There was also the chance...of Zeon finding out where she was. Which was the worst scenario--she didn't want to see her sister.
Somewhere in Gothic...
The ice clinks in the glass. An indication of another downed malt whisky. It helps to blur out the things I need to forget, to bring the life I used to lead back where it belongs. In the haze of the past, if my past can even be said to "belong" to me.
My childhood? Non-existent. Training, lecture, indoctrination, initiation, repeat. That's all it ever was. A series of tests and proofs that I was fit to be an Aurelius, and not just any Aurelius, but inheritor of my father's will. To ensure freedom and slay those that would steal it away, anywhere they might be found, by any means, in any form. To extinguish even the chance of tyranny, to never balk from the most heinous of acts, to slay those inheritors of evil's will down to the last man, the last woman, the last child, should it come to it.
That is my inheritance. And I tried to live up to the standard for as long as he tried to instill it in me. But I was weak. Incomplete. Unwhole.
I was never the man he wanted me to be, but I was a boy, what could I do? He abandoned me with my paternal family after my mother... after she passed.
He abandoned me with my Uncle Dante, a man who became more a father to me than my own could ever be. Until the waters took his sanity, until he betrayed everything the Aurelius ever believed in. I'll drink another to him, another for every dead cousin, every dead uncle and aunt. But I get ahead of myself...
I stayed with them for a few years, learned their ways, their values, but part of me didn't believe. Didn't want to believe. I had grown with a man who saw violence not as an answer to tyranny, but as the answer, the answer to almost any injustice in the world. He taught me to use it freely, with wild abandon. I wanted to try a different route. To uplift the people until they themselves could determine what was justice on their own, to build things rather than tear them down, to give rather than to take. In acts of creation I saw freedom from a different tyranny, the oppression of need. I could provide clean water for the thirsty, food for the hungry, vaccinations for the vulnerable.
Through my father's manipulations I saw the errors of my ways, the ease with which what I had built was claimed or corrupted. The woman who had shown me such things just another agent of manipulation, another pawn in a long game I didn't realize I was playing. When he did reveal the truth, it all just became so pointless. My life was fabricated from the very beginning so that I might end up just another warrior, another proud standard bearer for the great Clan Aurelius. That's why I drink. That's why I try to forget. Because I am not my own man, I am a tool. I am whatever they want me to be. Whatever hewants me to be.
Not anymore. No one wants me to sit here and while away my life, drink myself into a stupor night after night, kill myself by drowning my liver. But I'll do it. Do it just to prove I can. That I'm my own man. Yeah. This will show them.
I slam back another three shots of whatever the bartender's been feeding me. Could be Windex for all I know or care.
Bar's closed. Guy guides me out by an arm. I stumble along the wall, vaguely aware that my surroundings have changed. 'Tender walks back inside. Over in the alley's a girl, gotta be teens or early twenties, is getting mugged. The old Gothic standard greeting. She's wrestling for her purse, guy's gonna slice her arm off in a 'sec. You can tell by the way he's starting to shift the knife so it's more secure in the grip.
I stumble over. Alcohol's hitting me uncharacteristically hard tonight, but I was hitting the bottle just as hard, so it makes more sense the more I think about it. No time for that, though. Thinking.
I call out some slurring drunken nonsense. Syllables run together as all the words I want to say seem to rush my mouth at once. He turns to look at me, pointing the knife, threat clear in his eyes. I decide not to try and elaborate. Throw a nice, whippy round kick to the head.
I swear his head explodes. Drunk. Can't really control the force that my muscles or my mind put out at the moment. I stumble off to the side, lean against a wall and look down. His skull's intact. Mostly. My shin just smashed into his nose. Broke it bad. Blood's gushing out of there like Ol' Faithful on the best of days.
I figure he'll probably be fine. That he deserves it if he won't. Girl's long gone by the time I look up. Better that way. I'm in no condition to hash out a police report anyhow. Then I turn, and I can feel them. Eyes on me. Figure it's his buddies here for a little vengeance. I'm half right. Vengeance look-alike. Girl.
One I just saved? Probably not. Either way, her eyes look like they have questions. I wait. Common courtesy and all that.
Slip a pack out of my jacket pocket.
Filthy habit. Another bit of unwillful inheritance from my father.
Blue smiles when the lock down happens, "About time." Time for a distraction.
A large military truck comes barreling it's way towards one of the exits of this facility with no apparent driver in the seat. The guards start shooting at it, of course, but Blue shoots a barrel in the back of the truck and causing it to explode. Then she runs in the opposite direction and she sets another truck loose for the same exit. A timed explosive device eventually activates and causes the truck to explode, sending the guards into a frenzy and most of them in other parts of the facility go and check out the explosions that are happening.
Blue, having transformed herself into a Hawk, flies away.
@arceus_aurelius-rex: (OOC: Thank you and sorry for the delay >.<).
Apex watches all this within the shadow of a building, ready for action just in case Arceus is not up for the task in his current drunken state. There's a reason she chose now of all times to test him, to see what he would do under the circumstances.
By the time the man turns around, Apex steps out of the shadows. When she speaks, her voice is disguised, distorted, to give no hint about who she is or might be. But her voice is clear enough to be understood and no hint of an accent can be heard other than she's obviously American.
Then Apex gives a hard look at the would be victim of a failed mugging and says, "Leave. Now."
And the woman grabs her purse, quickly says her thanks to Arceus and runs off. Now that the two of them are alone, Apex looks at Arceus, "Even drunk you handled that like a pro. Nice work."
The brick connected with the back of the fleeing tough's head with a sound that reminded Penalty of a coconut. The man's startled grunt was cut off as he ate the pavement, sliding forward several feet from his own momentum before laying still.
He slowly looked around vacant lot that comprised his latest battlefield, hoping to find some signs of consciousness. Most of the 27th Street Gang was out for the count, and the few that were still twitching probably didn't have enough wits to give him any useful information.
Not that most of these meatheads would, anyways.
This was becoming frustrating. He'd been shaking down every scumbag he came across for several nights, and even the ones he'd persuaded to talk didn't have much to say. The city was completed terrified of the demon-man who stole people's faces. Pen had to admit that, all things considered, this was a pretty reasonable fear, but it didn't help him, any. A new crime boss, a vigilante...someone would know something. But a serial killer with his own army of assassins? He might as well be looking for leprechauns.
Well, only thing for it was to keep making noise and hope that maybe some info would come to him, instead of the other way around. Laying his bat over his shoulders, he sauntered into the nearest alley, whistling a jaunty tune, not really caring if anyone noticed him.
It was dangerous, working for the same facility her doppelganger now owned, but Clarissa accepted the risk. She needed the resources from the Humanity Now Institute, especially the files of misdirected mutant youth. So, she welcomed herself into the devil's mouth with a promising if not charming smile. It made Elena blush, so much so she briefly lost track of time when she peered into those piercing violet eyes. There was something about Clarissa that felt so...familiar?
"CAN YOU CALL FOR HELP!!?" There was a commanding scream bellowing outward from the front desk, the noise threw both women off. For Elena, she snapped out of her state of curiosity. For Clarissa, however, she could hear a faint ticking sound inside her head like a clock seconds away from midnight. It took her a minute before shook her senses came back, the hand of Elena resting on her should with a comforting reassurance.
"Don't be scared, Clarissa. You'll get used to Gothic soon enough. Trust me." Together the two social workers walked to the entrance of Gothic City's only Humanity Now clinic. It was after they exited the office space that the ringing inside Clarissa's head got louder. She could feel telekinetic vibrations on her skin. There was someone important in her vicinity, someone meaningful, the kind of someone she'd been looking for, but when Clarissa looked at the person standing at the desk all she saw was some dainty millennial acting like the institute was an emergency service responder.
"Can we help you, miss..?" Clarissa took a few steps forward to @lebreau_liafador with her hands raised. Although it was an unnecessary precaution, the weakened reality warper had reasonable concern. The last time she felt this kind of energy, her prime counterpart left her hospitalized for nearly a year. So, she approached the young woman with concern but that concern was only for herself.
"My name is Clarice...I mean Clarissa Pearson. I'm going to need you to calm down. We can help you. Just tell me. What's happening?" The former politician knew her way around a screaming millennial. Often times they needed a good coddling. This one, however, spoke with a call to action. She'd seen something. A fire in the distance. She wanted to help, but she came here instead. A divine intervention, Clarissa believed. She could sense the heroic nature about the young girl. Clarissa knew she could have done without the panic secretary scrambling for her phone. She could have acted on her own, but actively chose not to. Coupled with the ticking sound inside her head, Clarissa knew when to act on an opportunity when she saw one.
"Take her there." Using her power of coercion, the mistress of mayhem attempted to telepathically suggest the girl take her to the fire. If this thought penetrated her thoughts, Lebreau would hear it as her own thought rather than a strangers. Clarissa hoped the girl would act on the heroic instinct she initially tried to push away in hopes of testing her true self's conviction.
