Open RP No Coincidences

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You always get your car checked before pulling a job, especially if it ain't your car.

Well, my car now, Coldcall corrected himself, fingers tapping on the wheel. This was a 2012 Honda Civic he'd stolen in Rochester, across state lines. The plates had been swapped out to PA plates from a matching Y/M/M, and while he was satisfied with the performance of the vehicle so far, a perfectionism that lurked just below the skin of his ever-cool persona demanded that he make sure that he did everything he could to pull off the most efficient robbery ever devised. That meant balancing going undetected with making sure everything was mechanically on the up-and-up.

If all went well, anyway, they'd be leaving in a copter. The Civic was a backup getaway car. That was how committed he was to doing this right.

For his part, he didn't wear his iconic red parka, instead opting for a vest that showed off his large arms. He wasn't cut like Schwarzenegger, but he had a wide frame with deceptive strength. The only jewelry he wore was a fat gold ring and a chain around his neck. Heavy workman's boots hit the floor he stepped out of the red Civic. Obviously, no gun today. He checked his wristwatch - 3:45 p.m. Slow hour - no other customers right now, which was what he was looking for.

When the wind blew, it was cold, and he was glad to have the vest.

Vik's Garage. This was as good a place as any. He didn't want to go to a mob shop here and tip his hand. He wasn't integrated yet, coming out of Manhattan. Could give somebody the wrong idea, or worse, tip 'em off to what he was planning. Other supervillains could be just as dangerous as superheroes. The only part that might give him any grief was his lack of title to the vehicle, which he'd taken out of the glove box. It was a stolen car. He'd be paying in cash, and would be willing to drop a little extra to have the vehicle looked at sans title.

If they knew how to play it cool, that was. It'd be just his luck to end up with some principled dickhead, in which case he'd abandon ship and claim to have forgotten the thing. But he could cross that bridge when he came to it.

"Good afternoon. I'm lookin' to get my car tuned up," he smiled, heavy New York accent betraying his origin. "Think you can handle that?"
For once, Todd hadn’t had to call in at Vik’s. Mike had. Vik had started putting Todd almost exclusively on night shifts and rush orders, but with Mike out and the other kid, Henry, in classes until four, he’d called Todd in. Todd didn’t mind. He’d had a weird week, and could definitely use the normalcy of car repair in his life right now.

It was a quiet period, and Todd had about fifteen minutes before Henry got here, so he was putting the tools from the day back in order when he heard the engine down the street over his music. His head tilted slightly in that direction, and he wrapped up what he was doing before stepping out front of the shop.

He looked a lot better after his night with Obsidian, the dark circles gone, his muscles sitting right over his bones again. For the first time since dinner with Sam, he looked healthy. He lit up one of the Dunhills he was almost sure Ethan had slipped into his pocket, and was smoking outside the garage when the man who was a little too big for the Civic stepped out and approached him. Given he was the only guy in overalls and a work polo that had his name in a tilted red cursive. The cold didn’t seem to bother him at all, though if he’d been doing any worse, he would’ve worn a jacket over it all to hide his thin arms.

“Good afternoon,” he greeted the driver, with a warm, close-lipped smile. He stood with a characteristic slouch that reduced his height, and as he flicked the too-expensive cigarette to the ground and crushed it, he did so with practiced smoothness. If the customer’s accent bothered him in any way, he didn’t show it.

“Sure thing. I’ll take the keys, and I’ll need to see the registration if you want me to take her for a test drive. If you want to wait in the shop that’s no issue, but I can also recommend a few places in walking distance if you’d rather wait there.”

He’d recently discovered a pretty good Waffle House, but there were actual cafes and a deli in the other direction.
Coldcall was greeted by thin worker who'd disposed quickly of his cigarette. He didn't smoke himself, on account of his pop getting sick from it, but he didn't hold it against anyone who did. People were allowed to pick their vices. That was the beauty of America.

By the book type then, he assessed, shifting gears without a second's thought, nodding.

"Thanks. I'll be honest,
ah, Mr. Todd. The title's still in my brother's name, up in Buffalo. He's faxing me a copy of the title after it gets updated later this week. I can pay cash now for the work, long as you're OK with that."

He stuck out a hand for a shake, none too hard and definitely not limp, held at an even keel. He wasn't one for a dominance play here.

