Man's Best Friend, Part IV


aaron_icon.gif colette_icon.gif doyle2_icon.gif hailey_icon.gif joseph_icon.gif magnes_icon.gif tasha_icon.gif

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Scene Title Man's Best Friend, Part IV
Synopsis A search party scours a frozen wasteland for a missing child.
Date May 14, 2010

The Greenbelt

The handwriting is fairly neat, carefully done, but larger than an adult's might have written, in pencil.

I'm going outside. I know I'll be in trouble for this, but I've been practicing on Max for a few days and I think that I can make animals feel how I want them to feel. I want to help stop the dogs that hurt Denisa, bring them back if I can. People should always try to help when they can, that's what heroes would do. I know I can do this.

Left in the girl's dormitory to be found by Juniper and Mala, who then brought the note to Brian downstairs. That was two and a half hours ago, and although the network bulletin that went out immediately after has slowly spread through the entire New York metropolitan area, only a handful of operatives and Ferry allies have been able to mobilize and assist in the search.

Hailey Gerken is missing. Gillian is, too.

Overcast skies make the late afternoon feel like night. What little sunlight is able to penetrate the charcoal clouds overhead, dark with the promise of still more snow, makes skeletons of the Greenbelt's threadbare trees. As the search party carves its way through the forest, a raven tracks their progress from the sky but is unable to offer much help as it battles the same buffeting winds that tug at hair and clothes below, chap lips and chafe skin.

The girl couldn't have gotten very far, but no one has answered their calls, and they've been moving parallel the snow-choked road that leads away from the Lighthouse for more than forty-five minutes, gradually sinking deeper and deeper into the gnarled woods.

She could be anywhere.

Making deep paw prints in the snow, the bulky dog ranges ahead of Joseph by perhaps a few feet on the end of her leash, her dense black fur and the fat beneath that doing its part against protecting her from the numbing cold, although the slight stiffness obvious in her hips probably indicates that the extended winter isn't a kind one. In case there was any mistake in the matter. However, Alicia is a game participant in the searching, her bright red collar standing out in her black fur in the same way black fur stands out on white snow.

Joseph's gloved hands grip her leash for all that he can't quite properly feel his fingers all that much. With a wool cap pulled over on his brow and over his ears, and a scarf bundled up enough to cover his mouth and the tip of his nose. Snow goggles he currently isn't wearing, hanging at his neck, but if he starts to feel icicles on his eyelashes—

More anxious for the missing people out in the best impression of a froze over Hell he ever did see, than himself, he continues on in the search line, watching Alicia's slow wagging tail.

"H-Hailey…? Hailey!" Just another voice in the search party, Doyle's pear-shaped body wrapped in a pair of old coats, one of them bearing a hood that's been pulled up over the baseball cap he's wearing on his head. A scarf's wrapped about his neck as well, but it's been pulled down from his mouth to let him shout. The calling is starting to get a bit hoarse from the puppeteer's chapped and freezing lips, breath stirring in clouds of crystallized vapor with each call. Mitten-covered hands wrap about a big stick that he's using as a walking stick, gaze searching the snow for signs of passage desperately, panting between calls as the extra weight he's carrying doesn't help a bit for the effort being put forward. "G-G-Gillian! Shit— shit. Anyone see anything yet?"

It's not for inside.

Those were the words Tamara had muttered to Colette when she'd given her an LED keychain flashlight for Christmas, a seemingly inscrutable gift that had saved her life once, but indoors. Now, here, in the freezing wastes of Staten Island's arctic greenbelt, she understands. The wind has mercilessly died down thanks to the cover of the trees, but the air is still a freezing knife that cuts through flesh and bone without mercy.

Colette's presence is the search party is an unfamiliar looking one, and given the cold weather it's not surprising. The carnation red jacket she wears is a three hundred dollar arctic survival jacket borrowed from the collections of Catherine Chesterfield, a fur-trimmed and thickly padded coat that happens to have a United States Marine Corps logo on one shoulder, property of the USS George Washington. They won't miss it.

Her snowshoes carry her atop the desert-like dunes of snow and ice that whip about with stinging crystals, her face covered by an insulated layer of a balaclava, eyes shielded from the cold by yellow-lensed snow goggles. She looks like some explorer to a distant alien world, and the colorful neon-red light shining from her right hand lends some effect to that otherworldly appearance.

It's a signal light, powerful enough to cut through the wind-driven snow blowing from the trees and the shifting dunes of ice. It emanates from the one source of real light she has, that keychain LED, augmented with all her concentration and photokinetic talent into a skyward signal. If you can see this light, help is coming.

Stopping ahead of Doyle, Colette shakes her head and lifts her walkie up to her mouth, depressing the button on the side. "We're not seeing any sign of them yet, let me know if you lose track of my light." Her job is important, a beacon to guide birds and rescuers, and if the people they're looking for can see it, let them know they're not alone. Sometimes hope can mean the difference between life and death.

Aaron never honestly thought he'd ever be wearing this many clothes concurrently, but he's nevertheless dressed in three pairs of sweats over thermal underwear, a t-shirt, turtleneck, and polar fleece sweater, and all of that underneath ski pants and a thick, fur-lined winter jacket. His face is wrapped in a black scarf and he's wearing the same ski goggles he came to the Lighthouse wearing. And that's to to mention the thick, fur-lined boots and the snowshoes. He feels under-dressed.

"Nothing." Aaron's response to Doyle's frozen query has so little energy behind it that it would be a miracle if he's heard. "This is Hell. Hell is cold like this. We're in hell. Who the fuck is crazy enough to go out into this?"

Perhaps because she has no Evolved power to help her like the others, Tasha had rummaged around the house for anything that might be of use for a rescue to fling into the courier bag she carries. Rope, gun, flare, flashlight, some protein bars, lighter, extra socks and gloves, whatever might and could possibly useful.

One item Tasha found is not in the bag, but pressed to her face — a pair of field binoculars that she uses to scan the blinding white and hostile landscape they traipse over, looking for any sign of movement, anything that stands out against white snow and gray sky. So far, there is just desolation. Bundled as she is, the chill is already getting to her, and beginning to increase the worry with every aching step they take, with every freezing breath.

