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The Game
The Gamester’s Play
part 2
By Myths n’ Wraiths

            Inside the luminously lit titanium walls of the Dogs of War headquarters, the lead members of the group of mutants met in a long sparsely decorated conference room. Seated at a highly polished, stainless steel conference table was a vast array of genetic talents. Myth, a tall muscular man in his early twenties, with olive dark skin and straight white, shoulder length hair, was located at the head of the table. Seated at his right hand was the older, clean shaven, Lusion; a master of psychic abilities. Next to Lusion sat a lean, muscular man with a wildly spiked head of blonde hair, who went by the name of Anarchy Soldier and possessed the speed and reflexes to support that alias. A busty blonde with striking green eyes named Haven occupied the next chair; as a way of entertaining herself she generated a glowing green orb in an outstretched hand, expanding it and compressing it with the will of her mind. Seated at the end of the table, in a chair that was built in the manner of a support platform sat the intimidating form of Desimus; a man with skin darkened beyond black by the African sun and stature not unlike a small mountain.
            On the left side of the table sat Myth’s identical twin and Vindea, both of whom had barely finished drying off from their romp in the city. Next to the damp pair sat a young man with neat blonde hair and a teen model face named Octive. This junior member of the team rarely had a place in meetings of any kind and despite his usual cocksure attitude he was obviously nervous to be sitting amongst the senior members of this elite Super Group. He fidgeted with a pen, clicking and rolling it between his fingers until Myth shot him a grim stare that frazzled his nerves but stilled his hands.
             “Now that everyone has arrived,” Myth cast a sideways glance at his brother and continued. “Let me start by saying that the mission we are about to undertake has been given to us by Statesman himself,” At this proclamation everyone in the room shuffled in their chairs, coming up in their seats and instantly becoming more alert.
           “We all know about the Gamester and the tirade he has been running in our city. Or mission is to apprehend this man before his season of fun is over and he drops off of the radar,” Myth clicked a small remote in his hand and an image of a brightly wrapped present flickered onto a screen behind him. The image quickly blurred and faded back in as an overhead view of the entire city with dozens of tiny red dots popping up throughout the various neighborhoods. “This is our only link to the villain so far. These are the locations that people have reported finding the Gamester’s presents. We have good reason to believe that he is using some type teleporting technology to place his presents but whatever it is no one has been able to trace it. Sentinel and Manticore attempted to develop a way to trace the portals back to their source, something similar to how cell phones are traced but whatever technology powers these deposits is unlike anything they have ever come across before.”
            “Crey Industries has been developing portal tracking technology based off of a damaged Rikti scanner,” Lusion interjected. “Perhaps if we could acquire a working model of one of their scanners we could have more luck.”
            “No,” Myth said with a dismissive wave. “I don’t want to tread on broken ground. If Sentinel and Manticore failed with this approach than we will try another.”
            “This will be the focus of our hunt,” Myth said clicking his remote again. Instantly the topographical view of the city faded from the wall behind the Super Group’s leader and was replaced by a deformed looking snow man with massive stubby limbs and virtually no head. “This will be our key to tracking this guy down.”
            “The snow monsters that are left behind have no recognizable intelligence at all; how are they going to lead us to their master?” Haven asked with a hint of confusion in her voice.
            “Everything that we know about the Gamester tells us that the technology he is using to play these games has been borrowed from other sources. He has tailored his game to fit the season by using presents and snowmen but to the best of our knowledge these things do not characterize him as a person.” Myth said setting down his remote and taking a seat in his chair.
            “So you’re saying that whatever the Gamester’s natural abilities may be it is not summoning snowmen.” Vindea clarified.
           “That is a reasonable assumption,” Lusion agreed. “This man definitely values his anonymity. Remaining a mystery is as much a part of the game to him as depositing his presents so it would seem natural that he would use foreign technologies and abilities to prevent us from getting a glimpse of what he really is.”   
           “So if we can find out where this Gamester got his ability to summon snow creatures we may be able to find a clue as to who he is and where he is at.” Anarchy Soldier said in a conclusive tone.
             “Well didn’t these snow creatures come from the Winter Lord?” Vindea questioned. She was by far the newest member to the Dogs of War elite ranks, having been recruited into the Super Group by her solemn mentor, Desimus, only eight months earlier. She had however, risen through the difficult ranks of this group at a remarkable rate. Her incredible ability to generate and manipulate energy made her a powerhouse on the battlefield, which in turn brought her the attention and approval of her senior members despite her relative inexperience.
           “Yes they did,” Myth responded. “But I find it very unlikely that a mortal would be able to wrestle this ability from the Winter Lord himself.”
            “You’re thinking about paying our old friend Jack Frost a visit,” Lusion said knowingly.
            “Who is Jack Frost?” Vindea asked in a puzzled tone.
            “Jack Frost,” Desimus spoke up, for the first time since this meeting had begun, in a voice so deep it sounded as if it came from the Earth’s core, “is troubled.”
            A faint smile sneaked onto Vindea’s lips as she stared silently down at Mandy’s sleeping form. Despite Wraith’s misgivings she had insisted that they bring the child back to their base instead of dropping her off at the hospital. It was well known by everyone in the Super Group that this base was considered a secure location, a place where only the members of the Dogs of War were allowed to tread, but something about this young girl, something more than her pleading innocence and fragile youth, had called out to Vindea in a way that she could not understand.