"Fletcher, by the way."
A little something in Todd stirred curiously at Fletcher’s explanation. It was detailed, there was nothing wrong with it. And it was believable, even if it didn’t sit right. So that meant it wasn’t Todd’s business. He was just a mechanic today.

He took Fletcher’s hand. His shake was relaxed, not braced but apparently expecting something stronger. He was used to playing subordinate in dominance games with customers, especially the kinds of guys who brought their cars to Vik’s. Fletcher’s firm but not too firm shake was a pleasant surprise.

“Well, Mr. Fletcher. Officially, I have to advise against driving on open roads until you’ve got that, but as long as you don’t need me to drive her, it’s not a problem. Cash payment’s fine, too. If everything’s good, it’ll be about forty for labor.”

He released first, out of habit, but never lost the calm smile or slight slouch.

“Like I said, shop’s open, but there’s a few cafes around here you could sit in instead and I can give you a call when it’s done. Or if you really wanted to watch you could wait right outside the bay doors – it’s against policy to let folks stand in the garage while we’re working, just for safety.”
"I appreciate it. Be back soon, pally," he smiled, handing over the keys.

In the interim period while the car was being worked on, Coldcall did visit a nearby cafe. He picked up some Sfogliatella and a coffee, which was passable. Sitting back in the chair, sipping on his drink, he kept an eye on every other patron, always facing toward the door. There was a place in New York he liked better - maybe he'd go back someday.

Nah. Don't be stupid.

His fingers curled around the cup involuntarily, then loosened.

Starting fresh would be hard. From the ground floor this time, all the way up to the top. In NYC he was somebody, and here, he'd need to remake it all from scratch. Nothing left of the crew, other than Paulie. The heat had just gotten to be too much. One by one, the old guard went down for the count. He was working with nothing but peanuts.

He might've been a thorough professional, but Coldcall was a people person. He missed his people.

Ah well. That's the nature of the job.

Tucking a newspaper under his arm, he looked down when his phone buzzed.

"Four more coffees. In one 'a them four cup carrier things. Yeah. Thanks."

Complimentary coffee for a job well done. A little generosity could go a long way. He stuffed some creams and sugars into a pocket.

A few minutes later, he pushed the door to Vik's open.

"Hey. For the boys," he said, setting the cups down on the counter. "If you want 'em. Cold out there, fellas."
Todd was behind the counter when Fletcher came back, filling out paperwork while listening to a young African-American man with Henry embroidered in red on his blue uniform. The garage was still mostly quiet, so the team’s engineering student was filling the time by bringing up a favorite subject around the garage.

“– dangerous,” Henry was saying when the door opened. “I mean, just take the District 6 debate last month. Sure, Wynn survived–”

“Thanks in part to the efforts of metahuman civilians,” Todd interrupted, with a patient tone to his voice to indicate this was a regular conversation. Then, he looked at Fletcher as he came up to the counter, with the same warm, close-lipped smile he’d worn earlier. “Welcome back. And thanks! Henry, here.”

Todd picked up one of the coffees and handed it to Henry, who was still wearing his fleece and gloves. Then he picked up his own and took the lid off to let it start cooling. Setting it aside, he picked the paperwork back up.

“Alright, so. Everything looks good on the Civic as far as I can tell. She’ll be due up for an oil change soon, but it’s nothing urgent – could do it today or in a few weeks, unless you plan to go on a big road trip. Could probably clean the cabin air filters, too. But all the necessary parts are working, as far as I can tell without driving her myself. If you bring her back next week once you’ve got the title, I could take her for a quick test drive then.”

He clicked the pen in his hand a couple times, like he was debating something. His tone didn’t change, but something did, like he’d been thinking about this for the last half hour, weighed and debated it. He set his clipboard down and bent over it. Somehow, his vibe was different, with nothing else about him altering in the slightest.

“I just need a last name for the invoice, and I can get it printed off and put on file for you. Unless you wanted that oil change, just forty dollars for labor, and then tax.”
"Pickett," he supplied, when asked for a surname. 'Rylands' was already on file with the FBI, and while he was pretty sure this guy wasn't going to run names on everyone whose car he worked on, you never knew. An extra layer of precaution was all that separated the varsity athletes from the wannabes, after all. It was why he always wore gloves when casing a job, when handling a gun - anything that might tie him back to any kind of criminal activity. He was a professional and that meant aliases. Even the name on his file was made up.

When he got home, he'd make a small note in one of his books - Vik's Garage: Fletcher Pickett.

