Location Warehouse 34 (The Den)

This is an in-universe location thread.


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Vigilantism, by whatever name you wanted to give it, was a work best done in the cover of night. If you have to change into some kind of costume or hide your appearance its always best to find some place quiet and little traveled. Comic book heroes would use phone booths, alleyways, and elevators, but Nathaniel had always been partial to the idea of a secret lair.

The idea of cool machines and mannequins with different costumes and weapons and files and all of that was quintessential to the idea of superheroes, and in that spirit Leo had done some research. As luck had it, his father’s business owned several old warehouses, a few tucked away in mostly empty and abandoned building and barely frequented themselves.

He had made his way there far later than anticipated, the journey stalled by his extended time at VULTURE, a lost little girl, and an impulsive dinner of three street vendor hot dogs that weren’t exactly agreeing with his stomach. Despite this he trekked on through rows of identical buildings, scanning numbers for the particular one he sought. There were hundreds, and his only had two digits. The sheer size of the structures made the walk lengthy, and in the gloom of night, with the sounds of the city’s underbelly rising with the dark, shadows and alleys between buildings had to be thoroughly observed as he walked past.
Warehouse 91. Pittsburgh.
11:47 PM.

Hunting, as Todd called it, was best done under the cover of night. Humans were diurnal animals, and night tended to bring out the worst in them. He was no exception to this rule. People also tended to forget that there was a reason their ancestors were afraid of the dark. Monsters aside, most predators hunt better in the dark. Most big cats will kill large prey in the dark and drag it back to their den to eat at their leisure in the daylight hours.

A permanent den was far off Todd’s radar, but he had grown to like that method. Neutralize, or at least immobilize someone in a convenient alley, then bring them to a second location. As he was new to the area, Todd hadn't found the right sort of place, but the cold in his bones hadn't given him much time to look. He'd reached the point where he slipping up left and right. While he was sure that overindulgence had been what got him to this state in the first place, if it made him any sloppier than it already had he wasn't going to be able to stay in Pittsburgh for long.

Despite his worries, the Cryptid had made it here just fine. He'd gone unnoticed as he found a lone individual in those back streets, cut them down with a practiced slice of the metal claws, and heaved them up onto his shoulders at such an angle that the flow of red just trickled into his coat. A stain he was more than practiced in getting out.

What he failed to notice, as the scent of blood surrounded him and the promise of a meal enticed the cold to burst forth from his bones, was the occasional drip of that flow in small patches behind him. The drops were occasional, and dried quickly on the cooler cement at this time of night, but if they caught someone’s eye they’d be rather obvious.

For a while, though, he had nothing to worry about. His earlier selection of warehouse, clearly abandoned with a well-placed drain toward the back, served him very well, even without the internal padlock he would've preferred. Perhaps he should've waited to make the kill until he got here, but he couldn't risk someone trying to struggle while he carried them in his weakened state. It’d be fine in the long-term, he was sure, since he didn't plan to use the place again. Besides, he hadn't picked somebody who’d be missed. Another low-life addict. He would've much preferred a dealer, but beggars can't be choosers. That was his opportunity, and he'd had to take it.

Madness always has a method, and although the work was bloody, Todd had enough experience to maximize efficiency. His coat was set aside in a corner, the victim's clothes in a different corner. He had a duffel bag full of butcher's tools he'd collected over the years - nowhere all at once, absolutely not. He could hardly fight with the stuff but it made this part easier. The part of his process that might offput people the most was the fact that he ate his meals raw, as they were. Taste was the farthest thing from his mind when he had to do this, and given that he knew full well he didn't need to cook it to digest it made the whole process faster.

He always started at the head, then the torso. Limbs, which could be dismembered and carried if need be, were always last, in case he started to get paranoid. Plus to start with the face meant that it was easier to divorce the idea of a person from the food he needed to survive. The ability of his jaw to crack through the toughest bones also served him well. Then the softer insides, then the tedium of pulling the ribs apart. The ribs were definitely the hardest, and he always started to feel the relieved lethargy of fullness as soon as he finished with them.

After an hour's hard work, he sat there in the center of that warehouse. He was thoroughly soaked in crimson, from his hands to his shoulders, all down the lower half of his face where his mask stopped hiding it and dripping onto his shirt. He popped the last finger of one hand into his mouth and savored the soft pop, crunch, crunch as the bone gave out. Just about finished, one arm and one leg left, set aside. He picked up the arm, forced the elbow joint to separate, and pulled the humerus free. The hand and forearm went back to the ground as he bit into the bicep with a content sigh. He wasn't quite ready to let the tired contentment take him, but it was a good sign that nothing had interrupted him.

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Nat’s vigilance yielded results he hadn’t expected, the red-brown drops easily dismissed as paint or rust until a vaguely noticeable trail formed. He had followed it nervously, at first convincing himself that he was in actuality simply heading to his destination. His gaze would flicker down to the eerie drops, like subtle set decoration for a haunted house, and then set his gaze resolutely on the warehouse numbers.

Ninety-five, still a good distance from the warehouse left unused for the past decade under his father’s company. Were the drops getting thicker? Ninety-four, It was really a testament to how much his father’s company had grown, the ability to pay for a large amount of unused space tantamount to parading about in the finest suits and nicest cars. Ninety-three, an empty, unused building was the shipping equivalent of platinum, diamond encrusted grills, or whatever it was successful rappers did-


-days. That was definitely leading into the next warehouse, almost artful in the sweep of the curve to the doorway, a bit of smudged crimson showing that the door had been opened or closed over the trail. And it definitely wasn’t paint or rust. Nat’s heart nearly leapt from his chest, his mind screaming at his hand as he slowly pulled the rusted metal door open with a painfully sharp squeal. The emptiness of the warehouse did his anxiety no favors.

A gruesome scene before him as a masked man covered in sanguine stickiness crunched on something graciously indefinable, a mutilated arrangement of limbs at his side telling enough of the fare he was so happily enjoying before Nat had stumbled in. Nausea welled inside of Nat like a raging wave, and he immediately fell to nearby railing to empty the aggressive street dogs violently on the sunken floor of the warehouse, vomit mixing with blood and gore as it made its way to the drain.

