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A Hard Day's Night [IC]


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Taylor took the long way home after her first class of the new school year. That is to say, she took the time to stroll from the campus to her apartment building along the twilight-lit streets instead of teleporting directly from the bathroom home. It was a luxury that she knew would fall swiftly by the way side once the year picked up. As she walked, Taylor patted her jacket pockets then searched her jeans in a futile attempt to find her cell phone. For the first time since she'd assumed Phantom's mask, she had enough of a social life that there were usually messages on the cell.

Once she'd searched all her pockets twice, she stopped in the shade of a closed store front and quickly checked that no one was watching before she fished the cell phone out of the void. Her hand vanished into a small pocket of space with a faint flash of light and emerged triumphant with the phone. She really had to stop leaving the dratted thing in another dimension but at least that meant that it hadn't interrupted her professor with it's ring. She put her phone to her ear and quickly listened to the messages as she walked the rest of the way. A message from Jack confirming tomorrow night's date and then a quick call from Stesha. She made a mental note to call them both back later on.

When she slipped inside her apartment, her boots were kicked off by the door and she dropped her keys and cellphone in the delicate glass bowl she kept spare change in. Taylor glanced at the clock. It was early and there had been no catastrophe's all day. That meant she could have both a shower and a nap before midnight roof crawling. She shed her clothes in short order and stepped into a blisteringly hot shower. For once there was enough hot water to last for a long shower and Taylor was feeling quite content as she slipped between the sheets of her bedding. It would be so nice to sleep in the bed for once rather than a quick nap on the too short couch.

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Standing on a rooftop, listening to the night, Zealot leaned hard against the rising wind. The moon was bright and yellow. Zealot smiled to himself. It was a hunter's moon. As he mused a flicker went through his mind, his eyes narrowed and his gaze shot across the street where an apartment light suddenly came on. Zealot knew what it was, and snarled under his breath.

Cursed mageling, I can feel your Taint from here. You will know my wrath soon. You will know fear.

Without a sound, Zealot flitted from the roof, to the ground, and slunk across the streets, using the shadows for cover. His mind still tingled from the presence of magic, it built a fire of hatred and rage in his gut. From a safe, hidden vantage point Zealot watched the window, and waited for the lights to go out.

As they will all too soon for you, heretic. All too soon.

When the light blinked out, Zealot made his way to an opposite rooftop, to get a glimpse of the room inside the window. He waited for the pretend safety of sleep to overcome his prey, then using the shadows, ghosted into Phantom's bedroom.

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The tingle on the back of her neck was the only warning Taylor was given. Her eyes snapped awake and she tossed the bedding back in an attempt to scramble to her feet even as she summoned her clothing. The shadows twisted around her, resolving themselves into a rippling cloak that dripped over the edges of the bed.

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Phantom flung up one arm to block the weapon automatically and she hissed in a breath as the lash snaked around her wrist and laid her cheek open, spraying blood accross her good sheets.

Who is this nutjob and what is he doing in my bedroom? She thought as the pain chased the last of the sleep cobwebs away. Phantom gave him a baleful glare over the wrist still wrapped by the flail and growled. "You're a dead man."

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Phantom's breath hissed in sharply and she arched away from the snap of fire accross her back even as she fired off a bolt of crackling energy. The fighting conditions - kneeling in the middle of her bed while dripping blood on the sheets - were enough to through her aim off and the energy sailed over his shoulder and smashed a mirror into glittering shards. Enough was enough with the pain front. Without a word or gesture to betray her spell, a shield of dark energy encased her from cowl to boot.

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Seeing as well as feeling the shield go up around Phantom caused him to snarl in defiance. I've hit her with everything I've got! She should be on the floor!

Unwilling to give an inch, Zealot twirls, and does a backflip onto the bed, then snaps out his scourge, an angry red glow coming from it this time, wrapping around the shield, attempting to crumble it to dust.

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Phantom had a moment to watch in horror as the scourge sliced through first her shield and then the skin beneath. Still, she didn't even give him the satisfaction of a scream as the whip laid her open again. Phantom struggled for conciousness as she braced both hands on the sheets, trying to focus just one more time to raise arms that had grown too heavy to fire another blast at him.

Too much bloodloss. I can't- I can't- Phantom never even had time to finish the thought as she collapsed.

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Zealot stood over the beaten sorceress and his eyes glowed an insane fire.

"It's all perfunctory at this stage, but I suppose I must have you confess and give you the chance to beg mercy of the Lord for a quick death."

