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July 2012 Vignette -- The Crucible

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Another one, already? Sure, why not?

FC:PbP is offering the community another "vignette" opportunity!

Thinking on the fact that The Dark Knight Rises is coming out this month -- and how it seems to be drawing heavy inspiration from the arc that introduced Bane, "KnightFall" -- we might as well offer something thematically similar for our heroes: The Crucible.

Who: Any player who is interested. Please clearly label which character the Vignette applies to.

What: As either part of a plot by some sort of criminal mastermind (August Roman is always a safe bet) or just a string of really bad luck, the heroes of Freedom City end up experiencing trials throughout the month that take them to the limit. Gina may have to deal with a Die Hard situation at HAX where she's cut off from Miss A. Citizen might end up dealing with a magnetic field-manipulating terrorist threatening to crush Pyramid Plaza. Nick Cimitiere finds himself cut off from his necromancy and thrust into the deeper part of Tartarus. And, of course, there's always the good old-fashioned archvillain team up. And the hero rises again, bruised, battered, but not broken.

When: The deadline for submissions will be Tuesday, July 31st, by 11:59 PM EST (GMT -5). The time the vignettes themselves take place is up to you.

Where: Anywhere in the campaign setting; the written Vignettes should be posted in this thread.

Why: To enhance our community, to flex your writing muscles, to think more deeply about (or put a new spin on) your characters, and to earn a bonus PP for your character for the month of July.

How: Once your story is finished and proofed, post it in this very thread here!

Additional Notes/Clarification: Vignettes do not count as posts.

Post here with questions.

Blue Jay: Coming of Age

Cannonade: Reforged

Nick Cimitiere: Down in the Ground Where the Dead Men Go

Cobalt Templar: [untitled]

Crimson Tiger: [untitled]

Doktor Archeville: The Reformatting

Gabriel: [untitled]

Harrier: Even When The Music's Gone

Ironclad: Breaking the Bank

King of Suits: Strength is All

Myrmidon: History Repeating

Rene de Saens: The Great Retreat

Silver Spider: Sting of the Scarlet Scorpion

Supercape: Heavy Metal Thrash

Voltage: Thirty-Six Seconds

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August 14th, 2010

New England, United States

Earth-Pastrol, Terminus

Tona Baudin hit the ground running, kicking up dead leaves and bracken off the forest floor. She leapt an old, fallen tree and stumbled; fortuitously so, as a whistling shaft of steel cut the air above her, so close she could feel the breeze of its passage. It shot straight through a thick tree, leaving silvery splinters hanging in the air alongside the heartwood. She slipped and fell on her backside, sliding on the slick, dead undergrowth, scrabbling at the ground with calloused fingers. The young girl fetched up against the bole of another towering tree and scurried around to the far side, feeling her limbs tremble in the grip of adrenaline. Her bow was in her hand, and her quiver banged dully against one thigh; she’d expended her last arrow either ten minutes or a lifetime ago, depending on if you asked the clock or her own muddled perceptions. It had been a good attack, the first one her father had let her come on, but extracting they had run across a column of enemy infantry and now the planned retreat had turned into a route. She was all alone out here, with no arrows and no back-up. Her free hand slid down to the long, straight knife balancing her other hip. It was dangerous, but if she wanted to get out of this alive it might be her only choice.

The dead tree behind her exploded into a flurry of wood and metal chips as a rotating blade, crackling with dark energies, ripped through it. A form marched through the wreckage: it might have been a man once, before a madman hacked away at it and replaced flesh with steel and brass. The right side of its countenance had been swallowed by a mask of bronze that only roughly matched the contours of the human face, its eye replaced by a glass implant that clicked and chattered as it scanned the forest before her. Its left arm had been amputated just below the elbow and replaced by a three-foot length of spinning chainsaw, wreathed in red and black fog. Its right arm was largely intact, but wrapped in molded steel armor. A spike launcher loomed over its left shoulder, clacking menacingly as it loaded another round. The entire monstrosity was wrapped in the stiff blue and red uniform of the Steam General’s brass legion. The creature who was once a man but was now merely an extension of the will of the warped mind who would be lord of this doomed world took a step forward, dead branches crackling under its tread, feet sinking into the ground as its frame was weighed down with a couple hundred pounds of armor and augmentations.

Tona tried to get control of her ragged breathing and slipped around the other side of the tree, watching the steel soldier march slowly forward. She pulled up the cowl to her mottled cloak, willing herself to blend into the background, to be merely an oddly-shaped knot of wood. Hoping and – well, no one on this world prayed anymore, but hoping and wishing that the monster would just keep walking in a straight line. It moved forward at a slow, steady pace, artificial eye scanning the forest in slow, even sweeps. The resistance had spent a lot of time and effort to take such monstrosities intact and determine what those eyes could do that flesh and blood ones couldn’t, but their construction was beyond any mind but the mad Steam General’s. The Furions who occasionally came to assist them looked over the designs and spoke of light enhancement, thermal imaging, chemical spectrography, and longer words that Tona never knew the meaning of. All she knew was that the beasts could sometimes seem to see through wood and stone to the fighters cowering behind it, but once Tona had hidden from several just by standing behind a waterfall. There seemed to be no logic to it, so she simply hoped.

The soldier marched on in an arrow-straight line, varying neither to the left nor the right, following whatever infernal programming it had. Tona kept the bole of the tree between her and it, gripping the hilt of the knife in one hand and her bow, useless as it was with no arrows, in the other. Finally it reached her, and paused for a moment. The head turned to the left, turned away from her! Tona bit her lip, but she was never one to wait when opportunity came – she dashed out, trying to run quietly over the dead leaves, placing her steps with care but placing them quickly nonetheless. She pulled the knife and, at the last moment, held it low and to her side, deciding on a quick thrust under the ribs. An overhand stab to the spine would have more power behind it, but the spine was always strongly protected on these beasts and besides, she was too short to reach very far up anyway. No, a quick blow under the ribs and into the heart. Even something like this had to die if you hit its –

The blow came without warning or sound, the cyborg abomination swiveling on its hips without a grunt or cry. Tona opened her mouth to scream but she had no breath for that; instead she let her feet slip out from under her and cut wildly with the knife. As she went past the steel soldier she felt her blade cut something, and heard the chainsaw whine down to nothing. She felt a spike of triumph as she fell on her back on the other side of the creature, she’d managed to disable the blade! That only lasted a heartbeat, though, as its heavy foot came up and stomped down on her, and she had to roll to avoid having her brains mashed into the forest floor. The foot came down again and she reversed her direction, feeling the ground shudder with the blow. A cat coughed again and again as the spike launcher fired, and Tona felt a line of fire on her leg as one grazed her. She kept rolling though, but was suddenly brought up short by a sharp pain across her throat; the clasp of her cloak! It hadn’t even been trying to hit her, just to pin the cloak! Thankfully the resistance thought of things like this and with a sharp tug the clasp broke and she rolled free, just before a heavy foot mashed her hood into the dirt.

Tona rolled to her backside and scooted away from the cyborg. It looked at her, no emotion showing on its face, and the spike thrower came up to fire. She held her breath and crossed her hands in front of her face, a wholly futile gesture but one she could not have stopped for the life of her. The cat coughed and… nothing happened. Tona peeked and felt her heart skip a beat. There was no point showing from the spike thrower. It was empty! Adrenaline surged through her in another peak and she sprang to her feet and charged, wielding both the knife and her bow. She circled to her left, the monster’s right, keeping out of reach of the big blade. Even deactivated, if it hit her it could break her arm or collarbone, and that would be the end of the fight. Of course, the free hand could still crush her neck or blind her if she wasn’t careful, so it wasn’t a foolproof plan.

She switched at the creature’s face with the tip of her bow, batting at its organic eye. She drew a line of blood down its brow and over the eye, cutting the eyelid. The monster staggered back in shock and pain, and she chose that moment to strike, lunging in and stabbing it in the belly. With a roar it struck back, lifting her off the ground and throwing her a good few feet, before she came crashing down and rolled again. Tona pushed herself to her feet and watched the monster advance, the knife in its belly leaking a trail of blood and other, darker fluids. If it felt the wound there was no sign, and the girl quickly realized she had thrown away her only real weapon. Her bow was… somewhere, no in her hands, and anyway what was she going to do without any arrows? As it reached for her she gave a scream and turned, running.

But she couldn’t go far, and the soldier could run as fast as she could – faster, even, with its longer legs and mechanical endurance. And it had been a very long day, and she was riding the very tail end of an adrenaline high, her body operating on the very dregs of energy. Before long she was stumbling over her own feet and weeping with fatigue, and the monster behind her came on as relentless as ever. Desperate, she turned between two rocks and stumbled between them, hoping that the narrowness of the rocks would force the monster to turn back. After a few yards she glanced behind her and saw nothing behind her but rocks and trees! She felt her heart rise, then heard metal scraping against stone and felt a shadow fall over her. She looked up and burst out into a fresh wave of tears. The abomination was above her, walking above the stone!

“Leave me the hell alone,†Tona screamed at it. “Just get the hell away from me and go back to your damn master!†She stooped and picked up a rock, chucking it at the monster. It struck the spike thrower, still hovering over the beast’s shoulder like an inquisitive bird, but the soldier was unmoved. With nothing better to do Tona kept stumbling forward, leaning against the stone wall for support. She heard the monster keeping pace with her above. “I hope it rains,†she spat, full of bile, “and your toes and ears rust.†The stone fissure continued, twisting and turning, never letting Tona see more than a few feet in front of her. Finally she turned a corner and the worst thing in the world happened; the walls pulled back, revealing a bubble in the stone, a cylinder ten feet wide and three times that tall.

Tona leaned against the wall and half wept, half laughed as the cyborg jumped down and landed on the stone floor of the room. “By every dead god,†she said, pushing herself upright, “I never imagined I’d die like this. Beaten to death by a tin can with pretentions.†There was a long, low, bone-rattling rumble of thunder and the air was filled with the soft hiss of rain. “Okay, now a duel to the death in the rain? That’s the minimum level of drama I’d demand for my death. So bring it on, Tin Man!â€

The soldier charged at her, swinging the chainsaw with inhuman strength and speed. Tona half-dodged and half-fell out of the way, landing on the stone floor and scrambling out of the way. The monster had struck too decisively however, and ended up crumpling the blade against the stone wall, and pushing the wreck of steel through its own arm. Sparks flew and the hunk of metal fell to the ground, useless. Tona grabbed a sharp rock off the ground and spun around, slamming it into the side of the creature’s knee. The beast roared as it fell, leg crumpling underneath it, to lie across the girl’s legs. She gasped and tried to push away and crawl out, but soon there were a vising grip on her ankle. She screamed as the monster squeezed and she felt delicate bones rubbing together. Tona glanced around and saw a larger rock, the side of her head, a few feet away. She stretched – just out of reach. The monster squeezed again and she sobbed in pain and desperation. She freed her other foot, kicking the beast’s head before she found purchase against it and pushed. Her fingers scrabbled the last few inches and finally it was in her hands, and she could pull it to her chest. She twisted and brought it down on the cyborg’s head; blood squirted out and its grip on her ankle eased. She managed to twist herself into a sitting position and resumed raining blows on it as the skin opened and filled the gully with water.

Sometime later she came back to herself. The cyborg didn’t have a head anymore, just a vague red spot above its neck, with brass plated beaten flat against the stone. Tona sat with her knees against her chest, shivering as the rain ran down her hair and back and limbs. She looked into the sky, flinching as the last few raindrops fell. The sun wasn’t visible, but that didn’t mean anything in the narrow ravine; she couldn’t see stars either, which probably meant more. She tried to straighten her legs and gasped as the muscles burned. Too much exertion for too long, and then she’d kept them clamped in one position. After a long minute she managed to stand upright, but a fierce shiver almost tumbled her down again. She was cold, cold down to her bones, and it was a long march back to the resistance camp and any kind of help. She eyed the body she shared the gully with distastefully, but there was no other option. She bent over and rooted around under she found her knife, then carefully cut the coat off the dead monster. Draped over her, it was more like a tent, but the inside was at least dry, and soon it would be warm. There’d be some awkward questions when she got back to camp, but at least she’d live to return.

The young girl shuffled her way out of the defile, stumbling when she put too much weight on her abused ankle. “Hell of a way to turn fourteen,†she muttered to herself.

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  • 2 weeks later...


Even When the Music's Gone


Steve could have gone to Fleur de Joie's flowershop easily enough, but he'd absorbed enough of Gina's caution to want to be careful. So instead he'd flown down here to Cape May, a city Caradoc had visited several times, to shop for flowers for his girlfriend. Several shops later, and he was beginning to think he should have stayed closer to home. "It's not that I dislike your flowers," he was telling the clerk, a tired-looking freckle-faced woman named Lisa, "but I have no way of knowing for sure what my girlfriend would like. Perhaps I should come back closer to our anniversary."

"In any event, thanks again for that box of chocolates," said Lisa as she stepped out of the shop behind him, closing the door and locking it. With a smile, she put her hand on her stomach. "I didn't lose any money spending that hour with you, _and_ I've been eying that box for weeks ever since I found out I had an excuse to eat it all." She grinned; Steve didn't understand, but smiled anyway. She turned one way on the quiet strip mall sidewalk and Steve turned another, the stars overhead just visible.

A man stepped out of the shadows in front of Lisa not long afterwards, but Steve didn't hear them until she spoke. "Carl!? What are you doing here? I told you we were through!" Something in her tone made him turn, and from the shelter of a parked car Steve watched as the hard-eyed man in the white T-shirt and jeans faced down the florist.

"Yeah, but you didn't finish the job," he sneered at evidently his former girlfriend. "I'm not going to be on the hook for any more child support, dammit. So I'm here to give you one last chance. Either you go to the clinic and you get rid of it, or-"

Her eyes widened. "Or what?" And then Carl pulled the gun, waving it around for emphasis. A thug, not a professional killer, a stranger to the weapon.

"Or I make sure-"

You have to be a good shot to shoot the gun out of a man's hand, especially with a big, awkward weapon like an Omegadrone's power pike. But Harrier had plenty of practice. The searing cosmic blast hit him in the hand and broke the bones, fusing the firing cap of the gun and locking it into dead uselessness. He cried out in surprise and pain and raised the hand, Lisa screaming and backing off in fear a moment before Caradoc simply stalked over and backhanded the human across the face. Carl hit the nearest car and dropped, unconscious.

"Ohmigod, Carl!" It wasn't what Steve had hoped to hear, but Lisa upheld his faith in human beings by keeping her distance from the fallen man. She pressed herself against the wall, pressing her hands against her stomach. "Who are you?"

"I am Caradoc," Steve explained simply, interrupted a moment later by -

"That bastard! I knew he was no good before, but this...I'm pregnant," Lisa said, opening up to the obvious superhero. "And it's his, and he's a bastard, and it was one time, but...Jesus, I never thought he'd actually try this."

"He tried to kill you. Because you are carrying his child." Steve was talking to her, but his world was far, far away in that moment of slowly coiling emotion, like a beast of cold fire stirring to life.

She had already taken the poison when I returned from the pits that night.

"Yeah, yeah, he did," she nervously wiped her eyes, then said, "I'm...I'm gonna be at my mom's place for a while. Just tell me what station you're taking him to, and I'll be there tout suite." Steve told her, and still in his Caradoc armor, picked up the unconscious Carl, slung him over his shoulder, and took off into the night.


Carl Lambert awoke with the stink of rotting garbage in his nostrils and an Omegadrone in his face. He screamed in surprise and tried to struggle to his feet, a moment before Harrier grabbed him by the midsection and pinned him to the Earth in a grip of cold, bladed Terminus steel.

So easy. Like crushing an insect.

"Look at me. Look at my face." Harrier pressed harder, exerting his full weight though nothing like his full-strength, his face pitiless, expressionless, eyeless. An Omegadrone's mask. "You are Carl Lambert of 4022 Westchester, Cape May, New Jersey." January's pleading face swept before his eyes. "LOOK AT ME." He raised his fist, the stench of rotting sewage in the air enough to make the human beneath him gag and weep, the gigantic horror-cyborg looming over him just adding to his terror.

Carl couldn't talk, only whimper in utter, soul-crushing terror, as the Omegadrone pinning him to the Earth spoke, hearing the voice of another long-gone in his mind.

She'd chosen for herself that her child would never live in this Hell, that she would go with him out of this nightmare world to a bright and shining world of heroes, where neither she nor the life inside her would ever suffer the want and pain she'd known in her life.

"You will confess to attempted murder to the police. You will ask for a heavy sentence in guilt for your crimes. You will pay for the care of your child and its mother. You will not attempt to see them. You will not attempt to approach them." His grip tightened again, ever so slightly, as the garbage mound seemed to swallow the man beneath him. "If you try and find them, I will find you. Look at me. What do you think I will do? What fate both terrible and ever-lasting will be visited upon you if you should EVER lay hands upon a mother again?"

