Closed RP Lead-In

This RP is currently closed.


Staff member

Ivan Watts was a wanted man, but he was not guilty- at least, not in the way they thought he was. Not in a way that justified this.

There was a warrant out for his arrest. There had been for a few weeks now; drug running, according to the charges, and a couple of attempted homicides- all of people he knew, all of people he had crossed. He tried to be a good guy, y'know? He tried to look out for his own. But, after what they did to his brother, he had no choice but to find out exactly why retribution never works. They were stronger than him, more numerous than him. They had the power to ruin his life- and ruin it they did. The cops believed their side of the story, as did the vigilantes- because, why wouldn't they? There was no evidence supporting his innocence, and an ever-growing mountain supporting his guilt.

His only hope came from a faceless man who had evidence of his brother's murder- evidence that he wasn't the one to blame. The stranger was the one to reach out, not Ivan, arranging to meet on the outskirts, offering protection from whoever else might find him there. They were afraid of him, he said. All it would take was a whisper, and they'd all be sent running, screaming, begging for their lives. It was an odd claim, but if Ivan wanted out of this mess, he'd have to trust him. He'd have to listen.
The warehouse district always looked empty, but it was lethal to ever think it was.

Ivan kept his hands in his pockets as he passed by the buildings. He was cold. Ever since he stepped outside, he had been cold- like he had been running a fever all night that had only just broken, forcing his body to catch up to the sudden drop. Ah, but he couldn't just stand here, conserving heat. He had someone to find- someone he could see, just off in the distance, skulking around as he was told he often did. He grit his teeth and began his approach, hissing in pain as the slight shift in tension caught his back muscles.

That was something he'd have to bite down. He had already done so before, hadn't he?
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Cryptid smelled him, before he saw him.

So far the patrol had been pretty routine. Mostly just hopping from rooftop to rooftop and looking for bad guys. With the Jackals otherwise occupied, and Connor left to the last target he’d actively tried to pick up, he’d decided to go with the classics. Hey, if it worked for Batman, it could work for him.

Although his intentions were a little more violent than Batman’s. After his moment with Sam – well. He’d healed mostly while she’d been curled up in his lap. Days later, she still apologized, even when his scars were gone and instead his bones seemed more pronounced. Her eyes had still been worried, still apologized. As, when she wasn’t looking, he let himself tremble with the cold left over. Tonight, he was hunting. Only food would fix this, and maybe she’d stop worrying.

The scent was thick. Heavy. Blood and infection. Sick prey.

He’d been able to smell it for a while now, and he’d dropped to the ground a few blocks back to investigate. At first he’d followed the scent on instinct, but as he came closer, the person in him started to put together what it meant. Someone was injured, badly, and had been for a while. He had already pushed his instincts aside in preparation for whatever he was going to come across. The blood was fresh enough that they were still alive, the infection a good sign only because it wasn’t mixed with decay.

There – that man. The trail led to the person down the next alley. The guy who started walking toward him when he saw Cryptid. Todd drew himself up to full height, watched him come, looking for inconsistencies in movement as he called out to him.

“Hey, Mister, you doing okay?” The voice was human, tinged with a gruff edge. No threat, no need to scare the guy. One of his shoulders looked off in the dim light, or maybe his shirt was just clinging to his body funny. Could be where the injury was. Cryptid stayed put and let the guy come to him. Again, no reason to scare him off when he was clearly already in bad shape.
He had been spotted. Ivan knew what that meant. A wanted criminal, caught in the sightline of Cryptid- they were beyond dead at that point. By the time the monster saw you, he'd probably been tracking you halfway across the fucking city, only showing his face when he knew it would be the last thing you'd see. He stared ahead at the vigilante, scowling beneath the flickering lights. He didn't respond- not verbally. No point in responding verbally. There was something he ought to do here, wasn't there? Some faint utterance of advice showing itself through the haze of his memory.

Go for the head.

Ivan pulled his gun, and shot at Cryptid's skull.
There was something wrong with the man. It was like watching a sick deer, something that invoked equal parts hunger, compassion, and disgust. With the open wound, the man’s fear was clear in his scent. But he didn’t respond by running, or in words. Todd saw the movement, labored though it was, as the man pulled his gun and took aim.

Cryptid was used to his reputation doing him more harm than good. It made his work both harder and easier, especially in a town full of metas and other vigilantes. It also made dealing with people he didn’t intend to kill that much harder.

No more words, not yet. He didn’t pay attention to the man’s aim. If he hadn’t pulled the trigger yet, Cryptid might’ve tried to talk to him, but it was too late for that. Instead Todd took off at a weaving sprint towards him. He needed to disarm the man, maybe break his wrist if he could. It would put him in an even worse way than before, but that mattered a lot less than Cryptid not getting shot right now. Maybe he’d be more inclined to listen once he was helpless, dangerous as that spot might be with the cold chewing on Todd’s bones.
The recoil sent shockwaves through his arm, through his back, through his wound. Ivan gasped in pain, reflexively dropping the gun- disarming himself completely against this apex predator. Fuck. Shit. What now? What if he caught up- killed him before he could finish what he had to do? Ivan had no means to defend himself, no means to stall for time, no means to help him aside from his ability to run and his knowledge of the warehouse layouts, but- shit, fuck, wasn't this guy super-fast? Like, inhumanly fast? Like, could catch up to him in seconds fast? Wasn't that what people had said about him?

But it wasn't like he had any other option, was it?

He kicked the gun behind him, then bent down to pick it up as he turned and ran, firing a few more shots at Cryptid to hopefully make up for the lost time. Not that the lost time mattered much when you're a human running from a monster, but it was all he could take. He needed Cryptid to move, to follow. Though the wound in his shoulder had opened up again, he needed to bear the pain.
The man did the stupidest thing he could in the situation he was in. He recognized Cryptid, recognized him as a monster, as a predator. And he ran. And, without fully thinking about it, Todd took off running as well.

