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One Night at Rusty's


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Outside Silberman's Books. January 15th, 2016. 10:05 pm


Two young women waited on the stoop In front of the West End's most unusual bookstore, one effortlessly balanced on one foot and juggling five tennis balls, the other pacing up and down to keep warm. The juggler was Lynn Epstein, also known as Grimalkin, currently wearing jeans, a suede jacket and a black Stenson. The colder of the two was Gretchen McDaniels, who sometimes went by Shrike, and clearly her jeans, FreeSA hoodie and black leather jacket were not cutting it.


Finally Gretchen stopped in front of her boss and scowled. "I demand coffee."


The changeling smiled and shook her head, her eyes never leaving the task at hand. "Sorry, I'm all out; besides, it's not even that cold out."


"You always have coffee." Gretch began poking around in Lynn's jacket pockets like a puppy looking for a treat. "It's just a matter of finding...where you hid it on your person."


"Hey, knock it off, I can't-" She didn't actually fall over; Lynn was too freakishly graceful for that. But she did lose control of her tennis balls, which went bouncing down the steps and rolling down the sidewalk.


"Great; thanks a lot, Gretch."




The fae threw up her hands in exasperation. "Fine!" After making sure no other pedestrians were nearby, she reached into her jacket, traced a small circle with her finger, and drew forth a large Thermos that was clearly too big to have fit inside.


Gretchen eagerly took the Thermos, poured herself a cup of rich black coffee, and smiled like the little brat she was currently being. "Thanks, boss.


Lynn merely shook her head and  grunted, keeping her eyes peeled for the newest member of the Silberman's family. 

Edited by Heritage
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Samuel Steiner became visible as he turned a corner. He was clad, once again, in his slightly-ratty coat, but it looked to have been sent through the washing machine since the last time the two women had set eyes on it. Judging by his pants, he was still wearing his suit underneath for the same reason that he had offered earlier: it was bulletproof. Samuel smiled when he saw the two outside, waiting for him, and accelerated his pace. "You didn't have to wait outside," he told them when he was close enough to hear. "You could have stayed inside and kept warm; I know how to knock."

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Gretchen threw up her hands in frustration. "Thank you! Finally someone who understands logic." 


Lynn started to speak in her own defense, but couldn't find the words. "I...let's head back inside." She opened the door and led the group back into the store, and waited for everyone to join her before she locked it again. "The place we are going...is something of an 'undisclosed location'; kind of a Dick Cheney kinda thing." She lead everyone towards the middle of the store, then dismissed several chairs back to vapor with a wave of her hand. "At least until we get to know you a little better, Sam."


Gretchen gave him a look and shook her head. "She also really likes to show off."


"Also true! Okay, this just takes a second."


She held out a finger and traced a large circle in the air; once it was closed, the space within shimmered as a portal opened into another space! Beyond was what looked like an animal's den of some sort; dimly lit, roofed with a mass of gnarled roots and floored with soft pine needles. On closer inspection, the light looked to be the stray rays of sunlight that leaked in between the roots; one could imagine a family of wolves dwelling within, or even a large bear, as there was room for a handful of people. The space did not, apparently, have any natural exits outside of the portal Lynn had created.


"Hop on in," she said nonchalantly, as though she'd just pulled up in a car. Gretchen stooped her head, climbed in, and patted the pine needles in an inviting manner as she stretched out comfortably; though her expression was a bit flat as usual, her eyes twinkled with amusement.

Edited by Heritage
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Samuel nodded as Lynn dismissed the chairs with a wave of her hand -- so simple for her, so effortless -- and disclosed that he wasn't yet trustworthy enough to be told the location of their destination. That irked, slightly, but his smile never wavered. "Of course," he agreed. "I wouldn't expect you to trust me completely right out of the gate. Playing it safe just makes sense." When the portal opened, he peered inside at the warren beyond, and issued a low whistle. "Well, that's something that you don't see every day," he murmured, before he stepped inside and took a seat beside Gretchen on the surprisingly comfortable ground. "This is... much more cozy than I was thinking it would be."

