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“Dead and Buried…”

 Crown Memorial Hospital – Kings Row 5:22 PM

    A young mother clutched the hand of her eight year old son kneeling beside his hospital bed, tears streaming down her face. The horrific sight of her only child, tubes sticking out of every orifice, left her near total mental breakdown. Her husband stood by her forcing back his tears unable to comprehend how something like this could have happened. They blamed themselves, their parenting, praying to God for one more chance to make things right. But the damage had been done. Adolescent curiosity had become fatal and only a miracle could change the course of the inevitable.
    Two hours ago, little Billy Horn and his friends had come upon a man who promised them more fun then they could possibly imagine. For twenty dollars stolen from a cigar box in his father’s sock drawer the man had sold them a baggy of white powder that was promised to be the ride of their lives. Being the bravest Billy took the first snort and ended his young life forever. 
    The boy’s doctor, his face drawn and forlorn, could barely speak the words he was about to say. The parents rose to their feet hoping that their prayers had been answered but by the look on the doctor’s face they knew the worst was about to come.
    “We’ve done everything we can at this point. He is in a deep coma,” the doctor explained swallowing the knot in his throat. “The toxins in his blood stream are just too potent. Just too much for his little body to take. I don’t believe he will survive the night.” 
    The boy’s mother collapsed into her husband’s arms.
    “There must be something more we can do,” the father pleaded.
    “I wish there was,” the doctor explained regretfully. “All we can do now is pray.”
    The doctor turned and left the room.
    “Please God,” the father pleaded staring up at the ceiling the tears streaming down his face. “Help us please.”
    The cry of parents fell on deaf ears; this was out of God’s hands now. But the silent cries of the boy, his life slowly fading from his fragile human frame, fell upon the one who could bring justice. Helplessly he lay paralyzed watching his young life fade, unable to fight the effects of the poisoned narcotics against his fragile flesh and bone. His soul cried out screaming for someone, anyone, to help him. He was trapped between the world of the living and the world of the dead. His screams went unheard within the commotion of the hospital, unheard by his parents, the doctors, or the police who questioned his friends in the waiting room. But his cries were heard by one who lived in both the world of the living and the world of the dead.

 Miles away…

     High above the city on the ledge of a skyscraper, a figure hid in the shadows of the setting sun blanketing the city in a shroud of darkness. Nightfall was the time where the cover of darkness could hide his hideous form from those he had vowed to protect. The sight of his ghoulish appearance was nothing short of the spawn of nightmares. A walking corpse destined to serve the cause of justice and enact vengeance upon those who prayed upon the weak. He is the Zombie Avenger and those who victimized the innocent had come to know his fear.
    The Zombie Avenger looked down upon the citizens of the concrete jungle he had come to call home, the metropolis of Skyway City. His vision saw beyond the limits of distance and lighting. His pale lifeless eyes peered down upon his flock studying them with absolute resolve. A young woman and her child caught his attention. He watched them with the intensity of a predatory bird watching its prey. The two steadily maneuvered through the crowded side walks oblivious to the chaos of the moving traffic or the direction of their route, which led them in the opposite direction of the other pedestrians as if a salmon trying to swim up stream. The young mother pulled upon her child as if late for an engagement. She stepped from the curb ignoring the change of the traffic signal and the pleas of her child who had not missed the color change. A bus barreled toward the two as they continued onto the crosswalk against the flow of traffic. 
    The Zombie Avenger’s eyes widened as he leapt from his perch down toward the street. The bus driver panicked and stomp on the brakes but his feeble attempt to stop the heavy vehicle was useless. The young mother gasped in horror seeing the bus speeding toward her, its brakes squealing defiantly, unable to stop in time. In a flash, the mother and her child were lifted off their feet moved from the path of the bus just moments before impact. The Zombie Avenger gently lowered the mother and her child from his grasp. The mother’s heart pounded in her chest and tears poured down her face realizing that she and her daughter had just escaped death. She turned to her savior clutching him around his chest then pulled back to look into the eyes of her hero. The young mother’s eyes widened in horror at the sight of the corpse crusader. A terrifying scream rang from her lips as she clutched her daughter and began to run away. The Zombie Avenger reached out to let her know that he was there to help her but his useless gesture went unnoticed. The onlookers too stared at the undead hero in disgusted horror, a reaction he had come to be all too familiar with. The darkness surrounded him and as quickly as he appeared, the Zombie Avenger was gone. 
    The Zombie Avenger appeared again from the shadows in a trash littered alleyway and screamed with rage. His labored voice tore against his decayed vocal cords sending two homeless men fleeing in terror. His rage enveloped him and his powers smashed trash cans and turned over dumpsters. The hero pounded his fists into the walls sending chunks of brick flying. His decomposed face twisted into a revolting expression of complete hatred. There was a time when he was praised for his heroics, saving lives as the Hooded Avenger until his body and soul were manipulated by the hands of an evil Voodoo Shaman and changed his life forever. Exhausted, he collapsed to his knees. The intensity of his rage turned to sorrow as he remembered what once was. He sobbed into his hands but there were no tears. The Zombie Avenger was again reminded of his cursed form. He looked upon his hands and clenched them into fists feeling his rage rise up in him again. But suddenly his mind was filled with a vision, the sight of a young boy lying in a hospital bed. The boy’s agony became his and a power resolve began to come over the Zombie Avenger. He rose to his feet and became empowered by the call of the innocent. The undead hero’s pale, lifeless eyes stared past the realm of time and space into the very soul of the fallen victim. The crackle of his bones snapped beneath his dead flesh and his lips curled back from his exposed teeth. The living darkness enveloped around the decayed corpse of the Zombie Avenger. This innocent had been manipulated and betrayed by the hand of evil. Those who dared to pray on the weak would face the vessel of vengeance. The undead hero’s rage faded and his desire to avenge the innocent became renewed. Evil would pay the price for injustice.

