Deathspider/Irresponsible Hate Anthem
From Unofficial Handbook of the Virtue Universe
Irresponsible Hate Anthem, Chapters 1 - 4
Chapter One - Holiday In The Sun
They say all life came from the seas.
Looking out at the vast expanse of the Atlantic, Ellie could believe it. Lying on the little uninhabited island off the coast of Peregrine, bundled under the blanket against her Snuggles, the scent of the sea washed over her, mingling with the lingering pheromones on his skin from their lovemaking. It made her feel drowsy and content. If this was how super hero couples got to spend a lazy weekday, then she would willingly do this for the rest of her life.
The sea lapped gently at the shore, rolling waves expended of energy like Ellie herself, the sound comforting to her in some primitive way, a Midwestern girl who only got to see the Atlantic two and a half years ago, when she came to Paragon. Not as a hero, but a music teacher – she thought that she could do well out here. Even in Rhode Island, a city the size of Paragon had to have music starved kids wanting to learn, and parents wanting to teach them.
Life doesn’t always turn out the way you want it to sometimes.
Her life had changed the moment she decided to walk home from a student’s home in Prometheus Park section of Atlas, when that group of Hellions saw the short, slight young woman, fresh out of college, and unrealistically naïve about the ways of the world.
There were five of them, the stink of alcohol and stimulants oozing through their pores, under the greasy devil makeup and Satanic tattoos, eyes wild and predatory. Young Ellie Alcott thought she’d be sexually assaulted, throat cut, and left to die outside her piano student’s home.
The old man with a paunch and an ill fitting costume that reeked of mothballs stepped onto the sidewalk behind them, and shouted something that Ellie, in her terror, couldn’t hear, and the thugs turned their attention to him, who promptly unleashed mystic bolts of force, knocking the Hellions senseless.
“You need to learn how to defend yourself.” He had said, slightly out of breath, reaching for her hand.
His name was Albert McKinnon, a man in his late sixties, dying of leukemia. Long since retired as a Hero (and not a very successful one at that), Albert was nearing the end of his life, and he was reminded of his own daughter in young Ellie, long since grown and too busy for her dear old doddering father. When Ellie told him what she was doing all alone out there, he was delighted. He gave up piano a long time ago to archaeology and teaching after his Hero career sputtered out in the early 1980s.
And so, Ellie found a new pupil and a friend in Mr. McKinnon, who in return found a suitable heir for the Bracers of Ishtar.
He had found them in a dig in Iraq in the tumultuous late 1960’s, in an ancient Mesopotamian temple his team unearthed. The bracers called to him from the tomb of an ancient queen long since turned to dust. The timing was fortuitous – Soviet troops also coveted the power of the Bracers, and he was able to save his colleague’s lives, launching bolts of mystic power that punished the implacable Soviets.
But the Bracers never fully accepted him. As though the Goddess Ishtar was dissatisfied with the bearer being male, or maybe because Albert was never truly in his heart cut out for being a Hero. He always felt that the magic in the Bracers was holding something back.
Ellie could feel it too, how the Bracers seemed to glow a bit brighter when she was near. But she couldn’t imagine running about as a Heroine. That wasn’t the life she wanted. She wanted the music, a quiet life punctuated by the thrill of the spark of learning in a student’s eyes, or the rush of performing a piece with an orchestra.
Life doesn’t always work out like we think it should.
Months passed, and Mr. McKinnon’s leukemia went for the throat. He was dying, the days slipping past him, no longer able to keep the strength to sit at the piano bench, laid up in his bed or slumped in his easy chair, the smell of rapidly approaching death and chemotherapy drugs seemingly suffusing every inch of the apartment, and what little remained of his life.
“Don’t be sad for me, Eleanor.” He wheezed on the day he died. “Be sad for the people who don’t get the luxury of looking back on their lives, those who get robbed of it. I’ve lived my life, but there’s so many who don’t get to have that. I’m not really proud of it, but I did my best. And that’s all that anyone can really do, when it’s all said and done. I want you to take the Bracers, Ellie. You helped an old man spend his last days feeling a little better about his lot in life, and I can think of nobody more worthy for the Bracers of Ishtar than you…”
After the paramedics were called and Ellie was left in the old man’s apartment, sniffling over losing her first friend in this crazy, bustling, dangerous city. She went to the mantle where the Bracers sat, and with tears of sorrow still drying on her cheeks, she slipped them on.
Ishtar, so far, has been pleased with young Eleanor Alcott.
Since then, the young woman who had come to teach people to play the piano has found herself finding fulfillment in the life of a heroine.
Looking down at her ring finger, she finds another form of fulfillment. Miguel had proposed to her, on his knees on the dance floor of the Pocket D, while Faith No More’s version of ‘This Guys In Love With You’ played. Thinking about it gave her a rush of giddiness and excitement.
He was such a little kid underneath the menacing black and red costume with the spider motifs. He knew precisely what to say to defuse her moods, how to make her heart flutter. Was it the pheromones that made him smell and taste so good? It was at first, but once her body built a tolerance to his chemical signals, she was pleasantly surprised to find everything that excited her physically was matched by how perfectly their personalities meshed, how much of a thrill he gave her emotionally, how much he needed her – it was exactly what she had always wanted.
And she could see how her presence calmed him, reassured him, how with her in his life brought out the best in him. The monster he felt ashamed of was surfacing less and less. And she definitely appreciated the ridiculous lengths he went to for a simple smile.
So why did they mesh so well? Was it co-dependence? No, they both had relationships like that before. Ellie reckoned that it was because he was allowed her to be everything for him (which in turn allowed her to fulfill her innate psychological need to nurture), and she allowed him the freedom of expression and the room for error to not be afraid to express his feelings for her, even when they were ridiculously misguided.
Case in point, the Valentine’s Day stunt.
If she had freaked out, ridiculed him, she could count on him to never be comfortable enough to show her his appreciation or affection again.
That wasn’t some big secret, she thought, it was basic human understanding. If you blast someone for expressing themselves, then they’ll learn that their feelings are worthless, that they themselves are worthless.
You don’t tell a first grader that their primitive artwork is horrible, so why would you tell someone you say you love that what they did for you isn’t good enough, that it was stupid?
Only a total monster would do that, especially when you’re in a close relationship, where you acceptance of them means more than anything. Just because it inconveniences you or is that cause of a little embarrassment doesn’t mean you lash out at them for showing their feelings and doing something for you. Do that enough and that person will become everything you told them they were – careless, thoughtless, and you can be sure they’ll turn around and bite you for good measure.
Ellie much preferred the less angsty biting, and she smiled and rubbed the red puncture marks in her neck from Miguel’s fangs.
She preferred the look of glee on his face when he saw her, or made her smile, like a little kid. The way his voice softened with affection and not a little wonder, as though her being there was a birthday gift, every single day.
Unless you were a self absorbed twit, to have someone treat you like a treasured gift, a wonderful surprise, was the most exciting and satisfying experience Ellie could think of.
They made each other melt – that, above all else, was a good enough explanation for Ellie. She adored the way he adored her, and he was enraptured with the way she was enraptured with him.
She looked down at him as he slept, peaceful between the two comforters they had brought. How could she have said no? she thinks, settling back down beside him, wrapping one of his heavy, powerful arms around her. Today was for sleeping and snuggling, and she intended to make the most of it. Lulled by the primordial song of the sea and her mate’s chemical scent of safety and slumber, she closed her eyes.
Doctor Sebastian Toomes looked into the particle accelerator chamber with a look of hate mingled with despair.
Hate, it is said, is anger turned against yourself.
Dr. Toomes was an angry man.
Bundled under a blanket covering his ravaged, diminished form, he gripped the armrests of the wheelchair, bought and paid for by the US government, and squeezed as hard as his frail body could allow.
He was a seething cauldron of hate.
Today, though, he thought with a degree of serenity, that hate would be extinguished along with what tattered remnants were left of his miserable life.
Had it been only five years since the accident.
Five years since the disastrous Ballista trials?
It seemed like an eternity.
It was a good life until then – graduate from MIT, youngest biochemical researcher in his field, some would even pause and consider him a genius. A lavish house, beautiful wife, two adorable kids. A plush life, earned by countless hours in the lab, by preternatural deductive leaps, by lucrative government contracts to build the military super soldiers, more stable and less prone to erratic mutations than the super humans up to that point.
By being blinded by his own bright future.
Nanomachine builders weren’t cost effective to produce, program, and implement, they said. We want a chemical solution, cost effective, with the operative word being… effective, they said. No random mutations, they said.
Dr. Toomes said, “I can do that”
We want super human abilities with little to no debilitating side effects, and that had direct military applications, they said.
Dr. Toomes said, “I can do that”
We want it to work right the first time, they said.
Dr. Toomes, it was discovered, couldn’t do that.
Not with random Fate.
Not with Arachnos, a ridiculous terrorist nation, sending a strike team to sabotage the trials.
Not with several dozen explosive charges set off, sending the base into high alert, or the foolish heroes who intervened and slung energy blasts and fireballs everywhere.
Not with an Arachnos robot, covered in flames, smashing into the chemical reaction chamber, superheating the solution that was to be administered to the several guinea pig soldiers, and causing it to boil and rupture in the feed lines, spraying scalding hot mutagenic acids into the control room, where Doctor Toomes, then robust and healthy and virile and ambulatory, was trying to engage the emergency shutdowns after heroically evacuating the rest of his staff.
