The Writers Guild Presents #52 - June, 2015

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Welcome to the 52nd issue of WGP, and this month it's a celebration of the return of a Writers Guild favorite! If you're unfamiliar with ImpurestCheese's Patron Saint of Crime, this is the issue where you can get all caught up for the current series! For Comic Vine audiences, The Patron Saint of Crime was born in Character Creation Contest #13. From there, Imp' submitted sixteen chapters for The Writers Guild Presents, and two more as entries to the Character Creation Contest (which were counted as half-issues). For the first time, the full story is collected here. So with no further ado, enjoy...

Patron Saint of Crime Prologue, by ImpurestCheese

The plump Hispanic man dressed in jeans and a ripped t-shirt ran screaming into the church before slamming the doors closed behind him and placing a bar across the door, effectively barricading himself inside the abandoned 'house of god' alone in the dark, save the occasional flash of light as a car drove past. Drawing his pistol he heard a powerful knocking and scurried behind the alter preying that the block of wood would hold long enough for him to find a way out. With a snap the block cracked and the doors were flung open as a well built man dressed in leather and carrying a five foot sledge hammer in one hand and his own pistol in the other. "Juan Caso I know you're in here boy." The hammer wielder bellowed in a Texan accent. "Where are you you filthy little car jacker, you and I have a bounty to settle."

Juan gulped and watched as the man threw the hammer away, the shaft clanging on the floor, the sound echoing around the empty hall. "You know you are wanted dead or alive right?" The Texan stated drawing a second pistol. With a squeak Juan got down on his knees and begun to prey to the saints to be delivered from the bounty hunter's clutches safely. "Ah there you are." The hunter announced as he advanced down the aisle and levelled the pistol in his left hand at the back of Juan's head, the cold muzzle causing his quarry to drop his handgun. "Pray to the lord as much as you like, I know he doesn't listen much to thieves like you." He added, "Now do me a favour and come quietly." he ordered as he holstered his second pistol and reached down for a pair of cable ties before aggressively pulling Juan's hands together and binding them. "Now walk." he ordered dragging his captive to his feet and shoving him towards the direction of the door.

As they walked away a shadow moved from behind the alter causing the bounty hunter stopped dragging his hostage in front of him as a human shield. "Your games don't scare Ken Zimmerman. Now come on out before I do something I regret." The Hunter warned the lurking presence. In response a knife ricocheted off the floor and through the cable ties freeing Juan's hands just enough for him to pull away from his captor and scuttle into the nearest row of pews. "Don't go anywhere boy this ain't a rescue." He spat at Juan as he cowered behind his makeshift cover. Suddenly a shadowy figure sprinted across the front of the church and Ken opened fire, his bullets falling just short from hitting their target.

"This man is under my protection." An imposing female voice told Ken, the sound bouncing from all around the church. "Leave now or suffer the consequences."

"Cute you get your girlfriend to try and scare me?" Ken asked Juan before reloading his pistols, "You are all bluster Miss, and when I find you I will add what your worth to me total tonight."

"And what if I find you first?" The woman stated as Ken turned round to see a pale faced woman with cropped black hair standing behind him, her body clothed in close fitting combat trousers, lace shirt and black Kevlar jacket, her hazel eyes boring into him. Despite the accent she looked Asian and that threw Ken for an additional half a second, one his opponent used to her advantage as a cloud of smoke erupted from her hands, the mist biting his skin and eyes. With a roar that was equal part pain and anger Ken lunged only to be tripped, his momentum sending him flailing into the cold stone floor. Looking up his eyes burning from the smoke he watched as the woman removed a hand bow from her belt loaded a dart and levelled the weapon at his chest. "I am Siwang the Patron Saint of Criminals and this man is under my protection." The woman told Ken before firing the dart into his chest, the toxin on the tip acting swiftly as the once formidable bounty hunter collapsed into cardiac arrest."

From his hiding place Juan emerged cautiously, his head bowed trying to avoid eye contact with Siwang. "Gracias Senora." he mumbled before edging down to the alter to retrieve his gun, his eyes never leaving Ken's body. "If there is anything I can do for you I will be happy to repay you." he added hoping she wouldn't take him up on his offer.

"I have one thing to ask of you." Siwanag said, her eyes boring into his skull like those of a deadly serpent. "Tell your bosses and drinking buddies what happened here today. Tell them who saved you and that they would do well for me to pray for my services and that I am ready to offer them." After that she vanished slipping back into the shadows leaving the stammering criminal alone with his hunter, the sound of sirens far from the church all thanks to his mysterious saviour.

**

Detective James Grady shook his head as the EMTs loaded the 'dead' bounty hunter into the ambulance. For the last month El Paso had encountered at least eight other incidents were a wide range of people had been shot and killed with darts. The one thing they all had in common were that they were law enforcement figures, mostly police officers but a few bounty hunters and even a paramedic had turned up. All were being linked to the Patron Saint of Criminals, a new 'hero' for the underworld yet the truth was even stranger then the public knew.

"You think it's her?" His partner Gillian West asked.

"Eyewitness accounts show two men entering neither of them carrying the murder weapon." Grady answered, "The first was a carjacker the other was our victim. No sign of the 'Saint' but we are getting somewhere from our snitches. Apparently she is oriental and speaks with a Hispanic accent suggesting that she might be from Macau since we checked every woman who fits the description the first victim gave us before he died on route to hospital."

"Cop killers are the worst." West stated, "I can't believe she's lasted so long, usually the cartels are looking for ways to stay in the department's good graces to get a few extra favours when we bust their enforcers and traffickers."

"What can I say criminals are weird people?" Grady told her as he headed inside, "I'm just going to look inside." he added ducking into the church and heading into a confessional booth. Sliding the slat back he saw Siwang staring back at him clad in a hood. "I hope you used the Tetrodotoxin like the others?" he asked before watching her nod. "Good did you make any progress?"

"The Cartels are talking about me." Siwang stated, "I'm close to getting inside and once I am you will have their entire operation."

"Just be careful." Grady told her but by the time he had finished she was gone vanished back into the shadows."

Patron Saint of Crime #1, by ImpurestCheese

IS10 North of El Paso, Texas

Officer Grady stood the other side of the yellow crime tape next to his partner. He watched as the paramedics tentatively loaded the stretcher carrying Officer Gomez into the ambulance, a black feathered arrow sticking out of his chest. Gomez, a traffic officer, had been in halfway through a routine traffic stop when he had been targeted just like several police officers, the only difference was that Gomez while victimized by a figure known as Siwang the Patron Saint of Crime, was still alive unlike the others.

"I really hate that bitch." Detective Gillian West spat as the CSI team moved in and begun to process the spot in front of the cruiser where Gomez had been shot and the tire tracks as well as the cruiser itself. "From what I hear the FBI are just itching to take the case off of our hands in a few days but I seriously want to find this Siwang and put a bullet through her head. I don't care what connections she has to the almighty even if she is a 'saint'."

"Death is too easy for people like her." Grady told her, "Lock her in a cage and let her suffer, that is the worst possible punishment for her."

As he finished his phone chirped and he cleared the screen to see a text marked with a tiny picture of a crucifix. "Sorry Gill, that's Gretchen she still hasn't figured out not to call me at work."

"So when am I going to meet your new 'girlfriend'?" West asked in a mischievous voice.

"Never, considering how you have a tendency to scare off the women in my life." Grady answered. "Hey Branson," He called to the head CSI, a grey bearded man with a fat gut that was barely held in by a plaid shirt that screamed redneck especially when combined with his worn blue jeans, "I'm heading back to the station do you want me to take Gomez's Cruiser back with me?"

"Sure, take it away. We think we have a snapped arrow here, it might help us locate where the shooter has been." Branson called back in his usual North Dakota drawl.

"Gill stay here and make sure they recover the arrow correctly. I want to know the second they get DNA, fingerprints or even what type of wood it's made of," Grady told her, his voice rising in frustration with each word.

"Okay James but maybe I should drive back. They say not to get behind the wheel when you're angry." West suggested as one of the CSI techs threw Detective Grady the keys to the police cruiser.

"We're all angry because of Siwang. I'm just not that good at hiding it." James told her as he got in the car and waited for the tape to be lifted. "Gomez could have been killed by this lunatic and unlike the others he had a wife and kids. This killing spree has gone on long enough."

Downtown El Paso

Grady stopped at the lights and heard something move in the trunk of the car before releasing the catch and seeing an oriental woman dressed in a green tank top and purple trousers with the word 'luck' written down the side in pseudo Mandarin symbols open the boot and jump out to land feet first on the road behind the car. Opening the door he waited for her to dust herself off before driving off with his hitchhiker now riding shotgun in the cruiser.

"Do I even want to know why the hell you tagged Gomez?" Grady asked his passenger.

"He pulled over Julian Ross, one of Bochanegra's illegal fight coordinators. Ross was transporting the earnings from the ring in Mesquite when Gomez caught him speeding. I had been following Ross on my bike and decided that he would be my way into a meeting with Bochanegra himself." Siwang answered. "I ditched my bike after shooting Gomez and then came back to check on him only to see you arrive. I hid and then texted you to take the cruiser because quite frankly I don't trust the driving skills of your CSIs. Also Gretchen, is that the best name you could come up with?"

"I was stressed, mostly because my half sister shot an officer with a hand-bow and had hidden in the boot of a car that was about to be searched. And about the shooting, you missed the first shot and they found one of your arrows. There still looking for the head but when they do they might have a lead to the 'church'." Grady warned her, "I thought you were a good shot."

"I am." Siwang answered smugly, "The first shot tagged Gomez with a mixture of tranquilizers and blood coagulant. The second hit Ross's Mercedes, embedding an isotope marker into the body work. If Bochanegra won't invite me in then I will just crash the party, as we speak the 'acolytes' are working on the location, analysing security and getting me a list of possible entry points." she informed Grady.

"Well listen I think you should just wait…" He turned to check on his passenger only to see that she had vanished, "How the hell do you do that?" he asked before turning back to the road and slamming the brakes on as he coasted up to the next red light, the radiator smoking. "Damm it Branson is not going to be happy about this."

The Church, Under Altura Park

Siwang slipped down the well of the sunken Spanish Mission quietly and confidently before hitting the bottom with a light splash as the water rippled around her. Blindly she pressed a small indent in the rock and closed her eyes as the emergency lighting came on and illuminated a small alcove in the pack with a door set in the rock. Squeezing in Siwang pushed it open and emerged into a room filled with wires and cables crisscrossing the floor to the numerous computer stations and monitor screens. Shaking herself dry she crossed the floor to where a dark skinned man sat dressed in slacks and a T-Shirt eating chips while watching a loading bar move across the screen.

"You know there is a door." He muttered, "You don't have to use the well every time you come home."

"I know." Siwang answered, "One day I will surprise you and use the door. So Vance how's the tracker I placed on Ross's Mercedes?"

"Stopped outside the headquarters for El Cascavel, a street gang that runs interference for Bochanegra." Vance answered, "So you can expect lots of guns and knives in there if you decide to pay them a visit."

"If?" Siwang said with surprise. "As my first 'kill' and my head acolyte Vance you really should no me better."

"Yeah stupid thing to say really." Vance stated, "That last guy you 'killed' Zimmerman or something like that is still in a coma. I guess we should count that as a blessing, the rest of us signed up for this undercover operation but he was a free lance idiot that found the wrong target at the wrong time."

"So who exactly do I talk to arrange a meeting with Bochanegra within El Cascavel?" Siwang asked, eager to change the subject."

"He's called el Poco Hombre, but don't let the name fool you he's six foot one from what Helen observed last week when she went to 'fix their cable'. As such we have a full lay out of the building just to prevent you from getting lost." Vance told her. "Oh and Leon from the armory dropped these off for you, figured that you may want some bang for your act." He added tossing her a belt laden with road-flares and smoke grenades. "He also asked if you want a real firearm this time or if you still want to rely on pre-industrial weapons."

"I am never going to use a gun." Siwang said through gritted teeth. "But the flares and grenades are fine. If you see her before I do thank Helen for the Intel and tell the others to keep an ear out for any fix on Bochanegra."

"Cool I'll get the door for you." Vance told Siwang as she looked up at the section of loose tile on the roof. "So you can walk out through the main…son of a bitch."

He spat as he looked up to see her already climbing up the stone walls before going hand over hand to the lose tiles. Pushing them up she squeezed through the gap and out onto the roof. Seconds later sirens blared as the computer announced that the motion sensors had fired.

With a nervous laugh Vance shut down the sensors before looking back up at the hole, "The day you walk through the door, Siwang, is the day I die."

Patron Saint of Crime #2, by ImpurestCheese

El Cascavel Gang Headquarters, El Paso

"Hola Bonita!" The guard dressed in a striped t-shirt and cargo pants called as the young Asian woman dressed in a gothic lace shirt, PVC mini skirt, and ballet boots trotted up to the door, clutching a handbag. "You must be Nix;" Mistress Lamina said she was sending el Poco Hombre a tasty little treat, "but I think maybe I should keep you for myself."

"Mistress said I was only to dance for el Poco." Nix answered shyly, "That only he has the money and that if anyone else got involved without his consent all I had to do was scream."

"El Poco Hombre will never know." The guard snarled as he reached for her before stopping as a silver Suzuki Hayabusa roared up outside and the driver dismounted and walked up to the pair of them and easily eclipsing them. The guard barley able to come up to his torso and the now quivering Nix able to look at the man's navel, a testament to the newcomer's massive size. At almost seven foot and clad in motorcycle leathers and a helmet covered with Norse runes painted in silver pain, the man was an imposing site.

"Who are you?" The guard growled as he tried to puff himself up whilst covertly reaching for his holstered Micro-Uzi. "What are you doing here?"

"My name is Lester Stein." The giant boomed in a vaguely German tinged accent. "El Poco wanted to talk to me about my contract with Bocanegra."

"Your name isn't on the list." The guard answered nervously as Nix decided that she didn't want to be involved with the mountain of a man who had turned up only seconds after her.

"It will be under my stage name Jotun." Lester growled as he saw the guard going for his machine-pistol. "And who do you think you're kidding." He added as he flashed his own sidearm quickly, a bulky Desert Eagle painted matte black with matching runes decorating the handle as those on his helmet.

"Oh Mr Jotun." The guard gulped, "Come on in." he added nervously before reaching out and grabbing Nix by the hair and dragging her back. "You have work to do Bonita." he hissed, his voice full of lust. With a snarl Jotun reached forward and grabbed the guard's hand and broke the bones inside effortlessly, the release caused Nix to topple forward into the giant's arms.

"Kid do yourself a favor and leave." Jotun told her kindly before stuffing two century notes down her top. "And then get out of this kind of business; it's not a good career choice." He added as she looked at him in surprise, awe struck at how he had gone from a bone breaking monster to a gentle handed giant. With a nod and an audible gulp she nodded and started heading away from the gang headquarters as her super sized rescuer pushed past the whimpering guard and headed inside.

____________________________________________________________________

El Poco Hombre's Office

El Poco Hombre was a grizzled face man on Mexican office with a pair of cascavel rattlesnake tattoo running up both arms, their heads kissing on his back in between his shoulders. Normally he wore a business suit, or failing that, a wife beater shirt and jeans, but today he was only in his boxers. He watched the oriental woman shoot his saucy winks and occasionally leveled the prop hand-bow at him as she gyrated dressed in her forest green leotard and an attached tutu to the music playing over the stereo that sat on his desk next to the silver boxing trophy he had won when he was younger. Back then he had been 'the Man' but after failing to lose a fixed fight he was castrated by an enforcer working for the infamous Carlos Rojas, the cartel boss who controlled the El Tarantula Cartel. A few days later, Rojas was dead at the hands of a new player; a man known as Bochanegra had offered the imposing El Poco reparation for his successors treatment of him by giving him part of his fledgling crime empire.

"Huntress come here." He ordered the dancer, "I need you to do something for me." He added as the woman walked seductively over. As she slipped onto his lap the door opened and El Poco looked up to see a massive dark shape block the door. "Leave us." He whispered into Huntress's ear before letting her slide off his lap and run to the door, grabbing her discarded clothing as she went.

"More Asian girls Hector?" Jotun asked as he ducked into the room, his helmet removed to reveal a blonde haired man with sapphire blue eyes and a well trimmed beard. "What is it with you and women from the Orient?"

"Lucy my regular girl retired three weeks ago." Hector answered as he got up to welcome his visitor. "I'm thinking about marrying her."

"Why, so you can have the rest of the fight knocked out of you?" Jotun stated. "It's good to see you again Hector."

"And you Lester, I would say sit down but I don't think my chairs can handle your weight." Hector apologized to his guest. "But maybe I should invest in some since I need to ask a favor of you."

"Anything Hector." Lester answered, "Your father trained me, treated my like a son after my folks disappeared. You are as close to a brother as I have ever had."

"There is a girl." Hector told him, "But this one is different."

"They always are."

"No, this one is a killer, and she is looking for Bochanegra. Bochanegra doesn't want to be found, especially from a loose canon like her. I know she will eventually come here to look for a crack into El Tarantula that she can squeeze into, I need you to stop her permanently." Hector stated.

"I'll get my usual fee?" Lester asked as there was a knock on the door.

"Yes and a bonus from Bochanegra." Hector answered as he pulled on his jeans. "That's probably Huntress she forgot her bra." he added as he went to the door and opened it only to find himself looking down the length of a hand-bow loaded with a bullet headed bolt. Holding the weapon was a woman dressed in street clothes who defiantly didn't have the same demeanor as the dancers he had been sampling all day. "I am busy, so if you came for a dance then you will have to wait." El Poco stammered as he went to close the door. Behind him Lester stirred and picked up an aluminum baseball bat concealed by the side of Hector's desk.

"I didn't come for a dance." The oriental woman hissed as she trained her weapon at Lester. "I came for answers."

"That's her." El Poco yelled as he dived to the deck, "That's the woman, the Patron Saint of Crime! Kill her!" he added as Lester surged forward towards his target, the sheer speed catching Siwang off guard before swinging the bat and knocking her out of the doorway and back into the columned gym that was annexed to the office. Hand springing to her feet Siwang reclaimed her hand bow and fired the loaded bolt only to see Jotun bat it away as he ran towards her.

Dropping her weapon Siwang reached onto her belt and threw one of the flash-bangs down the range, the grenade exploded at Jotun's feet and showered him with intense light and an ear-popping wave of sound. It was loud enough to make him drop the bat that he had been wielding. Jotun blinked in an attempt to adapt his eyes to the light. The giant saw his prey pick up a set of 5kg dumbbells and dash towards him, before delivering a swift punch to the face, the weights enhanced the force of the blow. She swung in for a second attack, this time Siwang aimed lower, slamming one weight into the man's chest and the second into his shoulder before watching as he threw his arms out knocking her backwards for the second time in just over a minutes.

"Inventive." Jotun remarked as he lifted a massive 25kg bar with attached weights. "But not too smart." He added as he hovered over her and slammed the weight down towards her. His prey rolled away seconds before the improvised weapon slammed down where she had been lying. With a grunt of content, Jotun lifted the bar again and swung it towards Siwang, only for the woman to duck under the blow and charge towards him, in an attempt to tackle him to the ground. Jotun smiled and let her hit him before he placed the bar under her neck and levered his attacker away. Siwang staggered and recovered just in time to jump a sweep from the bar before she sprung away to where she had dropped her bow, her fingers pulling back the drawstring. With a roar Jotun threw the weight at his distracted foe and smiled as the bar smacked into Siwang, sending her toppling and the hand bow skidding away.

"You're agile," Jotun commented as he marched steadily towards her, "and you have the spirit of a fighter but you lack technique and while passion and speed will take you so far there are not enough against a skilled opponent with the same abilities." He told her as he picked Siwang up the neck and pulled her up to look him in the eyes. "It will be quick I promise you deserve that much at least." He added as Siwang fumbled for something on her belt. With a long sigh Jotun placed his second hand under his opponent's chin and begun to push up, only to see something glowing blue in the woman's hands enough to distract him from his grisly duties as Siwang swung her arms up and stabbed him in the eyes with the road flares she was carrying.

With a roar of pain Jotun threw her away and covered his face. He was now unable to defend himself from his opponent, as she landed on all fours before leaping towards him and slamming her fist in his groin. Jotun reached out before feeling what felt like hammer blows working on his chest as Siwang got to work, punching quickly and accurately in the same spot she had hit him earlier with the dumbbell, enhancing the pain with every blow before being swatted away by the distressed giant.

"I don't like killing with a gun." Jotun roared as he pulled out his Desert Eagle, "But you have forced me to rely on such things." He added as he swung round listening for Siwang to move and revel where she was lying. Silently Siwang reached out for a medicine ball that was about two foot away and pushed it towards the main door, the noise causing Jotun to turn and fire a shot into the steel orb. With a quiet inhale of breath Siwang threw an unlit flare towards El Poco's office and watched as Jotun fired more shots, all of them missing the thrown projectile. Siwang tapped her fingers to count down the amount of bullets the giant had left, she reached six and smiled with the knowledge he was out of rounds. Getting to her feet she edged to the left and saw him cock his weapon and firing, the last bullet flew towards her and was embedded into her right leg. This caused her to hit the floor with a grunt of pain and a thud.

"You always keep one in the chamber." Jotun told her as he headed over towards Siwang, his hands blindly slipped a new cartridge into his gun. "I will find you and kill you before I have emptied this clip." He added as Siwang pulled herself along the floor away from him. She kicked a dumbbell towards him and watched as he shot it twice. With a hiss of pain she pulled herself up using one of the load bearing columns and ducked behind it as a bullet bit into the support structure, plaster board flew off the area hit to reveal the steel bar inside.

"Three." Siwang whispered as Jotun reached the column. He started to feel his way around it towards her as she pulled herself around the other side and staggered towards El Poco's office. She tossed another unlit flare at the wall, which caused Jotun to swing round and fire a shot; the bullet only missed its mark by a few inches. "Four." Siwang grunted as she reached another column and toppled over, another bullet streaked over her head and showered her with plasterboard dust. "Five." she moaned as Jotun aimed lower to line up his shot with her chest.

"Enough." A voice commanded as the doors to the rest of the building swung open. Five people walked in, three of them carriedweapons whilst the others dragged in a female hostage and a laptop. Siwang noticed that only three of them were dressed like El Cascavel thugs, one of the gunmen wore a suit and shades as did the woman carrying the laptop. Neither of them had spoken, the voice had been almost computerized and was coming from the open computer's speakers. "You came looking for Bochanegra Patron Saint of Crime, you've found him." The shadowy figure on the screen announced. "You and I have some business to discuss."

Patron Saint of Crime #3, by ImpurestCheese

Oustside El Cascavel Headquarters

Siwang watched the shadow on the computer screen move slightly on the chair he was sitting off as she felt the cold muzzle of the M21 on the back of her head. Limping out of the building she and the other hostage were ushered into a blacked out Jeep Cherokee by a woman dressed in a chauffeur's uniform before hearing the door close behind her.

"Start driving." The gunman stated in a British accent, something that caused Siwang to look at the group again. The gunman was well built with shoulder length blonde hair, if he didn't have a cold look on his face he would actually be attractive. The woman holding the laptop wasn't a hit woman, that much was clear, she seemed nervous and her manicured hands suggested she didn't get her hands dirty too often. The last figure was a Hispanic woman, athletic but not a killer, it was clear she was terrified by the ordeal.

"So Miss Siwang how has your day gone so far?" Bochanegra asked, the synthesized voice masking software buzzing over the speakers.

"You know." Siwang answered calmly. "You paid Gomez to stop Ross knowing I was following. After that you seemingly called in the giant to protect El Poco but it was a test to see my reaction and ingenuity."

"As I suspected." Bochanegra stated. "You are as good as they say you are and now I'm going to give you a chance to prove it. I assume you are wondering what Dr. Jael Montero is doing here?"

"Not really." Siwang told him, "Now tell me what you need me to do."

"Dr Montero was transporting a collection of historic artifacts from Peru. Unfortunately for her she was traveling with one of my smugglers who was carrying a special shipment for me." Bochanegra explained. "It would have been fine except that the Drug Enforcement Agency stopped my cargo from being unloaded."

"And you grabbed the good doctor because you thought she good access the plane." Siwang said smartly. ''But she couldn't access the vehicle. How many agents are on the case."

"Two." The British gunman announced. "We need them removed but not killed, naturally we thought of you."

"As 'Romeo' stated we need them removed so the doctor can retrieve what we're looking for." Bochanegra ordered, "He will be on site keeping an eye on you."

"So what's the catch?" Siwang asked.

"You have forty minutes to get us the cargo." Romeo stated, "And if you fail you get a bullet to the brain."

_____________________________________________________________________________

El Paso International Airport

Frank Hill yawned as his partner Franklin Rose slipped his handgun from his elbow holster and switched on the tactical light mounted under the barrel and shone it across the perimeter of the crime tape. "I thought I heard something?" He grunted.

"I heard nothing." The other Frank grunted.

"There it is again." Frank stated. "Sounded like someone throwing rocks."

"Well scare them off!" Frank ordered as Franklin ducked under the tape. Walking into the darkness there was a moment of silence before a thud sounded causing Frank to reach for his pistol. Before he could draw his weapon something bit into his neck. Reaching up he pulled a seven inch brown feathered dart from his neck, the metal tip coated in a thick black liquid. Within seconds he was on the floor drooling as Siwang stepped out of the darkness, her exposed midriff lined with a belt loaded with darts.

"Okay they are both out cold." Siwang stated as Jael followed her out of the darkness, a red dot dancing on the back of her head. "So any idea what we're looking for?" She asked over the Bluetooth headset.

"You'll know it when you see it." Romeo answered. "Now get searching we are on a deadline." He added as he watched Siwang pull on a pair of lace gloves from a plastic bag in her pocket and pulled them on.