"Don't mention it. 'Kindness is the only service that will stand the storm of life' and all that. As for the oil change, I'll hold off for now."

He wouldn't be anywhere near this car in a week, tops, if the weather held.

"You fellas talkin' about metahumans, huh?" he asked after feigning disinterest for a moment. "You guys are lucky you got some good ones here. Basilica. Now there's a superhero," he said with a grin. "Of course, she's not local, right? That's what I heard, at least."
“She’s a Fed,” Todd said, confidently, as he filled Pickett into the right space. The weird energy seemed to leave him, just like that, and he stepped over to the copier. He got the big machine started on scanning the paper into a digital copy, which he’d print once Mr. Pickett left.

“The feds got metas?” Henry frowned into his coffee.

“Anybody could be a meta.” Todd turned back around and picked his own coffee up. As if oblivious to the warmth, he took a long, deep drink. He didn’t need it, being recently fed, but it still felt good to let the caffeine in. “The feds probably have dozens of metas not even they know about. What’s more worrying is the feds have a superhero, and that she’s here right in time to get involved with the District 6 thing and that bank robbery a few weeks back.”

Henry rolled his eyes. “C’mon, man, you’re startin to sound like Mike.”

“I’m not saying the Feds are organizing these things,” Todd clarified, picking the tone of we’ve been over this back up. “Metas attract attention. Superheroes attract even more attention. You have metas playing superhero, you end up with metas playing supervillain, and it starts to become less about helping people and more about power plays. That’s my worry.”

“And vigilantes ain’t already starting that ball rolling?”

“On a small-scale, yes, they are.” Todd ran his fingers through his curly hair, but relaxed back against the back wall, posture almost mimicking Henry’s. “But nothing beyond what law enforcement can handle. A meta openly working with law enforcement, in the position of a super-cop? That’s more than enough bait for some folks to step up and take the challenge. That’s all.”

The two men weren’t ignoring the customer – there was plenty of space for Fletcher to step in, and Todd kept an eye on him while the ancient computer system finished putting the invoice on file.

With one word, Fletcher had reentered the conversation - he pronounced it slowly, with an aura of attentiveness, rather than dismissal. One side of his lip curled up into a smirk - the expression that some of his boys had called the getouttahere - but his eyes gleamed with interest. His gaze carried from Todd over to Henry, where it lingered.

"I heard they're all over the place at night here. People turnin' up with...bite marks and what have ya," he laughed, taking a sip from the coffee.

The vigilante scene in Pittsburgh far outstripped the superhero one. There was an unspoken difference between the two of them. Superheroes showed up in broad daylight. Vigilantes slit throats and wore black leather. Coldcall had different rules for dealing with them. But they were also a lot less worrying. Superheroes would mess up an op as it was in progress. Vigilantes had day jobs.

"You'se guys ever worry about some teenager chick with a sledgehammer coming at you 'cause you locked yourself outta your house past midnight?" he grinned.
If Todd’s ears could move like Connor’s, they would’ve visibly pricked at the way Fletcher drew out the word. It was a good thing they didn’t, because that would’ve interrupted the diffident, patient act he was putting on, now not for one, but two people.

He laughed, a little dismissively, although the injuries Fletcher mentioned could belong to two people he knew personally. “I think bite marks are more the realm of vampires than vigilantes.”

“Yeah, but– metas.” Henry took a cautious sip of his coffee, though his very slight wince told Todd it was still too hot for him. Or too bitter. He played it off by adding, “Anything’s possible. Maybe it’s some violent kid with a sledgehammer, or some guy with a gun, or – or I don’t know, Wolfman or a guy who sets himself on fire. None of it’s good, man.”

Todd noticed the way that Fletcher watched Henry, even if Henry seemed ignorant, or at least indifferent. He didn’t like the look, but he didn’t give any sign of noticing it himself. The old copier clicked off to communicate it was done with the invoice, and Todd pulled it out and set it on the counter for the customer to look over. He circled the price.

“The total there is forty-three dollars, twenty cents.” He looked back at Henry, although his tone didn’t change at all. “Most meta vigilantes are invested in stopping crimes in progress. More public crimes, not shit like breaking and entering. Muggings, drug deals. They’re normal citizens helping normal citizens.”

