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Blarghy

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  1. Player Away Thread

    I'm about to leave on vacation (my first ever paid vacation, as it happens, so I'm excited!) and although I'll probably look in now and then, I doubt I'll be posting. I should be back around the end of the month, thereabout.
  2. The Doctor Is OUT [IC]

    GM Content Notice: Possible Brutality (Descriptive Combat) "I'm not dying for you," Luca had promised, right before he disappeared. Tristan twitched a little; he was still frozen in place, body and mind both, with the certainty of his own death filling him and pushing every other thought out of his head. He initially wasn't sure how to react to his captor's vanishing, because he took several seconds to even process it. Then somebody screamed, and he jolted harder like he'd been slapped, but nothing more, not even when he saw Dr. West walk past him like he was moving through syrup, with a face like a ghost, staring at something beyond Tristan's field of vision. He couldn't move his eyes, let alone his head, but he heard his fellow scientist take a shuddering breath. The room went so quiet that they could all listen to the rustle of West's clothes when he bent down. "God in heaven," he whispered. Tristan became aware of the pain in his chest and at last remembered to breathe again. He slowly looked down and saw a dark red stream winding its way lazily across the floor until it reached his dress shoe and began to pool around it. His eyes followed the liquid back along its trail, growing thicker and thicker, until he saw, about eight feet away, what was left of Luca. He tried to take another breath, but failed. One of the teenagers started to cry. Dr. West stepped back, his hand covering his mouth; Dr. Daza hurried to the other side of the lab, picked up the industrial tarp that first covered them when they were each kidnapped and then cushioned Tristan's head when he slammed through the desk hours earlier, and now Daza unfolded it over the awful, stomach-turning remains. It wasn't much of a gesture, but in a room with five superb physicians, none of them held any illusions that they could heal that. "What do we do?" Dr. Collier asked--or at least, that's what her actual words said. What she really meant was, We're all doomed, because there's nothing we can do. There was a sudden rush of movement when one of their captors saw Luca's gun sitting on the floor well away from his corpse and ran for it. No one else tried to intercept him, but the boy grabbed it all the same and hugged it to his chest like a protective amulet. He stared at the others with wild, horrified eyes and managed to say, "You-you-you...you work! Right now! ...Please!" "Do something," one of his friends begged. "I want to go home!" another said, his voice choked and cracking. But still, Tristan couldn't move. Dr. Daza returned to him and put both hands on his shoulders, causing him to flinch for a third time. "Tristan," he said urgently. "Tristan, I need your help." When he received no response, he leaned in and spoke softer but just as insistently: "We have to do something! We must at least try, and I need your help!" At last, he broke free of his numbing terror. Every emotion seemed to flood in at once, leaving Tristan on the verge of hyperventilating. Above it all, one thought dropped into his mind like the closing of a coffin lid: I just let that happen. His ego desperately tried to replace it with others: What could I have done? It wasn't my fault. He wanted to kill me, anyway. It wasn't my fault. They may be young, but they're still criminals. It wasn't my fault. Even as Leviathan, I can't fight what I can't see. It wasn't my fault. I have made very reasonable efforts already, doing the best I can with what I have. It wasn't my fault. ...I just let that happen. He met Dr. Daza's eyes, and whatever was written in his own made the older doctor soften with sympathy. "I know," he promised emphatically. "But I need your help!" Trembling, Tristan desperately grasped for some kind of plan. He started giving out instructions: "Look again at those hair samples, especially the core; the medullary index is consistent with human ratios, but obviously it's much stronger than it should be, so maybe we can find something there. And put that blood back under the microscope; we know it has a higher red count than normal humans, but the cells themselves could tell us more. Re-run all the toxicology tests we can here, too; maybe we missed something." It was complete nonsense that wouldn't accomplish anything new, but his team and guards alike were grateful for any possible lead. Mostly, Tristan wanted to stall for time and keep everyone busy while he found a way to set a better idea into motion. He realized that the problem wasn't one of science--he told Luca the truth when he said they just couldn't produce results with such limited equipment and time--but rather, the problem was whatever bizarre, murderous creature haunted them. Tristan needed to get out of sight, transform, and...do something. He wasn't sure what, yet, but maybe at least he could stall his enemy and survive its attacks long enough to let everyone else escape. The change takes too long; someone might panic and then the shooting starts, or this monster will just kill me before I'm ready, then finish off everyone else. Another voice taunted and shamed him: You just don't want them to know. You're a coward, and it's killing people. He shook his head and gripped his shaking hands together. "Is there anything else here?" he asked the teenage thugs. "Anything? Another part of the lab, more tools, more machines, anything?" "There's more rooms downstairs," one said hesitantly. "Upstairs is just... I mean, downstairs there's, like, this little library with lots of books. You can't go down past that," he added quickly, "but we never saw any notes about not going that far." Tristan took several clues away from that, but first and foremost, he jumped on the chance to leave the lab. "I want to see," he said. "Maybe I can find something we can use. I won't go further down," he promised. "...O...Ok." Yes! "...But someone should probably go with you." No! The biggest of their captors by far, Anthony, raised one large hand. "I can do it," he offered. Very no! With a weak smile on the verge of a grimace, Tristan forced himself to nod. "Yyyyeahh, alright." Together they walked out past the huge vault door and its cobwebbed gun turrets to the landing where Tristan first found himself at the beginning of this terrible ordeal. He didn't have time to pay much attention before, but the ladder built into the concrete wall didn't just go up, but down too, through a shaft in