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The Dog Park Will Not Harm You [IC]

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Liberty Park

Sunday, December 11, 2016

9:23 PM

 

Somedays, Cannonade wondered what it had to be like to work in Animal Control in this town.

 

It had been one of the weirdest "track downs" he'd ever had. Sometimes, on patrol, he'd run into a cop who wanted to flag him down over something weird, usually related to the Crusaders. Other times, Commander Grayston of AEGIS might track him down, wanting to send him off to God knows where to handle some new interesting wrinkle in geopolitics. This time, however, he'd touched down in the Fens to get some coffee at the Dunkin Donuts, only to be flagged down by a woman with blue hair and the uniform of an Animal Control officer. 

 

"It was a jogger," she'd said. "She'd been running through the park, said she was passing by Poet's Grove when they appeared. Dogs. Three of them, black as night. One of them did a real number on her arm, but she was carrying pepper spray and managed to drive them off."

 

"And if you're talking to me, I'm guessing they can't actually be dogs."

 

"Given this town, they could be, but... we checked where she was attacked. No sign of spoor, paw prints, droppings, anything. And her description... it may have been dark and she may have been scared, but they didn't resemble any dog we know. Maybe Mastiffs, at an outside stretch, but... Mastiffs aren't usually that dark in coloration. And then there was the other thing..."

 

"What other thing?"

 

"She said they came running out from behind a hedge. But that part of Poet's Grove is completely clear cut."

 

And so, Cannonade ventured off into a dark stretch of an already dark park, feeling the shadows loom. The air felt crisp and cool, and he could smell pine on the air. No dog, though, wet or otherwise. But he had a feeling that, given this town, that wasn't going to hold for long. 

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Early evening, and not a criminal in sight.

 

Morgan hopped another rooftop, before disappearing in the blink of an eye and reappearing - balanced on an elaborate wrought-iron street lamp. He let his shoulders dip just a bit, leaned his head forward; appearing for all the world to be either an elaborate addition to the lamp, or some nightmarish equivalent to a vulture.

 

Times like these, affecting the brooding loner bit was more entertaining than what was happening on the ground. A sigh, he knew he should have stuck to the Downtown or Waterfront tonight. At this rate he'd be getting to Nick's for his mid-patrol cinnamon bun and black tea hours ahead of schedule. Granted, a hero wishing for criminals to appear or run about harassing folk wasn't exactly overly Centurion-y of him, but he figured the greatest of the greats had his smudges sometimes, right?

 

Anyway.

 

On the positive side, the snow covering the Park was absolutely beautiful - just a pristine blanket of white, marred only by a few sets of footy-prints on the perfect surface. Well, there might have been chaps up to mischief in there, maybe; you could always find a prowler or two amongst the trees lurking. The mask under his hood glowed slightly as he panned it left and right, halting on a large, extremely muscled figure looming ominously amongst the pines. A grin. Sweet. Big guys like that were the best of the superstitious, cowardly lot. He vanished again, this time appearing in the middle of the path before him, hand outstretched, fingers sparking, face shadowed, GRIM REAPER ARRIVETH-style. Something in Hemingway today, he thought.

 

"DOST THOU KNOW WHEN THE BELL TO-oh. Hey, Cannon."

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It wasn't one of Mason's normal patrol times, but he was putting off some homework that he needed to do before classes on Monday morning. Running around in a costume was still new to him. He lurked in the areas of the park that provided more cover, uneasy roaming about in the open. When he overheard a couple talking about a dog attack, he blew it off at first. Then he remembered something he read about and old English tale and decided to check it out.

 

When he arrived on the scene, he noticed two costumes already there. His first assumption was that they had something to do with the attack but it didn't make sense that they would be standing around chatting afterward. If they were heroes then, the situation was probably already under control. There was another goal he could accomplish, however, introducing himself to the hero community of Freedom City.

 

He approached the two with as much confidence as he could muster. "Hello gentleman. I'm the Sidhe."

