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#13510177 Nov 02, 2017 at 08:27 PM · Edited 5 days ago
23 Posts
A steady rhythm of blows echoes in the halls of the dojo. It’s 7PM on a Friday, and Kathryn Floyd has nowhere to be. Long after all the other students have left, she’s still practicing, driven by the kind of yearning only 16 years of fear and resentment can forge. She takes a break from landing her kicks on the sandbag, brushing the red hair out of the way of her eyes and readjusting her hair ties. As she gets back to punishing the sandbag, Santo Barrerra, master of the dojo, enters through the screen doors. Sliding them shut gently, he crouches nearby Kate and her practice.

Barrerra, dressed in a simple keikogi, looks to the ground, sighing. “Kate, we should talk.”

“I don’t think there’s much to talk about, Sensei.” Kate replies without even bothering to glance at her teacher.

“You’ve been practicing for about 5 hours, Kate. You really should take a break.” Barrerra gets up and holds the sandbag steady. “I can’t imagine how achy you’re going to be tomorrow.”

“Well, I’m not tired yet.” With a wipe of her brow, Kate throws in a full-force haymaker that sends Barrerra stumbling back a couple feet. He steadies himself from the recoil as Kate lands a following heel-kick, impacting the bag with enough force to rip it from its chains. The sandbag, now torn open, spills its contents onto the tatami mat below. Kate’s eyes widen as she blushes. “Oh god. I’m so sorry, I can clean that up.”

Barrerra chuckles. “I’ll be honest, I was a bit more concerned about the sandbag than about you.” As Kate heads for the hallway to get a broom, Barrerra continues. “You’ve been training at this dojo for nearly a decade now. You know everything that I have to teach you about Vibora Camesi.”

Kate, now at work sweeping up the sand, scoffs. “Sensei, you’re a hero. You are Redsnake. You face-off against Shamballah Vampires and the New Shadows. You fight to make a difference in this city!”

Barrerra crosses his arms. “Well, right now, I’m just your teacher. I’m afraid, for your own sake, I can’t show you anything you’d be able to actually use to fight the kind of monsters in Vibora Bay.”

Kate’s sweeping gets more intense. “Why’s that? You just said I know everything about your fighting style, so what do you have that I lack?”

Barrerra sighs. “It’s not about inability at all, Kate. I don’t want to be responsible for you getting hurt.”
Finishing up her cleaning, Kate rests the broom against a wall, turning her head towards Barrerra, smirking. “I took responsibility for my life ages ago, Mr. Barrerra.” She strides towards him, her arms stretched out. “You know full well who I was when you saved me way back when I was 6 years old. Do you think I haven’t changed since then?”

Barrerra recalls that day when he saved Kate and her brother, Zach, from an attack by the Dogz. Even back then, the gang had experimented heavily with the powers of Lycanthropy, and were planning to use them as subjects for sacrifice. He shudders, remembering the cage that the two had been locked in. “Kate, there are people who care about you-”

She raises her voice, moving closer to her sensei. “I already know all that!” Leaning in, she’s well within arm’s reach of Barrerra. He doesn’t even flinch. “Do you know what being a captive like that does to someone? I don’t know what you think of me or what you think I’m worth to other people or whatever. I take responsibility for my own safety. My own life. I thought training with you this long would’ve proven that, but I mean- what else would I use all those skills for? I want to make Vibora Bay safe again.” Kate takes a deep breath. “And I know I’m going to be in danger doing that. Please, understand that I’m ready for that risk.”

“Kate,” Barrerra places a hand steadily on her shoulder, “Being a hero is a lot more than taking responsibility for yourself. If that was all it was about, there wouldn’t have been a reason to try and find you.”

Kate’s face goes pale.

Barrerra continues quickly. “Listen, you have your own perspective of what happened that night. What about what it must’ve been like to be your parents? Making the call to search for you when you had gone missing? When people need to be rescued, that’s when responsibility falls upon a hero. For other people.”

As Barrerra lifts his hand from her shoulder, Kate nods. “I understand.”

Barrerra picks up the broom and dustpan that Kate had left behind, as she stands lost in thought. Barrerra heads for the door, turning back as he opens it. “You have everything you need to keep yourself safe, Kate. That’s all I can offer you.”

“Sensei,” Kate turns to face Barrerra, who pauses. “What was it like to rescue me?”

Barrerra sighs, leaving the broom right outside the door as he shuts it. He sits next to the door, as Kate walks towards him. “Well… It was frightening. I-” he chuckles a bit. “I actually had never had to do a rescue on someone so young before that. It really was more of the kind of job that someone like Black Mask or Juryrig would’ve pulled off.”
Kate takes a seat next to Barrerra. “I’m guessing the stakes were high?”

“They always are with children. My job as Redsnake requires me to be ready, at a moment’s notice, to bear that bad news if I actually fail.”

“You don’t usually handle things like that anymore, I’m guessing.”

Barrerra laughs. “Kate, I see just how well you turned out. Not just as a pupil, but as a person. Of course, I don’t go out of my way to do rescue missions, but if the task fell to me? I’d be that much more ready for it. The reward is more than worth it.”

Kate blushes a bit. An awkward silence settles in as Barrerra sighs. Then Kate asks, “What do you usually do while you’re in uniform anyways?”

