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Avenger Assembled

Avenger

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The Fens, the poorest, most crime-ridden area of Freedom City, has a new superhero: the tough, take-no-prisoners vigilante Avenger. The mysterious black-clad hero has dished out several brutal beatings to the worst of the worst who prey on the weakest and most disadvantaged people in society.

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"Geez, what'd he do, take a bat to his face?" Lieutenant John Barnes peered over the still pictures of Thomas Eagleton Ewing, the serial mugger who'd turned up outside the 9th Precinct in the Fens beaten into unconsciousness. Barnes was a veteran officer, but the wounds were severe. Most vigilantes didn't coddle criminals, but it looked like whoever had taken this one down had broken more than his share of bones on the way to bringing Ewing down.

"Nope," said his partner, Sarah Pendleton, shaking her head as she pointed out the shape and pattern of injuries. "Bare hands. Left a pretty good impression on Eagleton's jaw; looks like he wears motorcycle gloves or something athletic." She sighed and lit a cigarette, profoundly glad for the precinct's lax enforcement of the department's anti-smoking policy. "We got a picture this time. Sounds like our cape goes by Avenger."

"Hits like a brick and just as crazy, huh?" He looked over the picture snapped by the station's surveillance camera, nodding a little at the gleaming eyes caught in the black and white image. "I've heard of this guy. He turned up in the South Side, Greenbank, and here...he's getting around. Maybe the capes around these parts aren't as territorial as we thought they were. You'd better watch your step, Avenger," he said with a wry look, putting the pictures down. "Stick to fighting skells."

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Give a two or three word description of yourself. (Describe your character's concept.)

Vampire playing hero.

Do you have any nicknames, street names, titles, or nom de plume?

When I was a kid, my parents called me Jack-Jack. I hated that so much. I was such a stupid little punk back then. Claudia used to call me "her Jack", and nowadays that's what she calls me when she wants something from me. Nowadays I'm usually just Jack. I've cultivated a few nicknames for Avenger, but I'm not building a Bowman or Arrow here. Avenger shouldn't have cute nicknames.

What is your full birth name?

Jack Faretti. Not everyone has a middle name, y'know. I mostly picked Avenger's name out of a hat; it's generic enough not to give anyone any clues about what I am, and it sounds like the sort of thing a tough, psycho vigilante would call himself.

Where do you live?

Nice little place in Midtown, third floor. I can see the Millennium Mall from where I live.

Why do you live there?

I'll go with "for the shopping", thanks.

What do you perceive as your greatest strength?

My humanity.

What do you perceive as your greatest weakness?

My humanity. It makes my life a lot more difficult than you might think.

Physical Traits

How old are you? (Chronological age as well as age category.)

I was born twenty-seven years ago. I was reborn three years ago.

What is your sex?

Male.

What is your race?

I come from generic WASPy stock. Some people just aren't very ethnic. As for my bloodline, Claudia told me we descend from the ancient Vlachs bloodline of Dracula himself. But she lied about a lot of things.

How tall are you?

I'm reasonably tall, a tad under six feet. I bulk Avenger up with thick-soled boots, padded shoulders, and the mask, though; the better to keep people from connecting my outline with his.

How much do you weigh?

Around a hundred and eighty pounds soaking wet.

What is your general body type, frame, bone structure, and poise?

I'm a slim, athletic sort of guy; I actually have a fairly stereotypical body type for your average vampire. I don't know if that's because like seeks out like, or if it's the process of becoming undead that causes some sort of transformation. I imagine it's the first, though; I've certainly seen fat vampires. As for Avenger, I make sure he seems a bulky, imposing guy. You need a lot of muscles to punch as hard as he does!

What is your skin colour?

Generally very pale, though of course it's flushed considerably after I eat.

What is your hair colour?

Claudia once described it as black as a raven's wing. I used to really like that.

What is your hair style?

Slightly oiled and long enough to be down my collar, again a bit like your classic vampire. It's not really something I can change.

Do you have any facial hair?

Nope, and I never will! I sure hope beards aren't in fashion in a century.

What is your eye color?

It varies from ice-blue to fiery red.

How attractive are you?

I have a certain dark elegance about me, I'll give me that. Seducing people isn't particularly challenging. Neither is frightening them, though of course that's more a matter of my voice...

What is your most distinguishing feature?

It's the eyes. They're magnetic. (I have this on good authority)

Do you have any scars, tattoos, or birthmarks?

Only on my heart. And on my thigh, where Claudia sucked me dry and filled me up again with the stuff of undeath. Those scars usually don't heal.

What is your handedness (left/right/ambidextrous)?

Right-handed.

Do you resemble some currently known person?

I do bear a strong resemblance to Stuart Townsend playing Lestat, one that I tried to cultivate back in the days when I could do things like shave and cut my hair long enough for it to stick. As Avenger, I generally shoot for a vibe akin to Frank Miller's art style in those Raven retrospectives back in the 80s.

What kind of clothing do you wear?

Oh, whatever's fancy and seductive. In general, I try to stick with what's appropriate for the occasion. As Avenger, I go for the "crazy guy in an outfit he made himself" look. No one likes an insane vigilante.

Do you wear makeup?

Only when I'm worried about not looking human enough for a particular occasion.

What sort of vocal tone do you have?

Ranging from smooth and seductive to harsh and growling!

History

Where is your homeland?

Uh, America, I guess.

Are you aware of its history?

Meh. I know a lot of trivia, if that's what you're asking.

Are you patriotic or a social outcast?

The question is a misleading one in my case.

What are your opinion of home?

I'm told conditions are fairly difficult for vampires in Europe. The old homelands got hammered pretty hard by the Communists and their anti-magical purges. As for China, man, I don't even know. So I suppose America's better than most. I've never actually traveled outside the USA.

Where is your home town?