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"Y'eard about it too?" The wiry teenager who appeared alongside the other young men was in a green and brown poncho, his dark face partially concealed by the shadow of his hood. He gave no signs of appearing and disappearing by magic the way Crow had, he simply walked out of the shadows and into a clear part of the woods. Riley could have called Robin, he could have called Erin or Trevor - but this was something he had to handle himself. Woodsman's voice was flat, calm, and almost a whisper, his crossbow slung low over his back. "Probably just the Green Man." He said that because the alternative was unthinkable, because the alternative was enough to make him want to scream and scream and scream, to be the violent monster everyone at Claremont said he was. But Woodsmen were in control of themselves. 

 

"I'm Woodsman. Let's go." 

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Gabriel had been out on a general patrol, regularly checking in with the Lighthouse for local trouble spots. Most of the time thus far had been quiet...until now. He'd received word from Comrade Frost (among a few "knowing chuckles") about odd goings-on at the park. Reports of what Frost thought sounded like Grimms or some other sort of Fae hounds, as well as disappearing shrubbery. Which was the worst kind of shrubbery.

 

So Gabriel was already on edge, and then he heard voices talking, one of them saying something about bells tolling, and while his super-hearing (when he used it) was pretty darn sharp, in some ways he could get tunnel vision where Fae were concerned. Tunnel hearing. Whatever. 

 

So the other 4 heroes on the ground might feel their teeth rattle just a tad as Gabriel blurred down into a three-point landing, his silver spear out and shining in the scattered lights in the park, coat flaring in the "updraft" of sonic energy he'd used to cushion himself from his high-speed descent. Less than 3 seconds after he landed, everyone there would hear a loud "crack" from almost directly overhead. Almost like a small plane making a sonic boom?

 

Slowly, the hero in white and silver stood, taking in the scene around him, his body tense. Then, he seemed to realize there wasn't an immediate threat, and his posture relaxed, albeit not entirely. Sidhe and Crow especially would find this hero giving them a bit of side-eye. His spear was gone from view quickly, though. 

 

"Well. Good evening, everyone. I'm Gabriel. It sounds like we've got a problem with Fae here."

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Cannonade nodded to Crow as he shouted from the darkness. "Hey, Crow," he said. "Long time no see. How've you been?" Soon after, the others either touched down, strode up, or loomed out of the darkness. Gabriel he certainly recognized, and he'd heard a few things about the Woodsman, but the new guy... "the She"? That can't be right. Maybe it means something in some kinda language I don't know. Or maybe it's an occult thing. Not the time or place.

 

"So... taking your word for it, Gabriel. Fairy stuff." Cannonade hadn't had many encounters with the fae, but the ones that stood out - the Nazi leprechauns, the Victorian cosplayers who'd stolen away several workers to do the hard part of the Industrial Revolution for them - were certainly something. He wouldn't be surprised to learn that they'd decided to let their dogs off the leash - but why? "All right. I'm not gonna pretend I'm the expert on this kind of matter. But we've got a lot of ground to cover, and odds are wherever these guys come from isn't always going to be here. Or is hidden, or... however they do it. So. How do we want to split this up?" 

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"We can probably help with that," offered a tentative voice from rapidly-congealing smoke, pouring in out of the darkness to form a young man in simple black clothes and a matching face mask. "I'm Grim. Not gonna lie, I wasn't really expecting so many faces, but this isn't...usually my kinda show. If you want to canvas the whole place, though, we're good for that. Just, uh...."

 

'We' was quickly explained as two great hounds stepped out behind him - with fur that moved like smoke in the breeze, eyes like burning round coals, and grinning white teeth. They circled their apparent master like hunters ready to play, though there was more mischief than malice in their smiles. "....I promise that whatever this is, they aren't mine. Figured I'd come take a look before mine got a bad name, since people aren't very good at, y'know, telling the difference. Plus, if whatever's in here moves from biting to killing, that's going to be a problem."

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Morgan whipped 'round, staring at...The Sidhe? The Sidhe. The Sidhe saw red lined runes burn underneath that black hood, the scent of wood smoke filling the air as said smoke curled up and floated into the air, lending a somewhat hellish mien to the Cowl's appearance. He felt a gaze rake him up and down - even as other heroes appeared - like he was being weighed, measured, evaluated, scanned, searched, rendered into component pieces and reassembled - a scrutiny that was by no means pleasant, and by no means likely to end well if either party decided to make a point of it.

 

Cannonade might have noticed the Crow-glare was still alive and well.

