From Unofficial Handbook of the Virtue Universe
The apartment was cool when they got home from Paris, the spring warmth outside coming off the ocean. Ellie slept in their bed, letting the breeze flow over her, stretched out under a sheet. Miguel watched her, the shadows from the curtains moving over her sleeping form.
He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his palms, blinking, wistfully entertaining the notion that the sight in his left eye would return. But, once again, like the several hundred times he had tried it in the past few weeks, it still remained dark. Already he could feel his other senses becoming more acute, developing to make up for the loss. Already possessing heightened senses, he had to adjust to the increased sensitivity of his skin, his nose, taste, and the sight in his remaining eye. The feeling of the breeze on his skin was intense – every hair moving with the air current, he fancied he could feel the salt from the sea spray touching him.
But regardless, life went on.
Apparently, all too well.
He turned and went back into the kitchen where a thin file sat open on the table. He walked over and lifted up the glossy photo of a man, shorter from what he could tell, and less powerfully built, dressed in a black and red costume.
A black and red Deathspider costume.
His black and red Deathspider costume.
The files beneath it where PCPD reports of Hellions and Skulls arrested for drug running, assault, and robbery, mostly in the King’s Row and Galaxy City area, all the dates occurring during the two weeks he and Ellie were in Paris on their honeymoon. It appeared someone (or in this city, some thing) had taken his absence as an opportunity to take his place, assume his identity. Honestly, Miguel couldn’t fault the guy, after all, he was fighting crime, and hey, Miguel had a damn cool costume. But whoever he was, he was using Miguel’s identity, his reputation, and that was something he was less than forgiving of – his rep was already in the toilet as it was. What if this guy was some Red Sider left over from the invasion, trying to hide out and fake it? Or what if, let’s say, he was earnestly trying to be a Hero (albeit unlicensed), but screwed up somehow and somebody got hurt? Which logically led to the question, what if this guy got hurt trying to play Hero, and fell off a building or one of Miguel’s enemies wasted the poor guy, like Rake or Machina or whoever?
He sighed, looking at the photo of ‘Deathspider’ taken from a Hero Corps camera in Galaxy City. He was wearing an almost exact replica of his red and black outfit, with the stylized spider shin and forearm guards, but the main costume looked to be Lycra or spandex, not the tough Kevlar woven material in the original. Still, he thought, the guy was starting off better than he did, the haphazard array of thrown together outfits he wore for months until he managed to scrape (read: stole enough drug money from raids) together enough cash for a decent outfit.
Did the guy have powers? Well, this was Paragon City, so probably.
Did he know how to use them? Not so probable.
Who could it be? Some clone, some Crey creation running around to draw him out, or another attempt by the Council to create another one like him?
All pertinent questions, he thought as he went to the hallway closet and pulled out his black and grey version of his costume.
I’ll have to ask him.
You can do this.
I can’t do this.
You’ve been at this for weeks now, you can do it.
I nearly killed myself every single night. Every part of my body hurts. Every night I go home and I’m bruised and bleeding and sore. I can barely make it to class in the morning. And Uncle Vinny’s been asking who worked me over.
Forget that. C’mon, you got some powers, and hey, you at least got some know how about fighting, a lot more than these other chumps.
“Deathspider” looked down from the top of the tenement in King’s Row at the gathering of Skulls below in the alley. He knew what they were doing – one of his cousins had bragged about selling scavenged Arachnos weaponry to them, salvaged from the recent attacks on Paragon City, and sure enough, the Bone Daddy was examining an Arachnos Mace on the closed lid of a dumpster, while the others were checking out the more conventional small arms used by Arachnos – a 7.62mm assault rifle, a flechette pistol, and an odd caliber 10mm sub-machine gun.
He took a deep breath, and leaned forward over the edge, his fingers splayed out over the brick wall. He took an experimental tug – he felt resistance. Good. The gloves still worked.
He hauled himself over the side and with a prayer to Mary, mother of God, he tentatively put a foot on the wall as he stepped off the ledge – a moment of panic as his weight shifted down on his fingertips, but the black market climbing gloves held true. Exhaling, he began to crawl down the wall.
A moment of dizziness as the blood rushed to his head, but it would pass, he did have some superhuman abilities from the Family, his boosted reflexes and endurance, but nothing that really did much to cancel the disorientation and the shift in equilibrium. He wondered if his Hero went through this when he started out.
Slowly, quietly, he descended down the wall, inching closer and closer to the Skulls. Ok. Ok. Calm down. You’re gonna be okay, Cross. Just stay alert, keep moving, hit them hard, hit them fast, don’t focus too long on any one of them, don’t let them out of your field of vision.
Down to the third story now. Okay. Concentrate. Move your butt up, slowly… SLOWLY… slowly bring your feet up between your arms. Step… step… step… okay. He inhaled softly at the exertion of his weight, then slowly moved his hands up the side of the wall. Weight now redistributed, he was ready.
Let’s take one final check.
Bone Daddy, black, muscular. Checking out the Mace but not wielding it. Looks like he’s a little high, just high enough to be jumpy, not high enough to shrug off pain.
Three guys, checking out their toys.
One with a 10mm. Loud, lots of recoil on that SMG. Kicks to the right. Since it’s unfamiliar, really only seen in private security forces, he won’t have a feel for it, he’ll spray and pray, probably shoot at shoulder level on a rising slope to the right.
One with a flechette pistol. Virtually no recoil, which will throw him off. Motor inside shreds a projectile block as the trigger is pulled, shreds unprotected flesh. Is it charged? Needs a battery. Probably not if it just came out of the box or picked up off the street. Might have a back up, pistol of some sort.
Last one, 7.62mm AR-15 clone, familiar enough to the M16, kick like an AK-47 or a Chinese knock off. Could be trouble.
Priority then. Assault rifle, SMG, Mace, Flechette.
Exhale. Snappy opener?
Not yet. Can’t think of one.
I really should have one.
Note to self: write some material. Practice in front of the mirror.
He pushed off and felt the pit of his stomach rise up as he descended upon them. Assault rifle was up first.
Pitching forward, his hands out, wrapping and twisting around the barrel as his body twisted and spun down…
… back facing his front, hands grasping the barrel tightly, feet hitting the ground, the barrel like the handle of a club…
… pitching it forward, slamming the plastic stock, manufactured by, he was once told, the same folks who make Barbie dolls…
…into SMG’s skull, cracking the plastic, dropping the guy to the ground, unconscious.
Spin around now, spin, faster… the shattered stock collided with the face of the rifle’s owner, smashing the bone mask and the guy’s nose.
Screams now of surprise, the Bone Daddy going for the Mace, no… wait.
He’s already got it. Okay, spin and hurl the rifle at his face.
Hands… that’s right, hands go up to catch it, position your weight, that’s right…
…snap kick, over the rifle, over… over… boot colliding with the side of the guy’s face, he’s moving to the right with the force of the blow, dropping his new rifle…
… the heat shields clatter on the alley floor, the bolt slamming forward, the impact jarring the bolt release…
…reposition your feet, spinning heel kick slamming him back against the brick.
A futile click behind me. No juice in the flechette, pal, I fricking knew it, dropping it, going for the back-up, pistol tucked in the waistband of his pants, the barrel’s probably pointing straight down his butt, clatter, clatter…
…turn.... turn around… FASTER… palm strike to the throat, do it…
….going, going, impacting against the flesh and gristle of his throat. He backpedals, clutching his neck. Stay focused, spin… spin…
….SPIN… snap kick to the Bone Daddy’s ribs, hear that wet snap of ribs breaking, the grunt of pain and move in… move, move….slamming the fist, breaking his nose, dropping him. He’s down.
Move! Turn, spinning, leg extended, a hard impact of the roundhouse kick to Mister Flechette, the Skull falling to the filthy ground.
He stood over the four fallen Skulls, panting. The fight had lasted no more than fifteen seconds. Oh God, oh my frickin God…
Exhaling. His heart was pounding in his chest. Four. I took on four of them.
He moved over to the Arachnos Mace, still panting and looked it over for a moment, then ripped away the power core housing, tossing it into the street. Inert, he hefted it and smashed the head onto the other weapons, the thick blades of the mace sparking and cutting into the metal of the weapons. Satisfied after the three Arachnos guns were destroyed, he tossed the mace into the dumpster.
More weapons off the street, he thought, his breathing just now calming down. Okay, Cross. You did good. You didn’t get hurt. You used your head. You didn’t leap in there like an idiot, you thought it through, you didn’t let them use your fear and inexperience against you.
You can do this, he thought. If Deathspider was alive to see you carrying on his work, he’d be proud of you. You did good.
Exhaling again, he leapt up to the second story of the building, and hauled himself up the sides of the building.
Miguel clung to the side of a grimy high rise, looking out over the urban wasteland of the Row, his home of sorts. In the distance, the blue-green waves of the War Walls, the big black monoliths rising from the streets, down below the lights of the tenements beginning to light up the landscape as darkness fell.
Where, oh where could my imitator be?
Leaping off into the void, the warm spring evening rushing over him as he soared through the air, the thought occurred to him – maybe, if this guy was on the level…
Maybe it would be better to hand over things to someone else for awhile…
He was just married, had a baby on the way. He lost the use of his left eye in the battle against Rakescar. Things were giving him the not-so-subtle hint to pack it in, to give it a break for at least a little while. And would that really be so bad? To finally just grow up – he was almost thirty for Christ’s sake.
But still, that part of him that resented the appropriation of his identity, using the name and persona he had been using since he became a Hero – this needed to be addressed, as well as the doubts he had about this doppelganger’s identity and intentions.
Down he plummeted into the dim gloom of the Zone, breaking his decent by catching himself on one of the power line towers, and he redirected his momentum towards a block of squat, forbidding apartment buildings. Landing on the roof of the nearest one, he looked around, still unaccustomed to his reduced vision, but his senses were thrumming, every sound amplified, he could feel the inhabitants inside closing a door, clomping up the stairs, plopping down on the couch. The pulse of the War Walls in the distance, the faint tingle of their energies. The foul scent of garbage, the despair, the smell of smoke, ozone, weed, sweat… and blood.
He turned in the direction of the scent, focusing on it, not forcing it, letting it come slowly to the forefront, letting his nose and the scent come together.
A depthless black and gunmetal gray blur, he shot off in the direction of the scent. Fresh. Mingled with alley water, perspiration, packing resin used to keep ruse off of rifles shipped from the factory. Nervous. Nervous has a smell.
