The Game: Unknown Gifts

Tragic Johnson watched the smoke billow into the winter sky in the distance. His apartment in Kingís Row gave him a view across the city to the old Kingís Garment Works, which had recently become active again. The steel fire escape that ran up the side of the building gave quick access to the roof, where he often kept watch for roving bands of Skulls that continued to harass citizens even through the growing recovery working through Paragon City.

A small man with painted face hidden within a shroud stood behind him, dressed in white with red stripes, the cresting wave of the Onami Strike Force emblazoned across his chest. Looking out the window, across to the next roof, the pair could see the glowing box glittering in the sunlight.

"Should we go get it?" Brain Fried asked.

Johnson shook his head. "The phone call was from Nightbringer. He said thereís been some trouble associated with the things, including something with the kids out at Sussex Academy. Some people have been attacked by the Winter Lords when the touch the boxes. I donít know if itís a good idea to even pick the things up."

"We canít just let them sit out there," Thundering Takai, a slender blond woman, said from the couch in the living room.

"Itís not really a problem up on that roof, except maybe to the Circle mages who occasionally show up there. And it wonít bug me in the least if they get a little frost bite messing with them."

"Ok, so letís leave that one alone," Brain Fried said. "We can report it to City Hall, have a recovery team pick it up. But I want to get out there and see what else is going on. Thatís not the only box on the streets."

The Onami Strike Force had members in several sections of Paragon, keeping watch on the citizens and the packages the Gamester had been mysteriously spreading around. The group had tried to hold itself together after PhoenixHawkís death months ago, but it was always a difficult task for those who had become close to the groupís founder. Thauma Guard worked to organize missions, but there was always a cloud hanging over the members when they got together in large numbers. Subsequently they tended to work in smaller groups of two or three, or go solo throughout the city. Two of the members, Khazm and Lady Emily, had for personal reasons, joined with the Onamiís sister group, the Archangels of the Apocalypse.

The Onami members on the streets were keeping in contact, sharing information, calling on other heroes to try to unravel the mystery around the Gamesterís Ďpresentsí that would simply mysteriously appear out of thin air. In Talos Island, Kwang Ghe and Shadow Pain reported groups of Tsoo and Warriors, normally bitter enemies, working together to collect the Ďpresents.í

Tragic Johnson, Brain Fried, and Thundering Takai moved out into the streets of Kingís Row and were almost instantly aware of the odd groups running amok. The Skulls and Lost were roving in bands together, gathering the boxes and hording them into the sewers where the Lost gathered. Something odd flickered in the faces of the villains, a weird smile they all shared.

"The look like they just go exactly what they wanted for Christmas," Thunder said.

"Maybe the did," Tragic Johnson replied.

"What the hell is in those boxes?" Brain Fried asked again.

Several blocks from Johnsonís apartment the Heroes came across a Vazhilok Reaper and Circle of Thorns thorn wielder carrying one of the Ďpresentsí out along with the cash register.

Brain Fried threw out his left hand, a bright flash momentarily blinding the Circle mage. The Reaper, carrying the Ďpresentí opened the box and threw it at the Heroes.

A blast of frigid air whirled up from the open box, snow and ice forming a tornado, blew the Heroes back. The snow coalesced into several large forms, snowmen with clublike arms, menacing black eyes trained on the Onami members.

                                                                                         * * *

Chained Uranium, as he had become known since the Ďaccidentí, sat at the bar, sipping from a tumbler of scotch, trying to drown his annoyance. Around him were all manner of abnormal people, people who could do extraordinary things. Several Capes stood in groups, eyeing the minions of Arachnos who watched them with cautious eyes in return.

The strange bar, run by a DJ known as Pocket D, had simply appeared in Paragon City one day. Nobody could say exactly where the bar itself existed, but if you went into a building in any of several zones you would end up in the bar. Maybe Pocket D had some form of portal tech available to him.

That could be useful, Chained Uranium thought. All Iíd have to do is find out who to bribe to get it, or how to steal it.

Pocket D was a safe haven for everyone. Fighting between anyone, over anything, was strictly forbidden. Something strange about Pocket D made everyone realize that crossing that line would have dire consequences. Maybe it was just an illusion, or maybe the DJ actually was a mystery to be feared like that Can Man in Skyway City.

They should fear me, too.

He would work on that, but at the moment he was entirely to angry to formulate any viable plans. Only an hour ago he had pulled off a beautiful jewelry heist, slipping into the story through a damaged back door, subduing everyone inside with the sickening radiation emanating from his body, and slipping off with several hundred-thousand dollars worth of diamonds.

Then he hit the streets, quick and determined, making an easy getaway, only pass one of the Gamesterís damned presents. The aura from the thing grabbed his mind like a magnet. He had been instantly overcome with the desire to hold, cherish, unwrap and savor the gift. He set the small bag full of diamonds next to the box, running his hand over its glittering surface. Like the presents, one instant nothing, then appearing out of thin air, his diamonds disappeared in front of his very eyes.

Anger had snapped him out of the spell of the glittering box, which he hurled, only to have a cloud of snow coalesce into five of those damned snowmen. He had put down the Winter Lords, but his jewels were gone, now somewhere in the coffers of the damned Gamester.