 Steel Pier – Independence Port 10:34 PM

     Meanwhile in a hidden warehouse off the docks of Independence Port, Vincent “Fingers” Scarpizi stuffed his pinky finger into a baggy of white powder and brought it to his tongue. His face distorted and he spit the bitter taste from his mouth and spun his head in disgust.
    “What the &%#$ do you call this?!”
    “The whole shipment has been tainted boss,” the shaken crony explained. “We been try’n to cut it but the stuffs just wasted.”
    “Wasted!” Scarpizi exploded grabbing the crony by his shirt collar and pulling him into his face. “I’ll lose thousands for this!”
    “Boss, I’m sorry,” the crony stuttered. “We been try’n to off load it but the stuffs poison. People could die.”
    Scarpizi laughed letting go of the crony’s collar, “People you say. People don’t snort this stuff, animals use this stuff. Drop the price on the street, get rid of all of it and get me my profit.”
    “You got it boss,” the crony swallowed the lump in his throat feeling a cold chill run down his spine. 
    “You better or Boss Pazzo will not only have my head but yours too,” the boss spat threateningly.
    Scarpizi smoothed out the thugs collar than swatted at a fly that had landed on his forehead, “Skuzzy warehouses cramp my style. I should be drinking champagne in the loft with the other goombas.”
    A second then a third buzzing fly began to encircle his head then a dozen more until within moments a swarm had engulfed the warehouse sending the Mob cronies and drug workers into a frenzy. The swarming insects completely encompassed the room as if appearing out of the thin air. The panicked thugs reached for their guns and began spraying the room towards the blinding storm of swarming insects. Bullets whizzed through the air popping windows and drug equipment sending up plumes of white. Scarpizi jumped for cover as many of the thugs and drug workers collapsed falling victim to the frenzied hail of friendly fire.
    “Stop shooting you stupid mooks! There just a buncha $@&%’n bugs!”
    Scarpizi batted haplessly at the buzzing swarm to no avail, but no sooner did he make the reference to the harmless insects that his eyes began to widen in disbelief at what unfolded before him.
    The massing swarm began to turn in on itself sending a foreboding darkness through the warehouse. Scarpizi’s lip trembled feeling an overwhelming fear come over him reverting him to almost a childlike state. The mass of buzzing flies began to form the shape of a figure that moved forward upon the trembling drug dealer. From within the mass of insects the face of death revealed itself and lurched forward pulling Scarpizi from off his feet in a powerful grip. Scarpizi screamed in terror his eyes wide with fright staring down into the face of the Zombie Avenger. The corpse crusader stared, almost through him, with his pale lifeless eyes. His mouth twisted into a furious growl pulling his lips farther back from his decayed teeth.
    “You deceive children and pollute their bodies with your poison,” the Zombie Avenger snarled in his strained voice. 
    “Zombie Avenger!!!” Scarpizi pleaded. “Please don’t hurt me!”
    “I am the hand of vengeance,” the undead hero proclaimed. “I have come for justice on behalf of those you have victimized with your deceit. You poison children with your evil, leave parents heartbroken, families in ruin, and lives in turmoil. You will suffer for your crimes against the innocent.”
    “It’s not my fault,” Scarpizi cried soiling himself. “I’ll make it right. I’ll make everything better.”
    “Can you give the life back to the youth from which you stole?” the Zombie Avenger demanded. “Now you see for the first time what fear you cast upon the innocent. It is time for your evil to face justice for vengeance demands retribution.”
    “I’m just a middle man,” Scarpizi tried to shift the blame. “Alfonzo Pazzo is the one you want. I answer to him; he’s the one in charge, he’s the boss of the Family.”
    “Pity that you realize the error of your ways so late in the game,” the Zombie Avenger hissed. “You will suffer for your lack of judgment.”
    “Please, I don’t want to die!” Scarpizi plead. “I can take you to him! I can show you who’s to blame!”
    The Zombie Avenger lifted Scarpizi off of the ground with one hand by his throat displaying the undead hero’s inhuman strength. The corpse crusader collected a handful of the poisoned narcotic into his hand and held it up in his grasp.
