Closed RP Jackals

This RP is currently closed.

Malachite tried to remain calm as blades drove into the back of his neck. He tried not to panic as the shaking, rasping voice whispered in his ear. The motherfucker was still alive. He was still moving, as the claws in the base of his neck indicated. He tried to remain calm. He really tried.

Unfortunately, Mal freaked. He rolled to the side, covering the other chink in his armor with his hand. He could lose a finger, that was whatever. He couldn’t afford a claw into his brain. That would likely kill him. Those claws were longer than they looked. He rolled away and felt the knives in his body pull away, a sudden rush of blood covering his shirt and rocky skin. He covered the wound on his neck and breathed in harshly before getting to his feet. He wobbled a bit as he backed away from the scarecrow on the ground.

Mal had never come across someone who had made him fearful before. He had never been in a situation, not since leaving Brightheart, where his heart pounded in fear rather than excitement. The last time his heart had twisted like this in his chest was the last time he’d felt the knife cutting into his skin while he was awake, and the scream that he had made then echoed in his ears now.

Once again, an image flashed through his mind. Katherine in her pretty white dress, her blonde hair in a neat braid down her right shoulder, her blue eyes smiling up at him. Her arm wrapped around his as they walked. God, she’d be so heartbroken if he died. He couldn’t go and die on her. He had made a promise to her when he’d married her that he would never take on more than he could handle.

That was enough to steel his nerves back up. He let go of the wound on his neck and with a sound like a growl, he fell back into his stance, weight low and hands up. This fucking scarecrow of a man wasn’t going to kill him, he thought, even as blood poured from his neck and shoulder and he felt slightly dizzy from the blood loss and the adrenaline.

His head tilted slightly to the side as he said in a rough voice, “Get the fuck up then, you skinny motherfucker, and let’s finish this.”
Todd did not move when Malachite got up. He remained on his back, the only sign he was alive the uplifted arms and the violent shakes that occasionally racked the form as he felt his body start to pull itself together.

His mind was empty as the relief of pressure crawled in. He let his right arm lower to his chest, but kept the left raised above his head, blue eyes fixed on the hand he could see. His poor, crushed hand with the twisted claws curled around his fingers, thoroughly soaked in crimson. He looked at it the way a child might look at a piece of candy with a silly design on it; then, still on his back, he tipped the mask up enough to put his tender, blood-soaked thumb into his mouth. He held it there, let the blood that was not his settle and register, blood thick and heavy with adrenaline. Prey’s blood.

At the taste, the beast climbed up into his throat, reached out and up and into his mind, and it carried excitement at the prospect of not just prey – food. The part of him that had just been stripped of its stores now bubbled up inside of him, scrabbled for a hold. And Todd reached out and seized that part, the part he’d normally swallow down and endure, as he felt the pieces of his spine mend enough for his feet to twitch.

He licked his lips, his own chin slick and red from his own injuries. He licked them slowly, in view of the enemy, illuminated in the moonlight. The lips parted into a smile full of bloodsoaked teeth before he pulled the mask back down over it.

Malachite,” he purred hoarsely, drawing the name out as if tasting it. His voice became more solid, but didn’t lose the quiver of the deep cold. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you taste like fear.”

He rolled onto his side. With the mask back in place, the cold, crystal blue eyes were fully visible. The fear he’d felt, even of death, was gone, replaced by cool appraisal.

“But no, I must be wrong. You’re the monster, right? You hunt people for sport.”

The body continued to roll, and when he felt like his organs had adjusted, he used his core and his good shoulder to pull himself to one knee, then rested on both. His head tilted, too, but the angle would feel wrong with the way his crushed left shoulder still sagged, the way his body racked itself to catch a single breath, the way his exhales wheezed between phrases. At least the shifting ribs were invisible under all his layers.

“You should’ve broken my neck when you had the chance, Mal.” Slowly, painfully slowly, baiting, almost, the Cryptid pulled one knee up to the foot again, then the other. This time the sway was real, was testing the solidity of the ground under his feet, the center of his own balance as his body visibly trembled. There was a breeze coming off the Ohio, and it tugged at the corners of his jacket and ruffled the curls in his hair as he came to a stand still.

He took a step, then another, then another. Not forward, toward Malachite, but in a wide circle around him. Wary, blue eyes never leaving him. The throbbing pain in everything meant nothing compared to the ice and the bone-deep ache of starvation.

“You should run, Mal,” he taunted, step after step after hesitant step meeting concrete in near silence, broken hand curled in on itself like a dead spider, intact hand open and relaxed. “I’ll give you a head start. Go on to your jeep and get it started. Even I couldn’t keep up with you then.”

The blue eyes crinkled as the mirthless grin stretched under the mask, the hoarse voice of the starving animal starting to clip at the end. Because even though he was afraid, Malachite was vain, and proud, and full of a roaring fury that would not stand to be mocked. The voice became quiet, and the river wind had to pick it up and carry it to Malachite’s ears.

“If you’re scared enough, you might make it in time.”

