Deathspider/Irresponsible Hate Anthem2
From Unofficial Handbook of the Virtue Universe
Irresponsible Hate Anthem Chapters 5 -7 & Epilogue
Chapter Five - Transgression
Rakescar was exactly where and what he wanted to be. The screams of terror, the shrieks of agony, the slaughter of Longbow, civilians, and Heroes – this was sublime. And when that annoying little thing we call a conscience is gone, brushed away like a bothersome gnat, the combination of a homicidal maniac and a demonic rock golem was simply more than most could handle.
Skyway City was first. Who could stand up to him?
Mynx? He sent her to the Hospital screaming with her spine broken.
Synapse? He was slammed repeatedly into an overpass column until he winked out.
And the great thing was, chaos was erupting all over the place. Sure, a Hero might teleport back to the hospital, but would they honestly come zooming back into the fray to fight him? Not so far!
Tyler was slowly getting into step, though just a fleshy sack of bones. Every hammer fall, every kick to the face, every ounce of pain he inflicted, Tyler pushed the mallet a little harder, ran a little more faster, and laughed a little louder.
But at center stage, there was Rakescar.
Rakescar, the demon ascendant.
Rakescar, the destroyer.
Rakescar. The King.
“COME OUT, COME OUT, WHERE EVAH YOU ARE!” he screamed as he rampaged through Paragon City. “KNEEL IN FRONTA YER KING!”
He knew that the abandoned freeways and overpasses of Skyway wouldn’t give him the battlefield he wanted. No, this wasn’t prime real estate.
He wanted something a bit more extravagant. Oh yeah. He wanted someplace where he could cause massive casualties, massive property damage, and build himself a throne.
A soft pumf pumf pumf pumf pumf distracted him.
The 40mm high explosive, high velocity grenades launched from the Mk 19 automatic grenade launching machinegun got his attention.
It sounded like thunder exploding around and on him, exploding in a haze of black smoke and bright flashes. It was deafening. He staggered, laughing maniacally. So he didn’t hear the scream from on high, on an overpass.
“TOW TWO! ENGAGE YOUR TARGET!”
He did, however, hear a massive BOOOOOOM! Of the missile launcher, and he saw a massive cloud of dust from the overpass, and watched a missile, trailing a glittering copper line behind it, streak towards him.
“Ooooo weeee! The big guns! Bring it!” he roared and swung his hammer as the missile came into range. Hitting it in the center, the missile disintegrated but the warhead with it’s phallic like armor penetrator, slammed into his chest.
The explosion was tremendous.
As the smoke cleared, Rakescar was on his knees, spitting contemptuously. “Beeeeeeep! Try again, Space Cadet!”
His eyes flashed red, and he stampeded to a column holding up the freeway. Roaring in defiance, he collided with the massive concrete support, smashing through it and the reinforcing steel beams, an explosion of concrete shrapnel, and through to the other side. Grunting with the impact, he carried on through to the column opposite of the one he destroyed, charging like a bull.
Skyway City’s Talos Island-King’s Row Connector shuddered, and as Rakescar demolished the support, the section under where he was gave way, plummeting to earth.
The auto body shop underneath the freeway was destroyed, exploding in a might crack, white smoke and dust filling the streets as that portion of the freeway collapsed. The US Army gun truck disappeared in the cataclysmic upheaval. Which was just as well. Rakescar appeared in the pile of rubble, holding his hammer high.
“Because in Mega City… I AM THE LAW!”
The city was in chaos, to put it mildly.
Steel Canyon was thundering with automatic weapons fire, explosions, shattering glass, grenades detonating, and the screams of the wounded and the dying.
It came upon them so fast, there was little people could do to stem the tide of villains and psychopaths from, oh no, not robbing banks, not taking over a building or the myriad ‘Stupid Villain Tricks’ that people, in the way folks just seem to do, got used to. No, they were here to cause death and destruction wholesale.
“This has gotten out of control.”
Paladin, a vision of gleaming steel and gold armor, stepped out onto the street amidst the carnage. He drew his sword.
Across the street, in front of the Biotechnix store, two men were firing rifles at the storefront, obliterating the door, and presumably mowing down the people inside. Overhead, an Arachnos Flier was plummeting from the skies, falling towards the Perez Park entrance. All around him, chaos, bedlam, looting, burning.
“HAVE AT THEE!”
The two men spun, eyes wide as a huge man in gold armor charged them, wielding a gigantic broadsword.
“What the hell?”
The first man’s rifle fell to the ground in pieces, and a mailed fist dislocated his jaw. The other caught a metal shod foot to his groin, and the pommel of the blade crashed down on his skull, knocking him unconscious.
A drop in the ocean, Paladin thought morosely.
“Pally, up here!”
Paladin looked up to see Deathspider, clinging to the side of the building he stood in front of, and a woman in black and red floating nearby, waving cheerily at him.
“Well met, my friend! I fear our city is in peril, however!”
“You’re telling me. I need your help, big guy.”
“Ask, and ye shall receive.”
DS leapt down and crouched on the sidewalk before Paladin, while Belle floated down.
“Rakescar. He’s loose in the city. We have to stop him.”
Paladin nodded grimly. “Aye, tis a grave threat indeed. You have my sword arm at your disposal!”
“Good. We’re gonna need it.”
Polekitty stepped cautiously into the building. There was sounds around, the sound of gunfire in the distance, aircraft flyers and heroes fighting in the skies, a radio playing a Pink Floyd song somewhere, and..giggling?
(One sound,one single sound one kiss, one single kiss,)
She slowly eased up the stairs, poking her head above the landing to see what was going on. It was dark up there, the windows covered by something. She had other senses though, some changed by the chemicals that mutated her.
She could smell it, blood, lots of blood, and fear.
She shivered for some reason, despite all the things she had faced so far..something here was wrong. maybe waiting for backup was a good idea after all. She started to back down, and then heard it again. Giggling, almost child like.
Gulping, she kept going up the stairs.
(a face outside the window pane, however did it come to this? )
The floor was slippery here, she couldn't see her feet. Part of her was screaming in the back of her mind this was really a…
… but it still sounded like a child ahead somewhere...
No..as she got closer and could hear it better, it was less child like.. more insane…
…and coming towards her.
She took a step backwards, she'd wait for backup after all when her foot came down on something soft that rolled under her. She squealed as she fell backwards, her hands going out to try to catch herself, one of them sinking into something. Heart pounding she scrambled backwards as the giggling got closer and closer, she had no idea why she was so terrified!
( A man who ran, a child who cried a girl who heard, a voice that lied)
The source of the sound came around the corner, average height man, dressed in white ballistic mesh with blue armor pads, and a dopey looking mask that covered his face, half blue, half white, with a ridiculous grin on it. That wasn't scary at all. The severed head he was holding through the eye sockets like a bowling ball on the other hand, was.
The lights came up, and she saw just what she had slipped on...and what her hand landed in, the remains of some National Guardsman by what was left of the uniform. She screamed and lashed out, green radioactive pheromones hitting him with almost a physical force, causing him to drop the skull and gasp, choking.
She got to her feet, face contorted in rage “What the hell, you some kind of sick freak?” she said as she brought her hand up again, focusing the blast this time.
“As a matter of fact, he is” She jumped at the crisp English accent coming from the other doorway, staring at the man in the lensed face mask, as from behind, a baseball bat swung. The impact knocked her off her feet, leaving her crumpled on the blood soaked floor as Frozen Treat Man continued to choke.
“Aaaa...i'm dying... I'm melting...oh what a world, what a world!!!”
Trevor just scowled “Clown, you'll live. You'll just need to bathe in tomato juice is all to get the stench out.
“Pity that” muttered the Cat Skinner, looking her over “Huh, looks human, but she's got a nice pelt on her at least..” he reached down to his belt for his knives, only to have his arm grasped by Trevor .
“You can get your trophy, but I have a much more artistic Idea in what to do with her.” He smiled behind his faceplate.
“You'll enjoy it, trust me”
His companion looked doubtful “Do we really have time to screw around with something like this? There's still a war going on out there.”
“There is always time for art!”
“Fine, though it better not be like your last one...wasn't' enough left to make a decent set of shoes.”
The Unblinking Eye learned many things before being sacked by the BBC after the Balkans mess, one of them is no piece of information is useless.
“I have seen her before, in a commercial for that children's hospital. She seems to be a heroine of some renown, as well as young and rather attractive. Snuff films of heroines such as her are worth their weight in gold in the Isles.”
(the sun that burned a fiery red the vision of an empty bed )
Rhonda groaned, her head was spinning and she was cold. She wasn't terrified anymore, like she was anyway, that unreasoning sheer panic. Probably one of the goons messing with her head as she tried to sit up… and found she couldn't… and why she was cold.
Her hands and feet were encased with ice, and she had been stripped down to her underwear. This was bad, probably very bad. She looked around the room… then immediately wished she hadn't. Many of the remains of the soldiers and doctors had been placed around her, as if someone was trying to do a scene from some horror movie, blood smeared on the walls. Definitely very bad. As she was testing the bonds two of them walked in, the dark skinned man with the faceplate, and the other one… no, he's not the same. He had a hunting jacket on, in a tiger stripe pattern...as he got closer she saw that it was made out of actual skin, and hoped that was a tiger...after seeing downstairs… she wasn't so sure.
(The use of force, he was so tough she'll soon submit, she's had enough)
“So where's your friend?” she said, trying to get them to talk, to stall for time, anything...
Trevor snorted behind the mask. “Frozen Treat Man is supposed be washing the smell off of himself...but is probably making snowmen out of corpses. Don't bother with trying to use that on us, the toxin my companion injected you with will prevent you being able to concentrate enough...so you may as well relax, you will soon be immortalized in a masterpiece!”
(the march of fate, the broken will someone is lying very still)
PoleKitty prayed silently [i]please say your gonna kill me, please say you'regonnakill me, pleasesayyou'regonnakillme[i]. She glanced around franticly... there... just above her head on the floor, her backpack. As the hunter grinned and started fumbling with his belt she knew it was her only chance.
She knew that Vanessa had changed her during her two weeks of being a 'guest' of the Carnival... and has hesitated to ever to use the 'gift' she was given. It was possibly the hardest thing she had done, she felt like her head was about to explode.
He suddenly dropped his pants, clutching his head and screaming in agony as her will dominated his. At the scream Trevor turned to look at the hunter, Rhonda was screaming as well as she pulled her hand through the ice pinning it, leaving a good bit of skin and blood on it. She lunged for the backpack as the masked man turned, the top lens starting to glow. She started to feel the terror again that had hit her earlier… but her fingers had found it.
Pulling it from the holster she fired, screaming, the .45 thundering in the small room. The first round missed, while the second got Trevor in the throat. As he staggered back clutching his neck the third shattered the lenses covering his face.
(He has laughed, and he has cried he has fought and he has died)
Rodger managed to shake it off , the pain and blinding leaving him just in time to hear the thunder, and the Unblinking Eye slumping to the floor. He growled , yanking one of his knives out and jumping for the still mostly bound girl.
She barely got the gun between them as he landed, blade sinking deep into her shoulder. She struggled to bring it up, then fired as he kept stabbing. He stopped... staring at her as blood started coming out of his mouth... then collapsing. She used her free hand to push his dying body off of her, the gun empty and smoking.
(he's just the same as all the rest he's not the worst, he's not the best)
She panted, shaking as shock hit her...then heard a voice from downstairs “Hey guys, what's going on? Hope you didn't kill her yet!”
There was still one left, the really crazy one. In a panic she started banging on her icy bonds with the empty gun.
(And still this ceaseless murmuring, the babbling that I brook)
She was free, but she heard him coming up the stairs. The gun was empty...and what ever they gave her, she was still unable to use any powers, she didn't think she'd be able to do the mind trick again if she wanted to. The window was too small… besides she couldn't fly on her own, she flew via a harness in her suit…
…which was shredded. There was a thump as Frozen Treat Man dropped the big tub of ice cream he was carrying, looking at his dead companions.
“Y...you shot them. I thought you liked them…they liked you.” he said , a gleaming blade of ice appearing in his hand.
(the sea of faces, eyes upraised the empty screen, the vacant look)
She had nothing else she could do. She threw both the clothes and the backpack in his face as she dove past him, leaping over the stair railing. She had almost made it… when she felt the stabbing pain, the ice cutting into her, slowing her down.
As she hit the lower landing she scrambled to get further downstairs, as he started screaming and giggling, throwing balls of air cooled down to solid temperatures at her. She couldn't move, the hit he got on her had froze her leg... she was trapped. As he stalked down the stairs she felt around franticly for anything... her hands came across something metallic and cold next to one of the fallen soldiers. She lost more skin and fingernails as she pried it from the frozen blood, it was just like the AR her dad used hunting... but the magazine was empty.
(A man in black on a snow white horse a pointless life has run it's course)
He stood at the foot of the stairs about 20 feet away, sledgehammer in one hand, the other surrounded by a ball of super-cooled air.
“Wonder if you stink as much shattered as you do in one piece” he said as he gathered the cold.
(the red rimmed eyes, the tears still run as he fades into the setting sun)
Rhonda's hands worked franticly on the rifle, the magazine was empty, frozen in place… and any other magazines were under the soldiers body. Reaching down she found another trigger though, and as he raised his hands to strike, managed to flip the safety and pull it.
The M203 grenade launcher bucked under her hands, breaking several bloodied fingers. The 40mm round impacted at his feet, throwing out billowing clouds of smoke and burning white phosphorous. He screamed as the chemical burned through the clothing and into his face and chest, falling to his knees then collapsing in a twitching mass.
