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Vengeance 3: Flame War

An alarm blared in the Ziggurat. Guards rushed frantically about looking for the cause of the disturbance.

One turned a corner and fell instantly, the hole in his chest on fire.

"Red alert, we are at red alert. The prisoner has retrieved personal items."

The villain laughed at the message.

Guards charged in only to have some incinerated so the rest ran in terror. The villain proudly, smugly, walked out the front door.

"Longbow, a welcome test."

As vehicles moved in to deploy troops they found their tires melted, their intense speeds causing them to turn over and catch fire.

The villain flew off and chuckled as he heard the explosions of the fire reaching gas tanks.

"Now... where were those old friends of mine?"

--------------------

A group of people snuck into a ruined building, carefully watching for approaching heroes.

As they entered they heard quick snatches of conversation.

"-heard he was dead but-"

"-and he broke out through the front door!"

"-way outta his league. Shoulda let me l-"

Eventually a man in red and black armor walked up to a small stage, his cape flying behind him. His helmet gleaming even in the dull light, he looked around at the crowd.

"Welcome, my Legion of the Black Flame. Minor setbacks have occ-"

"Minor?!" one Hellion shouted. "We were thrashed, you were roasted, then you somehow come back just to get thrown in jail! Which my cousin said you died in! What the hell is your definition of large?"

Project Heat Seeker reached out his hand and the energies of the man were sucked from him. He fell to the ground, his skin gray.

"As you can see the medics of the Ziggurat are very practiced in resurrections. I also was able to upgrade my armor for some more..." he incinerated the corpse, "capabilities. We have too much vengeance to take for you to question my leadership. Either you are with me or you burn. Take your pick."

--------------------

"In other news, the Hellions crime, especially arson, rate has gone down. Have the villains turned over a new leaf? The story at ten."

The TV clicked off. "Yeah right," said Burning. "The day they change sides is the day... well... never."

Jack chuckled. "The news is right though. The reported crime has gone down for the most part. Hellions were a good place to start with for information. Now it seems too hard to find 'em!"

"Bet the Skulls are happy," said Johnny, walking through the room with a box of pizza. He plopped down on the couch and set his legs on the table as he opened the box. "So's the badge crazy. I've never heard, 'Kill Skuls!' so much in my life."

The heroes didn't realize that the greater the calm the larger the coming storm.

------------------

Battalion and Frost Fire stood in front of Project Heat Seeker, each had their eyes filled with hate.

"Listen buddy, you've been taking our men over to your group and we don't appreciate it. You better disband before you get hurt," said the Hellion leader.

Seeker chuckled. "Why are you here? You're not the Hellion's real leader."

"I'm here on behalf of the three D's. They don't wanna waste their time with a punk like you."

"So the Hellion leaders fear me. This will make absorbing them into the Legion much easier."

Battalion’s hands lit. "They don't fear nu-"

"Shut up!" cried Frost Fire. "Your Damned losses are much less than that of my Scorchers. I want to talk to your so called 'Legion' to show my men the Outcasts are much better than following some moron like you."

"Another mere representative. Do either of your bosses TRUELY take me seriously?"

"Listen you, I'm the leader of the Hollows Outcasts, that means you show me RESPECT!"

Frost Fire's hands became encased in blocks of ice. He pulled back to swing when Seeker placed a hand on his forehead.

Wispy blue smoke snaked from the Outcast into Seeker. When he swung the attack was sluggish and Heat easily sidestepped it.

He delivered a quick punch that sent the man to the floor. He then turned to Battalion. "Well?"

The Hellion got on his knees.

--------------------------

As the Masters of Mayhem left the base to accomplish new schemes, Ruby Blade and Nictus Brawler went to visit an old contact in Port Oakes.

"You said you wanted to talk with us?" asked Ruby Blade.

"Actually I did. There's a highly valuable artifact holed up in a Circle of Thorns base. If you can stealth in and retrieve it, then I'll split the pay seventy-thirty. You two being the seventy of course."

"It has that much value, human?" said Nictus. He knew the greed of humans, especially this one.

The broker nodded excitedly. "Take this, it has the locations of the base. Find me when you got the artifact."

The two turned to leave. As Nictus Brawler teleported using shadowy paths, Ruby Blade sped at high speeds.

They reached the base in a matter of minutes, a large warehouse.

"This is odd, normally these humans seek underground lairs," commented Nictus.

"It doesn't matter. We'll do the normal theft plan. I'll grab the item, then teleport me back to the entrance."

They entered the large office building and were surprised to see the first hallway empty. Normally there would be a crowd of mystics there, actively looking for anyone to try to stop them.

Ruby Blade cautiously walked through, eyes seeking traps.

The entire first floor held no enemies. Nictus Brawler felt the other villain's concern through a mental link. He began to ponder this new level of foolishness humans showed.

As the stealthy villain entered the third floor he saw the secretary's desk. There was a large businessman's chair facing the window.

Sneaking up to the chair, he turned it and held his sword in front of the occupant's throat.

He stumbled back in surprise to see it was Project Heat Seeker, not a Circle mystic.

He pointed an accusing finger. "You! You are dead!"

Seeker stood up and chuckled. "One rule about our line of business is they aren't dead unless you see a body. Hell, even then you can't be sure with how many times Nemesis has 'died.'"

Ruby Blade swung his sword to cut the villain down before he had a chance to explain this resurrection.

Seeker stopped the blade with his forearm, the armor not even scratching.

"But unlike Nemesis, I am much stronger." He raised an open palm to Blade. He drained just enough energy to make Ruby's legs shake, but not for him to lose all strength at once.

Not yet.

"And I have regained control of my followers!" he said happily. Legion members emerged from the many doors of the room.

Ruby raised his sword, ready to attack. That drain had taken so much out of him though...

As one charged, he slashed. But instead of cutting the man through like he would normally, he simply created a gash.

The large man landed a right hook to Ruby's jaw. Whatever Seeker did had made him more sluggish.

He kicked the man off only to be tackled by the other dozen members, landing hard on the desk. As he kicked and struggled with what little strength he had yet, he saw Seeker looming over him, obviously preparing to gloat.

He raised a flaming hand to burn Blade. Struggling, Ruby ripped a hand free and waved it in front of the man's face.

Forgetting what he was doing, the ball dropped and one of the Legion caught fire. He kicked as he patted wildly at the flames. The sudden distraction was just enough for Ruby to break free.

He turned to the large window and leapt out. Port me! Port me NOW!" he mentally screamed to Nictus.

As he was about to touch the ground he appeared at the ground floor of the office where already footsteps were thundering towards them. A wall of flame turned the corner and sped towards them.

"What is happening?" questioned Nictus.

"No time."

With that the two fled the building.

---------------

Ruby Blade and Nictus Brawler ran for the base portal. As their surroundings changed to the inside of the Masters of Mayhem base, the two went to find Elitist.

They found him huddled over a computer terminal. That's all he seemed to do lately, scheme.

"Elitist," called Ruby. The man turned to see what the two wanted. "I do not know whether or not Harlequin gave you all of the details of our escape, but in the process we killed Project Heat Seeker as a distraction."

"Survival of the fittest, nothing more. But why just now tell me? What's going on?" he demanded.

"Our broker just sent us into a trap. The human sent us to battle Heat Seeker and his followers. It would seem that the resurrectors of the Ziggurat found him quickly enough to save him," Nictus said.

"Interesting, but why should I be concerned? Because he is gathering the thugs of minor gangs? They would be no match for us, unless he has something more planned than a simple raid, we have nothing to fear."

"Which is your way of telling us we should investigate his plans," said Ruby.

"Then why are you still standing there?"

The two turned and left.

Elitist ran a search on Heat Seeker's past. "What could he have planned?"

--------------------

Hyper-Man looked at the news reports on the computer terminal. 'Hellions Gone Good?' and 'Is the Fire Out?' were the two he looked back at the most often. "They must be working on something, but they would never be able to keep quiet for so long. Maybe we should interrogate some of the Warriors or..."

The hero sat back in his chair to think when Johnny Velocity rushed in with another box of pizza, Super Shard running behind him. "Give it back, or give me the money at least!" he yelled. He fired a blast of ice onto the floor, making the hero slip and the box fly into the air.

As Jack walked in it landed open on his head and the cheese slid down his face. "Great, and I had a date tonight to." With a sigh he turned back to his room.