"A little kid trying to be a hero. And we need to save her. Quit griping, it won't help," Tasha grumbles at Aaron behind her scarf through chattering teeth.

Over black snow boots, Magnes has a pair of blue jeans, and thick black zipped up winter pants over those, heavily insulated. On his torso, he's got about four layers of thinner coats, and one thick black winter coat thrown on top of those. His hood is up, he's got large reflective goggles on, and a long red scarf around his mouth. "Hailey!" he exclaims repeatedly, running through ice and snow, gravitational field stretched and feeling everywhere, including under his feet. He's not even close to staying calm, the best he can do is stay with the group as he yells his lungs out. He's seen enough in the past year and a half to know that this might not end well at all. "Shut the fuck up!" he snaps back at Aaron, then starts calling Hailey again, moving on.

While the wind may obscure sounds, there's a soft voice heard bounding off of the drifts and other obstacles. A tiny feminine voice, that seems to come from one direction and down oddly enough.

"… help …"

Barely caught on the wind, it catches their senses, especially when they quiet enough to hear it.

"… help …"

As the echos of bickering shimmer down the line, it kinds of reminds one what being— you know— old is like. Comparatively. If the conditions were right for trading a glance with Doyle, Joseph might. "Would everyone mind awfully calmin' down?" is Joseph's input down the line, harried voice somehow gentle despite emphasis, and muffled in wool. The steam of his breath manages to wisp through the knit of his scarf as he goes to replace his goggles over his eyes. "We won't hear— "

Well, turns out we do.

Not that it's easy, trying to stay calm, out here, and Joseph's own voice dies at the barest suggestion of sound, and then it repeats. Trying to see any indication from his dog that she's caught a scent, Joseph turns reflective goggles towards the soft sound on the wind. Abruptly, Alicia lets out a loud and echoing bark that sounds a lot like OHR!!!, which has the pastor flinching and jerking the leash to calm her.

"Colette, light?" he says, before following his dog's insistent tugging and headed in that direction in long strides. "Hailey?"

It isn't until Joseph's drawn attention to the call that Doyle hears it, muffled up in hoods and hats and scarves as he is — stiffening as he strains to hear, one hand lifting to tear with mitten'd fingers to reveal an ear. The second call he catches, and he's off, using the stick to awkwardly help him work through the snow, lifting his legs from the depths they sink to every time, hustling in the direction of the dog and of Joseph, "Hailey! We're coming, kiddo!"

Letting out an exasperated breath when Alicia lets out the bark, Colette breaks from Tasha's side and trudges across the snow, the beam of red light dropping down from the sky as she points it like a tree-top tall lightsaber towards the ground, though as it lowers the light changes from bright red to a warm goldenrod color and spreads wide. It loses its intensity when it widens, becoming more like a floodlamp, and behind those yellow-tinted goggles, Colette's pupils are saucer wide, taking in the information of photons moving through the air and bending them like Magnes does gravity.

Colette moves one hand through the light, creating streaks behind her fingertips as if the warm glow had some sort of tangible physicality to it, and with a curl of gloved fingers she shapes and sculpts the light into a dome fifteen feet across that gives sufficient light to see by, though without much light to actually work with, Colette is straining the limits of the candlepower of her LED flashlight to accomodate.

Reaching down to unclip her walkie from her waist, she offers it out to her side towards Tasha, a wordless instruction for the girl to call over to the others looking and report what they may have found. She's concentrating too intently to do much else.

"I only said it was cold," Aaron says to Tasha. The goggles obscure Aaron's glare after Magnes snaps at him, and if not for Joseph's words and the subsequent tiny voice, he'd have started swinging right then and there. He needs no imagination to know how bad this could turn out and he'd rather not dwell on those possibilities. Lashing out would probably feel good, but for that tiny voice….

He remains quiet, though certainly not calm with this new development. The voice was small and barely audible. It could be either Hailey or Gillian, and if it's only one of them…. where's the other?

Hands holding the binoculars to her eyes, Tasha turns in the direction of that tiny voice muffled by wind and distance, but senses Colette's movements and hand offering the walkie-talkie. A gloved hand reaches to take it, even as she calls out, "Hailey? Gillian? Keep calling!" The dog has a scent, but the calling may still help.

Thumb depressing the talk button, the petite teen brings the radio to her mouth. "«Oliver, come in, do you copy?»" After the affirmative is given, "«We're hearing someone calling over in our perimeter. I'll call with an update if you should stop looking, but for now, keep up the search on your end. You copy?»" At the 'roger' that comes through, Tasha adds, "«Oliver out»" and clips the walkie to her own.

Magnes immediately rushes over to Colette when he spots her bending light, and hears that small voice, then places his gloved hands on the ground, trying to feel the various weights in the ground, and the tell-tale weight of either Hailey or Gillian's forms. "Trying to find them, be careful where you walk… What are you gonna do with that light?"

Up ahead, the raven alights at the top of a spindly birch, its bark bone white and flaking. Hooked claws sink into the highest branches without disturbing the foot-long icicles hanging precariously from the tree's limbs like inverted crystal spires. Its roots have erupted from the earth beneath the snow, and creep over the edge of a steep drop where years of erosion have fashioned a short cliff overlooking a small cemetery surrounded by wrought-iron fencing, its markers and mausoleums partially buried under drifts some fifteen feet high.

Flakes of ice gathering between its inky feathers, the raven briskly shakes itself off, gives a flick of its wings and lets out a low, hoarse croak of warning.

Hailey's footprints, now visible thanks to Colette's halo of artificial light, aren't the only tracks in the snow. Someone else came through here recently. Someone with paws the size of teacup saucers.

From the shakiness of the voice, it's likely the young girl is cold— after all, it is hell frozen over out here, no matter how bundled people might be. "I— I'm— dd— down— nn he—ere," the small voice says, carrying over the cliff overlooking the cemetary. "Iii fffff-fell."

There's a small speck visible on a ledge about forty feet down the cliffface, not moving, except for the wind that whips the hood around. A blonde curl of hair peeks out, identifying the girl as Hailey, if the size and weight didn't already do that.

"Iiii m grogroundeded arrrnt I?"