A wave of cold washed over Mal as he realized, all at once, that this wasn’t a fight he was going to win. Or at least, not one he could win right now. He watched as Cryptid peeled himself up off the cement and got up, walking around him in a broad circle. That, right there, shouldn’t have been possible. It would have been for Rhody, but even she would be done after something like that. And yet, this guy was up and walking, moving, talking to him. He had seen that grin, a predatory look after he had licked blood off his fingers. Mal’s blood.

That didn’t bode well.

He could feel his blood trickling down between the web of cracks on his back that allowed him to move. As it did, a momentary bout of dizziness rushed over him, and for as brief a moment, his skin flipped back over. The concrete faded, and his tan, freckled skin shone through. Then, he shook his head and it was back, the concrete layering over itself to become reinforced once more.

That was bad. He had lost focus and it had been enough that the scarecrow, had he been closer, would have been able to catch him off guard. Slip-ups like that couldn’t happen, especially not in a fight like this. One that was actively shaping up to be a kill-or-be-killed kind of fight.

That was when the bastard really dug his heels in, and it made Mal hear blood rushing through his ears. The idea that he would run, that Malachite had ever run from anything, was enough to make him want to break his neck. He could feel the desire to charge back in, to beat Cryptid into his place, especially with his use of the name that only Obsidian and Katherine were allowed to use. He could feel the rage building up, rage that he was going to use to absolutely break this man, and–

Wait. He took a step to the side, joining the circling. He wanted him to fight him, or to run from him. Mal knew you never ran from predators. He himself had had more than enough fun chasing down his prey in the past. He knew better than to run, even as he revisited the idea that he wouldn’t win. He saw Katherine’s face again, saw her blue eyes smiling in the daylight, felt her hand in his, and he continued to circle with the man.

He couldn’t run. He couldn’t fight. He was in better condition than the man, but he could feel his body slowing down from the blood loss. He didn’t have speed on this man. He had strength. So he had to make him come for Mal, not the other way around.

“You sure sound confident for someone with only one hand and barely any ability to move. Oh, but that’s right, you’re the monster, aren’t you? Not me. Though you and I are the same in one regard– we hunt people. So why don’t you show me why the Jackals are so freaked out about you, yeah?”
The Cryptid laughed outright.

It was a horrible sound, tremulous and tinged with the wet cough of lungs that hadn’t gotten rid of all the blood in them yet, that would be drowning right now if they hadn’t healed. It caused some unimportant muscle to spasm, gave him the image of a twitch even under the shuddering that went down to his bones. He flexed his bad hand, forced the fingers to uncurl and unpeel, twisted and wretched and painful but moved all the same.

Like a sick deer, everything about him was wrong. There was something under the surface of the Cryptid that moved like it was in an uncomfortable human skin, and that thing didn’t bother with the veneer of civilization that Todd so carefully maintained.

He continued his circling, kept pace with Malachite like nothing had changed. The part of him made purely of instinct had shrieked for him to jump on that moment of weakness when stone turned to beautiful, unmarred skin.

But he wouldn’t have been a very good predator if he hadn’t had patience. He knew, the part of him that was human and had reached down into himself to bring the other half of his soul to bear, he knew that he didn’t have the strength to survive a third encounter with Malachite in their circumstances.

And so, instead, the Cryptid laughed.

“The hunt’s the best part, I admit,” he purred again in that horrible, calm rasp, “But I don’t partake for fun. I hunt to survive. Any joy is secondary.”

Time was on the predator’s side, so long as he had patience. If Malachite wanted to waste his last breaths, then so be it. But now, Cryptid had all the time in the world. Killing the prey really would be at his leisure, as long as he was willing to wait for the blood loss to take the prey’s consciousness away.

He spoke like it, too, let himself savor the knowledge of the kill. The fear and the anger were gone. There was only the hunt that was coming to an end, whenever the stubborn prey would allow it, and recognize what he was, what he’d been reduced to.

“Maybe you have a better idea of why they’re so afraid of me, hm, Mal? What is it that makes your blood run cold under that fury, and twists up that pretty face? What does it feel like to be so certain of a death that stays just far enough until you’re too weak to resist it?”

Todd knew of that death, of course. Starvation was that death; the crushing weight of broken bones had been that death. He knew not to invite that death, not to welcome it unbidden. He did everything in his power to keep away from that death. And maybe the experience lent an undertone of pity to his words, if not mercy; of sympathy, if not empathy.

Loud enough, of course, for the dying prey to hear it, and to decide whether it was a worse kind of monster that inflicted the same kind of death that he himself feared.

The same cold wave rushed over him as Malachite put some pieces together. A predator who needed to hunt to survive, the way he had licked Mal’s blood from his fingers, the way he moved, and the way he was circling him now… That was horrifying, if Mal was right. The man in front of him was even more of a monster than himself, that was for sure. At least Mal didn’t eat his victims.

Because this guy was definitely a cannibal.

There were a lot of myths out there about creatures who ate humans. Mal knew none of them because he didn’t study mythology. What he did know was what his best friend did. Obsidian touched people and he stole their lives. If he didn’t, he died. He remembered when they were kids and Brightheart used to starve him, and there had been just enough room between the shield for Sulfur and himself to reach out and give him what they could.

He knew what Obsidian did. He knew it could kill people to fully recharge him. God, was it because this fucker was eating people that he could get up and walk off that crushing fall?