Zealot flicked the scourge back onto his belt and lifted the girl onto his shoulder. She weighed little, and would be easily suspended above the dunking tank he had set up in the warehouse at the docks. With malicious thoughts spiraling through his brain, each begging to be put to practice, Zealot stepped into the shadows, and disappeared from sight with Phantom in tow.

"Let this be a proper warning to the fool magelings at Shadow Academy that dare stand against me. I am their doom."

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Back at the warehouse, Victor set to tieing Phantom up, securing her with rope and manacles. He draped the rope around a pulley the old warehouse had that was still functional and lifted her unconscious form from the ground, upside down. He moved the large oil drum, filled with ice water, beneath her and started pacing in front of her, gathering the plan in his mind, setting his will to the task. He looked at her face as she basked in the darkness of unconsciousness and he hated thinking that she may be comfortable in her mind. He barged to the rope where it was tied off and undid the knot, then let the unconscious heroine drop into freezing water. Leaving her there for ten seconds before bringing her back up out of the water.

"Good morning, starshine. The earth says: Hello!" He sang the words to her, as he imagined many mothers and fathers did to their children, though coming from his mouth, the lyric twisted into a fearful taunt.

"I hope I'm not disturbing you, harlot, but I have other plans for tonight so if you would kindly confess your sins of witchcraft and beg God's forgiveness, I can end your miserable existence quickly and go about my night."

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Phantom returned to conciousness in one shocking burst of agony. For the usually intangible heroine, the sensation of being bound and trussed like a turkey was a new and unpleasant one and she twisted at the end of the rope futilly.

Weakened from the multitude of injuries and disoriented, Phantom couldn't seem to summon the small scrap of energy needed to slip between worlds much less slide free from her bindings.

As she glared mutinously at her captor, she forced her body to relax. Phantom just had to stay alive long enough to let her body mend and thrashing would only slow down and likely give her captor immense satisfaction. It wasn't like she could drown after all.

"Di immortales virtutem approbare, non adhibere debent," Phantom finally said. She was sure he'd appreciate the latin quote. We may expect the gods to approve virtue, but not to endow us with it.

She closed her eyes and braced for another dunking. It appeared that this particular nut job was a student of the Malleus Maleficarum. Hopefully he'd stick with the water torture for a while. There were even less pleasant ways to drive out the devil as it were.

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Zealot sneared at Phantom's defiance, rage building behind his eyes.

"Sino non a veneficus vivo," Suffer not a witch to live Zealot snarled as he dropped her back into the barrel. Leaving her there longer this time before pulling her back up.

"I can do this for as long as it takes, child." Zealot moved up to her and held up the hem of his black and red cloak. "Kiss the cloak, surrender your soul unto His mercy and expel your evils. Know His glory one last time before you die. It need not be painful."

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"Did you know," Phantom rasped out in an almost conversational tone, "That the original aramaic passage refers to a poisoner, not a witch? The choice of the phrase 'witch' was politically motivated. The original portion of the text talked about the dangers of letting a known poisoner near the tribe's food supply. The more you know."

If all she had to do was bandy historical factoids and Latin quotes, Phantom was feeling a little more confident. She would have been a lot more confident but she was still suspended by her ankles, still woozy and bleeding out, and poking holes in the arguements of the certifiable was dangerous at the best of times.

She looked at him, at the cloak, and then dredged up a soft laugh, "Any sins on my soul are not yours to judge. You're not a Hand of God. You are nothing on the scale of gods and demons to I who has seen both. You're a just a man. A small and cruel man and I am not afraid."

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"Impudent Harlot!" Zealot screamed as he backhanded Phantom across the face, leaving an angry red mark.

"Do not test my patience! If I were so small I would not have brought you down with such ease. Indeed God has made me his hand in this. The truth is in the fact that you are under my control. Do not dare insult me again, or I'll show you what other tricks the Order taught me." The angrier he got, the more his apparently young age showed. He would drop the archaic speech patterns and his words would fly unchecked from his mouth. Victor took in a deep breath. He had to keep control of his emotions. He blew the calming air out his nose.

"Now, since you are an obviously unrepentent fool, and no more can be gained from trying to free you from your wickedness, why don't you tell me of your cloaked brethren? How many Tainted live in this city? What are their names? Who leads you? Perhaps if your answers please me we will forgoe the thumbscrews and what not and go straight to the beheading." Zealot brandished a friendly smile that would make the most ardent spring flowers wilt.

