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Avenger Assembled

The Dragon Wakes (IC)

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Date: April XX, 2010

It was a typical April night for Avenger and Phantom, or rather, Jack and Taylor. One of her old professors was lecturing at FCU, and even with swollen pregnant belly she'd gone along to show support for Dr. Thomas. Jack had gone with her, even though he didn't really understand anything about ancient Chinese dragon-bones and how they were arguably a representation of ancient Shang Dynasty contacts with an extra-dimensional civilization of magically-empowered dinosaur offshoots. It was apparently a controversial theory, one that he was sure was completely fascinating.

The truth of the matter was, despite his personal experience with the supernatural, Jack just wasn't as smart or as thoughtful as his wife. He was comfortable with admitting that, even if sometimes he felt stupid listening to her talk, or defensively stupid when he listened to her talk magic to someone with a lot of life experience like Ace. At least the lecture had mostly been full of mundane people, those who wouldn't know a real figure of magic like himself and like Taylor if it bit them on the neck.

And that was sorely tempting too, these nights, when he was living off supplement that was like living for eternity on processed Cheese-Wiz and hot dogs when there was filet mignon so close for the taking. It was hard being around Taylor and not being able to taste her, much less being around all these people. Even though he still kept a spare costume in the car, he hadn't really suited up since the invasion. Taylor needed someone to watch her, especially after the attack on the shower. He, they, had enemies everywhere.

So maybe it wasn't too surprising that he started joggling Taylor's elbow not long after she'd finished talking to Dr. Thomas at the reception and come back from the bathroom. "We need to get out of here."

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Taylor gave him a look of frustration. She was growing ever more testy these days. Although she was physically fit enough (and had mystically enhanced regeneration that probably didn't hurt) that she wasn't suffering most of late pregnancy's complaints, she was still as round as a basketball. She'd grown somewhat used to feeling downright frumpy next Jack before pregnancy. Now that feeling of inadequacy was intensified. Emotionally, she was quite secure. Physically, not so much. It didn't help that their sex-life was doubly constrained, first by the pregnancy, secondly by the restriction on blood exchanges.

Not to mention that Jack's was starting to become even worse about the danger lurking behind every corner.

Despite the audible sigh, she turned and immediately made their excuses and let him take her arm to start moving her out of the lecture hall. Taylor fought down her various frustrations and looked up at him. As her gaze slid over his profile, her expression softened. She'd never admit it, but it was actually kind of nice to be cosseted and protected. It certainly made her feel loved. As her mood swung back to the 'I love my husband' end of the spectrum, she asked quietly, "You okay?"

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"I just feel unsettled tonight," Jack admitted as they walked out of the crowded, well-lit lecture hall into the quiet darkness of a Campustown sidewalk on a weeknight. "It feels as if the whole city has gone quiet," he said, frowning at the half-moon in a sky with just a few visible stars beneath the light pollution of the city itself. "The night feels darker than it should." He walked Taylor to the car, reached into his pocket for the keys, and looked over her shoulder.

"GET DOWN!" He pushed her aside, trusting to her phasing instincts to get her the rest of the way out of danger safely, just as an enormous cloud of screeching, madly flapping bats burst from the shadows of nothingness, erupting over his body and hurling him backwards into the car with enough force to stove in the driver's side door in an eruption of glass and steel. The 'bats' erupted backwards, reforming a moment later into the figure of a singular individual.

The creature was tall and angular, its white hair cut short in front and hanging long in the back; its pale mustache long and droopy. Folding long-nailed hairy fingers over its chest, clad in the opera-coat and tails of a previous generation, Dracula had opted to adorn himself with a diamond-pinned cravat of the finest silk. He eyed Jack, now recovering himself, and then Taylor. "So."

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Taylor's response was a startled gasp but Jack's hand was already slipping through her shoulder halfway through the shove. For once, her instincts came in handy rather than embarrassing. She phased as she fell, slipping part way through the car and then into the pavement below. She ghosted back up warily, emerging a few steps behind Jack. Taylor's hands were clenched at her side but not glowing with power. Dracula seemed to want to talk and Taylor was all for that.

