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The Sun Never Sets [IC]

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Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

11:23 PM

 

Cannonade tread across the roofs of Southside, looking down on the streets below. He was looking for some sign that might lead him to the answer to the latest mystery in a city that never seemed to run out of them. Specifically, he was looking for an anachronism. 

 

He'd first learned about the issue at work, the week before. Harry, one of the long-time guys, had been talking about his brother. The guy had been working at a construction company that had gone bankrupt, and had spent months looking for a new job without finding much luck. Joe knew that well - his dad was busting his butt just trying to keep all the guys on the crew. But Harry's brother had called him about finding a new job, one that wasn't inside his usual skill set but which would pay well. He'd been gone two weeks, with his wife not hearing one word from him. But she had received something through her mail slot - a sack full of coins. Gold coins. 

 

He'd done some digging, checking over news articles on missing persons cases. Over the past three months, there'd been a few cases where the person who'd disappeared had been jobless, and had been so for a while. Not many articles mentioned if they'd taken employment before their disappearance, but the families had received items in the mail - a jade statue, for instance, or a box of rubies. Valuable things from people who had no idea how modern currency worked. 

 

Cannonade knew he wasn't the detecting type; he was more willing to throw himself into the fray and beat a problem until it went away. He'd checked the case files on the missing persons, finally finding a detective who was willing to bring in a hero. They'd let it slip that there was a detail in one of the disappearances that wasn't mentioned in the press - the man's daughter had heard the clopping of hooves on asphalt, and woken to see a carriage outside her house. She'd gone back to bed, thinking it was a dream.

 

And now, Cannonade locked his eyes on the streets below, hoping for one hell of an unlikely sight, and hoping it might help him find where these people had vanished to. 

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At that precise moment, a knight in silver armor flew over Cannonade's head, a jetpack shaped like a dragon's head roaring black and red flame as he hovered over the scene. With his massive silver blade hanging at his side, Caradoc looked to visual inspection like a particularly technophiliac mystic, or a particularly old-fashioned gadgeteer. The Omegadrone beneath the holographic armor was, of course, neither. I am no detective, Harrier thought as he grimly turned over in his mind what had led him to this place. Disappearances from FLSCH weren't all that uncommon, even with the tracking devices in the building, given that circumstances meant that some of the Cline's residents were unable to live contentedly among the inhabitants of Freedom City. The League investigated, always, but sometimes not as hard as they might have. Peter Irons, alcoholic and political crank, refugee scientist from a world overrun by genetically engineered economic collectivists, had not been popular with most of his neighbors - but Steve had gotten to know his one-time neighbor well, and even introduce him to the refugee alien that was his girlfriend. He has never disappeared this long even when the drink has him. Something else is happening. 

His investigation had had one result; Finley had reluctantly turned over the gold bars that had been left in Pete's apartment to Steve, who she trusted more than the League members who had done a desultory investigation based on her call. He was bought by something. Something with an obligation to pay...but where do I go from here? 

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Gabriel was, unusually for him, in a rather poor mood. Bad enough several people in Southside had disappeared. But two had been students in the theater program that he had personally taught; Robert and Theodore had both been struggling to find work before they disappeared. So when Robert's mother found a box with strangely-stamped gold coins on her porch, but not her missing son, the hero in white was suspicious. Theodore's parents had reported a collection of small stamped silver ingots. The other half-dozen men and women who had disappeared had left behind similar clues with their families, typically a week or two after they vanished.

 

In almost every case, someone in the family had "just happened" to hear, and in a couple of cases even see, a fanciful horse-drawn carriage moving away from their home sometime late at night or early in the morning. 

 

As far as the Irishman was concerned, there was only one rational explanation.

 

'Bloody Fae. How many times will I need to kick their arses up between their pointy ears to get the idea they're not wanted or welcome on Earth, and especially not in my neck of the woods? They're like ants, popping up just when you thought you had relief from them. Maybe it's a new, even stupider group. Well, they're going to be finding out they made a mistake when I sing them a dirge..'

