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Blarghy

Dreamweaver (IC)

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March 14th, 2016, 7:48 A.M.

 

As dawn just started to creep through Freedom City, fresh off daylight saving, a series of impatient knocks hammered against Samuel Steiner's apartment door.

 

All was not right in his corner of the world (though it rarely was), whether or not the magician knew it.  Cackling madness linking arms with easy power.  Strong souls brought low by a king with a strange crown.  Scraping nails against transparent walls--and worse prisons with no locks or doors, all the stronger for it.  Mice wearing rigid smiles as they marched into the cat's jaws.  And now, to be thrust into the center of it all, a former convict destined--doomed?--to uphold the law.

 

The sweet can be sour, and the sour salvation

Strongest steel will fail, but the weakest chains may set you free.

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Samuel, still asleep, groaned something inaudible and yet still decidedly filthy into his pillow as the pounding on the door invaded his slumber. Grumbling, he rolled himself out of bed, shrugged on a rather threadbare robe and, angrily combing the fingers of one hand through his tousled hair, stomped towards the source of his aggravation. After undoing the latch he threw it open and, before giving himself a chance to see who was on the other side, began to shout. "I told you yesterday that I'd have your rent ready just as soon as I got paid," he roared. "I can't give you money that I don't have so unless you're here to toss me out, kindly fff..." Groggy eyes finally began to see and the former supervillain caught himself mid-swear so that the half-uttered curse hung in the air like cobweb. "You," he said. "Are not my landlord." His eyes narrowed, suspicious. "What do you want?"

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The heavy smell of cigarette smoke met him well before the door--an impressive accomplishment, given that this early visitor wasn't actively lit.  He stood a little shorter than Presto but with a more muscular build, dressed in a formal black suit, tie slightly askew, dark sunglasses obscuring his eyes, a small nick on the left side of his throat from a fresh shave, his black-and-gray hair combed back.  Below the shades was a nose with two subtle opposing crooks to it, suggesting at least one old break.  Beneath that, an unimpressed, decidedly unfriendly, frown. 

 

"I want you, Steiner."  He dipped one hand into his pocket and returned it with a brown leather item Presto had certainly seen before.  The badge flipped open at a deft flick of this man's wrist; printed in brass was the stylish A of AEGIS, and below that, Agent Warne.

 

The frown twitched briefly into a cruel smile.

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Sam's breath caught in his throat as his eyes flicked down to the badge and then back up to the face of the suddenly terrifying Agent Warne. This couldn't be happening now, just after he'd finally gotten himself a job -- a job rifling through Al-Kazar's old belongings, at that -- and might finally start making enough money to move out of this dump and into somewhere decent. Not now! "Whatever you've heard," he told the agent. "It isn't true." He worked his tongue inside of his mouth, carefully considering what he'd say next. "I'll have you know that I'm gainfully employed -- you can speak to my parole officer about it; I've confirmed it with him. I've been on the straight and narrow since my release, and I'm happy to say that I don't miss criminality at all." Had he gotten rid of that wallet? He thought that he remembered dumping it in a trash-can fire that he's spotted in an alley, but he couldn't be sure. It wasn't still here, at least, was it? Sam began to speak with a practiced ease. "Do you have a warrant? I won't otherwise consent to your entry into my home." He glanced behind him at the apartment and its constituent mess. "Such as it is."

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"You'd rather we talked...elsewhere?"  Be it practice or natural talent, he placed, in that word, the sound of clicking cuffs, banging gavels, and locking doors.

 

Nonetheless, the agent didn't seem bothered by this refusal.  He deliberately leaned from side to side, peering around Samuel into the room beyond.  After a long pause, he continued, "I'm fishing, Steiner.  I like to fish.  I woke up hungry this morning, and here I am, following the nibbles on my line.  The question is, are you big enough to bother frying, or are you just going to point me toward a better catch?"

