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The lion's claw

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Part the first

Caden was aboard his gecko, what he called the personal-sized airship Vito gifted him after the success of their last mission, planting a depot in the mountain city of Behods. Vito's chemical skill at drug synthesis was a boon to their overall enterprise, designer drugs with a designer in-house spelled out major profits, but it was Caden's business acumen which saw the ripe potential of an unlikely market in Behods and positioned them to exploit it. It was Caden which paired Vito's inclination towards psychedelics and the Druids critical examination of other worlds. It was a drug only they could make, and they sold it at a premium to the highest levels of governance in a healthy economy.

It was an unimpeachable success. Caden knew this, he felt good about it, he felt proud of himself, and he watched as those emotions circled the perimeter of a gaping pit of rage which swallowed up all of those good feelings and let nothing exist but itself. There were no moves wasted, every motion built something for the one that came after it, but how long was he supposed to wait? Was he going to be an old man, his enemies old and comfortable and having lived full lives, before he could do something of significance?

On the table in front of him a dusty tome on transmutation and an amulet with an enchantment engine. He had been occupying his mind after punishing his body, not getting sharp or strong but maintaining a level of excellence in both, but now the only thing that occupied him was the dead. The Dead. The hands clenched themselves into fists. The body, slightly shiny with cooling sweat, tensed itself. The jaw set itself and slowly wore away the enamel of his teeth as they grit against one another.

Then a ping, a chime on his communication device, the final node of a complex web of relays; the message was coded, not encrypted, and it told him that something interesting had just happened in Martial Town. A club got hit. More than hit, acquired. The club, his source confirmed, was a locus for profitable crime in the way of smuggling.

It could be anyone, for any number of reasons . . . but Caden thought he recognized the scent. He sped from his desk to the upper deck of the gecko and found Liam.

"We're going to Martial Town."

That was it, then he rushed back down to the lower deck to ping Vito and let him know: "Martial Town."


Edited by supernal

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Part the second

"I'm going to break her fucking neck."

Caden explained calmly, reaching across the table for a carafe of wine and pouring himself a modest amount into an empty glass. His tie was loose, his cuffs undone, his partners sat on either side of him and high ranking members of the Vilad family sat on the other side. He didn't rate high enough for a face to face meeting with the head, especially so given the turbulence of the times, but the fact that they put three captains in one room to hear what he had to say showed that the Vilads still respected the name of Fuller after checking his bona fides, despite their fall from grace.

He laid it all out for them. What happened to the Fullers and the other crime families in Last Chance once the Dead decided to move in. Bend the knee, become a vassal, and be spared, be lavished with their generosity. Dare to stand on your own and lose everything that you hold dear. The people in Last Chances weren't hopeless addicts and aimless criminals beyond reform. They were anarchists who didn't need big brother to look out for them, and now look at what it's become; a puppet for someone else's ambitions.

Who did that sound like? What was in store for Martial Town at the end of the garden path? Do you want your kid or your brother's kid sitting at a table like this, talking to someone else in another family about how his own was turned to ash and how they can't let it happen again?

"I'm going to do it. I'll bank it, plan it, execute it. Anything your people can throw into the pot is in your own interest but I'll pay you for the shield, I ain't so crass as to come asking for favors without nothing to stake, I just want to show you what it looks like to be respected so when those skeleton fucks come knocking on your door after they already did whatever they wanted, if they haven't already I mean, then you can really see what I mean."

Edited by supernal

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Part the third, and final

Phoebe has shed the ruse she used to snatch the carpet out from under the Red Door; the irony lay in the fact that though more fully clothed than her guise, because she looked the most like herself Phoebe was more exposed, in effect more naked than she had been in her eye-leading attire.

Phoebe is on the second floor of her newly acquired commercial real estate, sifting through the various income statements, profit / loss margins, liquor licenses, so on, to see what would need to be updated or voided to complete the truly hostile takeover. Resistance had been quelled, a thin, makeshift force organized into something like a security detail had only to last long enough for proper reinforcements to arrive.

Things were, in effect, wrapped up. It's the point of an event when the audience has vacated and custodians are sweeping the grounds.

That's when it happens.

That's when Phoebe's wall explodes inward in a lacerating spray of shrapnel, an improvised aperture reaching inward with a flare of warped rebar. A reprisal? So soon? Not soon enough, so far as Caden was concerned. Years too long in the making, but finally, the wheel was turning. In the still settling dust his form suggested something otherworldly. Man-like, but not, the bulk obscene, the glimpses of skin a gray, sickly color, the eyes dull and blank but the face twisted in minute, artistic expressions of perfected rage. Chunks of wall fell from the ceiling and landed on him, bounced off, served only to scramble part of the tinny words cutting the air between them as the metal bled away from his skin and an explosively mobile Caden rushed headlong at Phoebe.

"-ak your fuckin'neck!"

Edited by supernal

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It was evening; almost dark, the perfect time for rest and reflection, and the dark-haired First was doing both of those things alongside a smattering of work.  A day had passed since her acquisition of the Red Door by means edged and ragged; a privately personal assertion of her dominance over those who had once dominated her, and one that saw her tired, but not tiring, for she still had a handful of names on her personal murder list- three, to be precise, but for the first time the Seven were more dead than not, and that was something to cheer about.

In front of Phoebe, on a monstrously extravagant steel and glass desk, sat a stack of papers- the mundane requirements of running a business like the Red Door, alongside the less than mundane tasks of running an operation like Amirah's had been.  Now?  Who knew- the defensive staff of the Door were mostly dead, her business contacts looked to split halfway down the middle between staying and going, and Amirah's criminal contacts seemed too wary to jump on board.  The Thief could rebuild it; she'd done it before and would do it again, but it would take time.  It always took time.

