Deathspider/Hosannas From The Basements Of Hell
From Unofficial Handbook of the Virtue Universe
Hosannas From The Basements of Hell
“I’ve forgotten who I was.”
“It hardly matters now, does it? Down here, there is no room for regret, no place for pity, no need for memories.
“The past can only hurt, it can never help.
“My brothers and sisters here, they are my family, and yet… we’re more distant from each other as…
“Well, imagine the gulf between the beggar and the rich man in his suit and briefcase and eyes full of greed.
“Through our emotional distance we are forever bound.
“In the sewers, in the waste of a society unable to take care of the least of them, the broken, the sick, the despised, the unclean. The outcaste.
“Down here, we have found a purpose, shining through the haze of drug addiction, alcoholism, mental illness, the endless, boundless fountain of hate and rage and bitterness that is the teat from which we take out nourishment.
“We are Lost.
“And yet, we are found.
“The others, the Rikti, they too are Lost, lost in a world of misunderstanding and mindless aggression. The beautiful people, they say the Rikti are preying on us, changing us, using us, swelling their ranks, but I say it is much like how subjugated and conquered people have usurped their conquerors through the ages. They change us, but we are the Rikti now. And they, us. We have absorbed them, just a different mask for us to wear.
“And why not? I for one, welcome the change.
“Perhaps now, we can physically resemble what we really are, what we have known, all this time, in our hearts… our souls. That we are alien to the society that has found no use for us, that has thrown us away. Cast us from their sighs. And lost us.”
The hideous visage of the Anathema looked over his tribe in the rank gloom of the sewers. Look at them, it thought with a sense of pride, of brotherhood, of belonging. As it had said, they were the least of society. The mentally scarred, defective, men and women too angry or disoriented or disassociative to function in the world they had been born into. Sores, lesions, boils, and weeping cankers were worn like badges of honor. Soiled, torn, filthy rags of clothing worn with no affectations or regard to petty notions of fashion or propriety. More so than the most hideous demon, people recoiled from its kind – sometimes, the fantastically disgusting was preferable to something they could see a glimmer of themselves in.
Better a bat-winged devil than a filthy, insane beggar.
That would change, it vowed.
It moved it’s bulk, it’s body mottled and pink like baby skin underneath an old scab. Muscles in a slow state of mutation bulged under its hide. Its face was utterly unrecognizable from what it used to be. Its mouth was nearly sealed shut, stalagmites of flesh from where it’s lips used to be. Its skull was misshapen and deformed from its original shape.
God, how that had hurt.
Compression, cerebro-spinal fluid leaking from minute cracks in the bone as it changed and enlarged. Months of unbearable, mindless agony as it’s head changed shape.
The pain was the key, though. Pain was a teacher. Pain was instructive. Without the ability to inflict, or threaten to inflict, pain, civilization would be impossible. The pain opened it’s mind. Crippled by paranoia, schizophrenia, and a host of other maladies, the pain forged the sickness in the terrible heat of irrevocable, endless insanity. It was like an eternity of madness, a long, leisurely dip in the depths of Hell…
Until one morning, it stopped. The fog of madness receded. Its mind raced along new vistas of terrible understanding and cyclopean landscapes of thought. Hyperawareness – little surprised it anymore. Telepathy – it could hear… hear… the disjointed thoughts of its fellow Lost. Psychokinesis – when its emotions ran strong, debris around it began to rise from the ground.
The pain had elevated it. The pain was a cruel angel from God, transforming, transfiguring, and evolving it.
Pain was a gift from God. A gift it had to share with others.
The guttural, phlegmy voice of the Anathema spoke again. A raiding party was getting ready to go to the surface, to spread the message. To bring other Lost here, to where they might find a home. Or their deaths. Either way, his tribe offered an escape from an uncaring, loveless world where one’s worth was based on arbitrary concepts of wealth, beauty, or the faulty perceptions of others.
The Lost offered a salvation, of sorts.
“Go forth, my brothers. Go into the hateful world of light and lies. Bring the Gospel of the Lost to the world of the heathens who cast you down.
“Go forth, spread the world of Salvation…”
St. Catherine’s church in King’s Row was dwarfed by the monolithic high-rises around her. She was clothed in a shawl of soot and pollution. The iron crucifix on the steeple was black, transfixed against the bruised skies.
Still, it was a bastion of what passed for human compassion these days. Today, in the chill, crisp January air, the soup kitchen steamed and smoked under a collection of donated Army surplus GP Medium tents in the parking lot. A line of the poor stood in a line wrapping well out of the parking lot and halfway down the block. White, black, and Latino, no matter what the hue God used to bring the human details forth of the canvas of His divine masterpiece, the nuns and priests of St. Catherine’s were there with a weary smile and a steaming pot of soup.
In a world where contemporary Christianity was preaching a gospel advocating that wealth and earthly pleasures were God’s reward to the faithful, a ‘Prosperity Doctrine, these men and women were here in the bitter cold, giving a small measure of the grace they themselves sought to the poor and destitute.
Which made Miguel Sanchez’s appearance behind the folding tables, ladling out soup to the poor, an odd sight.
Bundled in a navy blue Chicago Bears winter coat, the white haired Sanchez offered a smile and a ladleful of chicken noodle soup to the glassy eyed homeless and poor families. It was his third week volunteering for St. Catherine’s, and the ‘regulars’ were beginning to relax at the sight of him. Miguel had been around super heroes for so long that his 6’4”, 230 pound, heavily muscled frame seemed commonplace – not so much out in the ‘real world’. These people were used to being victimized by the physically stronger, and it took time for people to get used to his imposing presence.
This is what Miguel did to forget. His own romantic troubles seemed so petty and juvenile when compared to the problems of these people. More than three-quarters of them suffered from some sort of mental illness. Few, if any, had a warm place to sleep at night. Age and race seemed to matter little. Old black men or young white kids, anyone, it seemed, could just lose their grip and fall down here. He knew that having to come here, for a lot of them, was humiliating.
Some of his peers, and a lot of the regular population of the city thought they were too lazy. That ‘If I can get a job, if I can hold it together, anyone can!”
Sadly, not everyone can.
Ever since Warp Factor had… persuaded him to join the Guardian Angels, Miguel had been given a rather compelling look at the world he had been ignoring over the past six months. The super villains, the problems in his personal life, the constant drive to stay busy to forget said problems – it kept him off the streets. The streets, after all, where he came from. He had become blinded, he thought ruefully, to the same problems he condemned the Freedom Phalanx for ignoring.
Looking into the miserable faces of these people, it began to dawn on him that nobody really cared about anyone else as a rule. Altruism wasn’t a natural human act or motivation. Your feelings didn’t matter to anyone else, and if someone claimed otherwise, it was because they wanted something from you.
You had to rise above the contemptuous human condition to truly care.
So here he was. It seemed a little trite, Mister Security Level 50 ‘I Turn Into A Spider Thing And Eat People’ doling out soup to homeless people in order to make himself feel better, but it was better than what a lot of his peers were doing.
