5342/Cold Cases

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Cold Cases
Date of Scene: 25 February 2021
Location: The Bronx
Synopsis: Julio and Bobby recover a denarius from inside a circle of skulls in the Bronx.
Cast of Characters: Meggan Puceanu, Julio Richter, Bobby Drake

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
Winter Santos' fabled parties happen mostly at night. Surprise - but the people he attracts are beautiful and young. They might have other lives, less impressive lifestyles with two jobs and four roommates in a shitty apartment. A hustle here and hustle there, they all congregate in Brooklyn in a temple to excess and victory: The Ministry. But that's a tale for another time.

A corner of the Bronx grooves to dark electronic and dance music. The rest of the borough broods under miserable skies, wind howling from the north. Restless cold chases trash and paper down the street. Not exactly the nicest place to be, no matter if someone's immune to the worst weather or not.

Walking on foot is the way to go to find those unnerving centres of frigidity, something that lingers in the psyche like a wound. They are few and far between. Since the last scan Julio attempted from a posh drinking club tucked away somewhere, two polarities have remain generally fixed.

The Bronx, as a start. Another is in Midtown, in a very pricy area indeed.

The more northerly point of cold is fixed, suppurating in a nasty pit of misery. Familiar at least to Julio's eyes, it's a few blocks north of a certain Millbrook Community Center where a man named Cruz glowers over the bruises taken by his people. Here lie remnants of the 1960s attempting to take over Mott Haven, make something of a place already rejected by its residents. A cluster of anonymous towers weathers the ruin of dreams and gang warfare only so well. The cold shimmers there, in the sky, like a cruel angel sneering at fallen sinners.

Julio Richter has posed:
Given the importance of precise timing, Julio decided he would 'port himself and Bobby out to the Bronx rather than messing with traffic. He's still on enough of a high from gobbling up Cthulhu's little cousin that he has the power to bypass the shortcut of Cipactli's mythogeometry, so the pair arrive in a deserted alleyway in a shower of falling leaves, traced in incandescent fire.

Julio is clad in the nice toasty parka that he has been relying on for warmth in his dealings with the winter god and his disciple, as well as a ragged (but /artfully/ ragged) pair of jeans and sturdy boots. He flicks the hood of his coat up, letting the fur lining warm the sides of his face. "So, obviously it's freezing out here," he mutters. "But if any of it is a lot more freezing, like a black hole that sucks all heat and joy out of the world, that's probably the spot we're looking for."

He peeks around the corner to see if anyone is making a fuss about their entrance, then ducks back in. "Also, if you see any old silver coins, don't touch them! They'll rot your clothes. I am not joking."

Bobby Drake has posed:
There are many reasons why Bobby Drake is not at one of those parties. While he may be young, he certainly isn't beatiful by his own estimation. Also, he has a thing he needs to be doing with a certain someone. And, while the thing he has to be doing is not quite the thing he would actually like to be doing with that particular someone, it was very important to him. Julio was in trouble and there was superantural stuff afoot, so Bobby did what Bobby does: provide support and be there.

Except when he... doesn't, which is why Bobby isn't doing the thing he would rather be doing with Julio.

"Yeah, it's bound to happen, this time of the year," Bobby says. Infuriatingly enough, he's not dressed for the cold. He never has to be. While Julio is in his parka and fashionably tatty clothes, Bobby is in T-shirt and jeans, with the only concession to the outside world being the afterthought of a vest. Vests tend to make little sense, anyways- as a great philosopher once said, 'What is it with vests? Is it summer on your arms but winter on your chest? What?'

Good movie.

"There's something... definitely very strong." The blue-eyed X-Man nods ahead, directing them like some sort of icy bloodhound, "I'll make sure not to touch any coins but I swear to god if you make me pass up perfectly valid spare change, you're buying coffee." He smirks, "Besides, if my clothes rot off I'll just Ice On. My powers actually come with a television-friendly modesty filter. I'm cool like that."

Cool pun out of the way right out of the gate, no need to mention it again, right?

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
The Mill Brook Houses sound nice on paper, but they're anything but. Miserable brick towers project heavenward beneath a veneer of grime and pollution gone black. Ugly gates project an effort to keep the residents in and the world out, the rusted and twisted bars standing over squalid confines that no beautification project has yet succeeded at. Trash piles up on the lower crossbars. Bits and pieces float around, debris from various lives: scrap receipts, wrecked toys handed down through a dozen hands, vape pens and discarded needles.

People peer through threadbare curtains and broken blinds down below, suspicious, unwilling to show their faces. It's fair to say /someone/ notices Julio and Bobby. Fair too to say they don't care unless given reason. Marching through a bashed-up door before it locks isn't out of the ordinary, not really. Nut it leads to a careworn hall, badly lit and stained suspiciously by countless people hauling trash or bodies. A man made of ice, a path of rotting flowers, definitely not usual. Packing heat, scowling at anyone from under a hoodie? The norm. Unfortunately for them the choice is a really questionable stairwell up, one of two, both occupied by bored residents, or a perpetually suspicious elevator that may or may not run.

The whole place exudes a psychic misery generations deep, scarred down to the very teenagers pulling much too young relatives across the street or elderly folks hustling through the bent, damaged doors inside. The cold originates from the third tower in the block, a chunk of ice probably many stories up. Somewhere around the eleventh or twelfth floors, based on the counting.

Julio Richter has posed:
Julio casts a dry look at Bobby, sidelong. "If your hoarder instincts are too strong, just let me check it first," he says wearily. "Trust me, I'll know the stuff. The metal stinks like hell to a dirt wizard." Partly as a precaution against Bobby's penny pinching, but also just to scope out the area, and at least partly out of habit, he broadens his geological senses to feel for that any of that reeking lucre nearby.

