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That day started like so many others in Freedom City. The sun was shining, a few light and fluffy clouds in the sky. People went about their business as usual. The day started like any other; but it certainly didn’t stay that way…

The first warning was quiet, subtle even if there wasn’t a lot of lead up time. Seers and psychics, ESPers and precogs felt like someone shoved a hot needle in their brain as the horror of what was coming crashed over them like a tidal wave. They saw the destruction of everything, the death of all life coming. And not just coming eventually; it was standing on their doorstep and knocking. The coming event and the things they saw crushed them and kept them from doing anything but try and pull themselves together.


At the base of Centurion’s statue, a young man appeared. He seemed to have arrived in mid-stride. His skins was dark reddish-brown, his eyes were black. Beyond that, he could have been human. He looked around the park, taking everyone in with his contemptuous gaze. He turned and looked up at the symbol for righteousness and all that was good in the city and sneered. He threw his hands forward and massive lances of black flame struck the statue. For an instant the statue held, before breaking off at the knees and falling backward. The tremor from the impacts was felt for hundreds of yards.

Quickly, the broken legs of the statue became darker, an ugly color of stone as they changed. An arc formed, connecting the two towering stone legs. The space between flickered changed and, with a tear that screamed into the horrified citizens, a rent in the fabric of the world opened and filled the space with a gateway. On the other side, waiting, stood rank after rank after rank of nightmares of various shapes and sizes. With a roar and scream, the demonic horde charge through the opening as their summoner leaned against a pillar and smiled coldly.


Across the city, the sky darkened. This was no eclipse, there were no clouds. It was as if the sun died and went out. While it was dark, a harsh reddish glow filled the city with enough light to see. The gloom of a hellish eternal night settled over the city.

The city itself began to change. Slowly at first, starting in the city center and quickly moving outward. Grass and plants withered and died; just dead husks as the life was drained from them. Roads became pitted and cracked as if they had not been used in ages. There were splits in the earth where magma burst forth, creating new rivers of destructions. Fire burned everywhere; some just springing into being. Even the buildings and landscape were altered. Things twisted and changed; sometimes no longer even recognizable. Everything took on a dark and malicious appearance. Horrific creatures, demons of all shapes and sizes quickly appeared. Some came from the hellish glow in the city center while others came from the numerous small portals that opened everywhere.

A wave of fear, terror, hatred, sadness and hopelessness seemed to engulf the city. People shook in fear, cowered or ran. They knew in their souls the end had come and they were powerless to stop it. Nowhere was safe now. No place was untouched. The world of heroes was over. Suffering and death was all that remained. Freedom City was gone. Hell had come to Earth and it wasn’t going anywhere…

Amidst the darkness, amidst the terrified people, there were those that stood strong. Those who shook off the darkness and rose above it despite how it ate at the center of their being. They could still feel this new city/world trying to tear them down, but they were strong enough to fight through it. The world may have gone to hell, but not everyone was willing to give up and quit. Some were not going to go down without a fight…

Over in the North End, visible for miles around, a pillar of golden-white light rose to pierce the darkness. It shone like a beacon in the tainted city; a sign that not everywhere was changed; not everywhere was Fallen. It called to the hearts and souls of the terrified people. Hope wasn’t completely gone yet.

heading to Liberty Park in Riverside

It had been a rough week for the young heroes. After James was lost at the cemetery, it wasn’t an easy thing to bear. And it wasn’t hard for them to guess what was coming. It was only a matter of time after all.

They were gathered in their base when the other shoe dropped. The lights dimmed, colors changed. Things go darker, both physically and emotionally. Their less than cheering moods were now mirrored in the world around them. It was time. Now they just needed to know where to go. What they would do when they go there? That was still a little fuzzy.

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"It's Phantom. If you've got speaker, now's the time to put it on." Conferring with Alex, they were able to hook up the cell phone to the Manor's computer system, allowing Phantom's voice to come through the speakers in the command room. "I'm not sure how much you're seeing where you are but outside, it's hell-on-earth and this is only the start. If we all survive, I'll appologize for putting you in this position. I'm afraid right now, I don't have that luxury. You see, it's going to have to be you."

Phantom's voice didn't pause as she kept speaking. She didn't have the time to do anything else. "There's a main gate, where Centurian's statue stood. That's where they'll expect me to head. We're going to give you as much time as possible but you have to stop it. You have to close the gate."

