Phoenix walked in wide circles around the crime scene. It had been a while since the scene had been discovered, but not long enough that crime scene cleaners had come through. Apparently, someone had eventually reported it due to the smell. Which, Phoenix could understand. It smelled terrible inside the building, like rotting biomatter. Which, given the place was covered in gore, would be a reasonable assumption.
The newspapers had called the scene another of the “Slasher Murders”. She was embarrassed to admit that it hadn’t occurred to her for a few days to start looking into missing people's cases or crime scenes with no bodies, but once she had, it hadn’t been hard to find the “Slasher Murders”. They had started just a little while before Sam had moved to Pittsburgh and correlated with the amount of time Todd said he’d been in the city. Honestly, once she knew what she was looking for, it was easy to find.
She sighed as she crouched next to the blood pools, thick and dried and awful in scent. Her boyfriend was a messy eater, it seemed. While there was blood everywhere, there wasn’t any viscera or meat or even bone shards. She remembered then him cracking the rib bones at their first lunch together, eating them whole. So he ate every part of the body then. No waste.
At least if he had to eat people, he was doing it with some level of… respect wasn’t exactly the word she was looking for. She wasn’t sure what word she was looking for. She had done some math in the last few days. And if her math was correct, and the number of bodies lined up, then she had been off in her initial guesses. Todd had to eat once a month, at least, and had likely done so for the last sixteen, almost seventeen years.
That was a long time, but it was better than what she had initially assumed. At least his parents hadn’t been feeding him humans as an infant.
Her examination of the scene had brought a few things to light. She recognized Todd’s shoeprints in the blood. That was the most important thing. That was the thing taht made it clear to her he had been there. At first, she hadn’t been sure, but Todd’s shoe size combined with how narrow his feet were– well, it was hard to mistake them.
It was while she was kneeling next to the crime scene that she felt vibrations begin to approach the warehouse. Footsteps by the feel of it. Light, even footsteps. Likely a woman or a man of small stature. Sam quickly leaped and propelled herself into the air, and up to the rafters. She gripped it tight and swung herself up on top of it. Hopefully from up here, whoever was coming wouldn’t spot her.
The Slasher Murders. That's what they'd been calling it, both in the media circus around it and internally at the Pittsburgh PD. Those sorts of names usually went hand in hand. Someone would coin it, it would spread, and before you knew it, nobody remembered it as anything else. Naming things gave them solidity. Meaning.
Basilica stepped into the empty warehouse, eyes scanning the puddles of congealed blood splattered across the floor, the windows, the doors - but pausing before turning to the rafters above.
"I know you're up there." the hero tilted her head, catching the stifled breath, the creak of metal. "I'd recommend coming down and introducing yourself before I start to think you're a threat."
There was a moment of silence as the woman called out her demand. And then, in a soft but confused voice, Sam’s voice echoed down from the high rafters of the building.
Sam stood, and then flipped forward. She pushed herself out far enough to avoid landing in the crime scene, and far enough to get her close to the glass woman. She gave a small and fast compression of heat from beneath her feet, and when she landed, it seemed effortless. Before, when she had left the woman behind at the bank, she had stayed a good five or six feet away from her, to prevent her from feeling Sam’s heat. She did so again here.
“What are you doing– are you looking into the Slasher Murders?”
She took a few steps between them, one hand on her hip and the other casual and relaxed at her side. She looked the woman over and caught sight of the cast on her arm. She stared at it for a moment before looking back up at the mask the woman wore to hide her identity. It made Sam almost miss her previous mask, the one that hid the contours of her face so much better than this plain black domino mask she wore now. She remembered how to make the masks, so maybe… maybe a new mask was on the table.
After all, she was acting more publicly again. And the more she had to interact with people like Basilica, the more she liked the idea of a mask that actually obscured her to more than cameras. Maybe something with wings, like– like Alice’s mask had been.
Basilica let out an obvious sigh of relief, body relaxing.
"Phoenix. You know, hiding in the shadows near a recent crime scene does not give the best impression."
Still, she offered the vigilante a tight - but friendly - smile, before moving over to the body. Or, at least, what was left of it. She couldn't even be certain if there was one victim or multiple.
"I hope you didn't get into anything." She knelt down beside a long streak of blood across the concrete floor and frowned. "The police should be here within the hour to cordon the area off and take samples. I'm just making sure the evidence stay untouched until then."
Rising to her feet, she rubbed idly at her cast.
"This has been going on for quite a while. You're a native, what's your take? Certainly metahuman in nature. Victims they'd been able to ID are drug dealers, murderers, gang members. Vigilante MO, or just people getting caught up in the wrong crowd?"
Sam was quick to readopt her mask of Phoenix after her surprise at Basilica being there. She looked at the crime scene, the dry and flaking blood, the bent and destroyed metal, and she tried not to swallow. She let her eyes take on that cool look that made her expressions unreadable, but adopted a friendly smile.
“So I take it you all also just found the scene? By my estimations, I think this took place about two or three months ago. Lab results will be able to confirm the right time of age of the blood, though.” She paused, then shook her head slightly. “I wasn’t trying to hide. Well, I was. But mostly because I didn’t know who you were. I wanted to make sure you were an officer before I revealed myself.”