But the coins are a side issue; he follows Bobby into the tenement, his boots picking a careful path through the detritus of the neighborhood he's all too familiar with. Anyone who directs too much attention in their direction will find Julio staring right back, projecting in the unspoken parlance of the down and out that he and Bobby would be way more trouble than they're worth.

"Let's take the elevator," he says. Hard to be ambushed in there, and if the thing is so dodgy that it won't even run, he's reasonably sure one or both of the mutants can get it upstairs with a strategic application of their respective gifts. Once they're in the lift car, he mutters, "I mean, if I were gonna stash a body I'd sucked the soul out of, this seems like the place for it."

Bobby Drake has posed:
It's fortunate that Julio didn't share his thoughts on ambushes, because Bobby would have probably shared a list of horror movies he had watched where an elevator is /precisely/ the place for an ambush. This is one of those exchanges in which everybody is a winner because it didn't happen.

"I'm not a hoarder, I'm just fiscally responsible," Bobby mutters, trying to distract Julio during the ride up. Admittedly, if there was anything funnier than an accountant, it as an accountant in a bodysuit helping to save the world. The cognitive dissonance on people's faces when you tell them you used to be an accountant after you slide in all dashing and heroic is precious.

"Definitely feels... strange up there. It's not like a cooling unit is having the malfunction of the century up there. It's like someone... took the essence of cold and tied it up into a pretzel."

Brief thought: pretzel ice cream sandwiches. Why hadn't anyone thought of that? He files that away to experiment in the kitchen later.

He glances at Julio and nods. Magic is Julio's realm, and he's made it clear that he's going to do what Julio says, so he doesn't end up accidentally cursing the world to a hundred years of winter or something like that. "Feeling ready?"

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
The elevator lights don't light up when pressed. The floor sign has been taped over by so many layers as to practically count as a historical relic by the county. Scratches bite into the metal panel, and half the railings are missing. One too many a fight has taken place in here. When the doors close, the rickety old thing sways and waits on them. It doesn't want to much move until someone else summons the ancient beast or the pair of mutants will it somehow to act. But it stinks of cat urine and curry and grease, waiting to be summoned.

Up, then, up is old and slow and dull. Doors screech open to admit a pair of snot-nosed kids in dirty clothing. One sucks on a Mountain Dew, the other stares at her flip-flops. After that, a woman in a spectacularly mismatched pair of zebra leggings and a puffer coat shoos the kids. "What the hell, your momma wouldn't be liking that! I know you're up to see Dion and play on that game station of his again, Tey and Laney! Out you be getting before I haul you down there myself!" And so she remains sin there, standing mid-box, willing Julio and Bobby imperiously into the corners. Because this is /her/ domain until *Ding!* Off at the tenth floor.

The eleventh scrapes by. The twelfth. The box hangs in space, screeching doors sliding open, to reveal a lot of brown carpet, cheap white walls, flimsy brown doors. Magic is Julio's realm but here, it barely matters, singed by the void for the geomancer and the equivalent of stepping into a freezer for Bobby. Not that cold, yet, but he can practically taste the igloo midway down the hall.

Julio Richter has posed:
Julio pauses inside the lift and frowns, concentrating. His extended finger hovers over the buttons, drifting like a dowsing rod, then punches the button marked 12. "Definitely a coin up there, too," he says. "I think it's about /that/ high." And given how far above ground level they'll soon be, even before the elevator has started moving, he's drawing in tectonic power and a deep, even breath. Instead of a bright aura, the seismic shudder of his powers manifests as a ghostly trace of green light up his sleeves toward his stubbled jaw.

"Ready, maybe, but up that high, I'm kinda far from my power source," he answers Bobby. "I'm stocking up enough for maybe one big burst or a spell or two, but if someone tries something, it's mostly gonna be on you. I'll just keep my third eye open or whatever" -- he rolls the standard two -- "so I can warn you if anything really ugly is coming."

Unfortunately, his senses don't extend to cranky babysitters, so he's nudged out of the way by her sheer force of personality until she exits the lift car. He spends the whole time trying not to make eye contact or glow too obviously. As soon as she and the kids are gone, Julio's face is creased with concentration. "Mierda. Kids. Let's try to make this quiet, Bobby." But then they're arriving on the twelfth, and he steps cautiously out into the hall, tightening his coat around himself.

Bobby Drake has posed:
"As opposed to my usual approach of wholesale destruction?" The Iceman jokes, but then adds reassuringly, "You know me, Julio, I always prefer quiet. I'm a quiet guy. I even wear quiet clothes. Dion's a friend of yours, I take it?"

He steps out of the elevator and nods, "Stay behind me. You keep your Omm on and I'll stay frosty, and we'll be done with this before you know it."

Does he /really/ believe that? Nah. You don't do something like this and then leave the place unguarded. They were going to run into trouble- the question merely was how much of it they could handle.

Slow, cautious steps, hands by his side, ready for anything. A quick glance back at Julio, and then, walking forwards.

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
Better the devil you know perhaps than the one they don't. The hallway isn't quiet; this is, after all, an occupied apartment. Smells germinate in the flimsy apartments, the rich tang of barbecue mingling with a sour stench of unwashed bodies, heavy perfumed lemon, someone doing horrible things to a burnt cheese. Noisy, too, for this place seethes. Someone watches a telenovela loudly; another man yells on his phone about catering options for a brunch and would missus like a berry compote with her French toast, or maybe peaches? Family style dining, berries are best. Kids squeal. A baby wails over the drone of a heater doing no favours. Life, violent and chaotic, thrives on the brink.