When it was done, all done, Caradoc made sure the battered, stinking would-be killer gave a full confession to the police before begging to be locked in their deepest, darkest cell, and that Lisa Cummings knew she was safe before he flew away into the night sky, lost in the memories of the gigagenocide and the dead worlds it had spawned. And of one loss, so long ago.

I am all that is left of those days, of those cold alleys and dark nights.

I am not a monster. In the cold clear darkness of the night, Harrier looked down at his armored hands. I did not kill. Even when a man seemed to deserve death. He remembered, a clear flickering flame beneath a red and searing sky, January's pyre, and the numberless, nameless, uncountable millions more that had come after, the unnumerable dead who lived only in the mind of an Omegadrone. No one ever does.

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King of Suits

Strength is All

January 2nd, 2007, 12.02 AM

Warsaw, Poland

It was a chill night, with howling winds that blew the small blizzard through the streets that even then were still dotted by stragglers wearily plodding home, a night where the dull yellow lights of the city gave the only illumination, the moon hidden behind impenetrable clouds. Even the electric lights were sometimes briefly concealed by the gusts of flying snow whirling crazily about. A smattering of insomniacs could have sworn something more substantial played a part in that too, though the way its black body flailed around like a windblown cape made idenification nearly impossible...

Marceau Suvou was getting to quite like this line of work. It led him up and down the continent, introduced him to a wide array of fascinating people, and gave him and Aloysius the chance to make a real difference in others' lives beyond anything they could have dreamed of before. Leaning into the next swing as he sailed with an unconcealed grin past an old apartment complex, the grapple line whirred through its pulley as he dropped a few perilous meters before he jerked upwards, the distant clack signalling that he had not misjudged the outcrop. Swinging elegantly through the air towards a flat-roofed office building with a comfortably snow-covered top, he waited until he was just before the summit of the next ascent before releasing the anchor, tucking his legs against his chest and somersaulted with a soft 'whump' onto a low snowbank. Rolling down the squat hill, he jumped to his red-booted feet, dusting himself off with red and black-gloved hands as he surveyed the locale.

He was almost at the industrial portion of the metropolis that all cities appeared to have, a place of warehouses, factories and railway yards that gave the most disparate communities a sense of kinship in the weathered iron and occasional belches of smoke. Even tonight, it was alive with activity, with the distant rattles of machnery and ever-present seething plumes extending out of the dozens of chimneys lending weight to the winking amber and yellow lights. He was looking for one warehouse in particular though, one with a exceptionally perilous cargo, the mere reminder of which soured the young costumed vigilante's mood. He had heard from the premier heroine of the city, Blue Eagle, that a number of mysterious shipments had been smuggled into the city lately, all fragments of what she was certain had to be some kind of explosive device. Collaboration with her had led the two to the discovery that it was some kind of implosion bomb, the power of which would be easily great enough to consume Warsaw, even to its suburbs. A rash of kidnappings had prevented Blue Eagle from accompanying him to the latest drop-off point her informants had warned her of, and the King of Suits had set out alone to capture it and whoever had brought it.

Descending by the grapple line into the alley below his perch, Marceau comforted himself with the knowledge that he wasn't doing this blind. Macko said they would have to be there for at least thirty minutes, a young Englishwoman with some kind of huge Spanish bodyguard in a bulky coat. He didn't see any weapons on the two, so only pistols are likely, I'll need to search around the place for any hidden guards waiting for the Blue Eagle, but that should be the biggest danger until their delivery boy shows up. Slinking with the utmost care towards the low building, he noted with staisfaction the six quick flashes of a flashlight that briefly scanned the skylight, a sight that would have been lost on anyone not looking for the signal. Marceau breathed a sigh of relief as he slid behind a small pyramid of heavy shipping containers waiting to be loaded onto freight cars. Good! They're using the same system as the last place, too

Ducking under a truck that happened to be passing by, the driver intent solely on the writhing road before him, the King of Suits raced up the walls of his destination, secreting himself next to the skylight as he got out the small listening device, he eased up one corner of the heavy-duty glass just enough to toss it with expert precision into the darkness, where it landed atop a mound of sacks just-visible in the ambient light that drifted vaguely in. He listened with care to whatever could be heard within, starting with a wince when the loud English voice spoke up much nearer to the bug than he had anticipated.

"But Feuuuud, I'm bored!" exlaimed the voice, sounding very much that, languid and utterly uninterested, barely able to vent its frustration. It was what he would have called almost a Liverpool accent, if he had known the difference between English accents much more than he did. Continuing in its impatient vein the voice said "You keep telling me "We must wait for Paris to get here. Before that, nothing."" In answer to the mocking words(spoken in a faux-Spanish accent), a far deeper voice said only "Risk, for all we know, we are already being observed by our prey. Be quiet, get back into the center by me." This was said in a far more authentic version of the mannerisms parodied by the Englishwoman, who muttered grouchily "Alright, fine, I'll sulk over there instead of over here, then." 'Risk's voice sounded like many young and rich delingquents he had encountered, but the voice of 'Feud' filled him with dread, but he could not place why. They sounded like normal people, but something about the measured tone, the cool and unshakable calm that was in every syllable...

Shaking off the funk that was beginning to grow on him the King of Suits quickly got into a better hiding place behind the nearby ventilator, not wanting to be noticed by the carrrier. Thankfully, he didn't have to wait long on the frozen roof, as the sound of labored steps crunching through the snow reached his ears just after he began to lose feeling in his ears. Taking a chance, the young Frenchman poked his small periscope over the edge of the roof, beholding a heavyset man with reddish-blonde hair, thick green winter clothes and a long scarf wrapped around most of his head. He was carrying a wooden crate.

So were the other five of him.

There was a long silence as Marceau digested what he was looking at, staring in disbelief through the periscope at the duplicator below. But...none of the other places had the cameras record copies like this a sudden noise behind him alerted him to danger just in time for the crushing weight to descend on his head as he turned it, sending him insensible to the ground, sliding off the roof to land on the snow in front of the silent duplicators with a cushioned thud.


He awoke to a jabbing pain in his neck, and was badly confused when a hand that seemed bigger than his head clamped over his mouth when he opened it to cry out. Blinking at the dim lights that still stung his eyes, he peered uncertainly at the wavering figures looming above him, struggling briefly when he found himself tied to a small metal chair, but ceasing his efforts when he realized how little effect they were having. On his right was an athletically-built woman with dyed-silver hair, a prominent nose and hazel eyes in a navy-blue suit, with a heavy coat around her shoulders to help ward off the cold and an impish smile. A thin blade was in her hand, speckled with his blood. To his left stood the blonde man, who on closer inspection had watery blue eyes and a look of perpetual unconcern. his hands were in his(surprisingly deep) pockets and he seemed quite content to keep them there.

Marceau realized with a jolt that he could feel a breeze through his hair, that his cowl had been neatly removed, its intricate saftey features circumvented. He rarely felt more naked than in that moment.

In front of him stood a swarthy, massive and heavily-muscled woman, easily seven or more feet tall, her straight black hair pulled back into a ponytail, an enormous wool-lined blue coat casually over one shoulder, under which she was wearing a dark grey and purple costume that left her startlingly powerful arms and hands exposed. She wasn't smiling, but the glint in the black eyes told him she was laughing on the inside. Her scarred face opened its mouth, and she said "Ah, good, he is awake. Can you speak?" after several seconds of attempts the Frenchman managed to mumble in his native tongue, other languages being for the moment beyond his power "<Y-yes...>" the imposing woman seemed quite pleased at this. "Then I bid you hola, King of Suits. We have been waiting for you and that Blue Eagle imbecile to fall into our final trap all night. The Players have been payed a great deal to get rid of the flying woman, and you will be excellent bait. Do not move..." with deft movements that belied the clumsy appearance of her hands, she tied a gag around his mouth "that should keep you from making any noises we don't want heard. Risk," she said to the white-haired woman "your orders?"

Polishing the blade on a sleeve, Risk gave the question some obvious thought before answering "Hm...Feud, take up position next to that forklift near the pile of crates, keep it propped up in case you need to throw it. Pawn" this to the dull-eyed blonde man "put a few of yourselves around the exits, keep hidden unless we fail to get Blue Eagle with the implosion blast. I'll get her partner roughed up and ready to star in our little charade" she concluded, patting Marceau kindly on the shoulder "then I will get into my gear and we shall add another to the list of Warsaw's historic dead." With a slow inclination of her head Feud stalked over to the appointed place with heavy strides, while the one christened Pawn loped away into the darkness beyond the pool of light cast by the bare bulb above them.

Marceau had the footsteps of the two minions drilled into his memory, for they both failed to cover the stiff metallic sound of Risk's own steps, which brought his tormentor right next to him...


Breathing was painful. The world around him throbbed quietly along with the bruises, and he had an ominous ache below his tenth rib that told him something very bad had happened to it. Suddenly a warm light was on his face, golden like the rising sun. For one blissful moment Marceau thought he was about to awaken from some horrible dream..and then his vision resolved into the warehouse, the gag was still bound tightly around his head, and a small spotlight was trained at his face. Risk was standing behind it, looking quite cross in her suit of simultaneously form-fitting and concealing grey and rust-colored armor "Took you long enough to tell us about her flying speed, stubborn berk" she grumbled while securing his bonds more tightly to the chair, which had been attached by one of the Pawns to a five foot tall and one foot across gunmetal grey steel cylindrical canister, identical in all respects to the various pieces of technology the King of Suits and Blue Eagle had been so busy capturing, except this one was fully put together, nad hummed ominously. It struck him like a hammer-blow that all the work and careful planning they had done was all for nothing, and had merely served to lead them more easily into a deathtrap. He sank into the harsh metal of the chair, thinking dully Well, at least we'll-wait another revelation struck him, and he looked at the bomb tied behind him with utter horror.

They're going to destroy this whole place! Everything for miles around, gone! They'll no doubt find a way to escape, but the others... He very suddenly felt almost sick with fear, and burst into sweat as nighmare visions began passing before his eyes.

His musings were interrupted by an irritable punch from Risk "Quit moping! You're friend will be here in a few, and soon you two busybodies will be in better place! So perk up" she stepped around to behind him, still talking casually "So, just to be in the clear, we're going to atomize your pal with a beam from the opened top of this most excellent clever device, then detonate it after our own escape. Please understand, there really is nothing you can do, so no funny stuff, alright?" she explained midly, the tik-tak of fingers tapping at a keyboard drumming into the young man's skull. He had checked furtively about himself when the young woman's back was turned(which was rare), and he had discovered that while he was out of it every last one of his various weapons and tools had been removed from their hiding places, and even the miniscule rotors used in emergency submersion had been skillfully cut out of his suit.

Oh God, he thought wretchedly Why must it all end like this? What will Aloysius tell Mom and Dad? How will he convince someone to replace me with THIS hanging over them? he was very nearly in despair.

Gently guaging the weight of his small prison, he soon figured out that it would take considerable effort to throw himself to either side, and slowly at that. No good, I would have to put far more pressure on it in a shorter time than I have, and these synthetic bonds might as well be iron for all I can do to shift them. If only I could get at it from a better angle, then I could dismantle the chair and untangle this mess

A faint wooshing noise jolted him out of the brief reverie, and he heard the tell-tale sounds of his captors readying for the Blue Eagle's arrival. Risk flashed by in the gloom, a device that looked uncannily like a b-movie ray gun in one hand, a featureless helmet held in the other. Then all was still, and he heard his own breath, and his desperate, horrified thoughts with nothing to distract him.

Nopleasenopleasenopl- with a great *CRASH* one of the skylights that caught and scattered the light fell only a half of a meter from him. Blue Eagle, respelendant in her black and blue, hovered above him, looking down at the sight of her ally beaten bloody and tied to a bomb with no little shock. It was then that Marceau heard the quiet hum increase to a piercing whine, and saw the surging bolt of implosive energy slam into his comrade, crushing her against the ceiling for agonizing seconds before she gradually fought her way free, dragging herself down to the ground, warding off the the deadly ray with a blazing blue shield, but visibly exhausting herself from the effort. Marceau was about to go for a round of recriminations when he realized a way to save everything. Capitalizing on the weight of the ponderous bomb, he flung himself forward, levering the entire mass on top of himself and pinning his body to the harsh concrete floor with a muffled howl of pain as he felt the metal chair all but crush his legs beneath the dull mass.

It worked. The beam meant for Blue Eagle instead went searing into the ground, turning a sizeable chunk of the floor, foundation, and several metres of the ground beneath the warehouse into a fine cloud, and in a flash the powerful heroine was beside him, her searing eyes turning the engine of destruction to a pile of scrap within moments.

Tearing off her comrade's gag she began "" only to be cut off by a yell of "<To the right, the right!> just before the forklift,"with a roar of displaced air, came spiralling out of the darkness as it was flung by Feud, who charged after it with ground-shaking steps. From behind her, the Englishwoman sprang into the light, aiming the lethal point of a narrow sword at the spine of her foe. From above, the Pawns

began to fall like rain, their bodies distorting horrifically as they descended, wrapping themselves into a rope around Blue Eagle's neck.

But thanks to the last-ditch efforts of her ally, the Blue Eagle prepared. With a precise flick of her hand, the industrial vehicle was sent careening into Risk, who before the King of Suit's astonished eyes leaped towards it, easily slicing the vehicle into pieces with her sword as she dodged through the cockpit, only to be sent crashing to the ground by a super-humanly fast kick. The strange duplicator proved to be less than a match for the heroine, and most of his efforts proved futile, with his doubles' blows or attempted chokeholds either turned by her incredibly tough skin, or else ending up merely costing him doubles that were destroyed with ease. Feud had marginally more success, quick jabs gradually opening up the heronine's defenses before bringing a crushing left hook into her opponent's stomach that knocked her flat...only to be slammed into the ground by her

flying counter-attack, and for her attempts at blocking to end up just bruising her hands.

It soon became clear to the trio that victory was not in the cards for them, and at a signal from Risk, the each

activated teleportation beacons on their clothes, with Feud saying mildly ""

Blue Eagle laughed openly "

As she vanished in a flash of blue, the villainess answered "" pointing to Marceau.

Luckily for the pinned young man, he hadn't time to process that statement, as it was then that the blow to the

head, brutal blunt force trauma and the adrenaline rush of the last few minutes died down. With a quiet and vaguely cocky "<Anytime>" he subsided into unconsciousness for the second time that night.


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Silver Spider


June 21, 2012

Sting of the Scarlet Scorpion...

Rain poured from an angry midsummer sky as lightning arced with unsettling regularity followed closely by claps of thunder that shook the water collecting in puddles. And all the while Jennifer Owens was cursing herself for not getting around to adding some sort of numbing agent to her webs, maybe if she had she wouldn't be running from rooftop to rooftop in this storm after some crazy mutated man had tried to rob the book store she'd been waiting in while the storm blew over on her way back from getting some groceries. If wishes were fishes, she mentally muttered before checking over her shoulder.

Silver Spider dropped behind a ventilation shaft trying to catch her breath and come up with a plan. Rolling back the part of her costume over her wrists that hid her web shooters, she saw that between both she had five, maybe six uses left to her. "Okay Silver, your belt got sliced off by the spike in his tail so no chemicals to mix some sort of sedative together. You're all but out of web fluid, the protective areas of your suit are in tatters, and this Scarlet Scorpion guy is way stronger than you are," she sighed and let her head hang back trying to come up with a plan while rain pelted her face.

After about a minute she heard the mocking call of her pursuer, "Come out, come out, wherever you are." His calls were punctuated by the sound of metal groaning and shrieking as it was bent or pierced by fist or stinger. She could all but see the brute stalking towards her hiding spot, the sneer on his face as he toyed with his prey.

And now he's caught up. Boy, the checklist of how screwed I am just keeps getting better and better, she mentally groused. Rolling to the side she came up facing where Scarlet's voice was coming from. Scorpion's stinger, the crimson barb dripping with poison from the tip flew right at her face. Rolling forward she quickly performed a handspring which drove her feet into the villain's jaw.

Her gamble paid off and he rocked backwards but it didn't come without a price. She felt the sting as the poisonous tip tore a line across her left forearm. As she ran to the far ledge, hoping to put some space between them she could already feel the numbing effect flowing into her blood. When she raised her arm to fire a stream of web to blind him it responded slowly, her shot going wide splattering against the access door, Great, waste of a shot, she grumbled.

Rather than risk charging him again relied on a tactic that worked for many other situations, she let her sarcasm off it's leash. “Nice jab there big guy. Were you actually trying to tickle me or was it just that your hand-to-tail skills are severely lacking?†she called, scorn filling her voice with a bravado she had to admit she just wasn't feeling.

Her comments had the desired effect on her foe though, letting out a cry of primal rage he ran at her, upper body lowered so his stinger would be clear. Using the fact his mind was clouded with anger she kept backing up to the ledge of the building and just as he came within striking distance, she shot a blob of webbing at his feet from her right arm. Tangled up he lost his balance and fell over the lip, his arms flailing, and catching her by sheer dumb luck in the ribs. She heard the sickening crunch as one of them cracked and suddenly breathing felt like drawing fire into her chest.