He would get them back. Too much planning, too much value, had been lost for a simple moments slip of the mind. He would do whatever it took to find the Gamester.

In his anger, his grip on the glass had tightened, a green aura surrounding it, quickly closing in on shattering the glass, when a hand came to rest on his wrist. The bartender stared at him silently, and shook his head. Chained Uranium got the hint, and let go of the glass before it broke.

Drinking was of no use since the Ďaccidentí that had deformed and warped him. Alcohol simply did not have the punch to penetrate the toxic cloud that had penetrated him to his core.

Working in a lab on recovered Rikti tech, a power supply had been opened, its energy exploding out, sending him crashing back into the chain-link fence surrounding the holding area where he worked. Untold doses of unknown radiation saturated him. His left eye melted away, the links in the fence bent and twisted, embedding themselves in the thick muscles of his tattooed shoulders.

A medical team arrived at the scene of the accident, but his mind had been addled, overcome, and he had run before they could try to help him.

He didnít want anyoneís help, anyway. They were all weak. Even the capes in this room, do gooders out to save the world. To Hell with the world, let it rot. Then there were the suck-ups, hoping to gain Lord Recluseís favor. Weak, unable to stand on their own. They could rot too. Not that he would cross the Spider. Recluse was far too powerful to be crossed outright, but that didnít mean he had to try to bury himself under the Villainís web.

He couldnít take it anymore, so he got up and walked out one of the exits, finding himself in Kings Row. The Skulls held sway here, but something strange seemed to be in the air.

A crowd had begun to gather a block over. Three Heroes were entangled with five Winter Lords. A towering black man with obviously enormous strength and agility stood in the middle of the group of snowmen, taunting them, while a small man and thin blond woman attacked the creatures.

The small man, whose face was hidden under a hood, waved his hands, phantoms appearing around him, ghost images of himself and his companions, turning the attention of the snowmen from the actual Heroes.

The womanís body seemed to resonate physically. Shock waves of sound rippled out from her lithe form, sending bits of snowmen flying away in a cloud.

The largest of the Winter Lords raised its hands, and a whirlwind of icy air and snow whipped up, blinding the Heroes.

The small manís hands worked frantically, controlling the wind and snow as it came towards them, redirecting it away from his group.

The tall man in the middle turned his whole body into a vicious uppercut to the middle of the one of the snowmen, shattering the creature in a blizzard.

A glittering box lay on the ground not far from the small manís feet.

Chained Uranium stepped into the fray, throwing out a glowing green blast that seemed to sink into the nearest Winter Lord. The snowmanís body turned a sick green as it staggered back, trying to keep its balance. Its movements became jerky, stiff, as the radiation poisoning ran through it. The legs of the beast began to slowly melt away.

The added person turned the tide, ending the battle much quicker than would have been without him.

"Thanks of the assist," Thundering Takai said.

Chained Uranium sneered. "I donít want your thanks. I just want the Gamester."

"Donít we all," Brain Fried said.

"Not like I do."

"Maybe we could help each other," Thunder said. "If we put our heads together maybe we can find out where he is."

"I want your help less than I want your thanks," Chained Uranium replied.

"Hey, nice attitude," the tall man said. "I think you owe her an apology, and I think maybe you should keep your mouth shut."

Chained Uranium looked up at the man staring down at him, not giving an inch. "Back off, Cape."

"Forget it, T.J.," Thunder said. "He doesnít want to help, thatís fine. He can find the Gamester on his own."

"Not before we do," Brain Fried said.

Chained Uranium considered the possibility of working with the Heroes. They would have better resources to track down Villains throughout the city, which he might be able to use. If he could, he might be able to slip in and take care of the Gamester before the Capes found him and confiscated his diamonds.

"Maybe I spoke too soon."

"Maybe you spoke like a jerk," Tragic Johnson said. "Apologize and maybe weíll let you in on it when we find the Gamester."

Chained Uranium stared blankly at the Hero.

"Forget it," Thunder said. "Canít expect everything to happen all at once. If we can cooperate on this itíll be a baby step in the right direction for him."

"Yeah, ok," Johnson said. "Iíll let it go, and just dream of the day we get to toss him in the Zig."

"The first order is to find out what is in the boxes, or what exactly is going on with them," Brain Fried said.

"They have some sort of compelling spell on them," Chained Uranium said. "They make you want them, like a kid at Christmas seeing the big box under the tree. Then when you take them, it fills your head, and can allow the Gamester to take whatever you put in, on, or near the box."

"Got something of yours, did he?" Thunder asked.

"Yes, and I want it back. When we find him, nothing you can do will stop me from taking it."

"Maybe if we can figure out how the portal thing works with the boxes, we can trace it," Brain Fried said. "Why donít we check with some of the other groups, see if they can help with that."

"Youíre the expert on teleportation," Tragic Johnson said.

"This is way more subtle than anything Iíve ever done. Letís call Thauma Guard, see if she can coordinate with some others. Someone in this city will be able to see through the Gamesterís spells."

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THE GAME:
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