Not with his body ruined and useless and his mind overwhelmed with bitterness at fickle, contemptuous Fate, as though he didn’t deserve the beautiful wife, the house, the kids, the money, the prestige.
But it was taken away from him by a combination of a poorly engineered lab, a psychotic band of terrorists, and borderline retarded ‘super heroes’.
They stole it all from him.
Crippled now and disfigured, his wife had the house and the kids now.
“Sebastian, isn’t it obvious?” she said when he asked why. “I married you for the money. Now it’s gone. You’ve always been a nerd, but a wealthy one. Now you’re a crippled nerd and I’m saddled with your children. Good bye.”
At least she was honest.
Not like the insincere apology from Statesman himself, not like the look of disgust and pity from Miss Liberty, whose paramilitary thugs were the ones she was wanting his miracle super drug to work on!
They didn’t care who got hurt! As long as it didn’t interfere with their real life game of cops and robbers!
The last of the researchers were frantically leaving the building, coats over their heads the driving rain off their heads on their way to the ferry. It was the first rainfall since the hurricane like storm at the beginning of the month.
Dr. Toomes snarled as his scabrous, spider-crab like hand set the controls for the accelerator. At the right settings, and with the built-in safeties disabled, the particle bombardment in the chamber before him would serve two purposes – it would not only trigger the Ballista formula that was slowly and painfully killing him to cause a powerful and near instantaneous explosive decompression, vaporizing him, but it would also set off, more or less, a detonation equal to a fifteen kiloton nuclear blast under this isolated research facility off the coast of Paragon City.
Of course, if the particle bombardment didn’t pop him like pimple, the thermonuclear explosion would finish the job nicely. Granted, it’d be a good fifteen minutes later.
Just to stick it in everyone’s craw.
The displays lit up, and safety protocols were overridden with swift pecks of his fingers. The door to the chamber hissed open, the very air charged with the same excitement he felt in his weakened and diseased heart. With a grunt, he wheeled himself up the ramp and through to the chamber, where Fate would be given a messy show, as to say ‘Here, you win. This is what you have destroyed already, I just didn’t have the sense to shut up and die’
He carefully wheeled himself in front of the innocuous looking particle gun. He had the assistants already move out the various platforms and isotope staging devices “For Cleaning”
Oh, the irony.
They’d have a mess they’d never be able to clean up soon.
Serves them right. At least they can walk to the unemployment line.
The door hissed shut. The timers around the particle gun were flashing.
T minus one minute to charge.
He was overcome with a warm feeling of calm.
A life turned into a nightmare that was coming to a blessed end.
An end punctuated by a mushroom cloud shaped middle finger to all the therapists who told him that feeling anger and loss was ‘normal’
Not this anger, you trollops.
To his jackal-like ex wife, who was shacked up with an unaware, young, and gifted physicist.
T minus thirty seconds to charge.
To his father, who indifferently told him to ‘get over it’, that ‘life doesn’t hand out justice and there is no fairness’
To his hateful children, who didn’t even want to see him anymore.
Worthless, all of them.
T minus ten seconds to charge.
Hate all of you.
It’s finally over.
Hate, all I have to live on.
Hating myself most of all.
Five seconds to charge.
All over now.
Forever. Rid of all of you.
Here it comes.
The world went white.
The flash was visible from space.
As far as Peregrine Island, Belle awoke, her man roused from his slumber. She shielded her eyes from the blinding light over the horizon, under the heavy rain clouds to the southeast.
“Oh god… Miguel…”
A mushroom cloud forming from the sea.
As the island facility was split asunder, in the heart of the radioactive maelstrom, where even the sea was burned away into a cloud of deadly superheated steam, a new life form was forming from the bitter hate, the chemical toxin of an experiment gone wrong, and the atomic furnace, and the boiling sea was it’s womb.
Life doesn’t always work out like we think it should.
Chapter Two: Them Bones
Positron gazed upon the devastation, a little in awe of the power of the explosion.
“Marcus… this is unbelievable.” He said through his communicator.
The LeClerc Island Research Facility was nothing more than a radioactive lump of melted concrete, still red hot, upon the remains of the island – what little there was of it. The explosion had utterly destroyed the island. The center of the island was a caldera of steam and deadly radiation. Ground Zero was an apt title – the ground there was truly rendered nil.
His armor’s sensors took in readings, and over a superimposed image of the facility that was, it became apparent to him what had happened – the approximate epicenter of the blast was the multi-million dollar particle accelerator underneath the facility. This close to Ground Zero would kill most living things, but then, Positron so much more and less than a living thing at this point in his life. He was uniquely qualified among the Freedom Phalanx to investigate what happened.
A few passes, and he soared back over the still churning, abnormally heated waters back towards Peregrine Island, and looked in dismay at the two US Navy warships that had arrived in response to the blast.
The blast, as you can imagine, caused quite the stir.
FEMA officials, along with National Guard, and later, regular military forces, were swarming over Talos, Striga, and Peregrine Isles, since they were closest to the blast, albeit by a few dozen miles. FBI agents were there in droves, along with an army of emergency workers, just in case the wind changed. Fortunately, most of the radiation particles were swept out over the Atlantic. With very little landmass there was little fallout to deal with, and most of that was handily dealt with by Heroes who could soak up the deadly, life threatening radiation.
If it had to happen anywhere, Paragon City was best equipped to deal with it, Positron mused.
“Positron, this is Statesman. The FEMA officials are telling me that they want you to head to a decontamination site they’ve set up north of Portal Corp.”
“Right. Uh… you do know that radiation, well, is kind of my thing. Y’know, my powers?”
“Heh. Positron, we have a lot of federal government people here, and with what happened, I think it would be in everyone’s best interests if we just made them happy. Washington is having a meltdown, no pun intended, about this, and I don’t blame them. Best just to do whatever it takes to calm them down.”
“Yes sit. Any word on any of the employees and researchers from LeClerc?”
“FBI is out looking for them right now. Trying to see if anyone was caught in the blast.”
“I hope none of them were on the island when it blew. I can’t imagine what could have caused it. Some kind of experiment, maybe?”
“Or sabotage. But if that was the case, why not drop a nuke in the city? Recluse wouldn’t waste a nuclear opportunity without some megalomaniacal threat or demand. The Center or Nemesis wouldn’t do it either, not a tactically insignificant lab without the possibility of collateral damage, and there again, no threat, demand, ransom, nothing. It’s troubling.”
“We may just have a bona fide accident on our hands here. Not to say it isn’t important, this could have some serious repercussions for the scientific community.”
“I could see that. Doesn’t look like terrorists either, simply because while a nuclear blast has psychological shock value, there were no civilian casualties.”
Positron spotted the decon site the US Army Chemical company troops were setting up, and slowed his speed. “Alright, I’m here. Time to get all nice and clean for these people.”
Statesman grunted. “Get used to it. We may have people looking at us really close for some time to come.”
Dr. Toomes did not expect to wake up.
He also didn’t expect to wake up being dragged along a filthy, polluted beach by a pair of young, greasy skinned thugs with Slayer jean jackets and shaved heads.
He didn’t expect to be hauled to a decrepit, crumbling shack and thrown into a cage along with several other similarly confused, naked, and beaten prisoners.
He slipped back into blissful sleep. Okay, maybe this time I won’t wake up. Probably some neurons misfiring in my brain as I’m being blasted into oblivion.
When he awoke hours later, as the thugs were dragging a screaming man from the cage, he knew this was no dream.
He knew because he could feel the grit of sand on his legs and between his buttocks. He knew because his skin, while filthy, was not a mass of angry red scar tissue. That he could move his toes, his feet, his legs. That he felt the absence of the all consuming stinging ache all over his body.
He closed his eyes.
Oh god, I’m not dead.
The screaming from the other prisoner was a strangled, keening cry. It was like an ice pick in his ear canal.
Oh god, oh god… what happened? I remember the particle gun’s counting down, the flash. How… what happened? Where am I? Why? Why am I able to feel my body? Am I in hell? Oh god, I’m in hell. I killed myself and I’m in hell, oh god, oh god, all I wanted was the hate and the hurt to end.
The nuclear blast.
Tears rolled down his filthy cheeks. Oh god. What if… what if the Ballista formula in his body had reacted to the particle bombardment in some strange way, or maybe the blast… what… oh god.
He was still alive.
I can’t do this, he thought, sitting up, not giving the others in the cage a second thought.
A dull, throbbing headache came, slow and steady, like steadily rising water up in a well, until he whimpered and held his hands over his face.
I can’t still be alive.
I can’t live in a world where what I did, what happened to me doesn’t matter, no cause and effect, no consequence, no equal and opposite reaction, I CAN’T LIVE THROUGH A NUCLEAR BLAST!
“Hey buddy…” someone else in the cage prodded him.
“DON’T TOUCH ME! I’M DEAD! I’M SUPPOSED TO BE DEAD!” he screamed.
The others retreated to the corners of the case, as though the man’s sickness was contagious.
Fingers that once resembled so much pink and raw beef jerky wrapped through the grill of the cage, rattling, shaking, screaming.
“I’M DEAD! I’M DEAD!”
A grumbling from the other side of the shack. “Not yet. I’ll fix that…”
“I’M DEAD!” Sebastian screamed, livid with fury. He had everything taken away from him.
Everything he had worked so hard for.
Years of making the grade, getting the funding, and now, even his suicide, all for naught.