Adamsburg, which is about halfway between here and Bedlam down the interstate. Quiet little place. I hated it when I was a kid.

Are your real reasons for becoming an adventurer different from what you tell others?

Oh, yes.

How far would you go to keep such secrets from being revealed? What would you do if the truth became known?

You know, I'd rather not dwell on that possibility.

What do you fear would occur if the truth became known?

You have to understand that daywalkers, those of us who essentially have no problem with the sun at all, have a pretty complicated relationship with the rest of vampire society. We're tolerated, even accepted, as long as we don't get out of line. If it became known that I had stepped out of line, that I was a superhero... God.

And as for the others, well, what do superheroes do with vampires? They kill them. With a few very slight exceptions.

Do you have any particularly high or low ability scores?

Well, I'm very handsome and I can punch through a steel door.

How have these scores affected your life so far?

The first part made me the man I am today. As for the steel door thing, you'd be surprised how often that comes in handy.

What about your race, growing up were you in the majority or a minority?

Majority, I guess. Adamsburg was a pretty whitebread sort of place.

Did this impact your outlook in any way?

You know, I've given it any thought.

How do you feel about other races?

Everyone's the same color on the inside.

Were there any traumatic experiences in your early years (death of a family member, abandonment, orphaned at an early age)?

No. That's the thing.

Briefly describe a defining moment in your childhood and how it influenced your life.

When my father wanted me to be a Boy Scout, I cried and fussed and acted like a whiny, entitled little brat until they gave in. That was pretty much the pattern for my whole childhood.

What stupid things did you do when you were younger?

Max, crank, zoom, zombie powder, speed...you know, it's actually a really long list.

Which toys from your childhood have you kept?

The contents of my parents house went to my cousin Marsha after my mother took her own life two years ago. I didn't get to keep anything.

Why? What do they mean to you? If you didn't keep any, why not? What did you do to them all?

You know, funny thing about being legally dead is that you can't inherit anything.

Do you have any deep, dark secrets in the past that may come back to haunt you?

...you know, I don't even know where to begin with this one. The dead bodies? _My_ dead body? I can't even start.

Are you who you claim to be?

Never.

Do you have any sort of criminal record?

Death has a great way of wiping the slate clean. As for Avenger, no one's sued him for excessive force yet.

How do you view the heroes/legends of your country?

You know what? In all honesty, I do admire them. I was just a kid when Centurion died, but I saw it happen on TV same as everyone else. I just don't understand what I see in them. Or why I see it in myself.

Family

Who were your parents?

This one will be hard. Bob and Rose Faretti, God rest their souls.

Were you raised by them? If not, then why didn't they and who did raise you?

Yes. I wish I'd been grateful while they were alive.

What was their standing in the community?

Average. Dad was an accountant; Mom was a housewife.

Did your family stay in one area or move around a lot?

Stayed in one place. I hated that.

How did you get along with your parents?

I was a terrible, ungrateful little bastard.

How would your parents describe you? Answer this in the voice of your mother, then in your father's.

I can't do it. I can't speak for them. The last time I heard them talk was the last time they were alive. I like to think that if I hadn't gone out with Claudia that last night, I'd have mustered up the courage to actually go home the way they begged me. And maybe I would have.

Do you have any siblings? If so how many and what were their names? How did you get along with each of your siblings?

No.

What was your birth position in the family?

Only child. I'm sorry, Mom and Dad.

List all current knowledge of family locations, spouses, children, birth dates, schooling, and any important incidents that only you and they might remember.

This question is irrelevant to me.

Do you stay in touch with them or have you become estranged?

They're dead now. Before...I should have tried harder. I shouldn't have given up on them the way I gave up on everything else.

Do you love or hate one member of the family in particular?

I...can't answer this.

Is any member of the family special to you in any way (perhaps, as a confidant, mentor, or arch-rival)?

No.

Are there any black (or white) sheep in the family (including you)?

No.

If so, who are they and how did they "gain" the position?

I can't answer these questions about my family, damn it. Fine; I'll answer the rest about my blood-family.

Do you have a notorious or celebrated ancestor?

Believe it or not, Dracula! That's what Claudia says, anyway. I'm not sure I believe her. If true, my granddam was Lucy Westerna herself.

If so, what did this person do to become famous or infamous?

That's pretty common knowledge.

Do you try to live up to the reputation of your ancestor, try to live it down, or ignore it?

I'm fairly certainly it's BS, so I don't worry about it.

Do you ever want to have a family of your own someday?

...everything's possible in time. Everything.

Would anything change your mind on this issue and if so, what?

Haven't made up my mind either way.

What type of person would be your ideal mate?

A friend.

Relationships

Do you have any close friends? If so, who and what are they like?

No, not really. I'm close to Claudia still, God help me, and some of the people I run with. And some of the other superheroes I've met, and people like Moira. But they're not friends. I don't have any friends.

What is the history of their relationship(s) with you?

I was brought over about the same time as the rest of my pack. As for the other superheroes and regular people, we've gotten into some scrapes together that we all came through safely enough.

Do you currently have a best friend whom you would protect with your reputation or your life?

No.

If so, who are they and what caused you to feel so close to them? What would have to happen for you to end this relationship?

N/A

Do you have any bitter enemies?

Not yet.

If so, who are they, what are they like, and what is the history of their feud with you?

Other vampires, vampire-hunters, superheroes...the potential list is endless.

Have you defeated them before?

In my time? Yeah.

How might these enemies seek to discomfit you in the future?

Stake me/drain me/leave me out in the sun (good luck with that one!)/shoot me/burn me/decapitate me/crucify me...and you know what the hell of it is? I've actually seen all those things happen! I've even helped with a few...

Which person(s) or group(s) are you most loyal to?

No one. Isn't that sad?

Who is your most trusted ally?