She watched him fall halfway down the ten-story building before firing her last bits of webbing formula, the stream wrapping him into a sort of cocoon before she grabbed the tether, halting the fall entirely. She slammed him against the side of an open dumpster once, not on purpose but the venom in her system was causing her to have triple vision. After dropping him in and hearing the lid fall with a satisfying thud, she fell to her knees, half laying across the same lip Scarlet had fallen over.

“Worst. Grocery day. Ever,†she muttered, before gathering herself up and limping down the fire escape and wanting desperately for hot shower and a long night's rest.

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Cobalt Templar


July 4, 2012

It had all started so nicely for Corbin. His mother had been invited to a charity party due to her place in the Rhodes Foundation. His father, being fairly notable in his own company, was also invited. They were present to drum up support for the evening's cause: high-quality, sustainable housing development intended for low-income portions of the city. It was a long-term vision, but one that took support at every step of the process. Corbin himself had no plans for the evening, despite the holiday; he was still in a sort of post-graduation limbo, and while he and Quo-Dis had originally planned on just watching a movie and flying somewhere to watch a fireworks show, a party seemed more interesting.

So they'd dressed up in formal wear and gone to the party, being held in one of the fancy high-rise buildings in downtown Freedom City, not far from the Pyramid Plaza. Corbin actually didn't mind wearing a tuxedo, not with Quo-Dis by his side in her stunning dress. They'd done a fair bit of people-watching during the evening, interspersed with chatting with business friends of his parents (networking, as they called it). The meal had been excellent, though it did feel a touch odd considering most every 4th before this had just been burgers and chips, and now he was having much more “refined†fare. There had been some music, and a dance floor opened up. Corbin and his lovely lady friend took advantage, and lost themselves in the motions and notes.

Then, out of nowhere, his right hand felt like it was on fire. He hissed, stopped dancing, and cradled it in front of him. At that moment, he saw the sparks start to spit from the center of the ring, and it began to heat up painfully. He barely avoided any blisters as he slipped it off and it clattered to the ground. He glanced around, trying to see what may have caused the incident, and to see if anyone really noticed; meanwhile, Quo-Dis calmly reached down and retrieved it, tucking it away in her handbag (where it seemed to stop sparking and settle on being “too warm to handle comfortablyâ€). A few moments later, she grimaced, as if suddenly feeling ill.

“My powers, they feel...muffled,†she whispered to Corbin as he helped her over to a nearby chair. “As if someone threw a wet blanket on them, and is further disrupting my connection to the vril.â€

Before Corbin could answer, there was the sound of shaped explosives going off, several rounds being fired at the ceiling, and a bellow that all but shook the room.

“Everybody shut up and sit down!â€

The man yelling it was huge, easily towering over the twenty-something well-equipped soldiers in unmarked uniforms, as well as the gray-clad shield-bearing man in front of everyone. They marched into the room, securing the doors behind them. The man with the shield spoke next.

“If I could have everyone's attention? Thank you. Now, normally this is where we'd lecture all of you here on the decadence and horrific inbreeding this party represents, and what it means for the downfall of this nation. But tonight we're on a schedule, so I'm just going to tell you how it will go, instead. We're going to take all of you upstairs in groups and place you in smaller rooms. If you cooperate, we won't shoot you. Don't try to talk to us, don't make trouble, just sit tight and be good sheep. The sheepdogs have business to attend to tonight.â€

With that, the soldiers started separating off parts of the crowd, though the rest were left to mingle around a bit under the watchful eye of the rest of the armed men. Mr. and Mrs. Hughes had cautiously worked their way over to Corbin and Quo-Dis in the meantime, and while Sarah sat with the dazed Quo-Dis, Albert spoke to his son in low tones.

“Can't you do something?â€

“Cell phone's jammed, or I'd have texted something out. Bet they've got a jammer somewhere. My ring's non-responsive, and Quo-Dis said something's messing up her powers. The two yahoos in charge over there seem fine, so I'd wager they've got something on them that makes them immune. Not that I can just yank it off them right now. Right now, sit tight. There's too many of them. Maybe when they put us in a room and there's only one or two to guard us...â€

Corbin's eyes still worked fine, and he'd spotted the leader of the group walking toward them. Or, from the way he was looking at the young blond in the chair behind the Hughes men, he was walking toward Quo-Dis. He stopped a couple of feet away, clearly unafraid of the young man who had 2 inches and 40 pounds on him.

“Gentlemen, my name is Johnny Reb. I have no immediate quarrel with you, but that young lady will need to come with me. My friend Captain Hammer here insists.â€

The huge man gave a smile that promised hard times if Reb's request wasn't honored. Still Corbin's fists clenched and his teeth grit, and he was about to say something. But then Quo-Dis put a hand on his shoulder and shook her head, and his shoulders sagged as the woman he loved was led away by two powerful, dangerous Neo-Nazi psychos. He listlessly followed along when the group of people he was with was herded up three flights of stairs to a large conference room. From the snippets over the radio that he caught, there were three other such rooms that had the rest of the party-goers and staff that were present in the building that evening. Meanwhile, apparently the “boss†was on the top floor, and other members of the group were spread out over several floors.

Ten minutes of sitting on the floor of the conference room passed before Corbin's eyes opened, and the iron willpower that directed his ring's abilities every second of the day snapped into place. He might be missing most of his flashy abilities that gave him his hero name, but even without them he was a hero. He was a member of Young Freedom. He had faced down the Knight of Entropy and struck blows against Omega himself. A few wannabe Nazis with submachine guns were a cakewalk for a man who had sparred with Wander and the new Midnight. They'd never know what hit them.

The first guard was taken down after Corbin politely asked to use the restroom. With 3 guards posted on the room, one was tasked with this exact duty, and followed the young man to the bathroom. Corbin stepped into a stall for a moment, wanting a bit of privacy from the man who had followed him into the room. When he emerged, he calmly washed his hands, dried them...and suddenly turned around, clapping one hand over the soldier's mouth and the other over the wrist holding his gun. He squeezed both, keeping the guard from calling for help, and almost immediately numbing his hand enough to make him drop the firearm. The thug tried to strike at Corbin, but he was substantially shorter and his blows struck nothing but muscle. It didn't take long before the racist mercenary was unconscious; Corbin quickly hauld him to the farthest stall, used handcuffts to secure him to the toilet, and made sure to take all his weapons. The gun was unloaded, then snapped over Corbin's knee. The vest was discarded as far too small. The radio, however, was secured to the ring-slinger's head; all the better to know what the enemy was doing for as long as possible.

The next hour was spent with the Neo-Nazi soldiers slowly panicking more and more as Johnny Reb screamed over the radio to try and keep them on-task. Corbin was ambushing or surprising the men one by one, knocking them out, securing them, and destroying their weapons. He'd freed all the hostages and made sure they got to safety, and was now working on the dozen or so men left wandering the building. He knew that one of them was due down this very hallway any minute. Which was why Corbin had managed to wedge himself along the ceiling of the hallway, just past the corner. His arms and legs were holding him up, and while he wasn't about to drop, he knew this wouldn't last forever. Thankfully, he heard footsteps moving rapidly down the hall. He slowed his breathing down as much as possible, waiting for the man to round the corner. The soldier never looked up, his attention too fixed on the rest of the hall, and even the floor, perhaps looking for tracks or some such. Corbin didn't really care. As soon as the merc had steppe far enough, and was just past Corbin's position, the fullback-sized young man propelled himself from his perch directly into the back of the mercenary. The man cried out in pain, and before Corbin could wrest the gun away, his finger tightened and several bursts of bullets ricocheted around the hallway. Then Corbin struck home with a punch to the side of the man's neck, and he dropped unconscious.

Corbin winced as he stood, rolling one shoulder...and feeling blood when he touched it after a spike of pain. He discarded his now-ruined jacket and sighed in relief when he saw he'd been grazed, and wouldn't have to dig out the bullet. He sighed and ripped the sleeve, which let him quickly fashion a makeshift bandage. From the reports on the radio, he'd need to move fast. Others had heard the gunshots and were moving in. He grabbed the merc's gun and ammo and took off down the hall, quickly ducking into an office. He rested there in the dark for a moment.

'What am I doing? There's still 11 guys with guns, plus the two heavy hitters upstairs! Before I had the element of surprise and stealth. But now they're on to me. How am I ever going to get Quo-Dis free and get my ring back? Heck, I need to get rid of this blasted jamming; I'm not sure I can take both those psychos on by myself even with my own powers.'

He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths. Suddenly, something struck him.

'I don't need to beat them all right now. The hostages are out. I just need to turn off the power jammers and get my ring back. But where would the jammer be? Ground level wouldn't work; cops or heroes could get to it too easily. Same with another building. But if the two heavy hitters are sticking around up top, which does have a helipad, I bet that's where the gear is, or at least where it is now.'

With a nod to himself, Corbin started to stand. He stopped as he considered the weapon in his hands. Part of him though he should just destroy it; another part considered how he might use it against, if not the mercs, at least the jammer machine several stories up. He wasn't super-strong. He spent almost a minute arguing back and forth inside his mind, before settling for keeping it for now, but not using it against anyone.

A few minutes and a lot of ducking around corners later, Corbin was in the stairwell leading to the roof. He carefully made his way up to the door leading outside, and eased it open just a crack. There was one guard present, but he was on the far side of the roof, apparently keeping an eye on the people below. Corbin eased the door open and closed and crept across the roof; with the fireworks shows going off across the city and the wind, his footsteps were as silent as Trevor managed on a daily basis. Once he was close enough, he put the henchman in a sleeper hold and squeezed, quickly pushing him into dreamland. He was dragged over next to the staircase and hog-tied with a combination of zip-ties and the remains of Corbin's jacket.

“Been a few years since Boy Scouts, but it should do. Hope it doesn't cramp too much, scumbag.â€

He took that man's submachine gun in his let hand, keeping his already-purloined gun in his right, and walked over to the large, very obvious machine to one side of the helipad. It was bigger than Corbin, but didn't seem to be made to stand up to extreme force; likely it was meant to be guarded rather than just withstand all attacks. Corbin sized it up for a few moments, then suddenly slammed one of his dress-shoe-clad feet right into the side of the contraption. The metal groaned and dented inward, one edge coming away from its seal. Securing the straps around his shoulders, Corbin reached up to take hold of the panel and hissed when it bit into his palm. He let go, frowning at the blood on his hands; at least the cuts weren't too deep. Yet. He wrapped the last scraps of his jacket around his hands, gripped the panel once more, and pulled. For a few seconds, it only made noise as the young hero's muscles warred against the metal. A few sharp pulls later, and the panel suddenly flew free, one corner giving a shallow cut across Corbin's chest before he flipped the panel over his head. It came to rest just this side of the roof's edge. More importantly, the inner machinery of the thing was exposed to Corbin.

“Always wanted to try this. Chuck Norris, eat your heart out.â€

And with that, he braced to two firearms against this shoulders and pulled the triggers; between his mass advantage, prepared stance, and the comparatively low recoil of the guns, he kept them on-target. Which meant that fully 60 bullets tore into the delicate machinery inside, sending sparks, smokes, and debris spurting out the side. When the guns ran empty, Corbin loaded each with one more clip, ran them dry again, and then ejected the second set of empty clips. Each gun was then snapped over his knee, the pieces thrown to either side.

“Now for the main event.â€

He closed his eyes and concentrated. After a moment, he felt his connection with Quo-Dis strengthen. She was still somewhat disoriented, and apparently had had some sort of power reducer applied, but her mental communication was up at least.

--Hang on, darlin'. I'm just a floor or two above you. I'm going to try and sneak in there and get my ring. Hold tight; I think we both need to be in fighting trim to take these Nazi varmits down.--

With that he dashed back down the stairs, listening still to the enemy's radio. It sounded like all but 1 of the remaining guards were still searching for him about midway down the tower; his ruination of the jammer hadn't been discerned yet. Still, 1 armed man and 2 supers was no laughing matter. He continued to listen, even as Quo-Dis tried to give him a sense of where they were. Finally, he had a good idea of where to go; now he just needed to get in and get armed before being noticed. Bad enough they apparently knew his girlfriend was a superhero; confirming his identity would be nothing but trouble for everyone. So he moved carefully through the hall, checking his back often in case they were purposefully lying over the radio. Finally, he was only two rooms over from where Quo-Dis, Johnny Reb, and Captain Hammer were located. The lone mercenary was patrolling the hall further down, unaware of the chaos that was about to ensue. Corbin had been debating how best to go about things when Quo-Dis spoke up.

--I will get the ring to you, Corbin Hughes. Be patient, as while I have recovered my wits, my power is still muted, and I do not wish to alert our captors.--

Suddenly, for a brief moment, Corbin saw the room she was in; he saw where she was, saw where the two super-villains were, and saw his ring moving slowly along the lower edge of the floor. The two villains were speaking with each other, Reb occasionally giving orders into his radio. It was clear Johnny Reb was agitated, and Captain Hammer was restless. The scene faded, but he could still tell how far the progress of his ring was. It took approximately 5 minutes, but finally the ring had slid carefully into his hiding place. A small sigh escaped his lips; while he hadn't actually won the fight, Corbin felt things were better in hand now than before. He donned the ring, smiling as it didn't burn him, and closed his eyes.

Cobalt Templar opened his eyes, and stood up, his cape flapping in an invisible breeze. He strode confidantly into the hall, just as the lone soldier turned the corner. Before the man could yell a warning, Templar was just in front of him, delivering a punch that sent him straight to Dreamland. Before the unconscious body had fully struck the floor, the blue-clad hero burst through the curtained glass wall behind Quo-Dis, reaching over and crushing the arm-band that was keeping much of her power at bay. Yellow vril energy flared around her body, and in a flash she was standing there as Ultiteen. Meanwhile, Cobalt Templar's body was wreathed in blue flame, giving him an eerie look as he slowly and deliberately pointed a finger at Johnny Reb.

“You're going down, you sorry excuse for a Southerner. I'm gonna make you regret coming here tonight.â€

Before the man could respond, Templar gave a yell and was already in his face, punching toward him. The wannabe-Confederate super-soldier barely got his shield up in time, and even that defense wasn't perfect; his arms shook from absorbing the impact, even as the glass behind him cracked slightly as he was propelled against the windows. Cobalt Templar stalked forward, catching a desperate strike from Reb's shield in one hand.

“You guys made a mistake showing yourselves in this city. You're not welcome here, or anywhere civilized.â€

He stopped and turned to look back at the other battle raging, his hand casually holding the shield in place. Ultiteen was trading blows with Captain Hammer, and it was already obvious she was winning. The electricity crackling around the brute's namesake weapon simply skittered off her vril-protected body, and the blows themselves didn't seem to affect her much at all. But Hammer was already dazed from a couple of punches to the head. As Templar and Reb watched, a blast of bright energy drove Captain Hammer back a couple of feet, before a two-handed strike from Ultiteen sent him crashing through the floor, where she followed up with a flying knee to his stomach and two blurred punches to his head. She cast aside his hammer and looked back at Templar. Her voice rang in his mind, betraying her amusement.

--I thought you said this would be harder, Corbin. I was only getting warmed up for a good fight.--

--I overestimated him. Give me a minute to take care of this punk, then we'll go slip back to my parents and head home. I'm tired and sore.--

He turned back to Johnny Reb and smiled. The Neo-Nazi paled a bit.

“This is gonna hurt you a lot, and me not at all, you piece of Nazi trash.â€

With that, Corbin shoved both of them through the window, casually tossing the shield back into the room before they began their descent. Johnny Reb started falling a bit ahead of Corbin...until suddenly a blue aura wrapped around them both. The ring-slinger gave a wordless cry as he pulled back his right hand, and then punched forward directly into Johnny Reb's solar plexus. All the breath was driven from the gray-clad man's body, and it was only the “cushioning†of the blue aura around them both that kept him from being harmed more than he was when they struck the ground. As it was, his enhanced physiology kept him from getting anything besides several fractured ribs as Corbin drove him three feet deep into the concrete. It took a week for him to regain consciousness in the hospital.

Templar gave a brief statement to the police, taking credit for isolating the guards and freeing the hostages, mentioning only that he'd gone “low key†to avoid immediately creating an alarm in the building as he worked to take down the criminals. As soon as possible, he slipped away to join his parents at their car, willing himself back to his ruined tux before walking around a corner and getting in. His mother almost fainted a the sight of his blood-stained shirt, but Corbin just smiled.

“Ring fixed the worst of it, mom. Besides, I got to totally play ninja! I'll have to tell my friends about this one! And maybe start taking some more training sessions with them, in case this happens again...Plus, I totally got to climb up an elevator cable!â€

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Supercape: Heavy Metal Thrash.

