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Cut, Color, Clarity, and Crime (IC)


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“Master Stelzer!â€

Darren Stelzer, otherwise known as the minor league superhero Adamas, stopped mid-stride and turned his head. He lifted a hand to run his hair back over his ear, then curled his fingers around one arm of his sunglasses and pulled them away from his face in a smooth motion. Over there, across the sparkling lobby of the hotel, a man behind the reception counter was waving at him. A few of the guests looked up at him, whispered under their breaths and behind their hands, but he just strode over to the counter. He set his elbows on it and leaned forward.

“Yes, Harry?†He didn't need to read the nametag, since a year of living out of the hotel had gotten him well-acquainted with all the permanent staff. Instead, Darren propped his head up with one hand and held the other open, index and middle fingers apart. “Mail? And you know you don't, like, have to call me master. I'm not my father.â€

“It's part of the job.†Harry smiled and fished for something under the desk. He held out a purple envelope, sized for a card, and let Darren snatch it away. “Well, there's the usual, too, this just seemed-â€

“Actually important? You know what to do, Harry, just throw the junk in the furnace and, like, leave the fan stuff for the end of the week and I'll pick it up.†Darren looked over the front of the envelope; it was addressed to Darren Stelzer / Adamas on a printed label. When he turned it over in his hands, he let out a quiet gasp. The envelope was sealed with candy apple red wax pressed with the imprint of a pair of lips. “This is...I'm not really sure what this is. Thanks, Harry.â€

“Part of the job.†The receptionist was already leaving, sliding down to the other end of the counter to take care of booking.

Darren made it all the way to the top floor with the envelope still intact, just staring down at it and listening to the elevator hum beneath the dull music. As soon as he stepped out on his floor, he slid his school bag off his shoulder and kicked it away, then tore open the envelope. Inside was a single folded sheet of paper buried under a veritable cloud of sharp perfume: jasmine and citrus. He wiped a tear from his eye as he fumbled the letter open with one hand. As he read it, he froze, his whole body going rigid.

Adamas -

The Kirby. Midnight. Dress Sharp.

- O. W.

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Darren tried to do homework after that, he really did, but every time he opened a textbook, his eyes slid over to where he'd left the letter on the counter. He didn't know, exactly, what was happening, and thinking about it made his heart pound out of his chest. After an hour of unsuccessful attempts at trigonometry, he ordered up some room service and fired up the laptop. He ignored the tidal wave of notifications as he opened a browser and instead tried to do some digging.

The Kirby, he realized almost as soon as he typed it in, almost had to mean the Kirby Museum of Fine Arts. The museum sat over in City Center, a short trip from Hanover if he simply flew over Wading River. Besides a history of collecting and displaying art, the museum had suffered at least twice from super-powered shenanigans. Darren skimmed through a list of the current exhibits, but nothing leaped out at him: a lot of paintings, some sculptures, and at least one wing for cycling and traveling collections.

By midnight, though, the museum was definitely going to be closed. If he was supposed to actually get inside the Kirby, well, Darren didn't think that was going to happen. While he wasn't exactly a paragon of virtue, there was no way he was going to break into the Kirby on the word of some random letter from someone he didn't know. He checked and double checked his phone, his followers, and his extended social web, but there was no one with the initials O. W. So, for a little while, he dropped the whole thing in favor of dinner and a long shower.

And yet, at 11:50, Darren was fully suited up as Adamas and floating lazily across the river on his way to City Center. Following up on the advice of strangers was a bad idea, he knew that, but as a super hero, he felt obligated to at least investigate. Nothing illegal, nothing reckless, just some well-meaning detective work. A couple minutes later, he touched down on the street and took a look at the Kirby. The building was pretty huge and accompanied by a crystal spire, though it was hard to see in the dark. Darren took a few preparatory breaths and then floated over the lawn towards the front doors.

He cupped his crystalline hands around his eyes and peered through the glass. There were a few lights in the doorway, but the lobby beyond was dark and shadowed. Darren poked a finger against the glass and then felt a tap at his shoulder. He bolted up and put a hand over his mouth to squeeze back a scream. Darren turned on his heel and stumbled back against the door.