As Hyper chuckled at the whole scene, a new alert flashed across his screen. As the local news channel's live feed displayed pictures of Hellions breaking into a Portal Corp. building with torches and gas cans. Not just Hellions though, Outcasts and a few villains recently escaped from the Ziggurat.

"C'mon 'Kickers, let’s move!"

----------------

In Peregrine Island, the Buttkickers of the Fantastic flew, ran, teleported, and jumped to the smoking building.

They ran past screaming scientists who kept crying for the heroes to save their work first.

Jack charged forward and broke down the door, the rushing heat from the flames making him stagger back. He coughed from the smoke and warned the 'Kickers before going in to make sure the coast was clear.

With a wave from Jack the heroes entered. Shard quickly started to put out the fires with blasts of ice as Burning read a water scroll.

"Vi, you, Java, and Chris see if there are any more people trapped in this building. Jack, JV, and I will find the person leading these guys. Shard, Burning, keep that up. "Blank, I need you to take Phantom, Woot, Otsob, and Dillinger to clear the everyone out of this place. Let's go everyone!"

The heroes split up and went in different directions. Burning finished reading his scroll and a wave rushed through the main hall. When the water had been absorbed into the floor, the front fires had been put out, and the paper was blank. He turned to see a very soaked Shard glaring angrily.

Burning shrugged as they moved deeper in.

It didn't take long for Blank's group to find a group of Hellions cheering as one threw oil down and an Outcast made it explode.

The group turned to see the heroes enter and a uniquely costumed villain stepped forward. She noticed they were ready for a fight. "Heya boys, name's Pyra. What's shakin'?" Her eyes lit and she sped into the group, hands whirling madly as she gathered the flames of the room around her in a protective shield.

Blank leapt back, firing blasts of energy as Phantom worked to find what illusion would keep her terrified long enough for her capture. Woot, Otsob, and Dill all worked to divide her attention. As her energetic fists worked hard to down them, she felt a dull thud through her shield from the blows.

Blank saw her friends rushed forward and quickly dropped down into the group. With a burst of light and sound, the men were sent flying.

Violet let her decoys lead. Any villains would think they were more heroes and attack them first. Chris was right behind the decoy heroes, eyes open for any trouble. Next came Java and Violet herself.

"Did you hear that?" asked Violet, her sensitive, cat-like ears picking up a sound.

"No, what was it?" asked Java. They got a little closer and he began to hear it, someone crying for help.

"This way!" yelled Vi. The two followed her as she ran down a hall. "There's a scientist trapped over here."

The two ran into a room filled with burning equipment. "Help, help!" came a cry from the back.

The group carefully moved around the flames. They saw a man in a lab coat in the back.

"Are you hurt?" called Java.

"No, no; I'm fine," said the scientist. He ripped off his lab-coat, revealing a leather jacket. The man's black and red hair fell back as he stepped through the flames he had been 'trapped' in. "You could say I'm doin' great!" He grinned as he threw a blast of fire at the heroes.

Chris took it without flinching as the other two leapt out of the way. Chris ran forward and swung, but the man was gone. He had teleported behind the man and threw a blast at Java. It hit him hard, but he quickly returned with an energy blast. The villain was flung back, but before the hero could fire a second blast, the villain had teleported again.

Violet was ready and her Phantasm fired hard and fast. The villain dropped onto the ground and under the fire. He punched Violet in the stomach and she was set aflame.

"Name's Torcher, get it?" He laughed as she dropped on the ground and rolled frantically.

"Hold on!" yelled Chris, punching in the glass case of a fire extinguisher. Java grabbed it and ran over to Violet.

He sprayed her with the foam as Chris leapt over the pair and onto Torcher. He gripped the man's jacket collar and glared down. "Who's leading this raid?"

The man's eyes drifted to the side, almost as if he were listening to something. "Sorry, dude. Gotta go!"

Chris's fist slammed down but Torcher had already disappeared.

"C'mon boys, it's nothing to get so angry about." As a Phantasm and Blank raised their arms to fire, Pyra stepped back. "Are you really gonna kill me over this?"

"Nope, just send you back to jail for a loooong time," said Otsob.

There was a flash behind the heroes, then again next to Pyra. Torcher kissed her on the cheek and said, "Hey babe, missed me?"

"'Course. Mind giving me a hand?"

He grabbed her arm and her shield surged to him. His other arm was aimed at the heroes, and an intense stream of fire coursed at them.

Jack kicked down a door.

"Pizza man!" yelled Johnny, speeding inside. He zipped around the room for a minute before stopping in front of Hyper. "Nobody's here..."

"I wouldn't say that," said a voice from above. Hyper raised his arm to fire but felt his strength suddenly disappear. He kneeled for a moment as Jack leapt into the air.

Johnny began to run forward but he felt sluggish, a real first for him since he had gotten his abilities.

Jack grabbed at an ankle, but the man zipped away as fast as Johnny.

He dropped down on the floor and surprised them. "I hope you enjoyed the show. Consider this raid a warning, stay out of our way."

Project Heat Seeker threw a blast of fire, enhanced by draining some of Hyper's power.

He ran over to a computer and placed a hand on it. A panel flipped up on his wrist and with a voice command, he and the device were gone.

Torcher seemed to be listening to something again. "Time to go, babe."

With a flash the two were gone.

The 'Kickers regrouped outside to attempt to catch the must be coming rush of who they now realized were Legion members.

When none came, Shard slapped a hand to his forehead. "They rigged a portal to their base!"

"If they did, it's inactive now," said Hyper. "Let's head back to the base, we have some work to do."

----------------

Ruby Blade sat cross-legged in front of a burning building. "How many Hellions have we killed?"

"Humans..." Nictus said, annoyed at their lesser memory. He thought for a moment. "Almost seventy... in the last hour."

"And the only information we find is that Project Heat Seeker is the one in charge. They could give us that, but not one location of a base." Ruby Blade stood in disgust as he wiped the blood off his sword. "These lowly gangs are tiring my patience.

Nictus looked at the sky, almost as if he were speaking to someone. "I believe we should try Paragon City, where the Hellions are much more... plenty. We could also interrogate the Outcasts."

"Ah, but where do we start? Certainly not Atlas Park, not anymore. Ever since the more able heroes began living there, instead of just the weaker new ones, infiltrating there has become much more difficult."

"I was thinking of Steel Canyon."

"Through Siren's Call? There are far too many Longbow and Police Drones for that."

"I could get us in there easily."

"How is that?"

"Simple, they are only humans."

---------------------

Ruby Blade silently leapt across the Siren's Call rooftops, Nictus Brawler teleporting ahead of him.

A hero stepped forward and challenged the Kheldian. As Nictus flew away, he yelled angry curses about cowardly villains when a sword pierced his chest. The man collapsed on the ground.

Ruby stopped for a moment to admire the medi-porter he had stolen from him. One less hero for Paragon City it would seem.

Nictus teleported just over the hero base. With the signal from Ruby Blade, he carefully let himself fall, then teleport in the corner of the gate.

The S.W.A.T. guards cried out in alarm, but were quickly silenced by a gemstone sword.

The two villains casually walked through the gate into Steel Canyon.

----------------------

Torcher walked along the base, the building mostly arcane in style, but with a few technological items for those less mystically inclined.

He saw Pyra leaning against a wall, staring at a rotating ball and ring object. He teleported next to her and planted a kiss on her cheek. "Hey, babe."

She playfully pushed him away and began to run. He teleported ahead of her and she'd run back the other way, just for him to port in front another time. It became something like you'd see in baseball.

Project Heat Seeker coughed loudly and the two stopped their game.

"There will be time for fun after our enemies are destroyed. For now we plan our attacks. We have made ourselves known and revealed our strength."

Another costumed villain walked down the hall. "Hey, boss. Do you know where the jet boots' thrusters are?"

"In the lab. Dare I ask why, Techno-Flame?"

"Err... probably shouldn't, just because I don't think you wanna know how I'm using them to build that thing you wanted."

----------------------

Heat Seeker walked into the lab, long after Techno-Flame had left. The place was a mess. There were tools and wires everywhere.

"A mad genius, but maybe the most unorganized villain I have ever met." There was an ex-Hellion walked outside. Project Heat Seeker reached his hand out to the man and stole his speed.

As the minor thug stumbled around with his slow movement, Seeker sped through the room and had it cleaned in only a few seconds.

He walked down the hallway, inspecting the rooms behind open doors. He heard the sounds of Pyra and Torcher making out in one room, and the sounds of Techno-Flame's mad hammering.

The latter was the room the villain leader entered. "And how is it coming along?" he asked.

