Tropic raised an eyebrow and said coolly, "You’re welcome." He stepped forward and kneeled before the children, speaking to the gang boss. "We’ve got to get out of here. The building’s not going to last much longer."

"Right." The Warrior stood up and the children clustered around his legs. He regarded the blaster briefly. "Tropic, right?" The hero nodded. "Yeah, Hyde," he introduced himself. "Let’s go." He took a step but almost tripped over the kids that were practically hanging onto him.

Hyde looked down at their little soot covered faces. "We have to go! We don’t have time for…" He stopped when he finally noticed the looks of absolute terror on their faces. He looked at Tropic who had already moved to the office’s smoky doorway. He looked back at the children and said, "You, what’s your name?"

The little girl’s eyes opened wide in surprise as she answered very matter-of-factly, "My name is Allison and I’m four years old."

Hyde smiled in spite of himself. "Really? Good, good. Who’s your favorite superhero?"

Tropic turned to the gang leader, his brow furrowed in confusion.

Allison thought for a moment then said, "I like Deep Phreeze."

"Yeah? What would she do to the fire right now?"

"She’d…she’d make a giant ice cube and put it on top of the building and when it melted all the fire would go out, fwoosh!" the little girl explained, smiling at the thought her imagination had conjured up.

Hyde nodded then turned to the little boy next to Allison. "How about you? Who’s your favorite?"

"I like Statesman," the boy said and, not waiting for Hyde to ask, answered, "and he’d just clap his hands and the fire would blow out!" The small fellow clapped his hands together for emphasis.

"Wow!" Hyde nodded. He looked at the last child, another little boy, and pointed at him. "Your turn."

The youngster was already talking before Hyde finished speaking. "Synapse would run around the building real fast and the fire would float up into the air and then go away and then we’d go have ice cream."

"Ice cream?" Hyde smiled. "Ok," he looked directly at Tropic and pointed. "Ya see this hero here?" The children all nodded vigorously. "Well this here is Tropic and he’s real good friends with Deep Phreeze, Synapse and Statesman." Hyde smiled broadly at the shocked expression on the hero’s face.

"I am?"

"Yes, he is," Hyde continued as the children stared intently at Tropic. "And if you guys do exactly what we say and follow us out of here, he’s gonna introduce you to them."

"I am?" Tropic raised an eyebrow at the Warrior leader. "I don’t kn…," he began then noticed the looks on the kid’s faces. Fear had been replaced with hope: a hope to meet their superhero idols. The blaster sighed heavily. He gathered himself, standing taller and putting his hands on his hips, trying to adopt his best super pose. "That’s right, kids," he said with enthusiasm, "but first we have to get out of this building! Can I count on you?" he exclaimed, pointing his finger at them.

"Yes," the children answered quietly.

"What’s that? I can’t hear you!"

"Yes!" they shouted with a bit more conviction.

"Oh, you can do better than that!"

"YES!" they screamed.

"Ok, now, you have to do exactly what we say, all right?" Tropic looked at each of them in turn as they nodded their little heads. He angled his head at the Warrior boss. "Right. I have point, kids in the middle, you’re behind. We have to go, right now." The fiery hero’s voice was hard and commanding and Hyde could only agree.

Tropic lead them out of the office. The hall was full of smoke and underneath many of the doors they passed a telltale orange glow flickered. "We’re on 16, right?"

"14," Hyde answered. "I got them down two floors before we had to stop."

Tropic nodded. "Stairs." He opened the door and the stairwell was full of smoke. He tossed a ball of fire down the center of the stairway and the smoke dissipated slightly. He looked back at his charges and saw the looks of fear beginning to form. Tropic kneeled and looked the children squarely in the eyes. "Don’t worry. We just have to go down some steps." He smiled. "It’s going to be fine." He stood and stared at Hyde. "Let’s go," and one by one they began down the steps.

On the 12th floor, Ms. Moxie had almost cleared out the Hellions. Their boss, a Damned named Necrosis, was being exceptionally troublesome. The blasts of fire he attacked her with didn’t harm her, really. But he just would not stand still and he would not go down. They had played a game of cat and mouse throughout the floor and Moxie was getting tired of it. And she also knew that the building would not last much longer.