As the fire started to spread she sat there in shock, empty rifle clutched in her arms, knees drawn up to her chest as she sobbed uncontrollably.
“Huh, so this’s the entrance to Siren’s Call in Paragon...” Fearghas said to himself with a bit of wonderment, peering at the entrance from the corner of a nearby building. Chaos was everywhere in the city, but he was after a specific goal.
“Fearghas.” came a voice from behind him. Fearghas jumped slightly and spun around, seeing Kichi, the Flame Assassin, standing behind him. On her right waist hung her favored flute alongside a pouch, and on her back was her sheathed flame katana.
“Geez! Kichi, you nearly gave me a heart attack.” Fearghas shook his head.
“Oh,” Kichi frowned, “just nearly? I will have to try harder next time.”
“Har har har,” Fearghas replied, as Kichi grinned innocently, “what a way to treat your own brother.”
“What are we doing here?” Kichi asked, getting straight to the point.
“Right. Well, we gotta do something about all this destruction going on, y’know?” Fearghas explained, “And first things first, we gotta try to get Rake, or Tyler, whatever he’s called now, back onto our side.”
“Hai, I have seen his destruction in the city.” Kichi nodded.
“Yeah, and according to reports,” Fearghas tapped his techno-gloves, “he’s rampaging over in Blyde square right now. –I- have a plan though!”
“Please, just tell it to me in a normal voice.” Kichi insisted.
Fearghas cleared his throat, deciding not to do his usual John Madden impersonation.
“Alright, I figure, you gotta stay hidden, since I mean, you’re a bit more on the wanted list here than I am you know?” Fearghas was speaking of an incident where Kichi killed a known professor, and was subsequently, he thought, on a high alert status in Paragon.
“Hai,” Kichi nodded,” that much I assumed.”
Fearghas nodded and leaned forward, whispering the rest of the plan to Kichi.
“What’s up?” Fearghas asked.
“I would have taken that plan much more seriously, if not for-“
“I know, the Banana-rama joke was a bit much. You ready to go?” Fearghas asked.
“Hai.” Kichi nodded, almost vanishing from Fearghas’ sight in an instant. Fearghas ran forward and slammed his gloves onto the ground, shooting off towards Blyde square.
Rakescar roared with malicious joy amongst the fallen.
Eight PCPD cruisers lay demolished in Blyde Square, Positron and Valkyrie off elsewhere to deal with the overwhelming horde. The broken bodies of police officers, Longbow, and the odd Hero lay at his feet. The street was choked with burning vehicles, rubble, and smoke.
“In the fields the bodies buuurnnnnniiiiiiing, as the war machine keeps tuuuurnnnnniiiiiiing.” Rake suddenly said in a low voice. “HAH! Can’t believe you losers held us off for this long!”
Then, a horrified voice behind him. “Tyler?”
Rakescar turned to face Luficia, a young Heroine in black and white, a gleaming long sword in her hand. Seiken, her sentient sword, whispered urgently
Lu, be careful.
“Tyler? What… what are you doing?”
Rakescar grinned like a madman. “Of all the people who shouldn’t be here…”
Luficia looked around her at Rakescar’s work and bit her lip. “Tyler… why are you doing this?”
“Why? Why?! Isn’t it obvious?” he laughed maniacally. “I don’t care anymore, I’m doing whatever I want, Lucy! Sex, drugs and rock and roll! Life is an exercise of will! Now… hold still while I exercise mine…” He lunged at her, and Luficia barely dodged out of the way of the demon.
“Tyler! You… you can’t be doing this! I know you’re a good person inside! You helped us in Bloody Bay! You’re not a monster! Why are you doing this? This isn’t you!”
Lu! Get out of here! He’s not listening!
“This is me. I’m a weapon, just like that butter knife of yours. I’ve always been this. Only now I’ve accepted that!” A hammer materialized and was in the air faster than she could react. It slammed into her midsection, sending her into a marble column of an office building.
Luficia gagged on her own blood as she rolled onto her side, the hammer having turned her insides to jelly, but she was healing quickly – the pain, though, was legendary. She groaned and got on all fours, biting back the rising vomit. Seiken was across the plaza, having been flung from her nerveless fingers in mid-air.
“Tyler…” she gagged, coughing up more blood. “Tyler, please… that’s… not true…”
Rakescar laughed cruelly and leapt at her. Only inches between them now.
She looked up at him, pleadingly, getting to her feet. “Tyler… no…”
“Feel the bile rising from your guilty past! With your nerves in tatters as the cockleshell shatters, and the hammers batter down your door!! YOU BETTER RUN!!!”
For her trouble, her face was driven into the demolished marble column, jagged shards of rock slicing her face, a supernova of red pain overwhelming her.
LU! LU! NOOOOO!
Rake grunted as the blade was in the air, and slammed into him, sinking deep into his back. He roared in rage and fury, releasing Luficia, and twirled around, trying to grasp the blade, halfway buried into his rocky form.
“Unnnngh! PIGSTICKER!” he screamed, suddenly careening into another column, slamming the blade handle against the other marble columns, shattering the rock as he attempted to dislodge it.
“RrrrrrrrrAAAAAAAAAGH! GET IT OUTTA ME!”
LU! Wake up! Get out of here!
Luficia moaned groggily, her face a mask of red. Blinded by the blood, she wiped her white gloved hands across her face, and dazedly saw her grandfather, Seiken, her sword, impaling Rake and the monster’s frenzied attempt to get it out of him.
Lu! Lu! Get up! Get out of here!
“Seiken… Tyler! Please! Calm down!” she cried, getting shakily to her feet. And then, what she saw next made her heart skip several beats.
Rakescar screamed as he smashed Seiken against the column, shattering both with an explosion of magicked steel and marble chunks. The half of Seiken was still buried between his shoulder blades.
“Grrrrragh! KILL YOU! You stupid…”
And then, Luficia knew, deep down in the part of her that was not her friend, that the person she thought she knew, the Tyler Preston she called friend, was not here, and there was a monster of a man standing before her, fueled by a violent demon, that was going to kill her.
Fearghas landed in Blyde Square a short while later, looking at the mass of death and destruction around it. Rakescar had to be here. It was just a matter of where he was.
“Grrrragh! KILL YOU! You stupid…”
“Well, that’s not something you wanna hear,” Fearghas said to himself, beginning to walk over to where he heard the voice. He blinked, seeing the looming figure of Rakescar holding his trade-mark stone hammer near the broken body of Luficia. Fearghas had to act quickly; he knew Rakescar was moving in to finish her off. He ran forward and slammed his techno-gloves against the statue in the square, sending him flying in a straight line straight for Rakescar.
Get… away… Lu… Seiken said weakly, the hilt laying amongst some of the shattered piece of the sword.
“S-seiken..!” Luficia yelled in shock, “I-I’ll get…you..”
“Awwwh,” Rakescar said tauntingly, waving his stone mallet in the air, “Don’t worry kiddo, I’ll make ya feel ALL better!” Luficia looked up to Rakescar, staggering backwards.
LU! RUN! FORGET ABOUT ME! Seiken screamed.
“B-but..” Luficia stammered. Rakescar lifted his mallet with both hands above his head, intent to smash Luficia’s very bones apart.
“Time’s UP!” Rakescar yelled. At that moment, Fearghas came flying in with his gloves covered in a dark red energy in front of him, slamming directly into Rakescar’s face. The monstrous demon stumbled backwards, caught off guard from the attack, as Fearghas landed on his feet in front of Luficia, who stood in surprise.
“Get outta here!” Fearghas yelled to Luficia, her face covered in blood. He turned, seeing Rakescar already recovered, looking at Fearghas with a smirk.
“Blondie’s back for some more!” Rakescar yelled. Fearghas took a breath; this wasn’t part of the plan, so it looked like it was time to improvise.
Kichi, unknown to the others, slipped out from behind a nearby pillar and swiftly ran to behind Rakescar, seeing part of Seiken embedded into his shoulder blades. She tugged the mask over her face down and quickly unsheathed her katana, the flames from it dripping onto the floor. Kichi leapt up, quickly sliding her own flaming katana into the wound, slipping alongside the fragment of Seiken.
“Kichi!” Fearghas yelled in relief, as Rakescar let out a scream of pain from the stab and the flames covering his wound.
“BLAAARGH!” Rakescar yelled as he dropped his stone mallet to the ground, shaking back and forth to try to get Kichi off of him.
“Take the girl and get out of here!” Kichi yelled, tightening her grip on the katana, driving it in deeper as her flames emerged from her soft, dark crimson eyes.
“Alright, but remember the plan!” Fearghas yelled as he turned around to Luficia, quickly scooping her up in his arms.
“M-mr. Paladin..!” Luficia muttered in a daze as Fearghas sighed.
“…no, it’s me, Fearghas.”
“Oh! Mr. Fearghas?!” Luficia said in a surprise, looking over Fearghas’ shoulder to see Rakescar stumbling to get Kichi off his shoulder, “and…”
“Kichi,” Fearghas nodded as he moved slowly, not wanting to further injure Luficia, “don’t worry, she’ll be alright.”
“Asian invasion huh?! Rakescar yelled as he began to spin around in place. But Kichi’s grip was tight. She took in a breath and spewed a stream of fire from her mouth straight to Rakescar’s face. “You’re HOT!” Rakescar yelled as he stopped his spinning, charging backwards to slam Kichi into a pillar.
“Thank you.” Kichi replied, and seeing where Rakescar was charging, she leapt off his shoulder, removing her flame katana. Rakescar slammed into the pillar, then looked at Kichi, forming a new stone mallet his hand.
“You gone and got yourself a piece of this!” Rakescar yelled as he charged forward to Kichi, slamming his mallet down to make her nothing but a splatter on the floor. Kichi swiftly side-stepped out of the way, then leapt onto the giant mallet, running up the hilt as bursts of flames flew from her hands to hit Rakescar’s body. She slipped her katana into her sheath as she hit Rakescar again in the face with a burst of fire, landing in front of him lightly.
Luficia gasped as Fearghas made his way through Blyde Square with her.
“What is it?” Fearghas asked.
“W-we have to go back! Seiken!” Luficia stuttered, moving her hands to tug at Fearghas’ chest.
“Listen, I’m sorry, but...” Fearghas shook his head, remembering the sight of her shattered sword.
“No no, he’s fine, we have to get the hilt!” Luficia pleaded. Fearghas looked out to Blyde Square, then back to where they were previously, and sighed. He knew he couldn’t leave Luficia just out in the open, so he had no other choice but to bring her back.
“Alright, we’ll go back.” Fearghas said with a smile.
“We have to hurry!”
Kichi performed several back flips to distance herself from Rakescar as he charged after after, swinging his mallet back and forth, each swing just missing the agile body of Kichi.
“C’mere, I ain’t gonna hurtcha!” Rakescar yelled as Kichi stopped, leaping over Rakescar to land behind him, quickly grabbing her katana to stab him in the back. The demon screamed, as Kichi quickly removed her katana, jumping away from Rakescar’s back swing.
“Now you’re gonna GET IT!” Rakescar yelled as he spun his mallet, the bottom of the hilt forming into the sharp end of a spear, the hammer end slamming down to the ground to form a disturbing stone-spear. Fearghas arrived with Luficia just then, Luficia pointing to where the hilt of Seiken was.
“There!” Luficia yelled. Kichi turned in surprise.
“You’re not supposed to-“ Before Kichi could finish her sentence, Rakescar hurled his stone-spear at her, the sharpened end going right through Kichi’s chest, flying with her on it like a rag doll into the nearby wall. Kichi stretched her hand out to try to remove the spear, the other tugging her mask further down her neck, blood pouring like a river from her chest and onto the floor. She coughed hard, blood spilling from her mouth and nose as her dark crimson eyes died down to a brown color. Kichi’s head slumped downward, her hands gripping the spear falling to her side.
“KICHI!!” Luficia screamed in horror, “NO!” Fearghas looked over to Kichi, then turned to see Rakescar charging at him and Luficia.
“We’ll get Seiken later!” Fearghas yelled as he turned, beginning to run as fast as he could away from Rakescar.
“But Kichi!!” Luficia yelled, “we have to help her!”
“DON’T RUN!” Rakescar yelled in a disturbing glee, chasing after Fearghas and Luficia.
“You let me worry about that,” Fearghas insisted, “now hang on, cause we gotta move!” Luficia nodded, as some tears began to roll down her cheek, wrapping her arms around Fearghas’ neck.
The rubble of the column remained silent for a moment, before numerous sparks and embers began to shoot up from the debris, dancing along the stones. Suddenly, a large burst of flame encased the debris, melting it into mere ash, revealing the somehow healed body of Kichi, who rose up, her dark crimson eyes vanishing behind two flames.
“Rakescar, you are too blunt for your own good.”
Fearghas continued his run, now a few blocks away from the square. He had to think of something fast; he couldn’t keep running forever, and Rakescar was beginning to catch up to them.
“I’m so sorry Mr. Fearghas!” Luficia yelled, explosions ringing out throughout the city block from other villains, one of the floors of a nearby building on fire, “I…I was the one who got Kichi…”
“Listen just…save your…strength…” Fearghas panted.
“C’MERE!” Rakescar yelled sickly, “I JUST WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND!” Fearghas looked over his shoulder to Rakescar and groaned.
“Oh my God..!” Luficia gasped in disbelief. Fearghas turned and smirked. Kichi, covered in flames, came flying from around the corner, making a path straight for Rakescar. Fearghas activated the flame shield on his gloves, powering them up to cover Luficia. Kichi flew past them and slammed her open palm against Rakescar’s face.
