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Kieran
November 21st, 2012, 05:14 PM
Writer's Notes: This is a oneshot I wrote about an RPG character I played in a superhero game - just to entertain the group, as it referenced one of our recent adventures. I rather liked the character, and have since tried to revive him in a graphic novel (which, sadly, I can't draw) - but I thought you might find it interesting. It's written comic book style - forgive me the confusion. :)





In the unseen heart of the city, there lies Deadtown. It is a haven for the dispossessed, the demented, the despairing and the damned. Yet even here, where the shadows are thickest, there burns a light of hope. For one lost soul haunts the streets of Deadtown to guard its people from the evils that fester in its alleys. His face, his past, and even his name, remains . . .a Mystery.


Non-Existent Comics Presents: A Tale of the Mystery – “Curtain Call!”

[Editor's Note: This issue takes place before the events in the current “City of Champions” storyline]



The First Night



Despite its name, Deadtown is never truly silent. Though its streets are often deserted, forsaken by the roar of automobile engines, the wail of distant sirens, and the other noises common to the more thriving sections of the city, Deadtown is always filled with quiet sounds. The rustling of hungry animals, the whisper of the midnight wind, the moans of its homeless denizens . . . and all too often, the screams of the dying. One such scream echoed tonight, choking off its terror in a final, despairing rattle. It lasted only long enough for the sound to be followed, and ended too soon for its tracker to end its cause, as well.

He emerged from the darkness of the alley as if it was a doorway he’d passed through. His overcoat was gray, and trailed him like a second shadow, concealing the full broadness of his shoulders, the muscular frame of his body. His eyes were hidden under the shadow of his fedora, his hands and face wrapped in concealing leather. His steps made no sound, nor did he as he examined the last remains of a terrified human being.

The victim was a young woman he did not recognise, in what seemed to be her mid-twenties, with short blonde hair in a pageboy cut and wide green eyes. The cause of death was not difficult to determine – she’d been hacked to death, though by what, he wasn’t certain. Her clothes placed her as an upscale resident of Deadtown, or from another part of the city – they were clean, with no patches or rips. Her purse, assuming she’d had one, was missing. There was no sign of her assailant. Blood stained the ground, still fresh, but no telltale trail marked the murderer’s path. Without access to resources he did not have, there was nothing he could do.

The Mystery had long ago accepted that, as just a man, he could not be everywhere. He could not do everything, or save everyone. Just the same, he had resolved to try, and tonight that resolution had failed. Tonight, another innocent had fallen, and the slayer ran free . . . but tomorrow would bring with it another night.

And the night was his domain . . .







* * *


Money was hard to come by in Deadtown. As a result, its resident hustlers were remarkably resourceful in acquiring it. This included phoning in anything newsworthy to papers or TV stations that offered money for news. By nine o’clock the news was all over the city. Twenty-six year old Janice Weber, a local hospital volunteer, had been brutally murdered the previous night by person or persons unknown. The police had cordoned off the murder site, and several of the bodies surrounding the alley were involved in keeping gawkers and overeager reporters at bay. Others were combing the site for forensic evidence, while the photographer was taking the last necessary shots.

Homicide Lieutenant Joe Connor oversaw it all with the same mix of feelings he always had: shame that another innocent had died, anger that the bastard behind it had gotten away, and a certain, cynical feeling that he would continue to get away with it. With the hampering of police powers these days, even if they found the criminals, convicting them was all but impossible.

Connor stood alone in a corner of the alley, watching his fellow officers at work. He was a big man at six foot four, and still in his prime at thirty-four years of age. Unlike a lot of police who had desk jobs, he lacked a layer of pudginess around his middle. In his earlier days, his mountainous physique had been the only thing that saved him from furtive beatings – or worse – at the hands of a few racists on the force, and though his coal-coloured skin wasn’t as great an issue as it once was, he saw no reason to change his habits. Right now, though, he felt as though his age had doubled, and he leaned back, into the shadows and a cool brick wall.

“What can you tell me?” rasped a voice from the darkness.

Connor looked down. In the slats of the storm drain beneath his feet, he saw a blurred shadow – and a pair of blue eyes that seemed to glow ominously.

