The School RPG
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spearofhope

(I Forgot to Post this. It still belongs here)

The Supernatural Tour of Pete Vincent

Part One – A Second Renaissance

It was a very important night, and it was giving Harvey a Headache.

First of all, the PR people were going crazy. It was a well known cliche, the conceited, prissy city folk coming down and judging the backwards hicks in a rural setting, but it was considerably more uncommon for said Urbanites to show up and judge the natives of a different, thriving City. School city – the uncontested locus of Superhuman Activity in America - was like the Gay younger brother of New York and Cinema City, filled with a lot of 'culture' and 'equality', but ultimately viewed by the others as something very weird and better left forgotten. It didn't help that the site of the concert wasn't legally owned by anyone. The most recent legal documentation was a shady agreement from a handful of years ago to add a large balcony and stairway to the west side, something that required a handful of check-ups to make sure the place wasn't condemnable, and one or two applications for permits.

Other than that, the warehouse didn't seem to exist.

Marti Holloway's home address listed on the Census was a P.O. Box, and Harvey legally worked at Dante's nightclub on the other side of the River, a place that already had a full roster of Bartenders. He was fully licensed to Tend a Bar and sell liquor to legal patrons, but there was an understandable cloud of questionable legality over the entire situation. The real question was, how was it so nice of a place? There were lights, mirrors, built-in shelves, a gorgeous bar and dozens of stools, Furniture, a great sound system, and local bands playing every night – not to mention a relatively pleasant apartment in the basement. Where did all of the resources and organization to make this possible come from?

Simply put, Harvey was exceptionally dedicated to the place. There was a day, almost two and a half years ago now, that the Bartender was standing in an empty Warehouse, cluttered by the Garbage of a party the night before, and saw a building whose only marketable asset was being forgettable. It was the warehouse's only saving grace – it was a storage location for valuable items back in the day, and now belonged to a family whose sires had once been known here, and whose descendants had left it forever. It belonged to a trust fund operated by a family that had forgotten about it, and no longer even listed it as a property of theirs. It was no longer, in reality, anybody's.

It Certainly wasn't Harvey's. But he loved it like nobody else did. He knew it better than any other. In fact, some day, possibly in the late 2020's, the man would have enough money to hunt down the owners and legally purchase it from them. But at this point, he was technically a squatter, pouring money into something he had no claim to. It had once been a place for teenagers to hang out and break bottles; now, it was the most popular Night club in the city, and the uncontested Center of the Supernatural Night Life (if not Culture) in The Americas. Sure, there was the School, and there was much to appreciate about it, and of course there was the Markets, a veritable Bazaar of the Bizarre. But if you wanted to speak to a Vampire; if you wanted to drink with a super, or dance with a werewolf... you went to the Warehouse.

And you bought a drink from Harvey.

Pete Vincent saw and appreciated that. He was a rocker, a deviant, a former Druggie and a man with a poet's heart. His skin had that old, Leathery Texture that the well worn and well loved tended to get, and his eyes were brighter than most 18 year-old's. He knew that they were entering a second Renaissance, a second Civil Rights movement. Their world was getting all the brighter – but at the same time, all the more known. It was not something to go unmarked.

So the Supernatural Tour of Pete Vincent was to commence. He would start in School City and end in School City, swinging his way along the coast after back-to-back shows at the Warehouse - a big show in the Capitols, then around the Gulf, hopping to Cinema City, then back home to School City, ending with a midnight show in front of the Whitcomb Mansion in the Park. It was a great announcement, and it goes without saying that many commemorative T-shirts were bought. But for those Yuppie PR reps and Slick-suited managers, it was a logistical Nightmare. As surely as they enjoyed looking down on School City, they loved to look down on Mr. Vincent. He was a laissez-faire Pop Culture Emblem; a Vitruvian Superman. He had no desire to play their game, and there was no more condemnable action than that.

So why did he have to be so god-damn popular?

He moved records, and there was money in it. But he made their lives difficult – though in truth, they were the ones with the real problem. Things had to go their way. This didn't mean, 'Things have to go their way, or Else...!' It meant, in their mind, things had to go their way, or there wasn't any way they could go. People who had different ideas were merely throwing a wrench into the works, not trying to change things for the better. Working things out became being meddlesome. Having their own ideas became being maliciously destructive.

Pete Vincent had in his life been malicious, been destructive. He had been a Rebel against the System, not for righteous reasons but because he wanted it to be cool. It was stupid and childish, and he was risking a lot to get drunk and say fuck you to his bosses, but he did it anyways. And when he got clean twenty years later, the environment of enmity he'd fostered couldn't simply change to an open partnership of friendliness and understanding so quickly. Even (mostly) clean blood streams couldn't stop him from hating such a distinct symbol of everything he stood against.

At the end of the day, he was a nuisance to them, and they were a nuisance to him. They spent their days trying to be more of a nuisance to each other, enjoying a not-so-fond war that would never end in mutual destruction (money is money, after all). The Warehouse's little dilemma was a nuisance to them as well, and his insistence that they do their concerts there was a very successful attempt to aggravate the situation.

But anyone who said that the only reason he wanted it there was to bug the pencil-pushers would be lying through their teeth. He hadn't toured for years because he didn't give a shit, but this movement, this grand and memorable Renaissance was something else. It was something he did give a shit about, and he wanted the tour to be about that.

Unfortunately, this was all considerably more than a small bother for poor Harvey. He was handling complex affairs, signing things he didn't understand in the slightest, and acting as a representative of a building he didn't own and, even worse, an entire city to people used to dealing with their own kind. Not to mention, he had to buy a considerable amount of Alcohol.

It didn't help that it was bringing a massive amount of scrutiny onto him. Licenses, deeds and legal aid he'd never needed before was now integral to his life, and the police were slowly beginning to realize he had a Woman in his basement dealing drugs (not to mention he'd sold Liquor to an underage kid or two over the years). The night was coming up sooner than he liked to think, and he was, ultimately, utterly unprepared for this memorable event. In short: This was bad.

But he was handling it; or at least he liked to think he was. When he'd stood in that Warehouse, two and a half years ago, he'd never seen this particular outcome as a possibility. He hadn't thought it would become a symbol, that it would become a big deal, a place not quite reputable enough to be the Jewel of the City's crown, but certainly a point of pride. But do you know what? He'd hoped that it would. When he looked around the warehouse, he saw potential; he saw a place that could be beloved, a place that could be popular and, more importantly, home to many happy memories and events. He saw a place that people could feel like they could be their selves inside. A place where people could relax and let go.

But in the Warehouse, letting go often ended up meaning getting picked up by a Vampire and Murdered in the back alley. He'd given far too many statements to far too many detectives. At the end of the day, he felt partially responsible for all the evils – after all, he'd served them drinks, gotten the drunk, and turned aside and let what happened happen. But time had a way of resolving that too, and the Yates act and Blood Delivery systems became a boon. People stopped dying. He was no longer a witness in Trials. The world was a safer place.

The world was getting better. Things were changing. For once, Harvey believed all this talk of Cultural awakenings and a Neo-Rennaisance. He was content to be a Nuisance to others and having them be a nuisance to him.

But to others, this was not a new Golden Age. To some people, the tour was no Nuisance; it was an insult to a culture that had existed for many, many years before Humankind finally realized it was right under their nose. There were groups that found it utterly insufferable that Mankind thought that the fact it had accepted an entire plethora of Species – all with their own manners, climates, councils and governments – as a subset of their own was something that signified a wonderful notion of what was to come.

There were those who had preferred to be separate because they knew being unified meant being absorbed. Those people believed that it was time that things go back to the way they were, symbolically if not literally. They believed that it was time that they send the humans a message. They believed that this marking of the New Awakening was going to mark something very different. The Supernatural Tour of Pete Vincent would start with something of a bang.

--

It was a remarkably selfless thing for him to have done. It was almost overboard. But unfortunately, when it came down to the basics, he said it best himself. He did it because he wanted to be liked.

Vampires don't do well in Churches. Torval Langston went to confession after a century and a half of murder. There were unpleasant Results.

For so Tragically narcissistic of a Man, losing your looks was not something that would be easy to deal with. He didn't look that bad – badly burned skin gains a somewhat milky, difficult to get a handle on texture. Wrinkled? Yes. Floppy? A tiny bit. But not utterly hideous. Besides, Thoreau had pulled it off. Maybe Torval could too.

And if not, there were amulets for that.

He rubbed his face obsessively as he made his way up the hill, the winding path snaking past increasingly large mansions. He'd finally got his memory back after the injury, and had been staying with his friend Marti until he remembered where he actually lived. The Sun had set just as he left the Warehouse, but by now it was nearly Nine, the long walk taking up his time. He wanted to reach the House before Nina went to bed – it had been about a week, and he wanted to at least let them know he was okay. I mean, disappearing into the night to go someplace he could very well die at was never a good way to part for an unknown amount of time.

He reached the door, and before he knocked, decided he'd open by saying who he was. The roots of his Bright Red hair were becoming somewhat noticeable already, but he didn't look like Torval Langston anymore. Besides, he didn't have the time to stumble through confused stares and questioning glances. It was Cindy who opened the door, setting Torval a bit off balance from the start. She had been crying, he could tell. He wanted to do something, but was afraid he'd make it worse.

And there it was – what he'd wanted to avoid. A Stammering look of confusion. "Uh... can I help you-"

"It's Me, Torval." He explained quickly, getting an even more shocked look from the young woman.

"I-..." She was having trouble connecting him to the man she knew, Torval could tell. What he didn't know was that Cindy was trying to connect his face to the slightly younger one that had loved a girl named Eve, a younger man that she had spent the better part of last night and today being told about by the least rightful of her fathers. "Mom!" She called quickly, shuffling off. He had looked so sad. She didn't have it in her to hate him after all of that. She was almost glad he was okay.

Nina arrived seconds later, turning the Corner and stopping at the sight, an arm coming to rest on the edge of the door. "...Torval?" She asked. Of course, of all the people in that house, she would be the only one to recognize him. He took a weak step forward, still a little woozy from the revelations he'd come to today. He half walked, half fell into her embrace, wanting more than anything to be able to fall asleep.

"Oh God- Torval... thank God, thank god..." She said, hushed, pressed up against him. "Thank God you're alright. Father Markus told us about how you were taken to the Hospital..." She said in whispery tones. "You were gone when we arrived... Nobody knew where you were..."

"M-marti." He said, trying to will himself out of the weariness that gripped his muscles, "I was with Marti."

"She said she didn't know where you were..." Nina said, confused.

Torval blinked, too tired to understand, to wonder why. Distantly, he knew that it meant she had actually wanted him there. She'd Wanted him there. She'd wanted him...

He fell asleep in her arms.

Things were better for Torval the Next Day. He hadn't been able to cope with suddenly remembering everything, more than he'd remembered in all the long years before. He remembered his brother; he remembered the War. He remembered Eve, and all the long nights in Still Falls. He hadn't remembered any of those things since his imprisonment by Quin and the Mother. He hadn't thought of it in years.

"Fuck." He said to nobody in particular.

He was lying on the couch, the midday sun peeking in through the blinds. He felt warm – they must have given him Lot 196.Why would they do that?He wondered, sitting up and wiping the sleep from his eyes. If they had made him human for the day, there had to be a reason – L196 wasn't very cheap. Maybe they didn't want him in the basement – bad memories and all. Better he sleep upstairs, where people were alive. The Living room was empty, but there were others next door, in the kitchen. Women – though his hearing was stunted severely, he could still tell. It was music to him.

Music! The Concert! With a sardonic grin, he looked back on the last week and, in his mind, put a big fucking check on 'Victoria' in his 'People to Make Up for Shit For' list. One down, Two (or however many) to go. God dammit.

He stood up, stretching his stiff human limbs and looking around at the bookshelves, clocks and pictures around the room. He'd never taken the time to just stand and look before, but he felt compelled to do so. He realized it was just like in the Grove of his Lovers, when he could hear the Singing of his Three Muses from afar, and did not dare come to close, for fear they would stop. The women in the other room didn't know he was up, and he just wanted to hear them talk. He didn't care what they were saying, all that mattered is that they were saying something.

That they were here, on earth again.

Garrus isn't.

Torval snapped out of it, slowly making his way across the room and stopping in the doorway, leaning against the doorjamb.

Garrus isn't.

Nina was washing the Dishes, and Alex, Blake and Sonya were helping. He blinked, bringing a weary hand up to rustle his hair, knowing full well he'd have to do something about it. Nina turned, again knowing when someone was watching as surely as she knew it had been him on their doorstep. She blinked, visibly brightening as she saw him. "Torval..." She smiled, and walked over and hugged him with her arms, keeping her wet, soapy hands away from his soft shirt. "You've probably got some questions."

He blinked, thinking for a brief moment. "Only one, actually..." He said, glancing over at the others. "Alex..."

Garrus isn't.

She turned, the soft, unnatural whiteness of her skin looking like it could come off her any second, and Torval felt a ball wrap in his stomach at the visceral Horror of Her. She was dead, in front of him, and her body showed it. She was blue in far too many places. He wanted to cry and puke and make it all better, but knew he couldn't do any of these things.

She walked over languidly, the others turning aside and giving them privacy. Torval took a step back, realizing that he probably caused the same reaction in her – God, he looked so bad, didn't he? He was struck by a dizzying wave of self consciousness, totally uncomfortable in his own skin for the first time in centuries. He looked away. He didn't want to see her do the same.

She didn't. She met his gaze until he avoided hers, then tried to reclaim it again. He finally met her eyes, still feeling totally out of his comfort zone – 'comfort zone' apparently being a place that no longer existed. But if it takes being exceptionally attractive and powerful to feel like you're where you belong, then you might want to work on your self image – or spend less time working on it. "My Question... uh..." He cleared his throat, finding this simple task unbelievably hard.

"I remember the Question." Alex made it simple, bringing up a hand without fingernails (Oh Dear God), and Torval had to push down that raw, animal horror again, but failed. Surprisingly enough, when she placed her smooth, lineless palm on his cheek, that gut disgust disappeared entirely. He could barely take the time to ruminate on how strange it was that a person could be so enchanting and so disgusting at the same time before she absorbed him into her beautiful eyes. "I want nothing in the world more than to come with you to a rock concert." He'd never seen a cuter smirk in his life.

Said Rocker really needed a drink.

God damn it, it was so bright out. This was like fucking Chrysopylae hot. They seemed to be under a Cinema City Sun. He didn't remember it ever being this fucking bright in Tijuana or Barcelona or whereverthefuck-

It was too hot to think. He was sick and hung over and tired and he really really really needed a drink.

"Damn, can werewolves party." He remarked to his bodyguard. The man did not laugh or smile. He wasn't paid to.

Comparatively, the Warehouse was heaven. He was tempted to say that, regardless of the circumstances, the Warehouse was heaven [PERIOD], but didn't have the mental capability to do so at this juncture. The best he could to was say that the darkness and the air conditioned spaciousness of this gorgeous old broad was nothing less than paradise for his old bones. The place was damn near empty – 12 Noon can do that to a nightspot – but Harvey still stood at his post, welcoming and friendly as ever.

"Mr. Vincent!" The Bartender was, oddly enough, truly glad to see the source of so much of his misery. The man was a Legend, after all. Logistical trouble can not hold a candle against being a rock God, and a pretty cool dude to boot.

"Harvey." Pete Vincent said fondly, walking up to the bar and somehow managing a Bro-Hug from across the large obstruction. "Thank God you're holding the fort my good friend, because let me tell you-" He lowered his Sunglasses, "Do I need a drink."

"Bourbon on the Rocks with a Vodka Chaser." he said, "Coming right up."

They were peas in a pod, they was. Two friends star-matched if ever there were. One provided Liquor and fond friendliness, the other provided a very charming personality and a mouth of the liquor to go into. Damn they were a pair. Only one Problem.

Pete looked over Emphatically at his bodyguard, who stood facing away with his hands crossed behind his back. The man was large, had a shaved head, and was wearing a suit. He was, simply put, a walking cliche. And he was standing way too close.

"Back off, Charlie." Pete said, knowing full well that the man's name was, in fact, not Charlie. The bodyguard took two steps to the side and looked away. He was one of the Enemy's frontline Soldiers. He was a PR/Management Goon, shameless and without tact. The Rocker removed his sunglasses entirely, his wide array of armbands and bracelets clinking against the counter as he turned to face the Bodyguard head on.

"Alright, man. You gotta understand that we're in the middle of an Empty fucking Nightclub at 12 Pm, yeah?" He paused, waiting for a response. None came – he wasn't paid to respond. "So guess what, there's no major threats to my ability to play the fucking guitar in here and make money for your corporate slave masters, so you stand outside and look useful while I get a Drink, yeah?" He turned back to the counter, putting his sunglasses back on. Another win for team free spirit.

He turned back to the bar and knocked back the first drink, gasping at the sharpness and inhaling pleasantly. Suddenly, the Hangover and the Sticky, hot day outside were things of the past. "Harvey..." He said fondly, "Let's talk."

--

Torval was in for a Surprise. Yes, he'd received a sizable one already; Namely Marti's second lie of omission, that nobody came to ask for him. At the moment, he was out for retribution, or at least a little clarification. Mostly, he was confused by the perplexing situation. But the last thing he expected, on his way to ask dear Marti a handful a questions, was that his trajectory would put him and his undead companion Alex on a Collision course with Pete Vincent. THE Pete Vincent.

But first, there was a bouncer to get past.

A Big, burly mountain of a man that reminded Torval vaguely of someone he knew briefly. He had a smooth, hairless head, a clean pressed suit, and basically looked like a Shaved Gorilla in Armani. He was quite imposing, and today Torval happened to be Human. It was time to employ his Guile.

Then, Torval remembered his guile was mostly dependent on hypnosis.

"Alex, can you handle him?" He turned to his zombie friend.

She glanced over at the Human Vampire, then back at the Bodyguard. "Yeah, sure..." After all, Torval was technically a wanted criminal, and there was no telling who this guy was. She shifted on her feet, walking up to the man, glancing inside. He was standing directly in front of the door, clearly blocking the entrance, and he did not look friendly. She cleared her throat, "Excuse me... we need to see Marti, she lives here..." she said, looking past him, through the door and into the warehouse.

The man did not respond at first, and in fact waited so long to do so that Alex began to wonder if he'd even heard her. But at last, he blinked in recognition, tilting his head slightly in annoyance. "It's... /Twelve PM in a Nightclub." He replied to her sourly, "Nobody's inside."

Torval sighed, turning aside and shaking his head. This was ridiculous, they shouldn't have to put up with this kind of bullshit. This was Marti's fucking house, after all. If he wasn't working for her, then he had no right. He looked down at his pink fingers, scowling with far too much anger. Why couldn't he be a Vampire? Why did they have to give him the Temporary Cure for the day? So he could sleep in the Damn living room? So he didn't wallow in the basement? If he had been at 100 percent, he could have just walked right past him, asshole be damned. God, he wanted to be a Vampire. He wanted to be Torval again.

Garrus isn't-

Christ, he hadn't been Torval in so long. He'd been Torval Lite; Torval with Zero fucking Calories. Torval with no balls. Why did he have to be a part of their little society?The things I do for love.

"Look..." Alex said, clearly echoing Torval's feelings of Annoyance, "Buddy. Our friend Marti lives in there. This is her place. You need to let us through."

"No callers." The man replied flatly, putting on sunglasses to imply he wouldn't be looking at her anymore.

"Fucking-..." Torval said in annoyance, walking in the direction of the door. "Hey Marti!" He shouted past the bodyguard, into the Warehouse. "Marti, come vouch for us!" He sighed in annoyance, waiting. "Harvey!" He tried after a moment.

There was a brief pause, then from the darkness inside - "Hey-what the fuck are you doing? You God damn Monkey, let them in!" Said monkey gave the other two an impetuous stare from behind his glasses and stepped to the side. He wasn't paid for this.

--

"Didn't sound like you, Harvey." Torval said as he walked up to the bar, Alex in tow. "Or Marti." the door swung shut behind them, their eyes slowly adjusting to the Dimness. Not as well as Torval was used to, but hey, beggars and choosers. Spotting Pete Vincent at the Bar, Torval cocked an eyebrow, pulling up a stool and looking at the Bartender. "What is this, a Private party-"

It was Pete Vincent. HolyShit, it was Pete Vincent!

"Something like that." Harvey smiled. "Beer on Tap?" He asked. For a moment, Torval was too stunned to answer.

"Two." Alex chimed in, looking over the Vampire's shoulder. She wrapped a Clammy hand past him to shake Mr. Vincent's. "Huge Fan, both of us. I've always loved your music. 'One Way' is number two on my list of best Albums ever, actually."

"Fuck, what's number one?" Pete asked, smiling mischievously.

"Led Zep Four." She replied. "Sorry." She took a sip of the Beer Harvey had just poured for her.

"At least you didn't say Dark side of the Moon." Pete Vincent sighed, chuckling and turning back to the Bar. "Well, Number 2. I was so close to satisfying my desire to be loved. Oh well, I guess I'll keep having to make music." He muttered weirdly to himself.

Torval was still stuck on the thought 'IT'S PETE FUCKING VINCENT'.

"Where's Marti?" Alex asked Harvey.

"Aw, she should be up soon." Harvey began waxing the counter – classic Bartender Move. "Surprised to see Mr. Valentine back so soon; not that surprised, though. I'm sure he has some questions."

"I'm a Bassist." Torval spit out at last. To Pete Vincent. How Many Albums of his had he had? Probably only just less than the Who. He'd listened to his Music while looming in his mansion. He'd listened to his music while he killed girls! This was insane.

"What, like, 'I can play a few Chords', or like, 'I play as a Parlor Trick', or... 'I Practice every night'." The rocker replied, knocking back his drink. Torval took that as a cue to drink from his beer. God, It tasted good – he hadn't tasted Beer as a Human for a long time. As a Vampire, it would get you drunk, but it wasn't the same.

"Yeah, I practice all the time." He replied, exhaling and glancing over. "I played in a band here all the time, but I... uh, went away for a while and they had to replace me." he explained.

Harvey nodded in agreement, "One of the Best Bands we had here. He was a real hit."

"Well, you'll have to play for me sometime." Pete Vincent said, eyes back front again. "You're coming to the Concert tomorrow?" He asked.

"Yeah, we both are." Alex replied. Torval had zoned out again at the idea of playing for Pete Vincent. She was pretty calm comparatively, but being dead has that effect on you. "We're very excited about it."

"Well you can play for me after, Mr. Valentine. At the moment I find myself Bereft of a Bass guitar." Pete said, taking another drink.

"That would be... incredible." Torval said, trying not to sound like a raving fan. "Yeah, absolutely. I'd love to. It's, uh, Torval, by the way."

"Pete Vincent." He shook Torval's hand. "you may have heard my records."

Alex smiled, laughing a little. "And I'm Alex. Alexis, not Alexandra." They nodded to each other with foppish politeness, and they settled into a brief, comfortable silence. Pete Vincent Knocked back another Drink.

"Sorry, I have to ask... what's up with the Goon?" Harvey said, pouring another glass.

Pete glanced back out the door and chuckled, swaying slightly to glance at the others. "Right, you gotta hear this. The ridiculous suits and Businessmen up in their glass towers are so afraid of this city they hired that brute to follow me around. Christ, they always wanted someone to keep an eye on me, but it's not legal, yeah? Unless of course it's for 'my Protection'. But what the hell would that guy be able to do to stop a... Rampaging... whatever? Vampire, Superhuman, Yeti, you know? Basically just spitting in the wind."

Torval blinked, looking at him, "They expect trouble?"

"Well, who doesn't here? Whole world thinks coming here is akin to... vacationing in Columbia or Thailand or whatever. You know, the places where people disappear. Like it's not even a real city." He shook his head, sighing, "You and I, we here, know different. No, no... Rome condemned the Christians that they someday would be run by. And Leonardo da Vinci was run out of several Cities in Italy. The Russian Aristocracy despised the Communists that would define their nation for a Hundred Years, and Europeans, that would someday Modernize Japan, were kicked off the Island or just plain killed when they first arrived. We always hate the people who replace us."

Torval paused solemnly, his brow furrowed. For some reason, that filled him with dread.

"Well, It's a Pleasure." Alex said, "But we absolutely must speak with Marti."

"Chicks with guy's names." Pete Vincent said reflectively, "Gotta love 'em." That must have been his way of saying goodbye.

Sam Osbourn hated School City. It was a small City on a spit of land on the Ohio river that had a very high opinion of itself. It was full of people that either made his Job impossible, or tried to do his Job For him. It was cold there a lot, and he hated the cold. Some of the worst murders of his Career were there, and the Superhuman underground was pretty much impossible to get answers out of. But the worst part was the way everyone saw him there. It was like it was School City against the Government, and he was their first wave, their Blitzkrieg.

And God, did it rain...

Everywhere rained. It seemed that every city he went to, he arrived in the rain, and left in the rain. He'd have drank his weight in Coffee by the time he was done, just to stay warm. He'd have to pack umbrellas and jackets and extra changes of clothes... And he had no balance on Mud.

It was raining when his Airplane touched down. It was a medium sized plane, one Aisle with two chairs on each side, and he felt sick and cramped the whole way over, Whatever energy Flying didn't take out of him, the rain would. As he stepped out, he glanced up, his sallow skin looking even more pale than usual in the dim lighting. He brought up an umbrella, walking down the handful of stairs from the Airplane door, starting the long walk across the Tarmac.

It's funny how what a person brings on the plane and what a person checks in can say so much about them. A computer, a CD Player, Heart Medication... Only so much would fit in a Carry on. A Mother would bring a bag full of Diapers, wet wipes and toys, bringing nothing for herself, even on the longest of flights. A Businessman brought his iPad, his blackberry, his laptop, his bluetooth earbud. A Teenager brought her Cellphone, magazines, make up, and maybe a video game. It's weird what people think they simply can't do without for a set amount of Hours.

As a Federal agent, Osbourn was legally allowed to bring his Firearm aboard the Plane. He had checked it at the Airport in Capitol City. Along with it, he checked his Laptop, his clothes, his books and his sundries. Out of all of his Possessions, Osbourn only brought three things onto the plane – His Pills, an Umbrella, and his Goggles.

In the Taxi, on his way to the School City Police Department, He looked briefly out the window at the rain before absconding to a more Perfect World. He slipped his goggles over his head, and suddenly, he was in Venice. He was sitting in the middle of the Grand Canal, floating over the water like Jesus of Nazareth.

Here, he could think.

The U.S. Marshal's Office had called him in on this particular Matter. It fell under his purview – no confirmed murders had been committed by the person in question, but his job was to create profiles, not just catch killers. His degree is psychology had to be good for something. In this world, he could make the connections; He could link the people who it could be with the identity that the person had to have. He could find a Killer with no witnesses, and more importantly, absolutely no physical evidence. He could save lives.

He'd have to start somewhere. The threats had been made by someone with resources, someone intelligent but not educated, someone with a lot of time on their hands, and someone who likely wasn't acting alone. They were serious, and they were making threats not because they wanted to be feared, but because they wanted attention when they Did what they claimed – meaning they weren't afraid that the authorities could stop them. They were driven by Ideals. And they were going to kill him.

Osbourn had to act fast – All told, he has less than 48 hours. The Threats said it would happen tomorrow Night. The Threats said there was nothing they could do to stop it. The threats said that they would regret all the evil things they had done.

They were Threats on Pete Vincent's life.

--

"I'm not going to Heaven, Torval."

Alex said it out of the blue, as they had been walking towards the stairway in silence. She said it in a quiet, conciliatory tone, but not one that left room for interpretation or argument. She was Resolute, Adamant – but gentle nonetheless. It would not be easy for him to accept.

"But... I-"

"I know everything you're going to say, Torval. I meant what I said before; that there really never was an Us. And I wish there could have been. But I died. There was no way around that."

"But aren't you still-"

"Am I? I'm here. You bought this, you brought me here. So I could live again. Torval, I belong here. I don't belong in heaven or Hell. I'msupposedto be alive, don't you understand?" she shook her head, sighing, "It took me a while to realize it, but... This is what I'm meant to be. Not floating forever in some paradise. That's not me, Torval. Maybe it'll have to be someday, but not now. I'm more alive now than before, and than I was as a Vampire. I'm not trading that In for anything."

Torval looked down, "But... I have to do this. It's not-"

"Not-... your decision to make." she finished his sentence, gentle as ever. She smiled softly, and turned, walking on and heading down the stairs. Torval frowned, looking down. He was in turmoil again, not sure where he was going or what he was doing. He owed them. This was something he Had to do – he HAD to do. It wasn't fair; how could she just ignore him like that? Totally ignore his wishes? How could he go on? What would he do?

He exhaled weakly, following her down the stairs. Alex had rounded the corner and knocked on the door, soft flesh tearing slightly at the forceful rapping. Her knuckles were dotted with scrapes all of the sudden, and she looked at them distastefully.

"This is 'Alive' for you?" Torval asked, sidling up alongside her. She turned defiantly.

"Oh, Hush."

The Door swung upon, and there Marti was – Bed head, long ratty T-shirt, boxer shorts and all. "Dude..." She exhaled, rubbing her eyes.

"We've got to talk, Marti." Torval said with a sigh. He glanced at Alex, silently asking for privacy. She nodded, stepping back, heading up the stairs.

--

Marti walked towards the kitchen, going straight for the Coffee Pot. Torval shut the door behind him, still feeling an unpleasant stiffness in his muscles. It was amazing how quickly things changed. He had finally settled into viewing this place as a sort of Home, and now all of the sudden he was a guest again. He didn't know whether to collapse into the Couch and kick back, or tentatively lean against the wall and wait to be invited all the way in.

He settled for a Happy Medium, gently setting himself down on the edge of a Recliner, sitting forward, hands crossed in front of himself. "Morning, Bro." Marti said from the other room. She glanced at him from over the counter, pouring the hot black liquid into a Cup, yawning.

"It's actually about 12 Noon." Torval said quietly, glancing around the apartment. Not much had really changed.

"Uhh? Oh yeah?" Marti mumbled. "Guess that makes this a special occasion. Daytime journey and all." She waved an arm in his general direction. She grabbed some cream, pouring a weirdly large amount into the coffee, combined with a single spoon of Sugar. She sidled over, plopping onto the Couch he considered doing the same to with a grunt. "Help yourself to some Coffee." She said.

"You lied to me." Torval said, getting right into the thick of it.

Marti blinked, looking off balance. "DuhhI didn't... uh... huh?" She glanced at him.

"The whole time, you acted like you... had absolutely no desire to be around me. You seemed like you hated me. Like you thought I was annoying. I mean-"

Marti snorted in derision, taking a sip. "That makes me a liar. Huh? That makes me a Liar? Did I ever say I didn't want you around? Did I ever- God Dammit, Torval!" She sighed, shaking her head and leaning back. She's picked up the conversation so quickly – how did she get on the ball like that? "You got bad vibes or some shit and then took that as Gospel? I Said Repeatedly that I wanted you here! Jesus Christ, you're so dense!" It was as if she'd suddenly snapped to absolute Clarity, then realized exactly what he was talking about and exactly how the Conversation would go. Realizing that, it seemed she had decided just to skip right through it, speeding through only the highlights. "You don't even know. You just think I didn't like you, and assumed that was exactly what things were. Fuck. You know nothing about Women, Torval Langston." She stood up, quickly walking back into the kitchen, exhaling.

Now it was Torval's turn to be Confused. "I... what?"

"You've honestly got no clue how anyone but you works, do you? You just made dumb assumptions based on the few things you notice, then accept them as pure fact. Even if you are unable to accurately notice what people think, could it hurt to ask?"

Torval blinked, trying to catch up, "Ask, Ask you what you're thinking?" He frowned, "Well, What Are you thinking, then? What Were you thinking?"

"They Don't Appreciate you! Don't you see that?!" Marti snapped, turning to look at him. "They've Tamed you, Torval! You're Not even Half the man you were before." She turned, suddenly feeling very sick of herself. "I need to lie down. Show yourself out."

Torval blinked, looking down and trying to figure out what the hell just happened. "Uh.... Huh?"

--

It was a very Modern looking building. This surprised Osbourn. Usually, in Big cities, Police stations generally are placed in old, stone buildings. It evoked a spirit of Power, undisputed, uncontested age-old power that had been and always will be. Modern buildings implied Progress, which Police forces always tried to avoid. If things changed, then things were not as impermeable as they liked to believe. Progress suggested that things could be altered, meaning things could end. Stone was much more eternal looking. If there's one thing Cops never want to imagine, it's that they are as mercurial as the Criminals they fight.

Osbourn didn't know, of course, that the building was new because the old one had burned down. Twice.

The Taxi came to a stop and the Agent paid the Driver, slipping the Goggles back into his pocket. He pulled himself out of the car, sighing and looking up at the Station. It had stopped raining; that was a good sign. Less annoying for him, at least. He started his way inside the building, crossing a freshly-painted yellow crosswalk and going past a purely ornamental White Four-foot-tall Sphere on the Sidewalk, one of three that all told probably cost the Department of Commerce around 26 Thousand dollars.

Governments are weird. What more could be said?

He crossed a very stylish looking lobby with a map of the city etched into the tiles on the floor, and approached the Receptionist's desk with a sigh. Ikea style furniture, light wood counter-top slightly removed from the body of the desk. He wished he could stop noticing these things.

"Hello, may I help you?" The Desk Officer asked.

"Uh... Ah'm Agent Samyell Ahsbourn, F-B-I. I'm lookin for a Detective Carla Valenti."

"Over Here." Sam glanced over his shoulder at the source of the voice. There she was – a relatively young Woman, sitting on one of the sofas in the waiting area. "Waiting for you." Carla said, standing up and straightening her sweater. She put an arm forward, shaking the dour Agent's hand with hers. "I've heard a lot of good things about you."

"Likewise." Osbourn said, glancing around, "Should we get stahted?" He asked quickly, nodding to her.

"Of Course." She nodded back, and turned, leading the way.

They walked together through the Staff Entrance to the building proper, bypassing the Metal Detector and flashing their badges silently. As they headed down the hall, Carla addressed Osbourn. "So the Marshals decided to bring you in on this... do they do that a lot?" she asked casually.

"Uh... naht that ahften. Ordinarily I have my own Caseload to worreh about. Prahbly a cakewalk compared to what you deal with." He said.

Carla glanced back, shrugging. "Oh, it's not so bad..." She smirked, "You get the support of the people if you work here long enough. As long as you love sleepless nights... it's the right place."

"Ah'm familyuh." He sighed, glancing around awkwardly. He wasn't exactly comfortable. "All the cases I've worked heeh have been... pretty aehful. Some Dahk stuff." The Detective he was intentionally walking several safe feet of buffer zone away from frowned instinctively.

"Maybe." she said.

His Job really started at the Briefing. The Captain and a Handful of Officers (Including Valenti and Miles) were all there to listen to what he had to say. His expert opinion – basically what they paid him to offer – had been given all of Last night and this morning to come to a consensus. He'd had a chance to look at the files and spent some time using I.A.A.; To say he was nervous would be an understatement.

"Ahright, I don't like goin' to these things Eitheh, so Ah'll keep it short." Osbourn said, setting down his goggles and putting them into Projector mode. Not the most useful application, but it sure beats PowerPoint. "The Three Lettehs we received, each within a week of each othuh, were mailed in that order in that time frame specifically. They are very well composed and use no uncehten terms. This is the work of a Professional." He brought up the images of the Three Letters.

"The Impahtant thing to take from this is that the people who wrote these lettehs have AHbsuhlootly no fear and no selfish motivation. The main goal of the aggresah is to send across a message. This is a message they will gladly die to delivuh, and they ah actually activeleh trying to increase the awareness of their planned criminal act."

He pointed to the Projection, "Look – heeh he says, 'You can try to stahp us, but you will fail. This is an outcome that cannaht be avoided'. Also, not the frequent usage of 'We' and 'Us', but the Occasional use of 'I'. This suggest the writeh is acting within an Agency, but of his own Volition. The Writeh is the Leadeh of the Group, naht a Fall guy." He turned, gesturing to hammer things home, "These people are Blind Idealists, Insurgents tryin' to change the world. To them, the Tour is an insult. This suggests that the Groups ah eitheh Human Supremacists, or Superhuman Supremacists." he looked around the room, "Let's Staht with them."

Finally, he brought up the image of a Map. "We've Received infehmation from the Postal Sehvice that the Lettehs couldn't'a been sent from ehnehwhere outside of this Area-" A circle appeared, generally covering a 50 mile Radius with School City in the middle, all inside Iroquois. "It's equally likely it was sent somewheh north of the Ohiuh riveh." He explained, "But naht Cehtain. We can assume the Group is centered somewhere in this location. That narrows it down slightleh."

Carla leaned back thoughtfully, arms crossed. "It could be the Remnants of Nightfang, the Vampire Separatist Group." She suggested. "Or One Earth, One History, that Human group that Senator Yates was tied to. The one accused of Terrorist actions." she glanced over, "Tyler, does your team know of any other groups?

"Well... there's always the Iroquois Brotherhood. They're big on Supers staying underground..." He replied, pausing. "Hell, it could even be the Mother Cult. Haven't heard of them in a while, but they're still around."

Osbourn nodded, "As Lahng as theyuh Fairly organized, Based out of this area and Opposed to Positive relations between... differently powered individuals, let's say... then they're ahn our list. Ah'll compile a full one by this evenin'."

The Captain nodded. "Alright people, we're short on time. Keep up the good work."

The Various Law Enforcement members filtered out of room,and Osbourn sighed, collecting himself and picking up the goggles. He obsessively put them in his coat pocket, feeling all the better when they were safe. Where they belonged.

"Whatarethose?" Carla asked, still sitting in the back of the room, arms crossed. For whatever reason, she was suspicious. It was easy to see.

Osbourn glanced over, surprised. He frowned, rubbing his neck, "Ah... Just... an Aid." He said, pausing before walking out of the room stiffly. Carla watched him go silently, troubled by his presence but not knowing why. There was something about that guy, something wrong with him. Something that reminded her of herself.

"Who the hell are you, Sam Osbourn...?"

--

Torval had Trust Issues. Not the least understandable thing for a Recluse Vampire who'd lived for a decade and a Half. But no matter how hard he tried and no matter how much he loved the woman behind him, he just couldn't feel comfortable sitting under her Scissors.

"I've done this dozens of times." Nina explained, clipping away the stringy brown hair, the bad dye Job fading into history. "I..." Snip, "Personally cut Phineas' hair until he was 14, and Cindy's until she was 12. I... am a Pro, Mr. Langston."

He would have a very short cut, shorter than he'd had in years. It would end up looking like a Caesar Cut – the best of his few options. It would be red, and he'd feel that much more like Torval. But he still didn't feel too happy about it. She snipped again, a curl of brown twinged with red falling in his lap. "This sucks." He felt compelled to say.

"Could be Worse." Nina said, smiling.

"Really? Exactly how?"

She shrugged, "You could have gone bald in your late forties."

About 30 minutes later, he was stepping out of the shower. The obnoxious, itchy hairs that would have meant nothing to a Vampire had been driving him mad, and now he could finally relax. He could finally look in the Mirror and See himself – his hair, his face, the whole thing. The hair wasn't bad – not him, but not bad. It was jaunty, jagged and stylish, but he felt weird without a few winding strands falling into his face. He liked wearing his hair long; it made him feel young, powerful and attractive. Now, he felt too close-cut, like a businessman who'd had a wild night that ended in a weird Dye job. Nevertheless, it was good to be a redhead again.

His face, unfortunately, put him in a significantly more foul mood. God, his skin had been so smooth, so tight. So utterly perfect, without ever having to be looked after. Now, it looked like he'd been lying face down on a felt pillow for too long, it's impression now etched into his face. He looked like someone had stretched his skin out a bit, then shrank it back down – poorly. Damn, he looked old. Weak and sick and Old. He'd draw stares. He'd have to do something about this.

Just as he wrapped a towel around his midsection, he heard a knock on the door. He cleared his throat, trying to find his voice again – it was still a little raspy, but was actually getting better. "Yeah?" He asked, voice craggy as it escaped his throat.

"...It is Victoria." Came the voice. Torval blinked, looking down. His current state of Dress might do for Alex or Vittoria, maybe even Nina, but not her. He turned quickly, frowning.

"I'll be out in a minute..."

Faintly, he heard her shy Reply, "Very well..."

A Handful of minutes later, Torval met Victoria in the Hallway, combing his hair with his hands, trying to get a handle on the still slightly damp mess. There seemed to be nothing to grab. The woman nearby was clothed in a remarkably heavy dress, but it was fitting on her. She looked down, feeling uncomfortable and overexposed. She didn't like his gaze, mostly because of how much she missed it.

"I just... wanted to take a moment to speak with you. I know you have gone through a great deal of pain and trouble..." she explained softly, and slowly. "But I do not think we should part without me telling you how Proud of you I am." She nodded weakly.

"I... Proud?" Torval asked, blinking.

"Yes. You did what was right, because it was right. No matter what evils you have done over the course of your life, they are all washed away. You are without sin again. You are free." She said. "It took a great deal of courage to face your past and allow yourself to be absolved by God."

Torbal blinked weakly, nodding. "Well, if I can't Trust him..."

Garrus isn't-

"I Thank you. Thank you for everything, Torval." Victoria nodded, looking down. "I have lived too long. I believe I am going to be called soon."

Torval nodded, "Thanks, Victoria... We'll all miss you."

The night finally came. It was a big, big night and all the right papers had been signed. The PR and Management types in their suits pouted in their corner, not-so-privately having wanted this Concert to never have occurred. Pete Vincent was going to play again. God Damn, it was a good night.

It was also very popular with the townsfolk. It was on a first-come, first-serve basis – no tickets were being sold whatsoever. This particular concert was entirely free. They didn't want lines around the block for weeks ahead, so nobody that was there before Six would be admitted at all. Harvey braced himself for pure, unadulterated Madness. Shit was about to get wild. Thankfully for him, there was a large amount of Police officers and Bouncers there. Death Threats had been issued against the Main attraction, and they were not about to watch Pete Vincent get kidnapped right off the Stage.

Osbourn for one was particularly troubled. They'd been able to narrow the search down to only a couple of groups, But they hadn't been able to make any headway beyond that. At this point, they were mostly in the dark, having run out of time. All they could do was try to stop them – something the letters said they would be unable to do.

"Gahd damn..." Osbourn whispered to himself.

"Sorry?" Carla asked. She was sitting next to him, in her car. They were outside the warehouse, where they would coordinate things until the concert began. They were waiting for something – anything – to happen. That was all their job came down to at this point. She was looking directly at him, and he was looking away. It was how it always seemed to go.

"Just... seems like weeh useless at this point." He said with a sigh. He glanced down at his palms in his hand, exhaling. "This whole Gahd-damn situation... we know what to expect, to ahn extent, but... we can't do ehnethin about it."

"Seems like it always comes down to that." Carla remarked reflectively, glancing out the windshield at the people entering the Warehouse. "It's us that are always the ones racing against the clock, guessing and hoping and making bets... Seems like the Bad guys are never fighting the odds." She quipped. Osbourn nodded, considering that inwardly.

"Hell, that's all we can do. They have ahluvtha facts we need. Theh the ones with initiative."

Carla frowned, looking down. What had he meant by that? Is that really how it was? In the back of her mind, she knew he was kind of right – the Police were a purely Reactionary force. They Receive Threats and they Act; They find a body and they act; they get a tip and they act. A Riot starts and they put it down. A Driver runs a Red light and they give him a ticket. They never actually act on their own, never take their own steps. Could it be? Were the Criminals the only ones who did what they wanted? Knew what they wanted and seized their desires? What if She was so good at this because she never had to make the first move?

She never did, after all. When did she? It was like she never could see what she wanted and act on it. Had she ever, in all of her life? Looking back, she couldn't think of a single time she had. It was like she didn't know herself – or didn't want to. She turned to look over at Osbourn, frowning. He had his little 'Aid' on. He was miles away. He'd forgotten she was here.

"Is that True, Agent?" She asked. "Do we lack initiative?"

He didn't hear her.

--

Front Row Center – he couldn't believe it. Going to chat with Marti that (deeply confusing) day had been one of the best decisions of his life. Torval, dressed in the coolest clothes he'd found himself in for months, and Alex, wearing a short, Dark blue dress, were right in front of the Stage. The band, the lights, the theatrics... this was going to be an incredible, memorable experience. The crowd was tense, practically on the edges of their non-existent seats, waiting for this landmark of a concert to begin at last.

Next to her, Torval couldn't help but ask Alex a question. "Why won't you let me convince you?" He asked her, concern evident in his voice. He just wanted to fix things with her – make things the way they should be.

"I-..." She chuckled, glancing over at him. "Do we have to do this now?"

Torval nodded, "Sorry, but... It's bothering me. Please. I need to make things right by you."

"Torval..." She said, looking at him, "You never did wrong by me." He looked at her, Perplexed. "And now you've taken me here. No matter what you say or think, you don't owe me anything... okay?"

The Vampire was about to answer when the Crowd's Energy let up like an Atomic bomb. Pete Vincent was out, on stage, holding his Guitar like a symbol, like a weapon. The time was finally here. The second he was out, things began to go far too fast, and there was nothing anyone could do but get totally wrapped up in the Music. It was stunning – he was as good as ever. And Damn was he into it.

It seemed to go on and on, but pass in the blink of an eye at the same time. Classics, originals, Covers (even a Quick little spiel of Sweet Child of Mine that found Torval and Alex slow-dancing to it.) And then, the final song came up, his most popular. It was his Freebird, his American Pie, his Stairway to Heaven. He almost never played it. And now, he was. It was just him, alone with an accoustic guitar, strumming along solemnly and singing defiantly out into the crowd, into the night. If he was to have a swan song, it would certainly be this.

I was heading the wrong way down a one way street.

Every gust of wind that hit me seemed to knock me off my feet

I remember the words my momma said when I was young

She said, 'Son, Stay on the right path, satan's gonna bite you if you get off track'

His strumming rolled to a climax as he reached the Chorus, the crowd utterly spellbound.

She said 'Slow down, take a look around...'

He repeated the words again, then hummed the tune along, completely wrapped up in the rhythmic jaunt of the Guitar Strings and their reverberations. He could feel the sound waves in his chest, feel the echos on his skin. The Warehouse was alive. Leaning against the far wall, Harvey took a sip of the beer, nobody needing to be served. "Well what the hell do you know." He murmured quietly to himself.

