Comatose

What Happened in Edmonton

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Jacklyn finished the brochure.  It appeared to be a surprisingly good guide to the various factions of the city.  It seemed as if the territory she was in would be best, but that crazy red person was here, so Jacklyn would pick someplace else.  She made her choice, and started heading towards the territory of the former government.  As she walked, she shivered.  The cloak was just a precaution, but today had shown the usefulness of it.  It was a shame to lose it.  Underneath the cloak she had chosen to wear a baggy shirt and a pair of sweatpants.  Her flame-red hair was cut short in a jagged style.  Overall, she looked like someone who had been through a lot.  Many people she passed stared at her, but she was used to that.  Sometimes Jacklyn wondered if she would be better off picking an Epic and staying with them, but she hadn't tried that yet.  She hoped that the government would work out better than Epoch's territory had.

Edited by The Young Pyromancer
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The intruder looked entirely unconcerned at the sight of a firearm, in the way that only the powered or delusional could manage. Actually, she was beginning to look slightly amused. A sense of dread crept over Alder. You didn't survive this long in his line of work, unless you maintained a healthy fear of all things epic.

He remembered the profoundly cursory training sequence ERA provided on the subject.

ERA Enforcer's Handbook, V.iii - Unauthorized Epics. When dealing with any epic, it is important to identify what kind of threat is present.

A knife clattered to the ground at her feet. Then, a second knife appeared, flowing from her hands, glistening and blood-red. She carefully ran the edge down her own palm, and droplets of blood spilled across the street. The implication was obvious. Drop my weapons? I am a weapon.

For an epic that lacks immunity to conventional weaponry, engage with caution. Detain if possible. See Appendix C for the necessary protocols with common ability types.

Alder doubted he could pose a serious threat to this epic. She lacked the unshakable confidence of a truly invulnerable epic, but she still regarded him like he was a particularly interesting specimen of bug that had crawled across her path. Also, the cut in her hand didn't concern her.

For an epic that possesses immunity to conventional weaponry, comply with all demands, then flee at the soonest opportunity. Prioritize contact with ERA superiors.

"Can you make me?" the epic asked, seeming to place genuine curiosity behind the question.

Alder could never get over how casual most epics sounded. Even while they carried out unspeakable acts. Especially then. Alder couldn't help but remember the time he had been assigned on a team with Quietus to stamp out a local gang... And what happened after. He remembered Quietus sounding downright cheerful as he removed the gang leader's eyelids so he couldn't close them, then forced the man to watch as Quietus brought in his family members one by one and found unique ways to torture them each to death, then carved out his eyes entirely at the end so it was the last thing he ever saw. The gang leader was allowed to go free, after all that. He lasted two days before throwing himself off Capilano Bridge. Alder shuddered. If he could have afforded to, he would have resigned then and there.

For an epic of unknown standing, assume that they pose a serious threat.

Alder had never heard of a blood epic in Edmonton. She could be new to the city, or new to being an epic. Who knew what she was capable of?

Most importantly, never engage an epic of any caliber in groups of less than three.

That decided it. He ran like hell.

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Impact glided softly through the air, watching the streets below her with interest. She skimmed the tops of the buildings, flying lower than usual so that she could watch the city from closer up. An overview of the cities layout was useful but knowing who was where, which groups feared each other and which strode through the streets confidently, that was what she needed.

She watched a group of men chasing after a young girl, spraying bullets throughout the street but seemingly unable to hit her as she nimbly dodged through the vicinity. If the girl was an Epic then her powered either relied on luck or else she wasn't very powerful, as many of the bullets came extremely close to stopping her permanently. Briefly, Impact considered intervening, trying to shake some information out of whoever was more talkative. But that might not be the best idea, she didn't know who the men were, who they were affiliated with. She had no qualms about fighting other Epics but she at least liked to know who she was up against.

Slowly she moved towards a checkpoint, interested to see if the entry procedure here was the same as the point that she'd come through.

She saw a group of people huddled together, a few of them backing cautiously away from a pair of people standing a short distance away from the main group. As she watched, one of the pair, a man with a gun pointed at the other, lowered the gun and broke out in a sprint, running away from the woman who remained behind.

Interesting. Another Epic here then? Still, somewhat lax of them to give up the second they find out that she's an Epic. I'll have to tighten things up when I take over.

Exerting a small amount of her power over her entire body, Impact pushed everything that touched her away, her clothes fluttered oddly, the elastic in her waistband continued to pull the fabric tight against her skin just to be repulsed again.

That should be enough for now. Impact mused after a quick examination.

She crested gently down to the street some distance away but kept herself slightly aloft, both for the slightly better view it gave her, and also the instant fear it caused in the nearby Maples who all immediately found a reason to be somewhere else.

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Greetings to Karabiner,

      I hope this message finds you well. A great deal has changed recently, but ultimately, I do not believe we have a conflict in interests.
      In any case, I understand that time is a precious resource to some (I have even heard people say that time is money), so I will get to the point. I would like to open negotiations to make a purchase. I am specifically looking for a directed energy weapon that fulfills certain requirements, requirements that I suspect nobody in Edmonton could meet as well as you could. I would, however, be willing to consider any other acquisitions you wish to offer.
      I wait upon your response.

            Best regards,
                  Epoch

Finley slipped the note into an envelope and sealed it. A tad old-fashioned, but it was less intrusive and more formal than trying to call Karabiner's mobile. Most epics failed to grasp the sheer utility of treating others with respect. For that reason, Finley was almost grateful of his weakness, and how it forced him to think differently. Of course, it was still galling to have it leaked to the entire city. It kept him from taking certain risks, from fully taking advantage of Edmonton's power vacuum.

"I want this delivered to the Fence. Preferably, to Karabiner in person."

"I'll bring it." His assistant accepted the envelope.

