Deathspider/Machina Shard Battles

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The Machina Shard Battles

One of DS's longtime foes, I got a lot of mileage out of DS and Machina's rivalry.


The Council trooper, you have to understand, only signed up for the college bonus.

Granted, the US Military could give them some dough, but really, why clean up Rikti War radioactive mess or go fight for oil in some pointless war, when you could fight self-righteous super heroes? It didn’t have the social cachet of being in dress greens or wearing bell bottoms on a ship full of men who occasionally had to share beds, but you got to wear a nifty black or green or grey uniform and exercise almost no muzzle discipline. Most days, it was great.

Except when Machina Shard, a psychopath with a bionic arm and a huge stone hammer, comes crashing down on your squad, looking for answers. Now normally, this was only hero territory. They come down on you and your buddies, trying to act tough, being a buncha jerks, asking about something you probably never heard about anyway. Like one day, there was this group of tights running around asking about ‘Nictus’. Yeah, right! Most Council hung out in Striga or Steel Canyon or scurried around in Galaxy City or Atlas Park, not privy to vast amounts of critical information like all heroes thought they were.

Machina landed on the asphalt where six Council troopers were hanging out, looking for recruits. Normally, this wasn’t healthy, but hey, when Command says jump, and all… The tan and black uniformed man, his headband fluttering in the wind, glared at them, a gigantic stone mallet forming in his hands. The light shone dully off the cybernetic arm.

The Council Troops just stared, their hands moving to the grips of their rifles instinctively. Machina nodded, his teeth clenched. “All right. Who wants to talk before people start getting killed?” he said, stepping closer, hefting the hammer menacingly.

One trooper raised the barrel of his assault rifle out of habit – he had seen too many of his buddies crushed by some hero with an attitude problem. The safety clicked off, way too slowly for his liking, and his finger tightened on the trigger. Seven pounds of pressure later, and the assault rifle barked, firing a three round burst of standard NATO ammunition stolen from a military base thousands of miles away. The 5.56mm rounds sped through the space between them and the crazed man with the stone mallet, the lead soon colliding with Machina’s chest, mushrooming out as they hit and disintegrated, falling away in microscopic particles of dust.

Machina smiled.

Their comrade’s action spurred them on, five more assault rifles coming up, a barrage of small arms fire hitting Machina, ricocheting or simply smashing against the seemingly invulnerable man as he laughed bitterly, charging the troopers. The mallet swung wide, the flat head catching the lead trooper on the side of his head, messily destroying his skull in a spray of grey matter, skull, hair, and Kevlar helmet. The man’s body hit the ground, flopping nerveless to the hot asphalt, blood now spurting out in gouts.

The bionic hand shot out, clenching around another trooper’s throat, the servos and pistons closing around tightly, snapping through cartilage and bone, crushing the man’s throat. Blood poured out of his nostrils and mouth as he messily expired, his Council uniform filling with feces as his bowels relaxed in death.

Machina turned to the remaining four men, one of whom, probably the squad leader, screamed ‘RETREAT!’ at the top of his lungs, dropping a spent magazine and hastily slapping in another one as he ran. The action cost him, however, as Machina leapt after him, landing on him heavily, breaking his pelvis as Machina’s body slammed down. The squad leader screamed in agony as Machina flipped him over on his back, looming over the writhing Council trooper.

“Fifth Column. Previous management. Talk, or this gets worst.” Machina said, hefting the stone mallet over the gasping Trooper’s face. A bubble of blood popped on the Troopers lips, his skin clammy with sweat, a shuddering gasp wracking his body.

This wasn’t worth the college money.

The blue 1969 Camaro SS with the white racing stripes rumbled at the stoplight at Washington Road in the Copper District of Steel Canyon. Miguel Sanchez drummed his fingertips on the steering wheel, reclining in the new bucket seats he had installed, the music way too low for his tastes, but his passenger, Rebecca Rousseau, didn’t appreciate his kind of driving music.

The back seat was filled with various bags from various department stores – clothes that Rebecca had protested over getting, but really needed. Since she had woken up from her coma, and lived in a halfway house, she didn’t have much in the way of a wardrobe. Miguel tried to downplay his secret shame – he liked taking women shopping. Especially for skirts. Short skirts.

“I told you, Miguel…” she began. She had started calling him Miguel. His name was Michael. His mother was Mexican, and even she called him Michael. But hey, it was different, and truth be told, he really didn’t mind. It was better than ‘Mike’. Mike made you sound like a auto mechanic, covered in grease stains… Or being some curly black haired guy with three days stubble working in a food court somewhere. Miguel may conjure up, in most white people’s minds, of their gardener or landscaper, but it was better than Mike. “… I don’t need all this. Really. Don’t feel like you’re supposed to do all this for me, I’m already staying at your place rent-free…”

Miguel smiled, shaking his head. “Alright, you must be some sort of alien or something, because I just took you shopping and you’re wringing your hands about it. Don’t worry… it’ll be alright.” His finger pressed the power button on the CD player. No sense in listening to a Ministry CD when your girl isn’t into it. Having an passenger uninterested in your music just kills the mood. Not that either of them ever drove much. He didn’t know anyone in Paragon, hero-wise, that actually owned a car, much less drove one. That’s why, he mused, they can afford replacement costumes all the time with no car payment or insurance.

Rebecca rolled her eyes and toyed with a long strand of her red hair, looking out the window. That was one thing about Steel Canyon, and Paragon in general. Not a lot of visual obstructions on the corners. In bigger cities, the street corner poles were plastered with badly photocopied fliers and other such nonsense, staples dotting the telephone poles, advertisements for concerts and no-name bands playing at no-name clubs that were several weeks or months old. “I just don’t want you thinking that I expect all of this from you. Give me some pride, at least.” A slight, wry smile, defusing the potential acidity of the comment, but enough to get the point across.

He sighed and looked out ahead of him, the light staying red long enough to get a Chinese Army division through the intersection. “I’m sorry if I’m making you feel obligated or anything. I just want you to be comfortable, and this is sort of my way of doing that, it sets me at ease. I don’t want you to feel like all you’re getting is cast-offs. I want you to have nice things, you know?”

Rebecca slid over in her seat, leaning over and kissing his cheek, smiling. “You don't have to give me things to make me like you, or want to be with you, or appreciate you. Just don’t go overboard, kay?”

And just then, that’s when the Council Trooper Machina Shard had been interrogating, fell into the intersection in two pieces, his lower body slapping with a meaty thwap on the side of a cab.

Miguel’s eyes grew wide, his body almost instantly performing an adrenaline dump into his bloodstream. The steering wheel creaked with the pressure his hands were putting on it. “Rebecca… Take the wheel.”

Becca looked out into the intersection in horror, and slowly shook her head. “Miguel, I don’t know how to drive. I never had to…” Miguel was already out the door, across the street now crowding with onlookers, to the small alley in-between the M.C. Louis Investments buildings, peeling off his clothes as he ran, his black and grey Deathspider costume underneath. As he reached the end of the alley, his clothes tucked under his arm, he pulled his mask over his face and leapt directly up twenty feet to the roof of the green brick M.C. Louis building, getting his footing, then pistoning up 16 stories of the condos above, landing lightly on the roof. Dumping his clothes near the building’s HVAC unit, he sprang over to the southeast corner of the roof, looking down, his vision acute enough to pick out the disturbance. The screams of onlookers and sounds of horns blaring were deafening even up here, but he could see what was causing it well enough…

Machina Shard.

His ex-teammate in the Dark Dominion, not quite an estranged friend, but not quite an arch-enemy, was running down a frantic Council namer up the large concrete embankment that always looked so out of place in Steel Canyon. His trademark stone hammer was raised, his cape and headband streaming behind him as he ran the guy down, the hammer swinging down and folding the guy’s spine in half. Miguel furrowed his brow, and leapt down, his heart racing. What the hell was he doing in Paragon? Did he get through Siren’s Call somehow? Drone malfunction? Or did the villains simply rush the gate and overwhelm them? The wind rushed past him as he descended, and he landed with a grunt, crouched down on the top of the Community Information kiosk. This wasn’t good.

Machina stood above the fallen Council trooper as the man twitched and voided his bowels, the Dominion yes-man smirking at the sound of sirens in the distance, TAC troops and squad cars hurtling through traffic to handle this new threat. Maybe Portal would be dropping a force field over the area, like they did in dimensional insertions, but then again, they didn’t react quickly enough – most times, they had days in advance to set up, hours at the least. This would qualify as one of those times where they would come up short.

And no Positron coming from Blyde Square, no Statesman streaking out of the sky, nothing. The other big name heroes were either in the pointless melee in Siren’s Call, or in the Pocket D partying with their cliques, or just kibitzing around. Nobody else in the Zone could handle Machina, and he could see some hovering in the distance, not wanting to rack up a hospital bill or get a filling knocked loose trying to save the day. As the only Security Level 50 in the Zone… well. This time it was on him.

He sprang forward, a black blur through the air as he homed in on Machina. He had the fortune of having a cop on patrol firing his .45 at Machina, distracting him for a moment. And at Miguel’s speed, a moment was more than enough. He slammed into Machina’s back, knocking them both onto the steeply graded embankment, Machina’s body cracking the concrete as they collided. Machina grunted in surprise, shaking his head to get his bearings as he clambered to his feet. Miguel leapt off of him, landing roughly 30 yards away in a crouch.

Machina stared at Deathspider for a moment, his eyes widening slightly. Then, old habit took over and he sneered, putting up the front that dominated his life as a villain. The air of malevolent disregard, the play of amorality (which was necessary, given the company he kept). “I should have known it’d be you to come, DS.”

Deathspider kept low to the ground, crawling up the grade of the embankment on all fours in a crouch, his nerves taut like guitar strings, ready to play a tune. His skin was pumping out the pheromones that would be the deciding factor in this battle, special neurotransmitter blocking chemicals, airborne and able to penetrate almost any clothing short of full environmentally sealed armor. And Machina was well acquainted to them, his pupils dilating, blinking rapidly – they would soon be working into his brain, causing motor neurons to misfire, or sensory information to become blurred. Soon, Machina would be swinging where Deathspider was a fraction of a second before, or not see a blurry fist coming out of nowhere. Combined with Miguel’s speed and reflexes, Machina was at a distinct disadvantage in the accuracy department.

However, in the raw power department, Machina had the edge. He was not especially large, but his frame belied his strength. Besides his bionic arm, he usually packed enough power amplifiers to boost his strength far beyond human levels. One common misconception is that if you have some sort of cybernetic appendage you can bench press tractor trailers with it, and sure, most military grade cybernetics are capable of lifting heavy loads… but the human body is not. If Machina wasn’t loaded with power amplifiers and he tried to lift a car, his shoulder would simply rip off with the arm lifting the load. If it didn’t give, miraculously, his spine, hips, and leg muscles would snap with the strain. Hence, his gadgets, mostly built into the cyber-arm, or hanging from his belt. With them, he could toss cars, punch through concrete walls, and more importantly, protect him from the worst effects of most kinds of physical and energy damage.

But, and this is what Deathspider counted on every time he went against Machina, if you can’t hit someone, you can’t hurt them.

“What’s the problem, Slots?” Slots, Miguel’s pet name for Machina, from ‘One Armed Bandit’. “Can’t find a decent mortuary in the Isles, so you’re looking for a new girlfriend?” Another sore point with Machina… He had a half-vampire, or full vampire girlfriend that he was crazy about, and Miguel found out early that plucking that string usually got Machina all sorts of pissed off.

Sure enough… Machina curled his lip, hefting the stone mallet. “You must want to be deep-sixed again, Bug… You leave Belle out of this.”

