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The Liberty Dome was packed full of 80,000 hooting, hollering hockey fans, all eager to see the Freedom City Blades take on the New Jersey Devils in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The shivering cold required of the frozen-over floor did nothing to dampen the spirits; there was too much at stake. Like most match-ups between teams representing the same geographical area, this David-vs-Goliath promised to be a grudge match of epic proportions. The Blades were an up-and-coming team of scrappy underdogs who'd managed to claw their way to the top in their first year as part of the NHL, and now they were butting heads against the veterans from their own backyard.

 

Elena Guerrero had reserved a private luxury box, and now she sat inside with her old (older than anyone realized) friend, Rhodes Foundation C.E.O. Sofia Cruz, her husband Bob, and their three children, Alejandro, Emilia, and Esteban. Elena lounged in her seat, almost making it look like a monarch's throne, sipping her lattè and smiling as the children munched on their caramel corn and cheered the Blades on. "What do we say to Aunt Lena for getting us these great seats, mijos?" Bob admonished the kids. They turned to Elena and replied in a chorus "THAAANK YOU," then turned once more to the action down below.

 

Sofia punched Elena playfully on the shoulder, "thinking out loud." So, tell me about this new ladyfriend of yours!

 

Elena cleared her throat nervously. She's...more of an old friend, actually. We've sort of picked up where we left off. It's complicated.

 

Sofia raised an eyebrow. That kind of "complicated?"

 

Elena nodded, a stern look in her eyes.

 

Sofia shook her head and sighed. Well, I hope you know what you're doing. And she must be a special lady if Elena Guerrero was willing to step down off the soapbox and drop $4,000 on a designer outfit just to impress her.

 

Elena and Sofia both laughed. Bob glanced at them quizzically. "You two having another one of your 'telepathic conversations' over there?"

 

Elena and Sofia turned to each other. If he only knew...

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"Oh man, this is going to be awesome!" Vivian said as she stared down at her ticket in one hand and the beer in the other. "Can you believe the seats we got? They're right by the ice!" She nudged her girlfriend in the ribs.

"I know!" replied Chrissy, also carrying a beer and a ticket, "And look! We're right in the group of guys down there! Ooh this is going to be fun!"

Vivian giggled in response, then trotted down the first few steps toward their seats. The two college friends were dressed nearly identically. Chrissy was wearing the full on Devil's Jersey, with the sleeves rolled up, and a pair of jeans. Her feet were shoved into a pair Uggs. Vivian had no clue how the girl could wear those things, especially not in summer time. She was wearing flats, jeans, and a Devi's T-shirt. Vivian hadn't bothered with much jewelry for the game. The only thing she adorned herself with was the golden chain that hung around her neck.

"Hey boys," Chrissy flirted as they pushed past a group of guys to get to their seats. Neither Vivian nor Chrissy tried too hard to avoid rubbing against the men on their way by. As usual, though, they heard no complaints about it.

Vivian stood in front of her seat and surveyed the Stadium. Absentmindedly, she took a sip of beer as she looked out over the multitude of people gathered around the small rink. Pulling the cup away from her mouth, she decided that it needed more honey. "Woooo! Go Devils!" She gave the guy next to her a playful punch in the shoulder with her left hand and then raised it into the air, and bounced up and down on her toes.

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"You realize we could have seen this a lot more clearly on TV. For free," Erik Espadas groused from his seat in the nosebleed section of the Liberty dome. The athletic young man crossed arms clad in a black, long-sleeved shirt as he attempted to get comfortable in the folding chair. Characteristically, the budget-conscious West Ender had decided to forgo any of the overpriced concession stand fare.

His younger sister Ellie, on the other hand, had opted for a generously sized cardboard box of nachos along with a comically sized soft drink. The coltish teen's slender form was engulfed by a Freedom City Blades jersey, and she was already on her feet hollering down to the rink. "Hey! It's called defense! Look it up!" She turned to her brother. "Oh, please. This is awesome, hermano, and you know it. Besides," she added more quietly, "Jack of all Blades, at a Blades game? Eh? Eh?"

The elder Espadas sat up abruptly. "Dios, Ellie, c'mon! Don't even!"

"C'mon, lighten up! It's not like anyone is paying attention to us," she retorted just as a blaring horn and flashing red light signaled a goal. "Yeah! Now do y'like that huh?!" she screamed, waving her arms furiously. Beside her, Erik placed his hands over his eyes and counted silently to ten.

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[floatr]DoctorStratos.jpg[/floatr]

In the middle of the second period, the score was tied, 3 to 3. Suddenly, a lightning bolt flashed down into the center of the rink. The thunderclap echoed across the stadium, overshadowing even the roars of the crowd. Chunks of ice broke free and launched into the stands as players on both teams were flung off their feet. Then, a biting chill wind blew over the fans, coalescing into a cyclone over the rink, kicking the tiny ice crystals up into the air, creating an indoor snowstorm.