“Don’t know if I should tell you anything,” Connor replied quietly. “After all, officially you don’t exist, and if you did, we sure wouldn’t look kindly on all the vigilantism you do.”

The gleaming blue eyes narrowed slightly, and Connor looked up, away from them.

“Of course, I like to go over the facts myself in a case. It helps to hear ‘em out loud, and in this shadowy corner, here, there’s nobody to listen in on my saying confidential information, is there? No one who really exists, anyway.” He smiled slightly, to himself.

“The victim’s name is Janice Weber, the only child of Phillip and Vivian Weber, both deceased – car crash and heart attack, respectively. One of the idle rich, but she spends – spent – her time doing charity work. Raising funds, meals on wheels, you name it. This month, she’s a candy striper – goes in to cheer up terminally ill patients and sick kids. Looks like she was on her way home when the perp caught up with her.”

“There are no hospitals in Deadtown.”

“No, but there are free clinics. She was doing work at one of them last night. Johnson Street.”

“Anything else?”

“The M.E. says it looked like she was hacked up by a dull blade – big one, like a machete or something. We’ll know more when we get her in for a full autopsy.”

There was silence from the storm drain. When Connor looked down, his visitor was gone. He snorted. “Figures.”

At the moment, it was a seemingly impossible case. Connor was certain he could solve it, given enough time and luck, but if this wasn’t a single incident, then he wouldn’t have enough of either to prevent a second killing. And as a certain non-existent vigilante had proven, the night he’d taken on an entire biker bar to protect one exposed undercover cop, the impossible was something he did very well.






The Johnson Street clinic wasn’t unfamiliar to the Mystery – in fact, it was the source of some his earliest memories. Awakening, dazed and in pain, surrounded by unfamiliar faces. He felt more than a little guilt, since he remembered, in broken flashes, breaking out of it. He’d injured at least three orderlies, and quite possibly the doctor, in his escape. He hoped his last visit, involving a large, anonymous donation of “acquired” drug money, had helped ease his karma on that score. Still, he was reluctant to question the people here openly.

No one, however, noticed as the fire exit used by one of the orderlies to leave for a smoke break stayed open an instant too long before closing. No one saw a trenchcoat-wearing man – not an uncommon sight, given the nature of the patients here – duck into an open storage room. And no one heard as that man rummaged through the clinic’s records.

Janice Weber’s personal file revealed little information that seemed relevant at first – her age, blood type, measurements, medical records. Her work record stated that she was a volunteer attached to the City Hospital, recommended by and reporting to Dr. Alex Howard, one of the hospital physicians who also donated time to the clinic. The Mystery mused over that, thinking that it might be worth watching Dr. Howard for a while. Then he searched for – and took – one more file: that of a John Doe admitted almost a year ago . . .




The Second Night






Alex Howard was a man in his late forties, with brown eyes framed by glasses and salt-and-pepper hair to match his beard. He dressed meticulously, drove a Ford made within the last three years, and was totally surprised by the man who lumbered out of the dark. A veritable giant of a man in a turtleneck and pants at least one size too small, with heavy boots and a very large axe that was encrusted with dried blood. His face was concealed by, of all things, a drama mask – the frowning mask of tragedy.

“Hallowe’en’s still two weeks away,” Howard muttered irritably.

The giant responded by lifting his axe and swinging. Howard ducked in surprise, and the blade buried itself deep in the roof of his car.

“What the hell?” Howard demanded.

His only response was a snarl, as the giant drew back a fist to strike. And strike he did. Specifically, he struck the side of the car, face-first, as a heavy form drove into the giant from behind with the full force of his momentum.

Blue eyes flared in the dark. “GO!” the Mystery roared. His command was met with an answering roar from the big man, who’d gotten to his feet, seemingly unscathed, to focus on the insect who’d hit him. Howard ran as soon as he stopped being too terrified to move.

Seven feet tall, and he’s got to be half again my weight, the Mystery noted. I wonder how fast he is...?

The Mystery led in with a feinting jab to his face, while his right fist went low to bury itself in the giant’s kidney. There was a growl, whether of pain or annoyance, the Mystery wasn’t sure. But the sheer lack of response halted him for a moment – and left him wide open for a backhanded blow that sent him flying into the tree he’d been watching from not five minutes ago.