Out of the shadows, she creeps to me, voice like a desperate rapper, tuned by machines 'til there's nothing left but digital noise that assails the eardrums. I brush back my hair, still woozy from the dying adrenaline intermingling with heavily alcohol coursing through my system, and light the cigarette. I know it doesn't actually ease the nerves, but it clears my need for nicotine at least, and that's something. I exhale, eyes on the ground finally raking over the no doubt bulletproof fetish suit before I address her.
"'Pro,' huh? That's not a very high bar for professionalism you've set there, but I guess this is Gothic. Warnings are optional." Sizing her up, she seems tall, taller than I am. Powerfully built too. Hard to believe I ever missed her, but that may be a testament to the influence of liquor rather her skill in stealth. "So, you gonna 'bring me in' for messing around on your turf? Or is this just a professional meet-and-greet sort of deal?"
Apex gives no hint of any kind of emotion, remaining passive so that he can't read her. But she studies him, even now. Wondering, calculating the odds. Arceus could have killed that man, but didn't. "If I was going to bring you in, you'd be in hand cuffs right now."
Apex says it matter of factly, like it's not even up for debate in her mind. She's done her research on Arceus, she knows what he is capable of. And she is fully confident she can take him down if she needed to. But today, they aren't enemies. She's looking for something. Soon enough, he will find out what she is looking for.
"To answer your question, this is a professional meet-and-greet, but also an interview. Time is precious so I'll keep this brief. Why didn't you kill him? You could have."
"Meet-'n-greet. Wonderful. Didn't even know I'd applied anywhere, so to make it to the interview process... Hooray for me."
But why didn't I kill him? Hmm... Why indeed....
"Don't know. Didn't seem... worth it. He just didn't meet the criteria, I guess." I take another long drag, killing the cigarette in hand and flicking it into a nearby bin. Rat scurries out.
"You've got all kinds of evil here in Gothic, and lots of it. This guy? He's small fry. Not even a drop in the bucket compared to the worst the city's seen." Whip out another cigarette. I'm starting to balance out, balance is getting better. "'Sides, maybe the guy's got family, or kids, or lost his job (cuz God knows there aren't enough of those around here), and suddenly he's got to do whatever he can to live, to survive in this funked up city..."
Conjecture. Hypotheticals. A practice in empathy that my father would say only serves to weaken resolve, but hey, I can't help it.
"I'm not gonna blame a guy for taking what he sees as his only way out. It's not his fault that people abandoned this place. That a president chose to drop it from the union and let terrorists and thugs take over. Nah. That's a problem that goes way higher up. That's just somebody up top polling for better numbers who figures that he'd fix the economy by dropping the biggest drain. That's some funk washing his hands and saying 'It's not my problem' when thousands of people are hurting, dying because he didn't have to balls to fix the issue, and instead chose to just drop it in somebody else's lap."
As I speak I can hear the bile filling my words, tinting them with that same bitterness I've felt all my life, but when I look at the bastard whose head nearly exploded, I feel... pity. Pity more than anything.
"That's why I didn't kill him. It's not his fault. Not entirely..."
A wisp of smoke catches my eye. Cig's still lit.
I drop it, stomp it out. It's lost its taste.
Apex listens to mild rant and does not argue with him. Right or wrong, she doesn't voice her opinion about what he said either way. She's not here to debate politics or the state of Gothic City. Usually the Justice League Alliance does not condone killing, which is why she wants to know why Arceus didn't kill that man. But would he be a good fit for the team or would he be too much of a loose cannon?
"So, you will kill someone but it depends on who he, or she, is and the circumstances. Your not afraid to make the hard calls and live with the consequences. Does that about sum it up?"
"Yeah. I guess that just about does it. Now why don't you tell me why we're here, and what this interview is for, exactly?"
I shift my footing, stop leaning against the wall, get some space to maneuver. She's probing for something, but for what, I don't know. The uncertainty makes me uncomfortable. Jumpy. I try to calm my nerves, but those clad in armored costumes are too often looking for a fight, and while nothing suggests that now, it's better to be needlessly prepared than caught off guard.
Streets smell like wet dog and piss, and the soil's even worse. 's gonna be a hard night if I gotta absorb some a that junk later...
Diaz's battered SUV rolled slowly down the run down Gothic streets, over pavement cracked and disjointed from age, inattention, and constant battle, his eyes always scanning the horizon. The rumors of a blood-red devil prowling the streets of Gothic had been spread since long before his assault on the Khan, only he had never bothered to pay attention. Could this supposed savior be the same demon who had wrought such carnage on the now demolished Khan? The one who had killed with wild abandon, skinned his foes and left the remains as war banners declaring his intent? The one who'd kidnapped the kid and dragged her into God knows where? There was really only one way to tell.
Well, maybe more than one.
He stopped the vehicle in an empty alleyway, popping the trunk open with a prolonged press on the remote. His thumb then skated over the control in a complex combination of button presses, and, after a short delay, the hidden compartment built into the trunk's bottom clicked open to reveal a bevy of armaments. He observed them idly, his mind still turning the possibilities on how to best draw him out.
Lessee here... Gonna need a fittin' lure... Damsel in distress? Murder-crazed mugger? Nah, f*ck it. Let's go classic...
Diaz lifted his choice from among the armored car's arsenal, shifting the weight from where it dug into his shoulder, flakes of dried dirt shearing off under the heft of the Type-69 RPG's significant weight.
His hand traced over the selection of ammunition contained within the vehicles armored shell, each tucked into its own piece of protective foam lining.
Anti-personnel incendiary, huh? That aughta do the trick. Thermobaric'll work real nice too... Don't think I'll need HEAT. Nobody's told me 'bout no tanks prowlin' around lately.
'Course it really all depends on what I'm hittin'...
His eyes shifted upward, toward the city's skyline. There were plenty of large buildings that would burn or blow nicely, but few were populated, making an attack on them nearly pointless. Without lives at stake there would be no way to lure out the city's notorious defender, its ever vigilant guardian, the one man who might have knowledge on the extralegal activities of the blood red vigilante.
I suppose I could always try n' ask nicely, o'course, but where's the fun in that? Lesse then... Hospital'd be awful attention grabbin'. He'd definitely havta respond ta that. 'Course there's always that new eyesore gone up in tha last couple months. Go after that, and I'm pretty sure I'd be doin' the city a favor...
Yeah. Why not? Let's go with that.
Grant Diaz slammed the compartment and the trunk shut, secured his vehicle, and began his trek through Gothic's lawless streets. To all who viewed him, he was just another heavily armed gangster flashing his latest terrifying acquisition. He took care to change garb and mannerisms as needed to blend in with the local gangs, deflecting the attention of Gothic's heavily territorial, almost primal, underworld elements. It would be a half-hour walk to get close enough to ensure accuracy, probably another ten or fifteen to find a decent vantage, and that was only if he made it there without delay, which, in Gothic, was unlikely to say the least.
C'mon on out little birdy... Don't make me set fire to the forest just to hear you sing...
Always being the keen detective, she knows from his body language and the way he positions himself that he is ready for a fight. Good, She thinks, He's prepared in case this goes bad. He has good instincts.
Obliging him, Apex goes right to the point, "I want you to join a team called the Justice League Alliance. We could use someone like you."
"Justice League Alliance, huh? And what exactly are you all about? 'Cuz I've been on a team before, and the last time I was on one I ended up losing years of my life just to get jerked around like a goddamn puppet. So tell me, what makes you guys worth joining? What do you want to accomplish? 'Cuz if it's just another fool's crusade, I'll go ahead and take a pass."
Apex hopes it's a team he will want to join, but if not then she will have to look somewhere else. So, she states the purpose of the team, "The purpose of the Justice League Alliance is to handle threats to the United States and Earth's security - both terrestrial and extraterrestrial - beyond the power of conventional enforcement groups. Our last mission had us deal with the God of War himself, Ares. Yes, he's real or at least someone claiming to be him. We used to be Black Ops, but we're out in the public now. We want to accomplish world peace, but that is a never ending battle in my personal opinion. But we do good work, I wouldn't be a part of it if I thought it was a waste of time. Sound interesting enough?"
A thousand bitter dismissals swirl in my head, each one more caustic than the last as I run through them. Soon a list forms for why theirs is a pointless venture, why they're grasping at an unattainable prize.
I could list for them the ways in which evil is ever-present and always growing, while noting how good men are few and ever vanishing. I could tell them that humanity itself simply bends toward tyranny and hate, that to buck the trend is to die struggling pointlessly against a merciless tide, as so many of my kin have discovered over the years.
But this they must know. How could they not? They must have seen what I have. They too must have stared into the void, but unlike I their gaze was unflinching. They chose to stare into the black, to venture forth into its dark harbors and tie their own fates unto its cracked and perilous piers. They are braver than I.