    “Prepare to taste your poison so that you know the pain that you have inflicted upon the guiltless.”
    As the Zombie Avenger drove his hand toward Scarpizi’s gaping mouth, it was stopped in mid motion. The Zombie Avenger turned to see the red, white, and blue clad hero “Capital Man” holding the undead hero’s arm firmly in his grasp. 
    “We can take it from here dead man,” Capital Man stated in a firm tone keeping his hold on the corpse crusaders arm. “The authorities are on the way.”
    The Zombie Avenger’s face twisted angrily, “You dare interfere with vengeance?” 
    The corpse crusader pulled forward with his inhuman strength hurling the patriotic hero across the warehouse sending him crashing through a stack of wooden crates. Scarpizi pulled from the Zombie Avenger’s grasp and sprinted for the door. From the rafters, an arrow pierced Scarpizi’s suit jacket through the shoulder and slammed him into the wall just before he was able to escape through the door way. Another arrow pinned his arm against the same wall and then another pinned his leg trapping him and preventing his escape. 
    The beautiful “Ebony Bow” pulled another arrow from her quiver and stood from high above in the warehouse rafters. 
    “Give it up, Scarpizi,” the dark skinned heroine proclaimed. “You are under arrest!”
    The Zombie Avenger snarled at the sight of the intrusive heroes watching her jump from the rafters in front of him.
    “It’s good to see you too, Z,” Ebony Bow greeted with a smile then turned to see Capital Man emerging from the rubble of the fallen crates. He brushed the scraps of wood from his uniform and smiled as if he had been told not to underestimate the undead hero. “Nice work with my partner there. We are only here to help.”
    “Partner? Since when do you partner with the likes of him?” the Zombie Avenger questioned remembering that it was he and Ebony Bow who had once championed evil doers side by side.
    “What? Am I supposed to wait for you to finish wallowing in self pity before I can fight crime again? You’ve been gone a long time, Z. A girl can’t wait forever,” Ebony Bow stated as Capital Man’s towering muscular form came to her side and placed his hand on her shoulder.
    The Zombie Avenger’s eyes could not turn from the sight of Capital Man’s hand on her shoulder. If his dead heart still beat, he believed it would have stopped at that moment and crumbled like broken glass. 
    “We have been tracking this group of drug runners for weeks,” Ebony Bow explained. “Their tainted drugs have resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen people city wide. They are calling the stuff ‘Devil’s Dust’ on the street. The police didn’t have any leads and frankly neither did we till I saw your transmitter stirring.”
    The Zombie Avenger looked down at the small transmitter attached to the inner portion of his hood and grimaced again at the beautiful heroine.
    “Most of the victims were junkies and vagrants, way out of your spectrum of victims. But that little boy over in Kings Row, I knew you would be out for blood.”
    “So you used me?” the Zombie Avenger spat looking at Capital Man then back at Ebony Bow. “I don’t need either of your help. The drug dealer is mine, revenge must be satisfied.”
    The Zombie Avenger began to move forward and Capital Man raised his gloved hand to impede his path.
    “We’ve done this dance before,” the Zombie Avenger snarled in his agonizing tone. “Best quit while you are ahead.”
    “Scarpizi will be handed over to the proper authorities, Z,” Ebony Bow interrupted. “You are not judge, jury, and executioner.”
    “There is a price to pay,” the corpse crusader insisted.
    “And we will see that he pays it. We must obey the laws,” Capital Man declared.
    “Man’s laws, the laws of the livings,” the Zombie Avenger spat. “I am the justice for the dead.”
     The Zombie Avenger became consumed by the shadows and disappeared into the darkness, “I will not allow you to interfere again. You have been forewarned.”
    “Wait! You don’t understand!” Ebony Bow pleaded unable to keep him from leaving.
    “It is no use,” Capital Man insisted. “There is no convincing someone like that.”
    “You don’t know him like I do,” Ebony Bow stated.
    “I don’t think he even knows himself,” Capital Man declared.
    “You don’t remember who he used to be, you don’t understand what he has been through.”
    “Does he?” Capital Man protested. 
    Ebony Bow stared into the shadows wondering the same thing herself.

