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VER. 2.0

    Sara Shaughnessy looked out over the immaculate cityscape that was Founder’s Falls, taking in the beckoning nighttime scene.  She sighed lightly;  most nights she would be out prowling the rooftops as Solanum, but not tonight.  Tonight she had plans of her own, and fighting crime was not it.

    She looked over her shoulder at Edward, her fiance and fellow hero.  He was busy setting the table for two others who should be here momentarily.  Grateful that she had a man who could actually cook, Sara was free to do other things, like worry about the future.

    Things with The Nameless were now in disarray; Nightbringer was missing, Blue Dragon was back from the dead, Prismatic had merged with the cosmos, and now, most strangely, Vision asked everyone to move out.  It was this last development that concerned Sara the most.

    Prior to the Gamester event, the supergroup all lived together somewhat happily under one roof.  However, after the problem with the timelines had been fixed, Vision started receiving calls to meet with the Freedom Phalanx down at City Hall.  His visits became more and more frequent, up until the time he made his request.

    “We can use this house for official Nameless business, but only I can live here,” he stated.

    Somewhat hurt and stunned by this turn of events, the rest of The Nameless moved out.  Sara still had her apartment in Founder’s Falls and Edward moved in with her.  Evan, Sara’s brother, moved in with Carlito and BlueDragon in some townhouse in Skyway City.  Psirene also moved to Founder’s Falls, letting Flora move in with her and her daughter.  JD and Xandria found a nice house in a nice part of Steel Canyon and moved there.  They would still meet at Kirk’s house, but in their minds, they all felt betrayed, especially when he would have Longbow agents sitting in on their meetings.

    The last meeting they had been to, Beguiler refused to say anything;  he crossed his arms and glared at Kirk, psychically broadcasting his displeasure with the younger hero.  Psirene, Beguiler’s twin, now noticeably pregnant, also kept silent.  Anything they might have said was done telepathically, which led to great awkward gaps in the spoken conversation.  The Longbow agent quietly took notes of the whole meeting, as well as of the strained relations between the group’s members.

    Sara worried about the future of the group.  On the surface, the solution seemed obvious; cut Kirk from the roster.  But, Kirk had been one of them from the beginning.  Letting him go did not feel right.

    Sensing her emotional disturbance, Edward stuck his head out on the patio.  “Dinner is about ready.  What time did they say they would be here?”

    Sara took a brief look at her watch.  “Any minute.”  As if on cue, her door intercom chimed.  “Or perhaps now.”

    Buzzing her guests into the building, she decided to put thoughts of her group’s future on hold.  Things always had a way of sorting themselves out.  She had no reason to doubt that this situation wouldn’t follow suit.

    In another part of Founder’s Falls, Bianca watched Flora with concerned eyes.  The green heroine had not been herself ever since her husband had been abducted by Nocturne.  The Nameless had tried to invade the necromancer’s base to take him back, but all they found were bare, cold cavern walls.  To make matters worse, Nocturne had pulled Tristan out of the Sussex Academy to insure he could not be contacted by the heroes, much less his father.  Bianca sighed sadly, and became aware of the baby’s movements.

    Taking her thoughts off of Flora for a moment, she thought of the time when she was pregnant with Delilah.  The daughter of Statesman had been a fighter, even in the womb.  Now this child, whom she knew was a boy, seemed completely different in spirit.  Aside from her own psychic gifts, Bianca could tell this child was reaching out to her mentally, as if trying to console her.  She refocused on Flora; thinking about the baby would only bring her mind back to him.

    Getting up off the couch, Bianca joined her friend outside.

    “I can’t imagine Jon willingly going with her, Bianca.”  Flora started with a mournful tone. 

    “No, I suppose not.  He loved, loves, you,” the blonde quickly corrected herself.  She quickly fixed a stray lock of hair that the wind blew into her face.  “You have to believe that some part of him is not under Nocturne’s control and trying to find his way back to you.”

    “Do you believe the same thing about your baby’s father?”  Flora asked, her red eyes turning deep crimson with sorrow.

    Psirene looked out at the night, taking a deep breath of the late spring air.  Her jaw clenched with resolve.  She put a hand on her belly, and could again feel her son reaching out physically and psychically.

    “I have to believe that, Flora.”

    Lou and Eddie had driven for Allied Armored Car long enough to not be amazed by all the extraordinary sights they encountered on their routes.  As those who attempted to rob the vehicles increased in power, so did the measures taken to insure safety of driver and cargo.  Tonight was looking no different.