            The elegantly shaped super heroin had no telepathic or psychic abilities and with her trouble history of abuse and betrayal she rarely formed more than a shallow friendship with others. She was outgoing and flirtatious enough to fool anyone into thinking that she had nothing but the most cordial upbringing, but just like hundreds of thousands of other people spread across the world Vindea’s mock joy was a front for what was a far more complex existence.
          She could count on one hand the number of people she truly felt a connection with and this girl was one of them. Despite Wraith’s reservations he did nothing to stand in Vindea’s way when she brought the child home with her. The brooding scrapper had an overdeveloped sense of self-preservation to put it mildly but little use for his brother’s rules and regulations. He had carried Mandy into the base himself, to everyone’s shock and amazement, and practically demanded that Myth check her out for injury.
            After Myth had given Mandy a clean bill of health Vindea laid the girl down in her own bed to recuperate. She was hoping that the child would be awake before they had to leave on whatever wild trip that Myth had planned for them but the departure time was drawing near and Mandy had not stirred an inch.
            May I come in? Myth knocked at Vindea’s mind with his empathic abilities.
             “If by that you mean my mind,” Vindea whispered, “then no, but if you mean my room then come on in.”
             The door opened quietly and Myth slipped into the darkly lit room. He walked silently up behind Vindea and glanced down at the young girl. “Her dreams are quieter now. There is less fear in her mind,” he whispered.
             Vindea’s only response was to broaden her smile and reach down to caress the child’s hair with a gentle touch. After a deep sigh she tucked the blankets in around Mandy’s small form a little tighter and then she and Myth retired from the room.
               As soon as the door was closed Myth spoke up, “I didn’t want to raise the question when you first got back-”
           “Myth, please don’t fuss at me,” Vindea cut him of pleadingly. “I know that I am not supposed to bring anyone here but I just couldn’t leave her behind. There is something wrong with her Myth something more than the snow creatures attack I just-“
            “I know,” Myth spoke up, resting a reassuring hand on Vindea’s shoulder. “The child has been abused by someone very close to her.”
              Vindea gasped and raised a trembling hand to her mouth. “I knew it Myth, I don’t know how but I knew it. So you see I couldn’t leave her at the hospital, I just couldn’t.”
           “It’s alright Vindea. You did the right thing. We are going to help this girl when we are able, but for right now I need to know that your head is in the game. With your history I can understand that you are sensitive to abusive situations but I need to know that once we get out there you are not going to choke up on me.” Myth emanated a confident and asserting aura as he spoke and to his relief he felt that same confidence flowing off of Vindea as well.
            “Of course Myth, look I know I am kind of new but I am with you guys all the way.” Vindea said stepping up to Myth. “I am not going to let you down, count on it.”
            “I do,” Myth said with a grin. “Every time my life is on the line, I count on it.”

            “Alright boss,” Anarchy Soldier said tossing a tool that was about the size of a screwdriver but looked more like a prop from a science fiction movie into a tool box. “The Arctic beacon is deployed and the telepad is homed in.”
            The lean mutant took a step back from a console that was situated on a shimmering pad made up of octagonal tiles. Four columns rose up in an arch over the pad, meeting in the center where a concave disk was suspended. Anarchy looked the machine over one more time then nodded his head in satisfaction. “We’re ready to go.”
            Myth spared a quick glance at the telepad then went to look over his crew. Each was dressed in white, cold-weather outfits, complete with heavy parkas, goggles, ski masks and thick snow boots. Each member was going over their outfits methodically checking each pocket and strap as they waited for the call to action.
            The only team member that still wore his traditional attire was Desimus. The hulking mutant’s resistance to the elements would make even the coldest of environments seem like a summer breeze. A quick mental check told Myth that, as always, the invulnerable mutant’s mood was as firm as his skin.
            Myth’s mind moved around the room checking the rest of his team as they all finished going over their outfits. Each one emanated their own peculiar emotions but they all had one thing in common. All of them had the same anxious energy built up, boiling just under their skin. Like hounds on leashes just before they are released for the hunt each and every member was an animal ready to stalk, ready to pounce, ready to make the kill. Octive, despite the fact that this was his first mission as a part of the team, had abandoned the nervous fidgeting he had been doing in the briefing and now sat still and quiet on a component container with a focused smirk on his face. He had not yet been inducted into their elite ranks but Myth would not have guessed that by looking at him now.
          “Alright everyone time to move out,” Myth said zipping his own parka and stepping on to the telepad. The rest of the team fixed their goggles in place and began to move onto the pad.
            “I hate wearing all this crap,” Anarchy Soldier mumbled shrugging on his jacket and following the others onto the pad. “It’s too bulky; slows me down.”
             “You think that parka slows you down?” Wraith said gruffly. “Just imagine how slow you would be moving after spending two minutes in the Arctic without it.”
           “Nice to see everyone is getting along as usual,” Haven giggled and rolled her eyes.
           “Well if I start to get cold I know where I can go to get some hot air,” Anarchy shot back at his two partners.
        “Save it for Jack Frost, people,” Myth snapped at his crew and quickly hit the initiation button on the telepad before anyone had a chance to respond.