The madman almost seemed startled by his leader's entrance. "It's almost ready... a few more adjustments to the power augmenter and it should all be perfect."

"Good, good. I want it ready for the final assault. We strike in only two weeks."

***

Three Hellions were joking in the woods of Perez Park. One lit a joint with his finger and breathed heavily. "Those things aren't good for you, dude," said the second.

The first replied, "Shut up, it won't kill me."

"This will." A sword made of rubies thrust through man's throat.

Nictus Brawler suddenly appeared behind the second and broke his neck with a quick flick of his hands.

The two turned on the third Hellion who was chuckling. "Now was that necessary?" he said pointing to the smoker.

"He would have had a hole in his neck eventually anyway," Ruby replied with a grin.

"Too true. So you wanted info on who's been recruiting away these fire gang members?"

"We already know who it is. We want to know what he is up to. I know you're a double-agent for the Hellions, human," said Nictus.

"Hehe, you should watch what you mind read. My prices rise for forced acquisitions. His plan is mostly hush-hush. We do know he's going to attack the Masters of Mayhem, but what he hopes to find beats me."

"And?" said Ruby. He knew there had to be more.

"Well I know he plans to do some reputation damage to... what are they called... my memory escapes me at the moment."

Ruby Blade pointed his sword tip at the man's throat and Nictus Brawler let the Nicti energy in his hands gather.

"Alright, alright. He wants to do something worse than destroy those heroes. He wants to make Paragon City lose respect for 'em."

"Who?" asked Ruby.

"I dunno... Butter Snickers of the Fantastic or something."

-------------------------

The 'Kickers went into a deep and uneventful sleep.

The next morning, Hyper-Man ran several checks through the computer. He was searching for news reports while simultaneously following leads he had gotten from Hellions and Outcasts.

It wasn't long before a news station showed a very disturbing report.

"Last night, the city saw a terrible tragedy that always strikes deep into our hearts. Heroes have fallen to villainous ways."

Hyper-Man was about to minimize the window when he saw himself blasting a policeman. His eyes widened and he turned up the volume. He pressed the siren once, an alert to get the 'Kickers running into the control room.

He paused the feed as everyone ran inside.

"What's the matter, Hyp?" asked Johnny.

"This." Hyp started the tape again, and Johnny was seen keeping three cops knocked up in the air with a whirlwind spin.

"What the-"

The camera feed switched to Jack and Chris busting down the bank door as Burning incinerated the cops rushing in to stop them.

All of the 'Kickers mouths went wide as they watched themselves. Violet and Phantom sent citizens running, screaming off their heads in terror from horrible illusions.

The nighttime sky grew foggy as Super Shard froze the fleeing citizens in place and Otsob and Woot Wing ran in to shatter them.

The picture showed several different security camera feeds and every 'Kicker present saw themselves doing things they swear they never did.

"This is bad, really, really bad," Hyper muttered as he typed a few commands.

"Just pull the security camera recording from our base, that'll prove us innocent," said Jack.

Hyper pulled up the first empty room, bed sheets thrown to the floor. The second was the same. Third, fourth, fifth, all of them were empty.

He rewound the tape to where Jack was lying down. It suddenly went black for a few seconds, and then he was gone.

Hyper was about to type in a few more commands when the base power went down.

He hit his head on the keyboard. Burning paced back and forth, trying to figure out how none of the magical defenses didn't go off. He then thought about Danica and Pstorm. The police were coming and he had to tell them what was happening. As Longbow came in to take the 'Kickers in for questioning, they noticed one was missing on the head count.

Burning Brawler was gone.

-----------------------------

Project Heat Seeker sat around a table with his lieutenants. Pyra, Torcher, Techno Flame, The Immolator, and Mystillumin.

They clanged wine glasses together in a toast as they watched the news report showing the 'Kickers being led away by Longbow.

"Techno, between your automatons and Mystillumin's illusions, the plan went perfectly," said Seeker. He turned back to the screen to watch the news report

"-but it seems one, Burning Brawler, has evaded the police."

Seeker spat out the wine he had been drinking. He turned to the screen where an image of the hero was behind the news anchors head. He angrily threw the glass to the ground, shattering it.

"It's one hero, boss. Chill out," said Torcher.

In the blink of an eye Seeker was gripping his throat, flames slowly, dangerously coming towards Torcher.

"This 'one hero' can cause us many problems. Don't forget that." He rubbed his eyes in frustration before releasing Torcher, the flames centimeters from his neck. Seeker placed his helmet back on. "He is likely seeking out his family. We will catch him and we shall destroy him."

***

Burning had cast a spell of invisibility on himself and felt relatively secure as he flew between alleys and streets. He had to make it to his apartment first, where Danica would be waiting... no, they would definitely head there first.

Rachel! She could relay the message.

But how could he get there without being caught? He would just have to try getting through one of the public portals.

He flew between the buildings of Steel Canyon, watching the Longbow patrols nearby.

He saw the statue ahead. He was almost at the portal when he could here a Longbow officer conversing with Positron.

"I'll keep an eye out for him," said the Phalanx hero. "But I don't understand how an entire group of heroes all turned rogue. It makes no logical sense."

"It is disturbing, but it seems a reality," said the officer before flying off in the direction of Burning's apartment building.

He sighed and entered the portal.

The 'Kickers Kids base was quiet, which was odd to Burning because most times he was there, everyone was running all over.

He found Pstorm's room and knocked.

She opened the door, then hurriedly pulled him inside.

"Longbow was already here. They told us to stay in our rooms." Pstorm waved her hands for a moment, and lightning crackled.

"What was that for?"

"Disabling the bugging devices around the building for a few minutes. But what happened?"

"Relay this to your mother." Pstorm nodded and placed both hands to her temples. "We didn't do it. It must be a plan of the Legion. The news report and security cameras somehow had recordings of us breaking into and robbing the bank, including killing policemen and terrorizing people. I'm going to find the 'Kickers and hopefully get them away before they are sent to the Zig, if they haven't gotten themselves away already."

Pstorm nodded, and Danica heard the message. She was being questioned by Longbow, and the second her eyebrows rose, she stopped paying attention.

"Ma'am?"

"Huh, oh. Sorry. What was that again?"

"I asked if you had seen or heard from your husband in the last twelve hours."

"No," she lied. The detector didn't register the fib, and her ability to cover her thoughts made it impossible for the psychic reader to detect the conversation and lie.

"Ok, that'll be all. Tell us if you see him."

She nodded and walked back to her room.

When they left, she hurried to put on her improved costume.

-----------------------------------------

Burning Brawler flew through Dark Astoria. He knew it would be the best place to perform this spell uninterrupted.

He landed on a rooftop and sat cross-legged. Closing his eyes, he began to murmur the incantation.

He saw the trucks carrying the 'Kickers to the Ziggurat. He knew that some of the others were planning escapes and investigations of their own, so he had to work fast.

The Longbow agent heard static on his communicator. He picked it up and said, "What was that?"

He heard the voice of his commander. "I said, take the prisoners back to the base, and leave them enough power to use the super computer."

"Sir, with all due respect, I don't think-"

"You're not supposed to think. That was an order, now follow it."

The agent grumbled as he relayed the orders to the other trucks.

***

Danica placed on the small, black mask and inspected herself in the mirror.

She wore her new costume. Red was the dominant color, except for the black along the edges of her arms, legs, side, and cape, with spikes curving down. She kept her old red belt, and sharpened her heels to be like that of her old costume.

She ran over to the door and opened to see Heat Seeker waiting for her. "Can I come in?"

Danica hurriedly slammed the door and heard a fireball smash against it.

She ran towards the window, when she heard the sound of a flamethrower. The door came down, and a large man in heavy armor walked in. His glowing orange eyes narrowed. He had a twisted grin on his scarred face as he said, "Pleased to meet ya. Name's The Immolator, and I'm here to kick ass and chew-"

"Don't tell me you were about to say that," said Torcher. He teleported and reappeared in front of Danica. "Going so soon? The party's just getting started!" He grabbed her arms and flames surged.

The Immolator grumbled something, but cheered up when he began to burn the apartment, swinging his flamethrower left and right to make sure he got all of it.

Pyra leapt through a nearby window. "What a dump."

Danica grabbed Torcher with her free hand and flung him into Pyra, sending them both out the window.

A man in purple robes with orange flames rose, Pyra in hand. She leapt back through the window as conjured illusory villains.

Torcher teleported back in. "That was cheap."

He and the robed man both let out searing blast of heat as Pyra rushed in.