"Aw, hell…" is muttered just loud enough for Doyle to hear, around when he and Joseph and dog are coming up towards the cliff face. Though Alicia has taken to snuffling curiously at the ground, the pastor at the end of her leash is more focused on the sounds of the girl trapped below — enough so that giant paw prints are missed when he approaches. "Hey Hailey. You're not in trouble, honey," he assures, which is a white lie — but for now, she's not grounded. "We're just— gonna come get you back home, alright?"

Still ignoring Alicia, who has her head down and hackles up, Joseph turns a pensively goggled-look to Doyle. "One down. Where the heck is Gillian?" he mutters, as he turns to study around the cliff edge as if maybe there might be a helpful way down.

It takes another thirty seconds or so for Doyle to get up to where Joseph and Alicia've reached the edge of the cliff—he's huffing and puffing, having used up too much of his already cold-sapped energy in a rush to hurry towards the voice, and he leans heavily on the stick as he comes up, breathing hard, breath a mist that stirs around his face.

Hey, the exercise is good for him.

"Hailey! Hold on, kiddo, hold on… we'll get someone down for you real quick…" A look around to the others, desperate for a moment, then, "Magnes! Magnes, we needwe need a flyer over here!" He flies, right? Or something like that! The puppeteer's not very clear on how his powers work.

There's a look from Colette to Magnes when he asks what the light's for, but she chooses to stay quiet at that, there's no need to snap at him right now, everyone's stressed. The light glows warmly and brightly, keeping the area lit enough to inspect with the flagging remainder of the daylight they have coming through the clouds dwindling. It's those paw-prints that makes Colette's back straighten, eyes go wide and breath hitch in the back of her throat. "Oh God— "

It's one thing to know they she went looking for them, it's another to know that they're out there.

"Ww— watch out— " it's not the cold making Colette stammer, "oh God watch the treeline, they're fast. They're really fast." Narrowly avoiding a mauling by one of these creatures leaves scars not entirely physical, and Colette's light wavers when fear washes over her, colder than the wind.

"A— Aaron," Colette splutters, "t— try to stick close to Eric." There's a nod to Doyle, and Colette can only pray that puppetry works on animals as well as it does people. "T— Tasha, get out the gun." Green eyes look more amber behind her goggles when she looks to the brunette, and treading closer to the footprints, Colette's attention lifts to Joseph, then towards the edge. She doesn't risk getting close to it though, she has bad enough luck.

Doyle's got exactly the right idea. "M— Magnes." Colette dims the light, stopping some of her focus to allow her to concentrate on conversation more. "T- Take Joseph and Alicia down with you, if you can. Just— just so you're not alone down there." There's a look to Joseph, a grimace, then around to everyone else still up here. Where's Gillian?

'For eternity, kid,' is the first thought that strikes Aaron when he hears the voice a little clearer now that they're closer to its source. That thought is quickly evicted as the unsettling truth strikes him harder than a freight train. "Aw shit." Gillian's not with her. He'd been hoping that they'd found each other and that when they all found one, they'd find the other as well. Others soon voice the same concern, and he's spared the duty of getting Magnes to go down to get the little critter.

He's actually surprised when Colette addresses him, and it takes him a moment to realize what the sudden fear is from. The dogs. Feral hounds. Images of werewolves suddenly play in his head as he inches closer to Doyle. It's not that he's terrified, but. Well, no, fear is perfectly justified here.

When her view via binoculars alights on the cemetery below, Tasha gives a little shiver. That's just a bit too ominous and symbolic for her liking. "Got it," Tasha calls back, her voice whispery with a touch of fear. Her free hand slips into the courier bag to find the gun. She lifts it out of the bag and clicks off the safety so it's ready to shoot. Turning, so that the slope is to her back, Tasha watches the treeline for any sight of the feral dogs, this time hoping that if one comes into view she can shoot it with a clean shot. Her hand shakes slightly as she holds it at her side.

"Yeah, I've got this." Magnes says with considerably more calm than earlier, the relief of Hailey being alive suddenly washing over him. Then he eyes Joseph and the dog, holding one hand out to grab the dog in his gravitational field, and just plain reaching out and gripping Joseph's coat with the other hand. The dog is lifted, and Joseph suddenly finds himself completely weightless, then he just jumps over the side of the cliff, all three of them falling like a rock. If he can fly, it certainly doesn't seem like it, at least until they start to slow as they descend to the ground. "Hailey, we're coming! I'll make you a really big cake when we get home!"

"Yyyyyeeerrr kkkkaaaakkees rrr gggggooddd," Hailey says in fairly good spirits for someone who fell down a cliff while trying to find ravenous dogs that fed on her best friend. If her teeth were chattering before, though, the sight of a floating dog brings a huge smile to her face, visible even with blueish lips. "Ddddooogggiee!" Floating! The gloved hands finally appear, reaching out as if wanting to hug the dog, but then moving to reach up towards Magnes.

"Soorrrrreee. Wassss jjjjjst trrrryiiiing toooo be a heeero." Like he said all those weeks ago. Heroes have to try. But Joseph said she wasn't in trouble, and she's going to remember that when this is over. Not in trouble! Getting a cake! Good cake. Even if it sometimes deflates and ends up lopsided. Cake is cake.

Joseph's terror manifests mainly in— silence. He's never been bad at heights — exceptionally good at them, actually — but usually with the knowledge that he won't fall from them. The sharp descent tailing into a slowing down has him suddenly not breathing, until he pulls his scarf down a little to steal in an icily cold breath, blowing it out as steam as his boots find the cliff landing. "Thanks," he manages to grit out to Magnes, dark eyes wide beneath their goggles.

Alicia, who had kind of gone into a sedate stillness upon being lifted, immediately crowds in on Hailey, long tongue set about licking at the girl's face and pushing her head into reaching hands. "I know, sweetie," Joseph tells Hailey, a hand out to touch her arm. "But we're gonna get you home now, okay? Are you hurt? Does she look hurt?" is more directed to Magnes.

As the gravitationally adjusted go flying off the cliff, Doyle gives a bit of a start, pulling back from the sudden flight of a teenager, a minister (or something like that, Doyle's not quite sure. Maybe a reverend? A pontiff? Some sort of religious figure, anyway) and a dog off the cliff. Instincts say to shout out 'nooooo' and reach in slow motion, but they're not falling, they're flying.

