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Of Pain and Hate
Part III

Rock Bottom

            “What direction are they headed?” The Rogue Island Protector asked into the cell phone.

            “Atlas Park,” came the answer.  “They just crossed into the tunnel.”

            The clash between himself and Evisceral Shadow hours ago had set the Protector on edge.  He had hoped the psychotic woman would not attack the Onami Strike Force without him.  He didn’t care much what happened to the Super Group that had caused him some grief in the past, but his feelings for the woman, Thauma Guard, who had once led the group, made him reluctant to do anything that might cause her harm.

            Hoping Evisceral Shadow would not attack the Group had not overwhelmed the Protector’s common sense, and he had had one of his minions follow her.  She had killed the fighter Stateside, a trivial fact in his mind, but had taken the body saying they had to deliver it.    When his minion told him they had crossed into the tunnel into Atlas Park, he knew immediately where they were headed.

            “Stay with them, but do not interfere.  Evisceral Shadow and her followers are dangerous, and uncontrollable.”

            “Understood,” came the reply before the connection was broken.

            If the van was already entering Atlas Park there was little time to waste.  The Onami Strike Force base, if it could be called that, was not far from City Hall, only a couple of miles from the tunnel under the war wall to Steel Canyon.  The Protector’s brow furrowed.  He didn’t have any way of contacting the base, nor could he or his people get from the Rogue Isles to Atlas Park in time, even cutting through the odd dimensional portals used by the enigmatic DJ that created and ran Pocket D.  He cursed himself inwardly.  News Flash had left his medical transporter, what the heroes referred to as a ‘mediporter’, in his apartment.  The Protector had taken it in case he wanted to quickly get from the Rogue Isles to Paragon City.  He hadn’t realized he might need it so soon, and thus had not been carrying it with him.  He quickly dialed another number.

            “You can contact members of the Onami Strike Force can you not?” He asked when his call was answered.

            “I am with one of them now,” Occam’s Razor replied. 

            “Tell him his base is in danger.  Evisceral Shadow is on her way that with a significant number of fighters.”

            Occam’s Razor was silent for several moments.

            “There is no time for you to contemplate this, drake.”

            “What cause have I to trust you?” Razor replied.  “When we last spoke you informed me that I was insane, that my claims of your heritage were ‘ludicrous’.”

            “This is not about you and I.”

            “Perhaps there is a reason you could give me, then.”

            The Protector was silent, then said, “I think Thauma is there.”

            “Help will be on its way,” Occam’s Razor said and hung up.

*  *  *

            Occam’s Razor turned towards the tall black man next to him.  Athletically built, a college star on his way to being an NBA player, Darryl Johnson had taken to the streets to revenge himself upon the Skulls for the debilitating injury they had caused him.  Now he wore the Cresting Wave of the Onami Strike Force, having come to deeply believe in the group’s philosophy of honor and integrity, going by the name of Tragic Johnson.

            “A dangerous villain is on her way to your base with a number of followers,” Occam’s Razor told Johnson.

            “Who?”  Johnson asked.

            “Evisceral Shadow.”

            “That woman has stalked us for years.”

            “I believe so,” Razor answered.

            “We have to get there,” Johnson said.  “How long do we have?”

            “Not long enough, I fear.”

            The pair was in Founders Falls, where the memorial had been held.  It would take quite a while to get to the base in Atlas Park.  Johnson made a quick decision, and speed dialed a number on his cell.

            “Hey, TJ, how are you?” Jon asked.

            “Good.  I don’t have time to talk, Jon.  Tell me you’re close to Atlas Park.”

            It was mid evening, Jon and the Nameless would most likely be out on patrol in King’s Row.

            “I can be there in minutes, why?”

            “I think my friends are in danger.  A group of villains is heading for our office.”

            “What’s the address?”

            Johnson gave the address, thanked Jon, then began dialing more numbers.  The cavalry would be on its way in force by the time he was through.

*  *  *


            The guard at the reception desk lay behind his desk, his head canted at an odd angle on what had once been his neck.  Jon realized immediately the guard was dead and moved past, quickly finding the door to the office space occupied by the Onami Strike Force ripped completely off of its hinges.