 

His face was clouded with restrained anger as he stalked down the street, forgoing his usual flight in favor of trying to figure out if there was a pattern to where the people had disappeared from that he was missing from the air. His spear, usually kept tucked away as a ring on his hand, was tapping out a steady rhythm, while his white coat billowed behind him and his helmet and hood left his usually vibrant eyes somewhat shaded, especially in the dim light from the street lamps. His gaze flickered all over, trying to catch a glimpse of a carriage, horses, or someone who wildly stood out from the neighborhood; all signs of a potential Fae. 

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Keith LaMarr certainly stood out in a crowd but after decades of living in the south end of Freedom City he as much a fixture of the neighbourhood as anyone else. The broad-shouldered high school teacher and veteran hero was for once dressed in his full contemporary uniform as he walked the streets of Southside with heavy footfalls, a wide yellow 'W' standing out against the flat black of his shirt. With superdense muscle tissue and a confident stride he looked as implacable as the foundations of the aging building around him.
 
It had been the disappearance of one of his student's father that had initially brought the string of missing persons cases to his attention. Shawnice was a bright teen with a head for numbers and a relentless work ethic but her chances of attending her first pick of colleges had been put in jeopardy by layoffs at the plant where her father Wilson worked. The girl had mentioned off-hand that he had gotten a line on a new job opportunity but the next he'd heard about it Wilson had been missing for days. The small chest of carved ivory figurines had brought two things to mind: that this was clearly something that fell into his field of expertise and just how he was going to apply the skills of that field to whomever thought they could buy a man from his family.
 
Seeing Gabriel coming toward him he simply folded his arms and waited for the other man to close the distance; LaMarr's size meant he rarely needed to wave to attract someone's attention. "You I remember from the Megalodon business. Guessing we're looking for the same folks," he greeted without preamble, the deep bass of his voice rumbling in his chest. "Leads?"

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On a column of blazing fire, Caradoc descended to join the others, feeling a little out of place among the more subtle heroes. He felt a momentary awkwardness surrounded by superheroes, but reminded himself of the necessity of his investigation and getting help for it. "Forsooth, there was one taken from another dimension. A refugee to this world from another one." He told the others the story of the disappearance he was investigating, occasionally stumbling over a bit of faux-medievalisms as he tried to stay 'in-character'. It had been a while since he'd adventured behind the disguise, and was a little out of practice. "He was a drunk and known to disappear. Even the League has barely looked. But he has not disappeared since he found yon crimson maid. I do not believe he would have abandoned her, and the coach was no coincidence. But I am no investigator." 

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Gabriel was just about to suggest that he and Wail walk and talk to compare notes while keeping an eye open...but then Caradoc landed. So instead he just greeted both of them and listened to the shining knight's tale. 

 

He knew who was under the glittering exterior, but Wail did not, and so he made sure that "Caradoc" was the name he addressed his fellow hero by.

 

"First, this just confirms everything. Including my fear it's even bigger than I thought. I've gotten a half-dozen stories that are similar. No ivory statues, but plenty of precious metals or stones or whatnot. I looked at one of the coins."

 

His mouth gave an expression somewhere between "I just ate something that tasted terrible" and "I want to belt some jerk from school across his fool mouth so very badly" as he spoke.

 

"I think it's the Fae Folk. The coins and jewels and statues are all their way of "paying off" the families. I don't know if it's straight-up kidnapping, mind control, or a web of lies. Doesn't really matter. As soon as I-we-find out where they're hiding and how they're moving back and forth, we're going to bust in their, knock them on their play-loving behinds, cuff them in their pointy ears, and get our people back. Problem is, I don't have a trail to follow. Just a lot of people saying they heard and sometimes saw a carriage that didn't belong. Sadly I'm not as good as some of the other heroes out there on out-and-out tracking..."

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Cannonade saw the others gathering below him. Normally Southside was his kind of beat, so he guessed he wasn't the only one investigating a missing persons case. He leapt from the roof and landed as softly as he could on the pavement below, trudging over to the other heroes. "Nice seeing you again, Wail, Gabe," he said. "How've you been holding up?" He looked over to the man in knightly armor - he'd seen him flying around Freedom, but hadn't exactly had the chance to work by his side. "Nice to meet you, too. Caradoc, right?"