A blood curdling scream from his throat, a scream of fury, anger, loss, indignation.
The scream he wanted to scream every time someone looked at his ruined body and cringed, the fake sympathy, the hollow pity, the scream he wanted to scream when his whore wife left him, at his kids when they refused to see him anymore.
How sad is it, that our cries can never truly express the emotion that births them.
Blood ran freely from his nose, blood and bile rose from his insides, spraying through the cage. His skin bubbled underneath the surface, roiling chemicals becoming agitated by the hormonal rush caused by his emotional state.
The pain his body was racked with was disconnected from his brain, his mind locked in an endless loop, replaying the immeasurably greater pain, humiliation, and grief for what his life had become.
His skin peeled away, muscle and sinew bursting and expanding, bones in his face, his skull cracking and separating and changing, the gargling scream never ending, only shifting in pitch and tempo.
The chorus of his fellow prisoner’s screams added to the symphony at the horrific sigh of this insane man… becoming.
The fence rips away like a wet piece of paper towel, rattling along with the now deep and monstrous roar coming from the thing’s throat, no longer a lamentation, but a howling promise of blood, pain, and revenge.
It rose, smoky wisps of blood burning on it’s gray hide, over the play of huge, impossibly developed slabs of muscle.
Gigantic arms spread wide, the monstrous form raising it’s head and baring large, bloodstained teeth, arcs of electricity and the air shimmering around it’s body, the chemical energy bleeding through the pores of it’s skin.
The Hellions coming to investigate stopped in their tracks, too shocked to react, and froze in terror at the eight foot tall, one thousand pound beast suddenly in their midst.
A massive hand shot out, encasing one Hellion’s head in a vise, powerful blood slick flesh suffocating, then a sound like an eggshell breaking, the massive hand crushing the skull, brains and dark syrupy blood oozing through between the thing’s fingers before the corpse is thrown carelessly away.
“KILL YOU ALL!” the beast roars, an awful promise.
One of the two remaining Hellions had the sense to bring up his shotgun, but the air seemed as thick as molasses. The hand, now a fist, looped down and the upper half of the Hellion exploded in a spray of blood and flesh, splattering the floor, the walls, the ceiling, and his comrade.
“KILL YOU ALL!”
The last Hellion emptied his bladder into his already sodden jeans, and cried out to God, because even though his hands were still dripping blood from his sacrifice to Satan, it appeared the Devil was here to discuss how unsuitable the sacrifice proved to be.
The thing tore him apart.
Ellie giggled, blushing madly. “Oh god, not this again…”
“Oh yes… the Love Spider… he know that the girl, she ache for the bite of the Love Spider, oh yes..” Miguel said in an exaggerated Latino accent, creeping over the bed, arching an eyebrow at her.
“No, no, no, stop it!” she laughed, drawing up her legs beneath her, and holding the blanket around her. “I’m allergic.”
“Oh no, the girl, she is not allergic to the Love Spider… But oh no! Look! It appears the Love Spider is allergic to the girl! Look how he has swollen! And the only antidote is…” he paused, and raised a fist to the ceiling, giving Ellie a goofily zealous face. “… THE SEX!”
He leapt at her, and was unpleasantly surprised to be tickled. “Aaaa! No! The Love Spider, he hates the ticking!” He whimpered between the giggles. “Aaaa! Brat! The Love Spider is going to… AAAA!”
Ellie straddled him, laughing as she relentlessly tickled. “Is going to do what? Huh? I think the Love Spider isn’t gonna do anything except lie there and let the ‘girl’ do whatever she wants!”
While Miguel thrashed and writhed under his fiancée, helpless, neither of them heard the patio doors open. At least until they heard a muffled ‘Damnit!’
In an instant, play time was over. Ellie was thrown off onto the bed, and Miguel dashed out into the living room, alert and ready to fight.
The Night Widow who stood in the living room whirled and from her wrists, long slender stilettos shot out. She tensed and readied herself for a fight… then slumped her shoulders.
“Ah…you… um… you’re kinda… y’know… not wearing clothes.”
Miguel looked downward, and to his dismay, she was right.
“Oh. OH! Oh jeez…”
The Night Widow retracted her stilettos and looked away. “Oh wow. I wasn’t interrupting anything, was I?”
Ellie appeared in the doorway in her nightie.
“Oh God! Miguel!”
The Night Widow held her head in her hands. “Oh, god, I’m so sorry, I was just…”
Miguel covered himself. “Oh man…”
“Uh… why are you here?” Ellie asked, throwing a towel to Miguel.
“Oh, God, really, I’m just here to deliver a message, that’s all.” She said, still looking away.
The three looked at the floor as Miguel covered his nakedness with a towel. He cleared his throat. “So. Yeah. Uh… do we fight or something?”
The Night Widow scratched the side of her helmet, and rubbed her foot on her calf. “Uh… if it’s all the same to you, I really lost the mood.”
“Right. Um… so yeah. A message?”
“Yeah. Yeah! The message. Um. You mind if I… ah… use your bathroom? I kinda, y’know, have to pee.”
Ellie bit her lip. “Down the hall, second door on the right.”
“Thank you so much. Long day and everything.”
The Night Widow walked past to the bathroom. Miguel looked to Ellie. “What the hell?”
Ellie shrugged. “I don’t think she wants to fight. Might as well let her go pee and leave I guess.” She frowned. “Honey, she saw your wang.”
“Yeah.” He shook his head and walked to the bedroom, and got his robe.
When the toilet flushed and the bathroom sink ran, which both Miguel and Ellie listened for, the Night Widow stepped out, breathing a sigh of relief. “Oh god, thanks, guys. So hard to find a place to go when you’re working.”
“It’s… um… no problem!” Ellie said.
The Night Widow looked around. “Oh my God, you knit too?”
Ellie brightened. “I totally do!”
Miguel coughed. “Yeah. So, you had a message?”
“Oh, right. Um… do you mind if I don’t get into character for this? It’s been a long day.”
Miguel shrugged. “It’s probably better if you don’t.”
“Whew! Thanks. Makes my throat sore, trying to sound all tough. Anyway, yeah. Arbiter Jones sent me to congratulate you on your impending nuptials, and he would like to meet you beneath the Talos monument tomorrow at three p.m. to discuss a matter of mutual significance.” She exhaled. “Yeah. Yeah, that’s right.”
Miguel nodded, considering it. “Alright.”
The Night Widow shrugged sheepishly. “I actually don’t give him your response, you showing up kinda does that. He kinda expects you to beat me up.”
“Oh. Right. So… yeah.”
“Yeah… Um… thanks for not, you know, fighting me naked. And letting me go pee.”
Ellie grinned. “It’s no problem! Have a good one!”
“You too!” The Night Widow slipped out the patio door. “You guys want this open or closed?”
“Bye, guys! Congratulations on the engagement! You guys are a cute couple!” she waved before leaping away.
Ellie smirked at him. “Well, she was nice!”
“Hello, Deathspider.” The large, powerfully built black man intoned as he stood, arms at his side, smartly dressed in a dark, sleek suit, mirrorshades reflecting the waters surrounding the Talos monument.
DS crept down the gargantuan boot of the statue, feeling very much like his namesake due to the scale. “Arbiter Jones. Long time. Honestly, didn’t expect you out this way.”
“I see you got my message.”
“Uh… yeah. Couldn’t you have called? I mean… she kinda… interrupted the mood.”
A faint smile. “So she tells me. She said you exposed yourself to her. Was that strictly necessary?”
DS grumbled. “Sorry, but when someone busts into your place, there’s not a lot of time for formalities. Or clothes.”
“A pity. I was hoping you’d beat her up. She’s rather dumb.”
“Right. Well. So what did you want to discuss? I appreciate what you did for me in the Isles, hiding me from the Dominion when they went after me.”
Arbiter Jones nodded. “As you are no doubt aware, I have several Fortunatas at my disposal. One girl, cursed with precognition from time to time, has been plagued with some particularly vivid dreams of fire, destruction, and death. Always in that order, and you and another one are featured quite prominently in them. Rakescar.”
DS leapt to the ground, quiet.
“One of your playmates, I hear.” Jones said without a trace of malice or judgment. “He doesn’t like you much.”
“Yeah, understatement there. Can you elaborate about the visions? We kind of deal with fire, destruction, and death everyday.”
“You people already saw the fire. The nuclear explosion that happened on LeClerc Island, she dreamt it the night before it happened. It logically follows that her visions have some manner of validity.”
“Huh. Right. Okay. What about me and Rake?”
Jones frowned. “Rakescar is Black Scorpion’s project. They kidnapped him and worked him over, just to make a weapon to take down Statesman, and unlike many of his contemporaries, Rakescar is capable of it. Alone. Normally, I applaud the sentiment. But Rakescar… his current mental state is highly unstable, according to my seers. This could prove to be a problem, Deathspider.”
DS stood, shaking his head. “Tyler spends most of his time in the Isles. That sort of falls into your lap. I’d love to help, but since Rake came back he’s practically impossible for me to handle by myself. Why don’t you guys send a couple of your Drones to blast him to vapor?”
“Because Lord Recluse doesn’t want to waste a weapon unless he has to. He won’t do anything until Rakescar becomes too incorrigible and a threat to Arachnos itself.”
“Right. I’m still wondering why you came to me with this. I already know Tyler’s unstable. He’s a psychopath. He needs to be put down. But he’s an Arachnos problem.”