It might buy her enough time to get within arm's reach of Jack to teleport them both away from the vampiric madman.

"So...?" She asked warily as she took a sidling step towards Jack, hoping that she looked like a nervous bride looking for protection. Which might have been the case except for the grimly focused and rather intent look on her face. Taylor had never been able to hide her intentions worth a damn.

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"You're different," said Jack suddenly, accusingly. "I've seen paintings of you from your visit a few years ago, when you fought with those teenage-"

"Be silent." And it was done, as surely as if he'd clamped Jack's mouth shut. "A name can have...so many implications." Folding those long fingers behind his back, cape billowing behind him, Dracula hovered in the air, the night around them all still and quiet. "So. My grandchild and the chosen of Heshem have become husband and wife." He spoke with the faintest trace of his Balkan heritage in his voice, the tone deep and gravely with the curl of ages. "How marvelous for you. Tell me, Ms. Chun, does Heshem know that her champion is a-" He used a word in Old Bulgarian better-suited to a peasant than a nobleman. Unexpectedly, Jack found the strength to speak.

"She is no whore. And the blood in my veins is a coincidence," he spat defyingly at the old count. "Nothing more."

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Taylor lifted her chin proudly, drawing herself up to her meager height. Her eyes sparked dangerously as she continued to flicker ghostlike in the night, "For someone so concerned about names of power, you invoke my patron far too lightly."

Her voice roiled with menace and echoes of the power that was hers by right, "She has Her own plans. I don't imagine that they're anything but counter to yours."

Taylor took another step towards Jack, her hands still clenched at her sides. The wind billowed the dress she'd worn to the event around her body and the jewel at her throat glittered but Taylor made no move to summon Phantom's costume. She wasn't ready to escalate this to a conflict just yet. Not if there was a chance they could fight on their terms, rather than his.

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"Pfagh." Dracula gave a slow, quiet laugh. "If the gods of old could strike me down in my sin, they would have done so centuries ago, foolish child. The very Pact you honor gave the world to men, not to God, Heshem, or any of the other dusty old names of power."

"You didn't leave your castle and come all this way to bandy insults with my wife," said Jack, his hands tightening into fists as he felt the scorching power from the thing before him. A deep well of pure vampire, a thing with roots to the darkest places of the world beyond anything he'd ever felt before.

"No, I didn't," explained Dracula, "I have come for you, my grandchild." He extended a hand. "Come with me, and your wife and son will be safe. I have nothing but praise for your choice to sire a child on a witch of such power, and the blood in his veins will make him a king in the world I am building."

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"Jack... Don't listen to his lies." Taylor twisted towards him, presenting her side to Dracula. She lifted one hand for him, her voice soft and almost pleading. With how hard his instincts were riding him, Taylor didn't honestly know how he'd react to this offer from Dracula. The ancient vampire had all the tricks of his descendents and then some, not to mention a powerful force personality, "That's not the world you want for our baby. That's not the world we want for our son."

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"What kind of world are you offering?" Jack asked suspiciously, shooting a reassuring glance at Taylor as he spoke. Surely it couldn't hurt to hear the king of the vampires out, not when they were both in such peril just being close to the man.

"A world where we never again need cower in fear like so many rats from petty godlings in gaudy costumes," hissed Dracula, circling them both as he spoke, a tiger with two cornered leopards. "A world where my great-grandchildren and their heirs rule the night as the kings and queens they are, not the pale shadows of their former glory. This has been my great work since I first awoke unto this blasphemous century."

"Your way has too many dead bodies behind it," said Jack, after a moment's hesitation. He'd have hesitated longer, but Taylor was right there. "And I think it would be insulting to suggest that the king of the vampires has changed his ways. Dracula's battles are won through bloodshed."

