Limited Ghostly Delights and Halloween Frights

This RP is open, but with limitations.

Fang

Active member
It was his third costume change of the day, albeit the only one he felt truly comfortable in. At school he had dressed as an old-timey strongman complete with a fake mustache and “fake” weights with astronomical numbers stamped on the sides. He had earned extra creativity points for the impromptu performance he and some of the football players had put on at lunch. Though he typically wasn’t one to stand out, when he was lightly teased he decided to play a prank, and while it had gotten out of hand there was an unspoken agreement by both sides that they would continue to go with the story that they had planned out the comedy routine beforehand.



Once he was home it was into the literal pile of sweaters and off to the Warehouse with a pit stop at VULTURE for some tea. He had expected Todd wouldn’t show up for a few hours at least, and once he had settled in he wandered the shops and picked up a few party supplies. Once they were set he waited, perhaps a bit impatiently as Todd exceeded his expected arrival by a few hours, until he heard the shuffle of feet at the door. It was worth the wait, though, to see Todd’s reaction to the Nat version of himself.



His mentor had plans, unfortunately, and Nat had shed the costume as soon as he was gone, marveling at how the man never seemed to sweat despite the layers he wore. Something about his power seemed to keep him cool, and Nat made a mental not of it as he finally slipped into the wardrobe that felt the most right to him, the most comfortable. A few of his friends had invited him to go trick-or-treating with them, but he had already planned to patrol as the Wolf, in the open as he couldn’t on any other day.



It was a thrill to walk the streets, even in the dingier parts of the city a festive air seemed to hover over everyone. Costumes were so plentiful Nat’s almost seemed cheap in comparison to a few, and though he kept a weathered eye out for any signs of trouble he was surprised to find that, at least this early in the night, the criminals had decided to take the night off.



He couldn’t find so much as a bully stealing a smaller kid’s bag of sweets. It was almost disappointing, though Nat knew it was wrong of him to feel that way. It was Halloween, for crying out loud! He was expecting, was counting on something spooky to go down. He shuffled through back alleys in defeat, considering an invitation to party a zombie clown had given him a few hours back. That would be some kind of adventure, at least.



”Psst. Psst. Hey, Wolf.”



Nat didn’t recognize the voice, but the alley was deserted save for himself and the figure at the other end. Cautiously he stepped closer, the better to male out the source of the voice and to show that he had heard their call. Light shifted and what it revealed was a costume that could have belonged to a man or a woman and would have been right at home in an amusement park were it not for the patches and missing parts. A rat with a comically wide gut, a missing ear and a single red eye, strangely dressed in the formal attire of Crown Guardsman save the tall fuzzy hat.



”Yeah?” This was a but strange, even for Halloween.



”You lookin’ for some Halloween fun?” The rat had a gravely voice, but then it giggled in a perfect imitation of a little girl, and goosebumps ran down Nat’s spine.



”Uhm. No. No man I’m not into… that.” Complaints aside this seemed just a bit over the top for what Nat had set out to find. Besides, it sounded like this guy was probably just trying to sell drugs anyway. While that might have been enough for Nat to intervene in normal circumstances he was more interested in getting away from such a strange character.



”Oh, come now. It’s All Hallow’s Eve! Samhain! The veil is thin and the time is nigh!“ The rat began to shuffle about in some interpretation of a dance. The way it moved, the way its fur tightened and shifted with each small step, froze Nat in realization. What he had thought to be a rat costume was in actuality a giant rat, and it was getting more worked up by the second.



”The Queen, she beckons, and its for a hero’s company she asks. Petrov is a loyal servant, and he tasked his brothers to make her wish come true.” The single red eye turned toward Nat, and before he could react the rat was on top of him, driving him to the ground and bashing his head against the cement with such force that everything immediately went black.





Nat woke with a knot on the back of his head, but after a quick check it seemed that he had suffered no other injuries. It was dark, too dark to see beyond his nose wherever he had been taken. He could smell the damp, grassy scent of hay, and he could hear the rushing of water somewhere nearby. Beneath him it was stone, and behind him as well. By his best guess he was locked in cellar somewhere. He hadn’t intended to end up involved in something like this, but he supposed that he could at least count this toward a Halloween adventure.



He certainly wasn’t going to complain about a slow night next year.
 
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Adelyn is glad that her grandpa thought to tell her what Halloween was. She might’ve been frightened otherwise, but now she knows that all the colorfully dressed people are clowns and all the bloodied faces are cornstarch and food coloring. Prepared with this ancient knowledge and a plastic pumpkin basket, she took to the streets.

Her grandpa had encouraged her to go without her gloves and hood for the day, because it was the one night a year where she wouldn’t get any second looks. He helped her draw on a cat nose and whiskers using face paint, and gifted her a pair of fake cat ears to go atop her head. She wasn’t sure about it at first, but she’s gotten many compliments on her “costume” through the night.

