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June 3, 2017

Bedlam City, United States

Midmorning

 

News traveled fast in the age of constantly connected, always-recording electronic devices. Two days ago an unbelievable video had popped up on YouTube of an odd, furry creature appearing near the artsy neighborhood of Bedlam. The video showed it appearing near Central Perk with an unconscious woman in his arms. Even the apathetic citizens of Bedlam wouldn't let a pretty woman be accosted like that and several of them confronted the beast, making it release the girl before driving it out. Before long the video showed an ambulance rolling up and checking over the woman. This morning's newspaper had contained a press release from Acting Chief Executive Officer Dunwoody on the activities of the "Woodchuck Man." It was a shockingly quick turn-around for a statement from Bedlam's finest, which could probably be put down more to the victim being a pretty, white girl rather than the video.

 

Normally after the morning rush Central Perk got pretty quiet; even Terminal Drive wasn't quite enough to keep a coffee shop bustling at all hours. Now though everyone had to make do with convince-store coffee or even brew their own at home, because Central Perk was entirely encircled with yellow policetape. A crowd of grumbling twenty-somethings with a tendency towards scarfs were standing nearby, grumbling about a less-than-quality caffeine fix in the morning. Standing in the middle in her pink workout clothes, Ami Rask sipped at her water bottle. She knew there was something to find here, she just needed to figure out how to get the couple of police guarding the location to leave and how to get this crowd to disperse.

Edited by Raveled

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Theo had heard about the kidnapping attempt. He'd actually been a bit heart-warmed about the people coming to the woman's aide, but the over-proportionate response (well, for Bedlam it was) by the police made him stop and think. The conclusions he came to were...less than pretty, but unsurprising. Something had to be done, and he'd prefer to look into this himself.

 

If this was a supernatural, or at least superhuman, actor, then he was better-equipped than most to deal with it. If it wasn't, well. Perhaps he could help ensure the actual perpetrator was taken in, rather than a bystander who "looked funny". One could say that none in Bedlam were truly innocent, but there were degrees of guilt, and he would not see anyone but the guilty be punished for this. Somewhere in his contemplation, he realized he was in the form of Judex, and not Theodore Ward. Judex shrugged, and slipped out of Theo's home. Easier not to thing on such things for the time being. Better to go on into the field. 

 

Before long, Judex was lurking on a rooftop a few buildings away from Central Perk, all but laying down to avoid being seen.

'Hm hm hm. Too many sheep, too many sheep, and a few too many wolves that play at sheepdogs. The shepherd must herd the sheep, but sometimes the sheepdogs must drive them from danger.'

 

Out of nowhere, everyone gathered in front of the coffee shop would begin to feel nervous. Those nerves quickly escalated, likely driving everyone to a near-panic, with the only certain thing being that they needed to be anywhere except Central Perk. Anywhere.

Edited by KnightDisciple

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The crowd felt a wave of fear and unease move through them and slowly began to break up, individuals and couples moving on their way. Even the cops standing by the entrance shivered like a cold wind had just blown by and retreated to the confines of their squad car. Ami felt the suggestion wash over her, but a Martel wasn't the sort to flee from a casual psychic suggestion like that. A Martel on a mission also didn't miss an opportunity either, so she quickly crossed the parking lot and stepped straight through the open door while the cops were still talking in their squad car. Her movements were quick, sure, almost practiced as she slipped through the door and closed the blinds.

 

Inside Ami looked around, silently noting the disheveled state of the coffee machines and snack cakes. Apparently Bedlam's boys in blue weren't above getting a little French vanilla roast instead of convenience store swill. That was the sort of corruption Ami had been expecting to find and it put her oddly at ease, though she didn't relax her attention. She moved deeper into the store and found the manager's office, along with an antiquated desktop. She started typing away at it quietly, looking for archived security footage.

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"I'm glad one of us is more comfortable with that thing. I've always struggled with getting them to do what I want, instead of what I say."

What in the world there's a big burly guy with a bushy beard and brown hair leaning against the doorway, arms crossed over his chest and a strange smile on his face.

 

"Perhaps it's just a microcosm of the human condition? Or something else. Who knows. Either way...find anything interesting?"

He seemed completely unconcerned about the possible shock his sudden appearance may have. 

