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Old 07-06-2017, 12:20 AM   #76
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The king is dead. Long live the king.

THE MASK AND THE MIRROR
Chapter 1.3 | Post Theme

Shall we sit around the fire and tell sad stories of the deaths of kings?

SUB-ROMAN BRITAIN
The Battle of Camlann | 537 A.D.

"BASTARD!"


The sound of steel beating upon steel.

The ringing of swords cutting edge to edge. The young squire's eyes burned with Hell's baleful fire. Furious as a vengeance, he threw himself upon the king again and again and again. Each wound only igniting the passion that spurned him on, ever as his blood spilled out onto the ground at his feet.

Two years.

For two years, he had fought. For two years, he had bled. For two years, he had toiled and he had loved and he had lost. And what had any of it been for, but a dream.

All for Camelot.

All to be the future king his mother required.

All to be the bastard son his father might be proud of.

Camelot was burning now. Burning down around them, as Arthur and Mordred danced round perdition's flame. Excalibur and Clarent each erupting with powerful magics as the two mystic blades connected time and time again.

It was a contest for which Mordred was woefully outmatched. Arthur, wielding Excalibur, shielded by Pridwen, encased within Goswhit, was like a god of war -- a killing man who had reached his killing prime.

Mordred was yet a boy. Dead almost before their contest had begun, and yet some sheer force of will compelled him to continue on. Throwing himself back into the fray, as though a demon spit out of hell again and again to come at the knightly lord of Camelot.

He lived for a purpose. He died for a purpose. And he would not be put to rest until he saw his purpose through.

It ended here.

As Prince of Camelot, Mordred came not to succeed his father, but to end his reign. All their work, all their labors, their hopes and their dreams scattered to the winds as their castles and armies and all the self-righteous arrogance burned down around them.

...and Arthur had none but himself to blame.

+ - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - +

LONDON
The British Museum | Present Day

He'd found a fast food place called Five Guys in Piccadilly Circus.

Curious name for a place, Five Guys. He'd gone looking for the Burger King, but apparently that was now a bank.

Strange how much things changed, even while they looked the same. Thinking back on it now, it had been about ten years since he'd visited London.

He caught the Underground over to Central London, the British Museum being located in Bloomsbury. Police at the entry ways provided a security check, taking the boy's courier style backpack and running it through some kind of machine.

It came up empty, and he was sent on his way through the museum.

Of course, the section that he wanted to visit was cordoned off. The child passing without much notice by the two Bobbys standing vigil at the entry to the Matter of Britain exhibit, which contained artifacts and articles attributed to the Arthurian Romance -- the litany of folklore that stemmed from the events of Mordred's life and death.

Well, Arthur was supposed to be the main character, he supposed.

Folding a map and visitor's brochure about the museum, the boy brought a hand up, two fingers extended out. As he moved his hand in a slow arc, he whispered. "A elfyntodd dwyr sinndyn dvw."

A tale as old as time. The will and the word. The latter was Gaelic. A form of Gaelic anyway. The Gaelic spoken by the Britons, the people of Camelot. They were known as the Welsh later on in time, as the Middle Ages progressed on after Arthur and Mordred's deaths.

The will was supplied by virtue of his mother's blood. The homo magi some called them. Mutants might even be another term. People with an affinity for tapping into the currents of aether that surrounded them, and bending it to some cause or effect.

Planing out his hand, the child pressed his hand downward as he uttered, "Os syriaeth ech saffaer tu."

There was a ripple.

To the observer, the child might well have appeared to vanish in between the time it took to blink.

To Mordred, it seemed as though a translucent curtain had passed over everything.

It was the Mirror Dimension. A parallel plane of existence that subsided alongside the mortal plane. A useful corridor for passing unnoticed. No more than a spectre of a shadow on a wall.

Striding forward, the boy ventured toward where the exhibit had once held Arthur's helmet on display.

The last time that he had looked upon that helmet, he had been trying to take Arthur's head off with it.

Suffice to say, theirs was a complicated relationship.

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Old 07-07-2017, 07:20 PM   #77
Byrd Man
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Chapter 8

Litmus Test



Switzerland

1623 Local Time


The rat-faced man with the MAC 10 had Bond dead to rights, the barrel of his gun inches from Bond's right eye. Bond looked up at the man and stared. He knew that the distance between them was too close to roll away or dodge the shots, and it was too far away for Bond to attack with close quarters. So that was it. He would die here on a mountain in Switzerland. He wasn't rattled by the thought. As a 00 agent for the better part of a year, death had been his constant companion. He'd nearly died at least six times in the past fourteen months. So it would be the one in seven tries that did him in. Law of averages, he supposed.

"Well," said Bond with a questioning look at the man. "Kill me, you bastard. Be quick about it."

The coolness at which Bond was accepting death made the man unsure, the words he spoke were not what he expected. He wanted Bond to beg for his life, plead for him not to squeeze the trigger like the truck drivers had done. There seemed no fun in just killing him. Just joyless work. If he did that, what made him any different from a man who worked a punch hole for six hours in a factory? Noting at all, really. No panache, no excitement. Just garbage in, garbage out. It was then that the man had a horrible thought. He had become the thing he hated the most. He had become his father, working a thankless and soul-crushing job. Maybe that's why he had gone to this life of crime in the first place, rebelling against his father and his mother. Oh, don't get him started on his mother and all the damage she had done to him over the years... What in the hell had this Englishman sitting crouched in the snow done to him?

The man's discovery had come at the most inopportune moment. He was so busy contemplating life and his place in the world, that he hadn't heard the soft crunch of snow behind him. Nor had he felt Natalia's small and strong hands on his head before it was too late. There was a snap as she twisted his head sideways, breaking his neck in one quick movement. He crumpled to the ground, his dying body jerking in the last stages of cerebral shutdown.

"Thanks," said Bond as he stood upright. "Lucky he froze like he did. Had me dead to rights. Wonder what the devil got into him?"

"Who knows," she said, picking the MAC-10 off the ground and ejecting the clip. "Different things go through people's heads when they must pull a trigger."

"Agreed," he said.

Freezing up was never a problem he had encountered so far. Even faced with having to kill a woman he thought he loved, Bond had pulled the trigger with almost no hesitation. It may have made him a better agent, but did it make him a better human being? That was a question that wasn't his to answer.

"Listen," Natalia hissed as she squatted.

Bond broke from his philosophical thoughts and bent down, listening hard for any unusual ambient noises. There was the sounds of footsteps in the snow, two different sets of feet from the sound of it. They started distant, but were now growing louder. Bond made eye contact with Natalia and motioned under the truck behind them. She nodded and slipped underneath the truck bed. Bond followed, sliding through the mixed gravel and snow as they clawed towards the other side of the vehicle.

Natalia slid out from under the truck and stood up while Bond stopped when his head was flush with the right side tires. He rolled over on to his back and looked back at the other side of the car. With his gun out, he watched and waited for the men's feet to come into view. Two pairs of boots appeared around the front of the truck and approached the dead killer. Bond heard two voices speaking rapidly in Belarusian, one of them bending to examine the dead body. With his Walther held tightly, Bond drew a bead on the crouched man's left leg. He took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger. Blood flew from the man's ankle. A scream accompanied the gunshot as he collapsed to the ground, clutching his wounded ankle. Bond aimed for the other man, who was running towards the where he had come from in an attempt to flee from the unseen gunman. He got another shot off, missing his ankle but taking a chuck out the back of the man's right calve.

Underneath the truck, Bond saw Natalia's feet crunching through the snow on the opposite side, running towards the front of the truck. She was on a collision course with the now limping man.

"Look out," he yelled to her.

Too far away, his plea fell on deaf ears. Natalia came around the truck and crashed into the running man. Their two bodies fell into the snow. With horror, Bond saw Natalia's gun slip from her fingers. The wounded man had held on to his gun, and from his backside he aimed for Natalia's prone body. Before he could get a shot off, Bond fired three times. His first shot winged the shooter in the shoulder, the second pierced his neck, and the third shot drove the 7.65 millimeter bullet through the man's right temple. There was no exit wound with the head shot, just the bullet pin-balling deep inside the man's skull as he fell backwards.