The woman groaned and kicked back, avoiding the Mindgorger propped behind her as she lifted her boots and set both dirty heels on top of the very recently cleaned desk, then lifted the edge of her shirt and the edge of the bandage beneath it.  The wound didn't look great- didn't look awful, but.. didn't look great.  Letting the hem of the dark sleeveless shirt sink back to her thin stomach, she let her head fall backward against the chair back to stare at the ceiling.  Already she could see the concern in Aristotle's bi-color gaze when she returned from yet another success with yet another wound.  He worried, probably rightly.. but maybe she could sneak in a visit to the reconstruction team first and cover it up before heading home to him and their daughter.  


In the quiet of the closed bar, she could hear the distant echo of footsteps tromping up the stairs which lead to the office.  The second floor had been left as a suite of sorts- all Amirah's office, a private bath, and an exterior meeting room.  There was no reason to come here that wasn't to see her, so she lowered her feet with a sigh and waited for the knock which came, gently.  A semi-familiar auburn topped face peeked in as the door cracked open.

"I found two of the unbranded SurVive packs- do you want one?" came the question as the man threaded his arm through the gap and wagged a small, pressed, plastic pack of something at Phoebe.

"Uh, yes."  Her reply was quick and she rose, opening one hand and gesturing for the man to toss the package, which he did and which she caught in her good hand.  The crackers were a life-saver, literally in a few cases- high-calorie, high-vitamin, one-day rations with nanite boosts for toxin clearing and healing.  There was a bit of a pain reliever in them as well, which was really the reason for the speed with which Phoebe chowed down on the flavorless wafer.  It certainly wasn't taste- Argus had mastered many things, but good tasting battlefield rations was not one of them.

Inside of a moment she'd torn the pack open, plucked one of the crackers out, and crunched it in half between her molars.  A wave indicated her thanks and the man nodded, ducking back out as he shut the door behind him.  The aches and burns from her acquisition of the Red Door were Phoebe's only companions as she settled back behind the gaudy desk- eight feet in diameter, with curved steel and smokey glass that absolutely mandated someone be hired to clean it every day and before every meeting.  It was grotesque and impractical- the kind of desk someone bought when they had grown so successful that they discarded the value of common work.

It'd probably have to stay through the remodel.

Disgusted, the First rolled her eyes and ran her hand back through her thick, dark, locks, then palmed a stack of papers to the area in front of her and began to sort Amirah's former wealth into three piles - recoverable, lost, and unknown.  Hours passed; the nanites peaked and faded, along with the pain killer from her surVive cracker, and Phoebe had just set the last paper down with a satisfied sigh and stood when the west wall of her office imploded in a violent rush of power.

The force staggered the First- concrete shrapnel and tiny daggers of stone peppered her body.  Unarmored as she was, the rock drew blood; a dozen tiny cuts erupted across her fair skin and ripped wounds which began to seep blood.  In a flash of reflex she wove together her psionics to block the remainder, but Caden was already in - not to her side, where the explosion came from, but her front, and she swore audibly and moved to redirect as the man-thing charged.

He was very fast.. and Phoebe was very tired.  It was like being ripped from a lecture on spreadsheet calculations and thrown into a Coliseum full of Lions.  She scrambled; her mind reorienting, eyes narrowing, as adrenaline ripped her into wakefulness with alacrity.  "..WOAH!"  She yelled, raised palms like it was all a misunderstanding and snatched the back edges of Amirah's desk, flipping it with a thought forward, toward Caden.

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His entrance had been loud - however small her skeleton crew, if there was even just one footsoldier then that was a footsoldier who was going to be intrigued by the foundation-shaking introduction of Caden into Phoebe's office. Even one footsoldier was one complication too many.

Aside from her own personnel there was a matter of the citizens and other small business owners in the surrounding area. Martial Town's communications arrays were on the right side of sophisticated, which meant that jamming emergency signals would have required more time and setup than Caden could put his hands on in the small window of time afforded him - and time was now, as always, of the essence. The fact that he had put himself in a room with a Dead officer was no less than a direct function of an attack launched between breaths.

This interstitial space was one the Vilads occupied, was one of the primary reasons for involving them in the scheme; they could not completely dam up Martial Town's law enforcement response but they could dam it up, slow it down, throttle its flow and redirect it. They both had reason to be concerned about police. Phoebe would want to avoid an investigation, she wouldn't call the cops herself following her militant coup d'etat, but Caden had the more to fear of a sudden deluge of police officers.

Leaving the cops to the Vilads, and the remnants of Dead to Liam and Vito, Caden focused on the matter at hand - to wit, the steel and glass desk hurtling at him.

Cat's Grace flushed through his body. With enhanced speed and agility Caden threw himself at the nearest wall feet first then kicked off of it, flattening himself against the ceiling as the desk punched through the space underneath, and landing on his feet in a slight crouch. They locked eyes. Caden fought the temptation to rush her again, intuition outpacing his logical mind, years of combat instinct suggesting in a wordless manner that if he got too close while she was expecting it, his might be the next object thrown about.

He made a ring with his thumb and forefinger, eyes never leaving the prize, and blowing with a sharp breath into the circle his fingers made; what sprang out at Phoebe from the once empty space was a jet of greasy fire nearly as tall as the woman herself.

Edited by supernal

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"You know you're going to die here."