"Good," Finley nodded his assent. "Also, somebody get me some more tea," he continued absentmindedly, gesturing vaguely at the empty cup beside him. He wondered how Karabiner would react to his proposal. He wondered what the Alberta Government was getting up to. He wondered for at least the tenth time who was behind Doubletake's death.

"Epoch?" It was Ashla.

"Yes?"

"There's been an incident. At the checkpoint you asked to have investigated."

"Checkpoint... Right, I remember. With the stranger in the big cloak."

Already, his awareness slipped away from the immediate surroundings and went out to that general part of his territory, zoning in on the checkpoint. He could see multiple perspectives worth of information in any given area, enough to be overwhelming at first.

"Yes, the cloaked one," Ashla confirmed. "But she abandoned the cloak. As for what happened after that... The reports are conflicting. But, there's definitely an unknown epic wearing red at the checkpoint."

"An epic wearing red... Aha! Found her."

Dressed in dark red and a ponytail, she was facing down one of his enforcers, holding a knife made of... Was that blood? Interesting. She said something, but he couldn't identify what. The visions were not accompanied by sounds, although Finley was working on improving his lip-reading. In any case, whatever it was she said, it made his enforcer bolt. Finley suppressed a surge of irritation. He wanted to see what this epic was capable of.

"...and now we have another epic is arriving on the scene," he observed, spotting a second epic as she soared from the sky, touching down one block over and hovering above the ground. Watching. He wondered if she watched in the same way that people before Calamity would slow down to catch a better look at a car accident, or if she watched in the way that a bird of prey might regard a potential meal. Or, perhaps more like a scavenger bird.

She was yet another unknown factor. This could get messy.

"So, conflicting reports," he said tersely. "Explain."

"In the last report from the enforcer tasked with finding the cloaked stranger, he was certain that it was the red epic. But a team at the border claims that they saw somebody else under the cloak, a woman who ran away. In which case, the cloaked woman could be unrelated."

"No. No, I don't think the cloaked woman is unrelated. The sudden appearance of two unidentified and apparently unrelated epics in the very checkpoint I wanted investigated is no coincidence. She played a role in this, I can feel it."

Finley examined the new arrival, a thought occurring to him. "This woman, she didn't look anything like the flyer who just arrived, by any chance? Long blond hair, blue eyes? Ask the checkpoint team."

"...negative. The cloaked one and the flyer are not the same person. They are claiming that the cloaked one would be very easy to recognize."

"Interesting. In this case, I think I can piece together what happened here then. The cloaked one is undoubtedly a third person. Since everything happened after she revealed herself, we have to assume she caused all of this. Tentatively, I am going to label her as some kind of epic, probably indirect in some way, but exceedingly powerful and dangerous. The enforcers say they could recognize her easily? Good. If she is still in ERA territory, I want her found."

"Noted. And the situation at the checkpoint?"

Trespassers, testing his borders. Edmontonian epics would be testing him because his weakness was leaked. Newcomer epics would be testing him because they didn't know any better. So, this obviously wasn't just a simple matter of dealing with trespassers. People would be watching, and he had to send a very clear message to the rest of the city. If some people would only ever submit to a show of force, then so be it.

"Shut it down. Start by sending in the enforcers immediately. Quietus will be arriving not very long after."

"Very well."

"If it is convenient, try to capture the epics. If it proves less than convenient, feel free to just kill them. Or, if all else fails, at least give them some interesting new scars to live with as they make their way out of my territory."

With that said, Epoch waited, still watching the distant scene unfold.

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"Well, that was dull," Red said as the probable maple fled, picking her knife back up and dissolving the blade of blood into a normal marble again, which she stowed in her pocket. That gorgeous disappointment had left her cool cloak behind for no good reason. Red crouched down to examine it, seeing if there were any sort of special properties to it, but no, it was just a cloak. Sorta torn up a bit too. "Guess I'll go after her, then?" 

She figured she might as well hang out here for a bit longer first. Maybe someone less disappointing would show up. 

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Jacklyn suddenly realized that she had no idea where the Albertan Government was.

Edited by The Young Pyromancer
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Neverthere strode barefoot through the streets of Edmonton. It had taken her over a month to get set up in the area properly, and she'd been relatively cautious about making herself too noticeable until she had a better grasp of the city. But now she knew what she needed to know, knew the various factions of the city and how the recent death of Doubletake had created a gap that someone needed to fill. And people looking to fill a gap would be looking to recruit.

She avoided contacting the local group of minor Epics, her experiences in Portland were that they were likely doomed as soon as one of the cities more powerful Epics had the reach to take their territory from them. They might make a bid for power in the coming days but it likely wouldn't be successful.

She walked over the North Saskatchewan River that cut through the middle of the city, she held her arms out as she walked on the current, as though to maintain her balance. A few people on the nearby banks watched with a mixture of curiosity and worry, one man seemed to be squinting towards her, as though trying to read something.

She shifted herself directly next to him, appearing in a small puff of mist that was barely visible in the daylight that filtered through the clouds above.

"Never be number two." She whispered in his ear as she fully materialized.

The man jumped nearly out of his skin, one leg collapsing underneath him as he spun to look at her. When he noticed that she seemed to have instantly teleported in front of him he decided that continuing to kneel on one leg was probably the wisest course of action.

"S-Sorry?" He stuttered out.

"My shirt. It says 'Never be number two.' I noticed you trying to read it." Neverthere said, gesturing towards her bright pink t-shirt with one hand.

"Sorry!" He stammered out again, tone shifting from a question to a profuse apology. He'd known people who'd been killed for far less than staring at an Epic.

"Why would you be sorry?" Neverthere asked, tapping one finger on her mouth thoughtfully and adopting a vacuous look. "Have you done something that should annoy me?"

"Uh, no, I mean I don't think-"

"You don't think? Well that's terrible. You really must remedy that when possible." Neverthere said. She scanned his face more intently for a moment before pulling out the pen that she kept behind her ear and scribbling on her palm for a moment. "I'll come check up on you later to make sure you've learned to think. Kay?"