    Eddie effortlessly turned the large vehicle down Rabinowitz Drive, one of the main streets in Steel Canyon.  He flipped a switch on the dashboard, which activated a low-power electrical field around the car.  Any would-be thieves would get a wicked shock just from coming into contact with the car. 

    The Outcasts on the corner must have sensed the electrical field, because once Eddie hit the switch, the gangers’ interest seemed to fade.  The former police officer gave a slight chuckle.  This night was definitely going to be a quiet one…

    A sudden BANG! Jolted them out their seats.  Something had landed on the roof of the car, and was causing the field to go off.  Lou turned the dial onto maximum voltage; the increased power would have caused whatever had landed on them to jump off almost immediately from the pain.

    The expected result, however, did not happen.  Instead, the putrid stench of decay coupled with burning hair entered into the armored car’s cabin.  But the men dare not open a window and risk a violent attack by their assailant.

    Eddie slammed on the brakes, hoping to make whatever was on their roof fly off.  To their horror, a mere semblance of a man slid down to the front windshield.  The two guards, accustomed to all manner of sights this city held, both yelled in horror.

    The zombie’s gaze shifted from one man to another, tendons and muscles could be seen in the slightest motions due to decayed or burnt flesh that incompletely covered his underlying tissues.  The creature’s eyes, however, looked bright and alert, like the eyes of a living man, making him seem that much more monstrous.

    The ghoul screamed in response to the men’s terror, revealing rotted teeth and tongue.  The nightmarish sound could be heard through the ultradense glass, as could the scraping noise of the undead’s nails.

    “It’s the Vazhilok!”  screamed Lou.  “Run over it!”

    Instead of following Lou’s suggested course of action, Eddie backed the vehicle up quickly, making the tires smoke and squeal.  Their undead assailant slid off the front end of the car onto the ground, but jumped to its feet and began running towards the vehicle.   Eddie wanted to turn around, but suddenly slammed on his brakes again.

    More zombies were waiting behind them.

    Lou frantically tried to increase the voltage of the field while Eddie sent out an immediate distress call.

    “This is Car Number 3871, we have a code three!  Repeat, this is Car Number 3871, we have a code three!  We need immediate assistance,”  he spoke into the radio calmly.   

    “Car 3871, we have your location, and someone is en route,” came the reply.  Eddie did not recognize the voice from the dispatch office, but at least he knew his message got through. 

    Eddie, used to crisis situations, activated the armored car’s other defense mechanism.  Plates slid out in front of the windows, sealing it up from outside attack.

    The defenses proved to be no obstacle for the small band of undead swarming it.  Immune to fear and pain, they kept tearing at the vehicle, rocking it back and forth until they managed to tear a door open.

    Now vulnerable, the guards panicked as the undead took them from the cabin.  Fighting with all the strength their adrenaline-fueled limbs could muster, it was no use against those who did not die. The guards were screaming as the zombies pulled at them; their chill touch hurt, and they felt themselves being drained away with each touch of their pallid flesh.

    Overseeing the theft of the armored car’s contents were a slightly built woman with skin the color of a nighttime sky and a tall, well built blonde man with strange tattoos running the length of his muscled arms.  The blue woman clipped a small device onto her belt.  She looked up at her companion and smiled.

    “Magnificent little toy, Deathbringer.  You’ll have to see if you can get more from your former teammate,” she purred.  “Clever little signal disrupter.”

    The pair were focussing on the robbery; the guards were no longer moving, having been subdued by Nocturne’s zombies.  Any other gangs who might have attempted to interfere stayed hidden, lest the undead be ordered to attack them as well. 

    With access to the vehicle’s cargo, the zombies quickly raided it and brought them to their dark mistress.  She smiled in delight; three cases of diamonds.  She mentally instructed the zombies to take their loot back to their new base, when someone landed in the midst of them and wordlessly attacked, sending several of the zombies flying through the air from the force of the punches.

The pair of villains looked at the would-be intruder; a tall African American woman with blonde hair stood and stared defiantly at Deathbringer.  He sneered at the woman in powder blue tights covered by a red halter top and miniskirt.  The look was completed with red boots and tiny red cape.

    “Who are you supposed to be, Captain Planet?”  he snarled.

    She snorted.  “I’m Auntie Maim, and you two are under arrest!”  she declared in a voice too deep to be female.

    Nocturne merely looked at the hero, shrugged at her consort, and resumed her control over her minions.  The zombies quickly gathered the scattered diamonds and all took off running in numerous directions.  She gathered the shadows around herself and vanished.

    “Are we?”  Deathbringer hissed, his eyes suddenly becoming dark hollows in his skull.  Dark veins could be seen crawling along his skin as he called upon ancient and evil powers to his bidding.  “It will take more than one such as you to make me tremble!”