The other superheroes I've worked with, I suppose, and Moira.

Who do you trust, in general?

No one. Not even me.

Who do you despise and why?

I don't really despise anyone, really. Empathy is my greatest curse.

Name seven things you hate in others.

Hate. Arrogance. Inhumanity. Coldness. Greed. Envy. Apathy.

Is your image consistent?

Hm?

Do you deliberately present yourself differently in different situations, and how?

Oh. Yes, yes, I do. The loyal, though not toadying, vampire, the seductive dark prince, the grim and gritty vigilante...it's all fake.

What would you die for?

I died years ago.

What is the worst thing someone has done to you?

Killed me. But that wasn't Claudia. That was my fault.

What is your general reaction to an attractive member of the opposite sex who lets you know they are available?

Seduction. Investigation. Passion. Feeding. Forgetting.

How do you get along with others of the same "adventuring class"?

Other superheroes? Well, I do my best to present Avenger as a half-crazed but trustworthy vigilante. That way they'll work with me, but no one likes me enough to ask any hard questions.

Have you lost any loves?

Oh, yes.

How did you handle the situation (short & long term)?

...choose not to answer.

Who would miss you should you go missing?

The hell of it is, I think Claudia would! Hopefully some of the people I've protected and the supers I've worked with; I've worked hard enough to make sure people know who Avenger is.

How close are you to your "adventuring companions"?

I try to keep them precisely at arm's length.

What do they not know about you?

I'm the undead, damned for my sins to roam the Earth feeding on the blood of my fellow men. (An omission? Maybe. But no one's ever asked.)

Are you a member of any house, guild, organization, or church? What is your level of involvement?

I'm a Mason. All vampires are. But not all Masons are vampires. ;)

Personality & Beliefs

Do you, or did you, have any role models?

Foreshadow, and other superheroes in general. My parents, while I'm at it.

Do you have any heroes or idols, either contemporary or from legend?

This question is harder to answer. I like the Shadow OK I guess.

Did you ever become disillusioned with former heroes or idols? If so, why and what were the circumstances?

No. I've always had a healthy knowledge of what they are. And what I am.

When did you decide to become an adventurer?

The night I realized my life needed to mean something.

Why have you chosen to risk your life as a career?

Don't have one.

What do you expect to get out of being an adventurer? What, if anything, would make you stop adventuring?

Meaning. The feeling of having accomplished something, anything real. Nothing. I am waht I am.

Do you have any dreams or ambitions? If not, why?

These aren't healthy to have, in my experience.

What are your short term goals (what would you like to be doing within a year)?

I certainly don't want to be human again, if that's what you're asking.

What are your long term goals (what would you like to be doing twenty years from now)?

What would I _do_ with myself?

If these goals seem at odds with each other, or with your dreams, how do you reconcile the differences?

I don't really have a human life to go back to.

Do you have any great rational or irrational fears or phobias? If so, what are the origins of, or reasons behind them?

I have dreads rather than fears. I'm not afraid of anything now.

How do you react when this fear manifests itself?

When I dread getting burned at the stake while my putative friends watch and laugh, I try to do things that make those things don't happen.

What are your attitudes regarding material wealth?

It's an important part of life, especially when you have my needs.

Are you miserly with your share of the wealth, or do you spend it freely?

I share it. Don't people have enough troubles without me holding out?

Do you see wealth as a mark of success, or just as a means to an end?

Can't it be both?

How do you generally treat others?

The way I would like to be treated. For certain values thereof.

Do you trust easily (perhaps too easily) or not?

Not.

Are you introverted (shy and withdrawn) or extroverted (outgoing)?

I generally act somewhere inbetween. Maybe that's why people think I'm crazy.

Are you a humble soul or blusteringly proud?

Neither one.

What habits do you find most annoying in friends?

Betrayal.

What are your most annoying habits?

Humanity, or at least being a stick-in-the-mud. That's what Claudia said.

Is there any race, creed, alignment, religion, class, profession, political viewpoint, or the like against which you are strongly prejudiced, and why?

I like to think not! Prejudice against one particular kind of human is unusually stupid in my position.

What is your favourite food?

Heh.

What is your favourite drink?

Take a guess.

What is your favourite treat (desert)?

I really miss chocolate, if that's what you're asking.

Do you favour a particular cuisine?

Racist vampire jokes aside, people taste the same regardless of ethnicity. Though it is better when they've been drinking.

Do you savor the taste when eating or "wolf down" your food?

Savor the taste. It's safer that way.

Do you like food mild or heavily spiced?

Not really an issue. I don't encourage people to do drugs the way some people do.

Are there any specific foodstuffs that you find disgusting or refuse to eat?

I actually cannot eat solid foods at all. It's not worth complaining about, though, not when I can do fun things like go out in the sun..

What are your favourite color(s)?

Red and black. I'm so cliche.

Is there any colour that you dislike?

No.

Do you have a favourite (or hated) song, type of music, or instrument?

No.

If you have a favourite scent, what is it?

Chocolate, for all that it's pretty damn depressing these days.

What is your favourite type of animal?

Rat's all right, I guess. If you're talking in the wild, I guess I like those weird little parakeets that live in power lines around the city. They're one of the few things I like seeing during the day; and so cute! I know what it's like to have no real home either, guys.

Are you allergic to any kinds of animals?

No.

Is there anything that enrages you?

Being too hungry, though that's not really what you were asking.

Is there anything which embarrasses you?

Jokes at my expense, I guess.

Do you enjoy "roughing it", or do you prefer your creature comforts?

Roughing it is remarkably challenging for me, unless the woods I'm in happen to be well-stocked or if I have a lovely companion. I don't do it much, though,

not after that incident on Happunak Hill.

Do you have a patron deity?

Not really an issue for me, thanks.

Are you devout or impious?

No.