Suddenly, breaking the obligatory pre-fight dialogue segment, Deathspider dashed forward, landing at Machina’s feet, his fists slamming into Machina’s midsection. Alone, they did little damage, what with Machina’s powers, but they did something Machina’s gadgets couldn’t protect him from, and that was the pheromones, up close and personal. Machina stepped back, grunting, and swung the massive hammer, but his vision was already blurring, the stone hissing over Deathspider’s head. At the apex of his swing, Machina was left wide open, and Miguel’s fist crashed up into Machina’s jaw, clicking his teeth together through the meat of his tongue. The Dominion soldier lashed out instinctively with a kick, Miguel’s reflexes saving him from a broken rib. Deathspider leapt back in a somersault, landing on his hands and feet.

Machina spat out a bloody chunk of tongue. “Unngh… Good hit, Bug. You can still do that right. Too bad you can’t even keep your floozies around. Heard about Aatiya from Karnal and Chimera. Guess you made the wrong enemies, man. Shoulda just shut up and toed the line, you’d still have Aatiya. But I guess you just can’t help but f*ck up, huh?”

Deathspider grimaced underneath his mask, but kept moving, circling around Machina as the man advanced with his hammer out. “Yeah, it was real classy. I guess the only way you people can actually do anything to anybody is to either gossip like a high-school girl or send outside help to deal with the people you’re too inept to take down yourselves.”

Machina grunted and ran at him, the hammer back poised to strike. DS leapt up as the hammer crashed down into the concrete, sending a shockwave through the embankment, massive rents and cracks spider-webbing out from the point of impact. People on the sidewalk, rubbernecking or just rooted to the spot in amazement, fell to their feet, like a sudden earthquake hit the city. Miguel came down feet first on the back of Machina’s head, springing off to the street nearby. If Machina was anything, Miguel thought as he took in the sudden devastation his opponent caused, he was extremely dangerous when provoked. All Miguel had to do was keep from having Machina crush his skull.

He landed on the other side of the street, adjacent to the parking lot, thankfully mostly empty of vehicles and pedestrians. He scanned the area, looking for anybody in the way. The cops on the periphery were already falling into their accustomed roles, mostly crowd control, keeping civilians out of harm’s way. Good, he thought, at least collateral damage will be…

Machina slammed into him hard, knocking him off his feet and airborne, hurdling through the air and his body rebounded off the side of the wall of the west entrance of the office building adjoining the parking lot. He hit the ground, dazed and the world spinning a bit too much at that moment to do much of anything except crawl a short distance. He heard the crunch of metal.

“Hey, Mikey-boy… Slug bug!”

He heard the Volkswagen Beetle hiss through the air, and he was on his feet, just in time to catch the front end in the chest. His breath forced out of him, he was helpless as he and the car were pinned to the side of the building. He slumped forward, gasping in agony as his now broken ribs tore at his insides, tasting blood at the back of his mouth.

Machina grunted in satisfaction, striding up with his hammer in both hands, ready to finish off this mouthy jerk that had caused his leader, Karnal, so much trouble. This would be even better, he thought, if Karnal was here to see it. See Deathspider squashed like the insect he was…

And then, suddenly, he stopped.

Now that’s not nice to think, Robert. As a matter of fact, why don’t you not think at all?

He shook his head, the feminine voice echoing through his mind. What the hell was this? His flesh hand reached down, seemingly of its own accord, casually disconnecting some of the power amplifiers dangling from his belt and tossing them on the ground.

“What the…”

Ah ah ah… No cussing, pal.

A burst of telekinetic energy smashed into his chest, knocking him off his feet and back into the street, right into the path of an oncoming SWAT team truck, crumpling the sheet metal and smashing into the engine block. The truck shuddered to a halt, the driver pitching forward and smashing through the disintegrating windshield. The truck’s momentum carried its bulk and its new passenger forward roughly eighty yards, shredding Machina’s costume on the asphalt, his lowered power level allowing his skin to be ripped up by the friction against the road.

Rebecca stood on the corner near the information kiosk, a smug look on her face as Machina lay underneath the ruined truck. Nodding, she turned and jogged over to Deathspider, her heart in her throat. She stopped short, wincing as she concentrated and pulled the crumpled VW Bug away from her lover, carelessly tossing it into the sparsely populated parking lot, the vehicle smashing into the ground with a thunderous crash. Immediately, she ran to him as he slid to the ground, clutching his chest in agony. She dove into his mind, releasing pain-killing endorphins into his bloodstream and dulling the pain, her psionic healing powers washing over him.

Baby… are you okay? She spoke into his mind, cutting like a knife through the bright pain clouding his senses.

He nodded weakly, his flesh starting to reknit under her influence. He lurched forward, panting as he made his way to his feet, shaking his head. “Yeah… Yeah, I’m better now… Where is he?”

She pointed to the wreck of the SWAT truck, where Machina was staggering away, his face livid with rage. Honey, one of your friends?

Miguel chuckled softly. “Yeah, your standard ‘Wanting to Kill You’ friends. Back me up.” That was a trademark quality of their relationship, something he never felt before – to be backed up, to know his partner wasn’t going to cut and run or there was some sort of competition. They meshed as well in combat as they did in every other facet of their life together. She spoke into his mind again. You know it. Take him.

Machina formed the stone hammer again in his cybernetic fist, his flesh arm clutching his gut. The psychic’s little trick had caused him to disconnect some of the more crucial power amplifiers, and it had cost him when she tossed him into the truck… Pain shot through his body, making him limp, but he was disciplined enough to look past it, to finish off his hated rival, or inflict enough damage to cripple him, whatever… as long as he got to smash him.

Deathspider stepped forward, on a course to intercept. Yeah, the car in the chest hurt, he thought, but he had a chance to stop Machina here, at least until some help arrived to contain him. Machina was a flight risk, but maybe between Rebecca and himself he could infuriate him enough to make a mistake. His hands balled up into fists, and he accelerated, Rebecca’s powers having dulled enough of the pain for him to operate. He came in fast, a black and grey blur, and smashed Machina across the face, shifting his nose an inch or so to the right, his face exploding with a spurt of blood. Machina retaliated with the haft of his hammer slamming into the nerve cluster in Miguel’s shoulder, numbing it. Growling, he grabbed Machina’s face and dug his fingers in, hoping to use his ability to crawl walls to rip off his opponent’s face. Realizing, horrified, what DS was doing, Machina dropped the hammer and grabbed Miguel’s wrist, the iron grip crushing the bones with relentlessly increasing pressure.

Miguel screamed, almost a roar, and drove his knee up into Machina’s gut, the impact having more of an effect now, doubling him over. The cybernetic hand wouldn’t release, and if something didn’t happen soon, he’d be looking for a new hand, just like Chimera… A stark, sobering thought flashed through his mind like lightning – was this what it was coming to? We’re either killing or crippling each other now? Is this what adults are supposed to do?

Machina stiffened suddenly, his body going slack. Miguel flashed a look back at Rebecca, her eyes closed in deep concentration. Sleep. She was putting him to sleep. The cyber-arm released his wrist, and he moaned in agony as the blood rushed back into his hand. He fell to the ground, holding his hand to his belly as Machina fought the effects, staggering back and forth drunkenly.

Do it, Miguel! Finish him! Rebecca whispered into his mind.

His hand felt like he had dipped it in molten lead, it was useless until he could get Rebecca to look at it, and even then, he would need a trip to the hospital. His other arm, numbed from the shot to his nerve cluster at the joint of his pectoral and his shoulder, was slowly working off the effects, but as of this moment, he wasn’t going to be all that effective.

Machina stepped back, grimacing, the overwhelming need to give in and close his eyes washing over him. He shook his head, trying to resist, but… god, sleep, I need sleep, he thought, and only the sight of Deathspider crouching nearby kept him awake. If he slept, he would be captured and Karnal would –not- be pleased… and with the barrel Karnal had him over, that would be very problematic indeed…

“Huh… your new floozy, Mike?” he slurred, stepping back, trying to distance himself from the psychic girl. “You… you should thank her. She’s the only thing that saved you this time…”

Deathspider shook his left arm, trying to get rid of the pins and needles, hoping he could finish Machina off while he had the opportunity. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“Huh… you would…” Machina began, and his words were cut off as something burst in his shoulder, a spray of blood, then he heard the crack of a rifle. He howled in pain, looking up at the embankment, where several SWAT sharpshooters were in position. The pain woke him up, Rebecca’s psionic tampering suddenly interrupted, and he snarled in fury. “Well, I see once again, you get a reprieve. Talk to me when you got the guts to take me one on one…” With that, he leapt into the air, soaring over the embankment towards Siren’s Call.

Miguel sighed in relief, despite the growing feeling of failure rising in him. He let another one of them go… He let Chimera go because he felt guilty, and he let Machina go because he was too weak to fight…

Don’t. Let it go. You did more than anyone else did, baby… Rebecca said softly, stepping behind him and putting her hands on his shoulders, her healing powers flowing into him, cutting more of the pain until it was distant, unfocused. Miguel nodded, knowing she was right, but still… what’s a hero without some angsty guilt complex. He stood, taking her hands.

“We should go.”

Rebecca nodded, then a look of realization came, her face falling. And not the good kind.

“Um… I think I left the car in the intersection.” She bit her lower lip, squeezing his hands. “Maybe…it’s still there?” She smiled unconvincingly.

Miguel shook his head, laughing softly. “Maybe… Let’s go. There’s nothing more we can do here… You were awesome, Becca… Thank you for backing me up. I wouldn’t have made it without you.”

They began to walk, as the cops surged into the area, emergency vehicles rushing from the neighboring zones to deal with the threat, a little too late as they were wont to be. Miguel staggered along the sidewalk, Rebecca holding him up. “Well… that’s what partners are for, right?” she said softly, smiling.

Despite the pain, he couldn’t help but grin.

Symphony Of Destruction

Part One - Falling To Pieces

I grabbed the Council grunt by the face, lifting him off his feet. My mask was shredded, so my mouth wasn’t hindered by the fabric. My teeth were elongated, knowing from past experience that they were translucent, my tongue swimming in a numbing poison that leaked out of the side of my mouth. My vision was red, blurry. Everything other than the soldier’s throat was out of focus and hazy. All I could think about was feeding.

My fingers were elongated, hard and sharp, more like the talons of a spider, and digging through the mask of the soldier, piercing his skin. He shrieked in terror and agony against my palm. And as much as I hate to admit it, it made me more hungry. I pulled him down to me and my mouth opened wide, enough to rip the skin around my mouth. I closed my eyes in relief as I tore into his throat.

Let me explain.

When the 5th Column, and later, the Council, altered me into this weird spider-assassin creature, they altered how I take in food. Humans, which is a category I really no longer fit into, are like most animals with a full digestive system. Most of mine was replaced with additional adrenal glands, and new organs that produce the pheromones that my body emits. I can’t really eat normal food because most of the enzymes and whatnot can’t be produced anymore to break the stuff down to get nutrients from it. I need adenosine tri-phosphate, which is the chemical that basically is our energy – our cells require it to move muscles and do all the business bodies are supposed to do.

So I draw it from my enemies.

My powers allow me to actually draw body fluids and molecules of energy out of my enemies. It sometimes comes through their skin, through the air, and into my body. It’s in a fine mist, almost imperceptible unless I’m drawing a lot of it.

But in circumstances like this, the Striga Council Base being demolished around of me, and Machina Shard somewhere in this chaotic mess, my body riddled with bullets, my flesh seared from energy blasts, one lung collapsed, and the bones in my fists spider-webbed with hairline fractures, I needed more than what I could normally get. And in times like this… I need to get it from… the ‘source’, as it were.

Spiders feed by sucking the body fluids out of their prey, leaving their victims a dry husk.

The rush of blood into my mouth was like the hit of a good drug. My eyes felt like they were too big for their sockets, they couldn’t open wide enough. Like a piece of steak, I began to chew, shredding the man’s throat, the juices running down my throat and down my chin like a ripe peach.

Oh god, it was good. I hate to say it, to admit it, but it was so good. More delicious than starving yourself all day before a banquet… imagine biting into your favorite food after being denied it, held right out in front of your face. Nothing feels quite like your natural urges being satisfied, the endorphins in your brain rewarding you for continuing your existence.

