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Worlds of Confusion

 

A man walked through the destroyed city, when a woman stepped out of the fog in front of him.

"I told you not to meet me here," he said.

"Why? Worried little Extinguisher will find you?"

"I told you not to mention that name!"

"You're getting weak, Burning. I have no idea why I agreed to marry you," said Danica, walking away.

"Take that back!" he said, his eyes flaring brightly. She casually flipped him off and kept walking.

Burning roared and charged at her, firing a large blast of flames. Danica quickly ducked under it, smirking that she had gotten under his skin so easily.

As her husband attempted to tackle her, she ducked under him, and slammed both fists into his abdomen.

Burning doubled over, clutching his stomach, and was knocked to the ground as a booted foot kick him in the back.

He whirled around, throwing a wide burst that caught Danica off guard, causing her to cry out as she was flung away. Danica quickly recovered, landing on both feet, and spring back at Burning to deliver a vicious palm strike to his face.

He reeled, and fell back. He looked down as something dropped onto his glove.

Blood.

He snarled, and charged again. Danica quickly leapt up to meet him, fingers aimed for the killing blow. They came together, and everything exploded in a brilliant flash of fire.

The smoke cleared, and one form lay lifeless as the other moved on as if nothing had happened.

***

"I will stand for this no longer!" said Blightlord, pacing back and forth. "That fool will learn the consequences of betraying his true nature. This mere copy will fall."

"Perhaps we are the copies, my lord," said Grime with an amused smirk.

"Are the troops ready?" asked Blightlord, pretending he hadn't heard the Lich.

"Yes, my lord, though I have to wonder, how do you plan to get there?"

"It took me several months, but while we 'visited' Portal Corporation, I found the codes to this 'Praetorian Earth,' and managed to translate them into a spell," he replied as he threw an orb at the large mirror in the center of the stone room.

Grime nodded, and followed his master as they stepped inside. Little did they know, soon things would never be the same.

 

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James Warrens walked into the kitchen of his and Danica's apartment. "Hey hon," he said, kissing her on the cheek before heading towards the door.

"You're not gonna have some breakfast?" she said.

"Can't. I have to meet with some Longbow agents. They think they have a lead on what Blightlord's been up to," he said before putting on a green sweater.

"Alright. Just remember, tonight it's my turn for hero duty," she said.

"I know," said James, walking over to a high chair where a baby girl sat. "See you in a bit, Rachel," he said, kissing her forehead and heading for the door. "Tell Rach she needs to hurry, or she'll miss the tram back to Golden Eagle," he said as he walked out.

Danica nodded. Golden Eagle was the all hero high school that Rach, the older Rachel, went to. She had come to visit when... well, when herself was born, and would be heading back today.

James walked outside, waving to a neighbor as he passed. He looked around to make sure the coast was clear, and ducked into an alley. James snapped his fingers, and a whirlwind of fire rose up around him. It burst away, revealing his normal costume, green tights with black flames along the arms, legs, and a fireball on his chest, as well as a hood to hide his face as the disguise spell dropped and his eyes glowed.

He adjusted his belt and cape before kicking off the ground, and flying to the Longbow complex in Bloody Bay.

***

Blightlord, Grime, and Muck and Guck stepped out of the portal, the Lich immediately wrapping them in a spell of invisibility.

They walked down the torn apart street as Blightlord held out a small wand thats tip pulsed with a blue light. They turned a corner, and it glowed brighter. "This way," said the master of death.

They continued until they came to a solid wall. Blightlord glanced about the alley, waving the wand in different directions. He let it drop for a moment, as all the directions showed the same result, and it flared a huge light.

"Of course," said Blightlord, placing the wand back on his belt, and drawing a small vial. He stepped back, and motioned for his servants to do the same.

Blightlord slid the vial into the launcher on his wrist, aimed it at the spot, and fired. The vial slammed into the ground and exploded, leaving a hole large enough for them to descend into the cavern revealed.

One by one they dropped inside, the Grave Knights going first. Once inside, they found themselves in a large hall of marble, the gleaming building a sharp contrast from the ruins they found outside.

They looked for enemies, but finding none, moved on.

 

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Burning sat in a large office char, rubbing his forehead as he heard the news. "How did he even get access to the coordinates?"

Lieutenant Robinson grabbed a remote, and a small display screen slowly descended from the ceiling along the back wall.

He pressed a button, and an image of Portal Corp. came into view. The building was not looking very well. Burning stared at the image for a moment and sighed. "Why didn't you call me?"

"We didn't even know an attack was coming," said Robinson. "At approximately 0200 hours an Arachnos helicopter uncloaked. Their new stealth technology gave us no signs until their forces were all leaping out, Blightlord exiting behind them.

He pressed the button again, and a new image appeared. Citadel was on the floor of Portal Corp., his chest and face hacked and melted. Burning sat back and scratched the back of his head. This was bad.

"Citadel was placed on duty to guard a scientist Arachnos was after. What for, we're not sure, except that it deals with portal tech. Blightlord's job was to retrieve him and leave, but it seems he made a pitstop at one of our computers," said Robinson.

"And the technician gave him the codes to Praetorian Earth, where he plans to what? Overthrow Tyrant?"

"Possibly. Our agents attempted to track him but shortly after sighting him, we lost contact," replied the Lieutenant. "Luckily, however, we recovered the technician Blightlord kidnapped. He gave him the coorect coordinates, but the codes were slightly off. He could get in, but he's trapped unless he finds another way."

"So all I have to do is head to one of the more dangerous known dimensions to defeat and retrieve an equally dangerous villain," said Burning.

"Exactly. They’re waiting for you down at portal C-2."

***

Blightlord glanced at statues that were now lining the walls with little interest. They were all of different men wearing long robes and holding the same gnarled staff. There was one thing they had in common however. Something in their eyes that Blightlord wasn't able to quite place.

After a while, they had begun to hear a low echo. They now realized this was in fact a voice saying incantations. After a few moments, Blightlord had discerned the spell.

Resurrection.

The chanting was cut off by a dismayed sigh. "She is too far gone, it seems," said the man. "There is no way of bringing her back."

"It is alright, your lordship," said another voice. "You tried your best."

"I know, Shine, but every loss is hard."

"Weaklings," muttered Grime.

Blightlord turned the corner and saw them. The first was a man in bright red robes with white tracing up along its side in a wavy pattern. He seemed to be a normal man, save for one small detail, his purely white eyes.

The other man wore blue robes and a dark green sash covered in runes. A hood covered his face. Grime instantly saw his counterpart and hissed at the man.

The two turned, and for a moment, a cold silence came throughout the halls.

"I knew this day would come," said the man. "Your evil would not allow the existence of a being of the light that so closely resembled you. Just as I cannot allow your perversion of life to continue."

Blightlord stared into his eyes, and snapped his fingers.

There was a roar as dozens of undead screamed fiercely and charged forward. A loud cry echoed as sword wielding soldiers leapt from balconies and ran in through doors to defend their leader.

Muck and Guck ran forward, swords drawn, as Grime held out his hands to cast a spell.

Suddenly, two men in silver armor dropped from the ceiling. "We will repay our debt to you, Lord of Life," said the first.

"We are forever yours for our resurrections," said the second. They met Muck and Guck's charge, quickly catching the undead's blades with their own.

"How noble of you. You find the recently dead and bring them back, and in turn they serve you." Blightlord walked through the battle between Lich and Wizard. He held several glass balls in his hand. He took the red one and held it up for the Lord of Life to see. "Do you know what this does?"

A dark look crossed the man's face. "You will not escape this place, villain."

"I have little need for your overused statements," said Blightlord. He threw the glass ball, and it crashed into the man. The Lord of Life looked down as he slowly melted away.

"I will find a way to return," he said.

"We shall see." Blightlord turned, and walked away.

With their leader dead, the soldiers seemed to lose their strength of will. It was not long before they were overwhelmed.

Grime appeared alongside Blightlord through a portal of darkness, carrying a form wrapped in gray cloth. "This was the body he was working on. Perhaps it could serve some better purpose?"

Blightlord looked down towards it. "Perhaps.

 

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Burning Brawler walked through a ruined city. His tracking spells said Blightlord was in this area.

Every rock falling to the ground, every whisper from the wind sounded like an enemy's approach. This dimension was less safe for a hero than the Rogue Isles.

As he walked, Burning saw a deep hole in the ground ahead, almost like a load of explosives had gone off. He quietly snuck up to the spot, and his eyes went wide as he recognized the signs of what had caused this. The damage here looked almost identical to the kind he created whenever his anger got the better of him.

Had his evil self been here?

Burning glanced about, but saw nothing. Now even more wary, he continued on.

***


Blightlord and his servants walked out of The Lord of Life's former stronghold and back into the destroyed city. The master of undeath nodded to Grime, who turned to the entrance, and began weaving a spell.

Muck stared curiously at the wrapped body they had been instructed to carry. Guck reached to lift a flap, but as he felt Blightlord's stare, he quickly decided it would be better to wait.

Grime finished his spell, and the entrance faded away. There was a short rumble, and the job was done. "It will serve our purposes should we need to return," said the Lich.

Blightlord nodded. If they ever were forced to return here, they would have a base of operations only they could access. "Teleport us back to our home then, Grime."

The Lich nodded, and prepared the spell. A dark light wrapped around them, and their bodies slowly faded away.

And popped right back where they were.

"Enough games, take us back to the base," said Blightlord, annoyed.

"I don't understand, my lord, it should have worked," said Grime.

A deep scowl crossed the undead master's face. "Longbow. Come then, we will find another route."

 

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Blightlord's minions followed him as he walked towards a large building. "My lord, this dimension has no portal technology," said Grime after a short while.

"I know. That is exactly why we are going right where they want us," Blightlord replied.

"Who?"

"Stop right there, Blightlord!" yelled Burning Brawler as he descended behind them, flames covering his entire form and a massive fireball in his right hand.

"Or you'll incinerate me? We've done this dozens of times, and it always ends the same. A stalemate."

"This time you're trapped," said Burning, arm aimed directly at Blightlord to let the fire loose. "You have nowhere to crawl and hide."

"Kill?" asked Muck, setting down the wrapped body in favor of tossing a sword from hand to hand.

"Yes, let's get this over with," said Blightlord.

Burning let the fireball loose, but it was wasted as a zombie leapt into the air, not even leaving ashes behind. Blightlord calmly raised an arm and began firing toxins at Burning.

The hero quickly leapt back, gasping as several hit him. He quickly leapt up into the air, forcing Muck and Guck to sheathe their swords and blast him with darkness instead.

Burning raised his arms to the sky, and it suddenly began to rain fireballs. Blightlord minions hurriedly tried to run out of the flaming death, the other two zombies falling in the barrage.

Blightlord calmly held a hand out, unnatural energies dancing around it. Grime quickly shot a wide burst of darkness at the hero, obscuring his vision. In that moment of blindness, Blightlord let the energies fly.