The misdirection, amidst the crash of glass and the clatter of steel, as the grandious table was reduced to a waterfall of crystal shards and ruined supports.  The man was well-trained- an eight foot wide desk and he'd lept it like a tabby leaps an inconvenient gate.  It was frustrating, to say the least, and Phoebe took a few steps backward and drew her telekinetics inward into the thin, flexible, armor that usually covered her curves and valleys.  In this case, it smeared the blood trickling from her wounds, a garish display that wrapped the First in a murderous mask.

She tracked him as he landed, graceful and silent.  It began to settle with her that this wasn't a mistake; he wasn't lost, this wasn't an accident, and he wasn't here for Amirah.  It's funny, this wasn't the first time someone had tried to assassinate Phoebe- but it was the first time they'd managed to get this close.  Her expression settled into something hard and unforgiving- a glimpse of Skeleton behind the woman; the ugly truth behind a pretty face.  

The First was already moving as Caden circled his fingers- she lived with a mage, married him even, and had been around enough to know that absolutely no good comes from random hand movements in battle.  If it didn't make sense, dodge, so she did- tumbling to the side in a pained movement that ripped through the wound on her stomach as Caden's fire lit up the room in an orange flare.  She came up stumbling, holding herself as she narrowed her eyes and shot a streaming waterfall of telekinetics out at Caden, aiming to push the man back and keep him away from her.  He wouldn't see it; not unless there was more magic about him than the fire, but he'd see its movement in the effect it had on the once-organized papers his blast had scattered about the room.

There was something eerily familiar about the man, Phoebe considered in the space between breaths- something just tickling the edge of her memory, distant, a face in the crowd somewhere that she should've remembered but just didn't.  She'd seen so many faces- brown hair, green eyes, scar.. wait, the scar.  Phoebe racked her brain as the blast shot forward.  

Who the fuck was he?

Edited by Noko

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"Break. Your fucking. Neck."

Caden managed to push the words through the grate of his gritted teeth, a four word encapsulation of his life's work.

The psychic force which Phoebe applied on Caden was a palpable, tangible thing. One which tossed random objects and pieces of broken desk into the air, which pressed against Caden and gave him not an inch while taking back every bit of distance he fought to claim during their short exchange. This motherfucking motherfucker was proving to be quite tenacious.

A body-stressing combination of Bear's Endurance and Bull Strength allowed Caden to anchor himself, digging his feet into the ground with purchase enough that it warped the floorboards and gave him a literal foothold. Caden put one arm up and out as if fighting against a buffeting wind, but one which did not observe the consequences of deflection and instead morphed around his body to fit it like a glove and push and pull against him from every angle.

His other hand came up to grab the amulet underneath his shirt and grip it hard enough that he nearly dented the metal chassis holding the treasure inside. Luck had favored him in many ways which led him to this moment but this moment was decided by careful planning and forethought, attributes which one might not associate with Caden's brusque demeanor and brutish tactics . . . to one's own detriment. The amulet was the first major thing towards which Caden expended all the resources available to him at that moment, knowing that one day, through nothing more than the sheer force of his will if need be, he would find himself standing opposite a psychic.

A wave of Confusion cut through the telekinetic waterfall as if the two forces operated on different planes, which was likely the case. Against a weak and untrained mind the Confusion was powerful enough to incapacitate, temporarily rendering targets into incoherent, babbling messes, cowards who flee as quickly as possible, or unwitting assistants who attack their friends while thinking them foes. Against Phoebe, even in the depleted state that he found her in, Caden expected only a few seconds of reprieve.

Souped up as he was, those precious few seconds were all he needed. The moment the pressure relented Caden shot forward like a spear from a ballista. He appeared airborne, face a blank mask of singular focus, hands shimmering with a Transmutation that would Slow her down to a crawl, and give Caden all the time he needs to make good on his promise.

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"Break. Your fucking. Neck."

Who the fuck was he.  His voice was grit- sand in the shoes, glass in the water, rough like an early Monday engagement after a late Sunday assassination.  She couldn't figure it out - not yet - but countered idly, the aim to keep him talking and thinking instead of acting.

"You should run before I throw you out."  Her voice was flat, matter-of-fact, like pointing out untied shoes or a spot on his shirt.  Phoebe continued to ponder his name and where she knew him from even as she continued to wail on Caden, just pouring force into the torrent of telekinetics which battered against the well-anchored man.  It was already beyond belief- that he stood, even for a moment, was more than she expected.  So she dropped more power, and more, until the entirety of her weary will was set against this one man - this one, unidentifiable, man.  The scar was the key, she was sure of it.  Over his right eye, the slash was hard to miss - the sort of identifiable that Phoebe would never allow to settle on herself.  

To settle.

Wait, had she settled?

A haze of confusion suffocated the Psion and she scrambled to find her way through the fog- was she throttling the psionics, was it.. wait.



The strands began to dissipate, losing cohesion as the First stumbled through her own thoughts.  The psionics shot everywhere- punching through the back wall, the ceiling, shoving papers around and floating tiny insignificant pieces of glass as Phoebe canted her head and stared at them blankly, blinking, before her intellect snapped back like a slingshot.  Caden was already in the air- a blur, a fucking blur and she shot to respond physically only to find the very air around her restraining her, binding her. 

Watching her smirk bloom in slow motion must've been a treat.  