“Well,” Barrerra clears his throat. “My specialty is intelligence for other heroes. Infiltration of gang dens, stealth, sometimes precision take-downs of key perpetrators.” Kate nods as she hears the items listed off. Barrerra looks back before he regains his composure. “Kate, make no mistake, these are all still situations that require you to consider the consequences for other people.”

“Sensei, nothing I’ve heard from you so far has made me reconsider trying to be a hero.” Barrerra shakes his head and sighs, but before he can make a counter-argument, Kate leans forward and looks at Barrerra straight in the eyes. “I get how much I must mean to you, all you had to go through to keep me safe for all these years.”

Barrerra interjects. “You have enough spirit to succeed in anything else-”

“But I am ready.” Kate interrupts before her master can finish. “And I know you have the experience as a hero to tell me where to go from here.”

Exasperated, Barrera gently pushes Kate aside as he stands up. “Heroism isn’t something that anyone can do.”
Kate quickly gets up too. “I know it’s something that I can.” She stands directly across from Barrera. “Please. This is what I’m devoting my life to.”

A hand on his forehead, Barrera sighs. After a moment, he straightens out. “Alright.” His reply is clear and deliberate.
Kate beams as she embraces Barrera. “Hey! Easy there.” Barrera shouts as he’s startled by the hug. “We’ll take this slow.” Kate releases Barrera, tears welling up in her eyes. “Calm down there, Kate.”

“Thank you” Kate quietly croaks out.

Barrera smiles. “We’ll get you started tomorrow, ok? And it won’t be anything like what I usually teach you in the dojo. This will be development of moral code, and valuable lessons on what it takes to survive as a hero in this business.”
#13510180 Nov 02, 2017 at 08:29 PM
23 Posts
Kate walks out of the dojo in the midday sun, still giddy about the ordeal. Her sensei has just given her a first test: to visit 5 different people and to determine, by a short interview, whether they are trustworthy or not. On the list are 5 names and aliases:

• Valerian Scarlet
• Dr. Ka
• Caliburn
• Papa Perrault
• Black Mask

Included are the addresses at which Kate is supposed to meet each of the people. Aside from Black Mask, most of these names are a mystery. As Kate heads down the misty streets of Easton docks, her mind rushes, wondering to herself what she’ll make of these people? Where to start with them? Will she make the right decisions when judging them? This wasn’t even considering everything else she had going on in her life, including her college assignments, which were beginning to snowball up. So usual of her, committing to way too much when she doesn’t have the time. She decides to collect herself at Windsong, the local mall of Vibora Bay, and meet up with her friend to discuss what to do.

Kate stops by the Vibora Bay Cafe, the mall’s local coffee shop, to meet up with Vasuda. Kate had known her for four years so far, since she had moved into town after some extended adventures in Arizona. She never struck Kate as the kind of person who would find themselves stranded in a desert, but even during the short window that Kate has known her, Vasuda was always full of surprises. As Kate walks through the door, Vasuda quickly catches a glimpse of her and greets her with a wave. “I’m just finishing up some last orders and we can talk!” she states quietly. Kate nods and takes a seat.

Kate was confident that Vasuda would have an idea on where to start with this task. As far as she knew, Vasuda had been approached by several different heroes in Vibora Bay about the skills that she had, including this ‘Caliburn’ that Kate hadn’t met yet. Considering that, even after those meetings, Vasuda had remained as friendly and docile as ever, Kate suspected she was either very good at hiding whatever this gift was, or that nothing really had come of it.

Vasuda hangs her apron up behind the counter as she paces towards Kate, taking a seat across from her. “How have you been doing? You don’t usually come this early on Saturdays!”

Kate scratches her head. “Yeah, it’s actually a little important. I’ve been speaking with my sensei about some things.”
Vasuda’s smile fades slowly as she listens. “Is Redsnake asking for me again?”

Kate’s brow furrows. “It’s not exactly related to that, but why are so many heroes interested in you anyways?”

Vasuda groans, looks out the window.

“Sorry.” Kate apologizes meekly. “If it’s confidential, I understand.”

“No, it’s fine.” Vasuda replies quietly, still not making eye contact with Kate. “Vibora Bay heroes have interest in my talents.”

“I know you’re a good archer, Vee” Kate says reassuringly. “I can see why you wouldn’t want to put yourself out there, though. It’s dangerous.”

“It’s more than that, Kate…” Vasuda’s voice gets quieter still. She leans in. “Did I never tell you? It’s because I have psionic abilities they say.”

Kate’s eyes widen, but then she nods. It made sense to her, she remembers in her stories about how she had managed to gain the favor of wildlife during her time in the desert. That probably explains how she could get so many wolves and coyotes to help her out there, Kate thought to herself.

Vasuda leans back. “But what does Redsnake want with you, Kate?”

“It’s more about what I want actually. So, I convinced him to try and train me to become a hero, and he sent me to visit some different people.” Kate takes out the slip of paper that lists the five names.

“Ooh!” Vasuda scans over it, grinning slightly. “Did you find out you have some sort of powers, too?”

“Just determination and experience, Vee” Kate responds blankly. “Any of those names stick out to you?”

