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Hunter and Prey

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GM

Rooftop across from a gas station
The Fens, Freedom City, New Jersey

Saturday November 14th, 2015

11:20 PM

 

The fens had a history of unsolved knife wielding serial killings every so often.  It was almost cyclical in nature tracing all the way back to a series of grisly murders in 1890.  And it seemed 2015 was shaping its way to being another notch in that cycle.  A series of murders with a shared mo had been occurring over the past three weeks.  No leads, the pending holiday season, and limited resources had been a major roadblock in the FCPD's investigation. 

 

The crimes rang familiar.  In his world, not long after the streets of the fens had been uprooted.  Someone started hunting survivors.  The killer murdered twelve  people before being caught by a feral.  The theory was that he lost his mind after his family died or a loved one turned into a feral.  No one ever investigated fully, simply another footnote in the end of the world.

 

Once again Riley had found himself in the Fens.  Perched above one of the waterfront bars, he had an open view of the city's infamous vice district.  A sleazy hotel named "Good Vibrations" could be spotted in the distance.  The second o in the giant neon sign no longer lit up.  A few low rent houses belonging to some suspected drug pushers had heavy traffic coming in and out were also within view.  The drunk passersby occasionally got into confrontations.  But, overall it was what one could call a quiet night for the Fens. 

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Since taking up his sniping position, Riley had been debating calling Robin. He'd gone out on his own to prove that he didn't need his super-strong girlfriend's help, especially not when it came to hunting. But the more time he spent on the rooftop, prone on his belly, watching the street scenes and the rooftops with his binoculars, the more he began to kick himself about not bringing along his local expert in the terrain - even if they probably weren't going to get up to the usual business they got up to on rooftops by night. Not really in the mood for that. The murders in the Fens, some of the last recorded 'real' crime before the death of the Millennium Bug, had been bad enough to stick in the consciousness of a people living through the end of their world. This wasn't going to be the kind of day that ended with kisses. His tactical recriminations were soon banished from his mind by the sight of the watcher across the street. Stock-still at first, Riley began making slow passes with his binoculars to scan over the other man, getting a good look without making it look like he'd actually spotted the other man. No use flushing potential prey this early. 

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GM

 

The man on the rooftop's dark suit blended into the night.  His body was positioned in such a way as to hide the fact if he were carrying some sort of weapon.  Stepping forward the man leaned over the hotel's rooftop.  Peering through his binocular once more he focused his attention remained focus on one of the questionable looking low rent houses.  Completely unaware of the teen's prying eyes.

 

Seconds later Riley heard a hoarse scream coming from the direction of those very same homes the rooftop voyeur was staring.  Bursting out of one of the doors was another man wearing a suit. He took off in a dead sprint. Fully intending to get away from the house.  Looking closely, Riley could make out what appeared to be blood on the man's jacket.

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Woodsman didn't hesitate. He racked the slide on his crossbow's magazine and fired, sending an explosive bolt through the night sky that impacted on his target's back with a loud bang. It was a perfect hit, center of body mass, that sent the man to the ground with devastating force. It was enough to put any normal down for the count; hell, the hard part had been finding a load small enough that it wouldn't kill a normal human on impact. But as the man he'd shot started getting up, Riley abruptly stopped congratulating himself and started moving into action. He slapped a climbing clip from his belt on a nearby railing, then fired the attached bolt at the sidewalk pitched at just the right angle. As soon as he heard the bolt hit, he grabbed his hatchet and leaped off the roof, sliding down the line with the smooth steel of the hatchet's handle 'riding' the line for him, his gloved hands gripping tightly. He'd worry about that other guy later.

 

 

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GM

 

Nearby bystanders screamed out in shock as they heard the popping sound of the explosive bolt striking the man in the back.  As Riley slid down, he noticed the man he shot rising to his feet.  The back of his jacket and shirt had been ripped open.  But, his flesh was not so much as singed by the bolt.  A fact that proved beneficial in allowing Riley a clear view of the bottom half of a tattoo.  The words, de oppresso liber legible.  If not understood by the teen who hadn't taken a semester of latin.

 

The man continued trying to get away from the area.  His speedy limp was nowhere near the impressiveness of the dead sprint he had managed earlier.  But, he still had the head start on his side.  When the Woodsman touched down on the ground, he found the remains of his bolt's shaft.  But it was not alone, next to it was a knife.  The blade clearly covered in fresh blood.

