Party 7-III

Burn Holes in the Carpets.

This was going to be a little tricky (he said, massively understating). I’d already established an antagonistic relationship, but seeing as I needed info from these guys, I couldn’t just taunt and mock them. I needed to provide incentives for them to listen, while still keeping them frightened of us – or at the very least wary. 

“Right!” I said, rubbing my hands together. “There are a whole bunch of ways we can do this, but let’s just pretend there’s two, because that’s easier. You can either just tell us what we want to know, and we leave you alone to drink your piss and eventually devolve into a barfight. Or, we blow up your bar, beat the shit out of every single person in here, and then we get what we want anyway.” I shrugged. “Standard easy way, hard way deal. You know how it goes.”

“You’re bluffing,” called a voice from the back. Didn’t see who, didn’t care. “There’s ten times more of us than you.”

“Please,” I scoffed. “Like none of you would take the opportunity to act out some old grudges.” I placed a single finger on my chin. “Oh wait. Besides, if you think this is all of us…” I trailed off, chuckling. “Well, let’s just say you’ll be in for an unexpected surprise.” The unexpected surprise would, of course, be that we are mere fleshy mortals who can’t neutralize powers. But hey, they didn’t know that.

“So,” I continued. “I’m guessing you’ve all heard about that $20 million that the Tower's got its brissy britches in a bunch about.” That actually got a little bit of a chuckle, though it was still growly and vaguely hostile.  That was good, remind them that we weren’t on the Tower’s side either.

“Yeah, what if we have?” Spoiler said, apparently having elected herself spokesperson for the rest of them. “Do youse have it?”

I scoffed. “Are you kidding me? If I had twenty million, you think I'd still be here, doing this? No, we don't have it. We just wanna know where it is.” Pause for dramatic effect. “And where it came from.”

That was the response I was looking for. A wave of murmurs and darting looks washed through the room. What facial expressions I could see in the low light looked hostile, but also nervous. They knew something, something big.

“Alrighty then. Let's not bother with the pretense of me not having seen that reaction and not knowing exactly what it means. Out with it.”

Spoiler glared at me and opened her mouth to say something, presumably uncreatively explicit, when a voice from the back of the room cut her off. “The Cabal,” he said, and I realized it was some guy at the back with metal armor plating. “Rumor's that the Cabal have it.”

Almost as one, the room turned to glare at him. He raised his gloved hands. “Come on, it’s not like it actually affects us. We tell them and they leave.” Ignoring the response from his compatriots, he continued. “Where it came from… we don’t know.”

I raised an eyebrow. “That was not a ‘we don’t know' reaction.”

He sighed. “We don’t know. But… look, you have to understand. When you’re at our level, there’s stuff you don’t touch with a ten-foot pool. Stuff that’s just above your level, stuff that you leave to the ‘big shots’.” The way he made quotation marks around it seemed familiar for some reason. “And then there’s stuff that’s above that, where you just pretend it doesn’t exist and hope it has the courtesy to do the same.”

I didn’t like the sound of that. “What sort of ‘stuff’?”

“Mostly locations, people, that sort of thing. You don’t rob them, you don’t threaten them, if it’s a person and they come barking around, you kowtow or you just,” he made a gesture with his hands, “poof.”

“And this one?”

“The worst of them all. Anyone who went near that place even smelling funny, they didn’t just disappear. They became warnings. Fingers left in beds or on shop counters, in between blinks. Sometimes entire rooms painted in their blood. Sometimes their brain on a stick, left in a location no-one else should know about.”

Jesus H. Christ. I tried not to let it show, but I was fucking horrified. Partially from the descriptions, but partially from the fact that… well, I had to be sure. “And that’s where the Cabal stole the money from?” I asked, hoping the nervous tremor didn’t come through.

He nodded. “That’s the rumor. Honestly, I fucking hate those cult nutjobs, and I’m still impressed. I mean, they’re probably all going to end up dead within the week, but that takes balls, you know?”

I did indeed. “Where is it?”

He laughed incredulously. Around him, there were a few chuckles, but apparently the majority of the villains had decided to let our conversation play out. “You want to go there? I mean, you busted in here, so you’re obviously a bit nuts, but still.”