On the floor, two numbers lie crooked but their outline indicates apartment 1213 is the place to be. The door is shut. A pair of small, battered old chanclas stand outside next to a flimsy welcome mat decorated with Santa and his reindeer. It's crooked, and at least one forgotten paper bag with long rotten contents just sits there. "For Bebe!" it reads in Spanish, loopy handwriting with a big heart.

Just an apartment, probably locked, with no sound coming from it. Nothing suspicious here. Just a barb of metal inside an absolutely icy barrier.

Julio Richter has posed:
"Sounds like he's got a cool video game setup," Julio answers Bobby with a halfhearted smile. "Maybe I should stop in and say hi." It's a dumb joke. Julio doesn't really play video games, and if he did, what setupid could possibly be a step up from the Danger Room? He picks his way down the hall just behind Bobby, but a little out to the side. If he's supposed to be using him as a mutant shield, he's doing a pretty bad job of it.

Still homing in on the stain on his elemental senses, he stops in front of the neglected doorway and furrows his brows. Glancing over to Bobby, he comments dryly, "Jesucristo. Of course it's apartment 13. Kind of" -- he snaps his fingers lightly by his cheek for a second, trying to remember the idiom -- "on the face?" Gingerly avoiding stepping on Bebe's rotten gift, he raps on the door with the back of his knuckles. Probably not going to provoke a response, but he's going to at least try before barging in. Quiet, right?

While he's waiting for a response, he idly flips the mat up with the toe of a boot. Surely no one would leave a key under there... Then he shuts his eyes and lets his head loll back. Speaking softly in Spanish, he mutters, "<Julio, you are a dirt wizard. You can feel metal. Idiot.>" Thus chastised, he extends his mutant stone senses, trying to block out the cacophony of the Apollyon coin, to listen for little chunks of metal where they shouldn't be.

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
No one answers the door; there's no shouted "Just a minute" or irritated grumble from a dog inside the place. The only response is that: silence. Subtle vibrations emanate from the horribly inefficient HVAC system, but that's about all there is for picking it out. No key rests under the mat, either. Here, that's an invitation to petty crime and given how long the place has apparently been unoccupied, they'd have jumped in moments before.

Alas, Julio lolling about is essentially turning on hyper-acute hearing right next to a speaker at a screamo stadium concert. The noise mentally is a lot to blot out to find anything else, but hey, he can feel the bolt in the lock -- flimsy and cheap -- and a necklace hanging on the other side, a crucifix on it. The door isn't going to resist a good kick.

Bobby Drake has posed:
"Scret agent time," Bobby whispers, and kneels down on the floor. Extending a finger, a small surface of ice is created in front of him, and then it extends under the door. Using his ability to extend his senses through such surfaces, Bobby frowns as he takes stock of what is readily visible to him.

"Pretty sparse..." a pause as he focuses. "Mother and child place. No sight of either... very dismal..."

"Tree's still up. Calendar flipped to December..." he doesn't mention the tree is two feet tall and hoisted on a TV tray. He doesn't mention the quiet, anguishing desperation of the place. Julio will see soon enough. "Nobody that I can see," emphasis on seeing, because he will not be able to see anyone concealed by unnatural means, "I'm getting us in." A swift kick is what's needed, right? In the cacophony that surrounds them, Bobby prays that the kick isn't too loud, or that it doesn't attract too much attention. Then again, with unknown forces involved, there was some sort of ward or alarm they might set off. But if you stopped to second-guess yoursel at every step, you'll never do anything.

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
It's a shitty door. No two ways about that: a shitty door in a shitty project in a forgotten part of town ruled, until rather lately, by a bloody criminal gang that enjoyed fear and beheading when need be. Then something flipped and it might possibly be a /real/ divine presence fed by blood and reverence at the end of the blocks. Even up here, where the brindled walls of winter form a purely curious construct dead-center of the teeny galley kitchenette, that very faint presence might stick out.

But Tlaloc can't do a damn thing to scratch the surface of something choking, thickly wrong. Ruin has left its mark on linoleum worn away of any pattern, curling at the edges. The cheap-ass paint job is chipping, dust heavy. Rust stains the pocket shower that smells heavily of ammonia and decay. Stagnant water pools in the sink, practically deserving of its own embassy for how rank it is. The photographs are weathered even if they're only months old. Mother and child beam up in summertime scenes at a park, against a wall, near a bodega. No sign of the baby, but Julio will recognize what Bobby doesn't.

A lifetime ago, by the photos' weathered appearance, a pretty girl matched one held in Cruz's book of names. Leena.

Julio Richter has posed:
A shudder runs down Julio's body; he immediately regrets even trying to listen to the stones with the coin so nearby. "Eurgh," he sort of says, sort of gags. As Bobby applies his boot to the obstacle, Julio enters in his wake, shoving the door shut behind them, regardless of whether it will stay that way with the latch busted. "Daniel, anything?"

His eyes blink rapidly, then refocus. The tamped-down seismic aura around him immediately flares into a full bolero jacket of shuddering coronal brilliance, and he stares at his hands and forearms in wonderment. "Holy shit, dude. This feels //awesome//," he says, without his accent and in a notably higher pitch than his usual speaking voice. "Can I try--?"

"Later. Maybe." Julio's voice again. "Focus, por favor."

"Sorry, Julio, I got nothing." The unfamiliar voice quails. "We shouldn't stick around here too long, though -- this is not a nice place."

