CHAPTER EIGHT

The heroes made their way over Williams Square, past the highway, and into Louis Forest. They landed on the soft dewy grass, trees and boulders dotting the calm landscape. Here and there the soft green glow of Circle rituals were still evident. Upon seeing the mages conjuring their spells, Top Ten knew that the Beast had not yet arrived in Founders Falls. They also realized it was preternaturally quiet as though before a storm. No birds sang, no insects buzzed. They had experienced this before. It was like Perez Park when they had first encountered their foe.

They stood together, all eyes moving, searching for what was coming. Scrap was still on his communicator, calling in more of the team, hoping that they would all arrive before the enemy.

Kunai was looking over the park, shaking his head. "I donít understand," he rubbed his chin through his mask. "I lost this thing last night. Itís nine oíclock in the morning. It should be here by now."

"Itís drawn to magic," Tropic shrugged. "There are lots of little islands in Talos. Lots of Circle of Thorns on them."

"Yes. It probably stopped to take some moreÖmagic juice from them," WillowWind agreed, grimacing.

General Scrap rejoined the group, stowing his communicator back on his belt. "Well," he sighed, "I called just about everyone. The people I talked to said theyíre on their way." He shook his head and tugged on his earlobe. "Left messages for the rest. I hope they get them in time."

"You didnít call me," a feminine voice said softly.

The team turned toward the voice and saw her there, leaning heavily against a tree, as if that was the only thing keeping her upright. She wore her Top Ten uniform, holding the edge of her cape tightly in her right hand. The outfit was covered with dirt and grass stains, she had a thick white bandage wrapped around her forehead and she looked down her nose at her friends through red-lensed glasses.

Miyaka stared at the woman with an arched eyebrow. "Deep Phreeze?" She shook her head in astonishment. "Phreeze, arenít you supposed to be in the hospital?"

"They said they wanted me overnight for Ďobservationí," she grinned crookedly. "They observed me. Itís daytime. I left."

Ryuuhoshi crossed to the ice wielder smiling. He grasped her arm and helped her to a small boulder. As she sat he chewed on his lower lip and said quietly, "You know youíre in no condition to help us, donít you?"

She looked up at the dark ninja with one squinted eye and said frostily, "You going to try and stop me?" Phreezeís clenched fists quickly encased themselves in ice. Ryuuhoshi smiled under his mask and threw up his hands in surrender.

WillowWind smiled warmly at her newly arrived teammate. "Scrap didnít call you. Howíd you know where to find us?"

Deep Phreeze snorted, shaking her head. "You guys are all over the news."

"What?" Buttercup asked in surprise.

"Yeah," the ice blaster nodded then looked in the faces of her friends. She raised her eyebrow in disbelief. "What? You didnít think people would notice?" She looked from one hero to the other. "You fight some kind of demon in Perez Park. Then you have this huge battle with the Knives at the train station in Steel. Then you blow up a mansion. And then youĎre seen flying over Founders Falls." She paused shaking her head. Finally she said quietly, "The police were looking for you, you know."

"The police? Why?" Scrap stood frowning, arms crossed over his chest.

"Youblew up a mansion! But when they got there they found several paintings and pieces of artwork that had been stolenÖand several people with ties to a few criminal organizations," Phreeze smiled broadly. "The news said the police think theyíve busted up an art smuggling ring. Most of the people there had outstanding arrest warrants out on them." She laughed lightly. "Without meaning to you guys wiped about twenty cases from the books."

Willow frowned. " ĎBlew up a mansioníÖplease, I only blew up a little bit of it," she said softly to no one in particular. Tropic lowered his head and smiled.

Phreeze looked around the park, turning her head this way and that, a slight look of pain on her face. "SoÖwhere is this thing?"

"Thatís what we want to know," came a booming voice from above. The heroes looked up to the sky and grinned at the sight. Four more of their teammates had arrived, the yellow and gold Top Ten shield flashing as the early morning sunlight danced across their chests.

Scrap stepped forward with his hand outstretched. "Hey! That was quick."

Lord Nikon landed lightly in front of his friend and shook his hand warmly. "You soundedÖwell, it sounded pretty urgent."

TuxedoGin and Novak landed amongst the team. "Yes," Tux added, "it sounded like you were talking bout the end of the world." He grinned as he greeted his teammates.

Tropic smiled sadly. "It pretty much is," he sighed.

Cyber-Blade landed next to Miyaka, the two katana wielders nodded in greeting. "That bad?" he asked.