Bodily, the First was helpless- slowed to incapacitation and wounded already, but her strengths had never been in brutish areas.  Instead, as Caden threw himself at her like a human bolt gun, she reached for the soft places in his mind - the ugly wounds, the screaming cries, and the ruinous memories which we all experience, stuff back into our consciousness, and hope to never see again.  Those she would drag to the forefront, wounding Caden's psyche and hoping that the pain was too much for him to focus through.  A hail-mary would back up the mind rake- one of the twisted desk supports destroyed in her first defense, grabbed and whipped toward the flying man's body; it wasn't an easy shot, but the steel support was long and Phoebe had the advantage of knowing where Caden was going, so with luck it would hit and buy her enough time to make Caden an oath-breaker.

Edited by Noko

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The meditative ambiance enveloping the gecko's upper deck came to a grinding halt as Caden burst into the room with his announcement.

"We're going to Martial Town."

Liam immediately stopped the classical music spilling out of the crystal on his desk. He knew it was finally time--time for their long awaited vengeance. The unmistakable cocktail of rage, excitement, and desperation permeated off Caden; Liam could hear it in Caden's voice, see it on his face, and feel it in the air. It was so transparent to Liam that he could almost feel the scar on his throat ache as his desire for pay-back moved from the land of fantasy into tangible reality.

"So you found them? You're sure?" Liam only asked as a formality, a small conversational flourish to give Caden the satisfaction of answering in the affirmative and to give Liam the satisfaction of hearing it. Liam's usual calm, calculated movements stood in stark contrast to the sinister grin sprawled on his face. He put down the small leather-bound journal he was sketching in, marked his place with a pencil, adjusted his glasses, stood up to face Caden, and buttoned his suit jacket. With a deep breath he steadied his mind and stopped the entropic forces brought on by the complex emotions. No more words needed to be exchanged between the cousins, Liam knew what he had to do.

"I'll start preparing." Was all Liam said as he began moving around the room with purpose, gathering books and CCDs as he went. 

The parle with the Vilad family went well. They clearly thought we were blinded by anger and inflating the enemy, but Caden's proposal was too good to pass up; for almost no risk they could vanquish a future foe and make a potential ally, why not play along? 

After some back-and-forth with the elves, and much talk of neck breaking and respect, the plan was sketched out and it was time get moving--the window of opportunity was very tight for this operation. Liam's partners left to execute their respective tasks, some of the Vilads went off on their business, and at last it was just Liam twirling wine on one side of the table and a captain of the Vilad family sitting on the other: these two were in charge of police management, civilian crowd control, and ensuring that Caden would have the uninterrupted time he needed.

"So..." Liam began in his cold, metered way of speaking. "...how much aluminum do you have?"

The elf across the table looked confused, but it didn't take long for Liam to get them on the same page. It was time for the Dead to play a game with Liam again, but this time the young Fuller knew to prepare.

Everybody can appreciate the timeless beauty of a well composed mass, but most people don't appreciate the proper structure needed to ensure the piece is transcendental. A soft hum from the orchestra's strings is an appropriate start, and then a crescendo of choral harmony to set the stage--this would be a mass's first movement, the Kyrie which gently drives away silence to clear away space for the rest of the mass. The structured wall of sound produced during the Kyrie eventually raises in volume before coming to a pivot and, in a deluge of cathartic excitement, moves us straight into the Gloria where praises are sung. In the Gloria, two Sopranos might rise above the rest of the orchestra and begin their intricate dance of angelic belting. Without a satisfying Gloria, the Credo falls flat and the rest of the mass is underwhelming. 

Liam sometimes liked to envision the Fuller family's vengeance as a well composed mass, and it was certainly playing out that way. Meeting with the Vilad family and establishing the plan was that hum of the string section. Now, standing in front of the Red Door, Liam was listening for the chorus...


Just as planned Caden's explosive entrance went off--this was the cue for the chorus. With a single tap of a small device Liam triggered a cascade of noisy explosions and massive clouds of smoke--everyone in Martial town would hear this chorus, not just the folks near the Dead's new club. Caden's explosion was real, it caused real damage and served an obvious purpose. The explosions Liam set off were a red herring, they were more alarming than damaging and only served as diversion.

With the explosions going off in all directions and smoke rising all over Martial Town, Liam and his entourage of hired muscle flooded through the Red Door's main entrance. The planning and explosions were the Kyrie of this mass, now it was Liam's turn to support Caden as he and Phoebe took center stage during the Gloria. Liam was going to keep Pheobe's lackey's distracted, and when the Gloria concluded Vitto would transition us into the Credo.


Edited by Dupin

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A flame of memory flickered before his mind's eye. The net was already cast around Phoebe and Caden already in the process of tightening it around her, of forming that net into a noose, when an unbidden memory bubbled to the fore of his mind and interrupted the needle-like concentration required to bring his spell to full maturity. It took only the name and face of the man who had set so much of his life into motion - Elnic Fuller.

The sudden recollection was more odd, less potent, not a transportation to another point in space-time but a curious glimmer of color and shade. The second memory was stronger, full-bodied, commanded a headier bouquet. It clouded his eye against the incoming I-beam, which struck Caden on the side, cracked a rib, winded him. An infernal marriage of momentum and inertia stayed the man's course for him and their two bodies collided. Caden's eyes were blank, still in that faraway place.

The memory was of him and his uncle fishing in the lake north of Last Chance. Caden as a child on the cusp of manhood, small and skinny, his uncle in the prime of his life, the young man chewing the end of a cigar he never seemed to light, the young boy sulking as he cast his line. The uncle slapping him on the shoulder that he knew the boy had bruised losing a fight against two other kids.

'That kid knew that no leader rules alone so he used one of his loyal subjects to help him win a fight he knew he wasn't going to be able to win alone. If you wanna cry about it go ahead and cry about it then get your shit together and plan your counterattack.'