Sometimes small comforts were better than none at all.
As a person without a real job, beyond beating (or eating) super villains, he had the time to spare. But what escapes most of the cape and cowl club is that, alright, yay, you beat up some crazy chicks dressed like slutty gypsies stealing some ridiculous artifact. How did that help the people of the city? If poverty is a major component to crime, and if you come down on the criminal after the crime has been committed, all you are doing is attacking the symptom of the problem. You really didn’t change anything. Maybe, Miguel mused, if he tried to do something positive for people like the ones here, shuffling along to the cafeteria tables in the next tent over, maybe he was preemptively stopping a mugging, a robbery, a rape.
Maybe. That was enough for now.
He turned and Father Dalton was there, second hand windbreaker covering his gaunt frame. Miguel thought he looked like a pale… well, paler… Tony Dungy.
“Yes, Padre? What’s up?”
Father Dalton smiled crookedly. “Paul can take over for you, I was wondering if I could get a minute of your time.”
Paul Wachoski, a Chicago transplant, a stout Polish man who often complained about the state of the NFC North division and the Bear’s quarterback woes, nodded back at Miguel.
“Sure thing, Padre.”
Father Dalton led him over to the rear of the church, near the new HVAC unit that was purchased with ‘mysterious’ amounts of cash over the summer. Parishioners figured it was the doing of some philanthropist with Christian charity in his heart, but Miguel and the Father knew better – when the priest opened the briefcase near the altar with the note attached to the handle, there was still cocaine dust over the low denomination bills. Stacks of bills, that is.
Neither man ever acknowledged who brought the money, or where it came from.
“Miguel, you’ve been coming here for a couple of weeks, and I wanted to thank you for your time. God bless you for helping us. I know you have a lot on your plate.”
Miguel smiled, a genuine smile that came to his face so rarely these days. “Padre, it’s part of my job. I just think I can help more efficiently down here than… at work.”
Father Dalton smiled and nodded, looking down at the ground, and dropped the volume of his voice. “Miguel, I have a favor to ask you. Do you remember a small group of kids… A Pack, I guess they’re called, oldest was a blonde boy of 17, youngest, girl of 14… three boys, I think two girls. Maybe three. Not sure. Family unit, I’m thinking.”
Miguel thought for a moment. “I think so, but you know, we see a lot of kids come through.”
Father Dalton’s smiled faded into a worried frown. “I think something’s happened to them. They were living out south of the hospital, I think, or under one of the bridges there for awhile, maybe three, four months outdoors. Hector says there’s been folks missing out that way. You know how it is sometimes, people tend to drift…” He turned his head to gaze at the tents, face full of emotion.
Miguel nodded slowly. He had done his share of rescue missions over the past year and a half –
- It’s only been that long, he thought to himself. Seemed like an eternity… If time flies when you’re having fun, it was a pretty sorry indictment of his fun quotient.
“Where does Hector hang out?”
Father Dalton sighed. “I thinking he already came and went, but best place, I think, is under the bridges. Usually wears a Celtics or Patriots hoodie.”
Miguel smirked, and patted the Chicago Bear’s logo on the breast of his jacket. “Lucky it’s before the conference championship. Guy might not want to talk to me.”
Dalton grinned. “Somehow I know you’ll pull through.” The smile faded a bit. “You know… ah, never mind. If you could talk to Hector… maybe try to find out…”
Miguel shook his head. “Say no more, Padre. I’ll do my best to find those kids for you.”
Dalton smiled, a bit relieved. “God bless you. Good luck, Miguel…”
Hector Delgado looked blearily up from his makeshift nest, a dirty hand slapping up a cardboard flap as his eyes blinked rapidly. He shifted on his back, and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes.
He was lucky to have gotten to sleep. Lucky to have woken up at all, really, what with the CIA after him.
They’d have a hard time catching him, of course, him being a deep cover agent. He had to, you see, sleep here, caked in filth… His mission…
… Never mind his mission. It would come to him, he just had to clear his head a bit.
Just a bit.
The disappearances were just proof his pursuers were close. The homeless people were being captured and probably tortured for information. It was the only thing that made sense.
He sat up and fumbled for his ragged sneakers. He should get moving…
His eyes narrowed. There was something out there.
A faint whisper.
His heart jumped. His eyes wide open, he froze in his nest of newspapers and garbage.
“Hector… where are you, Hector?” A man’s voice, almost child-like in tone.
The CIA, he thought. His body stuff like rigor mortis, corpse, corpse to be, deer, deer in the headlights, froze.
“Hector… come out come out wherever you are…” Getting closer.
He couldn’t move, not to like back down and cover up in the trash, or to bolt, madly, screaming, across the street.
Fear had paralyzed him.
The voice hardened, growling.
“Hector… We know you’re here, Hector… Come out to play…”
His nerve broke. He scrambled, shakily, to his feet and began to run, barefoot, over the debris strewn ground. His heart wanting to burst free of his scrawny chest and dash down the street…
… don’t have to outrun the bear, just outrun the guy behind you…
A filthy, ragged man with a long, scruffy red beard came in suddenly to his right. Baseball bat crushed his kneecap. A rusty scream, and Hector falls, falls with an arm outstretched to brace his fall, and it landed on the ground covered with tiny chunks of asphalt, a dirty discarded McDonald’s cup, and broken glass. A cry of horror and pain.
CIA CIA CIA CIA!!!
Panicking, he looked behind him, dark forms walking, coming closer, carrying weapons. The red bearded man loomed over him. Was he CIA?
He… He looked like…
“Donnie?” his high pitched voice cracked. “Donnie? It’s me! Agent Hector! You know me! You know me! Right?”
The man that had once ate next to him at a soup kitchen in Skyway City smiled, a madman’s smile. He dropped into a squat. His pants were dark, and reeked of sewage.
“Hector… We’ve come to help you. We’ve come to save you.”
Hector rolled on his back, his leg on fire with pain. Broken glass imbedded in his palm. Bright red blood. So bright. Redder than Donnie’s beard. “Suh…suh… save me?”
Donnie grinned, a rictus of black, rotting teeth. Not teeth. Stumps.
“Yes, Hector. We’re here to save you.
“Bring you… Salvation…”
Hector’s screams echoed under the overpass, carrying to the tenements on the other side of the lonely street.
Sewers were nothing new to Deathspider.
Oh, oh, oh, how many jerk contacts of his had sent him down into the unbelievably disgusting tunnels below Paragon City, or in the Isles, for that matter? It was as if they had a sick fetish for sending a person down into feces. Gross.
Crawling along the upper arch of the tunnel, he was nearly invisible in the gloom. His spiffy new black and red costume came complete with an air filter in the mask and night vision inserts into the eyepieces, which was helpful since it was all but impossible to track by smell down here. He recalled the hellish days before he got some sort of olfactory protection – his heightened senses made each trip to the sewers… an experience.
