A City in Flames:
Afternoon

By four o’clock in the afternoon Paragon’s Heroes had begun to get the crisis under control. The Hellions were being taken into the police jail cells in droves. The reduction in sheer numbers helped lessen the pandemonium the gang had begun, but that was offset by the fact that the Hellions were getting stronger.
Large in numbers, the gang was still weak by comparison to many of Paragon’s many criminal organizations. The fledgling Heroes in Atlas Park and Perez Park often encountered them, but the Hellions rarely strayed into the zones held by their more powerful counterparts. Rarely challenging groups like the Warriors or the Outcasts, many battles were occurring when the Hellions began stepping outside of their normal boundaries. Before the Day of Fire, what the media had begun calling the crisis, those battles would have been over quickly, the stronger groups rolling over the Hellions easily. That had not turned out to be the case.
Heroes had begun working together in ‘Fire Teams’, laboring to quell the conflagration that much of Paragon had become. The Hellions had been pushed back, contained in three zones of the City: Atlas Park, Perez Park, and Steel Canyon. Where the remaining groups of roving gang members rushed into buildings, Heroes fell upon them en masse. When the Hellions actually got another fire going, those Heroes that could fly were helping out the fire fighters by taking up hoses and water guns developed so for them to fight the blazes above the heights of the fire truck ladders.
All throughout Paragon, the results of the burning spree the gang had waged was evident. Buildings smoldered or continued to burn in Kings Row, the Hollows, and Talos Island. More Heroes than perhaps had been seen since the Winter Lords attacked the City during the winter snowstorms patrolled the streets and skies, making sure all of the zones besides the three in which the Hellions still fought were clear.
Members of the Onami Strike Force and Archangels of the Apocalypse gathered in Steel Canyon, battling a group of Hellions near the Green Line train station. Flames rocketed out of the windows of a five story apartment building that was literally surrounded by a mass of Hellions. PhoenixHawk hovered above the group, blasting the leaders with bright blue bursts of energy. The air around him shimmered through the protective force field that Thauma Guard wove around the group members. Bullets rattled off of his chest armor, bits of Kevlar and composite material chipping away like gnats in the air around him.
Celsius Bane had recovered from the nearly point-blank bomb explosion that had rattled him enough to send him to the hospital, and was back in the fight. Standing in the middle of the group of gang members, he had raised an ice-slick around him, causing the Hellions within close range to slip and fall over one another. He struck out about him with a blade formed of ice, smashing the crystalline weapon down on the head of one of the Damned, knocking the boss from the fight.
The Hellions lashed out almost as if possessed, using anything from handguns, rocks, and their teeth to attack the Heroes. What would have been considered an annoyance hours ago seemed to be a real problem as the Hellions strength grew. A Fallen Gunner stepped forward from the group, able to somehow keep his footing on the ice, and blasted Celsius at close range. The shotgun boomed over the chaos of the battle. Much of the buckshot was turned by the shield of flames Celsius surrounded himself with, but not all. Enough penetrated to stagger the Hero.
PheonixHawk knocked the Gunner back with a shove of power, following it up with small, quick blasts from each fists.
A green aura spread out around Celsius as his wife, Skida Marink, enveloped him in her healing aura.
The sheer number of Hellions, along with the scorching heat of the building burning around them, was slowly becoming a problem. PheonixHawk knew that eventually he and Celsius could inflict enough damage on the gang members to subdue them, but the inferno behind them, and the bombs he knew were in the building, made the matter more pressing.
Thauma Guard and Skida Marink shared similar abilities at manipulating dark energy, drawing power from what they described as a ‘nether world’. The women spread out and drew on that dark power, opening overlapping rifts in reality, summoning dark howling tentacles from the ground that wrapped themselves around the legs of a large group of the Hellions.
PhoenixHawk, seeing the gang members trapped and struggling against the howling terrors, dropped into the middle of them and spread his hands low, a wide patch of flames leapt up from the ground. Celsius followed suit, opening another burning patch close enough that nearly all of the trapped Hellions were now dealing with the flames as well. PhoenixHawk leapt back out of melee range, hovering above the Hellions, and was surprised to see that the gang members were not quick to succumb to the attack, that they regained themselves and once again lashing out at the Heroes in any way the could.
Something must be guarding them, giving them strength, he thought.
From over PhoenixHawk’s shoulder another wave of cerulean energy blasted into the trapped Hellions. The NyteHawk landed near his former mentor, slashing his hand backwards at the gang members, and arc of power sending several sprawling.
The gunfire from the Hellions was answered suddenly by a constant staccato as Father Stug opened up on the group with his assault rifle, sending a long stream of slugs into the Hellions. The power that sustained them protected them from the deadly effects of the bullets, but not entirely from the impacts. Gang members spun and dropped as the high velocity rounds slammed into them.
Kwang Ghe and Shadow Pain ran by and blinding speed. Both were difficult to see from their skill at deception, moving as fast as they were it was doubly hard.
“I told you we’d find them!” Shadow Pain said as she sped past PhoenixHawk.
The tide of the battle quickly turned as Shadow Pain and Kwang Ghe waded into the fray. Kwang Ghe’s hands and feet lashed out at lightning speed, kicking and punching his way through the group until he fought back to back with Celsius Bane. Shadow Pain’s katana swept around in a wide arc, cutting a circular swatch around her.
PhoenixHawk dropped beside his sister, a blade of flames in his hand. He leapt up in a circle similar to what she had just done, and drove the flaming sword into the ground, the energy and flames spreading out in burning shock wave around them. The combination of the two attacks dropped six more Hellions to the pavement.
With the combined might of the Heroes, it wasn’t long before this group of Hellions was taken down. A team of firefighters moved in quickly, spraying the burning apartment building from all sides.
“Keep your men back as far as they can,” PhoenixHawk told their chief. “We can’t get in there to defuse the bombs. There’s not telling how long they’ll hold up before going off.”
“I think this building is going to be another wash,” the chief said. “Not the first of the day, I’m afraid.”
“And probably not the last,” Celsius Bane said, joining the two.
Thauma Guard stepped away from the group, taking her cell phone from her pocket.
“We’re kind of in the middle of a crisis,” she said into the phone. Her eyebrows went up, and she nodded once. “Ok, I’ll be right there.”
“What’s up?” Skida asked.
Thauma shook her head, almost in disbelief. “Azuria wants to see me at City Hall. Now.”
Skida shrugged. “Maybe it’ll be something to help us sort all of today’s mess out.”
“Maybe,” Thauma said. She spoke a word of magic, and leapt off to the south, towards the tunnel to Atlas Park.
“Have you found out any more about this Master?” PhoenixHawk asked the NyteHawk.
“Only that they believe they are gaining power from him.”
“They are,” Father Stug said. “They are stronger than they’ve ever been.”

