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17th April 2010.

Class ended in five minutes and all I could think was that it could not come fast enough. I had an overwhelming urge to head outside, It was almost unbearable being stuck inside such a small room all day, especially after I have had a taste of that glorious freedom that was just outside the door.

I'd spent most of my free nights darting around Brockton Bay, far too fast for any normal person to keep up with, faster than a lot of capes for that matter, swinging around buildings and dashing through the air. To most of the citizens of Brockton Bay being outside after dark was a choice that only the brave or stupid would make, and so they tended to their business during the safety of the day.

But to me, the sun going down just felt like freedom, I could go wherever I wanted and explore the verticality of the city as much as I desired, searching out every nook or cranny along the way. Occasionally I would get chased by somebody, most often it was the members of New Wave that I have had several encounters with already. Laserdream often took a moment out of her night to try to chase me down, and on occasion, Shielder was also present. I hadn’t seen Glory Girl at all since our last encounter, nor Panacea for that matter.

Purity made what was almost a nightly appearance in the sky above Brockton Bay, the brightest thing by far as she cut across the city like a shooting star far too low in the sky. I did my best to stay out of her area, although she had spotted me several times. I made sure to get the hell out of there before she got any ideas in her head about trying to kick my ass. I say trying because I was a total badass and there was absolutely no way that I was going to get my ass beat by anybody, not today, no sir, it wasn't going to happen.

Occasionally I would see one or more of the Wards, and they even had a few new members now. There was one guy called Clockblocker, and what an amazing name that was, he had joined the heroes back in May of last year. Clockblocker wore a white and grey bodysuit that covered him from head to toe with a white oval mask not too dissimilar to my own covering his face. His costume had clocks painted all over it, which was both stupid and awesome at the same time, I could just imagine all the hilarious quips and one-liners you could drop with a getup like that, I was almost jealous.

Clockblocker power was interesting, he could freeze things in place just by touching them, and I am not sure of the exact mechanics it either. Was it breakable in some way? Did the object move along with the rotation of the earth, or was it dead still while the earth passed below it, was that something he had to consider?

I was hesitant to go near the cape for several reason, I had no idea how our powers would interact, could he touch one of my wires and freeze me by extension? He was by far the most potentially dangerous Ward, and I was sure this would be an issue if I ever had to tangle with them again. That isn’t even mentioning the other big problem if he accidentally froze one of my thin wires that I filled the air with to track movement around me and then somebody walked into one of them? Yikes, frozen wires hanging in the air could really hurt someone. I would have to sit back and toss shit at him if it ever came down to it.

Another cape had also joined the Wards in January of this year, and his name was kind of terrible. Kid Win was a Tinker that rode around on a hoverboard and fought with a pair of laser pistols. The hero wore a suit of red armor, made of smooth metal panels, and he had a visor that covered the top half of his face. That hoverboard was fucking awesome, and I was totally going to try stealing it the first chance that I got. I don't care how old you are, or what you like to do in your free time, a hoverboard was dope, hell I could already fly, and I still found it to be the coolest thing I'd ever heard of.

I even saw Armsmaster from the Protectorate once, driving around the city on his motorcycle, he was going way over the speed limit at the time and I briefly considered trying to perform a civilian arrest on him for being a very naughty boy. A Cape arrest? A Mercenary arrest? Whatever it would have been hilarious, but he didn't see me, and I eventually decided not to go and introduce myself. I enjoyed not being in jail after all, and I was quite sure he would have tried to kick my ass on principle, his armor was cool, I'm not going to lie.


I'd moved further into the city as well, after my apartment had been erased from existence I had been in limbo. Due to my age, my status as an emancipated minor, and the details of how my apartment had suddenly vanished, I was in a temporary housing situation for months before my insurance situation had finally been sorted out. When it had finally been figured out, I went out and found a new place, It was another apartment building, this time an apartment on the sixth floor, It was even smaller than my previous one by a noticeable amount. It turns out that the price of a place increased the closer to the city center you were, who knew?

This new place of mine was basically a compact single room space-saver, the kitchen and lounge room were separated from the bedroom by a thin white wall to floor divider. There was a single door that led to a small bathroom with a toilet and shower wedged inside. It was a nice enough place if you didn't mind single room living, which I didn't at least not yet anyway. It was technically in the Docks South, but, It was right on the border of the Downtown area. Only minutes away from Arcadia, which was amazingly convenient and as far as I was concerned totally justified the increase in price.

