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angrydurf

Dirty Blvd.

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There was no shortage of reasons to leave the Fens, the crime, the fearful desperation, the smell, to name but a few.  But the Fens was not a place people with other options chose to live in.  People in the Fens were those who hadn't or more likely couldn't get out.  This made for a kind of community all it's own however, you may not trust your neighbors as far as you could throw their heroin addled husk but you knew the faces, this was even more true in the shifting camps of the homeless.   There was a cruel natural order to the FCPD sweeps disruptions and arrests, the hospitalizations and deaths, whether from overdose, exposure, or malnutrition.  But no one just left, if someone got a ticket out, it was known, if someone got picked up for spooking the tourists too close to the theatre district, it was known, when a body turned up, it was known.  So when people left the camps and it was not known, it was talked about.  Robin first heard word later than when she lived among them but she still heard things on her weekly soujourns, Charlies drunken ramblings about 'snatchers' were a little too visceral to be the alcohol and smack addled visions of police or public health pick ups.  And he wasn't the only one, there was a fear on the streets, people were vanishing, not to their own vices or the dangers of the streets, something was taking them and there wasn't a trace.

 

The vigilante known as Kingsnake heard things as well, whispers in dark corners, Fearful cries in the dark, the city was awash in the noise of daily life but certain words and phrases stuck out, bore investigating.  There was something happening in the Fens, the usual scum driven from their hidey holes by men with more training and better armed than the average criminal, the kind of muscle that cost serious money and secured serious privacy.  Those with less privileged connections might never have heard the term, Labyrinth, but that hidden disease within the city was well known to the Kingsnake, they had after all in their own fashion made him what he was today.  Only mentioned in fearful whispers like a criminal boogeyman or maybe more accurately a wrathful pantheon.  Smugglers suspected they may be working for hte labyrinth though smart ones knew not to ask those sorts of questions, muscle would use the name ot strike fear until the mysteriously were disappeared.  But Kingsnake heard everything in his city, and now he heard the labyrinth was working the Fens.

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It was Friday afternoon when Robin heard the rumors and after a few hours of leg work, she took the round trip back to school via bus to fetch back up. Oh, she knew the streets and the Fens well, but there was enough unease among her neighborhood to know that this was atypical, and her skill lay less in tracking and more in pummeling. Fortunately, Robin happened to know someone who filled in the gaps in her knowledge. 

 

Unusually grim-faced, Robin had turned up in the boy's hallways after curfew, knocking on the door only loud enough to roust her boyfriend with a short, sharp knock. A normal teen wouldn't have been out at night in the Fens if they had other options but even other teen super heroes might have gone for an older mentor. Robin, however, had a very short list of people she trusted. 

 

"I need your help," she said simply when the door opened, still in her Nighthawk costume but for the mask. "Something's wrong in the Fens."

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She'd known it would be Riley at the door - even with the dogs, Riley was usually a much lighter sleeper than his roommate. Riley didn't speak - he just nodded, careful not to wake Matt or the pile of dogs sleeping on his bed. Grabbing his go bag from the bedside table, he stepped into the room's bathroom and soon went to work. Off went the striped blue flannel pajamas that were his only comfortable sleepwear. On went binder, black shirt and jeans, and dark green camouflage poncho over top of that. Stepping out, he ducked down and slid his bow out from under his bed, snapping the magazine open and sliding one home. With the bow slung on his back, he picked up his hatchet, tossed it in the air, and fastened it to his belt. It had all taken less than a minute from start to finish, a sign of just how much he'd practiced. 

 

Outside in the hall, Woodsman closed the door softly and padded down the carpeted hallway to the window at the end of it. Outside on the sill, still without saying a word, he pulled on his heavy boots and fixed a line to the sill. Jumping down, he landed without a sound on the grass outside. When Robin joined him, he asked quietly, "Need the bike?" 

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Nighthawk was right on his heels, eschewing the line to drop down to the grass below on quiet feet. "Probably faster than the bus," she agreed as she pulled the soft cotton mask from her pocket and tied it back on over her face once more. She kept her voice low and falling into communicating in gestures as they made their way out of the high school with the ease of practice. Once they were clear of the most likely avenues of being caught, she elaborated, "Homeless folks are going missing in the Fens. I got ways of getting information outta people but I know even on city streets, you're a hell of a tracker. Think you'll be faster'n I am. I dunno what's going on, but I think sooner the better."