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For the first time since this ordeal had begun, an actual flicker of fear crossed Phantom's face. Unbidden, the litany of her friends slipped through her thoughts. Stesha, Moira, Ace... they'd all count as tainted in his eyes. She knew their names, their homes, the places they spent any real time at and she was pragmatic enough to know that given enough time and application, everyone broke. It could take hours, or days, or even years, but everyone broke in the end. The question really was, how much time would he have to break her.

Looking at the more than slightly mad light in his eyes, it was a risk she couldn't take. The other option, of course, was to goad him until his temper took over and he beat her into unconciousness. In that moment, Phantom decided that she'd make certain that he killed her before he gained any knowledge.

She lifted her chin and forced her mouth into a mirthless smirk. It hurt. He'd bruised one side of her face and lacerated the other with his whip. Her voice came out in a husky rasp that dripped with disdain, "My mistake. You're a small and cruel boy that hasn't ever gotten past pulling the wings off of flies to watch them hurt. I'll die before I tell you anything."

It wasn't just a promise, it was a vow.

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Across town, some hours later, Jack walked up to Taylor's apartment with a barely-concealed look of worry on his face. It had been a bad day, one of the worst. Those damnable Taylorites had tried moving into Greenbank again, and he'd needed to call on some heavy favors to bring in the equipment and personnel to chase them out. He'd never really appreciated Melinda as a talented administrator and diplomat, but the work of mastering the vampires of Freedom City (those who bothered to acknowledge his authority, anyway) was turning out to be almost shockingly difficult. But he'd kept it going, surviving assassination attempts and keeping his eyes open, and even had time to slip back into his mask for the first time in a good long while.

Taylor not answering her cell phone had worried him, though, so as soon as sunset had temporarily freed him from his labors he'd gone straight to her place to check it out. He knocked, as was polite, but when she didn't answer the door the lock was nothing to him. He took the scene in at a glance, fear in his voice as he ran for her bedroom. Blood. So much blood. He looked around, his eyes shifting red. Why didn't they hear anything? But he knew too well how easily apartment dwellers could tune out strange noises and sounds from the people next door. That was one lesson vampires knew only too well. Though he recognized the scent, Jack dropped to his knees and put his fingers in the blood still pooling on the bed. Still wet? What could do this?

He didn't know, but there was one way to find out. Jack lowered his face to the bed and began to taste. And when he did, all sorts of fascinating things flowed into his mind. He couldn't see what had happened before Taylor's blood had spilled, but he could taste everything that had happened after. I see you. The fear and images in the blood poured through his mind, the mental disciplines of the undead carrying him into the past. He's a teleporter. Holy symbols. Magic whip. He tasted Taylor's fear in his mind. This is the end. This is the night where I find you.

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Vampires have connections everywhere. This isn't something most people really like to dwell on, particularly in Freedom City. Certainly Freedom City isn't nearly as friendly for vampires as New Orleans or Bucharest, where Katrina and the end of Communism have given the undead great power. But the vampires of Freedom City are careful in their behavior, either inspired by the heroes who fly overhead by night or simply ever-mindful of X-Ray eyes in the dark. They don't move the pieces on the chessboard, but they see the players in the game. All the games.

Jack called those vampires first upon leaving Taylor's apartment, speaking to those elders whose business it was to keep an eye out on the city for known vampire hunters and their whereabouts. He had a good description in his mind to give them, the words and actions of a petty thug in a holy man's garb, and as the hours went by they were able to tell him more. He traveled all over the city at the beginning of that night, trading favors for names and information. He dined on blood at the home of his old friend Mr. Pitt, the ill elder having contacts enough to steer him towards names, faces, and even better, places.

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Victor saw the fear flash over her visage and smiled through her taunt. "You tainted mages are all alike, sticking together in such a close knit group that bringing down one means the doom of the rest. Let me share with you a lesson I learned the hard way. You are alone, and if you're not, others will go to great lengths to ensure that you are. Your kind did so for me, you destroyed my Order and killed all my friends. It amazes me that creatures like yourself can feel anything resembling compassion, but I'll use whatever I can get. Tell me of your friends, and I promise their fate will be much less gruesome than yours."

Victor moved back to the rope and unhooked it, readying to dunk her back in to the freezing water.

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A muscle flexed in her jaw, but she refused to look away.

"I don't believe you," Phantom rasped after a long moment of locked gazes. She finally closed her eyes behind her mask, gathering the tattered remains of her strength and forced back the desire to scream. He'd doubtless manage to wring them from her anyways but she intended to fight him every inch of the way.