Techno-Flame stood beside Heat Seeker. "At this rate, they'll kill her."

"Don't be so sure," said Seeker.

As Pyra swung, Danica ducked and delivered a double-palm strike to her stomach. Pyra doubled over, and groaned in pain.

Torcher angrily teleported in front of Danica and threw a fireball in her face. He realized his mistake as she cried out and grabbed his ears.

Danica pulled him down by the ears onto her leg, and Torcher yelled as his nose broke.

He fell on the ground, clutching his bleeding face, when Seeker held out his palm. "That is enough," he said as Danica moved in to finish the pair. She began to bring her leg down on his head, but felt sluggish. She fell over, suddenly feeling too weak to stand.

A bright flash from Mystillumin made everything white, then for her, black.

------------------------------

Heat Seeker paced around the conference table, waiting for his lieutenant's report.

As Mystillumin walked in, he turned to hear what he had to say. "Sir, I have... interesting... news..."

"Yes?"

"The prisoner has many protections on her, all focused on a single part of her, and one illusion."

"Well? What is it?" Seeker was becoming impatient. He knew Danica could break out if the proper measures were not taken.

"She's... she's pregnant, Sir."

Seeker's jaw dropped, and he removed his helmet. "What was that?"

"The prisoner is pregnant. Perhaps... five, six months? It took me some time to figure out the purpose of some of the charms cast on her, until I removed the illusion. I'm willing to wager she was not willing to quit hero work, and her husband cast spells to keep the baby intact during any fights," said the magus.

"So when we attacked her-"

"The baby was completely unharmed."

"Good. I wish to end the brat personally."

Mystillumin's eyes grew wide. He had committed many murders, but this went beyond what morals he had left. "Sir, I'm afraid I cannot let you do that. Such an act... it goes beyond villainy-"

"Silence, or you shall be a pile of ash on the floor!"

Mystillumin held his arms out, standing between Heat Seeker and the prison. "I shall not let you pass!" he declared.

"Then you die!" Seeker hissed. He threw a blast at the mage's face, but it passed right through him. The villain whirled around to see a dozen copies, all forming a chain around him.

Seeker placed his hands on the ground, and sent a pulse of flame that was sure to hit him.

When they were still untouched, he continued turning, try to find the real mage.

A blast of flame erupted from each copy's hand, and struck Heat. He growled in rage as sensors on his armor registered thermal overloads. He snapped his helmet back on and switched to thermal vision.

He saw Mystillumin hovering near the ceiling. Seeker stretched out his hand, and stole some of the mage's energy before leaping into the air to hit him with a blow that sent the mage tumbling to the ground.

Seeker landed down beside him, and began draining more power, when Mystillumin filled the room with a bright flash of heated light.

The villain was blinded, and cried out in pain. "Pyra, Torcher, Techno, Immolator! Report to the conference room! Security breach!" he screamed. His call echoed over the intercoms, and soon the four flame-wielding villains were in the room.

They saw their boss fighting one of their own, and were confused at first. Mystillumin used this to his advantage by convincing creating an illusion.

Suddenly they saw their boss was losing to himself. They figured since Seeker’ activated the alarms, the one winning was the intruder, and attacked.

As he was hit by fiery blast, fist, and flamethrower, he cried out, "Not me you fools! Him!!!"

Torcher's eyes widened. "Boss? Crap... Sorry?"

"Just shut up and kill the traitor!" Seeker spat.

"What traitor?" asked Techno. They looked where Mystillumin had been a moment before.

He was gone.

The mage was running below, to the prison section. He found Danica, held down with power dampener cuffs.

"What do you want?" she said, anger clear.

"I'm here to free you. I-I've made a horrible mistake," he said.

"Like I'm gonna fall for that," said Danica.

He held out his hands, and the cuffs sprung open. The cell door opened.

Danica slowly stood. "Y-you're serious, aren't you?" she said, never taking her eyes off him as she walked out.

Mystillumin nodded. "It won't be long until we're discovered. Follow me."

He held out a hand and a secret passageway opened, one that led to the base portal exit. It was just large enough for a person to walk through if they bent their head.

And the two made their escape.

-----------------------------

A woman walked into the 'Kickers base and was stopped by a group of Longbow guards. "What's going on?" she said.

"These heroes are under base arrest until an investigation can be completed."

"What? What are you talking about?" She pushed past them, shaking her head.

"Miss, stop!" ordered the guard, but she was already gone.

The woman ran down the hall, and ducked into a room to avoid the guards.

"What on earth is going on..."

***

Burning flew through the streets. He had to find someone, someone who could help his friends, prove they're innocent...

Ms. Liberty! But he couldn't go there in broad daylight... or at least... not dressed like he is.

He quickly flew towards Atlas Park, casting a disguise spell.

He exited the tram in a blue suit with red flames, and instead of a hood, goggles and his blonde hair showing.

He flew over to Ms. Liberty who was for once not surrounded by heroes looking for more than training.

He walked up to her, and looked around. "Excuse me, Ms. Liberty, we have to talk."

"Sorry, I don't just give out my phone number."

"No! It's not that, I-"

He suddenly noticed she was staring very hard at him. Her eyes went wide, and he saw her ready to strike.

"Wait!" he said.

"I can see right through that spell. You must have a good reason for risking your neck like this, so I'll give you the count of five before I knock you to the top of Atlas."

"Listen, my friends didn't do it. It's a villain plot."

"Time's up!" She swung and knocked Burning down to the steps. The disguise faded and he slowly sat up.

"If you'll just-" She planted a boot on his chest.

"For some reason my lie detectors aren't going off, and grandpa told me about your part in the Rikti War. All of it." Burning winced a little, not sure if this was in his favor or not, not to mention Ms. Liberty seemed to sharpen her heels just as much as Danica. "So I'm going to give you a chance here. I'll send orders to let Longbow put your friends on a sort of parole. But you have three days to catch whoever you say did it."

She removed her boot and Burning was about to say his thanks when he heard a click. He looked down at his wrist, and the device on it.

"What-"

"It's a very strong alloy. I wouldn't try melting it. You and you're friends are each having one of these placed on you. If you don't find these 'villains', then they bracelets will teleport you straight into the Zig. Are we clear?"

Burning nodded, and flew off, not hearing Ms. Liberty's whispered, "Good luck."

***

Mystillumin and Danica re-emerged in Mercy Isle.

"Listen, we have to move fast. There's a truck that takes a lot of villains to Atlas Park. You should be safe once in Paragon," he said, nervously looking around.

"What about you?" said Danica. "You're coming to, right?"

"I can't, Paragon City... I don't belong there."

"You stay here, and they'll kill you," Danica said. "Listen, I'll tell Longbow what you did for me, prove you're reformed. You can live in Paragon City like any other hero."

"It'll never- I couldn-" he sighed. "Why do you think that?"

"Because my husband did it."

Mystillumin looked off to the side, as if considering running. "Alright, I'll do it."

Danica nodded, and the two ran for their escape.

-----------------------

Day one.

A Longbow Officer walked over to Hyper-Man. They had been informed of the situation, and each of the heroes wore the same metal brace on their wrists.

Hyper nodded and turned to the other heroes as Burning entered the room. "Alright, you heard them, let's move."

The heroes stood, some heading to the teleporters to gather info while others moved to control stations as the power flickered back on.

Hyper pulled Burning over, who was about to head out. "Listen, I understand you wanted to warn your family. You're lucky they aren't taking you in now for resisting arrest."

"I know, Hyp."

He nodded and walked over to the control room.

***

Danica and Mystillumin looked around Independence Port. "Follow me," she said, leading him to the base portal.

They reappeared in the 'Kickers base, and alarms blared.

Hyper and Shard quickly ran up to the portal, but stopped when they saw Danica had already 'caught' the villain.

"It's alright, he helped me," she said.

"What do you mean? He's one of the reasons we're in this whole mess!" said Shard.

"I apologize. I had no idea, or, I mean, I didn't think Seeker was capable of..." The mystic was at a loss for words.

"Apparently, Heat was about to go too far, so he helped me escape," explained Danica.

"Wait, so you can testify for us?" asked Hyper.

Mystillumin nodded.

***

Heat Seeker paced back and forth. "This is bad. Very bad. That fool could undo everything!"

He turned to Torcher who boredly tossed a fireball like a toy.

"Do you understand what this MEANS?!" he yelled.

"What? You sayin' something, boss?"

"Ugh. I'm surrounded by IDIOTS!"