His third memory is holding his uncle's hand as the man slips into the patient, waiting arms of death. A mage's meteor swarm summoned on him while he was walking his grandchildren towards the wishing well, because they didn't care who got caught up in the crossfire, if their war swept up civilians along with the soldiers. That was his enemy, and Caden would adapt to them. Holding Elnic's limp hand in his own, trembling with plummeting grief and electric rage, he swore to do no less than to exact the same price from his enemies as they had made him pay.

Caden's eyes resolve to clarity just as his hands find Phoebe's neck. Tears stream from his face and drop onto hers in a bitter rain. "You took him from me."

The pulsing veins distorting his face and twisting the landscape of his arms make clear that the strength Caden is plying on her is supernatural. He intends to die just as he intends to kill her - here and now.

But alas, the best laid plans . . .

From his vantage Caden lacks the insight to identify the nature of the reprisal. He only knows something strikes him across the face, breaking his nose and stunning him. In that brief moment of bedlam Phoebe escapes his grasp. In the moment after a massive force snaps onto him from above; his legs withstand the force but the ground gives way, and without a platform to brace himself against, the force above sweeps him down and slams him into the ground, cratering the floor.

Caden lies unconscious behind enemy lines. 

Edited by supernal

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The rake pulled glimpses of Caden's memories to her- just distant flickers, scenes viewed through the lense of a telescope peering through a bank of fog and felt only as one feels the retelling, of a retelling, of a retelling.  It was awareness, more than experience- devoid of names and relationships, the ethereal faces of those involved were insubstantial and fragmented, meaning little while conveying only a hair more.  It wasn't enough to place him- familiar similarities, but no more.

Inside her thoughts, Phoebe's frustration surged.

She was watching him; it was virtually the only thing she could do beyond compel herself, demand her flesh and muscle obey, only to continue to be stifled and smothered by the Slow.  It wasn't until the last memory emerged from Caden's tortured past that his spell began to fray and she felt herself able to move, but momentum had already sealed her fate - Caden was airborne, and while the now-free First had enough time to turn her shoulder into the attack, she couldn't get out of the way. 

He hit her like a battering ram; all muscle and bone, wrapped in magic and rage, and drove the woman back in the far wall where the red-painted planks snapped sharply.  Amirah's pictures rocked and fell.  What few decorations had survived the initial explosion rattled from their perches and rained down in a stream of glass and knick-knackery.

The woman grunted, exhaling as Caden drove her into the wood.  His hands found her neck and she recalled his words.

Break. Your fucking. Neck.

Caden wasn't even here- not here, anyway.  If he were, the gangster might have made good on his promise already, but his green eyes were dark and as faraway as thunder on the horizon, and Phoebe realized she may have gone too far.  There was a breaking point for everyone- an invisible line in the rending beyond which intellect and thoughtfulness would cease to operate and the person in the meat suit lost control to their animal.  It was where she believed Caden was now- in the backseat, watching himself choke out the woman who killed his family, and probably enjoying the show.  In his mind, she flailed - there was just nothing there, nothing she could grab and hope to extinguish the black fire which subsumed his consciousness - and realizing her mistake she withdrew back into herself just as Caden's eyes refocused and they met each other again.

"You took him from me."

The words are a bitter accusation that the First answered with a small shrug, just the off-handed wrinkle of her brows to accompany the press of her lips, since that was all she could move.


Phoebe could barely breathe, yet she forced that single word through strangulation, with utter disgust.  Even in this, she was dismissive- contemptuous and aloof as his tears peppered her face, with an arrogance that could provoke the kindest soul to a mindless slaughter.  It was, of course, designed that way - it might cost her dearly, but she needed him to break again; needed his mind to skip a beat and give her the half-second in which she could move before her world succumbed to shadow and stillness.

The gambit worked- she saw the flicker, the moment when rage overwrote thought, and the tiny shift he made to better end her opened up a crack in his offense.  Without hesitation, she exploded - a massive burst of force that cracked the wall behind her and threw Caden backward, breaking his nose and stunning the man.  In the next second, a massive hand formed in the growing smoke ceiling billowing from Caden's earlier fire.  There's no moment in which to consider its origin- there was only a flicker of concern in the First's face before the hand, at least fifteen feet in length and half that in width, smashed down onto Caden and drove him down to the empty club below.  He landed on the bar, smashing through the solid oak as if it were no more than dry kindling.

Phoebe breathed- the air came in great gulps that visibly moved her chest and gradually slowed as she looked down into the fractured, toothy, maw which was once Amirah's office floor.  Extending a hand, she summoned the Mindgorger from beneath its rubble grave, and stared at Caden's sprawled, unconscious, body.

<Assassin on the first floor, directly underneath my office.  Brown, green, tall- enhanced mage.  Kill him, please.>

As she caught her breath, the First considered following Caden down with the Gorger and ending this, but the clamor of Skeletons heading Caden's way and the voluminous protestations and pain radiating from her body launched a convincing, and opposing, viewpoint.  Unhappily, the woman turned away and pressed a hand to the wound on her stomach - now open and bleeding again - before she winced, gently grazing her fingertips along the edge of the growing welt on her neck.

<...And thanks to whoever's Hand that was.>

Edited by Noko

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"You know, it has beeeeeen a while since you've been out on one of those craaaazy hauls of yours. " A drunken tabaxi sputtered out a mixture of words and alcohol, dangerously close to falling of the edge of the raiders in-progress sky platform. 

"Yep, duty has been keeping me here with you idiots." Vito using the end of a stick nudged the tabaxi to the left, preventing him from plummeting hundreds of metres to his death. "But it hasn't given me time to tidy things up around here.