Julio reasserts control, and his aura again drops to a subtle shimmer. "Te entiendo." He goes first into the kitchenette, flipping open cabinets, looking for a plastic bottle, a glass, or some other container that ages well. They'd better get that coin out of here, and he'd rather it not ride in his hip pocket.

Such a vessel acquired, he wastes no time homing in on the coin. Once he finds it, he'll burn a little bit of his energy reserve to sweep it into the container until he can get it downstairs and try to return it to the Earth. He'll notice the photos, no doubt, once he starts the search proper.

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
The moment those cabinets open, something flares. Ice tumbles out from the opened door. Not just random cubes or frost accumulated in a room that's not adequately heated at the best of time.

Chunks about the size of ping-pong balls, the kind to be found in highball glasses or tumblers at upscale or hipster venues who think you damn well need a huge sphere of ice in your drink to make it palatable. Whiskey wasted, if someone needs that much water.

Except these are purely irregular, not spherical but chipped at key points. They roll out together, and the braided flex of winter's claws held in check dips as the first strikes the counter. By rights, the ice ball ought to shatter. It instead bounces with an eerie solidity denying its size.

Then comes another when he tips over a glass, and more come rolling down from the shelf. The sagging cabinet is full of them, and those leering from the top shelf seem ready to just tip over and fall out.

Another set of ice balls adorns the top of the bargain basement fridge, the kind with the freezer on the top as a separate door. Rank on rank, their staring facades have distinct blotches, twin hollows for eye sockets. Each and every little chip is unique unto itself, though all roughly the same.

The bigger softball there on the counter behind rotted, moth-nibbled curtains in no colour? Same. Beside another. One's stuck in the sink, and all of them are staring in a circle.

Bobby Drake has posed:
Bobby lets Julio take care of the coin, and glances briefly around, although he has already seen the area. His eyes linger on the photographs, and he shakes his head sadly as a shudder runs through his spine. Not because of the cold. Then his eyes become slightly unfocused as his attention goes across that surfae of ice and outside of the door, where the trail of ice was formed.

He's keeping lookout.

"Could probably get us out of here on a slide once you-"

And then the first skull drops. Bobby immediately snaps out of his watchman reverie to focus his attention back into this room, and then covers the distance between himself and Julio in quick strides.

Bobby Drake stops dead in his tracks, and if he weren't already icy and transluscent he would have been absolutely pale. "Julio, don't," he says quietly, reaching out to perhaps grab Julio's wrist and keep him from moving anything more. He could sense the temperature drop when that ice skull was dislodged. His first impulse is to drag Julio out of there, jump out the window and slide down an ice slide to safety. But he also knows that when you find yourself in a dangerous trap, moving hastily can be even worse.

Julio Richter has posed:
Julio flips open the cabinet, then staggers back as the tiny little ice sculptures cascade down at him. He only stops when he backs directly into the cabinet on the other side, then turns and sees more of them, stacked and ringed and staring. Rings and towers of tiny ice skulls. Their mythomorphic presence has always been part of his life, the calaveras on his relatives' ofrendas once a year, but the roots of the mystical symbol go back much farther.

Not to mention, the trauma of being psychically deposited into a tower of sacrificed heads is much more recent and very close to the surface. Somewhere, he thinks he can hear a caiman laughing at him.

Rebounding, face twisted in horror and hands held up in a warding gesture, Julio stumbles backward into the petite tragedie of a living room, colliding with Bobby, who's going to have to put in some effort to keep him upright. Rapid, shallow breaths shudder through him; his jaw is tensed and shaking and his eyes seem to have forgotten how to blink. Even the quaking aura of his mutant powers has flared into full blaze from the subtle flicker of earlier. But the good news is that Julio doesn't completely lose control: he's terrified, no question, but he's not shaking the foundations or clawing his way out of the apartment. He's ready to fight, if he has to.

He might even be ready to spill blood.

But he stays at least somewhat steady, so long as Bobby holds him up. Still, he doesn't trust himself to speak just yet.

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
Horrors don't have to be bloody and grisly affairs of severed limbs. No need to invoke terror by holding a whole building hostage, by proclaiming on high the unnecessary revolting dogma that no one but a fanatic would even listen to. No death bots here. Just a taste of the odd, a memory of the wrong.

One chink in the wall of skulls on high and low in a perfect arrangement. Ofrendas smiling, the grim retort of a people subjected, battered, but never vanquished, never banished. The same rictus grins are commonplace in Czechia, Paris, Poland, places in the pagan reaches of a Papal cloak. Dark and grim tidings greet the visitors in dark forest of Southeast Asian garden paradises and the red-soiled African plains. Old, old as dirt, old as the leering milestone.

It doesn't take magic to hear the murmur. Doesn't take mutations to pick out the cracking ice, the hissing wind. The pressure of the air dropping, so terribly dry, and that smoke of moisture ripped from the lungs. Julio's nose is bound to sting if it could run. Run, to race and be gone, is a good thing.

Another noise when the next skull rolls. Another, and at the middle of it all is a forgettable fridge with its price, a denarius shrouded in a web of frigid winds and black icicle teeth ready to strike.

Bobby Drake has posed:
Bobby holds Julio upright, keeping him from collapse as much as he can, even protectively keeping a firm hold on him. "It's ok, Jul- I'm here." No 'it's going to be okay' because it obviously isn't. Not when they've walked into a frosty makeshift necropolis and there is the heavy expectation that at any minute now Mumm-Ra The Ever Frosty will make his entrance. The flaring of Julio's powers is cause for concern, however, since the geomancer is far from touching the ground. If he blows his charge, then they will have no mystical big guns to fall behind if needed to. Bobby needs to ascertain Julio's condition.

