From Unofficial Handbook of the Virtue Universe
The following story contains strong language and elements not suitable for minors. The character of Archon Sinclair is by no means a reflection on myself, the character Manticore, or any material in CoH. He's a miserable racist monster, and his speech will reflect that.
“You’re positive they’re in here?”
Archon Sinclair grimaced at the thought of entering the ghetto. He leaned back in the passenger seat of the black Ford Explorer and idly plucked the string of the powerful compound bow between his legs. His driver, Ardnt, nodded and gestured down Sepulveda Boulevard, near the Combat Zone, a walled section of the city that was, in essence, a free fire zone. When the police went in there, it was usually with tanks and helicopter support. Long ago forsaken by the city, it was a breeding ground for vermin – the poor, the criminal, and the terrorist.
“Well then. Assemble the men.”
Arndt spoke into a Nextel, and gave the coded message to the strike teams. Overhead, a Blackhawk helicopter thrummed and roared, crossing the wall of concrete, concertina wire, and automated defense gun emplacements. Soon, several more were rushing by, filled with Sinclair’s personal troops.
Archon Sinclair opened the door and slipped out of the vehicle, gripping his bow and hauling out a quiver of arrows. He looked around at the single story houses contemptuously, grimacing.
“Fucking niggers…” he grunted. Arndt stepped out of the Explorer and produced an MP-5, slapping a magazine into it and releasing the bolt. It slammed forward with a menacing click.
“Sir, we have an ETA of five minutes for the battalion to get into place. Bravo Company is already on the ground.”
“Good. We’ll teach these rebel scum a lesson they won’t forget. Provided we leave any alive.”
“Is that the plan, sir? To leave some alive?”
“Wasn’t planning on it, no.”
Arndt chuckled and fell in behind the Archon.
Soon, the two men arrived at the rendevous point, where several squads of black clad men, armed with exotic looking Steyr assault rifles and Heckler & Koch submachine guns were assembling. A quiet hush came over them as the Manticore, as he was known, stood before them.
Archon Sinclair cleared his throat. He loved this part. Getting his troops ready for the coming slaughter.
“All right, men. We have a lock on the terrorist cell operating in the Metro LA area, thanks to the tracking chemical our operatives placed on some dissidents. We’re walking into a hostile situation. You are authorized to use lethal force by High Command – I encourage it. These people are terrorists. They’re plotting to overthrow the US government, try to destroy our way of life. Their reign of terror ends today. Your squad leaders have already been briefed. Move out.”
The troops dispersed, squads moving swiftly in all directions. Archon Sinclair grinned, pulling an arrow from his quiver. “Arndt!”
His lieutenant rushed to his side. “Yes, sir!”
“I have a feeling this will be a productive day. Let’s move.”
Daniel Wright thumbed the hammer back on his .45, curling his lip. “Looks like the world’s gonna be less one Spider.”
Miguel gritted his teeth, and tensed his body – this was decidedly not going according to plan. Then again, what sort of plan ever involved getting a gun pointed at your head.
The intercom crackled.
“Sir, we need you down in Ops!”
Wright grimaced and narrowed his eyes. “I’ll be right there.” He turned to Miguel, holstering his gun. “To be continued.”
When Wright was gone, Miguel let out a pent up breath. Okay. All right. Let’s figure this out. Crazy resistance guy. Told him everything I knew. Seems intent of putting a bullet through my head.
Let’s see. Straitjacket. Check. Leg restraints. Check. Electrified shock collar, check. Armed crazy people, check.
Okay, he thought worriedly. What would I do, as a hero?
The answer was appropriately irritating. Not get into situations like this to begin with, for one…
Okay, yeah. That isn’t helping.
He rolled onto his other side, struggling against the restraints.
Hmm. I wonder if they know how strong I am?
Huh. That is a good question. How strong am I? He maneuvered himself to take a look at the chain attached to the collar. A thick cable of white plastic was woven in-between the links, going to an inch wide hole drilled into the concrete floor.
The chain was bolted to a metal plate surrounding the drill hole, secured by anchor bolts.
He rolled around into a sitting position, gritting his teeth as the leg irons bit into his flesh.
“Okay.” He breathed, bracing himself for the collar’s bite and/or shock.