“And now, class, if you turn to page 23 of your lecture notes, we will be discussing the theoretical model of the proposed Archeville-Parker reactorâ€.

Professor Quentin Quill stood in front of the class…the bored, the disinterested, the students who wanted the credits, and the student who were genuinely talented. He had taught them all. It had to be said the more “practical†experiments in the universities laboratories were always a bit more lively and interesting for his students.

“Stop picking your nose, Kingsley, and pay attention!†he said with a good natured grin and wink, as one of the more mediocre students started drifting off.

He turned his attention to the modified reactor in front of him. It was an impressive piece of technology, no question. He was no expert in the nitty gritty details of actual devices, but the theory was easy enough. Given enough time, and help, he had made the alterations to the existing device to show off how the Archeville-Parker reaction would work.

He was, of course, mildly irritated he had not discovered it himself, but he was more of a theorist than a designer. The principle was easy enough, but putting into practice was another thing altogether. Still, he knew that both Victor Archeville and Jessica Parker were blessed with mental faculties that far exceeded his own.

“Now, if you turn your attention to the polarity reversatron here, and the build up of counter-antinegative spin charge, you will see that…â€

He glanced upwards at the sound of opening door.

“Nooo! Liebniz! Not now!†he shouted at the cranky radioactive professor who had stepped in to undermine his colleauge - on his holiday. Quentin cursed violently as he sensed the pulse of almost non-existent particles spew forth from the Archevill-Parker device whipped around and thrust themselves whole heartedly at Liebniz.

Of course, the phantom particles were invisible to everyone else, and in a sense barely existed in a technical sense. But Quentin Quill knew what this meant…

He cursed himself. He was always so careful around Liebniz, doing his best to sabotage and contain and dangerous radiation that would stop the man becoming Heavy Metal again.

Liebniz glowed for an instant..a phenomena that would no doubt increase the campus rumours of him being radioactive. He looked quite ill, and stumbled out of the room.

“Stay here, class. And don’t touch anything!†Quentin snapped with uncharacteristic irritation and authority. He turned heel and chased after Liebniz.

Liebniz was staggering down the corridor, and then collapsed into a side room, closely followed by Quentin Quill as he rushed to try an avert the inevitable.

The students, muttering to themselves, peeked around the corner, unable to resist the allure of the mystery.

It was too late. As Quentin pushed into the side room, he was gripped by a solid uranium fist that grabbed his lapels, and then threw him into the wall in the corridor.

“How do you like this, Quill?†snarled Heavy Metal, glowing and standing up. His sheer weight and density cracked the floor under his feet as he pounded into the corridor, glaring at the students who backed into the laboratory, scared witless.

Quentin shook the cobwebs free from his mind. Heavy Metal’s power was almost unparalleled. Normally, his own mighty quantum shield would protect him, but he had not erected it. Instead, only the unstable quantum molecular structure of his tweed jacket had saved him from a shattering. As it was, he could feel a rib crack on his right side.

Heavy Metal took a few steps forward, and grabbed Quill again, lifting him like a feather from the ground. He was still radioactive as ever, and Quill could almost feel the dangerous energies eating away at his flesh and blood body.

“An Archeville-Parker reaction eh? I must remember that one…†he said gazing into Quentin’s eyes. “More your field than mine, but I am sure I can convince you to show me how that little jumble of wires work. I’m not going back to Liebniz this time!†he snarled.

His massive form lumbered into the Labaratory, dragging Quentin effortlessly behind him. The students were, of course petrified. A few scrabbled for the fire escape, until Heavy Metal ripped off a huge machine from the wall and threw it, like a softball, straight at the escape, blocking it off admist the sound of cracking machinery.

“I don’t want anyone missing my lecture†he explained, slamming Quentin down onto a chair. The hero felt another Rib crack, and he coughed violently, showing specks of blood.

Quentin though fast. He was rather battered, but not out yet. However, Heavy Metal was, as far he could determine, able to absorb any energy thrown at him without blinking an eyelid. His own nuclear powers had, to date, been completely ineffective, barring the temporary suppression of the villain’s own radioactivity.

And he was not inclined to reveal his secret identity. Not yet.

Heavy Metal grabbed Quentin’s head in his hands.

“Very clever…using the Archeville-Parker reaction like this. Are you proud of yourself, Professor?†he asked. “Does your little experiment fill you with pride? I can crush your head like a pineapple in a vice and think nothing of it. All your precious intellect is nothing when I hold your skull in the palm of my hand…†he boasted, bringing his uranium face up to Quentins.

“It…is…rather….Spiffy….†Said Quentin, well aware that Heavy Metal could indeed crush him like an insect.

The grip tightened, and Quentin could feel his teeth ache from the vice “Enough of your British foolishness. It’s as bad as Supercapes…†he blurted out, his brow furrowing as he started to contemplate the implications of that association.

“Oh no, no†replied Quentin, as quick as a flash “forgive me, forgive me, I am no hero. First rate coward…just a stupid Englishman who drinks too much tea…†he said, distracting Heavy Metal from his perilous train of thought.

“You can apply your English intellect to this then…†replied Heavy Metal, forcibly turning the professors head towards the device.

“Boost the output. I know it can be done. I still have puny Liebniz’ brain. The reaction is not powerful, but I can feel its energy feeding me….this time, I won’t go back. Heavy Metal is here to stay!â€

“Of course! Of Course!†replied Supercape, his breathing hurting. He cast his eyes over the device, realising that he had not the engineering know how to work it.

The uranium grip tightened and he could feel sweat on his brow. His vison began to cloud and he felt his heart beat accelerate.

What an inglorious end…

“I can do it!†shouted one of the students. The brave soul stood up, quaking, but holding up a hand. The grip of Heavy Metal relaxed slightly and Quentin could feel his brain clearing slightly.

Tom Yung, a half Chinese nerd, all glasses and scrawny body, but a mind destined for Nobel prizes. Quentin knew the academic star, but he confessed he was surprised at the young man’s courage.

Cometh the man…

Tom stepped up to Heavy Metal who scrutinised him.

“If you set the flux capacitor there, to a parametric gate function, then it will square the power output…†Tom said, gulping halfway through it.

Heavy Metal tossed Quentin aside like a rag doll. He landed heavily, and nearly blacked out from the pain.

With all his will, he focussed on staying conscious. There was no telling what the crazed Heavy Metal would do once he had a stable power source. And he was powerless to stop him.


The device itself. If he reversed the Archeville-Parker reaction…if he could…

He closed his eyes and reached out with him mind, delving into the subatomic particles that danced away, so small they barely existed at all.

If I can reverse the flow of the polarised neutrons….

He couldn’t do much with machines, that he knew. But then, he didn’t really have too. His mind could perform the most elegant tricks with particle physics. With a deft touch in the quantum world, he bent and reshaped the particle orchestra in front of him.

“What this?†said Heavy Metal as Tom Yung bent over the machine, fiddling about with the contraption. "Something is…†he said, before freezing in place, as solid as a block of uranium should be, his surprise frozen on his face.

Quentin stood up, ragged, torn, bloodied and battered, but not quite broken.

“Excellent work class. And a commendation to you, Mr. Yung. You just stopped a supervillain!†he said, wheezing for breath slightly.

“I did?†said the young man, surprise on his face.

"You did" sighed Professor Quill, dusting himself off, wincing in pain, and glad that his identity as Supercape remained intact.

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Rene DeSaens:

The Great Retreat

The Great Retreat, also known as the Retreat from Mons, is the name given to the long, fighting retreat by Allied forces to the River Marne, on the Western Front early in World War I, after their holding action against the Imperial German Armies at the Battle of Mons on 23 August 1914. The Allies were closely pursued by the Germans, acting under the Schlieffen Plan.

Rene was old, older than any mortal man, over a century of life was written in his bones. He looked less than half his age, a little greying hair, and lines on his face. Too old for the front line, yet young enough to hold a rifle in the defence of Paris and France against the war machine of the German Army.

He clutched his damp rifle in the insipid rain, holding up Claude, the volunteer fighter in the decimated squadron that had been bombarded by artillery that morning. There were only five of them, with no commanding officer, trudging their way through the dark clouds to the River Maine, where they hoped to regroup and make a stand.

Captain LaForge had fallen, barking out the order, before he and his horse had been broken and wrecked by cannonfire. Rene closed his eyes. Despite all the bloodshed he had seen in his life, all the gruesome reality of war, all the injuries that would maim, fester and kill, he had never got used to the ghastly sights of conflict. And he hoped he never would.

He slung his Rifle over his back. He had fired a few shots from it, and in those days was something of a shot, his eyes sharper and his hands steadier, and with decades of experience behind him. He was no stranger to military conflict, and in his youth had been quite a soldier.

Of course, he was far more dangerous than the average soldier, if he cared to be. He had, countless times, used his arcane strength to extract his troupe from danger. Darkness and Fog enveloped the German Soldiers firing at them, Storms and Lightning had struck at cavalry, and phantoms had distracted cannons. But in the chaos of war, there was plenty that could go wrong. And when a stray cannon shot exploded their makeshift shack, there was nothing he could do but pick the shrapnel from his leg, and gather what survivors he could, as artillery and bullet flew around the air form the German assault.

“Come on Claude! The Dogs are behind us!â€

And indeed they were, a group of hounds and german infinatry trying to track down the retreating soldiers. Rene did not give much for their chances.

He put down Claude, whose leg looked progressively more bloody and pale. He had seen many such injuries before. He doubted the man would keep his leg, or his life.

The other three men were in better shape, with minor injuries just like Rene, all fatigued, exhausted, hungry and moving dead on their feet.

“We can’t stop, Rene†said Francios, the cook, who had a bandage round his head and blood from his torn left ear. He leaned heavily on his rifle, looking like he could barely take another step, with every nerve telling him he should do just what they should not.

“The dogs are near, I can hear them even with this ear mangled…†he said, pointing to the bloodied bandage. He was not wrong either, the calls of the hounds had been drawing even closer.

“We are nearly at the river. We need to keep going..†said Francious, dragging Rene to his feet, an action the mage resisted, drawing his own face to the cooks.

“And what?†he demanded “Claude cannot go further. I cannot carry him, none of us can. Do we leave him here to his fate? Do we leave him to die?â€

“Go…†moaned Claude, feverish from pain and exhaustion “No point…in you all…†he said, leaving the sentence unfinished but clear.

“Never!†replied Rene, drawing his Rifle. His enchanted painbrush was broken, he was tired beyond endurance, but he had no intention of letting Claude die. A Frenchman defending France was not to be abandoned.

He cocked the rifle and breathed in deeply, inhaling the smell and atmosphere of the woodland they were in.

“Go, Francios. I will not, and cannot, make you stay. But Claude and I will finish this, like men of France, one way or another…†he said, without looking at the cook.

He kept looking ahead, but heard the silent voices and heavy footsteps of the three other soldiers turn heel and slowly make their way towards the River.

“Rene…go…you can’t save me….†said Claude, holding onto his own Rifle from his seated position. “I…can…buy you time…†he explained, pulling himself up to a firing position, leaning against a tree.

“I can, and I will save you†said Rene, the flush of anger and adrenaline, the pump of battle, once again surging through him. He had come through worse, he told himself.

He took position at another tree, and drew his gun up to bear on the approaching German squad.

He disliked killing, as a rule, although he had done so. In war, things got much uglier than he would normal. It literally did become kill or be killed. And this war was no better than the others. In fact, it was much worse.

His first shot caught the German soldier in the chest. Rene tried not to think about his face, or whether he would live or die. Those thoughts came after, with tears and remorse. Those thoughts now would kill him.

Claude fired off a few rounds. He was under normal circumstances a fair shot, but now he was tired, in pain, and crippled by the shrapnel in his leg. The bullets hit damp ground near the Germans, but missed all the same. They spread, moving fast and behind cover.

Three, four, six of them, Rene counted. Six he spotted, anyway.

He remembered a spell Broken Crow had told him, many years ago. A dark spell, a blood spell, an ancient one. He was drained to hell already, his own wound having cost him more blood than he cared to count. He could feel the sweat on his forehead. The clammy, dead kind of sweat that bode ill.

He pulled open his rifle, revealing the bullet in its chamber. This would have to be done fast, dirty, and bloody. For Claude.

For France!

He pulled out his small knife, and cut into his arm, feeling weak as he did so, his vision clouding. The blood came forth as bidden, fresh and golden red.

As he anointed the bullet with his blood, he called forth his visionary magic. The air condensed around them, an unnatural fog pouring forth from the pores of the trees and foliage around them.

“Rene…the fog…where is it coming from? Are we dying?†said the superstitious Claude, scared the unnatural vapours portended a descent to some nether afterlife.

“I don’t have the spirit for dying†remarked Rene, concentrating as his blood licked the bullet in the chamber of his rifle.

“Only the spirit for living†he concluded, whispering a few words to the bullet.

“Seek, like the hound!â€

He lifted up his Rifle and fired his magic bullet through the dense fog that now obscured his vision. He could see no more than a yard or two.

The bullet sang through the air with a curious sound, like a sniffing, a laboured breathing. It was impossible to see its flight, but somehow the sound and the fury of the bullet bent through the air, the bullet weaving through tree and from one poor soul to another, snap snap snap! Through bone and sinew, greeting each German Soldier with a scream.

Rene turned to Claude as the fog began to thin. He struggled over to him, and lifted him up.

“Come, my friend, the River awaits, as does wine and bread, and if we are lucky, a pretty nurse to lift our spirits!â€

Claude managed a weak smile, and the two men, leaning on each other, struggled onwards, a long, numbing trek towards the River.

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Nick Cimitere

Down in the Ground Where the Dead Men Go

Nick tried to work his eyes open. That was easier said than done. He felt chilly, slightly damp, and like he’d been sleeping in someone’s grave. For a second, he wondered if he’d cranked the AC too high again.

Wake up.

The voice snapped him out of slumber as surely as if he’d rolled over onto the third rail. His eyes flew open, so that he could better take in the dark cavern all around him. The walls were decorated by someone heavily devoted to the Marquis de Sade collection, threaded with chains that served mainly as a handy storage place for every blunted, bladed, and spiked thing in creation. And standing right in the middle of all of it was the last person Nick ever wanted to see.

You still owe me, mortwright, said Thanatos. For the insult you dealt me.

Nick tried very, very hard not to let fear win out. He was mostly successful. Instead, while waiting for Thanatos to get tired of watching him squirm. He was still in costume – which discounted the chance that this was really a nightmare, as he probably would’ve been naked for that – but his jacket, the one infused with the protective essence of the River Styx, was nowhere to be seen.

“Thought Hecate would’ve convinced you to keep your nose out of other people’s business,†Nick said.

And I’m certain that if she knew of these affairs, she would be most upset. But her six eyes are turned elsewhere, dead man. And we… have much to discuss. He turned back towards the wall and the many sharp things that bedecked it. Or perhaps I will do the talking. You will be… otherwise occupied.

The second the psychotic psychopomp turned his back, Nick worked his will into the air around him. It would be simple to cut through the chains with the talons of Ereshkigal, after all. But they refused to come when called. There was no rush of ectoplasm, no pulse of necromancy through his own flesh. In fact, he felt… empty.

The laughter from Thanatos was dreadful, like a sarcophagus scraping open. Poor charlatan, he said. It seems your talents have deserted you.

The old poem ran through Nick’s head – Water, water everywhere… Here he was in Tartarus, the place of death, and he was cut off completely from his talents. Which meant one thing…

I’m not dead, he thought, not entirely. If I were, I’d at least be able to pull off some ghostly tricks. No, I must be out walking. Thanatos found a way to rip me from my body, which means all my necromancy’s tied up in projection. But…

He brushed his head against the rock behind him, and heard the distinct clink of metal on rock. No wonder his head felt so tight. I’ve seen these circlets before. The three judges put them around the heads of souls who aren’t allowed to escape under any circumstances. Wonder how much Thanatos had to bribe them to get one of these on my head. So I’ve got to get out the old fashioned way –

Thanatos turned back to face him, holding what looked a meat cleaver used to dress elephants.

-- assuming I still have legs.

Where shall we begin? asked Thanatos. The extremities end too quickly, I find, and in that position, I can’t do any of the fine details… but I’ll try my best.

Desperate to not find out what that was, Nick started talking. “So,†he said. “Four years. I know time’s supposed to be something that happens to other people for you guys, but still. Gotta be a while.â€

I am patient.

“Yeah, I bet. Or maybe something changed. Would this be a work assignment?â€

You can think that. I can’t possibly comment.

“Guessing that’s how I got down here. I mean, you did such a great job grabbing me the first time, I can see why you scored such a win this time around –“

The blade went to Nick’s throat, not close enough to cut but certainly close enough to deliver a message. Not one more word, said Thanatos.