Mal wanted none of that shit. He started edging backward, toward the jeep. Step after step after hesitant step, he started to backstep away from the cannibal in front of him. God, that shit was horrible. And Mal wasn’t ready to let himself be eaten, especially in a nonconsensual way. At least when he gave energy to Obsidian, it had always been of his own free will. When he had found out the guy had been trying to survive just off electricity, he had immediately offered himself up, and Obsidian had almost killed him. He had been so apologetic about it, and they had worked out a system to keep him fed.

That had been before those girls, of course. After he had killed the girls out in Columbus, he had no problem killing regular people with impudence.

This man now had the same vibe that Obsidian had had when he’d come back from Ohio, a different person entirely.

Then, he thought of Katherine again, and he started picking up his pace. He never turned away or looked away from Cryptid, but boy did he start to hurry away. His sympathy? Pity? Whatever it was made Mal’s hair stand on end. He didn’t respond to the guy, just continued to move as easily as he could backward. There was no point egging on something as dangerous as this.​
Ah, there it was. There it was. Cryptid never broke his eyes from Malachites through the whole process as the man realized what was happening. In the morning, he would hate himself for the satisfaction he took from that onrush of terror, from the bloodied man’s decision to finally start backing away.

He could smell it from here, mixed with all that blood. It eddied between the buildings, carried by the Ohio’s breeze, and reached back to him. Terror untinged by the rage. In the morning he would hate the way that made his mouth water, made his body shudder in anticipation.

But in the morning, he would be full, and healed, and human again. It was Mal’s own fault this had turned out this way. He had caused harm, and harm would be caused to him. All things in balance.

“What’s the matter, pretty boy?” the scarecrow figure rasped, Cat got your tongue?

Chase, his instincts screamed through the blood and the fear and the prey that finally, finally started to back toward his only reliable means of escape. Oh, but there was so much blood, Cryptid hardly had anything to worry about anymore. Even if he could get behind the wheel, the hunter could be at one of the Jeep’s tires and slash it before the shaken prey could get his wits about him enough to start the engine.

“You should’ve run when I first gave you the chance.” The circling stopped, not because Cryptid did, but because he turned it into an approach. Faster, not a full chase, but matching Malachite in speed. “Such a shame. You might’ve even made it.”

Step, step, step. Sometime between the first circle and the change of pace, Todd’s spine had finished mending, and now it showed in the sudden change of posture, in the light that sparked up behind the natural blue eyes. No longer the bobcat waiting for the sickness to take the rabbit. Now moving both to avoid the final spurt of fire and fight, and to finally tear it open.

“I could be thanking you for saving me the trouble of finding you again, but after everything I don’t think that’d be fair.”

If, of course, the prey didn’t simply collapse from the blood loss first.

“I don’t…” He stopped himself as another wave of dizziness hit him. His skin flipped, but this time, he couldn’t bring it back. The blood loss was catching up to him now, and it showed in the way his hands started to shake with the tension of holding them up. He let his eyes stay locked on the icy blue ones in front of him. Something truly dangerous showed in them, something animalistic and dark. He had tried to kill the real human predator, and now it was coming back to bite him.

He lowered his arms slightly, and as he continued to back up, he could feel the blood slicking down his back, pouring out from him despite his adrenaline-clenched body. It was making his steps sluggish then, enough that he knew he was going down. The jeep was still too far away. He’d never actually make it there in time before he fell unconscious. He pulled something out from his shirt.

It was a single, large locket on a silver chain. He broke eye contact with Cryptid to look at the locket, his fingers trembling as he opened it up. Smiling up at him was a photo of himself and Katherine, her held up in his arms and their faces pressed together on one side. On the other side was a picture of just her, from their wedding, in her white dress that he had thought she was so beautiful in.

If he was going to die, he wanted his last look at something in the world to be her. He tripped over his feet and went down, landing on his ass. He used one of his hands to catch himself, and the other to keep holding her picture. Then he set it down, letting it lay open over his chest.

“If you’re going to kill me, then just do it already, you fucking freak.”
The prey didn’t make it to his escape vehicle. Cryptid had known that he wouldn’t. There was too much blood in the air. If it was stopped, somehow, it wouldn’t kill him. But it wasn’t healthy, either. When the prey collapsed, it was over; both of them knew it.

That’s why Cryptid didn’t panic as Malachite scrabbled at his shirt for something, shaking almost as much as the predator was. There wasn’t any room for a weapon under the t-shirt, Cryptid already recognized that, but he slowed a little anyway as the man pulled out a locket. Silver, larger. He relaxed, when it opened. A locket.

He gave Mal space to look into it, stopping a pace away. Far enough to step back if desperation returned to the man, close enough to look down and see when the locket was set back down. He waited until the man spit his unoriginal insult before he spoke.

“She’s pretty.” Sorrow slipped past the animal, as the blue eyes studied the woman in the picture. Then his gaze lifted to the prey’s face, and for just a second, there was a perfect window to the two halves of the soul, man and animal, acting in perfect tandem.

The man kept up the sincere eye contact for another second, and spoke softly. “I hope you said goodbye. Honest.”

The monster drew back a fist, and clocked Mal in the temple with the metal bar of the claws.