 

The badge finally closed with a snap that sounded too loud in the early morning silence.  Agent Warne replaced it in his pocket.  "Ahh, but I'm being rude.  Enough about my hobbies; let's talk about yours.  Are you still satisfied with cocaine these days, or have you graduated to something a little more exotic?"

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Ah, there it was: the mockery. The demeaning, the insults. They wormed their way under Sam's skin and stuck there like ticks, growing fat on his loathing. His eyes narrowed. "I've downgraded, actually," he said. His voice was hollow -- in his head, he was trying to be a million miles away. "I've switched to caffeine. Turns out that it's better for you. Like I said, I've gone straight." Not strictly true. He'd simply gone another shade of crooked; his attempt so far at recreating himself as a superhero was still in its infancy. But there wasn't any way that this Warne guy could know about that; he'd only ever gone out with the girls from the bookstore so far and nobody else had seen him in costume but that bizarre DJ at Rusty's. "If you're here to shake me down, get me to admit to some wrongdoing, you're wasting your time. I haven't done anything for you to pin on me. And if you're just here to kick an ex-con around for laughs, you're going to find that I'm not very amusing. I don't have any patience for that stuff."

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"Mmm.  But patience is a virtue."  Warne continued to display that much, at least.  When he shrugged and gestured with his open hand--the other in his pocket with his badge--the defeat in it was mockingly false.  "Maybe you're right.  Maybe you're not the fish I'm looking for.  Still, even straight can't-be-pinned won't-be-kicked bastions of wholesome goodness like yourself have ears.  I hear lots of things, Steiner, but sometimes I like to hear it twice.  I'm sure a good, standup citizen like yourself would love to be my echo." 

 

His free hand lifted, started into his jacket pocket--Sam had sufficiently keen eyes to note what looked like a pack of cigarettes there, without needing to look too hard--but thought better of it and let his arm drop.  "Lately what I hear is that the fine finger-wigglers of Freedom City are passing around a new drug.  It starts out all glitter and gumdrops, like it always does, but then apparently the nastiness sets in, and the cops are scraping ashes and squashed toads off the alley pavement.  Somebody like me gets to run you down, bang bang bang, but you don't go too far, like your brains have gone soft.  And the ones that do run, you just seem to go missing altogether."  Poof, Warne silently mouthed

 

"You haven't done that Disney witch-laugh since I got here, and you're just ever so sincere, so I'm sure you aren't planning to roast me the moment my back's turned.  But since you're down to caffeine these days, why don't you tell me what you've heard, when you're staying up so late?"

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Samuel paused -- not much, but definitely enough for an agent as trained as Warne to notice. Having realized that the jig was up, the former villain sighed, defeated, and took a step backwards into the apartment. "Come in," he groaned, and then plodded over to what passed for his kitchen table and took a seat. When the agent had followed him inside, Samuel began to speak. "I don't know how it works, if that's what you're wondering," he said. "I am not involved, in any way, with the creation of... whatever this is. I have know idea who's making it, how, or why." He took a breath, held it, and tried to calm himself down. This was all very frustrating. "But I've heard things, okay? You don't walk in the kinds of circles that I do -- did! -- without hearing things." He cleared his throat and continued. "There's somebody hiring people, established people, away from their old gangs. I don't know who -- he's either new, or doing new, you follow me? It's a new operation. The rumors are that it's someone big. Someone, you know, super. And the gangs that're losing people don't want to pick a fight with them over some goons, so it all just sort of gets swept under the rug so that nobody has to go to war over it." He shrugged. "That, and they're apparently marketing whatever it is to my kind of people -- you know, the magically-inclined?" He sighed. "And... that's it. There's a new player in town and he's hiring old people. The gangs are ticked about it, but not so ticked that they're willing to die for it. And that's all that I know."

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Agent Warne followed along impassively, scanning the apartment as he went, and listened in silence.  When Sam had finished, he replied, "Well, my little echo, you know a fair bit.  But, unfortunately, not enough.  Which is why I'd be ever so delighted if you came with me to run an errand.  For some reason--I can't understand why--the magicians we've caught aren't eager to talk to me.  Maybe I've just got the wrong face.  But you, all handsome and familiar, I bet they'd open up to.  Consider it your civic duty, giving back to society.  And besides..."