I would like to think that when the cartilage in his throat gave way under the tremendous pressure of my jaws closing around it would have stopped me if I wasn’t so hungry.

The soldier’s blood flooded into my system, the organs the Council made to process my new diet, as it were, breaking down the fluids and converting it into nutrients. Almost immediately, I could feel the bullets being pushed out of my body, the fractures in my hands itching like mad as they healed, directed energy weapon burns scabbing over, converting into scar tissue. My punctured and collapsed lung began to inflate as I threw the soldier to the ground and drew a breath, still in agonizing pain but more alert, less on my way to dying.

I staggered away from the dying Council soldier, leaving him to weakly clutch his ruined throat as he expired. I could have taken more, but it would leave me soporific and tired, and I couldn’t afford to be sluggish. I made my way over the jagged chunks of concrete fallen from the ceiling, only the rebar and reinforced sections keeping most of this ceiling intact. Machina had made a mess.

Do I feel bad about killing that guy? From a humanistic, ‘normal’ point of view, I’m disgusted and horrified with myself. But I didn’t have the luxury of moralizing at that point in time. It was either I die a slow death from my injuries and starvation (when I exert myself, I run through ATP at a high rate. Usually, I get it off my enemies, but I was overexerting myself, and after the roof collapsed in the tunnel, I had to dig my way loose with nobody around to feed off of), or kill someone. Machina and the Council were going at it, and I was there to stop them both.

Turns out, it would have been better if I had just not gone to Striga Island at all.

The murky greenish haze of Grandville hung over Lord Recluse’s domain like a blanket smothering an infant. The tall spires of His tower disappeared into the gloom even during mid-afternoon.

Perfect for Hans Hauptmann as he floated above the breezeway leading towards Recluse’s statue while he waited. For business, he usually wore his customary black suit – Brooks Brothers usually was more than sufficient, as Hauptmann had an eye for business-wear, but today, he wore his battlesuit that his pet scientists devised for him. The orange hood and armor pads contrasted with the pale greenish-grey of the chain-mail-esque body of the suit. His face was concealed by a mask, a haughty and sharp expression on the molded plastic demon’s face. The large, oversized gauntlets that held the plasma projectors that provided his battlesuit’s weaponry shimmered with heat. Even though Arachnos’ elite forces in Grandville would cut him down without a thought at this point, it was best to be prepared. Even the illusion of power, of capability, was usually enough to deter most attacks of opportunity.

The suit’s targeting system beeped and flashed. Ah, there we go. Pattern recognition software was useful, even though he himself didn’t usually touch computers and whatnot. He was busy with other matters, let the nerds and computer whizzes deal with it. He respected their abilities, but only for what they could do for him. The form of Machina Shard bounding over from the Ferry was coming into view. Excellent.

The suit’s hoverjets hummed as he diverted power from the plasma cannons, and he flew out on an intercept course. Machina Shard was fast though, and soon, he was within 300 yards – perfect hailing distance. Hauptmann cued up the vox.

“Guten Tag, Herr Shard” the electronically scrambled voice boomed.

Machina Shard looked up, and landed on the black and red gridded walkway. He squinted his eyes, looking up at the orange and gray-greenish figure descending towards him. “What?”

“What indeed, Herr Shard. I have come to you with a problem, perhaps we could find a mutually beneficial solution to it, yes?”

Machina studied the man in front of him. “Your first mistake is thinking anything beneficial could come from bothering me. But you got my attention. What do you want?”

Herr Hauptmann landed softly in front of Machina, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “Herr Shard, I am interested in a location in Striga Isle, a large Council base off the coast of Paragon City, ja? I understand you and the Council have history?”

Machina curled his lip in derision. “What of it?”

“Sir, my name is Scheiterhaufen. I am interested in locating several old 5th Column…” he let the name linger, knowing Machina’s history with the 5th Column. “… artifacts. However, the Council has a death warrant on my head. To go in would be inviting my own death, which is something I am not prepared to do at this time. You, however, are powerful enough to do this, for a fair and generous price, of course. And it goes without saying, any spoils you find would be yours.”

“There’s thousands of others you could have gone to. Why bother me?” he growled menacingly. A long stone mallet materialized in his hands, one human, one cybernetic.

The haughty, cruel yellow demonic face smiled. “Because I have heard great things about you. Oh, yes, I could go hire someone like Rakescar, but I would prefer the entire island not be leveled. I need power, but with precision. I need brute strength with the intelligence and restraint to temper it. I need a tactician, not a mindless thug. But the time table for the codes I have acquired is closing fast. I am afraid it is short notice, but I must ask you… are you interested? I can pay… handsomely.”

As I stood on the deck of the speedboat the Hazard Guard had purchased during one of their more profitable periods, I looked out at the massive installation built around the volcano which loomed against the sky, a plume of smoke coming from the top. Of course, it was generally a missile silo or the site of a gigantic robot being built, but still, it was impressive. From my vantage point, I could see the concrete pillboxes perched on the Cliffside, a radar installation with its dish spinning around dutifully. I wasn’t worried about the boat being spotted – the explosions that were rocking the facility no doubt had the Council busy.

The boat was being remote controlled from the H-G base back in Paragon City, by Kieth Kountes, a.k.a. Swarm Caller. Kieth had become the de facto leader of the Hazard Guard after Beta’Jin X and Tia Windstrom, the founders of the team, had disappeared. It had been months since anyone had heard from them. It was Kieth who had spotted the disturbance in Striga, specifically at the Council base.

“Mike, you really should check that out” he had said, sitting at the counsel of the giant viewscreen, insects casually crawling over every inch of his body like it was the most natural thing in the world.

So here I was. The boat made a wide veer and I leapt off into the water, plunging underneath the waves. I kicked my legs, propelling myself through the water to the shore, where several Banished Pantheon zombies lurched and shambled in the surf. Their baleful eyes shone with a malevolent glow, but they made an effort not to come closer. Even mindless, the dark magic inside of them gave them a sense of self-preservation. A few leaps up the sheer rock wall, and I was on the edge of the cliff. My black and grey costume was drenched with sea water, but the fabric was drying fast – another one of Kieth’s inventions. I clambered to the edge of the concrete wall overlooking the base. Several Council troops were crouched nearby, firing M16’s and Mossberg shotguns into the base. Shell casings flew as they fired en masse down below. I could only imagine what they were firing at. In the twilight, they couldn’t see me in my dark costume, and that was fine with me. There would be killing enough tonight. I melded into the shadows and crept down the concrete wall behind several stacks of crates. A Mek Man was nearby, his arms ejecting beams of hot plasma to the west.

I leapt out at the Mek Man, smashing my fist into it’s midsection. My hand burst through its chest cavity, and it sputtered and died, collapsing to the ground. I wrenched my hand free and leapt towards where people were firing, landing in the bed of an old US Army Deuce and a Half, peering over the battered cab. Ahead, I could see the huge oil storage tanks and more crates, a pipeline spanning across from left to right. And I could see tracers shooting from up and behind me, from off the side of the mountain… the roar of machine guns and turrets firing, all converging ahead of me.

I guessed that was where I needed to go.

The weird, purplish Nictus energy flew out from the Galaxy troops, machine gun and grenade launcher fire from the Penumbra Cor Leonis soldiers, more Mek Man energy beams, all firing to the west. Something had gone terribly wrong for the Council. As it was, it was child’s play to stick to the shadows and let the Council soldiers do exactly what they wanted. I sprinted out, leapt onto one of the warehouses, and ran along it in a sort of crouch-run, gun fire whizzing over my head inches away.

At the edge of the warehouse, I could see where everyone was firing at. Down along the roadway that snaked through the facility, someone or something was getting a lot of attention. Bullets ricocheted off it, energy beams harmlessly dissipating – I didn’t know a lot of people who could shrug off that kind of punishment. It was a short list, and at the top of the list was someone I didn’t want to see again.

Getting closer wasn’t exactly an option either. There was a lot of firepower raining down on that thing, and me getting up close and personal would only get my handsome butt riddled with bullets. And who needs that? He turned the corner at a slow jog, seemingly unhindered by the assault.

The hell with this, I said to myself. But I was familiar with the compound (more on that later), so I leapt ahead, hoping to cut it off at the pass before it entered the long tunnel network that wound its way through the mountain. Landing with a thud and a rattle of metal on the catwalk parallel to the mouth of the tunnel system. And I could see it striding, the cape fluttered behind it, the long stone mallet in its hands…

Machina Shard.

My right wrist throbbed with the memory. Our last fight, in Steel Canyon, he nearly snapped off my hand. Threw a New Beetle at me, nearly crushed my ribs. It was only by the intervention of my girlfriend at the time, Rebecca, and her psionic attacks on him that I was able to walk away from that one. Unfortunately… Rebecca was gone. Gone for two weeks without a trace. No note, no phone call, no explanation. My luck was holding true.

He was striding towards the checkpoint at the mouth of the tunnel. The guards were out of their booths, firing at him desperately while an operator stayed inside, trying to hasten the closing of the blast doors. Machina sneered at the oncoming fire, hefting his hammer and pointing the mallet end at a grouping of three Council troopers. The hammer seemed fluid in his grasp, running like wax until it shaped itself into a spear. He twirled it in his grasp and threw it with terrific force, impaling one trooper and exploding out his back. The force of the impact made the trooper spin in a half-circle, the chain gun he was firing soon ripping apart his compatriots in a hail of bullets. It made a mess. Machina wasn’t done, though. His hands were soon filled with another javelin, and he threw it into the guardhouse, the force so great it operated like a supersonic APFSDS round fired from a tank.

FUN FACT: Armor Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot rounds are basically like a long dart fired from a tank. Normally, tank rounds are explosive shells and they operate basically like a bullet or artillery shell. Well, some humanitarian had the idea of using the same powder charge but decreasing the mass of the shell, so the projectile has greater penetrating power. The kinetic energy is so great that it can pierce through heavy tank armor and out the other side of the armored vehicle. Neat thing is, it caused such a vacuum inside the armored vehicle that everything inside pretty much gets sucked out the hole on the other side, turning it into so much metal and meat confetti.

So yeah, the guard house was decimated.

The damage was done, however. The blast door was closing fast. Machina ran forward, forming yet another spear and quickly wedged it as the doors came together, giving him just enough room to squeeze through. I, however, was already on the other side to greet him. I clung to the ceiling, invisible in the shadows. I could hear his labored breathing, the servos of his cybernetic hand clicking and whirring.

“This better be worth it…” he mumbled under his breath. Was this the time to fight? Better to find out what he was after. I followed him as he walked into the shadows of the tunnel, crawling above him on the ceiling. The Council wasn’t stupid, however, in their choice of placing several blast doors along the path. The next in line was already beginning to close, apparently, Central Control was wise to what he was doing.

Machina grunted and held his hand in front of him. The complex began to shake and lurch as a gigantic shard of earth burst through the concrete floor, piercing through the blast doors with an earth shattering impact. The motors on the blast doors whirred, trying to strain against the intruding piece of rock, then finally burned out… Nodding, satisfied with himself, he made a sweeping motion with his hand, and the sliver of earth slid back into the wound in the concrete.

Whoa, I thought. He never did –that- before.

I dropped down silently behind him as he strode through the hole in the blast doors. He was making his way to a stack of crates against the north side of the next compartmentalized area. A stone hammer materialized in his hands again. Great. Machina got tougher. This was all I needed.

I tensed up, the old adrenaline flooding my bloodstream once again. How would his new abilities be a factor in the fight? Would my pheromones even work anymore? I always hated fighting Machina, even though most times, I would win. But lately… especially since last time in Steel Canyon, he was getting better at what he did. And I honestly didn’t know if I could take him now.

No matter. Kokutsu dachi, backwards leaning stance. Loosen up. Flex the fingers, steel yourself.

We will train our hearts and bodies for a firm, unshaking spirit.

We will pursue the true meaning of the Martial Way, so that in time our senses may be alert.