            Inside the office was chaos.  Kwang Ghe and Shadow Pain were wrapped up with shadow ninjas, fighting a horde of shades.  The NyteHawk waded through the fray, his hands glowing a bright blue, the veins in his arm and chest pulsing with the same bright energy.  His fist lashed out, a cerulean flash accompanying the impact, sending a black clad villain flying into the wall.

            Thauma Guard was at the back of the building dodging around a small pale-skinned woman with a Mohawk, three blades extending from each of her gloved hands.  A cloud of emptiness surrounded the woman, making her difficult to see and follow.  What the two women were yelling at one another was impossible to make out over the din of battle.

            The invaders were all dressed in black, silver chains around each shoulder crossed in an X at their chests.  Jon immediately knew these were not just street thugs.  One of them was throwing nauseatingly green blasts at the Onami members, another called and controlled the shadow ninjas.  Each of these men was endowed with powers, counteracting the heroes.  Coupled with what Jon thought was three-to-one odds, the heroes were fighting a losing battle.

            Not for long, Jon thought.

            Pulling the sleeves of his robe past his forearms, the black tattoo on each began to glow, radiating a black energy that surrounded the fighter.

            The strikingly beautiful woman who had accompanied Jon moved up next to him, her fingernails extending into razor sharp six-inch claws from each finger.

            “Let’s move in,” Solanum said.

            The two members of the Nameless waded into the chaos.  Shadow Pain noticed them first, seeing Nightbringer, shrouded in dark power, charging in.  Her first thought was that more villains were arriving until she saw Solanum sail over Nightbringer’s head in a graceful forward flip, landing amidst the attackers with claws flashing out.

            The battle raged back and forth, now balanced between invader and defender.  Dark power flashed in both directions, answered and mingled with cerulean blasts from the NyteHawk.  Steel rang, voices yelling.  One of the invaders raised his arms, a whirlwind of force whipping up around him, a tornado of small bits of anything not tied down spread out.  Kwang Ghe was caught up in the whirlwind and sent flying, the conference table splintered in a huge crash as dropped into it.

            Fatigue would soon have become an issue had it not been for the arrival of Tragic Johnson and Occam’s Razor.  With a bestial yell, Occam’s Razor launched his massive bulk into the chaos, the blades from his robotic arms similar to the glove-bound weapons of Evisceral Shadow.

            Slowly the heroes turned the tide, taking command of the fight.  The invaders began to swing around as a group, backing towards the exit when a guttural yell of anguish and rage literally shook the building.

            The Rogue Island Protector stood in the doorway staring at the back of the room.  Thauma Guard slowly slumped to the floor, her grip slipping from the throat of Evisceral Shadow, the villain covered in Thauma’s blood, more of which began to rapidly pool around the fallen hero.

            Flames burst around the black and red clad Protector, his large form exploding through the group of invaders, scattering them like leaves.  Gaining momentum he charged full force into the small woman who was crouched to meet the attack, blades held at the ready, a look of unadulterated hatred burning in her eyes.

            Evisceral Shadow was unprepared for the strength born of pure rage the Protector exuded.  The Protector crashed into the smaller woman, carrying her into, and through the building wall in an explosion of burning debris.  The two landed on the sidewalk, entwined like serpents, the Protector’s fists raining down burning blows in response to the cuts and stabs he received from the smaller villain.

            The invaders quickly regrouped and moved towards the ripped apart door, fighting a steady but controlled retreat.  A black clad man, wreathed in flames as the Protector had been, stepped into the doorway, followed by two women, one in almost glowing white, the other a young brunette.

            Celsius Bane, and his wife Skida Marink, leaders of the Onami Strike Force’s sister group the Archangels of the Apocalypse, along with one of their members Lady Emily, moved into the group, joining the fight.  Both Emily and Skida moved quickly to the outside of the pressed group of villains crowding towards the exit, green and blue auras spreading from the women, enervating and healing the heroes.  Celsius pressed the villains from behind, a nearly indestructible force, taking blows raining down on him and dealing out powerful counter-attacks.

            The villains’ retreat became a full route, the invaders breaking and rushing through the exit.  The Onami members, along with those who had arrived to help pursued them for several blocks before giving up the chase.