Crawling along the wall made life easier as well. Not only did you not get your feet in… well… sewage, thus neatly avoiding the depressingly common infections and ‘sewer foot’ (He once took a heroine out on a date once, only to bring her home and discover her feet were obnoxiously rank, the skin sloughing off – it was nasty), but your footfalls didn’t carry. Crazy people tended to pack themselves in blind corners waiting for other crazy people to happen upon them. Not many folks expected something to crawl overhead. Then again, people who could fly didn’t have to touch any surface at all, but sometimes they tended to fly right into people. Trade-offs, he supposed.
This was not the way DS wanted to spend his Friday evening.
Still, it was a favor to Father Dalton. The priest had the unenviable task of giving hope to the people of King’s Row. Too many just fell pretty to despair, or worst. It was men like Father Dalton, and the others at St. Catherine’s who helped keep that part of the city from collapsing utterly into urban decay. Ever since the heartbreaking destruction of his domestic life over Christmas, and coming back to the Row, he had spent his more lucid moments helping where he could. Oh, stopping the Skulls from brutalizing some lone woman who, against all common sense, was out alone in an alleyway around midnight – or stopping the inner city hijinks of some Circle of Thorns jerks from putting a crossbow bolt through someone’s grape, that was all fine and good, but it never effected positive change. Fifteen minutes later, he could catch a scene just like it a few blocks away.
So helping at the church was one way of performing that positive change. Donating stolen drug money (DS had long been guilty of taking the proceeds of the drug deals he busted up to pay the bills – he advocates an 80/20 split. 80 percent went to charities, the school district, churches, and other people in need, while he kept the 20 percent) was another.
Some philosophers may say that there is an ulterior motive for everything that a person says or does – Miguel generally felt the same way. Maybe it was just a way to mask the hurt he was still feeling. Maybe it was a way to justify or excuse the sins of his past, or his more violent excesses that, most recently, was the reason why there were 9 horrible mutilated and partially eaten Malta operatives in the morgue. Or maybe it was even more petty – the drive to make yourself better after you’ve been dumped, so in a childish way, perhaps your ex will regret throwing such potential away.
But maybe motives were immaterial in this case. Maybe here, the action meant so much more than the reasons behind it. You can have the best intentions in the world, you can mean to do anything you want to do, but if you did nothing, intentions without action were empty.
For someone who barely considered himself human anymore, he still had so many of the human insecurities, worries, and fears.
Maybe what you were didn’t mean as much as he thought it did.
Maybe it was what you did, how you identified yourself, maybe that was more important than how you came to be. It was how he felt, after all, about… well, Her.
He shook his head irritably. God. All this thinking.
It was getting near 11, and he had spent most of the day down here, slipping into the sewers after lunch (initially a bad idea), and searched for any signs of the kids, brutalizing Hellions, Skulls, and Vahzilok. It proved fruitless. The only people, one indignant Hellion had pointed out, that were coming down here were psychopaths in tights looking to beat up people with nothing better to do than hang out in sewage.
“You have a point.” He let the guy go.
He lingered for hours, covering miles and miles of tunnels, but ten hours of darkness and brutalizing people was getting old. Oddly enough, no Lost. Which would have been the first people he would ‘ask’. It was as if they had up and disappeared. It was cause for further inquiry, but not tonight. He was tired, hungry, and he needed a shower. Nothing was turning up anyway.
“The hating me is nice…” Miguel held out his hands helplessly. “But what about the not hating me, eh?” he said in his best Zoidberg voice.
It was past midnight and while his costume spun in the washing machine, and Miguel sat across from his daughter at the dinner table. Cherish didn’t seem amused. She sighed and played with her dinner, turning her fork in the enchiladas that Ellie had brought from El Super Mexicano.
“Dad, look, I don’t hate you, okay? Can’t I just sulk about it and feel angry and let down? Don’t I get an obligatory mourning period?”
Miguel looked down at his coffee cup, filled with the contents of the pack of O+ that was now in a red biohazard bag in the trash. Life was unfair, he reflected randomly. She doesn’t want to eat those enchiladas while I have a coffee cup full of microwave heated blood.
“Look, mija, you’re entitled to feel that way. I just… look, trust me, I feel just as horrible about it as you do, but I don’t want you resenting me for it, okay?”
“I don’t resent you, alright? All this ‘don’t be angry at me’ stuff is… well… making me angry!” She stabbed an enchilada. “Ellie? Can you tell him to stop?”
Ellie, lounged on her couch watching a TiVo’d episode of Gray’s Anatomy and knitting an afghan, didn’t look up. “Guys, keep the angst down, please. McDreamy is on.”
Both Sanchezes gave her a sour look.
Cheri had been staying her for a little under a month now with Ellie, a.k.a. Belle of the Superbabes. Other than inhabiting the sparse smaller bedroom in Ellie’s condo, Cherish didn’t really want to disturb the fragile ecosystem of her roommate’s place. Not that Cherish had a lot of stuff to impose with – her worldly possessions fit in a gymbag.
Miguel shook his head. “Alright… alright. I’ll let you be. Just… don’t give me that look.
Cherish pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes, much like her mother would when she was annoyed. “What look?”
“That look. Cut it out.”
“You cut out being a pest. You’re pestering me with all this…” Cherish gestured absently, talking with her hands. “…this… thing you’re doing. Stop saying you’re sorry to me. It’s not gonna get Mom to come back.”
Miguel sighed. She had seized on it like a pit bull.
She pointed an accusing finger at her father, still giving him ‘The Look’. “See, what should be happening is you not apologizing to me. What should be happening is you apologizing to Mom. What should be happening is Mom apologizing to you. In no particular order. You both need to stop acting so stubborn and stupid and childish because that is what is making me angry! Duh! You’re my parents, and your jobs are to be together, not act like…”
“A thirty year old guy and a robot girl?”
The ‘Look’, if anything, grew more scathing.
“A dumb thirty year old guy and a dumb…Mom. Just shut up and call her? God, she hasn’t even called me! What did you two do to each other? Why does this already weird situation have to become more complicated? God, I’m verbally dressing down my ten year older than me father!” She put her hand on her forehead, wincing. “God, look what you two dummies have done to me! I’m getting a ‘Dumb Parent’ headache!”
From the living room. “Settle down in there!”
A moment later, in a lower, pleased tone. “Ooooh… McSteamy!”
Miguel’s voice dropped to a whisper. “Hey, watch your mouth…” His brow furrowed. “…young lady!”
Cherish scrunched up her face, leaning forward and whispering back. “I’m telling you the truth!”
“Look, I know how crazy this is, but could you not treat me like I’m a moron? I’m your father!”
Cherish scowled. “Why, afraid I’m gonna upset your girlfriend?” She jerked a thumb in the direction of the living room.
Miguel’s face dropped. “We’ve gone out on a couple of dates! That’s it! Besides, that’s none of your business!”
The ‘Look’. “You’re so full of it! You’re not the only one with a heightened sense of smell! God, you shack me up with your new ‘hunnie’ and you wonder why I’m upset?”