"Hey. Look at me," he says quietly, one hand reaching out to touch Julio's cheek and divert his attention from the little ice cream shop of horrors and to his face, "--hasty exit or keep on keeping on?" he asks. He's checking with Julio, and seeing whether or not he needs to take over and get them out of there ASAP.

Julio Richter has posed:
Julio resists being turned away from the kitchen, but he does shift the pair of them in place so that he can return Bobby's look without letting the skulls out of his sight. His breathing and stance are steadier now, and he says, "This is a... ward, I think," he says. His voice falters once, but he recovers. "Some kind of protective wall of death. There's power in every skull. It's like a web. Something big and very evil put it here."

Not for a second is there a question in his mind whether to continue: "We keep on," he says, partly echoing Bobby's phrasing. "I feel more of them in the freezer, but that's where the coin is. Let's get it out, search the apartment. Maybe figure out what kind of trap we just walked into."

Talking through it has put more steel in his spine, and he steps away from Bobby, but then hesitates. Aura dipping again to a stealthy whisper, he cups a hand over the other man's shoulder, just beside the neck. "Hey. Thank you," he says, his tone low and grave. "We're OK. Let's just do this."

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
Nothing out of the ordinary then: there's a simple fridge. The bottom compartment is much larger, probably with a drawer for a crisper, another for vegetables, cheap shelves. It was last current around 1986. The top compartment is significantly smaller and definitely not defrosted in the last quarter-century, sealed shut more or less. The seals barely cling shut, proof of just how wretched the old thing is. But all the very few appliances are like that; the electric stovetop looks dingy and in poor repair, the cabinets with a sparse few dishes and mostly no-name boxes among the icy skulls containing foods mostly for a baby, not Leena herself.

The coin is plain as day in the fridge. To Bobby, the presence of more ice is basically a given.

Bobby Drake has posed:
Bobby's hand reaches up to touch Julio's, and gives it a squeeze. "'course we're ok. We're the dymaic duo- ice and stone, the bane of winter motorists everywhere."

Perhaps Bobby has appointed himself the morale support as well as the firepower support, or perhaps it's just how he usually is towards those for whom he feels responsible. Humor and comfort, and if that fails there's always a snowball fight.

"If Raiders of the Lost Ark has taught me anything," Bobby says quietly as they case the fridge, "is that the moment we remove that coin, we might be springing a trap. In which case we should come up with some sort of quick exit plan. So... you think you can blast a hole into the wall with your Captain Planet magic? I can take care of the getaway vehicle if you can."

Julio Richter has posed:
"I don't watch Bible movies," Julio says. It's kind of hard to tell whether he's kidding or not. "I can knock a hole in the wall, but these buildings are shaky. If we have to jump out, let's take the window, OK? Also uses less power." The window here isn't much to speak of: it would be a simple four-pane if one quarter wasn't dedicated to the woefully superfluous air conditioner. Basically, they'll still be smashing their way out. No need to worry that the exit will be any less extra.

But on Bobby's warning that the trap might not spring until the coin is taken, Julio nods, locks eyes with him, and says, "Search the apartment first, then." The search certainly won't take long; this apartment is tiny.

"I'll get the bedroom?" he adds, heading in that direction. But along the way, he stops at the photographs, pausing to examine them. "Leena," he says grimly, lifting one gently by the frame for the span of a cycle of breath. Then he sets it back down and continues with his part of the search.

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
Another risk, too: the blocks are large and long, arranged like books next to one another. Money spent trying to restore the projects wasn't wasted here, but in the hands of developers, local councillors, and countless other holes in the system. It shows, for even dust and crumbling plaster fall away like spiderweb cracks when Julio reaches for the photograph. The frame falls apart at the corners in his hand, cheap tin tumbling to the ground and the moldering backing flumped to the floor in a sheet of ruined cardboard. Chemicals on the faded image of the smiling young woman peering shyly over her sunglasses at the camera, clearly not a selfie, implies some trust in the photographer. The baby's small, a thick dusting of black hair atop his head where he snuggles against her shoulder and chin. Because Mama is coziest place in the world, in that photo.

The bedroom, then, is a shoebox. An overglorified shoebox, but one at that with two narrow twin-sized beds crammed up against the wall. Both are made in totally faded and mismatched sheets. One bed has a lumpy flat pillow. The only actual furnishing is an overturned Rubbermaid box with a lamp since the building doesn't furnish it. A small, rusty window probably hasn't been opened in ages. The closet has clothes, pitifully few for a grown woman, a pair of worn sandals, a pair of stained work shoes in a suspiciously large size. Probably all secondhand, as it expected for an illegal immigrant.

Under the bed, nothing. Under the Rubbermaid, nothing. Tucked into the worn-out knitted cardigan needed for those bitterly cold days is a small locker key with MBCC stamped on the back, a flyer for one of Cruz's 'December art nights' that has come and gone. A child's sock is left in a corner, along with a chunk of Duplo in chewed red stuck behind the closet door where little hands probably shoved it. Nothing too significant.

The baby's room is empty of furniture and most other things but for the construction paper bunnies stuck to the wall in a sad attempt to brighten it. Another worksheet in Spanish is tucked away on a built-in shelf in the closet for a closet-sized space, covering how to access various social welfare programs for immigrant parents. A tiny moth-eaten book is full of bright pictures about a very excited mango. Almost easy to ignore the back page, which has Tlaloc depicted as a smiling man watering the happy garden while the mango dances.