the floor. He looked upward as he stepped onto it; in whatever room was above them, the ceiling was plaster like one might see in a private residence, not the square office tiles that were in the lab. Maybe that's the top level. Maybe that's the best way out... He and Anthony climbed down to the next floor and stepped off; Tristan turned his eyes down first and saw that whatever was below was the lowest point, but couldn't tell more than that. Here, the short hallway went in the opposite direction than above, so that if the lab was to the north (hypothetically, as he had no idea), then this other room was to the south. It had another vault door and turrets, open and inactive like before. Through here, they came to a room of about the same size as the last, but full of shelves, a desk like the one he destroyed with his face--and vice versa--and absolutely no exits. What am I supposed to do now? How do I fix this?! Tristan tried to stay relatively calm and pretended to browse the books without actually seeing them. His mind raced; after a minute, he turned his head back toward his escort, who was standing by the desk and chewing on his lower lip with an expression of fear and sorrow. "I'm...sorry about your friend," Tristan said, and he meant it. Anthony jumped like he forgot he wasn't alone. Several times, he started to speak but stopped, until he finally managed to explain, "I knew him since second grade." That hung in the air while Tristan slowly walked toward him. "I'm sorry," he said again. Anthony took a ragged breath, sat on the edge of the desk, and put his head in his hand. "We didn't want any of this. We didn't know what was going to happen. We just thought... I dunno. But it wasn't this. I'm not...maybe we're not the most...I mean, we're...he didn't deserve to die like that, man!" Tristan could only nod. He felt awful, but not so awful that it stopped him from picking up the dusty lamp on the desk and smashing it against Anthony's ear like a club. To his horror, the teen fell off the desk but didn't stay down, rising back up to tower over Tristan. The tragedy in his face mutated to rage at this unexpected betrayal, and his counter-punch squashed Tristan's barely-set nose against his face like a pancake and made him see spots. Pain flashed through his whole head, swirling behind his eyes like a tropical storm. Still, he punched back, striking perfectly against his opponent's diaphragm just under his ribs to knock the air out of his lungs and stop him from calling for help. Tristan was taken entirely by surprise at how much that hurt his hand, peeling some skin off his knuckles even against a relatively soft target, but now his lab-born instincts were taking over. This time he ducked away from the return hit, caught Anthony on his jaw--it hurt his fist much worse!--dodged a second time, kicked hard against his knee to bring him down, and jumped onto his back. Tristan desperately tried to establish a choke-hold; he had never actually attempted this before and only included it in his muscle memory in case Leviathan ever went up against some enormous monster that dwarfed even him. Such an idea had excited him at the time. Combat usually did. It was just so easy as Leviathan. Little pain, less risk, neither lasting. He mostly knocked around regular thugs like the one he now struggled with, and that hardly even counted in his other, monstrous body. It was like a cat playing with mice. Even when he faced real villains--and oh, how proud he always was of himself!--it wasn't like this. They hit him or shot him or used some trick to just slow him down while they got the hell away, and his clever science overcame the problem in seconds, so he laughed and hit back. Their turn, his turn, their turn, his turn, game, set, match! Sometimes Leviathan got scared for a bit, or sometimes he couldn't actually catch his quarry, but it was never truly serious. But this right here? This was his first fight. Anthony dove forward, hit his shoulder against the desk, and swung his elbow behind him to slam against Tristan's ribs. It hurt. Not just for a few seconds while his body lazily recognized the strike and then washed it away with comforting endorphins, but a real, stabbing pain that made his eyes moisten and almost convinced him to release his already-feeble grip. Purely thanks to fear for his own life, Tristan kept trying to lock his hand against his opposite elbow to seal the hold. His face was pressed against the back of Anthony's head and neck; he could taste the sweat, feel the other boy's hair against his chin, along with his own blood and mucus dripping from his broken nose onto his lips. It was hard to breathe, and even harder when Anthony rolled over onto him, pinning him to the floor and compressing his lungs. Still, he held on. When his arm slipped across Anthony's sweat-slick skin and gave the larger boy a brief moment of relief, his breath wheezed urgently like air hissing through a broken hose. Another elbow hit Tristan's ribs, and again, and the only reason he didn't scream was his own lack of oxygen. Anthony reached one hand over his shoulder, slapped and felt against Tristan's face, pulled at his bandages, pinched his broken nose, and finally, jammed a thumb into his eye. Tristan hysterically lashed his head back and forth and then bit down on two different fingers; he clenched his teeth together until he tasted blood, which frightened him so badly that he opened his mouth in pity. Still, he held on. Anthony leaned forward and then slammed his head back, sending blinding lances of pain through Tristan's sinuses and jaw; he thought he even felt his teeth loosen. His captor kicked and elbowed and squirmed. Still, Tristan held on. It took a horrifyingly long time. Partly because of perception, the adrenaline slowing everything down like some terrible magic. Partly because Tristan's technique was questionable despite his muscle memory--it was so much easier in a lab!