Outside, a very different scene was unfolding. Carla's Walkie-Talkie squawked, chirping up. "Got a group in back. Suspicious looking. Please Advise."

Carla sat up quickly, pulling the radio out and bringing it to her mouth. "Don't move unless they head for the door, Jakowski, We're on our way around."

She punched the ignition, jamming it into Drive and peeling out, swinging around the corner and speeding towards the far end of the Building. Time was tight – Five Men, all dressed in black and wearing backpacks and carrying holstered Guns, were moving along the wall, in the general direction of the door. A Few officers out of uniform watched silently, but didn't move. They had to wait for Carla. Faintly, the sound of the music from inside could still be heard, masking any of their noises.

Left My Woman, Left my Hometown, headed out for anywhere;

Thought I might find some sanity, peace of mind out there.

Got people telling me, "Hey, change'll do you good."

But unless I find my own answers, it'll never work out like the way it should.

Torval glanced over at Alex, solemn and silent. The young woman, still looking pale and dead-ish, looked as though she were millions of miles away. She was happy; Torval had done this. He had made her happy. Maybe he could finally start to forgive himself. It seemed like everyone else already had.

Outside, Carla sped up even further, taking the turn sharply and slamming the hand brake. Osbourn frowned, nervously reaching into his jacket and drawing out his sidearm. He winced, closing his eyes, feeling the gun with the four surviving fingers of his right hand. He wasn't prepared for this. He simply wasn't going to fire. No matter what happened he wouldn't fire a shot. Knowing that, he relaxed a little bit, but was still jittery to the point of fear. Carla hit the brakes hard, and the car squealed to a stop before the door, right in front of the Suspects' path.. She fluidly got out of the car, drawing her gun and badge and holding them forward.

"S.C.P.D.! On the ground- Drop your weapons!" She shouted, pointing the gun at the men. Some of them turned, starting to run before the other officers ran up from their flank, effectively blocking their escape route. Osbourn finally got to his feet, drawing his weapon as well.

"Put the gun down!" He ordered them as well. The men, wearing hoodies and jackets to hide their identities, looked unsure about what course of action to take – to give in, or go for broke. A Couple of them gave in, dropping to the ground and raising their hands. Two others, however, still looked on nervously, gaining more shouts and orders from the police officers as well. "F-B-I! Put the Gun Down!" Osbourn ordered "Put the fuckin' gun Down! You den't wanna do this!"

One of them drew down. The other ran. The former pulled his gun quickly, nearly making out a shot on Carla before she fired, a bullet flying precisely into his shoulder. He stumbled, falling back, dropping his gun and clasping his shoulder weakly. Unfortunately, the latter was getting away.

"Jakowski, Smitts, clear these guys! We're going after them!" Carla shouted, holstering her Gun and sprinting after the running terrorist. Osbourn blinked, trying to follow what she was saying before snapping, running after her. God, he wasn't good at this.

The Two officers out of uniform knelt and began Handcuffing the Four neutralized men. "Out to catch some music, boys?" Jakowski remarked sarcastically.

They said Slow down, take a look around...

Said Slow Down, Take a look Around.

I can't tell you the names of the towns I've passed,

Tried to read the signs, but they went by too fast.

I can get where I want without doin what they say

If I just turn the sign, the Street'll go my way.

Torval hadn't stopped looking at Alex. He knew it was awkward, he knew it was probably going to be uncomfortable, but every time he mentally berated his idiocy and told himself to just look away, he simply... didn't. He frowned, the music complimenting her beauty in a way he couldn't imagine. Finally, after at least a minute, she noticed, looking back at him. She smiled briefly, but then saw that he wasn't just glancing. Neither was she.

Something was happening.

Magic was happening.

Stopped reading the signs – they never did no good.

Never gave me direction the way you think they would.

If you want me to tell you the way you ought to go.

Well you'll have to find your own way,

it's the one way, The One way that I know!

Never slow down, there's too much going on

Never Slow down, there's too much going on!

Osbourn stumbled. His foot had caught in the first alleyway and he felt like he'd sprained it. But now, after the second alley, the third street and the first ladder, he felt like his legs simply couldn't carry him anymore. His head was screaming, his lungs were pissed. Everything was happening way too fast. He needed Kraftenol. He felt like he'd die without it.

Carla, meanwhile, hadn't even slowed. She was yards, sometimes only feet behind the fleeing suspect. He was crazy fast – one of those Parkour types. He certainly wasn't making it easy, but Carla could handle it. Hell, if she couldn't James would fix her. He always did. Her gun was still drawn, but she was loathe to take a shot for fear of missing – or, more importantly, for fear of hitting something wrong.

They were bobbing and weaving faster than she could think, relying utterly on instinct and muscle memory. Ducking beneath pipes, turning back and forth down winding paths, sliding over cars, leaping up stairs. Around a corner, to the roof, across to another roof – Did he really expect her to do that? She did it anyways, sprinting along, her breath finally starting to hitch. Another Jump. More Dizzying heights. Down a Fire Escape, Through a Window, round a corner-

He had her. He'd stopped and drawn his gun, and she was totally unprepared. He had her. Oh God, he had her. Point blank range. Question was, would he killer her?

She raised her arms carefully, gently placing her pistol on an adjacent, convenient table. "Okay.... Okay, you got me... You win... just leave peacefully." she said nervously, fear cracking into her voice.

"You just had to make trouble, didn't you? Fucking cops..." They guy said, stepping back slightly. The gun was still dead on.

"Why? Why did you want to kidnap Pete Vincent? It's not worth it... it was never going to work." She said, herself taking a very slow step back.

"..." He fell silent, blinking. "What the fuck are you talking about?"

Carla froze as well. Oh god. Oh god. They weren't the ones who sent the Letters. They were probably just Vandals – now she could see he was just a punk teenager. Shit. Shit shit shit. Pete Vincent was now practically unguarded.

"This is all just... a really unfortunate understanding-" She said, wincing. "Please, don't-"

"Yes... Very unfortunate." He pulled the hammer back on his pistol. It was over.

Just then, the door swung up, knocking him in the hand, his gun flying aside. Osbourn stepped in, Gun Drawn, aiming it down at him. "I Gahtcha, you sunuva bitch..." He was clearly heavily out of breath. "Fuckin' Gaht ya." He exhaled.

Carla blinked, leaning her head back and taking a deep breath. "God... Thanks, Osbourn... I... Phew, I owe you one." She leaned against the wall, placing a hand on her heart. She thought she'd bit it back there. "But I've got bad news. These aren't the guys. We were wrong."

What could he say? Nothing had changed, least of all her. Torval didn't know how or why, but it was happening – they inched closer, second by second as the song neared it's close, until their lips were millimeters apart. He felt cold, but realized oddly that he wouldn't feel that cold to her, and their cracked lips met, there in the front row at the Pete Vincent Concert.

I can't tell you the names of the towns I've passed;

Tried to read the signs, but they went by too fast.

You can get where you want without doing what they say

If you just turn the sign, the street'll go your way.

He murmured the lines again and again as the Song wound to a close, Guitar pinging in just the right places until it concluded, winding down at last. And as the crowd began to Roar, Torval and Alex were sure that the audience was cheering for them.

--

He expected another Nuisance as he made his way backstage. There were so many things to expect – Champagne, better liquors, Flowers, Groupies, Phone calls, congratulations, the works. Of course the PR/Management Goons would be back there, but they paid for all this shit (it didn't help that they took the lion's share of the profits, though). He didn't expect this, though.

The man seemed bigger than the doorway. He seemed bigger than the room. He was facing away, muscles piled on muscles visible under his tight white t-shirt. He was a Mountain of a Man – or more likely, a Volcano.

And His Skin... Paler than the Moon.

"A rousing Show." he had a deep, gravelly voice fitting for such a man, and he was holding a guitar in his massive, meaty hand. "But... though I Hate to sound cliché..." Bear turned around to face Pete Vincent, Fangs visible despite his solemn expression, "The real show has just begun."

2/26/2012 #1
The-Mini-And-Amazing-tailsfan
Lol... What if your computer shut down on you when you were about to send that?
2/27/2012 #2
Yossarian van Driver

Wow...awesome. This doesn't look like the kind of thread where anyone can just have their character randomly walk in and do whatever they want, so I'll just observe for now. Great story, though.

2/27/2012 #3
spearofhope

Nah, I wrote it on a Word Processor a while back. I just forgot to post it here.

Thank you very much, then. Nah, it's just a Thread to put the story in, not really an RP topic, like Four Years Into her Sainthood. There was going to be more... but me and Livinglife decided to Roleplay the rest of that Plot Arc. But we'll see.

In other words, 'This story will be continued in... A mess of Various Threads'.

2/28/2012 #4
spearofhope

(PART TWO-ish but not really whatever fuck you buddeh)

Ohio Street Warehouse, August 14th, 12:41 A.M.

"Valenti. Agent Osbourn."

Smitts was standing in front of the doors into the Warehouse, where a Suited Gorilla had stood not Twelve Hours ago. The Officer was holding a massive amount of people away from the doors, the building now entirely empty save for a handful of Cops. The throng was terrifyingly massive, enough to fill up and block the whole street. This entire group had come to see the Musician sing, and now that man was gone. They would want answers. Thankfully for Smitts, the burden of those answers fell on the Two people standing a few feet ahead, and not on him.

"He's gone?" Valenti asked, some faint, fluttering madness of hope inside the corners of her heart. Smitts nodded curtly in reply, and Carla turned, pacing sharply and exhaling. "Son of a bitch..." She ran a hand through some of her hair, her brow furrowing as the wave of guilt swept over her. Those bastards were right. They'd known ahead of time, and there was Still nothing they could do to stop the kidnapping.

"That's not all." Smitts added, opening the door for them. "Jakowski will show you the rest."

Carla looked up doubtfully, the continuing income of bad news simply stunning her. She glanced at Osbourn, who had already put on his Goggles and started in ahead. Carla sighed, turning and heading in after him, nodding to Smitts on her way in. Like the man had said, inside the warehouse the other Uniformed officer was crossing the large open space that was generally filled with a mass of dancers. He nodded to them, reflexively taking off his hat and wiping his brow before putting it back on.

"It's a hell of a Mess in there, Ma'am." He said, faint nervousness and exhaustion clear in his voice, "We didn't touch anything-"

"What's a Mess?" Osbourn asked, looking strange but somehow fitting in his suit and hi-tech-looking goggles.

Jakowski blinked, glancing from the Agent to the Detective slowly, with the expression of a child who had been expecting one question and then been asked another. "You didn't... Mitchell, Brett Mitchell. The Bodyguard. He's..." He exhaled uncomfortably, "He's inside."

Carla nodded, and started walking quickly towards the backstage door. Osbourn followed, while Jakowski fell into lock-step with Valenti. "It's pretty bad, ma'am. The first sign that something was wrong was when one of the Suits found Mitchell. Of course we started looking for Vincent... just about immediately, but... We thought the threat had passed. We had the Hoodies in custody-" by then they had arrived at the top of the stairs, and had wound their way through the hallways to a store room. Even from the Hallway, the glint of thick, red blood spreading along the ground could be seen, and Jakowski came to a stop. "Go ahead inside..." He said, clearly feeling queasy.

Osbourn nodded, carefully stepping around the blood and into the small storage closet. There were shelves on all the walls, and it was little more than Two by Two meters. The flourescent light above their heads was on, casting a sickly, disconcertingly flickering white light on everything. The shelves on the far wall were caved in badly around chest height, and the massive, 6'3 bulk of the Bodyguard was crumpled, face down, on the floor in front of it. Carefully avoiding the spreading crimson pool on the ground, Osbourn knelt by the Man's head, and made an unusual gesture above the fierce wound. Lost in his own world of information and clarity, the Agent murmured to himself - not caring enough to say it clearly, and not embarrassed enough to just think it. "Single Blunt fohce strike to the skull... cracked neck... whoeveh did this, capable of incredible fohce." He paused, "Naht human."

Carla had been standing in the doorway, and exhaled, moving around to the other side of the body. She was visibly more affected by the poor state Mitchell was in than Osbourn, saddened and disgusted, but not horrified or sickened like Jakowski. She put on her gloves and moved a bit of his Jacket. "His clothes look torn. Someone grabbed him here, flung him at the shelves..."

"Put him down in one swing. Quick, Easy, Painless. Ahlso risky. Musta had strong faith in their strength..." Osbourn stood up, turning to shelves. In a glance, his goggles read out that there was no bloodstain on the shelves or wall. "Or... naht." He said, and Valenti looked up in time to see him smile very faintly. "Hittin' the wall didn't kill him. Somethin' else bashed in his head."

Carla rose, frowning seriously. "What are you saying?" she asked Tersely.

"He was thrown in, but only afteh being killed. Hitting the wall was... disposin' of the bahdy." Osbourn turned, glancing out at the hall. "Grabs Mitchell by the Collar... Bashes his head in, then throws him into the storage clahset to hide it."

Jakowski turned, both deeply unsettled and involved in the process. He glanced at the wall, "There's blood splatter out here-"

"Killed in the Hall..." Carla said. "This guy must have been incredibly powerful." Carla crossed her arms, shifting unconsciously. The Revelation left them with little comfort in the wake of the horrible attack, "Vampire?" Osbourn nodded in response.

"W-wait, wait..." Jakowski said, trying to catch up, "A Vampire? Then why didn't he drink Mitchell's blood?"

Carla turned, "Because this was quick... just getting him out of the way. Getting rid of him and hiding the body so that-" She turned quickly, blinking, "So Vincent would walk right into his Trap!" She quickly stepped over the blood puddle, walking further down the hall, towards the dressing room. Osbourn turned, dragged out of his lull, taking off his goggles and tensely following her. They arrived at Vincent's room seconds later, where Carla came to a stop. "He was taken here..." She glanced up, "And there'll be proof." Mounted on the wall was a Camera, "We've got an ID on you, you son of a bitch." She said narrowly.

"Unless he is a Vampire." Osbourn Responded, coldly ending her excitement, though not intentionally. "He wouldn't appeah ahn film."

Carla nodded, "...Right." of course he wouldn't.

It wasn't much longer until they left, stepping out the front door and passed Smitts. Valenti turned to the Officer, glancing back and forth. "You alright from here?" She asked him.

"Yeah, We'll move all these people along. They're going to want answers, though."

"They'll get 'em..." Carla frowned, "You don't need help?"

"Nah, you go home and get some sleep, Me, Jakowski and the Kid have got it." Smitts said lightly.

"Kid?" Osbourn frowned, turning, "What kid?"

Smitts paused before nodding, glancing over and gesturing to a young man in his early Twenties. "Police Cadet was here at the Concert when it happened. Just another body's enough for us. Enjoy your Rest. We'll all need it."

The two nodded and started away. Oddly enough, neither of the two investigators had any intention of sleeping that night, but assumed the other did. There was far too much to do, and this time, the clock wasn't just not on their side; it was actively fighting them. Carla got into her Car, and Osbourn into his, not bidding the other good night and instead merely focusing on their own. Not once did they consider working together, regardless of the obvious benefits. They had both been more driven than anyone else that they knew for all their lives, and they'd never experienced what it was like to have a partner who cared as much as they did.

They probably never would.

--

It wasn't exactly like blacking out, but it was hardly noticeably different.

There was a buzzing in the back of his head, where dashing brown-blond locks met tanned, smooth neck. It was like a dizzying hum, a jitter that vibrated its way all through his brain. He felt like he was shivering from cold, but only his brain was doing it. He laughed a little, mentally, at the connotations of brain freeze. There was a joke there, somewhere, but he'd be damned if he was going to be the one to come up with it. Maybe when all of this was over he'd get on it. Which of course brought up the question, what was 'this', and why was he sideways?

'Sideways' because he wasn't laying down, but he was on the floor. It was kind of a brain teaser, but when he really started to sink his teeth into it, he noticed the obvious answer - he was tied to a chair which had fallen over. The Fall had woken him up, and caused the big fucking red patch on the back of his neck to start bleeding again. Ta daa! Another mystery solved. What's next, kids? How about 'Where the fuck is he'? Sure, he'd never met a kid that would actually ask, word for word, 'where the fuck is he', more like 'where the H-E-double hockey stick is he', or some other hilariously retarded combination of non-words. Of course his niece was full of creative and impressive expletives, making him fairly certain the child swore like a sailor in her free time, but just not in his presence, so there you have it.

With that aside over and done with, he set himself upon the question he had previously focused on - 'Where the fuck is he?' Unfortunately, before he could tackle that question, a question he obviously would have been able to conquer easily, the chair was suddenly lifted up. The chair was straightened, set back on it's legs, and he felt almost weightless as whoever was setting the chair back up hefted his whole weight without effort. "Nnng..." He grunted as if he was helping, and lolled his head slightly, wincing as a light flicked on above him. He found himself suddenly coughing, unable to stop for almost Twenty seconds.

When he stopped, he was fairly amazed to see a Glass of water in front of him. As if his coughing fit had mattered to whoever was keeping him here. He blearily glanced around, still having trouble adjusting to the light. Luckily, there would be plenty for him to look at - shelves full of books, the table covered in more junk, counters covered in even more shit, and the glass in the middle of it all. Not to mention the man standing in the Corner.

The guy was leaning against the wall, meeting the other man's gaze silently. He had a doubtful, almost unimpressed or bored look on his face. His arms were crossed, and he was garbed in a soft, loose orange shirt. His head was shaved bald, and an unusual looking medallion was hanging from his neck. He simply watched, staring back from the other side of the room, completely indifferently.

"How the hell do you expect me to drink that? My hands are tied." He struggled against the straps briefly, but stopped as the Bald guy stepped over, lifting the glass to the Man's mouth. "Get some Vodka in it and we'll talk." He spat defiantly.

The Bald man narrowed his eyes, still neither impressed nor annoyed. With an almost terrifying detachment, in an emotionless display of disrespect, the he poured the water into Pete Vincent's lap before primly setting the glass back down on the table. "Maybe next time, You alky Bitch."

The Bald guy turned and opened the door, walking out of the room, leaving Vincent to do nothing more than listen to the footsteps retreat away, and feel spite and disgust at his own very real fear, building in the dark of his gut.

--

Whitcomb Street, School City Police Station, August 14th, 11:41 AM

Everyone was in full-on Crisis Mode. People were hustling, working feverishly and running themselves Ragged, answering Phone lines and running down leads. It seemed the Entire Bullpen was consumed by the Case, the majority of the Detectives and officers working on it. The Kidnapping of a High-Profile target - while the police had been forewarned by threatening letters - had thrown everything into a panic. Many of those working on the case had in fact been working all night, never having gone home at all. Most were completely exhausted, and clearly showed it - slowing down, face dour, hygiene suffering - and even Carla was slipping. Osbourn didn't mind, long since having grown accustomed to working long hours, developing a tolerance for weariness and sleep deprivation.

The Agent, having requested a work space and received a small office, was still checking out evidence. The footage from the Dressing Room Camera hadn't come in yet, but He was able to examine the Warehouse's floor plans, Dossiers on Persons of Interest, Witness reports and other statements. Most of this he did using his goggles, having slipped into a comfortable state of non-being outside of the progress. It seemed by that point increasingly absurd that if be a Human supremacist group; Even without including the crushed bodyguard, considering the speed, complexity and difficulty of the kidnapping plot itself, there was still no way a group of only humans could have done it. He was becoming more and more certain that it was a Superhuman Separatist group instead.

Suddenly, three short knocks announced Carla's entrance, the brunette walking through the door and turning with a sway to look at him. "Any Progress?" She asked, crossing her arms and leaning against the wall.

It took Osbourn a moment to realize she had entered, the difficulty of being disturbed from his world causing him to miss her for a brief handful of seconds. Finally, he turned, taking off the goggles and blinking. "Hmm? Ah... Well, Ah've narrowed it down to a supahhuman group, likely onneh the more established, prahminent ones." He said, furrowing his brow. Ordinarily, he didn't notice such things, but she looked particularly exhausted. "I think Ah'll get some CAHffee... you want some?"

Carla frowned, shifting back and frowning. She hadn't noticed she looked so bad, and brought up a hand to adjust her hair, in a tight ponytail. "Yeah, sure thing... I'm going to go down into the Archives and check something out."

Osbourn pushed his chair back, wheels squeaking as he moved, and stood up. "Ahright, Is there a place neuhby...?"

"Across the street. Can't miss it." Carla turned, head out and down the stairs. Osbourn waited for her to leave before heading out the door, grabbing his suit jacket. Heading out of the building, he crossed the street and headed towards the Coffee shop. The city spread out grandly before him, the slightly cooled air and white-grey sense permeating everything bringing him to a slightly heightened sense of clarity. He paused at the top of the couple of long, wide stairs that led up to the front door, regarding the City around him briefly. The area seemed unusually broad, and though downtown skyscrapers were no new thing to him, he found himself distantly amazed. Shrugging the feeling off, he trudged up the stairs and opened the door, pulling out his wallet and frowning. He shouldn't have bothered offering - now he might have to buy Coffee for everybody. Difficult, considering he didn't know anyone else. Sighing, he glanced around the small building, coming to a stop.

Almost immediately, A woman got in line behind Osbourn. She had a very tight, sort of tensed air about her, and very calmly and softly, so that only Osbourn could hear her over the general bustle of the coffee shop, spoke - "Agent Osbourn, I may know something that could help with the Vincent disappearance."

Osbourn turned around, surprised, "Ah'm Sahrry? You say somethin' to me?"

"I think we can help each other." the Stranger said to him. "And I need your help. I'm sorry to come to you in a coffee shop of all places, but I don't have a better way of contacting you." She glanced sideways, then back to him. "My name is Donna Summers. It doesn't matter if you've heard of me or not. I've been on the trail of a notable serial killer for a very long time."

As soon as she told him her name, it dawned on Osbourn. If he'd had his IAA goggles on him, he'd have identified her immediately. With Terror, he realized he didn't have the Goggles with him. He had to find them, immediately. "I remembeh you. You're that Agent who went crazy chasin' a Banshee..."

Summers twitched defensively at that, but continued nevertheless, "I have reason to believe my Suspect is working with Your Kidnappers."

Osbourn frowned, glancing at the Door. He had to get back, "What Reason?" he asked shortly, and when the Woman fell silent, Sam turned and walked past her, heading out the door. "If you've gaht a lead, forward it to me. If naht, then there's nothin' I can do to help."

"All of my Files were stolen. She hired a Mercenary-" Summers responded, eyes narrowed.

"Like I said, if yuv gaht no proof, then I can't help you." Osbourn headed out, shaking his head. She'd practically been disgraced before she disappeared, and even if she was right, it couldn't help. Unfortunately, he'd be returning to the Station without the coffee. Another fine start.

--

Wave of a hand, and the Video appeared in front of him. Reach towards it, and it begins to play. A Roll of the fingers and it fasts forward. Touch the Video and it stops.

Osbourn's Opaque goggles could let him see whatever was in front of him if he wanted them to, but at the moment he didn't. Instead he was at a beach - at least for the moment. Sooner or later he'd be somewhere else, though - probably sooner - and any of those places would be better than a busy, stiflingly hot Police station. He couldn't even feel the thick heat in the air, and could almost feel the ocean breeze. But it was all completely peripheral when compared to the importance of the case. Everything was vaguely defined beneath the video, everything was so much less colorful and relevant. Even if it was little more than footage from a security monitor. Just hours and hours of video of an Empty room.

Thankfully, he was able to bleed through the dead tape to the point where the concert ended. Osbourn narrowed his eyes from beneath his apparatus, though his field of vision was not lessened. In the video, the door swung open, and then shut a second later, with nothing passing through. That was strike one, the first verification of their doubt. It was either that, or an impressively strong breeze passing through an indoor hallway. The damning evidence was when Vincent himself came in, and seconds later, apparently mimed being dragged out of the room. Vampire it was. Thank God for Record Company and their Security Budget.

Osbourn reached a pale hand up to remove the goggles, the noise of the crowded bullpen filling in now that he was back. He glanced around slowly, the wheels squeaking as his chair rolled back slightly. He blinked, feeling both tired and hyped up at the same time. He stood, glancing around for Valenti. She was nowhere in sight. Osbourn glanced around slowly, sniffing absently as he gently placed the goggles in his Jacket pocket. Just like always. He reached into his side pocket, taking out a bottle of pills and glancing down at them, slowly removing the cap. He sighed, staring down at the little orange and white tube before screwing the cap back on and putting it back into his pocket. For a second, he got lost there, even more lost than he got in the goggles. Seems like that's all he did those days. As he straightened his jacket, he headed back over to the hallway, where he saw Lieutenant Miles standing in front of a Window. He headed over slowly, running a hand over his brow where he felt beads of cold, unpleasant sweat gathering. This deep in Iroquois in the middle of August - Perfect Weather for thick cotton suits, right?

Miles glanced over as the Agent came to a stop in front of the Window, giving him an upward nod. "Hey there, Brother." The man said lightly, his casual ways almost startling to Osbourn. "You should see this Gal work. She'd get answers out of a newborn with amnesia."

Osbourn glanced over at him, cocking a soft eyebrow, "Is Detective Valenti innuhviewing the Suspects from last night?"

"The One who ran from you two? Yeah, Carla's putting the pressure on him." Miles Replied. Osbourn turned to look through the window into an interview room, where a fidgety brown-haired mess of a young man sat across from the Detective. "She just never knows when to stop." Miles added with a fair amount of Fondness.

Osbourn looked over at (And to some extent, up towards) the other Law Enforcement Agent, And narrowed his eyes. This time, his view narrowed with them, "You were pahtners with heh for a while?" He asked.

"Sure was." Miles responded, nodding, "Longest time, really. Took down some real bastards, you know."

"But you moved up." Osbourn remarked, "She's still Detective Valenti, still runnin' down Hahmicides and Disappearances. But you're runnin' Metahuman Crimes Unit."

Miles nodded, but stayed silent, and Osbourn didn't fill it with more talk. Some things didn't need to be said.

--

He was no Junkie, and though Carla hadn't seen it when he'd had a gun on her, she could see it now. Without his Baggy Sweatshirt and loose backpack, the suspect looked small and frail, and though his attitude and behavior was flighty and on edge, it wasn't from a habit or a Jones. When he looked at Carla, it was with utter Contempt, and when she asked a question, he wouldn't just deflect - he would mock. He had no interest in defending his innocence. The funny thing was, he knew he was innocent already. They'd never get him on attempted murder. Sure, he'd run from a police officer, but that gun was owned legally, and there was no way of proving he would ever have pulled the trigger. He was just walking down the alley and got harassed. He might even be able to sue his way out of it.

But to Carla, he was the guy who pointed a gun at her and made the decision to kill her. She'd been in standoffs before, she'd been shot at, she'd even made the same decision that this guy had been about to. And yes, if she'd really been shaken, she'd have taken the day of, or at least she should have. Maybe she was, and simply refused to stand aside. She wasn't in that room to settle the score, not really. But she'd see it through. It would feel wrong if she didn't.

"You still haven't told me what you were even doing there that night."

"You still haven't found me a lawyer."

Carla leaned back and sighed, "You know, if you had one on Retainer, they'd be here already, Mr. Welsh. Of Course, that's not exactly something you can afford, is it?" She sat up fully, opening the file, "Three years and you've had Three run-ins with the IRS. You're working a Part time Job, right? Anything else?"

"Why don't you leave my Finances to the people they concern?" Welsh still had his eyes averted, rebellious teenaged spite echoing from somewhere beneath all of that cynicism.

"Because I enjoy the Challenge, Mr. Welsh. The Challenge of figuring out where things went wrong. Was it making ends meet? When did you get the license for that gun... November... 2010? After the Catastrophe. Was it the collapse or the rebuilding that spurred you to buy it?"

"You might not know this, but Criminals Generally don't legally purchase the guns they intend to use on people. Since I outsmartedyou, I'll bet you know I'm notStupid."

"Outsmarted?" Carla replied smoothly, "You outran me. Smooth moves there, Mr. Welsh, by the way. When did you start taking Parkour training? Same time as the Mixed Marshall Arts Club membership. That's Fall 2010. After the Catastrophe."

Welsh Exhaled, "Yup."

"Gearing up for something?"

"Getting in shape." He shrugged. "Improving myself. Feels good."

Valenti just chuckled at that, "You know, you're gonna be glad you did that." she leaned forward, "In prison, you're gonna need those skills."

"You say that like I'm already convicted." Welsh snorted in derision.

Carla shrugged, "Well, you might as well be. My testimony, and the Testimony of a Federal Agent, Corroborated by two other Officers and your buddies, who I think you know'll flip on you, against... whatever it is you choose to say. Or not say." She said lightly.

Welsh turned, sitting up at last after slouching the whole time, turning his gaze to meet hers, "If I really did try to kill you... then where do we go from here? If that's the case, then in my mind, you're temporary and Mortal. There's no world from your point of view where I end up dead." He leaned forward sharply, "We both know these things. You can talk your shit, you can point that lamp and perp sweat me all you want, you badge-toting bitch, But I was about to kill you - you were weak and defenseless, and you were powerless at my hands. And you can never take that away from me." He turned, and leaned back, slouching once more. "That is, if your testimony is true, which it of course isn't."

For a moment, Carla was like a deer caught in the headlights. She froze, and even if it was only for a second, that was another thing she wouldn't be able to get back from Welsh. More of her dignity evaporating, made worse by the fact that she knew Miles and maybe even Osbourn were watching. She cleared her throat, picking up and smoothing out the Folders. "You testify that you weren't gonna kill me, then you will lose that. But if you have any info that could lead to us finding Vincent or the people who took him... if we can say that you cooperated... then everything in your life that you've gone through so far won't be for nothing. Because if you Lawyer up and close yourself off, you do end up in jail and you never get to live your life again."

Welsh glanced back at her once again, eyes narrowed this time in conflict and not spite.

--

Carla shut the door behind her, turning to Miles and Osbourn, "They were hired by some guy in the Palisades District. By the West Overpass." She stated simply.

Osbourn nodded, "And the Video footage confihmed it. It was a Vampiyuh." he said. Carla and Miles look at each other slowly.

"The Underpass." They said in unison.

"I'll call the Swat commander. Carla, get a Warrant for Search and Seizure." Miles said shortly.

"No-..." Osbourn intervened, glancing between them, "We'll need a little... subtlety. If Vincent isn't theh - in a Nightclub, apparently - then he'll disappeauh permahnently if we try to bust them on this lead. Tonight, when there's anyone there to talk to, we have a chat with them. We go in Gentle."

Carla looked between the Agent and her former partner before giving a Curt Nod. "We go in Gentle."

--

Ohio Street Warehouse, August 14th, 9:12 PM

"Come on, You son of a Bitch."

Jakowski watched him enter, and stare idly at the Backstage door for almost a full minute. "Come on, Give me an excuse to drag you down to the Station." The Officer muttered to himself, able to see the conflictedness in the Red-headed Punk's eyes. The scrawny bastard had waltzed in, looking more on edge and nervous than anyone entering a club rightly should, and then proceeded to gawk at the Crime scene tape and Jakowski himself. "Come on, You know you want- Oh, that's Right. Back off, Kid. Back the fuck off." The Red Head turned and paced back over to the Bar, striking up Harvey in conversation. "That's what I thought."

"Huh?" Asked the Kid - Dynes, who to his credit was still here, volunteering as if he had nothing better to do. He was a Young man, and looked like he would be a pretty popular or Fun-loving type. It was almost rewarding to see the guy take this so seriously. Jakowski figured he might make a good cop after all.

"See that Red hair guy over there?" Jakowski pointed to where Torval Langston was talking to Harvey. "He's snooping around like he wants to get backstage."

Dynes turned to look at him, "How can you tell?" he asked, that tone coming back into his voice from before. The Tone of a guy trying to master a specific skill, with the lust for learning when he thinks there's something to be learned. "There's gotta be Forty people in here already.

"Just look at his Body language." Jakowski replied, shrugging, "He came in here looking like he was afraid the whole place was a Crime scene. When he saw that it wasn't, he looked at nothing but this door." He gestured to the door they were standing in front of. "He saw us, and went to get a drink, but he's- look, right there, he just looked again. He didn't come here to get a drink, he came here to look around the back." He turned and gestured, starting to sermonize, "See I know what's going on in every head of every person in this building because I notice the little things. I know what it looks like when a person is Excited or Confident, and I know what it looks like when someone is Nervous or afraid. I especially know what it looks like when someone's lying."

"He moved again." Dynes pointed out.

"He- Shit, Huh?"

"Down those stairs." The kid said simply.

"Oh, of course. Yeah, duh. Just that Apartment and the Service Corridor is down there. Probably thinks he can get through down there." He shrugged, "He can't, of course. Totally separate. Not even any ventilation ducts from down there to up here."

"Maybe he's going to see Holloway." Dynes suggested.

Jakowski chewed his gum doubtfully as he stared across the crowd to the Stairwell, "Yeah, Maybe. But I guarantee you we'll see him leave in less than Two or three minutes when he figures out that there's nothing down there."

Dynes nodded slowly, crossing his arms. "Maybe he's picking up something from her-"

"Kid, you didn't see what I saw. I guaran-damn-tee you that he is here snooping around, not visiting his girlfriend. If he was, why'd he stand in the doorway staring at me? Why'd he Go to the bar to talk to Harvey?"

Dynes shrugged, "Maybe he's got a Warrant on him and is scared of Cops."

Jakowski rubbed the back of his neck, sighing. He brought his hand around to turn on his Radio clipped to his chest, "Smitts, Jakowski, We've got Suspicious activity in the Downstairs wing."

The Radio Squelched, "Ten Four." A brief moment of Silence passed before it crackled again, "Just a Lover's Quarrel. All clear."

Dynes looked over at Jakowski with a Wide, practically gap-toothed grin, and Jakowski sighed, "Shouldn't you be in Class, Cadet?"

--

Beneath the I-75 Overpass, West Pallisades District, August 14th, 11:10 PM

Carla pulled her Dodge to a stop in the narrow street (It was more of an Alley) Next to the Underpass, an even tighter alleyway lit up with numerous neon signs and packed to the hilt with cramped buildings, mostly bars, clubs and shops. The Eponymous Underpass Club was the most known of them all, at the bottom of a small stair well to the side. The little strip of night life was populated almost exclusively by vampires, as much of it was safely dark even in the middle of the day. The case was clear almost immediately, even to strangers, as there were several Blood banks, and a line of third floor, rinky-dink apartments renting for more than some of the ones on the Waterfront used to. The Alley was thick with Pedestrians, all who looked on with derision and spite. What were these humans doing here? Were they suicidal? Did they want to get turned? Or were they just stupid?

None of the Above, Carla Reassured herself, as she shut the door behind her. Osbourn got out across from her, and behind her, another man got out. He was tall and brown-haired, and was wearing a loose black suit, with a black shirt and no tie. His hair was messy and Clumsy, and he spoke in a broad but warm South Carolina Accent. Most impressively, he wore a stupid, disarming idiot grin at just about every second. He didn't look like a Cop and he didn't look like a Vampire, but he was both. Detective Blanc had learned the hard way that the Cure could only work once per person - he'd been intentionally turned for an undercover mission, and cured afterwards. When get got Turned again, there was no going back. Like the other Two Law Bringers with him, the Job had taken his life from him - only in his case, it was slightly more literally (But not entirely). Only instead of an early Gold Watch and a Posthumous pat on the back, Steve Blanc got to keep doing his job for the rest of eternity. No Pension for him. Carla partly envied him, and partly pitied him.

Thankfully, his time undercover left him with an ideal cover identity as a Vampire and instant Access to the club, even if he brought a pair of Human 'Friends'. The crowd knew to part as the Threesome made their way to that most lauded Stairwell, and the Bouncer begrudgingly stepped aside. Blanc led Valenti and Osbourn down into the red-lit dungeon of a Club, all the expected elements in play - Pulsing music and unrelenting brick walls; discouraging stares from half-dressed women and everywhere the protuberances and roundings of bodies - all moving a little, but never a lot. Unlike the Warehouse and Dante's on Cherry Street, The Underpass had no bar, instead booths and waitresses - Probably because their patrons liked to relax and be served. After all, if they weren't the Masters, then who would be?

Unfortunately for the Investigators, the lack of a Bar would make striking up conversation casually fairly difficult. The trio got a booth, shirking off the stares of the other Club-goers and the intense threat that they all posed. Blanc obviously seemed the most at ease in the situation, trying to exude his confidence in an attempt to cover up for his companions' lack of it. Taking a seat, Blanc sat on the end of one side next to Carla, while Osbourn sat alone on the other, taking out his goggles and almost instinctively putting them on.

"What are you doing?" Carla whispered Hoarsely, causing the Agent to glance over at her, his expression unreadable under the eye-wear. "Shouldn't you be... On your toes for this?"

Osbourn remained silent for a moment, the furrowing of his brows visible even in those conditions, "That's what I'm tryihn ta do." he said, looking around. "That... and look feh suspects." Within an instant of putting IAA on, his world had changed, information inlaid over his surroundings. In a flash, Identification of everyone in the room screened over his view, some flashing in red - those with Priors. Of those, many were sitting in a Single booth. "By the Red Velvet Cehtain, Five a'clahck." Osbourn stated, causing the other two Detectives to look over. Filling up a large, semi-circular booth was more than a half a dozen Vampires, the one seated with his back to the wall being incredibly massive. A Mountain of a Man, really, drenched in tattoos.

"That's Bear." Blanc said simply, turning back to look at the Agent, "What about him?"

"Dozens'a Red Flags... Middle-rankin' Community Membeh, neveh injuhed in the attack. Vampiyuh Fighting League Champion, Dozens of counts of extortion, assault... Kidnapping. All drahped before Arraignment."

"Either he has a Hell of a good lawyer, or there's something really wrong going on with him." Carla remarked, starting to stand, before Blank put a hand on her shoulder, "I don't think you want to-"

Carla glanced back at him, and shrugged the arm off, stepping past him into the open floor. "Hell with that. I have a job to do here." She turned to Osbourn, who was still wearing his goggles but pretty clearly doubtful, "I'm going to talk to the Ape. You two can wait here." Carla adjusted her short-sleeved button shirt, put her badge back on her belt and started across the floor towards Bear's Table. Blanc glanced over at Osbourn with a sigh.

"We're going to have to go over there, aren't we?" he said, sounding more amused than anything.

Osbourn looked at Valenti's retreating form before shrugging, "Naht really."

They looked at each other for a moment before they begrudgingly stood to follow her.

--

"Detective Carla Valenti, SCPD. I'd like to ask you some Questions, Mister... Bear."

His skin was dark, at least for a Vampire, which might lead you to believe he was Hispanic of origin. His tattoos were vibrant, large and varied, which could bring to mind hundreds of possible suggestions about what they meant or why he got them. He was naturally tall, but his strength and incredible mass must have come from intentional, hard work over the course of an entire life, suggesting he was perhaps a body builder, a fighter or something of the sort. There were many clues to be had in regards to just what Bear was or used to be. However, they all fell to the wayside when compared to what he is – what he was meant to be, and what would be solidified in the minds of anyone who could say they knew him. Truth be told, it didn't really matter whether or not he existed before he was a Vampire at all. This was his identity, End of story.

"I'd be happy to help however I can." Was his reply, like a Bull strutting amiably across a prairie – simple, polite and fairly agreeable, but only because he is in the circumstances he finds pleasing, and because he knows that when they try to put him in the barn, he will not merely oblige. "Assuming I even have answers to give."

"You were a member of the Nightfang Vampire Community of Uptown, Weren't you?" Carla asked smoothly. The two men she came with arrived behind her.

Bear remained silent for a moment, tilting his head almost patronizingly. "Yes. I worked in the Auxilliary Bar on Main as a Bouncer. It was their Headquarters." He paused, briefly ruminating before continuing, "Not that I didn't believe in what they were doing. Or that I wasn't officially a part of their group."

"And where were you during the Battle of Uptown?" Carla struck forward.

Bear leaned back, glancing at the Vampires around him. "Are you here to pick through the corpse of that Dead Horse? You trying to catch the people who did that, or are you just trying to pad your files on every Community Vampire you know of?" He asked pointedly.

"They're trying to help Vampires here, Man. That's why I'm helping." Blanc cut in earnestly, shrugging. The Massive vampire Regarded the smaller one for a moment before turning his gaze back to the Female Head Detective.

"I was there. I just wasn't stupid enough to fight the assholes who were using the Cure as a weapon."

"So you caeh a laht about yeh status as a Vampire?" Osbourn asked, crossing his arms and glancing over at the others, "Did you just let go of yeh beliefs after Nightfang cuhlappsed?"

Bear Snorted, "Just because a group that shared my Ideologies ended doesn't mean that I left my beliefs with them. I'm a Proud Vampire, but a Lawful one." he said pointedly, gesturing with every word for Emphasis. He was amazingly persuasive for such a Massive being – many a stranger had mistaken him for a dumb brute at first glance, only to be tossed on their ass intellectually seconds into conversation. "If you're here to run me down-"

"Prehtty standahfish for a lawful Vampiyuh." Osbourn retorted. "Afraid of Somethin'?"

"Persecution." He replied straight, perking up, "I'm afraid of Human Domination. That doesn't mean I want to kill them, or don't respect our mutual law enforcement." he gave a nod to Blanc.

"Luckily for us both, I'm not here to debate Sociology in a Supernatural World." Carla said dryly.

"Of Course not." Spat the Vampire sitting next to Bear, a man with a Shaved head and a serious look. "Humans never want to talk about the issues. Especially not when the Status Quo is on their Side-"

"Daniel." Bear said, little more than a murmur, and it was enough to silence the Bald-headed man – Daniel, apparently, slinking further down into his seat and tilting his head, glaring intimidatingly at Blanc. A Glare that said 'Race Traitor.'

"-What I'm here for..." Carla said testily, "Is to ask about your whereabouts last night.

Osbourn glanced over, more info served up usefully in the middle of the conversation. "And about the Prahperty you co-signed for ahn the east side of 75."

"I was here." Bear replied stoically, "Dozens of Regulars and the Staff can vouch for me." He turned to glanced at Osbourn, "As for your question, you Brooklyn Neanderthal, why bother even asking? What about that old place?"

"Ah'm from Bahston." The Agent replied flatly, "And Feh Stahtehs, you can tell me Why even buy it?" Osbourn asked, who finally remembered his goggles were still on, not even having noticed they were on his face when he used info gained from them a second ago. He then elected to keep them on.

Bear scowled, the Topography of his face becoming even rockier, distorting the large Tattoo over the side of his face nose, "Is it illegal for Metahumans to own Property?" The silence he received from the Lawmen cemented his questions nature as Rhetorical, and he decided to answer it directly. "Not yet, at least. I purchased it because it's a growing area and it was a steady investment. It was smart. A Center of the New Renaissance."

"So it's not for your personal use?" Carla chimed in.

Bear Chuckled, "I think I'd know if it was."

"We'll hold you to that." Blanc remarked, smiling fondly.

Carla turned, nodding to the Vampire, "Thanks for the Info, Bear. Oh- we're going to need a Copy of your Finances, see where the money for that Building came from. If you want us to, we'll easily get a warrant." She started away, giving a single backhand wave to him. "And don't leave town."

Bear watched her walk away, eyes narrowed with righteous contempt, a smirk growing on his face. "Of course not. Why would I leave? This is my Town."

"Mine too!" Carla called back.

--

"So what have we got?" Blanc asked as they drove away.

"Not much. "Carla admitted, shrugging with a Sigh. We know it was Probably a Superhuman group, and that it was a Vampire did the Job. Bear's got the Motives and I've got a feeling that he might have the means. There's something unusual going on behind him. The Void Nightfang left was never filled. That building would be a great place for a new group's HQ. And the Records might show funding."

"Idennuhfying the Group is a far sight from Finding Vincent. But it's a Staht." Osbourn shrugged. And then he started waving his arms, finding his way through the evidence partly in his goggles, and partly in his mind. Carla sighed, rubbing her forehead as she headed back towards the police station, where they would probably split up and go home for the night. She felt dejected and tired, and more than anything else, she felt useless. Somewhere out there, Pete Vincent was alone, and the world was filled with sorrow for it. She knew she couldn't beat herself up for it, but her usual amount of patience was gone. Something told her this case was markedly more important than the rest. And now, with all the help in the world, she felt like she was floundering.

She needed help, and it was clear that the Pallid shut in beside her wouldn't be able to offer it. Or if he could, he simply wouldn't bother.

--

"Ohhho... I don't know if you remember those days, but shit, I still do. Always figured if I didn't have to deal with it anymore, fuckin'... poverty and lack of resources would be a distant shadow of the past. Like, you know what I mean, right? Like I'd go all billion dollar CEO, Forget what it was like to be fuckin' poor. I was, Haha, I was looking forward to it! I was... ah, just being an entitled prick and getting all ignorant to that shit. God... Ha, Aw shit, I never did though. I never forgot about that shit, I never... Damn, I tried, too! For a while I tried harder than I thought possible just to fuckin' get lost, you know, get lost in everything. I dunno how they do it." Sweat beaded languidly on his brow, and his eyes darted meanderingly around in the dark, meaningless as there was nothing to latch on to. He drew in a long, wheezing breath, hitching at the end as he felt a painful rattle in his chest. His head lolled forward, fire in his wrists and ankles. He gave a dry, distant chuckle, before coughing sharply and loudly, hacking in the dense heat of the room.

When it died down, he groaned briefly before rolling his neck, "Yeah, Yeah I bet you do remember that, right? Course, that time, shit, that one time, when was that? Winter, middle of Winter, right? I can't remember, it was cold – fucking, cold, damn man... but no Snow, none at all. One of those sharp days, no humidity anywhere, just freezing damn air, and... I don't know, we were out... where... Did we? We took the Truck into the City, right? And we were almost all the way between home and there when..." He coughed again, leaning back, "Aw, when we ran out of gas, right on the side of the road, right by the edge of town, just... Haw, you do remember! Yeah, and we... we, oh man. Just chugging to a stop, on the side of the road... Just Twenty-some feet from a damn Gas station, you know, Just like fucking Tantalizingly close. We both had enough money to get us home, but we'd have to leave the car, get up there, get a gas can and lug the gas back... whole fucking laundry list of shit, we didn't have time for that, course not...." he wheezed, "Started the car... er, turned it off then started it again, still didn't get anything, tried it twice more, and on the third time..." He was practically overcome with laughter, dipping forward dangerously, his chest spasming as he laughed, "Spurted up just enough, revved to get us rolling... through the light Just, Just as it turned fuckin yellow, goin at like Five miles an hour, everyone lookin at us as we ambled through that intersection, we're saying 'Yeah, yeah, that's us. We're stupid. Sorry, we're the stupid guys, we're the ones, sorry about that'. And we roll just up into the Gas station and come to that stop. Gaw, that's fate right there, if it ain't then I challenge you to tell me what is."