“Like you said,” I replied easily, “it’s not like it affects you. Hey, you get us out of your hair.” He considered it. “Besides, we’re not planning on going anywhere near it. We just need to know.”

“Heh. Good point, I suppose. It’s the storage locker complex on the east side, corner of Seventeenth and Watson Drive.”

“Just one locker, or the whole place?”

“Whole place, and they seem to know everything that goes in the couple of blocks surrounding.”

I looked at Flatline, and he nodded. He’d remember it. “Well, thanks…” I looked at him questioningly, but he shook his head, and leaned back in his chair. “You’ve been surprisingly helpful.” He didn’t seem like he belonged in this dive; apart from his attitude, that armor actually looked pretty swanky. I’d have to remember to look into him, when I was less busy. “Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’ll leave you lot to your miserable, pathetic lives.”

Spoiler shot up out of her chair, faster than I could react. “Not fucking likely,” she swore. “You don’t get to just fuckin’ waltz in here whenever you like.”

I grinned at her. “Oh, you do not want to do this, Spoiler.” More to the point, I did not want her to do this.

“Shut the fuck up!” she screamed, and raised her arm.

And then it disappeared.

I had just a moment to think ‘wait, that’s not right’, and then the screaming began.

A whirling cloud of maroon and white was rushing through crowd, almost faster than my eyes could track it. In fact, it was faster; I hadn’t even seen the hole it had made in the roof until after it had already torn off Spoiler’s arm – and holy shit, was she bleeding. We’re talking full-on fountains of blood here, not just some-

Anyway, whatever this thing was, it was clearly not something to mess around with. It’d been in the building less than five seconds, and already the floor was slick with blood. It was actually pretty horrifying, and I’m pretty sure it was a scene that was going to be showing up in my nightmares for a good while afterwards, but in the moment, you don’t think, you just react.

I pointed my hand at Freefall, and flicked it upwards. She nodded, and disappeared with a slight pop. That was our contingency measure.

“2 minutes,” her voice crackled into my ear, and I nodded. Two minute’s build-up probably wouldn’t level the building, but it’d definitely collapse the roof in.

I turned back to the room, only to find the blur barely a meter from me. I flinched back, but it was moving on a perpendicular path to me, and passed by. I breathed out the air I’d held.

And then it stopped.

I see any obvious indicators in the maelstrom, but it looked like it turned to face me. I stared into the crimson and white, and felt something staring back.

Slowly, it drifted over to the side, towards a large man in a trenchcoat, who started scrabbling backwards away from it. There was a darting blur, and then a man was standing in the spot where the trenchcoat guy had been, as if he’d absorbed the other man. He was inhumanly large, at least eight feet, packed with muscle and crouched under the low ceiling. He had a long and wild beard, no clothes, and was… uh, very obviously excited about his current situation. Very, very obviously, if you catch my drift.

“Fascinating,” he said, staring at me. I could feel his gaze, physically feel it weighing down on me. “You’re not with this lot. You’re new.” I didn’t like the way he said new. I didn’t like the way he said anything, actually, but that word was particularly bad. “Well, don’t worry. Once I’ve dealt with this rabble, you’ll be next.”

I managed to find my voice. “What… why are you…”

He laughed, deep and booming. “Why? They know, you simple child. You did hear what the nice gentleman was-”

He’d stopped speaking because a large metal spear had thrusted its way through his chest. He looked down at it, actually seeming surprised, then laughed again, flecks of blood flying out.

“Go!” someone yelled, and I realized it was the villain in the metal armor, the helpful one. He had his arms outstretched and a cloud of particles spun around him.

The giant laughed again, and then exploded in a shower of blood and bone that scattered to the ground around him. The gore was still for a brief moment, then began rattling and lifting off the ground, spinning faster and faster, reforming the maelstrom.

The man in metal armor gestured, and the particles around him flew towards the maelstrom, quickly forming a metal sphere around it. Dents began appearing immediately, but he kept adding more metal to it as he ran towards us.

“What the hell are you waiting for?!” he yelled at us as he passed. “Run!”

That seemed like good advice.

We ran.