"Hey...." Just as the tabaxi was ready to let out any further slurred words, a distant call came to Vito from his ship. A kobold waved with great enthusiasm, signalling him aboard. "Oh well, great talking with you again, Rags. Don't fall off." Grabbing his friend by the scruff, Vito began moving him a few meters away from the edge. The winds were bad enough, without alcohol involved. 

'This can only mean one thing.'

With the raiders hunch right, he found himself  travelling to martial town. The Caiman, followed by several other smaller ships, rocketed towards their destination. He'd already prior contacted several other criminal groups in their area, calling in favors left and right. Smuggling an army in unnoticed wouldn't be easy, but possible if done right.

The soldiers aboard the ship readied themselves for combat, sharpening their blades and fangs. They sang songs of war and triumph, boasting about their many achievements on the battlefield. Their lives meant little to them, death during was but a sign of dying to their true cause. 

Stood a top a nearby building, the winds flickered his cloak. He could hear most noises carried by the gusts that tore across the town, both the good and the bad. The many flickering neon lights painting the streets red for brief moments, an omen of what was to come. Each second that went by was painful tension for Vito, just waiting for the moment. Then suddenly, the sounds he'd waiting for finally arrived.

A bang from Caden's location, followed by a detonation of explosives across the town. The raider raised his sword in the air, bringing it down on its side with a heavy thud. A humming echo came from his blade that was carried by the winds, able to be heard by most in martial town. It was a signal to his kobold soldiers who poured into the streets, armies amassing ready to smash down the doors.

From dust bins, out of windows, buildings, dropping from rooftops and more. The army formed in an instant, a mixture of red and green scaled soldiers quickly used their combined weight in an attempt to rush forward and crack through the red doors. Shattering enemy lines with large numbers was their main tactic. Trampling each other as they clambered to be the first in, swinging and cutting anything in sight. The green and red quickly became one, as the numbers kept growing. 


The raider slowly began walking towards the building, jumping from roof to roof and following distantly in his armies footsteps. The roars and hissing below got louder and louder, a true sympathy of brutal bloodshed. Stopping to stare up at the clouds, Vito smiled from behind his mask. His children waited above, the hunger in the clouds ready to strike and feast.

Edited by Rabbit

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The explosions, the smoke, and the resulting ripple effects came together to form a sensory experience that would temporarily stun even the best trained professionals. The Dead's operatives found themselves suddenly thrown from the complacent comforts of a successful heist and into a murky sea of uncertainty. Everything was going perfectly, and Vito's children added to the perfection by being right on cue.

Against a backdrop of prismatic neon and billowing smoke, and with the sensation of bone rattling shockwaves still fresh in the enemy's mind, a reptilian mass of greens and reds smashed into the Red Door's namesake. It only took moments before the small creatures compounded the critical mass needed to turn this barricade into a heap of splinters and warped metal. It was a scene right out of a bouncer's worst nightmare--if the Dead needed any help prioritizing their forces' focus, then the hive-mind of bloodthirsty lizard-folk would likely do the job.

As quickly as the red doors went down, the Dead operatives inside began pushing back; fireballs, icicles, thunderbolts, and a miscellany of other magical threats met Vito's creatures at the entrance. Tiny scaled corpses flew like organic shrapnel as the Dead's spells met the scaly  intruders, but it wasn't enough. Like casting stones at the ocean in an attempt to ward off the high tide, or like plugging a dam with a band-aide, the Dead's initial responce wasn't as unified as it needed to be; their forces were still scattered throughout the nightclub and the real threat was only now becoming clear. A tactical tug of war was playing out in real time: Would the Dead's skeleton crew come together fast enough to plug the hole? Or would the kobold wave overwhelm a startled defense? There were too many factors for anybody to say with certainty, but Liam could certainly nudge the outcome towards the latter.

Approximately ten meters from where the kobolds were single-mindedly piling through a relatively small bottle-neck, Liam stood by the Red Door's wall with four mercenaries that the Vilad family had provided at his request. His entourage consisted of two armored brutes equipped with massive hammers and two stereotypical spell slingers. 

"This spot should work just fine." Liam said while smacking the grey wall being bathed in the main street's neon blue glow. He moved behind the hammer wielding brutes and signaled the spell slingers to be at the ready. 

"Let's give these small hell raisers a hand, shall we?" A simple request with a dramatic outcome. The armor clad ogre-like men brought their hammers down on the wall in an unrelenting barrage. The first few blows left cracks in their wake and sent grey chips flying. The next few swings opened thin windows into the club. Finally, a mighty blow from one of the men caused a small avalanche of crumbling stone and created a puncture in the wall big enough to peak one's head through. The first part of their job was almost done, but there was no time to celebrate. 

An icy blue bolt of magical death came screeching through the newly formed opening; the unfortunate muscle-head who managed to perforate the wall had hardly indulged in the sweet satisfaction of his triumph over the barrier before he met an untimely end. The three surviving mercenaries hesitated while weighing the pros and cons of this lifestyle, but Liam snapped them back into action. "Don't stop! They won't." 

The surviving muscle-bound cut-throat went back to his hammering, but at a more panicked cadence than before. Each strike on the building's exterior was met with magical counter-strikes from the inside. Once the wall turned into a makeshift tunnel, kobolds began spilling into the building from two places...but why stop there? Time is an invaluable commodity in this operation, and Liam would not idle. Now, minutes after their assault had begun, and with the 'Red Door' desperately needing to be rebranded as the 'Two Door Frames', Vito's kobold forces would have an easier time overwhelming the enemy, and Liam could direct his attention inward.