He fell silent for a moment, leaning back, eyes red and dry as he closed his lids over them, feeling like Sandpaper. "We stopped there and we could've gotten home, but we just... just went next door to the bar and spent the money on drinks." he coughed again, this one whispery and weak, "Cause that was the day, aw, what was her name... Jess Tiller got back from Dakota and she was celebrating. God, if that's not fate... that's the fate right there. We'd a missed her clean if we hadn't rolled up just so. Jess Tiller and that Ponytail of hers." He said it lightly, a nostalgic, reminiscent tone in his voice seemingly impossible compared to the raw, hoarse nature it had had until then. "God she was Pretty. I've had a lot of fucking Gorgeous knock-out women in my life, but... something about the Rarity of Jess Tiller... somethin about the rarity, yeah, the uniqueness... I don't know, man. I don't know." he seemed to almost doze off for a moment, zone out and get lost in some thought or memory, impossible to tell of what. And then suddenly he perked up again, lolling his head back like a tired man snapping to after realizing he was falling asleep. "Called up Mom when we were done and broke and she had to come all the way out to buy the gas. That or leave the truck. She was so pissed, remember? Damn, and you know she could tell we were drunk, could tell what we'd been doing. Dragged us home on our asses. Ended up having to work three times as much that week to pay her back..."

His head touched against the wall beside him, and he closed his eyes tightly as a look of sorrow passed over his face. He lifted his head and set it back against the wall, and then again, hitting his head against it harder. He did this three our four times, groaning louder and louder each time he did. "HEEEY!" He finally shouted, Screamed at the top of his lungs for the guys outside the door to hear, Struggling against the bonds around his wrists and legs. "HEEEEEY!" he screamed again, and again until he was sure that he'd blown out his vocal chords and that blood was running down his throat. "You FUCKERS!" He shouted one more time, and he was sure something had given way in his neck, maybe a chunk of flesh or part of his spinal chord. Defeated, he fell back against the wall, pushing his skull against it numbly and clenching his eyes shut in a terrible wince. "We thought those were problems, didn't we... Factory labor and workin on engines all day. We thought those were problems... didn't we..."

Bear crossed his arms, staring at the door that the shouts were coming from, completely indifferent. He could Rile and Rebel as much as he wanted, but it wasn't going to change the facts of the matter. "Someone on the Phone, Bear." Daniel came up beside the massive man, holding his Cell phone out to him. Bear took the phone, bringing it up to his ear and closing his eyes Curiously. He remained silent, and listened as the person on the other line spoke. His brow furrowed.

"They What?"

--

Grand Street, East Pallisades District, August 15th, 1:35 AM

Donna Summers walked stiffly along the road, hands jammed in her pockets, head down.

Summers headed towards the club with unease. She had a crucifix tucked under her shirt, a silver knife, and various charms and trinkets to protect her from other supernatural harm. She headed towards the door, antsy and almost painfully out of place. A Doorman was standing beneath the Awning of the steps down to the Titular Nightclub, small for a bouncer but as a Vampire, small difference. He was in her way, and shook his head the second she approached. "Cha, you got dem Death Wish, Girl?"

As she walked, she quickly took apart a dart Gun, wiping it for Prints and tossing the various pieces into alleys and drains as she passed them.

The Vampire's face grew serious and Stern, "What ya want in dem Vampire club, huh?"

"Answers." She said. "I'm looking for a banshee."

She shuddered, as it started to rain, but all she did was pull her jacket up further and walk on, staring straight ahead. She could stop, she couldn't blink, she couldn't even think.

It was hard to tell the guilty from the innocent; the Suspicious from the Natural. In the Nightclub, everything looked dirty, and everything looked legit. And all at once, Everyone in the Room was staring at her. The sheep who had walked into the Wolf's den. Summers gave a nervous, weak little smile, seeming to shrink a little as she hunched nervously. "I'm looking for an Irish girl." She said. "Red hair, floats a lot."

None of them replied, the discomfort of all the focus in a busy club being on one person making things very uneasy. "we're all looking for something." Somebody said. Some leered, some grinned, some looked on in Anger. Most simply looked hungry.

She rubbed her neck. "I really need to find her." She said. "She could make your lives pretty bad, if I don't."Speaking to everyone in the Club as a Crowd was evidently a Bad idea. Many of them were losing interest, going back to what they were doing before. Those who didn't wouldn't care what she said, only what she had in her Veins or other places.

Damn it, she had been so close. The trail had led her right to the underpass – the Banshee had been there, there was no doubt about it. If she hasn't joined them by now, she will soon, the words echoed again in her head. She'd had them in her grasp, had a clue, but it was starting to slip. She couldn't let it go, Would-

Summers sighed, and pulled out a gun, pointing it, oddly enough, at the ceiling. She fired once, twice, with precision, and the sprinkler systems kicked on, spraying water all over the restaurant. Water that began to burn the patrons painfully. She had shot in front of the door the most, blocking escape. Some of the Vampires scattered off through other exits, or through the ceiling. Many of them simply Bum rushed Summers – Ordinarily far too many superpowered beings to stop. Summers, soaked with holy water now, lifted her crucifix and recited a prayer, throwing salt on the ground. The vampires couldn't break the salt perimeter around her.

So she's thought.

She lifted the side of her jacket again, looking down at the growing patch of red-blackness, painful even just to look at. She winced despite herself, and swallowed before covering it up again and walking on, stoically, almost emotionless. One, two, Three Cruisers stormed past her, Lights flashing and Sirens Blaring. She was far enough away and ordinary-looking enough to be of little interest to them. She'd gotten away, but so had the Banshee. After everything she'd lost-

No. Not enough time for this. She wouldn't let the Banshee get away, not like-

Donna Summers rubbed her eyes wearily, writing more in her log book when she heard voices outside. She stood, and glanced out through a small gap in the boards of the windows, seeing a red haired woman and an armed man. She moved back quickly, grabbing her automatic pistol from the dresser. She spun, and the door was already open, the man coming through with his Shotgun raised. As soon as the door closed behind him, Donna stepped out from the other room, the gun leveled at his head. "Listen to me closely." She said. "I don't know what she's told you, but it is most likely all lies. I am an agent of the FBI named Donna Summers."-

Summers was brought out of her Reverie as another cruiser screamed past, an Ambulance following behind her. She spun, watching it go, and as she did her back was turned on the man slowly making his way up to her.

--

2290 Fort Street, Apartment 3B, August 15th, 1:46 AM

Carla felt Juvenile, curled up in a ball on her couch. She felt Hilariously unlike herself, like a living cliché. She always felt a little uncomfortable on her own, a little bit like she didn't know how to behave. For that reason, it seemed she could just never get comfortable. Remarkable, considering the fact that she was a creature of some impressive measure of solitude. She pulled herself off her couch and stood, starting over towards her desk in the corner. She paused, glancing around briefly, the thought causing her to analyze her surroundings. Even the décor of her apartment backed it up. There didn't seem to be a real sense of identity in it, though she had personalized just about every part of the room. Since she awoke from her coma, she had to find a new place, and at last came to realize that nearly a year in, she still hadn't settled in here.

One whole side of the Studio apartment was made of the Original Brick wall, unfurnished. It was something she'd told herself that she liked when she first moved in, but now it just made her think it was unfinished, or even garish. All along that wall were red spherical lights, the kind of things hanging one on top of another on a string, the kind you'd find in Chinatown, especially in Wong Shi Tongs. She wondered now if she'd thought, back then, that having those lights would make her seem interesting or eccentric. She wondered if she had believed they would improve her personality. The Kitchen (Kitchenette, if you want to split hairs – and at that moment, Carla did) was a tasteless mix of whites and Chromes, which she imagined would look high tech or modern, but instead just looked predictable. The walls, from the Brick all the way back to the Windows, were a shade which she had hand-painted herself. It was somewhere in between Salmon and Maroon, which she now realized would firmly make it – you guessed it – the unimpressively named 'Red'.

The Furniture was an ugly mix of Girlish and Tomboyish, something she realized resembled gender-neutralish – A white sofa that she had intended to keep clean and then forgot, with 'throw pillows' (Oh, let's face it; 'Regular Pillows'), an Antique Desk, posters of Movies and paintings she bought in the Market District Art Fair. There was a TV, that was comfortably neither big nor small. She had a bookshelf, but she realized with horror that she had never even bothered to unpack her books. Her bedroom had even less in it, little more than a Bed and a Nightstand, and other than the Bathrooms, the Apartment was basically no more than what was described. Carla looked around, and, realizing that the apartment had absolutely nothing of whoever she 'really was' in it, she decided that she couldn't really be the person living here.

After all, the only thing that really made her think of herself was the door – Three locks and a chain lock for good measure. That's Carla Valenti for you – Well Guarded against the things that could get in anyways. She pulled her gun out of her shoulder Holster, took the strap off, threw it onto the couch, and set the Gun next to her Paperwork on her desk. She sat down in front of it, and Admired the Gunmetal finish of her sidearm silently. She was still wearing the button shirt and slacks that smelled like Blood packets and spilled beer, and her hair was still done tightly yet somehow also rebellious, but at least something looked good. Good and Ready to do it's job. She smiled faintly, before remembering that her job wasn't getting done at the moment, simply because she was at an impenetrable brick wall. Bear's Records seemed Legit – There was no signs of external help, and no signs of Money Laundering. His Income seemed to be exclusively from a series of properties.

The building they'd mentioned had been bought legally by him and a Businessman named Victor Jones, who seemed entirely clean-cut and lived on the Hill. Their relationship didn't seem to go much further and Jones seemed to be completely clean. Any reason they could have to raid the Property wouldn't be good enough for a Judge. Someone had been hired to cover for Vincent's Kidnapping in that area. The Vampires would protect their own, so there was no way they could even get a witness. If they could bring in Bear and some of his Associates to get Welsh to Identify one of them as his Employer, it would be a lead – a lead that would have to wait until tomorrow.

And Tomorrow was a long ways away.

Tired, Weary and feeling useless, Carla looked around her Empty, Tragic Bachelorette Apartment, and wished that getting married to the Job meant bringing it home with you didn't entail more paperwork. Dejected and alone, she picked up her Cell Phone, Sighed, and made a Call.

--

Grand Street, East Pallisades District, August 15th, 1:40 AM

"Do you have any idea how stupid that was?" A Voice asked sharply, as a hand grabbed Summer's. The grab wasn't forceful or a means of attack, merely an attempt to stop her and get her attention.

"I don't know what you're referring to." The Former Agent said calmly. She scanned the darkness for the source of the voice, only finding a Silhouette.

"You need to Rethink your answer." The Silhouette stated shortly, as if to say playing dumb was a bad move instead of a smartly cautious one. As if they were wasting time, which considering her wound, they were.

Summers paused, the expressions on her face dancing subtly as she paused, froze up, loosened, and then admitted defeat. "It was reckless, but I've lost my patience." She admitted coldly. It was the truth.

The Silhouette seemed to pause and consider his options as well, before stepping a little more into the light. She could see tufts of black hair, a stubble, and the collar of a loose white shirt, but little more. "What do you want with the Banshee?" He asked seriously.

"Revenge." Donna Summers, who had joined the Bureau because she thought her talents were needed for Righteous and important things, stated without Emotion and without doubt. "I will Capture her. And then decide what to do with her after that." She narrowed her eyes, a terrifying lack of empathy in her look, born not of cruelty, but out of suffering. "I can't waste time. She's started working with a group, I know she has. If I don't strike before everything gets more organized, I willlose."

"Don't you understand? If you try this way, You'll lose anyways. You're afraid of the wrong people."

"If I'll lose Either way-"

"You can win by being Smart." He scowled, "You just made Enemies that you didn't have to make. A Lot of them. you made a hunt turn into a one-sided war." Faintly, a Mexican accent could be heard in the last handful of words. "She's running to Them for help, not the other way around."

"Vampires don't scare me." Donna said severely. "You saw what I did in the bar. But those ones were unprepared... and relatively small in number. That's why I need to work fast." She winced suddenly, gripping her side. She doubled over slightly in pain, but was affected more than the shame – the shame of appearing weak in front of this unknown. She grunted, and when the man reached to steady her, she moved back. Through the pain, teeth gritted, she continued, "Who are you?" She asked. "To know so much about this, to confront me about this?"

"Don't worry about me; I'm a third party. You're a Good person, you don't need to get yourself killed like that. Fear isn't the Right motivation to make them split. You can't get Her while she's with them, so you have to figure out a way to get them to leave her behind. You know, One that might actually work." He took a step back, glancing over his shoulder as he heard the rattle of a trash can get overturned, "I'm leaving. But know that she's not running to the Vampires, she's running to the group they're a part of. You've gotta-" A dog barking in the distance – probably a police search dog – cut him off. "Good luck."

Like that, he was gone.

--

Clear Waters Iroquois Hotel, Room 619, August 15th, 1:36 AM

"I dunneh what to think about it, Dad. The Case... It just doesn't add up. My Profile fits Bear completely, but there's no oveht signs that he's paht of a group at all. Theh's no reason to believe there ah any remnants of Nightfang afteh the attack. What little evidence on them suggests they relocated to Cinema Citeh." Osbourn shrugged to himself, looking down, "I jus don't Unnehstand what It could be. They kidnapped him, it's done... But why? I just can't see an endgame... I can't even imagine what theh next move would be."

"You said it yourself: They're doing it for the attention."

Osbourn sat up, blinking, "Attention? Attention to what? Theh cause? Bear tryin' to Revive Nightfang? How would Kidnappin' Pete Vincent help that cause?" Osbourn ran his hands through his hair, one of either side of his head, before suddenly rubbing his head vigorously with both, almost standing up but forcing himself to relax. This stagnation was too much to bear, the lack of progress being far more painful than any torture, real or imagined. "Theh's Gahtta be a link here! Some kinda connection... Ehnething!" He brought his hand down on the table, having moved to pound on it but stopping himself at the last second. He exhaled weakly, turning. "What is it, Dad? What am I missing?"

Further away this time, "You're Tired, Son. You need rest."

"Ah'm naht gonna rest while that guy is out theyeh, helpless." Osbourn turned sharply, facing away. He closed his eyes, and the breeze kissed his brow almost indifferently to his turmoil. "You know I can't do that..." He exhaled weakly.

Right behind him, "Do it for me."

Only it wasn't his father's voice. It was hers. Osbourn spun, Eyes wide in shock under the goggles (Though his field of Vision, as always, stayed the same). He looked around, scanning for her, somewhere, anywhere, but she was nowhere, and everywhere at the same time. Brow furrowed in confused, anxious agony, Osbourn tore the Goggles off his head and moved to throw them away, but the dominant part of his mind overpowered his emotion and his arm merely fell uselessly to his side. But the goggles were off, and now he could see that he wasn't sitting at a disk – he was on the balcony, the ledge looming next to him. He was terrifyingly close to falling over, only a flimsy railguard between him and the drop. Osbourn gasped, stumbling backwards and slamming against the glass sliding doors. The pane shattered, sending the Agent backwards onto his back, cutting his calf on a shard of glass.

Osbourn groaned, carefully getting his legs onto the inside of the broken window and moving away, Goggles still clutched in his hand. He exhaled, too empty to care about the glass or what had just happened. Instead, he ambled over to the bead, sitting down on the edge and opening the Cabinet Drawer next to it. He took out the only item inside – a bottle of pills. He opened the tube and took out a single Yellowish-orange tablet and closed his eyes, silent.

"You got it." he finally said, and took the pill, and fell unconscious almost immediately. When his phone rang a moment later, he was too far gone to even know what a phone was.

--

"Damn." Carla scowled, giving up when Osbourn's cell went to a message-less voicemail machine. She tossed her phone back onto the Desk, leaning back in her chair and glancing away. She sighed, staring at her door, at her Paperwork, at the Refrigerator Humming in the Kitchen, but eventually she couldn't keep herself from turning back to her phone. She stared at it for a solid twenty seconds, her brow furrowed and her fingers tented in front of her face. Was this really how she wanted to do this? Was this really the game she wanted to play?

She reached forward with a sigh, picking up the phone and flicking it open, and in a single motion, she called James.

--

Cherry Street and Pandora Boulevard, School City Hospital, August 15th, 1:55 AM

If somebody had asked why James Brightburg had become a Doctor, they wouldn't have gotten much of an answer. He did not enjoy helping people, he did not particularly care or empathize with them. He would spend the majority of his time working; he did not have much of a life outside of work, and as far as his coworkers knew, he had no hobbies, no family, and apparently no reason to continue his life. One could argue that he worked in order to socialize with people, or at least to see other humans from time to time. While a likely explanation, that argument did not account for the dismissive way he treated those around him, patients and coworkers alike. As a matter of fact, James Brightburg was a mystery to the staff, and a major topic of speculation and gossip would be his personal life – whether or not he had ever been married, whether he was a psychopath or an ex-convict, or a serial murderer, or whether he had been raised by wolves or congealed out of the ground.

Among those who took part in such speculation was the young doctor Scarlett Joyce, who was fairly new here but had taken a liking to the breadth of the mystery, and how it had swallowed up much of the hospital, as well as other doctors as far away as the east coast or the West. James seemed exceedingly talented and had risen through the ranks with incredible speed, but he remained almost completely devoid of a discernible social life. Of course, like in most of these cases, the truth would have shocked them a good deal more than any of their own theories. It was the Tantalizing nature of this fact, a fact that they all knew full well, that Scarlett Joyce listened in whenever he got a Phone call. That, and the fact she was in love with him.

This particular After-midnight phone call seemed juicy indeed, at least to her. The man had stepped into a Stairwell to take the call, working long hours of the night as usual. Scarlett held the door open a crick, and waited on the outside, listening intently.

"Brightburg... Carla? What's..." he murmured, then fell silent. "I'm not sure... I... Yeah, Alright. Hang on, I'll.. Okay. Sure. ...Okay, see you." Joyce frowned as James hung up, quickly darting away so as not to look suspicious. She sighed, leaning over a counter and reading a chart as the blond haired Doctor made his way out.

"Going home?" She asked, thankful that she was facing away so that she could clench her eyes shut in anxiety.

James glanced over, cocking an eyebrow in a vaguely indifferent confusion, before shaking his head, "No... but I am leaving."

"Need a ride?" Scarlett couldn't help it. It came out before she could stop herself from saying it.

"...No."

That was Jim Brightburg; He was Cold Blooded and he made the ladies Swoon. Not really, as he hadn't had much of a date in his life, and certainly not one in his recent years (excluding one ill-advised blind date with a Drama Teacher from the School Itself). A more accurate portrayal would be less Cold Blooded, and more Cold Fish. He was Dry, cynical and Sarcastic, and most of all he was overburdened by the troubles of the world. If anything, Joyce was drawn to him because she knew so little about him. Carla, of course, must have appreciated the vast history they shared, and what they'd gone through together. He was Carla Valenti's best friend, and had been met her through Torval Langston, with whom he'd been acquainted for nearly four years. It was during Carla's coma that James hit the darkest, lowest point of his life, but when he finally woke her up, he didn't get any better.

Theres was a Relationship that had no real bright side, or at least none that James could see. She was the only person in the world he cared about more than the rest, and she was his Conscience, his sense of humanity. He was her friend, not an ideal but a hope that he could never really live up to. It seemed the pair wasn't very well in tune with reality.

If that's not Fate, I challenge you to show me what is.

--

Unknown Location and time

His legs burned, his hands were bleeding, and his feet were bruised and swelling, but he had finally gotten away. He'd slammed shut the flimsy wooden door, and was sure that considering the unquantifiable power and speed of the ones hunting him, there was nothing he could do to truly escape. All he could do was clutch the stake in his hand and pray that when they found him, he could get the drop and maybe escape alive.

He groped meaninglessly in the dark, finally finding what he was looking for – a small chain attatched to a light bulb. Pulling it, the light turned on, and he backed towards the wall before stopping dead in his tracks. Horrified, he at least saw what he hadn't noticed before – the symbols on the doors, the walls, the shelves... spinning around, he saw the woman in the wheelchair slowly coming up behind him, and screamed.

The door burst down behind him, and they fell upon him from all sides.

--

2290 Fort Street, Apartment 3B, August 15th, 2:29 AM

"Glass of Wine?"

"...Sure."

James stood uncertainly in Carla's doorway, hands in the pockets of his cargo pants. He was leaning against the door jamb, as if he wasn't entirely sure if he was staying or just dropping by, despite being invited t spend time with her. Carla herself was standing by the counter, pouring two glasses of wine, wearing one of those insuppressible smiles on her face. The kind a person tried to keep down but just plain can't – by far the most rewarding smile to earn from someone else. James, however, hardly noticed it, instead shouldering the responsibility of accepting the fact that he was in fact there to stay. He stepped all the way inside, shutting the door behind him, and looked around the apartment. Honestly, he liked it. It was downright charming.

To his left, Carla had finished pouring the drinks and had brought them over. "Get it while it's hot." She offered warmly, and James took one of the glasses and took a sip.

"Thanks." James said, glancing over, "Nice place." He took a step forward, looking around a little more.

"No kiddin', huh?" Carla shook her head, sighing with a smile. She carefully sat on the couch, settling into place. James glanced at her as she sat, then looked away, pacing over to her desk and glancing through her papers. He took a sip of his wine, and glanced over.

"So... did you need something?" He asked gingerly, not sure if she had called him over for a specific purpose. Not sure if she'd even call him over without a purpose at all.

Carla gave a bitter laugh, shrugging, "I guess... to get my mind off of that shit. Or maybe back on it, who knows." she rubbed the side of her head, exhaling, "It's been a rough couple of days. Trying to..." she shifted in her seat, feeling self conscious but driven to speak anyways, "Trying to get a hold, I guess, on everything that's going on. God, I've never felt so powerless." Carla rolled her neck, glancing over at James, "I'm probably not making any sense..."

James was standing across from her, by the brick wall, arms crossed. He shook his head, and leaned back, "No, it makes sense. I know what you mean." He gestured weakly, unsure what he could or should say, nothing much coming to mind. He didn't see what she thought he could do, how she thought he could he help. He was no stabilizing element, no wise or emotionally in-tune advisor. He moved over, taking a seat in a chair across from her, "Tell me about it." He requested.

Carla tilted her head, sloshing the contents of her glass around lazily, "It's Vincent, Pete Vincent. You know, the Musician that got kidnapped."

"I thought you were Homicide." James said lowly.

Carla sighed, shaking her head, "Head Detective. No such luck." James nodded as if to say 'Go on'. "Well..." Carla continued, "I'm pretty sure it's got something to do with this Vampire named Bear... used to be a part of Nightfang..." She explained, "There's enough... to suggest it's him, but... not much more."

"So what's the problem?" James asked, "Sounds like a solid lead." He took a sip, the palpable nature of the situation slowly fading.

Carla looked at him for a moment, before her gaze faltered. "Wow. Tough one, huh." She sighed, shrugging and looking down, "I guess... I guess it's not the case itself, but..." She stumbled for words, "I can't easily explain what it is that's bugging me. The Job... it's like this all the time, it's not worse..." Carla stopped, and shook her head, starting again, "It's Partly this Agent from the FBI that the Marshals sent down. This..." She floundered, "This guy just makes it hard to work, or think, being around him. Not like Tyler at all. He's... God, he's everything I don't want to be." James regarded her silently, a serious look on her face, and she continued, "And I see way too much of myself in him." She admitted glumly.

"What do you see?" James asked, continuing the conversation but putting in as little as possible. A trick he'd learned from Lemex, probably.

"Osbourn- The Agent, He's..." Carla fell silent, realizing that all the descriptions she was going to use to relate herself to him were all major problems. "A... Workaholic... Overserious... No social Life, looks like..." She frowned, feeling worse than ever, "Distant. Almost eager to lose himself." She chuckled darkly, "Got these... Futuristic Goggles, calls them an 'aid'. No clue what they are, but he treats them like a wife. Half disgusted, half jealous and curious." She sighed, rubbing her forehead, "Wow, I must look like a mess." She felt Flushed, overexposed, vulnerable... She felt like an idiot. This wasn't her, the person she was – the confident, successful, strong woman. Calling James certainly had panned out into a great plan. Instead of being a wreck, she was a wreck in front of her friend! Ten points for the Detective.

"No... You don't." James consoled her clumsily. He sat up slightly, "If you want to tell me you have no social life, you're gonna have to find a way to work your away around the fact you're spending time with your friend Right Now. I've never met that Agent Guy, but I can already see a handful of extremely key differences. Firstly, you're not distant at all. You're probably the... most approachable person I know." James swallowed weakly, the only stumble in his small speech which had become strangely effective once he'd gotten rolling, "And secondly, you'd never lose yourself in anything. You're more eager to stay aware and helping than anyone else I've ever met. I don't know what you're worried about, Carla, Because I can't see anything much wrong with you." James' Dignity was something that he held Sacred, and though he was worried he'd just put it on the line, he remained unapologetic for his statement, and didn't take it back. Instead, he let it hang.

Thankfully for him, Carla was, if anything, touched. She leaned back, blinking, "I-... wow, that... really helps. Thank you, James..." She downed the rest of her wine and stood, turning towards the kitchen before glancing back fleetingly, another one of those insuppressible smiles working it's way up to Terminal mass. She headed into the Kitchen, going to fill her glass again. A comfortable silence fell over them, but it was one James found it necessary to fill.

"Torval's Done, if you hadn't heard. Going to Therapy, finally. Set him up with the Kid, Lemex-"

"Can we... Not talk about Torval?" Carla asked apologetically. James nodded.

"Absolutely." the Doctor agreed.

They spoke for hours, finishing the wine in short order and merely enjoying each other's company afterwards. They spoke about each other's work, about their families, about what they thought of the changing world and what they hoped for the future. They spoke about heaven, and about their friends. But by the time Carla finally decided she wanted to tell James what was really bothering her – the idea that Osbourn had given her, that they were devoid of initiative – she found that she didn't have enough time to work up the courage to do so.

When she woke up in the morning, she discovered that at some point she had fallen asleep, and that after she had, James had left.

--

Erie Road Safehouse, August 15th, 10:49 AM

Bandages, Antiseptic, New bedsheets, Towels, crackers, antibiotics, and painkillers. And Water – Lots and Lots of Water. She'd burned through three gallons already, trying to keep from getting dehydrated.

Making a list of what she needed to replenish her stores of gave Summers a false sense of comfort – it made her believe that she would soon feel safe, though she knows full well she never truly will. Now of all times it was especially necessary, as her wounds from the previous night had caused some serious issues, or at least exacerbated some that were already gestating into a real mess. It was something to do; a way to make sense of her own actions and restore a sense of Normalcy. Watching her feeds or tuning into the Police band rarely did much to take her mind of her problems. However, today things would have been different.

"The Time has come."

At any given moment, she had over two dozen wire taps running throughout the city. It was really fairly obvious – considering some of the information she would have been privy to back in the Bureau, the notion of tapping phone lines would have been almost a go-to. Getting the Police Files hadn't been As easy, but she'd managed it. The Transcript of the Interview with the Welsh implied the group did their business in the streets near the overpass. Bugging the Pay phones in the area had been little more than an Afterthought. An afterthought that paid off hugely.

"Where and when?"

It was her. The Banshee! Summers spun in her chair, wheeling over to the machine and putting the headphones up to her ear, indifferent to the pain in her side.

"There Warehouse – it's safe there. You know what to do." Click.

Bear's Warehouse then, the Property off of the Overpass. He wouldn't send her to an empty warehouse and certainly wouldn't say the one where Vincent had his show was Safe, considering the building is under guard 24/7. Summers stood, grabbing her shirt and pulling it on, and then grabbing a Bulletproof Vest with 'FBI' Emblazoned on the back in large yellow collars. With her gun in her holster, she Headed out, not only shutting the door on her Apartment, but on an entire portion of her life.

--

29th Street and Lefay, Empty Lot, August 15th, 11:01 AM

"Didn't find him until late this morning, since the Shack isn't exactly popular. Not quite out of the way, either, so it doesn't look like they were trying to hide him."

Carla put on her sunglasses as she got out of her car, quickly walking across the bright pavement and ducking under the Crime scene tape. Blanc gestured to her, pointing to the body with one hand and holding an Umbrella with the other. "Long night?" He asked her.

"Now I know how you feel. Mind if I borrow that?" She pointed to the Black Parasol he held over his head.

"No offense, but I think I need it more than you do." He turned, and started to walk next to her. They approached the small shed where a graying pile of corpse was waiting for them.

"What are the facts?" Carla asked quietly, stepping into the shade. Unfortunately, along with the pleasant lack of overpowering sunlight, there was a powerful stench in the room. "Time of Death?"

"Sometime last night for sure." Blanc said, "Neck was snapped in one go. Looks like a Vampire Gangland killing of some sort." He crossed his arms doubtfully. "If the Vic was one himself, it would explain why the blood wasn't drained."

Carla shook her head, "No, Blood's pooled on the floor. He definitely used to be a Human... up until last night. They probably did it as a final insult. Like his blood wasn't good enough to drink."

"Or they wanted to be sure he'd stay dead."

Valenti knelt beside the body, brow furrowed. The man was between youth and middle aged, and looked liked he'd once been fairly clean-cut and respectable. That wasn't the case anymore, and it didn't seem like it was his death that caused his disheveled appearance – there was a fair growth of beard on his face, and his clothes looked ragged already. "Somebody'd been on the run." She remarked, leaning forward and getting a better look. "Got an ID?"

"Name's... Victor Jones. Latino, small Business owner, Local fixture..."

Carla paused, turning and standing, "Victor Jones? Oh shit-" She turned, pacing out of the Shed. She pulled out her phone, walking away quickly. She Dialed Osbourn, putting the phone to her ear and frowning. Blanc followed her out, Carefully bringing the shade with him. "Detective? What is it?"

"Call Tyler and tell him to get a Warrant for a search of Jones' house. Hurry!" She replied, just in time for her to return her focus to the phone as it went to Voicemail. She swore, quickly walking towards her car. "Osbourn, pick up! The Guy who Cosigned for the Warehouse with Bear just showed up dead, I'm coming to your Hotel room if you don't Call back!" She started the car, turning on the Siren and speeding forward. What the hell was Osbourn doing, wasting time like that? Why wasn't he answering his calls? What was Wrong with him? Their Brick wall just toppled, and the damn Serial Profiler couldn't be bothered to answer his damn phone.

--

Clear Waters Iroquois Hotel, Room 619, August 15th, 11:24 AM

Osbourn fumbled vaguely for his phone, Finding trouble convincing his muscles that they were in fact intended to be used, not merely there for the hell of it. If there was such a thing as a vicious Cycle, it was I.A.A. And Kraftenol. One designed specifically to allow your brain to work as fast as possible (ultimately too fast), and the other designed to slow it back down (Ultimately too slow). Less of a Cycle, more of a Whirlpool. Osbourn shuddered to think of what was at the bottom.

When he finally got to the phone, he brought it up so he could see the time. Shocked and almost panicked by the lateness, he received a jolt of energy that allowed him to sit up and look around. At once he realized what had woken him up – the continued pounding at his Hotel suite door. Now if only he could stand.

"I know you're in there, Osbourn!" Carla called from the other side, and Sam groaned, trying to pull himself together. Desperately, and yet so weakly, he pulled himself up and stumbled, falling against the wall. To say his arms and legs felt a thousand pounds heavier would be an understatement; to say his energy had been sapped utterly would be saying far too little. There were no words for this feeling, this thickness of mind and weight of motion. Still in his Suit (Tie over-loosened, shirt untucked), he made his way to the door and, with an incredible measure of willpower, opened the door.

"Sahrry..." he said, breathlessly, "Ah'm Rilly Sahrry..."

"Sorry's not going to be much consolation for Pete Vincent." Carla frowned, taking aback somewhat by his appearance, "we need to go, Agent Osbourn. Bear's business partner showed up dead. Something's happening. We have to check out his home."

Osbourn nodded, "Ahright... Jest... let me grab a few things-"

"There's no time! I'm going now." Carla turned, starting ahead quickly. Osbourn could see she wasn't going to let this one go, let this one slide. The agent turned, looking behind him, at the Desk facing against the window. Drawing in breath weakly, He winced, looking back down the hall towards the retreating Valenti. The Goggles, what was he supposed to do without them? How was he supposed to go after her, knowing they were here? Knowing he'd left them behind? That he might not ever be able to get them back? Osbourn gently ran a hand over his chin, distorted by the bump of the Rough scar. He stopped as he realized it, and brought his hand in front of his face, and stared for the briefest of moments at the missing finger on his right hand.

He pulled the door shut and went after her.

--

9001 Timber Road, East Palisades District, August 15th, 11:20 AM

Jitters. She didn't know she still had it in her. Nervous excitement. Fear? Yes, Fear, somewhere in there. And that fluttery thing down in her stomach couldn't be anything but hope.

Summers tried to regulate her breathing, tried to bring the adrenaline down. At the moment, the only thing she needed was to be clear headed, precise and aware. Unfortunately, even she had to admit that she was a mere human; A human on her way to do what she'd been trying to do for years now.

--

The Dodge pulled up in front of the Large house on the side of the Hill, Chugging to a halt, the parking brake being slammed on before the two Cops got out. They headed quickly up to the Porch, heading directly in – Jones lived alone, sadly, and there were few people to miss him. Carla furrowed her brow, pacing inside and looking around the Living room, lit with Morning light.

"So what ah we lookin for?" Osbourn asked, rubbing his neck. He wasn't entirely sure what he was supposed to be doing.

"Information on his relationship with Bear. On the Property, on their motives... A journal would be ideal-" Carla stated, but froze as she entered the Den.

--

Swing around the corner – another empty hall. Kick in the door – another empty floor. Donna scowled, keeping her weapon raised, but slowly coming to believe that there was nobody inside the building at all. She slowly made her way back to the Stairwell, thoughts careening painfully within her mind. Was she really going to be let down again? Had she gotten her hopes up for this? The Lead was solid, Rock solid! How was there nothing there?

- -

"Over here." Carla said solemnly, and Osbourn followed her into the Den. The room was trashed, furniture overturned and parts of the wall broken. The TV itself was overturned, but still functional. Not to mention On.

"Looks like he hasn't been heeh in weeks." Osbourn said, slowly making his way over to the TV and setting it back upright. He grunted, the effects of the drug still wearing off, but eventually succeeded in righting the Television. He stepped back, exhaling and wiping his hands on the sides of his coat. "And what do yeh know... theh's somethin in the DVD Playeh."

Tersely, and somewhat concerned it might be a trap, Carla stepped over to the Machine and knelt, never truly considering her options before pressing play. She was compelled to do this. It had to be done. The TV turned from an Empty, static Blue to an image of Jones, still very much alive.

"If you're working with him, then you already know all this. But on the off chance somebody else finds this... I need your help."

--

Summers was starting to get worried, but finally got wind of something. A Thudding, from the top floor, caused her to spin and point her gun upwards. Suddenly, her heartbeat jumped from a five to a five hundred, her brow furrowing severely. Though her high had dropped as she'd slowly begun to think her quarry wasn't here, the sudden realization that she very well might be brought Donna to a sudden Revelation – She wasn't ready for this. She wasn't prepared to do what came next. It was terrifying, but also somewhat freeing; She wasn't that far gone, after all.

Despite her train of thought, her feet still carried her on, as if the inertia of her past few years was too strong for her body to ignore even if her mind was able to. The stairwell door was open, and she slowly made her way up to the final door. Before she could stop, before she could think, she kicked it open and charged in.

--

"Looks like he knew what was coming, after all..." Carla murmured to herself, as the Dead man on the Screen composed himself. She hadn't really believed that this could be the answer to the question of what she would find here – something so clear, so obvious. She hadn't really thought she'd fined anything at all. But she'd needed it. For the first time in her life, she wondered if someone knew that, and made sure that she got it.

"I believed in what they were doing," Jones started, "And I still do. It's the only way to do things – the Right way to do things. I want them to know that... I want The Headmaster to know that – I want Maria to know that." He looked down, and swallowed, "He wants them all to think that I'm a traitor, But He's the Traitor, not me. I still believe it, but at some point he stopped. He decided that to get what we wanted, Silence wasn't the right path, noise was. He made his stand and brought most of the Militant Wing with him, trying to separate the Order between Humans and Supers." He rustled his hair, the gesture of a man falling apart, trying to scratch one of a thousand itches. "I thought... I thought he was doing something different – A new angle, not a new direction, not... Sacrilege. When I found out the Truth, I tried to stop them, Tried to... tried to keep it from happening however I could. I tried talking to them, to the Order, and then I tried to stop them directly. But they're far too strong."

He looked down, "And I'm too weak."

Osbourn glanced over at Carla, "Guess he died tryin' to keep all this from happenin'."

--

"What the Hell are you doing here?" Donna pointed her pistol at the man kneeling on the floor. He stood, sticking his arms straight up in the air, terrified. "I Said What are you doing here?" She growled tersely, not shouting but somehow being more forceful all the same.

"Taking Shelter..." The man responded, and by then Summers could get a good look at him. He was wearing rags, and smelled awful even from that distance. His face was old, scarred and bearded, and he was standing in the middle of a makeshift camp. A Damn Vagrant."Don't know why you gotta be so hostile..."

"The Banshee." She stepped forward, "Where is she?!"

"Ain't no Banshee here, Honey... you the first person I seen here in months." the Homeless man said, taking a step backwards.

"What about the people who own this place?" Donna furrowed her brow, "They don't use this place? Nobody does?"

"Nob'dy but me."

--

"If you're hearing this, and you don't work for him, then you need to do what I couldn't. Bear is going to Kidnap Pete Vincent, the Musician, when he plays at the Ohio Street Warehouse. He's not doing this for the Ransom, or for the Notoriety, he's doing this because it's the best way to get the attention of the City. He Doesn't just want to protect Supers anymore, he wants to Make sure they're separate, make sure they're safe and in charge of their own City. He wants to recreate Nightfang, but he's not just going to make a statement, he's going to take us to war. If he gets Vincent, then you probably won't be able to stop him, but if you can catch him before he makes his move, you might succeed. Kidnapping Vincent won't be enough, he needs to say that they're willing to change the landscape of the city completely. His next move is going to be his most crucial."

--

Donna stepped backwards, slowly Holstering her gun. Bear had sent the Banshee to a Location, to a Warehouse, but for what? There would be no secure storage for Anything Bear needed, and even if he did need her to pick something up, he wouldn't make her do it. So where then was he going to go? What other possible reason could he have to-

The Former Agent turned, eyes going wide, and ran out of the Warehouse as quickly as she could.

--

"I don't know how much longer I'll be able to last out here. He's already sending his men after me, trying to kill me. I'm going on the run as soon as I leave this message for whoever finds me. Probably by the time you do, I'll be dead. But all I can do is hope that my death brings you here, and quickly, because right now me and my actions are the only thing keeping Bear from going through with his plan. He might risk Kidnapping Vincent while I'm still out here, but there's no way he'd ever try to Blow up the Ohio Street Warehouse while I'm still alive-"

--

Ohio Street Warehouse, August 15th, 11:45 AM

"When are you going to just tell him to stay out, or let him in for good? Why always change from Hot To Cold? "

"You didn't know him back then, Harvey." Marti shrugged, sitting at the Bar. "Shit, neither did I, but hey, what can I say. First Vampire I met, so there's that. He was always on some stupid adventure, in the middle of some huge, dramatic thing. There was just something about him, I guess. I don't know if it's still there, or if it's gone completely. It fucks with me, Harv. Sometimes I see the faintest flicker of what used to be..." She took a deep swig from her Beer, "The Rest of the Time, he's a Pussy."

"Must be Maddening." Harvey Remarked, leaning back against the shelves, arms crossed. "Don't take this the wrong way, but he seems like an alright guy. He likes you a lot, said it clear as day."

Marti chuckled, "World's full of Alright guys. If I wanted any guy, he probably wouldn't be alright."

"He'd be the kind of guy that Torval used to be."

"Bingo."

Harvey chuckled and shrugged, "World's full of Sociopaths. Sure there's one around the Corner."

Marti laughed, a warm, friendly and appreciative laugh, one full of contrast, almost blatantly in opposition of the person she seemed and ultimately would be known to be. "No, no, no, that's not it. I don't know, he made no apologies. He was what he was, and... and he took shit from not a one." She sighed, "And he knew what was important. It's not about blood or killing, or stylish hair or playing in a band... He was a Man. He was True. Kinda guy I'd... I'd like to be."

Harvey nodded somberly, sighing, "I guess I can see what you mean." Just then, The phone call that would Save Harvey's Life arrived in the Received, ringing blearily in the late-morning air of the Warehouse, in the same space and roughly the same time that Peter Vincent Shared a beer with Torval and Alex a few days ago. Harvey picked up the phone and turned, listening to what the other person had to say. "Alright, sure. Be there soon." he sighed and hung up, turning to Marti. "Problem with the PR bastards again. They seemed to think that he'll be back in time to play his second set, don't they?" Marti lifted her beer in a farewell 'cheers', and Harvey turned to look over at the door in the far wall. "Jakowski! Keep an eye on the place for me?"

"You got it, Boss." The Officer replied warmly, and Harvey headed out the door for the last time. Marti sighed, and took another sip, feeling decidedly not Wicked, Righteous or groovy. She simply did not Dig it. The door opened again, and Marti turned, "Forget something?"

But the Silhouette was of a Redheaded woman, not that of the friendly Middle aged man who cared more about this building than himself.

--

Sirens Wailed, Red Lights turned Green on their command, and Traffic Parted for them like the Red sea, but they still weren't going fast enough. It was the Bridge, the God damned bridge that was too cramped and difficult to get through, and to integral to avoid. "Bear could be theh, but Vincent Likely won't." Osbourn said, "Even if we catch him, theh's no way he'll tell us where his Victim is."

Carla was too busy to listen, to busy to care. She was weaving through traffic, and had grabbed the Radio's mouthpiece, bringing it up to her face. "This is Car 112, Detective Carla Valenti, All available units to 61151 Ohio Street, Suspects on the Scene, possible bombing threat-" She swore loudly, slamming on the brakes as they hit the bridge. Gridlock. "No! Get out of the Way!" The Siren seemed unable to command these people to move, as they had nowhere to go. She turned to look at Osbourn, but he was already gone.

"Come Ahn!" He shouted, running across the bridge quickly. Carla turned, instantly seeing it was their only option and getting out of her car as well, Running after him briskly and catching up with him a moment later.

--

In this particular case, however, Donna reached the Warehouse a good while before the other two. Her car ran recklessly up onto the Curb, Summers swinging open the door and leaving it ajar as she ran quickly towards the entrance to the building. Drawing her gun again, she kicked down the door without the slightest hesitation, clearing the entrance and scanning around the large room. Nobody was in sight; not the Owners, Patrons or the Banshee and her friends. All she could see was the large empty chamber, with the back door open on the far side, and a police officer lying in a heap in between her and the other door. With no time for thought, Summers quickly crossed the room, kneeling by the Cop.

There was no pulse, it seemed, And Summers stood from Jakowski's corpse to look towards the stairs that led downwards not far to her right. Alternating her wary gaze between the Back door and the Stairwell, Summers made her way quickly over to the stairwell. Stopping near the top of them, she could see down to the hallway that led to Marti's Apartment. Peeking over the Edge, she held her breath and spotted what was at the bottom of the steps – a pair of Jeans-adorned Legs, the rest of the body out of view, still moving slightly, and what could only be a Bomb. "Hey-" She started to call, before a spare glance at the back door caught the whole of her attention.

It was her. Samantha, The Banshee. There at last. Summers turned fully to face her, the ancient ghost lighted by the Warm, yellow morning light. No matter what would have happened next, Donna knew she would always remember the way it looked – Frozen, as if the being thought the words it never expected to think: 'Caught'. Shock, surprise, disbelief. Defeat, all there in one package. She'd won already, in a way, and a Bomb and a pair of Legs at the bottom of the stairs needed her. Glancing back down the steps, Donna felt horror creep into her heart as she knew that now, yes, it was true. She was ready, she had what it took. She might not have been before, even as recently as earlier today, but now there was no doubt that she was gone. It was time, and now even her mind couldn't deny the inertia in this moment. Desperation was the only word to describe it. Winning wasn't enough. The Banshee needed to die.

Summers turned back and started to spring towards the back door, gun raised and pointed forward. The Banshee broke and turned as well, starting to move away, but soon Donna had reached the door. Samantha found herself surrounded at all sides by water, on the banks of the Ohio river. As a Ghost, she simply would not be able to cross. She turned, facing Summers, who had her gun aimed directly at her foe. 'Caught', it was true, at long last. She'd never really believed that it was even a possibility, but Summers had finally caught her.

"You bitch." The Banshee spat, backing away slightly.

Summers exhaled, and the inhalation she took afterwards was the first breath of the free air she had taken in years. She was free, now that Samantha wasn't. And all she felt was tired. "You've taken... so much from me. You've stolen my life and everyone in it."

Samantha laughed, laughed at that as if it were a joke, spite and disgust evident in her voice, "What do you think you're going to do with that gun, huh? Shoot me? You may have been prepared enough so that I wouldn't be able to do anything to you, but you still can't do anything to me."

Donna narrowed her eyes, "There are so many theories on how to capture or kill a Banshee... I'm going to enjoy going through every last one of them." The last thing she remembered seeing was Samantha's smile.

"You have no idea how much I enjoy your agony, do y-" The light flared behind her, and suddenly, there was nothing.

--

Their sprint fell back to a run, and finally to a jog and then a full halt as Carla and Osbourn saw the flare of the Explosion not Forty feet away. Sorrow, grief, shame and disappointed crossed both of their features in a unique symphony, both of which came to a single central theme – they had failed.

3/31/2012 . Edited 3/31/2012 #5
livinglife

(Nooooohooohoooo Maaaaaaarrrtiiiiiii!)

4/1/2012 #6
livinglife

The old cliche goes that your life will flash in front of you when you're about to die. This was not the case for Agent Donna Summers. She simply had no time to review her life before it ended. So she didn't get to look back on her life, which had started out so promising, so happily.

