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Max looked down at the tatters of his riding jacket and cursed.  He hadn't even noticed the damage to his wardrobe.

 

"Damn but these things are expensive.  Well I didn't get a proper look at the hardware but it was high tech weaponry of some sort.  Like I said before that Flare lady shot at bird guy and hit the bag with a magnesium flare.  Was running out of time so I just jumped on the bag to contain the explosion.  Lucky to be alive I guess is what I should say.  I'm sure y'all are aware of the uptick of gang activity lately, heard that new gangs are popping up and they have serious mojo, enough to already be running guns in a big way, like what went down tonight.  There was the Beastly Boys there, took care of them, but also an older man who took off as soon as I lit the place up.  Flare stuck around to yell at me for costing her millions in guns.  I'm not too broken up about it."

 

As they wheeled away the bird person Max said to the receptionist, "Hey let me know what room they put that guy in ok?  Need to ask him some questions when he wakes up.  Thanks!"

 

Max turned back to the squat officer.  "Anything else I can help you with officer?"

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"Jumping on a grenade?" replied Boxy. "I don't know whether to arrest you for stupidity, or slap a medal on your lapel" he said, shrugging in disbelief. "And you are right about the gangs. Came out of razzafrazin' nowhere. We got some of them. Except...you know... them...." he said gravely. 

 

"The Cheesegraters. Man, nobody ever even seen then. But the stories..." shuddered Jack. 

 

"Anyways, if the gangs are dealing drugs, that's racking it up. Up to now, just a bit of drisorderly. The Leap Froggers tried to steal some rubies last week. Some hero dude stopped them, we think. Made a goddamn mess of it as the airport, though. We don't know quite what happened other than they took two days to sweep up the debris..." said Boxy, sadly. 

 

"Odd thing is, when we spoke to these gang guys, they didn't have much of a previous record. Some didn't have any. Just said they wanted to get high, you know...hey, what did they say, Jack?"

 

"Wanted the buzz" piped up Jack. 

 

Boxy shook his head sadly. "Kids today..."

 

"I think he is coming round!" said one the nurses by Jann's side, half way through taking blood from him...

 

 

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It was a hazy feeling. The feeling of failure. Of pain. Of having lost the sole chance. It all came back at once. First, it was just a glimmer. But immediately, Jann’s eyes opened fully. He could feel his entire body once again, having likely sustained a fair amount of blunt injury. Nothing that wouldn’t heal within appropriate time, clearly.

 

A quick glance revealed a familiar environment. One of the medical facilities. It was arguably the best place to end up when regaining consciousness. Save for two facts. Mainly the fact that getting back outside was difficult. The other would come later, something he’d deal with when the time was right. There was no need to concern himself about the Academy.

 

He turned his head, but did not get up just yet. He’d learned of what that could cause some time last year. “Will be fine. Have to continue, cannot waste time.”

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"Whoa there!" said the nurse, his hands pulled back, his vacutainer half full of Jann's blood. "You best take it easy, sir! I mean, I know you have wings, you know, like some bird man thing...but you still got knocked out. We need to keep you in for observation!" he explained. 

 

"Never mind that" grumphed Boxy, waddling up to Jann. "We gotta few questions, if you don't mind. Like what the hell happened?" he started. 

 

"What happened? What the hell?" piped up Jack. 

 

Giving Jack a glance, without actually turning around (but a metaphorical glance it was, all the same), and chewing his mouth, Jack carried on. 

 

"We got you knocked out. Your friend here half way there, and some story about the Beastly Boys gun - running in Central Park. And some damn Red-head burning her face up. Or something. I didn't quite get it. Anywhere else, It would be a tough donut to swallow. But this is Freedom City..." he said, scratching his nose. 

 

"Can you tell me what happened? We got patrol cars going round Libety Park and I don't want them getting the hell blown up with some RPG..."

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They were clueless. Whatever had happened, they did not know. It was typical. The guardians of the law, they did not know anything. They relied too much on the help of others, they themselves were useless. That was what Jann had learned, and what came to prove itself time and time again. But he clearly wouldn’t get out of here any other way.

 

“Weapon sale. Master of the Beasts and the Cheese, purchasing explosives. Supplied by red-head. Will track them down momentarily.”

 

It was clear, then. They had once again proven their worthlessness, and let the ones he’d tracked down escape. He would have to handle it himself. In his current state it would be difficult, but the more time they had to escape, the more difficult it would get.

 

“No time for observation. They will run, and they…” a glance towards the police officers “…will be unable to track them. “

 

Jann had not cared too much before. But now it was personal. They could not take him in a fight, they had to rely on underhanded tactics.