Edited by KnightDisciple

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Ami turned quickly, crouching slightly as if to leap away from a possible attack but one never came. The big man with the big beard looked like he'd be more at home wrapped in trashbags and living under an overpass, but he didn't move to hurt her. He just blocked the doorway. "That sort of philosophy is better suited to this place when it is serving customers. Now it is so quiet that someone might think they have to respond to you." She returned to the computer, pulling up video files and scrolling through them quickly. "Last night was not the first time the animal creature showed up here. It has been a regular haunt around this building." The footage was in black and white, washed out where the brighter lights of the coffee shop spilled out onto the parking lot but clearly showing a hulking figure in a trenchcoat lurking around the edges of the lot. It turned its face to the cameras a few times, revealing a muzzle covered in brown fur and black, beady eyes; or else it let long, furry hands tipped with sharp claws hang free at its sides. One video showed it in detail as it ran into the parking lot to a discarded fast food bag and squatted over the detritus, tearing the brown paper wrapping apart and picking through the food left over.

 

"It doesn't look dangerous," the girl said, watching six videos simultaneously. "It looks hungry."

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Judex kept smiling as the girl reacted, but he did stop leaning and take a half-step back, tucking his hands into his pockets to try to slightly lessen his threat profile. 

"Oh, even when talking to yourself, someone is listening."

That bit of wisdom dispensed, he slowly stepped into the room, trying to give Ami space and appear as non-threatening as his big, burly self could. If nothing else, Ami ought to figure out that while he wasn't a shining paragon of gleaming clean, he wasn't really dirty. Just...worn-looking. And hey, he didn't smell like he'd been wrapped in trash bags. But...who wore Hawaiian shirts these days? 

 

"Judex. That is, that's me, Judex. A pleasure to make your friendly acquaintance. Such a rarity in this troubled town. Rarer still is the care for the people. The real, unpaid care. Sharing your time and your energy and your luck, it's a sign of caring..."

He stops, and coughs politely.

"Got carried away, sorry. Now now now, let's see..."

He leans in a bit, his eyes narrowing, his expression shifting more serious as he watches the footage.

"Hungry? Hungry indeed. Hungry like half this city...Hm. Not entirely human. That...sort of looks like a bear, to me. Does it look a bit bear-like to you? Not really a gorilla; they don't have claws or long faces. But...why the coat? And where from?"

Edited by KnightDisciple

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"This is too small to be a bear," Ami replied. "If he was a bear, then there would not be a coat big enough to cover him. Perhaps it would be best to think of him as a very big, very hungry chipmunk." She turned and pulled out her phone, orienting the screen as she swiftly called up the YouTube video. She moved the video around, keeping it pointed like she was filming the whole scene herself, glancing back and forth between the video on the phone and the security footage on the computer. "It always comes from the back and left," she said. "Never from the right or never from front. There must be something back there."

 

She lead the way to the rear entrance of Central Perk and stepped into the alleyway. It was dirty and crowded with detritus, but the young woman spotted the single Dumpster. Ami made a face as she quickly approached it, breathing shallowly through her nose while she examined the metal box. It didn't take her long to find what she was looking for and she quickly retreated from the stink. She held up a tuft of thick brown fur. "Stuck near the hinge. Maybe Mr Bear was looking for food?"

Edited by Raveled

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"I should have been clearer; this seems like some sort of animal-human hybrid, or super-smart animal, or the like. Or maybe not. Maybe it is a giant chipmunk."

He stepped back as she used her phone to try and figure out where this hairy figure had wandered in from, and then slipped out the back of the store into the alley with her, content to let her lead for the moment, though once they were outside he was a bit tenser, a bit more aware, a bit more cautious. He frowned in thought as she fished out the tuft of fur.

"That...is certainly plausible. More than a few people go dumpster-diving for food. But then the question becomes...why the attempted kidnapping?"

 

He paused.

"...Has anyone interviewed the woman this...lurker...was carrying? Has there been a statement from her made public?"

Edited by KnightDisciple

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"Her family has been keeping her under wraps quite well," Ami said. She examined the fur briefly before discarding it. "The press will get to her before long, but I do not work by the tempo of the press. i do not wish to see the police crowing about their success and showing off a furry corpse like big game hunters at safari." Her harsh words were at odds with her light and airy tone, like her tight, controlled movements were at odds with her bright-pink exercise clothes. She was a bundle of questions and wasn't offering answers. "The real question, I think, is: if this creature has shown up here before, why has it only kidnapped someone this once? I feel we are only seeing the picture we want to see, yes?"