Jones grimaced. “Deathspider, Tyler Preston is a danger to everyone. I came here to warn you. He hates you above all. He will come here and unless you’re careful, he will kill you.”
DS considered this. “Is that what your seer dreamt?”
“Yes. Because of the gravity of the situation, and our working relationship, the deeds we have done for each other, I felt I had to warn you. After he is finished in the Isles, he will come for you.” Jones looked back over the waters. “And he won’t care who’s in the way. My son lives here in Paragon, Deathspider. I don’t want civilians hurt either. So… beware. Times are about to become very interesting.”
“Old Chinese curse.”
“Rakescar is a curse, Miguel. Be careful you don’t fall prey to it.”
Tyler winced as he knocked back another mouthful of Jack Daniels.
Slumped in the ratty easy chair, his clothes drenched in the blood of the old man whose apartment he now was occupying, Tyler was disconnected and sloppy drunk, but was angry that his vision was crystal clear.
His cybernetic eyes provided a clarity that not even Jack could blur.
His cybernetic eyes ‘gifted’ to him by Arachnos.
The cybernetic eyes that replaced the punctured, ruined eyes that ran down his cheeks like tears last summer, when Deathspider slid his claws into them during a titanic battle on Striga Isle.
Every whirr and click of the Kiroshi 7800 series Variable Speed Cyberoptics reminded him of that day. Stumbling blindly around, thrashing, getting taken down by the Council. The fumbling, disorienting escape with his target, Machina Shard, clinging onto his back, guiding Rake out of the Council’s prison underneath the island.
Stumbling around for months in the dark, blinded.
Maybe that’s why Aatiya left him. Maybe she ran out of pity. Maybe she hated what Arachnos had done to him, turned him into a freak, some cybered up wirehead. Or maybe…
Maybe she was leaving you because she was going back to Miguel!
He hurled the bottle against the wall.
Oh, you know she is, Tyler! She’s probably riding that spider-freak right now!
Shut up, shut up, shut up. You’re wrong. She hates that freak. She left him, came to me!
So you’re crying about getting his sloppy seconds? You could see the look in her eyes when you were puffing and grunting over her, she was wishing it was him, Tyler!
NO! Shut up. She loves me.
BWAH HAHAHAHAH! Then why did she leave you? Because you’re pathetic! Lemme put it in terms you can understand, drumma boy! She’s like a Van Halen fan, and Miguel was ole Diamond Dave, and you’re lame Sammy Hagar. You’re a Chris Gaines to his G’N’R. You’re whiny, weak, pathetic, and you just weren’t… measuring up! HAHAHAH!
“SHUT UP!” he screamed.
Why? Because you know I’m right! TYLER! HAHAHHAHAH! YOU’RE WEAK! YOU’RE PATHETIC! You’re crying! MEN DON’T CRY! BE A MAN, TYLER! YOU USED TO BE SOMEBODY! NOW LOOK AT YOU!
He clamped his hands over his ears, sobbing. “Oh god, please, make him shut up, please god, I can’t take this right now, please…”
Oh Tyler… it seemed to whisper in a soothing, low voice. Tyler, come on now… you’re crying over someone who never loved you anyway. You know how to make the pain go away, Tyler. Let go, Tyler. Let me take the pain away for you, just like I’ve always done…
“No… no, I can’t… You’ll just kill everybody…”
Don’t you see, Tyler? I have to. It’s the only way to make things right. Julia left you. Aatiya left you. Deathspider did it to you, he did everything to you. C’mon… let’s do it. Do him. Waste him. C’mon, Tyler. I know you want to. I’m looking at your soul, Tyler, and I know everything. You know you can trust me. I can make it better. Let me make it all better…
“Nooo…” he mewled, falling onto the floor, sobbing. “Aatiya…” he cried, his tears falling into the pooling blood on the hardwood floor, the crushed and crumpled form of the previous occupant of the apartment lying twisted next to him.
Oh Tyler… let Rakescar take the pain away…
The rain came again, a massive storm system covering most of the Eastern United States and the Caribbean. In a rare coincidence, the same storm fell on both Paragon and the Rogue Isles.
It fell on Peregrine Island, where the US Army Chemical Corps was setting up more permanent decontamination sites, and Positron and Statesman looked out towards the steaming ruin across the waters, miles away over the horizon.
It fell in Mera Heights, where Deathspider and Belle lay on their couch, under a blanket and watched the rain lash against the windows, a look of worry on Miguel’s face while his fiancée slept, nestled against him.
It fell upon Mercy Island, upon the seething, raging form of the thing Dr. Sebastian Toomes had become, the rain hissing as it hit it’s skin, as though the hate refused to be washed away by something as trivial as rain.
It fell upon Grandville, where Arbiter Jones stood imperiously against the storm, knowing a greater one was imminent in the coming days.
It fell upon the rotting tenement in Port Oakes, where Rakescar was rising from the pool of blood, gore and tears glistening on his rocky form, his eyes alight with a red malevolent gleam.
It fell upon the Marines setting up a beachhead on Striga Isle, squads moving through the torrential downpour, returning fire at Council and Family sharpshooters, who were rightly frightened by the enormous military presence. It appeared that the substantial bribes, threats, and kickbacks to hundreds of congressmen and senators meant little in the shadow of a mushroom cloud off the coast of Paragon City, to some, a shining beacon of everything that was wrong with the state of the world today.
It fell on several dozen Heroes in Paragon who watched the columns of radioactive steam over the ocean, and the Navy warships docked in Talos Island, the Humvees with missiles and machine guns and grenade launchers taking up residence, and the Heroes felt the almost palpable unease and fear rising off the streets in waves. The Tsoo, Council, the Family, Arachnos, Nemesis – most of the major syndicates were going to ground, and in Paragon, quiet usually meant something very bad was going to happen soon.
It would be a few weeks for their fears to be realized.
Chapter Three - Seasons In The Abyss
Seasons In The Abyss
The Tsoo gangsters looked up in irritation.
“You know, guys, villainy is kinda like sex with the elderly. Sure, it seems like a good idea at the time, but you end up feeling gross and someone breaks a hip.” Deathspider said, clinging to the wall above them in the alley. “In this case, I’ll be breaking yours.”
“Ugh! Gross!” Belle laughed, hovering nearby over the Tsoo. “God, that’s not even funny… Honey, I love banter as much as the next girl, but that’s just gross!” She didn’t stop giggling, though.
“ATTACK!” The Tsoo sorcerer screamed, and the bare chested, tattooed Ink Men leapt into action, launching throwing stars and drawing swords.
DS leapt over a volley of stars and slammed his feet into a red garbed Tsoo, crushing his rib cage. A Tsoo in a white kung fu outfit aimed a high kick at his face, but he blocked it with a forearm, and retaliated with a punishing blow to the Crane Enforcer’s crotch, a sickening crunch signifying the breaking of something vital.
“See? No idle banter! I told you guys I’d break something of yours! Sorry about busting your junk, guy. I hate… Tsoo do that you! HAH! I kill me!”
The Tsoo sorcerer began to surround himself with a whirling vortex of wind. “SHUT… UP!” he growled. “Stupid joke not save you!”
“Baby, they don’t like the entertainment.” Belle grinned and launched a bolt of magic at a fleeing tattooed martial artist, blowing him off his feet and left him gasping on the ground.
“Awww… that’s… Tsoo bad!”
The sorcerer moaned. “Hate stupid pun!”
DS leapt at the gangster, his momentum carrying through the wind and slammed his fists repeatedly into the sorcerer until he crumpled to the ground.
The Tsoo that remained conscious took off.
DS stood over the sorcerer, snickering. “Nothing makes this job more fun than the banter. I mean, what other profession gets the opportunity to talk smack and make horrible jokes while beating people up?”
Belle giggled. “I dunno, maybe Ah-nold? TV cops?”
“Precisely. People that don’t exist.”
Belle rolled her eyes. “You’re crazy.”
“I am marrying you…”
She swatted him.
“We’re not married yet.”
“Yet being the operative word. It’s only a matter of time before I become your battered husband.”
“Oh shush. You love it.”
“I’d prefer a spanking. I’ve been a naughty spider.”
Belle floated down to him. “Mm. I’ll say.”
DS grinned and pulled her down to him. “So, white girl, whaddya think? This is the only fight we’ve gotten into all day. It’s like all the jarheads are scaring off all the crooks.”
Belle purred and pressed herself to her fiancé. “You know, I can totally live with that. Last couple of weeks have been really nice. Been able to get a lot of the wedding prep done, and totally not feel like I’m losing my mind.”
DS laughed. “Says you! I’ve heard you on the phone. Like a woman possessed.”
“You’re being feisty and unruly. Brat.”
“That’s my line, baby.”
“Hey, you proposed to me. Now I get half your stuff, including your lines.” She made a face. “You can keep the ‘sex with the elderly’ one. That one’s just gross.”
DS chuckled. “Well, it’s there if you want it. I won’t stop you from belting that one out.”
Belle looked around. “It is kind of eerie. None of the big crime groups have popped up. I wonder if they’re just scared of being shot up by the Army.”
DS shrugged, clasping his hands at the small of her back. “It’s a legitimate concern. The Skulls got massacred in King’s Row by a platoon last week. Right now the Row is nice and peaceful. Kids are playing outside.”
“Huh. Sounds nice.”
“I know, right? I’m still kinda leery of seeing Humvees rolling around in the city. Longbow crawling around here was bad enough, but this is ridiculous.”