With true vigor, we will seek to cultivate a spirit of self-denial.

We will observe the rules of courtesy, respect our superiors, and refrain from violence.

We will follow our religious principles, and never forget the true virtue of humility.

We will look upwards to wisdom and strength, not seeking other desires.

All our lives, through the discipline of karate, we will seek to fulfill the true meaning of the Kyokushin Way.

Somewhere, off the coast of Striga Island, there was a Kyokushinkai instructor who would have been proud of me.

Releasing a long, pent up breath, my senses alive with adrenaline and the cool feeling of Zen washing over me, I let the doubt and uncertainty over the encounter melt away.

“Well, Slots… Looks like the Council just took you for… granite…”

An annoyed sigh. “Bug. You’re having an annoying tendency to show up where you’re not wanted.” He turned to me, tensing up himself. He knew the game just as well as I did, and already he knew where this was going. He steadied himself, no doubt ready to scrap with me. Maybe even more ready, what with his new skill at manipulating the earth. And this was was not the ideal spot for me to fight someone who could shoot shards of earth through the ground. But no matter. We will train our hearts and bodies for a firm, unshaking spirit.

“What are you doing here, Machina?” The banter. The banter was an important part of the ritual. “Out here on some errand like the dog you’ve become? Or some grudge against the Council? I could forgive the latter, but as far as the former goes… you’re pathetic.”

Machina grinned, holding the mallet in front of him, almost like saluting me with it like a fencer. “Pathetic? Like how you needed your newest chicken-head to survive last time?”

I moved in, circling around him. Chin strike. Front elbow strike. Kin geri groin kick. Sounded as good as any way to start it. And already, the pheromones were starting to effect him again. He didn’t seem worried though. He seemed to take it as a matter of course, the price of doing business. He circled with me, still holding the hammer out, ready for it.

We’ve done the dance so many times, fighting in Siren’s Call, Recluse’s Victory, at each other’s throats in the Isles, or places like Steel Canyon, where he had no right to be… and yet, we could never settle the score between us. Bad blood, for which the reasons had long ago moved beyond us both, still remained, and we hated each other still. Like the Arabs and the Jews, we’ve been fighting each other so viciously and for so long we’ve forgotten why we hate, we just do.

Until one or the other is dead.

He lunged forward, swinging the hammer. I sidestepped, spinning around with a knife hand strike to the head. His knee came up, I blocked down, sweeping it away, bringing an elbow to his throat. He pushes off of me, readying for another swing. I’m up, over him, somersaulting in the air, foot lashing out to his head. Blocked, he swings, I dodge. All a formality. The pheromones were seeping through his skin, flooding his nervous system, his bloodstream with the chemical weapons the Council had given me on this very island. He stepped away, holding the hammer out to dissuade me from coming closer. It never worked. I came in anyway, a flurry of punches after I ducked under his swing, slamming my fists into his midsection, finishing off with a punishing uppercut to his jaw. He staggered back, grinning madly.

“Bug… always nice…” he panted. “…to play fiddle-f*ck around with you… but today… I have things to do.” He swung the hammer out, and of course, I dodged it easily. What I didn’t see was it sailing, end over end, into one of the main support columns. The rock hammer smashed through the first few inches of concrete, nearly tearing the steel bars embedded inside the column.

I turned my head to survey the damage. “Well… you showed that column what for. What’s your next trick, Ray Charles?”

He sneered. “This.”

The ground rumbled underneath me, and even with my reflexes and heightened senses, it seemed to come all too fast. The ground cracking and splitting, the ceiling caving in, reinforced concrete shattering and falling.

The last thing I saw before I was buried alive was Machina laughing.

Part Two - God Send Death

So there I was, buried under tons of concrete.

I mean, sure, it may do the trick for some people, but at the time, I wasn’t real pleased. Nevermind the fact that Machina Shard had developed some strange new powers and turned where I was standing into the San Andreas faultline, there was shards of concrete digging into my skin, and I was slowly being crushed to death.

The biggest mistake, I found, when someone is being crushed, whether it be by tons of concrete or a giant robotic hand, is to panic. Control your breathing, slow your breathing down and remain calm. You can actually remain in a very uncomfortable situation for quite a long time if you relax.

I was in no mood to relax.

The weight and the pressure and the pain was incredible. I gritted my teeth, already feeling them elongate. Great, I thought, this is exactly what I needed. See, I have a tendency, during times of emotional stress, extreme hunger, or, oddly enough, exposure to certain kinds of electrical fields, to start turning into a freakish human spider. My teeth elongate and turn translucent, and my mouth floods with a neurotoxin that numbs my whole mouth and throat – probably some failsafe so I don’t feel the chunks of flesh that I inevitably hunger for. My fingers elongate, into sharp chitinous points, like the tip of a spider’s leg, and I start sprouting long, course black bristles all over my body.

Point is, I freak out. Which I was doing. Did I just say that? Yeah. Okay.

So I was freaking out there. I think I may had blacked out soon after Machina collapsed the tunnel on me, so I had no idea how long I was buried under it all. First came the panicked breathing. I felt my chest being compressed, my lung capacity decreasing due to the inability of my chest to draw in enough air. Naturally, adrenaline flooded my system.

Second, the indignation and the anger. Machina got the drop on me… I never liked that. Our rivalry, if you could call it that, stems from late last year… when Karnal Sin was busily seducing me, he was seducing my girlfriend at the time, Mio. Mio and I were having problems at the time, and the Dominion’s little sex-games were definitely not helping. I was insanely jealous, to the point of ‘spidering out’ while me and Machina fought. That’s what started it. We had to play nice in the Dominion, and for a little while, after me and Mio broke up, I almost became friends with him. Almost. When I came back to Paragon, it started again in earnest.

Third, I began to hyperventilate. My gums began to swell and recede, and my tongue tasted the sour taste of the venom before it numbed everything… my skin itched, the bristles beginning to grow. I swallowed a mouthful of venom, gritting, my eyes closed, knowing full well what was coming. I needed to be calm, but I couldn’t. The animal, primal fear of being crushed to death was too much for me, and I was pegging my pissed off gauge. My fingers hurt, the bones inside them broken with hairline fractures, but growing anyway. I began to shift, adrenaline and fear making me do a half-[censored] push-up, my muscles screaming, my back on fire, sweat soaking my costume and concrete dust clinging to me, congealed to the fabric. Slabs of concrete shifted and rumbled above me. God, how far down was I?

Okay, you might be saying to yourself, “Hey, cool, you’re turning into this cool freaky thing. You can, like, bite people and stuff”. Well, as ‘cool’ as that might be, I personally don’t like it – it’s caused problems before. But in this particular situation, it wasn’t a very good thing, because I hadn’t really had a chance to drain Machina or any of the Council troops for food. Remember, I feed off people. Yeah, I do that. Not like in a weird, homoerotic Vampire: The Masquerade type way or anything. I’m no vampire. Vampires are irresponsible disease carrying freaks. They’re like AIDS victims who find out they caught The Bug, then go around passing it to everyone else out of spite, then cry about their existence. I generally don’t like them.

Ok, my point is, I hadn’t fed in awhile, and that means that any further exertion, like freaking out and needing to free myself, would require much needed energy that I needed to survive. And that would make me have to resort to something extremely unpleasant and disgusting and it would probably cost someone their life.

I wasn’t thinking of that. I was pushing and sweeping debris out of my way, bracing my self and slowly, painfully, digging my way out. All the while, my body was on fire, not just from the exertion or the pain of being crushed, but the changes my body conveniently decided to go through, turning me into the freakish thing I despised being. This was no ordinary self-loathing guys do to try and get sympathy or get masochistic chicks to inflict themselves on.

Dude, I turn into a spider-thing and I tend to eat people. That’s gross.

I mean, yeah, I regularly draw moisture and body fluids, pretty much life energy from my enemies in combat, but hey, that’s different. It’s different than sinking my teeth into someone and drinking them dry because the Council decided having spider-assassins would be a ‘good’ thing. It’s different than ripping out someone’s throat, and letting that salty… wet… delicious blood flowing into your mouth, down your throat, quenching that thirst you always feel, maybe on a subconscious level that you don’t quite perceive but it’s there, waiting, waiting for the moment when you’re weak and hungry enough to kill…

Give me a moment.

Okay, I’m good.

As I rose from the rubbles, throwing off a slab of cracked and crumbling concrete, I was not in what you would consider a ‘lucid’ state. A patrol of Council Cor Leonis were passing by… and, well, that pretty much brings us up to date.

After I fed, I was a bit more… calmed down, but my body didn’t respond. Normally, when I got to this point, feeding in such a manner caused my body to revert back to normal, albeit never fast enough. I would slowly change back, with the realization of what I had done slowly coming to me.

But this time, I was coming down, but my body was still covered with black hairs, my fingers long and sharp, a mess of blood and venom running down my chin, over my chest, and soaking what remained of my costume top.

Ten Council Cor Leonis soldiers lay dead behind me as I walked in Machina’s wake of destruction, their throats ripped out.

Then I sorta… went away for awhile.

Machina Shard smashed through the thick, reinforced concrete wall. He grunted in derision, stepping over the spall and into what the whack-job in the orange suit said was a ‘veritable treasure trove of technological wonders’ the Council had acquired over the years. He was paid twenty grand for the job, half and half when the job was completed, pretty standard deal as far as jobs go. Normally, money was no object to the Dominion Legion commander, but this was the Council, and by extension, the 5th Column, the people who took his arm and replaced it with this… thing. Their nascent cybernetics program was responsible for that, and he was simply trying to protect his own robotics lab when those Nazi bastards stormed in and forcibly recruited him into it, cutting off his arm right there on his lab floor.

He felt a surge of anger rising, and quickly recognized it, controlling his breathing and thinking thoughts of Crysobelle, his vampire lover. After a few moments of recollection, he set his jaw.

All right, he thought. I’m cool.

He strode in, and there it was. The panel that the nutso German guy in the pathetic battlesuit with the synthesized voice said would be here. Said it would control a series of blast doors located at the shore line on the northeastern side of the island, which would lead directly underneath the Striga base – old runway for an experimental craft that got scrapped before the Council coup. Machina was no fool – he had checked out the supposed location, the corroded and vegetation choked door half-buried in sand, several Banished Pantheon zombies lurching around.

The room was relatively bare save for the console, just some gutted electronics boards long ago stripped away, leaving only pressed metal frames where the old electronics rested inside. The console in question was lit, just the way the German said it would be, albeit faintly. It seemed, Machina thought with a mirthless smile, that the facility was having power problems.

Yellow button, third from the left, second row. Ok, here we go. His cybernetic finger pressed the plastic yellow button. Something clicked.

Wait a second, he thought. Regular remote systems don’t click when you push a button. At least, they don’t click underneath the button…

“Ah“ he muttered.

The world exploded.

Hans Hauptmann smiled as the eastern half of the Striga base was rocked by a massive series of explosions. They sounded like the handclaps of an angry Norse god. Which was fitting, in a way. The Scandinavian gods were valued by the old Nazi regime.

And Hans Hauptmann, was if anything, a loyal Nazi.

When the 5th Column was subverted by the disgusting Italio-facists in the Council, Hauptmann and a few other alert 5th Column leaders went into hiding as the killings commenced. Most of the rank and file troops remained, gradually culled by the heroes who had looser moral codes, but for the most part, the glorious remnants of the Third Reich were gone forever. Hans Hauptmann was here to rectify that.

It was humiliating, having to hide out in the hinterlands of Idaho, where the white supremacist movement was especially strong. Hauptmann wasn’t especially interested in the extermination of Jews or the glory of the so-called ‘White Race’ – usually the champions of Caucasians were usually the worst examples (pasty, overweight, out of shape, looking like trailer trash), but the supremacists were quite fond of the National Socialist Party.