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The barista laid back, her head resting on her folded arms, and peered up at the 'roof'. "Yeah, it really is. I once fell asleep and spent the night...when Boss Lady forgot I was in here."


"Hey, that hapened exactly one time; you don't have to keep bringing it up. Plus we were both exhausted, remember?"


"Yeah, yeah. Keep on making up excuses."


Once her two passengers were settled in, the changeling grabbed the edges of the portal and pulled it halfway closed, leaving her head poking through. "Okay, no GPS once we're over there, okay? The Mistress of Mystery likes to have at least a few secrets." She gave them a smile and a thumbs up before sealing the portal, leaving Gretchen and Samuel alone in her Vault.


Her assistant pulled out her phone and switched it to Airplane Mode; it was weird to see her face lit by the LCD screen in this little hobbit hole. "If it makes you feel any better," she said with a sigh, "She hasn't trusted me with the location yet, either."

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Samuel blinked, surprised, before a small smile spread across his lips. "You know," he told the young woman. "It kind of does." So, it wasn't that she found him untrustworthy -- this was just her Secret, with a capital S, as dear to her as was his own dependence on the Wand. He reached into his pants pocket and withdrew his own phone. If Gretchen had been paying attention, she would have noticed that it was extremely out of date. It was, in fact, the same phone that he had been using before his incarceration; he'd had neither enough time nor enough spare money to have it updated. Rather than switching the the device to airplane mode, he opted to turn it off entirely. With that done, he turned to Gretchen. "So," he said. "You don't look old enough to have been active back when I was; when did you get wrangled up into the whole 'costume' business?" His eyes dipped down to the ring that she wore on one slender finger and he felt jealousy, like bile, rising up in his chest before his gaze found her face again.

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Gretchen was a pretty sharp cookie; she noted the quick downward glance, and her eyes narrowed. "I'm old enough to recognize a 'Gollum wants his precious' look when I see one." She clambered up into a kneeling position,  and leveled her surprisingly intense gaze at Sam.


"Let me take this opportunity to be perfectly straight with you. After you left, I did a little research on your career, both professional and criminal, and as I did so, a thought occurred to me. Some people turn to a life of crime out of desperation or weakness, but you did it to get attention and have the nicest toys. And you'd probably still be doing it if you hadn't been caught."


She scootched a bit closer.


"So now you want to join the good guys, which is great. But just to be clear, it is not a hobby...or a game, or a fad or a fashion. It's people counting on you with their lives. And once you take up that mantle, you don't walk away because you're bored or it's too hard. You stick it through until the work is done."


Then she got within two inches of his face, and held up her left hand in a fist, the red ruby on her ring staring at Sam like a baleful eye. The tattooed slogan 'The Future is Unwritten' was clearly visible on her knuckles 


"And if you ever hurt that woman or betray her trust, I will take this ring you want so badly, and shove it so far up your a## you could use it as a tongue piercing. Are we crystal clear?"

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Samuel's smile dropped away from his face and, without it, he looked much less at ease with himself. A mixture of hurt and embarrassment bloomed behind his eyes as Gretchen stared into them and said her piece. When she'd finished the smile returned as though it had never left, brought back by force of will, but his eyes remained unsure. The man scooted backwards and raised his hands, palms out, towards the girl. "Whoa there," he said, all friendliness and joviality. "I think that we've misunderstood each-other." He lowered his hands and then pointed one finger towards her ring. "I didn't have anyone to teach me what I do, Gretchen. I had to seek it out and put it all together on my own. I'm self-taught, what they used to call a hedge-wizard in the old stories." He shook his head. "I'm not after your ring, Gretchen. And I certainly don't want to hurt either of you. You've both been too good to me so far for that. Really, I'm just naturally curious about other peoples' magic. Every new piece of knowledge is a priceless treasure, you know." His eyes dropped. "I can... understand if you don't trust me yet. Believe me, I don't know if I'd trust me either. But here's the thing: I've spent the last five years locked in a concrete box, stripped of the only things that make me special, and forced to live near people who could -- and would often threaten -- to twist my head right off." He looked up, met her eyes, and continued. "I've served my time, Gretchen. I'm rehabilitated. I've made mistakes, granted, but don't you think I deserve a chance to prove myself before you accuse me of plotting against you?"