Something stirred under his skin as he put on the burst of speed necessary to catch the target. It throbbed like an old bruise, itched like a mosquito bite just begging to be scratched despite the consequences. The beat of each footstep, the smell of blood, the smell of fear, the adrenaline in his own body, the hunger in his bones. The different instruments all came together in tune, just waiting for the conductor. Every part of him begging him to make this a hunt.

He swallowed back that urge. He hadn’t hunted – not fully hunted, not succumbed to the huntsong – in years, not since he’d met Arlo, so he had long practice in suppressing it. The man was injured, badly injured, injured enough that the recoil of his own weapon forced him to drop it. The scent of blood went from dried to fresh in the same movement. He needed to rest, not to run through the streets like a maniac–

One of the poorly aimed bullets hit him in the knee, and Cryptid’s step faltered as pain shot up his leg. He bit down the snarl that came with that. He should’ve stopped to give his knee space to heal, but he couldn’t lose this guy. That wasn’t just the hunt talking, either. Something was up, something was wrong.

So he didn’t pause, even if his speed was significantly lowered by the stray shot. And instead of using that pain to work up the energy for the necessary pounce, he used it to ground himself enough to try words again.

“Hey, listen,” he called, as he started to pick up speed again. “Stop running. You need help. I just– I just want to talk.”

And while Todd spoke, he shifted something in the face under the mask. Rather than the sharp, hawklike eyes he’d worn in the mask since his first meeting with Wolf, he chose the pretty, hone-brown eyes of a much more recent kill. They’d hold the sincerity of his offer much better than the near-black ones he’d had when he first spotted the target, and hopefully calm him down enough to at least slow down before Todd’s worse instincts got the better of him.

Ivan hadn't recieved much in the way of visual description from his contact, only the vague promise that he'd know him when he saw him. That was a stupid thing to say. What if Ivan got the wrong guy, hm? Then whatever deal he was hoping to cut would be all for naught- Ivan would be murdered in a warehouse somewhere, and the moron would be left on read forever. It really was stupid. A stupid idea made by an arrogant piece of shit who assumed that something about him would be intimidating enough for Ivan to immediately clock him as the guy for the job.

He kept that thought right up until he saw the man in the hat and shatterred mask leaning against the side of a warehouse.


"Shit, you were right..."

"Of course I'm right- I'm always right."

God, his voice was... Ivan couldn't tell. The man had an accent, clearly, and it was different than the one he was trying to put on, but there was something more to it, something he couldn't quite put his finger on. Tone, maybe? The way the voice sat in the space between laughable and deeply uncanny? It was odd, that was for certain.

There were a lot of odd characters around these parts, to put it one way. Was he one of them?

"Heard you've been wantin' something I've got." The odd man continued, "Though, I suppose want ain't the word you'd use yourself, mm-hm?"

"It's more like a nee-"

"A need, that's right. Not a want, a need."

Ivan could've sworn he saw the man smile behind that mask. He pointed a gloved thumb up over his shoulder, down one of the dimly-lit alleys. Then, wordlessly, he began to walk down it- away from the warehouses, towards... well, Ivan didn't quite know. It was something he'd have to find out, wasn't it? Just like this man's identity, his reasons for helping, and the evidence he supposedly carried.

So, as he didn't have much choice in the matter, Ivan started to follow.

"You just wanna talk, huh!?" Ivan spat, "Damn fucking right- how many people have you had a talk with so far, hm? How'd they fuckin' fare? Answer me this, you shithead psychopath; is Cryptid the name of a serial killer, or a fuckin' podcast? How braindead do you think I am!?"

Cryptid had about as much chance of calming Ivan down as Ivan did killing him- this fucking immortal, super-strong, super-fast, weird goddamn shapeshifting motherfucker. Oh, he had heard all about this son of a bitch- even before recieving the extra information. He knew what he did, who he targeted- and how much of his targets were left behind to be identified. If Ivan slowed down, he'd be dead. He couldn't die- he just couldn't. Not now, not here.

The freak's eyes had changed. Human-looking, like a fucking lure. Ivan wasn't about to let another anglerfish motherfucker snap him up that night, no way. He raised the gun a little higher and shot three more times, trying to count how many rounds he had left in the damn thing before he was truly fucked. Would a shot through the head even kill this guy? Would anything?

He came to a corner and turned sharply. It was a move that seemed to have one purpose--to distract the thing chasing him--but Ivan knew it had two. His destination wasn't within the warehouse district. It was a little off to the side; an abandoned build site, with a couple of unfinished houses, one of which...


Ivan hissed under his breath, gritting his teeth so hard he could've sworn he heard them crack. Focus. Fucking focus.
What saved Cryptid this time was the fact he was starting to let himself drop back. His reputation was fucking up any good a full chase would do for him, and his leg was fucking up any kind of good chase. It wasn’t healing fast enough. He knew why, obviously, but if he wanted to make the part of his mind begging to turn the chase into a hunt shut up, he’d need to fall back and make a better plan. It wasn’t like he was losing the man’s scent any time soon.

So he slowed his limping pace and moved to the side opposite the gun, making it almost impossible to shoot at him without the man having to stop and turn around. His knee joint was already resetting wrong; Todd felt the way the bones were mending, and knew it’d hurt to walk on for a while. The only way to fix that was re-breaking and resetting that, and this was hardly the time. Especially since his instincts were screaming that something was wrong.

Obviously, something was wrong. The man was running from a predator. He was badly injured, and had been long enough for the wound to get infected. But there was something about his fear that was… off. Todd watched him round a corner, and stopped running completely for a few seconds to get his bearings. He had no idea what exactly was wrong, but something – something was not quite right about all this. What was it?