If she had, she would have remembered her childhood first, of course. She was the middle child of seven children. Her family had a big thing for the number seven. Her father was the seventh irish son of a seventh irish son. This was considered incredibly lucky, and to be truthful her father was always blessed with bizarre luck. He had narrowly escaped from terrible accidents several times, never got caught in the rain or snow, and on his twenty seventh birthday he won the lottery (using all numbers that were multiples of seven.) Donna's mother, who was always head over heels in love with the man she referred to as her 'gangly leprechaun', decided that they should use the winnings to buy a nice farm in the countryside, and try for a seventh son of their own. They had seven lovely daughters, but no sons.

Donna would have remembered, for the first time in years, the smell of the freshly cut hay, how her father would come home and instantly be tackled by little girls who wanted to hug him, and he would never be too tired or too overworked to hug them back and entertain them for hours with piggyback rides and stories and adventures. She would have remembered her mom's charming smile as she watched her husband play with their daughters, and how her shepherds pie rivaled all others. She would have remembered idle things, like getting dressed for Prom in her sister's old dress, her hair teased up in a regrettable perm and clutching her date's arm a little tightly as they entered the dance. She would have remembered college, when she lost her virginity, all her friends there, the way vomit tasted when it was made up entirely of coconut rum.

She had gotten a good job out of college as a journalist. People told her it was perfect for her, the best fit. Through the short span she worked though she saw crime and pain and death, not- as she had half believed, restrained only to far away strangers in third world countries or during disasters, but to normal people, on normal days. She saw something wrong with the country around her, and she resolved to fix it.

To everyone's surprise but her own, Donna Summers became an FBI agent.

It had been hard work, but she had dedicated herself to it almost entirely. Her huge family was proud of her, nervous, but proud. She had long conversations with her father about the state of the world, and how she wanted to help fix it. She was well liked at the academy, and up and coming girl with promise, with talent. She worked long and hard at the agency, gaining respect from her superiors all the way.

Donna would have recalled the day she first heard of the banshee. She knew of Superhumans. And her daddy had told her tales of banshees in Ireland, the spirits that killed humans with their voice like an untalented siren. But still, the thought of one being real surprised her. She was told that it was now her job to track the dangerous murderer down, and she accepted eagerly. After all, this was why she'd wanted to be an agent. She wanted to make the world a better place.

So, she had taken precautions to protect herself, she'd worked on the case for months, and finally, finally, she caught up to the banshee. But the ghost had only laughed in her face, finding the adorable upstart so deliciously amusing. And just like that, Donna Summers had lost the banshee again. It would be months before she was able to find her once more.

Donna then would have remembered her great Uncle's funeral. He was the oldest of her family, died of a heart attack. Unfortunate, but unavoidable. After his death, her next great Uncle died of a heart attack too, and members of her family wrote it off as natural, grief had overworked the old man. Donna had discussed this with the kindly old man who was the next eldest. He was hearty, healthy, an old man who exercised daily and drank milk with every meal. He died not a week later- heart attack.

And Donna knew what she had been trying to push out of her mind, what she had been hoping with every last ounce of strength was untrue, was certain. The banshee was targeting her family, going down the line of the oldest first. Donna's entire life became bound to searching for ways to capture the banshee, to stop her. The Federal Bureau of Investigations 'aided' her by telling her that the information she had on the banshee was confidential, and that she was not to tell her family anything about it, so as not to cause a panic. After all, they'd said, an immortal killing machine even worse than a vampire? The public wouldn't have been able to handle it! They told her they'd put surveillance on her family to protect them. Donna worked harder now, on borrowed time. Then, the last of the first set of seven sons, her grandfather, died.

She left the office immediately, with all of the files she'd need along with several stolen weapons. She contacted all of her family remotely using different prepaid phones to avoid being traced, and warned them of all the danger they were in. The banshee had already begun destroying the children of the first set of seven. She seemed to know effortlessly where they were. But then, it wasn't very hard. She had known humans and seen their patterns for centuries. Donna tracked down her relatives too, always determined to protect them. Most of them saw her as insane, as she thrust trinkets and charms and whispered blessings at them. Most of them would shove her away, find ways to escape her gaze, and meet their death. The banshee seemed to see it as a game, and the bodies started disappearing... but Donna knew they were dead.

The few relatives who did believe her were unwilling to give up their routines, vanishing too. Soon, all that was left was Donna's parents and siblings. Donna took them all, some of them very unwilling, to a safe house she had prepared. She locked them in, the home blessed and covered in more charms than manageable. She stayed awake for days on end, and, finally, when it seemed like the banshee was beaten for now, she collapsed into dreamless sleep. When she woke up, her father was sitting by her bed, holding her hand. At first, she smiled up at him, before realizing his clutching fingers were unn-... no, supernaturally cold. The man's lips twitched from a smile into a mocking grin, followed by outright laughter, and she jerked back in shock.

"You know." He told her. "You have an impressively large family. Do you realize it's been seven years since you first confronted me? Hmm... guess seven wasn't his lucky number after all."

"Why." Donna had said slowly, teeth clenched so hard her jaw ached.

He chuckled derisively again. "You're the one who dared to disturb an ancient spirit. You should feel honored... Donna, is it? Your family became, briefly, my new purpose. Killing each of you off became more challenging because of you. All those little kids your aunt had had... your adorable younger sisters! It was so... enjoyable." She laughed.

Donna had snatched a gun from the dresser drawer, firing a round into the face of the man she had called Daddy. The body tilted back, its head obliterated, and tumbled to the ground. Blue light glowed around it, and the banshee formed in front of her, laughing hysterically. "And the final punchline to this huge joke! He wasn't even dead yet! I'd just used him as a living puppet!" She vanished, the laughter still hanging in the air.

The rest, Summers wouldn't have bothered reviewing. Her life had no meaning, after that. Only a purpose. She would do whatever it took to destroy the banshee.