The railing beneath Nat gave way, rusted bolts sheering free and iron bars clattering to the cement floor. He nearly fell into his own sick, muscle memory from his lifetime of martial arts with his grandfather twisting the remaining piece of railing in his hand to catch his balance and right himself even as the horrific scene sent another wave of nausea through him. The scent of metallic blood, fetid viscera, and an oddly bitter scent burned into Nat’s memory as he drew in a breath to speak to the monster before him.

”Wha- what have you done here?” His words stuttered, voice cracked with disgust and visceral abhorrence. ”What the hell have you done!” More forceful, if a bit frantic. Nat ignored the quiver in his motion as he raised her iron bar in front of him, leveled at the blood soaked creature as he called upon his power. ”You need to answer for your crimes!” The bar remained a bar, though his grip was sure as the horror of the crime gave way to panic. He had done this before! He willed, imagined, forced the image of the bar of iron rippling like disturbed water while nothing happened.

Come on! Come on!
Cryptid’s distraction made him miss some things he most certainly would’ve noticed earlier in the evening. The bloody path was just the first of a list of mistakes. Maybe he would've heard the footsteps before the grind of metal on metal, and even that took just a little longer to register as he chewed another mouthful of bone. But as the streetlight flowed in, there was no missing it, nor the fact that it was obscured by a very human shadow.

Oh, fuck.

Thanks to his decision to keep the mask halfway on, the Cryptid looked... almost indifferent, as he continued to grind down the bone enough to swallow it. He didn’t move, just watched the boy turn to the side and promptly throw up. Under the surface, however, Todd was understandably freaking out. Shit, shit he’d fucked up, there was a reason he took the precautions he did. If it’d been another adult maybe he would've been fine tossing the bone aside and taking care of the problem, or at least considering the option but - this was a fucking kid. The drifting breeze that cut a path in the thick, hazy iron stench of blood brought with it a secondary problem: it was someone he’d met. Took him a moment to place it, but as the boy recovered the glimpse of his face only confirmed what the hazy memory of scent suspected. It had just been today, after all, at VULTURE Records.

Not only was this a new record time of being caught, but there was a whole host of other problems he now didn’t have time to consider as the kid loosened a rail from the wall. He needed space for an exit. First he couldn't be recognized. Good thing the shadows and prompt sickness hadn’t given the kid time to actually study him, because in that moment Todd changed the color of his hair to full black, the shape and color of his eyes to that deep brown that rendered the line between iris and pupil invisible, and just so slightly altered the set of the visible jaw. Not that the kid was noticing anything except the blood. In a far less visible shift, he picked out a voice a bit deeper and harsher than his own. Just enough to hide his identity. He didn't exactly have time to be picky.

That was all done just in the nick of time. The Cryptid still hadn’t moved from his spot on the floor, except to take another thoughtful bite of the arm. He dropped it now, in the pile, clear of the stream of puke making its way toward him. He wiped the bottom of his mouth with the back of one hand - although being also full of blood, that just smeared the stains rather than clearing them - and lowered the mask the rest of the way over his face. Most of the time he'd pick flight over fight. Despite his illness, the kid clearly wasn't just going to let him leave, either.

The idea that came next didn’t have much time to develop before the kid issued his challenge. Kid wanted a villain? Fine. Maybe it’d scare him off. Maybe he didn’t have to be the one running. The Cryptid stood slowly, deliberately, with a sway as he reached his full height. The ragged thinness of his figure had been already been padded a bit by the recent meal, but the idea of starvation was still personified here.

“Didn’t your mom ever teach you to knock?” The masked head tilted, split grin hiding his bloodied mouth in shadow as he cleaned some blood off his lips with the tip of his tongue. “And- is that a rhetorical question? Thought it was kinda obvious.

He turned his head to exaggerate his glimpse at the bar, then back to the kid. For right now, he was just trying to scare him. A cold chuckle seemed to fit the situation as he reached to the ground and reached for one of his butchering knives - the cleaver, since the bonesaw wouldn't do any good if the kid got ahead of himself.

“But if you did want to stick around, I’m sure I could go for dessert.”

Here he was hoping the kid got smart. This was the horror movie moment when only the stupid decided to play hero. From what he’d seen earlier, the kid wasn’t stupid, just... misguided. There was an innocence to him that reminded Cryptid too much of bad times better left in the past. He really didn’t want to relive them right now, especially having such a good night so far. Let this just be a little hiccup, a minor inconvenience, and he'd be more than happy to forget it'd ever happened.
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The masked murderer was practically nonchalant about the gore that covered him and the area around him, casually tossing aside the arm he had been chewing on and wiping crimson across his cheek before lowering the mask to reveal a twisted grinning visage. Nat’s teeth gritted against his revulsion as the man answered his question and rose to his feet, the sarcasm dripping from his voice sparking cleansing rage to burn in the pit of Nat’s now empty stomach.

Come on!

The monster picked up one of his tools, a butcher knife with wicked edge and blocky blade, a tool for chopping that spoke to his wicked intentions. Nat’s grip on the iron tightened, and as he cautiously eyes the edge of the villain’s blade the metal in his hand responded to his will. A ripple ran through the metal, like a drop in a puddle, and where the ripple extended the iron changed shape, curving slightly, thinning and flattening to razor edged blade in the space of a few seconds.

Nathaniel was no longer afraid. His power had given him what he desired, answered his call in that moment of focus when the adrenaline began coursing through his veins. His mind slowed and muscle memory reversed the blade in his hands, his posture straightened and stance reminiscent of the ancient samurai his family had once been. One hand released the hilt of his blade, reaching into the bag he carried and slipping free the lupine kabuki mask. This was the hero movie moment when the brave protagonist stood up to the inhuman monster.

”The only dessert you will have tonight is sweet justice,” Nat nearly choked on the cheesiness of his words as he slipped the mask over his face. The insecurity fell away, his mind completely cleared in the uncanny way wearing the mask seemed to provide, the world through the lens of that mask becoming dynamic, polarized to good and evil, right and wrong. What was before him fell solidly into that wrong category, and some fire that burned from either the mask or Nathaniel’s chest insisted that the evil be erased.

”Surrender now, and turn yourself in to the police, or I may end up hurting you.”
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The kid was living in a different genre. Rather than the flight instinct Cryptid had been counting on, he'd gotten a rise out of the kid. His eyes widened just a little as the metal beam rippled, then flattened in the boy's hands. Surprise quickly gave way to frustration, however.