Do you actively worship and proselytize or do you simply pay lip service?

I've got pretty strong evidence about the power of faith. Does that mean there's a particular god? I don't think it matters. Whoever or whatever it is, it's not on my side.

What lengths would you go to defend your faith?

Not really an issue.

Was your faith influenced or molded by anyone special?

My parents. My dam.

Do you belong to a dominant church, or an independent church, cult, or sect (and is the group accepted, frowned upon, or considered heretics)?

Um, not again, not really an issue.

Will you kill?

Have I killed? Or will I kill in the future? Yes, and I hope to never, never again.

When did you decide (or learn) that you would?

When Claudia fed him to me. I never did learn his name; I wasn't yet conscious enough to think and Claudia'd whammyed him over here.

When do you consider it okay to kill (under what circumstances)?

If there's no other choice. I just don't think that'll ever be true for me.

When do you consider it wrong to kill (under what circumstances)?

Killing is wrong.

What would you do if someone else attempted to (or successfully did) kill under your "wrong" circumstances, what would be your reaction?

Stop them. Bring them to justice, if the situation allows it, and if the victim is worth fighting for.

What if it were your enemy?

If they killed my enemy? It would depend on the circumstances.

What if it were your friend?

I don't have any friends. If someone killed Claudia, though, I'd punish them for it.

What if the opponent were not in control of their own actions (under duress, charmed, dominated, possessed)?

No one's in control of their actions.

What would you do if something were stolen from you?

Get it back.

What would you do if you were badly insulted publicly?

Recover or hurt the person who did it, depending on the social merits of the situation. Reporter doesn't like Avenger? I'll live. Younger vampire encroaches on my turf? Yeah.

What would you do if a good friend or relative were killed by means other than natural death?

I would investigate their murder.

What is the one task you would absolutely refuse to do?

Kill a child.

What do you consider to be the worst crime someone could commit and why?

Killing a child.

How do you feel about government (rulers) in general? Why do you feel that way?

We need laws for society to function, just as we need freedom from those laws for humanity to function. It's a tough gig.

Do you support the current government of your homeland?

Can't vote! If you mean Melinda...sure. She's bad, mind you, but I've seen cities in much worse shape. There are degrees of evil, even among monsters. At least she's competent.

If so, how far are you willing to go to defend the government? If not, do you actively oppose it?

As far as is necessary, until something better comes along.

What form of government do you believe is the best (democracy, monarchy, anarchy, aristocratic rule, oligarchy, matriarchy) and why?

Democracy, I guess. Not really an issue for vampires, though! If we didn't have a strong hand at the top keeping us together, we'd all have been hunted down decades or centuries ago.

Do you have any unusual habits or dominant personality traits that are evident to others?

Only when I forget to breathe.

If so, describe them and how you acquired them, as well as when they might be more noticeable and what causes them.

Well, when I'm distracted, I sometimes forget to pretend to breathe.

Do you have any unusual or nervous mannerisms, such as when talking, thinking, afraid, under stress, or when embarrassed?

No.

What is your most treasured possession?

Love.

If your life were to end in 24 hours, what 5 things would you do in those remaining hours?

Not an issue for me, thanks.

Career & Training

Where and how were you educated?

I did a year at State then dropped out because I thought doing drugs with Claudia and her friends would be more fun. She taught me how to be a vampire right here on the streets of Freedom.

Who trained you in your adventuring class(es)?

Some overworked professors and Claudia. She taught me how to fight, for that matter.

What was your relationship with your teacher(s)/mentor(s)?

Um. You know, this one needs a lot more space than I have to answer. Claudia and I are apart, and that's how it's going to stay. That's the easy answer.

Is this person or institution still in existence?

Oh yes.

Were you a prize student or did you just barely pass?

I was her favorite for a while. But that never lasts.

Look at your skills. How did you acquire them (especially the unusual ones)?

I kept my ears open and practiced my smooth talk in a mirror. The rest just came naturally.

Have you ever done anything else for a living?

No, not really.

How do you function in combat (maneuvers, weaknesses)?

Not being able to pop my fangs and claws is a difficulty, but that would rather give the game away. As Avenger, I tend to sneak my way into battle, hitting hard and fast from the shadows. I generally do the same as me, with the exception that I have better weapons.

Have you ever received any awards or honours?

No.

Is there anything that you don't currently know how to do that you wish you could?

I wouldn't mind being a better hand-to-hand fighter, I guess. I wish I knew more about the supernatural. I wish I knew if I was going to Heaven or Hell.

Are you envious of others who can do such things in a good-natured way or are you sullen and morose about it?

Only the last.

Lifestyle & Hobbies

When not adventuring, what is your normal daily routine?

It's a lot duller than you might think. Parties, socializing, feeding. I spend a lot of time doing favors for nightstalker vampires during the day, or just sitting in my apartment staring at the sun.

How do you feel and react when this routine is interrupted for some reason?

Depends on the reason.

What are your hobbies when you are not adventuring or training?

I like arcade games, they're pretty fun. And video games. I read sometimes, mostly trashy fiction. I'd like to pick up something more creative. Maybe I should take some classes.

What do you do for relaxation? What things do you do for enjoyment? What interests do you have?

I listen to some smooth jazz with a compliant, lovely lady, then take her back to do things together. I'm interested in building a better world.

How do you normally dress when not in your adventuring gear?

Depends on the situation. I usually dress very well, though; you never know who or what is watching.

What do you normally wear in bed at home?

I don't sleep. When I lay down, I usually just wear whatever I was wearing.

What do you normally wear in bed while adventuring?

When I adventure in bed, I wear nothing. ;)

Do you wear any identifiable jewelry?

No.

Where do you normally put your weapons, magic items, or other valuables when you are sleeping?

Not an issue! When I'm out of the apartment, it goes in the safe under my bed. Prosaic, inn't it?