    Dark mist began to swirl around him as the darkness came to his bidding.  Shadowy tendrils emerged from every dark corner and shadow, snaking their way toward the hero.  Unaware of their proximity, Auntie Maim prepared to leap into the air and tackle the villain, until he felt something wrap around his legs.  Very quickly, the cross-dressing hero realized he was in over his head.

    Deep, evil laughter came from Deathbringer as he slowly walked towards Auntie Maim, who struggled against the otherworldly tentacles.   The skin around his hand deepened in color as drew upon an even darker power for what he was about to do.

    Now face to face with the hero, Deathbringer stared at his face with soulless black eyes.  He held up his hand; it was now completely black.  Auntie Maim struggled lightly, even though he knew it was pointless.

    “Rest assured, Auntie Maim,” he hissed.  “This will hurt.”   He reached forward with his hand to grab the hero’s throat.  As he always did with his victims, he looked intently into Auntie Maim’s eyes, wanting to savor every moment of his death.  But as he did so, he paused.  Deathbringer suddenly found himself overwhelmed by a memory.

    Jon and Thomas laughed at the four capes the two of them had subdued.  Of course, it was quite likely the would-be heroes were fairly new, but that didn’t matter.  Word of how they had defeated four supers in combat would spread throughout the Skull organization, and the two would undoubtedly get some reward over the other Gravediggers.

    As Jon reached out with his shadow-wrapped hand, he grabbed the throat of the first hero, a gun toting man with red goggles and tan military-styled clothes.  The dark powers he had recently received began to leech the life out of the hero, who was powerless to resist.

    The pair of Skulls neither saw nor heard the faint sound of footsteps behind them.  They had no idea anyone at all was behind them until they heard an accented, woman’s voice.

    “Unhand them,”  came the command.

    Jon and Thomas turned around.  Facing them was a green skinned woman whose dark green hair was fashioned into dreadlocks.  Her red eyes were glowing balefully at the pair.

    Thomas sneered.  “Or what?”  he challenged.  He began to pull the shadows around himself to attack this newcomer.

    Suddenly, the woman’s face changed dramatically; her dreadlocks seemed to come to life, blowing away from her face, writhing around like a mass of serpents.  Her red eyes glowed with even greater intensity, and suddenly Thomas stopped moving, his skin taking on the appearance of stone. 

    Turning her attention to Jon, the two combatants paused.  For some reason, Jon could not find it in himself to attack this girl, and neither could she attack him.  Caught in the temporary spell of instant and mutual attraction, they stared at each other.

    A noise from the four heroes caught his attention.  Knowing he could not successfully fight against five heroes alone, Jon took off down the alley and rounded the corner.  Leaning against the wall, he sighed deeply.

    “Wow!”  he breathed, still caught in the moment of having seen something beautiful, and finding that he wanted to see her again.

    A blow to the back of the head brought him back to the here and now.  Facing his assailant, he recognized the red, white and blue costume instantly.

    “Yankee Pryde.  How nice of you to join the party,”  he hissed.

    The blonde hero paused; the villain in front of him seemed familiar, but he couldn’t be certain.  He looked over at Auntie Maim, who seemed to be trying to break free from Deathbringer’s spell.

    “You are under arrest, whoever you are.”  Yankee Pryde tried to sound commanding and authoritative. 

    A smile crossed Deathbringer’s face, which gave the hero the shivers.  “How does one cage the darkness?  What bars can contain the shadow?” he asked mockingly.  “As for who I am,”  he suddenly vanished, only to reappear immediately behind the taller Yankee Pryde.  Leaning forward, he whispered into the hero’s ear, “I am Death!”

    The shadows seemed to spring to life, wrapping around the pair like a cocoon.  Before any of Deathbringer’s magic could begin to work on Yankee Pryde, he grabbed Deathbringer and threw the villain around himself.  Deathbringer crashed into the side of the toppled armored car and sat dazed for a second.

    Quickly recovering, Deathbringer saw several other heroes landing around Yankee Pryde and Auntie Maim.  He gave them a mocking smile.

    “Seven against one?  That’s not very heroic, Yankee Pryde,” he took to the air, hovering out of reach.  He gave them an insincere salute.  “Another time, then?”  he called out as he flew away, a dark comet in the twilight sky.

    Yankee Pryde watched him fly away, and quickly returned his attention to his teammate. 

    “Are you alright, Maim?”

    The drag-queen-turned-superhero groaned.  “Nothing a night at Pocket D won’t fix.”

