The smell of alcohol and anxious sweat lingered in the warped wood and chipped paint, long baked into the cement floor under the heat of the incandescent lighting.
Cutting through it all was a whiff of burnt chemicals from the autoclave, humming away to itself in the back corner. The walls were covered with yellowing posters of flash, the clichéd tattoo designs so often chosen by drunken frat boys and wannabe gangsters.
Lounging at the front counter was a large, burly Chinese man – the tattoo “artist,” chosen more for his abilities as a bouncer than any inherent talent.
Found throughout Paragon, but especially in the neighborhoods of Talos Island, Independence Port, and Steel Canyon, tattoo parlors such as these acted as fronts and gathering points for one of Paragon’s most ambitious gangs: the Tsoo.
The real action took place upstairs in tiny apartments, or in gambling dens secreted in backrooms and basements, or in ostentatious drug palaces hidden within abandoned warehouses and factories.
The Tsoo have been one of the most successful gangs in the past few years in Paragon, dominating the Asian communities and running the protection rackets and drug trades in their neighborhoods.
The Tsoo emerged on the scene in the late 1990s as a small but unified bunch under the leadership of Tub Ci, a brutal and calculating drug lord recently released from prison.
Tub Ci claimed to have found his spirituality in prison – but it was the legacy of a warlord – and he named his group after a word that he defined as “the destroyers.”
Independence Port and Talos Island were under the thumb of Hong Kong-born Triads at the time, who harshly exploited other Asian minorities in the area, but this wouldn’t last for much longer.
Tub Ci claimed he could no longer see his people, the Hmong, suffer; and while there was some truth to his outrage over the hardships they faced beneath the Triads he was certainly not motivated by altruism.
Tub Ci’s ambitions were grand, and his Tsoo were a fearsome lot, heavily inscribed with mystical tattoos that gave them super-powered abilities. His lieutenants, the cruel sorcerers, were his most trusted brothers, many of whom had spent time with Tub Ci in prison.
And when their martial arts, gun and sword play, and magics were not enough, Tub Ci showed his sorcerers how to reinforce their ranks with ghostly warriors they claimed as their literal ancestors. They broke the backs of the ruling Triads and slipped into power.
The Tsoo wanted nothing less than to control all of the drug trade and protection rackets in Paragon City. However, the Rikti war forced them into the simple task of survival for a time.
They refused to aid the heroes, and they certainly would never help another gang, but they did do what they could for the people under their “protection.”
When the war finally ended, Tub Ci consolidated his forces in the regions of Talos Island, Independence Port, and Steel Canyon. They basically own the drug business, gambling dens, and protection racket in those areas.
They celebrate their domination regularly, with loud, raucous parties held throughout the month. These parties are usually held in abandoned warehouses or empty lots in bad neighborhoods – deep within Tsoo territory. Sometimes the parties devolve into blood sports, where both men and women participate in no-holds-barred scraps, earning prestige and glory among the streets.
Offering a heady mix of drugs, flesh, and violence, the Tsoo gatherings act as magnets for those drawn to their dark lifestyle, and Tub Ci craftily uses them as a constant “recruitment drive” to bolster his ranks.
Recently, rumors abound of a new drug appearing at these nightly parties, something that stirs the blood and increases aggression and energy in the user.
Several heroes have reported to the PPD that the drug is nicknamed “Rage,” and its users are ready to explode with any provocation. The origins of the drug are currently unknown.
As a new member is brought into the Tsoo, he begins as a Pha Enforcer. They run the basic levels of the gang’s activities, controlling the streets. They are organized by fighting-style, and there are Tiger (claws), Eagle (kama), Serpent (sai), Crane (bow), and Dragon (katana) Enforcers.
Once a member has proven himself, it’s said that the ghostly ancestors themselves will take notice and point out his potential, coming to the “chosen one” in dreams. Once chosen, they receive their tattoos, potentially the first of many in a long life of serving the Tsoo.
The true Tsoo tattooing occurs in private workshops by masters of the art. Done by hand, these startling images take form over many long hours and weeks, and use a secret recipe jealously guarded for the mystical ink. The Tsoo sorcerer-tattooists are true masters of their craft, but it is their subjects who must suffer for the art.
Once a member has received his first tattoo, he becomes known as Kua Mem Neeg, or Ink Man. The PPD believes the initiation rite roughly parallels other “blood in, blood out” gangs, and requires an act of murder or bloodshed to be welcomed into the ranks. There are different colors of Ink Men, denoting their rank.
Yellow Ink Men are the most common, and act as dealers, money men, con artists, and recruiters. Their tattoos give them empathic and telepathic powers. The Green Ink Men have proven themselves in fights and in crises, and been recognized as potential leaders.
Their tattoos make them supernaturally-capable fighters. Red Ink Men are the hand-picked assassins of the gang. Their tattoos give them supernatural agility and accuracy, and some can siphon a target’s power and speed, slowing them down before the kill.
Blue Ink Men are most commonly found in Tub Ci’s agents in the Rogue Isles; their tattoos allow them to siphon speed and power like their Red cousins, but they also favor unrighteous and deplorable poison attacks.
In addition to Tub Ci’s close circle of sorcerers the highest ranks of the Tsoo include masters of a variety of martial art styles. The leader of the Tsoo will promote Ink Men who have proven themselves to be extraordinarily capable to these esteemed and feared positions.
A master’s title connotes his abilities, so that the Dragonfly Master commands the forces of wind and rain; an Iron Hands Master understands pressure point techniques to such a degree that he can drain the life away from a foe and replace his own energies; a Bronze Leopard Master is uniquely deadly with his claw weapons; a Crescent Master can tap into the very power of the universe to wield the power of gravity itself as a weapon.
Tub Ci has named more than a dozen masters of the Tsoo.
Tub Ci’s great plans are still shrouded in mystery, but expansion of the gang is key. Many of the new members reflect the current trends of Paragon City, wearing the latest fashions, listening to the coolest music, using the edgiest drugs.
They see themselves as young, hip, veterans of the last great war, and that simply surviving means they are special. They swagger through their neighborhoods with pistols tucked into belts, and often strapped with ancient weapons. Tub Ci is a true artist, and his work spreads across a living canvas.