Summers would have remembered these events, but she simply didn't have time before she was incinerated.

~~~

Samantha felt strangely upset as she drifted unaffected in the blaze. Summers had given her purpose for years now... a purpose she had been missing since Ireland's industrial revolution. And now.... well, now no one would stand against her again. The world had no opposition left for her.

4/1/2012 #7
spearofhope

"The Rundown is as follows."

In a Darkened Hallway, chances of keeping your balance are very small. But Manny's were obliterated when the entirety of the Building shook, as if the whole city jolted, as if the Earth was knocked off it's axis. This was more than an Earthquake – he had experienced them before, often, in Chrysopylae, and this was more like the world got kicked in the crotch, hard. He stumbled, falling against unpainted Drywall, hitting it at an angle and instead of stopping, merely changed his route of descent.

He Felt the bones break when he hit the ground palms-first, felt them shudder and crack like explosions inside of his hands. It didn't just look like the ground lurched up to meet him – it Did. He was sure of it, because the second he was prone on the floor, he started to Slide along the hallway, gravity shifting obliquely. He saw the Citscape Swoon outside the window at the end (or, now, 'bottom) of the hall, glass breaking as he slid far too quickly towards it. The Building was falling over.

The Descent was clean for a confusingly long time, but before he came to the end of his slide the ground exploded up beneath him, and he barely had time to scream before the open space in the Hallway went from Normal Sized to a Body-crushing Zero.

"The Ohio Street Warehouse is Gone. Completely. So far, all evidence points to a bombing attack by the same Operation that is believed to have kidnapped Pete Vincent – We're calling it Terrorist Organization X right now, because there is virtually no information aside from the suspected members involved. The Explosion has taken, at this point, Two lives. Two others are in Critical Condition."

Two Pictures, both of men in Dark Blue uniforms in front of American Flags, propped up in front of two Coffins. Partners for years, their two funerals were foregone in favor of One. Open Caskets were not an option.

Confused, Frightened and Horrified, a young blond man sits in the front row of the funeral despite having know Jakowski and Smitts for less than a week. Dynes, still more than a year away from being Permanently Crippled by the El Chachumbo Cannibal, tries to hold back tears and is only comforted by actually having his Mother Alongside him. A Textbook decision - the Textbook that he was just reading for the first time, please remember - demanded that he save a Civilian rather than these two men. And So two Widows and Six Children are left crying while a Junkie Bitch lies plugged into a million tubes at St. Thomas' hospital. It wasn't his decision but it was his actions, and already he can see that he was wrong in choosing the side of the law.

"The first of the survivors is Martina Holloway, a woman who lived in the Warehouse. Evidently she was there when the Warehouse was taken over and the bomb was planted, and she would've died if... well, if she hadn't had a guardian Angel. And yet... she's in Critical Condition. According to the... attending Physician, she's very badly off and, in all likelihood, still won't make it. However, there's a slim chance, and needless to say, we're all... all rooting for her."

If you find someone, someone to have someone to hold, Don't trade them for silver, don't trade them for gold. I have all of life's treasures, and they're fine and they're good. Remind me that houses are just made of wood. What makes a house grand ain't the roof or the door; If there's love in that house it's a Palace for sure. Without love it ain't nothing but a house, a house where Nobody Lives. Without Love ain't nothing but a house, a house where nobody lives....

Harvey took the needle off the record, the music killed off seconds before it would have died naturally. Leaning far forward, curled deep into himself, Harvey exhaled a shuddering breath, Shaking his head. It wasn't fair. It just wasn't fair. "I hope you can hear, Marti..." He let out, sitting up and wiping his eyes suddenly, "You should, you should. People keep coming... I hope you can hear."

It was wrong, that it came down to all of this. This wasn't the way it should've gone, this was just some cruel, rotten interruption of the world, interrupting life and soiling everything up. It shouldn't have gone like this. If he hadn't made the Warehouse so big, so pure, hadn't decided to care and made a home of it, then... If he hadn't done it all, so much suffering would have been averted. He was responsible for this. He would take it back if he could, take everything back and just shuffle it back out into the world. Give it back to Karma. But maybe this was Karma, for all the years he sat by and allowed terrible things to happen because he wasn't sure he could stop. Karma came back around and now Pete Vincent was in the hands of some evil bastards and a few good men were dead and now Marti was like this...

If this was his fault... he wouldn't know what he'd do.

"The second Woman we found alive is currently unidentified. She carried an ID on her, but it was a Fake, and there was no-one who could Identify her or tell us what she might have been doing at the scene of the Crime. As of now, she has been ruled Person of Interest Three. Persons of Interest One and Two, Marcos 'Bear' Allende and this woman-" Picture of a Redhead on the Whiteboard "Are both at large. Bear has a warrant for his arrest out, and our efforts in Identifying this woman have been...

"Futile."

"Eat... Eat..." She Cooed, "We need you big, and Strong."

She couldn't just let Summers die. She had wanted her dead for so long, so very long, and much more than you could imagine wanting anything at all. There was a Poetry, a Symmetry to the destruction of hope, to the elimination of an entire family. There was something so profoundly beautiful and... well, it was a sense that had come to be known as 'Cinematic', about it. Oh yes, if Summers had walked away from her in that Warehouse, let her go, then Samantha would have Let her go. Let her move on with her life and would have made her peace. Maybe. But she knew – and was pleased – that Summers couldn't. Samantha loved that Fate-bound for death shit. It'd been her purpose in life for years, and then it was gone. Like an Addiction to a substance that suddenly went out of Production, with only the most limited of sources available. She wanted it so badly, that it made her fingers quiver and her body tingle just thinking about it. The only problem was, she Loved Wanting it so much that Getting it would be a let-down. The Thing she wanted was the experience of it, and more or less she was in that Right Now. It would be the end of an Era. She didn't know what she'd do without Summers. What did life hold anyways that could compare with This?

"What shall I sing to you next?" She asked, her healing tones lulling the ears of the Black-haired woman who was aware, but not awake. "Oh, I know... 'Oh Danny Boooooy-"

"Our leads on Pete Vincent have run, more or less, Dry. The case is moderately cold but there's no reason to believe that he is dead. In fact, according to agent Osbourn's profile, they wouldn't kill him without bragging about it and they wouldn't kidnap him for something as simple as a back-room execution. Based on Victor Jones' recording, It's quite clear, but not Provable. that it is Bear executing this entire scheme, and that we need to push him Farther. That is also Agent Osbourn's opinion, such as it is. We should explore that... since So far, everything Agent Osbourn has said has been Correct, and Empirically... Bear is our only possible route of investigation."

"Sam, can't I possibly convince you to stay?"

Lashes fluttered as Eyes danced around behind closed Lids. Osbourn sighed, running a hand through his unkempt, greasy hair and shook his head, the hand dropping so he could loosen his tie.

"This is a Gahd-damn Clustahfuck. Sahrry to have to leave you on that, but... I finished my Job. I can't be of any more use to you."

"That's just not true." Her eyes looked desperate, pleading, and vindicating to him. Like they were trying to coax him out of this, knew exactly what was going on. Knew that he was fleeing for his life like the Coward he was. "You've been... Integral to this case so far, Sam. This case wouldn't be halfway to where it is without you. And without you, it'll never get Solved. Pete Vincent will stay gone and Smitts and Jakowski will've died for nothing."

Osbourn looked down, exhaling weakly. He looked pallid, worse than ever. "They've cahlled me back to Capitol City, Detective. I den't Rilly have a choice."

"You Do have a choice." More pleading, even more intense now. She thought maybe he was a Magic bullet, and wouldn't dare try to do her job without a Magic-bullet-candidate. What if he was the only one that could solve it, and he was away because she didn't drag him back?

"Cahla, I can ID a killuh, I can catch one. I can bring them to Justice and avenge the dead, whatevuh. But what I can't do is Stop a killuh before he kills. Because if I" 'When I' He thought, clearing his throat miserably, "If I fail, that's something I can't live with."

Carla looked down, frowning. He could live with walking away and washing his hands, saying his peace and shutting it out. But he couldn't live with the same outcome if he was involved, regardless of whether or not he did everything he could. Maybe she should've been angry, but she wasn't. Because she understood. She wished for all her life that she was able to make the choice that Osbourn was making. To walk away, wash her hands, to sleep at night. But she just didn't have that choice, couldn't wash her hands even when things were said and done. They'd remain bloody. Forever.

"If yeh eveh in town... Gimme a cahll." Osbourn said, turning and starting up the steps that led to the Plane hatch door.

"Yeah... "Carla responded weakly, then added "Maybe we can get together over some Clam Chowdah."

Osbourn almost smiled, Osbourn almost laughed. But it was raining, and he felt sick from guilt and heartache. He wanted to abscond to a more perfect world, but wondered if it would bother being there for him, if it would comfort him. He wondered if he even deserved it.

The plane took off in rain and arrived in Rain.

"More specifically regarding the Tape found in Victor Jones' home, it seems like the conspiracy behind the kidnapping is far more complex that previously believed. Rather than merely a group of Superhumans angry about the concert, TOX seems to have splintered off of a larger, more established organization which is as-of this point unidentifiable. What this means in regards to their motivations and plans is uncertain, but it seems clear that the grounds for TOX's separation from the other group is mainly due to the group we're currently dealing with being too... Militant. The Key to this case could be figuring out what the larger group is and, with that information, completing our understanding of the acting group and finding out what they want and where they're hiding."

Suits and Chandeliers, Wine and Cigars like in a Parody, a Political Cartoon, from a Century ago. They don't clink glasses, nor do they congratulate each other on their cleverness or offer a toast to industry. They are very solemn, but they have also spared no expense and looked after themselves quite handsomely. They speak in hushed tones and understand that things are done this way because they have always been done this way; that Tradition and Ritual is deeply important in the Psyche of any well rounded man or woman. These are the Sons and Daughters of Remus, not Romulus; the Masters rather than Champions; the Speakers. They are a varied group but there is something visibly similar in all of them, like one might see similarities in a large group of Siblings. They are not kin to each other and they do not look alike. But there is something in all of their eyes, in each and every one of them.

The man seated at the head of the table is clearly their leader. They look on him with Reverence, speak about him often as if he is not there, but always hushed and with great respect. He is Charming and gentle and the image of a self-assured, competent modern man, Neither macho nor effeminate, considerate of the sensibilities of life but not swallowed up by them. He is also very handsome, and probably the best dressed out of all of them, though his clothes may not be the most expensive or renowned. He doesn't smile while at the table, but his face is clearly made for it and familiar with such expressions.

But a teenager in a white button shirt and black slacks – quite out of place is the Business formal styles of those at the table – walks rapidly along the side of it and whispers something to the Man at the head of the table. The man nods understandably, his face involved but not worried though the news he has received is devastating. He leans slightly to the side once the boy has left, his elbow resting for a moment inconsiderately on the table; he rubs his face and mouth with his palm, a brief show of being subtly overwrought. Almost no-one notices. He turns to his wife briefly and whispers in her ear. Her face goes from pleased and amused to dismally shocked in an instant. She is much worse at being diplomatic, being economical, with her emotions than he is. This is perhaps because he almost always relies upon her to be the source of emotion, as well as the outlet of it. She leans more pronouncedly on the table, and her silverware shifts and clinks together as she does so. That draws the attention of a handful of people; upon noticing that handful watching her, most of the rest turn to do the same. The Man at the Head of the table stands, and now everyone's eyes are on him and her. He lifts his glass of water, settled right next to his wine, and sates his thirst. Settling the class back down, he crosses his hands in front of him and tells everyone of the event that he knew occurred for the last fifteen seconds, and has feared the event of for the last fifteen years.

"The Hand has struck again."

Carla paced. Behind her, a whiteboard covered in Photos – Mugshots, Security Footage printouts, Representations, pictures taken during covert observation, all kinds – and writing, webs of connections, thoughts, considerations, theories, maneuvers, hopes, dreams, a wish, a prayer... the case was held together by a web of Dry-erase marker; Looking quite solid when you draw the line between photos, but you know that it can and probably will be erased the second your theory hits the reef of Rights or the Burden of proof, and sinks. In front of her, a conference room and a conference-room table surrounded by a Conference of higher ups and doubters. The Chief, the Mayor, the Governor, the District Attorney, her Task Force, Miles, the D.H.S. Liason and the Secretary of Defense on Conference Call. Everyone but her parents. They could've thrown in her third grade glass too, just to be certain she'd humiliate herself.

"I know what you're all thinking." She started uneasily, "I know it doesn't seem like it, but... I do know what's going through your minds, what you're afraid of. I know because I'm thinking of the same things, and I'm... Damn sure afraid of the same things too. This city is strong, but more of this... we can't take it. And we, us here, certainly can't abide allowing it to happen." She cleared her throat uncomfortably, leaning forward, palms out on the surface of the table. "I also know that, from the point of view of an outsider, it seems like we have nothing to go on. That the case is, well, as good as cold until they kill whoever they're going to kill next. But I want to assure you that isn't the case. That Isn't the Case. We've still got a lot of room to maneuver, we're still going to bring these people down and save Pete Vincent's life. We can, we will, and we'll do it right. This Case is cold? No, not at all.

"This case is about to go Supernov-"

The Wall behind her exploded, fire and dust blooming out over those gathered in the conference room.

--

In hindsight, they should've seen it coming.

Perhaps had they set up an official organization for investigating Supernatural claims, they would have averted disaster. MTG, the Metahuman Task Group, was formed to handle Crimes and other issues relating to Metahumans, but nothing quite like this. They simply never bothered to mandate a control – 'Control' had such negative connotations. Best to just let things go and see how they worked out. Unfortunately, things didn't always just work out. In fact, when left to it's own devices, fate often fucks over the human race. So, Because nobody bothered to pay someone to do it, There was nobody with the Authority or the desire to figure out the real scenario when the Mermaids made the scene.

It started simply. One day, a Fisherman came forward claiming that he'd Fished up a Mermaid from the Ohio River, a strange looking humanoid who went on and on in an insane, inhuman language. He brought the information to the Arrow, School City's local paper, and to his credit also brought Photos. He remained unnamed at his request and pocketed a tidy profit, but when asked to provide proof that that it was indeed a Mermaid and not something else, he simply couldn't. The Being depicted looked strange – more like an Aquatic, froglike girl than the beautiful image of the being with the Top of a woman and the tail of a Fish. When asked why he hadn't kept the being on land and shown it to people, his response was that some asshole do-gooders had gotten in the way and taken it. This was not printed in the paper, but the Photos and an excited five hundred words on it were.

Unfortunately, nobody considered that maybe the race of seemingly sentient beings with their own language might have minded that one of their own was literally stolen from her people. Nobody thought that this possibly sentient race might be fed up with other burdens humanity had been placing on them, from Polluting the Rivers and Lakes to overfishing and destroying the salmon population. Nobody wondered if these people who had their own language might also have weapons, might actually be just as intelligent and advanced as us – if they were smart enough to avoid being seen by the Humans, then that might just mean that they were smart enough to understand the situation even better than the confused and mildly amused humans did. Very few people wondered or asked where the mermaid had been taken, and nobody considered that her people might try to get her back.

A few days later, (Tuesday, as it happened), a large fish-shaped tank that really wanted to be a tripod from War of the Worlds rose out of the river. A red-scaled, armor-waring godly-looking warlord calling himself Gub'wa of the Western waters hopped out and asked for a Girl named Siri'quin back. He spoke in broken but shockingly good English and was more than polite. Security footage would later reveal that the original Mermaid was given to Gub'wa with a small amount of fuss by whoever it was that took her, and all seemed right in the universe.

Then Gub'wa ordered seven other tanks to rise and attack.

Considered by many to be a horrific combination of The Japanese Raid on Pearl Harbor and the September Eleventh Attacks, the bloody battle that ensued that day has put a dent in the American Psyche that will not ever heal. Though their intention was mainly to destroy the infrastructure and kill the soldiers and policemen of the City, the Merpeople ended up killing many more than they had hoped. Their technology was fierce; their soldiers deeply motivated. Amazingly, they still lost. Interestingly enough, the invasion of that day was more of a Riot than a Military action; mob mentality was in effect and pushed into Overdrive. The Merpeople were confused and Angry, filled with hate for the Humans that they had been ordered to avoid, even as they destroyed their homes and food with Oil drills and tackle boxes. While some of the Mer Tribes' soldiers did join in the attack, they were not ordered to. Those attacking were Civilians, with an incomplete understanding of the Scenario combined with a big chip on their shoulders. When they tried to take the Hospital, more or less the Lightning rod of Human defenses, the back of the Army was crushed. Their spirits were broken and they returned to the Water.

The Outcome was horrific. Most of the Cities Roads were torn up utterly, destroying the veins that carried School City's Life-blood: People. Thousands if not tens of thousands died. Buildings Collapsed, Homes were crushed, families split up. It took almost a day for the last of the Mer invaders to be routed, as Gub'wa's forces laid siege on the Police Station into the dead of night. School City burned. The Park was turned into a Forward Operating Base for the United States National Guard and Army forces. Refugee camps, loose ramshackle impromptu gatherings, mostly in Churches and other established, standing locations, flew up all over town – they were sorely needed by the thousands left homeless. All around the country, people froze. Letterman and Conan and Greene simply didn't go on the air that night. Nobody knew what to do.

The next day, Ambassadors from the Mer Tribes came up and President Adomian flew out to greet them. Peace was made almost instantaneously and a City that needed to grieve was forced to accept the 'Whoops, sorry, didn't mean it' excuse. People were dead – a hole was left in the city almost as big as the city itself – because of crossed lines, because of one big stupid misunderstanding. People were angrier at that than anything else. Confused, stupid, hurt and alone, but especially angry. People subconsciously adjusted, Calling them 'Merpeople' instead of the incorrect 'Mermaids'. It was all very gradual but it happened, despite what they felt. The people worst effected were not judged for openly despising the Mer. The people least effected chose not to have an opinion at all, instead going with the common trend. Everyone dealt with it in their own way, but none of them seemed to work. The Ringleaders were brought onto land to be tried by Human courts, placed into prison camps in the city itself. The Town was disemboweled overnight, and had begun to be rebuilt Wrong by a few days later. People went Hungry and bleeding heart types had a field day. PMC recruitment numbers and Homesoil contracts skyrocketed. People weren't sure if there was a war on the Horizon, or some kind of a new golden age of peace and enlightenment. Nobody was quite sure which they wanted. Nobody was quite sure of anything anymore.

By the time a week had passed, Pete Vincent was the last thing on anyone's mind. Well... Almost everyone.

--

Whitcomb Street, School City Police Station, August 20th, 3:46 PM

"Sir, I'm just begging you to give me A Chance-"

Captain Roebuck sat down, shaking his head plaintively. "Sorry, Carla. We're overextended enough as it is."

Carla furrowed her brow; she clenched her hands into fists, her too-long nails biting into her palms; she bit her lip angrily and almost went too far. But it was frustration, rather than strictly anger, that was turning her inside out at the moment. Desperation, need, drive more primal than she could conceive of in her higher mind. This was so much more important than he thought it was. This was so much more important than even she could imagine! She knew the facts, knew what was really going to happen here. She couldn't let it slide. It was unacceptable.

"Sir..." She started over, "I don't need my full Task force back, or all of the resources you afforded me. But I... I promised this city that I'd save Pete Vincent. I can't go back on that."

"What the hell's the matter with you, Valenti?" He asked, shifting forward, putting away the boxing gloves and going at her bare-knuckle,"We've got Forensics working around the clock with Dental Records and DNA analyses, just to identify the bodies we keep finding. Case workers are clogged up with Missing persons, deaths, looting. This whole place is gone to hell with missing persons and you want even a tenth of a Task force dedicated on Just One?! What do you think people are gonna say when we keep looking for Vincent just cause he's famous? We've got millions of people we can't find, people would crucify us if we spent more time than what we can spare on that!" What was that on his voice – Political awareness, or legitimate morality? A better question – Does it matter?

"It Isn't just about One man missing, it's an entire Terrorist Group, Captain, and they're Still active." Reason, yes. Reason had to work. "Still plotting, still angry and motivated and with the means to act. They're Not Done yet, Sir! This is just a distraction. They were in the middle of their Masterpiece and an Invasion isn't going to stop them for long."

"We're looking for Bear, looking for Vincent. What more can we do?"

"Put me back on the Case." She leaned forward on the table, palms down, just like she had a week ago. To say she pushed away her feelings, the memories, would be inaccurate. To say she pushed them down would be much better. "With Blanc. Maybe Frost, Padanski. Access to the Lab. Nothing more!"

The Captain looked down and shook his head, this time much more resolutely. Instead of coaxing him out of his opinion, Carla had shoved him deeper into it. He was resolved to deny her. "No."

"Then Just me. I'll work the Case alone-"

"Carla-" He looked up, cutting her short. She stared at him, for a moment unable to do anything else. A veritable deer in the headlights. "No."

She Exhaled softly, turning away and putting a hand to her chest. "...Oh." She said weakly, nodding. He really meant it, which meant that she really had No chance of saving Pete Vincent's life. Not without Police backing, not without the badge. "M-maybe I can take some... Sick days..." She suggested, voice wavering, still looking away. She would throw her life down as a sacrifice on the Altar for this. But would she surrender her Job? That gave her much more pause. Becoming a Martyr for Justice still meant not having to live without her only source of sanity.

"You know I can't grant you leave now." He approached from a much more gentle place, now that he'd shut her down completely. "We need everyone working the Bullpen. This city's in Collapse, Valenti. The only promise you made to them that matters now is to Protect and Serve them. And that's what you need to do." Roebuck nodded with finality and turned away. She knew this meant that he was dismissing her, but she wasn't quite sure if she could leave. Looking around, she still couldn't catch her breath. This was the Conference room, the same room she'd been in when the Merpeople attacked. She remembered it Vividly, she would never forget a second of it. She had been holed up in this building for the entire battle, and she had seen more people die in that period of time than she'd seen die over the whole of her life. People she knew, too. Clerks, fellow Cops... friends... She rubbed her forehead and exhaled, more conflicted than she'd been since after coming out of her Coma. She couldn't let Bear and his people go free, couldn't let Vincent stay in their clutches. Not just because she'd took it upon herself to end his reign of terror, but because she knew what was at stake. Not just her ability to sleep at night. Bear would take so much more than that. She was dogmatically certain of that. After all... he was a bad guy.

"Sir..." She spoke quietly, still not facing him. She was moderately sure he was doing the same. "What if I'm right, though?" She glanced over, her expression one of Misery. "What if Bear really is planning something worse... and the city finds out that the Mer invasion... was only a taste of what is to come?"

The Captain stared away, looking out the window, either pondering her question or Ignoring her. She had almost settled on it being the latter until he spoke suddenly, his voice uncharacteristically brusque and emotionless. "Then we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Because you could very well be Wrong." Such was the Cold Balance of damage control – better the devil, the crisis, you know than the devil you don't. Carla didn't envy the choice he had to make. She still hated him for making it, though. She had that luxury, though it gave her no comfort.

Carla walked out of the Room, sick. After everything that happened, everyone who'd died, She... somehow, she needed this. This ability to pick up where she left off, To make Some visible good. To Change something. After the attack, Pete Vincent became a Past-tense, even to her. Like if Hitler's body was never found after the taking of Berlin; like if Nobody had seen Jesus' crucifixion, just the Roman and Judean authorities. He was Dead – everyone knew he was, even she figured the only way he'd be alive is if he was kept outside the city, and she considered that unlikely. And yet nobody could ever really be able to say that Pete Vincent was no more. The Assault had taken everything, even sucked his fate into a vacuum so that nobody could ever know it. The Assault had taken so much more than him... but if only she could get something back.

--

Whitcomb Street, School City Police Station, August 16th, 11:00 AM

There was glass in her hair and she was bleeding from the arm, but overall Carla Valenti was alright. There was moaning around, though it sounded very far away, and a weight was pressed up against her leg. Realizing that she was lying on her Belly, she turned over to find that a Wall had fallen down and landed on her legs. Thankfully it was simply Drywall, and she had no trouble crawling out from under it. Everything was buzzing of pain. Everything was loud and dismal and far away, and there were pinpricks in her fingertips like her hand had fallen asleep. She felt universally disconnected from Reality, divorced from the world. She wondered abstractly if she had a concussion, but she didn't have time to worry (and was pretty sure she didn't, anyways). She was more distracted by the large hole where the windowed wall used to be - absolutely gone even in the sections that had been structure, not glass - and the view that she could see for a lack of it.

The first thing she noticed was the Smoke. Columns, Pillars of ink rose from everywhere – Everywhere. Whole Streets were obscured by it, wafting clouds rising upwards and joining into the One main trail, rising up from School City, Being School City in the eyes of those not in it, the smoke of an Invisible fire on the Horizon for so many people wondering what was happening. The fires were all much less visible, but the destruction was plain the see. Suddenly, a ways off and Partially obscured, some kind of a popping sound from a large building filled the air, and the building shuddered, then slowly began to tilt. It leaned, further and further, for a terrifying time, groaning, or rather whining, loudly even from so far away. Carla shouted, screamed in defiance at the event, uncertain and confused but unable to accept that a building was being knocked over. Her voice was swallowed up by the air, and only then did she realize how utterly full of noise it was; Screams, Explosions, sirens, crashes, flames, all forming a cacaphonic Rhapsody, a prelude, an overture for an Operatic Tragedy. The sounds of the building collapsing, so far away yet so audible, must have been obscenely loud to be heard over the flood of noise, or so she mused in dreamlike disbelief. And then, when it seemed like it would simply be knocked over cleanly, like a bottle of water tipped on it's side. But the instability of the Building went into effect, and it crumpled, crushing itself apart and letting out a massive plume of dust.

"What... the hell is going On?" Carla backed away, putting a hand on the partially destroyed Conference Table, to steady herself. Was this Bear? Or something else...? It had to be him. How could something so sudden, so terrible, so devastating, happen with no warning whatsoever? But on the other hand, there was no way Carla could command so complete a control over any might, any power, to be able to wreak such widespread, complete havoc. She had no idea what the larger group Bear had split from was capable of, but they were less militant, less likely to do this, even from what little she knew. This wasn't 'TOX'. So... what was it? Carla turned sharply, hearing another sound, closer, apart from the Screams, apart from the explosions. It was in the room with her, among the scattered rubble and dust. She stumbled over to it's source, reality crashing in, memories flooding through her synapses and Diodes. The Mayor was here, The Governor! The Captain! They were in here, people she had to protect-

She fell to her knees beside the source of the Moan when she found it. Carefully, she turned over Tyler, eyes furrowed with shock and worry, with Terror. She is aware of a Shudder, a violent exhale, and she sees that the lower half of his shirt is soaked, completely soaked, with black-red, the same substance pooling under him as well. "T-Tyler?" She let out weakly. So much blood. It was over her hands, her blouse now along with it, and caked with a grim mixture of Dust. She reached up and held his face, her thumb leaving a stroke of blood on his cheek, and her face knotted, a crying face without Tears. "Tyler...? Tyler, Say something? Tyler?" drawing strength from an unknown reserve, she simply kept speaking, her words never pausing, only growing more insistent. Tyler? Tyler! Wake up, Tyler, Wake up!" She shook him, almost violently, and bent over, picking him up so she could cradle him in her arms, his legs sprawled out uselessly to the side. She can see that he is dead, that he died the second she turned him over, that breath being his death rattle, but she refuses to accept it. She denies it Vehemently. "Tyler? Come on, Tyler, Come on! Open your eyes! Come on, Tyler, Please! Please, Tyler, Stay with me- Tyler! Tyler?" Shuddering, she literally cannot keep back her tears any longer, and finds herself completely unable to breath, collapsing in on her self, leaning forward and curling into a ball around him, even as he still cools.

She is in Shock for at least an Hour. Standing by the hole in the wall, her shirt and pants absolutely soaked with slowly drying blood, sticking to her skin, she stared out blankly at a city being overrun. She was only able to pull herself together as the Mertroops surrounded the Police station and Laid siege. From that moment on, she didn't have time to think. In that regard, in the short term, she was lucky. Even more lucky, she had Lived. But for the longest time after it, she felt dead anyways. Numb. As if she hadn't made it out of the Conference room, either. She didn't know why, and as the days passed she found herself wishing she didn't feel that way. But it wouldn't leave her. It hung over her like a cloud, her own private death, an impromptu dam that kept the pain from getting through. Alas, after all these years, Carla had become one of the walking dead.

--

The Hill, Langston Mansion, August 20th, 11:50 PM

Speaking of the walking dead, Ironically, Torval Langston's life had gotten more on track since the attack. He had gotten a night Job, clearing the streets of Rubble so they could be usable again. At his Job he met fellow Vampires, some of the one who had chosen to remain Vampires, that he had much in common with, and even managed to bond with some of them. He was attending therapy regularly – of his own volition, no less! – and had begun to consider truly turning his life around. From the outside, one would think that he was pulling himself together. Unfortunately, it wasn't that simple.

For one, his Girls were dropping off the face of the earth – in some cases, quite literally. One day – nobody was at all sure what day it way, since nobody payed much attention to her – Victoria was just... gone. Ascended, most likely, back to the Afterlife that Torval had bought her out of. Vittoria, meanwhile, had run off with the Mercenary, Ballard, on some Job that she had no real part of. Probably, Torval surmised, because he hadn't bothered to talk to her much, nor had he actually tried to figure out what she wanted now that she was back in the land of the living. Sure, he loved them all... But she was the one that he loved most recently, and had actually engaged to marry. That was before he was taken out of their domestic life by scenarios outside his control, and sentenced to death (the very event that caused her to take her own life). And just because he had loved her before she died AFTER she loved the others ones before they died didn't mean his love with her was more important... right? And that's if you don't even bother to factor in Marti.

Oh, and Marti. Exploded in her prime. Torval couldn't explain the heaviness, the anger, the sadness, the... raw, uncompromising feeling of being Unfinished that he had in regards to her. Darkly, he mused that now at last he understood exactly how James felt when Carla was in her coma because he wasn't there with her. Now Marti was in a coma, probably dying, and he could've stopped it. Why hadn't he been more involved? He knew that something was going on with Pete Vincent, but he Chose to opt out of it. In past years he would have jumped right in, gotten involved. Decided that it was His problem and that he was the one to fix it. Would've talked to Carla, to James, to (Garrus) Everyone about it until he had a plan of attack. But he was so blinded by his desire to settle down and make amends, be the doting ex-lover to his three... that he missed out on most of their time there thanks to amnesia, and ended up losing them too. What a Lose-lose scenario! You try to be there for people, and sticking your neck out from them gets you separated from them Anyways and just pisses them off more. Alex was the proof of that.

Yes, that only left Alex. She was the only one he had left. But did he still 'have' her? He had no idea just where he stood with her anymore, it was impossible to have the slightest clue. They had made love that night... passionately, and for the first time since the only other time, the night he had accidentally killed her and turned her into a Vampire, almost... Four years ago, now. It was an extremely emotional, conflicting experience. Her body was so familiar, in a nostalgic way, and yet it was so unnervingly strange. Her body was so fragile, so distantly but unsettlingly Inhuman, and he was terrified of hurting her the entire time. She, on the other hand, was passionate, even reckless, the antithesis of Gentle. She was Ravenous, starved, as if trying to absorb every drop of energy, every facet of experience, to experience as much of life as she possibly could. Not difficult to understand for someone who had died. But still, it was... strange. Subliminally, in a thought he would not allow himself to think, it made him aware of how truly little he knew about the girl he'd only spent about a week with half a decade ago. But their connection was so strong, so enrapturing, that it was impossible not to believe that there was a Love there, some kind of Love, or if not then something for which there is no word, no explanation. Something Primal, and secret. He was unsure.

The Day after, she was disquieted. He had no way of determining just what had happened overnight, or rather over the course of the Morning, but when they awoke she was sweet but Curt, and excused herself in a Hurry. He did not see her for some time afterwards. The only time between their night after the Concert and now that they had actually spoke was once, when she came to speak to him in the middle of the day. It was clear that she had something to say, but instead they merely spoke in vagueries, merely engaged in chit-chat. When he tried to... well, some might uncharitably call it 'Flop on her emotionally', while he would simply call it 'Explain how he feels about her' (A balance between the two might be 'Demand recognition or Validation for his point of view) she became... Irate. Of course, if he had to be honest, she wasn't entirely to blame. He only figured out that she'd wanted to say something AFTER she stormed out. Pointing out random things about how She died and how much he'd missed her might have come across as... clumsy. And Suddenly demanding that she tell her where he stood with her definitely didn't help. Careening into his Angst about people around him dying pretty much pounded the final nail into that conversation's coffin. And Belittling her concern and considering it a 'lecture' was... well, it was overkill.

But that was the past. One awkward talk couldn't sink that ship entirely, could it? Especially after how they had been before, he was sure. In hindsight, Torval's monster was his big fucking mouth. That night, at the Concert and then later in bed, they had just connected, formed an electrified bond. They were right there with each other, on the same page, one hundred percent. Totally understanding and totally understood. Harmony, perfect, ideal Harmony. Imagine how frustrating it would be to have that connectivity, that unity, and then the next day fumble over words and be completely misunderstood and dismissed! He was so unbalanced, so out of his game, and she had shut him down. Yes, in hindsight (which isn't to say that it wasn't his opinion at the time as welll), she had been Harsh. Cold. Undiplomatic. She had acted irrationally, acted without thinking- In a moment of Clarity, Torval realized that maybe Alex was feeling the same way he was. That perhaps, after leaving the Vacuum that their Affair had occurred in, leaving that sanctuary from insecurity and doubt, that she had found herself as uncertain, nervous and desperately hopeful (Yet naggingly doubtful) as he had. That perhaps she had not meant every word that she'd said, and was capable of being unsure, confused or conflicted, and that his analyses, while incessant, was ultimately fatally divorced from the truth due to it's irrevocable bond with his perception of the world rather than the world itself.

That revelation (Epiphany, even) smacked him, hard, upside the face, and suddenly he felt the need to speak with Alex and, if possible, confirm this theory. He had just arrived at Nina's mansion, shortly after having gone to Therapy (Where, oddly enough, he didn't speak about Alex much or really at all), and headed inside, ascending the stairs with excitement that surprised him. Maybe this was a second chance. Maybe it was what Lemex had been talking about; a way to change. All he had to do was show himself to her, to explain what he'd figured out, and maybe let her do whatever she needed to do Ironically, Already he was so sure of his revelation's empirical truth despite that revelation relying on the fact that his conclusions would inevitably be missing part of the puzzle, that he acted on it as a reality rather than a theory. At least he was Acting at all. As he moved, He was surprised to find that he'd instinctively known what to do. He laughed at himself, then – himself from half an hour ago, Whining that he didn't know how to change, again and again, without knowing that it's the easiest thing in the world-

"Torval?!" Surprised, she was descending the stairs to the third floor at the same time as him, He smiled, feeling somewhat like an overeager boy. Mentally, he insisted that he had to wind it back, ease down on the enthusiasm. Unfortunately, his external efforts to this goal were not very effective.

"Alex." He said, stepping back down the stairs, leaning against the railing that overlooked the first floor. "Really glad I caught you-"

Unfortunately, Alex didn't Know that Torval had just had some kind of a fantastic epiphany and was under the absurd impression that things were still as they'd left them. "Excuse me, I'm in a rush." She said shortly, trying to look away.

"No- Look, I'm sorry, Alex. I just figured something out... I think. Can you please just... wait?" He winced, fairly certain she'd blow him off. He gave her too little credit. She sighed, rubbed her neck and glanced at him, considering it before falling on his side of the Fence.

"Go ahead." She let out the tension, sighing. She instinctively crossed her arms, but lowered them quickly, glancing away. Torval wondered if it was because she didn't want to seem cold or unapproachable. It seemed like she legitimately wanted to hear what he had to say, even if she was sick of what he'd been saying before (Bullshit, many might call it. He suddenly found himself to be one of them.).

"Okay." He said, trying to compose his thoughts. He came to a second Revelation then – that he hadn't planned of anything to say on the way in. That had been a mistake. He wasn't sure how to get this across, but somehow he knew that if he just started talking, the words would come. "I realize that... that you just want to make the best of the life you have now." He swallowed, "And I don't know if it was... frustrating, or if maybe you were embarrassed about what happened, and confused about how you felt... I mean, I know I would be. I mean, I Am." He sighed, "But I wish I could've been more understanding...? Because I know that I can be." She glanced up at him when he said that, and he shook his head, "I know, I know, I'm an asshole. Torval Langston, never gave a shit about anyone. But-"

"That's Not true." Alex said quietly, and Torval tilted his head, surprised. That she would stand up for him against him at a time like this was reaffirming. His prior pre-epiphanic conclusion that she disliked him might have been too presumptuous after all.

"I..." He glanced away, confused and briefly considering taking a tangent down that vein of thought, but he shook his head and decided they'd come back to that later. "For a while that night we were Connected, and I want that with you. With You, not just anyone. I mean that." he said with an inherent belief that surprised him, that reminded him somehow of her. It really Was her that he wanted, somehow, for whatever reason, not just 'the girls', not just someone. "But I guess I just wanted to say that I appreciate... that you feel as much as I do about things and that you're not sure of this, or what you mean, or that maybe you don't always mean what you say..." He was afraid he'd lost it, but it looked like her expression was relieved, satisfied, pleasantly surprised – as if it was something she'd wanted, but not expected to hear, "If you are sure, and you still think that I'm not... good... I'll understand, and leave you alone."

He turned around, and started to walk away. Well, that didn't go quite as well as he expected. Where did that come from? The Resigned-to-my-fate card came out of nowhere! That happened so fast! He didn't even know he was doing it! Goddamn 'Start talking and the words will come' approach. How could he have been so stupid? Playing it by ear will fuck you over every time. "I am Sure." Torval turned, hearing Alex speak suddenly, and cocked an eyebrow.

"Of what?" He asked.

"That I'm ready to leave the past behind." She said, keeping eye contact bravely, daring, even shameless. "I don't want to be weighted down by the things that've happened. Those are things in my life, not things in my identity, and I don't need or want or care about them anymore. I'm done with them and they're over. I want this to be a Fresh start, Torval. And I want you to be a part of it." she paused for a moment after that, as if to allow it to sink in, giving an affirming nod. "But only if you can let the past go too." She went on with absolute resolution, something that he was finding she was capable of often. "That means forgiving yourself, and everything. That means I never died before, in your mind, and it's over."

Torval shook his head at how ludicrous that was, "But it Did happen, Alex. You expect me to pretend that none of that ever happened..." Torval exhaled, having no words to explain it. This was something that he lived with for Years. This was something that informed his change to Nightfang, that led to everything after, that built so much of who he was. It was a terrible deed that was such a huge part of who he was that he couldn't imagine himself without it. "Alex, there's no way I can just let that go."

Alex swallowed, her face tightening as his response sunk in. "I'll wait for you, Torval." She informed him simply, "For you to change your mind about that. Because you're wrong. But I won't Wait Long."

--

"C'mere, girl. Up? Do you know up? Come on, up just once. Eh? Ahh, Good girl. That's a Good girl."

The surrounding lands were an absolute shock of rolling green. The Farm was on top of a Hill, and there were no trees on the top of the slopes, so one would look down on the tops of the Trees surrounding. Most of the woods were varied; there were old Oaks, evergreens, a few Willows, but in particular there was a wide Birth of Apple trees, the Farm's Orchard, that spread off between them and the Road. That was the direction he liked to sit and stare in, because he could both see the traffic, far away, and because he found the Apple trees to be especially beautiful for some reason. He never knew exactly why – he had spent virtually no time out in the country in his long life, and he would have never stopped to look out at trees to watch the wind blow through them, even if he had. Now he had on his hands an obscene amount of free time, and with it he chose to sit in a lawn chair, out on the main porch of the house, and stare out at the trees; to decide which kind he liked best while watching as the air rustled their leaves like the hair on the head of a child.

"So when are you going to tell me who I have to thank for this Respite?" Pete Vincent asked his captor, rubbing the neck of his Canine friend Vigorously. The animal, a German Shepard, was the Ideal Farm Dog – a wily guard dog, it was fearsome, but at the same time it was a gentle and friendly Family pet. She had taken a liking to Vincent, and Vincent was more than appreciative of her companionship, as well as the distraction. Noticing that he hadn't heard a reply, Vincent glanced back over at the door, frowning. It was not uncommon for him to be left unwatched and unbound. If he tried to run, his captor would hear him, and Vincent would have absolutely no hope of escape. Even if he did manage to sneak away, it would be a simple matter of hunting him down, and it would be a one in a million shot at finding help this far out in the boonies. "You hear me?" He called again, turning around in his seat further to look through the window.

"What?" An Umbrella and then Daniel came out – Vincent had learned that his name was Daniel – looking annoyed but not yet angry (Dan, not the Umbrella). Vincent and Daniel's original issues had been more or less ironed out by then. Spending a week at the Farm, they'd eventually gotten over constantly bitching at each other, and come to a simple understanding – neither of them were that much of assholes, so why bother making a bad situation worse? It was amazing, in hindsight, that they'd come to this conclusion; Vincent had elected to be a Pain in the Ass for the PR people because 'Fuck you', yet he managed to make peace with the people who had kidnapped him and were, in all likelihood, going to kill him violently. Well, you've gotta roll with the punches. Vincent didn't really see the downside, since at least these sons of bitches were counter-culture, like him. Besides, Dan had managed to earn some Major Brownie points with Vincent: He had decided to let him drink as much as he wanted.

"When are you going to tell me..." Vincent started over again, enunciating with excruciating slowness, "Who I have To Thank for this Stay of Execution?" He finished at last.

"Never." Dan answered, smirking smugly.

"You think I couldn't see the smoke on the Horizon last Tuesday?" Vincent shrugged, rocking in his chair like a contented old man, or more applicably like an asshole. "Somebody threw a Spanner in your works." That Euphemism was exceptionally good at pissing people off, because it was the British version of a totally identical (save for one word) American euphemism, hence making him appear like a prick. He was a Veritable strategist in these things, after all.

"Not exactly." Daniel responded indifferently, shrugging, "More like God... Closed a Window, but opened a Door."

Pete Vincent gave a low whistle, nodding slowly, "Ooh, Ominous." He said lowly, leaning back. "And What, Y'all are waiting for the door to get all the way open?"

"Sure. Look at it like that, what do I care."

Vincent dropped the subject, ultimately not caring about why it was that they did what they did, and instead shifting to a more Pertinent topic. "You holding out on me, Dan? The supplies showed up an Hour ago and you still haven't broken out the Vodka."

"My Apologies." Dan said with mock sincerity. He didn't give a shit if Vincent drank himself stupid and indulged his own fucked up Psyche. It made him easier to deal with and much more complacent. "Box is in the Living room."

"Well..." Vincent said, slowly easing up so he stood. His hand trailed off from the scalp of the dog, which looked up at him sadly, disappointed that he was leaving her behind. "No reason to wait, then." He fiddled with one of his many rings before pacing past Daniel, for some reason uncomfortable with the stare the Vampire was giving him. Brushing it off, he gave an affected yawn and entered the house quickly, approaching the counter. There he saw a box full of bottles, and he drew a clear one filled with a clear liquid out, glass clinking against glass as he did so. Cold, ugly shame bit at him for a moment as he identified the source of his Discomfort, and he could feel Daniel's eyes still burn at the back of his neck. Spite against that, so real and completely malicious, surged up in his belly, and there was nothing jokey or rebellious about the hate that he suddenly felt. Angrily, he unscrewed the cap, a petty scowl crossing his face, but he paused for a moment. How can that asshole judge him? Pete Vincent was winding down the last days, possibly last hours of his life, and all of the sudden it's reprehensible to want to drink his woes away? So what if he drank too much, it wasn't like he had a problem with it. It was his own decision, and in these circumstances it was more than understandable.

Besides, there were much worse things Pete Vincent had done that drink some Vodka while biding time on Death Row, mandated by some crazy vampire government-in-exile. The day-to-day things, the reprehensible deeds, the things he'd done when he'd lost himself. The darkness that got let out when he wasn't in control to keep it in as if it wasn't there. The spite, the hate, the contempt for others around him that he'd lost control of. There was no way to describe it and even come close to what it really was. The dumbness and despair, the abandonment of self, the mindlessness. Stone cold bedrock, bottom of the Trench, diving depth of miles and miles, lower than low can go, lower than limbo, A.K.A. Rock Bottom. Knowing that this is a cycle and there is no way out, that you are doomed to this till death. You either settle in and get cozy or you bounce. Pete Vincent bounced, this was good Pete Vincent, this was Pete Vincent sans Smack and the pills and the whores, a social drinker unless the situation is extreme and this god damn qualifies. Pete Vincent was familiar with the point of now return. It had been his friend for a long time and he figured if someone was gonna make him cross it it might as well be him. So drink the fuck up while it's still cool to do it.

Maybe in his life he was too eager to resign himself to ugly fates; maybe that had been his problem from the beginning. Being happy playing shitty gigs with his burn out friends, happy with a record deal mandated by a bunch of corporate assholes, happy with losing his first wife, happy with destroying his body with Drugs... happy with whatever came his way, good or bad, better or worse. But Who gave a shit, anyways? It wasn't like he'd be able to get a much better lot in life. He had been lucky as hell and he knew it, he fell ass-backwards into everything he'd ever wanted; Money, fame, pussy, Freedom, Love. Everywhere he turned he got what he wanted, and he enjoyed the things he did. Self Destructive Tendencies in return for Chicks, Booze, Good music and a life of Leisure? He'd make that Deal every day of the week and twice on fucking Sunday. Who in their right minds wouldn't? So here he was, stuck in a Farm house in who knows where, with a Vampire on Jihad against the system and a full bar, so why not Kick back, have a drink? Why bother running, nowhere to run to. Why bother fighting, no chance to win. Why bother hoping, no way to hope.

Yeah. That made a lot of Sense. Pete Vincent decided that yes, he was right, and drank a toast to self-destructive tendencies.

--

"Are you Sure it's been Long Enough?" She asked, uncertain.

"I am." His voice, rumbling in his chest, vibrated through the room with Power. "Hostilities are over. The Anger everyone feels isn't going anywhere. What they want is someone to point it at. Even though they may still want to flay the Fishes alive, it's only because there's nobody better to be angry at. So yes. It is time."

"Okay, Bear. I trust you."

--

Chauncery Boulevard, Arbor Hall, August 21st, 1:19 PM

"Headmaster-" A young woman that many would consider attractive or Nubile peeked in through the mahogany doorway, her white blouse and Red skirt peeking in behind her. "I just received a call from your wife. She says to turn on Channel Five."

The Headmaster – supremely charming and dashing even in so monotonous a setting – was no longer wearing a stylish suit, nor was he smoking cigars or drinking wine. He was merely sitting in his office, typing up an Email, waiting for the day to end without incident. Evidently he was waiting for something that would never come. "Thank you, Clarice." He responded with a subtle nod, which she read as a command for her to go. She followed it immediately, having long ago tuned into his body language and learned to decipher the orders he would give without speaking. The Headmaster, in absolutely no hurry at all, picked up the remote control from the corner of his desk and pointed it at the flat screen hanging on the wall. His office was eminently ordained; The walls, floors and furniture polished wood, especially his desk. However at the same time it was not stuffy or old-fashioned. It was a corner office, and his Desk was placed diagonally in the corner of the Room. The room itself was square but for a fifth wall, which ducked in from the middle of one wall to meet the middle of it's adjacent one, with the door in the middle of the Diagonal one. In this way the Desk faces the door head on; the wall behind him was covered more by windows than Wood, and a fantastic High-definition Television hangs from one of the partial walls that the Door wall juts off from. It took him nearly Five years to arrange this office to the point where it suits him and those who visit him in it ideally. He fine-tuned the balance between old power and modern sensibility, for it was his purpose in life to combine both to best serve his station. He walked that line as well as another – the line between form and function; between the it's Aesthetic merits, and it's Useful merits.

Curious and moderately wary, The Headmaster turned on the television and switched to Channel five, finding that the news was on. Janette Bodasia, glorified mouthpiece, was going on about the Ramifications of something. As she rounded back to the beginning of her Spiel, she repeated the key notes of the story. Upon hearing as little as a sentence of it, the Headmaster immediately knew what was going on.

"Terrifying news coming from a breaking Story – confirmed reports of US government officials not only knowing about the Merpeople attack ahead of time, but possibly being responsible for it. In an expose of several dozen Emails and phone call recordings recently uncovered, Proof that They were responsible for the Kidnapping of the Original Mermaid... and the standoff that followed suit."

That was all the Headmaster needed to hear. He was already standing, grabbing his coat from the rack, and blowing through the doors. There was damage to control.

--

Whitcomb Street, School City Police Station, August 21st, 1:21 PM

"What's up, guys?" Carla asked curiously, seeing the cluster of men around a single Desk. She could hear the Radio from the middle of them, but it was impossible to make out what was being said. "Where's the Fire?"

"Oh-..." Blanc, sitting on the edge of the disk and listening intently, glanced over at her as she approached. "Hey Carla. Uh... Looks like Even Waterier-gate just blew open." he punned, scratching the top of his head, "Apparently these Government people knew about the Attack ahead of time and did nothing, might've even provoked it."

"Ah shit..." Carla sighed, a headache already coming on. She knew this would become a huge problem for her, somehow. "If they're going to have a conspiracy, can't they at least have the good sense to cover it up?" She shook her head, hands on her hips.

"Looks like some Intrepid reporting shit went on. Someone went deep to uncover it." One of the other detectives stated, sitting in a rolling chair, leaning far back and lazing back and forth on the wheels. "Some Reporter blew the case wide open. Janice, Janet, something like that. Forget the name." He tossed a ball up in the air, "Who cares."

Carla glanced over at him in Disbelief. "What, Do you mean Janette Bodasia?" she asked, cocking an eyebrow. The seated Detective gave a shrug, indifferent, indicating that it was probably her. "That woman's just some pretty faced ditz who can read at the right Tempo. She couldn't Research anything for her life!"

Blanc nodded thoughtfully, "Yeah, I agree. She's seems about as smart as a bag of Hammers..." His affinity for Wordplay had seemingly ebbed, "But damn is she pretty. Tried to get a date with her once, y'know. And I mean I really tried, and I was Close. Buuut... she doesn't date Vampires." He sighed in an 'oh well' kind of way. "Win some, lose some."

"Steve!" Carla shook her head, "That's Terrible." She still couldn't believe that the Anchorwoman had actually broken this case. "Well... stranger things have happened." She accepted it.

"What, you mean me getting a date with Ms. Lead Anchor?"

Carla sighed and shook her head, pacing away. Surprised, she actually caught herself smiling. Her buzz was killed, hard, the moment she remembered why she hadn't smiled in a week, along with every other terrible thing that had happened along with it. Now feeling worse than ever, a thought occurred to her, and she spun.

"Wait- that news story that just broke... it basically vindicates the Merpeople, right?"

"I guess- what's your point?" The Detective in the chair responded.

"Then the people aren't going to be very happy about the Government keeping them in prison Camps. There are gonna be demonstrations, maybe even Riots. Come on, those National Guard people are gonna need out help."

The Detectives and Officers groaned, getting up and grabbing their jackets and guns. "Back to work..." Blanc said, settling in further, "Better get going, Lenny."

"Yeah, what about you?" The Seated Detective, evidently Lenny, responded.

"Being a Vampire does have it's advantages. I can't exactly pull crowd duty if I've gotta cover myself with an Umbrella the whole damn time." He said, smirking.

"Your Umbrella's Gay." Lenny muttered, following Carla.

--

Olympia Way, Pinkerton Building, Capitol City, F.D.C. August 21st, 6:33 PM

"Damn lucky you got out of there. They'd've lynched you by now."

Osbourn rubbed his brow in exasperation, tired of all the comments and the questions. Yes, he'd gotten out of School City just before the Attack. Conveniently enough, he was also gone before public opinion of Government involvement went from Lukewarm to Borderline secessionist. Yes, he was very very lucky. So why didn't he feel lucky? Well, for one, it was because he'd returned to Capitol City in shame, as an act of Failure (Again). Possibly it was because he'd left Pete Vincent and an entire city full of innocents in danger behind. Possibly it was because deep down he Knew he could've helped, just wasn't brave enough to. And possibly (even Probably) it was because he had left behind people that were at least somewhat involved with him to come back here, to a city that he hated, to a life that held nothing for him. He didn't feel very lucky, in all likelihood, because surviving isn't such a victory when your life isn't that great in the first place.

"Yeah... Sure." He responded, glancing back down at his 'meal'. A Charitable conclusion to reach if ever there was one. Tepid, reheated noodles, with a splash of butter. At least he was eating – most days he skipped at least one meal if not all of them. Still, this was a disgrace. He missed his old food, the meals he would eat and sometimes cook, back when he had a house, had a family, someone to cook for or be cooked for by. But that was just longing for something past, so his best option was to power through the noodles and order takeout later. After all, he'd be staying up late anyways. He still didn't enjoy the thought. Paying someone to cook for him, something he considered an act of love, was akin to prostitution, but these days he was a fairly steady John. He sighed. His train of thought was depressing him even further, so he stood, throwing out the rest of the food and pacing into the office space.

"What, not good enough for your refined pallet?" His coworker asked as he walked away, and Osbourn ignored him, walking down the hallway past similarly suited, similarly dour Federal Agents and Representatives. This was a field day for Libertarians and Hippies and Right-wing Media (granted, it would've been a field day for the Left Wing media had a Republican president been in office when the Scandal hit), but for them it was an eerily ordinary workday. Osbourn was disgusted by the Nonchalance, by their indifference. The Government – the one that they served, actively, both as a Job and as a way of life – had just been indicted in a Major scandal that involved an attack on US Soil, as well as a currently-incalculable death toll in the thousands. All the while, these people lazily filed reports and made phone calls, and asked for Donations in their pledge drives. Not only were people dying, people were Dead, and it was their job to ensure that no-one escape justice. The Laziness with which they treated that charge was nauseating.

Osbourn ducked into his office and shut the door behind him, locking it for good measure and drawing the blinds. He was Tired of listless, staring eyes and bored, meaningless thoughts. He was tired of living in this world, or at least this part of it. He needed to get out in the field again, even though he had just gotten back in town less than a week ago. He needed to get away from this city, it's people, or else he was afraid he'd snap somehow. End up back in the hospital, or just finally fall apart. He couldn't take it much longer. Sitting down stiffly in his chair, he moved with the slowness of a man aged greatly by too much pain in too few years. His desk was bare; there were no files, no computer, no trinkets or framed photos. Just a flat surface with his Goggles sitting in the middle. He reached for them, but his reach wavered, and his fingers trembled as he drew them back. There was no solace for him there, he knew, so deep was his Melancholy. He would put them on and only be more alone.

Upset and lonely, Osbourn reached into his pocket and withdrew his rarely-used company phone. Furrowing his brow, he reconsidered what he was thinking, but his rational mind was no match for his need. It took him a long moment to actually remember the Number – another wonder of IAA making life without it more difficult – but finally found it, plugging it in and holding the Phone up to his ear. The ringing tore him apart, ripped his guts open and deflated his chest. He couldn't stand the waiting. He was afraid to hear her voice.

"Hello?" Innocent an innocuous, thousands of miles away, a continent apart. But not her.

"Is... Is Gabrielle theh?" He asked weakly, finding his throat drier than he'd left it. "It's Sam..."

Silence. Cold, endless uncertain silence. Matter-of-factly, "She doesn't want to talk to you."

Sam leaned forward against the desk, elbow against it, exhaling sharply as his throat tightened. He held the bridge of his nose between his two fingers, Not sure what to say, not sure how to take that. He didn't know if he could take it at all, if could still speak if he tried, anyways. But he still managed. "P-please... I really just need to speak with her, okay? Could you put her on, please?"