You can do this, Sanchez. You’re, like, a Hero.
Alright. Yeah. I can do this.
One. Two… three…
The door opened up. Miguel looked up, panicking, and flopped to the ground, closing his eyes and pretended to sleep.
His eyes flew open. Looking up, he saw a young woman with shoulder length brown hair and a very interesting outfit of thigh high boots and a black and red leotard.
Behind her, two more women appeared – a tall woman with long brown hair and a black and violet costume, and glowing white eyes. The other was a woman with red hair and what looked like large spikes or thorns jutting from her shoulders.
The woman in the leotard embraced him tightly. “Snuggles!”
He looked at her, a mixture of confusion and a strange sense of familiarity washing over him. “You’re the girl from my dreams…”
The reaction from the three women was almost perfectly synchronized ‘Awww…’. The woman with the glowing eyes stopped herself and quickly folded her arms over her chest. “Uh… Yeah. Let’s get out of here.”
The woman hugging Miguel looked up at him, her eyes watering. “Miguel… do you know who I am?”
He wracked his brain, trying to remember. “Uh… hold on…. Kitten?”
She hugged him again, tightly. “Close enough!”
The other women began to ‘Awww…’ again, but the woman with the glowing eyes stopped herself in mid-‘aw’, and gestured irritably. “Ugh! Enough! Stop doing that! Let’s go!”
“Come on, Maggie. That was cute.” The woman with the thorns jutting from her shoulders said, smiling as she scribbled something down on a clipboard.
“No it wasn’t!” Warp Factor made a face. “Ugh. Right. Belle, get your man and let’s get out of here.” She turned to leave, grumbling.
Firanima, the woman with the clipboard, grinned, shaking her head. “Ah, it’s so cute when Maggie is trying to act like she doesn’t care.”
Belle pointed a finger at the chain leashing Miguel to the floor, and a bolt of mystical energy sliced through it. “Awww, Snuggles! They had you all chained up!”
Looking down in amazement at the smoking length of chain, Miguel blinked in astonishment. “Belle? Or are you Kitten?”
Belle grinned broadly, shaking her head. “I’m Ellie. My super hero name is Belle. You call me Kitten.”
“Yes! I’m your wife!”
She blasted the chain of the leg irons apart. “I’ll explain later. We have to leave.”
Firanima touched the earpiece of her communicator. “James is picking up a lot of people coming into the rebel’s vicinity, hostile thought patterns.” She looked down at Belle and Miguel, the two undoing his straitjacket. “And I don’t think Maggie and the others are having a fun time with the commander here. I don’t think the people in this dimension see super heroes regularly.”
“Super heroes?” Miguel asked, still shaking his head.
Belle pulled the jacket from him, matter-of-factly. “Yes, honey. You’re a super hero.”
“And a father!” Firanima added.
Belle took Miguel’s face in her hands and smiled. “Honey! You look… different.”
“He must have had his memories deeply buried under the psyche of his counterpart in this dimension, right now he’s experiencing some cognitive dissonance like Nariko and the others had.” Firanima noted, writing feverishly on her clipboard.
Belle stood on her toes and gave her husband a kiss. “And he’s all extra sexy now!” she giggled, and took him by the hand. “Come on, Snuggles.”
Bewildered, Miguel allowed the white girl with the sexy ass to lead him out of the holding cell.
Hey, he thought. Can’t be all bad. After all… white girls!
Wright looked at Warp Factor and her so-called ‘Guardian Angels’ with a healthy mixture of extreme skepticism and bewilderment. Like everyone else in the room, the women, the emo guy, the horned Japanese demon, and the teenage Japanese girl with the distractingly short skirt thoroughly confused him. They had appeared in a flash of light right in the middle of his command center and before his people could react, the emo guy had done some sort of Jedi mind trick, freezing them in place. They had been quite insistent on locating his prisoner. Seeing as they knew the guy, bore no Council or military insignia, didn’t hurt or kill any of his people, and obviously could level his command center, he reluctantly allowed them access.
Wright, as you could imagine, was doubly dismayed when the emo guy announced, somewhat curiously, that there was roughly a company-sized element of Council headed in the center’s direction with an expression of ‘well, I’ll be! How about that?’. They looked a tad jaded. The expressions of the others was equally as distressing to Wright, as though they were inured to such an event.