When the wind died down and the fog lifted, the center of the rink was dominated by three new arrivals. An elegant raven-haired beauty wearing the traditional white dress of an Ancient Greek woman gently floated down to the ice. A man in a flamboyand jester's costume somersaulted up and down the length of the rink. But in the center, the scarlet-robed form of Doctor Sebastian Stratos hovered over the rink, electricity arcing up and down his body and between his eyes. The echoes of their voices were clearly audible from the front row all the way up to the nosebleed sections.

"TREMBLE, Mortals, as the SHEEP cower before the WOLF in their midst! For DOCTOR STRATOS and THE CRIME LEAGUE now stand before you!"

[floatl]Medea.jpg[/floatl]

Wildcard flipped up onto the edge of the wall dividing the rink from the spectators. "We're owed a debt, and we've come to collect. See, none of you guys would even be here today if it weren't for me. How else did you think an underdog team would make it to the playoffs during the first season of the franchise? Sorry to disappoint all you sports fans, but my silence wasn't free, and the team owner stopped making his payments. So all best are off. The Crime League's a for-profit organization. You get what you pay for, and you pay what you owe. And since y'all have been enjoying the fruits of my labors so much, now you've inherited that debt.

"In every age, mortals have paid tribute to the gods" intoned Medea as she stepped out upon the ice. "The form that both those gods and that tribute takes will vary from one age to the next, but the basic principle remains constant."

Stratos bellowed. "Someday, all will live in paradise under the benevolent rule of my iron fist! But a project of such magnitude as CHANGING THE WORLD requires resources on a scale your puny minds cannot possibly comprehend! Resources which must be acquired by any means necessary!"

[floatr]Wildcard.jpg[/floatr]

Wildcard did a handstand on the edge of the barrier, then shifted all his weight to one hand. "If you look around, you'll see our newest member making the rounds. If you'd be so kind as to hold out your wallet, purse, jewelry, and any other valuables you might be carrying, he'll take them and be on his way. But if you'd like to audition for the role of 'Guy Who Tried To Be A Hero But Died A Painful And Humiliating Public Death,' then by all means, put up a fight and see what happens."

As Wildcard spoke, a black and gold blur whizzed through the stands. It stopped every few rows, in seemingly random places, revealing a man in a skintight jumpsuit that concealed his entire body, carrying a large sack. He wore a futuristic-looking belt and matching bracers. His chest was adorned with an hourglass symbol, in the same black-&-gold color scheme as the rest of his jumpsuit. As he raced down a row, the baubles in outstretched hands vanished.

[floatl]Downtime.jpg[/floatl]

As if to illustrate Wildcard's point, several uniformed security guards ran out onto the ice, pistols drawn. Medea raised an open hand toward them, and shouted "FERAS!" A blinding flash of light erupted from her palm, and when it subsided an instant later, the guard's pistols and uniforms lay empty upon the ice, being dragged, nuzzled at, and eaten by a group of pigs.

"Oh, and the exits have all been wired with explosives. Open any of the doors, and I guarantee this whole place will blow sky-high. So just stay put, and you might live to chat about this around the water cooler on Monday."

Given the reality of 80,000 people shoved together in an enclosed space and threatened with death (or worse), it was amazing how relatively few of them fell into a blind panic. While most of the spectators were too shocked and overwhelmed with terror to do anything but sit meekly and offer up their valuables, riots were already starting to break out.

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Elena's face darkened into a scowl as she stared through the box window onto the ice below. She sprang to her feet, taking one last swig from her cardboard coffee cup before flinging it to the ground and forgetting its existence forever.

"Where are you going?"

"It's not safe out there!"

Elena didn't turn around or slow her pace as she responded to the Cruz family and the caterers who happened to be in her box when the villains appeared. "Stay here, keep quiet, and if any of them make it up here, just give them what they want. You'll get it back later." She shed her coat and sweater in the hallway like a snake sheds its skin, and exerted her will toward shrouding her presence from the mind's eye of everyone around her as the red morphic-molecule camisole underneath her clothes melted and expanded to cover her entire body once more in the crimson & gold armor of The Scarab.

She flew out and down into the stands, scanning the crowd for trouble spots. There! A cluster of college-age sports fans, their faces bright pink from obvious and excessive alcohol consumption, were already beginning to fight and trample amongst themselves, arguing over whether the bomb threat was an idle one and whether or not they should just make a run for it.

The Scarab glared down at them, imagining hands reaching out from her own brain, her own mind, digging their fingers into the minds of the spectators, and then suddenly clenching into fists. About 150 of the 80,000 attendees suddenly jerked their heads up in unison and abruptly silenced themselves. The Scarab imagined they were all lounging on a beach at a tropical island, the warm sunbeams soothing their skin as a salty breeze filled up their nostrils, the waves crashing faintly in the distance. 150 people relaxed into their seats, all tension drained from their bodies. Quietly, contemplatively, they looked at each other with new eyes.