Edited by Sophistemon
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Gretchen smiled, though it was cool as ice. "I never said you don't deserve a second chance. If Boss Lady is going out on limb for you, I'm not going to go against her. I will always back her play. I just meant to explain that we are different people. She has faith in people, I do not." She shrugged. "Life has taught us different lessons. So if you're really serious about making the world a better place, I'm the one you have to convince."


Suddeny a hole opened up in the side of the burrow, and the grinning masked face of Grimalkin appeared. "Alright, we're here! Everybody suit up!" Noticing the hint of tension in the air, her brow furrowed slightly. "Everything okay in here?"


Gretchen pursed her lips and shook her head as she accepted a hand outside from her boss. "We are golden." Then she twisted her ring and dramatically transformed into the Shrike once more.


Outside proved to be a small clearing in a lightly-wooded area, apparently reached by a dirt road; the woods were bare and quiet, with slush and snow underfoot, and the air had a definite bite. A well-loved black Ford Econoline van, its license plates covered, was parked nearby; it's body seemed to be composed of more Bondo than steel. Before the group stood a gate in a high chain link fence, topped with barbed wire and security cameras; 'Keep Out' and 'Private Property' signs were very much in evidence, and a small squawk box was attached next to the gate.


The two lovely ladies turned to Samuel in anticipation. "You ready?"

Edited by Heritage
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Samuel nodded at the conclusion of Gretchen's speech, but didn't have a chance to reply before Lynn tore open a hole in her extra-dimensional pocket and announced their arrival. The former villain grinned at his hostess and flashed a thumb's up. "We're peachy," he said, and followed Gretchen -- now the Shrike -- out through the portal and into the woods. Samuel adjusted his coat around himself and rubbed his hands together to warm them before he reached into his pocket to retrieve a pair of thin white gloves. He slipped them on over his hands and then snapped his fingers. A simple black domino mask appeared in his grip, and he applied it to his face. He turned towards the others and smiled. "What do you think?" he asked. "Can I still rock the old look?"

Edited by Sophistemon
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Grim reached up and artfully adjusted her own domino while adopting a tone of British sophistication. "The classics are classics for a reason, dear boy!" Then she winked, sauntered up to the squawk box and pressed the button; a few seconds later, a heavily distorted voice barked out of the tiny speaker.


"-ho is it?"


"Weary supplicants awaiting your pleasure, milord!" She was having fun with English bit; Gretchen, on the other hand, was bit more direct.


"Let us in so we can blow stuff up."


There was a pause, then high overhead, floodlights exploded to life, and music could be heard playing over loudspeakers somewhere beyond the fence as the gate began to dramatically slide open; if you knew your classic rock, you could tell the gatekeeper had a warped sense of humor. Grim bowed low at the waist and gestured dramatically.


"After you, good sir!"


On the other side of the gate was a huge space, now brightly lit, filled with haphazard piles of car carcasses, concrete tubes and old refrigerators. At first glance, it looked like any other junkyard, but upon closer inspection, one could note a method to the madness; this was an obstacle course, target range and combat arena all rolled into one. On one side of a large clearing in the middle stood an old Airstream trailer home converted into some sort of DJ booth. Inside, a grinning figure with a well-trimmed beard, salt and pepper ponytail, and wearing a black bandana cut into a pirate's mask beamed as he held his hands up in the air and yelled over the loudspeakers


"Hey, hey, hey! Welcome to Thunderdome! This is Rusty's Ranch, and I am your DJ of Destruction, Butch Cassidy, and all your asses belong to ME now!"