“I’m worried about the kids at PCU. College kids can be pretty melodramatic at times.”
DS sighed. “That’s a disaster waiting to happen. When Longbow showed up, I thought some of those dummies were gonna get themselves shot up by some Marine in tights. You know they recruit from the military, right?”
Belle made a face. “Explains a lot.” She planted a kiss on his cheek. “Hey you. Race you to the house. Loser gives the winner a bubble bath.”
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Carlo felt uncomfortable as he stepped across the threshold of the Mook hideout. The door was gone, tossed into the street. He didn’t like the queasy feeling, and chided himself. For God’s sake, he was a Family enforcer. He’s shot people’s grandmothers in the face just to get what the Don wanted. You’d think he could handle inspecting a freelancer’s work.
Marconeville was not enthusiastically patrolled by the Rogue Isles Police Department, so Carlo had free reign to walk into the charnel house this place had become.
He was… impressed. Impressed and apphrensive at what kind of psycho they had on their hands. The new paint job of blood, brains, and viscera on the wallpaper gave him that feeling.
The Family, in recent years, enjoyed a massive and veritably inexhaustible supply of freelancers of varying degrees of power, skill, and sanity. Carlo had seen them come and go, drawn to ‘greater’ things on other isles, but there were always more where they came from, forever cementing the Marcone Family in Port Oakes. Arachnos had a token presence there, they merely had their administrative sections here, and some token patrols, and of course, Fort Hades. Marcone soldiers ran the town.
And freelancers like Flesh Storm, who took his name from the shower of gore that erupts when he punches someone, ensured that the Family stayed on top.
Still. Sometimes the nitty gritty of maintaining that lofty position involved very messy scenes like this.
Carlo stepped over a corpse with no upper torso. It had a new home, sprayed on the ceiling, walls, and floors. The smell of death, soiled trousers, urine, and cordite filled the air. It was a smell Carlo knew well. It was the smell of supremacy.
The trail of bodies was like a trail of breadcrumbs in a fairy tale. It lead him through the building, headless or dismembered men in pools of their own filth like performance art. Foot-wide fist holes in the dry wall. Giant boot prints in crimson tread.
The thing that called itself Flesh Storm was industriously tearing apart a Mook boss named Antonio Franzoni. He had stopped screaming some time ago, and was beyond hearing the wet, sickening sound of bone snapping and skin and muscle tearing apart. Like raw chicken, Carlo thought.
Flesh Storm turned to regard Carlo, the very air shimmering around him. There was no savage, crazed grin or sadistic gleam in it’s eyes – Franzoni was nothing more than meat to the thing, no sexual thrill or some other desire being slaked by the brutal murder.
A deep, baritone growl. “Carlo Marcone.”
A nod. Be business-like. He already knows what he does, his size, intimidates other men, but it’s force of personality that demands and receives respect, Carlo told himself. “I’m Carlo.”
The thing grunts as it casually snaps a side of meat around a femur. “Didn’t trust me to the job?”
Carlo shook his head, eyes straight ahead, don’t make direct eye contact. Instead, focus on the bits of brain splattered on the thing’s forehead. Ah. So much better.
“No, just checking in. Standard procedure.”
The thing’s grunt sounded like he was unconcerned.
“Did you want something?”
“Yeah. I got a new job for you if you’re finished up here.”
A grim smile on it’s massive face. “Do tell.”
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -- - - - - -- - - -- - - - -- - - -- - ----
General Knox looked over the hood of the humvee at the massive student demonstration in front of the Steel Canyon campus of PCU.
“I hate people with no desire to do what they’re supposed to do, but seem to find the time to complain about people actually performing their function.”
A platoon of infantrymen, MPs, and PCPD officers watched the students glowering at them as they paraded around the campus, holding signs bearing colorful epithets about the Army, baby killing, nuclear bombs, and questions about the general’s paternity.
Thank God I went to West Point, he thought.
Reassigned from the Crash Site earlier this month, Knox was at home in the constant insanity of Paragon City, which surprisingly had precious few events such as this. Sure, when Miss Liberty had Longbow forces deputized to patrol the city, many of the same rabble rousers in this crowd were present to stridently decry the big bad military industrial complex that were jackbooting over this fair city.
Normal college student stuff.
Knox wished ferverently that college kids would save their moral outrage for when they were older, ostensibly wiser, and their opinion counted – somewhat. Save your whining until you’ve got a family, a soul destroying job, and kids who hate you, then maybe your opinion will count. Protest your suburban life.
Until then, shut up, he thought sourly. Don’t you people have term papers to write?
Paragon Citizens were rather pleasant, despite these morons. When you have people who can level a city block living next door to you, you tend to be a bit more respectful of other people’s boundaries.
But then college students were just generally stupid when it came to common sense. This was trickier because here in Paragon City, some of the students had super powers. That complicated things immensely.
Know grimaced. He was regretting leaving the Crash Site. Just a few weeks ago, there were smoking hot superheroines to look at out there, and most of them just came out of the rain.
Mmm. That Hour Woman. He wistfully contemplated if her glowing green eyes would distract him during sex. Not if she was on all fours.
His musings were abruptly cut short by the crack of a rifle overhead. Years of training and conflict kicked in, and he crouched low, drawing his M1911.
Then the screaming started.
“Sir! One of the students got hit!” his driver called out.
Cursing, Knox got to his feet and he looked out at the protestors. This was definitely not good. This is what I get for going out with the men.
A crowd of kids were surrounding the victim. One troublemaker, a super powered punk that caused trouble last time, pointed at the troops.
“THE PIGS ARE SHOOTING AT US! TAKE EM OUT!”
Several students broke and ran for safety, but a depressingly large number of kids were powering up.
General Knox grimaced. This was bad.
- - - - - - - - - - - -- ----- - - - - - - - - - - - -- - - - - - - -- - - - - - - - - - -- - - - --
Positron was one of the first to arrive at the scene, followed by several other Heroes, some even running from class.
The protestors students were plowing into the troops, one superhumanly strong student was hefting the general’s humvee over his head, while others were trading blows with the soldiers, who thankfully followed the General’s order to check their fire and not turn this into a bloodbath.
Positron swooped from the sky and tore the humvee from the student’s grasp. “Hey! This isn’t a Tonka Toy!”
A gasp went up from the protestors.
“THOSE BABY KILLERS SHOT US!”
With lightning speed, Positron’s sensors picked out the student, ran facial recognition, and pulled up the student’s record. “You know, for an English major, you’re making me sad with your poor syntax.” He set down the Humvee, his copper and blue trimmed armor gleaming in the sun. “You’re wrong. Nobody here is a baby killer, and only one of you were shot, according to the distress call. Second of all, these men weren’t about to go Ohio university on you guys without a good reason! Stop giving them one!”
Over in the quad, a green glow told Positron that the victim would be fine. Chalk another one up for Paragon City, he thought. So many Capes enrolled in PCU, there was bound to be someone able to help.
“All of you. Stand down before I put you down. We’re going to find out who shot at you students. You have my word – but acting like a bunch of jerks who are more aggressive and thoughtless than the people you’re attacking will not be tolerated. This country was founded on principals you’re all abusing. And if I see any of you trying anything like this again, I will personally throw you in the Zig and let you see the real people you should be protesting, the same kind of people you’re acting like – selfish, hyper-aggressive thugs! Stand down!”
You’d be surprised how quickly people mellow out when being reamed out by a member of the Freedom Phalanx.
He shook his head, a digital sigh coming from his armor’s voice modulator. Satisfied with the cessation of hostilities, he rose into the air and soared off. The military presence was beginning to wear on the city.
- - - - - - - - - - - -- - - - -- - - -- - - -- - - -- - - - -
Arbiter Jones was not a happy man.
Of course, being an Arachnos Arbiter, the elite of Arachnos, tended to discourage a surplus of glee. But for the past two weeks, since he had traveled to Paragon and warned Deathspider, he was waiting for the worst. Waiting, as Tom Petty once sang, is the hardest part. If something was happening, he could handle that, whatever it was. He was a man of action, decisive, a leader. It was the anticipation of hostitlies, like many men in combat before him throughout the history of mankind, that was gnawing at him.
Rakescar… I know you’re out there. Come on. Make your move.
He had done some reading.
Tyler Preston, drummer for a band called, appropriately enough, Rakescar. AC/DC, early Guns N Roses, some Iron Maiden, but not much. That sort of thing. Performed a few years ago at a club where some Legacy Chain mystics were performing a ritual. Perhaps an exorcism.
A Golem, of Jewish folklore fame, or a demon, whichever, merged with Tyler that night. Casualties were significant. A stint in Ziggursky, as he was merged with an extradimensional entity, and quite unhinged. Escaped, and then his reign of terror began.
It began with pedestrian, for a Destined One, nonsense, mercenary work for the many different factions scrabbling for power in the Isles. Surprisingly adept at it for a former drummer. Major threat against Heroes and Longbow in Siren’s Call. Longbow still has a substantial bounty on his head. Wyvern, in their refreshingly direct and blunt way, has a bounty for simply his head and hands.
Last year, did a job for an exiled and bitter 5th Column officer on Striga Isle, encountered Machina Shard and Deathspider, and ended up blinded. Escaped with Machine on his back, providing Machina with way to escape after he had destroyed Machina’s cybernetic arm, and Machina providing a pair of eyes to direct him. Return to the Rogue Isles, career apparently over. Black Scorpion had him kidnapped, and under Lord Recluse’s orders, cybernetically enhanced to the point of being possibly the most potent living weapon in Arachnos’ arsenal.