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Downtime continued to run up and down the aisles, this time too fast for anyone to see. His rapid footsteps tapped across the hard floor like machineguns as more wallets and purses disappeared from their owners oustretched hands.

Wildcard leapt off the barrier wall into the stands, tumbling down the rolls, flipping over peoples heads, occasionally grabbing a fistfull of popcorn out of somone's bag or stealing a swig of someone's beer. "I know, doesn't seem fair, Downtime getting his hands dirty doing all the scut-work while we just strut around looking mad-sexy. But he's the freshman. Gotta make his bones. Y'all understand, right?"

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"Oh, no way," Ellie gaped as the supervillains exploded onto the scene. "What are you going to -- ?" The teenager turned to find her brother's seat deserted and his threadbare knapsack missing. She barely had time to blink before a royal blue and crimson blur bounded out from behind the low concrete wall which circled the top of the stands, as Jack of all Blades nimbly sprinted down the tops of the seats, making a beeline for Wildcard. As he did, the swordsman exhaled, the breath misting before him in the rink's cold. Instead of dissipating, it collected above his fist into a razor sharp column of glinting power, a weapon forged of primal chill.

The swashbuckler leapt, letting gravity and his momentum take him in a soaring arc toward the jester's bell adorned head. "From one playing card themed guy to another," he called as he landed rapier first, forcing Wildcard away from the civilians with a barrage of blows, "you've dealt yourself a loosing hand, Chuckles."

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The Jovial Jester of the Underworld danced back and forth, trying to keep the terrified spectators between himself and the dashing swashbuckler. "Whoa, easy there, Jackie-Boy! Careful where you stick that thing! Don't want your sword signing checks your ass can't cash! Many a slip 'twixt a cup and a li-AUGH!" He choked on his own scream as Jack faked right, lunged left, and "impaled" Wildcard right through his nose and smart mouth. Wildcard, choosing the wrong direction from which to slide around the spectator he was using as a human shield at that moment, walked right into it. Jack thrusted the ephemeral energy sword all the way down to his knuckles, then pulled it down and out in a circular flourish. Wildcard clutched his face and staggered backward over the spectators, falling on his back between the rows. In the areas where the pure cold of Jack's energy sword had passed through, the cloth of Wildcard's costume had flash-frozen, and not so much "torn" as "shattered" away. The skin on his face, and underneath his broken clothing, was covered in dark bruises. Wildcard shivered as blood dripped out his nose and mouth through his clenched fingers.

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Floating over the center of the ice, Doctor Stratos bellowed over the roar of the panicked crowd. "So, a champion steps forward, to challenge the might of THE CRIME LEAGUE?! DESTROY HIM!!!" Stratos pointed at Jack. A a bolt of lightning erupted from his hand, launching straight toward Jack. Without thinking, the nimble vigilante pushed the hapless sports fan Wildcard had last danced around to the ground, and sidestepped the lightning so gracefully he seemed to be moving in slow-motion. Fortunately, the other nearby spectators had fled from their seats once Jack struck first blood in his duel with Wildcard. The lightning struck the floor where Jack had been standing a moment ago, blowing a small crater through the stands and sending empty chairs flying upward in every direction. Thunder boomed across the entire arena. More spectators leapt up out of their seats and began to flee, in no particular direction. Between the Crime League and the useless exit doors, danger lurked in every corner.

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Medea let a half-smile slip out of the corner of her mouth, and lazily pointed in Jack's direction. "X!" she shouted. Translucent, glowing red Hermetic runes appeared in a circle around her hand. A similar red aura spread around most of the broken chairs that Stratos' lightning bolt had torn free from the floor. Suddenly, the glowing chairs popped up into the air, dozens of them slamming into each other, clinging and interlocking together until they formed a vaguely humanoid shape, over 3 meters tall, towering over Jack. A pair of burning red globes appeared at the center of the chair which formed the "head," giving the impression of hate-filled eyes glaring down at him.

Medea laughed. "Show this impudent peasant the price of his insubordination." At her command, the Chair-Man's massive "fists" crashed down upon Jack. He tried to sidestep them, but the Chair-Man simply took up too much space, too much of Jack's field of vision, and the debris and crowded arena just didn't give him enough room to maneuver. The Chair-Man's "arms" clicked apart, reforming around Jack's body. They lifted him up over the Chair-Man's "head," then hurled him down to smash into the broken ice in the rink below.

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"Jesus!" Chrissy cursed.

"Odin!" Vivian called out.

"What?" Chrissy asked.

"Ahh!" Vivian was suddenly jerked upwards by a powerful force. Something pulled on her necklace from behind.