Nodding rapidly, the man kept his eyes on the ground, not meeting hers.

Neverthere nodded in satisfaction before turning around, facing the south east section of the city.

"Oh, and by the way, if anyone asks if you saw me on the river, just tell them I was never there." She said with a final giggle before shifting away again, leaving the man to sweat for a minute and a half before he dared to stand back up again.

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Alder Moran aimed a taser at the red epic across the street.

A group of four enforcers backed him. Another team of five was advancing on the flyer.

"I repeat: please relinquish your weapons and come with me."

He pulled the trigger.

.  .  .

Epoch stopped watching the scene, and started scanning his territory for the cloaked epic. He assumed she was on foot.

The enforcers were about to reach the red epic and the flyer epic, and Quietus was on his way. More importantly, this situation might just be a distraction to let her slip into his territory unnoticed. If it was only a distraction, it raised troubling questions about what she was really after.

He finished a circle around the checkpoint, and started a wider circle. Either she was very good at hiding or she was moving faster than expected. Possibly still running? If she was trying to escape into another territory, there wasn't that much he could do to stop her, unless he got lucky and spotted her with his remote vision, or she tried to use one of his fast lanes as a way out. ERA didn't care nearly as much about who left the territory as who traveled into it.

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It didn't take long for things to start happening again. She closed her eyes as she heard the maple returning, his heart beat more solid this time. Confident. Most likely, he had backup with him. She couldn't quite identify how many, as there were too many people moving in and out of the area for her to distinguish which were moving towards her. 

However, she could tell there was someone powerful on the way. The returning maple was either a distraction or a genuine attempt to slow her down. Fortunately for them, Red had no intentions of running. That powerful person was thrumming with possibilities. The alluring heartbeat of that strange Epic she'd seen before could be hunted down later, preferably with the resources of whatever faction she was being cornered by.  

"I repeat: Please relinquish your weapons and come with me," said the maple. Red opened her eyes and saw him again. He held a different weapon this time and was prepared to fire it. In the moments between his words and his attack, she dropped the knife again and pulled her hands behind her back, using tendrils of blood to lock the cuffs together, tossing the key towards him. 

The taser's tamed lightning hit her.

She stiffened and dropped to the ground. Her vision blurred. The electricity shot through her body, white hot and delicious. She'd only ever been electrocuted once and the novelty of the pain coursed through her. Tears welled up in her eyes, falling down her cheek as they left their salty path. Blood swelled up in her eyes, the white in her eyes completely red. 

Red stayed conscious through the shock but when it ended, she was on the ground. The blood she was shoving back into a marble had fallen into a splatter. Her own pulse was going nuts. Her knees would bruise from the awkward landing. Her eyes slowly went back to normal but her wide grin only grew. 

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When Kokichi began speaking, thus began one of the strangest experiences in Liam’s life. It wasn’t just that he began to see something that obviously wasn’t there. No, he had fought illusion Epics many times before with the Circle. He had always been prepared then. He had seen many strange, eerie, and beautiful things done by Epics with their powers, but nearly every time, he had prepared himself beforehand.

The flashback came unexpectantly, and what’s more, Liam let it happen. That was the difference.

As Kokichi began to speak, the air in front of Liam began to shimmer and warp, gaining color and definition before, at last, the mirage began to depict Kokichi’s life story. Shapes and forms gained clarity, and Liam could see a young child lounging on their bed, reading a comic book. Liam knew it was Kokichi, but the child was vastly different, yet the same. The hair, the eyes, the way they relaxed, all of these things had changed. Yet it was Kokichi.

Through the window rose Calamity. Yes, Calamity. Liam caught himself mid-snarl and tried to relax. He hated Calamity. Young Kokichi stashed their comic book and rushed to the window, watching the sinister red dot climb into the sky.

The scene changed, and the way it did set Liam off-balance. The whole flashback sequence was eerie, moving in a stuttering way at times. It was like the animation in an amateur film: missing a few frames here and there. In a series of following clips, Liam saw the descent of chaos upon Florida: gradual, yet sudden. In that same fashion Kokichi learned to use their own powers.

Liam watched Kokichi escape Florida, but then the mirage blurred, as if viewing something very fast zoom by. When it cleared, he saw the red van, his red van, and the familiar Canadian countryside. Finally, the image dissolved, leaving Liam staring at Kokichi, who looked simultaneously smug and expectant. The van also had not crashed.

Liam took a moment to collect his thoughts while Kokichi waited. They had obviously declined to include certain parts of their past, and Liam respected that. Of course, they couldn’t object if he did the same.

“Alright,” Liam said after a minute or two, “I suppose that it’s my turn.”

“There I was, happily married…

It was a Tuesday, Liam remembered. The initial scare of the new red star, now named Calamity, had passed, and Peterborough was settling down again. Liam hadn’t paid the doomsayers much mind, because none of the other doomsdays (2012, for example), had ever come to pass, so he didn’t have much cause to worry. He wasn’t worrying when he got home from work that Tuesday evening.

Melanie, his young wife whom he had married the year before, was just setting the table for dinner when he walked in. Their son, Oliver, cooed in his padded chair. He walked in, gave Melanie an affectionate peck on the cheek, picked Oliver up and spun the smiling baby around before setting him down, then set his laptop on the kitchen counter. Liam could remember it all like it was yesterday.

“Honey,” Melanie began. These words were the beginning of the end. “How was work today? Did you get the raise you asked for?”

The raise. Melanie had always been a go-getter and tried to get that philosophy to rub off on Liam, who was a bit more laid-back. One day, she decided that he deserved more money than he was getting, so she challenged him to speak with the manager about it. On Monday, he had, but did not receive an immediate response. That response came Tuesday.

Liam paused. “Well, no,” he said sheepishly. Melanie set the stack of silverware she was holding down with a clank. “No?” She inquired, her pretty coffee-brown eyes staring into his soul.