After he recovers from that moment, he looks back over the cliff, chewing on his lower lip until it cracks and bleeds, which probably isn't a good sign. A look to Aaron as he steps over, and he frowns, finally realizing— "What's Colette worried about? We found Hailey…"

"Tracks." Colette states in a hushed tone of voice, breathing in tensely as she takes a step towards Aaron and Doyle, reaching out a gloved hand to take a hold of one of Tasha's arms for security. "There's— " Colette motions with her covered nose down to the ground, and the paw-prints in the snow are hilighted with a border of bright blue. "The dogs," she offers up to Doyle with wide eyes behind the visor of her goggles. "They're out here… they— " her hand grips Tasha's arm tighter, visibly scared.

"Is she okay!?" Is called down to Joseph and Magnes, Colette's voice wavering nervously as she stays with her back to Doyle's wide flank, keeping her eyes out on the treeline. "I dunno how many of 'em there are… but— but we're in their territory now."

"Yeah, we found Hailey. But where's Gillybean?" Aaron squints into the distance and scans the treeline. He stares at the ground, but there are their own tracks muddling things fairly well, and it's not like they could spot much in the first place. The weather sucks. "Did I mention it's cold as hell out here?"

Tasha hands the binoculars to Colette for a moment so she can unclip the radio, realizing she should call the other group. "Let's hurry, all right? Get her up and we can get moving… The more people are together, the less likely they are to attack," she calls down.

Bringing the radio to her lips, Tasha leans slightly against Colette, knowing the other is afraid for good reason. "«Oliver, come in.» When the burst of sound indicates the other team is listening, Tasha says clearly, bolstering her voice to sound less afraid for Colette's sake. "«We have Hailey, but there's no sign of Gillian. There are tracks up here. Dogs are close by. Be careful. Copy?»"

Magnes heads over to Hailey, moving to place a hand on her shoulder. "Don't move, Hailey." he gently requests, gravity washing over and through her body, checking for weight inconsistencies. "Her leg's broken, at least that's what it feels like. Where she should have one solid weight, it's… off." An anatomy lesson with Danko only goes so far, especially with children. When he makes them fly, he doesn't make it a point to go scanning their insides.


There are five of them. Large, wiry things beneath matted fur coats that give them the appearance of animals much larger and more muscular than the canines that they are. Shepherd, Chow, Malamute— An amalgamation of large breeds with questionable temperaments and mouths full of yellowed teeth, extra thick and brown around the gums. Plodding footsteps carry them through the snow, fur caked with ice, and although their approach is slow, cautious, with Magnes and Joseph tending to Hailey below, they have the advantage when it comes to numbers.

The absence of blood around their muzzles is a mixed blessing. It means they haven't beaten the search party to Gillian yet, but there's also no telling when the last time they ate was, and with the weather as unforgiving as it's been — it's doubtful that they'll pass over an opportunity like this one. In the wild, their ancestors singled out a solitary animal and separated it from the herd, the young and the old, the sick and the injured. Not much has changed in the thousands of years they've been domesticated.

The lead dog's brown eyes fix on Aaron, its black lips peeling back into a soundless snarl.

"Huuurt wheeen ffffell," the small girl says, teeth still chattering as she gratefully gets the weight taken off of her leg. There's a reason she hadn't been standing on the ledge, and instead was sitting. And now— floating! But there's something crawling at the edge of her senses, and her eyes narrow under the goggles. Hailey's an empath, but one with animals only. Unlike a specialized one, she can't do a lot, but she can feel what they feel— and as soon as they enter her range…

There's a fearful sound in her breath, a whine, quick breaths passing through pale lips. They're here, they're here—

This is what she came out to find, but she didn't expect them to be so… wild. Those emotions aren't anything like the Huskies that the Lighthouse now has, or Jupiter. Or Chandra. Or even Alicia, the floating dog. All her thoughts of trying to calm them down briefly turn to panic and fear.

"Oh." That's why Colette's so worried. As the animals crunch slowly through the snow, Eric Doyle fumbles with his flashlight to sweep its beam over the dogs, briefly glaring in their eyes in the hopes it'll warn the animals off. "So. Uh. Is it. Is this a bad time to point out that I can't really control animals? Their brains don't, uh, don't work right for it."

Yes, Eric. This is definately a bad time.

"Alright. Just our luck if Dr. Brennan ain't still at the Garden. But we'll worry about that later," Joseph adds, more for the girl's benefit, before calling up the cliff; "We got 'er. She's— she's hurt, but she's okay!" He hasn't actually allowed himself to feel relief upon discovering Hailey, not the 'sit back and relax' type, what with Gillian gone and notes of anxiety coming on down from above. He looks to Magnes, before offering out his arm. "Let's get back up — stay with her," and he tilts his head to Hailey, "when we do?"

Colette's breaths sucks in sharply when she sees the dogs begin creeping out of the treeline, and immediately her globe of light flickers out, due to her thumb coming off of the one manageable light-source around. Reflexively her body is mottling with patches of invisibility, swaths of bent light that make her look like part of an unfinished painting, her red jacket and yellow goggles an afterthought just recently added to a wintry landscape.

Adrenaline pulses through Colette's body when she hears the crunch of snow, the growl the feral baring of teeth by the lead dog, and Colette's body disappears in a warping of light rendering her wholly invisible for the barest of moments. When she comes back into being, it was just like at the Lighthouse that night, rainbow-whorl of colors bleeding back in as she fades into existance like some sort of ghost, lifting up that LED flashlight and clicking the button on.

She's breathing heavily, and no light is coming from the LED, none of the high frequency light is emitting from the front, save for a glowing white tip. There's a weak, keening sound in the back of Colette's throat, "Doyle…" Magnes and Joseph are taking care of Hailey, there's no telling where anyone else is, Tasha couldn't shoot the broad side of a barn with that gun.

"Because of the way I had to teach myself, I made myself deaf." Conrad lets that sink in. Reaches up and tugs on one of his ears. "These don't work. I have to use my ability to hear you or anything else. But the truth is I hear better with my ability than I ever did with my ears. And when I lost my hearing it kind of helped me get better faster, which is a steep price to pay I guess." Then he nods his head toward Colette.