“Civilian citizens who can make mistakes. Some of them are just as bad as the people they fight. Worse, even. I read about this case online of a serial killer who’s using vigilantism as a cover-up–”

“Oh, yeah, everything online is reliable.” His brows were arched, and he went back to the computer to put the scanned paper on file. “I read an article online that recommended visiting two abandoned steel-mills for being ‘haunted’ when in reality they’re probably just making weird-ass noises from being structurally unsound and dangerous to visit. You should make your own decisions about that kind of thing, Henry.”
"Some superpowers are harmless. Others, not so much."

Fletcher's eyes slowly came to rest back on Todd as he passed him the invoice. He pulled out a crisp fifty dollar bill from a roll of cash without looking down. (Tip included with the change).

"You ask me, metas make for a real interesting problem for the powers that be. Puts a bit of a wrinkle in 'all men are created equal,' yeah?" he chuckled, keeping his gaze on Todd. A more obvious person would have glanced back at Henry after that comment. It was plain enough why he would be more concerned about metas too. The Klan were the original American masked vigilantes. There were probably statistics out there on the demographics that caped crusaders went after. Just data stuff. Probably best ignored.

"But more importantly, the practical problems. Problems like 'how do I disarm somebody who can freeze my brain by pointing at my head?'" he smiled.

As he spoke, he raised a 'finger gun' at Todd, then brought his thumb down. Pew.

"Anyway. Thanks for the work done on the car, boys. I'll come back here once everything's settled."

Todd could’ve said a lot about more or less harmless superpowers. He could’ve gotten into a whole debate with Fletcher Pickett about it – after all, he agreed, but Arlo’s old philosophy of the strong protecting the weak, the powerful protecting the powerless from other powerful people, stuck with him. Dangerous powers did not make for dangerous people. Even for Todd – even for Connor, for Obsidian. Monsters could choose to be better.

He didn’t say any of that, though. He felt the weight of Fletcher’s attention the same way he was now sure Fletcher had felt the weight of his. Maybe it was a coincidence, the intensity of Fletcher’s look. No more intense than polite conversation, but far more intense than simple good manners. Henry almost felt ignored, in the grand scheme of things. The kid seemed to have noticed something was off, though, because he didn’t interject. Good instincts.

Todd, for his part, didn’t change. He took the cash, slipped it into the till, punched it in. He took another sip of the coffee that should be too hot, and enjoyed the burn as it went down and dissipated in his chest. When he glanced back up, his smile showed no teeth, his eyes blinked, and he didn’t maintain eye contact in any kind of aggressive way. His eyes were even just a little unfocused, not quite actually meeting Fletcher’s. The roll of his shoulders still kept his figure soft. He didn’t even ask about the change. The title issue led to some expectations.

And, in the warm, well-trained voice of someone long experienced with customer service, he told Fletcher, “We look forward to seeing you again. Have a great night.”
Later that same, great night...

Efficiency was among Coldcall's many virtues. While preparing for the most outstanding bank job ever pulled this side of the Mississippi, he found it productive to occasionally take breaks and settle other business. Conveniently, some of that other business had fled New York City to Pittsburgh.

Lefty Doyle owed him money. He was a disgraced ex-cop who'd been on the take in Manhattan (hence the nickname). He had a gambling habit, which didn't pair well with his losing habit. It meant he couldn't get a new car. Idiot hadn't even thought to change the plates. It was child's play to find him.

It was midnight.

First, Coldcall froze the lock on Lefty Doyle's door. Then he kicked it down.

"Holy - "

In a flash, a grasping hand was wrapped around Doyle's neck. Coldcall moved faster than any man should've been able to, clearing the room in a blink, slamming his mark into the floorboards, which cracked, splintered, and started to freeze.

"Hey, Lefty. Been a minute," he smiled, thumb pressing into the man's carotid. Ice spread across his neck. Not enough to kill, but it'd hurt like a bitch.

"Fl-Fl-Fl - "

Coldcall let him talk.

"Fletcher - Mr. Rylands -
p-p-please, don't kill me - !"

He squeezed again.

"Lefty. Pal. You know that's an alias. Might as well just say Coldcall. You'd be more on the money."

Which, of course, was true. That was one of a dozen fake names he'd used over the last little while. He was damn proud that the FBI had fingered it as his actual birth name. He had a copy of that file framed.

"And speaking of money..." he continued, the same small grin on his face staying the same as the temperature in the room plummetted, "You have to pay up. Can't just switch cities on me. Who do you think I am? The Blizzard? Snowjob? I'm a professional, Lefty. I have a reputation to maintain."