“I asked the manager yesterday, like I told you. He said he would think about it. Then, he told me today that the company was not in a position to increase my salary.”

Melanie bit her top lip, like she always did when she was trying to control her anger. “’Not in a position to increase your salary…’ the nerve! Liam, you are more than deserving of a raise, and you should know that! I’ll speak to your manager myself,” she declared, then began to resolutely finish setting the table.

“What?” Liam exclaimed. “You can’t speak to him!? I mean, he’s not your manager.” Melanie whipped her head around to look at him, eyes ablaze and startling on her feminine face.

“Liam, I care about you. I care about our family. This family deserves that raise.”

At that point, Liam gave up. There was no arguing with Melanie when she got like that. And unfortunately, speaking to the manager herself didn’t change anything. The atmosphere at the dinner table that night was tense, despite Oliver’s adorable antics. The root of Melanie’s anxiety was Oliver. She wanted the money for him, it was obvious. However, it was hard for her to vent sometimes, so the emotion would just sit and simmer for weeks, or months, until it exploded.

I remember the night after the hearing. The night after my life was truly and completely broken. The first night since my marriage that I was alone. I can tell what happened that night in two words.

I cried.

It didn’t make any sense to me in that moment, why my beautiful loving wife would suddenly break our relationship and take our only child with her. I couldn’t blame it on her. I wasn’t done loving her yet. And there is no way on this earth that I would blame this on Oliver. Not him.

So, I blamed it on Calamity.

It was completely logical. Before Calamity, our marriage was perfect. We had Oliver. I had my job and with it, a steady income. After Calamity, all of that was taken from me. I couldn’t function for weeks after the divorce, and when I finally came back to work, I just couldn’t focus. The only thing I could focus on was the old Volkswagen Samba my Uncle Jeremy had left me when he died. So, I devoted my life to that vehicle, since I had nothing left to devote it to. I suppose that love and effort I put in is finally repaying itself.

When the Epics arrived, people with spectacular powers, I didn’t pay them any mind. My world was already over, so I didn’t care about the rest of the world. When the office I used to work at—thankfully I had been fired a month prior—exploded in a flash of blue light, I realized that I still had my life and I was going to keep it that way. I was also about to get evicted. So, I packed what was left of my belongings into the Samba and left town. I could say I never looked back, but I did. How could I not—

RATATATATAKKATKATAK!!!

The spray of machine gun fire pinged off the Samba’s reinforced exterior and left a crack in the passenger window. Liam was ripped from his reminiscent reverie and swung around to the front. Closing in on every side of the vehicle were black dangerous-looking motorcycles, each driven by an armored man wielding a machine gun. On their helmets was the insignia of the Albertan Government.

“Pull over! We have you surrounded!”

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South Edmonton Common

A new message scrawled itself across the windowpane.

Dear Typhon,

By the way, an Epic calling himself "Armageddon" has said that he intends to destroy all of humanity.  And if he is taken out, his followers have orders to destroy the city as much as they can.  I thought you'd like to know.

-Blank

Jayce pictured her reply, and caused the words to materialize just below the first one, transcribed in a curving script.

Thanks for letting me know. I've already heard about Armageddon while I was doing some stuff in the MEC. Who did not react well to him, by the way. I don't suppose you can see about how many people he has following him?

Also, while we're doing the current events thing, you might be interested to know that there was apparently an attack on the Belt last night, by unknown epics.

Anyways, hope you are well,

-Typhon

Satisfied, she left the illusory message fixed onto the window. She knew it had been received.

"Another epic in the city," Beckett observed from behind her.

"Yep. It's been a while since there were this many new epics in town to look into."

"And a while since so many people sheltered in South Common, too. How's your rookie holding up, by the way?"

"She was determined to learn the illusions... I don't think she slept at all last night."

Jayce allowed some concern to enter her voice. She was staring out of a window, looking across South Common. Today, the headquarters was styled as a set of colorful towers taken out of a work of pre-Calamity fiction: the Chromeria. It was somehow fitting.

She glanced back at Beckett. With the sight, she could see the signs that marked him as an epic. A third eye fixed to his forehead, following the movements of the other two. A network of shimmering, multicolored threads tangled around him, reaching out in all directions, connecting to everybody he had gifted. One of them connected to Jayce. One of the ones that stretched off in the distance would be connected to Taya, now.

"She's made a lot of good progress, but I don't know how she'll handle things in this state," Jayce explained. "I suppose it isn't any more disabling than being poisoned, though."

"...did you know who she was?"

"What?"

"When you picked her up, did you know she was the same girl from the incident at Fort Sasketchewan?"

"I suspected," Jayce admitted. "Their descriptions were a close match. It was part of what caught my attention."

"Ah." Beckett shook his head. "I should have known better than to think you had only one reason for doing something," he said dryly.

Jayce grinned.

Rook.jpg

Now - Sherwood Park

The bad news is, we don't know of any epic in this city or in a neighboring city that could possibly cure your condition.
The good news is, a possible new lead just surfaced. If you intend to follow it, you don't have much time.

Taya entered the Alberta Government offices, taking in the pleasant coolness of an air conditioned facility.

She didn't trust herself to alter her appearance with an illusion, yet. Instead, she relied on more mundane tricks to obfuscate her identity. Her jet-black hair was pulled back in a ponytail and dyed a half shade lighter. She dressed more formally than she normally would. A small birthmark on her neck was covered over. It wouldn't hold up under scrutiny, but nobody in Olympia Polaris would know her well enough to make the connection.

Her eyes ached from staying open too long. She felt oddly numb. After forcing herself to stay awake for long enough, she had pushed through the exhaustion. She would probably crash hard, later. For now, she was able to function.

"Hello," Taya greeted the assistant, whose placard named her Louise.