She rounded a corner and stared into a large reception area. Four square columns rose to the ceiling, their tops now concealed in a swirling mass of dark smoke. Moxie pressed her back against the wall at the entrance and crouched low, scanning the big room for movement. She knew that the Hellion would never pass the chance to take out a hero, even in the midst of this blaze.

So she waited for him to come to her.

She saw Necrosis finally as he crept stealthily into the reception area from one of its hallways. Moxie paused for a moment then stepped from her hiding place at the area’s entrance. The Hellion boss caught sight of her. The tanker stood shock still and beckoned to him with her hand then she disappeared from his line of sight.

Necrosis fired a few blasts of flame at her but she had slid around the corner. Every time he had her sighted, she would move out of view, making it impossible for him to connect with his blasts.

Ms. Moxie kept taunting him, leading the villain on, until finally she reached the office she had been searching for. She peered from around the corner, allowed him to get a brief glimpse of her, then back behind the wall. The heroine smiled as she gazed through the huge hole in the buildings side. She had lead the Hellion right back to the room the battle had started in.

Moxie needed to be there. The rest of his gang lie unconscious about the room and the hole was a most convenient escape route. She heard his heavy steps coming closer. Suddenly he appeared in the doorway. Ms. Moxie struck hard and fast, jab, cross, hook, uppercut, rocking the gang leader. She grabbed his dirty black vest and roughly dragged him into the room and threw him against the wall so violently the plaster cracked, leaving an outline of his body and dazing him momentarily.

"It’s over for you," Ms. Moxie growled. "This sick game you’re playing is finished."

The Hellion sneered. "Is it?" Necrosis cackled.

Moxie raised an eyebrow. "What? What are you talking about?" She slammed him once more into the wall. "Tell me or you’re going out that hole." The tanker grinned a feral little grin and began to drag the gang boss towards the opening.

Necrosis’ lip curled. "It doesn’t matter. Nothing you can do will stop us…or this building from going up! Nothing is finished. Nothing."

Moxie stared into the eyes of her foe. She turned her head, staring sidelong at him. "What have you done?" she whispered.

"Bombs. Lots of them. Everywhere. Every floor." Necrosis whispered, looking at a clock hanging above the desk on the opposite side of the office. "And there’s no time for you to do anything at all," he laughed.

"But…but why?" Moxie’s eyes widened in horror as what the gang boss was telling her began to sink in.

"Death is our gift." He said it calmly, devoid of any emotion or humanity.

Ms. Moxie pulled the Hellion to her, her hands gripping the front of his vest and lifting him so his toes barely touched the floor. "Keep it," she hissed through clenched teeth and, with a flick of her wrists, tossed Necrosis out the office door and at least ten feet down the corridor. Then she zoomed from the broken building to the street below crying out, "CHIEF! CHIEF! GET YOUR PEOPLE BACK!"

The fire captain almost jumped out of his skin as the heroine landed beside him. "What? Why? What’s happened?"

"Bombs! Lots of them! No time to…just get your people out of there!"

The chief immediately began calling out to his men, shouting for them to abandon the fire. The radio became alive with chatter as the new threat was realized. He watched as his men fell back, as the police called in their bomb and crisis teams.

Ms. Moxie watched as the fire crews retreated, trying as best she could to stay out of their way. It was then she noticed something. "Chief!" she called. "Where’s Tropic?" she asked as the man turned to her.

The fire captain stared at her for a moment then turned to stare at the building, now almost fully involved in flame. "He’s still in there," he said simply.

Moxie fixed her gaze at the burning structure. "What? He has to get out of there before…" She was cut off by a huge explosion near the top of the building. Looking up she could see the top floors billowing smoke and fire into the Paragon City sky. Then boom, boom, boom; a quick succession of blasts on different floors at different locations. "Oh, no," she whispered. "Tropic."