Arbiter Jones grimaced. Cyborg demon golem. How irritatingly well the three disparate parts formed a psychotic whole.
The Isles were filled with hard men and women, and Arbiter Jones had worked with many of them, through subordinates and henchmen. Chimera II, he was good. Lord Crom, an efficient tool, even if he never realized it. The organizations of Anathema, FUTURE, Ravenous… the list went on and on. But by and large, most operatives and freelancers were petty minded, their eyes on the hole, never the doughnut. Precious few could focus, to rise from their pathetic, trite situations and appreciate the bigger picture. That kept them from entering the elite, the Inner Circle, the true players in the Rogue Isles, who in turn were part of an even bigger game on the world stage, a level that Arbiter Jones was reluctant to dabble in.
In that respect, Rakescar was no different. But as a tool, as a weapon, a monster, he was formidable. And to get the attention of Lord Recluse in such a way that he’d be ‘honored’ and being turned into an even greater threat to human life and limb, it spoke volumes about his raw potential.
But Arbiter Jones saw things differently.
To Jones, Rakescar was a random, dangerous element. In his ordered universe, people were all parts of a cohesive, collective whole, and everyone served a purpose, be it the cog or the gear that helped turn the world.
Rakescar was a potential hammer, smashing all of that, because of his volatile mental state, the demon possessing him, and his ability to brush away the higher cognitive functions of his mind and simply destroy whatever he touched. This was the antithesis of what Arbiter Jones stood for.
Arbiter Jones believed that what made a person a useful tool was the ability to think within the confines of a controlled environment – a mindless slave was useless, the slave that could exercise disciplined iniative within strictly defined boundaries was infinitly more preferably. A machine gun that randomly fired whenever it felt like it was not useful, it was a liability. Rakescar could not be reliably wielded, much less controlled, safely and efficiently, and therein lay Lord Recluse’s miscalculation.
Or perhaps he was to be utilized like a grenade – thrown in the enemy’s midst and forgotten about. Unfortunately, this grenade never stopped exploding, and it didn’t really matter where it exploded, at your enemy’s feet or in your hands. That was the danger. That was the threat.
Arbiter Jones believed in Arachnos. He believed in Lord Recluse. He believed in peace through tyranny. And he would go far to keep that peace.
Hence, why Operative Bane was here.
Arbiter Jones turned to regard the smaller, lithe man, clad in white Arachnos armor, daisho strapped to his waist like a samurai.
“Operative Bane, it is good to see you. I trust Alpha Sanction is doing well?”
Bane bowed low. “Arbiter Jones, you honor me with your summons. May prosperity and satisfaction be yours.”
Jones returned the ceremonial bow. “I am satisfied men such as you still understand the concepts of duty and loyalty.”
“I am grateful for the opportunity to serve. How may I bring honor to Arachnos?”
They talked at length about Jones’ problem, and at the end, Bane bowed with no question, no hesitation. “I hear and obey.”
“See that you do.”
______ --___---- _________----- ___________-----
Deathspider leapt wide across the yawning chasm between skyscrapers. Highly developed leg muscles launched him into nothingness. Here, up among the peaks of these edifices, there were few distractions, only gravity, velocity, wind speed, and the distance between. After nearly 2 years of this life, they were instinctual calculations. This left him with plenty of time to think, and up here, in the void of air, he could do it without his attention being drawn elsewhere. This was his mediation.
It had been two weeks since Arbiter Jones met him, and thus far, Rakescar had not suddenly burst through a wall like the Kool-Aid man and went on a kill crazy rampage. He would doubt Jones’ warning, but an Arachnos Arbiter usually was not known for hysterics.
Unfortunately, people in Paragon did not share that trait. The nuclear blast at LeClerc island had terrified the country, but word was getting out that it was a catastrophic accident and not a terrorist attack. But still, CNN and FOX were stoking the embers of fear, like rubbing salt into a wound with an endless parade of so-called experts and talking heads. In Paragon itself, the military presence was the cause of dozens of student demonstrations and near riots – the mix of superpowered dissidents and the Army usually resulted in a confrontation. The military, to their credit, didn’t gun them down. Street crime, however, was not tolerated, and dealt with harshly, despite frothing at the mouth condemnations by Statesman. “We don’t kill!” he says.
Everyone else did, it seemed.
Civil liberty organizations were fit to be tied with wrongful death suits and hystronics on television.
On the bright side, crime was down. Many of the criminal organizations in Paragon were out of sight. Even the lawless expanses of the Hollows and Baumton were bastions of serenity and peace after the first week, after a few tanks rolling over a few hundred psychotic Trolls. Ellie was delighted, because she could concentrate on the wedding, without feeling like she was shirking her duty as a heroine. As for Miguel, he was filled with a genuine happiness that he hadn’t felt in months, if not years. Things weren’t going badly.
The year had gotten off to a decidedly bad start, still reeling from a break up and a disintegration of his, well, life. His daughter Cherish, who had moved out in protest of her parents splitting up, moved in with Ellie, then a friend he had met over the course of the fall. She expressed sincere concern over the both of them, and before either Ellie or Miguel knew it, they were dating and falling in love. Then, at the end of January, Father Dalton had asked him to find some homeless children, which led into a titanic battle in the Rikti Crash Site, and the rescue of the children and the capture of over two hundred Lost.
There again, he thought glumly. Rakescar was there. He ended up being rather badly beaten by an unbelievably powerful Lost mutate calling himself Salvation. Still, Rake came out to help, so it was odd, although not out of the realm of possibility, that he would do a complete turn around and become the huge threat Arbiter Jones spoke of, in the course of a month. Sure, life moved fast around here, but… still.
Before Striga Isle last summer, DS had fought Rake once before in Siren’s Call, and had gotten flattened, when Karnal Sin put a bounty on the Hazard Guard (which he was a part of until recently). Ok, no harm, no foul. But a couple months later, on Striga, he had encountered his old foe, Machina Shard beating the snot out everything. They fought, and DS had gotten buried under tons of concrete, which triggered his then uncontrolled spider form’s transformation. Feral and bloodthirsty, he encountered Machina, who was fighting Rakescar for some reason – things were hazy for DS. Rake was beating the crap out of Machina, and DS had injured Rake the only way he could – by driving his talons into Rake’s eyes, puncturing them. They were all captured, and things just went downhill from there.
It was an interesting summer.
The way things were going these days, it looked to be an interesting Spring. Lord save me from ‘interesting’, he thought.
He launched himself off another skyscraper, hurtling through the air down to the Green Line Tram Station. He was dwelling on Tyler too much. He was a psychopath. He was a perfect of example of too much crazy and too much muscle. Too much ugly too. And he wasn’t worth worrying about all the time, because it was pointless to worry about things you had no control over. People like Tyler tended to just happen, and inflict themselves on others.
He landed lightly on the curving, corrugated roof of the Tram Station, and let his mind drift back to his fiancée, Ellie. Definitely a more pleasant image, and wondered if she wanted to do that ‘wrapped in a cocoon’ thing tonight, suspended from the ceiling.
Tyler staggered drunkenly from the door leading from the extradimensional nightclub, the Pocket D, out into Port Oakes, the night’s chill hitting his brawny, pale frame. Once again, Tyler was drunk, trying to forget, but instead only felt colder, as though the alcohol was washing over the iced up remains of his heart, like a drink on the rocks.
Rocks. Heh. How apt, he thought.
His gait uneven as he aimlessly lurched out into the quiet streets of the Arena District, Tyler was trying to keep the voice in his head quiet, keeping his mind full of clutter and useless information, like the beat to ‘Kickstart My Heart’, all the AC/DC albums, all the tracks from ‘Appetite For Destruction in reverse order, anything to keep Rakescar from talking, from tempting, from…
Rocket Queen, Anything Goes, You’re Crazy, Sweet Child O Mine… Want me to go on?
“Oh God, shaddup, please…”
I Think About You, My Michelle, Paradise City, Mr. Brownstone… Hey, that should be our song!
Tyler shook his head, his brain pickled with Jim Beam, but the eyes refused to see anything less then crystal clear.
Out Ta Get Me, Night Train, It’s So Easy… It is so easy, Tyler. Let me bear this burden for you. You don’t look too hot, boy. You been drinking, son?
Tyler closed his eyes, weaving as he passed the Arena, mumbling to himself. He opened them when he stumbled into a wall of flesh. Blearily, he regarded the giant standing in his way.
Topping out at approximately eight feet tall, the gray skinned giant looked down at Tyler impassively, as though he were looking at some interesting and disgusting kind of bug. A deep rumbling voice issued from his throat, cutting through the haze of inebriation.
“Yeah, who’s the dead man who wants to know?”
The monster almost smiled at that comment.
“Someone wants me to beat you to death. Told them I’d go one better.”
Tyler was coming to his senses quickly as Rakescar thrashed around in his mind like a skinhead in a mosh pit, and the promise of a distraction sobering him up.
“Izzat right?” Tyler grinned, his face getting that familiar look of anticipation before a beatdown. The thing seemed to notice, and a shudder went through it as the air seemed to shimmer and warp around it’s massive frame.
“Oh yes. Told them I’d mail you back to your family in pieces. If I leave any.”