"Are you okay?" Bond called out to Natalia as he crawled towards the front.

"Yes," she grumbled.

He came out from under the truck and helped Natalia on her feet. She picked her pistol from the ground and brushed snow off it. While she checked that the barrel was free of any obstructions, Bond walked towards the man with the bullet in his ankle. He kept his gun out as he came around the truck, aiming it at the wounded man clutching his ankle.

"Want to end up like your friends? Refuse to talk and you will."

"What do you want," the man whimpered. His large eyes were brimming with tears. That was how chaps like him acted when the end came. Full of piss and vinegar when they were behind a gun, they could never fully comprehend what it would be like being the one on the other end.

"What were you and the others doing at that bank today?"

"Off-loading cash," whined the man. "Billions of Euros deposited in the bank."

"What about the men you were killing?" asked Bond, stepping closer to the man while still keeping the gun trained on him. "The drivers. Why were they being murdered?"

"The Baroness' plan. Leave as few loose ends as possible."

"How did you and your friends plan to get back?"

"There's a man in a car waiting for us on the highway. We would take that back to their location."

"Where is that," barked Bond. "Where is the Baroness and her Russian friend?"

With the GPS nanites, it wasn't a question Bond needed the answer to. Still, it would be a litmus test to see if the man was telling the truth or feeding Bond lies.

"Th-... They have a site near the top of the mountain," he stuttered. "A large warehouse with a helipad, runway, the works. That's where they've stockpiled the cash since it began rolling in earlier this week."

"Thank you," said Bond. flipped his Walther and turned it butt first. He struck down, hitting the man in the temple with the gun's handle. He fell in the snow, groggy and rapidly losing consciousness.

While he had interrogated the wounded man, Natalia scouted the area and found no more armed men. Instead, she had found plenty of bodies. The remains of the workers that unloaded the counterfeit euros to the bank were lying face first in the snow, a single bullet in the back of each head. They turned away from the horrible site of the dead bodies and trudged through the snow towards the highway.

"I should have killed that man," Bond said softly as they walked. "What they did to those people, it would have been more than fair."

"You're right," Natalia said. "And he will probably die. Either the cold or the blood loss will get him. Focus on the people he works for. They are the ones really worthy of a bullet."

"I was instructed to try to bring the Baroness in alive when the time comes," said Bond. "The resources and men being used, she must be working for someone. Six wants to know who."

"What about the Russian?" she asked with raised eyebrows.

"They didn't mention sparing him."

"Good," she said coldly. "While you slept yesterday, I read up on him. The things he has done, both for the KGB and the crime lords of Moscow. The way he's killed, tortured and raped... He has to be put down. James, when the time comes, will you let me do it?"

"With pleasure," replied Bond.

"Thank you," she said. "Also, I didn't thank you for saving my life earlier."

"Because I still owe you one," he said nonchalantly. "You saved mine back there and at the airstrip in Belarus. Don't thank me until we're even."

Natalia closed the gap between them and reached out, taking his right hand in her left. Without a word between them, they walked through the snow in silence holding hands. It was almost serene, two attractive people walking through the beautiful Swiss alps hand in hand. If not for the blood on Bond's shirt and the stench of cordite on them both, it would have been perfect.

Twenty minutes later, they came upon a burgundy Volkswagen Jetta parked by the side of the road. There was a man in the driver's seat, a flat cap down around his eyes as he dozed. Natalia rendered him unconscious with a sleeper hold around the neck. Once he was out, she rolled him out the car and left him on the side of the road as her and Bond sped down the highway in the stolen Jetta.

From the passenger seat, Bond checked the GPS tracker on his phone. It appeared the wounded man's information about the Baroness was correct. The dot that identified her was still at the top of the mountain. If the rest of the information he had supplied was true, Bond imagined he and Natalia wouldn't have an easy go of the next few hours.

Natalia doubled back on the highway and came to their rental car. She checked to make sure that the wounded man was still out. While she did that, Bond popped the trunk of the car and looked down inside. Two large cases had been given to them by the SHIELD agent in Belarus. Bond popped open the case and at the gunmetal grey assault rifle. An American M4 carbine with a grenade launcher attachment and night vision scope. For all his indifference towards the Americans, he loved their taste in hardware.

"He's still out," Natalia said as she came to back of the car.

"Good," replied Bond. He reached into the case and pulled the M4 out. He checked the rifle while Natalia opened the other case. Inside were two new gauntlets for her, a pair of nine millimeter Glock 26s, and a black bodysuit with a utility belt. The belt's buckle had stamped on it, the red hourglass symbol found on the back of a Black Widow.

"Fancy dress," said Bond playfully.

"Custom made stealth suit designed by SHIELD," she said, looking it over. "Gives me certain advantages in operations like this.

"Keep your suits and your trick bracelets." Bond drove the M4's clip home and chambered a round into the weapon. "I'll take a three-round burst of full metal jacket bullets any day."

With their new equipment and weapons, Bond and Natalia walked back towards the Jetta. Natalia started the car down the road and they began their trek up the mountain to where the Baroness, the Russian, and the end of the whole bloody affair waited.

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"These are the times that try men's souls... Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph."
-- Thomas Paine


"People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election."
-- Otto von Bismarck


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Old 07-08-2017, 12:14 AM   #78
Andy C.
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HEARTBREAKER
PART TEN ( B )


Undisclosed Safehouse
Near Alameda, CA
1:00am PST
Second Watch



I stumble out of the bedroom, still shaking off the precious little sleep I managed to get so far; the downside of splitting watch and sleeping in shifts is that one person ends up getting the weird schedule in the middle. Still, if anyone's going to have a rough night, it might as well be the guy who roped everyone else into this mess.

Instinctively, I fumble for a light switch, before reminding myself that we're lying low. For starters, turning on a light would give away our location, and secondly, it would hinder my ability to see movement outside. I settle for standing in the hallway for a minute or so to allow my eyes to adjust to the darkness, then head to the main room.

Kory is leaning on the back of an old moldy sofa when I enter, and she perks up at the sight of me.

"Did you enjoy your rest?" she asks in her typically chipper tone.

"Oh yeah," I half-speak and half-yawn, "All ninety minutes of it."

"Well, at least you can look forward to more sleep once your watch has ended," she says, trying to spin my complaint into a positive.

"Hmm," I respond with a noncommittal grunt. "I take it everything was quiet during your watch."

"Oh, I am afraid not," she says, her expression turning darker. "A ravaging fleet of Thanagarian warriors bombarded the planet from orbit, and we were all killed."

I blink for a second.

".....was that you being sarcastic?" I say, disbelieving.

"Rachel has been teaching me the arts of sarcasm and irony in conversation," she nods. "Was it satisfactory? I fear I may have been too subtle in the telling of the joke."

"It was....well, it's coming along," I say with a slight chuckle. "It's just....kinda weird hearing it from you. You were always the first to smile and laugh, but I don't think I ever actually heard you tell a joke the whole time we were....."

I trail off, and her smile fades. For a moment, we stand in the dark and quiet, unsure of what to say or do to break the tension.

"....I should get to bed," Star says, looking away. From her body language, there are probably a dozen other things she would rather say, both good and bad. Maybe she's right not to say them; after all the time we spent together, and the things I did which took us apart, maybe any further words are better left unsaid.

I, however, can't help myself.

"Kory," I begin, "I know....I know I've apologized over and over for what I did with Rachel--"

"Then what good will it do to apologize again?"

Caught off guard, I sputter and search in vain for the right words. Star looks back to me with a pitying smile.

"I was never hurt by the fact that you engaged in an act of love with Raven," she says. "I love her dearly, too. I was hurt by the fact that you could not be honest about it with me. And yes, it did hurt me, right to my very heart. But those wounds are not healed by you hurting yourself year after year."

"I don't--"

"You exiled yourself from the people who love you," she says, "both your family in Gotham and your friends from the team. You keep everyone at arm's length in order to fight alone in a city where you are forever surrounded by enemies."