Of course he's a meta. Not even a normal, better-senses-than-most or slightly-stronger-than-average meta.

No, Crytpid had to get the metalbender. And as an added bonus, the kid had lines. He found himself cringing at the comic-book banter that would've looked better in a speech bubble than it sounded in the empty warehouse. Then he pulled out a mask, the long face of a wolf, and to be honest Cryptid had no clue why he hadn't had it on in the first place. Who the hell was teaching this kid?

Nobody, probably. And he immediately shut down any idea that he'd be the one to take it up - absolutely not. Not his problem, not his responsibility. He just wanted to finish eating and go home and go to bed. That wasn't an option with a self-righteous teenager standing between him and his exit, though. Swordplay had never been something Todd needed to study or even attempt. His preferred weapon - the battle claws - was in the far corner behind him, wrapped in his coat. He'd make do with the cleaver as the kid took up his samurai stance.

Cryptid spun the knife thoughtfully between his fingers. The kid finished making his threats. He could've just attacked, but at this point that wasn't the way the script went. He needed a witty line, and he needed to draw the kid to him, maybe giving him a clear shot at the door. Not that he could leave with all the evidence left behind here.

“Surrender? No, I'm afraid I can't do that.” For the sake of the banter, he drew out his words in a slow, droning voice. He gestured to the remaining limb and a half with his free hand. “I'm a very busy man. Things to do, people to eat. I don't really have time in my schedule for jail.”

He had to admit he was going to enjoy the banter part, assuming the kid didn't come straight in for the kill. But his statement, the look in his eyes, gave Cryptid the first hints that this was a kid who'd have trouble with killing. Maybe it wasn't part of his policy right now, but this certainly wasn't someone who'd taken a life. It was a relief, but he didn't have time to be relieved. Now he spread his arms, chopper still held tight in one hand. An open invitation.

“If you want my surrender, pup, you're gonna have to come in here and take it.”
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He wasn’t sure what he had expected, though perhaps there was a hope there that the man would collapse in shame and submit to the budding vigilante’s capture. When the cleaver began spinning lazily through the air, though, Nat knew that words wouldn’t stop the cannibal. The blade felt heavy in his hands, the thought of bringing it through flesh rolling his emptied stomach painfully into knots. He wasn’t sure he could kill another man, even one who was capable of atrocities such as this.

Nat’s eyes flicked behind the mask to the severed limbs, jaw clenched at the man’s words and his nonchalant attitude. Was he trying to bait him into a mistake? Nat took a cautious step forward, blade held in front of him stiffly as his feet shuffled.

”The police are on their way, so all I have to do is hold you here until they arrive.” A bluff, one that Nat made to strengthen by shuffling between the villain and the exit. ”Afraid your schedule is just going to have to be changed.” Perhaps if he had a better grasp on his power, knew how to call upon it in the moment he might have attacked. Forming the blade had been a happy fluke, a subconscious maneuver that he felt positive he wouldn’t luck into again. The idea of closing the distance with this monster, blade or no, screamed of stupidity to Nat’s common sense. He wouldn’t do any good as a pile of gnawed limbs on the warehouse floor.
“Oho, is that so?” Cryptid chuckled again.

Todd had to think, though. Had the kid had time to call the cops? He hadn't heard the sound of his footsteps approaching, but he was sure he would've heard a voice, even in the midst of his bloody work. No, there hadn't been a reason before the door opened anyway -- and there hadn't been the chance since. Cryptid had had eyes on the kid the whole time. That made Todd sure of something, though. He'd been right: the kid wasn't in a hurry to take a life. He had goaded him into taking a step inward, but he could hear the hesitation in the movements, even if they hadn't been obvious to the open eye. A shuffle to his feet, the pause between words. It was a bluff.

Cryptid saw the small motion of the boy's head as his attention flicked from his face to the remaining limbs on the floor. The predator behind the grinning mask knew that the fear was real. It could be played to his advantage, but he now knew he'd have to be careful with it. To push the kid too far was going to invite more fight, which wasn't quite what he was going for.

What to do, what to do...

He needed to get the kid out from between himself and the doorway. He also needed to clear the warehouse of evidence before his visitor had time to actually call the police. Or... would he call the police, actually? The mask, the metal powers, that was all well and good, but... masked vigilantism wasn't exactly legal. He didn't know what the boy would be doing all the way out here at this time if it wasn't even a little bit illegal.

“If you're just going to stand there,” he mused, with another tilt of his head, “s'pose I'll just have to clean up for our guests.”

With a calm that could be mistaken for letting his guard down, Cryptid let the knife fall to his side. Beneath the blood and ruined clothing, his thin muscles were tense. His senses strained for the slightest indication his "captor" was going to make a move. He'd have to be ready to intercept while the kid thought he wasn't taking him seriously.

He collected up the piece of meat he'd tossed aside – that's all it was now, there was no use calling it an arm in its state – and turned toward the corner where his coat and weapons lay in a pile. His stride was long, but unhurried. After far more deliberation than he let on he even put his back to the kid as he pushed the mask up for another crunch into the bone. There'd be the slight sound of meat giving way, but he was doing his best to hide the visual, even if that didn't seem to be the intention. He still had the knife in his hand, but if he could just reach the jacket and claws before the kid ran out of patience...
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When Nat had started this journey, when the idea of using power he wasn’t entirely sure he possessed to fight, he had expected muggers, drug dealers, or perhaps a group of bank robbers as an exceptional challenge. He had not expected a masked cannibal. The doubt in the man’s voice was palpable, though he seemed to play along with the farce long enough to turn away and resume his meal. The crunch of bone and the sound of tearing flesh assaulted Nat’s ears, but his eyes never left the gruesome scene.

This time he stepped backward, first once and then another. This was nothing like the comics, no story of burgeoning heroics. This man was a killer, one who seemed wholly unconcerned with the morality of his crime nor the punishment he would eventually receive. Perhaps he had gotten away with it for so long that he didn’t think it was possible for him to be caught. Another step, the door just within reach. It occurred to Nat that he could just run, flee this horrific scene and the man who created it and go back to the more heavily populated streets outside of the warehouses. He hadn’t made a move to attack Nat, not even after he had threatened him, not after he had blocked his exit and claimed reinforcements were on their way.