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Max put a hand on the bird man's chest.  "Easy there friend.  I went through a lot of trouble getting blown up to save your feathers and I'm not about to let all that effort go to waste by letting you fly off again half cocked.  You wanna track these guys down, you're gonna have to take me with you, and we're gonna do it smart, not just, well, whatever it was you thought you were doin' last time.  Flare and I have some unfinished business.  Where you think she would go to ground? You get her you get who she's supplyin'. Besides, you could do with a little more rest before heading back out, those Beastly Boys beat you something good before I got em off ya."

 

Max offered a tired smile to the young feathered hero.  It was obvious to him this man was direct, which he usually appreciated, but this was bigger than just some gangs and Max had learned in the circus that if you wanna put on a proper show you have to plan.

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Judging by what he said, this stranger was more useful than the others. He’d handled himself, and was probably the reason Jann had ended up inside the medical facility. He could respect that, and he would repay it eventually. The trail would run cold, that was also true.

 

And perhaps having an ally on this hunt would prove useful. Whatever they were using was more potent than Jann himself could handle. He would have to incorporate it into his next armour set. He sat up, making sure to feel out his legs before getting up. He would not share the information here, there was no reason to get the guardians involved, they would only cause more disorder. He gave Max a quick nod away from the police, communicating what had to be said nonverbally.

 

“Thank you. Have something that may interest you.  

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Max nodded and turned to the police officers.  "Give us just a sec, would ya fellas?"

 

Without waiting for a response Max walked down the corridor to stand in front of the coffee machine, and started pouring himself a cup.  He was exhausted, and needed the boost.  "Okay, friend, I suppose introductions are in order.  Name's Spitfire when I'm on duty.  Sorry if I came off a little brusque back there, it's been a night and I'm more than a little miffed that Flare got away from me, though not sure what I'd be able to do to her, as she happens to be immune to fire just like me so I'm a bit out of my wheelhouse with her.  Anyways, what you got?  I hope it's a line on where she or some of these others thugs might be."

 

Max sipped the coffee and grimaced.  It was weak, cold, and of course the sugar was out so it tasted basically like an old gym sock.  Shrugging, Max started to gulp it down.

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Direct and on the point. Jann could respect that. This man seemed like he knew what he was doing, and in times like these, that was a good quality in an ally.

 

Jann’s introduction was short, delivered with a tone that suggested it was something he’d just learned to say by heart more than anything made up on the fly. “I am Jann Fa-Re, sometimes referred to as The Bird of Arms. “ While his expression didn’t change much when he continued, his tone did, and his accent started to shine through more.

 

“The Cheesemakers, they are connected. An old master, who controls them, the Beasts, and the ones I apprehended last week. They use substances, and suffer from withdrawal. Likely connected to the deal today. Assume that through the cheese, we can track this to the source.

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Max was following, but just barely.  The kids direct speech left out a lot of exposition, but context clues led him to understand what was being said.

 

"So you've had run-ins before, which means you have some idea of how they operate.  You got a line on a safehouse?  We could end this tonight if we get patched up and head out again.  Might be prudent to wait till tomorrow night though.  They don't seem to be going anywhere and I'm pretty sure we put the kibosh on tonight's escapades.  Of course though, they know about us now, and know we're on to them.  That could cause them to move up the timeline, which is bad.  Also could cause them to panic, which is bad and good.  Whatya think?"

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“Have little information. Connected to cheesemakers, but not much else. All young men on various substances. Have heard some whispers about them, probably worth following up. May require assistance of the …police however. More likely to know anything on a short time.”

 

His expression remained as nmoving as ever, but the way he pronounced the word police wasn’t just him speaking a foreign language, but clearly contained some disdain.

 

“Agree that some urgency is required, now they know they are being hunted, so we cannot let them hunker down and hide. Will be difficult to follow through tonight, so waiting may be necessary. With enough attention that acting immediately is possible. “

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"Security to reception! Security to reception!" came the squark over the loudspeakers. 

 

"Oh what now..." groaned the nurse trying to treat Jann. He was an experienced and able professional, it was clear, but he also had that spice of cynicism from a few decades of his job. 

 

Boxy and Jack looked at each other, and decided, a little nervously, to check out the disturbance. 

 

Then, a scream. Another scream. And panic started rising slowly through the hospital. No gunfire...yet. 

 

Just the sound of violence. 

 

And a clinking...

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Spitfire whipped his head around at the noise.

 

"Come on man, I needed at least another cup of coffee before this."  Deciding that getting the drop on whatever was making the ruckus might be better than going in breath blazing, Spitfire crouched low and hugged the wall, motioning for Jann to do the same.  "We catch whoever's causing the commotion while they're preoccupied with the civvies, might be able to take em down without a whole bunch of property damage and injury.  Hopefully"

 

Max quickly crept along behind the police officers, readying the fire in his lungs in case of emergency, small whiffs of smoke trailing out of his nostrils.

