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Fire and Fist (IC)


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Early Evening, January 18th, 2013

Above the Fens, Freedom City

The twilight sky above the Fens was suddenly lit up faintly with a blue light. Cobalt Templar was on patrol, and he was...cranky. It'd been 3 days since one of his best friends turned out to be a robot. And that was basically all he knew, beyond the fact that Trevor had gone off to retrieve Erin. He'd only barely kept in the loop.

Some of it was understandable. He wasn't really part of the Liberty League. He was dating neither Trevor nor Erin. Trevor was an intensely private person, and had likely wanted to get moving as soon as he could. Corbin had caught a faint glimpse of something flashing red far above the city, and assumed it was his taciturn friend. All of those things made sense.

That didn't mean he wasn't frustrated he couldn't help rescue one of his best friends from some sort of terrible fate. He had no firm direction, kind of like the last few months of his life. So he'd fallen back on "punching crime in the face with fire", and while it was working out well enough, he was sort of wishing he at least had someone to punch crime in the face alongside. But Mark was, well, Mark, and who knows where, Eve was busy dealing with the fallout from Grant (probably by buying half the company up and selling the rest off), and Cannonade was keeping busy in his own part of town.

So he was on the lookout for a gang dust-up or something. He wasn't really sure at this point, but he felt like taking on a gang or 10.

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Crimson Tiger stalked the streets, looking for a fight or looking to help. Nazis and space computers, deaths and dismemberment, it was all too much for the girl. She'd decided once they got back that, after she found out her family was safe, she'd go do some regular patrols for a few days to focus again. It was all so overwhelming she almost considered quitting. This would help her get her head together. Fighting street crime, making the world a better place one disrupted drug deal or mugging at a time. Refocus her desire and reaffirm her intent.

She knew that this wasn't going to be the only time things got really bad. It would happen again, because that's what happens when you are a hero. You don't win every battle without risk or penalty. She wanted to make sure that, if she ever found herself asking 'why am I doing this?' she could remember keeping drugs of the street or protecting an innocent, and find that answer enough.

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Tonight was the lucky night for some people for sure. Definitely for Crimson Tiger. Probably not for others, and for Cobalt Templar it was going to be 50/50.

Since a trio of energy blasts roared up to smack him in the legs, face, and thankfully-armored groin, causing him to yelp in surprise, emit a flare of blue fire, and tumble from the sky to slam into the pavement, accompanied by a surprisingly loud set of hollers and cheers.

Mali was able to see the flurry of blasts that had flown into the sky suddenly, drawing her attention to someone who glowed blue and fell from the sky. It was only a couple blocks over where he fell....

Meanwhile, Corbin was laying in a slight crater in the pavement, shaking his head to clear it. He didn't really feel hurt, but he hadn't expected that caliber of weaponry to hit him out here.

"Haha! Told you those capes couldn't take it! Boy it's a good thing we nabbed some of these fancy guns. Now we can get rid of these stinkin' capes and take back our neighborhood! Business has been hurting, after all..."

A group of some 30 or 40 gang-bangers advanced on Cobalt Templar. Around 10 were holding high-tech looking weapons; the rest had mostly baseball bats, pipes, and knives, with a couple of regular guns mixed in. The speaker was apparently the leader of the rather eclectic-looking group of toughs, sporting a bald head and an evil grin.

When Crimson Tiger rounded the corner, she was staring at the back of a large group of toughs, but could just barely make out the blue glow of someone or something on the other side. From the sound of someone's speechifying, it was probably a hero the gang was about to attack en mass...

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Giant gang of thugs, probable hero in a possibly bad situation. Crimson Tiger charged in to the group that conveniently looked away from her. One man dropped after getting punched in the back of the head. Another man dropped to a kick to the back, and a third fell when Crimson Tiger kneed him in the stomach. She waded between them, striking here and there, punching, kicking and kneeing them. She wanted to give the other hero the chance to recover, and hoped the crowd would turn on her for a moment so the other hero could help out, whoever that person was.