When one is attempting to gather troops to regain their rightful place, one cannot be especially picky about their cannon fodder. He spent the time since he was forced out of his place as a 5th Column executive officer using his natural charisma and leadership skills he honed in the Column to gather the weak-willed rednecks and losers under the Swastika, and his power base was growing each day. In isolation, people cling to community and a sense of belonging. Hauptmann’s force gave the racists just that. He spoke the words of hate they wanted to hear, he instilled the discipline they needed to have, and he provided enough incentive for them to hunger for more. Granted, aside from some ex-military men (who he promptly put in charge of the rabble of men in hunting jackets and dirty denim jeans and mud caked boots, and the seemingly constantly sweating and pregnant women who clung to them in the absence of any other options), his troops were not numerically superior or trained well enough to take on the Council directly. But that was why he was involved in such activities like this – luring an enemy of the Council into their lair and hiring an inside man to install several hundred pounds of explosives in the objective of the flunky he sent into distract the base with. No sense in having loose ends. He could have just hired the inside man, an earnest Italian man with a chip on his shoulder against his superiors, to get him the information he needed… but he couldn’t afford any mistakes. He needed the distraction, and besides… the Council would receive a pounding. He couldn’t pass that up.

His squad of men, dressed in camouflage (if there was anything redneck racists had in abundance, it was fatigues. Ready for their disinterested government to take their guns and make their women breed with Africans or some such nonsense), moved silently into the tunnel, creeping down the abandoned subterranean runway in a single file, toting assault rifles and a variety of night vision goggles. He hovered behind them, in his battlesuit, the sensors scanned ahead in several different spectrums, although if his information was right, all the sensors would have been deactivated long ago.

His destination was right down this runway, in a mothballed section of offices that resembled a corporate cubicle farm. It was in here that there were certain phone lists and personnel files that he could use to get in contact with his brethren in hiding. Military organizations such as the 5th Column were not so different than the governments they were trying to bring down – there was an exhaustive bureaucracy and lots of paper trails. Hauptmann was confident he could find what he needed inside.

And if Machina survived? Well, there was always Plan B…

Deathspider crawled along the wall, his eyes glowing red in the shadows as platoons of backup ran towards the site of the explosion. His black and grey costume was in tatters, Where skin was exposed, long black bristles grew out of his skin. His fingers were long and shaped into talons, which dug lightly into the concrete walls as he skittered along silently. Most conscious thought was gone, his body guided by instinct – and his target, Machina.

Sated by the blood he drained from his victims, his body was healing nicely. When he emerged from the hole, the Council soldiers shot him several times despite his reflexes. He had also sustained serious injuries from the tunnel collapsing on him, although in his mental state, he didn’t register just how badly he was hurt. His bloodlust took care of that promptly.

The facility’s defenders had committed all their forces to repel Machina Shard – several Warcry robot units were brought out of mothballs, swarms of Mek Men and the Council’s crack FAST team (First Response, Anti Superhuman Team) were enroute to give Machina the kind of send-off that threats of his magnitude deserved. All the while, Deathspider was unnoticed in the fracas, crawling steadily along…

This was what the 5th Column and the Council wanted. Feral, half-human arachnid assassins. Deathspider was one of ten subjects that were subjected to Project X-27, their bodies sliced and altered by the scientists, their entire bodies, their psyches irrevocably altered forever. And this was the end result. They were more powerful than the Vampyri and more human… less powerful than the War Wolves, but more intelligent, more agile, more versatile. They had the advantage of appearing human until they were pushed physically and mentally to the brink, then turning into their arachnid selves. Granted, the Council had perfected the War Wolf process, the higher ranking officers being able to change into them at will… but six years ago, this was revolutionary.

Six hadn’t survived the final stages of the Project, their organs failing, their bodies refusing to accept the speed grafts and added adrenal glands, or starving outright, unable to feed. One had committed suicide, wrenching an assault rifle out of a soldier’s hands and blowing his head off. One had to be shot, attacking one of the lab assistants, almost ripping her face right off. Two had survived… one would become an assassin for hire in her native Hong Kong… and the last one was back to where he was ‘reborn’ into the creature he had become, Striga Isle.

All this didn’t register at all with Deathspider, who now more than ever lived up to his name. He crouched, clinging to the wall, at the mouth of another tunnel system, examining the smoking crater where most of the southwestern complex was destroyed. His eyes were still somewhat stable, not having split into 8 independently controlled eyes yet. When it did, his eyes would look like a fertilized human egg splitting and dividing, until each eye socket held 4 crimson colored eyes. Not even the Council scientists that did this to him knew if the eyes would revert to normal. As it was now, his vision was geometrically greater than normal, able to count the stitching on some of the trooper’s armor from 300 yards away. He wasn’t interested in the masses of fearful Council troops – for the moment. The massive plume of smoke rising from the ammunition depot and some of the destroyed buildings was much more interesting… and his senses could faintly detect his prey – Machina Shard.

He was beyond hate, anger, or resentment.

There was only hunger.

Machina shook his head, grunting in pain. It figured, he thought bitterly. Never trust a German.

He attempted to get to his feet, but his knee gave out on him, and he fell into the rubble that he had dug himself out of. A stream of profanity escaped his lips, and he gingerly examined his right knee. Sure enough, his costume was dark with blood, and several shards of metal had embedded themselves into his knee.

He had managed to shield himself from most of the blast, but the remaining was more than enough to hurt. He groaned and looked around him – he was in the burning shell of one of the concrete bunkers, the ceiling gone… smoke everywhere, the very ground superheated, but he barely felt it, only smelling his costume burning. He stood again, summoning a stone from the ground to help support him, leaning against it. This, he though, was not my day.


He spun, summoning a stone hammer in his hands. It wasn’t fast enough. A massively built Council soldier with what looked like a giant cannon reminiscent of the machine guns in that Aliens movie stood in what once was a doorway. Something hammered into his stomach, like a punch. A hard punch. A Killer Whale-eque punch. Then he heard the bang. It was tremendous.

He looked down, and his stomach had a smoking hole in it. Then he felt the pain. He fell to his knees, in shock. He looked up at the trooper with the gun, panic threatening to overcome him. He was actually shot! Something had punched through his body, and God, it felt like his entire body was on fire. He grimaced, and stone spikes shot up through the ground, impaling the Council FAST soldier, killing him instantly.

He coughed, a spray of blood flecking the ground and sizzling on contact. Jesus, this was bad. A barrage of gunfire engulfed the small hollowed shell where he kneeled. He lurched forward, grunting forming another stone mallet in his hands. This, he swore, was going to turn into a bloodbath. He staggered out into the courtyard, leveling his hammer at the arrayed forces against him.

“Alright,… who dies first?” he swore, his last nerve plucked.

He didn’t hear the sound of something descending from the sky like the bomb over Hiroshima until it was far too late. The ground seemed to buckled underneath him, and he was pitched forward, landing in a heap. Around him, the Council troops stumbled and fell to their knees, equally shocked. He growled, raising himself to his knees, and looked behind him…

As Rakescar rose from the crater his impact created, roaring with a gut-wrenching peal of laughter, his eyes alight with the impending slaughter to come.

“Tyler...?” Machina said wonderingly. This was… unexpected. Behind him, Machina could hear someone in the Council swear. Guess they knew him too.

Rakescar climbed out of the crater, clenching his fists so hard the rock they were made of cracked under the pressure. Machina’s mind raced. What was he doing here? Wasn’t he supposed to be moping about his girl problems, or his weird relationship with Aatiya? What the hell was he doing on Striga Isle, and why was he coming towards Machina like he was going to do something horribly violent?

“Hiya, Machina…” Rake’s eyes flared with red, murderous light. “Time to play…”

Part Three - War Zone

Rakescar rushed forward, snarling and laughing madly, his gigantic rocky form bearing down on Machina Shard. Rake was uttering nonsense, an insane diatribe of nonsensical babble in his deep, earthy, psychopathic voice.

Machina met him halfway, swinging his hammer wide and connecting with Rake’s jaw, knocking the murderous thug off his feet and onto his back. As Rake landed flat on his back, Machina allowed him a small smile of satisfaction, giving his stone mallet a spin for his own edification. Huh. One hit? He thought, watching Rake roll onto his chest and push himself up.

“Rake, man, you’re letting yourself go... I shouldn’t be able to..” he began, but he saw Rake smiling as the big creature turned to face him again. “What’s so funny, Tyler?”

He heard a hissing sound coming from his side. He turned, and his eyes widened.

Rakescar roared with laughter as Deathspider leapt from the shadows and pounced on his long time rival, his features twisted and mutated, long translucent fangs and wickedly jagged talons coming from his fingers…

…and bit right into Machina’s shoulder, the fangs sinking deep into Machina’s flesh.

Machina howled in pain and agony, the poison spreading out from his shoulder and numbing the entire left half of his body. He sank to the ground, Deathspider leaping away as the Council opened fire, spraying the entire spectacle with automatic weapons fire…

Scheiterhaufen walked into the abandoned office, his objective. Ahead of him, several rows of cubicles, all covered with dust and smelling of mildew – inside one of the desks was the contact information he needed to finally find the other 5th Column officers in hiding…

A man, head shaved bald and wearing fatigues stepped close to him. “Sir, the perimeter is secure. White Power!”

Inside his battlesuit’s stylized demon’s mask, Scheiterhaufen rolled his eyes. Yes, the White Man was the superior race, he was a Nazi – this should be evident without yelling out White Power like it was… the end of a sentence, like people from Canada go ‘eh’. He didn’t particularly care about skin color or heritage or creed – he cared about power. If he had to humor these redneck racists in order to get it… well, such humiliations would be repaid when the 5th Column returned to power.

“Yes, yes, White Power. Now… leave two men on guard detail. The rest of you, go through the desks. Look for any contact lists, phone numbers, personnel files, anything you can get your hands on. Anything that looks remotely like something we can use. Get to it.”

The man with the shaved head who had reported to him looked at him like a dog expecting a command.

Scheiterhaufen sighed. “White Power.”

His lackey went to work.

Outside, the base was afire with the sounds of machine guns, bombs going off, Rakescar dropping from the sky like a human (then not-so-human) cannonball. Inside the demonic mask, Herr Hauptmann smiled. Everything was going according to plan. Machina going in and distracting the Council. Deathspider showing up and making a mess of things. Rakescar sent in to mop up Machina…

It was about time everything went right for a change. Being stuck in the wilds of Idaho with perpetually pregnant redneck women and paranoid, ignorant white trash had begun to wear Hauptmann’s icy demeanor and nerves of steel with every endless day of not being in power. He deserved this.

He continued watching his men rip apart the room, looking for the information he required.

Machina managed to crawl behind a rock, half of his body numb with poison – he could feel it flooding his bloodstream, making his arm and leg so much useless dead weight. Fortunately, his cybernetic arm still worked, and it had dragged him to safety as the Council opened fire on the three superhumans.

Rakescar, however, had no such problems. He surged ahead, leaping into a squad of Council and formed some stone melee weaponry of his own, crushing the life out of anyone unfortunate enough to be in his way. Rakescar always loved the killing, whereas with Machina, it was always something that ate away at him, despite the company he kept. Rakescar killed with passion, snuffing out the lives of anyone who got in his way with a zeal unmatched by even the most crazed killers in Paragon. Machina peered over the rock, watching Rake destroy the contingent of Council robots and FAST troopers, ignoring the onslaught of bullets and energy beams that slammed into his body, screaming ‘SMEEP!” all the while.

Huh… no professional work ethic, Machine thought. But that wasn’t important at the moment. With Rakescar momentarily distracted, Machina gingerly ran his fingertips over the bites. God, he thought as he felt the puncture wounds around the numbed flesh, something happened to DS. Something way beyond the pale. He hated Deathspider – that loudmouthed jerk was a thorn in his side, more than any other hero has managed to do. There were more powerful heroes he’s faced… and there were a lot of smarter ones, but Deathspider consistently managed to beat him in combat –and- get his goat. His wisecracks about Crysobelle were way out of line – constantly taunting him about his ‘room temperature romance’ with his ‘Funeral Home Special’ girlfriend… yeah, they were enough to send Machina into a frothing rage. But DS never exhibited this kind of behavior before – sure, when the whole Mio thing was going on, DS would get really worked up and start hissing and such, but never biting. Biting was unsanitary.

