Closed RP The Food Chain

This RP is currently closed.


If Vasquez stayed in Pittsburgh, he was fucked.

Peters was dead. Very dead. Super fucking dead. There was too much blood on his clothes for there to be anything else. The fact they were delivered in a cardboard box to his doorstep meant that the fucking Scarecrow, or Slasher, or Cryptid, or whatever he was called, was still alive. That meant that the bruiser hired to take care of him was dead, too. And when that creep Obsidian’s man didn’t come back, Leo was dead. If the Slasher didn’t get him, Obsidian’s freak show would. Or the ringmaster himself.

That was fucking horrifying. He didn’t want to die the way Martin, Garcia, and White did, eaten with a single goddamn touch. And he sure as hell wasn’t going to die the way however the fuck Peters and Obsidian’s man did.

Leo didn’t back down from a fight. He had his place on the food chain from being tough, and scarier than everyone else. And from being able to do math alright. But this? This wouldn’t be a fight, it’d be a fucking slaughter, and he wasn’t going to die like an animal if he could help it. If living meant running, then he’d hole up someplace for a few weeks, maybe a month. Just until the heat died down. Lay low, even if it meant staying in a chintzy shithole like Kittanning.

Kittanning was the kind of charming small town that tricked out-of-staters into thinking that Pennsylvania was a well-preserved history museum of little villages and old buildings. It was an hour outside Pittsburgh, which felt like too far for one of his problems to put his stupid combat boots through a window.

And Obsidian couldn’t know about all of Leo’s safehouses. Sure, he knew one or two offices, his home and work, Maria’s house. Let Obsidian clear all that shit out, let him have the bitch, let let him burn himself out chasing empty leads. Leo could afford a little vacation time in the tiny two-bedroom cottage style house he’d bought some years back for a similar situation. There was a lot of property around, just enough space around the house that any kind of ambush could be seen from the windows, just far enough cover that the house couldn’t be seen from the road.

He brought seven. The seven guys who’d have his back no matter what came around. Eight guys in one cottage house wasn’t cozy, but in this case the more the merrier. Taylor was on lookout, rotating day-night shift with Gabrielli in a car hidden in the bushes at the front of the property. Any sign of the freak show – or anything else – and a call would go through to one of Leo’s personal guard. Butler and Raymond played cards on the front porch, did patrols, slept within arm’s reach of each other. Rowe, Estez, and Coleman were rotating out personal bodyguard duty, but after the first few days they’d taken up shifts, too.

Leo himself was armed. Never went anywhere unarmed. Knucklebracers, hunting knife, handgun, semi-auto rifle. To list everything he’d brought would take up the entire day, but suffice to stay it was enough to outfit a small army.

And Leo would kill the man who’d done the outfitting, if he showed his shadowy mug.

It hadn’t been hard to find Leo Vasquez’s hiding spot. After an in-depth audit of his records, performed by Sulphur while Lapis held up the rest of the office at gunpoint, they found the cottage house out in Kittanning. Honestly, if he thought he was smart, he probably shouldn’t have kept the records for the place with the records for, well, every other piece of housing he owned. Honestly, that was just shoddy organization.

Honestly, the car up at the front was a nice touch. The drone had caught it almost immediately, the thermal camera they had attached to it finding the heat signatures of the guards inside it. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t intend to go in the front, guns blazing. No, they had a plan. That plan was to wait for the last sweep by the guards, and then to move in, silent, middle of the night, and surround the house.

So after night fell, they hopped out of the two vans they had brought and they started loading up. Obsidian was specific about the weapons they brought. They had the big scaries, their 12-gauge Mossberg, their Heckler & Koch MP5, their Tec-9, and even an AR-15. Obsidian had also ensured that each and every one of them had taken a 9 millimeter of their choice, for when they actually got inside the building. Obsidian himself only took up a Mac-10 for the initial assault. There wouldn’t be much point in using a handgun once inside for him– he was hungry, and it showed in his eyes.

As they donned their ballistic vests, Lapis approached Obsidian from the right, clicking the safety off her Glock. “Alright, Boss, I think everyone’s ready. All the pieces are in order and the vests are all intact.”

“Then we move. Stay close to the ground until we’re all in position. Everyone has their earpieces?” A chorus of confirmation rang out. He nodded his head and then waved his arm, gesturing for them to enter the treeline. The group fell silent like a pack of wolves as they closed in on their prey. Their steps didn’t make a sound, their breathing soft as could be, and they were all watching Obsidian for his cues.