He doesn’t want to kill me.

It was enough. Enough conviction, enough of a reason to toss aside his trepidation and charge, leaping over ruined railing as he sprinted through the bloodstains with sword held high. It wasn’t an attack for the sake of the opening, but one merely to set the body in motion. The split second decision had been made silently, the movements fluid despite his haste. When the villain was within reach he slashed at him horizontally, bright edge of the blade cutting an arc in the gloom.

His lifetime of training with his grandfather kicked in, muscles loosening their tension as the momentum of his swing became a spin in the slick footing the blood provided. As his blade came back around he slashed upwards, mind empty save for his blade and his body, and how they were to move. A glance, a glimpse of a coat with the glitter of steel. He couldn’t let the killer reach those weapons, whatever they were, lest he lose his only advantage.
Step. There it was. It would seem very soft to the naked ear, but the Cryptid was listening.

Step. To his surprise, the second one was... farther. The kid was backing out. Not something Todd was going to complain about in the slightest, but it seemed... uncharacteristic. He'd almost reached his coat by now, even if it didn't seem like he'd need the protection. He started to turn over alternative plans in case the kid did decide to call the cops when he was a safe distance away.

Step. That aside, it really was a massive relief that the kid was wising up. Maybe he shouldn't have worried about him doing something stupid after all–

Step, step, step, splash, step.

A charge. Cryptid had to toss aside any relief he felt to move fast enough. He was a tightly coiled spring, and the first slash caught nothing but air as he stepped aside, just as fluid as his attacker. He turned on his heel to make sure he was facing the kid as the second slash came. Now he was on the back foot. The sword sounded as sharp as it looked, and there'd be a moment of surprise in the eyes behind the grinning mask, made visible by the dim light.

“Aha, so we're being serious now.”

The voice almost sounded like it was coming from somewhere else as Todd's mind raced. Kid's fighting was way better than his banter game, he'd give him that. It was a problem, though. His cleaver seemed inadequate in comparison, and he itched for the more comfortable claws. One swing and it'd be obvious he had no practical experience with his weapons of choice. It wasn't like he was used to interruptions. But in the place of claws, he'd need to disarm the kid for this to be fair. He lacked the skill outside of fist-to-fist violence to do that, so he'd have to resort to his more natural gifts and a little underhanded technique. The kid's timing had at least given him the ability to process some of his meal, so he could afford the spare expense. Assuming it worked, of course.

He had to brace for the next hit, and he had to toss the meat aside to do so. Another slash would come, and when it did, the Cryptid only moved partially out of the way. Blade would meet thin, ruined shirt and the flesh behind it in a half-assed dodge. It hurt like a bitch, but there wasn't really any kind of pain that Todd couldn't just muscle through at this point. He'd heal. This plan came of course at the risk of revealing he wasn't quite human, in a traditional sense, but... the kid had been watching him crunch through human bone like potato chips for the last five minutes. If that hadn't tipped him off, maybe he needed a reminder to keep his eyes up.

Cryptid's focus would now be on the pair of hands on the handle of the sword. One hand he hit with the flat of the heavy cleaver. Todd's other hand would then grab the hilt in its place, and with a bit of leveraging – and an immense strength that his scarecrow frame hid very well – he tried to throw the kid away from the weapon, or at least yank it free from the remaining hand. He didn't think too hard about the angle, just away from the corner where the coat and claws were.It was dirty, but if done correctly, the action would give him a little bit of space, disarm the teen, and leave him bloody and breathless but intact.
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The monster was as ready for him as he expected, flawlessly dodging both of his leveled slashes with a twist of his body and rocking back on his heel. Nat had practiced daily for over twelve years, sparred against his grandfather and even against others his grandfather had always seemed to find from… somewhere. This man didn’t move like any of them. He was almost an animal, the way he dodged Nat’s slashes and his fingers twitched in an almost claw-like posture.

Nat reversed his momentum, the back of the blade slamming into the man’s frame with a solid crack before the cleaver came slamming down on Nat’s fingers. He winced, but it wasn’t the first time his knuckles had taken a beating. His grip remained firm on the hilt of his weapon as the masked man grabbed at the hilt, settling instead on Nat’s own hand in the absence of his expectation.

As unnatural strength sought to fling the would-be hero away from the villain a ripple ran through the sword once more, the length of it extending out and changing shape as it began wrapping around both Nat and the killer’s hands and seeking the killer’s throat as well. The instinctive transformation was reinforced by a shift in his weight, thrown backwards with the intent of dragging the thin man into the air and slamming him to the cement floor. Nat’s teeth were bared in a soundless snarl beneath the muzzle of his mask, a wolf snapping at another wild animal.
Todd had... regrets. In general, yeah, but specifically right now. Every mistake he'd made tonight came to this, and he just kept making more. He'd meant to take the kid by surprise, and then ended up surprised himself as the boy maintained his grip on the blade. When the blade came around, there wasn't a bloody slash, but a solid thwack and nauseating crunch. And then, the blade began to grip him.

The thing about Todd's strength was that he didn't have the weight to back it up. By all accounts, he was dangerously underweight, and should have been weak with malnutrition. Off-balance from the moment he needed to register the kid's creative thinking, Todd tumbled hard as the boy's shove went right through him. They tumbled to the floor, still bound together by the wrists, the metal slithering up Todd's arm toward his neck with alarming speed.

But if the kid was going to kill him, he would've used the sharp edge of his blade. He wondered in a flash of the boy knew the long-term dangers of strangulation to someone who didn't have a superhuman healing time. The Cryptid shook his head. He needed to think. He felt stronger now that he'd eaten, but the pain as he hit the floor didn't match the tiredness that washed through him as he was knocked to his back. And then he felt the mask, how loose it was.

His false eyes looked up into the eyes of the wolf on top of him. Was this familiar? Had he ever done this before? Not this specifically. Normally, he was the animal, the grinning face of death. Now with his mask loose, on his back, metal closing around his throat, what was he? He wasn't prey. The kid didn't want him dead. But he couldn't afford to risk prison. Not now.

