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Of Pain and Hate
Part II:
Best Served Cold

D. Heikes

            “That’s what makes you weak,” Evisceral Shadow snarled.
            The minions gathered near the Rogue Island Protector moved back from the pair.  Tension had been growing between them, threatening to explode at any moment.
            “Is it weakness to maintain even the slightest shred of humanity?”  the Protector asked.  His helmet and visor kept his face hidden, but the curt tone of his voice betrayed the annoyance he felt.  He had agreed to work with the small assassin, thinking she would be a useful tool, if she could be controlled.  “Even I would not attack a funeral.”
            “They will be gathered together there like they have not in years.”
            “The Onami Strike Force has slipped,” the Protector agreed.  “Since PhoenixHawk died they are no longer functioning optimally.  If you maintain patience they will fall apart on their own.  Then, as you wish, Paragon will be rid of them.”
            Evisceral Shadow almost shook with rage.  The small woman’s muscles clenched and flexed beneath her pale skin, the scars from the self-inflicted cuts crisscrossing her arms and legs.  Her black hair cut in a mid-length Mohawk lay to one side.  “I will not wait for them to simply disband!  They took my life, and I will have theirs!”
            “If you must be impatient, then at least be intelligent about it.  Even if they do not move throughout Paragon as a unit, their members are still powerful.  Grouped together it would take a larger number than we have to defeat them.”
            “Then get more.”
            “Your tirades grow tiresome,” the Protector said.  “I will not sacrifice those who follow me for your cause.  We have worked together in the past, but your lack of control threatens my organization.  It is time for you and yours to leave.”
            Black eyes beneath black makeup stared at the black and red clad Rogue Island Protector, hate and anger seething.  Evisceral Shadow’s right fist clenched, the three blades housed in her gloves along her forearm snapped out.
            Heat blossomed around the Rogue Island Protector, flames engulfing his hands.
            “This is not a fight you will win,” he said.
            The tension in the air crackled for a century in the moment that past between the two villains before the blades snapped back into their retracted sheath and Evisceral Shadow whipped around and stormed from the base.  Ten men dressed in black with chains crossed at their chest followed their leader out.
            Outside the sun was beginning to set.  Night was her ally, but her augmented ability to remain unseen let her move untouched through Paragon’s streets at any time.  Anger filled her mind, red clouds in her vision.  She wanted to scream, to lash out at something, kill anything.
            Breathing loudly through her nose, the blades snapped out again from her right hand.  Drawing the blades up the outside of her leg from just above her boot to the bottom of her shorts, pain burned as the blood flowed out.  She focused on that pain, sank into it, using it to keep the demons inside.
            Augmented healing ability closed the wounds within seconds, leaving yet another trio of scars.
            When her breathing had returned to almost normal, one of her lieutenants spoke up.
            “Without them we do not number enough to strike.”
            “Damn him!” Evisceral Shadow spat, looking at the door they had vacated.  “We could have taken them all at once.  Years I’ve waited for an opening like this, worked to try to create it.  Now it’s fallen into my lap and it’s going to slip by.”  A string of curses poured from her lips.
            “If we cannot take them all, we can take some of them,” another of her followers offered.
            The small woman considered the idea.  The Onami base had been closed a couple of years ago, the group giving it up to lack of use.  An office had been set up in Atlas Park by the Hero Corp for the Group, on the ground floor of a high-rise office building, much like the one Ron, her husband, had died in front of.
            Thoughts of Ron threatened to bring the visions flooding back to her, but she forced them down.  The damned heroes should have contained the Hellions with ease, should have protected the civilians forced to the streets, but they hadn’t.  The Hellions had attacked the people in the street to distract the heroes.  Someone, one of the Hellions or a Hero, had thrown a fireball that had washed over the civilians, killing Ron in front of her eyes.  The Cresting Wave, worn by the heroes she would come to find was the symbol of the Onami Strike Force, had burned itself into her mind just as deeply as Ron’s death scream.
            “Fine.  They will break up after the funeral, as they always do.  They cannot stomach one another’s presence any more than I can .  Undoubtedly some will return to their office.  We will strike them there.”