Was it just that he was projecting? He turned chases into ambushes all the time, especially when he was injured. But he was built to be an ambush predator. Most humans would’ve just stopped and blown his brains out if they were so sure they were going to die. Maybe he could just let the man go and find him again later. That would be the safe play.

Then again, if he died because of that, then that’d be Todd’s fault, even if nobody knew.


They were still in the warehouse district. A glance around found Cryptid a ladder that led up to the second story loading bay, usually only accessible by crane or interior stairs. He followed it up the building and determined it’d be a good place to get up to the rooftops for an overhead view. As he approached the ladder, he listened to the prey’s footsteps recede into the distance.

Wouldn’t be hard to find him with a canopy view, at least. With an ear trained to the footsteps, and gritting down on his tongue to avoid yelling whenever his bad knee moved the wrong way, Cryptid started to climb.

The first thing he noticed, before the light, before the noise, was the heat.

It was like stepping off a plane in the middle of a wildfire, being hit by that sudden cascade of warmth so intense it made him nauseous; more like water than air, the heat somehow making it thicken. Ivan leaned against the doorframe, anticipating a wave of vertigo that, thankfully, hadn't yet hit him. Just sickness. Just discomfort.

He stepped forwards into the hallway, looking up at the walls around him. Bare brickwork, cracked and greying, lit up red so dimly from beneath that they seemed to stretch up forever, despite the ceiling hanging as low as it usually did. Thick cables ran up the side like writhing veins, snaking into the gloom to stare in yellow, tiny dots; cats' eyes at the side of the road, waiting for the truck to pass over the carcass. They blinked at him. He looked away, at his feet, as he shuffled further into the stifling warmth. Concrete subfloor, he noted, replete with nail-spiked planks; something to nail down a carpet, most likely, should this project have ever been completed. A low, mechanical rumble shuddered through his spine, as if the sick-warm air had grown arms to shake him by the shoulders- pay attention, pay attention, there's something you're missing, pay attention.

The door shut behind him, with the familiar click of a household lock.

It would've been a nice house, if it hadn't been abandoned. A little cramped, perhaps, and in a terrible location, but nice nonetheless. It was a shame that this was all that remained; a whalefall of setpiece and backdrop, perfect for some costumed maniac to skitter through and devour for his own. The man in the hat wasn't a maniac, costumed as he was. If he wanted to kill Ivan, he wouldn't be going about it like this. Suspicious as it all was, that much he was sure of; Ivan knew he wouldn't be dying by his hand.


-His voice-


-was firm and detached, expecting obedience with so much certainty that he saw no point in demanding it. And, of course, he was right. That made Ivan deeply uncomfortable; moreso than the heat, than the noise, than the light. This felt like a dream, with that same level of detached helplessness, that same level of dread, not knowing what horrors your subconscious mind would dredge up to parade before you; except, it wasn't his subconscious. It almost certainly wasn't the stranger's subconscious, either. This whole thing seemed so planned, so staged, Ivan would be more surprised if the man didn't have a script running through his head; stage directions and all.

[IVAN accepts the STRANGER'S offer, following him to the abandoned house in the middle of the night.]​

He kept his distance as he was led up the stairs, as if trailing behind the man would give him enough time to change his mind before he reached the top, to suddenly turn around, take off his mask, and tell Ivan the take was over- he did a good job, here's the evidence as payment, you can go home now.

[IVAN falters as he enters the abandoned house, but pushes through the discomfort.]​

It was a short flight, but he felt winded nonetheless. It could've been nerves that did it, sapping all energy from his body to fuel his brain, the only thing allowing it to tread water in the paranoid flood that threatened to pull him under. It could just as easily have been the heat, slowly melting through him, making soft and pliable what once held firm; his resolve, his rationality, and, yes, his energy.

[IVAN follows the STRANGER up the stairs, and into a large, blank room-]​

-Although, weren't all the rooms blank? The house was unfinished, undecorated. This could've been a master bedroom, or a large home office, or a particularly extravagant bathroom; but, now, it was just a blank room. And, whilst there was more going on in here than there was in the hallway, there was little in the way of actual furniture. What replaced it seemed more industrial than domestic; backstage clutter, best kept behind the curtain.

A metal chair sat between two caged and glowing heat-lamps; no doubt a painful place to sit, no doubt Ivan's place to sit. He looked up at the stranger once more, one last chance to see if he'd change his tune, but the one-eyed stare that met him said more than words ever should. Ivan grit his teeth and lowered himself onto the chair, leaning forwards to keep his back away from the burning metal. His legs hurt, but it wasn't as bad as he was expecting. As with everything else in the house, it was more uncomfortable than anything else. Was he meant to be thankful for that? Pain was tangible. Pain meant something. If Ivan was in pain, it would jump-start his brain like a car engine, and he'd be walking out that door in a heartbeat, rather than sitting here in the murk.

"You didn't tell me your name."

"I didn't want you to expect it."

Ivan frowned. The man turned away, walking towards a metal crate at the side of the room; what looked like a coolbox of some sort, if Ivan could be trusted to make out shapes in the darkness. He pulled it forwards, towards the chair, allowing the shriek of metal scraping concrete to fill the room like a swarm of locusts. Ivan winced. The blinking yellow had followed them here, watching from what he assumed must be corners, though the darkness smoothed all edges. The man sat down on the crate, idly turning something over in his hands.

"Stay still." He said, "You'll make it worse if you move."

Make what worse? And- wait, what was that thing he was holding, anyway? It was small and rectangular, thin and light. On closer inspection, Ivan recognised what it was almost immediately; a cassette tape. Was... was this the evidence? What kind of caveman idiot records valuable evidence on a fucking cassette tape? Was this some sort of joke?

