Perez Park had once been a beautiful place,
a lush green respite from the rapid pace of city life. Families could
picnic on the thick grass or see a play outdoors at Gaiman Amphitheatre.
Lovers could walk through the tree-lined paths in the depths of the
forest, arms about each other, whispering their sweetest thoughts.
Everett Lake provided wet blue coolness on the hottest summer day.
It had been a beautiful place.
Then came the Invasion. The War. After
that, Perez Park became a haven for gangs warring with each other
or preying on the unwise citizen foolish enough to enter their territory.
A place for living automations to chatter and build. Where the undead
and the disaffected roamed freely. And a place where the Circle of
Thorns worked their arcane magics.
The animal emerged from below ground,
pushing past a wood gate that blocked the entrance to Oranbega. It's
glowing red eyes surveyed it's surroundings. It was in the middle
of a dense forest, a babbling creek nearby nearly masking the sounds
of the prey at hand.
The thing's nostrils quivered in the twilight,
the waning sunlight still filtering through the leaves above. It smelled
its prey and it's eyes could see the green tendrils of arcane enchantments
weaving their way amongst the tree trunks. The monster smiled, it's
razor sharp teeth still flecked with blood, and made it's way from
the cave entrance into the deep woodland, following the green magic
A moment later it came upon a glade and was bathed in the sallow
moonlight just beginning to shine. It stepped out with no fear still
following the mystic path ahead.
"Hey! This is our turf, Thorn!",
a gruff voice shouted out.
It turned towards the voice and saw a young
man in a tattered jacket striding purposefully towards it. His face
was painted white like a skull and behind him several of his friends
gathered, smirks on their faces.
"You deaf, Demon?", the thug asked.
"I said this is our land. Get out!"
"I am no demon," it said matter-of-factly.
The gangster smiled. "No, you're just dead!" The switchblade appeared
from nowhere and slashed at the animals midsection. The Skulls murderous
grin turned to shock as he watched the blade break off on the thing's
hard skin and go sailing into the bushes.
The fiend's clawed hand
slashed out and cut the thug in two, torso landing to the left, legs
to the right. His friends eyes grew wide at the sight of their severed
comrade and as one they rushed forward.
And as one they died. The
thing spared them not a thought as he continued on, following the
magic trail, killing all in his path.
Top Ten arrived in Perez Park,
moving past the police barricades, through the gates and into a graveyard.
All about them bodies were strewn. The Skulls and Hellions, Vahzilok
and Lost, all lay dead about the park. Some were nearly ripped apart,
others sliced open and all still had a look of horror frozen on their
faces by the rigor of death.
"My…God," Cadecus whispered, the empathy
defender feeling more than the others the terribleness of the scene.
They all walked forward, their boots squishing. Looking down Temptations
saw that the ground had turned to mud from the blood of the slain.
She was a powerful warrior and death was no stranger to her but the
scale here was almost beyond her. "I don’t underst…what could have
done," she gestured around her, "this?"
Tropic shook his head. "I
don’t know," he said quietly. His fiery eyes flared bright as he looked
at the devastation.
"Did you feel it too?", a voice called to them
They looked upwards and saw the dark form slowly approaching.
General Scrap nodded in greeting as Bzald landed gracefully beside
them. The black clad figure looked at his teammates, his red glowing
eyes the only thing visible from of the dark swirling shadow that
perpetually cloaked him.
Buttercup smiled grimly. "Some of us. We
think it only affected those with some magic in them."
The dark figure
stood silently for a moment, one hand stroking his chin. "That would
seem to be the case," he said. "I was in Dark Astoria locked in combat
with a Shaman and his cohorts. Of a sudden it came over us both and
we two were staggered. His zombie thralls collapsed almost immediately.
Luckily I was able to recover more rapidly than my foe and defeat
him." Bzald looked at his friends and then the bodies surrounding
them. He shook his head. "It was most disturbing."
about them. "That’s an understatement. How did you know to come here?
Perez doesn’t border on Astoria or Talos Island.
Bzald’s red eyes
took in the battlefield and said absently, "I exited Dark Astoria
and just…followed the feeling." He paused for a moment and said finally,
"It led me here."
Temptations listened to the dark man’s story. "Well,
now that we’re here, how do we find…whatever it is we’re looking for?"
"Hey! You guys come look at this!"
The gathered heroes turned and
saw WillowWind and Valya near the high stone wall that separated the
park from the few office buildings across the road. Willow was waving
them over and Valya was crouched over a dark form.
