|A Game of Cat and Mouse: Part 2|
S-Mart Parking Lot
There's not a lot to be said about the S-Mart parking lot. Like all department stores it's larger than it needs to be, and there are more cars parked here than anyone ever sees coming and going. At night, a lone security guard patrols around in an S-Mart-branded golf cart. The place is built on a hill, so the view of Mabase is pretty nice, especially at night - save for the forbidding void full of shattered rock to the west.
It must be frustrating for the Mabase police force. Scattered reports of people being attacked by shadow creatures have been reported off and on. Nothing has been outright fatal, but at least two people needed medical care before full recovery. Inflicted wounds are generally superficial, no more than cat-claw scratches, although they seem to mark the bodies of folks without actually damaging or being impeded by clothing. There are no magical or mundane traces left behind. No DNA or lingering aura in which to provide clues or tracking. The creatures seem to be anywhere, attack without warning, and disappear before help arrives leaving victims distraught and mentally traumatized more than anything physically lasting.
It must be frustrating for Jack Hawksmoor. The mystery creatures seem to be everywhere in the city, and yet Mabase has very little it can tell Jack. The creatures are not physical and thus have no general interaction or contact with the city's streets or alleyways. They must often stick to preexisting shadows to get around, at that. It's as if they simply aren't there at all. Yet, they are. It's like a crawling infestation of fleas. There is something there, but they move too fast to track; glimpses alone don't allow much information. The City can only whisper that they exist, and in numbers, and the only time that something becomes solid enough to pinpoint is a situation that is very quickly over with a person left in tears and pain.
There's a ping.
There's a creature presence near the S-Mart, up on the hill. A young woman, likely a very young adult, was chased by something, crying and yelling, through the parked cars and around the side of the store where there's more of a blind spot to the public. It's clearly a measured corral. That's going to be a frightening fact to review later.
Screams of terror go silent, although there is breathing. The fear in the air is intense, but what the woman stares down /isn't there/. Yet, it is. There's enough of a presence there to warrant investigation and, with the combination of the terrorized young lady, it's enough to show that something is clearly wrong.
But, it does not appear that they belong here; of course that is, perhaps, a harder judgment for Mabase than for cities where random folk *don't* drop out of the sky. Enough of a presence? And the street not far from the young lady erupts upwards, buckling and then reforming as Jack Hawksmoor literally...rises out of the ground. NOT right next to her, she's scared enough. "Breathe," he informs her. "I'm on your side." A promise, that, and one which likely means something.
The woman is scared, yes, and clearly has some minor injuries. On her knees, breathing heavily, she simply cannot respond with words as her eyes jerkily move from what she sees to where Jack makes his approach and back again. Her breathing becomes a little more strained, the breath drawn in a higher pitch, as panic begins to set in.
How much like a wild animal are these creatures? If she runs, will it attack? Does it matter?
Where she looks, nothing stands. There is heavy shadow cast by a parked transportation truck nearby. Whatever it is remains hidden and practically invisible. Nothing more than shadow, no more physical, no more interactive. Is something there? The woman seems to think so.
It doesn't take a magical expert to know that something is wrong. Barely, only just faintly, Jack can likely pick up on the faint reflection of eyes low to the ground. It is fleeting, but shows that something is there. Is it small? Does size matter? Everything about the situation seems to line up with other reports.
The woman mouths some words, likely some variation of 'help me', but something else that could be 'make it stop' or 'make it go away'. So sharp are the tools used to inflict injury that, as the woman kneels there breathing heavily in her steeped terror, a cut sustained before Jack's appearance on her face finally begins to leak a little. Fight or flight builds and the woman is clearly ready to bolt.
"Breathe." Jack moves, drops into a crouch to study the eyes, but putting himself between them and the woman. He's not sure whether telling her its real will make this better or worse. Jack is no magic expert, no, but he sees this, feels it. KNOWS it's real.
Oh, she's breathing, but it's hardly in a way that reflects calmness or wholeness of composition. Even with Jack moving in to place himself between her and the large patch of shadow, she seems to jerk at the knees and elbows, her bosom rises and falls, and she begins to scramble in a way that allows her to run. Of course, with the way she begins to move, this would pave the path for her to escape further behind the building itself rather than around the front where many other oblivious shoppers come and go. It is notably more shadow-filled behind the store.
There is a glimmer of reflection once more in the shadow of the truck, but it is not in the same place as the previous. Its position seems fluid and indeterminate while within such umbral covering. It's a stirring. A feeling. It's all shadow, but one can still feel a presence. A casting of unseen eyes upon. It is not a sense of multiple, only a singular that is unquantified. How does one confront a something that is a nothing at the same time?
A clatter of shoes upon rough asphalt from behind Hawksmoor, accompanied by a sharp gasping intake of breath, is an immediate indication that the woman has given up on staying still and instead feels the need to flee. Jack, however, is a physical barrier in a mostly direct path.