"So is Romeo your real name?" Siwang asked as she ducked under the tape and walked up the back ramp and headed inside. Romeo smiled before cocking his weapon "You ask a lot of questions. I'll do you a deal, find me the cargo and I'll tell you everything you want to know."

"Jael get in here." Siwang called as she picked up an inventory of the cargo. "I don't want to disturb anything." She added as she levered the lid off of a crate to reveal a set of golden masks inside.

"Please don't touch those." Jael squeaked causing Siwang to withdraw her hand. "Those are very expensive. I packed the museum pieces myself, whatever you are looking for isn't in my stuff." She spat before picking up a second crowbar and raised it above her head. Twisting around Siwang slapped the tool away causing it to clatter away down the back ramp.

"Are you trying to incriminate yourself?" Siwang asked. "You would not do well in prison."

"What do you care?" Jael grunted.

"Because they will kill you when they have what they want." Siwang answered before turning off her headset. ''I know a place where you could be kept safe. But first help me so I can help you." She added before switching the headset back on. "Now I need you to explain some of the things on the manifest."

Taking the chart Jael narrowed her eyes before looking over to the set of crates in front of her. "*Podocarpus macrophyllus, Ginko biloba, Cycas revoluta* and *Dicksonia antarctica*. These are all plants, according to the shipping instructions they are going to a dinosaur theme park."

"That's what's bothers me." Siwang stated as she removed a lid from another crate to see tree ferns piled on top of each other. "Some of these plants are already dying, hell one of these is dead. Wait, hand me that knife." She ordered. With a gulp Jael handed over a packing knife. With a grunt Siwang stabbed into the fern's bark and cut a five foot opening in the plant before pulling out a black box decorated with yellow warning stickers.

"We have a box." Siwang called over the headset.

"Sounds like it." Romeo answered. "Open it up and check the contents." He ordered. With a deep breath Siwang unlatched the lid and opened it.

"My god is that what I think it is?" Jael gasped.

"God has nothing to do with it." Siwang answered grimly as she closed the case.

Patron Saint of Crime #4, by ImpurestCheese

Siwang climbed the fire escape to the roof of the building a red dot dancing on her forehead as she reached the roof. Turning around, seemingly oblivious to Romeo's sniper rifle trained on her head, Siwang reached down and pulled Jael and the black case onto the rooftop. As she got to her feet Siwang removed a knife from her belt and held it against Jael's throat as she edged the case towards the rooftop.

"Okay talk." Siwang hissed, "Or your package drops over the side just as your deadline ends. Tell me what Bochanegra has planned with this."

"Thought you might pull something like this." Romeo snorted, "What do you know about El Aquilla?"

"He's leader of the Cult of the Condor, Bochanegra's main rivals from Guatemala. He's also known as the King of the Skies due to his extensive use of sky traffic to move narcotics and weapons into Brazil, Mexico and the US." Siwang answered.

"Well Bochanegra heard that El Aquilla's Lieutenant is coming into El Paso to set up a new distribution line into the States. He's coming in a few minutes on a privately owned Lear Jet, hence why I needed the case delivered to us by a contact from South Africa."

"He's going to blow up a plane!" Jael screeched, "You can't let him shoot these guys."

"How many people are onboard the Jet?" Siwang asked as she began to kick the case to the edge of the roof.

"Eleven and they are all employees of El Aquilla." Romeo answered, "That enough information for you?"

"Yes." Siwang answered blankly as she kicked the case forward to Romeo's feet before watching as he opened the case and pulled out a Starstreak Missile Launcher and shouldered the weapon before scaning the skies to the south, searching the afternoon cloudscape for his target. For a tense few seconds the sky remained vacant until a grey Lear Jet descended out the clouds. This caused Romeo to arm the Starstreak, a red optical laser painting the plane before unleashing a salvo of explosive darts that entered the Lear Jet's left engines. The explosion ripped open the fuselage, which consequentially tore passengers out of the jet as the plane spiraled down towards the runway.

"Eagle Down." Romeo stated into his ear-piece. "Okay boss I'll pass you over." He added as he threw the device over to Siwang. "Bochanegra wants to talk to you."

Placing the device in her ear, Siwang listened to Bochanegra's obstructions before throwing the device back to Romeo. "Now just to remove the evidence. I've been instructed to take Jael foe a one way trip to the desert along with your boots using the rental car he hired. He wants you to take the Starstreak back to his compound."

"What?!" Jael squeaked as Siwang stabbed a syringe full on anaesthetic into her neck.

"The answer to your question about my name is Alan Montague. I'll pick you up tomorrow morning outside El Cascavel Headquarters for work." Romeo stated as he put the launcher in the case and dropped off the rooftop.

With a look at Jael's drooling body, Siwang carried her off of the rooftop and sprinted across the compound to the parking lot of rental cars. Running her hands along the front of a cyan Corvette Stingray, Siwang removed the keys and put Jael into a body bag in the car boot. Sliding into the front seat, Siwang pulled out of the car park before heading north into the desert.

As she drove away, she smiled before whispering, "I'm In."

Patron Saint of Crime #5, by ImpurestCheese

Marsiposa Drive, El Paso

Dressed in a shabby trench coat, the grizzled haired wolf of a man approached the police officer standing on the street corner. He coughed twice causing the officer to turn and glare at him as a second police officer ensconced in an alley turned on the lights of a police cruiser, the high beams blinding the approaching figure.

“I came to talk to you about Bochanegra.” The trench coat wearing man coughed. “And the sale?”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about?” The officer stated before switching off his radio and motioning for the man to follow him into the alley, the pair squeezing past the cruiser and into a dead end cut-through behind it. “Let’s see the money?” The Officer asked. The man nodded and brought some crumpled hundred dollar bills from his pocket. “Good.” The officer stated, “We can do business with you Mr…what was your name?”

“I’m called Soko in the trade.” The man told him as the officer passed him a baggie of white powder.

“And what business is that?” The officer asked as the client took the baggie and pocketed it.

“Revenge.” The man hissed as he pulled out a double bladed knuckleduster and stabbed the blades into the officer’s eyes. “And Death.”

**

The Church, Under Altura Park

Detective James Grady stormed through the postern gate into the ‘Church’ a hidden facility buried under one of El Paso’s parks, the nerve centre of a top secret undercover police operation. So far it had produced results but the events of last night represented a shift in the criminal population’s behaviour. The deaths of Officer Olson and Detective Gordon last night had changed that, with the city still remembering the ‘Crossbow Killer’ as the media had dubbed the slayings the Commissioner had quickly pointed the blame at the same culprit. But Grady knew better, despite that he still felt a twang of barley contained rage as he reached the communication centre.

“Hey James!” An African American technician shouted, “What brings you into the afterlife?”

“Where’s Siwang?” James spat. “And don’t tell me she’s out Vance. I checked the garage and saw that she had left the radio on. She used to do that when we were kids, stay in ear shot whilst doing something else.”

“Relax she went to check up on Jael.” Vance answered. “Making sure she’s happy, or as happy as you can be if you’re stuck down here.”

“Trust me it’s not better up there.” A woman dressed in metallic silver set of hotpants and matching bra. Blowing a few strands of brunette hair out of her eyes, she threw Vance a USB key before watching as he dropped it under the desk causing her to roll her eyes. “Careful with that, it contains the locations of Bochanegra’s Chop Shops from Juarez to Mesquite. I really have to thank Siwang for placing a tracer on that rental car; it really sped up the data acquisition process.”

“Any trouble Helen?” James asked.

“Nothing I couldn’t handle.” Helen answered as Siwang emerged from one of the chambers off the main hall, her cheek supporting a long fresh slash. “Psi what the hell happened? Last I heard you and Romeo were going to collect protection money from a drug dealer not playing with knives.”

“That’s nothing; you should see what happened to the other guy.” Siwang stated blankly, “I ended up breaking his fingers and managed to stop ‘Romeo’ from putting a .38 in his head. By the way where are we with placing him in Bochanegra’s organisation, he’s on retainer and my gut feels he’s not just another thug. Hey James long time no see”

“We have a problem Maya.” James stated, “Someone killed Olson and Gordon last night. The official line is that you’re responsible.”

“And the unofficial line?” Siwang asked. “Also it’s Siwang when I’m working not Maya.” She added coldly.

“The same as the official one.” James sighed, “And you’ll always be Maya to me.” He answered.

“Gordon and Olson were dirty.” Helen interrupted, “There names have come up on drug trafficking reports as well as several police brutality reports. No concrete evidence but everyone knew they were sitting in Bochanegra’s pockets.”

”Who in this city isn’t?” James stated, “All the cops who haven’t taken bribes are either dead or down here. It’s why we set this up, to fight the cities corruption. But still someone other then May…I mean Siwang is targeting law enforcement officers. And worse they left a calling card; both of the victims had a pair of .50 calibre shells hammered into their eyes. This was all happening while the victims were still alive, they didn’t resist and toxicology screens came back with traces of Tarantula Hawk Wasp venom which contains a pain enhancing compound.”

“So were looking for a gunman who prefers to be up close and wants his victims to be in as much pain as possible.” Vance summed up, “We meet the nicest people in our work. Judging from what you described we can assume our killer was looking for more then just to get his ‘jollies’. It sounds like he was looking for information.”

“What about the shells?” Siwang asked, “What story do they tell?”

“Striations on the casings suggest that they were fired from a Zastava M93 Black Arrow Sniper Rifle. Its Serbian made and was used in Kosovo as an artillery spotter’s weapon as well as for anti-material operations. Forget bullet proof jackets one of these rounds can punch through light steel plating.” James announced. “Short of a rocket launcher you can’t get any more firepower on the streets.”

“You’re not going to let that go are you?” Siwang hissed as a well built old gentlemen walked over dressed in military fatigues, his cane tapping on the floor as he made his way over. “Leon might be able to help you track down the gun.”

“You mentioned a Black Arrow Marksman Rifle?” Leon asked, his California accent standing in sharp contrast to the Texan drawl of the others. “And wasp venom, did you check the base of the shells for markings?” He continued as ‘Kiss Me’ by the Cardigans echoed around the room. Reaching into the pocket of her jeans Siwang pulled out a mobile phone with ‘work’ labelled in Chinese characters down the side. Walking away from the group she answered leaving the others to turn their attention back to Leon.

“When I was in Kosovo I killed a lot of guys who were monsters but the worst was a man called Soko which translates from Croatian to the Falcon. He was a mercenary sniper working for anyone with enough cash to hire him. He left an easy trail to follow back then; you just looked for bodies with rounds engraved with a falcon on the base, that or you found kill charts where he had been, tables with the number of people he had killed from each faction.” Leon sighed.

“What about the wasp venom?” Vance asked. “Why is that significant?”

“As bad as the tally charts and bodies were the worst thing Soko did back in Kosovo involved children. And not the kind of thing you’re thinking of.” He added as Helen scrunched up her face. “He would use to dart kids in the villages with something, we never knew at the time, which made them go mad. It was only when we found those who had allergies to wasp venom that we knew what was behind it.”

“Jesus this guy is a sadist!” James yelled. “And now he swapped Kosovo for El Paso. The question is why?” He asked as Siwang turned off her phone and walked back to the group.

“That was ‘Romeo’. Bochanegra is calling a security meeting in an hour.” Siwang stated, “He wants me there, something has got him running scared.” She added turning to look at James. “And I’m going to find out who and why.”

Patron Saint of Crime #6, by ImpurestCheese

Warehouse just off Route 54, El Paso, Texas

Siwang sat in the back seat of the black Jeep Cherokee as it came to a stop outside a warehouse complex boarded by a fortified electric fence. “Okay Ladies and Gentlemen we’re here.” The driver mumbled as Montague opened the left hand rear door and allowed the other passenger; a beautiful raven haired woman dressed in a matching grey suit and trousers got out. Next to her and ‘Romeo’ Siwang felt under dressed in a pair of blue jeans and a green t-shirt even if she had an entire quiver of spears slung over her shoulder and an atlatal attached to each wrist.

“This is Bochanegra’s compound?” She asked as the Driver slid out and popped the boot to reveal a pair of MAC-10 Machine Pistols clipped to a case.

“No this belongs to Layton King, Bochanegra’s animal guy.” Montague explained as the woman took the MAC-10s and slid an ammo clip into the weapons. “He sells exotic pets, zoo specimens and parts for medicine to people all over the world. We've been sent to pick him up because he’s not answering the phone and the silent alarm was triggered. Rumor is that there’s a sniper looking to cause trouble for our employer.”

“Please that’s just a rumor.” The woman purred as she threw an M21 to Montague. “Besides Romeo you are one of the best sharpshooters on the continent.”

“That’s Juliet my girlfriend and partner.” Montague sighed as he detached the scope from the M21. “Juliet that’s Siwang.” He added pointing to Siwang as she helped herself to a 40mm Milkor Stopper Grenade Launcher. “Or do you prefer Patron Saint of Crime?”

“Layton King.” Siwang stated ignoring Montague’s question. “How long has he been active in the animal trade business?”

“Almost Thirty years.” Montague answered, “If you’re looking for a pet you can ask him when he’s in the car.” He added as the three enforcers walked to the door. “Clay stay with the car and keep a lookout. Something doesn't smell right in here.” He instructed the driver as he closed the boot, a light machine gun slung over his shoulder. “Okay people let’s go hunting.” He mumbled as Juliet punched in the code and the door swung open.

As they got inside the first thing that struck Siwang was the reek of hay and animal feces. Advancing down the first row of cages she noted how uncomfortable the animals looked and how hungry. Between the pack of timber wolves, shackled sloth bear and the board looking Persian leopard she felt unnerved, if the animals got out then they were in big trouble. She was so preoccupied by the caged predators that she almost took one step too far and tumbled into a pit recessed into the ground, her fall prevented by Montague’s quick reflexes.

“Easy Psi.” He warned. “Keep your head here and now.” He added as he let her go and she peered over the edge to see a pair of komodo dragons sleeping on the concrete floor of the pit. “I hate coming here, what happens in this place isn’t right.”

“You really want to cross swords with Bochanegra on this?” Juliet asked as she walked over to one of the cages and rattled the bars, the noise causing the tethered Red Kites inside to scream noisily. “If we don’t exploit the resources King provides somebody else will.”

“We can discuss this later.” Montague growled. “There’s an operations center on the second floor. I’ll set up my sniper’s perch there and see if I can find King. You two head towards the back door and see if anyone’s tampered with the security system back there, see if we can trace where the alarm was tripped.” He added as he shot the komodo dragons in the pit a glance before heading to a reinforced office and stair case to the left on the entrance.

“Come on girlfriend.” Juliet purred in a cold voice, “Let’s go.” She added before stalking off away from the office down another row of cages. Siwang looked back at Montague before turning and following her ‘new friend’ towards the back of the warehouse. After they had traveled a fair distance from the dragon pit Juliet turned and slammed ‘the Saint’ into one of the cage fronts before pulling a knife and holding it against Siwang’s throat.

“Listen up because I’m only going to say this once.” She hissed as the puma in the cage stirred slightly in its sleep. “Romeo or Montague or whatever you call him is mine and only mine. You so much as think of sleeping with him, kissing him even hugging him then you and I are going to have a problem.” She warned before bringing the knife low and slashing Siwang’s wrists open. “If you do we’ll see how well you can fire a crossbow with no hands. You get me?” She asked as the puma stretched and begun to pace up to the bars.

“I’m not interested in him.” Siwang hissed back.

“You’re a liar. All the girls say that.” Juliet snarled. “In time you’ll get to ask them.” She added before stepping back and allowing Siwang to move out of the puma’s reach.

“I’d like to see you try.” Siwang snarled back. “Until then we have work to do.” She added as she pushed past Juliet and headed for the staircase heading down at the end of the aisle. Heading down and then left into the tunnel lined with terrariums the pair stopped five tanks from the entrance as Siwang peered into the enclosure at the large black insects buzzing around a few broken chunks of driftwood. “Are those tarantula hawk wasps?” She asked as Juliet looked in before knocking on the glass.

“Yeah, those things are pretty common up in Arizona.” Juliet answered as she peeled a clip board containing an invoice off the side of the tank and stuffed it into Siwang’s hand. “They were meant to be shipped to a Mr. Kravinoff in Montenegro.”

“Soko got his wasp venom from King.” Siwang mumbled. “And that means King was involved in his operations in Kosovo.”

“Soko so you know that old ghost story.” Juliet snorted, “My uncle smuggled in weapons to Islamic Bandits in the hills during the Kosovo conflict. They spoke of ‘the Falcon’ a sniper so deadly that no man could survive when his gaze fell upon them.”

“He’s real and in El Paso.” Siwang replied before a scream rang out from down the corridor. Both the women looked at each other before thundering down the tunnel towards the noise and into an area with an open pool with an overlooking gantry. Suspended from the roof was a hook dangling a few feet over the water with a bespectacled man dressed in slacks and a wife beater flailing just above the surface, his legs shackled to a submerged concrete pillar.

“Mr King are you alright?” Juliet called as Siwang looked over the edge and withdrew swiftly as a seven foot long shark swam past.

“Please help me!” King yelled. “He tied me to the veterinary post where we do checkups on the sharks. I’ll need to be unhooked before you can lift me up with the crane. And if you can avoid damaging those bull sharks, they are meant to be shipped out to Macau tomorrow morning.”

“Can you swim?” Juliet asked Siwang before kicking her onto a half submerged walkway in the shark pool. “Doesn’t matter,” She added, “You unhook him and I’ll work the crane.” She added as she climbed up the ladder onto the gantry. Siwang pushed herself up before looking at the trail of blood mixing with the water. “Oh no.” She gasped as the first of the bull sharks swung around and headed towards her. With a quick flick of her wrists Siwang launched the spear already loaded in the atlatal, the projectile stabbing into the shark and causing a river of blood to stream out. “Oh s~!t.” She swore as the four remaining sharks homed in on the dying fish and begun to rip it apart. Edging along the path she reached Layton just as a second bull shark headed her way before receiving a spear to the snout.

“Unhook my quickly!” King screamed as a third shark broke away and circle lazily around towards the two humans in the pool. Pulling out a spear Siwang got ready and jabbed at the shark, the point smacking it on the nose and causing the shark to break off the attack. “He told me that I was no longer needed.”

“Soko right?” Siwang grunted as she thrust at another inquisitive bull shark, the point snapping off on the shark’s flank. Removing the hook she shot Juliet a thumbs up and the crane begun to pull King up leaving Siwang in the water with three blood crazed sharks. This time the attack came from two directions at once, the first received a smack to the snout but the second struck from behind knocking her off the walkway into deeper water. Heaving herself back onto the walkway ‘the Saint’ heard three shots ring out and looked up to see a man standing in the tunnel back upstairs clutching a sniper rifle.

“Typical,” The man spat in an Eastern European accent, “my father gets credit for my work.” He snarled before locking onto Siwang’s head. “Still as long as Boccanegra gets the message we’re trying to send him I don’t mind that a dying man gets blamed for this.”

Patron Saint of Crime #7, by ImpurestCheese

Time seemed to freeze as Siwang looked from the man aiming the Sniper Rifle at her head to Juliet leaning on the gantry before purposefully slipping backwards as he thumbed the trigger, the bullet ripping through her shoulder before embedding into the platform behind her. Submerging herself she crawled along the bottom before emerging hopefully out of the gunmen’s line of sight just as a burst of automatic fire raked the surface of the pool.

“Come on I thought Bochanegra’s assassins would be more of a challenge!” The man yelled as he replaced the clip in the AN-94 he was wielding, the sniper rifle now slung over his shoulder. “Not worthy of me let along my father.” He yelled as Siwang covertly rested the 40mm Milkor Stopper on the edge of the pool before firing a grenade at her opponent, the projectile belching smoke out before engulfing the man in a thick fog.

“Nice trick.” Juliet purred as she fired her MAC-10, the shots going wide and almost hitting her ‘team mate’ as she pulled herself out of the pool. Hitting the ground running Siwang barrelled through the fog and out the other side only to find the shooter was gone.

“So you want to run.” She whispered before slotting another grenade into her ‘Stopper’. “I can do that.” She added as she took off down the corridor full of terrariums, her shoulder aching as adrenaline took over her body. Reaching the surface she saw her quarry turn and fire a burst from the AN-94 into one of the cage doors, the lock snapping under the gunfire before backing off.

“So you are the one who follows me.” The man stated. “You are wounded but still you hunt, my father would have liked you. As a professional courtesy I can tell you that you face Svračak, the Shrike and son of the Falcon and the one who will avenge his death.”

“But Soko isn’t dead yet.” Siwang called back as something large stirred in the cage. “And you can’t avenge his death if he’s alive.”

“But he is dying. He came here for a warrior’s death rather then to be eaten by his cancer. Somewhere in this city is a Yankee sniper, the one who managed to land the shot that’s killing him. He will kill my father and I will end him in honour for my father’s memory.” Svračak answered. But unfortunately you have nothing to do with it. You’re just a thug, a blunt instrument. Luckily I have found somebody for you to…” He spun around as a shot rang past to see Montague standing on one of the gantries, his weapon aimed at him. “M21 EBR, an American Rifle but you gave me a warning shot so I peg you as a European, probably British.”

“Well aren’t you intuitive.” Montague snorted. “But you talk too much. Tell me where Soko is or I’ll make sure he’s avenging you. Talk Now!!”

“He’s targeting your boss.” Svračak answered. “Your real boss.” He added, the words causing Montague to give Siwang a horrified stare before firing two shots a few feet to her left foot causing her to roll out the way. As she recovered she saw Montague run past Svračak, the Serbian hit-man smiling and nodding as he headed to the exit.

With an evil smile Svračak backed away slowly from the cage before mouthing “Enjoy you’re blank instrument.” as a massive hump backed Gaur emerged from the cage, its horns filed down and it’s back crisscrossed with burns and scars. With a snort of rage it turned its massive head and zeroed in on Siwang before giving a horse below and charging towards her. With a scream of her own Siwang charged back before slipping under the enraged creatures belly before quickly getting to her feet as the animal spun round and snorted again before charging.

This time Siwang stood her ground, spear ready before side stepping round the charging animal and thrusting the weapon into the creatures thigh, the force of the blow hobbling the creature and sending its massive body crashing to the ground. Looking at her defeated foe Siwang bent down and lifted the animals head up to expose the neck before producing a combat knife and slashing through the Gaur’s main aorta. “I’m sorry.” She silently whispered before stroking the animal’s head until it died. “You deserved better.”

“Well that was remarkable.” A voice stated. Turning Siwang saw Juliet emerge supporting King, his legs looking badly mangled. “You have a way with animals I see. I could use somebody like you to help me keep the beasts under control.”

“No, you are a monster. You supplied the venom he used to torture children.” Siwang hissed. “You are a sadist; all you have to do is look around this room to see that.” She added as Juliet stalked away from King towards the door. “I don’t care who you are or what you do for Bochanegra but you don’t deserve to live. I like animals they don’t torture each other for no reason.” She snapped before kicking King backwards, the blow sending him toppling into the komodo dragon pit, before grabbing him just in time to top his fall. “You are going to retire, sell these animals to wildlife sanctuaries and never cross my path again. You understand?” She asked as King nodded like crazy as one of the dragons circled around his flailing legs before breathing a sigh of relief as she hauled him up. Stalking towards the door she heard a car engine sound and got to the door just in time to see the Jeep Cherokee speed off without her.

“Well I should have seen that coming.” She sighed before removing the phone labelled ‘private life’ in Mandarin and dialling the only number. Vance answered on the third ring with a camp sounding ‘Good Evening’.

“Vance stop screwing around. I need a security camera sweep outside my location. I just ran into Soko’s son. I know what Soko is after; he’s going to get the whole underworld stirred up so he can get a warrior’s death.” Siwang explained. “Either Romeo stole his car or he drove off in it. Either way he can lead us to Soko, I plan to take the Falcon and the Shrike out of the game before they can target anyone else.”

“Um you’ve never killed anyone for real.” Vance answered. “So I assume you mean incapacitate and allow James to arrest rather then actually kill.”

“No I mean kill. I almost kicked a man called Layton King into a pit full of wild animals so I can honestly say I’m ready to give Soko what he deserves.” Siwang answered. “Now information ASAP or sooner please.”

“A Silver Jaguar S-Type rocketed out of your location like its tail pipe was on fire. I’m tracking it now; it’s heading south towards the city centre. Is there anything else you need?”

“My Compound Bow, the laser sight and curare tipped arrows,” Siwang answered “and someone to run my bike down.”

“Maya listen to me. If you do this you know how it will end when the mission is over.” Vance sighed. “What James and the rest of us have to do if you take that final step.”

“I know.” Siwang hissed. “And I don’t care.”

Patron Saint of Crime #8, by ImpurestCheese

Outside Café Central, Oregon Street, El Paso

Siwang pulled her Suzuki Hayabusa to a stop opposite the restaurant as she saw the parked Jaguar S-Type and the blacked out jeep that had been at King’s warehouse. Scanning the rooftops she picked out the only one that had easy line of sight into the café and headed round the back of the building and up the fire escape to the red roof of the ‘El Paso Loans and Savings’ bank. The street was normal, filled with walkers and traffic enjoying the evening sun.

“I’m on the roof.” She announced, “Soko isn't here but that is definitely his sons car parked outside.”

“We took the liberty of mounting a camera in your bow’s scope.” Vance replied, “Use it to give us eyes on the café.” He suggested as Siwang opened the backpack her contact had dropped off and released the spring that kept her compound bow compacted. Unscrewing the scope she stood it on the edge of the roof pointing at the café as she pulled out a quiver loaded with arrows from a poster tube. “Can you see Montague?”

“You seem almost concerned?” Vance stated. “OK he’s sitting in a booth with three figures; faces are shadowed but the security cameras inside should be able to tell us who they are. While that’s running…Huh okay Leon wants to talk to you.” He stated. “Something about firing angles and other line of sight stuff.”

