From Unofficial Handbook of the Virtue Universe
Free at last
finally tasting happiness
5 years of hell for nothing
trapped inside the minds of failures
A wise man once said
That which does not kill us makes us stronger
But we were dead
So are we now invincible?
Final straw underlying ignorance
Consumed by greed and hate
Kept under the feet of tyrants
Reality kicked in
Raced against time just to start all over
Treated like [censored]
Pushed aside and expendable
We have become
So [censored] powerful
All the beatings you gave us
We will use them against you
Determination, Perseverance, Resolution... Resurrection
Free At last
Finally tasting happiness
- Chimaira, 'Resurrection'
Kyou no Oni gave a respectful bow as Warp Factor, leader of the Guardian Angels, approached. Firanima, Nariko, and Psychist followed behind him. Belle, Warp, and the rebel commander, Daniel Wright stopped short.
Nariko frowned. “Where’s Miguel?”
Belle sighed. “Off hunting down Manticore. This world’s Manticore, anyway.”
Firanima looked at Belle quizzically. “You let him go?”
Belle glared at Firanima irritably. “Yes, I let him go. I had to. You guys need me, otherwise I wouldn’t have left his side. Do you know how much it sucks to finally find my missing husband, only to have to watch him disappear again? Yeah, I let him go, and if he doesn’t come back safely, I’d go after him again. I trust him to go do what he needs to do, to remember who he is.”
Firanima looked down. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend.”
Belle sighed, shaking her head. “No, it’s okay. It’s just… yeah.”
Wright grunted, still fiddling with his blood soaked shirt, where Archon Sinclair had fired an arrow into his chest. Thanks to Belle, though, he was alive to tell the tale. “We’re about to have bigger problems.”
Psychist looked around at the scorched and blackened tunnels. “What could be a bigger problem?”
“Shadow Spiders. Sinclair’s in command of them. If he’s backing out, he’s going to bring them in.” Wright grimaced, pulling back the slide on his Desert Eagle just enough to see the reddish-gold shine of a round in the chamber.
Nariko smirked. "Well, there's some good news." Wright looked at her, quizzically. She turned to him. "In the world I was trapped in, my parents turned out to be cultists trying to sacrifice me to some dead god. In the world I come from, they died in the Rikti war. Here, Miguel's got something better going on, and I also can work a bit of anger off." She looks around at the remains of the last fight. "A bit more, that is." "Excellent. Another hasty decision by a less than stable man..." Kyou sighed, flicking his hair back.
"That crazy [censored] will need our backup, especially if all of them are as strong as he is." Warp nodded.
The balance demon shrouded himself in the shadows, "I suppose I will track him down and relay his location back to you."
Warp placed a hand in front of Kyou, "Now, we don't need another dumb scrapper jumping about solo." Warp smirked.
Kyou looked a little hurt, "I am invisible and not a half-insane man-spider coming out of a fantasy world."
"Touche, move quick."
Kyou No Oni faded his form into the shadows before he took flight, blending into the darkness of the tunnels.
Back at Portal Corp, in Paragon City, Rachelle was changed, cleaned up and bandaged. She could have by all rights gone home, but she never really considered it, thinking what would her brother do? Not the twisted Soviet Rikti version she had fought, and had killed their father, but her real one, from her world? So she stayed, they came for her, she was going to do what she could to get them all back. She looked up as the communicator chirped, the volume on it having to be turned up loud due to the roar of the nearby portal.
Standing in front of the glowing hole , her tail twitching with frustration, Ssgt Irine Kanahoe was missing the fight, never an easy thing for a Marine to take. But the feline mage had to stay where she was and keep a link up with the rescue team, otherwise since they were so off the normal range of dimensions they might not be able to find their way home again. She slapped the switch on the com. “Kanahoe here, whats the situation?”
From the other end came the staticy reply , Warp Factor's voice hard to make out “We've got a problem, DS went after this universe's version of Manticore, and we're getting severely outnumbered.”
“Rodger, do you need reinforcements?”
“Not quite yet, but have them stand by.”
“Aye Aye, waiting on your word.”