He bounded onto another rooftop, the slight crunch of gravel as his boots impacted, then a rustle and crackle as he took off again, the whistle of air, roaring in his ears, the cacophony of televisions – Telemundo, BET, network game shows, a basketball game, Teen Disney.
Here. He came down, settling into a crouch. Pick it out, let it come to you.
A red and black gloved hand reached over the precipice of the building.
Nerves tightened like guitar strings, ready to be plucked to produce a reaction, a chord of vicious, brutal, blinding violence. And then, right there, it struck him why he was so bothered by someone dressing up like him, and not for any intellectual reason, but subconsciously, he felt the undercurrent of meaning like insects under a rock of excuses and reasons for this and that.
What he really felt deep down was a predatory urge to defend his territory, to find this person, this thing, who had foolishly decided to move into his web, taking it as their own. So, like a spider, he would find them, overpower him, and eat him.
…beat him. Eat, beat, they sound so similar. The realization didn’t come as much of a surprise, not anymore.
The arm, in slow motion to Miguel’s perception, raised over the edge, and the imposter’s head popped into view. A long moment of silence as the imposter saw the ebony and gunmetal costume, the gleam of moonlight off the wickedly sharp talons on his forearm guards, the thing crouched low and waiting for him.
A flash of darkness, a black blur, and Miguel had his hands around the imposter’s neck, squeezing, and holding him over the ledge. The imposter’s feet dangled over the alley. His hands scrabbled for the hands, like a vice, around his throat. He croaked out a gasp of shock and fear. “Y…yuh… you’re alive!”
Miguel had a suitably menacing monologue to threaten the guy with, and just like that, the imposter broke the mood.
“Cuh…chu… choking me…”
One hand gripped the fabric of the imposter’s costume top, still holding him as the other hand came away. “Right. Why don’t you answer some questions for me before I… uh... y’know… Kill you.” So much for a menacing monologue. “And stuff.”
The imposter gasped for air. “You’re alive… You’re alive! I thought…” he coughed once. “I thought you died in the invasion!”
“You’re… you’re my hero…”
“Well, obviously I’m not dead – what?”
He coughed again. “You’re my hero! I thought Rakescar killed you… that’s why… that’s why I… well… you know…” an Italian accent. Brooklyn?
“Dressed up like me?”
“So… I’m your hero?”
A beat. “Why?”
“Could you, like, let me down?”
“No… No, man. I like you right here.”
“So yeah. Why?”
“Y’know… you’re cool, and you beat the crap out of the scuzzballs in the Family, you’ve done all this stuff, Siren’s Call, you took on Rakescar when nobody else was… I look up to you. Jeez, I dunno, you’re my hero.” He looked down and regretted it. “Can you set me down now?”
“Nah. So what, you saw Rakescar beat me up and that inspired you to what, dress up like me and play super hero?”
“… I thought you were dead.”
“By virtue of your situation at the moment, you can see that’s clearly not the case.”
“You’re lucky you didn’t dress up like HEROID or one of the guys with lawyers. I mean, what the hell? I didn’t dress up like this to start a franchise!”
“Look, man… I saw the battle on TV back home. I saw Rakescar shove a friggin piece of metal in your head. I thought you died, man… And you’re the guy I idolized. When my family… The Family, fixed me up with black market enhancements and stuff, you’re the guy I wanted to be like. The Marcone Family, you know them, right? They wanted me to be one of their enforcers because my Uncle Vinny, he’s real big in Independence Port, those crews, right? That isn’t what I wanted to do with my life, be some skell shaking people down. I saw my hero get mauled by some big friggin demon, and I thought I’d… I dunno, carry on your name, try to stop the people in the Family from hurting anyone. I didn’t know you survived, otherwise I wouldn’t of done it, I swear…” His voice was young, a mixture of hero worship and fear and awe in equal measures.
“Ugh.” Miguel was faintly ashamed of himself, and he hated the feeling. It was like slipping into a wet suit filled with mayonnaise. He tossed the guy on the rooftop. “Alright, holmes, first off, do you even know what the hell you’re getting into?”
The guy rolled onto his back, and picked himself off the ground. “I… I know how to fight. I just took down a group of Skulls who bought Arachnos weapons the Family sold them.”
Miguel sighed. “Yeah. Okay, you can fight gangbangers. Don’t get me wrong, that needs to be done, I’m not diminishing that, but do you know what kind of heat you’re gonna bring down on yourself dressing like me? I mean… there’s people, like you say, who like to stick pieces of metal in my head. Very crazy, very psychotic, very strong people. You have any idea of what kind of enemies I’ve made?”
A beat. “Yes.”
Miguel paused. “What?”
“I said yeah. I know. Nemesis, the Council, the Lost, every frigging group of baddies in the city and in the Isles. And you took them all on. I followed your career, man.”
A pause. “Wait. Okay, first of all, when I say ‘Do you have any idea’ followed by a phrase or idea, you’re not supposed to say ‘yes’. You’re supposed to act admonished or contrite.”
“Because I’m making a point! I’m trying to convey the gravity of the situation here! Other than climbing around walls in the bad sides of town… wait, how the hell are you doing that?”
The imposter held up his gloves. “Climbing gloves and boots!”
“… Ugh. Lame. You don’t even have spider powers.”
“Like I was saying, other than risking your neck trying to play Dea…. Uh… me… you’re putting a big target on your chest that says ‘Hey, villains, shoot me!”, you’re using my look and my name and my reputation. That’s all I need is for you, Mister I’m-Connected-To-The-Family, to have a change of heart, and you suddenly decided to become a super villain, and hey, let me tell you something, being a super villain ain’t all tying bimbos to railroad tracks and…” he paused. “Wait. Where was I?”
“Uh… you, like, don’t want me dragging your name through the mud.”
“I haven’t been, I swear to frigging God. I’ve been trying to fight crime and live up to your legacy!”
“…guy, I don’t have a legacy. Seriously.” Miguel sighed, shaking his head. “Trust me, dude, there’s a lot better people to take after than me.”
The imposter shook his head emphatically. “No way! For real, you’re like, the fricking coolest Hero I know. You got a badass looking costume, you scare the crap out of the scumbags in the Family, and you just don’t, you know, forget about people like the ones I just took down. You don’t turn up your nose at it, y’know?” He sighed. “Look, I’m sorry I took your costume and name. If you want me to stop, I will…”
“That’d be great.”
The imposter cleared his throat, looking hurt. “Oh.”
A beat. “You were expecting me to say something like ‘Naw, it’s cool, man, you go ahead and keep dressing up like me and endangering yourself.’, huh?”
“…well, not in those exact words…”
“Look, kid. It’s… flattering, I guess, but if you wanna do the Hero thing, go do it, but get registered, get some legitimacy, get your own identity. Life’s too short to try and be someone else. It’s not like I’m saying ‘No, it’s mine’… wait. No, I am saying that. But that’s not the point. The point is, I don’t want some psycho like Rakescar or whoever coming and killing you because they got beef with me. Point blank, I don’t want to have to be responsible for you and what you do. I got a wife, I got a kid on the way, and hell, I screw things up enough on my own without someone looking like me running around and getting in over his head, or getting killed by one of the many people I piss off on a regular basis, all right?”
The imposter hung his head for a moment. “Yeah… uh… okay…”
“And I’m not gonna take you on as an ‘apprentice’ or some goofy crap like that. I ain’t gonna do ‘Deathspider and…’… uh… Fly Boy, or something. You wanna be a Hero, be my guest, I’d be happy if you did, just be your own man, don’t be wearing my mask. I mean, Christ, people still call me ‘Spider-man’. They don’t do that crap to Lord Recluse!” he grumbled. “I’m fricking sorry I got spider powers. Sooooooorry!” he paused. “Okay. So yeah, you have to be your own person. I’m not a guy you want to emulate. You want a good role model, pick like Paladin, he’s a great role model. Or if you like fish, Killer Whale. Hell, even Encharger will do.”
Miguel sighed and looked down at his ‘groupie’. “Kid, seriously. You… you should go home. Take off that costume. You go to school?”
The guy nodded.
“Do that instead. Make something out of yourself. This isn’t a real life, or a good one. Do something you won’t regret later. I… didn’t have much of a choice about getting my powers. It was either be a Hero or get captured and go to the Zig. You have a better chance that I did.”
He walked to the edge of the building, giving the guy one last look. He hoped the guy wouldn’t cry.
“Go home, man.”
He launched himself off the roof, leaping away into the night. Leaving the 19 year old Croccifixio Ingrassia on the roof. He peeled off his mask and looked after his hero, blinking away what he thought was some sweat, perhaps, getting in his eyes.
Cross Ingrassia was surprised to see Uncle Vincenzo.
“Croccifixo, may I… come in?” he asked in that Christopher Walken voice. The man was tall, slim in the dark suit, his black hair slicked back, the widow’s peak and glossy pelt-like sheen reflecting the harsh light from the hallway.
“Yeah, sure Uncle Vinnie…” Cross rubbed his eyes and stepped away from the door. Cross himself was rather tall and muscular under the gray athletic t-shirt and baggy sweatpants, his hair deep black like his uncle’s.
Don Vincenzo of the Marcone Family, a caporegime of the Boss’ activities in Paragon City, stepped into the small effiency apartment in Galaxy City, his nostrils flaring at the smell of sweat, body odor, sneakers, boiling water and ramen. “Cross… I gotta tell you… This place, it’s a dump.”
Cross chuckled, embarrassed. “Sorry, I’ve been up to my friggin neck with school.”
“School…” he mused, beginning that odd cadence. “It’s nice… Go to school, do some homework, sharpen a pencil, bang some… co-eds. It’s good. I remember, as a boy, going to school, but…” he made a bit of a cough. “Dropped out, didn’t go back.” He put his hand on Cross’ shoulder. “Proud of you.”
Cross smiled, looking a bit embarrassed and pleased with the approval. “Thanks, Uncle Vinnie.”
“Don’t thank me, thank yourself. With that big… brain of yours, sky’s the limit. So, where, in this mess, can I sit down?”
Cross sheepishly cleared off the washed but unfolded clothes off the couch and threw them on the twin bed in the corner of the one room apartment. He heard the metallic click of a Zippo.
“No, no, go ahead, go ahead…”
Don Vincenzo blew out a lungful of blue smoke in the confines of the apartment. “So, Cross, you know you can live better than this. Want me to get you a place uptown?” he looked around at the squalid apartment, those dark eyes taking in every detail.
Cross scratched the back of his head uneasily. “Aw, you know, Uncle Vinnie, I came up from Brooklyn to go to school, do my thing. I don’t wanna be a mooch.”