A pressured sigh. "Hang on-" The phone being shuffled around, then a thunk. Osbourn's heart jumped into his mouth for a moment, fearing a hang-up, until he realized the receiver had merely been set on the table. His eyes darted around the room as he listened, hoping for any noise to latch on to, hoping for some sound to indicate that the waiting was almost over. He imagined the room, he imagined her, on the far coast, talking with her friend uncertainly, complaining, concerned, or maybe just conflicted. He imagined that, he hoped that, she looked at the phone with doubt, before walking over. He imagined what she was wearing, what she looked like. An unknown room an eternity away and a woman he hadn't seen in ages. His imagination was very good, and it was only getting better, but even he could only guess. He wished he could see her. He wished he knew the things that he could only dream of.

Finally, more shuffling came through the line as the phone was picked back up. "Sam?" Osbourn sniffed, his heart spiking, and amazingly his body reacting even to nothing more than her voice. "Sam, what ah you calling me for? One and a half years and then just one day out of the blue-"

"I know, I know... I'm Sahrry." Osbourn apologized, sitting back in his chair, melting into the seat. "I'm Sahrry, It's just..." He didn't know what to say, "I saw this dress today, this yellow dress in a shahp. It reminded me of you-"

An Exhale, an exasperated, uneasy exhale laced with hurt. "Sam, you can't be serious."

"How's Oregahn?" He asked, trying for lightness and landing on shakiness.

"...Good..." She answered slowly, relenting more than she wanted to. He could tell, over the line, that she wanted to have a hard front, but somehow couldn't. All he wanted to do was talk to her, honestly, and hear her voice. He didn't want to steal her power away from her, make her break down her defenses, but nevertheless he was glad that it was happening. A Twinge of guilt was the only downside. "It's beautiful. It's... everything I hoped it would be." A Sniff. Her voice was oddly textured. He thought maybe he was making her tear up, and felt terrible for it. Like a physical wave of regret washing over him. "You'd like the Coast, especially." Her voice sounded thicker, and now he was sure that he was making her cry.

"Maybe I'll see it one day." he agreed carefully, brows dipping in doubt. "Uhm. Ah just want to know that everythin's good with you... that youah settling in..."

"Why did you Call?" He hears her let out, and that fear of confrontation returns. He doesn't know how to respond, because he honestly isn't sure how she'd take the truth. On that thought, he realizes that anything but that would be a Lie.

"I just needed to heah your voice." He answers, "And... I just needed to know-"

"Sam, you're the one who decided to walk away from the real world." She starts in hoarsely, emotions bubbling through over the line, "You decided to opt out of life and to... to abandon everyone, so-..." Tears, now, audible somehow over the line. "So you have to ask yourself if you can live with that."

"Gabrielle-" He starts, but there is no time.

"Just Sign the Papers." She hangs up. A Vibration runs through Osbourn as the sound cuts it's way through his body, from his ear, to his neck, through his heart, and all the way to his toes. He sits like that, silent, with the phone still to his ear even long after the call was killed. He didn't know. She was right, he did have to ask himself that. And when he did, he found that he didn't know the answer. He was worried about living with someone dying on his watch. Only now, after she'd shown him, did he realize that that was hardly the question at all.

--

Fort Street, Archer Park, August 22nd, Midnight

In a black Peacoat, with a Coffee colored scarf, the Headmaster did not look out of place in the unseasonably cold august night. He paced comfortably through the trees, along the paths, and along the Ruins. One Hundred and fifty years ago, this was where the main hold of the Fort had been. All that remained was a clutter of Ruins in this parkland; some sections of structure remaining, but mostly waist-high stone fencelines and columns or collapsing arches. Once, a stern, stoic stronghold had lain upon the side of the hill, viewing the lands around, above everything save the Mercer mansion a hundred and fifty yards to his left, still standing now. A Homestead of humble Wood and glass survived, a Fort of mandate and righteous stone had crumbled. Controls and physical might may stand for some time, but they will always be outlasted by the bonds of family and home. A more plain example could not be conjured than the Fort and the Mercer house to it's side.

Tonight, at this appointed time, the fort once again was a place of importance; after so very many years as a clutch of ruins on a hill, it once again had meaning. Though it was an edifice of a crushed empire, the body of a slaughtered demon, he still pitied it. The Fort had fancied itself atop the hill when really it was on the side – it had called itself king and been assassinated for it. It's final, fatal indignity was to be made utterly unimportant, utterly worthless. The only thing it cared about what denied it as punishment for one hundred and fifty years. Now, for an hour, it held some measure of weight once more; it was in the thoughts of the people once more. They came to parlay, to speak, and the fort was the agreed-upon site of their meeting. The Headmaster could not have thought of a better one; The fort stood for what his order stood against, and was wrought down. And now the same battle was being waged. He hoped, today, to avoid the cycle's Continuance.

"This is what we struggled against." He said aloud, but not to himself. He sensed the man (Though not truly a man) behind him. "This is what, for decades upon decades upon decades, we have struggled against. Not to uphold the Veil, though that was our means. It is this. This establishment. This institution."

"The Government?" Bear said, amused, pacing over towards the front of the Headmaster. "Well, you'll soon get your chance."

The Headmaster, not half as amused as Bear (if at all), turned as well towards the Philosopher Giant. "No. The Government was, and remains, merely a Cog. It was a facade for the truth of things."

"Your disaster has come and gone, Headmaster." Bear said lowly, opening his arms wide to gesture around him, "Your means succeeded for some time, a long time, I will grant. But your time is over." He narrowed his eyes, "Mine has come." He said it in a Conciliatory tone, as if he was truly regretful of the circumstances. "Can't you see?" He stepped forward, "It isn't a structure of our world, it isn't a balance of power that you fight, but instead human nature. Greed... jealousy, Ignorance... a desire for power... this will exist even In the best world you could create. It existed in the world you protected, as it exists in this one. The Veil nourished it before the days of the Order, it allowed the worst of my kind to benefit off of the suffering of the powerless. There is no System that evil or clever men cannot manipulate for their own gain."

"Not even yours." The Headmaster said, facing away and towards the city, leaning forward against a waist high stone wall, hands upon it. "We have tried... tried to help those who needed help and often have succeeded. But those goals that we have taken upon ourselves – that you took upon Yourself – Pale in comparison to the goals that we were charged with. To avert the coming catastrophe. You believe your means of destroying the status quo, a status quo that may lead to ruin, is the only way to prevent it. But I can see the truth." He turned to face him, standing up fully and taking a step forward, "That your deeds will begin the Catastrophe, not avoid it. That you will create, not destroy, a world in which it is inevitable, sewing the Chaos we sought to avoid while hoping to build a better world."

"Your Catastrophe is a Lie." Bear turned, hissing, "A Lie to keep the Veil closed, to keep the world from knowing the truth about my kind. To keep us from knowing that we exist." He turned aside, glancing off at the moon as he shook his head, "What great harm has come to the world since we were freed from silence? Once the Order could do no more? What evil that mankind would not just as easily let loose on himself have we Caused, Headmaster?" He turned back to the Headmaster, eyes widening. "Your Shame is not our own. And there is no great terror that will befall us merely for being free."

"Your will is to be free, but what of mankind?"

Bear shook his head, "By what right does Mankind rule the world? If he cannot maintain his grasp on his power, then he Has. No. Power!"

Betraying his calm, the Headmaster stepped forward, anger and disappointment riling under his skin. "As if Leeder was not enough of a Radical, you stoop to This? A Coup, a Bloody Revolution?"

"We are the Fifth Column." Bear responded, "The Seditionaries. The Status Quo is unbalanced, so it is within our right to Balance it. It is our duty as the ones with power."

"No matter how many have to die." the man Spat.

"The Tree of Liberty must be refreshed, from time to time, by the blood of Patriots, and Tyrants." the Vampire quoted back to him.

"An Interesting choice." The Headmaster responded coldly, "Considering what Else you seek to refresh with Blood." He made the same Gesture as Bear, opening his arms as if to hug, pointing at the lands around. "This is the place, Bear. The worst of Your deeds can still be averted. Don't Do this. It need not be done, and It will Only lead to Ruin." He pleaded, earnestly, for Bear to change his mind. To keep the coming disaster from occurring.

"No, Headmaster." Bear responded quietly, "This is Your last chance. Join us. This is the only way."

Turning aside, he closed his eyes, shaking his head somberly. "No. There is still a hope of Salvage, and so I cannot agree to open deeds of death and destruction. You... are a Radical, Bear." He turned to meet his eyes a glare of omnipotent regret. "And I condemn you to death." From the Ruins around them, Hooded figures rose out of hiding, garbed in robes and cowls, their faces obscured. Several of them Brandished Crossbows, which they promptly aimed at the Massive Vampire. Others leaped down, wielding holy weapons, stepping between Bear and the Headmaster. Others wielded no weapons at all, but their palms were pale and their hands instead were Claws. The robed executioners slowly circled the Vampire, Bear hunkering down into a Defensive position, and the Headmaster waved a hand at Bear, starting away dismissively.

"Kill Him."

Four Crossbow bolts flew at Bear in Unison, all aimed with solid accuracy for his Heart. Two crossbows went unfired – if the first four missed, it would take too long to reload to get him again. Unfortunately for them, Bear was too fast. He shoved backwards with both feet, aiming with amazing personal precision at the Vampire Executioner that had paced around behind him. He moved deftly through the air, incredibly capable at handling himself despite his bulk. Turning his body in midair, he reached out at the monster, and though his enemy tried his luck and leaped at him while brandishing his claws, Bear had no difficulty grabbing him in midair as if he were a weightless ragdoll. All four bolts embedded uselessly in the ground, but the Other two Crossbowmen moved to fire. Bringing the screaming robed vampire around his side, Bear used him as an inhuman shield, the first of the second volley bolts embedding into the Vampire's chest with a thunk.

Unfortunately for Bear, the other Crossbowman fired from the other side, and all Bear could do was leap out of the way. Luckily for him, it merely embedded itself in the back of his left Thigh, and agony, vibrantly hot and very real despite what he was, forced out a feral grunt as he landed awkwardly. Ahead of him, Two men armed with blessed swords and the second Robed Vampire lowered into Defensive poses, sensing the true threat that Bear posed. The Beat of Combat slowed, the tempo lowering, and Bear allowed himself a moment to breath and to think, the challenge rearranging before him. The snipers, panicking, raced to reload their compound crossbows, still no simple thing to do. All of them watched the tattooed behemoth, waiting for his next move. It wasn't what they expected it to be.

From his back, tucked into his waistband, Bear drew two pistols, arcing them out and firing at the Crossbowmen above. Bullets plinked into ancient stonework as well as flesh, and two of the archers dropped in an instant. The Swordsmen dove for cover implicitly, but the Vampire who stood against Bear only Charged forward, his Claws Raised and his jaws gnashing. Bear didn't have time to bring his guns to bear and fire at the Vampire, and even if he had it would've accomplished nothing. This time the smaller Vampire tackled the larger one, powering into his midsection and driving him to the ground. With the mighty Bear under him, the Vampire began to pummel and Claw at him with his hands, but it was like attacking a brick wall with a box cutter. From below, Bear struggled to catch up with the action occurring even then to him, strikes too quick to, sometimes, even see raining down and rising a wave of panic, human and potent, in the impressive vampire's mind. But the strikes did little but put Bear off his guard - there was only one way that he'd be able to kill him. The Robed Vampire sat up, still straddling the massive man but reaching into one of the pouches of his robe. He was reaching for a Stake, but had allowed himself to be distracted from the fight, giving the monster under him a chance to react. Bear plowed his fist into the Vampire's midsection, sending him flying through the air and into the Trees a ways off.

Allowed almost No respite, one of the Crossbowmen, having finished reloading his weapon, brought his sights to where Bear still laid on his back in the grass. He fired, but when the bolt reached it's target, it plowed into the dirt rather than his heart. Bear had rolled over, picking up one of the guns and bringing it around, muscle-memory allowing his aim to be sure as he squeezed off a single round that blew through the man, dropping him to the stone floor beneath him. Bear turned, pointing his pistol over towards where the swordsmen had ducked; as he did, another Crossbowman jumped out of cover, hoping to get the drop on him. His senses and coordination much better than the human's, Bear spun, firing off a round backhand up at the man; His first two shots missed, but his last one – the last round in the magazine – clipped the man in the shoulder, ruining his aim. Resolved, but not killed.

However, in order to do this, the Terrorist had turned his attention away from more serious, local threats. While he was distracted, the Swordsmen ducked out of cover, moving fluidly and in exact unison, like synchronized swimmers, and they charged towards him, grasping their blades' handles with both hands. They brought their blades back simultaneously, mirror images viewed from the front appearing to the Vampire to be like drunken Double vision. Bear, spinning to see their approach, ducked out of the way as the one to his left brought the sword down in a sweeping overhand strike, the blade chopping deep into the earth instead of him. Still, the other man's identical strike cut across the side of Bear's stomach, down partly into the area of his leg. Turning and shouting in pain and anger, Bear grabbed the man who had struck him successfully by the neck, lifting him into the air with ease. Bringing his claw back, he moved to strike, when suddenly a bloom of pain accompanied by a feeling of being physically pushed appeared inexplicably from his back. Looking downwards for half a second, Bear saw the tip of a Bolt that suddenly sprouted his chest. Thankfully for him, it was closer to the shoulder than his heart – a Dangerously close shot, but one he still survived. His clawing hand at that moment immobilized, Bear realized that the other swordsman had gotten his blade from the ground and was swinging in a long horizontal arc at his back. In a detached stream of thoughts, Bear realized that the second man was in the middle of a strike that would, if successful, end his life. That was all it took for Bear to shake off everything and just React. Ducking and dropping the first Swordsman, Bear juked out of the way, the sword sailing clear over his body. Without Bear to absorb the blow, the strike swung past the other Swordsman, unintentionally slitting his throat and sending him to the ground. Shocked and Off Balance, the unwounded swordsman stumbled back, but Bear had brought himself to bear. Swinging with the Claw strike meant for the other, the Massive Vampire cut through the last Swordsman's midsection, flipping him down to the floor.

Bear rose, towering even over those standing on walls twice as tall as him. The Three Bowmen that remained (Save for the one who had landed the last shot and was still reloading), having seen the Bloodshed, aimed down at him, but did not fire. He turned to stare up in their direction, all of them in one direction, standing along one length of wall. From their balconies and cubbyholes, they aimed down at the Vampire surrounded by Corpses in the courtyard, uncertain. For a long, terse moment, they waited. Then, terrified and not thinking, one of them pulled the trigger, the bolt soaring with obscene speed towards Bear's Heart. With a flick of his wrist, he plucked the projectile from the air, narrowing his eyes at the man who had had a chance not to fire, and had done so anyways. Slowly, darkly, Bear smiled. They didn't stand a chance.

When the last of the Archers were done with, Bear walked over to the man who he had hit in the shoulder with a bullet. The man was leaning against the wall, sitting on the floor, and was clutching his shoulder weakly. The man was stuttering as he tried to breath, shaking on the ground. Bear loomed over him, towering, insanely tall and being stared up at from the floor. "Please... Please, Let me go. I won't tell them anything, I... I won't... or I'll tell them everything! Whatever you want! Just please-" Bear bent over, grabbing the man by the neck and closing off his windpipe, ending his pointless bargaining. Inhaling slowly, Bear smelled the fear and blood coursing through the man's veins, both disgusted and appetized at the same time.

"You shouldn't have Fired." He growled fiercely, looking up towards the man he held high over the ground, "And you might have lived. Too bad..." He murmured, glancing off to the side, staring thoughtfully into the distance for a brief moment, eyes glazed over. Considering the worth of this man's life.

Then, he bared his fangs and embedded them in his neck, beginning to feed.

Discarding the man's lifeless corpse onto the dewy, grass-covered earth, Bear paced slowly towards the Treeline, plucking the Bolts from his back and Thigh and discarding them disinterestedly on the ground. Ahead, From between the trees, came the second Vampire, having healed from the blow but still limping, evidently having sustained more injuries as he landed.

"So, Shall I kill you too? Will you die so that you conscience will remain clean?" Bear asked, tilting his head in thought. The Vampire remained silent, doubtful spite looming up at him from a man who has been made into a subject. "You see what I have done here." Bear leered, "This is the might of progress. The irrevocable nature of Change. And you can be a part of that. And at the end, you will rule as you should have. As a god."

Uncertain and miserable, the Vampire's face contorted in shame and fear. But, at last, he looked downwards, and fell to his knees, Bowing. "I will side with you. Hand of Apollo."

"Good." Bear said, narrowing his eyes, pleased. "Then the line has been drawn. The Die has been cast. And you have chosen the path not only of Survival... but of Honor." He turned to glance back at the corpses he left behind in the Courtyard, Distracted.

"Yes..." The Vampire said lowly, pulling a spare stake out of his boot, "I have." Suddenly, he sprang up from the ground, raising his hand high into the Air, clutching the stake in his fist and preparing to stab down into Bear's heart. Surprise flashed across the Terrorist's face for a moment, in the scant milliseconds as the other vampire struck. But then, too fast even for a fellow vampire, the mighty Behemoth moved, Grabbing the Man by the Throat like he had the Crossbowman before, catching the Vampires Striking hand with his other and Yanking the man's arm out from his Socket.

"Idiot." Bear hissed simply, tightening his grip on the Vampire's neck, squeezing his throat past the point of pain. "Why do men throw their lives away so... Willingly?" He tilted his head, examining the face of his enemy as his grip grew tighter and tighter, snapping the bones in his neck like twigs, watching as a blood vessel in his eye burst and filled the portal into his tainted soul with red. Soon his hand was clenching so tight that it split through his skin and flesh like a meat cleaver, and ancient blood, black as the night sky, oozed down over Bear's fingers and wrist, coagulated even as it was in the veins. Finally, he was rewarded with a skittering series of snaps, and finally a satisfying pop, and his neck collapsed entirely, his head coming free from his body along with a section of spine. As the Robes and the lifeless body that they contained collapsed to the ground, Bear gave one last look at the face of a stranger who had been so convinced that Bear deserved to die, that he was willing to betray his own livelihood like a lemming. And then, more disgusted by the man the head used to contain than the gory item itself, he tossed it aside to the grass, departing.

--

"I think I'm gonna be sick..." Carla exhaled, turning and pacing away. She had expected to see some gruesome things, and had seen more than her fair share of dead bodies in her life, but she was in No way prepared for That.

"More Pale on Pale violence..." Blanc shook his head, clicking his Tongue. "When are Vampires going to learn to get along?"

"You serious?" Carla asked, glancing over at him, "You're not bothered by... That thing there?" She pointed severely at the Decapitated head, a trail of Vertebrae pouring from it's bottom.

"Well, Vampires like to tear each other apart." The undead detective sighed, crouching over the Head, the rest of the body a few feet away. "Working on those crimes, ya tend to see vampires torn up more often than not." He glanced over at her.

"That's not the Weird part, though." Galloway, the Forensic field analyst, said, coming over. "Most of the Bodies are human. We've got five bodies found on top of the ruins, one human body on the ground, and two Vampires. All of them were ready to tango..." She tilted her head, "But they were armed to fight Vampires."

"Slayers, huh?" Carla nodded slowly, "This could be something a little more interesting than gang Violence, then." She relaxed a little more, glad to be able to dive into the case. This was Textbook Carla: Rather than allow things to get too big, too scary or too overwhelming, dive into a single case and don't think about anything else until it's done. "Any idea who their target was?"

Galloway pointed over at a tiny yellow plastic tent sitting on the ground, "We found two Crossbow bolts that looked like they landed. Blood on the tips and maybe even fingerprints on the shaft. If I were looking at it in the Encyclopedia Brown kind of mindset..." She shrugged, "I'd say that they hit him twice, but not in the heart. They yanked em out-" She made a 'yanking' gesture away from her chest, "And tossed em away before he or she was done."

"DNA Analyses might find a match, if we're lucky." Blanc murmured, still poking around the body.

"Well whoever they were, they must've been some pretty tough Vampires."

"Mmmnn." Galloway shook her head, crossing her arms, "Based on Blood splatter, it seems like there was only one guy fighting the rest. And when you take into account Footprints..." She glanced back into the Courtyard, "We've got three other players. One of them walked right away, so maybe he was there before or after... and two of them were in the fight, got knocked down, then got up later and left." She shrugged. "Detective, if you don't mind me saying, it looks like we missed a hell of a fight."

"Hey-" Blanc said, glancing over at Carla and standing. He had pulled something out of the Decapitated body's pockets. "Take a look at this."

Carla took a long, hard look at the item Blanc handed her – it was a slip of paper, a note. Opening it, she Read it silently once, then twice more to herself before furrowing her brow. "Uh... hmm." She cleared her throat, glancing over at them. She wasn't sure what to make of it.

"Well?" Blanc smirked, "Don't leave us in the dark! What's it say?"

Carla glanced at him, then Galloway, then back to the Paper before taking a wary breath, uneasy. "It says... It says 'If Bear agrees to come with us, stake him in the back.'"

--

The Hill, Langston House, August 22nd, 5:29 AM

Torval couldn't sleep.

Ever since he had returned from his period of infirmity, when he stayed at Marti's, in the warehouse, not know who he was or what he was doing, Torval had begun to experience vivid dreams of his Brother. They usually verged too far into Nightmare territory for them to be pleasant or enjoyable, and on top of that it was alarming that he was dreaming in the first place. As a Vampire, he shouldn't have been able to dream at all, merely gone to sleep (preferably in a plush coffin), cease to exist for a few hours, then wake up at sundown, ready to terrorize. The notion that, for some reason, he was managing to dream at all again was bound to be somewhat... disconcerting. That wasn't to say that he didn't look forward to the dreams, though. His brother, a man that he admired greatly, had been dead for over a hundred and forty years – needless to say he hadn't seen him in a while. So it was nice to be around him again; remember what he looked like, what he smelled like, sounded like, and how he behaved, even if only in the realm of dreams.

But that night, he couldn't manage to fall asleep at all. It really shouldn't've been a problem at all – When his particular brand of undead conks out for the night (or rather day), all they have to do is shut their eyes, clear their minds, and flip a switch. There is none of the nebulous barrier issues that humans have to deal with, the issue of having to not be trying to fall asleep in order to do so. It was just a simple matter of laying down and then realizing that it's suddenly eight hours later. This bothered Torval an Undue amount, especially because he didn't have to sleep at all. He could stay up as long as he wanted, and even better the symptoms of sleep deprivation are comparably mild for Vampires. On the other hand, there was a certain... element in play there, a metaphysical matter much like his ability to turn into a bat or to hypnotize; Inexplicable – arguably physically impossible – but still right there, clear as crystal. If he didn't sleep, he would be weaker, his powers would come at a greater cost and with lesser returns. If he did sleep, he'd feel strong, and refreshed. So Torval slept through just about every day of his life as a Vampire – after all, what else was there to do, locked up in a dark room all day? Besides that, he enjoyed it. But this thing – this thing he Didn't Need, that should be thrilled he was bothering to court it – was denying him! He felt deprived, robbed, cheated.

What made it significantly worse was that the entire time he laid in the bed he was using (He couldn't very well call it 'his' bed, now could he?), he found himself thinking about the things Alex said to him. His job that night had been less than Monotonous – it had been difficult, and the large numbers of people demonstrating in front of the Mermaid detention camps made things... interesting. So he didn't have much time to think about anything – and now he had more time than he wanted. Darting, Manic thoughts filled his mind, racing and incessant. He felt like he hadn't been able to get a single clear thought through his head in weeks, though it had still been less than a day. He simply couldn't reconcile what she'd said, her hopes, her offer, with what he knew to be true. It was a simple matter, he knew, and she was patently wrong. The amazing thing was that, by trying to make him forget about his past, she only managed on making it more present in his mind! Instead of allowing him to slip into a life free of his history, she insisted he intentionally leave it behind, drop his baggage and move on. The only way to forget something is to never bring it up, didn't she know that? How can you leave something behind by thinking about it more? What a ridiculous notion. Who was she to presume to ask him to do something like that, anyways?!

That wasn't it, though, not at all. He knew that it wasn't the case, and that he was only troubled and in doubt. It was just that... his Guilt had been with him so long, it had become a companion to him. It was a Burden, and a crutch; it was an Excuse and a Shelter. It was so many things, and all of them so integral in his life. His guilt was so profound, and he had carried it with him for so long, so very long, that it was not merely a part of him, but instead the thing that he had based the entirety of his life upon. Asking him to let it go would be like asking him to remove his spine, and then expect him to walk (Although Ironically, it was his Guilt that removed his backbone in the first place.) Especially asking him specifically to let go over perhaps the worst thing he'd ever done – There were many other contenders, and Killing Cindy was perhaps an automatic shoe-in for the top spot, but for some reason he had always felt worse about everything that happened to Alex than the rest. It was What he was, it was his identity now, pure and simple. He couldn't really ever hope to leave that behind... could he?

Staring up at the ceiling and pondering redemption, Torval thought back to what he was thinking right before he went to confession. He had been so eager to 'make amends' to his three girls, to make them happy again before he sent them on their way back to heaven. He never asked them if they wanted to go back, nor did he ask them if they felt he needed to make amends. Clearly Alex, as she herself said, felt that everything between them was already square. And Vittoria evidently wanted nothing to do with him. But when he'd come to Victoria and told her he was going to 'Go to Confession to make her happy', he was rebuked. She told him that he had no idea what confession was about. That she would not want him to do it at all if he was only doing it to please her, not because of legitimate penitence or understanding of the ritual. At the time, he was so fixated on the pain of it that he didn't know what she meant when she said that Doing it for Enjoyment would be breaking the Covenant. Enjoyment?! He was going to burn alive! His Skin bubbled and melted off his flesh! What was there to enjoy about that? He had been so sure then that his was the only way to look at things. But now, in hindsight, with Victoria gone (but not forgotten), he saw that he had done it because pleasing Victoria would make him happy. He was doing it because he would Enjoy Victoria being pleased. He was gratifying himself in a very round-about way, and he didn't even realize it.

But in the confession booth, when Father Markus explained that he truly was forgiven... Torval understood. It had slipped behind his more prominent memories since then, but now he understood. Forgiveness wasn't about retribution, revenge, or punishment. It was about letting go. Everyone else had let go, it seemed. Cindy being the only exception, everyone had moved on. Nina could talk to him. He had... had raped her, and she held conversations with him. She let him stay in her house and had helped him more than once. As for James, Torval had gotten Carla nearly killed, and had done so many horrific things. He'd left James behind, had abandoned him so often. But James didn't hate him. Phineas had told him, point blank, that he had moved on with his life and didn't give a shit. Thoreau... had seen that it was him as much as Torval that was to blame. After all, he had been the estranged husband, had seen Torval growing more enamored with Nina. Thoreau didn't blame him. Garrus...

He had hurt these people, tortured them and stolen from them. Killed some of them, too. But they had moved on. They had... they had forgiven him. They had absolved him of his guilt. Now Torval was the one clinging to his guilt. He was the one that was Persecuting Torval Langston. He, he himself.

True punishment, he thought, true penitence, is what we hold ourselves responsible for. Justice not of a higher court, not of God, who forgives, or of Satan, who takes, but of ourselves. The only one who would never dare forgive the sins committed against another.

--

Cherry Street and Pandora Boulevard, School City Hospital, August 22nd, 10:55 AM

She leaned over in her bed, an arduous process on it's own, and pursed her mouth to drink. Like a Gerbil in a cage, she sips from a water bottle with a straw, positioned and sealed into place so it can not wander, so she can not lose it. She does not have the faculties to lift a cup and sip, she does not have the faculties to drink without a straw. Eating, as another matter, is completely out of the question. But her mouth is dry, so she must drink.

Donna Summers, her skin grafts fresh and her skin still warm, even so long afterwards, shifts back into the dent she has made in her hospital bed and for the millionth time that week jostles the handcuffs that hang around her wrist. Yes, the Police knew that there was a chance that she was just some poor woman that dropped by for a drink, that had for some reason been allowed in by Jakowski or Smitts, god rest them. They knew that maybe she was just some random woman who happened, by whatever chance of fate, to be in the Warehouse on that terrible day. But considering that she appeared to be pointing a Gun at the Redhead in some of the Security footage they'd managed to salvage, it seemed probable that she at least knew Something about this whole affair. So they chained her up and waited for the day she opened her mouth to tell them what really happened to those people. It still hadn't come.

She didn't want to talk to anybody. Even though by know she'd found that she could, with great difficulty, utter some small number of words, why would she ever choose to? Back when she was with the Bureau, everyone had thought her to be crazy, thought she was obsessed. Well, maybe they were right, but she didn't need them telling her that. It wasn't their business, it had nothing to do with them. It was Her business, and she didn't feel the need to explain the whole situation to someone who could do anything about it anyways. Why should she make their jobs easier, when they, THEM, always made hers harder? I mean, for chrissakes, the guard they posted at the door let in the Banshee twice a day! How could they handle it if they won't even trust her when she tells them to keep one of the Nurses out when she says so? She had Told them, Keep her out! 'Oh, the Cute redhead with the gorgeous Singing voice? You're crazy, she's not hurting nothing'. He couldn't be more wrong.

It scared her. Every second of every visit, every single millisecond that the Banshee sat next to her and hummed or sang in her ear. She would lay their, paralyzed with fear, shaken to her very core. She wasn't herself, when the Banshee was around. She felt like a child being talked at by their parent – utterly horrified of a nonexistent fate that she can't even imagine but she is certain she will end up with. She has been so afraid that she has cried, in front of her quarry, in front of the monster that destroyed her family and stole her life, like a little girl. Cried like she hadn't cried in years. The Banshee just smiled and spoke sweetly, enjoying it greatly. She would brush away the tears too slowly and whisper too low, and the bile would rise in Donna's throat and she would cry harder, powerless.

Why hadn't she killed her yet? Donna didn't understand. Lying in her bed, agony racking her weak and frail body, morphine blunting the pain on high, but not removing it and only some of the time. There was too much feeling in her body, too many nerves for her small frame screaming at her, screaming at her brain. There was too much despair for her small, cold heart. Too much confusion and doubt for her shrinking brain. She was withering away here, but her body was exploding senses and emotions, too bright, hot, loud, and endless for her to hold. Why didn't the Banshee just kill her? She'd been alone for so long... alone, and afraid, and running and hunting and desperate for something she never really thought would happen. She wanted to die. Yes. She wanted to die. Why wouldn't the Banshee do it? End her life? She had taken everything else, why couldn't she just do what she had promised, do what she knew she would do? Why did she leave her like this?

Was in Punishment? Punishment for leaving those people to die? She'd done it so willingly. She'd Thought about it. She Considered, then chose for them to die. Yes. That was it. She was being punished. This is what she had earned, though her actions, her choices, her intents. This was what she deserved-

A knock at the door had her suddenly jolt in that direction. Too shocked and dry-mouthed to answered on time, Donna's eyes merely widened as she stared at the figure only partly visible. Despite everything that she felt, despite how much she wanted for the hell that her life had become to be over, she was still afraid of death. That survival instinct still jumped up at her and shoved her heart into her throat - Fight or Flight, Fight or Flight?! She could do neither, so instead she merely went mad with Pheromones. She was relieved to see that the person who entered afterwards was by far the least threatening person she'd met in months. That didn't mean she was happy to be bothered, or happy to have to talk. She just wanted to be alone. She turned away, not even bothering to look at him.

"Ahm Sahrry." Osbourn said, pacing over to the side of the bed, "I should'a believed you, Agent Summers." He was back.

That caught her attention, and she turned to face him as quickly as her neck could manage, eyes narrowed. Carefully, hoarsely, she forced her vocal chords and mouth to speak. "You . . . Know who I am..."

Osbourn nodded, leaning against the wall and glancing at her, looking from under his brows in a much more gentle and light kind of a Kubrick stare. "Yeah. I figyuhd it out." He brushed his nose with one hand, tilting his head, "Ah won't tell them if you don't wahnt me to."

"I don't." She cut him short more coldly than she'd intended. She didn't want to admit that it was somewhat nice to speak with someone who didn't judge, who at least somewhat understood who she was and what she was going through.

Osbourn nodded slowly, glancing back at the door. "Youah naht telkin to them... Why? Why naht just cleah your name?" He glanced back at her. She didn't respond. He stood up, walking over to where there was a cheap armchair next to the bed, taking a seat in it and leaning forward. "That's Ahright. You don't have to talk. Just listen." He interlaced his fingers in front of his mouth, frowning thoughtfully. "The Redhead that was there, she's the Banshee, isn't she?" Summers still didn't respond, as if to keep the answer from him, but her change in expression willingly gave it away. "And she plahnted the bomb." He said more of a statement than a question. The Logical Conclusion, when there were no others available.

"I..." Donna exhaled, and for a moment Osbourn wasn't sure if she was speaking or gasping, grunting, or Sighing. Then she went on. "I had her." She said it so miserably, so desperately, like an old lady looking back on her biggest regret of so many years ago, still burned bright into her memory. "And-, And... and...." She struggled to come up with what the rest of that sentence was.

Osbourn glanced away for a long, silent moment. Finally, he asked a new question, "How long have you been after her?" He looked at her, pallid skin looking pastier under the ugly hospital lighting.

Summers gave textured exhale, rippling with unevenness identical to the unevenness in her body, in her soul ."I don't know. Depends on what year it is."

Osbourn let out a single, airy laugh, nodding in appreciation of that. "Point made, point made..." He leaned forward, his legs wide, settling his elbows against his knees. His face was level with Donna's now, and he was leaned forward, closer to her. "Summahs, I just need you to tell me how to get heh. I need you to tell me it was the Banshee, and where to get heh. Or more people are gonna die." He said it quietly, earnestly, and diplomatically. He was leveling with her, laying down the cards. He didn't know how she'd take it, but he figured she'd appreciate someone being straight with her for once.

Summers blinked, her face scrunching and unscrunching suddenly as she glanced around the room, as if she was trying to figure out the taste of something she was chewing and couldn't quite wrap her mind around. A shifting expression of uncertain, exploratory concern, worried about suddenly finding herself disgusted by an aftertaste just waiting to hit her. Her eyes darted around the room, the shades of the patches of differently colored skin, visible even on her neck, shimmering as she swallowed. "I can't." She worked her mouth around the words uncertainly, like saying them was a new experience. "I can't let someone else catch her." She admitted weakly, shuddering suddenly as a jolt of pain lanced up her leg. "I can't let go." She added, lip quivering suddenly. "I don't know how."

Osbourn looked away, Uncomfortable with the Raw, crushed emotions that the formerly stoic woman no longer had the capacity to hide. He glanced out the window, swallowing himself, and watched as a flock of birds flew by. He listened to the beep of the machines and the wind blowing in through the window as he waited for her to compose herself, and as he heard her fail. Quietly, almost silently, he drew his goggles from his jacket pocket, holding them in his hands which rested in his lap. He took in a deep breath and exhaled as a sigh, nodding. He knew what she was talking about. He Could Empathize.

"Y'know... ah know you feel so fah away from everythin in the world... from everyone, from society... like you're in a whole different world. Like youah totally separate, and nobody could undahstand." He shrugged, glancing back out the window. "Yeah, it's... it's funny, Y'know... Y'know, I used to have a family too..." He said, glancing back down at the Goggles, fiddling with them idly, and paused for a brief moment, "Beautiful, yeah . . . more than I ever thought I... I could have. Yeah, I had a family, like you. And..." he glanced up at her briefly as he spoke before turning his focus back to the goggles, "and a monsteh.... took heh away from me, too." Donna glanced over at him, confused and concerned, like someone worried a trap was about to be sprung on them. The only trap she was afraid of now would be one for her emotions. "I- I've been... fightin monstehs for me whole life. More then I could eveh... eveh count, or hope to remembeh." She gave a shrug, looking away in a manner that was almost bashful. "But the problem was, Donna, was that that the Monster that took my wife from me was... was me."

He glanced up at her with another shrug, "I was so... so focused on fighting monsters that... well I was so afraid of..." He stared down, pausing for a long moment, this time not along the ways of a conversational rhythm, but rather because he was lost in thought for a significant period of time. He cleared his throat, tilted his head to the side and continuing at last, "Heh-... I don't even know what I was afraid of. But I was afraid, and I focused on the Monstehs in the world that I... I let one in to help me fight em." He looked back down at the Goggles. "Cost me my Marriage... my home, my friends... and it almost cahst me my life. ...Y'know, that's the funny thing about Fighting Monsters, Donna. Fight em for long enough, and... and they automatically win. Because you just end up as another one of them. You just end up a monster." A tear rolled down her cheek, and he looked away, swallowing coldly. "This isn't want your family wanted, Donna. They wanted you to be happy." He stood, shaking his head and putting his goggles back in his pocket, moving to leave. He started towards the door, pausing for a long moment, hoping she'd speak.

"She comes here and sings..." She finally did speak. "At Dawn... and Dusk. She'll be here... you can catch her with Salt... threaten her with Cold Steel." she exhaled shakily, glancing around and looking up at the ceiling in a 'Father, why hast thou forsaken me?' type of look. She shuddered for a moment, almost shaking, as she breathed out more than just carbon dioxide in a long, steady exhale. She was breathing out her burden. She was breathing out all that was left of her life. "She said... she won't be here tonight... that she has business. But tomorrow morning. You can catch her then."

--

The Hill, Langston Mansion, August 22nd, 12:41 PM

"Alex... I need to ask you a favor."

This was the new and Improved Torval, huh? This guy, this queer, this silly little whiny piece of shit (Pussy pussy pussy pussy pussy, Marti had called it), that felt Scawed to go out on his own and didn't want to do things without a Chaperon? Oh, sure, they can talk about how a Big man isn't afraid to show his feelings, that the true show of strength is mercy, not vengeance, but Torval still felt like a bitch.

But all the same, he didn't want to go see Marti alone.

"Does it have to be me?" Alex asked uncomfortably. It was understandable – they were going through a 'thing'. Extracurricular activities didn't help when you were trying to focus on the future of their relationship. "Can't it be... Nina? Or James?"

"Nina's in town bringing supplies to the Refugees." Torval explained, "And James... James is just James." He shrugged. "Please, Alex."

Alex sighed, rubbing the back of her neck. She knew that the wise decision was not to go with him. But against her better judgment... she knew she couldn't say no. "I see you've already taken the L-196." She relented, sighing, "Guess I have no choice."

Torval smiled faintly, giving a Nod. "Thanks, Alex. It means a lot to me. I appreciate it."

The Walk was extremely Grueling. What would have been a five minute drive a week ago was now a matter of scrambling over jutting rocks rising out of the street like fault lines, picking their way through trenches, and getting past a handful of checkpoints. Torval, a wanted criminal, ironically had less difficulty at the checkpoints than Alex did, but ultimately they got through fine. The hospital itself was, of course, utterly swamped, but considering Marti's comparable importance in regards to the warehouse explosion, she had her own room which was not difficult to find. But for some reason, as soon as he arrived at the Door, Torval froze. He found himself literally unable to open it. Alex, trailing behind, put a hand on his shoulder, concerned.

"Torval...?" She asked, examining the scarred lines on his face, "Is everything... okay?"

Torval stared at the door, eyes wide and looking more alarmed than worried or frightened. "I can't see her like this." He realized suddenly, swallowing. "I..." He finally looked at Alex, but distantly, as if he was looking more into himself than to her. "I can't see her as a... yellowed lump in a Hospital Bed." He swallowed, glancing off into space. "Alex.... I'm sorry I dragged you down here, but... I just can't."

Alex stepped forward, taking his hand and holding it in between them, tightly, "Torval," She said, looking him in the eyes, "You are stronger than you think you are. You can see her now, and I know you want to." she cleared her throat, the words coming across clumsily, but with that same certainty and resolve. "You can, and you should. Just try, Torval. All you have to do is Try."

Torval was caught by her eyes. They were murky, but piercing somehow in their murk, and he felt like he'd hate to look in them and see an ounce of pain. Thankfully they were kind and gentle, and for a moment he believed her. He felt her Resolve, her certainly, flowing through her and into him like their limbs were conduits and she was an emotional power plant. He felt furnished by her, heartened, strengthened, purified. He felt like he could do it.

But when he reached for the door handle, he still froze.

Dropping his hand to his side, he looked away, feeling ashamed. He looked everywhere but at her, unable to look at her face again. She sighed, rubbing his shoulder once more and saying "It's Okay, Torval. At least you tried."

"Torval!" The Redheaded vampire turned sharply as he heard a familiar male voice.

"James?" Torval was somehow surprised to see his old friend there, though he spent almost every waking moment at the Hospital. On some level, he believed that James wouldn't spare him a single second, especially not here. He was legitimately happy to find out that it wasn't the case.

"Hey." The blond said, nodding to him. "Carla wants to talk to you, man." he told Torval seriously.

Alex glanced over at him, cocking an eyebrow. "Carla... the detective? What does she want from you?"

"Needs your help." James shrugged. "I'm meeting her for Lunch soon, I get off in five. I'll take you to her."

"This is too interesting to miss." Alex smirked, "I'm coming too."

"Then it's double date." Torval joked somewhat inappropriately, letting out a grin. He was happy to forget that Marti was ten feet away from him and two feet from death. He was happy to have something to think about other than his pure failure to look at someone he truly cared about; to be there for them in their hour of need.

--

Whitcomb Street, Den of the Ox, August 22nd, 2:31

"The Rundown is as..." Carla sighed, "The Rundown sucks. Let me just tell you what's going on."

"And here I was, excited for the Rundown." Alex muttered to Torval. They were seated in a booth against a window, getting a meal. The Den of the Ox was one of the few places that was still open, and they had been lucky to get in at all. Their lights were run by generators, their meals cooked by propane. Chairs were set up practically all throughout the building as well as Grand Traverse, the small park that the Den of the Ox faced, all of them served by volunteers rather than the establishment's actual staff. It was somewhat disrespectful to be eating there when they didn't need to and other people did, but nevertheless it felt right.

Torval shook his head, "I don't get it, Carla. What did you want me? Especially at a time like this, when you should be busy... keeping the Mermaids locked up, keeping the rioters out. Doing damage control on the government scandal and all that! How could you even be On the Vincent case at a time like this?" He said it with undue harshness. He knew it wasn't her fault that the Government had basically stopped looking into the people who kidnapped one of his idols and blew up one of his girlfriend candidates. Still, it was a sore spot, and he didn't have very many people left to take it out on. "I mean, you haven't brought me in on a case since the Serial killer that was hunting you."

James rubbed his forehead, "Augh, that was a Doozy. I've still got the Scar on my stomach."

"At least you didn't get Stabbed." Torval remarked dismissively, "Anyways, like I was saying-" he said with mock-annoyedness, and suddenly he and James were friends again. It was amazingly instantaneous. He couldn't help but smirk, feeling bright and alive, "What does any of this have to do with me?"

Carla sighed, glancing off to the side, "Because..." She rolled her neck, knowing that this was exactly what she shouldn't do. But it was truly her own option. "Because I'm off the case. Because it's barely a case at all in the Captain's eyes and I need help. And because you are perfectly suited to furnish it."

Torval frowned, "Look, Carla, I don't know how I'd help you, and I don't think I'd even want to. I'm trying to stay out of all of that crazy shit-"

"I need you because the person who kidnapped Pete Vincent... the person who ordered the bombing of the warehouse... it's someone you know." Carla continued regardless. That caught his attention.

Torval narrowed his eyes, leaning forward. "Who?"

"Bear."

Torval scoffed. "Bear? Bear from the Community Bear? I don't know him, I knew him. Briefly. Him and his friend were... I talked to them, briefly, when I was at the Community. I mean, I knew Dan the Guitarist better than those guys." He rubbed his neck as he recalled the memory of Bear kicking his ass when he tried to prove he was Nightfang. An act out of pride because he thought they should worship him. Even when he was trying to go straight, live life as a Janitor, he was still too narcissistic for his own good. "Bear and, what's her name, Jenny, they were Acquaintances at best."

Carla shook her head, "That's not what they'll-" She froze, something clicking in her head. Something that she hadn't realized before suddenly meshed perfectly. "Jenny? Jenny who?"

Torval sighed. "I don't even know Bear's real name. How could I remember some waitress' last name? I had amnesia, Carla, it's a wonder I remember anything."

"Try." Carla said forcefully, leaning forward. The mood of the room suddenly shifted. A group at a nearby table glanced over, speaking under their breaths. James sighed, sinking deeper into his seat and shaking his head. He should've just stayed out of it.

Torval rubbed his forehead, shrugging emphatically. "It's useless Carla." Receiving only a steady stare from her, he hunkered down, trying to think back. "Jenny... Uh, Jenny..." It was useless. There was no way he was going to remember it.

"Jenny Carson?" Carla asked, eyes intense.

Torval looked over at her, blinking. He could remember it exactly now. They introduced themselves to each other with full names. That was the first night he came to the community. "Y-yeah... how'd you know?"

Carla glanced over at the others, and revealed the simple fact that she'd looked up after being told a completely ridiculous falsehood the other day. "Because Jenny Carson is the name of the Reporter who exposed the Government-mermaid conspiracy."

Beat. Dead silence for several seconds. Torval stared at Carla, uncertain, eyes wide. "Wait- wait," James started in, leaning forward, a look of incredulity on his face, "You're saying that that's just part of the Terrorist's plans? That it isn't true?"

Carla glanced over at him, giving a silent nod. A second later, she extrapolated, "If it's the same Jenny Carson, which I'm relatively sure it is, then yes. Which means they want this Anti-governmental Unrest. It makes too much sense to be just a coincidence."

"You didn't know this already?" Alex asked, taking Torval's hand subconsciously. This was extremely troubling news. Torval was nevertheless pleased by her instinctive reaction.

"No." Carla answered truthfully, shaking her head, "I didn't even suspect. So I guess we're lucky we met after all.

"We-, well we have to do something!" Alex responded, looking at Torval briefly, "What can we do to help?"

"We're not getting involved." Torval said lowly, looking down.

Alex blinked, looking at the old Vampire with confusion. "...What? How can you... How can you even say that?"

"I'm not that person anymore." He responded severely, still just staring down at the table, "There's nothing I can do. And besides, Carla doesn't need Me, she just needs someone."

Carla shook her head, "Torval, if my Captain didn't let me investigate Bear, there's no WAY he'll let me look into this. He's serious about this – If I worked on it in my free time, I'd lose my Job. I need you to-"

"Well you can't use me." Torval said, standing sharply. He glanced at Carla, shaking his head. "It isn't going to happen. I'm done with stupid adventures. I have a life to live."

"Then I'll help." Alex stepped in, leaning forward with great resolve. "I'll look into her." Carla gave her an uncertain glance, doubtful. Working with her seemed like an affront to Torval... but she wasn't exactly happy with him at the moment anyways. And Besides, she was her own person.

"Are you sure?" Carla asked quietly.

"Of course not!" Torval said, truly angered now. "Alex, I brought you back so that you could be happy! So that you wouldn't have to be down there. Getting involved in this will just get you dead again-"

"Isn't that what you wanted?" Alex asked, standing up as well, "For me to go back to death like a good girl?" She shook her head harshly, turning. "No, Torval. I don't take orders from you. I came back to life so I could Live. And Living Means Not opting out of the things happening around me. I don't just want to breathe, I want to be alive. And that means staying involved."

"Alex-..." Torval said weakly, not having any actual rebuke but still totally dismissing her opinion.

"Don't 'Alex' me Torval." She responded, turning to Carla. Torval looked to James for Support.

James shook his head, raising his hands, "Don't look at me. No way I'm getting involved in this."

Carla glanced between the Vampire and the Zombie, uncertain. "Alex..." She started, "This could be very dangerous. I don't know what Jenny Carson is like, but she's close with Bear and I know what He's like. What I need is proof that Jenny is connected to Bear and, hopefully, that the accusations are totally false. Maybe there's another way I could get those things. You don't have to do this."

"Yes..." Alex said, not without some twinge of rebelliousness against Torval, "I do."

"Please, Alex..." Torval said, bending over to look at her more leveled with the eyes. "Don't do this. This path doesn't lead to anything good. Believe me, I've walked it too many times to count."

Alex shook her head, "Well I'm walking it now." She said with quiet, stern absolution, "I'll go where it takes me."

--

The Farm, August 22nd, Sundown.

"Is it really time already?" Dan ran a hand over his shaved head, looking conflicted. This was too early on the Timetable. It was supposed to take longer.

"Bear says it's time." Samantha responded with an intense smile. Her eyes were wild, crazy, and her grin completely detached from them. She was excited for this. This was the fear she had been craving. This was what she had been longing for for years. Satisfaction. Notoriety. Power.

Daniel rubbed his forehead more vigorously, exhaling almost sadly. "Okay. Okay, It's his decision. But... Can't we at least do it after the sun's set? I can't fly and hold the Umbrella."

"No, we're taking the Van." Samantha responded shortly, glancing in through the doorway, into the darkened bedroom, hearing the snoring from within. "Sure we could fly him back, but it might draw attention."

"The Drive'll take all night." Dan protested.

"That's why we have to leave now."

At last something she said made sense. Finally sated, Dan shrugged and settled into the Plan. "Fine. He's blacked out, don't even need the Chloroform. Better tie him up, still, but other than that-" He sighed, heading into the room. Flicking on the overhead lights, Daniel glanced away in disgust. Sprawled over the mattress was Pete Vincent, his hair tangled, his shirt nowhere in sight, his pants unbuttoned, and a bottle of liquor hanging precariously from his hand.

"Alky piece of shit..." He mumbled, walking over and grabbing him by the scruff of his neck. Still, he made better company than the banshee. The redheaded woman, though reasonably attractive and clearly passionate about what she was doing (he hated those lazy sons of bitches who can't be bothered to have an opinion about anything), was a little too... 'on' for him. She unsettled him to an extent, and whenever they spoke it seemed like she was hiding double meanings behind everything she said. 'Do you like Music?' 'Yes, I find it absolutely... Enthralling'. Chuckle under breath. Maybe it was just because she constantly rebuked his advances, but he was getting somewhat sick of her. Vincent was a piece of shit, but at least he was a two dimensional one. What you saw was what you got.

"Out of the way, Hubris." Dan muttered, and Hubris, the German Shepard, slowly ambled away from Vincent. The strangely intelligent animal had taken a clear liking to Vincent and Daniel knew she'd be fussy for months after the aging rocker was gone. It had happened before, and he could bet that it would happen again. The Dog, with her endearing yet often obnoxious tendency to always hover underfoot, causing more than one tripping incident, was standing right by Daniel's legs now, so he was distracted for a moment as he shooed her away. In that moment, Vincent's eyes shot open and, in a drunken stupor, he began screaming.

"GETTHEFUCKINGFUCKOFFOFMEWHOT HEFUCK!" Daniel heard the glass shatter and didn't have time to do anything before Vincent brought the broken end of the bottle up towards his head, slashing across the Vampire's face. Daniel stumbled back, shocked, and tripped over Hubris anyways, falling on his ass onto the Hardwood floor. Vincent, still screaming, scrambled like a lunatic around the room, knocking over the shelves and scattering the garbage he'd left on the floor. Stumbling crazily towards the door, he nearly made it out of the room before Samantha caught him clean in the face with a punch, knocking him out cold.

Daniel winced and clenched his teeth as his flesh sewed itself back together and his eyelid, one of them having been ripped in half, reconnected all the way to it's lip. Groaning, he got off the floor, rolling his neck in annoyance. Vincent laid flat on his back, sprawled on the floor instead of face down, sprawled on the bed like before. A surge of anger washing over him, Dan kicked Vincent in the Ribs lightly, which as a Vampire ended up being harder than most humans would kick. The Musician, so completely out, only slid slightly over the floor as the strike connected, not waking up at all.

"Don't need the Chloroform, huh?" Samantha smirked, this time a smug look of superiority.

Dan looked at her, rolling his head back contemptuously, and shook his head, "Let's just get this son of a bitch to the Van."

--

The Hill, Langston Mansion, August 22nd, 9:22 PM

"I don't know what to do. It's like I'm trapped between two terrible choices. Either I be this person that I used to be, that everyone thinks I should be, and end up alienating everyone I know. Or, I can be this person that... I don't even know if I like, and disappoint the people around me, and end up fucking up even worse."

Nina sighed, leaning back against the counter, taking a sip of her glass of water. "It seems like you're trying to choose between two identities that aren't you. You're saying YOU are in between two different Choices. Who is that 'you'? It's the you that you experience life as. That's the only you you have to be."

Torval gave a 'hmm', looking away. Somehow, that comforted him – the thought that he didn't have to look at it that way – but he wasn't sure he understood what she meant at all. "That's... That's not what I'm really worried about now, though." he admitted. "I don't know what to do – about Alex."

Nina's eyes softened, impossible to imagine, considering how caring they were already. "Why do you feel like you have to do anything at all?"

Torval looked down, swallowing. "I..." He thought about it for a long moment, "I care about her. A lot." It seemed like a simplistic way to explain it, but he didn't know how to say it better. "I feel like I need to protect her."

"Why?" Nina asked.

Torval didn't have to think about that one, because the answer popped into his mind immediately, but he still waited a long time to answer. He didn't like the one he'd come up with. "Because I failed to protect her before."

Nina nodded, understanding. "I see... that's hard, Torval. But you don't control her. The only way to protect her, if that's what you really want to do... is to get involved too. Because she's made her decision. The best you can do is stand by her in it and hopefully help her along the way."

"But-" Torval froze, unable to swallow and needing to. "But what happens to me if I become that person again?" He croaked.

Nina sighed, smiling sadly. "You'll be a better version of that person than you were before. That's what I believe."

--

2290 Fort Street, Apartment 3B, August 22nd, 9:30 PM

Knocks on the door. Who could it be? She didn't expect anyone. If it was someone that she didn't expect, she was suddenly worried. She was embarrassed just by being in her apartment. What if someone else saw it? Carla jogged over to the door from the other room, opening the front door of her apartment with a flourish. Her face suddenly shifted in surprise as she saw who it was, and that was more or less the only thing it expressed – surprise. Not specifically 'happy', though she was, and not specifically 'relieved', which she also was. Not Angry, which she wasn't, or confused, which she most certainly was. Just blank, simple surprise.

"Ah'm- Am I interruptin somethin?" Osbourn asked, blinking. She was dressed in Pajamas, her hair still wet from a shower. "Sahrry-"

"Oh, shit-" Carla said, her first thought and concern being her appearance. "I'm really sorry-... Osbourn? Sam, what are you..." It dawned on her. "You came back."

"Uh-... Yeah." Osbourn responded, giving a nod. "Can I come in?" He asked awkwardly.

"Right, yeah. Haha, absolutely." Carla laughed awkwardly as well, stepping out of the way. "I'll-... go change." She realized that there was no possible way she was going to have Osbourn into her apartment while dressed like this. "Hang on."

"Sahrry, I don't mean to impose..." Osbourn said, sighing. This was an... unideal situation. He really didn't legitimately think it through earlier, and for whatever reason he didn't want to call her on his phone to tell her he was back to help. He had news to tell her, about the case, and he wanted to tell it in person. He didn't feel the need to justify his reasoning to himself, or perhaps he simply chose not to for fear of self analyses. Regardless, he moved slightly further into the room, carefully telling Carla to take her time, sitting down tersely on the edge of a chair.

Carla moved with the same litheness, the same hop she'd moved with when she answered the door, to her bedroom, shutting it behind her. She immediately leapt into action, taking a towel and beginning to dry her hair as best she could furiously. She couldn't believe she'd embarrassed herself like this. If someone knocks at the door, at least make sure you're wearing something presentable! Carla glanced around, furrowing her brow. Should she have just stayed in her pajamas? That would have been such a weird thing to do, though, especially since he was a respectable work colleague, not a friend. So she HAD to change, but it was going to come across awkward. She felt so off-balance and flustered, completely out of her element. Suddenly, it occurred to her that if she changed, she would getting out of her clothes – ergo, becoming naked – less than twenty feet from him. That made her feel even more awkward, though there was literally no elements of social uncomfortableness involved, merely a matter of removed proximity. And why was she so worried about what she was going to wear? Well, of course she was worried. She'd just called attention to the fact that she changed, meaning that he'd know that she had decided what to wear. So there would obviously be a lot of unintentional analyses. Business Casual seemed like the right call, because, again, they were work colleagues (Which is what they are. Work Colleagues). However, that seemed too stiff, formal, and it would make it look like she put more thought into what she was going to wear than the amount of thought she wanted to exude. It would also seem like she put too much effort in, depending on how many layers work casual involved, and that would just be weird, right? So maybe more casual would be a better idea. Why did he come back anyways? Why show up in the middle of the evening? Jeans and a T-shirt, that would work. Wait, no, She didn't have any colored T-shirts, just the white one she used for working out that she hadn't washed. That wouldn't work. Button shirt? No, no, going too close to work casual! Jeans can be work casual too and she decided against that! Stupid! The Red Sweater would be a good balance. Vague in regards to intent, easy to throw on, the perfect combo of presentable and low-thought. Where were her Damn Jeans?! She'd just washed a load! Oh god, she'd better not have left them at the laundromat again. That would be the third time in the year. Now she needed to get New Jeans AND needed to figure out a suitable pants option. That weird, Pale Bastard, won't even talk to her. Out in his own little world. Okay, Sweatpants were simply not an option. Not even going to entertain that. But slacks, again, would put her squarely into Business Casual! Son of a bitch! Okay, Shorts – No, too much leg. Skirt? She doesn't even have any skirts. How could she not have skirts? She's a woman, isn't she? And what was the deal with not even calling beforehand? Jesus christ, it was late! She could've been in bed, could've been woken up! Maybe he just got into town, did she ever give him her number? No! She never did! Wait, but she called him repeatedly, so he should Have her number. But maybe he deletes his call history frequently. He seems like the type to do that, doesn't he? JEANS! Hallelujah, she still had a pair. The black ones, too. But they were older, a little too tight. Maybe she should keep looking – Nine Thirty-three?! How did three minutes go by that fast! Shit, she was keeping him waiting! The Jeans will do. But it's nearly impossible to get them on. It was worse than expected, and they were significantly tighter than she remembered. Come on, Just a little further! God dammit, just fit, please, for the love of god! God, please! Please, God, Jesus. Jesus Christ. He came back for Me. Jesus, I'm not alone. He came back for me.