As they rolled up on the cottage, he gestured for Hematite and Lapis to take left, and for Rhody and Sulphur to take right. He went right with them, and using his abilities, he made himself into a shadow, covering his whole body instead of just his face. He slipped around the front, passing unnoticed by the guards in the shadows. Then, he reached up to his ear and engaged the communications system. The rest of his family did the same. Then, all at once, they rose to their feet, guns pointed into the various windows of the house and began firing. Obsidian himself opened on the two guards outside on the porch, Hopefully, they had enough time to take out most of the guards before the ones in the car got out and came over. Hopefully, they could clear them all out before Leo took the only exit that they had left for him– the back door, and straight into the woods.​
When the attack came, there wasn’t any warning. Leo had come out here anticipating human action if he was found – posturing, warning fire, an exchange of fire. Maybe he’d lose one of his guys, or a handful, but guys were replaceable. It was one of the advantage he thought he might have with Obsidian over the creep who’d stalk, ambush, and pick off his people like a wild animal.

He didn’t expect the opposite end of the spectrum. He didn’t expect warfare.

The windows exploded inward. There was no warning from the front of the house, from Taylor or Gabrielli, damn them. Why did he even fucking pay them? Why the fuck did he even pay any of them? If they were going to just stand there and get fucking shredded –

He was just lucky, obviously. He knew that. He’d been in a position where he wouldn’t be reached from the windows if someone did try to snipe him – habit rather than conscious decision. The likelihood of getting pasted at 500 yards by a sniper was low in the environment he’d fled to, but never zero. A sniper wouldn’t lose their position picking off guards, though, so they’d been a lot less careful.

The worst part of it was that none of them were even dead, when the initial roar of gunfire ended. Oh, Butler and Raymond were mincemeat, beyond a shadow of a doubt. But Estez and Coleman were on the floor after the initial rain, breathing shallow, bodies torn up in too many places to move. Incredibly unlucky that nothing hit them in the head, because the sounds they were making weren’t human.

Only Rowe was still mobile. Ex-military, he’d let his training in, moved so that he only lost his left arm. There was no using his big gun like that, so he pulled his handgun and kept close to the wall as he looked at his boss.

Leo was just staring at the bodies. He’d seen carnage like this, fuck, he’d caused it. He was just so shocked. It was like watching a fucking rookie, and with a real rookie Rowe would’ve just run for it, let the kid figure it out on his own. But Leo wasn’t a kid, and there was something to his shock that made Rowe pause. There was something else to all this, something that actually scared him, and that kind of fear from a guy like Leo was nothing to scoff at. With Leo dead, he wouldn’t be paid for this. He had no love for the bastard. And the gunfire had been indiscriminate. Wasn’t any way that he’d be getting out of this alive himself, not with his arm torn up the way it was, unless he made a run for it.

Rowe used to be proud of his work, before Leo. Military and bodyguard duty. He hadn’t known what kind of bastard Leo was when he’d been hired on, just that Leo offered big money for his personal safety. By the time it hit him, there was no running without getting hit himself, so he’d stayed, and forced himself to be proud of his work.

There was nothing to be proud of here. There was only life or death. There was a door that led out back, the one side that wasn’t getting shot to pieces. Rowe looked at Leo, who still looked like he was staring dumbfounded at the bodies. Fuck it. If the bastard was just going to stand there, Rowe wasn’t going to die here with him. He’d leave with his dignity.

He almost made it to the central hall, too, before his leg exploded in pain. He screamed, the second sound after Leo’s glock went off, and lost his balance.

He fell forward and lost his gun when it skidded out of his hands. Leo’s boot kicked it farther across the room, and when he looked up, the black-eyed yellow-toothed motherfucker was grinning, despite the slight sheen of sweat that was visible on his dark brow and the way his low, quiet voice cracked at the edges.

“Don’t look at me like that, Rowe. Bear attack rules. Don’t gotta be faster than the bastard. Just gotta be faster than the next guy. Consider yourself unemployed.”