Scampering about in the city is still scary, but the lit porches draw her in and she always leaves with candy - or some other kind of treat, like spider rings that she adorns her fingers with or popcorn balls that have a delightful crunch.

It’s as she’s moving past a darkened alleyway that movement catches her attention.

“Hello?” She calls, glancing around. Suddenly, the street seems emptier around her. The group that she’d been trailing has moved off. She tries not to crunch too loudly on the remains of her popcorn ball.


“Hello?” It would sound like an echo, but that is not her voice. Adelyn takes a curious step closer, peering into the dark of the alley. The contacts make everything a little blurry, and she rubs her eye absently. It’s… a man? He’s dressed all in black and white, stripes and polka-dots competing for center stage across his body.

“Do you need help, mister?” She frowns and transfers her candy basket to her paw-hand, reaching out with her human hand. He looks sad.


“The Queen…” the man mutters, his voice a sorrowful sigh. “She needs heroes. Are you a hero?”

“I am! Or I could be-” she begins.

There’s the sound of something spinning, and the man’s head spins around in a too-literal manner, far past the point where a normal person’s neck would break. When the movement settles he wears a broad smile, eyes squinted upwards. She realizes with a jolt that his face is painted on, the skin beneath it unnaturally smooth. “OH GOODIE!”

His voice has changed, and if Adelyn hadn’t already stepped back she would’ve done so now. He’s loud, but so cheerful about it that she’s hesitant to run away completely. Telling herself that it’s just a costume, she tries for a smile.

“Um-” He’s stepping towards her, and the hairs on her arms are raising of their own accord. The aura of danger hangs heavy in the air around him. “Uh-”


She doesn’t get a chance to form a coherent thought. The clown’s face spins around again, a furious scowl on it as he pounces on her. “IT IS SAID, IT HAS BEEN SPOKEN, THERE IS NO REVERSE! THE TIME IS NOW, HERO.”

Her boots make her feet too clumsy to avoid the attack, and the plastic pumpkin slips from her claws. The last thing she hears is the sound of her spoils skittering along the concrete, and then her head hits the hard ground and the world goes black.




In a damp, cold cellar, Adelyn sleeps on. Her paw hides her face from view, breathing in the warm air created in the small space. With her shrouding clothing she could almost pass as a bundle of fabric and fur.

 

Sam and Todd were patrolling Halloween night, and they were being stalked by some asshole in a demon costume. The way he looked at them made Sam incredibly uncomfortable. She only saw flashes of him, flashes of green and the strong smell of brimstone, as if the man had shoved pieces of sulfur into his costume. Sam had touched Todd’s shoulder and gestured down the alleyway she had seen the demon disappear down.

In her Sally costume, with her long red curls tightly woven into an approximation of rag doll locks, she fit in with the crowd of trick-or-treaters. She had helped Todd dress up as well, and of course, he just had to be Jack Skellington. They looked nothing like their daily selves, nor did they look anything like their vigilante selves. Sam had even gone without her body suit. That was why the demon was concerning to her. So she ducked away and down into the alleyway she had seen the demon disappear into.

It was dark, away from the streetlights that lit up the streets for the throngs of people. For not the first time, Sam wished she could just see in the dark. It would make her life so much easier if she didn’t have to wait for her eyes to adjust every time she left a brightly lit area.

When she first entered the alleyway, she didn’t see the demon, nor did she smell him. Instead, there was simply a man, dressed brightly but looking for all intents and purposes like Edward Scissorhands. She would know, she had just watched the movie, having made Todd sit with her to watch a marathon of Tim Burton movies as part of her usual Halloween preparations. She looked around for a moment to make sure that was the only person, then shrugged her shoulders.

“Excuse me, did you see a guy in a green demon costume come through? My friend and I got separated.” The lie rolled off her tongue without a single hitch in her voice, smooth as could be.

“ARE YOU A HERO, RAGDOLL? THE QUEEN DEMANDS HEROES.” The voice sent a shiver down her spine as the man turned around in the alley… and she saw his hands. They weren’t gloves. His fingers were really sharp knives, not plastic. She backed away, only to back into a body, smelling of brimstone. She opened her mouth to shout in surprise, when something hard collided with her head, right where it met her neck. Her vision went blurry, and she collapsed.

The next thing she knew, she was somewhere dark and damp. It seeped in through her thin Sally dress, probably stained the patchwork fabric. She sighed and immediately began to fill the space with her warmth. She had no wounds on her body, nor was she tied up, which was strange. She couldn’t see in the pitch-black created by the sealed-off wherever she was. Most likely some kind of cellar. She just hoped that Todd hadn’t been taken with her.

“Cheekbones, you there?”

