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The Witnesses: Up City Prose

by EnviousWorm

EnviousWorm This is part of a shared work with several writers, all based in the same place (Pi City). The Witnesses covers the story of 23 year old college freshman Vassilios "Vassilis" Vonda.

Having found himself capable of dying and coming back to life, Vassilis's world has been turned on its head for several years now. Faced with the looming threat of another immortal who goes by the moniker, "The Verse". Vassilis has returned to college -- as much to prepare to face the threat as it is to actually earn a degree.

Pi City, Wyoming
Up City District


College. Again. Vassilios Vonda sighed as he shut closed the trunk door of his creaking Subaru Outback. "Argo" had been with him since his last time unpacking in front of his U Pi housing; it had driven from California to Wyoming, down to Philadelphia and all up and down the northeast coast. No matter where he had to run, no matter how fast, that damn car always managed to get him to the right place. Last Time Vassilis entered school, he'd had his parents and sister by his side to share the load; now, it was just him and "Argo".

It took several hours for the lazing Vassilis to fully unload what little he'd brought with him into the school-owned apartment complex across the street from the main English/Lit campus he'd be studying on. Of course, something had overcome him to also minor in History, Sociology and Anthropology, so there'd be quite a bit of inter-campus travel for him in the coming semester; he preferred not to think about that while he unloaded, instead focusing on the task at hand. His room wasn't large, but it had a bed big enough to fit him -- something that'd been hard to come by for Vassilis the last few years. It had a window that looked out at the city, a closet for his clothes, a desk for some books and his dinky chromebook, and even a little mini-fridge, which was neat. The apartment sported a shared common room, kitchen and bathroom, meaning he'd have to co-exist with other people, which was a bit of a bummer (Vassilis enjoys company but would love his own place.) Vassilis's clothes were just a week's worth of: undershirts and underwear, wrinkly Goodwill collared shirts, short-hemmed shorts and mix of jogger and tight jean pants. His wardrobe also included: two Goodwill trenchcoats; one black wool, one a thin, brown leather. One black and red scarf, one green beanie and one pair of grey, fingerless gloves.

A large trunk carried his unmentionables -- rune-enchanted yoroi gifted to him by The Book, several large tomes written in latin and some throwing knives. Vassilis resigned himself not to open that trunk for quite some time...he was finally a college student again. Sure, he'd come back for...a different reason, but part of Vassilis desperately needed to feel like a normal kid. He'd lost quite a few ideal years of his youth to some crazy bullshit -- and not the fun kind of crazy bullshit either.

Once the most important stuff had been brought in, Vassilis loaded out his books: textbooks for the coming semester, books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction -- a vast collection, though much of it had been foisted upon him by his mom in order to "expand his horizons"...he'd get around to reading all that eventually, though. Then Vassilis got his guitars, synthesizers and mixers, which ended up taking up almost all of his room aside from the bed, desk and closet, not that that quite bothered the clutter-minded immortal boy. After that he retrieved his waning stash of drugs and declared the "Argo" properly loaded out. By the time all was said and done, he'd spent the better part of the morning getting all that squared away; still without any of those pesky roommates in sight, the college freshman figured he'd get out and find The Chapter. Plopping a fresh cigarette between his lips and striking a match, Vassilis took his first drag of the day in celebration of his hard work.

"Argo" sputtered to life, he found the right moment to merge into a busy Up City lane, and drove off toward where U Pi's History Department held its events and kept staff offices. Through the clear morning air, the aggressive chords and shrieking of his "Latterman" cd blasted out from his open windows, billowing out alongside the smoke of his bogie (east coast slang his Vermont roots could never let him ignore.) The drive itself shouldn't have taken more than five minutes, but the lunch-time traffic dragged the whole affair out to almost fifteen. That was one thing Vassilis hadn't missed about Pi City: it was fucking BUSY. Always busy. He'd been to New York City, which of course was endless hustle-and-bustle and honking horns, but something about Pi City made the whole ordeal feel more oppressive. Maybe it was how compressed everything seemed in spite of how wide-open empty the rest of Wyoming was...maybe it was just the fact he was back in god damn Wyoming of all places. Although of course it made sense that Wyoming was home to some horrible, ancient curse like The Witnesses were implying.

Stepping out of his car - slamming its door behind him - Vassilis's brown, leather coat flapped against his ankles in the unstable September wind; he field-stripped the cigarette in his hand with thumb and forefinger, dropping the lit paper and tobacco to the street and pushing the filter stubb into one of his many, many pockets -- something he'd surely forget about for weeks.

"I knew you'd be back." The Chapter declared definitively, steepling his fingers in front of him, elbows resting on his office desk.

"Yeah, I called you last month." Vassilis replied.

"No, when you left, three years ago." His mentor - who also went by Professor Arnauld Pittier at U Pi - sighed and shook his head.

"Whatever you say." The mentee shook his own head, taking the initiative to sit down in the single seat propped in front of Professor Pittier's desk.

"I'm glad you returned, no matter the circumstances," Chapter admitted. "Coy as you may act, you're a finer student than you let on."

"Is it okay if I roll a spliff in your office?" Vassilis asked, procuring rolling papers and a bit of tobacco from one of his inside pockets.

"Would you prefer I tear your head off your shoulders with my two hands?" Chapter made his hands into the universal sign for strangulation as he spoke.

"Good to see you, old man." Vassilis grinned.

"You missed your chance for sentimentality," Chapter rolled his eyes. "I see you're signed up for my ANTHRO-303, 'Lawmaking in the Early Roman Republic'."

"And SOC-212," Vassilis nodded, "Something like, 'The Rural Poor and Coping Mythologically' or whatever."