The hunger had started to settle, but here he was surrounded by scent and more than a little worried about his situation. The cleaver was still in his bound hands. The warehouse reeked of blood, among other things. His head was starting to spin. He needed to stop, to think. He... needed to shake the boy's concentration. He had no idea how his powers worked. He didn't know how any of this worked – he knew that metahumans existed, just like everyone, but he hadn't really had the chance to get this up close and personal with one since Arlo. And at that point, he hadn't been thinking about anything but acting. About surviving.

But he couldn't just act. Acting led to mistakes. He had to think first. He needed time. He didn't have time, as the metal closed around his throat. Instincts had to be balanced with practical thought. Something he could do without a weapon even if he had to be careful...

“What,” he choked, lips sliding back into a feral grin, “No... biting comment?”

He couldn't help it. He didn't give the kid time to actually process the words before he shifted his weight to roll just slightly to his right, and bit down through the thick fabric of the kid's jacket, and the much easier fabric of the t-shirt underneath. Raw force went into the action. Not enough to crush the kid's shoulder – hopefully – but enough to distract him, enough to get a hold and make it hurt. Maybe force him to pull away and, that failing, to unbalance him enough for Todd to shove him over and pin him to the ground. Had he been as ravenous as he had when he'd woken up that morning, maybe he would've been a little bit more worried about what he could do once he had someone in that position. It helped that he didn't like biting into things that were still squirming, but if he did draw blood it'd be a small problem.

For now he couldn't let doubt stop him. For now he just needed the upper hand. He'd decide what to do with the little rascal afterward.
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He almost lost control in that moment their bodies slammed to the floor and they faced each other, so close Nat could smell the blood on his breath and see wickedness in those black eyes. His rage, spurred by a sense of righteous indignation that filled him with terrifying fury, leaked from his heart into his throat, something low and frightening gathering there and rumbling into his chest. It was as if he were not in control of his own body, teeth bared and muscles straining against the cannibal’s for what seemed an eternity of only a few seconds.

The pain brought him back, drove that fiery anger away with icy clarity that momentarily loosened his grip upon the blade. He didn’t want to kill the man, despite his actions or intentions as his teeth sank through cloth and pressed painfully against flesh. The iron wrapped around his throat loosened and fell with the rest of the blade, save what had wrapped around Nat’s hand that broke away like taffy as he punched at his attacker’s head rapidly with desperate strength. Enamel threatened to tear flesh as Nat levered a foot against the man and pushed away with all of his might, lines of fire tracing the path of the villain’s teeth as Nat’s shoulder slid free just before they bit through.

Breathing heavily Nat grabbed his injured shoulder and glared at the beast, the door somehow in the far corner of the building. He had lost his placement in their tussle, and now both the weapons and the door were easily closer to the cannibal than Nat, though perhaps he would be able to catch him if he made for his belongings and then headed for the door.

”You really are an animal, aren’t you? Is there anything left of the man you were when you gained your power, or is it only the flesh of the people you’ve killed that let’s you wear that form?” Nat was trying to keep him occupied, offering him the banter he had seemed to desire before Nat’s attack had driven him to crave the teen’s flesh. Just a moment, enough time to catch his breath and recover enough to launch himself at the villain before he made it to the door. After that would be another struggle, the sharp pain in his shoulder cautioning against such a plan fruitlessly.
The boy realized his options, though it was a second or two later than the Cryptid would have in his situation. Todd's teeth rattled with each puncture between layers of fabric, and his head pounded as the kid's fist made contact with no effort to dodge or stop it. It was now a reliable pattern that the wolf would always pick fight over flight. The give he'd hoped for came, though. Todd sucked in a deep breath as the metal loosened enough for him to do so, but was forced to release it just as fast when the boy's foot found leverage against his chest, pushing the air back up. As the kid tore free, his teeth didn't release. There was a tearing sound as he was left with the faintest taste of skin, and a mouthful of cloth, which he promptly spat onto the bloody floor.

Wolf-boy stumbled away as Todd rolled to his feet in a crouch and cast the twisted metal away with a terrible scraping sound against the concrete. The kid's words took a moment to process through the pounding migraine; when they landed, Todd couldn't help a bitter grin that could be mistaken for vicious revelry. Oh, kid, you have no idea.

He let the boy's words settle, though, as he reached up to pull the mask back down as he rose to his feet, eyes never leaving the boy. Now he had a clear shot at the door, but he had to take stock of the situation through a pounding headache before he made that decision. He needed his jacket and claws, those weren't replaceable. And there was evidence everywhere. He'd been a sloppy mess tonight, not just in the literal sense with all the blood. He drew a line with his mind, a gruesome dot-to-dot – the victim's clothes would have to stay, but they didn't have any evidence besides the blood, and that was everywhere here. So the order of operations was: coat and claws, retrace his steps over the cleaver and meat, pause for the butchering kit and remaining food.

And talk all the while.

Wolf-Boy was just taking pot shots in the dark and hoping to see what hit, that much he knew, and there wasn't a need to engage except to try to push him farther away from the truth under the guise of bringing him closer.

“If that man still existed, do you think I'd bother to remember him?” The voice that wasn't his own was hoarse as he scrambled to buy time. He forced another harsh chuckle free. “Can't exactly keep track of all their names, y'know. A lifetime's far too long for that.”

Bits of truth, bits of lie, enough to engage, maybe even arouse curiosity. If he could convince the boy he was interested in a confession, maybe he'd get some more time. More time, always more time. And to think he'd been so quick and efficient with the work itself. But the kid looked really, really rough, too. Shaken and injured. Maybe he'd want to buy time to recover, too.

Cryptid moved much faster now, not a leisurely stroll but a quick stride. He kept his ears on the boy, open for questions – maybe he'd be blessed by a teen's roving mind, the genuine desire to know how such a beast came from a man, maybe even a fearful question on how to prevent it. The look in the kid's eyes as for a moment, the Cryptid was his prisoner, had not been lost to Todd, nor could he have possibly missed the rumbling growl under the surface. Maybe the kid would be afraid enough to ask another monster where that came from so he could prevent himself from falling to the same level. Or maybe, as Todd had already guessed, he might want to distract the predator for just another moment's recovery.