Stars exploded into front of his eyes, and his jaw felt as though he’d tried to stop a truck with it. The cushioning of his mask was probably all that had saved his teeth, but the bone was deeply bruised, if not broken.

Not all that fast, but strong enough for that not to matter much, the Mystery analysed. Another hit like that would be bad – and I’m not sure I could take two.

The giant lumbered forward, and launched another piledriver blow at his head. The Mystery ducked, heard the splintering of wood, and sprang back up, launching both feet at the most vulnerable point he could think of – the crotch. The force of the blow pried the big man’s hand out of the tree trunk and sent him sprawling to the ground. Other than that, it didn’t seem to slow him down in the slightest.

This is ridiculous. What do I need to stop him, a direct nuclear strike?

The giant, meanwhile, had decided to take the time to pry his axe out of the doctor’s car. Feeling mildly insulted, the Mystery launched a one-two-three combination with everything he had, driving the giant to one knee.

Looks like I’ve finally managed to hurt him—

—A hand the size of a Thanksgiving turkey reached back to grab his shoulder in a grip most vises would envy—

—but not as badly as this will.

There were no time for further thoughts as he was hurled face-first into the windshield of the car, bouncing his skull off the passenger side door as he crashed through that window too, sprawling on the ground.

The Mystery struggled to get the world to hold still long enough for him to plant his hands on the ground. It hurt to breathe, his ears were ringing, and his face was a mass of pain. But he was alive.

Why?

As he forced himself to his feet, all but collapsing against the abandoned vehicle for support, he glanced around, and then up. Squinting in the dim, predawn light, he could see holes some twenty feet up in the building wall beside him – holes that corresponded with human fingers digging in to make handholds.

You’ve gotta be kidding me...





* * *



Few people ever saw the face of the Mystery, including himself. The mass of cuts and scars that remained of whatever he’d once looked like was barely recognisable as human, and might qualify as cruel and unusual punishment in some places. Jagged glass mixed with salt water heated to suddenly scalding temperatures had that effect on human flesh.

In this case, he’d grudgingly removed his mask so that his “physician” could examine the crack at the back of his skull. There was probably a decent view of it. His hair was still growing back, slowly, and its uniform white colour made any injuries underneath easy to spot.

Father Gregori Romanov, formerly of the Soviet special forces and KGB intelligence bureau before becoming a man of God, had long experience with injuries physical, mental, and spiritual. With the proper care, he pronounced the Mystery hale and healthy . . . by tomorrow, anyway.

“You’re certain it would not be wiser to ask for assistance?” the priest asked, rubbing his own shaved pate in something the Mystery recognised as nervousness.

“I have assistance. You.”

“I meant more . . .worldly assistance.”

“I know what you meant.” It galled him to consider asking for more help after the last debacle with Rockpile – the others meant well, but Deadtown was his to protect, damn it. He would beat this monster, without their help.

A scream interrupted what might have been an interesting argument. Hastily throwing his mask on, and ignoring the wave of nausea churning in his gut from the sudden movements, he dashed out of the rector’s office.

A lone vagrant sat in one of the pews, his attention drawn to a small box in his hands. He looked up, startled and then guilty, at the two men’s appearance.

“Sorry, Father,” he mumbled. “I know it’s disrespectful an’ all, but I just wanted a quiet place to watch TV.” He held out the box for inspection.

The Mystery gazed balefully at the screen, where a familiar-looking masked man was butchering a young woman.

“This is a news report?” he growled.

“Nah,” the vagrant replied. “It’s Maniaxe.”

“Maniaxe?” Father Gregori asked cautiously.

“Real good set of monster movies from the ‘40s,” the homeless man said, warming to his topic with the enthusiasm of a true fan. “He was a killer who got raised as a zombie by an evil voodoo man, ‘cept Maniaxe killed him for it, and kept on killing – this time as the living dead. Dracula, the Wolf Man, Frankenstein . . .Maniaxe could take ‘em all in body counts. The films kinda got lost in the Cold War, though. And their star, Lucas Harmon, went the way of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi – typecast for eternity. He kind of dropped off the map, maybe thirty years ago now. Real shame.”

“Did he, now?” the Mystery said ominously. “I wonder, if, like Maniaxe, he isn’t waiting to rise again.”


