Rise of the PhoenixHawk
After a night in the hospital, Aaron had recovered enough to be released. Thauma Guard had arrived to give him a ride home in her little red economy car. She wore a hat to cover her hair and third eye, and jeans and a tee shirt. The staff in certain wards of the hospitals worked almost solely on heroes, and were sworn to secrecy about hidden identities, but the patrons on the street might have noticed the tall ebony woman with red hair crammed into the small car.
On the way back to the apartment she and Aaron shared they stopped at the Icon tailor shop. Serge, the owner, had deals worked out to help heroes with costumes, and while charging a fairly high fee, he too kept their identities safe in return for occasionally ridding the areas around his shops of criminals. Aaron dropped off the uniform with chipped armor and torn leather to be replaced. It would take a small amount of time, but that was ok, he had others.
When he got back to the apartment, he found a message from Tina Chung on his answering machine.
“PheonixHawk, where have you been? I’ve been trying your cell phone but get no answer. I have a lead on a warehouse the Freakshow might be using. Call me as soon as you get this.”
Thauma looked at him and raised her eyebrows.
“They won’t let you use cell phones in the hospital,” Aaron said.
“And you haven’t checked it since we left?” Thauma asked.
Aaron slumped at the shoulders and looked like a scolded puppy.
“No,” he said, dragging the word out as if he were reluctant to give in to her being right.
Thauma smiled to herself and nodded. “Uh huh,” was all she said, but the smugness in it was overwhelming. Then she smiled and laughed, and kissed him on the top of the head. He perked right up.
Tina Chung had left eight messages on his cell phone. All of which said basically the same thing, but each sounded more exasperated than the last. When Aaron called her back, she answered on the first ring.
“I’ve been laid up for a day or so,” Aaron said without preamble.
Aaron told her about the ambush, and teleporting to the hospital.
“They tracked you down,” Tina said.
“The Freaks stay in contact with each other,” Tina said. “They must have followed the trail of groups you were questioning and set you up. Did you get the name of the group’s boss?”
Aaron said no.
“I’ll work on it. In the mean time, over in King’s Row is a warehouse that has been cleared out several times, each time the gangs come back to it. Sometimes its Skulls, sometimes others. Right now its Freakshow. Can you get over there and see if there are any clues to the Rikti tech we’ve been looking for?”
“I’ll get right on it.”
“You sure you’re up to it?” Tina asked. “You just got released.”
“I’m up for it.”
“Call me as soon as you know anything.”
Aaron hung up.
“Want to go check out a warehouse?” Aaron asked Thauma.
“Can we eat first?” Thauma asked. “I’m hungry, and you get to be a real grouch if you haven’t eaten.”
“Ok, lunch, then warehouse.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Thauma said.
Aaron called Marissa’s cell phone.
“Where are you?” Aaron asked.
“Had to bring an artifact to Azuria, in Atlas Park,” Marissa said.
“Anything pressing right away, or can you check out a warehouse with Thauma and I?”
“Where is it?”
“How soon before you’re there?”
“Hour,” Aaron said.
“Call me when you get there, give me the exact location, I’ll meet you.”
“Talk to you then.”
Kings Row was once a prosperous business district that formed around King’s Garment Works. After the factories shut down, the depression took the rest of the businesses away, and crime moved in. The Statesman, years ago, had helped rid the area of a local gang that had taken to calling themselves The Kings, but the reputation of King’s Row never recovered.
Red brick six and seven story apartment buildings filled the area, many of which were only sparsely populated, more had boarded up or broken windows and condemned signs on them. The few businesses that survived were small diners and sandwich shops, pawn shops, and hair salons. Rats could be seen moving in and out of the alleyways between buildings, searching through the paper wrappers that blew around and cluttered the gutters for scraps of food.
Groups of Skulls could be found hanging out on doorsteps or in back alleys. Atop the buildings small Clockwork robots could be seen digging for parts in the machinery of the buildings. Occasional small groups of Circle of Thorns Magicians worked rituals atop other buildings, catching Thauma Guard’s eye, wishing to go stop those who followed the path she had begun down. PhoenixHawk and Thauma Guard ignored the villains for the present; they were not the prey at the moment. PhoenixHawk flew above the city, heading for the abandoned factories at the northern end of King’s Row. Thauma Guard leapt from building to building, outpacing the PhoenixHawk, a fact that she would no doubt rib him about when they arrived at their destination. Shadow Pain had been called and would already be there.