The man took note of his skepticism, it seemed, as he reached into his pocket and produced a tape player.

(Make what worse?)

"This is the only copy. Couldn't risk making more- if one got out and got tampered with, it would render the evidence null."

He clicked the tape into place and pressed play, allowing the tinny-voiced ghost of his brother to speak his last words once more- this time, to someone who cared to hear them.

"-ey, look- look! I didn't- what the fuck are you doing? Damon- I-"

"Shut the fuck up! Just- shut up!"

"Damon, I can't- what the fuck am I going to do to you now, huh? I can't fucking shoot you like this! I'm not a threat!"

"You can talk."


"I said you can talk. That's what matters."



He stopped the tape.

"It's not much on its own but, combined with what was left at the scene, it's a smoking gun."

He leaned forwards on the crate, resting his elbow against his knee- casual, too casual, as he had been this whole time. Then, he stood up, walked over to Ivan, and held the tape in front of him, only to snatch it away as soon as he reached up to take it. He let out a laugh; calm and callous. Ivan felt sick.

(Make what worse?)

"Not yet, cowboy." The man smiled through his words; a viscous, cloying tone, "I've got something else to show you. A favour for a favour, mm-hm? We've got plenty of time later on for this Lament of his."

Ivan had no idea why he remained seated as he stepped away, sitting back down on the crate and sliding the tape into his jacket. Perhaps he felt threatened; perhaps the man would kill him, or destroy the tape, or simply leave if Ivan showed any signs of disobedience. Yeah. Yeah, that made sense. It made a hell of a lot more sense than anything else he could come up with.

The man pulled out another device; another rectangle, though smaller, more modern than the cassette player before. He looked up, inspecting the ceiling--or perhaps the walls--for something. The yellow lights stared at him, blinking steadily. Then, as he pressed a button, they all turned green-



-And the speakers all turned on.

[IVAN sits silently and listens.]​

-And the speakers all turned on.

[LAMENT sits silently and watches.]​

-And the speakers all turned on.

The footsteps behind him had stopped.

Ivan wasn't sure when they had, or where they had, but they had stopped. Fuck. Had he lost him? No- no, this was Cryptid he was talking about- a monster like that wouldn't be so easily decieved by a fucking left turn. He was hiding somewhere. He was waiting. If Ivan kept running, he'd be ambushed, but if he kept still, he'd be- well, he'd be ambushed even faster. Was that a better option, then? To have the guy show his face now? Shit, but he wasn't even close- he'd be dead before he even saw the entrance, and that- oh, oh God.

He clutched his head, hands instinctively moving towards his ears, as if that was a way to shut out thoughts. He couldn't fail. He couldn't fail. He couldn't fail. Ivan kept running--he had to keep running--and he ran faster this time, faster than he had ever ran before. It was nearby, he knew it was nearby. If he could see the entrance, then Cryptid could see the entrance- yes, yes that was the plan. He'd act scared, act hard to get, then slow down when he got to his 'safehouse'. A building like that was the perfect place to spring an ambush- not out here in the open, where Ivan still had space to run.

Still, when the red-bathed doorframe came into view, peeking over the horizon down a cluttered lane, the sickness in his stomach became too much to bear. He faltered, stumbling a few paces, and- no. He kept going. He kept running. He couldn't fail.
It wasn’t all that hard to catch up with the man, now that he was on the rooftops. Even though his leg hadn’t reset properly, being one solid unit made his run possible, if painful. He kept out of sight as well as he could, kept a little distance. But without any sign of Cryptid following, the man’s flight seemed – directed. He knew where he was going, which was unusual for someone simply fleeing from a monster he’d apparently lost. Todd’s unease stirred again, the recognition, the worry. As he focused on the best place for his own ambush, he felt like a fox circling a cage, wondering if he could snatch the meat out of the middle without closing the door behind him.

Except the injured man wasn’t meat, he reminded himself, gritting his teeth as he did so. Had he slipped into the hunt for a second? It should’ve been easier to ignore the scent from up here, just following the sound of feet pounding pavement like he wanted to be heard. God, what if he wanted to be heard? Cryptid had made a handful of enemies. Slate came to mind first. With what he’d told them about himself, this seemed like the perfect kind of baited trap for them to catch their brother’s killer off guard.

But he would’ve smelled one of them on the victim, he was sure. Each of Ethan’s pack were distinct that way. All he’d caught was the man’s own blood and infection and… and what? There’d been something there, something mixed with the smell of burned flesh. Gasoline? That’d explain how he got burned. A gas fire. But that wouldn’t explain where they were going.

They were reaching the end of the warehouses, and Cryptid could see the rooftops of a residential area ahead. Residential areas…. Odd. Weird. Bad place for a coordinated ambush. Not like the warehouses, where the prey could get lost in the tangle of buildings. Hard to hide a group of four or more people. Slate was looking less likely, but still weren’t out of the question.

He knew he had to drop from his rooftop, and did so a little distance away, from the other side of the block. The scrape of his claws against brick when he slid down the side of the building wasn’t going to help calm the victim down, but at this point, nothing was. He’d just have to accept that, and put all his spare mental energy into keeping the hunt in check while he put on one last burst of speed to start closing the distance. A full sprint now, full tilt, emerging from the forest of warehouses and into the open field of residential street. Unfinished, Todd knew, without looking left or right. The smell of sawdust, naked plywood, and concrete all flooded in from every side as he slipped into step behind the target of his chase. Chase, not hunt, chase, not hunt. Up ahead was something – a light, dull and red, didn’t quite fit, but just in his periphery. Just in his periphery because he saw the prey’s leg give out in half a stumble.