“Siwang you are on the wrong roof, from your position you can hit three of the four targets. Assuming Boccanegra and his men know anything about tactics they will put him out of a direct line shot. The forth man can only be hit through an acutely angle shot and with all the activity there is a good chance someone else would take the first bullet.” Leon explained, “The map shows a building that would just fit the profile required to make the shot, angle the scope 110° to the left.”

Turning the scope Siwang loaded an arrow in her bow but there was no one visible on the rooftop. “He’s not here, either Svračak led us here as a distraction or he’s late for his own assassination.” She stated as she turned back to the Jaguar S-Type parked below her.

“Facial analysis complete and…oh s**t. I can't believe this. Montague is meeting James, as in our James and his partner Gillian West. The fourth man is Agent Theodore Hunter of Homeland Security.” Vance gasped. “Does that mean…”

“No there are plenty of possibilities.” Siwang stated, “Let’s focus on our enemies first and our friends later. I’m tired of waiting for Soko so let’s flush him out.” She added before aiming her bow at the wall behind the booth. “Get his target running and force him to reveal himself.” She added before releasing the arrow, the projectile scything through the plate glass window and into the back wall, the diners and staff scattering immediately. “Ok eyes open guys, look out for either of our targets.”

“Got something, I have ID on Svračak. Coming out the kitchen, no visible weapons but who knows what he had stored away. If you move now you should be able to catch up with him.” Vance announced as Siwang sprung into action, heading for the fire escape and sliding down, bow in hand as the crowd fled the restaurant. Crossing the road she saw her target climbing the fire escape of the Texas Tower building before seeing the flash of a gun going off, the bullet flying past her and boring a hole into the wall of the neighbouring building. “I've found Soko!” She answered as the old man retreated into the room on the third floor. Without hesitation Siwang climbed up the fire escape after him before entering the sniper's nest.

“Siwang I have James on the other line.” Vance stated. “What do I tell him?” Siwang turned off the headset, she was done talking couldn’t afford the distraction; she was facing two skilled foes armed with military weapons in the location they had set up camp, it was a perfect ambush. Walking towards the kitchenette she saw a flash of movement and spun round releasing an arrow as Svračak ran past her and out of the room, his father taking advantage of the distraction and emerging from the apartments kitchenette, stabbing his claw like knuckle duster into Siwang’s back.

“And here I thought the Chinese archer my son described to me would be a worthy challenge.” Soko hissed. “Yet like every other hit man, thug and problem solver in this city you have been found wanting.” He wheezed as he removed a syringe from a case strapped to his belt. “I want the Yankee sniper who shot me to end this. Because of the depleted uranium bullet he put in me I’m dying of cancer.”

“You deserve it!” Siwang snarled as she lashed out, kicking the syringe away before reaching for an arrow and thrusting it towards Soko only for her opponent to shift to the right, her blow going wide and opening her up to a scratch on the face.

“I did what I was ordered to!” Soko snarled before landing another scratch across the Patron Saint of Crime’s cheek. “I’m not like you!”

“No you’re…argh.” Before she could finish pain wracked through her body as the venom on the knuckle duster began to take effect.

“Ah so you were referring to the children?” Soko stated, “They needed pain, they needed to be reminded of why they hated us, why their parents fought us so we could be seen as just when we destroyed everyone of them!” He spat before removing a knife from the kitchen, police sirens sounding. “I should be going but then maybe one of the officers will surprise me. Now where to cut, not that it matters even a breath of wind on your skin feels like a burning brand.” He stated as Siwang convulsed on the floor screaming, her movements spilling arrows everywhere.

“Let me father,” Svračak stated as he re-emerged, “the police are still struggling through the masses. They will not be here in time to stop us.”

“Ah that’s my boy.” Soko said, a smile spreading across his face. “I admit that the pain is getting to me, I will watch you perform art with the blade rather than create it myself.” He announced, not realising that Siwang had an EpiPen in one hand and was reaching for an arrow with the other. Walking over Svračak loomed over his victim and smiled before resting the blade against Siwang’s thigh before slowly drawing up her leg, a line of blood left in the knives wake.

“I’m going to enjoy this as much as my father!” Svračak snarled as he raised the blade up for a stab. In a flash Siwang struck, the arrow jabbing through her torturer’s hand causing him to fling the knife back as he fell to the floor. “Father how could she resist!? The venom should be killing her?!”

“Lucky I had the foresight to pick up this.” Siwang grunted as her body continued to convulse under the effect of the venom, her hand spasm causing her to drop the EpiPen. “Actually you gave me the idea; in Macau my mother believed that centipede venom had pain numbing properties. She was right in a way; a clinical trial found that one peptide in the venom blocks the pain receptors in the nervous system. Turns out King was more than happy to supply me with the base venom after you tried to kill him. And while I’m going to feel like hell in an hour right now I bet your son feels worse!!”

“I feel fine?” Svračak stated. “Your old fashioned weapons are ineffective in the modern age.”

“Say that in six minutes when the curare laced in the arrowhead takes effect.” Siwang hissed. “Oh right in six minutes he'll be unable to breathe.” She added picking up her headset, bow and quiver. “CPR will keep him alive; I’ll leave his fate to you” She added before dropping onto the fire-escape, the police were just arriving as evidence by the sirens and the thud of boots in the café.

“I caught him.” She whispered down the line. “Texas Tower, send paramedics one the area is secure. Just make sure he gets to the war courts.” She added before slipping away into the darkness.

**

The Church, Under Altura Park

Siwang screamed as Jody, a trained paramedic one of her acolytes, took her temperature. Shaking her head she slipped out of the room as James walked in, arms folded and a look that could kill etched across his face. “Do I even have to say it?” He asked.

“Don’t…have to…pain is…reward.” Siwang grunted.

“You killed a man today.” James told her. “It’s bad enough you took the shot at me in the restaurant but when we got to Soko’s position we found his son Svra…something in critical condition. He died before the paramedics could get to him, one of your arrows in his arm.”

“Kid…was…monster but I…gave…Soko ultima…not my.” Siwang struggled before screaming in pain.

“Listen Maya as soon as this is over you are going to jail regardless of the fact you are my sister.” James stated. “This was all meant to be a bluff, you were an actress not a killer but I guess with where you came from I should have seen through your façade. From now on I’m not your brother, your friend or somebody to count on. I never thought I would say this but you disgust me more than any of the criminals I've ever arrested!! Congratulations ‘Siwang’ you killed two people today,” He added as he walked away, “Soko’s son and Maya Elizabeth Grady because from now on you are dead to me.”

Patron Saint of Crime #8.5, by ImpurestCheese

Hector Gomez was tall for a Mexican, at least the stereotypical Mexican that most of the gringos pictured. With a dark mop of hair but a well shaven pale face he often passed as an American despite his Latin roots. Based in El Paso he worked as an investigator not for the police but for the cities one true crime lord the mysterious Boccanegra, a man who none but a few had ever met. So when the woman dressed in an orange tank-top overlaid by a red cardigan emblazoned with a big ‘12’ on the back and a pair of chinos walked in at 10PM he knew just who she represented, still his Nona had taught him manners and he got to his feet as she placed a laptop on his desk.

“Buenas tardes señora. So what does the ‘Black Mouth’ need from me today?” He asked a warm smile on his face. Turning the screen on; he saw a shadowy figure sitting in a cane chair at a desk similar to his own. “My services are yours.”

“You have heard of the recent slayings among the Hispanic population, the ones the police are covering up. I want you to investigate and bring me the culprit; too many of my people have fallen to this vigilante.” Boccanegra explained his voice masked by several layers of voice masking software. “Your normal fee applied of course and you will be given a bonus on capture of the objective. My associated Siwang will be accompanying you,” He paused. “…for your own protection.”

“Of course. I will need to get a copy of the police reports before…” He stopped as Siwang dropped a heavy bound folder on his desk. “Oh I see you have already acquired the files.” He sighed as Boccanegra signed off. “So Señora where to first?” He asked as he stuffed his old police issue Glock 18 into his belt, before standing and loosening his shoulders. Siwang didn't answer and simply cocked her head, Hector knew that even at forty one he was able to turn heads, with a washboard stomach and the build of a professional footballer the lord had been kind to him as he aged.

“One of Bocanegra’s smugglers was killed two hours ago. His house connects to a tunnel network that links to Juarez across the border. His family knew they couldn't call the police so they phoned Boccanegra instead.” She stated as Hector led the way out of his office and onto the fire escape before sliding down the ladder onto the roof of the garage where he kept his old Shelby Cobra. Siwang followed him carrying the files but despite that managed to land silently and with no apparent effort. Typing the address into his satnav the pair drove away towards the house of the slain man.

“So what do the files say?” Hector asked as he sped past two parked police cars and gave the two officers the usual one finger salute.

“Each victim was Latino, killed in their own home.” Siwang announced. “Each one was killed by a circular multiple stabbing action, the Police thought it was a shotgun blast until they didn’t find any buckshot in the wounds. Their current analysis is some kind of five pronged instrument with slightly recurved blades. All the victims were stripped from the waist up and had their eyes removed with some kind of recurved knife. Both weapons are ceramic and contain traces of volcanic glass. No valuables were taken and there were no fingerprints and little DNA evidence, what little evidence that we have about the suspect suggests he is male.”

“No eyes. Sounds like a ritual killing to me.” Hector suggested as he pulled up to a long low house in the suburbs of El Paso. It was unremarkable but then most murder scenes were until you looked closer. Walking to the door he pushed it open and listened, there was nobody inside, nobody living was inside this home. “Bocanegra say where the body is?” Hector asked as he walked through a slightly messy kitchen, the fridge door ajar with the light off. Casually he flicked the switch and wasn't surprised when the lights failed to banish the darkness. “Got a torch?” He added as Siwang removed the handbow attached to her belt and turned on the tactical light mounted underneath it.

“I can smell incense.” Siwang sighed. “I think its water lily scent. Maybe somebody was here to witness the attack?”

“Doubtful this room doesn’t suggest a woman live here.” Hector stated as the pair walked upstairs. Reaching the landing Hector bent down and ran his finger through the dusty footprints on the carpet. “This could have been trodden in by the killer, the floor was tile downstairs so we didn't notice the deposits but up here it’s obvious.” He told Siwang as she pushed the door open to reveal a dead Hispanic man, his torso uncovered to reveal his stab wounds and his hands over his eyes.

“There’s the body.” She whispered before watching as Hector slipped some gloves on and pulled the man’s hands down to reveal his extracted eyes. “I think the optical surgery was done perimortem, it would explain why he covered his eyes. My question is why would anyone stay still while this was being done.” Hector listened half heartedly as he looked at the chest wound.

“Make a claw.” He ordered as Siwang put down her weapon and made a classic claw shape with her fingers. “Hmm the murder weapon isn't a knife or a single implement but more likely a gauntlet that slipped over the fingers to give the illusion the attacker had claws or talons. The weapon is most likely obsidian tipped to give the fingers it covers a cutting edge.” He added as Siwang picked up her crossbow. “The extraction of the eye suggests someone with surgical experience since the entire optical construct has been removed.”

“So this guy is a doctor?” Siwang stated. “You mentioned a ritual purpose in the car? Do we have any leads on that?” She asked.

“Not as yet. The soil is a good lead, its damp limestone which means our killer has been underground recently.” Hector analysed. “You mentioned smuggling tunnels, which is a logical place to enter and exit the house unseen.” He announced as he headed back to the stairs. Siwang cocked her head and followed the pair racing downstairs into the basement, the walls lined with smuggled weapons. “Wow what is Boccanegra planning World War Three?” Hector asked as he picked up a corner shot attachment and examined it.

“One of the weapons is missing.” Siwang stated blankly before pointing to a table with an obvious space where a firearm should be. Picking up a clipboard she ran through the list before stopping on an entry halfway down. “There was a case of M23 Chemical Mines here but now there gone. Wait there’s something here? It looks like a feather.” She stated passing the quill to Hector.

“Should be worries about these mines?” Hector asked as he removed his mobile phone and snapped a picture and sent it attached to a text.

“No Bocanegra has the contents moved separately after the BZ gas inside was stolen from the last shipment.” Siwang answered as Hector’s phone beeped.

“The feather belongs to a Horned Owl. Strange that it would be down here.” He added as Siwang opened up a hatch in the basement and dropped down. Attaching the corner shot to his pistol Hector turned on the built in flash light and surveillance camera and the pair headed south towards the first intersection, the pair of lights barely illuminating the walls. “This is sandstone we need to go deeper.” Hector stated as he rubbed the wall as they reached the intersection a dark shape darting across the gap and heading to the left. Travelling in hot pursuit Siwang sprinted off before stopping as she reached a small chamber an ancient well sunk into the ground, white smoke flowing up the shaft.

“I found the way to get deeper.” She announced pointing at the well cover that had been ripped off, a rusty iron ladder leading down.

“Did you get a good look at that?” Hector asked as he replayed the footage captured by the corner shot. “That person was covered in feathers and their eyes…those aren’t human.” He added as Siwang squinted at the footage.

“Bad resolution, the image is warped.” She snidely remarked. “There is no such thing as owl monsters just psychopaths in masks.”

“Really!” Hector snorted. “Because I know about you Siwang Patron Saint of Crime, how the police think you're a demon, most criminals think you're nothing but a folk legend and the public see you as a ghost. Maybe there is no such thing as supernatural entities but the human mind plays tricks on you.” He added before throwing an oxidised rivet ripped out of the well down the main shaft. “Wow that’s deep. You want to go first?” He asked causing Siwang to roll her eyes before climbing down the ladder.

“I’m not a spiritual person.” She stated as she descended. “People are making me more than I am. They let their imaginations run wild, let primal nature take over when cold hard facts could easily reveal the truth. Hmm I'm at the bottom and I found your limestone.” She added. Not wasting any time Hector climbed down and in a few minutes both of them were at the bottom, damp limestone clinging at their boots before they climbed out of the river and into a massive antechamber lined with alcoves carved by human hands.

“This…this is a find.” Hector whispered, “We could be rich and famous. These carvings are similar to Aztec architecture reaching out. “They…wait there are bodies.”

“I see dead people too.” Siwang gulped, “They are not Aztecs.” she added pointing to one figure still partially clad in a T-shirt. “My guess they were immigrants who got lost in the tunnels.”

“Or were lead astray.” Hector answered. “There are cuts around the optical lobes, all appear to have had the procedure down post-mortem, our killer honed his skills down here.”

“Didn't the Aztecs practice ritual sacrifice?” Siwang asked as something darted from one of the alcoves across the room into the one on the opposite wall. “We are being shadowed.”

“They did.” Hector answered swinging his light around as the sound of claws against metal could be heard from one of the alcoves. “But that was heart sacrifice not the eyes and there was no evidence of cardiovascular stress or removal in the coroner's reports. As far as I know there was nothing in Aztec culture that involved the removal of eyeballs.” He added as a shadowy figure leapt out and darted past them and into another alcove.

“My bow string just got cut.” Siwang gasped as both lights flickered out and an eerie glow joined by chanting sounded from the next chamber. Cautiously the pair edged out to see a pit crossed by wooden planks to a disc shaped altar flanked by a pair of alcoves in the wall. Looking down Hector could see rows and rows of corpse like figures standing at attention and all appearing to chant the same name ‘Mictlantecuhtli’. Hector vaguely remembered the name and seeing a picture of the figure, a man with decayed flesh, a necklace of eyeballs strung around him and owl feather for hair. “So it’s a cult.” He mumbled under his breath.

“The chemical mines, I found them.” Siwang stated unaware of the monstrous figure behind her. Hector went for the trigger but the figure was terrifying and his finger froze as Siwang turned and lashed out, her knife bouncing off the owl man’s face as he dragged her away towards the alter. Panicking Hector ran in the other way before feeling someone grab him from behind and drag him back. By now there was screaming mixed in with the chanting and he could see Siwang now naked save for her lingerie tied to the alter, the owl man standing over her. Shaking his head he tried to clear the image and for a moment he saw something else before the terrifying vision returned as he was stuffed in an alcove.

“A surgeon, ritual killings, people smuggling, mass grave of immigrants, Mictlantecuhtli and the chemical mines.” He grunted before reaching for his Glock and corner shot. Struggling he set the weapon up as the crowd got louder and Siwang struggled to break the rusted chains she was bound down by. Getting it into position he pulled the trigger, the round slashing through the Owl Man’s eye and sending him flailing into the corpse pit. Collapsing he crawled forward and with much effort released his partner.

“I take it back there are supernatural things out there.” Siwang gaped as her pupils dilated and contracted uncontrollably. “I just want to get out of here.”

“Calm down I got him.” Hector said holding her and brushing the sweat off his own brow. “You were right. The men killed were all people smugglers; they led the immigrants down here and sealed them in after robbing them. I remember an article about a man who claimed he’d escaped and died in surgery at hospital. The surgeon was acquitted but had his licence revoked before vanishing. He found the mass grave and snapped, dressed up as the priest of Mictlantecuhtli in homage to the dead and took revenge.”

“That thing isn't human.” Siwang stated.

“Yes he is, the reason we see him like that is due to the gas release we saw at the well. He used the BZ gas to make his victims hallucinate and to incapacitate them, we’re feeling the side effects now due to a delayed reactions. The ‘corpse’ audience was a hallucination as well; the pit is most likely empty.”

“He’s a monster.” Siwang gulped. “He’s not a man.”

“I'll prove it to you.” Hector told her as he picked her up and walked over to where the body was. Looking down he saw it wasn't there so he probed the area with his foot and found nothing to suggest a body lay there. The priest of Mictlantecuhtli was gone; Hector shook his head again and saw the owl like figure standing on the other side of the makeshift bridge before witnessing it dash away into a shadowy alcove.

“Did you…” Siwang gulped.

“Just a hallucination still lets get out of here.” Hector announced. “This is no place for the living.”

Patron Saint of Crime #9, by ImpurestCheese

The driver of the armoured Ford F-550 stopped as the lights went red and looked over to the security guard sitting beside him, her hand resting on the tactical tonfa clipped to her belt. “Hey relax, we have two intersections to go and then we reach the bank.” He told her. “Nothing is going to happen Maggie, nobody is stupid enough to attack this van.” He added as he rubbed the armoured breastplate he wore, the front emblazoned with a red eagle clutching a spear and the words ‘Redman Security’ arranged around the image.

“It’s nothing Mike, just a bad experience a few nights ago.” Maggie answered as she pulled the visor down across her helmet. “Why are the lights taking so long to change?” She asked as a lorry stalled at the junction in-front of them. “And does that seem a little off to you?” She asked as the driver leapt out and ran off.

“Oh c**p, they’re targeting us!” Mike whispered before reaching the radio. “Dispatch this is car 0721 at the intersection of Mesa and Kerbey, we have a potential situation occurring. Will update you if and when events unfold.”

“There--over there, is that!...” Maggie yelled as two men bushed a SPG-9 launcher into view.

“Get down!!” Mike bellowed as he ducked down as the attackers fired a rocket at the car, the round hitting the rear and chewing a hole in the side. Before the dust had even cleared gunfire rang out as the side door of the truck was slid open and at least eight men wearing stylised dragon masks rushed towards the armoured car. Ducking down Maggie looked at Mike and saw him draw a slim M9 pistol with one hand and a taser with the other as rounds slammed into the bullet resistant windscreen.

“Do they know who there stealing from?” Maggie asked as she pulled both tonfas free from there sheathes. “Bocanegra will kill them and their families if he catches them.”

“Guys like this are already dead anyway Siwang.” ‘Mike’ answered. “Just typical, our first armoured car op together and we get ambushed. Now remember reasonable force, Bochanegra may own Redman Security but their agents still have to play by the law so reasonable force only.

“Got it Romeo.” Siwang answered. “Call it in or have some fun?”

“Police will be on their way that rocket strike will draw attention.” Romeo answered as the driver’s side door was wrenched open and a thug armed with a MAC-10 appeared swinging his weapon around and screaming. Counting down on his fingers Romeo reached three before flipping round and firing a round into the mans leg sending him collapsing to the floor screaming. Taking advantage he sprung out and ducked behind the door as Siwang kicked her own open, the force smacking a thug armed with a shotgun to the floor.

“Keep behind cover!!” Romeo roared as a thug emerged from the hole in the passenger side carrying a security box of cash, an MP5k slung across his shoulder. Catching sight of Siwang his eyes widened as she charged him before slapping a tonfa in his face and ducking under a clumsy swipe with the box. Off balance the thug had no time to recover as his opponent slammed the second tonfa into his groin, the blow sending him toppling to the floor as a second thug armed with a P90 emerged from the hole only to be quickly disarmed with a quick swipe to the hand.

“You’re dead piggy.” He growled in Asian accented English as he recovered and removed a cattle prod from his boot. Lunging forward the thug managed to partially penetrate Siwang’s defence, the prod slipping through the cross guard of her tonfas and jamming into the visor to leave a black scorch mark on the plastic. Retaliating Siwang swung her right elbow forward and broke the attacker’s nose before releasing the stun stick causing him to topple over. Taking the initiative Siwang grabbed him by the neck and slammed him into the armoured security car, the force causing the mask to slip off and reveal an orange and black eel tattooed around his left eye.

“These men work for the Dragon Eel!!” Siwang yelled across the car as Romeo shot a man carrying an assault rifle in the foot as sirens sounded. “Do you have eyes on the SPG?”

“No, whoever fired it has gone!!” Siwang yelled as the remaining three thugs threw a set of grenades at the armoured car, the explosives detonating in a flash of light and ear crushing sound. As the two defenders' vision readjusted they saw the first car squeeze past the truck and come to a stop, two plainclothes officers hopping out guns at the ready. Siwang’s heart sunk; the man was her brother James and the red headed woman was his partner Gillian West, both where members of the Anti-Patron Saint of Crime Taskforce.

“Area cleared.” West stated as Romeo put his gun on the ground. “Five suspects all in various stages of unconsciousness, whoever was driving the can put up a fight.”

“You take the man I’ve got the second security guard; we’ll get witness statements and keep the area secure until Bransen and CSI finally arrive.” James stated as he slipped over to where Siwang was hunkered down on the other side of the van. “It’s okay Ma’am you’re safe now.”

“Ma’am?” Siwang asked. “James it’s me.” She added, taking off the helmet she wore to reveal a haunted looking pale face, bags under her eyes from nights of missed sleep. “I’ve been trying to call you.”

“And I don’t accept calls from murderers.” James whispered. “Jesus, I knew Bochanegra was involved as soon as we heard the explosion.”

“Oh wake up, these men don’t work for him.” Siwang hissed. “At least one has a tattoo of the Dragon Eel’s mark and you know what that means.”

“I don’t want to deal with this now.” James snarled. “I thought dad dealt with them and their claim. But now Maya screws up and attracts the man who wants our entire family dead.”

“Me! They didn’t know I was in the truck.” Siwang snapped before lowering her voice. “And I didn’t kill Svareck, his father is just as guilty for his murder.”

“Yeah, well sins of the father have a way of coming back and hurting people.” James hissed. “Maybe I should arrest you right now, wouldn’t be a stretch if the Asian guard was the inside man for the Dragon Eel.” He snarled as Siwang glared at him.

“You used to believe in me.” She whispered. “Why did that die alongside that murderous little basted? Why do you want to make me the reason for everything bad in your life?”

“Hey Grady.” West called. “We may have a third witness. While most of the drivers and pedestrians fled as soon as the truck blocked the road but I think there is someone standing on the building to the right of the blockade?” James stepped out and looked up to see a figure wearing a yellow hooded sweatshirt crouched down on the ledge.

“That’s where the SPG was fired from.” Romeo stated causing West and Grady to look at him before glancing up at the mystery spotter. “Listen, I know you need the truck for evidence but can we at least have your assurance that all the money will be returned as soon as possible or our boss is not going to be happy.”

“Sure as soon as evidence has been processed the money will be returned to Redman security.” James answered. “We will have more questions for you at a later date so don’t leave town.” He added as the CSI truck pulled up behind the road-block. “Now if you would kindly leave the scene of the crime we can begin collecting evidence, we will also require you to surrender your weapons to the forensics team before you leave.”

“Sure, no problem detective.” Romeo answered. “Hey Maggie don’t worry too much, Ms Choyce understands that these things happen. My partner is a ‘rook’,” He told West, “she’s worried about loosing her job.”

“Weaver.” Siwang mumbled as she looked at where James was talking to the lead CSI before turning to look up at the person on over-watch before shuddering and sliding to the floor, an arrow embedded in her chest, the shaft decorated with a golden silk noose holding a feather.

“Maggie!!” Romeo yelled as he rushed over and went to pull the arrow out. “Help my partner’s been shot.”

“Leave the arrow in!” James ordered. “We need paramedics here stat and somebody move that truck out the way so the ambulances have clear access.”

“Who could have done this?” Romeo asked as West pulled him away as Grady bent down and put his hands on the wound.

“I know exactly who’s responsible.” James hissed coolly as he looked up to see the hooded archer walk slowly away. “Your partner is a victim of an underworld hit woman known as the Patron Saint of Crime. Goes by the name Siwang, she’s virtually inhuman, a serial killer who targets law enforcement agents for a crime lord called Bochanegra.”

“Inhuman, she’s a monster!” West snapped. “Half the cops in the city can’t sleep in fear of getting an arrow in the back. How long will it take for the FBI to come down and throw some support our way?”

“No idea until then she’s our responsibility.” James answered as an ambulance pulled up and the paramedics jumped out lugging a stretcher behind them. “I’m ending this once and for all.”

Patron Saint of Crime #10, by ImpurestCheese

Siwang groaned softly as she sat up in bed only to feel wires and sensors clamped to her arm hold her back.

”What in the…” She groaned before feeling a bead something hot and wet slither down her face. Taking a deep breath she caught the coppery smell of blood and looked up to see an inhuman face standing over her. Worryingly she realised that it was terrifying familiar and fear once held back rose to her throat before terminating in a scream. With a cackle the figure leapt down off the end of the bed onto her chest and produced an obsidian knife before slamming the blade into where the arrow had pierced her chest only hours before.