“Cross, don’t be so… contrary, you know you don’t have to live in this hovel, I could have you in a nice condominium with a phone call, you know that.”
“Uncle Vinnie, I know, and I appreciate the offer, but I came here to make it on my own, I gotta… y’know, like Pop said, learn to take care of myself.”
“Your father, my brother, is in a New York State prison, Cross. Your father, my brother, he’s got a point, and it’s nice that you wanna make it on your own, make him proud, but the Family takes care of each other, Cross. We don’t let one of our own out there to hang. Your father, my brother, is doing ten to fifteen out there, and what if something should happen to him on the inside? What I’m telling you, Croccifixo, is that I want you not to want, you know what I’m saying? You’re not all alone out here.”
Cross stood there, idly folding the wrinkled t-shirts, nodding. “Yeah, I understand, and really, I appreciate it. I just need to know that if worse comes to worse, I can hang on my own, I don’t wanna be like some of these rich kids in school who got everything handed to em, ya know?”
The Don’s cigarette was nearly spent. “You, ah, got a place for this, no… wait, I found something, this soda can.” He dropped it in and shook the bottom until he heard a hiss. “Croccifixo, you’re my nephew and I want you to be happy. Your father wants you to be happy, I can… respect your decision to be your own man, trust me, I do. I want you to know that if you need help, your family… the Family… you can count on your family, eh?”
“Thanks, Uncle Vinnie. That means a lot to me.”
“I’m glad. So, Cross, what do you say while the maids I ordered come and clean up this dive, and the guys I got bringing your new bedroom set get things together, we go out and get some food, eh?”
Don Vincenzo grinned, that shark-like grin that he was known and feared for, but those eyes, the dark gleaming pools, seemed kind. “Get dressed, I’ll be down in the car, and, I didn’t want to say anything, but you need deodorant… Reservation is for two p.m. Shall we?”
“You said what to him?” Belle, a.k.a. Ellie Sanchez, asked as she was putting away the gallon of milk.
Miguel shrugged. “I told him to go home, don’t use my name, or wear that costume again. I mean, I’m just looking out for the guy. If something happened to him while he’s dressed up like me, then I’d feel responsible for it, and I don’t want that. Like, what if Rake comes back?”
“He’s locked up, honey.”
“For a little while until he’s busted out again.”
“Well…” she began, closing the refrigerator door. “Honey, he was just trying to be like you.”
“Honey, okay, I can appreciate that, but it’s dangerous. He would get hurt by someone thinking he was me.”
“You didn’t have to be harsh.”
“Well, what was I supposed to say? He’s unregistered, he’s got no real super powers, why would anyone in their right mind let him run around doing that? And what if he went bad?”
“Well, your charming talk with him sure erased that possibility by blasting him and hurting his feelings.”
Miguel put his face in his hands. “Ellie… okay, yeah, I was a little hard on him. But he needed to get the message.”
“Yeah, but you don’t have to be mean about it. That probably really hurt his feelings, getting told basically ‘Hey, you’re not good enough to be like me’. From what you’ve told me, he idolizes you.”
Miguel opened up the cabinet and put in cans of beans and pie filling. “I know but…okay, let’s say he dressed up like that hack, Manticore. That jerk would sue the hell out of the guy for, I dunno, moron infringement, impersonating a Hero or whatever. And let’s say, for the sake of the argument, someone came and beat the crap out of the guy, put him in intensive care because nobody came to him and said ‘Kid, you’re over your head, cut it out’. It would be better to hurt his feelings now before he got hurt for real.”
“Baby, I see where you’re coming from, but like, okay, let’s say you meet one of your favorite flamenco guitarists, one you idolize, you wanna be just like him, and he hears you play, and he says something mean like, ‘You’re no good, you might as well quit before you embarrass yourself’. How would you feel?”
“Ok, but there isn’t any super villain flamenco players that would try and hurt me.”
“Okay, that’s so not my point. My point is, he was trying to be like you and you hurt his feelings. Would it kill you to go apologize to him?”
“Baby, I want you to apologize to him.”
“But…I… what… Why should I have to apologize?”
“Because you were mean.”
“Baby, you can’t be serious.”
“Oh, but I am.”
“Honey… I… I wouldn’t even know where to look.”
“You found him just last night, from what you yourself told me.”
It’s like this. Find this kid and apologize, or no Naughty Nurse Night. Which means more to you?”
Fifteen minutes later, Miguel grumbled as he leapt from rooftop to rooftop in King’s Row.
This is so unfair, he thought as he made his way back to where he encountered the kid last night. Why should I have to apologize when he took my schtick? And it’s not like he has super sexy spider powers.
But Naughty Nurse Night hung in the balance. And who knew what other priveleges could be in jeopardy – Naked Movie Night, Bubble Bath Night, Baby Oil Extravaganza Night… he dared not defy her.
You gotta have priorities, he always thought.
Finally, he reached his destination, landing on the rooftop where he first met his groupie. He paused and began to concentrate, drawing into himself, sifting through the various scents until he got the residual trail of the guy again.
Ok, fresh. Now to go a’hunting.
Yeah, right. A little diversion.
Cross looked around in the violet haze of the strip club, the Velvet Edge, a luxurious establishment in the noisy and rough Independence Port. Here, voluptuous ex-heroines and ‘models’ dance and tittilate Family high-ups, senators, congressmen, high ranking city and Longbow officals. In Paragon City, corruption was never vanquished, it just became more subtle. More insidious.
The sinuous dance of the blue haired stripper on stage was hypnotic to the men around the stage, dollar bills thrust out at the merest suggestion of a wink or a smile from her, a Pavlovian response to such exotic attention. Cross could see the soulless eyes of the dancer, feigning interest, going through the motions… she was in his Monday, Wednesday, and Friday English 101 class. That killed most of the appeal.
Not that she would remember him, she looked like the owner of the Edge had generously chopped her a couple lines before she got on stage. Which wasn’t too surprising, since coke was one of the many contributions the Family made to the plethora of illegal pharmaceuticals in Paragon.
Uncle Vinnie had told his driver to stop in here after the lavish dinner, because much to the Don’s regret, some business had to be tended to. The kind of business that could only be conducted in the secure back room of the club.
This meant young Cross had the pleasure of spending time basking in the hospitality of the waitresses, all appropriately attired in revealing outfits, complaining about their feet hurting, or some amorous client wanting to give more than a tip.
“You want a drink, honey?” a buxom brunette asked him, wiping down the counter.
Cross shook his head. “Nah, just waiting for my uncle Vinnie.”
The woman nodded and moved on, strangely halting the conversation. Guess she knew more than she wanted to know about Uncle Vincenzo. This was not uncommon. Ever since he had come to Paragon, his uncle cast a long shadow that most people preferred not to be under long.
The stripper onstage concluded her performance, picking up dollar bills and her discarded clothing.
“Alright folks, give it up to Destinee! Coming up next, we have a stunning girl for you gentlemen… CANDI!” the DJ said in that annoying trademark strip club DJ voice found all over the country, the same accent-less voice of sleaze.
Cross leaned back, sighing. He knew that Don Vincenzo was up to no good back there, but there was nothing he could do about it.
His Deathspider costume was back, hidden in his apartment, where not even the cleaning ladies would find it, underneath loose hardwood floor planks under his bed. The real Deathspider, his idol, had made it abundantly clear that he didn’t appreciate the gesture of Cross wearing the suit, and that had stung badly. He had no idea that DS survived the confrontation in Steel Canyon, and after that fight with Rakescar, could he really be blamed? Rakescar drove a shard of metal in DS’ eye, a gruesome sight cheerfully broadcast on many news networks, amidst the other scenes of shocking and ultimately profitable violence.
Still.. well… damnit, what about situations like this, where there’s some illegal thing going down and the real DS is nowhere in sight? Right now, Cross could slip out and change into ‘Deathspider’, and bust up, or at least disrupt, whatever his Uncle was doing.
Well, genius, you could register… a voice in his head spoke up. He didn’t like that voice. You could, y’know, actually do what your Hero told you to do…
I can’t do that, he thought bitterly. The Family had moles planted deep in the bureaucracy of the city, and if he registered as a Hero, he would be a dead man. Not ‘Oh, my Uncle is gonna kill me’, not that superficial way. No, Uncle Vinnie would KILL him, his own nephew becoming one of the hated Capes. No, registering was not an option.
Plus, you had to consider, Cross got his information about the Family straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. In the event he wasn’t whacked by his Uncle or one of the many hungry guys under Vincenzo, he would lose all that information. Information that could save lives. He would have to be an idiot to give that up.
And even though Uncle Vinnie was, for lack of a better term, evil, he was still his Uncle. If it got out that Vincenzo’s nephew was a Cape, Uncle Vinnie’s life would be forfeit because there were dozens of guys under him that were just as ruthless as Vincenzo was, and that hunger for power just made them more so. The quaint ‘honor’ and ‘respect’ that pop culture erroneously bestows on the Mob was nothing more than romanticized fiction. They’d brutally murder him, Uncle Vinnie, Aunt Nadia, whack his dad in prison, everyone related to him. And no amount of Hero intervention could save them.
All because little Cruccifixo wanted to be a Hero.
He couldn’t live with that.
So what does one do? Cross sighed miserably. There was no easy answer.
“The answer, my friend, is ‘Yes, Mister Ingrassia, I know where the narcotics are. Yes, Mister Ingrassia, I can take you to them’”
Tony DeMarco sat, quite against his will, on the hard wooden chair, hands cuffed behind his back. The dark, tall, and menacing figure of Don Vincenzo Ingrassia stood in front of him, smoking a cigarette, every gesture and not in his voice a threat. Surrounding them both, twelve of Mr. Ingrassia’s men, all Sicilian, all of them superhuman, enhanced strength, speed, and endurance, a product of the Family’s desire to compete in Paragon City. The backroom stank of fear, sweat, and smoke.
“I swear ta God, Don Vincenzo, I swear, the Capes busted into the warehouse, they took out everybody, cops came in, took all the junk. I got out the back, took off running. I swear on my mother’s grave, I didn’t cheat you…”
“Mister DeMarco, I find it fascinating, really, that you expect me to believe you, in light of the fact that you, out of the… Danny?”
One of the thugs spoke. “Yes, sir?”
“Danny, refresh my memory. How many guys did we have at the warehouse?”
“Sir, we had thirty eight.”
“Thirty eight!” Don Vincenzo spoke, savoring the number. “Thirty eight…”
“Is that including Mister DeMarco here?”