With inhuman strength, he lifted the man up off the floor and brought him crashing into the drywall, relinquishing him from his grasp mere seconds before he would've lost consciousness.

Vapors curled up from under his nose as the air in the house reached sub-zero temperatures.

"You're lucky it's me who came to visit and not one of my boys. They'd be more likely to get carried away."

The blood under his thumbnail crystallized. He flicked it away. If Lefty were smart, he'd know that meant he was safe from being killed tonight. You only had to be scared when the killer was wearing gloves. Living men don't have their necks dusted for prints. To Coldcall, this seemed obvious, but he knew that other people didn't think about things the way he did. He made peace with that a long time ago, and since then, he'd been living his best life.

He knit his brow, looking around the dilapidated apartment. Turning his back to Doyle, who was freezing in the corner (and who wouldn't be able to aim a gun for the life of him right now anyway), Coldcall ran a finger along the wall, looking for a catch - ah, a hidden panel. He pressed it away and found - what else - but Lefty's glock, and a pathetic stack of cash. That didn't add up, based on his betting history, the job he currently held with Pittsburgh PD -

"Lefty. Buddy. Do you owe someone else money?" he asked, turning his head slightly to the side to glare at the man who'd crumpled to the ground, shivering.

Today is his payday, Coldcall thought. They could be here any second. This whole thing is fucked forever.

Only one thing left to do.

He sighed and started to put his gloves on.
Crytpid was trying to follow a lead. It wasn’t much of a lead, but he’d heard about a dirty ex-cop with a gambling habit who might be convinced to lend some info for a little cash. He didn’t like the idea, but he was running out of leads. That was the one downside of losing the Jackals – he needed to start from scratch on the others, and he had to get in somehow. Ex-Officer Doyle might be a good way into that – and if cash didn’t work, promising to make the people making his own life difficult might. It wouldn’t be for another month or so, at this rate, but he could do it, if the guy was enough of a bastard, and his death could leave enough of a mark for anyone else trying to take up Leo Vasquez’s position.

With Leo’s disappearance, there were a lot of gears moving to fill even his little power vacuum. The Jackals were still dealing, but that wasn’t what mattered. The position mattered. The money mattered. Not to Cryptid – to Todd. Todd was content at his day job as a mechanic and his nightly patrols making the world a little better, even if fear was the tool he had to use.

A little digging had gotten him the apartment address and number, and he was climbing up the stairs when the door fractured above him. He froze. Then, he started to move with purpose, both in speed and stealth, ducking into a half-crouch and taking the steps two at a time. He breathed through his nose, looking for scents. Even someone’s deodorant could give them away – or the way they used rubbing alcohol to clean their hands.

Voices. Muffled, but audible if he strained his ears through the drywall. Doyle’s apartment. He kept his attention up and forward, focused on the voices, picking up bits and pieces that felt important. One thing just confirmed a suspicion as he appeared in the hallway. The apartment was a shithole, and the cameras in the halls probably didn’t work, even if he noted them on the way past.

He slowed from his sprint just outside of the damaged door, and rounded the corner with abruptly straight posture, his hands sliding into his pockets. The only sign he’d run at all was the slight heave of his chest, as he lost the last of his momentum and leaned against the doorframe, deceptively still while he took in the scene.

“Coldcall, was it?” His voice was hoarse and gruff, borrowed from a dead man. His head tilted to the right, and black eyes scanned the room at a glance. Body in the corner, still breathing. One bad guy, bright red parka, impossible to miss. Coldcall. Fletcher. Wasn’t his fault most people couldn’t disguise their voices, or their body types.

“Midnight’s a weird fuckin’ time to be making a personal visit, Mister Coldcall. I’d offer you the chance to walk, but I think it’d be a waste of breath. No witnesses and all.”
He wasn’t the first one there. Sulphur had been sent to go and collect on the debt owed by the good Officer Doyle. While they might not have normally been the types who dealt in the sort of loan sharking that he was currently going to collect on, taking on the Jackals meant some changes in their operations. Mainly, they had discovered that the Jackals had a “loan” system that lent primarily to people desperate for money and people who were particularly bad at betting. They had forgiven the debts of most of the people who’d had no other options.