"Oh yes," replied Dracula, a glint in his red eyes. "I never said blood would not be shed, my great-grandchild. It was merely a question of whose." He made a gesture, and suddenly Jack's eyes widened, his always-pale skin turning an alarming shade of white as he staggered back. "Did you never wonder how your power grew so great, so quickly? How the merest stripling with a half-decade of undeath could hold his own in battles against the gods? Pfagh, I see you didn't." He scowled. "It was _I_ who gave you that power. And I who can take it away, and all else my blood has given you since you died in that filthy alley at the fangs of my grandchild, begging her to end your miserable mortal life quickly."

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Taylor took a step towards him, flinging one hand out as if it would snap the connection. Eldritch power rose to her fingertips, "It might be your diluted blood and that connection might give you additional power, but you've let your offspring grow too powerful. As you threw off your sire's control, so too he can throw off yours!"

Her voice carried her confidence in Jack backed with her understanding of things mystical. She'd had several months to sit around with not nearly so much to do as her usual breakneck pace life, and she'd had the best incentive in the world to study tomes of vampiric lore. Protectively, her other hand rested on her stomach. Taylor's hands splayed out over it's round curve, her wedding band glinting in the dim light.

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"Foolish woman," said Dracula with a shake of his head. "I am my offspring. And soon, the world will know the sheer power of my blood!" He made a gesture, and suddenly a shower of black, clotted blood erupted from Jack's pores, driving him to his knees before his progenitor. As Jack fell, Taylor heard a growling from behind her, and realized that the bats had come again, this time forming themselves into the shape of terrible black-furred wolves with red, staring eyes. "I had hoped to take your child's power for my own, but it seems you've chosen to OUTLIVE YOUR USEFULNESS!"

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Taylor twisted out of the way of the first wolf's charge, barely able to avoid the fangs. She flung her hand up to return fire with a bolt of power of her own but a sudden cramping that spread from her back all the way around her round middle distracted her with its sudden spasm of pain. The bolt flew wide, crashing into one of the parked cars and caving in one of the doors. The whine of the car alarm started up but Taylor ignored it to turn entirely ephemeral as she sank back into the pavement, curling in on herself.

She stretched one slender hand up blindly, her fingers closing around Jack's left wrist as they turned solid. The moment her skin touched his, she yanked them through the Void and dropped them both ignominiously in the nearly empty parking lot of Archevielle's ArcheTech facility.

Trying to uncurl from the cramping pain, Taylor forced herself to uncoil her body in an attempt to check on Jack. All that blood loss couldn't have been good. It took her a few moments to manage it, however, as not only was there the contraction to fight off, but righting herself took a bit of pushing and levering before she was able to get her feet under her once more.

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To his own immense surprise, Jack took a deep, shuddering breath, and then another, his perceptions bizarrely warped between human and vampire until at least his undead nature came surging to the fore. His pointed teeth pulled back in a snarl, he hissed like an animal comforting his mate for a moment before he found it in him to speak. "Taylor? You okay? Oh, you're hurt..." He rolled over and touched her stomach, where there was no blood but he could hear the pain. "We've got to get inside. He'll be able to find me anywhere in the city."

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"No, I'm okay." The baby just had terrible, terrible timing. Automatically, she glanced down at her watch and made a mental note. Taylor put out one hand to cover his on her stomach. The gaze she flicked to him was actually frightened. It wasn't an expression that flashed across her face often, "Sweetheart, they didn't hit me at all. But... I think that was a labor pain. We might be having this baby tonight."

In the middle of a fight with Dracula. Of course. She tightened her hand on his, "We'll get inside but we'll need to call in reinforcements. And soon."

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"Angels and ministers of grace defend us," Jack quoted automatically. His arm over Taylor's shoulders, he made a slow way to the Archetech front door, ever-mindful of the crowded urban night around them that had suddenly gone so very hostile. He couldn't help but think of his people, all of them in danger from the undead demigod in the city, but with any luck they'd be all right: Claudia was the only other vampire in the city directly of Dracula's blood, and she...well, she wasn't his responsibility, as much as it pained him to admit that. His responsibilities were in his arms as they burst through the door of Archetech, Jack calling out, "We need some help over here! We need...the Doctor!"