Dread is all Colette can feel now, dread and fear and anxiety and then after what feels like an eternity, but is only a heartbeat, calm. Rolling her thumb down over the depression of the LED light, her arms start to tremble and she thinks back to more comforting words as a reddish light begins to spark from the tip of the LED.

"The good news is, I have a feeling you might have the same thing going on. Because I was watching you. Eyes closed, you still made a picture that made visual sense. You're sensing the light without having to look at it with your eyes, so I'm betting if you had to you could see with your eyes closed. Or even blind. But we're gonna try to keep you from losing what eyesight you have left. Just don't think of it as life-ending if you did lose your sight, okay?"

"Heat…" Colette whispers under her breath, eyes closing, "and light."

"Because with your ability I think your eyes are probably more of a formality."

Everything goes pitch black, every last ounce of light in a sphere sucked out of the forest, drawn from the corners of the woods and the tops of the branches, a globe of darkness just as large as the globe of light that Colette had been creating earlier. There's a weak, sharp noise of pain before all of that concentrated light — both the ambient light from the slate gray skies and the thousands of candlepower of her LED flashlight are focused into single hair-thin strands of light that lash around in the darkness. They're like threads caught on the wind, impossibly moving folicles of red laser light, whiplashing around with crackling snaps and whining yelps of animals and the stink of burning flesh and smoldering fur.

They dance and move with rapidity and grace, feathering up in the darkness, buzzing noisily and lashing out, pulsing down their lengths like fiber-optic cables. Colette can barely feel the dogs, feel the light they're displacing, feel their presence in the darkness as reflections, feel her friends, feel the wetness on her cheeks and inside the goggles of her mask.

It's not quick, and it's not painless. For Colette or the dogs— but hopefully it buys them time.

She's not Tavisha, she can't cut thorugh stone. But she'll try.

"«The dogs are here. Five of them,»" Tasha breathes into the radio before glancing over her shoulder at Joseph's shout. "Joseph, keep Hailey down there for now! The dogs are here!" This is spoken in a low-octaved voice as loud as she dares, not wanting to alarm the dogs into attacking any quicker than they will be wont to do anyway — they're obviously not afraid but hungry.

She slips the walkie into her pocket, then brings her gun hand up, other hand to steady it. "Colette, get behind me," she whispers, her voice shakier than the order given prior.

Colette's not listening. The same moment that Tasha focuses on the largest of the dogs, a malamute, and pulls the trigger of the gun to shoot for it's throat — hoping that if her aim is off, it might kick up and get the head, or down and get the heart — or maybe left or right and hit one of the dogs flanking it — all of the light in the world seems to be pulled away and turned into snaking whips.

The loudness of gunshot and the recoil jolts Tasha, though she can't see if she's hit any of the creature — all she can see is the light that Colette wields and the after-burn of their negative image behind, ghost images.

"Colette," Tasha breathes, turning as the sound of pain the other made finally registers seconds after the fact.

The dogs. The dogs are coming. The dogs are here. A lump forms in Aaron's throat. It shouldn't be terribly fearful. He faced off against the Nightmare Man. But this is so beyond that, and that was but a dream. Aaron turns to Doyle upon the revelation that he can't do anything about the dogs. And there's only one gun. And a lot of good his ability will do. He doesn't see the pain of animals, so chances are his ability wouldn't do sweet tweet to them. Besides, even if he could take their emotional pain away, would that stop them from feeding? No, he doesn't think so.

"Well, frak," is voiced only moments before there's a gunshot as everything goes dark, the light siphoned away from the forest. The sounds are frightening, but the smells are more or less irrelevant behind his scarf and the fact he's no longer sure he can feel the tip of his nose, let alone smell anything. It's just too cold. Tasha's not the only one who's suddenly breathing, "Colette." Granted, he barely knows her beyond passing in the Lighthouse, but still. He shifts away from Doyle towards the two women, careful of the laserlights. Apparently, fleeing isn't on the menu for the day.

Magnes quickly pulls his thick outer coat off, revealing a thinner black one over that, which is over yet another thin one. He wraps it around Hailey, then zips it up and places a hand on her forehead. "You'll be alright, Hailey, I won't let you get hurt." He looks back at Joseph with a slight frown. "I can't leave her down her alone, but I can't leave them up there with the dogs. Please take care of her." Then woosh, he leaps into the air, long red scarf blowing behind him, still wrapped around his face, over his nose. "How many?" he yells up, trying to move as fast as he can.

Some animals run when they're afraid. Others are startled into becoming even more aggressive toward what frightens them. Ears flick back, tails tuck and hoarse barks bracket the thunderous crack of Tasha's gunshot, which is followed by a shrill yelp and a spatter of dark fluid that splashes against one of the birches. Unsurprisingly, it's not the malamute that breaks formation — its front leg is cradled against its chest, paw held at an awkward angle — but one of the chows that lunges for Colette, snagging the arm of her heavily insulated jacket in its teeth, and although the stuffing protects her from the force of its jaws, it does nothing to combat the dog's superior strength as it pulls her down into the snow.

Aaron is no longer the target. Another clamps down around the teen's booted foot at the ankle and yanks back hard, backpedaling to drag her several feet away from the group.

Down below, small pieces of rock tinkle down the cliff's face and bounce off Joseph's back and shoulders, too little to do any lasting damage even if they were to catch him or Hailey in the face. The tree at its edge abruptly shifts, slanting sideways and dislodging long slivers of ice that have the potential to do much worse than the pebbles. With an explosive thrust of its wings, the raven abandons its perch.

Chances are that it's realized the same thing Joseph likely has. The edge of the cliff can't support everyone's weight.

"Owwwww," Hailey complains quietly as the weight is put on her leg again. That she can feel her leg is a good sign, in this cold, but it's not— they feel so wrong. And there's other pain, too, not just for her, but from above, within range of her empathic senses. As the rocks begin to give way, and the tree begins to shift, her eyes widen again behind the goggles, and she scrambles to reach up after Magnes, with the coat falling from around her shoulders.

"Coommmeee baaaccckk!" she chatters out in a soft yell, scared and worried, and looking at Joseph and the dog for some kind of support and help. And while she can't see what's happening, she can feel the dogs— And the only dog she wants anything to do with is down there, with her.