Tyler laughed, almost a bark, as his body changed, skin shifting into the rocky hide of the demon.
“Uh huh… Y’know, I was just thinking of a song… ‘Welcome To The Jungle’. Ya heard it?”
A stone hammer formed in Rakescar’s huge, rocky hands.
“You’re gonna die…”
Chapter Four - Pure Hatred
Rake swung first.
Flesh Storm was launched off his feet, hurtling back and collided with the nearby building, smashing through brick, two by four studs, insulation, and drywall. A cloud of smoke puffed through the hole. Rakescar grinned and slammed his hammer into the ground, creating a shockwave that toppled the weakened structure, and the four story building collapsed on itself, burying the gray skinned giant under tons of brick and wood.
Rakescar barked laughter. “Too easy!”
The rubble smoked and clouded, a haze of white dust rolling over the street. Then, Rake heard the rubble shift.
Flesh Storm rose, grinning, out of the ruined building, then energy aura flaring brightly as he stepped out onto the street. His eyes were bright with a savage glee. “Finally. Someone around here to gimme a decent fight. Try again, Tyler.”
Rake rushed him, cackling as he ponderously ran over the pavement, cracking it where his feet slammed down. “Oh guy, you don’t know how much I’ve been craving this!” The stone hammer was held high, Rake’s eyes alight with murderous joy.
They collided with a thud. Rake’s hammer glanced off with a bright flash, and Flesh Storm’s arms, like tree trunks, wrapped around Rake’s shoulders and the gigantic rock body of Rakescar was hurled backwards, over Flesh Storm’s head, and into the adjacent building.
Flesh Storm picked himself up after the suplex, and watched as Rake’s enormous form demolished the next apartment building. His smile grew, the kind of smile a madman gives you before he cuts your throat.
Rake sat up in the ruins of the building, the cloud of dust obscuring his vision.
Switch to infrared. There we go.
Everything was in black and red, the giant form of his opponent nearly blotting out his vision with a corona of bright crimson. He grinned as he got to his feet.
“The roof. The roof. The roof is on fire. We don’t need no water, let the mother fucker burn. Burn mother fucker, burn. THE ROOF. THE ROOF. THE ROOF IS ON FIRE. WE DON’T NEED NO WATER, LET THE MOTHER FUCKER BURN. BURN MOTHER FUCKER! BUUUUUURRRRRN!” He charged through the smoke and the battle was joined once more.
Port Oakes was about to have a real bad day.
The Hellion rubbed the glass pipe on his pant leg, exhaling a cloud of white smoke. He coughed some, eyes watering. “Man… I’m tired of working in this drug filled environment!”
His buddy, another Hellion, chuckled and stood nearby, expectantly. “Yeah, I can really see you’re suffering. Come on, cool that thing off.”
The Hellion, wide eyed, looked up at his friend irritably. “Hold on, man. I’m in pain, here. I got, like, anomie, and shit.”
“Anomie? What? I ain’t ever heard of that.”
The first Hellion shook his head. “I think my sister said it once.”
“Your sister? Damn, what she look like?”
The first Hellion didn’t respond, looking up in disbelief.
“Come on, man. Give it up.”
Still, nothing. The first Hellion kept looking up. A large shadow grew over them.
“Yo, D! What the fuck?” The second Hellion exclaimed, then looked up.
Rakescar plummeted from the sky, rendering both Hellions to liquefied jelly. The resulting shockwave demolished the ramshackle building they were smoking behind.
The smoke swirled around Rake as he sat up, shaking his head.
“Ugly jerk sure can hit.” He observed sourly.
Another shadow loomed over Rakescar, as Flesh Storm plunged from the sky, and landed on the rock demon, his energy aura flashing brightly as they collided.
Flesh Storm picked Rakescar out of the rubble by his throat, snarling. “Preston…Preston… Preston. Have the sense to stop struggling and die…”
Two huge rocky hands clapped over Flesh Storm’s ears, causing the aura to flash once again, and Flesh Storm released Tyler, staggering back and growling.
Tyler picked himself up off the ground and generated another hammer. “Boom, shout! Boom, shout! Boom, shout! Boom, shout! Boom, shout, SHOUT AT THE DEV-AL!”
Flesh Storm was rocked off his feet and flew back, slamming into a pier, demolishing it. It plunged into the cold water of the Atlantic.
“YOU CAN’T STOP THE ROCK, BABY!” Rake shouted, and grinned as he casually strode over to the pier, chuckling. “Too bad, so sad, buh-bye!” When the thing didn’t surface, Rake shook his head mournfully. “Whadda wimp.” He turned, about to dismiss the incident from his mind and go pay that robot guy a visit again and pound him into a smear. The sound of splashing and heavy footsteps on concrete made him stop. He turned and a grin appeared on his face.
“Let’s… try that… again…” Flesh Storm growled.
“Hehe heh heh… Come on!”
Arbiter Jones watched the two Brutes make their way from the Pocket D, through a block of tenements, and over the piers to a small collection of buildings, inadvertently demolishing them as well.
He growled to himself. So much for a dearth of property damage. But luckily, Rakescar acting berserk would draw the attention of the powers that be, and such a reckless disregard for Arachnos property would be looked down upon, hopefully down over the barrel of one of the Sentry drone’s disintegration cannons.
One can always hope.
He had hired enough people, using funds extracted from a plethora of sources, financial viruses leeching off thousands of corporations across the globe that Arachnos had their agents in. The money would be missed eventually, but it could never be traced back to him. He had ensured that – the men and women who embezzled the money were now at the bottom of Blood Bay, feeding mutated fishes. Dead thieves tell no tales.
He had no illusions that the people he hired would be able to finish the job, but if Rakescar destroyed enough property fighting them, well, it was worth every penny just to send those maniacs against an even bigger, meaner maniac. Not only would the stranglehold the Marcone Family would be broken, but they’d request more Arachnos protection, which would go far to pry their marinara stained fingers off the Port for good.
Plans within plans.
If Rakescar trashed enough property here, the Marcone Family would be weakened, and he would be considered uncontrollable, and therefore a liability to Arachnos. Liabilities usually were disposed of. He would also have several freelancers under his thumb, because, well, after all, if they didn’t want to play ball, such a treasonous action against Arachnos would surely invite retaliation. After all, was it really Arbiter Jones they dealt with, or several operatives with image inducers, and always under video surveillance? Digitally altered video, of course, altered to display some of Arbiter Jones’ rivals, especially Arbiter Soze.
And if they said differently, well, it is standard procedure to give the word of an Arbiter and his digital blackmail over the word of a freelancer.
Off in the distance, near where Drea the Hook sold freelancers bank jobs, a cloud of smoke erupted as a filthy dive bar collapsed. The sounds of battle carried over the bay.
Excellent, he thought.
Flesh Storm roared as he leapt at Rakescar, only to be slammed in the face with the stone mallet, and with a bright flash of light, he was knocked away, through a chain-link fence, and smashing into a brick wall. The sound of broken masonry and bestial rage carried back to Rakescar, who had lost his good humor as well. The demon golem lunged through the remains of the fence, mallet held high, and was greeted by a hard tackle to the mid-section, knocking him flat, and Flesh Storm was upon him, straddling his chest, and pummeling him with powerful fists. Rakescar could feel his rocky hide cracking under the force of the blows.
“KILL YOU! KILL YOU!”
Rakescar bucked underneath the monster and flung him off, once again careening into the wall with a grunt.
“Oh man, c’mon, ya big pansy! C’mon! GIMME A FIGHT!”
“RAAAAAAAGH!” The beast launched himself at Rake, who caught him by the big, massive shoulders, and lurched back, kicking up and back, and kicked him off, using the thing’s momentum against it, and Flesh Storm hurdled through the air, landing in the filthy street, smashing a crater into the asphalt.
The gray giant picked itself up and out of the hold, livid, the energy crackling around it’s inhumanly large frame. It roared it’s displeasure and stepped out, snarling and clenching it’s huge, monstrous fists.
“MY IDEA EXACTLY!” Rake shouted, and ran ponderously, eyes flaring, to meet his enemy. They slammed into each other again, and the resulting clamor shattered windows for blocks. Rake and Flesh wrestled in the street, grunting and snarling, each trying to get their huge arms around each other to choke, snap, maim, and kill.
In the distance, a decrepit building slowly began to teeter, and then collapsed on itself from the seismic vibrations from the battle.
If you were watching from above, you would see a relatively straight line of devastation from the Arena all the way across the flotilla, by the web of causeways and piers, to the eastern coast- the air was thick with dust from ruined buildings and fires from ruptured gas mains were adding to the problem – several buildings were ablaze, white and black columns of smoke rising up to the heavens, as if to smoke out God from his lofty perch.
You would also see several Arachnos Fliers heading in their direction.
It was a bad day to be in Port Oakes.
In their fury, the two rampaging beasts were too blinded by their anger to notice an Arachnos Flier setting down, billowing clouds of debris and dust washing over the destruction they had caused.
The lead flier opened it’s hatch, and a stream of Crab Spider, Bane Spider, and Night Widow troops flooded out of the Flier, racing to pacify the two out of control beasts.
Then, out of the hatch, the imposing figure stepped onto the street, glass and chunks of masonry crunching under it’s feet.
Armored in steel gray metal, and with four large robotic spider arms erupting from his back, the helm concealing his face but not his baleful, hateful gaze, Lord Recluse had arrived.