*  *  *

            The Rogue Island Protector rolled from the ground, bleeding in many places, Evisceral Shadow’s blades having taken a toll.  The assassin had slipped his grasp and faded from view.  The darkness seemed to fold around the Protector, enveloping Evisceral Shadow as her cloak drank her in and she disappeared.  Rage burned in the Protector’s mind, he searched frantically for the assassin, but Evisceral Shadow had slipped away.

*  *  *

            Moving into the room Skida Marink first noticed Stateside’s body.  “Oh my God!” she gasped rushing to his side.  From the gaping wounds at his neck and empty look in his eyes it was clear he was dead.

            “SKIDA!!!” Lady Emily’s shout grabbed her attention.

            Emily was cradling Thauma Guard’s head in her lap, the tech healing devices she used pouring waves of healing force in almost a constant stream.

            Skida Marink was shocked by the vision.  Thauma’s belly had been ripped open, blood poured from the wounds, the suit she wore, muscles and organs underneath ripped viciously open.

            “Oh, no, no, no, no, no,” Skida began muttering.  “Please, God, not you, too.”

            Tears poured down Skida’s face as she rushed to Thauma’s side.  Lady Emily, a skilled and experienced defender despite her young age, was pale and visibly shaking. 

            “She’s still alive,” Emily said through her own tears.

            Skida wrapped her arms around Thauma’s chest, hugging the bleeding woman to her.  “Please, Thauma, breathe.”  Skida almost blazed a glowing green as her healing auras fanned out, muttering constant pleas for Thauma not to die.

            “We have to mediport her,” Celsius Bane said as the heroes returned to the room and took in the situation.

            Skida reached for the mediport transporter Thauma carried but was stopped by a sharp “No!” from the door.

            In the doorway Dr. Patrick Ward, a surgeon and scientist, member of the Onami Strike Force known as the Legendary I Doctor because of the visor that replaced the eyes he’d lost during the Rikti War, took in the scene. 

            As had the rest, Dr. Ward realized immediately that Stateside was gone.  Moving quickly to Thauma, he ripped away the remains of her suit, baring the six gaping rents in her abdomen.

            He sighed heavily.   “God, what a mess.”

            Any sense of the hero, accompanying bravado and banter, disappeared, his persona becoming one-hundred percent the surgeon he was.  He reached into his pocket and threw his cell phone to Celsius Bane without even looking.

            “Atlas General is set for speed dial number six,” he said.  “Call them and tell to have a crash team ready.  Let them know she’ll be coming in bled out, they’ll have her blood type on record.  Tell them to have Doctor Reyes standing by.  Unless he’s working on someone else who’s near death get him there.”

            Looking at Lady Emily he asked, “Do you know how to feel her pulse?”

            Emily nodded. 

            “Is it there?”  Emily felt Thauma’s neck, feeling around several times, then stopped, holding the first two fingers of her hand to Thauma’s neck.

            “Barely,” Emily said.

            “Ok, you monitor that.  I need to know if it stops right away.”

            Skida was still holding Thauma tightly, pleading with her to live.

            “Skida,” Dr. Ward said.  “Skida!”

            She looked up.

            “I need you with me now.  She’s near death.   I think we can save her, but I need both of your help.  If you can’t focus she’s gone, and we don’t have any time.”

            Skida sat up on her knees, working to control her breathing, stop her tears. 

            “Tell me what to do.”

            Dr. Ward nodded.  “Her injuries are too severe for the mediport devices to overcome.  Hopefully by the time we have her ready they’ll have the team in place at the hospital.  She’s lost most of her blood, will probably lose it all before we get her there.  We need to stop the major bleeding points in her before they start pumping blood back into her or she’ll just bleed it right back out.  I can do that, but only with both you and Emily helping.

            “My implants can focus healing energy as well as electrical blasts.  Problem is I can’t generate enough to do what has to be done here.  Together with you two I can, but it absolutely must be localized.  The aura can’t spread out over her, or it’ll be too weak at the points I need.  What I need you two to do is pour every bit of healing energy into me that you can, and don’t stop, no matter what Thauma does or what you see.  Her life depends on this.  Can you do it?”

            Skida nodded, as did Emily.