The com cuts off, and Irine barked out orders, rather ironic being she's a cat. “All right, reserve group, stand by” the NCO growled. She'd already seen good friends come through badly mauled, rescuing Major Kincaids sister, PoleKitty got hit hard by some Rikti weapon that interfered badly with her own mutated DNA. Kelly by all rights should be dead, the tough little sheep hybrid had been used as a soccer ball by an alternate dimensions version of Requiem before the rescue team got to her. Now this and there was nothing she could do but wait and pray.
She never asked me ‘why?’
It’s a simple question. Why do I dress up in a red and black costume and throw myself into horribly violent situations EVERY SINGLE DAY? Why do I risk my neck, my well-being, sacrifice my body, sacrifice all the little things that normal people get to enjoy, why do I continue playing this juvenile fantasy of being a super hero?'
The Shadow Spider lunges for me. He’s huge, powerful, fast, vicious. His scent is laced with madness and blood. He’s killed so many, I can tell. I leap back, and he slams down, ready to spring, a little hesitant. He’s not used to prey that moves as fast as he does.
And how could I answer her? When I’m not really sure about it myself? I mean, if I had a choice, I dunno, I’d be big and shiny and able to fly and have bullets bounce off me, like Ascendant. You know, I’ve only met him once? Yeah. One of the biggest Heroes in the city, I met him at a Spring Break party in Overbrook. Which goes to show what the Hero elite think of me. Creepy. Crazy. Gloomy. Psycho. Then again… is there anything I’ve done to dissuade that sort of attitude?
He darts up at me – the product of what I assume is years of training and genetic engineering and maybe a good diet, not snarling. This is just another fun time for him, he doesn’t know who he’s dealing with. I should show him.
I could save the world a million times, rescue the city population over and over again, do everything the other bright and shiny heroes do, do it better, faster, and they’d still snub me. And it’s been that way since I crawled away from Marrowsnap’s drug lab, aching and bleeding, and saw the flashes of light as the Capes came. I made the choice of signing up rather than be hunted down like a dog and locked up.
I meet him halfway. He’s springing at me, arms out, legs tucked. I slap my hands on the pavement as I hurtle forward, my momentum carrying me, legs scissoring around his head. He stops, a massive impact against me, and I simply pull his face down to meet the pavement. Crunch. I roll away, pacing myself. Odds are, he won’t. He’ll be enraged now, which opens him up, expands my options and limits his.
So why? Why play the Hero? Especially when so many look at me as a monster, a villain, disruptive, a menace, a killer, not fit to rub shoulders with the golden? The only ones that will have me are Maggie’s bunch, and look at the Guardian Angels – misfits, iconclasts, and ‘losers’, looked down upon by the bright and shiny folk. That’s fine.
He growls low and from his hands, a wet explosion of webbing, dark and sinuous tendrils, seeking to constrict and kill. But slow. I rend through them and yank his hands up, smashing a knee into his throat. He chokes and I hammer him with my fists. I regularly punch through armored robots, drawing blood is easy, especially when I know how he thinks, how he moves. By the time he swings, I’m already behind him, ensnaring him with webbing of my own, constricting around his face and neck. Hope I can end this early.
It’s fine because I’m at the point where what the snobs say doesn’t affect me. It doesn’t make me any less better than they are. See, that’s what they never understand. They watch me and whine about me not being a team player, a glory hound, a showboater, that I’m arrogant, that I think I’m better than them. Well, I am better than they are. Tougher, stronger, faster, better. It’s all in your head. The villains, they don’t expect you to slam into them, they don’t usually experience raw, abject terror. Most Heroes like to mince around and play it safe. Play it safe, sure. That’s fine for other people. Not for me.
He falls to his knees, choking, clutching at the webbing. I tense, because he’s shifting his weight, pulling me forward. He wants to power out of it. This isn’t going to end soon. So I let him. The strands detach, cut off, and for all the force he was applying, it makes him pitch forward. I help him down with a jump kick to the back of the head. His massive form slams face first into the pavement.