He was furious. Everything had been going as planned, and he was ready to attack The Masters. Without Mystillumin, his plans were not enough. His illusions were necessary to overwhelm the villains.

"No matter... we're going to proceed as planned! Get the men ready!" he ordered.

--------------------------

Blightlord sat in his large, ornate chair in the base, observing his mirror.

Images flashed of his fellow Masters of Mayhem. It was important to keep an eye on them, watch what they're planning.

As an image of Elitist came into view, he was looking over the computer.

Blightlord saw him type a command, and the Masters' communicators beeped. It was a signal to meet in the Control Center.

Blightlord considered sending Grime, but something about the way Elitist was pacing made him wonder exactly what was going on.

A few moments later, the Masters were waiting for Elitist to explain.

"Ruby Blade and Nictus Brawler have just come back from gathering information in Paragon City," he said. "It seems Project Heat Seeker has been working to eliminate the Buttkickers of the Fantastic, but he has also sent us a challenge, one we will accept, and crush him and his pitiful group of thugs."

"You of course know this is a trap," said Blightlord.

"That is why your undead will be leading the front," he said.

Blightlord's fist clenched as he attempted to manage a grin. "But of course..."

Elitist typed the codes in, and motioned for everyone to enter the teleporters.

They stepped inside in groups of threes, and in a moment, the Masters were inside an underground base, filled with wide stone tunnels.

Torches provided the only light, and the sound of water dripping from the ceiling echoed.

A few uneasily waited for an ambush, while others prepped their forces.

A large group of undead appeared behind them.

A few moved to attack, until they saw them move towards Blightlord.

Elitist nodded, and pointed forward. There was a sound at the end of the hall, voices.

The undead led the way, with Tyrant's robots staying in back. They came to a set of large double doors. Two zombies shuffled forward and opened them, revealing a large hall, and over a hundred men waiting.

At the top of a large stage, Seeker merely pointed, and they charged.

---------------------------

The undead took the brunt of the attack, leaving the Masters themselves able to easily down the first few.

Harlequin grinned mischievously as she convinced a group to fight one another, while Elitist and Smashing Pumpkin ran in, quickly taking down a group.

Tyrant's robots lined up from behind the group, and fired, taking down several. Blightlord ordered his minions to charge, and the Knights rushed in, quickly hacking and slashing, and stealing life force to repair their wounds. The Lich, Grime, quickly cast spells of fear, boosting Harlequin's effects on the groups.

GeoWatt came in, quickly bashing the ones that came too close, easily breaking some, while others were covered in their own protections.

"This seems too easy..." remarked Blightlord.

Knave grabbed Ruby Blade's attention and pointed at Seeker, who patiently stood at the top of his platform.

The other assassin nodded, and the two faded from sight, silently creeping forward.

Nictus Brawler transformed into a large crab-like creature, roaring as he charged in, absorbing the strength of the enemies near him to quickly slam his foot on the ground, releasing a wave of Nicti energy.

Void Brawler cautiously moved around the edges, striking from the shadows before delivering a quick flurry of blows and disappearing.

Blade and Knave readied to strike. The two were about to attack when Seeker quickly turned, draining large amounts of energy from them.

His own strength boosted, he breathed a wide arc of flame while throwing explosive fireballs.

The two were forced to back off as more Legion members appeared.

Some of Techno Tyrant's robots began to fall as another group of robots came down, firing concentrated beams through critical systems.

Techno-Flame hovered down behind them, waving as he charged up a bolt of fire.

Pyra came down onto Smashing with a double-hand blow.

She quickly slammed her fist into his stomach as Elitist came up behind her.

His head jerked forward as something slammed against the back of it.

He turned to see Torcher perched on the wall, flinging more and more blasts of fire and grinning.

Elitist growled in anger as he flew at him.

The Immolator charged forward, letting loose a wide blast of flame at the Masters who had stayed together.

Harlequin tried to get a grip on his mind, but couldn’t find a hold as he shot another burst.

GeoWatt stepped in front of the attack, taking the full force of it as he charged to attack.

Smashing kept up his grin as he hit Pyra with a shadowy fist, sending her stumbling back.

He charged, flinging a quickly flurry of blows, which she quickly sidestepped.

She cuffed him with a flame-wrapped fist, and kicked him in the back.

He turned to see her smirk, and moved in to attack again.

Elitist grabbed Torcher’s shirt, holding him high.

He slammed his fist into the stone wall as the boy teleported away, laughing hysterically.

Elitist growled in rage and charged again, even more frustrated as he was wrapped in a heat that seemed to drain his strength.

He flew quickly and right before reaching him, Torcher teleported away. But Elitist expected this, and quickly flew the chunk of stone he had taken from the wall at him.

It slammed into Torcher, sending him flipping back where he crashed into the wall.

Techno-Flame let loose the beam of fire. Tyrant’s force-field generator saved him from most of the attack as he lined up his own shot.

Flame spun back is it clipped his armor. He angrily ordered his robots to focus their full attention on Tyrant.

Geo hit Immolator with an uppercut that sent him staggering back. He stared at him for a moment, cracking his neck back into place.

Immolator charged, slamming the butt end of his rifle into Watt’s chin, before firing a burst right into his stomach.

Seeker flew over Knave, flinging blast after blast at him, and draining his speed.

Ruby leapt from a wall and came down hard. His sword clanged against the armor, only denting it.

As Blade was sent flying back by a burst of kinetic energy, Seeker swooped down and stole even more of Knave’s strength before blasting him in the back.

Knave turned, and waved his hand in front of Seeker’s eyes, making him forget about attacking.

He was about to strike when a Legion member interrupted him, throwing an explosive fireball at him.

He turned, and angrily came down on the thug’s head with a heavy strike.

Nictus grabbed another Legionnaire and tossed him at a group while Void Brawler quickly struck at the one that had been sneaking up behind him.

Harlequin began to cause chaos as she sent the last thirty standing into a fear filled frenzy, making them attack each other. Grime added to the fear with his own spells before sending a wave of nether energy that scattered them even more before ensnaring them in shadowy tendrils.

Blightlord’s Grave Knights rushed in, quickly hacking apart the last few standing.

Seeker floated back towards his platform, clapping.

Torcher teleported back behind him, as Pyra leapt away from the fight to join him. Flame quickly jetted away from Tyrant, and hovered behind Heat. Immolator was about to attack Geo again, but a teleport from Torcher took him away. He glared at the boy for a moment before turning to his leader.

“I’m sorry this visit had to be cut short, but we have other things to attend to. I hope you’ll enjoy our parting gift.”

They disappeared in a flash of light, leaving the Masters alone in a room full of unconscious and dead thugs.

“Alright, let’s get out of here before this entire place is blown up,” said Elitist, directing them forward.

The Masters nodded and walked down the hall. They knew they had won, but it didn’t feel like a victory. Something felt… wrong.

Especially as they heard a clattering from where they came from.

---------------------

Day 2

The 'Kickers wearily walked back into their base.

When they were all gathered in the Control Room, Hyper asked. "Did you find anything?"

"No one's talking, Hyp. They all know what's gonna happen to us if we can't find these guys in time," said Jack, minor cuts and scratches all over his armor and face.

"And they're willing to take a beating if they think they can get back at us in a few days at the Zig," said Burning, his costume showing tears as well.

Hyper bowed his head. "I was afraid of this. All right, how many did we take down? I have by my count near the six hundreds."

"Seven," said a woman, walking into the room.

In the dim lighting, it was hard to see who she was, but when she stepped into the brighter light, there was no mistaking.

"Noc!" shouted Jack. For a moment, everyone seemed to get renewed energy as they hurried over to see her.

Nocturnal Sun had come back to the 'Kickers.

While everyone was hurrying to greet her, they missed the shadows flying past behind them...

--------------------------

"I think I found who you're looking for," said Noc with a grin. "Their base isn't far, it's over by-"

Suddenly there was an explosion down the hall.

The lights began to flicker, and then turn red as the emergency power turned on.

Hyper cursed and ran to the energy room, the other 'Kickers not far behind.

The stopped and stared, not at the wreck that was their generator, but at the clones of themselves.

"We already did this once," said Hyper. The others nodded, readying to fight.

Hyper-Man's clone seemed to nod as it pointed at the 'Kickers, sending them charging.

Burning quickly flew to the side, aiming to hit a large group at once when his copy came up behind him, stealing the heat from the air around him and freezing Burning Brawler in a block of ice.