Vasuda rubs her chin as she scans over the piece of paper. “Not really, sorry.” Vasuda replies meekly as she hands the paper back. “There’s not much to say about Black Mask, obviously. I was supposed to meet Caliburn at one point, but when I began saying I wasn’t interested in fighting, I think he lost interest. I didn’t get any follow-ups after that.”

Kate sighs as she takes back the list. “I see.”

“What’s Redsnake want you to do with them anyways?”

Kate shrugs. “I’m supposed to meet each of them for an interview. From what I witness, I’m supposed to determine if they’re trustworthy or not. I’m guessing it’s kind of a split-second judgment sort of deal.”

Vasuda chuckles and raises her hands. “Totally not my strong-suit. I will say, though, I’m pretty sure Caliburn is a pretty big deal. He might give you the most help on where to go from here, considering he wanted to meet me.”

Kate smiles. “Thanks, Vee. That’s exactly what I need. A good starting point.”

“Glad I could help!” Vasuda chirps as she stands up. “You sure you don’t need something for the road?” She starts heading back behind the counter. A couple of the other baristas give Vasuda a dirty look when she says this.
Kate rises as well, holding up a hand. “I think I’m ok. You’ve already given me enough drinks on the house.” She gestures her head towards the onlooking baristas.

Vasuda looks over and meets eyes with her co-workers. “Oh, uh, right. Back to work then!”

Smirking, Kate leaves Windsong and heads out on the streets towards Caliburn’s place – an unnoteworthy brownstone in upper Easton.
#13510186 Nov 02, 2017 at 08:33 PM
23 Posts
This was the right room number, right address, right everything – an apartment hall dimly lit with beige incandescence, drenched in the odors of cigarette smoke and a hint of alcohol. Kate gingerly knocks on the door of room 323. No response. A second rap of the door, and finally, from behind the door, a groaning man’s voice responds: “It’s Saturday. What’dya want?”

Taken aback, Kate stammers out her request. “Mister Caliburn? I’d like to speak with you.”

She hears the voice bemusedly mutter to himself. “Oh, right, it was today. Damn.” The door swings open to reveal a middle-aged man, clad in undershirt and pajama pants, cradling an achy head. With a grizzled face and graying hair, his disheveled state is contrasted by a svelte, built body. “You’re Kathryn, right?”

“Uh, yeah.” Kate frowns “I prefer Kate, though.” This was the person that had taken interest in her friend? Was this guy really a hero?

“Alright, come in.”

The stench gets worse as Kate passes through the doorway. The condo is furnished with various bits of furniture from the last 2 centuries, much of it either caked in uneven quantities of dust, ash, or indeterminate stains. Loose clothes haphazardly lie in various piles, strewn either on the floor, or sometimes draped over the handles of the sofa or the back of the various chairs. One article that stands out to Kate, however, is the relatively clean, green trenchcoat hung up on an ornate coat rack to her right.

Caliburn strolls into the kitchen to grab himself a glass of water. “I don’t know why people keep sending ‘em to me”, he mutters quietly to himself. He emerges back to the living room past Kate, and sits down in an old leather chair. “Any seat’s fine.”

Kate meekly grins as she slowly walks in. She ends up picking the one chair that wasn’t occupied by clothing or suspicious messes, a small blue folding chair. By now, Caliburn has already finished his glass in one chug, as he clears his throat.

“So, Redsnake tells me you’re his finest pupil, huh?” Caliburn asks dismissively as he sets the empty glass down on the coffee table.

Kate blushes a little. “That’s not exactly what he calls me to my face”, she coughs, “but probably, more or less.”

Caliburn frowns. “I’ll tell you right now, Kate, that’s not going to be enough to survive as a hero in this town.” He crosses his arms as he reclines further in his seat. “Vibora Bay is one of the deadliest cities in the US. You might have noticed, Vibora Bay doesn’t exactly have as many heroes as a place like Millennium City or Roosevelt Bay. A lot of nobodies try, and most of them fail. I hope he didn’t just send you here so that you could hear it from more than just him.”

Kate sneers. “Well, that makes two of us” she remarks. “Frankly, Caliburn – Is that your name? – I’m not quite sure why I should take your word for it.” Kate gestures around the room. “This isn’t exactly the best first impression.”

Caliburn leans forward, holding his palms up in a placating gesture. “I get it, it doesn’t look good. But my job doesn’t exactly leave me a lot of time to make good first-impressions to people starting down this career path. I don’t exactly get a lot of visitors, you know.”

Kate scoffs as she leans back, looking at the coat in the corner of the room. “Yeah, go figure. You still haven’t told me what makes you so important – Redsnake certainly makes you out to be something.”

Caliburn rubs his forehead and sighs. “Kate, look.” He stares intensely at her. “What I do is both so cosmically important to the survival of not just this city, but perhaps the entirety of earth itself, that I really don’t have any time for your bullshit, alright? In fact, me just hinting to you about my significance is technically a breach of my code. You’re probably at an elevated risk of being hunted down just because you came here to talk to me today. Point is, there are a lot of people looking for me, and I frankly need to keep up an inconspicuous image.”

“Alright then,” Kate replies, half-laughing. At this point, she’s pretty convinced that Caliburn might be one of those conspiracy-theorist nutcases. “So, you literally can’t tell me anything about what you do to ‘keep the world in balance’ huh?”