Ultimately? You don't. Jack reaches out into the city, his eyes flickering red as he has Mabase track the girl, staying in that crouch. Ready to move, ready to merge with the city. You don't confront. You try to understand, tendrils of psychic power that flow through him. "Who are you?" he asks the something that is nothing.
If Jack could be granted any sense of psychic sensation in response to such a question, the reply would not be an identification. No, the sense would merely be something closer to jeering laughter, but there's nothing there and nothing to provide that communication. Except, there is. There sheer presentation is enough to make a person's head hurt.
This is not like dealing with Shadow People or Wraiths or Shades, reflections of the dead of which some can manipulate shadows in tangential influence over the physical, because those things have a presence, a focus, a center of which can be felt or tracked or even attacked. Despite there being something there, there is only Nothing and shadow and a mostly imperceptible notion of cruel mockery.
The woman flees. Screw this noise, she's out. Nearly tripping over herself in the process, terror and panic grip her completely like a vice and send her reeling in escape despite her surface injuries. To her feet and some distance had, she involuntarily screams. This flare of fear seems to be enough to elicit an even greater response from the nothing held at bay by Jack's presence and position.
The shadows don't move. They are simply shadows. It would be false to say that the shadows reach out toward Jack, because they can't. It's more that something within the shadow moves in that direction but such speed that an eyeblink would easily conceal it. A streak of shadow -- no, a streak of nothingness that might be seen as shadow -- rushes from the shadow, through the air, almost directly at Jack. It is quick and it is terrible and it is of the shape of nothingness and blurred only by the perception of movement that may not even exist. It is the same type of lashing movement that the TASK veterans present at JR's detention witnessed just before the man-in-custody was attacked in a way that the cameras never properly recorded. There was nothing to record.
No, he can't fight this physically, because it isn't physical, but he has a data point. It feeds on fear. It was menacing the woman to get that energy. Does Jack feel fear? Often. But it's the controlled fear of a combatant, not the panic of a civilian, held firmly within him. He doesn't dodge. "Let her go."
While, in that instant, nothing seems to materialize, there is, for Jack's personal experience, a grim flash of mental imagery that shows a horrific and monstrous face. It is also in this instant that the City is aware of another presence nearby, yet Jack's stonewalling between the creature and the woman might prevent him from being able to directly observe. Yet.
This face, this warped and hideous face built from the waking nightmares of children fed by fevers and illness, lasts not even an instant of an instant as such a presence streaks straight toward the unmoving man. And, with a whistle of movement, that face is wrenched to the side and broken. The base presence of the threat is torn away mid-attack as something whirls inches from where Jack's face might otherwise be and curves through the air before embedding itself into the wall of the S-Mart with a stone-chipping KRAK.
There, in the outside wall, sticks the blade of a scythe impaling what seems to be something the general size and shape of a housecat. It is shadowy and barely there, yet it IS there and has piercing yellow eyes. It writhes as if to get away, but is trapped, in full view, with no shadow to bathe it. It does not seem to feel pain and no indication of pain is given despite having a blade stuck cleanly through it.
Somebody nearby had to have thrown that weapon. The presence is only just out of sight, walking around behind the transport truck to the back despite having thrown the dangerous item from the front -- the farthest point away. Footsteps are soft and steady. The creature, it would seem, is presented for Jack to have a closer glimpse.
Well. Handy. Jack will track down the thrower later, he has some questions for them, but for right now, he moves over to the...creature. Monster. Alien. It doesn't seem to be dead, likely because it was, in fact, never alive. Things like that aren't. Then again, some argue he isn't either. Alive has all kinds of definitions. It's...felinoid, shadowy, barely there. "Well *huh*."
There is something about the creature that is disproportionate and wrong. At face value, it is small and insignificant. Could things like these be what all the fuss is over? Is it these things causing such reports across the city. It doesn't look like much. It really doesn't. Still, it had the woman terrified to the point she nearly peed herself and clearly did some damage to her.
It remains there, caught and squirming like a worm on a hook, before eventually starting to drift away like smoke in the wind. It discorporates, is undone, and fades away until nothing remains but the warscythe itself. If one were to witness such a thing, it might be best attributed to a snapping out of existence. Does that mean it's dead?
A tall figure finally rounds about the loading end of the parked truck, hands clasped behind the back, while measured steps are taken to close the distance to the point of wall impact. "Strange and dangerous, isn't it?" It is a man dressed in military uniform. A very specific uniform that reports from before might easily identify. He has a cat's face and ears. "Are you safe? Did it touch you?"
"It didn't touch me, I'm not sure about the woman who ran. It seems that they feed on fear," Jack adds. The guy with the cat's face doesn't bother him at all; there are plenty of non-humans in the city, after all, and he just assumes this is another of them.
In absolutely no hurry whatsoever, the feline man walks over to the wall, places a hand upon the handle of the scythe, and begins to pull it free with ease. "Yes. Still, she's lucky you intervened. A bit foolish to confront it like that, but it did provide just enough opening to catch off-guard."