 

After the others shared their reasons for coming to Southside, he spoke again. "Got some missing workers on my end, too," he said. "Fairies, huh? Wouldn't be surprised in this town. But, yeah, what kinda trail do you follow for those guys? Keep your eyes peeled for a rainbow? Smell for baking Keebler? What sort of --" 

 

He fell silent as a sound echoed up the street. It was faint, and could only be heard because of the short lack of traffic on the street. But it was distinct. Hoof beats. Sure enough, two blocks down, a coach was being led down the street, pulled by two horses with immaculate black coats and driven by a man in the finest coachman's regalia. 

 

"...or the fairies could always come to us. That works, too." 

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"Hmph. Gotta figure that's too easy," Wail grunted as the carriage rolled down the street in full view, "but I'll bite." Bending his knees slightly, the greying hero launched himself into the air with superdense muscles, propelling his considerable mass through the air like a boulder flung by a trebuchet. Timing his leap well, he landed just beside the carriage with enough time to grip the anachronistic vehicle's frame before the beasts pulling it could be startled into a panic. "I'm not up on all the latest ordinance," he called to the unseen passengers inside, "but I'll bet you need some sort of permit for a rig like this."

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The man in coachman's regalia looked down at Wail as he used his weight as the world's heaviest car boot. The man had a thin face, pale skin, and immaculate features, the points of his ears pressing against the brim of his top hat. "Sir," he said, with a voice right out of a Merchant Ivory picture, "I would ask you not to halt this coach in its nightly duties."

"And what duties would those be?" Cannonade said, running over to the carriage once he was sure Wail had secured it. "Look, we're just trying to see if your license is up to date..."

He looked into the windows of the carriage, taking care to brace the frame as Wail had, to add more ballast in case the coachman did decide to take off. No one was inside - yet - which was a small mercy.

"You will not arrest me in the duties, good sir," he said. "I shall carry on my business."

"Yeah, good luck with tha--"

The whip cracked, and the carriage took off with hideous alacrity. Wail's heels trailed up sparks as the carriage sped down the street; it seemed the weight of him and Cannonade were the only things keeping it from achieving relativistic speeds. He dug his hands into the wood, trying very hard not to go flying off into the street. You just had to say it, didn't you?

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Cannonade was holding on to the wood of the carriage with such force, he should have cracked the wood. But while the coach felt like hardwood, it seemed to have the structural integrity of steel. No, that was an understatement - steel was softer than this. It didn't seem to be having much effect on the carriage's drag, either - at least, any more than he and Wail were. The horses were moving so fast they were sending up sparks on the asphalt, but weaved through traffic with such grace that the carriage didn't even tilt. The coachman, meanwhile, had leapt to his feet and drawn his quirt with perfect grace, not once losing his balance despite the pace of his coach.

"I asked you politely," he said to Wail. "Everyone who rides must have their fare paid, either on boarding or in advance. You... have not." The whip came down on Wail's head, and bit deep - not into his flesh, but into his mind, sending a roaring pain through his head.

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'Caradoc' didn't address the coachman - Steve wasn't much for banter at the best of times, not to mention in the middle of a high-speed chase through Freedom City. He didn't like the coachman's manners or his method, but he was experienced enough to know to go for the vehicle rather than the bad guy himself. Instead he flipped over on his back, jetpack roaring as he easily kept up with the speeding coach. He drove his blade into the wheels, the whole coach vibrating as the shrieking tip hit the spokes, cutting deeper and deeper as he pushed harder and harder. It was only a matter of time until he cut deep enough to break the wheels and flip the entire contraption over - hopefully by then they would be in a less populated area! 

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The mind-biting assault of the crop caught Wail entirely off guard, shocking him into relinquishing his grip on the speeding carriage as it improbably dragged his considerable weight along. Hitting the street hard, the aging powerhouse shook off the trauma and rose back to his feet, fuming. "Oh hell no. Taking a punch is one thing," he grumbled as he planted one foot firmly enough to leave a dent in the pavement and began breathing in deeply through his nose, brow lowering in determination. "You hit a man like an animal, you get put down like a DOG!" The last syllable tore down the street in a column of earth shaking force, distorting the air visibly as it kicked up a whirlwind of dirt and sent nearby trash bins and other detritus flying.