Caliburn stands up slowly, heading for the kitchen. “No, but I can tell you plenty about who I am.” As he heads over, he raises his voice, opening the fridge. “Barrerra might’ve given you that slip of paper, but I’d appreciate it if you just called me Rob. Robert Cole. That’s my name.” He shuts the fridge, heading back to his seat with an iced coffee. “Most people in the public eye call me ‘The Magnum Mage’. You can probably figure out why.”

“Not really. Never heard that hero name before.”

Caliburn reaches beneath the coffee table and grabs something. Quickly raising it above, he slaps it on the table’s surface – a silver desert eagle, engraved with imagery of Excalibur on the side. Kate’s eyes widen at the sight of such a pristine weapon in this pigsty.

“I got a spellbook as well. Funny thing, that’s the real dangerous weapon I keep at my side.” He puts the gun back beneath the table. “The days of just patrolling and fighting gangs came to an end about the time when the Trey Kings began changing. Was clear that something more was going on with the city.”

“Trey Kings...” Kate mutters to herself. She vaguely remembered hearing the name on the news at times back when she was a kid. They seemed like a pretty standard gang from what she knew from back then, but where they had gone now, she didn’t know.

Caliburn takes a long sip of his drink before setting it down on the coffee table. “What exactly is your piece in this town anyways? Just why do you want to become a hero so bad?”

“The Dogz,” Kate states solemnly. “They tried to sacrifice me and my brother when I was young.”

Caliburn nods empathically “Makes sense.” His tone shifts as he looks directly towards Kate again. “But it takes a lot more than just a personal stake in the battle to be a hero. It’s not just colorful tights and flashy fights, Kate. It’s a sacrifice.” Caliburn sighs and lowers his head. “I gave up just about everything to sustain my job now – my identity, my friends… Hell, even my fiancé.”

Kate remains skeptical. “If that’s the case,” she asks, “How come heroes like Black Mask and Redsnake still have time to do things like assemble a dojo?”

Caliburn leans in towards Kate. “First of all,” he holds a finger aloft, “Black Mask actually uses several body-doubles to keep eyes and ears all around town. It’s not a one-woman act. Second, that Santo Barrerra you idolize so much? He’s got income to spare. He can afford to take extended vacations to train people to defend themselves so that he can feel better about himself. He isn’t really all that active.”

Kate shakes his head. “I’ve seen what it does to him. He is out for days at a time when he gets injured, he does his duty.”

“Even then, it’s not much of one.” Caliburn lifts his arms behind his head. “He’s just a tiny part of what makes Vibora Bay work, Kate. I kind of envy him, you know. All spotlight, and just a fraction of the work.” He smirks. “I’ve been fighting for years, ever since Vietnam. Got little to show for it.”

Kate stands up, breathing heavily. “Just who the hell do you think you are?”

Caliburn grins. “Already told you all I can, Katie.”

Kate’s fists are balled, she’s prepared to lay down a tirade on Rob, but she holds back. “No, I get it.” Her words are quiet, quivering with suppressed rage. “You’re a washed-up fogey, who blames our generation for everything wrong. You think I don’t deserve to know all these ‘secrets’ you think you’re keeping from me, like it’s supposed to protect me. Well, if you’re not going to help me – and especially if you’re going to badmouth my upbringing, and everything I went through to get here, I guess we have nothing left to talk about.”

Kate begins to storm towards the front door. Caliburn remains seated, reaching for his drink. “I’ll tell you one thing, I’m like Atlas. You don’t notice me until I’m gone.”

Still barely holding back her full rage, Kate slowly blasts out two last words as she opens the door. “Stop gloating.” The door slams as she exits.

Caliburn hisses as he reaches for his phone in his pocket. “Not gonna be making Redsnake proud with that one, Katie.”
#13510189 Nov 02, 2017 at 08:38 PM
23 Posts
Kate’s mood improves considerably as the day goes on. She meets with Black Mask in her hideout, sharing a more pleasant discussion about her family’s heritage of past Black Masks, and how she practically does her job without any powers. She meets up with Papa Perrault, deep in Upper Weston. Leery of the Voodoo Doctor’s practice, and her nostrils assaulted by the intoxicating scent of embalming fluids, she manages to keep an amicable relationship with the good doctor before gladly bidding him farewell. She meets up with Dr. Ka, not far from where she met up with Caliburn. Discussing the conduct of heroes over tea, Ka does his best to reassure that Caliburn really is all he says himself to be. Kate, seeing the glittering, almost curator-like collection that he had accrued, sees Ka as another hero that probably lives in the past. At the very least, he seems a more polite mentor than Caliburn ever was. Even with all the meetings going significantly smoother than with Caliburn, however, none of the others seemed interested in actually helping Kate – just to share their personal accounts, past experience, and various veiled warnings about the danger of Vibora Bay. Would Valerian Scarlet be any different?

To her surprise, the last contact for Kate to meet makes her home deep in New Shadows territory, inhabited by the vampires that lurk the city. As the sun sets, she finally makes her way to Valerian Scarlet’s address – a bustling night club, The Minefield. Already in the twilight, it seems like the nightlife of the area is revving up, as all manner of partiers, clad in various shades of lime green, maroon, and black, garishly queue up to enter the flashy venue. Kate queues up, still in her normal clothing. This isn’t the kind of scene she is familiar with at all, as she silently waits in line, avoiding all eye contact.