What morning or evening routines do you normally have?

None, really.

Do these change when you are adventuring?

No.

Travel: how do you get around locally?

Walk, fly, or ride, depending on where I'm going, when I'm going there, and why.

Do you have a Last Will and Testament?

No.

What does it say?

N/A

Miscellaneous

What would you like to be remembered for after your death?

I would prefer never to die. If I must die, I'd rather be known as someone who did more good than bad. I've got a lot of good to do yet.

What kind of threat do you present to the public?

Let's just skip this one.

If your features were to be destroyed beyond recognition, is there any other way of identifying your body?

They'd grow back. I do carry ID, though, which might or might not survive the physical destruction of my body.

As a player, if you could, what advice would you give your character? Speak as if he/she were sitting right here in front of you. Use proper tone so they might heed your advice...

This question is impossible to answer.

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Break-In at FCU Sees Two Injured, Artifacts Stolen

February 1st, 2009

by Anne Fuller, staff writer for the Freedom City Ledger

"A shocking daylight robbery at Freedom City University left two university staffers badly injured and saw the theft of irreplaceable Eastern European artifacts. Late last night, maintenance workers found Dr. Manuel Guzman of FCU's theology department and library staffer Trisha McDougal beaten and bound in the basement of the Beaumont Building on the west side of campus. Guzman and McDougal reported that they were lured into the basement by gunmen posing as FCU police officers, then forced at gunpoint to use their respective passkeys to open the secured wing of the Beaumont Archives, containing priceless artifacts collected and donated by Fletcher Beaumont I. Guzman and McDougal were then pistol-whipped into unconsciousness and tied up by their attackers. Police report that both might not have survived without the efforts of university staff who came to work early despite the cold weather..."

"...speaking to the Ledger by telephone, Fletcher Beaumont I is confident that his artifacts will be recovered. 'Between the uniformed heroes of Freedom City's Police Department and the costumed heroes of the Freedom League, we're lucky enough to live in the safest city in the world. I am certain that the police and superheroes of Freedom City will be able to recover the artifacts gathered by my old friends in the Liberty League, so many years ago.' Beaumont, who acted as patron and financier of the WWII-era superteam the Liberty League, is best-known to our readers as the publisher emeritus of the Freedom Ledger..."

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Thoughts on vampire culture

There are around a hundred 'independent' vampires in Freedom City, freely-roaming predators of the night who feast on the blood of the living. Another thirty or so are part of Melinda's personal household, traveling with her as she moves from nest to nest and acting as her personal bodyguards, lackeys, and slaves.

Roughly eight out of ten are "nightstalkers," the most common bloodline among vampires. They have the typical strengths and weaknesses of vampires in the Freedom City universe. A small minority are daywalkers like Jack, whose ability to walk in the day make them very valuable to vampire society. They had status, quite a bit of status, but they have to earn their status by doing exactly what the queen tells them. They are not allowed to run cities.

Some vampires have souls; some vampires don't. There is no known cause for vampirism, though almost all vampires seem to have some basic connection to der Schattenwelt. Vampires were actually created by Malador back in the days of ancient Atlantis, but their cultural memory usually doesn't go back that far. The project was Malador's last service to the Atlantean crown. Already an evil wizard but then still a patriot, Malador gave Atlantis an army of tough, terrifying soldiers who needed no food but the blood of their enemies.

The majority of vampires aren't innately evil upon their transformation, but vampire society generally rewards inhumanity and encourages its members to think of themselves as better than people. Vampirism is both a disease and an unholy spiritual corruption; it's special that way.

Life in the city of heroes isn't easy for vampires. Melinda has survived, even prospered, because unlike many centuries-old vampires she only really goes mad when one of her "people" betrays her in one way or another. She'll happily make deals with supervillans if the situation calls for it and if she can do it without crimping her lifestyle, but she'll sell them out to superheroes (through channels) just as easily. She has plenty of money and plenty of power, the only things she wants out of unlife are blood and some fun.

Melinda rose to power in the city after the Terminus Invasion, which claimed the unlife of the city's previous master Chong Wei. She is fairly powerful for your average vampire, but her main strength is her social networking and her friends. She has minions besides vampires, monstrous pets and toys accumulated as gifts and strategies,. There are more "vampire junkies" out there than people realize, cultists and Goths who hide their tattoos and scars under long-sleeved shirts when they walk in the day. Some of them are police officers. One of them works for the Freedom League.

Though some relatively powerful vampires, like Jack, live with their households or singly, many of them live in packs. The largest of these, consisting of about twenty 'souls', currently resides in in a large 'McMansion' in Grenville, the relative anonymity of the suburb providing them with perfect cover as they head back and forth into the city every night. Missing pets, and the occasional person, are a common problem in Grenville. Their leader's name is Con Lane, a perpetual sixteen year-old born before the Civil War.

The largest nest inside Freedom City proper is the Theatre District, eleven vampires under the rule of a set designer for Cats named Jane. The main rule for vampire culture in Freedom City is caution; they know what will likely happen if the superheroes in the city turn on them. If they can get away with it, vampires can do anything that doesn't specifically contradict Melinda's orders. If the police or superheroes begin hunting them, Melinda will most likely give them up at the first order. She'll protect her people, but not from anything stupid they've done.

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In theory, all the vampires of the city are loyal to Melinda. She's the top dog, ruling over her vassals like a noble lord. But vampires are not creatures of loyalty, particularly the more wicked sorts. The Grenvile pack are unruly childer, in more ways than one; Con would like to rule the city but he's no fool. He doesn't have Melinda's skill at either direct combat or social networking. The Theatre District vamps as a group are basically loyal to Melinda, though like most vampires they'll change that loyalty if she's ever replaced.