Being a steel capital, Pittsburgh was full of abandoned factories. After the last spectacular shitshow of a meal, the warehouse district was off limits to him. So instead, he’d found a nice, comfortable abandoned factory around the Strip, and started to set up shop there. Admittedly it didn’t have everything – he didn’t expect to have to eat for another month or more if he could stretch out his resources, once he got started.

Todd sat cross-legged on a metal table. He’d left a few things here, just in case. He hadn’t expected to eat soon, but his big knife, flaying knife, and bonesaw sat around him, and he wore a set of sweats he’d set aside to be ruined in these circumstances. They were cheap, they were black, and they were flammable. It’d save him trouble later, and he was glad he’d thought of it before, because he’d needed to get out of that kevlar and assess his bruising.

On another table, in sight of a nearby wooden chair and its occupant, were various scattered goods and personal effects. A photo album, kept out of reach of the various sprays of blood, but already thumbed through with mental notes on important faces – the pretty woman from the locket, a man about Malachite’s age, and the man in the only black-and-white photo that also featured Mal and the blonde man. There was a green phone, which would need to be cleaned of Todd’s fingerprints after the bout of snooping that earned him messages from coworkers and the name of the pretty woman: Katherine.

She was everywhere. She was Mal’s life outside of the hunt, that was clear from his photo roll and their saccharine texts. Todd kept himself from thinking too hard about a haunting kiss as he looked at the background photo of the woman on the phone. The hunger helped him stay grounded in the present, if nothing else, even if he was reminded by the face of the soon-to-be widow why he didn’t deserve the same kind of happiness that even a man like Malachite had somehow found.

There was other stuff, too. Wedding ring, as pristine as Todd would expect from someone so deeply in love. Then the Jeep keys, various earrings, the locket. He’d taken everything that might let Mal turn into a weapon off his person, and set it with the other relics of Mal’s life.

Speaking of Mal, he was tied to a wooden chair Todd had found that somehow survived the test of time by old rope that wasn’t as miraculous in its survival. Those weren’t the only precautions Todd had taken; he had no idea if Mal could regain the energy to shift his body, and he didn’t give him the chance. He’d stripped off the boots, and then socks, and then taken the next layer down off, too. And he gave the man’s hands the same treatment. They’d sting like a bitch when Mal woke up, but Todd wasn’t taking many chances.

He’d learned a lot about the man called Malachite in the span of an hour, before the hunger had finally banished the calm that came with remembering that his food was a real person and he’d gotten to work on the first body he’d dragged back to his den. He chewed on the thug he’d called Driver Number 3 – the most accessible of all the bodies, and one he was sure was still alive, if out cold; he didn’t even wake up for his own execution – and on the information gleaned from the bits and bobs on the second table.

Malachite’s real name was Jasper Malcolm Torres,and he was 34 years old. He worked with two people, who called themselves Obsidian and Sulfur, and possibly a third person who kept their phone number blocked. Apparently, Jasper Torres hadn’t found it necessary to turn on the setting that required his attention to open the phone, which was how he’d gotten most of the rest of the intel he had. Obsidian or sulfur would send names, places, brief and unhelpful instructions, and then there’d be nothing.

But it wasn’t enough to work with, predictably so. That was why Todd had gotten through the head, organs, ribs, and arms of Driver Number 3 (who was a man named Mark Peters and was much less interesting than Jasper Torres, and nowhere near as pretty), instead of putting Jasper Torres out of both of their misery.

Thoroughly blood-soaked, Todd sat unmasked and cross-legged on the table across from Malachite, feeling marginally more alive than he had when he’d arrived. Still cold, though. The food had helped his miserable body finish mending, nothing more. The bruises had turned the sickly yellow of their final phase of healing, and he could finally breathe without a hitch.

He’d made it through the upper part of the last leg when he heard Jasper’s body sigh. He debated speaking, but he couldn’t be sure just yet if that was sleep or a sign of life. Instead, he bit down with a visceral crunch on the last knee and chewed, blue eyes on his prisoner's face. He'd made a scene; he wanted to see how Jasper Torres would interpret it before saying anything at all.

Malachite was dreaming. He knew that even as he dreamt. His wife wasn’t there, in Pittsburgh, but there she was sitting across from him at a diner. One of her hands was across the table, holding his. He stared at it for a moment before the dream distorted, leaving with just the image of his wife’s smile as the dream split apart at the seams. Pain echoed through him as he groaned, his head lifting up, the back of his neck hurting. For a moment, he had forgotten exactly what had happened. Then, sharp pain in his hands and feet brought him all the way too

He gasped in, trying to flex his hands in a way where they weren’t touching anything. There was a horrible stinging in his palms and his feet. He looked down at his feet and felt his entire being stop. His feet were skinned. Judging by the sting, the hands were much the same as the feet. He looked up, around him, and it took him a minute to process what he was seeing. He shook as a bit as he saw all of his personal things laid out on the table.

Moreso, he shook deeply as he laid eyes on the photobook and his wedding band. That wasn’t good. He did his best to try and keep calm when he saw them, but he couldn’t help how his face filled with worry as he saw his affects lined up, laid out for him to see.