But it is not too late. Not too late to shirk off the cursed mantle of my father, to take up arms for the helpless, as my forebearers might have, had they been born in my place. I raise my eyes to hers once more, my fate decided, my lot tied to theirs in the dark and stormy waters of a battle as old as man, one they know will long outlive them.
"Yeah. It's interesting alright."
I extend my hand to clasp hers, cementing whatever bond this is, whatever oral contract I've just entered.
"I'm in. So, where do we go from here?"
We can move this to the JLA thread now if you like or continue here. Whatever works.
Gothic City, one of the largest cities in America, but also the most wicked. Like Corinth during ancient times, the city was filled with glamorous buildings, and enjoyed it's mass abundance. The rich plunged themselves in wealth while the poor drowned in poverty. Just like the Corinthians, the politicians were corrupt and did little to combat prostitution and other criminal actives, plaguing the city. Gothic City was the worst place to live, at least according to what everyone told her. But, Helena saw everything in a different light. Visiting a vile place like this, gave her a purpose until she left for her journey to Delphi to seek out Apollo. She heard tales of mysterious heroes attempting to wipe the darkness from the city through unorthodox methods, but their attempts seemed futile, at least to her. They brought fear into the hearts of the unlawful, yet crime continued to swell and fester. Helena was here to show a different method and to get away from being stuck on a floating headquarters. Her strategic plan was complicated. corrupt politicians to reveal their crimes to the public and allow the people to vote in politicians who would be tougher on crime and uphold their oaths. While that was underway, she would tackle the crime looming over the city. It was not a simple plan, but one that will free the people of tyranny...eventually.
Lotophagus, the first popular Greek restaurant, was Helena's first target. According to the media, the restaurant was booming with popularity, despite the restaurant being hit with multiple investigations. Multiple reports of residents entering the restaurant and disappearing haunted the outlet, yet they continued to attract the populous. One customer even told a reporter, he was so addicted to the menu there, he could not leave. Gathering vital intelligence from the rooftop for a couple of days, Helena realized costumers were actually living at the restaurant, continuing to indulge themselves with the food there. Either the costumers really enjoyed the menu or something more was at play. Standing behind a long line that led into the restaurant, Helena gazed into the restaurant sign. "."Something about that name flared in her brain, but she couldn't put the pieces together. Finally entering the restaurant, music notes entered her ears.
"Then you're left in the dust, unless I stuck by ya
You're the sunflower, I think your love would be too much
Or you'll be left in the dust, unless I stuck by ya
You're the sunflower, you're the sunflower."
As the music played in her brain, she began to dissect the lyrics. That name. The lyrics. It was all too familiar. The lyrics was a warning, she knew that much, but what was the warning her about. Wanting to continue her intelligence gathering, Helena moved in with the crowd. It was time to put her acting skills to the test. She wore a beautiful vintage Grecian dress from the 1970s, one a goddess would surely wear. The color was seafoam green, which was an interesting choice of shade. Aphrodite was born from seafoam due to her father, Ouranos. The fabric of the dress was soft and slinky, allowing her to move with grace. Fastened around her waist, a heavy goldtone shell clasp belt gleamed as if King Midas stroked the object himself. A long triangular dagger, known as a Parazonium, was strapped to her right thigh, concealed and ready to be used at a moment's notice. Her metallic vambraces gave off a lustrous glow as if they were polished. Strolling to the center of the restaurant, her hips swaying back and forth as she moved with elegance, bringing light to a city, full of darkness as she walked. "Aye, lad-I mean, madam, we are full with tas-we are full today as you can see. But, we can sit you with a partner, if that is what you wish?"The waiter asked with a crooked grin. Helena smiled as she stopped in front of the tall man. "That would be lovely, thank you." She said before following him to the person, she would be seated with. Was this an American thing? She asked herself confusingly.
"Right this way sir."
Music washed over him and the waiter as the billionaire was lead to the table. "I'm sorry sir but we are so crowded that another guest will be seated at your table."
He raised an eyebrow. "Oh? Fine."
Then he was seated and looked around. The restaurant was as crowded as he had been lead to believe. Some of the patrons were sweaty as if they hadn't bathed in days. Bloated. Signs of diabetic stress and sleeplessness. As if they had been here for days doing nothing but eating.
Drugged? He wondered as he adjusted the cuff links on his Kiton suit, dark navy blue with a white shirt and a black tie. Dignified. Classic.
He had begun to grow his hair and and he brushed it back with a hand while he perused the menu. Something is keeping these people here. But what?
Footsteps. Richard looked up, blue eyes sweeping the crowd and then he saw her. A blue dress and beautiful. Richard was no stranger to beautiful women but she was above them somehow. As if she were a divine figure wearing the form of a woman.
He smiled and stood. Pulled her chair out for her. "Well. If I had known I would be joined by such an enchanting woman I wouldn't have delayed making my reservation for so long." He said, playing the part his secret identity demanded of him.
Following the abnormal hostess closely, Helena could not help but notice the unusual crowd as she was escorted to her table. To her right, a man and woman began to panic after they finished consuming their meal, but settled down once the waiter came back with a plate filled with fruit. To her left, a child stumbled through the crowd and decided to rest against a marble pillar; His small stomach was bloated, his eyes wandered relentlessly, and in his hand was a half-eaten cookie, shaped like a flower. All around her, she picked up customers murmuring to themselves like mindless zombies. "I will never leave Lotophagus," One said. "The food here is magnificent. I want more," Said one female. "My wife, job, and children, are nothing compared to the food here. I am going to stay here forever. Wait.....Who am I, again?" Said another. These helpless customers were clearly addicted to the food and displayed symptoms that only a drug user would show. But, what drug was powerful enough to make someone lose memory? Or eat endlessly? She asked in thought. True, most addicts displayed the symptoms that were being shown, but something about this "drug" seemed different from most drugs.
Pushing through the overcrowded restaurant, the smell of feces, urine, and bathless days, overwhelmed her sensitive sense of smell. The odor was so foul, she wanted to stop following the tall bulky hostess and just run for the nearest exit. But, with everything she witnessed, she had to tolerate the stench and focus on freeing these people from whatever enchantment they were in. Besides, ripping through a Troll's stomach smelled far worse than this. "Here you are, foo-I mean, madam."The eight foot tall giant gestured her toward her table. Sitting across from one side of the table, clad in class, sat a charming man. He had a dazzlingly smile that somehow made her heart drop twice as if Thanatos, death itself, poked her chest, stopping the blood flow from her heart. His hair was gelled and brushed back, giving a slick and glossy appearance. Superion had her watch old American movies from the 1950s to learn about American culture, and one of the things she learned was that men preferred their hair gelled and brushed back. She had to admit, she was attracted to the look.
"Well. If I had known I would be joined by such an enchanting woman I wouldn't have delayed making my reservation for so long."
The mystery man said as he stood up and pulled her chair out for her to sit on. "Careful. It's the enchanting women that lure men into their demise. Ever heard of the Seirēnes?," She teased with her Greek accent as she accepted his hospitality. Looking over her shoulder, Helena warmly smiled, as he helped slide her into her side of the table. "A chivalrous man? That is as rare as the generosity of the Gods." She complimented. Arriving at the table, the two were met with another eight foot tall husky man. "Good Evening, my name is uh...Bob, and I will be your waiter today." The man said. His voice was unusually deep and rough. Seeing an eight foot tall man was nothing new to the demigod, Atholis was filled with them, but she wondered if that was normal to the gentleman seated across from her. As the waiter bowed and leaned in to place her menu in front of her, he instantly jerked back and inhaled the air deeply through his nose. Emitting a monstrous snarl from his throat, the waiter gazed at Helena. "Demi--" Realizing, he was making Helena uncomfortable and almost blew his cover, the waiter composed himself, smiled, and corrected what he was about to say. "Make sure to try out our newest ice-cream dessert, Demi-Sundae. I'll give you both some time to figure your order." He gave her one last murderous gaze before leaving the two to themselves.
Hopefully you are able to work with this, if not, let me know. I am trying my best not to rush the story, so I am saving off her reaction for my next post, if that's okay? If not, please let me know, so I can give you more on what to respond to or write. Also, hope this post was a bit more entertaining.
Richard smiled and his blue eyes twinkled. "A woman educated in the classics I see. Equally as rare in this day and age."Seirēnes. The Sirens. Beautiful women who lured sailors to their death with song.
The waiter 'Bob' approached and placed a menu in front of them. The youthful billionaire raised a jet black eyebrow as he set. It wasn't often he encountered a man bigger than he was. Not since Alpha Dog. But this waiter made his six foot four and muscular build look like a child.
He looked around. The waiter wasn't the only one here bigger than him. He did some quick math. Statistically there should be thirty or fewer males taller than 7'1 in the USA. Even fewer over eight feet. (Excluding mutants, of course.)