Normally he would have taken that advice gladly, but it was the only way out. “Come on, Thanny,†Nick said, taking special care to mispronounce the “Th.†“I got the better of you when all I could do was talk to dead people. And all the time that I was learning the ropes, you never once showed up on my doorstep. I mean, why is that? You had to come at me when I knew death like the back of my hand, and even then, you had to play dirty. Then again, you do love your work. Harrowing the weak and the wounded. Bet if one of them actually tried to fight, you’d be running back to your master crying like someone had thrown sand in your eyes -- â€

The blood-curdling roar told him he’d hit paydirt. Thanatos raised the gigantic cleaver above his head and brought it down blindly. Nick pulled hard to the right, moving as far as his bonds could carry him…

…which was still far enough. The blade parted through the chains at his right like a rock falling through water. A significant length came loose around the cuff on Nick’s wrist. As Thanatos brought the blade up high, Nick flung it out blindly – and smiled as it wrapped around the psychopomp’s angle. One quick tug, and Hades’ warden was on the floor. In the half-second of struggling, he could finally feel the power running through the chains. They were old iron, the very bones of Gaia. Life and death ran through them like radiation through a particle accelerator. They’d spared no expense in keeping him there.

And he spared no expense in showing his appreciation. He brought the chain down on Thanatos’s head, again, and again, and again. Finally, the psychopomp stopped twitching. Nick was certain ¬– well, pretty sure, at least – that it would take more to kill a death god, and much more to kill such a stubborn son-of-a-bitch. But there was no time for meditation. He had to get out.

After a few minutes, he managed to crack open the rusted lock on his other manacle. He sprung to his feet and searched the torture chamber, trying to find some advantage. Great. No jacket, no necromancy, and no key for this damn crown. And no idea where I am – wait…

Apparently torture was thirsty work, as there was a waterskin resting right on top of something that looked like a chainsaw from the dawn of man. Fragments of Cub Scouts swiftly returning, Nick picked up a bowl from the ground and grabbed the skin. After scrounging around the floor, he found a sliver of metal – Stygian iron, from the feel of it. Attuned to death as much as normal iron was attuned to the poles. With a little juggling, Nick had a primitive compass, one designed especially for Underworlds.

This should help. He reached for a nearby rack and removed one of the more man-portable weapons, a sword that seemed crafted from obsidian. This should help more. All right. Let’s get the hell out of here.


Nick was struggling to stay on his feet. Tartatus was a big place, and even with the compass to guide him, the topography was rarely in his favor. It was getting harder to keep track of all the geography, with hunger and exhaustion creeping in. He had to keep his eyes on the needle… had to think… had to…

His eyes slowly slid closed, and it felt like a great blanket was descending on him. With as much effort as possible, Nick wrenched his eyes open – just in time to see the needle jerk. Where it had been pointing north-by-northwest before, now it pointed straight east.

Magnets, he thought. Compasses go wild around magnets. Means there’s another great source of death. He took in the surroundings again – a barren plain, long rendered fallow, with a crag in the distance. Could it be…?

Nick pushed himself along the dead fields, and as he did, the needle practically jumped off the cork. He knew where he was – he was in the presence of the Iron Throne and its threefold seats. The seat of dead wisdom in Tartarus, and a counter to Hades’ influence. And most importantly, the station of Hecate.

He was halfway across the plain when a bell rang out in the distance, its toll loud enough to cause the earth to shake. His eyes turned towards the source of the sound. To the northwest, the sky was burning as a blazing comet streaked through a blackened sky. No one knew when, or how, he had adopted fire as a calling card; some said it was to live up to the fear mortals had adopted of him through years of Christian teaching and word association. But the sign was clear. Hades himself had taken flight – and was headed his way.

That cleared up who was responsible for all of this. And in his current state, with no necromancy, no protection, and a worn-down sword, Nick was in condition to stare down the lord of Tartarus himself. There was only one solution, and even that was just a faint possibility. But he had to hope. He ran for the Iron Throne, pushing himself until the thin thread of fortitude snapped. He went stumbling over an unseen stone, and landed on his hands and knees, desperately panting for breath…

…and looked up, to see the three faces of Hecate, looking down on him with a mixture of curiosity and concern.

“Oh, great… Hecate…†he gasped out, barely able to breathe between the words. “I know… I have called on thee… much… but… I’ve repaid… all my favors, and -- â€

“Child,†they said as one. The matron face placed her hand to Nick’s brow, gently, like a mother feeling a child for fever. There was a clink of metal, and suddenly the pressure was gone. “This one is free.â€

He felt it running through him again – slowly, like a dry river bed gradually picking up a rainfall – but it was there. The currents of necromancy. He was nowhere near full power – far from it – but it was just the surge he needed. He pulled himself to his feet, and looked the goddess in the eyes – all six of them. “Thank you,†he said. “I… don’t suppose you know...â€

“Why all of this?†she asked. “The need for control. To some, you move too freely.â€

“’Too freely’? If Thanatos had his way, I wasn’t going to be moving at all.â€

“You would heal, in time. Tartarus is often static – it keeps the corpus whole, and makes it whole if need be. But -- â€


Nick felt an arctic wind sweeping overhead and stepped back by instinct. Blue flame with the chill of a grave slammed down on the triple goddess like the fist of cold, and her three faces burned like Roman candles. “I am lord here, Hecate,†he said. “I’ve let you hold your throne, but you seem to think that gives you power. Your insurrection cannot be forgiven this time.†The Deathlord, almost as an afterthought, turned his gaze on Nick. “As for you, necromancer… we must talk.â€

“Oh, yeah. I can sense how keen you are on talking. Your right hand liked to do it with a lot of sharp and pointy objects.†Mind you, talking was all Nick had at this point – the only other option was to try and throw down with a death god at half power at best. “So, why am I down here? And more importantly, why haven’t you killed me and made me a permanent resident?â€

“If I kill you, you become a part of my domain in earnest,†said Hades. “I’ve had my share of annoying tenants, but you’d be no use to me tied to my land.â€

Man, for a god, he’s a really crap liar. “Like Sisyphus, I’m guessing. I mean, he never got out.â€

“That was… an exception. One that won’t be made again.†Hades raised his hand in a closed fist, and a mighty earthquake shook the empty plain. Nick struggled to stay on his feet in response. “You’re a thorn in my side, necromancer. You’ve been harassing my agents for years. I can grant you some sense of respite down here – free of the excesses of Thanatos, my word given – or I will end you here.â€

Nick could feel the power building within him. He changed a glance down to his midsection as a familiar sensation kicked up. Yes – it was thinner than floss, but it was there. The silver cord, the instant “return to sender†of astral travel. There was as much a chance it might snap as do its duty, though, so he needed some time.

“Sorry, Hades,†said Nick. “I know you’ve got some unusual standards of courtship, but I’m gonna have to turn you down. Maybe you and Persephone should see a counselor about your issues…â€

That got the reaction he was looking for. The pale fire in Hades’ hands coalesced into the form of a lance, and the Deathlord came charging at him. There wasn’t much power left in him to call up a shield – and any defenses he could craft, even at full power, would likely get torn apart by Hades. But there was enough power to catch the god about the feet, sending him sprawling onto the ground with spectral fetters keeping him down.

“A jest, necromancer,†the god said, “once I can easily repay tenfold.†The god bucked at the binding, and to Nick, it felt like a battering ram striking plywood. He forced all his faltering strength into the chains, but each blow made him feel like his head would split in two. They had to hold. They had to…

One last blow, and Nick saw stars on the edge of his vision. Hades rose again, his spear raised high. “Was that supposed to hold me?†he said. “Did you really think it would work?â€

“No,†said Nick, looking past Hades. “But I think she will.â€

Hades turned to find three charred, incredibly angry women surrounding him. “Hades,†said Hecate. “You have lost yourself. You have forgotten the old oaths, all over a grudge against a mortal. It is time you received a lesson in priorities.â€

The plane rose around Hades, weaving itself into a cage of stone. “You will leave the mortwright alone. You will not send your agents after him. You will not target his associates. You will not impede his affairs.â€

The air crackled around Hades as the binding took place. The god didn’t scream, or even protest. He just stared daggers at Nick all the while. Pushing his luck to the breaking point, Nick tugged on the ripcord and flew out of the depths of Tartarus at mach speed.

He came to in an isolated part of Lantern Hill Cemetery. He was still in full costume, with his makeup hardly even smudged. He still felt like he’d run a marathon while being beat with golf clubs, though.

Maybe I should turn in early tonight… don’t think anyone would hold it against me.

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July 2012

Gabriel awoke with a start, struggling for a few moments to figure out why he was sitting on a hard chair in a dark, drafty cave. He blinked and shook his head.

'Oh, right, was fighting a little pack of Fae who were slinking around the Waterfront. It's getting annoying to deal with them. Especially the weaker ones who like to slip away into a crowd. Always makes me nervous...'

He'd heard rumors of odd assaults going on at various seemingly random locations in the city. He'd gone to most of them and talked to people, who had distressingly little information. For lack of a better idea, he'd mapped out the various locations on a cheap city map he'd purchased. After the first few were down, he noticed they seemed to be an odd design. When he'd marked all of them, he was sure it was something, but he didn't really recognize it. But it pointed toward a warehouse in the Waterfront. He'd thought it a bit cliché...

When the Fae ambushed and surrounded him, sticking to quick harrying attacks, he'd decided it was a cliché ambush scenario, but at least they were inventive in their tactics. He didn't have time to call for help because he had to be on guard. Then, he'd started slowing down; it took a few moments, but he realized he'd been poisoned, or possibly enchanted. Before he could try to fly off, his limbs stopped responding, and he slipped to sleep soon after.

'So, drugged by Fae and captured. Great.'

He struggled against his bonds, but they were tight, and he felt chain mixed in with the rope. Likely bronze or some other non-iron metal, but more than strong enough to hold him. What was more distressing was the lack of his powers. He felt that lack keenly, just like he felt his bare wrist and finger that indicated his armor and weapon had also been taken from him. Of course, that's when the voice spoke up from the shadows.

“Pitiful man. So confident in your own strength, borrowed strength. You kept opposing plans of those who were infinitely your better. How long did you think it would be before they would unite against an ever-growing threat?â€

The being that stepped into the meager light shining down onto Gabriel looked like a man in a well-made suit, sporting a fashionable goatee and slicked-back hair. The smile on his face was anything but happy or kind; it promised terrible things in the future. Gabriel couldn't help but snort in wry amusement.

“Hope you didn't use up all your cliché budget in one go, buddy. Let me guess, you're about to offer me a chance to escape and gain even more power, at the measly cost of my soul?â€

“No. We know you wouldn't accept that offer. No, mostly we wish to make you suffer, with a side note of denying our Greatest Enemy a loyal agent in the world. We will make you come to regret your choices. Perhaps then, and only then, will you be allowed the luxury of begging us for forgiveness.â€

The man leaned in closer, a sneer on his face.

“Not that we deal in that currency in this place.â€

In a burst of brimstone-scented smoke, he was gone, and some outside force made Gabriel plummet to unconsciousness again. He lost whatever sense of time he'd gained for those few precious minutes...

He awoke again tied to a stone pillar on a frozen mountaintop, stripped to the waist. He saw several Winter Fae standing guard, with a pair of beautiful women considering him. Instantly he was on alert, and once more shifting subtly against his bonds. Something about the woman on the left made him think she wasn't Fae, but instead something else that was entirely dangerous. The women didn't approach or take any action, but the one on the right spoke.

“When the evening comes, we will light a fire for you, servant of the White Christ. And we will be waiting to give you whatever small mercies you might request.â€

Gabriel glared in silence for a few moments, before he closed his eyes and retreated into silent prayer. The still-silent woman recoiled just a bit.

“We should distract him. Stop him before he calls in...help.â€

“Even if they wanted to help, we've made sure it's no easy task. We just need to wait. He will come around.â€

The day passed, the cold constantly biting at the edges of Carson's awareness. He was tired, sore, and powerless; he chose to endure, and to pray. He studiously ignored the “escape option†presented to him. He knew that if he started accepting small things, he would quickly find himself having slid all too far. So he kept his mind on his faith, on his charge to protect the innocent (be it in Freedom City, on Earth, or even on Sanctuary), and, in the moments when the temptresses seemed to be paying extra attention, he thought of the woman who his heart belonged to.

Evening came, and the cold deepened. A fire was built, but it was too far away; Carson felt none of the heat. He didn't speak up, simply continuing what he'd been doing. By now he was reciting Scripture to himself, going through the rosary, basically anything to keep his mind focused. Especially because he'd worked one hand slightly loose. At least, it was loose until the Fae woman stepped over and froze that entire arm to the pillar he was chained to, with nary a blink. The other woman spoke up, a smirk on her face.

“Naughty boy, Gabriel. Can't have you getting loose.â€

“I answer not to you, Fallen One. Now be silent, I'm speaking with One whose opinion I actually care about.â€

The dark-haired woman actually hissed for a moment before turning away from him. The Fae woman shrugged and returned to the fire. Carson sighed and closed his eyes once again. It was fifteen minutes before a thought struck him.

'I'm not showing signs of frostbite, and I don't feel damp at all, despite having snow and ice all over, some of which should have melted before re-freezing. What's going on here?'

He collected his will and focused, trying to see if he could cast off what he suddenly suspected was going on. The two women turned as one to face him, alarm written on their features. They stood, and started to move toward them. But just at that moment, Carson lifted his head to Heaven and cried out.

“Lord, send me help, and give me the strength to break this sorcery!â€

And with that, the snowy landscape shattered like glass and fell away. He blinked his eyes, and suddenly Gabriel was back in the...warehouse. It was a warehouse that had been altered by the Fae, and one where he was still in a circle that he saw clearly now; a circle binding his powers.

A circle he saw in the light shining off the seven angels arrayed around him in a defensive formation, just outside the circle. Angels that appeared to be led by his benefactor from years ago, Gavriel himself. The Archangel looked behind himself for a moment, glancing down at the circle around Gabriel, then gave the mortal man a smile and a wink. Right before his armored foot scuffed up the circle.

His powers came back in a rush, and suddenly the chains and ropes holding Gabriel became like dust and fell to the ground. He stood, glancing around for where his armor and spear might be. He saw the ring on a necklace worn by the Fae woman, and the watch in the hands of the Fallen One disguised as a human woman. He narrowed his eyes and raised his hands; both “women†froze in place, and he rushed through the air over to them.

Of course, by now the angels and Archangel were locked in combat with an assortment of terrible foes, ones hailing from both the realm of the Fae, and more terrible places still. Gabriel wasted no time in retriving his stolen tools, his armor and spear soon shining in the ever-growing light of the battle. He looked at the two frozen opponents for a long moment, before simply blasting them with sound hard enough to instantly knock them out.

“Always had trouble hitting a lady if she wasn't trying to kill me.â€

He turned and joined the battle, quickly getting to work herding and harassing the enemy force that had several times the numbers his allies did. Still, quality had a quantity all its own, and they were holding fast before the sound-slinging hero joined the fray. Soon, all opponents seemed to be down. Until slow clapping was heard. It was the suited “man†from earlier, surveying the scene.

“Commendable, mortal. For a lapdog of the Enemy, you're remarkably quick-witted; the last time someone figured that out, it took them a whole week. You accomplished it in a day. I suppose it shows me what a “perfect†plan really means these days. Still, don't feel too confident. Your allies have outstayed their welcome, despite your desperate call to them. Which means we're all alone.â€

Even as he spoke, the guise of a human fell away to reveal a being with skin like bronze and eyes like burning copper, with flame for hair and an obsidian sword. Its armor looked like the bone of a fell beast given shape, and the cape was a foul leather. When it spoke with no mouth, the sound was like razors playing a violin of suffering.

“Now you shall simply die. You forced my-urk!â€

“Sorry, were you not done? I'm a bit tired and bored, so I think we'll finish here.â€

Gabriel had moved faster than the Fallen One expected, and had struck him a blow to the midsection. Molten iron ran out, but seemed to flow around the shining spear; clearly, opposite force were at work. Gabriel gave the creature before him his most serious look of reproach.

“Now, you and yours must BEGONE! In the name of the LORD, BEGONE!â€

He emphasized his point by slamming the creature with a wave of sonic energy that sent it flying across the warehouse's length, slamming into the far wall. It crumpled to the ground, and the whole structure seemed to waver, and begin to fade. Gabriel simply turned and walked out, leaning heavily on his spear. He squinted against the rising sun.

“I think I'll call in sick today.â€

With that, he rushed off into the distance, a small thundercrack heralding his departure. The bronze thing spoke as it faded.

“This is not the end, mortal. Not at all...â€

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History Repeating

Berchtesgaden, Germany

John checked his map in confirmation before shoving aside a nearly rusted through wrought-iron gate. The locals had pointed out the location to him, some of them wondering why a backpacker would be interested in the decrepit hunting lodge. Indeed, there really was not much anything in the way of anything of touristic value anywhere nearby. As he stepped over the broken flagstones, the feeling of familiarity of this place he had never been to before was growing stronger. He had convinced the headmaster that he needed to actually visit the place where he was supposedly was born, and thus for the last month had been backpacking throughout Germany. Every so often, a sense of déjà vu would strike and he would invariably wind up in places such as this.