--and he took much too long to lock his left hand against his right elbow and position his right hand behind Anthony's head so he could push it forward. But mostly because human beings fight like rabid dogs when they're backed into a corner, and Anthony really, really didn't want to go quietly. But at long last, when Tristan's face was covered in blood, sweat, snot, and tears, when his bruising was worse than ever and few of the gauze patches remained securely attached, he realized that he was trapped underneath a motionless weight, and let go. He struggled to free himself and rolled away, tried to stand up, fell back down, and nearly fainted. He could hardly see through the swirling black spots in his vision. His stomach was thankfully empty since he hadn't eaten since the night before, but he still dry heaved and had to crawl to the desk to pick himself up, gasping the whole way. He looked down at Anthony and was hit with a new fear: What if I killed him? That icy thought brought him back to the ground, where he tried to feel for a pulse but couldn't because his hands wouldn't stop shaking and all he could hear and feel was his own blood slamming through his veins. His heart was like an industrial machine trying to tunnel right out of his sternum. Tristan thought that Leviathan taught him what adrenaline meant, but he was wrong. Thankfully, he could put his ear to Anthony's face and feel his breath. At this point, his medical training started to come back; he remembered that strangulation, while not healthy, was an impractical way to murder someone unless the aggressor really committed to it. On the other hand, unconsciousness also rarely lasted as long as movies portrayed. Tristan staggered as quickly as he could back to the vault door and looked out; no one was coming down the ladder to investigate, and he could only barely hear sounds above from this position, thanks to the thick walls and floors. The reverse had to be true, so at least that was in his favor. He fought through the throbbing pain that split his skull and raced up and down his ribs and made his hands pulse and, let's be honest, just seemed to wash over his whole body. What now? Did he transform here, in the library? Squeeze up that ladder-shaft somehow? Tristan's plan, such as it was, was to burrow through the concrete a bit so that investigators would find a tunnel-mouth. That would give Leviathan a plausible means of entry and hopefully maintain his secrecy. There's one last floor down there. I could...go down, change, then tunnel out about ten feet, and then straight up to the lab. Come out through the middle of the floor, take out whoever's got the gun now, and...probably get torn up by that thing. But Leviathan can take it. It's got to be better than what I just did! Is it always like that? Is that what they all feel when Leviathan catches them? He felt sick again, but whatever he chose, he knew he had to do it fast. Tristan hurried down the short hallway to the ladder, expecting to see a note appear, or to hurt, or just die without warning at any moment. He breathed heavily through his mouth and drew one hand across it to wipe a mess of fluids from his lips. Down he went, clinging to the rungs that seemed to vibrate because everything about him, including his vision, couldn't stop shaking. He made it about halfway to the last floor before his foot slipped on something and he fell, landing so hard on his back that it knocked his breath out again. He lay there, wheezing, and was distantly surprised to see what looked like frost on the last half of the ladder, and the wall, and the ceiling too. At first his pain blocked it, but gradually, his skin confirmed what his eyes told him. Why...why is it so cold?
  3. The Labyrinth A Brief History of Douchebaggery Like most ancient myths, this is a story of blasphemy, revenge, and horrible sex acts. Long ago, King Minos of Crete, in an attempt to prove he was favored by the gods, prayed for such a sign (accounts vary; some attribute this to Zeus, others to Poseidon). He received a beautiful white bull on the understanding that it be sacrificed to his patron, but instead, in his arrogance, Minos kept his prize and substituted a lesser specimen. Greek gods being better known for creative retribution than mercy, this led to the perhaps misdirected punishment of causing Minos's wife, Pasiphaë, to lust for the Cretan Bull. You can probably guess what followed. One miraculously non-fatal childbirth later, Crete became the "proud" home to an abomination known as the Minotaur. The beast grew to sustain itself only on human flesh, and so Minos ordered Daedalus to construct an elaborate maze to contain it, as one does. Some years later, the neighboring Athens was forced to a treaty in which seven young men and seven young women were sent every certain number of years (again, accounts vary) to Crete as gruesome tribute. Daedalus's Labyrinth was almost impossible to escape, and inevitably, these prisoners encountered its first prisoner, to terrible results. This continued until Theseus voluntarily sailed to Crete with the other thirteen Athenians. With the help of Minos's daughter, Ariadne, he not only killed the Minotaur, but navigated his way out from the Labyrinth to freedom. It seemed as though the nightmare finally ended. But Hades, not to be excluded from his brother's fun, eventually raised the Minotaur from his Underworld. Daedalus had enraged him for refusing the questionable gift of immortality, and for a thousand years the Minotaur harried him across the ancient world. Unfortunately for Hades, his servant was as ineffective as the master was unreasonable; Daedalus might not match the Minotaur physically, but his cleverness more than balanced the inequality. A full millennium of disappointment passed. Finally, Hades demanded that his horned agent change tactics: he began to form alliances and learn new methods of troubling Daedalus, traveling far and wide in study. The Minotaur would never reach the level of his enemy's brilliance, but he did discover the value of friends (or, at least, accessories). He formed the Zodiac Cabal, and then after it, more complex organizations relying on mundane humans to perform the grunt-work. Ages passed, the world changed, and the Minotaur--now known as Taurus, to the few who knew him at all--changed with it. He no longer cared about Daedalus, and his single-minded subservience to Hades diminished, although some ties lingered. Now, in the time of industry more than magic, Taurus rests comfortably at the center of a vast business empire that few people can even fathom, at least not without putting on a tinfoil hat. What Bull-Men Want If Taurus has moved beyond his original purpose, then what drives him now? By and large, maintaining and expanding his holdings. Power, like physical matter, tends to attract more of itself like some kind of capitalistic gravity. The Minotaur has such wealth and influence that he outmatches any other single living entity, although it should be mentioned that he cannot easily use his full affluence at any single time, as none of it is in his name, but rather spread across many, many false identities and (often unwitting) pawns. His authority over the mortal world has grown so extreme that to unleash it to its fullest extent would probably prove his own undoing, and so Taurus must use a light touch. Thus, the Labyrinth. On a related note, Hades hasn't forgotten about Daedalus, and even though the god of the Underworld no longer bothers to control his horned minion, that doesn't mean