“How intriguing! So, while thirty seven other guys, they went, fought the Capes, doing what good men do, get inna lil scuffle, Mister DeMarco managed to elude them. That’s… some trick, Mister DeMarco. Tell me, Mister DeMarco, as a very lucky man, could you tell me if thirty seven is a lucky number? Should I play a 3 and a 7 on the Cash 3 for the Lotto? Because it seems to be working for you…”
DeMarco gulped and looked up at the face of the caporegime, shivering with fear despite himself. “Sir, Mister Ingrassia, I swear… I swear to God, I got out by the skin of my teeth…”
“Congratulations, Mister DeMarco, I’m glad. And because… I’m so happy, I want to show my mirth by giving you one, single, solitary chance to tell me, in no uncertain terms, who tipped the Capes off.”
“Tipped off…” Tony’s blood went cold.
“Oh yeah, Mister DeMarco. Because the police who came to confiscate my narcotics, several, you’ll never believe it, have been on my payroll for quite some time, you know, ten years of doing little things for me on the side, lil dirty work, what have you. So, I’m curious, inquisitive, that’s my… nature.” He said, pronouncing it ‘na-chaa’. “And, being as they’re on my payroll, from time to time, I get little tidbits of interesting information, like, say, who’s working undercover for the narc squad. Now I’m not accusing you of being a narc, because accusations are so ugly. So rude. So, being the nice type of guy I am, I’m gonna give you the chance to tell me, Mister DeMarco, if you are, in fact, an undercover cop. To come clean, as it were. To divest yourself of the burden of your secret. I… have a lot of experience with secrets, Mister DeMarco. I know the damage that can result from keeping secrets, how heavy the weight of dishonesty can wear a man down, how… dangerous it can be…”
Don Vincenzo pulled a Colt M1911 .45 caliber pistol from his coat, clicking back the hammer with his thumb, and pressed the muzzle to Tony’s forehead, pressing against the slick, cool, rubbery flesh. “And as painful as it would be to hear that you, a man I trusted, would be a dirty stinking rat… I think it would be more painful, more of a grievous affront to me, and by extension, the Family, if you, Anthony Michael DeMarco, were to be less than truthful in the next few moments. Now I’m gonna ask you a question, right to your face, like a man! Are you following me, Tony? Do you understand the pain I’m in?”
“Oh God… Don Vincenzo, please, you gotta believe me, oh God, please…” DeMarco began to cry.
“Anthony! Please! I’m in pain!” he pushed the barrel, making Tony’s head tilt back. “It’s so cruel of you not to ease my suffering! The pain of this, it stings! Won’t you tell me, Mister DeMarco? Are you, or are you not an undercover piece of worm ridden filth in my organization?”
Don Vincenzo’s face darkened. “Last chance, Mister DeMarco.”
“Don, oh god, please, I got kids…”
“Then it pleases me to know they weren’t gonna be raised by no stinking, lying rat.”
Don Vincenzo pulled the trigger. The top of DeMarco’s head disintegrated in a spray of meat and blood, the top of his scalp, burning, flapping and laying over his ear. The corpse slumped in the seat, and a stream of blood and brains began to gush down onto the concrete floor, with a wet, splattering sound like a wet rag being wrung out.
Don Vincenzo spat on the corpse contemptuously. “Clean this mess up. Get Carlo on the phone. I want some freelancers in town by tomorrow night. I want my narcotics back.”
"Cross? Enjoying yourself?"
Uncle Vinnie looked jovial enough. "Hey, I'm all right. Just waiting for you."
"I had some business to take care of, it's all done." Business had become bid-ness. "You hungry?"
Cross patted his stomach. "Nah, still full from dinner."
"That's good. Good.. So why don't we drop you off at home, so you can see your new bedroom set?"
Later, Uncle Vinnie dropped Cross in front of his building, just as the chime on his watch went off signifying eleven in the P.M.
"I had a good time, Uncle Vinnie. I appreciate it."
Don Vincenzo waved it away. "Fuggedaboutit. It was my pleasure to spend time with my favorite nephew."
Cross grinned in spite of himself. "Y'know, you don't have to do stuff like this for me."
That made Don Vincenzo laugh. "Of course I have to, I gotta be nice to you because I'm so cruel to everyone else. You have a nice night, kiddo."
The silver limo pulled away from the curb and glided down the street. Cross sighed, shaking his head. He knew his Uncle had done something in there at the Velvet Edge - he was way too cheerful. He turned and stopped suddenly.
Deathspider clung to the side of the building, nearly invisible in the darkness, looking down at him. "That's some uncle you got there, amigo."
Cross swallowed and looked up. "Hey there. Yeah, that's Uncle Vinnie."
The shadowy figure slipped down and landed nearby. "Why am I not suprised his name is 'Vinny'?"
"It's short for Vincenzo Ingrassia."
"Would that be Don Vincenzo Ingrassia? Big time Marcone boss? Port Oakes, that kinda stuff?"
"Huh. You wern't kidding about being connected, kid."
"Why do you think I won't register?"
Cross grumbled. "Alright, if I register, someone can find out about it, find out who I am. If that happens, Uncle Vinnie will probably kill me. Plus, his life, and the lives of everyone related to me will be in danger if it comes out that I'm a Cape. If he finds out, there's a damn good chance his rivals could find out too. And despite everything, he is my Uncle. Besides, I'd lose all my juicy inside information I get on drug shipments, weapons, anything. That's why I can't register."
"Oh. Well. Huh. And you dressed up like me because you thought I was dead, right?"
DS sighed and scratched the back of his head. "Um. Alright. Uh. I'm sorry, if I... uh... was being a jerk to you last night. I... uh... got a little weirded out by someone pretending to me me."
Cross looked down. This was Having A Moment. "Yeah... uh... it's cool. Sorry about playing super hero, trying to be you."
DS coughed a little.
"So... uh... yeah. I gotta get going. You... uh... you wanna..."
Cross brightened. "Be your partner?"
"Like, I dunno, um, I know where you live and stuff, so uh... you gonna be here tomorrow night? I wanna sit down with you and talk to you about this stuff but I'm on a tight schedule. It's Naughty Nurse Night."
DS sighed in relief. "Great! Ok, cool. Got the apology out of the way. I gotta go!" he leapt back up onto the building. "Nice to see you again, bye!"
Cross watched, a little dumbfounded, as his Hero darted off into the night.
"Right. I got ditched for 'Naughty Nurse Night'. Whatever that is..."
He walked up the five flights of stairs and unlocked his door. When the door opened, into the darkness of his apartment, a hint of perfume and a cold glint of steel greeted him.
A sing-song female voice called out. "Cross has a secret, secret secret seeeeecret..."
A second voice. "Secret secret seeeeeecret.. what is he keeping seeeecret?"
A pale skinned beauty emerged through the darkness, a chrome harlequin mask concealing her features, a Carnie in black, a long katana blade at her side. Hers was the first voice he heard. "Cross has a secret, what's your secret secret?"
The second voice chimed in. Two glittering sai in her hands, the same chrome mask. "Only naughty boys keep secrets, Cross..."
Cross stood there in the doorway, transfixed by the sight of the Carnies with thier reflecting masks and pale skin. "Who are you?"
A giggle, a touch of madness under the girlishness.
"Who are you?"
The first woman purred. "We're the cleaning girls, Cross. And we're here to clean... we have such a dirty, dirty little boy here, don't we, sister?"
A throaty growl, mingling sensuality with homicide. "Oh yesssss.... very dirty."
The first woman raised her katana, the metal gleaming in the light of the hallway. The girl with the sai crouched low, ready to spring. Expressionless behind the chrome masks.
"Dirty, dirty boy... Come let Mommy clean you up..."
They moved for the kill.
Living Dead Girls
Deathspider noticed something was wrong when he leapt away from Cross Ingrassia’s apartment building. The scent of perfume and cloves. The same fragrance that back in December, when he was back in Pittsburgh, seeing his therapist…
He landed on a small three story building, turning back in the direction of Cross’ apartment. The one thing worst than Carnies – Goth Carnies. Oh, and the great shadowy mixtures of panther and demon, spreading their wings as they descended, those would be great too, as the Goth Carnies leapt nimbly around them, the pale women in great Victorian era dresses, the Beast Mistresses.
DS exhaled, clenching his fists. Ellie was probably not going to be happy about this. He leapt towards the gathering of Carnies, cursing under his breath.
This was supposed to be Naughty Nurse Night.
Cross evaded the katana as it whistled through the air, backpedaling out into the hall. “What the hell?”
“Secret secret seeeeeeeeeecret! ”
Cross instinctively ducked, a sai plunging into the wall in the hallway, burying itself into the drywall, vibrating with the impact as it stuck.
He dashed down the hallway, his nice Italian shoes pounding on the floor, clomp clomp clomp.
The two women slipped silently into the hallway. The woman with the katana pointed at the sai sticking out of the wall.
“Sister, your toy.”
The second woman roughly yanked it from the drywall, snarling a bit. “Thank you, sister.”
“Now. Let’s go play with our little boy…”
They darted down the hallway, silent and quick on their feet, bouncing down the stairwell after their prey.
Clinging at the top of the stairwell, holding himself up with his hands and feet pressed against the upper corners, Cross watched the scantily clad women move with liquid grace down the stairs. Exhaling, he dropped down and ran back to his apartment, his heart racing. Inside, he flung his bed over, and pulled away the loose hardwood planks, pulling the costume he wasn’t supposed to wear from its hiding place. He wrenched off his dress shirt, peeling out of his clothes, and hurriedly slipped into the Deathspider costume. As he finished strapping on the forearm guards, he heard the lightest of footsteps near the door.
“Naughty boy!” the katana girl purred.
He pulled on the mask and leapt over the women, bouncing off the hallway wall, and darted into the stairwell again. The chase beginning anew.
Wonderful, he thought.
Down the stairwell they went, Cross moving in a crimson and black blur, down to the foyer where he… stopped abruptly.
The entire foyer was filled with chrome masked women, all slender and deathly pale, wielding all manners of melee weapons, cruel looking daggers, swords, nunchaku, broadswords, sickles, weighted chains, axes, batons…
A murmur ran through the crowd of women, soft and breathy, the same mixture of lust and murder.
Behind him, the two women giggled and stood on the landing above him. The girl with the katana wagged her finger at him, while the other shivered with delight. “Naughty, naughty boy!”
Then the front door exploded inwards, wood and glass fragments showering the Carnies. A cry of dismay rose from the throng of women. In the ruined doorway stood Deathspider, the original Deathspider, black and gunmetal gray, tensing for a fight.
