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Hawke was a construction worker.

That's what it said on his file, anyway; employed by Brookstone Consctruction Incorporated, working on houses, mostly. The company had fallen on hard times, a few years ago. A housing project, something major, suddenly had the funding cut, pulling the proverbial rug from beneath their feet, smashing their skull into proverbial concrete. To this day, the boss man doesn't know why they did it. It was a private company; maybe their permits were sketchy, maybe their money was dirty, who knows. It didn't really matter, now. Brookstone Construction was more or less back on its feet, though they relied mostly on council work, so as not to step on any errant rugs.

Jackson, was his first name- though nobody used it. To the three people who cared, Hawke sounded cooler. He had a life outside of work, as well. Not much of one, but it was important to him; more important than working for the biggest fucking pussies in the construction business, anyway. He had a house he was in the middle of renovating. Slowly, slowly renovating- something about doing his job out of hours for a personal project didn't always sit right with him, but he was too stubborn to trust anyone else to do it. He had a girlfriend, as well. They were happy, or at least as happy as most people were. Most precious to Hawke, however, was his hobby.

He was a boxer. Amateur boxing got a bit of a bad rap around here, what with the recent venue shut-downs, but he had found a better replacement to his previous warehouse gym that actually gave a shit about safety, which was good. Hawke didn't want to get a brain injury, and Infinity Fitness, whilst not perfect, was at least less likely to give him one.

He had been going every other day for a while now, almost since the day it opened, and he had built up quite the reputation- which he didn't really like. Hawke, despite his appearance, really did not like people. He was awkward to a fault, though he hid it well; most people would describe him as stoic, rather than inept, which unfortunately meant they wanted to talk to him more.
This had been one of theirs. Not one he had worked on himself, but certainly one of the company's; past of that abandoned project from a couple years ago, left to rot unfinished and unfurnished whilst the warehouse sprawl continued to expand around it. Even without the location, there were little tells that told him it was familiar. The same hallway-to-kitchen layout their hired architect favoured, the height of the ceilings being a little too tall, even the way the insulation had been left out, it all bore their hallmark.

He kick-started the generator outside, watching as the house lit up red. LEDs, this time; big, bright, square bulbs, smothering the house in a crimson glow as they stared down from every corner. They must've taken a lot of power to run, he thought, given there were two sets of wires running to them- although, given Lament...


A leather-gloved hand beckoned him inside, mercifully wordless. He followed. Eventually, the hand's owner sat down at a table, meaning Hawke was to stand next to him- mask on, back straight, hands down by his side, just as they had discussed. Lament leaned back in the chair- properly leaned back, having to hook the heels of his boots on the edge of the table so as not to topple backwards. He stared up at the ceiling, as the chains fell noisily around his face, and sighed.

"Don't half take his time."

Hawke nodded in false agreement. He didn't know who Lament's guest was, nor did he particularly want to find out- but he would have to. He could only hope it was someone sane.
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Obsidian chose to bring Rowe with him. The man had been with them for a few weeks at that point, but he hadn’t taken him to any of his various meetings, including establishing business with Carmen. But Lament was a different beast than Carmen. There was no one he trusted more than his family, but there was also no one who he worried for more than his family. Malachite’s death had proven they weren’t as indestructible as he had thought of them in his mind. The Pack was as fragile as sheets of glass, just waiting for a stray bullet or a meta stronger than them to take them down.

Rowe wasn’t expendable. Obsidian didn’t think of any of his people like that, even if he thought less of the regular humans than he did the metas. People were not pawns, pieces to be sacrificed. That’s how you lose the loyalty of your people. You treated them all as though they were people, and you showed them some level of compassion, while at the same time being the scariest fucking thing they’d ever seen. That was how you got loyal people, and kept them. Compassion more than fear, offering protection instead of certain death, and above all, treating them like people.