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Woodsman dropped to one knee and racked his magazine's lever, dropping another bolt in and drawing the string in the same motion. Without a word he fired a single shot right through the crowd of people, this one a blunted bolt that struck his target square in the back of the head. The blow, harder than a strong man's punch, set his target sprawling against the concrete steps of a small apartment house, knocking him out cold. Great shot! he briefly exulted, before the hostile crowd, many of them made of up men bigger and stronger than he was, began to close in. With a snarl, Riley loaded another bolt, his mind flicking to the hatchet he wore at his side. He'd hacked his way out of crowds of Ferals this size - but not without killing. Why are they on _his_ side? "Dammit, I'm a supahero! Didn't you hear what's happenin' in that house?" 

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GM

 

"We've heard it all before kid.  Just another one of those crazies killing people and calling heroism."  One man shouted.

 

"Not in my city!  I'm calling the cops." Another shouted.

 

"I saw it all!  He shot that guy after he was running for his life!  I bet that's why I heard a scream earlier."  A third person seemed to opine.

 

The crowd converging on Riley had seen fit to paint the youth the villain of the story.  Meanwhile, Riley made out the sight of a black van with fully tinted window pulling up next to the man he knocked unconscious.  The back of the van opened to reveal four men wearing ski masks.  Two of whom stepped out to pull the fallen man inside.

 

The screeching of the van's tires took the crowd's attention off the Woodsman for a moment.  Giving Riley an ounce of breathing room as the unmarked vehicle began speeding away.  A second scream erupted from the house.  "Kenny!"

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It would be so easy. An hatchet strike to the nearest man, high and hard, to show he wasn't afraid even of the biggest ones, then the rest would run as soon as he'd done enough damage. It...They aren't Ferals! They aren't Ferals! And no wonder he had to tell himself that, when an angry mob bent on harm had only ever meant one thing, with their teeth bared and eyes flashing rage in the dark. As the angry crowd looked away, Riley turned and ran, readying a smoke arrow if they tried to follow. Whatever everyone at school thought about him, he wasn't a killer! He ducked inside the murder house and slammed the door shut, throwing the lock with a reflex borne of long practice.

 

Turning to face the inside of the house, he raised his voice and called out, "'Lo? I'm Woodsman. I'm a superhero - I'm here t'help." 

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GM

 

The crowd wasn't willing to completely disperse.  But, no one had absolutely any idea as to where the boy had disappeared.  Over in the house Woodsman didn't get an answer.  Instead all he could make out was the sound of a woman sobbing.  Stepping inside, Woodsman was immediately treated to the awful stench of chemical fumes.  

 

The once white walls of the house had taken on some sort of frightful combination of green and brown after years of abuse.  The kitchen looked less like a kitchen and more like a high school chem lab.  One that hadn't seen an ounce of funding in years.  Following the distraught woman's cries Woodsman found himself in the living room.  Every piece of furniture showed signs of a struggle.  The television had a large hole in the center of the screen, a glass coffee table had been shattered, not to mention the rocking chair that had been split evenly in half.

 

In the middle of the floor was a young man in his early twenties.  His body had various scars and cuts, most notably was the gaping puncture wound in the center of his chest.  The wound had an x carved through it, appearing akin to a bloody asterisk in the middle of the man's body.  Sobbing over him was a woman appearing the same age range as the man.   Her hands covered in blood, hinting to some ineffective attempt to treat the victim before realizing he was dead.  All she could manage to mutter was the word "why?"  repeatedly.

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Riley looked down at the body, his eyes wide - but it was Woodsman who spoke aloud. Woodsman had seen this kind of thing before. Too many times before. From the doorway, so he wouldn't spook her into reaching for a weapon, he spoke aloud, trying to sound like a superhero from Earth-Prime rather than a Woodsman from his native dimension. "Hey. Woodsman. I'm a superhero. Sorry we couldn't get that guy. Gonna catch him and make him pay." He'd have already caught him if not for those morons outside, he thought irritably. But he'd tore him up pretty good with that arrow, and gotten a good look at that tattoo and the mysterious words on it. "Can you say what happened?" 