The odds of so many people of such height being hired at random in one restaurant in Gothic City was astronomical.
This isn't an accident. The employees have something in common. And they have a reason to be here. Together. Lot of them; safe to assume they control this restaurant. But why?
His attention returned to the woman in front of him as the waiter departed. "Demi-sundae? What is that?" He asked, running the word Demi through his memory palace. "Half a sundae?" Demi; means half or of reduced rank. Commonly used as a prefix in demigod. Supernatural connotations.
Perhaps he wasn't dealing with mutants or drug dealers after all.
He reached out and offered the woman his hand. "My name is Richard, by the way. Might I ask whom I have the pleasure of addressing?"
"A woman educated in the classics I see. Equally as rare in this day and age."
A playful and secretive smile stretched across her face. A smile famously displayed by Princess Diana of the Royal Family. "Oh, you have no idea," She snickered. "But, in order for you to give me praise, you must be knowledgeable in those tales yourself," Her smile was still held tightly as she quirked an eyebrow in amusement. A man living in the United States, invested in the rich stories of Ancient Greece was as rare as coming across Pan in the wilderness. Most American's could not even cite one amendment from their Bill of Right's, yet here this man was, acknowledging her knowledge. Interesting.
Helena narrowed her eyes as she watched the tall waiter depart. She had to remain calm, not even giving the slightest of hints from the muscles on her face and body that revealed she was surprised and aware at what just occurred with the waiter. His back was slightly hunched, like his body was beginning to deteriorate from old age. At first, she believed it was bad posture, but as the giant walked through the aisle, his posture was perfect-his head close to touching the ceiling. It was only when he stopped and directed his gaze toward the ceiling that his posture hunched, like an animal. No, it was not bad posture nor old age. He was picking up the scent of a "demigod"-her scent. The waiters here were not human.
"Praise her mother for giving her the idea" to mask her scent with essential oil. She smelled of Jasmine-sweet and sharp, enough to mask herself and envelop anyone near her. The "demigod" warrior was aware of the possibility of this happening. How were the peacemakers-those who upheld justice not able to rid Gothic of this foul place? How was this place booming with popularity despite the controversy surrounding it? Inhabitants disappearing and bond to this place like their souls were sentenced by the Judges of the Underworld. All this should not be possible and occurring. Loved ones should be calling and looking for those chained to this place, yet nothing.
She was certain of two things; these attendants were not human and sorcery was involved. Were they mythical? Possibly. Their height matched the Laistrygonians and Gegenees, but they looked nothing identical to the giants of Greek tale. This was a Greek restaurant, yet it still did not prove they were those specific giants. Sorcery would explain why the peacemakers, the media, and families, had nothing on this place. But, what of the constant eating? The addiction to never leave? Was that the result of witchcraft? Possibly. She needed to gather more intel on the waiters and the food before deciding the next course of action.
"My name is Richard, by the way. Might I ask whom I have the pleasure of addressing?"
Returning her attention back to the handsome man sitting across from her, she couldn't help but warmly smile as he introduced himself. "They say a name can reveal everything you wish to know about someone," She placed her hand gently on his palm, continuing to play the game that they both were playing. As she observed his face with her electrified calculating eyes-attempting to read through him like a word puzzle, she noticed something. The muscle in-between his eyebrows, squeezed together, as if he was in deep thought. Since the two sat together, she instantly realized he was just as observing as she was-assessing surroundings, the state of the costumers, and even the waiters.
"Richard. A name of power and courage," She lightly pulled her hand away once he was done with it before introducing herself. "My name is Helena." She introduced, but held back her last name in case he decided to look into her. "So what is your profession? FBI? CIA? Police Detective? Something more? You go into a trance as you ponder, and you have eyes that seem to wander a lot," She pointed out with a smirk that brought out her extradentary beauty. "Which only means, two things. Either you are not interested in what sits in front of you or your presence here is not genuine." She deduced, feeling pretty confident. Helena could care less if he was not interested in her, it was all part of her act to portray herself as conceited.
As the two discussed, the giant waiter returned with a tray containing two Bordeaux glasses and a bowl of dessert-DemiSundae. The giant grinned as he placed the drinks each respectfully on their side, the sundae in the center. For a brief second, she could of sworn she saw his teeth went from normal to sharp stained teeth. "Um, we did not order anything." She told the waiter who discreetly sniffed the air. "Oh don't worry, it's on the house. Besides, you two are our newest costumers. Once you dive into that sundae, you'll never want to leave," He snarled roughly when the word leave was uttered from his mouth. "Enjoy!" He gave one last grin before departing from their table. The corner of Helena's eyes followed the giant as he walked on over to the other two tall waiters. Grouping together, the giants began discussing loudly. They probably thought it was a good idea due to the customers being drugged, the loud music, and the fact they believed Richard and her were as good as dead. Foolish.
"I believe we have a demigod among us."
"A demigod in America? Impossible! She vowed the Gods would not interfere here. That's bad for business!"
"You fool! She never said that. America is-"
"Shut up! We need to find the demigod quickly before it ruins everything."
"I haven't had demigod since that Odysseus escaped our grasp. Do you know who it is?"
"I suspect it's the woman I am taking care of, but she smells too pretty. No matter, allow the narcotic in the food to do it's job. Once it's done, we'll feast on her as a precaution."
"This better be quick! I am craving toddler soup."
Drowning out Richard and the distractions surrounding her, Helena absorbed every detail uttered in the conversation. The words passing through her ears like the whispers from the River of Woe-Acheron. "Laestrygonians." She murmured with disgust.
The food arrived and Richard looked down at it. There was not a chance in hell he was going to eat that. Not until he had taken a sample back to his lab and run a thorough analysis.
But his attention quickly returned to his charming, yet mysterious dinner companion. "Neither FBI nor CIA. I'm the CEO of Excalibur Industries."
The powerfully built young man shifted his posture to rest one ankle upon his knee, leaning back and arm tossed over the back of his chair.
"I'm afraid you've caught my wandering eye. You see, the truth is I'm not here for the food or the company, as pleasant as they might be. In fact you could say this is something of a work related matter. A number of my employees have vanished. No call. No show. Now, I take care of my people. After all they could command tremendous salaries anywhere in the world (I hire only the best) but they choose to work for me. Here. In Gothic."
"A couple went missing. I looked into the matter. A competitor poaching my talent? Perhaps something more sinister? This is Gothic, home of supervillainy and world-wide criminal syndicates, after all. The trail lead me here."
"Here to Lotophagus. Greek. Means lotus-eater. Odysseus encountered them. Herodotus wrote of them. Lived on an island off the coast of the Peloponnese. Ate only the lotus flower and it's fruit. Drifted away on a cloud of apathy and bliss, caring for nothing but the taste of the lotus."
"A myth. Or so they say."
His gaze swept the patrons as they gorged themselves and then returned to his beautiful companion.
"And you're right about names. They reveal much."
"Yours for example; Helena, Greek. Beautiful wife of the spartan king Menelaus. Kidnapped by Paris which sparked the Trojan war. Means light. Bright. Torch. Some say she was the daughter of Zeus."
Richard adjusted one of his cufflinks.
"Greek. Like Lotophagus. Like the prefix demi-. Like the Seirēnes. Like the Grecian styling of your dress."
"Forgive me for being blunt Helena but I do not believe you are here by coincidence either."
Helena glanced downwards at the lustrous sundae - three scoops of graham crackers incorporated into ice-cream, topped with hot fudge, and sprinkled with small marshmallows and pieces of tiny fruit. She spotted the fruit buried within the scopes of ice-cream, round and bloated - dark yellow drupes of some sort. She recognized that drupe anywhere - native to the Mediterranean and considered sacred. The name of the drupe sailed within her mind, looking for a way to escape her hippocampus and paddle to her tongue, but immediately was scrambled as if something was preventing her from uttering the name and reacting to what it was.
Her energetic eyes gazed into the structure that made up his striking face, a playful smirk still plastered across the side of her mouth as he denied having any involvement with the Peacemakers of America. Disappointing: she truly wanted him to have an affiliation with one of those two occupations because any other occupational claim would only make her grow more suspicious. No ordinary occupation made someone study their surroundings, unless they were paranoid or uncomfortable. Richard's body language did not show any signs of being uncomfortable with her presence, in fact he seemed to snap out of his "trance" when he laid eyes on her supposed beauty. His body displayed no signs of twitching, heavy breathing, stiffness, or sweat - signs that proved paranoia. Her eyebrow raised as he revealed his occupation was a businessman; Interesting.
A business man concerned in the affairs of his employees; very plausible. In fact, very noble. But something about what he said lingered in her mind "This is Gothic, " A light blub illuminated the frontal lobe of her brain - Praise Athena. Helena believed he was a businessman; it would explain the expensive suit and cologne. But there were loopholes in his story, enough to keep her suspicious. Home of the wicked and injustice. She continued to play the thought in her head.