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One security guard's eyes went wide at the site, and he simply stood there frozen in panic. The two other guards on duty, being far more experienced, sprang into action. After hitting a concealed alarm button, they ran over to Jack and Taylor, asking them to calm down and explain what was happening.

Meanwhile, in his office upstairs, Doktor Archeville was engaged in necessary but unexciting work. He'd made ArcheTech to build, to design, to break new ground, all of which thrilled him. But it also required work, endless paperwork, budgeting, meetings.

Bored... bored... bored!

You know this all needs to be done, it is part and parcel of establishing and running what will be a multinational enterprise.

Pft, where's the risk? The challenge? I've familiarized myself with all the pertinent business & corporate laws, it's all so... so... predictable! Oh, what I'd give for an attack right now...

The flashing alarm interrupted his work. He patched into the security feeds, and saw Tayor and the two guards near here. He saw one appearing to talk to air; that had to be where Jack was standing.

You have really got to watch out what you wish for...

Pft, these aren't the freaks I was asking for.

A slight dizzy feeling felt by everyone in the lobby presaged Archeville's appearance via teleportation. "Jack! Taylor! Vhat happened?!"

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Taylor hauled her hand back, summoning a bolt of power to her hand as she felt the weird dimensional ripple - a clear sign of how on edge she was. She let the eldritch energy dissipate harmlessly with a wave of one hand and stepped forward to explain.

"Dracula," Taylor explained as she set one soothing hand on Jack's arm. Actually, the same hand that she'd almost blasted with the doctor with seconds ago. Her fingertips plucked nervously over the fabric of his sleeve, "He attacked us tonight outside the university. He--"

Whatever else Taylor was about to say she swallowed with a little gasp of pain as her muscles clenched again. This time, her outline seemed to blur in response, the hand on Jack's sleeve slipping through his arm as she lost her grip on remaining solidly in this reality. Her outline jitter-ed like a film slipping out of focus before she managed to bring it back inline with the energies of this dimension.

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"Dracula," agreed Jack. "And Taylor's in labor. It started just a few minutes ago," he said, his arms going around her. "I know you said we should expect that at this point in the pregnancy, but the way things happened, with all that power being tossed around...I think this is it." He squeezed Taylor's hand as he held her up, desperately wishing he could solidify himself to touch her wherever she went. "She needs help. And you need to put up your defenses."

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Dracula?

Well, you said you wanted excitement.

Yeah, but... Dracula? Really? Really?

Look at it this way, you get to test out the anti-vampire devices you've made.

Ooooh...

Archeville turned to the guards, "Jeff! Ted! Secure de doors, und prepare to repel attackers!"

"Did he just say 'Dracula'?" one of the guards asked. "Is Dracula coming?"

"Ja, he did," Archeville snapped as he went to Taylor's other side, "so prepare to repel an attacker mit all de powers traditionally associated mit Dracula. Mist form, animal control, hypnotic gaze, superhuman strength und resilience... vell? Get going!"

"Yes, sir!" the guards replied, then ran off to the guard stations and began locking the facility down.

"Attention, please," a pleasant voice over the PA system said, "this ArcheTech facility is under imminent attack. Please report to he nearest Panic Room and await further instruction. Attention, please..."

Medlab on the third floor should do-

Assuming we can get her there, she's phasing like crazy!

"Given her condition, I hesitate to use any of mein teleportation systems," the Doktor said as he pulled forth his Electromagnetic Screwdriver and began manipulating the controls, "but ve cannot risk you falling through de elevator. I apologize, Taylor, but dis is not going to be very dignified."

He pointed the wand-like device at her and pressed one final button, and two tendrils of blue-gray light snaked out. They circled her feet and then spiraled up her legs, forming a large, wide bowl shape under her. It molded into something vaguely chair like for her to sit and recline in, and she found it remained solid to her even when everything else wasn't. Then the whole contraption lifted a few inches off the ground, though it was still tethered to Archeville's gadget.

"Av- Jack, are you coming mit, or staying here to fend off Dracula?"