“Are ya serious?!” Rakescar yelled as he stopped in his tracks, not from the impact, but from the ridiculousness of Kichi trying to slap him in the face. Kichi remained silent, as Fearghas dived into a nearby building with Luficia in hand. A second later, the flames around Kichi intensified, until a giant inferno burst forth from her, causing the street Rakescar was standing on to collapse, sending him into the sewers. Kichi fell as well, but quickly grabbed onto the edge of the street, pulling herself up. Fearghas walked out of the building with Luficia, shaking his head.
“Show off.” Fearghas grinned. Kichi smiled, moving her hand into her pouch. Luficia looked at Kichi with a blank face, as she tossed Luficia Seiken’s hilt.
“I believe this is yours.” Kichi nodded, as Luficia grabbed the hilt, hugging it.
“SEIKEN!” Luficia gasped, tightening her hug on the hilt.
Don’t you EVER do something like that again Lu! Seiken yelled, as Fearghas began to run once again, knowing Rakescar would get up at any moment. Kichi smiled and began to run besides him.
“Thank you…Miss Kichi…” Luficia said sheepishly, looking to Kichi, “how did you..?”
“Ancient Chinese secret.” Fearghas said with a smirk.
“…not Chinese.” Kichi muttered.
As the flames died down, Rakescar grunted and staggered to his feet – his rock body was blackened from the flames, but no matter. The concussive force was what knocked him around. “Losers… always holding me back…”
Eh. So what if Fearghas and Geisha Girl got away with the broke-face chick? There were plenty more victims to go around. He waved the black, greasy smoke from around him, annoyed at the distraction.
“RAKESCAR!” a deep, booming voice issued from beyond the smoke.
“Who could it be now, doot doo doo doo-wooop… Who could it be noooooooooow?” Rake sang, grunting as he stepped over the superheated asphalt.
“Definitly not Men At Work fans. But maybe you know this one. You better run, better take cover…”
Oh, he knew that voice.
“Deathspider…” he growled, stepping slowly out of the smoking ruin, and there was the object of his undying hatred, standing in the middle of the street, cracking his knuckles. Above him floated his little girlfriend, Belle. Nearby was a slender looking man with long red hair under a black bandanna, bare-chested with black tribal tattoos all over his chest, and scaly green tights – MerKing. And drawing his sword with a hiss and a ring of steel, stood Paladin, gleaming in his gilded armor, a look of determination in his azure eyes.
“Thou hast gone too far, ruffian. Surrender now and know our mercy.’ Paladin intoned grimly.
Rakescar barked laughter. “Hah! That’ll be the day!”
“… Then know our displeasure. Have at thee.”
The blast from Belle’s hands slammed into Rakescar, blinding him with a wash of mystic light. He rocked back on his heels, and that was when Deathspider leap kicked him, his boot slamming into Rake’s face. The giant fell flat on his rump, cracking the street with the force. DS flipped in mid-air, and came down with a backhand-elbow combo that produced no visible effect. Rake swept his massive arms in front of him, causing DS to flip out of range.
Paladin came at him, and Rake rose to his feet, another stone hammer materializing in his huge hands. The Defender of Steel Canyon’s blade met the stone haft, and Rake’s hand shot out, closing around Paladin’s metal gauntlet, crushing it around his fingers as the demon squeezed. Gritting his teeth with the pain, Paladin drove a knee into Rake’s gut, momentarily forcing him back.
And over Paladin’s head leapt MerKing, his bone claws erupting from his hands, and he drove them across Rake’s face as he descended. He landed in front of Rake, brushing his long crimson hair out of his eyes. “Well, this beast doesn’t look too tough. Ready to surrender, land dweller?” he sneered, holding his hands out, the bone blades ready to strike.
“You gotta be kidding me, Water Boy!” Rake cackled, driving a huge foot into MerKing’s knee, snapping it with a wet, sickening crack. MerKing screamed, and Rake’s fist collided with his face, sending MerKing flying.
“This is it? This is what Paragon is throwing at me?”
“No, this is.” Paladin sliced across Rake’s chest, cutting deep into the demon.
“Grrrr! Good thing I got ‘Protection From Losers, Ten Foot Radius’” Rake smashed his foot in the center of Paladin’s chest and knocking Paladin off his feet. “Or in this case, one BIG one! Ha!”
“Hey! It’s the President of My Sloppy Seconds club!” DS called out, leaping on Rake’s back, hammering him with his fists, trying to draw Rake off of Paladin.
“And the Wrong Frickin Thing To Say Award goes to…” Rake growled, and forcibly wrenched DS off his back, slamming him down onto the ground. “But hey, chin up, buckaroo! When I’m through with you, you won’t be saying anything!”
“Unngh… The ole ‘Ziggursky Shower Special’, huh?” DS rolled away, shaking his head. “Maybe that’s why Aatiya dumped me… I wasn’t ‘Prison Wife’ enough for her…”
Rake roared with rage and rushed to turn Deathspider into a grease-spot, but a gigantic blast knocked Rake off his feet, launching him into the air. Rake fell to earth, grunting.
“Baby…” Belle rushed to him, her bracers emanating a green healing glow. “As great as pissing off the giant rock monster is, you may just wanna tone it down, just a tad…” She shook her head, blasting Rake again with her free hand as DS felt the splitting pain in his skull subside.
“I’ll take it under advisement, kitten.”
Rake rose from the ground, a deep growl coming from his throat. His eyes narrowed at Deathspider, full of seething, burning hate.
“Aw, c’mon, Tyler! Can’t you take a joke? Where’s the happy go lucky dork with a Mohawk everyone knows and pretends to tolerate?” DS taunted, watching MerKing running behind Rake’s massive back, the aquatic Hero having healed his brutal knee injury in mere minutes.
“Not present, bug boy! You think this all a big joke, dontcha?” Rake’s voice was deep and low, but you could hear the rising madness coming from the depths of what was left of his soul. If he still had one. I think I got his attention, DS thought ruefully.
“You don’t get it, do ya? This is the end of the line. I’m gonna kill each and every one of ya…”
His words trailed as MerKing leapt onto his back, his claws seeking Rake’s eyes. The result was not pretty, and certainly not what MerKing expected. Rake’s hands clamped over MerKing’s arms, and flipped him off his back – he held the Hero in front of him, the demon’s ghastly visage looming in front of MerKing as he kicked ineffectually.
“I know that trick, Fish Man. You know this one?”
The demon began to pull MerKing’s arms apart, dislocating them and beginning to tear muscle, sinew, skin. MerKing roared in pain and indignation as Rakescar was intently ripping his arms off with the brutish glee of a child plucking the wings off a fly.
“GET THEE AWAY FROM HIM!” Paladin cried, the Hero’s blade biting deep into Rake’s forearm. The demon howled with pain and threw MerKing away, turning to face Paladin. The demon promptly slugged Paladin in the face, the huge rock fist smashing into Paladin’s fair countenance, breaking his cheek bone with a brittle snap.
“I SEE YA STANDING UP… YA THINK YOU’RE SO COOL… WHY DON”T YOU JUST…” Rake screamed/sang, and grabbed Paladin by the throat, hurling him into the entrance of an office building, the warrior slamming into the steel frame of the plate glass window, the glass spiderwebbed with white cracks. Rake grinned and casually lifted a burning sedan, the pain bubbling from Kichi’s earlier display of her pyrokinetic powers.
“Fi-uhhhhh uhhhhh whoa oh oh! Smoke she is a rising! FIRE!” he grunted and launched the flaming car at Paladin. The gas tank detonated as it collided with Paladin, and the street was suddenly filled with burning metal and gasoline. Rake grinned savagely, turning from his pretty flaming wreck to face his hated nemesis.
“Ya need some tougher friends, punk.”
DS tensed his body, his bloodstream flooded with adrenaline. Belle was carefully out of range of Rake, but with her tending to MerKing’s wounds, she couldn’t provide him with fire support. Rake once again summoned his hammer, the massive stone weapon materializing out of nowhere.
“You have no idea how much I’ve wanted this, bug. You took my eyes. YOU RUINED MY LIFE!”
Deathspider growled. “Shut up. You did it to yourself. You tried killing Machina and me on Striga. You put yourself in that position. If your life got ruined, it’s your own fault. Stop blaming me for what went wrong in your life. You made the choices, you put yourself where you are.”
“And that’s one to grow on, huh? You don’t get it, insect. But you’re going to. You think you can take me, bug?”
“Save the pick-up lines for your cell-mate in the Zig, fat boy. Let’s do this.”
Rakescar snarled and swung the massive hammer at Deathspider, who ducked under the swing, air moving over him like a gale force wind.
“That aim ain’t getting any better, compadre!” DS called out, leaping over the return swing and lashing out with a jump kick, his foot colliding with Rake’s face, slightly staggering him. His momentum carried him forward, planting two feet on the back of Rake’s head and he kicked off, only to have the hammer hit him squarely in the back, sending him sprawling, as Rake turned, grinning savagely.
The hammer plunged down again, smashing a crater into the asphalt. DS was up with a single arm handstand, and pushed off, sailing at Rake’s face with another kick, hitting him between the eyes, and Rake’s massive form fell back onto the ground.
DS wasted no time, clambering onto Rake and pummeling him with his fists.
“That’s enougha that!” A fist crashed into DS’s side, launching him into the air. DS twisted in mid-air, and landed on both feet. His side ached terribly, broken ribs perhaps?
“You might have gotten a boost in the ‘smashing things’ department, but you’re still slow. Ugly, too.”
“Don’t need to bounce around like a moron when alls I need is a good hit!” Rakescar hefted the hammer over his head. “Like this! SMEEP SMEEP!” It arced overhead and collided into the ground, shaking everyone off their feet.
Fortunately, DS was already in the air, high over the hammer’s path. Rake lifted it again, trying to catch him on the rebound, but Deathspider was crouched low now, at Rake’s feet, and in a blur, his fists came out of nowhere.
The left fist slammed into Rake’s jaw, rocking his head back.
The right fist, in an uppercut, catching Rake’s chin as the monster brought his head around to regard his opponent.
The left, swinging wide, connected with Rake’s cheek, staggering him, the monster off balance.
The right fist, another uppercut, rocking Rakescar the other way, rock chipping off with the force of Deathspider’s blows.
Rake staggered, grinning. “Finished? My turn.”
A massive fist rocketed into DS’s face, breaking his nose. His vision bloomed with white hot pain.
Another fist smashed into his sternum, cracking his ribs, lifting him off his feet.
And a massive blow down over his head, Rake’s hands clasped together like his hammer, knocked Deathspider to the ground, choking on his own blood.
Merking launched himself at Rakescar, bone tipped claws popping from his hands, but was unceremoniously swatted away, the force sufficient to slam him into the third floor of an office building.
Three blocks away.
Belle saw her lover, dazed and choking at Rakescar’s feet, and she flew at the two, magical bolts of energy slamming into Rake’s monstrous form. “GET AWAY FROM HIM!” she screamed. Rake, impervious to her attacks, laughed mockingly as he launched his hammer at her. She saw it speeding towards her, and her reaction, a slight deviation in her course, saved her life.
It did not, however, save her shoulder.
The massive stone hammer pulverized her left shoulder, dropping her to the ground, too stunned to scream. The world swam in her vision, the light too bright, and only then did she see her arm hanging by the rent and torn tissue, blood, all too red, all too bright, pouring from the horrific wound. Fortunately, she was no novice, and her mystic bracers glowed bright green, and the grievous injury began it knit itself back together. She was essentially on auto-pilot, the shock of the sight and the pain instinctively making her react, and use her healing powers.
But she was out of the fight.
Paladin picked himself off the ground, throwing off the burning wreckage of the vehicle Rakescar threw at him. His golden armor was black with soot. Most of his hair was burned away, and his face was repairing itself, but it was a ghastly sight. Half of his face was a crimson ruin, a lidless eye staring out from around charred, smoking flesh. His sword, still in his hand, thanks to his gauntlet being crushed around his fingers, wavered as he looked upon the disheartening sight of Rakescar reaching behind his back and wrenching the remaining piece of Seiken, Luficia’s magical blade, out from between his shoulder blades.
Rake knelt down to Deathspider, and picked him up by the throat, holding the shard of Seiken up to his face. “I‘ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. Everyday and night, I look into a mirror and see you, and everything you‘ve done to me. My eyes, my reputation, my transformation, MY AATIYA! And now, I want you to see what I see.”
The shard came down in a vertical slice, splitting the fabric of DS’s mask, revealing the puffed and bleeding face. He looked up at Rake, fear and hate in his eyes – fear, because he knew what was coming, hate, because no matter what, Tyler Preston and Rakescar were monsters, more than Deathspider could ever be.
“I’ll see you in hell…” he choked, and that was when Rakescar plunged the shard into Deathspider’s eye.
A bloodcurdling scream of agony erupted from DS, writhing in Rakescar‘s grip. Rakescar flung the shard aside, and flexed his fingers.
“For that other one, I‘m gonna dig it out myself.” Rake said, not quite satisfied.
He did not see Paladin until it was too late.
The warrior’s blade arced out and sank deeply into Rakescar’s throat before wrenching back out.
“MONSTER!” Paladin screamed, swinging the blade back for a disemboweling strike. “THOU ART AN ABOMINATION!”
Rake gurgled and blood gushed from the wound. A rocky hand clamped over his throat, and his eyes fixated on Paladin’s blackened form and that hateful sword as it was coming in. His free hand caught it by the blade, wrenching it from Paladin’s grasp – since he had earlier crushed Paladin’s hand around the handle, the resulting yank caused the crushed metal to slice off several of Paladin’s fingers. Paladin screamed in pain as Rake reversed the sword and swept him off his metal shod feet, toppling the defender of Steel Canyon.
