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I'm on South LaSalle Street in the Loop doing my best gargoyle impression while wishing I was back home.

Here's the situation, a bunch of armed whackjobs have taken over the Rookery Building, taken a bunch of hostages in the process. They'd shot up a squad car with some serious fire power but as far as I can tell no one had been hurt yet. So the cops have the streets sectioned off, keeping people out while trying to negotiate. Knowing the Chicvago PD they were stalling while getting the SWAT team ready to breach and take these guys down.

Bad idea. I don't know the exact statistics but every time the cops show up to a thing like this the chances of bystanders getting hurt goes up by a lot. Stray bullets from the cops and the crooks don't discriminate.

Hell of a time to have this happen, at high noon.

Me and the cops, we aren't exactly pals, but ever since I took down the Council of Crime three months back they'd given me a lot more leeway. Turns out even they can't spin taking down the heads of the biggest crime syndacites in the Mid West as a negative.

Anyway, we can get into that later. For now my attention is fixed on the glimpses of armed men in the windows of the Rookery Building. It's a nice building, old school brick and mortar with those Roman style colums that give architects a boner. It also housed US Bank. Maybe this was a bank robbery gone wrong. Maybe not. So far they hadn't made any concrete demands other than sending the cops out to get an order of Fatso's burgers. If that was their last meal they could do a lot worse.

But I wasn't planning on having anyone die today.

Oh yeah its been a while. The name's Hotspur. I'm a superhero working on keeping Chicago safe. So far so good, right? The city is still here, more or less. Things are going kind of crazy all over, but when hasn't that been the case.

My calves are starting to complain as I sit in a squat overlooking the street separating me from the Rookery. Cop cars line up and down it, nervous cops taking shelter behind their engine blocks as a detective tries to organize something with the men inside. The heat wasn't helping the situation any. Spring had hit hard as an early summer, a stinking kind of heat made worse by the dense packed city we called home. Down there the detective is trying to sort something out but between the sweat stained pits building under her arms and the squint in her eye I could tell her patience was running out. I know the detective, most of the time she liases with the DPA, the Department of Paranormal Affairs. Bohauer. Despite being part of the DPA goon squad rounding up innocent para-folk on dubious charges, she's okay.

Even her usual good humor though is being tested, and being a fat, bulky woman the heat had to hit even more. I know I was sweating in my suit.

And her being there meant the DPA's pet super hero was there too.
>>
Semper Fi hovered overhead, arms crossed. Perfect blonde Barbie doll Semper Fi in her white dress and gold half-cape, her picture perfect Aryan looks hid a steaming at the ears psychopath that if given the go ahead would redecorate the inside of the Rookery with a coat of blood and guts. She was almost as bad as sending in the SWAT team. Last time we'd come to blows I'd shattered her leg. It had healed up since then but I doubt she'd forgotten or forgiven.

All we were missing was good old Agent Penderose, but unless one of these bank robbers pulled a super power out of their ass I doubt he'd waste his time on something as mundane as this.

My calves are complaining a little more. I could be home right now getting ready. Cause its my birthday today, I'm turning sixteen. And I could be there instead of being down here ready to risk my life to stop a bunch of shmos, both the ones in the bank and the ones with the badges, from killing a bunch of people.

Sometimes I think I'm the biggest idiot in the city.

I stand up.

Above me Semper Fi starts to circle down, the skirts of her dress fluttering, the toes of her thigh high boots hovering an inch off the roof of the building I'm on top of.

"Well if it isn't the boy hero," she didn't hide her contempt up here, where the cameras couldn't see. She had to play nice in front of the media now, I had good PR going for me, but neither of us believed it had changed anything. "Going to crash in and make a mess of things again?"

"You're a real peach, Fi," I said, "What, disappointed your bosses won't let you play judge, jury and executioner? They've been keeping you on a leash since your last fuck up."

A flitter of rage across her face made me think for a second we were going to throwdown here and now, but it settled into the practice morning news smile.

"Oh, my leash is longer than you might think," she said, "And mud washes off. Blood too."

Her threats were never particularly subtle.

"Well I've enjoyed the chat," I said, "We both have better things to do."

>move on the building and bank robbers, get it over with and go home
>maybe now was time for an olive branch, ask Semper Fi to help take them down
>coordinate with the cops, if only to keep them out of the way
>>
Previously on With Great Power Quest: http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive.html?tags=With%20Great%20Power%20Quest

(I'm back for now and will try to get back to a regular schedule. Unfortunately I lost everything I'd done for the Rites of the Red Wizard spin-off, not being able to archive it due to suptg's site migration. I decided to jump back into With Great Power rather than continue with the spin off for my own mental energy reasons.)

(Sorry about the hiatus. Hope you guys are still down for continuing Eric's journey.)
>>
>>5115102
>coordinate with the cops, if only to keep them out of the way
welcome back bp!
>>
>>5115102
>>move on the building and bank robbers, get it over with and go home
>>
>>5115102
>coordinate with the cops, if only to keep them out of the way

Welcome back!
>>
>>5115102
>coordinate with the cops, if only to keep them out of the way
Almost scrolled right past the thread with the sick new OP image!
>>
>>5115167
a big thanks to one of the players who comissioned it
>>
>>5115167
>>5115115
>>5115109
locking in
>>
I gave Semper Fi a little salute I knew would make her seethe before dropping off the roof, hurtling down to the street below. Floor after floor of the office building streaked by, the ground spreading out before me coming to life with intricate detail. A few faces looked up, pointing. They weren't happy.

The hurtling speed made me laugh behind my mask, the power throbbing through me burning bright.

The top of a squad car collapsed inward at the force of my landing. The shock up my legs was muted by my powers, the nameless energy that let me do impossible things coursing through me.

"Jesus Christ Hotspur!" Detective Bohauer said, whipping her phone down from her ear looking like she was fighting back a heart attack. Her plump cheeks were glazed with sweat, the top button of her dress shirt undone with her tie done away with. She reached for a cigarette in her coat pocket, hands shaking as she flicked her lighter trying to get a flame. "You'll kill a woman dropping in like that."

"Bohauer, this isn't your usual neck of the woods," I said, "What's the situation?"

"Fucked if I know," she said, looking up at the brown brick facing of the Rookery, "Armed intruders took over the building about an hour ago. They don't have any demands I can figure out, other than a lunch order."

"Anyone hurt?" I said.

Her chin set hard. "I don't know," she said, "This isn't my kind of gig but I'm the ranking officer on the scene. They caught me coming out of a boba tea joint a couple streets over."

"Black pearls and taro?" I said, checking the passenger seat of her car.

She gave me a look to quit the wisecracks.

"I'm waiting on an actual negotiator from the department while SWAT gets geared up," she said.

"Going in shooting is a good way to get people killed," I said.

"Yeah, so is sending in Captain Karen up there," Bohauer said, glancing up at where Semper Fi continued to hover, looking down on the mere mortals from a great height.

"I'm going to go in," I said.

"Figured," she grunted.

"Thought I'd give you a head's up first," I said.

She gave me a bitter smile. "That's a change," she said, "Has your DSA boss convinced you to start working with the law?"

"I figure its the best way to keep the boys in blue from putting a bullet in some poor bank teller," I said, "And Ms Grant isn't my boss. We just work together."

"Sure," she said, "Grant's been eating free off that Crime Council bust for months now, but you should know its got the guys in the organized crimes task force steamed. FBI too. They'd been working on warrants on all those cats for months, then you two swing in like wrecking balls and make them look like chumps. No one likes being left looking stupid."

"I'll send them an apology later," I said.

"It was a good bust though," she said, "Kudos."
>>
I shifted my shoulders, not comfortable with any of this. "Thanks."

News crews were starting to arrive from the main stations, the usual suspects. There were plenty of onlookers with their phones out too. Whatever happened here was going to be all over the news and plastered on every corner of the internet. Better not fuck it up.

"So its only you, not the rest of your Fire Watch buddies?" she said.

"Just me," I said.

"Shame," she said. She chewed on the inside of her mouth.

"We got a green light to move?" a uniformed cop asked hunkered behind his car, checking his shotgun.

Bohauer looked back to me, brow furrowed, drips of sweat trailing through the wrinkles. "Did you have some kind of plan, or are you going to go in swinging haymakers and hope for the best?"

>I go in swinging, you guys come in after and make the arrests
>maybe these guys will talk to someone who isn't a cop, let me negotiate
>write-in
>>
>>5115235
>>maybe these guys will talk to someone who isn't a cop, let me negotiate

If all goes sour, we just switch to the first option midway in.
>>
>>5115235
>maybe these guys will talk to someone who isn't a cop, let me negotiate
I can at least get the hostages to safety
>>
>>5115235
>I go in swinging, you guys come in after and make the arrests
We've got plans tonight guys
>>
>>5115254
>>5115244
alright let's go
>>
"Maybe these guys will talk to someone who isn't a cop," I said, "See if I can at least get the hostages to safety."

Bohauer shrugged. "You can try, but I don't know what leverage you've got to do that."

I put out my hand for my phone. She handed it over.

"You put those burger orders in yet?" a voice asked on the other hand.

"Sorry, the cops are busy getting your take out," I said, "The name's Hotspur, I was wondering if we could talk."

There was silence on the other end.

"Yeah we can talk," he said, "Why don't you come on in?"

I hesitated, checking over to Bohauer. She shrugged.

"Send the hostages out and I will," I said.

"Sure, we can do that, but you've got to come in first."

I didn't like the tone in his voice. I was also confident I could handle any tricks they had.

"Okay," I said, "I'm coming in." I handed the phone back to Bohauer. "Give me an hour."

She didn't like that, but she couldn't do much as I strolled up to the front doors of the Rookery. The glass had been blown out by gun fire, it crunched under my feet as I skipped into the lobby.

If the outside of the building was old school brick the inside was old school art deco, at least as far as I understood these things. There was an elegance to the place that didn't seem fit for gunfights, white walls with gold leaf inlay, almost Eastern I think. A couple of bullet holes had scuffed the fine white marble. I strolled through whistling, it was a nice place to get holed up at least. Might be worth coming back with my girlfriends.

Yes I have more than one.

There was no one I could see in the lobby, no one at all near as I could see. I wandered down to where a bright spot of sunlight shone through.

The building opened up to broad white steps sweeping up to a mezzanine beneath a big glass roof criss crossed with steel beams to make an elegant lattice work above the empty shop fronts that ringed the lobby. Some indoor plants had been chopped to pieces by gun fire, shedding needles and leaves across the smooth polished ground.

There was a man sitting at the top of the stairs sitting with a phone in one hand and an assault rifle in the other. There were others up on the mezzanine, looking down on me in the middle of the ground floor.

Every one of them was dressed up like they'd stepped out of the Revolutionary War. Blue coats with tails, powdered wigs, breeches and boots. Out of another damn century. And every one of them was wearing a rubber George Washington mask to go with it.

But instead of packing muskets and bayonets they had assault rifles, AR-15s or whatever, with tactical rigging over their costumes holding spare magazines and what looked like grenades of various kinds. These guys weren't playing.

The one sitting on the stairs put down his phone. He set down his gun too. I don't know if that mattered, his men surrounded me and had their weapons ready.

"Hotspur," he said, "I told you boys he'd come."
>>
The accent wasn't quite Chicago Native but it was familiar through the muffle of the rubber mask.

"Where are the hostages?" I asked.

"Safe," he said, "We'll send them out in a second. Most of them anyway. I bet a Coors Banquet it'd be you that showed up. One of my buddies figured it'd be the Misfit."

"Misfit doesn't work the Loop," I said, "You wanted to talk?"

"No, you wanted to talk," he said, leaning forward with a kind of smug sense of control I didn't like.

"I take it you aren't bank robbers," I said.

"Not exactly no," he said, "If anything we're the opposite of robbers. You can call me Washington."

"Okay George, so what are you? Only the cops outside are getting itchy trigger fingers and you've got a psycho in a cape circling overhead, if you want to get out of here alive your options are pretty limited."

"The tree of liberty must be watered by the blood of martyrs," he said, "And traitors," he added.

Oh great, not bank robbers. Not bank robbers at all.

"You got any demands?" I said, now starting to feel uncertain about this whole thing, "Who are you guys anyway? You got a name?"

"We're the Patriots," he said, "And we're here to liberate this city."

"Sorry but you don't look like Tom Brady," I said.

He laughed. Always a good sign when the guy with the gun had a sense of humor. No one else was laughing though. I heightened my hearing. Boosted up sounds and smells came flooding in. The clack of gun cases against chest harnesses, the straining of leather, the musk of baby powder and the sharp tang of cordite. The tip of my ear twitched on the sound of whimpering, someone else trying to shush them up. Hostages. In the stores the 'patriots' were standing in front of.

"So what do you want?" I said, "How are you planning on liberating the city? I've got to say the logic here is beyond me."

"It'll all become clear soon enough," Washington said, "You see this city is the epicenter of a problem, a problem that holds our entire country hostage. We mean to end the siege of Chicago by any means necessary."

I scuffed my shoe. "This is sounding awfully 'Humanity First'," I said.

"Those pussies," someone overhead said.

Washington didn't like that, and snapped a glare for silence. Discipline in the ranks.

"There's a war coming," Washington said, "We mean to end it before it starts. We'll send out the hostages, the human ones, but in return we demand the government reinstate mandatory detention on para-freaks. We demand the right to have our views told in the mainstream press, and an end to the lies spewed nightly by bought and sold 'journalists'. We demand the resignation of the para-lover mayor and governor."
>>
'Para-lover' wasn't how I'd describe anyone in the government, be it city, state or federal. Fire Watch had done a lot to sway public opinion in our favor and tone down the para-folk detainments but we were hardly welcome in City Hall, and there were still plenty of Humanity First recruitment flyers up around town.

"Okay, so that's step one of the plan," I said, "So why do you want me then?"