If he wasn’t, she had a higher chance of getting out. Todd would never let her just be kidnapped, after all. She had seen the predator inside of him and she was his, so she trusted that he would tear whoever had done this into pieces.​
 
It had originally been Todd’s idea to split up. Not in this exact situation, but in the past on patrol, where Phoenix could grasp and hold someone’s attention while Cryptid slipped into position to ambush. And even though they weren’t Phoenix and Cryptid tonight, but Sally and Jack, Sam didn’t need to tell him the plan. After all, sulfur was all he’d been able to smell for the better part of an hour now. He’d just needed to make sure her instincts aligned with his.

So when she went down the alley, Todd went down another block before turning to circle around. The moment he was away from the streetlights, he let the predator roll into his body language. Doing so in a crowd of potential prey wouldn’t have given him away, but it would’ve immediately made a lot of people uncomfortable as they waited for their brains to rationalize what their instincts said. But that was why Todd let himself do that here, out of sight of the herd. He was hunting, after all.

However, hunting is significantly harder when all you can smell is sulfur. Sulfur and… something. Fire, maybe? For some reason Mary crossed his mind, the faint burning flesh and scorched insects from the gifts she credited to a demon.

The prey, he remembered, with a pause in his step, was dressed like a demon.

The connection would’ve pushed him into a full sprint had a flash of unearthly green light blinded him and made him step back from the wave of accompanying heat and sulfur stench. The light faded, and Todd turned narrowed eyes to the thing that stood between him and Sam.

The figure was tall and thickly muscled, with curling horns and hooves for feet, wearing nothing but a loincloth. That was the least uncomfortable part of the creature in front of him, though. All appearances, even the glowing green embers of its eyes and the deep emerald of its skin, mattered less than where it was standing, less than how its voice rumbled out as it bared wicked sharp teeth to lick its lips.

“Oh, yes, tis only right that one be wrong.” The devil flicked his tail like a pleased cat. “The Queen will be most pleased with me, that I should bring her a hero so unlikely.”

Todd finally stopped staring at the physique of the creature, and met its eyes with a low-voiced challenge to hide his confusion. “Hero?”

“Oh! Ohoho! Do you deny it, King of Bones? Shall you remain whilst she goes?”

Todd answered with a full growl, a sound he’d forgotten he could make outside of moments of intense frustration. His instincts were screaming that something was wrong. If he’d had hackles, they’d be vertical on his shoulders. He didn’t know what this was, aside from the fact that it wasn’t prey, and so his instincts told him to get away, far, far away.

But it had taken what was his. And the predator wouldn’t have that.

“Where she goes, I go. Damn the cost.”

The creature opened its mouth, displaying crooked fangs in a horrendous grin. “A hero by action, and not by word! Agreement enough.”

It set upon him all at once, not with the blow he was braced for, but with a flick of its tail like a whip and a spout of green flames. There was no time to move before they struck him, and though they licked his skin there was no burn. Instead there came a feeling, a sudden, deep exhaustion that emerged from somewhere deep within him. Despite the feeling of wrongness, or the sting of fire and scent of brimstone, that feeling was familiar. Deeply familiar. Familiar as blood and bone and fullness.

A familiar, perfect exhaustion that carried his mind elsewhere while his body collapsed.



Todd had been dreaming. He’d been dreaming about her – the dreams he’d never tell her. It was almost a relief to open his eyes into the dark, to the unshakable feeling of strangeness, as long as he couldn’t taste blood.

His senses felt… muddled. Something was off, something was wrong, but his instincts weren’t telling him what. He closed his eyes again, and breathed deeply as he felt the cold stone under his back. The air smelled of earth, stone, straw, and fresh water. He could hear that water, too, and he could hear breathing, several sets of breaths. The longer he remained, the more his nose gathered.

Incense and soap, mixed with metal and the distinctive scents of adolescence. Cat smell, forest, spices, perfumes, and the faintest touch of the elderly.

Leather, paint, jasmine, vanilla, apples, cinnamon. Mine. He smelled her before he heard her.

“I’m here, Sammy.” He didn’t smell the brimstone again until he moved his mouth, and then it was more of a taste.

He sat up slowly, his eyes adjusting to the dark room as he finally opened them again. He ran a hand through his curls as he looked around, unaware that someone might notice how his eyes caught strangely in the dark, oddly visible. He also didn’t consider any implications of his next question before he asked it, because the answer was more important than its strangeness.

“Nat? Adelyn? You two okay?”
 
The sound of his own breath was all that filled his ears at first, a deathly quiet that accompanied the almost moldy atmosphere. Without the use of his eyes he patted his body, checking his pockets for the nits and bolts and small cylinders he had brought along for his patrol. He was surprised to find everything where it should be, surprisingly including the mask on his face; though at some point while he was unconscious it had been slid to the side the cloth mask he wore hadn’t been shifted.



Shhhlp Shhhlp



”Cheekbones, you there?”



There was a shuffle before the familiar voice bounced off of the apparently bare walls. Almost imperceptibly the darkness gave small headway to murk, a tiny lightening in blue tones around the room with each word spoken. It was not enough to make out more than the faintest silhouette of the others who were detained with him, but he could almost count the forms.