The warehouse was a two story structure that spread out over half of the city block. Its flat roof cracked in disrepair, the trucking bays full of garbage. A side door was located at the end of the truck bays, and Shadow Pain waited there. The door was locked, but Thauma Guard opened it easily with a simple spell. She wrapped both PhoenixHawk and Shadow Pain in force bubbles, then cast a wide deflection shield around herself and her party. The door creaked loudly on rusted hinges as the trio entered.
“Wait here,” Shadow Pain said just inside the door. They were in a small locker area, isolated around a corner from the rest of the warehouse. Shadow Pain faded from view until the other heroes had to look to see her, then moved slowly around the corner.
“What the hell?!” came a shout, then the slashing sounds of a blade, followed by two thumps as bodies hit the floor.
PhoenixHawk and Thauma Guard rounded the corner and found two Freakshow lying unconscious at Shadow Pain’s feet.
“Guess they were supposed to be guarding the door,” Shadow Pain said.
“Well, then, let’s leave them here to do just that,” Thauma said.
They were at the end of a hallway that stretched out to the far end of the warehouse. Halfway down the hall was an intersection, through which several other Freakshow members could be seen walking. Thauma and Phoenixhawk hung back, while Shadow Pain went to scout. She returned moments later.
“Seven of them to the right. Beyond that what looks like the lunch room, a few more in there. If we’re quick we should be able to take out the first group before moving into the break room.”
“How about to the left?” PhoenixHawk asked.
“Opens into a larger storeage area. Shelves and boxes. We may have to search those boxes to see if we find any clues for your contact.”
“Let’s take out the Freaks first,” Thauma said. “It’ll be easier to search through them without having to watch our backs all the time.”
Shadow Pain and PhoenixHawk agreed.
Shadow Pain again faded from sight as she rounded the corner. PhoenixHawk hovered up and waited high up in the intersection. Thauma reinforced his force fields then took aim at a Gunner on the right side of the hallway.
Shadow Pain moved to the center of the group and drew her blade. The sound caught the attention of the gangmembers, all of them coming alert at once, even though they could not see the threat. Shadow Pain lept in a circle, the blade whipping out and hitting five of the Freaks at once, staggering them backwards.
Thauma Guard ran in, peering with her third eye into the nether from which she drew power, and summoned the energy forth, wrapping all seven of the Freaks' legs in tenebrous tentacles. The sounds coming from the dark entities Thauma had summoned filled the air in an eerie howl, the dark energy from the tentacles leaching the life from the Freaks. Several of the gang members struggled in panic at the demonic things wrapped about their legs, slashing with metallic blades that were grafted to their arms, or shooting at them with their guns, but the blades and bullets past ineffectively through the vaporous energy.
PhoenixHawk blasted at the trapped group with energy bolts as fast as he could. A Juicer Freak was slammed back into the wall as the energy blasted into his chest, the tesla coils attached to him cracking under the impact, the tentacles wrapped around his leg snaked around his entire body as he slumped to the ground.
Shadow Pain slashed about her with varying cuts at blinding speed. Two of the Freaks fell before her without even realizing what was happening, too panicked by the tentacles to note the other threat.
A shotgun boomed in the hallway as a Mad Gunner let loose. The force field around him turned most of the buckshot away, but several pellets clipped PhoenixHawk in the chest. PhoenixHawk turned to the gunner in time to see him go down under a thick blast of black radiant energy unleashed by Thauma Guard. Being a Defender didn’t mean she couldn’t pack a punch.
The fight would have been over quickly, but the shotgun blast alerted those in the small breakroom, and five more freaks charged out. A Chief Smasher ran straight for Shadow Pain, lifting the huge hammers that replaced his hands far over head, bringing them down together. Shadow Pain dodged the impact, but the strength of the Freak was so great that it rocked the floor and knocked her off balance. He raised the hammers again, but was sent flying by a strong energy push from PhoenixHawk above. Shadow Pain jumped up and rushed in on the Smasher, the two clashing like titans. The hammers rose and fell, deflected by Shadow Pain’s Katana or dodged. The Katana flashed back, slowly whittling down the lieutenant’s defenses. Finally Shadow Pain landed an upward cut that raised the Freak off the floor, then she leapt up and brought the hilt of the sword crashing down on the head of the ganger before he hit the floor. When he finally did, he didn’t move.