"I would like to speak with Premier Notley..." She held out her palm, and a glowing insignia flashed across it, "As an agent on behalf of the Circle of the Shield."

Rather irresponsible of them, to flash that badge at every checkpoint guard they came across. It was the only reason South Common even knew who they were. She had spent the better part of the last hour practicing the illusion.

"I see. I'll let her know that you are here, Agent...?"

An idea occured to her. She smiled slightly at the irony.

"Rook. Agent Rook."

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Impact remained perfectly still as the five armed men and women approached her. They'd drawn their weapons and aimed them in her direction.

One of these people had better have the power to make these toys of theirs shoot rockets or I'm going to be insulted.

She arched one eyebrow in their direction, neither moving to attack nor raising her arms in surrender. From her vantage point in the air she saw the another group of similarly uniformed and armed guards closing on the disturbance that she'd first seen, one of them firing off a shot.

The five who had approached her traded looks, seeming slightly put off by her nonchalance to their threats. Hopefully they'd be wise enough not to try and attack her anyway, she was interested in seeing where this went.

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Jacklyn slumped to the ground.  This was the third time she had passed that bookshop.  She had no idea how to get anywhere.  As she stood up to as for directions, she heard a voice behind her. 

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Finally, they had found her. Epoch watched a pair of enforcers walked up to the now cloakless interloper, who was slumped in front of a bookshop. The description fit. A lot of epics looked impressive in person, but this one took that to a whole new level.

She had been leading them in circles, quite literally. She would have easily lost them with her twisting escape route, if Epoch hadn't been tracking her from afar and giving them updates. She was slippery, probably some kind of mastermind epic.

Epoch couldn't hear it, but he thought he could what one of them was saying.

"Don't move. You're under arrest."

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Riley Henderson stood in the shade of the old Toyota dealership, looking out at the final smoking tower of the refinery across the freeway. Just over a week ago, two Epics had fought there, reducing the oil refinery to a charred husk. Riley watched the whole thing from his hideout, here in the autopark. It was quite the spectacular battle, with lots of exploding fire and such.

The autopark was a good hideout; Riley had been here about a month. After gas prices skyrocketed after Calamity, not many people were in the market for a new car. And there wasn’t much of a selection now, since everything that was worth something had been stolen by scavengers. Now the three dealerships marked the resting place of hollowed out cars, their own interiors looted and carved out. Not only was the autopark now desolate, but the surrounding area was just trees and grass. There might have been more development planned, but after Calamity, it was cancelled.

Currently, Riley was bored. Usually, he was entirely focused on avoiding the feds, but today had been relatively silent. The autopark really was a good hideout. He stared at the tower in the distance. How he wished to go out there. Why wouldn’t he? He was strong, he was powerful, he was an Epic.

He was a coward.

Riley snarled and shook the treasonous thought from his head. But in his heart, he knew it was true. He was scared of the unknown, out where Epics much stronger than he roamed and fought, just like at the refinery a week ago. It was his grim secret.

Luckily, the sound of gunfire broke his thoughts. He turned towards the sound and strained his vision. Racing down the freeway were the bright heat signatures of vehicles: one large one, with two passengers, and surrounding it eight smaller vehicles, probably motorcycles. He gave the surrounded van a pitying smile. Whoever was in that van was not his concern. He concentrated, and his vision returned to normal color. His eyes widened as he saw the motorcycles more clearly.

The feds.

And they were heading right towards his hideout. His hideout. His first thought was to run, get far away from his mortal enemy. But then the accusing thought poked in his brain: coward. The grimace on Riley’s face twisted into a snarl. It was time to act. This time, the feds would pay.

He leapt to his feet and ran to the hollowed husks of cars in their lots, pressing his hand to the hood of each and drawing the heat from them. When he left, hints of frost crackled in the corners. These cars had been baking in the sun all day, soaking up the heat. They were the perfect “batteries” for Riley’s power, for he could give and take heat all he pleased.

At the end of the lot, the air around Riley’s skin was rippling in the heat from his body. The grass at his feet withered and smoked. He had to focus on stealing the heat from his clothes as it absorbed it, so they wouldn’t burn off in the excessive heat. The energy lost to the air was not his concern. Now packed with heat energy and a growing rage, Riley stood in the road, facing the oncoming entourage.

His lips curled back as his smile turned feral. Bring it.

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Liam swerved the van back and forth as they tore down the freeway, heading towards the city. The cycles had to move out of the way to avoid being smashed, disrupting their aim. However, they did not desist, and the lead cyclist continued to scream warnings at him.

“THIS IS YOUR FINAL WARNING. PULL OVER AND SURRENDER, OR WE WILL BE FORCED TO DESTROY YOU.”

Destruction wasn’t on Liam’s plan for today, but then again, his recent actions weren’t exactly helping that. What had he been thinking when he broke into that storage room? Whatever it was, it didn’t help the present. As another burst of machine-gunfire sprayed the side of the van, Liam decided that it was probably a good time to get a turret installed on the van for situations like these.

Suddenly, Liam’s eyes widened and he swerved to avoid the man standing in the middle of the road. The van spun and lurched over the curb and into the grass beside it. The pursuing motorcyclists circled around to face the now stopped van. Liam grabbed his shotgun and watched the cautiously approaching men through the rearview mirrors. He cocked the gun and held his breath.

The snare-drum-like patter of gunfire filled the air but lacked the complimentary metallic pinging of the bullets hitting the van. Liam glanced over his shoulder. The gunmen were now distracted by something, which he saw shortly when it cooked one of them well done.

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With a fist, Riley transferred several thousand kilojoules of energy into one of the feds’ face. It blackened and charred, filling the air with a smell not unlike a badly burnt barbeque. He ducked and rolled towards another fed, avoiding a spray of bullets. Though he could manipulate heat, he couldn’t melt bullets well. He could, however, cook a man inside-out, which is what he was doing.