Then he looked straight ahead. There was a younger man sitting on the table in front of him, but Mal would recognize those blue eyes anywhere at this point. This was Cryptid, unmasked… and he was doing exactly what Mal had feared was going to happen to him. The man was biting into a human leg, chewing away as he watched.

“Well. This is.. .something. So you are a cannibal?” Even though Mal wanted to throw up whatever was in his stomach, he toughed it out. Just think of it as calmly as possible. Even if he can smell your disgust and your exclusion of him from the human race. Just keep it together.
“Mmf.” Todd offered a neutral, but slightly positive sound as politely as he could around a mouthful of Mark Peters, this one more meat than bone. The firelight had died in his blue eyes, leaving them as neutral as the muffled voice as they stared unmoving at the prisoner.

Mal was taking this well, he noted. Or at least he was putting on a good show. Todd could smell the fear and the anger that made absolute disgust, the slight rise of bile on the breath that came before the words. That was to be expected. He hadn’t needed to follow Mal’s eyes to the table, and watched his reactions instead. The fear was good. It meant he’d realized Todd meant business.

He finished his mouthful, and swallowed it without any kind of flair. He turned the leg over in his hands slowly, idly, never looking away from Jasper.

“I don’t think it’ll help your opinion if I say it’s a necessary evil, for me.” His voice was level, calm, and more human than it had been in their entire fight. And, for the first time, completely his, not some gruff embellishment or the pain and hunger. With the same calm that had been in his tone, he took another bite. This one took a little more bone with it. It gave way to his teeth with a painstaking crunch.

He continued to watch. He wanted to finish this meal before starting on the next one, and he wanted to give Jasper Torres time to process what he was witnessing. Letting it sink in usually helped later, because the mind didn’t shut down the way it would with one horror after another with pain on top. This was already going to be rough, no need to make it more difficult on either of them.

It had also, admittedly, been a while since he’d had the chance to explain himself to his food. He’d kind of quit that habit after Arlo. But it might do something, here. Or maybe he was just pissed and wanted Mal to know what exactly was waiting for him, before it happened.

“Surprisingly, I know someone who also has to kill people to survive. He just doesn’t… do this. This is new for me, I won’t lie.” He gave a sharp grin, one that said despite his current circumstances, he was still very much ready for a fight. It would just be a different kind of fight. Mal wasn’t going to flip on Obsidian. He’d sing all day about Leo and his fucking crew, but Mal knew better. He had seen the man’s face. Cryptid had removed his mask.

Mal was fucked.

So instead of giving this monster an ounce of information, Mal was going to be a problem. Being a problem was something Mal was particularly good at. Whether it was causing problems, or being the problem, it was almost his specialty. That was, if it weren’t for the fact that his specialty was actually killing other monsters. Looked like that jig was up, though. He had lost, and now all he could do was protect Katherine and Obsidian. His silence would buy them precious time. He might have his phone, but he didn’t know the keyphrases he used with Katherine to keep them both safe. He didn’t know the passcodes to the actual business side of his apps, so he wouldn’t be able to see anything beyond numbers and email addresses. Those could be changed.

Mal’s eyes were drawn back to the table. He could just barely see the photo of Katherine in his locket there. His face softened slightly, a sad look coming over his eyes. He was never going to hear her voice again. He wouldn’t be able to die feeling her touch. He would never see her smile change into a grin, feel her in his arms as she ran and jumped up to hug him every time he came home. That was his biggest regret.

He didn’t regret coming to Pittsburgh with Obsidian, as he scouted for new metas. He regretted the fact he was going to die for it. The fact he’d never see his Katherine ever again.

But he didn’t have to die a fucking snitch.

So with that in mind, he turned back to the man, and said, “Are you going to hunt down all my loved ones if I don’t talk?”
Todd’s head tilted a little bit, and he studied Malachite without intensity. He’d never heard of another meta who needed to take life in order to continue living. If he hadn’t given in to it so early, he might not need to, either. But he had, and he did. No use living in the past.

He let his prey grieve, though, for the futures that would never come. He turned over what he’d been told as he continued to fill the silence between them with the sound of eating. When Mal asked his question, Todd straightened up and lowered the limb in his hands. It had definitely crossed his mind to threaten friends and family if need be; nothing he could go through with, or would, but he didn’t know what kind of person Malachite took him for.

So instead he smiled without teeth, and shook his head.

“We’re not the same kind of monster, Jasper.” He gestured to the table with his free hand. “While it wouldn’t take all that much to find her, Katherine is safe. From me, at least. Obsidian and Sulfur might be a different story. And Leo, of course. He’s my main problem right now.”

That cleared the air. Now that certain things were in the open, Todd was inclined to be more honest. He was almost certain that beyond some good instincts and maybe experience, Mal wouldn’t have a way to know for sure when he was telling the truth and when he was lying. But with food in his system to process, he was feeling oddly generous. Or maybe it was that sadness that Mal kept getting, the kind that a man like Mal wouldn’t use as a weapon because it might be seen as a weakness.

So Todd sighed, and kept talking, to say what they were thinking. “Listen. We both know you’re not leaving here tonight. I can kill you, clean and easy – bleeding to death isn’t painless, but it’s more humane than the alternatives. That’s why it’s preferred for butchering.”

He gestured with the protruding bones of Mark Peters’s calf to Mal’s bare feet.