The shout collided with the supernatural carriage squarely, cracking its frame and knocking it into the air. The couch toppled end over end as Cannonade and the driver were cast off to fall back to the ground. With a barely satisfied grunt, Wail kicked off into the air again, making up the distance with another prodigious leap.

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There was a sudden *crack* sound, and Gabriel was hovering a couple dozen feet away from the Coachman, seemingly standing on thin air as his entire form wavered from the sound roiling about his person. His coat was flapping madly in the not-breeze, and his eyes all but glowed with rage as he spoke, his voice booming out.

"You speak of duty? Of goodness? Of fares? You are a cur! I name you an honor-less dog! You and your masters are not welcome here! You trade in lies and pain!"

He flung his left hand forward, and a barrage of "balls" of sound flung forth, reducing the shimmering around him somewhat as they slammed into the Fae man before them. Gabriel's tirade continued.

"Must I bring your whole wretched kingdom crashing down around your ears? Must I crumble every brick and mortar to teach the lesson? Must I bring the highest of Albion low to the ground?"

The spear jutted forward, and even more sound roared forth, slamming once more into the person Gabriel suspected was a dressed-up slave-taker.

"The Fae are not welcome here! Takers of lives! Breakers of families! Speakers of falsehoods! Surrender, take us to your master, and be spared further battle!"

Edited by KnightDisciple

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Cannonade was still trying to wrestle control of the carriage when Wail's scream hit with the force of a bomb. The coach went flying, tumbling end over end in mid-air. The coachman was able to tumble with the carriage, poising for a dismount - but the coach proved too fast for him, and he was caught up in the reins just as he tried to complete the leap. Cannonade decided to try no such thing; the second the nearest lamppost passed under him, he dropped off and grabbed on, trying to avoid the mess. The carriage came slamming to the ground about half a block down from him, the coachman caught up in the mess.

He touched down on the ground, his eyes turned towards the mess. The carriage was still mostly intact, though it was on its roof. The horses, however, likewise had their backs to the ground. They extended outwards from the carriage itself like limbs, their hooves kicking at the air as if trying to gain traction. He didn't even have time to realize all the levels on which that was screwed up. He just closed with the coachman, trying to bring him down --

-- but the coachman was quick enough to escape the wreckage and dodge Cannonade's blow. "You are abridging my duties further," he said. "I should --"

Cannonade wouldn't find out what the coachman wanted to do, as Gabriel opened fire with an aural assault. The coachman reeled, stumbling on his feet. Behind him, the coach had - somehow - managed to right itself, and the horses were looking none too pleased.

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For his part, Caradoc neglected the coachman entirely and closed on the coach, the armored knight slowly advancing on the vehicle that he gradually began to recognize was no ordinary vehicle. Horses were all one body with the coach itself, twitching extensions of the all-too-living main body. It reminded the man behind the armor, suddenly, terribly, of the rickshaws of the Terminus. He caught 'equine' nostrils snuffling wildly at the air as he approached, and suddenly came to a realization. 
 
"You know, don't you? You can smell it in the air." He walked up to the lead horse and put an armored finger to its lips and spoke. His soft, mechanical whisper was harsh, harsher than Steve liked being, but he grew uncomfortable with actually attacking a mindless servant if there were alternatives. "Sssh. Be very quiet, and do not move. If you attempt to escape, or rescue that creature, you will be found." He turned and fired a double-blast at the coachman, which unfortunately went wild, hurtling past him without actually making contact. Careless, he chided himself. Don't fire into melee with someone that swift. "The coach-thing has been subdued!"

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Coming down nearby the carriage, Wail made a sound of acknowledgement in Caradoc's direction before barreling forward with surprising speed given his size directly at the coachman. Heedless of wandering into Gabriel's line of fire, the earsplitting educator wasn't about to give the slippery opponent any breathing room to get a step ahead again. Hand rocketing forward like a piston, he caught the fae by the throat and slammed him into brick wall of the nearest building with enough force to rattle what passed for the creature's bone and knock a few loose bits of masonry loose. "You're going nowhere, joker," he rumbled in a deep, dangerous tone, pinning the coachman in place and looming over him menacingly. "You've been taking folks. You're going to tell us where and why. I'm talking now; you've already used up all my damn patience."