            The heroes gathered around the healers as they went to work.  Skida’s eyes were closed, concentration more intense than any of the others had ever seen.  She lay her hands on Dr. Ward’s shoulders, blazing green energy began to flow into the Doctor.  Emily had one hand on Thauma’s neck, the other holding a healing device, adding her own power to the mix.

            Dr. Ward held up his hand and closed his eyes.  Brilliant electrical arcs played over his hands, a grunt of pain coming from the Dr. as he burned away any impurities on the skin, the quickest sterilization he could manage.

            Opening the wounds in Thauma’s abdomen he could see the damage the blades had left behind.  Several lacerations to her intestines were obvious, but the hospital could take care of those.  Her liver had taken a great deal of damage.  Gently laying his hands on the damaged tissue he focused the energy pouring through him into the damaged tissue, painstakingly, piece by piece, rebuilding the organ.  He moved to her lungs, both of which had been punctured.  The minutes stretched out as inch by inch he mended the massive damage. 

            The work, though only taking a small amount of time, was exhausting to all involved, both physically and mentally.  An aura like she had never generated, poured from Skida in a constant stream.

            Emily’s voice shakily said, “I think it stopped.”

            Skida began mumbling “no, no, no,” again. 

            Dr. Ward took his hands from inside of her abdomen and told the others to let go of Thauma.

            “You’re not dying on me right here,” he told Thauma.

            Placing his hand directly over her heart he sent a jolt of electricity coursing through her.  Thauma’s body jerked, then fell back.  Emily checked and found the weak pulse again.

            Minutes later Dr. Ward had done all that he could to find and mend the most major damage to Thauma, hoping what he had done would give enough time to the team at the hospital to finish the job.

            “Ok,” he said.  “Mediport us.”

            Lady Emily activated the transporter, Dr. Ward activating his in conjunction, both heroes disappearing in a bright flash.

            Skida Marink collapsed, her head buried in her hands, weeping, overcome by exhaustion and shock.  Lady Emily wrapped her arms around her friend, both women covered in the blood of another of their friends, their combined anguish pouring out.

            Celsius Bane put his arms around both women, whispering in their ears, offering his strength.  The other heroes gathered closely around the healers, except Occam’s Razor, who noticed the Rogue Island Protector standing in the hole in the wall he had created.

            “Does she live?” The Protector asked.

            “Barely,” Razor responded.  “Whether she will get through this is another question entirely.”

            “The assassin escaped,” the Protector said.  “But she will not stay hidden forever.  When I find her, I will kill her.”

            Looking into the visored face of the Protector, Occam’s Razor realized there was little he could say at the current time that would have any meaning.

            After a time, when all involved had composed themselves, Celsius Bane went to Stateside, lifting the fallen fighter in his arms.  Sadness played across his eyes.  “This is the second time I will carry one of the Onami to City Hall for funeral arrangements.  I hope with all of my heart that it is the last.”

*  *  *

            Thauma Guard opened her eyes, the light nearly blinding her.  Looking around she tried to recognize her surroundings.  Confusion threatened to overwhelm her.

            A brilliant blue sky hung over head, gentle clouds blowing lazily into the distance.  Trees surrounded the park, several families sat with children, enjoying the weather, picnics spread out before them.

            Several yards away two men stood staring directly at her.  One was a nearly skeletal man wearing a tuxedo, a top hat canted slightly upon his head, leaning upon a black cane with a golden ball at the top.  Even from this distance Thauma could see the man’s eyes were black, like a bottomless pit.

            The other man was…

            Her breath caught.  Nearly unable to speak she moved forward on unsteady legs.


            As she got closer, her confusion finally clicked upon what was different about him, throwing her off.  His eyes were not glowing.  The green glow that had filled them, a mixture of the energy and flame that burned within him in life, was now absent, instead they stared back at her a rich brown Thauma had only seen the day he had died.

            She rushed forward, but was stopped by the cane intervening between them, keeping them just out of reach of one another.

            “You are not supposed to be here yet,” Hades told her.

            Thauma couldn’t think.

            “But…what…then why?”

            The fight with Evisceral Shadow came back to her in a rush.  She had felt the life drain from her, felt her hands tighten around the assassin’s throat.  All of the anguish she had felt in the years since Aaron’s death had come to her then, her will to live slipping with the lifeblood that spilled from her wounds.

