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The Obsidian Blight
By: Levi Whitney


    So, I’ve been told by my friends and family and random heroes who’ve heard
some of the tale that I should put in writing what happened to me.

    My name is Kipland Durj.

    Some of you out there have met me.

    If I rubbed ya the wrong way when we met, I apologize. I’ve been told I have
abrasive character, and I’m a tad too loud for my own good. I’m also a tad
quick to curse, but I’ve gotten better in the past months.

    Dying does an interesting job at correcting your attitude.

    Let me clarify…

    Earlier this year, the docs at a number of Paragon’s various hospitals noted
that I was falling in battle faster than most heroes in my position. I found
myself at the mercy of the Tsoo, the Sky Raiders, even the Council of all
people...

After aiding a group of heroes in defending the Terra Volta Reactor from a
Sky Raider attack, I learned the awful truth from the doctors at Bell
Medical Center. I had a new malicious condition.

    It seems, early in my career, I had engaged in combat with a Void Seeker
soldier of some sort. At the time, I didn’t know what a kheldian was, but he
yelled at me, said I had the stink of one on me, and started shooting at me
with that weird gun of his. Aggravated, I kicked through said gun and the
resulting explosion had me zipping to the hospital. No word yet on whether
or not the Seeker… Stalker… I don’t know, I wasn’t really paying attention
to his rank… In any case, I don’t know if he survived, too.

    Well, sadly, that explosion lodged something in my arm. It must’ve been
smaller than my fingernail or something, because I never felt a damn thing.
However, a month later, there I was, making an almost daily trip to the
nearest hospital.

    That thing in my arm? It was a piece of crystal. Specifically, a piece of a
Shadow Cyst Crystal.

    Let me say that again…

    I had a fricking Shadow Cyst Crystal in my fricking arm!

    Has anybody ever seen one of these? It’s a big black piece of glowing
mineral that is rather fond of summoning up large masses of sentient smoke
that shoot good guys into the ground with not so sentient smoke. Now, now,
don’t quote me on that. It’s just how it looks to me. And it works… I’ve
seen (and been a part of) enough team wipes at the hands (is "hands" right?)
of these things to know. Typically, they only show up when a Peacebringer or
a Warshade bring a lot of heroes in force, and then rarely. I still haven’t
seen the perfect mix of heroes to take one down without casualties… Maybe
such a mix doesn’t exist…

    In any case, one of the damn things had taken root in me and was growing out
of my right arm, leaching nutrients from my bones. The doctors called the
condition Obsidian Blight and believed the only real treatment would have to
be amputation…

    They cut off my arm in May and kept it for study. I was compensated by
Freedom Corps with what they called a "combat prosthetic." It was a
mechanical working replica of my original arm, made of steel and impact
resistant polymers. Of course, I use martial arts, a derivative blend of Muy
Thai kickboxing and Tae Kwon Do… So I typically stick with kicks. The arm
proved helpful in catching unwanted bullets, though, so I kept it on despite
the weight irregularity.

    Things went okay for the next couple weeks after that. Teams, solo, I could
handle myself again. Then, shortly after hitting security level 30 toward
the end of June, I started getting sharp pain in my legs. Nausea, too…No,
not in the legs (I don't think anybody has ever puked out of their leg...).
It was in my gut, like any normal man…

    Of course, I can’t get pregnant (I think…), so it was off to the hospital
for me. Not right away, of course. Anyone who knows me knows I waited until
some bad guys put me in one. Crey happened to be the happy little gun
buddies that did me in that time, and again I was off to find out I had
Shadow Cyst Crystal deposits embedded in both legs and leaching nutrients
from my spleen and one of my lungs. There was even some behind my right eye.

    The amputations later that week were extremely unpleasant.

    I spent the following month as a rampaging cyborg, like one of the Freakshow
goons. I had all my lost parts replaced with cybernetic gear and I fought
like a man possessed. In fact, I even found myself fighting the Freaks in
the Terra Volta Reactor. The docs tell me that was a very unwise thing to
do, because there was no telling what effect the radiation had on my
"powers," or even my condition.

    They also kept me updated on the condition of my removed body parts. I
figured my arm would be long-since rotted away, but when they showed me the
result, I swear I almost puked.

