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Stories # - L | M - Z | Authors
Heart of Fire
by Josef Koelbl III
Imbued with power by the Hun Lords of
the Feuer, Tropic performed their evil bidding: the eruption of Mt.
Vesuvius, the Great San Francisco fire, the firebombing of Dresden, the
destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and countless other acts of war
and destruction. Finally freeing himself from their diabolical grasp,
he fights the good fight for all mankind hoping to one day compensate
for his past misdeeds...
He stayed hidden during the day. Although there were
many heroes here in Paragon City, they all, for the most part, looked
so...normal. Of course some were huge, small, hairy, even a machine or
two among them, but he was still not sure the citizens or the heroes
were ready for him, a red-skinned, flaming eyed man of fire. He was not
even sure if they considered him a criminal, even if he thought it of
Criminal, he thought, ...Murderer. Mass murderer.
Tropic looked out the slats of the wooden door that
blocked the entrance to the tunnel on Talos Island. Well, more of a
cave than a tunnel. Its entrance was a small chamber that curved right
into a larger cavern, then just stopped. A simple pallet for sleeping,
a small pit for a fire, a spit for cooking. A Spartan existence
providing all he needed. As night fell he would fly through the City,
patrolling its streets, saving hapless victims from predators. Then
he’d fly off, not waiting for thanks or credit, and return to his
hole as day broke. A Spartan, lonely existence.
He had ended up in Paragon City a month or so ago,
another stop on an unending journey. He couldn’t stay too long in
one place, sooner or later whomever he befriended would notice. They
would grow older while he stayed the same. They would die and he would
grieve. And move on. Again. An immortal man tortured by guilt and
loneliness. A Spartan, desolate existence.
A red glow streaming through the slats of the door
caught his notice. He peeked out between the ill-fitted wood and saw
the red disks hovering in the air. He stepped out, frowning, into the
late afternoon sky. The ovals were appearing all over Talos. He looked
to the right and saw them forming over Skyway City, ahead in the
distance they were over Founder’s Falls. He stared unmoving as
they popped into the darkening sky and watched with interest as the
better known heroes in the city buzzed incessantly around them.
He turned his attention to the docks and warehouses
near the highway leading to Skyway. The Tsoo were out in force, staring
skyward, their Sorcerers and Spirits pointing and agitated. Even from
this distance Tropic could see the fear on their faces. He looked at
the circular objects again and shook his head. This wasn’t magic,
he would feel that. This was something different... technological and
malevolent. The disks floated, ambivalent to the panic starting to ebb
into the streets. Tropic felt the danger but there was nothing to do
He watched for more than half an hour as more of the
disks appeared. They had begun to form on land as well and the feeling
of dread grew heavier in the air, a palpable, almost physical presence
now. In the distance, in Talos proper, the crash of breaking glass
echoed out from between the tall buildings and over the river to his
hidden cave. His lips turned down, knowing from dark experience the
telltale sounds of panic. He looked up as a shadow rocketed over him
and into the city. Another hero ready to squelch the growing violence.
He sighed heavily, wanting to help, but...afraid to be seen. Fear, he mused, smiling crookedly. An...odd sensation.
Tropic nodded once and launched himself into the air, not to the tall
spires of the skyscrapers but to the low warehouses near the tunnel to
Skyway City. He saw now that the disks had formed above and below him
and he reasoned that, whatever they were, the heroes dealing with them
would just as soon not be bothered with a distraught band of Tsoo
criminals. He brought his feet under him and touched down lightly on
the rusted corrugated tin roof of the warehouse.
Tropic gazed skyward again then toward the city.
Heroes now gathered at the ferry to Peregrine Island, the home of
Portal Corp and the hub of interdimensional travel. As the boat landed,
several heroes exited, several others climbed on and all, at least
those with their faces showing, wore the same expression: a worried
fear of the unknown. The fiery hero looked down, noticing the Tsoo that
had been gathered had fled. He frowned. The Tsoo were many things,
assassins, thieves, extortionists...but they were not cowards. His
frowned deepened, etching a darker red in his skin.