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Cannonade was about to take advantage of Wail's hammerlock and deliver a good blow to the coachman's solar plexus, taking him out of the fight - but he brought the fist short, delivering just a tap that caused the fight to go out of the driver. "You heard the man," he said. "Start talking, or we'll see how long it takes to turn your ride back into a pumpkin. Then again, we might just turn it into firewood first."

"You cannot..." Between the grip around his diaphragm and the punch to the chest, the coachman seemed rather short of breath. "...detain me... I am expected... back in Victoria..."

"Victoria? Where the hell's that? And where'd you take your customers?"

"They came... for employment. We have... provided."

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Gabriel's fierce expression didn't fade as the Coachman was thoroughly punished for his transgressions. If anything, he became angrier as the Fae insisted they "couldn't" detain him.

 

He contemptuously raised his left hand and pointed it at the otherworldly coach.

 

"You intrude on this realm and then dare tell us we cannot detain you? And have the audacity to pass off whatever twisted scheme you run as "employment"? I say thee NAY!"

 

A trio of sound bolts slammed into the carriage-thing, one of them striking one of the "horses" in the head, while the other two struck the main body of the beast-vehicle-whatever.

 

"You shall direct us to where your prisoners are. And then we shall have words with thine lords and ladies."

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The coach took off at a gallop as Gabriel turned his fury upon it, and was sent aloft once more thanks to the concentrated fury of his sonic assault. When it came to a rest about a block down, the horses were twitching slightly, the paint had been stripped from the main carriage, and the whole thing looked like it had been attacked by an army of hammers. The coachman looked displeased, to say the least. "If you've crippled my steed --" he said.

"Then that'd be the first time you've given a damn tonight," Cannonade said. He felt somewhat bad about the state of the carriage-thing, but he was in strange territory here. He wasn't even sure what was healthy for something like that. "Now where the hell is everyone?"

With some urging, the coachmen led Cannonade and the others to a dead end alley. The brick wall at the end was remarkably clean, where the other walls had the fair bit of graffiti. "I'll... need a hand free..." With the request granted, the coachman managed to tap his quirt against the brick wall... which shimmered like the disturbed surface of a lake.

"Just walk through. And see the glory of Victoria."

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Caradoc knelt down by the fallen coach and patted the 'horses' awkwardly, feeling a strange sense of empathy for the near-mindless creature. "There were other ways to do that," he said out loud, before rising to his feet and walking in a slow, mechanical stride towards the coachman and the gateway he'd opened. Steve was familiar with other dimensions and the dangers of visiting them in ignorance, perhaps more so than any of the others could imagine. He rounded on the coachman too, gigantic sword in his hand. "Before we go through, tell us what Victoria is and what we will find there. And what is _this_?" he asked in genuine bafflement, pointing at the coachman as he inquired of the others. "Ye seem to know his like, ye Gabriel." 

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Gabriel landed and walked over to Caradoc. He kept his voice down as he tried to give his friend an extremely quick summation.

 

"Be careful. Being associated with the Fae are rarely what they appear, and are almost always treacherous. As for his like"

 

Gabriel closed his eyes for a moment, taking several deep breaths. He opened them, the flaring anger gone, but a few embers burning still. Now his eyes were cautious, but determined as he gazed at the rippling portal. 

 

"The "Fair Folk" hail from one or more nearby parallel dimensions that either inspired or are inspired by a large number of scattered tales, legends, and myths. But the story is all the same. Creatures which appear incredibly beautiful, bearing wonderful arts, possessing incredible skills and talents...But they also display cruelty. And treachery. They lie and scheme, or warp the "truth" as much as possible. This one claims the missing are "employed". I would imagine that, for the Fae, that means the bounties paid to the families are compensation for these people never returning. The Fae will use them up until they die, or until the Fae are no longer amused by whatever they do. At which point they will kill them. Or ensorcel them further. Whatever the case, the Fae will not let them return if they can help it.