“So, now that you’ve appeared in my base, coerced us into cooperating with your demands, and oh my! A group of storm troopers homing in on my SECRET LOCATION, strictly a coincidence, I’m sure, what now? Going to take off, poof, outta here while the Wyverns kill us all and call it a day?” Wright angrily paced around the dimly lit command center, clenching and unclenching his fists. “What are you people anyway? What the holy fuck is going on here?”
Warp raised an eyebrow. “Wyverns?”
Wright turned to her and nodded grimly. “Archon Sinclair’s personal battalion of storm troopers. One of the worst.”
Firanima, Belle, and Miguel entered the command room, momentarily drawing Wright’s attention. Warp followed his stare and asked “Archon Sinclair… Wyvern… Justin Sinclair?”
Firanima’s eyes widened. “Manticore?”
Wright narrowed his. “You know him?”
Warp nodded, a bit confused. “Yeah… in our, well, where we come from, he’s a Hero…”
“Hero? HERO?!” Wright exploded, livid. “Sinclair is a fucking Nazi! He’s killed thousands of people! In what fucking sense could he ever be a fucking hero?”
“Whoa!” Warp said, raising her hand in an attempt to de-escalate the situation. “Slow down, what?”
“Jesus fucking Christ…” Wright breathed, putting a hand to his forehead. “Archon Sinclair, he’s known as the Manticore. He’s responsible for policing the southern half of California, eliminating dissidents for the State. Christ, where have you people been? His Wyverns, his troops, swoop in to take out people like us and, God, you name it. Illegal immigrants, criminals, intellectual dissidents, anyone the State deems a threat.”
Nariko grimaced. “That makes depressing sense. In the dimensions we’ve been to, they all had attributes that were consistent with each individual’s mindset. In this world, it seems that Miguel’s greatest fear was related to a totalitarian regime. And he always hated Manticore.”
Belle frowned. “That asshat.”
Wright looked at Nariko, his scowl deepening. “Dimensions?”
Warp waved dismissively. “We’re from an alternate dimension, and there seems to be some profound differences.”
“Well, the ‘differences’ appear to be closing in on our position. You got your guy, hurray. He seemed as confused as I was when I questioned him. You know he’s a Shadow Spider, right? One of the State’s monsters!”
Warp shrugged, nonchalant. “Well, yeah. But in our world, he’s the only one.”
“Wait a second! You know about the Spiders but you didn’t know about the regime?”
The emo guy raised his hand. “Ah, that would be me. All the surface thoughts about Spiders were running around, and that’s how we found you guys.”
Wright looked incredulous.
The emo guy looked at his feet. “Uh, I’m a psychic.”
That seemed as reasonable as anything else so far. Wright grunted. “Right, okay, so he’s a Hero from where you are, great.” He shook his head in disgust. “Sterling! How far out are the Wyverns?”
A woman at a computer, who had been mutely watching the insanity, looked to her screen, which had several windows of blurry digital video feeds running at once. “They’re passing the red zone, about 200 meters from the main tunnels, sir.”
Wright grunted again. “Alright, start the evacuation, take the hard dries and arm the sub-nuke. Maybe this is a blessing in disguise.”
Warp looked mortified. “Sub nuke?!”
Wright looked back at Warp Factor, curling his lip. “Yeah. Hopefully, Sinclair gets in here as soon as it goes off.”
“WE’RE UNDERNEATH LOS ANGELES!” she shouted, dumbstruck.
“What do you think this is? We’re ‘terrorists’! We’re trying to fight back against a government that kills people for exercising freedom of speech! That kills people that don’t agree that being American should be synonymous with being ignorant and afraid! They send monsters after people to frighten people into submission! And if I have to blow up a small section of the Combat Zone to save myself, my people, and have the possibility of taking out one the State’s jackbooted killers, then by God I’ll do it. I don’t know what kind of myopic comic book morality you’re operating under, but this is war! Now, you got two choices! You can pop out the way you fucking came in, because the Wyverns are going to look at you crazies as targets, or you can help us fight them off and actually do some good in this world. What’s it gonna be, Wonder Woman? Tick tock!”