”I’m here, Sammy.”



There was a glint, a refraction of the barest hint of light that was gradually increasing.



”Nat? Adelyn? You two okay?”


”Todd? Sam? What are you guys doing here?” Nat reached out toward the form nearest him, the distance closer than he could tell in the gloom and his hand errantly slapped against Todd’s face. At least he assumed it was Todd, with the slight scruff of his facial hair against the boy’s palm. ”Oh, sorry. Wait.”



Nat let his hand fall, and with the words he had spoken the room finally gave way to what could pass for true light, details painted in cool tones by the blue glow that emanated from the skull now revealed to be placed directly in the center of the room. The Todd and Sam across from him were hardly recognizable, the makeup they wore and the uncanny light erasing the lines of their features and drawing new ones that almost covered who they were.



Shhhlp Shhhlp



”Who is Adelyn?” There was only one other person in the room; the obvious answer to his question still slumbering next to him. A quick once-over told him enough, the feline limbs and unique hair color practically screaming that the girl was another meta. She was probably about the same age as Nat as well, though the innocence in the way she curled on the stone floor was evocative of someone who might have been younger.



”Hey. Hey wake up.” Nat poked her leg gently at first, prodding a few more times with increasing firmness to be safe. It might have been rude in any other setting to wake someone you didn’t know, but he assumed he would be forgiven with the defense of kidnapping and imprisonment on his side. ”Did you guys get jumped by a rat, too?”
 


Vaguely, Adelyn registers voices around her. She makes a sound that could be a grumble or a groan and curls a little more tightly in on herself. The floor is cold, even if the air is starting to warm a little, and her head feels all fuzzy. Maybe she can sleep it off.

And then someone pokes her in the leg, and she’s awake. Her eyes snap open, and she twists as if to claw at the offending limb. A hiss makes it halfway out of her throat before she wakes up the rest of the way, claws stopping just short of… metal?

“Huh?” She sits back a little. Her contacts had shifted while she slept, one drifting off at an angle. It’s terribly itchy, and she rubs at her eye until it settles back into place. She usually remembers to take them out if she’s going to nap, she’s not supposed to sleep with her contacts in.

“A… rat?” Her head hurts, spiking into a more distinct pain when she gently prods at it. She does hiss, then, flattening her hand over the side of her head. “No, it was a… a man, but wrong.”

Her eyes open in pained slits, finally taking a proper look around the room. Maybe she should just take the contacts out, the blurriness is not helping things. At least she recognizes the shape and voices of two of the three people around her - she scoots closer to Sam, just to be sure, and yep, there’s the warmth. With remarkably little shame, she flops into the woman’s lap.

Warmness assured, she squints at the… skull? On the floor? “Where are we?”

 

Part of her was relieved that Todd was there with her. That part was quickly squashed when he called out for both Nat and Adelyn. Then, her blood ran a little cold as the kid started talking, and the light in the room began to glow. She looked at the glowing skull and then looked at both of the kids first. Sure enough, it was Nat and Adelyn.

She then turned to look at Todd, to make sure he wasn’t hurt. Her own head was throbbing more than she cared to admit, and when she reached up to touch it, her hand came away with a little bit of drying blood, sticky and thick. She looked Todd over after checking her head. He was whole, in one piece, and there with her and the kids. She winced at the pain in her head. No amount of Advil in the world was going to clear this headache, if it worked on her at all.

She felt Adelyn curl up into her lap and she gave the girl a small smile and brushed her hair away from her face. Despite holding her leg, and obviously being injured, Adelyn appeared to be whole as well, and Sam was grateful for that. She took the time to take in Nat as well before answering, noting that the boy appeared to be in good condition.

“A demon and Edward fucking Scissorhands.” She had no idea what kind of metas they were. She had never seen a meta with knives for fingers before, or really any kind of inorganic materials on their body. She knew that Nat could control metal, but that wasn’t an inorganic thing affixed to his body.

She looked to Todd again, letting the bit of worry she was feeling through just enough that he would be able to see it in her eyes. They had already gotten to the point where they could read each other’s eyes and body language. She didn’t need to say that she was worried by what they had seen, that she was worried about the kids. He would know.​
 
The kids were okay. Adelyn took a few seconds to wake up; Todd worried she might have a concussion, but she seemed coherent enough as she scrambled onto Sam’s lap. He smiled, and put a hand on the girl’s head. He didn’t so much as twitch as Nat touched his face, although he waited until the kid pulled his hand away again to rub his tongue on the top of the mouth, trying to finally get rid of the brimstone taste.

But as he patted Nat’s shoulder in reassurance, he looked at Sam, looked into her eyes, and saw worry there. His eyes shared her concern. They were someplace without any information, any way out. If it was just the two of them, he knew they’d already be going. But the kids needed them, and he didn’t need to ask how she knew Adelyn, because that wasn’t important. It was clear that the girl trusted her.