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It seemed the only strength this group had (besides a certain sense of diversity) was its sheer numbers. Still, even that didn't seem to help them; only so many could reach the young martial artist, and any of the ones close enough to her to try and attack were also close enough to become unconscious or disabled. Her fists, while not quite as fast as lightning, still hit all the right places to leave them out of the fight. Normally she'd need to worry about the ones with guns.

But they had their own problems. Since Cobalt Templar had stood up and was clearly not impressed.

"Normally I'd be all for community activity, but this is a bit over the line, boys and girls."

"Man you're not even older than us!"

"It's called an expression. Moron."

"Express this!"

Another energy bolt, right to his face. Cobalt Templar's head snapped to the side before slowly turning back around. His right cheek was purple with a bruise, and the corner of his mouth was bleeding. Slowly, dramatically, he reached up and wiped away the blood, rubbing his fingers together a bit before it just burned away.

"That stung. My turn."

And in his hands suddenly was a quarterstaff thicker than a child's arm, and he was suddenly right next to a couple of the ones armed with energy rifles. Which were now scrap while they clutched bruised hands, and then bruised torsos. He was in their midst, and the gang risked hitting themselves instead of the hero!

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Crimson Tiger threw punches and kicks, knocking gang members aside like ragdolls with little effort. These guys weren't really that much of a threat, but they needed to be stopped and she enjoyed putting them down just a bit more than was healthy. None of them were permanently injured, or even severely so. Just incapacitated, painfully incapacitated. She realized that the other hero was back on his feet and in the fight, but decided not to try to talk to him until they'd mopped up the unruly mob.

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Cobalt Templar gave a wordless cry of challenge as he swept his staff in an arc, knocking several gang members (most of whom had more dangerous firearms that were thus conveniently ruined) into others like bowling pins. Ten gangers fell, only five stood back up, and they were blinking the stars out of their eyes.

One of them was simply punched in the face, going out like a light. Another got a groin kick so hard his eyes crossed and he emitted a tiny squeak as he tipped over like a felled tree. Two vicious looking girls tried to attack him from the sides; he simply took a large step back and let them run into each other before giving an exaggerated chop to their necks with his flattened hands. The last thug had picked up one of the 3 still-functional energy guns, and almost had a bead on Templar...until the energy staff was thrown directly into the gun's barrel. The thug dropped it in surprise as it burned and melted, which meant he missed the sleeper hold he was put in until it was too late.

Only two firearms of any kind were left; one was a rusty revolver in the hands of a skinny-as-a-rail thug, while the energy weapon was hefted by a young man built almost like Templar. Too bad they were hopelessly outgunned.

The ring-slinger just grinned and manifested two flattened, high-tech looking pistols that fired what looked suspiciously like sheriff's badges. The last two guns were ruined, and the weilders were knocked down...

But a dozen more thugs came out of the woodwork, probably called in by a text or quick phone call. About two dozen milled around now, and while none of them had guns, the new arrivals were all pretty beefy.

An empty circle had formed around the two heroes, filled with unconscious gang members and metal scrap. With nothing but a nod, the large blue-clad hero moved over to stand at Crimson Tiger's back, eyeballing the remaining thugs with a somewhat arrogant grin.

"So. Are you feeling lucky, punks?"

The construct weapons twirled on his fingers for a moment before pointing outward again.

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Crimson Tiger watched the large hero work out of the corner of her eye. Reasonably decent technique, only a few wasted motions. All in all someone who knew what they were doing. She also realized that the strange, blue armor and weapons he had had to be made of some sort of energy, but she had no idea how or why. When their backs were to each other, she realized that this must have been Cobalt Templar. He fit the bill she'd heard of; big guy, blue armor made of energy. She doubted there were many heroes that met that description. That meant he'd been on Young Freedom before she'd joined!

"Crimson Tiger, nice to meet you." She said with as much politeness as she could manage, while also fighting off a large group of armed thugs. She watched them carefully, half hoping they would run, and half hoping they'd be stupid enough to keep trying.

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"Cobalt Templar. Nice to meet you, Tiger."

It looked like these were stupid thugs, because they charged in to try and take down the two clearly-superior heroes.

