrial sections of the city, which had suffered the same fate that many such districts had in America over the years as the centers of industry and manufacturing shifted, leaving behind it empty warehouses, hollow factories and more frustration and discontent than could easily be smoothed away over the years as new job opportunities were made available.

The palce was grimy from the old smoke and sprays of oil that gave the place its vaguely unpleasant smell, with miles of mouldering freight cars lining its neat tracks, some of them having been shunted away without being unloaded once upon a time, including an old grain car that had fed five generations of rats before the wheat ran out.

An eerie silence was felt over the vast place, not even the creaks of a badly-rusted arrow-shaped bronze weather vane high up on an abandoned office building reaching the ears of the King of Suits.

To the Crusader, as he rode into the yard the dirty yard a mist seemed to spring up from nowhere, casting its pall and all but devouring the weakening lights that made the place more than a mass of vague dark shapes interrupted by pools of light shone by old and flickering lamps.

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Shuddering involuntarily at the gloomy surroundings, Marceau gave a sharp hiss between his teeth as he set rapidly to the task of finding any signs of recent inhabitation. He knew by long experience that even a wandering super-soldier(or whatever it was that he was tracking) would need to sleep and eat somewhere, and finding those tell-tale signs would let him know immediately if he was in the right area.

He slipped quietly around the railway yard, sifting through the covered cars, sweeping the molding offices with minute care, and even inspecting the decrepit engines littering the yard.

He sought to leave no stone unturned, but the inchoate nervousness growing within him hastened him to the point where he knew he was missing something...

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The sun was slowly fading below the horizon. It hadn't completely disappeared, but it was approaching what could be considered 'dark' in the Fens. No one wanted to be in the Fens after dark. Clark Noble, however, wasn't like most people. There were far worse things in the world than muggers and thieves. That didn't make busting them any less enjoyable, but Crusader often wondered if there was supposed to be something more than that to his father's legacy.

He was starting to catch glimpses of that now.

When he neared the destination he saw in his sleep, he moved his motorcycle to a well-hidden alley and headed the rest of the way out on foot. Leaping from rooftop to rooftop was dangerous, but Clark Noble wasn't some out of shape gym teacher. He paused, however, when he caught movement ahead of his position--more than one person, looking as if they were tailing someone. His heart sped up as he realized how close to his destination he was.

This is about to get ugly... I'd better see where these jokers are headed.

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The King of Suits' efforts were fruitless. He found nothing whatever to indicate anyone or anything human had dwelt in the old yard for many years, the few sparse collections of garbage, old blankets and boxes clearly left to rot long ago. The offices were no better, a mildewing collection of rotten wood and metal boxes containing long outdated records, drawers jammed with forgotten knick-knacks, odd corners littered with a few relatively recent bottles of liquor, and the odd shot-out window.

His vague urge to make haste was at first no more grounded in reality than someone's unreasoned terror of the dark, a desire to leave the places where Things could lurk unseen and return to his home in the (comparatively) familiar and welcoming Fens.

When the first few rats, stray dogs and small birds took flight or to their heels, there didn't seem much cause for alarm. They appeared to have been startled by his presence, and there seemed no reason to give it more thought.

When the soft creaks of the empty cars on their tracks began, things became much more suspicious, and when the flock of sparrows took off several yards behind him, there was no question something was up. The unmistakable noise of bare feet on gravel didn't do anything to allay new fears, and when the crowd of small green things appeared around him as from out of the earth, their gleaming yellow eyes and long claws didn't help matters either.

"Hello." said one of the goblins in a hollow croak "We have been payed to get you out of the way of our employer, prepare to die!" it exclaimed, all the crowd displaying white and narrow teeth in unison. Crusader saw a rather different spectacle, a small localised wave of movement around the dimly-beheld red and black caped figure that vaguely matched what he seen in his vision, which at the sound of a dropped pebble turned into a small army of goblin-like monsters that swarmed put of the engines, cars and even piles of rock to encircle their prey. Either way, they didn't look friendly especially when they attacked!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Marceau's heart leaped at the jolting sight of the dozens of gleaming eyes peering at him in the dark, and the swift announcement of their murderous intentions made it that much harder for him to keep his cool. Be quick he looked around himself for an easy way to level the fighting field...a gleam of moonlight bouncing off a rusting fuselage alerted him to one possibility, a nearby freight engine!

"I am quite prepared, for death and what has to come first too!" he exclaimed grandly, sliding a small smoke grenade from his belt, tossing it into the air, and while it began its ascent pulling the pin and slamming it into the ground at his feet, sending a cloud of smoke hurtling through the packed band of the gremlins, and amidst their whoops and shrieks of surprise, he dashed nimbly up the side of the decaying hunk of metals, where he readied himself for the attack to come.