"Yes, or whatever," The Professor chuckled, rubbing above his eye with a single index finger. "You've got all the books you need?"

"Sure," The student shrugged. "I can't believe you're the kinda guy who assigns his own books for class."

That remark was met with an annoyed glare and a disappointed, huffing sigh.

"Look, Vas, cut the bullshit for one second," Chapter pleaded, leaning in with a sudden seriousness. "Tell me you're taking The Verse seriously; tell me you're going to commit this time, in a way you wouldn't three years ago."

Even though he wanted to reply affirmatively, Vassilis paused, wincing.

"Yes," Vassilis said, finally. "That dude had me tied up captive talking about making me his apprentice like...like I'm fucking Darth Vader or something, man, I don't know. Whatever I have to do to stop that creep from mucking up the world like you say he's gonna, I think I'm ready to do it."

And ready to do it he was: as it turned out, Vassilis did, indeed, get the apartment to himself -- for a little while at least. Though technically a freshman - and expected to arrive early as one - he had access to non-freshman housing, meaning he had a week of alone time before his roommates would arrive; a tragedy in its own way, meaning he'd have just enough time to get used to the lone hermitage before that bliss being shattered like a mirror in a dream. However, Vassilis spent maybe three hours a day in his new apartment -- instead spending the rest of his time in The Chapter's tiny office, hunched over scroll and tomes reading Latin, studying runes from different regional sects of wizards, and learning the proper arrangements necessary for basic ritual spells. Though he was still yet to actually cast any sort of spell, the mechanics slowly became rote to him over time, much like the basics of the various martial arts he'd studied when he was younger. All Chapter could say was: "Soon"

Vassilis still made time to re-acquaint himself with Pi City a bit; specifically Up City, the district where all of U Pi's campuses were. "High Peak" quickly became his favorite dive bar, tucked away in some odd corner of town called "Old Davis's Loop" (apparently named as such by Confederate refugees after the American Civil War) where bikers from the "Little Devils of the Ripple" gang shot a mean game of pool and the young, cute bartenders all happened to pour strong for cheap, swill liquor. "High Peak" was a low-ceiling room with little light, four pool tables on the left, a small stage and jukebox to the right, bathrooms across from that, and the bar stretching across almost the entire back wall. Everything seemed to be painted black so that no light could escape that depressing little room. Vassilis loved it the moment he set eyes on it.

"What's your favorite sound?" He asked one of the bartenders after several whisky's and Genesee.

"Favorite sound?" She replied, confused. Her name was Sarah -- she was tall and thin like Vassilis, freckles over her nose and under her eyes, her light brown hair tied up into a flopping bun; he noticed she always wore a pair of earrings whose designs reminded him of a rune he'd seen in one of Chapter's tomes.

"Yeah," Vassilis nodded, grinning. "Rain against glass, a brass orchestra, passing traffic on the highway. Could just make you feel good, or it could be a sound from your childhood that's kinda nostalgic, reminds you of home or whatever."

Even as she acknowledged another customer waiting on a drink, the pair locked eyes; two pairs of swelling brown reflecting light off of each other.

"French Horn." Sarah replied, turning away to fix her other customer a rum and coke.

"Yeah?" Vassilis asked.

"French Horn," Sarah reiterated, "My older brother played it when I was younger. He got pretty good after a while, and whenever I'd come home and he was practicing, I'd stop and listen."

"Quite lovely." Vassilis admitted.

"What about you?" She asked, turning his question on him.

"...Coffee percolating on the stove," He said after a moment, shrugging. "I like coffee a bit too much. It's one of those accepted drugs. Does...your brother still play the French Horn??"

"Well, no-" Her eyes darted away, discomfort growing on her face. Before she could continue, a large swath of bikers burst in through the doors, signaling the next busy rush of the still-early night.

Sighing, Vassilis slapped a few extra dollar bills against the counter and left without saying goodbye.

SEPTEMBER 3rd, 2021

Pi City, Wyoming
Up City District
So the U Pi freshman went, studying, drinking and flirting with Sarah as obscurely as he could imagine for the next week until everyone else began to arrive at school. By then, his mind had already begun to numb from all the ceaseless reading he'd been doing with Chapter; thankfully, Vassilis had also gotten quite the head-start on the professor's classes as well -- of course the crotchety old bastard wasn't going to give his student any reprieve from college coursework, in spite of all the extra credit he'd saddled in the poor boy's lap. Eventually, his quiet reprieve came to an end, and the roommates moved in:

Josh, a Wyoming native (from Cheyenne) and sophomore Engineering student; he seemed nice enough, but he still wore that green Zelda t-shirt and khaki shorts, so Vassilis could only like Josh so much at the end of the day.

Harper, a junior Psych student from Chicago; although they posses a singularly annoying voice, Harper offered to set up their massive television and PS4 in the common area for general use (keeping another tv and the PS5 for their own room, of course) which ingratiated the aggravating Harper to Vassilis.

Pat, a junior theatre major with a sort've charming tattoo of Gene Wilder from Mel Brook's The Producers; oddly the most down-to-earth of the bunch, at least on the surface. Pat instantly took to talking to Vassilis about guitars and musical composition, before craftily pivoting to a good place to get a drink around Up City, to which Vassilis pointed him toward "High Peak" with glee.

The new quadruplet spent little time together before sprouting off to do their own things, either in their individual rooms or out of the apartment and into the city; Vassilis instantly rushed off in "Argo" to find Chapter, preferring to sit in the silence of old, Roman texts with a centuries-old man. At least for the time being. He had to mourn the short period of peace and quiet, while he wondered which of the three would be the first to try and steal some of his shit. He figured it'd be Pat -- it was always the ones he took to the fastest.