 

Ami started moving up the alleyway, looking closely at the walls. There were a few other doors which opened off this narrow stretch of pavement into other businesses. After testing a few, she found one that opened to her touch and she stepped inside, moving quietly and softly. The interior of the building was crowded with half-rotten pallets and discarded, discolored sheets of plastic. Very little light came in through the boarded-up windows, but there did seem to be a path through the dust on the floor that lead to a downward-descending stairwell.

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"The cops, or worse. Who knows what sorts of odd characters panicky local officials might dredge up if the police can't take down this 'threat' quickly enough, hm hm hm?"

His expression was pretty serious, though. If nothing else, this Judex was taking Ami seriously. 

"I think the real-er question might even be...was this furry person kidnapping the woman...or something else?"

 

Now there was a thought to chew on as they made their way through the alley. When the came to the door, he helped Ami ease it open before following her inside. His steps were quiet and careful, making minimum noise. When he spoke, it was a whisper.

"I don't believe I caught your name when I gave you mine, Miss. I certainly won't mind just getting a nom de guerre. I could hardly judge someone harshly for using one of those, now could I?"

 

His eyes somehow managed to twinkle in the dim light. His grinning face was like a younger, perhaps slightly more "off" Santa Claus. Big beard, you know. 

Edited by KnightDisciple

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Ami opened the door carefully, watching the steps descending into darkness with a cal, studied expression, like she crept through abandoned buildings everyday. She fished out her phone and switched on the built-in flashlight, using that to pick out the stairs in the darkness. "Be careful here you step," she said over her shoulder to Judex. "I looks dark down here." She went down the stairwell first, her bright-pink tracksuit standing out like a beacon in the midst of the urban decay.

 

Standing in the basement she flashed the device around, noting the abundance of collapsed cardboard boxes and half-decayed detritus. For all the dust and darkness, though, the room didn't smell musty -- it smelled rank and rotten. The slight woman traced that back to a curiously-intact piece of wood leaning against the wall; she lifted it away to reveal a hole in the wall that went straight through into a sewer "Et voila," she said, sounding more like a child on Christmas than someone tracking a man-beast through the city sewer. "Our quarry takes an interesting path. I wonder why he took the woman all the way through the sewers to this place?" She moved into the sewers without waiting for an answer, the light from her phone bobbing along in the darkness.

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Judex squinted his eyes in the dark a bit, but didn't seem to complain over-much. He just carefully scanned the space about them, taking in what details he could with his night vision (such as it was), and the light from the girl's phone. He stepped softly along the floor, almost testing each step. It wasn't quite cat-like, but at the least, one might compare it to a cautious mountain goat. Especially with the beard. 

 

When she dug up the hole, he snorted briefly, as if to clear the smell from his nose, but otherwise made no immediate comments. Instead, he looked around again at the space around them, and then the hole. As the pink-suited girl delved in, he chuckled, then followed.

 

"Curioser and curioser. Perhaps he's neither bear nor squirrel, but rabbit instead? One wonders how deep the rabbit hole goes...."

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Ami sighed as she picked her way along the sewer, carefully choosing where she planted her feet as she tried to avoid the worst of the spoil. "I am afraid that it would be only as deep as is required to keep it out of sight. This city does not go to lengths to bury its smells." She lead the way through the bricked-walled artery, carefully checking the ground and walls as she tried to track their quarry. Unfortunately there wasn't a lot of branches to snap, sand to step in, or doors to leave open, so before long the pair of them were standing on one side of a T-junction, lost. Ami bit her lip as she glanced around, looking her age for the first time since she effortlessly infiltrated a crime scene. While she tried to read the signs on the side of the sewer, Judex could hear voices wafting down from one of the interconnected tunnels. It was hard to make out the whole thing in the echoing chamber, but he did manage to make out a slurred "Gotta get 'em out of here," and then a low, pained moan from the same direction.

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Judex nodded sagely as Ami opined about the nature of Bedlam City, its smells (both physical and metaphysical), and the efforts to hide (or not hide) such smells and imperfections. She seemed a bright young girl. A bit odd, though. Still hadn't told him her name! He stepped carefully in her wake, thankful that much of the worst of this ought to disappear when the time came. 