They needed to keep their heads, for everyone’s sake. He knew she’d see the way he deliberately kept the tension from his shoulders, the steadiness of his face. If it was just then, he’d let the predator slide; but it wasn’t, and everyone needed to be here for each other.

“I didn’t even get to see Edward,” he grumbled, but in the lighthearted way that communicated he was still calm to both of the kids. Panic was bad in high-stress situations. He tended to force himself to be calm, and he tended to crack jokes to keep himself that way. “Could say that demon packed a hell of a punch, though. I don’t even know what he drugged me with.”

As the room grew brighter, Todd squinted down at the skull. He hadn’t smelled bone, and judging by the dry, white condition, it was old. The place might be old, too, then. In the distance, he thought he heard something, but he didn’t lose the calm look under the skeletal paint as he looked at Adelyn.

“We’re underground somewhere, and we might not be alone. Do you hear anything, Adelyn?”

She had much better ears than he did, and he had a better nose than her. While the two of them could act as a good tracking pair, that wasn’t the only use of their combined senses. That, and it would give her something to do, something to focus on, beyond the pain and the fear. It’d be best if she pointed the noise out anyway. Nat and Sam might know a bit about his nose, but they didn’t really know about his ears, and right now might be a bad time to enlighten them.
 
”Huh.”



It was all Nat could think of to say in the steadily brightening room. When the rat had told Nat that his brothers were also hunting heroes he had assumed that a hoard of giant rodents were running through the city snatching people at random, the more random for the fact that it was Halloween and there were surely a great number of people out there dressed as some kind of vigilante or another. It was surprising enough to find that his idea of a rat army was wrong, but the fact that the “brothers” had caught metas specifically indicated a level of knowledge that he found alarming. Perhaps more alarming for the apparent fact that they were all connected, acquainted with one or the other.



”Do you hear anything, Adelyn?”





Nat held his breath, listening intently though he was not the one who was asked to do so. The room was silent beyond the breathing of the collected metas for a moment, and the skull had stopped reacting to their words. The glow was bright enough to illuminate the six walls of the hexagonal around them, though shadows played around the room by the blue light that seemed to flicker and swirl just beneath the surface of the bone.



Shhhlp



Even Nat could hear that, a wet and sticky sound something like stepping into a puddle of soda. He couldn’t discern its direction, still faint enough that it seemed to be coming from somewhere far away. ”Whatever happens we need to try to work together to get out of here.” The words were mostly intended to break the silence and the tension as much as give any direction. Todd was his mentor, after all, and Sam was far more experienced than Nat at wearing a mask. Speaking helped Nat stay settled, though, and he didn’t see the harm in saying things that might help them.



”Just, do the opposite of whatever they would do in a horror film.” It didn’t matter that he was fully masked and his grin was hidden, the purpose of the joke was the same as the previous sentence. There was a soft shlink as he manipulated the steel around his wrist into a small blade.



Shhhhlp. Shhhhlp. THUD!
 
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Adelyn isn’t really sure what to do when Sam brushes at her hair or when Todd pats her head. It reminds her of being around her momma and poppa, and for a moment her heart aches in that too-familiar way. She breathes through it and gives them both a smile, picking up on the unspoken tension in the air even through the ache in her head.

Or… she concentrates, and it’s almost like she can… hear something. She starts to push herself up out of Sam’s lap, squinting blurrily around once more. Her ears twitch, angling around slightly as she tries to pinpoint the noise.

“Yes,” she answers, resting her hand on Sam’s shoulder to steady herself. Her claws flex.

Adelyn is quiet for another moment, her eyes on the wall behind them. Slowly, she brings her feet up under her. Tension coils in her body like a spring, and words slide off her ears as easily as rain as she focuses on the distant steps. The steps that are drawing nearer.

She does not think to warn the others, and when something thuds against the wall she dives towards it claws-first.

 

There was something off. Sam could feel something, something moving. Tremors in the ground that raced up the hand she had placed on the floor. They were growing stronger, with little spaces interspersed between them. They left her with a feeling of unease. The strength of the tremors was wrong somehow. She couldn’t quite place what they were yet because of the sensation of wrongness.

“Look, we should all be fine as long as we stick together. No one goes off without each other if we manage to get out of this ro– wait. Do you guys feel that?”

Adelyn moved right when Sam began to process the sensation she had started to feel– muted footsteps on the ground that were approaching. Sam twisted and rose to her feet, placing herself between Todd and the wall. She would have passed Adelyn his way, gotten herself between everyone and the wall, but Adelyn dove headfirst at the wall.

There was only so much that Sam could do in a situation like this. She couldn’t crank up the heat yet, not in such a small space with people she would burn. She didn’t have her hammer, so she wouldn’t be able to fight the way she normally would. So Sam dropped into a fighting stance, crouching low.