"OOF!" Vivian twirled around, still being tugged on by the necklace. Thankfully, the chain as well as the Orb was blessed by the Gods and it held strong. Vivian saw a cloud of dust, beer glasses, popcorn and other snack bags kicked up in the row behind her as something large and invisible hit the ground right in front of a row of large, scared, angry, drunk, male Devil's fans. Instantly, Downtime faded back into view, having decelerated enough to be seen with the naked eye.

Crap! It's the fast one who's taking everyone's stuff! Wait...Idea. Awesome idea.

Vivian quickly brushed Downtime's invisible hand off of her necklace, and recoiled into the big strong Devil's fan next to her that she had been flirting with earlier. With her back cushioned against the man, she screamed and pointed at the invisible form of Downtime lying in the row behind her, "Aieee! He tried to steal my necklace!" She clutched at it desperately, looking over her shoulder at the big man she asked, "Won't you please help me?"

Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! You're gonna get this guy killed!

Meanwhile, her eyes darted about the stadium for something that she could use to hide, or some way that she could get away.

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Downtime had dusted himself off and regained his footing in the blink of an eye. He glanced over his shoulder, saw Jack of all Blades get thrown out onto the ice, and chuckled. "And BOOM goes the dynamite!"

The sports fan Vivian had tapped as her white knight was already deep in his cups, so he embraced the role with enthusiasm, eager to impress "the hot blonde chick" (as his inner monologue referred to her). He took a last swig of cheap beer out of his plastic cup, then staggered to his feet and "got all up in that guy's grill" (again, the internal monologue). "Hey f****t! - Why don't you pick on someone yer own size!"

The black-&-gold clad supervillain snorted, dropped to a crouch, then vanished. "Thanks, 'Bro.' I was worried I wouldn't get to punch anyone tonight." Downtime moved too fast for anyone to see him, but the results of his work were readily apparent. The drunken fratboy's face jerked sharply from side to side with a series of *CRACK!* sounds. He feebly raised his arms to shield his face, only to double over half a second later as the wind was knocked out of him. His hair seemed to rise up of its own accord, followed by his entire head, which then found itself wedged between the cushions of his chair. The padded seat began to rise and fall rapidly, crushing the fratboy's blood-soaked face against the back-rest. His unseen assailant's sadistic laughter echoed in his ears.

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Suddenly, a golden glow appeared around the Chair-Man's "head." It pressed its "hands" up against that head, its "eyes" burning even brighter. Medea frowned. Her brow furrowed. She mumbled arcane phrases which had not been spoken aloud by more than a handful of people in over a thousand years in rapid succession as she reached her arms out toward the Chair-Man, her wrists once again ringed in spinning, glowing runes. But the golden glow soon completely enveloped the scarlet aura around the chairs. The twin globes of eldritch light at the center of its "head" shrank until they winked out of existence entirely, and the Chair-Man exploded, its component parts falling to litter the crater left over from Stratos' lightning.

Over the fallen chairs, tears seemed to appear in the very air itself. Then, as more and more rips appeared, the image coalesced into the familiar crimson-&-gold armor of The Scarab. Her massive cape billowed in the air behind her like the sails of an old ship on the high seas.

"IS YOUR BLIND ARROGANCE SO ALL-CONSUMING THAT YOU WOULD ATTEMPT TO ENSLAVE EVEN THE VERY FOUNDATIONS UPON WHICH WE ALL TREAD TO YOUR PETTY TYRRANY?! TERROR, PAIN, AND PETTY LARCENY WILL NEVER BUILD A BETTER WORLD!"

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Still clutching his frozen, broken nose, Wildcard grabbed onto one of the few chairs in his area of the stands still attached to the floor and pulled himself back up to a standing position. He blinked a few times, his blurred vision refusing to focus, as he reached into a hidden pocket and pulled out a deck of playing cards. Fanning a handful of them out in his other hand, he glared down at the Jack of all Blades, currently laying battered upon the broken ice below.

"From one playing card themed guy to another, Jackie-Boy, before you play your hand, you should make sure it wasn't dealt from the bottom of the deck. Dealer has four!" Wildcard's hand whipped up and down four times in rapid succession, launching a card at Jack's head. Jack rolled and tumbled out of the path of each card with the grace of a ballet dancer, usually with an inch or less to spare as the cards embedded halfway down into the ice, flung as they were by Wildcard's almost supernatural aim (and, of course, a bit of luck).

"So far, so good, Barishnikov. But if there's one thing I've learned about luck over the years, it's that it runs out."

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The black-&-gold clad supervillain snorted, dropped to a crouch, then vanished. "Thanks, 'Bro.' I was worried I wouldn't get to punch anyone tonight." Downtime moved too fast for anyone to see him, but the results of his work were readily apparent. The drunken fratboy's face jerked sharply from side to side with a series of *CRACK!* sounds. He feebly raised his arms to shield his face, only to double over half a second later as the wind was knocked out of him. His hair seemed to rise up of its own accord, followed by his entire head, which then found itself wedged between the cushions of his chair. The padded seat began to rise and fall rapidly, crushing the fratboy's blood-soaked face against the back-rest. His unseen assailant's sadistic laughter echoed in his ears.