“Looks like you made it, I was getting worried.†She was short and slender, clad in a purple body suit with gold piping. Her hair sat in a perfect blonde wave with body and bounce, a little too shiny to be real. A domino mask covered her eyes and a many-pouched belt in yellow vinyl sat at her waist. “But I'm glad you're here, Adamas. I'm the Other Woman.â€

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“Who?†Darren gave the woman a squint. The codename didn't ring any bells and neither did the outfit, generic as it was. He slid away from the doors and the Other Woman, got about ten feet away, and then turned to face her again. His hands were raised in something like a fighting stance without as much practiced form. “I'm trained, you know, I can drop you in, like, seconds.â€

She laughed. “Yeah, sure. Let's not write checks we can't cash. Though I'm sure you're a master at writing checks.†At Darren's glare and the rapid formation of a fist-sized chunk of crystal between his hands, the Other Woman held up her open palms. “I'm not here to fight, alright? I actually need your help. There's a crime going on in the Kirby while we're out here talking, but it's not something I can take care of alone. You want to help or have a stand-off?â€

“What I want...†he worried at his lip, “is to know why you called me. There's, like, hundreds of other capes in Freedom and-â€

“And they wouldn't trust me. Or, they wouldn't trust me and they wouldn't work with me. I'll be honest with you.†She sighed and crossed her arms over her chest. “The stopping crimes thing is new, I used to be more about committing them. But I'm reformed and I'm trying to prove it, but anyone with a bit of grit won't buy that. You know how it is, right? Making a change and getting people to look only at the new you?â€

Darren wriggled his toes in his boots. He knew how it felt to not be a natural born hero, that much was at least true. Briefly, he wondered if she was playing him, but he shook the thought out of his head. Everyone had an angle, but O. W.'s seemed harmless, if a little bit selfish. The crystal he'd been aiming at her chest vanished with a blink and he let his hands drop an inch. “So, what are we trying to stop?â€

Other Woman smiled and relaxed. She motioned for Darren to follow her away from the front of the building and over to the side of the lawn. “Burglary, if it wasn't obvious given we're at a museum. A few other minor things on the way, but that's the big one.†O. W. pointed at the edge of the roof and there was a sharp pop as a thin cable sailed through the dark and clamped to the ledge. She scaled the high wall in a few seconds, though Darren beat her to the top through a lazy float on a crystal disc. They exchanged a mutual eye roll before Other Woman strode across the roof towards the museum's spire with Darren following after.

They came to a stop at the base of the spire. The roof bore a hatch near the spire, maintenance access for sure, but the trap door looked to have been cut off with a torch and tossed aside. A dark tunnel led straight down into the depths of the museum. “They came in here.â€

“Did they really?†At O. W.'s huffed reply, Darren continued. “What're they after?â€

“Did you do any research before you got here?â€

“There's a lot of objets d'art in a fine art museum, by the way.â€

“If I'm right, and I'm always right, they're after a magic shirt.â€

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  • 3 weeks later...

Darren stared at her, lost for words. The Other Woman shook her head and started to descend the ladder leading down to the museum. Darren paced around the busted hatch once, twice, and then a third time before finally following after. Rather than bother with the ladder, he carefully lowered himself down the channel on a small disc. He stared down past his toes at the head of bouncing blonde hair below him.

“Okay, explanation, please.â€

“It's a shirt and it's magic.â€

“Details.†The shaft ended in the ceiling of a hallway, which continued in two directions and then split into multiple other corridors. Darren floated down to just above the polished tile while the Other Woman pulled a small flashlight from her belt and clicked it on. A beam of bright light swept over the paintings on the walls, the busts by the corner, and the couple of benches well worn from thousands of patrons. “Like, what does it do? And who are 'they'?â€

“It doesn't do anything, but it's immune to fire. The act is really more important than the object. As for who they are, well, they're professionals. Looks like security is completely down, even the fail-safe hasn't gone off.†She waved the flashlight around and then began to hurry down the hall. Darren flew after her.

They arrived at one of the smaller wings of the museum, one reserved for the traveling exhibits that made the circuit. Signs outside proclaimed it as “Fashion Through the Ages†and one of the double doors separating it from the rest of the museum lay open. As the two approached, O. W. began to slow. The flashlight clicked off as she slipped into the darkness beyond the door. Darren could make out voices from behind the door, but they were muffled. He drew in a breath, decided that he was in far too deep to back out now, and went through the door.

Windowless and with the power cut, the exhibit was consumed in darkness. Darren couldn't see O. W. as he moved forward, towards a light coming from around a corner. As he appraoched, the voices grew louder, though he couldn't quite make out what they were saying. He pressed himself against the inside wall and stopped at the corner. His partner in anti-crime was still out of sight and he hoped that she hadn't abandoned him. Darren peeked around the corner.

In the middle of the space was a glass case set on a low pedestal. Behind the class was a metal skeleton wearing something red, gold, and glimmering. Darren thought it must have been a tunic, given the way it was cut, though it seemed to be woven with scales rather than with thread.

Next to the case were two women. One was dressed in an emerald slip layered with a blue feather coat and had her eyes concealed behind a flat white mask. She had a heavy duty flashlight in her hands, angled to spread light over the case. The other was dressed in a stripe camisole, a skirt of pink lace, and adorned with a number of chunky bangles to match the clearly pointless belt around her waist. She was also in the process of pulling a glass cutter out of her tiny vinyl purse.

Darren tried to remember his training, but came up with nothing. Instead, he peeled around the corner and held up his hands, ready to attack. “Stop right there. You're under arrest!â€

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