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The Snake-Charmers (IC)

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GM

Starwick St., 2012, April 20th, 6.45 P.M.

A rash of bizarre kidnappings had recently struck in the Fens and Theater districts of Freedom, three people of no obvious connection to each other had been taken from their homes within a week of each other, each time the walls of wherever they had been taken from marked with a rough pictogram showing a black snake holding a ball of fire in its mouth, and written underneath was the message "Apophis has them. Do not look for them." in neat letters it had taken the investigators only a few hours to determine were made with archaic printing blocks. As they so far hadn't found any trace of any aficionados of ancient printers they had instead turned to the exhaustive task of finding the kidnapped by less direct routes. A thorough examination of each crime scene had revealed that at least four different kidnappers were involved in each case, and the system hummed along, the officers struggling to find and piece together enough clues to get an idea of how, for example, the kidnappers had never needed to touch any of the doors or windows...

12 meters from the practically derelict Amundsen Apartments Building, Stephen Pareto, a young electrician with a lean build, cold eyes and immobile lips walked briskly home, unaware of the red and black figure silently following him from the roofs above...

With a rattle on the loose pavement, the yard behind the shops was quickly filled by the compact black van, the driver constantly swinging his head about, eyes darting around at the growing shadows for anyone, his similarly jittery comrade leaping out of the van several seconds before it stopped moving, hurriedly unlocking the back door and disappearing inside for a few seconds filled with thuds, scrapes and muffled curses while the driver parked the vehicle and dashed into position, catching the end of a crate as it was shoved roughly into his embrace, which nearly knocked the wind out of him. In a moment the two were scrambling to get the box inside the back door of "Carl's Hardware Supplies", the door opened by someone unseen to their observer...

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The King of Suits landed with soft steps on the thick roof of the old candy shop, eyes fixed on the retreating figure on the sidewalk moving towards the apartment building. With long, easy strides he kept pace with Stephen, making certain to be in that blindspot of peripheral vision that would keep him quite safe from being discovered.

He had started work as soon as the news of the kidnappings had become widely-known, a little less than a day after the first had taken place. Cults were surprisingly common in Freedom City, though the number of snake cults he knew of were few enough to narrow the culprit group down to a handful. Stephen was a casual acquaintance of his, a man who kept just about everything close to the vest, and it had taken a while to find out by chance about his religious affiliation. A cursory investigation into the cult Stephen was a part of quickly revealed that they worshiped a snake god called 'Apep', 'Apophis', and variations on that theme, and so at last Marceau had a lead, and a promising one at that!

He quickly brought himself back to the present, refocusing on keeping his steps as quiet as he could while he stalked the hurrying man. He needed to make sure he could follow Stephen right to where he was going, and giving himself away would quite likely destroy his chance at that.

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Silhouette made her rounds as always at night, when the rats came from there holes to do the deeds that couldn't be done in daylight. The dealers on the corners looking for buyer were taken down and tied to the light posts as she went down the streets systematically to find anything unusual. When she saw the van and men moving around hurriedly inside, she really didn't need much more inclination to snoop around. She came in from the street level, walking quietly set against the wall, a shadow among shadows that wouldn't be detected by anybody unless looked at through a infared goggles, and nobody really carried those.

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GM

It was practically child's play for Silhouette remain unnoticed by the hurrying men, who dashed back and forth across the cracked pavement carrying three heavy boxes insto the store, and the three watchers who stood idly by, casually scanning the perimeter with great care to spot possible intruders as far off as possible. At length, the two men had deposited their cargo and were payed with small wads of bills, which they both took without stopping to so much as thumb through it before slipping off in the van.

As the roar of the vehicle's motor receded, the three watchers hung around for only about twenty seconds before two of them wandered back inside. The third(a thick-set, thuggish fellow with immensely short black hair) leaned against the wall next to the door, smoking and observing the world through partially closed eyes. The door led into a dry, quite cold stockroom, filled with crates, heavy-duty cardboard boxes that stacked up to the rafters, and a great many piles of odds and ends of a hardware nature, mostly screwdrivers, hacksaws and hammers budled with what looked like several thousand nails. Two women were bustling about with the two wathers from outside, man-handling the just-arrived crates onto a conveyer belt, which dropped them(with peculiar echoes when they fell off the end), into a lightless room.