The cords quickly wrapped around Burning, sending him spinning through the air. He threw a hand out again, and tendrils reached up from the ground, forcefully slamming the hero back to earth.

"Beautiful, aren't they?" said Blightlord as he stalked forward. "It seems my time wasn't entirely wasted with Ghost Widow."

Burning growled as he continued his helpless aerial spin.

"They'll wear away soon," he said, reaching for the hero's belt. He plucked his medi-porter from its pouch and smirked. "Ironic. You planned to trap me, and now it is you who has nowhere to go."

He stepped back and placed a hand on the wrapped body. He pressed the button, and they disappeared.

 

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After reappearing in the hospital on Peregrine Island and causing great confusion, Blightlord used his own medi-porter to return to Nerva Archipelago in the Rogue Isles.

As Blightlord and his servants descended the steps in Primeva to an underground cavern, he glanced back at the body he had brought with them.

It radiated a sort of power... but it was unique. Something he had only felt once before. The day he assumed control of the body of a pathetic little man and made him a god.

They entered the section of Orenbega Blightlord now controlled. Muck set the wrapped body down on an alter, then he and his brother took their guarding post at his door.

Grime watched from beside the throne as Blightlord held his hands out over the body and began to speak.

The walls echoed with power. Grime had to wonder why his master would bother with this sort of resurrection. Only those he saw to become the highest of his minions were rewarded so.

Blightlord removed a glove pulled back the wrappings across the body's face, and drew a long, wickedly curved dagger. He cut across his palm, and slowly green and black drops fell across its lips. The strange ooze melted into its skin. No... her skin.

She coughed and sputtered, her graying flesh taking on a brighter hue as she rose. Blightlord gazed into her pure white eyes, his own widening in surprise.

The woman quickly broke free of her wrappings, and lunged towards Blightlord.

The villain quickly side-stepped, and in a moment, Muck and Guck were there. The two hacked across at their swords, but she skillfully leapt in the air, doing a shadow covered spin kick that knocked Muck back.

She quickly turned around and blasted a pulse of negative energy in Guck, doing the same to him.

"Danica? What a surprise... Your husband left you for dead to pursue me. How touching," said Blightlord.

"I have no husband!" she spat. "And when I'm through with you, Life, you'll see your mistake in reviving me."

Grime snapped his arms wide, and two dark missiles sailed for Danica. Before she could react, they ensnared her, freezing her in place.

"She thinks she is still-" began the Lich.

"In her own dimension, yes. This should be interesting," said Blightlord, arms crossed as her gazed at her frozen expression of anger. "Have a Knight carry her to a room. We have much work to do to coerce this one."

"Why not simply end her now?" asked the Lich, his mind screaming warnings.

"I have my reasons."

 

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The Praetorian Danica paced inside the room that had decided to hold her in. It was actually somewhat luxurious, if one could get past the bleak stone walls. The bed was comfortable, and the sheets a rare silk that the previous occupants either paid a large amount for or stole. The latter was more likely.

There were candles, and a fireplace that was only for decoration, which Danica discovered when she tried to climb up through it, with ornate carvings set in the stone.

She walked back to the door and cast a dark glance at the guards. Something did not feel right. These were not the same servants Life normally kept. These reeked of death. But the resemblance of the man keeping her here was too much like her hated enemy to be merely coincidence. It must be a disguise.

Or perhaps... the stories were true. No... The tales of dimensions where the mightiest of villains were tyrant heroes were tales wicked mothers told their children at night to frighten them.

She was interrupted in her thoughts as the door creaked and a man stepped inside. Blightlord glanced at her, waiting to see if she would attack. When she gave no sign of doing so yet, he spoke. "I hope you find this room to your liking."

"You keep me caged her as if I were some animal! I should kill you for this."

"It is merely a precaution. If you promise to listen, then you are free to go."

Danica stared at his face for more than a few moments. He most certainly did not have a trustworthy face, but she could not detect any signs of him lying. "Fine," she said, walking back to the bed and sitting on it in a lotus position.

Blightlord nodded. "You are in another dimension, a different reality. Here, things are somewhat reversed. In this world, your leader Tyrant is a hero known as Statesman."

Danica looked skeptical, but let him continue.

"Here, villains and heroes roles are reversed. It seems key events in our lives that decided what side of the line of the world's view of right we fell upon were altered. In your world, for example, Ms. Liberty became quite rebellious, much more so than most girls her age, and killed her own mother, becoming your Dominatrix; where as here, she carries on her mother's pathetic work."

"If what you are saying is true," said Danica, "than where is my copy? Tell me, so I may end her now."

"Let us not get ahead of ourselves."

"Us? There is no us, and I am leaving," she said, walking out the door. Blightlord made no moves to stop her, as he had promised. He knew she would return.

***

A very battered Burning Brawler appeared in a Longbow base. Lieutenant Robinson turned to see what it was that had suddenly teleported into the control room when the hero collapsed on the floor.

"Get the med team in here!" he yelled.

A group of Longbow agents wearing white surgery masks and healing kits strapped to their belts quickly walked into the room.

One bent over Burning, placing her hand on his chest and flooding him with healing energies. He coughed and sputtered before slowly opening his eyes. "What happened to you?" asked Robinson.

"Blightlord... he stole my medi-porter and escaped..."

The Lieutenant rubbed his eyes. "But how? That spell had him locked in."

Burning shook his head. "Something keeps me from placing spells on him, so I attached them to what he would use to escape..."

Robinson sighed. "So how did you get back?"

"Tyrant's men ambushed me. I managed to get away long enough to cast a spell to teleport back home..."

Lieutenant Robinson nodded and said, "Go ahead and take him to the infirmary and get him fixed up. I want to know what it was Blightlord did on Praetorian Earth and I want to know it within the next two hours."

The med team nodded and carried him off while the men working at the control panels began their search, trying to find something amiss.

 

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The Danica from Praetorian Earth stalked a man in the cold night air. The Arachnos agent glanced behind him, but saw nothing. He continued down the empty street.

"Hate these damn patrols," he muttered. Suddenly, the man found himself pressed up against a wall, a knee digging painfully into his groin. He tried to reach for his mace, but she had both his arms pinned his just one of her own.

"What's the rush?" she said, soothingly, calmingly. "I only wanted to talk with you." Her fingers lightly played up along his chest as she reached up and began to remove his helmet. The Arachnos agent began to sputter a protest, but as Danica held up a shushing finger, he simply stared.

"A big strong man like you must be very well connected," she said. He began to mutter something, his cheeks turning red. "Come on, you must be in charge of a whole legion of lackeys in some big base."

The Arachnos agent looked away. He was only a Wolf Spider, he didn't even have control over what times he went to the bathroom! But he couldn't tell this woman that. She might walk away! "Uh huh," he lied.

"And I bet you have all the info on the heroes," said Danica as she caressed his cheek. It was true. His base stored one of the Arachnos databanks on hero operations. Danica leaned in close, and whispered in his ear, "Where?"

"I-I can't tell you-" he was suddenly silenced as a tongue ran across his cheek. In a few moments, he was spilling everything he knew, from the base's location, to his birthday, to his grandmother's maiden name.

Danica smiled sweetly. "Thanks." She bent forward and began kissing him. A smile played across the Spider's face until he began to notice something. She was... cold... Like one of those zombies or something... His faint cry of horror was silenced as Danica gripped his hair, and brutally slammed his head against the brick wall. Blood splattered her, and she relished it as she slammed his head again and again.

The corpse fell to the floor. Danica's sadistic smile didn't fade as she licked the blood from her fingers. She was still smiling as someone clapped behind her. Danica turned to see Blightlord standing there. "How long were you watching?"

"Long enough. I am impressed," he said.

"Don't try to stop me. I will find the weaker me from this dimension."

"I have no intentions of stopping you. In fact, I wish to help you."

Danica stared at him for a long while, attempting to see traces of deception. She could not find any, and it disturbed her. At the same time however, she was intrigued. This one radiated power, a power she wanted, power her former husband could never achieve...

She stepped forward, and placed a hand on Blightlord's ventilator. The master of the undead made no moves to stop her as she peeled it away. She bent in, and kissed him for a long while.

A few hours later, they were walking into Blightlord's throne room. The ventilator was placed back on. "We must give you a new name... something that symbolizes who you now are."

She thought for a moment. "Deseca."

Blightlord nodded in approval. Void Brawler came into view, a confused look on his face. He really wanted to ask who it was that was in his arm, but he had eaten recently and was a bit afraid. Deseca stared at the boy, slow recognition coming into her eyes. "Is that who I think it is?"

"Yes," said Blightlord.

"Then here is a..." Deseca glanced at the boy.

Void Brawler cocked his head. "She almost looks like-" he stopped himself as shock, confusion, and a slight bit of nausea overwhelmed him. It only grew bigger as Deseca stepped forward and embraced him. "M... Mom?"

Deseca smiled. "Yes," she said, stroking his hair.

Grime watched the scene from the shadows at the edge of the room. He did not like this, not at all... He stepped forward into the torchlight. "It's like you're all one big, happy family."

Blightlord smirked. "Yes, I believe it is."

***

Far away in the Burning family's apartment, Danica fell back into a chair. Burning stood up, his injuries healed thanks to Longbow's med team. "What's the matter?" he asked, rushing to her side.

"I feel like something... terrible... just happened. We need to find Matt!"

 

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"But... how?" said Void, just starting to fight through the shock.

"He brought me back, back to you son. Didn't you want me back?" said Deseca, stepping away from the boy.

"Y-yes but, dad?" asked Void, looking at Blightlord hopefully, ignoring all alarms that this really couldn't be.

Blightlord had been prepared for this answer, and had to resist chuckling at the boy. "I'm afraid the Buttkickers of the Fantastic did not leave as intact a body as they had with your mother. To bring him back in that state would be monstrous."

Void looked down, but nodded. "Shhhhhh," said Deseca, kneeling beside the boy and stroking his hair. "I'm here, you have nothing to worry about." Void nodded. She was cold to the touch, but still, she was back. "Now go get ready and we'll visit some old friends." She said these last few words with a dark smile, one that instantly told Void what she meant.

As he rushed back out Deseca stood with a grin of satisfaction.

"I take it you'll stay then?" said Blightlord, any trace of hope undetectable.

"More than that," she replied, leaning in.

***

Danica flew across Steel Canyon and towards Siren's Call at an impossibly fast pace. Burning, who was normally the better flier, could hardly keep up as the wind rushed past his face, chilling it to the bone. "Wait! What do you mean, something terrible?" he shouted ahead to her.

"I don't know!" she called back. "I can just feel it!"

Burning knew not to question her on this, and instead followed. He couldn't let her run in there alone.

 

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The plan was fairly simple. Blightlord's base was well hidden, so they needed to lure him out. What better way to do so than by attempting to break into his secrets with an Arachnos supercomputer? He wouldn't realize who the real attackers were until the deed was done.