Vivian was horrified. It's my fault. She thought, It's all my fault. He stood up for me because I lied to him, and now look at him! Damn it Vivi! When will you learn?!

Vivian heard the rumble of distant thunder, audible only to her, "Employing dishonest tactics to save one's hide and avoid battle? Shame, mortal!" She heard the voice of the Norn in her head, "Tread lightly, Valkyrie, for thou hast displeased Odin, the All-Father, with thine actions!"

Her eyes narrowed, and she steeled her resolve. I'm going to put this right. I AM.

Vivian pushed through the crowd of now rioting fans. She quickly hopped behind one of the lower walls in the nearby tunnel from the stands to the stadium entrances.

Pulling the Orb of Fate out from under her Devil's t-shirt, she stared deeply into it. Quietly, she invoked the Orb, I renounce all the words and works of the devil, Thunear, Woden and Saxnôt, and all those fiends that are their associates. I will fight for the Gods. I will do battle when the weak cannot. And I mean it this time!"

The Orb of Fate lit up, and cast a soft blue glow over her. For a few seconds, Vivian was awash in the light of the Orb. The bands of light that surrounded her solidified. Steel bands surrounded her arms, and a Breastplate fastened over her chest, the joints of the steel were lined with fur trim. In the chestplate, just above her breasts, the Orb of Fate shrunk to the size of a large jewel and lay socketted in the armor. The armor covered her chest, back, upper arms, pelvis, knees, shins and feet. It left her midsection exposed for maximum flexibility, and her thighs for maneuverability. A half helm materialized on her head, complete with a caged visor, and golden wings which protruded straight into the air. Her forearms were uncovered by the steel, but that soon changed. A glow surrounded her hands and arms, and out of nowhere the burnished Gauntlets of power encased her hands and forearms in bronze colored lobstered steel. A glow around her waist faded to reveal the Belt of Strength comprised of leather, with a large bronze seal bearing a symbolic engraving of Mjollnir on its center. Finally, the legendary hammer itself appeared in her hand. It crackled with electricity, the incarnation of the rage of the gods. Mjollnir itself seemed ready for battle, and so was she.

Valkyrie leaped over the small barrier once more, giving up her advantage of stealth in favor of a straight fight, and more importantly, forestalling the beating of any more faithful hockey fans.

"DOWNTIME!" She yelled, her voice carrying through the stands, "Remove thine hands from yon mortal. Thine quarrel is with me!" Beneath the visor her eyes narrowed, fixing Downtime with a poisonous gaze. Her anger was so great that she slipped back into the vernacular, "Why don't you pick on someone you're own size?" she threatened, gripping Mjollnir with both hands as it crackled with divine fury.

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Flipping backwards over the last of the razor edged playing cards, Jack produced his grappling hook launcher from his great coat, firing at the scoreboard hanging above the rink. Before the swashbuckler had even touched back down on the ice, he was soaring back over the boards, foot balanced on the end of the swinging cable and icy rapier pointed at the offending jester. "Luck might run out, Jingles, but skill is forever!" he declared with a dashing grin, easily hiding the pain from the welt he could feel forming on his left shoulder where he'd hit the ice.

Cartwheeling through the air, he renewed his assault on Wildcard, balancing on the tops of the folding chairs to achieve the high ground. "You heard the ladies: yea verily! And furthermore: forsooth! And: avast ye scurvy dogs!" Jack paused to make an exaggerated show of considering his last line. "Wait, no, I messed that up. Well, you get the point," he declared launching a fresh volley of devastating thrusts.

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[floatr]Orion.jpg[/floatr]As Jack swung toward him, Wildcard pushed off against the seats into a backflip, hurling another playing card at Jack mid-flip. Jack brought his energy sword to bear in a simple riposte, bisecting the card (a Jack of Spades) into two curled, withered pieces which crumbled as they sliced through the air to either side of him. Jack swiped and slashed at his foe, and when both men finally dropped to their feet, balancing along the narrow edges of the chair back-rests, Wildcard stood wide-eyed, gasping and shivering. Jack's blade of pure cold glowed and pulsed beneath Wildcard's flesh, impaling him from just under his sternum, up through the back of his throat. Jack pulled his sword free with a flourish, and Wildcard fell to the floor, his shirt broken open, a strip of blackened, frostbitten flesh running up to his throat. He lay motionless, the frosty cloud of breath escaping his lips the only sign that he was still alive.