"What's your plan?" The Chapter asked.

"I dunno, maybe ask that pretty bartender out on a date." Vassilis replied.

"You should take her to that Mexican joint down the road, they do great carnitas." Chapter offered.

"I'll keep that in mind." He shot his mentor a lazy thumbs-up while flipping the page on another tome.

"Which one are you on right now?" Chapter moved on, asking a new question.

"Septimus Corvicus's Occultus Observare." Vassilis answered patiently before little out a little yawn.

"Oh yes," Chapter chuckled, ""If your cow gives birth to a two-headed calf you must feed it and preserve it. If your wife gives birth to a two-headed baby stone them both to death." Quite an interesting lesson, isn't it?"

"Yeah, if you're two-thousand years old," The millennial immortal grumbled, closing the book with a thud. "This motherfucker saw wheat in one field grow two centimeters shorter than wheat in the field opposite to it, so he took the whole family in the field where the wheat grew shorter, accused them of heresy in the eyes of Ceres, and crucified the whole family. Then he gave the short field to the faithful second family, only for the wheat to not grow at all the next year! What an asshole!"

"That part isn't for another hundred pages, how did you know that?" The Undying Professor asked, suspicious for a second before grinning, impressed. "Are you...re-reading that?"

"...Shut up." Vassilis shushed his mentor, momentarily embarrassed.

"You're being careful, right?" Chapter couldn't help but continue with his bombardment of questions, having seemingly grown more nervous with each one.

"I'm trying, yeah." Vassilis said.

"You've been going out? Not getting followed?"

"Yeah, I've got it handled."

"No...weird feelings?"

"What the hell is wrong?" The Prose rose from his seat, clutching the Occultus Observare in his hands like it was precious to him. "You're acting like you know Verse is going to try and, like, snag me up tonight, or something."

"No," Chapter sighed, sitting down in his chair and leaning back to look at the ceiling. "No. I just know him. He's more patient than even old Book. He took our lessons and...twisted them into some horrible thing, a fearful paranoia. Obviously even I can succumb to it, it seems. I just- I don't know how many more times I have it left in me, to save you, Vas."


"The Verse grows more powerful with each day," Chapter covered his face now, shameful. "He's got money, he's got allies, he's got incredible magicks at his disposal. And he's no fool. He's had his eyes on you for four years -- since before even Book and I knew about you. There's just no telling exactly what his next step is going to be."

"Then I'll deal with it as it comes, whatever," Vassilis shrugged, setting his precious book aside to scoop up his coat. "Fancy a bev, ol' Chap?"

"...Fine," Professor Pittier couldn't help but smile, reassured by his student's casual, youthful confidence. "But I'm only going to have one this time, okay?"

"Sure thing, guvnah," The college freshman grinned, setting a fresh cigarette between his lips. "I'll have the rest of yours, then."

That one drink turned into two, and then three. Old Chapter was quite capable of putting back drinks -- maybe more so than the still-learning Vassilis. The pair chatted for a little while, mostly low-key subjects: Latin grammar, the coming semester, Chapter's lesson plans, stuff like that. They always tried to keep the darkened edge of their relationship hush-hush in public; though that often led to many wondering how a professor ended up friendly enough with a student to go out for a drink. At least Vassilis and Pittier could say they'd known each other for almost five years at that point. As the older immortal packed up his jacket and bag to head out, he placed a hand on his young mentee's shoulder, asking Vassilis to just...go back to his apartment that night. Of course he didn't have anything better to do, so the college freshman had been planning on it. So they said their goodbyes and made plans to meet up the following day, just as they had been before.

"How do you know Professor Pittier?" Sarah asked, lurking back over to chat with Vassilis after a particularly harrowing night, serving a revolving door of skeevy-looking characters.

"I'm a student." He replied simply, sipping at his fourth can of Genesee that night.

You are?" Doing a double-take, the bartender thought about the I.D she'd asked for the first night he'd come to the bar. "You're 23 though?"

"Yeah," Vassilis nodded. "I'm...re-matriculating."


"I dropped out, and now I've dropped in."

"So you knew the Professor from the first time you went to U Pi?"

"He was my adviser," Vassilis said, finishing his can. "I'm not a good student but we hit it off anyway. I kept in touch a bit. Few years later, here I am again. Because I heard that definition of insanity one time and decided I had to find out for myself."

"I hardly think we need a test for that." Sarah shot back to him with a sly grin.

"Ouch." He said, playing the wounded pup.

"I go to U Pi too," She said after a second. "Studying PolySci."

"Oooooooooooooooh," Vassilis let out a long, almost whistling, exclamation. "Really?"

"Well maybe if you asked me normal shit instead of my favorite sound or my first memory-"


"No, no, I like that actually," Sarah reassured him. "But, you know, you could ask some normal shit every once in a while."

"Hey, what school do you go to?" He asked, finally. Sarah smiled.

"U Pi," She said again. "And uh, I got wind of a thing tonight."

"A thing?"

"Yeah, a thing."

"Like a party thing or a ritual sacrifice thing?"

"Those are two different things?"


"Come on jerk, you know what I mean." She punched him in the shoulder with a light playfulness.

"You're not here 'til two in the morning are you?" Vassilis inquired, playing in his own way by rubbing at his new shoulder wound.

"Na, I opened at 10 today and I took a few extra hours, so I'm off at nine," She shrugged. "The thing doesn't start 'til 10-ish, and I gotta go home and get ready and stuff. You wanna meet me there?"

"Of course," He said, nodding. "Where is it?"

"You live on-campus?"

"Yeah, one of those weird apartment complexes near the English-Lit campus."

