Second Exterlude

“Tell her to stop freaking out.” Hellfire leans back in her chair, thumb moving over the surface of her phone. She doesn’t even look at the messenger. She doesn’t have to.

“Mistress was very insistent! Mistress does not like the PLE in Chicago one bit. Mistress feels Lady Hellfire should leave now!” The shrillness of the messenger’s voice should grate on Hellfire’s ears, but she’s used to worse.

“I’m not worried about the PLE,” Hellfire waves her free hand, “they don’t have the resources to deal with me.”

“The PLE has new Named! A woman, a shapeshifter of great skill!”

This gets a glance from Hellfire. “I said, I’m not worried about it.”

“This new Named could be anyone, could pretend to be someone Lady Hellfire trusts–”

Hellfire raises her hand in a cupped gesture that they both know she often uses to call on her fire. The messenger quiets, fearfully eyeing her empty hand.

“Tell her I’m not worried.” Her voice stays calm, collected. It doesn’t dim the threat.

The messenger bows and leaves, muttering dire predictions. Hellfire shifts in her chair, taps through a few more things on her phone, and dials a number.

Predator picks up after two rings. “Done?”

“Mmhmm.” Hellfire stands, and stretches her arms over her head. Dealing with the messengers is irritating at best; her sister worries more than any one person should be able to. “Are you and Flare still at The Pink Elephant?”

“Yep.” There’s clinking in the background. Someone laughs, someone else yells something obscene in return. “Just waiting on you, Miss Mysterious.”

“I’m on my way.”

The Pink Elephant is only a bus trip away, and before long, Hellfire sits on the other side of Flare from Predator, the three of them in a line at the bar. The bartender doesn’t have to be told her usual, and has it ready before Flare and Predator are done saying hello.

“So?” Predator asks after a few minutes, looking at Hellfire out of the corner of her eye.

“Aiyana changed teams.” Hellfire leans forward onto the bar. “She’s with the competition, and they’re in town in full force.”

Predator purses her lips, and Flare shakes his head. None of the three of them speak for a bit, then Predator says, her usual confidence slightly shaken, “she wouldn’t. If my girl’s with the other side, it’s because they forced it.”

“It doesn’t matter why.” Hellfire sips at her drink. “What matters is that they know about her big mirror trick, they know about you and her, and they’re here.”

“They’re here for real?” Flare speaks up, frowning. “Not just the kid we scared the other night?”

Hellfire nods, slow and heavy. “Smoke and Abyss are both in town, and if they have Abyss, they have a healer on hand.”

“And they don’t ever have just three,” Flare shakes his head. “So there’s Smoke, Abyss, a healer, and that kid.”

“The kid could be the healer,” Predator points out.

“Could be,” Flare admits, “but then there’s still at least two we don’t know about, and they might send in more after a while.”

The three of them drink in silence, then Flare asks Hellfire, “do they know you and me are around?”

Hellfire shakes her head. “I don’t know, my source didn’t tell me.”

“We’re not subtle, the three of us,” Predator says wryly, throwing back a shot.

“Maybe it’s time to recruit more Named,” Hellfire says.

“Maybe so,” Flare agrees, thoughtful. Predator nods, pursing her lips.

Nothing else of substance comes up that night, but the thought stays on all three minds in one form or another.

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Intermission

parahumans.info/forums/showthread.php?t=1357

Thread title: PLE in Chicago??

Poster Name: squealer
woah guys did u see this? who is this???
Attachment #1: sum guy who turns into fog??
Attachment #2: same guy in front of chicago pd!!

Poster Name: lonelyboi72
that’s smoke. he’s an LA native. what’s he doing in chicago?

Poster Name: romeowasaposer
Hide your wife, hide your kids, hide your husband, the PLE is kidnapping everybody up in here.

Poster Name: squealer
LOL @ romeo

Poster Name: somebodytoleanon
Somebody better warn the Chicago paras.

Poster Name: lonelyboi72
does chicago even have paras?