None of the workers noticed the moving shadow, hard at work and settled quickly into the methodical rythms needed to quickly move the oddly-echoing containers into the pitch-black room, their eyes never truly focusing on anything more than a few feet before themselves.

Meanwhile, Stephen heard not a single tap of the King of Suit's feet as they sped along the roof above him, and he burrowed slightly into his coat, the chill wind that always seemed to blow through the Fens threatening to badly chill his vulnerable nose and ears.

He shuddered at the vague feeling of being watched, and hastened through the double doors, through which he passed into a long, dilipidated hallway with walls covered in faded wallpaper, with a threadbare capret underfoot. Walking quickly to the room marked '141', he fumbled with a key concealed by his lean fingers, slipping inside the darkened room beyond, an audible click signalling the lock turning again.

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Stalking silently after the unaware elctrician, Marceau ducked into a doorframe when Stephen halted at the entrance to his own apartment. Watching with great care, he watched as the man unlocked his door and went inside, a quiet sigh escaping his lips as the noise of the lock being turned clicked through the hallway.

Waiting for exactly eleven seconds, he strode noiselessly up to the door, pulled out a tiny flashlight(which had taken many painstaking hours to make), and squinted into the lock. Mumuring to himself, he began the quick, quiet work of opening the thing, ears straining into the dark hall for any approaching footfalls, and mindful of any noise on the other side of the door.

At last, with a soft noise of metal, the tumblers were eased into place and the handle turned ever so slightly. Marceau held his breath and all but crept into the apartment.

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Sil stalked about the room looking for anything suspicious, which honestly with the exception of their taste in jewellery it wasn't very much so. Still didn't mean that something illegal wasn't going on there, it probably just meant they hid whatever stuff they have packed away. Criminals are pretty careful about that sort of thing afterall. When she saw the little convey into the next room she headed right through the cracks of the door and looked around to find, a freaking hell house of boxes. It was disorganized as all heck, she'd seen fifty year old storage lockers with less grim and cobwebs. If anybody was hiding anything in there she'd, only they could probably find it, and even then they'd probably have a time of it. Letting out a sigh she moved out of the room and moved on, she could probably find the residents and eavesdrop, she was afterall just a shadow on the wall.

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Marceau slipped noiselessly through the doorway, and on silent feet leaped into hiding behind a low couch just in time for Stephen to return from the kitchen with a mug of hot coffee. The King of Suits remained absolutely still and quiet as the man sat heavily down on the sofa and drank his beverage with solemn delight.

After a few minutes that dragged on like hours, with a regretful sigh the man got heavily to his feet, deposited the mug in his sink, and strode over to a painting of a stormy sea, with a Spanish galleon being torn apart by a great sea serpent. raising it, he tapped a quick succession of numbers on the thing, which Marceau carefully observed and committed to memory.

After entering in the code 56182, a hidden panel in the floor slid into a recess, through which the electrician climbed down on a ladder. Listening with utmost care as the soft clangs of his descent echoed up, the costumed vigilante prepared to follow his quarry to whatever end he skulked. Brushing off the dust that had accumulated on himself during his concealment, he drew on a pair of night-vision goggles and stepped down onto the rungs.

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It didn't take long to find someone, people like to talk of course and conversation was happening, but it wasn't very descrite. There was a nervous edge to a conversation that was supposedly about hardware. Double meanings were definitely there, but not obvious enough to tip off anybody not in the know. So what was the hardware then? She crept closer and got a look to see something come out of the guys pocket, an amulet that looked like something Voldemort would of stuck part of his soul in to be exact. With it's presense the presense of the wall disappeared and the men as well as they moved inside. She raised an eyebrow. So, magic then, well not my specialty but not too hard to muck up. Either way, there was snake symbolism with this magic whatever it was, that was usually a bad. Sticking easily to the shadows she followed behind to get some more information.

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GM

The two silent heroes followed their respective unwitting guides, the passage straight and surprisingly comfortable, with a dry floor underfoot and gently constant flow of air on their faces. For all that, it was still dark as pitch within and the dryness and warmth gradually became simply uncomfortable, the draughts irritants and the plodding speed of their guides more and more aggravating.

At last, after what was probably around ten minutes walking, a sharp bend took each of them into view of a large round chamber lit by lamps hanging from the ceiling shaped like old fashioned stars, around eight hundred feet in diameter and two hundred feet high, with the walls done like a step pyramid of outcroppings and shelves that served to hold the dozens of casually-dressed people who were mostly talking cheerfully amongst each other, and some of whom greeted Stephen and the men from the shop like old acquaintances. Doors set at seeming random throughout the steps and shelves opened into dim passageways much like the ones the two heroes had traveled through.