Leo didn’t bolt out the door. He stepped toward it with almost care as Rowe's agonized shouting followed him, down the windowless hall and into the kitchen in the back, where he'd take up a stealthier approach to avoid being seen from outside. He wasn’t stupid. They’d sweep the house when they didn’t see him run, and hopefully the shadow-sucking motherfucker would be too distracted by easy meals to give proper chase, and his weird-ass dogs would stay at his heel. When that screaming started, then he’d make his mad dash into the treeline. He hadn’t exactly been keeping up on cardio, but fear has a funny way. He knew a couple positions in the woods where he could use his semi-auto to start tearing them down with enough time for setup.

It’d help his escape that about this time, Taylor had woken Gabrielli up and they’d gotten wise to the gunfire. They vacated the car and started heading to the house, eyes open for movement, ready to use the various trees as cover to pick off the first attackers they saw. Taylor took the left, Gabrielli the right. If they both lived, they’d meet back at the car, but for right now their job was to keep the boss alive by unknowingly acting as live bait, a bigger problem for the invaders than the man making his quiet way toward the back door.

Obsidian touched his earpiece and spoke through their comms, “I’m going inside. Rhody and Hematite, take the two guards from the car. Lapis, Sulphur, go around back and keep that bastard from getting any kind of tactical positioning. Move now.”

Lapis and Sulphur took off to the back. Upon finding the door still closed, they positioned on either side of the house, their weapons slung over their backs. He wasn’t theirs to kill, no matter how intense their blame and hatred. So they waited, making sure they were in a good position to give chase.

Rhody and Hematite ran across the front yard, rushing to meet the guards. Hematite changed his skin, letting the metal flow and encapsulate him like liquid, where it hardened. He could tank bullets with his armor, and Rhody barely needed body armor at all. Even if she got shot in the head, she’d still move, still run, still fight. Her body would heal it. It might slow her down, but that was why she took cover behind Hematite. Together they made a beeline straight for the trees, ready to take out the two guards they knew were there.

Obsidian walked into the front door of the house, carefully setting his gun down in the lap of the dead guard outside. The inside of the little house was shredded. There were bodies of guards everywhere, some of whom were still breathing, albeit very difficultly. He squatted next to one who was breathing shallow, labored breaths. He sighed softly, then tisked. “I’m horribly sorry about this. We only want Leo. I’m going to put you out of this misery now.”

He laid his hand out over the man’s blood-soaked chest, pressing firmly down. He felt a spiral of energy rose to greet his fingers, then traveled up and into him. He shivered in response to the feeling, a light euphoria overtaking him. He took the man’s last moment away, and with it, he felt the surge in power he always felt when he took a life completely. Something about those last few volts really boosted him. Maybe he was taking whatever made them them, and that was what made him just overjoyed.

Either way, Obsidian rose and his eyes looked over the group of bodies, looking for the next living person. He found another trying to crawl out of one of the rooms. The man screamed as Obsidian descended upon him, stealing his last breaths. Finally, he found a third man laying in the hall back to the kitchen. He walked over to the man and sighed softly as he realized how alive the man actually was– and why he was on the ground.

“If you scream, I’ll let you live. I want him afraid, but you aren’t injured enough to be dying. Normally, I’d kill you no matter what, but I’m feeling particularly generous right now, given how full I am. Scream loud enough that bastard can hear you from the treeline, and you get to live.”
Taylor and Gabrielli stayed in sight of each other, but kept a good distance between them. As they closed in on the front of the house, they took turns being exposed, one of them always ready to open fire if someone tried to hit the second one. When the two figures came into range, they started opening alternative fire, filling in whenever the other one jammed or ran out of ammo. If one of their assailants went down – either of them – then they’d be able to converge fire on the other and finish them off.

Estez didn’t hear the apology. He just felt the shadow that loomed over him, felt it touch the last injury that was already going cold, and felt the cold take the rest of him until he was gone.

Coleman wasn’t so lucky. He felt every part of his body burning. He felt the bullets where they sat, chewing on his nerves. He felt his lung slowly collapsing, leaving him unable to move, aware he was going to suffocate soon. And he knew, turning bloodshot eyes up, when Death was coming a lot more swiftly and a lot less mercifully than that. He’d seen Martin, Garcia, and White. Maybe he hadn’t seen them die, but he’d seen the twist of their faces after the fact.

Having only one lung did nothing to stifle Coleman’s dying scream.

There it was.

