From Unofficial Handbook of the Virtue Universe
This is the beginning of a new storyarc involving a new villain called Wraith Serpent. I'm doing a Roger Stern-esque version of the Hobgoblin storyline originally written in the 1980's. Noone has done it better, and this is sort of my homage to the storyline and trying to make a villain somewhat in his league.
I see through the dragon’s eyes. I wear the skin of the dragon. Or is it the dragon seeing through mine, the dragon wearing my skin? At this point, it is the same, I am one with the dragon. Had it always been this way, one living inside the other? The dragon, inside me for as long as I can remember, devouring all around it, leaving only emptiness, the hollow feeling, the dragon in all it’s splendor, coiled and moving in the shell of person, growing fat, sucking nourishment from my acts, leeching the color and pleasure of life to sustain itself through the long years I denied it. And now, it is I who am in the dragon’s belly, consumed by it, the captor and captive no longer easily distinguishable. I see them now, in their dark suits, their jowls, the white hair, glasses, the light overhead washing over their pallid complexions – too many years in the darkness of their souls. I see them through the red haze of the dragon’s eyes.
I open my mouth and breath smoke.
I see it, billowing and falling through the room, they cannot see it, nor smell it, but they can feel it, just as the field mouse feels the shadow of the hawk as it descends upon them, and I am that predator, they are the mice, and it is their greed I feed upon.
Greed nourishes the dragon.
And oh, there is a feast here today, and I speak with a tongue no longer beholden to me, saying things of such trivial import, of bottom lines and legalities and things not worthy of such a magnificent beast housed within the rotting prison of my body. Their love is money, money, worthless money. They seek money, ways to have more, ways to take what is not thiers to have, ways to keep their shiny baubles and trinkets once they’ve stolen them.
The dragon cares not for money, but their greed, their fear behind the greed, for greed controls them, willing servants of the dragon. They are so afraid of losing their money, their status, their yachts and cars and mansions, their mistresses, their trips to Bangkok to satisfy the depraved lusts only a lifetime of privilege and boredom can cultivate. They would rather die than to part with their money, and the dragon uses their fear to control them, to do his bidding, to shield him from the knights who would try and destroy him. The dragon is not powerful enough yet to face them directly, to come upon them from above, his mighty body inspiring awe and unreasoning terror before exhaling a holocaust of flame, to obliterate them to ashes in the superheated wake of his passing.
But soon. Soon, they would tremble at his feet, beg for forgiveness, beg for mercy before his razor filled maw snapped shut, rending them into so much meat.
The dragon speaks for me, tells the men in their suits what to do, commanding his minions, he speaks with my mouth, he has learned what I have learned, the art of greed, and he teaches it well to the rapt audience before us. They will in turn go to their underlings, and the cogs will begin to turn, the infernal machinery of the dragon’s will shall move forward and in the din and destruction to follow, the dragon will feast upon the charred flesh of his enemies as I watch through his eyes, to see him do what I cannot, to find meaning in the chaos of the world, to make himself like unto the Gods.
Soon, the meeting is over and the dragon watches his minions leave the room, to scatter to their castles, to begin the Plan, although they do not know what the Plan is, each having an innocuous business plan to perform, each disparate part secretly fulfilling a different role in the dragon’s ascendancy.
The dragon guides me back to my office, dimly lit as befitting the den of a dragon. It is bereft of ornamentation, but the dragon has a horde, make no mistake. The dragon closes the door, locking it, and glides across the floor, shoes discarded, black socks damp with perspiration, padding across the carpet, the windows are dark, blacked out against the sun. A switch is turned, and the rear of the office opens, a bookcase parting for the dragon. The dragon looks upon it’s new skin, encased in a plexiglass tube, a shimmering suit of armor, an array of gleaming scales, each reflecting the dragon’s meat face, the neatly folded wings, the terrible claws, the monstrous visage of the helm. Soon, it would be complete. Soon, the dragon would take flight and destroy its enemies, and become a God on this dead world, forgotten by it’s Creator and forsaken by it’s maggot-like inhabitants.
I touch the plexiglass case feeling something like love.
“So… what do you think?”
Cross Ingrassia looked over the suit in awe. It was a crimson and black version of the Deathspider costume, but it was not unlike a suit of armor. Hardshell ceramic plates covering the body, Kevlar and vulcanized rubber. The suit was incredible.