"Just walk around a bit, you'll hear it."

Content with that, Vassilis let Sarah finish up her shift and left to smoke a boge outside, hoping the fresh air and decidedly not-fresh cigarette rat poison would give him a sobering boost of energy to go home and change his clothes. As he stepped out side, a sort of ominous chill ran down his spine; a familiar pair of eyes bore holes through his skull across the street, not even put off by the heavy traffic cutting vision of each other off every half second. He looked like he hadn't moved an inch since he'd started staring, waiting for the unsuspecting Vassilis. The bastard must have known as soon as The Chapter separated himself from Vassilis. In a brief interlude in the whizzing traffic, the man walked across the street in several, deliberate and looming steps.

The Verse was a large man, close to 6'6" and built like a linebacker. Like Vassilis he wore a long coat, this one shredded by decades of action and patched together carefully. He still donned the shredded and stitched-up straw hat, just as he had the day he'd first introduced himself to Vassilis -- four years ago at that stupid, unsuspecting Olive Garden.

Clenching his fists and gritting his teeth, Vasillis never broke eye contact.

"I'm not going to take you, this time." The Verse spoke in a chilling baritone, his accent a mix of old British colonies like New Zealand and Ireland.

"Just here to wet your willy then a bit, eh?" Vassilis asked, wondering if Verse would react if at all. He didn't even pretend to look annoyed.

"There's a building on the corner of 42nd and Pinewood," Verse continued, unphased and calm. "A minor gang from The Ripple who call themselves the "Last Sons" have been stockpiling a hell of a lot of military-grade weapons; assault rifles, automatic pistols, silencers, even grenades and rocket launchers. Hell, I hear they're working on getting drones of all the damn things."

"Why are you telling me this?" The youngest immortal asked, lighting his cigarette.

"Think of it like a peace offering of sorts," Verse shrugged. "I know you want to go out there and play ninja and kick some ass with that kung-fu of yours. And those people are starting to get in my god-damned way."

"So I should just leave them be, to keep bothering you." Vassilis smirked at his own cleverness.

"If you want them to start shoot-outs all across Up City, be my guest," Verse made a tsk-tsk noise with his tongue. "If you want them cooking and selling meth to high school kids and their parents alike. If you want them to wage a shadow war on all forms of decency, then be my guest. Whatever I get up to, I do it fast, quiet and clean. These suckers are anything but that. And that's far more dangerous than anything I've done since the turn of the 21st Century, if we're being honest."

Vassilios Vondas had to stop and think, glaring at his nemesis who'd come up to him with proverbially out-stretched hands; of course, the peace offering was subterfuge -- the fucker always had something horrible up his sleeve. That was the one thing Vassilis had truly come to understand about The Verse, aside from the man's cold, stony eyes.

"42nd and Pinewood?" Vassilis asked. The Verse nodded. "That's only three blocks from here."

Even as he moved to cross the street - where of course he'd kept his fancy yoroi packed away just-in-case - Vassilis paused, turning back to look inside "High Peaks" and then back at Verse.

"Don't you go anywhere fucking near her, you sniveling shit." He warned the unflinching shadow of a man.

"What if I need someone to pour me a whisky?" He asked innocently.

With a lumbering growl, Vassilis turn and left, running so fast as to cartoonishly leave his burning cigarette stub floating in the air for just a split-second as he moved to crossing traffic with a bit of a right-leaning buzz. But of course, few things were as sobering as an encounter with The Verse, the man who'd been stalking Vassilis like a patient hunter in the jungle for the better part of a half-decade. He could hear the blood rushing around in his brain as he hopped in "Argo", turned the key, and sped off toward the house on the corner of 42nd and Pinewood, much like he'd been instructed.

SEPTEMBER 3rd, 2021

Pi City, Wyoming
Up City District
In the seven minutes it took to drive to his destination, Vassilis did his best to remember what that part of Up City looked like, pulling at his distant memories as one would loose threads on a cherished sweater. He formulated a plan of action, trying to take into account quite a bit of muscle memory he'd partially neglected the past few years. Pulling up to the curb in "Argo" and shutting it off cold, the undying collegiate let out a calming exhale as he got eyes on the street-signs, located the proper building, and started tagging individuals of suspicion in and around the place. When he'd seen all he could from his car, he covered his face and set about walking around the block - across the street so as to maintain as safe a distance as possible - to get a more comprehensive view.

Embedded into a small hill on a tight corner of a relatively busy Up City intersection, the spot Vassilis had been directed toward was a thin, triangular sliver of an old boxing gym, with second and third floor levels looking like apartments and the like; on one side, he could even spot a decent-looking array of washer/dryer electrical hook-ups poking out. Couldn't beat an apartment with a gym and laundry room, he figured. Maybe if a skeevy gang weren't smuggling guns through the building, it'd be a nice place to live. Other than that, there seemed to be as many as five major entraces to the building: front (north) and back (south) door directly to the gym, a west-side door on the first-floor that presumably led directly to the apartments, an east-side door on the second-floor located directly on the hillside so that some residents on that floor could take a quick shortcut, and finally a south-side fire-escape stairwell from the third-floor and down.

Then, there were the guards: four, bald, jacked dudes - possibly Colombian knowing some of the city's seedier underbelly - kept eyes on the perimeter, each almost too-obviously strapped with a pistol at their waist. Every so often, Vassilis could see other guards - five whiter dudes, maybe Italians from the South Slice, or Greeks like himself - pass by windows on routine patrol. He could only assume those men were armed as well, likely with more than pistols if the yarn Verse had spun him was true in its entirety. Of course, it was nearly impossible to tell from outside how active it was inside. Were there really apartments? The boxing gym didn't seem open, but he couldn't tell what parked cars in the area belonged to the "Last Sons", and those that could potentially belong to civilians potentially in the crossfire.