"Here to Lotophagus. Greek. Means lotus-eater. Odysseus encountered them. Herodotus wrote of them. Lived on an island off the coast of the Peloponnese. Ate only the lotus flower and it's fruit. Drifted away on a cloud of apathy and bliss, caring for nothing but the taste of the lotus."
Lotus. Eater. Flower. Odysseus. The sly smirk that once dominated her mouth washed away immediately as he revealed what her brain had been warning her since she first entered the restaurant. Richard's deep knowledge for Hellenism, freed her from whatever was mentally blocking the words from escaping her mouth. Her eyes now in total disbelief - widely open and stunned by the revelation. Everything now was so clear as the truth broke the mental barrier restricting her from solving the mystery plaguing this place. At first, she had to restrain herself from jumping up and springing into action - ruining her undercover approach, but she reminded herself of all the collateral damage that could ensue as a result of her emotional reaction.
The Laestrygonians were using the Lotus Flower and Fruit to keep their business booming, infusing the mythical flower and fruit with the food from their menu. It all made sense now. They were using the narcotic to imprison the inhabitants here forever, giving them an abundance of human flesh to feast on. They set up shop in Gothic City because no one would bat an eye due to the wickedness plaguing the city - a sound and strategic move, but disturbing nevertheless. What puzzled Helena though was the execution of this plan. Based on her encounters with the Laestrygonians and what she gathered about them, they were not bright enough to pull this off by themselves. It's true, they were more intelligent than the Cyclopes, but still not intelligent enough to perform such a feat. Someone was aiding them from behind the scenes; it was the only logical conclusion. Whoever this person was, they drowned in wealth and status, enough to sway the media and authorities to ignore the horrors of this place. That or sorcery was at play. What else could keep the authorities from shutting this vile place down? What else could prevent people from seeing the monstrosity taking place here? The conditions these people were in.
"Yours for example; Helena, Greek. Beautiful wife of the spartan king Menelaus. Kidnapped by Paris which sparked the Trojan war. Means light. Bright. Torch. Some say she was the daughter of Zeus."
"Greek. Like Lotophagus. Like the prefix demi-. Like the Seirēnes. Like the Grecian styling of your dress."
"Forgive me for being blunt Helena but I do not believe you are here by coincidence either."
Helena poked the inside of her cheek with her tongue - nodding in amusement as he described the meaning of her name and it's origins. The most amusing part about it all: Her name gave away nothing; her mother intended it to be that way. Growing up, the demigod warrior always wondered why her mother bestowed her with a name she despised. Helen of Troy became an enemy to Athena when Paris refused her and Hera's offerings for Aphrodite's gift - the most beautiful woman in the world: Helen of Sparta. Not only did Athena despise Helen for this reason, she also hated her for being a Spartan Queen. When the two reunited during the confrontation with Ares, a curious Helena asked her mother the question and discovered the true reason; she was named Helena Troy because it was a name that would confuse her enemies and further shroud her in mystery. "Impressive for a man of business," She complimented, a smirk predominating her mouth once again as she continued to play her role. "But if you took the time to know me and my story you'll discover a whole different woman." She chuckled as she kept her eyes locked on his, their intuitional minds attempting to dominate one another.
The former princess had to admit, it was charming seeing her dinning companion flex his intelligence - a rare sight in this age. But she was no fool, she knew he was more than a businessman and she was going to out-chess him until he caved. The way he analyzed everything and came to the right conclusion as she did, furthered her suspensions - there was more to him than he was letting on. Richard was just as suspicious of her as she was with him; now all she needed to do was mislead him and prevent herself from being compromised. "You got me," She playfully rose both hands, letting out a light chuckle. "I am Greek," She said with an intoxicating English-Greek accent. "I immigrated to the United States from the Hellenic Republic," She placed her hands back on the table and let out a fake sigh of deep sorrow, her eyes drifting downwards and her face sagged with a frown as if Achlys plagued her with misery and sadness. Hopefully, Richard fell for her decent acting skills; Athena forcefully made her take theatre as a child and she remembered loathing every second of it. But now, she realized why her mother forced her into it in the first place - a warrior had to be prepared in every possible confrontation.
"As to why I left my home country, well...I shift the blame to the European Union. I feel as if Greece, once center to the world, had been robbed of it's sovereignty and I could not bare to reside in a country that I no longer recognized. Being an Anthropologist in Greek Mythology grew rather burdensome as all it did was remind me of how much Greece has fallen," Helena wrapped herself so deeply in the false story and character she made up, her eyes began to drown in tears. She was able to achieve this through relating her own life to the character she made up. Perfect. "But now I reside in the United States as a health inspector," She said, dampening her eye with a napkin. "So indeed, Mr. Richard; It is my job to determine if this place should be shut down." Helena lied, praying he took the bait. "Forgive me by the way; these allergies are vile." She continued to dampen her eyes before finally "regaining her composure." "Now," Helena folded her hands, let out a sniffle, and postured herself well - her back aligning with the wooden back support of the chair. "Let us discuss you again." Her usual smugness returned as now she was ready to make her move. "Now who am I to deny you are a business man who cares about his workers. But tell me, business man; you said it best, Gothic City is plagued with corruption and wickedness. So you of all people know, justice will not be served," She checkmated, hoping she backed him into a corner.
Helena truly felt she had him where she wanted him and just as she was about to make another chess move, she caught something moving toward them through the corner of her eye; The Laestrygonians disguised as waiters, pushing through the crowd and sniffing around like a pack of dogs. They were attempting to pick up her scent; she only had seconds before they all reached her table and confirmed she was the demigod. "Actually, you can enlighten me while we dance." She pushed her chair back and rose, waiting for him to take her hand and guide them into the crowd for a slow dance. The only way to keep the giants confused and off her trail was to mask her powerful scent with the horrendous order that came from the crowd - As quick-witted as her mother.
@hawkshade A bit rushed; Since so many days went by. But hope you enjoyed nevertheless.
Once again Marcus embraced the night, for it was his only opportunity to indulge his vigilante nature. Like a creature of the night, he perched atop a buildings roof top, leering over with a watchful eye. With his guns holstered, he cracks his knuckles as a prelude to the oh so many bones he planned to break, provided he could find any criminal activity below. But as Gothic city was a hot bed of unscrupulous activity, it was simply a waiting game. By now the city was dark , lit only by trash cans set ablaze to warm the homeless. By now Nightbreaker was getting anxious, an unproductive trait, but one he needed to deal with. Hoping to find trouble elsewhere, he began an athletic jaunt across the roof tops, beginning with a sprint towards the edge, followed by a triple forwards flip, until reaching the next roof top. Then as his forward foot set ground he finished off with a perfectly executed somersault, until landing back firmly on both feet, ready to move to the next. With no signs of either exhaustion or fatigue, about thirty minutes later he reached the industrial side of Gothic, were many of the towns locals would be in bars wetting their whistles. By sheer luck, he made it just in time to see a local biker gang pulling up numbering around a dozen men, each proudly displaying their gang signs and off setting tattoos. Unfortunately, for now they had done nothing wrong, to warrant Nightbreakers sense of Justice, but he proudly kept an eye on them until inevitably, they crossed the line!
"Who could pass up such an offer?" Richard said as she pushed his chair back and took Helena's hand, guiding her onto the dance floor (assuming she went along; if she did not he would not make a scene.)
His bulk cleared a path through the crowd. There were a few disgruntled looks. The CEO paid them no mind. Another problem occupied his attention; he couldn't dance.
Richard's public backstory claimed he was a poor orphan of Russian immigrants who had the misfortune to settle in Gothic after the collapse of the USSR. Orphaned in one of Gothic's many crime sprees the boy turned to technology and was an early adopter of bitcoin, selling at its peak and becoming the so-called Bitcoin Billionaire.
It was all a lie.
He had been born of a secret program run by the Strigidae Order designed to produce the strongest mutant warriors possible; weapons in their merciless shadow war against humankind. Trained at the feet of the Seven Secret Masters inside their hidden fortress-temple he had learned a hundred and forty four ways to kill but never to dance.
The Son of the Shogun searched his mind as they walked. Searched it for memories, memories of dancers. He found them as they entered the dance floor.
As he turned to face Helena he ran those memories through the Strigidae thought-language of Iktet-Ur, a language based ideographic and nomothetic logic that gave Richard the ability to memories and replicate any movement he saw. The so-called photographic reflexes.
By the time their feet first moved to the music Richard was a grand dancer. An amalgamation of every fragment of classical dance he had ever glimpsed out of the corner of his eye. Limbs thick with sturdy muscle moved with grace and poise.
"Let me offer my sympathies to the plight of your homeland. To fall from one of the greatest civilizations on earth with your own history and culture to the rule of the bureaucratic EU who care only for money, that must be a painful thing to witness. I hope you do not take me as too radical when I say that I hope someday Greece throws off those shackles and rises to seize control of its own destiny once more."