Inside the building, in the stairwell at the fifth floor, the little group paused for a moment. As they had came closer to the ground, the flame and smoke had lessened. "Fire burns up," the blaster had explained and he had become more and more confident that they had passed the worst of it.

But when they had reached this floor he could feel the heat from behind the fire door. Looking down the rest of the flights of stairs, Tropic could see waves of heat radiating outward like the asphalt on an Arizona highway.

"What’s the problem?" the Warrior asked breathlessly. The children gathered about them, looking up into the swirling smoke they had just come through then into the heat below them.

Tropic cocked his head at Hyde. "It’s burning down there. I can take it, but you and the kids…" He lowered his voice. "We might be stuck."

Hyde looked below him and sighed. Suddenly, a series of explosions rocked the building causing the little group to almost loose their footing. The children cried out in surprise and Hyde and Tropic had to reach out to the wall to steady themselves.

"This building is gonna go!" Hyde exclaimed.

Tropic nodded. The decision had been made for them. "All right. Let’s get moving." He looked into the faces of his charges. "We’re going to make it. We just have to be very fast."

"TROPIC!" Ms. Moxie shouted as explosions rocked the tall building. She started to run toward the entrance but the fire chief grabbed hold of her arm.

"NO! Miss, you can’t." He looked up at the structure. The tall building was burning like a Roman candle. Ms. Moxie turned to him, her face a mask of anger and concern. The chief cleared his throat. "If he’s in there I don’t…I think…The whole building is fully involved now." He shook his head sadly and looked at the double door entrance to the dying building. Thick black smoke flowed freely from it now. "We’ll find them."

Moxie stared at the entrance shaking her head. "What? They can’t be…I won’t accept that. If there was a way to get…What’s that?"

She and the fireman focused on the smoke churning out of the entrance. Slowly a form began to take shape. Ms. Moxie started to laugh as Tropic, the Warrior boss and three small children became visible through the thick vapor. "I guess they found us, huh, chief?" Moxie smiled.

Crews still sprayed water and foam on the smoldering building. Tropic and Ms. Moxie did what they could but in the course of things found it better to stay out of the way. The children had been reunited with their tearful parents and thanks were offered to anyone who would listen. Hyde, the Warrior leader, sat on the edge of one of the decorative pools, draped with a generic blanket the fire department always seemed to have at these emergencies, breathing deeply from an oxygen mask and surrounded by his underlings.

Ms. Moxie sighed. "You live around here, right?"

Tropic nodded, his eyes fixed on the Warrior boss, and said absently, "Yes. Over the river, near the statue…huh? Why?" he asked, finally paying attention to what she had asked.

"Well," she answered with a raised eyebrow, "I look awful. I need a shower and I need something to wear." The heroine looked down at her ruined costume. "I can’t fly around the city like this." She saw his crooked smile then added, "Plus…you stink." She began to hover, ready to go.

Tropic nodded, smiling. "All right. Just give me a second." He hovered slightly above the ground and moved to where Hyde was sitting.

The Warrior’s crew saw the hero coming toward their leader and stepped in front of him, already drawing their weapons to protect him. With a gesture of his hand, Hyde called them off and they moved to positions behind him, still eyeing the hero warily.

"You get a free pass today, cape," the Warrior boss said as Tropic came to a stop before him. "Because I’m just to freaking tired to give a damn."

Tropic grinned. "Fine. But let me tell you something." He looked over his shoulder to where the children were, all in the arms of their families, mothers and fathers crying in gratitude and relief. Hyde followed his gaze and grinned slightly. "There are more things in this world than what you know. You just have to open your eyes."

The fiery hero inclined his head to the gang boss and then he joined the heroine. Together they took to the air, gaining speed as they flew over the river.

Hyde watched them go and sighed. "I need a drink."

His lieutenant grinned. "Right. I know where there’s this truck. Fulla brew, man. All we gotta do is…"

"No," Hyde cut him off. He looked over at the children and Allison smiled broadly at him. He looked to the sky at the retreating forms of Tropic and Ms. Moxie. "I’m buying."

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Stories # - L | M - Z | Authors
To: A City in Flames: Steel Canyon
by Derek Heikes