Edited by Heritage
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Presto nodded. "I'll never understand the fixation on spandex and leather," he stated. "Granted, it took me months to find the right tailor, and another week or so to decide on the right shade of burgundy for the vest, but there's just something so perfect about a suit..." He stopped and had to listen to the music for a moment or two before realization dawned on him. "Ah, 'The Trial'," he said. "Not my favorite song on the album, for what should be obvious reasons..." At Lynn's urging, the ex-con made his way inside and stood in shocked amazement at what he saw within. "This is amazing," he murmured. "Absolutely incredible. Who put all of this together?"

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"Glad you like it." Grimalkin was beaming, clearly delighted to finally share her playground with an outsider. "I've known Butch for years, and the property belongs to his family, but no one was doing anything with it. I designed the course, Shrike did the heavy lifting-" And here Gretchen showed off her glowing ring with a flourish. "And she and Butch took care of the mechanical and electrical elements. So, a true team effort."


Then she called out to the masked man in the booth. "Yeah, can we have a different track for our guest? I see where you were going with it, but it is just a little insensitive. C'mon, give us something we can dance to!"


Butch bowed his head sagaciously. 


"I am a DJ, I am what I play."


There was a pause, then a familiar pulsing synth beat began to shake the air.


"This track goes out to all the boppers; may the best. Man. Win!"


Test your might!

Test your might!

Test your might!

Test your might!



And suddenly Grim was leaping in the air towards Presto, her fingertips glittering with jet black, razor sharp claws, and a maniacal grin on her face. 




For her part, Shrike just smirked and shook her head as she raised her fists in a basic attack stance.


"Yeah, she's insane."

Edited by Heritage
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This was not what he'd expected when they'd invited him to come out and junk cars! Presto jumped backwards and the magic sewn into the lining of his clothing carried him up into the air so that Grimalkin's shining claws only just barely missed the polished toes of his shoes. One of his hands darted into his waistcoat with practiced ease and withdrew the wand from an inner pocket. The stadium lighting reflected enough off off the silver tip that it seemed to glow. He leveled the wand at Grimalkin as she landed, but paused. Concern flashed across his face when he realized that he didn't know anything about her powers -- he had told her that his own suit was enchanted to be bulletproof, he recalled that much -- but he couldn't remember if she'd mentioned anything relating to her own durability. Best to play it safe, then. "Showtime!" he shouted, and a gust of wind erupted from the tip of his wand and wound itself around the super-heroine in an attempt to pin her arms to her sides.

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Grim yelped in surprise as she found herself well and truly trapped! Looking up at Presto, she did her best to snarl, though she was obviously trying to keep from laughing. "Curse you, conjurer! But it will take more than a little breeze to stop me!" She squinted her eyes in concentration, and then her body collapsed in on itself and vanished, leaving nothing for Samuel's winds to hold onto.


Meanwhile Shrike took to the air as well, her cloak billowing around her as she floated thirty feet in the air. "Yeah, she does that. Her range is a few hundred miles, so she could be pretty much anywhere, but I doubt it. She's lurking around here somewhere." She gestured towards a pile of rusted autos, and a massive engine block came sailing in Presto's directon as she smirked. "My turn."

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The swirling winds dispersed with an almost comical 'poof' when Grimalkin teleported out of her bonds. Presto grinned to himself when it happened -- had he really thought that it would be that easy, with him as out of practice as he was? -- and turned to face the Shrike just as she launched nearly five-hundred pounds of industrial steel through the air at him. His face blanched and he swung up his arm, the wand tracing a silver line in the air that rapidly expanded into a sturdy wall of opalescent bricks. The engine block smashed into the wall with a thunderous crash -- but it held steady, though shaken by the impact. Presto smirked at the young sorceress and opened his arms wide. "You aren't the first to throw a car at me," he crowed. "And, God willing, you won't be the last!" An arm thrust out towards her, the silver tip of the wand shining in the light like a miniature star, and a jet of water exploded through the air with enough pressure to strip paint from a wall. Wind and water, he thought to himself. Wind and water only. I don't want to hurt them.

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"Well I should hope so," continued Shrike nonchalantly. "I'd hate to think I was your fi-" Her remarks were cut off by the blast of water slamming her backwards to bounce off the hood of a car and onto the ground. For a few horrifying seconds, she just lay there, her fate uncertain, but then she lifted up her head and yelled, "Time!"