Leo had stopped beside the back door, hand on the knob, waiting. He felt himself soaked in sweat. He felt the blood rushing in his ears. His heart was already beating so fast that it hurt. And when Coleman’s scream – he didn’t know it was Coleman, and really didn’t care – when it reached him, the animal in his throat jumped up to his brain. He turned the knob and threw the door outward. He didn’t unsling his gun – that would only slow him down. And as much as he wanted to tumble with these fucks for intruding on him, they scared the shit out of him. All of them.

So despite his better instincts, Leo Vasquez took off at a run. A surprisingly fast run, for a man of his build and size, but adrenaline does a lot for that extra push. His sights were set on the treeline, and he didn’t look back.

That left Rowe. Jerry Rowe had sworn he wouldn’t die without a fight. It was part of his innermost self, part of his core. Even with the work he’d taken up, he was still willing to lay down his life for someone he respected. But he didn’t respect Leo, and he had a lot of fight left in him; one good arm and one good leg were more than enough to at least put off the inevitable. And that was why Leo hadn’t killed him – so that he could slow down the coming storm.

But, as Leo had said, he was unemployed now. He wasn’t the bastard’s bodyguard anymore. So that was why, when he gritted his teeth and turned to the shadow that was coming for him next, he didn’t move to stand. He narrowed his brown eyes in challenge, and then closed them to wait.

The sooner he died, the sooner Vasquez was next.

He reopened his eyes when the monster started to talk to him instead. The soldier in Rowe thought that Obsidian – he’d met him, his name only just came back now – shouldn’t waste time talking to the enemy. But the gaze relaxed into realization, recognition, even, when he actually heard what Obsidian was telling him. They weren’t enemies. They weren’t friends – he was still at the monster’s mercy. But they had a common foe, and Obsidian wanted to use Rowe as a weapon.

Rowe had a voice. He tended to be soft-spoken and serious around his coworkers, but he’d spent most of his career in the Marines. On top of that, he was in agony. He was scared, there was no shame to him in being scared. And by God, was he furious. All those came together in a deep breath, hissed in through gritted teeth as he looked up at the shadows that he could feel, if not see, looking back.

Oh, Leo would hear him alright. Anyone still alive outside would hear him, too. It was a sound that could really be mistaken for not just the dying, but the damned.

And to be honest, he didn’t care if he died after that favor. Leo Vasquez wasn’t just going to die – he was going to die scared. He was going to die like an animal. A worse death than anyone else here, anyone he’d ever killed, anyone Rowe had ever watched die.

So Rowe set a square grin that gritted through the pain as he looked at Obsidian again, waiting for judgment and death, if it was going to come.

Lapis and Sulphur gave him a five-second headstart. Then, Lapis gave a loud whoop and they started after him, their guns still slung across their backs. Their job was to head him off, to trap him in the forest and chase him until Obsidian could come and do his part. They both heard the scream from inside the house, so loud that it rang out as they disappeared into the treeline on either side of Leo’s fading form.

Hemie and Rhody fell into position together, and Hemie’s skin turned to steel in a heartbeat. The bullets glanced off of him, but never once did one find its way behind him to his lover. Rhody cocked the 12 gauge, and the moment the firing stopped, in that split second between one reloading and one opening fire, she stepped out, lined up her shot, and fired. The one on the right went down, and she ducked back behind Hemie.

She reloaded the shotgun, carefully and slowly loading the shells. Hemie was in no danger of the fire that opened on them again, so she took her time. When she heard the click of an empty gun, she stepped back out and lined another shot up, then blew the second one away. She slung the shotgun back over her shoulder as Hematite drew his 9 and walked over, placing a single bullet through each man’s head, ending their suffering. Death by buckshot wasn’t pleasant, and while they were there to make a man suffer, that didn’t mean his men needed to suffer as well.

Inside the house, Obsidian grinned wide as the man on the ground screamed. There was a rage in him, a rage that could only be related to the gunshot wound through his knee. Leo had fucked him over, and he wanted Leo to die scared The way the man had screamed was something Obsidian had never heard before, and he hunted people for food.

So for that reason, he reached down, and grabbed the man’s chin, looking into his eyes. Although he wouldn’t see the golden eyes that looked back, Obsidian’s grin only grew wider, more animalistic, and he took in the look in the man’s eyes. He did that despite the belief that Obsidian might kill him anyway. Man, Leo really knew how to piss people off, didn’t he?