he won't ever try. It's always possible that Hades may someday renew his original demand; Taurus now certainly has the resources to inflict quite a lot of hardship on Daedalus if he wants, and so long as the Labyrinth doesn't suffer in the process, he probably won't mind temporarily devoting one of its many segments to pacifying Hades. However, Taurus explicitly doesn't want any other villain, not even his old master, to conquer or destroy the world; it would terribly upset the status quo, which at this point is more or less his status quo. He sometimes forms temporary alliances if they are to his benefit, but his partners are never supposed to fully succeed. Heroes opposing such a villain might have an unlikely (but secret) ally. If Hades and Taurus do happen to find themselves on opposite sides of a scheme, and the death-god learns of it, it's anyone's guess what might happen. But it'll probably be bad. Maze Runners Apparently a fan of irony, Taurus calls his empire "the Labyrinth," applying the twists and turns of his old home/prison to a modern philosophy of deception. We can define it as a collection of businesses and organizations (sometimes criminal, sometimes legitimate) throughout the world, ostensibly unrelated but in reality all under the Minotaur's furry thumb. Some of them, he manages almost directly, like Labrys Industries, which is supposedly owned by CEO Bruce Carter, a man never seen in public thanks to extreme mysophobia. Others, Taurus leaves in the hands of his closest underlings, members of the Center, such as Grant Conglomerates and Delphic Industries. Countless more are managed by people who have no idea whom they serve. All combined, they form an interconnecting web of influence that stretches across the globe. Taurus controls everything from military defense contractors to food importers, philanthropists to cartel bosses, and through them, he buys bureaucrats and judges, spies and police, metahumans and kings. The Labyrinth is a lever that can move the world--and yet, it is also more. Decoys and Dead Ends The value of the Labyrinth cannot be overstated, but for all its price and power, it does more than just let Taurus influence mortal doings. It also protects him. All of his firms are ultimately expendable; he isn't the type to throw away a useful tool without good cause, but neither is Taurus such a miser that he'll risk himself or his freedom when he can remain hidden by sacrificing a pawn. This brings us to how the Labyrinth operates. At the top is, of course, the Minotaur. Below him is the Center: Jonathan Grant, Constantine Urallos, a metahuman called Payback, Dr. Peter Hanks, Dr. Victor Reeds, and possibly Taurus's right hand, the mysterious woman known as Ms. Scarlet. These six are the only Labyrinth agents who know their master's name and face, and in turn, they are the last line of defense against any who would try to learn the Labyrinth's true secrets. A relatively small portion of lesser minions believe that the Center runs their various conspiracies, and below them, the vast majority know even less. Most people simply believe that their own enterprise is a solitary entity, or perhaps that they belong to a cluster of allied groups answering to some other commander. By using "nodes" like this, Taurus can contain problems when pesky heroes stick their noses in his business--and over the millennia, he has learned that they inevitably do. No matter how careful he is in concealing his activities, mistakes happen, and so, he knows the value of contingency plans. Vigilantes are often very tenacious, they ignore traditional jurisdictions, and they're more difficult (but not impossible) to bribe than regular law enforcement. Usually, he can appease them with a singular villain or corporation. Some heroes are more skeptical, but if he thinks they want a conspiracy, then he just gives them one; it's a simple matter to array four or five different organizations together in a node so that any hero who goes that extra mile gets their intrigue-fix, finds the person "in charge," and walks away feeling satisfied. Taurus then instructs his minions to move in new agents to fill the void, taking extra care to seem squeaky clean for the next year, or decade, or generation, depending on just how keen the hero in question seems, and business continues as usual. When you're older than most world religions, you learn to play the long game. The Maddest Science We should devote special space to the DNAscent process, which may be the center jewel in Taurus's crown, and yet at the same time, a fire that occasionally burns him. It may seem odd that Taurus, who values control and has to devote significant resources to thwarting heroes, would deliberately create metahumans. A large part of his effort is to get ahead of the inevitable by positioning his corporations to take on offers by legitimate militaries and crime syndicates alike, and then to limit their progress. If he doesn't take these contracts, then someone else will, and at least this way, the Labyrinth can make discoveries on its own terms and retain whatever it learns or creates. Taurus deliberately engineers more failures than successes, and when he does allow a new supernatural entity to come about, he then keeps tabs on them, or in the case of particularly dangerous or useful outcomes, sends in Labyrinth brainwashing experts to bend the hero to his will, whether they remain under the apparent control of their buyer or are quietly shuttled to a full Labyrinth agency. The only thing worse than a new hero is a new hero outside of Taurus's control. In spite of his best efforts, mistakes still happen, and a distressing number of people (and "people," depending on just how warped they are after surviving DNAscent) are running around the world today, answerable only to themselves. Some of them know far more than they should. Taurus wants them back, or failing that, deep in the ground. Furthermore, it just pays to keep tabs on centers of superhero activity, especially when such places have secondary value. Emerald City is also a good source of new technology (and is the site of Taurus's Shadow Academy, the dark mirror to Claremont); Bedlam's rampant corruption offers all sorts of opportunities, the least being a large number of DNAscent test subjects that no one will miss. And when we talk about heroes, Freedom City has no equal. It's no coincidence that Jonathan Grant and Constantine Urallos, a full third of the Center, base their operations here. Taurus may specialize in traditional wealth and influence, but he won't turn down more blatant, blunt sources of power. Your battlesuit? Taurus wants that. Your magic sword? Taurus wants that. Your alien symbiote, your talking motorcycle, your super-secret