Bobby Drake has posed:
It doesn't really take very long to search a shoebox, but neverhtless Bobby Drake goes over the space with the figurative fine-toothed comb, because you just never know. A mind for detail and patience are good for this sort of thing, and therefore yet another field in which his background proves beneficial. Even then, though, the search yields very little of interest, except perhaps to set Bobby's imagination on the track of wondering about the ultimate fate of that woman and the tiny hands that hid the duplos. Not happy imaginings by any stretch of the imagination. "Nothing over here," Bobby says quietly, "How about you?"

Julio Richter has posed:
"Just... human stuff," Julio says as he returns to the living area, his voice subdued by the quiet desperation of the life they've witnessed. "Except for this." He holds up the key. "For a mailbox, maybe? A locker? Did you see anything it could unlock?" He's already drifting back toward the kitchen, steeling himself against the ward and its all-too-familiar physical form.

He's eyeballing the fridge suspiciously, and he suggests: "I know you basically can't be hurt, but when we open that thing? Stay close to me. I'll put up a protective spell if anything comes at us, but it can only cover so much space."

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
It certainly looks like a cheap locker key, helpfully numbered with the ever evocative 615 neatly on the hexagonal head, sheltered in plastic. The plastic is weathered and battered, the stainless steel unstained but somehow warped a little. Then again, nothing in here is free of decay or some subtle misuse. The men are just as prone to stubbing their toes or finding their clothing thin, scratchy, little by little influenced by the pernicious impact of something that frays the very edges of reality and goes straight through mundane fabric to affect all that's made, not of man but made of all meant to serve him.

It's the thought that counts.

The fridge really isn't that bad. Just doing its knock-off thing.

Bobby Drake has posed:
"Right. Just because I can't be hurt, it doesn't mean I can't be, you know, hexed. It's always good to practice safe hex in any case." Bobby stubbing his toe under current circumstances spells more doom for the recipient of the blow than for Bobby. There might be an indentation on one of the legs of the twin beds. He glances briefly downwards to notice that the right shoulder of his vest is looking... somewhat worn. It doesn't make sense, since he bought that fleece vest less than a week ago. He shakes his head and frowns, stepping close to Julio. "Alright, let's look into that fridge. And if you hear 'Zuuuuuul' growling out of it, we just run. Ok?"

Julio Richter has posed:
Julio gives Bobby a long, skeptical look. "I don't think that's how it works," he says, his tone disapproving, but there's a hint of amusement tugging at the corner of his lips, in spite of himself. "Just stay with me."

Stepping forward, he reaches out to snag the handle on the freezer; he pulls it open by stepping back quickly into Bobby's space, hands held up with a glaring spark of green at the center of each palm. He's ready to bring up a wardwall in moments if anything more aggressive than inert ice skulls comes rolling out.

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
Creaking open, the door practically falls off its ruined hinges. The easy swing becomes a destructive clatter as its weight crashes to the ground, taking a heavy hunk of ice entombing a pockmarked cylinder barely visible with jots of orange on the label. If Julio or Bobby do not catch the door accosting them, it smashes to the floor and glimmers dully with the tiny crystallized fur. Thick layers of decades settle over the one dinged rod holding the cylinder in place.

Inside, more ice, and then the furry chips of ice wreath row on row of icy skulls. A large one is in the middle, rictus grin a laugh, eyesockets completely empty. Teeth shine white-blue, among the smaller rows. They'll have to be pulled out to clear them out.

Bobby Drake has posed:
"Holy shit watch ou-" Bobby isn't fast enough to catch that fridge door yet, but he does have one thing he can do to prevent a crashtastrophe-

The kitchenette floor is suddenly covered with a thick layer of snow, a small mound gathering just as the refrigerator door crashes onto it, preventing, hopefully, the worst of the damage.

"... we can build a snowman after we're done," Bobby says, leaning forward to try to get the skulls out of the way. "I'm getting close to being done with the skull shenanigans. They're not even sugar." Clearly he holds that as a strike against them.

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
The air keeps cooling, chilling the breaths that tear into the lungs. Artfully raggedy pants, they're not just damn raggedy and not even cool. Faded colour greets the eye with barely cool blue, that acid-wash that went out of style around 1995 and must never, ever come back. Bobby's immunity to the cold doesn't extend to Julio getting a free ride on peppering the air with condensation. Behind them, a shelf gives way and a tower of skulls come bouncing down onto the lower level. Now there's a pile, some upside down, some sideways, all peering with those vaguely smirky leers.

Skulls inside the narrow freezer take up space. They come out with the difficulty of something growing into the frosty layer caked on the bottom. Drag them out and there they go, a devious winter Terra Cotta Army, except they're all empty of bodies. Some of the ripples on the bottom of the freezer might be visible, or they're just comforting scratches.

Julio Richter has posed:
Julio was ready to defend himself mystically, not catch falling doors before they crashed to the ground. At least the neighbors aren't gonna be pissed, thanks to Bobby's intervention. He keeps his hands up, as if afraid the largest of the skulls is going to come flying at him, or shoot lasers, or something; he spares only a glance downward at the cylinder embedded in the doorway rack.

"Can you grab that?" he asks Bobby, dipping his chin to indicate the fallen freezer door. The skulls -- and their strange, distributed ward -- are probably his domain, so long as he has to get past them to grab the corrupted coin. "Jesucristo, I should start carrying a bucket of dirt around, or something," he mutters, thinking through his limited options. "I can try breaking it with vibrations, or pulling the coin out from under it." He wavers in uncertainty for a few seconds, then the noise of the collapsing shelf behind them shocks him into action.