"Well, who could I turn to?" I say, defensively. "Me and Batman are done, the League won't have me. Even you said you don't trust me anymore back at the Tower."

"And do you know why I cannot?" she asks. "It is because your self-destructive thinking and decision-making comes from your own misguided and poisonous belief that you are not a good man."

"That's....that's not..."

"Richard, I know you better than nearly anyone else on this planet," she says, floating towards me and gently putting a hand on my shoulder. "I have seen your heart and mind so often that, for a time, it was as familiar as my own. Whatever resentments you harbor towards your mentor, you project onto yourself because you see too much of him in you. The secrets you kept from the Titans, the lies you told me, your near suicidal crusade in Blüdhaven....these are all things you believe the Batman would do, and you continually punish yourself for them."

Her hand glides gently down the length of my arm, and finds my own hand, holding it tight.

"You are not the Batman," Kory says, with an urgent conviction. "Your life is not his, and never was. You do not have to spite him, or prove yourself better than him in some way. And you do not have anything to prove to the people who love you. Not to Barbara, not to Rachel, and certainly not to me."

I can't bring myself to look her in the eye, but I don't let go of her hand. I try to say something, but it gets stuck as a lump rises up in my throat.

"If you truly wish to heal from the pain our breakup caused, then I want you to do something for me," she says. "I want you to train your feelings the way you trained your mind and body. When you begin to doubt yourself, or feel resentment towards yourself or towards others? I want you to stop yourself, and make yourself think of things you are grateful for."

"Just that easy, huh?" I say, pulling back a little. "I mean, just make myself grateful for all the things I've made such a mess out of?"

Kory gives me a stern look, and I shut up.

"On Tameran, we were grateful for every day we drew breath," she said. "For when the Citadel invaded and our world burned in civil war, that was all we had. I watched friends and loved ones die in battle, but I am grateful for the memories of them I still treasure. I left my world in disgrace and exile, but I am grateful it led me to Earth, where I met my dearest friends and found my calling in life. And I was hurt deeply when you left...but I am grateful for you giving me some of the happiest years of my life while we were together, and that the aftermath led me to my current life with Rachel. Do you see? Even in times of pain and sorrow, there are things to appreciate, if you choose gratitude over resentment."

Slowly, I nod in understanding.

"I am afraid I really must get to bed now," Star says, "but I do hope your watch is quiet and still enough that you may reflect on this. Good night, Richard."

She kisses me on the cheek, and floats out of the main room down to her bedroom.

Meanwhile, I plop down on the couch, my guts still in a twist and still feeling too much....everything. Keeping an eye on the windows for movement in the dark, I begin to let my mind wander.

" 'Be grateful,' " I say to myself with a sigh. "Okay, here's one.....'I'm grateful the Red Hood didn't shoot us in the head while we were talking'.......what else......hmmmm......"

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Old 07-11-2017, 10:09 PM   #79
Carnage27
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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
in
Ka Like the Wind

Leonardo tossed and turned as images flashed through his mind as he dreamed. It wasn't truly a dream however. Not really. He had experienced incredibly viivd and prophetic dreams before. Being in the business they were in, the brothers were no strangers to creatures and spirits invading their dreams. But this time it was different. Leonardo wasn't just seeing what was happening. He felt it. It was if he was truly there, reliving moments from throughout his life.

First, he was in the lab where he, his brothers, and Master Splinter were all created. It was a location he had dreamed about before, the memories lost to time and mutation bubbling back up in his subconscious mind. Now he was there. He was still in his pre-mutation form, but he could hear and understand all the words that were coming from the scientists' mouths.

"We're running out of time," the man said to the woman, worry seeping into every word. "I don't know how we're going to get this finished."

"He's not going to take no for an answer," the woman responded, resolute as she peered into the microscope. "Krang needs the mutagen working. You saw what happened to the last group who couldn't get it."

"Yea," the man said and rubbed his neck. "I still have nightmares."

This wasn't new information. The family had found out that the mutagen that transformed them and the other various mutants like them was funded by General Krang as a way to create super powered soldiers for his invasion of their reality. Luckily, the component of the mutagen that was supposed to make them docile failed, allowing the mutants free will.

What happened next, however, Leonardo was not familiar with. Bangs from the hallway exploded in his ears. In ran masked men and women, pointing guns at the doctors, "We are liberating these animals! No longer will the purveyors of the Dark gain a foothold in our world!"

One of the scientists went to run, and one of the ecoterrorists fired a shot off, hitting the tank of mutagen, causing it to explode. The explosion engulfed Leonardo, and transported him to the next scene.

Rain began to pelt him and the bright glare from the explosion retreated into a lightning strike in the distance over the skyline of New York. He was lying on the front of his shell on a rooftop, and had a heavy weight in his hand. He looked down and felt the fear rush through him. Staring back at him was the armored, bladed visage of Oroku Saki. Leonardo tried to let the villain go, but to no avail. The turtle realized that while he was present again at these times once again, he couldn't change anything. Time wants to happen. These were fixed points. Why he was there he didn't know, but there must be some reason.

"Do it Turtle! Drop me and fulfill your destiny!" Saki goaded him on. He remembered this night like it was the night before. The four Turtles and the Mighty Mutanimals had teamed up to finally banish Krang from Earth. Little did they know, Saki had alligned himself with the interdimensional invader. The mutants fought the Foot and Krang's rock soldiers as they tried to destroy his war machine, The Technodrome. Eventually, Donnie and Raph managed to get in the Technodrome and sabotage its dimensional-portal power source, causing it to collapse in on itself, opening a rift below Saki's tower hideout. That whole time, Leo and the Shredder dueled for the last time. He had bested the eldest turtle time and time again, but that night Leo defeated him. "Drop me and kill the Shredder!"

"There's no honor in this!" Leo shook his head. "You die by my sword, or I die by yours!"

"Have it your way!" The Shredder cackled as his free hand flicked from his belt, tossing a knife at the turtle's eye. Leo let him go to dodge the attack, and the leader of the Foot Clan tumbled through the air towards the singularity. The first time Leonardo was here, he was merely relieved to see the dark ninja gone. But this time he studied the villain's fall. He saw the singularity twist and turn as the man's body came in contact with it. He could hear his mortal enemy's screams of agony as his body moved and contorted in unnatural ways. And then the singularity blinked out of existence, exploding into glass-like shards before fading out before his eyes.

That's when Leonardo figured out why he was here. What he saw chilled him to the bone.

The Shredder didn't die that night.

Oroku Saki was still alive.

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Old 07-12-2017, 09:32 PM   #80
Byrd Man
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Chapter 9

Fire in the Hole


Switzerland
0314 Local Time



The white Learjet 45 touched down on the long runway, the tires squealing and smoking from the friction of the tarmac against their surface. The runway ran across the length of the plateau at the base of the mountaintop summit. At one end was a large hangar that already had several aircraft harbored inside against the snow. The other end of the runway ended at the edge of the plateau, upon which there was thousand foot drop to the rocks below.

The runway and hangar were parts of a larger facility. In addition to them, there was a large metal building a half mile in length and a quarter-mile in width. Next to the building were two smaller and square concrete facilities that acted as barracks for the workers and guards. The final building in the group was a two-story office building, painted slate grey with dark tinted glass windows. Encircling the facility on three sides was a length of chain-link fence with barbed wires on the top. The only side left open was the cliff-face where the runway ended.

The Learjet slowed to a stop outside the hangar as two figures stood in the light snowfall, watching the jet's engines wind down. The door to the jet opened with a soft pop, stairs sliding from the entrance and resting on the ground. From the mouth of the door, a tall and heavyset man emerged. His grey hair was fixed in a slicked back pompadour, his tanned olive skin clashed against the whiteness of the environment, as did his outfit of a black suit, black shirt, and black tie all encased in an open black trenchcoat. He was a man who people considered beautiful when he was younger, and age had turned his beauty into a rugged handsomeness and a distinguished air that was ten times more effective than simple beauty.

"Number 2," the Baroness said from the foot of the steps said with a short bow. "Welcome."