The Jack of all Blades barely had time to wonder why the commentator booth high above the stands was filled with black smoke, and even less time to savor his victory over Wildcard, when the high-powered rifle round tore through his chest. He heard the high-pitched whine of the silencer in the lull between the ebb and rise of the crowd's roars. The wind was knocked out of him as the bullet tore a tiny chunk out of his rib and pushed it out past his spine and into the air. He felt like he'd been hit with a sledgehammer. The impact kicked him up into the air for a moment. He landed upon the seats on the row below him with a *THUMP!* His vision blurred, then faded to black, but he grimaced, gritted his teeth and shook his head, determined to stay awake. The spectators around him started screaming as they leapt from their seats and fled in all directions, some of them even splattered with drops of his blood.

On the other side of that smoke, peering through the scope of his rifle, Orion laughed internally. Call. The house wins. He blinked, then chambered another round.

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Doctor Stratos cackled as The Scarab appeared admidst the exploding Chair-Man. "So, The Scarlet Spectre of Egypt's Vengeance is a hockey aficionado! No matter - ALL who dare defy DOCTOR STRATOS and THE CRIME LEAGUE shall suffer the same fate...DESTRUCTION!" He raised his arm toward her, and another bolt of lightning leapt from his open palm. It sliced a zig-zag pattern through the air, crashing into The Scarab...who merely floated motionless in its path, responding only with an impatient wave of her hand, dispassionately knocking the lightning aside. It flashed and crackled briefly, then vanished altogether.

Stratos clenched his hands into fists, punching them into the air above him as he screamed at the ceiling. "CURSES!"

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Medea glared daggers at the crimson champion to whom she'd just lost a battle of wills, but when she heard Doctor Stratos challenge her directly, she shifted her attention to the fallen swordsman who had so easily dispatched Wildcard. He may or may not be the greater threat, but he is handsome, cocky, and arrogant - exactly the type of "Alpha-Male" most susceptible to a lady's wiles. If Orion's pedestrian efforts haven't taken all the fight out of him already, I'm sure they've at least softened up his resolve.

She slowly lifted her arm up until her outstretched palm was level with her chin, then whispered more arcane words of power, blowing them across her hand in Jack's direction. Poor Hero. Jack didn't so much "hear" her sultry voice as he felt it, resonating across his very soul. You have been through so much already. Worked so hard. And what have your efforts on behalf these ungrateful sheep brought you, but pain? They are not worthy of your skill, your might. Lay down your burdens, Warrior. Raise your sword to my defense, and claim me, a far more worthy consort, as your rightful prize. I can give you succor, and pleasures the mortal mind cannot dare to dream of.

To everyone's eyes but Jack's, Medea's eyes glowed bright red, and what he saw as a soothing smile, others recognized as the predatory grin of a cat stalking a mouse.

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Downtime looked up from his savage beating of the drunk fratboy to gaze at the glowing armored warrior maiden who appeared above him. "...Whoa."

"DOWNTIME!" She yelled, her voice carrying through the stands, "Remove thine hands from yon mortal. Thine quarrel is with me!" Beneath the visor her eyes narrowed, fixing Downtime with a poisonous gaze. Her anger was so great that she slipped back into the vernacular, "Why don't you pick on someone you're own size?" she threatened, gripping Mjollnir with both hands as it crackled with divine fury.

"OK," he nodded. Downtime rubbed the fratboy's hair and scalp as though he were a child, then slammed the seat cushion against his face one last time and stood up, flickering in and out of view. "You wanna go fifteen rounds with the fastest man alive? Your funeral." He cracked his knuckles, then disappeared as he took off running down the aisle.

Valkyrie rapidly adjusted her stance back and forth, trying to keep her guard up with Mjollnir, but against a foe too fast to see, she simply left too many openings. Downtime exploited one of those openings, socking her across the jaw. Except he moved so quickly that he was able to punch her, reach back, then punch her again. And again. And again. Valkyrie felt his knuckles smash against her face a thousand times against the same spot all at once.

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The Scarab turned downward at the smoking crater left by The Bad Doctor's lightning, and scooped up at the air. Several of the loose chairs which had briefly formed Medea's golem sprang to life once more, soaring straight up into the air. The Scarab raised her other arm bent in front of her chest, parallel to the ground, and then snapped it straight in front of her, toward Stratos. The chairs sailed through the air directly at him.

"HAH!" he scoffed, opening his hands as he pounded them sharply down in front of him. A mighty gust of wind blew in from behind him, slamming against The Scarab's improvised projectiles. She raised both her hands in front of her, palms forward, in a posture vaguely reminiscent of a martial arts stance. She slowly pushed forward into the air with the hand closest to Stratos. Stratos reached both his palms out, pushing toward her. The chairs hovered in mid-air for a few moments, flipping end-over-end as The Bad Doctor's torrent continued to blow against them. He gritted his teeth, the muscles of his arms straining against the invisible force of The Scarab's telekinetic might.

But her will proved the stronger, and the wind finally broke against the floating chairs. Most of them quickly lost speed as they closed in on Stratos, buffeted to the side by the fading remnants of his summoned winds. But one chair pierced through all his defenses, smacking him in the face before it shattered into pieces, rent asunder by the dueling forces exercised upon it. The force of the impact sent Stratos flying against the upper wall of the arena. When he collided with the wall, his momentum was sufficient to burst through the wall. Stratos kept flying backward across the night sky, showing no signs of stopping anytime soon.