Spluttering and struggling Siwang kicked out onto to feel a hand on her arm, the contact snapping back to reality. The face she saw made her sigh in relief, the man holding her arm was Romeo her partner in crime and not the devilish owl man from her nightmares.

“Man that looked like a bad dream.” Romeo stated, “It was touch and go for a moment especially when you’re stitches opened up again.”

“Wait what?” Siwang gasped before feeling her head. “Is there blood on my face?” She asked.

”No blood only sweat.” Romeo answered in a concerned voice. “You looked like you were fighting something in you’re dreams.”

“It was nothing, just a monster.” Siwang answered. “So what about the archer from the crash site? Did they find anything that can tell the police who the shooter was?”

“Nothing yet.” Romeo answered. “Bocanegra has his moles and corrupt cops listening in and placed some of his best men outside to guard you. He was furious when Choyce told him about the Dragon Eel’s ambush on the security van.” He stopped as the sound of a scuffle erupted outside before falling through the door as two women tumbled in. Siwang recognised both of them; the tall Italian woman was Juliet, Romeo’s partner and fellow assassin, the other was Helen, one of her select group of ‘acolytes’ a group of undercover officers working to take down Bocanegra.

“Not that I care but I caught this one trying to sneak in.” Juliet hissed as she held a recurved knife again Helen’s neck. “She says she knows you.”

“That’s ‘Kerry’ my roommate.” Siwang sighed. “Release her!” Juliet rolled her eyes before backing off and letting Helen stand.

“Oh god when I heard…are you okay ‘Maggie’?” Helen asked as she rushed over and hugged Siwang.

“I had an arrow through me chest.” Siwang deadpanned. “I’ll be fine. Guys can we have a few minutes without the overzealous guards please.”

“We'll be outside.” Romeo grunted before leading Juliet away. As the door closed Helen released Siwang and shot a nervous glance to the exit. “You know that’s Juliet Montoya, she’s wanted in eight countries for thirteen assassinations.”

“I guessed, you didn't come here to tell me that though.” Siwang stated.

“We got a sample of the arrow head, fletching and string.” Helen stated. “The head is carbon fibre nothing odd about that but the fletching isn’t artificial it comes from an Oriental Honey Buzzard. Deposits on the feather suggest it was kept in an urban environment on a high rise building.”

“Such as Macau.” Siwang sighed. “And the string was organic silk from the Nephila spider.”

“You've seen this before.” Helen said. “Is this the man you were talking about, the Dragon Eel’s main enforcer, Weaver something right?”

“Potentially although the Weaver from my childhood would be pushing forty five, maybe even fifty and the figure I saw moved like a young man.” Siwang answered. “Keep an eye on James, his family has history with the Dragon Eel.”

“Anything else?”

“My stitches came open earlier this evening. The doctors may have removed trace mineral samples from the wound. If you can get them back to ‘the Church’ and do a test for volcanic glass.” Siwang ordered. “I'm not convinced that what I encountered wasn't a dream.”

**

Detective James Grady sighed and un-holstered his sidearm as he saw the ajar door to his apartment. With the day he was having he half hoped that the intruder was still inside. It was days like this that made a man pugnacious and trigger happy. Silently he nudged the door open and instantly caught the sound of running water coming from the bathroom. Taking two deep breaths he kicked open the door to see a willowy Asian woman standing naked save for a pair of golden silk bangles wrapped around her wrists.

“You must be James.” She purred not noticing the gun trained on her.

“And you must be trespassing.” James answered. “Get dressed and put your hands above your head.”

“American arrogance,” The woman stated, her accent sounding like chirping birds, “it’s such a turn off. Luckily you have your father’s looks. You're sister on the other hand…”

“So you’re who they sent.” James spluttered as the woman turned off the shower. Lowering his gun he threw her clothes at her, the speed of the flying garments causing a pair of knives clattering to the floor. “What does the Dragon Eel want and why should I give it to him?”

“The master wants the wanita.” The woman explained as she pulled on a set of golden bikini briefs and a matching brassiere. “You're father made an agreement with the Dragon Eel. He granted the Lou Fan custody of the wanita and in return Grady Snr would create a man who would clear the stage for the Dragon Eel’s empire to expand into the Americas.”

“I know what my father did, his role in creating Boccanegra.” James spat as the woman slid a bronze tank top over her bra. “Why is it so important now?”

“The agreement ended when your father died. We gave you time to mourn but now the Dragon Eel wants what is his.” The woman stated as James levelled his pistol at her. “I wouldn’t,” she purred, “if I don’t return back to Weaver in the next hour he’ll blow up a school tomorrow morning.”

“So what do you want from me?!” James snarled as the woman pulled a short skirt on and slipped her feet into a pair of stiletto heels.

“Either kill the wanita or give her as tribute to Weaver.” The woman answered. “In return we will destroy the evidence of this and any deal your family had made with us.”

“That easy huh?” James asked. “Maya is in hospital from an arrow wound and I have evidence to convict her of several murders. I know the Eel has officials in his back pocket. You whip up some extradition papers and she’s yours.”

“Then make it happen.” The woman hissed as she trotted out of the bathroom. “Or people start dying.”

Patron Saint of Crime #11, by ImpurestCheese

The pale skinny janitor pushed his cart into the hospital room and cocked his head, waves of greasy blonde hair flopping over his face, as the Asian patient looked up from the sudoku puzzle book she was holding.

"Can I help you?" She asked as he opened up the side of the cart.

"Just cleaning miss." He replied. "Your guards checked me out before I was allowed in." He added as he removed a mop from his cart.

"Sure, okay." Siwang stated before going back to her book.

**

James sat in the A&E department as the rest of the Anti Patron Saint of Crime task force arrived, the officers dressed in ballistic armour emblazoned with the letters SWAT, on both the front and back.

"You sure that the security guard from the armoured car shooting is Siwang?" A dark skinned officer named Lane asked.

"Because I just do." James snapped, the loudness of his voice causing the nurse at the desk to stare at him. "Do what I say and we can end this madness and put Boccanegra on the back foot."

"James this isn't you." Gillian stated. "I want to catch this woman as much as anyone, but this feels like a vendetta then an investigation. And what if you're wrong? This could be seen as racial persecution."

"This woman is in the best hospital suite and is guarded by two of Bocanegra's known associates and most skilled assassins. What does that tell you about this woman?"

"That she's a criminal but that doesn't make her the Patron Saint of Crime." Gilligan told him. "This woman was shot with an arrow if you remember. I doubt that wound was self inflicted."

"Trust me on this..." James told his team in a low cold voice, "...she's no angel."

**

Helen sat down at the tabled and pulled a tablet out of her bag before tapping the unlock button. Taking a sip from her coffee, she opened up the Skype link and connected on the secure link to the 'Church', a secret base under AlturaPark. Within seconds the face of Vance, Siwang's resident computer geek filled the screen, his lips smeared with nacho cheese and tortilla chip crumbs.

"You know that Maya will kill you if you leave smears on the keyboard." Helen told him. "So did you manage to hack into the medical records?"

"Of course." Vance snorted. "There were traces of Silicon Dioxide, Ferric Material and Manganese."

"In English." Helen sighed. "Always in English"

"It's the chemical composition of Obsidian." Vance told her.

"That means Maya's owl guy was in the hospital." Helen gasped.

"That's not all. There was something else. There were traces of cleaning fluid on the blade; your Aztec owl priest is working as a janitor or something like that." Vance announced.

"Oh crud." Helen gasped as she got to her feet and spilling her coffee over the table before running towards the exit.

**

Siwang looked up from her book as the janitor walked over carrying an air-freshener and placed it on the bedside table. Taking a deep breath she saw the janitor give her a quick smile before walking back to his cart. Ducking down he removed a gas mask from the trolley and turned to face her.

"Who?" Siwang gasped.

"I've been waiting for this ever since you tried to shoot me in those tunnels." The janitor hissed as thick white gas leaked out of the air freshener. "The dead cry for vengeance against you."

"You!!" Siwang gasped. "Not you please. Somebody, anybody help!!" She screamed as she pulled herself free from the data recording machines and rolled onto the floor. "Don't let him get me!" She screeched as the janitor closed in on her holding a mop, its tip broken to reveal an obsidian spear point.

"Don't bother crying to your guards, as we speak they are slaves to their libido." The janitor told Siwang as he raised his makeshift spear ready to skewer her. "As for the cameras, well right now nobody is watching over you." He growled as he plunged the spear down, only for Siwang to roll away and get to her feet.

Running for the door she barrelled past the trolley and out into the hallway only to see the pristine white walls replaced by an obsidian black tunnel, shambling corpses walking past. Looking back she saw the janitor morph into a familiar dreadful visage, one that made her shudder as the feathered inhuman Owl Priest advanced on her.

"This isn't real, this isn't real." She stuttered to herself.

"If it wasn't real could I do this?" The priest asked as he reached out and slashed her with obsidian black talons. Looking at her arm Siwang screamed before bolting, blood dripping from the gash in her arm. "Run," the Priest purred, "I will find you and inflict the suffering of your victims onto you, vengeance will be ours."

**

Juliet pulled her suit trousers back on as she sat on the edge of the autopsy table. Sitting at the other end was her current boyfriend and former work partner Romeo, his head in his hands.

"That bad, are you still taking those little blue pills?" Juliet asked as she slipped off the table and walked over to the door, the manual override mechanism frozen in the 'secure' position.

"That's never the problem Julietta and you know it." Romeo answered as he buttoned his white shirt.

"Ooh real names, we must be in trouble Montague." Juliet hissed bitterly as she began to lift the security leaver to the 'open' position.

"We should not have left Siwang unguarded." Montague lamented as Juliet set the leaver and unfroze the automatic lock. "We were ordered to guard the room until relieved."

"I knew it!!" Juliet screamed as she slammed the lock back down. "It would be about her! It's always bloody well about her!!" She added before adding a few curse words in Italian. "You love her don't you!?"

"I don't!"

"Liar" Juliet hissed. "You love her or you will!?" She cried before kicking the door. "You love her and she loves you."

"That's not true." Montague protested. "I have forsaken all other beds for yours; you know that yet you still do these stupidly insecure things. Siwang isn't a threat to our love life." He added as he walked over and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Our love is so strong that it's written in the stars and nothing will ever change that."

"Yeah nothing." Juliet mumbled before bowing her head in lamentation. "Nothing at all."

**

Helen desperately hammered the 'up' button of the lift before cursing out loud and running to the stairs. Climbing three floors she skidded round the corner and threw open the door to see half a dozen police officers standing in the room.

"What, where is she?" Helen yammered as James cocked the MP5 he was carrying.

"A good question." Gillian stated as the officers filled out before speaking into her radio. "Despatch we have a target on the run. Issue a BOLO on an Asian woman in her mid twenties dressed in a hospital gown."

"Don't worry miss." James stated. "We'll find her, it's time for her to stop running and face justice," he added as he pushed past her' "for everything she is guilty of."

Patron Saint of Crime #12, by ImpurestCheese

Siwang run down the black stone hall, occasionally slapping away the hands of the grey skinned creatures that haunted the tunnels. Glancing over her shoulder she saw her pursuers, wolf like humanoids with thick blue armour for skin. Shaking her head she dodged left, only to see a dead end chamber before her. Squeezing to the back she sat down and watched as the monsters closed in, before seeing a slab of stone slide down in front of her sealing the predators out.

"Dammit she's in the lift." James swore as he pressed the button. "We have no idea what floor she's going to get off on."

"I'll call maintenance, have them shut the lifts down and keep the doors closed." West sighed as she removed a mobile phone from her belt. "Still she seemed so frightened; I highly doubt that was our cop killer."

"Just get the lifts locked down, and then you'll see." James spat as he watched the lift icon descend. "She can't run for long."

**

Romeo walked up to Siwang's hospital room, only to see 'Kerry' sat outside, the door sealed off with thick yellow crime scene tape.

"You should have been watching her." Helen told him, her voice bitter as she got to her feet. "You were meant to be keeping her safe."

"What happened? And why are the police here?" Romeo asked.

"They got here after she was taken. Recently she's been having nightmares about some man dressed as an owl. Except it wasn't a dream, there were traces of obsidian in the wound. Someone attacked her on your watch twice and now she's missing!!" Helen snarled.

"Then let's find her." Romeo stated as he removed his pistol from his holster.

**

Siwang sat in the cell of black rock and listened as the sound of footsteps echoed down from the roof. Silently she with her knees held between her legs crying only to hear a voice fill the room around her.

"What are you doing?" Siwang looked up to see an oriental girl of thirteen dressed in jeans and a pink T-shirt standing before her. "Why are you crying?"

"I'm scared." Siwang told her.

"Why?" The child asked. "You're a grownup. You don't get afraid."

"There's a man out there, he's coming to kill me." Siwang told her.

"You know that you can fight him." The child told her. "That's what daddy told us the night the owl got into the roof. Made us confront our fears, showed us that they couldn't hurt us. Don't you remember that?"

"I remember but this isn't the same." Siwang gasped as the sound of metal against metal sounded. "He's here." She whispered as a bead of swear ran down her forehead.

"It is you just don’t want to admit it!" The child said angrily as the fully feathered figure of the Priest of Mictlantechutil landed in the lift car and, walked through the hallucination of Siwang's younger self.

"So you choose to die like a rat cornered in a hole." The Owl Priest hissed as he raised a taloned hand to Siwang's cheek. "You have nice eyes, like polished jade; they'll look nice with the others." He snarled before lunging in only to see his target collapse under his blow. Twisting on the floor Siwang shot a swift kick into his shin before rising to her feet and pushing her attacker back. "So the rat bites back." The priest hissed before leaping at Siwang, his talons stabbing through her shoulders.

"I'm not a rat!!" Siwang hissed as she head-butted the priest, the leather of his gas mask rubbing against her face. Blinking she saw his hideous visage fade away to be replaced with a man in janitorial overalls and a gas mask. Angrily Siwang grabbed her attacker by the arm and jerked it upwards, the bladed talons snapping. Grunting in pain the Owl Priest threw a punch at Siwang's face, the stubby broken talons aimed at her eyes. As the blow connected with her face Siwang screamed in pain as she collapsed, her attacker kicking her in the chest and pinning her to the floor.

"You're dead." The priest hissed as his face grew feathers and his features became more avian. "Kudos to you for fighting off the effect of the gas, and for fighting back but it's time for me to take the jade you owe the dead."

"And what of the men you killed." Siwang grunted as she scrapped her cut arm against the ground, a single shard of obsidian falling to the floor.

"I suppose their families will come for me in due time." The priest sighed as he positioned his intact talon over her left eye. He was so intent on the eye he was about to remove that he didn't see Siwang grab the blade on the floor, only becoming aware that she was armed when she plunged the blade into his groin. Recoiling back he screamed an inhuman scream before pulling out a handgun from his belt. "I don't like guns, but for a rat as tenacious as you only a bullet will do. No place to run, not enough..." before he finished a shot ran out and he went collapsing to the floor, a bullet embedded in his leg.

"Just what I was going to say." Romeo snorted as he peered into the lift car. "I think it's time to leave."

"For you but not for me." Siwang answered. ''The police saw me come in here. Drop me your gun and get out of here. Maybe I can convince them I shot this guy in self-defence."

"I think they'll buy it." Romeo answered as he tossed the gun down. Catching the weapon Siwang wrapped the Owl Man's hands around it before pushing it to the side of the lift. "Good luck whatever the outcome." He added before climbing out of sight just as the police began to lever the doors open

**

"And you say you shot him self defence?" Detective Gillian West asked the hysterical Asian woman as a doctor cleaned the wounds to her arm and face.

"I was so frightened." Siwang cried as James walked past. "I thought I was going to jail."

"You still may be." James grumbled as he watched a pair of officers carry the unconscious Owl Priest away on a stretcher.

"You were very brave." Helen told her. "Can I take her home?"

"Of course." Gillian stated as an Asian business man bumped into Grady. Glowering as Helen helped Siwang out of the hospital before pulling the note he had been not so covertly passed. Looking over to the man he nodded before screwing up the piece of paper and throwing it away. "Two weeks. I understand." He growled as he walked out to the Owl Priest being loaded into a van. "And I know just who to call."

Patron Saint of Crime #12.5, by ImpurestCheese

Thaliana Broadcasting Studios, Los Angeles, California

“I wish you could remember this as much as I will…” The platinum blonde holding the revolver purred, “…but I'm afraid that you be doing all your thinking in Country for the next ten to life.” She stated as her sidekick, a short man with a fish hook through his lip handcuffed the blonde man lying unconscious on the floor.

“Turn that off will you.” A voice groaned as the credits rolled over the image of the blonde escorting the man outside to the waiting police car. Turning to look down the table, the scrawny man wearing aviators with purple lenses and a business suit removed a cigar from his jacket pocket, lit it and took a deep breath. “Danika darling I love the show but your ratings are down, people like when you're hunting down criminals but you make it look too easy.”

“What do you mean?” The blonde haired woman at the end of the table asked in a Ukrainian accent as she smoothed out the crop-top she wore, the front emblazoned with the logo ‘Danika Sedova: Bounty Hunter Babe’. “You told me ratings were good Mr. Mc Kellum yes?”

“They have been better, have you thought about appealing to the ‘Avengers Generation?” Mc Kellum suggested as he looked over the assorted people sitting at the table.

“I am not wearing anything more skimpy then I already do on air.” Danika hissed. “And I’m not going to start call myself something like Huntress or Blond Bombshell.”

“I don't know I like the sound of Fishook.” The man with the hook in his lip stated as he ran thick fingers over his bald head. “And Tabby could be Gimble while Maurice could be Chaser.”

“No Brian I will not be some kind of show pony for the teenage demographic. I started this show to reassure the public that somebody could reach the criminals the law couldn’t. You now have me chasing after bail jumpers and jaywalkers, I need a challenge.”

“Babe listen your big now, plus you're good looking. “ Mc Kellum told her. “We're not going to risk sending you after the bad guys, there is a certain profit we get from you looking like a supermodel.” As he finished his words were met by the scrape of chair legs as Danika and her film crew got to their feet. “Where are you going babe?”

“We've just decided to go independent.” Danika purred. “You remember my escape clause in the contract I signed for Thaliana Broadcasting, well I'm invoking it unless you can find me a better class of criminal to hunt.”

“Not going to happen babe. Without us your revenue dries up. I give it a week and you'll be crawling back to old Mckellum for your spotlight back.” Mckellum snorted as Danika left the office. “Dames all alike.” He said as he coughed on the cigar before turning the TV back on. “Nice rack though.” He commented as Danika turned and blew a kiss to the camera at the end of the credits.

**

Casa Sedova, Beverly Hills, California

Danika poured herself an iced tea as she sat by the side of the pool at her Beverly Hills estate. While she loved the house she hated what it represented, and while she had no idea what the rest of her crew felt about what had happened she was glad they had gone with her. Between Brian ‘the Hook’ Baldwin, her underworld contact, Tabitha Taylor, her camera woman, and Maurice Cartier, her expert getaway and pursuit driver, they were a force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately Hollywood didn't see it that way.

“Hey Danika you've got a visitor.” Tabby yelled from the kitchen. “It’s the man from Texas we met a while back.” She added as a well built man wearing a pair of jeans and a leather jerkin walked in.

“Well if it isn't the little girl from the frontier.” The man sneered.

“Huh takes a walking scarecrow to know one.” Danika hissed as she got to her feet and met the man half way across the floor, the pair of them bumping fists. “You look awful Kenneth.”

“And you look like you've been enjoying the weather too much.” Ken replied as the pair sat at the ornate metal work table beside the pool. “Been catching up on the re-runs by the way. Don't tell me you're happy being eye candy for some studio executive.”

“I never was but up until recently I thought I was doing a public good.” Danika sighed. “Still what have you been up to? Still the nightmare of the cartels down on the border?”

“No, I’ve been in a chemically induced coma for the last few weeks.” Ken answered before removing a box and sliding it across the table to Danika. “Take a look at this; they pulled it out of me. Apparently everyone else died from the toxicity of the weapon but you know what they say.”

“You can't bulls**t a bulls****r.” Danika purred. “What does this have to do with me?”

“I need help; I'm man enough to admit it especially after being out of the game for a while.” Ken answered. “And you, despite what the jealous types are saying, are the best in the business.”

“What’s the profit margin?” Danika asked. “And what do we know about this guy?”

“Girl, the shooter is female.” Ken announced. “We don't know much, but from the E-Fit El Paso Police Department is circulating we know she’s Asian and in her mid to late twenties. As for the reward; the Drug Enforcement Agency, Federal Aviation Authority. EPPD, FBI and Homeland Security are offering a million each, either for her capture or corpse.”

“And you’re really chasing down this woman?” Danika asked as she removed a black crossbow bolt from the book Ken had given her. “This is crazy even for you Zimmermann.”

“I know what that means.” Ken said with a wide smile as he took

Remove his hip flask from his belt “To partnership.” He toasted as Danika broke the bolt in two.

“And to breaking the woman whose death is our next pay check.” Danika added as she clinked her glass against Ken’s flask. “Now let’s go hunting.”

Patron Saint of Crime #13, by ImpurestCheese

Truth and Consequences, 120 miles north of El Paso

Reaching the top of the hill the pair of bounty hunters approached the man sitting in a chair, a table loaded with weapons laid out in-front of him.

”Are you the Gunsmith?” The woman asked as the man in the seat got to his feet, his expensive suit standing out like an ebony beacon amongst the red rock of the outcropping.

“I am you must be Mr Zimmerman and Ms Sedova.” The Gunsmith answered, “I have the lot you requisitioned right here. These toys should help track down the woman you’re looking for.”

“I don’t see anything I can’t get from one of Bochanegra’s gun bunnies down in El Paso.” Zimmerman growled.

“Really this is an Israeli Tavor-21.” The Gunsmith stated in a bored voice. “It’s equipped with an M-203, IR Scope and can be fitted with a Corner Shot for those tricky shots around cover.”

“Still not impressed.” Zimmerman stated as the Gunsmith placed a second weapon on the table. “Keep going.”

“How about this, it’s a Vektor SS-77, a good machine gun on it’s own but made better with these.” Gunsmith announced as he fished out a pair of helmets. “The camera scope feeds to these helmets; it allows closer cooperation when taking part in asymmetric warfare.”

“Nice but costly, besides our target is known for hiding. What do I do if I need to clear out a building she’s hiding inside?” Zimmerman asked.

“That’s dangerous thinking Ken.” Sedova hissed as the Gunsmith removed a case and open the latches to reveal a rocket launcher.

“This is the Soviet RPO-Z Shemel. Think of it as the basted offspring of an RPG and a flamethrower.” Gunsmith told them. “There is one more thing, the special lot Ms Sedova’s associate requisitioned.” He added as he led the pair to a Toyota Hilux fixed with a catapult launcher on the back, a drone aircraft snugly sitting ready for deployment. “The Boeing Scan Eagle, no weapons but lots of cameras, with this you can track your prey for hours without them even knowing you were watching. Now will you pay with cash or credit?”

“Lead.” Zimmerman said coldly before shooting Gunsmith through the head. “Thanks for the weapons.” He added as Sedova looked on in displeasure. “Let’s see if these are as good as they say they are.”

**

El Paso International Airport

Silently standing among the crowd the Asian woman waited, scanning the arrivals for the woman her employer had contracted. Looking through the hordes of jubilant families, shady smugglers and air crew she spotted who she was looking for and moved to intercept.

“Miss Johansson I assume?” She asked as she gave the woman wearing a business suit and stiletto heels a quick once over to make sure she had no weapons on her.

“And you must be Anna Yick, I expected your employer to meet me personally rather then send an underling to escort me to the test site.” Johansson stated in a bored sounding Scandinavian voice.

“Where is Valkyrie?” Yick asked looking at the briefcase Johansson was carrying, “I was expecting the equipment you are due to be field testing to be brought with you?”

“In a sense it is.” Johansson stated. “I have the Black Box controller with me while local employees of Raido’s Military Computing subsidiary pick up the hardware from the freight terminal.”

“Ah well in that case let’s get you set up.” Yick announced. “Give you some time to stretch before you initiate the field test of the remarkable device. Mr Weaver has many high hopes about the results you and Valkyrie will produce.”

“There is one thing.” Johansson sighed.

“What’s that?” Yick asked, her voice not displaying the tendrils of panic creeping around the edge of her mind.

“We still don’t have a pilot.” Johansson answered. “And until we find someone acceptable Valkyrie is fifteen million euros worth of metal and coolant.”

**

Truth and Consequences, Seven Hours after the Execution of the Gunsmith

The beat up Chevrolet Impala stopped at the base of the hill, the approach sealed up with crime tape and guarded by two stern officers. Climbing out of the car the two men and one woman walked up to the barrier. The former were dressed in suits, the later was in blue jeans and a pink tank-top supporting the words ‘Vanish’ across the front, a silver crucifix with a green emerald in the centre hanging over her clothes.

“Ah Hector we were told that you were coming.” One of the officers stated as one of the men handed them a suitcase. Opening it the officer saw that it was lined with hundred dollar bills and smiled, a gap toothed odd smile. “Ah and how long did you want with the crime scene?”

“An hour should do although Bochanegra had us pay for two plus money to keep you quiet.” Hector stated as he handed his partners a pair of gloves each. “We won’t disturb anything too much.” He added as the three criminals slipped under the tape and wandered up to the summit.

“That was easy.” The woman stated. “If I had known it was easier to buy cops rather then kill them I would have started years ago.”

“Unlikely Siwang. You don’t have the patience or the practice that Hector has.” The second man stated as Hector stopped in front of the chair and empty table arranged on-top of the hill.

