Introducing El Grajo

Well since Derrick keeps posting the images with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, I dusted off DOUBLE DARE today to introduce the lady who got me into this mess before the cease and desist notices start a flyin’: the unofficial not quite Peregrine of 1975 Ms. Karina Ruiz – El Grajo!

Originally she was a big Afro wearing 70s throwback to heroes like Luke Cage, the Falcon, and Black Lightning your average street level masked Misty Knight if you know your comic book Blaxploitation era ladies, though Misty admittedly, showed up just past the FOXY BROWN era. But she got bussed over to my other fake epic DILLON AND THE MASK OF AMIRI EZANA under her new stage name: Coco Brown and thinly related her to every lead Pam Grier ever played in the 70s…

So of course Derrick Ferguson wants to write it up…

…well yeah, Dillon and Pam Grier, I dig it.

So my Lady Blackbird had to get a new owner for her mask…

…so I kidnapped Karina from a starship I left her on some fifteen years ago and she seemed up for it…

…with a name change.

And since she’s not going into a Peregrine timeline any time soon, I went along with her suggestion for the fun of it…

Of course Karina from space needed a little something to set her apart…

…so I tossed a steel bat in her hands which is as far from mystic daggers as you can get.

So let’s suit up and swing into action as El Grajo takes flight…

…with Citizen Silver and The Peregrine in tow.

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She rolled out of the tunnel into the heart of the melee Silver and the masked man he was with had started. The Deathsmith was one of Silver’s oldest enemies but she had enough encounters with him over the years they were in the Fold to know his moves. Silver stopped off long enough to check in with his home team to reestablish his identity and life globally so the rest of them would have a base to operate from besides Thunderfoot’s ship. Leaving nothing to chance, Silver anticipated the possibility that he would be pulled into a conflict that would take him off-world at the very least and initiated a long term contingency plan that maintained and even expanded his operations while he was away.

In the meantime she had immediately hit the streets when it was determined that Deathsmith had escaped the Fold and was loose on their patch of Earth again. Even though the area had realigned itself with the world again, Deathsmith had not left Outcast for the greater world beyond. He needed to prepare first. He’d have to find bodies as quickly as he could establish a staging area to build his army of “corspemen”.

Karina had stumbled onto an abduction of one of the vagrants that Deathsmith normally goes after for use as one of his abominations. The few originals he’d brought over from the Fold weren’t the numbers he required for the chaos that he related to control. The forgotten men and women who populated the fringes of society in the area would be the easiest to “recruit” for his cause. A clue here. A hint there. The eventual realization that Silver had joined in the hunt and somehow beat her to Deathsmith’s base. Though she was still a way off, Karina had picked up enough of the encounter and conversation with the masked newcomer to be rightfully startled. So much so that she was slow catching up and joining them as they climbed into the darkness below.

The mass of Deathsmith’s newly created corpsmen had surrounded Silver and the masked man, who were holding their own despite the uneven odds. Karina kept her focus tight; she set her mind exclusively to the job at hand to avoid letting it wander to other questions she had since Outcast had been released from the Fold back into the world. Questions like who the masked man with Silver was, because he couldn’t be who Silver believes he is.

The masked man was obviously a skilled fighter. It took several blows, and apparently he was familiar enough with Deathsmith’s work to not use the handgun he carried with lethal intent. Karina had learned a lot about hand-to-hand combat in the Fold, but the masked man, the guy claiming he was The Peregrine, was impressive. Silver, however, put both of them to shame.

Silver glided, seeming more specter than man. He would appear to melt and solidify at will as he struck down the nearby corpsemen. A gentle pivot avoided the dead gray hands of one corpseman, an errant wrist flick would lift that same assailant off the ground stumbling off balance. Silver followed with a swift punch that seemed to snap short of its target but as the corpseman crumpled into a ball of flesh at his feet, Silver had already moved on with his plan of attack for the next few opponents already worked out. Karina had tried to learn the Method many times since they were pulled into the Fold, but it seemed to something more than technique. She always found herself holding her breath whenever she saw him in battle.

Held in rapt attention watching Silver as she was, Karina nearly missed a couple of corpsemen shambling her way until they were nearly on top of her. The smell of earth and rotten flesh snapped her back into the moment and she rolled away putting distance between them and herself. Karina’s fingers moved swiftly snatching at the black metal bat she had hooked to her belt. She barely had time to establish a comfortable grip before Karina swung at the first one, the bat jarring the chin of the closest corpseman snapping its head backwards violently. Karina didn’t check to see if the gray man was in pain or not. Corpsemen were engineered not to feel pain like ordinary human beings. Their bones could be broken, the nerves could be neutralized to inhibit movement, they could be beaten or drugged into unconsciousness, but the corpsemen felt no pain. Short of knocking them out or killing them, the mindless, deathlike state they were in would drive them to do whatever was necessary to get to their target until stopped or commanded to do otherwise.

Realizing she’d get no help from Silver and the masked man, Karina looked for a way to end this before they were overwhelmed. She let loose with the bat again. Karina threw a hard, double-handed swing; bashing a lumbering corpseman’s knees so hard, that when it dropped, Karina was sure she had shattered the thing’s left kneecap. An abrupt grunt carried in an explosion of air from the creature was the only acknowledgement of the damage done. Without waiting to see if the thing could stand, Karina’s bat arced over her head and slammed down on the corpseman’s right shoulder. She raised and swung the bat down again on the same area screaming her frustration out on having no other choice to put the corpseman down. Karina through she heard a cracking sound muted under flesh and with the echo of her scream still reverberating in her ears, she raised her foot and kicked down on the shoulder. It shifted unnaturally under her weight like a chicken when it’s on a cutting board to be deboned. The corpseman collapsed, unable to right itself to continue the fight.