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When the phone rang, Erin looked up from the bank of monitors she'd been watching helplessly. The past ten days had been horrible, full of guilt and fear and second-guessing, all of which was now coming to an end. It wasn't much of a relief, though. She'd already seen one world die, and it was starting to look very likely that she might get an encore presentation. She was desperate to go out and help, do something, anything, even if it it was just throw herself into the advancing horde and fight, but cooler heads had prevailed. All of them would be needed, and if sacrifices were going to be made, she didn't want it to be in vain.

She listened to Phantom's terse explanation, her hand going to the bat on her belt. "What do we need to do?" she demanded, loudly enough to carry. "How do we close the gate? How do we stop him?"

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Eddie was always in costume whenever he was in the manor. It just seemed like that he should maintain that persona here. Now that the weather had gotten cooler, he had replaced the camouflage shorts he had made part of his costume with a pair of grey, tight fitting, torn jeans. (He attributed this pick to the influence that Zoe had had on him).

Eddie wasn't thinking about his costume, however.

He was thinking about James. Why? He asked himself over and over again, Why?!

He had been pacing the halls of Caldwell Manor alone for a while now. He hadn't left, or gone to work. He didn't eat much and hadn't been sleeping as much as he should. One of his best friends was gone and there was nothing he could do about it. It ate him up inside.

Sometimes he stopped long enough to slam a fist into a wall in frustration, or crouch at the side of a hallway in despair. James' sudden disappearance had hit him really hard. None of his other friends had ever seen him this distraught, except for maybe Zoe and Alex. But even for them it was an extreme. His mood simply served as a testament to how much he cared about his friends.

James was gone, and Eddie was feeling lost.

"Rise Above This" By Seether was playing over his headphones when the loudspeaker began blaring a message from Phantom, one of the city's more prominent heroes.

Eddie heard the message and tore off towards the central conference room where he knew he would find the rest of his team.


She listened to Phantom's terse explanation, her hand going to the bat on her belt. "What do we need to do?" she demanded, loudly enough to carry. "How do we close the gate? How do we stop him?"

Breakdown burst through the doors to the central communications room. His expression was a mix of desperation and impatience, "And what are we WAITING for?!" He finished Erin's line of questioning.

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Mike had taken the events int he graveyard hard. He blamed himself, perhaps more than was warented, for not being able to stop them from taking James. Then he felt the wave of emotion and saw the city twist on the monitors. It didn't seem possible but it might also be their only chance. They might be able to get him back, if that meant battleing to the very gates of Hell so be it. They had to take any chance they could.

When phantoms words floated out of the com-system, his smile fell slightly. If it was on them to stop this then so be it. They woudl find another way to save James, he wouldn't give up so easily. Today they were needed, there was no choice but to answer the call.

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Alex let go of Mike's hand and silently moved to fire up the computer's video display, her fingertips clicking away at the keyboard while the older superhero talked.

"Listen," Phantom said urgently, ignoring the outbursts, "We can only give you one shot. The physical gate is nothing you can destroy. The power to tie the worlds together is coming directly from James. You have to stop him. Ignore the gate itself. He's your key."

Phantom's voice boomed through the speakers as she tried to condense years of training and a week of study into the salient points, "Violence gives demons strength. All negative emotions will feed them so use it sparingly. The gate will collapse if James wills it to close, if he's unconcious, or if he's dead. Those are the options we have. Good luck."

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When there was only silence, Alex cleared her throat once and spoke for the kids, "Thank you. We won't let you down."

She disengaged the phone and turned her swivel chair to face the group, her eyes dark in her pale face. "I have an idea. James has got to be in there somewhere. If we can just get to him, maybe I can jog his memory with ours. He wouldn't want this. If that doesn't work, I might be able to take over him and force him to shut the gate down."

Her tone was distressed but resolved. Alex hated using her mind control powers against anyone, much less a friend. "Then our last case scenario is knocking him out. Good?"

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"Sounds great." Breakdown chimed in, entering the room further. "But I'm still wondering why we haven't left yet."

Part of Breakdown's new costume was the leather belt that held his pants on. There were a few belt buckles on it, a skull and cross bones, a stylized boom box, a solid steel rectangular one, and a few others. At the moment, he was fingering the solid steel one. It was the buckle that held the button that when pushed would teleport him from the base to another location.