Vassilis returned to the "Argo" and drove off another two blocks, parking and changing into his yoroi; almost entirely black, its arms and legs had two, forest green stripes stitched down the edge. In those stripes, a series of six Japanese runes a millennia old had been embedded by Book and Chapter -- each supposed to carry a fortifying magic, combining together to aide mind, body and soul. Not that they particularly stopped a bullet to the head as he'd learned several years back, but the runes did fill him with an almost overpowering, reinvigorated power. To cover his easily-mocked outfit, Vasillis kept the hood down as long as he could and wore his black wool trenchcoat over it. At least in the darkness, it just seemed like he was wearing all-black, as was common those days with the edgy youth. But as he approached the corner of 42nd and Pinewood again, his hood went over his face, leaving little room for more than his eyes and the bridge of his nose.

He got to work quickly, approaching from the south-side. His best bet was to go in from the top and work his way down; either the payload would be up at the top, he'd face his heaviest resistance there and be able to fight his way down, or -- the opposite, with his objective on the first floor with the heaviest resistance, and fewer people guarding the top, where they likely wouldn't suspect an assault from. Vassilis expected the latter, but of course given his luck he'd be shredded apart by AK-47 bullets the moment he made his entrance.

The perimeter guards moved in a predictable pattern; each one was assigned to cover a quarter of the building's exterior, and moved as though it had been their duty for quite some time -- the general lackadaisical unrest of a bored grunt who'd rather be snorting blow in a dance club bathroom than standing outside a dinky old gym at almost 10pm.

As he'd expected, the south-side guard was particularly careless. Vassilis caught him wandering toward a bush near the bottom of the hill to take a leak, his gait that of someone who'd recently imbibed. Near the bottom of the exterior stairwell, the guard had set up a fold-out chair, and several bottles of Corona (old lime at the bottom, remnants of tabasco, salt on the rim and all) littered the cement-paved walkway that connected building to street. Silently and with an almost gentle ease, Vassilis wrapped his left arm around the man's neck, used his right to bolster the squeezing power of his left and cover the poor guy's mouth. The guard was out in seconds without a peep. The Prose grabbed the man's gun, an extra clip, and a silencer (Verse wasn't lying about that either, it seemed) from his belt and shoved the poor, unconscious guy into the bush with a rustle; the kind of rustle all those guards probably heard 500 times a night.

Turning on the gun's safety and stuffing it in his trenchcoat pocket, Vassilis tip-toed up the metallic stairwell, making absolute care not to give himself away at such a critical - and vulnerable - position. The Prose climbed over the short wall that took him to the very roof of the building, where he saw the service entrance down to the third floor. It took almost twenty minutes, but one of the interior guards from before finally opened the door to check the roof. Pouncing, Vassilis repeated his earlier choke-out process, keeping the door open with the guy's unconscious body while he procured a keyset. Vassilis stashed the guy behind a large AC unit, opened up the service door with his new key, and made his way to the third floor.

Inside, it became clear to Vassilis that the "Lost Sons" had torn up much of the building, tearing down walls to connect most of the apartments and then swapped out all the furnishings for safes, office equipment, even a map of Pi City that looked like some old, Roman battle map, stood in the center of the room and marked with different colored pieces relating to various criminal players in town. He hadn't expected to walk into some gang's actual headquarters; he'd planned for an armory of sorts, like Verse had been implying. And he'd only seen maybe a dozen people at most. Was Verse sending him after some small fry like some sort of pawn on a chessboard? Or was it an even more elaborate test -- like a video game tutorial of sorts?

Regardless of his paranoia about The Verse's intentions, Vassilis still hadn't found the supposed stockpiled weapons the man had rambled about. The third-floor rooms were all intriguing but relatively empty, aside from the few safes that he lacked the means to bust open, sadly.

The second floor proved more interesting. From the stairwell leading down, he could hear voices, idle chatter among the guards as they moved around. Everything seemed calm at the moment, which led Vassilis to believe he still had the element of surprise. So he paused to listen, curious to what some of the "Lost Sons" had to say.

"Ay you catch that Mariners game the other day?" One of the Italians asked.

"I'm a Brewers fan, sorry friend." The Colombian replied.

"They play in a few weeks, I think, maybe we can hook up one of the t.v's on this floor and watch the games." The Italian guard said, persisting in his baseball conversation.

"Yo, you catch a whiff of that shipment?" The second guard asked, shifting the conversation from personal to business.

"A whiff?"

"I think I heard some of the guys sayin' shit about C4-"

"Damn!" The Italian let out an impressed whistle. "Where the hell we gettin' all this shit from, man? Geez. I thought these fuckin' M4's were crazy enough."

"If you think this is crazy, you don't ever wanna come around Sunset Wilds then, amigo." The Colombian chuckled.

Hearing both men turn to walk off - the Colombian down the hall and the Italian into a side room - Vassilis pushed in from the stairwell and followed the Italian, who'd left the door slightly ajar after entering the room. But as Vassilis looked in to scope out the place, he heard the Italian:

"What the fu-"

Having hardly entered the room only to stop and check out a bookshelf near the door, he'd spotted Vassilis's dumb-ass almost instantly. As the Italian guard moved to draw the pistol from his hip, Vassilis opened his coat and flung a throwing knife into the man's hand. He dropped the gun but let out a pained cry in doing so.

Vassilis had dropped his element of surprise with that. Moving quick, he rushed forward and let out a powerful, high-kick to the man's chest, sending him (headfirst) thudding into the room's back wall, dropping to the ground, bleeding and unconscious.