“It’s… it’s awesome…” he stammered.
Deathspider grinned under his mask. Well, yeah, it was pretty cool. His stealth suit from when he was operating over in the Rogue Isles. It had it’s limitations, but when used properly, it was formidable. With it, he was a powerful killing machine. The gauntlets were localized plasma field generators, capable of pulverizing pretty much anything it came into contact with. It also was coated in a special material that could utilize the energy generated by the gauntlets to render the suit invisible for long periods of time. Coupled with his reflexes and instincts, the suit was a lethal tool, sometimes a necessary in the Darwinian nightmare of the Isles. It’s one weakness was the weapon system itself – the gauntlets and the sneaksuit had to be used judiciously and sparingly, as the suit was prone to overheating, and the suit’s mass precluded any elaborate heat sinks. If it overheated, the gauntlets would shut down, in turn rendering the user visible and vulnerable. The suit’s weight was considerable, and since DS’s survivability depended on his pheromone defenses and mobility, the suit hampered both to a degree that dictated a very different fighting style. Brutal, lightning quick attacks, then escaping to regroup, to allow the gauntlets to cool down and to prevent reprisals from any survivors.
In a way, the suit was a metaphor for his life. In the Isles, he had been constrained and carrying a burden of guilt, hiding from who he was. In Paragon City, he was free to be himself, not an exile or the tool of some bimbo, and it was nowhere more apparent that in his fighting style, acrobatic and free, wild and graceful and reckless, all at the same time. Much to the exasperation of his wife, Belle, who was slowly reigning in his wild loner tendencies, to get him to function as a part of a team. DS had been alone for a majority of the time he had been a Hero, and his recklessness reflected that. He had always felt that being on a team meant he had to neglect his own responsibilities to save someone else’s neck, that if you can’t handle yourself and you needed someone else to constantly guard you, you were a situation that you had no business being in – you were a liability.
His relationship with his ex-fiancee, Mio, had taught him the hard lesson that he had to learn how to act in concert with others. She had been constantly aggravated by his methods of dealing with dangerous situations – his solution was to leap recklessly into the fray, and hit the opposition until they stopped moving, and well, if he was with anybody else, they had better learn to deal with the enemies he wasn’t. If the focus was on him, he reasoned, then the less physically oriented folks would be protected. This was not the case. With their concern for him wildly leaping into battle, they put themselves in danger and people got hurt. It turns out not everyone could handle things like he did, they simply weren’t as strong/fast/nimble/tough as he was, and they suffered for it. So, in turn, the team wasn’t nearly as effective as they could have been if he had simply been more of a team player. Mio was the leader of the team and she had tried to get him under control, but their relationship had suffered for it.
Belle was nowhere near as powerful of a hand to hand combatant, but her powers healed and energized him as they fought crime, and it was soon apparent that he was much, much more effective with her by his side than without. And she quietly endured his antics, gently nudging him towards a more conducive, and ultimately more productive attitude towards teamwork. But it was slow going, many of the old attitudes died hard, and he was still prone to flinging himself into the fray without waiting for his wife to use her powerful abilities to protect him.
Still… he was learning and she was patient. Domestication doesn’t happen overnight. Both Ellie and Warp Factor, his team leader, were trying to get him going in the right direction, to focus his energy and skill into team oriented combat instead of trying to do everything by himself.
It came down to this – he could get by all by himself, sure, but he could do much better with the Angels and his wife by his side. And if he wanted them to be by his side, he would have to learn how to trust them, to let them help him, let himself help them. It required a leap of faith on his part, but since Ellie came along, that chasm of uncertainty, fear, and isolation seemed to close, the gap not nearly as threatening to him, especially when his wife was there on the other side.
It just took a little time, is all.
He watched as Cross put on the stealth suit, clicking the armor and coolant gear into place. The kid was young, and vulnerable to boot, but maybe this would help even things out a bit. After the weird goth Carnies had kidnapped him, and Cross was, for better or worse, involved in the superheroic life, it was better to arm him against the inevitable, to give him the training he needed to survive.
The gauntlets clicked onto the mounting brackets, and Cross flexed his fingers experimentally.
“How’s it fit, kiddo?”
Cross grinned. “Kinda weird. Feels like my hands are buzzing.”