"Human hostages work on human governments," Washington said, "You, we're going to hold until your people surrender themselves to the government. If they don't surrender, and you don't cooperate, we'll put on a show for the nightly news. We'll shed first blood."

"And die right after," I said.

"Well, the tree of liberty must be watered with blood," he said, "It doesn't matter much where the blood comes from."

>send the hostages out first and I'll surrender
>okay that's nice and all, but it ain't happening (fight)
>>
>>5115363
>>okay that's nice and all, but it ain't happening (fight)
>>
>>5115363
>okay that's nice and all, but it ain't happening (fight)
Fuck that. These guys are nuts.
>>
It's getting late. I'll leave the vote open and get back to this tomorrow
>>
More like cuckspur lmao
>>
>>5115363
>send the hostages out first and I'll surrender
Getting the hostages out is the priority, if we fight now we risk them getting shot
>>
>>5115363
>send the hostages out first and I'll surrender
Very happy to see this quest running again.
Welcome back!
>>
Rolled 1 (1d2)

we have a tie so I'm going to roll for it

1 is start the fight now
2 is send out the hostages first
>>
>>5116403
let's rumble
>>
Well these guys are a brand of extra-strength crazy. So much for reasoning with them.

I took a quick count. Seven gunmen I could see, counting Washington himself.

"Okay that's nice and all," I said, "But it isn't going to happen."

I drew on my power then, channeling it through me until the white hot power flushed through me, singing through my veins I thought I should be throbbing with light. The sun shone down through the glass ceiling, a too-hot spring sun throwing its shining light across the white marble floor. With my senses boosted well past that of a normal human it gave the ground a luminous bloom.

"Figured as much," Washington said, getting up with his gun, "You think you can outrun a bullet, Hotspur? And I don't just mean for you."

A bolt slid back and I heard a hostage's whimper climb to a terrified wail. It quickened my pulse, heart drumming in my chest. The hostages were packed in up there, I could practically smell them now. Crowded into a single store front with one of the Patriots ready to open up on them. I swallowed, nerves started playing nightmares in my mind.

A lot of lives were on the line.

My calf muscles tensed, then bunched as I lowered into a squat.

"Well now," I said, "Let's find out."

A single leap and I was up on the edge of the mezzanine, landing hard on the railing in a crouch, a white aftertrail fading behind me. The rubbery detail of the George Washington masks came into view. So did their guns. I saw the herd of hostages behind a big man in his Revolutionary War get up. They were terrified, looking through the glass walls to me with desperate hope. Ordinary people not built for this.

"Where did you get the costumes?" I said as those guns swept up, "A community production of Hamilton?"

I leapt again, the burst of gunfire sweeping over where I'd been, chewing up the railing as I lunged over their heads, landing behind them and turning with a hook for the man guarding the hostages. It took him in the jaw, staggering him over. I grabbed the gun in his hands, wrenched it back as I put a kick in his guns, snapping the strap off his shoulders as he went down.

But taking down one gun totting nutbag didn't mean much when I still had six to go and hostages to protect in the mean time.

I snapped the gun apart in my grip.

"Okay," I said, "Let's rumble."

>roll 3 x 1d100+15 dc 75
>>
Rolled 54 + 15 (1d100 + 15)

>>5116455
>>
Rolled 33 + 15 (1d100 + 15)

>>5116455
>>
Rolled 73 + 15 (1d100 + 15)

>>5116455
>>
>>5116494
pass!
>>
I swung the stock, catching the first masked goon under the chin, ducked under the sweep of the next one's barrel. Gun fire burst overhead, followed by screams and shattering glass. It left me deaf for a hot second as I rose with an uppercut, slicing my fist into the side of his jaw, feeling a hard connection through the thin rubbery layer of his mask. He went down but before he could drop I grabbed him by the tactical rigging and 18th century coat fronds, and shoulder charged him into one of his friends.

One advantage to close in fighting like this is most people aren't crazy enough to shoot and risk hitting their friends. These guys were crazy, but they weren't that crazy.

I swept a leg and dropped an elbow, ending up on the ground for a sec.

Three months since the bust on the Council of Crime had been three months of training, not just in boxing but in Jiu Jitsu. My ground game had vastly improved. The guy I'd knocked down went for a knife at his belt, but before he could get it I had him in an arm bar and with a jerk popped his arm from the shoulder socket. There was no tapping out in a real fight, and I had learned how brutal these techniques really were.

Three down, four to go.

I checked in on the hostages. They'd backed up as far as they could in the store, crowding behind mannequins done up in the latest fashion with bullet hole accessories, down behind the botique check out. Terror shone in bright eyes as they shivered together in a protective herd, but no one was hurt that I could see.

Good, good enough anyway.

I stood up, adrenaline thrumming through me. nothing made me shake like dodging a bullet.

A quick burst had me ducking away and those hostages screaming in terror again. It wouldn't be long before the police said 'fuck it' and came storming in. I had to take these clowns down before that could happen. I rolled over crushed glass, the sharpest chunks lodging in my sleeves but none of them cutting through, rising up on a knee.

A flash of panic flittered through me. Every gun shot was risking a stray bullet finding an innocent life. I had to get this done and get it done fast.

"We could have done this peacefully Hotspur," Washington said, his goons moving across the mezzanine toward me.

"Yeah but where's the fun in that?" I shot back, my voice tight. I like to joke but I'm still scared, the adrenaline and the fear a highball cocktail pumping through me with the burning power. I could have thrown up behind my mask. I had to get this done before someone got hurt.

"You're a warrior, I respect that," he said, "You're fighting for your people, we're fighting for ours."

"Funny way of doing it," I said swallowing the sick taste in my mouth, "Attacking defenseless people. What, are you too much of a pussy to go at para-folk directly?"

"There's more than one way to fight a war," he said, "But killing you here will at least leave your side without one of their champions."

Bile burned the back of my throat. "You talk too much."
>>
They always talk too much.

I sprung up and over the railing, pressing my feet against the mezzanine wall, and with a flush of power shot myself across the open space between us.

I hit the first one before he knew I was coming, a human missile slamming into him. We went down on top of those broad steps. I rolled up to the next one, a gut shot bending him over, then a hip throw sending him rolling down the stairs.

Two left.

"One man taking down seven armed men," Washington was sounding nervous now, "Can you see why we're scared?"

I was done chatting now. The gun of his last goon found me between its iron sights, he pulled the trigger. But I'm faster than fast. I zigged when he zagged and it was all I needed to cross the ground. I slapped the AR-15 aside then slammed my fist into his throat, dropping him choking to his knees.

A truth we don't want to talk about is me getting through these bullet storms? A lot of it was luck. One false step, one hot second too slow or too fast, and my guts would be ventilated across these pretty white marble steps.

But I'm nothing if not lucky.

Now it was down between me and General Washington. The cops were coming for the door, SWAT.

"More will come to replace us," he promised, "You can't stop the Revolution."

This was really how I wanted to spend my birthday, taking down heavily armed nutcases.

I put up my dukes in a way would make my boxing couch groan.

"With respect Mr President," I said, "You're nothing but a speed bump in my day to day."

He went for his sidearm, spinning out a flashy revolver. I moved.

Three shots fired out as I weaved in.

One shot fired out from my shoulder, a straight cross. He went down.

Huffing I stood over him in his dandy coat, the rubber mask spun around backward on his head.

"Punk ass," I said, stumbling back as the fire eased out of my body. It left me hungry and tired, hollowed out in a way I can only compare to the feeling after sex.

It was finished, and this time no one died.

The cops came storming through the lobby as I took a heavy seat on the top of the stairs, the hot sun beating down through the glass roof.

It took a minute before the hostages started to emerge. About the same time Detective Bohauer came waddling up behind the SWAT team.

"Book 'em," she ordered, pointing to the unconcious men in revolutionary garn, then she chuckled, "I never get tired of saying that."

I gave her a tired wave.

"There's some media people outside looking to talk to you," she said, "Heck I think it might be every one of those vultures, its looking like a press conference out there."

"No one died," I said.

"You going to talk to them?" she said.

"No one died," I repeated, then pressed my face into my hands. No one died. I managed not to cry but my shoulders shook. Bohauer frowned down at me.

"You going to talk to the press or what?" she said.

>Talk to the press, playing the media couldn't hurt
>I'm sick and tired and just want to go home
>>
>>5116565
>I'm sick and tired and just want to go home
>>
>>5116565
>>I'm sick and tired and just want to go home
>>
>>5116571
>>5116572
locking that in
>>
"I'm sick and tired and just want to go home," I said.

She shrugged her thick round shoulders. "Fair enough," she said, then looked around, "Y'know you live your whole life in a place and never think to check out the sights until some assholes shoot it up." She chuckled. "So much for the light court."

Something in the name struck a chord inside me, an uncomfortable thought stirring up the memory of a dream, bringing with it an alien smell. Light court, the Court of Light where deeds were weighed and judgement cast. A snatch of a dream-memory that wasn't my own. I shoved it aside, not wanting to deal with anymore bullshit right now.

The 'patriots' were being cuffed while the cops cleared the way for paramedics to check the hostages. I got up, arms swinging tired beside me. A cop came huffing in with a couple bags of take-out in her arms, Fatso's written on the side.

"I got those burgers they wanted," the cop said. I snatched a bag from her hand as I went by, belly grumbling.

Outside the press was waiting in a swarm of microphones. I swept a look over them, pretty Priscilla Takanawa leading the pack, then took a step and shot up overhead, bounding into the sky to land on the roof of a distant skyscraper. When my feet hit the concrete I tucked down my mask and wolfed down one of the greasy burgers. Double beef patty with cheese, I sucked it down then did another, filling up some of the pit in my gut.

As I made my way home, bounding over the roof tops of the city, I thought about everything the last three months had brought.

Three months since we'd won big against organized crime in the city, I'd been worried taking down the heads of the biggest outfits in town would lead to a bloodbath with gangs fighting over turf, but the opposite had happened. Street beefs still went down but the crime families had gone quiet, laying low while their bosses were processed through the courts. We hadn't grabbed everyone, the Haitian was still out there, and so was Sullivan, head of the biggest outlaw biker gang in Illinois. Word had it in the power vaccuum the Haitian had brought all of the south side under his control, but that was a problem to deal with later.

With some help and a lot of work I was averaging As in school, and with the summer break coming up I was looking down the barrel of junior year. Mr Nfume had put me on as a small forward on the basketball team, I was way past being a fill in off the bench. For personal life I was making things work with me, Ayesha and Ivy. I think people online call it a polycule or something? I don't dig the term, but whatever we were called it was working. Things were going good.

So why did I wake up every morning with this pit of dread in my stomach?
>>
Maybe it was the dreams. I kept having this dream where I was standing on the Sears tower, looking out over Lake Michigan. The sky was gray and churning like a storm, but there was no rain or lightning, no wind. Just a churning sky moving in over the water. And this feeling like something pressing against my back. A sticky, nasty pressing, like something pushing through me, reaching through me to the churning gray sky.
It wasn't a nightmare, not exactly. I didn't wake up screaming or in a seat. But I woke up tilted, taking a lot to set my head right.

Maybe it was the unresolved things. Ixion, the DPA, the government black site doing experiments on para-folk, and who knew what other evils were going on out there. The Vanguard Army skirmishing with the cops and the Humanity First Militia, nothing serious yet but every time a little rougher, a little bloodier. The government mandate to detain para-folk had been lifted but it was only a temporary stay.

And we had a new governor and mayor, both elected on an anti-para platform, promising to bring my people into line. Then there was the mundane stuff way outside my control. Like climate change and shit. People were scared and nervous, the future didn't look bright. It was looking like there was no kind of future at all. It made the little victories feel like no kind of victory at all.

But right now I had a birthday party to get to.

My phone buzzed with a text. Dad wondering where I was. I hit my hideout and got changed. I tapped back a message.

Me - On my way.

West Side Chicago had a reputation but in my opinion it wasn't really deserved. I was rarely worried walking around the neighborhood and it had nothing to do with my powers. Folks from outside act like Chicago is a 24/7 warzone but that was far from the truth. Shit could get hairy, true, but it did it in bursts, most day to day was pretty normal, pretty quiet, and kind of good even with the problems of a fucked up city government and the rundown checklist of poverty.

I hitched over a chainlink fence, sneakers landing on the cracked sidewalk, scuffing my feet back home.

"Hey little man," D-Mark said, waving out the front of Luis' store, Smokey beside him with his head tucked puffing on a smoke. D-Mark wore his shelf-stacker smock, taking a beak from working inside, while Smokey had on his durag and chains. Smoke had put out a track went viral on youtube, and was starting to see some money.

"You guys hungry?" I said, lobbing them the bag of leftover burgers.

"I could eat," D-Mark said.

"Happy birthday man," Smokey said, waving me on.

"Thanks."

I got down my street and there were cars parked out the front. One had Indiana plates. An excited buzz went up my back, energy coming back to me.

I climbed the stairs two at a time, muffled voices up above.

Our apartment wasn't big, and when I got through the front door the frunchroom was packed.

"Baby bear!" Grandpa said, with a big bearded grin, Grandma behind him talking to Miss Flores.
>>
I was pulled into a hug before I could react, Grandpa shaking my shoulders before letting me go.

Miss Flores had on a fifties style dress with a flared collar that gave her strong housewife energy. She'd been living with us a while now but it was still hard thinking of her as someone other than my English teacher.

"Are the cousins here?" I asked.

"Couldn't make it," Dad said, coming out of the bathroom, "Uncle Tony is busy with work and the others are getting ready for the big move to New York." He didn't seem to mind and honestly neither did I. He went over to Miss Flores and hooked his hands around her waist, turning her around to put a kiss on her neck. Way too forward.

"Hey man," Rufus called from over on the couch, raising a can of pop with Hunter next to him, a couple other members of the basketball team around. Add the nerds in the corner, chad, Ben, and Annie. I hadn't expected any school friends, I didn't usually have people over.