"Ay Vinnie what's goin on in he-" The Colombian opened far door into the room, only to be met with Vassilis's right knee landing into his unsuspecting jaw. The attack pushed them both into the hallway, The Prose overtop the woozy - though still conscious - guard. As he delivered the knock-out blow to the poor man's temple, four armed guards stormed into the tight space. They stopped to take a look at the attacker, finally realizing that it was only the one dude.

In that short amount of time, Vassilis had opened his coat pocket and grabbed four throwing knives, flinging each one at the barrels of the guards' menacing, silenced M4 assault rifles. Lacking even the proper space to use the weapons, the guards were forced to drop the rifles and pull the pistols from their hips. Pushing off from the ground and running along the right hand wall, his fist came hurling down into the leading guard's left cheek with a thunderous sound. Reaching out with his left foot, he horse-kicked behind up, up into the chest of another guard. The other two reached out, punching Vassilis in the jaw and kicking him in the stomach. When he was sent back by the force of the blows, Vassilis reached into his pocket and pulled his own weapon, flipping off the safety.

He fired before they did, putting a bullet in each of their dominant arms. But before he could properly get up, the other two guards came back onto the scene, their M4 rifles back in their hands. As they started opening up, he charged -- not toward the firing rifles, but toward the two men he'd just shot. Pushing past them before they could offer resistance, he turned into one of the rooms near the stairwell opposite the one he'd come down from, making sure to get low against the ground. Vassilis could hear bullets sinking into flesh, and then two helpless bodies thudded against the floor with a sickening crunch.

Neither guard finished until their clips were gone, the bullets passing through drywall with ease and sinking into just about every wall of the room he was in. But Vassilis had to move -- he couldn't let them reload. Rushing up from his prone position, The Prose swung out of the door with his pistol held in front of his face. One guard reloaded his M4, while the other checked out their two friends they'd hastily (and sloppily) shot up. Both looked at Vassilis, wincing as they stared down the barrel of his gun. Again, he put a bullet in both of their shoulders, rushing forward to hit the closest with the butt of his gun before reaching out to smash his foot into the last guard's face.

With the short silence afforded him, Vassilis could hear the sound of foots thumping up the stairwell nearest to him.

One man burst out first, his M4 held out at his hip in front of him. Vassilis smashed him back with the door, crushing the man in between it and the doorway as he reached down and broke the man's left arm is it poked helplessly out. Opening the door again, The Prose kicked the screaming man back, knocking against two more armed guards like bowling pins as they all went crashing down the short stairwell with the cracking and crushing of bone. But as Vassilis moved down the stairwell, another pair of men popped out from the blind spot, taking aim with their rifles.

Leaping down the stairs in one fell swoop, Vassilis kicked out with both legs, carrying the momentum of his downward slope; he could feel his feet smashing into both mens' faces, pushing off of them to stay his fall a bit as they reeled into the metallic stairwell wall and fell still. Getting up off his back, Vassilis once again paused to listen to the sounds of panic on the first-floor. To his dismay, he could hear the sounds of people preparing to flee with their valuables -- he could only guess how much they'd already been able to get away with.

Careless, trying to get to the goods, The Prose moved into the first-floor through the east stairwell, where another six men armed with M4's waited for him, ready to unload. The old boxing gym - now packed with stacks of wood boxes, presumably filled with all sorts of military-grade weapons - became a chaotic scene of spraying bullets in the matter of an instant. Though once Vassilis got behind some of their product, the members of the "Lost Sons" chose patience over recklesness, not wanting to destroy their own goods. They fanned out, forming a defense that Vassilis couldn't pass through, moving to block off his exits before he could get there. With three of the six covering those exits, though, Vassilis figured it the best time to make his move -- all while cursing himself for not cutting the building's power first. Amateurish, he decided.

Noticing of the tree moving guards, two went together while a third went off alone; The Prose chose to go for the two-fer. Something about multiple birds getting stoned at once, or something.

He let the pair spot him as they swept the first floor. As they made to call his position, Vassilis slipped between a set of crates to the side and looped around the pair. Though one covered the back, Vassilis waited for them to pass his hiding place, reaching out to grab the rear guard's M4. Pulling it up and smashing it into the man's nose, The Prose proceeded to hurl the guard to the ground via their vying grip on the gun. When the front guard wheeled to face the ambusher, Vassilis kicked him in the stomach. The third guard arrived however, complicating things when the first (broken nosed) man grabbed Vassilis by the ankle and tried to rip him down to the ground. Resisting, Vasillis opened fire on the arriving gangster with his stolen M4, pushing the man back long enough for The Prose to finish off the broken-nose, prone guard. And by then, the second man intervened again, engaging Vassilis with his fists.

Caught up in the sudden hand-to-hand combat, The Prose could hear the unoccupied guard calling out to those manning the exits -- he called out Vassilis's position, telling everyone to converge upon the overwhelmed vigilante.

Grabbing his foe by the next, Vassilis spun and turned his gun on the first approaching man he saw; his bullet flared from the chamber, but instead of slinging itself into the criminal's left shoulder, it slammed into his chest, sending him flying flat against the floor, bleeding out expediently.

"Fuck-" Vassilis growled, pissed at himself as he spun to face the three remaining "Last Sons" that had found their way to him. Holding his hostage tight by the neck and aiming over the poor soul's shoulder, The Prose had to think of a quick way out of his sloppy situation. "Drop your guns. I'll release him."

"No." One of the criminals replied succinctly.