The music abruptly stopped as the young heroine rose shakily to her feet; Butch called out from the trailer, "Kid, you alright?" She stood with her hands on her hips for a few seconds to catch her breath, then nodded and gave a thumbs up. Finally she rose into the air to rejoin Presto, wobbling very slightly; when she got closer, he could see she had a bit of a fat lip, but before he had a chance to say anything, she held up a gloved finger.


"I am fine. If you're going to spar with women, you have to get used to hurting them now and then; we're tougher than we look. That being said, why don't you and I team up against the Faerie Menace?" She indicated the air behind him with a nod. "Because she's back, and this time, it's personal."


A shadow fell over the floating wizard, cast by rather large object falling towards him; behind it, a maniacal little pixie, no taller than a foot in height, hovered in the air on gossamer wings, screaming at the top of her tiny lungs and dressed like the world's smallest paratrooper.


"Death from above!"

Edited by Heritage
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Presto winced when Shrike flew backwards, propelled by the torrent of water, and bit his lip when she bounced off of the car. Amazingly, his first thought wasn't about going back to prison for putting a young woman in the hospital, but of whether or not his spells of levitation were precise enough to lift her safely and avoid aggravating any injury. Thankfully she proved to be resilient and was able to stand, if a bit shakily. "I didn't -- I'm sorry, I..." he babbled as she made his way towards him, and his eyes widened when he saw that her lip was already swelling from the impact. No water, he thought. Wind only! When she shushed him he lowered his eyes, but then raised them to follow her gesture. "Is that... Lynn?" he asked. Then, his eyes widened when he realized that the weight -- the impossible, cartoonish weight -- was falling towards him. "That's new!" he shouted, and whipped his wand up, realizing only too late that his spells weren't powerful enough to deflect something that massive. Shouting something inarticulate, Presto willed himself outside of the radius of the steadily-enlarging shadow of the falling weight and appeared a few meters away, towards the center of the arena.

Edited by Sophistemon
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The massive weight barely missed the quick-thinking conjurer, but it thoroughly demolished the Ford Fairmont he'd been hovering over mere seconds before, crushing the roof, shattering all the windows and causing the doors to buckle. And then, just like that, it melted away into vapor like it was nothing, leaving destruction in its wake. The tiny pixie crossed her arms and sniffed petulantly as she floated down towards Presto.


"Fine! Be that way! Don't get smoothed like a bug. See if I care."


Suddenly there was a loud yell as Gretchen jumped out from behind a Toyota Corolla, grinning like a madwoman, left arm up, right hand 'round her wrist. "Gotcha, bitch!" She nailed Grim full-on with the Ring, sending her itty-bitty body spiraling through the air, trailing smoke as it disappeared among the wrecks. The young barista mimed putting a gun back in its holster and motioned for Presto to follow her. "Come on. She can't have gone too far."

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Presto stared at the demolished car, his face blanched and his lips pressed to a thin line. "That could have killed me," he mused, and then looked up at Gretchen. "You blasted her into next week; I wouldn't bet on you getting your quarterly bonus." He floated towards her, preparing to follow in pursuit of the now diminutive Lynn. "I didn't know that she could shrink down like that," he said, and then second-guessed himself. "Not that I would know, having only just met the two of you today, but..." he shrugged, and the fine material of his suit shimmered along the contours of his shoulders. "It took me by surprise. Just how powerful is my new employer?"

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The Shrike chuckled as she moved forward slowly, holding her left wrist again like she had a piece.


"Pretty darn powerful. Technically even I'm not a hundred percent sure of everything she can do. She still surprises me everyday."


There was a great deal of affection in her voice, which perhaps spoke to more than mere professional admiration. 


"I'm not too worried about my bonus, because she loves it when I kick her ass. And she knows your reaction time by now. She would've dispelled that weight before it crushed you, so you were never in any real- "


Suddenly there was a deep, angry rumbling from somewhere amongst the rusted hulks, and Gretchen stopped, her eyes wide with alarm.