To reach the Rogue Isles was fairly easy. A few people owed them favors for the bases they had kept from being blown up and were more than willing to give them a ride on the Longbow Chopper. It landed on the roof of the hospital where the two heroes waited to be picked up. A little more than an hour later and they were in the City of Villains.

Burning had watched Danica carefully the whole ride. She was definitely nervous. Her plan sounded like it would work. He just hoped she knew what they were getting into.

"Alright, we're clear for landing," said the Longbow officer as he brought the chopper down in the hills of Cap Au Diable. "Good luck."

The two climbed out and looked at the city, smoke rising from it into the night sky. "The base is this way," said Brawler, turning her back down behind the hill. They took a few steps before hearing metal instead of dirt beneath their feet. Burning bent down to brush away the grass, revealing a hidden door.

"I'll get it," said Danica as she knelt. The heroine stuck her fingers in the door and pushed. It groaned and prosted, but soon could hold out no longer. Burning stared at her for a moment and she shrugged. "Comes with the training."

Alarms blared as they tore a path of destruction through the base. Arachnos guards ran to stop them, but were halted themselves by a hail of fists and fireballs. They left unconcious guards in their wake, their forms fading away from mediports and the Paragon Prisoner Transit System.

The base leader was typing furiously on the keyboard of an enormous supercomputer when they approached. The room was gigantic, filled with similar, yet somewhat smaller machines that formed a maze of technology. "You're too late! I've already deleted them! All of this base's work from the past ten years is gone forever! You heroes will never know the secret!"

Danica rolled her eyes and lunged forward, grabbing the Huntsman's collar. He struggled, but as soon as she dug her fingers into a pressure point in his neck the man fell limp. "We're not hear for your little science project," she said before dropping him to the floor.

"So... the files..."

"Yeah, you didn't need to delete them. Thanks for saving us the trouble though," said Burning before he stole the heat around the air around him, encasing the man in a block of ice and cutting short his stream of curses.

Danica sighed in frustration. "I can't crack this thing."

Burning walked over to the supercomputer and placed a hand on it. "Let me try." The mage shut his eyes and concentrated. He saw not the wires and metal, but power and commands opened as easily as a spellbook. He was transforming his view from the technological to the mystical.

He spoke the incantation and set a black piece of cloth from one of Blightlord's costumes into the computer's DNA tray. It slid into the computer which began to hum.

***

Blightlord looked up. Deseca stared at him curiously. "What's wrong?"

"The mirror..." He moved quickly towards it and pressed a hand against the glass surface. The image twisted and showed the symbol of Arachnos, then a shadow that resembled the unmistakable rock formation on Cap Au Diable. Blightlord opened his eyes. "An Arachnos base is spying... I must leave to teach them their foolishness."

"I will come with you," said Deseca, sliding up beside him. Blightlord smiled, nodding. The two stepped into the mirror, vanishing.

They reappeared near the control room, unaware that Burning and Danica were setting up a trap just ahead. Blightlord held out his arms and shut his eyes. Instantly several zombies, as well as his Grave Knight lieutenants Muck and Guck were at his side. A few seconds later, Grime stepped from the shadows.

They group of villains stepped into the large room. Blightlord gestured at the rows, and a zombie ran down each, searching for their prey. A ghost came up beside Blightlord with a wide grin.

"Kiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiill the heroesssssssss!"

"Heroes? Sludge, we are here for Arachnos. Later," said Blightlord impatiently.

"Arachnos goooooooone. Sweet smellllllllll of pain heeeeeeeere. Allllllllll defeated."

Immediately, Blightlord saw the trap for what it was. He turned to leave only to be stopped by a wall of mystic energies. He raised his hands to dispel it, but the wall did not budge. He turned back to see Burning Brawler and Danica standing there, ready to fight.

"Of course," said the master of undeath. "You are now so tired of waiting out the inevitable, you've decided to give yourselves up?"

"I don't think that's what they came for, my love," said Deseca as she slid into view from the darkness. Her eyes locked with Danica's, the villain's glinting with evil glee as Danica stared in terror and revulsion at the perversion of all she was. "Oh good, I was hoping we'd meet soon."

 

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"What the hell is that thing?!" yelled Danica, pointing at the Praetorian.

"Why she's you, in a sense," said Blightlord as he resisted the urge to grin.

"Whatever you're trying to pull, you rotting sack of shit, I swear I'll-"

"Now now, can't we get along," said Deseca as she walked towards the two heroes, both still too stunned to attack. "I mean, we're so alike, can't we agree to let things go?" Suddenly she lunged forward and grabbed Danica by the throat. "Oh right, now I remember."

Burning whirled to toss a fireball, but suddenly froze. Blightlord reloaded another paralytic poison into his launcher as Muck and Guck moved forward to bring down the hero.

Deseca smiled maliciously as dark energies wrapped about her hand and began absorbing Danica's life force. The heroine suddenly brought her arms up in between Deseca's and broke her grip. As the villainess stumbled back Danica leapt forward to land a kick.

Suddenly, Danica was on the ground with Deseca holding her leg. The warrior stared, stunned, then cried out in pain as her leg was snapped in two at the knee. "Oh yes, you won't be surprising me," said the villain. "I know everything you'll try to hit me with, and revived as I am, I'm not twice as strong as you could ever be." The villainess twisted the broken leg, making Danica scream.

The cry broke Burning from the hold of Blightlord's toxin. He whirled around to his both Muck and Guck with a blast of fire, sending them stumbling back just before they could strike.

Deseca looked up and saw the fireball heading her way. She lept away from Danica and brought up her arms to lessen the effect. Before Burning could attack again, Sludge descended, cackling wildly as he hurled screaming skulls at the hero.

Burning ducked away, luring the ghost to somewhere where he could bind it. Danica sat on the ground, gripping her broken leg. She hissed as she reset the bone, and began focusing her energies to make it mend quicker.

Deseca came back into view, about to snap a kick at her other self's head. Danica caught the kick and twisted, flipping the undead woman in the air and putting her on her back. They both stood and readied themselves to fight.

Blightlord had turned back toward where Burning had run. He knew Deseca would want to kill her 'good' counterpart herself. He soon knew without a doubt where the hero was when he heard the sound of a toilet flushing and Sludge's unmistakable wail of, "Nooooooooooooooooooo!"

Muck and Guck charged past Blightlord. The master of the undead called a warning, but was too late as the Knight's slipped on the large patch of ice, sliding down the open elevator shaft. The villain cursed. Where on earth was Grime?

The hooded figure leapt into view, a fireball leading the way. Blightlord staggered back, taking the hit. He repaid it with the swirling energies of the souls he commanded. Tendrils of power shot from his arms and ensnared him, making the man spin in the air.

He groaned before whispering the incantation to dispell the energies, but Blightlrod was already in the process of hitting him with various potions, each making him feel weaker and more helpless than the last.

"It's interesting that things should end this way," said Blightlord as he fired another paralytic toxin. "All it took was one other truly competent individual to bring you both down. All this time wasted on Elitist's attacks on your friends, when a quicker solution was there all along. It's almost funny."

He finished his spell, breaking free and falling to the ground, then suddenly had the urge to throw up as the toxins hit him full on.

"Yes, I've managed to actually improve my recipes since last time," said the villain as he walked forward. The hardened black ooze that made up his costume began to melt on his arm. It slid down, forming a large sword in Blightlord's hand. "All challenging rivals must come to an end I suppose."

He brought the sword down on the hooded man's head. Blightlord felt the satisfying sensation of steel cutting through flesh and bone, and laughed as the body slumped to the floor. "And then I will bring him back as a will-less slave for all eternity..." He bent down and grabbed the limp man's chin. He lifted his face into the light, and staggered back in surprise. He had been tricked! The hero had cast a disguise spell on Grime!

Burning dropped down behind the villain. Blightlord whirled around, releasing another group of tendrils. The bounced off a mystic shield, flying wide. "And now I have you all alone," said the hero as his hands lit.

There was a scream of pain. They both looked in its direction, then at each other. Burning turned to go see what had happened. Blightlord chuckled at his foolishness and let loose another wave of power. The tendrils caught Burning's feet, tripping him.

Danica and Deseca back into view. The two were trading kick for shadow-wrapped kick, and blow for blow. Though Deseca was blocking somewhat slower, the darkness that empowered her was easily making up for it. They both were working hard to keep the other on guard. However, being undead meant Deseca would never tire, whereas Danica was already sweating, her own blocks and kicks coming less quickly.

Burning whirled towards Blightlord, flinging a fiery blast. It hit another wave of tendrils, causing a blinding explosion of magic. The villain heard the unmistakable words of a teleportation spell. The villain cried out in anger as he hurried to say the counter-spell.

Two flashes ran through the room, but when everything had cleared, the heroes were gone.

 

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

 

Burning and Danica reappeared in the 'Kickers base, their costumes shredded and several wounds bleeding deeply. Danica was also nursing an blackened eye that was already greening at the edges.

Wordlessly, they both headed to the med-bay. What had just happened was too surreal. It wasn't possible. They had been... defeated.

When they walked in and sat on the examination tables, Hyper-Man stared. "What happened to you two?" he asked, quickly moving towards them, a scanner in hand.

"Blightlord," was all Burning gave, but obviously Hyper knew there was more to it. Even if he didn't press them. Yet. He waved the scanner over them, checking for any contaminations, tracking devices, or broken bones. Danica's skull had a crack, but it could be quickly mended. The bleeding below the skin would have to be watched though. As for Brawler, he would need to spend several hours in a tube for cleansing all the toxins in his system.

"You both won't be able to head back out for a while." He saw Danica about to protest and raised a hand to stop her. "We can make this go quicker though if you'll tell me what exactly happened." Burning looked at Danica, then nodded. When they told their tale, Hyper sat back and sighed. "We'll need to discuss this with the others later, but for now, you two need rest."

***

Blightlord and Deseca walked into his throne room. "You were perfect, my dear."

"They still got away," she said, a dark look crossing her face.

"Yes, but they now know what little chance they have to stop me. To stop us." Blightlord turned her to face him. "Together, we can easily crush them, and the rest of their friends. After that, who would dare question my leadership over Elitist?"

"So I am just something you plan to use to make yourself more powerful?" she said with a scowl.

"No. You and I, together, are going to make each other more powerful. Together, we will be stronger than we ever could alone. You will get what you want, and so will I."

Though her scowl did diminish some, the doubt in her cold eyes was clear. But Blightlord was not concerned. In time she would see.

 

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

 

"So what you're saying is the Masters have a new member?" said Jack as he leaned back in his chair.

"Yes, but this new member is also a Praetorian of one of our own," said Hyper as he slid a folder towards the large, blue and yellow-armored man. Inside were several pictures, and a brief description of the differences between Danica and her evil counterpart.

"We can't afford to raid the Masters, we're still recovering from the last few times."