At first, he could not piece together the reasons for these occurrences. That was until he found the WK + GG carved into a tree. The implanted memories of Wilhelm Kantor were subconsciously bringing him to these places. It was a surprising revelation to the young hero, finding out about the man he was a clone of. Not Overshadow, but the man behind the mask. He supposed it was a bit like piecing together a redacted file, as he used his boot to free a stuck door. Ironically, he was reminded of his friend Morgan. Both were dabblers in the arcane and possessed nearly unshakeable viewpoints when it came to the world. But at some point, Wilhelm had made a wrong choice and went down a dark path. It was an all to unwelcome reminder to him that such a thing could happen, and that history repeats itself all too often.

A large fireplace dominated the room, and the clone hero felt drawn towards it. It was made out of the local stone, and had withstood the passage of years far longer than the crumbling hunting lodge around it. He reached toward it, only for the south wall of the lodge to get blown inward by an explosion. He called his armor, facing the opening as a feminine figure in power armor walked through the hole. “I had figured that they would be content in just monitoring me. Or do they wish for my active involvement in their affairs?â€

The figure cocked her head to the side. “I was sent here to collect you. I am Blutalder.â€

He sighed and shook his head, the telltale glow of his powers coalescing into a weapon. “Stand down. This is your only warning.â€

“I do not have the luxury of that option, brother.†She intoned. The fight was short, brutal, and thoroughly one sided affair. Myrmidon stood over the broken and bleeding Blutalder, yanking the broken helmet off of her. The clone hero paused in shock; it was almost like looking at a female version of himself. “Like I said, I do not have a choice in the matter; I do not have freedom as you do.â€

He looked back to the demolished fireplace to the female clone. “You always have a choice.†He picked up a metal box from the ruined mantelpiece, inside it was more trinkets and reminders of Kantor’s old life before Overshadow. He continued as he withdrew a Knights’ Cross from the box. “Even we as mere copies of the original still have ways to define ourselves by our choices. I will be keeping this.†He indicated the box. “You know where to find me.†The helmeted hero stated before walking out of the remains of the lodge.

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Breaking the Bank

June 23rd, 2012

Ashton, Freedom City, United States

The Ashton Business Bank was a tall building of pale stone, with the letters A-B-B in brass high on each side. The front was composed of dark, reflective windows and they turned the entire face of the building into a perfect mirror. Now it reflected a dozen or so police cars with lights flashing, bathing the night in red and blue. The police themselves milled around outside, keeping a perimeter around the building. Thankfully it was night and a business district, so they didn’t have to worry about evacuating the surrounding buildings. The officers in charge were in consultation with STAR squad, when a shining, armored figure came rocketing out of the sky and made a two-point landing in front of the van. Ironclad’s green and yellow form was known to the city’s finest and if STAR squad felt a hero was horning in on their territory, they didn’t show it. The officer in charge walked forward and offered the armored heroine his hand. “Ironclad, right? Captain Nash. This is Lieutenant Stills.†He indicated the STAR officer, already kitted up in body armor and visored helmet. “Glad to see a cape patrolling this beat, at this time of night.â€

Ironclad, for her part, gave the STAR officer a quick nod and addressed Nash. “I couldn’t sleep,†she said. “Heard on the police band about a robbery out here, decided to drop in.†She turned and surveyed the bank; her sensors cut through the glass fronting effortlessly and probed the interior. “I’m only seeing one criminal in there, is that right?â€

“Just about what we’ve got, yes.†Nash led her over to a nearby cruiser, where a blueprint of the bank’s main floor was spread out. He pointed out the entrance and the vault as he spoke. “We think she got into the bank at about eleven thirty: the silent alarm didn’t go off, but a patrol car noticed one of the lower windows ajar when it was doing a drive-around at about that time. He called it in and we got the bank manager on the line while we dispatched some back-up. Eventually we got hooked up to the bank’s CCTV and picked up an image of a single female moving around in there.†Nash reached into the patrol car and pulled out a humming laptop computer, but Ironclad had already linked into the machine and downloaded the file. She watched on her HUD; a black and white image of a woman in tight clothes, high boots and gloves, and a spiky, reflective mask that radiated out from her face in all directions. The costume was decorated with spikes and spines everywhere, and she wore dual belts of what looked like ball bearings around her waist. The woman walked through the lobby confidently and vaulted behind the teller desk, then disappeared toward what Ironclad assumed was the vault. Some minutes later she saw a spill of light from the open front door and a uniformed police officer wandered into frame, holding a flashlight. The beam flashed around and then something streaked across the screen too fast for the camera to track. Suddenly the officer had his gun drawn and was backing out of the frame.

“Records have tentatively identified her as Ricochet,†Nash told Ironclad as the same video played on the laptop. “Micromagnetokinetic, whatever that means. She’s mainly a safecracker, but she was involved in a heist at the Hunter Museum back in April that went bad. We think she’s trying to get some cash to get out of town. Which means if we don’t catch her here, she might disappear for a good, long time.â€

Ironclad watched the video a few more times before speaking. “Moves around metal. Very small amounts, but apparently very fast.†Nash blinked at the apparent non sequitur, and Ironclad added “Micromagnetokinetic. Kinetic means she moves things, magnetokinetic means she moves around metal things, micromagnetokinetic means she moves around very small amounts of metal. So she doesn’t toss around cars and the like, but don’t let her near any ball bearings. I wouldn’t be surprised if she could crack a safe by moving the internal mechanisms without even drilling in.†She turned her attention to Nash; the police captain had a deer-in-the-headlights expression from the rapid assessment and Ironclad briefly considered a smile, before remembering that she was wearing a full face mask. “In any case, I doubt she’ll have enough oomph to move my armor, so I should be fine.â€

She stepped away and was considering the best point of entry when Stills walked up to her. His visor was up, but the chunky black body armor with STAR printed across the front and black was an imposing sight, to anyone not wearing bleeding-edge power armor. “We were prepping for insertion from the upper levels,†he said to the young woman, his tone grudging. STAR squad was never happy with handing a situation to Freedom’s superheroes, but they were smart enough to recognize that someone who could block bullets and fly at super-sonic speed was better at handling a straight-up brawl with another superpowered entity. “Go in with flash bangs and smoke. We’ve got two snipers up high.â€

“Thank you,†Ironclad replied politely, “but that shouldn’t be necessary.†The young woman was almost impatient to go ahead, secure in the knowledge that her superior firepower would see her through. Of course there was property damage to consider, so she gave a few moments thought to where exactly to enter the building through. Eventually she chose a pane high up on the side of the building; at least she wouldn’t have to worry about Ricochet running out of it!

She burst through the pane and tinted glass fell to the lobby carpet. Inside it was dark, except for the spill of light around the front door, street lights augmented by the flashing lights of the police cruisers. The suits sensors worked far more efficiently, though, bathing the space in LIDAR and radar and sonar, building up a model and overlaying it on her view as a wireframe. She toggled the exterior loudspeaker on and projected her voice into the building. “I’ll say this once,†she said, “though I think the police already gave you this option, but if you surrender now everything will got a lot smoother.â€

Something streaked at the side of her helmeted head and Ironclad felt a huge impact twist her head around; if she hadn’t had the extra reinforcement of the armor, she might’ve suffered a broken neck. As it was the on-board computer helpfully traced the projectile back to its point of origin, and tracked it as it fell. It was a ball bearing, and the woman crouching behind the counter had another three circling her at speed. As Ironclad locked eyes with her, she sent another pair hurtling at the armor clad heroine; Ironclad batted one out of the air and took the other one in her gut. Again the armor plating proved its worth and the metal sphere deformed against the armor, falling to the ground.

“I think we can count that as resisting arrest,†Ironclad commented and unleashed a blast from her wrist-mounted particle cannon; the safecracker jumped out of the way, though, and sent the last ball bearing whistling around. Ironclad tried to track it and dodge, but as she turned it impact the ankle where most of her weight was and she went down to one knee. After a moment though, she rose again, fixing Ricochet with a faceless stare. “I’d surrender, if I were you,†she advised, advancing on the woman. She made to raise her wrist blaster again, only to find it harder than normal. She looked down and didn’t see any obstruction, but still it was like she was trying to move her arm through quicksand or molasses. There wasn’t any question of who was responsible, especially not as Ricochet was glaring hard at the metal-clad arm. Ironclad could have switched to her other blaster, could have used any of a dozen other weapon systems, but there was a point to this. She groaned as she forced the arm up until it was in line with Ricochet’s body, and triggered a blast – only to have the criminal abandon the tug-of-war at the last moment, causing the blast to jerk upwards and obliterate part of the roof.

Annoyed at the extra property damage, Ironclad stalked forward again. Ricochet reached out again to stop her, but the heroine engaged the suit’s lifting servos and with the extra strength powered right on through the resistance. After several steps where she strained the suit to its limits, she finally managed to grab Ricochet by the other woman’s arm. “Not gonna win this one,†Ironclad promised her, shaking her hard. “I’m too strong for your talents to handle. It’ll be better for you if you simp — WOAH!â€

Ironclad retreated instinctively when the criminal’s mask warped around and the sharp spikes started stabbing at her face! Of course the armor warded them off, but when something starts stabbing at your eyes most people will retreat. Ricochet used the distraction to put some space and a couple of tables between herself and the heroine. “Why won’t you people leave me alone,†she panted. “I’m not trying to hurt anyone!â€

“Tell that to the folks whose money you’re stealing,†Ironclad retorted, trying to decide on the best way to get close to her again. Sure, she could just charge through the desks, but there had to be a way that led to less property damage.

“They won’t lose anything,†Ricochet insisted. “The government insures this money! Everyone will get everything back!â€

“Except the government,†Ironclad pointed out. “And folks will probably want to take their money out of a bank that can’t protect.â€

“Big corporations! Who cares about them?â€

“Lady, you’re talking to a shareholder of one of the biggest corporations in the country. Might want to try a different tact.â€

Ricochet snarled suddenly. “I can’t believe this. I’m trying to use my talents to make some money, and you have the gall to walk in here and tell me that I shouldn’t? Just because it might hurt some suit?â€

Ironclad shook her head. “If you want to reform America’s corporate culture, doing it by robbing banks makes you just another part of the problem. If you want a sympathetic ear, I’d recommend giving up and serving your time. Then maybe take some lessons in economics and trying a — ahh!†The young woman felt a cold spot in the small of her back, like someone had just stabbed her spine with an ice pick. She tottered and fell, catching herself on her elbows. She tried to stand again – but her legs refused to cooperate. She looked down and yes, they were still there, but she could feel them. And a trickle of fear began to work its way down her spine.

Ricochet was breathing heavily, though Ironclad view was blocked by the table just at the moment. “I told you,†she said. “I didn’t want to hurt anyone. Did you think that meant that I wouldn’t hurt anyone?†She came into Ironclad’s field of view, more ball bearings rotating around her. “I could feel the metal in your bones and in your brain. I don’t know what messed up stuff happened to you to put it in there, but I know it’s there. So I grabbed hold of it, and pushed.†The ball bearings flew at the immobilized heroine and pelted off her like rain off a tin roof. Then Ironclad felt pressure around her middle and gasped as her armor tightened suddenly. “You’re an idiot, you know that? Coming against me with tin skin like that! Maybe I couldn’t do much when you were trying to blast my skull, but put you on the floor and I can do whatever I want!†The armor groaned and squealed as it constricted around her stomach, and soon Ironclad couldn’t draw in a breath. Ricochet glared hard at the heroine at her feet, and a trickle of blood started working its way down her face. “I’ll kill you, and then I’ll get the money, and then I’ll leave. And you’ll just have to deal with it, hero!â€

There was a crash of a window, a shockingly loud crack, and suddenly more blood was leaking down Ricochet’s back and front, just over where her left lung would be. She looked down at it in disbelief, touched it, brought it up to her face to look at the blood more closely. Then all the color seemed to drain out of her at once and she collapsed next to Ironclad. The next moment the doors were flung open and men in dark uniforms and bulky armor swept in, the STAR squad securing the room with the ease and speed of long practice. Captain Nash, wearing a heavy Kevlar vest, hurried over and kneeled next to Ironclad. “We could hear her gloating outside. The sniper saw you were down and, well, he had a shot.†He touched her leg. “Are you okay? What did she do to you?â€

Jessica was gasping in her suit, close to graying out. Normally she would’ve dismissed the armor with a cyberpathic command, but for whatever reason she couldn’t hear the computers and machines all around her. Her mind seemed duller too, and it took her an eternity – three or four seconds, that is – to remember the emergency commands. She tapped at her gauntlet as the last motes of oxygen were used up by her body, stabbing at the air as holographic menus were projected on the inside of her helmet. System commands to overrides to armor dismissal, and then a quick visual key.

The armor almost exploded off of her, each piece disengaging and falling apart, revealing the auburn-haired young woman inside clad in a flightsuit. Jessica took a deep, gasping breath, grabbing at Captain Nash even as she coughed hard. The police officer held her as she got her breath back and started trembling. “Something… she did something to my legs. To my spine, I think.†She took a deep breath and fought back tears. “I think I need an ambulance. Now.â€

Freedom Medical Center was the most advanced hospital in Freedom City, maybe the most advanced medical care facility in the United States, save for the Lab just over the river. Jessica Parker’s room gave her a beautiful view at the cylindrical, glass-walled structure that the city’s press loved to liken to a Fifties-era space rocket. She’d been there for three days, though an MRI had confirmed her suspicions only a few hours after her admittance. Now her room and the bed was confined to was littered with papers, and right now she was pounding away furiously at a laptop.

The door opened and her doctor, Dr. Timothy Yates, came in, followed by a nurse. “Jessica,†he said. “I hear you’re refusing physical therapy.â€

“Yep.†Jessica’s attention was on the laptop and what it held, and she had no patience for interruptions at the moment.

Yates rubbed at his chin pensively. “If you don’t make the effort, then there’s no chance of recovery. Worse, your legs will atrophy and become useless.â€

Jessica’s laugh caught him off guard. “Doc, I’ve seen the MRI results. I’m missing two vertebrae. The fact that there’s any neural connections at all down there is frankly amazing. Unless you’ve got tech I don’t know about – which you don’t – no amount of physical therapy is going to help me walk again.â€

Yates frowned. “Well it’s not like your life has to be over. There are plenty of people who live productive, fulfilling lives in wheelchairs, but you have to be aware of the health factors, and accept that physical therapy is going to be part of your life, now.â€

Jessica stopped typing long enough to fix Yates with a penetrating look. “Doctor, I wasn’t born with the ability to fly, or lift cars, or bounce bullets off my chest. I built a machine to let me do all that. If you think I’m going to be sitting around my whole life, you’ve got another thing coming.†With that she went back to her rapid-fire typing.

“So that’s it,†Yates pressed. “You’re just gonna bang together something to let you walk again? After your spine was broken?â€

Jessica laughed. “I’ve had half the solution for a year or more, and been working on the other half since February. Really, if you expect one bank robber who’s seen Bandits too many times to put me on my ass, you don’t know half the stuff I’ve dealt with.â€

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Crimson Tiger


July 13th, 2012

“I'm going after him.†Mali said, her voice laced with anger.

“No, you mustn't, let the police take care of it.†Apsari said to her daughter.

“He put dad in the hospital! He's going to be gone back to Thailand before the cops catch up with him!â€

“Mali...Mali!†She shouted, but it was too late. Mali had run downstairs, thrown her costume on, and sped out the door on the Tigercycle. Apsari just shook her head, and reached for the phone.

Mali focused as she sped along, she knew where he'd be. There was a warehouse that had a lot of imported goods from his company. She now had reason to suspect that he had been moving opium into the country for several months, even years. She had stopped a heroin shipment by pure luck a few weeks ago, and had noticed that it had been shipped inside imported Thai goods. She hadn't thought of it much until she made the connection. Anuman's anger at her, his sudden arrival in the states. How he seemed to have way more money than he really should. Of course, if he wasn't there, her hunch would be wrong.

The warehouse had been a trap. Twenty men, armed with knives, clubs and other weapons waited for her. She dispatched them, but the effort was exhausting. She'd managed to get one of them to talk, though, though threats weren't her usual shtick. Having watched her her beat down an entire crowd of armed, grown men convinced him that she could hurt him.

His real location wasn't that far away, a nearby building. She'd climbed up the side. She was already tired, and she hadn't even gotten to Anuman himself yet. There he was, standing on the roof of the building. The light was too far gone, but she could tell the man had a smug, self-satisfied look on his face.

“Good to see you, cousin. I thought you wouldn't make it.â€

“Shut your face!†She roared. “Or I'll shut it for you!†The only response her threat earned was laughter. A cruel, mocking laugh.