The crowd was split fairly evenly in regards to gender, age and race, and everyone mingled without apparent grouping, though none of them moved down the steps into the bowl-like floor in the center, where three tall people swathed in yellow and black robes stood watching a dangerously un-convered hole in the floor. Each of them carried a long white staff carved like a serpent was coiled around it.

The passageways led right onto the highest level, and the two could see the interior of the odd room without any obstruction. It was made of cement mostly, though the walls were of brick and the bowl of a floor looked like steel, discolored though it was by dark streaks.

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Marceau felt a wash of relief as Stephen's destination came into view, though he whispered a muffled curse as he removed his night-vision goggles and rubbed his eyes, the sudden glare reflected into his eyes briefly blinding him. He had managed to step behind a pipe(what it carried he could only guess at), keepinghim from view should Stephen hear that in the strangely echo-free tunnel. As his eyes cleared, he glanced in through the mouth of the passage, staring in surprise at the cavern that seemed to violate several architectural laws, not to mention being a safety hazard beyond belief. How does the ceiling not collapse? he wondered as he eyed the soaring lamps far above. The place HAD to have some kind of power supply, though of course they might simply be stealing someone else's volts. If he could get a chance to look at how they were connected, he could-

why was there people next to the hole? Why would anyone..get so...close...

"Well," he murmured as realization sunk in "at least I've found a likely place." he checked over his weapons, making sure especially that his explosive cards were readily at hand.

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It's a cult, great.

Silhouette rubbed her flattened forhead as she moved forward. She hated cults, giant organizations bent on removing all aspects of individuality and original thought for the reward of companionship and some fake sense of fufillment. It was high school all over again. Then there was magic, which meant literately nothing to her, she couldn't figure out what they were going to do, but ritual sacrifice crossed her minds several times like a flashing light. She needed to look up some of the magic folks later to learn a bit about this, Nick didn't seem to hate her too much, well probably not like Jill probably did. Given, she could probably ask Mona, see if she's got any ideas later, though she'd have to find a way to justify it.

Back on the matter at hand she skimmed for a few seconds and found, she was not alone, not alone at all. In fact, she had unexpected, and probably unsuspecting back up, well if she didn't blow the introduction. Or he didn't blow her up on the introduction, gadget lovers and explosives seem to go hand and hand.

She skulked quietly getting behind him and said in her lowest whisper,

"A friendly shadow would like to know, do you have any idea what the heck this all is about?"

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"Grmghulp!"

The King of Suits suffered that jangling sensation usually felt when one is startled out of a train of thought. A voice suddenly murmuring to him out of nowhere like that had totally derailed his careful plans for corralling the cult leaders(or so he judged the staff-bearers to be) and capturing as many of the general cultists as he could. Forcing himself not to shudder like an leaf from the shock and instead resembling someone experiencing a mild electric jolt, he stepped slowly backwards and around the voice he had heard, stopping once the darkness of the hall covered them both fully, and said tentatively in a soft rumble to where he gauged the speaker lurked " A cult of the Egyptian god Apep as far as I can tell. From the look of this place I'd guess they've become well-fortified and entrenched, probably been here a long while."

He glanced back over to the brighter hall where the cultists milled about pleasantly "As for what is going on right now, I can only speculate they're about to perform some kind of ceremony" he shrugged "Couldn't find much on rituals for Apep in my studies for this case, so I have no idea what's about to happen."

Peering into the dark where his invisible company was he added politely "I'm called the King of Suits by the way, O friendly shadow. May I know what you go by? " he asked with a warm smile, briefly offering his left hand before sheepishly replacing it with his right with a muttered "Er, sorry."

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So, he didn't really know what the hell was going on either. Well beyond the obvious, the little bits about the diety involved would probably meant something to someone else. Either way, he didn't outright attack her, that was always a plus.

"Silhouette,"

She let the word slip as she moved forward towards the circle,

"I believe I'll go ahead and cause a distraction, you can do whatever the hell you like to use that to your advantage, but I don't like the looks of this ritual, so it's time for some intervention."