 

There was banked anger in her tone. It took a lot to rile Robin and this was over into a quiet, humming rage. It sharpened her voice but she was careful to keep her tone down. "Don't think most people are gonna notice - or care - before something bad happens."

 

She paused and then added, her voice low, "Thanks."

 

 

 

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An imposing silhouette mused to himself as he jumped and climbed and swinged across rooftops and down alleyways, one shadow among the many who slipped through the cracks of Freedom City, into the Fens.  Patterns.  The most elementary form of detective work.  Kingsnake contemplated his chosen path as he listened to snippets of conversations from a quarter-mile away.  Find the pattern.  Then find the things that don't fit into the pattern...things that are there, but shouldn't be...things that aren't there, but should be. 

 

Edited by ShaenTheBrain

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Riley shrugged, not thinking much of it - but at the same time suppressing an excitement about doing things with his girl. "Swat you'd do for me." Helmets on, he drove them into the Fens, the faint rumble of the bike's quiet engine the only sound they heard on darkened Fens streets. Robin could feel how tense the muscles of his back were as they rumbled their way into a partially garbage-strewn alley - Riley was always tenser at night. Feral hunting time, he'd confessed to her, when most of the inhabitants of his world huddled behind walls and listened to the things that prowled just outside their fences. He quietly set the bike on its side and began covering it with old newspapers, this alley being free of squatters thanks to the much more attractive mission just a few doors down out on the main street. When the bike was stowed, he took out his bow and snapped it open, looking at home in the darkness in ways he didn't in Claremont's well-lit night. 

 

"Where we goin' first?" he whispered. 

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She had turned to watch the entrance of the alley automatically, her grey gaze scanning the empty street for any sign of threat or activity. She was silent, her hands stuffed in the pockets of her worn leather jacket as she waited for Riley to camouflage their ride. She turned her head towards him at the quiet question, her expression grim behind her dark mask. 

 

"There's a condemned row house about a block and a half over. It was damaged in a fire a while back and the city hasn't gotten around to tearing it down yet. Junkies sometimes use it as a place to get high outta the weather." Robin replied as she turned to head off that direction with quick, impatient strides and her words short and sharp. "No one's seen Jason in a while and if he's not there, then there might be something left in his stuff."

 

Robin led the way through the narrow streets of the Fens, cutting away from main roads until they came to the burned out building in question, behind cyclone fencing. Rather than search around for the tear in the fencing that allowed access, she took a few quicker steps and then leapt, clearing the fence in one swift movement the way that a normal kid might post over a bench, and landing soundlessly on the ground beyond. It didn't occur to Robin to offer her partner a hand over the fence - she'd seen him climb before, after all. 

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Kingsnake "watched" the young woman with interest as she jumped the fence with ease.  The waves of ultrasound bathing the area and bouncing back to his brain painted him a mental picture.  The microscopic vibrations he felt through the ground with every step they took filled in more detail.  From size, shape, weight, and the sound of their voices, he could tell he was dealing with adolescents.  Kids.  Not street kids, though.  They're getting chummy with street people, but I smell soap, and shampoo, and their last few meals.  They've been showering regularly and getting enough to eat.  And she's got powers.  He cut through the shadows like a shark through water, dropping behind whatever object he could put between himself and the two teens whenever they turned in his direction.  It'd be nice if they were just good Samaritans looking for hard-luck cases.  But it's far more likely they're roided-up delinquent thugs some mad scientist sent shopping for raw materials.  Good thing I'm the one who showed up, and not some boyscout who'd go easy on them.

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With his bow briefly strapped to his back for the ascent, Woodsman put his gloved hands on the fence for the ascent and heard the faint squeak of shoe leather behind him - shoe leather coming his way. A second later, muscles straining, he was up and over the fence, his feet hitting the ground with a thump. He'd automatically put the fence between himself and the man behind them, even as a voice reminded him that there was no need to hold back a horde here. When he hit the ground, he turned and went to one knee, taking cover behind a still-standing garbage can. Wouldn't stop a bullet, a'course, but the pile of bags nearby would cut his outline nicely in the darkness. He trusted Robin to take the cue from him. "Don't think I can't shoot you through a fence!" he called, contralto voice snapping in the dark with what sounded like a carefully-honed growl. "You gonna start trouble, or you gonna get outta here?"