I had a feeling I knew who was responsible for this.

"Happy birthday," her chin dropped on my shoulder and I looked back to see Ayesha smiling under a crown of dense black curls.

She had a warm, heart shaped face and a pretty round nose, soft dark skin and soulful dark eyes I could sink into. She hugged me from behind, holding close against me.

We'd gotten serious lately, almost to the point of...well. With everything we'd been through together it was hard not to be serious.

"Everything go okay?" she said, with the kind of unspoken meaning we didn't have to explain.

"Better now," I said, tired, my forehead pressed to hers.

"So you're Eric's girlfriend?" Grandpa asked, "Nice to meet you, I'm this little punk's pop-pop."

"Um," Ayesha said, flicking me a glance. How to explain to Grandpa that-

"Yo," Ivy said, stepping in from behind, "Sorry I'm late."

Ivy had her hair back in a long braid that swung down her back, a flannel shirt tied around her hips. Denim blue jeans and converse sneakers, to cool for this scene.

She came in without a invitation, right up to grab the front of my shirt and put on me a soft, long kiss that electrified the back of my head, my hands closing over her hips instinctively.

"Or, hum," Grandpa frowned as Ivy pulled back, leaving me with a blush.

"Happy birthday loser," she said, tapping my chest, then hooked a hand around Ayesha and pulled up against her, putting a kiss on her cheek. Ayesha blushed as much as I did.

It was a way to make an entrance I guess.

Even my normal life isn't that normal.

Grandma busied herself in the kitchen while Dad considered the table spread.

>make a proper introduction of my girlfriends to Grandpa
>you know what? let him figure it out
>>
>>5116714
>>you know what? let him figure it out
>>
>>5116714
>make a proper introduction of my girlfriends to Grandpa
>>
>>5116714
>make a proper introduction of my girlfriends to Grandpa
>>
>>5116760
>>5116724
locked in
>>
"This is Ayesha," I said. She gave a little wave. And this is Ivy." Ivy nodded her head. "They're uh, they're my..."

"I'm Eric's girlfriend, nice to meet you," Ayesha said, putting out her hand. Ivy said giving me a grin knowing how uncomfortable I was. Grandpa gave her hand a soft pump with a smile.

"And this is my...uh our girlfriend Ivy," Ayesha said, "Both of ours, we're um."

"We're all together," Ivy said, "A trio." She gave Ayesha the same grin. She liked it when we got uncomfortable, maybe too much. Her, she never seemed awkward about it, any of it. I loved that about her, her casual confidence.

Grandpa stared for a second, then nodded. "Well fair enough," he said, "I remember the sixties. Maybe don't mention it to Grandma though."

I never knew how people would take it. Miss Flores still didn't approve but she put on her best face as she swept over with a smile. Dad didn't approve much either and I'd rather not think about what the Carvers thought but we were lucky they hadn't locked Ayesha up with a chastity belt to boot.

"Happy birthday Eric," she said, carrying a tray of tamales over to the living room coffee table for my friends on the couch. "These are from Mrs Valdez downstairs. Did you have fun out with your friends?"

"Ah, yeah," I said. Miss Flores didn't know about the superhero gig. Better she didn't know. Grandpa did and so did Dad, but other than them and Ayesha and Ivy, no one else was clued in here. But a Mrs Valdez tamale was calling my name, so it didn't matter right now.

We got out from under the wing of the grown ups in the kitchen, over to our friends from school.

"Happy birthday," Rufus said, putting a gift on the table, "It's from all of us on the team."

"Oh yeah?" I opened the box to a fresh set of Jordans and underneath a Pacers shirt. I grinned. Got to rep Indiana where I could. "Thanks guys," I said.

"Oh yeah!" Ayesha said, "I made you something." She fussed with the pocket of her jacket. It was a jewlery box. "You know I've taken up carving," she said. I kept the wooden dog she'd carved for me everywhere I went. "So I thought you know, I'd make you something."

It was a little wooden sword, one of those double edged long swords. She'd come a long way from the little wood dog, there was a weaving pattern along the hilt and the blade seemed to have an edge. "I know its not exactly amazing but..." she rolled her eyes with an embarassed grin, "You know I had an idea and it made me think of you."

I swallowed, closing it in my fist. Squeezing it, feeling the hard wood. Fuck.

"Thanks," I said, a little choked up.

Ivy sat on the arm of my chair, playing with my hair, her smile promising a private kind of present.

"Man, thanks you guys, you didn't have to do all this," I said.

Hunter shrugged. "You're our friend, and with how things have been with you, we figured may as well. This is your first birthday without your-"
>>
"Shut up man!" Rufus said, slapping Hunter up the back of his head.

"Without Mom, yeah," I said, finishing it for him. I didn't mind saying it. Even if it hurt. Even if I wished she was there, just waiting in the bedroom to come out, waiting to suprise me. Sometimes it was like she was there, just out of sight, and if I turned fast enough I could see her. But she was gone, I knew that. I knew it better than most.

"You guys got plans for the summer break?" Chad asked.

Rufus shook his head. "Nah, other than kicking it by Nasim's pool. It's going to be a hot one."

"They're all hot ones these days," Chad said, more than a little depressed.

"I know Dad wants to go to Canada," Ayesha said, "We have family up there, but I think I'm old enough to skip out, have the house to myself for a few weeks."

I looked at her. This was the first I was hearing about a vacation.

"What about you, Eric, got plans?"

Images of all the shit I'd got up to over the last year played in my mind, a highlight reel in fastforward. Fighting bikers on the highway, breaking into Ixion and fist fighting a mech, the battle on the docks of the New Year's Day War, my run-ins with Houndmaster and a motel room exploding around me, the sword of a ninja-assassin trying to take my head, Ooze digesting still living men and women in his acidic goo of a body. Never mind the day to day street misery I saw while haunting the roof tops of the city.

You could pack a lot into a year when you had my nose for trouble.

"More of the same I guess," I said.

Seriously though, what was I going to do on my summer break?

>pick a major, secondary, and minor focus:

>take it easy, without school I had more time to spend with my friends
>summer was no excuse to slack, commit to training my fighting skills and my powers
>keep up investigating the goings on of the underworld, I didn't trust this quiet
>look into the supernatural side of things, maybe link up with the Red Wizard to figure out this dream
>these Patriot guys are trouble for the para-folk community, and there was more trouble coming

I'll be back tomorrow

maybe I should put up a recap thread or something
>>
>>5116860

>primary
>>summer was no excuse to slack, commit to training my fighting skills and my powers

>secondary
>>keep up investigating the goings on of the underworld, I didn't trust this quiet

>minor
>>look into the supernatural side of things, maybe link up with the Red Wizard to figure out this dream
>>
>>5116860
>primary
>these Patriot guys are trouble for the para-folk community, and there was more trouble coming

Gotta nip these assholes in the bud before someone pulls off an Oklahoma city

>secondary
>take it easy, without school I had more time to spend with my friends

Gotta live life

>minor
>>keep up investigating the goings on of the underworld, I didn't trust this quiet

Keep an eye on shit
>>
>>5116860
>look into the supernatural side of things, maybe link up with the Red Wizard to figure out this dream
Major because last time on red wizard Z he was investigating some pretty big problems that might have gotten worse or better without our support, either way we're his boon and we've been slacking for a while

>these Patriot guys are trouble for the para-folk community, and there was more trouble coming
Secondary because nipping this in the bud will hopefully help.

>summer was no excuse to slack, commit to training my fighting skills and my powers
I want to investigate the underworld but they're cornered rats right now, they might do something drastic if we push
>>
>>5115099
>>5115177
Glad you're back bullpen, I'm happy you found a use for the commission
>>
>>5117008
>>5116919
>>5116869
three different votes and all pretty scrambled, but I think I can parse something

primary: look into the Patriots and para-folk issues

secondary: look into the supernatural side of things

and minor: training
>>
sorry had a friend call me out of the blue. I'll have this up in a sec
>>
For a start there were these Patriot guys I needed to look into. Washington had mentioned a 'Revolution' and that they wouldn't be the last. If there was trouble coming for the para-folk community of Chcago, at a minimum I needed to give Queen Rat a head's up. It felt like we were constantly taking one step forward and two back. All the good will we were building, me and Fire Watch, could be undone by some other guy having an outburst and lashing out with their powers in public. Just last week this girl crumpled up a car with telekinetic powers, it was only luck that had kept the passengers from being crushed inside.

But if that was all I had to worry about I'd be lucky. There was some funky supernatural stuff going on too, stuff to do with the Red Wizard that I was connected with. Not just because I was his 'boon', a hand picked companion to aid him in his work, my powers were connected to something in that sphere too. This dream of a stormy sky off Lake Michigan wasn't the first or only weird dream I'd had, accompanied with the ghostly memories of some long dead warrior muttering in the back of my head. I hadn't seen Jimmy Green in a hot minute, I could stand to get a primer on what was going on in his neck of the woods.

And also I had to keep training. There was this looming sense of something coming, some threat or confrontation, and I needed to be ready for it. Whatever it took. Not just with my fists but my powers too. There were still things I didn't understand about it, and things I could do with it I'd only touched on. Things that were easier to do with the Stone, but without it was like grabbing at water and watching it slide through my fingers.

If I could find some time for real life in between all that, well okay. But I couldn't get distracted.

Which is a problem because both Ivy and Ayesha alone were distracting, together they were unignorable.

Of course I couldn't tell Rufus or any of the others about that.

"Kick back, enjoy the break," I said, about as much of a non-answer as possible.

"I'm off to science camp," Chad said, putting himself into the conversation, "Been going since I was ten."

"Nerd," Annie said.

"Aren't you going there too?" Hunter asked, and Annie blushed.

"I hate camp, always flares up my allergies," Ben said, "This year I'm spending it as a junior work experience intern at Ixion. My aunt got me in."

"I heard they do freaky experiments there," Hunter said, "Let me know if you meet a Frankstein."

"Frankstein was the creator," Annie said with a know-it-all bite, "The monster didn't have a name."

Hunter sighed, rolled his eyes.

"Will do chief," Ben said dutifully.

Ixion made my guts churn. Whatever evil they were doing I'm sure I'd find out about it eventually.

"Hey, when you're ready," Ivy said, soft just for me, "We've got a gift for you, something we've been meaning to give you. In private."

I swallowed, a thrill running up my arm.

Okay, I thought. Now there was something to look forward to.
>>
>>5115099
HE'S BACK!
>>
>>5117702
yeah.

but I'll have the rest of this update tomorrow. My return is being interupted by a friend having a bad day.
>>
>>5117735
Well shit, I hope it goes well.
>>
Hey Bullpen, I only recently got back on the board since I finally graduated college. I just want to say that you are a fantastic writer, and I have spent the past 3 days binging your work. A recap thread would be helpful, and I am looking forward to participating in this quest!
>>
The party wound down with a few more presents and a cake. By the time everyone left it was sundown. My grandparents were staying at a hotel in the city proper, watching grandpa try to figure out how to order an uber was something else, until Miss Flores took it in hand. I'd been worried about how Grandma would take Miss Flores, I know she could be a bit on the racist side when it came to Mexicans, so I was relieved they seemed to get along. She was making the effort, complimented her dress and her cooking, and kept the chit-chat focused on school which partially meant focused on me.

That part was embarassing.

"Eric is a wonderful student," she said.

"And he'd make a wonderful son too, hmm?" Grandma said with a sly smile for Dad as the grandparents went to the door. Miss Flores turned away before her blush took hold, putting her attention on packing up the leftovers.

"I'll see you both before you leave for Indiana," Dad said, ignoring Grandma's comment.

I said goodbye to my friends.

"Catch you in the break," Rufus said, fist bumping.

"See you guys," I said.

By the time they were gone it was just me, Dad, Miss Flores, and my girlfriends, with my cat Mangy curled up on the couch making little mews in her sleep.

"You girls got anyone coming to pick you up?" Dad asked.

"I was going to drive Ivy home," Ayesha said.

"That's right, you've got your license now," he said, "Think you can give the punk some lessons? Its about time he started learning."

"In my car? No way," she said, "Eric has a bad habit of breaking things. If he banged up my car my parents would kill him then me right after."

"Fair enough," Dad said. He stood there in between the living room and the kitchen, awkwardly looming over the three of us. "Anyway," he coughed, "I should do the dishes."

Now we were mostly alone, though not alone enough for the excited nerves playing through me.

"So," Ivy sat down next to me. Ayesha sat down on the other side. "Do you guys want to get out of here?"

"Oh, what do you mean?" Ayesha asked with an excited fake ignorance that made me tense up.

"You know, somewhere private," Ivy said, leaning on me, fingers playing in my hair, "Where it'll be just us."

Ayesha nodded, rubbing her chin. "Right," she said, leaning on me too, "A private celebration."

I swallowed between them, the both of them pressing in against me. This was a good turn around from the start of my day, after getting shot at by a bunch of terrorist nutbags. The nice hot press of their bodies. Oh boy.

We hadn't gone all the way yet, not all three of us. It was a bit too uncomfortable at anyone's house, our parents made it awkward.

"I was really worried when I saw the news," Ivy said, swallowing herself. Swallowing her fear, her blue eyes large up on me. "Every time I see you on the news, its like I get dizzy wondering is this time..."

"We both do," Ayesha said, as much to reassure Ivy as you, "But everything you do, we could never ask you to stop. The people you save..."
>>
"But someone has to save you too, right?" Ivy said, her hand starting to slide over my chest, "We both know what it takes from you. What you've seen, what you're going through. Or at least, we want to know. To help you carry it."

"Everyone's got their problems," I said. What they'd both been through...some of that I don't know if I'd be strong enough to deal with. Ivy had lost her kid sister and her parents were a level of awful I couldn't comprehend. The fact she wasn't the same kind of vain narcissist as them, despite her hard shell, said volumes about her as a person. And Ayesha had been terrorized, kidnapped and assaulted by villains who had done evil I could never unsee. The fact it hadn't dented at all her compassion, it was a kind of strength I could only admire.