With a bubbling, hateful scream, Rakescar pinned Paladin to the ground, like an insect on a board, sinking the blade through the warrior’s body and into the asphalt underneath him. Paladin bit back the agony and clutched at the blade, but it was no use – he was impaled and fixed by the demon golem.
Rakescar took his hand from his throat, the bleeding slowing down – apparently, Recluse’s minions had done something to fix that too. He looked at Paladin, sneering.
“HEY! SAID MY NAME IS CALLED DISTURBANCE !”
Contemptuously, he spat in Paladin’s healing face.
Rake turned and screamed up at the sky, triumphant. “I'LL SHOUT AND SCREAM, I'LL KILL THE KING, I'LL RAIL AT ALL HIS SERVANTS! WELL, WHAT CAN A POOR BOY DO EXCEPT TO SING FOR A ROCK 'N' ROLL BAND?!”
A tap on his shoulder. “Huh?”
A powerful fist slammed into his face, knocking him up, off his feet, into the air, landing on the street fifty feet from where he once stood with tremendous force.
He groggily stood, blinking away the dust. Before him stood the Statesman.
Back Alley Brawler.
Statesman clenched his fists so tightly, Rakescar could hear the bone and sinew crackle. His face was dark behind the stylized ancient Greek faceplate, but his eyes were blazing with blue fury.
“Rakescar. This rampage goes no further.”
Rake barked laughter, and he felt the cybernetic implants Arachnos installed in him fill his demonic form with an incredible sensation.
“'CAUSE IN SLEEPY LONDON TOWN THERE'S NO PLACE FOR A STREET FIGHTING MAAAAAAAAAN!”
Chapter Six - Deathstar
Positron rocketed out of the sky down into Atlas Park, his sensors telling him more than he really wanted to know. Energy beams lit up the night – it was a warzone here. Arachnos and a bewildering array of villains had invaded the city, and it seemed they brought hell riding at their heels. Every villain group in the city was taking the opportunity to exact revenge on rivals.
Brutal reprisals against Heroes and police. Soldiers were being sniped or directly attacked by the various factions of gangs and outfits like the Council and Nemesis. Peregrine Island and Talos were the exception – there was some Nemesis activity, but it was quelled by an F-22 flyby. But the center of the city was a disaster area, super villains and Arachnos and God knew who else rampaging, killing and destroying. Statesman was dealing with Steel Canyon, and Bastion, Luminary, Manticore, and Sister Psyche were in Skyway City, making their way to Faultline, which left Miss Liberty and himself to deal with the surge into Atlas Park. He neared City Hall, where Miss Liberty had called in for reinforcements was strangely hard to come by.
Beneath the statue of Atlas, surrounded by a circle of Longbow soldiers, and blazing with an aura of shimmering energy, a gigantic gray skinned beast was systematically dismantling a Longbow Heavy, tearing it apart with his bare hands, roaring in rage and pain as survivors unloaded their rifles at him.
Wrenching off the Heavy’s arm, the beast began to bludgeon the robot, shattering the armored torso and smashing the chassis into unrecognizable scrap.
“RrrrraaaaaAAAAAGH!” A roar of fury and defiance. It turned and in a fluid motion, it hurled the twisted arm of the Heavy at a squad of Longbow, scattering most but killing a few outright.
Enough, Positron thought, streaking out of the sky, and launching particle beams at the beast, the air warping and flashing around it’s massive frame. As the beast turned it’s head to regard Positron, the Hero paused, his armor’s computers running recognition software. The face, though brutish and huge, seemed so familiar… a list of several matches resulted, but Positron had no time to parse through them – the thing was leaping at him, full of eye popping rage.
It collided with him, and before Positron could react, he was slammed into the earth, cracking the concrete.
“Unngh… who might you be?” Positron grunted, half in jest. Did it really matter? Both of his gauntlets fired a powerful burst of energy, knocked back the gray behemoth. “I’m Positron. I’ll be your escort to the Zig today.”
The beast snarled, picking himself off the ground, a deep rumble that made Posi deeply wish for backup. It charged him, and a huge fist slammed into his helmet, denting it. Posi staggered, dazed, and his electronics began to short out as it made contact with the constantly fluxuating energy field surrounding the beast.
Another hit, this time in his mid-section, knocking Positron off his feet and sending him sprawling.
“Now is that really necessary?” Posi grunted, blasting away at the beast, trying to ignore the system alarms in his battlesuit. The beast charged through the punishing blasts, snarling a reply.
“Yessss…” it picked Positron up like a rag doll, and slammed him back into the ground, flogging the concrete with the Hero. “Kill you stupid heroes… for what you’ve done!” It lifted Positron to shoulder level, and hurled him up, up into the Atlas globe, crashing through the stone exterior, through the steel support skeleton, and inside the monument.
Positron fell unceremoniously to the bottom of the sphere, shaking his helmet. “At least he can articulate while he’s beating the crud out of me. Joy.” For a moment, he contemplated taking a moment to get his bearings, but he couldn’t bear the thought of someone getting hurt because of his inaction.
“Yeah. What kind of masochist am I? I’m the one getting hurt!”
Lifting into the air, Positron allowed himself one diagnostic check on his armor before going back out to fight.
“You have the right to remain silent, Rakescar. We’re bringing you in.”
Rakescar grinned at Blue Steel, who casually unflicked a telescoping baton. “Breaking the law, breaking the law…”
“Yes, you are.”
“I was talking about breaking you!” the beasts rushed the three Heroes who stood in opposition to him – Statesman, Blue Steel, and Back Alley Brawler. Brawler met him in mid-stride, and the rock demon’s face met the heavy cybernetic fist of the Hero. Rake grunted and wrapped his massive arms around Brawler’s mid-section and squeezed – the huge Hero roared in pain as the demon began to apply pressure, cracking Brawler’s ribs.
And then, Blue Steel was on Brawler’s shoulders, bringing his gleaming gold shield down on Rake’s face. The demon, stunned, released Brawler, who staggered back and clutched his sides in pain. Blue Steel flipped off of the Brawler and brought the shield down hard over Rakescar’s head, denting his own shield in the process but taking the demon off-balance, teetering on his huge stone feet.
Just in time for Statesman to fly directly into Rake, his fists out in front of him, and the demon was knocked on his back by the premier Hero of the City.
Statesman landed nearby, giving a worried glance to Brawler, who grimaced and gave a steely thumbs up. “Well, Rakescar. Had enough yet?”
Rake grunted and shook his head, getting to his feet. “Oooo, three has-beens really scare me! Whatever shall I do? Oh wait… this.” He formed a hammer out of nothingness and slammed it down onto the street, creating a shockwave that knocked the heroes off their feet. Blue Steel was flung to the ground, cursing under his breath, while the Brawler was upended and landed in a pile of twisted, burning metal from the prior battle, much to his dismay.
Statesman landed on his back, but was soon airborne, his fist crackling with lightning. “Perhaps I spoke too soon. You need a little more tenderizing.” He swooped down and Rakescar met his charge with a fist of his own. The air was filled with the smell of ionized air and the deep rumble of thunder, like a bomb exploding. Rake slammed his fist into Statesman, but was overcome by the flash of lightning that sent thousands of volts through his body. Rake was launched into the air, his rock body arcing with electricity, and landed in a heap on the road, gasping.
Statesman kneeled, breathing hard. That was a risky move, but he had to take the fight out of this villain before he did any further damage. But the power of Zeus ran through his veins. He wasn’t about to let some knucklehead lackey of Recluse go on tearing up the city.
“End of the line, Rakescar.”
Rake slowly got to his feet, electricity still surging through his demonic-cybernetic body. He shook his head, snarling. Statesman’s attack left him reeling, his cybernetics temporarily shorted out, but no matter. Today was the day Statesman died.
“Hehe… you seem awfully sure of yourself, chump!”
Out of the corner of his eye, movement.
The hammer was up, his body rotating as the hammer came down – the massive stone maul crashed down on Blue Steel’s shield, the force sufficient enough to bring Blue Steel to his knees, and dislocate his shoulder from the impact. Blue Steel grunted in pain, and was up, his left arm useless, but the baton lashed out, cracking in half against the unforgiving stone of Rakescar’s jaw.
“Awww…” Rake laughed contemptuously. “Ain’t that cute? Super Cop’s trying to play with me!”
Rake’s hand flashed out and seized Blue Steel by the neck, intent on snapping it like a stick of balsa wood., then thought better. Suddenly, stone materialized around Blue Steel’s head, cutting off his air supply. Blue Steel thrashed as he struggled to free himself.
Brawler leapt high in the air, bringing his cyber-fists down on Rake’s arm, breaking his grip and the stone around Blue Steel’s head crumbled away as he fell, his face purple, drawing in lungfuls of air.
“Oh, you think you tough, huh? Let’s see how you do ‘gainst someone your own size!”
Brawler slammed his metal fists against Rake again and again, forcing Rake back under the punishing blows.
“OH MY GOD, LOOK WHAT THE CAT DRAGGED IN!” Rake roared and clasped both fists together, and swung up into Brawler’s face, lifting him up off his feet with the force of the strike, the Hero falling to the broken street in a heap, knocked out cold.
Statesman launched himself at Rakescar, clamping his hands around his huge neck.
“That’s it, Rakescar. You’re coming with me.”
And shot up into the sky.
Belle crawled across the rubble, still stunned from the pain Rake’s hammer caused to her shoulder – the wound was healed but she was still woozy. The only thought in her mind was her man, lying crumpled on the ground with a horrific gash on the left side of his face.
“Oh God… baby… no…” she sobbed, crawling to his side. He was unconscious, blood covering his face where Rakescar cut away his mask. The wound sliced vertically down over his brow, over the bloody ruin of his eye, and down his cheek. His breathing was shallow, and he wasn’t moving.
“Baby… noooo… don’t leave me…” she cried softly, her hands glowing green as the Bracers of Ishtar poured out their healing energies. His chest rose as a ragged breath was drawn in, his broken ribs and punctured lung healing, the mystic force washing over him. The horrible gash knitted itself shut, the slashed eye closing up, milky white under the crimson gore. She collapsed on him, whispering. “C’mon, baby… wake up. Wake up, please…”
Underneath her, Deathspider stirred and moved. “Unnngh… Ellie…?”
She sat up, sniffling. “Baby!”
He groaned and blinked his eyes. “Baby… baby… I can’t see…”
“Baby, you got blood in your eyes..”
“No… baby… it’s all black in my left eye…” he mumbled unsteadily.
Tears ran down Belle’s face. “But baby… I healed you…”
DS sat up, moaning in pain. “Oh god… baby… that bastard did it… he got one… I couldn’t take him…” he drew in a shuddering breath. He blinked again. “Where… where’s Rake?”
Belle looked around. Down the street, the battle was raging. “Others are taking care of him. She looked at him and he was struggling to get to his feet. “Baby… no. Take it easy.”
“We… we gotta stop…” he slurred, swaying drunkenly. “If we don’t… stop…” he stumbled, nearly falling if not for Belle taking his arm and steadying him.
“Baby, no. We have to get you somewhere safe. You’re still hurt. Come on, Snuggles. Let me take you home.”
“Baby… kitten… Rake is… Rake has to be stopped…”
“And you can’t do that if you’re still hurt. I nearly lost you, if he would have driven that thing deeper, you’d be dead. I’m not losing you. You’re coming home with me right now, and that’s final. Do you understand?”
DS nodded, still trying to blink the blood away, but it was no use. Rakescar had blinded one of his eyes. He was in no shape to fight, he knew that deep down, but… it was over. Rake had beat him and blinded him. It was time to go home, like his Ellie demanded. There was no more he could do here. He nodded, trembling. “All right… all right… let’s go home…”
Ellie sighed in relief and then the air around them swirled as they rose gently into the air, up and away from the battlefield, the Bracers of Ishtar carrying them home amidst the carnage and slaughter.
Someone else had to take Rakescar down.
Arachnos forces were pulling out, disappearing into the sewers or winking out in a flash of light – Recluse calling them home. He had proven his point, and the US had proved theirs. This was merely saber rattling in the broader context of the post-Rikti world, and in a perverse way, preserved the status quo. If there was no superhuman threat, then the funding for Paragon City’s idiosyncrasies and such things like, say, large paramilitary organizations like Longbow, would dry up. Though none would admit it, this was a necessary evil.
Not Statesman, who knew better. Over the long years, behind that inscrutable face plate, he had compromised and allowed certain things to happen for what he considered the ‘Greater Good’. He knew that the old days of super heroes blithely fighting evil with no consequences were long gone. Since the Rikti War, the things that went on in Paragon City were not tolerated elsewhere. US popular sentiment had soured when the Rikti invaded, and even though the Heroes sacrificed so much to beat them back, the average citizen, cowed into submission from thinking for themselves by years of crooked politicians and talking heads instilling them with irrational fears, were afraid of the Heroes. But Washington knew that they were needed. Hence, why Paragon was so tightly regulated and, wonder of wonders, all the super humans were either here or in the Isles. Just in case the Rikti or something worse came along.
Over the long, lonely years, he saw the old ways vanish in tides of public opinion, the capriciousness of politicians trying to make a name for themselves, and that familiar emotion that tyrants and dictators that used to instigate massive conflicts that killed millions in the last century, fear and ignorance. Paragon City was nothing more than a quarantine, and it hurt him deeply that, as the de facto spokesman for every Cape in the city, that he was the one whose shoulders bore the burden, the one who made his beautiful city into a playpen. He was the one who made the decision to allow Siren’s Call become the way it was. He was the one who allowed the various villain groups to remain in Paragon instead of wiping them out completely, because they provided training and a distraction to the legions of Heroes in the city, despite the destruction and death they caused, because if the Heroes were idle…
… well, idle hands, the devil’s playground and all that. All for the ‘Greater Good’.