The thump of the bass is irritating, almost deafening, as Kate gets closer to the door. Soon, she approaches the bouncer of the club – to her shock, it appears to be some manner of devilish ram-man, a long snout, spiraling horns, and rectangular, inhuman pupils looking her over. The bestial appearance belies his distinctly civilized black vest, white shirt, and trousers, as he opens his mouth. “Can I see some I.D.?”

“I’m just here to see Valerian Scarlet” Kate responds sheepishly (no pun intended).

Crossing his arms, the bouncer shakes his head. “No I.D., no admittance.”

Kate sighs as she reaches into her pants pocket to get her wallet. Fidgeting, she wriggles out her driver’s license and hands it over to the bouncer, who scans over it with a discerning eye and small flashlight. The bouncer quickly spots the ‘Under 21’ annotation next to Kate’s portrait.

“Sorry kid, minors don’t get in.” The ram answers plainly as he hands the I.D. back.

“This is for an assignment,” Kate gets up on her tip-toes to get closer to eye level of the bouncer, desperation raising her voice. “How am I supposed to get in contact with Valerian Scarlet?”

The bouncer snorts. “You don’t.” He holds his arm out, pushing Kate back by her shoulder. “Ms. Scarlet only sees celebrities.”

Kate’s face flushes as she stares at the bouncer, at a loss for words. A tall woman with maroon hair in a miniskirt leans towards Kate. “Get out of here already, you’re holding up the line!”

Kate’s almost ready to punch someone, but holds back as she sees a slightly smaller, distinctly more human bouncer walk out of the front door, his hair dyed blue. “What’s the problem?” He asks the ram-man.

“We got a minor trying to get in, says she wants to meet the boss.”

“That’s not Kate, is it?”

The ram shrugs. “It’s a Kate?”

“Redsnake called up earlier about this, man.” The human bouncer turns his attention to Kate. “You were supposed to take the back-door, you know.” He gestures to the right.

“Sorry about that.” Kate scratches her head as she moves towards the other bouncer. The ram-man is quick to put a hand on Kate’s back, forcing her past him.

“Looks like it’s your lucky day,” The ram-man sneers through inhuman lips. “Keep close to Kevin and don’t start anything.”

Kate looks over her shoulder as she hurries along, keeping close to the bouncer who is apparently named Kevin. The music is even more deafening in the club than out. As she follows, Kate gives Kevin her hand as the two make their way through the bustling dance floor, strobing with neon lights as pallid goths convulse in time with the pulse of the EDM. Those momentary moments of darkness are probably hiding the fact that they are about as clueless at dancing as Kate is. The only consistent source of light comes from the lounge and bar at one side of the room, and the stage at the other, where a DJ wearing a raggedy top-hat spins turn-tables, glazed eyes hidden behind teashades as bored, coordinated fingers glide over the vinyls. Kate covers her ear with her free hand as she clings to Kevin’s hand, making her way through the cacophony.

Kate and Kevin leave the booming dancefloor behind them as they enter a much more steadily-lit back hall, furnished with crates. Kevin looks back with a friendly smile. “Not used to this sort of scene, huh?”

Kate chuckles nervously. “Yeah.” She winces a bit as ringing begins to set in to her ears. “It’s kind of loud for me.”
“Probably should’ve given you some earplugs” Kevin remarks calmly, letting Kate’s hand go. “You ok?”

“I’ll be fine!” Kate replies, half-shouting.

The two head up a ramp, leading to a pair of double doors. Kevin opens the way, revealing a small room with an oak desk, dimly lit with a single lamp. More crates, some filled with rare and ancient relics, stand in the corners of the room, as Valerian Scarlet, wearing a white hooded garb, rests in a 20th century office chair. She stares out a one-way window, overlooking the dance floor, before she hears the doors open and sees Kate enter. “Hello dear!” She stands up, striding over to Kate. “Redsnake has told me a lot about you. Make yourself comfortable.”

Kate walks in as Scarlet ushers her in with a sleeved arm behind her back. “Good luck!” Kevin hushedly shouts as he leaves the room, closing the door behind Kate.

Valerian pulls out a smaller, equally-old chair for Kate to take, and she takes her own seat across from her. “So, Redsnake tells me you want to become a hero in this town, hm?”

Kate nods. She feels a cough building up in her throat, but holds it back. The scent of perfume coming off of Valerian is almost unbearable.

Valerian leans back and reaches behind a box, suddenly whipping out a frosted pitcher of water which she places on the desk. “Doubtless, you’ve probably heard plenty of people telling you how dangerous that can be, right?”

“Yeah,” Kate quietly answers, clearing her throat, staring at the jug. “How did you-”

“Ah ah ah!” Valerian holds up a finger as she reaches underneath her desk to produce a tall, empty glass from seemingly nowhere. “Magicians never reveal their tricks.” She snaps, as the pitcher of water levitates and pours its chilled contents into the glass in front of Kate. Scarlet gestures to the glass.

Kate eagerly accepts the drink. She wipes her mouth, breathing clearer. “I’ve talked to a lot of heroes today, and you’re probably the first one to show off like that.”