Jane is indeed a vampire, one of Lenore's surviving childer. She last walked beneath the sun only two days before the Kennedy assassination. She is quite loyal to Melinda, who took her in when Lenore was destroyed in the 1970s. She goes to a lot of raves, and used to run the club Eclipse. She and the Theatre District vamps were the group Foreshadow battled recently, and only good luck and rapid movement has kept her from being discovered by him again.

There are many varieties of vampire of various sorts, the ancient roots of the bloodline having mutated in a thousand different ways. The only real commonalities between them are an aversion to holy items in one way or another, a weakness in sunlight of various strengths, and a never-ending craving for the blood of human beings. Some vampires are actually quite demonic, a legacy of an early attempted Embrace of a demon that had remarkably unfortunate side-effects. They don't do well in vampire society as a whole, but are active in areas without vampire culture. These vampires have no souls.

On the last night of the Terminus Invasion, Melinda Ainsley and Nightrage battled in her burning mansion, fire and ash all around them as the flames set by Nightrage and his surviving FORCE OPS allies consumed vampires, cultists, and demons alike. When the roof collapsed, Melinda screamed in triumph as her hated childe burned to death before her eyes. She had done it; she had won! She waited for Final Death to claim her...but the fire burned out before it reached her. She dug her way out over a period of several nights, returning to the surface to find a still-devastated city all around her. She lived on the streets for a while, a cunning, feral predator taking shelter in broken buildings by day. Nearly all her people were dead. Her childe was dead. Most of the city's vampires were dead.

And what had it gained her? What had it gained anyone? The Melinda who rebuilt her blood cult with sweat and nerve and drive, the Melinda who negotiated with monsters far worse than her own petty sins to protect her own power-base, was a new woman. She would build a better world for herself and her childer. A city where vampires could feed freely beneath the noses of gods and heroes. She would be clever, she would be crafty, and above all she would enjoy the world she had. After all, in the shadow of the Terminus, she knew just how bad things could be.

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I am a loyal vampire. This makes my attempts to live a basically good life complicated, to say the least. A few things help with my efforts to balance the two sides of my life, among the most important being that Melinda trusts me as a good and loyal servant. I've earned that trust; I have fought valiantly against other vampires and monsters to keep Melinda on her throne. She's a monster, yes, but there are far worse things out there than vampires who don't care about human life. I've seen summoned demons from the depths of hell itself rip through a pack of vampires like a man through cardboard; I've seen undead necromancers carrying out unspeakable rites using the blood and bone of the damned.

How do I write about such horrors so casually? Maybe my own humanity is less potent than I think. If I was a normal human man, I certainly wouldn't have survived the times Melinda's taken me to her bed. Those things I can't even put on the page. Suffice it to say, she uses them as bonding tools and tests of loyalty, not to mention to give herself a very good time. And she has had a good time with me, which might explain why she lets me get away with more than other vampires. It helps there that Claudia and Melinda go way back; they were vampires together in the darkest days of the 1930s, when the popularity of Dracula inspired many a young van Helsing to come hunting for our kind.

I'm Claudia's get, so even though she's abandoned me I have some prestige. I'm Melinda's loyal servant and foot-soldier, one of the best fighters my age in the city, so I have more prestige yet. I've helped save Melinda and the city, two things that she and her people are willing to be grateful for. Enough that I have freedom, enough to do what I do. How far is all that prestige going to get me?

Far enough, I hope.

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One reason why there are so few day-walkers is that Embracing them is a fairly difficult proposition. While other vampire strains spread by a single fluid exchange or infection from a bite, a day-walker Embrace requires fluid exchange over multiple nights and a true desire for the unholy might being offered the Embracee. This helps keep day-walkers from the attention of vampire hunters, who often ignore them in favor of their more infectious cousins.

Another reason is societal prejudice inside the community of vampires; many night-stalkers are unable to forgive their cousins for walking in the day when they cannot, and their reprisals and repressions are intense. Some city elders, though, are more clever, preferring to rule with velvet inside the iron fist and bringing their powerful relatives on board with their agenda through the carrot of favors and the stick of pain. Melinda is one of these.

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I worry that I'm on the verge of something breaking in my life. Scarab's around less and less these days, and sometimes I think she's the only real human friend I've got. As for the vampire community...something's changing. Maybe it was when I helped Melinda deal with that beast-man attack earlier in the month; I'm starting to be concerned that she's noticing my abilities. If she realizes everything I'm learning, that I could probably take her in a fight and that I'm building up friends in the community; what will she do?

Daywalkers with power die. People who challenge Melinda's authority, even indirectly, die. I certainly don't want to die! But wouldn't it be ironic, after all this, if it's not balancing the two worlds that kills me, but one? There's only so much anyone can take when it comes to inhumanity. Speaking of which, I've gotten word from friends that Claudia's on her way back into town after her trip to Europe. Should be fun.

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In the washroom of the Ledger, Nelson Brant finished washing his hands and looked at his face in the mirror with a sigh. Thirty years old, and already he was starting to look fifty. With a salt-and-pepper Van Dyke and dark hair, he looked a bit like a high school drama coach rather than the star undercover reporter of Freedom City's best source for "News You Can Believe In." "It's the long hours," he told his reflection ruefully. "When did I become the guy who stays at work till 11 at night on a freaking Friday?" He had his teeth on a big story, though, one that might finally get him off the crime beat and onto the parts of the newspaper business he really cared about. Newspapers in Freedom weren't doing so well these days, just as they weren't doing well anywhere else, but it was still his life. He was just about to head back to his creaking old laptop to finish his draft when he heard a voice behind him. "Nelson Brant. Don't turn around."

The reporter froze, his blood turning to ice at the cold, flat tone from the man behind him; the invisible man. "I'm not moving," he finally said, his voice carefully composed. He'd covered wars in his day, and supervillian attacks. He could handle this. Even if _it_ was exactly what he thought it was. "How'd you get in past security?"[1]

"Wasn't easy," the voice said dryly. "Your publisher must not think much of her readers."

