Sunday, November 3, 2013

All Around the Mulberry Bush...

Well this has all been very exciting, hasn't it? With Morningstar off on holiday playing Anti-Virus for the Newborn, he left myself back at the home ranch along with everyone else. He may have a different word for it, but the word that I'd use to describe my position in matters at that point of time would be "grounded". Apparently Star was more than a little ticked off with my little Game out on the high seas. He has been quite... overly protective since my return from the Castle.

Or perhaps "Possessive" would be the better word?

No, that doesn't quite fit either...

In any case, he left. Which should have meant I was in charge. As further punishment, Dearest Shooter was very vocal about the fact that Gleeman was second in command. Not that I particularly care. After all, officially, I'm not part of this "Team" either. Just a tag-along, as it were. One that apparently should be sleeping in the dog house.

Especially since Shooter returned to find my little note.

Honestly, we hadn't expected to be gone for so long. But one thing lead to another, which lead to another...

The problem honestly started when, through our general researching and scanning of activities... something stood out.

In fact, it stood out a bit too much, considering it dealt with everyone's favorite Red-Collared Attack Dog.

Especially so with Shooter being gone.

Neither Gleeman nor I had any doubt that it was a trap. Who exactly their intended target was, however, was in question. They may have been attempting to lure me out... but it was just as probable that they were attempting to lure out "Proxy Bob", who they also want. Or they could have been hoping we would split the team to eliminate one of those Targets from the pool... and then launch a full-scale attack on whomever the true target was, now at half the strength from missing members. 

We were eleven in all. Myself, Gleeman, "Proxy Bob", Mumbles, Tiger, Recluse, Bloodharvest, Pacemaker, Samedi, Darkhorse, and Jack...

And Eleven We Stayed.

They had us come to an isolated location. An old factory on the outskirts of a failing city. Laid well off the beaten trail, surrounded by an untended forest. All uphill, of course. Made getting there more than a bit of a challenge... especially since we wanted to go in Unseen. We decided early on that moving in as a single group would be suicidal. We had to thin ourselves down and move in slow. So, we portioned ourselves off. Settling into groups of two, with the exception of "Proxy Bob" and myself, who each had a... body guard, shall we say, on either side. Both Mumbles and Recluse came with me, while Gleeman and Tiger accompanied "Proxy Bob".  I personally didn't see the need for a second on my side of things, but wasn't about to make a fuss. We had much to do... and have to take our time doing it. Each group taking into the woods from a different direction. Each scaling the small incline a different way. Picking and choosing ourselves through undergrowth and rock.

Mumbles, Recluse and I took our time. Trusting the others to do the same so as to limit any disturbance. The only thing that we disturbed in our passing... was a pair of ravens. Crying loud - too loud - before taking to the sky. Disappearing in a flurry of feathers that, I suppose, should have reminded me of Kali and Loki. Yet instead all that flashed to mind was that bloody Glutton creature. The Berserk Nest Servant who attempted to rip my throat out with his teeth...

Recluse whispered that it was a good sign for me.

I wasn't so sure...

Nevertheless, before too long, the half-broken factory loomed over us. One side collapsed. Another threatening to. Broken windows and graffiti. Truly, a sad end to a structure that was, no doubt, once raised with such promise for what the future had in store. Such hope. Looking at it then, I wondered how well it was going to last the night... or if it would take any of us with it, if it chose to fall. But, all the same, we didn't have time to waste. We had to find a way in, next. Nothing seemed to have been tripped. No signs of disturbance. So far, we'd felt we were in the clear... until I grew conscious of being watched. Eyes. Eyes that Saw Too Much and Knew even more...

I didn't see anyone around at first.

Then Mumbles tugged my sleeve and pointed off towards the trees.


Sitting so comfortably on a lower branch. Legs swinging lazily beneath him... was a man.

It was no wonder I hadn't seen him at first. His black hoodie nearly made him disappear amongst the trees... but you could still see his white mask. Painted on green hair and a wide, red smile. A purple line down the left cheek. He seemed rather pleased that we'd noticed him. Waving at us... and then placing a single finger to his painted lips. Imitating a 'shh' gesture before shifting. Standing up on that branch before jumping down... and, quite literally, skipping across the grass... before disappearing in a slight in the wall. A hidden space, created when part of the building collapsed. Forming a tunnel directly into the bowels of the factory. Mumbles was first there. Gazing in, though we were there as well shortly after.