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Robin hadn't noticed anything behind them, as her focus was on the burned out home and what might lie inside. At the low growl of her boyfriend, she pivoted on sneakered feet with her weight dropping back on her right leg. She didn't seek cover as she far preferred any threat came at her rather than Riley. He worked best at range, after all. 

 

She took a step towards the fencing, her hands balled into fists at her side. There was a wary readiness in her posture and although there was no recognizable fighting stance that she fell into, that she had experience in matters martial was clear in her posture and bearing. Letting Riley do the talking, her gaze scanned the darkness from behind her mask with her mouth set in a grim line.

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Kingsnake tensed his eyelids behind his mask, gritted his teeth, and cursed himself.  Damn.  Sloppy.  He stepped out into the open and began walking toward the teenagers, slowly, deliberately.  His hand pulled the bullwhip free from his side faster than the eye could follow.  The braided leather unspooled and slithered through the air, seemingly of its own accord.

 

"Your boss doesn't get any new playthings to dissect tonight," he growled at them.  "Tell me where to find him, and I'll let you go to prison.  Don't, and it's the hospital...or the morgue."

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Woodsman sighted in on the man. Big bastard, isn't he? He'd shot bigger. "Who's gettin' dissected?" He didn't look up at Robin, that would have thrown off his aim, but she heard the question in his voice. "Is that what they're doin' to those people? Freakin' dissectin' em?" There was something odd in the archer's voice now that Kingsnake heard it clearly, odd beyond that throaty tone that lay between male and female registers. He'd been around the world and spoke several languages - but he'd never heard English with an accent quite like that before, the words slamming together under stress like bolts in a crossbow's magazine. "Man, why didntcha say?" he called, taking a chance and strongly fighting his instincts. "Ya lucky I didn' shootcha!" 

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"Could be," Robin said, finally speaking up although she didn't relax the tight coil of her stance. Her answer was for Riley, but she didn't take her gaze off the now armed man. Her tone was short, but her speaking patterns placed her as a Fens native, as clear as day and nothing like Riley's. "There's a free clinic that showed up 'round the same time people started going missing. Mobile. Already looked for it tonight. Thought it might be something unpleasantly science-y."

 

Anger turned her tone tight and harsh then, "No one gives a good goddamn when street folk go missing. Makes 'em easy pickings for all kinds a wack jobs. After all, a dead junkie - s'his own fault for being a drug addict, right?" Her voice cracked with scorn and the leather of her jacket creaked as her muscles tightened as she turned her attention back to Kingsnake, "Either put away the whip and help, or go on and use it. Every minute counts. I ain't got time for posturing today."

 

Internally, Robin already blamed herself for things going on so long. If she hadn't been at Claremont, she'd have caught wind of the problems days ago and that castigation left her agitated and impatient. 

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Kingsnake sighed quietly behind his mask.  Heartbeats jumped a little when they spotted me, but didn't move a micron while they were talking.  No change in smell either.  Dammit, they're telling the truth.  They're a dead-end.  He spun his arm around in a circle a few times, coiling his bullwhip around his forearm, before sliding it off and down to his side.

 

"There are people in this city who can give you super-powers, if you can pay the price.  But results are unpredictable.  Accidents happen.  So they're always tweaking the process, refining it.  That requires a steady supply of victims whom no one will miss.  When they're not trafficking in refugees and migrants, they go shopping for street people."

 

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"Heard about that stuff," said Woodsman. "'Sbad." The people who had tried giving themselves superpowers were a cautionary tale on his homeworld. For the survivors, anyway. "Where do we start?" Tracker and hunter that he was, Riley was no talker - he hung back and let the others do the talking as their growing trio patrolled their way through the Fens night, lurking in the shadows with his crossbow ever at the ready. 