The man screamed when Riley grabbed his leg and burned through it, his flesh, and the bone. The man collapsed and passed out from the pain. The five remaining feds stared at him from the other end of their gun barrels, looks of fear, disgust, and fury in their eyes. Riley grabbed the fallen fed’s gun and strafed the assembled feds, who returned fire. Riley hit two but took several rounds to his leg.

He gasped at the pain, which turned into fury. He grabbed the smoking barrel of the gun and stole its heat, then flung himself and the nearest fed with his good leg. His finger only just brushed the man’s magazine, but it was enough to transfer heat. The ammo in the magazine combusted as they overheated, causing the gun to explode in the fed’s face. He fell to the ground and stopped moving.

Riley swung his gun around to mow the other two feds down but found them already crumpled on the ground, shiny stars orbiting their heads. What? Instead, an imposing bearded man stood over them, brandishing a shotgun like a club. Behind him, the most ridiculously dressed person he had ever seen stared at him with much more curiosity than he deserved. Sparks, that hair hurt his eyes.

“Should’ve let me finish them off,” Riley hissed, then passed out from pain and blood loss.

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"Vitriol, I need you to spit on this person."

"I think I'm gonna be sick," Vitriol replied, looking queasy.

"Even better! Bucket's over there," Quietus pointed. "Try not to melt it."

His mobile ringed. It was Epoch. Quietus scowled.

"Hello?"

"I need you over at Mill Wood checkpoint, asap."

Annoying.

"There are two epics," Epoch added.

Better.

Quietus walked out of the room, leaving his subject still restrained and Vitriol still retching in the corner. Once he got outside, he turned on his power and broke into a full run, moving parallel to a main road. One of the few remaining cars that was still operational drove by him, shuddering violently as it got within Quietus' range, losing significant momentum. The car was considerably heavier than he was, and he could feel the wealth of stolen energy coursing through him, allowing him keep pace with the speeding vehichle.

His footfalls struck the ground hard enough to hurt, but not hard enough to do real damage. He was running fast enough that his immediate surroundings were indistinct, but his power slowed the wind to a gentle breeze on his face. He glanced over at the driver whose progress he was riding on, grinning lazily and making a thumbs-ub sign. Predictably, the woman in the driver's seat looked like she was going to have a heart attack. And perhaps she would, if this continued much longer, as her pulse slowly wound down to a halt, extinguished just like any other movement around him.

Quietus wondered who would be powerful or stupid enough to attack the border. Not exactly the most vulnerable part of ERA.

Still, both a rebellion and an epic attack? It was a good day.

He ran on in perfect silence for a few minutes, before noticing that the car was gradually beginning to veer off the side of the road. The driver was slumped at the wheel, passed out from exposure to his power. Well, this is my stop anyway. He shrugged, turning away from the car just before it slammed into a building, watching in fascination as both vehichle and structure were decimated in the impact. A piece of flying debris that should have impaled Quietus tapped him gently on the chest before slowly falling down to earth.

Epoch probably wasn't tracking his commute, and didn't have to know about that.

Quietus walked the rest of the way to the checkpoint, taking in the scene.

One of the epics was already subdued, restrained on the ground and grinning wildly, her eyes stained a deep red. The other epic was hovering imperiously over the scene, completely untouched.

Disgusting. His enforcers were idiots. They had somehow managed to be simultaneously completely useless and irritatingly effective. They outnumbered the flyer ten-to-one but were too gutless to face her, yet they had already taken the one that looked like a good fight out of action. He wished he could kill them for their incompetence.

"Morons. What are you all waiting for?"

He activated his power, and the enforcers scattered, struggling to distance themselves from Quietus. He used their ridiculous efforts to fuel his next movements, hurling his knife at the flying epic with superhuman speed. The challenge should be obvious enough.

4

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Jacklyn was just about to stand up when she heard a voice.

"Don't move.  You're under arrest."

Jacklyn froze.  She put her hands up slowly, trying to move as little as possible.  Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted two men holding sparking tazers!  They didn't seem to be like the red psycho though, which was a relief.  "O-okay.  Now what?"

Edited by The Young Pyromancer
Heh. Sparking tasers.
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X_J-nMI8uh58rsqOK_M_nF3CdvKPfHyIlCVMMPGQpEMUtgj9hkHdCobs-E-_i0pwRaREItY7aiOmcj8vehqEY_GbLqfj1lxaLFczAIJ-UvXwgz28o_JGK88VyS-IYeSgd-IOrEQF

Richard pulled out his ringing mobile, hitting the "accept call" button. He wasn't sure what it would be this time. As far as he knew, the most recent rebellion had been fully squashed.

Phytomagnet's voice came over the line, sounding tense. "Get at least two squads moving to the old Toyota dealership. Someone just took out 8 government officers. Sounds like at least one epic is there."

His face, already naturally pale, drained white. "On it, boss. What should I tell them to expect?" Richard said, starting to jog towards his barracks, his mind racing through different possibilities.

"Epoch's busy elsewhere right now, so all we know was from the vidfeed the government sent. Some dude grabbed one of the officers and burned him to a crisp." Phytomanget returned, sounding harried. "I'm going too. I'm going to stop on the way and redistribute our scouts. We'll be too far to keep them armored, so activate an extra squad for guard duty." With a soft beep, the call ended.

A short moment later, Ironwood burst into his barracks. "Move it, trees! I want squads four and five up and moving on the double! Squad seven, we'll be out of armor range so you're on backup for security!"

"Yes sir!" they called out, leaping to their feet. They've learned to not hesitate when Ironwood is running.

20 Minutes later

"Sir!" one of the trees called out, his quiet voice carrying to Ironwood through his earpiece. "I can see them. Three guys and a van."

"Great,"  Ironwood replied. "Phyto, you on the line?" Ironwood could see them through the small copse his squads were hiding in, as well as the eight dead bodies around them.