"As for this city, you are correct. Justice is in short supply. Oh it strikes here or there. But it is rarely to be found here. Even if found out a criminal can escape punishment with a bribe in the right hand. A favor owed by a corrupt officer of the law. Or simple bureaucratic incompetence."
"That is why I came myself. If my employees are in danger then I cannot trust the law to resolve the matter. I must take action myself and use my fortune to grease the wheels of justice so they turn in the right direction-- for once."
"That such a thing is necessary is the shame of Gothic City."
What was she thinking? Offering herself to dance, knowing full well she was not blessed by Terpsichore in the arts of choreography. Apollon Mousagetēs - Apollo, Conductor of the Nine Muses; was probably peering over his illuminating golden chariot, foreseeing the embarrassment that was to come, as she questioned her decision. This was a decision she would regret for as long as the Fates deemed her lifespan worthy. Clasping his hand, Helena allowed herself to be led by the ravish gentleman into the dance floor. You would think it would be easy to push through the crowd and find a spot where they could dance and mask her overwhelming scent, but that proved to be as tasking as the Labyrinth of Daedalus. They pushed through crowd and made left and right turns as if they were really inside the complex maze, seeking to slay the Minotaur like the legendary hero, Theseus. The crowd swayed back and forth in unison: bewitched and narcotized, side effects from the Lotus Fruit. Some of them held flower-shaped cookies infused with lotus no doubt, while others dozed off with their dancing partners.
Whoever was responsible for this vile tragedy would pay with their life. The authorities could not contain the Laestrygonians or whoever was the brains of this wretched operation; the only way to end this all was to slay every mythical giant in sight and set ablaze the building to destroy all traces of Lotus. But first, she needed to buy herself time to get to the kitchen of the restaurant without being detected by the giants; it was the only way she could find the creature behind this all.
Squeezing in-between two drowsing couples, the two finally found themselves room to dance on the dance floor. When was the last time she offered her hand to dance? The memory slipped past her as if she drunk from the River of Oblivion - The River of Lethe, one of the five rivers encompassing the Underworld. All that was left of her memory was the fact that she was not blessed in the arts of Apollo and Terpsichore. Nevertheless, it was wiser to embarrass one-self over being compromised during a mission. Finally facing each other, Helena wrapped her arms around the dashing businessman's neck; their bodies were close, but not close to the point they were uncomfortable. Having him close by her was the only way to mask her overwhelming scent, along with the zombified crowd that flanked them, reeking of body odor and other revolting smells you found in the stomach of a Cyclops. If he allowed her to keep her arms around his neck, she would follow his lead and become a laughingstock for the Gods who watched over her on Mount Olympus, indulging themselves in Nectar and Ambrosia.
She almost stumbled and stepped over his toes, but because the muscles in her core and lower body were refined and blessed by her demigod physiology, she was able to keep her balance with ease. "Let me offer my sympathies to the plight of your homeland. To fall from one of the greatest civilizations on earth with your own history and culture to the rule of the bureaucratic EU who care only for money, that must be a painful thing to witness. I hope you do not take me as too radical when I say that I hope someday Greece throws off those shackles and rises to seize control of its own destiny once more." Helena heard him say through the music. If she were an ordinary mortal, the music would have drowned out her ears like the alluring voices of the Sirens, but she was more than that; she heard every word. "Appealing and enlightened; I must say, you are as mysterious as you claim this place to be, " She slightly smiled with embarrassment, hoping their conversation could distract him from realizing how terrible of a dancer she was. "I agree. But tell me, is it really radical for a nation's people to cry for sovereignty? Does a nation not have a right to remove itself from an agreement that has become tainted? So no, do not apologize; we both know the EU is the one who has become fanatical." Her tone was fierce and passionate, her uniquely colored eyes fixated on his.
From over his shoulder, the disguised giants shoved through the crowd while continuing to sniff into the air like bloodthirsty wolves, hunting for their prey. They grunted and cursed in Ancient Greek as they searched through the crowd for her scent, but picked up no trace of the intoxicating scent. "Are you picking up anything?" Asked one giant in frustration. "No! This demigod is a clever one." The other complained. "Like Odysseus. I despise Odysseus. The mortal could ruin everything, we must know for certain if she's a demigod!" The one who seemed to be in charge ordered. Meanwhile, Helena listened as Richard explained the current state of the city. He confirmed what she had already gathered about the city; It was rifled with corruption and crime as if Apollo drew, nocked, and loosed an arrow into the heart of the city, infesting it with a plague of crime. She nodded quizzically, at his reasoning for being here. In truth, she had no reason to doubt his intentions, but being a child of Athena, came with the price of overanalyzing everything, even those who were your companions. "As long as you do not interfere with my inspection, I have no reason to demand you to leave. But -- how will you use your fortune here? What if the owner or workers refuse to accept your bribery? What then? What are you willing to do?" She smirked, attempting to see if he would squeal and prove her right.
As they danced the night away, investigating each other and growing acquainted, she realized the Laestrygonian waiters were glaring into their essence and arguing amongst themselves. "We should not risk bringing her to the witch; remember what she did to Gígas?" One giant reminded with a quivering voice of fear. "That was different! The mortal turned out not to be a demigod, but now we are certain this one is." The second Laestrygonian shot back in response. "Then what are we waiting for?! It's been a millennia since I've had demigod." The other licked his lips in anticipation. "Silence!" The leader of the man-eating tribe interfered in frustration. "The demigod has masked her scent with our food -- It seems it will be impossible to determine if she is what we suspect. So the only thing that makes sense is to bring her to the sorceress." The leader giant concluded. "What about the mortal she dances with?" Asked the nervous cannibal. "He'll be tomorrow's dinner, leave him." The tribal leader ordered.
Her electric blue eyes watched as the disguised man-eating giants made their way toward them, their mouths foaming with saliva. If her eyes could discharge electricity, she would have zapped them into ash without having to worry about collateral damage, but clearly she was no daughter of Zeus or Thor. Removing her arms from Richard's neck, Helena knew her plan to disguise her scent and get to the back of the restaurant without being seen had failed. "You need to escort all these civilians to safety, even if they refuse. I suspect there is more to your nature than you let on, so I implore you to do what is sound and evacuate this foul place. And for your safety; do not follow me." She warned, before the four disguised giants surrounded them. "You did not need to disguise yourself to inspect our restaurant, inspector; Lotophagus hides no secrets." The leader of the tribe of Laestrygonians grinned, his teeth shimmered for a brief moment, revealing sharp stained teeth before reverting back to normal. Sorcery was indeed the root of all this. "Come with us, we will be happy to show you around." The giant turned around and led the way toward the kitchen.
Giving Richard one last glance; she prayed he would heed her warning, but she knew the odds of him staying put was not in her favor. Pushing through the crowd once more, Helena followed the lead giant toward two double-doors. The kitchen, she presumed? Flanking her sides, two giants escorted her with large grins plastered across their faces. The last giant walked closely behind her, grunting and growling. I guess her plan was not a failure after all; the giants were leading her right to the being behind all this. As she walked, she wondered if Richard was able to perceive everything the way she could: Did he see the baring teeth of the giants before they were distorted by a shimmering mist? Did he see the effects Lotus had over the civilians? Did he see everything? If sorcery was at play, how was he able to see through the illusions? What made him special from the other mortals who entered this restaurant? And how was she able to see through this dark magic? These questions sailed across her mind as she pondered.
The double doors swung wide open as they all entered the kitchen. Her electric blue eyes immediately began to scan the room, looking for any signs of the owner of the restaurant, to no avail. All that stood before her were cooking stoves, boxes, counters, shelves, and various kitchen items you found in a restaurant. But unlike normal restaurants, this kitchen was used to serve Lotus fruit and other foods containing the narcotic. For the most part, the kitchen looked spotless and non-hazardous from where she stood, but she knew if she searched around, opened a box or two - the kitchen freezer, she would find all types of health violations.
"This way, "Inspector." The man-eating tribe leader gestured forward as he approached a kitchen wall. The wall itself looked like any ordinary wall, except for the obvious lever embedded into the wall. Like she said before, the Laestrygonians were not the brightest. Luckily for them, sorcery distorted the eyes of any ordinary mortal. Turning the lever, the kitchen wall split open, revealing a narrow stairway that led into the depths of darkness. Her mother would warn her this was not the wisest of decisions, but what choice did she have? It was her responsibility to end this -- she was a Greek demigod who had a weak spot for those who were being preyed on and suffering.....like her. Besides, if the giants were taking her to whoever was responsible, they had no intention of eating her now.
