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Avenger Assembled

The Violence Inherent in the System (IC)

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Vin Blume sat like a dark godling amongst his pathetic lackeys, watching with perfectly constructed disdain as a hottie with skin painted white and hair dyed black ran her hands across his chest. With the tight corset cinched around her tattoed body showing off already ample endowments, she was everything he wanted in a woman: sexy, gothy, and completely subservient. "Ooh, Fear-Master," she cooed, "You're _so_ sexy." She looked around the abandoned nightclub, which was filled with various Gothic wannabees, the gang tats on the most menacing still visile behind their poorly-applied greasepaint and ill-fitting latex. "And you took this whole place all by yourself?"

"Let's just say I gave the original owners...a good scare!" said Blume, laughing malevolently at his own joke, his cronies following along a few moments later. It was a good start to a good night for Fear-Master, he did some high-end coke, screwed an underage teen wannabe behind the bar, and recruited another half-dozen thugs to join his ranks, lured by the promise of cheap sex, drugs, and a city terrified of them.

Finally, at the end of the night, a slightly inebriated Fear-Master stumbled to the club bathroom to relieve himself before bedding down. He stepped inside, the door closed behind him, and he heard a voice.

"Vincent Blume." An instant later, a leather-gloved hand grabbed him by the back of the head and smashed him into the bathroom tile beneath his feet. Fear-Master started to cry out, but his breaking nose and teeth cut off his cry entirely as the world faded into darkness.

-

He awoke, a long time later, in pain and bondage. He was on a roof somewhere in Freedom City, the sky above him dappled with stars, the Moon leering down at him malevolently. He was in his underpants, stripped of armor and weapons, and bound, painfully, his arms and legs stretched out, to the floor behind him. A grim, faceless figure stood above him, straddling his bound form, meeting his eyes with a cold, malevolent gaze. "Fear-Master."

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"Vincent Blume." Avenger squeezed his hands into fists, glaring down at the contemptible little man beneath him. Vincent Blume, the mighty Fear-Master, had gone down like a house of cards once he'd snuck into his den of filth and watched him until he was alone and off his guard. "Do you know who I am?"

Fear-Master met his eyes...and looked away. "You don't scare me, man!" He spat back, lying through his broken teeth. "Go ahead, do your worst! At least Raven's got some tits to make it interesting!"

Avenger bent down over the villain and took the man's face in his hands. He squeezed, casually, feeling battered flesh give way beneath his leather-clad fingers as the man whimpered. "My worst." He laughed, and it was a terrible, malevolent laugh. "My worst! My worst is the sweet sound of your screams in my ears and your flesh adorning my wall!" He met Fear-Master's eyes with absolute, terrible intent. "Am not like the others. Raven. Wants information. Foreshadow wants to break up your operation. Arrowhawk wants to liberate the poor stupid children in your grasp. I want to hurt you."

"You're...you're a superhero!" Blume suddenly fired back, his voice muffled by the hand on his face. "You can't really hurt me!"

"You stupid, stupid man." Avenger reached down and ran his hand over Blume's chest, repressing a twitch of revulsion as he felt the man's heart pounding beneath such thin skin. "Let me show you what I am." He hurt him, then, hurt him until Blume had moved from defiance to terror, until he'd gotten the screams he'd promised from the man's now raw throat, until the master of fear was a whimpering, weeping mess. "This city, you know? Avenger gave a terrible laugh. "They love their heroes, don't they? I could do anything to you, anything at all, and no one would ever believe you."

"P...please," Blume sniffed, his face covered in snot and tears, pain shooting through his body. "Wh--what do you want from me!?"

"You are a member of the Crime League Unlimited. You will give me the current whereabouts of Sebastian Stratos."

"No way, man," said Blume, his makeup smeared to unrecognizability, his wrists and ankles chafed to bleeding from the way he'd tugged at his blonds. "Stratos messes traitors up bad, man, he'll..." He looked up at Avenger and said,"He's out of the country anyway.