That was why Obsidian treated Rowe like a person, and not like a nameless or faceless pawn. As they parked the Rover outside the unfinished house, right out in the warehouse district, Obsidian sighed softly. Lament was tricky business. He had looked into the man, a bit, and had found… interesting things. They would serve him well if he needed to pull out some blackmail. He hoped this would go rather well and nothing of the sort would be needed, but it was always there, just in case.

Obsidian unbuckled himself from his seat, having let Rowe drive, and hopped out of the car. Immediately, he drew the darkness in from around them to cover his face. He smoothed out his long coat, pulled a pair of black leather gloves from his pocket, and slipped them on. He did a quick once-over of himself, and then of Rowe, and nodded his head thoughtfully. For cases like this, Obsidian had provided the man with a black suit, not unlike the ones that Sulphur and himself wore. He wore it well, and he matched the general aesthetic that the rest of Slate tried to pull off.

“Well. Are you ready, Rowe?”
Rowe was a Marine.

On paper, Jerome Rowe was honorably discharged, but that saying about jarheads was true. His experience in the Corps had shaped him as much as his blackbelt in Yoshinkan aikido. That record led to all kinds of job proposals, primarily as a bodyguard. He’d worked for real scum before. Leo Vasquez was the last in a long line of bastards.

Obsidian was the first monster to hire him. Rowe had kept his hesitations and concerns to himself. He didn’t just take the job because he owed that monster his life, but he’d be lying if he said that wasn’t a factor. Without much of a personal life, he’d spent most of his time after the hospital discharged him around the Diamond, around Slate. And he’d learned in that period why a monster like Obsidian needed a bodyguard, especially one of Rowe’s caliber.

Whatever name he went by, Obsidian refused to take care of himself. Not in the sense that he needed a bodyguard. He was still a monster who hunted and ate people like Rowe to survive. He was skilled with firearms, and practiced with Sulphur – his apparent second – on weekends. No, the boss could handle himself in a fight.

What the boss needed was a babysitter. Someone to make sure he would take care of himself when the rest of Slate wasn’t around. Nobody had told Rowe that. But James Fielding worked at least eleven hours every day in his licit businesses, and several more for the illegal one. The only time he took off was at night, and he didn’t sleep even then. Necessary or not, he pushed himself to his limits in between hunts.

Like now, with Lament. Rowe hadn’t commented on how tired the boss looked. He wasn’t paid to comment. But he didn’t argue when he was asked to drive. He didn’t argue when asked to come. He knew that Lament was why he was here, and not Sulphur or Hematite. Lament was an unknown factor, and hte other members of Slate were too valuable for Obsidian to risk in this operation. But he risked Rowe, because Rowe was paid to be disposable. A weapon, a tool, a shield. That was something he’d long since accepted. If it was a problem, he would’ve changed careers a decade ago.

That wasn’t why Rowe didn’t like this. Rowe didn’t like this because Obsidian had come himself, and he wasn’t looking well. He didn’t argue. He wasn’t being paid to argue. In fac,t it could be said he was being paid not to argue. But he didn’t like it, and as such, Jerry Rowe had taken precautions, like studying the schematic of the unfinished house. Like verifying the known abilities of the metahuman contractor they were scheduled to meet. Suspected vocal manipulation, although it could be more directly psychic. For the latter, Rowe couldn’t do much beyond practice a handful of meditation exercises on the drive. The former was much easier to prepare for – a pair of soft earplugs in his breast pocket until he parked.

He chose a thigh holster for the bigger Sig Sauer 365 X-Comp, while still wearing his preferred Heckler & Koch HK45 in a concealed chest holster. One was clearly for intimidation. The other was for when he needed a comfortable weapon, or if something happened to the primary weapon. The boss had also provided a black suit that was tailored in such a way ast to accommodate for his Level 4 ballistic armor. And the armor itself, of course. He had his own personal set of preferred everyday protection, but his past employers all had different tastes and preferences. As Obsidian was an arms dealer, he was no exception.