He let go of his chin, placed a hand on his chest, and pumped energy into the man. He wouldn’t give him much, but it would be enough for him to stay alive until Rhody could come and tend to him. He stood back up straight, touched his earpiece, and barked out new orders.

“Lapis, Sulphur, Hematite, pursue. Rhodanite, I have one injured party inside, two bullet wounds. I’d like you to help him. I think we’re going to keep this one. He’s quite angry.”

There was static for a moment, and then Rhody’s voice came through. “Understood, Sir. En route now.”

He looked back down at the man and grinned one last time, this time letting the shadows clear just enough that the man could see it. “Don’t disappoint me, understand?”

Then, Obsidian stepped past him and toward the backdoor. He could hear Lapis whooping in the distance, somewhere in the forest that lay beyond the property. Obsidian took in a deep breath of the air outside, watching as Hematite disappeared into the treeline. Then Obsidian tilted his head back and screamed like he hadn’t screamed in years. It couldn’t be mistaken for anything other than what it was– pure, unadulterated rage. It was the cry of a monster who was out for blood and would have that blood.

He took off as fast as he could into the treeline, disappearing into the trees so fast he was barely more than a streak of black in the moonlight.

Somewhere in the house, Rhody walked into a room and looked at the bodies on the ground. The shotgun came off her shoulder, and she started poking bodies with it. “Hello? Anyone alive in here?”
Rowe’s scream reached Leo, alright. And it told him that he couldn’t slow down. Not even a little. It was a gruesome reminder of what they’d come here for.

He knew the two – three? – shadows behind him wanted him to know they were there, the way they always stayed just close enough. He had no fucking clue if they could actually catch up to him if they wanted to. He just knew if he stopped running, one of Obsidian’s freak show was going to catch him.

He’d originally planned for an outlook. Then when he realized he wouldn’t be able to stop, he started for the road. He didn’t know what he was going to do with the road, but maybe there’d be someone driving past whose car he could jack, and they could take up his position as scared rabbit while he drove back to comfortable territory, territory that didn’t have a fucking root or rock every three seconds slowing him down so that the waiting jaws behind him could snap at his heels with another ecstatic WHOOP.

He stumbled, fully for the first time, and swore in a voice that was much too hoarse and much too high as he regained his balance without losing his momentum. He thought he was fine, but a few seconds later he realized he was going down the incline he’d been running along. He’d gotten turned around. When’d he get turned around? When he tripped? Sooner? He couldn’t tell. His lungs hurt. His legs burned, he had cuts and bruises through his clothes he couldn’t remember getting. There was no chance of orienting himself to find the road, not without risking the freaks behind him catching up. The adrenaline had started to wear down, and he knew, he knew he wasn’t going to make it much longer.

That was before the third scream. The scream of a predator that had scented food.

Leo was that food.

The fear that put in him wasn’t rational. It wasn’t human fear that put a new burst of energy into his footsteps or set new records for his heartbeat. That made him forget the burn of his lungs or his muscles and filled every inch of him with both dread and terror.

When his foot caught on a root for the last time and his ankle bent the wrong way, the fear was too deep in his bones for him to do anything but return the scream as gravity dragged him uncomfortably downhill. The fear tried to push him back to his feet as soon as he knew which way was up, but the second he tried to stand, he felt a shock run up his body.

He’d broken his knee.

Rowe hadn’t been ready for the sudden shock that went into his body. He’d seen Obsidian eat – he’d just watched him eat two guys in the same room. It shouldn’t have felt like a push, but a pull. It took him a second to realize that the difference was because it was a push, and not a pull, and that heat suddenly spread over his body as his heartbeat kicked up.

A few minutes later, he had used the energy up. Not doing anything stupid, like “run away”, but first to drag himself over to his handgun and hold onto it. Second to undo his belt one-handed and make a tourniquet for his arm, which was bleeding much more than his shattered leg. And third to drag himself so that he was propped up against the wall, left arm up above his heart, right hand on the grip of his Sig.

The front door opened, and Rowe slid his thumb over the safety, eyes on the entryway from his position in the hall. If it was Gabrielli or Taylor, he’d give them a clean death. No room for Obsidian to take them, even if they were ostensibly loyal to Leo for reasons Rowe chalked up to stupidity and ambition, respectively.