 

"...no, you aren't." Came a dry tone. The cowl crossing his arms, and stepping back to put his back against a tree. "...A Sidhe. Grammar fixed."

 

His shoulders shook, once, with a low chuckle. It disappeared as quickly as the hellish red, and the wood-smoke. In turn, he noted Gabriel's side-eye, and gave a quiet nod - a small gesture of respect, his hands taken out of his sleeves, and kept in view of the heavenly hero. Woodsman got an evaluating look as well, and a tiny approving nod too. Nods were his stock in trade, it seemed. Stealth like that was damned good, you gave it credit when you saw it. Grim, though, wrought a bit of caution in his body language. Too much fey business going on here for the half-blood's liking, too much.

 

Still, no call for hucking knives around or starting Let's You And Him Fights. Shut up, Eye.

 

"...all here for the same thing." A look around. He was reminded of the gathering of heroes, before the Public Anomie Affair; at least this time he wasn't jumping jelly-kneed between a pair of heroes about to take a swing at each other! "...cooperate? Cover more ground in park that way."

 

Edited by Quinn

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When the grumpy man's runes lit up, Mason activated his force field and started weaving a spell in his mind. He made no move at hostilities though. He didn't like being judged like this either. He was young and inexperienced. Hopefully that wouldn't be broadcast to the others. Luckily, the scrutiny resulted in nothing more than a quip about his name.

 

Soon others started to arrive. He greeted them and introduced himself as appropriate. If this investigation did turn out to be something bigger, it would be good to have backup.

 

Astral projection or sense projection would allow for him to scan the area faster, but he didn't know these people well enough to leave his body defenseless with them. Hopefully his basic magic sense would be enough to lead him in the right direction. Then again, there was a lot of magic that seemed to be going down between the group gathered.  "Spreading out sounds like as good of a plan to me as any."

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"Hey, Grim." Matt's presence reassured Riley that things were normal, things were sane, that an eruption of dark woods in the middle of an innocent park didn't mean the arrival of the end of the world. The moment was still too familiar, a group of young men about to go into the Forest together, except that from all he could see Woodsman was the only one in the party without powers. The only one that wouldn't turn if-"Gonna take the trees," he grunted. "Thick enough to move branch-t'-branch. Better there." 

 

He headed for the nearest trunk and ascended it with the staccato grace of one well-trained at rapid arboreal ascent, his feet finding purchase at every step on knots, roots, and branches. His crossbow didn't so much as rattle as he made his ascent, strapped securely as it was to his back. In a few moments, he'd all but vanished into the dark, as if he'd been born there. 

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Gabriel tensed a bit at Grim's dogs, but the boy was honest, he could tell, so he forced himself to relax. 

 

"One could suppose we might have some success fighting fire with fire."

 

He wasn't entirely sure if fully splitting up was a good idea, but he didn't feel comfortable simply commanding everyone else. Instead, he opted to try and help mitigate the separation.

 

"If anyone needs help, call out; I should be able to hear you, and coordinate the rest of us to come to your aid. Now, let's all be watchful; the Fae like their tricks and their games..."

 

His spear was in hand once more, and light shone forth from the blade as he stepped into the darkness beneath the trees, trying to keep himself roughly in the middle of where everyone seemed to be. Not that he trusted his own ability to effortlessly navigate these woods. Woodsman, probably Crow, perhaps Grim (with the aid of his...dogs?) could manage it without too much trouble; the rest of them, probably not as well. Better not to bother with stealth in his own case, anyway. If he drew the Fae to him so the others could flank the murderous lunatics, all the better. 

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The group split up, moving silently through the park. Cannonade cleared the park in leaps and bounds, taking to the air and seeing if he noticed anything that looked out of place from above. Of course, most of the part looked the same from about 200 feet up in the air, so as he landed again, he cursed not being able to notice crap.

 

Woodsman, however, was able to notice the eccentricity quickly. It was a hedge, looming out from between two barren trees. The dead branches provided plenty of cover - and support, which kept him from plummeting right into it - but he recognized the type of hedgerow. It was a deciduous plant, meaning it should have been dead and barren as well - but here it was, vital as ever. 