“It is a talent Romeo.” Hector answered. “Still I’m more proud of what comes next.” He added as he looked over the crime scene. “The victim is Smithy Weston, an arms dealer known for being able to acquire almost any conventional weapon in the world.”

“Bochanegra was in the process of acquiring a pair of Plasan Sand Cat armoured cars from him.” Romeo announced. “Something about heavy protection for his mansion after a recent attack on one of his drug dealers south of the border.”

“Armoured Cars were not on our murders shopping list.” Hector announced. “I have an invoice for six assault rifles, two LMGs and a thermobaric rocket launcher plus ammo for all the weapons. There is something else as well but it references an invoice that has been removed from Weston’s records.”

“I have tyre tracks and footprints here.” Siwang called, “Looks like something heavy was being transported out of here.” Walking over Hector bent down and studied the prints, taking a few photos, before walking to the track that led down off of the hill.

“The vehicle is a four by four, I can’t tell make and model until I can get back home but Weston’s clients are a different story.” Hector murmured. “One was a heavily built man; the other was either a teenager or a woman. Both wore steel capped walking boots and made numerous trips to the car, they either had a lot of equipment or were looking for something.”

“There are no shell casings anywhere.” Romeo added. “I don’t suspect the incompetents that make up this berg’s police force found them which suggests that these people were professionals.”

“A strong hypothesis.” Hector told him before walking back to the invoice. “Weston was shot here, splatter suggests a medium calibre round, possibly a .38 calibre; anything more would have caused traumatic severing of the head and upper neck. Hmm if they did clean up they forgot something. Two of the weapons have cameras, easy enough to trace given the hacker has enough skill.”

“I just need to visit…well you can guess.” Siwang spluttered.

“Don’t pee on the crime-scene, the last thing we need is contamination.” Hector warned her.

“Man how much can she honestly have left.” Romeo sighed as Siwang slid down the back of the hill. “She made us stop five times on the way here.”

Looking over her shoulder Siwang crouched behind a rock and called a number up on her phone, within seconds the person on the other line had picked up.

“Vance make it quick; tell me you have a position on those guns.” Siwang hissed.

“Give me three minutes, by the way the bug in your necklace picked up everything since it was activated, including that god awful rendition of Corner Shops - Brimful of Asha the three of you were singing on the way over. Okay got it, those guns are back here in El Paso, get back here and I can narrow the search further.”

“Good.” Siwang answered. “And I will make you pay for that quip.”

“Nah you can’t.” Vance answered. “I stand by my guns on this one; you were terrible so do me a favour butcher something that’s not on my play-list in the ride home. I’m begging you.”

Patron Saint of Crime #14, by ImpurestCheese

Ian Montague scanned the M14 EBR over the south side of the multi-story carpark with the rifle's thermal scope, before focusing on the two glowing heat signatures on the third floor. "Okay Psi I have you on scope, covering your ascent as best I can."

"Got it." Siwang grunted as she and Hector headed up stairs, the former carrying a hand bow while the later held an old police issue Glock and a portable scanner, the device counting down the distance to the guns the trio had been tracking. "Okay, keep an eye on the South side, we're about to head into the dark zone."

"Well make sure you keep talking'" Montague ordered, "this is how massacres happen. I don't have to tell you that our 'Bonny and Clyde' are dangerous." He added as the IR blips were smothered out by the concrete of the parking structure. Heading down the line of parked cars, Hector put out a hand to stop Siwang from advancing, pointing to a parked transit van he wagged his finger at the back of the vehicle. Nodding Siwang sunk to the back of the van as Hector took up position behind a concrete partition, pistol ready for action.

With a deep breath she wrenched the doors open to reveal a pair of cameras resting on top of a set of fuel drums. Almost immediately Siwang reacted leaping away from the van and hitting the dirt as the bomb detonated, shrapnel and cinders flying everywhere. Seconds later they were joined by gunfire, as the ambushers opened fire from the floor above.

"Well at least we found them." Hector stated as he returned fire. "Still it's a little futile, they have the high ground."

"Not for long!" Siwang stated. "Get ready to run for the ramp." She added as she holstered her hand bow and removed a single shot grenade launcher. Counting down on her fingers Siwang fired the round up to where the attackers were, thick grey smoke filling the area. Not wasting any time Hector ran for the up ramp with Siwang in hot pursuit, bullets streaking past them.

"Well that shows us they have thermal-penetrating technology." Hector yelled. "We have a seven second window as they reposition to get us back in line of sight."

"We're outgunned!" Siwang stated. "At least on this side of the building. We go down and head..." Before she could finish one of the shooters opened fire again, the machine gun he carried keeping Hector and Siwang pinned behind cover.

"And we get there how?" Hector asked. "On your nine o'clock!!" He yelled as the second shooter dropped down to the floor below and swung her TAR-21 into a firing position. Not wasting any time Siwang fired the bolt from her bow, embedding in her attacker's ballistic vest. The unorthodox attack gave the criminal enough time to cover the gap and, tackle the shooter. Delivering a vicious blow to the face, Siwang saw her target push her back and remove a pair of hatchets. The helmet she had been wearing shed to reveal long blonde hair tied in a messy ponytail.

"So you're the target?" Sedova stated as Siwang dropped her bow and pulled a pair of wooden tactical tonfas. "You're shorter then I imagined."

"And you're pretty for a cold blooded killer." Siwang answered. "Why did Smithy have to die?"

"Ask Zimmerman," Sedova answered, as she stripped off her ballistic vest to reveal thick combat trousers and a hunting jacket over a cyan tank-top. "He has unfinished matters with you, something about putting him in a coma, but as you can see he is busy, so for now we will fight like civilised people until the rabble have finished being vulgar and obtuse."

**

The sound of gunfire had stopped. Hector thought that the ammo belt on the SS-77 must have been depleted. Taking a risk he stuck his head round the corner and instantly dropped to the floor as a sledgehammer slammed into the car-park wall. Moving to get back on his feet Hector was a fraction too slow, with the hammer crushing down into his back followed by a kick to the face.

"Now I have no problem with you boy." Zimmerman announced as he looked over to where Siwang had blocked a hatchet strike with her Tonga before spinning away from the follow up swipe. "Well none, save that you're a criminal and I'm being paid to be a one man crusade against crime."

"Bite me you idiot!!" Hector grunted. "You're comparing yourself to the Crusader!! Even dead--he was a better man then you!"

"Then answer me this; why did he ask me to kill Weston earlier today?" Zimmerman asked as he stomped on Hector's hand before kicking the Glock away, "Muse on that while I get my revenge." He added as he charged towards where Sedova and Siwang were fighting.

**

Slash after slash, block after block Siwang felt Sedova beginning to overload her defences. As strong as she was, her opponent was more muscular and both combatants knew it. Disengaging from the fight, Siwang slammed into Zimmerman, only to be smacked in the back with the haft of the hammer, the blow sending her staggering.

"There are no shadows for you to hide in here." Zimmermann grunted as Siwang attempted a leg sweep on Sedova only for her opponent to spring out of range. "And none of your arrow tricks either." He added as sirens sounded in the distance. "Now stay still so we can end...gah!!" Before he could finish a shot rang out, the bullet biting into Zimmerman's boot.

"Back away from her!" Hector groaned as he pointed his reclaimed Glock at the bounty-hunters. Taking the advantage Siwang moved away from the pair and grabbed her hand-bow, knocking a bolt she watched as Sedova and Zimmerman glance at each other before smirking.

"What's so funny?" Siwang asked before the sound of an engine got louder. Turning, Siwang and Hector saw a pickup truck come barreling towards them, causing the pair to scatter. Seconds later the slamming of doors and screeching of tires sounded as Sedova and Zimmerman made their escape.

"At least we know who we are dealing with." Hector moaned. "We'll get them next time."

"Guys, this time isn't over yet." Montague announced over the team's headset. "Now get out of there now!!"

Patron Saint of Crime #15, by ImpurestCheese

The Toyota Hilux came to a stop one block away from the parking garage, the door flying open as the massive form of Ken Zimmerman got out of the passenger seat.

"What are you doing?" His partner in crime put her head out of the door as Zimmerman unloaded an RPO-A launcher from the cargo bay.

"Finishing the job! " Zimmerman answered as he lined up the launcher with the fifth floor"Siwang may be fast but she can't out run a concussive shockwave." He announced as he fired the rocket, the projectile streaking up towards the target. "She'll be dead in seconds."

"As is our partnership." Sedova snarled. "There has been too much collateral damage on this hunt." She added as she slammed the door shut before the pickup sped off.

"Suit yourself, my crusade is just beginning!" Zimmerman roared as the parking structure exploded outwards in a massive fireball. **

"What do you mean not over!" Siwang yelled over the radio as she lead Hector towards the emergency stairs than led to street level.

"You have an incoming..." The rest of Romeo's words were drowned out by the whoosh of the rocket striking the level below. The resulting shockwave from the weapons impact sent the vehicles flying and cracked the concrete, the later sending Siwang and Hector slipping down to the floor below, the pair of them slidding two floors down. As they hit the floor, the fiteball creayed by the detonation spreaf outwards, the heat melting chunks of masonry to form a rain of molten metal and concrete before rapidly cooling to form a tomb of debris.

"Siwang, you still there?" Montague called, "I have to relocate the cops are closing in."Siwang you have to go." Hector ordered as Siwang slipped back in and saw that her allies arm bones had been completely crushed by the shockwave.

"Okay." Siwang coughed as she squirmed out of the adhoc tomb of debris, before looking down at the chemical burns across her legs and arms. Looking back at the tomb she saw Hector shift slightly, only for his arm to crack as he tried to move, the pain resulting in a horrendous scream.

"Not without you."

"Yes without me," Hector groaned," the cops won't be a problem, at least not for me. " Siwang shook her head as the sound of slamming doors echoed over the sound of creaking superstructure. "Dam it Maya, yes I know who you really are, get out of here now!!!" He bellowed as he tried to reach for his pistol.

"I will come back for you." Siwang hissed as she scrambled away from Hector, sliding down the debris she reached the edge of the parking structure and looked down, red and blue lights flashing on the street below. "Romeo I need a way out, can you see one not locked down by the cops?"

"No, not on the surface, but there should be an access point to the steam tunnels that run under the city. Head down to the ground floor and get out of the structure, the police won't move until damage control teams access what is left of the superstructure.

"Got it." Siwang coughed as she limped towards the stairwell, "I'll call you when I get out."

**

The plain clothes officer stood next to the Toyota Hilux as Danika Sedova kept her hands on the dashboard before asking "Ms. Sedova?"

"Can I help you Officer?" Danika asked as she shuffled the TAR-21 concealed in the foot well.

"Not me." The officer announced as he switched off his radio. "Although I do know a man who is looking for someone to help him."

"Help him with what?" Sedova asked as she shot a glance at the police car.

"A driving gig, with a little added combat." The officer announced. "I believe you are already acquainted with the target, you did fight her only a few minutes ago after all."

"Siwang." Sedova purred. "So I know the target but I don't know who you are? What do I call you?"

"James Grady, now forget my name and forget yours." James told her as she slipped out of the Hilux. "You will have a new name."

"Anything I might know." Sedova asked.

"Valkyrie. " James told her. "Mr Weaver wants you to be his Valkyrie.".

Patron Saint of Crime #16, by ImpurestCheese

El Paso Police Station

Gillian West shuffled the papers on her desk as she watched the heavy set man lounging on the chair, as if he was currently sitting in the lounge of a five star hotel. His grin infuriated her, and by the looks of it, he knew it. "The case is very much an open and shut affair." She announced through gritted teeth as she put the papers down. "Now make your life easier and give us the location of your partners."

"I have no partners lady, not anymore, but I do have something you want." Zimmerman announced as he drummed his fingers against the desk. "Or should I make that someone?"

"Don't test me! Give me your associates location or you get a free pass to a little bay in Cuba called Gittmo. I can charge you with terror offenses after your attack on that parking garage downtown!" West snapped as Zimmerman traced a symbol on the desk.

"Siwang was there and I know all about her 'kills', if they can be called that." Zimmerman told her coolly, "No offense meant to your deceased colleagues of course."

"What do you mean?" Gillian hissed.

"Siwang doesn't kill, she uses a toxin to put her victims into a death like state before reviving them somehow. Sorry to say it but the rot outside on the street is inside your cop shop." Zimmerman stated as he watched a look of disbelief spread across Gillian's face.

"That can't be true!" Gillian affirmed as she glowered at Zimmerman. "Enjoy Cuba, you are going to be there for a while."

**

Prometheus Experimental Arms and Armor Technologies, Outskirts of El Paso

Hydraulic joints whined as the four figures watched as the armored humanoid stretched it's arms to warm up the suit.

Sleek, elegant, and armored plated, the Valkyrie Frontline Infantry Support Trailblazer unit looked like a woman smothered in matte black metal. Emerging from the other end of the room, a group of twelve men armed with various weapons fanned out, taking up positions behind cover.

"Are you ready Ms. Sedova?" Jena asked down the headset as the two figures behind her started counting down the timer, as the fourth figure simply crossed his arms and shook his head.

"Ready--but these guys aren't. " Sedova answered as a pair of men advanced towards her. "So when does the test...crud."Before she could finish one of the men broke from cover and ran at her, with a backpack fueled acetylene torch already lit and ready. With a grunt Sedova pushed the man away with the palm of her hand as seconds later the others opened fire. The bullets ricocheted off her armor. Springing to life, Sedova darted to the nearest man, before leaping over five feet of cover, landing feet first on the man.

"Where are the guns on this thing?" Sedova swore as one of the gunmen threw his pistol away and pulled out a sniper rifle.

"Activating Arm Mounted Grenade Launchers, you now have four 40mm grenades at your disposal." Jena announced as a flap on the armour's left srm opened and a thick projectile streaked out. It bore through the cover and smashed the gunman's leg. For a second there was a break in fire as the nine remaining fighters looked on in fear. The majority began to move forward as two of them provided cover fire, rounds biting into Valkyrie's armored chassis.

"Okay this hurts." Sedova announced. "Any ideas Black Box?"

"Smoke and Stealth coming up." Jena answered as thick gouts of smoke leaked out the back of the suit to create a black smokescreen. Inside the cloud, the Valkyrie Armour shimmered before micro camera foil on the armours under-weave leaked onto the surface, obscuring the suit from view. As the smoke cleared the gunmen stopped and looked around, fear and surprise spread across their faces.

"Carmine, Owens switch to thermal and find her!" One of the gunmen yelled. "Jackson get me my bow. I plan to add our wannabe cyber goddesses head on my wall!!"

"Roger that Orion." Jackson yelled as he ran back towards the door, only to fall to the ground, his feet cauterized by a nano fibre tripwire that was spun across the portal.

"Be aware that the guys with the thermal goggles will spot you as a massive thermal smear. Take action to remove them from the equation before they spot you." Jena announced as Sedova waited for both men with the night vision goggles to face her. With a casual wave of her hand she activated the suits strobe lights. The men recoiled as Valkyrie surged forward and aggressively threw them away.

"So do I have the solution to your problem Mr Weaver?" Jena asked the man standing in the shadows behind her. Weaver didn't reply, he simply nodded in response. "So now all we need to do is find her."

"Don't worry about that." James announced as Sedova defeated the last of the gunmen. "I know how to lure her from her sanctuary."

**

The Church, Under Altura Park

Siwang sat in the armory, humming softly as she re-strung her compound bow, occasionally ribbing charred pieces of metal off the weapons arms.

"You okay?" A latino voice inquired as Siwang put the bow down and picked up a quiver loaded with arrows.

"I'm fine Jael." Siwang answered as the Hispanic woman walked over to the work bench. "Is there something going on?"

"Potentially. " Jael answered. Siwang picked up a bandolier as rows of steel-throwing balls attached to the strap. "The police arrested Zimmerman and pulled Hector out of the wreckage, he's en route to the hospital as we speak. What Vance discovered relates to something else, it relates to Soko."

"A sighting?" Siwang asked as Jael nodded. "Where?"

"The Community College, people were reporting a man stabbing students with a knuckle duster. That matches Soko's trademark weapon."

"Good enough. I'm in a bad move and Soko...I owe Soko a good beating." Siwang snarled. "If it is him get Vance to call James. Soko's word is all I need to clear my name for his son's murder."

Ton-o-reading, right? But ohhh man, good reading it is! When this was running in WGP, it was mostly paired with chapters of Let It Rain or Chronicles of Argus, both by knightofthechronicle. A few issues ran solo in WGP, carrying us through for the week (in other hands, WGP was weekly for many issues). After PSOC #16, Imp' ran with it on her own, and gave us two issues of The Black Casebook, which featured Siwang: Patron Saint of Crime and another cool feature called Five Star. Those can be found here:

  1. .The Black Case Book #1.
  2. .The Black Case Book #2.

As tends to happen here on the Fan-Fic forum, Imp' jumped around from new story to new story, and she never quite got back to The Black Casebook. Now though, at long last, we can find Siwang again, currently trying to rescue her sister in El Paso: The Mean Streets. But can she save herself? You can catch up on the first three issues here:

  1. .El Paso: The Mean Streets #1.
  2. .El Paso: The Mean Streets #2.
  3. .El Paso: The Mean Streets #3.

Once you're done reading those, look for further issues on the Fan-Fic forum. If you just can't wait though, you can see more of ImpurestCheese in her Peacekeeper series for 5th Column Comics, or her independent Thunderbolts series. If you're really impatient, then don't limit yourself- check out all of the writers on the Fan-Fic forum! There's some good stuff out there! See you next month. -cb

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The Writers Guild Presents #51 - May, 2015

Writers Guild LibraryGuild GuidelinesDisclaimers (to be added)

Welcome to the 51st issue of WGP, and... Why are you looking at me like that? <sigh> Just click the spoiler:

I know, I know - I said that issue #50 was my last issue, but nobody stepped up to continue this, and I did still have some things I wanted to feature in WGP. So I checked with Dngn4774, and here I am. However, I had dropped this so I could focus more on my writing, instead of other people's. Obviously though, I got a bit distracted with the Fic-O-Pedia, and that prompted me to want to get a few more things done here too. I don't want it to eat my free time like it was doing before though, so that little thing in the Guidelines about editing all the works featured here? Yeahhhhh, not so much now. Maybe not logos either, but for the next few issues, the logos are already made. After that, we'll see. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy having WGP back again. -cbishop

...Okay, now that that is out of the way, I'm featuring a collection of some past stories from The Writers Guild Presents. This month, it's @knightofthechronicle's "Let It Rain." Enjoy. -cb

Let It Rain, Chapter One: The Survivor, by Knightofthechronicle

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today-"

The story was simple.

"-we are gathered here today-"

Make them believe it was just natural causes.

"-to celebrate the life-"

It wasn't…it couldn't be…

"-of Joseph Douglas Tucker."

Murder.

Michael feels a tear run down his cheek. He's been staring at the coffin for about an hour now, the face of his dead father looking towards the bright spring sky. He's never been to a funeral like this before, a funeral that actually matters to him that is. He feels as though there are only three things in the universe now: himself, the coffin and the voice of the pastor.

"Joseph was a man of labor, that much can be said." The pastor says, looking towards the crowd. "Never was a day spent that this man wasn't working, whether it was home or at the office, Joseph never knew a sick day, never a day of rest. And so I feel it only right for Joseph to finally find his rest here, among his family."

Michael can hear the distant whimpers of the crowd through his tunnel vision. His mother's is one that he can hear most clearly. Another tear runs down his cheek.

I have to tell someone, Michael thinks, almost like telling his father. I can't hold this up for much longer.

"But Joseph wasn't only just a worker. He was a father. He and his wife Mary raised a fine young man in their son Michael. And I believe it can be said that some of Joseph's finest qualities can be seen in Michael."

A hand clasps onto Michael's shoulder, most likely from his Uncle Terrance behind him.

I convinced them not to do an autopsy, Dad. Michael continues his inside conversation. You were old, old enough to have heart problems anyway. I just let them assume it was a heart attack. But I was the one that found you, Dad…I know-

Like a flood breaking from a dam, Michael finally lets the tears flow fully. They come out in a torrent and Michael drops his head in a sob. It's too much for him to take, he realizes. The truth is too hard…

The funeral went on for another thirty minutes until the body was finally lowered into the ground. Michael shook the hands of his relatives, hugged the crying and downtrodden, and began walking his mother to the car.

"Michael!"

Michael turns to see Jeanette walking toward him. She wore a black dress, one that he can remember complimenting her on some years ago, and had a tissue in her hand as she tries to hide it in her purse. Michael tells his mother to walk on to car, that he'll be just a few minutes, and turns back to Jeanette.

"It was a great service, wasn't it?" Michael says, finding himself hoping that the conversation wouldn't last long.

"It was fantastic," Jeanette agrees. "He would have loved it."

"Yeah, yeah he would have."

"How did he die?" Jeanette suddenly asks, tilting her head slightly. "I've asked around and people seem to have different answers. You're the one that found him, right?"

Michael goes to answer "A heart attack", but stops himself before he does. He stares at Jeanette for a second. They'd been divorced for two years now, their relationship wasn't ever going to work out, but he still felt an unsaid trust between them. He can tell her anything, he thinks.

"…I think it was murder."

Three days ago

Michael had come home at the behest of his mother. His father hadn't come home. It was a proven fact; Michael's father would always come home from his work as soon as he got off of work. It was clockwork, it was written in stone, and it was a blaring red alarm for Michael and his mother. Something was wrong.

It hadn't taken Michael very long to find him though. During the day, Michael's father had called to say that he was going out to have dinner with a new client at work and that he would be home two hours late. Michael asked where they had gone when he had visited his father's workplace and traveled to the restaurant. He asked the hostess about his father and she reported that he hadn't come out the front entrance and had instead walked out the back.

Michael heart had sunk at those words.

With every step, it became harder and harder to move through the restaurant towards the glowing red sign at the end of the room. He knew exactly what was waiting for him on the other side of it.

Except it wasn't.

What Michael found at the other end of the door was nothing but an empty alleyway. His heart lifted for a moment, there may still be a chance, he told himself, but then something caught his eye.

A wallet. His father's wallet.

It was empty; of course, someone most likely had looted it some time ago, but he could still tell what it was. And it was lying in front of the dumpster.

Almost in a daze, Michael moved to the dumpster and began to take the trash bags out. It was slow at first, but when Michael saw the shoe, he couldn't stop himself from moving faster. Bag after bag, the body slowly began to be revealed until; finally, Joseph Tucker's dead body was revealed to Michael's eyes.

He broke down, and cried.

Let It Rain, Chapter Two: Hell hath no fury, by Knightofthechronicle

Rage.

There's no other word for how she feels right now; just total, uncontrollable rage. This was it; this was the last time that she was going to let something like this happen to her again.

How can he leave her again?!

Jessica couldn't comprehend her fiancés gall. With just a single call in the middle of the night, he's whisked away, again, on call to look at God-knows what in God-knows where. He didn't even tell her, he just left a note on the counter saying: "gone on business". Yes, of course, she had tried to call him, but his phone went to voicemail every time. That was the last straw.

"I know, Mom."

With her phone tucked between her head and shoulder, Jessica walks through the house shoveling anything of Brian's into a cardboard box. Her mother, talking to her all of the way in Texas, tries her best to reason with her daughter.

"I don't care how long we've been together," Jessica says, tossing a fragile model of a T-Rex skeleton forcefully into the box. "He's missed two Christmas's, every birthday and Valentine's Day this year, I'm not putting up with this anymore!"

Her mother spouts some story about her forty year marriage but Jessica's barely paying attention.

"Look," she finally yells, "if this were any other day then I probably wouldn't have been as mad, but a week before the wedding? He's lucky I don't try to go out and kill him! We're through, Mom, that's that!"

She angrily hangs the phone up and tosses it onto the living room couch. Since she saw the note this morning she's been taking everything that she could find even remotely related to Brian and stuffing it into cardboard boxes. She's on her fourth one now and still has another room to go through. It doesn't matter though, as soon as he's completely out of her life, the better.

Brian was an archeologist employed by the county museum. On their first date he bragged that he was one of the top in the country. Jessica found out a few months later that was more of a curse than an accomplishment. Since their first date, Brian's been called to investigate any strange find that other archeologists dug up. At first Jessica thought that was just something that she had to suffer for their relationship, but now she wasn't anymore.

Taking a break, Jessica stares at the boxes.

Maybe I should just throw them away, Jessica thought, thinking of the look on Brian's face when he saw all of his stuff in the trash. Jessica smiles.

It was the best idea she heard all day.

With a grunt, she lifts the first of the boxes, the ones full of archeology magazines and books and slowly walked to the door.

Ding-dong! Ding-dong!

"Coming!" Jessica calls, asking herself who could be at the door.

Jessica sets the box down and opens the front door, revealing a man dressed sharply in a black suit and tie.

"Good morning," he says, flashing on bright white smile. "by any chance are you Miss Jessica Turner?"

"Yes," Jessica says, eying the man. "And who are you?"

The man grabs his coat pocket and pulls out a badge, "my name is Special Agent Jackson Hite. I'm here to investigate-"

"It's about Brian, isn't it?" Jessica asks, crossing her arms.

The man looks surprised for a second but quickly recovers. "By any chance, do you know where he is?"

"No, and quite frankly I don't care."

Another surprised look.

"Why do you want to know?"

Agent Hite straightens his tie and says, "Because, Miss Turner, we believe that what Mr. Grant may have gone to investigate is of national security."

If she wasn't so mad, Jessica might have laughed. "National security? Brian? What exactly do you think he's gone to investigate?"

"Something that we think can bring down our entire civilization."

Agent Hite doesn't even blink, and suddenly Jessica doesn't seem so mad anymore.

Let It Rain, Chapter Three: Out in the Rain, by Knightofthechronicle

A slow country song plays over the radio while rain beats against the windshield. If Sandy didn't know any better she would have thought she was in a sad '80s movie.