That moment of utter blackness is marked by a startled sound from Doyle, who looks over sharply towards Colette to see if she has something to do with this—of course, he doesn't see anything. It's dark, Eric. Duh. Then there's threads of laser light dancing everywhere - and there's barking and snarling and jumping, and the ground is shifting dangerously underfoot.

Yes, Hailey. You are grounded.

The stick's swept out in a swing towards the sounds of growling, with all the mighty strength of the fat man behind it. That is to say, not very much. "Ahh! Shoo! Get away! Bad dogs!"

Looking up at the first instability sending pebbles scattering on down, Joseph winces, and yells, "Be careful up there!" before glancing around the place he and Hailey have found themselves trapped, and a low, agitated whine emits from the dog just beside him. "Shoot. Okay, Hailey— we gotta move, honey." Undoing Alicia's leash, he nudges at the big dog, who casts a confused glance up at the pastor before eyeing the slip downwards to the graveyard. Lady's first doesn't apply, for the dog world, and she backs up.

But trusting she'll follow, Joseph goes to pick up the injured girl, headed for the edge. It's difficult, to navigate around someone's broken leg, but it's what he tries before the pair of them go sliding down the slick, snowy edges, down the fifteen feet towards the graveyard, with Joseph keeping her bundled close. Alicia barks, once, nervously padding at the edge of the slope, before following suit.

The darkness evaporates like windblown smoke when normal light returns in time to see the approach of one of the dogs breaking formation and Colette simply can't focus on her ability any longer. The keychain light falls out of her hand and she'd started to fall to her knees even before the chow lunges up and snatches her by the arm. It's a familiar predicament, the exact same way she was snatched before, and on the edge of a slope no less. Terrified and airborne, she lands on her back in the snow with a yelp and a panicked scream. With her balaclava on it's impossible to tell where the blood that's turning white red is coming from, but she is bleeding.

Head swimming and extremities tingling over the over-exertion of her ability, Colette is practically limp when the second dog grabs her by the boot and starts to drag her away in the snow. Unlike the last time, she's not reflexively turning invisible, there's no sparks of uncontrollable light, nothing but her weak and drained cries for help, exhausted by the use of her power.

Somewhere she can hear Doyle's voice, but limply being dragged away by one of the feral dogs, Colette can't quite see him.

The whisper of Colette from Tasha becomes a scream as the dogs make their move, and this time Tasha isn't going to stare while dogs maul the other teen. Hurriedly she aims — with Colette on the ground, getting dragged, this shot is aimed with shaking hands at the dog with Colette's leg in its mouth, aiming at its tail end so that the bullet will not hit the woman being dragged. Following up with that, Tasha shoves herself into forward momentum, scrambling fingers into her bag for things to fling at the dogs. A flashlight is aimed at the dog with its muzzle on Colette's arm. A protein bar is flung away from the beasts, in hopes they might follow to eat it.

"Get away from her!" she screams again, closing in, trying to get a closer shot so she knows she won't misfire and hurt Colette — that is, hurt Colette worse than she already is.

The light returns and Colette's being dragged away. "Oh, hell no." Snowshoes, unfortunately, do little for a person when they want to kick at something. Aaron narrowly avoids falling on his ass, spinning around towards Doyle. The stick the puppet master's waving about nearly clubs the musician in the face, but instead he grabs at it. "You're going to poke someone's eye out with that thing." And so he wrenches it away and stalks after the dog. "Sorry," he calls back. He's no pro with a stick, but he has a bit of muscle on him. Once he's in range, he takes as hard a swipe at the chow as he dare muster — lest he pull a muscle and make it all for naught. He aims for the dog's neck and chest, figuring if nothing else it will stun it. If he hits the head, all the better, but probably not hard enough to knock it out, hardy creatures that they are.

Tasha is going for one dog, while there's a second dog on Colette. He still doesn't have a good idea of how many dogs there are, but he's damned sure Colette is the urgent thing he needs to deal with. Magnes starts flying toward the second dog, holding his right arm out as a snow ball gradually forms from the ground. It continues rolling, and rolling… then he thrusts his arm forward and a five foot snow ball goes flying toward the second dog trying to carry Colette off. "Get the hell off!"

Doyle's stick cracks against somebody's skull and shatters a slavering jaw before it's wrenched from the older man's hands and taken up in Aaron's. He doesn't have much of an opportunity to protest, either, because with a sound like a golem rumbling to life, the ground under his feet opens up as the edge of the cliff crumbles apart under the combined weight of the search party and all the accumulated snow. It sucks Doyle down along with three of the dogs, including the malamute, leaving Tasha, Aaron and Magnes to wrestle with the remaining two.

The avalanche waterfalls down the side of the cliff, consuming the ledge where Joseph, Hailey and Alicia had been just moments before, and accumulates in a pile at the bottom, pushing the trio back against the wrought-iron fence at the edge of the cemetery as the three fallen dogs struggle to free themselves from the debris while it's still settling.

Up above, Magnes' snowball crashes into the dog at Colette's feet and pins it against the blood-spattered birch tree. Although still alive, its back end is ruined, crushed under the force of the blow, and as it scrabbles with its front paws to free itself, it lets out a shrill, keening scream that sounds more human than animal.

Its companion is not as easily deterred. The stick comes down again and again, but it isn't until the third strike that it surrenders Colette to Tasha, protein bar pointedly ignored, and closes its jaws around the end of the makeshift weapon, thrashing its head from side to side.

The raven is a late arrival and swoops down to sink its claws into the dog's face even as the canine fights to twist the stick from Aaron's grip, hooked toes fastening around the other animal's frothing lip and wings slamming against its ears in what is probably an attempt to make it let go.

Carried down with Joseph, Hailey leans on him and clasps his coat as tightly as her little gloved hands will allow her to grip, and she tries to focus on anything but the fear and anger and pain of the various animals. It's the bird that has the strangest kind of emotions, that she tries to pull most of her senses toward. If she focuses on the bird maybe— she can calm down enough to do what she wanted to do.

"Theey have to stoooppp, misssteeer," she chatters, staying behind the pastor as he protects her, even as they are joined by people, part of the cliff and dogs. "Sssaaanta!" Hopefully the snow broke their falls.