“Or I can do worse than the necessary precautions I’ve already taken. You seem pretty loyal, but I don’t think your hindbrain will remember that once I start taking fingers or hitting nerves.”

Torture was one thing. Reminding the prey that they’d been reduced to food was another. And while Todd could be very good at physical torture – he knew the human body through long experience of trial and error – his methods on the psychological side were much more effective. But who knew? Maybe Mal would avoid all that nasty trouble and let him get on with his night.

“My employer and I have never once hunted down or hurt the family of the people we were after. I would never hurt another man’s Katherine. I hope you’ll do me the sole favor of leaving her out of this. She doesn’t even know all of what I do. She’s never done one bad thing in her entire life. Just promise you won’t touch my wife.” Mal’s voice was soft as he said this, his lips curled up in a sad smile.

He knew what was coming. He knew that he was about to die, that he’d be bled like a pig and then consumed. Surprisingly, he didn’t… mind this much. He minded the fact there wouldn’t be a body to bring back to his wife. He minded that he was leaving her alone after promising he would come home. He hadn’t physically seen her in the last two weeks that they had been setting up shop in Pittsburgh. Two weeks without her, and now he would die without her.

What a fucking wreck.

He lifted his eyes up to Cyrptid’s, making full eye contact with the man. He knew he was going to go through… a lot. This man didn’t seem the kind to be squeamish about torture. “I’ll tell you all you want to know of what I know about Leo. I don’t give a fuck about that sad bag of shit. And, I was wondering why you hand done that.” He shivered a bit at the intense feeling of his feet on the ground, the skin gone. That wasn’t pleasant in the slightest.

Or maybe he was shaking from shock. Mal had never gone into shock before, but he felt having parts of his body skinned and watching a man eat another man’s leg might have qualified him for the “going into shock” camp.

“Well, if we’re going to do this, we might as well start. What do you want to know about Leo?”
Todd listened, as Jasper took the bait implied in his almost-accusation. He gnawed on his meal and learned that unlike the men they worked with, Malachite, Obsidian, Sulfur, and their mysterious employer had standards. What he knew of Leo was that the man was a glorified thug who happened to be good with finances. He was a bully, and hardly inspired loyalty in his own men. He operated on fear, and that was why the Cryptid persona was so effective on them as well. It was no wonder that Jasper didn’t have any respect for him, if he was telling the truth; and at this point, he had no reason not to.

“After this, I won’t cause her any more grief. You have my word.” There was obviously the question of how much the word of a cannibal was worth, but this relationship implied at least a little trust, even if it was a torture session. They’d have to take each other’s words for certain things.

Mal was starting to shake badly. That could be the blood loss, it could be the fear, it could be the pain in his hands and feet. He nodded as Jasper mentioned that.

“I didn’t know how long it’d take you to recover enough to use that party trick again. You fucked me up pretty good, I didn’t want to take any more risks than I already was in not killing you right away.”

There wasn’t much Todd could offer him, outside of not escalating the situation. If it was the shock, he’d just need some space to recover. If it was exhaustion, he’d have to let him rest, or his information would stop making any sense at a certain threshold. For now, as long as he was cooperating, Todd could let him take this at his own pace.

And, on the front with Vasquez, he was intent on cooperating. This was the test, and quite possibly the big break Todd needed. If he could get something important out of this part, then he’d have a direction to head in to make real change.

“I’ve been able to get most of what I need for a night-to-night thing from his guys.” He shifted the meat in his hand again. “I’ve got most of the basics – locations, numbers, methods. I know the best places to hit him where it hurts. I know a bit about who he is, where he works, I’ve even got a home address. What I need to know is how he does business, what kind of guy he is to peers – he scares the shit out of his subordinates, but that’s not good for talking to people like you or your boss. I need to know his less legal office locations. I need anything you know that could get me a clear shot on Leo Vasquez himself.”

Mal licked his lips and went quiet for a moment. He couldn’t stop shaking. Definitely shock then. He leaned forward and tried to take even breaths. He made sure not to look at his feet so he didn’t spiral. It took him a few minutes to get himself under control, but focusing on the unusually cold night air on his skin helped him to avoid it becoming worse. He was still trembling when he looked up.

There was no reason to believe Cryptid. He had no guarantees the man wouldn’t hunt Katherine down and hurt her after all this was over. He had no real way to know for sure this man would keep his word. He just had to trust that if he gave him everything he was willing to, Katherine would be safe. So with a sigh, he sat all the way back in the chair.

“He’s a slimy prick. If my boss wasn’t who he was, he would have tried to bully us as well. But well, he is who he is, and Leo doesn’t want any of that heat. He’ll probably have heat on him after this. If my boss doesn’t take him out first, I want you to eat that prick for giving us faulty information.” Mal scoffed and leaned his head back against the chair. “Told us he thought you were just a regular dude. Just some guy fucking his men up. That he didn’t believe the rumors about you. Must have been fucking lying through his yellow teeth.”

There was a moment of silence, and then Mal rambled off two addresses, slowly and clearly. “Those are where we met him. He kept minimal security there, as if worried about it being noticeable. He was uh. After he realized he couldn’t bully my boss, or me, he got very respectful, and he was level headed, even when you could tell he was mad. We heard him swearing up a storm the first time we left that office.”