Being the bold and curious demigod she was, Helena followed the Laestrygonian as he entered the secret entrance. Behind her, the other Laestrygonians followed closely behind, probably wondering how she tasted. If she wanted to, she could send them all to Hades, even in a confined space such as this way, but these giants still served a purpose. As soon as she took her first step down the stairway, the secret entrance behind them shut, engulfing them in complete darkness. Any ordinary person would panic after being swallowed by darkness, especially if man-eating giants were among you, but she was trained to ignore such feelings -- to focus on her other senses if one became useless. As she was about to tap into her supernatural hearing, torches along the walls, illuminated the stairway enough for her to see the steps, walls, and back of the leading giant. The torches burned with a green flame and produced a faint light. Now that she could see, she followed the giant with ease, down the stairs made completely of limestone. The walls that enclosed her were made of the same material. Her vambraces produced a faint aura of silver, aiding the torches that burned faintly.
Finally reaching the last step, Helena's eyes shot open as the narrowed stairway opened up to an enormous cavern made of limestone, enriched with dolomite and gypsum. In the center of the cavern, stood an altar made of stone and a gold statue of Gaea standing over it. On both sides of the altar, dismembered body parts were piled on top of one another, indicating a sacrifice had been made. Standing in front of the altar, stood a woman holding a burning green torch in her hand. "Helena Troy,"
"What is the delay?"
The voice was deep, guttural, and filled with barely contained rage. She had heard it before, of course, and this was not even the first time she'd been the focus of it, but with what was at stake here, the "daughter" of Gunther Beremud allowed herself the slightest of slips in her usually icy demeanor, as her fists clenched and her lips and eyes narrowed. The fact that the speaker was not able to see her was of minimal comfort, however.
"This is an infiltration, not an invasion." Her words were carefully chosen, and spoken through gritted teeth. "Such things take subtlety, and subtlety takes time."
The voice laughed. Not a good sign. That laughter was one that typically only accompanied genocidal levels of death and destruction. "I lack the patience of the Ancient One. Sol-3 lies in the path of the Expansion, as does every other world. If you have not secured your objective by the time my forces reach it, the matter will be handled more...directly."
"The presence of at least one of the stones has been all but confirmed," she shot back, her voice thick with a venom that only barely disguised the desperation. "If you blunder in here with your legions, outside influences are very likely to retrieve and remove them."
"Then you'd best sacrifice some subtlety for effectiveness," was the snarled reply. "I have my own orders, and I will not delay my mission simply because you are inept at completing yours. End transmission."
She sat back in her executive chair, surrounded by all the trappings that wealth and power could buy on this world, and yet she had never felt so bereft. The pieces were not yet fully in place, not to her satisfaction, but it looked like she was going to have to improvise...
"I agree. But tell me, is it really radical for a nation's people to cry for sovereignty? Does a nation not have a right to remove itself from an agreement that has become tainted? So no, do not apologize; we both know the EU is the one who has become fanatical."
He only nodded at that. The powerful billionaire rarely involved himself in politics. This was not to say he lacked strong opinions or was apathetic to political matters. But his one man war was focused like a laser upon the worst of the worst. Human trafficking. Genocide. Terrorism. Pedophilia networks. Serial murder.
It was said that man was the greatest prey and of those men Hawkshade hunted only the worst of the worst. And he had no shortage of targets. There were enough monsters in human form to keep him occupied for ten lifetimes.
But though he was otherwise occupied he wished the Greeks the best of fortunes. They deserved their freedoms.
"As long as you do not interfere with my inspection, I have no reason to demand you to leave. But -- how will you use your fortune here? What if the owner or workers refuse to accept your bribery? What then? What are you willing to do?"
"Perhaps they will be immune to the persuasive powers of my checkbook but we are in Gothic and if there is one thing I know for sure about this city it is that it's politicians are not. A donation here, a campaign contribution there.. and this establishment will be swarming with every enforcement agency in the city. The corruption of law and order is a sad thing but if I must I will use it to save those who can be saved."
"You need to escort all these civilians to safety, even if they refuse. I suspect there is more to your nature than you let on, so I implore you to do what is sound and evacuate this foul place. And for your safety; do not follow me."
Richard raised a jet black eyebrow. "I see." He didn't say much. There was too much danger of being overheard and besides that the time for words had passed. It was now the time for action.
The giants came and they led the 'inspector' away. Richard slipped backwards into the crowd. Ducked under their line-of-sight and changed directions. Exited the dance floor and returned to the dining area, yanking a fire extinguisher off it's mount on the wall as he went.
The big man climbed onto a table. The couple there scowled and looked up from their meal. "Hey. What do you think-" One of his shoes squashed an entree under foot and snapped the porcline plate. "Hey! Hey!"
He ignored them. Punched a hole in the suspended ceiling and ripped out a ceiling tile. The guests stood, gaping and sputtering in outrage.
The sprinkler piping was exposed. Richard smashed the steel fire extinguisher into it. The thick muscles of his powerful torso flexed under his suit. WHAM. Twice. WHAM. A third time- WHAM Hissssssssssssssss.
Each sprinkler head in a modern system had a glass seal above a glycerin-based liquid. At temperatures between 135 and 165 Fahrenheit the liquid expanded and shattered the glass seal. Richard could have set off the head with his lighter but that would have only activated one. But vibration, flexation and other shocks could also break the glass seals. (It was for this reason earthquakes often triggered sprinkler systems.)
Repeated blows from the fire extinguisher to the piping was once such shock.
Pressurized water sprayed out of every sprinkler head in the dining room. Sprinkler water didn't come from the main water line. It was stored within the sprinkler pipes under pressure in case fire happened with the water cut off. Stored for years. By the time it was used it was stagnate and thick with slime.
Foul, slimy water doused the guests and their meals. Ambrosia was coated with filth. Suits were instantly soggy. Expensive dresses ruined.
Shouts of outrage filled the air. Hawkshade jogged down the line of tables and kicked the fire alarm. The klaxon howled.
A mad scramble to escape begin. Richard slipped into the milling crowd and wove through them, head low to avoid the prying eyes of security. Darting into a side hallway he jogged down it until he came to the kitchen.
It was empty.
He looked at the floor. Glossy tile. Clean as a whistle. Odd- real kitchens were rarely this clean. He took a closer look. Glossy tile was popular in food prep areas for one simple reason; it showed everything. Dirt, debris, anything unhygienic was easy to spot.
And so were the faint smudges left behind by the soles of boots. Like fingerprints on glass.
Hawkshade dropped to a knee and blew on the tile, fogging it with his breath. The footprints were clear now. Several sets of large prints and one set of heels.
He followed the footprints. They lead straight into the wall. No door. No window. No exit.
He felt along the wall as he stood. Something whacked him in the head and he reached out to feel it. A large pole or rod extending from the wall-- and completely invisible.
Richard didn't even blink. He had been a Strigidae. He knew the world was a veil.
The Son of the Shogun pulled the lever and the wall opened.
He entered the underworld.
Rain. Kellan had always hated it. He hated the drum of it's constant pitter-patter. How it interfered with his dermal senses and forced him to rely on another sense; sight. Yet tonight he found the rain oddly poetic. As though it'd come to wash the sins from Gothic's streets - and his soul. Or lack there of. Both hands resting at the head of his cane, and his eyes sweeping the wet streets below through ruby lenses, the Horned Saint smiled. A murderous street where blood flowed more freely than water, and not a criminal in sight. But at what cost? He asked himself. During the Purge he'd made mountains from the corpses of villains, from more evil than even he expected from Gothic's rotten core. It was brutal. But it was necessary. Until the Soul Lavaliere wrestled control of his mind.
In pursuing the stone's power, Kellan now understood that he'd gone too far. It undid part of his work, and cost him his soul. Whatever he felt now - vaguely human, sometimes alien - was foreign compared to what he once did. It wasn't nothing... but different. Familiar, but only at a glance. A feeling that returned him to the city he swore he had saved. Now, it was time to rebuild. And there was one woman he knew who could.
He hadn't seen her - not truly - since his last visit to her Catholicon, now in ruins thanks to him. The man she'd last seen was a puppet of the Soul Lavaliere. Sinking into the shadows, he vanished, emerging at the door to a hospital he knew Ashley to volunteer in. Trench-coat wet and smelling of rain, Kellan - amid a crowd - stepped in and out a shadow, emerging dry and clothed differently. And in his pocket, he carried a note. Written anonymously, it held a suggestion, that Ashley re-purpose the ruins of Black House into her new Catholicon. For her to turn a place that'd long been Gothic's bane, into a place of healing. He had purged it's halls of all leftover Konite, and left it ready for her use, should she choose to.
His footsteps made no sound, and he slipped into the shadows as though he were one himself. None interrupted his walk, and as he reached the door to Ashley's office, he was calm. His heart did not clamor in his chest, and his mind did not race. There was only certainty - and something else. Longing? The love he once felt now twisted into a familiar but alien twin? It didn't matter. She wasn't there, he'd calculated and prepared. Yet as he stepped in, note ready, his eyes caught hers and his brow rose. He had miscalculated.