training technique, your ancient artifact, your body-altering tattoo, your power ring, your self-harvesting potatoes--Taurus wants it all. To Infinity and Beyond (and then Back with the Loot) It's safe to say that no other single villain can compare to Taurus's mind-boggling holdings, although some have greater raw power or abilities that he, personally, cannot hope to match. The Minotaur has so thoroughly infiltrated human society, in fact, that his future gains on Earth will be measured in inches instead of miles. So what if his ambition stretches beyond Earth? In the earliest days of human space travel, Taurus probably cared more about the technology that made exploration possible than the exploration itself. Now, he and humanity can see a glimpse of just what lies beyond their atmosphere, and it is positively fantastic. Earth isn't precisely open to the galactic community yet, but it will be eventually, and when that happens, Taurus is sure to take a close interest. Until that day, he may still be able to profit. Yes, it is difficult (and more importantly, risky) to position his agents to directly handle interstellar diplomacy, especially given how carefully the Freedom League monitors such things, but perhaps there are other routes. While he busies himself preparing for a truly cosmic empire, Taurus also considers making contact with outside groups. Maybe he can use mind-controlled heroes to wiggle his way into their organizations, or maybe he'll just hire alien mercenaries. Smuggling contraband into or out of Earth is an obvious and lucrative source of new revenue, especially since the Labyrinth currently would have few competitors. It definitely won't stop there. Taurus's ambition is a horrible, hungry thing, balanced only by the kind of patience that his great age bestows. He cares about this and all other worlds purely for what they can offer him; even his closest agents and best corporations are less valuable than his mere secrecy, let alone his life. Nothing is sacred; nothing is safe. Heroes who oppose Taurus and his Labyrinth will find this enemy to be merciless, many-headed, and adept at subtlety, with such resources as to rival nations. The only reason it doesn't bring its full power to bear is out of self-interest. In the past several hundred years since the Labyrinth took shape, nothing and no one has threatened it to the point that it must show its full hand; doing so would probably be catastrophic, not just for Taurus, but for the world itself, as despite his monstrous nature, hundreds of millions directly or indirectly depend on his enterprises. If the house of cards crumbles, then no one, not Taurus, not Hades, can predict the full consequences. So what's a hero to do?
  4. "Sounds like this city could use another one," Leviathan grinned. "Maybe some clever heroes who already even have a base of operations." Despite the apparent offer, Leviathan couldn't think, off-hand, of anyone else they might include. He'd worked with a few other heroes, but never more than once or twice, and it was a pretty big commitment to spring on somebody. Just two people hardly made a team, and he wasn't sure what contacts Bonfire might have of his own. Although, given the other hero's talent for networking, he probably knew a lot more than Leviathan did. Then there was another barrier: "Hrmm...and now that I think about it, I remember how hard it is to come up with a good name, too." For such a seemingly-frivolous problem, his scaly forehead scrunched up. Then again, Bonfire of all people should understand the importance of strong branding.
  5. [IC] Freedom of Information

    As before, Leviathan thought about this and decided, with mild disappointment, that Bonfire's voice of caution was probably wiser. "No, you're right; it would be risky. Besides, if things go bad and we can't get out stealthily, then I'm not really worried about regular mercenaries, no matter how many of them there are. Normal bullets aren't very effective against either of us when we transform. Hopefully we can maintain our disguises and carry out the mission peacefully, in which case, we won't want to rush it. If it isn't peaceful, then maybe it's for the best that we have as many of Freedom City's criminals there in one place so we can take down more of them." That idea made him smile. "Is there anything else you can think of? Or are we about set until this weekend? We should probably meet again earlier in the afternoon for any final preparations, but it's hard to make solid plans until we know exactly what we're walking into. Maybe once we have the address, you can use your invisibility to scout around, get the layout, spot guards, and such as that."
  6. Viva Val Verde (OOC)

    As we've discussed, feel free to skip ahead unless you've got more planned for the museum (let me know if you need any rolls, or you can make Notice checks for me in secret, if you prefer that). If there's nothing else of note, then Warne will be checking out one of those recommended restaurants next, hoping to come across signs of old Perez sympathizers.
  7. Viva Val Verde (IC)

    I would not be so sure about that, Warne thought privately. Aloud, he agreed, "/Gallo was probably wise. Once leaders start to hang people, they do not always stop.//" The cigarette made him want another too, but he resisted, partly because it would set an unfortunate example here, but also because seeing a child--however mature--partake even in gesture made Warne properly uncomfortable. Still, he didn't say anything, which hardly gave him any kind of moral high ground. "/Why don't you show me through the full museum?//" he suggested. He thought he'd gotten about as much of use about Perez and his ilk as was likely, yet he still had time to kill before moving on. It would be suspicious if he left now, anyway, if anyone was keeping tabs on him, which Warne assumed just as a matter of professional habit. Plus, he might always learn more during the tour; sometimes the best clues were the ones you hadn't actually searched for.
  8. Leviathan adjusted his shoulders and played with his enormous hands almost as though he was embarrassed by the compliment, which once again pleased him. "I'm not sure if I'd be good at it or not," he played it off with the thinnest of modesty. "But it's fun to think about, now that I do... Really, I'd just be satisfied to get on a team someday. Growing up, some of my favorite heroes were the loners, but now that I've tried it, it's not so great. Having people to watch your back and point out your dumb decisions is a lot more convenient. Without your help, I never would've beaten Solemn. I'd probably still be standing on that rooftop right now, watching him wave his phone around and threaten to expose me."