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GM

 

The woman gave the Woodsman a look that did nothing to hide the fact that she was having trouble focusing.  Fraught with grief she managed to blubbler out, "He's dead.  I came in to ask him to help me with the groceries.  He's dead.  I don't know maybe it was one of his-"  If her story was to be believed, she wasn't a witness to the man's murder.  But, the way she suddenly shut her mouth without finishing that thought at the very least hinted that there was something she wanted to keep a secret.

 

Together the pair sat in the dark in awkward silence for a few seconds, before finally the woman spoke again.  "What guy?  Do you know who did this?"  A hint of desperation in her voice.  Practically doing everything she could to stop herself from reaching up to pull the hero down so he could answer her question face to face.

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"Gonna find him." Riley knelt down over the body and looked it over, using his gloves to avoid touching flesh directly as he examined the wounds. "Looks like somebody he knew. Look, knife marks onna hands." He used his phone, a gift from Peyton, to snap a picture of the incision cut onto the skin. "Musta scared him off. Good thing he didn't goferya." A Feral certainly would have, even if it was already full from eating this man. Riley reminded himself that these were people  People had done all this. He tried punching in the number, then when he got no answer he hung up.

 

"He makin' drugs?" asked Riley, cocking his head towards the laboratory. On his own world he'd have guessed explosives, but Robin had never talked about that kind of thing being made in the Fens - and there were more people selling drugs here then guns. He didn't really understand that. "You know what a de oppresso liber is? Saw it written on the guy who did it." 

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GM

 

"No-no.  Kenny, doesn't do that.  He's a chem major.  Practices at home, because he doesn't always have time to make some of the non graded days on his syllabus."  She explained.  A twinge of uncertainty as she did so.  Woodsman also noticed a measure of surprise when he brought up how lucky she was to not have been a victim as well.  "We've been having money troubles as of late.  But, Kenny wouldn't mess with drugs. He has a job.  Had a job."

 

"...I heard him run out the door" she admitted.  "Oh god Kenny."  The woman dry swallowed.  Burying her face in her hands and audibly exhaling in frustration, before returning her gaze to the teen hero.  "Um, no I'm sorry I don't know what that means."

 

"To free the oppressed.  Or at least that's what they tell people.  It's closer to freedom from oppression.  At least if you believe the leader of my FET"  A low feminine voice answered from behind the tone held steady, clearly attempting to catch their attention.  The voice belonged to  a stern looking Latina woman wearing gray dress slacks and a blue buttoned down blouse beneath a black blazer.  The badge sitting on her belt hinting to her identity as a police officer.  "I guess this makes victim number seven.  Detective Valerie Archer, and you must be mr. arrow in the back of people.  If you two don't mind, I have some questions."  

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"Woodsman," said Riley shortly. "Saw the guy runnin' and put an arrow in him. Tried, anyway - he took a half-load of tannerite; that would have put 'nybody down but he just got back up." He hesitated a moment, glancing at the badge. "I don't just go 'round puttin' arrows in people, I heard the screaming and saw him running off afterwards." It wouldn't have killed him, anyway, just knocked him out. Dammit, Bowman didn't say people'd look at me like I was loco-crazy! He paced the room like the predator he was, his eyes still scanning the scenery for any further clues, as he reported to the officer everything he'd found on the scene. "What's an FET?"

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GM

 

"Woodsman?  Do you have plant powers?  I suppose it doesn't matter.  An FET is a female engagement team.  To respect local cultures the marines used female marines in their patrols and to search females in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We also taught the local women classes."  Detective Archer responded.  Kneeling down to examine the body. "Two silver arrows crossing each other.  A silver dagger laying on top.  I could see this as a stick figure version of the Special Forces insignia carved into the victim.  Doesn't explain why all the victims have either been selling drugs or using them."  The detective stated after taking in the information.  

 

"Ma'am if you'll accompany officer Blevins down to the station we'd love for you to answer some questions."  The woman weakly nodded before being escorted out of the room by a patrol officer.  "Listen, I appreciate what you types do for this city.  However, this is a police matter.  I'm giving you this information because I expect you to maintain an open line of communication if you find out anything.  Not as a free past to shoot explosives at people before you confirm they're guilty of a crime."