It was a good thing that hand to hand combat was actually a specialty of hers. Her memory of Muay Thai, Jiu-Jitsu, and Krav Maga might be rusty, but she made up for it with her routine practice with Judo and kickboxing. She wanted to move, to grab Adelyn and pull her back off the wall, but she had no idea what was coming, and she needed to be ready to fight. So instead of reaching for the young girl, she called out to her, “Adelyn, wait!”
 
Adelyn did hear it – apparently better than Todd, because she suddenly focused on it. Todd sensed what she must be sensing, the bad vibes that the sound brought beyond the sound itself. Even Sam, who didn’t have inhuman hearing, felt whatever was in the air. He didn’t quite growl, but his inner hackles rose, and he had to take a deep, slow, searching breath to try to settle them, searching for the scent of the incoming problem. He looked at the wall the same time Adelyn did, so almost missed her motion in the dark –

THUD!

Todd visibly flinched as the sound echoed, but he kept the noise he wanted to make tucked into his throat as he rose to his feet. Sam did, too, placing herself between him and the threat. She should know he didn’t need her to do that, shouldn’t she? He was about to say something, then remembered.

Adelyn and Sam might have some ideas about what he was, but Nat couldn’t know. It was kind of funny, actually; in a horror movie, accidental revelation of a secret would create tension in a group and tear them apart, sometimes literally. They couldn’t afford that right now, and Todd couldn’t afford that at all. Nat was one of the few people – albeit a growing group – that Todd was attached to. He couldn’t lose him now, even if he might deserve to.

So he had to stay put, sit still despite the urge to protect mine and the kids. He couldn’t let his predator unfurl, couldn’t so much as twitch the wrong way without being discovered. And he couldn’t even thank Sam for remembering what he hadn’t for his sake, even if some of his secrets were from her.

Of course, all of that would be forgotten if anything harmed the other three people in this room. Not even his desire to keep what he was from Sam would protect anything that hurt her, Adelyn, or Wolf. They were his, and whatever was about to come through that wall would have to go through him if it wanted them.

But for right now, he’d have to let it go through Sam, and trust she could hold her own.
 
Nat jumped with the rest of them, though not toward the wall as Adelyn had. The metal around him clanked as he jumped to his feet, adding further cacophony to the startling thud that went unnoticed as all attention turned to the wall it came from. Nat was never much for horror movies because he always thought the characters were too prone to fear. He had never felt like he would react in the ways the people in those films did, but as the sticky sound that had preceded the loud thump began to fill the air he found himself backing toward the far wall instinctively; and he had super powers.



Shhhhlrp. Shhhhlrp. Thump, thump.



Adelyn’s claws scratched at the stone as the wall swung inward with the heavy screech of rusted hinges. The light from the skull barely reached past the point where the wall had been, the swirling of its light casting ghostly rays of faint luminance that aroused more questions than answers as the shadowed, massive form beyond stepped forward with a heavy footfall, into the light. Wide, impossibly blue and glassy eyes took in the gathered metas. Set into a round, hairless face it would have been easy to mistake whatever this creature was for a doll made of plastic, the head bald save for a few tufts here and there, its one arm shiny and flawless.



One might have thought that easy mistake, but for the blood that ran from the angry red patches where hair had been on its head before. Its missing arm, while still revealing a gaping black hollow as one might expect of a doll with a missing limb, oozed pus and flaking scabs. Though it may have been shaped like a forgotten doll, it was clearly very much made of living flesh.



If one were still not convinced that this creature was not a plastic construct the black, slimy tentacles that writhed free of the black emptiness where its arm should have been would have dispelled all doubts. One of the tentacles wrapped around the leg beneath it, the cause of the strange sound that had accompanied its steps. Another wrapped loosely around the creature’s neck, its narrow tip weaving lazily in the air near one of the few patches of hair. The other simply writhed between the two in mockery of the limb the giant, living doll had lost.



”Heroes.” Its lips didn’t move, and the deep, guttural voice didn’t come from its throat but from the black hollow where the tentacles sprouted. ”Heroes!”” The voice sounded again with clear excitement and a disturbingly childlike titter in such a demonic tone.
 


The wall swings back before she can collide with that, and Adelyn lands with all three of her paws on the ground, halfway into the new space behind what should’ve been stone. The whine of the hinges still rings in her ears.

She doesn’t need enhanced senses to smell the blood. Old blood, scabbed and rotten in a way fresh blood isn’t. Instinct sends her scrambling back again, because - as wrong as everything around the creature is - it doesn’t want to hurt them. She has no reason to attack it, but she doesn’t want to touch it, or for it to touch her.

Hay scatters around her as she scoots away from the newly-opened door, her back hitting Sam’s legs. Adelyn twists and scoots between the woman’s legs, then, and once she’s safely on the other side fusses with her contacts using her non-furry hand. She pops them out quickly, her eyes watering immediately as she flicks the lenses off into some forgotten corner.

