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    Psirene quickly sped away from the scene; an enormous man-monster was running down the middle of Kings Row, throwing everything in its path and attempting to step on fleeing citizens.  When she was a safe distance away, she looked in the rear view mirror; the stampeding populace told her the monstrosity was still heading in her direction.

    “Fixit, where are you?”  she muttered.  She was reluctant to take on an otherworldly being on her own, especially in her condition.  Bianca knew she could handle four Skulls on her own; she had a pretty good idea as to their strengths and weaknesses, but this creature was an unknown variable, and had given no indication as to what it could do, if anything.

    Parking the car, she locked it up and proceeded carefully out to the main road, wanting to take a peek at the nightmarish being coming her way.

    The four members of The Nameless were closing in on their objective; a group of Tsoo who had knocked off the Museum of Antiquities.  The items in question had been taken from the Imperial China exhibit that was scheduled to open in three days.  With their theft made public, the Chinese government was outwardly calm, but off the record, the officials that had flown in from Beijing were furious.

    Xandria motioned for LiveWire and Vision to move behind some crates and wait for her signal, while she and Stingray would draw their initial attention.  Kirk, she knew, could use his teleportation to wreak havoc on the group of twelve Tsoo, doing quick strikes with his bamboo staff and getting out of the group without so much as suffering a hit.  While the others got into place, Xandria could not ignore the feeling that she had done this before, maybe a year or so back, but she quickly brushed the thought aside; they had business to attend to.

    The blonde did a quick mental scan; the Tsoo were too busy congratulating themselves over a case of cheap sake.  They were barely feeling the effects of the alcohol, but their senses were dulled enough, making a fight with them somewhat easier.

    She raised her hand to give the signal, when suddenly Kirk, with a muffled cry, dropped his quarterstaff and clutched his head.  The bamboo staff clattered loudly on the concrete floor, echoing loudly and destroying any chance of a surprise attack.

    The Tsoo, now aware they were not alone, drew whatever weapons they had and began to move in the direction of  Vision and LiveWire.

    We need to abort, Xandria projected to her husband.  This whole operation depended on Kirk’s teleportation, and without him, we’re toast.

    Xandria concentrated a moment, focussing her mind on the nearest Tsoo.  Slowly manipulating his energies, she began to slow him up and giving it to LiveWire and Kirk.   By the time the Asian gang saw the four heroes, they were too far away to do anything about them.

    Outside the warehouse, and in a safe location, Xandria contacted her Director at SERAPH.  Informing him of the location, and the likelihood the stolen artifacts would be moved almost immediately, she requested he get another team out to Talos Island as soon as possible.  When she completed the call, she turned her attention to Kirk, who still appeared to be in extreme pain.

    She attempted to enter his mind, but found herself drawing back.  Kirk’s mind was a veritable maelstrom of thoughts and images.  If she tried to psychically walk into such a chaotic state unprepared or unassisted, WhiteDiamond knew she would be putting herself at great risk.

    “I can’t see what’s wrong,” she admitted.  “We’ll need to get him to Dr. Collins.”

    With a quick adjustment to their medical transporter tags, the Nameless took their fallen comrade to Cygnus.

    As Solanum entered City Hall, she sighed deeply from exhaustion.  For some reason, she was tired mentally.  She wished Beguiler could be with her today, but he had business to attend to involving his ex-wife and his son.  Since Nocturne was not the sort to go parading around the streets of Paragon with her entourage of undead, it meant that Edward had to go to her lair, wherever it was.

    Adding to her exhaustion was the burden of having to take on a sidekick as part of a training program Statesman had instituted.  Concerns about too many potentially great heroes coming to untimely ends provided the impetus for the creation of the program.  However, Solanum had seen it more as Statesman’s way of cherry-picking heroes; protecting those whom he wanted for high-profile assignments like Longbow.  She even knew of  a few trainees who had surpassed those whom they had sidekicked with, getting security clearances in a matter of weeks where it took some heroes many months, sometimes years, to acquire.

    Maybe I should sabotage this one, she mused.  The Nameless could always use another member, or maybe Onami would like a new person to help fill the ranks.

    Wondering how she could persuade an up and coming hero to consider taking their career in a different direction, Solanum entered the training room.  The set-up reminded her of high-school; desks lined up in rows, a blackboard at one end, and unruly young people in their seats. 

    Laughing, joking, screaming, and even throwing objects, the new heroes seemed to pay no mind to the tall redhead who walked into the room, eyeing them all critically.  Solanum asked for the hero she was supposed to pick up, but she couldn’t even hear herself over the din. In fact, it seemed that her voice seemed to diminish in volume whenever she tried to speak, while any other noise was magnified.  A flash of intuition told her likely one of the novice heroes had the ability to manipulate sounds, which was followed by a flash of inspiration as to how she would get these newbies’ attention.

