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... but the Exchange Rates are Murder! [IC]

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Date: July 3rd, 2010 (a Saturday)

~10:00pm. Temp 73 oF, clear, winds SW @ 5mph. Moon is not visible (it set around noon, so should rise around midnight, in about two hours; it will be a waning gibous, 60% illuminated).

North Bay. A posh district of expensive waterfront homes and historic mansions owned by some of Freedom City's wealthiest families, featuring exclusive yacht clubs and beachfront property, with few stretches of public beach. One of these historic mansions is the Hunter Estate, home of Travis Hunter (secretly the Golden Age superhero Midnight), grandfather to Trevor Hunter, who carries on that noble legacy.

Speaking of the younger Midnight, he was at this moment nowhere near North Bay. He was in one of the shadier parts of the city, putting down the last member of a car theft ring he'd been tracking for some time... completely oblivious to the greater darkness looming over those he loved, as forces beyond human ken sought to shatter the decrees of the gods and bring about a hell on earth where not even death is a release, only a gateway to yet more suffering.

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Had anyone present been able to see through the stygian cloud of midnight mist which blanketed the interior of the chop shop, they might have witnessed Midnight dispatching a blindly charging thief by opening the driver side door of a partially dismantled pickup truck directly into his opponent's lowered head in a moment of poetic justice. Instead, a loud crash and a pained groan were the only signals that the last of the criminals had been subdued.

As the inky black gas slowly dissipated into the night air, the lean vigilante looked about the garage through the narrowed red lenses in his featureless mask. As an accomplished driver and mechanic, Trevor Hunter had made breaking up the expanding car theft operation which had been plaguing the city's streets a priority. Regarding the unconscious thugs zip tied to the scavenged car frames, the youth felt a degree of muted satisfaction before slipping into the shadows outside and stealthily making his way to the alley in which he'd concealed the Night Cycle.

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An ear piece built into Midnight's featureless mask crackled to life over a secure channel, pitched so only the black clad youth could hear it. "All done there?," his grandfather's 'work voice' intoned, "because if so, I-."

A beeping sound in the ear piece told Trevor an alarm in the Midnight Manor had been set off.

"Proximity alarm, south lawn. Cameras show five, no, seven- nnngh..."

Trevor's heart skipped a beat.

"Some sort of mental assault," he grunted, "I'm fine. I-"

"They're coming in now."

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By the time Midnight replied over the commlink, "On my way; hold on," he was already on the Night Cycle and tearing out of the alleyway. Rearing up on one wheel to make the hairpin turn onto the street, he let the bike fall back down as he accelerated to its maximum speed, weaving like a matte black shadow thought the night's traffic as he raced homeward. His teeth gritted as he willed more speed from the finely tuned engines.

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Trevor speeds up the streets of Freedom, a bolt of darkness cutting through the night. Dozens of thoughts race through his head, none of them good.

None prepare him for what greets him.

When he arrives in the neighborhood, before reaching the end of the road where the Hunter Estate lies, Trevor sees signs of other attacks. Several people lay sprawled out on their lawns, against their cars, at their doorways; he could even see a few through windows, sprawled out unconscious on a chair or table. There were no signs of any struggles, though the looks on the faces he saw were ones of pain.

The Hunter Estate loomed ahead. There, on the front lawn, were signs of a struggle... and an unconscious form on the ground.

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Leaving his bike to clatter to the lawn, Midnight sprinted toward the unconscious figure. The young man did his best to remain analytical, processing what he was seeing in a detached manner. Mental assault... The civilians strewn about the street seemed to substantiate that information; clearly they'd been stricken suddenly and without warning. He should have been remembering his training to resist such an intrusion, but the only thing Trevor could think about was reaching the side of the man who had raised him and given his life purpose.

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The figure on the ground was not Trevor's grandfather. Judging by the condition of the body, though, it was hard to say who it was, because it was so withered and mummified that visual identification was next to impossible. Cause of death appeared to be a blunt force trauma to the head, and the pattern impressed into the flesh was similar to that raised design on the bottom of an ornate marble ashtray Trevor had seen many times on his grandfather's desk.

The clothing did reveal some clues, though. The corpse was dressed in simple contemporary clothing, all dark colors. Not unlike what a run-of-the-mill street thug would wear. The pockets were empty of anything which could identify the corpse, but did hold something of interest: several zip ties, the kind used to quickly bind crooks... or kidnapping victims. Around its neck was a thin metal chain -- iron, it seemed -- which had been snapped. Incidental damage during the fight? Or someone removing a dog tag?

In the distance, Trevor heard something approach. Something slow and plodding.

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Trevor couldn't help but feel a stab of satisfaction as he recognized the source of the head wound. The Hunters were not a family given to admitting defeat without a fight. He quickly removed the zipties and iron chain from the body and deposited them into one of his belt's many pockets for later analysis before rounding on the source of the plodding sound, escrima sticks appearing in his hands so quickly it may as well have been of their own accord.