I was much closer to the ocean than I had been before, but still not actually close enough for it to become an issue. I could see it from my window, everything had a downside it would seem, but with my brand-new blackout curtain, I should be able to deal it with. I stared out of the window for a moment and shivered, before drawing the curtain shut, suddenly wishing I had gotten the other side of the building.

I was a proper mercenary now and I have been taking serious jobs since sometime in September last year. I have had some people come to me with the strangest requests imaginable, people have hired me for birthdays, smash and grab jobs, debt retrieval work, investigations, and someone had even tried to hire me for some wet work. I said no to that one for obvious reasons, I've got a code that I follow now.

Always complete the job, always get paid, and don’t kill anyone. I hadn't messed up any of them yet and I didn't plan too. It was initially quite hard to get any work; I didn't have an existing client base to pull from and I had needed to figure out how I was supposed to get one in the first place. I had no idea what I was doing obviously, especially since I had exactly zero prior experience before I had stumbled upon Gaston in that alleyway. I flinched away from the thought before doing my best to push it away.

I had no idea about how to market myself, as I couldn't exactly put my phone number out anywhere or just walk up to people on the street while in costume and ask them for a job, well I did try that last thing once. It was how I got that birthday gig, but I swore to never again attend one of those, kids were terrible, vicious creatures that would beat the crap out of you while their sociopathic parents watched on, laughing at how adorable they were, bastards the lot of them.

I had ended up contacting someone who I knew had previous experience with this type of thing, someone who already had their own network and could set me up with jobs given the right incentive.

I went to Coil.

Only I hadn't known how I was supposed to get in contact with him either, so I had to figure that out as well. I improvised, making my way to where I had met the man, I remember standing on the roof of the last place I'd seen him and yelling his name at the top of my lungs. This obviously didn't work like I had hoped and people from the nearby apartment buildings had made it clear that they didn't appreciate all the noise at two in the morning.

I was truly stumped, and the terrible sting of defeat was felt strongly that night. Coil had ended up contacting me soon afterward, I'm guessing that he had some type of surveillance on those buildings and someone had shown him the video. I could not believe that it had worked, I was such a genius.

Coil made sure that I was aware of his displeasure about what I had done, threatening retaliation if I ever pulled something like that again. He told me that I should be much more covert in any of our future dealings, but we managed to established something approaching a working relationship after that little hiccup, and he gave me a number that I could use to contact him in the future for more work.

Problem solved, first try, easy clap.

Coil sent me any jobs he felt that I would be interested in, and those that he must have felt I was capable of, because they had been slowly increasing in difficulty since the first one. In return, I was paying him a percentage of my earnings off each job, a static finder’s fee whenever I completed one. It was a symbiotic relationship of sorts, in that we both benefitted from it in some way, and I was able to work out some of the slowly mounting frustration that was growing inside of me.

I still hadn’t made any new connections with anyone, and my life was still a lonely broken mess. I still felt like an outsider at school and I still dreamt terrible things almost every night. The only thing that helps distract me from my problems was going out in costume. Fortunately for me, I had just gotten off the phone with Coil, and now I have a potential job, it was time to go to work.


I met my potential employer at the Spectrum hotel, a massive sprawling structure that stretched high into the air. I’d be told that he had rented the entire top floor of the building, the guy was apparently stupidly rich and someone who could do that kind of shit on a whim.

I entered the Spectrum Hotel from the roof of the building by unlocking the roof access. It took barely a moment’s thought to slip wires into the lock and then under the door to break the chain that held the inside closed. I wandered down the stairs and almost immediately I could hear a piano playing from across the floor. I followed the music careful not to make any noise, it was a piano piece that I had no fucking idea about, but It sounded rather good to my inexperienced ears, so that must have meant something at least.

As I stepped around the corner I spotted a woman in a red dress, sitting in front of a massive piano, she was young, beautiful, and obviously incredibly talented. A much older man with stylish grey hair was sitting in a black leather chair with a simple glass table by his side. The man had one of his legs crossed over his knee and he had his chin resting laconically on the palm of his hand. An almost empty wine glass was held in his other hand, as he gazed coolly at the woman in red.