           “HOLY CRRRRAAAPPP!” Octive spat out involuntarily when the negative degree air slammed into his lungs like a wrecking ball. Before he even had time to think about his situation the moisture on his eyes began to frost under his protective goggles and he had to clench his eyes shut to keep them from freezing open. If that wasn’t enough the sudden gust of wind nearly knocked the unprepared mutant off of his feet and onto the icy, wind-swept ground.
            Haven wasted no time in casting a large, protective force field around the team, instantly killing the blasting wind, but to Octive the relief couldn’t come fast enough. Even with the protection from the brutal wind he was beginning to shiver under his thick clothing and it quickly became a struggle not to let his teeth chatter obnoxiously.
           Myth reached out with his mind, instinctively checking all of his team to confirm that everyone had made it. Not that anyone ever didn’t make it when they teleported anywhere but Myth’s repetitive habits had saved him more than once in battle and he relied on them as much as he relied on his breathing.
            When he was satisfied that everyone had survived the trip in mint condition, his mind joined his eyes to focus on the single object that broke the even, luminous horizon. Nearly a quarter mile to the North of their location a massive, glittering, white ziggurat protruded form the frozen landscape. The entire structure looked to be made of ice and snow. As the wind whipped around the ziggurat, a mist of snow lifted off of the six regressive levels, blurring the outline of the structure against the white skyline. A towering gate occupied the side of the ziggurat that faced the small team. Two glacial pillars rose up on each side of the gate, supporting crude images of a large grim face.
            “This would be the place,” Myth shouted over the sound of wind that howled outside of their protective bubble. After one final glance over his people he began to lead the way over the icy landscape.
            Deciding to make things easy on herself, Vindea called on her ability to defy gravity and floated up into the air, coming back down to perch on Desimus’s broad shoulder. If the tank noticed the slender blonde, that was now resting next to his head with her legs crossed elegantly, he made no sign of it.
            Few people presumed on Desimus for any reason, due mostly to the fact that his mood normally came across as grim as his face, but Vindea and the tank had a long history of supporting each other in their own separate ways. Desimus had mentored the young blaster since she had made her début in Paragon. For reasons that she never quite understood Desimus took her under his wing, though he seemed reluctant to do so, and had even recruited her into the ranks of the Dogs of War. This was no small gesture of confidence since the group had enlisted only two other members over the past year.
           “So big guy,” Vindea whispered into Desimus’s ear. “What’s the deal with this Frost guy?”
             “He is a cultist of the Winter Lord, a devoted servant to the demi-god, whose figure guards his door,” Desimus said nodding at the face that topped the pillars at either side of the gate. “After the Winter Lord was vanquished last year this particular follower tried to carry on his master’s plan for another ice age. Despite his fervor Jack Frost was sadly unprepared for the task.”
            “So the Dogs have tangled with this guy before?” Vindea asked with a hint of pride edging into her voice.
            “We apprehended him when he tried to unleash a blizzard over Talos Island. At the time we did not have the means to detain him so we vanquished him to Antarctica,” Desimus said in his deep native accent.
             “So this should be a piece of cake,” Vindea shrugged. “I mean you guys owned this guy before and now you have me with you.” Her voice was almost chirpy despite the oppressing cold.
            “When we defeated him in the past it was while he was on our own ground. Now we will face him in his domain and where he is most powerful.” Desimus countered. “I expect Myth will try to reach a peaceful resolution.”
             Vindea frowned and shrugged. “But even if it does come down to a fight, we can handle it right?”
             “We will do what we must,” Desimus responded in an even tone. Vindea sighed in frustration and considered elbowing the tanker in the ear as a penalty for his grasp of the obvious, but reconsidered the action when she remembered that his earlobe was probably harder than titanium.
            In the eight months she had spent with the Dogs of War Vindea had seen the band of mutants accomplish the impossible more times than she could recall. The idea that there was a fight that they could not win seemed unreal. As they made their way toward Jack’s lair, Vindea looked at each of her team members. Each person held within them more experience and ability than Vindea could imagine but something about the way Desimus spoke brought a shred of doubt into her mind.
           Finally her eyes settled on Wraith, who was prowling at the head of the team, the doubt melted away and was replaced by a warmth that defied the insufferable cold of the arctic air. “We can handle it,” she said confidently and slid off of Desimus’s shoulder.
            It took the team almost eight minutes to reach their destination. Despite the relatively short distance to their goal, the desolate terrain made a struggle of the hike. At times the wind picked up enough snow to completely cover Haven’s force field, blinding the entire crew to the outside world. Their footprints, once they passed outside the bubble, disappeared almost instantly in the constantly shifting ice.
             “Well Desimus,” Myth spoke up once they reached the frozen gate. “Let’s be polite and knock before we go in.”
              Desimus stepped up to the gate and pounded on its craggy surface with enough force to crack the thick ice. The sound of the mutants flat palm slamming against the ice echoed out into the blustering wind and could be heard bouncing off the walls on the other side of the huge portal.
                The frustration here is stifling. Lusion projected to Myth. This creature was always easily aggravated but this, this is something more, something deeply personal. The psychic held his eyes half shut and his face pointed up into the air, much like a hound sniffing for a scent. Even without his empathic abilities, Myth new that Lusion’s sixth sense was focused to an unearthly degree. The mentalist’s mind was like a surgical instrument and a broad sword all in one, both reaching into the most narrow and obscure crevices of thought and brutally crushing the strongest mental defenses with equal proficiency.