"Half and half, then."

And with a flurry of blue fire, his assault began. His twin pistols spat an almost continuous stream of blue star projectiles, and the thugs fell almost like dominoes. Of the dozen or so that charged him, only two made it to arm's length. Those two, he simply reached out, grabbed by the necks, and slapped together.

Crimson Tiger likely wouldn't find things more difficult; the most advanced weapon her "half" of thugs wielded was an aluminum baseball bat, and they had no form or grace to their movements. They weren't very tough, either...

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Crimson Tiger lashed out, striking this way and that. These thugs were idiots. She'd beaten up highly trained Nazis, what did these guys think they were going to do?

"Guys, I've beaten Nazis..." She said, kicking one in the stomach. "Dozens of robots..." an elbow to the head. "And about four or five metas..." and punch to the face. "On a threat scale of one to ten, you guys register a two."

She almost felt sorry for them, almost. But it was hard to feel sorry for someone so stupid as to attack heroes who'd already clearly showed that there were no number of them that would actually be a threat. She knew, of course, that a good shot from one of those energy guns would hurt, but they were so bad at using them that they'd probably never get anywhere near her. She also wanted to make sure they wouldn't be a threat to anyone else, who were already doubtlessly stressed and recovering from the events of a few days prior.

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Cobalt Templar turned as the last of the thugs somehow managed to run his face into Crimson Tiger's outstretched fist, and fell down unconscious.

"That was... anticlimactic. You hurt or anything, or did you just goon-sweep them all before they knew what was what?"

Suddenly, her mention of what she had fought before clicked, and CT stepped over to CT and offered his hand to shake while grinning widely.

"Wait a second, I think I remember now...Crimson Tiger. You're part of Young Freedom, aren't you? Man, are you guys still dealing with Nazis? Ugh. Well, I'm sure you did just fine. How's the rest of the team? Did Citizen manage to stay leader, or has Ghost Girl usurped him yet?"

His light-hearted tone and grin made it clear he wasn't being intentionally cruel to someone who had just lost their team-mate. He just didn't know yet.

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If she had been out of uniform, she would have bawled like a baby. She wasn't going to disrespect her family legacy like that.

"When the rest of the city was dealing with the robot duplicates, we were on Erde. We rescued the Tronik of Erde, convinced their leader not to use a horrible bioweapon, and came home. When we got back to Claremont, Duncan Summers accused us, or at least Wraith and Citizen, of being spies, then he tried to attack Citizen...and turned out to be a robot. We went..." Her voice shook for a moment. "...we went to the Centurion's Sanctum, to try to put Tronik in a safe place. We found the Curator there, extracting things. Citizen and Ghost Girl went into Tronik to save it from the Curator while...while we fought his robot drones."

She closed her eyes. "The Curator left...and...and apparently Citizen...Sharl..." She lowered her head. "He sacrificed himself, somehow, got the Curator to leave Earth and Tronik...but he..."

"NO tears, NO tears, damnit. You are NOT going to cry in this mask, you are not going to cry..." She thought to herself, struggling as best she could. She really hoped Cobalt Templar would know what she was going to say, because she just couldn't say it herself.

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As Crimson Tiger explained, Cobalt Templar's expression grew grim. By the time she was done, his arms had dropped to his sides. His fists clenched and un-clenched, and his eyes were solid orbs of glowing blue energy (or at least appeared that way). Without a word, his gaze snapped to one side, where a pile of wrecked guns (both types) lay on the ground. A blue fiery hand materialized and collected them, before going around grabbing the "straggler" firearms, until it was a box that hovered next to Templar. He took a single step, putting him somewhat inside Tiger's personal space, before suddenly an armor-clad arm was around her back, blue glowing straps holding her steady.

"Hang on."

And in a blur of motion they were standing on a rooftop not far from the site of the battle, CT already giving her space as his back was to her, his attention seemingly focused on the box of weapons. He idly plucked a regular handgun out of the box.

"He...He and I, we never did get along that great. Did any of the ones who were on the team last year talk about that? Probably not. It...wasn't my best year."