Todd braced his resolve, and tightened his muscles, and pushed himself to close the last of the distance with a half-tackle, half-pounce, with the intent of taking the man’s legs out from under him.
He was getting closer, now; they both were, hopefully. Just a few more steps, a few more moments of hell, and it would be over. Ivan could yell at his pursuer what was going on, he could lead him to that door, he could enter that building, and... well... he hoped it would be over. It had to be, right? Still, even if it wasn't, even if this wasn't the last of his trials, it would at least be a trial completed; a trial he had to complete. His footsteps quickened alongside his heart rate, both growing louder- too loud, as if-

As if there was another pair behind him.

Ivan turned around just before the monster could strike, reflexively raising the gun and firing, just to slow the fucker down. He could survive this, he was sure, although his aim was a little higher than he intended; a shot to the neck, not the leg, as he pulled the trigger a little too early.
Cryptid’s armor did not protect his neck. He protected his other joints with pads, and wore Kevlar around his chest, but his neck just had the high collar of his coat over the turtleneck shirt that hid his skin. The coat collar was usually enough to blunt close-quarters hits. And the neck itself was such a small target that anyone shy of an extraordinary sharpshooter couldn’t use it as a point to actually put Cryptid in the ground. Anyone who came that far with a knife usually just got an arm full of teeth for their troubles.

If his bum leg hadn’t buckled in the last step of his charge, the shot wouldn’t even have hit.

One second, Crytpid was standing, almost on top of his prey. Target. The victim. And then his knee buckled. And then the whole side of his neck exploded in agony, and his vision went white. He might’ve screamed – a human scream, muffled by the way he bit down on his tongue. But his body dropped, and the next thing he knew was on his knees, dizzy even from that much, taking shallow breaths as his hand reached up to the spot where heat had started to radiate down, down his shirt, soaking it through so that the red was visible even on the black. The fact that he was alive meant the injury had closed in the jugular and carotid themselves, but the spray must’ve been horrible, with how much his head spun just from thinking too hard about it.

And all he knew, for a little while, was that if the man he’d been chasing really thought it necessary, this would be the perfect time for a bullet between Malachite’s honey-brown eyes.

His possibly last word was spoken so quietly and hoarsely that only his executioner would hear it.



The speakers turned off, plunging the room into a silence his victim didn't know had left; vanishing the unheard harmonies into the recesses of his mind, never to be recognised, never to be blamed. Lament smiled beneath the mask, though he had been the whole time. A sick, wolfish grin; all teeth and no soul, distorting his face like soft rubber but stopping impossibly short of his eyes. He exhaled, voice crawling out along the breath. Both were inaudible. Silent. They served their purpose.

Ivan's head snapped towards him, the chains of his trance cut clean by that buzzsaw sigh. For a moment, it seemed he was about to speak- perhaps, to scream. Nothing came of it. The man behind those seafoam eyes couldn't open anything else, couldn't do anything but stare into the abyss that sat before him; the roots of his germinated fear beginning to grow, to constrict, to consume. He could see it, and he could tell, for certain, that was what it was. Lament knew fear, after all. He knew it more than anything else- more than anyone else. His smile widened, finally reaching his gaze.

"I know you can hear me, Ivan."

The man flinched, the motion so violent he almost fell from his chair- as if, instead of merely talking, Lament had drawn his pistol and shot the air an inch left of his ear. He supposed, in a way, they were similar threats. The gunshot, of course, would be preferable, but there was no way Ivan could've known that until now. His weapon remained holstered as it was being drawn, as it was being aimed, and as it was being fired. It was only perceived when the bullet bit skin- and, by that point, it was too late.

"Come here. I want to give you something."

But, once a wound was opened, there was no denying what it was. That was the thing with his voice, compared to that of his predecessor; it wasn't subtle. It couldn't be subtle. Lament dealt in madness, in extremity, each word pushing the minds of its listeners further and further past what should've been their capacity to feel. Fear so maddening it could paralyse. Rage so extreme it could drive one to murder. He strung his puppets with razor-wire; to make them dance, he had to make them bleed.

[IVAN stumbles forward, to the waiting jaws of LAMENT.]​

"Do you still recognise this?"

He held up the cassette, idly twirling it around his fingers.

"I do." Ivan said- more breath than voice, "I do, yes."


Lament knew what it was, as well. It was what Ivan had come here for; the keystone evidence of his brother's innocence, the thing that could not only avenge the death, but drag his own life out of the pit it had sunk into. His enemies would be in prison, his innocence would be made clear, he could finally live the life he desperately wanted and never thought he'd lose. Ivan could be fine. He'd do anything for that tape, Lament knew. It was a confounding variable.

He handed it to Ivan with a smile.

"Destroy it."

[IVAN shatters the TAPE.]​

He destroyed the tape.

[The promise made by LAMENT, his only hope of salvation, lies in pieces before him.]​

He destroyed the tape.

[IVAN shatters.]​

Lament watched, impressed, as the man fell to the floor; almost expecting him to shatter like the plastic as he hit the concrete. He watched as he sat there, wanting desperately to lose his composure, to scream, to cry, to express anything, but sitting was all he could do. It was tempting to approach him, to tilt his head back and stare past his eyes at the drowned man behind them, but he stayed put. Though nothing could break the illusion for Ivan, it could for him. Lament had his own script to follow.

He leaned back, allowing his posture to relax; far from the enraptured forward-lean he had slipped into before. He wanted to seem casual, disinterested, as if influence like this was something he just had, and not something he had been working tirelessly towards. To Ivan, this wasn't an experiment at all. This was the finished product. This was it. It seemed almost disrespectful to show any sort of effort; a siren never strained when she sang.