"She likes them fine, actually. Some of them just don't think much of bullies," said Brant, staring at the mirror. Where exactly _was_ this guy, anyway? Except maybe, right behind him. "Who are you?"[2]

"I'm not your enemy. I'm here to tell you that your investigation into the McNider blood bank needs to stop. The thefts there have been taken care of, and the guilty party's punished. You're only endangering yourself if you continue your work."

"Hey, pal," Brant fired back, gripping the sink to hide his shaking hands. "I _really_ don't like bullies. You should know that if anything happens to me, my publisher will-"

"I know," said the voice, now sounding almost sympathetic. "Believe me, I understand the need to keep your self-worth even if your life is on the line. That's why I'm here to offer you a deal. If you drop this story, you get an interview with me."

"Oh yeah? And who _are_ you, exactly?"

"I am that which stopped the break-ins at McNider. I am the most powerful vampire in Freedom City. TURN. AROUND. NOW." Brant did so, almost unwillingly, as the room plunged into darkness. He was confronted with the outlined silhouette of a man standing between him and the window, the bright city lights outside obscuring his face. "And I want to talk to you about that."

As the thing's eyes lit up, an eerie glow like a cat's at night, Brant did the only thing a reporter could do. "May I take out my pocket recorder?" He fiddled with it for a moment, staring at the half-visible monster before him. "This is Nelson Brant, speaking to...who am I speaking to?"[3] The vampire gave a malevolent laugh.

"Call me...Jack. Yes, I think that will do nicely. Now, you can ask me anything, and I will answer truthfully to the best of my ability. In return, you will print as honestly as you can." Wishing he had his grandma's crucifix handy, Brant made sure not to meet the creature's terrible eyes as he agreed.

"Why not just kill me?[4]" he asked conversationally. "Or change my mind, so I don't write the story at all and you don't have to give anything up?" He wished to God the security staff made more regular checks of the press room; stupid executive suite!

"Because I don't kill people," the vampire explained. "I've come to realize the value of human life," he said seriously, "and what value any life is if it's to be worth living. I choose not to kill because to kill would lower me to the level of an animal. I choose to stop others from killing so that all men and women can rise up and be better than their natures."

"...what do you mean by 'Stop others from killing?'"[5]

"For some time now, I've been active as a superhero. Oh, don't look so shocked, Mr. Brant. Surely you've wondered where all those superheroes your editor hates so much get their powers? How Captain Thunder flies and is so very strong, or Raven disappears into the dark with such gusto?"

"Captain Thunder is not a vampire," said Brant, working very hard indeed to keep composure at this appalling news. "How do I know you're not lying, so that you can make all superheroes look bad?"[6]

The vampire's voice dropped to cold, flat iciness again. "Mr. Brant, if I meant to use you to lie, I could tell you to write that you'd seen Captain Thunder rip open a woman's throat and drink her blood and by God, you would do it. I am speaking to you here as man to man. Not as a liar, not as a deceiver. Simply one interested in truth."

"And what truth would that be, exactly?[7]"

"That my people aren't the monsters you believe us to be. That the policies of your government and your superheroes about us are a mistake."

"I see," said Brant, who by now had managed a return to his professionalism even as he wildly speculated about who this figure before him might _really_ be. "What are vampires, then, if not monsters?[8]"

"People, Mr. Brant, people. With hopes, and dreams, and cares just as you have." The vampire before him was obviously speaking from the heart. "We can love, and hate, with the same intensity that you can. My mate and I are bonded for life."

"I see," said Brant again, even though that gave him a truly unpleasant mental picture. "So how do you explain the stories about the behavior of vampires, then? Of the murders, and the blood-drinking?"[9]

"Oh, make no mistake, Mr. Brant," said the voice again, this time with a malevolent humor. "I feast on the blood of the living and enjoy every minute of it. As do all of my kind save the very strange or the very unhappy. While I'm fortunate enough to have access to a blood substitute, and drink it when I can, I prefer to take what I want from those willing to give it to me."

In one of the bravest moments of his life, Brant replied, "You didn't actually answer my question, sir."

"No, I didn't," replied the other man. "The stories you've heard about vampires are true. All of them. If you see vampires, don't trust them. Don't trust them anymore than you trust humanity. Ask yourself this: if a monster tore your mortal life from your body and left you to die, if you crawled from the grave craving blood and cursed by God, would you be a kind man? A good man? Would you be a brave man and stop others from doing so? Would you have any humanity left after five hundred years?"

"Is that how old you are?"[10] Brant queried, far too experienced to get sucked into a debate with his interview subjects.

"No, I'm but a boy by our standards. I've had opportunities to...gain in power, recently. I was alive when the Centurion died; I was breathing when the Grue invaded. It's been a short road down the path of darkness, but a profitable one."

"What do you mean by darkness?[11]"

"I am fully aware of the reality of my own spiritual condition, Mr. Brant. I simply choose not to let damnation in the world to come stain my actions in this one. I choose to avoid a life of hurting others because of what it means for my own character. But I think we've been over this ground already."

Brant forced himself to concentrate, to stick with the words and the interview itself. "How many vampires are there in Freedom City?"[12]

"I have no idea," replied his uninvited guest, who sounded irritated; not by the question, but by his own ignorance. "There are fewer vampires in Freedom City than in most cities this size, given the power of pogroms backed by superhuman might. A hundred, perhaps, drawn from all walks of life, and a few more stragglers. This is not a city where many of us travel."

"Because of our superheroes?[12]" Brant hazarded.

