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► Blairville was cold. Tommy was underdressed. She was wearing a rain jacket, because she didn't have anything else to wear.

It didn't help that the winds here were strong enough to hurl a kid (much like herself) into the river. Every now and then she'd catch the gentle drifts of wind like an icy soul caressing her skin, but most of the time, it was the WHOOSH and the FHOOOOOOO—and—Tommy got a cold, Tommy has been sniffling and sneezing for the whole duration she's been waiting here.  

A pair of drunkards hobbled their way behind her. Luckily, they were too intoxicated to notice Tommy, nor were they able to utilize their locomotive functions considering the fact that one of them tripped, the other tried to pick him up, but he ended up sitting down and then laid down. They complained to each other in incoherent speech about wanting to pee and not wanting to pee over there, goddamnit Joey, that's not a fucking water hydrant, that's a mailbox,

Tommy, on the other hand, didn't seem to be at all bothered. She kept standing there in the cold, cold dark, along with the occasional blinks of pink logo light that flashed across her. The logo—if you could make it out—says 'The Wet Dog', and it belonged to an abandoned diner whose windows have been heavily boarded down with rusty nails and dead wood. Much like everything else in this part of the neighbourhood, it looked sketchy as hell. As far as she can tell, the light from the diner is the only light you can see from a distance away.

She took out her wrist and looked at her watch. It was one of those kiddie watches where you had to slap them real hard on your wrist to wear them. Her eyes squinted from the constant flickering of pink light and the sudden disppearance of said pink light. It read 1AM. 1AM, and she's standing around in the slums. All alone. That, right there, wildly screams mug me. And Tommy is aware, Tommy is well aware of that. 

It's nighttime in Blairville: not a very good time for a teenager, let alone a girl, to be wandering around in a city where magical criminal activity spiked. She almost got convinced into smoking a new drug on the way here: Mydixadril, the locals called it. Scary how they almost convinced her, even more scary were the supposed side effects. Tommy shivered. 

But to be fair, Tommy had balls (no, not those), and she's not gonna pussy out because a bunch of evil evil wizards are out to sprinkle glitter in her eyes and take off with, like, her wallet. Which she doesn't have. Because she lost her wallet, and she figured that it'd magically come back to her in a twist of good fortune. Anyway, the matter at hand right now was way more important than her money. This interview could mean everything. Mercenary work was her only source of income nowadays. She even took a shower, bought some new clothes: the things she didn't know she was capable of doing! 

Tommy blew a raspberry, it faded into a cloud of white air. She started hopping and up down to shake off some anxiety. "Okay, okay," hopping up and down, "be cool, be cool,"

Just be cool. Say hey. Saying hi's lame, don't say hi.

Just be cool.

Tommy made her way up the broken stairs and almost got tetanus. Her eyes settled on the symbol on the door, the dust settling inside the etchings of wood. It looked exactly like the one she saw in her paper. 

A sword bisecting a scale. 
 


@Praetorian @supernal

Edited by SweetCyanide

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A coffee cup sat half-full at their table. The interviewer was a tanned-man too bulky to be seated at a tiny chair. He had scars all over him, and his hair looked blonde against the pouring light from the boarded windows.

Said light reminded her that Tommy had been waiting to be interviewed for about seven hours.

 

 

 

 

 

INTERVIEW: START

The man pushed up his reading glasses. “Let’s start off with: What would you say is your greatest weakness, and why?”
 

Tommy slapped on her watch. It folded on her wrist with a crunch. “Oh. Right off the bat?"

She was tired from the waiting, and social conversation was a challenge to be challenged.

“Uh,” oh god, “guess I have a problem with emotions. My—emotions, I mean.”

“Elaborate.”

“Uh, well,” she muttered, “when I’m angry, it becomes more of a rage?”

Tommy looked up. The interviewer wasn’t even looking at her, so she looked down at her watch.

“I get blinded by it,” she gestures, leaning back into her chair, “it’s violent and it’s impulsive. I turn into someone I don’t like.”
 

The guy leaned into his chair and flipped a paper. “Second. If you had a team member that was ineffective, incompetent, and disruptive, how would you deal with them?”
 

 “Well, I..” she trails off, presses her elbows on the table and presses her hands together, “I’d help them, of course. Anyone can change. I mean,” she gestures, “you don’t compete with other people in the team. You compete with yourself.”

A long pause.

“We –“ she pointed at him “this – “ and pointed at herself, “this is a team, right?”

 

“Third,” he took a sip of coffee, “What are your two greatest strengths, and how do you leverage them towards your goal?”
 

