Designated Threat

From the Story Arc: The Lecture

Next Story in the Arc: Smiert Spionem by Comrade Hero (Saturday, April 14, 2007)

(posted Friday, April 13, 2007)

“Right, people. This is Dr. Garnier von Susteren. He’s a Necrological Consultant with the Modern Arcane Guild of Investigation. This is a priority briefing. I don’t need to remind you all that what’s said in this room, stays in this room. Comms and Surveillance have been disabled until after this briefing.”

The announcement was greeted with muted comments that quickly died away as the Longbow Commander stepped aside from the podium and ushered forward a tall, elderly looking man wearing a dark brown suit and carrying a small PDA. Slender fingers wrapped around the edges of the podium stand. Other fingers calmly adjusted red tinted circular glasses perched on the edge of a long, narrow nose.

With the barest of smiles, Dr. Garnier von Susteren greeted the assembled operatives of Longbow. The German accent may have been blunted by years of living in the United States, but it was still noticeable as he opened his mouth and addressed the audience.

“Thank you for the introduction, Commander. I won’t waste yours or your comrades time with small pleasantries and polite discussion.”

“I am here today because the powers that be want you briefed on the threat that this Taskforce has been assembled to capture - or dispose of.”

Dr. von Susteren pressed a button on the PDA. To his right a large wall-mounted LCD screen flickered to life.

“The distinguished looking gentleman is Hadrian Jonas Quinn. Date of birth, November 11, 1920. Father was an American diplomat in Berlin before the War. Mother was a German Countess. No siblings. These photos were taken in 2003 during the thirtieth Wedding Anniversary of Quinn’s marriage to Caroline Grace, the former heroine known as Violet Thorn.”

A ripple of sound went through the room as Longbow operatives did the calculations and realized that they were looking at the image of a man who looked far younger than his years would suggest.

Dr. von Susteren turned and looked at the screen.

“One of the more common side effects of constantly employing magic. Delayed aging.”

The Doctor turned back to address the Longbow operatives again.

“And this is one of the tragedies that can occur from the blatant misuse of magic. You’re looking at Hadrian Quinn nearly a year and a half after those wedding anniversary photos were taken.”

The image on the screen was replaced by a face out of a nightmare. A bald, gaunt face with smooth grey skin, milky white eyeballs staring out from darkened sunken sockets. And an emaciated lower face revealing rotting flesh and an exposed skeletal grin.

“Hadrian Jonas Quinn, better known as the villain Rack.”

Rack’s image was greeted with silence. Left and right side profile shots flashed up on the screen.

“These charming mug shots are courtesy of Ziggursky Penitentiary. Rack was a guest there for several months. Kept in solitary confinement based on a MAGI threat level assessment that I conducted.”

Full body images of Rack appeared on the screen as the Doctor pressed another button on the PDA.

“Rack may look like just another Reanimate, but he is not. The crude branding on his body is more than decorative. Rack has literally been infused with the force of Chaos. Not mystical energy or scientific experimentation. But divine intervention - or manipulation.”

A rotating large holographic image of Rack projected onto the stage. The nightmarish face was partially obscured by a black and red metal ventilator type mask. Rack stood well over six and a half feet tall and had a powerful, imposing build.

Rack wore a black and red military style uniform that appeared simple, practical, and sinister in effect. Emblazoned on the chest was the crimson symbol of Chaos - a multi headed arrow pointing in all directions.

“Rack is far more capable and dangerous than the mystic and scientific Reanimates from the Banished Pantheon and Vahzilok. Rack has the enhanced strength, resilience, and apparent limitless endurance common to all Reanimates. However, Rack does not suffer from the limited intelligence, impaired senses, and ambulatory problems commonly associated with most Reanimates. He is faster, more agile, highly observant, and very intelligent.”

Dr. von Susteren adjusted his glasses and cast a glance over at the holographic villain.

“Rack has all of a Reanimate’s strengths, and none of their weaknesses.”

“You think that’s bad? It gets better. Field intelligence reports and video surveillance feeds would indicate that Rack is in command of Necromantic abilities that rival and even excel those of the Banished Pantheon Death Shamans, the Death Mages of the Circle of Thorns, and the Mire and Murk Eidolons of the Vahzilok. Recently acquired intel shows Rack competently wielding the dark powers of Soul Mastery, something we assume Rack has received instruction in from his Patron, Ghost Widow.”

“On a more benign note, Rack can clear prodigious distances. But he is not a true flyer. He propels himself through the air using his legs with consummate ease. An interesting side effect has been noted in several incident reports. Rack is notoriously difficult, if not impossible, to knock off his feet. It has been documented that Rack will walk calmly through withering small arms fire. Even the use of grenades and heavier explosive ordinance will not prevent him from advancing or remaining standing.”

“Rack also possesses some kind of cloaking or shape-shifting ability - possibly both. The ease with which Rack has bypassed the security systems and trained personnel of various villain and hero groups is one of his greatest abilities, and the most dangerous.”