Caught by his own bluff, Vassilis pushed his hostage forward into a hail of M4 fire, opening up with his own pistol until the clip was empty. The rain of bullets shredded the one "Last Son" up like cheese, several passing through and grazing Vassilis - his side, his leg, even his right eyebrow - with another of the mobsters dropping from a pair of Vassilis's bullets in his throat. A second one. The Prose cursed his poor form even more. He ran as the two remaining "Last Son"s kept firing until their clips were empty, adrenaline pumping all through his veins. As soon as he could hear the clicking of an empty chamber, he wheeled around and came at them more like a rabid dog.

He hurled a pair of throwing knives, each into one of their thighs. Both men dropped their rifles as Vassilis charged in, again meeting in a hand-to-hand skirmish. Even with knives in their legs, the thugs seemed to know more about what they were doing than the makeshift vigilante had expected. They fought like a duo, one going high on one side, the second going low on Vassilis's other side. It was like he had to choose who to get hit by and where, giving up ground when feasible in order to avoid hits; he tried to maintain advantage by sweeping in between them and around them as nimbly as he could, but in spite of the Japanese runes, exhaustion was beginning to overcome his body.

Vassilis took punches to the arms, chest, legs and back; the pair were almost joyfully piling on Vassilis as they brought him to the ground, pounding against his head and body and limbs with equal vigor.

In between one of their barrages, The Prose reached out with both hands, grabbing one of his assaulters' ankles. With the might he could force out of himself, he pulled, slamming the "Last Son" against the ground with a thud. The second man went to kick again, but Vassilis blocked it with a sideways kick of his own, shifting his weight to get back up with a sliver of space between him and the last standing thug. Vassilis reached out to grab the guy with one hand, but the thug jammed Vassilis's own throwing knife - unceremoniously ripped from his thigh - through Vassilis's palm. With his food hand, though, The Prose delivered a devastating haymaker to the side of the dude's head, sending him unconscious to the ground.

Behind Vassilis, the final "Last Son" in the building had turned to run away. Presented the opportunity to stab the intruder in the back, the man instead saw the last of his allies fall, turned and started running the hell away. With the final bullet lodged in his pistol's chamber, Vassilis put a bullet in the back of the guy's leg -- the same one his throwing knife had burrowed into. Even dropped to the floor, the poor sucker attempted to crawl away.

"N-No p-please wait, wait, this-this is fucked up-" The man pleaded, crawling away through a pool of his own blood. "Please stop, leave me be."

Vassilis placed his foot down on the bullet hole bored into the guy's calf, and he let out a whimpering scream. The Prose remained unmoved.

"Is this your entire gang?"

"I-I think so, there m-might be a few more." He wheezed out in between ragged breaths. "We're new, we're new!"

"How new?" The Prose asked, pressing down with his foot a little harder.

"We-we got together last year for the first time," The gangster cried out. "We were all bottom...bottom of the b-barrel guys. Cartel, mafia, w-whatever! We got Russiand and some J-Japs and stuff, do work for u-us."

"Who sold you the guns?"

"W-whole city gets 'em...from The Bull. But we got ours third-party, th-through Bald Gerold."

"Bald Gerold?" Vassilis asked. He'd heard the name plenty, last time he was in Pi City.

"Gerold Garibaldi," The thug reiterated. "G-guy's got money comin' out the wazoo these days. H-he's gettin' guns from Bull and sellin' em for three times that! Not to mention the heroin-"

"Garibaldi. South Slice, right?"

"Y-yeah, mafia owns South Slice, bits of the Ripple," The bleeding man said. "Does business in Inner Circle, but goes through Up City c-cuz he wants that stuff far away from the Slice as possible."

"This is everything you got?" Vassilis asked, turning his attention to the floor filled with crates brimming with military tech.

"We got a couple crates out, but this is most of it."

"Get outta here." Vassilis said, taking his foot off the guy's shot-up leg.

Still no sirens, he noted. Police response time was about as poor as ever. Intentional as that was, he noted. Vassilis pulled a bottle of zippo lighter fluid from one of his trenchcoat's many interior pockets, and set about dousing every crate he could find. But before he got very far:

"Now now, boy," The sound of The Verse rang out in his ears. How had Vassilis not noticed that horrible man walk through the front entrance like nothing had happened? "Don't forget the...dangerous explosives in there. You don't want to blow up the whole damn block, do you?"

Camouflaged in all back uniforms bearing the mark of French Jacobins, six of Verse's cronies moved in behind him with dolly's and the like. They quickly began to move the crates from their places, out toward the back of the building.

"So you had me do this for you?" Vassilis asked to clarify, holding the hand still stabbed through by a knife as needles of pain ran down his arm. "Just so you and your own gang could get your hands on these stupid guns?"

"You think I need your help getting some pithy guns?" Verse scoffed, waving Prose off like he was some sour smell. "Please. We're going to dump these in the Green River. We're going to rejoice as The Bull and the Garibaldis seethe over the loss of their precious income, the loosening of their horrific grip over the criminal underworld, and the poor underclass of The Ripple. Yes, you've aided me today. But surely, you can see you've done a good thing. Now...go, before I change my mind about kidnapping you."

Unsatisfied but tired, Vasillis relented and fled the scene toward "Argo". He took extra care to make sure not to leave a trail of blood directly to his car, though he didn't feel he could quite remove the knife just then. Finally back in his car, though, he found a first-aide kit, removed the knife and got to treating his hand. Checking the clock, he saw that it was close to 11:00, meaning he had very little time to get back to his apartment and change. Not a single part of him wanted to go out to a party, but the huge sliver of him that cried out to just be a college student felt like it couldn't let Sarah

SEPTEMBER 3rd, 2021

Pi City, Wyoming
Up City District
Exhausted, Vassilios Vondas fixed himself a quick cup of coffee in his apartment and took a shower. Harper and Josh hung out in the common area, the latter playing GTA5 on the PS4 and the former smoking from a fancy glass bong that had even Vassilis pausing to appreciate its beauty. Pat, as it turned out, had wandered off in the direction of a loud-sounding party -- one that could be heard from their apartment. So, at least Vassilis knew exactly where to go when he was finished. All said and done, he'd put on fresh clothes and patched up most of his apparent wounds; a thick bandage around his hand, another band-aid on the eyebrow grazed by an M4 bullet earlier.