Miguel curled his lip. “Your mother’s doing the same thing. I don’t know why you’re demonizing me!”
Cherish’s voice rose angrily. “You’re both being jerks! Would you two PLEASE stop seeing other people before you both drive me crazy?”
A sigh from the living room. Ellie set down her knitting needles and yarn and stood up, turning around to glare at Miguel and Cherish at the dinner table. “Miguel… I think you need to finish your dinner. Cherish… I think you should go shower and calm down.” She sighed unhappily. “You’re both so lucky I have this episode TiVo’d…”
Cherish stood angrily, scowling at her father. “Fine! God!” She stomped to her room.
Miguel called after, hoping to gather some shreds of his dignity left. “And don’t you slam that…”
The door slammed shut, reverberating through the condo.
Miguel frowned and took a long swallow of his ‘dinner’. He lowered it, shaking his head. “You know, I’ve had a daughter from a little over four months. Isn’t that too soon to be dealing with the whole ‘teenage argument’ thing?”
Ellie hid her smile and gestured to her upper lip. “Um… you got a…”
Miguel looked at her questioningly, his upper lip crimson. He had a blood mustache.
“Nevermind. I’ll put your costume in the dryer.”
Slowly. Not so fast.
Hector put his hand to his head, cracking his eyelids ever so much. His hand came away sticky with congealing blood. No wonder his head hurt.
He opened his eyes wider. He was in the sewers, by the stench that even gave him pause. His own unwashed body, at its worst, never smelled so… omnipresently foul. He blinked, still gingerly inspecting his scalp with his fingers. Yep, someone really did a number on him.
The pain was enough for him to momentarily forget his shattered knee, and when he tried to sit up, his leg reminded him, quite stridently ‘Hey man, you know you got kneecapped, right?’
Hector moaned softly, looking downward at the grotesquely swollen mess that was once his right knee. Tears of pain and fear began to grow and spill down his cheeks.
“Shhh!” a soft, girl’s voice. Hector turned his head to regard a blonde teenage girl, long dirty locks tangled and matted, her face caked with dirt and grime. “You’ll just bring them in here if you show them how much it hurts!” she whispered urgently.
The ghastly gore soaked bandage covering what was left of her leg…the stump where her foot used to be…
“Oh god oh god oh god…” he whispered, like a mantra, panicking at the sight.
“Shut up, please!” she whispered, real fear in her blue eyes. “Please please please, they took my foot, don’t make them come back, please!”
“Ay… but why? Why did they do that to you?” Hector was breathing quickly now, horror fueling his jackhammering heart.
Her eyes shed tears, her own nerves being drawn overly taught by this man who threatened to bring the Bad Men back. She whispered back. “If I tell you, will you please be quiet?”
Hector nodded, his chest rising and falling, rising and falling, close to hyperventilating.
She bit back a cry of pain and amazingly, dragged herself slowly towards him, the bubbling sewage masking the rasp of cloth and the slap of her palms on concrete. She laboriously drug herself the ten feet to him, agony evident on her face. God, Jesus Christ, Our Savior, Hector thought, what Hell were we delivered into? She settled against the wall and bit her lip till she drew blood. Trying to ignore the stench of infection under the ever present stink of sewage. She raspily whispered.
“They… they brought us down here, my Pack… I… I forget how long ago. They talked about angels and I thought it was gonna be…” She closed her eyes. “I… I was asked if I believed in God… they laughed and told me pain was God’s gift to us… that pain would bring me closer to god…” Her hushed voice cracked. “They took my foot! How could they do that to me? How could anyone do that…” her voice trailed off, seeming to collapse against the wall, physically and emotionally, hot tears coming heavy and fast, the bleak realization that, yes, it actually happened to me, seeming to finally sink in.
The scrape of metal against concrete.
The girl froze, closing her eyes.
“What’s that?” Hector gasped softly.
Her jaw set, desperately trying to stay still.
“TALK TO ME!” he panicked, fear claiming him whole.
Two figures emerged from the door, a dim light behind them. Hector screamed and tried to crawl away, the agony igniting again as he drug himself across the filthy ground.
“Look, brother… Hector is in pain.” One of the figures says, his voice oddly cheerful, like it was a pleasant surprise, a gift from Hector that he was showing for their benefit.
“He’s closer to God, brother…” the other said with a satisfied grunt. To him, by his tone, everything was as it should be. The two men advanced on Hector, who screamed in senseless terror.
“Come, brother. Let us prepare Hector for Salvation. He looks so close… but has so much further to go…” Heavy, scabrous hands, feeling like the skin of a dog with mange, clamped over Hector’s scrabbling arms, and roughly brought him up, Hector’s weight pressing down on his ruined knee, evoking a blood-curdling scream from the man.
As the two powerfully built Lost carried Hector to his fate, they passed over the girl, corpse still, controlling her breathing, controlling her insanely powerful instinct to scream for help. She had learned, over the past week, to stifle that urge. Her family, her Pack, they had screamed, they had obeyed the impulse.
It didn’t save them
There was no point in screaming. Aside from the fact that cries of pain only incited the Bad Men to further acts of sadistic brutality…
… nobody was coming.
Nobody would hear her cries.
Better just to control her fear. Control the pain. Until it ended.
God, she prayed, please let it end.
The Anathema watched his brothers drag Hector down the tunnel to the Chapel. There…
Well, there, Hector would be initiated into the Tribe. There, he would either accept the teachings of Pain, Angel from God…
Or he would die in agony, obviously unfit, obviously unworthy.
It rolled it’s massive shoulders, ready to preach his sermon, ready to show this child of God the Way. The Way to conquer his madness, how to hone his insanity and triumph over a lifetime of misery, suffering, anguish, and rejection by the cruel Bright World.
Hector would become Lost.
And yet, found.
Welcomed, at last, to a brotherhood that would bring him acceptance, that fundamental human need.
He would find Salvation.
The giant Anathema began to follow its brothers to the Chapel. To prepare Hector to accept it.
“God’s choices in inflicting suffering are not satisfactory to us, nor are they understandable, unless innocence offends Him. Clearly, He needs some help in directing the blind fury in which He flogs the earth.” – Thomas Harris, “Hannibal”
No sign of the children. Deathspider’s days and nights had been filled, searching Paragon City’s sewer networks. The Hellions, Skulls, Vahzilok, and other associated criminals that had gone to ground in the city learned quickly to lay low, lest a vision in red and black descended upon them in the dim stench of the sewers. It was as though the miles and miles of tunnels were but strands of a web, and they were the prey for the predator that lurked in the depths.
Still, no Lost. It was as if they had all but disappeared. Could they have gone deeper, in the old abandoned network? DS doubted it. The Lost didn’t possess the inhuman physical toughness required to live in the abandoned sewer network. Most superhumans didn’t. But still…
Homeless people. Sewers. The Lost. It all seemed to go together. The three were connected, he knew… but where were they?