The hologram of Rack flickered out of existence to be replaced by more images that flashed on the screen. Ruined machinery and wrecked lab equipment. The aftermath of horrendous explosions and sophisticated booby traps, and the bloody murders of commanders, leaders and key military and civilian personnel within various villain and hero bases.

“As you can see, Rack is not above using conventional firearms, explosive ordinance and energy and heavy weaponry to accomplish his goals. Many of his key victims are not killed by the necromantic followers he summons, but by one or two shots to the back of the head - execution style. This may look like ‘Gangland’ style killings, but it is not. The method was commonly employed by operatives of the Soviet NKVD and Nazi SS and Gestapo before and during World War II. And this is just one aspect of Rack’s history that you must know.”

Dr. von Susteren’s eyes flickered back and forth as he gazed out at the Longbow operatives.

“What I am about to say will give you an insight into what kind of man Hadrian Quinn was and what kind of Reanimate you will be dealing with now. Most of the records and details relating to Hadrian Quinn’s life were deliberately expunged by the CIA on the grounds of National Security.”

Dr. von Susteren’s smiled slyly, revealing a set of perfectly maintained white teeth.

“But MAGI know that the living are not the only ones capable of providing answers.”

“Hadrian Quinn was born and raised in Berlin. During the 1930’s he came back to the United States with his father. At the onset of the United States’ entry into World War II Quinn was recruited into the Office of Strategic Services. He was eventually attached to the Secret Intelligence Branch of the OSS and was inserted into Berlin in 1945. From the information MAGI has obtained Quinn’s mission was to obtain German military technology and occult artifacts before the Soviets did. His cover was that of a German Wehrmacht Sniper.”

“After the War ended Quinn was recalled to the United States. After a relatively short period of time he was inserted into East Berlin as a spy for the newly emergent CIA. Quinn remained behind the Iron Curtain until 1970 when he retired and came back to the United Stated permanently.”

“The OSS produced a skilled field operative who was an infiltration/exfiltration expert. The CIA turned Quinn into a highly capable spy. We know that Quinn was a superb marksman with extensive training in a variety of small and heavy arms, demolitions, knife, and hand to hand combat. Quinn has been involved in all kinds of covert spying and surveillance, sabotage, espionage, theft, kidnapping and assassination.”

“Quinn settled in Paragon City and quickly found employment in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Given the magical deceleration of aging evidenced in Quinn, we estimate that he had been studying arcane lore ever since his days in the OSS. Although not a practicing mage per se, Quinn nevertheless became active as a Contact for magic origin heroes in Paragon City during the seventies.”

“One of the heroes he assisted was Caroline Grace, the hero formerly known as Violet Thorn. Grace was in her 30’s at the time, but like Quinn her natural aging process had slowed through years of magical use and study. Quinn and Grace developed a mutual respect for each other which eventually turned into an intimate relationship.”

“The couple married in 1973 and Quinn voluntarily entered retirement for a second time, choosing to devote his time and effort to helping his wife’s hero career. Quinn and Grace began to concentrate more on battling mystical groups in Paragon City like the Circle of Thorns, the Banished Pantheon, and the Tsoo. As Grace progressed in power and experience, Quinn furthered his research into arcane lore, mystical artifacts and esoteric knowledge.”

“There isn’t any interesting information about the couple during the 1980’s and 1990’s. As Violet Thorn, Grace proved highly effective in handling magical and paranormal incidents, and Quinn continued to support his wife in her heroic career. During the recent Rikti War, Grace was promoted to Reserve Member of the Freedom Phalanx and personally assisted in the defense of Atlas Park and Independence Port.”

“Quinn was critically injured during the closing stages of the Rikti War, as the Rikti changed tactics and began hit and run tactics against soft targets like the civilian population of Paragon City. Quinn apparently made a miraculous recovery, due in part to his wife’s unorthodox use of restricted magic. Quinn’s recovery seemed to be complete, as evidenced by his appearance in the thirtieth Wedding Anniversary footage I showed you earlier.”

“But Grace had made the fatal mistake of turning to restricted magic - primarily the rites and rituals of the Banished Pantheon - to save her husband’s life. The same dark energies that healed Quinn’s wounds and restored his health would kill him within a year. Grace had unwittingly planted the mystical equivalent of a cancerous time bomb in her husband.”

Dr. von Susteren paused.

“Hadrian Quinn officially died on February 20th, 2004. And that should have been the end of it. But it wasn’t.”

“From the best of intentions, the worst evils can be born.”

The holographic image of Rack appeared on the stage once more, the milky white eyes staring silently out at the hushed audience.

“Caroline Grace forgot that. When legitimate means were denied to her by MAGI, she turned to unorthodox methods for a second time. No one knows how she secured the services of Circle of Thorns, but we know why. Grace wanted her husband back and would do anything to achieve this.”