“One: I’m super strong.”

He squinted at her.


“Got it from my daddy.” She said with enthusiasm: “It’s a, uh, strength augmentation. Turns me into a, a bear, and I can wrestle bears. I'm good at wrestling bears.”


“Second?”

“I can turn really small and really big.”

He squinted at her again.

“Shrinking and gigantification magic. Should I demons-”
 

“No, that won’t be necessary no,” he wrote that down, “how do you use them as leverage? To your goals, I mean.”
 

Well,” Tommy laid out one with her finger, “I can beat the shit out of people really hard, and with that strength augmentation, it really makes things a whole lot easier,” finger two, “and going small and going big pretty much answers itself. If I wanted to wear a leaf as a dress I could just-“


Fourth, question. How do you define evil?”


“Morality’s a bit blurry to me,” she gestures, “I don’t believe in good or evil. Like, there’s always a reason why someone does something we think is.. kinda evil? But – for me, I think evil is when someone’s reason is only for themselves.”

A pause.

“Like they’re an asshole because they like being an asshole. For the sake of being an asshole.”


“What is the worst thing you’ve ever done, what did you learn from it?”

“Watched my parents die. Did jack shit while I watched them die."

Tommy leaned in.

"Them's the Bean Brothers. It was a nice breakfast morning right? Theres a banging at the door, and my momma tells me to shrink, so I did. She places me in the cupboards and tells me not to come out. So these brothers go up to our house, broke down the goddamn door, barged into the kitchen and - bam! Bam! Shotguns my beautiful momma and she drops dead, her face is in bits and her bits spray on the counter. Obviously, that pissed off my daddy. Pissed him off so bad, he took one'a them Bean Brothers and ripped off his jaw. Now he pick up a good fight he did, but these sons of bitches play dirty. When he bashes jaw-dropped McGee into the table, the other brother, now he went and shot him in the balls. Then he went over to him, took my cereal spoon, held his face in one hand real tight and scooped out his goddamn eyeballs. I hid in the cupboards in the entire time. Pissed. Grieving. Depressed as shit. Now I shrinked when I watched those scumbags get away with what they did. Physically, and mentally. They destroyed my family in five minutes. Not to mention my house, which they lit it like a bonfire, and my dog Diggy, who they also shotgunned in the face. We lived in the countryside, and that means no folk was ever gonna hear those shots for over a mile. I got out of the fire when I heard em' run off in a truck. And when I got out, I stood there and watched my house burn."

Tommy leaned back down into her chair.

“It’s the worst thing I ever done because I sat there and did nothing. I know if I tried to save my parents, I'd die too. But I'd rather die than sit down like a little pussy and watch it all unfold before my very eyes.

I learned that doing nothing cost me my life."


 

The interviewer finished his coffee. He placed it on the table and leaned forward, his interlocked fingers pressing against his mouth.

“Here’s the last question. What’s your greatest achievement?”

 

“Mm. Well,

“I killed the fuckers who killed my parents.

“Maybe five years ago, I found out where them Bean Brothers were hiding. Them and their crooks. Take a guess: Last Chance. Who would've thought? Took me ages to get there. So when I got there, and believe me when I got there, those shitheads were in for one helluva ride. They deserved it. Those Bean Brothers were the scum of the earth, and I was very much obliged to rid them gone."

 


@Praetorian

Edited by SweetCyanide

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Ashton, wake up.

“I don’t wanna go to school mom.”

Ashton, get up. There is work to be done.

“Ugh, fine. What now?”

Go to Blairville. There is new blood to be found and work to be done.

“There is always something, somewhere. What makes Blairville so special?”

They are willing to deputize anyone that helps.

“Oooh, yeah I guess things must be pretty damn bad then. Ight, I’ll head that way.”


3_elsword_big.png?width=931&height=676Ashton negotiates the streets of Blairville with the aid of a small holodispay. The three-dimensional maps pings periodically with a small contrasting blip that marks his destination. His attention, however, is split between it and a conversation, causing him to take a few wrong turns.

Well?

It’s an emotionally unstable teenager who has strong ideological beliefs. Ideological beliefs might be compromised by slight emotionless distress. However, core values general align with ours. I suspect she might be reckless, in the sorta way that would make her a danger to herself. She is guilt ridden over a past event, and because of that I suspect she is prone to jumping the gun and rushing into action without a proper plan. Although she has skills that would be beneficial for espionage, her personality isn’t suited for it.

Sounds like every teenager ever.

Pretty much.