Jack Power leapt forward, bringing both hands down onto the clone's head, and heard a familiar clang. "These aren't clones, they-"

Suddenly, it gripped his throat, lifting him into the air, and sending him flying across the room.

The large man rubbed the back of his head as he stood. He quickly shook it off and charged back in.

Hyper took careful aim, and shot his copy with a strong bolt of energy.

The copy's head spun all the way around. "Great, robots..."

The android sent a wide arc of force at Hyper, knocking the hero back into the others.

Super Shard leapt away from the pile of heroes and looked for his own clone.

He didn't see it until energy wrapped fists slammed into the back of his head, sending him back into the ground.

The copy wordlessly shot a beam of ice, trying to freeze him.

Chris Lancelot ran in to help Jack when a fist caught him from behind. He slid back as he turned to face himself.

He waited as the clone ran for him, then grabbed the punch, and swung it into Jack's copy.

The two collided hard, making a loud clang that rang through the room, letting everyone know what the copies really were.

Danica moved to help a group of 'Kickers that were having trouble, doing a fast spin kick that sent one stumbling back, and slamming both fists into the chest of another.

She quickly moved to grab one's outstretched arm when her feet were knocked out from under her.

She looked up at the clone of herself, and quickly wrapped her legs around its, and twisted, sending it to the ground as well.

She rose quickly, slamming both palms onto its legs.

Violet Tigress and Java Juggernaut stayed together, Violet helping him move quicker and attack faster with boosts of helpful radiation while he quickly fought back the Phantasm attempting to attack them.

Vi sent her own to help him as she suddenly felt dizzying sick. She clutched her stomach and saw her copy coming into view. She quickly sent a healing burst of radiation into herself, and ordered her own Phantasm to attack.

The copy's leapt in the way of the blast, returning its own.

It wasn't long before either cat woman had surrounded the other in illusionary copies, and was forced to heal themselves from the damage that seemed too real.

Java was about to help Vi when he himself was struck with a bolt of energy. He picked himself up off the ground, rubbing his head as he saw himself lining up another shot.

His eyes widened and he rolled away just in time while throwing a ball of force that exploded, sending the copy flipping.

The ice around Burning quickly melted as the flames around him flared.

He turned to his copy, sending a powerful beam of fire. Metal slowly dripped off the android copy, and a hole began to form as Burning tried this repeatedly.

The copy swooped down, firing blasts of its own. Burning quickly rolled away, and wrapped the clone's legs in ice.

It fell to the ground like a rock, and joints creaked.

Jack caught his copy as it stumbled from being hit by Chris's. He gripped its arms tightly, and wrenched down, taking them clean off. "Not as unbreakable as the original are you?"

Electricity shot from the open arms, sending Jack into spasms.

Hyper had disconnected himself from the pile of 'Kickers, and was already bringing one energy wrapped fist into the copy's stomach. As soon as he connected, he shot a hard burst of force that dented and cracked the metal.

The copy quickly head-butted Hyper, making his helmet ring as he stumbled back. It sent him back even further with a quickly flurry of energy, as it quickly flew forward, delivering a heavy uppercut.

Hyp shut his eyes tight as he landed, waiting as the copy rushed in for a finishing blow.

He suddenly exploded in a massive burst of energy, knocking out his, and several other clones at once.

He panted heavily as he stepped back from the fight to regain his strength.

Shard fired his own beam of ice, trying to force it back onto the clone when Hyper burst. The attack knocked his copy's shot wide, and allowed Shard to rushed forward, grapping its arms and freezing it thoroughly.

He grinned in satisfaction, hearing a grinning as gears froze. His fists quickly wrapped in energy as he hit it hard in the face, knocking the head back and snapping frozen joints.

He dropped the finished robot to the ground, and turned to help the others.

Chris grabbed the Jack clone's head, pulling it away from the original. He slung it into his own advancing copy, sending it sliding back. He ran over to make sure Jack was okay, when he was hit hard in the back of the head.

It struck him again in the back before he could turn, knocking him onto the ground.

The copy moved in to finish him when it was suddenly floored as Nocturnal Sun came crashing down from above.

She looked around in mock disappointment. "No copy for me?"

The Chris clone grabbed her ankles, twisting its arms at an impossible angle, and rolled over, aiming to crush her.

Sun wrenched her feet free as Chris and Jack both stomped hard on it, effectively shattering most of its insides.

The Jack clone stumbled forward, a leg severely dented and electricity still crackling from its arm sockets.

The three nodded to each other and rushed forward. Needless to say, the android didn't last long.

Danica's copy sprung its legs up at the last moment, catching the woman in the chin.

Danica stumbled back, and moved her jaw, hearing small cracks.

The copy spun in a wide sweep that she easily leapt over, coming down onto the android's abdomen.

She quickly bent down, striking it hard across the chin, and spinning the neck.

The clone gripped her ankle and squeezed with unnatural strength.

Danica grimaced and slammed her sharpened heel into the android’s face, it going straight through. She jerked her leg, destroying a piece of equipment that caused its arms to go loose.

The legs spun wildly until she stabbed her other heel in, ending its movement.

Violet laid layer after layer of dizzying radiation onto it. She grimaced in frustration at its seeming ineffectiveness until she angrily shot an EMP burst.

There was a clack and whirr as it stumbled and finally fell over. Mentally hitting herself for not realizing it was an android, she turned in time to see Java’s clone explode in a burst of force like Hyper.

Her eyes went wide as her husband fell back.

She quickly ran to him, placing her hands on his chest and trying to heal him.

The clone shot a wide arc of energy at her that her Phantasm quickly intercepted knocking it back.

Java’s eyes slowly opened. He smiled. “Thanks.”

They turned to the clone. Violet fired a smaller blast of EMP radiation that seemed to slow it, as Java and the Phantasm took turns hitting it with powerful bursts of energy until it collapsed.

Burning had just finished off his copy when the others grouped back together. “Is that all of them?” asked Hyper.

“I think so,” said Jack. “So, Noc, what were you saying about the-“

There was a creak and groan, causing the ‘Kickers to turn and look at the source of the noise.

The androids were shaking, and suddenly began to snap together, drawn by an invisible force.

The locked together perfectly, as if that had been their purpose all along.

As the giant mech towered over them, the Masters faced a same sight, finally coming to the end of the tunnel.

Both heroes and villains knew the fight was nowhere near over.

------------------------
Elitist yelled the order to attack, sending the monsters rushing at the construct.

Its body was something of a modified Warhulk, only twice the size and a silver color rather than brass, and instead of a glass head it had small missile racks and cannons.

The cannons quickly fired wide laser bursts, cutting down much of the remaining undead Blightlord had brought.

Tyrant ordered his bots forward after throwing several EMP grenades that seemed to have no effect.

Elitist, Editor, and GeoWatt were the first to rush in. They came only to the middle of the thing's waist, but that did not stop them from finding a good point to beat on it mercilessly.

Smashing Pumpkin came up from behind, leaping onto the top of the thing and bringing both nether energy wrapped hands down on top of it.

It should have been hurt much more, but all he had to show for the shot was a small ding.

He didn't even have time to wonder out loud what the thing was made of before a cannon spun around and fired another laser burst.

He was flung back, leaving the mech able to swipe at the others pounding around it.

Harlequin grinned as she tried to reach for its 'mind' and throw its AI into chaos.

Blightlord ordered his remaining undead, a small amount of Grave Knights, a handful of zombies, and Grime.

The Lich began casting spells, trying to weaken it as the zombies spat volleys of acidic vomit. All that happened was a slight peeling of the edges, barely any damage to it.

The Knights rushed in, hacking at the things legs, trying to bring it down. Each swipe took a small chip, at this rate they'd never get through.

That is, until the bots joined in. Lasers flew, striking likely weak points, mostly focusing on removing the weapons.

Before the mech could turn to remove them, Knave of Spades, Void Brawler, and Ruby Blade had all managed to climb atop it, and were now quickly striking.

Together, Knave and Ruby were able to send one cannon flying away, snapping off the screws with the force of their hit. Obviously the pieces holding it together weren't as strong as the shell.

Before the missile rack could turn to them, they had leapt off and were fading into the shadows.

Ruby struck hard at where he assumed the 'brain' of it would be.

His sword bounced off, and he lost his grip on it.

It flew across the room, leaving him virtually weaponless. The missile rack was now trained on him. His eyes widened in surprise as he rocketed off of it, speeding quickly around the room to make the targeting computer lose him.

He grabbed his sword as he passed it, and the missiles fired.