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Trevor could hear the intruder coming closer, and he saw movement amongst the neatly manicured hedges and other foliage in the neighborhood. But the IR lenses on his mask were not showing anything.

In fact, they weren't even showing the presence of any animals. No stray cats or dogs (not that there were many in this neighborhood), no rabbit or squirrels. Whatever had happened earlier, or whatever was approaching, had spooked them all.

Suddenly, coming out from behind a twine pair of trees in a neighbor's lawn, Trevor saw it. At first glance it looked to be a vagrant, well-worn sneakers, tattered blue jeans, and a slightly oversized plain black t-shirt. But the way he walked was all wrong, as was the way it held itself. And the eyes, shining like twin emerald fireflies, staring ahead, staring at the body on the lawn. Was this one of the attacker's minions, come to reclaim a fallen minion? Or here to destroy evidence?

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Beneath his featureless mask, Trevor gritted his teeth. He didn't have time to fight, not with his grandfather potentially lying wounded somewhere nearby. It was a long shot, but perhaps this creature wasn't as mindless as it looked. If it could think, it could know fear. Wisps of inky black mist trailed upward from Midnight's back, coiling together to give him a massive, indistinct outline in the night's darkness. "Leave this place," he intoned without emotion, "darker things than you are about."

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Okay, is he referring to hisself, or the fellas I'm trackin'? Best keep up the act 'till I find out more.

"Darker...," a sepulchral voice echoed from the IR-invisible intruder. It raised one hand and pointed at Midnight, "You... darker?"

It continued to approach, now with both arms outstretched. "You... work... darkness?"

Not gettin' any magic vibes off'a him... but the one at his feet looks like one'a the goons I been trackin'. Cain't see through that cloud he's makin', though, so I cain't see what dropped 'im.

The creature's left arm pivoted down, so the hand now pointed to the body at Trevor's feet. It did not take its eerily glowing eyes off of Trevor, though. "Yours?"

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"I am darkness," Midnight corrected chillingly. Only his narrowed red eyes glowing against the black field of mist indicated that he was tilting his head slightly to one side. "You're not with them," the lean figure intoned without any hint of question. "Smarter than you're pretending, too." The sound of gloves flexing over escrima sticks in the inky cloud was all that could be heard as he let the accusation hang in the still night air.

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[bg=#000000]He's a monster! Look at him! He's come to steal these people's lives![/bg]

~He is a monster! Probably a wraith or spectre. Good thing I know how ta deal with them types!~

"Smarter, yeah," the intruder drawled. "An y'know what else?"

The Revoltin' Revenant suddenly broke into a sprint, and actually managed to strike Trevor's jaw!

"Faster, too!"

"Now... waitasec -- no tingle. You ain't a wraith, yer solid. Hey!" It seemed to be addressing the spot where it had been standing. "Is y'all bein' honest with me?"

[bg=#000000]He is a monster! He ruined my life![/bg]

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Midnight rolled with the abrupt punch, disappearing into the cloud of midnight mist behind him. Almost instantaneously he was behind the undead creature's left side, bringing his escrima sticks crashing across its spine in punishing, parallel strikes. Despite putting his whole body into the attack, it seemed to have little effect on his foe. The young man's red lenses narrowed as his mind churned, searching his memories for pertinent training. Dark magics; powerful, but there's always a trade-off. Weakness. His grandfather had fought more than occasional eldritch horror in his day, and had ensured that his successor was well prepared for such an opponent. Blessed silver. But who is it talking to?

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Trevor heard bones cracking in the thing, and the small lump on its back indicated that a rib has not just broken but broken through its skin. But it seemed to pay no attention at all to the strikes. And Trevor saw (and heard) why: the injuries healed almost as soon as he'd inflicted them, bones re-knitting and putrid flesh melding back together.

"Yer hittin' me with sticks," the creature mused, arching and popping the last of its spine back into place, "which further indicates ta me that you ain't a specter or any other sort'a spook."

It turned and looked at where he assumed his assailant was. "So what are ya doin' here, hunh? Y'ain't workin' with tha others what knocked out all these folks, is ya? 'Cuz if so, I'm gonna have ta keep beatin' on ya."

[bg=#000000]He's evil! He stopped me from trying to feed my family![/bg]

The zombie again looked past Trevor, "alright, explain yerself, man. You faced this guy, yeah? When? Where?"

[bg=#000000]It was... years ago! Decades! Back when I was alive! Times were hard on everyone, see, and all I was gonna take was-[/bg]

"Wait," the zombie continued, cocking its head to one side, "you stole? And this fella stopped ya?"

[bg=#000000]It was to fee my family![/bg]

"Well, no wonder ya thought the guy was a monster..."

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Sliding smoothly away for the zombie, Midnight tucked away his escrima sticks in favour of a pair of gleaming, metal knuckles withdrawn from his belt. The inherited silver have been inlaid the holy symbols of more than a dozen cultures, blessed in numerous rituals as each demanded. Slipping them on, the dark vigilante took up a defensive pose. "You attacked," he reminded Dead Head flatly pointing a finger at the undead creature. "Answers first."