“That’s the power generators. Takes some getting used to, but you can punch through a steel plate with those things. They get hot quick, so don’t think you can go wild with them. Whole suit runs off those generators, so if they start to get hot, back off and let the heat sinks bleed the heat off, otherwise you’ll be sucking wind. Learn how to use them, you can pop in, take out three or four guys in seconds, leave, then go onto your next target.”
“Just remember, you don’t go toe-to-toe, you pop in, beat them down before they can react, then back off. Don’t try to scrap with them, this suit ain’t built to handle it. What you can do is hurt people very badly, very quickly. Stick to that philosophy and you’ll be fine.”
Cross nodded. “Gotcha.”
“And it’s hooked into the Rogue Isle’s hospital system under a protected account. You can bypass the Arbiter Drones. This way, you’ll be safe if you want to do the Hero thing there. I know you can’t do it here because of the Family, so in the Isles you should be all right”
Cross nodded again, a bit grim. He knew that he wasn’t safe in Paragon, and it would make sense in his civilian identity to be in the Isles. His college transcripts would transfer, but it was a disappointment to leave and not be fighting alongside his Hero. He slipped on the mask, straightening it.
DS nodded with approval. “Not bad. Now clench your fists and then wait for a click.” He watched Cross’ hands. “Now unclench them all the way. You’ll feel another click. You’ve just armed and disarmed the system. Now arm it… okay. Now unclench your hand halfway, then clench it again.”
Cross’ hands glowed with a crimson nimbus of energy.
“What you just did was basically shift the trigger mechanism. Now for as long as you have your hand clenched, you’re essentially pulling a trigger. Release…”
The nimbus died away.
“And you just released the trigger and disarmed the weapon. This keeps it from going off when you don’t want it to. These things are powerful. Don’t arm it unless you’re ready to seriously hurt somebody, because you’re going to do exactly that. There is no pulling these punches. Anyone or anything you touch with these things is going to get messed up. You either go into a fight with the intention of wasting somebody or you don’t fight at all. If you can’t hurt them with these, rethink your strategy or why you’re hitting them in the first place. If they can shrug off hits like these, then there’s a really good chance they can hurt you badly.”
Cross nodded in affirmation. God, it looked so odd, someone wearing his outfit. Still… Cross would do more good in the Isles than here, and oddly enough, he’s be safer – he’d have access to the Isle’s hospital systems, and he’d have Family back up in his civilian life. It was kind of depressing knowing that someone who dreamed about being a Hero could only do so if they were put in a snake pit of villains.
“If I were you, I’d go to the Arena and test it out some. It takes some getting used to.”
“Yeah, thanks… I will.” He slipped off the mask, looking up at DS. “Can I ask you something?”
“Why are you doing this for me?”
Miguel looked down at his ‘protégé’ and grunted. “Because… despite my best intentions, I feel responsible for you, and since you made yourself a target, this is the best way I know how to do the greatest amount of good. Your Uncle won’t let you stay in Paragon, not now… and you can help us by being our guy in the Isles. I… I have responsibilities here, and I can’t risk losing everything by playing in the Isles again. You’re safer there, and I know you can do some good.”
Cross nodded and looked at his hands. “Thanks for letting me use the costume.”
Miguel gave a slight smile under his mask. “Well… it reminded me of a bad time in my life. Might as well give it to someone who can use it.”
“Yeah… I’m gonna, y’know, go test this out.”
“Yeah, let me know before you head out to Port Oakes.”
“Yeah, you got it.”
Miguel watched him leave, and wondered, not the first time, if he had just made a big mistake.
The dragon is solid and heavy on me, his scales glittering even in the harsh, bleak light of the workshop. It feels right, though. Powerful, proof against the swords of the knights who would ride out against him.
The dragon’s skin is the end result of millions of dollars in electronics, equipment, raw materials, and technicians who now are silenced forever, rotting and weighed down in the waters around Talos Island.
The dragon is pleased thus far though not completely. Although the dragon has his scales and wings, he lacks many other accoutrements necessary for his transformation, and thus, we go out tonight to acquire them.
The dragon steps out of the workshop and flexes its fingers, the powered exoskeleton surging with might, thrumming through the dragon’s body and I can tell that the dragon is anxious to be free of this place, to go out and unfurl it’s wings, casting a monstrous shadow on the weak and fearful.