"Thank you," he said, his deep voice and Italian accent matching his looks. "And may I congratulate you on a most impressive set up, Number 3."

He reached out to the Baroness, taking her thin, black gloved hand and kissing the top of it. He gave the woman a confident smirk and stared at her with twinkling hazel eyes. He looked away from the Baroness and scanned her companion. The Russian looked at Number 2 neutrally, his massive hands tucked inside his gigantic winter coat. The Russian would not acknowledge the man unless he spoke directly to him, for that was what the Baroness had ordered.

"So, my dear," said Number 2. "Do you plan to invite me inside, or shall my poor Italian blood freeze away on this godforsaken mountain."

"Follow me, sir," said the Baroness with an extended hand.

She led the two men across the facility to the office. The building's first floor was one long room. Plasma monitors were mounted over all four walls, displaying the current standings of the stock exchanges of various western European countries, Asian markets, and the New York Stock Exchange. Above the walls, a mezzanine wrapped around the wall and looked down on the rest of the room. A long, rectangular conference table rested in opening's center, laptops and papers covered nearly every inch of the table. A small collection of men and women gathered around the table and were busy working, some typing away furiously on the laptops while others scribbled notes with pen and paper.

"So far so good," said Number 2, pleased that she had followed orders exactly. "How long until we're go?"

"Under five hours," said the Baroness. "Our people are in place in Frankfurt, Tokyo, New York, London, and Shanghai. Japan and China are already trading, and they'll still be trading by the time we're ready."

"Excellent," he replied. "And you prepared my personal suite?"

"Of course," she said with a soft smile. "It's set up to service your ever need."

"Show me," he said.

The Baroness waved off the Russian and led Number 2 to a metal staircase the led to the second floor landing. The corridor she led him down was a shade of cream-white, and had a dozen black doors on either side that were all closed off. Staff quarters, she informed him, for the workers down below. At the end of the hallway were double doors that had a sign on it that announced what was inside was off-limits to everyone and everybody at the compound. The Baroness pulled a key card from her pocket and slid it through the card reader beside the door. The door made a loud metallic click and she pushed it open to lead Number 2 inside.

They were greeted by a room that was on par with the most opulent hotel suites money could by. Thick, plush red carpet covered every inch of the floor. The walls, a rich amber color, had soft light fixtures that bathed the room in a golden light. A sixty inch LCD monitor was mounted on one wall, across from it was a king-sized bed with black sheets, a black comforter, and black pillowcases. The bed rested on a Brazilian rosewood frame. Resting beside the bed was an ice bucket with a bottle of champagne in it, a 1995 Blanc des Millénaires. A large window on the far wall looked out at the snowy peaks of the alps. The room had not been cheap, but Number 2 had always put comfort ahead of price. And, besides, money was soon going to be a problem he would never worry about again.

"Is it all you asked for?" asked the Baroness hopefully.

"And more so," he said. "Would you be a dear and give me five minutes alone?"

"Of course," she said, turning and leaving out the double doors.

With the Baroness gone, Number 2 walked to the LCD screen and placed his mobile up to it. The device synched with his phone and he began to navigate through the menu over the monitor's touch screen. He placed a video call and stepped back towards the bed to wait for the call's recipient to answer.

"Number 2," said the heavily distorted voice of Number 1, head of SPECTRE. His profile and features were basked in shadow. Even in the perfect display of the monitor, Number 2 could not make out anything about his boss. "How is Switzerland?"

"Cold," Number 2 said woefully. "Beautiful, but cold as hell."

"Well, it's only temporarily. What's the status of Midas?"

"All appears as if it is under control. I've only had a cursory glance, but I expect to carry out a more... thorough examination shortly."

"See that you do," said the hidden man in a curt tone. In the three years he had known his boss, the one thing Number 2 knew for certain was that Number 1 wanted facts and data, not hunches and guesses. "I received an email from Midas' employer earlier today. Their board of directors gave final approval for the operation to be carried out. You have a tentative green light. If the operations are up to your standards, begin the final phase of the plan at 0800."

"Yes, sir," said Number 2.

Like that, the man was gone from the screen. Number 2 turned the monitor off and pocketed his mobile. He ignored the growing pit of nervousness in his stomach. The thing had hadn't mentioned to Number 1 was the one loose end out there: James Bond and his SHIELD helper. Kraven hadn't reported back yet that he had carried out the British special agent's murder, and the Baroness had given her word that the man and woman had been murdered back in Belarus. But like Kraven, her man in Minsk had yet to report back.

Number 2 shook his head and loosened his black necktie. He shouldn't worry about the man; at this juncture there was nothing he nor anyone else could do to stop Midas. The money they needed for Midas was all cleaned and waiting in the Swiss bank accounts, SPECTRE's moles would not be found out until it was far too late, and all it would take to start Midas was a single keystroke. Yes, even if Bond was alive, he was powerless to stop them.

"You may come back in," he said to the door. On cue, the Baroness came back in. She stood at the threshold, her hands on her hips waiting for orders. "Be a dear and fix some champagne," he said to her. "One for yourself as well. It's a celebration."

She nodded and smiled, walking towards the ice bucket. Number 2 slid his tie off and walked towards the bathroom. Inside, he removed his coat, sports jacket, and tie. He placed them on an empty towel rack to keep the clothes from gathering lint. With the top button his black dress shirt open, he walked back into the room. Waiting for him was the Baroness. She sat under the black covers of the bed, two filled champagne glasses in her hands. Her clothes rest in a pile at the foot of the bed.

"You said it was a celebration, no?" she asked with a grin.

"You are right," he said, sitting down on the bed beside her. She handed him a glass and they clinked them together. Number 2 swallowed the glasses contents in three quick gulps. When he had finished, he placed the glass down by the bed and took the Baroness' half-empty glass from her hands and placed it beside his own glass. His rugged left hand reached out for her, tilting her chin backwards in front of him. "Let the celebrating begin," he said softly.

---

Outside the compound, two hundred feet below the cliff where the runway ended, two figures slowly climbed upwards. They both wore thick winter clothing, included gloves, hats, and goggles. Large packs were strapped to their backs. The clothing and packs were white to blend in with the snowy terrain. They both had twin pitons in their hands, using them and their spiked boots to scale the mountain foot by foot. The pitons were attached to their waists via rope, the ropes joining the two climbers together. The climber in the lead was smaller than the one that followed, a shock of red hair poked out from the lead climber's cap.

They were two hours into their ascent. The howling wind was their only constant companion throughout. One notable event had occurred an hour previously, when a jet had flown overhead to land on the plateau above them. They had both froze in place, clinging furiously to the cliff face to hide themselves with their surroundings. After satisfied they had not been spotted, they continued their trek upwards.

An hour later, the first climber came up over the cliff. They climbed up on to the plateau and helped the second climber up. On solid ground for the first time in three hours, the two climbers walked stiffly from the edge of the cliff towards a snow bank. There, they crouched and began to remove their climbing gear. Ripping the hat and goggles off, James Bond rubbed his bruised face. Behind him, Natalia Romanova slid her goggles on to her head.

Bond slid the pack from his back and pulled out the bag's contents. The black M4 assault rifle glinted off the moonlight as Bond turned off the safety. Natalia unzipped her winter suit and stepped out from it, revealing a skin-tight black bodysuit with a pair of thigh holsters containing her pistols.

"Quick way to catch a cold," said Bond nonchalantly as he observed her outfit. "Running around in that all night."

"Sneaking around in those heavy clothes is an even quicker way to catch a bullet."

"I suppose," said Bond, activating the M4's night vision scope. The gun came equipped with a grenade launcher and three additional projectile grenades.

With their climbing gear abandoned, they quietly and carefully began their journey across the snow and runway towards the main hub of the compound. Through his night vision scope, Bond could see out across the plateau. The scope gave the white snow an otherworldly green glow. In the filter, Bond saw guards patrolling the compound's chain-link front entrance, men spread through the area at key points, and sentries at the top of a two-story building near the site's center.