Rowe was glad for the extra protection as he pulled up to the house. Obsidian let himself out of the car. Usually, Rowe would appreciate that – it gave him time to check his weapons and finish gearing up. But, again, the boss wasn’t looking well. The longer the boss was outside without him, the more at risk he was. Still – Rowe was a professional, babysitter or otherwise. He checked both his weapons and their backup magazines, then affixed his earplugs. Then he followed the boss out.

He sensed, rather than heard, Obsidian’s question. He nodded once in the affirmative, then tapped behind his ear to indicate his hearing protection. He wouldn’t hear the details of the conversation. But he wasn’t being paid to participate. Just to keep Obsidian alive.

He turned with the boss, and followed him inside.
There was someone else, as well. Another regular, aside from Hawke- though he didn't train much himself. He was a small man. A touch shorter than average, and a lot thinner; someone who would, without a shred of exaggeration, probably die if he stepped into the ring with him. At least he wasn't delusional enough to want to spar, Hawke always thought. He seemed fine with watching, even stepping in as a ref for a few rounds.

He was the one to strike up conversation first, of course. Hawke was solitary to a fault; he'd never have taken that first step himself. Still, the man seemed friendly. He went by Jay- two bird names, he pointed out. Said he worked for a guy just out of town who was looking for someone for a match- something underground, nothing fancy, but he insisted that Jay get the best guy he could find. Infinity was the best place to look, he was told, for exceptional talent, and he certainly seemed impressed by Hawke.

Then, once they were friendly, Jay offered to take him to a match.
"They're here."

Hawke had no idea how Lament could know that. Were there cameras as well? Something set up inside that mask to let him view the outside? Could he see through walls? Superhuman hearing? Was he just lying to make sure he was standing up straight?

He stood up straight, regardless, adjusting the assault rifle slung over his back. It was heavy- not heavy enough to be a burden, but heavy enough that he could feel it. He could feel it the entire time he was there, pressing into his shoulders, reminding him that his fate depended entirely on the mercy of their guests- something Lament could strip them of.

Still, his face remained stoic. It had to. What use was a bodyguard that looked more scared than the guy he was supposed to be protecting? Lament didn't look scared. He was still leaning backwards, chains draping downwards like a steel waterfall, legs crossed and propped up on the desk like he was a bored secretary instead of- whatever he was. Hawke didn't really know. A metahuman, probably, but that word meant so much- anything, as long as it took some vaguely human form, could count. The human part didn't apply to Lament. Meta, maybe, but not human.

And all he knew of his guests was that they didn't fit human, either.

"Obsidian." Lament said, before anyone had entered the room, "Please, have a seat- ain't like we're strangers."


Lament had brought Obsidian here?

Obsidian had strode into the house with minimal fanfare. The door swung open without sound, and he allowed himself to fall into his habit of silent and precise motions. He wasn’t sure if he had done this in front of Rowe before. Surely, he must have. With the darkness of shadows clinging to him, he seemed to become as soundless as the night was in a field out in the middle of nowhere. And yet, despite the silence with which he moved, Lament called out his name.

He tilted his head to the side, but he didn’t question it. In keeping with his pretenses, Obsidian stayed just as silent as he drifted into the room. Lament sat in a chair in front of a desk, his feet propped up on top of it. He leaned back almost dangerously far in the chair. Through the haze of shadows, Obsidian nodded his head to the man in the mask and hat. Then, he quietly took his seat.

“Lament. It’s good to see you again. I trust you’ve had a pleasant two weeks?” A formality. A pleasantry. They both knew why they were really there, but Obsidian was more than happy to play the part of the formal businessman. Even if he was more of a mafia head than a businessman these days. Not that Lament needed to know about Obsidian’s more legitimate businesses. In fact, he’d prefer if he never found out about that.

“So, let’s get straight down to business, shall we? What do you want, what do I want, and how we can help each other accomplish those goals? Why don’t we just put it all on the table, hmm? What do you want in exchange for your services?”
Lament’s bodyguard was no professional.