Scarlet sniggers. “Well, I suppose I have a little more to prove.” She relaxes in her chair. “I’m not exactly what one would call a ‘hero’, but I certainly am open to helping you, you know.” She gestures out the window. “I use my talents to pursue more steady ventures, you see.”

Kate nods. “Entrepreneurship isn’t exactly my forte.”

“Well, here’s the thing.” Valerian starts pouring her own glass of water. “None of us really start out good at these sorts of jobs, whether it’s heroism or running your own club. We’re all shaped strongly by circumstance.”

Kate grins, reclining into her chair. This is probably some of the soundest wisdom she’s heard all day.

“I do kind of miss those days, working with the Magnum Mage.” She chuckles. “I guess I could say I was something of a Femme Fatale to his more straight-edge approach.”

Kate’s jaw drops a bit as she leans forward. “Wait, you know Caliburn?”

Scarlet chuckles. “That’s what he calls himself these days?” She levitates the pitcher of water out of view with her magic. “But yes, we used to be something of a pair. An on-again off-again relationship. Eventually, things just sort of petered out. He had his own business to attend to, and I mine.”

“Do you know what he does now?” Kate raises an eyebrow. “I talked with him earlier today, and he was pretty vague about the whole thing.” She hushes her voice as she leans in towards Valerian, “Also, do you know how he lives?” Kate shakes her head, scrunching her nose a bit as she asks her rhetorical question.
“I could probably tell you a couple of things he’s probably not savvy to tell you.” Scarlet sets her glass down, rubbing her finger around its rim fickly. “He decided to pursue a very important role, trying to become Archmage of the Trismegistus Council.”

“The… what?” Kate’s dumbfounded about the vocabulary that Valerian has just dumped on her head.

“Basically, he’s trying to become big boss of a group of mages dedicated to enforcing, and sometimes censoring, the usage of magic. The reason things are so strange in Vibora? It’s mainly because of their base here.” Valerian leans back as she picks up her glass by its base, and with a swift movement, causes it to vanish. “Draws in the wrong kinds of crowds, you know.”

Kate squints as she tilts her head. “So, you’re saying they’re responsible for all the monsters in Vibora Bay?”

Valerian holds up her hands. “Not directly, of course! They’re trying their best to keep things under covers. You didn’t hear it from me, but I’d say they’re probably doing more harm than good.”

Kate looks down in silence, thinking about the implications of this knowledge, wondering just how far-reaching this magical regime is actually reaching. She heard nothing about this kind of knowledge from Papa Perrault, nor from Dr. Ka – the kinds of people she’d suspect of being neck-deep in this sort of business. They seemed to be on the right side of these affairs, so what did they have to hide? And with Black Mask, a famous hero, descendant to a proud lineage of similar heroes - just how were they affected by the changes brought in by this council? Kate had shown plenty of desire to become a hero in the town, and yet nobody, still, has directly advocated that she actively become one.

Valerian leans in, her voice dropping any amicable tone in favor of solemn sternness. “There’s a war, Kate. It’s being waged between heaven and hell as we speak, and this is ground zero. The other heroes are going to tell you to escape. That no mortal can survive the kinds of armies that are building up right in our town. All the gangs you hear about? Even the ones from the past? They’re uniting.”

Kate thinks of her brother Zach. How he had decided to move to Texas to attend university. How sudden the departure was. How she remembers that he stated, Vibora’s hectic lifestyle just wasn’t for him. Kate’s eyes shut as her fists close. She was tired and ashamed that she couldn’t do anything to make her family feel safer.

“I feel that fire burning in your soul, Kate.” Valerian pauses, expecting a response. “Even if you might not understand, or even believe everything that’s going on, I can teach you. You have that determination to change Vibora Bay’s fate.” Valerian Scarlet grabs Kate’s empty glass, levitating it above her finger as it spins in place. “All you need is the power to enact it. Will you accept my guidance? I don’t think some Vibora Camesi is going to intimidate any villains soon, you know.”

Kate’s eyes open. She feels a lump in her gut at the dismissive statement Scarlet had, realizing she really didn’t see her experience as a factor. Doubt begins to grow. “I… don’t know” Kate hesitantly answers. “I need time to make my decision.”

Valerian balls her hand holding the glass up into a fist, and the glass shatters in a puff of red smoke. “I understand.” She stands up and slowly makes her way towards the window, looking back out over the dance floor. “It’s a lot to take in, lots of information to glean,” she trails melodically. “My methods are hardly conventional, but if you find yourself feeling lost, I’ll be waiting.”

Silence sets in between the two, permeated by the thump of the music below. Kate sighs as she collects herself, rising from her seat and pushing her chair in. “Thank you, Miss Scarlet.”

“Come back any time if you need help. You’re always welcome in my club.” Scarlet smiles, Kate gives her a gentle, awkward bow, as she makes her way back out of the club.
#13510191 Nov 02, 2017 at 08:41 PM
23 Posts
Kate slowly makes her way down the foggy, coastal street of Easton Docks. All of Valerian’s words echo through her mind, making her re-think what she thought of all the other people she had met that day. To an extent, she even thought of Redsnake, and how, even through the 8 years she had trained with him, he had never once hinted at such conspiracies. The relative quiet, save for the rolling waves of the gulf, left Kate alone in her head to wonder why she was being so closely sheltered from the true nature of this city.

