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Posted on Sun Feb 25th, 2024 @ 9:56 by Liana Zhao & Alastair Temple

Chapter: Winter's Crest Festival
Location: New Cresthill, just outside the video store
Timeline: 6:30pm, Friday, 11th December
2061 words - 4.1 OF Standard Post Measure

"No, not really," Al tried to remember the setting and couldn't think of an alternative approach. "... I'm sure it'll be fine, though. I mean, we're two adults, I'm sure it's just some bored youth. It'll be fine," he was less assured of this than he sounded, but a large part of him didn't want to divert plans at the first sign of potential trouble, plus he wanted to do his best to carry himself with a brave and confident face, because of the company present.

Locking gazes with him for a moment, Liana allowed hers to drift towards the dimly-lit corner that would become their intended exit point and nodded slowly. "Yes, you're right." Squaring her shoulders, she flashed him a brief smile to marshal her composure. "It'll be just fine."

Al knew that he cut an imposing figure, tall as he was, with his chosen outfit. That might help dissuade anyone from wanting to cause trouble. It was odd, he'd only known Liana for just about a week, but he was already thinking about how he could protect her, keep her safe, before drunken louts. A moment's contemplation, a smile at her gaze, and a confident nod. "We'll be fine, I'm sure," and with that he led the way forward, into the alley, VHS box in hand.

The scene as it unfolded was actually not a particularly impressive one. Whether part of a larger group spread out and partially obscure, or the sum total of the disruption, only three figures moved into view as the pair of mutants rounded the corner. Two of them stood, hands stuffed into pockets, hunched beneath their beanies as they stared in opposite directions up the street and seemed mostly intent on loitering, whilst the smallest of the group, almost as broad as he was tall, booted a scrunched up can from the pile of garbage that had tumbled out of the up-ended trash can. There seemed no obvious reason for the littering, other than to provide a supply of impromptu footballs, but the ensuing mess was strewn across the path in such a way as to be impossible to avoid. Liana said nothing as she was forced to take a step closer to the wall to avoid bumping into Alastair, who had moved quite insistently to a position that kept her shielded as they passed.

The strategically shaved bulldog caught the movement in his peripheral and immediately scrutinised the combined flamboyance of the pair with smoke-husky amusement. "Oi now, get a load o'dis fandan now." The combined confusion of the man's larger cronies created enough of a roadblock that he had time enough to hold out a make-believe skirt whilst prancing as if to mimic extreme deference. "H'excuse me, sir. Mind yer step, can't be havin' all this goop on your boots now, yer ladyship'll have y'out on y'ear."

"Thank ye kindly," Al replied, his baritone rich. He knew well enough not to challenge them; they were just bored youths rebelling in whatever small way they could, this day and age. It wouldn't do to agitate them. Sure the music teacher knew he was being mocked, but he'd been called worse things in this youth, and he was very aware of how he looked, how his outfit looked a hundred years out of place. Still, the garbage underfoot went crunch as he had no choice but to step on some of it with heavy leather boots, strewn as it was all across the pavement. Even in the shadowy alley, shielded from any direct light, he could see that much.

"Must be our lucky week, boys."

If the feat of littering didn't announce loudly enough a level of boredom that didn't bode well for the pair of mutants, then the unwillingness to let them pass without further comment gave Liana reason to believe the exchange would continue at least until they went inside. Though there was ample reason to argue that Alastair's efforts to protect her were completely unnecessary, she was grateful for the opportunity to keep her gaze fixed firmly ahead and not engage. It wasn't that she felt particularly intimidated, more a mounting certainty that what protecting herself would eventually push her towards wouldn't be easy to contain. Elements of her training had been defensive in nature but Liana's preference was control as there were very few environments that could safely tolerate a sudden localised inferno. She stepped over a broken bottle and tightened her grip on Alastair's arm to secure her balance as she tried to navigate around the shards.

Their new friend, keeping pace alongside in the gutter, had switched his scrutiny to her appearance.

"Another pair o'knobs from the big smoke tryin' t'poke n'prod, are we? Come to catch yerselfs a gander at some wee freaks from up yonder?"

The situation was getting more complicated in a hurry, Alastair thought to himself. The youths weren't specifically blocking the two mutants, but as the alley was narrowing, they couldn't comfortably walk past them either. Al thought he caught the scent of alcohol in the air, which further caused him some concern - drunk (or even just tipsy) youth was unpredictable. As such he halted his forward progress, expression turning serious, and in a calm voice added "We're not looking for trouble. Just - let us on our way and we'll be out of your hair," electing to continue to turn a deaf ear to the mockery.

"We ain't stoppin' ye, pal. Free country f'everyone these days, haven't y'heard?"

The ferret of a man was the only one of the trio who seemed remotely interested in the exchange, with the other pair already having fallen back to negotiate the lighting of cigarettes between them. A scowl in their direction didn't improve the ringleader's mood, not when this fancy poof and the Queen of Sheba were already pulling out the snoot like they owned the place. His expression soured and, with it, the overstated playfulness in his tone disappeared. He turned back to the pair with a sneer.