“MAGI operatives found the body of Caroline Grace and seven Circle Death Mages in an abandoned warehouse in Kings Row on the night of April 30th, 2004. The Reanimate known as Rack was recovered from the scene and is believed to have slaughtered Grace and the Mages with the ceremonial jade knife that was used in the attempt to resurrect him. DNA tests and occult analysis conducted by MAGI confirmed that Rack was indeed Hadrian Quinn. And also something much worse.”

“April 30th is also known as Walpurgisnacht or Walpurgis Night. For those of you who don’t know Walpurgis Night holds special significance for those who follow the occult. Walpurgis Night falls halfway between last year's Halloween and the current year's Halloween, and as such is a significant mystical night for channeling arcane energies and securing the services of otherworldly entities.”

“MAGI believe that the Circle of Thorns did indeed reanimate Hadrian Quinn, but had no intention of restoring the departed soul to the body. Caroline Grace was unwittingly used to help bring forth an avatar of the Higher Lords of Chaos, using ancient magicks not practiced on the mortal plane for millennia.”

“And judging from the results of that evening’s work, probably not practiced for good reason.”

Dr. von Susteren sighed softly as he stared at the holographic image of Rack.

“Some say Rack has no soul. Others that he has several, the souls of the Death Mages bound to him in eternal servitude. Of Caroline Grace’s soul, MAGI have not been able to make contact. Whatever form of Reanimate this Rack is, it is clear that he retains the memories, experience, knowledge and skills of Hadrian Quinn. Personality? That’s difficult to say. Detached would be putting it politely.”

“Rack’s detainment in Ziggursky Penitentiary was unfortunately rather brief. Thanks to Arachnos intervention he escaped in November 2004, leaving ten dead guards and scientists in wake as well the bodies of twelve other inmates. Most of you have already read some of the incident reports on Rack written by Longbow operatives in the Rogue Isles and from Paragon City.

“Rack’s rise to infamy has been nothing short of meteoric. It is known that Ghost Widow herself is his Patron and that Rack has personally met with Lord Recluse on at least two occasions. Rack has clashed with some of Paragon City’s most esteemed heroes and worst villains and on no account should he be underestimated.”

“This Taskforce has been formed to prevent Rack from further compromising Longbow operations. You face an adversary that prefers subterfuge, stealth and misdirection to frontal combat. Rack is known to set up ambushes and traps, reprogram security feeds and surveillance equipment, and generally avoid encounters with the enemy to strike directly at his objective - often without any warning.”

Dr. von Susteren glanced at his watch and nodded slightly.

“Precautions? Stay in groups of three or more and never investigate a situation or possible sighting alone. Maintain communication at all time. Use flamethrowers and heavy ordinance wherever possible. And watch for ambushes from the rear and flanks by his summoned minions. And don’t make the mistake of assuming you have badly injured or even killed Rack. There is every indication that Rack cannot be killed by conventional means.”

“Any questions?”

There was silence in the assembly hall. No-one spoke as Dr. von Susteren turned off the hologram of Rack and the LCD screen.

“Anyone at all?”

The Longbow Commander stepped forward and tapped Dr. von Susteren on the shoulder.

“Is it safe to remove my helmet?”

Dr. von Susteren nodded.

There was a slight click and the whoosh of escaping air as the Longbow Commander removed her helmet.

The visage of Dr. von Susteren rippled and faded away like mist, to be replaced by a tall, imposing dressed in black and red. The voice was soft, labored and almost metallic sounding.

“The information you wanted has been secured, Shadow Spider.”

The high ranking Arachnos operative nodded, her crimson lips parting in a rare smile as she took the offered PDA.

“The rest of your payment will be forwarded to your Broker as per our agreement.”

Shadow Spider casually tossed the helmet to one side and leapt off the stage. She stared at the unmoving figures sitting in the chairs.

“All dead. How unfortunate for them, how fortunate for you, Rack.”

The deaths had been necessary. A setback like this would dull Longbow’s enthusiasm for his head. But for how long?

Rack made his way off the stage and joined Shadow Spider.

Milky white eyes surveyed the ranks of dead Longbow operatives. Rows of glazed eyes silently glared back at him accusingly.

“The viral agent was effective. My client will be pleased.”

Shadow Spider calmly ran gloved fingers through her raven hair.

“Oh, most assuredly. And thank you for a most enlightening lecture.”

“You’re welcome, Shadow Spider. Transaction complete.”

Shadow Spider laughed softly as she listened to the communication feed from the small device behind her right ear. The Longbow base had been secured with minimal resistance and no casualties. All too easy.

“I have another proposal you might find interesting. Rumor has it that -”

Shadow Spider stopped speaking, and arched an eyebrow in surprise. Rack had been standing right next to her, and now he was gone. Vanished, like he had never been there. Shadow Spider shivered in spite of herself.

“Another time Rack. Another time.”