But Kate knew, from all those years of hearing about Black Mask’s heroic deeds. How Juryrig often donated valuable scientific developments to the public domain. Heck, even how Redsnake went so far out of his way to rescue her and Zach. These were good people, reputable people. Was Valerian Scarlet wrong? Was she misleading Kate to capitalize on paranoia? She knew all too well the supernatural depths that gangs in the city were going to grab for personal power, but were they truly colluding? Kate had long considered herself an adult, despite only being 19 – she didn’t need protection from the dark truth. She’d need to face the facts, and confront someone about them, regardless of whatever they turned out to be.

Kate suddenly hears a whine from above, and she looks up. An antenna on the roof is bent at an unnatural angle. Strange, slithering noises come from her left, where an alleyway opens up into a shaded cove, shielded from the light of the lampposts. Kate turns around in the open street, seemingly alone still. But she knows there’s something coming. “Show yourself!” Kate instinctively cries out. But there is no answer. She blushes a bit, thinking about how silly it would’ve been if someone had heard her just blurt out such an accusatory statement.
She decides to continue walking, but before she can take a step, she feels a slimy tug on her ankle, sending her slamming down to the pavement. She scrambles to turn herself over, only to see some gibbering monster, a head adorned with nothing but rows of sharp teeth. Stretched across this vaguely humanoid monster and its tentacles is a pallid green hide, strapped down with black leather.

Her heart stops for a second before she springs into action, drawing up her free leg, tucking her knee beneath her chin as the monster drags her in. An inhuman roar erupts from the horror as she approaches arm’s reach, but before the monster can bite her, Kate suddenly bends her caught leg, drawing her body close to the body. She extends her free leg, swinging it down in a bone-shattering heel-kick straight into the monster’s toothy maw. The tendrils release Kate, as it nurses its face, several bloody shards of tooth lying in the cobblestones of the street.

Another monstrous figure, this time female, approaches from the dark alleyway as Kate regains her footing. With a bald, mangled face framed by unnatural horns, it speaks. “Your knowledge of the coming end of days will not go unpunished, girl. You must perish.” The woman points a wrist at Kate, as a chain erupts from its veins, threatening to shackle Kate. But Kate is ready as the chain wraps around her outheld forearm, as she gives it a yank. The woman stumbles forward as Kate raises her other arm to land a chop to the back of her head.

The mawed horror recovers, roaring as it makes a dive towards Kate. Wide-eyed, Kate barely sidesteps out of the way of its lunge as the woman rises back to her feet. “GET HER!” She shouts to the skies, as tens of other monsters, all wearing leather straps, their faces disfigured by odd tendrils, dive in from above. It’s time for Kate to run.

Kate rushes frantically down the streets, turning odd corners in an attempt to lose the monster mob. One smaller monster manages to nearly gain on her, its facial tentacles wriggling and flopping with saliva. Kate turns a corner, grabbing a lamp post, and pirouettes around its shaft as the monster rushes in to catch her. On the way around, Kate deals a drop-kick to the beast from behind, almost cleanly kicking it head off its neck with a crunch. Kate stumbles off of the lamppost, struggling to keep her lunch down as she beholds the distinctively killed monster on the ground. Before she can really take it all in, however, she hears the gibbering of the rest of the pack, and continues escaping.

As she runs on, Kate tries to plot out an escape-route that will lead her to the Dojo. In doing so, however, she ends up cornering herself in the loading bay of an abandoned warehouse, and the horrors close in. The monstrous woman, still nursing her neck from the last impact, staggers in, panting. “You can’t play the hero if you can’t even save yourself.” Her bones crack as she seemingly regenerates from all the damage she had taken from the strenuous run. “We will welcome you to our society of the ushers of a new era: The Trey Kings.”

Kate raises her fists. She’s determined to not go down without a fight. The wave of horrors lurch in menacingly at Kate, but then a wave of indigo light shines down between her and the mob, as the monsters clatter chaotically against it, like a wall of glass. Kate looks up to see just how tall this strange shield extends, only to see Caliburn hovering overhead, holding a tome in his left hand, and his magnum in the other.

“An entire damn mob for one girl?” Caliburn shouts to the monsters as they, too, look up. “Don’t you think that’s a bit excessive?” Caliburn chants as he points the pistol at the monsters, reading words from his tome. With a pull of the trigger, a blast of fire erupts from its barrel and sets the congregation ablaze.

Caliburn descends aside Kate, who is recoiling from the flash of the battle. “Come on!” Caliburn shouts, as she takes Kate’s hand. The wall’s light is fading fast as the non-ignited monsters still pound on its surface. Caliburn reads more words from his tome as a bright green light envelops Kate. When she finally can see again, she is back in the lobby of Redsnake’s dojo, as silence settles over her and Caliburn.

Caliburn staggers over to a couch and flops down. “See, this is exactly why you can’t be allowed to know this crap,” he shouts in exasperation. “Don’t even start with any ‘Oh, I could’ve taken them’ bullshit, if it wasn’t for me, you’d be slurping Qliphoth Leeches now.”