I was surprised to find that the man was wearing an entirely white suit, expensive-looking cufflinks, a neat white tie with an 'S' stitched in a golden thread that caught the light. I glanced down and realized that even his shoes were white. Everything he was wearing was perfectly pristine, unruffled, and looked like it probably cost more money than what I had stolen from the bank over a year ago. The man finally noticed me, and his eyes widened slightly, but he remained otherwise calm.

Cool as a cucumber huh?

I looked at the woman again, there was no way that this woman was his wife, If she were a day over twenty-one I would eat my mask and she certainly wasn't his daughter, not with the way she was looking at him from under her lashes.

Damn Daniel.

"Urchin." Daniel Stansfield said to me levelly. "I expected the reception to inform me of your arrival."

Did he seriously think I was going to just walk in the front door? When there were heroes that would hunt me down as soon as I appeared in public? Rich people were weird as fuck, I swear to god. The woman at the piano glanced at me, surprised at my sudden appearance, her attention had been on Daniel and the piano, so she hadn’t seen me walk in. The woman turned to Daniel nervously, but he ignored her.

"I used the roof," I said simply, before angling my body to face him. "I hear you have a job for me?"

Daniel nodded once, and I tilted my head in the woman’s direction.

"It's fine," Daniel said evenly, before waving a hand lazily in her direction. "Shall I tell you what I require?"

It was my turn to nod, the woman had paused in the middle of her song as she watched us, but she slowly started playing again when nothing untoward happened, but her eyes stayed locked on me the entire time.

"I am quite well off," Daniel said evenly.

No shit, Daniel was rich and a master of the obvious, some people have all the luck.

"My wealth comes from railroads, shipping, and some other side ventures," Daniel explained calmly, before tilting his wine glass towards me.

"Shipping must have taken a hit lately," I said easily, mostly to gauge his reaction.

Leviathan had pretty much fucked the entire world's shipping industry because unless you were willing to risk a gigantic creature popping up and fucking your shit up, you just didn’t go near the ocean.

"Indeed," Daniel said calmly, but his eyes had narrowed minutely. "Luckily, shipping was the least of my business."

Daniel paused for a moment and drank from his glass, emptying it before placing it on the table nearby.

"I am sure you have heard about the recent disappearances," Daniel said pointedly.

It wasn't a question, but I answered anyway.

"People are vanishing from trains while they are running, their bodies have been appearing afterward somewhere on the tracks," I said quietly, recalling the news coverage. "The Protectorate was guarding them last I'd heard."

They still were as far as I knew, but I wasn’t really keeping track of the situation though.

"Yes," Daniel confirmed, before leaning forward in his chair. "They have been attempting to have at least one hero on each of the trains that are leaving the city."

Obviously, this wasn't working, seeing as there were way more trains then there were heroes to guard them. When all the shipping business had started to die, trains had become even more useful than before, and the industry had grown exponentially in the decades since.

"However, the night before last there was another disappearance." Daniel frowned, before looking out of the large floor to ceiling window. "This time from one of the trains that had a hero onboard, Miss Militia I believe."

I stared at him for a moment, this I hadn't known, the last I'd heard about this was a week ago, with the serial killer yoinking people off trains. Police had routinely failed to do anything meaningful since then, and they were now suspecting that it was a Parahuman responsible, but no confirmation had appeared. The heroes had been brought in soon after, but even they were struggling to find anything amiss with the trains.

"A body showed up on the tracks the next day, missing a leg and most of its torso." Daniel said, "It was clearly a message to the heroes."

The message was clear, they couldn't find them, and they couldn't stop them, not even heroes.

"Whoever is doing it is messing with your main source of business," I said to him in understanding, it was obvious now that I had most of the details. "You want me to deal with them."

Daniel watched me quietly for a moment, the woman at the piano had once again stopped playing a little while ago, still having not finished the song in its entirety, she was now facing us both and listening to the conversation. Her dress was riding up her thighs and it was super distracting, I forced myself to stop looking.

"I want you to find out who is it." Daniel agreed evenly. "They are causing a great deal of trouble for me."

"Alright," I said easily, "What do you want me to do when I find them?"

The woman was looking back and forth between us with each exchange, the motion was doing wonderful things to her tight dress. I tore my gaze away again before looking back to Daniel.

"Do with them what you will." Daniel said calmly, "Kill them or turn them into the police I suppose, I want to stay uninvolved in the narrative, however."