Compromise, the burden of responsibility, regret – these were the price of power.
And then there were the rare occasions like this, where the worries and cares of being in charge would be put on hold for a little while, and he could be what he felt like he should be – a Hero, not a figurehead, not a symbol, but a Hero.
As he confronted Rakescar, a part of him almost wanted to thank him.
At last, a problem he could solve with his fists.
Statesman gripped Rake around his brawny neck with both hands and launched himself into the air, hurtling up past the rooftops, up to where the large skyscrapers ended, giving up their dominion to the great void of the sky.
Rakescar growled up at Statesman, and drove his fists into State’s midsection, trying to break the grip. “Hey, States… you trying ta impress me?”
“No… unngh… trying to get you to where I don’t have to hold back.” Statesman grunted, and one hand let go of Rake’s throat, formed into a fist, and said fist slammed into Rakescar’s face, sending him down, plummeting thousands of feet, dropping, appropriately enough, like a rock, down, down into the Hollows.
Rake twisted in mid-air, instinctively grasping out at the nothingness, desperate to hold onto something. Alas, nothingness refused to cooperate, and Rakescar slammed into Grendal’s Gulch at several hundred miles an hour with the force of a meteorite.
The ground exploded as the massive stone demon collided with the ground. The entire zone trembled as Rakescar smashing through a plate of roadway that had been nearly upended during the Hollowing, disintegrating it and slamming deep into the earth.
Statesman flew down, narrowing his eyes as he descended. Let’s see, he thought, how feisty this guy after a two thousand foot drop.
As it turned out, very feisty.
Rakescar roared as he erupted from the ground, black gleaming cybernetic arms throwing off the rubble, black curving horns uncurling from his demonic head, the red eyes glowing with a baleful, bloody light.
“STATESMAN! COME ON DOWN! YOU’RE THE NEXT CONTESTANT ON ‘GET KILLED BY RAKESCAR’!”
Statesman promptly slammed into Rakescar at two hundred miles an hour, knocking Rake off his feet. The Hero then flew back out of range and hovered, watching Rakescar get to his feet. “I’ve always hated game shows.”
Rake grinned and the hammer materialized. “This is the show, gramps. And I am the Game!”
States flew down and slammed into Rake once again. The huge Golem rocked back, and Statesman followed up with a powerful uppercut that launched Rake off his feet. The Golem fell onto his back – but distressingly enough, he was on his feet in an instant.
“YOU GOTTA FIGHT! DUNN NUH! FOR YOUR RIGHT! DUNN NUH NUH! TO PAAAAAAAR-TAY!” he howled, and Rake’s hammer smashed into State’s face, destroying the metal phalanx mask, and sending him out of Grendal’s Gulch, sailing over the rim of the crater, through several of the abandoned buildings, demolishing them, and into the western War Wall, the Hero becoming embedded into the concrete.
Statesman grunted in pain – his nose was leaking blood, and his faceplate was gone, the metal had given way and sliced into his cheek when it was torn off.
“That was… unexpected.” He observed dryly, and began picking himself out of the War Wall.
Rake leapt after his quarry. His limbs were surging with power – this was unbridled might, omnipotence, maybe. This was better than the first time his band played in front of a crowd, better than sex with the first woman he met who knew what she was doing, better than any high, better than anything he had ever felt before.
He came flying over the rim of the crater, cackling with maniacal laughter, and Statesman hit him as he crested the Gulch, and they slammed together with such force that it shattered every window left in the zone.
He fell to the ground, slugging each other with tremendous force. Statesman ripped the hammer from Rake’s hands, twirled it around and brought it down hard on it’s owner’s head – Rakescar slumped to the ground, cracking it as he fell.
Unfortunately, Statesman’s strike brought Rake down to where he could grab – and did grab – Statesman’s leg and the beast yanked him off his feet and hurled him into a building, the Hero through the brick and into an abandoned living room. Statesman shook his head, and got to his feet, and as he exited through the hole he made, he was struck in the face by Rake’s hammer, the huge stone mallet shattering his front teeth.
Statesman staggered and spat out the fractured teeth and a mouthful of blood, and blinked away the pain, trying to will it away. Rakescar slammed into him again, charging him, tackling him around the waist and carried him through the opposite wall, and onto the street, where they landed in a tangle of limbs. Rake pulled himself up onto Statesman’s chest, and proceeded to slam those huge cybernetic fists into State’s face, inflicting more damage to his dental work.
Things were not going according to plan.
Flesh Storm was, after a fashion, rather happy with himself.
Longbow kept sending people for him to kill and robots for him to dismember and smash. With the Army busy elsewhere during the chaos, this was a neatly simplified ‘superhuman versus squishies’ fight. And that was fine with him. And with the other villains off causing mayhem all over the city, there was little in the way of Hero resistance.
Except of course, Positron, who blasted him from behind with a powerful burst of radiation. But even then, the beast was born in the heart of a nuclear blast, the same blast weeks ago that was the catalyst for this little holiday in Paragon.
“Would you stop? Please?” Positron hovered overhead, blasting down at him, unaware the blasts were doing nothing but fueling the beast’s rage and power. “You’re driving down the property values!”
“Grrr… and you’re just making me stronger… Some genius!” Flesh Storm growled, and sprang at Positron, laying into him with a punishing hit, knocking him out of the air and sending to the ground with the gray beast on top of him, and beginning to tear the armor apart. Positron’s armor’s system alarms were blaring about structural integrity and such.
That kinda stuff. The kind of stuff where if it failed, things would be bad.
Positron used every iota of power in his armor, save for the containment system and life support, and then there was a sickly green explosion underneath the statue of Atlas, knocking Flesh Storm off of him, and sailing up to the north end of Atlas Park, a grey, aggressive comet with a flaring green tail. Hopefully, Posi thought, he hit something hard. His armor was nearly drained, and he could do little but lay there, helpless.
A shadow fell over him.
“Sleeping on the job?” Miss Liberty frowned, looking worse for the wear. Her costume was in tatters, her blonde hair matted with sweat and blood.
“You know me…” Posi said weakly. “Beauty sleep and all that.”
“I saw that guy you were fighting. He’s trashed most of my Longbow units in the zone. What did you do to piss him off?”
Posi got to his knees and his armor was slowly coming back on-line. The ‘mini-nuke’ maneuver he tried taxed his system terribly, but at least there wasn’t a containment leak.
“He seems to have a personality conflict with me, I think…. His speech becomes a bit more coherent when he’s clobbering me into the Stone Age.” He said sourly.
“With your charming personality? I can’t imagine why.”
“Funny girl…” he stood, shakily. “Wow. Okay. I’m good. I think.”
“You’d better be okay soon, because even though Arachnos has pulled back, we still got all of his wanna-bes wrecking our city. Let’s do this.”
Their dialogue was interrupted by an ear-splitting crack as the eastern War Wall gave way. It sounded like a massive explosion, which was apt, because the wall, quite literally, exploded outward into Atlas Park in a shower of heavy concrete chunks flying into the surrounding buildings, in turn causing more destruction.
Out of the War Wall came Rakescar and Statesman, locked in combat. They sailed out of the Wall and slammed down into the heavy Data Terminal, cracking the concrete reinforced housing and destroying the electronic displays in a shower of sparks.
Rakescar pushed Statesman away, and stood up in the ruins of the Data Term, making a show of brushing himself off.
“You hit like a twelve year old girl.”
Statesman picked himself off the ground and spat more blood. His cape was torn away, and his costume was shredded from the concrete spall. His body was a mass of bruises and jagged cuts. Still, he fixed Rakescar with a determined stare and a bloody smile. “Apparently, twelve year old girls are just about your limit, intellectually and in a fight. Now… surrender. This is your last chance before I really hurt you.”
“You look like you’re the one who’s hurtin’, pal.”
“Just hurting you!” Statesman hurtled forward, and hit Rakescar in the mid-section, taking his massive form down off the street and into the depressed courtyard of a high rise nearby. The impact of Rake’s body into the ground shook the building to the foundations, and glass shattered from the top all the way down to the bottom floor, and it rained jagged shards. In a perverse way, Statesman thought, the earlier evacuation caused by the villain’s invasion was for the best. If civilians were still here, that little stunt would cut some innocent bystander to ribbons. As it was, the sky was filled with broken glass, the sun reflecting off every shard as they fell.
Beauty can be found anywhere, even in destruction.
Rakescar swatted him off, and formed another hammer. God, Statesman thought, does he ever run out of those?
“HERE I AM! ROCK YOU LIKE A HURRICANE!”
Rakescar was moving ahead, suddenly very fast and fluid, and smashed the side of State’s leg, snapping his femur like a twig. Statesman roared and lunged into him, grabbing onto Rake’s curved black horns, and drove his face into the demon Golem’s face with enough force to topple Rake onto his back. Statesman grimaced and wrenched Rake’s head by the horns, and brutally snapped them off with a snarl. Rake screamed in pain and slammed his fists onto either side of Statesman’s head, stunning the Hero. He slid off of Rake’s chest and lay on the glass strewn ground, coughing up blood.
The demon rose, blood gouting from the stumped where his horns once jutted out of his skull, and shrieked in rage. He picked up the dazed Hero and piledrove him headfirst onto the ground, State’s head crunching sickly against the surface, making a small crater in the concrete.
He lifted Statesman once more, howling with rage. Statesman’s face was a mangled wreck, his front teeth shattered, glass bits shining, stuck to his face with blood.
Rake roared and flung Statesman into the street, the Hero landing roughly onto the asphalt with a meaty thwack. Groaning in agony, the Hero’s face pouring blood, Statesman tried to stand, but his left leg was crying out in a chorus of sharp, blinding pain. Alright, he thought. This was why we encourage other Heroes to team up. Why am I not doing that?
As if on cue, a young woman in a decidedly skimpy costume rushed up to him, and he was suddenly filled with healing energy. He bit back a grunt as his left leg jerked and righted itself from the disturbingly (and painful) angle it had been in, and healed, the bone fusing back to it’s rightful place.
“Thanks!” he said, arching an eyebrow at the young heroine’s costume. “You should really go put some clothes on.”
The girl looked a bit perplexed. “But… this is my costume!”
Statesman frowned, looking away, and pushed her away, enough force behind the push to send her to the other side of the street.
A depressed sigh. “I know.”
The small aside was cut short as Rakescar leapt his way back to his opponent, gibbering madness to the tune of eight hundred pounds crashing down where the girl had stood.
The girl, on her bottom, across the street, looked less indignant at being pushed when she saw the huge, psychotic rock demon, covered in gore.
Statesman, given a breath by the pause and the efforts of the young heroine, leapt up and came crashing down on Rakescar, smashing his fist into Rake’s face, shattering the rock and stunning the beast. Blood streamed from every fracture on his gruesome face.
The beast snarled and swept his hand across Statesman’s chest, the fingers growing long and jagged, and the shards of rock slicing across skin and muscle. Statesman leapt back, looking down at his chest in dismay at all the blood.
“You’re full of surprises, aren’t you?”
The beast lunged at him, both hands bearing the stone claws, and Statesman desperately grabbed each wrist, pulled back with Rake on top of him, and pistoned his legs up, kicking Rake into the air, back to the glass littered courtyard. As Rake sailed into the air, Statesman kipped back to his feet and took to the air, intent on ending this.
A Longbow mech, crumpled up like a wad of paper, told him that ending this would be harder than he had originally thought. He grunted with the impact, careening into a wall, but thankfully he was still airborne. Statesman’s eyes narrowed as he saw a huge gray monster, roaring in fury, battling what looked like an entire company of Longbow down the street. It was a bitter (and painful) reminder that Rakescar was only one of many villains in his city. Fortunately, he saw Miss Liberty and Positron making their way into the fray. He thought wistfully that maybe they were coming to help him.
Assistance would have saved him the agony of Rakescar leaping up at him, and impaling him on his wicked stone claws.
Statesman screamed in shock and pain, as Rakescar’s momentum drove the claws almost through his mid-section. Rake’s attack carried them both down to the street, and the hard landing snapped off the long lengths of stone claw inside of State’s belly. Rake snarled in pain as most of his fingers broke off, but even that didn’t dilute his joy at watching Statesman’s face drain of all color, and watching him writhe on the sidewalk in a pool of his own blood, blood coming from his nose and mouth, choking on it.
Rakescar roared in triumph as Statesman lay beneath him, dying.
Chapter Seven - Raining Blood
Rakescar stood over his fallen opponent, Statesman, the Hero of Paragon, and lifted his head to the sky, issuing forth a howl of triumph, of victory, having done what even Recluse himself failed to do – defeating and killing Statesman in his own home.
He wasn’t dead yet, sure, but give it time.
As for Statesman himself, the Hero was in shock, the huge jagged claws of stone having snapped off inside of him, blood pooling around him. This had the stink of Recluse’s techno-magic, and it had worked all too well – here he was, mortally injured and bleeding out onto the streets of his own city.
Stefan, he thought, you’re not going to win this easily. He rolled onto his side, struggling to stand, and he heard a bemused, mocking laugh as Rakescar kicked him in the side, sending him on his back. Statesman moaned in agony, clutching his stomach, feebly grabbing at the broken chunks of rock still buried in his guts.
“How’s it feel, Statesman?" Rakescar said as he looked down at his fallen opponent with an evil grin on his demonic face. "How’s it feel to suffer, to be lying in a pool of yer own blood at the feet of the man who beat ya? To feel dead? Sucks, doesn't it."