    It wasn’t just still there. It was still alive. It was still… growing…

    It had become a twisted version of itself, dark crystal protruding from it
at odd angles, the flesh pulling tightly as it stretched to accommodate it’s
new “bone structure.” Even the parts that had been recently removed had
signs of the crystal growth progressing steadily. I guess what ticked me off
the most was the fact that my pieces were so willing to accept and cultivate
these intruders…

    What was worse, they found tiny (itty-bitty) crystals… in my bloodstream. It
was how it got into my legs and organs. It was how it was eating away at my
brain. It was how I was going to die in two weeks.

    Security Level 38… I had made it to Security Level 38, and life was bad. I
had made a solemn vow I’d make it to Security Level 40 before I died. I
wanted to be sure I had made my mark on this city, that I had put down as
much scum and filth that it would make a difference…

    Instead, I found myself in a hospital bed, breathing, eating and drinking
(and the corresponding biological functions) through tubes. My friends and
family came to visit me… My dad especially. He came all the way here from
Kingdale… which I guess isn’t that far, roughly a six or seven hour drive.

    All hope was lost, so I closed my eyes on Friday, August 18th, and slept
that final, dreamless sleep.

    Only it wasn’t dreamless.

    No sooner had I closed my eyes than I found myself in a blasted wasteland.
It was like walking on a massive asteroid… In fact, the sky all around
reminded me of Randall Grey’s stories about the Shadow Shard or the
incandescent clouds surrounding Pocket D.

    Before I could really take in the hallmarks of this alien landscape,
however, I was interrupted by the sound of a guttural growl. I turned
casually to see a grotesque monstrosity had been waiting for me to arrive.
Anybody who knows of the Slag Golems in the Rogue Isles or the Brutes in the
Shard might have an idea what this thing looked like… But they’d still be
wrong.

    This grotesquerie was an abomination of anything and everything known and
unknown to mankind. It was a failed experiment, but no less dangerous. Its
massive, contorted body, with its club-like arms and stubby, splay-toed
feet, made even the Hydra Men seem positively cuddly.

    Imagine a Shadow Cyst Crystal with arms and legs made of human flesh. This
is what I faced (uh… no pun intended). Black-purple obsidian shards
protruded from assorted points on its body. Sometimes it was clusters, in
other places, maybe one or two. The smaller crystals were all chaotic, like
a Rock Tanker with Crystal Armor on… However, the larger, main crystals were
located on specific points.

    One black gem rested center at the top of its neck. Another two protruded
from the shoulders, the one on the left larger than the one on the right.
One extended from its right forearm and ended in a wicked point; in fact, it
looked almost like a sword. The last one, glowing like a Shadow Crystal
normally would, protruded from the right side of its chest.

    Worst of all… Worst of all was what I knew in the pit of my stomach.

    This thing was me.

    It had my face.

    Not where my face should’ve been, mind you. Instead, it was stretched out,
and pulled down the left side of its neck and across the shoulder. One of my
ears rested over where most humanoid creatures have their heart. I guess a
patch of my hair rested somewhere on its back…

    It was what I would have become, what I was about to become, if the Obsidian
Blight was allowed to claim my life. It was a vicious monster, unlike
anything the heroes of Paragon had ever seen before. And it was prepared to
destroy everything and everyone I ever cared about…

    Nester…

    Dad…

    Sarah…

    A—

    No!

    I didn’t know how I was going to fight it… I just knew what it was and what
it was capable of… It could fire bolts of dark energy from that massive
sword crystal… I knew it could use the crystal as a weapon, I knew it relied
on it’s brutish size and resilience to survive fights that normally would’ve
shattered it early in the fight…

    I knew all this because it was me, and it knew I was whole in this world,
too.

    I finally got a good look at myself and saw I was in my original uniform, an
old practice football jersey and shoulder pads along with a pair of
wide-legged black jeans. My feet were protected by my classic red sneakers…
Man, I miss those things…

    The point is, I was whole again. I was strong again. I glared at the “Thing
that Would be Me,” and felt a cold chill creeping through my body. I don’t
know if any of you have ever gotten this feeling but it’s the same one you
get when getting ready for a big game, or stare down a half pipe for the
very first time. It’s the feeling you get when the perfect song for the
moment or a just plain awesome tune kicks on the radio and you feel
lightning in your spine. It's the same feeling you get from your very first
kiss...