Because when I’m in it, deep in the scrum, landing in a tangle of bodies, that’s where I’m the most effective. In a haze of airborne particles of vaporized blood and sweat, teeth flying from someone’s jaw, the splatter of blood, the hard crushing impact of my fists fracturing a skull, that’s where I set myself apart. Faster, stronger, better. I’m the predator, they are the prey, and that’s the way it is. I can’t wait for some palooka who can have tank rounds bounce off their foreheads, and why would I want to? I want the enemies’ jaws broken by the time the other Heroes catch up to me. I want them to see what has to be done.
He’s getting up, ripping away the webbing, howling in fury. Back to work. Going in low, I slam my feet into the side of his knee, breaking it with a wet snap. He stumbles, just seconds from falling, he’s never had that happen on one of his hunter-killer jobs, I bet. Bounce up, rocking his head back and forth with my fists. Not using the claws. Not yet. He lurches at me, and I’m so caught up in the bloodlust that I don’t dive away in time. He’s got those huge hands on me.
There’s this misconception about how Heroes don’t kill. Pfft. How many times have I seen some moron swinging around a sword, bisecting some villain or henchman, the moron SLIPPING IN THE DUDE’S ENTRAILS, then chuckling some insipid one-liner or how ‘Justice Has Been Brought To These Ne’er Do Wells!’. Or some bright and shiny FLASH FRYING a group of gang-bangers, and then look down his nose at me because I don’t really care if I kill or cripple the people I’m fighting. Or some jackass with a grenade launcher firing indiscriminately (because, moron, you fire a grenade in an urban area, there is no such thing as precision), sure, you blew up some nutcase who like to dress up like Prussians, but you also ignited the gas tanks of every car in the parking lot of that building nearby, GOOD JOB! And they look down on ME.
He roars, launching me in the air, and I collide with the rickety cheap plastic siding of a house, long abandoned. The wall, nothing more than rain damaged sheathing, plywood, and 2 by 4’s, gives way, but it’s far from painless. I land in a room in a cloud of moldy drywall dust. Carpet is damp and soiled from a hole in the roof. Stinks. Grunting, I try to shake it off but he’s rushing in, tearing away the remnants of the wall, and just like that, shattered knee and all, he’s on me again, and I have a moment to reflect on how bad this is going to be when it’s all said and done.
I used to believe the hype. I used to feel bad about who I was, where I came from, what I did. I used to feel bad about having to live like this – drinking blood because those butchers in the Council turned me into a beast. Used to feel inferior to the bright and shiny folks with their glaring sense of smugness and superiority. Used to feel that nothing I could do would make me measure up. That I was a monster, a freak, someone we’d all better off without.
He lays into me. Damn. He’s strong. Knows how to use it, too. Using me like a damn club. The house is coming down around our ears. Pulling me back in, those tree trunk arms clasping around me, squeezing me, going to pop my spine if I don’t do something. Arms are pinned by his. He’s laughing. He thinks this is funny. Thinks he’s got me. And anyone else, he’d be right to laugh through that broken jaw of his. His tongue is long and whip-like. It’s slithering over those huge fangs of his.
My head lunges forward, and I bite off his tongue.
Now, I sometimes see newer Heroes who may or may not have had it worse than me, it’s subjective, but they… it’s like, when a fight is going to start. It’s like they get ready, power up, but then they’re all ‘Oh, my angst!” like their stomach was upset, and they hesitate. And I’m already sinking my fangs into someone’s neck. Or they see me ripping these people apart and they cluck their tongues and wag their fingers at me.
As though their way works. As though I’m beneath them even as I’m tearing a group of sociopaths to shreds, people who were going to detonate a bomb in an urban area. As though there’s another way to deal with people who would mercilessly kill hundreds, thousands of civilians. As though, as though, as though, as though.
I spit his severed tongue out – it tastes foul. But he’s shrieking wordlessly, clutching the gory hole of his mouth, blinded with pain. A section of the wall, some grayed, old wall studs, lay at my feet. A convenient weapon. I break it over his head with a brittle snap and the clatter of wood. No real effect. The claws it is, then.