     The Zombie Avenger trudged through the defecated waters of the sewers. Rats and roaches crawled across the dank floor. The stench of excrement hung heavily in the air. It was a place of disgust, a place of waste and refuge. The only place a walking corpse could find piece from the living world that feared him. It was also his home. His thoughts were consumed with the sight of Ebony Bow and her new “friend”. Anger tore at the very fiber of his being. He looked down at his decayed reflection in the rippling water. The revolting picture stared back at him, taunting him. His hands thrashed at the image and he roared with rage cursing the ones who had made him this way. But it was not those who were cursed but he himself who was cursed into his undead husk. Cursed to walk the earth as one of the undead, answering the call of the victimized, and seeking out those who dared to prey upon the weak. He wanted more. He wanted what was once alive. He wanted to be David Fallen again, the Hooded Avenger. The undead hero began to remember the past, back to days when he was cheered by the citizen’s of Boomtown. It seemed so long ago, a life time ago. He wanted those days back so badly. He wanted to be whole again, to feel beyond his overwhelming emotions. To feel Ebony Bow in his arms as living flesh and blood. The undead hero had once known love in the living flesh. He had been happy, but that seemed so long ago among memories that felt as if they weren’t his anymore. His memories were faded glimpses of a former life, a life that he wanted to embrace once again and leave behind this zombie corpse. He would have that life again no matter what the price. To be among the living world, to have what he once was and he knew there was a way to make those desires a reality.

 Royal Overlook – Steel Canyon 4:45 PM

     Within the lavish mansion of crime lord Alfonzo Pazzo, the enraged Mafioso pounded his fists against his elaborate oak desk surrounded by his loyal lieutenants.
    “Contaminated or not, the loss of that shipment has cost me millions,” the crime boss ranted. “That loss is coming from your pockets, from the mouths of your family.”
    Alfonzo Pazzo stood pointing his finger at his men, “Someone is going to pay for this!”
    “It was those frick’n capes, boss,” a thickly build lieutenant stated. “Always putting their nose where it don’t belong.”
    “Those spandex clad do-gooders have cost me more than I can bear,” Pazzo declared. “I want my money back and I want it yesterday. Get on it!”
    The crime lord’s lieutenants stood silently for a moment until Pazzo’s eyes widened with disgust, “GET ON IT!!!”