             Yes, I feel it. Someone has stolen something from him, insulted him and robbed him. Myth responded as he recognized the base human emotions that were seeping out of the massive structure before them. This will not be easy.
            Desimus paused for a brief moment while waiting for his nonverbal request to be answered. After almost half a minute he repeated his action and again waited for an answer.
            “It’s not nice to keep visitors waiting.” Anarchy mumbled and rolled his eyes.
            “You think?” Wraith shot the man a confused look. “And just how many visitors you suppose he gets out here?”
             “What is with you two?” Octive asked, daring to step in between his veteran counter parts. The young mutant had begun to flap his arms and pace about in an effort to fight off the life-defying temperature but the cold was really starting to get to him. Having never been in a climate unlike that of his home city, the very act of making it to the gate of Jack Frost’s ice fortress had been a trial in and of itself for the junior hero. The strain of this new environment had begun to take its toll on Octive’s mind.
            Anarchy Soldier and Wraith both shot Octive a mildly annoyed glance. The former paced away, eyeing the solid ice structure they stood before, hoping to spy an alternate entrance; while the latter simply shook his head.
            “It is nothing personal Octive,” Haven said, trying her best to throw on a warm smile. “Sometimes people just don’t get along,” She continued in a motherly tone that made Octive feel more than a little patronized.
             “That is an understatement if there ever was one,” Anarchy countered after giving up his search for another entrance. “But battle forms strange friendships.” With that the lean mutant shot a wry glance at Wraith. “This right here means nothing.” He continued, gesturing to their surroundings. “Only what goes on in there matters,” Anarchy pointed to the ziggurat.
            Octive stared blankly at Anarchy, convinced that his own brain fluids were starting to freeze over. The words rolled around in the gifted mutants head but no matter how hard he thought on them their meaning escaped him.
             “Uh-hu,” He finally muttered through chattering teeth.
             “I think the time for courtesy is over,” Myth spoke up, his clear demanding voice cutting through the howling wind.
            “Say the word boss,” Vindea spoke up, her hands beginning to glow with radiant energy. “I have got the master key.”
         “No,” Myth said, staying Vindea with a word and a gesture. “Octive, you’re up.”
            “Me?” Octive questioned doubtfully.
            “If Vindea lets loose on this door she is likely to melt a hole clean through the building. I don’t want to ruin the guy’s furniture, just make a doggy door.” Myth said, waving for Octive to come up to the door. “Take your time and find the right frequency. Then, when you’re ready, give a short controlled burst to knock a hole in the door.” He coached his junior member.
           Octive didn’t buy that explanation for one second but mustered his conficence anyway and stepped up to the task. Myth always had his reasons and if Octive knew nothing else, he knew never to question the boss. He walked up to the shimmering icy gate and eyed it with the look of a young boy about to knock over a house of cards that his little sister had just spent hours building. Daring the freezing air, Octive pulled off one of his gloves and brushed the tips of his fingers against the barrier. Then with an arrogant smirk on his face he turned to Desimus.
            “Snap your fingers,” he said with a nod. The heavy mutant obliged his slighter comrade without hesitation.
            The sound of Desimus’ fingers snapping could be heard like a gunshot over the constant voluble air but to Octive it was more than heard. His gift came alive, allowing him to see, smell, taste, and even touch the sound waves as easily as if they were waves in a pond. He felt the waves collide with the ice, causing the frozen matter to vibrate in response. These waves were what Octive homed in on, measuring them with his sixth sense so that he could replicate their seismic opposite.
             “Again,” Octive instructed and again Desimus complied. This time Octive reached into the waves with his mind and body, bending them, compressing them and stretching them in a fraction of a second; manipulating them into the perfect tune, which he channeled through himself and into the wall of ice that his fingers were still touching.
             There was no crash, no explosion, no grandeur; the area roughly six feet around Octive’s touch simply disintegrated into a mist of icy dust. A slight draft flowed out of the ziggurat, picking up the cloud of dust and carrying it out around Octive’s feet.
             Myth nodded his approval. “Don’t forget that frequency,” He whispered as he passed by Octive and entered through the newly formed hole.
        The team filed in after their leader, with Desimus taking up point behind Myth, ready to bound forward on a moments notice. Next followed the less resilient members of the team and finally, Anarchy and Wraith formed the rear guard.
             Once inside, the structure opened immediately into a vast chasm of a chamber that accounted for the entire space of the ziggurat. Its walls sloped smoothly up to a rough ceiling and were inscribed with intelligible runes that bore resemblance to snowflakes in both their appearance and that fact that no two of them seemed to be alike.
            Colossal icy stalagmites hung from the ceiling, some of which were more than twenty feet long. Like great chandeliers, they caught the light from a small opening in the center of the roof and cast it throughout the entire chamber. Immense columns lined the chamber in six perfect rows and around each column lay a mound of snow which had drifted in from the opening in the ceiling.
             Myth led his team unhesitatingly toward the northern end of the chamber, where a shrine of clear smooth ice had been made. Before the shrine, bent on trembling knees and with his back turned toward the group, was a small, withered, blue skinned man. His face and arms were turned upward and a noise that sounded like ice shards being scraped together emanated from his throat.