            “You can’t give up,” Aaron told her.  “The world needs you.”

            Tears filled Thauma’s eyes.  “But I need you.”

            Aaron’s face melted into a look of heartbreaking sympathy.  “I am always with you.”

            Thauma shook her head.  “I don’t want to go back.  I can’t do it anymore.  There’s too much pain, too much loss.”

            “All part of life,” The lord of the afterlife told her.  “Even we gods cannot take that from you, for we feel it ourselves.  But there is strength to be gained from it.”

            Thauma was shaking her head.  “Please don’t make me go back.”

            “You must,” Hades said.  “You cannot remain here.  If you refuse to return to your life, you will be cast out of here for all eternity, for your body will die and your spirit will be trapped as one of the tortured souls that clings to the world as a ghost of what they were.”

            “Numina?” Thauma asked.

            Hades shook his head.  “No, that one defies me, though that is through sheer strength.  She is more powerful than most realize.  Her body is gone, but her spirit remains as cohesive as if it were not.  There will come a day when that will wain, then she will come to me as all others do.

            “No, if you refuse your fate will be as those trapped in the places you call Dark Astoria and Croatoa.  You will never have the chance to return.”

            “Please, Thauma, you have to go back.”

            Thauma looked into Aaron’s brown eyes.  The desire to hold him was almost overwhelming.

            “I am always with you,” Aaron repeated, letting her know it was alright for her to return.

            Thauma nodded slowly, tears streaming down her face.  She reached out towards Aaron, who reached for her in return.

            “You will see one another soon enough,” Hades said.

             Thauma’s fingertips almost touched Aarons as she faded from view, a cry of sadness filling the air, whether hers or his, she never knew.


*  *  *


            Her stomach was a fire of pain, the bright light hurt her eyes and head.   She was restrained in a bed, kept from moving.  A tube was snaked through her nose down her throat.  A constant beep filled the air from the heart monitor.

            Opening her eyes a crack, she found Skida sitting next to her bed, Celsius standing next to her.  Dr. Ward was overlooking the couple watching her, Emily Pinay standing next to him.

            Seeing Thauma’s eyes open Skida immediately burst into tears, standing from the chair and gently wrapping her arms around Thauma’s head.  Emily came over and joined Skida at Thauma’s side, her own tears flowing.  Even the stoic Celsius Bane, impenetrable tank of a man, seemed to be struggling with his emotions.

            “We thought we’d lost you, too,” Skida said.

            “How long?” Thauma asked, her voice rough, the tube in her throat making it difficult to speak.

            “Five days,” Dr. Ward said.

            “We didn’t think you were ever going to come back,” Emily said. 

            Thauma didn’t have the heart to tell them that she hadn’t wanted to.  Instead she simply closed her eyes again briefly.  When she opened them she noticed the large man standing at the back of the room, his face still covered in the visor that was part of his uniform.  Occam’s Razor had discovered that the Rogue Island Protector was the result of an Arachnos experiment to rival Crey’s Paragon Protectors, using the DNA of fallen or kidnapped superheroes as donors for cloning.  Arachnos had gone further, combining a multitude of DNA types in the Rogue Island Protector.  Thauma was one of the very few Onami members who knew the tightly kept secret identity of the donor that gave the villain his ability to control fire.  Another part of the DNA splicing was a similar strand to Occam’s Razor, making the Protector, in Razor’s mind, a fellow Drake, or half-dragon.

            Thauma nodded to the Protector, motioning him to her.

            “What are you doing here?”

            “Aside from being concerned?” The Rogue Island Protector asked.  “I was the one who warned your group of the attack.  Unfortunately it was not in sufficient time.  I arrived only in time to see the assassin injure you.  She escaped my grip, but she will die by my hands.”

            Thauma wanted to shake her head, say that enough people had died.  Fighting the sadness that filled her, she also realized she understood how Evisceral Shadow felt, even if her reaction and anger were misplaced.  Thauma had suffered a loss much as the stalker had, felt the same anger over it towards the Circle of Thorns that had stolen Aaron from her.  Try as she might, she simply could not hate the small woman who had wounded her.