Or maybe Todd would just get attacked from behind again. He hoped the purposeful walk and dark words would give the illusion of continued confidence, rather than betray his hurry to escape. If nothing else he'd have his hands back on the coat and bagh nakh this time.
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His breathing steadied quickly, a benefit from the years his grandfather had honed his body into athletic condition, but the pain in his shoulder maintained its steady throbbing in time with his heartbeat. The masked man had recovered as quickly, if not more rapidly, and seemed to have taken stock of their positions just as Nat had. The grinning smile replaced those gnashing teeth, the villain’s mask replaced with a fleeting glimpse of a smile that drove a spike of anger through Nat’s heart. Jaw clenched tight as the man turned away, he resisted the urge to fly after him with screams and fury.

The cannibal was more hurried now as he turned his back on Nat again, his word’s scathing as he shot back a retort to the hero’s words. Slowly, cautious against the shifting of the fabric of his coat, the slide of his skin against his jeans, Nathaniel slipped a hand into his pocket. The man had turned his back before, but been lightning fast in his reaction to Nat’s attack. Whether he sported some sort of sixth sense, or perhaps had merely been faking his nonchalance, Nat had no plans of making the same mistake twice. Besides, his only weapon now was the band of iron around his fist, little use against someone likely capable of further strength than reasonable.

Instead Nat wrapped his fingers around his phone. For a brief moment he considered simply dialing emergency services, letting the call and the man’s words condemn him as Nat would attempt to stall him even longer. The thought was swept from his mind as he glanced around the bloodied warehouse and his own sullied clothes. Even if he managed to hold the villain there, he was as likely to be arrested as an accomplice in the state he was in. His grip tightened around the edges of the smartphone, frustration leaking through his slightest movements. He had hoped for more time to hone his abilities before facing a meta on the other side of the coin.

The man’s words confirmed what Nat had already surmised, acknowledging his possession of supernatural powers as he mocked Nat’s perceived naiveté. Of course the man was right; the boy was already in way over his head despite his ideals. It did nothing to temper his determination, his outrage at the crime that left crimson stain upon the drab interior of the building.

”So you just choose to be a monster? Surely there was some other way to come to terms with whatever is driving you to these crimes.” Keep him talking, keep his back turned and let him think he is winning. This is only a battle, not the war. “I think its more likely that you’re just weak. A terrified man-child without the strength of will to even attempt to own who he is. Whatever name you went by before you capitulated to that hunger inside of you belonged to a coward.”

Perhaps inflammatory words wouldn’t achieve his desired effect. Maybe the monster would turn and pounce on Nat with his fully undisclosed force and rip his insulting tongue from his mouth. Gingerly he slid the phone from his pocket and tapped and swiped a few times, the intended path he traced almost muscle memory as he spoke. It was clear he wasn’t going subdue the man here, not with his words and certainly not with the power he could barely control. But perhaps, with a bit of luck and a little time, he could stop him before the body count grew much larger.

The sound of the camera shutter echoed through the hollowed warehouse, a silent curse ringing through Nat’s mind. The one time his phone wasn’t silenced had to be while he attempted a secret, incriminating photo. He tensed as he slid the phone into his back pocket, preparing for an attack. Hopefully he had twisted the phone at the right angle and gotten what he needed.
Todd reached his coat without incident, the only weapon to follow him words thrown at an uncaring back. Or, at least, apparently uncaring. He reached down to the floor and caught the coat with an extra little toss, and held both sets of claws in one hand with a metal-on-metal jangle as he shrugged into the heavy leather. The familiar weight settled onto his shoulders and back, and he visibly relaxed into it. There was no warmth to be gained from it, but there was a feeling of safety, even if it was fleeting as the hard click of a phone's camera shutter sliced through the silence that followed the boy's words. He didn't react to it, though it would be worrying later. Now, though. Now he pulled his fingers through the knuckle-holes in the bagh nakh, and curled his fist to give a few reflexive swipes. In a way he couldn't quite explain, he felt whole again, even as the boy's accusation tore a hole right into his past.

Would Arlo ever stop haunting him?

Arlo had called him a coward, too. Weak. Todd knew weakness. He dealt with it as well as he could every day. It used to scare him, the driving hunger, the waves of cold when the promise of warmth came too close. He'd had a response back then, ragged and desperate as his only friend in the world did what he thought was right, and tried to kill a monster.

What do you want me to do? Do you know how much existing like this hurts? I'm not asking you to turn a blind eye, I'm just asking you to understand. It's still me. It's always been me, Arlo, it's Todd.

But pleas would do less good here than it had back then. He'd been afraid then, there was no denying it. Afraid of Arlo, afraid of whatever he'd become. Now he understood that this was just life. It was what he was, not who he was. Who he was could try to undo the damage of what he had to do. That wasn't exactly in character right now, though. And the kid wasn't likely to listen. Cryptid had always wondered what it would be like to actually monologue. Not make excuses to dying meat, but an actual, honest-to-evil drone about intention and philosophy.

“If I took my hand,” he drawled, stretching out his arm, fingers outstretched, “and wrapped it around your insolent throat –” he curled his fingers into a fist for effect, revealing the claws in the dim light of the warehouse “– would you be a coward for choking when you had the chance for air? Or if I politely asked your heart to stop beating, would you be able to stop it?”

He shook his head as he turned on his heel. The camera was gone, presumably back into the kid's pocket. He hooked a thumb casually into one of his own pockets, his other hand open and relaxed at his side. He started to cross the empty space, step by step.

“There are some instincts too strong to be denied. There's a kind of hunger that reaches inside of you and consumes you if you don't feed it. You've gotta survive off of what it leaves behind.”

He bent down, and collected the cleaver. it was awkward, in conjunction with the claws, but he made it work with a reverse grip on the handle. He swept up the half-eaten chunk of meat in the other hand. Then back to the drain, to the scattered tools and severed limbs, back toward the boy. He held the Wolf's eyes as he walked toward him with the same deliberate speed, but a cold edge now crept into his tone.

“I know who I am. I'm the winter wind that claims a starving traveler. I'm the blood and the hunger that creeps about the edges of the civilized fire and waits for the animal to come out in people. You're right: that coward's gone. He was weak. He couldn't survive.”

Wait- that was a little personal, actually. Cryptid paused as if to take a breath, but in reality he was turning his own words over in his head.