After a few seconds, Joseph will hear another squeak nearby from Hailey, and she chatters at him, "Whaaat's a cunt? Think bbbird saaid bad word." If the goggles didn't hide her eyes, they might be wide. Her mouth has certain made a o shape.

As the heavy stick actually strikes animal flesh and bone - well, Eric hopes it's an animal - it's pulled back from the impact unsteadily, and is promptly snatched away by the younger and probably more adept at stick-fighting man beside him. The sight of Colette being pulled down stirs a sudden panick in wide eyes, then his hand lifting as if to use his ability for - something - as he starts to shout…

…and then the ground beneath him doesn't only shift, it slides and he hits the ground, feet swept out from beneath him as dirt and snow and rock churn together and crumble down the slope, the puppeteer vanishing with a shout of alarm, visible only as flashes of his coat's colour as the cliff goes down with heavy snow.

Apparently, he hasn't lost enough weight recently.

With an arm firmly bracketing Hailey's shoulders, Joseph winces at the sight of the tumbling snowfall and all it carried with it. "Eric!" is shouted with alarm around when Hailey lets out her wail, free hand gripping onto the wrought iron fence they were forced against as he tries to tug both himself and the girl free of the snow drift. It's Alicia, though, that has the most ease, surging forward with a spray of clinging white snow flung off her thick black fur and bristling ruff.

There's no time to blink, let alone try to grab her leash, before the massive Newfoundland dog is bearing on down towards the Shepherd mix that had come down with the avalanche, the viciously loud barks and growls of a dog fight echoing up to the group. "No! Damnit," Joseph curses — another bad word — but he doesn't risk getting in the middle, not with Hailey at his side, anxiety knotting his brow.

The snow has split from the avalanche, large fissures in its surface that look like cracks in a dry lakebed. All around where Colette lays the snow's crusted surface is fractured, a visuble affect of having displaced so much snow and ice beneath and to the sides of it, creating a sag in which she lays. There's a smear of pink in the snow around where the teen was dragged, not enough blood to be a horrifying loss, but sure sign that she was injured.

In the struggle Colette became caked in snow, she lays motionless amidst the disturbed snow, on her side with one leg out and the other bent, one snowshoe off and the other still attached. Her goggles have been lost in the scuffle, crooked and resting up on her forehead. From her right eye, there is a profusion of blood leaking out from closed lashes crusted with pink snow crystals. The air is cold enough to freeze the tracks of blood what is visible of her cheek in the eye holes of the balaclava. Her other eye seems fine, only one side of her face soaked crimson.

Colette's state of unconsciousness and therefore helplessness is likely not helpful to the situation.

With a startled cry, Tasha stumbles away from the collapsing maw in the ground, reaching to tug Colette away with her but the rumbling and power the earth seems to split with rolls Colette one way, and Tasha the other — her mouth parts in a cry as she stares at the disappearing of Doyle and three of the dogs. That leaves two.

The snarling one biting at the stick Aaron is trying to beat it with draws her focus, and she narrows her tearful eyes to the point that they are almost closed — as if she could somehow see just enough to kill it but not the actual death.

Her hand shakes but she steadies it with her other, taking a deep breath before she pulls the trigger, careful to avoid Aaron and the flapping ebony wings of the bird.

Tasha's head swiftly turns to avoid the blood and bone that splatters snow (and perhaps Aaron) before shooting the dog slammed against the tree, its keening cut off mid-cry.

Tasha chokes back a cry and shoves the gun in her pocket to scramble on hands and knees toward Colette, gathering her in her arms and crying out again, this time, a sob for "Help!" Despite the tears that freeze on her cheek as she holds Colette, some presence of mind asserts herself and she pulls out the radio again, pressing the talk button.

«Avalanche, injuries, we need help.» No walkie-talkie protocol this time — she looks up pleadingly for help for Colette, though her eyes go to the hole where Doyle fell, and she sobs again. They're all going to die is the only thought in her head.

Landing just in time to watch everyone slide over the side of the cliff, he he closes his eyes and extends his field of gravity to stop the blood splatter in the air. He shakes his head at Aaron, holding a hand out to levitate Colette into the air. "I've taken her weight away from her, start heading back and take her with you. I have to see if Hailey and everyone else is alright. I'm sorry, but I just can't risk someone dying just to take her back faster. I'll catch up, I promise." With that, he runs to the edge of the cliff, then dives down as if he were jumping into a pool of water, head first.

The shepherd mix, a behemoth in its own right, is dwarfed by Alicia's much larger frame and resorts to latching its jaws around the base of her neck, rolls of thick black fur and muscle pinched between its teeth stained pink. Loose pieces of rubble are knocked away in the scuffle, exposing Doyle's upper half, his coat covered in a layer of ice and grit that sticks to the fabric of his clothes and gathers in chunks in his beard and the hair on his head. There are claws and teeth flashing dangerously close to his face, but Alicia's body protects him from being scratched or bitten in addition to the bruises and scrapes already inflicted on him.

The malamute is the next to free itself and wraps its front legs around Alicia's middle, all the weight on its back end as it twists its head around and snaps up the larger dog's right ear in its jaws. There's a chow still lost somewhere amidst the sea of rock and snow but it has yet to surface.

The raven does, squeezing itself out from under the fallen dog that until a few moments ago had been ravenously working the stick between its jaws. It gives Tasha an incisive look shot over one bent wing — if birds could appear annoyed, this one would — before fluttering up to a low-hanging branch where, mostly unhurt, it can catch its breath.

There's no answer on the radio.

Suddenly, Hailey is screaming in terror, from the pain she feels everything happening to the dogs. Especially Alicia, whom she'd met before, held, petted. Her tiny hands cling to Joseph and she buries her face covered into the cold surface of his coat, muffling the screams she still wants to unleash. The dog is protecting Doyle, but nothing is protecting the dog. And not even the foul language behind the bird can distract the animal empath from what she feels.

Wincing, Joseph feels reasonably trapped at the end of the crush of snow, and the injured girl latching onto him, with his dog in a vicious fight but several feet away — and blocking any attempts to ensure that Eric Doyle doesn't get injured in the scrap. "Shh, it's okay, it's okay," he hastily tells Hailey, and while his own power of projected precognition might assist in removing her mentally from the situation, it hasn't proven to be anything but negative for the unwilling.