            Stateside patrolled the streets of Steel Canyon.  The red, white, and blue clad hero bore the Cresting Wave on his chest, having left the gathering of Onami members.  They refused to call it a funeral.  Many of the Onami assumed News Flash to be dead, but Remedy Hart, a blue skinned woman who was an incredibly strong telepath and empath that almost never spoke aloud, instead favoring mental communication, said she felt as though he were still alive.
            The tension at the gathering had been palatable, even more than usual.  Stateside felt some of it, but wondered at how long it could last.  He had not been as close to PhoenixHawk as had many of the others, but considered his former leader a friend as well.  The group simply did not mesh as well without him as it had before his death.  Thauma Guard, PhoenixHawk’s lover had taken leadership for a time, but the pressure and constant reminder of her loss drove her from the position. 
Shadow Pain, whom everyone called PhoenixHawk’s sister stepped up to the position.  She admitted to all that she was not well suited to lead, and handled as much of the task as she was suited to, but left the majority of the members to remain in contact and seek out assignments.
            Thauma had taken some time away from the group to help another member, Ginger Blaze, a red haired fire controller who had joined the Onami shortly after formation, prepare for her child’s birth.  The baby had come just a few months ago, a beautiful baby girl who bore her mother’s flame red hair. 
            Thauma refused to come back to the group, only taking occasional missions.  There seemed little hope of the group rallying around her anytime soon now.  She had mentored News Flash years ago, and now his disappearance added to the weight of PhoenixHawk’s death.
            Several of the Onami had gone back to the Group’s office but Stateside had refused, wishing to bury himself in his work.  During the day he worked for the Department of Homeland Security, at night as a member of the Onami.  With no family to which to return home, his greatest pleasure came from his service to his country and city.
            Vapor lamps began to flicker to life as the night descended.  The fighter moved throughout Steel Canyon keeping his eye out for signs of trouble.  Occasionally Dr. Vazhilok’s minions would crawl from the sewers in this part of the city, seeking new bodies to dissect and experiment upon.  The members of the street gang The Outcasts, to which outlaw mutants seemed to flock, claimed most of Steel Canyon as their territory.  The neo-nazi Council could be found here recruiting as well.  It wouldn’t be hard for Stateside to seek out problem spots associated with any of the criminals in the area.

            The funeral had broken up, the members moving off in different directions in small groups.  Evisceral Shadow watched from her cloak of darkness, measuring each group’s potential.  When a red, white, and blue clad member moved off on his own, she followed close behind.  Her minions fell into the shadows, staying far enough back to remain undetected.
            The small woman knew every member of the Onami Strike Force on sight.  This would be Stateside, a fighter of nominal ability.  He had not been a part of the group the day they had let Ron die.  No matter.  He would be a perfect target.
            Evisceral Shadow moved past the hero, close enough for him to feel.  He still could not see her, but stopped his patrol, looking around, knowing something was near.  The close proximity was a risk, but at night she knew he would never see her until she struck.
            Seeing the Cresting Wave upon his chest from this close up brought forth waves of rage.  Her vision went red as adrenaline flooded her system.  She focused that rage and power, feeling the tension build like bowstring pulled taught.  The hero was looking around cautiously, his hands flexing for a fight.
            When her augmented strength and hardened muscles peaked she struck.  Her blades coming out with a snap as her hand whipped forward faster than a cobra strike, a punch that impacted the soft flesh of the heroes throat.
            Stateside’s eyes grew wide as his body tensed, three titanium blades driven all the way through his neck.  A gout of blood flowed from his mouth and neck, and for just an instant, Evisceral Shadow knew he had looked into the face of his killer.
            She drew her hand back as fast as it had struck, a spray of blood covering her face.  The hero was dead before his body hit the ground.
            “Mediport out of that,” Evisceral Shadow said.
            Licking the heroes blood from her lips, she ordered her minions to gather the body and bring it with them.  They had a black van hidden in an alley nearby.  After wrapping the hero’s body in plastic they climbed into the back of the van.
            “Head to Atlas Park,” Evisceral Shadow told the driver.  “We have a package to deliver.”