The sound of approaching footfalls stopped the two secret agents in their tracks. Bond spun to his right and saw a man, automatic weapon slung over his shoulder, walking parallel to the runway. The man breathed into his hands and rubbed them together as he walked.

"Contact," he whispered to Natalia. "Three o'clock, fifty yards away."

Bond went down to one knee, lining the man's chest up into the scope's crosshairs. Out the corner of his eye, he saw Natalia pass by him and disappear into the shadows. Going back to the target before him, the man was now thirty yards from Bond. Out of nowhere, a black figure pounced on the man's back. It was all legs and arms as the unknown wraith spun the man to the ground and drove his head into the snow. With the guard unconscious, Natalia looked up at smiled towards Bond's direction.

"Show off," he whispered softly to himself.

After sneaking through the snow for twenty minutes, they came to a large metal building with two board watchmen standing on both sides of a large bay door. Two tranquilizer bolts from Natalia's wrists dropped them to the ground in a matter of seconds. With the sentries sleeping, she and Bond opened the metal door beside the bay and ventured inside.

"Oh, my god," Natalia said suddenly.

The building in which they had entered was stacked with pallets as far as the eye could see. Loaded on each pallet were stacks of Euros. Bond looked further down the building, the pallets stretched all the way to the end of the building and went from left to right on both sides. An entire warehouse filled to the brim with perfectly counterfeit money.

"Take a good look," he said to Natalia. "This is what one trillion dollars looks like."

"So much money... for what purpose?"

"That's what we're here for," said Bond. Suddenly, an idea came to him. "I wonder if there is a nearby utility shed..."

They found what they were looking for a hundred yards due west of the warehouse. A locked shed that, thankfully, they had a key to thanks to one of the unconscious guards. With Bond standing guard, Natalia looked through the shed until she found was she was looking for.

"Here we are," she said, stepping out of the shed with two large, plastic gas cans. "There are eight more inside."

They worked quickly, spreading the gas throughout the warehouse, between rows and dabbling enough gas on the false money to start it going. When they were satisfied, Bond had used the last gas can to douse the first row of euros in gasoline, then pouring a large pool of gas at the entrance to the warehouse door. With the can empty, Bond retreated back into the snow and crouched behind an embankment fifty yards away from the warehouse. He slung the M4 from his shoulders and activated the grenade launcher attachment.

"Incoming," he said, shooting the grenade towards the pool of gas gathered at the warehouse door.

--

The vibration of the explosion is what woke Number 2 from his slumber. He looked to his right out the window. The night sky was now glowing orange from some unseen light source. Curious, Number 2 pushed away the sleeping and naked Baroness away from him and climbed from the bed. Naked, he crossed the carpeted floor and looked out the window at what lay below.

The warehouse was ablaze, fire dancing from every corner of the building. Black smoke poured from the skylights. Men hurried around the building, trying to figure out what to do. To Number 2, they looked like chickens with their head's cut off. While the fire burned the warehouse and the fortune within, there was a fire growing inside Number 2. It was a fire of hatred and the desire to see the arsonist killed in as many painful ways as possible. Even though he would not admit it, the fire was also one of fear and uncertainty. The source of his hatred and fear all belonged to the same individual.

"Bond," he said through clenched teeth.

__________________
"These are the times that try men's souls... Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph."
-- Thomas Paine


"People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election."
-- Otto von Bismarck


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Old 07-15-2017, 10:46 PM   #81
Dedonus
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Default All-New Spider-Man #5


Mary Jane Watson

“MJ! I’m so glad you could make it!” Janet van Dyne said as she welcomed MJ into Yellowjacket, her fashion chain. Ever since she joined the Avengers, Janet had employed her fashion expertise not only to make sure she looked her best while fighting supervillains but also to provide quality costumes to her fellow caped crusaders. Although her company now focuses more on producing replica costumes for public consumption, Janet does from time to time get requests from heroes, both grizzled veterans and green rookies.

“It’s my pleasure.” When MJ was in high school, her mother, before she passed away, used the last of her contacts from her acting days to introduce her youngest daughter to Janet, who at the time was just up and coming in the fashion scene. While Mary Jane’s true passion was acting, modeling was just one more strength of her portfolio. Besides her Aunt Anna, Janet was the only other mother figure she had when MJ’s mother died.

Janet lead MJ through the displays in the Yellowjacket store until they reached the employee-only section where Janet kept most of her merchandise. She also had a few changing rooms along with rooms where she could have the costumes modeled and photographed. Janet immediately scavenged through the thousands of costumes stored in the back, while MJ tailed behind her.

“Would you prefer Firestar’s original or altered Avengers’ costume?” Janet asked MJ.

“What’s the difference?”

“Firestar refused to have cleavage showing in her costume,” Janet explained. “She even said it almost made her feel like Starfire, which was a huge exaggeration.”

Janet then pulled out a second costume, which was labeled “Starfire,” in order to illustrate her point.

“It always amused me how polar opposite they were, despite how similar their names were.”

“Whatever is fine.” MJ answered her mentor. Janet glanced over at MJ for a second and then pulled out the original version. After Janet had found two other costumes (Black Widow and Batgirl), the two women headed over to the changing room.

“Have you heard back from your sister yet?” Janet asked while she continued to comb through her collection of costumes.

“I’ve tried to call and text her, but no response so far,” MJ replied, while changing into the Black Widow costume. “I’m worried that might be up over her head since she sent what is probably an illegally imported artifact.”

“She might just be busy. She is a single mother with two kids, after all.” Janet said while she picked out a few more costumes for MJ to try on. When MJ had finished changing into the first costume that Janet had given her, she exited the changing room and showed it to her friend and ex-mentor. She even struck a pose that was more fitting for one of Charlie’s Angels than for an ex-Russian assassin, which made Janet laugh a little.

“Try this one.” Janet handed a costume that look oddly like the one her boyfriend would wear while fighting crime, although the one Janet made was designed for a woman in mind instead. MJ had not told anyone about Peter’s secret identity. Was this just a coincidence or was she not as careful as she had thought she was.

“Come on! Your boyfriend used to take pictures of Spider-Man all the time,” Janet told MJ while trying to convince her to try the costume on. “Speaking of your boyfriend, if I had remembered it, I would have asked you to bring him along. Would have been hilarious if he were taking pictures of you dressed as Spider-Man. Would have also saved some money on a photographer, too.”

“He does the odd job for the Bugle whenever he needs an influx of money. However, ever since I got the Red Sonja gig, Peter has been able to focus on school. He’ll be a big time scientist someday,” Mary Jane bragged about her boyfriend while she turned back to the changing room with the replica costume in her hands.

“Look out for the sciency-types,” Janet warned her old mentee. “They sometimes get a little too immersed in their work where they forget about anything else, including their significant other. Hank and I had some issues when we first go together, although he’s gotten better at it. Just make sure you two are on the same page.”

However, before May Jane was done changing and was ready to let Janet see how the costume fits, one of Janet’s assistants frantically hurried into the room. He was half out of breath and could barely string together a sentence. Once Janet was able to get her assistant to spill whatever was the matter, she immediately used her Pym Particle-based powers to shrink in stature.

“Stay in here, MJ.” Janet called out as she headed towards the door. “I’ll take care of this. I’ll be back soon.”

Therefore, MJ stood in the changing room while Janet rushed out to combat whatever was causing such a ruckus that it made Janet’s assistant dashing back to get her. She did not see Janet leave the back room, although she did feel a strong gust of wind blast through the door, tossing the costumes hung up there all about. Even MJ was buffeted around in the changing room by the wind.

Once the tempest of air died down, MJ saw that her purse had been thrown down to the ground by the burst of wind. In addition, the contents of her purse had also been spilled upon the floor. The ring that her sister had sent her so happened to sit on top of the pile. When she bent down to gather her things back into her purse, the door to the main show floor burst open again, letting another torrent of wind inside the backroom, which tossed everything inside it around for a second time.

When the wind stopped, MJ found that she still held the ring in the palm of her hand. She stared at it for a moment, wondering whether she should put it on to help Janet, despite her order to stay back in this room. She was surrounded by hundreds of costumes, so hiding her identity would not be a problem.