           The Dogs of War approached to within a few meters of the small man without interrupting his worship. Once he felt they had come close enough; however, Myth issued a mental command for his team to halt. As always the crew obeyed and instinctively began to group up into defensive positions, with Desimus and the two scrappers forming a perimeter around their companions.
            “Seeking penance Jack?” Myth broke into Jack Frost’s incantation with a question that sounded more like a command. “I can’t imagine your master being too pleased when he found out you let some else take control of his minions.”
            The incantations ceased immediately at the sound of Myth’s voice and Jack slowly lowered his hands and face until they hung limply and forlornly. “No peace, not even here in this lifeless land; there is no peace.” He muttered in raspy dry voice that seemed to be born from its icy surroundings.
           “Why have you come to torment me mutant?” Jack snapped as he turned to fix Myth in a spiteful glare.
            “You know why we are here Jack. Someone has stolen the ritual from you and is unleashing your creatures on Paragon without your master’s consent.” Myth said, returning Jack’s glare with a steady gaze.
            “The unholy wretch,” Jack spat involuntarily.
            “We want you to help us find the man responsible,” Myth continued.
            “Why should I help you? You have disgraced me, and exiled me to this solitude. You are responsible for this whole situation!” Jack shouted, coming to his feet and pointing a bony blue finger at Myth.
            From the tip of his frosty white hair to his bare pail feet, Jack stood a mere five foot tall. He was clothed in patches of frost that, when combined with his long icy beard, barely generated a degree of modesty for the boney little man.
            “As long as the Gamester misuses your creatures you can hold no favor with your master.” Myth countered, pulling on his empathic ability to try and calm Jack’s outrage and hold his mind to a calmer line of reason.
            Jack seemed to ponder Myth’s words for a moment. He wrapped his arms around his narrow chest and glared down his long beak of a nose while cocking one frosty eyebrow. “On the other hand when the Gamester is done playing his little game he will have no use of my master’s minions and will cease to use them on his own accord, and I think that offering you and your team as sacrifices will be more than enough to gain my redemption,” The frosty mastermind said with a wicked grin.
            The small man placed a finger to one of his nostrils and, after taking a deep breath, blew out an unearthly gust of wind from his nose. The gale filled the entire chamber in seconds, casting up the mounds of snow that surrounded the massive columns into a blizzard of flying ice.
            When the wind settled the small team of mutants was surrounded by dozens of Winter Lords. They ranged in size from knee high to nearly ten feet tall. One in particular cleared nearly twenty feet high and looked to be almost as broad. Myth did not have time to issue any commands before the fight ensued but with a team as experienced as The Dogs of War there wasn’t really any need.
            The mobs of snow creatures surged on to the besieged group of heroes, with the smaller creatures leaping into the air, trying to land on their victims and pin them down. A quick burst of protective green energy from Haven slammed into the underlings before they could reach the team and tossed them back into the midst of their larger counterparts. The burst reached its apex and stabilized into a green bubble that held their assaulters at bay temporarily. While Haven could easily guard the team against the underlings, the larger Winter Lords were another matter entirely and none of the mutants were willing to wait for the snow beasts to have a chance to break their refuge.
            Desimus lunged into the pressing ranks of ice and hate that were arrayed against the team from the north. His hulking black form stood in stark contrast to the waves of pure white Winter Lords. The massive limbs he wielded moved in time with some primal rhythm that beat in the tanks heart. His leg crushed his smaller victims, stomping them into loose piles of drifting snow. His unstoppable form pressed toward the monster Winter Lord that defended the altar.
            From every other direction a wall of vicious ice pressed in on Haven’s force field, slowly pushing in on the powerful bubble of energy with their combined weight and strength. Wraith and Anarchy; however, had no intention of taking any shelter in this fight. The pair broke out in opposite direction, Wraith taking the south-east side while Anarchy stayed to the south-west. Combined with Desimus’ rampage on the north side, the three brawlers formed a triangle defense around their fellow heroes.
            From within the green aura of protection a spectacle of deadly energies lanced out in all directions. With a mental coaxing from their leader, Octive and Vindea provided support for Desimus as he waded through the throng of minions that stood between him and the towering monster that protected the altar. Octive sent sonic waves out as fast as his mind could control them, to soften the snow creatures’ stability and allow Desimus to smash them with little or no effort. Vindea, staying true to her calling, sent blasts of brilliant energy to incinerate the smaller creatures that attempted to slow her mentor’s progress.
            To her dismay however, her blasts did not have the destructive effect that they had on the Winter Lords she had confronted earlier in the day. In her previous fight she had been able to blast through multiple creatures at once. Now she was barely able to destroy even the smallest ones without using multiple attacks.
            “These are stronger than the ones we faced before,” She shouted over the fray of battle.
            “Aim for the area below their head,” Myth ordered those with ranged attacks. “If you destroy their chest they will lose the use of both arms.”
            Vindea set her slender jaw and tried to focus her skills enough to target the Winter Lords’ core but there were so many of them she could barely tell where one ended and another started.
            Fear crept through the adrenaline that flowed in Vindea’s veins. After a few frustrating moments of trying to pick apart her targets with well aimed shots she abandoned the tactic and settled for a powerhouse effect. The young blaster unleashed her abilities in full force, letting the energy flow from her hands and into the target rich environment with a reckless abandon.
            Stay focused, Myth’s calming presence pierced her mind and instantly snapped her back into purpose. Desimus needs you.