 

Eventually, when they found the spot where the free clinic van had once been parked, Riley got down on all fours in the glare of a nearby streetlight and began a search. It wasn't nearly as easy tracking in a live city as one filled by Ferals and animals, but - "Can match it again even if they dress it up," he said, looking up from tire tracks, "shoulda brought Grim's dogs," he admitted, "smell might doda trick better'n me. Maybe we make a pattern," he suggested, "look for spots where 's turnin' up." 

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Nighthawk had a good idea of where the van was active, at least, and she cut her way through the alleys towards a start point. Once Woodsman had found a good spot, she cut away from the direct area, cutting down alleys and into the hiding spots that experience had taught her about and trusting her partner to take care of himself. She wasn't overly conversational, herself, and telegraphed a tightly coiled agitation of someone who took this particular tactic quite personally. 

 

Gingerly, as Kingsnake and Woodsman searched the area around where the van had been located, Nighthawk carted back a biohazard bag that she'd snagged out from under other trash in a dumpster. She, after all, had practice avoiding the many dangerous things in dumpsters in the Fens, "I'm pretty sure clinics aren't supposed to dump this stuff in normal trash," Nighthawk commented as she set the bright biohazard bag on the street to carefully pull it open with her fingertip, "I don't think they're actually running any bloodwork. These look like they were just chucked as soon as they were taken."

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Kingsnake's head perked up at the mention of the name.  "Grim?"  They know Grimalkin?  Hm.  "We don't need dogs."  He walked around the scene, stopping every few steps to audibly sniff the air, sometimes crouching down to the ground to sniff or to run his fingers lightly over some seemingly random surface or object.  When Nighthawk brought over the business cards and the biohazard bag, he did the same with those.  "So they're not just scooping up random street people this time," he muttered.  "They need something specific...blood type, or some genetic marker...or the lack thereof..."

 

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"Need to set a trap," Woodsman opined, some time later, from a nearby rooftop. They'd compared notes, they'd shaken down some people for information and not gotten very much - it was time to make a plan. He'd handed off jerky to Nighthawk and Kingsnake, the former of whom knew (and the latter of whom could tell) was that this was indeed homemade venison jerky. And pretty good, too. "Wait for them to come hunting, catch them at it, do our thing. We need bait." He thought uncomfortably of walking into a place without his bow and hatchet, especially a place of doctors who might be interested in his body, but he wasn't one to volunteer his girl for a damned thing. "I'll do it. Not you, big man," he said, cocking his head Kingsnake's way. "Nobody lives here 'sbuilt like that."

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"You'd have to leave behind weapons," Nighthawk pointed out, her tone pragmatic, "And no promises you'd have what they're looking for. I live here, folks know me. I'll go. 'Sides, better you're tailing me than the other way around."

 

She took the jerky from Woodsman with a nod of thanks before reaching up to start unravelling the knot from behind her skull of her mask. If she was going to be bait, might as well start getting ready now. As she slid the mask from her hair, she reached up to tie the twists back from her face and hand her mask over to Riley as if the matter was already decided and passed that over to her boyfriend before she began slipping off her backpack to hand that over as well. After a moment, Robin hesitated before reaching up to pull the necklace out from beneath her shirt. The wedding bands clinked with the distinct chime of cheap metal as she slipped the long chain over Riley's hood, giving them a small pat. 

 

"Keep that safe, yeah?" she requested and then added, "Man, be nice if we had some fancy ear buds or something like that? The next project maybe."

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When the Woodsman offered the jerkey to Kingsnake, he didn't react.  He stood motionless for a few moments, then walked away.  To outside observers, it wasn't clear whether he didn't notice the offer, or if he was just ignoring it.  That was hard to resist.  It smells incredible.  But I can't afford to let these kids see me as human.

 

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"Need to set a trap."

 

"That isn't a bad idea."

 

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"Not you, Big Man.  Nobody lives here' sbuilt like that."

 

"Agreed."  If I was in my street clothes, with my cane and glasses, it would be another story...

 

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"You'd have to leave behind weapons.  And no promises you'd have what they're looking for.  I live here, folks know me.  I'll go.  'Sides, better you're tailing me than the other way around."