 

The Sidhe, Grim's dogs, and Gabriel all noticed the hedge soon after. The Sidhe could feel that faint aura of glamour rising from it like mist, solid enough now but likely to sublimate at some point. Grim's dogs could smell the freshness as well, and jumped as they heard - and smelled - fellow dogs from somewhere within the depths. And Gabriel could hear, from deep within, the same chuffing of hounds, as well as the faint peal of a bugle... 

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Morgan disappeared into the aether, concealing himself from view; slipping into the pines to mask his scent. He trailed Grim and The Sidhe in the process - feeling glad to be able to take to a protective role again. Even if the hedges were tall, the fangs of the hounds were gleaming, and the shadows were long - he was more dangerous than anything that lived in them.

 

Wow, he really needed to stop reading old poetry before bed. Crow shook his head, taking a step and moving in a swirl of snow - balancing atop one of the nearby path lights as he saw Sidhe and Grim pause. Something was in the wind, alright - throwing knives dropped into his hands.

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Grim's three dogs (had there always been three?) circled him, warily - with their heads down and their hackles up, they seemed more concerned with the area than even a supernatural hedge entrance would normally warrant - and all Grim could get over their connection was something bordering on distress at the smell on the air. Something awful and familiar, buried somewhere in their genetic memory, that even they couldn't entirely place quite yet.

 

"Well. If we were looking for something odd, I guess we found it," he muttered, crossing his arms at the out-of-place shrubbery as if willing it to try something. "Dunno if the rest of you hear that, but there are definitely dogs in there - or something like 'em. Pretty sure this wasn't here last time I was in the park. Anyone get a glimpse of how big this thing is?"

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"Careful," Mason warned as he approached the hedge slowly, "if it disappears we won't be able to find out what is going on until the next attack. This type of magic isn't always stable."

 

The dogs' weariness worried him. They would know if there was something to worry about. It didn't matter if there was something dangerous, however, there were innocent people getting hurt. He breathed in the smell of the isles and let his blood resonate with the magic of the hedge. Then he made sure his force field was active before reaching out and touching the greenery.

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Woodsman rappelled down from the nearest tree that hadn't been infected by the hedge, landing just behind the other heroes with a noise like nothing at all. He held his bow half-cocked, eyes half on the hedge and half on the others. "Okay," he said. "You people know what this is." It was not a question - though it was hard to read tone in that quiet, composed voice with words picked with great, deliberate care. Matt knew that voice - it meant Riley was on edge, pulled tight like one of his bowstrings, but fighting off the accent he slipped into when he was genuinely agitated. "That's good. I don't know what this is. I need someone to tell me why the Forest is here."

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"This is the work of Faeries, Woodsman. Not the cute, whimsical creatures many modern cartoons portray. Some are small, but many are the size of a grown man. Inhumanly beautiful, inhumanly powerful, and inhumanly amoral."

 

Gabriel had quietly walked from the forest, and was calmly addressing Woodsman even as he kept his eyes on the Hedge.

 

"They view humans as...resources. Toys to amuse themselves with. Slaves to work and die for them. Targets for fanciful new ideas. Now, normally they live in a...hm. I guess it's a parallel dimension? It's...'closer'...than an entire Alternate Earth. It's more like...a shadow, or a mirror-image of our World. The last several times I've encountered any, they used...portals, I suppose. Single or multiple Faeries, or Fae if you prefer, would intrude and then slip back. This time..."

 

He was just in front of the twisted Hedge, which he lightly poked with his shining, blessed spear of silver. 

 

"They appear to be trying to bring their home to us. Which would be bad on many levels."

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Gabriel could say that again.

 

Morgan cycled through the myriad of emotions that a doorway to the hedge, the realm of the Fair Folk, popping up in Parkside evoked in him. None of them were terribly pleasant, so he didn't dwell on them. Instead, a figure in a black coat just came into being beside the hero of God, the scent of cold iron shavings coming from a bag in his left hand, with his right filled with a gleaming throwing knife.

 

"...burn it?" He rasped with a clipped tone, staring at the hedge. "...could call in backup. Seal it off."