Daniel said it without care while making a gesture with his hand, palm facing upwards as if it was of no consequence to him. The woman drew in a sharp breath when he had said to kill them, and she leaned forward with her eyes open wide. I forced myself to stop looking at her chest, goddammit lady.

Investigate, find the killer, capture them, it was straight forward enough.

"Payment?" I said calmly.

"One-hundred thousand." Daniel declared languidly, completely unaffected by the number.

My eyes were now wide behind my mask and my heart thundered in my chest, holy shit, this guy was stacked, none of my jobs since the first had ever crested five thousand, this was fucking unheard of, what the fuck man. The woman was staring at Daniel like he was the most interesting man in the world, and I could just about see it, the guy was a charismatic beast of a man.

Damn Daniel, back at it again.


I had agreed, obviously, there was no way I was going to turn down one-hundred thousand, completely legitimate dollars. Daniel had apparently already sent it on to Coil in our usual method, with a seventy-thirty split. Coil would be happy no doubt, thirty thousand in the bank for ringing a dude, the bastard was living the dream.

I was already mentally spending the money, planning to sell my new apartment as soon as I finished the job and buy a larger place that was further away from the ocean. Moving up in the world bitches, fame, and fortune here I come.

I started investigating the murders straight away, money was a particularly good motivator after all. I went to my computer and started pulling up articles about the recent missing people, there was a lot to cover so I'll do my best to summarize.

People started going missing on the 1st of April, the killer seemed to strike every second day and if a day was missed due to interference from the authorities even more bodies showed up on the tracks. On the 7th of April when the fourth person went missing, the police had shut down the trains with the hope that by removing the killers hunting ground they might stop. The public tore them apart for the decision, the authorities had failed to keep them safe and now the public was being punished, commuters especially were pissed off.

The police assured them they were doing everything they could to find the killer and then two days later several bodies were found on the tracks. Another two days and even more bodies appeared. After the third time, they cut their losses, it didn't matter if the trains were running or not people were still dying. The police quickly released a statement that they would be bringing the trains back online and that they refused to bow to the sick whims of a serial killer. They ratcheted up the security provided for the trains and every single train had at least a single police officer on it, but the murders still didn't stop.

The Protectorate had started riding the trains in full combat gear on the 15th of April and then a person vanished from the train that Miss Militia was protecting, the body appeared on the tracks soon after mutilated beyond recognition. The Protectorate took a hit to its reputation and Miss Militia had been hidden away since then, staying out of the angry eyes of the press. It wasn't their fault, of course, the Protectorate member probably hadn't even seen the killer. They were trying to catch the killer and I knew that they were doing their best.

If the pattern continued to stay the same, another person would vanish from the train tonight and appear on the tracks in the morning. I couldn't just get onto a random train and hope for the best, a lot of different people had obviously already tried this. I could also only be in a single place at a time, so I would need to come at this from a different angle entirely.

I had to think like a crazy person.

The thing that stood out to me the most was that it was happening on a train, obvious I know, but why a train of all places, the killer was obviously attached to trains in some way.

Maybe he was born on a train, or her best friend died protecting her from one. Perhaps his parents had been taken before their time by one of the metal monstrosities? I flinched at that one, my brain getting ahead of myself. Did she had a relative that had died on a train? Did his girlfriend dump him on a train, maybe her girlfriend dumped her on a train? Maybe he was that cape called Trainwreck, who was now trying to gain vengeance for all his disassembled brethren, or was it Trainwreck's ex-girlfriend, trying to gain vengeance on him? Did she have a traumatic experience on a train like that dirty manga he read once, or maybe his father had bought him a toy train before he vanished like in that one movie? What could the motive of a serial killer be, who had a thing for trains?

I didn't know yet, but I was going to find out.

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About the author

Elbowsnapper

Bio: I’m a fantasy author from Australia, and if I were to describe my work in a single sentence it would be; Realism contained within an unrealistic backdrop. I aim to put out high-quality, original, long-form written content that will entertain, and engage you. Expect dark themes, characters making costly mistakes, and unreliable narrators.

My standard process starts by releasing draft chapters to my Patreon, and then to everybody else online. Once the story is completed, I convert it into a more conventional eBook. I also routinely go back and revise, edit and enhance my older work as I improve as a writer.

I now have a website that has links to all of my original works to date.

https://www.elbowsnapper.com/

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