Suddenly a great moan came from the buildings across
the river. His head snapped up and his eyes flashed brighter, the
inexhaustible flame flowing higher over his head. A enormous ship began
to poke through one of the red spheres, its gleaming silver hull
bristling with weaponry. The spacecraft seemed to shimmer and one of
its cannons erupted, striking a tall building and shearing off the top
three floors. As one, the remaining weapons on the craft discharged,
plowing into the streets and buildings, destroying everything in their
The screams reached Tropic’s ears a mere
second before the crisp scent of ozone and coppery blood met his
nostrils. And then the other ovals delivered their predatory cargo.
Dropping from the sky and erupting from the earth armored aliens
formed, stepping through their portals with weapons blazing. Thick
beams of plasma cris-crossed the city, enveloping heroes and ordinary
citizens alike, killing both with no regard or mercy.
Tropic dropped from the roof, standing motionless, watching. I have done this, he thought. Things like this,
his memory roughly yanked back to old deadly days. He shook his head
vigorously, trying to shake the memories out, scatter them into the
four winds. But they refused to budge, they were his...always.
He heard a skittering near him and looked to his
right. Something was coming toward him, its chattering filled the air
and he took a step back, bracing himself. It was small and short. Its
arms were long, almost longer than its body and its fingers bore razor
sharp nails. Its head was long, like the long snout of a dog and its
skin...a sickening pink covered with clear slime. A monkey was the only
word that came close in Tropic’s mind.
The thing leapt at him, slashing with its talons.
Tropic threw his hips back, the swipe barely missing. It slashed again
and the hero stepped to the side, watching as the monkey fell forward
off balance. Tropic pointed at the animal and a tight blast of fire
shot forth engulfing the pink thing. It dropped, screeching and, as he
stood over it trying to get a better look, a green vapor emanated from
its dead body.
The fiery hero fell back several steps, coughing and
hacking as the noxious fumes dissipated. He heard the now familiar
chattering again and through bleary eyes looked between the warehouses.
At least twenty of the alien monkey-things bounded toward him, teeth
snapping and their glistening claws scraping over the asphalt. Tropic
wiped at his eyes and forced a huge tongue of fire to escape from each
of his blazing orbs, clearing his vision almost immediately.
He leapt into the air just as several of the things
lunged at him. Tropic hovered above them as they jumped up, trying to
snatch him away like dogs at the base of a cat filled tree. The fiery
hero waited until all the monstrosities were gathered tightly below him
and then, raising his arms above his head, his rough hands filled
flame. He launched the churning ball of fire into the surging mass
below, capturing the alien beasts with in a grim, inescapable inferno.
Tropic flew quickly to a warehouse roof, remembering
the noxious fumes one had produced and not wishing to be caught in the
poisonous spew of two dozen of the things. “Filthy
animals,” he muttered as they literally melted away. Movement
caught his eye as several yards ahead of him a squad of aliens entered
a nearby warehouse.
These weren’t monkey-things but humanoid
beings wearing what appeared to be body armor and carrying all manner
of weaponry. Tropic estimated there were perhaps forty of the soldiers
and noted with interest the signs on each side of the door they
entered. The left read “CREY INDUSTRIES TECHNOLOGY DEPOT.”
The right simply said “NO ENTRY. AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY.”
The hero’s lips set themselves into a thin line. Well, he thought, that can’t be good,
and he started to kick off from the roof. Suddenly, he froze in place.
He wanted to move, to intercept the aliens entering the warehouse, but
despite his best efforts remained standing statue still. The
red-skinned blaster tried desperately to move his arms to no avail. He
stood motionless, now feeling waves of nausea roll over him and his
eyes grew heavy.
Tropic heard rustling behind him and from the corner
of his eye one of the alien things appeared, moving now in front of
him. He felt and saw the rings of mental energy coming from the
thing’s forehead. There was a flash in the soldier’s right
hand and a huge curved sword materialized. Tropic could imagine the
smile behind the alien’s helmet as it prepared to deliver the
death blow. Move! Tropic screamed to himself.