Where did the line between confession and monologue get drawn? He hadn't yet become what he was describing... but there was fear of that. The fear that if he didn't maintain the balance, he'd collapse into less than an animal. The hesitation might have been visible in the dark eyes he'd borrowed from some poor sap who, like the leg he now bent over to pick up and transfer into the duffel bag for transport, had been reduced to nothing but meat.

A sign of hope to the blossoming hero, maybe? Or more confirmation to his stubborn biases? Who could say.
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There was nothing Nat could do to prevent the man from picking up his belongings. His breathing had slowed, the pain in his shoulder constant but manageable, but with the distance he would only close in on him in time for the surprise of his attack would take him. He was unarmed now as well. As the villain began to speak and casually retrieve his tools and spare limbs Nat retreated silently, eyes flicking from claws to cleaver, cleaver to limbs, limbs to door, and door to mask.

It was likely that the villain would see this as fear, a logical and visceral response from his actions, his words that shook a budding hero’s soul. Or appeared to shake his soul. They were fearsome, truly, his visage and his work truly nightmarish in its vivid and gruesome reality. This was no cartoon villain who had never actually hurt anyone. He was a cold-blooded killer.

Only a few steps had been lost, the distance between the two wide enough that nether could reach the other without a step or two. With the way the man had reacted before, that was likely enough of a warning if he could match that speed in his attack. Nat had no intentions of finding out, slipping his hand into the pocket of his jacket before he spoke.

”Everyone has dark cravings that drive them mad, and every single one who gives into those cravings, attains what they need so badly, they all become monsters in the end. You were given power, strength, and you turned it into a weakness that has destroyed you.” He was almost compassionate, almost willing to let the man go if he promised not to do it again. His words were the delusions of a man consumed, and it would take something more to stop this man from killing. ”You were stronger when you fought against the cravings and cried from the choking in your throat, from the effort of stopping your heart. That was the strongest you will ever be.” Nat shook his head.

”Know that the next time your cravings consume you, I will be there. I know the pinnacle of your strength now, but you have yet to see mine. Before you manage to kill anyone else I will be there to give you a taste.” Nat darted forward his hand pulling free of his pocket and tossing out several small, round metal balls that had rippled in his hand the moment before they were released.

The fruits of his labors, both scholastic and with his power. He had a much easier time activating with smaller pieces, the idea of carrying around a bag of steel bearings too ridiculous to entertain but inspiring enough for these unique tools. As the spheres filled the air between the hero and the villain, in that split second between when they left Nathaniel’s hand and might strike the cannibal’s mask, a half dozen small clicks became a series of disorienting ear-ringing blasts and blinding white flashes. In the moment that his trap ignited Nat closed his eyes, forward momentum carrying him past the masked man and, with luck, to the freedom of the door.
The Cryptid saw the cold fear in the boy's eyes as they watched him. There were cogs turning in the wolf's brain. They were just a breath away from each other; whoever moved first would be at a disadvantage. Cryptid had no intention of moving first, though. He zipped up the duffel bag as the kid spoke in a voice that was admirably steady for someone in his situation. There was something even gentle at the edges of his first words, like he was trying to coax a wild animal to become tame. There was hope.

Todd missed having hope. Hope there was a way out, an end. He still had hope for himself, hope he could stave off the cold before it froze out the last of his humanity, but that was very different from a hope for this all to go away.

Doubt crept in, though, as the kid's tone changed. Cryptid was rising to his feet when the pity changed to warning, and the masked head tilted to one side like a dog that was trying to hear better, or didn't understand. Admittedly, the lines were coming more naturally with practice. The promise to "give him a taste" was a nice touch. Maybe there was hope of a different kind for the kid after all.

An idea only reinforced by the sudden movement out of his pocket, to throw what looked to be some kind of ball bearings toward his face.

He didn't have time to react, just raise an arm and turn his head away as he was prepared ask what that was supposed to do. The answer came not in words, but in an explosion. Every one of Todd's senses was assailed at once - bright light filling his eyes, sharp cracks rattling his ears, and the heavy smell of chemicals burning in his nose. His first instinct was to brace for some kind of follow-up, raise both arms and tuck his head for protection. By the time the spots faded and the ringing became a slight buzz, it was clear that attack was never coming. The Cryptid would raise his head, and find himself alone in the ruined warehouse.

The kid had gotten the last word in after all, it seemed. Through the muddle his senses had been reduced to, Todd heard himself chuckle a little. That was well played. The Wolf had potential. In the relative safety of an empty building, as the exhaustion really started to settle, Todd hefted his bag. He had a lot to think about. But first, he had a meal to finish. And a long nap to take.
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It had taken the better part of two days for Nat to work up the courage to return to the warehouse district. That first returning visit he had skirted around number 91 and its surrounding numbers and arrived at his destination, Warehouse 34, to find a building exactly like the one that had held such carnage and blood. His courage had faltered when he first reached for the handle to the door, stubborn limb refusing to move as a rolling in his stomach threatened to loose even his breakfast. What kind of hell awaited him inside?

Fortunately he found the warehouse to be free of blood, but littered with wooden boxes, steel beams, and in the very center of the open floor an abandoned storage container. A portion of the warehouse had been walled off from ceiling to floor, creating office spaces and meeting rooms Nat imagined had once been hubs of valuable logistical information, now empty save for a few rotting desks and filing cabinets. His eyes saw the potential in his new hideout, though, and the boy had set to work almost immediately.

His power, that strange call to metals, seemed easier to access now as he repaired broken scaffolding and stairs, patched leaking ceiling panels and replaced glass that opened to the sky with secure metal sheets. What materials weren’t already scattered across the abandoned building’s floor were purchased with the considerable allowance his father had given him since grade school, a treasury he tapped so rarely that the zeros in the account were enough to start a small business of his own. In a way he fancied that was exactly what he was doing as he set up computer systems and security cameras to replace the dilapidated originals.

After nearly a week the interior of the warehouse seemed completely changed, the heavy steel beams and storage container unmoved but the concrete floors and littered offices refurbished into pristine if empty rooms and a single space for him to lounge about. There he had drug an old couch and television, always tuned to the news when it was on. There had been no mention of the carnage that he had stumbled in on so close by, and as time ticked on even the memory of it seemed to fade into a dreamlike recollection.