Taking a quick glance at the back seat, she sees her daughter Shannon moping; head held down and hands fumbling with a juice box. Her soccer jersey is just now starting to dry.

"Don't worry, kid," Sandy calls back. "There's another game next week."

"Everyone hates me," Shannon retorts, not even bothering to look up.

"Oh, honey. You know that's not true," Sandy says. She understands what her daughter's talking about though. During the last few minutes of the game Shannon was playing goalie. The other team got two goals past her and ended up winning the game because of it. Everyone on Shannon's team gave her the cold shoulder.

"There are going to be plenty of games after this, Shannon." Sandy calls back, taking her outs from the road. "And trust me, your friends won't even rememb-"

"MOM LOOK OUT!"

Sandy snaps back to the front of the car just in time to see the man standing in the middle of the road. Faster than she thought she ever could, she slams on breaks and turns the car just enough so that they barely stop from hitting each other. The man barely even moves.

Both girls breathe heavily from the sudden excitement. Sandy tells Shannon to stay in the car and grabs her umbrella from the passenger's seat.

The rain's pouring now, making it darker than midnight. Sandy does her best to see through the rain and just makes out the silhouette of the man, still standing in the middle of the road.

"Excuse me!?" Shannon calls out through the rain. "Are you ok!?"

The man still remains motionless.

"I said are you ok?!"

The man doesn't turn around, but instead he raises his head to the sky, spreading his arms outward as if he's accepting some kind of gift from the rain.

Sandy becomes alarmed; maybe the man's drugged or has some kind of concussion. She takes another step toward the man and calls out again, "What's your name?!"

Slowly, the man lowers his arms and turns to Sandy. Through the darkness, surprisingly, Sandy can easily see the man's eyes, an almost glowing blue. Sandy steps back, ready to break for the car, but repeats herself, "I said 'what's your name'?!"

The man's face, calm, suddenly goes blank. "I don't know."

Lightning crackles across the sky and suddenly the man crumbles to the ground. Sandy rushes over to him and tries to wake him up, but he's completely unconscious.

"What's wrong with him!?" Shannon calls from the car, ready to go over to the unmoving body.

"Shannon, stay in the car sweetie, ok!?" Sandy yells, fumbling for her cell phone.

"Please don't be dead, please don't be dead," Sandy keeps on repeating, trying desperately to wake the man up.

"911, what's your emergency?"

Let It Rain, Chapter Four: Looking for a Reason, by Knightofthechronicle

Michael feels like he is in a rut.

For a week now, when by this time he thought he would have some information, all he has done is go through his father's computer and notes and has found absolutely nothing. Not to mention the fact that he has fallen asleep three times at his father's desk poring over files.

"What am I expecting though?" He asks himself, "Dad was an accountant, not some FBI agent. Surprised I haven't fallen asleep again already."

This was the eighth night that Michael has spent at his mom's house. He tells her it is to make sure that she is going to be alright, but it is just one lie on top of another.

Once again Michael asks himself why he is doing this. He is not a cop and it seems to be obvious that they would have gotten ten times farther than where he is now. But he knows that if he put this in police hands that they would ask his mother about it eventually.

She broke down and cried when Michael had told her about his father's death. Then she didn't speak for two days afterwards. What would she do if he told her his father was murdered?

Michael puts his head in his hands. Another night wasted going through business reports.

I should have gotten that name, Michael says aloud, basically to no one but himself.

Jeanette had listened to him tell the story of finding his father. She, just like he thought, told him to go to the police, that he couldn't do anything to help except do that. When she finally realized that Michael was dead set on finding the killer, she suggested finding who his father was having lunch with the day that he died. That, of course, didn't get very far.

The restaurant wouldn't let Michael see the video footage without a warrant, even if it was his father on camera, and the secretary at his father's office had the name listed as 'confidential'. Even she didn't know who it was he was meeting.

Michael, for better sense of the word, is becoming paranoid. It seems to him that no one wants him to find his father's killer, like the entire universe is against him. But he's too hard headed to pay attention to the universe.

So Michael just sits at his father's desk, thinking.

I've covered all of the bases. All the stuff from Dad's office is picture frames and knick knacks that made him when I was a kid, all that his files have given me are paper cuts and a headache and I've gone over every inch of his computer-

And suddenly it is like two wires just connect together.

With a new enthusiasm, Michael wheels himself over to his father's computer and frantically begins to search for the word "Calendar".

"I'm an idiot," Michael tells himself as he searches. "I'm an idiot, I'm an idiot, I'm an idiot."

His father was a good accountant, he never bragged about it but people always told him he was. He worked for a firm uptown but he freelanced for other businesses all over the city so he always kept a calendar to keep track of meetings.

Michael makes a mental note to kick himself for not thinking of this sooner.

He quickly clicks on the small icon once he finds it and sees the display of the month. There, on the day of April 6th, read: "Meeting with Carson Smalls, White Knoll Industries."

"Yes!" Michael whispers, careful not to wake his mother across the hall.

He didn't feel like he was in a rut anymore.

Let It Rain, Chapter Five: In Search of the Enemy, by Knightofthechronicle

Jessica can't stop her hands from sweating. Never in her entire life has she felt this nervous and she can't figure out why.

"We're just going to get Brian and then come home," she mumbles to herself, looking over the interior of the plane's cabin. But why do I need to be here?

Two days ago, Agent Hite had come back to Jessica's home, explaining to her that they'll need her knowledge on Brian to help them find him. Of course, still being mad at Brian, Jessica had said yes immediately, but now she was having second thoughts. Easily, she realized, Agent Hite could have used the maps and notes that he got from Jessica to figure out where Brian might have gone; she had figured that out after Agent Hite had left her house the first time he came to visit. So what other use did Jessica serve to Hite and…what agency does he work for?

Jessica realizes that she never even asked the agent who was looking for her fiancé. When Hite had first showed her his badge it was so quick that she couldn't register anything but a gold shield.

"Agent Hite?"

"Hmm?"

The agent opens his eyes from his nap. Neither he nor Jessica had said a word since they had boarded their plane. He said that he wasn't going to tell her the details of the 'mission' until they touched down.

"Um," Jessica mumbles, a little embarrassed, "what agency do you work for again?"

"Homeland Security," Hite says plainly.

"Don't you guys go after terrorists though?"

"That's right."

And with that, Agent Hite leans back in his chair again and almost instantly goes back to sleep.

Brian's not a terrorist...is he?

Two Hours Later

The plane landed without a hitch and in no time at all Jessica and Agent Hite were on their way through the streets of Jerusalem.

"This place is so beautiful," Jessica marvels, staring out through the window of the car. Agent Hite didn't say a word; he just nodded and kept his eyes focused on the road. He was nervous, Jessica could tell. To be honest she was too, but probably for different reasons.

Outside, the streets were filled with people as they moved their way through the streets, going to the shops and restaurants that lined every corner and road. While they moved freely, however, the cars in front of Agent Hite and Jessica were moving at a snail's pace.

"It'll take us forever to get to the place," Hite mumbles under his breath.

"Where are we going though, Agent Hite?" Jessica asks.

"Right now we're going to your hotel, Miss Turner," Hite answers. "I'm going to drop you off, make sure you're settled, and then I'm going to meet my contact. Your fiancé should be in this city somewhere."

The mention of Brian suddenly brings something on in Jessica. All of the questions that she's been forced to keep to herself suddenly come up like a tidal wave and before she knows it Jessica's mouth is moving at lightning speed.

"But why are we here to find Brian? Why would he come to Jerusalem? Why's Homeland Security looking for him? Is he a terrorist? If he is who is he working for? Why won't you tell me any-"

"MISS TURNER!"

Jessica realizes that she's holding on to Agent Hite's arm. He looks at her with concern and calmly sits her back down in her seat.

"I understand that you have a lot of questions," Hite says reassuringly. "But right now I can only tell you that we believe that during one of your fiancés expeditions he may have come into contact with a terrorist cell. His coming back here may mean that our suspicions are right and he may be a threat."

"But who's he working for?" Jessica pleads, at least wanting one more question answered.

Agent Hite looks at her uncertainly, like he wants to tell her but doesn't think he should. Finally though, he says, "Do you read the Bible, Miss Turner?"

"Yes," Jessica answers, not sure where the conversation is going.

"Are you familiar with Cain?"

To be continued

I hope everyone enjoyed that! I remember when this was originally coming out that I enjoyed it immensely. Especially when it was paired with a chapter of Patron Saint of Crime, by ImpurestCheese - they just made the week good. I was also disappointed when Knight' abandoned this story without finishing it >:{ to write Chronicles of Argus instead (even though that turned out to be really good as well). If you enjoyed this as much as I did, maybe let Knight' know in the comments, and we can get him to pick this up again! :^D Maybe?

*******

See you sometime in June for #52. Until then, don't forget to check out the other stories in the Fan-Fic forum! All of the stories in the forum are now organized for your convenience in the Fic-O-Pedia, pinned at the top of the forum page. This includes a list of the current month's stories, listed day-by-day. So be sure to check that out. Thanks for stopping in, and thanks for reading. -cb

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The Heroine Revealed

RANKED 3rd BY VOTERS IN CHARACTER CREATION CONTEST #21!

DateIssueTitleViewRead the...
04/30/15CB 1-ShotsThe Heroine Revealed(Blog) (Forum)Disclaimer
RatingRating explanation
TSnakes, centipedes, and other things that crawl or slither. Physical violence.
"...Clarissa's an American."

Finding a golden idol in the shape of a modern car wasn't the hardest job I've ever had, but it may very well have been the strangest. That is, it may have been, until I was approached by that little girl. "Clarissa!" she called. No one had called me that in years.

"Do I know you?" I asked the girl as she ran up to me.

"I'm Ana!" she said brightly. She leaned in and whispered, "I've got a message for you." A little amused, I smiled and she said, "Open the boot."

"I beg your pardon?" I was genuinely confused.

"Oh, right, Clarissa's an American. The 'trunk.' Open the trunk," insisted the girl.

I was a bit stupefied, and it must have showed, because she gave me a look that said, "Snap out of it, dummy," and with a jerk of her hand indicated the BMV parked on the street behind me. Not quite shaking my befuddlement, I looked toward the car for a moment, before I heard the girl turn to run away.

"Wait!" I called after her. She stopped only a few steps from me, and turned to look at me curiously. "How do you know me as 'Clarissa?'"

Just then, two dozen boa constrictors slithered across the street, passing around Clarissa and between her feet. Her pupils elongated horizontally, then turned like keyholes until they were vertical and she blinked sideways. "You delivered me and my clutch," she answered, and with that, her form melted into that of another boa constrictor, and she slithered away with her siblings.

I remembered that day with some disdain, as it's one of the few jobs I have been fired from. I scowled at the receding tangle of snakes for just a moment, before remembering the girl's message. I fished the keys from the pocket of my combat trousers, and felt their heft in my hand. Jangling them for a moment, I tossed them lightly, caught them, and hit the keyfob button for the trunk. It popped lightly.

I walked over, opened it gingerly, and all I found inside was a pure white cat with a really ugly black and orange collar. It looked at me and said, "Meow." It didn't meow at me. It actually said the word, "Meow." While I was processing that, it jumped in my arms, rubbed it's head against my shoulder, then promptly clawed me and jumped, hightailing it for the alley across the street. I thought it's collar pulled off as it jumped, but it turns out it wasn't a collar at all.

"Why does it have to be a centipede?"

It was a centipede. A really big centipede. I hate centipedes. "A centipede," I gasped. "Why does it have to be a centipede?"

It was rolling sideways down my arm while I was having this moment of phobic hysteria, until it reached my wrist and curled around it like a charm bracelet, stopping its momentum. Something I was sure it shouldn't be able to do, but nor should it have been able to say, "I wasn't really given much of a choice in the matter. My wife was a bit unhappy with me at the time."

I screamed and smacked at it instinctively, only succeeding in causing its venomous spurs to dig deeper into my wrist, which only freaked me out more. So I did the sensible thing and slammed my wrist on the trunk lid a bunch of times, trying to kill Jiminy Cricket's ugly cousin, but only succeeding in slamming the trunk shut in my fervor. I probably would've kept going until the pain caused me to pass out, but inbetween poundings against the car, the centipede finally said, "Do <oof> you <oof>MIND!" He had a rather manly voice for such a small creature...I might have even called it debonair, if it wasn't coming from a freaking centipede! With a wild look on my face, I stared for several seconds at the thing clinging to my wrist like a bad memory. "You're quite lovely when you're manic, you know."

My chest heaved a couple of times, trying to keep down a scream, and I forced out, "What. do. you. WANT?!"

It looked up at me and said, "I need your help, luv."

My wrist still extended out as far in front of me as I could get it, I looked at the thing incredulously and said, "You have got to be kidding."

Several of the legs nearest the head seemed to shrug as he asked, "Why do you hate me so? You don't even know me."

I didn't really feel the need to explain myself to a bug - especially a bug I didn't even know - but my mouth opened unbidden, "It was my gap-year in Indonesia- I was envenomed by a giant centipede. I woke up in my tent to find a massive centipede crawling on my arm that looked exactly like you. That freaked me out, but what was worse was when the guide told us that each of its forty feet has a venomous spur on it. I was feverish and in constant pain for the next three days."

"Hm," the centipede fretted. "It hurt, then?"

"'Hurt?' Screw that. It felt as if someone had lathered up my skin with acid. It was that painful." Then I blinked hard and shook my head. "Why am I telling you this?" I felt a little woozy, and put my centipede free hand to my forehead.

"Yes, well, that would be me," he confessed. "My venom is a bit special. It compels you do whatever I want, including answering my questions."

I became a little unsteady. "That's reedorkylus," I slurred.

"Oh? Tell me, luv..."

"Stop cowlin' me dat," I interrupted. I wrinkled my nose at the words that wouldn't come out right.

"...Tell me," it repeated, "What's your favorite pants?"

"Combat troos...truss...the kind I'm warrin', ob'v'usly." I swayed a bit.

"Um-hm," it continued, "and you're afraid of me. Are you afraid of snakes?"

"I hander ven'm'us snakes on a reg'ar basis." I was trying to sound superior, but just then I was finding it really hard to do that and still stand up straight. "Perfess'r Jones really loves me f'r that." I smiled awkwardly and wobbled, stumbling back a couple of paces.

"I see. And what's your name?" he asked.

"Impurr...Emp'ror' Chess...no. No." Forgetting about the thing wrapped around my wrist, I stretched my arms closer to my sides, not quite touching, forcing myself to stand steady. I concentrated hard, and managed to say, "Impurest. Cheese."

"Your real name?"

"Eloise. Clayton," I answered, still forcing correct pronunciations from my mouth.

Sounding unnervingly charming, he asked, "Don't you mean 'Joanne,' luv?"

With that, a leotard and helmet of pink crystal formed around me, popping the centipede free of my wrist and bringing me to instant sobriety...and anger. "Only one person got to call me that, and you. are not. her! And I told you to stop calling me 'luv.' State your business bug, or I'm putting you in a coffee can until I figure out how to be rid of you for good."

"Nothing Lugh the Wanderer can't overcome."

"I don't think there's a coffee can big enough for me," he said, growing until he had become an eel.

I raised an eyebrow and smiled a cruel smile as the former centipede found it hard to breathe. It flopped back and forth on the pavement. "Having problems?" I mocked.

It grew again as it struggled, and became something larger and more mobile. He said, "Nothing Lugh the Wanderer can't overcome," and then he struck at me.

I hadn't been Katya in awhile.

I flipped backwards, gracefully avoiding the strike and landing in a crouch, my tail whipping aggressively side to side. I hadn't been Katya in awhile. "Again, serpent: what do you want?" I growled.

He curled back on himself a bit, surprised to see my Princess Katya form. He tilted his head to one side and considered for a moment, then shifted his form again into the massive Dragon Eel of Macau. In response, I shifted from Katya to Jena Johansson, otherwise known as...

"Black Boxxxx!" the Dragon Eel hissed. "Then you do have what I am after!"

Jena Johansson aka Black Box

I gritted my teeth and asked, "And what would that be?"

"The golden mask of Ai Apaec! I must have it!" said the Dragon Eel.

I narrowed my eyes and asked, "Why?"

The Dragon coiled from side to side a bit, its head always staying centered towards me. He must have finally seen the futility in deception, as he gave in and answered, "My wife, Fea, gave me this ability to shapeshift long ago, when I was still a Viking named Ragnar. Over time, I have been all these things you've seen today, and more. She too has had many forms. She's currently in a temple in Peru, in her true form of Ai Apaec. She needs the mask to summon the Sea God, in order to save the Earth."

Still suspicious, I asked, "Save Earth from what?"

"Not what," he answered, "but who. The Orumcek are coming."

On hearing that name, I shifted from Black Box to a Valkyrie dressed in Middle Ages armor with a steampunk flair. "Get in the car," I said.

"Like thisss?"

"Turn into that Viking you mentioned," I said, and hit the keyfob to unlock the doors.

The Dragon Eel seemed to coil upon itself as its form compressed and shifted into the form of a Viking warrior. "Ragnar, at your service," he said, his voice finally matching his visage. Swifter than I'd have thought, he closed the distance between us, grabbed me by the throat and lifted me off of the ground. "I think I'll just take that mask though, if you don't mind."

Both of my hands on his wrist, I leveraged myself enough to be able to say, "I'll...tell you...for...a kiss."

"HA! A kiss?" he roared. "I'm a Viking, wench! Do you think I don't know the power of a Valkyrie's kiss?" He slammed me against the car, and through gritted teeth said, "Tell me where the mask is!"

As he loosened his grip enough for me to talk, I took a few deep breaths and answered, "It's in the trunk."

"Do you think me a fool, woman? That's where you found me, remember? There was nothing in that trunk but me and that cat!"

"Yes, and some other time, you must tell me how you came to be there, but the mask is there also. It's in the spare tire compartment, under the floor." I held up one hand and jangled the keys before popping the trunk again.

"You know what else my many forms have taught me?"

Ragnar dragged me by the neck to the rear of the car, and with his free hand he started pawing at the floor of the trunk. Needing his other hand, he set me down and shoved me backwards before continuing to rip at the flooring.

I regained my composure, enjoying the free flow of air again, and looked down the street to see a couple of dozen kids and their sister running from the alley. Ana stopped in the middle of the street and waved at me before continuing after her brothers and sisters. As I waved back, Ragnar, his head half in the trunk, bellowed, "I see your many forms have taught you to be sneaky, luv!"

My steampunk armor shifted to bone, and a scythe appeared in my hand. "You know what else my many forms taught me?" I asked as I swept his feet with the scythe, tumbling him into the trunk. I pinned him down with the scythe, and as he looked at me in surprise, I recited, "'Meta, Dermis, Auricus.'" He turned to gold, and I slammed the lid down.

"...find me that mask with the golden tentatcles."

Shifting once more into combat trousers and a tank top, my scythe became a hand bow, which I tossed into the passenger seat as I got in. I pulled a cell phone from the console and made a call. "This is Siwang. Make some room in storage for a life sized golden statue, and find me that mask with the golden tentacles. It's somewhere near the Book of Secrets. I'm going to Peru. Right, Peru. Be there shortly." I hit the end button and tossed the phone next to the hand bow. I started the BMV, it lifted off the ground, and I was off to save the world. Again.

Please let me know what you think, and thanks! -cbOriginally Presented In: CCC #21.
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It's What We Do

RANKED 2nd BY VOTERS IN CHARACTER CREATION CONTEST #34!

DateIssueTitleViewRead the...
04/28/15CB 1-ShotsIt's What We Do(Blog) (Forum)Disclaimer
RatingRating explanation
MFire and death. Censored cursing. Based on a true story. With a twist of sci-fi to make it hurt less.

Ninety-nine percent of alarm company dispatches are false alarms. I've been sitting here trying to think of something more clever than that to tell you, and the truth is...I just don't have it in me today. Not today, not yesterday, not the day before, or the last three before that. I've just been...numb...between numb and a crying mess, maybe. You see, I'm a dispatcher for one of those alarm companies, and eight days ago, there was this fire.

It looked just like any other fire alarm

It looked just like any other fire alarm: same color code, same priority, same procedure. But it wasn't just any fire. I got multiple signals at the same time. I noticed this while I was dialing the fire department and I raised an eyebrow, but I brushed it off because nothing was following it. Real fires usually send in alarms from every detector in the building as they get flooded by the smoke. I just had these two. Sure, it was from different areas, but it must be a power surge or something.

Then, while I was giving the information to the dispatcher, three more signals came in and I thought, "Oh no." I was quickly relieved to see that they were just problem signals. An alarm is one thing. A problem is just a glitch with the equipment- mostly batteries. That seemed to confirm the power surge. I finished the dispatch, called a couple of contact numbers with no answer, and moved on to the next alarm.

The rest of the night was fairly uneventful.

Seven days ago I came in for my shift, and looking over the log for the past twenty-four hours, I saw that another operator had been notified that a fire alarm dispatched during my previous shift had resulted in the house burning down. That's always sad news. Fire is something I cringe about. I'm a collector of books and comics, and if a fire broke out there would be nothing to do but escape with my life. I checked the account number on the log and found out that yes, it was the alarm I had dispatched on. So the two signals at once were a fire. Why weren't there more signals though? Had the fire moved that fast? I winced for a second, thought about all the owners would have to go through to recover from this, and moved on to the night's new alarms.

That night, like most, was also fairly uneventful.

Six days ago I was off, but I had to come in for an hour long shift meeting before the midnight shift started. Since I wasn’t required to be at a meeting on my off day, the manager was surprised to see me. She said the president of the company had wanted to see me. I asked if that was a good or bad thing. She said it was good, but I'd have to catch him during the day.

We moved on to the training room for the meeting. Just my manager, me and one of my partners- the other was running late. That's all it takes for the night shift. We started without the late coworker, and covered some minor aches and pains of being an operator. We discussed some potential policy changes. Then my manager brought up the fire alarm. Not a big surprise that she'd mention it. Even with the percentage on false alarms, true alarms are still usually not a huge deal. They're usually property damage at most, but a full burn down- that is both tragic and rare.

This one was worse.

The manager dropped the bomb- the house was sixteen thousand square feet, worth between four and nine million dollars depending on which news you follow, and was known to the neighbors as The Chateau. And there were six people inside- two adults and four children. And just like that, my awe at the extent and expense of the property damage turned into a lump in my chest as my head fell into my hand. I had dispatched on what the press was calling the "Ann Arbor Manor Fire," and six people had died.

Four of them kids.

Kids.

They were six, seven, and two eight year olds.

The room stopped for a minute...or maybe it was my heart, but my mind had to catch up to what my manager was saying. She was commending me for the way I had handled the alarm. She said she had looked at the dispatch history, so had the president of the company, so had the police and fire department, and they all agreed that I had done everything I possibly could, as fast as I could.

That's why the president had wanted to see me- to congratulate me on doing my job. It's a harsh fact of business, and no one would ever put it like this, but actually he wanted to congratulate me on saving the company from any liability to do with the fire. I was too stunned to be disgusted. My manager continued on, saying the president had wanted to present me with something, but couldn't be here this late at night. Then she said she wanted to present me with something too. She stood up, reached into her jeans pocket, pulled out a gold dollar coin, and set it on the table in front of me.

What the hell? Six people died...

I looked at it for a half second, trying to hide the revulsion I was feeling, but picked it up so as not to be rude. What the hell? Six people died, and she was giving me a dollar? I looked at it for a few seconds, then looked at her with something between blankness and sadness on my face. Sitting again, she just said, "This is what we do." She went on for another minute, and I'm just holding this dollar, rubbing my thumb over it, thinking about how utterly meaningless it is, and I'm still looking at her the same way. Something twitched across my face, and it must have been a questioning look of some kind, because again, she said with emphasis, "It's what. we. do."

The rest of the meeting was fairly normal. The late coworker showed up just before we finished. We ended the meeting, went back into the central dispatch, and I clocked out. I stepped into the manager's office briefly to thank her for the coin, trying to put more meaning in my tone than I really felt. I was still dumbfounded over the meaninglessness of what felt like blood money though.

I knew it wasn't that. My manager is smart. She's seen this before. She knows that death hits an operator hard, and I show everything on my face. I'm sure that it was obvious that I was devastated. So she gave me a token that I could focus on instead- something to diffuse me from drilling in on the deaths of six people that I didn't know of a couple of days ago. I understood that logically, but behind that, my mind was still caught in a downward spiraling maelstrom of emotions that shouldn't be there, but were.

I left to go home, but stopped off to get steak and eggs at a little breakfast joint near my apartment. I was still a little numb, and a little bit disgusted that I had just learned that six people died, but was there feeding my hunger. I was a little bit glad too, because it was a sign that I was still alive, even if I felt like little pieces of me were dying off inside. Logic was working overtime, telling me that I truly had done everything I could do. So why were my emotions battering me around like a raft in a hurricane?

I went home, looked up every piece of news about the fire I could on the Internet, until I just couldn't read anymore. I was scrolling through picture after picture of the fire. The Chateau completely engulfed in flames. The "memorial at the gate" pics that come with this kind of tragedy. Then one of them got me- a typical picture of three people hugging each other at the gate of the property- and I just sobbed aloud. And then shook, and sobbed some more, and shook, and sobbed some more, and stopped. Then sobbed again. Then stopped.

Then I turned off the computer, because I couldn't take anymore.

I tried turning my mind to something else- shelving some books that had been in boxes. That quickly turned my thoughts back to the fire, because...y'know...the fear of fire and my collection meeting. I finally gave up, laid back in the floor, and just stared at the ceiling. Lost in thought for a few moments, my hand brushed my pocket, and I felt the gold coin through the denim. I winced, then scowled, and dug into my pocket to fish out the coin.

I turned it over in my fingers for a few seconds, and thought of it more and more as blood money. Is this what six lives are worth? A dollar? My mind was still numb about it, but I thought, This really is one of the sh*ttiest things I have ever been given. What. the. f***?