It was really simple, keeping unseen, moving from person to person, staying at their backs and in the corner of their eyes, a shadow indeed until she found the staffbearers. Whatever proper title they had, it was likely the staff magic or otherwise had a good amount of symbolism to them, and as such he turned she brough up her heel and like an axe slip the staff from top to bottom clear in half (being sure to avoid any lingering digets that held it). The sides feel down clattering on the floor a perfectly smooth cut through seperating the two halfs.

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GM

As the bisected pole clattered to the ground, all three of the cultists began to hurry themselves into a fighting stance, but it was clear that none of them were nearly as experienced as Silhouette was. One of the staff halves slid quietly through the hole down into the black abyss it opened into, after which a slight tremor could be felt reverberating through the room.

The cultists clustered around the perimeter of the room had no idea what they were seeing, but they were already dead silent, their dark eyes looking intently at the scene in the bowl as they edged closer to the doors and tunnel opening set amid the shelves and steps.

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Which probably made a surprise when Silhouette appeared out of nowhere. Not that it mattered, even full dimensions she was as black as a shadow, and definitely as quick. Running forward she slammed her flattened fist into the nearest cultists stomach before picking up his limp form and throwing it at the other two. They all went down rather quickly and she glanced around, the expression hidden under her black matted mask as she got a better look at the crowds, turning her head really daring them to try and get past her.

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GM

To nobody's great surprise, the crowd of cultists promptly began to do so, surging into the tunnels in a howling, desperate a mass of humanity. They managed to retain sufficient order to rush into the well-wrought metal and brick tunnels without crushing each other however, and from the way they seemed to make unconscious lines this was something they had been taught with great care and repetition.

The trembling was growing slowly stronger, rattling the staves that had been thrown from the grasps of the priests(or whatever they were) as Silhouette defeated them, and sending them down through the hole into the pit, even shaking the senseless bodies slowly towards the mouth.

The lamps were swaying now, wreaking the usual kind of havoc on the shadows that moving light sources usually do.

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Seeing the cultists making their escape, Marceau leaped out of hiding, landing neatly in a run on the curving shelf beneath the tunnel mouth, muttering to himself as he grabbed a pair of bolas from his utility belt, swinging them as he ran.

As he got within range of the surging crowd however he stopped, glanced at the cord and weight, placed it back in its loop and instead slung a card almost carelessly from a pack on his belt. As it flew, the thing rearranged itself into a cylindrical mass of metal coils, which wound about one of the cultists, immobilizing them and bringing them bodily to the ground several yards from the door they were trying to reach at full speed.

He grumbled in exasperation as he jogged over to his new captive "At least we have someone to get straight answers out of now, not much chance they'll talk without persuasion though, is there?" he asked Silhouette ruefully.

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GM

With a grinding crash, the doors of the tunnels slammed shut after the fleeing cultists, the noise followed by a soft whispering like something dragged along the ground. A black light shone through the doors, and even the noise of the many feet slapping the hard floors ceased.

The trembling gentled ever so mildly.

The cultist the King of Suits had managed to capture was a tall and well-built middle-aged white woman with shoulder-length black hair, a rather broad face and nose, coldly suspicious eyes and mirthless set to her lips. She looked from Silhouette to the King of Suits a few times before asking sharply "Who sent you? Why are you here?" in a harsh voice.

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Picking up the bodies she fireman carried two of them before tossing them a safe distance away from the rumbling pit. The last one she carried underhanded as she glanced at KoS capture himself a witness. Tossing the last body down, she bent down on her knees, and met the woman face to mask reached forward and flicked her on the forehead,

"Seriously, did you forget where you are?"

She stood up and stretched,

"This is Freedom City, the epicenter of hero activity on the planet, and you have the audacity to be surprised that some of us showed up to your little party. You thought you could whatever you wanted just cause you lived in the Fens, but nope, this is my neighborhood snakey, no way I'm letting a cult do some mystic summons or whatever here."

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"I am the King of Suits, and this is Silhouette. We sent ourselves, madam" King of Suits explained patiently, speaking gently to try and relax her suspicions. "I suspect your...group is responisble for the kidnapping of three people recently, and have come to investigate." he sat down on the slightly vibrating ground and smiled at her "I, and I believe my associate" he nodded slightly to the black-clad vigilante "mean no harm to you and yours, we simply wish you to release your captives and will rescue them from you by whatever means we must if you do not set them free. Of course it doesn't have to come to that," he concluded warmly "but there is a rather large problem still, what with the worshiping of snakes and having a ceremony in front of a gaping pit in the floor. Mind explaining that?" he asked brightly.