He commits to his tried-and-true mystical methodology: do the first thing that occurs to you, decisively, as though it's a cunning plan you've had all along. (Bobby is probably learning more about the questionable logic behind the mystic arts than Julio's sorcerous fellows might prefer.) Before Bobby can stop him, he pulls his hand up into his parka sleeve, gripping the end shut to keep out the cold, and jams it into the freezer past the skull, attempting to hook it in a half-hug and drag it out physically.

He'll aim to drop it into Bobby's snowdrift and just hope it doesn't chomp down on his liver or something the moment he gets into biting range.

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
Down the hall, someone might be listening. Might have interrupted the telenovela, or the woman trying to crusade against cheese products by consigning them to a terrible and awful fate. Die, die, you're gouda down!

The big skull, the one definitely human in size, resists being hauled out. A lot of gelid mass glues it to the metal and plastic side, and by the time Julio really gets a good grip, he might be tearing out the entire freezer shelf and insert. Fair physical effort requires some extra tearing and grabbing until it gives, cleaving not in two. Flimsy aluminum tears and plastic cracks, throwing him back across the kitchenette! All, what, four feet?

Bobby can probably look horrified at the ruined hole in the base of the freezer leading into the fridge, full of more skulls. And the edge of a magnet, stuck to the ragged edge.

Bobby Drake has posed:
Bobby obliges, moving the door out of Julio's way so he can get his head, "God, Julio, please don't. Don't you see Jubilee jumping around you and imitating Jack Sparrow? 'I've got a jart of diiiiirt I've got a jar of diiiiiiirt,' you know she'd-"

Bobby is interrupted by Julio flying four feet back, skull and half a fridge in hand. A glistening hand reaches out to grab him by the hoodie, lest he slip on the snow, fall, conk his head and then they would be doomed. "Hey, you okay? This skull thing is starting to get very, very--" he glances back at the refrigerator, and the hole, and then he shakes his head. "... you should've brought Kurt along. He could've BAMFed this fridge out to the Sahara or something..." he glances over at Julio. "But you're stuck with me instead. Lucky you."

He leans forward and reaches for that magnet, "Let's see what we've got here..."

Julio Richter has posed:
Toppling back those four feet, of course, means stepping directly into a pile of ice skulls sitting on cracked linoleum. Not exactly sound footing, and Julio's boot catches on one of the tiny bastards and slips out from under him. He would, indeed, have fallen directly into the pile of tiny, rock-hard headbutts, if not for Bobby's timely intervention.

He gets his booted feet back under him just in time to return the favor, diving across Bobby's body to grab his frozen wrist and yanking it back from the fridge, heedless of the risk to his own palm. "No!" he yelps, holding the wrist between their chests as he turns to face him. "That's the death coin." Cautiously, as if he thinks Bobby is going to reach out and snatch it anyway, he releases him, holds his palms up placatingly, and then weaves a bit of mystic energy to pull the coin and magnet out of the fridge and hover them in the air in front of them, giving off wisps of green glow as they circle in the air.

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
For a moment, the magnet holds to the torn metal frame as tenaciously as Hulk to a lamppost.

Like that lamppost, it pulls away in the unyielding grip, giving a mild shriek ending with an unimpressive mostly round disk flat in an icy hand.

The irregular surface feels funny even for someone lacking in flesh, the presence of a rather peculiar motif resolving to a rather clever little lion. On the heads side is, in fact, a head, though the whole thing is dark enough to easily be mistaken for a regular old magnet. Tarnished? No, just plaintively dark to dispel any notion of being minted recently.

Corruption seethes around them, and the skulls glisten. The wrecked fridge huffs and tries to cool itself a bit more.

The touch of that metal is palpably unpleasant, and...

It's a coin. What were they expecting? A marching band?

Bobby Drake has posed:
Bobby pauses when Julio holds his wrist between them. It is a good thing that ice can't redden. Bobby's cheeks remain that eerie semi-transluscent ice, but he does say a quiet "...oh."

A second later. "Oh. OH. Death Coin. Right. Shouldn't really... yeah." The Iceman looks at his hand, realizing that he was lucky to touch it when he wasn't wearing his skin, so to speak. "It felt weird, like I was touching something that was the embodied concept of sliminess... it sounds weird to say-"

That's when he becomes aware of something else. He glances down, to see his crystalline skin glistening. He is patently aware that he shouldn't be able to see so much of it. He frowns. Oh. Oh, right. "Well, then," he mutters. Standing naked in his ice form in the middle of a cursed kitchenette wasn't the most embarrassing situation he had been in, but it certainly ranked up there. He concentrates and the necessary parts are covered by snow flurries, making for a rather very fashionable pair of winter briefs. He does a quick glance behind him, to make sure the coverage was thorough. "So we've got the coin. How are we transporting it since everything here is covered in those stupid skulls? I could make an ice bowl..."

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
At least the closet has a nice, stretchy cardigan and some bigger-than-Leena's feet boots that Bobby could take advantage of. On the pants front, no dice, but maybe a moth-eaten curtain or a threadbare towel is the sort of look to aspire to. Snow briefs, terrycloth, and stompy boots: the Anthropologie collection, starting at $299 per piece, right?

The apartment is unchanged. Their gain is complete.

Julio Richter has posed:
Julio coughs gently. He may have helped Bobby come to the realization of his /situation/ with a swift glance and then a determined upward stare. "Lo siento," he says quickly. Then, when he can look at Bobby without going red himself, he relaxes a bit and continues, "This one's way worse than the others were. They would wear at the seams, but this is so /fast/." Still gripping it with his geokinetic powers, he pushes it some distance from them. He hasn't touched it, but it might not need him to. His own modesty is /not/ going to be helped by snow briefs, if it comes to that.