He popped out the magazine, mechanically ejecting unspent cartridges into the second of 3 boxes that now floated in the air in front of him. When it was empty, he just crumpled the gun and magazine together in a groan of metal and cracking plastic.

"I sent him a picture I'd made, or a copy anyways, when I graduated. Peace offering. Wanted to let him know I thought he was....was a hero. All of them. You. Are. Heroes. It's..."

He tossed the lump of former gun into the third box, his cape and helmet disappearing in the wind, revealing messy brown hair as his whole person sagged. He mechanically grabbed another gun from the first box.

"Shouldn't have...Invincible. We're supposed to be invincible."

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"Look...I'm no expert on this sort of stuff, but, would you like to go somewhere and talk?" She said. "Grab a bite to eat, pull back from this. I'm in no condition to fight crime anymore right now. If I did, I might risk seriously hurting someone, and I can't do that just because I'm upset. When you're done disposing those guns, I mean." She said.

She knew he was bound to be as upset as she was. This was THE Cobalt Templar. She knew that he'd served on the very same team as Wander, Edge, Midnight and Sage. Rumors of their skill and the things they did still echoed in the halls of Claremont. This was the guy who had fought beside some of the most respected students that had ever come out of Claremont. Even after all the stuff she'd heard them deal with, they'd never lost a member before.

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Cobalt Templar froze after dropping the second wrecked gun into the third box. He seemed to be thinking about Crimson Tiger's suggestion for several long moments, before turning his still-masked gaze back to face her.

"I could really destroy a couple stacks of pancakes right now. Hang on, I'll do this the fast way."

The three boxes became one, and suddenly he was streaking up into the sky, out of sight almost immediately. Perhaps a minute later, he was visible again, and just a few moments later, he was hovering there, without a trace of any of the guns on his person.

"Dumped them in the sun. Now. As for food...do you know a place that serves pancakes that won't make a bit deal of us going in "uniform", or should we switch to plainclothes?"

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"People are a bit nervous about supers right now, probably best to just get out of costume before we go. I do know of a nice diner not that far from here, and I know where I put my clothes. Meet me at this address in about...ten minutes?" She said, pulling out a piece of paper and writing an address down. "I'll be there once I change out of my costume." She handed it to him and waited for his assent before running off.

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"Yeah, nervous is a good word. That sounds fine. Don't worry about missing me, the ring doesn't add more than an inch. Usually."

He took the slip of paper with a slight smirk, before flying off of the roof just as Mali took off on foot.


When Mali arrived at the diner, she saw a guy who was maybe a couple years older than her, but built like a brick house, leaning on the wall next to the door of the diner. He seemed...not nervous, but a bit unsure, and he was clearly keeping his eyes open for someone, anyways. He was dressed plainly, in jeans, a white t-shirt, and a red flannel shirt that was only halfway buttoned. Despite the rather brisk exterior temperature, he didn't even seem chilled.

And his hair looked an awful lot like Cobalt Templar's had.

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Crimson Tiger was pretty sure that this ridiculously tall, buff man was the same person as the other ridiculously tall, buff man she'd seen a few minutes before. Unless, of course, he had a twin. She walked up to him, and assumed that if it were him, he'd be waiting for someone, and if it weren't, he'd be confused.

"Hi, were you looking for someone specific?" She asked. She stood about a foot shorter than him, and wore baggy, if stylish clothing. Jeans that hung a little loose around the legs, long sleeved blouse and jacket. Her costume gave very little indication of her real appearance, but her voice didn't change at all.

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The tall young man's attention snapped to Mali. For just a moment, there was a severe degree of caution, before realization visibly flooded his eyes. A not-quite-smile leaked onto his face.

"Yeah. I'm Corbin, by the way."

He offered her his hand, hoping this time there wouldn't be a bombshell instead of a handshake.

"Glad you made it."

He jerked his head to the door.

"Shall we get inside and commence with eating?"