“You're hurt, tired....†He chuckled. “I've already broken you, you just haven't fallen down yet.â€

“We'll see...cousin.†She spat that last word out. Her mind reeled back to a little less than a month before. She'd met her cousin in Thailand during a trip there. They had been friendly, even going out to one of the best restaurants in Thailand. Later that night, though, she helped him dispatch a few thugs who had thought to jump them. His shift in attitude had been immediate.

The next day, he challenged her to a 'spar', and nearly beat her. If not for her father's intervention, she had no idea what he would have done to her. They left Thailand shortly thereafter.

For the next couple of weeks, life had been normal in the Benjawan family. Then, one day, she heard the news. Anuman was visiting America. She had hoped they'd put the matter behind them, and it seemed that Anuman indeed had. Earlier in the day, though, he had apparently gone to their house looking for her. Annan had not been forthcoming, and tried to get Anuman to leave. A fight ensued, and Anuman beat her father badly. Annan had still yet to regain consciousness.

She glared at him and raised her hands. Her leg raised slightly, her foot poised, the muay thai fighting stance.

“Oh, so, now you're ready to fight? Now that I've beaten your weak, pathetic father to death?â€

“He's alive...†She said, dashing towards him. She brought her right arm forward, starting the fight with a fierce right cross.

He deflected the blow and brought an elbow down to her arm. Her shoulder popped and she half-screamed, half roared in pain.

“Is he? Still?†Anuman said, losing his grip as she pulled away. “Even if he lives, he'll be a half-man. A cripple.â€

He kicked at her legs, but she jumped back and went for a snap kick to the side of the head. He dodged effortlessly and chuckled. “You're not bad, girl.â€

He grabbed her ankle and moved to strike her knee, but she dropped into a handstand and kicked him in the stomach. He grunted in pain and released her leg.

Taking advantage of his momentary disorientation, she jumped up and grabbed his head firmly between her forearms. She brought her right knee up to his face with the power and impact of a shotgun. He roared in pain as the bridge of his nose broke.

She reached behind his head with her good arm and grabbed a handful of his hair. Her head met his and he staggered back. She dodged back and grimaced, instinctively reaching down with her arm and feeling the impact in her sore shoulder.

That moment was long enough for Anuman to stand. Blood was coming from his broken nose, but he didn't seem especially worse for wear. She dodged backward away from his first strike, hoping to get enough space to initiate the offense.

He didn't let her, choosing instead to jump forward with a fierce knee to her midsection. She gasped in pain as she felt all of the air in her lungs burst out. She tried to catch her breath as he reached down and grabbed her by the hair.

“Pathetic little girl, trying her best to be a superhero. Isn't working out, is it?†He said. “First your father, then you, and then your mother. Then I'm on a plane for Thailand.â€

“You're just pissed that I stopped your heroin shipment...†She choked out, hoping to get him to admit it.

“Do you have any idea how much money you cost me?†He growled, too distracted to see what happened next.

Mali brought her foot up and kicked him right in the stomach. He bent forward but didn't let go. The moment her feet found solid ground, she brought both knees into the air and to his bloody nose, again.

He roared and she twisted herself, jumping out of his grip, leaving a clump of her hair in his hand.

“Don't know why I didn't do this before.†He said, reaching behind him. He had a gun. Her whole world froze for a split second as she watched him, he was going to shoot her. But she was far too close, and he didn't have enough time.

Mali would spend the rest of her life questioning her next choice. Whether it was right, or wrong. At the moment, though, she only thought of one thing; this man, her cousin, intended to kill her. She couldn't let him do that.

She lunged forward and brought her right leg down on his left knee. He screamed as it popped out of place, sending him straight to the ground. She ran up and kicked his hand so hard the gun spiraled away. She may have even broken it, but she didn't think of it at the moment.

She dropped on top of him in a moment. He tried to pull himself up, but she put her hand on his throat and slammed him back down, her fist ready to punch him.

“What, cousin, are you going to kill me.â€

You were going to kill me!†She screamed, tears streaming down her cheeks. She was shaking, she was crying. This man had hurt, maybe even killed her father, and tried to do the same to her. She couldn't let him live after that, could she?

She thought of her father, her mother, and her great uncle Somchai, of the school, of her friends. Last, she thought of her prayers, her faith. Life was sacred, all life. Even the lives of vicious, evil people like Anuman.

“Ei sut, I'm not going to take a life...not even yours.†She was still shaking, but she kept her fist raised, ready to retaliate the moment he tried to strike. Then she heard the sirens, the yelling.

She was dimly aware as the police circled around them, as one of the cops pulled her from him. She gave no resistance, having been numbed to what was going on.

She felt arms around her, a police officer's arms, not to arrest, not to hurt, but to offer comfort to a scared superhero.. She collapsed into her mother and began sobbing. The police officers tried to drag Anuman to his feet, but it was clear his knee was too far damaged to support any weight.

They brought a stretcher up to the roof and strapped him in.

“He's very dangerous...†One of the officers said to the EMTs. “Keep him restrained at all times, and we're keeping an officer with him at all times.†he turned to Mali, who sat there looking less like a superhero, and more like a scared sixteen year old girl.

“Officer I...â€

“Crimson Tiger?†He said. “That's your name, right? We did a search of the warehouse off of an anonymous tip. There are several thousand dollars worth of heroin in bags in there. You just busted one of the biggest drug rings in the city. Congratulations.â€

Mali smiled and thanked the officer, but she felt numb. This hadn't been about stopping Anuman's drug ring. It had been about revenge. Revenge for her father's beating, for terrorizing her family.

She stood up and waved the EMTs off, refusing assistance. She claimed she was unhurt, but that was untrue. She also said that she was glad she'd finally stopped the drug ring, but that wasn't true either. In truth, she was only glad to have stopped him from hurting anyone else.

She walked downstairs, hopped on the Tigercycle, and rode home.

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Doktor Archeville: The Reformatting

Date: July 31st, 2012

     Doktor Viktor Archeville is lying at the bottom of a hole, covered by a meter of soft dirt. His body is covered in radiation burns, his bones pulverized, and his gear -- his gravity-manipulating Belt and electromagnetism-harnessing Screwdriver -- cracked and shorted out. He has had no heartbeat for the last fifteen minutes.

     There is still activity inside his brain. The hallucinations induced by shock and hypoxia have given way to something else, with the help of a few billion foreign bodies. These nanomachines are keeping his mind alive, but he is not listening to the worms and insects surrounding him, or the soft rain seeping through the earth over him. Right now he is remembering the past few hours, and how he got here.



     Doktor Archeville had gone to back to his home city of Schoenwald im Schwarzwald, Germany, to lend what assistance he could the AEGIS agents still working on the salvaged tech from his cratered castle. Most of it was telling them how best to dispose of the materials, as most of it was too damaged to repair. It pained him to see so much of his work -- and the works of those he had hired and nurtured along their scientific careers -- being trashed, and he rejoiced whenever they managed to save something.

     He was just approaching the door to the offices, when an explosion threw him back. His Belt threw up a protective screen to shield him from the brunt of it, but he was still knocked onto his back, so when the smoke cleared enough for his assailants to make their next move, he was already at a disadvantage. It was the Power Corps -- all eight of them this time!

     "Come to steal from me again, eh?," he called out, trying to hack into their armor's systems with the technopathic abilities his latest nanite upgrade had given him.

     "Partly," Number One said, "but our partners are here mostly for revenge!" The last of the smoke was blown away by miniature cyclones, and the crackle of electricity and a sickly green glow in the distance were all Archeville needed to know who the Power Corp's new partners were: the Science Squad!

     Archeville gave his Belt the technopathic command to teleport him to a better location, but the buzzing in his head told him the system was blocked. As he looked back over the approaching villains, he saw why: attached to Schwarzstern's belt was a new piece of tech, which was harnessing the powerhouse's "selective gravity" ability to nullify Archeville's own gravitic movement systems. If it also nullified his gravitic force screen, he'd be toast!

     The blue glow the sprung up around him as Munja and Radium hurled their energy blasts at him prove his protective screen was still in effect, but he could tell Schwarzstern's device was rapidly weakening his field. He had to get out of there, and fast! With practiced swiftness he reached into his labcoat and pulled out a handful of pellets, which exploded into a rainbow of smoke clouds when he threw them to the ground. Cyclone blew them away with a gesture, but that was enough time for Archeville to run like mad, towards the nearby forest. Have to get them out of the city, away from people. Never spent much time in these woods as a child, but there should be a few places where the trees would be thick enough to pose an impediment to the fliers, and-

     Archeville's train of thought was derailed as he found himself slipping over Teflon-slick ground, courtesy of Liso. Archeville had not taken into account that Schwarzstern also grew up in this city, and knew the likeliest places the Doktor would run. The cocky friction controller skated around the Doktor, applying his power to the hero himself; if Archeville tried to grab anything now, it would be like trying to grab a bar of wet soap. The other members of the Squad were soon upon him, beating and blasting at him, finally seeing their chance for revenge against the man who'd stopped their rightful actions so many times. Archeville used every scrap of martial combat skill he could recall, but Binder's resins soon put a stop to that.

     Then Munja took it one step further and sent the entirety of his electrical form through the Doktor, frying him and his gear. Cyclone and Liso panicked and bolted, leaving the others to quickly carry the body deeper into the woods. They buried it there, hoping the world would just think he had been beaten and retreated for another few months.



     The nanomachines keeping Viktor Archeville's brain alive are still hard at work, trying to restore the life support system nature had given it: his body. Bones are reconstructed from the inside out. Dead tissues get broken down into simpler compounds used to accelerate the growth of new skin and organs. The nervous system was rebuilt, but as soon as it was able it screamed in pain, causing the nanomachines to flood the brain with synthetic endorphins. His heart begins to beat, pushing the last of the extracted oxygen to extremities now being jump-started with the metabolic equivalent of rocket fuel.

Heal the organic systems.  Heal.

     Not all the nanomachines are working on his body, however. Last year, when he had journeyed into the Terminus to try to find Fulcrum, and he was stranded on a dying world orbiting a bloated, dark sun, his gear had been broken. Stories he heard there of "blood magic" inspired him to try his own version: reprogramming the nanomachines within himself to repair his devices, just as they worked to heal his body. It took a good deal of trial and error, but he eventually got them to work. That coding is still within many of his nanomachines, and many of those nanomachines have spilled (along with his blood) onto his Belt and Screwdriver. His encounter with Munja and Radium had scrambled some of the nanomachine's programming, and when they rebooted and sensed they were on his devices, they resumed their work of repairing them.

Repair the electromechanic systems.  Repair.

     Problems soon arose. The weakly beating heart pumped nanomachine-laden blood out of the wounds onto his devices, and once there the nanomachines already working on his gear reprogrammed the newcomers to assist them. But the reassignment didn't take as strongly in these, and some went back to working on the body, and others found themselves somewhere in between.

Heal the organic systems.  Heal.

Repair the electromechanic systems.  Repair.

     The nanomachines working on his body lacked the raw materials needed to effect the necessary repairs. And the nanomachines working on his devices lacked the necessary components to complete their work. The nanomachines went out in search of materials, mingled with each other, swapped programing packets. Some working on his body found their way to his devices, and some working on his devices found their way into his body.




     Six hours after the unmarked grave had been covered, a hand burst forth. It was neither flesh, nor machine, but a much more complicated hybrid of flesh and metal and circuitry.

Edited by Dr Archeville
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July 31st, 2012

“People of Southside, your attention, please!â€

The past few weeks haven’t exactly been kind to Joe Macayle.

“This man, this… ‘hero’… has claimed to speak for you for years. He claims that your place is down here, that aspiration is a lie and mediocrity is a grand goal.â€

He’s been fired. He’s been evicted. He’s been knocked about, tossed down, and beaten bloody.

“He has sold you on a terrible lie, and told you that this is all you are good for! To fritter your lives away, to feed on the accomplishments of others, to deny your own dreams in favor of bolstering the undeserving!â€

And worst of all, he hasn’t been the only one to suffer. People he loves… people he trusts… have been caught in the crossfire. And some of them have come off worse than him.

“So, people of Southside, I offer you the liar, bound in chains! The time has come to make a choice! Will you follow the man who leads you into parasitic mediocrity… or will you destroy him, and strive for true glory?â€

And then there’s this asshole.


To say the past few weeks had been rough for Joe would have been putting it mildly. It had all started around the 2nd, with the announcement that the foundry had been bought out by a new interest from out-of-state. This wouldn’t have been much of a problem, except for the news that awaited everyone when they got back from the 4th – that the new interest had hired an army of lawyers to go over the old contracts, and found a loophole the size of a pinprick that they’d somehow managed to drive a semi through. By the time they came back, they found out they’d be a “right to work†shop.

Joe had been the first to push back. It was in his blood; he couldn’t exactly help it. But everything hit the fan at record speed. The new management wasn’t interested in coming to the negotiating table – not for reduced pensions, not for cuts in benefits, not for anything. And the very second he started making noise, exactly what he feared would happen, did. They brought the hammer down. Every day he’d taken a long lunch – to beat the crap out of some idiot threatening to blow up Pyramid Plaza – or called in sick – to take care of some thing setting half the Pine Barrens on fire – came back to bite him right in the ass. Within an hour, he was told to clean out his locker and vacate the premises.

He’d started the job search right away, but nothing was coming up – and the foundry was fighting tooth and nail over his unemployment. With his rent coming up fast and a desperately shrinking bank account, he’d decided to end his lease and move in with his parents. That had been okay for a week, with Joe’s dad offering to put a word in for him with the foreman at his company if all else failed.

But then it had. He’d been on the streets as Cannonade one night when he’d gotten the call. His dad was in the hospital – a hit and run, they said. At the same time, Joe’s mom had gotten a call from the bank. Someone had managed to duplicate the family’s debit card number and cleaned out both checking and savings before they were caught. His family had $200 left to their name, if that.

All he could do during this time was focus on the fight. There was little he could do for them. He could always go to Midnight, asking for help. And he knew he would probably need it for other reasons. There was that old sense of paranoia, gnawing at the back of his mind. Once was bad luck. Twice was coincidence. Three times…

Not that being on the streets was any relief. There was a new hero catching the eye of the media – Liberator. Patrolling the streets in a battlesuit in the finest shades of amethyst and emerald, the guy targeted drug outfits, bank robbers, and the occasional costumed maniac. But he’d also been very vocal, about the problems with Freedom, what the city needed – and what it didn’t need.

The piece was all over the local news. “Some of our heroes…†He said the word like he was referring to Don Quixote as a “knight.†“…I don’t doubt their work. They’ve gone a good duty to clean the street up. But they need to think of the kind of inspiration they provide to the city at large. For someone to take their image from a culture with a history of violence, thuggery, and class warfare… what are they really saying about the people they’re sworn to protect?â€

Cannonade had wanted nothing more than to take that aerodynamically-designed helmet off of Liberator and stick it somewhere really uncomfortable. Which meant he was caught by surprise when the “face for a new Freedom†appeared floating on his roof, arms crossed.

“I need your help.â€

“Funny. I thought we were all supposed to fight our own battles.â€

“Sometimes you win a battle by acknowledging your own humility. You remember that bio-agent from a few months back? The one that had this city crippled? Someone’s trying to produce it as a street drug.â€

Cannonade instantly had visions of Mister Motley bent over candy-colored capsules of mutagenic mayhem. “Why am I not surprised?†he said. “So why me?â€

“Because… you know this neighborhood. You know these people. And they know you. I know the lab is somewhere in this neighborhood, but I’ve got little to go on for possible locations. I was wondering if you might be willing to lend me a hand.â€

Suspicion raged like a bonfire. “Thought I was supposed to be a bad influence. This kinda thing could really hurt your character.â€

“Is this about what I said to the press? Are you really going to hold that against me when the longer we’re up here, the more of a chance there is those drugs will get onto the street?â€

Cannonade couldn’t really argue with that. A little “friendly talk†with one of the local Death Road Ministers told him of a disused bodega on Lark Street where his associates had seen strange chemicals being wheeled in by the drum full. The “disused bodega†turned out to be an entire condemned building, one of the old ghosts of the last recession. Strangely, for a place that looked like it was counting the days until its date with the wrecking ball, the back door was unbarred and unlocked.

Cannonade let Liberator take the lead as the two swept into the building. The drums were there, all right, as were the apparatuses that would lead to production. Cannonade took a closer look at one of the drums. “Phenylpropan,†he said. “Seen this stuff before. Can’t remember where…â€

“It’s common in meth labs.â€

Cannonade heard the servos adjusting behind him, and turned just in time for the metal fist to collide with his face. “I’m sorry. No maniacs. No mad plans. Just this lab, which the original owners were pleased to lend to me.†Liberator raised the other fist, and soft, putty-like charges shot out towards Cannonade. They landed right on his chest. He looked down, instantly reminded of something he’d seen Midnight pull out on a mission. He reached for his chest, only for the charges to detonate, knocking him through the back wall.