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"...what the..."

Those were the only appropriate words that Clark could really think of. He could tell something was moving, but not WHAT; when he saw what it was, it gave him pause. Monsters were something few and far between for him, but he wasn't as surprised as he could have been. The memories of his previous incarnations made him feel as if it wasn't entirely unfamiliar, and even his father had dealt with otherworldly threats. Including the Terminus Invasion.

Clark quickly took control of himself and let loose a sharp whistle, crossing his shield arm across his chest to get the creatures' attention. "Hey! BACK OFF!" The warning itself was largely superfluous. Crusader sent the shield flying, a faint red trail following in its wake as it sailed into the crowd of gremlins.

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The shield the Crusader tossed into the fray bounced around like a rubber ball, slamming into the chest, back and head of every gremlin milling about in the smoke cloud with terrific cracks, thuds and groans, the green monsters collapsing to the ground and littering the hazy rail yard with limp green bodies.

A whisper of shocked amazement echoed around the rotting train management area, and with a scuttle of leathery feet on the ground another twenty glowing yellow eyes came charging out of the night, swarming up the sides of the rusty freight engine, driving hard nails into the aged metal to aid their speedy ascent. The instant they reached the rounded roof they hurled themselves at their quarry, rust-coated claws swiping viciously through the air at him, battle-cries ringing through the air.

Their efforts were in some places impressive, but it soon became apparent that none of them were actually capable of hitting their target, who evaded their slashes with..not really ease, but with less effort than he might have needed.

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The vigilante had no idea what it was that had just gone whirling into the mess of green-skinned monsters, but whatever it was had done a spectacular job, and he commended its originator.

Ducking under a rain of nails Marceau lashed out with a powerful left hook, his fist colliding with the narrow chest of his much smaller adversary with enough force to send the wind clean out of their lungs, and them collapsing to the sloping floor they stood on. With a sharp hiss, the hydraulics of the gauntlet attached to his forearm readied the flat ram for its next punch. Retreating slightly, the King of Suits quickly gave a glance around, checking the position of the enemies closest to him, noting that four stood within reach of his arms and the rest just beyond. Well, time to start punching, not like there's much else I can really do right now he thought ruefully, and hurled himself at the gremlins.

The rings and hissing of his chemically-powered rams echoed through the night air, every blow sending another gremlin into the arms of Morpheus, and some onto the graveled ground below. He was careful not to hurt them too much, he wanted to dissuade them from attacking him, not injure them unnecessarily.

Getting back up to his full height(managing to lay ram to gremlin required a little stooping), the King of Suits could have sworn he caught sight of some white and red-clad figure just beyond the smoke That might be who did..whatever it was that downed all those below. Hope that wasn't an accident adn they were aiming at me he thought nervously, not wanting to face more enemies in such rapid succession.

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Crusader's brow furrowed underneath his cowl. The attack seemed to do little to discourage the gremlin horde, although he really wasn't certain why he thought it would have anyway. He raised his hand and caught the shield's edge as it returned to him, hopping right off the side of the building with next to no hesitation. He had to get closer; there was no way this was going to be that easy, not if someone really wished this man harm. The feeling from his vision persisted as he latched onto a window sill and then a fire escape, angling for a clear shot at the engine. He had to stop this. There was no other choice.

Crusader hurled his shield into the latest addition to the crowd, his left hand and foot still anchored to the fire escape he was using to descend the building. There's gotta be a better way to do this... He was still high enough off the ground that falling might actually hurt, and getting across the rail yard to the man he was trying to save would have been faster if he'd had a little technical assistance. Still, he saw enough to know that this man, whoever he was, was perfectly capable of handling himself...

...which meant there was something worse than a couple dozen goblins on its way. Ah well. Bring it on, universe.

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The shield bounced with loud thuds of metal and tough flesh among the assembled gremlins, laying them all low in short order! A deathly hush spread over the rail yard, punctuated by the ragged breathing of the fallen goblins. The King of Suits, amazed at the speedy defeat of the strange creatures, was looking about him and was preparing to examine the goblins when a shuddering was felt by both of the vigilantes, and thick cloud bank slid slowly over the gleaming moon.

With a roar that sent tremors through the ground, a monster burst onto the scene, hard skin covered with scales that gleamed slightly in the dark, eyes that shone green, claws and teeth that glistened white and a shaggy coat of blue hair that hung from its back and head, and a ragged loincloth made of what looked like lion skins.

It looked very unhappy, snarling with breaths that sent thick plumes of fog from its mouth as it eyed the two heroes.