"But we can't let this go either. If the Masters get the idea to bring ALL of our Praetorian selves here, we could be in for much more than we could handle. Even though most of them aren't together, they could probably still be convinced," Hyper said as he stood.

"But why does this have to end in a raid?" asked Violet, speaking up for the first time since the meeting started over an hour ago. "Why not let Burning and Danica handle this? I'm sure now that they know what they're facing, they can handle it."

Jack rubbed his forehead. "Vi's right. Too many of us will attract the rest of the Masters’ attention. Maybe Blight's been keeping his new girlfriend a secret."

Hyper leaned back on the wall. Burning and Danica sat at the table. They didn't want the others involved in this if they didn't have to be. This wasn't really their problem. Neither was Void Brawler. Danica spoke up first. "We'll handle them. If you guys are worried about the Masters getting new ideas, you can deal with that. But Blightlord and Deseca are our problem, and we'll solve them."

Super Shard glanced at Burning to see his reaction to this. Obviously he was agreeing with his wife.

"I don't think it's a good idea for you two to go in alone," said Hyper-Man. "You were lucky last time. Ever since Blightlord learned how to interfere with the medi-porters-"

"Hyp, we'll take care of this," said Burning. "If you guys can just make sure they're brought into the open, we'll deal with them."

Hyper-Man sighed. If both of them were agreeing, there wasn't much he could do to convince them to try something else. "Fine. I'll be keeping watch though. If anything goes wrong-"

But the two had already disappeared.

***

Void Brawler watched Deseca and Blightlord talk. He couldn't make out what they were saying though. Something about all of this didn't feel right. That was his mom, but she didn't feel like her. Why?

He shook his head. "Just can't let myself be even a little happy, huh?" he said to himself. "Of course it's her."

 

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

 

"The gum will only cover the effects," said Burning, referring to the gum-like substance that contained a healing elixir. He and Danica both ran down Port Oakes' dark streets. "We only feel better. You still have that fracture. You need to heal first."

Danica kicked off the ground, flying into a dark alley. Brawler sighed, then followed. He wasn't entirely sure where she was going. She may not even know. All doubt were cleared however as she flew straight into a wall, and by that, meaning she flew through it.

A few years ago and this would have surprised Burning, but he was long past those days. He flew forward, then gasped as his head hit solid stone. "What the hell?" He rubbed the sore spot. An arm suddenly shot out from the wall, grabbing his own and pulling him inside.

He looked at the large base. The gray stone walls and floor were in sharp contrast to the bright uniforms worn by its occupants, The Legacy Chain.

"This... is the main base of-" started Burning. When Danica nodded, his jaw dropped. "How did you find this place? I've offered to help them dozens of times, and they haven't even invited me in once."

"You're not in The Rogue Isles as much as I am," was all she gave as they walked down a hall leading to a large altar. At the top, a man in a long, white cape wearing a shining silver helmet decorated with jewels and long, sharp points stood. He turned to see them approaching and smiled.

"Danica, how good to see you. Did you find what we were looking for?"

She nodded, handing him a small box. "I don't know that this will do the trick. Arachnos gave it up a bit too easily. Especially since it was guarded by a group of Fortunatas."

"Even so, we must try. Ghost Widow is an abomination of supernatural forces, and must be destroyed." Burning gave a small cough to show he was standing there. The Legacy Chain Archmage ignored him, and handed Danica a wand. "Try this one if you should encounter your son again. Perhaps it could undo the damages."

"We were also hoping you could give us some information," said Danica as she put the wand in her belt.

"We?" said the Archmage. He looked at Burning, and recognition dawned on his face. "Ah, so this is the husband you told me about." He nodded at Brawler who nodded back, though a bit annoyed at being ignored earlier. "And what kind of information are you looking for, my dear."

"We," said Burning stepping up, "want to know if you can give us something on the location of a villain called Blightlord's base." He handed the other man a piece of armor that belonged to a Grave Knight.

A dark look crossed the Archmage's face. "Yes, we've had to deal with that one quite often. Our scrying attempts haven't given us much on him lately, but for Danica we will try once more." He smiled at the heroine before turning back to the altar. A bowl of water was placed in front of him by one of the Legacy's acolytes. He dropped the armor piece inside. As magic flooded the altar, the piece dissolved and strengthened the spell.

Several Legacy mages stood around the altar, bowing their heads as they lended their power.

Burning didn't let the Archmage see it, but he began to also lend some of his own power to the scrying. This had to work...

***

Blightlord watched the image in the mirror twist and turn. In his mind's eye, he saw someone he recognized far too well. A malicious grin broke across his rotting face as the master of undeath stalked towards the mirror.

He snapped his fingers and Grime along with several other Liches followed. Blightlord placed his hand on the mirror and began flooding it with his own power. The undead sorcerers added their own strength and began to do more than just fend off the scrying. No, the wards on the throne room alone did that well enough. Instead, they were misdirecting the attempt, changing the image the heroes would see. And something else too.

They began to scry back.

***

A look of fear crossed the Archmage's face. "STOP!" he shouted, breaking the contact. The mages looked up, startled, wondering what possibly could have gone wrong. They had succeeded, seen Blightlord's base. "You saw it?" he asked.

Burning nodded.

"Good. Now leave, leave this place. Destroy him, quickly. Let that monster's evil taint magic no more."

"Thank you," said Danica, and the two were off, flying back into the dark streets of Port Oakes and headed to the jungle Primeva.

The Archmage leaned back against the altar. Acolytes rushed to his side, wiping the sweat from his brow and giving him something to drink. "Are you alright, sir?" one asked.

He nodded weakly. "I'm an old man who merely needs a little rest."

 

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

 

Blightlord walked through the dark streets, his undead servants behind him, Deseca at his side, and Void Bralwer bringing up the rear, concealed by shadows. Grime repeatedly put his hands on his head and twisted. Ever since it had been reattached it just didn't sit right. It almost would have been worth it to endure a week's wait inside his phylactory...

"Are you sure this is the best way, my love? Shouldn't we wait for them? We could always come after the others later," Deseca whispered so that Void could not overhear.

"No. What I have waiting for them will be more than sufficient." He said this confidently. The group stood in front of a seemingly normal wall, just like any other in Port Oakes. "Remove it," ordered Blightlord.

Grime stepped forward and held his arms out wide. Dark energies began coursing down his arms, building and growing as he said the spell. He shouted the final word and flung the energies forward. They slammed into the wall and made it twist and turn, the solid shape now looking like a hypnotizing ooze.

Confidently, Grime stepped inside, disappearing. Deseca and Blightlord followed, Muck and Guck behind them. Void Brawler slid in with the ten zombies they had brought with them.

Each glanced around at the Legacy Chain base and the acolytes staring back at them, their confusion and fear plain in their eyes. Blightlord smirked. "Kill them all."

Muck and Guck teleported, appearing in the midst of a group of acolytes. The newly inducted protectors of good hardly had time to cry out a warning before mystically strengthened swords sliced through them like butter, their blood pooling on the floor.

The zombies even seemed excited as they quickly shuffled forward, spitting gobs of acid into the mages who were trying to mount a defense, their spells breaking apart as they rain for cover from the acidic rain.

Grime whispered the words of another spell, opening a portal of shadows. More undead began to enter the room. Soon a complete horde of zombies was lumbering after the Chain's soldiers. Several Grave Knights rushed forward to meet the members of the Legacy of Steel, their blades locking in heated duels.

As a line of Legacy of Light mages formed, four Liches answered their volleys of power with bolts of darkness. Sludge rose behind them. "Youuuuuuuuuu all will sufffeeeeerrrrrrr!" he shouted, and began overwhelming them with an aura of fear. The servants of good broke apart under the onslaught of evil, their own power no match.

Several mages dropped from the ceiling, surrounding Muck and Guck. They quickly swallowed their revulsion at the bodies of their brothers that littered the floor, and lifted their hands to fire the light within them.

Blightlord chuckled as he raised his arms. The bodies of the fallen acolytes rose with them, dark energies shooting up through the floor and piercing their bodies. Tormented souls were ripped from their mortal shells. Their pain turned to anger, anger at their brothers for failing to protect them.

The mages broke away as fearsome stares seemed to bore into their very souls. Ectoplasmic gobs slammed into their feet, tripping them. Zombies moaned in evil joy as they fell on them, devouring the screaming mages, sending bloodied gobs of flesh into the air.

The Grave Knights were taking down the Legacy's lesser swordsmen with ease when suddenly a horn blew. Men in full armor entered through the doors of the hall, charging forward and taking the Knights by surprise. As their brothers fell, they quickly pulled shields or an extra sword and began fighting back even more fiercely than before. It was clear that no side would be getting anywhere however.

"Do you mind if I-" began Deseca, gesturing to the fight with a gleam of malice in her eyes.

"Be my guest," Blightlord replied as he waved his arms in a mock bow. The Praetorian lept forward, overwhelming a group that was about to surround Muck and Guck.

The scene was complete carnage as vengeful spectres turned their former comrades to useless screaming children that were quickly devoured by bloodthirsty zombies. Grave Knights, with the aid of Deseca, began to fend off the best swordsmen the Legacy Chain could offer. The Liches had all but removed the presence of the Light from this battle. But there was still so much more...

As the last swordsmen fell, the missing pieces soon came into play. A wave of fire shot down, obliterating more than half of the Grave Knights in the room. The floor shook and suddenly burst forward, destroying a large group of spectres and zombies.

From a portal of pure light on the ceiling descended the Archmage and the members of the Legacy of Fire and Earth. "Blightlord!" shouted the Archmage, his voice magically enhanced and booming throughout the room. "Your evil shall end here!"

They landed, giving the master of undead a clear view. The Archmage's eyes burned with fire that surrounded his form, even as the earth rose to shield him, and light surrounded his head in something similar to a halo. This image would turn any lesser villain, make them run in fear. But Blightlord only smiled. "I had wondered when we would meet." This was all he gave before pointing at the Archmage.

The portal expanded, and a roar of fury could be heard within. The floor shook as a large, rotting foot stepped forward. Then another. And finally a head peeked through, its eyes emanating an evil so powerful, the mages' resolve began to falter.

The creature stepped forward, rising to its full size, nearly three times that of a normal man. Its bulky form moved with ease, however. This creature that so resembled Adamastor was much more. It was an Atrocity, the strongest monster in Blightlord's army.

"Oh... my... god," muttered the Archmage as he stared up at the creature. He quickly covered any fear. He must stay strong, must keep his men strong. They will not lose this battle. "For the Chain!" he cried. The mages behind him cheered as they lobbed their spells at the monstrosity.

The Atrocity charged through the hail of fire and boulders, swiping its hand down and crushing a group of mages. The Grave Knights that remained charged in from behind, splitting their attention from the creature.