 

He twisted at the waist, gazing pointedly at the rundown conditions.  "...AEGIS keeps some room in the budget for private contractors." 

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Samuel gaped at the man, mouth open, eyes wide, and then forced himself to present a modicum of composure -- though as he was wearing a robe, unshaven and roused early from sleep, it was largely a lost cause. "I thought that I told you that I'd turned over a new leaf; I don't get involved in that sort of thing anymore. I'm a changed man, agent Warne: I've reformed." He didn't think it prudent to mention his recent decision to become a superhero, to use his significany magical powers for good. And this certainly wasn't the same thing. Superheroes stopped bank robberies and purse-snatchers; they didn't interrogate drug-addicted magicians. Did they? And then he thought about the money, and how he could use it to get out of this dump, maybe rent an apartment closer to the bookstore. It was an enticing offer, if it was true. He reached up and stroked his beard. "Supposing... that I did decide to help you. How much are we talking about? Like I said, I'm a changed man. If I'm going to go and involve myself in this sort of thing again, AEGIS is going to need to make it worth my while."

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"'Worth your while,'" Agent Warne repeated blandly.  "Well, for starters, I can decide not to recommend that you have random parole inspections every day for the next six months, and I can make a point to not accidentally mention your name if any reporters ask about this string of very worrisome crimes.  I'd hate to be in a hurry trying to find someone else to lend a hand.  Rushing your work, that's how mistakes happen.  But I digress.  Numbers, hmm?  The official standard for an expert consultant is thirty-five dollars per hour, plus expenses, which I don't expect you to have unless you convince me to let you take these suspects out to dinner.  Personally, I think that's still a little high.  But I also think you can't put a price on me not being careless." 

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Sam grit his teeth. The offer of thirty-five dollars an hour was tempting, but on the other hand... "You're aware," he grumbled. "That what you're proposing is something like blackmail, aren't you?" Of course he was. Samuel had dealt with men like this Warne before -- prison guards and beat cops, teachers back at school... everyone with a taste of power got too used to using it on those they felt below them. Hell, Sam himself was guilty of that; it was probably just human nature. But that didn't mean that it wasn't infuriating when it happened to him. The thought occurred to him to go for the wand, to give this AEGIS agent a taste of his own powerlessness, but he managed to avoid doing something stupid. The problem wasn't just one agent, but all of them. He sighed. "Nevertheless, I accept your... terms."

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"Extortion," Warne corrected, unphased.  "I prefer blackmail, but you haven't yet given me enough to work with." 

 

He turned smoothly and walked toward the door, already reaching into the pocket with his cigarettes.  "I have a car outside.  Be prompt."

 

With that, as the door clicked softly behind him, Samuel was alone again. 

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"Extortion," Samuel said, in a tone that mocked the agent. "I prefer blackmail, but you haven't yet given me enough to work with. Blah, blah, blah." After rushing through his morning routine much more quickly than normal, the former villain was dressed and outside, his suit jacket covered up by an old coat to protect against the early Spring chill. He strode towards the car, still muttering under his breath. "A newt, maybe. I've never done it, but I could. They'd never find him, either -- I could put him in an aquarium in the bathroom. That would teach him some respect..." He raised a hand and knocked on the window. "Where do you want me?" he asked.

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Parked next to the sidewalk was the stereotypical black sedan with heavily tinted windows.  Agent Warne leaned against it, finishing his cigarette.  He put it out as Samuel exited the apartment complex, took a small metal tin from his pocket, and stored the remaining filter therein, rather than litter. 

 

"You can ride shotgun," Warne suggested (to the point that it sounded like a suggestion) graciously (to the point that it sounded gracious).  He opened the front passenger door; through it, Sam could see another agent, presumably also AEGIS, sitting in the driver's seat, identically dressed in the standard government black suit and shades.  This second man had a faint bulge under his jacket, against his ribs, marking his firearm.  The sight might call Sam's attention to Warne's lack of the same. 