Poster Name: squealer
LOL we got hellfire, and predator and her harem

Poster Name: darknessfalls
Predator doesnt have a hrem anymore just the one

Poster Name: romeowasaposer
No way, Predator would never give up her harem. Pics or it didn’t happen.

Poster Name: lonelyboi72
can we get back to the important part? what is smoke doing in chicago?

Poster Name: squealer
idk, i saw him in uniform in front of the cpd

Poster Name: thepriceofcopper
I’ve got a better pic, squealer.
Attachment: Smoke escorting some girl out of the cpd

Poster Name: squealer
woah who the f*** is that?!!!?

Poster Name: romeowasaposer
Maybe it’s Hellfire with her mask off.

Poster Name: squealer
naw bro, hellfires white

Poster Name: moviesmoviesmovies
watch the littlest microwave on thisisascam.com for free!

Poster Name: lonelyboi72
it could just be some random.

Poster Name: thepriceofcopper
It’s not. I’ll have more information later, but trust me, she’s someone to watch.

Chapter Twelve

Exterlude

“Sir, please drop the gun.”

The white-clad young man kept his tone level, hands held out in front of himself. He considered taking off the mask, then decided against it. Doing anything the guy in front of him couldn’t predict could end badly.

“No… no…” the guy’s voice shook, but the gun stayed steady. His facial hair had moved past five o’clock shadow, well onto the borderline between trying to grow it out and too lazy to shave. His clothes were dirty and stained, and the shadows underneath his eyes told Smoke what else he hadn’t done lately. “I know what happens to paras that you guys take in. I know what happens. We never come back out of those labs of yours!”

“Sir, please. If that were true, I wouldn’t be standing here.” Codename Smoke tried to make his voice soothing, keeping his distance. He slowly moved one hand out to the side, releasing his hold on the solid form. His hand slowly dissolved into black smoke, undoubtedly something a normal human couldn’t do. “See? I’m just like you. They just trained me so I wouldn’t hurt myself.”

The gunman frowned, his weapon lowering by a few inches. Smoke let the guy take in his smoke-form hand for a few seconds, then firmed it up, his hand returning to blood-and-flesh over the course of moments.

“Maybe they did,” the guy said, raising the gun, “but they made you join the black hats, didn’t they? Brainwashed you until you jumped when they said how high!”

“No, sir, they did not,” Smoke shook his head firmly in the face of the gunman’s nonsense. “I chose to become a Parahuman Law Enforcement officer.”

The guy’s eyes dragged down Smoke’s jumpsuit. Normally, it’d be kinda awkward, a guy looking at him like this, but he didn’t think the guy was checking him out. If anything, he was looking for some slight hint that Smoke was lying. His eyes lingered on the PLE badge on the left side of Smoke’s chest, then he shook his head.

“It’s okay, brother,” the man said, voice serious. “You’ll forgive me in the next world. Better dead than brainwashed.”

Before he could pull the trigger, Smoke exploded, his entire body shifting into smoke-form. He threw himself forward toward where he had seen the guy, pulling himself together when he hit a mass roughly the size of a person. He shifted back to solid, forming his body so his arms were looped around the gunman’s armpits, his hands laced together behind his head.

Yanking his arms backward hard when he was fully formed, Smoke snapped one foot into the back of the guy’s knee. He dropped down as well when the guy lost his footing, holding him in place while a regular police officer rushed out from behind a nearby patrol car. Together, they got the guy’s gun away from him, and cuffs on him.

“Thanks, Agent Smoke,” the officer said sincerely, eyeing the parahuman in the back of his vehicle. “Is he going to be alright on the way to the station?”

“Yeah,” Smoke replied, hefting the bag with the gun in it. “He needs this, or something else he’s made, or he’s just like anybody else. Just keep him isolated until somebody bigger than me can come get him.” He smiled wryly, encouraging the officer to joke at his self-depricating humor. He knew he wasn’t the brawniest guy, in either Name or body.

The officer chuckled politely, and climbed into the squad car. Smoke watched him go just in case, before dissolving into smoke and throwing himself toward the nearest rooftop to continue his patrol.

Chapter Nine