Don’t misunderstand me. The criminal justice system is a joke, ponderous, notoriously unfair, if you got the money you can buy your way out of anything, but I’m not advocating the death penalty or anything. But when you got a building full of armed metahumans with enough explosives to level a city block, what’s the appropriate level of force? Sure, easy question, right? But these bright and shiny snobs want to get the glory and the headlines without getting their hands dirty. What, you’re going to cuff ‘em over the head and have your fancy teleporters shunt them off to the Zig so they can break out and do it all over again? That, to me, is more dangerously irresponsible than what I do. I kill some, yeah, I cripple more, I put the fear of God into them. Maybe they’ll do it again, and if they do, I’ll do it right next time. No illusions, no pretext of morality, no lies to make myself feel better. When my costume is soaked with their blood, how many civilians did I end up saving in the long run? How many more buildings didn’t get blown up because I took these scumbags out of circulation?
Maybe that’s why I do it? Because the others won’t. They can’t. They don’t take the necessary steps to ensure that psychopath won’t ever do it again. Or maybe, he’ll try from a wheelchair.
I come at him, but man, is he pissed. A huge fist connects with my mid-section, the force more than sufficient to blow me through the thin plywood covering the windows and setting me down in a bone rattling heap on the refuse strewn street. Have to fight to keep from blacking out. He’s in the hole, shambling after me, still up on that broken knee. Christ, he’s tough. Not for the first time today, I wish the others were here.
Pain suddenly bolts up my spine. Oh God…
Did I break my back? A strangled cry escapes my lips.
And looking around, it’s only getting worse.
Perched on the house, the burned out husks of cars, light poles, EVERYWHERE….
Legions of them. Black and grey with white manes of spider-silk hair. Thousands of them, shining hateful red eyes at me.
A bolt of pain shoots up my spine. Oh my God.
It feels like someone’s wanting to punch out of my back. I curl up, shuddering. This is how it ends, huh? Nemesis, the Council, Lord Recluse and all his cronies, everyone I’ve beat down and been beaten down by, none of them so surely had the drop on me like this. The big one is bad enough. My body convulsing is another. A landscape of Spiders ready to pounce on me just clinched it.
Bite back the pain.
Oh God, it’s biting back. I feel it pushing from either side of the spine, skin tearing, blood gushing down my back. Stand. STAND UP! I struggle to my feet.
This is what I didn’t do here. I remember it, an entire lifetime of living a lie.
Here, I was a contemptible, sniveling worm. So I was living a dream, rich, talented, famous. Anything I wanted, it was mine. But I never did anything with it. I could have used the fame that put my mouth higher than the rest and said something, anything. I could have spoke out against the regime, but no. I stuck my head in the sand, I squandered the opportunity to do something. A gesture, to be sure, that would be denounced, derided, and ultimately fatal, but true evil thrives when people have been rendered fearful and impotent and silent. True Evil is more terrible and fearsome and insidious and banal than any cackling super-villain. My modest predations pale in comparison. Do what you can… and I never did.
No more. Even if I die here and now, I have to atone for the sin of inaction, because even though this is a fantasy, another world, the sin lay in my heart, a lazy, contemptuous desire to ignore it all and let my flesh consume my spirit. To not try at all, to give up and do nothing… I can’t think of anything more opposite to what I believe. Who I think I am.
I almost make it to my feet, and the shredding, agonizing pain from my back shoots out, a blood-curdling scream drawn from deep within, and I’m back on my knees. Head is spinning, my back is beyond sensation now, every nerve ending overloaded with pain.
I don’t see or feel the four jagged legs, gleaming with blood, unfold and settle onto the ground, or the incredulous looks of the Spiders around me.
What I do hear is…
“Miguel! I found him, he’s over…”
Then the gasp of horror as Nariko looks upon the assembled host of Shadow Spiders. My eyes snap open as I see Nariko, the Japanese girl, pounced upon by the dozens of Spiders. She’s buried by the gleaming black and grey forms, even her screams as they begin to shred her apart are drowned out by thousands of hungry snarls from thousands of inhuman throats.
I look back around to see the Alpha male grab one of his underlings, and sink his fangs into the hapless Spider’s neck, sucking him dry. His eyes on me, full of hate and fury. I’m lightheaded, the world spinning, my body numbed from pain and hunger. He discards the dead Spider and as his body reconfigures, the tongue growing back, his knee buckling and snapping back into place, as he slowly comes towards me.
A chorus of snarls and roars as bodies go flying. Nariko. She’s still up?