She looked up at Basilica, taking in her broken arm. She didn’t comment on it, but her amber eyes rested on it for a few moments. Then she searched Basilica’s face, as though looking for something before finally sighing and gesturing wide with her hands. “I’m not really a native. I recently moved here. I don’t know if you’ve heard the name Wildcat before, but I used to be her. I was headed– somewhere. But I ended up here instead and stayed. As for this being a vigilante MO…”
She scratched her head like she was thinking. And she was thinking. Internally she was rushing to think of the best lie, the best way to pull suspicion away from Todd, even though he was yet to become a suspect. But if she threw her off a vigilante, then there was less suspicion. It was less likely to fall on “Cryptid”. She had to lie and just hope that Basilica didn’t have a vibe checker of her own.
“Metahuman, definitely. But I don’t know if it’s a vigilante. All of the others I’ve met have had strict no-kill policies, like me. With one exception, but he was a bastard and I would hesitate to call him a ‘vigilante’. Like you said, this has been going on for a while now. Before I arrived. But I have a particular interest in this.”
She was being far more honest than she should have. She knew that. But the more trust she could build with the woman the more likely she could protect Todd. That was her main goal now. She looked around the scene again. Bloody pools starting to flake, bloody clothes off in a corner, bent and fucked up metal– god, was Nat here? She suppressed the wince that she wanted to make and instead kept the friendly smile and blank eyes.
Wildcat. Well, that was a bit of a deep cut. Deep, and unexpected.
"Weren't you in O- hm. Nevermind."
One more mystery to the Pittsburgh pile. Seemed metas were just drawn to the place. Rubbing at the bridge of her nose - pushing her mask slightly in the process - she turned to the scene. It had been a while since the murder, obviously. Phoenix said a few months. Forensics would get a better estimate, once they arrived, but in the meantime, it was a little horrifying to consider how many scenes like this were hidden all over the city. The Slasher victim count was impossible to estimate.
"I'm not going to rule it out. For every good guy with a gun, you have a bad guy who thinks he's good. No regulation or oversight, anything is impossible."
Noticing the clothes, she moved over, kneeling down beside them and gently poking at the pile.
"Doubt the killer made the victim strip. These are just as torn up and bloody as the body must be, wherever it is." She glanced over her shoulder. "Any sign of it, when you were poking around? And - why the interest, if you don't mind me asking?"
Phoenix had looked up and let her eyes follow Basilica as the woman moved to the clothing. She was right– they were shredded in places and bloody. Likely from Todd fighting with his bagh nakh. Whoever this was must have put up a bit of a fight. Either that or they had been shredded in the process of stripping the body. She felt her stomach roll over as the dreaded question came. Now came the time when she would have to give the truth, something that made her very nervous. If she gave away too much, Todd could be tracked.
She had done her research on the Slasher. Sometimes called the Scarecrow. That name had made her smile. It was far closer than Slasher. She had traced his possible path, and he had been connected to several cases across the country. Starting in California and then traveling north and then east all the way to Montana. She remembered him saying that he had come from that way. In Montana, he was suspected of having killed Phantom Ox, a vigilante who had been operating in the Billings area
At the same time that Phantom Ox had disappeared, a missing persons case for Arlo Baker had been issued, and many people suspected they were the same person, and likely were killed by the Slasher. Cryptid was a known ally of Phantom Ox, and when he disappeared, people had thought the Slasher had gotten him too until he reappeared south of Montana. People had also written on the forums about how strange it was that the two had worked together, given Cryptid’d had an almost ninety-nine percent lethality rate. But working with Phantom Ox had mellowed him out.
But Sam knew the truth. Phantom Ox had walked in on Cryptid eating, and he attacked, and Cryptid killed him in self-defense. Todd had killed Arlo Baker in self-defense from his best friend. God, she couldn’t imagine how much that must have hurt.
But after that, she had been surprised to learn, that Cryptid had been spotted in Columbus– at the same time that she had been there. Granted,m it was during the period when she had been in and out of state tracking down Slate sects. So maybe it wasn’t all that surprising that she hadn’t run into him sooner.
Phoenix had never known Breeze, but she had heard about her disappearance. She hadn’t known the girl, who was later suspected to be Summer Kelley, a young girl who was on her way to college. It was the first major female victim of the Slasher and had been big talk in Columbus after it had happened. There were a few other sparse female victims, but Breeze, Summer, was the biggest one.
But how much could she tell Basilica of this without her suspecting anything? Breeze was clearly the best reason. She didn’t have to get into any of her tracking. Claiming it was because of Breeze would be enough. So she sighed heavily, as though it was painful to discuss and she said in a soft voice, one that could easily be taken as mourning, “I knew Breeze. She was a friend of mine. I was supposed to start training her, really training her, and then. Well. You probably heard about her murder.”
She walked over to where Basilica kneeled and knelt next to her. She had a faraway look in her eyes, one that looked for all the world like she was lost in memory when really she was channeling the despair she had felt at Witch’s death. It felt… dirty. But it was what it was. And what it was was necessary. “After Summe– Breeze died, I had some business I needed to take care of in Philly. Instead, my car broke down here and I heard that the Slasher was here. So I stayed. I’m going to find that fucker.”
Her heart was beating smoothly. She had to keep it even, keep her breathing even, because she had no idea how Basilica’s powers worked. She touched the ground and given they were close, she should’ve been able to catch the speed, the tempo, of her heartbeat as it traveled through the cement floor.
For the final touch, she thought of Obsidian. She thought of what he had done, what he had stolen from her, and in a voice filled with an almost holy wrath, she said, “I’m going to find that fucker and tear him apart with my bare hands. I’m going to rip his still-beating heart from his chest and burn it before his very eyes.”
Then she looked back up and gave Basilica a wry smile, “Metaphorically, of course.”