What the heck was I even supposed to do with this? I'd be ashamed to spend it. But what then? Sit it on a shelf as an eternal reminder? Throw it in a drawer so I didn't have to be reminded? Maybe run across it later, and forgetting what it was for, throw it in with my other change and spend it by accident? I mean really, what the hell? Was I supposed to put it in the drink machine at work? Buy "a Coke and a smile," and try to put this horrible, horrendous, gawd awful feeling behind me? I think if I spent it on something, I would never, ever be able to buy that thing again for the sick feeling it would give me every time I tried.

These damned feelings were horrible. The worst yet since my grandmother had died. Something about losing someone who means so much to you: every death after that multiplies your grief exponentially. You feel it faster, deeper, and worse every time. Six? Six...I feel like it should put me in the f***ing ground. Four of them being kids- the youngest the same age as my nephew...could I please die now? I teared up a little, squeezed my eyes shut, squeezed the coin in my hand as if to wring the blood from it, and let my fist fall against my forehead a few times until I heard...

...birds chirping? And I was feeling...a breeze?

I opened my eyes. I was laying in grass, and it was dark. Then there was a loud "BOOM" and my head jerked to the left to follow the sound of shattering glass.

The Chateau.

I was at The Chateau!

One end of it was crumbling at the top, every window below it showing fire inside. The rest of it looked fine; the place was so huge, not everything had caught on fire yet. I recalled the news saying that the large floor plan allowed the fire to spread quickly because there was more oxygen inside to feed it. I didn't know what the hell was happening, but before I even thought about it I was running.

I remembered that the alarm had come in about three-thirty in the morning, so it was the middle of the night now- the place was probably locked up. It was gated private property though, and the news said they were loved by their neighbors. I didn't remember any burglary alarms coming in; maybe they felt secure enough to leave the doors unlocked. I reached a set of French doors off of a stone patio, and found them unlocked as I had predicted.

There were the four children, running for the stairs instead of the exit, no doubt looking for their grandparents, the fire already to this part of the building. I caught up to the two oldest and grabbed one up in each arm, causing them to scream more than they already had been. The other two reached the stairs and started up until I hollered, "WAIT!" The youngest stopped and turned to look. We locked eyes just before a loud groaning noise signaled the impending collapse of the roof, full of its several-ton beams. I hunkered down on one knee and hugged the two I had hold of close, and shouted, "Hold on, girls!" Their screams kicked up another notch with the noise, and then were a fading echo as I found myself outside, back across the lawn, no girls in tow.

The Chateau exploded again.

Glass shattered again.

I ran again.

I didn't know what happened, but I was back at the start of the fire again. I felt the coin still pressed in my fist and thought, That must be it! The coin! I couldn't explain it, and if I wasn't there, I probably wouldn't believe it, but my manager's words echoed in my head: "This is what we do." Damn! I bolted through the French doors, grabbed the screaming girls without stopping, caught up to the other two at the bottom of the stairs, knocked them down, fell on top of them, hugged all four close, and as the ceiling groaned, screamed, "HOLD ON!"

And I was back outside, across the lawn, all by myself.

Exploding Chateau, shattering glass, me running.

I gambled and won. I went to the main entrance door, closer to the stairs, and found it unlocked too. I headed off the two youngest, grabbing them up in my arms, causing them to scream. The two older girls screamed at the sight of me and took off running in opposite directions. The ceiling groaned, I hugged the two I had close, shut my eyes, and dammit! I was across the lawn by myself again.

Exploding, shattering, running.

This wasn't working. "This is what we do," I heard my manager saying. Did she know what she was doing when she gave me this damned dollar? Is this why the president himself wanted to see me? To give me this coin? To give me this chance? I remembered thinking earlier, Is this what six lives are worth? A dollar? The thought slowed me down. The ceiling was already groaning when I came through the main entrance. I could only grab one- the older of the youngest two. My shout and hers were inaudible over the noise of the house collapsing, and I was back across the lawn, still by myself.

I glanced at the gold coin as the Chateau exploded, squeezed it in my fist again as the glass shattered, and took off running as I heard my echoing thought, Is this what six lives are worth?...

But that's the thing, I thought as I reached the main entrance door, it's not saving six. The awful realization hit me as I burst through the door and the seven year old hit the stairs and started up. I locked eyes with the youngest as his momentum sent him right into my grip. The older two screamed and ran in opposite directions. I knelt down quickly to the boy, who looked more scared than I had ever seen anybody in my life. I pressed the dollar into his hand, folded his small fingers shut over it, and said, "Shut your eyes tight, and think about earlier today when you were still home with your parents." He just looked at me in terror and tried to pull away. I held him fast by the elbow, my other hand clamped over his fist with the coin in it, and shouted, "DO IT!"

He squeezed his eyes shut tight. And then he was gone.

I sank to the floor wearily, smiling tiredly. The ceiling groaned. I heard my manager saying, "It's what. we. do," followed by the hellish roar of fire, steel and stone. And then...dammit.

I woke up on the floor with my books.

That was five days ago.

And I've had the same dream every day since. Like the one I woke up from just about an hour ago.

I looked at the ceiling, shut my eyes, swallowed, inhaled deeply, and ran my fingers through my hair. I took a few deep breaths, rolled my head side-to-side, then slapped the mattress with both hands. I laid there a minute longer, then got up to start another day.

I came downstairs, poured some iced tea and turned on the computer. I clicked on the Internet, went to Google, and typed in "Ann Arbor" before the search bar auto-filled "manor fire;" something I've typed in several times a day, every day since the shift meeting. I sighed heavily. The headlines hadn't changed.

Search crews have still only found five of the six bodies.

Please let me know what you think, and thanks! -cbOriginally Presented In: CCC #34.
4 Comments

Teenage Mutant Ninja Agents

RANKED 2nd BY VOTERS IN CHARACTER CREATION CONTEST #29!

DateIssueTitleViewRead the...
04/25/15Marvel Fanfare #3Teenage Mutant Ninja Agents(Blog) (Forum)Disclaimer
RatingRating explanationLast Issue:
TMutagenic madness.Marvel Mayhem: Operation: Nightstrike

Wearing a beige suit and dark shades, Henry Peter Gyrich watched silently as the techs rolled in two matching tables. One held a specially made device that looked a bit like a high tech shop vac, and the other held the specimens that had been so carefully chosen for this project. The techs, all in lab coats, were buzzing around the tables and the rest of the room, getting ready for the experiment.

Looking at the specimens, Henry pointed at a young, blonde tech, and said, "Jensen! What is that?"

Jensen jumped when the agent barked his name, and looked at Gyrich with some confusion. Looking at the table nervously, he answered, "I don't understand, sir. They're what you reques..."

"Not the plants, you idiot!" snarled Agent Gyrich. "That!"

"Oh!" smiled Jensen. "The ribbons. Those were Meredith's idea. It's to help tell them apart." It was obvious he had a crush on Meredith.

Henry suppressed the urge to slap him. "Might be a good idea," he said noncommittally.

"Yeah, she's great," agreed Jensen.

"Get on with it!"

With revulsion in his voice, Henry snarled, "Get on with it!"

With that, Jensen and everyone else focused in on their specific jobs. His was manning the pump on the first table. There was a brief countdown from three from someone at a panel on the wall, and then they pointed at Jensen. "Goop 'em!"

Jensen pulled a lever much like a slot machine, the pump hummed to life, and a vaguely glowing goop coated the four plants on the opposite table. Once they were covered, he shut off the machine and they waited. Nothing happened immediately. "Are we sure this is going to work?" asked Gyrich.

"Well," started Jensen, "they're called 'experiments' for a reason. This goop hit a bat flying around a streetlight and a kid who tackled an old man out of the way of our truck, and it produced one of the finest agents S.H.I.E.L.D. has ever had."

"Murdock's good," agreed Gyrich. "But plants?" The four small plants just sat there, the glow of the goop pulsing slowly.

"We couldn't very well purposely try this on humans, could we?" answered Jensen.

"No, of course not." Henry sounded disappointed.

Jensen continued, "Right, and the animal rights whiners would go into spasms if we tried it on animals...although Meredith had the cutest little turtles picked out before that idea got axed."

"...we can make an unlimited amount of footsoldiers for S.H.I.E.L.D."

"Jensen!" snapped the agent.

"Oh! Uh, right. Anyway, if this works, we can make an unlimited amount of footsoldiers for S.H.I.E.LD."

"Plants were really our best option?" asked Gyrich.

"Well, we have a vampire problem right now. Something to do with those mutants out of Westchester," Jensen shrugged. "So the wooden limbs will be lethal to those bloodsuckers."

Gyrich raised an eyebrow. "Great. Saved by Pinocchio. And how are we making them mobile?"

"The goop, of course. And DNA culled from the brightest young minds our education system has to offer. 'Lice checks' allowed us to collect what we needed." Jensen waggled his eyebrows when he said "lice checks."

Gyrich again suppressed the urge to slap him. Then he pointed and hollered, "Look!"

The goop moved. The plants shuddered. Then they swayed. Then they bent and moved in ways not natural for plants. They grew limbs that they used like hands, and they stepped from their buckets, roots serving as legs and feet. Eyes and other facial features formed in the foliage, and then they grew to about five foot seven inches each. They started changing shapes, forming into various shaped plants- cats, chameleons, squirrels, etc.

The room held its breath- even Gyrich- then the techs burst out into cheers and whoops, high fiving each other.

"It's worked!" shouted Jensen. "Agent Gyrich, I give you plant soldiers that can camouflage themselves! I give you Teenage Mutant Ninja Topiaries!"

"Ninja?" asked Gyrich.

"I will teach them that."

"I will teach them that," said a quiet voice from behind him.

Henry spun to see a four foot tall rat with a red robe and a walking stick. "What the hell is that?" he exclaimed.

Jensen sounded a little sheepish. "Um, well, that old man that Murdock saved? He was carrying a pet rat, and they got gooped too. Turns out he's a ninja master."

Gyrich looked at Jensen incredulously. Then back to the rat.

Bowing his head slightly, the rat said, "My name is Master Splinter."

Henry looked at Splinter for a few moments, saying nothing. Then, "A 'ninja master,' huh? And you couldn't dodge a truck on your own?"

The rat seemed to smile as it shrugged. "Had I done that, our young Mister Murdock could not fulfill his destiny, could he?"

"He trained Murdock, sir."

Gyrich took his shades off and rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. He then glanced at Jensen.

Jensen leaned in and said, "He trained Murdock, sir."

Henry looked at Jensen blankly, remembering one of Murdock's first missions against Hydra, then nodded. Putting his shades back on, he glanced again at the Topiaries. Just before he headed for the door, he looked at the rat and said, "Do it."

Next Issue: ?-
Please let me know what you think, and thanks! -cbOriginally Presented In: CCC #29.
2 Comments

I Wish You Could Remember

RANKED 3rd BY VOTERS IN CHARACTER CREATION CONTEST #26!

DateIssueTitleViewRead the...
04/25/15CB 1-ShotsI Wish You Could Remember(Blog) (Forum)Disclaimer
RatingRating explanation
MGun violence; murders. Arms dealing. Fighting. Petty theft.
The Claw of the Crab

Benjamin "Benny" Factor is not a nice man. He's been a gangster since he was old enough to make his own bad decisions. He began as muscle for pushers, then started dealing drugs himself, and eventually went into moving all kinds of merchandise- chiefly, guns. He was referring to himself as being in "import/ export" before that became a bad joke. It soon became a legitimate claim though, just to cover his illegal activities. Underlings wound up running the illegal stuff for him so he couldn't be connected to anything, and before he knew it, he was a respected businessman, and the cops weren't able to prove jack.

That doesn't mean that his hands were clean. Far from it. His organization- the illegal one- started being harassed by a vigilante known as The Blue Crab. She broke up a handful of important deals with a blue spotlight of a crab claw and a lot of fighting. She dropped off the radar for awhile, but was finally caught by Horace and Harry Fly, when she tried to bust up a weapons deal. They called Mr. Factor in, and Benny put the cap in her himself.

***

What was she even doing back in costume?

Horace Crabb was shocked when the police showed up at his door, and devastated when they told him that Merilyn was dead. He knew that she was The Blue Crab, but a gunshot? After all the crime she had stopped over the years? After all the things she had seen with The Statesmen? He wondered numbly who they would get to represent Maryland now. Then the weight of realization crashed in on him, and he wondered what the hell he was going to tell the girls. They were only four and five. How do you tell children that their mommy is gone? What was she even doing back in costume? She had only been in remission a few months. He slumped into a chair and buried his face in his hands. The detectives made their condolences and departed.

***

And that's how Cancer was born.

Merilyn's death ate at Horace for a year. The police were no closer to answers than they were when she was killed, and the girls were only starting to approach normal again. He was fed up. He dragged a footlocker from the closet, fished a key from the top drawer of Merilyn's dresser, and opened it up. He couldn't fit into her costume of course, but he could make use of her spotlight and her mask. He pulled leather motorcycle pants from the closet, along with a bomber jacket with his Zodiac sign on it. A pair of steel toed boots, his riding gloves, and the gun from his nightstand drawer. It was time for some answers. And this is how Cancer was born.

Horace made more waves and did more damage than his wife had done, in a short amount of time, because he was willing to use more violent methods. He rattled Benny's crew. They knew Cancer was someone out for revenge, because he was using The Blue Crab's old spotlight, and he made it known he was looking for her killer. No one dared give Benny Factor up though.

Anger makes a person careless though. He hadn't been at it a year when Cancer was caught and taken to Benny Factor at one of his dockside warehouses. They got on a boat, motored out past the three mile limit, and unmasked the vigilante. Benny capped Horace with his own gun, and tossed both over the side. Police found him washed up on the beach a day later.

***

Later that night, police showed up at the door and whisked Annie and Sandy Crabb off to Child Protective Services. A social worker named Theresa, appalled that the officers hadn't told the girls what was going on, found that she now had the unpleasant task of telling these children that their father was dead. Sandy cried, but Annie was numb. She called her sister a crybaby and became angry with the social worker. Terrie let them cry and scream for two hours before they were worn out, and then they were taken to a state orphanage while authorities tried to find next of kin.

The girls were made wards of the state when no relatives were found. This lasted for a couple of years, until a janitor named James yelled at Annie for walking across his wet floor with muddy shoes. She scuffed her shoes all over the floor, then kicked the janitor in the shin. He grabbed for her, but she pulled away and kicked him in the other shin. Jim lunged forward, but slipped on the wet floor and fell. On the way down, he hit his head on the corner of the metal wringer of his mop bucket. Then he hit the floor, and he didn't move.

Annie grabbed Sandy's hand and ran, and they left the orphanage. Sandy protested, saying they could tell the headmistress that it was an accident, but Annie insisted they had to run. She said they would separate her and Sandy if they knew what happened. So they ran. When they couldn't run anymore, they hid in an alleyway, and at eight and nine years old, this was the beginning of them living on the streets.

***

...he hadn't felt it come off of his wrist.

They had been living on the streets for four years when Benny caught Sandy trying to lift his wallet. When she tossed Annie his watch he was surprised and impressed, because he hadn't felt it come off of his wrist. Harry caught Annie before she could get away. Benny took his watch and wallet back, but instead of getting angry with the girls, he offered them a meal. Figuring it was better than getting arrested, they nervously accepted.

Benny talked to them while they ate. Like any gangster worth his chops, he had cops on his payroll. He knew that Cancer and The Blue Crab were Horace and Merilyn Crabb. So when he learned Annie and Sandy's names, he connected them as the orphaned children immediately, and had an idea. He offered to take them in, promising they'd never have to live on the streets again, and that they could even learn his business if they wanted. Benny figured it would be sweet revenge to turn his enemies' kids into gangsters. When the girls accepted, he smiled to himself. They'd be turning over in their graves.

Annie knew who Benny was too though. And she also had an idea.

***

Benny was true to his word, as it served his revenge. He taught the girls everything about his illegal businesses, and they came up much the same way he did. They started as runners for various things, mostly drugs, and they reported to Horace Fly. Although Benny kept a close eye on what he considered his personal project of corrupting these girls.

Horace taught them how to shoot.

Annie didn't like Horace Fly. He had the same name as her dad, but he was a jerk. She called him Horse Fly, which he didn't much care for. His brother, Harry, she liked. He was called Harry the House, because he was so big. Sandy pointed out that this would make him House Fly, and Harry thought that was funny. Harry taught the girls how to fight, and Horace taught them how to shoot.

Annie played Benny's game, and she and Sandy kept him close. All the while, Annie kept focused on the memory of her father talking about Benny Factor and his involvement in her mom's death. Sandy still woke up crying over it sometimes, and Annie had called her crybaby so much that the term had become affectionate between them. So much so that Crybaby had become her nickname. She cried at everything- happy moments, sad movies, and even when she was angry. So Annie kept her eyes and ears open, looking for any information she could to prove that her dad was right. She wanted to give her sister a reason to stop crying.

They were not completely unaffected though. Sandy kind of fell into a bodyguard role for Benny, and Annie became one of his most trusted enforcers. Benny considered their corruption complete when they started killing for him. Sandy only killed to defend Benny from attack, but Annie actually carried out hits for him. She became known as The Orphan.

The sick son of a...he took pictures!

They worked for Benny for ten years before Annie finally ran across the information she had been looking for. Actually, she didn't find it herself. One of Benny's enemies had sent an enforcer of their own named The Mute to steal the contents of his safe. Sandy was stalking her through the halls of the office when The Mute got the drop on her.

Before she could fire, Annie cocked a gun to her head and said, "I've been made an orphan once. I didn't care for it much. Drop the gun." Taking The Mute's weapon and taking back Benny's documents, Annie leafed through them, and found the proof she had been looking for- pictures. The sick son of a... he took pictures! She let The Mute go.

***

"I wish you could remember this moment as much as I will..."

Benny was throwing a party- a charity function for his legitimate businesses. He had to keep up appearances, after all. This was a New Year's Eve party that he hosted every year in his penthouse. It was tradition that he personally set off the fireworks from the roof of the neighboring building. It was there that Annie and Sandy confronted him.

Annie cracked him across the jaw with her gun, and threw the pictures down in front of him. Sandy held him at gunpoint so he didn't try anything. He pleaded. He begged. He bargained. And when none of that worked he became angry. "I've been like a father to you!" he shouted.

Annie looked at him coldly and said, "A father, Benny? I'm an orphan, remember?"

The hope left Benny's face as Annie turned away. He looked up at Sandy again. With fat tears streaming down her face, she looked at him coldly and said, "I wish you could remember this moment as much as I will..."

And that was when Benny Factor died.

Please let me know what you think, and thanks! -cbOriginally Presented In: CCC #26.
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Captain Marvel Bunny and the Hill of Holes

RANKED 2nd BY VOTERS IN CHARACTER CREATION CONTEST #28!

DateIssueTitleViewRead the...
04/23/151st Issue Special #4Captain Marvel Bunny and the Hill of Holes(Blog) (Forum)Disclaimer
RatingRating explanation
ECartoon mischief to be sure. Weakening of universal and fourth wall boundaries.

Captain Marvel Bunny and Invincible The Ibis were fighting a strange reptilian foe- a black snake with a yellow underbelly in the jagged pattern of a lightning bolt. He was as strong as the Captain, but with additional powers the bunny couldn't explain. Even with the combo of The Marvel Bunny's might and Invincible's Ibistick, they were having trouble with this slithery villain.

Invincible raised his Ibistick and fired a magical bolt at the snake, but he coiled like a spring and bounced out of the way. When he came down from his bounce, he trapped Invincible in his embrace. The snake squeezed until the Ibistick dropped from the hero's grip, then grabbed the end of the bird's red turban in his mouth, and coiled around Invincible at super speed. When he was done, The Ibis was a big red mummy.

"You'll never defeat Black Adar, Bunny!"

The snake coiled before the crimson bundle, pleased with himself. Captain Marvel Bunny took that moment to throw a punch at the snake, but it moved at super speed, flying into the air. "Ss-ss-ss-ss-ss-ss-ssss," came the stuttering hiss of the snake's laughter. "You'll never defeat Black Adar, Bunny!"

Captain Marvel Bunny lunged into the sky, shouting, "You don't mind if I try, do y-ooop!" Black Adar had grabbed the Captain's wrist with his tail and flipped him through the air. A deafening crash signaled the Captain's abrupt halt in the wall of a nearby building.

As the Rabbit of Righteousness shook off the stunning blow, the Serpent of Sin asked, "Don't you know I have the same power as you? Do you know what's good about that?" Before the Captain could respond, Black Adar zigzagged his body like a lightning bolt and with similar speed, he struck The Marvel Bunny in the chest.

The hero was shocked to find that he had been turned back into Hoppy! He went to shout the word that would change him back, but Black Adar quickly coiled around his body, one firm coil over his mouth. "Ah, ah, ahhh," scolded the snake. "We can't have you saying your magic word, Hoppy." The bunny's eyes went wide when he heard his name. "Oh, don't look so shocked. The narrator let it slip seven sentences ago."

!!!...Sorry, Hoppy.

"Fret not, you'll get to change back soon." Still firmly coiled around our hero, Black Adar flew to a spot at the edge of Fawncett City, landing before a familiar burrow. "It was a bolthole like this that led me to the Rock of Eternity, centuries ago," said the snake. "This is how you found him, yes?" Unable to answer, Hoppy just glared at the snake. "Well, only he has the answer you need of how to stop me," taunted the serpent, "but don't think I'm going to make that easy for you."

"This is a power that all of us cartoon snakes have, y'know."

Swaying his head back and forth before Hoppy, the snake continued, "This is a power that all of us cartoon snakes have, y'know." With that, concentric circles started spinning in Black Adar's eyes, and he leaned close to Hoppy until the bunny's eyes matched his own. "When next you look at this hillside, Hoppy, you will see many burrows, and you'll have to try them all to find the old guy. But don't worry, when you find a wrong one, all you have to do is say your magic word, and instead of changing back, you'll be transported back here to try another hole." Eyes still spinning, the enthralled rabbit nodded weakly.

"But you need to move quickly," warned the snake, "because the Internet attention span is really short." Coiling around to one of the bunny's ears, Black Adar confided, "I'd wink at the reader, but I don't have any eyelids." With that, he uncoiled from around Hoppy at super speed, leaving the bunny spinning like a top while he flew away.

He immediately shouted, "SHAZAM!" and dove into the nearest burrow.

Hoppy spun for several seconds, then wobbled, then plopped down on his cottontail. His eyes still spinning and his upper body still wobbling back-and-forth slightly, he put one paw to his head, shut his eyes tightly, and shook his head vigorously. When his body-wobble slowed, he opened his eyes and the hypnotic effects were gone. Hoppy snapped his head around to the hill, now dotted with holes. He immediately shouted, "SHAZAM!" and dove into the nearest burrow.

Earth-8311:

As soon as Captain Marvel Bunny appeared in this reality, he heard maniacal laughter followed by, "It worked! It worked! The Moleholeborer has drilled into another dimension, bringing me a minion capable of defeating that pesky porker..."

"Hey! Big ears here! Kind of sensitive!" the Bunny shouted. He then looked down at a small animal with white goggles and a green cape, and asked, "Who are you?"

"I?!" shouted the villain. "I am The Mole, man! I am the underminer of morals! I am boring into the very fabric of..." and that was when The Captain backhanded him into a nearby tunnel wall.

"You're boring alright," he agreed.

"Hey! That's Spider-Ham to you, too!"

"Hey! Who are you and why are you defeating my villain?" a voice demanded.

Captain Marvel Bunny focused his keen eyesight down the dark tunnel until he spied a pig in a red and blue costume with white eyepatches. "Ah, you must be the pesky porker?" he asked.

"That's Spider-Ham to you, pal," answered the pesky porker. "Hey! That's Spider-Ham to you, too!"

???...Fine, I'll be over here, being quiet. See how far your story gets without me.

"I'm Captain Marvel Bunny."

"I'm your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Ham. I see you've already met The Mole."

"Yes, but I was sent here by a villain of my own and need to get back."

"If anyone can figure out how to travel to another reality, it would have to be Deer Dicharrs, of the Fawntastic Four. Let's drop The Mole off to the police, and we'll go see him."

"Um, I don't know if...wait. What about him?"

"Who? Oh...what about him?"

"Jumping Jellyf...mmf!"

"Ahem."

Hm? Oh, me? Oh! Oh yeah! <ahem> Captain Marvel Bunny and Spider-Ham...

Spider-Ham nodded approvingly.

Captain Marvel Bunny and Spider-Ham headed to the surface. They were just leaving police headquarters when The Captain looked down the street and started to shout, "Jumping Jellyf...mmf!" but was interrupted by a web muffling his mouth.

"I don't think our lawyers will let us say that," chided Spider-Ham.

The Captain scowled at the hero and ripped the webbing from his mouth. "No! Look!" he said, pointing down the street. "Jumping Jellyfish!" And sure enough, coming down the street were two giant, jumping, bouncing jellyfish, bouncing off of buildings as well as the sidewalk. "That must be what The Mole's Moleholeborer actually brought here! Let's wrap this up quick," said The Captain. He started forward, but another web grabbed his shoulder.

"Touch those slimy things?"

"Touch those slimy things? Are you kidding? I have a better idea." Captain Marvel Bunny just looked at Spider-Ham as he strolled forward with his hands clasped behind his back. "Jellyfish!" he shouted. "That's perfect! Now where did I put my Peanutbutterfish? This will be a great snack!"

The two jellyfish stopped mid-bounce, one in a lean off the sidewalk, the other about to leap from the side of a building. Their bulbous heads turned to each other, they shook, and then both jumped, spinning faster and faster until they disappeared from this reality.

"If I hadn't seen it, I wouldn't have believed it," admitted The Captain. "Well, time for me to go. Until we meet again, Spider-Ham."

"Until then, Captain," answered Spider-Ham.