But those betters? Well. That was the consequence of their own actions. People like that didn’t learn without a good scare. So they had kept the debts of people like Doyle. Sulphur himself and Lapis had made several trips in person to ensure that those who thought they could skip payments understood that that wasn’t a wise choice. Their last visit to Doyle had shaken the man up badly, and he had sworn up and down to have his first payment ready by payday.

Well, the day had come, and Sulphur was there to collect. But as he made his way up the stairs, he heard several things happen. The first thing was the loud crack of a door being kicked in. The second was the running of feet across the stairs and hall. Sulphur sighed.

Yeah, this might as well happen.

He pulled his Dan Wesson DWX from his shoulder holster under his blazer. He flipped the safety off and chambered the first round as he started up the stairs. He walked at a casual and slow speed. If Doyle was dead already, then there wasn’t any reason to race. He arrived at the right hall just in time to see the man in the doorway lean against the doorway– and he froze.

He only had descriptions to go off from Todd and Ethan. But there was no doubt in Sulphur’s mind that the man ahead of him was Cryptid. The white mask with the flared horns, the leather trench coat with the collar popped up, and the thick military looking combat boots. He rolled his shoulders and cracked his neck to the side. His eyes narrowed as he started to walk up to the man, as quietly as he could, his feet moving with preciseness.

The man who had killed Jasper was there, right before him. The man who had taken away his best friend, his brother of twenty-eight years. They had been together as long as Sulphur could remember, himself, Ethan, and Jasper. Twenty-eight fucking years of bonds that no one and nothing could break– nothing but death. A cold fury iced him over, and he immediately started processing the situation. Two men inside the apartment, one in the doorway. One man inside was Doyle, another was apparently named Coldcall.

He paused his steps, keeping to the far wall to hide in Cryptid’s blind spot. He kept both hands on his pistol, lowered in front of him. He would be patient. He would see how this went. He didn’t want to fire on him, incapacitate him, only for whoever was inside to kill him before he could take him in. Because, oh, Sulphur was taking him in. He would take the fucking bastard in alive, would bring him back for Ethan. The man who killed and ate Jasper.


No matter what, he was taking him alive. With that, he waited.​

Coldcall pronounced the name like he was greeting a casual acquaintance, though the threat of imminent violence hung heavy in the air between them. He flicked his eyes over toward Doyle and then back at the doorway where the lanky man leaned in his horned mask. He'd done his due diligence when setting up operations in Pittsburgh. This one had a bit of a split personality. Some described him like a slasher villain, a carnivorous monster in the shape of a man; others attested that he'd saved them from a mugging, or from being trafficked, while taking pains not to kill anyone involved. He had the urban legend quality to him too, where he didn't appear in public. Some said he was a people-eater, like Hannibal Lecter.

Somehow he doubted that Lefty owed Cryptid money.

"What are ya, friends with this schmuck?" he scoffed with a grin, pointing his thumb at Lefty, who shivered in the corner, bladder probably spasming out of control. That would ice up uncomfortably. At this point, a layer of frost was beginning to form through the apartment. Pipes creaked as all the warmth on the floor was done away with. The frost crept toward Cryptid as the field emanating from Coldcall flexed with his every booted step. Only the floor beneath his footfalls was unfrozen, the wood tile thawing and re-freezing in sync with his steps.

Instead of doing the little dance of taking the first shot, Coldcall simply bent his elbow from the waist and raised a hand, fingers splayed. A pale beam six inches in diameter shot out of his palm aimed at Cryptid's chest, threatening to instantly freeze whatever it touched as the motion of the very molecules making up his target were compelled to slow and shudder to a practical halt - in a deadly flash. The Freeze Ray.

His dark eyes didn’t move or flinch at the casual use of his name. Coldcall had done his homework, then. And that meant he’d heard the rumors. Good. Cryptid had expectations to play off of. He’d have to learn about the new guy from experience, though.

He felt the soft breeze from the cold in the room even through the layers of his coat, now that his bones weren’t freezing. Another meta. Should’ve been expected, what with Fletcher’s position in the argument earlier. Judging by the temperature, there’d been a lot of irony to the comment about freezing someone’s brain. The finger gun was clear in his mind, and he watched his hands without looking too closely.

“Not yet. But he’s actually about to owe me a favor.”