Rowe followed after Obsidian, unaware of how uncannily silent the boss was given everything was just as quiet. As soon Obsidian was seated, Rowe fell into parade rest, and his dark eyes flicked to the man with a very obvious gun. It looked like a Ruger PC Carbine. Despite being a relatively common model, it was clearly unfamiliar to the man carrying it. For show, then. A quick glance at his foot position and build told Rowe this was a boxer. Probably not professional, but pretty good, and big enough to be dangerous if he took Rowe off guard. Fortunately, unlike the masked man, Rowe was a professional. He’d keep an eye on him.

He did take his attention from him long enough to see the man he was guarding. A lazy, overconfident posture betrayed a good center of balance. The chains on his hat most like rattled as a distraction to those who could hear them. He didn’t look like much of a combatant. That meant Rowe needed to pay more attention to him than the man who was either being paid or coerced to pretend to be scary enough to protect someone from Obsidian.

Rowe’s eyes went back to that man. No point in staring at the boss’s affiliate and betraying suspicion. He’d play along until he was needed, a steady, silent statue behind the man of shadows.
A match in an abandoned parking lot Jay insisted was safe, with a guy Jay couldn't describe in detail, watched over by his boss who Jay couldn't bring himself to talk about.

Yeah, this wasn't a match. This was a set-up.

Hawke had no idea what this guy had found himself tangled in, but it wasn't doing him any good. He was adamant--weirdly adamant--that Hawke followed him there, despite being unable to sell it as anything remotely legitimate. He didn't like it when Hawke refused. It scared him- which meant this boss of his probably held something over him, and probably thought he could get him to do whatever he wanted. Hawke hated people like that. He fucking hated them. After hearing about his girlfriend's ex-partner, he wanted to skin the fucker alive- it all hit too close to home, for him, but he wouldn't tell Jay that. He wouldn't tell anyone that- and he wouldn't tell Jay anything.

But he couldn't just let this slide, he couldn't- Jay was clearly in need of help, and he clearly couldn't help himself. Wary as he was of this whole situation, Hawke felt had no choice but to attend. He'd play along, at first, for Jay's sake; say he was preparing for a boxing match, that he believed the obvious bullshit this bastard was trying to feed him using his friend as a mouthpiece. Then, when he showed up, the first thing he'd do would be pull a gun on the bastard and demand he let his friend go. He could intimidate this guy, easy, even if he didn't intend to kill him. Hawke was good at that sort of thing- and this guy, who had to use a scrawny thing like Jay to get to him, probably wasn't. Yeah. Yeah, this would work out- this was the plan.

Still, when the night came, he was scared. He told Jay that everything would be fine, which had the unintentional side-effect of freaking him out even more, until he backpedalled enough to twist his words into something about the stupid fake boxing match. Jay couldn't know that he knew, it seemed. He insisted on tagging along, which Hawke didn't like, but there wasn't much point in arguing with him, given the circumstances. Boss-man probably wanted to see his face as well- which he would, before he saw Hawke's gun.

For backup, he took the contact of the most visible vigilante he could find- someone cslled Phoenix. She had a tip line, or a work phone, or something like that. A way to contact her. It felt like a shot in the dark, like a kid messaging a celebrity in the hopes they'd get a response- though, from what he'd heard, there were a few celebrities in Pittsburgh who were actually quite good at talking to normal people. The first message was vague, explaining that he would need her help, in case his number flashed up again, and that he'd message her again once things had progressed- to chase this guy and put him down if Hawke was successful, or to get to the parking lot and save Jay's life if he wasn't.

Then, he headed out.

There were few people Lament could've called in that would be worse than Obsidian- in fact, Hawke would wager, there were none. The guy was deadly, even when his head was on straight. He might not even have to be pushed into violence; Hawke doubted a man like that would have any problems with killing him unprompted, if it helped whatever deal he was making- or, fuck, if he just looked at him wrong. Shit. This was who he was supposed to protect Lament against? Unless... unless he wasn't here for protection at all- unless he was here for...