They seemed to follow him, locked onto something other than a heat signature.

Nictus Brawler reached out, and began slowing the missile by amplifying the gravity around it.

Eventually, it clattered to the ground, or would have, if Nictus didn't teleport it back onto the mech.

The missile exploded, leaving a deep dent, on its top.

Elitist quickly leapt up, and slammed his fist down into the dent, buckling the metal more.

Editor and GeoWatt were right behind him, coming to make the dent wider as Smashing leapt up, taking several shots at the missile rack.

Every time it swung around to meet him, he would lead over it, and hit it several times before repeating the process.

The mech aimed an arm at the gathered group of villains, and let a large burst of energy fly.

Some scattered, and others made it away in time.

The undead had begun making progress on the legs, and soon the first came offline as a wire was cut and a Knight barbecued.

The robots knocked off the second cannon with a concentrated laser blast as Grime cast another spell that bound the mech's arms with dark tendrils.

The blast it had been readying fired into the ground, knocking the mech into the air, and the ones on top of it off as they finally breached its thick shell.

Quickly, all the Masters focused on the opening in the toppled mech. In a matter of seconds, the inside of the robot was nothing but slag, and spare parts.

Elitist kicked the downed robot as he passed it, and stood before the Masters. After the fight with the Legion and now this, they each had a few cuts and bruises to show for it.

He was about to say something when a small beeping could be heard from inside the mech.

"That better not be what it sounds like," muttered Tyrant as he drew a force field generator.

Blightlord scowled and pulled a scroll from his belt. "I did not wish to use this..."

He read it, the words disappearing from the papyrus as he said them, and they disappeared in a flash of red light, before the room was filled with flames.

They reappeared in their base, and a few cast odd glances at Blightlord, asking just with their eyes why he didn't use that before.

"Believe me when I say your being teleported as well is an unfortunate side effect of the scroll."

***

Burning, Hyper, and Java were each readying a shot as the others leapt at the large robot.

Johnny sped around its legs, slashing them and at the waist as he ran. Danica flew for the cannon, doing a quick spin kick that spun the cannon the other way, sending the laser blast into the wall rather than the heroes.

Jack and Chris circled around, each leaping up from opposite sides, and grabbing the missile rack. The pulled until their faces reddened from strain, but it wasn't budging much.

It fired a missile, and the recoil sent the two flying away.

Violet quickly sent her Phantasm, which leapt in front of the blast, causing the missile to explode closer to the mech than them.

Shard quickly fired a beam of ice into one of the cannons. It seemed backed up until the laser blast finally broke through, sending him flying.

Burning, Hyper, and Java fired simultaneously. They struck the legs hard, causing the mech to stagger back and leaving large dents in them, but not downing it yet, although Johnny Velocity was now making a lot more progress, until the robot swiped at him, sending him flying back.

Violet sent copies of the heroes, decoys, to confuse it. They quickly let loose with all sorts of different powers as she tried an EMP burst.

Nothing.

She grimaced, and began placing layers of radiation sure to weaken it.

Jack and Chris came back at it, now hammering the missile rack. Nocturnal Sun leapt up behind them and grinned. "Need a hand?"

She came up behind it, slamming her fist into the back, causing small dent with each punch.

The other two hit with renewed energy as the thing slowly came apart.

Danica took a hard kick at the cannon, causing a small dent.

Burning swooped up behind her, firing a thick burst of flame, and weakened the metal even more.

Danica crouched down and swung at the steel rod holding the cannon on. It snapped off, sending it clattering to the ground.

The missile rack was turning, about to fire, when it was suddenly sent flying by a simultaneous punch from its assailants.

Hyper-Man blasted at the chassis, causing small dents with each blow.

It raised its arm, forming another cannon, and fired a sapper beam that drained him of his energy.

Java Juggernaut caught the falling hero, and set him away to regain his strength while he turned back and began pelting it with energy blasts from behind.

Violet Tigeress's Phantasm soon joined him, and with the radiation weakening the metal, they began to make progress, almost bursting through.

Johnny and Super Shard leapt back at the remaining shoulder-cannon. Shard wrapped the base in ice while Johnny took fast swipes at it, taking off small pieces.

The cannon spun towards them, and Shard quickly slammed it with an energy-wrapped fist, spinning it around wildly.

Chris and Noc worked on one leg while Jack worked on the other. It began buckling more and more with each swing, and creaks could be heard as it became less able to support its weight.

Hyper-Man had begun to recover and was nearing the mech when Violet's Phantasm broke through.

Java quickly fired a rapid burst of energy into it, Hyper taking a shot from behind. Burning hovered down to the opening, breathing a wide arc of flame.

Shard and Johnny managed to remove the last cannon as the leg Chris and Noc had been working on crumpled. The mech slammed into the ground, thoroughly beaten.

Mystillumin stumbled into the room, and stared at the mech, open-mouthed. "I was in a trance and... what happened here?"

"If this doesn't count as proof we were framed..." Hyper left it at that. He turned to Noc. "Where did you say their base was?"

"Some of the Hellions said their base was-"

She was silenced, as were the rest of them when a deep blue flash erupted through the room, completely draining the 'Kickers of their energy.

They reappeared in a large dungeon, a force field barrier sealing them inside.

"Right here..."

------------------------------

Project Heat Seeker watched the cell feed. Each was separated from the other by a force field. If they couldn't aid one another in their escape, it would be easy to contain them the remainder of the next twenty hours until their deadline was up, and Longbow would come to arrest them.

The soldiers would find the heroes safely inside their base, apparently having gone insane under stress, and having wild stories of base invasions and being held captive.

It was times like this that made him smile, even if the attack on the Masters was more or less a failure. No matter, it would be easy to trick Arachnos into doing the same thing.

"How is our work on their base coming?" asked Seeker.

Techno was standing behind him, typing rapidly on a large control panel. "The security camera feed modifications worked perfectly, and the men are in there now cleaning up the base. They'll have the mech back inside, ready for repairs in an hour."

"And modifications. They were dispatched far too easily. If they are to be reproduced for-"

"Reproduced?"

He turned to the other villain, his eyes angry but a smile still on his face. "Yes. You didn't think this was only about revenge did you? I'm insulted. No, soon the Legion will have an army to contest Nemesis, and even Lord Recluse's. First we will crush Paragon City, then Lord Recluse."

"I-I-I"

"What?" asked Seeker, a scowl beginning to form.

"The-the metal... that we used to make the mech... It's a very rare substance. There isn't much in the world, definitely not enough to make an entire army composed of it."

Seeker was at his throat in an instant, and barked, "Why wasn't I told this before?!"

"I-I had no idea your plans stretched that far, I-"

"Underestimated me and my goals." He tossed the smaller man to the floor. "You have two hours to come up with a suitable alloy, or you'll face the same fate as the heroes."

Techno gulped, and returned to work.


------------------------------

The heroes, while separated from one another, could still hear each other through the force fields.

Shard sat on the ground, his chin in his hands, deep in thought. "Nothing I've tried to use to break these fields seems to work."

"I can't even phase through it," said Burning, sighing as closed the large book he had been looking through for spells.

Mystillumin walked to the wall, and placed a hand on it.

It flickered, then disappeared.

"How did you-" started Burning.

"Apparently, it still accepts my genetic code," he explained, walking to each of their cells and doing the same.

He freed the last 'Kicker, and an alarm blared.

There was a thundering down the hallway as Legion members rushed to intercept them.

"This way! Quickly!" called the illusionist, leading them down a long stone corridor.

He turned and held both hands out to the opening, forming an illusory wall once they were through, and led them through the maze of the lower levels of the Legion of the Black Flame's new base.

Mystillumin quickly formed several copies of himself, and ordered them to run ahead. Violet Tigeress caught on, and did the same.

Several traps were set off by the decoys, leaving the path clear for them as they came to a large staircase.

"The exit is likely near Heat Seeker's room. If we are to get out of here unnoticed-"

"No," said Hyper. "We need to take all of them captive to clear our names with Longbow."

"There isn't much time, there are far more of his thugs here than-"

"We can handle whatever he throws at us," said Burning confidently.

Mystillumin bit his lip. "Alright... follow me."

They hurried up the staircase after he bent the light around the group, turning them all invisible to the naked eye.

They exited the staircase in a long steel hall, a definite change from the medieval dungeon style of the cells.

They took several turns, Mystillumin's knowledge of the base helping them avoid dead-ends and ambush points.

Inside the conference room, Seeker was filled with rage at the escape.