But the voice that came was feminine. Leo didn’t hire women. It was a shame, because women had certain edges guys didn’t, but Rowe was just judging everything Leo did at this point. He made sure the safety clicked when he turned it back on, and let the gun fall to his lap.

“In here.” His voice had lost all the edge by now, the burst of energy letting him cool off a little. He was still hoping he’d be able to hear Leo’s dying screams from where he sat, but he wasn’t possessed with the need to see the deed done, either. Not like he could’ve caught up with his bad leg. But his voice had returned to the usual professional gruffness as the exhaustion caught up with him, visible in the droop of his eyelids and the slight catches of his breath. “You must be Rhodonite.”

Rhody stepped out into the hall and saw the man, propped up against the wall. He was a little taller than average height, blonde, with a fade that unlike Obsdian’s was neat and tidy. She smiled at him, a warm and friendly look that was meant to inspire calm in the wounded man. Rhody was the one in their pack with the best understanding of human anatomy and medicine, now that Malachite was gone.

She walked over, setting the shotgun down, and leaning it against the wall. “That would be right. No, let’s take a look at you. Obsidian apparently likes you, which means I’m here to save your life if it’s needed.”

She knelt down next to him and took a look at his arm, where the bullet had pierced through his arm. Then she touched around the gunshot wound on his knee, feeling the shattered bone through his pants. She tilted her head to the side and smiled a little, the kind of polite smile you give someone who you are about to tell unfortunate news to. “It looks like the bullet pierced your brachial artery. This isn’t great, but your tourniquet is tight, so that should stop the bleeding until we get you to the hospital. That shattered knee is going to take surgery, unfortunately.”

She stood back up and slung the shotgun over her shoulder. Then, Rhody offered her hand and said with a much brighter smile, “It’s a good thing there’s a car right out front. We’ll get you there in no time. The brachial artery won’t have you bleeding out like the carotid or the femoral would. Just keep that arm as high as you can!”

Out in the forest, Lapis was the first to catch up to Leo. She laughed manically as she came upon him at the top of the incline. Her laughter echoed through the trees in the dark, making it seem like she was coming from multiple directions. Her laughter attracted Hematite and Sulphur, who were close on her heels. The three of them began to descend the hill, their guns still slung over their shoulders.

That would be too quick a death for Leo Vasquez. No, they wouldn’t be shooting him. They had plans for the bastard. Plans that involved bringing him back into the house, tying him to a chair, and making him suffer.

They watched as he struggled to his feet and tried to run again, unable to move with the speed with which he had before. It only took a few seconds after that for the three of them to catch up to the man. Lapis was the first to descend upon him, and she was quick to latch on. She projected the signal of “pain” into his brain, gripping tight to his arm. Then, she pushed him back do wn to the ground, another hysterical laugh emitting from her.

Her eyes were wide and filled with manic malice as she smiled and said, “Where the fuck do you think you’re going?”

Sulphur came down second, pulling a set of spiked brass knuckles from his coat pocket. He took up the front position, facing Leo head first. Lapis had circled to the left, and when Hematite got down, he took up the right side. Sulphur cracked his knuckles and then slipped the brass knuckles on, fitting them snuggly against his hand. Hematite had already turned his skin to steel and was smiling, the most vicious smile he was capable of.

Then, quick and quiet, Obsidian appeared right behind the man. He leaned in, clasping a hand on the man’s shoulder. He pulled, feeling the nervous energy of the man flood him. He leaned in close, and in a soft voice that trembled with rage, he said, “I think it’s time for us to have a conversation, don’t you?”
Of course it was the bitch first. Leo had no goddamn clue how she was so much fucking faster than the two men who followed a second later, and didn’t have time to contemplate it before his entire body lit up like a Christmas tree if instead of lights it was wrapped in knives and the knives were actually digging into every square inch of the trunk. And the trunk was also full of knives, poking outward, and the Christmas tree had a mouth that could only scream before its diaphragm contracted too much for its lungs to work.

All of that in the same amount of time it’d take the lights to turn on. When he came to, he was surrounded on three sides. The bitch was to his left. The metal man was on his right. And in front of him was the tattooed man with spiked knucklebracers.

So it was a beating, then. He would take a beating. He was about to force his body to make sounds that might be close enough to words to swear at the freaks, but as he shifted to try to stumble back up to his good leg – to take the beating standing up like a man – when he felt the cold hand on his shoulder.