"Pleasant enough." Lament said, "And yourself? D'ya do anything nice? Take your dog pack on a boy-scout trip, or anything?"

Hawke could've sworn he sounded bitter, but it was hard to tell with Lament. The accent masked all but the most obvious tells of emotion- intentional, no doubt, which made him extremely uncomfortable. There was no telling when he would snap, just like back at the parking lot. He wasn't like an animal; wouldn't growl, or hiss, or stare dead silent. If Lament decided to turn on him, it would be business as usual, right up until the point where Obsidian's venom stopped his heart, or his bodyguard filled his skull with bullets, or his own hand pulled the knife from his jacket and cut cleanly across his abdomen, disembowelling himself before his uncaring audience. He wouldn't hear it coming.

Lament laughed, tipping his hat at the other bodyguard, causing the chains- the chains to-

The sound made him flinch. Hawke looked away from him, back to the bodyguard- no doubt he noticed. Unlike him, this guy looked like he knew his stuff. Obsidian could afford quality, it seemed- but surely Lament could as well. Fuck. Hawke was right about his own predicament- he wasn't there to guard Lament at all, god knows the man wouldn't need it. He was disposable. He was a table decoration, or a party game, or a bottle of wine- something for these inhuman psychopaths to laugh at or play with or consume whilst they had their little chat. His posture became tense, angry, but he kept it in. He had no choice.

"What do I want, hmmmm?"

His voice dragged, resonating as painfully as the chains on his hat.

"Ain't much use seeing the price before the product." He shrugged, "You say what you want, I'll say how much it'll cost ya. Although-"

The chains, again. He tilted his head towards Hawke, gesturing to him. Hawke didn't flinch as much, this time, but he didn't think that was a good thing. He felt sick. He felt sick.

"I've got some ideas."
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Obsidian smiled at the initial comment about his Pack, chuckling under his breath. He wouldn’t rise to such an obviously baited comment. Working with Lament was going to be difficult, which he had known from their first meeting. He quietly listened as Lament finished speaking, and then an eyebrow arched beneath the shadows. That was certainly a pointed gesture that the other man had just made.

Leaning forward in his chair, Obsidian reached into the pocket of his coat. The inside pocket, tucked right up against his chest. Inside, just behind the secondary phone he kept for Slate activities, was a folded sheet of paper. It was crisp, cleanly folded, unmarred in any other way. As he spoke, he removed it from his coat and set it on the table. Inside, Lament would find a list of twenty-two names. All were either meta humans or humans, separated into two columns. An equal amount of each.

“I’d like for you to make me some music, Lament. I want you to highlight human violence against metas. I want you to go all out on this project. This is a list of names that might be of use to you. People who have been interfering with the business, or who are competitors. Obviously, you can go after whoever else you’d like, though I’d ask you to keep meta lives lost to as minimum as possible. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth to have to do this.”

He leaned back in his seat again, and continued, “I’d like for a group of maybe ten songs. Each more potent and radical than the last, if possible. Bring this to a beautiful crescendo, make me beautiful music highlighting the evil of humans, and I’ll pay you well. As long as it’s within my power, then I’ll supply you with it.”

Jay pulled his jacket over his shoulders, fighting back the cold. Hawke, walking next to him, wasn't quite as warmly dressed, but he didn't need to be. He was bigger than Jay, for one, and the adrenaline coursing through his body was able to overpower any sense of cold he might have felt. It was able to overpower anything. Fuck- if this was about anything else, he would've taken that as a warning sign. Losing control sounded all too easy right now. He'd have to keep a clear head.

The parking lot was one of those big underground ones- claustrophobic, made even moreso by the fact that the ceiling seemed to be caving in after years of disuse. The lights that shone up through the concrete weren't the lights that were originally wired up to the place, he could tell that for certain. They were too bright. They were too red. Hawke squinted beneath them, hissing a little- because, god, they were harsh. The entire interior of the place was bathed in near-uniform crimson- he could barely make out the figure in the distance, standing next to a set of...