            Thauma Guard sat at the conference table leaning back in one of the swivel chairs.  Her ebony skin was covered by a black two piece suit, her orange hair neatly done for the memorial.  She fought back the tears that threatened to come again.  Brian Sutter had come to her as a fledgling magic user.  She had helped him become News Flash.  He had blamed himself for Aaron, PhoenixHawk’s death.  It hadn’t been his fault, but he refused to hear it, feeling as though he only pretended to be a hero, but was in fact too scared to act. 
Thauma sighed.  So much loss, when would it end?  She knew they fought their constant battles, risking their lives every time.  Heroes perished in Paragon City, it was an unfortunate risk of the job, but the Onami was a tightly bound unit.  Aaron had formed the group based upon his beliefs in honor and family, making sure that every member shared those beliefs.  It was a strength the group lived by, but was also an Achilles heel, she now realized.  The loss of a family member was always devastating, and the Onami was a family.  Now they had suffered another loss.  She was unsure if she could continue with this life.
            Thauma’s brother Rosh, known as the NyteHawk, sat across the table from his sister.  He crossed his muscular arms across his chest, his veins glowing with the blue energy that he wielded.  Kwang Ghe, the scientifically augmented martial artist sat two chairs down.  Shadow Pain sat across from the other fighter, her three eyes gazing at the ceiling.
            Every member of the group seemed lost in their own thoughts.  Finally Rosh broke the silence.
            “He almost drank himself to death.”
            “He was hurting,” Thauma said. 
“We all were,” Shadow Pain said.  “Are.  I don’t know.  He took too much blame for Aaron’s death, but in the end he did what he had to.  That’s what we have to remember about him.”
            “Agreed,” Kwang Ghe said.
            The office in which they sat was a simple square, set with the bare minimum the group could need.  The conference table sat in the far corner from the door.  The opposite corner held a computer, desk, couch and television.
            The group sat in silence that was shattered by the front door exploding in as a body flew through it.  The Onami members were on their feet instantly, Shadow Pain’s katana in her hand.
            Stateside lay crumpled in the middle of the floor where he had landed, covered in blood.  His throat was almost torn out, his eyes stared sightlessly ahead.
            “Oh my God!” Thauma exclaimed, rushing to the fallen hero’s side.  She was cut off as ten black clad men rushed into the base.  Thauma’s third eye opened, drawing deeply upon the power of an ethereal plane that it looked into.  She cast her arms forward, snaring three of the invaders in howling vaporous tentacles that reached through the floor.
            Kwang Ghe rushed into the trapped villains, his feet and hands flashing out with lightning speed.  Shadow Pain charged the others, but had to divert her course as the NyteHawk threw and explosive blast of cerulean energy into them, knocking several in different directions.
            Shadow Pain suddenly veered from her course, instinctively dodging the swipe of blades as a small woman covered in black materialized out of nowhere, six steel blades protruding from her hands.  The blades rang out against her katana as the two combatants clashed.
            Thauma gathered a ball of green energy she normally used to shield her teammates and flung it at the clawed woman, sending her reeling.   Shadow Pain would have followed but four of the other invaders fell upon her.
            “You crazy bitch!” Thauma yelled, rushing the smaller woman.
            Evisceral Shadow faded but could still be seen as she flashed past Thauma, her blades leaving three deep cuts through the Onami member’s suit, droplets of blood flowing out.
             The NyteHawk was lashing out at the mass of invaders as Shadow Pain and Kwang Ghe fought to suppress them.  The Onami members had their hands full, sheer numbers adding to the weight of the invaders.  These were no ordinary street thugs like the Skulls or even Tsoo, each of these was trained and deadly.  One of the men spread his arms, four shades appeared surrounding him, shadow ninjas that fell upon the Onami members with blows as real as if they had come from a living person.  Another of the invaders blasted Shadow Pain with a stream of green radiant energy, slowing the small woman slightly, her lightning fast reflexes barely keeping her from being subdued.
            Kwang Ghe, Shadow Pain, and the NyteHawk tied up the black clad men, leaving Thauma to deal with the woman.
            “You destroyed my life!” Evisceral Shadow snarled back at Thauma Guard.  She rushed in, her blades flashing out in lightning quick swipes.  Thauma had surrounded herself in a glowing green shield that slowed the blades, making them easier to dodge, but hand-to-hand combat was not her specialty.  She was left with a multitude of cuts.
            “What the hell are you talking about?” Thauma snarled in return.
            The smaller woman lashed back with her blades.  “Six years ago, when the Hellions burned Steel Canyon.  You killed my husband!”
            Thauma dodged and threw a blast of dark energy at the smaller woman.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.  We didn’t kill anyone that day.”
            “You were supposed to protect us!” the smaller woman seemed to be growing more enraged.  Thauma felt if she could dodge long enough the others would get to her, and this psycho woman would become so angry she’d make a mistake.
            “The Hellions attacked the crowds.  We stopped them a soon as we could.”
            “Not soon enough!”  The smaller woman rushed Thauma Guard, blades flashing out yet again.  Thauma dodged and spun around her, trying to catch her in the tentacles she’d called upon earlier.  Evisceral Shadow dodged the howling horrors easily and moved in on Thauma Guard, swiping within arms reach.
            “You have no idea what it’s like to lose everything!” she snarled.
            Thauma Guard was rocked by those words and shot forward faster than anyone had ever seen her move before.  She caught the smaller woman with both hands around her throat, lifting her from the floor and slamming her into the wall behind her.  Almost out of control she slammed the woman into the wall again and again until a searing white pain exploded in her abdomen.  Another blaze of white hot agony shot from her other side, below her ribs the six steel blades buried themselves completely in her.
            Shaking with agony and rage, Thauma refused to let go.  Staring into Evisceral Shadow’s dark eyes she coughed a spray of blood.
            “Yes….I….do!” Thauma snarled.  The pain in her belly blinded her in a searing white blaze as the blades were pulled up through her insides, mangling her.
            She knew she was dying, barely able to see through the blazing white agony that consumed her.  A last thought ran through her mind: if I’m going to go, I’m taking you with me, bitch!
            Blood poured from her savage wounds, flowing into a growing pool at her feet.  The world spun, a haze of pain and fury.  Darkness closed in around her, the world faded to black.
            Thauma Guard was gone.


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