Therefore, I give the dragon what it wants, getting onto the private elevator to the roof. It carries us to the windswept precipice, forty stories in the sky, and with a bestial, digitally enhanced roar, the wings spread wide, and they are not as they appear, made from metal and ceramics and prototype synthetics, but to us, they are flesh and blood and rock hard hide and bone, and it is exhilarating to share the dragon’s exultation, to show itself after decades of deception, hiding in my weak, insignificant shell, like an egg, a dragon’s egg, now it bares it’s face to the world.
Long years of denial and misery cast aside like a serpent shedding it’s skin.
The dragon born into this world, this dead, rotting, putrid world.
The feeling of power, self assuredness, freedom from guilt, morality, remorse.
The dragon’s thought and dream a powerful, hideous reality.
The destroyer, the KING, annihilator off the weak and worthless, impervious to the decay and waste of a world gone mad in it’s death throes.
The unfurling of his wings like the unfurling of a new way, a new world, a new era.
The era of the dragon. Great and terrible, his judgement supreme, his wrath legendary.
Let them tremble in awe of his majesty.
The dragon stepped off of the edge into the darkness, down into Talos Island, to fulfill, to destroy, to gain what is rightfully his.
In life, there are some instances, some chance meetings that seem more predestined by Fate, or God, Buddha, what have you. That what seemed so random wasn’t really random at all, that the encounter was simply meant to be, guided by a Divine hand.
And so it was between the Hero Deathspider, and the dragon.
Leaping through the buildings, lost in his thoughts – thoughts of his wife Eleanor, his team, the kid who was now wearing his old black and red stealth costume; so when he saw the orange and black armored form of a winged dragon, it almost was dismissed out of hand – after all, one sees so many strange things in Paragon City.
However, the panicked screams of civilians – although commonplace in Paragon, to the point of making DS wonder why people lived here to begin with, instantly got his attention. The split second Hero Algebra ™ of Crazy Winged Thing + Screaming Civilians, Multiplied by the fact that Crazy Winged Thing was making the Screaming Civilians scream was computed, and Deathspider bounded off of a building and slammed into the thing, between the great, raspy, flapping wings, knocking it to the ground. It hurtled forward into a wall, and DS flipped off, landing nearby.
Quick survey – people in civilian clothes, look like warehouse workers, fleeing the scene. Big Dragon Guy. Bashed in warehouse bay door. Superficial fire damage on various wooden crates. Popular company, Snap On, distribution center. Forklifts left where the operators abandoned them. Oh, and Big Dragon Guy is up!
“Hey there, Puff, or maybe P Diddy? I can never keep up with that guy. Run outta…”
The guy snarled and from it’s wrists, two long blades emerged, glowing white hot. They burst into flames, igniting the air around them.
“… Can I finish my schtick?”
No, apparently not. He charged.
Deathspider leaped over the charge, the air roaring underneath him as the blades sucked up the oxygen, the huge armored form passing below. Clumsy, but deadly. DS somersaulted and landed behind the guy, and dropped to his hands, kicking back, striking the guy at the base of his spine. It was like hitting a brick wall. Still, it pitched him forward and DS curled into a ball, rolled forward, and settled into a crouch.
“So… what, you need a new socket set? The Snap On Tools girl this month ugly?”
“Idiot.” The guy intoned, digitally synthesized from the sound of it. Several popping sounds and DS was struck with several dozen taser barbs, sending a powerful jolt of electricity through his body. Knocked back from the shock, his body writhed and flailed on the ground as he struggled to pull the wires away.
The guy was on him. A massive, armored leg swung out at him, connecting with his midsection, and DS was flung, rolling in mid-air, slamming up against the brick wall of the warehouse. DS impacted and fell to the ground in a heap.
He coughed and struggled to his hands and knees, dazed. “What, no introductions?”
The thing charged him again, and DS barely pushed off in time, as the blades plunged into the wall like a hot knife through butter. DS launched a kick in mid-air at the metallic dragon’s head, crumpling the snout. The guy staggered back, shaking it’s head, a shower of sparks. It turned fast, a long serpentine tail lashing out like a flail, connecting with DS’ chest, slapping him to the ground.