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The last time Downtime bashed the man's head into the chair, it only added more insult to the pile. Valkyrie felt her insides turn once again with guilt. But she didn't have time to consider the consequences of her actions anymore. Downtime was upon her, and he was furious.

The protection granted her by the gods afforded her a great amount of protection from most of the impact, but Downtime's blows were still strong enough to knock her flat on her back, and a few feet back. Valkyries head swam for a second, but she managed to fight off her body's knockout reaction.

One thing that marks the difference between a good warrior, and a great one is the ability to pick your battles. Valkyrie had no way to do battle with an invisible foe and she knew it. Downtime simply was too fast for her, and she knew it. But she was a Valkyrie, and if it's one thing the soldiers of Valhalla knew how to do, it was cause as much damage as physically possible in as little time as physically possible.

From her back, she craned her neck upward and looked in the direction she had last seen Downtime. "If thou desireth a fight, cometh and get it!" she said, Away from the rest of the fans, she thought. From the hole recently created by Dr. Stratos speedy departure, a lightning bolt descended from the sky and accepted Valkyrie into the folds of Odin's power. A second later, lightning entered the stadium once more, but this time it cracked right above Medea. Valkyrie flew out of the lightning, Mjollnir in hand. She descended upon Medea like a hawk upon a field mouse. "Hrraaahhhhhh!" Valkyrie brought the massive hammer down upon Medea's colar bone. Lightning once again entered the stadium, striking the place where the hammer made impact! Valkyrie put all of her force behind the blow, leaving nothing to chance or her own defense, intent on driving Medea straight through the ice.

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Jack's vision blurred with white hot pain as the bullet passed through him, the shock of it leaving him surprised to find himself in an ungainly heap, strewn across the chairs he'd been nimbly balancing on moments before. His lithe form shuddered with a cough, flecks of blood staining his lips, the sounds of the continuing battle sounding far, far away. The swordsman very badly wanted to lie there and take a very long nap. A distant, nagging voice told him that was a bad idea, but he pushed it away with sluggish annoyance.

Out of the corner of his blurred vision, he caught movement, eyes focusing awkwardly to reveal a coltish form racing down the steps from the seats above him. Ellie... he thought dimly. His little sister, the would-be paramedic. After a puzzled moment, his mind snapped into crystal clarity. Coming to help me! No! His punctured body lurched upward, arms snapping out to grab anything to help him to his feet. Still hunched over in obvious pain, Jack gritted his teeth and threw an intense, meaningful look at his sibling, sill several rows into the highest section of seats. Ellie stopped in her tracks, uncertain.

Reaching to his waist, Jack pulled the crimson sash there loose, adjusting it to form an ad hoc bandage for his wound as he turned himself back toward the ice. The pure determination surging through every fiber of his being easily swatted away Medea's mental intrusion. "Sorry, Meddy," he managed inarticulately, "no fat chicks."

Ignoring the sorceress, he turned his vision upward, struggling to focus on the commentator's box. Even in his addled state, it was obvious who had shot him: Orion, the Crime League's sniper. Swing there? No. The cautious part of him, the part that insisted he wear a wig as an added precaution, that spurned him to train ever harder, screamed in warning. What he expects. Orion was purported to be the ultimate hunter; surly he would expect wounded, cornered prey to charge. Need to do something he won't expect. Something new...

Blood trickled from the corned of his mouth as he reached out with his metamagi abilities, pulling in as much primal chill from the surrounding area as he could manage. As dark red trailed down his face, shimmering diamond blue light gathered in a swirling cloud around his clenched fist. Knuckled whitened and knees threatened to buckle as Jack raised his icy sword upward, pointing en guarde at the distant puff of concealing smoke drifting from the commentator's box. A predatory smirk played across Jack's lips as he closed on eye and sighted along the thin blade. "Hey! Orion!" he shouted, voice carrying even in the chaos of the surrounding melee. The fencer tightened his grip on the rapier. "Bang."

The nimbus of distilled cold surged across the energy manipulator's body to the sword in his opposite hand, shooting forward like enraged quicksilver. The rapier's tip exploded upward as the razor thin blade extended toward the ceiling faster than the eye could follow. A second hole appeared in the thick glass next to the one created by Orion's shot, followed by a meatier, more satisfying impact, as the energy weapon skewered the dumbfounded gunman. As quickly as it had shot forward, the sword retracted to normal length, leaving no obvious wound as frostbite ripped through Orion's innards. With an outraged grunt, the villain collapsed to the floor of the booth.

Down below, Jack supported himself on a nearby chair and took a staggering breath, drained by the stunt. With a toothy grin that held no mirth, the swordsman wiped the blood on his lips away on the back of his greatcoat's sleeve, spitting a mouthful of near-black fluid on the concrete. "Alright. Who else wants some?"