It was only through a chance meeting in the D, on one of his rare breaks from the search, did he find a lead.
Hydrophidian smiled at Miguel as he led an elderly woman into the Sodality’s office in one of Galaxy City’s high rise office buildings. Miguel was dressed in his customary Chicago Bears winter coat and a 2006 NFC Champions Bear’s baseball cap, while the elderly woman, in her 60’s, and bundled under a heavy coat, looked suspiciously at her surroundings.
“Hey there” Miguel said, rubbing his bare hands together to warm them up. “This is Mrs. Petrillo. Father Dalton and I flew her out from Buffalo earlier today. Sorry it’s so late, her flight just got in, and traffic was horrible.”
Hydrophidian smiled warmly at the elder woman. "Hi. I'm Andi. Don't worry, none of this is going to be difficult."
The woman slowly, mincingly walked up to the two, offering a hand. Miguel looked nervously at Hydro. "So yeah. I had to fly her in from Buffalo. She’s Cassie’s grandmother, closest relative we could come up with. Father Dalton found her through some old church records.”
Hydrophidian took her hand gently and gave a slight bow, still smiling. Andi was focused on the woman, speaking quietly to her now. "Do you want to sit down? Want something to drink?"
The old woman smiled at Andi. “Hello, I'm Emily Petrillo... Mr. Sanchez said this was about little Cassie?”
Miguel stepped back, anxiously, clenching his fingers. Andi glanced at Miguel, not wanting to reveal anything he doesn't want revealed about the situation.
“Cassie, yes.” Andi motioned to a seat.
Miguel swallowed. "Ah, yes. Father Dalton's been worried about Cassie, and we were hoping you could give us some information."
Mrs. Petrillo took a seat slowly, the woman obviously suffering from arthritis. She looked up at Andi, smiling. “ My little Cassie... oh goodness, I haven't seen her or her father in years!”
Andi smiled gently, noticing the woman's strain. "Just relax, Mrs. Petrillo. This won't take long." Her hand on the old woman's shoulder glowed almost imperceptibly... and a subtle, soothing wash of life-essence was sent to Petrillo's aching joints. “May I take your hand?” she said calmly, and slipped off her gloves.
The old woman nodded, questioningly looking up at Andi, but offered her wrinkled, bony hand. “Well, of course, young lady...” The old woman's rheumy eyes regarded the young woman, and Miguel noticed the woman's look of discomfort. "Ma'am, Andi here is a registered Hero. We're trying to use the best, most effective ways of finding out where Cassie could be."
Andi took her hand. "We need to find Cassie, with your help. See, I can sense her, through you... through the bond you have with her, as family..."
The old woman's hand is a bit cold from the January chill, but she placed it in Andi’s warm grasp, raising her eyebrow in skepticism - this woman believed in the power of prayer, not 'superheroes', to be sure. But still...
Andi breathed in. “Okay. Let's give this a shot.” Andi took a deep breath, smiled once more up at the old woman, and then closed her eyes to focus. She settled in and the scent of lilacs became strong in the room. The air took on a fresh and cool quality: the shifting of seasons, from Winter to Spring. The old woman sighed softly, feeling the energies coming from the young woman, taking in the scent, her mind wandering. Andi opened her eyes after several moments and smiles again, carefully releasing the woman's hand.
Andi said softly. “Thank you.”
Miguel looked to Andi, his dark eyes gleaming.
The old woman nodded, a bit confused. “What... did you do, young lady?”
Andi stood slowly. “Just tried to pick up on your grand daughter... make it easier to find her.”
Miguel stepped forward, his voice hopeful. “So you got something?”
Andi looked to Miguel. "She's out there." Miguel narrowed his eyes, his voice dropping a bit, a bit chilling. "Where?"
“Bright life... she's...” Andi turned, pointing to the southwest. “That way. Definitely in the city. Actually… below that. Beyond the Row.” . Miguel frowned. "I'm gonna need a bit more than... The se...". He paused. Miguel looked down to Mrs. Petrillo. "Excuse us for a moment? Andi, can you show me on a map?"
“Er. Well, kinda.” She motioned for him to follow her around the large conference table, to where a flatscreen monitor was built into the table top. She punched up a map of the city.
Miguel whispered. "Southwest of here… That direction... that's past Independence Port...” Miguel traced his finger over the far west section... down to the Crash Site.
Miguel said in a soft voice. "That... makes sense..." “Somewhere in there.” Andi said quietly, smiling over at Mrs. Petrillo, who looked around at the bare grey office walls curiously. “Below there.”
Miguel nodded grimly. “The sewer system leading there's been blocked off for the past 3 years. Crash Site. It's gotta be. The Lost don't hang out in the Folly. And their Rikti masters... makes too much sense.
Andi quirked her lip. "I'm sorry I can be more specific."
Miguel turned to Andi. "It's more than what I had to go on. I'm assembling a team. Now I know where to look. I know it's a lot to ask and it might be dangerous… But we could use you down there, Andi.”
Andi frowned faintly then nods. "Okay."
Miguel closed his eyes and sighed. "Thank you. Thank you so much."
Andi whispered, "There's something else."
Miguel lowered his voice, nodding. "Yeah?"
Andi smiled briefly at the grandmother and then angled herself so that she mostly has her back to her. "She... flickers."
Miguel nodded, grimacing. "Not a lot of time."
“I dunno. She's strong. She's not, like... it's strange. But it's a flicker. Mighta just been something interfering. Lotsa psychics amongst the Rikti. I dunno if that'd interfere at all.
Miguel nodded, shivering a little before regaining his composure. "All right. I'll be assembling the team soon. Thank you. I mean that."
“Or maybe...” Andi frowned suddenly, whispering. “Maybe... alteration..."
Miguel frowned. "You don't mean... No. That's not going to happen."
Andi held out her hands helplessly. “I dunno. I'm just guessing. It's not like anyone gave me a guidebook on this stuff, y'know? I'll be on standby. Call when you need me.”
Miguel took Andi's hand. "We'll take care of it." Andi nodded, smiling a bit sheepishly.
“Wish I could help more.”
“You’ve done more than enough.” He turned to look at Mrs. Patrillo. “Mrs. Petrillo... I'll be taking you now to go see Father Dalton. He's anxious to see you again.”
The woman nodded, not entirely sure what this all accomplished, but she slowly, painfully rose to her feet.
Andi smiled, walking over with Miguel to the old woman. “Thank you again, Mrs. Petrillo. You made this possible.”
“You know where Cassie is?” she said questioningly to Andi.
Andi placed her hand on the woman's shoulder, letting another wave of life-essence soothe her joints. "We have a good idea. It'll narrow the search down considerably."
The old woman smiled, amazed at the healing power of this young woman. “God bless you, miss... “
Miguel took Mrs. Petrillo's hand and nodded to Andi. "Andi, I'll be in touch. Thank you so much.”
Andi smiled. "And you, Mrs. Petrillo. Like I said, just call when you need me. I'll be here... filing or something.” She wrinkled her nose.