"Vincent." Avenger took him by the head. "I saw the things you did tonight. And who you did them with. You're coming with me when we leave this place. The question is, in how many pieces." When it was done, and Fear-Master had spilled his guts, Avenger knocked him out again. He had some traveling to do tonight. He needed to call Taylor and tell her he'd be late.

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A few hours later, Sebastian Stratos awoke with a jerk, rising before dawn as had been his habit since his undergraduate days in the 1950s. He sighed as he slid out of bed, cracking his back and slipping into his slippers, listening to his robot servants recite the news of the day as they slipped a robe around his skinny shoulders. "Yes, yes," he said, waving his hand as he headed downstairs, wincing at the ache in his body. He was getting a little on in years these days, and his powers and genius hadn't yet found a cure for something as basic as a slipped disk. I bet Gardner doesn't have back problems. That $($)#@ gets his $#($... He entertained himself with thoughts about how he'd get his arch-nemesis one of the days all the way downstairs.

With GLADYS, his robot servant, busy polishing his Jaguar, he opened his refrigerator, took out a bottle of Ovaltine, and gave a sudden shriek as the man standing behind the refrigerator door smashed it into the back of his head. As the world went dark, he listened as his defenses sprang to life. This intruder wouldn't get far!

-

Sebastian Stratos awoke in chains, and in a cold, still darkness that was the most terrifying place a weather controller could be: a room with no air. He found himself gasping for air, struggling wildly, and suddenly felt a mask close on his face as strong, merciless arms wrapped themselves around his head. "Sebastian Stratos." The voice was barely audible, tinny and distorted through what he realized was an atmosphere of some gas no man could breathe. He heard a raspy voice behind him, and felt another mask press into his back. "We have to talk."

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Whatever else could be said for Stratos, he wasn't a fool. A genius, a mad scientist, yes, but no fool. Already planning to slowly electrocute the man holding him, roasting him over several hours, he said, "I'm listening."

Avenger tightened his grip, glad Taylor was visiting her mom tonight, and said, "It has come to my attention that you people have lost your respect for me. That my service battling monsters and street thugs has left you supervillains without the proper respect for my abilities."

Terrified though he was, Stratos replied, "If...if you want me to beg, I will. Or let you join the League. You seem like you'd be a good...awk!" The hand had closed on the hose that fed oxygen into his mouth. Avenger held it just enough to keep him from panicking and launching a lightning bolt in self-defense. After all, so far he'd kept that from happening by showing what would happen if anything electrical hit him or Stratos.

Besides, they were in the living room. That would mess up the TV. "You insult me. I am not a fool. If I take you to prison, you will escape. You people always escape prison. But you will not escape me. You will never again allow any of your people to purvey your filth in Midtown, the Fens, or the Southside. Or I will find you. And I will punish you again."

"S-sure," said Stratos, doing his best to keep the tattered remains of his dignity intact. "Sure, I'll make sure we don't-"

"Sebastian." Avenger put his mouth next to the mad scientist's ear. "Glory. Beauty. Little Sebby. I saw the news about their fight with Bolt last year." He gave a cold, terrible laugh that carried right through the thick, inert gas that filled the room, his voice particularly deep and malevolent. "Sebastian, prisons are designed to keep people in, not out. When a man becomes a father, he is never again truly free.Tell your friends. The weakest among you. The strongest among you. If you cross me again, none of you are safe."

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Early that morning, the battered, semi-conscious bodies of Dr. Stratos and Fear-Master were found, bound and gagged and wearing prison-issue underpants, outside a police station in Kingston. A couple of days after that, Blackstar attacked a prison convoy and liberated the two men as they drove to a prison hospital; the three villains escaping just before the Freedom League could arrive. Just another day for Freedom City law enforcement.

Jack Faretti took his wife out for spaghetti that night. It was a good weekend.

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