The inside of the storage container told a different tale.

When he wasn’t cleaning or improving the warehouse Nat had investigated. A large cork board with a single, blurry picture of a man clad in blood and mask pinned to its center had been the humble beginning, but now sported lines of string and newspaper articles from across the country with even a hint of cannibalism in their words. The crime he had witnessed might not have made it to the media, but many other crimes were detailed even if their connections were slim. Here and there post-it notes dotted the web he had created, questioning motivations, names, even listing the potential of devil worship in one place as Nat tried to find the villain that had completely changed his view on how he would use his newfound powers.

There were others out there; others with power, with ill intent. Nat had originally set out to handle mundane problems with extraordinary abilities, a classic superhero in a setting where he held few equals. It had been a fantasy shattered, but repurposed into a single goal. Those who abused their abilities, if he and the Monster were not alone in their powers, would find a wolf baying at their door. He would become the guardian against an evil with more bite than he had ever known it possessed. It seemed a fitting responsibility for one given power so unexpectedly.

The steel beams provided practice, his rippling effect caused upon them daily though they were far too heavy to move. The calling became easier, more willful than that encounter and more controlled. There was a sense, a buzz in the back of Nat’s mind that, once accessed, granted him the control over the metals he had only instinctively accessed before. He could almost sense where the metals were, as well. Precious metals vibrated with different intensities than those of more practical uses, even small and rusted pebbles spoke to that buzzing in the back of his mind. With a little focus he could feel the corrugated tubes running beneath the city’s surface, and though he could not touch them and call them to his hand it made him feel safer knowing that he was surrounded by the source of his strength. Pittsburgh was a city once hailed for its metalworks, and the echoes of that past brought a sense of belonging.
It had taken Todd the better part of the week to convince himself that this was a good idea.

The first eighteen hours had been spent hurriedly finishing his meal of cold limbs, and then sleeping while his body processed the food. He hadn't even been hurt that badly, but the fight with the kid had really taken it out of him. Part of it had been the fact he'd been caught by surprise. Part of it was the fact that he'd been stupid, and shouldn't have been caught at all if he'd just taken better care of himself. His own monologue had some good points to it. The guilt about Summer still lingered in the back of his mind, and the bottomless pit of his stomach, but guilt was no excuse to get himself caught or killed. He'd come too far to stop surviving now.

Survival. That's how he'd finally convinced himself. The kid was good, if a little green, and another chance encounter could leave the Cryptid in a bad position. He needed information. Territory, full scope of abilities, and all the little tricks. His ears started to ring just thinking about the little flashbang maneuver.

And part of it was about helping. As much as he felt the need to survive, that was just instinct. He could have done that without re-engaging a predator, however young. There had been so many moments of panic, so many little slips that had worked out in the end. If Cryptid had had a gun, for example, and had been willing to use it, there was no amount of metal-bending that would have saved him. If Cryptid had gone straight in for the kill, there would have been some instinctive self-defense, but one had more experience than the other. If he'd wanted to, Todd had that roiling gut feeling he could have finished the job. Even if the only enemy the kid faced with that temptation was himself, Todd wouldn't let that happen again.

He was worried about the kid. In a way he hadn't worried about Summer. Summer had been good, but didn't have special powers to keep herself alive. Her heart was too open. She was so eager to make friends it had blinded her to possible enemies. And yet he'd learned a lot from her, and there had been real pride when he saw her improve over that year.

Another reason to keep a closer eye on his stomach.

This wouldn't be like Summer, though. In any sense. First off, he wouldn't get caught. That was easier said than done but it was clear he needed to be better about his habits. He had to keep track of himself. Not overindulge, but when he started to feel restless, he'd need to be careful. Another balance to keep track of. And then there was the fact that Summer had trusted him from the outset. The new kid's experience would hurt most relationships with strangers before they even began. So he had to take into account how he'd earn the trust he needed to help.

Another balance, then. The boy's survival and his own. And then his own identity as possible ally, and the newfound villain streak in the Cryptid if they crossed paths again in costume. He had kicked himself ever since he came to this decision, but despite the ability to turn back at any time he chose not to.

He'd stopped by VULTURE a few times since then. He liked the place, liked the owner, really liked the coffee, and had been hoping to cross paths with the kid a few more times. He'd racked his brain to remember if he'd gotten the boy's name, but was turning up blanks. It wasn't like he didn't have a lot going on already.

The next best bet, then, was to return to the scene of the crime.

Well, not exactly to the scene. The kid had been doing something in the warehouse district before he'd interrupted Todd's dinner. If he could figure out what, maybe Todd could find him again. So back to the alley that had warehouse 91, back to the scene without entering. And this time there was no mask or coat or cape, just a man dressed in the padded layers of the wrong time period strolling down warehouses that might've been here since his cap was in fashion. For the sake of any unwanted viewers he looked down as if following his own blood trail. He really had been obvious about it. Might as well have posted a sign above the door that said "Hey! Crimes in here! Come and stop it!" But it was too late for regrets. He paused right outside the door, and stared at it with cold eyes. A long, deep breath was drawn in through his nose, but at the last second it seemed like his courage gave out and he turned away.


Familiar enough with the kid's scent, Todd had just needed the little reminder. With it fresh in his mind he resumed his pacing, started to start untangling the smells in the twisting roads. He felt stronger now, fed and rested, and his senses felt much more focused. He wasn't hunting for food, he was just tracking, and now he could tell the difference again. As he went he made uncomfortable eye contact with a couple unsavory figures, but nothing happened.

He found a knot of smells around one warehouse in particular. Being here in the daylight hours meant he'd be seen, but it had a higher chance of the Boy Wonder from being around, if he was dedicated to this whole superhero shtick. Todd supposed he couldn't judge. When he'd first started out he hadn't looked for a secret lair, but had leaned completely into the gritty vigilante persona to the point where he cringed looking back now. He'd been so young and so dumb. And so hopeful.

He shook himself free of that as he walked back around to the front of the building. The nose knows, as the saying goes, and his nose was rarely wrong. This was the place. The shadows had grown long by this point, the sun setting behind the city skyline. If the kid wasn't here yet, it wouldn't be long. And he had time.

Todd knocked twice on the metal doors, and lit a cigarette.
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