PhoenixHawk’s hands were full of a Juicer Chief who had flown up to fight him toe-to-toe. The Freak landed a hard uppercut to PhoenixHawk’s body, just below the body armor. PhoenixHawk retaliated by slashing out with a blade of fire, then shoved the Freak backwards several feet with a blue blast. As the Freak came back at him, PhoenixHawk wrapped a ring of fire around the Juicer and held him. Not to be outdone, the coils on the Freak’s back flared to life, and electrical arcs lashed out at PhoenixHawk, cutting through the force field and flashing pain through him. The pain was tense, but it only took a second before he could brush it off and lash back with his own blast. The two blasted back and forth, energy and fire opposing the Freak’s electricity. Eventually energy won and the Freak dropped limply to the floor, but it had taken something out of the recently recovered hero.
“A little help here would be nice,” Thauma Guard said somewhat loudly over the din of battle. She was wrapped up with the three remaining gangbangers. One was trapped in tentacles, but the other two had avoided her snare, having seen their companions fall into that trap. One lashed out at the defender with a long curved blade, the other blasting with a machine gun. The deflection shield around Thauma Guard protected her to an extent, but an attack from one of the three Freaks would get through her defenses and take a heavy toll when it did.
Shadow Pain fell on the trapped Freak and dispatched him with ease. PhoenixHawk blasted the other two down quickly with help from Thauma Guard.
After the fight, PhoenixHawk dropped to the ground, quickly making sure the small break area was clear of enemies. In the corner was a small safe, which tried to open, but couldn’t crack. He was preparing to blast it open when Thauma interrupted him and knelt at the safe. She scratched some runes on top of the metal cabinet, then cast a stronger version of the spell that had opened the warehouse door, and the safe popped.
“You might have destroyed whatever was inside,” She said to PhoenixHawk as she stepped aside.
Inside the safe were some documents listing several contractors that dealt with Rikti tech research, along with two computer cd’s. PhoenixHawk took the contents and set them aside to be collected later.
The trio of heroes slowly searched the rest of the warehouse. Four other groups of Freakshow had to be dealt with, but none did anything more than minor damage to any of the heroes. PhoenixHawk questioned two of them about the Rikti tech warehouse, but the drugged out gangbangers just snarled or giggled at his questions.
After all of the gang members had been dealt with, the heroes went about the slow task of searching all of the boxes and crates in the warehouse. Almost all of them were old and rotten, holding dust and rat droppings and little else. One contained boxes of ammunition for the Freakshow weapons, but nothing of else was of interest to the heroes.
Once outside the warehouse where he could get a clear signal on his cell phone, PhoenixHawk called Tina Chung.
“Get the paperwork and cd’s over to me right away. I’ll start pouring through them and see what I can come up with. I’ll have the police come by and pick up the Freaks. It shouldn’t be long, just wait there until they are all put in chains in case any of them wake up.”
PhoenixHawk said they would wait and hung up. Tina was right, it wasn’t ten minutes before the police wagon showed up and started loading the Freakshow. The heroes stood watch over the defeated gang members, making sure none of them got out of line. One Smasher Chief tried to fight out of the restraints, knocking two police officers out in the process, but he didn’t get far before PhoenixHawk blasted him off his feet and caught him in a ring of fire. Shadow Pain made quick work of turning the Freak’s lights out for a second time while he was held.
When they were gone PhoenixHawk said that he had to go all the way to Founder’s Falls to talk to Tina Chung. Shadow Pain offered to take the stuff to the contact, but PhoenixHawk refused, saying he didn’t mind the trip.
Shadow Pain shrugged. “Ok, then, I’ve got another office building not too far from here a contact of mine wanted me to sweep for Clockwork. You want to help me out, Thauma?”
“Let’s go,” Thauma Guard said.
Shadow Pain blasted off into the distance, running at top speed. Thauma Guard spoke a word of magic, her legs filling with the surge of dark energy, and leapt off after her friend, bounding from building to building, covering almost two hundred yards per leap.
PhoenixHawk watched them go, then collected the folder of evidence, and took to the skies. It wasn’t far to the highway that would take him to Independence Port, and from there he could catch the Green Line to Talos Island, the only place in the city that led into Founder’s Falls. He liked going to Talos, and Founder’s. The depression hadn’t touched those areas as much, and lush green parks and the crystal waters of the ocean flowed around both. He had always felt a sense of calm when looking out over the sea, and thought that went back to his childhood, where his parents would take their kids to the beach for picnics on weekends. It felt good to remember the fun times he had had with his family before the war, before his change, but at the same time he felt the deep familiar pang of loss. Someday he hoped he would be able to only feel good from those happier memories, but he doubted that day would come.