 

"Wouldn't want you getting carsick in the back," Warne added in his unfriendly, gravely voice. 

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Sam took his seat and sighed, thoroughly unsettled. "If this is some trick," he said. "Some trap, and you plan to black-bag me, I'll have you know that I'm gainfully employed and there are people out there that will come looking for me." He buckled himself in and then looked over at Warne. "You don't carry a gun," he ventured, and glanced down at the agent's un-creased jacket. "At least not visibly. If you don't carry a gun, that means either one of two things. Either you don't carry a gun because you're suicidal, or you don't have it because you don't need it." He leaned back into the seat. "And if you were suicidal, you'd be dead. They wouldn't send just anyone to meet with me, so they sent you because you've got good reason to be brave." He looked away, out the passenger window, and gazed at the street rolling by. "This is bigger than you've let on, and I'm in more trouble than I thought." He thinned his lips and went quiet.

Edited by Sophistemon

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"Don't be so dramatic," Warne said from the back seat, right behind Samuel, which perhaps wouldn't help his nerves.  "If I wanted to bring you in, I would've kicked down your door and tased you until your eyebrows caught fire.  But I'm glad to hear that sweet little Steiner is making friends."  His tone dripped with sarcastic skepticism; following the words was the click of a lighter and the window's hum as it slid down.  He was already lighting another cigarette. 

 

"Don't you worry about weapons, either way.  Since you're just a regular, standup citizen these days, we'll be sure to keep you safe."

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Surprisingly, Sam laughed at the comment. "Hah! Look, I get it," he said. "I really do, and I'll tell you what I've told everyone else so far: I don't blame you for thinking that I'll backslide. I know that I've made mistakes. I know that I've made big mistakes, and I get that it's hard to believe that I won't just keep on making big mistakes. But, in my defense, I kicked the drugs in prison and spent five years patiently waiting until I was free again. No great schemes, not plots of escape, no rioting -- just waiting. And don't think that made 'sweet little Steiner' any friends, either. But I did it: no violence of any kind." He shrugged. "So, you can sit back there and keep thinking that I'm going to flip out at any second, go back to my old ways and try to rob another bank. Or maybe you just think that I'm some ex-con loser that's not going to amount to anything now that he's served his time. But you're wrong on both counts, and I'm going to prove it."

Edited by Sophistemon

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Accompanied by the acidic smell of smoke, Warne simply replied, "We'll see."  The words dropped like bullet casings. 

 

GM

 

From Samuel's apartment, the sedan went briefly west, then turned south on Pennsylvania, crossing over the river that split Freedom City.  From there they turned onto Adams, east, which skirted along the Southside district.  The straight shot lasted for a good half-hour before it began to wind and weave, into Bayview.  Properties became nicer and nicer until the trio rode alongside expensive waterfront mansions, cruising the coast, the mouth of the river on their left; Sam would have to lean around the driver to get the best view, but if he chose, he could see all the way to Riverside and Kingston beyond the water.  They crossed State Route 9, turned south to take Everglade--which took them within view of Lake MacKenzie--and then turned east again.  By this point, Sam might've started to gather some suspicions about their destination.

 

Lonely Point hadn't changed.  The single road toured rocky terrain, sandbars, and little else.  By the time the naval base came into view, all signs of civilization behind them had vanished; even the North Bay district on the other side of the city was just a distant blur flickering along the horizon.  The sedan slowed at the Navy checkpoint for credentials...but this wasn't likely to be the final stop.  Merely a necessary waypoint to reach a place that no one wanted to go.

 

Agent Warne was taking Sam to Blackstone Prison. 