Lament allowed himself a laugh; fully aware of what it would turn into. It started out alright, that movie-star chuckle, but his voice cracked halfway, forcing the last few breaths to come out hoarse and pitchy, before he found the sense to silence himself. Christ, was that what genuine laughter sounded like? Something that ugly? He'd have to layer something beneath it next time; make use of its discord, if only so it didn't drive him insane.

But it was deserved, right? The song had worked- it had worked, for fuck's sake. Ivan had dashed himself against the rocks, letting himself drown in the sound he couldn't hear. He destroyed the tape. The question was no longer what would he do, but what wouldn't- what would be his breaking point, if he had one?

No, no- he had to stay focused. He had to see this test through to the end, had to follow the method, no matter how confident he was in its conclusion.

"Those lamps."

He pointed towards the heat-lamps, barred by metal cages- ones he was surprised weren't also glowing red.

"Put your bare shoulder against one- against the grate."


"And hold it there until I tell you to take it off."

[-burned himself.]

[IVAN burned himself.]

[IVAN burned himself.]


The stink of burning flesh filled the too-warm air, accompanied by his equally repulsive scream. Lament knew about burn wounds- he had inflicted them, had them inflicted on him, had inflicted them on himself. He knew exactly how much damage he was causing here. Ivan did as well. Even without a knowledge that intimate, there was a certain threshold of pain where the body just knows the damage is permanent; fried nerves, cooked muscle, a weeping, bloody wound, open to infection. He had gone past that, now- they both knew. He had gone past that, and he kept on going; madness and extremity.


Ivan slumped forwards, eyes darting around for something to cool off the wound; but, with how Lament had conditioned the house, they both knew there was nothing around to help. Even the floor was hot to the touch. He gave up, just as he had given up when he first saw Lament, when he entered that house, went up the stairs, sat down in that chair, and listened. And now, as he stared at the red-lit face of the Devil, he gave up the last thing he had left; his hope.

"Let me talk to you, Ivan."

Lament dragged the coolbox further forward, the ear-splitting shriek of metal on concrete almost being enough to break his smile- but it didn't. It couldn't, not now. The final test.

"Let me talk to you about my friend."


A gunshot rang out through the unfinished streets, catching his attention almost immediately. Lament stood up from the coolbox and walked towards the window, peering out hidden from behind the curtain. He could see the pair now, in what would've been his front yard. Ivan had fallen, and Cryptid had followed.

There was blood.

A lot of blood.

He walked down the stairs, the sound of his steel-capped boots no doubt reaching the pair outside, and he made his way towards another window to watch from the shadows. Ivan had failed, hadn't he? Or, at least, he thought he had for a brief moment- but, oh, that brief moment was more than enough. It was as it was with Repulsion- a second of exposure was a second too long, the mind would kill itself trying to get away, if that's what it had to do. Ivan didn't have a means to escape, though. There wasn't a speaker to shut off, a throat to punch, or any ears inside his thoughts that he could deafen.

"Kill me."

He was begging.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry- whilst you're alive, please, please just kill me."

Lament brushed his hand against the brim of his hat, listening to the chains clink against themselves.

"Cryptid, please! It's- before it's too late! Please, kill me, please- I can hear it- I can hear it!"

He slowly moved towards the door, unlocking it.


He waited.


He listened.


He remained silent.
The prey was begging.

Cryptid stared at him, not sure what he was hearing. Brown eyes studied green ones, at first blank, then searching. He took a slow, deep breath, taking in the scent again of blood and infection, but in his state, the high of the hunt didn’t beckon him. Even though the prey felt nothing at all except fear. It was there in his eyes, there in his blood. Instead of lunging for the throat, Todd’s head just tilted, a little bit. The prey was begging, but he was far from resigned.

Movement. Behind the victim, in the house. A curtain twitched, catching Cryptid’s attention for a second before he turned it back to the man in front of him. Now he felt eyes on him, but he didn’t let it show. He heard the clear sounds from inside, too – the click of boots, the rattle of small chains. And, mixed with the victim’s blood, was the scent of gasoline. The flash of worry, of anger, was quickly subdued. The stage wasn’t the victim’s fault, after all, any more than last time.

The audience might not appreciate an inorganic performance, but Cryptid kept his cool as he focused back on the moment.

“Hey, hey, it’s alright. I’m still kickin’.” His voice was soft, a little hoarse. Still not his own, thank God. He must still be wearing Mal’s eyes, too. Sometimes pain and blood loss jolted him back to his own body from surprise. This time, he seemed to have held on. Good.

He swallowed, his mouth dry, but he reached out to cup one clawed hand around the man’s cheek. His face was familiar, somehow, but it didn’t matter now. Even if he’d known what this man had done, or had been accused of, nothing would have changed here. The man was prey. While Todd had reached resignation, albeit bitchy resignation, that seemed out of the prey’s reach right now. So the predator had to offer small reassurances wherever he could. In the gentleness of the touch, in the apology in Mal’s pretty eyes, in the softness of his sigh.

“Close your eyes for me. It’ll be over quick.” The fingers of his opposite hand curled as he felt strength returning to his limbs. The cold had settled into a numbness at his core, resting heavily on his bones, but warmth was starting to creep back into his own blood now that it wasn’t leaving his body. He could smell it, but like hearing his own voice, it barely registered.

What registered was that the footsteps had stopped, that all he could hear was a generator humming in the back of an empty house. What registered was the man in front of him, who didn’t deserve his anger. He had to control himself so he didn’t fuck up and kill the man in front of him. It wasn’t a mercy to let him live, but he didn’t kill without cause. And it wasn’t the bait’s fault that this was a trap.