They were both...amazing. How could I have ever 'picked' between them? How could I be arrogant enough to think I had a right to 'choose'? What, like they were starter Pokemon or whatever. Dumb analogy.

Ivy kissed my cheek, then Ayesha kissed the other, then they both hugged me from either side, joining arms.

"We're here for you," Ayesha said.

All the bullshit awkwardness didn't matter now, explaining our situation.

"You want to get out of here?" Ivy asked.

"Yeah," I said through the lump in my throat.

If Dad knew where we were going and what we were going to do he had the grace not to say anything as we slipped out the front door.

Getting there. Getting out of there and over to my hideout was more agonizing and exciting than anything I'd done as Hotspur, more terrifying as the day cooled into night as the streetlights came on outside and the sky darkened from shades of bloody crimson to the dark starless depths of night. I didn't care who approved or didn't approve. The both of them as anxious and quiet as I was.

In three months my hideout had gone from a cencrete floor in an abandoned warehouse to...a slightly nicer concrete floor. A mattress I'd dragged in to crash out on after hours of training now had a proper bed cover, a punching bag swung from a hook. I had a scavenged speaker with an ipod dock for playing music. There was even a chest fridge I kept stocked with whatever Luis was getting rid of. The windows had been covered with canvas. The whole place had been swept out.

At night the only light to see by was a couple of lamps we'd set up.

It still wasn't amazing, even by hobo standards. Batman wouldn't have thought much of it.

But we got in and I thought my body would pop with anticipation as Ayesha went and turned on the lights and Ivy went to the bed.

This was happening. For real.

We'd done everything but...and not together. The one time we'd got close had been the last time since, and now...

Ivy pulled up her shirt.
>>
"Happy birthday," she said, her cheeks pink, her smile coming and going in nervous flits as she unzipped her jeans.

Ayesha pulled her dress up over her head, letting it fall from her arms.

I swallowed then followed their example.

I have some nasty scars. I don't like seeing them. Some bad ones on my chest, the worst one on my belly. It had deformed one of my pecks, twisting it into an angry knot. I stopped at my belt buckle as Ivy unclasped her bra from the front.

"Having trouble with the jeans, birthday boy?" she asked, cheeks bright red but keeping that too cool grin on her face.

She was as nervous as I was, as we were. Ayesha slid off her underwear. I slid out of my jeans.

The three of us sat together on the edge of the crash out matress, not sure how to start, all of us blushing, grinning nervously, too excited to breathe properly.

"So I guess one of us should-"Ayesha said, but before she could get further I had my lips over hers. She fluttered for a second before the kiss was returned, a smooth long roll of her tongue on mine as my hand slid over her thigh and her hands squeezed over my chest, our hot breath mixed and muffled together. My hand slid up and our kiss broke on her deepening gasp. "That's...that's me!" she said. Her hand went down to my wrist and for a second I thought she was backing out, but when I went to pull my fingers away instead she held them there. "This is me," she said, our eyes locking, she swallowed, "Eric. This is me."

I stared as my fingers learned her. As her hand found me. As her eyes closed and she felt me there inside her, learning herself.

"Are we crazy?" Ayesha said, eyes fluttering open, bright and shining. Voice cracked, almost upset. "Is this wrong?"

I kissed the side of her neck, her ear, bit it lightly.

"Yeah," I said, "Yeah we're crazy. But it's not wrong."

I was sure of that as sure as I was of anything.

"I love you," she said it like she might start crying, "I love you both so much."

"I love you too," I said, voice raspy, I looked over to Ivy, "I love you."

Ivy pressed close, her arm around my neck to reach a hand over to Ayesha, encircling us both. I turned my face to find Ivy's kiss as she pressed against my side. Her lips were soft, warm, and hungry for comfort. When our kiss broke her lips moved on to Ayesha's. Their eyes closed, their lips locked, their tongues fluttering over each others. They loved each other as much as they loved me and I thought there should be some jealous feeling there but there wasn't. It wasn't even that it was hot, though it was. It could have been pornographic but somehow, some how it wasn't.

It was...it made me smile, the flame of my power waking up inside me.

Ivy pulled back and bit her lip, looking at me.

"I know what people think about me," she said, "That I'm easy or whatever but...but I'm not you know. I've only been with a couple of guys, a couple of girls, but none of them. I never...I never loved anyone the way I love you two."
>>
"I know," I said, "Of course I know. I feel the same way."

"I've never been with anyone," Ayesha said, "Not all the way. Even Malcolm we never..."

Ivy smiled, guided Ayesha close.

"We'll take care of you," she said, "We'll take care of each other, it's what we do."

Breathing hard to the point I had trouble breathing, we gathered back on the matress together, not sure how to really start except to touch each other, until finally Ivy...then Ayesha...Ayesha for the first time, and the way pleasure washed over her, then both of them together and me helping guide them, until finally somehow we were lying finished together, bare skin shining with sweat, overheat to the point of panting with the only coolness coming when Ivy opened the chest fridge and pulled out a can of pop, pressed the cool metal to her body then did the same for the rest of us, not even opening it to drink just letting the coolness and condensation soak into our overheated bodies in an effort to cool them down. And I lay there with the good empty ache feeling more alive than I ever had yet never more ready to die as the girls, the loves of my life, lay down with me, their heads nestled on my chest, and I didn't mind the weight or the way our sweat made our skin stick, as I was too tired to rise and I lay there, letting sleep find me, the best way I could have imagined crowning out my birthday.

I looked down on them, Ivy and Ayesha, their faces soften by sleep, warm with a kind of glow. And I closed my eyes.

The three of us lay there, clinging together against the dark.
>>
>>5118935
Thanks, I appreciate it. Anyway, I'll have the next update either Sunday or Monday. I'd never planned to run today except the session got interrupted yesterday.

Hopefully this scene didn't break any rules.
>>
>>5119200
It doesn't break rules, don't consider them anyways, only literal faggots complain.
>>
>>5119200
I think it's only hard-core that's banned, this is 4chan after all, a little bit of kink is expected
>>
>>5120892
No, its if whatever faggot complaining yells enough, it wasn't even smut.
>>
The first day of summer break and I had somewhere to be. I went alone.

The para-folk community was young, honestly it barely existed, and it had already been put through the ringer of political crackdowns and jumped up militia trying to hunt them down. Safety was something most of them had lost with their transformation and had been struggling to find since.

One of the few people who had done anything to provide that was Queen Rat. She'd put together a safe house out of an abandoned community center on the south side, until she'd been shot and it had been burned out. But with the help of Fire Watch they'd found a new home a couple hours outside the Chicago city limits. I don't like bouncing through the countryside, I'm more comfortable on city rooftops, but I could swing from tree to tree and make good distance and time.

It used to be a farm way back when. It still had a big red barn and the long, low built farm house, with tall metal grain silos keeping watch over an abandoned processing center. I don't know where she'd got the money to buy it, but now they were building it up, a row little cottages for housing the unhoused families who had to flee the city. It wasn't just para-folk too, the kids especially had come with a mundane sibling or parent, the ones who had been lucky enough not to be abandoned.

From what I'd been told they were careful about advertizing the farm, they didn't want a repeat of last time. And this time if the Humanity First set came around, they weren't planning on going on the run again.

One of Queen Rat's nephews, a guy who looked like he could have been a member of the Black Disciples, smoked near the gate with a hunting rifle slung over his shoulder. It was partially a front, I knew the guy and he'd never rolled with anyone serious, but he was serious about protecting his auntie and all the kids she'd gathered under her care. He wouldn't hesitate to bring the sights of his gun on anyone come to do them harm.

I'm not too wild on killing but I could respect it.

"Hotspur, been a minute," he said, "You here to see the old lady?"

"Touching base," I said, "Something's up in the city she should know about."

"She's in the garden with Boomer," he said, letting me through.

I strolled into the farm.

Work was going on, the sound of drills and hammers. Like I said, they were building little cottages for people on the farm grounds and they were building them by hand. It was interesting watching a collection of weirdos do their work.

Not just cottage, but half the field was being turned into a solar farm, solar panels being rigged up under the supervision of a greasy twelve year old girl in a jump suit and her robot buddy.

"Plug goes into socket, this couldn't be simpler, this is some basic plug and play shit," she cussed out a guy with skin the color of a pool of oil catching the sunlight, a rainbow pattern playing in a shimmer across his body.
>>
"Are you stupid or retarded? Let me know if I should keep up being angry or just feel sorry for you."

"The r word is a slur," he said, looking up from the cables he was hooking together, "You know you could talk a lot nicer to people."

"Yeah and you could suck the shit out of my asshole."

I shook my head as her robot, Lincoln, turned its visor face to me, keeping watch as I crossed by. I gave the robot a wave. It hesitated before waving back, robotic joints hissing as it did. It was good Remix had finally accepted Queen Rat's offer, though as I understood it she was 'only' here to help set things up before bouncing. Hopefully she'd stick around. I worried about her out on her own on the street. No matter how she tried to hide it behind an over-tough swagger she was still a kid with no idea where her next meal was coming from and terrified of being caught out in the wrong place by the worst kind of people.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun the frumious Bandersnatch!”

Pratfall stood on her hands as she recited the nonsense poem for a semi-circle of watching kids. They sat in what might have been a playpen or petting zoo once upon a time, their attention caught on the jester in her tight spandex, the bells on her hat jingling as she swayed on the spot, voice rising and falling in over-dramatic octaves.

"He took his vorpal sword in hand, long time the manxome foe he sought. So rested he by the Tumtum tree, and stood a while in thought!"

"What's a tumtum tree?" the lion boy, Owen, asked the four armed girl, Jenny. She shrugged while between them a frog-boy stared with bulging eyes at the woman capering from one hand to the other, her grin turned upside down.

I didn't interupt but watched for a second. Pratfall was part of Fire Watch, a superhero by night, a biochemist by day, and a clown in between. She waved at me with a foot.

"Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! Hotspur has come to visit us today!"

The performance ended with the kids turning to look back at me. Owen broke over in a run while Jenny stood. The other kids gathered behind Jenny with wide-eyed suspense.

"Hotspur, Hotspur!" Owen said, "Beat up any bad guys today?"

"Today? Nah, but I've been keeping busy," I said. Owen had it in his head he was a cadet member of Fire Watch. He flashed his fangs in a wide grin, amber eyes bright. Maybe he'd have a mane when he was older but right now he looked more like an upright lion cub than a lion.

"Oh, I've got a name for when I can join Fire Watch," he said, "What do you think of 'Primal'?"

"Cool name," I said.

"Jenny thought of it," he said, "She's good at thinking up names and stuff."

"Do you have a name picked out too?" I asked the four-armed girl. She blushed, putting up her lower hands.

"Nah-uh, I'm not interested in being a superhero," she said.

"Well you're both too young for it anyway," I said.

"Not for much longer, I'll be ten next month!" Owen said.
>>
I laughed but honestly there were people out there who'd laugh if they found out I was sixteen. "I'm looking for the old lady," I said.

"Our venerable leader? Carry on, good sir, she's in the garden," Pratfall said, flipping over to land on her butt, "Ow!"

I went on around the side of the farm house.

A chicken strutted over my path with a low 'bok', shaking its red wattle as it considered me with a beady eye.

I stepped around it. An open gate in a white picket fence cut off the garden from the rest of the farm.

By garden it was more like a square block of forest. Permaculture stuff, trees fast tracked by special powers to grow deep roots with hanging plants growing over their limbs, blankets of flowers covering the ground playing court for searching bees buzzing from bud to bud. Insects chittered all around in their early summer chorus, a cicada orchestra loud and droning. It added to the heat, which had already put a sweat under my uniform. This suit hadn't been built for heat, but it was bearable. More so under the cooling shade of the trees, cutting out the hot sun and adding its own cooling atmosphere to the surrounds.

It was a little pocket of primeval forest in the middle of flat farm land, as if I'd some how stepped into another world or back two thousand years in time.

"You've been a lifesaver," Queen Rat's voice.

"Just trying tobe useful," a familiar voice said, "My parents made it clear they don't...don't want me home."

"Hmm. You always have a home with us, Dane," she said.

I turned down the path to see Dane coming up the other way, his arm through Queen Rat's to offer her support.

Queen Rat had taken a high velocity bullet to the hip not too long ago. It had almost killed her, and it had taken months of recovery before she'd been out of the wheel chair and now she'd need a cane for the rest of her life. Other than that not much had changed. She still dressed like an aging hippy, her grey locs long and hanging over her shoulders. I'm pretty sure she was in her sixties. An injury like that would take a toll on anyone, never mind an old aunty like her. Her shadow, Boomer walked a couple steps behind, a man even older than she was, made mute by his powers.

They stopped and so did I. Dane had been a classmate of mine, a friend even, until his powers had manifested and forced him to go into hiding from the government. I'd helped him settle with Queen Rat's people but we hadn't talked much since.

He was also Ivy's ex-boyfriend. They'd been dating when he'd gone on the run. We hadn't talked about it, not really. We hadn't been able to, until recently.

"Hotspur," Queen Rat said, oblivious to the tension between us, "What a lovely surprise."

"Nice of you to say since I never bring good news," I said.

"Yes, but your presence is always welcome," she said with a kindly smile.
>>
I wasn't too sure about that either with the way Dane was avoiding looking at me.

"We have a lot to talk about," she said, "Boomer honey, could you go make up some lemonade? We'll take it in the sitting room." The old man grunted before going. He could talk, the problem was if he talked he'd blow out every ear drum in a five mile radius.

Queen Rat let go of Dane's arm. "Go take some time for yourself," she told him, "You worry too much."