After kicking the hero once more for good measure, the stone super-golem lifted his foot and carefully placed it on Statesman's neck, firmly planting the heroic icon to the ground. Slowly and steadily, Rakescar began to shift his half-ton weight and focus it on the ball of his foot, cutting off Statesman's air.
"I'll spare you the pain of watching what you care for fall to ruin. There will be nothing left but the fallen buildings and weeping masses for this world to remember you by. That is why I defeated you, because I have nothing left but to turn joy into sorrow, marvels into gravestones, soil into ash, flesh into bone, and life into stone. I don't do this for Recluse's will or any of that petty daydreaming. I've come here only to paint your world black. Black as night, black as coal. And so help me, I'll see the sun blotted out from the sky...”
He paused. Something was coming close.
Fifteen seconds earlier…
Jeb's eyes looked over the destruction, the area looking just like it had just after the war in spots. He had spotted his target and had paused, a couple hundred meters in the air just around the corner of a building. While being able to bend light around you was great, it was hard to give a final once over to the devices in the rucksack on his back if he couldn't see them.
Removed from its housing, the Icarus device was amazingly compact, about the size of a 2 liter bottle of soda. He had used duct tape to bind two of them together, cross linking the control circuits to increase the area of effect, which was basically what the JDAM version was, just a bit less crudely done. Both were up and running, magnetic bottles were at max, all he needed was to get it dropped off, preferably within 100 meters, get out of dodge, and hit the switch, which as an added precaution was taped to his hand. With as many things that have gone wrong today, the last thing he wanted to do was drop the detonator.
He was hoping, holding back for a chance for Statesman to get clear, but with sinking hopes realized that just wasn't in the cards. Reactivating his stealth field, he grabbed the rucksack in one hand, the smart thing to do would be just get close and toss it. It was designed after all to be fired from artillery, it should take that minimal amount of shock. Still...he'd only get one shot at this, best to get it as close as he could.
“Ya know, this is really stupid.” he said to himself as he took off from the ledge he was on, coming in low and slow, trying to stay behind the ranting demon's field of view.
He came up quietly, rucksack in his hand. He was within range now, but some of the rubble might block the energy wave. He had to get a clear line of sight on him. He was a ghost, invisible and silent, even his uniform was designed to repress his IR signature… but Rakescar's cybernetic eyes saw more than he expected.
Rake lashed out, the huge stone claws hissing through the air, and Snow Dog caught it in the throat and chest. He gasped, Rake’s claws buried into his flesh. His hands shook, his body shuddering.
“There's always one more roach to squash.” Rake rumbled, and kicked Snow Dog off of his talons and onto the ground. The man fell on his back, a hand clutching his throat instinctually, trying to stop the blood loss.
But that other hand, the hand Rake didn’t see at first, the hand with the remote detonator to the device in his back pack, that hand that clenched spasmodically on the trigger.
And the world went white.
It was said later that the flash could be seen from orbit. All over the city, the flash in the sky could be seen, and many believed that this was it, someone had set off a nuclear weapon, in seconds the shockwave and fireball would be upon them.
Across the city, villain and hero alike paused in their battle looking in the direction of Atlas Park...but there was no shockwave, and definitely no signature mushroom cloud either. Closer in however, for close to a kilometer radius from the epicenter, the ground was littered with bodies, as the energy wave shorted out not only powers, but also nervous systems and electronic devices.
Many of the incapacitated villains along the edge found themselves under the multiple guns of PCPD officers who had been chasing a maniac on a supercharged motorcycle as well as several Humvee's of soldiers as well, but there was too much rubble for them to approach the epicenter...and Rakescar was already stirring.
Statesman groaned, feeling the effects of the energy still causing his wounded body to spasm. Numina would probably say that it was never a good sign when you saw dead people, especially when you've taken an injury that should kill a normal man, of course, thanks to Icarus, he was one at the moment.
Yet there she was, light blue scaled skin, thick dragon like tail emerging from a slit in her skirt, with a dark blue US Cavalry Stetson on her head, looking just like the last time he saw her, listening to Hero 1 as Omega Team headed for their jump off point. Tabitha was definitely dead, yet she was standing next to the slowly moving Rakescar, not seeming to notice the demon, but that would fit, wouldn't it, she wasn't here for him. His vision was blurred, but on the ground next to the demon he could see a body in BDU's, gold oak leaves of a Major on his collar, and the snow white hair confirming for Marcus why he saw her spirit here. As the major took one last gurgling breath then was still, another comrade from Alpha Team gone.
Deep in his soul Statesman raged. No More.
Positron’s systems rebooted, and thankfully, the already cracked containment core didn’t give out like he had feared. Around him, everyone was twitching and jerking like seizure victims, and nobody really seemed ready to do much of anything. Longbow and villain alike were on the ground, in violent spasms.
Including the great gray beast, whose energy shields were down, the Icarus Device having sent the disruptive waves through the beast’s body, rendering him vulnerable for the time being.
Beside him, within the beast’s reach, was Ms. Liberty, unconscious. If the beast was up before she was, Positron thought grimly.
The beast was feeding off his powers, every bolt of radiation he fired at the monster was making it stronger. The thing was a living nuclear reactor, thankfully not a leaking one – maybe the fission reactions were…
No. Stop thinking like a scientist. Think like a warrior. Don’t think how’s it happening, think about how to stop it…
Stop it. That’s it.
If he’s feeding off the radiation, then overload whatever is reacting with it. Stop the chain reaction.
Positron shut down his weapon systems, sensors, everything but the power to the rocket boots and the containment shields. He launched himself at the beast and clamped his arms around the thing’s waist, and once the momentum of his charge carried them away from the dazed Longbow and Ms. Liberty, his rocket boots produced enough thrust to put NASA to shame, shooting straight up, out of the city and into the sky.
You feed off my radiation, huh? Let’s see what happens when you get more than what you can handle...
Rakescar jerked and bucked on the street, his cybernetics fried by the close proximity of the blast – he was at ground zero. He snarled and curse, emphatically expressing his displeasure at the situation.
And a rain drop his eyeball, splattering all over the dark orb – the blast had completely shut them down.
But another fell.
Soon, a light shower, drizzling.
Rakescar grunted. It was hard to get up when your arms don’t work. Implanted at the base of his skull, his neural processor was ponderously rebooting. It would be a little while until his cybernetics came back online.
And when they do, he thought darkly, I’ll kill a hundred of these people for every second they cost me.
The rain began to intensify, and Rake rolled on the ground irritably. The Arachnos written operating system was light years ahead of it’s time, but the interface allowing the blending of techno-wizardry with a demon golem was a bit tricky to handle, and the program was designed to self check several times to ensure the parts would work with the patient.
And then, a rumble of thunder. It was like a five hundred pound bomb going off. It rattled windows all over Atlas Park.
Finally, his eyes came back on-line.
“Rakescar!” a woman’s voice. He growled and got to his feet.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ll kill you, too… wait yer turn!”
Before him stood Sister Psyche, Swan, Numina, and Azuria. In the falling rain, their hair plastered to their heads, grim looks on their faces. Sister Psyche curled her lip. “Surrender.”
Rakescar slowly jerked his head to the side, the sound of stone plates realigning spurting from the cracks in the surface, and cackled. “Oh the things I'll do to you harpies,” He formed a hammer and hurled it at the women with tremendous force. “Alive and dead!”
Numina raised a hand and the hammer curled and warped out of existence. “Not likely.”
Not needing an invitation, Rakescar began to sprint towards the four heroines, mallets forming in his hands as he charged, every step cutting the distance by heartbeats. His advance was stopped by a solid wall of sonic waves, gladly provided by Swan, which skidded the golem back tens of meters. Sister Psyche follow up with a dagger of mental invasion that jerked the golem to the side as a layer of stone was swept off his head. Rakescar turned to face the women again, snorting hard and hissing, and began bounding back at the assembled team.
Swan and Sister Psyche furrowed their brows, and Rakescar stopped short of the four and screamed – not a maniacal laugh of murderous rage, or fury, or anything but genuine pain and horror as the two psychics blasted his mind with enough power to give most psychically attuned people in the city a nosebleed before passing out. The beast roared as Tyler’s mind was buffeted with pure psionic energy, shutting off neural pathways, overloading others – Swan methodically shutting off and opening channels in his mind while Psyche blasted through them, and in essence, shut down Tyler’s mind bit by bit, like shattering light bulbs with a baseball bat in an office sky-rise, bit by bit darkening and going dead.
Azuria and Numina chanted in tongues of secret power, their hands moving in arcane patterns, and Rakescar’s stone body warped and distorted, their magicks viciously severing the mystic bond between man and demon, not so much unwinding the spool but slicing through it like a steel machete. Sheets of rock and stone were slammed off as more and more of the human co-pilot, Tyler Preston, was exposed to the elements, the rock growth slowly unable to keep up with the assault. The chanting grew in intensity until the monster shrieked, and a ripping sound like meat being torn off a carcass filled the air as Rakescar – no, Tyler, fell to the ground, suffering body clenching seizures and convulsions as body fluids leaked from every orifice imaginable, his human form looking so innocuous and mundane compared to the ghastly horror shimmering in the air over him.
“RRRRRRAAAAAAGH!” The thing screamed, and the ground erupted underneath it, asphalt, stone, brick, and concrete pulling up and together to form a rocky approximation of the body it had been forcibly ejected from.
“FOOLS! I! AM! ETERNAL!”
The earth quaked and the four women were flung to the ground, their concentration broken.
Thunder rumbled overhead.
The beast roared in rage, it’s gigantic frame looming over the fallen body of it’s former host. It was titanic, easily growing over twenty feet tall, with the disparate materials giving it a haphazard, patchwork appearance, and the material began to liquefy, running in places to form definable facial features, long wicked talons, skeletal bat wings, and a long curving tail with spikes jutting from it like a dinosaur. Rain washed over the demon’s rocky body, sluicing down, giving it an eerie organic appearance.
“YOU THOUGHT YOU COULD STOP ME, WHO HAS SEEN MAN CRAWL DOWN FROM THE TREES, WHO HAS SEEN EMPIRES RISE AND FALL, WHO SHALL LIVE LONG AFTER YOU HAVE ALL CRUMBLED INTO DUST, NOTHING BUT A MEMORY AND FOREVER AFTER? I AM GANGLATI, BORN OF HEL, AND FOR THAT ARROGANCE, YOUR LIVES, AND THE LIVES OF THE CATTLE YOU’VE SWORN TO PROTECT ARE FORFEIT!”
Thunder rumbled overhead again, lightning shooting silver through the darkening clouds.
Sister Psyche looked at her teammates – Numina was fashioning a mystic shield around them, while Swan was attending to Azuria, who had hit her head hard on the ground. Blood came away from Swan’s fingertips.
“COWER! GROVEL, SLATTERNS, AND PERHAPS YOUR NEW LORD WILL KILL YOU SWIFTLY!” the thing shrieked, moving forward jerkily, like an old stop motion figure, the thing’s body still shifting and melting into a cohesive form. A gargantuan clawed foot lunged forward, the tail moving of its own accord, curling up behind the demon like the tail of a scorpion.
Thunder crashed in the heavens again.
“BEHOLD THE GLORY OF…”
Behind the demon, a bolt of lightning crashed down, exploding with an ear-splitting shockwave, to where the bodies of Statesman and Snow Dog lied. The demon faltered and turned its massive body to look.
The body of Snow Dog was still there, but where Statesman lied, nothing but a puddle of rain diluted blood.
No, the body of Statesman was on it’s feet, electricity arcing all over his body, a corona of light enveloping him.
The ‘corpse’ opened it’s eyes, nothing but orbs of blue, dancing fury. Rain sizzled as it fell around him.
Thunder crashed again, oh so close.
“Rakescar. This ends now.” Statesman growled, the aura burning brightly as he spoke, then disappearing. The stench of ozone filled the air, which was charged with tension and strange energies from the mystics, the psychics, and the demon itself…
… and perhaps divine intervention.
“YOU… IS ZEUS A SADIST? HE WANTS TO WATCH ME KILL YOU AGAIN?”
Statesman smiled, a terrible smile.
Thunder crashed once again.
And it was on.
The rain fell over the disaster area that was Atlas Park, but above it all, Positron soared out of the massive storm clouds with a barely conscious Flesh Storm in tow.
Inside his battle armor, warning lights and data flashed, his system pushed to the limits. God, he thought as he appeared in the tranquil void of the upper atmosphere, I hope this works. Below them, a landscape of churning, roiling thunderclouds.
The beast in his grip growled, shaking away it’s stupor, and the baleful eyes narrowed as it realized where it was. A massive hand reached up and clamped around Positron’s throat, and began to squeeze. The armor began to crumple under the pressure.
Don’t have to breathe, freak… he thought as he cut power to the suit’s containment field.
“Grrrrr…. What are you doing?” it snarled.
“Saving… my city!” Positron said, overloading the last of the suit’s safeties, and then, the sky was on fire.
The explosion ripped through Flesh Storm, the energy fields surrounding it’s body soaking up as much of the surge of radiation as they could, then burned away, scoured by the particle storm.
The clouds burned away and a blinding flash erupted from Positron, and Flesh Storm’s body began to swell, muscle bubbling under its thick grey hide, eyeballs bulging and exploding out, blood frying in its veins, and then, another explosion, smaller this time, and two bodies, aflame, began to swift descent down, down, down to the cold Atlantic, hundreds of miles from the US coast, one a heavily armored Hero, the other a frail human body.
