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Avenger Assembled

Checkmate (IC)

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Date: May 24th, 2009

It was dark over Freedom City by the time the various heroes arrived in the sky, flying fast so as to avoid detection. Phantom could feel the strong charge of magical energy in the air as they went, blotting out even the strange feelings she got from Grim and Dr. Archeville, and knew perfectly well what was going on. This dimension wasn't yet a Dark Dimension, its laws of physics shaped entirely by the whim of its magical Dark Lord, but from the feel of things it was close. It wouldn't be long at all before Lord Arachnos could simply rip time and space asunder and send his armies plunging into the heart of Freedom City. And that was if they were lucky. There were worse things yet than armies that a mage of such awesome power could summon.

Liberty Park had been the focal point of their most recent departure, and it seemed a prudent place to make their landing now, shielded by the psychic and gravitic concealment of Scarab and Dark Star. "Liberty Park" here was something far different, though, a place with monuments to very different heroes. Neither of the Trasks could quite look at the big set of statues labeled _The Liberty Brigade Triumphant_ at the center of the park, the visibly recognizable forms of Donar, Columbia, Raven, Magpie, and Odysseus all bowing before a faceless figure in arcane robes, at twenty feet tall towering over them as a father towers over his children.

"The old one had Gladiator," murmured Rachel, her words an act of defiance in this place. "There it is." Above all else was the Tower of Arachnos, a great silvery spike driven deep into the heart of Freedom City. Magic radiated palpably from that place, obvious to the senses of everyone there with the slightest hint of magical awareness. "That's where my children are. And that's where _he_ is."

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Once at the park, Phantom returned to her intangible state and floated a few feet away from the group to tilt her head back and look around before she returned.

"This is worse than I thought," She volunteered quietly. "This place is very close to a flashpoint that would utterly change the fabric of the dimension. Scrying will be risky at best as we are talking about a master magus at bare minimum. Even I can detect magic anywhere Freedom City if I put my mind to it. I doubt this individual will even need to put in that effort."

She glanced over at the knights curiously, "I imagine he will try and use the children as leverage. Some of us should make certain that does not happen."

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"My powers are not magickal in nature. Hopefully, that will make their detection more difficult. I will be as discreet as I can in my scrying, but we must have as much intelligence as possible. Charging in blindly will only lead to the deaths of innocents."

The Scarab held her hands up to the sides of her head, and pushed her eyes and ears beyond her physical body, searching around and through the dark tower. She reached out to the minds of her comrades, showing them all that she surveyed. "Brace yourself. This can be disorienting. I hope no one is prone to motion sickness..."

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Dark Star said little, waiting patiently at the center of his companions. He kept up the concealment shield and focused on keeping them hidden. "I was able to get a good read on the build when we were there last time. Though unfortunately I wasn't planning on needing to map it, so I can't give you a layout. I was aware of a massive power source inside that building however." He shrugged his shoulder, keeping his energy field going.

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There were fewer psychic defense around the sanctum sanctorum of the lord and master of the Earth, possibly because Arachnos has grown careless in the years since his conquest of the planet. Scarab's mental powers took the team's eyes deep into the heart of the tower, passing through imposingly reinforced double doors into a wide, lush atrium that spoke of peace and prosperity. A great bronze globe stood in the middle of the large room, water cascading down its sides in a perpetual fountain, all held in the sturdy grip of two giant marble hands. Uniformed masked guards stood at each interior door as they circled through the atrium, passing by maps of the Earth and the flags of various nations, fewer than might have been expected here in Arachnos' stronghold.

The trophies were past the great bank of bronze elevators, grim signs of a world's domination. There was someone in the Freedom Eagle costume petrified in a statue of stone with a look of forever fear on its face; there was the bullet-ridden environmental suit of the ice villain Madame Zero. Among the more prominently displayed artifacts was among the most gruesome; the severed, preserved head of what might have been a handsome, blue-eyed man. Scarab, and a few others historically minded, recognized the face of Wilhelm Kantor, though the name and face meant very different things to different people. Inscribed neatly beneath the head on a bronze plaque were the words "The Last One."