>maybe I should settle things with Dane before talking to Queen Rat
>let him go, I can find him after we're done talking
>>
>>5123920
>>let him go, I can find him after we're done talking
>>
>>let him go, I can find him after we're done talking
>>
>>5123932
>>5123973
locked in.

there's plenty of time to talk to Dane later
>>
There was time to talk to Dane later. I followed Queen Rat back the way they'd come, around a bend on the track to a back porch with a table set up, shaded against the sun with vines climbing up the porch fence. There was a sweet smell of growing fruit in the air alongside the cicada chittering. I took a seat a small table. Queen Rat struggled into her own, wincing as she settled herself down. A rat poked its head from the sleeve of her shirt, the little yellow rat she kept close. It hoped over the table and sniffed at my hand.

None of Queen Rat's personal rats were dirty. They were clean, clever little pets, curious about everyone their boss took a liking to. This one scritched at my glove, demanding a pat. I stroked under its chin with a single finger as Boomer came out with a fresh jug of lemonade.

"We heard about what happened the other day, the hostage crisis in the city," she said.

Dramatic moments were mundane to me at this point. A week earlier I'd foiled an armored car hijacking, putting a couple of Sullivan's bikers in the hospital. It wasn't the hostage situation itself I wanted to talk to her about, but who was responsible.

"They called themselves the Patriots," I said, "And they made it clear they have an anti-para agenda. They said they wouldn't be the last. Said they were part of some kind of Revolution."

Rat Queen looked as if she had expected as much, stirring her lemonade.

"Have you talked with Nemesis lately?" she asked. Nemesis, the leader of the Vaguard Army, a militant group of para-folk. Frankly they were terrorists, having assassinated the governor of Illinois months ago. He was currently number one on the FBI's most wanted list. I had as little to do with him as possible.

"No," I said.

"Has Thunderchild kept you up on what they're doing?"

Thunderchild was a member of Fire Watch and the Vanguard Army. His membership in both was awkward to say the least, and had lead some in the press claiming we were all secretly part of a Vanguard terrorist cell. I didn't blame Child, after what he'd been through as a guest of the black site operation experiment on captured para-folk, but I didn't agree with Vanguard's methods either.

"We try not to talk about it," I said.

"Nemesis is planning something, or so he's implied," she said, "Something to do with that government agency experimenting on our people. A 'strike back'. One of his men came around looking for recruits. We sent them away, politely."

Nemesis and Queen Rat were...I don't know if friends was the right word but they were respectful of each other.

"I won't let what we're building here turn into a recruitment camp," she said, "For him...or for you."

"How are things going here?" I said, looking around at the old fixings of the farm house. It could use a fresh lick of paint. "How did you afford this place?"

"We've recieved some private donations," she said, "Not everyone wants to see us exterminated. There are good samaritans out there, even some with money."
>>
The idea of anonymous money backing her didn't sit right with me, but I didn't say anything. It wasn't my place.

"When we had to go to ground, after the assassination, many homes were opened up to us, hid us from the government," she said, "People are better than Nemesis gives them credit, better maybe than you do too."

"I've got no problem with people," I said, "Just the systems."

"Hmm," she said, sipping her lemonade. She wrinkled her lips. "A touch too tart."

She looked over her little patch of forest.

"As to this, we have some new faces around. A man called Arbor grew all this. He's planning on growing and selling produce so we can be a little more self-sufficient. He has a way of manipulating and stimulating plant growth. He's been a great boon. You might have seen Remix out there? She's put together a blue print for power generation, we should be completely sustainable and off-grid before the end of the month."

"You convinced her to stay?" I said.

Queen Rat shook her head. "I convinced her to hang around by offering a challenge, once its done she says she'll be leaving. She says we're twice the cult we used to be now we're on a farm." Queen Rat laughed. The bullet hadn't killed her self-effacing humor. "I hope she'll get enough used to a warm bed and fresh food she'll change her mind, but if she goes she goes. I've been talking to a friend in the city, we're putting together an outreach office to help more people put out of their homes, bring them here if they need it. Something to help kids like Remix before they end up in her situation."

"And here's me punching jagoffs in the head," I said, "You're doing more than I ever could, Queenie. Sometimes I feel what I'm doing is a whole lot of useless, like fighting a tidal wave."

"You have your own work, Hotspur, and you do it well/" she said, "We need builders to create a safe place and warriors to protect it, we need you if we're going to survive. If it weren't for you we'd still be hiding in basements and attics from the police."

"Speaking of warriors though," she said, "It's good you're here, there's someone I wanted you to talk to on our behalf. Have you heard of a new hero called 'Ironclad'?"

The name ringed half a bell but I couldn't place a face to it. There were all kinds croping up over social media, and not all in Chicago.

"I'm not going to let what happened repeat itself here," she said, "If the Humanity First militia shows up, or these 'Patriots', we're going to stand and fight for our home. But half the people here are children or their powers aren't made for fighting. This new hero, Ironclad, has been causing a stir. He's said to be a tough customer." He had a tough sounding name at least. "We could use someone like that, if he's willing."
>>
"If I have the time I will," I said.

"Now what do you plan to do about these Patriot?" she said.

"I need to gather some intel on them first," I said, "They aren't from around these parts."

"That's a good start," she said, "But after that, then what?"

I looked at my fist on the tabletop.

>take the fight to them personally, beat them down where they show up as a message to the rest
>I don't ping as a para-folk outside my costume, I might try infiltrating their ranks
>organize the para-folk community against them, even reach out to the Vanguard Army if I have to
>>
>>5124021
>>take the fight to them personally, beat them down where they show up as a message to the rest
>>
>>5124021
>I don't ping as a para-folk outside my costume, I might try infiltrating their ranks
Sorry I'm late, watching football all night
>>
>>5124021
>>take the fight to them personally, beat them down where they show up as a message to the rest
>>
>>5124021
>take the fight to them personally, beat them down where they show up as a message to the rest
>>
>>5124092
>>5124090
>>5124025
locking that in
>>
"Find out who they are, where they are, and beat the shit out of them," I said with a shrug.

As plans went it was simple, and sometimes simple was good enough.

"Do you think that will work?" she asked.

"Do it enough times and it will," I said, "At least it'll keep them out of Chicago."

"More para-folk are appearing country-wide," she said, "Even in Canada. I'm afraid as our numbers increase our problems will too."

"I can't take care of the whole country or the world," I said, "All I can do is take care of my own backyard."

"Hmm, fair," she said, beginning to stroke another of her rats as it lay down in a sun spot on the table.

Gathering intel on the Patriots meant talking with my contacts, namely Ms Grant. We hadn't had a sit down for a while. Things had been quiet on the crime front and since the election she'd refocused on cornering corrupt politicians. I'm pretty useful in a streetfight, but pouring over reams of paper work looking for discrepencies in funds? No, I'm not built for that.

"Again, if you could speak to Ironclad, we would appreciate it," she said.

I nodded, getting up. But before I talked to Ironclad I had to talk to Dane. There was something we needed to sort out, to clear my conscience and put some drama to rest.

"You guys be careful of these Patriot guys," I said, "Be careful."

"We try to be," she said.

I strolled back down the way we'd come, enjoying the shade of the trees. Little black birds hopped from branch to branch, tilting their heads side to side as they watched me pass beneath them. It was a nice place, quaint. I could already imagine it in flames, the excited laughter of the armed militias ringing down the way as they hunted the inhabitants for sport.

I didn't blame people for being wary about our kind. What we could do could be scary, and there were plenty who either had no concern for human life or no control over their powers who ended up doing a lot of harm. But there were more, much more, who were just ordinary people with a near useless mutation just looking to be left in peace. And for every ten 'normal' people who had a valid concern about us there was one waiting with a gun, a noose and a hard on, looking for an excuse to let the animal out and do who knew what in the name of 'defending' their own.

Heavy thoughts made for heavy steps. I passed a greenhouse out of which stepped a man in denim coveralls and timbs. It took me a second to realize it, his skin was covered in a hard bark with a whirling pattern across it, his hair long thin leaves yellowed by the sun. He had vaguely Latin features and the bark groaned like a tree limb caught in a hard wind as his lips twisted into a smile. He waved, showing green vines encircling his wrist and the back of his hand, fleshy veins standing out in ridge lines against the bark-skin. That must be Arbor. He was a short, broad man, naturally cheerful.
>>
"Hey, you're Hotspur right?" he offered me his hand. I shook it. "Heard a lot about you, seen you on the news. I'm Enrique, well, they call me Arbor now."

"You're the grower," I said. Something about him was familiar. Not him exactly, not personally, but something...another one of those ghost memories, of gardens under starlight and the gardeners who kept them. I shook it away.

"That's right, got an apple harvest coming up," he said, "You could call it having a green thumb, but with my powers I can produce a full crop yield in a week, more or less. Apples, wheat, corn. Got some sorghum coming up, my first attempt."

The farmers of Illinois were going to hate him.

"Have you seen Dane?" I said, "I was hoping to talk to him."

"Dane? Yeah, I saw him head down to the creek," he said, pointing to a stand of water on the other end of the solar panel field. "You two are buddies or something, right?"

"Something like that," I said, stalking the path he pointed.

I found him sitting on a rock, contemplating a long string of water winding up north, trees throwing shade across it. It must have been a split off from the Calumet, winding down to a final pool pond on this land. Dane didn't say anything right away. He snapped a grass stem in his fingers, threw it out over the water.

"Yo."

It was as good an opening as any.

"What do I call you now?" he said, "Hotspur, or Eric?"

I twitched behind my mask. "Better not to use my name where people don't know who I am," I said.

Dane nodded. "Must be good, getting to hide behind a mask."

It was more than a little bitter. Could I blame him though? He'd spent months in hiding watching the world go on by without us.

"Everyone knows what I am now," he said, "My parents...they don't want me back. My older brother's offered me a place to stay once he's done with college but who knows for how long until the crackdowns start again."

"Yeah," I said, it was rough.

"You've gotten taller," he said, looking over at me, "I don't seem to be getting any older. I might be fifteen forever."

"Doesn't hurt Tom Holland," it was a dumb joke.

"You and Ivy, you're together now right?" he said.

"Yeah."

"Figures. Even when she was with me, I knew she liked you."

We both stared up the creek.

"If she'll cheat on me, she could cheat on you too," he said.

"It wasn't like that," I said.

"Sure," I could tell from his tone he was trying to sting me here. Part of him had a right to. "But when she does cheat on you, or if she does, what will you do?"

It's not a question I wanted to answer. He was bitter about things, and not just things involving Ivy. All this stuff had robbed him of the life he'd planned to live.

"You had to have thought about it," he said.

>Ivy won't cheat on me, I trust her
>break up with her I guess, maybe cry
>you're angry, that doesn't give you a right to be a dick

I'll be back tomorrow
>>
>>5124145
>Ivy won't cheat on me, I trust her
>But if it comes too it, we deal with ourselves
>>
>>5124145
>Ivy won't cheat on me, I trust her
>>
>>5124145
>>break up with her I guess, maybe cry
I mean yeah honestly we don't expect her to cheat on us, I feel like the first answer is how we feel internally, but also, if somehow we were wrong, probably be pretty emotionally hurt by it
>>
>>5124286
>>5124156
locked in
>>
"Ivy won't cheat on me," I said, "I trust her."

But if she did we'd deal with it ourselves. I did trust Ivy though. I'd put my heart in her hands and she'd held it tight. I don't think she'd hurt me, not deliberately. Everything about our situation, her, me, and Ayesha, was because she refused to hurt either of us by picking one over the other.

"If she'll cheat with you, she'll cheat on you," he said, repeating that bit of internet wisdom echoed in every relationship thread since time immemorial. I didn't buy it, he was just looking to start trouble to salve his hurt feelings.

"We could have gone about this better," I said, "Both me and Ivy. It's my fault for not being honest when you told me you liked her, or when she told me she was thinking about going with you. If you're going to be angry with anyone, be angry with me."

"Oh I'm angry with you, Hotspur," he said, "It must be nice having everything fall in your lap. Super powers, the girl of your dreams, fame and fortune."

Fame maybe but there wasn't any fortune coming my way. Dane getting on my case was starting to cross a line. If he'd been through what I'd been through he wouldn't be so quick to talk about how 'nice' my life is.

He sighed. "The problem with my powers is I don't sleep," he said, "Gives me time to think about things, sometimes too much. Thoughts fester. I don't get tired, physically or mentally. I don't get much of anything."

"Maybe you should try to do something with that," I said.

"I've been trying," he said, "Reading a lot. Working. I'm not very strong but not getting tired means I can do a lot of the boring, tedious stuff around the farm, and I can keep watch on the night shift. We've hooked up security cameras all over the place."

"That's good."

"I wish I didn't get bored too," he said, "But I do get bored. Sitting by myself wishing I could sleep so I could have a dream or just not have to...deal with my own thoughts for a second. I tried drinking but I don't get drunk and it just makes me feel sick, eating and drinking."

"I jumped in a pool once thinking I could..." he didn't finish the sentence. He looked up at me, the harrowed look adding years to his face. "I'm scared about what my powers mean, Eric. I think I...I might be immortal. I don't know what that means but everytime I think about it my thoughts go to bad places and I...I watched a video once on youtube about cosmic entropy and the death of the universe. If I'm immortal will I live to see the stars turn to iron and the universe come apart at the seams? Will I see the universe become a swarm of black holes, with all that's left alive waiting out the end clinging to their orbit while it all fades out? This is what I think about at night. Stuff I can barely imagine."
>>
"Maybe you aren't immortal," I said, "Maybe you're just immortal-ish."

"Maybe," he got up from the rock, throwing the last of the grass stems in the water, "I need to help Vibe in the lab. You do what you do, Hotspur. I guess I'll see you around."

"Yeah," I said, knowing we weren't friends anymore as he scuffed off, dragging his feet. He had some heavy shit on his mind and everything with me and Ivy was only a small part of it. If he really was for real immortal all this would be a blip in his memory, not a second in a lifepan that could spin through billions of years. He was right, it was hard to imagine. I hoped for his sake he was wrong.