The Spectres hovered above, lobbing ectoplasm and fearsome images of skulls that screamed in torment. The Archmage whirled around and shot a beam forward. The spirits dissipated, their souls put to rest.

Deseca flew quickly over the fight, landing beside Blightlord. The Archmage gasped. "Is that-" Blightlord nodded. "You... bastard. I will... I'll-"

"Die." Blightlord's hands shot forward. Energies rushed towards the man, wrapping around him and flinging him high in the air. Grime fired a burst of darkness as Muck and Guck shot burst of nether-energy, striking the spinning man.

There was a flash of light, and he broke free. The Archmage charged forward, screaming in rage. Bolt of fire and light slammed into the shielding Grime put forward. He neared Blightlord, and was suddenly stopped as an arm shot forward, catching him in the neck and taking his feet out from under him.

With a deftness that one would not expect from someone as seemingly old, he rolled back to his feet, and stared into the face of Deseca. "My dear... why?" Her hand shot forward, slamming into his gut. As he stumbled back, Blightlord motioned towards Void Brawler. The boy nodded.

The Atrocity cried out as its arm fell away, the sharp stone finally slicing through skin weakened by fire. As it hit the floor, it melted into a deadly acid that splattered the mages, disintegrating flesh and bone and making the servants of good scream in agony as they clawed uselessly at their faces.

Another stomp from the monstrosity crushed another group of them, the sickening squish as blood seeped out around the ankles of the mages caused them to back away in fear.

The Grave Knights had finally broken their line, and began their merciless hacking at the backs of the retreating spell slingers.

"Look and see your defeat," said Blightlord.

The Archmage turned watching as they fell. As all of the men he had come to know as his brothers were slaughtered. And all because he had let his judgement be impaired by a pair of pretty brown eyes; eyes that were now cold with death. "I..."

There was a sickening crack as Void Brawler's fists shot forward, slamming into the old man's back. The Archmage sank to his knees, his shaking hands weakly stretching toward the dying mages. Deseca stepped in front of him, and bent to his eye level. "Nothing can save them. And no one will save you."

"No..." he gasped. She placed her cold hands on his cheeks, and put her thumbs up against his eyes. "No!" Darkness rushed down her arms and into the old man's skull. He shook and convulsed as the shadows began eating away at him, corroding his very soul.

Deseca broke away, and his body fell to the floor, the darkness rising from him like smoke. She licked the gore from her fingers, a demented smile breaking across her face.

Void Brawler stared. This... that was... He suddenly fell back, unconcious.

Blightlord snapped his fingers, and the Atrocity fell forward, melting into a wave of acid and destroying the last of the mages. "Perfect."

 

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

 

Burning Brawler and Danica flew over the forests of Primeva, a spell of invisibility keeping them safe from villain ambushes. Burning suddenly stopped as a sudden wave of sickness seemed to wash over him. Danica quickly turned, holding him still. "What is it?" she asked.

"Something... Something doesn't feel right. The mystic energies here surged, almost like they suddenly weren't being used anymore. Then they just went back to how they were."

"What do you mean?" asked Danica, concern in her eyes.

"Whatever it is, we don't have time to investigate. I don't know how long the info on Blightlord's base will be good. He could be getting ready to move now."

Danica nodded. The pair descended into the thick canopy the many trees formed, continuing until they reached a small cave. The two glanced at each other, then stepped inside.

The world seemed to mold and turn. Everything felt like it was getting twisted upside down. Suddenly they were tossed into a large stone cavern, and the portal behind them disappeared. They were trapped. "Looks like we can only go forward," said Brawler, grimacing. He didn't like this.

Danica however showed no signs of concern as she walked past him, heading down the hall. Burning groaned and ran after her, keeping an eye open for ambushes. After a few minutes, he began to grow more worried. "This doesn't feel right at all. Something should have tried to stop us by n-"

They both stopped, staring in shock at the mangled form lying on the ground. Their son. "Matt!" yelled Danica, rushing toward him.

Burning's eyes went wide as he recognized the body for what it was. "Danica, no get ba-" His words were cut off as a flash of light blinded them. He could hear a series of clicks through the ringing in his ears. They both cried out as dozens of little stings from an unseen source assaulted them.

All began to grow dark. Brawler heard the faint sound of footsteps, and looked up to see a rotted hand reaching towards him. Decayed flesh gripped his face, then all went black.

 

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

 

Hazy images began to take shape as Brawler's eyes groggily opened. The walls around him were made of stone. Was he in a dungeon? The hero tried to sit up, but was held down. He looked to see strong, glowing chains were wrapped around him, binding him to a cold stone table.

He looked to his side to see Danica there to, restrained just as he was. He tried to call out, but his mouth wouldn't respond to his brain's commands. Burning tried to call up fire to melt away the chains, but it wouldn't come to him. A brief thought passed through his mind, that the chains were enchanted to nullify his powers, but it soon slipped out of his grasp.

Blightlord came forward into his line of view, Deseca coming up beside him, laying on the hand she placed on his shoulder as the second slid down his arm. The villain's look of triumph filled Brawler with anger, but he couldn't move a muscle.

"Yes, the toxin running through your veins is keeping you in check quite well," said Blightlord. Though he couldn't see it, Brawler knew there was a thinly veiled smile underneath that ventilator. "It will only be a matter of time until you are nothing more than a vegetable."

Danica coughed and sputtered as she awoke. "Oh good, I was hoping to talk to you before you slipped away," said Deseca as she walked towards her. The villainess placed a hand on either side of the other women and let her eyes bore into her good counterpart's. "How does it feel? Death?"

A leg shot forward, catching Deseca in the stomach. She stumbled backwards, clutching the spot. The villainess looked up, malice in her eyes. She walked forward and spat in the heroine's face before turning away, leaving the room in disgust.

Blightlord chuckled. "It seems you are a bit more resistant to my poisons than I thought. I will take note of this. Now, where is your daughter? I'm sure she's hiding about somewhere." He said this looking around, as if expecting to see Pstorm leaping from the shadows.

Danica remained silent, barely masking the hatred she felt.

"Come now, it will only be a matter of time before you're in the same state as your husband. Wouldn't the afterlife be that much sweeter with your daughter at your side?" Of course Blightlord had no intention of letting their souls free. No... They would be forever his.

And Danica knew this. "Go to hell," she spat, struggling against the chains. Each thrust forward made her feel weaker and weaker, and seemed to be for nothing.

Blightlord chuckled. Deseca came up beside him again, an arm behind her back. The villainess narrowed her eyes and a sadistic grin spread across her face. "Here, take this to entertain yourself while you watch all those you love die around you." She tossed the object at the heroine. The skull rolled forward, stopping just in front of her chest, its sightless eyes staring into hers. She looked at the ornate hat still attached to it, and cried out in horror. Horror that grew as she looked around clearly for the first time. Horror at realizing they were in the Legacy Chain base, not a dungeon. Horror at seeing that the skull on her chest was that of her best friend, the Archmage.

 

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

 

Blightlord and Deseca left the room together, both feeling satisfied with the torment they had just put the heroine through. It made the effort all worthwhile in the end to see an enemy squirm, see hope draining from their eyes. Still, Deseca knew that all good things eventually came to an end. "Shouldn't we simply kill them?" she asked, walking her fingers up his chest.

"No. I need their bodies and souls intact. Until we take the girl, I cannot proceed with the plan." Blightlord walked into the Legacy's library. He'd taken the liberty of adding a few of his own tomes to the collection. He could sort out what was useful and what was garbage when he was through later. As the master of undeath held out his arm, one of his own books glided toward him. As he gripped the back, it opened itself to the page its master wanted. "I had almost forgotten about this ritual. It is very old, one not tried since medieval times. Finally, I have a way to truly profit from my revenge."

Deseca looked over Blightlord's shoulder. The drawing looked like ghosts being sucked into a cauldron. A man in robes stood behind it, wavy lines rising above him. She tried to read the words on the page beside the picture, but the language was ancient. She hardly understood a word.

"When all four of them are together, then in one quick strike I will take them all and their power. Nothing will stop us then. No Statesman, Recluse, or Elitist will be able to stand in our way."

"Four?" asked Deseca, an eyebrow raised.

"Yes. Brawler, the warrior, and their children."

Her eyes widened, but only for a moment. "You mean you're going to kill Matt?"

Blightlord turned to watch her for a moment, paying very close attention to her movements. Deseca knew she wasn't keeping control of herself as best she could. In the last few days, she had grown attached to her other-dimension son. Closer to him than the pathetic "good" one she used to have... She couldn't lose this one. This dimension's Matt was her true son, and no one would harm him.

"If there's a problem..." Blightlord began.

"No. No problem at all." Deseca slid forward, embracing the rotting man. She knew this wouldn't erase his doubts, but it would stall him. And she could stall him even longer. Deseca had told herself she'd rather not take things this far, not for a long time, but it was to save Matt. Sometimes one has to make sacrifices. She lightly grabbed his arm, dragging him from the library to the room that used to belong to the Archmage.

***

Grime watched with disgust as his master was led away by that disgusting whore husk. Ever since they had brought her to life, things were not working according to plan. She ruined everything, and Blightlord didn't see it. He believed it was because of her they had gotten this far!

No. It was all due to the work he, the Lich, had put in. Without his spell-work, they never would have been able to take over this base, never would have held half the hero family captive, never would have successfully dispatched the forces that were moving in to kidnap the girl even now as she slept in her bed at Paragon City's precious hero school.

Blightlord wouldn't be made to see with reason. Not while she was by his side... No. Grime had to take things into his own hands if he wanted to remain close to the power. When the time was right, everything would seem to fall apart. Then Blightlord would see. He would see how this 'Deseca' destroyed their chances at victory. Then the heroes will destroy her, and they will escape justice once more, and the planning can begin anew. Everything would be back to the way it was.

Just as it was meant to be.

 

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

 

The school was quiet. It seemed almost as if all of the children were out, leaving only the faculty behind. Dangerous heroes, but this would be quick, especially since there weren't many left behind to sound the alarm.

A Lich watched as his four Grave Knight bodyguards moved toward the gate, all cloaked in the deepest shadow. He snapped his fingers and they froze. That would be unnecessary. He spoke the words of a spell, and they rose in the air, flying over the walls of Golden Eagle. No alarms went off yet... The spells Grime had cast on them before they left were holding well.

They cautiously moved toward the girl's window. The divination spell had led them correctly. They watched as she sat on the bed in civilian's clothes, gazing into a small storm cloud in her hand. This would be far too easy...

The Lich whispered the words of another spell, and the window latch unlocked. She still didn't sense them... So far, so good. The undead sorcerer tried a spell to put her to sleep, but it wouldn't take hold. Her defenses were too strong, even without the armor...

The Lich nodded to his Knights. The rotting warriors grinned big, rotting smiles before they launched into the room, tackling Pstorm and taking her by surprise. Before she could call out, a sword pommel came down on her head, knocking her unconcious.