The magic and energy in the air in the building was palpable to anyone capable of sensing or guessing such things, the sheer power of the place nearly awe-inspiring. Above they passed through what appeared to be the sleeping quarters of another contingent of guards, these attendants not the uniformed personnel of below but summoned monsters like gargoyles and lesser imps, each one bound to their master's service by mystic, insubstantial chains Phantom could point out to the others. The levels above that turned out to be mundane offices, level after level of petty bureaucrats working to control the new world their master had built. Things were quiet now, though; it was well after working hours even here.

The first level past the offices was all training rooms and security equipment, looking more like the interior of the old Freedom Hall than anything else. A closer look by those who knew the turf revealed that the mid-levels were indeed Freedom Hall itself; mystically elevated and melded into the heart of Arachnos' tower. There were no heroes here, but Dark Star and Dr. Archeville recognized Odysseus, speaking urgently to a man at once Ray Gardener and at once the god of thunder himself. Above the heads of the former heroes were cells, where the most familiar face was unquestionably a tightly bound, despairing woman with gigantic muscles easily recognizable as Andrea Atom to those who remembered her face.

In the level above the cells slept children, some two dozen each with a room of their own, ranging in ages from toddlers to late teens as they slept in luxurious surroundings that wanted for nothing and each had locks on their doors both mystical and mechanical. Here was where the children of the gods slept, binding them in service to their master. It was only the level above that which was blocked against psionic or mystic scrying; it was only there that the mental search could go no further. This was evidently the source of power for the tower, in more ways than one.

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Dark Star watch through his mind's eye as the scans were shared with him. "We need to get those kids out of there. That's a priority. It might behoove us to rescue that prisoner as well. If we could gather them in one place somehow, perhaps above the cell where that woman is, I could create a portal to get them all out at once. But doing so would likely instantly alert the tower and the villains. I suppose I could make it big enough to enter the level above as well, though there's no way of telling what's there."

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This is madness! How does she 'see' anything, when she can see... everything?!

I am sure there is a great deal of discipline and self-control invol-

With these powers... we could hear the crawl of amoeba... see Neptune... taste the Sun!

... one might think I would be used to how readily you can turn a situation so that we are at the center of it.

"If you can get me to a terminal," Archeville said, "I can probably tell you exactly vhat is in dere. Disable many of de alarms, too."

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While Scarab takes the team on a virtual tour of the dark tower, Grim idly fingers the Martian rock she pocketed, her eyes unfocused as the building unfolds before them.

"Yeah, the kids have to be safe. I'm worried I might be detected by any mystical alarms or whatnot this guy might have set up; maybe the magic folks should operate separate from the non-magic ones, almost acting like a diversion? I mean, still be part of the plan, but make them think we're the only ones here, or something. I dunno, Dr. Smart Guy can figure out the details."

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Avenger was silent as the others talked, looking around the darkened version of Liberty Park with his eyes wide. For all the grim, gritty inhumanity Jack projected as Avenger, it was hard not to be awed in this place and in this company. How did I get here? He stared up at the massive tower. How did putting on a mask in the Fens take me to this other world? "Suggest I stay with the magically inclined. Likely they will need some sharper protection." His hands tightened into fists, leather gloves creaking. "In the meantime, he is a supervillain. Has likely dealt with teleporters, fliers, and all else. Suggest we take him by surprise." He stared at the building intently. "They never lock the front door. Who would dare break in?"

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"I'm very likely the most likely to resonate with magic here," Phantom said and looked at these people with utter candor, "I've fought with Dark Star before and we function very similarly but he outstrips me in a fight by a good margin. That should give your tactician a reasonable estimate of my skills. Either of us could move the children. He will be better if it comes to a fight, either of us will be just as noticible as they've had a chance to gauge his powers as well."

Having comitted to throwing in with this group, Phantom was more than happy to let them work out the details of co-ordinating a group attack. I have enough trouble just keeping myself all in once piece usually.

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Dark Star shrugged. "My capabilities are well known by all of you. I will go wherever is required. Also, if and when this battle occurs, I will make it a priority to keep heal all you all and keep in you the fight instead of attacking if no other healing is available. We will need everyone for this and cannot afford to have anyone fall."

He paused. "I know I am not very skilled or knowledgeable about tactics, but perhaps an additional surprise? Phantom can carry numerous people with her, likely without anyone noticing. Perhaps there is a way to release a select strike force from surprise to strike this villain while he is unprepared?" He wasn't exactly comfortable with the idea of such sneaky tactics, but there was a lot more at stake here than that.