But we both had heavy stuff on our minds.

Me, I had the Patriots to deal with, as well as any other flavor of crazy that might come pouring gun-armed into the city. I also had to run down this Ironclad guy on Queen Rat's behalf, give him her pitch for joining their commune out here.

>meet up with Ms Grant for a briefing on the Patriots
>swing by the city and find this 'Ironclad' guy
>>
>>5125353
>>meet up with Ms Grant for a briefing on the Patriots
>>
>>5125353
>swing by the city and find this 'Ironclad' guy
>>
>>5125353
>>swing by the city and find this 'Ironclad' guy
>>
>>5125415
>>5125367
locked in
>>
I need to handle something here. I'll have the update posted tomorrow
>>
>>5115099
Man, it took me from last friday to today to read all the other threads until I catch up to this, and i'm in fucking love with it. Hell, it's a shame I didn't was present for the Red Wizard spin-off. Has something interesting happened that also affected the Main Quest of Hotspur? Like reading the first post make me wonder some things I didn't math

Also:
Fuck Kaylee
Anons should have given a smack to Misfit (and maybe Kaylee) for the shit scape they got into.
Anons shouldn't have told Kaylee about his identity right when they're going to get laid with her.
Carmen x Eric route sounded neat, but this route is actually nice and not actually for coomer reasons, I really like the relationship between Best girl Ivy & Ayesha.
I think we should train more our powers, if i'm right maybe we have something special aside from the demigod Poet Warrior King un us. Like for example that we can enhance our senses, but when training the first time with our powers there where things in the description that looked interesting. I say something like trying so that the light we left with our footsteps we could concentrate it to stick ourselves on things and also objects (something like Kaladin in the first Stormlight Archives book), or even concentrate it to make like energy mines, so that we get a punch in someone, the energy concentrate in them and then explodes into some non-lethal way to knock off enemies (or making a bulk in those power armors of Ixion)
Also see if we can get in contact with out boy Kemal, It looks to me that it really was taken aside from alot of things going on, maybe present him to Jimmy, who knows?
Take a visit to our GPS guy in prison with Luis. If I remember correctly we didn't make the questline of checking in her daughter (to which i'm confused about, because people said it was Jimmy's crush, but I thought that Andrew said she was 12 or 13.
Maybe we should have another visit with Dane. He isn't going to forgive us in the near future, but maybe trying to figure out something about his powers could help. Thought i'm scared of all the posibilities of it, like him having some weird vampire powers that could drain our Fire or someones energy to get his mortality back
Look out for Zeke. Him having his lonely spiteful ass not going to our party and be mad we're Ayesha's boyfriend, surely going to the Kid Friendly versión of Humanity First Military and relating Ayesha's support on Para-folk, it's just a bomb waiting to explode in any minute, adding Dane into the mix and not getting him to go over our relationship with Ivy and where fucked for sure. I'm sure there's some hidden summer camp in the Woods near Illinois gathering all the HFM sons members into brainwashing and handle weapons to "maintain the Chicago's streets safe from Para-freaks", and as a result having Zeke killing and hunting other Paras unless he fuck up with the wrong one.
Maybe talk about our visions and Dreams with Jimmy? Surely there's something in his pop's books
>>
>>5115108
Glad to have you back Bullpen, time for me to catch up
>>
>>5125585
>questline of checking in her daughter (to which i'm confused about, because people said it was Jimmy's crush, but I thought that Andrew said she was 12 or 13.
that was a continuity goof on my part
>>
Before I did anything else I was going to do Queen Rat a favor and check out this Ironclad guy. The sooner her commune was protected the better. My search was interupted by an outburst of screams up in Fulton Market, sitting on top of a pizza joint looking through glass windows across the street.

Some kind of hold up in an art gallery, abstract pieces visible on the wall but the real abstract art was the people doing the hold up.

Less goons and more ghouls, they had faces like melted wax and misshapen arms twisted into weapon-like shapes, forearms hammered into bone and flesh sword blades or hollowed out into crude cannon barrels. If they could see I don't know how since melted folds of skin covered the tops of their faces, and if they could talk it would be with great difficult since their lips had been melted into cobweb shapes. There were three I could see, these bio-ghouls, but there could be more.

Directing them was a white man in a neat suit, clean shaven with dark hair oiled back. I upped my hearing to catch what he was saying.

"-transfer the money into the crypto-wallet," he said, "No one else needs to be hurt."

His voice was mild, his eyes were dull, everything going on, the panic in the hostages he;'d taken, the bleeding man at his feet, didn't excite him.

I don't know who he was but I was ready to stop him, bunching my feet ready to crash through the tall window to take him out.

Life provides funny coincidences though. As I was about to move the roof rumbled beneath me. The twisting snap of metal as from a table at the pizza joint a guy got up. Metal pulled from a window frame smacked his raised hand and wrapped it, coiling around to his elbow. The same happened to the other, then from a parked car the hood ripped off and slapped him in the chest, warping around him to make a helmet and chestplate.

He threw down a couple of bucks as he got up. He hadn't noticed me but he had noticed what was going on in the art gallery across the street.

Ironclad was more literal than I expected. He was about six feet if he was an inch shorter, a white guy with shaggy blond hair. Twenty something probably. Older than me at least. He wasn't shy about his 'secret identity'.

"Excuse me," he told his date, a college student who stared with the metal straw of her milkshake stuck to her lip. A lot of folks stared as he strode across the street. Metal slapped around his shins making steel boots, and some quirk in his powers let him rise up, not flight exactly but a hover so that he rose up to the window of the art gallery.

"Flesh-Smith," he said with a kind of anger only repeated battles could bring.
>>
Hovering before it he raised a hand to the gallery window. As if pulling it with invisible strings he ripped the window out by the frame, twisting it up and sending a shower of glass shards down over the street. The metal frame twisted in mid-air to become a crude spear, a nasty barb of iron.

The bio-ghouls turned like dogs catching a scent, their boss turning with an eyebrow raised.

"Ironclad," he said, checking his cufflink, "Well this just got interesting."

>make it more interesting, help Ironclad out
>sit back and watch, see what Ironclad is about
>>
>>5126683
>make it more interesting, help Ironclad out
Things to do, people to see
>>
>>5126683
>>make it more interesting, help Ironclad out
>>
>>5125585
>>5126609
also thanks, I appreciate the support and glad you like the quest
>>
>>5126718
>>5126713
locking that in
>>
>>5126683
>make it more interesting, help Ironclad out

I know I'm late but I'm participating anyway
>>
It could be more interesting.

I leapt from the rooftop, landing in the broken cement hole that had previously been a window. Cool air flushed out of the room, air-conditioning mingling with the hot stink of the city street outside.

"Mind if I cut in?" I said.

The villain, Ironclad had called him 'Flesh-Smith', looked down at me with a curdled expression, as if I'd pooped in his pool.

"The more the merrier," Ironclad said, and sent the spear of twisted cheap iron hurtling toward one of Flesh-Smith's bio-ghouls. The bio-ghoul, I couldn't tell what gender, knocked the spear aside with its bone-blade-arm, then followed with a howling lunge toward the hero. Ironclad veered out of the way, his metal boots kicking under him. So that's how he was doing it.

Like some great ape the bio-ghoul hurtled past Ironclad into the street, but caught itself on a street lamp, swinging around to throw itself at the back of Ironclad. Ironclad turned, swung his hand, swinging the iron spear around behind his shoulder. It hit the bio-ghoul in the chest. When Ironclad clutched his fist, vicious long nails errupted out of the bio-ghoul's body, blood spritzing out of the wounds.

Brutal. The bio-ghoul dropped, pierced all through the chest. Before Ironclad could tear the spear from its body, another of the bio-ghoul's took aim with its fleshy arm-cannon. A blot of some vicious plasma blasted rom the tube. Ironclad raised his arms, knocked back hard, the plasma chewing into his armored arms. The metal unwrapped from his body, dropping into the street.

Watching, Flesh-Smith drew a tailor made cigarette from his pocket, pinched it between his lips and lit it with a gold cased lighter. Behind him the well-dressed guests of the art gallery huddled in fear.

Ironclad reached out his arms to either side. Behind us bright car panels tore free from their frames, hurtling up around him, swirling around him as the bio-cannon spat vicious globes of acidic plasma, the car doors and hood tops catching each blast.

"Feel free to jump in!" Ironclad snapped, voice tight with concentration, the whirlwind of metal spinning around him the only thing keeping him from being hit with the dissolving spray.

I don't need to be asked twice.

>roll 3 x 1d100+20 dc 75
>>
Rolled 65 + 20 (1d100 + 20)

>>5126830
I hope I remember how to roll
>>
Rolled 97 (1d100)

>>5126830
I member now
>>
>>5126833
>>5126834
Fuck, hey bull, just ignore my second roll, I thought I messed up the first time and now I'm just posting for no reason
>>
>>5126833

unless the next roll is a critfail, that's a pass!
>>
Rolled 9 + 20 (1d100 + 20)

>>5126830
>>
we'll call that a pass

okay let's rumble
>>
I leapt over to where the bio-ghoul was hunched over. It's long barrel arm swelled with each erruption, throbbing veins sticking out from its melted skin as the empty hole filled with the vicious plasma orb, before it made a disgusting belching sound as it spat up the vicious stuff, spraying it across ronclad's improvised screen. It was transfixed on him, so much so it didn't see me coming. It raised a head, its mouth opening, the spider-web skin stretching out over mangled teeth as it made some strange groan. There was something feminine about its body compared to the one with the bone-arm-sword, but calling it a woman or even human felt wrong. Maybe once upon a time, before she fell into the clutches of the villain watching us fight as if it were a performance held just for him.

Flesh-Smith, I could guess what his powers were.

Whatever Flesh-Smith had done to turn these people into these twisted mutants, it was as bad as anything the Black Site operation had performed.

I drove a fist into the bleating mouth of the bio-ghoul, drumming it into the ground, a sick feeling rising up inside of me. I'd seen nasty shit in my time, but these guys ranked with the worst.

I counted three coming in but the fourth errupted from hiding. Its fingers had become long bone whips, dangling cables hanging from now useless hands. It screeched as it flung itself at me, the bone joints cutting the cloth of my costume as the weight of the bone whips struck around my shoulders. If the cloth underneath hadn't been stab proof those bone whips would have torn chunks out of my body. Meriweather's craftsmanship saved my hide again.

A long white line flashed for my head, hoping to crack my neck. I rolled under it and rose before its drooling face, sticky saliva hanging on its chin. I slammed my forehead between its eyes, grabbed it by its shoulders and hip tossed it over, slamming it into the nice wooden floor of the art gallery. It skittered up faster than I could drive my foot into itside, spider-monkey quick. It spun up, whipping out blindly, bone-whips ripping through canvas and shredding the works of art. I weaved side to side, bobbing low, voiding back. A hit from it hurt.

Before I could close a piece of sheet metal hurtled through. The bio-ghoul came apart at the side, dropping an arm and shoulder-shank to the floor, blood pissing out of the wound. Ironclad called the metal back and it sheared the thing in half across the hips, its insides spilling out.

Ironclad hovered by my shoulder, crude sword blades made from the car panels raised up behind him.

"Thanks for the assist," Ironclad said, "But with these flesh-puppets, you've got take them down for good."

The armor he'd made for himself was like a crude fantasy knight, overlarge poldrons and a winged helmet hiding most of his face except for his chiseled jaw, multi-colored from the scrap it had been made from.

"Heroes," Flesh-Smith sneered, "Moronic thugs fighting for a status quo they don't understand."
>>
"This guy is a pretentious asshole," Ironclad said, "Aren't they all?"

I didn't disagree.

"Lashing out with violence at what they can't control," Flesh-Smith said, "I've slipped the bonds of evolution, shaken off your morality, and stand independent against the world. Well you should fear me, I am the only true human being you will ever meet. I will not be caged."

"Yeah, which is why you're holding up a midwit art show," Ironclad said, "Telling them to what, put their money in your crypto-wallet?" Ironclad looked to me. "Want to take this asshole down?"

"The more he talks the more I want to," I said.

Ironclad grinned. "Same."

We drove at him as one. In that second Flesh-Smith swelled up, the stitches of his tailored suit straining as his body bloated outward, skin stretched taut to the point it became thin. Then bone shrapnel exploded, bone spears launched out as he popped, sending streams of sticky flesh and gore stained fabric across the gallery. I raised my hands, catching a bone splinter in my forearm. A bone spear lodged against Ironclad's chest but when he yanked the tip out it was clean, unbloodied. His armor had done its work.

"Suicide bomb?" I said, bits of Flesh-Smith dripping off me as I stood stunned around the messy remains of the villain.

Ironclad shook his head. "One of his clones," he explained, "I've killed this guy five times, or tried to. He always slithers back with the same smug face."

Ironclad let his feet touch the ground, rolled his shoulder. "Thanks," he said, "They call me Ironclad. I know who you are, everyone does." There was something in the wy he said it. I don't know, like he was underwhelmed by what he saw. Maybe I was making too much of it.

"Thank you," a woman came out from behind an abstract sculpture. She was middle-aged going into old, with thin glasses. I took her to be the curator here. "Thank you both, we owe you our lives."

"Instead of owing us your lives make it five grand," Ironclad said. She laughed but when Ironclad didn't smile, she and I both realized he was serious. "Pretty cheap price for your life, right? A place like this, I'm sure you've got at least five grand sitting around. Everyone knows fine art is a money laundering scam."

He waited as she stared.

"Well go on, I need to pay rent too." He flicked his hand to shoo her away.

Huh.

>Call him out on demanding money for his service
>Stay quiet, if that's how he operates that's his business
>>
>>5127021
How about a lead on more stable employment instead? Queen Rat has an offer for you.
>>
>>5127056
Hold on, if this guy is literally asking money like that and we just spill the beans of Queen Rat hideout it's going to go wrong, even if Queen Rat's benefactors could give her the money it might turn out in a blackmail situation.