As they converged
on the two heroines they saw the body was a Circle mage. Tropic and
Cadecus squatted next to Valya and examined the remains. It was indeed
a Circle of Thorns adept, a Madness Mage by the look of him. Valya
stood again next to WillowWind and watched the two men.
back and stroked his goatee. "Cadecus?", he asked and motioned at
The healer nodded and held his arms out directly over
the dead magician’s chest. A white aura flowed from Cadecus’ hands
and as quickly as he started, he closed his hands into fists and drew
away from the body. He looked at Tropic, shaking his head, one hand
tugging at his lower lip.
"Well?", asked Buttercup her gaze shifting
"He’s Circle all right," Tropic began, "but it’s different.
The other bodies here are practically torn apart and he’s pretty beat
up too, but there’s something different about this one." Tropic pointed
down at the body. "Look at his skin. It’s wrinkled…calcified…like
he’s been mummified or…" Tropic shook his head and pulled on his goatee
again. "I don’t know."
"And there’s something else." The assembled
heroes turned towards Cadecus. "Just now when I tried to get some
reading off him, there was nothing." He saw the confused looks on
the faces of his teammates. He sighed and explained. "Everyone has
some type of aura or…presence…that remains with them, even in death,
for a while at least." He paused and looked at the Mage. "He had nothing.
Valya looked at the body and then at Cadecus. "Like he’d
been…drained," she said quietly.
"Of everything," Tropic whispered.
He looked at Temptations again. "You asked how we find what we’re
looking for…" The gathered heroes of Top Ten looked at each other
and then the stiffening remains sprawled about them. Then Tropic’s
low voice broke the uneasy silence. "We follow the bodies."
and Temptations led the way, carefully picking their way through the
seemingly unending corpses littering the unnerving quiet of the park.
The heroes were silent, each lost in thought, all trying to remain
focused on the matter at hand and not on the dead pointing the way
to…what? The unknown was more worrisome than their surroundings. They
had seen battle and death before but, with the exception of a few,
not on this scale. Not knowing what they were facing was a frightening
Still they pressed forward. Up ahead they saw movement
and, as one, immediately took defensive postures but quickly relaxed
again as they caught sight of the familiar colors of the Top Ten uniform
and the four individuals wearing them. The four teammates saw the
larger group at the same time and waited for them to approach.
shook his head. "What’s going on here?", he said looking over the
devastation. "I’ve never seen anything like this."
her katana tightly and nodded a greeting, her short dark hair bobbing
slightly in the still night. Deep Phreeze wrapped her cape close about
herself, eyes hidden behind her red tinted glasses. Her ice powers
warded off the cold but she shivered now amongst the dead. Johnny
Cognito stood silent, tendrils of inky blackness gathering at his
"I can’t say I’m not glad to see you," General Scrap told them,
"but how did you…?"
"We were arresting some Family goons in Independence
Port when we saw it." Ryuuhoshi looked up at the swirling green sky.
"You can see it from all over the city."
Buttercup frowned. "You can’t
see Perez from IP. You mean that…"
"You can see it from all over the
city," Ryuuhoshi said again.
Cadecus grimaced and looked skyward.
"That means the ordinary citizens are going to panic." Like most of
the heroes inhabiting Paragon City, Cadecus had little faith in the
city’s police forces. He and the others had seen them run from trouble
too many times to think they could count on them now.
"Then lets find
the people responsible for this and finish it before more die," General
Scrap offered. "I’ll bet that the Circle of Thorns is behind it. Once
we track them down we can…"
Johnny Cognito scowled and looked at the
bodies near him. "The Circle? Look around you! The Circle are getting
killed along with everyone else." He shook his head. "I don’t think
they decided to get themselves killed en masse!"
Elendil nodded. "He
has a point…but I’m willing to bet that they at least had something
to do with it." He gazed up at the sky, an angry green cyclone swirling
ominously. "Let’s keep on going. Follow the bodies and see where that
leads us maybe we’ll…"
He stopped speaking, interrupted by an unearthly
howl. He raised an eyebrow and returned the stares of his teammates.
"I guess we know where we’re going," Miyaka said with a crooked smile.
"Stay together," Ryuuhoshi whispered as they moved through the bloody
mud towards the sound.
The heroes moved quickly through the park,
skirting the thick forest line and following the edge of the small
rivulet of water that lead to Everett Lake. They still had to step
over the bodies littering the ground but now they noticed more Circle
of Thorns among the dead. All of them had the same mummified, drained
look as the one they had found.
Tropic and Buttercup looked at each
other silently, a gaze of concern between them. The Circle were a
group of very powerful magicians. Whatever could do this was head
and shoulders above that power. The two heroes knew that what they
were dealing with was deadly, dangerous, and maybe stronger than they.
They continued on, though, knowing also that they were probably the
only thing standing between…something and the rest of Paragon City.