“I am so going to regret this.” MJ muttered to herself before pulling off the red, spider-web patterned glove and slipping the ring onto her finger. She concentrated on remembering the form she had taken last night when she and Peter discovered that her sister’s gift was no ordinary gift. Once he pictured that image in her mind, the silvery aura spewed out of the ring and surrounded the redhead. However, in the heat of the situation, she had forgotten what had happened to her pants when she transformed last night. She started to hear the seams of the blue tights snap as her lower body morphed into the form of a spider.

“Oh fudge.”

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Old 07-20-2017, 07:44 PM   #82
Byrd Man
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Default Re: The All-New One Universe RPG


Chapter 10

Midas Revealed


Switzerland
0515 Local Time


From their vantage point above the compound, the two guards watched the chaos ensuing below. Nearly every guard hired by the private security company was busy in the snow. Some kept watch on the burning warehouse where the blazing fire roared, but most stood in formation while the Italian man who had only just arrived barked orders at them. Behind the Italian, the giant Russian stood still. Neither man liked or cared for the large man. He was cruel, and a few of their comrades went missing soon after running afoul of the man.

"Fan out," the Italian loud enough for the guards to hear. "There are two intruders, a man and a woman. Search the area in groups of three. Shoot to kill upon sight. Go!"

As the guards scattered in packs, the two men looked out for any signs of the man and woman. The sentries were on the roof of the two-story building that acted as the compound's headquarters. They wore thick coats and trousers with stocking caps. Strapped to their backs were PP-19 Bizon submachine guns.

As they looked out over the plateau compound for any movement, there was plenty of movement behind them. A metallic grapnel anchored to the lip of the rooftop shifted with movement as something tugged at the other end of the line. Two black gloved hands appeared on the edge of the roof. With a blur of movement, the black clad figure jumped on to the rooftop and sped towards the unaware sentries.

Leaping into the air, Natalia Romanova landed on the back of one of the men. She wrapped her legs around the man's waist and shifted her momentum, spinning him to the ground and landing on top of the man. The guard wheezed as the breath rushed out of him. Before his companion could react, Natalia detached herself from the prone man and swept her legs sharply to the right, knocking the other guard's legs out from under him.

With both men prone, she grabbed their heads with both hands and smashed them into the roof. They gave a collective groan before consciousness escaped them. With the guards out, Natalia took their weapons and dropped them off the roof. They landed in a snow bank piled against the building, sinking into the white powder.

"Black Widow to 007," she said into the mic in her tooth. "I'm ready."

"Roger that," came the crisp voice of Bond. "Prepare for a distraction."

After disconnecting from Natalia, Bond slid the M4 on to his back and began to slowly creep through the large hangar adjacent to the compound's runway. Stored here with him was a seemingly random collection of vehicles. Six snowmobiles, four Volkswagen sedans, the MD-11 cargo jet Bond had seen in Belarus, a Learjet, and an all-black helicopter that looked like a Blackhawk. The fuselage of the craft seemed to be covered in some sort of strange metal, a metallic black that glimmered against the dim lights suspended in the hangar.

Bond had heard rumblings and rumors for years about stealth helicopters used by the Americans for black operations. Three times as quiet as the quietest known helicopter and invisible to all forms of electronic detection, the crafts were a closely guarded secret of the American special forces. How in the hell had one ended up in Switzerland of all places, wondered Bond.

Passing by the Volkswagen, Bond came to the snowmobiles. He slid on to one of the vehicles and pulled a combat knife from a holster on his hip. With the blade edge, he wedged open the starter. Bond yanked the ignition wires from the starter and entwined them together, creating a hotwire for the snowmobile. Reaching into his pocket, Bond produced a roll of duct tape he had nicked from a toolbox in the hangar. He pulled off a large section of tape and wrapped it around the throttle of the snowmobile. With the throttle in place, Bond twisted the ignition wires together and held on as the snow craft roared out of the hangar.

"There!" yelled one of the guards.

Number 2 looked towards where the man had pointed. Speeding out of the hangar, a figure on a snowmobile tore across the runway and into the snow towards the treeline that led down the mountain.

"Go!" shouted the Italian. "Go get him, dammit!"

The guards began to run after the speeding snowmobile as it disappeared into the trees near the end of the runway. Angered, Number 2 began to trek with them across the snow. As he huffed and puffed across the compound, the Russian held back. He narrowed his eyes as he saw all the men heading towards the fleeing snowmobile. Then he turned back, looking up at the headquarters.

The sentries that had watched from the top of the building were now gone. With a scowl, he turned away from the guards and Number 2. Let the fools have their chase, thought the Russian. He wouldn't be too surprised if they found more than they wanted. With his hands out from the giant coat pockets, he climbed the stairs and headed inside the compound headquarters.

Inside the headquarter's control room, the Baroness paced back and forth in front of the large monitor mounted on the wall. All the financial analysts were busy with their work and running the last-minute calculations for Midas. They worked steadily, with some sharing nervous glances at each other between writing and typing.

The Baroness fumed, the developments of the last few minutes soured her once pleasant mood. Number 2 had woken her from her post-coitus slumber with a hard shake and the even harder truth that all the money they had printed day and night to stock pile was gone, set ablaze by Bond and Romanova, or so Number 2 assumed. The money was to be a bonus, SPECTRE had more than enough money for Midas and their payment from their employers, but that money was to go to her and Number 2, compensation for a job completed.

Over her shoulder, there were several soft pops of air followed by a few loud crashes. Turning, she saw all the workers slumped in their seats, a few on the floor. Coming down from the staircase, Natalia Romanova trained her Glock 26s on her.

"Don't move," the Russian agent said sternly.

The Baroness slowly raised her hands, her face remaining stoic as the SHIELD agent crossed the room towards her.

"On your knees," she ordered. "Hands behind your head."

The Baroness complied, slowly falling to her knees and placing the palms of her hands on the back of her neck.

"If this is your idea of foreplay, darling," chuckled the Baroness. "Perhaps you should work on it."

"What is going on here?" asked Romanova. "What were you planning on doing with the cash?"

The Baroness had no intention to speak, but that changed when she saw the door behind Romanova slowly open, the door gliding soundless on its greased hinges. The humongous frame of the Russian came through, his large feet quietly moving him towards Romanova.

"Total financial collapse," the Baroness said with a grin. "Agents in the media for weeks have been talking about the declining value of the Euro. Seventy-five billion unbacked Euros pulled from the Swiss back account and dumped on to the Frankfurt stock exchange spot trading market as soon as trading starts. When we do that, the Euro will go into a tailspin. Traders and banks all across the globe own German surety bonds, most of those traders are in our pocket. With the Euro going down, they will advise their companies and governments to sell the bonds as quickly as possible."

The Russian was getting closer, slowly but sure. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see that he was twenty yards away from Romanova. The agent kept staring at the Baroness, entranced by her story. The Baroness made sure to keep looking forward at her as she continued to explain the plan.

"By lunchtime, the German economy will be destabilized. As the most fiscally sound nation in the EU, it'll be the first domino that will send the Euro down the toilet and collapse all the economies of the nations in the Eurozone."

"To what end do you do this? Romanova asked with a scowl.

"Besides fun? We're being paid by a global corporation to do it. Prepared for this event, they'll be unaffected by the economic chaos and will bail out the EU with the money they need. They're going to buy countries wholesale. You see, Miss Romanova, that's the future. No more flags of national pride, just commodities. Great Britain brought to you by Barclays, America's amber waves of grain sponsored by Exxon Mobil."

"What is the account number to the bank account," Romanova hissed, pressing the barrel of the gun into the Baroness' face. "What is the password to use the funds?"

"I know the account," said the Baroness with a playful smirk. "But only Number 2 knows the password."

"Number 2?"

"Of SPECTRE." She gave out a shrill laugh. "Always good to know the name of one's killer. I suppose that should account for something."

Romanova prepared to say something, but the massive arm of the Russian grabbed her by the neck, cutting off her retort. The Russian grunted and tossed her halfway across the room with a powerful throw. She slammed into the solid wood conference table, bouncing off it and rolling to the ground, her guns clattering away on opposite sides of the room.