"Hey, I'm headin' out to that party, maybe gonna meet up with Pat," He said, poking his head into the common room. "Either y'all wanna tag along, or are you both in for the night?"

"I'm so stoned I think I'd walk into traffic." Harper replied casually, holding their bong out to Vassilis for him to partake in. He gladly obliged.

"I'm good, I don't really like...parties." Josh said, shrugging.

"We'll get you good and hammered one day, Joshie," Vassilis grinned, blowing smoke. "You'll be King Shit one of these days, pal."

"He smoked some pot today!" Harper said, almost joyful, taking their bong back from Vassilis.

"Yo good for you, man." Unable to hold back a laugh, Vassilis felt sharp pain shoot through his ribs and sides, and his laugh turned to a cough.

"You good?" Josh asked. "What happened to your hand?"

"Oh I went to the bar and had a few and then skated a bit and, well-" Vassilis showed the pair his bandaged hand, playing the shameful one.

"I didn't see you had a skateboard!" Harper said. "Just a buncha guitars and stuff. I skate too, y'know."

"Cool," The oldest of the three sighed. "Yeah I keep mine in my car. Probably gonna keep it there a little longer. But when I'm healed up. Alright, I'm heading out."

"Sounds good," Harper nodded. "Seeya."

"Later." Josh said, his face glued to the screen.

Exiting the apartment building, Vassilis's ears were instantly assaulted by house music so loud it leaped across several blocks of student housing. A blistering headache swelled up in his head in response, which caused Vassilis to pull the tiny bottle of Jameson's from his pocket to sneak a drink as he made his way over. Flocks of college students all seemed to head in the same direction. He could hear people calling it, "E34-2" as they walked and talked, cajoling with friends. Some seemed to be freshmen straight down from their new dorm rooms. Others were older students, though none that he could recognize from three years ago.

A doorman stood at the top of the apartment stairwell, on a small porch where about seven people hung, chatting and smoking cigarettes; like a club bouncer, he checked ID's upon entrance -- school ID's, of course, not to check to see if someone was legal age. Falling in line, when his time came, he held out his ID like the rest of them had.

"$2." The doorman said.

"Wait-" Vasillis paused, a little confused.

"$2 cover charge."

"But you didn't charge-" He looked at the several people who'd wandered in ahead of him, realizing every one of them had been a girl. With a shrug, he dug two singles out of his pockets (making sure they were not smeared in his blood) and handed them to the doorman.

Vassilis spent the better part of half an hour searching the apartment - which was more like a townhome, as it had a second floor as well - for Sarah. The main room had a bar where two juniors served beer from kegs, or jungle juice from a gigantic bowl of red liquid that looked like kool-aid. Immediately, he took a beer and a cup of juice alike, sipping casually from the juice as he looked around. Two pong tables were set up, with a chalkboard denoting who had next on either table (both hosting doubles matches, it seemed). The lines were very well full for pong. Off to the left in the apartment's living room, huge speakers were set up manned by a DJ who seemed to be having the absolute time of his life in front of an absolutely full dance floor, which was completed with a fancy strobe light hung from the ceiling. In the back kitchen, maybe a dozen people or more congregated where it was quieter in order to chat as best they could while taking shots. At a table, a group of six played a game of Kings.

Still no sign of Sarah, Vassilis went upstairs. A massive line congregated down the hallway toward one of the apartment's bathrooms (as it seemed the party hosts were keeping the downstairs one off-limits for themselves, for whatever reason.) With three rooms to check, he opened the door to each one. One of the rooms, interestingly, housed a group of four, a standing mirror placed overtop a bed, lines of cocaine spread out over the mirror.

"If I don't find what I'm looking for," Vassilis said to the group of total strangers. "I'll be back."

The second room was for the weed smokers, the room so thoroughly hot-boxed that when Vassilis opened the door he was met with a wall of smoke so thick he thought it would push him back downstairs. He almost imagined the room completely on fire. But no, about ten stoners sat in a circle, passing around a pair of blunts, even more joints and a couple of glass pieces, like a carousel of marijuana.

"Equally tempting." He said, shutting the door patiently.

Opening the door to the final room, he could instantly hear the sound of lips smacking against each other in a passionate, drunken slobbering. Only two people were in the room, thanfully. Vassilis wasn't ready for more than that. Unable to hear his entry over the thumping dance music from downstairs, the pair kept going at it on the bed, getting louder. As the two rolled about on the bed, Vassilis got a glimpse of the girl, noticing her thin frame and eventually...a pair of very familiar earrings. Sarah. His heart sunk for a second. The dude looked familiar too, he noticed.

It was Pat, that third roommate of his who'd already left for the party by the time Vassilis got home. Vassilis recognized the dude's Mel Brooks Producers-themed tattoo, located on his left tricep.

Desperately trying to avert the disaster he'd stumbled onto, Vassilis closed to door while Sarah and Pat went at it, thankfully still unnoticed. Outside the room, he chugged the cup of jungle juice in his hand, then the beer in the other, and dropped both red cups at his feet. Then, he walked into the room of pot-smokers like he was arriving to see long-lost family for Thanksgiving.