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Staring nonplussed at the giant apparition of hide, hair and nails, Marceau glanced slowly from it to the red and white-clad figure who he guessed had assisted him in beating up the goblins. Waving cheerfully at his new comrade, the King of Suits tossed a card marked with the suit of Clubs from its deck held snugly on his utility belt into the air, caught it between his right little and ring fingers, and with a flourish sent it twirling straight for the head of the noxious entity, cringing as it flew breezily past them and into an abandoned office building, making a good-sized hole in the wall and sending wood chips flying through the air.

"Well blast" he muttered sourly.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Crusader stared blankly as Marceau waved at him. It almost made him forget that there was a giant, rather unattractive-looking beast bearing down on the two of them. Moving closer to Marceau and away from the monster, Clark hefted his shield, eyes narrowed a bit in thought as he considered the situation. It was easy before when they were small and ignoring him. This one, however, seemed smart enough to see him as an actual threat. This whole night got a little bit longer.

"Well. Introductions later. For now..." He reared back with his shield arm and turned his entire body into a powerful throw of his shield, the blunt edge of the impervium weapon aimed squarely for the monster's forehead.

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With a whirl of red and white, the shield flew through the air, humming its fearful song. With unerring am, it struck the large creature with impeccable precision on its brow with a clanging thud, twirling back to its master. The huge goblin stood stock-still for a few seconds, staring dully into space before its eyes snapped onto the heraldic-colored man who had hit him, snaring with anger as it groped with a mighty claw at a track next to it, never taking its boiling gaze off of Crusader. Tearing off a shred of rusting steel, it balled the piece of metal in its hands before throwing it with great power and violence into the freight car next to Clark, knocking the thing over onto its side with a great *BONG* as it toppled to the gravel.

The Ultragoblin spat furiously at missing, eyes glowing in the dark as it cast about for another missile to make its attacker unable to hit it. Permanently.

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  • 3 months later...

The resolve in Clark's eyes hid the minor freak-out he had when the huge hunk of metal aimed at him went wide, slamming into the freight car next to him with frightening force. He didn't move, but his heart sped up as the sound of it toppling over filled the freight yard. Dust filled the air from the impact. Clark was very much aware that he'd made this creature very, VERY angry. That was, of course, the plan--only now did the Crusader realize that his plan wasn't quite as well thought out as he'd assessed in the beginning.

Ah well. No point in worrying about it now.

Crusader shot forward through the rapidly thinning cloud of dust and sent his shield charging ahead, spinning upward in an arc aimed right between the beast's glaring eyes. He'd successfully snagged the beast-thing's attention... now he had to disable it. Somehow.

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Once again the red and white shield hurtled through the air, and again it slammed with a thunderous *GONG* against the skull of the towering goblin, whose head was thrown back as it staggered...and once again it recovered itself, growling furiously at the ringing of pain in its head, shaking its lank hair to try and relieve it. Squinting at the two small figures assaulting it, it decided to get rid of the other one before moving on to the Crusader, tearing off the door from a nearby freight car with its foot and a screech of tortured metal, grabbing the hefty chunk of rusting steel with his free hand and slinging it with all power at the King of Suits!

Thankfully, it missed as well, ploughing through a mildewing office to his right in an explosion of wood and dust, and skidding to a slow halt several yards beyond.

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His smile faded as the wind rushed around him, the freight car door sailing just to his side with horrifying speed and power, and he winced at the clamor that erupted behind him. He noted grimly that the massive beast had so far shrugged off all of their attacks. This necessitated a change of tactics.

"Sir! I will bind him, hold him still so that we can make a new assault! Our blows are so far not having any significant effect, and that needs to change." he called over to Crusader, crouching and ready to spring as he searched his belt momentarily for just the right card...his fingers closed neatly around a smiling King of Hearts, which he hefted and aimed at the massive goblin.

"You are tough and strong, monsieur!" he said brightly, squinting one eye as he gauged the distance, asking "but how quick are you on your feet?" as he suddenly flung it, the card unspooling into a mighty coil of metal that looped neatly around his foe and bound itself about his limbs, leaving him wriggling helplessly like one in the grip of a metal snake!

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How the heck are you gonna hold that thing still?!

Crusader certainly agreed, however; their blows were having very little effect, and short of somehow dropping a house on the beast, he wasn't sure how to bring it down. He merely nodded as the other man spoke, pausing only for a moment when the card flew through the air and transformed into a large metal coil that snapped shut around the Ultragoblin's body.

...oh. That's how.

"Wow. Nice trick," he complimented, continuing his forward rush toward the now immobilized goblin. Crusader spurred himself onward to pick up even greater speed, using the momentum to take a short leap and nail the monster in the face with a shield-aided forearm to the side of its head.

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The colossal shield-led punch drove the Ultragoblin into the ground, smashing them into the dirt and mangled metal with enough force that the green glow faded almost instantly from its eyes as he fell unconscious.