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GM

The bound woman glared sullenly at Silhouette, but seemed sufficiently cowed by the reminder of who she was talking to subside a little.

Blwoing a few loose strands of hair out of her face she answered the King's question guardedly, looking at Carrie all the while "I don't think i could get you past those doors" she admitted "I don't have the ability to use the power of Apep on my own yet. Yes" she added, looking once at Marceau "I and those others worship the great serpent of darkness called Apep. His power is slowly growing here thanks to our prayers, and that pit communicates this room to his realm of eternal darkness and silence." She slowly got intoa sitting position, hampered by the bands of metal surrounding her limbs and torso "And yes, we are the ones who took those three a little while ago. They were trying to dissuade some of us from following the god, and we have taken them here that they may understand what we serve" she shrugged "If you want to reach them, I guess we could exchange hostages" she rattled the coils for emphasis on the sloping floor.

A sharp jolting of the surrounding room nearly sent her onto her side again, and with difficulty she painfully retained her balance "Better do it soon" she muttered to the two heroes "I think the high priests are calling up one of Apep's children."

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Swaying gently as the reverberations passed through the room, the King of Suits glanced through his mask at the ceiling, noting the increased swaying of the hanging lamps. With an edge of worry to his voice Marceau asked what seemed to him the obvious question: "Exchange hostages? We have only one, surely the priests of Apep are good enough at arithmetic to know they have the advantage? Besides, three known prisoners are likely to be dearer to their hearts than one worshiper." His eyes flicked over the hole in the floor, asking the next-most obvious question "Also..are these 'children of Apep' by any chance normal everyday giant snakes? Or do these disciples summon shadow monsters?"

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GM

"They value their secrets" the woman said placidly "and the prisoners will be sent back soon anyway, so the priests won't have any reason to refuse an exchange like that, from what I've heard they were only taken to intimidate them and that's been done, so..." she rolled her shoulders to try and make the metal bands settle more comfortably around them "...the only reason they're even still here is as bargaining chips, you know." With a grunt she relaxed her arms, her efforts simply tightening the constraints.

With an aggravated sigh she looked sharply at the King of Suits, snapping "We worship a god of darkness, yes they are shadow monsters." After a moment's thought she added casually "I'm Jane Guan. by the way, if you need a name for your report or whatever."

With a soft noise of grinding rock, the shudders ceased, and Jane smiled at the pit "They must be done" she murmured to herself.

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Silhouette got right up into the woman who was cooperating because the way she was doing so pissed her off. Like this was no big deal,

"Intimidation, they were kidnapped, taken from their homes because you didn't like what they had to say. We're not trading for them, we're saving them, and keeping your sorry ass and all those involved because you violated their free will just because they were questioning yours."

She backed, hearing the murmur and crossed her arms looking at the woman,

"You should know, I don't care who you worship, I don't, not in the least. It's your bloody choice, but your not being traded, your helping us find them."

She looked at the pit, and the shadows,

"And whatever they will be doing, I'm probably gonna stop anyway. There's only room for one shadow here, and I've kicked gods in the freaking face, a bunch of minions aren't gonna get the better of me."

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"Quite likely, Silhouette" the King of Suits said briskly in his soft rumble, getting back to his feet and brushing off the dirt that had gotten on his cape "but assuming we'll win with so little real knowledge as we do is a little unseemly. For example, we have no idea if they won't simply toss the hostages into the world ruled by Apep, now that they know we've come; from which it would be incredibly difficult to rescue them without assistance. Presuming you can't simply slide between dimensions, that is" he qualified with a polite smile.

"But I agree entirely with the 'no trading' part, you happen to have knowledge we'll need to navigate this place Mz. Guan" he said crisply to the other woman "One moment..." with a deft touch he pulled at a seemingly arbitrary metal coil, causing the bands to suddenly slide back, reforming into a card signed with the 5 of Hearts, which he deposited into a pack of similar cards. "There we go!" he said with more cheer, encouraged by how well his invention had worked "Now, stand there and do not move while we deal with your god's emissaries, otherwise I will simply repeat the process of restraining you, understood?"

Flicking out a 10 of Clubs, he turned towards the pit, spinning it between his fingers and saying quietly to Silhouette "Any thoughts on how to handle shadow monsters, Mz? I confess I am a novice in such things."

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