"Knowing this group, it probably is," a new voice called out. The team all turned to the sound and saw a figure speeding up the last few yards of a hill towards them. Umbral Fist skidded to a stop directly in front of Ryuuhoshi. "So, what are we facing? Some kind of demonic purse snatcher?" he grinned.

Temptations scowled at the dark scrapper. "No," the warrior said seriously as she rubbed the length of her broadsword with an oiled cloth. "Not by half."

Buttercup sighed and explained to the new arrivals more of what they were going to face. As she spoke the color drained from Nikon and TuxedoGinís faces. Cyber-Blade and Umbral looked at each other with skeptical expressions.

"You know," Novak said with a shake of his head, "after this is all over Iím just gonna stay in Atlas and arrest Hellions."

The heroes grinned at the energy blaster when a ghostly voice behind General Scrap spoke. "So, it is true then."

Scrap started in surprise, spinning toward the voice, his hands already glowing with power. He dropped his hands when he realized who it was. "Geez, Padre, donít sneak up on me like that. Itís been a long day!"

Padre Ares hovered in front of the team and nodded in apology to Scrap. He turned his attention to Tropic. "It is as I feared?" His red horns seemed to glow against his jet black skin and the eldritch fire flowed from his eyes as he stared at the fire blaster.

"Aye, priest" Tropic said quietly, "the Spawn is here."

The dark controller landed in front of the ancient fire blaster. He stroked his chin and muttered, "I have always feared the Thorns would do somethingÖfoolish." He glanced up at Tropic. "But on this scaleÖ"

"They made a mistake and itís killing them," Valya frowned. "And then itís going to kill everything else."

Top Ten stood in silence, engulfed in their own thoughts. The reality and desperateness of the situation finally beginning to become apparent. If this Beast was allowed to open the gate, the armies of Hell would stream into this realm. And when all was prepared, when the living had been subjugated, when goodness, light, purity had been perverted, the Dark Master would come and reign supreme over the entire planet.

Hell on Earth.

"Look!" WillowWind gasped. "Look at the sky!"

The heroes looked to the south. Beyond a raised range of boulders the sky had begun to turn a misty green. As they watched it began to swirl and itís color deepen. And then, piercing the quiet morning, a long drawn out scream; a wail of such hopelessness that some of the heroes flinched.

Tropic looked at the teammates and whispered roughly. "Itís here."

The nineteen adventurers nodded to each other then raced to battle. They came around a jutting stone and saw for the second time Satanís child. It had grown since their battle in Perez Park. All the magic power it had taken had caused itís size, itís muscle and power to swell and thrive. It was well over fifteen feet tall now. Great slabs of hard muscle twitched and flexed under its oily black skin. Itís huge wings fluttered, moving spasmodically in the cool morning sun. And itís eyes leaked green fire, a magic force to powerful to contain.

"What the hell is that?" A voice exclaimed from behind the team.

They turned and saw more of their team arriving, answering the call as heroes are wont to do.

Lord Nikon grinned as they came and greeted each other. There was Dr. Silver, a powerful empath. Blue Fox Sly and Aeroxon, both deadly scrappers. Mr. Heaven and Serridus, two defenders whoís energy powers augmented their force field and empathy skills. L33t On3, Ebola Zaire and Flint Fingers, warriors welcome in any battle, a controller and blaster of fire and a scrapper of living bone.

Johnny Cognito grinned, almost in relief. "Am I glad to see you guys!"

L33t On3 smiled back and looked beyond the team to the Beast. "You guys having demon problems?"

Johnny snorted. "No. Devil problems." At L33tís raised eyebrow Cognito pointed at the Beast and said, "Son of the Devil. Trying to open a gateway. Hell on Earth. Itís got to go."

Flint Fingers nodded. "Ok, simple enough."

Top Ten watched for a moment as the Beast grabbed and drained an Earth Thorn Caster. It tossed the Thornís mummified husk aside and tore apart a Behemoth Master. The sky above had deepened in color, the thick swirling green now blocking the bright sunlight and shrouding Louis Forest in shadow.

"So whatís the plan?" Nikon asked and grimaced as the thing pulled apart a Guide.

TuxedoGin eyed the monster for a moment then regarded the gathered heroes in front of him. He scowled, nodding his head all the while, then took a deep breath. "All right, we do what we do: defeat the enemy." The team smiled, confidence evident on their faces.

"Right," General Scrap said as he turned from watching the Beast tear apart another Circle mage. "Damage dealers in tight. Controllers, lock him down. Blasters at range. Defenders keep us going." Scrap looked at his teammates, his face grim, as if he were receiving bad news at the doctors. "The planís simple. We have to get that thing to expend so much of itís power on us, itíll weaken eventually and weíll be able to destroy it." He gazed briefly at Buttercup and Tropic. "I hope thatís what the Tablet means."