Ashton rounds a corner, crosses the street, and then breaches the threshold into the building. His fingers interlace behind his head as he ascends the stairs, his body momentarily becoming translucent as he phases through the door, rather than opening it. “Suuuuuuuuuup?”

Vermillion eyes drift from interviewer to interviewee, both regarded with a certain amount of dullness. “You know, I’ve always been terrible with kids, Geoffrey.” The comment is leveled toward the interviewer. “You know, the whole endangerment thing.”

“These are desperate and dangerous times, we have to get what help we can.”

Ashton nods as he walks toward the table. Turning to face Tommy, while resting against the tables edge, he extends his right hand. “Hi, I’m Ashton, and I here you’d like to play cops and robbers?”

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Tommy thinks she made a pretty bad impression.

After a long thirty minutes of going over on what she said, she came to the conclusion that she did, in fact, make a bad impression. Her face scrunched up in an unnecessary worry as she took a big bite of her sandwich. Long chews, long stares, long backstory. All these facts caused her cheeks to get flamed. It extended to her pointy ears and made the freckles on her face look obvious.

Short story: long exposition = bad impression.

Fuck.

She glanced at the interviewer. He ignored her for about ten times, but that didn't stop her from trying ten more times. She slowly opened her mouth as his chiseled face was still buried in his papers. Obviously, she wasn't gonna ask if he was going to tell someone about it. Of course he's going tell someone about it. That was an interview. An interview she most likely blew up. Tommy leaned in, looked at his papers, and squinted.

"Can I see my results?"

"No."

She leaned back. Her brows furrowed in more thought. Placing the sandwich in between her teeth, she reached for a bag under her chair; orange and printed with oranges, peeling with dirty stickers and enamel pins. Your typical run-of-the-mill broke teenager bag. She placed it on her lap and reached inside, taking out another sandwich inside a zip-lock.

"Did you eat breakfast yet?"

"Yes."

"No you didn't."

The man took and shook his coffee. "Yes, I did."

Tommy visibly pouted. "That's not breakfast. That's coffee."

"Coffee is breakfast, kid."

She dangled the sandwich in front of him. "Food is breakfast, man." 

"Thanks, no thanks," he said without looking up, "I just had breakfast."

"But I got extra sandwiches—"

“Suuuuuuuuuup?”

A man phased through the door. Like a ghost. Like a—she stared at him—like a ghost? 

He appeared out of nowhere! Tommy blinked twice and tried to register that; her eyes bouncing back and forth between the door and the mysterious red-headed ghost man. He was heading their way and Tommy tried to stop thinking about it. A bit confused on the matter, but decided to ask about that another time. Probably magic, right?

“You know, I’ve always been terrible with kids, Geoffrey.”

"Your name's Geoffrey?"

“You know, the whole endangerment thing.”

She glanced at the two men with an air of curiosity expected out of a kid listening to an adult's conversation. Obviously, Tommy wasn't some ordinary kid. She listened and dissected.

“These are desperate and dangerous times, we have to get what help we can.”

Taking slow chews, Tommy watched them with big eyes. After he got his answer, the red man walked over her side of the table and extended a hand.

 “Hi, I’m Ashton, and I here you’d like to play cops and robbers?”

She swallowed her bite before speaking.

"Howdy Mister Ashton," she shook his hand and winced when he squeezed it (don't squeeze open cuts), "my name's Tommy. I dunno how to play cops and robbers."

After saying that, Tommy extended a sandwich while eating her's. 

"Do you want one? I got extra, and Mister Geoff doesn't like breakfast." 
Edited by SweetCyanide

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f7550bb0492279b71df833f628e8fd2d535a5bf2_00.jpg “Ashton is fine, no misters needed.” Ashton promptly corrects her, although there is definitely a jovial quality to his voice. His face is pleasant enough, right up until she confesses that she doesn’t know how to play cops and robbers. The lines of his visage melted away as his expression became completely blank.

My joke…. It was a good joke….. why didn’t she get it? She clearly understands the words. This is a vigilante group, implying that we are playing at being cops… they are deputizing anyone to help out… maybe she didn’t know that? No… no it’s a masterful play on words. She should have gotten it, this isn’t your fault!

An uncomfortably long pause finally ends with an admission of defeat, “I guess I’m not as witty as I thought.” His face scrunches for a moment.  “Oh well.” With a sigh and shrug the dissatisfaction of the exchange is dismissed. The coronal mass of his irises flare for a second as his gaze drifts from her to the sandwich, pinpoint pupils seemingly piercing it. “What kind of sand… never mind.” Although he hasn’t eaten today, there are things to do and people to kick in the dick. “No, no thank you.” A final response to the sandwich issue.