"Take care of her," the Baroness instructed, standing. "And take your time."

The Russian nodded and began to walk towards the dazed Romanova while the Baroness hurried across the room and out the door.

The guards hiked through the woods towards the whine of the snowmobile. A few men had taken potshots at the vehicle and it had crashed into a tree. The engine continued to rev in the snow as the dozen men approached it. Like their brethren on the roof, they each wielded Bizons in their hands.

"Careful," one of the men said softly as they came over a snowbank. Down below them was the wreckage of the snowmobile. They went down the hill towards the craft. One of the men ventured forward carefully, bending down to look at the wreck.

"Did you find him," Number 2's voice echoed from outside the woods.

"No," the man by the snowmobile yelled back. He looked at the throttle and the material attached to it. He pulled it away, examining it as the vehicle choked down. "Tape," he said as he rose to show it to his fellow guards.

"Well," Number 2 yelled impatiently. "Where is he?"

"Here," a voice said softly from behind them.

Rising from the snowbank above, Bond leveled his M4 down at the men and opened fire with the grenade launcher. The gas-powered grenade tumbled through the air and landed in the middle of the group of guards. Bond ducked back down into the snowbank as the grenade exploded. When Bond rose from his shelter, there were only a few guards left alive. Those that were still alive were either maimed or severely wounded by the blast. They would be dead, Bond figured. He didn't want to kill the men, but he knew that if their places were reversed not a single one would have hesitated if it meant life of death.

Walking out of the snow, he came out of the woods and looked around the area for the man the guards talked to earlier. The Italian man with the booming voice. Where was he, wondered Bond. He soon found his answer, as a black figure lunged from the trees, a long and jagged butterfly knife in his hands. The blade came down on Bond's left hand, cutting him deep and causing him to drop the gun.

"Hello, Mister Bond," he said with a grin, holding the blade out like an expert fencer. "I look forward to killing you."

__________________
"These are the times that try men's souls... Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph."
-- Thomas Paine


"People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election."
-- Otto von Bismarck


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Old 08-02-2017, 12:53 PM   #83
Dedonus
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Default All-New Spider-Man #6


Peter Parker | Mary Jane Watson

Peter raced through the New York skyline on his weblines as he tried to reach Yellowjacket as quickly as possible. After he had got out of his college class, Peter discovered that the mutant villain named Whirlwind was terrorizing the superhero fashion hotspot. Normally, Peter would have left this to the Avengers, since the owner of the company, Janet van Dyne, was one. However, he also knew that Mary Jane had gone over there, both for a modeling gig and for a heart-to-heart talk with her old mentor.

When Peter landed on a building neighboring to Yellowjacket and perched on the parapet of the roof, he examined the situation below. The police had already established a perimeter around the fashion firm. He also noticed that the glass doors and windows were blow out, which would provide Peter easy access into the building. Before swinging down and saving the day, Peter set up his camera. Even though he did not work for J.J. anymore, Peter could always use the extra income. Peter even invented a robotic tripod for his camera that would track a tracer in his costume so that it would always have its lens aimed at him.

“Don’t worry everyone! Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is here! I’ve heard you all have a tornado problem. Like they say, when all else fails, fight fire with fire, or rather a windbag with a windbag,” Peter announced when he swung into Yellowjacket through the broken front windows. However, when he got inside, Peter realized that the commotion had already died down. Whirlwind was struggling to get himself out of the webbing that he was cocooned in. Standing next to incapacitated villain was the Wasp, who was wearing one costume from her giant wardrobe of superhero garbs. Next to her, there was a second woman with red hair tied back into a ponytail, who was wearing a costume similar to his own. Below her waist, she was attached to what looked like a giant spider without its face.

“Or maybe not,” Peter said now that he realized that the situation was under control. “I guess you ladies have this situation handled.”

“Come on, Ms. Spider Lady who I totally don’t know,” Janet said while she started to push the drideresque heroine towards the backroom of the Yellowjacket firm. “Let’s fine you a costume that won’t get you sued by an established superhero.”

As Janet ushered the drideresque heroine into the backroom, Peter smirked under his mask, especially glad that his mask covered his expression. It was dead obvious that the drideresque heroine was MJ. While her red hair was a clue, the incident from last night confirmed it. How many red heads are there in New York that can transform into half human, half arthropod hybrid. He was sure that there would be an interesting conversation the next time he sees MJ.

“Well, buddy. I guess I’ll leave you for the police. Have fun!” Peter told Whirlwind before he hurried out of the building and swung away on a webline.

---

“How did you do that?” Janet asked. Her voice showed a hint of excitement rather than concern.

“Remember that ring my sister sent me,” MJ replied after she pulled the Spider-Man replica mask off her head. “It can transform me into this, along with some other forms.”

“Interesting,” Janet muttered while she poked at the spider abdomen attached to MJ. “It kind of reminds me of what happened to Natasha when the Leader tried to engulf the world with his gamma domes, except she was a bit more arachnid up top.”

“So, what do you think I should do with the ring?”

“There’s only one thing you should do, at least in my opinion,” Janet began to answer her former mentee. “Become a superhero!”

“Are you sure that’s wise?”

“Of course! You’re still young. Have some fun while you still can. Plus, your best friends with the best costume designer in the country!”

“Oh, and sorry about the costume. I didn’t have time to pull the pants off before the transformation.”

“Don’t worry about it. Speaking of that ‘problem’, I have to make a quick phone call before we design your new superheroine wardrobe.”

“Wait! You’re getting more people involved into this secret?”

“It’s just Sue Storm,” Janet admitted. “She probably knows how to make your costume morph with you so you don’t have to go through a pair of pants each time you use your powers.”

“Makes sense.”

“I’m so excited!” Janet squealed. “After I’m done with you, you’ll have a costume for every day of the week!”

“Great.”

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Old 08-03-2017, 01:36 AM   #84
Andy C.
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Default Re: The All-New One Universe RPG




HEARTBREAKER
PART TEN ( C )

Undisclosed Safehouse
Near Alameda, CA
04:00AM
Third Watch

Soundtrack


The hours drag on as I sit in the stillness and quiet of the night, my eyes fully adjusted to the darkness so I can see well out into the shadows of the abandoned neighborhood surrounding our quaint little safehouse. I keep my head sweeping back and forth in a slow, deliberate arc between the living room's windows, looking not for the same empty houses and inactive street lights I've looked at hundreds of times now, but looking for abnormalities--pieces of debris that have been moved, shadows that weren't there a minute ago, weeds or dead bushes that have begun to sway without wind.

So far, nothing. I'd love to say that's a relief, but even as quiet as it's been, I can't assume we're in the clear. Somewhere out there, Jason Todd wants me dead, but not before he's killed Barbara, Kory, Rachel, and anyone else I've ever loved. What's worse, he's not acting alone, and right now we're in the dark as to who is backing him up with ninja hit-squads. Until we've taken Jason down and rooted out his mysterious benefactor, there's no way I'm letting my guard down.

The thought of my old replacement and a numberless army of assassins lurking in the shadows isn't the only thing keeping me from a restful night. I keep thinking of what Kory said before she turned in for the night, and what Barbara said the night before. Leaving Gotham, keeping my distance from my former friends, everything I've been doing for the past three years....do I actually have a goal in mind? Or am I just beating myself up for my bad decisions? Sure, Blüdhaven's the kind of place that needs a full-time crimefighter, but am I really planning to save that miserable place, or am I throwing myself at the proverbial wall over and over in the hopes that Blockbuster or Brutale or some random punk will get lucky and put me down?

If Jason left the girls out of it and just came after me.....just how hard would I really fight back?

Kory said this kind of thinking stems from the fact that I don't believe I'm a good person. And, well, do I even have a right to believe that? I was the one who broke up the Titans. I was the reason Rachel quit being a full-time hero, and the reason nobody's seen or heard from Beast Boy in years. I was the one who left Gotham City, the one who had to be physically restrained from killing the Joker after what he did to Barbara.