 

Detective Archer began walking around the room.  Much like Woodsman, she was trying to scan for any other evidence that could be used. Stopping as she combed through a pile of bills. Not opening any pieces of mail that had yet to be opened.  Taking pretty much no time to confirm the girlfriend's claim of having money troubles.  "Orphis Imports.  It's a shipping business, I think the first victim worked for them, he packed boxes in a local warehouse.  Supplementing his income selling Max.  Two more were Max users.  The last three were Max pushers too.  Odds aren't looking good that this guy was as clean as he told his partner."

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Riley listened carefully to the detective, trying to remember what Max, Afghanistan, and Iraq were. The latter two were wars the United States of Earth-Prime was involved in, he remembered, after terrorist attacks in 2001, and the former was a super-drug he'd overheard Winifred discussing. "Okay. Guess I'll check out Orphis, then." He took out his little pocket notebook, blue-lined white paper in a black leather case, and wrote down the address she'd given him. The name wasn't familiar, but he knew the street, at least - it would be a matter of biking over there and then searching on foot. Nothing alien to him. "Heard of this happening before," he said laconically as he headed for the window, "back in 2000. You know anybody around back then?"

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GM

 

"Can't say that I do.  I work major crimes in the Fens.  The number of weird homicides that get floated my way.  Well, let's just say the only thing weirder are the burglaries."  The detective answered before Riley disappeared from the window.  "The front door was open..."

 

*      *      *

 

The only local complex, with four warehouse buildings, belonging to Orphis Imports was relatively small for the size of the company.  A small fleet of trucks and two large cargo boats could be tied to the warehouse.  But, the west coast based shipping company was successful.  At the very least successful enough to not skimp on the security.

 

The entire complex was surrounded by a ten-foot chain link  security fence topped by electrified barbed wire.  The gates were electronically locked with security lights providing a level of illumination over the facility.  Woodsman was able to keep track of the movement of the guards.  It seemed there were two roving guards assigned to each warehous, and two guards at the front and back entrance of the facility.  The back entrance accessible through the waterfront.

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Woodsman studied the fence for a long time, sussing out his options, even as he watched the guards and figured out their movement cycle and seeming pattens. Strapping his bow to his back, he crept up to the fence between the guards' movements and began to climb, his gloved hands and booted feet letting him smoothly make his way up the security fence. The electrified barbed wire was a thornier problem, and something he noticed only when he heard the distinct hum of electricity passing through the metal. Considering his options carefully, muscles just beginning to ache, Riley scootched around until he found an area where the wire's coils were slightly out of alignment, just enough for the slim young man to slip his way through. He took off his bow and wrapped it in his poncho, then threw it over the side - then carefully squeezed his way through the fence, a gap so tight he left a torn fragment of his costume on the lower tier of the security fence before he dropped to the ground on the other side. Grabbing up his bow and poncho, he ran for the shadow of the nearest warehouse to dress and arm himself before beginning his search. 

 

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GM

 

The Woodsman quietly made it inside the warehouse unseen.  The id badge he was carrying unlocked the door.  Goods inside the warehouse were stockpiled in number areas.  Sitting comfortably on twenty foot tall racks.  The lights were completely turned off, with the exception of the roving flashlight trails.  Confirming the presence of at least two guards inside the warehouse.  Guards that might've seen light from the outside when the door opened.

 

Aside from the racks full of various crates there were rows of offices visible on the opposite end of the warehouse.  Walking around he found himself in front of a series crates marked producto de La Isla de la Reina Venerado.  The only crates in the warehouse marked as such.  In the distance he could make out the faint sign of yellow police tape in front of one of the offices.

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Woodsman needed to see inside those crates - but how to do it with the guards circling the warehouse, and him without his nightvision gear? After a moment's consideration, he slid a smoke arrow into his crossbow and stood from behind the crates, firing a silent shaft at the office door still covered in police tape, the landmark furthest from his position in the darkened warehouse that he could clearly see. Despite the dim lightning, he struck the door (albeit low and to one side), bolt sinking deep into the soft wood as he ducked down next to the Venerado crates again. Within seconds, a cloud of stinking smoke was erupting through the building, emitting a strong stretch as it activated the sensors inside the room's many active smoke alarms. As the air howled with sirens and the guards began to curse and cough against the smoke in the air (and hopefully get themselves away from the sudden fire), Riley began working slowly and carefully, blind himself against the crate, working it open and waiting for the smoke to clear enough to see what lay inside. 