* * *

Thauma Guard walked under the three story high dome of Paragon City Hall, the heels of her books clicking off the marble floor, echoing from the dome above. Very few people were in the atrium aside from several police officers guarding against any intrusion by the Hellions. A sign over a hallway said “New Hero Assignments”, leading to offices kept by the Federal Bureau of Superpowered Affairs. Each of the five divisions of the Government agency was represented.
The Magi office was lined with bookshelves. Books from recent theories of magic to ancient tomes filled the office with a musty smell. Azuria sat at the desk, next to which stood a slight woman in purple with flowing white hair.
“Numina,” Thauma Guard said, nodding to the legendary empath. A member of the Freedom Phalanx, Numina’s physical form had been destroyed years before, but her consciousness was so strong that her astral body maintained its form. She also was a powerful seer.
Thauma waited several moments, wondering when she would find out the point to be pulled away from her friends in the middle of the crisis.
“Well, what’s so important?”
“We have some matters to speak of,” Numina said.
“So I gathered. We’re kind of in the middle of a problem today, in case you two didn’t notice. My group needs me.”
“They will need this information as well,” Azuria said. “The lines of power are alive throughout Paragon today. Something is pulling on them like a spider on its web.”
“The Master?”
“I believe so,” Numina said. “Power is flowing along the lines of power to and from the Hellions. They have spoken of their ‘Master’, which lends strength to the theory.”
“Where?”
“Perez,” Azuria said. “Somewhere blocked from us, but the lines lead there.”
“When you get there, you should be able to trance the lines. Feel them, they will lead you where you need to go.”
“What will we find when we get there?”
“That is what we cannot see,” Numina said. “But I believe it will be powerful. You should make sure your team is well prepared.”
“We never rush into anything. Well, none of us except Guido. If this thing is so dangerous, why isn’t your team taking care of it? Where are Statesman and the rest?”
“Lord Recluse has been stirring up trouble in the Rogue Isles. The Freedom Phalanx has moved in that direction to keep the spider in check.”
Thauma turned towards the door. “We’ll take care of it.”
“There is more,” Numina said. “The visions your third eye gives you can be warnings of things to come. Pay them heed.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You will know when the time comes. It will be years before you understand, but when we meet again, you will understand what I mean. You must hold your team together. When times seem dire, like you have lost everything, you must hold true to one another.”
Thauma turned back and faced the astral woman. “You drop that kind of bomb on me and expect me to leave it at that?”
Numina looked up into Thauma’s eyes. “It is all I can say. I truthfully do not know more, or I would tell you. But my feelings on this are true. You and the Onami Strike Force will face the darkest of hours, yet you must remain”
Thauma read the truth in Numina’s gaze. “We will always remain true to one another. More than honor binds us together.”
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A CITY IN FLAMES: PEREZ PARK
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