Miguel looked back at Andi as he led the old woman out the door and back into the cold night, thoughtfully regarding the heroine. Obviously, being a loner wasn’t helping find these kids… There was a lesson to be learned here.
The Lost would show up, just not in the way Deathspider expected. Irony, in situations as the ones the players in this little saga were concerned, seemingly was God’s way of prolonging the experience, like a connoisseur of fine wines. You had to savor the experience. You had to let the wine breathe.
Paramedics swarmed over the recently cut down forms of seventy-five crucified men, women, and children. The quiet morning calm was shattered the moment the woman, who regularly walked her dog in the rosy light of dawn, shrieked in horror at the sight of a man nailed to a cross, and lashed to a lamp pole outside of her apartment.
The first responders were woefully unprepared for the task.
An hour after the first 911 call was made, an armada of police cruisers, ambulances, and fire engines descended upon the scene. Soon, heroes affiliated with the police arrived to assist.
Seventy five men, women and children, ranging in ages from fourteen to sixty four.
The array of sacrifices were hung along seemingly from any convenient post along Aerie Road in Skyway City – on lamp posts, street signs, off the sides of buildings in an grotesque display. On each of their victims, carved into their foreheads was apparently the reason why they were there- in bloody, ghastly script…
Some of the victims were unfortunate enough to still be alive. If only, they might have lamented, that they had succumbed to the horrific torments visited upon them and died before their psychotic captors had crucified them. But then, the ones still clinging onto life were far beyond many things, and bemoaning their fate was unfortunately one of them. What Salvation’s faithful had done to their bodies, shattering their psyches in an insane torrent of this malignant psychosis – his Gospel had destroyed these people’s minds.
People, when encountered with such an insane, improbably scene like this have a curious sort of tunnel vision, a lack of deeper cognitive functions, a sort of selective perception.
People in emergency situations tend to experience a psychic ‘step back’, they revert to type. A policeman will assume what he feels in an appropriate persona for a policeman and attempt to act authoritatively, cool headed, tough. A paramedic, she will react as how she feels is an appropriate for a medical professional. Anything they truly feel will be under the surface until later.
Later, after the sound and the fury, when they and their peers are gathered together until one of them broaches what they had seen. They might act callous and unaffected, or express annoyance at the actions of their other responders, but all will be secretly relieved that someone else brought it up, lest their own fears be ridiculed, or their competence called into question.
There, again. That universal human need for acceptance.
The death toll came to fifty three. Fifty three men, women, and children. Some of the police recognized them as homeless men and women from King’s Row, Atlas Park, Galaxy City, Brickstown, and the former community of Eastgate.
All of them, apparently, unworthy.
Think about that.
Think about that, as the police who recognized these victims may or may not have. True, Law Enforcement breeds little introspection, and even fewer intellectuals, but some officers made the connection.
In a perverse way, some monster had simply placed a physical label on what society had already felt about these people. Consider Mark Lydon.
Mark Lydon was a mentally ill man in his early forties, wild haired, wild eyed, years of alcoholism, malnourishment, and periodic stays in jail grinding pounds off his once formidable frame. In his twenties, it took ten cops to wrestle him down to handcuff him.
Mark’s life had become predictable. Mark committed a misdemeanor – trespassing or some other petty offense. The cops threw him in the county jail. As they years went by, he would get his Social Security disability check, bond out, and go back on the streets.
But people don’t want a crazy looking guy wandering the streets, do they? The cops would find him somewhere, and since Mark was unstable at best, they would goad Mark into a fight, antagonizing him into taking a swing at one of them.
Within days of bonding out of jail, he would be arrested again, and go back to his cell at county until his disability check arrived. He would bond out again, and the cycle repeated itself.
Over and over again.
Until a couple weeks ago. Nobody had seen Mark. He wasn’t in jail, he wasn’t standing in front of a boutique in Founder’s Falls, disturbing the rich or middle class women who, really, didn’t want to see a dirty crazy man where they bought their scented lotions.
You can almost hear their indignant whine. “What are we paying the police for?”
Until the same cops who would sigh in resignation at seeing mark and fighting with the poor guy, found Mark strung up like a flagellated Christ with a shock of clumped, matted grey hair. His wrists and feet were pierced with railroad spikes, his body broken and bruised, dried blood caking his face and torso.
And ‘Unworthy’ carved into his forehead.
And when they cut down his mangled body, and the paramedics tried to clear his airway, what did those same officers feel as they watched his chest rise and fall for the very last time?
How would you feel?
Deathspider watched from the rooftops as they cut down the crucified victims. He had heard the flurry of incredulous, panicked radio transmissions. He had rushed out of the sewers to Skyway City. And he looked on in stunned silence at the grim scene.
There were no dignity in these deaths. These people were tortured and then put on gruesome display for some sicko’s perverse pleasure.
Others like him, he could see them watching from a distance.
He slowly exhaled, turning to Hour Woman, who floated in stunned, horrified silence behind him. His hands clenched into fists. The only rational response to such an affront to humanity.
“Alright. Assemble the team. We’re going after them.”
“The world will not be this way within reach of my arm” – Clarice Starling, “Hannibal”
The call to arms was impressive.
By mid-morning, there were twenty heroes gathered in Crey’s Folly, some friends of Deathspider, some he never spoke to or heard about before. But this wasn’t about friendship or a popularity contest.
This was about avenging the ones Salvation had destroyed in his madness.
At the heavy steel blast doors of the entrance to the Rikti Crash Site, they gathered. Hydrophidian’s directions had led them to this place, the probable location underneath the Zone, in the sealed off sewers of the Crash Site. Between the Rikti running amok and the harried, paranoid military, those sewers were a less than desirable place to run around in. But looking at the might assembled here…
There, before the gate, stood a veritable who’s who among Paragon’s heroes. Valorgirl, clad in a Statesman-esque full length costume, hovered with Dragonberry (scarf fluttering in the chill wind), Super Mum, and Hour Woman, the four conversing quietly, subdued by the morning’s discovery. Hydrophidian stood with Clair DeLune, while two Peacebringers floated nearby – Starsearcher and Solarian Wind, their ethereal white forms seeming muted by the overcast, polluted skies of the Folly.
Teammates of his, Fenix and Lucid Haze were there as well, representing the Guardian Angels. Modern Samurai, Green Wraith, and Sailor Rush leaned against the heavy reinforced concrete of the War Wall, fighting men resting before the call to action. Others were coming in as well, having heard the call Hour Woman put out on the police frequency, or having witnessed the atrocity first hand, like Soul Train, who teleported in, and seemed mildly surprised by the turn out.
Deathspider clung to the War Wall, looking at the growing small army assembling. Part of him felt gladdened that people still had that sense of justice, of decency, left in their hearts. That because of what happened to the victims in Skyway, and Cassie and her friends, these people were here to set things right. The other part of him felt as usual. Pessimistic.