The room slides into focus after a few blinks, and she finally peers around Sam to get a good look at the weird creature. “Does that hurt?”

It looks like it hurts. Adelyn stares at the creature the same way one might stare at a bloodied mouse limping along in the undergrowth - almost pitying, but with more of a mind to put it out of its misery than nurse it back to health.

 

Sam placed a hand on the top of Adelyn’s shoulder as she moved back behind her. That was better. She knew Adelyn could likely hold her own, but Sam liked being between the people she cared for and whatever the possible thread was. She took in the appearance of the doll, and even without her heightened sight, she could see in gruesome detail the festering wound at the thing’s shoulder.

She looked around at the others, taking in their position. She could get in front of any of them easily, though the only one she really needed to stand in front of was Todd. Todd, who was hiding who he was from Nat. What he was. The Cryptid couldn’t be allowed to fight in whatever was coming up. Sam would have to protect him– not like he really needed it, even if he couldn’t fight. His healing factor was incredible. But for appearances, for Nat, he was going to have to stay behind her.

Very slowly, Sam pulled out of her fighting stance. She stayed tense, coiled, and ready to jump if anything changed, but for now… the thing didn’t seem to want to hurt them She straightened up but kept her tight posture. She peeled her eyes away for one second to look back at Todd. She gave him a small nod, then turned back to the potential threat.

“Who are you? What do you want with us?”

Sam was ready to protect her own. Everyone in this room, she considered hers. Not in the same way that Todd was hers, but almost like a small family. Nat and Adelyn were the equivalent of having younger siblings, she assumed. She wouldn’t know, having been the youngest out of her and her brother. She had always wanted more siblings, though. And maybe Nat and Adelyn would fill that role for her. Either way, she was claiming them as hers, hers to protect, and she would do that at all costs.​
 
The rusted hinges set Todd’s teeth on edge, but he stayed put. Even as a creature limped in with its childish purr, he stayed. Adelyn moved away from it, but it seemed to be more to be away than any real fear. He couldn’t smell her fear, anyway, and her voice was tinged with pity.

And it was a pitiable sight, if horrifying. He’d spent enough time in Portland to know what a sewer drain near the sea was like. Rotten vegetation and fish, sewage, salt and – blood. Probably its own blood, from the wounds. The voice rumbled from inside it and came out the same cracks as the oily black tendrils that wrapped around it, and it made Todd’s skin crawl from how much it reminded him of the demon that had taken him. This one didn’t smell like sulfur at all, though.

Everyone was asking it questions. Adelyn from concern, Sam with the tight edge of defense at the corners of her tone. There was something simple about the creature, though. The other questions seemed broad; and Todd’s mind drifted to something the demon had told him before he lost consciousness.

“Are you supposed to bring us to the Queen?” He kept his voice soft and calm despite the tension that tried to pull his muscles taut. Not now; not here. Not with Nat, and not when Adelyn seemed to see the creature with more pity than fear. He didn’t move at all, stayed behind Sam, but was ready to grab Adelyn or Nat if a fight broke out unexpectedly, and fuck the consequences.
 
It was an integral, instinctive horror that set Nat on edge, entire body tensed beneath his armor; the rippling of his power over the armor’s surface rapid and constant. The small blade he had formed in his hand would not be enough, and so it molded back into the rest of the steel as Nat’s eyes flicked behind the mask. The cat-girl, Adelyn, had taken cover behind Sam, but seemed concerned for the creature that had burst through the false wall. Sam was tensed, obviously poised to attack and act as defense for Adelyn and Todd behind her.



They all spoke to the creature, but Nat couldn’t bring himself to risk forming questions of his own. The wrongness of it turned his stomach and ripped it to shreds, and if he were to open his mouth he feared his Halloween candy might make a second appearance. Though the rippling evidence of his power slowed over his armor and Nat followed the other “heroes’” leads his eyes were warily fixed upon the largest wriggling tentacle that protruded from the doll’s side.



A soft squeak accompanied a sudden turn of the creature’s head, unnaturally angled at a tilt while the lidless blue eyes bored soullessly through each of the captured metas. It was unclear whether it understood or even heard Adelyn or Sam’s questions, but at the mention of the Queen it froze, tendrils and all.



”Heroes?” A thin tentacle wrapped itself through one of the remaining locks of hair, and for a moment all else was still. The faint scent of brimstone mingled with the oceanic scent of the doll-creature, and suddenly the tentacle around its tuft of hair ripped the lock free.



The creature’s large feet began to stomp wildly, a soundless tantrum started as the largest of the tentacles shot toward Nat faster than thought, wrapping tightly around his legs before he could even react. As it coiled and began dragging him toward the monster his armor shifted, steel plates sharpening to for for razored blades that tore easily through the slimy black trunk that pinned him.