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The sounds of violence seemed to spring Jann into action, him immediately assuming a combat stance, while scanning the room for anything that would lead him towards combat.

 

 

He was fully aware of his state, one that fighting in was not the best of ideas. He’d pushed himself to fight in worse, but like this any capable opponent would have an easy time. He knew it would happen, and if he could pick them off one-by-one, like Spitfire seemed to suggest, that would be helpful.

 

 

He grabbed his equipment that was still in the room. He nodded, before getting into a low position, almost crawling, but managed to keep up with Max just fine, as he followed, always ready to strike from afar with the bolas he was now holding in his hand. If there was a chance to move up unseen, he'd take it.

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Marching down the corridors came a group of young men and women of most peculiar and horrific appearance. Shaven headed, dull eyed, wearing rags, barefoot. Their skin was full of welts and wounds, raw and red. 

 

Each carried a length of chain, some a little bloody. Every now and again one of them would flagellate their poor bodies with the chain, grunting in a manner that was betwixt ecstasy and agony. 

 

They were the chain sores. 

 

Maybe ten of them, maybe more, maybe less, spreading about the corridor, shouting and screaming like some strange cult. It got violent now and again. A security guard tried to intercede but got a face full of chain as a result. Whatever else, this gang-cult knew how to handle their weapon of choice. 

 

"This ain't right!" mumbled Jack, backing off. 

 

"This is wrong!" mumbled Boxy, backing off. 

 

Neither cop seemed ready to pull the trigger quite yet. Perhaps because they did wanted to kill, perhaps because they were scared what would happen if they missed. 

 

But the Chain Sores, grunting incoherently, seemed fixed of purpose, scouring the hospital for...something? But they had not noticed Bird of Arms or Spitfire yet. Perhaps because of all the screaming and scuttling of patients this way and that...

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Spitfire saw the men coming and cursed under his breath.  This was just what he needed.  It still hurt a lot to breath and he was tired and shaky, on top of barely keeping his eyes open.  The world swirled a bit as the adrenaline kicked in and Max had to steady himself.  He wasn't prepared to unleash fiery hell in the halls of a hospital so he did the only thing he could think of with his addled and recently exploded brain.

 

"Cover yer eyes buddy,"  Max whispered

 

Lighting the flame in his lunges to an incredible heat, Max waited till the barefooted chain wielders were within range, then blow out a short burst of super heated flame that ignited the air for a millisecond, causing the hallway to light up like a flash bang.

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The brilliant firelight flared into the eyes of all who beheld it. Which was patients, doctors, nurses, receptionists, and porters. 

 

"I've gone blind!" "I can't see!" "What happened?" came the various chimes of the distressed and panicked. The glare would only dazzle, of course. The Retina were stunned but not burnt. 

 

The Chain Sores heading their way were no exception, stumbling around. One whipped his chain this way and that, smashing medical equipment and computers and knocking the teddy bear out of a crying childs hand. 

 

"I need not eyes to see!" screamed one, bumping into a hospital trolley in clear contradiction to her statement. 

 

Boxy however, panicked, letting of a round from his automatic. The noise was sharp to blinded men, and the panic levels zoomed sky high. 

 

"They are shooting, help! HELP!" screamed a middle aged woman clinging on to her drip stand. And then, everyone, blind, ran and stumbled every which way, tripping over each other, bumping into things, and causing a most glorious mess of limbs and bruises. 

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Jann prowled along the ground, keeping out of sight. Whoever these attackers were, they looked like challenging opponents. Something he could not use in his current situation. There was too much chaos for them to see him just yet, something he could use to his favour.

 

His ally readied an attack, which gave Jann the chance to spring into action himself. He’d spotted a suitable object nearby, and as Spitfire blinded the room, Jann lept towards what he’d determined to make for a good projectile. A recreation of a local bear. It was large enough to hit multiple of the intruders.

 

He hoisted it onto his shoulders – it was quite light, but had some weight behind it. And after a short moment of aiming, threw it forward, in such a way it would hopefully connect with as many of the attackers as was possible. He could feel his body fight him, but the adrenaline was starting to kick in again, giving him the energy he much required.  

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Max saw three go down from the improvised bear projectile and stifled a laugh.  The winged man, for his part, looked deadly serious despite the comical antics involved in his attack.  The throngs of panicked and blinded people caused Max to curse.  He had not thought through the side effects of blinding all these civilians.  While chiding himself for his idiocy, he blamed it on his fatigue and injuries.  Pretty sure he was concussed but that was no excuse.  Taking a more subtle approach Max decided to pull out an old trick he'd mastered a long time ago.  Heating the air between himself and one of the chain wielding thugs, Max ignited the oxygen, causing a small puff flame, but essentially, robbing the air around the man of any breathable atmosphere.  Hopefully it would do something less chaotic than blinding everyone around him.