"Oh yes. Killing vampires has been the fashionable thing for people in costumes for centuries, you know? It's just that now they're celebrated by the world for the heroic work they've done in destroying the universally reviled monster," the vampire spat blood on the floor, a peevish look on his face. "I expected them to kill me, you know? When they found out what I was?"

"...other superheroes know you're a vampire!?!"[13]

"You'd be surprised what they'll tolerate if you do it where they can't see you." The vampire gave a low chuckle, then waved his hand. "Oh, I don't blame you for looking shocked. I was surprised too. But you know, they believe in the redemption of humanity, just as I do. And that applies even to those of us who are no longer human. That's something I can appreciate."

"What were you before you became a vampire?"[14]

"I was nothing. A thug, a drug addict. I can tell you that much because there are so many humans like I used to be, even in a city as fine as Freedom. I was a failure of a human being. I'm a much better monster than ever I was a man. You'd be surprised at how often that's the case."

"How did you become a vampire?"[15]

"The usual story. My blood was drained by a beautiful woman, she gave me some of hers, and the transformation happened. It's not a pleasant thing, death. I wouldn't recommend it." The vampire's voice grew serious: not frightening as it had been earlier, but still full of meaning. "I want to make that perfectly clear, Mr. Brant. No one should be a vampire. Vampires shouldn't spread their condition without very, very good reason. This is not a popular position among my kind.'

"So why go on living? Why stay a vampire, if it's so wrong?"[16]

"Because I like it. Because it allows me to be more than I was, more than the waste of human life I spent my mortal existence as. I am aware of the hypocrisy there, Mr. Brant. You don't need to make any petty accusations there. Besides, I've done good with my life. Since I found the mask, and no, I won't tell you my other name, I've saved lives and the city more than once."

"Have you ever killed anyone?"[17]

"Yes. Yes, I have." The vampire looked him dead in the eye. "I remember the people I've killed every night, and smell the blood on my hands when I rest. But I am beyond the reach of mortal justice, even after friends of mine performed certain deeds on my behalf. If your society wants to punish me, you're going to have to kill me. And I choose not to let that happen yet."

"Would you kill someone," Brant pressed, "a superhero, if they were trying to stop you?"[18]

"Mr. Brant, taking your life would have been child's play a few moments ago. It would be child's play now. If I was interested in killing anyone, even in self-defense, don't you think I'd have done it then?" The vampire sounded amused.

"Telling me that isn't going to make me very sympathetic to you," Brant replied, sounding a little annoyed. "Aren't you worried I'll just take this, give it to a super I trust, and have them find you and stake you?[19]"

"No, it won't," said the vampire seriously, "but I want you to understand the amount of danger you're in talking to someone like me. I want to live among humans peacefully, Mr. Brant. I don't imagine you believe me, but that's all right. I want to live among humans peacefully, but many of my kind do not. I will not have too much trust on your part, on the part of my fellow humans, lead to an incident and a war that will see blood run in the streets of my city. As for your story, Mr. Brant, who do you think will believe you? You know how this city loves its superheroes. Who would dare imagine one of them was a vampire?"

"Why me?"[20] Brant asked suddenly. "Of all the reporters in Freedom, why me?"

"Because I've read your articles and your exposes, particularly of those corrupt Japanese superheroes. you tell the truth, Mr. Brant. And maybe after all this time, I'm starting to get tired of the lies."

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The Fire's Out, Anyway.

Ace Danger saved my life. But that's OK, because I helped save his. A few years ago I was in a really bad way in a really bad place, doing things I never should have done. Back in college I ran with a bad crowd, listening to satanic music, smoking hard drugs like marijuana, and generally making a disgrace of my family name. My parents were dead and I blamed the world for that, and I hit back at the world by getting into fights and hurting people who I thought deserved it. Which was everybody, most of the time.

Till that time the 'crazy church' my old girlfriend dragged me to turned out to be a real Satanic cult! Before I could react, I was in robes and chanting along with everyone else, right up until I realized they were about to really sacrifice that girl they were dragging out from behind the library! They said she knew too much, that she'd gone looking where she shouldn't, and I decided that was just my kind of woman!

I decided that murdering was way uncool, and I went for their leader's throat! I did pretty well, I've got to say: I learned street fighting from the best, and they didn't expect one of their recruits to fight back against the powers of dark forces! I took a good half-dozen of them before they ever had any idea what had hit them.

But then she took me by surprise: I pulled back that robe and it turned out their leader was this really hot, really evil chick, who sneered and stabbed me in the stomach, and said put me on the altar too! And just when I thought all hope was lost, Ace Danger himself came crashing through the skylight, two fists ready, and he punched his way through the cultists so fast, it made their heads spin.

Turns out the girl was one of his people, and she'd been looking for forbidden stuff on his behalf. They took me back to the Jungle Patrol base nearby, fixed me up, and Ace and Taylor invited me on the team! I played it cool for a while, but I think they saw through me right from the start. Maybe I wasn't as smart as the other people there, or as handsome as Ace, but I could hit hard with the best of them, and stand up when you needed to stand up.

I was just a kid back then, but I've seen a lot of the world now. Maybe I'm still the Patrol's “Man in Black”, but I'm always there for the people who need me, and the people I love, and they know that too. That doesn't mean everything's great. I'm usually the one who argues for hitting first, and best, when we're dealing with bad guys, and sometimes I sneak around the boss to try and get things done my way. And maybe sometimes I remember what it was like to watch my parents die, and I can't fit in with those do-gooders on the Jungle Patrol.

Except for Taylor. She's my angel, man, she's what keeps me on the straight and narrow when I want to do is break heads or get back on the needle. I love her so much, and I'd do anything in the world for her. When I'm with Taylor, I feel like a normal man, with nothing broken inside from drugs or seeing my parents die. And someday we'll settle down and have a nice, normal family, just the way you're supposed to.

But right now, we've got adventure to have.

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