He overturned tables and chairs, and threw blasts of fire at the security monitors. Immolator watched, obviously wanting to join in, but for a different reason.

He ran to a cowering Techno-Flame, gripping his neck and raising him high. "You didn't erase his DNA access?!"

"I-I had no time, with finishing the mechs!" he gasped out.

Seeker clenched his fist tighter. "Give me one reason not to kill you know you insufferable worm!"

"The new ones are ready!" he said in panic, his face turning blue.

Seeker dropped him. "Send them to guard this area. I want them dead!"

"Y-yes sir."

"And get Torcher and Pyra back in here!"

"Way ahead of you boss," said Torcher popping in. He closed his fist, and Pyra reappeared in a flash of light beside him.

"Good. Prepare yourself for a fight." He snapped his helmet back in place and turned to Techno who was furiously typing on a keyboard. "You will join your robots," he commanded.

"What? But sir, I-"

"Now!"

Techno knew what this was. A suicide mission. He would be captured, and sent to the Zig to rot.

"No," he said, his voice just above a whisper.

"What?" said Seeker, seething with rage.

"I said NO!"

The man threw a fast blast of fire, catching Seeker in the chest.

The villain flew backwards, stopping himself before hitting the wall.

He growled and shot forward, both palms extended out to Techno.

A long wave of fire rushed at the villain. He covered his face with his arm as the heat washed over him.

He gasped, staggering back, as Seeker drained some of his strength. The armored villain flew in close, slamming two flaming fists into his stomach, then bashing him on the head.

Techno fell, bleeding, as Seeker kicked him.

"Boss, don't you think that was a lil' harsh?" said Torcher.

Pyra winced as Seeker bent over the trembling villain, placing both hands on him.

"He'll get what he deserves..."

Blue lines ran from Techno-Flames body into Project Heat Seeker's hands, coursing up his arms.

He was draining more than his strength, he was stealing his life.

"Boss, you're killin' him!" shouted Torcher, the young mercenary's mouth wide in shock.

There was a pop as the last of Techno's life force was drained. Seeker stood, his entire body shimmering with power. A large ball of flame formed in his hand, and rushed onto the corpse, consuming it in seconds.

There was an explosion outside, as the mechs detonated, blasting the reinforced steel doors wide open.

Techno-Flame had created a self-destruct code, just in case something exactly like this happened.

The heroes walked through the flaming inferno, their eyes filled with determination.

"No!" shouted Seeker. He looked at the heroes, and spotted Mystillumin. "YOU!"

He shot a beam of flame that lanced through the reformed villain, leaving a smoking hole as he collapsed.

"I'll kill all of you! ALL OF-"

He was silenced as a flaming fist slammed across his jaw. He was sent tumbling to the ground, Pyra towering over him. She spat on him as Torcher joined her by tossing a volley of fire at him.



He pushed himself off the ground rapidly with a blast of fire, knocking them both away with an explosive blast.

The 'Kickers charged, and he growled in rage, flying up above them, and throwing blast after blast.

Danica flew up after him, her face filled with anger as she backhanded him, then moved to palm-strike his chin.

He grabbed her fist, and bent her arm backwards, his hand flaming.

Danica cried out in pain, until a shot from Java and Hyper forced him to release her.

Seeker shot a beam at each of them, forcing them back.

Torcher groaned as he sat up, and glared as he saw Seeker, too high for some of the heroes to reach.

He held out a hand, and there was a flash as the villain was teleported into the midst of the heroes.

Jack quickly struck him, damaging his thrusters beyond repair.

Underneath his helmet, Seeker grinned evilly.

He held his arms out, and drained a piece of power from all of the 'Kickers, before exploding in a fiery inferno.

The closest to him were immediately medi-ported to safety, leaving only a small few.

The Immolator rushed at Jack, who was stumbling away, trying to breathe. He was hit upside the head with the butt of the villain's flamethrower.

He coughed as air rushed into his lungs, and turned to see as several 'Kickers faded away, Chris, Java, Shard, and Danica among them.

His eyes narrowed as he turned back to the large man, who was currently letting loose a burst of flame.

He grabbed the flamethrower's barrel, and squeezed, bending it shut.

He wrenched it from The Immolator's grasp, and swung, knocking the villain across the room.

There was a loud bang as a control panel exploded.

In the smoke, the villain rose, his face gone, revealing a metal skeleton, the red eyes whirring madly as he charged.

Hyper's armor was nearly done for. He had been lucky enough to not have been next to Seeker when he exploded, or he would have joined the others.

The villain rose and stretched out a hand to Hyper, stealing some of his energy to regain his own.

Violet flooded them all with doses of healing radiation, then turned towards Seeker, her eyes filled with anger.

She raised both arms, and sent wave after wave of harmful radiation coursing through him, weakening him.

Noc leapt forward, bringing both hands down on his head.

He shot a burst of fire into her stomach, sending her stumbling back, but the radiation having weakened him too much to kill her.

Hyper, his strength having returned thanks to Violet, quickly fired burst after burst of energy at Project, forcing him back.

Burning did the same, the combined blasts causing the villains armor to creak and groan in protest.

Johnny streaked forward, cutting across The Immolator's waist.

The android turned, trying to follow, but not succeeding.

As Johnny came again, he took a swipe, but was too slow as the speedster ducked under his arm.

Jack rushed forward while the android was distracted, slamming both fists into its stomach.

Johnny ran in from behind, slamming both claws straight into Immolator's back.

He ripped them out, causing a shower of sparks and a crackle of electricity.

Jack gripped the robot's arms and swung him, moving in fast circles.

He let go, sending the android flying into a wall.

Seeker stole some of Nocturnal Sun's speed, rushing forward to slam two flaming fists into Burning's chest.

The hero was knocked to the ground, Heat's hands brimming with fire.

"If I can't end them all, you will do."

He was about to fire, when he disappeared in a flash of light.

"Hey boss, consider this my two weeks notice," said Torcher, grabbing onto him, and erupting in a fiery inferno.

When the smoke cleared, he stumbled back, collapsing onto the ground, unconscious.

Pyra leapt across the room. "Torcher!"

Seeker shakily stood, his armor reduced to slag.

He gripped Pyra by the back of her neck, and squeezed.

She spun around, backhanding him, a trail of flame smacking him right after.

She delivered a flaming uppercut as Jack tossed the broken Immolator into him, sending him crashing against a control panel.

"No... no! I won't be beaten again!" he roared, pushing himself off and charging at Jack, his whole form covered in flames.

He made a desperate leap for the man, and was suddenly thrown away as a broken control panel slammed into him.

He crashed through the wall, and lay still in a pile of rubble.

Nocturnal Sun walked over to him. He was still breathing, but probably had broken quite a few bones.

"What would you guys do without me?"

They smiled, and Jack walked over to the unconscious villain and placed the power dampener cuffs on him.

Hyper and Burning walked over to Pyra, who was holding Torcher's head as he awoke.

"What should we do with them?" asked Burning.

"They did help us," said Johnny, speeding up next to them.

"I'll see what I can do," said Hyper. "Maybe if they can testify about all this, we can help them get something worked out."

Hyper-Man sighed, seeing the dead body of Mystillumin. He was beyond medi-port, or resurrector now.

He placed a special beacon on the fallen hero, sending his body fading to a place where it would be kept safe.

They searched the base, before coming across a portal.

Unable to get a lock on the base, Hyper took them to Peregrine Island.

They handed the unconscious Project Heat Seeker to a Longbow Officer. "Here's the person you were looking for."

Torcher and Pyra stepped forward. "We'll... erm... do whatever you need us to."

Several other Longbow arrived, and led them away for interrogation.

The heroes walked outside, and headed to the base.

After everything that had happened... The framing, Noc's coming back, the fight, everything around them just seem to blend, the exhaustion definitely settling in as adrenaline wore down.

Burning saw a small girl, maybe six years old, wearing pink armor and talking to a group of Maltans, one he swore had a southern accent. And it looked like they were her friends.

It was a wonder he was still standing…

They entered the base teleporter, to the many questions of the 'Kickers who had been medi-ported to safety by Seeker's blast.

A few days later, they stood at yet another funeral. They seemed to happen so often these days...

The sermon was finished, and they turned to leave.

Burning draped an arm over Danica's shoulders. "Are you gonna be alright?"

She nodded, looking out towards the sunset.

Friends come, friends go, and friends come back from going, that's how things work.

But a group of friends stick together, and they can take on anything thrown at them.

The End.


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