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"I know I am not very skilled or knowledgeable about tactics, but perhaps an additional surprise? Phantom can carry numerous people with her, likely without anyone noticing. Perhaps there is a way to release a select strike force from surprise to strike this villain while he is unprepared?"

Grim strokes her chin thoughtfully.

"Hmm, the old 'Trojan Phantom' trick, eh? I like it! Except the thought of going back into the cloak again, but I guess we have to if we want to go home, right? So I volunteer, I guess."

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"Suggest we send our toughest fighters to the prison block," suggested Avenger. "As well as Archeville. Will allow him to access the computer network through the terminals there and be an obvious strategy. While the guards deal with that loud, dangerous threat, the stealthier fighters liberate the children quickly and quietly. When children are safe and Grim's friend is secured, we all move together upstairs." Jack hoped that strategy made sense, and he looked around to his fellows to see if anyone had any sharper answers.

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"Suggest you keep us in mental contact, Scarab. Talking openly will be a bad idea early on." Through the awesome powers of Phantom's mighty command of the arcane arts, Phantom, Avenger, Scarab, and Magpie disappeared from the darkened park and reappeared in the quiet confines of an isolated corridor high up in the dark tower of Lord Arachnos. Despite the magical nature of the place, the walls were brushed metal and the floor carpeted with soft, artificial material. The walls were decorated with pictures of happy, smiling children and cute animals as they frolicked beneath the beneficent hand of a faceless figure in the sky.

There were doors on every side of them, stretching down a long corridor, and from somewhere nearby there came the distant sound of a child's sobs. The hallway was dark, with only bizarrely mundane EXIT signs at each end of the corridor, a glimpse of the normal world in this grim reflection of an alternate Freedom City.

-

Phantom wasn't the only one with the power to move great masses quickly, as Dark Star demonstrated when he carried his team, including Raven, along to the prison level. A level down, the detention corridor was a place equally bizarre and mundane; the walls decorated with smiling families and well-dressed, respectable citizens bowing in homage to a faceless figure in the sky. There was sound here too, but not from any of the mostly empty cells. The small group of heroes could clearly hear what were obviously propaganda broadcasts in their ears. "Arachnos loves the whole world, and all the people in it. Arachnos loves the whole world, and all the people in it." And so on and so on, over and over again, reminding everyone there of the glories of the new regime and the new way of living in the world. There were no signs of guards as yet; they were in an isolated corridor along an exterior wall of the building.

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Dark Star brought the group into the prison level, extending his concealment over all of them instantly. He kept his voice soft, though with the concealment field up it likely didn't matter. "Stay relatively close. Let's get Doc to the terminal and check free that woman. I'll handle hiding us, but that pretty much prevents me from taking any other actions. You point and I'll move us to wherever."

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Yes, get me to a terminal so I can hack into Arachnos' true history and plans so I can use them for myself once we get back home!

No! Hack into the system so I can deactivate the internal alarms and free the prisoners!

"I believe," Archeville said as he read over a small display on his Electromagnetic Screwdriver, "dat dere is a computer teminal -- or at least some concentration of electrical signals -- dis vay."

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Give me a moment. I will determine which cells are occupied. The Scarab placed her hands against her temples, and once again her companions could see spectral duplicates of her emerge from her body, each flying through the door of a different cell before disappearing.

Whenever her search revealed an occupied cell, she whispered reassurances into the mind of the prisoner. Do not be alarmed. We are here to rescue you.

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Scarab's mental probes awakened most of the children, some of them fearful but others rising with evident relief as they heard the voice of someone safe in their minds. "Can you see my children?" Magpie whispered urgently in Scarab's ear. "There's a boy, Tommy Morgan, with brown hair and a birthmark on his cheek, and my girl Lilly, she has green eyes and sleeps with a teddy." Rachel Trask had a mother's worry on her face, nothing more, but there were definitely more children in these corridors than hers. The guards didn't seem that interested in their charges, thank goodness; the small staff at the guard station near the elevators seemed to be reading or watching television rather than monitoring the cameras in the hallways. There were, perhaps surprisingly, no cameras in the rooms of the children; one small concession to humanity in this inhumane place.