            With renewed focus Vindea resumed her support role, destroying whatever target seemed the most threatening to her beleaguered friend. Even with her renewed determination she could not help but spare a glance to the south-west whenever she felt herself faltering.
            Wraith unleashed a relentless barrage of negative energy on his assailants, draining the life essence of even the largest of the Winter Lords. He leapt up onto the shoulders of one snow creature and pummeled its head until there was nothing left but a cratered set of shoulders.
            He jumped clear of the dismembered Winter Lord just in time to avoid being crushed by a set of massive icy arms. Wraith hit the ground and spun around to meet his new attacker head on, driving a devastating upper cut into its extended left arm and severing it at the shoulder. Then, putting the full force of his body behind his blow, he drove into the Winter Lord’s abdomen with a hook, cutting the abdomen from the legs.
            Anticipating the next attack, Wraith spun around just in time to see a smaller minion leaping towards him. He braced himself and cocked back his right fist, preparing to meet the meager threat with extreme prejudice. The minion never made contact however; just before Wraith was about to attack, the creature vaporized in a heavy blast of dark energy.
            Wraith turned in the direction the blast had come from to see his brother staring at him from behind the energy field; traces of negative energy still clung to his fingers. Annoyed at having his fight interrupted Wraith shot his twin an aggravated glare before continuing his assault.
            Blowing off his brother’s ingratitude Myth spared a moment to check on Haven. The enchanting defender’s eyes clenched shut in focused concentration. Despite the biting cold sweat was pouring down her face.
            Hold the line baby, He said, using his abilities to manipulate human emotions and physical reactions to heighten her focus and ease her mental stress.
            “There’s to many Myth,” Haven gasped. “I can’t hold a field this large for long.”
            As if Haven’s fatigue were not enough reason for concern, a sudden guttural cry broke through the noise of battle followed almost instantly by Desimus’s massive form crashing back into the midst of his bewildered team.
            “The monster’s on a rampage!” Octive shouted and, for reason’s that probably didn’t even make sense in his own mind, pointed at the massive Winter Lord that was now charging the team.
            “Pull West!” Myth commanded after checking to ensure that Desimus was not seriously injured. “Use the wall for shelter.”
            Without hesitation Wraith leapt to the western wall and began to assail the creatures that occupied the area, thinning their numbers in anticipation of his team’s arrival. Anarchy followed him at a distance in an attempt to carve a path for their retreat, with the help of Octive’s ranged support.
            Desimus, having recovered from his first encounter with the monster, charged back into the mass of Winter Lords to confront the beast once again. His mighty arms flung the lesser snow creatures out of his path with ease as he approached his target. As soon as he drew close enough to attack however; a blast of unearthly cold air swept over Desimus’s body, freezing his huge form instantly in a craggy block of solid ice.
            A wicked laugh cut through the air and Jack Frost jumped up and perched himself on Desimus’s frozen form. “Kill them!” The small man shouted to his monstrous minion.
            The beast charged the now cornered group of mutants with a reckless disregard; its massive legs crushed handfuls of the lesser minions with each giant stride. Both of its giant arms were held high over its head, ready for a killing blow.
            “Brace yourself Haven!” Myth shouted when he saw the monster’s arms come crashing down toward them.
            Haven glared at her attacker with eyes that radiated with brilliant emerald energy and raised both of her hands, palms open and facing upward, as a silent ward against the attack.
            A glacial grinding echoed through the air when the monster’s arms slammed into the protective barrier. Haven gasped in silent agony and cringed at the blow but still her barrier held.
            Undeterred the giant beast leaned heavily on the force field, bowing the green bubble and slowly crushing its center towards the slender woman that held it in place. A scream of exertion escaped Haven’s lips as the two huge arms pressed closer and closer to her. She stumbled for her footing then, mustering all her strength, thrust upward with every ounce of her energy. The force field burst up with such force that the monsters forearms were torn from its elbows and sent spiraling across the room.
            Exhaustion took Haven almost instantly and she fell into Myth’s arms. The emerald glow of energy that had been radiating from her eyes faded like smoke from a dyeing fire as her mind slipped into darkness.
            Before the snow monster could recover its footing Wraith was already pressing their meager advantage. The Hell bent scrapper lunged directly into the snow beast’s face, pummeling what crude features it had into a lump of deformed mush and driving the Winter Lord to its knees.
            Myth’s mind spun as he took in their circumstances. Haven was down but not out. Even with his aid however, she would not be strong enough to bring her force field back up for some time. Desimus would more than likely be able to free himself soon but ‘soon’ was not going to be soon enough. There was still more than thirty snow creatures surrounding them and they had no means of defense. Wraith had managed to take the giant Winter Lord down but whether or not he could keep him down while Jack Frost was on the scene was far from certain.
            Gritting his teeth and shaking his head Myth looked to the junior member of his team and thought to himself, I hope this works.
            “Octive,” He shouted over the noise of the raging fight. “Remember that wave length you used to get through the door?”
            “Y-yes,” The young mutant stammered as he blasted the arms off of a snow creature that just had its limbs wrapped around his waist.
              “Use it. But this time give it everything you’ve got!” Myth ordered.
            “Trust me,” The seasoned mutant commanded in a tone that seamed unusually calm considering.