Kate, stiff with fright, doesn’t have the hutzpah to retort to the accusation. “Why did they want me?”

Caliburn furrows an eyebrow in confusion. “You tell me, Katie.”

Kate blurts out her recount: “I was walking down the street when I got attacked by those… Trey Kings? It was right after I got finished talking to Val-” She stops herself, remembering the apparently strained relationship that Caliburn and Valerian had had. Maybe it was Caliburn that had sent those horrors in – to teach her a ‘lesson’ about heroism. That she wasn’t strong enough.

Caliburn stands up, leaning in. “With who, Kathryn?”

Kate gets quiet. “Nobody.”

Caliburn sighs as he turns around, hand on his forehead. He points back at Kate. “If you were about to say who I thought you were, you are really deep shit. Every gang is going to be looking out for you, you hear me? Now that you know.” He lowers his finger as he chuckles sarcastically. “Maybe you’ll learn what it’s like to be me.”

Kate is afraid, but she doesn’t back down from Caliburn’s threat. “Don’t you send your weird monsters on me, Rob. And don’t try and make me feel sorry for you.”

Caliburn turns around as he approaches the doorway, making a pithy bow, arms outstretched. “Well, in any case, you’re welcome to be rescued any time, Ms. Floyd.” With a last smirk, Caliburn leaves the dojo.

Kate growls through a sneer as she stamps her way back into the dojo. Even long after its hours, the lights are still on, reassuring her that her mentor is still waiting. Ferocity cools in Kate’s veins, as it coalesces into despair. She sees Santo Barerra, wearing his heroic armor – those iconic shades of red and gold. Kate collapses into his arms, crying.

“Kate, what happened?” Barrerra holds Kate close, trying to console her.

“I don’t know, sensei.” Kate yells through sobs and hiccups. “I nearly was killed by mutants for christ sake. Everything in this town is so messed up.”

Barrerra sighs, patting Kate’s back. “I... Thought this would happen. I’m so sorry I put you in harm’s way.”

Kate continues to vent as Barrerra holds on. Eventually, she calms down, lifting her head to look at Barrerra as she dries her eyes. “Did… Did I do well in the interviews?”

Barrerra chuckles quietly. “Straight to business, huh?” Kate smiles weakly in response. “Uh, I’m sorry to bear bad news, but you kind of got it wrong.”

Kate’s head lowers. “I should’ve listened to you. I’m such an idiot.”

“No, look!” Barrera places his hands on her shoulders. “You’ve taken a great first step, okay? This isn’t about testing, Kate. Even if you don’t succeed, you’re going to be learning plenty about how this all works.”

Kate nods.

“You are strong, regardless of what you think about yourself.” Santo leads Kate back to the lobby, and the two rest on a couch. “You have to hold on to that strength, especially now that you know all this.”

“I’m in trouble, aren’t I?” Kate stammers.

Barrerra looks into the distance. “Truthfully, Kate, this will be tough. Whatever Caliburn might’ve told you, he wasn’t lying. You really need to know, both me and him have your safety in mind – I’m trying to convince him to help you develop into a hero now. And now that this has happened? I doubt he’s going to have a choice.”

Kate wipes her nose. “What about Scarlet?”

Barrerra laughs nervously. “I was banking on you talking to her before you got to Caliburn, you know. There is plenty we don’t know about her, but among our circle, she isn’t to be trusted.” Barrerra rests his chin on his hands. “Her intelligence network runs deep. She knows what many of us heroes are going to do. We’re just thankful that she doesn’t usually have the audacity to intervene directly.”

“She mentioned something about a war between ‘heaven and hell’.” Kate steadily replies. “Is that a lie?”

Barrerra looks at Kate, shocked. “Oh, god” he exclaims blankly. “She dumped way more info on you than she should’ve.” Barrerra stands up and turns to face Kate. “That is essentially a gospel she’s been preaching to gain favor from several gangs in Vibora Bay. A massive grab for power. We don’t know if the statement is true or not yet, but it’s riling just about everyone up.” Barrera scratches the back of his head. “That certainly explains a lot. Clearly, Valerian sees your potential as well, considering she sent such a huge hit-squad.”

Kate sits quietly as Barrerra paces, thinking of his next move. Kate soon breaks the silence. “What’s next?”

Barrerra smiles beneath his mask as he crouches down in front of Kate. “Whatever happens, me and the others will try to keep you safe, ok? This puts our training regimen on a tighter schedule than I would’ve hoped, but we’re going to try and get the gangs some bigger fish to fry than you.”

Kate looks aside, guilty. “I’m really sorry you have to go out of your way for all that.”

Barrrerra chuckles. “It was going to happen with you, Kate. Eventually. You knew the truth this whole time, this just made it clearer to you.” Barrerra stands up, and Kate follows suit, as the two close down the dojo for the night. “If anything, you probably should apologize to Caliburn rather than me.”

She chuckles. “God, I hope he doesn’t take it too personally…”

“He deals with much worse.” The two head out the door into the midnight, the costumed hero carefully escorting his student. “Get some rest in the next few days, alright?”

Kate nods as the two set out for her dorm. The quiet of the night filled with the cheerful chatter between Barrerra and Kate, beneath the moonlit sky of Vibora Bay.

-end-
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