  9. [IC] Freedom of Information

    Man, I'd like to study this guy, Leviathan thought. It made him feel guilty again for the last sample he took without Bonfire's permission or knowledge; he told himself that he really didn't need to make that a habit, but the other hero's abilities were just so intriguing. "We've got something in common there, then. My transformation isn't good for my normal clothes, and even if I have the chance to take them off gently first, I still usually can't carry them around with me. I've learned to make my own thanks to my lesser shapeshifting, using leaf or feather-like growths. It won't pass a detailed inspection, but it beats walking around naked after a job. Your methods sound very useful, though; I'm kind of jealous." He turned back to the enormous, living computer. "Anyway, to get back on track, I found this group that rents thugs, and their site looks like it's less secure than most. I think I can worm my way in and steal Club Mayhem's location when we're ready. Knowing a bit about these people might help us in other ways, too; they could be some of the most legitimately dangerous criminals in the building, and if things go wrong and we have to fight our way out, then they'll probably be in our way. ...Actually, when I get the address, maybe I can change theirs a little. If we're lucky, some or all of the group might show up to the wrong place and not be a threat at all. What do you think?"
  10. "Hmmm...no, I think you're right." Leviathan looked a little disappointed, but it passed quickly, and he nodded a few times. "That's good advice. I should take it slow and be careful. I guess I'm just a little impatient. It's kind of hard to wait; I've wanted this for so long, and now that my 'career' is starting to get going, I don't always think things through. So you're right; we'll start with what we have already, see how things go, and break the news about my morphing when the time seems right. "You know, you're pretty good at this. Since you've got AEGIS connections too, I almost wonder if you're a real spy." He gave a lopsided grin.
  11. [IC] Freedom of Information

    Leviathan would have a few ideas about this webpage, but they'd only come in a moment, as for now, he stared open-mouthed at Bonfire. "I...ok, maybe...Europeans sound good, and you're apparently qualified to pose as a Frenchman, but maybe I should just be British to make it simpler. But more importantly, how are you doing that? You're not a shapeshifter like me, right? It's like that thing you did when we fought Solemn, when you made an illusion of yourself and then snuck up behind him. Can you manipulate light as part of your fire talents? Are you just a straight-up wizard? How much can you do, and how? What's the deal?"
  12. Lights, Camera, Action! (IC)

    God damn it, the Fanatic is from the other dimension after all, Warne thought with a soft groan. So Jason Brown summoned him or her--hell, maybe the Fanatic is Ridley--and wasn't exactly rewarded for it. That's going to make prosecuting them a bit more complicated. Although, they did apparently kidnap American citizens on American soil, so that's clear-cut. And this still assumes that these two aren't lying. And I guess it's possible that Jason Brown brought his dead father back to life, and he's our culprit. Or the movie-personification of him, if his role as a stunt-man was strong enough to create a duplicate. Whoever it is, we still have to find them, and now we have vulnerable civilians to protect in the process, not to mention our bloodthirsty "allies." The agent reached for his phone, then stopped and scowled. Can't even call for help, because the Fanatic might be listening in, and worse, impersonate Chalmers to feed us false instructions. Whatever we do now, we're on our own. "We'll find him," Warne promised. "But we also need to get the two of you to safety. I don't suppose you know of an easy way out of this bunker, which was apparently constructed beneath your home without your knowledge." His professionalism slipped, letting sarcasm into his voice; it had been a long day. He rubbed his temple, then looked to Miracle Girl and suggested, "Alternatively, it might be best if you just flew them out the way you came in. I assume you can get to the nearest police station and return almost before we even register that you're gone, and then we can continue our search. "But first," Warne said to Gabby, "what exactly did your brother say his plan was, when all of this first started?"
  13. Whew! Finally got around to writing this. As the title says, it's just the first draft, so comments and critiques are appreciated; I'm going on vacation this weekend, so unless anybody has major problems with it, then my plan is to let this sit for a few days, then edit and make whatever changes are suggested, and post it before I leave. The Labyrinth A Brief History of Douchebaggery Like most ancient myths, this is a story of blasphemy, revenge, and horrible sex acts. Long ago, King Minos of Crete, in an attempt to prove he was favored by the gods, prayed for such a sign (accounts vary; some attribute this to Zeus, others to Poseidon). He received a beautiful, white bull on the understanding that it be sacrificed to his patron, but instead, in his arrogance, Minos kept his prize and substituted a lesser animal. Greek gods being better known for creative retribution than mercy, this led to the perhaps misdirected punishment of causing Minos's wife, Pasiphaë, to lust for the Cretan Bull. You can probably guess what followed. One miraculously non-fatal childbirth later, Crete became the "proud" home to an abomination known as the Minotaur. The beast grew to sustain itself only on human flesh, and so Minos ordered Daedalus to construct an elaborate maze to contain it, as one does. Some years later, the neighboring Athens was forced to a treaty in which seven young men and seven young women were sent every certain number of years (again, accounts vary) to Crete as gruesome tribute. Daedalus's Labyrinth was almost impossible to escape, and inevitably, these prisoners encountered its first prisoner, to terrible results. This continued until Theseus voluntarily sailed to Crete with the other thirteen Athenians. With the help of Minos's daughter Ariadne, he not only killed the Minotaur, but navigated his way out from the Labyrinth to freedom. It seemed as though the nightmare finally ended. But Hades, not to be omitted from his brother's fun, eventually raised the Minotaur from his Underworld. Daedalus had enraged him for refusing the questionable gift of immortality, and for a thousand years, the Minotaur harried him across the ancient world. Unfortunately for Hades, his servant was as