He hit him hard in the temple with the bar of the bagh nakh. Hard enough for a concussion, hard enough to black out. A concussion would heal. He probably needed a hospital anyway for that shoulder injury. The blow was sharp and precise, and too quick for eyes to follow – but the man crumpled like a puppet with his strings cut. Cryptid closed his borrowed eyes, took a deep breath. Then, he started pushing himself up to his feet. It wasn’t over yet. Not by a long shot.

“I can hear you, y’know.”

He raised his voice, then opened his eyes and looked at the door, surrounded as it was in a dull red glow. He took a slow step forward, over the unconscious prey. Put himself between the trap and the victim. His leg almost buckled again when he did so, but he kept his balance. He fixed his eyes on the door frame, and did everything in his power to keep control over his temper. There’d be no point in charging in now. His body wouldn’t allow for it, and given this was a pretty well laid trap, inside the house was probably the cage. So he simply had to stand outside, and glare at the door, even if his voice remained calm and controlled.

“Why don’t you come out and chat, pardner.”

I know it’s you in there, motherfucker.
Oh. Not a kill, this time; again, not a kill. If it were, then there wouldn't be a body left to question; the beast would be sated, and Ivan would be at peace. Did he know his cruelty in letting the man live this time? He certainly didn't last time- his intention to leave that hostage alive had guaranteed his death, but this? Though he'd actually be successful in leaving Ivan alive this time, Lament knew the man would be worse off for it, even when he found out Cryptid was still alive. He had promised to see him again, after all. That's the kind of promise that sticks with you, even without his chains.

And Cryptid- ah, he seemed worse for wear. No damage to the jaw this time, which was a pity, but he didn't seem well. If Lament were at all a cautious man, he would've left the house and shot him dead- like the opportunistic little vultures who set Ivan in his grasp in the first place.

But there was no need to kill him.

"Why would I?"

Lament laughed from within the house.

"If it's a chat you're after, we're going to have one on my terms, mm-hm? Ain't nothin' to be gained from facin' you out there."

He shook his head, unseen.

"I'll let you go home now, Cryptid. You've served your purpose."

Yet, the door remained unlocked, didn't it? Had he really?
The hair on the back of Todd’s neck stood up when he heard the thick, false accent from behind the door, the Hollywood laugh. Just hearing Lament, even without the noise underneath, made his monster want to jump up and rip the door off its hinges. Even – no, especially in his shape, Todd resisted that urge. Most unpowered humans could probably kill him right now even without a gun, what with the blood loss still leaving him a little dizzy.

Actually. Lament should know that. Should realize it. If he stepped out the door with his pistol in hand, Cryptid couldn’t run. He wouldn’t have the reaction speed to even dodge without more unnecessary damage. He thought back to last time, to the warehouse, to the gun, to the moment when he’d known he was going to die. And then the hostage had died instead. If he’d known Lament was here, that the man he’d been chasing was just another hostage, he would’ve approached with a lot more caution.

But Lament stayed inside, in the clearly visible cage with the door propped open just enough for the fox to wriggle in. Malachite’s eyes narrowed behind Cryptid’s mask. Did Lament want him to kill the prey for him? So why the show? Just sending a monster in Cryptid’s direction would’ve been enough, and Todd never would’ve been the wiser. If that had been what Lament had in mind, then Cryptid never even would’ve known he was here.

“My purpose, huh? What might that be?”

That meant Lament wanted him alive, and wanted him here, which meant that his “purpose” hadn’t been served at all. That didn’t make sense. Did he want him to talk? To suffer? Was there a torture room hidden in the half-finished building? Todd could handle some burns – already had, this week. His bigger concern was for any other hostages that might be in there. If that awful fucking sound Lament could make triggered his predatory instinct, in his condition, in a closed environment, then last time was going to look like a joke compared to what would happen to the food now. Did Lament know that?

Even if he did, Lament gave him a choice. And the right choice was to leave. Assuming the door didn’t open and a shot got fired as soon as he picked up the man’s dead weight, Todd could just take the prey and go. But if he planned for Cryptid to kill someone in there, then there was someone in there to kill. He didn’t smell anyone else in the yard, but the blood and the infection and the injury and the fucking gasoline kept distracting him, so that didn’t say much.

Todd ground his teeth, clenched his fists so that the bagh nakh caught the moonlight. Then all at once, the anger drained out of him in a soft sigh. He looked down at the victim, wondering what to do with him in the meantime. Then again, if he woke up and ran, there was no way Cryptid wouldn’t be able to catch him gain. Not with the condition of his shoulder.

So he had nothing to worry about, and everything to worry about, as he exhaled and started limping to the door without waiting for Lament’s answer. It wasn’t like he was going to just be handed a chance to talk to Pittsburgh’s own omen of death again. Even in his condition, information took priority. Information was his best asset. Anything he could learn here would be valuable, maybe even keep this from happening again.

He did stop on the other side of the door, his voice turning dangerous for a second. “Point anything dangerous at my face, and I’ll rip your arm off.”

Then he closed his gloved hand on the knob, a little awkwardly because of the claws, but he wasn’t going to disarm himself when going into the belly of the beast. He pushed the door open ahead of himself, braced to move just in case, and then crossed the threshold.
"Well, he brought you here, didn't he?"

Lament leaned against the wall, smiling to himself behind the mask.

"You weren't the subject this time, you were the condition. Sorry to disappoint."

He pushed himself away from the wall, striding out into the empty hallway as he awaited Cryptid's decision, to see whether he'd take the bait. Lament had kept quiet about this, and he had ensured that Ivan kept quiet as well- at least, up until the part where he begged for his death. There was no doubt in his mind that Cryptid would leave this place with at least some knowledge as to what was going on, it was just a matter of framing. It was always a matter of framing.

The door swung open, and Lament greeted him with a wave. Empty-handed- he didn't even have to request it.

It wasn't like it was going to help him.