"Yeah, loud and clear. I'm walking in, gonna see if I can figure out what's going on. Epoch told me the cyclists were following the van after its occupants broke into a research facility. I'm going to stall until we have more information. Armor me up."

"On it, boss." A wave of bark sprung up around Phytomagnet, instantly hardening as he combined their powers and strengthened the bark. He had already done the same for the rest of the trees, guaranteeing that even though nearly thirty people were armored, they would all have the full benefit of its protection.

Ironwood watched as Phyto strolled out from behind the actual trees on the side of the highway, calling out jovially to the criminals.

"Alright guys. Remember, Phytomagnet won't have time to give us a warning if he needs to pull us in, so be ready to engage at a moments notice," Ironwood murmured, his team hearing it through their own headsets.

4

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Impact waited in midair as the guards subdued the other figure and also began turning in her direction. She considered leaving now that the situation seemed to be wrapping up but the little pests who were watching her were clearly waiting for something. Hopefully that something was what she thought it was.

Finally, Impact watched as a new figure arrived on the scene with impossible speed, paused briefly to take stock of the scene and berate his subordinates before turning to face her directly.

Thank Calamity, another Epic. Someone at least worth addressing now.

She watched the knife the Epic hurled, there didn't seem to be any obvious signs of power usage beyond the sheer speed of the throw, though it did have a strange motion to it, it seemed to slow as it left his hand before accelerating mid air.

Lacking the time to analyse the projectile any further Impact held herself immobile, letting the knife fly directly into her before crumpling as soon as it came into contact.

"Hello to you as well." She said, speaking softly but imparting a force on the air that carried her words, letting them travel father than was natural. "May we have a discussion? Or are you another of those battle junkies?"

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After another hour of walking, Scribbler finally reached one of Olympia Polaris' infamous slow zones. One of many that surrounded the city, other than at the allocated checkpoints, the area was faintly discernible by the warping in the air, looking closely she could also see the small breeze seemed to crawl across the space, slowly picking up a section of dust and inching its way towards the city.

Scribbler regarded the whole thing with distaste, a deep crease formed in her brow as she continued to glare at the warping. Habitually she reached into a pocket for some gum but she'd long since run out on the journey here. She'd need to acquire some locally at some point, but first...

"First is getting into the city." She whispered. "Over? Under? Or through?"

She leaned back to get a better view of how high up the area went but the distortion was hard to make out against the backdrop of the sky.

"Could continue underground for a while too, but if I go through I'll lose time. Maybe a lot of time, and they'll be able to prepare inside."

While she thought the problem over she reached into another pocket and pulled out a glass container filled with black liquid, some of it had begun to congeal into more of a paste. Unscrewing the lid and kneeling down in the ground to get some stability, Scribbler pulled a small, sharp needle out of the lid before taking a steadying breath and stabbing it into one of her fingers.

She squeezed a drop of blood out of the small needle prick and let it fall into the container of ink. Swirling it to allow her blood to mix with the rest of the contents, she directed her attention on it, slowly stirring up the liquid, breaking up the parts that had started to solidify.

"No way around it, I'll need to use one of the borders. With any luck they'll have an Epic or two guarding it."

She crooked her finger at the container of ink, causing a small stream to slowly rise out of it, trailing after her finger. She guided the finger onto her arm, shifting some of her other tattoos to make room, and then began to trace out words. The ink followed her finger and began sinking into her skin, creating a semi-permanent mark.

"'Fire' and 'Wind' would be good, show off a little if I need to. 'Light' if I need to blind them. Might need a 'Shield' on this arm too if things escalate too quickly."

Scribbler began making her way to the western border, a line of ink trailing after her as she prepared herself for what would happen in Olympia Polaris.

4

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Liam dumped the unconscious Epic’s body into the van. He had laid out a sheet of plastic on the floor to catch the blood, which was already pooling, and prepare for operation. Having an opportunity to collect samples like this was too good to pass up. Liam glanced over at Kokichi, who was watching the Epic intently.

“Keep an eye on him, please,” Liam asked, then he walked around to the front of the van. Though the cycle team was incapacitated, it wouldn’t be long before another team came looking for their missing comrades. And when they did, Liam wanted to be far away. He had decided to leave the bodies where they lie, including the unconscious ones. Moving them would be too much of a hassle.

“Hello there!”

A cheery voice called out from the other side of the road. Liam immediately dropped and brought up his shotgun in the direction of the voice. It was too soon for another fight, Calamity blast it. The voice came from a man, clad in a forest camo military uniform and featuring green hair. Of course, compared to Kokichi’s, everyone’s hair was bland. The man was sturdily built, presumably from his military background, if the uniform was anything to go off of. Yet, what most uneased Liam was the man’s demeanor. He walked with the confident, purposeful stride that screamed “Epic” and his voice, though jovial, was directed towards him.

This man, this Epic, knew about him, what happened, and he was here for him.

And, now that he thought about it, that tree-line behind him seemed much thicker than it was before.

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Liam took a few minutes to process the flashback. He seemed like he was usually more reserved, but with Kokichi around, every single thought was magnified and made visible. It took effort and significant amounts of practice to lie like that.

“Alright, I suppose that it’s my turn.” Kokichi let the images wash over them, fading from their existence to another. Liam wouldn’t be able to change the specifics of his memories to show others like they could, but he probably could select which parts of them they could see.

They watched the life of a family unfold, piece by piece, until they were ever so rudely interpret by the sound of gunfire. Kokichi readjusted to the sudden shift quicker than Liam, who had a single moment of confusion before he managed to fully process reality again. The bullets were ricocheting off of the armored van, for now, but the car wouldn’t last forever.

”Freeze! We have you surrounded!” Kokichi noted the logos of the city on the bicyclists who were firing the machine guns. These were probably pretty official. Fighting them would make hanging out low key style in the city difficult, but chilling out was never Kokichi’s style.

They stuck out their tongue and made a childish face in response to the command. They really weren’t fond of being told what to do.