 

 

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Riley closed his eyes - and Woodsman stared at the hedge. They went into the Forest and they came back Feral - they went into the Forest and they came back Feral. It was a lesson he'd learned before he'd even realized he was a he - the story of the torturous death of a world very much like this one. He tried to remind himself that things were different here; this was one forest, not a world of them. Maybe it was just a coincidence. Or maybe everything is ending now, right now, and the only solution is to kill this place before it can spread. No one really knew exactly where the Forest Primeval had come from, after all. "Okay. Okay. Let's go." 

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"If it even burns," Grim mused, scowling. His dogs were unafraid, but clearly uncomfortable, milling around him as if expecting an attack from any direction. "Plus, we don't know who or what's in there. Fire's hard to control once you've got it going - even if we didn't let it spread to the rest of the park, what if they have hostages or whatever?"

 

He cocked his head, wishing he could glean something - anything - more from the place...and wishing it wasn't so far out of his area of expertise. "I'm with Woodsman, here. We've gotta figure out what's keeping this thing here, if it isn't supposed to be. Stuff from outside our world doesn't always just show up; maybe they've got a gate, or an anchor, or something...we take that out, we at least stop more from coming, or maybe send them all back. Hopefully."

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Cannonade looked down the weird, darkened maze. "...yeah, you're right," he said. "Plus, if this thing cropped up out of nowhere, burning it on this end might not work. We'd get a pretty bonfire, and then it might be back the next night." He shook his head. Extradimensional labyrinths were the kind of thing he was never happy to deal with, and yet, they kept cropping up, and he kept finding himself in circumstance where he would need to explore them. "All right. Let's go."

 

Cannonade walked into the maze, waiting for the others to follow. When they did, he trudged forth, taking in the sights - well, the ones he could see. The light from the lampposts cut out quickly, the rest of the maze - long, tall walls of leaf and thorn - rising up around them. Some light came back once they cleared the copse of trees, however, as stars shone down from above and the full moon hung in the sky. Never mind the fact that they had entered under a starless urban sky with a Gibbous moon...

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The black-coated bird of prey followed behind Cannonade, matte-black knives remaining in his hands. His whole frame was tensed, ready to react at the drop of a hat; leaping either to the offensive or the defensive, the second something came out of the hedge. The feel of cold iron between his fingers was a relief, in a way, even if this place likely would rebel against it.

 

Morgan's relationship with the world of his parents was complicated.

 

"...shame. Hate dealing with fair folk on their own turf. Usually involves a game. Or illusions. Or cheap tricks." Slight sniff. "...I use expensive tricks. Big difference."

 

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Mason was hesitant of exploring deeper into the hedge but was glad of the extra company. He would have preferred to project his senses into the hedge or even astrally project. There was no where to put his body though, and he didn't trust his new friends. Hell, they could even be Fay trying to draw him in. That would suck. He followed anyway. He was here to make a difference and that meant taking chances.

 

"Well, I don't know who you people are, but to be honest, I'm really glad I'm not doing this alone... unless you are Fae trying to pull me in..." Better to force the trap now than waiting until they got deeper.

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"Well, any who know much of me know I hold little affection for the Fae. But other than handling cold iron that you yourself know to be cold iron, I don't know how to assure you I'm not one of the lying, scheming villains myself. After all, a fake will deny being a fake just as strongly as the real person."

 

His words were fairly light-hearted, but Gabriel's whole body language was tense, ready for an ambush. As the group moved into the Hedge, they might occasionally feel an odd "hum" at the very background of their senses. As the lights dimmed from the outside world, the shining silver spear in the angelic hero's hand began to glow with soft light. 

 

"The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not comprehend It."

 

The shining hero seemed to be speaking to himself as much as anyone. 

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"Somebody tends these woods," said Woodsman shortly, cocking his head towards a row of bushes that, for all their wildness, were clearly growing in a cultivated pattern. "Somebody's hunting ground," he hazarded, indicating tracks at their feet. He bent down to study them, eyes passing quickly over the marked ground, before he rose to his feet with a haunted look. "Somebody's been hunted. Hour maybe. Somebody running." Turning to Grim, he said, "Dogs track 'em?" He was completely confident in his own ability to follow the trail, and indeed was already in the process of doing so, but it would go faster if he had help - even with Matt's weird dogs. His crossbow swung light in his gauntleted hands, already loaded.. 

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