Karina saw a recess in a wall to her right midway between where she was and the main fight with Silver and the man calling himself The Peregrine. She could barely make out the edge of a concealed passageway. Guessing that her quick victory went unnoticed because there hadn’t been any other corpsemen headed her way, Karina moved for wall. For the moment, she finally allowed her mind to chase after the thread she had been ignoring: the appearance of a man calling himself The Peregrine. She could only see him that way because everyone knew – at least everyone did before she and her companions left the world behind for the Fold – that The Peregrine was dead. The mask she wore once belonged to The Peregrine…

…but it couldn’t have been this man.

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She felt a shudder like a breeze catching you unaware on the back of your neck. A voice, familiar and strident clearly in her head barked, “Turn! On your the right!”

Karina didn’t pause to consider the warning; she didn’t have to. She spun rapidly, ducking low and to the right. Her mind recorded air making a hollow whooshing sound as it was cut by the swing of a particularly wicked looking cleaver wielded by a form moving with a fast flowing movement like a liquid shadow. Her instincts kicked in and she swung the bat she held with a grunt, solidly connecting center mass with a hit hard enough to make something give. An explosion of breath and choked squeal from the folding blackness as she connected let Karina know one other thing: she wasn’t dealing with a corpseman. For a moment the darkness congealed into a tangled, pulsating ball then suddenly unfolded and became a man.

The Deathsmith glared balefully from behind the shapeless gray face mask he wore as he struggled to breathe without distress. Her blow had apparently been better placed than she thought. He gulped another breath then gave up the pretense and coughed to clear his throat. He towered over her, cadaverous and menacing despite his injuries, the cleaver still in hand. The grayness hiding Deathsmith’s features contorted slightly into what Karina could assume was a sneer – or maybe a grimace.

“Little Bird…” Deathsmith hissed.

He shot towards her, ejecting himself into the air, a savage winged creature of shadow and hate with a gleaming talon singing through the air faster than the human eye could follow. Karina planted her feet like a batter in the box on a summer afternoon and swung. Deathsmith, realized his error too late as the bat connected solidly with his shoulder and arm that held the cleaver spasmed reflexively. The blade dropped from numbed fingers, its deflected angle pinwheeling it scant inches over Karina’s thigh and behind her. Deathsmith was saved the effort of processing his pain as Karina followed up with a second swing of the bat that ripped into his jaw, which loosened more than a few teeth, and snatched away what little consciousness the madman was clinging to.

“Good job.” The “voice” in her head tickled the back of her neck just beneath her skull, and she saw The Peregrine. At least The Peregrine she was familiar with. He looked about the same as the other times she saw him, a well built, muscular man looking slightly disheveled in his rumpled suit and wrinkled overcoat. His hair was unkempt and sort of wild like hippies she’d known when she last walked this world in the 1970s, the face was handsome but gaunt and she couldn’t say, even now, if the paleness of his skin was due to illusion, delusion, the nature of his ephemeral existence connecting them since she first donned the mask, or something less metaphysical from his life before death. Karina knew a few people from her life in the States and her hometown in Puerto Rico who did drugs and her Peregrine reminded her of those people from long ago.

“You want to tell me what’s going on here?” Karina was used to these occasional visions. These “visitations” was the one secret she had managed to keep from her colleagues. She had no idea if they’d doubt her sanity or ability and as yet neither one of those seemed overly affected by the visions.

At not until now with another man that Silver is claiming as the genuine article despite the passage of time.

“You’re talking about The Peregrine.” The vision before her actually seemed to adopt an expression that seemed to her to be akin to guilt or regret. His shoulders dropped slightly. “He’s exactly who Silver says he is, though I’m as surprised as you are that he’s here.”

“How is that possible?” Karina asked. “So who does that make you?”

“The Peregrine,” the vision responded. Karina noted his face made a half-hearted effort at a smile. It fell just short of successful “Just not THE Peregrine.”

Karina was about to say something else when the vision faded. Behind her she heard the cereal crunch of gravel of approaching feet. The cadence wasn’t from any of Deathsmith’s corpsemen.

“Silver?” Karina turned to see the massive white skinned adventurer glide into view. The man answering to The Peregrine was the noisy one otherwise she wouldn’t have heard a thing. She raised her bat to point in his direction over Silver’s shoulder. “Who’s your friend?”

The masked man’s gaze locked immediately on Karina’s face. She thought she saw a reaction forming but it was pulled back quickly, the only betrayal being a furrowed brow. “Nice mask.”

Karina was about to answer when Silver’s voice smoothly glider ahead of her. “This is The Peregrine. We go back a bit.” Silver didn’t wait for pleasantries. Nodding in Karina’s direction, he continued. “Peregrine, this is El Grajo, one of my colleagues and a friend.” Karina didn’t break into a smile. Silver didn’t make admissions of friendship lightly.

The Peregrine was still looking at her face, her mask, without realizing that he was lingering. Karina concluded he was trying to work out a solution to the unexpected puzzle she presented.

At least they were in the same boat.

The Peregrine adopted a less distracted air and stepped forward as if to extend his hand, “I see, ‘El Grajo’ is it? My Spanish is a little rusty, but doesn’t that translate to ‘the Ro–“ The Peregrine’s eyes widened as his focus shifted just over her shoulder.

“W- Walter?”

Karina turned, and for the first time since she had found the mask, her vision – her Peregrine had formed in front of other people. And the vision of The Peregrine that had been more than a voice in her head, looked past her at the other masked man. She also saw something she knew she’d probably never see again. Her vision, this ghost, was crying.

“Hi, Dad.”

Sounds like a good place to stop.

See you next time.

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