>>5127021
>Call him out on demanding money for his service
"Where you really trying to help people over here or what? Because this looks like the typical 'protection fee' mobsters pull out in small business so the next day their store is on fire"
But let's tell him after we take him a couple steps back so the lady don't hear us calling him out

Also, maybe talking to Shark and letting him give Ironclad a quick soul-snif could help to see if his someone thrustworthy or is the same kind of asshole like Semper Fi

Also Bullpen, what happened with the guy that used his powers against us in Ivy's birthday party? Does the bad PR shit got to the DPA thanks to the incident or it went silent?
>>
>>5127148
Were*
Isn't*

Phoneposting is hell
>>
>>5127148
Crusader? He's knocking around as a DPA goon.
>>
>>5127148
>>5127056
these are pretty contradictory. I'm going to give the vote another ten minute window so people can think about the write-ins and if there isn't a consensus I'll roll off on them
>>
Alright its been ten minutes without anything so I'm going to roll

1. tell him Queen Rat's offer
2. Call him out as well as the write-in
>>
Rolled 2 (1d2)

>>5127180
messed that up, rolling again
>>
>>5127148
Queen Rat knows everything about this guy already through her powers. she wouldn't have asked us to recruit him otherwise. Does more good for the para community to just recruit him and be done with it instead of letting our personal bias towards selflessness get in the way.
>>
It didn't sit right with me, demanding money for what we were doing, but I waited until the woman went back to collect the money before saying anything.

"That's kind of messed up," I said, "Are you actually trying to help these people over here or what? Because if I'm being honest this looks more like a mob protection fee."

"These people have the cash," Ironclad said, "And I need to eat. For all the work I do five grand barely comes out to minimum wage." For his part he didn't seem to have a problem with my criticism, it didn't seem to concern him at all. He smiled for the lady as she came out with the money, stuffed it in under his shirt. "Tell the cops to bring a mop," he told her as he stepped back out the window. I followed him out.

Doing this stuff for money was way outside my comfort zone. I'd blown up at Misfit once for taking cash from the gangsters she was beating up, this was in the same ballpark but maybe a little worse, taking money from the victims. He was brutal too, he hadn't hesitated to slice those bio-ghouls up, what he'd called 'flesh-puppets'.

"If it bugs you at all," he said, hovering over the street to the opposite roof top, "I'm not shaking down anyone. I'm not taking a fin off some lady I rescue from a back alley mugging. But when people can afford it, I ask for a feee. No different from some busker with a vimeo account or whatever. And I'm not doing it for the money, but I need money's to get by like everybody else."

He dropped to the ground, shook off his scrap metal armor, shook out his shaggy blond hair.

"You're shorter than I expected," he said again with that detached, unimpressed air.

Was this some ego thing? I might not be tall but Im not really short either. The more he talked the more I was unsure about him.

"It was pretty cool how you took down those gangsters," he said, "And sticking it to the government, helping break out those people."

Okay so maybe he just talked like that. He looked over the city, or at least this small part of the neighborhood, his expression as detached as his tone, like he'd seen it all and nothing much moved him.

"A dead gangster causes a whole lot less problems than a living one though," he said.

"I don't kill," I said. Not deliberately at least. I couldn't be sure everyone I hit in the head got back up again, but I was getting better at pulling my punches. Ironclad smiled, a wry smile like he knew something I didn't. He kills people, he takes money for his work. He wasn't my idea of a hero, but maybe he was what Queen Rat needed. Maybe she already knew about his quirks.

"What you do," he said, "How do you do it? I've seen you bounce around town, laep tall buildings and scale walls like its nothing." I shrugged, I don't know if it had an explanation. "Me, I got this thing called 'ferrokenisis', that's what this college girl I was banging called it. It let's me control metal."

>put forward Queen Rat's offer
>feel him out a little bit more first
>>
I'll be back tomorrow
>>
>>5127249
>>feel him out a little bit more first
>>
>>5127249
>feel him out a little bit more first

I really don't like this guy, sure he might be doing a "hero for hire" kind of thing but there's definitely something off about him.

I suggest we feel him out and then give our thoughts to questions rat, if she still wants to deal with him after all this then we can set up a randevue but that comes later
>>
>>5127249
>feel him out a little bit more first
I still don't like him, I feel that between Pratfall and Misfit Queen Rat community might be okay. But how far is from the city and that we didn't saw Misfit, it looks like she isn't around there.

I still feel like it would be better if we don't tell him, tell Queenie to have some rats having an eye in him while we make our own investigation about him. If another anon votes for that then I change my option for that too
>>
>>5127732
Wait, I read the option wrond, it's literally what I say. Sorry for the autism
>>
>>5127249
>>feel him out a little bit more first

I don't like this. My gut is telling me something is hinky here.
>>
>>5128200
>>5127732
>>5127405
>>5127254
locked in
>>
There's something I didn't like about this guy.

"What do you think about all this para-folk stuff?" I said, "The government rounding us up, the militias attacking people."

He shrugged. "It's messed up," he said, "Nothing to do with me though. The Department of Paranormal Affairs tried to recruit me a couple months back but I told them to take a shit in the woods. I don't work for nobody." He considered me for a second then. "Though I wouldn't mind getting to know that lawyer chick people have seen you with. You two banging?"

"No," I said.

He grinned, rubbing his chin. "Okay, that's good," he said like he had a shot.

"Didn't you have a date?" I said, looking down on the tables he'd left to fight Flesh-Smith.

"Yeah, I'll get back to her," he said. Police sirens started to whine down the street, ambulances with them. The clean up crew for our fight with the super villain and his monsters. It reminded me I was still painted in Flesh-Smith's gore. Not a happy state to be in. "She's just a casual Tinder thing." The casual Tinder thing was getting up from the table looking annoyed, gathering up her handbag.

"Actually I'm thinking about kicking out to New York or LA," he said, "Chicago's a great town but a little crowded when it comes to super people. New York could use a superhero. Could make bank out there."

He seemed more like a mercenary than a hero. Maybe he wasn't the right kind of guy to be protecting Queen Rat's people. As apathetic as he was to the struggle though, if he was being honest about turning down the DPA at least he wasn't a jackboot. Maybe I was just being judgemental.

"Those guys you killed," I said, "The bio-ghouls."

"Bio-ghouls? I call them flesh-puppets," he said, "Hmm, bio-ghouls is cooler though. What about them?"

"You said they have to go down, why? Does Flesh-Smith grow them in a lab or something?"

He laughed. "No, no it's worse than that. Those poor bastards are people he's kidnapped. Usually street people. He experiments on them, turns them into weapons...and other things. You don't want to know."

"So they're innocent?" I said, an awful sickness rising up in me.

"More than most," he said with a wry grin, "The thing is after Flesh-Smith has done his thing, there's no reversing it. Well maybe he can, but he's not the sort to do something like that. He makes them prisoners in their own bodies, turns them into his puppets. Killing them is the only thing anyone can do for them. There's no living like that. No one should live like that."

"He did it to a friend of mine, that's when I stopped holding back," Ironclad said. A deep breath was the only thing betrayed some deeper emotion than blunt cynicism in him. "All right well, see you around Hotspur." He moved over to the side of the building.

>Wait, I have an offer for you
>Let him go, he wasn't the right one
>>
>>5128338
>Let him go, he wasn't the right one
Need a guy who's down with the cause
Also need to deal with Flesh Smith, dudes a genuine supervillain and not just a jumped up gangster
>>
>>5128338
>Let him go, he wasn't the right one

Not our guy, might be acting like an apathetic ass because of trauma or something but he's not our guy, just some punk with powers and "some" morals
>>
>>5128338
>Let him go, he wasn't the right one
>>
>>5128338
>Wait, I have an offer for you
Our job was to tell him about the offer, not vet his morality. He's not even that bad of a guy. Nothing I've seen indicates that he'd harm Queen Rat or her people.
>>
>>5128388
>>5128379
>>5128364
locked in
>>
This guy wasn't it. I wasn't going to trust a mercenary with the lives of kids like Owen and Jenny. I'd have to find someone else.

He dipped out, dropping from the ledge to land smooth on the ground below, walking over to his date before she could leave. She was angry, but a word and a touch on her arm settled her down enough that she sat back down. I didn't hang around, bounding out of there. This side adventure with Ironclad wasn't the most important thing I was dealing with today.

Right now I had to meet up with Ms Grant, get an update on these 'Patriots'.

She'd told me to meet her out on the West Side, at Luis' shop. It was better than meeting in the middle of the city with every security camera on us. The DPA was keeping an eye on me where ever they could, not just them but other government departments I didn't even know about. The less I was under their electric eye the better. Jumping from rooftop to rooftop, hurtling through the sky helped clean some of the gore off me but it didn't get it all. I stopped by my hiding place for some wet wipes, cleaning off the human muck as best I could.

As villains went Flesh-Smith was a bad one. As much as Ironclad didn't fit my idea of a hero I had to empathize a little. This life, what we saw, it changes us.

I got the worst of the fleshy chunks off before bounding out for my meet up with Ms Grant.

Smokey wasn't around when I got there but D-Mark was inside stacking shelves. Luis was behind the counter flipping through a magazine, trying not to eyeball the beautiful woman checking over his discounted stock.

"Está buena," he muttered, adjusting the brim of his pork-pie hat.

Ms Grant was a beautiful woman all right. I didn't know a lot about her background but I knew her dad was black, originally from Canada, and I think her mom is Swedish or something. Whatever they were their daughter was tall, athletic, and commanding. Someone you couldn't help but notice. It had done her favors in the courtroom and the press, less in her day to day. Not long ago she'd been fending off the unwanted advances of hipster technocrat Julian Dodd.

She had ditched the usual corporate chic look for blue jeans and a black crop top hoodie. She checked the back of a pack of instant noodles, humming to herself, ear buds in listening to music. She wore a gun, a revolver, she always did these days after getting snatched by the mafia and tortured in the railyard, back when we first met. She had a permit from the police to carry the weapon as and where she liked, the threats on her life were considered that real. After taking down the heads of the main crime sybdacites in the Mid West I don't think the threats had gone down.

When I touched her arm her hand swept for the gun holstered on her hip. When she saw it was me the hand relaxed.

"Hotspur," she said, posture easing.

"Ms Grant," I said.

She took a bulk pack of instant noodles over to the counter.

"Lean times?" I said.
>>
"It might shock you, but the State's Attorney's office doesn't pay great," she said. Especially when you were a trouble maker for the political elite as much as for organized crime, I thought. "And I've had to move after...well things fell apart with my boyfriend. But we aren't here for sob stories."

Did Luis perk up hearing she was single? If he did he was too tongue tied to say anything but ring up her groceries and tell her the price.

"Let's talk outside," she said. I followed her out. We walked a while down the street, past a mural of Fred Hampton with anti-para slogans painted over it. "I looked into those Patriots for you," she said.

"Not too busy prosecuting our catches?" I said.

Her smile was tired. "Oh that's out of my hands," she said, "They're being prosecuted through the federal courts, criminal conspiracy is a federal crime. But the good news is it means our friends will be doing their time far away from Illinois. No Stateville for them."

"Executing the warrants but not executed the case," I said, "That sucks."

"We don't do it for the headlines," she said, but she did sound tired. "Anyway, those Patriot guys. Can you guess where their ring leader is originally from?"

"Surprise me," I said.

"Indiana, John Ross of Fort Wayne, Indiana" she said, "Most of them are from Indiana, a couple from Wisconsin. It's where they got their firepower from too. You might be surprised but a lot of the firearms on our streets come in from Indiana, mostly Gary."

It's a whole lot easier to get a gun in Indiana than it is in Illinois, that was true.

"They're a split off from Humanity First," she said, "According to Ross Humanity First and the Committe for Community Vigilance isn't radical enough for them. Which is worrying since Humanity First is pretty extreme."

I wouldn't call burning down a community center housing children a moderate action.

"Have they set up camp anywhere in Chicago?" I asked.

She shrugged. "No one knows, they're a new group. We know Ross isn't the overall leader. He calls himself General Washington but as we understand it that's the codename given to anyone put in charge of a field team. We don't have a clear idea of their numbers but it can't be a lot. We don't know how organized they are other than all sharing a fanatical interest in Dougie Hicks' podcast and a background in the military. Near every single one of them has some kind of service record though most never deployed overseas."

Veterans of the Forever War, I thought. Maybe looking for a more meaningful war to fight.

"The FBI are on the case," she said.

"Oh boy that's reassuring," I said.

We shared a bitter laugh.
>>
"There's more of these guys cropping up," she said, "Mushrooms after a bad rain. The CCV has seen their numbers double over the last month alone. You know their youth group, the Guardians? A lot of kids have signed up to attend their summer training camp. And with the Patriots making themselves out to be the real extremists it makes Humanity First seem moderate, even reasonable."

Fuck. Yeah, I could see the PR angle. Made me wonder if they were even a separate group really.

"It's scary times," said the lawyer packing a gun.

"Yeah, well, when aren't they?" I said, frustrated deep inside.

"Someone is running political protection for the CCV," she said, "And someone is funding them. If we could find out who..."

>Give me something to hit, Grant. A militia safe house or something
>Maybe I should look into this Guardian summer camp
>We should look into the political connections

I'll be back either Sunday or Monday next week
>>
>>5128531
>Maybe I should look into this Guardian summer camp
Going undercover is an option that a lot of Paras don't have
>>
Just want to say I appreciate you guys sticking around/coming back after the hiatus, and anyone new who found the quest in the mean time and jumped in. Thanks.
>>
>>5128531
>>Maybe I should look into this Guardian summer camp
>>
>>5128531
>Maybe I should look into this Guardian summer camp
>>5128537
As long as your back, someone will show up.
>>
>>5128531
>Maybe I should look into this Guardian summer camp

>>5128537
Bullpen, you have made one of the most high quality stories I've seen on this site in a long time, why there aren't more people here is a mystery but if it weren't against the law I would spam records this quest all around the site
>>
>>5128537
Best quest in ages
Reminds me of some of the old /tg/ greats before the move to the new board
>>
>>5128537
No thank you
>>
>>5128531
>>Give me something to hit, Grant. A militia safe house or something
mostly to look for evidence of the political connections, more of a b&e than a full on assault, which will probably just end up being spun as proof of rampant para aggression.