 

When they stopped at the junction, he closed his eyes for a moment, just trying to see if his other senses could pick something up. In what some might call a miracle and he would simply call providence, he did, in fact, hear something. Opening his eyes with a smile and a silent prayer, Judex reached over and softly tapped Ami on the shoulder. Once he had her attention, he'd tap his ear a couple of times, and then pointed down the side tunnel he'd heard the voice from. 

 

Without waiting for much of a reply, he set off down the tunnel with a mix of determination and caution.

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Ami fell in step behind Jude as the big man lead the way down the way down the tunnel. She had no problem following someone else's lead, and after a few steps she paused and scrapped the sole of her shoe against the stone curb. Then a few steps later she reached up and jingled the fob of her zipper. Every few steps she made another innocuous noise that she didn't need to, not enough to alert their quarry (hopefully so, anyway) but enough that Judea would know she was still following him. Not everyone, after all, was used to the sort of silence a Martel girl was capable of.

 

The unlikely pair crept down the sewer towards the voices. Before long they saw an equally unlikely pair standing together in an alcove. One if them was dressed in layers and layers, with the sort of unkempt hair normally associated with street people. The other one, whole he was dressed in a ratty trench coat, had blue skin and seemed only passingly aware of the world around them.

 

Abruptly a rat squeaked almost under Judex's foot and the other pair turned to look at the heroes. The street person waved his hand and there was a sudden tide of cockroaches, rats, and other creepy crawlers plugging the far end of the tunnel behind this weird pair. The blue man turned to Judex and Ami and began floating towards them, his feet a few inches off the floor! He reached out and moaned, "Fires! Fires climbing up the walls, fires away the sky, rats on fire, rats eating London !" A sudden wave of cold washed over Judex, like someone had just driven a chip of ice into his heart.

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Judex raised an eyebrow at the two individuals as he quietly observed them. They were odd, and Bedlam of all places would be unkind to them, but neither matched the strange, animalistic being they'd seen in the video. Was there a third member of this little group? Were there even more of-*SQUEAK*!

Judex looked down, sighed, and looked up as the blue man moved toward them. Instead of being frightened by the man's ramblings, Judex felt sad. Truly these were unfortunate souls. He staggered at the wave of cold, but after a moment shook himself, and offered a gentle smile.

 

"The fires loom always, brother, but fear not! We are here not to burn, but to rescue! I draw breath, and so long as I do I will help you avoid the flames! Please, be at peace brothers! We mean no harm. We seek not the sword, but the truth!"

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The blue-skinned man continued to float forward, but his ramblings seemed somehow confused when Judex failed to flee from him. "The rising flames? The pillars of ash? All to the flames, all the cities!"
 
Ami peeked her head from around the massive, bearded man, waving cheerily. "'Allo! We did not mean to interrupt you. We are looking for, well, we are not quite sure. It is a man, with a lot of fur all over him. He was carrying a woman through these sewers."
 
The older man in the ratty trenchcoat squinted at the pair, suspicion written on his face. He stepped forward, moving past the floating blue-skinned figure, the wall of rats advancing with him. "What're you wantin' him for, then? Looking for a trophy?"
 
"No no no!" The horror was clear in Ami's voice. "We do not want to hurt him. We want to know why he took the woman."
 
The ratty man reached into his coat and pulled out a bottle of anonymous brown liquor. He eyed Judex as his shaky fingers slowly uncapped it. "And you, big guy? What're you gonna do if we show you the Woodchuck?"

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"All may fall to flame one day, and we all return to the dirt from whence we came, but to all things there is a season, brother. For now, our season is to grow and flourish and seek understanding."

 

He gave the blue man a compassionate smile, unruffled by his odd ravings. As the other two were not immediately attacking, he simply chose a half-step backward. When the more coherent gentleman asked him a question, he turned and tipped his hat as he spoke.

 

"My name is Judex, brother. I did not come to seek trouble or cause harm, but to seek truth. I wish to know and understand what happened, because I suspect the story is more complex than some might believe. And if that's the case, I wish to protect this Woodchuck from harm from those over-zealous to be seen 'doing something' in the midst of panic."

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