Carla came out of her bedroom and Nine Thirty-five exactly, barefoot, hair in a swift ponytail rather than her usual knot or bun, wearing a red sweater and visibly uncomfortable tight black jeans. Osbourn was sitting on the couch, never having had to worry about his bland charcoal suit. "Sahrry, everythin alright?" He asked lightly, and she came over, hiding her panic as she struggled in the two seconds of casual walking distance she had left to choose between sitting on the Chair or couch. Chair or Couch?! Chair or Couch?! Couch, Couch? ABORT! Carla veered off to the side, sitting awkwardly on the armrest of her recliner, not looking exactly stiff or uncomfortable, just strange. She brought up a hand to rub the side of her face, exhaling in an attempt to release some of the tension she was feeling for some reason.

"No, No, Everything's fine, sorry about that..." She apologized distractedly, then cut through it shortly, "Why-... why did you come back?"

Osbourn glanced at her, confused. He was not asked about his motives often. He was not drawn into conversations about feelings, opinions or points of view. He was not analyzed or considered as an independent unit outside of A, his Job, or B, his slowly building mental breakdown. These weren't the kinds of conversations he was involved in, about him and the other person and only them. It was the case he wanted to focus on, he always wanted to focus on. Talking about himself felt like the opposite of progress, analyzing the past rather than moving for the future. What was worse was he didn't know why she was asking. He was just that strange FBI guy. Why did it matter? "I guess..." He glanced away, trying to grasp an answer. "I guess I realized that the thing ah couldn't live with was... naht... naht failing, but... but naht being invahlved in the first place. ...'Opting out'."

Carla glanced aside, giving a short exhale, "That's funny... that's the second time I heard something about that today. About not wanting to opt out of life."

Osbourn glanced over at her, his doughy eyes narrowing, "This case... It's naht ovuh yet, is it?"

Carla turned to look at him, Eyes burning, and for a moment she was herself again, not the mess she had been for the last few weeks. "Not even close."

They got to work, settling in. There was a great deal to recount. Osbourn explained how he'd spoken to Summers and gotten the truth out of her, as well as how he planned to bring in the Banshee tomorrow morning. Carla was impressed, but had to move on to her developments sooner – that the Government scandal was a Hoax set up by Bear's people, and that she had someone checking out the Reporter's office now.

"Wait- but why would they wahnt to blame the attack on the Govuhment?" Osbourn asked, furrowing his lineless brows, "What could they pahssibly gain by putting themselves out theh like that?"

Carla shrugged, "They must want to breed discontent with the Populace. Make it seems like Supers are being persecuted, like the Government's looking for an excuse to uphold the Yates act. From what Victor Jones said in his tape, Bear wants to remove School City from the United States entirely. That means dealing with the National Guard presence. They'll be a factor, I guarantee it." She crossed her arms, giving a nod, "If she can make the People take up arms, rather than just his soldiers, the City will Revolt on it's own, instead of him merely performing a Coup. To do that, he has to make it look like the Government truly wants to persecute the Citizens. He can't risk alienating the Humans, so he has to give a common enemy that's not just Homo Sapiens... even if he is planning on making it a purely super state when the time comes."

"You rilly think thaht's a pahsibility?" Osbourn asked, furrowing his brow.

Carla gave a solemn nod, "Considering what we know, I think it's what Bear wants. Total independence. He wants to be the Bogeyman again, but ruling in plain sight instead of hiding under beds for safety. If he can unite School City, Humans and Metas Alike, the Government wouldn't dare to actually forcibly put down a revolt. It's not very... politically correct to kill Citizens, even the ones who don't want to be Citizens anymore."

"So all we've gahta do is make shooah that the People find out the Govuhment Conspiracy thing was a Hoax. So how do we do that?"

"Like I said," Carla responded, totally on the ball, "I've got someone looking into it. If she can get proof, then we're homefree. It all hinges on her and the Banshee. My girl foils the Plot, Banshee catches the perps. I can't investigate myself, but we have the benefits of being ahead of the game here. We know what he wants, just not how he plans to do it. If we can get the Banshee and get her to talk, we'll have the key to taking them down and, with evidence of the hoax, averting catastrophe. All we can do is hope that they don't act before tomorrow."

Osbourn nodded slowly, actually managing a smile. "So you di'n't need me afteh ahll." He remarked, giving an approving nod.

Carla smiled back, "Believe me. I absolutely do." They fell silent, glancing at each other for a warm moment of Triumph. Just by sitting down and laying everything out, things seemed more doable. Suddenly, they both felt like maybe things weren't so hopeless after all. They did need each other. Their gaze lingered slightly to long, and Carla suddenly felt the need to fill the silence, badly. The only thing she could think of to say was the thing she'd been thinking of ever since it entered her brain for the first time. "Did you mean what you said, Sam...?" She asked, "That Criminals are the ones with Initiative, Not us?"

Osbourn tilted his head, "...Sahrry?" He didn't remember saying that at all. It had been an offhand comment, no thought put into it whatsoever.

Carla furrowed her brow, looking down. The high she'd experienced before had been replaced by the butterflies of vulnerability again. "You said that in the Car, before they kidnapped Vincent. We were talking about how we'd run out of leads, and you said that all we could do was wait. They were the ones that acted. They're the one with initiative." She rubbed her arm, glancing away. "And ever since then... I haven't been able to get it out of my head."

"Sahrry..." Osbourn said, legitimately sorry. He'd had no idea that some random comment could hit a nerve like that.

"No, Don't be." Carla said quickly, turning to glance at him, not knowing why she was saying this to him of all people, the bland, distant, distracted weird FBI guy, her work colleague... but still found herself saying it nonetheless. "I guess I just think you're right. It'd never occurred to me before, but now that you made me think of it, I can't imagine how it could be wrong. I mean, my entire..." She shifted, unintentionally, to the more comfortable seat of the Couch, away from the Armrest. "My entire life has been nothing but Reactionary, nothing but responsiveness to everything happening, I don't think I've ever taken the initiative-" She exhaled sharply, leaning forward, looking up at him from the side, "Ever taken the Slightest bit of initiative in my life, and look where's it's gotten me! In a Job that's stolen my life in return for nothing but the comfort of not having to think about it... In an apartment that I hate because I decorated it in my style only to find out I can't even visualize what My Style is, I have no idea who I am, and I'm alone-" And she moved to kiss him.

She didn't know why she did it. She wasn't even thinking of it at the time. It legitimately, truly, in no uncertain terms, just 'Happened'. Before he had time to react, her lips made contact with his – unfortunately as soon as he DID have time to react, he pulled away, Hard.

"Oh my fucking God- I am so Sorry." Carla said, turning away and covering her mouth. She Closed her eyes tighter than she thought she could, Wishing with all her might that she could take back the last few seconds. Of course, she couldn't, and she covered her face, Blushing as hard as a schoolgirl.

"No... It's fine..." Osbourn said, standing. He was visibly confused, and Carla would have been able to read it in his body language if she didn't pick it up from his stumbling candor. He had no idea what to say, completely out of his depth. "Sahrry... I don't-"

"No, I'm sorry." Carla cut him off, shaking her head. "That was stupid. I had no idea what I was doing." Oh god, She'd fucked it up completely. Now they were never going to be able to fix this.

"Ah'm... Gonna go." Osbourn said, turning and walking uneasily towards the door. "Ah'll talk to you tomarrah, before we get the Banshee." He said, and that gave Carla some measure of Relief. At least she hadn't ruined things completely. At least they were still on the case. "Seeya, Cahla." he headed out without another word. Carla immediately faceplanted into her pillow and Screamed, trying to borrow all the way in and perhaps escape the world. Enter pillowland, where she would be safe from the embarrassment of that event. Where even it's memory, a Memory which will be sure to pop up from time to time for the rest of her life and make her hate herself all over again, could never touch her. Unfortunately, she failed, and Pillowland gave her no entry. She considered doing the Same thing with dreamland, and hurried to bed, not even bothering to change. But Dreamland was no more welcoming.

Carla couldn't sleep.

--

West Palisades District, 'The Arrow' Newspaper Offices, August 23rd, 5:33 AM

Being dead had it's advantages. For example, Not having to eat or drink was a bonus. Technically, breathing might be considered unnecessary too. Most bodily functions, in general, were just 'turned off'. And minor wounds – the kinds that were inevitable when your body is pseudo-rotted – are of no real concern.

Unfortunately, it didn't do much to improve your abilities as a spy. Luckily for Carla, Alex had gone through a rebellious streak in her highschool years and had learned lockpicking. It was really quite easy, and it came naturally too her, though in this form her fingers had difficulty holding on to the picks. She had her lie all planned out – she was a copy editor who had just forgotten he passcard in her office! Sorry, I know the building is closed, but can I please go grab it? She figured she could sell it fairly well, and it explained why she was without her ID. Of course, the guard would insist on going with her, so she'd want to avoid being seen at all, but in any case, she'd be able to still complete her objective, regardless of what happens. She had prepared for everything... truly.

She hit the sweet spot, and the tumbler gave, the door swinging open. Alex tasted the sweet satisfaction, whisking the door open and shutting it soundlessly behind her. The Security guard was still doing his rounds, so the desk was empty, and she headed over to it, glancing at the large plaque which showed the addresses of all the companies holding offices in the building. The Arrow, the paper that Jenny Carson worked for, had an office on the fifteenth floor – Elevator it was. Slinking around the corner, Alex ducked over towards the elevator, pressing the button as soon as it was in Reach. Wincing, she saw the screen that showed which level the elevator was on above the one that started moving – Nine. A Long wait, especially when the Security guard could be back at any second.

Sure enough, she heard the man coming down the stairwell off to the side of the Elevator Bank. Wincing, she glanced up at the counter: Five, turning to Four. He was at the halfway landing, where the stairs turned back, and Alex had to make a decision. Commit to the Elevator and hope it arrives in time, or hide and wait for him to pass? She started towards a cubbyhole, making her decision and electing to hide, but halfway there she realized that the Guard would see that the Elevator was open anyways, with no way to stop it – meaning he'd know she was there! Seeing that there was no question of choice, that it was All or nothing, Alex turned around, moving back to the Elevator, the doors sliding open and herself sliding between them fluidly. She mashed the 'Close Door' button as hard as she could, again and again, Gritting her teeth and praying that he didn't see. She heard the door swing open, and held her breath, pressing herself up against the wall. He would find her, there was no doubt about it. The margin of time she had left was just too small. Then she heard a tiny thunk.

"Whoops-" She heard the security guard mutter, and then something rattle against the ground. He'd dropped something! Thank you, Garrus! The doors whisked shut, and in a second stroke of strategic cageyness, Alex elected not to press the button until she'd heard him settle down at his desk, for fear of him seeing the number climb from '1' to '15'. She listened intently as his classic shoes clicked against the marble floor, the man crossing in front of her elevator and towards the desk in front of the doors. As she heard the creak of the chair, she hit the Fifteen button... and the Elevator Dinged loudly.

"Shihhhh-" She almost swore loudly, then covered her mouth. The elevator was rising, she wasn't in imminent danger... but he knew she was there. He'd hail another Elevator and wait to see what floor she got off on, then follow her up. Wait! That gave her a chance! She immediately hit the button for floor Twelve and pressed herself up against the wall again, jittering in worry, hoping that this would fool him. If he bought the bait, She'd be safe. If not, either way, she would still handle it. The elevator rose steadily, her faint nausea at the motion reminding her that, regardless of how dead her body was, she was alive, and that the stakes were very, very real. The Elevator arrived at Twelve, and the doors opened. It revealed a large, empty room filled with Cubicles and offices. Alex moved over to hit the 'door open' button to hold it on this floor, to perhaps make the Guard more convinced that this was the floor the elevator was staying on. Staring out into the room, she wondered what it was like to come here every day, to experience this elevator ride with mild boredom. Honestly, she preferred this. This world of cubicles was her hell. None of these people were alive at all. Deciding that was long enough, Alex closed the doors and allowed the Elevator to take her the rest of the way up. Hopefully he took the bait.

Floor fifteen was, big shock, identical in every way to floor twelve. Alex quickly stepped across it, entering the darkened room and looking for the correct Cubicle. Jenny Carson, as she'd found out, had only been working here for a few months but had gained a reputation of ambitious, so it surprised no-one when she 'broke' the case. If only they'd looked closer. Name placards were placed by the entrances to everyone's Five by Five of 'personal space', and since Alex had no way to know which was which, it took her a few minutes to find the correct one. As soon as she did, however, she moved to action, going through the papers and files. Unfortunately, it was clear that there were no hard copies. She turned on the laptop, glancing over her shoulder as it made a loud start up tune. Still nobody. The guard must not have caught on yet. Alex settled into the chair, turning her attention back to the screen. Faced with a bright blue screen, she came to see something she should have considered earlier – the computer was Password protected.

"Shit."

--

"Is the Safehouse ready?" Daniel asked into the Phone, parked outside of the appointed building.

"Yes, it is." Came from the other end. "I'm just finishing up some business, covering our tracks. I've just gotta get me computer, I'll meet up with you and direct you there in a second."

"We're waiting outside." The vampire said with a sigh, "We're ready to go now. Do you have any idea how dangerous it is to sit parked on the side of the road with a high profile kidnappee in the back seat?"

"This is important. I'll be done soon." click.

Dan looked over at Samantha with a shrug. "It's Important."

--

"Mmm... what's the hint?" Alex clicked to see. 'Same password as everything'. Great, how helpful That really didn't give her anything to work with.

'Bear' No.

'Vampire' No.

'Uptown' No.

'Nightfang' No.

'Revolution' No.

'Freedom' No.

'Chimichanga' No.

This was getting her nowhere. She certainly didn't have time to deal with all of this now, so she shut the computer and picked it up, turning to leave. She'd handle it later. Unfortunately, instead of walking away, she came face to face with something other than an empty office cubicle.

"That's My Computer." Jenny, looking like she was grafted to her Wheelchair, sat in front of her. "What exactly are you doing...?"

Alex jumped, stepping back, clutching the Laptop to her chest protectively. "It's you-" She froze, not sure what to do. Think – What would Torval Do? Should she lie? Or confront her? Wait, why would she want to lie, this was a Terrorist. That, and she needed the password. So she reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out the pistol she'd brought – prepared for any eventuality, truly. "What's the Password, Jenny?" She asked forcefully. "You think you can just cover this up!"

Jenny blinked, eyes widening. She raised her hands, real fear in her eyes. "I-It's 'Remedy'."

Alex nodded appreciatively, surprised she gave up the password so easily. Clearly this wasn't a hardened criminal. Clearly she wasn't a mastermind or a devious villain. Just a pawn. Unfortunately, Alex then realized that she was pointing a gun at a crippled, wheel-chair bound, oxygen-tank dragging, terrified pawn. "Oh." She said, furrowing her brow. "How the hell am I gonna get out of this?" Alex frowned. Spur of the Moment decisions always got her.

--

He had finally tracked her down.

It hadn't been easy, but Torval had followed her steps from the Den of the Ox to the Arrow offices. He walked towards the building quickly, ready to help her. Whatever it took, whatever he had to sacrifice or change, he was willing to stand with her. Maybe, just maybe, with time he might be able to do what she asked. He might be able to move on.

Just then, the Alarm on his phone beeped, and he came to a stop. He took it off and shut it off, wincing. He had set it ahead of time for the moment when the L-196 he'd taken exactly one day earlier would wear off. Sighing, he brought around a bag and riffled through it, pulling out two blood bags. He'd need them both – he'd be starving as soon as the drug wore off. He felt it coming on like vomit, his mouth watering and his muscles clenching unintentionally. His heart skipped a beat, the flighty sensation in his chest terrifying and panic-inducing each time he had to endure it, and then skipped a few more, and he felt the blood slow in his veins.

He stooped inside an alleyway, pausing to devour blood given, not taken. It was never enough.

--

Alex and Jenny stood there like that for a long time. Staring at each other, uncertain about the situation. Considering their options. Trying to figure out how to walk away and survive their stalemate. Alex had never actually threatened anyone in either of her lives, and she absolutely had never killed anyone. Jenny, too, was an idealist, not a Radical. She was engaged in this, but she was not heartless, and she abhorred violence. The easy answer would be for both of them to walk away. Both of them were working their way towards that option. Unfortunately, they didn't have the time they needed. The Number over the Elevator was climbing. "Oh- shit!"

Everything happened in a split second. Alex turned to look, trying to read the number from across the room. The instant she did, Jenny pushed her wheels, rolling away with surprising speed. In a jolting reaction, Alex turned to look and, before she knew what she was doing, pulled the trigger. The bullet hit the Oxygen tank hanging off the back of her Wheelchair right in the middle, and a Jet of super-pressurized oxygen screamed out of the hole. Suddenly propelled by much more than Jenny, the Chair flew forward as the Oxygen escape, screaming towards the glass walls that overlooked the city street. Jenny let out a scream, and Alex shouted no. Then, there was nothing but Breaking glass.

--

Torval saw it from above, flying down as he neared the building. He didn't know what it was, or what was happening, but he saw something drop from one of the highest floors. That was all he needed to see.

The vampire sped towards the falling object, as fast as he could, but it was faster, and he was too far away. It impacted the ground violently before he came even close.

--

"Jenny, what the hell is taking you so long?" The Elevator doors had opened and two figures stepped out. One of them was a Man, and one was a women. Alex, too shocked to do anything else, to even think, ducked into a Cubicle, crouching up against the wall and hiding under the desk. She could hear them come closer and closer, and then she could see their feet. They walked rapidly, then slowed, then stopped dead. They could see the shattered glass. Alex held her breath. No need to breath, no sounds to be made. No need for a beating heart, no trace at all. No sweat, no bodily functions, so she smelled like nothing. Being dead had a few advantages. The feet had stopped dead, for only a second, as they wondered. Then they began to run.

- -

"Jenny?" Torval looked at the mangled body and the seemingly detonated wheelchair, shocked. "What... what the hell happened?!" He looked up at the broken glass, fifteen stories up, and saw another face peeking out from the hole. Did they throw her? Was Alex in there? Was she okay?

- -

Dan could see everything. The Crushed body. The plate glass windows broken, something no mere human could do with their bare hands. The Red-headed man standing triumphantly over her. Jenny was dead. Jenny was dead! Bear was going to kill him.

"NIGHTFANG!" Dan shouted down, shouted at the Figure, "YOU BASTARD!"

"Dan- Vincent's in the Van. We can't leave him." Samantha said to him, strangely enough focused on the goals.

"He Killed Jenny!" Dan said sharply, turning to look at the Banshee. He'd known Jenny for years, she was a kind, honest person, and Nightfang just killed her! "Nightfang Killed Jenny!"

"And Bear will make him pay." Samantha said, somehow understanding better than Dan just how angry Bear would be. "He will pay."

--

When Torval flew up, the figures were gone. The place was empty, and whoever had shouted down at him had vacated. But he did hear something – crying?

He immediately ran over to it's source, finding Alex, huddled under a desk, staring ahead. She turned to look at him as soon as he arrived, latching on to him sharply. She grabbed his arm, shivering. "T-Torval... Torval, it was me." she stuttered out, clearly in shock.

"Alex, what happened?!" Torval knelt in front of her, alarmed. "What the hell happened?"

"Torval..." Alex whispered, staring into his eyes. "P-please..." She was literally shuddering, and he put his arms on her shoulders, trying to steady and comfort her, "Take me h-home..."

Torval looked at her, furrowing his brow. "Okay... let's get out of here."

--

Unknown Location and time, Night

Silence. He'd expected word to come sooner, but all of his expectations were shattered that day.

"Sorry to interrupt, sir, but... we just received word from school city." The man said nervously. Bear turned to look down at him.

"What is it?" He growled.

"..." The messenger paused for a moment, unable to decide how to phrase it, "Sir... the... We just heard. Jenny... Jenny was killed less than an hour ago. By Nightfang."

Bear froze, turning to face the man fully, a rumbling in his chest emanating from him, audible even to those several feet away. His face contorted as Emotions crossed them: Shock, brows leaping high and eyes widening; Disbelief, a glimmer of distrust in his eyes as his lips tighten; Sadness, Mouth opening as he exhales weakly, weakness seemingly impossible for this man but now evident, as sadness holds for a long period; and finally Anger, Brows furrowing anger as a fire goes alight in his eyes.

"Find Him!"

--

Cherry Street and Pandora, St. Thomas Hospital, August 23rd, 7:20 AM

Samantha was late. She was surprised by how angry this made her, surprised by how heavily the stress of the scenario weighed on her. Samantha had for centuries been separate from others, and now was reacquainting herself with the experience of dealing with other people's problems – she had forgotten how little fun it was. Everyone around her was completely incompetent, but now, since she'd bought into Bear's sales pitch that night in the Underpass, their failings were suddenly her responsibility. Nobody knew how to prepare like she did, nobody knew how to be ready for things to go down. It was amazing, since she considered the basic fundamentals of doing what she did to be common sense, that so many people could be so amazingly bad at it. It was wearing heavily on her, more heavily than she thought possible. She'd floated through life since the industrial revolution, latching on to small, manageable circles of people (And then methodically slaughtering them) rather than dealing with big groups and big problems. Now that she was involved with this whole affair, everything seemed so much harder. The sad thing was, that this being who valued her freedom and power so much was, while engaging in a bigger scheme to regain the power of fear that she had lost, speeding down the road to the end of what freedom and power she had left. She was ticking down the last minutes of her reign of terror, and she didn't even know it.

Anyways, Dawn had long since passed, which was a major bother to Samantha. Her music worked it's magic best at Dawn and Dusk, so she made a point of coming to sing for Donna at those times daily. Furthermore, she had made a Promise to be there, and Samantha had no doubt that Donna would be worried. Now, she had missed Two Appointments (in a Row!) because of Bear, Daniel, and Pete fucking Vincent. Oh, and the Dead cripple. So she paced through the Hospital with an angry, strut, shoes clicking against the tile floor and arms swaying forcefully at her side. She had an excellent Angry walk, she was coming to learn. It was very forceful, very distinct. Her hair, curly and cascading, danced as her head switched back and forth as she approached the correct Room. Wheeling around the corner, she at last relaxed, like a high-stress executive finally arriving at her Yoga session. Like someone weighed upon heavily finally reaching the place where she could unburden. Amazing what being able to sit and chat with a mortal enemy can do. Unfortunately, when she arrived, she found it empty – of Donna, at least.

"What is going on?" She asked the Doctor sharply, "I have an appointment with the patient!"

"Oh... I'm sorry." The Doctor, a stiff looking blond 'man' said, glancing over at her. "She's being moved out of here, to a Hospital outside the City. To make room for the Refugees."

Samantha's brows dropped, angry, and she tilted her head, "What? Why didn't- Hnh." She exhaled sharply, removing her anger and trying to deal with this problem. She certainly wouldn't reveal her reaction to this bland idiot. "Where is she now? Exactly where?"

"The Ambulance hasn't left yet." The Doctor said, pacing over in her direction. She stiffened as he neared, narrowing her eyes as he moved past her. She watched as he stepped out through the door and gestured to a nearby exit. "You haven't missed her yet. I'm sure they won't mind if you ride with her."

If she hadn't been in such a rush, hadn't been so flustered by everything that had happened up until now – the Car ride, the Newspaper office fiasco, dropping Vincent off at the Underpass, and now this issue – she should have realized how suspicious that should have come across. She could have reacted and, invariably, escaped the trap that was waiting for her. However, she was off her game, not thinking, and more than eager to get some face time with poor, poor Donna. So she hastily, without even thinking, agreed to his suggestion.

"I'll show you the way." The Doctor said, turning and heading out the exit, over to an Ambulance. The back doors were open, and the man stopped to give her a hand up into the back. Without looking – certainly the final nail in her coffin – Samantha got into the back of the Ambulance quickly. She glanced around it, confused, immediately seeing that it was empty the second she arrived. Spinning around, she started to ask the Doctor just where Donna was, but instead saw the blond son of a bitch finish laying a trail of Salt over the Exit of the Ambulance. Glancing around, she saw that he had merely completed a circle of Salt on the bed of the Ambulance – that she was standing in the middle of.

"What?! What, No!" She managed to shout before James slammed the Soundproofed doors shut, closing her off from the freedom she valued so much, and had held so long. She screamed, her voice wobbling as she exhausted her vocal chords, slamming around the Back of the Ambulance angrily. Suddenly it started, and she fell backwards, off balance, landing on her ass as the vehicle moved forward. It drove, carefully, over the Parking lot, and she got up, moving to slam on the windows of the Vehicle. However, she couldn't reach them. She Hissed, loudly, in pain as her hand came in contact with an invisible wall, rising straight up from the line of Salt resting on the bottom of the Vehicle. This was Impossible! How had they managed this? It didn't make any sense, especially since they knew where to get her. Suddenly, her train of thought ran into a brick wall and she began to scream again, agony coursing over her. It was like her hand moving towards the salt, but a thousand times worse, and everywhere, vibrating from her brain down to every nerve ending in her body.

The Ambulance had come to a stop, but the agony she was wracked by only got worse. They were parked over water – she could not move across water of her own accord, but could be dragged. For example if she, say, put herself in a Cargo box and shipped herself across the Atlantic (interestingly enough, that was how she'd gotten to America from Ireland in the first place), it could be done. But it would be Agonizing, and every second would be exponentially worse than the last. Suddenly, the back doors of the vehicle swung open, something she was scarcely aware of, as she writhed on the bed of the Van, screaming. Suddenly, something small but hard hit her in the chest, the light glinting off of it.

"Be quiet, put that on, and I'll park us back on Solid Ground."

--

The Hill, Langston Mansion, August 23rd, 8:50 AM

He held her all through the morning, and she held him back, and there laid they hugging the bed for hours.

"I killed her, Torval." Alex finally whispered, nothing haven been said between them since before he took her home, moments before the sun rose. Her voice was quiet, and flat, but still somehow parched with emotion. Torval had no idea what to do. For years he had been extremely skilled at justifying his own murders, for convincing himself and, on rare occasions, others that it was completely okay. But he didn't know if that's what she could do. He didn't know if she would even want to. He guessed not, but he was more than familiar with what you had to do when faced with the reality of being a person who has murdered someone – you come up with a way to live with it... or you don't. He wanted – needed – to help her come up with that reason. He didn't know what it could be, or if she already had one, but he stayed with her and never said a word.

Now that she'd spoken, he felt like his silence wasn't enough. "I'm sorry." he said, tenderly, and nothing more. There was nothing more to say, at least so far.

"I didn't mean to.... I-... I didn't, but..." Alex fell silent, sniffing once, staring past him into the dark. She continued at last after a moment of shared, solemn silence. When she had begun speaking, she had started to unwind. She would have started speaking faster and saying less, and would have ended up simply crying in his arms. She thought she didn't want to do that. Yes, honestly, She wanted to and needed to, or at least part (or most) of her did. But her higher mind demanded that she didn't. So she stopped, got herself under control, and composed her thoughts. "It was an accident but I created the situation. I'm responsible... for a death. For the death of an Innocent. I... I killed her." She seemed to finish, and Torval opened his mouth to speak, but she wasn't done, "I killed her, and they think you did."

Torval's eyes widened, surprised. "Alex, it doesn't matter. That doesn't matter at all. Who cares what they think. That's not important whatsoever. You might as well forget about that entirely."

That wasn't what Alex wanted to do at all. She didn't want to forget that there were pressing, important things going on, that there were things in the Future tense to deal with. What she wanted to forget was that, because of her, a human being was past tense, only a used-to-be, now and forever. If she had something else to focus on, maybe she could enjoy being in shock for a while and deal with it later. But she knew that it wouldn't work now. She wanted to ask Torval something, because she thought maybe of anyone in the world he would have the answer. She wanted to ask how she was going to live with this. But she didn't, because she already knew the answer. She wasn't going to live with it at all.

So they laid there together, far from sleep.

Whitcomb Street, School City Police Station, August 23rd, 12:15 PM

"How do you like our gift?" Carla asked, sitting down, "Just a little gesture of how much we think of you. Don't worry, you can keep it. I certainly hope it's to your taste."

Samantha stared at her from across the table, silent, malevolent eyes attempting to bore into Carla's soul. It wasn't doing too well so far. The gift – From the SCPD, To Samantha the Banshee – was a nice golden Amulet, spared no expense. It was hand tailored just for her, and acted as proof that Leprechauns really do pick no sides. The very same little irish bastard that had made an Enchanted Amulet that let Samantha find Donna for the first time in School City had gone right ahead and made another one that would nullify her powers completely. Samantha, if she found in herself a whim to sing, simply would be unable to. And every time she tried to remove it, the enchantment would ensure that her voice would – permanently – drop an octave lower. So she never bothered to try.

"Who sold me out?" She asked lowly, eyes narrowed at the brunette across from her.

Carla shouldn't have answered the question, but, on a hunch, decided to anyways. "Summers did. She sold you out, told us where to find you, told us how to stop you. Apparently it didn't take much." Carla said reflectively, glancing back and considering. "Interesting, isn't it?"

Samantha smirked knowingly, "Bullshit. Donna would never rat me out, not in a million years." She was so sure, so truly, fully and absolutely sure of that as a metaphysical constant of the universe, that not the slightest sliver of doubt passed through her mind that Carla was lying. "Now stop lying to me and tell me exactly who ratted me out."

Carla shrugged, indifferent. The woman could believe whatever she wanted to believe. In fact, it could help. "Fine, you got me. Would you have respected me if I hadn't tried?" Carla sat up, leaning forward. "It was Bear's people. Sold you out, since you were useless to them now, apparently... and without usefulness, I guess that makes you Only a liability." She shrugged as if it was the most meaningless, unimportant thing for her to mention. "Figured there'd be no real risks, since you're too damn stubborn or, hell, stupid to give us any info." It was clear how angry Samantha is, that she was fuming about being sold out by Bear's people. She believed the lie as implicitly as she'd disbelieved the truth – after all, it confirmed what she already believed, and she was nothing if not someone who believed in her instincts. However, just because she was pissed didn't mean she was about to rat anybody out.

"Yeah, you're right about Donna." Carla continued, nodding slowly, "She wouldn't talk at all. Just lied there, like a stubborn mule, not even opening her mouth. Clinging to something, who knows what." She leaned forward, "We were hoping you could be more helpful. Make a difference, get back at them, take control..." She shrugged, "Let me put it this way: People believe in Banshees now. You're not going to get away with the murder's you've committed, now that we've got you you're going away, going away for a long time. That's just a given." Carla tilted her head, examining the woman's face more closely. There was pride there, but somehow, there was also fear, and pressure. It was clear that she wasn't so timeless after all. "How long do you think Life sentences for Immortals are, huh?" She asked, leaning forward. Exhaling, she shifted back, and offered her a door. "But it doesn't have to be that bad, Samantha. Do you understand some of the things you could gain by working with us?" The Banshee looked up at Carla, eyes getting that same crazy look to them as they had before.

"You think you have anything to offer me, Pig?" She spat, and Carla shrugged conversationally.

"Better quality of life, for sure. I mean, if you stand tall here and keep your mouth shut, you're going to Maximum Security Metahuman Prison. That's a Co-ed Facility and it could be somewhere as hellish as Panama or as freezing cold as Alaska. You get no TV, no amenities, very little human interaction, and you'll be powerless. I assure you, there will be people in there tougher than you and they will victimize you, Samantha." Carla gestured forcefully, trying to drive the point home, trying to make the fear real, "They'll turn your life, your endless life, into a living hell. And all that so you can... what? Keep your pride? Help out some people who sold you down the River?" Samantha looked away. There was legitimate signs of being conflicted in her face. Carla pressed harder, "What can we offer you? Minsec, somewhere nice. You won't have to share a Cell, you'll get yard time, activities, hobbies, you'll be able to breath free, you won't have to fear being harmed by the people around you... You'll be safe, comfortable. You might not have power, but you won't be helpless against the power of others." That struck Samantha, clearly, but in a negative way. Powerlessness was not an acceptable notion, even in this situation, for her to consider. Carla quickly changed her approach, "Who knows, maybe something even better. It's not unheard of that criminals with unique abilities like you have been recruited by the government, work for them. You wouldn't even be a prisoner. You'd be free, able to fight, to... to inspire fear, to do what you were created to do."

Samantha, as much of a brick wall as she was, turned to look at Carla. Her face was solemn, tired, angry, so many things, too many to explain. It was a very old face that had experienced a great deal, and it knew more about the world than Carla could imagine. "What do you know... about being created to do something?" She hissed, shaking her head in disbelief, dismissively. "You don't know the first thing about what I was meant to do."

Carla crossed her arms, leaning back in her chair self consciously. She was clear-headed and pure in this room, like a Therapist in their office. Interrogating a person, for her, was like a sanctuary. She was safe of all of the things in the outside world that made her weak, made her confused, made her pathetic, made her sad. In here, she was a Cop. It was the fullness of what she was here, it was everything. She was goal-oriented and infallible. She was untouchable, she was strong. But that question eroded that concept, briefly, for her, and she was drawn for a moment back into the question that had plagued her for some time. "I know that I was made to do this." She answered coldly, truthfully. "I know that this is where I belong and that there is nothing more pure than the intent of my actions and the actions of those who put me here." She leaned forward, not just on the ball, not just with her game face on, but hyperactive, higher than peak efficiency. "I know that you commanded fear for generations and then lost that power. I know that you hunt families one at a time because they are easier to control than larger groups, because the Fear is more potent there and because you wouldn't be able to handle the kinds of things you used to do anymore. I know that it's not just the world that's changed in the last few hundred years, you have too. I know that what you really want, deep down, is to be able to know that someone is afraid of you, and that's why you wouldn't kill Summers, because since you and the rest of the Metas were revealed to the world all the fear and mystique of what you are has vanished, and she's the only one left who will ever be afraid of you again." Samantha stared at her, pierced, shocked, and reeling. "I know that I can offer you the only think you really need – a way to have that one person stay afraid. Because If you don't help us, I'll tell Summers that we caught you and that she's free, and she'll never look over her shoulder terrified of you ever again. You'll rot in a jail Cell Afraid, Afraid of other people, Looking over your Shoulder, and when people talk about you, Samantha, they'll laugh."

Samantha's face was completely honest; it was covered in shock, fear and understanding. Carla was sure, absolutely sure, that she'd won. The Banshee had seen the truth and realized that there was nothing left to motivate her to hide. That thought, that fact, that she would tell Carla everything, passed across her face as clearly as any of the other emotions. The knowledge of being broken was in her eyes. And then, in an instant, something changed, and a shadow passed over her face. She looked away, blinked, and then Smiled.

"Téigh go dtí ifreann, muc." She said, and spat in Carla's face.

--

"Well... She's not talking. Not that one." Carla said, shutting the door behind her and turning to Osbourn.

"So what ah we gonna do?" The agent responded, crossing his arms.

"I don't know..." Carla sighed, truly beginning to be troubled, "We're kind of running out of options." They stood in the hallway silently, the noises of the perpetually busy station filling in behind them. If they had to stand there until they came up with an idea, they would have stood there forever.

Thankfully, respite came in the form of Blanc, catching them as he walked by. "Hey Carla, I looked into that thing you asked about." he brought a file out from behind his back like a Magician making a big reveal. "They Did find the laptop at the Carson crime scene. It's password protected, so they're trying to open it up now. Might not be too easy, though." he explained, "Looks encrypted." He shrugged, "Hey Osbourn,What does Encrypted even mean, anyways? I never understood that."

Osbourn shook his head, "Ahnestly? Neithuh did I." he answered.

"Well, tell the boys in the lab to put a rush on it." Carla said, "That's Extremely important." She sighed, shaking her head, "It's too bad the Password probably died with Carson... Alright, Thanks Steve."

"You got it, Boss." Blanc said, starting away. That was that. The best they could do was hope that Bear wouldn't attack before they had the proof that the Conspiracy was Hoax. The best they could do was Wait.

Unfortunately for them, Time wasn't on their side.

--

The time that the Headmaster had to work with was short. His information on the situation was not complete but it was accurate, and so his play was simple. It was both the only one that he could count on and the only one with any real chance of success. Things had gone from bad to worse so quickly, so unimaginably quickly, that it was almost impossible to tell just when things got out of hand. But now, this here was his final opportunity to put things right. Disaster was still on the horizon, and at this point it was impossible to avert it, but he could still lessen the impact. He could still keep it from being another Cataclysm; from becoming the beginning of the end. Stepping out of his car, he placed his feet smoothly on the ground and rose, the panorama of his city – Bruised but not broken – nearly brought a tear to his eyes, as he knew that if he did not act, everything that this city was, everything that it stood for, truly would be destroyed.

The Headmaster paced up the driveway that he had parked in, adjusting his gloves. Cracking his neck, he went over the plan as well as the back up plan once more, and then another time after that. The work he had ahead of him was dangerous, it was risky. It was perhaps even foolhardy, and it was absolutely against the rules. But it was a heartfelt, even intrinsic belief of his that (though several Platitudes could describe it aptly, none would truly get across what he felt) in times when the Reason we have rules in the first place is under attack, the rules become far more... flexible. So he readied himself for what could very well be a mistake, a failure, an undoing. "Release unto the water that which Is the water's..." He sighed, stepping up to the door and knocking. "Release unto the earth that which belongeth to the earth." The door swung open, and it was the girl from before who answered. Fate, it seemed, threw them into each other's paths for a reason. Perhaps it would still be seen through.

"Mr. Mercer?" Cindy Langston, surprised and with a sudden fear of having been 'caught', looked up at the Headmaster with surprise. "I didn't know you were coming over, I'd have..." She stammered for a moment, confused, "Is this... about the-"

"Hello Cindy, I apologize- ...I hope this isn't too Dreadful of an imposition." He cut her off, moving forward quickly, "But I'm in a terrible Hurry. I'm afraid I have to speak with Torval Langston. He lives here, correct?"

The Scenario was so strange, and for him to be asking for Torval of all people, who he'd have had no way to meet, realistically, was extremely suspicious. However, the Headmaster sold himself so convincingly that it was hard to question him. He was so charming, so affable and well-meaning, that Cindy didn't want to let him down or stop him with pointless questioning. So she merely relented, considering herself lucky that she had gotten off the hook, this time.

"Yes... Torval Langston lives here. But... I think he might be asleep." she protested lightly.

"Oh... That's terrible." The Headmaster responded, expressing legitimate regret, "I'm afraid I'm going to have to wake him up. This really cannot wait. May I come in? Could you direct me to his room?"

"Uhm... Yes, I-..." Cindy stepped out of the way, "Right this way..." She allowed him in, shutting the door behind him. His presence was so warm that it seemed reassuring to have him in the house, the endearing, polite manner in which he appraised the home and then praised it, showered it with acclaim, and then showed her all respect and dignity as he waited, patiently, for her to lead the way. She did, ascending the stairs to the second floor, and could help but smile as she stole a glance back at the Headmaster, watching as he looked around like a well-mannered but very curious boy looking around a very new, strange and exciting environment. She smiled even as they passed by her room, wherein, not even hidden, lied the Tome of his Order, an item which he was sworn to defend and protect to the death, which he did not even currently know had been stolen. They then moved up to the third floor, the stairwell emptying out into a Large, well-appointed Library filled with books, and lining the far wall a series of doors leading into Bedrooms, one of which currently held Torval and Alex, still lying in each other's arms, wide awake, as they had been since dawn. The Headmaster came to a stop, holding his hands in front of him, looking at the door and then to Cindy.

"Well..." The girl said, gesturing to the door in the middle, "This is his room." she intoned, glancing back at him.

The Headmaster, always in command of his surrounding, looked around the room and gestured to the windows, "Ah... Mr. Langston is a Vampire, is he not?" He asked, and not because he was not certain that he was. Cindy nodded, saying nothing, so he continued, "Well, would you mind helping me close these curtains? I'd like to speak to him out here, rather than confined in his bedroom."

"Oh- Of course." Cindy nodded, quickly moving to close the tall Curtains over the towering Library windows. They pulled the coverings closed completely, carefully connecting and knotting the cords. Once they were sure Torval could enter the room without dying, Cindy flicked on the light and glanced over at the door. After a brief moment of silence, Cindy sensed that Mercer was waiting for her to knock on the door, and she frowned, feeling bad. She wouldn't do that. "Uh, I think you can knock... We... we don't really talk." She explained, and the man gave an understanding look. He gave Cindy a nod, which she understood inherently as both a Thank you and a Dismissal, and she left, for some reason taking the subtle, silent command with absolutely no ill will. He watched her go, and once he was sure she was gone, the Headmaster paced over to the door, knocking on it solidly.

There was dead silence for a good five seconds before Torval finally responded, muffled through the door. "What?" He asked abruptly, with no tact at all.

"Ah- Hello, Mr. Langston. I was hoping to have a word with you." The Headmaster said simply through the door.

Another pause, though this one not nearly as long, followed him. "Who are you?" Torval asked. Surely Alex and Torval were giving each other worried looks inside.

"Why don't you come out here, and you can ask me all the questions you like." The Headmaster responded, tilting his head. "Don't be shy, come on out. You don't need to worry about the Sun." He added. When another silence followed, longer than the first, he moved on, "I was allowed into this house by a member of your Family and shown to your door. If I meant you harm, would I not have been stopped?"

At last, he earned a Response. "I'll be out in a Moment." The Headmaster nodded appreciatively, stepping over to a table in the middle of the room, pulling back a chair and sitting, crossing his arms on the table. He waited for Torval to get clothes on, to perhaps get ready to fight. The Headmaster found the entire affair foolish – Langston Certainly had reason to be afraid for his life, but not of someone who knocks on his bedroom door. Finally the door opened, and Torval stepped out, closing the door protectively behind him. He remained standing, observing the well-dressed, straight-laced man sitting at the table in front of him. "So who are you?" The Vampire asked, wary.

"My Name is Julius Mercer." The Headmaster, responded, narrowing his eyes smartly, "And I need to get you someplace safe."

Torval glanced at him askance, cocking an eyebrow. The Headmaster gestured for the Vampire to take a seat across from him and, perhaps curious enough to risk it, Torval obliged. "What do you mean, get me someplace safe?"

"You are not safe here." The Headmaster responded plainly, "You have incurred... You have incurred the wrath of a very dangerous man. We call him the Hand... the Hand of Apollo."

:"You mean Bear." Torval said, annoyed. He had absolutely no patience for any of that bullshit style of viewing the world, in terms of titles and magnificent causes. He never bought into that weighty stuff for a moment. It made him sick to hear it.

"Is what you call him any more his name than what we call him? Neither of us know him as Marcos Allende, but that is the only true name that he has to him." The Headmaster responded, tilting his head, "Regardless, I must get you away from here. It isn't safe."

"How is this not safe?" Torval asked pointedly, "This is a home full of fighters, all of that shit. This is the safest place in the City, as far as I'm considered. It's got more skilled warriors than the National Guard."

"Does it?" The Headmaster asked rhetorically, leaning forward and tilting his head in a nod, so he stared up at him past his brows, implying slyness. "Jeremy Grayling and Rodney Ballard have both left this house. Phineas Langston, your Descendant, Is out of the Country. The man you know as Jacob... Fiona Elroy, Sonya Gioneve... none of them are here." He shrugged pointedly, leaning back, "All you have is Yourself... The Ex-Soldier with Chronic Headaches... The Greaser Boy... A Teenaged girl, her mother, the cook..." He looked up to see Alex in the doorway, watching the scene unfold, more interested then afraid – or perhaps just uninterested in her own survival. "And Her."

Torval glanced back at Alex, wishing she hadn't revealed herself, turn turned back the Headmaster, angry. "How the hell do you know all of that? You'd better tell me right the f-"

"My Order is deeply involved in the welfare of this City." The Headmaster answered. "That's Precisely why I've come to you now. It's because the Welfare of this City is in Danger. In no uncertain terms... this city is about to Explode."

Torval's eyes widened. "Carla said she had it under control-"

"The Detective's Efforts are... well, they are one of our brightest hopes at the moment, but even now her chances are slim of truly making a difference. No matter what anyone does, in a matter of minutes the Demonstrations in this city that have been growing steadily are going to stop being demonstrations and start being riots." He said this was an obvious weight that made it clear that this was a traumatic notion for him, something that, because he could do nothing to stop it, hurt him deeply. "This is currently... inevitable. Certain elements have been planted in all of the crowds that will stage acts of violence to incite the demonstrators. Some of these planted people will be protesters, some will be policemen. In the time we have left it is impossible to single them out and stop them. The Citizens will overwhelm the National Guards and free the Merpeople. There will be... untold amounts of bloodshed, and by midnight a... military element will be introduced to his plan."

"Military Element?" Torval said, leaning forward. "What exactly do you mean Military Element?"

The Headmaster paused, gesturing forward with his hands, "We don't know who, But... Bear must have allies, a group with Military capabilities who will be able to make sense of the Chaos once the Government forces have been dealt with, if not simply to help in the purge itself. So far, it's been virtually impossible to tell who this group is, though. They're untraceable."

"The Irroquois Irregulars." Cindy said, stepping up the last few steps. She had hung back to listen, to hear what Mercer had to say. She was amazed, somewhat shocked, and a little bit horrified by much of it, but now it seemed far to pressing not to chime in. "It's gotta be them. We- Me and Houston, we saw a Roll call for a Militia, pledging to protect... 'Protect Iroquois from those who would threaten it's way of life and people', or something. It's gotta be them." She looked away from Mercer, avoiding eye contact.

The Headmaster, surprised by her return, furrowed his brow in disappointment that she heard what he meant only for Torval and Alex, but nodded in appreciation. "Thank you. That makes a great deal of sense. I'll have my best men look into it."

"So why do you have to move us someplace safe?" Torval asked, driving back towards the main point, "Where are you going to even take us anyways? And what makes you want to get involved?"

The Headmaster glanced over at Alex, then back at Torval, considering the best way to answer. "As I said, you incurred the wrath of Bear. That means he will look for Vengence. He will move to kill you during this time, he won't risk letting you get away. They've probably been waiting for you to leave this house to strike, but won't be held back by any such restrictions once anarchy takes hold."

"Again, Why do you care?" Alex asked from behind, softly.

The Headmaster looked directly at her, "Because anything that Bear does at this point is integral. And any opportunity to draw him out is... too good to waste. Make no mistake, he will attack you wherever you are, whether it's here, with my people, or somewhere else. It doesn't matter, he'll find you and try to avenge miss Carson. But with me, we have the chance to stop him there, and maybe put an end to this madness." He gave a nod of complete conviction that caused Torval to at last trust his Honesty.

"Torval didn't kill Jenny." Alex stated suddenly, stepping forward, "It was me. They don't know that... but it was me."

The Headmaster looked to her with silent acknowledgement, appreciation and understanding. "Jenny was a Casualty in a Civil War, a needless war that they started. A War which will hold many more casualties before it ends. Do not blame yourself for her death. Instead, do what you can, now, to end this war as soon as humanly possible."

Alex swallowed, glancing to the side, stepping up and putting a hand on Torval's Shoulder. "Alright. We'll come with you."

--

School City, August 23rd, 8:00 PM

The City Erupted in Unison. As if set on a timer, Gunfire and explosions echoed across the city from everywhere at Eight o'clock sharp. Crowds holding signs, marching around the Detention Camps in Campus Mercer, the Riverfront, the Park, The Palisades, and amazingly enough even in Potsville, which was hit the hardest, were angrily calling for the Merpeople to be released. They were Seeing those who had, in days previous, been considered monsters, evil bastards without consciences, evil dogmatic lunatics who didn't deserve to live, as fellow victims of the same oppressive scheme. Police, Army, National Guard and PMC lines held firm the entire time, but at Eight, everything changed. Suddenly a Molotov Cocktail was thrown at a group of Cops or a wall. Suddenly, a Private Contractor opened fire on the crowd. Suddenly, a storefront window was smashed and TVs were stolen. Suddenly, the crowd charged the gates, screaming.

Chaos descended on School City. Bear's Plants gave a push, but it wasn't like the Citizens weren't waiting for someone to. They were angry, pressured, hurt and looking for an outlet. They'd decided they wouldn't take anymore, it was a conscious decision. They were just waiting for the boldest of them to step up and make the first move. The Potsville camp fell first. The pure suffering of the Merpeople captured there was enraging to them, and it lit a fire under the Protesters. It was amazing to see how many people had brought weapons to the protests already, and those that didn't 'liberated' the weapons of the soldiers they took down. It seemed more fitting of a scene for Africa, perhaps, or the Middle east. People overrunning Police lines and raising stolen assault rifles into the air in triumph. The fact that the Supers were fighting more fearsomely than the humans, that they were tearing soldiers apart and blasting them with fire or magic was quite possible the thing that turned the tide. Campus Mercer, as it was right in front of City hall and arguably the most valuable camp, was the last to fall, lasting a comparative eternity through the battle. By then, Bear's allies had joined the battle.

At Nine, the Park remained the last bastion of the Army's Control, and Bear and his followers, along with blindfolded and bound Vincent, climbed the stairs to the Crystal spire. "This..." He began, looking around the city as it, in his eyes, tore itself apart so that it could be rebuilt without the failings, "This is where it shall be. Tap into the Public Broadcast systems and announce that there shall be a proclamation here in an Hour. This is the place where a new Status Quo will be founded." Bear looked around slowly from the top of the stairs, able to see much of the surround area, able to see the changes occurring before him. "Do you see me now, Apollo? Where is your Order? Why did you not have a Prophecy of this?" He raised his arms to the side, looking around, as if for a challenger, "Why do you not stop me now?"

--

Whitcomb Street, School City Police Station, August 23rd, 8:00 PM

Sitting at her desk, staring at the trinkets cluttering it up, Carla wondered if she'd made the right decisions. With the Banshee, with Alex, with Osbourn, with her entire job, her entire life. As for the Banshee, she certainly could have taken a very different approach. She could have offered her something more aggressively, or directly threatened her somehow. Maybe if she hadn't told her who had ratted her out, she would have stayed in control. Maybe if she hadn't been so cold, gotten so deep into that Grove, she would have taken a more conservative approach and coaxed something out. Maybe. Maybe maybe maybe. But no, that wasn't it, was it? Something had flashed across Samantha's face, for an instant. Like an idea that popped into her head and made her relax. As if she'd remembered an Ace she had up her sleeve. But Samantha believed herself to be betrayed by her only Allies (friends would be a bit too charitable) and trapped in Jail with nothing to hope for besides a prison shanking to end her miserable existence. What in God's name could have made her do what she did?

Then there was Alex. Carla looked down, furrowing her brow and shrinking as guilt dragged her heart downwards and her body with it. Now Jenny Carson – a terrorist (Alleged!), sure, but still a person – was dead, and Alex wasn't picking up the Phone. What had happened? Was it an Accident? Was she even okay? Kidnapped? Murdered? Fled for her life? Torval, likewise, was unreachable (not that he'd want to be reached, meaning he could just be ignoring her). She didn't even have to think it to herself, she didn't have to chastise and berate her own mind. Of course she shouldn't have involved Alex. It was obvious, painfully so, and she hated herself for having done it. But she would do it again, and again, if she had to. No matter the cost, no matter what happened. They had the Laptop now, and Carla would have Traded her own life for it, so convinced she was that their answers were awaiting on it's hard drive. She hoped that the others would agree.

As for Osbourn, she didn't even want to think about it. Of course, she did think about it. Again and again and again. It was impossible to stop. Like a Nagging pinprick, like a hangnail, her own stupidity reminded her of itself constantly, so that it weighed on her mind like Alex weighed on her heart. She knew, well and truly, that she had not thought about what she was doing. It wasn't on her mind, it wasn't in her heart (she thought), and it wasn't even the moment to do it if it was! But it had happened. She wished she could figure out Why. On a day to day basis, she didn't Feel lonely. She didn't want... that kind of companionship. She didn't need it. And Osbourn would be the worst person in the world to want to date, or be with. I mean literally, the absolute worst. She thought, and hunkered down even lower in her chair, shaking her head. What had she said about him, to James? That he reminded her of all the things she disliked about herself? But James had told her that she was Nothing like she'd described Osbourn. Maybe neither was Osbourn. She knew that from the outside, anyone would see her as a Workaholic, self-sacrificing commitophobic disengage-er. But if James had looked deeper than that, deeper even than Carla had looked, and seen more... could there be more to Osbourn? Could there really be more to her? ...Could there be more to James?

So maybe her life wasn't exactly satisfying. Maybe it wasn't moment by moment the best life she could have picked out for herself. But she had done some real good in it, and had no doubts about That. She had changed lives, saved lives. Made the city a better place – not that it was a better place for very long. Her Poor hometown could never catch a break. Picking up a snowglobe from the corner of her work station, she stared at the scene inside. School City, as it had been once a long time ago. Not a very accurate model, with only the most obvious locations present, but still a symbol. If it had been made now, the Crystal spire might have been in the middle. The River running it's breadth would be demilitarized, and the park would be brown instead of green. The whole City would be overturned. Everything would have changed. The strangest part was that, in her mind, School City looked as she remembered it looking, probably around 2007. Everything intact and still fairly simple. Everything manageable, familiar. Everything feeling like home. That was the School City she was fighting for. One that didn't exist anymore. To her left, her clock made an audible Tick. And then, sounds in the distance. Rumbling outside was all it took for Carla to know her time was up.

She immediately dove into motion, running across the bullpen, zipping between desks and moving officers. The Bullpen had been silent, subdued, even mellow, and the moment the sounds came it became more active than the day after the attack. It was as if everyone had known as well, as if everyone had been waiting with her. She ducked between two Detectives, stumbling, righting herself, and then darting down the hall. From around a corner a few feet ahead, Osbourn stepped before her sharply, confused. Carla did not slow.

"It's happenin, isn't it?" He said, glancing over his shoulder.

"Yeah, this is it." Carla responded to him between giving out orders to the Police officers and staff moving around. "It's time to move, we've got to get out there into the City and try to do something-" She had no doubt in her mind that the only thing left to be done – without leads from the Banshee or the Laptop – was wander the streets hoping to find something. Any other option was about as likely to succeed as that one was.

"What ah we gonna do?" Osbourn said sharply, stepping ahead of her. "We've gaht no ahptions heuh. We've Gaht no way to tell wheh Bear's gonna be, and no way to prove to the public that the Govuhment wasn't the blame. The Laptahp's Here. That's where we need to stay." His logic was solid, but she wasn't about to believe it.

Carla kept moving, essentially ignoring him. They wouldn't keep working on the laptop if the Police HQ came under assault, which meant that their last chance at this would be gone. She felt so convinced that there was still some way to act, that there was still some answer floating around in the ether. That all she had to do was put herself out into the world to accept it. That All she had to do was put her faith out there and she'd be taken care of. God... Garrus wouldn't let it come to this, would he? He wouldn't let Bear succeed, he wouldn't allow anarchy to prevail and leave the good people to die. He would have some kind of... Safety net, a failsafe. He would have something in place by now. Or he would at least tip Chance into her favor.

"Cahla." Osbourn said, trying to get her attention, "You need to protect this place. We can still do this, unnehstand? I'm gonna use my Aid to crack the Laptahp, and then we'll stop the Rioting with a simple announcement. But I need you to coordinate the defense and keep the rioters Out, Ahright?"

Carla glanced over at him, finally meeting his gaze. She swallowed, pulling herself together, "Okay. We can do it."

--

Under School City, August 23rd, 8:03 PM