ineffective as the master was unreasonable; Daedalus might not match the Minotaur physically, but his cleverness more than balanced the inequality. A full millennia of disappointment passed. Finally, Hades demanded that his horned agent change tactics: he began to form alliances and learn new methods of troubling Daedalus, traveling far and wide in study. The Minotaur would never reach the level of his enemy's brilliance, but he did discover the value of friends (or, at least, accessories). He formed the Zodiac Cabal, and then after it, more complex organizations relying on mundane humans to perform the grunt-work. Ages passed, the world changed, and the Minotaur--now known as Taurus, to the few who knew him at all--changed with it. He no longer cared much at all about Daedalus, and his single-minded subservience to Hades diminished, although some ties lingered. Now, in the time of industry more than magic, Taurus rests comfortably at the center of a vast business empire that few people can even fathom, at least not without putting on a tinfoil hat. What Bull-Men Want If Taurus has moved beyond his original purpose, then what drives him now? By and large, maintaining and expanding his holdings. Power, like physical matter, tends to attract more of itself like some kind of capitalistic gravity. The Minotaur has such wealth and influence that he outmatches any other single living entity, although it should be mentioned that he cannot easily use his full affluence at any single time, as none of it is in his name, but rather spread across many, many false identities and real pawns. His authority over the mortal world has grown so extreme that to unleash it to its fullest extent would probably prove his own undoing, and so Taurus must use a light touch. Thus, the Labyrinth. On a related note, Hades hasn't forgotten about Daedalus, and even though the god of the Underworld no longer bothers to control his horned minion, that doesn't mean he won't ever try. It's always possible that Hades may someday renew his original demand; Taurus now certainly has the resources to inflict quite a lot of suffering on Daedalus if he wants, and so long as the Labyrinth doesn't suffer in the process, he probably won't mind temporarily devoting one of its many segments to pacifying Hades. However, Taurus explicitly doesn't want any other villain, not even his old master, to conquer or destroy the world; it would terribly upset the status quo, which at this point is more or less his status quo. He sometimes forms temporary alliances if they are to his benefit, but his partners are never supposed to fully succeed. Heroes opposing such a villain might find an unlikely (but secret) ally. If Hades and Taurus do happen to find themselves on opposite sides of a scheme, and the death-god learns of it, it's anyone's guess what might happen. But it'll probably be bad. Maze Runners Apparently a fan of irony, Taurus calls his empire "the Labyrinth," applying the twists and turns of his old home/prison to a modern philosophy of deception. We can define it as a collection of businesses and organizations (sometimes criminal, sometimes legitimate) throughout the world, ostensibly unrelated but in reality all under the Minotaur's furry thumb. Some of them, he manages almost directly, like Labrys Industries, which is supposedly owned by CEO Bruce Carter, a man never seen in public thanks to extreme mysophobia. Others, Taurus leaves in the hands of his closest underlings, members of the Center, mainly Grant Conglomerates and Delphic Industries. Countless more are managed by people who have no idea whom they secretly serve. All combined, they form an interconnecting web of influence that stretches across the globe. Taurus controls everything from military defense contractors to food importers, philanthropists to cartel bosses, and through them, he buys bureaucrats and judges, spies and cops, heroes and kings. The Labyrinth is a lever that can move the world--and yet, it is also more. Decoys and Dead Ends The value of the Labyrinth cannot be overstated, but for all its price and power, it does more than just let Taurus influence mortal doings. It also protects him. All of his firms are ultimately expendable; he isn't the type to throw away a useful toy without good cause, but neither is Taurus such a miser that he'll risk himself or his freedom when he can remain hidden by sacrificing a pawn. This brings us to how the Labyrinth operates. At the top is, of course, the Minotaur. Below him is the Center: Jonathan Grant, Constantine Urallos, a metahuman called Payback, Dr. Peter Hanks, Dr. Victor Reeds, and possibly Taurus's right hand, the mysterious woman known as Ms. Scarlet. These six are the only Labyrinth agents who know their master's name and face, and in turn, they are the last line of defense against any who would try to learn the Labyrinth's true secrets. A relatively small portion of lesser minions believe that the Center runs their various conspiracies, and below them, the vast majority know even less. Most people simply believe that their own enterprise is a solitary entity, or perhaps that they belong to a cluster of allied groups answering to some other commander. By using "nodes" like this, Taurus can contain problems when pesky heroes stick their noses in his business--and over the millennia, he has learned that they inevitably do. No matter how careful he is in concealing his activities, mistakes happen, and so, he knows the value of contingency plans. Vigilantes are often very tenacious, they ignore traditional jurisdictions, and they're more difficult (but not impossible) to bribe than regular law enforcement. Usually, he can appease them with a singular villain or corporation. Some heroes are more skeptical, but if he thinks they want a conspiracy, then he just gives them one; it's a simple matter to array four or five different organizations together in a node so that any hero who goes that extra mile gets their intrigue-fix, finds the person "in charge," and walks away feeling satisfied. Taurus then instructs his minions to move in new agents to fill the void, taking extra care to seem squeaky clean for the next year, or decade, or generation, depending on just how keen the hero in question seems, and business continues as usual. When you're older than most world religions, you learn to play the long game. The Maddest Science We should devote special space to the DNAscent process, which may be the center jewel in Taurus's modern crown, and yet at the same time, a fire that occasionally burns him. It may seem odd that Taurus, who values control and has to devote significant resources to thwarting heroes, would deliberately create metahumans. A large