"You can keep your claws out, if it makes ya feel more secure." He smiled, "I'll stay as passive as you do, but I understand if you feel the need to, ah- put on an act for me."

[IVAN lies unconscious on the floor.]​

"You ain't the first."
Borrowed, honey-brown eyes focused in on Lament as soon as he moved. The wave was patronizing, but that was the least of Cryptid’s concerns. Once he was sure the other monster didn’t have his gun drawn, he risked taking another step in and taking the room in at a glance. Unfinished was the best word for it – half-built, smelling heavily of plywood and concrete and dust, like it had gone a long time without use before the vulture came to roost. Everything was lit in dim red light from lamps that radiated warmth, turning the whole room a good deal warmer than most people would be comfortable with. It didn’t bother Cryptid, even with all his layers. His internal temperature had taken a nosedive after the blood loss. If anything, the heat was welcome.

There were little yellow lights in the corners that drew his attention next. Plain black boxes, with a small company logo, were strung up throughout the house. Speakers of some kind. He remembered Lament’s microphone well, and the unpleasant thought crossed his mind that the man could be bugged right now, rigged to send horrible noises anywhere in the house.

Well. He’d just have to deal with that, until he had a better idea of what he could do.

Once he was sure the room was empty, that the only human scents under blood and burned skin were Ivan’s and Lament’s, he relaxed his hand. The gasoline from the generator was going to start to get to him, that was for shit sure. He added it to the list, then took a deep breath and relaxed his shoulders and hands. The claws disappeared between his fingers in the dim light, and Todd walked toward the stairs. If left unimpeded, he’d sink to the bottom step, stretching his bum leg out in front of him. It still throbbed.

“Subject and condition, huh?” He was still using the same voice from the first time, although he lacked a lot of the energy from then. “So, Dr. Lament, what’s the point of this experiment? See if Cryptid will walk into a trap willingly?”

Not like he’d trust a word the bastard had to say, but what he said was more important than whether or not it was true. The disdain was infuriating, but could be endured like a bad smell until he had what he needed. Just a few minutes to rest, see if the leg would figure itself out on its own. He was at least grateful for the chance to sit down.

Not like he’d tell Lament that part.
Lament didn't stop him. Cryptid was wounded--badly, by the looks of things--and there was no point in wounding him further. If he wanted him dead, he would already be dead; shot through the skull by the man who begged him to show the same mercy. Ivan had the opening, after all; and he'd have to be out of his mind not to take it. Another point in favour of his hypothesis, then. This had been a very interesting evening.

"Vanity is a sin, Cryptid. I already said- this weren't about you, not in the way you're thinkin'."

He seemed tired. Perhaps his healing factor took energy to work; in which case, letting him rest on the stairs would no doubt lead to him healing. Eating would probably quicken the process, but considering how shy Cryptid tended to be, he wouldn't be able to test that one just yet.

"Besides, why bother testing something I already know the answer to? This is- what, the third time you've done this, hm? First, with the warehouse, then with Obsidian, and now-"

A little guesswork, based on what he knew of the vigilante before him- of what he had been able to connect. The underworld was hardly endless, after all.

"-here you are."
It's nice to be part of the background sometimes, y'know? It's nice not to be Vanity.

Todd couldn’t help but think of Kosuke’s words after Bohemian Rhapsody. Vanity was such a poignant word for him, now. The phantom half-mask and perfect-pitch voice added a new layer to Kosuke, one that helped to ground him as he calmed himself. He wasn’t in danger, not unless Lament decided to use his monster somehow. Unless Lament figured out how to use him.

First, he had to give the wrong impression of his purpose, his violence.

I trapped Obsidian. He lost one of his freaks in the process. I even kept a trophy.”

He batted Mal’s pretty eyes through the mask, before focusing back down on his throbbing leg. Playing the scary side, the side that Lament seemed to have expressed to Ivan already, seemed safer. After all, if he knew who Obsidian was, he knew he wasn’t to be fucked with. The idea that he’d go so far as to call Slate freaks meant a lot, too, given what Lament had already heard about Cryptid.

This would do a lot of things. It would put an extra wedge between Cryptid and Slate. It would either make Obsidian seem less dangerous – which was dangerous to Lament in its own right – or make Cryptid seem more dangerous, like a threat display that made a small animal look large. That made a coyote look like it could take on a wolf pack.

His leg had reset wrong. Running his hands along the knee already told him that. He took a deep breath, a sigh, even, as he made a decision. He slipped his hands into his pockets, and deposited the bagh nakh there. No point in having those if Lament could just shoot him. And they’d just be in the way for this part.

The pants leg was bloody, but the surface wound had healed into a scar. He sighed. This was going to suck without anesthesia, and if he did this to get the knee into the proper shape, he’d probably still have a limp for a few days. He ran his hands over the wound again, then set them into place and bit down hard on his tongue.

He wasn’t going to scream for Lament, after all. Not again.

He did snarl and growl through closed lips, but the sound fell under the sharp crack of bones as he re-broke his own knee. He’d come too far to run away; and, if Lament actually wanted to turn him into a hunting dog, he’d be better off a little inhibited. It would probably save Lament’s own life in the case that he made the sound that triggered his animal.

His mouth was full of blood by the time he’d readjusted the leg. His eyes had changed back this time to icy blue, but the angle of his face hid them from an outside viewer until he could swallow and shift them back again to Mal’s. The only thing that kept him from devolving into a shivering mess while the bone started to mend again was the external heat of the house, filling his lungs, soaking through his coat and through his skin.

He had to wait until his tongue was mostly intact, and until he could adjust his voice again to be the one Lament knew best. “In that case… what did you do to that man? Besides, y’know. The obvious. He seemed pretty fucked even by my standards.”