            With more than a little uncertainty showing in his face Octive reached out with his mind and began to manipulate the sound waves that were cascading through the air into the exact wave length he had used on the ziggurats gate. Almost instantly the walls and pillars that were around the besieged team began to slowly fade into dust. In a matter of seconds the massive stalagmites that hung from the roof began to break free from their housing and came crashing down around Myth and his desperate team.
            “What are you doing?” Jack Frost shouted over the sound of the huge ice crystals smashing on the frozen ground.
            “Call it off Jack!” Myth demanded in a commanding tone that defied his desperate circumstances. The small man nearly went into a tantrum, stomping his feet on Desimus’s frozen form and swinging his arms wildly.
            His tirade was cut short when an ice cycle the size of a small tree landed barely a foot in front of his long crooked nose. The explosion of ice shards sent Jack sprawling to the ground and broke Desimus free from his frozen prison.
            In a testament to his amazing resilience Desimus forced himself into action almost immediately and, wrapping one powerful hand around Jack’s lean neck, lifted the lean little man up over his head.
            “Enough, enough already.” Jack choked through his constricted throat.
            With one quick mental command Myth leashed The Dogs of War. Octive gladly ceased his suicidal song; Wraith vanquished the crazed look from his eyes and ceased his rampage, and Desimus slowly set Jack down on his blue skinned feet.
            “So,” Myth said, brushing loose ice from his parka. “You ready to play nice now?”

            Are you certain? Myth questioned Lusion mentally. The entire team was lurking in the shadow of a water tower on the East side of Crey’s Folly. Myth and his telepathically gifted friend stood at the head of the group eyeing a rusted out warehouse complex that had once been used by Crey Industries as some sort of manufacturing plant.
            It has been difficult to track him this far but now that we are here there is no doubt. Lusion projected with the utmost confidence.
            After their near victory against Jack Frost the crazed cultist had allowed Lusion take from his memories the knowledge of the man that had tricked him into giving up the secret to his minions. Those memories not only showed Lusion the Gamester’s face but also his mind, or at least the limited aspects that Jack Frost’s subconscious could perceive.
            After nearly thirty hours of continuously scouring Paragon City the psychic bloodhound had finally homed in on the mind he had been looking for. We have found the Gamester. Lusion signaled to everyone in the group.
            Abandoning his mental focus, Lusion opened his eyes and searched the buildings exterior. “That door over there is closest to him. It should make for the most direct entrance.” He said pointing to a small entrance on the corner of the building.
            “Let’s move,” Myth agreed. As was his custom he took point and began to lead the way toward the decrepit old structure but before they reached the door the city alert system sounded, filling the air with an obnoxious droning alarm. The alarm was soon replaced however, by the voice of a man.
            “Greetings, citizens of Paragon City. As your newly appointed mayor and benefactor-“
            “It’s him,” Anarchy muttered more to himself than his team.
            “We need to move quickly,” Myth agreed picking up a slight jog and continuing toward the warehouse.
             Just before he made the door however; he felt a horrendous tug at his thoughts. The voice had stopped its preaching and had been replaced by a strange tune that seemed to demand something of his body and mind.
             A quick look around him showed that he was not alone, his entire team, with the exception of Lusion and himself, were dancing in time with the unusual music. Myth and Lusion both wasted no time in using their mental abilities to free their companions from the hold of the music.
             “What was that?” Vindea gasped once she was able to still her body.
             “Some sort of mind control,” Myth ventured a safe assumption. “He must be broadcasting it across the entire city.”
             “Yes,” Lusion spoke up. “But it is not having the desired affect.”
             All eyes turned toward Lusion, who had his eyes closed and bore a strange smile on his face. “We must hurry though,” He warned, opening his eyes and nodding toward the building.
              Moments later the team had entered the warehouse and they were making their way through the narrow corridors toward the mental residual that Lusion had homed in on. Their path soon entered a large empty room that, unlike the rest of the building, had been painted in colorful panels of red yellow and green.
            Out of instinct Myth slowed when he reached the room and signaled for Desimus to move up. Understanding his leader’s mental reservations the tank preceded into the room. After making it over half way across the strangely decorated chamber without incident the rest of the team began to follow their large friend.
            No sooner had the last person made it through the door than both the entrance and the exit slammed shut. The sound of metal grinding on the outside of the doors said that both passages were sealed.
            Panels along the side of the walls snapped out of place and fell to the floor, revealing the muzzles of six massive cannons. The team barely had time to even recognize their danger before the room exploded with cannon fire. Massive iron balls filled the room, trapping the heroes in their deadly line of fire.
            Haven tried to throw up a protective field around the team but the cannon balls slammed into the bubble before she had a chance to stabilize it. The emerald field collapsed as quickly as it was created, sending Haven’s mind reeling from the deadly impact.
            Myth jumped to Haven’s side and began to flood her mind with his regenerative abilities but was stopped cold when a projectile clipped his shoulder. Even though it was grazing shot, the impact of the cannon ball on soft flesh nearly ripped Myth’s shoulder from his neck. He was sent sprawling to the floor in a trail of blood and agony.
            Darkness reached into Myth’s mind and threatened to drag him mercilessly into unconsciousness. With no other option remaining to him, Myth used his last ounce of strength to key his Emergency Teleport System transponder and disappeared in a flash of light.