“THIS IS YOUR FINAL WARNING. PULL OVER OF WE WILL BE FORCED TO DESTROY YOU.”

“No thanks,” Kokichi said, winking, before the car swerved to avoid a person who’d jumped in the middle of the street for some stupid reason. Fortunately, that person began fighting the bike people by burning their faces instead of trying to kill them. Well. Fortunately for the face burner, anyway.

Liam brought the van to a stop and they hopped out. He took out two of the biker people, hitting them with his gun. Kokichi shoved their hands in their pockets as they followed him. The face burner-- definitely another Epic-- had gotten himself overwhelmed and looked like he was about to pass out. Interesting.

“Should’ve let me kill them,” he mumbled before blacking out. Kokichi raised an eyebrow and looked at the two randos Liam had only knocked out. They didn’t really care all too much if the randos lived or died. Did Liam?

Maybe. He dragged the unconscious Epic into the van with practiced ease. To help or to interrogate for information later? Or maybe it had to do with that Epic tech they’d stolen from that place. Kokichi wasn’t sure how that stuff was made. He finished packing up the unconscious body and turned to them.

“Keep an eye on him, please,” They saluted and he headed to the front of the van, about to do something when a stranger came out of the sorta moving woods.

“Hello there!” he said, cheerfully.  He was clearly talking to Liam, who’d pulled his gun up, which was super patronizing. He was tots an Epic, based on the (dull) green hair. He wore a uniform of some sorta boring military type and seemed solid, like buff.

Kokichi looked from the unconscious Epic to the less unconcious one. Risk posed by the Epic bleeding out: Low. Risk posed from the alive Epic who was confident about taking them on: Probably slightly higher. Based on the moving trees, Kokichi figured there was an actual fight coming soon. They headed around the van and unzipped their hoodie before tossing it to the ground in a spinning motion that made them look undeniably cool, directly in front of Liam. Kokichi reached into their the pockets of their denim shorts, a casual looking gesture to the naive but a preparation to throw pocket sand to those familiar with their MO.

“Howdy!” they called out to the other Epic. “What’s up?”

5

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8OuS2d9KH_r3gsbWH0vK-VLPaS2TF4UYG3mEkQDiKi9XGlmh9s_CvheiQpzSjaRDHkQFhEu9BHL7CpesSobEWvx2jPY6AiNddUGFT7wlPr8YmOZTVH7M24WmRHIq39SaLGFEqqzl

As Phytomagnet continued walking over, he saw the shorter of the two carrying a bloodied and apparently unconscious form into the back of the van.

"Howdy! What's up?" the same person--almost definitely an epic by their appearance--called out. For some reason, they'd tossed off their jacket and stuck their hands in their pockets. Likely nothing to worry about.

"Nothin' much, y'know. Could ask the same of you. Seems I missed out on some interesting action." Phyto's eyes swept over the scene again, taking in the eight dead bodies, the raised shotgun, the absolutely absurd look of the younger epic, clearly trying to be 'cool'. But why toss their jacket? 

"Mind sharing what just went down?" With these words Phytomagnet stopped walking, maybe twenty strides away. Sliding his shield off of his back, he set it on the ground, resting his arms across its uneven edge.

Edited by Weirdpersonx
Formatting!
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The military Epic stopped about forty feet away, placing himself in the middle of the road. Wide open. “Mind sharing what just went down?” The Epic inquired as he slung his shield, previously unseen, over his shoulder and rested the edge of it on the asphalt. The shield was large, maybe two and half feet across, and was made of bark, thick and rough-looking, as if it had been sliced off a tree five minutes ago. Maybe it had.

He obviously was trying to set them at ease. From this distance, Liam could blow his head off without much trouble. It might not have any effect, though. Sparks, if only he had intel!

“We had a brief altercation with these individuals here,” Liam said, shrugging in the direction of the scattered motorcyclists and keeping his tone almost sarcastically formal. “They had been giving us a bit of trouble, as you can see from the bullet scars on my van, so it was about time to end the fiasco. I’d prefer if you also left us alone, you and whatever army you’ve brought along.” Liam thought he saw something pass over the Epic’s face just then, but it was gone in an instant. “And if we’ve intruded on your territory at all, don’t worry, we’ll just be going now.”

Liam watched the Epic’s face, watching for any sort of reaction.

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The knife crumpled on contact with the epic's skin, forming an exchange of sorts, each party revealing capabilities to the other. As hilariously anticlimactic as it might have been, Quietus would have been insulted if she had simply died. It would be like going out to hunt tiger, and finding a rat. He sought a more exotic prey. The kind that could endure for a deliciously long time, under the scalpel.

Like Firebrand, this epic that was making a significant effort to communicate, but of course, whatever she was saying died in the air as it got too close to him. She was also gathering herself for either a fight or a flight. Quietus grinned, casting off his power without a concern and meeting her eyes.

"Looking for somebody to talk to, belle?" he greeted her cheerily. "Perhaps get a feel for the local epics?"

"If we're going to have a quality heart-to-heart, I insist that you come a little closer."

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"If we're going to have a quality heart-to-heart, I insist that you come a little closer."

Impact smiled as she drifted towards the Epic. If he wanted her within close range, well that was his mistake to make. Perhaps he thought that someone with flying abilities would naturally prefer to keep a distance, using that to their advantage. Now within 15 feet of the Epic she paused for a moment before continuing onwards, keeping her face calm as her mind continued to spin.

He seemed to be some sort of speed Epic, but if that were the case why would he want me closer? He'd think he could just chase after me if I took off. Maybe trying to get me on solid ground?

She softly touched back down on the ground, still supporting most of her weight with her abilities but she would at least seem to be earthbound for the moment.

"Just passing through." She said, again enhancing her voice so it carried. "Your welcoming committee left a bit to be desired." She jerked her head towards the guards who'd scattered the moment this Epic arrived.

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