And he knew the wolf was at the door. There was no room for sound when the cold came in, as the cold rushed in where he felt the heat running out like blood from a bullet wound. The grip wasn’t even that strong – he could have pulled away, should be able to get up and – and –

His brain couldn’t take any more stress, between the pain, the running, the leg, the exhaustion after the fear, and now the cold. This was it, then. Eaten like an animal. There were worse deaths, although he couldn’t think of any.

Rowe, maybe. Yeah. Maybe he should’ve shot him somewhere that hurt more than the knee.

Then the darkness took him.

Carrying him back to the Rover had been the most difficult part of the night. He hadn’t put up much of a chase, and while they’d had fun chasing him, the real fun was what was going to come after. Rhodonite had sent them directions to the hospital she had driven the bodyguard to– whose name turned out to be Rowe– and then they were on their way to her, Leo tied up in the very back of the Rover.

Rhody had left the keys with Rowe, as well as a number for him to call post-surgery so they could discuss a potential job opportunity. After picking her up, they started the long drive back to Pittsburgh. Could they have done what they wanted out in Kittanning? Probably, but Obsidian wanted a certain level of… theatrics for this. So off to Pittsburgh they went, with Obsidian occasionally reaching behind him to drain the man of his returning energy. He stayed unconscious for the entire drive, all the way to the warehouse door.

As they stepped out of the vehicle, the Pack stopped to look at the building. This was the place where Obsidian had found Mal’s “body”, where he and his mysterious new friend had fought off the Cryptid who had attacked him. None of them had been given details of the fight, but that had been irrelevant when Obsidian had come home, and immediately broken down into violent sobs. When he had gently placed the box that was Mal on the table and just looked at it.

For that, Leo was going to pay.

With an efficiency that betrayed how in sync they were, the Pack began to move. Hematite and Rhody and Sulphur began to gather Leo up, carrying him inside. Lapis was close behind, practically skipping as she closed the doors to the Rover. Obsidian held the door open for them, and them moved him smoothly inside. He let Lapis skip past him, and then with a quick glance around to make sure the area was still empty, he smiled and closed the door.

Obsidian had already been to the warehouse. He had set up everything they would need. There was a chair next to the tables, centered right above what was a scrubbed blood spill. They hadn’t cleaned any of the staining, or really done anything other than scrap away the blood that had been crusted and flaked there. The chair had already been there, and Obsidian assumed it was the very same chair that Malachite, that Jasper, had died in. So that was where the others deposited Leo’s body, strapping him in with the leather straps that Obsidian had affixed to the chair. More secure than the ropes that he had found there, and more dramatic, he felt.

As they strapped him in, Obsidian rolled his shoulders and felt his neck crack. There was a manic light in his eyes, recently fed as he was. He paced while the others finished their setup. Sulphur’s brass knuckles, which he had put away after they had taken Leo down, were now being pulled back out and slipped on. Hematite’s bat, though unlikely to be needed, was lying on the table, next to a series of knives. Lapis was cracking her knuckles and looking on with a vicious smile as Rhody and Hematite finished tightening the straps.

The two stepped away from Leo, who rested slumped over in the chair. All eyes rested on his form. There was so much malice in the room, so much anger, that the air was thick with it, was heavy with it. In the fading light, the lamps kicked on. Bright white light filled the space and centered in on Leo fucking Vasquez. There was a collective breath of anticipation as Obsidian stepped forward.

He placed his hand on top of Leo’s hand and sent a shock of energy into him, He felt it as the tendrils of his own energy curled out and into the man’s system, just enough to get him to wake back up. Then, as he stirred, Obsidian stepped back out of the light and let the shadows finally fall away from him, revealing sharp, angry, predatory yellow eyes that flashed in the light. Their full weight fell on Leo, and would be the first thing he saw beyond the lights when he opened his eyes.​
Fire rolled up Leo’s right arm. It rolled slowly; it felt like forever before it actually engulfed him. When it reached his brain, he had the first thought he’d experienced since he’d been eaten. It was a blurry thought, though, and it never formed into words.

His eyes opened slowly, then closed almost immediately, squeezed shut. He opened them again, even more slowly, letting the whiteness in. Was that death? Was he dead? He should be dead. And if he was dead, well, he hadn’t exactly been a churchgoer, but Maria wouldn’t shut up about it. If Leo was dead, this was hell.