    Angered over the lack of respect, she flicked out the nails on her right hand and scraped them across the blackboard.  Sara’s intuition had been correct; a sonic manipulator was present in the room, and now the ghastly noise, greatly amplified, made all the heroes in the room cover their ears and instantly quieted them.
    “Good.  Now that I have your attention, I’m looking for someone.”  She smiled in somewhat perverse pleasure as the younger heroes rubbed their ears, groaning.  “The name is…”she looked at a slip of paper to emphasize how little she thought of this assignment, then read, “Faberge.”

    A tall, crystalline skinned woman stood up from the back of the room and walked towards Sara, who gave her a puzzled look.

    “Cassandra?”  she asked.

    The woman blinked in surprise.  “OH MY GOD!  Sara!  It’s you!”  she loudly exclaimed, and then grabbed Sara in a hearty embrace, a move that was met with salacious cheering from several of the men in the room.  Sara extended her claws again, and threatened to rake them across the board a second time if they did not cut it out, which they did.

    “How did you get here?  Since when did you get superpowers?”  Sara asked Cassandra, still genuinely baffled.  Cassandra Miller was a new model at the same agency that employed Sara and Xandria.  At first, Sara and Xandria had been suspicious of the sweet tempered, friendly girl who had been found, it was rumored, waiting tables in some roadside dive in Kansas.  But quickly they realized Cassie, as she liked to be called, was completely genuine with her feelings.  Sara had wondered what had happened to her when she and Xandria had run afoul of Thomas.  Now she knew.

    “I know, it’s so weird, isn’t it?”   Cassie exclaimed excitedly.  “I’ll tell you all about it on the way to our assignment.”

    As they left the room, Sara stammered an apology, but knew that Cassie possessed quite possibly the most forgiving nature of anyone who ever lived.  She sighed lightly, still wondering how another model from the same agency ended up with superpowers.  They could tap into a whole new market, she mused.

    “Come on, Solanum!”  called out Cassie.  She stood in anticipation with several other new heroes, anxious to get their first assignments.

    Smiling nervously, Sara joined her sidekick, hoping to shake the unsettling feeling around her.

    Nightbringer was upset.  Solanum was on another assignment, as were WhiteDiamond, LiveWire, Vision, and Stingray.  Psirene had called in, saying she was going to help Fixit and someone else with some creature she encountered in Kings Row.  His wife was meeting with Director Davies, Prismatic was en route, and Beguiler, whose empathic abilities worked wonders on animals, was nowhere to be found, nor could anyone get in touch with him.

    Out of nowhere that morning, a herd of twenty wooly mammoths appeared in  Constellation Row, right in the heart of Galaxy City.  The great beasts had stood around for a while, moving slowly through the area and foraging on the trees and bushes until some Hellions had begun shooting at them.  Terrified of the noises made by the guns, as well as the pain the bullets inflicted, the mammoths began to stampede, pushing everything out of their way that they could.   Bystanders who had gathered to look at the animals as they placidly grazed were now panic-stricken as they ran for their lives.

    Nightbringer had been out for a ride earlier that day when he got the call to come and assist.  Since Prismatic was the only one of The Nameless available, he had to call in a few others.  Liquid Chill flew around the herd, creating small ice slicks to keep them going in a particular direction, while his girlfriend, Lady Athena, used her force fields as bumpers over any objects the mammoths were heading towards.

    “Where are we guiding them?”  yelled Liquid Chill.

    “The curator from the zoo asked if we could get them to the pen they’ve set up in Perez Park!”  answered Nightbringer.   “I guess he wants to set them up as a new exhibit or something!”

    More gunfire erupted over the herd, causing them to surge forward once more in panic.

    Nightbringer saw  the Hellions responsible, and unleashed his dark power.  Of all the groups encountered in Paragon City, Nightbringer had a particular hatred for the Hellions.  They killed his family, which had led to him joining the Skulls, the Hellions’ rival gang.  Even after becoming a hero, his anger towards the group still ran deep.

  Thick, black tendrils wrapped around the Hellions, preventing them from using their firearms.   To ensure they wouldn’t try anything else, he summoned the shadows to swarm around them, keeping them rooted in place even further.

    With the Hellions bogged down until someone else could deal with them,  Nightbringer focussed his attention back to the mammoths, wishing once again that Beguiler was there.

    “I love what you’ve done with the place, my dear.”  Edward stated to Nocturne as he entered into the audience chamber of his ex-wife’s lair.  The zombie that had guided him through the maze of tunnels leading to this room shuffled off into a shadowy passageway.

    The self-styled Queen of the Dead smiled politely, a chilling smile, radiating no warmth to her guest.

    “It’s very you,” he added, looking at the chandelier, a macabre fixture made of skulls and reconfigured skeletons.  Edward returned his attention to his ex-wife, who was seated upon her throne, also made of several  reassembled skeletons.  In the eyesockets of each skull on her throne was a large ruby.    Edward couldn’t help but attempt to calculate the value of the stones.