“Oh, good! I wasn’t late for the anorexic goth girl convention! Has the ‘I Cut Myself’ contest started yet?”
The woman behind Cross let out a squeal of delight. “Oooo! Two naughty boys!”
DS paused. “Do I get a spanking?”
The crowd of women surged forth.
DS leapt back, out onto the street, flipping backwards, and landing with a handstand, pushing himself up as a Carnie lunged at him with an ornate broadsword. As the blade sparked off the street, DS was in the air bringing his feet down on her head, driving her face-first into the ground. The chrome mask clanged as it struck asphalt.
“I feel so bad about that, kicking a girl in the face.” DS quipped, ducking under a flashing blade and punching another Carnie in her stomach, knocking the wind out of her. “And that, too. So barbaric of me. I suppose Nickelback will have to write a song about it.”
Cross slipped out of the ruined doorway with a dozen Carnies on his heels. “Or… huff… Red Jumpsuit… huff... Apparatus… They’re pretty…huff… good…”
DS scoffed, grabbing the spinning chain of a pair of nunchaku, wrenching the weapon from a Carnie’s hand and slamming an elbow into her unprotected throat, crushing cartilage. “Don’t say things like that. If you say the band’s name, a moron nearby might be enticed to pick up their album. You’d be, like, an accessory to bad taste.”
Cross leapt up over the women chasing him and executed a flying kick that crumpled the chrome mask of a Carnie and shattered her front teeth and her nose behind it. Blood gushed from underneath the chrome. “Hey! Seriously, they’re a cool band!”
DS sighed, swinging the nunchaku at a sword flashing out, catching the blade with the steel chain, pulling the blade down as he slammed his fist into another goth Carnie, popping her mask off and sending a spray of blood and saliva across the mask of another. “Oh, you’re just saying that because you don’t really have a coherent sense of what good music is. Any moron can write an angsty song about beating up women, it doesn’t mean it has any artistic merit. That’s like writing a song about how drugs are bad for you. It’s lame… hold on…” DS paused to give a round house kick to the Carnie blinded by her sister’s blood. “Ok, it’s a pointless gesture since, ok, yes, we know wife beating is bad, you’re not really wowing us with that revelation. It’s not even safe, packaged rebellion. It’s just lame and a waste and I am so ashamed such tripe gets played on the radio.”
Cross caught a sai in his gauntlet, wedged under the forearm guard, twisting his arm, he yanked the Carnie off balance and drove his knee into the woman’s abdomen. “Jeez, sorry I have mainstream musical tastes!”
“Yet another reason why you should not be wearing my costume, kid.” DS sighed, leaping into a group of oncoming Carnies. “We Deathspiders have a proud tradition of not listening to, shall we say, crap.”
“Ok, fine, what do you define as ‘crap’?” Cross countered an axe kick aimed at his head by crossing his forearms together, the leg impacting against them. He responded with a brutal kick between the Carnie’s thighs. She choked and fell over, clutching herself.
“Well, odds are if you heard it on the radio, it really can’t be all that good. Sanitized, soul-less, ball-less corporate pap. Like people who think Breaking Benjamin and Disturbed are ‘edgy’. Spare me.” DS slammed another Carnie to the ground with a flurry of punches, then spun around to savagely uppercut a Carnie leaping through the air wielding a pair of kukri knives.
“You’re a music snob!” Cross shook his head and backed himself off to where DS stood, a ring of writhing and broken goth Carnies around them. And an array of many, many more, at least twenty, surrounding them. Chrome Carnie masks and steel blades glinted menacingly in the street light.
“I am not! I just despise what passes for rock radio these days…” DS grumbled, and it struck Cross as both inappropriate and unbearably cool that his Hero could complain about rock music while fighting these creepy Carnie women. At the very least… it kept him from popping a stiffy from all these scantily clad chicks who seemed unsettlingly sexy, moaning ‘naughty boy’ as they surrounded the two men in Deathspider costumes. It was like a men’s body wash commercial produced by Hot Topic.
DS cleared his throat. “So… ladies… did you girls get lost on the way to a Lacuna Coil show? No, wait… you’re not fat enough for that. Like doughy beachballs in black lace doilies… Maybe Evanscence… no, wait… you’d be even fatter than that.”
A grumbling voice form the wounded women at their feet. “That’s my favorite band, you jerk…”
DS chuckled. “Then you have all the taste of a Wendy’s cup full of luke-warm urine. I feel so sorry for you.”
DS looked at Cross. “Don’t tell me you like them, too…”
Cross shook his head, grinning under his mask. “Nah, they suck. Chick rock. Whiney.”
DS nodded his approval. “Agreed!”
A soft voice coughed politely. “Well, Deathspider… [i]Deathspiders[i]…” she emphasized the plural. “If you’re quite done with your criticism of popular music, which, don’t get me wrong, is very enlightening about what a pair of swine you are, I thought we could get on with the ‘murdering you both’ thing, perhaps.”
The Carnies parted and a slender, stunning woman in a flowing black gown and a shining chrome mask emerged, with several men trailing her, collared and led by silvery lengths of thin, delicate chain. They looked less than pleased to be there.
“Alright, listen up, kid. This is why you should never beat up women. They just keep coming back for more. You can’t get rid of them.” He chuckled. “Uh, miss? Is this whole thing about what happened in Pittsburgh, when you like, uh, ambushed me at my therapist’s office?”
“In a word, yes. I believe you’re familiar with my pets?” she gestured to the enslaved men.
“Ah, the Cuckold Commandos. How can I forget?”
The Carnie Beast Mistress laughed thinly. “True as that may be… despite your glib tongue, you just made our plans easier. We had anticipated drawing you out to save the boy, just not so soon. Nevertheless, never look a gift slave in the mouth, I always say.”
“Yeah. Who knows who’s used it as a toilet. Now that you’ve explained your master plan, nice work by the way, totally by the Villain Union rules, kudos… I suppose we’d better get on with the fighting, huh?”
The Beast Mistress laughed again, softly.
The Beast Mistress uttered a word in an arcane tongue, and the slaves rushed forward, their features contorting and twisting as they grew and mutated, huge black bat wings sprouting from their masks, bodies changing into ebony skinned hulks, a cross between a demon and a humanoid panther. Six huge behemoths leapt at the two men dressed as Deathspider.
“…great.” DS muttered, and grabbed Cross. “This is where we run.”
Cross gasped as the six huge demons crashed down where he and DS once stood, roaring in a deep, gurgling voice. “JESUS!”
DS leapt away, carrying Cross with him, hurtling hundreds of yards away to the pale, green dome of the Galaxy City Arena. He touched down lightly, setting Cross to his side. “Okay, kiddo. Wrestling with the White Girls time is over. Let me take care of this.”
Cross looked back in the direction of his apartment. “No way! We were doing great back there!”
DS shook his head. “Guy, you don’t have a teleporter. You’re not registered, and you sure as hell aren’t ready to deal with their shadow beasts. STAY HERE.”
“Ah, come on! I can watch your back!”
“I said no! You wanna help, here’s my communicator. Call the Guardian Angels. Get me some high powered back up. But I sure as hell ain’t letting you get in harm’s way. They want me. Let me go give them more of me than they can handle.”
He crouched low and sprang back at the battle site, leaving Cross to look down at the modified cellphone that DS shoved in his hands.
Don Vincenzo left the sleeping pair of blondes lie as he slipped on his silk robe and strode out into the living room of the lavish Founder’s Falls condo. He picked up his cigarette case and a lighter from the coffee table and lit one up, drawing in a lungful. Exhaling, he sat back on the couch, looking out through the penthouse’s patio doors at the night sky.
The penthouse was useful for many things, chiefly a pleasant respite from the grim and grit of the Rogue Isles. And after all, he had a full day of killing an undercover cop, getting two models in the sack, and a rather extravagant dinner. You had to stop and reflect sometimes, take a break from the hustle and bustle of life.
Don Vincenzo, like most Family high-ups, was super powered. This meant, in addition to his ruthless personality and diabolically clever mind, he was augmented by black market enhancements to give him super human strength, speed, and endurance, and the ability to form powerful energy fields around his hands, capable of inflicting massive damage to anything it touched. But such tricks were only for when personal combat was unavoidable. Power, true power, was the ability to force your will upon others, get them to do exactly what you want without you having to lift a finger.
Right now, Don Vincenzo was troubled.
The events that occurred in March, the invasion of Paragon City, that was an interesting gesture from Lord Recluse, to be sure, but what many Paragonians didn’t realize is that the morning of the invasion, back in Port Oakes, a significant amount of property damage was inflicted in Marcone territory. Two powerful villains, Rakescar and an unknown thug proceeded to beat each other bloody, trashing a good bit of shorefront property from the Arena District to the southeastern end of town. While, yes, a great many tenements and poor people were destroyed, they were Marcone property. Several safehouses and weapons caches were destroyed. Revenue lost. Prestige and standing. Lord Recluse coming in to stop the carnage. With that kind of attention, the Marcone had, despite their best intentions, shown weakness.
Weakness in the Rogue Isles was a fatal condition.
So now, Arachnos garrison troops from the perpetually beleaguered Fort Hades have been complimented by reinforcements from St. Martial. Marching and meandering through the streets of Port Oakes and Marconeville. The Mooks, smelling blood, trying to usurp the Marcone’s position, becoming bolder, more unruly. Hellions daring to attack Family brethren, mothers, sisters, daughters. The Snake vermin slithering through the rubble, attacking the clean up crews.
It was unacceptable.
But for the time being, the Marcone would have to hold their own, to persevere through this unfortunate time. Repel from the barbarians at the gates, show the scum exactly who was in charge. Arachnos needed the Marcone, they needed their expertise and business acumen. Arachnos was great at esoteric super villainy, not money management, not all that proficient in people skills, organized crime had the edge there.
Laser cannons and weather machines, that’s what super villains and henchmen do, but it doesn’t run an economy, it doesn’t get the vital imports and exports through the docks, and it doesn’t get people into the great casinos in St. Martial. The Marcone made Arachnos into a coherent confederation of islands, a nation-state, with an economy – no super villain can do that.
Sure, they can concoct crazy schemes, threaten and intimidate, rob some banks – organized crime had been doing that for generations, and the mod had a lot more finesse on what to do afterwards. Arachnos would have imploded a long time ago if not for two things – Recluse’s force of will and the Marcone Family, with their brains, money, and experience.
Arachnos, however, would like to see that dependency lessened considerably. Hence, the increased troop presence in the name of safety and security. A power play, opportunistic saber rattling. Arresting Family soldiers on the streets for ‘disturbing the peace’ or defending themselves against reprisals from the many factions who would like nothing more than to see the Marcone fall down and insert themselves into the vacuum.