Warp flushed with anger and the air shimmered around her. “We should leave your crazy ass here, for having a nuke under fucking Los Angeles, you psycho… but today’s your lucky day. We’re not going to let anybody get slaughtered. But if I found out I threw in with an American Al-Queda, I’ll hand your ugly ass to the cops myself. Angels! Get ready!”
Kyou No Oni, the Japanese demon warrior nodded, and dark magic began to cloud around him. Psychist and Firanima went over to him, ready to back him up. Nariko cracked her knuckles and began to glow with her chi energy. Belle and Miguel were left with Warp and Wright as the four Angels slipped into the tunnels. The rebels in the command room went about their tasks, removing hard drives and other sensitive materials.
Wright nodded at Warp, a grudging sign of appreciation. “Can your people handle themselves? The Wyverns don’t take prisoners, they’re all ex-Special Forces.”
Warp looked over the command room while the rebels picked it clean. “My people can handle it, trust me. I think I got a good idea of what we’re up against. Miguel?” She looked over at Miguel (looking thoroughly confused) and Belle (looking curiously, and not a little intrigued by her husband’s different look – long black hair and darker skin and hey! He still had both eyes. Bully for them, Warp thought.). “You two okay?”
Belle looked up to Miguel thoughtfully. “Miguel?” she put a hand on his shoulder.
He rubbed his temples, as if to dislodge some hidden memory of who these were – clearly, they knew him. “I… I don’t know… all I know is that I came to LA a couple days ago and these dreams…. I suddenly have these powers and all these bizarre dreams of being some kind of super hero… I wish I knew what was going on.”
Belle flashed a dirty look at Wright. “You had him locked up in a straitjacket. Asshat.”
Wright shrugged indifferently. “Don’t presume to judge me. You have no idea of what we’re living through. He’s a Spider, and I did what was prudent to protect myself and my people.”
The muted sounds of gunfire reverberated throughout the complex.
“Ah, shit.” Wright sighed, and withdrew his Desert Eagle. “They’ve made contact.”
Warp clenched her fists. “Alright. Let’s do this.”
The four disappeared in a flash of light.
Alpha team leader cursed softly to himself as he shone the tactical flashlight over the tall, imposing, and bizarre form of what appeared to be a man in some weird Kabuki demon outfit. The monstrous thing’s eyes were glowing. Around it, dark, amorphous smoke swirled. It reflected none of the light.
“I bid you good day, gentlemen.” It spoke slightly accented English.
That’s a big fucking Jap, Alpha team leader thought. Fuck.
“It would be discourteous of me to repel you from the area without first politely asking you depart, posthaste.”
“…the fuck?” one of his men swore.
“…what the fuck is that?” another wondered softly.
“Shoot this fucking prick.” Alpha team leader growled.
“In the interest of fairness, I should warn you… You are surrounded…” Kyou intoned. The shadows around him intensified.
Behind the squad, the forms of Nariko, Firanima, and Psychist appeared. Flames danced in Firanima’s eyes.
“Take em!” Alpha team leader roared.
Gunfire erupted in the tunnels.
Soon, it was silenced, and smoke billowed through the dark tunnels, and the stench of burning flesh followed.
Archon Sinclair curled his lip at the sight of the swirling green dome around a group of four rebels – his men’s rounds had no visible effect. But, much to Sinclair’s dismay, it didn’t stop the rebels inside from returning fire. Greenish and blue bolts of light erupted from the outstretched hands of the two women, while one of the men fired off a high caliber pistol. The sound of gunfire was deafening, and his men were falling to pieces.
Snarling, he drew his bow back, aiming at the group. Hmm… who to kill first?
He grinned. The man with the hand cannon. Looks imperious and in charge. The other guy, a filthy Spic, didn’t have any weapons. And the women? Pff. As if a woman ever posed a threat outside a courtroom.
The old guy it is.
He released the arrow, the projectile slicing through the air towards the swirling dome.
Would it go through?
The man in the berets clutched his chest, sagging and pitching back.
He barked laughter. So it did.
A sizzling bolt of energy nearly took his head off. Cursing, he fell back, the side of his face, feeling like a light sunburn.
Have to save the others for later.
Miguel caught the rebel commander as he fell, a gleaming white arrow protruding from his chest. Wright coughed, his lips flecked with bloody froth.