If we do go to summer camp it has to be one where Zeke isn't I don't think he would buy Eric joining up even if he wasn't sore about not getting the girl.
>>
>>5128531
>>We should look into the political connections
>>
>>5128531
>>Maybe I should look into this Guardian summer camp
>>
>>5128841
honestly shilling isn't the worst thing in the world considering /qst/ has a playerbase problem. somebody shilled the quest once on /tg/ in a superhero thread and I was honestly flattered.

just if you do shill it don't be obnoxious about it.
>>
>>5128526
>Give me something to hit, Grant. A militia safe house or something
Please, PLEASE don't choose the option about going in that summer camp bullshit. Knowing our luck we're going to end up in the same we're Zeke is and he aint gonna buy it. And what If we decided to just leave? Are they just gonna let us go or they're going to make sure we're staying there until is over? We're gonna lose a lot of time in there and that surely isn't going to end well
>>
>>5129613
>>5128841
>>5128642
>>5128538
>>5128533
locked in
>>
"Maybe I should look into the summer camp," I said.

"You're a bit old for summer camp, aren't you?" Ms Grant said.

I coughed behind my mask.

"Well if you do go, its out near Galena on the lake," she said. Galena sounded familiar. "It's on the other side of the state," she explained, "A three hour drive out to the Mississipi River, spitting distance to Iowa."

Nothing good ever happened in Iowa.

"If they're indoctrinating kids I'd like to know how," I said, "Maybe get a look at their behind the scenes operation. I can beat the shit out of the Humanity First militia all week, but unless we can cut them off at the source what good would that do?"

I knew they were already getting into the head's of some of my friends at school. Zeke was all but a marching member of the Humanity First militia these days, but he wasn't the only one.

"True," she said, "And depending on their methods maybe we can get them formally recognized as a hate group. Finally get Humanity First recognized as a terrorist organization."

"If you do go," she said, "Are you going to go as you or do you need a cover identity?"

>I'll be me, the real me. Maybe if people think I'm a 'Guardian' people won't think I'm Hotspur
>I'll sign up under a cover identity. I don't want to risk my real name getting out
>I'm not going to sign up for the whole summer, I'm going to break into the camp and snoop around
>>
>>5137004
>I'm not going to sign up for the whole summer, I'm going to break into the camp and snoop around
>>
>>5137004
>I'm not going to sign up for the whole summer, I'm going to break into the camp and snoop around

oh shiiit this is back
i should refresh the catalog more often
>>
>>5137030
>>5137057
locked in
>>
Fuck guys, I don't see how this works if we aren't infiltrating it undercover. They're gonna frame it as a para attacking a bunch of kids at a summer camp and strengthen their recruiting even more.
>>
>>5137096
stealth mode won't be optional for this mission
>>
"I'm not going to sign up for the whole summer," I said. I didn't have that kind of time to throw away. "I was planning on breaking in and snooping around, getting an idea on what they're about."

"Could be risky," she said.

"There's risks no matter what," I said. Something I was finding more true every day.

"Better not go in costume though," Ms Grant said, "I can see the headline already if you get caught, 'Hotspur terrorizes summer camp'. It sounds like a slasher movie."

I snorted. Yeah that would be bad. Doing it this way also meant figuring out where I was going to stay, either in Galena or roughing it in the wilderness. But I didn't want my face in any CCV database, and there was still plenty of dangers to deal with back home that needed my attention.

"They're actually trying to figure out who you are," Ms Grant said, "The Committee of Community Vigilance has put out a cash prize for anyone who can conclusively 'unmask' a super hero. You, your friends in Fire Watch and others. Their argument is that costumed vigilantism is a crime and no one should be allowed to hide behind a mask."

I'd heard something about that online. There were always fan groups and conspiracy circles trying to figure out who I am. Some of them had got close, but they weren't popular theories. That I operated out of West Chicago and I was still in school. Most thought I was in college though, not high school. A popular theory was that I worked at the Chicago Tribune, either as an intern or a photographer. Some even thought I was a girl.

"Do you know who the leading candidate is right now?" she said.

"Chris Hemsworth," I said, flattering myself.

"Our pal Julian Dodd," she said with a bitter smirk. I felt sick just hearing it. "They're saying only a billionaire playboy has the time and resources to do what you do, and Ixion's headquarters moving to Chicago coincides with your first official appearance."

"He's denying it in the most ambigious terms," she said. What an asshole. But it went back to business soon enough. "Remember what's important," she said, "Like with organized crime, the street stuff is dramatic but what matters is the money changing hands behind closed doors. It's about the corruption. If you could find an electronic ledger or something we could figure out who is funding this camp and maybe the CCV more generally. Then we'll have a real target to go after."

The great thing about Ms Grant is she never got distracted by the drama. She had her eye on the paper trail and the political connection. It made her dangerous, and had made her a lot of enemies. It's why she needed the gun.

"I'll make it a priority," I said. It had been a mystery who was backing these guys, both with money and politically. Maybe their summer camp would be the opportunity I needed to peek behind the curtain.
>>
But that wouldn't be for a few more days. I needed to find the camp and break in, but first I needed to deal with some things here. Partially it was figuring out how I was getting to Galena and where to stay, but also getting that security Queen Rat had asked for.

Something told me this was going to be more than a day trip. While I was gone I couldn't keep an eye on her commune myself, and who knew what could happen in the mean time. I hadn't made her offer to Ironclad, I just didn't trust him, but I didn't have a substitute lined up either.

>find Ironclad and remake the offer
>ask Fire Watch to handle it, at least for now
>worst comes to worst, there was always Shark
>>
>>5137127
>worst comes to worst, there was always Shark
>>
>>5137127
>>worst comes to worst, there was always Shark
>>
>>5137150
>>5137151
locking that in
>>
Ironclad didn't sit right with me, but if Queen Rat was looking for a warrior who would do what was necessary to protect her people, I had another thought in mind.

Shark. It had been a while since I'd last seen him, but the stories always circulated, the poor quality camera footage of something in the water off Lake Michigan or in the Chicago River. Stories of half eaten corpses washing to shore.

He wasn't a family friendly figure, but neither was Ironclad. Unlike Ironclad though I had no doubts about Shark's intentions.

"I've got to deal with something," I told Ms Grant, "See you around."

She waved as I bounded out of there. I'd thought about Shark earlier anyway, maybe using him to scope out Ironclad. Shark was more than a walking talking woodchipper, he had some strange abilities, like the ability to smell evil-doing. From some of what he said he also had a better idea of what was going on out here, with the Explosion and what it meant, with me, but he was a cryptic dude at the best of times. If he knew more he wasn't going to tell it to me straight.

One thing he had done was rescue a bunch of kids from a human trafficking ring, a bunch of kids brought into the Great Lakes from Asia, I think by either the Triads or the Cartel, it didn't really matter. Point was he had rescued them and tried to take care of them the best he could, on that mysterious rock he called his home out on the open waters of the lake. It made me trust him more than any other thing, made me trust him with this. Queen Rat's sanctuary had plenty of kids who needed a protector. One who wouldn't hesitate when the bullets started flying.

Unlike my buddy Misfit or the others in Fire Watch though I couldn't just call him up. He needed to be found, which meant hitting the docks and the coast. That's a lot of ground to cover, and knowing him he mostly worked at night. Mostly.

He also couldn't just walk in off the beach. He was wanted on multiple warrants for murder. Rumor had it Chicago PD had put a 'shoot on sight' policy over him. The uncomfortable truth is, they weren't wrong. He was a murderer, I'd seen him work. It was a bad way to go, a source of more than one bad dream on my end.

So he isn't that much better than Ironclad really.
>>
I landed on a high rise luxury apartment on the coast, looking out over Lake Michigan's calm waters. Summer time meant the beaches were crowded. This wasn't LA so 'beach' was a relative term but there were plenty of people in the water, plenty of boats out, and plenty of picnickers at the parks looking down on it all. Bright pink sunburned bellies wandered up and down the shore while kids shrieked in joy as they splashed each other in the cool waters. Gallons of ice cream scooped out of hand carts and handed out in cones and cups.

We should head out here when we had the time, I thought, enjoy our summer. I briefly imagined Ayesha and Ivy in bikinis and grinned behind my mask. Sometime soon.

Not what I was here for though.

>I'll wait around for sunset and hope Shark turns up
>I'll find a boat to take me out to his island

sorry this took so long to get posted. I'll be back tomorrow
>>
>>5137263
>I'll find a boat to take me out to his island
>>
>>5137261
>I'll find a boat to take me out to his island

I slept through it all >>5137182
>>
>>5137263
>I'll find a boat to take me out to his island
>>
>>5137263
>>I'll find a boat to take me out to his island
>>
>>5137263
>>I'll find a boat to take me out to his island
>>
>>5137263
>>I'll find a boat to take me out to his island
>>
yesterday and today kind of got away from me, but I'm here and going to knock out a couple of updates

>>5137319
>>5137377
>>5137495
>>5137598
>>5137999
>>5139297
locked in
>>
I needed a boat, one that could take me out to Shark's island, Last time I went, the only time, I'd hitched on the back of a Coast Guard ship, commandeered by the DPA for hunting down the cryptic selachii. There were no Coast Guard boats on hand today, only little yachts with the middle class loafing around on the water.

Although there was one...

A couple of hustlers, a black guy and an Asian guy, stood on a pier in front of a sloop. A couple of older cats starting the approach to forty, one of them held up a cardboard sign woith a crude cartoon whale on the front, the sign marked out with balloon letters. The cartoon whale wore a big smile and was shooting a fountain of water out its blow hole.

'Lake Michigan Whale Watchers - Come Whale Watching On Lake Michig-'

The sign had run out of space on the top row, but underneath was

'-an, $20 per person. Snacks + Drinks Not Included." The guy holding it, the Asian guy, wore sunglasses and a bored expression, spinning the sign to catch the eye.

The guy without the sign was talking to a couple of black guys, younger by about a decade.

"See the whales man, once in a life time chance," he said, "Pay a li'l extra and you get the catered experience and everything. We got pop, we got malt liquor if you're over 21. Get a chance to see the majestic creatures of the deep."

"Whales an' shit," the other one said, "Big ass fish."

"Everyone knows there's no whales in Lake Michigan," the younger guy said with a scornful look for the hustlers, "Man, go run your scam on some tourists."

"Sure there is, young un," the hustler said, "My cousin Freddy saw a whale last week, migration season just started. What you believe everything they say on the internet?"

"Fake news, man," the guy with the sign said dryly.

"See for your ownself," the hustler said, "What, you don't trust your own eyes?

"No man, the lakes are too cold," the young guy said, pointing to his palm, "And they're fresh water. Whales live in salt water. And they aren't fish, they're mammals."

"Moby Dick a fish," the guy with the sign said, "Herman Melville says it in the book. Calls him a fish. You know more about whales than Herman Melville? You know better than America's greatest writer?"

"Whatever man, you aren't scamming me today," the guy and his friend walked on with scornful disgust.

I mean he was right. There were no whales in Lake Michigan, but there was a shark.

"Oh shit, Hotspur," the hustler said when I landed in front of him. Up close he had the yellow rimmed eyes of someone who drank too much, a kango cap hiding a lack of a hairline. "You uh, you want to see a whale?"

I took out a twenty. "Not quite," I said, grinning behind my mask.
>>
Maybe it was because of who I was but they took me all the way out. Their run down boat moved better in the water than I expected, the guy with the sign taking the wheel with that same board expression, turning it was practiced hands as the other manned the rigging. They were named Ryan and Wallace but I wasn't sure which was which right away. When the sails were set with the motor to help, the guy in the kango got out a bottle of colt .45, took a swallow, then offered it to me.

I turned it down polite as I could.

"You guys really believe there are whales out here?" I asked.

They exchanged a look.

"Sure," the Asian guy said without any conviction. I think he was Wallace.

It was going to be a long boat ride. There wasn't much shade on their boat and my costume got hot under a beating sun. I loosened the jacket at the top button. The water was glassy and calm. We got out of view of the shore, heading into deep water.

The Great Lakes were dangerous in the winter and fall, squalls could come down out of no where and capsize even the mammoth freight liners. But today was meant for boating, not much for waves with a cool breeze helping us along, cutting the heat.

I had no way of knowing if Shark would even be there.

"No one goes out this way," the guy in the kango, Ryan, said, "Not anymmore. Shit's been happening since that rock turned up."

"Weird shit," Wallace said at the helm.

"This isn't going to go bad for us is it?" Ryan said, betraying a real fear in the glint of his jaundiced eyes, "I mean we never did nothing too wrong. Nothing serious anyway. We never took anyone's last dollar."

"You'll be okay," I said. I hoped. Who knew with Shark? They'd heard the stories. I'd seen them. Even I couldn't be sure.

Hours passed before the rocky piece of shale formed on the waters of the lake. It was gray and lifeless, a jagged stone splinter on the horizon that didn't get much bigger as we got to it. The closer we got the more the hustlers began to sweat. Water darkened the rocks, lapping over its crude, uneven surface. It had something of a hill on it, made from the same jagged uneven rock, and in it was the black well of a cave mouth. There was no sign of Shark.

>wait on the surface for Shark
>head into the cave to find him
>>
>>5140439
>>head into the cave to find him
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>>5140439
>head into the cave to find him
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>>5140439
>head into the cave to find him
>>
>>5140439
>>head into the cave to find him
>>
>>5140442
>>5140448
>>5140464
>>5140478
locked in





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