The group emerged on the bank of Everett Lake and followed it towards
the gate to Skyway City. They rounded a stand of thick trees and there,
in the middle of the Amphitheatre, they saw it, gripping a Circle
Thorn Wielder by the shoulders. A green mist was flowing from the
helpless victim, from his mouth and eyes, into the open maw of the
huge thing. Remnants of the mist drifted upward to the sky joining
the swirling mass above.
The Thorn Wielder’s body began to shrink
in the animal’s grasp as his power, his magic, his very essence was
drawn away. When the monster had taken all there was, he simply cast
the Thorn aside to join the others strewn on the Amphitheatre’s stage,
all sucked dry of every bit of life and magic. It turned then and
noticed the heroes of Top Ten watching it. It sensed the magic in
some of them but there was not enough there to warrant it’s attention.
Until it heard the scream, "ATTACK!", then Top Ten had it’s complete
As one the heroes surged forward assaulting the black demon
with the practiced confidence earned with hundreds of battles: melee
team moved forward to engage the villain directly and range heroes
held back, peppering the fiend with blasts of ice, fire and energy.
But it soon became clear that this…thing was not going to fall to
conventional battle strategies.
Miyaka sliced away at the thing, striking
it with slashing blows, her katana dancing over the hide of the animal
so quickly only a blur of silver could be seen. Temptations stood
beside her, the great broadsword in her hands hacking down on the
ogre’s armored hide so hard the impact threatened to jar the blade
from her hands. Both blades had the same effect - none.
roared in annoyance and swung it’s huge hand, slapping Temptations
away. The heroine tumbled in the grass and dirt, a cloud of dust rising
in her path. She finally came to rest some twenty yards away at the
edge of the lake already rolling to her feet and heading back to join
the fray again.
Miyaka continued her attack, still trying to carve
the beast’s skin, while behind her the blasts from her teammates attempted
to disorient their foe. On the other side Ryuuhoshi and Buttercup
struck with all the skill of their martial arts training. Thunderous
strikes and kicks landed on the beast, hands and feet moving faster
than the eye could see. But the thought became clearer in their minds
that they were doing no damage at all.
Suddenly, the animal leapt
over them and headed out over the lake towards the abandoned boathouse.
"Keep after it!", General Scrap shouted. "We’ve got to take it out
before it can do mor…". The rest of his words were lost to the wild
sounds of fighting.
Top Ten pursued it, blast after blast hitting
the fleeing demon. "We’re not hurting it!", Elendil shouted as he
unleashed another blast at the beast. He watched as the things tail
struck Miyaka and sent her flying. She hit the ground and tumbled
across the grass, leaving a smoking trail of dirt.
as Miya tumbled away and, in the split second that his attention was
diverted, the thing's tail struck him as it swished back. The dark
ninja was lifted from his feet and hurled some thirty yards away,
finally hitting the ground and somersaulting several times before
coming to rest on the cool green grass, dizzy and stunned.
to his knees, shaking his head, trying to recover. Ryuuhoshi watched
the battle with the demon unfold. Valya and Cognito were doing their
best to slow it down and the rest of the team were hitting it with
everything they had.
Suddenly he saw Bzald swoop in, trying to get
a decent shot at the thing. He watched in horror as the animal struck
the shadowed controller with it's huge fist. Bzald took off like a
rocket, spinning through the air and then hitting the ground and going
airborne once more, sailing directly over Ryuu's head. Bzald's back
slammed into the hard trunk of a large tree, nearly snapping the man
in two. He fell to earth and lay there, unmoving.
Ryuuhoshi ran to
his friend. "Bz! Bzald! Are you ok?" He crouched there next to him
looking into the red, glowing eyes.
"Can't...move...", Bzald said,
his shadowed face a mask of pain and fear.
Ryuu looked up, searching
for the healer, Cadecus, when above him Deep Phreeze tumbled overhead
and smacked into the concrete of the force field wall with a sickening
wet thud. She fell at least twenty feet and lay still.
The healer turned from the battle and saw the ninja frantically waving
him over. With a last healing burst, Cad hurried over. He looked down
at Bzald and, using his power, determined the extent of the man's
injury. He looked over at Phreeze and then to Ryuuhoshi. "Take them
to the hospital."
"What?", Ryuu asked in surprise. "Can't you..."
Cadecus shook his head and looked back at the carnage near the demon.
"No. Get going! Get back as quick as you can!" With that the healer
returned to the fray.