There was someone in the hall behind him. The soft snap of a joint realigning was impossible to miss in the otherwise still moment. A more inexperienced vigilante would’ve turned to face the new threat first, but Cryptid had other ways to know what was back there. He took a deep breath through his nose, slowly evaluating the scent while Coldcall evaluated his options. Vanilla…no. Just off from vanilla. When he took a second to identify the scent, the rest came around him, all at once. Mahogany, pen ink, gunpowder. An accountant who walked around armed. An accountant who smelled like secondhand Dunhill smoke.

Didn’t Sulphur know he could smell him? Even from the little Todd had told Slate. Maybe he was banking on being unrecognizable – but if he was trying for stealth, a little distance would’ve been advised. Not that Todd was complaining. It was good to have the heads-up.

He wasn’t going to let it show, though. Not like he really had time, with the clear position of Coldcall’s hand at his waist. Shooting from the hip, as it were. Cryptid’s options were a little limited. Either he could step to the side and put the doorframe between himself and the blast, which would probably protect him from Coldcall but not from Sulphur; or, he could take the risk of getting into an enclosed space with a meta who could change his environment, and get out of the line of fire from the hall. He didn’t have time to deliberate.

A game of chicken with a blast of cold wasn’t even the most dangerous thing he’d done this week.

Cryptid was fast. There wasn’t heat in the room to let the frost melt and re-freeze as ice, and the tread of his combat boots worked well on slick surfaces. Combine that with the muscle memory of two winters in Montana and another in Seattle and Oregon, and his balance stayed centered as he darted into the room.

The cold grazed his arm instead of his chest, and he felt the joint lock up. He wrote it off in his head, like he was just taking stock – right elbow fucked, left hand free. He was glad he’d finally managed to straighten his left claws, but there was no time to celebrate that particular win. He needed close quarters. He didn’t waste time changing his direction from the initial dash to the side, zigzagging back to try to close the gap with a swipe of the bagh nakh toward the face, before Coldcall could reposition his hand for another blast.

As Sulphur hugged the wall, hoping to stay just out of view, he remembered something. Something Todd had told them. There had been a lot that Todd had told them, and from that, Sulphur realized he had just made two mistakes. The first had been how close he had come up to the man. Even hugging the wall and staying out of sight couldn’t hide his scent from Cryptid. Of course, he would know that there was someone else there.

The second was not immediately firing on the man. He managed to stay just out of range of the ice that suddenly collided with the wall, crystallizing it. At the same time, Cryptid disappeared into the room. He cursed under his breath and moved quickly but silently to the doorway. He peeked around the corner and took in the scene. Cryptid, moving through the room toward a man in a red puffer coat, and a third person, Doyle, in a corner of the room.

The room was covered in a thing spiderweb of frost. Sulphur found himself grateful that he had worn his boots and not his dress shoes that day. They wouldn’t give him much grip, but they were better than the smooth bottoms of his oxfords. He pulled back around the wall, trying to decide what to do. He could barge in and start firing, but he was far too tactical for that. He could use the door for coverage and open fire from the distance, in the narrow window of the doorframe.

Or. He had seen Cryptid going for the face of the other man, who Sulphur pegged for a meta. He could wait, and see what happened between the two of them. If Puffer Jacket killed Cryptid, then there was no point getting involved. He didn’t care enough, nor would Obsidian, about Doyle’s money to have a go at whoever this guy was. And if Cryptid killed Puffer Jacket, well. He was likely to sustain a few injuries. The more injured he was, the easier it would be to bring him back in. Logically, this was the best plan.

Sulphur turned and looked around the doorframe again, and shook his head. No, his rage wouldn’t allow him to stand passively by. As much as he knew that was the right move, as much as his rational brain screamed at him to stay hidden, the part of him that had loved Jasper was roaring louder, telling him to get into position and fire.

Sulphur moved in a precise arc, getting low so any shot from the other meta would hopefully go high over his head if he reflexively shot off toward him. Then, he leveled his gun, took a moment to take in their positions, and shot for where he predicted Cryptid’s thigh to be by the time the bullet reached them. If he missed, he’d possibly hit the other meta, likely about his lower hip in placement. At that moment, he didn’t give a fuck if he hit him. He fired just one shot, not the type to waste bullets. If he missed, he’d be able to throw himself back behind the doorframe, hopefully before either of the other metas managed to take retaliatory shots at him.​
Cryptid moved with the kind of speed that let Coldcall know this had a chance of being a fight and not an execution. His grin remained static, etched into his face, not cracking in the least as the terror of the Pittsburgh underworld closed in on him. Lethal bagh nakh flashed out from his left hand - the luminous blast had grazed him and taken out his right side. That made it his weak side now.