 

"She's right.  If things go wrong, our 'bait' will be caught unarmed.  She has superhuman strength.  She's never unarmed."  Neither am I.  But I'm a lot closer to "normal" than she is.  She had an easier time jumping that fence than most people do walking up stairs.

 

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"Man, nobody in this town appreciates some damn venison..." Kingsnake heard Riley mutter when he turned down the boy's jerky. 

-

 

"Yeah, okay." He'd find a good place to stash this stuff (everything except the rings, anyway) for the actual hunt, but there was no time for that now. He laid one hand lightly on the rings, then the other on hers. "I'll get these back to you." He didn't like the idea of Robin going into danger because of his idea - but of course they were here, and fighting for these people, because they meant something to Robin even though no one else in this town gave a damn. He leaned close, and entirely too loud to escape Kingsnake's ears, whispered, "Baby, I love you." 

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Robin had leaned in as well, assuming that there would be a goodbye kiss but Riley's words caught her by surprise. Her throat tightened inexplicably, tears stinging her eyes that she quickly blinked away. Those weren't words that Robin had heard directed her way in a very long time. No one worried over her well being and no one cared at her comings and goings. She should have said something, but words never came easily for her especially not ones about her emotions. This, however, was the boy who had dealt with her abrupt vanishings and her skittish reactions. Hopefully, Riley already knew that there wasn't much more she could do to express her feelings than trusting him to hold onto her parents wedding bands.

 

She caught Riley's face between her chilly fingertips, palms gentle against his cheeks as she touched her brow lightly against his for just a moment in mute acknowledgement before she was up and moving away and towards the blood drive van without even so much as a verbal goodbye to either of the men.

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Kingsnake crept up behind the Woodsman as Nighthawk walked away.  "You're in love with her," he said flatly.  "That's a problem."  He angled his face down at the slight young man's head, as if he was looking him in the eye.  "People who are in love aren't very good at hiding it.  You reek of it.  And people in love don't act rationally.  They make stupid mistakes.  It's a weakness that the people we're dealing with will see from a mile away.  That's what they do.  They find weakness, and they exploit it."

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With great feeling, and in fact a slight tremor in his voice, Riley spoke from the heart. "Love is what separates us from monsters." Woodsman turned and took up a prone position on the rooftop, readying his crossbow and using its sight to watch the interplay by the blood drive van. The boy was obviously an experienced sniper, his breathing slowing to a calm, steady level despite the pulse that was hammering in his ears, much less Kingsnake's. His hands moved with slow, deliberate precision -  pulling out a bolt from his poncho and sliding it into place at the top of his crossbow's magazine. "Gonna put an arrow in th' wheel well when they take off. 'Sgot bear piss in't - 'n stuff that'll stain 'nuff for us t'track it if you lose da smell." 

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The exterior of the Icarus Biotechnology mobile van was clean and welcoming, an ardent young woman stood outside helping the short line of donors navigate the sheaf of forms provided in an affable approachable manner putting the usually skittish populace at ease.  The van was emblazoned with a logo matching that on the cards and flyers the heroes had found earlier and other than the aid on the sidewalk no staff were visible as Robin approached.  The crowd was thin but by this time of night most of the more law abiding citizens had retreated to ramshackle apartments, shelters or whatever camp they called home, that some risked the dangers of the less scrupulous or delayed the gratification of drug fueled dreams spoke much of what Icarus apparently offered participants.

 

The young woman fixed a bright welcoming smile on Robin at her arrival, "Welcome."  she greeted warmly eyes full of the earnest if patronizing good will of the privileged helping the 'little people'.  "Are you here for a screening?"  she inquired carefully, "The paperwork may be intimidating but I assure you it is all to guarantee your privacy."  she promised as she held out a clip board with an intimidating number of places to initial, sign, and fill out basic information.  "I'm here to help if you have any questions, the first few sheets are just our privacy policy and some information on tracking for the study."  she offered, "your name will of course not be attached to any study data.  In fact if you wish to enter anonymously you can check right here."  she suggested pointing with a pen also emblazoned with the icarus logo then offering the writtign implement ot Robin with that too kind smile, "After screening you'll receive a sandwich, soft drink, and the cash compensation for your time as well as a full report of the screenings results."

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