Don Vincenzo vowed that this insult, this indignity would be avenged.
But for now, he put his feet up on the couch, smoking his cigarette peacefully, watching the blue smoke curl and ruse from the tip, ascending to the ceiling.
The gargantuan shadow beasts, depthless black and purple winged demons, roared their displeasure at many things – their Carnival of Oblivion mistresses, their continued existence, the sanity-smashing transformation from human to a gigantic shadow demon; but now they were focusing their rage on the black and gray form of Deathspider.
The Hero dove and lithely danced around the six beasts, being careful with his attacks, not letting them corner him or gang up – though they were depressingly strong and tough, their insanity prevented them from a surplus of independent thought and initiative.
“So, guys, you got a real bad gig going on here – you guys definitely need some stress relief!”
A shadow beast roared and lashed out with a massive fist, rocketing it at the Hero. DS leapt over it and raced up the thing’s arm, retailiating with a powerful blow to the thing’s face, smashing several long, wicked teeth.
“Maybe you guys should take up a bobby, or write stuff down in a journal, maybe express your feelings through interpretive dance? It’s a lot more constructive than trying to kill me!”
The shadow beast roared through a mouthful of blood and shattered fangs. “See, that’s what I’m talking about! So much hostility!”
DS followed up with a flurry of punches to the thing’s face, pulverizing the thing’s features and it rocked back on it’s heels, falling backwards like a felled tree. He flipped off as another beast tore into it’s comrade, narrowly missing the gray and black Hero that wouldn’t shut up.
“Whoops! Low bridge!” he chuckled as the fallen beast was trampled by it’s brethren in their scramble to rip him limb from limb. He landed on the side of a nearby building as the five shadow beasts turned and began to give chase.
In his head, as always during fights he waded into alone, their was a song playing, his movements almost always in tempo with the music – truly, he was a child of the MTV generation. His trash talk, his tactical thinking, they were background noise. He could trash talk while fighting, it made no difference, it was on a superficial level of thought. If the song was heavy, lots of double bass, that meant a fast, breathless fight, relentlessly pressing the attack, doing his beast to time each strike with the machinegun beats.
Likewise, if it was more bottom heavy, thick, sludgy bass, like some Alice in Chains, well, the fight would be more methodical, with an emphasis on hard hitting strikes, time on target hit to deliver maximum shock and damage, a slower and heavy pace.
Tonight, the pace and intensity was provided by Type O Negative’s ‘Kill All The White People’. TON normally wasn’t really appropriate for his fighting style, but Type O’s ode to the virtues of killing all the white people, so that they would be free, don’t you know, fit well. Then we be free. We be free.
He leapt back at the beasts, going for their heads. Body strikes were rather futile, given the layers of thick, bulging muscle under their mystically toughened hides. Better to go for the soft meat of their faces. And their eyes were comparatively larger targets. He leapt towards the nearest shadow demon, plunging his fist into the wet, melon-like eyeball of the beast, popping through it and his hand sank into the fluid and meat, deep into it’s eye socket. He grabbed something fibrous and pulled the ropy tissue away as he kicked off of the thing, pulling away a gory prize. He was half tempted to sing a snippet of GWAR’s ‘Have You Seen Me’ but felt it would be in poor taste. Besides, he thought, the song lyrics during a fight were Rakescar’s thing, and the history between them and eyes was a bit too disturbing to contemplate at the moment. He flicked the mess on his hand off.
The blinded shadow beast shrieked in agony, blood and gore streaming bright red against it’s black hide and stumbled into the street proper, falling to the asphalt and curling into a ball as it began to change back into a human.
Four to go. He never gave the blinded one a second look, in his mind it had ceased to be a factor. Up and at their faces, the beasts attempting to swat him away like a hornet, their huge hands coming at him, always a second too late. Another beast shrieked, clutching it’s ruined face as DS leapt off it – most animals, unless cornered, will break off the fight if sufficiently wounded, and these shadow beasts were not much more than that. Three now.
Flipping away from the flailing beast, sailing into the face of another with a leap kick, driving his foot above the brutish, flaring nostrils and hearing the brittle crack of bone breaking and being driven inward up and into the mess of it’s brain. Two to go.
The remaining shadow beasts backed away, snarling and baring their fangs, but seeing four of their number taken down by the spider, they had lost interest in fighting.
This gave DS time to note that the Carnies had scattered into the night, leaving the shadow beasts to cover their escape. He uttered a curse in Spanish, irritated that this sect of the Carnival of Shadows had returned. But when, wasn’t that always the way?
He snarled at the shadow beasts, and they retreated to the dim blackness of an alleyway where presumably they would revert back to human form without the presence of the Beast Mistress to control them – that was also why he fared so well against them. Without someone directing them, they were incapable of any complex maneuvers.
Now, to check on the kid, if he still was around. He gave one last look at the fallen shadow beasts, now bloody and broken in human form again, and leapt back to the Arena. As he moved through the air, his one remaining eye focused on the domed roof, and sure enough… no sight of his young doppelganger. Save for his small black communicator. He landed and rushed to the communicator.
Taped to it, a thick, folded piece of stationary paper. Picking it up and unfolding it, it scanned it over quickly, cursing himself for the obvious ploy.
We have the boy. So very young. Italian, too.
We’re aware of your misguided and hypocritical sense of morality – you unabashedly cripple and maim our sisters, but the thought of your little groupie being harmed stings, doesn’t it?
But I’m nothing if not forgiving. Surrender yourself to us tomorrow night on the bridge leading to Terra Volta, on the high support towers, the exact name of them escapes me at the moment…
But then, you won’t. We almost had you in Pittsburgh, darling. Consider the last few months of freedom my gift to you. Tomorrow night, you belong to me.
I already have the collar picked out. For you or the boy, it matters little.
Miguel shook his head, snarling. He didn’t even know who this woman was. ‘Aria’? Then again, do crazy people really need an excuse?
He activated the communicator, accessing the Guardian Angel’s frequency.
“Guys… this is Spider. Got a problem here…”
Aria looked through the diaphanous screen of flowing silk at Cross Ingrassia, securely lashed down to the divan, smiling. You can see her smile now, if you were so inclined, she has removed the silvery reflective mask, revealing classic beauty underneath – high cheekbones, full crimson lips, sparkling azure eyes and a dark mass of glossy black hair. She was clad in a gloriously sleek and silky flowing gown, sufficiently décolleté to accent her pleasingly full chest. Beauty was not uncommon amongst the Carnival, either Vanessa DeVore’s group or the several splinter sects like the one Aria belongs to.
Neither was madness.
The boy was easily captured and subdued. After all, he was just a boy. Like most men, once given the proper attention, he became docile and not at all adverse to the situation, but still, men often changed their minds afterwards, especially in the presence of danger, and Aria directed her sister to tie him down. Aria was unlike most women in her position – she neither hated, feared, or underestimated the male. It would be like hating the fact that women got pregnant or menstruated or obsessed over their appearance. Only a stupid person would hate males for their susceptibility to sexual attention, or their attitude, it was like hating the sun for rising each day. It just was what defined them.
You can either avoid it, or use it like how generations of women have to achieve their goals. Aria suspected many women with hate directed at males were still holding resentments from childhood, or were simply weak or fearful. Aria was not weak, she was not afraid, and she would rather die than let some moron from her past continue to hurt and influence her behavior in the here and now. She was her own person, not a sniveling worm subject to the capricious whims of fate, much less another person.
Men, Aria mused, were immensely useful. Not just for the same reasons many women found them useful to enslave, i.e. financial support, sex, a work horse to do their bidding. Men built the world for women, man make the soft existence women favored possible, all for some emotional satisfaction, affection, and comfort. Men were willing slaves, performing humiliating and soul-destroying tasks, controlled in ways that would given even the cruelest 19th century plantation owner pause, lest his slaves rise up and riot.
Over time, women have adapted to this phenomenon, willingly giving up their intellect, good judgment, and any shame to better appeal to the dim reptile brain of the male underneath all of his much vaunted reason, to appear weak, foolish, and dumb – just so they can better latch onto a man, like a remora, like a leech. And inevitably, the women raised under such patterns of behavior were socialized to be weak, foolish, and stupid, smothering their natural intelligence and wit with make up tips, soap operas, Cosmopolitan. Vapid, brain dead leeches, in turn raising more just like them. And men, in their ignorance, adapted these conceptions of their mates accordingly. If the woman acts stupid, then she, and by extension all women, were stupid, but loved and slaved away for them anyway.
So when a woman not satisfied with being a leech, being a caricature of a woman – no, what a person should be, defining oneself by the mercurial standards of what a man and a woman were supposed to be was folly – no one, neither a man or a woman, truly knows how to handle that. They call women like her, quite erroneously, a dominant, a dominatrix. The less forceful of personalities became submissive in her presence.
If she had heard such a term applied at her, she would scoff. Such a one dimensional label. If she was dominant, it was because she was dominant over herself, guarding her mind against the futility of fear, of conformism and it’s stunted, ridiculous antithesis, non-conformism, both equally contemptuous. She was no leather clad slut, spanking bottoms and having stupid people lick her boots, though sometimes it was advantageous for people to believe she was. It was an insult to her to be so easily categorized by an ignorant label applied by ignorant people.
She had learned not to be a puppet from her father. As a little girl, she watched him, a man hewn out stone, she imagined, carved by an angry god with a hatchet, chopping away at an obdurate mountain. His attitude was unpopular and drove away many people in his life, including her mother. He refused to bow to her petty manipulations, to be his wife’s ox in the field, to endure her mindless prattle. He never gave her constant reassurance or reinforcement – if her cooking was edible, he would eat it. If not, he wouldn’t, but he clearly did not give her what she wanted.
What did she want?
She wanted, in not so many words, something like this:
“Oh honey! It’s so tasty! Yum! I really appreciate you cooking a meal for me while I work twelve hours a day supporting you and the children I was not willing to have! Gosh, honey, it all balances out! I feel so much better about killing myself slowly, day after day, over the course of our loveless marriage at a job I despise, to pay for a house I never wanted, to raise the children you simply had to have, while you cook the meals, clean up the mess your children make, and grow fat and slovenly. Between this and the sex I don’t get to have anymore, you’re clearly working harder in this marriage, and hey, the least I can do is compliment your fragile ego endlessly, and listen to your inane, senseless prattle, because baby, you deserve it.”