Desimus managed to catch one of the cannon balls in his unforgiving hands and sent it hurling back at the cannon it had been launched from. The weapon’s barrel splintered from the impact and when it attempted to fire its next round the entire cannon exploded into a heap of smoldering metal.
             After making his way to Haven’s unconscious form and keying her ETS transponder, Lusion attempted to redirect the cannons in a similar manner with his mind. He never had a chance to employ his telekinetic though. No sooner had he keyed Haven’s transponder than two cannon balls collided in mid air only a few feet from Lusion. The resulting explosion peppered the psychic with deadly bits of shrapnel and sent him flying across the room.
             Anarchy Soldier came to his companion’s aid by breaking Lusion’s fall with his own body. The scrapper recovered from the impact with amazing speed and a blindingly quick motion from Anarchy sent Lusion to the nearest hospital to join Haven and Myth.
            Wraith managed to make his way to the side of the room where he slid up underneath the barrel of one of the giant cannons. Mustering all his might and calling on the dark energies that he held mastery over, Wraith struck the bottom of the barrel. The angle of the cannons barrel rose on its mount a small degree but it was enough to force the next shot to hit the inside of the wall instead of flying through the room. Wraith tried clear of the area just as the cannon exploded but was not fast enough to avoid the searing flames that licked at his back.
            Vindea returned fire on the cannons, taking out three of the weapons in short order. She turned to finish up the last of the weapons but found herself staring down its massive barrel. Panic gripped her soul and her heart pounded out a single beat so hard it made her chest heave.
            Paralyzed by fear Vindea did not even have the presence of mind to close her eyes in the face of death. If she had she would have missed seeing a giant black hand, which seemed to come from nowhere, swat the cannon ball out of the air mere feet from her trembling form.
            Desimus charged the last cannon with a roar of anger and challenge. The tank gripped the barrel of the cannon in his hands and crushed the five inch thick steel like it was a role of cardboard. The cannon erupted on its next shot with Desimus still holding the barrel in his vice like grip. The invulnerable giant let the scorching heat and lethal hunks of flying metal wash over him with indifference. When the eruption subsided Desimus was still standing in front of the wall, holding what was left of the barrel in his unbreakable grip.
            With the dust settling in the death trap, the team began to look around to take count of each other. Anarchy quickly noticed Octive huddling in a corner, his eyes closed and his mouth hanging open.
            “What the,” Anarchy muttered in frustration. After a burst of surreal speed Anarchy was standing over the seemingly catatonic mutant and was ready to snatch him up by the neck. He was not a particularly callus man but after seeing his friends being torn apart in front of his eyes Anarchy was disgusted to find that this man had been cowering in the corner the entire time.
            “No!” Vindea stopped Anarchy with a single word. “Listen to the music.” She said tossing her blond locks away from her ears. Anarchy listened for a moment and to his surprise the song that seized their minds earlier now sounded quieter and sporadic, like it was playing through a broken speaker.
            “It’s Octive,” Vindea continued. “I’ve heard him do it before. He can cancel out sounds by creating the exact opposite sound waves. He must be having a hard time hearing it after all that noise.”
            “He’s been protecting us since Myth and Lusion went down,” Anarchy spoke in shock. He did not have to mention that if his young teammate had not taken action when he did the entire team would have been entranced by the music once again, which would have forced them to dance helplessly in the middle of deadly cannon fire. “This kid just saved our lives.”
            “Keep an eye on him,” Wraith said, smoke still rising in wisps from his badly singed back. “It’s time to finish this.”
            Anarchy nodded in agreement. “Go ahead. I’ll make sure no one disturbs him.”
            Desimus peeled the steel door that blocked their way off of its hinges with ease, making way for Wraith to enter the room they had struggled so hard to reach. Once inside the mutant quickly picked out the form of a middle aged, non-descript man standing over a console and speaking into a small microphone. To their mild surprise he seemed to be wearing only a pair of shorts.
            The man turned to face the battered team with a look of bewilderment. His eyes widened when he saw the look of rage that radiated from Wraith’s eyes. “What the hell are you doing?” He gasped before Wraith’s fist closed on his throat, cutting off all speech.
            The singed scrapper did not bother using his dark energies to subdue the villain; he did not employ his deadly fighting skills or even bother to ball up his fists. He simply took his time beating the Gamester sensless, tossing him through every piece of equipment that looked as if it might cause pain in the process. Eventually Wraith managed to send the Gamester crashing through a wrack filled with recording equipment and the music that had been broadcasting across the city suddenly stopped.
            Vindea turned her face away to shield herself from the flying debris that Wraith’s tirade was causing and noticed a young boy huddled in the corner of the room.
            “Are you OK?” Vindea cried as she ran to the boy’s side.
            “Y-yes, I think so,” The boy stammered.
            “What’s your name darling?” The beautiful blonde asked as she cradled the young boys head in her slender arms.
            “J-jack, my n-name is jack and I w-want to go home.” The boy was nearly in tears.
            “Don’t you worry none. This man won’t be able to harm you anymore and well get you home real soon.” She spoke in a calming voice while stroking his hair.
              In a rare moment of pleasure, Desimus’s callus face broke into a slight smile as he watched Wraith brutalize the man that had caused the city so much pain and nearly killed his friends. After taking his fill of the action the tank picked up the microphone the Gamester had been using and spoke his mind.
              “The Game is over.”    


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