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"Yeah, yer right, I did," the creature... sighed exasperatedly? "There's somethi' weird goin' on, I been antsyier'n a long-tailed cat in a room full'a rockin' chairs lately."

[bg=#000000]He's evil! You can't trust 'im![/bg]

"Oh, hush up," the zombie suddenly barked at the space behind Trevor, "you already mislead me once."

It turned back to address Midnight, trying to put a relaxed look on its rictus grin-frozen face. "As fer why I'm here now, I was chasin' some graverobbers. I think they was taking components fer some spells or rituals, not whole bodies, though they did have a few enlisted corpsemen with 'em already. Like that fella yonder," he added with a nod towards the body on the lawn.

"So, what's yer stake in thi-" The zombie suddenly paused, and its eyes widened a bit. "Stake! Are you one'a 'Venger's people?"

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Trevor grimaced under his featureless mask. If the scraps of information he'd gathered from the lips of terrified crooks were to be believed, Avenger was one of the vigilantes who's adopted the original Midnight's modus operandi since his retirement. Unlike the Raven or Arrowhawk, however, Avenger reportedly showed none of Travis Hunter's restraint, routinely exercising needless brutality. "Midnight," he corrected the surprisingly genial zombie flatly before moving to walk briskly past him to the estate. Have to find Gramps first, make sure he's alright. Everything else can wait.

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The estate was empty, and, oddly, showed no signs of anyone having entered. No ransacking, no cabinet shelves swept clear or drawers left hanging open. The only thing Trevor saw missing was the ornate marble ashtray which lay outside, next to the (apparently long-dead) thug it had bashed.

There was no sign of a wounded Travis slumping back into the house, so that was good, in a way. But Trevor had not gone to the secret parts of the house yet, since there was an unusually chipper zombie tagging along.

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"Wow-ee!," the zombie exclaimed. "This is a nice place! Yours? Friend'a yours? Or didja jes' happen by an' see all these folks knocked out?"

"So, Midnight, hunh?," it asked, looking around the place. Wait, did it only have on glowing eye now? Yes, it did! "Guess yer one's them grim 'vengers'a the night, yeah? Like Raven?"

Why did the zombie now only have on eye? Because the other was perched on a tree outside, looking at the corpse on the lawn.

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"Stop. Talking." the ordinarily patient teen grated flatly, which actually answered Dead Head's question fairly pointedly. Concern for his grandfather was fraying even Trevor's high unflappable nerves. With a sudden though he turned to the zombie, red eyes narrowing under the brim of his fedora. "Good man lives here. Missing. Do these grave robber's take prisoners?" The voice was just quiet enough that the ghoul had to strain to hear it, which somehow lent it an even greater sense of urgency.

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Dead Head took a few steps back, and put his hands up defensively. "I'll take that as a 'yes,' then."

"An', yes," it continued, lowering its hands halfway, "they do take prisoners. If they were gonna turn yer friend into some sort'a undead, they'd likely need lengthy rituals an' such. Unless they's really pow'rful necromancers, but if they was that powerful, I'd'a sensed it," he said as he tapped one temple. "Other possibility is roundin' up folks for some big ritualistic sacrifice, which'd give us more time, since near as I can tell this group ain't been active long, an' so ain't got a chance t'gather up many folks. An' since I ain't heard'a them walkin' 'round with any new undead, I'm leaning t'wards thinkin' they's roundin' 'em up fer a big ritualistic sacrifice. Which still ain't good, granted, but it does mean we got a bit more time ta find 'em."

"Uh, ya do realize that guy's still out there," he added with a nod towards the front door, "on yer friends lawn..."

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Midnight stopped in his tracks. Still thinking he was just dead, he realized, resisting the urge to smack himself in the forehead. After failing to find an accurate way to ask the question given the English language's assumption that one was either dead or not, the vigilante glared at Dead Head. "Actually dead or not?" he demanded to know, indicating the body on the lawn. "Can it be interrogated?"

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The strange one-eyed zombie's rictus grin drew wider, "yes... an' yes."

The creature marched back outside, where the body still lay sprawled out. It shambled to a nearby tree and plucked a small glowing green orb from it -- its missing eyeball. The zombie popped it back in, as casually as one might put in a contact, then went back to the body. It looked over the body, poking it a few times, then looked back to Trevor. "Yup, he's dead. Which means I can work with'im." Trevor's limited medical knowledge agreed, the body was dead.

"Hey!" it yelled at the body, which then sat upright. "My frined here's got some questions, an' yer gonna answer 'im, alright?"


The newly-animated corpse nodded, but continued looking straight ahead.

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Through sheer force of will Trevor maintained his composure. There was a considerable amount to which the level headed youth could adapt, but holding conversations with animated corpses sorely tested his limits. Privately, he admitted that his grandfather's endangerment was playing a large part in his frustration. Accepting that this was the best way to save the man who had raised him restored Midnight's crystalline focus. "The old man. Where? he demanded brusquely.

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