This guy’s new at this, but Christ, when he does hit, he hits hard… gasping, he rolled away, re-examining his options. Let’s talk him up…
“Seriously, dude. What’s your beef with Snap On? Don’t need to get bent out of shape, they make metric sockets too…”
“Do you have any conception of who you’re dealing with, insect?” he rumbled, somewhat tinny and distorted from the hit. Maybe the loudspeaker was in the snout.
“Are you coming onto me? Because I didn’t bring a napkin. Zing! And besides, it’s arachnid, not insect. God.” DS began to move in a circle around the dragon, tensing, waiting for that puff of compressed air, the fusillade of taser barbs.
The dragon leapt back, beating it’s huge wings, buffeting DS with the wind created from the movements, ponderously gaining altitude.
“No me gusto…” DS muttered, and launched himself at the dragon. The dragon took the opportunity to beat it’s wings, surging upwards, and DS managed to grab onto the long, coiling tail, digging his fingers in for purchase. The dragon grunted, feeling the weight, and snarled in irritation. It curled it’s tail and whipped DS into the side of the warehouse, the Hero impacting with a grunt.
“I know… this is our first date and all, and I feel really, really trampy with having my hands all over you, but seriously… this relationship is going nowhere. We need to talk.”
The dragon’s wings beat in a steady rhythm, and the tail lashed out again, snapping DS off from his precarious hand-hold, and flinging him end over end, into the street nearby. He landed with a grunt, rolling to a stop.
“Great…” he coughed, still dizzy from the taser assault. “Ow. Could someone get the license plate of that…” he began picking himself off the asphalt.
A piercingly loud air horn blew, and DS looked up to see a dump truck bearing down on him.
DS smashed into the grill, the fiberglass and metal crumpling around where it made contact, and hurling the Hero twenty feet into a nearby alley, coming to a bone jarring stop against the brick side of an apartment building. He looked up, groaning, stunned.
The dragon chuckled to himself, but he continually gained altitude. No time to gloat – his headpiece was heavily damaged, and the plasma blades were rapidly overheating the system – he could feel blisters raising on his forearms. That, and the Hero’s strikes had hurt immensely, even through the armor. Biting back the pain, the dragon soared into the night. There would have to be modifications performed, if someone like that fool could so heavily tax his systems.
But it was a success, despite the Hero’s involvement – the attack at the warehouse was staged while the true theft took place in New Sparta, blocks away, stealing the chemical components he required for the modifications he intended to make. And thanks to his underlings following his business advice, such items were placed in a vulnerable, unguarded site, and as he rose from the island, his henchmen were already loading drums full of experimental chemical compounds into their cargo truck. The ruse was successful, preying on a Hero’s natural instinct to help people, leaving the dragon’s true intentions unknown.
Not bad for the first night out, the dragon mused. The meat inside was bruised, blistered, and aching from the exertions, but that would change soon.
The dragon, satisfied, changed course and began to wing his way back to his den, where it would wait. Wait until the time was right to wreak havoc on the world once more.
Miguel groaned as he came to. Ellie was standing over him, blasting a fleeing Freakshow punk. The blast caught the guy in the back, the force bolt knocking him on his face.
He sniffed. He smelled gasoline. An overturned, red plastic 5 gallon container, the nozzle dripping liquid. He reeked of gas. He felt light headed and dizzy. “What the hell?”
Ellie grinned, taking another punk out, the force of her mystic blasts flinging him into the air. “So there I am, looking around for a late night snack, when I see a smoking, busted up dump truck in the middle of the street, blocking traffic, but not only that, but a bunch of Freakshow, giggling like girls, pouring gasoline on my unconscious husband.”
He shakily got to his feet. “This is not my night. What kinda psychos…?”
Ellie pointed at the moaning forms of the freaks at the end of the alley. “Those kinda psychos, Snuggles. Mind telling me what happened?”
DS clutched his head. “Ungh. I think I got a tumor. Are my brains leaking out of my head, kitten?”
Ellie smirked. “That would predicate on that assumption you had any brains to begin with.”
“You got a point there.”
“Why didn’t you call for backup?”
“It all happened so fast… this guy in a dragon suit was busting up the place and I went to stop him. I guess my head wasn’t in the game because he pretty much flattened me…”
“Aw… Snuggles…” she patted him on his shoulder, and made a face at the smell of gasoline. “Baby?”
“You need a shower.”