"But this is my home, right, and I'll stand wherever I bleedin' want. I don't take orders from no gobshite and his mail-order missus."

Whatever he perceived in Liana's stony gaze didn't seem to fit with his expectations.

"Should'a stayed home and minded yer wontons, luv. Won't catch no freaks out 'ere, not fer much longer anyway." There was an ominous prescience to his tone, as if he knew something most others didn't.

That did it. Al's expression turned from serious to a scowl. Then though, something Liana nor the three youths would ever expect, his scowl made way for a smile. A knowing one. A dark one. Alastair knew he cut an imposing figure. He knew they were in a shadowy alleyway. And as a metalhead, he had a flair for the dramatic. Finally, if these louts really were intoxicated, even a little bit, they would be more open to suggestion. As such he actually leaned down, a bit closer to the ball-o-attitude and spoke sweetly.

"I'm afraid you misunderstand. You see, I'm giving you a chance to go. To escape and be about your - miserable little lives," with that said he stood up to his full height - a moment of concentration saw the shadows waver and flare out, covering the two mutants as Al threw open his long, black greatcoat - in the shadows the flutter and movement looking a bit like the emergence of great wings, as he growled in a guttural, demonic, inhuman voice. "BEFORE WE FORGET WE ALREADY FED!" - a voice Liana would recognize as harsh deathmetal vocals.

To the short guy's credit, he didn't flee immediately, which was not a resemblance of bravery that could be attributed to his friends. Lack of attention, coupled with one too many beers, made the sudden outburst all the more alarming and the stout pair didn't even pause long enough to take in the full spectre of Alastair's theatrics before the resounding echo of, "What the fook!" revealed an effort by each to push the other out of the way. It was their eventual disappearance around the corner that sapped the leader of the last of his resolve, shattered already as it was under a frozen expectation of grizzly self-defense. He backed away mere steps at a time, much closer to the perceived threat than the pair of fearties he'd be sorting out once he caught up to them, his expression full of resentment beneath the paled featured drained of blood.

"You'll get what's comin' to ye, fookin' freaks."

Having been rendered almost as surprised as their agitators, Liana stood very still and watched the still-muttering man disappear after his friends. He was wise enough to know when to back down but his type was typically resentful about losing face and something about his tone sent an ice sliver down her spine. She had no doubt that, should the opportunity present itself, retaliation was almost guaranteed. Liana wasn't a stranger to hostility, she'd worked enough with young mutants who saw the streets as their only option to have at least a partially educated understanding of how the pecking order worked. She was removed enough that she'd never really had it directed at her, however, outside a few isolated cases where perceived interference came with ultimatums. The half-formed notion of seeking out a coffee after their errand seemed suddenly not half as appealing, though she was equal parts stubborn about being run out of town, so to speak, by a couple of malcontents.

Slowly, she released the breath she'd been holding and turned her gaze towards Alastair. Despite everything, her eyes held an element of warm amusement.

"I could have sworn I had a salad for dinner."

It took Alastair a moment or two of concentration to bring the shadows back down to normal levels, still not very comfortable with this ability. Eyes closed, breathing deeply and slowly, an exercise intended to calm down, not helped by a bit of adrenaline still coursing through his veins. Eventually though he did manage, and, eyes opening again to behold Liana's amused look, he couldn't help but burst out laughing, himself. "I'm sure there's gonna be some sort of trouble from that but - man, the look on their faces. Last time I saw someone that pale they were wearing corpse paint for a music video," he snickered, now having to put effort into composing himself for an entirely different reason.

Despite the twinkle in her eye, Liana's gaze had veered towards a mixture of speculation and scrutiny, with the latter afforded the bulk of her priority. When it came to their powers, he had been the most demonstrative of the two of them but that didn't mean to say she knew the entire story. It had already occurred to her that, as they spent more time together, it would eventually become necessary to disclose the full extent of her capabilities and now she could see there was a discussion to be had on both sides unless he wanted to keep surprising her in public. She tilted her head to catch a better look at his face.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," Mostly. "You?" A deep breath, expression turning more serious again. Only for a moment though, before a soft, warm smile formed, a rollercoaster of expressions unfiltered by any desire to seem composed, as he offered her his arm. "Come on, the rental closes soon. Do we still want to browse for a next movie to watch?"

It was for the best, Liana decided, that he hadn't waited for a response. There was nothing remarkably alarming about her state of being, and nothing worth mentioning about her state of mind, but there was a niggle of something resembling guilty relief that would eventually require reconciliation. Alastair's intervention had prevented the need for her to prove she could protect herself but she still couldn't see any outcome that didn't involve this coming back to cause more issues, even if all they'd done was bolster retaliation against other mutants in the area for a while. She took his arm, smiling in sudden weariness, and nodded in agreement.

"It might be a good time," she teased gently, "to divert attention to some purely fictious monsters."


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