    “I know you want more than just to complement my decorating skills, Edward,”  she finally said.  “So what do you want?”

    “I would like to see my son, Alyssa.”

    The zombie servants around Nocturne drew in a simultaneous breath.  None ever dared to so much as breathe their dark mistress’ given name.  However, they knew that Beguiler was not treated like any other guest.  At one point, he had been their Dark Lord.

    Nocturne’s cold features grew colder still.  She knew her son’s budding abilities hinted at great power; and Edward’s manipulative skills were without equal.  Nocturne stared impassively at her former husband, drumming her fingers along the arms of her throne.

    Out of nowhere, a gaunt, pale man with long black fingernails stood at Nocturne’s side.  Raising a hand to cover his mouth, he whispered words into her ear.  When he was finished, the indigo skinned necromancer nodded.

    “Very well.  I’m sure we can arrange for visitation,” she conceded.

    “At my house.”  Edward interjected.  “I would like the boy to see what the surface world is like, what it’s like to have a normal life.”

    “Normal?  There is no one in Tristan’s life who is ‘normal,’ dear husband.  How do I know that you won’t keep him with you?  Besides, I know Countess Crey hasn’t stopped in her search for you!  I’ll not risk my son to satisfy any guilt feelings you may have about your failings as his father!”  she snarled.

    Edward reached out with his mind and calmed her down.  Doing so with her, or anyone else, was as simple as breathing to him. 

    “What I meant to say, Nocturne, was that he might like to do some of the things boys his age like to do.  Run with his friends, flirt with girls, play video games, that sort of thing.  He can’t really do those down here with the dead, can he?”  he reasoned.

    Nocturne narrowed her eyes, two orange embers burning.  Her marriage to Edward had been passionate, tumultuous, and mercifully brief.  Tristan was the one good thing to have come out of it.  Despite her ruthless, evil nature, Nocturne was a most devoted mother, and went through great pains to see to it her son was safe.

    “If you think it’s something he would like, we can try it this weekend.  To be honest, he’s been wondering why he can’t spend more time with you.”  she sighed, the closest to admitting defeat she would ever come.

    Edward smiled.  “I know you always have his interests at heart, Nocturne.  Thank you.”

    “You can call me Alyssa, Edward.”

    Solanum and her new partner had stopped off at an outdoor bistro in Atlas Park for a quick break.  The pause also gave Sara the opportunity to find out what had happened to Cassie. 

    “It was weird.  I was in New York two days ago doing a Dianna DeMarco show.  Did you know she’s still pushing the superhero chic trend?”

    Sara nodded, her eyes closing in memory of the thought of the tasteless designer in fuschia spandex with gold lame cape the last time she had seen her. 

    “Anyway, I had just gotten done going down the catwalk with this,” she gestured to the black leather vest and pants she wore, “when this guy came up to me and introduced himself as Thomas.  He gave me a drink of something, and I started to feel sick.  I passed out, and when I came to, I looked like this.”

    Sara sat up and leaned forward.  “What was his name again?”

    “Thomas.  Why?  You know him?”  Cassie looked at Sara with wide-eyed innocence.

    “About six-four, black hair, black eyes, well-dressed?” 

    “Yeah, that sounds right.  Why?  Is there something wrong?  He was very nice.”

    Sara had her cell phone whipped out and called Nightbringer in one fluid motion.  Hearing it go to voice mail, she left a message.

    “Jon, it’s Sara.  Call me as soon as you get this.  It’s about Death’s Hand.”  She shut the phone and tucked it back into her pocket.

    “He’s the one responsible for making me who I am today.  But that’s only where it begins,”  Sara sighed heavily.  How could Thomas, who was almost certainly dead, come back and give The Serum to another model, she wondered.

    Her phone rang, and Sara answered it without looking.

    “Go,” she said.

    “Sara, it’s Xandria.  We had to take Kirk to Cygnus to see Dr. Collins.  Something’s wrong with him, and I can’t tell what it is.  I called Jon, but he’s busy taking care of some mammoth stampede in Galaxy City.”

    “Find out what you can at Cygnus, I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Sara replied, and then hung up.   She drummed pointed black nails on the polished wood tabletop, leaving small dents in the surface.

    “What’s wrong?”

    “A teammate had to go to the hospital.  Something weird, I’m told.”  The unsettling feeling was beginning to descend upon her again.

    The phone rang again, breaking her out of her reverie. 

    “Sara!  I’ve been trying to get in touch with you for hours!  Where have you been?”  came the familiar sounding voice on the other end.

    Solanum felt all the blood draining out of her face.  She suddenly felt dizzy, and could taste copper in her mouth as adrenaline flooded her system as she realized who she was talking to.  The voice on the other end was one she would never have expected to hear again.  Ever.

    “BlueDragon?  Impossible!  You’re dead!”  she whispered harshly.


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