For a moment the tentacle and the tantrum paused, the damage caused by Nat’s blades bleeding black ichor that dripped to the floor loudly. The doll’s face twisted ninety degrees suddenly, and a deep, disturbing laugh echoed from within its belly. From each cut and each pore of tentacle that had first captured Nat a dozen more wriggled free, darting not only for Nat but for everyone else as well with the same speed as the original strike. The ones that captured Nat wrapped gingerly around the blades he had formed, leaving them exposed while quickly binding every other inch of his limbs.



”QUEEN!” The voice boomed so loudly from the hollow inside of the doll that dust shook from the ceiling.
 


Adelyn can feel the shift in the air, the fine hairs on her arms standing on end as she quickly gets her feet under her again. The doll-that-isn’t-a-doll pulls a tuft of hair from its scalp with a sound that has her gritting her teeth, and things happen very quickly after that.

The tentacle goes for Nat, and Adelyn is pouncing before she can think twice. Even though she’s only just met him, Sam and Todd are both fond of him and, even without that, she isn’t going to stand still while any of them are attacked. But the tentacle is cut before she can reach it, and then there are more reaching for her.

“Mmmph!” She protests as one wraps around her chin and covers her mouth. Her claws glint in the light as she viciously swipes at the tentacles aiming to engulf her, the keratin sturdy and filed to sharp points.

Severing the tentacle only causes more to spring up, and Adelyn barely manages to wrest the first off of her before her arm is pinned against her side. Her breath comes more quickly, harsh in her ears as the itching starts under her skin again.

Another paw, more claws, sharper teeth to bite and rend and protect, fur to insulate from the cold, scales to shield her, something, anything.

Her legs are bound, and she goes down hard when she tries to struggle free. Her concentration lapses, and she can only manage a short, surprised and pained cry as her sore skull is introduced to the hard ground once more.

 

Sam kicked into action. She channeled as much heat as quickly as she could into her hands. They needed to be free in order to save Adelyn and Nat. If they got caught up too, then they would be useless. Sam assumed she’d be the hardest for this thing to keep a grasp on. She kept her heat beneath her skin as she cranked it up to a temperature designed to burn away anything that touched her. One ten, one twenty, one thirty, before finally settling on one forty. While it rose, she quickly tore the side of her dress so she could freely move.

She waited for the tentacles to shoot in their direction and then she moved, quickly traveling through them, dancing her way through the throng of black, writhing of black. Her hands touched everything within reach, pressing her bare, blue-painted, burning palms into the dark mass– but she quickly stopped, pulling as far back toward Todd as she could. Everywhere she had burned it, where it should have cauterized the wounds she created, new tentacles sprung forward.

She kept her temperature up, standing in front of Todd, but she realized there was nothing she could really do. Then, from the direction of Adelyn and Nat, a tentacle wrapped around her ankle and pulled her forward and into the mass. She hit the ground hard before she was dragged in. Instead of wrapping tightly around her like it had with the others, it created an almost cage around her. It flexed away from her touch, but every time she brushed against it, more, smaller appendages appeared and made the cage that much more solid. Just as it was closing off her view, she looked back and saw Todd, her eyes wide.

“Todd, don’t do–” Her voice was cut off as the tentacles started to close in around her, binding her into a cocoon of pitch blackness.​
 
This was his fault. His were the only words the monster had replied to. And he was helpless to stop what came next.

Nat first. Of course Nat first. The attack should’ve given Todd the opening to jump in and help, with Nat blind and deaf under the writhing limb. It was the helplessness that was getting to him, after all. What he wouldn’t have done for his claws, even with Nat here, even with all the consequences. All he had was his jaw, and that meant nothing when there was no bone for his teeth to crack. He didn’t have actual fangs, after all; his teeth were mostly normal, if a little more durable, just a touch sharper. So even his natural weapons meant nothing.

All he could do was watch and wait and stand behind Sam as Adelyn was grabbed next, her own teeth and claws useless. Each injury bled more tentacles. Any harm done just assured capture. He wanted to yell, to say something to her – or to Sam, who had to be next, because she was keeping between the doll and Todd. All he could do was clench his hands into fists and watch her dance into the onslaught. There wasn’t even room to communicate what he’d seen. She met his eyes just before she disappeared, a warning on her lips before she disappeared into the black.

Todd, don’t do anything.

Not that there was anything he could do.

A repeat, then. Why they hadn’t brought everyone to the final destination immediately, he had no idea. But his instincts said there was nothing to fear from this, as horrible as the scene had been so far. He took a deep breath of the doll’s scent, then sank down to one knee, resting his arms on the back of his leg, head bowed.

There was nothing else he could do. His voice was quiet. Not resigned, but cold, hard. A voice like ice.

“Where they go, I go.”

He wasn’t a hero. But he’d do them no good getting himself hurt, unarmed as he was. No fangs, no claws, no superhuman heat. All he had was quiet surrender, and that was what he gave the monster. Someone here had to be calm. His eyes closed, making his world dark long before the slick tentacle bound up his limbs and his mind went still once again.
 
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