Hell looked a lot like a warehouse, once the blinding light subsided enough for him to roll his head up and blink. Then he rolled his head down, to look ahead. He tried to move the arm, to figure out why it burned, but he felt something around his wrists. He was tied up.

He was a fighter. He fought. He did math, sometimes, but that was just icing on the cake. He was a glorified bruiser with a bit of a brain; he’d always known that. He could be smart. He’d backstabbed his boss to get this position, and held it with an iron fist that broke anybody who defied him until there was nobody left to do it. And all of that before the age of forty-five.

Now, fighting was an instinct, a first response to his situation. The adrenaline that flooded his body took the place of the buzzing warmth, and his muscles strained for a few seconds before his brain clicked all the way on and called those muscles fucking morons for wasting energy. He relaxed again, and his bleary eyes focused forward again, forward to the shadow in the blinding light, to the devil himself, if Leo was dead.

The devil was a fucking kid. A redheaded, yellow-eyed kid. Leo stared at him for a few seconds, teeth gritted together as he tried to remember… something. Why did the kid’s look feel so goddamn heavy? Why did those eyes make his heart– hold on. His heart was pounding. His leg throbbed. His muscles and his heart and his brain were all still fucking working.

Leo was still alive.

And then the memories flooded in, and his teeth ground tighter. He was alive for a reason. He was alive for a price. And his time was still running out, if he was right about that price. He’d been tortured a few times over the years. He wasn’t stupid, and he sure as fuck wasn’t desperate enough to beg for oblivion. Instead, his eyes narrowed slightly, defiant.

“So–” he heard the weakness in his own voice, and that just inspired more venom, changing it to a lion’s growl “– my life ain’t enough for you freaks, huh?”

He grinned, yellow-toothed and crooked, despite the sheen of sweat already forming on his brow again.

“Fucking fine. Let’s get this shit over with. I got an appointment with ol’ Scratch.”

There was laughter from all around. The Pack had encircled the man, pacing just outside the light. Every single one of them was waiting for their turn, waiting to have a crack at Leo. Hematite cracked his knuckles somewhere behind Leo, and there was the sound of knives passing over a sharpener from Rhody, off to the left. Lapis giggled off to the right, and Sulphur stood up near the front with Obsidian, his hands folded behind his back. His job would be important that night.

Obsidian smiled slowly after the laughter ended. He started to pace around the edge of the light. There was a feralness to him, one that reflected in his yellow eyes, that caught the edge of the light and glinted in the darkness. He was ready to watch his pack tear this man apart. The manic energy that filled him had nowhere to go except out, so he strode forward and leaned in, getting in Leo’s face.

“Get this over with? Oh, but we haven’t even got started, Leo. You see, we lost something very precious to us because of you. We can’t have you dying quickly on us, now can we? No, no that won’t do. See, we have some questions.”

He stepped back, his eyes wide and trained on Leo’s face as his lips split in an almost unnaturally wide smile. His teeth, bright white and straight, were barred in something far more aggressive than a smile. For just a moment, he looked exactly like a wolf that knew its prey was trapped, that knew the rat wouldn’t be able to get away. Rats weren’t in his usual diet, but he would make an exception this time. They all would.

He stepped back out of the light and snapped his fingers sharply. Hematite walked in and set a chair down across from the man, then backed out of the circle of light. Sulphur strode forward and sat down in the chair, calmly and elegantly. He moved with a preciseness that was somehow fluid and not at all sharp. He crossed his legs, his head tilting to the side. Then, he took a deep breath in, and as he let it out, a clear, scentless, tasteless gas began to fill the air.

Even if Leo didn’t want to tell them the truth, he would.

Then, Sulphur began to speak. “Leo. You remember me, I’m sure. We only ever met when you had business with Obsidian. Allow me to introduce myself properly. My name is Sulphur. I have some questions to ask you. Now, you’re going to give me the answers I want, and if you don’t, Hematite here will make sure you regret it. Are we clear on how this is going to work?”

From behind Leo, Hematite came back out from the shadows. He circled Leo to stand next to Sulphur. Gone was his brightly colored sweater. Now, he wore only old, ratty-looking jeans and a thin white tank. His skin shone in the bright light, already hardened to steal. His arms were crossed, but the smile on his face said that he was more than happy to inflict as much pain on the man as he could.​