So he holds her as she endures, blind to what happens to be going on beyond the broken cliffside up above, and watches the nearby dog fight with sick worry.

Alicia's guttural barking is punctuated with pained whines as she tries to both defend herself and her more human-shaped pack. As the malamute ambushes the huge dog, she pauses menacing the shepherd and abruptly rolls with a loud snarl, all flashing white fangs as big as a child's pinkie finger, paws loose in the air as the malamute's head bends harsh on its neck. Beneath Alicia's weight, there's a sick cracking sound of bones breaking beneath her.

Unfortunately, her pink belly is exposed not only to the cold, but also the shepherd, whom she doesn't waste time on twisting around to snap her now bloodied, saliva-spattered maw at.

There's a throaty, weak noise in the back of Colette's throat as she's held, a wet sound of pain and confusion still largely limp in the other brunette's arms. While conscious seems to be fading in and out, there's nothing sensical going on behind the noises Colette makes. But this close, held in Tasha's arms, it's clear that she's bled out from one of her eyes across her cheek and face, staining the balaclava covering her face.

No response on the radio either means whoever's on the other end is out of range, or they met a similar fate with the dogs as well. The latter's too grim to think about in this context, but with the wind whipping through the trees, Colette largely weightless and drifting like some limp-limbed baloon in Tasha's arms thanks to Magnes' ability, Tasha has little else to focus on.

Whatever Colette did, she isn't recovering from it quickly.

Holding the weightless girl in her arms, she could just nudge her along, but Tasha isn't about to let go as she glances at Aaron, eyes wide, tears frozen on her cheeks. "I'm g-g-oing to try to get her to the t-truck," she says, cold and emotional shock causing her teeth to chatter. "There's n-n-no answer on the radio. I'll see if I can p-pull the truck closer, for … for everyone else."

She isn't sure about putting pressure on a bleeding eye — if the eye isn't destroyed, it could cause more harm than good, or so she guesses — and it's all a guess as she stares at the other's face, getting off her knees to begin to make the journey. "I'll k-keep trying on the radio," she adds, shoulders hitching and following as she moves herself and Colette along.

"They're all dead." Mister Optimism, Aaron is. Not. "Let's get her out of here before she joins them." Adrenaline rush over, endorphins all but run down. He drops the stick and follows along, the aching in his muscles only worsened by the bitter cold that's stabbing at him through all of the layers of clothes he wears. He knew he was under dressed.

In the midst of his dive, noticing Alicia starting to take on an other dog, Magnes is certainly not proud of what he does when he stops and hovers about a foot above the ground, behind the feral dog, but he suddenly holds his hand out, then closes his fist, causing thick oozing blood to spray from the dog's nose. It's hard to tell what he just did, but that's definitely instant death. "Good girl." is all he says, the cold starting to get to him without all his layers. "Hailey! Are you alright?"

The malamute's body, trapped beneath Alicia's, does not have the opportunity to roll lifelessly off the pile of snow and rock. One hind leg held out at an awkward angle, it stops moving and that is all.

The shepherd, on the other hand, rips its teeth into the softer flesh of Alicia's lower belly where it's less likely to get caught in her vice-like jaws, delivering several swift and punishing bites, the last of which comes away with a strip of flesh flapping from the corner of the mix's mouth. Her left hind foot is next, and this time it does not let go.

Not just because it's determined to rip Alicia apart, but because — when Magnes closes his fist — it's never opening its jaws again.

Suitably recovered, an abrupt snap of the raven's wings marks its departure from the cliff top. Less fatalistic than Aaron, it wheels out and angles its feathers to take advantage of the arctic winds, rising high above the scene playing out at the edge of the cemetery below.

The little girl, whose own pain seems dwarfed by the pain going on in the animals around her, doesn't look up from where she's huddled against Joseph for protection. When Magnes asks how she is, Hailey pulls back from Joseph enough to look towards the teacher, who read her comic books and showed her what she thought it meant to be a hero, stumbling down into the snow, as she can't walk well on her feet. The blonde girl's shoulders shake with sobs, fogging up the goggles she wears, as she fails to answer the question outloud. But one she doesn't need to answer outloud. All right enough to cry, which is a lot better than she could have been.

"She's here, we're here," Joseph bleats, drawing Magnes' attention. Hooking an arm around the girl, supporting her weight, he struggles them both through the snow towards Magnes, though the pastor cannot help but shoot looks towards where his dog is lying on her side in the snow, thick black fur showing up damp, red on the white. "Take her— take her back to the truck," he tells Magnes, nodding down to Hailey, who's already silently keening for her older peer. "Th-then come back— for me an'— my dog. Please?"

The soft, whining breathing from Alicia accompanies the huff of steam on each exhale, and Joseph is quick to go to her once he knows the 12-year-old girl is being seen to, pausing only to try and help Doyle find his foot in the thick snow drift, as much as he might want to cling to his dog and make sure she's not alone.

His hand is placed on Alicia's body, removing her weight before he heads over to Hailey. "Alicia's weightless, pick her up and keep her warm." Then he walks over to Hailey, carefully lifting her up into his arms. "I've got you, Hailey. I promise, I'll make you any kind of cake you want, then read you those new Batgirl comics I got, the Stephanie Brown ones…" he promises, pulling the hood over her head in the large coat he previously zipped her up in, then ascends into the air so he can take her back to the truck.

The raven drops unceremoniously down onto a piece of rubble a few feet away from Alicia's head, and although birds with glittering black eyes and long daggers for beaks are usually a sign of some ill omen, this one is here to keep Joseph company while he watches over her and waits for Magnes to return.

Thanks is muttered, and with stroking pets to the large dog's scruff, where it seems uninjured, Joseph roams his dark eyes over where he can only barely see injury, before glancing to the more obvious tears at her stomach. Looking towards the nearby raven, he offers the telepath he knows to be residing in there a weak smile. "Good girl," he says to the prone canine, in an attempting to soothe, before tentatively going to pick her up — something he's never been able to do before, but with her imposed lightness now, it's a simple feat — even seems to relax the old dog, eyes drooping closed and tongue lolling.

With a glance back to Doyle, then up the slope, Joseph picks his way around the dead dogs— fighting the urge to kick them— and carries his own still breathing companion back up the slope the long way around.

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