The Third Night





The seventh floor of the City Hospital was a quiet one. It was also one of the most heavily secure. Not because the patients were dangerous, necessarily, but because they might hurt themselves, or were unable to do things for themselves.

The man in Room 716 was thin and frail, with watery blue eyes and only a fringe of white hair. I.V. tubes hung from his left arm, and leather straps bound his legs and chest in place. There was no sound save the quiet rhythm of the old man’s breathing . . . and then, the whisper of the late evening wind.

“Once I knew where to start looking, it was easy enough to figure out,” the Mystery rumbled. “You disappeared after a quietly hushed up overdose that left your nervous system a wreck, prone to fits. Hard to act when you have nervous twitches or sudden misfires, isn’t it? But that’s what happens when you mix your own drugs – with your Hollywood success, most people forget that you majored in chemistry. But your university records didn’t.

“The interesting thing, of course, is that you’ve been lobbying to get a new drug approved by your insurance carrier – some kind of steroid and testosterone mix, I’m not up on the full details of it. But of course, they won’t go for it. How frustrating it must have been for you, Mr. Harmon, seeing every day, the doctor who wouldn’t prescribe it, the candy striper you couldn’t persuade to sneak you some, when you know it would fix your health. Every day, when one of them could be your last.”

He glared at the old man. “I’m guessing it wasn’t easy to sneak the materials in, but your mind still knows how to mix chemicals - doesn’t it, Mr. Harmon?”

His response was a glare from the wreck of the human being strapped to the bed.

“Now, of course, I have no evidence of any of this. It’s preposterous to believe that a seventy-year old man who weighs all of ninety pounds can also be someone over three times his size and strong enough to tear down trees. But I do believe it, Mr. Harmon, and I’m going to be watching you.”

The Mystery smiled behind his mask, and he could see that the old man knew it. “You’re safe here, Mr. Harmon. Enjoy your cage . . . because I’ll be waiting outside it.”


Harmon made a strangled sound, turning red. He arched up against the restraints, shaking violently. Then he surged, his body taking on definition it hadn’t seen in decades. Height, weight – all of it increased noticeably in the space of seconds. Then again. And again. And again.

Maniaxe rose from the bed, lifting it effortlessly off the floor, despite the bolts that held it in place. Out of the corner of his eye, the Mystery spotted the axe, now dented, beneath it. Howling in rage, the giant swung the bed like an oversized club. The Mystery, however, was ready this time. He ducked beneath it, grabbed the bed, and heaved, redirecting it – and the one who held it – out the open window. And just to be sure, he struck the small of Maniaxe’s back to send him on his way.

I survived a fall nearly as bad, but I’m younger, in better shape. No matter how much of that drug is pumping through his system, there’s still a limit to how much you can enhance a man who’s lived through seventy years of wear and tear. . .

Oh, good, he landed on the bed. He’ll probably live. Now, if only they have the sense to keep him tranquillised so he doesn’t transform again, everything should be fine. If not, well, like I said . . . I’ll be waiting.

Because the night is my domain . . .

Trevelyan
November 21st, 2012, 08:18 PM
You ever see that old Liam Neeson film, Darkman? This really reminded me of it. Elements of Batsy a smidge of Daredevil and The Question too.

I enjoyed it. Seemed to resolve a little quickly, but definitely had the right atmosphere.

Kieran
November 21st, 2012, 09:29 PM
Darkman was one influence. The Shadow was another. Batman, obviously. Even a little bit of Frank Miller's Sin City - I think I'd read it, by that point.

The Mystery was designed to be just that - even to himself. Effectively, he was an amnesiac, disfigured homeless man in a bondage mask, fedora and trenchcoat, designed using a system based on a "pulp heroes" campaign setting (things like Tarzan, the Shadow, or the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). His "super powers" involved things like bonuses against multiple opponents, or dodging firearms, and his primary skills were Athletics, Brawl, Investigation, and Stealth. *chuckle* It annoyed the crap out of one of my fellow players that, when infiltrating an office building, I did it better and more easily than he did, despite his character's super powers.

Like I said, I've often thought of reviving him - if I could draw, I've got a graphic novel in my head for him . . . But I can't, so I guess I'm screwed. Still, it's fun to re-read this story every now and again.