"You heard Phantom. We don't have much time. I'm all for trying to disarm a situation peacefully, but if your mind probe takes to long, Psyche..." He paused for a second. Then his expression hardened, "I'm gonna personally knock Hellion's block off for being such an idiot!"

Breakdown took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. "People out there are getting hurt. We really should have left already..."

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"Just shut up for one damn minute, would you, Eddie?" Erin snapped, her face taut, voice brittle enough to break. "Are you really so eager to kill or die? It's not a game, and you have no idea why James did what he did. He was trying to stop this before any of us knew it was coming, and that makes him braver than any of us. Maybe we'll have to take him down or die trying, but the last thing he deserves is a punk like you insulting him. And the last thing any of us needs is to run in without a plan."

She took a deep breath, focusing on the rest of the group. "I'd like to take point when we go in to face him," she said, forcing her voice to be calmer. "I was able to reach him once before when he'd been dragged down to hell. I know him better than anyone here. With Alex's help, I might be able to get through to him. And if not, I know I'm stronger and faster than he is... than he was ten days ago, anyway."

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It was much easier when the Him they had been reffering to was abstract. Mike didn't want to fight James or even what had been James. However that wasn't an option now. He glanced to Breakdown his eyes hard, "Yes people are getting hurt out there right now and we owe it to them to get this right." He looked to his teammates, "We need to know what each of us has to do not just rush off half cocked and blow our chance. We'll only get the one."

He swivled his gaze to Erin, she was way better than him at crowds but this was something she needed to do. He sighed looking to Mark questioningly, "Eddie and I can probably keep the lesser demons at bay." He said with a nod, "Zoe, can back us up and you can back Alex and Erins play."

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"Erin, Alex, Mike and I were there when we last saw James," said Mark, sounding considerably more subdued than usual. "We're the best ones to reach him. You in particular, Erin," he agreed, "since you know James so well." He was quiet again, subdued as he'd been for quite a while, then went on. "People...we can do this." Despite the fear in his voice, he sounded absolutely believable. "This is Freedom City. Our grandparents were here when the Nazis came. Our parents were here when the heroes stopped Hades, and the Grue, and Set the Destroyer...and some of us were here, barely, when the Centurion died." He looked at each face, his own fear dropping away as he saw his people. "We can do this. This isn't about glory for us. This is about saving the day. If no one else has anything, I think we're ready."

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"I do," Alex said with a quiet confidence. She was still getting used to glowing but her mental talents were stronger than ever. Between that and the budding relationship with Mike, and the support of her friends, she had enough confidence to step into the conversation in a way she wouldn't have months ago.

"I can lock us all together mentally. I didn't have the power before but I can do it now. Words won't work as well, trust me. If negative emotions strengthen them, our love can weaken his demonic side."

She picked her mask off the console and settled it into place on her face. "We'll go underground as far as possible. Even with using our powers to hide, its risky to fly. They may have more senses than we're aware of. The tunnel will take us to Riverside, then we'll have to sneak or fight our way there."

She tapped a few keys to bring up the layout of the park and pointed to an open area. "We'll drop cover here and take the high ground. Zephyr and Breakdown will clear our perimeter while Wander and Phalanx engage James. Edge, you're with me. Our big gambit will be my mental assault so that's where I want your luck to be. If that fails, we'll focus on dropping James as quickly as possible, Zephyr and Edge will join in on James and I'll help Breakdown hold back the demons for however long that takes. Clear?"

She glanced around at them and then held out a single hand to the center of the group, "Freedom forever?"

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Some of Erin's words had hurt. But then, he was used to that by now. James had had other options. He should have depended on his friends to be there for him when he needed. Or, God forbid, ask for a favor. He was so willing to do things for others that sometimes he should have just realized he wasn't alone.

Breakdown listened to the plan. It was a good one. He understood his part, and he was confident he could do it.


"Crystal." He responded, standing front and center for the start of the party.

"Forever and Always." He put his hand into the circle.

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Liberty Park

At the ‘heart’ of the city, the park was usually bright green filled with thriving plants thanks to certain heroine working behind the scenes. Paths were lined with plants, fields were lush with green grass. And the statue to the city’s greatest defender, the fallen Centurion, stood as a proud and bright reminder to all.