Then came the choice.


Or look for another way?

Undoubtedly, the others weren't going to find THAT particular way in, as hidden as it was against the side of the wall. However, going where someone obviously WANTED us to was not exactly comforting. That being said... we had to get into the building somehow. And Recluse did point out that, if this was the trap we all took it to be, no one on Redlight's side was going to be on orders of Shoot On Sight. We'd have time to sort out where we stood.

At the end of it all... Mumbles flipped a coin.

So we went in.

The way was low and rough. At times even reducing us to crouch down to half height. But soon it opened up. Soon the crocked trail merged into a hallway. The years of being a popular Teenager "Dare" spot left their fingerprints everywhere. Cigarette butts and candy wrappers. Graffiti and stone scratchings. All leaving it as quite the assorted mess, really. We went along as quietly as we could. Sneaking along. Checking each corner, each doorway, that we came to. Slowly progressing through the dusted maze.

Until, at the edge of my hearing, I could make out footsteps.

The same pace. The same pattern.


Back and forth.

Back and forth...

We followed those steps. Edging them closer, until, eventually, we came to a room like all the others we'd passed. Alike, except for one major difference...

Inside, was Morgan. A frame built like a horse and taller than myself by over half a foot, it seemed contrary to see someone who looked as though they could toss a truck nose over end to be pacing back and forth in a navy blue Priest's cassock. Not to mention the sword he was cutting the air with. Repeating patterns over and over again. Each motion paired with a step. Dark blonde hair, cut short, only harshening his overall appearance. A contemplative look on his face as he now and again tossed a glance out the nearby window. Never hesitating in swing nor step when he did. In fact, he seemed to give a bit more FORCE behind the swing.

Standing like statues around the room, were five Redlits. Each clad in a red hoodie pulled up to conceal their faces. Each indistinguishable from the other. Clones. That's all they were. Just clones. Unthinking and unfeeling...

Or maybe they were thinking. Were feeling.

They just...

We rushed them.

Blurred movement on either side of me. A quick step, and I saw the white of Morgan's eye...

In the next second, I had my legs braced as the force behind his swing shot down my arm and through my shoulder - the blade itself stopped dead in my metal palm. The blades of my gauntlet wrapping around the sword as I took a step or two of my own before he could think. Tricking a wire inside my own glove to give birth to a second blade, this one unlatching from its resting place on the back of my forearm and coming to a six inch length that I wanted to drive into his stomach. Instant advantage. Even with the chainmail, such a blade SHOULD have done direct damage. Pierced between the links and, with even force applied, even opened them. But he must have seen it. Or heard it click. Because he didn't try to absorb what should have looked like a simple punch. Pivoting, Twisting around and whipping his blade right out of mine with a screech of protesting steel - all but bringing it down across my back in the with the very same motion as he came around me. I felt the snag as it caught my hoodie - slicing it cleanly - but missing me as I ducked low. Using my height to my own advantage.

He sneered down at me... and sheathed his sword.

He said he didn't need a sword to beat me to a bloody pulp. Which is exactly how he planned to bring me to his precious Crimson King. Black and blue and bloody, but alive. Redlight himself didn't care. So long as I was alive upon delivery...

He made a move towards me.

Only... to abruptly stumble back. Hitting something solid amongst the air... and then hitting something else behind him. Confusion swept his expression. Hands padding up... and finding himself trapped with walls on his sides as well. An Invisible Box.

Courtesy of Mumbles.

Morgan's glare was absolutely LETHAL upon the Mime who merely stared back, one arm raised to hold his walls. Recluse choke-slamming the last Redlit behind him. You could actually see the veins on Morgan's forehead pulsing. Hands clenched so tight that they'd turned stark white. A million insults perched just on the tip of his tongue... when gunfire interrupted him. Echoing down the halls and flooding in the room. Followed by yelling. And a lot of it. One gruff voice definitely being Gleeman. Shouting orders, or cursing. Most likely both. The shots decorating every word that reached us...