Malachite hesitated and then said, in a tentative voice, “How much you know about his family?”
Todd kept up eating while Mal regained his balance, keeping up a steady pace that brought him down to the foot. Mal talked, and it was a lot of what he’d expected to hear about Leo. He was an ass, but he wasn’t stupid. He ruled by fear and he knew fear himself. It also told him about Mal’s boss. The kind of man who could make a thug like Vasquez flip a switch like that was the kind of man Todd would need to be careful about, too. If he could scare Vasquez, Todd could justify being wary.

He couldn’t help the slow, sharp smile that showed his teeth when Mal mentioned eating Leo. Everything in him agreed with the sentiment – whether he went through with it wasn’t really on his mind, since he hadn’t had the information to even consider it before.

Now, at least, the thought could rest easy in that dark corner of his mind he’d go back to suppressing in the morning.

“To be fair, before tonight, I hadn’t eaten any of his guys.” The grin faded to just a smile as he looked back at something Mal wouldn’t see behind the table. “I’ll make sure he’s got a clue about Peters here, though. I’m sure that’ll work wonders for his guys’ morale.”

He turned back toward Mal, and picked up his heavy butcher’s knife as his hand brushed over it. He set the foot down, holding it steady with his still-stiff left hand while he aligned his slice. Mark had toes that lined up very nicely with the blade, and he chopped them off with a sound more like chopping vegetables than tearing meat. He slid them a little to the side with the knife, then took his attention off of the foot as he caught the hesitance in Mal’s voice. His eyes hadn’t grown any sharper, but his attention had weight. He hoped it didn’t send him back into a fit. This sounded important.

“His family? Not much. I’ve been able to scout, not approach. He keeps a tight enough watch on them. Knowing him, it’s less an act of love and more to protect his weak points. Still. I didn’t think they were involved. What do you know about them?”

“Well, the son of a bitch deserves to be eaten, if ever there was such a thing. Never thought I’d say that, but the way he yells at that poor woman. Well. He’s a right bastard.” Mal stopped, scoffing a bit before continuing. “He’s divorced. His wife has primary custody. Probably one of the reasons you haven’t been able to find many openings on them. Every other Saturday, he takes one guard and he drives out to pick them up for a week. I can tell you the route. I was his last guard and he said the route has never needed to change before, so he doesn’t bother doing it.”

He smile a bit at the idea that this could fuck the man over. The way he had tried to speak to Obsidian had made him want to have a go with the man, but a demonstration of Obsidian’s powers, however brief, had been enough to convince Leo to treat him with the respect he deserved. Mal looked around at the run-down factory. A steel factory, from the looks of it. Real old too, and full of graffiti that looked equally as old. What a place to fucking die.

He turned his attention back to the man, his eyes feeling a little heavy. As the shock had finally eased out of his body, he began to feel exhausted. He would keep it together, though. He was loyal to Obsidian, not to anyone else. Leo Vasquez could suck a dick. “If you have a way to take notes, I’ll give you the streets. It’s probably going to be your best chance to catch him. This last Saturday was his day, so you’ll have to wait two weeks. His driver takes the kids back on their own.”

He paused and licked his lips again. His throat felt dry, and he could hear the slight rasp in his throat. He wouldn’t have to talk for very long, though. Once they got to his brother, he would shut up, and then he assumed the torture would start. “You think that’s a good enough lead for you?”
It surprised him to hear someone else mention that Leo deserved to be eaten. Then again, Mal and he seemed to be monsters of a similar vein. Monsters with standards, at least.

The information was so much more than he could’ve asked for, too. He was rapt as he listened to the directions, to the streets. Once the foot was gone, he wiped his hands on the inside of the bottom of his t-shirt and leaned across the table for a device, his own cell phone. It was nothing fancy, a burner with a cheap plan and limited minutes, but it had a notes app, and that was what mattered. He wrote the addresses, too – that was where Mark Peters’s bloodstained clothes were going to end up. And then he took down the streets, and the next several dates.

He picked up the last bits of meat off the table, and popped them into his mouth while he worked on that part. With the start of a plan on his mind, he almost missed the soft pop-crunch of the tiny bones breaking. He definitely would miss Mal’s reactions as energy started to come back to him, as he finished the meal.

“Fuck the guy, but I might wait longer. I’ll want to make sure there’s nobody to fill in the power vacuum. And –” he hesitated, as if he was actually embarrassed, and looked at Jasper again. He was so rusty on this part of things, but he let himself finish, because who was Mal going to tell?

“I– don’t like eating, all that often. Turns necessity into a bad habit.”

He was quiet for a few seconds. He felt the tension starting to grow in the air, the resistance Mal was preparing despite his weakness. He didn’t have a lot of time before he had to let his prisoner rest, before any information he gave, if any, was made into nonsense by his brain remembering how much blood he’d lost. If he blacked out now… No, Todd was pretty sure he’d live, if he blacked out now. Maybe a few blackouts from now he simply wouldn’t wake up, but one bout of rest wouldn’t hurt, and it would give Todd the chance to clean up before the blood became crusted and sticky on his skin. It was a bad feeling, an even dirtier feeling than his morning-after guilt. And it was more of a bitch to get off before he went anywhere.