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Jack looked from Taylor to Dr. Archeville, his bloodlust coursing against his fear, his desire to protect Taylor mixing with his desire to be there for her. "I'll be there as soon as I can," he promised Taylor, fighting back teeth that lusted to grow in his mouth. "If I see he can't get in the door, I'll be back to join you. It's going to be okay, love," he said, pushing back shuddering fear. "I promise."

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Taylor focused hard to turn solid enough to grip his hand, her eyes dark and wide in her pale face. Her fingers clenched on his almost frantically but she gave him a nod. Turning as brave a face up to him as she could, Taylor was determined to do what she could to ease his fears as he was trying to push hers down, "It's not going to hold, Jack. Call James. Call our friends. Don't hold him off alone."

Her fingertips slid over the wedding band on his finger before her concentration failed and her fingers were no more than mist against his hand once more. "If it all goes bad, Jack, I promise, he'll never get the baby." She turned her face up for what kiss she could give him before settling into Archevielle's contraption, trying to look unaffected at the strange shackles of the doctor that were able to hold her.

When Archeville went towards the elevator, she turned back to look at him, "I have faith in you, Jack. I always will."

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Ha! It seems my theories on how to contain a being that can phase between dimensions have proven correct!

Or it could be that the infrared portion of the energy making up the 'force construct' reacts to her the same way fire does, i.e., it reaches her no matter what her state.

We can debate that later, right now I've got an abomination to abort.

Birth! BIRTH!!! You are not going to harm this child, whatever it is!

... yes... of course...

And no stealing it away for any longer than it absolutely needed to make sure it is healthy. We are doing this openly and in a trustworthy manner.

Fine... though it's not as if she would notice if-

NO! No tricks!

Archeville called out to Avenger as the elevator doors closed, "ve'll be in de MedLab, third floor!"

Jeff and Ted continued making ready, moving with haste but not hurrying or rushing. The third, the one who'd nearly fainted when Jack and Taylor arrived, had crawled behind the security station and kept looking back and forth between the monitor and Jack.

"He ain't showin' up on the cameras..." her murmured, "why ain't he showin' up on the cameras?!


In the elevator, Archeville was by Taylor's side. He was clearly concerned for Taylor's and the baby's welfare, and slightly panicking at all that was going on. "Taylor, I svear I shall do all in mein power to deliver your baby safely. I... I do not know how ArcheTech's defenses vill vork against a determined und potent vampire... but dis, at least, I can help mit."

"Und since I know dat husband of yours can be a stubborn fool," he added while pulling a cellphone out of his labocat, "I vill call a few of our friends to help."

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In almost less time than it took to call her, Stesha had her things packed and was ready to go. She was in a bit of a hurry, well, more than a bit of a hurry, so she tossed on her cowl and belt over her smiling daisy pajamas and slipped on her sneakers, calling it a good enough costume. She really wished that the mission Derrick was on off on the far side of the galaxy hadn't been so urgent, they could really use his help right about now. Well... she'd just have to make sure not to die again, and not to let anyone else die.

Grabbing a bulb of garlic from the fridge in one hand and rooting in her seed pouch for anything spiky and wooden, she made the jump over to ArcheTech, one superhero stronghold she'd never visited. She popped out of a decorative plant in the lobby, looking around to make sure they hadn't already exceeded their quota of dangerous vampires in the building. "What's going on?" she asked Jack tersely.

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"Dracula is attacking the lab," said Jack, who was in the middle of giving orders to heavily-armed Archetech security guards. "He'll be here momentarily. Taylor is upstairs in the medlab with Dr. Archeville, she's in labor," he added. "I don't know how much you've heard. Did you see anything as you were teleporting in? Or anything strange happening in the city?"

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"I didn't see anything weird," Stesha replied, closing her eyes and extending her senses into the plants growing on the ArcheTech campus. "I was at home, watching TV in my pajamas. Doctor Archeville said come prepared for vampire, is Dracula a figure of speech, or are we talking honest-to-god from the book Dracula here?"

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