Returning his gaze to her, he tries one more time. “Lemme try this a different way.” His lips curl into a grin. “Wanna go punch some bad guys?” He’s already pushed off from the table and wandered to the door, which he opens this time and waves her through. “So Tommy,” he waits for her to exit the room and then closes the door behind them before continuing, “if you were to bring justice to Blairville, how would you do it?” The truth is, the interview isn’t over just yet.

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"Okay. Ashton it is, I guess." 

She chortled. His face was priceless
and he was staring into the void for what seemed to be a very, very long time. Tommy does, in fact, know how to play cops and robbers; but she wanted a kick out of the guy before diving straight in. She glanced at Geoffrey, then back at Ashton. His reaction of pure disappointment was pure gold, and Tommy couldn't keep a straight face through all of it.

After Ashton's predicament, he shrugged it off with an admission of defeat and was promptly bombarded with a sandwich. Tommy looked at him in the eye, watching his pupils. He refused to take up the offer and immediately went back on track. Tommy responded by eating the offered sandwich the moment he said no. 

 “Lemme try this a different way.” Ashton grinned at her. She blinked at him. “Wanna go punch some bad guys?"

She swallowed a bite and looked up at him with a faint smile. "Uh," she finishes the sandwich, "sure."

The man steps away and opens the door, gesturing for Tommy to go ahead. First, she stood from her chair and took her bag. Waved goodbye to the interviewer (though he really didn't notice nor care) and stepped out again into the slums of Blairville. It was bright now, and the logo barely had any color in the sunlight. Time felt awfully strange when you've been spending most of it inside of a broken diner. The outside felt like the damp kind of cold, and the alley was mysteriously wet with moisture. She didn't hear any rainfall all morning, so she supposed it was the work of the running canal off on the sides of the road.

She placed her hands inside her jacket for the tiniest bit of warmth. 

"So Tommy," 

Tommy looked up at Ashton and felt her neck crack. You could see the height difference from a mile away, and Ashton was really tall. They both went down the rust-ridden stairs and Tommy leapt off a couple. She landed on her feet and Ashton lead the way. It was 8AM in the morning, and everyone in Blairville was starting to get to work. Including them.

"if you were to bring justice to Blairville, how would you do it?”

She squinted. "That's a tough question." 

But she had to answer it. They kept going down the road until Tommy's own footsteps started to make her feel uneasy.

"Uh, what kinda justice?" Tommy kicked a pebble. "The vigilante kind of justice? Thin out the crime. Some dudes were tryna sell me drugs. That was on the way here, so that was pretty quick for a walk around town. This is Blairville we're talkin' here, and I guess thinning out the city's criminal activity should do it a bit of justice. You can't completely rid of crime, but you can at least make the people feel a little more safe. Make the baddies feel like shitting their pants. Drop the numbers on the murders, kidnappings, whatever. Make vigilante presence known. Then the government can do it's thing, clean up after the dirty work."

Tommy sneezed. "But that's what I think. I dunno if that sounds good."  


 

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Tommy’s unenthusiastic ‘sure’ doesn’t cause Ashton to skip a beat, but it does get him wondering.  Mostly if she really wanted to be here, doing this. Of course, it is equally possible that she is just shy or nervous. Nervousness, now that’s a feeling he hasn’t felt in ages. Admittedly, he was pretty nervous at the inception of Justice. Especially with how big of an asshat Jackson was…. Is…. Still fucking is. Digression aside, he decides that she deserves the benefit of the doubt and an opportunity to try to shine.

“Drug trade is legal in Terrenus, government is in on it. It’s easier to keep people healthy when this kind of stuff regulated.” Ashton quickly shoots back, at Tommy’s suggestion that the drug dealers might be in the wrong.

Ashton speeds up a little, just enough to get ahead of Tommy, and then promptly turns in front of her, coming to a stop, and cutting her off. “Look, think about it this way. A company not paying their taxes, that’s legally wrong. They are also potentially hurting the common good by refusing to contribute to the betterment of society. I, however, ain’t about to risk life and limb, or jail time, over the government not getting theirs.” He pauses, extends his right hand, and levels his index at her. “You gotta figure what you can or can’t live with. What are you willing to put your life and freedom on the line for? Not all crime is equal. Not all crime is worth our attention. “The tip of his finger lowers to point toward your heart. “What gets that beating, fills you with rage, and makes you go: ‘I’ve gotta do something now!’?”