The Lich glided into the room, smiling as well. "You two carry her, and you two gather the armor." The Knights did as they were told, and the group was soon flying over the gates of Golden Eagle High with their prize. As soon as they left the school boundaries, the Lich grabbed a bone from inside his robe. He broke it in two, and the snap was accompanied by a flash as they were teleported away.

 

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

 

The undead kidnappers walked into the halls of the former Legacy Chain base, dragging their prize behind them. Pstorm was moaning faintly, struggling occasionally, but Blightlord had given them a vial of the toxin that was currently affecting the girl's parents. She wasn't faring much better than her father as it sapped away her strength and life.

Grime walked towards them. "I'll take her." The other Lich nodded, vanishing through a pool of shadow in the floor. Grime dismissed the Grave Knight's, then grabbed Pstorm roughly by the back of the neck and led her on.

They entered the room containing her parents. It was firmly sealed so Void Brawler couldn't get in, or even know that it existed, until it was too late. Grime set Pstorm on a table in between Burning and Danica, then began attaching her restraints.

It all looked alright, from the outside. Grime turned toward an eyeball that was hanging by its nerve from the ceiling, watching the room constantly, never blinking. He waved a hand in its direction, and it began to look toward the door instead. The Lich loosened the manacle on Pstorm's right arm, then slid the tube that ended in a razor-sharp needle under her back, rather than in her neck where it was supposed to go, the special toxin to suppress her powers now being spilled into the table. It was a slow moving dosage... No one would see it dripping on the floor before this was over.

He did the same to Brawler and Danica, then left the room, a barely suppressable smile on his face as he let the scrying reactivate. If all went according to plan, and everything was timed right, this would be the Lich's greatest scheme yet.

***

Blightlord stepped out of the Archmage's former chambers. Deseca remained inside for now, laying out on the bed. For an organization devoted to good, they didn't mind spending part of the budget on some of the 'finer' things.

He walked down to the holding room, looking inside to make sure all three were asleep. Satisfied, he shut the door and walked down another hall, to a room where a group of Liches were standing over a cauldron, preparing the potion. It wouldn't be much longer now...

 

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

 

Void Brawler roamed the halls. He kept himself hidden from sight, it was easier to think that way. Everything about this felt so wrong... Not that anything's ever felt right since his parents died. Why was it always so... so... Ugh.

He stopped as Deseca walked out of the Archmage's chambers wearing something she hadn't been before. It was a suit of armor, black with red patterns dizzyingly twisting and spiraling across. They seemed alive... almost as if it was blood that was flowing, but the color seemed off somehow, and Void would know...

He watched as she walked toward a plain stone wall. He cocked his head, not sure what exactly she was doing. Suddenly she just seemed to step through it. He blinked once, twice, then shook his head.

There it was... that feeling again. Quickly, he ran to where she had gone, keeping the exact location she had walked in his mind. He couldn't miss this. Still invisible, he ran for what seemed like a false wall.

And slammed headfirst.

He fell backward, rubbing what his brain was telling him was a beginning bump.

Blightlord took pride in the strength of his toxins...

***

Deseca walked, no, that's not the right word, she glided toward Pstorm, a malicious smile creeping across her cold, dead face. She ran a pale hand across the girl's cheek. "So you are what that disgusting creature would have become?" When Deseca found out she was pregnant again and gave birth, she took pleasure in crushing the frail, helpless, crying, thing with her own hands.

The undead woman glanced to the armor set in the corner. Even in that short instance, she could tell it wasn't half-bad work. She sighed, then stepped over to her "good" counterpart. She set a hand on the table and felt the moisture. She lifted her hand, squinting at it for a moment.

A loud thud broke her attention. She quickly moved back to the door, cracking it and peeking outside. Void Brawler was lying on the ground, rubbing his head. Deseca cursed softly and shut the door. She would have to wait until the boy left. Obviously she slipped up if he found the door. Close calls like this so soon were not good...

"Hey."

Deseca whirled around to see Pstorm standing in full armor.

"I think I deserve to know what the hell is going on."

 

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

 

Deseca's eyes narrowed. "I suggest you just go back to sleep and save me the trouble of knocking you out myself."

Pstorm stared at the woman's face. She looked so much like mom but... she... just wasn't. Her mind was all wrong. "Where are we?"

Deseca rolled her eyes, then cracked her knuckles, making echoing pops. For a moment, she stood still, but the next thing Pstorm knew a shadowy fist was ramming hard into her stomach, the force of the blow causing her to lose her breath even through the armor.

Before she could retaliate, another dark blow came across the back of her head, knocking her to the floor. Pstorm began to push herself to her feet, but a firmly placed boot pinned her to the floor.

Deseca dug her foot, smiling maliciously. "I guess I was right to get rid of you in my dimension. What a weak little thing you turn out to be."

Suddenly the undead woman was sent reeling backward as a psychic scream slammed into her mind. She gripped her head, trying to fight away the pain.

Pstorm used a burst of air to rise quickly, then kept it moving around her in a fast circle until a hurricane formed around her. While Deseca was stunned she stepped forward and the winds threw the villainess against a wall. Now it was her who was pinned.

Deseca snarled. "You little brat..." Her eyes began to darken as she radiated power. She took a step through the hurricane, then another, then burst forward, gripping Pstorm by the throat. Her armor creaked and cracked, the metal poking into her throat.

The whirling cloud faded as Pstorm used all her energy to try to break free.

***

Void Brawler listened at the wall. He could hear thuds inside it, ones that definitely weren't caused by rats... He pressed his hands to the spot his 'mom' had disappeared through. Why the hell wouldn't the damn thing open?!

Suddenly the wall next to him shattered, throwing dust and broken stone into the air. Void staggered back, covering his eyes. He saw one shape lurch forward, then get thrown back suddenly. A burst of light shot down onto the downed form, and the air began to smell like ozone.

The dust finally cleared enough for him to see her... That girl again! And she was trying to re-kill his mom! Void growled in rage as he charged forward.

Pstorm stood over Deseca, the cloud above their heads charging a massive amount of energy. This strike would be a finishing blow, the psychic knew. A shame she didn't listen to the sound of an enraged mind as it came close enough to slam two shadowy fists directly into her skull.

There was a crack as her helmet split in two. Blood flowed down the side of Pstorm's face as she stared out in shock. Her knees buckled, then she fell to the floor.

Deseca slowly sat up, wiping blood from her nose. She looked at her son. He was breathing hard and shaking, his hands balled tight. She stood and held out both her arms. She embraced Void, stroking the back of his hair and shushing him, all the while grinning at the things she had gained these last few weeks.

Nothing could stop them...

"M-mom?"

"Don't worry, she's gone now... That wicked child will never harm you again. No one will, not while I'm here," said Deseca. Even if the words were false, it didn't help this next sight for Void.

The girl was getting up! But she was dead! How? He tried to call out a warning, but his brain wouldn't respond.

Pstorm turned to the broken wall and grabbed a large stone. She slammed it onto the ground, and the old material broke easily, and the shards bounced back into the air. Pstorm spun fast, arms out, a burst of wind rocketing from, sending the dozens of pieces slamming in and through an off-guard Deseca.

The villainess jerked forward, then coughed. Void's eyes widened in horror as he felt the half-decayed blood splatter his face. He watched his mother slide down, then lay helpless on the floor. What life had been brought back into her eyes had faded... She was gone.

The only sound that could be heard was the soft patter of tears hitting a cold stone floor, and all that remained in the room was a girl and her maddened, grief-struck brother.

***

Grime sighed as he watched from the balcony, invisible. The fool girl... If it weren't for him, these heroes wouldn't have made it this far.

When the weather manipulator fell, and the other two were distracted, he had to teleport down to her quickly. The Lich had drawn a small vial and forced the contents down her throat. After the wound on her head closed and she sputtered, Grime stood and teleported away.

He had to admit, the girl pulled off her part quite well at the end though. Now just to watch and see how this amusing bit would unfold...

 

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

 

Blightlord stood over the fizzling cauldron, tossing ingredients in and saying the necessary word of power to imbue it with greater strength. The Liches walked around behind him reading from spellbooks and scrolls as they added their own power to the mixture. He now knew it was ready, and the master of the undead stepped back and said the final word.

There was a deafening boom as acrid, green smoke shot into the air, signaling they were successful. Blightlord nodded and stepped out of the room. Suddenly, he felt a pang in his chest. He put his hand there, feeling for a scorch mark from a fireball or lightning bolt, but even as cold fingers touched dead flesh, he realized what that feeling was. It was the same he felt any time one of his greater undead were defeated.

Deseca…

Blightlord kicked off the ground and rocketed down the halls toward the source of the pain. He stopped when he saw her prone form lying face down, the boy and her wretched sister standing over the corpse.

He growled in anger, and took a moment to wonder how on earth the girl even escaped in the first place. But that didn’t matter, this could be repaired. As Pstorm moved to attack, Blightlord stepped from the shadows, firing a paralytic agent from the launcher on his arm. It struck her helmet, making Pstorm’s systems freeze up. Blightlord quickly fired another at Void Brawler, the boy’s muscles locking, his face stuck in an expression of surprise.

With a sigh, he moved toward Deseca’s fallen form, kneeling over her with a vial in hand. He lifted her head, gazing into her cold, staring eyes.

***

Grime watched in anger as Blightlord suddenly appeared and froze the two children. This would ruin everything! The Lich’s frustration grew even more when he saw that his master was attempting to revive the vile creature. If he was ever to be rid of her, he would have to act fast…

The Lich dropped into a pool of shadows and reappeared behind a pillar beside Blightlord. “Wait my lord,” he said, stepping out of the darkness. “Doesn’t this all seem strange? The girl shouldn’t have been able to get free, and the boy would never find the door on his own. Perhaps she freed the girl to settle a score from her own dimension?” Grime knew he was taking a big risk with this deception, but it had to be done.

“Don’t be a fool,” said Blightlord, though he did step away from Deseca’s corpse.

“And when you told her you were going to kill the boy as well. Remember her reaction?” Grime added. “That hesitation in her eyes. If this was just an accident and not her doing, can you still afford such weakness? What if she has second thoughts after this is done?”

Blightlord nodded, and slid the vial back into his belt. This time he drew a beaker filled with red, bubbling liquid. He slammed it down on top of Deseca’s corpse, and crimson smoke shot up, then raced back down on top of her, the gleeful cackles of demons echoing in the room. The smoke filled until her body could no longer be seen, and when it had cleared, she was gone.

“And do not think that I don’t know when I am being lied to!” shouted Blightlord, whirling around with his arm outstretched, his hand shaped as if choking someone. Even though he was touching him, Grime still held his hands against his chest, his fiery eyes dimming as he struggled. “You are a fool, Lich,” said Blightlord, purposely not using Grime’s given name to further remind who is the master and who is the slave.