"Why won't you let me use a phone?"

Torval rubbed the side of his head, sighing. They had been moving through the tunnels for at least five minutes now, and there was no sign that they were actually getting somewhere. It was strange, though, to move through these ancient tunnels that he had used in the past from time to time, but with someone that actually knew them. It was unnerving, like finding a Key to a door that had kept a room in your house hidden for years, and finding that it was much bigger and much more full than you expected. Whoever built these Tunnels Had to be long dead, and he'd never put much thought into who'd done it. In fact, he couldn't remember ever having even mentioned it, or perhaps even having wondered the question in his mind once. The mystery had lain beneath his conscious mind like a tarp above dirt and holding water over it – had it been removed, the water would spread into topsoil far deeper than anything it could have guessed. The Unasked question, once answered, only provided a million new ones, none of which he felt he had time to ask. So instead, he asked a much more innocuous one.

"Because the Towers are probably down. And even if they're not, talking to someone on the phone might give away our position, and that would end badly for all of us." The Headmaster explained, leading the way with a flashlight forward and a coat over his clothes. The ground had been sloping downward for a time, and it was clear from the Headmaster's body language that they were nearing some exit – he kept looking left and right as if expecting a new passageway to branch off at any second.

"Very Ominous." Torval murmured, glancing back at Alex who stared ahead, looking more dead even than a zombie should. He wanted to comfort her, but even he knew that now wasn't the place. "I Will need to make a phone call before the Lines go down, though. Nothing more to it. Has to be done." He stated this as if it was non-negotiable. He said it as if he had the right to demand or even Mandate anything. Clearly he couldn't, and even more clearly they both knew that. Perhaps it was for that reason that the Headmaster agreed.

"When we reach our safe haven, and as long as the call is supervised, very well." he responded calmly, glancing off. Another tunnel sprouted off to the side – they'd found the correct turn off. "We are nearly there, so you will have you chance, and soon."

Torval gave a nod, very pleased with himself and the outcome. Of course he'd be able to make a call, how could they keep him from doing it? Besides, the call he had to make was of extreme importance – it would mean the difference between the Riots going overboard and the Riots potentially being stopped. All he had to do was call Carla, tell her the password to the computer was 'Remedy', and wait for the day to be saved. Sure, Bear would still be coming for him, and in all likelihood That would lead to some terrible, unimaginable outcome, but he decided to stick with Alex in her decision and he wasn't going to turn back on that. Following the Headmaster down the new Branch, Torval examined the ancient stonework and finally relented. "So... Do you know who built these tunnels?" He asked gingerly.

"Yes." The Headmaster responded, distracted by his continuing search for the correct way to go, moving forward and not looking back. "My Ancestors did."

Torval glanced around at the Tunnels, rubbing his forehead. "So... Wait, what?" He furrowed his brow, confused, "What are you, a Native American or something? Are you some kind of Tribal chief...?"

"What?" The Headmaster glanced back, blinking, "No, I'm not a Tribal Chief." He answered as if Torval had asked if he was a Dinosaur or a Terminator. He came to a stop as the Tunnel did, reaching a brick wall, this one looking no newer than the walls to either side of the tunnel. There was a small symbol on the wall that Torval could not get a good look at, but he could see that it acted as a doorknob or a lock type mechanism which caused the Door to slide back, revealing a set of spiral steps rising into a darkened room above.

"Go Ahead." The Headmaster stepped out of the way, making room for the others to head up. "One of my most powerful Lieutenants will meet you. She's going to Protect you."

"You're not coming with us?" Alex asked, eyes widening slightly. "I don't understand – You said that this is the safest place In the City. What are you going to do?"

The Headmaster sighed, looking down, "I'm going to go out there and do my best to help the people of the City, however I can." He gave a solemn nod. "I may have said that it is the Safest place..." He exhaled steadily, "But for me, it isn't the best. This is My City, in more ways than I could describe to you. I have to do what I can to save it, no matter the cost." He offered his hand forward to Alex, who carefully shook it, and then Torval. "Good luck, Mr Langston." he said, voice and expression ripe with seriousness.

"Good luck to you, too." Torval said mechanically, not sure why he did so. The Headmaster turned, giving them a final nod before departing back down the Hallway, off into the Darkness. Looking at each other Warily, Torval and Alex stood for a silent moment before swallowing their fear and ascending the stairs rapidly. It was dark when they arrived at the top, but the echo of their footsteps made it clear that they were in a large, interior chamber. Suddenly, overhead lights flicked on, and Torval and Alex were blinded for a long moment, so used to the darkness that they were unable to see in the light. Finally, their eyes adjusted, and they could see that they were in a large Church like chamber, devoid of windows. The Stone was ancient, and it's craftsmanship immaculate. Alex paced, circling around as she looked, her breath taken away by the massive, sacred place.

"Hello." Both Torval and Alex's eyes shot towards a figure in the Center of the room. A woman, her hair in a blond ponytail and her eyes an intense green, was smiling at them. Her shirt, a strange piece of clothing that did not seem to fit with any modern, store-bought apparel that could be best described as a mix between a blouse and a warm tunic, was stark white with baggy arms and a tighter torso, the woman visibly not wearing a bra. Her shirt was tucked into a pair of black trousers riding strangely high, almost above her waist, and those too were tucked into a pair of black boots. At last, on one of her hands was a coarse Leather Glove, covering up past her wrist, which looked strangely out of place considering the fact that her other hand was bare.

And then, a Falcon flew up from behind a column and landed on her arm, staring at them intently.

"I believe I am supposed to protect you." She said, walking over towards them, smiling.

--

Whitcomb Street, School City Police Station, 8:21 PM

"It's Gahddamn Useless!"

Somehow, Osbourn had careened from the man with the plan to the man who was failing miserably at said plan. Such things happen, to be sure, but it was unfortunate to experience it during such a trying time. He had been so sure that I.A.A. Would be able to crack the Laptop's defenses. It had the computing ability of a supercomputer – well, it was a difficult thing to measure, but it should have been able to deal with security in a way that high-tech government equipment had been known to do – but unfortunately his Mind did not have the necessary staples to access the files. Had he really come back for nothing? Sure, he'd gotten Donna to talk, which led to the capture of the Banshee. But that had led to exactly nothing at all. So far, his contributions included A, emotionally wrecking a former Agent, B, Removing one enemy from Bear's forces, and C, making things extremely awkward with Valenti. And now his last-ditch plan was getting them nowhere.

He hadn't even mentioned that he'd come back to a City that seemed eager to lynch government agents, just in time for a serious of Anti government Riots that could even be called an outright rebellion. He had even decided to hold up in the very center of the unrest, in the Headquarters of the 'forces of oppression', either soon to be under attack or under attack already. For all he knew, murderers could be in the room that exact instant. He had no clue what was happening in the room – he was in the middle of a misty forest, sitting at a desk inexplicably placed in the middle of it. He couldn't see or hear anything outside of the goggles, outside of the world he had chosen to go to. Sure, He could've put on the goggles and seen the things around him, he could have done that with no problems, but there was no reason to. If he was going to get murdered, better he not be aware of it before it happened. Since there was no way to avoid the death he'd moronically gotten himself into, he would gain nothing by being aware or afraid of it. A clever attempt to be brave in the face of death, to be sure. But his attempt was failing.

Amazingly, despite everything else, she still managed to cut through the universe he'd forged for himself. "Osbourn!" She shouted, and he pulled the goggles off in a flash, standing.

"It's No Gahddamn good. I'm getting Nowhere, fast." He said, hyped up and almost twitchy, pacing away from the table. They were in the Partially empty bullpen, The computer open on the desk in front of him.

"Come on, Let's get some Coffee." She sighed, having merely come to check up on how it was coming. Now she'd seen the answer to her question, and it was clear that Osbourn was getting nowhere. Maybe he just needed a break. The two investigators paced over to the Break room just off of the bullpen, going inside even as noises of shouting and distant explosions wafted in from the windows. There was nothing to get excited about yet, since the excitement hadn't started yet, but there was still no hope that it wouldn't. There was no reason to hope, but still no reason to be afraid quite yet either. Carla pivoted as she reached the machine, punching in the familiar numbers and feeding the giant plastic brick a dollar. "They haven't hit us, yet." Carla explained, focusing on the cup as it filled with the warm liquid. "They're probably more focused on the camps than anything else."

Osbourn gave a nod, settling into a chair and glancing around the room distractedly. His mind was still overactive, still mostly in his own world, dealing with the laptop. It was like seeing bits data and code in a 3D, in it's natural environment. He couldn't pull himself out of it once he was in, but he was slowly managing. It was good to be able to think about something else, especially because he had no idea what he was doing.

"So what do you think, Osbourn?" Carla asked, sitting down across from him, "Can we still make it?"

Osbourn took a deep breath, leaning back and considering for a moment. As far as he was concerned, the Laptop was a bust. Since the Banshee had already been written off as a waste of time, that left them approximately zero prospects. So no. The answer was no.

"Who would we be if we didn't try?" He said by way of an answer, shrugging. It didn't matter how hopeless it was. They were going to try anyways.

Carla smiled at that, nodding appreciatively and leaning back in her chair. She reflexively took a sip of her coffee, but her face lowered slightly as an idea passed across it. She opened her mouth to speak, about to voice the question or statement that had obviously just crossed her mind. But she paused, reconsidered, then moved to speak again – and then her Phone rang. Standing sharply, she whipped it out, bringing it to her ear urgently. "Hello?" The chances were equally good that it would be a Telemarketer as it was that it could be Torval or Alex, but Carla, amazed, found that she had been right. An answer was out there.

"Carla- it's me, Torval. Hey." His annoying deadpan voice came across the line, and she'd never been happier to hear it.

"Torval! Great, Thank god. What's the news?" Carla asked, pacing around, snapping her fingers to get Osbourn's attention and pointing to the Phone to indicate what was going on.

"Alex is with me. She didn't get the laptop or anything, but-"

Carla shook her head, cutting him off. "No, No, It's fine. We got the laptop, but we need to know the Password." She crossed her figners, a look of blind hope passing over her face.

"Oh, yeah, Alex got it. It's... Right, okay. It's 'Remedy'. R-E-M-E-D-Y."

Carla grinned, leaning her head back and giving a silent cheer in elation. "Oh My God, thank you so much Torval. I owe you a huge one." She said, laughing. "Osbourn, plug it in, let's end this before it really begins."

Osbourn nodded, standing as well and moving out through the doorway and into the bullpen. Well, maybe Miracles do happen. Osbourn was too stuck in disbelief to fully understand the notion that they weren't going to die then and there, but he would be able to appreciate it soon. Mostly, he was just eager to get it done. Moving towards the desk, he went to reach for the Laptop... and then froze. The Laptop was gone.

--

Daniel fast-walked past cops and soldiers, speeding past people who run around the building preparing to defend against something they cannot stop. As the Self-proclaimed Servants of the Civilian populace of School City, Dan had for a moment been excited to see if the police would overthrow the government for them. The People had, more or less unilaterally decided that the way of things was unpleasant, unhappy, and unbalanced; they had chosen for themselves that they would take no more. So shouldn't these public defenders, these men who have sworn to protect and serve, immediately begin to protect them against the oppression and lies, serve them in this righteous upheaval? It was an amusing notion, at least to him, to consider policemen overthrowing themselves, but that was in general just due to his hate of the police. A Bunch of selfish egomaniacs looking for a power high, looking for an opportunity to be the good guys, even as most of the regular people fear them while driving without a seatbelt, fear them while spraypainting an unused wall. He knew they were greedy, self-obsessed liars with a complete lack of imagination, but he'd never imagined that they'd be so stupid. I mean there he was, a Vampire who was fermenting revolution, walking right past them with a highly important piece of evidence under his arm.

All he'd had to do was stop at the entrance to the bullpen, wait for them to step away, and then breeze by. He waited for less than Ten minutes and they weren't even looking when he'd snagged the Laptop right from under their noses. Those two idiots certainly took the cake. The human who looked more like a vampire than most of the vampires Dan knew, and the flighty bitch looking for validation. He had at least expected someone to be guarding it, but had instead found it sitting out in the open, totally for the taking. Dan was pleased, he was amused, but really he was mostly just baffled. And these were the people who had caused them no shortage of trouble so far? Well, the police were really the last of their worries, even now. The Laptop was their number one issue – not that it was in the hands of a group as notoriously, galactically stupid as the School City Police Department, but that it was in someone's hands other than theirs, regardless of whose it was. In terms of enemies, there were much more pressing things to worry about. The Rest of the Order, the Headmaster's sect, were a serious threat, even then. There was no way Bear or any of his people were about to take them lightly.

Then, there was Nightfang. Dan seethed at the thought of that son of a bitch walking the streets, completely free. Butting into their business, deciding to fight for the side of complacency and continuity rather than liberty and change. Swooping in, murdering Jenny... murdering a sweet, kind girl who'd gotten much worse in life than she'd deserved, most of it thanks to him... and then flying off indifferently like the complete monster he was. Langston was going to die for what he did. There was no avoiding it, now. From the moment Dan had met him, he'd known that Torval Langston was a piece of shit. He was an Argumentative, self-obsessed ingrate who seemed to believe that the world had an obligation to be 'fair' (by which he meant 'Exceedingly generous') to him, even as he fucked over other people's lives. Plus he was a real bore. He was convinced that all of his jokes were so funny, that all of his statements were so cool and dramatic. He really did think he was cool. Unfortunately, he was wrong about all of it. He was Annoying. He was a blight, but even then Dan didn't believe he'd stoop that low. But he had, and now Torval had crossed the line. They would make him pay. Tonight.

But they couldn't do it alone. That led to his second matter of business, to his, in all likelihood, more dangerous goal. Their Allies were coming, were readying to join the fray. Daniel wasn't sure that he trusted them, wasn't entirely sure that they could ever hope to be on the same page. They stood for diametrically opposed notions, for seemingly contradictory ideals. But they work working together to get the federal government out of the City, to free the people. He might need to worry about them later. They might be the real issue on the Horizon. But he trusted them enough in this scenario that he wasn't worried about them stabbing him in the back Tonight. It would just foul up too many necessary implements. It would throw a spanner in everyone's works – Motherfucker. Daniel shook his head, taking a sharp turn and heading onwards, towards the correct room. It was clear in his mind that this was necessary, that his risk in coming here was worth it. Because with allies as dangerous as theirs, standing on a web of lies, they couldn't make a single misstep. They'd have to ensure that everything went perfectly; that all their pieces were on the table before the game began, and that all their goals were accomplished before the end.

"Hey- You're not supposed to be heeURK!" Daniel jabbed his claws into the Guards neck without slowing, the man never sensing the danger or guessing at his own imminent death. One guard, barely armed. Was that all they had to offer? Was that they best they could do? Daniel was disgusted. The rulers of this city were pretenders, their forces of control nothing but an empty threat. He didn't even glance at the corpse as he pulled the steel door off it's hinges, flinging it away.

"I knew you'd come." Daniel received a much stronger swell of pride than he'd expected upon seeing the reaction on Samantha's Face. "You're lucky, too. I was about to rat you out."

"Then we're both lucky." the Vampire said lowly, giving a nod back over his shoulder, "Come on, let's move. We've got work to do."

--

Under School City, August 23rd, 8:26 PM

"Thank you." Alex said, taking the phone and giving it to the woman as Torval passed it to her. "We should have done that sooner..." Alex looked down, shaking her head regretfully. They really should have contacted Carla. But she'd... she'd been in shock. She hadn't had the strength to move, or even to speak for hours. She could barely think cohesively. Now she felt a little better. Perhaps Now was when she was in shock, having slipped into it later, not able to carry the emotions anymore. But now, if that was the case, she would feel numb. Cold, distant, uninvolved. Perhaps even Serene. Now, she felt Anxious, and eager. Certain, but still worried and concerned. Something was coming, she could feel it in the air, in her bones. She didn't know what it was, or how it would end. But it was coming. A Reckoning. Yes, A Reckoning for what she had done.

"What's your name?" She heard Torval ask, and glanced over to look at the redhead. She lifted her eyes to him somberly, wearily, and saw the same tiredness in his face as well. His skin rippled and wrinkled into strange shades, shifting like a Horoscope. She liked it, liked it better than his old face. His old face was smarmy and fresh, like a lie plastered over his expression, and it was cold and hard as if it was nothing more than too little skin stretched over a skull with nothing between the two. Now his face was textured, the somehow dulcet ripples of his skin belying the human beneath it. Revealing his rare moments of humility, and grace. Yes, his beauty. It could shine through now that he was not quite so beautiful anymore. She smiled, sadly, and felt as if she might shed a happy tear, tilting her head. He'd come for her, and she was alive because of him. He'd saved her life again, and given her shelter. If only he could forgive himself. If only he could let his anguish go. He deserved to... he deserved to.

"Jacquelin." The woman responding, nodding kindly to him. Her expression and attitude was friendly, welcoming. "It is quite interesting to meet someone with such a storied history as yourself." She was fussing with the bird on her shoulder, feeding it something – Alex couldn't tell what it was, and probably didn't want to know. It was a beautiful falcon, absolutely majestic and noble bird. She was enraptured merely by it's presence.

"You know about me?" Torval went on. Alex only heard him distantly, watching the Bird move. It's eyes strangely wise and cagey as it looked around, it's back straight and proud.

"Oh, enough, I would say. Enough." She gave a nod. "Tell me, yes. You know this man, the David Westing, right?"

"David?" Torval leaned forward, visibly interested. His involvement was piqued. "What about him? Do you know him?"

Jacquelin smiled, something behind her expression, though Alex could not tell what. "Oh, I know of him."

"Tell me-" Alex said, still caught up with the bird, "what can it do?" She wanted to inch closer, but wasn't sure if she could. She didn't trust herself enough.

"I don't doubt that you will see soon enough." The woman responding, smiling knowingly.

Just then, as if on cue, thuds came from above them, a distant rumbling followed by dust settling on the floor above the Ceiling. Alex stood, glancing around the large chamber, wishing for somewhere to hide, somewhere to be safe. "Torval." She said suddenly, feeling pressed. She felt as if she was running out of time, and had to say something. "While it's still my choice..." She glanced up at the Ceiling once more, worriedly, tensing. "I don't know if people can fall out of love, but I fell in love with you when we were first together." She glanced over at him, exhaling weakly, "I want you to know that, even though I don't know what these feelings are... I think they might be love. And that, even if they're not, they're for you."

Jacquelin rose slowly, nodding over to them, "Stay close, stay careful, and stay hidden. They have come."

--

School City Streets, August 23rd, 8:30 PM

The Twins were alive. They almost didn't make it, but they did.

One of them had a trio of Claw marks lancing over his chest and face, and the other one had a large scar where his throat had been slit by the other, but they had gotten up and walked away from the Fort that night and were back for more. Bear should have been more certain – he should have been more careful to put them down, especially when they were so dangerously armed. But he hadn't. He'd been more in a hurry than anything, and so they came to alone, waking up half dead instead of never waking up at all.

Now they stood outside the Irroquois Irregulars chapter house. It was more of an Armory than anything, but it had more than a few notes torn from the VFW Playbook. People were gathered in there, preparing for action. If they were about to storm the Park, if they were about to overthrow the government in Bear's and their own name, the Twins would be ready.

They had already lain a coarse trail a blackish powder that looked a bit like gunpowder in a large circle around their Headquarters. From what they could see, the entire militia force was gathered inside – they were in the middle of a meeting, preparing for whatever their plan was. Once laid, the powder began to smoke faintly, as if it was corrosive and burning into the ground. It took less than a second of bubbling and smoking, and when it was done the ground was stained black. They had formed a barrier to keep everyone inside, effectively neutralizing the coup before it could start. Then they heard the movement. The Twins ducked into the bushes instinctively as the Irregulars charged out, carrying weapons and ammunition, ready for war. Hiding, they watched as the men unlocked the gate to the parking lot and slowly moved it open. Then they reached the barrier.

"Ah Shit-!"

"What the Hell is this?"

"MOTHERFU-"

"Come on, maybe there's another way around, the Guardsman need our help."

The Twins looked at each other. "Did you hear that?" They asked in Unison.

"Come on! The rioters already took one of the Camps, we've got to keep the others locked down!"

Well Shit. They thought together, slowly slinking away. Of course, why would bigots and republicans want to free those who had attacked them, even when misled? That's what they get for trusting a little girl. So that left only one question-

Who were Bear's Allies?

--

The Riverfront, August 23rd, 8:33 PM

Bear stood among his men. Every single one of them believed, fully, truly, that they were on the correct path. That was the difference between his men and the one who tried to kill him in the fort – those men could never understand why killing Bear was integral. All of his men knew exactly what they had to do at any given moment. More importantly, they understood Why. That was why they accepted this arrangement as automatically as he'd thought. Despite everything that had happened, despite their mutual losses, despite all the hate that had been fostered, Every one of Bear's Fifth Column understood the necessity and benefits of this Agreement.

"Gub'wa." Bear said, nodding to the Red-scaled Revolutionary. "I'm glad you could make it."

Presumably, Gub'wa's men felt the same as Bear's, for they met the surfacers not with hostility or uncertainty but with excitement and pride. It was the reaction of someone greeting the people who were making a much-loved, much-sought after Lost Cause not so 'lost' anymore.

"Believe me." The Merman responded, "None is more glad of it than I. The Journey was very perilous. If we had been caught by those who serve the Ancients, all of our goals would be forever out of our reach."

Bear gave a nod, "Now is the time. The Demonstrations have become Riots, your people are being freed, and the Humans will welcome your Liberation of their Death Camps."

The Water in his breathing apparatus bubbled, a sign of Gub'wa being pleased. "Good. We will begin to ready our soldiers."

Bear narrowed his eyes in recognition, then tiled his head, "Gub'wa, if I may ask... why do you trust us over those already in power? We are as much surfacers as they are."

The Merman turned his head, his eyes turning into the thinnest of slits as he considered. "Because those who would be willing to sacrifice their lives to change who rules the people, even if is they who will take the mantle when it is over, surely has true intentions." It was clear that he was speaking of himself as much as Bear. The Massive vampire gave a nod of appreciation, turning and gesturing for them to walk together into the city, triumphant.

Rising from the Water to Cheers rather than screams, Three Yip'ka, the Fish shaped Tanks, spread out to the Liberated camps to retrieve the Prisoners. The City had done a complete 180 degree flip, welcoming the Merpeople as brothers and fleeing to them for protection, while the Government soldiers harassed and assaulted them sparingly. Gub'wa's Rebels, those who had seen defeat and not turned away from their cause, were hardy and obviously did not give up lightly. They treated the surfacers somewhat tersely, but some were kinder than others, and all of them worked together for their common goal – liberty. Still, as honorable as you could consider their motives to be, they were creating war in the streets. People were dying, though not as many as those who died in the initial Merpeople invasion. Still, death was everywhere, joined by Chaos and Anarchy. A truly senseless waste of life. A complete affront to what everyone had wanted since the moment the Merpeople made that terrible mistake – peace.

--

"I will give you one chance, one warning." She said, inhaling deeply and drawing a blessed Rapier. "You will come, you will fight, and you will die. Not a one of you shall live, your cursed lives becoming no more. Turn around, go home to your master, and you shall live." She stared up the hole in the ceiling, into the darkness above. "Remember that this mission of yours is not integral to your goals. It is a personal matter that your leader has placed upon you. There is no shame in turning aside, and it is not an affront to your dreams. See reason, and go. Or fight me, and die."

"She seems pretty sure of herself." Alex whispered to Torval, kneeling next to them in their hiding place.

"I still can't believe that asshole only left us one guard-" The vampire began to grumble. He didn't get very far.

Jacquelin drew back her gloved hand, and suddenly Torval and Alex were blinded by a bright white light coming from it. Spikes of light, like Icicles, erupted from her fist, and a glowing circular bolt of illumination suddenly grew in her grasp. The Light – David's Light (Know of him my ass) – grew brighter, stronger – and then she threw it up into the hole like a baseball. Screams erupted from above, loud and without timidity, and then a trio of Vampires flew through the hole, charging at her with claws ready.

Ducking back, Jacquelin brought her blade around, Slashing across one of the Vampire's chests as she retreated, overwhelmed by the sudden onslaught. She held the light forward like a shield, her Rapier pointed forward but held back. The Vampire she had struck, a grey-haired woman, stumbled aside, eyes narrowed and filled with hate. The other two began to circle, avoiding the blooming light but keeping close, looking for a hole. Jacquelin, despite her strength and obvious advantages, looked overmatched, worried. She glanced between the enemies, shifting focus between them and keeping them at bay. It seemed like just a matter of time until they descended on her all at once, one of them inevitably landing a blow. But just as it looked like they were about to, a cry came from the side, and the Falcon, somehow alight with fire and blazing, swooped in between them, blasting two of them back. Jacquelin struck at the other, Laughing, her blade swinging at the woman and slashing her with wounds that would not heal. Her Falcon – or perhaps, Alex realized in Hindsight, Phoenix – swept past the two other vampires, blasting them back with a wash of fire. One of them was set alight, scrambling to put it out even as he burned, while the other was only singed on his clothes. He rebalanced himself and moved to strike at Jacquelin, but she was too fast, having knocked the grey-haired woman back already, and pivoted around, slashing across the male Vampire's stomach, delighting as his intestines simply poured out without complaint.

The Battle had begun.

--

Whitcomb Street, School City Police Department, August 23rd, 8:33 PM

"You know what to do, yes?" Daniel asked, brow furrowed. "Bear wants this done right. He says it's integral."

"Yes, Yes, I know." Samantha sighed. "I've got it completely under control." She was visibly annoyed by having to be coddled like that, mostly due to the shame of having been caught in the first place and apparently then dropping down to the state of 'reckless idiot' in everyone's minds. Nevertheless, she did mean what she said.

"Okay, then get a move on-" Inches away from a limitless victory, Daniel had made the mistake of stopping at the doors and double checking something that didn't even have to be checked once. Because of that, Dan was spotted.

"Hey! Freeze, That's our Laptop!" Blanc said, starting to run down the Hallway towards them, hyper-fast.

"Shit- move!" Daniel leaped into the air, flying off and towards the only safe place he knew of. Samantha did the same, moving in the opposite direction, and seconds later Blanc reached the Balcony, flying after Daniel as well.

Shit, this was just what he needed. A High Speed chase, with a Vamp cop deep in aerial pursuit. Damn race traitor, fucking everything up. Why had he stopped? He knew that Samantha was trustworthy, even if she'd fucked up once. Too trustworthy, in his own mind, but that was just his opinion. She was far too motivated, and that caused her to fuck up in this last situation. But wasn't that his problem now? He had been such a control freak that he paused, stopped right in front of the station, and checked off his boxes again just to be double sure. And now this southern moron was on his back.

His flight took less than a full minute, as he was not far away and there were almost no obstacles between him and his destination. Nearing the end, he dipped down into an alleyway, attempting to lose Blanc in it's narrow, winding passages, but the other Vampire was just as fast as him, and even more nimble. At last, Dan zipped down into the narrow, neon-lit corridor, arriving at the stairwell and ducking into the Underpass. "Everyone, come on, there's someone behind-" Dan came to a full stop as he looked around the nightclub, eyes wide. It was totally empty.

"That's the problem with Riots in the streets..." Blanc said, coming to a stop as well and slamming the door behind him. "Nowhere to buy a nice drink is ever open." He shook his head, his idiot grin still prominent on his face. "Nowhere to go, y'know. Why not just give the laptop here?"

"Over my twice-dead body." Daniel hissed, backing up. He clutched the Laptop behind his back, protective. He'd have to fight with one hand, now, which meant he'd probably lose. But he had to keep the information safe. Losing it meant losing the entire revolution, meant the people finding out the truth. But then again... the idiot cop needed it intact. Daniel needed it destroyed. He didn't have to fight to protect it at all.

Standing up taller, Daniel narrowed his eyes, the same crazy fire that burned in Samantha's suddenly alight in his. "Lyra de apollo canit Laudes." He proclaimed suddenly, loudly, as if facing the firing line, then flung the Laptop, with all his vampire strength, at the wall. Blanc moved into action instantaneously, cutting across the floor faster than the laptop flew. It was going extremely fast, but again, Blanc was faster, and the Carolinan bastard was going to catch it. But he was open, unprotected. Vulnerable. Daniel flew forward at where Blanc would be, so much action occurring in less than a full second. Blanc caught the Laptop narrowly, just before it hit the wall, a crash that would have invariably destroyed all of the proof on it's hard drive, but just as he did, Daniel reached him, driving his claws into the other Vampire's chest. They fell to the ground together, Blanc letting out a shout of agony, the two of them crashing against the side of the bar. Daniel's hands were in the man's ribcage, feeling, gripping the man's heart, and the Vampire delighted in the look on the Race Traitor's face as he felt his most final death loom over him. His claws ready to crush the muscle into pulp, Daniel hissed as Blood flew from the man's mouth, flicks of it landing on Dan's face. "I hope it was worth it, you piece of-" Those were the last words he ever said.

In a feat of obscene willpower, Blanc got his hands around Daniel's head, yanking it off of his body with a twist. He felt the body inside of him go slack, the hands literally clutching his heart go limp. Without the strength to pull Daniel's arms out of him, and overwhelmed by pain, Blanc collapsed into unconsciousness. He lay there, up against the wall with the Laptop a few feet away. Two Vampires lying on the ground in the middle of tearing each other apart, like an ancient fossil of two dinosaurs buried alive even as they struck at each other.

--

Hissing, groaning, with black blood and bile staining her teeth, the grey-haired Vampires stared up at Jacquelin in spite.

"You should have left." the human woman said, her bird of prey flying over and landing on her upraised hand.

"You think you have won..." the Vampire responded, shifting so that she was sitting up against the wall, coughing. "You think you have defeated us. But you cannot escape what is to come. Even here, even in your greatest sanctuary, we have found you. As you said, you have not stopped us, merely a side engagement, a mission of opportunity. And now you stand triumphant..." She spat, shaking her head ruefully, "You have Triumphed over nothing. Your fate is coming and it will be foul-"

Having heard enough, Jacquelin ran the woman through with her sword, the blessed blade piercing through her heart. The Vampire shouted, stiffening severely, then went slack. At last she was gone. "I think that's quite enough of that." The woman in white said, drawing her blade back out and wiping it off. "You can come out now." Torval and Alex warily moved out of their hiding place, glancing around at the Vampire corpses that had piled up. Bear's front line, his most trusted warriors, done in by this woman. It was easy to say that they were impressed.

"I thought nobody else had the Light." Torval said, slowly grasping the weight of these people and their strength. "Why didn't you tell-" Unfortunately, his thought was cut short as a new agony erupted inside his brain, his ears exploding as a torturous bloom of hell within his very mind. It reminded him of fighting Leeder, of Quin. It reminded him of drinking the vial of poison that Cindy had given him. It was the feeling – a real, intense pain – of being powerless. He dropped to his knees, covering his ears as best he could, and even in the blindness of his pain he could see that Alex and Jacquelin were doing the same. He screamed, as loud as he possible could, and heard nothing; he tried to stand, but found that his muscles had ceased to hold strength, that it had been sapped from him. He reeled, seeing faces before his eyes. Marti, and Alex, and Vittoria, and (Garrus)- All of them saying 'You could have saved me'.

From his blurred vision he could see that someone else was standing in the room, next to Jacquelin. He saw her move, slowly, towards the woman in white, then raise and arm and bring it down. He didnt' see anything else, but he felt Jacquelin drop to the ground like a sack of Flour. Then, the pain stopped, though the aftershock of pain was even more unpleasant, more intense in it's newness, and left his ears ringing. He smelled blood.

"That did it." Samantha said soothingly, looking down at the Knife embedded in Jacquelin's back. "Don't want her interfering, do we?" She turned her attention over to the redhead and the zombie on the floor a ways ahead of her. "So... who's up for a trip?"

--

Streets of School City, August 23rd, 9:02 PM

"Can you do it, Sam?" Carla asked, wavering. She knew the likelihood of his death. She knew that he was sending him into Mermaid Territory. She knew that Blanc was too out of it to make much of a difference. She knew it needed to be done. But she wanted him to live. She cared. When did that happen? Longer ago than she thought.

"I guess We'll just have to find out, don't we?" He gave a nod, trying to sound light in the face of death. Trying to sound read for whatever was coming for him. "Ah'll do the best that I can. But you need to get there and do the othuh half of the Jahb."

Carla gave a solemn nod, glancing up at him briefly, her eyebrows raised in concern. "Watch your Back." There was nothing else that she knew how to say.

Osbourn gave a nod, starting to turn, but he stopped himself, glancing back, as if some last thing had occurred to him. "To Answeh yuh Question, Cahla... No. They'uh naht the only ones with initiative. If you need proof of that... just look at what we're doin now." He gave a reaffirming nod and then turned, starting away. Carla watched him, brows furrowing with doubt as she shook her head, hopeful. If she lived through this... if there was a School City anymore once this was over... she would take all the initiative in the world.

--

Crystal Spire, August 23rd, 9:26 PM

Torval came to a stop at the bottom of the steps, grunting as he slammed against each step. How had they gotten him so easily? How was he going to get out of this? Here he was... on Crystal Steps. In the Grand Foyer of the Penthouse of Gods. The very top of a Tower built from god knows what, every inch of it made of magnificent Crystal. It had been an office building, but if morphed overnight and took a couple lives with it. He knew instantly what it was supposed to be, and what David told him later reinforced it. What it was was a Mockery. It was the perfect place to die – in a forgery of the heaven he would never reach.

"Please..." he gasped, trying to stand, pain still making every movement feel like broken glass jostling around in his flesh. "I-..." there was nothing to say. 'I didn't kill Jenny, Alex did! Kill her Instead!' Torval may have been low, but even he wouldn't stoop to that.

"'Please'...?" Bear growled, descending the huge stairway that looked like something out of a Gilded Age Hotel Lobby, or something from the Titanic, if it happened to be made out of shining crystal. "Is that what Jenny said before you killed her, Torval? Someone you spoke to? An Innocent? A decent human being that never reached as far down in the muck as we had to?" He reached the bottom of the stairs and grabbed Torval by the neck, tossing him across the floor. Torval landed hard again, the air knocked out of him, and he groaned, trying to laugh it off but instead just wheezing. He could try to fight back, and might even accomplish something. But he wouldn't, because all he would Definitely accomplish would be Alex's needless death.

"If she was so innocent..." Torval managed to sputter, "Why did she help you?"

Bear growled, lifting Torval up by the collar of his shirt and raising him high into the air, as high as he could. Torval Grabbed at Bear's arm, but did nothing, groaning. What could he do? Bear brought back a massive fist and struck Torval across the face, a wash of pain that it was easy to forget about as a Vampire spreading through his nerves, his face contorting as it tried to reconnect his broken Jaw. "She believed in the community, that you destroyed. She believed in our way of life. She believed that we deserved to be free as much as anyone else." Bear shook his head slowly, an untold measure of sadness audible even in his voice. "She believed in change. And you snatched it from her." Bear grabbed Torval's head with his free hand, clutching him by the skull like one might hold a Bowling ball, and Torval closed his eyes, at last relaxing. He could hear Alex scream from the top of the Stairs, shout at the top of her lungs, beg. He didn't want her to have to see this. He didn't want her to watch him die. But at least he could know that if he did die, she'd have a chance at surviving-

"I KILLED JENNY!"

No-... No, No! No, Alex, God Dammit No Not ALEX NO GOD DAMMIT ALEX NO!

"I killed Jenny, Not him!" Descending the Stairs, Why, Alex, Why Did you Do it. NO GOD DAMMIT NOT YOU NOT AGAIN PLEASE GOD PLEASE

"Let Him go! It was Me Not Him, I won't let you Kill him! I Killed her, Kill me instead, Please!"

"Aleeeex-" Torval moaned, hoarse, as he was thrown to the Ground like a forgotten toy. ""No, No, Alex... Why, Alex, Bear, Not her, Anyone but her BEAR!" He tried to stand, pulling himself together, but the Mammoth backhand-slapped him, sending him sliding across the ground once more. Alex, Oh Alex, Why? Why would you throw your life away?

Bear Inhaled slowly, and he could see from across the room the intensity in the Monster's eyes as he turned to look between them, vicious. "I Demand Satisfaction." He intoned, deep with rumbling anger, and he paced over to Alex, the girl now at the bottom of the Stairs, Samantha holding her by the Arm. "It is True?" he asked, eyes narrowed, searching the Woman's face for honesty.

"Yes." Alex said with complete conviction. There was no fear in her face, and no deception.

Bear gave a subtle nod to Samantha, who began to drag Alex across the room, towards a small dip in the floor. Torval began to shout again, screaming madness, screaming anything, Screaming against what was happening and screaming for it to stop. Samantha threw Alex down into the dip, a small, circular concave section of the floor no larger than five feet by five feet, a Cubicle's space of dipping crystal, a hollow in the floor impossible to make with anything but your own mind. Alex slid down into it, landing, hard, on her palms, wincing. Her her hair blew through the air like mist, and Torval called from across the room, even as Bear lifted him up and pointed him forward.

"You took the most important person in my life from me. By your actions, Jenny died." He shoved Torval forward, forcing him to look. "Consider this Justice. Now Watch."

"Alex! Alex, talk to me-!" Torval shouted, face contorting in misery and Anger. He could smell it from here, sharp and acrid, Gasoline being thrown on her, drenching her.

"Close your eyes, Torval." Alex called from across the room. She didn't want him to see this, either.

"Alex, Please! I Love you, Don't Go, I Did It, Bear, I killed her, Anything you want to hear, Just don't Kill her, Please!" His teeth clenched and he struggled, angrily, against Bear's clutches, but could do absolutely nothing. He was powerless. Anything but this again. He would die, he would spend an eternity in hell, just not like this, not now, Not her! He would give anything, he would... he would...

"Say Goodbye, Torval." Bear insisted, not out of Malevolence or spite, or hate, but out of somberness, perhaps out of regret that he hadn't been able to say goodbye to Jenny. Oh God, oh God. Not This. He couldn't Say Goodbye. He couldn't See this, especially not this. He couldn't live through another second and warm Washes across his face with a fwoosh-

"NO!" He Screamed, long and anguished, till the scream takes everything with it.

--

No, no no. No no no no no. Always no, never yes. Always trying to deny what's happening. Never facing it.

Pete Vincent, tied to a chair, lolled his head back and sank even deeper into it, staring across the room at the bottle that had been placed conveniently on a table just barely out of reach. His arms were free enough to reach for it, in a very painful manner but he could do it all the same. They were sadistic assholes, they were. They'd put one last respite right there for him to enjoy, but place it just out of his reach. Fucking Bastards.

And all the shouting a room over. He could hear it all, and he would have listened if he cared, but he didn't. So basically, it was just racket. It had died down, but it was still making his headache much, much worse. Honestly, he just wanted it to be over. He was ready. Whatever they were going to do, it didn't matter. He was ready for whatever it was. Desperate, silent, and alone, he reached for the bottle again, gritting his teeth and inching a bit closer. Every inch his outstretched fingers came closer to the bottle, the more tightly the ropes crushed his other hand against his back. He felt like the bones would break, but he didn't feel very compelled to stop because of that. If his wrist shattered, he'd have the booze with the other hand, and it wasn't like he'd have to deal with the pain for long. Unfortunately, he still came up short, and the pain at last made him go slack, falling further into the chair with a grunt. He looked for something to distract him from his own continued failure.

What's this- more Racket? Sounds from below, from the City. From far, far below he could hear Talking, awkward and canned, as if it was coming from speakers. Was It the Public broadcast system? Did they even still have those, like with Air raid Sirens? He would be surprised if they did, but it seemed like the only explanation-

"Repeat- the Govuhment conspiracy was a Hoax. Proof has been released ahn websites and local television networks that proves that the reportah respansible for the report was in league with the terrorist group that kidnapped Pete Vincent, and that theih proof was falsified. The Govuhment did naht know ahead of time. Please, return to yeh Homes and do naht go neah the Mermaid occupiers."

He could Hear things shift in the city below him. In an instant, everything changed. The sounds of shouting lessened, and changed in tone. Explosions stopped, things became more uneasy. Suddenly flashing, both fluttering-weak and explosively obvious in the bottom of his stomach, it appeared. Hope. His face scrunched, confused, and he leaned forward. How did they... did they stop something? His cynicism and self-resignation immediately pounced on the hope like a cat jumping on a Laser, attempting to catch and destroy something that it had no power over. Sure, he figured, They went for that proof, but they still can't save him. They'd stopped the Riots.. Maybe... But It's still hopeless. Leaning forward, he groaned, a gasp escaping his throat as he started to cry. He was still going to die. He was going to die. It was too late. The Hope had made his despair all the more agonizing."N-nuthin they can do... can't change a thing. Too late..."

As if magically, as if piped in from a million miles away, hope itself seemed to answer. "It's not too late to change something." Carla whispered, sneaking up behind him. "I've got you, Mr. Vincent." she took out a knife, starting to work on the Ropes. He couldn't believe it. Vincent couldn't believe it at all. They'd come for him. They'd come. Unfortunately, Vincent barely had time to realize he should be elated before the hammer fell and his hope was dashed.

"Not so tough out here, are you?" Samantha said, Grabbing Carla by the back of the Neck, dragging her to the ground violently. She had been discovered, and even worse by someone she had pierced the pride of. "Is this your Purpose?" Samantha hissed, and shoved the Detective, the woman bumping against Vincent's chair and tipping it over to the ground. High above him, the bottle of Liquor sat, safe and triumphant, glaring down at him. He heard the shuffle of a struggle behind him as it moved into the adjacent room. Carla had been dragged away. Of course she was wrong. How could anything be changed? The world was set in stone, a world of dashing hopes, and there was nobody to save him for him. That left only himself, and how the fuck could he change anything? He was worthless, just a... just an Alky drunk piece of shit with nothing to do, nobody to love. There was nothing in his life that he could manage not to ruin, there was nothing he could do to survive. How could she have been so fooled? That woman, whoever the hell she was? How could she really believe that anything, Anything at all could be saved? That -It's not too late to change something-. That... That...

It's not too late.

Vincent Shuddered, his tears having lessened in the seconds after they started, but now returning once more. How miserable, how pathetic, he was, lying on the ground weeping at his own pathetic failure. Not too late to change. What was left for him, anyways? He'd gotten better, or at least told everyone that he did, once – gotten off the drugs, but he'd just replaced it with even more drinking. How could he ever hope, ever Dream of accomplishing anything of any real worth after this? He'd never accomplished anything in the first place, never really made anything of value. His music was bullshit, he'd always thought so. Don't give up, you still have us. Maybe he should have given up a long time ago, never gotten married either time, never tried to sing or play, never even bothered with hope. All it did was tear him up. All it ever made him do was go for things that... that he didn't want after he had them. Please Don't give up. They'd proven how useless things were themselves- they'd maybe ended the Riots, they'd found him, and they'd still gotten fucked over. They'd wanted to save him and they'd failed. Now these people who Wanted to hurt him, wanted to kill him, wanted to blow up the world or whatever the fuck were going to... were going to get what they wanted. Were going to... going to...

Wanting something enough does make it happen. He remembered, remembered singing that a million years ago and he'd believed it, he'd believed it. Why? Why was he so convinced of it? Why did he think that fame, that fortune would make him happy?

Because it Had. Because for a while it had made him happy and it had made his life full, and complete. But he got distracted, got fucked up from getting off the path. He'd gotten off the path and he didn't know where it was. Where was the Path? If he could find it again he'd start right back where he'd left it off, all he needed was a cue- It's not too late to change anything. Vincent, groaning, begging the universe to, for once, make something happen, reached for the table in front of him, desperately trying to get the bottle to fall. Pete Vincent had spent his life blind to the options in front of him. Now he took the only option he considered viable.

--

[Gub'wa-] A Blue-scaled soldier approached the man, crossing his arms over his chest and bowing. [The surfacers are turning against us. The Bear needs our aid, but our losses are already great.] They spoke in their native tongue, though it was awkward to do so out of water. The Red-scaled warlord from the Western Waters looked around the Park, even as war raged in it, and considered what he had sacrificed to take even so little of this ground. It was a hard fought battle and losing it would be a waste. But this ground was useless to them. It was hubris that led him to desire it, he knew that much, and once he had it, there was no reason to keep it. If he had truly captured the Park, in it's entirety, it would be different. But blood had been spilled for the Captives, not the land. The city was not his burden.

[Retreat to the Waters. Take those we liberated with us. Leave none behind.] Gub'wa ordered the Betrayal of Bear and turned, pacing away towards the water. His retreat this time was at least of his own accord, and his spoils were of a much more meaningful variety.

--

"Bear..." Carla hissed, dragging herself across the ground towards Torval. She had been flung into the room, forcefully, and had skidded to a stop in the middle of a large crystal Chamber. Ahead of her was a huge stairway that led up to the towering figure that could only be Bear. In the center of the Chamber was Torval, kneeling next to a depression of some kind. She stopped next to the Red-Haired vampire, putting a hand on his shoulder to check what his status was. The moment she did, she saw into the dip in the ground ahead of her; she saw the curled, blackened mass. Alex. It had to be. Turning aside and clenching her eyes shut, she cursed under her breath, vengeful. "Torval, it's going to be okay." She whispered to him briefly before standing and facing the Behemoth at the top of the Staircase. She paced forward, standing tall, standing true. He glared down at her, silent. The showdown on Crystal Steps could last for as long as they wanted, but when weapons and claws were drawn, it would last less than a second. Either Carla would be quick enough to land a L-196 dart, fired from her hidden gun, or... she wouldn't be. "It's Over, Bear." She called up, fearless. "The Riots are over. The Merpeople are retreating. You've lost."

"No Cause is lost so long as someone still follows it." The Man hissed, taking a step forward, descending one of the stairs slowly. "You believed you could stop me, and it drove you further than any human would normally go." he pointed out, "Even though you were nearly alone, and even though all hope was lost. You still managed to make so much progress despite your setbacks. Is that not a testament to the strength of pure willpower?"

"Don't you understand?" Carla shook her head, "Now your Stupid dream is over! You'll never put Vampires on top of Society, you'll never have a Vampire state-"

"Is that truly what you believe I want?" Bear tilted his head, taking another step down. "Do you believe that all I want is power? Control? Fear?" Samantha gave a sideways look at the Vampire, though still keeping her focus on Torval. She didn't want Nightfang to make any clever moves. "You really think that all of this is just a petty power play?" He chuckled, lowly, at that, and took another step downward. "That disappoints me. You know, I had truly expected you to be a bit more... forward thinking than that." Carla took a way step back, uncertain of whether or not Bear was advancing in order to attack. "By now you should know that power is not what I'm searching for." It did make sense – who could possibly need more power than what he already possessed?

"What are you saying?" Carla winced, tensing even further. He took another step, and she shifted the position of her arms, making it so she could draw her dart gun much easier. "What is this about? The Group you split apart from? Some delusional philosophy? What?" Carla shifted again, the pressure weighing more heavily on her. She could feel Panic growing in the corners of her mind, could feel it fizzing beneath the surface like a pot of water threatening to boil. "Why Vincent, Why the Merpeople? Why the warehouse? Why did you do the things you did?!"

Bear shook his head slowly, now truly disappointed. He wasn't here to explain anything to her. And even if he had lost, she could still pay for it. "Your time has come." He informed her coldly, and Carla reacted, Pulling out her gun in a second. As she whipped it forward, she readied to track his movements, expecting him to be on the move already. Instead, she saw that he was merely standing where she was. Confusion flashed through her mind for a split second before she realized that he didn't have to move – Samantha blew in over from her side, snatching the gun out of her hand before she could even get her finger on the trigger. Bear was there in an instant, and she saw that if she had needed to fire, she would have failed anyways. He grasped her neck Gently (for a vampire), lifting her up and snarling, Shock and horror gave way to pure animal fear, instinctive terror at the fate that awaited her. This was it. Her entire life, her entire pointless, deluded life, had led up to this. She had accomplished nothing. She had achieved nothing. "Goodbye, Detective Valenti." Bear hissed, and brought back his claw to strike.

But the blow didn't come. Surprise and pure, raw shock passed over his face suddenly, and Bear fell to his knees, dropping Carla. She collapsed to the ground in a heap and stared up as Pete Vincent pulled the stake out of Bear's Back, triumphant, Heroic, Effective at last. Pete Vincent who had knocked over the bottle and broken it, using a shard of glass to cut himself free. Pete Vincent who changed things. Pete Vincent who was saved by Carla, who saved Carla, and who saved himself as well.

"God he's an annoying bitch." Vincent muttered, shaking his hand as if to shake off the pain that lanced through it. Samantha's face twisted in Anger, and she began to charge the Rocker, but she barely made it a few feet before Torval caught her by the neck and flung her to the Floor, her head cracking against the Crystal surface. Amazed, relieved, and still in complete disbelief, Carla stared up as she slowly pulled herself together, looking between the two, then turned to look at Vincent as he spoke. "Not too late to change something... huh?" He asked, blinking blearily in the face of hope.

"Never." Carla smiled faintly, and for the first time since Tyler died she felt like maybe things would be okay again.

--

You tried to make me better.

I didn't see it at the time. I never understood, that's my curse. I never understand things until they don't matter anymore. I didn't understand that you weren't trying to get something from me. You were trying to give something to me. You were trying to make a difference. The one thing I could never really do.

I loved you. I still do. I didn't know how to say it, but I believe that you knew that I did, that you found out that night when words didn't have to be spoken. I would give anything to be back to that night, even fore just one more second. I would die.

So here I am. Sweet Child Reprise. I don't know why I did the shit I did, but I want you to know that the only thing that was ever in my heart was my desire for you to be happy. That was all.

I know I hurt you. I know that the worst thing in my life that I did was making you feel pain. I wish I could take it back. But I'm weak. I was weak then, and I'm weak now. But I believe that you forgave me. That you never held it against me. The only thing you wanted to share with me was that, that you had let go. You wanted me to see that it was possible. You wanted me to let go too.

I know that I should say that I will never get over this. I know that you died because of me, and that now I will live with that forever. But I will always love you, and always cherish you, and because of that, I have to do the only thing you ever wanted me to do. I just have to. I have to forgive myself. I have to let go.

Alex...

You made me better. You tried, and for you, I'll do it.

I think it's time to move on.

- -

Straight Locks of Brown hair unmolested by the hell the night had been, a large, unnecessarily pronounced bust alwayz kept in frame, and a made-up, empirically attractive but objectively ugly face loomed out from the void.

"And Now The News.

"The City is still reeling from the riots of last night and early this morning that left over Five Hundred Citizens dead and ended with the Merpeople prisoners freed and at large.

"Early reports are suggesting that this entire series of events, including the now-debunked scandal implying government knowledge of the Mermaid attack Prior to it's occurrence, was brought about by the same Terrorist group that kidnapped musician Pete Vincent and staged an explosion at the Ohio Street Warehouse earlier this month.

"Pete Vincent, missing for over a week, has been been found and is alive and well. A Press release sent out by his Record company has announced a Concert in the Park this Evening, and that his tour will continue as soon as a new Schedule can be completed.

"In the Wake of these events, very little information has emerged regarding it's Catalyst, but Insiders are reporting that the leader of the Terrorist organization, Marcos 'Bear' Allende, has been killed by police forces.

"We'll be following this Story and giving breaking news reports as it develops."

--

In front of the Whitcomb Mansion, August 24th, 11:14 PM

"Alright folks, you've been great. I hope he doesn't mind, but I'm gonna have to borrow a play from Sir Elton John's playbook to finish this out in style. I'm sure he'll understand"

Pete Vincent took his seat behind the Piano and cracked his fingers, starting low.

Samantha stared at the wall of a Cell, her last play having been countered and beat. She shouldn't have gotten Greedy, shouldn't have gotten bold. She had thought that her Power could buy her more power. And now her power was useless.

"When I think of those East-End Lights... Muggy Nights, Curtains drawn in the little room Downstairs..." His Voice high and Clear, echoing out over the large fields of the park, the crowd massive, the crowd full. Carla stood far off, where the Crowd became sparse, Leaning against a pole and watching with a silent smile on her face.

"Prima Donna, lord, you really should've been there...

Sitting like a Princess Perched in her Electric chair.

And It's one more Beer, And I don't hear you Anymore...

We've All Gone Crazy Lately – My friends out there, Rolling 'round the basement floor..."

"OoooooooooooOOooo...."

Osbourn shook his head, putting his hands in his pockets and starting away down the sidewalk, silent. Was that really how it worked? Was that really all it took? Could you dismiss it that lightly, that easily? Could you say, 'We've all gone a little bit Crazy, but I love you. Let's start fresh and take this a little bit slower'. He'd tried so many times, tried to be the Husband he needed to be. But the world was full of Monsters, and he was one of them. He couldn't dismiss what had happened before, because it had made him what he was now, and there was no changing that. There was no getting better. He took out the phone as he walked, looking down at it with his Sadness contorting his face, and for a second he saw his reflection in the blank screen before it lit up. He didn't have to call her. She was calling him. He brought the Phone up to his ear and spoke, Quietly.

"Gabrielle... I'll grant you the Divorce."

"Cause someone Saved my Life Tonight, Sugar Bear...

Y'Almost Had your Hooks in me, Didn't you dear?

You nearly had me roped and tied....

Altar Bound, Hypnotized!

Sweet Music Whispered in my Ear," Pete Vincent Winked down at Carla from so high above, from so far away, seeing her even from the Distance, and she smiled, warmed a little bit, but feeling so much warmer for the Cold that preceded it.

"You're a Butterfly!

And Butterlies are free to fly, Fly away...!

Fly Away, Bye Bye..."

Harvey smiled sadly, a tear rolling down his cheek. Maybe this all ways his fault, maybe it could have been avoided. Maybe he did deserve to be punished, but maybe he didn't. Maybe things didn't have to be so bad after all. Someone had Saved Marti. Maybe, no matter how bad it looks, anyone can still be saved.

"Never Realized the Passing hours of evenin' showers,

Slip noose hanging in my darkest dreams..."

The Chorus came in behind him like angelic hosts, Drums kicking it home.

"I'm Strangled by your haunted Social Scene, Just a pawn outplayed by Your Dominating Queen...

It's Four O'clock in the Morning, Damnit,

Listen To me good -

I'm sleepin with myself tonight!

Saved in Time, Thank God My Music's Still alive!"

And his music washed over the Crowd, bright and beautiful, and he cried out again, singing, the Chorus winding through their minds, their hearts, their ears. That they deserved to fly, that they all did.

And in a hospital Room, miles and miles away, Donna stares at a Picture and for the first time in years she sees the faces of her family instead of the Faces of the dead, and she cries, cries for freedom and for emptiness and cries, to plead for something to live for, For some way, any way to live.

"'n' I would've walked head on into the deep end of the River...

Drain into your stock and Bonds, Payin your HP Demands forever...

Comin' in the morning with a truck to take me home, Someone saved my life tonight...

Someone Saved my life tonight!"

And he sings it out over the Crowd again and again and again, murmuring in it's depths, rising with it's heights, and Carla sighs, giving a nod and turning. She saved him, she saved Pete Vincent. And Pete Vincent saved her. Maybe that's all it takes. Just that will to see something in the world and step up to it. To change something, no matter what it is, and to take pride in the fact that you made it better. Maybe it doesn't even have to be fixed. Maybe nothing is really broken in the first place, just perfect for a different thing. Maybe the time to find out who she was, to take the time to Make herself something, was now, not when things have settled down and life is back to it's old perfect state. Maybe all it takes to act of your own volition, to act with initiative, wasn't Having something that 'deserves' to be acted on, but just having the desire to act on something. And she had that. She had that in spades.

(Someone Saved, Someone Saved, Someone Saved my Life Tonight)

Like Osbourn, she paced away, starting into the buildings and taking out her phone, dialing a Number. She listened to it Ring, again and again, getting nothing back but not being dissuaded. At last it shifted to an Answering machine, and she cleared her throat, feeling no butterflies in her stomach, no doubt, just serenity and Resolve.

(Someone Saved, Someone Saved, Someone Saved my life Tonight (Someone Saved my Life))

"James." She said, after the beep, and inhaled sharply, "James, I want to talk to you. I-..." She frowned, glancing back over her shoulder before striding onwards, along the sidewalk, past stoops and alleyways. "I think that all it takes to change your life is the will to do it. I've been waiting for a long time, but I'm done waiting. I'm ready." Still no uncertainty or discomfort, she was amazed to find, and she strove on, undaunted. "I want to talk to you, I want to see you. I... I want to be with you, James, and I want to make that happen. So I'm coming to you, Okay? I'll see you soon." She hung up, looking down at the Phone with Certainty.

"Someone saved, someone saved, Someone saved my life tonight!"

"Someone Saved, Someone Saved, Someone Saved my Life Tonight!"

9/27/2012 . Edited 9/27/2012 #8
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