Paragon University Science Department - Steel Canyon  8:43 PM

     Professor Eric Topffer sat within Paragon University’s research lab peering through the intricate lens of a telescope. It was late and his student aids had gone home for the day leaving him alone to work on his research. Suddenly and eerie feeling came over him along with a stifling smell that aggravated his gag reflex. The Professor looked up from the microscope and turned toward the darkness where his eyes widened with fright and he leapt from off of his stood.
    Prof. Topffer clutched his chest taking a deep breath recognizing the dark figure in the shadows, “I thought I asked you never to do that. You know you aren’t the most pleasant sight to be sneaking up on someone.”
    The Zombie Avenger emerged from the darkness lowering his head, “I apologize…it is only my nature.”
    “Despite my reaction,” the professor smiled, “It is always good to see you, friend. What may I ask is the reason for your visit?”
    “The solution I gave you…,” the undead hero hesitated feeling ashamed for asking and cashing in on the honorable man’s favor. “Have you had any success with it?”
    “Yes, the cell regeneration formula from Stern Pharmaceuticals,” the professor had been given the formula months ago in a small aerosol applicator after an attempt to manipulate the corpse crusader was made by the late Simon Stern. “Remarkable technology, simply remarkable. It is a shame that the company could not continue with its application of this formula to the world. It could have changed the lives of millions.”
     “I am familiar with its potential and its effects but have you been able to increase its capabilities to affect dead tissue?” the Zombie Avenger questioned impatiently. 
    The professor hesitated seeing the impatience in the undead hero he had never seen before, “Yes, I was able to extend its effects but I could not develop the solution to affect dead tissue permanently. I haven’t tested the substance so its stability is questionable.”
    “I’m willing to try it regardless of the tests,” the Zombie Avenger insisted.
    Professor Topffer bit his lower lip and took a seat back on his stool, “Is everything alright with you? I don’t usually pry and it isn’t my place but have you considered the possible repercussions. Before you became one of the undead, you committed yourself to protecting the innocent as the Hooded Avenger. After the Rikti Attack, fate endowed you with these new powers and abilities far beyond that of a mortal. This change in your physical form may change your powers and rob what fate has given you…these gifts.”
    “Gifts? Fate has not blessed me with gifts professor, this is a curse. To walk the earth as one of the undead answering the calls of the fallen. I have been cursed to exist in this dead shell for long enough. I didn’t come here to be psychoanalyzed, professor,” the corpse crusader stated. “You asked how you could repay me for saving your families life and I am here to cash in that debt.”
    “All I am saying is that at some point, even in the living, you chose to put your life on the line to protect people, to be a hero. Have you forgotten why you became a crime fighter…why you became the Hooded Avenger in the first place?”
    The Zombie Avenger seemed to pause searching his memories but he could not find the answer to that simple question.
    “The debt, professor,” the Zombie Avenger insisted frustrated by the empty pieces of his memory.
    The professor began to say something else but remembered the great deed paid to him by the avenger more than seven years ago. Prof. Topffer was heading home with his wife and young daughter from a late night baseball game between the Boomtown Bombers and the Steel Canyon Stars. He had just finished loading his daughter into their vehicle when two armed gunmen carjacked him taking his wife and daughter hostage. Prof. Topffer tried to fight off the ruthless criminals but he was pistol wiped then shot in the shoulder, left bleeding on the street as his vehicle raced away. The valiant Hooded Avenger heard the good professor’s pleas for help and came to the rescue. The courageous hero saved Professor Topffer’s wife and daughter from harm. Professor Topffer told the Hooded Avenger that if he ever needed anything, there was no price too large. Professor Topffer owed the Zombie Avenger and as promised he would repay the debt he owed. 
    “I apologize, my friend. I don’t mean to question you,” the professor stated. “The effects of the solution should last a little longer than a few months. I was unable to replicate the formula; therefore you will have to take good care of this new tissue until I can create more of the solution.”
    “With your determination I don’t think you will have too much trouble,” the Avenger insisted. 
    Professor Topffer led the undead hero to a glassed chamber where he motioned for him to proceed inside. The professor connected to canister of the cell regeneration solution to a nozzle and took a seat at a computer terminal to operate the system. The Zombie Avenger removed his tattered hero’s garb and stepped into the chamber catching a glimpse of his horrid reflection in the glass, which he hoped would be for the last time. 
    The professor sealed the doors and tapped in the sequence code into the computer terminal, “Are you ready?”
    “Do it professor,” the undead hero ordered.
    Professor Topffer typed in the last few keys of the sequence code and the chamber became enveloped in a caustic fog of green gas that covered the corpse crusader adhering to every inch of his body.
The cell regeneration serum seared his skin as if it was on fire and for the first time since the living he felt pain, actual physical pain. But as painful as the experience was, it filled the undead hero with renewed vigor. He felt alive. The Zombie Avenger looked at the decayed skin on his hands watching as it slowly turned into a pleasant pink. He felt his face feeling his hands against the renewed flesh. The rest of his body transformed as well. The dead flesh lived again and in his eyes, so did he. The gas in the chamber cleared, the doors parted and the rehabilitated hero stepped out into the open air feeling the cold air upon his flesh. 
    Professor Topffer’s eyes widened in disbelief, “It worked! I knew the formula was precise but I didn’t believe it would actually work.”
    “You did well, professor. The Zombie is no more.”
    The professor’s excitement dimmed as he heard those words ‘The Zombie is no more’. It seemed a shame, he thought to himself. The Zombie did so much good.
    The once Zombie Avenger picked up his ragged costume from the floor holding it up to the light. The dull green and purple seemed out of place, the symbol of the skeletal hand all wrong.
    “I don’t think I will need this anymore,” he stated.
    “Maybe something in blue and yellow?” the professor questioned.
    “Exactly. Is your wife still the best seamstress in Paragon?”
    The professor smiled, “You’re damn right she is!”