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Mali took Corbin's hand and shook firmly, unsurprised that his grip was as firm as her own. "Mali." She said with a polite smile. "Yeah, I'm hungry, haven't been able to eat much for the past couple of days." She opened the door and walked inside, knowing that this diner was pretty much seat yourself style. She wasn't sure what she wanted, but she'd only eaten three meals since she'd gotten back from the Sanctum, and those were when she was so hungry she had to. She was still shaky over what happened.

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Corbin trailed behind, politely stepping to the side a few times to avoid running into patrons or staff bustling back and forth in the homey little diner. He waited until Mali was seated, both for being a bit of a gentleman, and for the sake of getting a better idea of how he could arrange table and chairs to not make it too uncomfortable. He still ended up a bit hunched over, and "cheating" a bit with his powers very slightly lowering his weight to make the seat more comfortable.

"Too bad there's not an "extra burly boy size" booth or whatnot."

When the waitress came by, Corbin asked for an extra-big glass of milk along with some water, before settling to look at the menu. He tried to find out if they served pancakes this late at night.

"So...I guess busy with patrol? With the, you know, not eating."

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Mali ordered a similarly large glass of milk. Pancakes weren't something she got often, but she did enjoy them. While she normally avoided foods like that as part of her strict diet, she hadn't been following it very well since that day and needed a bit of help.

"Well, it's not just that. I mean...dealing with the Curator and the Wrathful stuff was after I'd already been to Erde. Saw some bad stuff there, saw bad stuff back home. Duncan Summers practically died in front of me. Took a few minutes to realize it was a robot." She stared downward. "I'll be okay, but, I've only ate when I was really, really hungry. I just don't feel very good the rest of the time."

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Corbin absently nodded, both to himself and to Mali's words, as he spied his prize. He looked up at her, sympathy in his eyes.

"It's...it's rough, seeing that. It was the end of my junior year before I saw death. First it was one, just right there in front of me, but then...It got a lot worse."

He stopped as their milk was placed on the table.

"I'll have a stack of at least 6 of those blueberry pancakes. Yes. 6. I know how much it costs. Don't worry about it. Big thing of syrup for us would probably be a good idea, too."

After Mali had ordered and the waitress had moved on, he continued.

"Wish I had magic words here. I don't. It sucks. Just...damn. This just makes me feel more useless. Didn't do anything useful to help any of my friends. At most I just helped blow up some robots."

He sat back with a sigh, sipping his milk and looking a little despondent.

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"I feel the same way. I mean, all I did when we got to the Sanctum was beat up a bunch of robots. It was a lot of robots, but I didn't do anything to contribute to the victory. That was Sharl, Kimber, and Koshiro. Indira and I beat up the robots, Kristen made sure we escaped. Beating up the robots didn't really help in the long run, since Koshiro blew the computer up and Sharl and Kimber beat the Curator anyway..." She closed her eyes.

"But, we're not always in the position to be the one who does the important stuff. Sometimes it's the job of someone else, and all we can do is be supportive. It sucks, but it isn't our fault. Bad things happened, and they'll keep happening." She remembered Sharl's body and the anguish of her friends. "But we're not heroes because everything is fine. We're heroes because we're trying to make the world a better place."

She leaned in further and looked up at Corbin. Both depressed, both trying to deal with tragedy and loss.

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"I mean, yeah, it's just...I don't even feel like I'm being "supportive". My friends just kind of brushed me off. Friend, really. He raced off to save our friend who'd been replaced. You heard about that, right?"

The waitress returned with stacks of pancakes, Corbin thanked her, and he took a few moments to take a huge bite, which seemed to incrementally improve his mood.

"I hadn't heard about Summers. I've heard about some of the other swaps, but not him. Gah. I feel like i'm totally disconnected at this point! I only occasionally see my YF buddies, and sometimes it feels like even that is forced. I think I'm frustrated because not only was I not able to help directly really at all, I don't even feel like I have a direction. Right now."

He gives a bitter laugh.

"Man listen to me. One of my teammates is dead. Damn it. I...damn, I'm sorry Mali. At least..."

He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, his whole self seeming to steady and strengthen as he does.

"At least he did what he dedicated himself to: He saved Tronik. Twice over."

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