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"Pleasure and pain! Pleasure and pain! Pleasure and pain! Pleasure and pfftwhmph!"

 

The chanting Chain Sore's ghastly and loud litany was rudely interrupted by Mr. Snuggles left foot being jammed in his mouth. He, and the two fumbling gang members to his left and right were sent sprawling, scattering patients and trolleys and wheel chairs this way and that. 

 

Pandemonium was all around now. Someone was going to get hurt - already a few blinded staff had tripped over badly. One had a gash on his head, bleeding. And that attractive young nurse had an arm that bent in too many places after a stumble. 

 

The Chain sore hit by the smoke coughed and retched, but straightened up valiantly, stuff as a board, his will like iron. Whatever else could be said of these nut jobs, they were certainly fanatic. 

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He could see the chaos build up around him. Everybody was scrambling towards what they considered safety, injuring themselves along the way. Stopping it would be difficult. There was too much risk associated with openly transmitting his position in a situation like this. He supposed that at the very least, everybody was close to where they’d be treated for their injury.

 

Instead, he focused on continuing onwards. The more he could throw now, the less he had to risk a brawl, which at this point would be a risk he was unlikely to take without proper consideration. A stack of books was piled up behind him, next to some very small models of interestingly coloured houses.

 

He grabbed the stack, and immediately began throwing them out, towards the intruders, aiming for their throats and heads to disable them quickly. It was not easy to aim through the moving crowd, but that was a risk he was more than willing to take.

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The books flew through the air. Most were low grade disposable pulp, like Groan of Thanes, and Cutstab! but the odd piece of worthy literature joined them. And even a few medical textbooks. 

 

Cranial Neuroanatomy struck one stumbling Chainer unconscious. Emergency Head Trauma followed, and in turn knocked his fellow fanatic out cold. 

 

But the assorted crowds could not see for reassurance, and the screams drowned out any words of wisdom. From a few corridors, more panic could be heard, as more Chain Sore's whipped themselves into a frenzy, and (from the sounds of it) others into a pulp. 

 

"Where are they? Where are they? Mr. Happy wants to speak! Praise Mr. Happy, Lord of Buzz!" ranted one lunatic from around the corner. 

 

"Where are they, where are they?" shouted Boxy. "Where do I shoot? Where do I shoot? Everybody, stay clam! I'm trying to aim!" he shouted, still louder, his own panic feeding the panic of the crowd. 

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Max shook his head and shouted at the police officer.  "Boxy!  I feel it worrisome that I have to tell you do not shoot while you are blind, in a hospital full of civilians!  Me and Tweety can see so we're going to take care of this.  You just, I don't know, sit there and try not to kill any civilians!"

 

Max looked to Jann and pointed down the hallway towards the sound of the fanataic gang members.  "You lead the way my man, I'll take up the rear. I'll point out any more giant teddy bears I see."  Max's heart thumped in his chest in rapid time.  Max had fought criminals before, had fought them with civilians around, but never in an enclosed space that would react badly to his fire so he felt more like a hindrance than a help.  Hopefully this Bird of Arms could handle himself well enough to make up for Max's lack of efficacy.

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After he threw the last book, Jann jumped forwards, catching back up with Spitfire. A quick check of his location brought him towards his next weapon, an empty drip stand. It was large, metal and looked sturdy enough, it would do for now.

 

He gave a quick nod as a respone, before pushing forwards. The room was high enough that he could avoid the crowd by simply keeping to the ceiling. It would however mean that his ally would be the first to be attacked. He elected not to, and instead pushed through the crowd on foot, always ready to strike.

 

He wasn’t entirely sure where he was going, but in situations like these, one just had to act.

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By estimation, there were another two groups of Chain Sores scouring the building, although there might have been more. Around the corner, the source of more pandemonium. Three more welted, infected fanatics, threatening some poor doctor, who was a drip with sweat and fear. 

 

"P-p-p-please! I don't know anything about a bird man!" he gulped, before spying Jann and Spitfire and raising his finger. 

 

"There! The winged one!" yelped one Chainer, giving herself a brutal slap on the back with her weighted chain. 

 

"The winged one! the winged one!" chanted the second, content with merely strangling himself with his chain, till he was blue in the face. 

 

The third seemed relatively sane; or, in other words, merely totally crazy. She swung around a small video camera. 

 

"We have found him, Mr. Happy! Praise be, may we feel your buzz!" he swooned to the camera, speaking over some radio link. 

 

"Good news! Every body Happy!" squarked a voice over the vid camera, Mr. Happy himself. The old man from the park. 

 

"Ask him how he knew about the deal!" Mr. Happy commanded the Chain Sore gang. 

 

"How did you know about the deal!" chanted all three gang members, pulling their chains this way and that. 

Edited by Supercape

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