He couldn’t even move his human arm. No tingling sensation like when your foot goes to sleep. His arm was dead to him, it seemed like. He couldn’t even feel pressure, much less able to wriggle his fingers. His leg was the same way. Okay, Rob, he thought, fighting the rising panic. Chill out. You’re going to be okay. So what, he bit you. You’ve been through worse.

A bullet passed too close by his position for comfort, and he rolled back onto the ground, his cybernetic arm dragging him away to a nearby Army truck. He needed to get somewhere before DS came back. If he was into biting people now, who knew what else he could do?

He heard the hissing sound over him. Speak of the devil, he thought ruefully. He rolled over onto his back, and there DS was, clinging to the side of the truck. His mask was mostly torn away, his teeth were long and gleaming with either saliva or venom, Machina couldn’t tell. His costume top was in tatters, his skin now grey and long black bristles coated his torso. His fingers were long and cruelly shaped claws. And he looked rather menacing. Machina didn’t like the way things were working out.

“SMEEP!” a cry came from behind Machina, and Rakescar was in the air over him, landing on the hood of the old Deuce and a Half, crashing through the metal and into the engine block. Deathspider backflipped away, leaping onto a nearby building in a crouch, hissing. Great, Machina thought. Rake remembered me.

“Well, well, well, ain’t we got a party here?” Rake rumbled. “We got Machina here all gimped out and we got ole Deathy here looking like Jeff Goldblum in the Fly. And I get paid to take both of you amateurs out. My lucky day!”

Machina was dragging himself across the ground again, desperate to get some breathing room. He imagined some sensation in his lower leg, but that could be the shards of shrapnel digging further into his kneecap. Yeah, this little jaunt was not going according to plan. “Rake… why are you busting up my gig? I thought we had a little more respect for each other than that…” he said, trying to buy some time. Anything. Get him talking, just enough time to formulate a defense.

“Lissen, Machina… a job’s a job and honestly, you think I care who I kill? I’m not only gonna kill every living thing on this island, mebbe some dead things too, make a day of it… but I’m gonna thrash the living crap out of you and your Bug friend before I finish ya off. Just so you know before you take the Big Dirt Nap, I’m King around here!” Rake stepped out of the mess of the engine block and walked towards Machina, forming a stone hammer of his own. “But why prolong your misery, buddy? Professional courtesy dictates I kill ya first.”

Machina grimaced, trying to summon up enough concentration for a defensive posture. Keep him talking… “You’d kill me before the Bug? What, you go after the wounded guy before you take out the Cape? You p*ssy! Yeah, you’re tough…”

“Toughest sumb*tch you ever knew, buddy… Now shaddup while I kills ya…” He stepped closer, raising the hammer in his rocky hands… and Machina smiled.

“Close enough, dimwit.”

A column of stone shot out from under Rakescar, knocking him off his feet. He landed with a thunderous crash, his hammer knocked out of his hands. Machina backed it up with spear of stone slamming up into the small of Rake’s back, impaling him on a long pike of solid granite, the force tremendous enough to pierce Rake’s body. Rake let out a massive roar of pain and shock, his hands coming down to clamp around the spear of stone.

“Grrrrrrrrrrrragggggggh! You… are gonna… die for that…” Rake grunted, breaking off the pike near his stomach, and he rolled off, curling into a ball as he clutched his abdomen. Machina had no time to celebrate… as he pulled himself to his knees, sensation faint but slowly coming back thanks to his enhanced stamina, he looked around for Deathspider. And predictably, he found him as DS tackled him to the ground.

He landed with a grunt, his numb leg twisting underneath him, and a wet crack as his ankle broke – he only felt the sensation of twisting and pressure as he landed. Deathspider perched on his chest, his claws lashing out, raking across Machina’s face, digging deep wounds across his nose, his cheeks, and across his upper lip. The other hand clamped on the shoulder of the cybernetic arm, talons piercing his pectoral, hoping to rip the metal appendage right off his body. The thing that was Deathspider leaned down, it’s red eyes glowing malevolently, it’s mouth filled with the venom coated fangs… it’s breath stank of blood and something deeper, more primal… the smell of the predator finally catching it’s prey. Ready to feed.

The smell, Deathspider’s pheromones flooding into Machina’s system, drove Machina crazy. He panicked. He thrashed underneath DS, screaming as the maw descended lower and lower.


Suddenly, DS was gone, flung off of his prey and slamming into a stack of wooden crates, his body smashing through them and landing in a heap on the other side.

Rakescar stood over Machina, clutching both his hammer and his stomach, a murderous expression on his face. “Ain’t no way no spider-freak is gonna kill ya ‘fore I do, punk…”

The hammer came down on Machina’s cybernetic arm, smashing the hand unit against the concrete. The concrete gave a little, but it wasn’t enough… he felt a surge of agony before the Pain Inhibitor kicked in, shutting off all sensation to the unit. He watched in horror as Rake lifted the hammer, his hand a mangled mess of metal. The thumb remained, dangling by a wire, his ring finger mostly flattened – the others were missing. Rake grunted with satisfaction as he raised the hammer again.

The pain was enough for Machina roll away, his broken ankle miraculously holding enough for him to hobble away as he summoned another shard of earth to pierce the ground, smacking Rakescar away – far enough away to get some breathing room. Hold it together, he thought, his mind racing, Deathspider’s pheromones still making him panic… although, he had more than enough reason to panic, all things considered. This was quite possible one of the worst situations he had ever been in.

He took account of his situation. His face was a bloody mess, several deep lacerations due to Deathspider’s talons. Half of his body was numb from the freak’s bite to his human shoulder. His numb ankle was broken – he had heard it give way. His cybernetic hand was smashed beyond recognition. This wasn’t good.

Then Rakescar’s hammer slammed into his back, knocking him to the ground, almost breaking his spine. He fell face first, blood filling his mouth. No, he corrected himself, THIS wasn’t good.

Rakescar roared with satisfaction as Machina fell over. “I SUNK YOUR BATTLESHIP! SMEEEEEEP!” he screamed. He picked himself off the ground and trod towards his target, the job nearly complete. He wasted that spider-freak, and now Machina was next. He’d collect his money and blow it on booze and hookers, whatever he wanted. This was great. This was…

…Deathspider leapt into his face, the talons finding his eyes. The chitinous claws sank deep into his eyes, piercing the flesh. Deathspider clung to his chest, yanking out his claws with a low, inhuman growl, splattering the ground with Rake’s ocular fluid. Rakescar screamed in agony, a hand reaching out to grab at Deathspider, but finding nothing… The spider-creature crawled in a flash onto Rake’s back, and somehow pulled Rake down with it, flipping the massive rock monster over in a bone jarring impact. The spider-thing flipped away, landing nearby.

Rock thing hurt… rock thing try to hurt self, self blind rock thing… it thought, licking Rake’s blood off it’s talons as Rake thrashed on the ground, screaming.

“I’M BLIND! YOU TOOK MY EYES! I’M BLIIIIIIIIND!” Rake roared, getting to his feet and lashing out at the air.

Off to the side, Rake could hear the Council regrouping. “FIRE!”

A depleted uranium round from one of the FAST troopers plowed into Rake’s thigh, blowing clean through his rocky flesh. Rake screamed, going down to a knee… presenting a better target as the other FAST troopers opened fire. Another heavy round smashed into his shoulder, another blowing through his right ankle, sending him to the ground in a heap, his body on fire with pain, his rocky form trembling and shuddering.

Assault rifle rounds danced around Deathspider, it’s inhuman reflexes sending it darting for cover. It saw a catwalk up ahead, and it sprang into the air, catching the rail with it’s hand and flipped itself onto the grated metal surface. Soon, the air was alive with gunfire, bullets hissing through the air like angry hornets. Snarling, the spider-thing leapt north, towards the mountain, away from the fracas. It continued surveying the fight below and behind it… and completely missed the Warcry unit waiting for it.

The massive bot’s arm swung wide and caught Deathspider on the chin, knocking the spider-creature off it’s feet and plummeting to the ground below. It hit the ground, barely conscious, its arms and legs akimbo as it groggily tried to make sense of its surroundings. Man-things coming, it thought, barely coherent. It rolled to its feet, and shakily began to run, having lost all of its bearings.

FAST troopers rapidly caught onto his location and fired, the heavy anti-Tanker rounds plowing into the sides of the tunnel Deathspider was escaping into. Small arms fire followed, and a lieutenant called in Deathspider’s location to Central Control. Already, the door at the mouth of the tunnel was shuddering down, closing it off. Deathspider, the lieutenant smirked, was trapped inside. Perfect.

Inside the tunnel, the spider-thing skittered along the wall, denied its prey… it could feel itself growing tired, weaker. It had to find food. Healing the injuries caused by Rakescar’s hammer slamming it in it’s side had exacted a heavy toll, to say nothing of fighting Rakescar and escaping the Council’s counter attack. Ahead of it, another blast door rumbled to a close, shutting off any means of escape. In some dim way, the spider-creature understood this and clambered onto the ceiling, looking for some sort of air-vent… anything… It crawled to a ventilations shaft cover…

And that was when Central Control flooded the chamber with knockout gas.

Weakened by the fighting and it’s injuries, Deathspider limply fell, landing in the center of the chamber, unconscious…

What a coup, the Council Archon thought to himself as the Warcry units carried the wounded and unconscious forms of Rakescar, Machina Shard, and Deathspider into the bowels of Striga Isle. Certainly the Center would look favorably on the valiant fighters who brought them down.

Machina had surrendered without much of a fight. His wounds were not necessarily mortal, but he was practically begging for a morphine shot. He got a rifle butt to the head and was chloroformed, rendering him unconscious and best of all, silent.

Rakescar was in agony from his eyes being punctured and being shot with the DPU rounds by the Council’s FAST team. His ankle, thigh, and shoulder were on fire, and the Warcry robots wrestled him to the ground as the inhibitor bands were put on him. He reverted back to his human form, and the medics had to swarm him as his gunshot wounds spewed blood. His eyes, however, looked like they could be saved. Of course, that was if he ever got out of here alive…

Finally, Deathspider. The Archon was proud of that capture on a personal note – he was rising through the ranks a year ago when Deathspider first went on a rampage through Striga Isle… The ‘hero’ had put his best friend in the hospital. Now, it was time to return the favor.

With interest.

“White Power!” one of Scheiterhaufen’s grunts yelled triumphantly. In his grubby hand, an old personal address book belonging to an old commander in the 5th Column.

Herr Hauptmann stalked over to his lackey and snatched the address book from the redneck’s hands. His glowing red eyes brightened as he flipped through the book. “Yessssss…. Excellent. Men… we have gotten what we have come here for. We have done what we needed to do. We now have the first step into reviving the glorious National Socialist Party and the 5th Column! HEIL HITLER!”

The squad of White Supremacists cheered, screams of ‘White Power’ predictably filling the air, as though it were not only an idea, but an adjective, an adverb, a noun, a conjunction.

Hauptmann ignored it. He didn’t care about his rednecks, he didn’t care about racial purity all that much, he didn’t even care about Hitler. All he cared about was what was inside this little black leatherbound address book – the names and personal information of the 5th Column leaders, some of whom may still even be alive… and the first steps into reclaiming what was rightfully his, the power and prestige of being a commander in the Column. Nothing else mattered.

“Come men… we have old friends to look up…” he said softly, visions of power and opulence racing through his head.

With that, Hauptmann and his squad moved back into the tunnel, on their way to escape Striga Island…

Part Four - All Hail The New Flesh

Archon Jennifer Kale looked down at her creation, strapped onto a stainless steel table.