part of his effort is to get ahead of the inevitable by positioning his corporations to take on offers by legitimate militaries and crime syndicates alike, and then to limit their progress. If he doesn't take these contracts, then someone will, and at least this way, the Labyrinth can make discoveries on its own terms and retain whatever it learns or creates. Taurus deliberately engineers more failures than successes, and when he does allow a new supernatural entity to come about, he then keeps tabs on them, or in the case of particularly dangerous or useful outcomes, sends in Labyrinth brainwashing experts to bend the hero to his will, whether they remain under the apparent control of their buyer or are quietly shuttled to a full Labyrinth agency. The only thing worse than a new hero is a new hero outside of Taurus's control. In spite of his best efforts, mistakes still happen, and a distressing number of people (and "people," depending on just how warped they are after surviving DNAscent) are running around the world today, answerable only to themselves. Some of them know far more than they should. Taurus wants them back, or failing that, deep in the ground. Furthermore, it just pays to keep tabs on centers of superhero activity, especially when such places have secondary value. Emerald City is also a good source of new technology (and is the site of Taurus's Shadow Academy, the dark mirror to Claremont); Bedlam's rampant corruption offers all sorts of opportunities, the least being a large number of DNAscent test subjects that no one will miss. And when we talk about heroes, Freedom City has no equal. It's no coincidence that Jonathan Grant and Constantine Urallos, a full third of the Center, base their operations here. Taurus may specialize in traditional wealth and influence, but he won't turn down more blatant, blunt sources of power. Your battlesuit? Taurus wants that. Your magic sword? Taurus wants that. Your alien symbiote, your self-harvesting potatoes, your talking motorcycle, your super-secret training technique, your ancient artifact, your body-altering tattoo, your power ring--Taurus wants it all. To Infinity and Beyond (then Back with the Loot) It's safe to say that no other single villain can match Taurus's mind-boggling holdings, although a few have greater open power or abilities that he, personally, cannot hope to surpass. The Minotaur has so thoroughly infiltrated human society, in fact, that his future gains on Earth will be measured in inches instead of miles. So what if his ambition stretches beyond Earth? In the earliest days of human space travel, Taurus probably cared more about the technology that made exploration possible than the exploration itself. Now, he and humanity can see a glimpse of just what lies beyond their atmosphere, and it is positively fantastic. Earth isn't precisely open to the galactic community yet, but it may soon (relatively) be, and when that happens, Taurus is sure to take a close interest. Until that day, he may still be able to profit. Yes, it is difficult (and more importantly, risky) to position his agents to directly handle interstellar diplomacy, especially given how carefully the Freedom League monitors such things, but perhaps there are other routes. While he busies himself preparing for a truly cosmic empire, Taurus also considers making contact with outside groups. Maybe he can use mind-controlled heroes to wiggle his way into galactic organizations, or maybe he'll just hire alien mercenaries. Smuggling contraband into or out of Earth is an obvious and lucrative source of new revenue, especially since the Labyrinth currently would have few competitors. It definitely won't stop there. Taurus's ambition is a horrible, hungry thing, balanced only by the kind of patience that his great age bestows. He cares about this (and other) world(s) purely for what they can offer him; even his closest and best agents are less valuable than his mere secrecy, let alone his life. Nothing is sacred; nothing is safe. Heroes who oppose Taurus and his Labyrinth will find this enemy to be merciless, many-headed, and adept at subtlety, with such resources as to rival nations. The only reason it doesn't bring its full power to bear is out of self-interest. In the past several hundred years since the Labyrinth took shape, nothing and no one has threatened it to the point that it must show its full hand; doing so would probably be catastrophic, not just for Taurus, but for the world itself, as despite his monstrous nature, hundreds of millions directly or indirectly depend on his enterprises. If the house of cards crumbles, then no one, not Taurus, not Hades, can predict the full consequences. So what's a hero to do?
  14. "Please do," Leviathan replied. "But in the mean time, I wanted to bring up my shapeshifting. You've seen me do a bit of that already. I've been trying to keep it a secret, but lately, I've thought that eventually it's going to come out. Maybe it's better to make that happen on my own terms. If someone else exposes me, then it could make my whole identity seem suspicious, but if you report it, then you can spin it as just an ability of my species. What do you think? It also helps explain how my 'ancestors' were able to get stuff like those scrolls, too. Keeps people from wondering why we were never spotted in the past. And hey, maybe we can have some fun with it. Get some pictures of me impersonating famous celebrities, historical figures, and so on."
  15. [IC] Freedom of Information

    At first, Leviathan didn't seem to hear Bonfire; he was watching the screen, one claw posed above his keyboard. He almost clicked into the pharmaceutical site but managed to resist. I'll be coming back for you another day. When he did process his ally's suggestion, that too mildly worried the lizard. He thought about his own (distant) heritage. It's just a coincidence, Leviathan told himself. He can't know. ...Can he? "Welllllll...I don't speak French, so that might be a problem." He laughed, and oddly, it sounded a little nervous (yet truthful), though he moved on quickly. "But I can change my voice pretty well. An accent shouldn't be hard. Just, again, we could get into some trouble if we meet someone who wants to talk in our 'native language.' Can you speak French?" In the hopes of covering up his earlier strangeness, Leviathan started picking out the weakest links of the sites he found. He would assume that the more niche markets could have less security than big, bold enterprises like gun runners, but he based his choices on what he actually saw. If there was a good opportunity to set up a backdoor too, then so much the better.
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