Blightlord closed his hand and twisted, a loud crack ringing out. He ripped his arm backward, and a force as black as the deepest darkness was torn from Grime’s shell. His body fell to the ground in a heap, while Blightlord stood there, moving the energies around between his hands. “Perhaps some time spent in the deep abyss will remind you of your place.” He slammed his hands together, and the energy was gone.

“And now for you…” said the rotting evil, his boot clicks echoing as he walked toward the paralyzed children. Blightlord summoned four of his Grave Knights to carry them to the laboratory. The plan would go on uninterrupted.

He next moved toward the holding room, no sign of the things that had occurred having disturbed him in the least, to make sure Burning and Danica were “comfortable.”

How annoyed he was when the reward for his attempt at being a good host was a fireball and a spinning kick to the jaw.

 

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

 

Blightlord stood silently for a moment before wiping the ash from his face. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised," he said.

"This thing is over, Blightlord," said Burning as the fire coursed up and down his arms, growing brighter and hotter.

"Oh it is far from over," he said with a chuckle. "Your children should be seeing that right about now." Danica leapt back in for another kick, but Blightlord ducked quickly, catching her leg in one hand and thrusting another up into her thigh, the large needle sticking in deep. She staggered back as the poison numbed her leg, making it hard to stand. "My dear, you should know by now I am far beyond you."

Danica grit her teeth. "We'll see about that."

"Get the kids," said Burning, eyes focused on Blightlord. "I'll handle this."

Danica shut her eyes and nodded, fighting back the urge to stay and fight. She raced past Blightlord, who let her go. She wouldn't get far.

"I'm surprised you would doom yourself like this, Brawler. Perhaps you're not as well as you think, hm?" Blightlord threw his arms out wide, and the tortured souls of his victims rushed forward, bound to do their murderers bidding, their faces permanently twisted into silent screams. They wrapped around Burning, holding him high in the air. "But perhaps it is best this way." Blightlord closed his fists, and the souls constricted.

The fire around Burning's arms began to blaze brighter, and did the impossible. The souls screamed aloud in agony, their faces twisting further, and disappeared in the blaze. Brawler hit the floor and rolled, coming out of it with a beam of flame.

Blightlord staggered back as it caught him in the chest and the smell of cooking flesh filled the air. The undead master growled as he let his arms drop. Part of his suit became liquid and oozed down his arm, forming a pair of swords, their blades glowing a sickly green, their hilts wrapped in the same veins of Blightlord's suit.

The villain rushed forward, cross-slashing quickly. Burning leapt back to avoid it, but two long slices still came across his front. The blood had a sickly tint to it, and he began to feel his chest tighten. Poison...

Brawler fought back the effects as best he could, throwing a fireball to blind Blightlord as he rushed in, two swords of flame forming in his own hands. He moved to stab low, but found the poisoned blades meeting his own. "Can't think of anything original, Brawler?"

Blightlord chuckled as he crossed his blades and shoved them upwards, threatening to close Burning's head in a scissor-lock. The hero countered by bringing one of his own fiery blades up in the center and shoved his other deep into Blightlord's gut.

He cursed softly as he felt the already rotted insides of his body being burned away, and quickly leapt back. He fired a paralyzer at Brawler. The hero dodged it, but it gave Blightlord enough time to draw a vial from his belt and down it, repairing the larger part of the damage.

The villain pulled his arms back, then threw both swords at Burning, the soul energy pushing them forward faster.

***

Danica raced down the halls. Even as Grave Knights and zombies moved to stop her, she pushed past them, and knocked their feet out from underneath. She looked at a small transmitter that she kept in her boot. Pstorm's location showed as a red dot, getting closer and closer.

A Lich stepped out to stop her, but she leaped over its head, kicking backward and knocking it from the undead sorcerer's shoulders. She landed and rolled, coming to a stop in front of the room.

Danica tried to open the doors, but they wouldn't budge.

Inside, the Liches were guiding Void Brawler up the steps to the large cauldron, he and his sister dressed in plain brown robes, their eyes vacant as they moved at the Liches command, their spells dominating the childrens' minds.

The door suddenly fell forward, flattening the two guards inside. The Liches turned, their eyes open in surprise.

Danica looked over to where Void Brawler was about to step into the mixture. "No!" she shouted, leaping forward to knock him away. As she did, his eyes began to regain their color, the Liches' hold breaking on the children.

He was flung backward, but Danica was not so fortunate. As she gripped the edge of the step, pulling herself back up, a Lich threw an arm out, a dark wave of energy rushing it. It washed over her, making the heroine feel ill. She fought against it, but her grip was already weakening. One of the undead sorcerers stepped up and stomped on her hand, breaking her tenuous hold.

She fell back into the mixture and it hissed as she was dragged down.

"Mom!" shouted Pstorm, her own eyes snapping back into focus as she flew over the cauldron. The Liches moved to stop her, but already a large cloud was forming in the room. Lightning arced out rapidly, striking the sorcerers, and creating large smoking holes in their chest.

Pstorm thrust both her arms out, and began to move her hands in circles. The mixture began to swirl with her hands until a funnel ripped from the cloud, throwing the green ooze all over the room and clearing a spot in the center. Danica's limp form was sucked into it. Pstorm quickly directed it out of the cauldron and dispersed it, setting her mother down on the floor.

Void Brawler was just starting to regain his senses, his rough collision with the floor after being knocked off the steps having scrambled him a bit. He looked up to see that girl standing over someone.

He got to his feet and faded from sight, then slowly staggered over to what she was looking at. His eyes widened when he saw his mom lying there, unmoving. His shock was so complete, he lost control and slid back into visibility.

Pstorm stepped back quickly, her hands up defensively, ready to fend off an attack, but instead, Void kneeled over the body. "I... remember..." he said, his shoulders trembling. "I saw her after she died but she wasn't dead. She tried to say something, warn me." He looked up at Pstorm. "I don't even know who you really are. Just... tell her I'm sorry." Void placed a hand on her stomach. Dark energies raced down his arm and flowed into her. Danica's eyes fluttered open as Void's own closed.

As her son fell back, Danica was suddenly on her knees, holding him up. She felt his face as warmth was slowly dripping away, and her eyes began to water as she realized what he'd done. "Let's get him out of here."

"Where's dad?" said Pstorm as they rushed out of the halls. A hurricane wrapped around the girl, flinging back most of the undead around them. A small cloud followed her, striking the Liches who tried to cast their spells.

"He's fighting Blightlord, but we can't do anything until we get Void away from here," she said. The exit stood ahead of them. They were nearly there until a cackling spectre shot through Pstorm, breaking her concentration as its cold, dead spirit chilled her insides. The cloud and spinning winds disappeared, making it easy for Guck to slide forward, clipping Danica with his sword flat and knocking her to her feet, Void falling on top of her.

The heroine grunted as she rose. Her numbed leg had thankfully regained feeling during her leap to save Void, but it was still aching, and the sudden fall didn't help either. But most important, they had to get Void out of here. "Take him and go," said Danica as she readied herself into a fighting stance, knowing the other Knight must be nearby. "Take him to the base, and don't stop until you're there."

Pstorm nodded, lifting Void with a small funnel and carrying him quickly down a side corridor to find another way to the exit. Sludge looked from her to Danica, then cackled once more as he raced after her.

Danica moved to stop the spirit, but a slash from Muck's broadsword stopped her. She had to leap back to avoid being sliced, and grimaced as the Grave Knight grinned. "You die," he said, his rotting breath making her wince.

She kicked up, knocking his arm wide, then spun and slammed her foot into his head, knocking him to the floor.

Guck rushed forward with both swords, one glowing with flame, the other crackling with lightning. The Knight quickly slashed both down across her shoulders, but instead met two arms blocking high against his own, forcing his arms up. She head-butted him, making him stagger back.

Muck started to rise to his feet, his own swords charging with power as he snarled.

Danica crouched low, her arms ready. "Let's do this, then."

***

Pstorm glanced back at Sludge as he continued his mad cackling, tossing screaming skulls at her. Bursts of wind sent them flying back, but she couldn't keep this up. The girl kicked off the ground, flying down the hall, using wind bursts against the walls to push her along faster, the funnel carrying Void following close beside her.

Sludge hissed as he increased his own speed, steadily gaining on her. "Kiiiiiiiiiiill the giiiiiiirl,' he said. A sudden burst and he was flying alongside her, his jaw dropped and tongue lolling out.

Pstorm spun to the side, racing down the hall. Sludge wasn't paying attention, and went straight through the wall. He rushed back out ahead of her, grinning. That grin disappeared though as a burst of lightning shot into him, the electricity coursing over him. Pain wracked the ghost's spirit as Pstorm began her psionic assault. He twisted in agony, gripping his own skull.

Sludge quickly faded from the corporeal world, and the pain ceased. He grinned once more as he remained untouchable. "Yooooooooooou die now, liiiiiiiiiiiiittle girl..." He shot forward, striking her with a clawed hand and digging deep, chilling cuts into soft skin protected only by the brown robe.

Pstorm grunted, putting a hand over the wound. "It's not over yet."

 

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

 

Muck rushed in first, being closer. He brought one sword low, the other high, aiming to force Danica to back off. She surprised him though, ducking under the first strike and moving between his arms and around the second.

She palm-struck the Knight under his chin, jarring its teeth and cracked Muck's jaw. Before he could recover, she jabbed an elbow into his stomach, making the Knight double over long enough for her to grab the horns on his helmet and bring his face down onto her knee.

Muck stumbled away, hands up against his now flat face, growling as he tried to retrieve his nose from inside his skull. Danica didn't have long to gloat though, because his brother was coming in fast. Having learned some from his twin's mistakes, Guck threw his first sword.

Danica side-stepped it easily, and though the move foolish until an alarm rang off in the back of her head. She leapt to the side, and the sword came back, cutting only a gash across her side, instead of impaling her. It returned to the smirking Guck's hand, who quickly threw his other.

Danica was ready this time, and kicked at the pommel, careful not to touch the electrified blade. It flew off course and stuck in the ceiling up to the hilt. Satisfied that it wouldn't be returned, she met Guck's stab.

Danica ducked under the strike and cross both arms in an 'x' with Guck's wrist at the center. She grabbed him and spun his arm quickly turning the Knight's momentum into a flip. Before he could recover, she twisted his arm, snapping it at the elbow with a quick slam from her knee.

Guck howled in anger, though he really felt little pain, and struggled to his feet, but a firm boot on his chest stopped him. Danica raised her other leg to stomp hard on the Knight's face, but a sudden strike on the back of her head from Muck's own pommel sent her staggering away.

The Knight helped his brother to his feet, and the two couldn't help but smirk as they held out their weapons and urged Danica back in.

***

Sludge dove back in, aiming to slash Pstorm across her pretty little face, but a sudden gust of wind sent him spinning away. He growled, then gasped as a lightning bolt shot forward and struck him again.