Ryuu frowned, picked up Deep Phreeze and, placing
his hand on Bzald, activated the medical transporter and the three
"Keep at it!", WillowWind yelled. She fired another
blast at the thing. Valya had surrounded it with quicksand and Cognito
added to it with tar, both heroes striving to slow the fiend down
long enough for their team to stop it. Valya and Willow closed in
trying to maximize the chance to strike. In back of the beast Elendil
and Tropic did the same. Temptations and Buttercup still stood toe
to toe with the thing, hitting it with everything they could muster.
Elendil hit it with a huge blaze of fire, not really hurting the beast
but certainly getting it’s attention. As the beast turned toward the
fire blaster its great forked tail swept into Valya knocking her away.
The demon looked down at the blaster and it’s clawed hand jabbed toward
him. Elendil had stopped his assault for a moment and had taken a
knee, resting, trying to regain some of his strength. He never saw
"EL!!", Tropic screamed and pushed the man out of the way.
"ARRGGHH!!" Another scream burst from Tropic. Looking down he saw
the talon of the beast jutting forward from his side. The villain
had thrust its sharp nail through him from behind and, just as quickly,
it withdrew the claw. Tropic fell to the ground, fire erupting from
both sides of the wound.
"TROPIC! NO!", Elendil screamed and rushed
to his friend. The fiery hero lay on the ground for a moment and then
climbed to his hands and knees. "Trop, are you..?", Elendil asked,
fear and concern in his voice and on his face.
breath," he said between heavy breaths. Suddenly a scream rent the
night air and both heroes turned to the sound. The animal had grabbed
WillowWind and held her high above his head, one great hand wrapped
around her leg, and was already swinging his arm down trying to drive
her into the ground as if she were a hammer.
Valya cried out as she
saw the dire trouble her friend was in. She ran towards the beast
but knew already she wouldn’t make it in time. Elendil unleashed a
bolt of pure flame at the thing, hitting it directly in the chest.
The demon shrugged it off, still swinging the struggling heroine towards
the hard cold earth.
Tropic rose to his knees, dazed and faint from
the wound his body was still trying to heal. He took his hand from
his side long enough to shoot a weak blast of fire at the black beast.
That done, he collapsed to the ground once more, watching helplessly.
The ball of fire hit the beast in the chest again. Howling in agony
the thing dropped Willow some ten feet to the ground. Valya made it
to her almost as soon as she landed and, scooping her up, practically
carried her from harm’s way.
The beast turned to Tropic, it’s nostrils
quivering, and stared for a mere second at the fire blaster. Then
it turned and simply bounded away, swallowed by the dense forest of
Near the force field wall a figure appeared seemingly
from thin air, wearing the Top Ten colors. "What the hell was that?",
it asked incredulously.
"Kunai!", General Scrap called out. He ran
to the lanky fighter, holding his left arm tight to his body. "Follow
that thing! Let us know where it goes, but for God’s sake, don’t attack
it! Go! Go!"
"Right! Got it!", the stealthy warrior exclaimed and
ran towards the forest, already seeming to disappear from view as
he neared the thick trees.
Scrap watched Kunai go and then turned
to the rest of his team. All had been injured in some way and Cadecus
was going to each of them, the soothing green waves of his healing
aura washing over them and making them whole again. Buttercup was
on her knees, the midsection of her uniform bearing four claw-like
tears. Temptations left shoulder pad was missing and the sleeve had
split at the seam. Willow and Valya appeared to be all right but both
were covered with dirt and sweat. Tropic was in his feet, supported
by Elendil. And as he took stock of himself, Scrap noticed finally
the deep gash in his arm.
Cadecus came near him and he felt the heal.
He looked at his arm again and watched as the wound disappeared. Cadecus
nodded at him, "You ok?" Scrap nodded in return.
"Well, we just got
our asses kicked," Miyaka said plainly. She too was covered in dirt.
Her uniform was covered with grass stains and the seam on one side
of the short skirt she wore had split all the way up to the waist,
showing, in flashes, the white panties she was so fond of wearing.
"No, really, every part of our asses were just kicked. If
there was an ass in the vicinity, it was kicked." She kneeled down
at the edge of the lake and splashed the cool water on her face, washing
away the grime.
"Miya…please…," Scrap began.
"She’s right," Tropic
said quietly, still holding his side as he approached the group. Elendil
stayed near but Tropic was standing now under his own power.
walked up and rested her hand on his shoulder. "You all right?"
as new," he said, removing his hand from the wound, revealing the
two charred holes, front and back, in his costume. Not even a scar
Buttercup sighed and stared into the forest after the beast.
"So…what do we do now?"
"Simple," Temptations said. She gripped the
hilt of her broadsword so tightly her knuckles were white. She looked
at her teammates, her eyes low and growled, "We track it down and
return the favor."