.....I was the reason Bruce has two false teeth, for stopping me that night.

Barbara's told me that these things don't make me a bad person, but what else can I be? I've left a wake of damaged people and broken hearts everywhere I've gone. And I haven't exactly built a grand legacy to make up for it, save for the occasional drops in street crime back in Blüdhaven.

I mean, it's not like I mean for this stuff to happen, I never wanted to hurt anyone. Every friend I eventually abandoned or betrayed, I went in intending to be comrades with an unbreakable bond. Every girl I eventually left or cheated on, I went in intending to settle down with and make the happiest woman on Earth. I've only ever had good intentions, but you know what road is paved with those....

"Hey," a voice breaks the silence, causing me to flinch.

"Rachel?" I ask, immediately regretting the setup for a sarcastic comeback.

"No, I'm the ghost of Christmas Future," she says snidely, adjusting her black bed robe over her blue pajamas as she enters the room with a sleepy shuffle. "I'll take the fact that we're not dead yet as a sign that you weren't lost in your own head for too long."

Standing up from the couch, I reach my arms up in a long, tired stretch. "Whole lot of nothing so far. Whatever Red Hood and his pals are planning, I don't think it's coming tonight."

She gives me a sour look.

"So you're telling me the best case scenario is that I'm awake at four in the morning for no reason."

".....well, when you put it like that, I mean--"

"Fine," she says with a huff. "You ought to get some more sleep anyway. You look like hell."

"Thanks," I sneer.

She walks past me and sits in an armchair, whispering a few incantations to conjure about a half dozen violet glowing orbs-- what I can only assume are the occult equivalent of surveillance drones-- that scatter upwards and outwards, phasing through the walls to orbit the house. With that, she produces a small novella from the pocket of her robe and opens it up.

I start to head for the door, but something makes me linger. Everyone ended on bad terms when the Titans broke up, but it was especially bad between her and me. Before then, both of us would have gladly taken a bullet for the other. Part of me still would. Rachel, though? Sometimes I think she'd prefer to be the one firing that bullet.

Rachel glances up from her book and raises an eyebrow.

"You do realize the whole point of me taking watch now is that you don't have to still be here, right?" she asks, which is about the nicest way she could tell me to screw off.

"Yeah, I know," I say, nervously rubbing the back of my neck. "I just....it's been a long time, and I know things have changed, but I wanted to say I'm--"

"You're sorry, right," she says dismissively, her attention going back to her book. "You're sorry for how the Titans broke up, or you're sorry that Gar went off the grid, or you're sorry that you got Kory and me roped into this feud you've got with the Red Hood and now I'm up two hours before dawn in an abandoned house in a neighborhood that isn't even on the map anymore. Look around, Dick-- does being sorry make any of that better?"

I look away, my face hot with shame.

"No, it doesn't. I just....." I stammer for a minute before letting it all out. "I don't what the hell I'm doing. I've been letting myself twist in the wind, and I don't know how to fix it. I'm sure we can take Red Hood, but then what? I've burned all my bridges, and I don't know if any of them can be repaired. I'm not the hero I should be, and I don't know how to start getting there. I know you still hate my guts, and I don't blame you, but....I could really use some help from a friend."

Raven closes her book, then gives me a long and contemplative look in the silence.

"Did Kory already talk to you about this?" she asks.

I nod.

"Did she give you some ridiculous spiel about how you should force yourself to think about things you're grateful for when you're feeling down on yourself?"

"Yeah, heh," I say, stifling a snicker as I wait for Rachel's classic pithy dismissal of anything touchy-feely.

"You should do it; it's good advice," she says, the exact opposite of what I was expecting to hear. "Ever since you showed up back at the Tower, you've been looking for forgiveness: from Barbara, from Kory, from me. You've got a very unhealthy 'original sin' mentality going on, where you need forgiveness and redemption from an external source, because you think that deep down, you're a bad person."

She stands up, walks over to me, and looks me in the eye with a hard, fiery conviction.

"You are not a bad person, Dick Grayson," she tells me. "You're just an idiot."

"Oh, well, that's a whole lot better, isn't it?" I say, somehow relieved that she's going back to needling me. It almost reminds me of when we'd egg each other on, back when we were still friends.

"Believe me, it'd be a lot easier for me if you really were bad," she says. "I've been trying to hate you for years. I might have actually been able to if you were just some self-absorbed Don Juan who smooth-talked your way into my tights and had no regard for the consequences. But that's not how it happened."

"Well, I mean....you wouldn't have come onto me if I hadn't said--"

"Dick, stop," she cuts me off. "You didn't kill someone, you didn't burn someone's house down. We had sex. You and I both wanted to do it, and neither of us thought it through. It was spur of the moment, it was reckless and stupid--and, frankly, amazing-- and both of us hurt Kory and Gar because of it. I can't forgive you for what we did because I can't forgive myself. And...well....I can't forgive myself.....because I'm not sorry."

That last part throws me for a loop. I honestly don't think she expected to say it either, given how quickly she looks away, her eyes wide.

"You're not?" is what I manage to ask.

She chooses her next words very carefully.

"I'm sorry that we lied about it," she answers. "I'm sorry that we went behind everyone's backs. I'm sorry that I couldn't have been honest with Gar, and that he took it so badly. But am I sorry that I got to be open and honest about how much I loved you? No. Not even a little bit."

"I...erm...." I start up again. "I really did love you, too. I guess, I don't know, part of me still does."

Rachel shakes her head.

"Kory's right about how stupid it is that we have all these wildly different feelings and call all of them the same thing," she says. "I know you loved me....as a partner, as a friend, maybe even as a soul-mate. I know you would have died for me. But me? I would have burned the world to the ground if you asked me to. When I finally realized that, when I shared that love with you, and when I saw that your love wasn't the same, well.....I guess that's why I haven't been as cheery and sweet as I usually am."

She stares out the window, half-heartedly checking for intruders as if her incantations weren't already doing that.

"Rachel, if you....if you still feel--"

"I don't," she's quick to answer. "About a year ago, I got back in touch with Kory, confessed everything to her, asked for forgiveness the way you've been doing now. She took me in with open arms, and we started working together again. During that, we started helping each other out with our respective damage-- I mean, you know better than most that Star has scars that run deep-- and we went from working together to living together."

"That's good," I say. "And you're, y'know....happy?"

She sighs.

"You know me, Dick-- I don't do 'happy,'" she says. "But yeah, I'm in a better place now. She helps me deal the unsavory parts of where I come from, and I help her cope with her abusive past. She tries to smooth out my rough edges, I try to toughen up her soft spots. It's a good thing all around."

She pauses for a moment, then adds "and it doesn't hurt that the sex is spectacular."

I practically choke on air at that.

"I, erm, I don't know if that last part was supposed to be a joke or not," I sputter.

"And you never will," she says with the closest approximation she has to a grin. "That's what makes it funny."

"Right, heh," I chuckle. "Still, thanks for, y'know, humoring me. This has been nice. I missed being able to talk to you without you threatening to kill me. And hey, if you really are happy with how things are now, then....I'm happy for you."

In the back of my head, I realize that's the same thing Barbara told me when she realized it was over between us.

"Thanks," she says, and to my surprise, pulls me in for a hug. It's not a prelude to anything, not the sort of filling-of-personal-space that Starfire does, but still one filled with genuine warmth and relief. As she squeezes me around the shoulders, I realize that what I said isn't really just about being happy for her; it's about being able to let her go. And giving her the blessing to let me go.

Releasing the hug, she takes a step back, running her hands through her hair.

"Now go get some sleep," she says. "And if you tell Kory that I willingly hugged someone, I will kill you."

I have to cover my mouth to keep my laugh from waking Barb and Kory up, and make my way back to the bedroom at the end of the hall, leaving Rachel to finish her watch. My head still swimming with half-formed thoughts and swirling emotions, I wonder if I'll be able to sleep at all. Then again, given how tired and emotionally exhausted I am, I just might.


Last edited by Andy C.; 08-03-2017 at 01:41 AM.
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