If, he thought soberly, we are only as strong as our weakest link, then humanity is only worth as much as how we protect the weakest of our own – the sick, the poor, the young, and the old.
Because it was easy to look at this, he knew, and dismiss it as an unfortunate incident. The Crey, Nemesis, the Council, Arachnos… God, the list went on and on of otherworldly threats, megalomaniacal super villains, nuclear bombs threatening to blow up the whole world – in utilitarian terms, what of some homeless bums crucified, some homeless kids kidnapped? There were so many other problems.
Except that’s the thing.
Evil, true evil, is not the cackling villain twirling his mustache. Not the ticking time bomb, or the gibbering, slavering monster come to devour the innocent. True, elemental evil is the desolation of the spirit, the emptiness of the human heart.
What scares you about serial killers? The sociopath?
It isn’t the thought of death – no, death lurks behind the wheel of every motorist, every cigarette we smoke, every drop of alcohol, in the air, in the food we eat, in the arms of the one we love. Humanity is well acquainted with death. What scares us is not what someone does, so much as it is someone has the capacity to do it. That someone’s spirit is so empty that they could, and will, do the most unspeakable acts, and not care.
Evil, then, is when the self-appointed guardians of decency, so-called champions of the downtrodden, the defenders of the weak, the righteous, look at people like the ones crucified this morning – and do nothing, feel nothing.
“It’s too bad, but there are more important priorities than some lazy, dirty bums – we have a world to save!” they say.
In doing so, they lower themselves to the level of the sicko who did this to those people, through negligence, or apathy, allowed those people to get a point to where something like that could happen. Did happen. To be ostracized, dehumanized, and trampled underfoot by a society that supposedly cares so much for democracy, human rights, and freedom when they ignored the human tragedy underneath their own noses speaks of a society on the slippery slope to degeneration and rationalization. Rationalizing why these people were living in cardboard boxes, freezing in the winter, why they weren’t provided for by the richest of all nations, why they were reviled and considered subhuman.
Because they were crazy and penniless? Because they no longer fit into the herd?
Deathspider grunted. No crazier than the rest of us. Is that what we are? A herd of animals and the sick, old, and weak get left behind for predators like the scum who did this to have their way with?
We’re better than that, he thought as he looked over the team. Pity it took those people to be sacrificed to get our attention.
Hour Woman hovered up to him, her glowing eyes flashing. “I think we’re set, Miguel.” She said, gesturing to the crowd. “What do you want to do?”
DS regarded her, not quite certain of what to say. “I dunno… what should I do? I’m not a leader, and god, I doubt any of these guys would listen to me anyway…”
Hour Woman smiled crookedly. “I dunno, you sounded pretty sure of yourself earlier…” She dropped her voice into a masculine growl. “Assemble the team!’ That sounded pretty in command to me. God, now I’m wondering why I listened to you!”
DS looked down, flushing under his mask. “Cut it out. I’m being serious.”
“So am I. Look at it this way. Don’t think of it as them doing it for you, or you have to prove something to them. We’re all here for those kids and to bring those guys who did that to all those people this morning to justice. You and Andi got us to this point. Let’s get going and finished what you started.”
DS nodded slowly. “You’re right.” He turned to look at Hour Woman. “Hey…”
“Thanks for helping. And the pep talk.”
Hour Woman smiled. “It wasn’t a pep talk. It was just nicer than ‘Get your butt in gear, holmes.” She paused. “Oh god, I just said ‘holmes’.”
“Yeah, don’t do that again.”
Deathspider leapt off the wall and landed lightly on the ground in front of the assembly. Rising from a crouch, he looked upon the twenty-odd heroes and heroines and cleared his throat.
“Right… Ah, I’m not good at this sorta thing, so bear with me. We all know why we’re here. We got a big group of folks here, and I appreciate you guys answering the call. These guys who did this, who kidnapped the kids, who hurt those people this morning… A few days ago, you might have seen them in passing. We all do the same thing. They don’t pose a direct threat, and we ignore them. We all do, I know. But while we ignored them, they went ahead and did something that has killed fifty three people. That we know of. Twenty three people will be scarred for life. That we know of.”
“Was there anything we could have done to stop them? Maybe. I wish I knew. But what’s done is done. We can’t change it. We can’t undo it. But we can make it right. We care enough to go ahead and make sure whoever did this will pay for what they did, and that they can never do it again to anyone else.
“We’re gonna save those kids. We’re gonna do right by the people everyone else gave up on.”
DS fell silent for a moment, feeling their eyes upon them. Penny, aka Valorgirl, looking at him intently, almost studying him. Sailor Rush and Green Wraith off the wall, nodding grimly. The others watching him, silent, listening. It was a bit intimidating. Funny, he thought. I’ve gone toe to toe with some of the meanest people alive, and watching my friends and peers looking back at me while I talk is totally freaking me out. He inhaled deeply, flexing his fingers.
“Divide up into three teams. You guys know what you can do better than I, so lets make sure each team is balanced out in case of heavy Rikti resistance. We’re looking for masses of the Lost, specifically ones, I guess, with a heavy religious bent. Look for hostages, prisoners, anything like that. Interrogate as much as you can. We’re not here to slaughter us some Lost, we’re looking for their ringleader and those kids. Which isn’t to say don’t punish them for what they did – but the boss and the kids are the primary objective. The PCPD is letting us use their radio frequencies to keep in touch down there. Nobody’s down in the sewers besides the Rikti and the Army, so watch yourselves. You can just as easily be killed by friendly fire as a plasma bolt from one of their ray guns. Out teams need to stay close, not too much, but enough to where we can reinforce each other. Nobody is being left out to dry.”
He exhaled and inhaled again. Public speaking was not his strong suit, hurting things was. His fingers thrummed restlessly on his thighs. “Any questions before we go?”
A harsh bark of laughter.
“Nice speech, Dud-spider!”
Heads turned. Standing defiantly at the rear of the crowd were a small group of Red Siders. Kichi and Fearghas stood near a tall, lean woman with an eyepatch and a younger male, no more than 15. Another young woman with dark blue hair in a leather jacket stood near a giant man in medieval armor, and a spined blue and black horror crouching low in front of them both.
And, of course, one of the last people DS wanted to see. Rakescar.
Grey Mace, nudged the girl next to him. “You owe me five bucks. I totally called him Dud-spider.”
Murmurs ran through the crowd of heroes, and power signatures flared.
Mace held out a hand. “Nah, we ain’t here to fight’cha. We heard what happened, and ass much as you dopes prance around thinkin’ you’re sumthin’, I ain’t gonna let no kids get hurt cause some maniac. ‘Sides, way I hear it, you mopes need all the help you can get.”
Hour Woman curled her lip. “Yeah, you guys are all heart. What’s the catch?”
Jordan spoke up. “No catch. We’re just here to lend a hand. Unless you guys are too high and mighty…?”
A murmur went through the hero crowd. DS grunted. “Fine. You guys split up onto one of the teams that are forming. You turn on us, you’re going home in a body bag. But if you’re on the level, I’d be stupid to refuse the help. People not caring is why we’re going down there.”