Her glowing eyes opened once more and she fixed her gaze at some point behind him, her mouth compressed in a flat line as she announced tonelessly, "I have nothing to tell you."

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Zealot smiled, "Oh I don't need you to believe me. It happened. Right before my eyes. The ironic thing is I was brought here by one of you magic using abominations. If they'd have just killed me you'd be just fine."

Zealot dropped the rope, splashing Phantom into the water again, then decided to move some things around while she was in there. He did not know she couldn't drown, but it didn't seem to bother him as he set about setting up chains and hooks beside the tank. It took him about a minute, then he went back to the rope and hauled her up. In front of her face was a large, rusty meat hook. He set the rope and walked back over to her.

"You will talk. Tell me of your friends," Zealot looked at Phantom and brought his hand up to her face, softly gliding two fingers across her cheek. "You are rather pretty for an abomination. Perhaps there are better ways to make you talk." There was a dark glee in his eyes as he turned from her and idly fingered the rusty hook. "I must remember my vows however. Work before pleasure and all. Now, tell me."

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The muddling of her senses while in the tank was the worst part of the dunking for Phantom. Dnagling upside down, the murky water reduced her world to dim light and shadows and muffled any sound. Instead of thrashing, she went still in the water, straining to percieve what he was up to and when he'd be back.

Despite her best efforts, the sudden presure that hauled her up and out of the water startled her and she hissed in pain as she dangled once more before him.

Phantom braced herself for a blow that never came. When he stroked her face, she twisted away with a repulsed flinch. Her gaze slid to the hooks and chains and then back to his face. Moistening her lips, it took her a moment to speak, her voice echoing harshly in the chamber.

"No. Her voice came out steady, a fact that she was proud of. She couldn't control the involuntary tremble from a body that was hitting its limits, but she still had her voice under control. "I have nothing to say to you. I won't give you anyone else to go after."

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It was raining when Avenger reached the streets of Port Regal, but he stayed dry as he passed through the rooftops on smoke and fog. He was faster this way and just as observant, the murderous rage he'd felt earlier cooled to something cool and unsympathetic. He'd find the man who'd taken Phantom, the mad zealot who'd assaulted and imprisoned her. She was alive. He would allow no other possibility. No one else was going to die on his watch. No one. Not even this Zealot. But there were ways of dealing with a man that left him alive. Oh yes.

He was following up on a lead uncovered by one of the undead community's contacts in Freedom City's religious community, a low-level employee at a religious supply company who preferred the unholy in his private life to match the holy in his professional line of work. Mass-marketed religious items were a common thing these days, and finding out who was buying them in large quantities was an excellent way of tracking people in the city with an unnatural interest in religion. And track one he had, all the way to Port Regal where what looked like an abandoned warehouse beckoned to him. Now was the hour.

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Zealot sighed and gave Phantom a reproving look. "You're starting to bore me kitten. You don't want that, I promise you. I can bring upon you such pain that you'd beg for the cessation of death rather an endure another second. I have studied pain like most study for schooling." Zealot produced Witchbreaker and dangled it in front of Phantom.

"You remember this? It's a beautiful tool, really. So many different techniques one can perform with it. You have not even seen a tenth of what I can do with this, sorceress. Perhaps after I string you up by these hooks and chains I will show you. It will take some time, but I think you're worth it." Victor walked to a wall and grabbed an old hanging light, the kind that plugged into wall sockets and broke the glass against the door jam. Victor sidled up to Phantom and brought the light, no exposed, close to Phantom's face, the heat and light blinding. He then hovered it over the barrel of water, showing her just what he had in mind.

"Last chance darling. From here on out I get dirty. Give me a name, and maybe I'll spare you."

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She did her best to twist her face from the exposed wires. He brought it close enough that she didn't dare move or even breathe before he drew it back. Once the stars cleared from her vision, she realized his intent.

Making one last ditch effort for rage to chase away fear and the awful knowledge of his plans, Phantom yanked her gaze away from the light and let her cheeks dimple with a grin that bared even white at him.

"I'd hate to bore you. Let me see if I can find something less pedantic to say. How does, 'Call me kitten again, and I'll break your jaw in three places' move you?" She met his gaze with all the defiance she could muster. Damned if she'd beg. "Let me out and I promise I'll make the evening a lot more entertaining."

That last was sheer bravado, they both knew it would be a wonder if she could stand, let alone fight. Her lips were almost blue and her skin under the costume had the pallor of blood loss. Not to mention the whip marks criss crossing her body.

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