...Were those speakers?
Lament took the list and turned it over in his hand, his eyes scanning over the names a little too quickly. Maybe he was just a fast reader. It certainly wouldn't be the weirdest thing. Hawke strained his neck to look, checking the page for any names he recognised, in case somehow a friend of his had managed to piss off this metahuman supergang. He didn't recognise any of the ones he saw, at least. On a better day, that would've given him a sense of relief- fuck, if it was anyone other than Lament holding the page.

"Ten songs?"

The man hummed, his voice low and still unarmed, and he sighed.

"So, you want an album, mm?"

He chuckled.

"How 'bout we take this a song at a time." Lament said, "'Cause you ain't heard my music- not the kinda music you're askin' for. Ransom tapes, sure. Recordings of death, absolutely. But--and you can wrap this up in as much poetics as you want, I ain't gonna stop you--I know what you really want here."

There was a terrible, piercing click as Lament tapped a metal-capped finger against the table.

"You want them to eat each other. How we get there, that don't matter- you want violence. Now, I'll give you violence, Obsidian, but I'm gonna warn ya- unlike y'all, my music doesn't discriminate."

Obsidian noticed how fast Lament’s eyes moved over the paper and smiled beneath his shadowy veil. He listened to Lament’s counterpitch and nodded his head. One at a time was acceptable. As long as the tapes were made and released, Obsidian was willing to budge on a few details. He’d even be willing to let some certain people go for this. A few lives in exchange for a safety zone for metas was a worthy trade, and their lives would be remembered for a long time after.

To his credit, Obsidian didn’t flinch when the sound resonated through the room. “Those terms are acceptable. I’m willing to give a little on the details if it brings us to an agreement. Now, tell me, Lament, what would you want in exchange for such a project? Let’s start with the initial song. One song, one payment, and we’ll reconvene again afterward and discuss the project. How does that sound to you?”

He gestured with his hands while he talked, moving them loosely and languidly. He was at ease and wanted Lament to know that. He leaned back into the chair and bounced his leg where it crossed over the other in slow and easy movements. He clasped his hands together and placed them under his chin, the shadows consuming them.
"I want weapons."

He leaned back in the chair, gesturing vaguely to Hawke.

"Living or otherwise." Lament sighed dramatically, "I mean, forcin' people to follow my order is one thing, but I wanna cause chaos. Real, lasting chaos."

Hawke felt himself tense up at his words- though, in all fairness, it could've just been the gesture. Was that what he was, then? A weapon? Then why wasn't Lament firing him- why wasn't Lament using him? He couldn't do much. If he was a weapon, then he was a fucking butter knife in the hands of a man who wanted to watch the world bleed- useless. Shit fucking useless.

"Sure, I can induce mass hysteria with just my voice, but that's... cheating, ain't it? It's just hysteria- it stops and starts at madness. There's no change, nothing lasting- and, I told you, I want this city to burn."

He laughed.

"I'll assume you can provide."

“Weapons are my specialty. But you already knew that.” He hummed, a pleasant and thoughtful sound as he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his folded legs. In truth, Obsidian had no issue with providing him with weapons. He was even willing to part with a few choice metahumans, for an extended period of time, if it meant this project did its job. All he needed was an appropriate backdrop, the perfect stage, and then he could get started.

“Weapons are no problem. Living or otherwise. I have several living weapons I’ll allow you to talk to and see if they’re good fits. As for more traditional weapons, you tell me what you need, and I’ll source it. No questions asked.”

He kept his voice low and even as he spoke. A big offer, a big trade. But it would be worth it to be without some extra firepower for a while to get these tapes. They would be great for when they started the plans for the exclusion zone. It was almost a necessity, really, these tapes. They would help lay a foundation for everything he had planned. But there was no way he was going to let Lament know how much he needed those tapes.

That was why he leaned back in the chair again and relaxed. He had to appear as in control as possible. He had to keep the excitement out of his voice. Nothing could go wrong with this.