Mumbles, Recluse and I exchanged glances.

That was a lot of racket for just other scatterings of Redlit.

And, if I'm any judge of faces... a sliver of what might have been satisfaction invaded Morgan's seething expression in that moment.

I told Mumbled and Recluse to go. Help the others, with whatever the hell it was. They'd obviously found something a lot worse than we had, and I could handle Morgan on my own. After all, I may not be in my former glory, but I am not useless. I'm still alive after all and as long as I have a goddamn heartbeat I'm going to pull my own weight in things. I am going to make sure my heart has a purpose beyond merely surviving...

They hesitated, of course... but eventually nodded. Recluse leaving a bit faster than Mumbles who gave me a last look before departing. His walls leaving with him.

Morgan and I matched stares.

"That was very stupid of you."

"Just thought I was lowering myself to the Status Quo around here. Wouldn't want an unfair advantage."

"If Redlight hadn't ordered for you to come in with a pulse, I would break you in half."

"Well, then it would be a perfectly fair fight, wouldn't it, sweetheart?" 

The best thing about being "shortish"... is being able to easily manouver around the "freakishly tallish".

I rather needed that when his next move was to drive my skull into the wall with his fist.

I skirted under the blow... and spiked my elbow up. Catching his chin, nose, eye, all from his own need to lower himself TO me. Snapping his head backwards before I twisted and, with my arm already up, I brought it down in a hammer fist. Driving the force through his chin before switching to my gauntlet. Aiming to drive that steel fist straight into his nose... only for him to catch my arm. Coming straight through, grabbing the back of my neck, and cracking the top of his skull into my nose when he dragged me in. Driving his knee into my gut next. All air left me. Collapsing me to the floor. Coughing. Blood streaming down my upper-lip and chin. His boot burying into my side next before I had a chance to recover - a last second half-wheezing shift saving my stomach and whatever breath I'd managed to gain back. He went to kick again, determined for my stomach, and this time I blocked. Grabbed and twisted. Raking my blades across the back of his legs - missing the back of the knee through his cassock. But it didn't matter much as he was coming down anyway. Balance lost. Falling like a load of stones, he hit hard enough to daze for an instant as I struggled for my feet. Twisting away. Throwing out a kick when he grabbed my other leg. Landing it in his nose, but he was far from deterred. Climbing on me. Over me. Straddling me as he pinned back my gauntlet and went for my face with his free hand. Punching me. Trying to work me over til I wouldn't be seeing anything at all, even when I could still barely breath, agony exploding through my skull...

So I gave him a taste of his own medicine.

I stole his breath. Grabbing his windpipe. Just the windpipe. And squeezed as hard as I could. He choked, and, god, that was a wonderful sight.  Because, with it, its grip slipped on my gauntlet... and I took full pleasure in raking my blades clear across his face.

He threw himself back. A hissing, groaned, half-suppressed shout escaping him as he clutched his face and I returned for his throat. Throwing as much weight as I could into a punch that knocked him clear off me... and, this time, I did make it back to my feet.

Blind rage was what stared back at me.

A bloody snarl that twitched and jerked and spasmed...

Then his hand latched onto the handle of his sword... and he launched himself at me. A flash of steel pulling to full length between us with a wide, wild swing. All traces of humanity sizzling out and replaced with raw animalistic thirst for blood and bone. I ducked, and the sword tore a gash through the wall above me as I rushed to get under his arm, trying to keep distance by taking his left side out... but he was fast. Faster than he was. Or, perhaps, expected my path. And crushed his elbow into my spine.

I staggered and my knee touched the floor for a brief instant before I pushed through it. Around it. Over it. Rushing for distance. For space. His sword driving into the floor - nearly piercing straight through me, but settling only for gashing my side and planting itself where I HAD been. Staying mere INCHES ahead of my death as that steel tip tore from the floor and slashed across. Aiming to spill my guts to the floor. Catching only tatters of cloth as I clutched my side. Moving, moving, moving, constantly moving AWAY from the WILD swing, the demented, maddened swings of a lunatic as another swipe scratched across my shoulder.