-

Down below, the staff on the prison level were considerably more alert...but not so alert that they could see through Dark Star's concealment of energy. They actually passed Columbia's cell on the way in, the powerhouse sitting quietly still, her head bowed as she contemplated her fate. At the computer terminal a mere arm's reach away from a guardsman checking his monitors, Dr. Archeville was able to make a computer connection and learn some fascinating things.

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There are many children in these cells, Ms. Trask. None of them appear to be injured.

The Scarab turned to her comrades, and pointed to the end of the corridor. Ten guards. If we are to prevent them from raising an alarm, we must take them all down, quickly and quietly. Avenger, we'll leave the bulk of the group to you. Phantom, please maintain the cloak. Once we have incapacitated the guards, please start teleporting the children out of those cells. The rest of you, help me back up Avenger by taking down any stragglers. Remember - quick and quiet. Avenger, give me the signal as soon as you engage the enemy, and I will relay it to the others.

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If anything, Phantom had gone slightly stiffer at the sound of the sobbing children but she gave Scarab a terse nod to show she understood her part in this. Unseen under her cloak, her fists tightned until the soft leather creaked in protest. She had nephews no older than some of these children. Some of them were practically babies. Nothing could be done until the guards were dealt with, however. Once she could drop the spell hiding them, Phantom intended to waste no time in getting them out of their cells.

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Doctor Archeville's technical genius opened the tower's computer system to him like a flower. He could see everything from the Solitaire the bored receptionist down on the first level was quietly playing behind her Excel system all the way to the highest-level security protocols surrounding Lord Arachnos' most secret projects being carried out at the highest level of the great tower itself. He could do anything from here, or almost anything, and the feeling of computerized mastery was downright total. Of course, the big reason he was so powerful was that he'd successfully bypassed all their computer security systems. If they did see him, or if a guard tried to use the "empty" computer slot he was using...well, there might be trouble.

-

"Now," was Avenger's simple reply as he fell among the soldiers like a wolf among the sheep. He smashed one face-first into the monitor he was watching, the glass breaking as the moaning man slumped to the ground and bleeding from his face. He destroyed another with a backhanded kick even as he dealt with the first, lifting the man off his feet and smashing him into the plexiglass behind him; the momentum for which gave him the speed to grab a guard's rifle and smash the butt into his chest hard enough to break ribs. The last man wasn't so easy to bring down, Avenger's punch hitting his body armor hard enough to bend him in half but not to actually drop him.

"Hit an alarm." Avenger told the shocked guards as they went for their weapons, malevolent laugh in his voice. I DARE YOU!"

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Ha! Child's play! Now to copy all Arachnos' files....

No! Internal alarms first!

"I am in," Archeville whispered to his companions, "und I can access... vell... everyding! I believe bringing down de internal alarms should be de first priority; dey can probably still use psionics or other Metahuman abilities to rally de 'Big Guns', but sis should at least keep down de rank-und-file from interrupting us...."

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Dark Star nodded. "Seems rather easy. I'd have expected more observation or pitfalls in the system. But do what you can; release the prisoner's cell locks and such as soon as it's safe. Divine, Grim. You're on watch and calming the prisoners. Stay within my field though. Bring any prisoners who are willing to fight close. When we're set, we're taking the fight to him. And we're going to let those prisoners release some of their torment on their tormentors." Beyond that, there was little he could besides keeping a minimal watch and keeping everyone completely concealed.

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Touching so many minds at once isn't easy under the best of circumstances. Shutting them all down will be even more difficult. But if we fail here, all those children will suffer, and this world will die. Now focus. The Scarab imagined the minds of the remaining security guards as candle flames. A mighty wind poured out from her mind, a raging tempest, blowing all those flames out. Just like blowing out all 5,000 candles on my birthday cake. Her knees buckled at the effort, as if she actually did have to summon the storm from her own lungs.

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Grim felt completely out of her depth on this mission, and it was really starting to get to her; she'd never worked with this many heroes at one time before, and seeing folks like Phantom, Scarab and Dark Star, heck even Doc working his techno mojo, made her feel very young and inexperienced. She stood to one side, nervously chewing on a thumbnail as she whispered a question.

"Uh, guys, what do you want me workin' on right now?"

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