"Let's get downstairs," he suggests. "Maybe we can take it to the dump, or some place where it won't mess up anything important, and then I can at least try to cleanse it." He sounds skeptical of his ability to do so. "Bring the fridge door, OK? I'll crack it open once we're closer to the ground."

Bobby Drake has posed:
"Of course, it would have to be the one I would actually get to touch." Bobby says. Julio's reaction at least gets him to chuckle a little bit. "It would be the end of the world if I didn't do at least one ill-advised thing. Let's get out of here, Julio, before you go hypothermic on me."

Says the man who is now basically half naked. He doesn't really need the boots, and he can maintain the briefs for as long as he needs to. Back in the early days he was covered entirely by flurries, before he was able to fine-tune his powers.

He uses his ice powers to create a little moving platform of snow to carry the door. "Hey, it's a Bob sled," he says. May he be forgiven.

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
Down through the stairs or by the elevator, it doesn't matter. Either method ricochets with the entropic field wrapped around them, leaving a tangible trail for even the sparest mystic to feel within the geokinetic embrasure Julio forms. Earth druidry only extends so far, a stolen lullaby of tectonic plates repelling a metal not of their ore-bound veins. Such a small chunk fashioned into a disk, the lion and the youth with his flowing hair contained within a narrow fillet like heroes and gods of Antiquity.

Oh, looks are bound to be earned from the suspicious, canny residents who know far better than to mess with someone made of ice or carrying a torn-up fridge door. Rules are rules, things just don't involve asking questions.

Slippery and quick as an ice ramp is, helpfully moving the door along, gives them a quick departure however they choose. Twelve floors down, dragging past a pair of concerned teens, an annoyed man snarling at Bobby out of sheer annoyance. "Get outta here," and choices might be hastened to avoid conflict. Outside is dark, cool, the grey promsie of winter. Freedom is a strange thing.

Julio Richter has posed:
After casting one last backward glance at the frost skulls grinning at him from inside the apartment, Julio pulls the door fast, then makes the trek back to the elevator alongside Bobby. He pulls the key out of his pocket to consider it, then says, "Can't decide whether we should drop a note off at the super's office or I should take it to the League. The super will probably think the skulls are just a prank, but he'll fix the door. The League will deal with the skulls, but god only knows what the apartment will end up looking like."

At least he doesn't have to put on a tough-guy act, now. Even if they didn't have a chunk ripped off a fridge with them, he's flying a shard of hellishly evil nudity-on-demand, and Bobby in ice form just screams 'do not mess with me,' even when he's dressed like a Christmas-themed Chippendale. You've only got to look like more trouble than you're worth, and they look like trouble and a half at the very least.

The moment they're outside the tenement and standing over a patch of dirt, Julio is going to drive the coin into the ground like it's the world's cruddiest arcade game, then stir up the ground to bury it and pass a hand raining bright thorns over the spot. In addition to the vibrant neon constructs of briars growing up through the patch of ground as he cleanses it, of course, there will be actual crocuses stabbing upward from the frosty soil, to his annoyance. He was reasonably confident he could cleanse one of the other coins, but this more potent example gives him cause for significant doubt.

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
Wild vines spring from the earth when the coin ends up buried. It takes a significant amount of stirring up dirt and cement, supercharged to spin and tear into the world's bones. Wiggling thin stems burst up, stretching out, the soft orange-red bark hardening around softer green organic flesh. More spreads out as pale leaves brave the cold, serrated edges unfurling, streaked in warmer viridian hues that would never by itself survive these cold temperatures.

Eager efforts to entangle together wind a happy little vine, seeking purchase to wrap around. Some kind of fence might encourage disproportionate, friendly growth.

Just a nice little scab for the wound inflicted. A coin buried in the earth. Fine, if he wants to leave it there, Julio absolutely can. But he can feel it, the green and the lesser kingdoms shivering wildly around the entropic ring.

Bobby Drake has posed:
Bobby stands by, watching the process and marveling at Julio. He doesn't really know much about magic, except that it can be a royal pain in the ass at times, and of great convenience at others.

A curious glance at the growth, the Iceman hms. "Looks proper and buried. Is that all it wrote?" he asks Julio, as the resident mystic. He was out of his depth when it came to judging the mystic state of something.

Julio Richter has posed:
Julio sits and listens for a second, then grunts and makes a face. The coin leaps back up out of the ground and into the air in front of him. There are little flecks of dirt around the details, and some of the corrosion might have been scraped off, but it's otherwise unchanged. "The spell worked, but it didn't /work/," he grumbles, which clears that right up. "Like, it happened, it's just not able to cleanse this."

He tilts his head from side to side, then admits, "It was always kind of a hack, anyway. I can cleanse the earth, and metal is from the Earth, so if I can return something to the Earth I can cleanse it." He pulls the coin toward him to peer at it, then zooms it away again. "If I had to guess, I'd say the problem is that it's not the metal that is cursed, it is the coin."

He waggles one hand. "Magic is full of bullshit like that. //Symbolism//. I would probably have to melt it down or grind it up into dust and scatter it -- Something to destroy its coin-ness -- before I could burn away the curse. But now I have to figure out where to put it. A cave somewhere, maybe?"

He shrugs, then lets out a breath. "Thanks, by the way. For your help," he says. "Maybe I didn't find Daniel's body, but Leena is one of the other people who was lost. Maybe now she and her baby will actually have a home to go back to." Not a great one by any means, he doesn't have to say. But it's better than living on the street, as he knows personally.

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
The coin stays inert, dirty a bit, grime caught in the flowing hair, the fluffed tail of the lion. But nothing has changed otherwise, except it hasn't caused anyone to spontaneously explore a nude lifestyle. Mostly.