Grey nodded, slamming a metal shod fist into an open palm. “Hey, I don’t care about anything ‘cept beatin’ those sickos into a greasespot and savin’ them kids. Fight with you jerks another time.”
Sailor Rush swore softly. “Huh, figures. We ready there, Spider? Let’s get going, huh?”
DS nodded. “Yeah, let’s get into our teams. The clock is ticking for those kids.”
Sailor cast another glance at the villains, who started to walk towards the assembled heroes. He grunted to himself, shaking his head. “Hooyah.”
Salvation stepped out of the crumbling remains of the concrete outflow pope, where its minions had toiled weeks ago, into the sublime devastation of the Rikti Crash Site. Oh, how the earth shook that day! When the glowing craft of their Rikti brethren collided with the world.
Here, the air was filled with the crackling discharges of plasma cannons, US Army 105mm artillery shells detonating, the soft mechanized tread of Rikti Power Armor, the trundling clank of tanks rolling over buckled and cracked pavement. A symphony.
Behind him, coming from the depths were the faithful, come to see the brethren who had come before. Few of the main Rikti forces had survived the intervening years since the invasion – the bulk of them were mutated from the very same people they tried to exterminate and enslave years before.
It raised its massively muscled arms wide towards the vibrant blue force field surrounding the Mothership.
For Salvation, it was like a gift from God.
Humanity is much like other animals – acceptance in the context of their family or society is a fundamental drive, need, instinct. The bee with out a hide, for example, or the classic iconoclastic image of the ‘lone wolf’, the lost and isolated doe. Once they are outside of the social dynamic of their species, they are alone and vulnerable.
Human beings, however, sometimes are able to form new societies, new bonds, and find acceptance from others. Sometimes, being an outcast is the only requirement for kinship with the same, to develop understanding with another of your own kind, without regard to color or creed.
And like all fledgling societies, there sometimes are growing pains.
Hence, the crucifixions this morning.
However, it was also a gesture rife, like certain words in the English language, with several other meanings. The two obvious ones, of course, the position Salvation’s faithful put the disposed in – crucified and carved up.
If the story of Jesus taught anything, it was that only through suffering can mankind touch the Divine. That pain, like Jesus Christ suffered, was the key to the kingdom of Heaven. Crucifying the unworthy was crucial to teaching his faithful that through spreading pain to others was spreading the word of God to others. And if it wasn’t such a lethal procedure, it would nail up his followers to let them get closer to God. Unfortunately, the spirit was willing, but there had to be limits – can’t very well spread the Gospel nailed to a cross, now can they?
Carving the message in the foreheads of the worthless was also crucial – after all, what if it had rained? Merely writing on a piece of cardboard with magic marker wouldn’t have done the job that an Exacto knife did. Salvation shook its head at the absurdity of such a thought. Just because it was in love with God didn’t mean it was stupid!
But still, there were more meanings.
Like blatantly telling the residents of Paragon City “Look! Look what your despicable selfishness has wrought! Look, this is what you thought, and so they have become!” in not so many words. Brevity was key, considering the media they had to work with.
But what spelled the dooms of those poor souls was their inability to accept God’s will. They couldn’t make the connection between suffering and enlightenment, between pain and paradise. No, they had clung steadfast to the wishy-washy notion that God ‘loved’ them and that Jesus was like some go-to guy, praying to him like He was a Wal-Mart of whatever miracle you needed. Rubbish! The Bible itself was quite clear on the connections!
Man was to toil, woman was to feel the pain of childbirth. There is was, the start of it all in the Garden of Eden after Man Fell.
What about Abraham, commanded by God Almighty to kill his son. What, that didn’t hurt?
Or Sodom and Gomorrah. Through the wholesale destruction of two cities, God instructed us how to live our lives. Plus, turning someone into a pillar of salt for disobeying Him
And of course, it goes without saying, the story of Job. What could be any clearer?
Still, they didn’t listen. Or rejected God altogether.
They were still filled with too much hate, equating, quite mistakenly, God and church with the society that rejected them. Too mad at Daddy, it would appear.
They simply couldn’t let go of the hate.
Pity. Perhaps God would spare them, but they had no place in Salvation’s church.
His reverie was interrupted, his head throbbing with the forceful telepathic assault of a Rikti mentalist.
“Marshalling of forces. Objective: Preparation for counter assault. Targets: Hero Retaliation.” Salvation thought back, clipping it’s thoughts into the Rikti’s curious military-ese.
“Query: Reason for luring Hero Forces into secure area” The cold alien voice sent back, it’s displeasure making the veins on the side of Salvation’s head bulge.
Salvation grunted with the effort to keep it’s psychic defenses intact. A show of weakness could prove fatal. And after all, it was just a little pain. It felt touched that the Rikti would intuitively understand this.
“Intention: Elimination of possible enemy forces that pose threat to operation. Operation: Reproduction.”
As though the mentalist was conversing with its superiors.
“Explanation: Sufficient. Reinforcements: Assigned.”
Movement from the rubble. Rikti forces that were lying in wait to cut down Salvation’s faithful, now their guardians.
Salvation smiled with what was left of it’s mouth. It wondered what the Heroes knew of God.
“You thought you could leave me out of this?”
Deathspider turned to regard the materializing form of Belle. He looked up at her with an odd sense of relief and mild worry that she was here. Relief because she was a competent asset in a fight, and well, he was rather fond of her. Worried because he didn’t know what they’d be up against below the Crash Site, and that could mean a lot of things. Most of them bad.
“I didn’t have a lot of time. If these whackos that took the kids are the same that hurt all those people, and I think they are, then we have to move fast. I’m sorry I didn’t get ahold of you.”
Ellie smirked. “Uh huh. You invite the Big Breasts Brigade who float around in leotards, but you don’t invite me. I see how it is.”
DS shook his head. “I like your breasts. They’re fun sized.”
Ellie promptly swatted him.
Others were arriving – one in particular, Hellstalker, one of his fellow Guardian Angels. The country fried man swooped low, tipping his hat to Ellie and shaking DS’s hand. “Howdy, hoss… Looks like I’m just in time”
DS grunted. “Thanks for coming. Warp not showing up?”
“I dunno, son, Maggie might notta heard.” The warshade’s eyes were glowing with purplish wisps of energy. “It’s early still. She might show.”
DS nodded. “Right. Well, the others are going in. We’d better get moving.”
Hellstalker nodded in agreement. “Y’know, what they did to them people ain’t right. And that blaspheming ain’t right at all either, don’t sit right with me. I ain’t gonna lie back and have somebody use Jesus as a justification for killing. My mamma didn’t raise me to just let that pass.”
DS regarded Hell for a moment. “Amigo, it don’t matter why you came, just that you’re here and you’re helping. By the way, this is Ellie, a friend of mine.”
Tip of the hat. “Ma’am.”
“Now… let’s go get those kids home.”