*  *  *

            Even with the accelerated healing technology in the post-Rikti War world, it was weeks before Thauma Guard was released from the hospital.  At first there had been an almost constant stream of visitors, and though she had tried to put on a happy face for them, it was apparent that her experience had affected her, that her will to live was all but gone.

            “I was with him,” She whispered to Skida one night when the two were alone in her room.  “I could almost touch him.  It hurts so much right now that I can’t even describe it.  Even more than before, all I want is to be with him.”

            “He’s always with you,” Skida said. 

            “That’s what he told me.  Twice.  Hades said I would see him soon enough.”

            Skida nodded, not knowing what to say.

            Thauma sighed.  “I just don’t know what to do.  I don’t want to keep this up.  I can’t keep fighting, losing my friends.”

            “You don’t have to,” Skida said.  She kissed Thauma on the head and turned off the lights in Thauma’s hospital room on the way out.

*  *  *

            Shortly before her release Occam’s Razor came to Thauma Guard’s room.

            “I haven’t thanked you for helping us,” she told Razor.

            Occam’s Razor nodded, the concern in his face apparent even through the mane of hair that surrounded his face.

            “I wish to help you further.”

            Thauma sighed.

            “There’s not much anyone can do for me.”

            “You did not wish to come back to your life,” Razor said.  “That is apparent, though you have tried to hide it.  I do not know what occurred in your mind while you were gone, but I do know that while your body is almost healed, your soul is not.

            “I must travel to speak to the family of Occam’s Bow.  My ancestors, the Dragons, were not the creatures of fantasy that live in books today.  They were powerful beings who could travel between worlds.  Because I carry their blood I have this ability as well.  Occam’s Bow came from a land you would perhaps call Faerie.  I must pay my respects to her parents.  I would ask that you accompany me.”

            Thauma shook her head.

            “I don’t think I’m up for much traveling.”

            “The people I go to see will help you heal.  The wounds to your heart are deep, but can be healed.  Theirs is a place of peace, it will do you much good.”

            Thauma looked at the ceiling, thinking.  She shook her head slightly.

            Occam’s Razor looked sadly at the injured heroine.  Finally he added, “This will be difficult for the family of Occam’s Bow.  I would appreciate the company.”

*  *  *

            The wall had been repaired, only a faint outline of the damage done by the Rogue Island Protector was visible.  Since the attack every member of the Onami had made their way through Kings Row, seeking out Nightbringer and Solanum, thanking the members of the Nameless for the assist, telling them that the group believed Thauma Guard would now be dead had they not arrived to help.

Shadow Pain, Skida Marink, Celsius Bane, Voltech, and Occam’s Razor sat at the recently replaced conference table.  Thauma stood at the table’s head.

            “I’ve said goodbye to everyone I could get in touch with,” Thauma said.  “I don’t know how long we will be gone, or if I will even come back.  If I do, I don’t think I can come back to fighting anymore.”

            Only Voltech started to protest, saying that Thauma was an integral part of the Onami Strike Force.

            Thauma shook her head.  “I’ve lost too much.  I can’t do it anymore.  I know this city, the world, needs people to fight for it.  We’ve made a lot of strides against the downturn since the War.  My heart just can’t take it anymore.  It hurts too much.

            “Shadow Pain has kept the spirit of the Onami Strike Force alive.  I know we don’t work as well without Aaron as we did, but the heart of the Onami still exists.  Hold on to that, stand by one another.  The group will live without me.”

            There seemed much more to say, but the words seemed meaningless.   Thauma went around the room hugging her friends, saying goodbye.  Occam’s Razor stood and took her hand, the two walking towards the door to the office, fading from reality as they walked away.

            “She never thanked anyone for saving her life,” Voltech said.  His normal sarcastic nature was completely missing, the statement made in sad earnest.

            “That’s because she’s not thankful we did,” Skida said.  “It’s not that she’s not grateful for what we did.  She knows we did it because we love her.  She just doesn’t want to live anymore.”

            Voltech nodded, his hands in his pockets, staring at the floor.

            “So what do we do now?” he asked.

            “We keep fighting,” Shadow Pain said.  “There’s still a City out there that needs to be saved.”

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