Tropic sighed and nodded and beside him Buttercup whispered, "I hope so."

Lord Nikon breathed out deeply. "Ok," he said, his voice no more than a rough whisper. "Ready!"

Behind him, one by one, the heroes of Top Ten answered "Ready!". And then, like a force of nature, they charged down the hill.

The Beast held a Death Mage in his vice-like grip, all the magic power of the man flowing in green tendrils into his open maw. Out of the corner of his fiery green eyes he saw the collected heroes rushing towards him. The monster grinned, itís sharp teeth showing in the darkening forest. "Fools," it whispered, and the very ground seemed to tremble. "Are you in such a hurry that you must run towards death?"

The Blasters halted and released their first salvo, peppering the Beast with blasts of energy and fire, electricity and ice. Closer still to the monster the Controllers stopped short, attacking, trying to contain the enemy with tar, radiation, and living imps of fire doing their best to confuse the animal. The Defenders were closer still. Mr. Heaven encasing each teammate in a bubble of energy; Cadecus already sending forth his healing aura. Finally, the damage dealers, the Scrappers and Tanks, in close to the Beast, attacking with all their might.

In Founders Falls it sounded like a small explosion in the middle of Louis Forest. Those looking towards the park saw the green swirling glow in the sky and flashes of light reflecting from it. People new to Paragon City stared in wonder. The long-time residents knew what was happening. Something about this battle felt wrong to them and they gripped the hands of their children and hurried for cover.

In the park the battle was fully joined. The sky lit up with the blasts ricocheting off the Beastís tough armor-like hide. The swords of Temptations, Miyaka, Cyber-Blade and Aeroxon hacked and slashed at the monster, the sharp blades bouncing harmlessly off itís oily skin. The pinpricks of their weapons coupled with the claws and spines of Blue Fox Sly and Ebola Zaire only served to annoy the great demon and it howled itís aggravation to the sky.

The Beast swung itís great fist in a sweeping arc trying to swat away the heroes pestering it. The hand caught Blue Fox Sly full on and sent him hurtling, rolling across the soft grass. The end of the strike glanced against Cyber-Blade and tossed him in the same direction. Blue was able to stop his tumbling and as Cyber rolled past reached out and caught the sword master by the arm. The two men looked at each other and, wordlessly, rushed back to the fray.

Umbral Fist was slowly coming to the realization that thisÖdemon was immune to his dark powers. Touch of Fear, Shadow Maul, Soul Drain were all proving ineffective against the Son of Satan. So he did what he could, hitting the Beast with his bare hands.

"Rotate!" TuxedoGinís voice was barely audible above the battle. "If you need to rest someone will take your place!" He attacked the monster with fervor, punches and kicks bouncing off the thingís tough hide. Buttercup leapt up and delivered a spinning kick to the Beastís side but she could tell it did no damage. Still they fought on trying desperately to make it expend all itís energy on the team.

"Idiots!" The Beast shouted. "You cannot stop destiny!" Itís huge tail swung about. Aeroxon was able to jump over it but Miyaka saw it coming a moment too late. She tried to duck, to bob out of the way, but the forked appendage struck her slightly and she fell dazed to the ground. The Beast closed in on itís helpless prey, raising itís foot, ready to stomp one of itís tormentors into the ground.

"MIYAKA!" Temptations screamed and rushed towards her friend. But she knew she was too far away. The warrior gripped her broadsword tightly and watched in horror as the huge foot came down.

Suddenly the monster was encased in a gigantic ball of electricity and another figure swooped in, grasping the prone heroine and rocketing her from harmís way. Temptations breathed out heavily in relief as she saw Captain Denmark gently place Miyaka on the ground a safe distance from the fight.

"Shocking, isnít it?" a voice called from above. Temptations looked up and saw the source of the electric power. Blighting hovered there, the dark haired woman crackling with energy, sending another blast into the Beast.

Denmark flew over and hovered next to Tropic and Elendil, joining them in hurtling blast after blast at the monster. El shouted over, "Glad you could join us!" and grinned at the energy blaster.

"Blighting and I were in Striga thinning out Council when we got Scrapís message," he smiled back. "How come you guys never fight a den of evil shoplifters?"

"Itís just not us," Blighting answered back. "Now letís kill this thing!"

All the blasters unloaded on the Beast at the same time. Energy, electricity, fire and ice hit the animal at the same time.

And did nothing.
CONTINUE >
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