The two heroes shook hands, Captain Marvel Bunny shouted, "SHAZAM!" and was gone. Appearing once again before the hill of holes, he immediately dove into another burrow.

Just Left of Albuquerque:
"So, Taz will be here in a second...I'll see you in two weeks."

"Eh, what's up, doc?" asked a naked rabbit. "You must be the temp, while I go on vacation. Heyyyy, fancy duds, doc!" He then chomped on a carrot while he looked the hero over. In the distance, a small brown tornado was moving towards them. "So, Taz will be here in a second. Don't worry, his bark is worse than his bite, doc. Thanks for filling in for me, and I'll see you in two weeks. Tah tah!" With that, the grey and white rabbit dove into the ground and burrowed away.

"What in the world?" asked The Captain.

"Waaaabiiiit!" came the slobbering chatter of the brown tornado, now stopped beside him. Not a tornado at all, he was an also naked brown Tasmanian Devil.

"Excuse me?" asked Captain Marvel Bunny.

"Waaaabiiiit!"

"WABBIT!" hollered Taz, as he quickly tied a napkin around his neck and grabbed The Marvel Bunny's arm. Before The Captain could say anything, Taz's mouth opened wide and clamped down on Cap's arm. There was a loud clanking sound, then the teeth cracked, and fell out of Taz's mouth. Taz looked at the pile of teeth, then at the hero, who just shrugged. Snatching the bib from his neck, he quickly scooped the pile of teeth into it, creating a small sack. He then spun and zipped away, trailed only by a, "Yipe! Yipe! Yipe! Yipe! Yipe!"

The Captain just looked after him. "Oh for the luvva...SHAZAM!" Disappearing once again and reappearing at the hill, he dove into another hole.

The World Tree:
"Who dares to intrude on Toucan the Terrible?"

Seeing a giant squirrel scurry up the humongous tree, he spied a giant red bird with four eyes, staring at him. "Who dares to intrude on Toucan the Terrible?"

"Oh, heck no. SHAZAM!" and he disappeaeard again.

Please let me know what you think, and thanks! -cbOriginally Presented In: CCC #28.
4 Comments

The Rise of the House of Toucan

RANKED 1st BY VOTERS IN CHARACTER CREATION CONTEST #27!

DateIssueTitleViewRead the...
04/22/15CB 1-ShotsThe Rise of the House of Toucan(Blog) (Forum)Disclaimer
RatingRating explanation
TDestruction of your childhood memories. Bird on squirrel violence.
"Sam?"

A bird with a brightly colored beak sits brooding among the branches of the World Tree. He does not look happy.

"Hello, Ratatosk."

A squirrel scampers down from the higher branches and stops beside him. He notices that whatever the bird is looking at, it seems to be an infinity away. “Sam?” he asks.

The bird cocks an eye his way only slightly, and greets the squirrel without enthusiasm, “Hello, Ratatosk.”

“What are you doing here?” Ratatosk asked, moving from side to side a couple of times. Sam just looked at him. “Odin wants to know.”

“Odin?” gruffed the bird. “Since when does Odin take notice of any bird besides his ravens?”

Ratatosk scurried to the underside of the limb, as if dodging something. A few moments later he poked his head back around, and looked anxiously at the higher limbs, his head jerking first to one side, then the other as he peered between the branches. Cautiously climbing back to the topside of the branch, he gave one more nervous glance upwards, then stepped a little closer to Sam. “Since the bird is from another pantheon,” scolded the squirrel. “Now I ask again, what are you doing here?”

"...all he can talk about are the Six Houses!"

Sam looked perturbed, and waved his wings towards the messenger. “Oh, quit twitching your tail, tree rat! We all have claim to the World Tree. I know it, you know it, and Odin certainly knows it.” Ratatosk looked horrified, and in a frenzy did a couple of laps around the branch. Sam ignored him as he settled back down on his haunches and resumed his watch into the abyss.

“At any rate, I just came here for some perspective.” Sam glanced at the squirrel who had stopped his scramble to look at him quizzically, then added, “And to get away from Xibalba’s blathering.” He craned his neck downwards and shouted into the abyss, “King of the underworld for millennia on end! And still all he can talk about are the Six Houses! Like they’re the only ones who live there! Get. a. clue!” screeched the bird.

Ratatosk gasped, and his eyes got big. “You live in the nether realms, Sam?”

Sam jerked his head back around to the squirrel. “Why is that so hard to believe?” he demanded.

Ratatosk deflated a little, and answered, “Well, it’s just that…that…”

“That what?” bellowed Sam, stepping closer.

“…That…you-you’re…a toucan,” finished the squirrel. Withering a little further under Sam’s gaze, he added weakly, “You just don’t see many brightly colored netherworlders, is all.” Ratatosk reflexively started scanning the lower branches of the World Tree, avoiding the bird’s gaze.

"I'm the great god Fallayershnozl!"

Sam was fuming. “And why not?” he screamed. “Do you know who I am? I’m the great god Fallayershnozl! I'm the Pied Piper of Morning! Children follow me blindly for the promised taste of something I never give them! There’s no cherry in those loops! No orange! No anything! They’re all the same flavor! But they love them! They love me! Then they beg their parents to buy them more! I say, ‘Follow my nose,’ and those kids will follow me anywhere! Anywhere!” Leaning from the branch, Sam screams again into the abyss, “Let’s see Xibalba do that!” As he straightened back up, his tailfeathers fell away, and the skin underneath was red.

“Uh, Sam…” started Ratatosk.

"I not only got humans to folllow me, I got other humans to help me!"

“Do you know how hard it is for someone from the nether realms to get humans to follow them?” interrupted Sam. “It’s near impossible!” he shouted, throwing his wings wide. As he did so, the feathers at his wingtips flew outwards, leaving more red skin underneath. “I not only got humans to follow me, I got other humans to help me! An advertising agency will sell their souls for a buck…and did,” he cooed. “The love of money really is the root of all evil, you know.” He rubbed his wings together, clearly savoring the memory, and more feathers fell from his wings, leaving bright red skin underneath.

Ratatosk laid his ears back a little, and took a few steps backwards. Sam continued to rant.

"Is that good enough for Xibalba though? Noooo!"

“Is that good enough for Xibalba though? Noooo! ‘That’s not the way we do things, Sam.’” More feathers fell away.

“‘That’s too commercial, Sam.’” Great tufts fell away, and nothing but bright red skin underneath.

“‘We already have Six Houses, Sam.’” The toucan began to grow as he ranted, towering over Ratatosk like the World Tree itself.

“‘You’re just a toucan, Sam!’” A second pair of eyes appeared just over his first pair, and they started glowing with yellow energy.

"Where are you going, tree rat?"

“Well? I’m not ‘just a toucan’ anymore, AM I?” he bellowed, shaking the boughs of the World Tree with his thunderous voice.

“Today is the start of Toucan House! Today marks the beginning of the time of Toucan! Beware, Xibalba! BEWARE THE POWER OF TOUCAN THE TERRIBLE!” The giant red toucan roared with laughter, and his top pair of eyes smoldered with energy.

Ratatosk scampered backwards as quick as he could, and started to climb the World Tree. Toucan the Terrible spotted him, and his voice echoed, “Where are you going, tree rat?” His top eyes glowed brightly, and then energy beams lanced outwards and reduced the squirrel to a pile of ash.

The ash pile smoldered for a few seconds, then shifted slightly, and Ratatosk rose again from his own demise, shaking the remaining ashes from his fur. “You know, that’s not very nice,” he said to the giant toucan.

"Scamper back to Odin and tell him..."

Toucan the Terrible smiled cruelly and chuckled fearsomely. “Be glad I have use for you, Messenger. Scamper back to Odin and tell him to mind his own pantheon, and Toucan the Terrible will mind his. Tell him to hope that I do not decide I want another pantheon as well. Now begone.”

Ratatosk looked on his former friend Sam in horror. Then he bolted up the trunk of the World Tree, tail twitching the entire way.

Toucan the Terrible laughed, and laughed, and laughed.

Please let me know what you think, and thanks! -cbOriginally Presented In: CCC #27.
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Peppy: The Bunny From Beyond!

RANKED 3rd BY VOTERS IN CHARACTER CREATION CONTEST #22!

DateIssueTitleViewRead the...
04/21/15CB 1-ShotsPeppy: The Bunny From Beyond!(Blog) (Forum)Disclaimer
RatingRating explanation
TAllusions to bunny sex. Child endangerment. Blasters. Brawling. Lawnmower on bunny violence.

The name's Peppy, and I'm a space bunny. How's that happen, you ask? It's like this: I died in a horrible lawnmower accident, and... and... and there were ears and fur everywhere... everywhere! It was... h-horrible. Brr. But Little Jimmy didn't know that. What Little Jimmy's parents told him was that I went to Heaven, only they explained it as "a magical place in the sky."

It turns out a little boy's belief is a powerful thing. So powerful in fact, that I was resurrected and found myself in "a magical place in the sky" - space. The only thing it doesn't have is Jimmy, and I miss Jimmy. I fear I've seen the last of him, but I hope to get back to him someday.

In the meantime, there's space. This sector of it is called Hog Heaven. Yeah, I was expecting "Hare Heaven" too, but it turns out there's all kinds of animals here, and if you don't think it's magical, then you've obviously never been here.

Where else can a rabbit live side-by-side with predators and be free from petty peddlers trying to take my feet for keychains? Where else can I become hero to a planet full of green, amazonian jackrabbits with ears that go on for days? Where else is it possible that they didn't realize that the giant, monster carrots that were terrorizing them would taste so good?

Contrary to what my resurrection might tell you, I am in rabbit heaven, because I have been in carrots and cosmic cottontail ever since! Yep, I've still got my feet, and all of 'em are lucky, if you get the way my whiskers waggle. On a planet of alien angora, I am the Angoran's chief consort, and I just keep going, and going, and... <sigh> let's just say that pink fella with the drum has nothing on me. The afterlife is good! Six months and seven hundred twenty Angoran Amazons later, I've got eight thousand six hundred forty mouths to feed, and with no predators in sight, that number's only gonna grow, because... well... I am a rabbit. Don't judge me.

Still, even in the afterlife, it can't be the bunny hop all the time. Fortunately, the biggest business in space is import/export, and the biggest export from Angora are the "Halfbreed Hares of Hog Heaven!" So my problem is also my solution... and okayjudgemealittle. Moving on...

***

...I was on a delivery run in the Aluminum Falcon with my partner- a teacup terrier named Chewtoy. We had a dozen litters of Halfbreeds with us, a couple of stray cats named Bandit and Princess, and a resourceful robot hedgehog named Koosh. We had an android goldfish named Deep-CPO with us too, but frankly, he was annoying, so we used him for spare parts for the Falcon.

Unfortunately, one of the parts we needed was a voice response unit, so we were stuck with his annoying, know-it-all chatter, and he still sounded like he was underwater. Guess what I was planning to buy first, after we got paid for that delivery? Deep-C' could tell you with a ninety-nine-point-four percent probability of being right, as he'd tell you every chance you gave him. At the time, the danged thing was chuckling, and combined with that underwater burble of his, it was really a quite disturbing sound. "What's so funny, fish brain?"

"Oh my, sir, I was just considering the irony- I've gone from circling the fishbowl to swimming the ocean of space. An android fish out of water, as it were. A little fish in a much bigger pond. A..."

"Shut up!" I broke in. "I'm sorry I asked."

"No need to apologize, sir. I know I can go on a bit at times, but I shall endeavor to..."

"Shut up!" I interrupted. "Shut up! Shut. up! Shut! Up!"

"Well! There's no need to be rude, s..."

"Shutupshutupshutuuuuup!" I gasped. I slumped in my chair and my ears drooped a little. "Stupid koi-toy," I muttered.

"I heard that, sir."

"Good!"

While I was arguing with the bane of my existence, Bandit and Princess were playing a game with Chewtoy. It wasn't so much a "game," as Chewtoy would try to be fierce and intimidating to them (they were cats, after all) and they'd boredly bat him away like the mouse that he almost is.

"Hey!" I shouted. "Let the teacup win!"

Bandit, a Siamese, looked at me with disdain. "You're kidding, right?"

My ears perked a bit as I looked at him very seriously and said, "Let. the teacup. win. He takes it personally."

The other cat, a short-haired, light colored calico, scoffed. "You know that's just Napoleon syndrome, right? You let him get away with that?"

"Hey, Princess, my ship, my rules. You don't like it, you're free to get out and walk."

Chewtoy gruffed indignantly at the two cats, who growled in return. "Chewie! Playtime's over. We're there." I turned towards the viewport, took in the magnificent floating city that the Falcon was closing in on, and announced, "Cloud Nine."

***

Cloud Nine

We were exiting the docking bay where workers were unloading the Halfbreeds, when we heard, "Peppy! You old scoundrel! Where have you been keeping yourself?" Flanked by guards, the leader of Cloud Nine slithered towards us.

My whiskers twitched as I shook my head and said, "Boa Calrissian, you slimy snake! How are you?" I hugged the snake warmly.

He coiled around me once and squeezed just a little too tight. "You brought my snacks, right?"

"Sure I did. Eat all you want, I'll make more." Okayjudgemealot. "What do they taste like, anyway? Chicken?"

"It doesn't matter. I swallow them whole anyway," hissed Boa. He slackened his coil and withdrew. Then he flicked his tongue contemplatively a few times, before adding, "What's a chicken?"

"Chewtoy on bath night," I quipped. Chewie whined slightly, then wuffed his perturbance.

Boa swayed his head towards my teacup partner and said with a smile, "I might have to try that sometime." His tongue flicked Chewie's way, almost brushing my partner's nose.

Chewie went into a yapping fit, and Princess stepped up with a scowl and yelled, "Hey! You leave him alone!"

Boa coiled himself reflexively and swayed a bit as he looked at Princess and Bandit. "Oh look," he said, "Chinese takeout." Princess hissed, Bandit let out a low growl, and Boa just smiled as he uncoiled and started slithering back the way he came. "Come on, Peppy, let's go get your money."

I cocked my head over my shoulder, one ear cocked back with it, the other lazing over my forehead, and said, "Don't get lost you three, but...y'know...get lost." I waved over my shoulder and followed after Boa.

***

Once Boa and I had worked out the credits for the sale of the Halfbreeds, I contacted Chewtoy, Princess and Bandit, and told them to meet us back at the docking bay. Boa and I were halfway there when we were met by a large fish in black armor and a black helmet that kept him breathing when he was out of the water. "Dolph' Vader!" gasped Boa.

The dolphin inside the armor chittered madly, but it was translated by the helmet, "Why do you act surprised, Calrissian? I've come for Peppy, as we agreed."

"As you what now?" I asked, looking at Boa.

The snake's tongue flicked nervously, and he looked at me and hissed, "Sorry, Peppy. It was you or Cloud Nine. I've got a lot of animals to look after up here." I wasn't happy, but I couldn't really be mad.

"Peppy, for crimes against the Animal Empire, I'm taking you into custody," declared Dolph' Vader. "Take him." On his command, a small flock of white birds in armor surrounded me for the escort back to the docking bay.

"Hey, what is this?" asked Boa. "This was to be done quietly. No troop presence. That was the deal."

"I do what needs to be done," said the helmet, as the dark lord of the fish chittered inside it. "Or perhaps I need to leave some troops here, to oversee operations?"

Boa undulated from side-to-side uncomfortably, but dropped his head slightly as he replied, "I can see you've done what you had to."

"Good," replied Dolph'. "Bring him." The birds marched in unison as we headed to the docking bay, their talons making an odd click on the hard tiles of the floor.

***

When we reached the docking bay, we were met by Chewtoy. Chewtoy growled as menacingly as a teacup can. "Chewie, no!" I called. "Just get back to the ship." He growled again. "Now, Chewie!"

Just then, Princess and Bandit exited the ship. Bandit took one look at us and back arched, said, "Are those...?"

Princess smiled, bared her teeth, and finished his sentence, "...Storktroopers! We've got this!" And with that they bounded across the room at the flock of armored birds.

Behind them, Chewie growled again, his high pitched little teacup voice getting deeper, and deeper still as he shuddered and grew, until his body and his growl was that of a bear. He charged my captors. I smiled and looked at the fish lord, "That's my partner."

It was a short fight. Once Chewie and the strays had the Storktroopers on the ropes, Boa and his officers joined in the fight, and Dolph' Vader and his remaining troops retreated.

Boa was squeezing one last trooper until their armor cracked, and then he dropped them to the floor. He swayed a bit with excitement, and then looking at me, his tongue flicked and he said, "We should talk." Without another word, he started slithering for the docking bay door, headed back to his office.

My ears had been drooping forward a bit, since the fighting died down. When the snake spoke to me, they perked up again. I gritted my teeth and said, "I should think so," and I headed after him.

***

I slammed my blaster on Boa's desk and seethed, "Start talking...pal."

Boa quickly circled the trunk of a small tree rooted behind his desk, and settled calmly into it's lowest branches, "Oh calm down, Peppy. I did what was best for my city and you know it. I could see it in your eyes when we were with Vader."

My ears flattened against the back of my head as I glowered at Boa, but then I nodded. "Fine. What did you have to say then?"

Boa's head tilted to one side as his tail pushed a few buttons to bring up some images on the surface of the desk. "I looked into your problem, since I figured you wouldn't actually be going with Dolph' Vader." He smiled, and I narrowed my eyes at him again, warning him not to push my patience.

His head bobbed again. "It's Jimmy. Something's come up."

All the anger left me. "What? Jimmy? You've kept track?" I was dumbfounded.

"Hey, we're friends, right? I've had my sources looking for any possible way to get you back with Jimmy. We may have found one."

I looked at the snake with a new respect, but I was still shocked. "H-how? You know the story: 'ears and fur everywhere.' How could I go back?"

Boa smiled, and his head extended out from the tree a bit, face level with mine. "He's developing an imaginary friend; a superhero. You could be the spirit and personality of that friend. You're perfectly suited for it." He smiled.

The Aluminum Falcon

"A superhero? Me? What's the name?" I asked.

Boa's tongue flicked. "You're not going to believe it." He told me. He was right, I couldn't believe it. "You interested?"

I nodded. I was stunned by it. Jimmy. I was going back to Texas again. I was going to see Jimmy again.

***

Just like that, I was back, and The Aluminum Falcon was born. Jimmy and I made the most of it, and our adventures were legend. All I can say is thank goodness for little boys.

I did miss Hog Heaven though. Nice thing about being an imaginary friend- I can go back anytime I want. Jimmy has another adventure planned though, so...not just yet.

Please let me know what you think, and thanks! -cbOriginally Presented In: CCC #22.

Really hope you folks enjoyed it. I had fun with this one. :)

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Solomon Seal #2: I Knew I Was Gonna Miss Her

DateIssueTitleViewRead the...
04/18/15Solomon Seal #2I Knew I Was Gonna Miss Her(Blog) (Forum)Disclaimer
RatingRating explanationLast Issue:
TMild swearing. Allusions to sex. Violence- vampire and gun.The Octopus in My Office

I stood in the doorway of the lab, both horrified and crestfallen at what I was seeing. Doctor Madsen was splayed across a table with no heed of the test tubes, beakers or other equipment that were standing on it before she was tossed there. There was no blood. Just a bruised wound at his neck, and a pained look locked on his face. Behind that table, Doctor Vozot had Doctor Williams bent backwards over a counter, pulling his head to one side with one hand, wrenching his arm behind him with the other. Williams flailed less and less as Vozot drained the blood from his neck.

Clearly, Jeanine had been here. "Damn," I said quietly. I had managed to hide them for six months since she found out I had doctors trying to crack the problem of vampirism. How the hell had she found this place?

I about jumped out of my hat and trenchcoat when I heard, "I bet you're wondering how I found this place."

Holy hell! Jeanine!

"Relax, Seal, I've eaten already," she smirked. "I've known where they were for six months."

I couldn't keep my thoughts off of my face. Surprise that she had kept that fact from me. Upset that I hadn't been as good at hiding them as I had thought. Surprise that she hadn't killed them six months ago. Confused about why she had waited until now to do so. I just looked at her, with all of this playing out on my face.

"Hellooo?" she said, pointing both hands at her face. "Ancient, powerful vampire here? Can turn to mist and follow you anywhere, sneakier than the sneakiest ninja? Can track one smell in a million? Especially blood?"

My face was now clearly showing that I knew how much of a fool I had been to think that I could fool her. I have these same abilities. I really should have known.

"By the way," Jeanine added. "Don't think I don't know it was Hudson that shot me. I know his smell too. Him, you, Tito." She smirked again at his nickname. "Relatives have scent markers just as telling as DNA. I knew he was the shooter as soon as I went out the window."

I knew how to track through smell, but I didn't know that about the scent markers. I had never paid it much atten...

"You're lucky I didn't kill him," Jeanine said, interrupting my thoughts. She fixed me with a dangerous look.

I looked at her for a long couple of seconds before drawing in a breath and nodding in acknowledgment. "Why didn't you?"

Jeanine shoved me against the doorframe, the noise of which drew the vampire doctor's attention. He looked our way hungrily, but Jeanine held up an index finger in a halting motion and told him, "Stay." The doctor obeyed. Turning back to me, she said, "The same reason I only turned you instead of killing you, you dope! I like you!"

Tilting a thumb in the doctor's direction, I said, "That why you turned him too?"

Jeanine grabbed my face in one hand and squeezed it into a fish-faced look to quiet me. "I like you, Solomon, but don't test my patience when I'm angry."

Still fish-faced, I twitched my eyebrows and managed, "O-hay." She let me go, and I flexed my newly freed jaw, rubbing it slightly on one side.

Her own jaw jutted from side to side as she glowered at me. She looked at Doctor Vozot, and the anger turned to a smile. She said, "He is quite..." she looked him up and down, then back at me to waggle her eyebrows and say, "...vigorous." I just looked at her. When she got no more reaction than that, she said, "You were right though. He is highly motivated to study vampirism and figure it out." The mischievous twinkling returning to her eye, she said, "Science is a real turn on for him." Her shoulders swayed like a satisfied puppy wagging its tail, as she looked off towards the ceiling, unconsciously tonguing the tip of her canines while she savored a memory.

"Is that always how you do it?" I asked, recalling how she'd turned me. I may have sounded a tiny bit jealous.

"Why, Solomon," she purred. "You sound a tiny bit jealous." She smiled. "There's no reason I can't scratch two itches at once. I mean, be honest...it's quite a way to go, isn't it?"

Hell yes it was.

"That's not what happened here though," she said. I tilted my head in surprise. "I very rarely turn someone, Sol'. That can get messy. I prefer to eat and move on."

I glanced at the doctor, "Then...how?"

"Well, if I didn't do it, and you didn't do it," she said, waiting for me to find the answer.

"Another vampire?" I asked, looking at her with confusion.

"I did it," said Vozot.

I looked at the doctor, dumbfounded and still a little confused as I grasped to reconcile this new information. I looked at Jeanine, who just crossed her arms and looked at me, waiting. I looked back at the doctor, and simply asked, "How?"

"The blood samples you gave us," he said, and what color my face held drained away. "They could only get us so far on the microscope slides. The best way to study it was in a live host. So I injected myself. I honestly didn't expect it to make me so hungry though. You seemed to have it under control."

"I have a food source!" I said as if talking to an idiot.

He chuckled as he looked at the discarded body of Doctor Madsen thrown over the table. "Well, so did I. I just couldn't control that constant craving," he said with a shrug. "How do you do that? How do you not jump every normal person you run across? They smell...so...good," he said, clearly a little overcome with the thought.

I looked at him numbly, disgusted at what I had inadvertently created; horrified that this could have easily been me when I turned, if not for Jeanine. I looked at her as if looking to a life preserver. Arms still crossed, she just raised her eyebrows at me, her look expectant.

I threw my hands up in front of me and answered her, "Yeah, okay Jeanine. I get it. You were right."

She smiled.

I pulled my gun from its holster, released the clip, dropped it in one pocket, and pulled a special clip from another.

Jeanine's neck recoiled backwards in reflex. "Ew! Those smell disgusting! What are you doing with those?"

"It's my mess, Jeanine. I'll clean it up," I said flatly.

Now it was her turn to look confused.

I just looked at her with resignation, then turned to Doctor Vozot and fired. The white phosphorous bullet ignited on impact, destroying him with immolation. His screams were brief, his destruction total, leaving behind only a little pile of ash. I looked back at Jeanine after a few moments. "Satisfied?"

"Interesting that you have those," she said. We looked at each other for a long few seconds without saying anything else. "Take care of the others too. Zombies are a pain in the rear." She turned to mist and as she drifted away, her disembodied voice added, "I'll see you at the office in the morning."

I watched her mist drift away. I couldn't decide if I was becoming more horrified by Jeanine Fairchild, or more attracted to her. Either option gave me a dread feeling of panic deep in what was left of my soul.

I fired a bullet into Williams' body, and he burst into flames with an audible wuff. He sizzled and popped in the crackling flames, and it took less than a minute for his body to be reduced to ash.

I knew I was gonna miss her. This was purely a business decision.

I paused when I turned to Doctor Madsen's body. She was a truly compassionate woman, and that's what motivated her desire to help find a cure for vampirism. If I weren't undead, I might have...well. It would almost be worth letting her come back as a zombie just to tell her that. Or to apologize. Jeanine just wanted me to dispose of her and show up at the office tomorrow to go back to business as normal. As if anything about us is normal.

Still, she's not wrong. Creepy business decisions like this are part of what we do; part of the cost of being vampires. I stood there quietly, looking at Madsen's face. What a damned waste. I pulled the trigger anyway, and she ignited as easily as Williams. I watched her burn, and just shook my head. I knew I was gonna miss her. This was purely a business decision. If I told myself that enough, maybe I'd believe it. God help me if I did.

Please let me know what you think, and thanks! -cbOriginally Presented In: CCC #36.
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