He pulled himself to his feet, only to find Liberator charging at him again. He grabbed the battlesuit by the wrist and twisted the traitorous hero around, slamming him right into another pile of barrels.

“Think about what you’re doing,†he said. “This is a meth lab. They tend to make a horrible mess when they explode, one that lingers for years afterwards. Do you really want to risk the damage?â€

Cannonade hesitated – just long enough for Liberator to activate his rear rockets and soar forward at top speed. Fortunately, he’d been anticipating something like that, and grabbed the tin man around the chest in a bear hug-like grapple. Liberator was now pointed straight towards the ceiling – and flew up right through it, with Cannonade holding on for the ride. They’d slammed through the roof by the time the pilot had managed to deactivate the thrust, and crashed back down onto the skyline. Cannonade took advantage of the grapple to grab at the back of the helmet, finding purchase for his fingers in the ridges. He struggled to tear it open – it was like ripping an avocado apart with just fingers – but the steel buckled and tore gradually, revealing…


“The joys of remote piloting,†said the distant navigator, with a voice like a broken music box. A low hissing noise filled the air, and the air slowly began to blur for Cannonade. Iron weights hung around his neck, and his bones turned to lead. “And with a surprise for anyone foolish enough to get in. Like, say, you.â€

Before he hit the ground and fell into the dark sea, Cannonade faintly heard Liberator say, “I knew it. With everything gone… you’re nothing. They’ll all see soon.â€


“What has this man told you?†cried Liberator from his bully pulpit. “That there is no power in the individual? That the only ways to get forward are interdependence, symbiosis, and limitation? That you are being kept down by those on high? He has sold you falsehoods!â€

Liberator lifted Cannonade to his feet, parading him before the gathered crowd like a prize sow. The aftereffects of the gas were still running through his veins, leaving him like a rag doll. “Anyone can rise, if they have the will! To imagine that there is nobility in the bottom is folly at best, delusion at worst! The way to greatness is clear – the way of the self, and the way of true freedom!â€

Liberator threw Cannonade to the ground, down at the feet of the masses. “Make your choice. Break from this prison that has been built around you, a prison of entitlement and parasitism. And find the strength within yourself to –"

That was when the first rock hit Liberator straight in the head. Before the man could react, a rain of similar joined it – bottles, bricks, and litter. Cannonade looked up, to see the people of Southside turning against the armored man, shouting him down and trying to drive him away.

But sticks and stones didn’t really stand up to military-grade alloys. “I,†Liberator said with a voice like an angry god, “offered you wisdom. I offered you a chance to break from this hollow lie. To embrace moral clarity. And this is how you repay me!†He pointed down towards the bound Cannonade. “You’re no better than he is. And now… you will reap the rewards of weakness.â€

Things fell from the sky above – like military drones, but smaller and designed by Giger. They swept through the streets, opening fire. The people ran for shelter, trying to get away from the carnage. Cannonade struggled against his chains, trying to break them open – but his body was still weak, and there was only so much he could do. But he looked up to the sky, to the rooftops above, and knew that he wouldn’t have to do it alone.

There they were, outlined against the lightning. A man who wore the night around him like armor, with an answer to every problem the world could present. He swung down from the roof, intercepting two drones at once. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the solution, and the two drones shorted out at once, falling harmlessly to the street below.

The ultimate survivor, and the night’s lover, fell to earth behind him. She had blossomed in a place where death ruled over all, and clawed her way into the world of the living. There was little that could scare her anymore, and certainly not this. She drew her staff and drove it into the head of a pursuing drone, sending the thing crashing to the ground in pieces.

And standing above them was a man who made his own luck, who could not be bound by the strictures of fate. Indeed, it was the other way around – fate was bound to him, and all too willing to serve. And on Murdock Street, the improbable became truth. Systems shorted out randomly. Guns jammed. Catastrophic system failure was the order of the night. A miracle had arrived in human flesh.

Fire ran through him once more. The chains were just paper now. He was to his feet, and then leaping up through the skies to the roofs above. There, in the heavens, was Liberator, looking down on his works.


He was up like a comet, wrapping around the legs of the armor with a grip like a drowning man. Liberator – or whoever it was behind the steel – tried to fly again, but Cannonade wrapped his hands around the rear rockets with a grip to break the earth itself. The legs crumpled down into tin foil, and the suit was suddenly as aerodynamic as a rock. It fell, trying to compensate with the other rockets but unable to fully adjust for the weight of its passenger. The suit hit the pavement with the force of a car crash. Cannonade didn’t notice. There was no room left to care.

“My friends.â€

The fist caught the crippled battlesuit right in the chest, leaving a crater the size of manhole cover.

“My family.â€

Liberator desperately fired a rocket off at Cannonade. He caught it in his hand and crushed it until it was inoperable.

“My people.â€

The suit launched its shoulder-mounted rockets and again came swinging at him. This time, Cannonade brought it to the ground with an elbow slam, and forced it down with a boot to the back. He pressed with enough force to compress the launch mechanism, grounding the suit entirely.


“You still don’t see, do you?†spat Liberator. “After all of this? You’re not helping anyone. You’re driving them into mediocrity. They need to be free. Free from all those goddamned chains of yours! What have they made you? Nothing! They made you nothing!â€


Cannonade went for the suit’s neck. With one hand, he crushed the reinforced metal like a beer can. With the other, he ripped the head clean off. The suit jerked and shook like a fish on dry land, before finally falling steel.

“Word of advice. You wanna see how much of a ‘nothing’ I am… don’t attack the people I care about.â€


With the remote armor deactivated, the rest of the drones soon followed. The armor was designed with a “poison pill†meant to wipe all relevant data if the connection with the remote was severed in the improper order. But Midnight could find a needle in a haystack, especially with the proper motivation. By the end of the week, prominent industrialist Jon Roark was in federal custody on charges that started with extortion and ended with terrorism. The look on his face said he had the money to buy his way out. But Cannonade – and the rest of the League – had been there at the hearing, to remind him of what would be waiting for him if he did.

Things went back to normal after that. Ownership of the shop was passed back to the old management, especially after the Attorney General’s office found out just how many arms had been bent to get the initial hand-off. The money made its way back into the accounts of the Macayle family, after an extensive trace had run it back from one of Roark’s isolated off shore accounts.

Joe knew what he was when the world was against him. He was a man with friends who would help him stand against it.

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Thirty-Six Seconds

July 16th, 9:56 PM

Thomas Morgan was sitting in his room, getting ready for bed and thinking about what to do the next day. It had been an ordinary day, he got up, went to work, went patrolling for a few hours, and then came home. He hadn't run across anything unusual, and didn't have any problems.

His mind, however, was surfing the internet, checking messages, checking police activity and in general making sure Voltage wouldn't be needed any time soon. It was then that he caught something, a random text.

Help me. It said. Kidnapped, docks, waterfront, please.

Thomas sat up and immediately began triangulating the signal. It was indeed coming from the waterfront. He wondered briefly if the police were going to be en route, but then he realized that these kinds of situations didn't work out as often or as well as they ought. If this person was in trouble, they may end up hurt or killed soon.

The phone was registered to a young Jeanine Smythe, within a few minutes, Voltage deduced who she was and what she might have gotten kidnapped for. Her father, Robert Smythe, was a wealthy business man, though not a public figure. Made sense, kidnapping someone who's father was rich, but not famous.

It didn't take very long for him to find where the signal was coming from, a warehouse at the waterfront. Within moments, he arrived there and glanced down.

He used his mind to scan for other signals and internet activity. Nothing unusual within the radius of his senses. The signal had cut off, but then again, she'd probably shut off and hid her phone, or it had been destroyed. Either way, there was no time to lose.

Voltage teleported down onto the dock, and began to search around, hoping to spot the kidnappers. Even ordinary criminals were dangerous if cornered. Voltage's armored costume would protect him from small arms fire, but the girl wasn't so lucky.

He landed right in front of the warehouse and walked inside. This was suspicious, very strange, and unusual. He was afraid they might already have moved her, or killed her.

Suddenly, something slammed into him, he couldn't see what. His vision went white for a second as he stumbled back. His eyes opened, and he saw his attacker.

The robot's body was smooth and sleek, with a humanoid figure and of human-like size. He scanned it for a moment, and determined a few key facts; it was balanced for great maneuverability, and was designed for hand to hand combat. He wasn't going to give it that chance.

He flew backwards and was about to blast it with a bolt of lightning when another attack blindsided him. It struck him on his chest and sent him flying away. An energy blast, probably from some sort of weapon.

He made it to his feet and took a step forward. It was strange, his foot had ended up in a puddle of a black, viscous liquid. Oil, perhaps? No, too thick, and this was sticky. He tried to move his leg, and to his horror, the puddle began to laugh. It twisted and changed, crawling up his leg, swirling and moving. He saw what looked like a face, before he was enveloped.

The liquid was hot, painfully so, and as it moved, he felt it grab and stick to his arms, pulling them back so he couldn't move. Finally able to think straight, he began to channel energy through his body, trying to send a short-range blast into the strange, liquid entity. All that earned him was another laugh. The liquid was too conductive, the electricity passed harmlessly through it and out of it. He couldn't move his arms, but maybe he could teleport away.

Just as he'd concentrated enough to try, he felt something stick to his chest, dig through his armored costume, and attach itself. He tried to teleport, but it didn't work. He tried to fly, and it didn't work. The device had somehow taken away his powers. He struggled vainly, but with his limited strength, there was very little he could do.

The strange, viscous liquid let go slightly. He opened his eyes groggily and saw three figures step forward. The first and most obvious was the robot that had struck him, but the other two were another matter.

One was an older man, early to mid forties, with straight brown hair and sinister eyes. He stepped forward and chuckled. Voltage swore he heard that voice, seen that man, before. Then, he remembered...this man was someone Voltage was familiar with. Still, he didn't want the doctor to know he remembered him.

“Hello, good to see you again.†He shrugged. “You don't seem to remember me, but, I remember you. Young, brash, full of energy and verve. On top of the world, as it were. Ah, well, it's time to dispose of you.†He said. He reached over and cuffed Voltage's hands together. Then, a pair of shackles to bind his feet to something heavy. Moments later, he was in the water.

“Do not panic...†he thought as he felt the cool water cover his body. “You panic, you die, simple as that.â€

He began an immediate assessment of his environment, along with all possible resources. These included, but were not limited to the water, the pier, the cuffs, the shackles, the weight, his own costume, and the device on his chest.

He then realized that his hands were cuffed in front, not the back. That was a tremendous aid in his escape. He brought his hands up and felt around his costume.

“The breach is significant, damaging the outer shell of the defenses. There still should be some residual current...†he thought to himself.

He reached his hands up and began grinding the metal of the cuffs against his costume, hoping to start peeling away at the outer, protective layer.

He felt around the device, and found the probe that had been attached to his skin with some sort of glue. That was going to be painful to remove, but not impossible.

He began to grind the chain against his skin, hoping to touch the breach. Normally, electricity couldn't hurt him, but if that were also inactive due to the device...

He roared in pain as current flowed through his body. He barely managed to keep his mouth shut, screaming through a clenched jaw. That hurt, but he'd managed to rub some of the components bare. The saltwater began leaking into his costume, up against the sensitive components within.

He screamed again in pain, forcing his hands up. Using the cuffs and the water as a conductor, he directed the current from the suit directly into the probe designed to suppress his power. The device flickered, and then died.

Above, Dr. Green and his two flunkies stared at the water.

“Is he dead?†The black, viscous figure asked.

“I don't think so. Remember, he can teleport.†He said. The four of them, the doctor, the robot, Andrew Hill, and the viscous figure formed a tight circle. If they were close, they could...

Four threats, Voltage thought to himself. Dr. Green was much tougher than a normal human, but had no other superhuman powers. Andrew, however, had been re-purposed into some form of cyborg, now that he had the time to think about it. The black, viscous figure was a woman, had tar-like consistency. Last, but not least, was the robot that Green had constructed, a skilled hand to hand fighter, probably shielded against him.

Green was the most dangerous and the least. So long as he had no other gadgets, his own inherent resistance to damage wouldn't do much to slow Voltage down. The tar woman and Andrew were both valid threats. Her strange powers meant that electric current had no effect, and she was likely virtually invulnerable. Andrew, however, was equipped with technology that he had yet had the opportunity to assess. The combat droid was, as always, dangerous, but only if Voltage let it get close. Based on his prior experiences, the robot could neither fly, nor did it have any ranged attacks. Still, upgrades weren't out of the question. Andrew represented the greatest overt threat, and needed to be dealt with first.

“I think I heard...†Andrew said, not able to finish his sentence as he felt something slam into him, grabbing him up and throwing him into the river.

Andrew's metal body would make swimming difficult, but not impossible, and his built in life support would ensure his survival, if not comfort.

“Where is he, Doc?†The figure asked. “Where is he?!â€

Voltage decided that the tar-woman represented the next greatest threat, with her unusual anatomy and powers. A direct confrontation would be useful, especially if he were prepared to retaliate before she reached him. That was vital, if she got her hands on him again, it would hurt even worse, with his costume damaged as it was.

He briefly scanned the internet and found a dossier on her. She could reconstitute herself if destroyed, but it took a great deal of effort. That was good, he had a quick and effective way to get rid of her, a nonlethal way.

Voltage suddenly appeared in front of them, floating in mid-air.

“I have him.†Said the black figure, whom Voltage could now recognize as a woman. She flew up to him, a tar-like mass threatening to envelop him again.

“You seem to be immune to my electrical powers.†Voltage said as she neared. “But you're not immune to blunt force.†She got within a few inches, before a large metal beam slammed into her, causing her form to explode, sending her in a dozen pieces at once. As he expected, she began to recollect herself, but seemed sluggish and tired from doing so.

The robot leaped into the air, having seemingly upgraded it's mobility. Voltage anticipated that response and teleported away before it could get close to him.

The robot's AI was a simple one, and had redundant copies stored elsewhere. Voltage learned this moments before when he scanned for it's dossier. That meant that Voltage could dismantle the thing without risk of 'killing' it. Sooner or later, Green would rebuild it, if he got the chance.

He reappeared moments later, a little farther away. “You seem to be built with a lot of ferrous metals.†He said as the robot neared. It jumped to attack him again. Just before it reached him, two large components flew from it's body, causing it to fall apart.

Dismantling the robot was something that strained his powers, but he was capable of doing it. He had to catch his breath, but, hopefully Green would be too scared to retaliate immediately.

“Good job.†Green said.

Voltage didn't let himself betray his confusion, but the man knew anyway. “You did a good job.â€

Two metal cables flew out and wrapped themselves around Green, causing him to drop to the ground. He struggled, but didn't seem especially bothered.

“You defeated us handily, just as I thought you would.â€

“What are you talking about.†Voltage said, turning to the crazed scientist.

“I've been watching your progress. You're one of the smartest people in the world, do you know that? Your mind has granted you unlimited potential. Your powers are finely crafted tools, yet you wield them like blunt instruments. You are more than what you show yourself to be. You can analyze and assess threats with frightening speed, yet you blundered in here half blind. We ambushed you and nearly killed you. If you used that mind of yours, we should have lost the fist time.â€

“Your praise and critique mean nothing, especially since you tried to kill me.â€

“I tried to wake you up! I tried to make you realize how much smarter you are than that! Why do you think I cuffed your hands in front of you? You were meant to escape! Are you seriously that dense? Your analytical abilities are second to none, but you have the common sense of a doorstop.â€

“Why do you care? Why stage a fake kidnapping, why threaten my life? Why?â€

“Because, Voltage, I made you. I don't know who it was, but one of my subjects gave birth to you, or fathered you. It could have been any one of a thousand researchers, or even one of the cleaning staff. The genetic modifications I made to your parent have clearly paid off in you. I couldn't be prouder.â€

“You're insane.â€

“Perhaps, or am I the only man with vision? These 'superpowers' are divine in nature! It is mankind's destiny to break it's bonds and transform into gods! You could be changing the world, and yet you fight petty crime!â€

“And I should join you? Work to give people powers?â€

“Yes, you should. Those who cannot adapt must die, those who adapt will become gods. Humanity will experience a glorious transformation. One day, you will no longer be special, boy. You will be one of a legion of people with powers. When that day comes, humanity will have a bright future. No more evil, no more war, no...â€

“No, bad people get powers all the time. If everyone got powers, criminals and psychopaths would have even more power to wreak havoc. Maybe you're right. Maybe one day, humanity will all have super powers. But that day has to come on it's own, because we're not ready. We're not ready as a species, for that kind of power. If we got it artificially, we'd just destroy ourselves.â€

“Is that what you really believe, Voltage?†Green asked. “Or are you just afraid of not being special anymore?â€

With that, the police arrived and arrested the criminals.

Voltage thought long and hard about what Green had to say. He was right about one thing, though. He had to fight smarter than he was, he had to make himself a better hero than he was. Otherwise, it might get him killed.

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