    Pryde smiled.  “Great.  Let’s get this cleaned up, folks,” he ordered.  He walked over to the toppled armored vehicle.  With a little effort, he righted it and went to check on the driver.

    “You guys ok?”  he asked.

    “We’re pretty damned lucky you guys showed up.  I thought we were gonna get turned inta zombies or sumpthin’!”  Lou breathed a sigh of relief.

    “Well, you’re safe now.  But I think they got away with your cargo.”  He paused and cleared his throat.  “Were you running the dash cam?”

    “Yeah, we were.  It’s regulations.”

    “Good, I’ll need the recorded images.  We’ll try and find out who attacked you.”

    Eddie handed the patriotically dressed hero the dvd.  “I thought they were just the Vazhilok.”

    Yankee Pryde arched an eyebrow.  “No, they weren’t.  They were something much worse, I fear.”

    Bluedragon sat at the bar of Pocket D, slowly sipping his mojito.  He had tried, rather unsuccessfully, to get Stingray to come with him.  However, the strobe lights in the club had the tendency to overwhelm the nanites in Evan’s system, so he stayed home, likely hanging with Carlito and playing the new PS4 they had received as advance payment for helping the Sony corporation.

    He was too focussed on his drink to notice the hero next to him until the man bumped into him and almost made him spill his drink.  He growled at the man, who was too engrossed in his conversation on his cell phone to really notice or care.

    “I tell you, Mom, I kicked his butt!  He came on like he was some big tough guy, calling himself Deathbringer and all that.  Shoot!  I pounded him into the dirt, Mom!” 

    Hearing the gang name of The Nameless leader, Bluedragon turned to face the man next to him.   He quickly grabbed the phone from the man, who yelped in protest. 

    “He’ll call you back, Mom,” he said, then hung up.  Handing the phone back to the hero, he looked him over.   “You ran into Deathbringer?”

    “Yeah.  So what if I did?”  the man’s attitude was snobbish and condescending.

    “Where?  My team has been looking for him.”

    The other hero had been scrutinizing Bluedragon with an equally intense gaze.  “Wait, you’re with The Nameless, right?”  he stifled a laugh.

    Bluedragon went rigid.  He had a great deal of pride in his team, despite the somewhat checkered reputation they had with Hero Corps.   “Yes I am,”  he said proudly.  Though shorter than the hero who was teasing him, Diego still seemed taller than him by his bearing.

    The blonde hero snickered.  “You guys are a bunch of freaks!.   I don’t know who’s worse with you guys; the empath who gets his kicks screwing with people’s heads or his skank-aholic sister who’ll do any guy with a cape and a mask.”

    Something inside the black-skinned hero snapped.  While his relationship with Beguiler was tentative at best, he, like the other men on the team, had great respect for Psirene.  Without hesitation, he threw a wicked left hook at the other hero.  The look on his face as Bluedragon’s fist connected with it was, to Bluedragon anyway, priceless.

    Two bouncers grabbed the pair almost instantly.

    “Both of you, outside.  No fighting in Pocket D.  Those are the rules.”   Said one of  the absolutely massive bouncers that held them in full nelsons. 

    Bluedragon stopped struggling; he just wanted information this hero had.   As the two were escorted to the door, a plan was forming in Diego’s mind.

    Carefully, he pressed the emergency button on his comm device.  If this guy wasn’t going to talk to him, surely one of the three psychics on the team could.

    The shrill alarm made Sara about jump out of her skin.  Edward quickly excused himself from the table to answer the comm device.

    He looked at the screen.  The GPS feature indicated Bluedragon was outside Pocket D.  The empath scanned out with his mind and contacted his sister.

    What is it, Eddie?

    Apparently Bluedragon has hit some sort of trouble.  Unfortunately, Sara and I cannot go and see what it is.

    Silly man!  Like we need to be there in body to find out what he needs!    Linking her mind with his, Psirene suddenly felt a third mind join the weaving; to her surprise, and Edward’s as well, it was her unborn son.

    Ye gods, Bianca.  This one is powerful, commented Edward.  He directed their combined consciousness toward Bluedragon’s location and saw what was going on.

    So, Diego, what’s going on, came a voice inside his head.  Recognizing it as Bianca’s, Bluedragon smiled to himself. 

    Can you poke around in this guy’s head?  He just came back from a fight with Jon.

    The psychic equivalent of laughter filled his head.  Piece of cake, love.

    Yankee Pryde suddenly went stiff as she went riffling through his mind for the information.

    Got it, Bluedragon.  Contact the others.  We’ll meet at Allied Armored Car.

    Flashing his trademark smile, Bluedragon took to the air before Yankee Pryde could recover from Psirene’s attack.


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