Half her face is gone. One arm remains, the other savagely torn off. Her clothes are shredded, drenched in blood. She looks like she's glowing, I must be seeing things. She’s spinning around, her foot impacting with a Spider’s head, snapping it’s neck, the Spider falling dead. Another rushes her, and she leaps into the air and it’s head explodes messily as she makes contact.
They’re moving en masse upon her. God, she’s so hurt…
The air warps in front of me, and a massive wave of pressure flattens me to the ground. All Hell is breaking loose – the houses on the street are disintegrating from the force. Spiders are everywhere, hissing, snarling, dying. I can only close my eyes until the wave passes, the air sucked back into the vacuum, and when the roar of air ceases…
The Angels have arrived.
Shimmering green fields of force appear, sending wounded, dead, and still living Spiders away, chunks of meat and debris flying like a storm.
Soft hands on me. “Miguel!”
The dream girl, Belle, my wife… my wife!, is over me, her magicks surging through my body, the vast pain dwindling. “Oh God, baby… what happened to you?”
I sit up, stunned, as the Guardian Angels surged forth. Kyou no Oni was already moving, swathed in darkness, and leapt into a mob of Shadow Spiders. Psychist and Firanima were working in tandem – the young man was sending psychic shockwaves at the Spiders, stunning them, and the woman bristling with thorns launched fireballs at them, incinerating them as their brains went haywire, and then finally boiled away.
Warp Factor looked around at the scene, softly swearing at the moving black mass, and as night fell, they became less distinct, shadowy figures in the dark. “Christ. What kind of Hell did we drop into?”
Belle helped me to my feet, looking horrified at the long jagged talons at the ends of the four new legs erupting from my back. Each end was tipped with what looked like a scythe. “Baby… wake up, please. We have to get out of here…”
I blinked, still woozy from the pain. “Ellie?”
She nodded, biting her lip. The Spider form had always unsettled her, but even more so with the inhuman looking appendages sprouting from my back. “C’mon, Snuggles… wake up. We need you.”
Warp launched a force bolt at an oncoming Spider, trying to fight her repulsion field, the bolt punching through it’s body, sending it’s insides out of it’s lower back. “Someone get Nariko! I’m calling in the reserves.”
Belle nodded and her hands began to glow brightly as she summoned Nariko from the horde of Spiders, the half dead girl appearing in a bloody heap at Belle’s side, moaning weakly. The girl was soon re-growing her lost limb, the injuries healing over, her grotesque ruin of a face swiftly healing back into an identifiable form.
Unbeknownst to me, back in Paragon City, Irine looked up from the com panel “All right, lets move people!” The reserve team jumped forward towards the portal, working at keeping the link open.
Rachelle, no... not Rachelle. Snowdog took a deep breath, squaring her shoulders as she followed Titanium Steel towards the portal. The taller metal woman smiled reassuringly and clasped a hand on her shoulder “you sure you're up for this?
Snowdog just grinned braver than she felt “Nope, but lets do it anyway” she said, as she jumped into the glowing light. There was a twisting feel of being pulled like taffy, then ground under her feet again, the heat and dry air definitely not Paragon. There was enough humidity though being close to the coast for what she needed. Raising her arms in the sky she began to gather the energy, temperature starting to drop as the others emerged from the portal, skies beginning to roil.
The hulking form of the Alpha lunged at the field, slashing at it, throwing himself again and again to no avail, pushed away by the repulsion field Warp Factor was generating.
“Miguel!” Warp screamed, straining as she gestured to a burning wreck of an old car and slamming it into the Alpha Spider. “Are you okay? We need to buy some time!”
I nodded, breathing steadily as the Alpha flung away the car, snarling defiantly.
“Yeah, I’m good.”
“That’s debatable…” she grunted, flinging a rain of broken pavement at the Alpha. “But are you up for beating this motherfucker down?”
A low growl escapes my lips. “Yeah, I am.”
From up above, huge chunks of ice descended, crushing anything underneath them, the normally balmy weather now churning and roiling as a blizzard was raining down on Los Angeles.