There’s another pause, this one long enough for her to give an answer. “Any time you undertake a job to bring about justice, your convictions need to be solid. It shouldn’t matter if other people think it sounds dumb. It shouldn’t matter if it is dumb. Your convictions should be so powerful that other people are immediately convinced when they hear them.”  His hand lowers and he slips both into his pants pockets. “So, Tommy. Let me ask you again. What are you going to do to bring Justice to Blairville?”

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2otjqBC.png“Drug trade is legal in Terrenus, government is in on it. It’s easier to keep people healthy when this kind of stuff regulated.”

"Oh!"

Does that mean I could try doing drugs? Wait—no—

Ashton speeds up, turns, and stops.

Tommy regarded Ashton as her role-model. Not only was he older, but he had first-hand experience in and out of the workplace, a guy good at bashing heads in and making his points clear. A responsible, cool-headed adult; like a wiser, older brother whose wisdom she had to learn from. So when he started talking, Tommy looked up at him with big eyes; as if trying to burn his every word into her brain, glancing at every hand gesture like being hypnotized by a magician's trick. She stood there, silent, listening with an open-minded and an eagerness to impress.

He gave a her thoughtful pause, a little moment before he'd say more, and Tommy takes her hands out of her jacket and found that they were feeling a little bit clammy. What's that? Didn't notice until now? Tommy figured the air would help dry it off, maybe fiddle with them a little bit, trying to think about her answers for a little bit, but air doesn't dry off that overwhelming surge of nervousness, now, does it?

Keep it cool. 

Ashton speaks again, and Tommy looks up, one more time. "Your convictions should be so powerful that other people are immediately convinced when they hear them.”

“So, Tommy. Let me ask you again. What are you going to do to bring Justice to Blairville?”

Her mind wandered to the conversation they had at the diner.

"Beat up bad guys. Thin out crime."

Looking up at Ashton, Tommy blinks, and leans to the side. Maybe a bit anxious on how that sounded, she waited how he'd react. 

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Ashton looks her over for a second before nodding, “That’s a start.” There is a certain jovial quality to the response. A lightheartedness that is reflected in the contours of his face, but isn’t necessarily found within his thoughts. Ashton’s understanding of Tommy changes with each exchange and he now regards her as a sword without a wielder. While he would have never recommended her to be tossed into any kind of leadership position right away, it is abundantly clear that she has a lot of room for growth before she’d be able to lead. In fact, although the exchange has been brief, Ashton feels confident that the reason Tommy is here isn’t because of an overwhelming sense of justice or because of powerful convictions to help others. Rather, all impressions point toward her looking for direction and purpose. And, for a teenager, that is both reasonable and acceptable.

Turning around he starts to walk again. “Before I was doing this kind of stuff, I enlisted in the Terran military. Not for any particular reason, just needed something to do. I can’t say that I have a great love for the country or Gaia. I don’t really have any strong nationalistic or patriotic convictions. Any country is just as good as another, Terrenus was just the one I was born in.” He briefly stops talking as he reaches a crossing and waits for a handful of vehicles to pass by.

“I ended up joining this group because I wanted to help people in a meaningful way, and I didn’t feel like I was getting that out of military service. I like being able to operate without borders. It’s nice to be able to go anywhere in the world to help people out. No red tape, no approvals from a higher authority, no ulterior motives. Just plan old morality guiding me. It’s extremely freeing.”

He rounds another corner, takes a few dozen steps, and then stops in front of a large holographic display. The roughly rectangular display is dotted with facsimiles of news paper articles, help wanted posters, and all manner of various ads and requests. Ashton’s left hand rises up as he fingers swipe through the columns and rows of light, causing the image to shift, the various contents and articles to scroll from one side to the other. “However, with no oversight, there is a lot of personal responsibility. Who watches the watchmen, type stuff. At the end of the day, you’ll only be accountable to yourself.”

Ashton pokes one of the articles, causing it to inflate and take up a quarter of the digital board. It’s a news clipping regarding some unnatural beast escaping and going on a rampage. “Do you think something can be evil, without being consciously aware of it?” The question is posed as he skims through the article.

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Tommy glances up at Ashton; relieved, maybe a bit happy towards his response. It was a strange feeling altogether—to her at least, that the approval of someone else helped her feel more at ease. 

After avenging the death of her parents, Tommy didn't know what else to do. She drifted in and out of two worlds. One, a normal life, and the other, the reality of working a struggling mercenary paycheck and the dirty work necessary for a vigilante's goal. The only upside of being an orphan was that you had an incredible amount of freedom, but an equally incredible amount of loneliness.