Resting the scythe on his left shoulder, the cat person regards Jack fully with a look from top to bottom. "I feel as though I've seen you somewhere before, in passing," muses the unnamed officer. "Have we met?" A right hand is held out to offer what might be a handshake. The hand is immaculately clean and nails kept tidy. "This is how people gesture in greeting around here, is it not?"
Jack Hawksmoor does reach to shake hands; his hand is slightly cooler than one might expect. "I've faced worse," he says by means of explanation. "And I learned something." To him, perhaps, that does make it worth a certain amount of risk.
The cat person's grip is firm, bold, but not meant to be crushing. His hand is not worn, though. For what it is, it's smooth. So is the catman's gaze. The question of previous passing goes unanswered for now, it seems. "Good. Next time, however, I would not advise on letting it touch you. They are far more dangerous than they may seem." And, in saying as much, the stranger reveals that they have previous experience or knowledge beyond the single present encounter.
"I was hoping to track down the source of the symptoms before it became a larger issue, but the city is too large for me to secure every person targeted." This feline-faced man turns glance off in the direction of the woman who fled, out behind the department store; she remains safe from any other pursuit. "A good thing you were here. Did you see the initial attack?"
Jack Hawksmoor frowns. "I *sensed* the initial attack and came as quickly as I could." Hence his odd arrival. He takes several deep breaths. "What is the risk of them touching somebody?" It might be something he has to worry about. It might not.
Turning his gaze from the direction of the woman's escape, the fuzzy-faced man's body shifts position to point more toward the front of the building even as he settles his free fist on one hip and coolly cocks his hips to one side in both a confident and relaxed posture. "Honestly, for the most part, nothing too severe, but I have seen instances of certain targets," explains he without using the term 'victims', "going mad, losing touch with reality, or going blind. These tend to be individuals that are more brutally attacked."
"I need to learn more, but the Guardsmen of this city haven't been the most helpful." The stranger likely means the Police. "Such as it is, it's been a slower process than I would prefer. I'll spare you the details, but I have a plan." A hint of annoyance plays over the cat's face as he offers the faintest shoulder-shrug.
Jack Hawksmoor ahs. "Given I already don't interact with reality the same as most, I suppose I am either more vulnerable or less." Then he fixes his gaze on the cat. "Spare me the details?" he inquires, a slight sharpness coming to his voice. Of course, Lynx has no idea he's a cop, most likely.
With dramatic fashion, the catman sighs deeply and hoists that scythe to swing it downward so that it rests against the ground as a support for a light leaning against. "Look, I understand that you must be very concerned to have interjected yourself into such a dangerous situation and that you must be dreadfully curious about the symptoms running loose in the city." That's twice he's used that term. "But, the more you know, the more you'll likely feel empowered to go poking about them more."
Amber eyes move to fall upon Jack's face for as much as the man's positioning and posture may allow. "You'll get hurt and that's what I'm trying to keep from happening. I don't believe the Guardsmen have much clue as to how to protect their people from these symptoms, much less deal with the problem behind it."
The cat man lowers his voice with a shake of his head and leans forward only slightly with a glance to the side. "And just between you and me, I'm pretty sure this sickness is searching for those with an ability to end it, hence the more brutal attacks. The Guardsmen refused to allow me to protect one of them and I do hope he's still alive. Chances are they wouldn't tell me if he wasn't, so I've had to play their game and waste more time." The guy sighs again, sounding exasperated, but he quickly waves this off with his right hand as dismissively as he can.
"I don't think you get it." Jack finally straightens all the way. "You seem to think that by not telling me what the danger is to this city you can keep me from *doing my job*." He's not exactly angry; of course the catman doesn't know who he is or, for that matter, what he is. "I'm not some random overly curious person." Sickness. Symptoms. What he doesn't say, out loud, is that he has no choice. Didn't have a choice from the moment this started. Hasn't had one for years. Perhaps never did. "So, are we going to work together or are we going to get in each other's way?"
Jack's received response is an amount of laughter. Not a syllable of it is derisive. The catman is honestly tickled by the resolve on display. "Ha, well well. You really are quite eager to meet FATE head on, aren't you?" There's a beat or two as the felinoid inhales then exhales. "I like that. If you truly want to discuss this, I'm not sure here is the best place for it."
A broad arm-lifted gesture sweeps to the side around the general area. "There are eyes everywhere. Perhaps it is wise that we have not shared names here." The stranger lifts his scythe once more to rest it on his shoulder and turns to walk toward the front of the building, though not at a pace that cannot be conversationally matched. "Tell you what. I have business fetching something from the Notary Office of which requires me to then take it to the Guardsmen's secretarial desk for collecting a package. That might be a safe place to meet, seeing as how it's all the same building complex. Do you know of it?"
"We can meet there," Jack agrees...easy enough, after all And then he can get this guy in his office and they can talk in as much safety as possible. And no, he doesn't give his name; he might BE one of the eyes everywhere, but he'll respect the catman's paranoia; under the circumstances somebody probably is out to get him. "Soon." And then? He sinks into the ground. Show off. Or, likely, making sure the cat knows Jack has his tricks.