The shining form of a giant metal woman slammed down on a mass of Spiders perched on a house, the impact like a bomb, demolishing the house and sending Spiders flying everywhere. As the smoke and dust cleared, I saw Titanium Steele struggling amid some Spiders. Her cybernetic limbs, although mechanically fast and strong, were not quite enough to overcome the enhanced reflexes of the Spiders. A lucky nerve strike sent one reeling into the rubble but more often than not her kicks and punches missed even if only by a hair. Her gleaming metal body was becoming scratched up from the claws and fangs of her opponents but such damage was only cosmetic. With a precise acrobatic tumble backwards Titanium Steele switched targets and sent the Spider that was approaching her from behind flying with a well aimed double heeled kick. It landed in a heap motionless. The Spiders’ bodies were no match for her superior strength; when she connected they broke, but hitting them was obviously the hard part.
“Hey Snow! A little help slowing these suckers down please?” A blast of freezing air swirled up more dust and Titanium Steele and Snowdog appeared from the wreckage, the former hurling chunks of masonry at the fleeing Spiders while the latter iced over the area, making the Spider’s speed a non-factor. When the last of the trapped Spiders had fallen the metal giant dropped a head sized chunk of concrete and turned to her companion with a laugh.
“Remind me when we get back to never try to take on our Deathspider without a vat of superglue handy!” With that quip Titanium Steele made another of her prodigious leaps, landing smack on top of another group of startled Spiders and the fight continued.
More flashes of light as I made my way over to the Alpha on the other side of the force field. Roxster and Clod, the two young Angels with earth based powers, appeared, and with cocky grins, the earth buckled and shook, groaning as dirt and dust sprayed into the air, the city itself shuddering as the two men manipulated latent seismic activity and focused it her in the heart of the Los Angeles Combat Zone.
The battlefield was chaos – the earth shaking and trembling violently, the air bitter cold and raining ice and thunder, huge detonations of flames, bolts of energy and debris hurtling through the air, Shadow Spiders still surging through it all, only to be halted by Psychist’s mind, then beaten to death by Titanium Steele, Nariko, and Kyou – the sounds of bodies breaking and crumpling was still audible over the cacophony.
The Alpha stood , the ground shaking violently underneath him, ice forming in it’s hair. It snarled at me, baleful red eyes glowing in the darkness and chill.
“Who are you freaks?” it growled.
I smiled, baring my fangs, the legs sprouting from my back moving seemingly of their own accord, gleaming black blades clawing at the air. “I told Arrrchon Sssinclairrr the sssame thing… We’rrrre the ones who are ssstopping your rrreign of terrrrror… Ssssee, now your dirty little sssecret is out – we’ve made too much of a messss for you to coverrr up. Now the goverrrnment can’t hide behind a wall of sssecrecy and terrrorrr… Too many bodiesss to hide. Too much laid barrre… You’re done.”
He spat contemptuously. “Be that as it may, why don’t you step outside and finish what you started, or do you need your other freaks to fight for you?”
“Heh. You want that, huh?”
A deep, guttural “Yesss…”
I narrowed my eyes. “Let’sss go.”
I lunge forward but those strange arms shot through the field, like daggers, the scythe-like talons plunging into the Alpha’s body, two in the torso, one in the neck, the last in the lower abdomen. The Alpha gurgled out a scream, twitching on the ends of the scythes (it’s the only thing I can think of to call of them). I gaped, shocked, as the Alpha was held, impaled by scythes. The legs raised him up and sank deeper into it’s body, then as if given some signal, they slipped out of his body with a sickening squelch and the Alpha dropped, choking on it’s own blood.
The Alpha clutched his punctured throat, eyes filled with hate, trying to speak, but nothing but blood came from his mouth.
Standing over the Alpha, I spat in his face and turned away. “You’rrrre overrr…”
Behind me, Maggie screaming. I turned, and the Angels were assembling. Kyou was beaten and ragged, gasping for air, while Titanium Steele was smeared with dirt and congealing blood. Roxster, Clod, Firanima, Snowdog, and Psychist were close by Warp, and the blizzard and the earthquakes were still punishing the remaining Spiders.
“Miguel! Come on! We’re going home!”
I sprinted back to them, catching Belle as she flung herself against me, and the world convulsed and went white.