The sword came up and the fiery hero felt the hold
on him lessen, but it was not enough. He was fixed in place, able to
duck only slightly, when white energy struck the alien from behind.
Tropic heard the thing’s armor breach and the anchor he felt
bound to evaporated. He thrust his hands forward, fire leaping from his
palms and blasted the enemy back. It tumbled away, black smoke rising
from its receding body.
Tropic looked past it, trying to find the unknown
benefactor who had struck first. There, before the warehouse door the
invaders had just entered, stood five of the city’s heroes. Each
bore on their chests a shield insignia of blue and gold, and while all
wore the same colors, their uniforms were somewhat
different...individual. One man wore blue goggles, another wore a wide,
low-brimmed fedora, still another appeared to be wearing solid armor.
Of the two women with them, the red-head was clad in a distracting
leather mini-skirt and the girl with hair so black it was almost blue
wore traditional tights and shiny, short jacket.
She smiled and waved at him, the white crackling
nimbus still dancing over her hand. Tropic waved back with a short
salute, suddenly throwing his arm out and firing a tight bolt over her
head. She ducked and turned, seeing the mechanical drone behind them
burst into flame and crash into the river. She turned back to him, face
adorned with a brilliant smile and followed the rest of her teammates
into the Crey warehouse.
“WAIT!” he called out, knowing they were
unaware of the invading force that had entered a few moments ago. They
didn’t hear him and disappeared within the building. Again he
kicked away from the roof but a huge explosion detonated behind him,
driving him forward and demolishing the warehouse. Steel beams twisted
and smoking rubble rained down on the red-skinned hero, burying him
beneath the destroyed structure.
Boots crunched on the smoking debris as a group of
the alien invaders marched calmly to the center of the smoldering
mound. They chattered excitedly at each other, no doubt congratulating
themselves on the effortless death of the weak, pathetic hero. Almost
thirty of them gathered at the site of their victory, several of the
monkeys hopped over the fallen beams and mortar and a handful of
mechanical drones hovered around the group.
The rest of the force were soldiers clad in silver
or black battle armor. Two or three were obviously in command, staring
out over the river watching the wholesale destruction occurring among
the tall buildings. Behind the group an invader punched at a console in
his hand and a pulsing green sphere took shape, the shadows within
appearing to be more soldiers ready to transport in. And all carried
either huge swords or even larger plasma rifles. And all were ready to
Suddenly, below them, a red glow began to filter
through the tightly packed stone and steel. The aliens looked down,
their excited voices raising in volume as their boots began to smoke.
Before they could move, a circle formed underneath them all and, try as
they might, they could not escape it. Their boots seemed to stick to
the hot surface and in their zeal to flee they all looked as though
they ran in slow motion. The invaders screamed in rage and confusion,
casting about in a frantic search for their unknown tormentor.
The outskirts of the rubble exploded, showering the
aliens with chunks of flaming rock and melted slag. Tropic rose,
hovering before them, his body appearing to undulate due to the waves
of heat radiating from his core. He held his arms out and low, fists
encased with fire that licked up his forearms to his elbows. He looked
at them, his head bowed in anger, his dark countenance red with rage.
The things leveled their weapons and fired blast after blast of crisp
plasma at the fiery hero, the beams seeming to sheer away as they
impacted into the blazing red-orange holocaust that surrounded
A screech of metal and a series of explosions echoed
between the skyscrapers and over the waterway. Behind the man of fire
an alien craft smoked and shuddered, its nose tipping drunkenly as the
city’s heroes bombarded it with all their might. It rocked
crazily and crashed straight down into the river, a great wave marking
Tropic’s lips pulled back from his teeth and
he smiled a joyful, barely human smile. He fixed his fiery eyes on the
invaders and whispered, “Did you think it was going to be that
And fire lit the sky.
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