He tossed several of his infamous screaming skulls, breaking the girl's concentration while she tried to summon another whirlwind. They grabbed onto her arms, biting with sharpened teeth and creating dozens of little holes.

She cried out, shaking her arms and knocking the evil things loose. Sludge was cackling again and diving forward for another strike. Pstorm threw her arms forward, a wave of psionic energy moving from them.

The spectre shrieked as pain wracked his spirit and mind, gripping his head. He returned the anguish as an emanation of his own.

Pstorm staggered backwards as the dark wave hit her, clouding her vision and making her chest feel tight. Sludge saw the opportunity and quickly rushed forward, spinning another dark web of despair.

Pstorm fell to her knees as it struck her, feeling helpless and alone. She gazed down at the floor, and tears began to drip from her eyes. The back of her mind told her she needed to stand and fight, that this was no time for self-pity, but the rest of her felt doomed. And what did she do whenever things were too much? She ran away. She ran away when her mother was killed, when her friends were killed, when her own time was more than she could bear...

Sludge dropped to the floor and hovered toward the still girl, a hand out to drive deep into her heart and let the chill of death take over, all the while letting his tongue loll out from his feral grin.

***

They had been dueling for what felt like forever. Blightlord had tried summoning his minions to him, but apparently the Legacy Chain had decided to investigate why one of their main bases were no longer responding to their calls. Currently his undead were holding off the intruders, and not faring so well without their master's aid.

And now he was forced to fight blade to flaming blade against Brawler himself. Not that he minded. The satisfaction of the kill would be that much greater...

Burning came in for a quick double-stab low, but Blightlord crossed his blades and came straight down, driving them to the ground. Just as he was about to slice upward, the undead master was sent reeling by a sudden headbutt.

Before he could recover, Blightlord gasped as fiery pain went through his arm. There was a thud, and on odd tingle in his shoulder. He looked down to see his arm lying on the floor and shut his eyes, wondering why this seemed familiar. It had to be a memory of the former occupant of the body.

"Ready to give in?" said Burning as he stepped back, clutching the bleeding wound in his side from where Blightlord's flying swords had impaled him earlier.

The master of undeath took the moment to drink a potion and grab the arm. He held it against his shoulder while the potion knit it back together.

Both were battered, and neither gained much ground. The only difference was Blightlord never tired, merely bored.

"Do you submit now, or will I be tossing you into the cauldron as pieces?" snarled the villain. A large portion of his organic armor was shredded away, and rotted insides were exposed in more than one place.

"I'm not even close to finished yet," said Burning, though he gasped as the poison coursing through his blood sent an agonizing jolt of pain through him, worse than when the sword actually pierced him.

The hero placed one hand on the wall as the other lay at his side, gathering flame. That fire quickly raced up his arm, then through all of him. In only a few seconds his entire form was a bright blaze. Blightlord knew what the hero was trying to accomplish, and growled in anger and frustration as he brought up both his arms, a wall of darkness following them, shielding him.

The entire room erupted in flames as Burning exploded in a massive fireball, the inferno incinerating the tables, equipment, and toxins. The fire died as quickly as it exploded, leaving piles of ashes where objects once stood, and several sections of the room were molten rock.

Burning slumped to the floor, tired. His eyes could barely remain open while he tried to regain strength.

Blightlord let the shield of darkness drop, but at the same time, his body to fell. The shell crumpled as it hit the floor, leaving only a sickly green and black ooze.

For a moment, the room was still. But then the ooze began to crawl forward, toward the hero. Burning's eyes widened, and he tried to move, but the poison wouldn't let him. Already his arms and legs were numb, and pain began to constantly shoot through him.

The Muck more sensed Burning's thoughts than heard them. 'Oh, do not worry. I have no interest in possessing your body. Not while it's in that state. I have much better uses for it, and your soul must remain intact.'

Burning had to wonder what happened to the souls of those Blightlord took over, and if he had done worse than damned another innocent by destroying the old body. He had no more chance for thought, however, as The Muck began to slide up his leg, then his chest, and finally wrap around his head.

He couldn't breathe, but that was only the beginning. It seeped inside his mouth and into his ears and nose, then through his eye sockets, absorbing the enchantment that gave him eyes. It began to eat away at the soft tissues inside his head. Burning's screams of agonized pain only came out as wet gurgles as The Muck went deep to the back of his throat.

All at once the malevolent ooze struck forward, lancing into his brain and causing him to spasm repeatedly. The hero's mind reached out in a pain so intense, the darkness of his empty eye-sight turned blazing white. There was a crack as the ooze split through his skull, brain fluid and it seeping from it.

Burning's hood fell away, The Muck moving with it, sliding back across the floor, revealing a blackened skull picked clean, the jaw broken from the intensity of those last few moments.

The Muck knew what was about to happen though. It was what needed to happen. This time it may have failed, but the advantage of immortality was that you could always try again, even if it took years, you could try again. And at least it could take solace in the horrible pain it had left the hero in before departing to wait until the right time would come again.

The Muck slinked over to a drain and slipped inside.

Burning's gore covered chest began to heat up. A small fire burned around him, then rose into a blaze. It covered his form, and raised him into the air. New flesh and tissue grew over his skull, and the enchantment that gave him sight returned. His brain regenerated, and he became aware of where he was, but much more. But there was no time for thinking about that. Something was just revealed to him, and the hero was stunned, but it would have to wait.

His family was still in trouble. Or at least, one member of it was.

***

As The Muck retreated, his servants in the base collasped and vanished through the shadows. Legacy Chain troops stormed through the halls, looking for answers.

Danica watched as the Grave Knight brothers fell, and sighed in relief. She ran toward the exit, wary of the angered Legacy soldiers storming about, trying to avoid them. She needed to find Pstorm and Burning first. Quickly, she headed back toward the direction her husband was in case he was wounded. Wounded would have been putting it mildly.

***

Pstorm was just about to accept the coming feeling of death when suddenly her depression was gone. She looked up to see an empty hall, and a clear escape path.

Not questioning the change of events, she rushed outside, her brother in tow. Her brother... It would be hard to explain everything to him. But what was most important was that he was taken to the base before it was too late for someone to resurrect him.

She stepped outside into the dark alleyway, and took a moment to breathe, tossing back the hood of the brown robe and letting her hair fall out. Pstorm always felt better in fresh air.

"Thank you for bringing him out here for us." Pstorm turned to see a man in a labcoat, goggles over his head and hands in his jacket pockets floating down to the ground. "We were worried we'd have to bring him in ourself. You really should take better care of the child."

He was younger than the one she knew, but Pstorm recognized him still. "Techno-Tyrant," she said, hate in her eyes.

"Oh don't worry, we're not here to kill you. Elitist just wants the boy. Move along now, you're part is done."

"Oh, 'e is so tired, no?" said a woman with a French accent, coming in behind Pstorm. Her bright pink hair and mismatched eyes stood out from the black and white striped mime get-up the woman wore. Harlequin stroked Void's hair, a sadistic grin spreading across her face.

"Don't you touch him!" shouted Pstorm, turning to blast her with a bolt of lightning, but the woman was faster. Harlequin stared deep into Pstorm's eyes.

''E would be better off with us, no? You should let 'im go.' Pstorm nodded, her eyes vacant as her thoughts from the mental suggestion.

Harlequin smirked, holding the boy up with her mind even as Pstorm's whirlwing dissipated. "Let's just go," said Tyrant, pressing a series of buttons on his wrist. A portal opened, and the two stepped inside, an extra in tow.

Burning and Danica leapt outside just as the villains disappeared. They saw Pstorm slumped against a wall, holding her head and shaking.

"Where's Matt?" said Danica, a touch of fear creeping into her voice, even as she knew the answer.

"They took him," said Pstorm, looking up, her eyes starting to water. "We had him, then two of them showed up and dragged him away. I couldn't even try to stop them and-"

Danica hugged her daughter, silencing the apology, her own eyes watering.

Burning looked to where the portal had stood. He could sense the energies. His entire body felt mystically charged from the resurrection. "It's okay. We'll get Hyp to send someone down here and trace the portal's signal. In the meantime, we need to find Blightlord before he can find a new body."

"How can you even still think of tracking him down?" said Danica, looking up at her husband. "This entire time you've been only after him, and I believed it was because Void was always there to. But now he's gone to hide, and you're still following! Don't you even care?"

Burning's stare was hard. "Of course I do. And I also know that as long as Blightlord's there, even if we do rescue Void, he won't be safe, and neither is Rachel, and neither are we. He wants something, and I know what it is now. I also understand that no matter what he does to me, he can't fully kill me just as much as I can't fully kill him."

What Burning had just told her said a lot to Danica, but it also confused her. She wasn't sure what to say except, "You two should go back to the base. I'll talk with the Legacy Chain."

Burning nodded, placing a hand on Pstorm's shoulder. He spoke the words to a spell, and they vanished.

 

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Epilogue:

A few days later, Burning got the call from The Legacy Chain. The base had been restored, but Blightlord had left no trail for their mystics to follow. Danica had told them everything they knew, and while they were troubled to say the least, they were grateful that the heroes had 'sufficiently occupied the enemy.'

Pstorm had gone back to Golden Eagle High, hoping to return before anyone missed her, though the way she felt, she thought if she was gone a week no one would care. But still she felt like going back.

Danica was out every night again til almost sunrise hitting the streets for information. Hyper-Man ran some tests, but the portal traces they found actually led to a dimension where all of the Devouring Earth on the planet had evolved into smaller Hamidons. Apparently, Techno-Tyrant knew they would try to follow and scrambled the signal.

Void was likely up again, the mental workings of Harlequin already modifying his memory to the Masters' purposes. Soon he wouldn't remember any of the last few days, unless Deseca were to return. But even then, after her death, he wouldn't be able to recall much else.

Burning had sat in front of his spellbooks for hours, almost as long as Danica was out searching. He tried to find something, anything, to explain why his powers were doing this now, or a way to destroy The Muck without destroying himself in the process.

He knew he shouldn't have been able to come back. No one with regenerative powers could've returned from that kind of death. There was simply no one that powerful. But he still had.

Burning had searched every spellbook, except one. He sighed, and closed his eyes, whispering the words of power to unlock a tiny extra-planar pocket he kept to store this object. A hole of nothing appeared in front, and he reached inside to draw a book.

It was large, made of black leather, and a dull fireball was printed on its cover. Over a course of one hundred years, that fireball grew brighter and brighter, until it blazed with a green flame more alive than the real thing. It had been over eighteen years, and now the image was clear again, though not quite shining.

This was the book from which he received his powers.

He sighed, and turned the pages, browned with age. Nothing in here could help. He'd searched it countless times.

Suddenly, the book flew from his arms, landing on the floor. A fireball arched into the air, and formed a mask. It looked down on Burning and spoke with a great voice that shook the room. "Now thou understands. Now thou art ready. Sit down, that I may tell thee of the true origins of thy powers and thy nemesis."

End
To Be Continued...





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