She learned from her father, through his distain for convention, the petty manipulations and the skein of lies and expectations that made up the tapestry of life, and from that, she vowed she would never be like her mother, needing to feel useful and not like an ignorant and insignificant person, who sacrificed her intellect and her spirit to satisfy some ridiculous cultural expectation of who she should be. She would never be trivial, she vowed. She would never stoop or simper to get someone to take care of her. She would never seek affirmation or require someone to mollify her feelings.
She vowed, as soon as she was cognizant of what was happening, that she would beyond all of that. She needed no compliment or gesture to reinforce what she already knew was true. No man or woman possessed the power to own her or make her into the woman her mother had become. What could her mother have been, if she had simply thought for herself, if she had the strength to be more than a worm whose self worth depended on the opinions of others, and even then, it would never be enough. Never.
Aria became the type of person who never needed to be complimented or assuaged because mere words could never affect the truth she clutched so tightly to her heart, never change what she knew what was false into a fragile truth. She knew she was beautiful, intelligent, powerful. All the suitors she attracted were at a loss, for they could not pry her thighs apart with pretty prose and endearments. Neither could, in the inevitable fit of rejection and hurt, change those fundamental truths and cause her to question herself, and subsequently weaken her resolve.
Like her father before her, people could not handle her preternatural self-confidence and resolve. Unlike those with deep seated insecurities, she never pointed that self-assuredness at others, she never needed to raise a hue and cry about how she didn’t need anyone, because it was so obvious. People could sense that, and made way before her like the tall savannah grasses parting for the stalking lioness. They could not tame her, subdue her, [i]dilute[i] her, make her feel any less than the strong, capable, and glorious goddess she knew herself to be.
Her attributes, naturally, attracted those who wished to harness such capability, and Vanessa DeVore, Aria felt, was close to her equal. But as Vanessa continually was foiled by Heroes in Paragon City, and the weak little girl underneath the greasepaint and garish outfits was revealed, Aria took her leave, taking with her those she deemed loyal and useful to her, forming her Carnival of Oblivion.
Oblivion of conventions and the ridiculous necessities of society, that flimsy construct keeping the gibbering, slavering jaws of chaos at bay. The end of this farce of what many unknowingly, ironically, call a life.
She wanted Deathspider. He would make a fine tool for her organization, and despite being foiled months ago, she would not be denied so easily again. She forbid it. The world was filled with people struggling, miserable because they desired and could not fulfill that desire. They wanted.
Aria, Mistress of the Carnival of Oblivion, was not one of those people. She did not suffer desire.
She slipped out from behind the silk screen, casting a bemused glance at her bait, the helpless young man. Soon, pet, soon, she thought. But now, it was time to attend to her other duties, maintaining of her double life. Us magazine was coming today for an interview.
Mustn’t keep her adoring public waiting.
Maggie Mitchell, a.k.a. Warp Factor, couldn’t help but smile. “Someone actually looks up to you?”
Warp Factor, Fenix Alheron, Kyou No Oni, and two other members of the Guardian Angels, Psychist and Firanima, were gathered with Deathspider in the early morning light filtering through the War Walls energy fields, the brilliance dancing off the waters in Independence Port. They were atop one of the many warehouses on the western edge of the Zone, the dark bulk of the enclosed section of Terra Volta, rearing up from the waters.
DS grumbled. “It’s not my idea. I didn’t ask for the kid to dress up like me.”
Firanima held open a notepad, scribbling fiercely. “Fascinating. Now, you say this ‘Carnival of Oblivion’, they are ransoming the boy?” Firanima was arguably the best educated of the Angels, a professor of sociology.
Fenix, the emerald winged resident computer genius and hacker, looked over the ransom note, feeling the thick stationary paper between his fingers. “So where do you know this Aria from?”
DS shrugged. “I know an Aria Giovanni from porn sites…”
Fenix nodded. “Yeah. She’s all right.”
Warp rolled her eyes. “Ugh. Right. So unless a porn skank has it in for you, you don’t know who she is?”
“Well, back in December, I got jumped by these Carnies in Pittsburgh when I was at my therapist’s office. They apparently were blackmailing him to get information on me and the Hazard Guard, my old team. They did the whole ‘using illusions to mess with me’ thing, some real cliché Psychology 101 tricks. I saw through it and we kinda trashed a Liberal Arts college before they broke off the attack. For some reason, they have it in for me. I haven’t any specific beef that I know of with any of them, unless it’s something from the main Carnie group, like someone I took down out for revenge, but by that token, every Security Level 50 in the City would be going through this. For some reason, these chicks are focusing on me. Which, I can’t blame them. I’m stunningly good looking.”
Kyou looked like he was contemplating something. “Most disturbing.”
“That I’m good looking?”
Kyou sighed. “No. It appears that she is transferring a level of familiarity between yo both that you are unaware of. I cannot imagine that she is someone you have not met in the past.”
Warp frowned. “That’s what I’m thinking too. And if they found you before, out of the city, then she and her group are pretty knowledgable about you and who you are. Are you sure you haven’t met her before? Ex-girlfriend, relative, anything?”
“Not that I’m aware of. I have never met anyone named ‘Aria’ before, and I swear to god, if it’s that Chick who had all those guys chained up, her little shadow beasts, the only time I would have conceivably met her would have been in Pittsburgh, when they were staking me out.”
Psychist nodded. “He’s telling the truth. I’m not getting any deceptive signals or induced amnesia from him.”
DS turned to the young man, dressed in dark clothes and a scarf covering his mouth. “Dude!”
“Did you just read my mind?”
Psychist looked down, embarrassed. “Sorry, it’s not a conscious decision, surface thoughts just seem to come at me. I promise, I’m not mind probing anyone.”
DS shook his head, exhaling. “Just saying. That’s kinda intrusive, ya know?”
“Sorry, it’s… It’s hard to handle. I’m still new at this.”
Warp spoke up. “James, it’s fine. People just need to know what you can do and what’s beyond your control – it’s something we’ll have to work on as a team.” She looked at DS. “Miguel, so she wants you on the bridge tonight. We can’t leave this kid out to hang, but it’s obvious it’s a trap and they’re expecting you to bring your friends. She might not be expecting us, however, since you joined a new team since the last time you encountered her. This could work to our advantage. So you’re going there anyway, we’ll be posted nearby, ready to ‘port in as soon as things kick off. There’s a good chance they won’t bring this kid. However, they’ll either have an illusion’d up Carnie, or have the kid rigged up with, I dunno, a bomb, or on a ledge. I don’t see her playing fair, she doesn’t strike me as someone who has a sense of morality or sense of fair play.”
She turned to her troops. “Kyou, you have a background in magic. We’ll follow your instincts on how to proceed at the site.”
Kyou nodded. “I shall try my best.”
“Fenix, hit the net. Carnies recruit from socialites, actresses, models, that sort of thing. We’re looking for a well-educated white female in her mid to late twenties, black hair, pale complexion. Hair could be faked, but I doubt it. Maybe involved in the BDSM scene, but I know that’ll be hard to ferret out. Look for someone situated or has a summer home in the north east, or filming a movie, photo shoot, anything.”
She turned to Psychist and Firanima. “James, Ellen, you guys will be with me. We’re going to hit the streets, see what we can come up with, put the squeeze on some Carnie activity, see if this Aria used to run with DeVore’s girls. Maybe we can find out how she thinks, how we can shut her down. DS, you need to hit the rack. We’ll link up later around… I dunno, seven or so. Rest up. Looks like we’re going to have an interesting night.”
Miguel returned home to Mera Heights, slipping through the patio doors of the apartment he and his wife shared. Ellie was up, bundled under a comforter. She looked up as he came in.
“You missed Naughty Nurse Night.” She teased. Miguel shook his head wearily.
“Yeah, whole big… thing. I need a shower.”
“Good. You can tell me about it while you clean up.”
Ellie sat on the closed toilet seat, listening to her husband tell the story of linking up with the kid, the Carnies, the kidnapping, and the plan. As she handed him the towel, she shook her head and sighed.
“Snuggles, you have got to stop making all these women crazy about you.”
He took the towel and dried off his face. “You’re telling me. Especially the already crazy ones.”
“That would include me. I must have been out of my mind to marry you.”
“You must have been.” He yawned, drying himself off. “I need to get some sleep.”
“Good! I was looking for another excuse for a nap.”
He grinned. “Funny you should mention excuses, I was thinking…”
She smirked. “That we should just take a nap?”
He frowned. “Feeling sick again?”
She giggled, and as he stepped out of the shower, she kissed his nose. “I just like teasing you.”
He growled playfully and followed her into the bedroom.
Cross awoke, securely tied to the divan. His costume was stripped off and he was covered in a silk sheet.
The first thought that came to mind was that he was naked and tied down. Then the realization that what happened after he was captured really happened. He look down at his groin. Oh, it happened.
No, no, no, don’t think about that.
Don’t think about the succession of pale Carnies stripping off their garments and holding him down, oh, quite securely, the sweaty writhing…
Oh yeah. Ummm…
No! Get back on track! Focus! Don’t think about supple white women grinding against him!
Ummm…. All right, indeed.
Ah! No! I was captured! Seduced! Helpless to resist them stripping my costume off, helpless to resist their hands reaching, grabbing, caressing…
“Damnit! Curse you, weiner!” he muttered irritably. They had used his vulnerability against him, like Superman, hey, he had kryptonite, right?
Ok. He’s sleeping… no…no, okay. He’s sleeping. Good, rest up, little fella. He could think now. All right, now let’s think.
Ok. I was on the roof of the Arena when DS leapt back to the fight… and then I was hit with something. Something cold. I was knocked out. When I came to…
No! Go to sleep! Ah, a false alarm. Yeah. There you go, buddy. Just flop down, roll over. There you go.
Ok. When I came to… the lead chick, the broad with the dress and the rack. Yeah. All cooing over me with her friends. Saying stuff like how I’d make such a nice pet.
A thought, unbidden, made the little guy stir.
And such petting!
Ah, no! You know I can’t think with you up and around! Go to sleep!
Well, stop thinking about them and maybe I will! It’s not like I didn’t suffer too! I’m a delicate instrument, not to be treated with such callous disregard to my skin care, it seemed to grumble under the silk sheets. Any more movement, and it would be noticeable by the guards.
Guards? I don’t see any guards. It’s a good thing, too, because my little buddy here wouldn’t know what to do…
...Bruno, it corrected him.
I like the name ‘Bruno’. It has a rough and tumble charm about it, yet underneath there’s an undeniable sophistication, don’t you think?
“Fine, Bruno, then…” he muttered, then frowned. I’m having a dialogue with my genitals.