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GM

 

"Jesus, John do you smell that?  Ugh something died, in here come on."  One guard called out.  The sound of boots heading towards the door serving as the only affirmation Riley received as to whether his plan worked.  The crates were divided into three rows.  The top stack was filled with ceramic statues taking the shape of Christian iconography.  But, the Woodsman was quick to note that the statues felt hollow.  As if there was something stored inside the statues.  The second stack of crates had contents that matched the first.  More boxes filled with ceramic statues hiding something inside.

 

The last set of crates were filled with an assortment of firearms and plastic explosives.  Enough machine guns, rifles, and pistols to arm a small force.  And the ammunition for them to cause some serious damage while armed.  The plastic explosives were created using pentaerythritol tetranitrate.  The fact that it was common military explosive would likely go over Riley's head.  The fact that it was highly sensitive, powerful, and served to act reliably as a booster or bursting charge with small arms fired was well within the purview of his knowledge base.

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Woodsman exhaled at the sight of all the hardware, absurdly wishing he could open a dimensional portal and drop all this back on his homeworld. Defenses like this could have reinforced Raymond for at least a year. He started to take the liberty, out of habit, of helping himself to some of the ammunition before he quickly shook his head. Stealing things from crime scenes wouldn't help matters. He studied the hollow statues, weighing his options, before deciding that people this experienced in smuggling explosives wouldn't put anything contact-sensitive in a fragile statue that any workman could drop and give the game away. Picking a particularly woeful-looking Virgin Mary, he pulled out his hatchet and used the blunt end to batter the ceramic open. 

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GM

 

The ceramic statue cracked apart pieces falling to the ground and with them a small plastic baggie.  Inside the baggie was a rough bark like tuberous root with a soft, crumbly texture.  The root had been chopped to fit inside the contents of the baggie.  Clearly whatever this plant was someone considered important enough to hide with all the weapons.  Assuming it wasn't a weapon as well.

 

Suffice to say, someone was dead set on taking extra care in keeping the plant hidden.  Whereas the firearms were left without their own giant sized ceramic statue to hide inside, the tuberous root had a second layer of disguise.  Not that the crates could have fit such a set up inside for the firearms.

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Woodsman thought quickly, realizing he lacked the investigative expertise to solve this problem - though he did take the baggie of the unfamiliar root. He holstered his bow and pulled out his hatchet, standing in the shadow of the door as he waited for the guards to return. When they did, the guards had firefighting gear - masks and extinguishers, against the foul smoke that had come erupting from a corner of the office but had now faded. When they were through, he slipped the steel handle of the hatchet between the handles of the double doors, sealing the exit shut. They could run for one of the other security doors, sure - but not if he stopped them first. If they go for me, kneecap the fat one, hit the other one in the neck. 

 

"Hey, you geeks!" he called as he hefted his bow, and for a red-eyed moment he was back in the Forest Primeval, flushing out a pair of Ferals to get at their pack - but fortunately the moment passed. From a darkened corner of the warehouse, he was a hooded figure with his face invisible in the semi-darkness, but the gleaming point of his bow and the arrow within clearly visible to the two security guards "Found yer goddamn guns and yer goddamn root. You gonna tell me who it's for, or am I gonna shoot one of you m-fers?"  

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GM

 

The guards reached for their weapons.  Not quite drawing them, out of fear that the act would end with an arrow through their chests.  "Just what in the hell are you talking about, man?"  The guard called out to silhoutte in what Riley could tell was genuine confusion.  He had absolutely no idea what Riley was talking about.  Neither of them did.  "What are you on about?  Drink a little too much, you nut?  You are trespassing!"

 

It was then that the shouting, or perhaps the view of two guards with their hands near their holsters, drew the attention of two more security guards.  The men ran up to here the other guard scream.  "We don't know nothing about any root, but that thing down or we'll shoot."  Both men looking equally confused at just what was going on.

 

Or so it seemed to the naked eye.  But, Woodsman had been keeping a close enough eye on the men.  Noticing that the guard furthest to the expression changed when his buddy called out the word root.  It was subtle, but there was a moment of acknowledgement on his face.  He knew something...

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