Or that’s what it used to look like. Now it was something completely different. There trees and plants were gone, drained of life, torn out or trampled to dust. The grass was replaced with dried and cracked earth. Stone spikes jutted from the ground irregularly. There were huge rents in the ground, with red glow far down the cavernous maws. Demons filled the area and more just kept coming. And towering over it all was rent in space. Easily a 100 feet across, the gateway to the infernal realms was massive. Framed in an ugly and angry looking black stone, it let demons through in countless numbers. Just looking at it was enough to quake a man’s soul. But looking through it, to the Hells beyond, lay madness.

The demon hordes here were almost countless in number. Most were simply waiting. Their masters knew that certain defenders were coming to destroy the gate. And they were leaving nothing to chance. No easily approachable route, no weak spot. Nothing. They finally had their toe-hold to this dimension and world after countless eons. And they weren’t going to risk giving it up. Ever.

Finally, the expected defender did show. Unsurprising, she couldn’t get close. They were guarding against her magical transportation after all. But she was close. And she wouldn’t be allowed to interfere. Or even escape. This would be her final day. The power surged out, directed by a single individual. She likely wouldn’t know until it was too late. But just to make sure, and to bring her down and rend her to pieces, additional forces were needed. With a gesture, hundreds and thousands of hell’s foot soldiers accompanied by numerous special demons and terrors turned as one. With a roar of eagerness, bespeaking of untold horrors, pain and death, the horde surged forward and began leaving the park. It would take some time for them all to get there, but it was a force guaranteed to overwhelm.

A short while later, there was a glitter of light appeared, swirling around. As it faded, standing in the desolate park stood the young heroes. Behind them in the distance, they could see the back of countless demons heading somewhere else. It seemed the distraction had paid off. In spades, unfortunately for Phantom and those with her.

In front of the young heroes, a huge desolate expanse stretched out. There were still quite a few demons, large ones, here and there. But they weren’t a solid force or group like the others. And sitting on the steps before the dais a few hundred yards away from them was something that used to be James. With reddish skin, fingernail claws, and even horns, the resemblance wasn’t perfect however. Dressed like a demonic James Dean, it was still enough to easily recognize their former friend.

He saw them arrive immediately as the various demons began moving in. Or maybe even knew before they showed. Who knew? Upon seeing them, he smiled widely. It was full of humor and promise but completely without warmth.

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'You know what to do. It's going to be okay,' Psyche's booted feet landed on the ground and she moved to catch up with Edge, her eyes on James. Her senses automatically checked the area, noting the demons around them. At the moment, she was focused on providing the communication link between the team. It was up to Phalanx and Wander to get his attention. The mental link touched the thoughts of each member of the team, allowing them to communicate with Psyche as the bridge.

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"I'm fanning out." Breakdown thought over the mental link. It would be his job to keep many of the demons at bay. His job was important. It would grant psyche the time she needed to win James back to their side.

"Phantom said these guys hate good emotions, right? Well I got just the thing for that."

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Erin stepped forward, her long strides carrying her to the front of the group as everyone prepared for the parts they would play. She met James' eyes across the park. There was no sense in trying to be subtle now, he knew they were there. "James!" she called, raising her voice to carry. "We want to talk to you! Let us through." She kept walking towards him, bat still clipped to her belt, her hands empty.

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When Psyche got close to Edge, she distinctly heard him murmuring, "...and staff, they comfort me." He looked up at Psyche and smiled at her, though, focusing on the crowd of demons before them with a brave expression on his face. Mark's mind was full of stories of the past; his grandfather, his father, the Centurion and all the other heroes of Freedom City. But this wasn't a story, now. This was his life, their lives, and the salvation of Freedom City. Conveyed through Psyche, his thoughts came through to the others. Let's do this one for James.

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The figure laughed as he sat on the stone, a couple down from the base of the gate. He yelled back across the large open expanse, having no trouble responding. "Talk? You want to talk? That's rich coming from you. And stop? Why would I want to do that? I like this. Power. Control. I'm loving this! You want to come over here and talk? Feel free. They might they might have a problem with that though," he gestured as the big demons began to move in. He grinned and shrugged, a 'what can you do' kind of amused expression. It certainly sounded like James, even the little mannerisms. But the words were definitely not him.

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