It was becoming more and more routine with Ashley. Whenever something bad happened, she drowned herself at work and The Purge event was no exception. What happened to her Catholicon, her now ex, her city, her patient’s, Richard, that stone… it was disgustingly horrible. It made her nauseated thinking about it. She couldn’t sleep (less than normal) she had no appetite (and people were beginning to notice) she felt restless the need to keep moving to keep going.
She hadn’t seen June since everything happened and had no idea what happened to Kellan after he was taken away. Could the two be together somewhere? Maybe… no… June wouldn’t do that…. Right? Then there was the fact her brother was gone, again. After learning he was alive all this time.. He was now… just… gone. She felt so alone, so abandoned more than before. Because when her world was destroyed, she had her brother. When her brother was gone, there was Kellan. When Kellan was gone, there was her Catholicon. But now her Catholicon was gone… what was left?
So here she was, at the Gothic City General Hospital volunteering her time to help heal those who were affected by the Purge. Even those who were innocent (even if few) were harmed either by simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time or environmental injuries from the onslaught. What day was this? She lost track… seven? Eight? Her body felt heavy as sat sleepless in her office nursing a cup of coffee. She was suppose to be going to check up on a patient right now but she desperately needed some coffee and her office had it waiting for her as always.
Her mind was running in a hundred different directions as she heard the door open. She didn’t think about it at first, her eyes didn’t even look up. “Come in please.” Her voice a little raspy, was she getting sick? But when no answer came her eyes looked up and it took her a moment to realize who it was. He looked just as surprised to see her as she did him when she realized… it was… ‘Kellan?’ She couldn’t even speak his but mouthed them instead as a hurricane of emotions slammed into her at that moment.
Sadness, heartache, anxiety, fear, anger… anger… a lot of anger. While her face was stone cold, she could feel her ranger burn deep in her chest as she stood up forcefully from her desk, a new wave of energy pulsating through her as her once tired eyes lit up with a look the eyes of the doctor that had yet to be seen. She walked over him, carefully, slowly closing the space between them as she gently grabbed him by the arm and guided him into her office while closing the door behind him, her cobalt eyes never wavering from him.
The Knightfall Saint stood in silence as her eyes began to look him over. The first thing she noticed was the cane he was using. Probably still healing from the injuries he sustained during his fight with Richard. She looked at his chest, where the stone once was and her face finally showed a twisted look of disappointment, frustration and pain. Her overwhelming emotions got the best of her, as her hand suddenly came in contact with his face. The sound of her slapping him contained only in the room as her hand stung from the sudden strike as she stood there breathing heavily. How dare he come here, how dare he!
She couldn’t even think anymore as tears silently fell from her eyes. Ashley was doing good keeping her emotions in check but now, seeing Kellan before her, it was like a dam that was keeping them at bay had suddenly collapsed. She couldn’t even find the words to speak to him.
There was no mistaking the calm on Ashley's face. But while her every facial muscle seemed to be frozen in ice, her eyes flared with a fire that could burn steel. There were no emotions painted over her face, a stroke representing anger, another sadness, one hurt. There was no need. Her eyes told a tale clearer than her words ever could. And her heart - beating with a storm's fury against her chest - told a tale even clearer. He could feel it. The words she'd yet to speak, Kellan could feel on his skin. And he was calm, at ease. Certain. Yet there was no denying the slow rise in his heart. The body of qi put in place to replace his soul swarmed him with what he could feel. Guilt? He didn't think so. Longing? Passion? He believed so.
Kellan felt her grab him by the arm and lead him deeper into her office where the lights flickered soft. The note he'd written still sat in his pocket, but his mind now clung to Ashley's permanent stare. She's losing weight, his thoughts noted. The stress, the loss, the Purge, it weighed as much on Ashley's mind as it did her body. For that, the Horned Saint felt something he hadn't since giving up his soul; guilt. Then, he felt it, the air racing to his face in a rush - a warning - and his face stung. Ashley'd slapped him with all the anger and hurt swarming through her chest. And like a bull, she breathed heavy, as if to cool the fire burning inside her. Finally, Kellan felt the vibrations of tears trickling down her face, and his guilt grew tenfold. Not for what he'd done to Gothic, not entirely at least. I was right, his mind told him, Crime is now at an all-time low. No, his guilt was that in implementing his solution, he'd done this to Ashley.
Richard was a warrior. A former Strigidae. And Tessa a killer, willing to wade into territory the others couldn't. But Ashley was a savior. A healer. Too good for her own good. She felt too much because she loved too much. Leaning his cane against the wall, Kellan plucked the glasses from his face to the unspoken words between them. There, for the first time since he'd left the Shadow Knights, his eyes - ruby - met Ashley's. He said nothing. Instead, his hands reached for her face and wiped the tears that stained it. He'd come to deliver a note, yet now he stood with his eyes staring into hers for the first time in what'd felt like an eternity. She was alone. She felt alone. That much he could see. She wasn't like him, someone taught from their earliest days that he'd leave this world the same way he'd come into it; alone.
So he comforted her, wiped her tears and let her linger in his warmth like she used to during happier times. He held her, wrapping his arms around her to strip away at the anger, sadness and hurt to find what fueled them all; passion. And as he had when he'd wiped her tears, he held her face and stared into her gaze. She needed this. And perhaps some part of him did too.
Even as the tears flowed from her eyes, she didn’t say a word. Just heavy breathing from the doctor was heard, trying to calm herself… but it felt as if it was getting worse. She angry at the man standing before her. She trusted him, allowed him to see her at her most vulnerable, loved him, healed him and yet it wasn’t enough. She wasn't enough for him. He had to go sell his very soul to gain a power to kill the people she had dedicated her life to save. He spat on her work and destroyed everything she built in this city. Anger was all she felt in this moment as her face became tinted with red. She had never been betrayed in this way before.
Her eyes finally met his, and she could see him for the first time since he left her. Even after striking him he was gentle towards her, as he carefully wiped the tears from her face in silence. It was the first physical contact she had since everything happened. “N-no.” She tried, weakly, to fight it, to fight him, to pull away. She loved him but she hated him. But as his arms wrapped around her and pulled her close she could felt the warmth that she hadn’t felt in so long. The warmth that she missed. Their eyes gazed into each other, she could feel what was going to happen, and she knew she shouldn’t. Ashley knew that this was not only unhealthy but against her moral judgement. Every bone in her body was against it. The Knightfall could hear it in the back of her mind “Don’t do it.”. But the mind couldn’t change what the passion of the heart wanted.
Ashley couldn’t stop herself. She reached up to his face, her hands gently guiding up his stubble jawline as her fingers then ran through his still wet hair and pulled him down towards her into a kiss. Pushing her entire self into the kiss fueled by the passion that had built up inside of her all this time. In this moment nothing else mattered to the Saint of Gothic. Not the room she was in, not the patient's she was seeing, not the hospital she was in, only she and the Crimson Devil.
For the seconds his eyes stared into hers, the office sat in silence and suspense, as though no hospital existed beyond it's walls. Ashley's fingers traced his jawline with an intimate familiarity, and his - fingers better at dealing death than warmth - stroked her cheeks as if to wash away the hurt in her heart. I saved Gothic, his thoughts echoed, and his mind clinging to his conviction. But I hurt Ashley. And she might never forgive him for it. But as she inched closer and he held her gaze, it seemed they might never pull away from each other. She kissed him with an urgency he was sure she hadn't felt in so long. It was a familiar sensation. And her soft lips against the bite of passion and desire? Perfect.
With an arm round her waist and a hand on the nape of her neck, Kellan pulled and held her close. His lips sank into hers and he kissed her till her heart raced and her chest paced up and down against his. For so long the Horned Saint had felt nothing. Deprived of his soul, there was nothing - less than nothing - for his heart to pull from. He'd roamed the streets of Gothic as a reaper preying on the souls of men deemed evil. His heart never skipped a beat, and his breathing never rose. It was steady, and he cold. But here behind the walls of a sterile office, he felt more than he had in longer than he could remember. No longer was his breathing so controlled he seemed a statue. No longer did his heart hardly twitch and his blood run cold. Instead, he surrendered to the moment, the passion, and kissed Ashley till their lips ached.
While the note sat in his pocket, Kellan pulled her bottom lip between his teeth and bit down till he felt her body go limp from the thrill. He kissed a burning trail down the side of her neck and scooped her into his arms. Passions flared brighter, and he cleared her desk of it's paperwork with a sweep of his arm. And like a man possessed he sat her there and his hands worked to undress her as he pulled her into a night wild with tremors along her nerves and a sensation neither one had felt since first parting ways. For that moment, the Horned Saint thought not of his note, of his plan for Ashley to re-purpose Black House into a place of healing. There was only this and them.
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