Edited by Blarghy

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Sam reached a hand toward his chest and ran his fingers along the contours of the wand, hidden as it was in a secret pocket sewn into the interior of his jacket. Of course he knew where they were going. He remembered every single second of his humiliating defeat and the days that followed. The trial, the sentencing, and the long drive to Blackstone. Then, he had been beaten, weakened, stripped of his wand and defenses. That wasn't the case now. If this was a trick, some scheme to get him back behind bars... he'd fight it. He would. Lynn and Gretchen would be disappointed, he'd be throwing his nascent career as a hero into the toilet, but he wouldn't go back to prison. Not now, not ever.

Edited by Sophistemon

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GM

 

From their brief passage into the naval base--ushered through, clearly unwelcome--they boarded a speedboat piloted by a Navy officer.  Skimming along the waves, the island of dark granite loomed closer and closer until they reached the docks at the base of the tall, imposing natural structure, jutting from the sea like some underworld god's stubby knuckle.  Perhaps Sam could take some comfort in the Navy boatman not turning around and leaving them once they moved into the boathouse at the foot of the island.  Or perhaps not. 

 

Inside they immediately met two of the "Blackguards," equipped with standard blasters and armor (neither wore MAX suits, thankfully).  Behind them at the far wall, beyond the service desk, was one of the two elevators that led down into the heart of the prison.

 

"Agent Warne," Sam's extortioner/temporary employer rasped.  "AEGIS."  He flipped his badge out again with that practiced motion, but the first Blackguard spared it no more than a glance.

 

"Yeah, we got the call earlier.  What's your--"  the man's eyes flickered over to Sam, stuck for a moment, narrowed, and then reluctantly drifted back to Warne.  "--Business?"

 

"We need to speak to a new inmate.  Karen Kilmns." 

 

Those wary eyes narrowed even further behind the hard plastic riot face-plate.  "Knickknack."

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Sam offered the guard a sardonic little smile before he he heard the name of their quarry, which caused his eyes to widen. "Knickknack?" he said. "No, no, no! Warne, she's a lunatic!" He shook his head and looked behind him, back towards the exit. "You can't tell me that we're here to meet with her. She eats people, for God's sake!" He shook his head, which caused his hair to ruffle. "And her magic is slapdash even by my standards."
 

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GM

 

"You have standards?" Warne asked dryly.

 

"She is contained," the second Blackguard pointed out, mildly offended by the implication of danger.  "Like all the inmates, her cell is custom-designed to negate her abilities."  There was another flicker-glance toward Presto.  "But yes, this woman is dangerous.  I don't like the sound of you antagonizing her, especially not given the state she was in at the time of her capture..."

 

"Our other leads are drooling onto their straitjackets," Warne replied.  "Kilmns wasn't sane even before whatever mystery drug she took, but at least she's lucid.  You won't be in any danger, Steiner; you're not going through the cell door, she's not coming out, and we'll be in the hallway with you in case something unpredictable happens.  We need to know what she knows.  Pretend you're back in Vegas talking to the crazies, and you'll do fine."

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Sam blinked, surprised, and then shook his head a second time. "What? No, I'm not afraid of her. She's a dabbler, for Pete's sake; an amateur at best!" He thumbed the lapels of his suit-jacket. "I've got more magic in my little finger than she has in her entire body. I just have my doubts that she's going to be useful to your investigation, that's all." Then, he looked pointedly at Warne. "And of course I have standards. I've devoted my life to this stuff, magic both illusory and real. I take it very seriously. And if you're going to be looking into the mystical side of the world, you should start taking it seriously, too." He huffed, and then addressed the guard. "Don't worry; I won't antagonize your prisoner. I'll be just as well-behaved outside the cell as I was inside it."

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GM

 

"Hope springs eternal," the Blackguard responded flatly. 

 

"I don't need her to give lectures; I just want to know where she got whatever it was she got," Warn said.  "If she has details and theories, then so much the better, but that's your department.  Now let's go; you're on the clock."  He stepped toward the elevator, found the two Blackguards in his path unmoved, and growled, "I assume we're authorized to use the monorail as well." 

 

"...Fine."  The pair turned and led the way to the sliding metal door that would take them deep underground, into the heart of the prison.  "It'll get you in and out faster."

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