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Down below, Jack supported himself on a nearby chair and took a staggering breath, drained by the stunt. With a toothy grin that held no mirth, the swordsman wiped the blood on his lips away on the back of his greatcoat's sleeve, spitting a mouthful of near-black fluid on the concrete. "Alright. Who else wants some?"

"I'm your huckleberry." Downtime laughed and affected a terrible Southern accent as he raced up to Jack and delivered a savage uppercut to the underside of his chin. "You look like hell, Pardner. I just hope you've got more fight left in you than your buddy with the hammer. Few thousand hits to the same spot in the same second, and she just flew away with her tail between her legs. Chicks, Man. Whatta ya gonna do?"

But as the obnoxious speedster (Jack was wondering if there were any other kind) rambled on, it wasn't his words that caught Jack's attention. It wasn't the pain from his punch, either. It wasn't even the way Downtime moved so fast Jack couldn't see him, could barely even react to him. No, the fact of the situation that currently occupied prime real estate in the forefront of Jack's mind was that he could see Downtime. Well, not Downtime himself, but rather, Downtime's powers. A type of energy Jack had never seen or felt before burned like the sun within Downtime's belt and bracers, coursing through the circuitry of his costume and eneveloping his entire body in some sort of energy field. Jack was still caught off-guard by Downtime's swing, but he was able to at least roll with the punch, minimizing the damage.

But the blow didn't matter. The pain didn't matter. All that mattered was that Jack could see him.

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The Scarab watched Doctor Stratos fly through the air, busting a hole through the arena wall on his way out. [bg=#BF0000]If he uses this as a chance to try and escape, he needs to be stopped. And if he decides to return and press the assault instead...then he needs to be stopped.[/bg] Her mind raced, quickly formulating a desperate gambit. She reached out with her mind.

[bg=#BF0000]Sofia! Is your family safe?[/bg]

Elena? It looks like you have your hands full. Yes, everyone in here is fine. If the Crime League's plan involved the boxes, they haven't put that part in motion yet. Not that you people have given them a chance to...

[bg=#BF0000]You're right - I do have my hands full. So I need a favor. A big one. I need your help.[/bg]

I'm listening.

[bg=#BF0000]I need you to activate your beacon. Get everyone in that box to The Lair, then take the console. I'll open another portal out here and start ferrying the spectators through. I need you to keep control of the situation on the other end. Open up portals to Liberty Park and make sure no one spends more time in The Lair than necessary. The park is a wide-open area, close to emergency services downtown. Once the spectators start calling 9-1-1, help should arrive quickly.[/bg]

Jesus Christ, Elena!

[bg=#BF0000]Sofia, Please. There isn't anyone else. You're the only one who's available and who I can trust.[/bg]

I've got my kids with me, Elena. I'd hardly call that "available."

[bg=#BF0000]People are going to start dying, Sofia. If they don't trample each other in mass panic, some drunk idiot will go ahead and open one of the exit doors and blow us all sky-high. We need to get these people out now, and you're the only one who can do it who isn't also up to her neck in supervillains. [/bg]

Alright...We're in The Lair.

[bg=#BF0000]Thank you.[/bg]

The Scarab descended to the ground and pressed a hidden switch on one of her epaulets. A swirling, crackling vortex of blue mist and lightning about 10 feet in diameter tore open in the fabric of the Universe next to her. [bg=#BF0000]"LISTEN UP!"[/bg] she screamed at the top of her lungs, pointing to the portal. [bg=#BF0000]"EVERYBODY WHO WANTS TO LIVE, STAY AWAY FROM THE DOORS AND GET IN HERE. TWO LINES, ORDERLY FASHION, NOW!"[/bg]

Jack and Valkyrie both heard the same voice, but from inside their heads instead of outside.

[bg=#BF0000]Jack.[/bg]

[bg=#BF0000]Warrior.[/bg]

[bg=#BF0000]That portal is The Alamo. It is the only lifeline these hostages have. They need to get inside without killing each other. And if the Crime League makes it through, then we have lost. We defend that portal to our last breath. Understood?[/bg]

The Scarab didn't wait for them to respond before she took off flying out through the Stratos-shaped hole in the roof.

[bg=#BF0000]I'm going after Stratos.[/bg]

A few seconds later, she found The Bad Doctor, closing in on her almost as rapidly and just as determined as she pursued him. [bg=#BF0000]I should have known your ego would trump your sense of self-preservation, Sebastian.[/bg] He grimaced at her telepathic taunts. He screamed something at her, but she was too far away to make it out.

The Scarab reached out with her hand, clenched it into a fist, and pulled. Stratos jerked to a stop in mid-air, spinning and flailing around uncontrollably.[bg=#BF0000]I got you, you arrogant bastard. You're mine.[/bg]

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