She told herself, I was here following my orders, direct from The Center. It didn’t help the chill running up and down her spine. Here was Subject 007, Miguel Sanchez. The hero Deathspider. And he, along with two villains, Machina Shard and Rakescar, thrashed Striga Isle, killing scores of Council troops in the melee. When they subdued Deathspider, he was more monster than man, his body mutated into something not quite human anymore. Granted, he wasn’t as grotesque as the Arachnoids, but that was never the intention.

Being ugly was something Archon Kale knew quite a bit about.

During the last days of the X-27 Project, of which she was one of the heads of the project, one of the remaining subjects who didn’t kill themselves or die of starvation or some other biological mishap came at her, bursting through the supposedly impenetrable plexiglass vats, and shredded her face. The subject of course was terminated by the Fire Cor Leonis troops that were on standby in the lab… but she was never the same. Deep rents in her face made her look hideous, her looks, while she would never be called beautiful, were plain but kind. She was blonde, fit, and her girl next door looks disarmed most of the Nazi fanatics or the fascist Council leaders – she was employed by both, remaining through the coup. Now, she was a monster, and The Center had twisted her self-disgust into determination, her sorrow and self pity into motivation. She had led Council troops into battle, gunned down more than her fair share of heroes.

She closed her eyes, the room suddenly too hot. She was too close to her past. Too culpable. She helped Archon Stone with the continuation of the project once the coup knocked the 5th Column out of power. She helped slice into Subject 007’s flesh, turn him into a freak.

And now, her child of death and destruction was here in front of her. In a perverse way, she was impressed that he survived this long. This was the first time since he escaped that she’d laid eyes on him. When they had brought him in, he was still in Arachnid Form, a blood-drenched monster. As time elapsed, and the amount of aggression-stimulated hormones in his body broke down, his body slowly shedding the black bristles and the chitin talons crumbling off his fingers, transforming back to normal. Now, he laid on the table, still unconscious, most of his costume ripped away, and he looked human again.

She caught herself smiling to herself, proudly.

Shaking her head at the moment of weakness, she strode forward, the leather-kevlar suit creaking with every movement. She laid the costume on his chest, reminding herself that Project X-27 was a long, long time ago. She had bigger and better things now, command of her own installation in the Isles. Subject 007 was not her problem.

“Thank you, Archon Kale…”

She turned around, and another Archon stood in the doorway, tall and built, a head full of long white hair and a thick beard. Every time she saw him, he reminded her of Kris Kristofferson. Archon Stone.

“I gave him the costume, Archon. Can I ask why?” she asked, stepping away from their killing machine.

He smiled, which made him look like a person who had emotions. Archon Kale knew from bitter experience that he only experienced satisfaction, contempt, or cold, ruthless anger. “It’s time our investment paid dividends, Kale. Leave him for me.”

Rain had started to fall upon Striga Island, the Council base a smoking ruin from the three superhumans on a rampage through the facility. Men and robot alike scrambled through the rubble through the growing downpour, putting out fires no mere rain could extinguish. Mek Men scurried back and forth, carrying large crates away from the fires. Large Warcry units rumbled and whirred as they slowly moved back to their holding areas, other emergency units moving to help the wounded or shore up damaged walls.

The three superhumans responsible were now locked down in temporary holding cells, Deathspider being the first to be removed and taken to an undisclosed location on the Isle. The most destructive ones, Machina Shard and Rakescar, were still heavily guarded. No less than twenty Warcry battle robots stood, their weapon systems aimed on the doors of their cells. A total of one hundred Council troops were nearby, away from the robots, armed with anti-aircraft machine guns, grenade launchers, miniguns loaded with armor-piercing ammunition, the entire area outside the holding areas mined with concussion bombs. An addition fifty were further back in a tunnel, rotating out in three hour shifts.

Unknown to the one hundred and fifty men, the entire area was mined with a sub-nuclear charge… just in case.

Tyler Preston, aka Rakescar, lied on the metal floor, his head bandaged by the Council medics. The damage to his eyes was… substantial. The gunshot wounds also were horrific to look upon, his skin blackened by the burning powder upon impact, to say nothing of the gory sight of the wounds themselves. He shuddered and trembled in his sleep, the Council’s anti-superhuman weaponry having done its job, and their psychoactive sedatives doing the rest, reliving every ghastly moment in his life squeezed into sixty second intervals, over and over in his head as he slept. Every so often, he gasped or cried out in his sleep, either from pain or the images in his head.

Across the hall, Machina Shard sat in his cell, looking down at his ankle grimly, gritting his teeth against the pain. His face was stinging, the deep rents caused from his adversary’s claws carelessly stitched up and sterilized. The bite wound on his shoulder itched. His back was on fire from Rake’s stone hammer slamming into his back. And the Council techs had removed his cybernetic arm at the shoulder joint.

This was bad, he thought to himself.

He had woken from the sedative a half hour ago, the pain coming to him almost immediately, making him bite back a scream. He wouldn’t let these bastards know how much it hurt.

Not having an arm, Machina knew from experience, really messed up your balance. He put his arm out, canting his body to steady his center of gravity, and gingerly rose, his ankle singing its pain and anguish like an all-star emo band. He bit back the groan and staggered to the door. Panting, he peered out of the peephole, and saw the lower level of the detention facility, pretty standard layout as far as the Council went, filled with giant black and silver robots. Several of whom were pointing blaster cannons at his door.

This is pretty bad, he amended.

Still, the robots couldn’t mask the sound of what sounded like Tyler across the cellblock, moaning in pain. He winced to himself. Part of him cringed at the sight of DS, all spidered out and freaky, stabbing Rake in the eyes with his claws… but part of him felt a vicarious thrill, having just been on the receiving end of an a*s-whupping, courtesy of Mister Preston. Did the German guy who hired him (and set him up) hire Rake as well? What, did he think that Machina would turn on him? Who the hell cared?

He swore that when he got out of this, that German guy was dead.

I woke up.

I was lying on a rich, red and gold embroidered carpet, in my costume, complete with my mask on. Around me was a lavishly decorated office, a large oak desk sitting in front of a massive window, the outside dark with rainclouds, rain pummeling the glass. Bookcases lined the walls. And leaning against the desk, a man in a Council outfit, his hair long and white, like his beard. He looked down at me, smiling. It didn’t touch his eyes.

“Deathspider, a pleasure to meet you again.”he said, his voice gravelly and low, filled with a hint of mirth. “Let’s cut the introductory b*llshit and get down to business, shall we? My name is Archon Stone. David Stone. I knew your mother out in California. You were the result.”

Now, I had just woken up, after what was probably a horrible, horrible time, judging by the soreness in my muscles and the brackish taste in my mouth. Now I have this guy standing in front of me, like Darth Vader telling Luke he’s his father.

Through the cottonmouth, I croaked out a response. “This is where you offer to rule the galaxy with me, right?” That got a broader smile.

“Oh, yes, Hero Humor. Laughing bravely in the face of danger. No, I have no interest in offering you anything, Michael. If I were in the slight bit interested in you as a person, I would have raised you myself instead of letting your pregnant mother toil in obscurity and poverty. I’m more interested in what you’ve become.”

He turned slightly, picking up a manila folder with the Council logo embossed on it. I could read the lettering on it. Project X-27. My stomach did a slow roll.

“When I did find out I had a [censored] child, I was hesitant to order your and your mother’s executions. After all, running a Fortune 500 company and rising through the ranks of Corporate America, you had enough dirty secrets to deal without some paternity suit creeping up on you. But still, a part of me was curious. Which prompted me, when I found out you were some… petty gang banger in King’s Row, I wanted to know what my offspring was made of. I paid your boss… what was his name? Marrowsnap, yes. I paid him to eliminate you from the organization. Sure, his methods were rather extreme, but it resulted… in this…” he gestured at me, his eyes gleaming.

I slowly got up from the floor, getting onto my feet. My body was sore, like my body was one giant bruise. He was lying. The old ‘I’m your father’ trick. Cliché, tired, and insulting.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, old man. What do you want?” I tried to steady myself, but my body really didn’t feel like cooperating, my hands shaking like when I was a junkie in the Skulls, going through withdrawals.

“I already got what I wanted, Michael. You gave me a splendid little demonstration of how all of my efforts have paid off. You’re a killing machine, my boy… not only your little display here, but in Paragon City… In the Rogue Isles… every report, every video I see of you in action… I’m filled with pride with what I have accomplished for science. We’ve developed so much since then, but nothing makes me feel more proud than a project written off as mere mimicry of Lord Recluse’s Arachnoids producing such… tantalizing results.” He stood up, grinning. A chill ran down my spine, because someone as crazy as this very well –could- be my dad. “But there’s more, my boy.”

I finally managed to stop the minute trembling. “Look… this exposition is all fine and well, but get to the point before I come over there and cripple you. I’m not in the mood for b*llshit.”

Archon Stone gave a savage looking smile. “Neither am I. Your brainwaves seem to have been altered, tampered with. We detected Kheldian energies. Seems like some well-meaning idiot decided to compartmentalize parts of your psyche.”

His eyes flashed with a purplish-black light.

My mouth went dry. Nictus.

His voice took on a wavering, inhuman tone. “I can’t allow my success to be sullied.”

His hands started to glow.

I readied myself.

The squad of white supremacists marched down the abandoned subterranean runway they had used to get access inside of the Council base, silent save for their footfalls on the reinforced concrete path. Small hints of luminescent green where their night vision goggles leaked light from around their eyepieces the only color save for black. Behind them, hovering slowly, was Scheiterhaufen, Hans Hauptmann, the former 5th Column commander, and the orchestrator of today’s little festivities.

He was elated, for he had accomplished what he had set out to do. He had gotten Machina Shard to distract the Council while he infiltrated the base and had tied up that loose end by siccing Rakescar on him. He heard the thunderous explosions and knew that with Machina and Rakescar poking the hornet’s nest, neither one of the fools could have survived for long. And his prize! A collection of personal information on his peers in the Column, some he knew were dead now, but others… that could still be alive, in hiding. In the little black book he held, there was enough information to start a search for his compatriots, so that they could band together and knock the Council from power at long last, and the 5th Column would rise like a phoenix from the ashes of inglorious defeat.

Oh, his heart sang in his chest, every fiber of his being alive with a sort of joyous exultation… This moment was almost worth the months in years in hiding, the drudgery and bitterness his exile had inspired, being forced to stoop to pandering to racist redneck slugs to gather any sort of fighting force together. The disappointing and ultimately humiliating sexual encounters with the homely, bovine women in the hinterlands of Idaho, making him want to boil his genitals in hot water after pushing their bloated forms off of him in mid-coitus. The excruciating pain of having little to listen to save for country music, the nearest radio station he could reach for classical music somewhere in Washington State. And of course, not being in power. That, more than the rednecks and their tick-like women, never failed to make him seethe with anger.

All of that endured for this one little moment of triumph. It was almost worth it. As it was, it made the last few months tolerable.

His reverie was interrupted as one of his squad members screamed in horror.

Something came out of the shadows, baleful blue light coming from its eyes, moaning something unintelligible. Banished Pantheon, Hauptmann thought, irrational fear raising the hairs on the back of his neck. It lurched forward, rotting fingers plunging into the chest of the point man, hissing in its gurgling voice. The redneck screamed in agony as the zombie tore through into his ribcage, wrenching out a handful of lung tissue. The other men promptly opened fire, the sound of automatic weaponry deafening in the concrete tunnel.

Out of the darkness, more appeared, all around them, their voices masked by the gunfire.

Herr Hauptmann could detect them though, and as his squad gunned down the first zombie, the sensors in his battlesuit were going haywire as targets suddenly appeared, his battle computer humming as it located them, more and more appearing.

“Behind you! Achtung!” he screamed, activating his gauntlets. Bolts of fiery plasma erupted from the gauntlets, blowing into the zombie hordes as they lurched and shambled towards his men. One of his soldiers turned and opened up with his M16, the after-market version capable of fully automatic fire.

His targeting computer homing in on another zombie, Hauptmann cursed to himself. It would figure, in the moment of his triumph, it would be taken away so soon…

Stone knocked me out of the damn window.