Maybe she had a few friends here and there, but the feeling of wanting to belong was something she'd often denied, and, at such a young age, there were countless of other ways to make her feel more useless—unwanted, even. It didn't help the fact that the rest of her family were either dead, unknown, or on the other side of the planet. When the thought of going to school like every other teenager started to make its way up into her head, she only needed to look down at her hands to break some rose-colored lens. 

And as a result, she grew up faster. She's still offered milk at the bar, though.

“Before I was doing this kind of stuff, I enlisted in the Terran military."

Genuine curiosity. "Really?"

"Not for any particular reason, just needed something to do. I can’t say that I have a great love for the country or Gaia."

The rest of the convo went as expected. Ashton talked about himself, Tommy was curious to death, a couple of cars passed by, they walked some more, then they stopped at a big, blue, rectangle. Her eyes traced Ashton's gestures on the digital board, taking the time to read the articles before he swiped them away and repeat. Eventually, he chose one. Tommy read the article, and found her eyes stuck to the monochrome photographs attached. 

“Do you think something can be evil, without being consciously aware of it?”

Ashton used his finger to start scrolling down. Tommy took a few seconds to process the question.

"Uhhh—yeah. Like, if a lil' girl was actually a necromancer in disguise and I didn't know? Yeah—yeah. Something can be evil."

There was a line they ended on. It was a big sentence in bold caps. Tommy squinted, and murmured. 

"... The Rat King orders the head of the beast?"

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“I think that evil is purely a question of intent. Something cannot be evil without knowingly causing harm, intentionally. However, that doesn’t mean it gets a free pass.” Ashton drops his hand from the display and motions for Tommy to follow him, as he turns begins walking off to weave through the city again.

“Sometimes, for the greater good, we must kill things that aren’t evil. Just because something is ignorant of the harm it causes, or has good intentions, does not mean that it is free from the consequences.” He rounds a street corner and then almost immediately vanishes as he begins to descend a set of stairs in the middle of the sidewalk. “I think that’s something important to remember. Because we are walking a very fine line. Eventually the consequences of our choices will catch up to us.”

A few dozen feet later, and Ashton stands in front of a gate chained shut. Extending his right hand causes a ring of light to form around his wrist, one that completely engulfs his hand. Withdrawing his hand from the ring reveals the hilt, guard, and blade of a sword. Bringing the tip of the blade in front of him, a single downward slice parts the chain, and causes the gate to swing open. Repositioning the blade so that it rests on his shoulder, heads into the growing darkness.

At this subsurface layer they can still hear the commotion of the world above, however there are numerous new sounds. Every now and then the hiss of steam, the grown of loadbearing beams, or the crackle of short-circuiting wiring comes from the vast void of darkness around them. Nonetheless they trek further into the utility tunnel. In fact, it isn’t until the rhythmic thudding of his footsteps on concrete turns to a sharp metallic ping, that Ashton finally stops.

Taking a step back, Ashton shifts the sword so that the tip pushes between the lip of a metallic ring and its cover. Leveraging the sword causes the lid to pop off, and fills the tunnel with the smell of methane and hydrogen sulfide. It’s an uncomfortable stench that immediately causes his stomach to twist uncomfortably into numerous knots.

“I think the beast we are about to kill, isn’t evil. But it deserves to die all the same.” The comment is made as he reaches into his left pocket and pulls out a small crystal which he offers up to Tommy. “Take this, it’s a resonance com crystal. If we get separated you can use it to keep in touch.”

Once she has taken it, Ashton lets out a long sigh before take a step off the ledge of the hole and plummeting into depths. More than anything in the world, he hates sewers.

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After a long conversation touching on the matters of good and evil, both of them stood before a chained gate. Beyond it was a black circle of pitch-black darkness untouched by Blairville's warm sunlight. The moist concrete had grown moss all over. From inside, she could hear the faint sound of water drops. She could feel a dying wind failing to brush her hair away. With these sensations hitting her this early in the morning, Tommy suddenly felt hesitant.

She slowly turned her head to look at Ashton. Her face said it all. No. We're not... are we...?

Ashton didn't seem to care. His face said it all. She slowly turned her head again, forcibly suppressing some questions. 

Something like this was too weird to think about at this time of day. Considering the fact that Tommy had barely gotten any sleep at all, trying to think about it was too tiring of a task.  And - if Tommy had been more creative, maybe a good joke would be well on it's way out of her mouth. But instead, she incited the obvious. 