"Cover me, then go open up more holes for our little friends." Liam's command brought the idling mages to life. They began casting wards and other protective spells on the Fuller's tactician. Meanwhile, Liam reached into his suit jacket's inner pocket, pulled out a small vial of chalky blue liquid, and pounded it back--a little alchemic 'aide' to sharpen his senses before jumping headlong into the fray.

Wasting no time, Liam weaved his way into the kobold blob infront of him. By this point the Dead's agents had organized themselves, which made Liam's journey inward a task akin to threading a needle. Spells flew towards him from all directions, but his mercenaries' back up, the kobold meat shield, and some bobbing and weaving got him through the first layer soon enough--he was inside the club now and dove behind the nearest dancing platform for cover from the unrelenting magical barrage.

Unfortunately, as the cliche goes, there ain't no rest for the wicked. The skeleton mages' flurry of destructive spells weren't targeted at individuals, but once inside some of the Dead's forces were defending the ground and disposing of intruders. A wiry silhouette disguised as a skeleton had noticed Liam's breach and immediately came plummeting from above like a spear wielding comet. Liam rolled out of the way and bounced to his feet with a precision knife now in his hand, but his spear-wielding enemy wouldn't relent. The skeleton confronting Liam leveraged their reach advantage to unleashed a deadly series of thrusts, and from Liam's side a small crackling ball of molten stone was boiling through the air. 

Liam shifted to the left, narrowly evading the first strike from the spear, and he grabbed a mostly in-tact metallic bar stool with his free hand. In an alchemically enhanced feat of dexterity, the young Fuller swung the stool up to meet the incoming magic projectile. The makeshift shield diverted most of the molten mess, but the stool exploded on contact and left Liam with only its metallic leg in hand. Small bits of sizzling rock burned Liam's tailor made suit, and some of the stool's debris flew back at Liam cutting the suit and leaving bleeding knicks on his skin. The bodily damage was minimal, but the damage to Liam's wardrobe was invaluable--his tailor would not be happy. There was no time to mourn, as the spear wielding enemy was coming in for a second jab aimed at Liam's stomach. Liam brought the stool's remaining leg down on the spear, diverting its course, and then followed the motion by throwing the debris at his opponent's head. The skeleton easily dodged, but Liam was already closing in and had produced another vial from inside his jacket. Liam closed the distance and stuck his precision knife just under his bony-costumed foe's armpit, but not before the spear left a shallow gash on Liam's left ribcage. There was no time to assess the damage, before the dying masked enemy could retreat, Liam stabbed them in the stomach while making sure to maximally damage their internal organs, and in the same motion he charged with his legs to pick the dying opponent up as a shield against incoming magical fire. 

As Liam finally began pushing further into the enemy line, his goal was forced to shift. A loud crash temporarily drowned out the cacophonous buzz of battle on the ground floor of the Red Door; an unconscious Caden came crashing from above and onto the bar. A Dead soldier in clubbing attire immediately beelined towards the motionless Fuller's leader--a race ensued between Caden and the man, but they had a head start. Liam lobbed the vial of purple liquid to the space between Caden and the incoming grim-reaper, and when it hit the ground a mist began rising while leaving a frosty wall in its wake. The enemy wisely chose to stop their approach to avoid the mist, but changed course with the explicit goal of intercepting Liam. Seeing this, Liam planted another purple vial on his limp human shield and tossed them in the incoming man's direction; as the dead skeleton crashed to the floor, they cracked like an ice sculpture as the mist slowly rose from their shattered remains. The incoming enemy would need to take another detour, but the bastard would not relent.

Liam reached Caden, but gained little insight into what had happened on the floor above; all he could see through the hole in the ceiling was destruction and the silhouette of a woman walking away. With no time to investigate and the Dead's lieutenant charging in their direction with obsessive tenacity, Liam did something rather desperate. He produced two more vials from his coat--one was a deep red and the other was technicolored, one was an antidote and the other a deadly poison. He drank half of the red vial, forced the other half down Caden's unresponsive throat, and cracked the technicolored vial in his hand. A deadly mist enveloped the two, and again the Dead's lieutenant wisely retreated. Pain began invading every inch of Liam's body in a way that mirrored the kobold onslaught. He tossed Caden over his shoulder and began retreating as quickly as he could--they only had minutes before the misty barrier would render Liam incapacitated. Taking cover in the kobold mess, Liam made quick progress out of the club, but not before a cold bolt struck the back of his Caden-free shoulder.

They'd made it out alive, but their enemy ensured they weren't in one piece. Dropping Caden on the floor in a nearby alleyway, and collapsing to his side, Liam mustered his last ounce of strength to drop a small black ball onto the ground. It began letting loose a thin stream of yellow smoke and a high pitched whistle. Liam's sight began to darken, the surrounding racket began to fade, and Liam could only hope that Vito would come to retrieve them before the enemy did.

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Vito watched from outside, sensory scrying random kobolds at will. It provided him some insight into the ongoing, from a safe distance. Some of his men lasted longer than others, with most ending with a single blade swing. The battle went both as expected and desired, mass death and allies breaking through enemy lines. Limbs flew as his soldiers threw themselves at the skeletons as if they wanted death, with the thirst for blood coursing through them. His allies had created further entrances, only catering to the hoard flooding inside. 

Blood began soaking the streets outside, the pavement quickly becoming a dark shade of red. Mass death was to be expected, along with mass mess. Even with but a few minutes going by, the number of combatants seemed to drop quickly. Vito's left eye began twitching, a slight twinge of regret nibbled away at him. Knowing that many of his people had died in an avoidable conflict, something that always came about such battles. But deep down he knew such a sacrifice could serve a greater purpose. 