One swing came in too deep.

I caught it with the forearm of my gauntlet. Twisting it and planting it to the floor with my boot. Kicking out with my other, so my full weight went on that blade. I landed my hit into his gut, and my extra weight made the sword drop under me as he went stumbling back. I picked it up and gave out a swing of my own as he came in charging... only to catch it with his bare hand. Blood bathing the gleaming surface as his other hand gripped my hoodie. His skull colliding into my own for the second time...

And I dropped.

Flat on my back. The pounding in my skull too much to ignore anymore as my vision swirled and blackened. I saw him move over me. Face bloodied. Shifting the sword back in its rightful owner's hand, moving as though to lift it to stab it down... just as I whipped out my glock. Catching him in my sights. Shaky as my vision was, experience kept my hand steady. If I could see enough to aim, I knew I'd hit my mark... and he seemed to know as well. An air, I guess, that comes from someone who knows their weapon beyond knowledge and into instinct...

"...You have fire. If you weren't already a Bank's Leftover, I'd consider raping you myself."

I really wasn't sure whether to be relieved or insulted by that.

But it was hardly the time to remark on it.

The lust of murder was burning in those eyes of dark blue.

It was him or me.

A flash of steel.

A squeeze of a trigger.

And everything blurred.

Not because something had hit. But because NOTHING had.

All his motion seemed to catch at once and he was literally JERKED backwards - my own shot missing by far as I partly scrambled back. Flashes of past nightmarish experiences flashing in my pounding mind and wondering what kind of force was I going to witness this time. Seeing him struggle and thrash against something that seemed to hold him from all directions. Lifting him clear off the floor as small cuts came over his flesh....


It was then... that I saw them.


Everywhere. Were strings. Gleaming and sharp. Coiled around Morgan's every limb and pulled snug.

The rage in his expression was only twisted worse from the gashes from my blades across it. That murderous glare caught on someone... or something... behind me...

"YOU DARE-----?!?!"

I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Shifting, to gaze behind me...

Only to see that same white masked man from before. That painted on smile grinning back at me before it lifted onto Morgan. Tilting to the side as he rose one hand, forefinger extended. And gave a tisk-task motion. Each movement from side to side accented... by a tug of strings and the slap of Morgan's own hand slapping his own face.

I heard voices coming up the hallway.

The puppeteer heard them as well, turning back partly.... then back to me. It may have been my imagination but...

I swear that painted smile seemed to grow wider.

And then he literally skipped over me. Twirling on landing to put his back to Morgan... and waved at me. And the others, who were quickly catching up as reality twisted and warped...

Then they were gone.

Leaving me to answer a million and one questions from the others in my pose. Gleeman giving me a lecture about stupid, reckless behaviour that I mostly tuned out. I wasn't interesting in that. Asking instead who the second party was.

They called him The Jester.

And it was probably a good thing that I didn't provoke him, being in the shape I was. Especially looking at how rough he left the others in our group. They filled me in, telling me about the masses of Dolls he had them "playing" with. And the strings, of course. But they managed to beat it down, at which point The Jester opted for retreat rather than involve himself personally in the conflict...

We had to stay there for a few days. Samedi, Darkhorse, and Pacemaker were in no shape to move. Neither was Gleeman, though he denied it completely. When we finally DID get back, we were expecting to get blasted by Morningstar...


Valtiel greeted us.

The one responsible for Star's... current "State of Being", shall we say. The one who keeps the krazy glue handy to keep securing his mind-work back together when needed. Patchwork at best, if you ask me. Black suit and a golden scarf. Burning, yellow eyes and that... heat... scorching, blistering heat paired with such a charming smile. A snake's smile...

He insisted that he and I have a... talk.

After that, I honestly did not feel like explaining all of this Hell. I didn't... want to get into it. Or anything, for that matter. We've been back for... about a week or so, I guess. I've just been keeping myself occupied. Training. Researching. More training. Tiger's been showing me some new tricks...

And, yes, I did get a lecture from Shooter as well.

That's all for now.

I need a walk.

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