"That's a big tunnel." 

Her almost quiet words echoed. Not even a second later, Ashton broke into the tunnel. He strided in with a sword on his shoulder, slowly disappearing, slowly eaten by the dark. Tommy didn't actually know if she said that loud enough for him to hear, so she went after him not knowing if he did, in fact, hear that.

"This is a pretty big tunnel," she repeated, her slightly louder words now echoing harder into the tunnel. 

In here, the air felt thicker. Hot steam and cold wind made for awful goosebumps. The scent was pungent, like sniffing a wet dog. But in fairness, this was a utility tunnel. And though it was dark, light was scarce. It often glowed in the distance like a warm flickering lightbulb over a swarm of a dozen mosquitoes. Everything far away sounded so painfully near that, Tommy felt her ears get tickled; like a ghost was whispering to her under the guise of a creaking metal beam. Eventually, Ashton stopped on a loose metal lid. When he used his sword to pry it open, it made her wince, but when the smell hit them, she winced even harder. That, was the smell of a sewer.

Their voices echoed. “I think the beast we are about to kill, isn’t evil. But it deserves to die all the same.”

Tommy was scared of heights. ".... Are we going down there?"

Ashton responded with the heightened sounds of his hand rustling into his pocket. “Take this, it’s a resonance com crystal. If we get separated you can use it to keep in touch.”

"Oh! Cool. How do I use it?" 

Ashton leapt down. 

"Is there a button, or should I just speak into it? This is so cool. I don't know what this is."

. . .

"Mr. Ashton." Tommy looked down. "Mr. Ashton?"

___________________________________________________________

Spoiler

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

  • The beast has not yet noticed the party. In fact, it is peacefully snoring on a pile of bones. 
  • Someone is crying. There are strange noises coming in the other direction. These two paths are laid out before them.
  • Some rats have noticed your entrance. One rat has peeked out of it's mouse hole. Try to talk to them? 
  • The sewer is covered in graffiti, sewage, and... a purple ribbon?
  • There is a large hole. This is where the creature must have came in.
  • The walls seem to be covered in claw marks. The narrow path has almost been destroyed. 

___________________________________________________________

Tommy landed on her feet. It sprayed sewage water onto Ashton and onto herself. Also, her hand unfortunately plunged straight into shit water.

"Man," she wiped her palm on her pants. "Not cool."

She took off her school bag and zipped it open, rummaging inside with her other hand and whipped out an old-looking flashlight. After smacking it twice, it shined a bright cone of light. Tommy, not entirely unfazed by the smell of the sewer despite being a down-to-earth farmer, looked at Ashton. 

"My hand is definitely infected now. I can feel ninety-nine percent of bacteria flowing into my bloodstream."

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Ashton’s descent into the sewers is unnaturally slow, his hangtime prolonged by preternatural forces. In fact, when his boots finally touch the water and begin to sink in, there is hardly splash. Ankle deep in shit water, Ashton turns to walk toward one of the walls as Tommy comes crashing down into the sewage, sending a spray of god knows what every which way. Ashton, grateful that it hit his back and not his face, pauses to look back at Tommy.

“No way to arrest your fall, huh? You should be careful; you could have ended up in sewage well over your head.” As he speaks, his left hand traces a rune into the air, an ethereal trail of blue and red – left in the wake of his fingertip—merge together into a solid white orb that hovers just a few feet above and behind him. Its glow, warm and inviting, is just enough light to illuminate six to seven feet around him.

“You’ve probably contracted a flesh-eating bacteria or something. Maybe you can get your hand replaced with a chainsaw. That’d be kind of neat.” Although there is a certain jovial quality to his voice, Ashton’s face is anything but. His visage is contorted with worry and vexation as his smoldering gaze works around their immediate surroundings. Dilated pupils skim across the graffiti, claw marks, and a ribbon before finally returning to his companion.

“Looks like we are in the right…” He stops, his brows furrow and his nose scrunches. “You hear that?” His head cants ever so slightly to one side. Although he can barely make it out, reverberating through the tunnels, only a few decibels above the threshold of hearing, is something akin to sobbing. “I think someone is down here.”

Repositioning his sword from his shoulder, he brings the tip to rest in the sewage. His face relaxes, a course of action already drawn up in his mind. However, whatever that may be he doesn’t offer any solutions or recommendations to Tommy. “What do you want us to do?” Even with the potential of someone else being in danger, Ashton keeps to his script. This is Tommy’s evaluation after all.