He needed to ease in, and his decision to tell Mal what he had, actually gave him a good segway. The energy didn’t go anywhere, but it settled, calmed, rested. Saved for later.

“You said before that you know a meta who needs to kill to live.” He hadn’t exactly, but Todd extrapolated. “I’ve never heard of anyone who’s like me, in that sense. All kinds of weird stuff. Not…”

He let his voice fade, and then shifted his body to lay down across the table, ignoring the blood and implements around him as the meal started to settle and spread throughout his body. He wasn’t tired yet. He probably wouldn’t be after the first one, no more tired than he was from the fight. But the predator inside him knew there was still prey nearby, to finish the process of replenishing his self. He sighed, but without a good view of his face, the sigh could’ve meant anything, same as the next question.

“How does he deal with it?”

Malachite could hear, what he thought, was a kind of… almost regretfulness in the man’s voice. He swallowed a bit against his dry throat, then cleared it. That was… a tough question. But it was a tough question that Mal had an answer for. “Used to be, he couldn’t. He accidentally killed a few people while trying to figure out his power. Including, well. He killed someone he cared about, and i don’t think he’s ever recovered from that.”

He took in a shuddering breath and sat up a little straighter. He wasn’t sure if Cryptid was actually expecting an answer, but he would give him one. One that might, in some way, change the way he viewed himself. Because this kid, who wasn’t really a kid but was still younger than Mal, this kid clearly didn’t like what he had to do. A necessary evil, he had called it. That had been what Obsidian had called it for years.

“To be honest… He stopped caring. That was how he dealt with it in the end. He was never the same after him but after those two girls out in Ohio? God, he was really a different person after that. Same ideals, same methodology, but he just didn’t care anymore about killing regular people. He was very careful, is very careful with metahumans when he is forced to feed off us. But for the most part, he doesn’t care anymore about human lives. Views them all as expendable.

That was too much. Mal recognized that it was too much, but the words were starting to slur a bit as they came out of his mouth. He was talking without thinking, almost as if he were talking to Sulphur. Cryptid was not his friend. He needed to shut the fuck up. He bit down on his tongue, hard. Almost hard enough to bleed. That woke him up. He shook his head and then nodded in the man’s direction. “He deals with it the way you deal to everything in life. He got used to it. He had people who supported him, so he didn’t feel horrible about himself. You keep your friends close, your enemies closer, your food even closer, we used to joke. I don’t know if that answers your question all that well, but he just… got used to the death.”
Todd continued his pattern of silent listening, but this time, he was completely still. His breathing was soft and easy, his ribs sore with the memory of pain, but all their injuries fully mended. Without a good view of his face, it was easy to mistake his relaxation for sleep, or ease.

But he listened, really listened, the same way he had all night. Ohio was bookmarked and filed away.

More useful than that, though, was the emphasis Malachite placed on metas. Or, well, the mystery man, probably either Obsidian or Sulphur. He could tell that Mal was starting to get a little loopy, his tongue loosened by the way his brain didn’t waste energy on inhibitions. Humans, and metahumans, weren’t the same to Mal’s friend. Mal didn’t agree with him, but Mal seemed to respect his position. He wondered if Katherine was a normal human. Probably, given how protective Malachite was of her. Mal’s friend Sulfur (or maybe his friend Obsidian) had something against humans – something had changed, and now? Now they weren’t people anymore. Now they were prey.

Todd knew that feeling. He’d experienced it very early into realizing what he was, before he knew about other metahumans. Before Arlo. He’d thought he was just – different. Stronger, faster, better. Superior. He’d never hated humans, but normal people were weak, and the strong ate the weak in nature. The law of the jungle was that the strong survived.

He’d learned over time that wasn’t true. The smart survived. Those with good instincts and who knew how to play on their strengths. A fox wasn’t designed to take down a moose. And he’d been reminded that people were people. That one had been thanks to Arlo, rest his soul, and may he forgive himself for that someday.

Thanks to him, Todd had relearned, and after him, he’d learned to be afraid of people, to an extent. To push people away, because people didn’t accept predators, people didn’t like things that scared them, or killed the weak, not even to survive.

Arlo was people. Summer was people. Nat was people. All metas.

Sam was people. And a meta. And she wouldn’t know what he was. Ever.

He was still nervous about people. He’d remembered how to get human people to accept him, remembered how to blend in with a smile and a laugh, and slowly he’d found himself doing that for real more often. He’d remembered how to be a person without help, because he’d needed to, or he would’ve… maybe not died. He would’ve been alone, though, and he wouldn’t have been able to hide. So he’d reminded himself how to be a person, and that had helped him more than submitting to the hunger and the instincts had.

But he wouldn’t tell Mal that. It really just sounded like Mal needed to get that off his chest, and Todd listened to him. And when Mal was done, he showed him he was still listening by sighing again. His expression still hidden in the shadows of the empty factory.

“Yeah. Sounds right.”

He didn’t expand on that. Let Mal interpret it how he would, take what he would from the long silence and simple answer. Meanwhile he turned his face toward the exhausted prisoner, and decided to start with the first hard question.

“Is that one Sulphur, or Obsidian?”