"Oh s###. I think I managed to piss her off."


And just then Butch killed all the lights.

Edited by Heritage
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"Well," muttered Presto, as he reached into his pocket. "That's ominous." He withdrew a smart phone, now a few years out of date, and thumbed the 'flashlight' application. The screen glowed brightly, illuminating a small cone of the arena as he held it out in front of him. His other hand gripped the wand, and he was already preparing some sort of countermeasure. "She can't just shrink, can she? I've been to zoos; that was a big cat. Is it conjured, or can she change her shape?" He hoped, in this case, that it was the latter. It the beast was something that Lynn had summoned, that meant two things to deal with. But if the shopkeeper had simply turned herself into something else, that was only one thing -- a preferable outcome. "It's nights like this I wish that I could see in the dark..." He paused, thinking. "Maybe I could enchant a pair of sunglasses; would that be too pretentious?"

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Shrike shrugged as she continued slowly scanning the area and moving in a semi-crouch, looking more like Special Forces than any sort of magic-wielding heroine. 


"You might get sued by Corey Hart, but it would be worth it. And for the record-"


She tapped the side of her silver mask. 


"I can see in the dark. And so can she, as well as hear us and smell us. She can take on any form as long as it's the same mass as her, but she can't do metal." 


Then she shook her head and waved her hand, anticipating his next question. 


"Don't ask me how the pixie thing works. All I can figure out is she's somehow converting mass into thrust. E=mc2"


Just then, a massive black panther leaped onto the hood of the car next to them, its weight causing the whole front end to dip and rock; the great beast snarled and bared its fangs in a truly frightening display. Though clearly startled and afraid, Gretchen quickly regained her cool. 


"One, two, three, blast her!" 


Her left hand snapped up and fired at point blank range just as the creature pounced!

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Presto paused. "Corey Hart? The Canadian? Why would...? Oh! Right, right, 'sunglasses at night;' I get it." He tried to move like the Shrike does, down in a crouch, but found that it was too hard on his knees and soon abandoned it. He hoped that it was a result of lack of training instead of age, but couldn't be quite sure. "That's a good trick," he admitted, referring to Grimalkin's faerie heritage. "I've always had to rely a little too much on enchantments; it must be nice to be so... naturally blessed." He exhaled a little too loudly, in what might be taken as a frustrated sigh, before suddenly perking up. "Hey, I don't suppose that Al-Kazar left any of his old spellbooks or something behind? Notes, maybe? Do you think that, while we're cataloging everything, Lynn would let me go thr-" He was struck silent mid-sentence when the panther appeared, all lean muscle and rippling lines, like a chunk of the night had come to life and grown great saber-sharp teeth. After that, he moved on instinct, his right hand swinging up in concert with the Shrike's left, the tip of the wand tracing a silver line in the air as it moved. When Gretchen shouted the word 'three!' a gust of wind burst from the wand in a howling gale, twisting through the air like a miniature tornado.

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The great beast was sent flying, launched backwards by the terrific force of the combined blasts as it traced a graceful arc that ended with a resounding thud on the other side of a wall of cars. For several seconds, there was no sound, but then Grimalkin's distinctive South Jersey accent could be heard calling out.


"Alright! Good...good hustle out there! Go Team Us!"


In a few moments, the diminutive changeling came hobbling around the corner, one hand on her side, wincing slightly. When she saw the alarmed looks of her employees, she held up her hand and shook her head.


"It's all good, it's all good; just got the wind knocked out of me, is all."


She conjured up a big, overstuffed leather chair and promptly plopped down in it, beaming up at Shrike and Presto.


 "That was some amazing teamwork out there, you two; very impressive, especially that last combo."


Gretchen smirked and lightly bumped Sam's hip with her own. Then their boss turned to look at the ex-con specifically.


"And yes, assuming everything works out well, I'd have no problem allowing some special alone time between you and Great-Grampa Ira's things "


Grim gave him a playful wink, then grew a bit more serious.


"But don't be so jealous that I'm 'naturally blessed'; I had to die first before I could access my powers..."

Edited by Heritage
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