As his troops engaged the two brutes, he slowly trod forward, silent, calculating, watching the two break off and retaliate at the interruption. His troops were causing a great deal of pain to them both, under a withering storm of crimson energy blasts, but still they fought, inflicting grievous injuries to his elite body guards.
This would not do at all.
Lord Recluse was not pleased.
The deep, growling voice cut through the din of battle like a hot knife through butter, the deafening intonation even giving pause to the beasts.
“I have seen enough!” the ruler of the Rogue Isles rumbled, striding forth.
“I see that I have become too lenient in my old age. Too… forgiving of trespasses against my property.” Each arm seemed to move of it’s own accord, giving Lord Recluse an eerie, otherworldly look.
Rakescar and Flesh Storm looked at each other, snarling, but through Relcuse’s presence, his sheer force of will, they stood apart from each other.
“I have built a nation where men like you can thrive, where survival of the fittest is law. Yet you are at each other’s throats like moronic thugs!” Lord Recluse growled. “And destroying my property, when there is a whole city you two could be decimating!”
Lord Recluse looked around him, and spied the growing number of villains, his Destined Ones, silently observing their monarch’s wrath.
“ALL OF YOU! While you busy yourselves with pointless tasks for those insignificant vermin who dare to call themselves influential, who affect the air of power, BEHOLD! I AM TRUE POWER! AND I HAVE A MORE WORTHY TASK FOR YOU ALL!”
“You two! Your energies are wasted here, better spent elsewhere! Rakescar, you were made better for a purpose! Now… consider this your life’s purpose, an edict from your warrior king! From the closest thing to a god any of you will ever have the privilege of serving!
“ALL OF YOU! THIS IS A COMMANDMENT FROM YOUR GOD!” Lord Recluse roared, shaking with fury. All in his presence felt a shiver run down their spines.
“TO PARAGON CITY! GO FORTH AND RAIN RUINATION ON THOSE WHO OPPOSE YOUR KING! DESTROY THE BASTION OF THE HYPOCRITICAL WEAKLINGS WHO DROVE YOU TO ME! SHOW THEM THE FOLLY OF THEIR WAYS! TOPPLE THEIR DEGENERATE CITY! FOR THE GLORY OF LORD RECLUSE! FOR ARACHNOS! GO TO PARAGON CITY AND SHOW NO MERCY!”
Oh, Hero of Paragon, beware this night A war host comes to your door How shall you greet such a grisly sight? Or will they leave you bleeding on the floor?
Resentment and jealous burn so bright Hate like gasoline is fueling the fire Ready to avenge any perceived slight And throw your carcass upon a funeral pyre.
They came from the ruins of Faultline, emerging from Arachnos controlled tunnels en masse, accompanied by hundreds of Arachnos troops in varying styles of clothing – such a direct assault on US soil would invite certain retaliation, hence these were soldiers on ‘leave’.
They came from the sewers, leading Hellions, Skills, and even a few Lost who survived last month’s events, emerging into the streets.
They emerged from the waters of Independence Port, neatly bypassing the US Navy’s ships and their much vaunted detection capabilities, clambering from stealthed submarines over the docks, Family enforcers already waiting with stolen crates of automatic weapons, already paid for with Arachnos funds.
They slipped down from the heavens into Steel Canyon, lurking on the windswept skyscrapers, like vultures looking down at their prey from above.
Miguel Sanchez held his lover’s hand as they walked out of the boutique in Faultline. Ellie had a smile on her face at the… domesticity of the situation. Here was big bad Deathspider, holding her shopping bags.
“You have no idea how cute you look carrying those.” She giggled as they arrived at Miguel’s car. The 1969 Camaro’s trunk opened and he grinned back at her as he put her bags inside.
“Hey, we went skirt shopping. You think I didn’t get something out of this?”
She laughed and opened the passenger door. “Why do you think I kept bending over to check my shoes?”
Miguel growled playfully. “Ay yi yi!”
She giggled again and got inside. “One track mind, I swear.”
Miguel shut the trunk and shook his head. In spite of everything, things were still going fantastically. If Ellie wasn’t here with him, he might have gloomily ruminated on the fact that good times were always so fleeting.
The sound of a machine gun in the distance provided him with the opportunity to let that thought creep in.
“Honey! The police band!” Ellie called out worriedly. He slipped around to the passenger side, craning his head inside the window. Ellie’s radio projected the holographic transmission from the PCPD, who were realizing just what was happening.
A staccato burst in the distance, followed by a cacophony of return fire. Longbow Fliers hissed overhead. Sirens blaring everywhere, rushing out from Skyway City.
The radio crackled, a garbled image projected. “We got dozens… I repear…. Krrrrt…. Villains pouring outta the tunnels! Longbow taking fire…”
An explosion in the distance, repeated in eerie stereo on the radio. “Oh god! Nelson’s hit! I need back up! I NEED BACK UP!”
The transmission cut off abruptly. Then both of their scanners were blaring out a general alert on the global frequency.
Ellie looked to Miguel. “Oh god… we have to do something!”
Miguel slid across the hood, and wrenched the door open, slamming his key into the ignition. The engine roared to life, and the Camaro spun it’s tires before lunging out into the parking lot. Miguel slammed it in gear, and peeled out of the lot, tires smoking.
“We gotta stash the car and get in costume. This sounds big.”
Ellie nodded and turned in her seat, pulling out the duffel bag full of their ‘work clothes’.
They parked in an alleyway close to a War Wall, and neither of them spoke as they hurriedly dressed.
Miguel slipped on the titanium spider shaped forearm plates, strapping them down. “You ready, baby?”
Ellie nodded and slipped her gloves on, completing her outfit of the crimson and black leotard and high high boots of the Superbabes.
“Yuppers, Snuggles…” she grinned and then that grin died abruptly as something blotted out the streetlight.
“Well… well… well…” a gravelly, maniacal voice rumbled.
DS looked and clenched his fists at the sight of Rakescar looming in the mouth of the alley, slamming his fist into an open hand, the sound like boulders slamming into each other. His eyes were flaring with a bloody glow.
“Well, if it ain’t Stevie Wonder on steroids? Hey, Stevie, how’s it looking? Oh wait. My bad. That was totally insensitive of me. Telling a blind guy ‘how’s it looking’… Oh man. I’m sorry, Tyler.” DS quipped, leaping over Rake, getting out of the alley and onto the open street.
“Funny guy, funny guy. Always with the jokes. Hey buddy, here’s a joke for ya!”
DS barely avoided the hammer, hurtling end over end and sprang to the ground as the hammer smashed through a storefront window. “What’s the joke? Your aim?”
Rake roared and charged, like a rampaging bull. Ellie hovered high overhead, and let loose with a massive blast of mystic energy, colliding with Rake’s torso.
“Hah! Barely tickled!”
Ellie frowned. “Baby! He’s making fun of me!” she pursed her lips. “That is so not nice!” she unleashed another blast at Rake’s feet, disintegrating the asphalt and the ground underneath him. Rake plunged into the sewer below, much to his very vocal dismay.
“Hah! You’re all… wet!” Belle looked at DS, grinning. “See, I can make dumb puns too, honey!”
Rake’s massive hand slammed over the edge of the hold, and he slowly crawled out, singing. “Today is the greatest… day I’ve ever known… HEY! DS! Guess what?”
Miguel watched Rakescar climb out of the hole, and shivered involuntarily. This was probably the last thing he wanted to have happen, but then again, Arbiter Jones did tell him this was coming. “What, Tyler? That herpes medication finally work?”
“Always joking. That’s cool, cuz I got another one for you. What’s burning, being looted, and got a bunch of pissed off villains all over it? It’s Paragon City, ya schmuck! And there ain’t a thing ya can do about it, cuz you got me all to your lonesome!”
“He’s not alone.” A blast slammed into the back of Rake’s knee, staggering him. DS launched himself at Tyler, releasing a powerful cocktail of fear pheromones. Rakescar couldn’t help himself and shuddered, his body betraying him. DS followed up with a flurry of blows, but to no avail. It was literally like punching a brick wall. His gloves ripped at the knuckles, and he leapt back, out of counter attack range, and hurriedly reviewed his options.
Rakescar was probably the worst match up for him. Neither he or Ellie could hurt him significantly, much less put him down. Then again, Rake was at a range disadvantage with Ellie, who wisely took to the air, and Rake’s big difficulty was actually hitting DS himself. They weren’t five minutes into the fight, and already they were at a stalemate. While Rakescar was holding them up, Faultline was turning into a war zone, keeping them tied up from taking on people they could actually win againt.
Damnit, he cursed. This sucks.
It got worse. Rake roared as the dose of fear pheromones was burned away by his demonic metabolism, and he slammed his fists own into the street, causing a shockwave that shook the buildings on the street, crumbling, then collapsing them, trapping their helpless occupants inside.
“I’ll be seeing you soon, buddy! In the meantime, have fun picking up the pieces!” Cackling, Rake crouched and leapt high into the air, leaving Belle and DS to hurriedly rush to the aid of the victims.
“Jesus, honey! We gotta help these people!” Belle cried, as DS leapt into the pile of rubble and threw a giant chunk away into the street.
“Baby, call the ‘Babes, call the Guardian Angels, anyone! We need help!” he screamed, his mingled with the screams of the terrorized people buried under their own homes.
Oh God, he thought, how did Tyler get so powerful? How did all these villains get into the city?
More importantly, how are we gonna stop them?