Tyler Preston’s body jerked wildly on the ground, as the rain from above pelted his body. The separation from Rakescar was not a gentle one. It left his body in a stroke-like state. As the large battle between Rakescar and Statesman raged, a few soldiers came in, picking up Tyler’s body to move it to a safer location. He had to be treated, if they were to properly deliver his punishment for unleashing this beast upon the city. One of the soldiers called in for a military ambulance. The ambulance arrived a few minutes later, a large stretcher rolling out from it. A few men lifted Tyler onto the device and rolled him into the vehicle before it sped off.
Fearghas and Kichi looked on from a rooftop nearby, having just arrived after dropping Luficia off at the hospital. They followed the ambulance, hopping from rooftop to rooftop.
“It seems they’ve separated the man from the monster.” Kichi commented.
“Yeah, now it’s finally time for us to move in. Luckily,” Fearghas tapped his forehead as they ran across another rooftop, “I’ve got a plan.” Kichi sighed.
“I’m afraid to ask what it is.” Kichi said in a tired tone as the rain continued to fall against their bodies.
“Just gonna take advantage of a mistake people make, that’s all.”
The ambulance continued down the street, the heavy rain obscuring the view of the road. Suddenly up ahead, a blond figure slammed onto the ground, with a slender woman landing besides him, kicking the body multiple times. The ambulance skidded to a stop.
“Isn’t that Paladin?” the driver asked as he squinted. The other soldier nodded as he took out his handgun.
“Looks like it. We better go help him.” The two soldiers nodded to each other and hopped out of the ambulance. The slender woman paused her kicking, looking to the two soldiers.
“Step away from Paladin!” one soldier yelled, shooting a warning shot. The slender woman leaped away from sight after the shot.
“Wasn’t that the flame assassin?” I think her name’s Kichi.” the other soldier commented, as the two walked towards Paladin’s body.
“Yeah, I think so. Maybe she’s not so tough after all.”
“Guess not. Hey Pal- wait a second,” the soldier stopped in his tracks, “That’s Fearghas!” At hearing his name, Fearghas leapt up in shock.
“You actually recognized me?!” Fearghas boggled. The two soldiers aimed their guns at Fearghas.
“Don’t move!” the soldiers yelled. Before another word could be said, Kichi shot out from a nearby alley with her flaming katana in hand, swiftly slicing the handguns in half. Fearghas took advantage of the surprise and leaped forward, knocking out the two soldiers with two hard punches to the face. He looked to Kichi, who sheathed her katana.
“You see that? I was recognized!” Fearghas said happily. Kichi sighed and began to walk towards the ambulance.
“Let’s check on Tyler’s condition.” Kichi nodded towards the vehicle. The two approached the back and opened the doors, seeing Tyler’s body still jerking and twitching, hooked up to numerous mechanisms to stable his condition.
“Whew. He’s alive,” Fearghas let out a relived sigh, “Let’s get him back to the stronghold.” Kichi nodded, closing the doors to the back. Fearghas walked around and hopped into the driver’s seat. He looked to Kichi, who sat down besides him in the passenger’s seat.
“Buckle up.” Fearghas grinned as he started the vehicle, pressing his feet to the gas pedal.
“Just drive.” Kichi groaned. They began to drive down the street, seeking to head back to Skyway City. They sat in silence, save for the sound of the windshield wipers, for a few minutes.
“Well…” Fearghas spoke up, “all things considered, I think we did pretty well. I didn’t really have to fight, and we got Tyler back.”
“…I was crushed by a pillar.” Kichi frowned. The sound of lightning echoed in the distance.
“Er, yeah, but you’re good now, right?”
“I suppose.” Kichi shrugged, rubbing a pain in her neck.
“See? And soon enough Tyler’ll be back in action without a problem, y’know?” Fearghas said confidently. Kichi looked out the window to her right, silent for a moment.
“For now…” Kichi said in a whisper.
“Huh?” Fearghas asked, as they turned a corner.
“James, Tyler has brought much chaos and destruction to this city, hai?
“Yeah…” Fearghas’ confident tone dissipated. The two remained silent again, as another bolt of lightning streaked across the sky. Kichi looked forward before speaking up again.
“People will want him to pay for his actions. And whoever comes to collect that payment will not make it pleasant…”
The demon’s head exploded before it could register that Statesman had moved. It teetered on it’s feet as the demonic energies pulled more material from its body to ‘heal’ itself – still, the startling speed was disconcerting. It lumbered around as it’s head reformed, roaring with displeasure, and not a little pain, another cause for worry.
Somehow, Statesman was hurting it.
And then it was slammed back down to the ground, Statesman on top of it, ripping off the demon’s wings – becoming corporeal had it’s disadvantages. The demon shrieked in pain and shock – it was becoming more real by the second, the longer it stayed attached to this form, and Statesman was taking full advantage of that fact, tossing the half-rock, half-flesh wings off like petals from a flower.
Brackish blood, like crude oil, spewed from the half-formed stumps.
“Begone.” The Hero snarled mercilessly.
“Grrrr… NEVER!” the demon roared, pushing up with it’s massive arms, flinging Statesman off it’s back, the Hero hurtling into a building, bursting through the walls.
The Demon staggered to it’s knees, now looking more flesh and blood than before, and it had the physical injuries to match. Blood and rain poured from it’s huge body.
“I… WILL TEAR… THE PUMPING ORGANS OUT OF YOUR LIVING BODY!”
Statesman appeared in the hole of the building he had been knocked into, his fists crackling with lightning.
“Surrender. I won’t ask again.”
The demon made a ‘come on’ gesture with it’s clawed hand.
Statesman obliged, hurtling down, and the demon met him there with its fists, stone and lightning crashing together with a thunderous blast. The beast backpedaled, stunned, and Statesman pressed the attack, hammering the demon with powerful strikes.
The demon staggered beneath the rain of blows, finally dropping to a knee. The Hero didn’t grant the thing a respite, and with a savage uppercut, the demon’s skull exploded, sending rock and flesh flying. The demon toppled to the ground, it’s body reverting back to the stone and asphalt it had been constructed of. The air wavered and shimmered above the remains.
“FOOL! INSOLENT FOOL! YOU THINK SLUGGING IT OUT WITH ME WILL DEFEAT ME? YOU CANNOT WIN, HERO… I AM ETERNAL!”
Statesman growled, glaring up at the shimmering form of the unbound demon.
Bolts of mystic energy swooped around from behind the Hero and struck the beast, warping the air and pulling the demon over Statesman’s head, twisting and writhing helplessly, back to Azuria and Numina, an open sarcophagus glowing brightly.
“NOOOOOO! NOOOOOOO!” the thing screamed as it fought against the spell they wove, the insubstantial spirit unable to resist the soul trapping incantation. It shrieked in defiance and fury and hate as it was drawn into the sarcophagus, and the lid slammed shut, sealing tight and sigils flared and curled, glowing with arcane power.
The rain continued to fall from the heavens, upon the Heroes. It hissed on the lid of the sarcophagus, splattering like hot grease on a frying pan.
Statesman exhaled, and fell to a knee, blood running from his nose. He rubbed his shredded gloved hand under his nose to wipe away the blood.
The energies that saved his life and enabled him to defeat the demon ebbed away, and he sat back on his heels, shoulders slumping, as the rain washed over him. He raised his head to look at the four women who helped him defeat and entrap Rakescar. His eyes looked over the container that held the beastly demon that had wrought so much destruction and apocalypse upon his city. With a raise of his hand, he pointed at the box with his index finger. The four women began to take action but were stopped by the raising of Statesman's middle finger.
He grunted once, and slumped to the ground.
They say all life came from the seas.
Did the first life forms that crawled out of the primordial sea, did they lie, did they hate, did they kill for spite? Did the creatures who broke the surface of the ocean, crawling laboriously onto, perhaps, damp sand or a water worn rocky coast, did they possess the same selfish desires as we do?
Oh, sexual assault occurs in the wild, as does murder, theft, infanticide – oh, the list goes on and on, but we look at it and say “Well, huh huh, that’s Nature for you, that’s the way of the wild!”
But that’s because we differentiate ourselves from the animal world, we think we’re better, don’t we? But don’t we kill each other, kill our babies and leave them in trashcans, we lie to each other, we steal, we destroy each other in so many creative ways?
If you were the first out of the ocean, hauling yourself out onto dry land, filling your lungs with air for the first time, and there someone was, smiling and nattily dressed in a sharp looking suit, and handed you a brochure with all the achievements that mankind would one day achieve, and all the problems and trials and horrific things they would one day bring upon themselves, would you continue the perilous trek up the shore, where, maybe in a million years or so your descendants would grow some arms and crawl up a tree – or would you look up at the person handing you the brochure and say “No thanks, man. I’m gonna go back to swimming if it’s all the same to you.”
If you were the ancestor of all life on dry land, and your brain was developed enough to comprehend all the possibilities, if you were that gasping amphibian, wouldn’t you feel, I dunno, kinda gypped?
“I crawled out of the sea for THIS?” you might say. “You people are a buncha idiots! What kind of schmuck pollutes his own home, poisons the air he breathes, kills others of his species, and puts his entire world… HIS ENTIRE WORLD… in danger? How the hell did you numbskulls come up with the idea that it’s a good thing to be able to blow up the frickin’ world with a bunch of bombs? Why did I even breed, if all that’s gonna happen is that my great-great grandchildren are gonna be self-important, self-destructive MORONS?”
Or, if amphibians aren’t your cup of tea, wouldn’t Adam and Eve, or whoever you think were the first humans on the planet, wouldn’t they reasonably think the same thing? Would they want to be responsible for their children, thousands of years later, disguising their mindless savagery with the glossy coat of ‘reason’ and ‘rationalization’?
“I gave up immortality in a garden with my only job being to bang my wife and name animals for THIS?”
You get the idea.
Amazing, when you think about it.
Look at what happened in Paragon City in March 2007. Look what the most powerful humans and human-like creatures have wrought? The city is in chaos. Atlas Park is a disaster area. Broken bodies lying on the ruined streets, buildings demolished, smoke filling the air. Likewise, Faultline, King’s Row, Steel Canyon, and Skyway City, ravaged by the swarm of villains.
You can almost imagine that amphibian shaking it’s little amphibian head next to Adam and Eve wearing naught but fig leaves.
“You guys are the most gifted, most powerful humans to ever… EVER… to walk the face of the planet. And what do you do with the gifts God gave you?” Adam might say.
And the amphibian may clear his throat. “Uh… evolution. I’m standing right here, dude.”
“Uh… yeah. Evolution. But like I was saying… This is the best you guys can do? Beat each other up, kill each other? This is what hundreds of thousands of years of human history amounts to? You people are idiots! God, I’m glad I’m dead!”
Ellie tried to vomit quietly.
She had woken in the arms of her fiancé, and she had felt her stomach doing flip flops. Was she still freaked out by the battle with Rakescar, nearly having her arm ripped completely off? No… she had been hurt before, and with Paragon City’s hospital teleporters, she had an odd sense of invincibility, and if that was the wrong term, maybe invulnerability would suffice. She certainly couldn’t have bullets bounce off her skin, but she’s survive, sometimes painfully so.
Maybe it was the man she loved losing the sight in his left eye? Maybe it was her sense of guilt that she couldn’t save him in time. She certainly felt that. To see his eye become a sightless white orb – that stung more than Rakescar’s hammer did. She [i]should[i] have saved him. She [i]should[i] have prevented it.
But no. A creeping suspicion had been nagging at her for awhile now.
As she folded her arms over the toilet seat and rested her head on them, eyes closed, the sheen of sweat on her skin cooling, the taste of bile in her mouth, she had a pretty damn good idea of what was happening.
What did happen.
She moaned quietly, sniffling a bit as she knelt at the toilet. The tears and the snot were from the vomiting, but was she sure? And if it was true, was she happy about it? It’s not like it was completely unexpected. They never used birth control, and not even Miguel was certain if he was truly fertile. The jury was still out on Cherish being his daughter, and the circumstances with her were so outlandish that, Ellie thought, they unconsciously never thought about it. It being, well…
But hey, well, here she was. It’s morning. And I’m sick. Connect the dots, she thought, spitting down into the water.
Then again… I could just be sick. I could just be freaked out still about yesterday and Miguel…
She spit again, shivering with the chill of the floor tiles on her legs. I don’t really believe that. I’m not an idiot. I knew what could happen and I wanted him to, I guess. I just…
I’m wearing his ring, and we’re gonna get married and guess what, honey? I’m pregnant.
She thought about telling him and having to feel that guilt when she sees that milky white eye and she felt her stomach heave again.
Not much left to purge now.
He’d look shocked for just a moment. Just a teeny tiny moment. In that instant of recognition that, yes Miguel, your girlfriend, the woman you’ve been living with and sleeping with, and proposed to is pregnant – would her heart break? Would she see that split second of fear and panic and, as much as she knew he loved her, could she let herself hang out there, realize that the look in his eyes is a natural and normal reaction and not something that will make him leave her, that he won’t accuse her of sleeping with someone else or trying to trap him, or make him resent her or make him stop loving her?
Am I ready to see that when I tell him? Am I strong enough to be able to handle that moment in his eyes?
She corrected herself, bitterly. Eye. Her stomach roiled again, but she held it back. Grow up, girl, she scolded herself. You’re getting married, and yeah, girl. You’re pregnant. And if he doesn’t want you anymore, then…
… then you’ll deal with it. Women have dealt with cowardly men for a long time before you came along, and you can deal with it too.
Ellie desperately hoped it wouldn’t come to that. She wanted to know he’d be there for her. She wanted to know, yes, Miguel knew this would happen someday, it’s natural and a part of life, and it was only a matter of time. And she wanted him to wake up right now and come into the bathroom and see her and put two and two together and know without her having to say a word, and he would just come in here and hold her and tell her he loved her and that everything would be all right.