“Muh… muh… Manticore…” Wright spat, feebly clasping the arrow’s shaft with his hands.
Belle fired back in the direction of the arrow, narrowly missing the Wyvern leader. As the Wyverns fell back, she knelt beside the rebel leader, her hands glowing an eldritch green.
Warp looked down, her mouth set in a hard line. “Arrow?”
Wright gasped, his chin now dripping red. His head lolled to the side, and he gripped Miguel’s collar with surprising strength. “You… you say you’re not one of them… you’re some kind of Hero… then… then… go be a Hero… Sinclair’s the worst…. A… a… kuh… killer… murderer… please… do it. Do it for the puh… puh… people…”
Belle grit her teeth, taking hold of the arrow and her healing magicks washed over the man. “Jesus, he got hit pretty bad.”
Miguel stood up, his eyes flashing. “I’m going after him.”
Warp launched another force bolt squarely in the back of a Wyvern trooper, sending him flying. “You’re sure about that, Miguel?”
Miguel turned to look at Warp and Belle, rolling his shoulders, clenching his fists. “If what you guys say is true, like my dreams have been telling me, then I’m supposed to be some kind of Hero. So far as I can remember in this world, I’ve been burying my head in the sand while people like him kill and terrorizing people. If my life here is just a dream, then let me do some good before it ends.”
Belle’s healing magicks washed over Wright, who was gasping in pain, slowly wrenching the arrow from his chest. She looked up at Miguel worriedly. “Snuggles?”
Miguel looked down at the woman from his dreams. “I’ll be back.”
She smiled sadly. “I’ll be waiting.”
Far away, in a dark place, a cruel bitter laugh echoed through the jagged, rough hewn walls of an underground lair.
A gnarled, bony hand swept over an ancient sheet of yellowed parchment. Upon it, writ in the dark brown of dried blood, sigils and incomphrensible script. Written millennia ago by mystics driven insane by the true face of chaos, of entropy, the sanity smashing reality of an infinite multi-verse and the Outer Dark, where the true demons lurked, banished beyond the stars by older gods, plotting and scheming, and more than pleased by the prospect of some foolish mortal wanting to dabble in the Dark Arts.
Here, today, the parchment was recreational reading, read aloud for his pleasure. The terrible knowledge this text provided would cause even the most debased Orenabegan to slit his own throat in despair, but he was far beyond that.
He reveled in the feeling of control over the course of events that played out, little dramas, insignificant on their own, really, but together, they were something of a test – what, he supposed, would happen should thousands be trapped in their dream worlds? Once again, a trifle. But in the process of freeing the victims there… there lay the intriguing possibility.
Each dream dimension was strategically chosen for it’s brittleness, it’s thin screen of interdimensional protection. Each time it’s fabric of reality was breached, the easier it was to work his will in them.
Unprotected and vulnerable, each reality that was entered by the would-be rescuers would soon be prey for the entities he had bargains with.
Still, there was one reality that he wanted for himself – the victim’s home dimension. Too well protected by meddling Heroes and sorcerers, his presence would instantly be detected, and he couldn’t allow that.
But with the dream dimensions breached and laid before the entities to devour, his own power would soon be beyond reckoning. And then no magician on that Earth that could stop him.
There, too, was the inadvertent side effect of the despair that would set in upon the victims – their dreams in their grasp, only to be revealed as rotting half-truths, and to return to their lives, well… what does that say about hope? About striving, dreaming, of a better world? They were pawns, yes, but imagine if enough of the Heroes were given their poisoned dream? What resistance could they possibly offer?
Because the concept of giving a mortal their dream, and to realize that their fantasy, their perfect world, was unattainable, a lie, impossible; was devilishly multi-contextual. They now had to live with the memories of a better life, one they could never truly have in reality, one that they would never again enjoy. From the bliss of fantasy to the unforgiving muck of their reality, why, it could conceivably break some of them.
No, they would learn, that hopes and dreams were ephemeral and as insubstantial as smoke. And without hope, they were lost. Hope is the light that lifts mortal’s eyes from the dirt, but what if that light is merely the oncoming train?
Without hope, life is meaningless. Soon, they would know that for certain. All life is a meaningless struggle in the mud, they were food for the Elder Gods.
Ah, for the feast to come!