 

Every time I have dealt with their kind, they bring death, misery, pain, deception, and suffering to this world. The very "best" of them are isolationist xenophobes who think of humans as amusing lesser creatures, but who would prefer to scheme and plot only within their own realms. The worst...the worst have tried to take parts of this world for their own. I should know; I bear the scars from stopping them."

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At Gabriel's words, Caradoc went perfectly, almost mechanically still for a long moment. Only Gabriel had reason to know why the thought of beings from another dimension kidnapping and changing people from another would fill the being beneath the knight's armor with a feeling like burning ice buried deep in his heart. "I was unaware that there were entities that so threatened Earth-Prime," he said in a voice like cold, flat death. Blade in his hand snapping wide with an oddly familiar chunkchunkchunk sound, the armored knight strode through the gateway to Victoria without looking backward. "Bring the coachman," he spoke backwards through the portal. "He can take us to his dread masters." 

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Wail's reaction to Gabriel's inference matched Caradoc's for intensity but was not so coldly controlled. The broad-shouldered teacher's grip tightened around the coachman's throat, not enough to cut off the fae's air but very deliberately applying pressure. "Slavery," he growled, his metahuman voice rattling the nearby debris from the fight as he directly named what the white clad sonic controlled was describing. "You came to my city and you took my people as slaves. Understand: you don't walk away from that." The experienced hero was well versed in alien mentalities and differing concepts of morality, he just didn't particularly care. Lifting the coachman into the air, he carried him through the portal after the armored knight, the knuckles of his free hand cracking as he clenched his fist.

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Cannonade was last through the portal, mainly because he was trying to process what he might find. He wasn't happy with the situation - to say the absolute least - but he really didn't know much about this territory. He knew that fairies existed. He knew that they weren't all Tinkerbell, and more than a few of them had played merry hell with Freedom in the past. But what he knew beyond that couldn't have filled a bar napkin. As he passed through the brick wall, he expected to find himself in a medieval kingdom, or perhaps a forest glen.

He didn't expect to find himself in an alley that didn't look that different from the one in Freedom, if about a century or two back. In fact, the closest thing that came to mind as he surveyed his surroundings was that Victorian alternate dimension he'd traveled to with Edge and Silhouette. But even that didn't compare to this place. There was hardly any little on the streets, even back here in a blind alley. The sound of the city - the clattering of hooves, the calling of voices - was more of a musical accompaniment than a din. And up in the sky, there was just the thin, swirling trace of smog, enough that you could see the stars right through it.

"Christ," he said, "it's like if someone sandblasted Dickens."

"Ooh, new customers!"

Cannonade looked to the mouth of the street. Two not-unattractive women in alluring clothes that just skirted the lines of Victorian modesty were peeking down the alley; underneath their elaborate hats, he could see the pointed ears. "'Ello, dears!" said one of them. "How 'bout a little jig? Just five shillings for the delight."

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"Christ was not involved in any of this, Cannonade. Be wary. Accept no "gifts". Try not to drink or eat anything. We should take care not to linger..."

And then the faerie prostitutes tried to hook them. Gabriel stepped to the front of the group, his shining spear tapping out a steady rhythm as he walked forward. His face was as impassive as stone, and at first, his tone was light, almost friendly.

"Putting aside the fact that the ears and the accents are a turnoff, I don't want to even think about the diseases, faeries. Now. Putting aside the fact that "five shillings for the delight" is so low as to be almost insulting, or the fact that we're extremely busy, or the fact that I wouldn't touch a Fae in that way with a thirty-nine-and-a-half-foot pole, or a bunch of other things...."

Suddenly his tone was deadly serious.

"There's the fact that I'm probably going to pull most of this stinking city of lies down around your pointy deceiving ears. There's a group of bigger predators on the block now, Fair Folk. So if you "ladies" want some free advice, it would be to leave. Leave now and leave far. Run. Otherwise..."

He made a shooing motion with the spear.

"Get thee out of mine way, Satan."

Edited by KnightDisciple

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