But he was dead asleep, still aching and hurt from the battle yesterday. It didn’t make her want him to comfort her any less. So she would have to tell him and wait in expectant dread for that one moment of fear and realization, and when that moment came, she would see what her heart was made of.
The sea washed over the remains of Le Clerc Island, not much more than an archipelago now of steaming concrete still emerging from the waves like rotted teeth. The sea had taken back the island, with the assistance of a broken man too filled with hate and resentment to go on living.
The sea, if it had a consciousness, would be utterly unsympathetic.
Under its surface, the struggle of existence plays over and over, with no regard to feelings or self loathing or hatred. Only hunger, survival, and the desire to mate and continue your genetic code. Nothing else matters.
Nothing else could ever possibly matter. They eat, breed, and go on living.
The fish are better off than us in that regard. Fish cannot build a house, or solve calculus, or drive a car, but they don’t cry or become despondent over petty disappointments or lie to each other or destroy their habitat. They eat, breed, and go on living.
Their lives are elegantly simple, and uncomplicated without the conceit of higher brain functions.
And after we have destroyed ourselves in some apocalypse from Heaven or Earth, the fish will still be, as they have always been, and will be forever and ever after.
Emergency crews came to Paragon City in droves responding to easily the biggest superhuman disaster in years. Even with the military and FEMA in the city itself when it all went down, the amount of property damage and the death toll was staggering.
The uninformed observer would not see the positive growth in all this death and destruction. In recent years, it seems avarice has found a close friend in destruction. For what in America costs so dear as land and the buildings that sit upon it, and what better way to make money than to tear it all down and rebuild? Paragon City has always been good to the contractor and the trades, and this summer hundreds of illegal immigrant workers will come into Paragon City, to work for a pittance if they were lucky, because paying American workers with their truck payments and health insurance premiums and their ridiculous ‘needs’ were far too costly to the profit margins of the wealthy – it just wasn’t good business not to use cheap illegal labor.
And Longbow would see a sizable increase in their funding – after all, in front of several appropriations committees, men and women will testify that if Longbow had been better equipped, perhaps the invasion would have never happened, or at the very least, minimized. People’s careers would be destroyed, for a scapegoat for the American people, and faces and stationary letterheads would change, and the funding will come in, old commanders will be vilified and experts on the news channels will offer their opinions and the hue and cry will be raised for a few weeks until a celebrity has a drawn out and convoluted death or an equally drawn out and convoluted custody battle, and if we were lucky, we’d get both.
Then the American people will have a new thing to be hypnotized by, with their attention spans envying the goldfish, and voila! The status quo will be quietly maintained, the magic trick of stasis once again performed when everyone else is looking elsewhere until the next time a problem becomes too big (or costly) to ignore.
And a call from Washington to Grandville will be made, a carefully worded conversation will follow, expressing mild censure and dismay, but the message will be clear: We don’t like you, nothing personal, but you did well – the shipments into Port Oakes will continue, just mellow out for awhile.
Because the interplay of ‘Good’ and ‘Evil’ is never so simple as the pawns in the game think it is. How does a massive organization like Arachnos survive in the global economy? Robotic spider weapons platforms aren’t cheap, and despite the Cage Consortium’s mining and the various smuggling and sundry illegal activities that appear to finance the Rogue Isles, the truth is that no nation in the 21st century can operate without some kind of foreign assistance, and anyone who feels a nation filled with psychopathic super humans who engage in terrorism and super crime would survive so close to US territory without major foreign aid is merely deluding themselves – the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis demonstrated the USA’s willingness to stomp on nuclear threats so close to it’s borders. Soviet Union notwithstanding.
Arachnos, you see, serves a purpose, though there is no official of either governments who will admit it. The Rogue Isles contains super beings much like Paragon does. The Rogue Isles wouldn’t survive along and isolated from a world it professes to hate. Nothing exists in a vacuum, despite Recluse’s rhetoric. The ‘threat’ of Arachnos allows the US government to keep an army of trained super humans on hand the next time there is a world wide threat, the next time US soil is threatened by aliens or whatever permutation of danger that could appear.
Which is not to say that there isn’t real animosity between the two leaders, Statesman and Lord Recluse – it just has to be confined to their playgrounds. But both men are acutely aware of their place in the larger context of this Brave New World.
But does this matter to the families of people who died in this little incursion, even if they knew the truth? Does it undo the damage done to the city? Does the fact that the world is much less black and white than the news channels and pundits would have them believe, does it make their fathers or mothers or brothers or sisters or sons or daughters any less dead?
The Warden knew better.
Decades of his life have been inextricably involved with the super human community. From his early days as a Hero to his career in Law Enforcement to becoming the warden of the largest prison complex ever built by man, the Warden was, for better or worse, intimately involved with the scheme of things, and he was thankful that he didn’t have to do anything but keep the crazies that Marcus brought him on ice, the threats that couldn’t be held on Earth any longer.
Was it because he hated what his home had become, a sham, a stage managed, manufactured lie to keep the Earth safe from another Rikti invasion?
Was it because when he saw what passed for a Hero these days disgusted him? That it was a slap in the face, a legion of barely competent, immature morons with delusions of grandeur had replaced the hard working Heroes of his day, no element of danger anymore, just fun and games?
Yeah, a little.
But mostly, he was so saddened by the state of the world that he preferred to stay here, in the deep chill of the Cooler, the extra dimensional prison for the world’s greatest threats. The insipid yet insidious media telling people how to not think for themselves, and telling them how to feel about certain things as well. The obviously corrupt politicians blatantly lying and cheating their own country. The bitter harvest of Islamic extremism that was sown when he was but a young Hero, by US strategists in a game of brinksmanship with the Soviets, hoping to create a buffer against the godless commies – and how pathetically confused the people in his country seemed to be at the fact that people in other countries hate them.
The continuing rift between rich and poor and how his country had become some third-world consumer nation, producing nothing but waste, fumes from their obnoxious sport utility vehicles, and brushfire wars in the Middle East.
And Marcus wondered why he was so hateful!
No, no so much hateful as saddened, despondent, and disgusted by all the wasted potential, the American ability to sacrifice the flower of their youth for a few bucks. His country had cheapened itself while covering itself with the flag his father had fought for in World War II, and hey, his country had lied and acted in the best interests of a few rich men too back then!
It was depressing and he was never the type of person to let his contempt remain hidden. In essence, he found he could not live in a world that he could not longer abide or change for the better, and here in the chill, he could feel that hate die down, like the embers of a fading campfire, and maybe that was for the best – the cold temperature cooling his anger.
It was ironic, Marcus had once pointed out, that a man who could control ice would have such a fiery temper. And he was right.
So he lived here, reading about his country’s follies on the internet, in the coldest place on this destroyed, post-apocalyptic earth, and shake his head at the short sightedness and selfishness and greed, replayed over and over and over again over the course of years. Because it wasn’t that he didn’t care – on the contrary, he was irritated that he cared too much, too much to stay on Earth.
It was because, in the end, he was utterly powerless, more powerless than the poor working class of his people, muted by the boot of the rich and influential. Because while he had super powers, he was just utterly unable to effect any real change, to do any real good.
While middle America and the poor anesthetize themselves with sports and music and Deal Or No Deal, Dancing With The Stars, or American Idol, what does a painfully aware ex-Hero who knew all too much, do to numb the hurt of being able to do nothing about all these things he knew, while his people degenerated into fat and apathetic Neanderthals?
The Warden found only the sub-zero tranquility of the Cooler could take his mind off what he couldn’t change, that serenity that we pray to God to have.
He waited at the customary spot in front of the active Portal and raised his head when Statesman and a cadre of M.A.G.I. sorceresses appeared, carrying with them a sarcophagus inscribed with mystic sigils, each of them hard to look at, twisting and writhing with magic.
“Marcus… you’re looking a bit under the weather. Did you drop by to ease the swelling?”
Statesman grimaced. His costume had been replaced, but the aches and bruises were enough to make him hobble down the ramp onto the icy floor. “Stephen, got another one for you. Can you people hold a demon?”
The Warden laughed. “We have several in stock. Yes, we have our ice shamans who will take very good care of your friend.”
Statesman grunted. “Friend is a bit of an overstatement.”
“Oh, why, you two looked rather chummy on the television. Good work, by the way. Splendid battle. Too bad about that military fellow. His Icarus device worked rather well. He certainly saved your bacon.”
Statesman nodded, hobbling closer as a group of Ice Shamans in icy blue robes assumed custody of the demon trapped inside the sarcophagus. “Stefan’s little toy was formidable, I’ll give him that. Been quite awhile since I got a pounding like that.”
“Well, I trust you’ve fulfilled your quota of savage beatings for a little bit. I see the hospital teleporters are working again. Your teeth look spectacular.”
A grunt. “Shut up and let’s get to that drink, shall we?”
Sebastian Toomes woke up again.
He sat up on the steel examination table in a dank, dingy room, he didn’t know where. Ziggursky? It was a possibility.
He looked down at his body, once again whole and unblemished with the horrific scar tissue covering what had remained of his body after the accident. He closed his eyes and sighed.
I have an I.Q. of two hundred and fourteen, he thought, and I still can’t figure out how to die. Pathetic, isn’t it?
An intercom buzzed on the wall near a steel door, painted green, the paint chipped and scraped. He slid off the table and winced as his bare feet touched the cold tile floor. He cautiously crept to the intercom and pressed the button. “Hello?”
“Doctor Toomes?” The voice was cold, mechanical, genderless.
“…Yes?” No point in denying it.
“I represent a consortium of interests who were impressed with your activities in Paragon City.”
“What? You mean… my research?”
“Among other things. More will be revealed in time. You have been secured in a facility here on the Rogue Isles. Do you remember anything that has happened in the past two and a half weeks, Doctor Toomes?”
“Wha… two and a half weeks? What?”
“You appear to be confused. Do not worry, enlightenment will be granted. You experienced a traumatic event, confusion is a normal reaction. May I ask you a question?”
Dr. Toomes shook his head, placing a hand on his brow. “What? Yeah… Yes, certainly.”
“Do you remember the composition of the Ballista formula you designed?”
They knew him all right. “Yes. Yes, damnit. How could I forget it?”
“If you were allowed the opportunity to avenge yourself on the ones who ruined your life, disgraced and ignored you, would you be interested in sharing your knowledge?”
“Whoa re you with? Arachnos? Because you people had just as much to do with it as those idiot Heroes did! If you people hadn’t attacked the lab…!”
“I never claimed to be affiliated with Arachnos, Doctor Toomes…”
“Then who are you with?”
“A consortium of interests, Doctor Toomes. I will only ask once more. Would you be interested?”
Dr. Toomes narrowed his eyes. Many of his sleepless nights since the accident those years ago that had left him a crippled husk of a man were filled with elaborate revenge fantasies, none of them without the prospect of a terrible, blood reckoning.
“Yes. What do I have to do?”
Days passed, and as Paragon City counted it’s dead, and insurance claims adjusters roamed the land, Belle and Deathspider were married.
Since the wedding hall they were going to have the reception in was demolished and most of their guest list had evacuated the city, they impulsively decided to forego the pomp and circumstance and had a simple ceremony at City Hall. The official who married them looked somewhat relieved to be doing something else than dealing with the chaos a week after the invasion.
Ellie had changed the plans without a second thought, rather relieved to be honest. The only detail she clung to was her dress, a simple white affair with a cape that had the sheerest of blue lining. Serge had gone overboard.
He had interpreted her hero name to mean "Southern Belle" and had designed a dress that would have made Scarlett think twice. Huge skirt, layers upon layers of lace, and even a matching parasol... Ellie had thought for sure that he was playing a joke on her and then struggled to regain her composure before she offended him. Politely excusing herself, she headed for the Founder's Icon and Carson, who knew her much better than the always-busy Serge. Miguel's great-grandmother's ring winked on her right hand as something old, and her own engagement ring was on her left for something new. On the way to her wedding she had borrowed a hankie from her sister, and she would tell anyone who asked that her cape was something blue, although only she and Miguel would ever know that she was wearing blue panties too.
Ellie, in her dress, and Miguel in a black tuxedo, walked up the steps, dodging haunted looking city officials and construction workers, and drawing stares from passerby who, in this tumultuous time, thought that someone getting married was a little frivolous.
“You ready to do this?” Miguel said, his sunglasses covering his injured eye.
Ellie nodded solemnly and reached up to put her hand on his cheek. “Are you? If it’s too soon we could always wait…”
He shook his head and placed his hand on hers. “No… I’m ready. It’s what we both want, and I’m not about to let what happened get in the way.”
She smiled. “I love you, Miguel.”
“I love you too, kitten. Let’s do it.” He grinned, and held the door open for her.
The ceremony was brief and to the point, though it had just as much meaning, if not more, than the wedding they envisioned. As for witnesses, three homeless men wandered by in the large domed room where the official had met them, and after blearily recognizing what was going on, cheered and threw bits of rice they had mixed in with pocket lint, drunkenly singing and clapping. One had an eye patch, leading Ellie to make the assertion that these men were in fact, pirates.
“Honey,” Miguel said after the ceremony, “They’re bums. I didn’t see a Jolly Rodger or a peg leg anywhere. They smelled of B.O. and Mad Dog 20/20.”
“Pirates can be dirty and stink of booze.”
“… Okay. Fine. Pirate bums. I didn’t see a pirate ship anywhere nearby.”
Ellie grinned cheerfully. “Pirates!”
They stepped out of City Hall into the sunlight, pausing to watch some activity under Atlas. And they walked down the stairs of City Hall, Eleanor Marie Alcott now Eleanor Marie Sanchez.