"Serve the cause, serve the one who waits for you and serve your clan. The dead are but examples of what you'll avoid if you battle on." Vito whispered, his voice echoed by his shamans to all of his warriors. 

The soldiers let out a second battle cry, fusing all their weight once again to push enemy lines further. A temporary, but effective measure to ensure his position in the engagement. The wave crushed a portion of The Dead's foot soldiers, torn apart by a flurry of claws and crude swords. But the swarming tactic could only last so long before the enemies organised tactics took control, leading to yet another back and forth battle line. 

'I knew we should've just bombed the place.'  

As time progressed, the raider began questioning the tides of battle. His number of soldiers dwindled further and further, he'd lost sight of Liam and his men as they broke enemy lines. He could sense waves of magic being cast, with no way of knowing whether or not it was a killing blow. Was the raider going to have to join in the bloodshed? Would it even make a difference at this point? 

But as things seemingly always go between the two, Caden somehow managed to escape the hoards of enemies half alive. With an obvious queue, Vito leapt down from the building and began making his way towards the others. Upon reaching the exit, he was presented to the now unconscious bodies of Caden and Liam. The remainder of his men seemed to be finally retreating, knowing their mission was complete. 

"Okay, I think it's home time."

With a second thud of his sword, it let a similar but higher pitched hum. From a distance, it would appear that a large black cloud had begun descending. But from inside, an enormous swarm of kraul nymphs began to take over the area. They scavenged the dead bodies, tearing flesh and drinking the bodily fluids. The dead kobold bodies were reduced to shards of bone and scraps of organs. Little trace of the raider men remained, with even the blood soaked floors near clean. The Dead's foot soldiers gnawed to nothing, with little but bone dust remaining. 

Even at such a young age, the natural scavenger tendencies and hive mind caused the nymphs to loot the area. Taking any objects that were shiny, metallic or remotely abnormal. From shards of glass, gems, swords to pots and pans. Even some dead bodies were brought up, much to the raiders dislike. The many tiny kraul surrounded the remainder of Caden's forces, gripping them with a thousand tiny hands. With the combine numbers of the kraul nymphs, the survivors were flown upwards to safety.

Even some foe's were dragged upwards, unwillingly brought along. An airship waited above, a near identical one to that of Caden's own. With some of the dead foot soldiers being dragged upwards and later secured. Once safe inside, the group was transported to the Vilads safe house. Vito kept the ship slow and silent during its travel, stealthy enough to ensure they couldn't be tracked back and current location unknown.

Vilad Safehouse

Vito sat in silence, unsure of how to proceed. He simply sat, waiting for the others to talk.

Edited by Rabbit

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Back at the Red Door

The First groaned, her voice tight with pain.  Still on her feet, she itched for the fight- but it wasn't wise, it wasn't smart.  They were overrun- she didn't need to be a psion to know that.  Grimacing, Phoebe set her back teeth together until the molars felt like they would press flat from the force.  The wound in her abdomen, newly-opened up, throbbed like the fires of Yh'mi wormed through the muscle and ignored the pressure of her palm.  Warm blood found its way through and spilled over the edges of her fingers, staining her shirt.  All around, she could feel the lives winking out as the Dead passed from her thoughts like ghosts before Gaia, while their attackers' deaths drove holes in the swarm of auras besieging her.

It was a nightmare.

There was so much death, so much loss as attackers and defenders alike fell and cut holes in the First's psychic world.  Through the ear-splitting clamor of battle - from the metallic pounding of the hammers on her walls to the sickening undercurrent of chewing that was the nymphs and their mouths on the fallen - hundreds upon thousands of doors suddenly manifested in Phoebe's mind as the nymphs ingested the Dead, and by necessity their contract, and connected themselves fully to the First.

The woman slowed- the sudden pull of the nymphs was staggering, disorienting.  Across the ruined floor the echo of her footsteps deadened, then stopped, as she turned from its ruin and looked backward out of the Red Door's crumbling wall and into the clouded sky beyond.  The firehose of connections came from there- from out in the sky, from the cloud of wings that beat and pushed and swelled against gravity and destiny.  The feel of the Dead on the ground was one of broken rage; the 'Dead' in the air, glee.  Her anger flared; determination, renewed, and without hesitation, the First threw herself forward through all the doors in all the nymphs that flew with her Skeletons in their stomachs.

The feel of their minds, all those minds, weightless and carving their way through the air like a monsoon, nearly overwhelmed Phoebe.  Watching the departing skyship with both her light eyes and the nymphs dark ones, she swore aloud and focused, quickly stripping her sight from the nymphs which were too far - too useless.  Those were discarded, thrown away like misshapen children, and left to wonder where the momentary sense of belonging, of purpose, had gone, and if it would it ever return.

The thousands were pared to hundreds, to dozens, to few, to one, which landed on the deck of the Gecko like Oedipus returning home.  The First could not control the nymph, but she could see.

Oh, she could see.

The nymph was proud- the nymph presented itself for recognition, for a fucking pat on its head, and Phoebe sat like a tick behind its ear and watched through its eyes as it looked around for its family.  It found Vito, first - to Phoebe he was only a masked deadman, a face on her list in a suit and tie, before it followed Vito's determined eyes to the fallen Fuller cousins and their scars.

That scar on his eye.

The other man, his neck.

And their nose..

That nose.

They were family.  And his accent, she remembered- what was that accent? It sounded...

It sounded like home.

It sounded like Last Chance.

Edited by Noko

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