It’s perfectly normal, Cross, it seemed to say, poking up, perhaps to survey the situation.
Bruno, this is hardly the time…
Well, look at our situation! We’re securely strapped down, and despite your enhanced strength, we don’t have leverage enough to burst free of our bonds! And besides, you’re too weak from the fight and the festivities to free us anyway! The contemptible harpies have enervated us!
Cross, best as he could, nodded grimly. Bruno was right! They had pacified him easily enough, and entrapped him here on this bed-like thing! A pox upon their clever usage of his biological imperative to get it on with several slutty chicks! They were cunning, true, but there had to be some way out of this trap, some miscalculation on their part, a flaw in their plan…
I would submit to you, my dear Croccifixio, that they have no exploitable flaw that we can take advantage of. We’re naked, tied down with that appears to be nylon cargo straps, handcuffed to boot, and delightfully drained from my romp hither and yon in their nethers, Bruno commented.
You’re right, he sighed, the reality of the situation and his helplessness draining him of what little strength remained in his body. Well, hopefully, DS will come and find me. I… think he will. I really hope he will, because otherwise…
… Well, what was the alternative?
Bruno helpfully enlightened him on the possibilities.
That didn’t sound so bad, as far as villainous death-traps went. Still, those male slaves, turning into those shadow beasts. That wasn’t nearly as appetizing.
A silken voice. “Well, how is my little boy doing?”
Hark! Bruno called out. Croccifixio, stay here! I do believe I hear the voice of our captor! I’ll investigate!
Quiet, you! Cross scolded…himself, and craned his neck to see the shapely form of the lead Carnie, still in the black, clingy gown. Bruno was rather pleased to see her, all things considered.
Ah, well, this is a pleasant surprise! The arch-villainess herself! Don’t worry, Cross! Leave the thinking to me! I’ll get us out of this place!
The leader of the Carnies smiled, leaning down and lightly tracing a delicate finger along Cross’ chest, making the young man shiver. “I trust your stay has been enjoyable?”
Yes, Bruno stated, nodding for her benefit.
“You…. You Carnies won’t get away with… ooooo…” Cross stammered as the villainess ran her warm, silky hands down his torso.
“Won’t what, pet?” she smiled, amused by his struggle.
What ho, wench! Bruno seemed to cry, straining. Ah, Cross! I’ve got her now, she’s almost within range! ‘Twas all in my plan, my boy!
“Uh… ummm…. Why… are… you… OOO! ….doing this?”
The woman purred and her weight was upon him. “Because I want.” She replied, and that was the extent of her monologue.
Oh! I’m in the vile villainess’ clutches now, Cross old bean! I say, it appears we’re done for! I’ll try my best, but ah! She is upon me! Oh, Cross! Try to endure this most despicable of sensual tortures, I know this can’t be easy for you! Well, right-o! I’m off to do what I can! Huzzah!
And with the press of soft, supple flesh against him and the taste of honeyed lips, Cross thought no more.
Aria smiled to herself, despite the night’s cool breeze, especially this high up on the bridge. The glow of the War Walls was shimmering in the distance, the stars bright in their black emptiness. Her dress rippled and snapped in the wind, the dark mass of her hair flowing behind her. Her hand held a leash, also buffeted by the wind, connected to a collar around young Cross’ neck. The youth was dressed in his adorable little Deathspider costume, sans any annoying sharp objects or his cute little utility belt. He was bound tightly with straps, though it wasn’t necessary. The narcotic compound she applied to her lips had rendered him quite incapable of any resistance, barely able to stay in a kneeling position. Keeping him in a state of constant exhaustion helped immensely, but why take unnecessary risks? The impending battle would be exciting enough.
Oh, the fun she would have with her new toy! During the course of her career as a villainess, she had learned one fundamental truth – it was not enough to merely defeat your opponent. That merely, inevitably, escalated matters, with revenge and reprisals in the offing. No, it was better, and infinitely more satisfying, to seduce and corrupt your enemies, make them work for you. Though not adverse to violence, the Mistress had found that it was easier and more productive to use the seductive whisper, the silken caress, the kiss, to make her targets succumb, destroying a city block was a waste of her energies and her considerable assets.
Ah! And here he was, a dark shadow bounding up the huge suspension cables, swift and silent, and oh so predictable. And hopefully the Hazard Guard was out there as well, thinking themselves to be so clever, hiding like that.
A shiver of anticipation and lust. No, no… that will have to wait. All the time in the world for that later.
He emerged from the darkness, a shadow himself, crouching low, oh so wary of a trap, but look! None to be seen. She was inwardly thrilled to see the Hero again, so close, but kept control of herself. Control yourself and you can control the world.
“Fancy meeting you here…” she purred, low and barely audible over the wind.
“Yeah, what are the odds?” he cast a glance at Cross, who swooned drunkenly as he knelt beside her. “What did you do to him?”
“I kept your young friend entertained, my sweet. A pity he’s so young – enthusiastic, to be sure, but so crude and unrefined.” She tugged the leash, wrenching Cross’ head towards her. Slow, dream like, his hand went out to brace himself, a small moan escaping his lips, muffled by the mask. So close to the ledge….
“Uh huh… you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t believe you. You doped him…”
“Mm. So I did.”
“So, before the inevitable hostilities start, why the elaborate job in Pittsburgh with my therapist, the illusions, blackmailing him? Why kidnap this kid? What did I do to you?”
Aria smiled behind her chrome mask. “All will be explained in time, pet.”
“I ain’t your damned pet, lady. Let the boy go before…”
“Before what?” she laughed, and snapped her pale fingers. Around the bridge, winking into existence, from places in-between, the Carnival of Oblivion appeared – on the support tower, on the huge cables and walkways, floating, suspended in the darkness. A quick glance around by the Hero told him he was surrounded.
“… I guess, uh… before that happened.”
The spider tensed up, ready to spring. Pity, she thought. He’ll be bruised.
“I’m warning you, lady….”
“And I’m warning you. You want the boy to go free, you will surrender and do as I command. Disobey me, pet, and the boy suffers. Can you live with that?” she said, yanking the leash taut. Faint murmurs on the wind that was roaring past his ears from the other Carnies. She continued. “Choices, choices, choices. The decision is yours. His promising young life is in your hands.”
From behind him, a flash of light, and surrounding Aria, Cross, and Deathspider, the Guardian Angels appeared. Warp Factor, floating above the platform, glowing eyes regarding the scene. Kyou No Oni, a haze a dark magic surrounding his otherworldly form. Titanium Steele, the stars glinting off her large cyborg body. Firanima, the slight woman with cruel looking thorns jutting from her shoulders. Psychist, the young man hovering nearby, his scarf and coat fluttering in the wind. Fenix, crackling with lightning, large feathered wings spread wide, electricity arching through every feather.
The air crackled around Warp Factor as she spoke.
“And your life is in ours. Tell your women to stand down. I won’t ask again.”
Aria laughed. “How precious. Deathspider’s little friends come out to play. You don’t look familiar, but that’s fine… I can improvise. Well, I’m in the mood to play, are you? Here. Catch.”
The woman, with blinding speed, lashed out with a kick to Cross’s ribs, the young man grunting in pain… and abruptly falling off the platform, still bound tightly, end over end, down, down, down to the water.
Deathspider lunged over the edge after him.
Deathspider hurled himself over the edge after the falling form of the kid who had impersonated him and because he wanted to be like him, had been captured by one of his enemies. Idiot! I told him this would happen, Miguel cursed as he felt the stomach wrenching drop, the water coming at him faster and faster, the boy still ahead of him.
Oh God, I’m not going to make it in time…
Aria gave a dainty little wave as Deathspider dove over the side. “Aww. Waste of a good pet.”
Warp was not pleased. A powerful bolt of force erupted from her hands, hurtling towards the Carnival Mistress, and from the depthless black of her dress, a wall of murky tendrils erupted, deflecting the energy.
“Girls, if you would?”
Warp groaned. “Ah, crap.”
The air around the Angels warped and solidified as the young woman formed a powerful force field around them, as hundreds of shining throwing stars and slender knives sliced through the air, meeting the force field and glancing off harmlessly.
The Mistress laughed contemptuously and disappeared in a cloud of black smoke.
Warp Factor cursed and dropped the field. “Angels! Take them down!”
Bolt of lightning arced from Fenix’s fingertips, while gouts of flame erupted from Firanima’s hands, causing the Carnies to disperse and momentarily stop their perverse, mocking laughter. Some came down, weapons drawn, and the Japanese demon, Kyou, met them head on. Katana blades, knives, and all manner of weapons struck the towering Titanium Steele, doing naught but cosmetic damage, and Steele struck back, doing damage that would require cosmetic surgery to repair. Psychist unleashed bolts of psionic energy at the women, dropping some right out of the sky.
In the meantime, Warp darted over the side, and gasped as she saw the two falling men, almost about to impact against the jagged rocks and the churning waters. Grimacing, she disappeared in a flash of light, teleporting underneath Cross, the waves lapping at her feet, and a transparent bubble of force surrounded him, slowing his descent. She teleported him back atop the tower with the rest of the team.
DS was diving down, and she smirked as he came closer. “Want a lift?”
“Eh… I guess… If you’re going that way…” he called out.
She hated that he could sound so flippant while plunging to his death. “I suppose.” She muttered, and then DS was atop the column as well, between Steele and Kyou, the Carnies breaking off their attack.
The pale, black clad women began to wink out of existence, disappearing into the night.
Warp appeared a moment later, looking around critically. “Well. Did we win?”
Titanium Steele looked down at the mewling, broken bodies at her feet. “I think we did!”
DS began undoing the straps around Cross’ body, the boy still groggy and confused. “Kid… you all right? Kid!”
The young man raised his head slowly, mumbling nonsense.
“…ey… what’s going on, man…?” he slurred.
“Ah… you know. The usual.”
“Ah… okies… Dude. I totally made it with a villainess…” he said drunkenly.
“… Who hasn’t?” DS replied, looking behind him. “Isn’t that, like, a requirement to be a Hero? At least one affair with a villainess?”
Warp Factor rolled her eyes.
Kyou cleared his throat. “I haven’t.”
Fenix snorted. “You haven’t had sex with anybody!”
Kyou frowned and said nothing.
DS looked back at Cross, who was rubbing his forehead through the mask. “You know, I [i]told[i] you this kind of thing would happen, didn’t I?”
Cross nodded slowly, a headache coming on. “Yeah… but still. I made it with a [i]villainess[i]…”
DS shook his head, grumbling. “As long as you learned something…”