Then the change began.

Before the eyes of the two heroes, the monster shrank, limbs getting thinner and thinner, chest becoming narrower and narrower, the head growing smaller and smaller until a very normal-looking man lay before them, breathing shallowly in an extremely unfitting loincloth that covered most of his lower body, the marks of restraint and a narrow tracery of scars around his skull and heart becoming very evident.

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"Well. That's not normal at all."

Crusader didn't so much as feel guilty as he stood up, looking down at the unconscious and nearly naked figure. Those other goblins had disappeared entirely, but this one... human. It bothered him in ways he hadn't anticipated; to distract himself, he turned to the man he'd rescued.

"We should get this guy an ambulance... What about you? Are you okay?"

He flashed an encouraging smile, despite everything about the situation that remained firmly fixed in the realm of the unknown. Clark didn't really understand why he'd felt so urgently that this man needed saving--granted, if he had been in the area without any prompting, he would have helped anyway. The dream he'd had was still something of a blur, but that feeling of urgency and creeping despair remained.

There was more to this than the life of one man. He could feel it.

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"Wow. Nice trick,"

"Indeed it is! It took me more than a year to perfect the formula to treat the steel in" the King of Suits said proudly, nodding in satisfaction as his handiwork deftly swooped around and pinioned his limbs together, beginning "Now, if you can sweep-" before Crusader lunged forward, leaped and cannoned the massive goblin in the face with his shield-arm, sending their enemy direct onto the abandoned railway yard, where he began to change form before their eyes "-on second thought, nevermind! You have this well in hand it seems" he finished hurriedly, jumping down from his perch and jogging over to the red and white-clad hero's side, peering in bemusement at the man lying on the ground.

"I did not expect that," he admitted, detaching his cap and tossing it over their fallen opponent, turning to Crusader as he went on "and none of their attacks harmed me, I am quite alright. But I forget my manners!" he declared with horror, taking Crusader's free hand and shaking it energetically "I am the King of Suits, may I ask the name of my gallant rescuer, O Sir Knight?" he asked with a short, cheery laugh.

He glanced back at the man on the ground "As for calling for an ambulance, I will do so at once. I saw a payphone a step to the east."

After introductions he dashed off through the rusting, decaying yard until he found the lonely payphone next to a surprisingly prosperous corner store and fumbled for change in his pocket, sighing in relief as he found he had enough for a call to 911. "Hello, emergency services? I need an ambulance at the yard in Greenbank at this address..."

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Knight, huh?

There was a brief flash of something he couldn't quite grasp at the periphery of his memory. It wasn't necessarily a bad thing, but it felt like something he should have picked up on and remained out of his mental reach. Though it only lasted a few moments, he looked like he'd spaced out entirely in that short amount of time.

"Ah! Heh, sorry... call me Crusader." He knelt down beside the unconscious man long enough to examine him. He was no medical expert, but he knew enough to be able to tell that he was still breathing. The scars concerned him more, though any clue they might have given as to how he'd gone from his current form to his previous one and back again was completely lost on him. He wasn't about to let the King of Suits out of his sight, however. That sense of urgency hadn't quite left him yet.

"What were you doing out here anyway?" It seemed like a pertinent question. He wasn't trying to be accusatory, but somehow he felt that preventative measures needed to be taken.

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Repeating the address and ensuring that the ambulance was on its way with all haste, he turned to Crusader, breathing a little heavily from the recent and sudden exertions. Marceau nodded at the other man, leaning against the pay phone to explain himself. "As you've likely not heard, there's another one of those lethally-violent vigilantes in town around the Fens. Under most circumstances I would like to at least talk with them, but from what I have heard they're beyond all reasoning. I was searching for them here when I was attacked." he gestured to the shreds of smoke that still drifted up from the ground, the scattered bodies of the goblins and the horrible wreckage that had happened mere minutes into the fight. "I am quite curious, how did you come to be here at the same time?"

He went up to the shrunken man, taking out a flashlight and examining him with care "What happened to you?" he asked gently, wincing at the sight of the scars, and the bruising from the tissue damaged during the fight.

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"You want to do what?"

Crusader was no diplomat, but he certainly didn't condone killing or even permanently injuring a criminal. There was no particular love lost between him and some of the shadier, underground elements of the city, but even then he would usually restrain himself. As they made their way back to the unconscious man, Crusader looked around at the goblins still scattered around the railyard. So those are for real. Wow.

"I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that this little party was unrelated to what you were looking for." Crusader rubbed at the back of his neck, considering King of Suits's next question. "How? ...heh. Came to me in a dream."

There really was no other way to explain it. Shifting his shield from his arm to across his back, he knelt down on the other side of the injured figure, ears and eyes open for anything else that might be around.

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