Coldcall raised his right arm in answer to Cryptid's swipe, locking forearms with him as the blades swiped toward his face as he tilted his head away in a practiced dodge. He'd been able to react with only a moment to spare - the edge of the metal blade swiped against the frame of his goggles. If he'd been a second slower, the knives would've torn flesh. Cryptid was obviously strong and fast. A legitimate challenge up close, though it was possible he'd bitten off more than he could chew. He was wise to close in based on the assumption that Coldcall was a ranged fighter. But he was in fact highly versatile. Up close, the freezing aura, undirected, was even more intense.


Simultaneously, muzzle flare from the hallway and the roar of a firearm alerted him to another presence. He didn't know who he was shooting at - and if he'd yet been hit. His doctor had told him that decades of frost building up under his skin had deadened his nerves - that metas like him, who expelled great energy through their bodies, were more naturally tough. When he exercised, when he tore muscle, it came back dense. He broke jaws just as easily with his fists as he put people down with his powers. And what should have hurt him, did not. Not yet.

Coldcall braced and squatted low before exploding forward, looking to twist one arm behind Cryptid's knee and use the other to physically lift him, throwing his prodigious bear-like strength into a full-forward tackle that would see the two of them carried through the drywall and out of the apartment entirely - if successful, slamming Cryptid through one wall and into another.


All the while, he'd maintain a constrictive grapple on the man, every second in sustained contact with Cryptid threatening to freeze the hero's blood and stop his very heart. His intent was nothing short of lethal.
The cold settled in Cryptid’s lungs as he closed in on Fletcher. It seemed to radiate out of Coldcall – hence the name, probably. A little on the nose, but the man-eating serial killer calling himself “Cryptid” really couldn’t judge based on that alone. In response to the extreme temperature shift, Todd’s body heat actually started to drop, too; not wasting energy to keep him warmer than he strictly needed to survive when that was less important than sustained injuries.

When Coldcall caught the hit, Crypted started to back off, braced to move on the ice that surrounded them. He didn’t plan to move far, but a little distance to figure out a plan B was wise. The movement kept the shot that rang in his ears from piercing through the bone of his thigh, instead cutting through the meat. Which still hurt, and caught Cryptid off guard, so that the leg buckled from the pain, and the ice definitely didn’t help his balance.

On top of all that, the shot took Todd by surprise. Sulphur was the logical, methodical sort of guy, very organized. Even Cryptid would’ve waited for the scuffle inside to stop with a clear loser before he made the first move. Was Fletcher Slate affiliated? Todd guessed not, given the lack of Steven Universe references in the name ‘Coldcall’. A potential recruit, maybe? That would explain why Sulphur was here in the first place, given he had no way to know Cryptid would go looking for Lefty Doyle at all.

The distraction, the weakness, and the ice all combined to throw Todd off balance. That, combined with his naturally light frame, meant Fletcher’s move to pick him up like a crash test dummy worked, and the crash test itself hurt like a bitch, too. His gimp leg was already healing, and with his energy already in conservation mode, the bruises from being shoved through the drywall stopped throbbing almost immediately. Those were his biggest problem, though. Through the layers of Coldcall’s parka and his own padded costume, he felt the cold sinking into skin and muscle. It was different from Obsidian’s touch; not his warmth bleeding away, but the ice chewing on him. Like standing outside in the Montana wind without a coat.

There was no time to concentrate on that. The energy from his recent meal was buying him time to think and get over the initial shock to start struggling, even as he started to shake. Hypothermic wasn’t healthy, but it was better than becoming a Toddcicle.

Of course, being ever the optimist, Cryptid could see a bright side to his awkward position. Sulphur couldn’t take any more shots at him without taking out the other meta first, and he wouldn’t want to do that with a recruit. Too much potential for permanent – even lethal – damage. Damage he wouldn’t mind Cryptid taking.

One thing at a time. For the time being, that thing had to be trying to brute force his way out of Coldcall’s grip. No clever quips right now; the time and place might lend themselves to it when he wasn’t getting frozen inside out. Instead he growled, quiet and guttural, and tried to come up with a better plan than aiming for a lucky shot with the bagh nakh. He'd last longer than most people, at least. He really just had to hope that was enough to figure out something more effective.