Inside, he had lunged for me, his hands surrounded by Nictus energy. I dodged the first blow easily enough, but he backhanded me as I leapt over his head, and here I was, falling with the rain. I reached out to a nearby catwalk, my fingertips clinging to the metal rail, and my shoulder was nearly wrenched out of its socket as I caught myself.

Archon Stone appeared in the window, that warbling, alien voice echoing. “Come back, Spider… We have much to do, so little time…” In a blur, he leapt out onto the catwalk, his eyes burning with that purple energy. He raised his fists over his head, bringing them down on the railing, the metal sparking and giving way on impact. I began to fall once again, this time unable to catch myself on anything… I hit the ground, landing in a puddle of rainwater somewhere inside the Council base. Groaning, I looked up, and he was leaping down. I back-flipped away as he landed, and pushed back as I leapt away, carrying myself a good hundred yards onto the side of a storage building.

It was a torrential downpour, visibility was less than twenty feet at best. Thunder and lightning boomed and flashed above the base. Curiously, there didn’t seem to be anyone around. Which was just as well, the company I had was more than enough. Bolts of purple energy flew from his hands, impacting around me as I leapt away, diving behind one of the old Army trucks. Soon, I heard the energy hissing through the air, and I leapt straight up as the Army truck disintegrated in a fireball. I directed my descent on top of the storage building, and just as luck would have it, Stone could fly, too. He slammed into me, tackling me and carrying us halfway across the roof. He landed on top of me, an insane grin on his face, his long white hair plastered to his face from the rain, one hand raised, glowing with energy.

“You’re not cooperating with me, Spider… Papa spank!” he laughed, bringing the hand down and impacting with my skull. The force drove us through the corrugated sheet metal roof and into the storage building itself. He sprang away as I hit the concrete floor, my brain on fire from the strange energies that seemed to burn away the edges of my conscious thought, flooding my mind with images and feelings that were all disjointed, seemingly unrelated thoughts and emotions all wanting to fight for supremacy. Grunting to myself and letting my instincts take over, I rolled away as he came down for another strike, his fists shattering the floor where I laid.

As he lifted his fists for another strike, I lashed out blindly with my feet, planting both in his face, pushing him back a good ten feet. My vision was blurred, my head still a mess, so I couldn’t see if I had done any damage to him. All I could do was keep moving and if he got close enough to see him, well, hit the one in the middle

He didn’t seem particularly fazed. He came at me again, executing a textbook perfect flying leap kick, his foot impacting near my head as I instinctively ducked, the sound of a wood crate maybe, blasted into splinters by the force. As I ducked, I lashed out with an uppercut, and judging by the sound of his grunt, I had hit pay dirt. If he was my father, I did a good job of discouraging the production of siblings – I hit that psycho in the groin.

He howled in pain, landing in a heap beyond me. If I was able to see, I would have capitalized, believe me. But all I could do was stand back up and quickly feel around me. Crates. Okay, probably stacked. I began ascending the stack as fast as I could, crawling up the side by my fingertips and toes, this one of the times I was thankful to have spider powers.

“Unnngh… Dirty shot, kiddo…” he grunted, clutching himself. “Chip off the old block!” The hissing energy sound again. It impacted below me on the stack of crates, and I leapt out, hoping to find something. I did… one of the metal cross beams composing the rafters of the roof section. It caught me square in the chest, eliciting a gasp and a grunt of pain. More energy beams around me. All around me. I pushed off, falling to the floor, landing on my feet and rolling to absorb the impact. It didn’t help much, but at least this time when I landed, I was back on my feet quickly.

Not quickly enough.

Stone roared and caught me in the chest with an Nictus-coated fist, blasting me backwards off my feet, I don’t know how far back. The energy coursed through me, my body spasming like a seizure had gotten ahold of me. I screamed in pain, and this time, the mental effects were worse…

Memories of Aatiya flooded my brain, our relationship, the engagement ring I had bought here still in a lockbox under a waterfall in Eden, our acrimonious final words before I was put down by Chimera…

My first days after I escaped the Council… the horrible realization of having to live off blood, the depression that would come when I wasn’t fighting for my life, not knowing that the Council had also done a number on my body chemistry – if I didn’t have adrenaline flowing or endorphins in my bloodstream, not being able to produce serotonin brought on violent, nearly suicidal depressions.

Karnal Sin, that hellish relationship… the seduction and the operations they did to me to keep the spider-thing in me at bay… having to work with Machina, the Dominion’s paranoia… lies, sex, hollowness…

Feeling Chimera II’s katana entering me, piercing my chest… feeling the blood rush out of my body, dying on the floor of that dirty shack in Perez Park, the white out before I lost all consciousness…

My failed romance with Mio, all the hurt and feeling of mingled guilt and betrayal and regret, snowballing into more and more just…

I shook my head, gasping. What the hell was going on? My vision was a bit clearer now, and I could see him coming at me, lunging with his fist out, a look of murderous joy on his face. I dove down, into his path, slipping under his legs. I caught my forward momentum with my fingertips and pistoned back with my feet, catching him on the back of his head, driving him forward into a metal pillar. His head rebounded off it with a spray of blood. I somersaulted forward and got to my feet, getting into a fighting stance. He slowly turned to me, spitting out a mouthful of blood and a tooth or two. He was still grinning. “Good… good… Now, come at me!”

I shook my head, partially to decline the invitation, but also to make sense of the feelings and emotions this psycho had shook loose. Things I haven’t… Nevermind. I darted to the side, clambering up a shelving unit to throw myself at one of the rafters, thankfully visible this time around. I grabbed onto it and swung out like a gymnast, sailing up and out into the rainstorm.

I stood there, the rain drenching my costume, but I was too amped up to feel the chill. Part of me was still focused on the task at hand but… the other part was roiling and seething with all this… mental white noise. The things I remembered before when he slugged me in the chest, they were fading away again, falling apart back into static. Which probably explains why I didn’t hear the energy bolts until it was too late. Blasts of Nictus energy blew through the roof all around me, and I sprang away, hurtling through the air.

Just in time for the turrets to spot me.

Tyler Preston woke up. Or at least, he thought he did. It was still black. His head was killing him. He couldn’t see.

Panicked, he felt around, feeling only the floor of the holding cell. Oh god, he thought, his fear overriding the weakening sedative. Oh god, what happened to me?

Rakescar’s voice, the demonic ‘Other’ that shared his body, rumbled. “You got us taken down, ya wuss… You let that wimpy spider stab us in the eyes, and now we ain’t got any. We’re fricking blind, ya loser.”

Tyler flailed around, the gunshot wounds adding to the chorus of pain. “Blind? I’m blind?” he cried out, the fear taking a good hold of him. He couldn’t even see Rakescar, and hell, he was a figment of his imagination!

Rake snorted, annoyed. “Yeah, ya dimwit, you’re blind! I’m blind! We’re blind! Everybody’s blind! All because you let us down! You let him do this to us! You got too preoccupied with Ole Shard Tard there, and we got ourselves blinded! This is your fault! What are you gonna do about it?”

“Oh god! Oh god! I’m blind!” Panic had taken over.

Normally, in the superhuman world, you normally don’t get maimed, you don’t get blinded or crippled, thanks to the Medical Teleport System that generally saves Heroes and Villains from major bodily harm. Add that sort of feeling of invulnerability to the run of the mill shock of being suddenly blind, and you kind of have a feel for what Tyler is going through.

Rakescar, however, was devoid of sympathy. “I KNOW! DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! GET ME OUTTA HERE!” he screamed, a deafening voice in the blackness.

Then… a quieter voice. Almost a whisper above the metallic sounds outside. “Hey! Rake! Is that you?”

Tyler turned in the direction of the voice, ignoring the pain for a moment… and crawled face first into the metal cell door. For a moment, white pain flared in the blackness. He croaked out a cry of pain.

“Rake! Pssst! Is that you?” It was a familiar voice. Machina.

“It’s me… Tyler…” he choked out, backing away slightly, putting a hand to his face, feeling only gauze.

The Warcry robots outside shifted, the audio pickups recording the noise of their conversation.

“Tyler… good… Tyler, are you okay? Can you see?”

Tyler groaned in pain. Guess that’s a no.

Machina grimaced in frustration. Great, Rakescar gets blinded and now he’s useless, whiny girl. “Get up, man! Turn into Rake! Get us out of here, you [censored]! You owe me for out there!”

“Wasn’t… me! It was Rake! He did it!” Tyler groaned, feeling wet gauze around his eyes.

Machina growled. “Idiot! You’re the same person! Now stop feeling sorry for yourself and… I dunno, Rake out! Stop acting like a goddamned girl!”


“COME ON AND DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! C’mon, ya p*ssy! Come on and take me!”

Rake’s voice murmuring behind Tyler. “He’s right. You’re nothing but a big, bald girl. You think Aatiya is gonna love you now that you’re a sightless wimp?”

“Shut up…” Tyler growled, feeling the change come over him. “Just… shut up… all of you!”

Across the hall, Machina heard the tremor in his voice. He pivoted on his good leg, hopping over to the far side of the cell.

He couldn’t resist. His face broke out in a broad grin.

Dodging turret fire, I leapt and spun as heavy shells sliced through the air around me. I rolled back, flipping in mid-air, landing on the ground inside the compound. Stone had levitated above the warehouse, hovering, surrounded in an aura of Nictus energy.

Was this what a few Peacebringers had been wondering when they asked if I had been around any Kheldians? Why was this energy doing this to me? I sure as hell wasn’t turning into a Squid. Sometimes, I think it’d be a step up from what I am. Then again, I’d be scaring cat-girls. Something had happened to me while I was out from Chimera’s cute little assassination attempt on me. Maybe… maybe a Kheldian had tried bonding with me?

No time really to ponder the situation. The turrets were still firing at me, tearing up the ground as I dove for cover. Stone hovered above it all, laughing maniacally.

“Perfect, Michael! Perfect! You’re everything we built you to be!” he cackled, slowly advancing in mid-air, the aura around him growing in intensity. “Now it’s time to improve on my creation!”

I had gotten behind a tunnel entrance, the concrete wall protecting me from the line of sight of the turrets. The rain was coming down harder, obscuring my vision even further.

Then, underneath me, the earth moved, a deep rumbling coming from below. I looked up, and Stone appeared alarmed as well, lifting his wrist to his mouth, speaking into what appeared to be a comm-link. He turned back to me, a sour look on his face.

“It appears your playmates are becoming rowdy… but no matter. Nothing is going to stop me from finishing what we started, Michael… You must become… complete!”

He rushed me, hurtling in, impossibly fast. I barely had time to leap up, folding my legs up under me as he careened into the ground… but it turned out, he didn’t need to tackle me at all. The growing surge of energy that had been around him exploded around me, blowing into me, the world going photo-negative as I was flung back, landing onto the ground…

Everything fading to black.

Archon Stone stood, grinning madly to himself. His son lay on his back, shaking and convulsing. Yes, he thought to himself, this will hurt you more than it hurts me, son…

Years of research, all culuminating into this – one of the two survivors of X-27, the hero Deathspider, here and about to evolve into the perfect killing machine. Archon Stone could practically taste the promotion he would receive from the Center. He strode over to his son’s body, his body rebuilding the normal charge of energy he drew from the Shadow Crystal shard inside of his body, the Aura Flare he performed having temporarily drained his reserves.

He leaned over his son, the smile fading slightly.

A clawed hand, the fingers grown into long talons, shot up and grasped Archon Stone by the throat. His hands went to his neck, grasping at the wrist, gurgling. Slowly being raised in the air.

Deathspider slowly stood, raising his father off the ground in one hand, his costume ripping at the hands, bristles growing through the fabric. The rain seemed to intensify, lightning flashing overhead, illuminating them both.

The hissing voice, inhuman, emanated from the costumed figure’s throat.

“Daddy… Let’s play…”

The thunder crashed as Archon Stone screamed.

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