    It’s the Quickening…

    With a vicious roar of rage, hate (yes, heroes can hate), and raw
determination, I leapt at the monster and I crushed that damn crystal on its
chest with the hardest side kick I’ve ever delivered. It exploded in a
shower of purple smoke and black dust that scattered on an imperceptible
wind. The beast still stood, however, and I had more of a fight in store for
me.

    After backing up a few steps, it raised that hideous right arm and fired a
stream of dark energy at me. Having never really learned how to dodge, I’m
sad to say the blast caught me full in the chest and sent me sprawling
toward the edge of the asteroid we fought upon. I caught myself a few feet
from it and leapt up, ready for more. Though the energy beam must have taken
half my resilience, I barely registered the damage. I had too much at stake
to worry about my condition. Live or die, this monster was going down.

    I beat my chest and roared. I was about to get gory satisfaction. It fired
again and I didn’t fall back. I took the blast full in the chest and charged
forward. The energy stream slowed me slightly, but did nothing to truly stop
me. By the time the stream stopped, I was at the point of the sword and it
was cracking under the impact of a snap kick and a follow-up back-heel kick.
Those two didn’t quite do the job, so I wrapped my arms around its forearm,
leapt up, twisted my body around the limb (twisting its arm with me and
snapping my right foot into the gem on top of its head for good measure) and
used the momentum of my moving body to drive the point of the crystal spike
into the ground.

    Then I drove my foot through the blade like it was a piece of kindling wood,
snapping, splintering and shattering it.

    The beast flailed wildly at me with its good arm, a sickening three-clawed
thing (each claw tipped with, you guessed it, sharp black crystal) and
gashed across my chest. My armor flew away and I was left with just my bare
chest, pants, and sneakers to protect myself.

    It tried to shoulder slam me with its right shoulder (the attempt seemingly
to skewer me on the crystal there). This ended badly for the beast as I
grabbed a hold of the weapon and kicked into its knee with both feet,
rolling back as I did so. The crystal slammed against the ground at a bad
angle and tore out of its place. I rolled out from under the monster as the
rest of the body followed and made my way for the lost appendage.

    I wrapped my arms about it and lifted the black-purple block into the air.
As the monster lifted itself from the ground and started charging toward me,
I hurled the former piece of its body as hard as I could.

    I lack super strength, though, so it fell far short. It landed about a foot
from me and rolled another three feet.

    The good news was that the beast stepped on it, slipped when it started to
roll, and crushed the offending gem under its weight. The other shoulder gem
shattered on impact with the ground and all that was left was the one where
its head should have been.

    The monster tried to stand and I gave the same sharp splintering kick to its
left wrist, breaking it and shattering the bones inside with a sickening
crunch. I could've sworn I saw "my face" on it's shoulder moan silently with
pain... When it turned the head gem to stare at me (It was glowing, so I
think it was a last ditch attack), I was already in the air, twisting about
and bringing my foot crashing down on it.

    I have to say, when that last crystal shattered, it was the most satisfying
victory in my life.

    The dream ended instantly. I awoke to a bright, blinding pain as the
contacts for my prosthetics were torn from my body and I felt something slam
into me (it felt like getting hit by a grenade, really). Witnesses say they
saw a bright explosion that tore a huge hole into the wall next to me and
sent me flying, screaming into the night.

    When I came to, I was whole. My lost limbs, my lost organs (I just knew
intuitively, but a doctor's test proved it later)... My eye. Everything had
been returned to me. The docs tell me the jars holding my lost parts
shattered when I blew a hole into the Chiron Medical Center's wall.

    And, I had a snazzy new suit of armor. If any of you out there watched
Saturday morning TV shows about teen-age superheroes fighting evil aliens in
flimsy jumpsuits that never seemed to get cut (despite the dynamite they
were getting hit with), consider this armor to be the "paragon" of that
idea. This stuff is real body armor, harder than anything I've seen (you
know, like inobtanium...) and flexible in ways it shouldn't be. It fits like
a glove, too, and despite the mask, I can breathe easy and my peripheral
vision isn't hosed.

    It’s been pretty useful so far… Where I used to have to rely on normal,
bulky body armor or even the cybernetic prosthetics to keep from getting
killed, now the armor protects me. Even when I’m in my “civvies,” tiny
explosions of purple smoke decimate whatever projectiles the bad guys shoot
at me.

    My name is Kipland Durj. I am the first and so far only victim of the
Obsidian Blight. Be careful out there, heroes. There's more freaky stuff
than this out there, and I have a bad feeling its only going to get worse.



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