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Pffffff.

“A hand chainsaw?” Tommy mumbled under her breath with a grin, inspecting the walls ridden with graffiti, couple signatures, and unoriginal penis jokes. The light from Ashton's orb still wasn't enough to make out what any of the barely legible writing said.

Then Tommy moved on to the next wall, where all the color from her body had drained into the sewer water below. It was like all the other walls, except what layered on top was a single massive claw mark that ripped through so deep, there was a pitch black shadow on the other side. Tommy placed her hand inside one of the four jagged strips strewn across the wall, and shuddered on the inside when there was still room for more hands. Looking back at her senior, she pretended to be unfazed, assuming that Justice most likely preferred a tough kid.

"That actually sounds pretty cool," she said, walking over to Ashton, who had stared intently at a piece of trash. A ribbon.

“Looks like we are in the right . . .” Ashton stopped talking. He made a face before saying: “You hear that?”

Elvish ears perked up. ". . . Hear what?" Tommy whispered.

They concentrated on the sounds. It was a short while before Ashton spoke again. “I think someone is down here.”

She held her keychain dangling from her belt. "You hear it too? I thought it was just me." 

He brought his sword down. Tommy radiated with curiosity at the glint of his blade.

"What do you want us to do?"

"Hmm?" She drew a blank. Then, "Oh! Uh," Tommy pointed at herself, "me?"

Ashton looked at her with a straight face. She stared at him with uncertainty in her eyes. When nothing else was said, Tommy swallowed a big lump in her throat and began to scratch at her head, forgetting that that hand was the same hand destined to become a chainsaw. In comparison to Ashton, he was calm, staring silently at Tommy in wait for her decision despite already making his own strategy. She struggled coming up with a plan, but ultimately decided that they should go investigate the strange sound. If they really do find someone, saving that person would be their first priority.

"Let's check it out. The noises, I mean." 

They walked towards the two paths, two large circles in the middle of a small sewer hallway. 

___________________________________________________________

Spoiler

Ready or not...

  • The team chooses the path where they suspect is the source of the noise.
  • A small pitter-patter in the water sounds like something tiny is doggy-paddling their way. A rat?
  • The beast is gone from it's pile of bones. A pair of large eyes illuminate in the dark from the large hole from before. It knows their scent...
  • From the holes and caves above in the walls, some rats watch as you go. They seem very curious.

 

 

 

 

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Although Ashton doesn’t agree with Tommy’s choice, he respects it, or at least respects it enough to not comment or second guess her. If his experience has taught him anything, it is that you neutralize the threat before saving the hostage. Now of course, there is the very real threat of them being attacked while they try to help whoever needs it, assuming that it isn’t some kind of trap. Plus, trying to keep another person alive while also fighting, is a challenging task in and of itself.

Of course, there is another fundamental rule that he lives by that supersedes any other rule or law he might live by, ‘The point man is always correct’. This saying isn’t to say that the person making a decision is infallible, or that there isn’t a better way to do something. Rather, it reflects on the fact that a unified front will always have a greater chance of success, regardless of if the best or worst choice is made. Dividing their efforts, because he disagrees with her, divides their strength, and exponentially increases the likelihood of them failing or even dying.

As the walk through the winding maze of the sewer, negotiating their way toward the sword, Ashton flicks his fingers through the air sending the glowing orb darting down a length of tunnel, momentarily illuminating large sections of it in advance.  In a similar fashion, as they pass by branching tunnels, he periodically sends the orb flying down those just to grab a glance of what might be lingering in the dark.

“Damn, that was stupid.” The comment is made as the round a bend in the tunnel. Ashton comes to a stop and turns to look back from where they’d just come. “I didn’t think mark our path, to keep us from getting lost.” He laments on his own failure, his words laden with self-reprimand. It is a rookie mistake, one that could cost them a lot of time and energy.

“Fuck it.” The words are his mantra of acceptance and a reflection on his personal philosophical views of life, and at times his battle cry. It is impossible to control all aspects of day to day life, and it is inevitable that something will go wrong and mistakes will be made.

Pressing his index finger into the wall of the sewer, he draws a glyph on the surface, followed by a chain of light that connects directly to the hovering light orb. The chain flickers as a connection forms between the two magical constructs, before finally dissipating into the dank air.

“A lesson for future us, make sure you know how to get out.” The comment is cast toward Tommy as Ashton turns back toward her. “Ugh, could you imagine being trapped down here for a few days?” He shudders as he asks, the disgust on his face readily apparent.

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