 First National Bank of Paragon – Steel Canyon 9:58 AM

     It was a busy Monday morning as usual for the largest financial institute in the great vertical city. The line to the cashiers was long and the gentle hum of the customers filled the lobby. Through the front door, a heavy set security guard from Paragon Armored Car carried two heavy canvas bags of cash followed by another armed guard. The heavy set guard smiled at the bank manager as he proceeded toward the vault. The second guard, carrying a long black Remington shotgun, stood by the front doors watching for anything out of the ordinary. The guard winked at pretty blond cashier then stepped forward from the door cradling the shotgun in his arms. The cashier smiled then went pale. Her eyes seemed to glaze over as she looked past him giving the guard an unsettling feeling in his stomach. The guard turned his head back toward the front door just in time to see the butt of an automatic rifle connect with his face. The guard’s nose exploded with a gush of blood sending him riling to the floor. The gentle hum of the bank erupted in automatic gunfire as three masked armed robbers spilled into the bank’s lobby.         
    “Everybody get on the #@%&ing ground or I’ll spill more blood on the marble!” one of the robbers shouted in a gruff and menacing tone. 
    The first security guard dropped the canvas bags of money and reached for the revolver holstered on his hip. Another robber raised his automatic rifle and sighted in on the guard. The end of the automatic rifle exploded in a fiery hail of bullets striking the guard’s body until it lay motionless on the floor. The patrons and employees screamed at the sight and the growing pool of blood that began to form around his lifeless body. The robbers worked quickly and efficiently taking the canvas bags of money and filling others with cash from the vault. The heavy tow of money was carried out to the street where the armored car awaited. The driver’s lifeless body lay just outside the door; his blank expression stared up into the sky. 
    “Get in!” another masked robber ordered from behind the wheel of the armored car. “Damn pigs will be here any minute.”
    “Screw the pigs!” another robber taunted. “We got enough loot here to buy of the f#ck’n cops!”
    The others laughed and piled into the armored car, two in the front and two in the back. The driver stomped on the gas and pulled the armored car into the street off to a quick and easy get away. Suddenly the armored car slammed on its brakes just before leaving the bank lot.
    “What the #@%& , Frankie!” the passenger screamed. “Let’s get the #@%& outta Dodge!”
    The passenger turned to look ahead of them to where the driver had focused his attention. 
    In the brilliant sun light the patriotic hero Capital Man strode down the street making a bee line directly toward them. His rippling muscles flexed and his piercing eyes shot at them with an intensity unmatched by a normal man.
    “You fellas going somewhere?” Capital Man questioned mockingly. 
    “God damned capes!” the passenger protested. “Drive right through that tight wearing spook!”
    “I got something better for him,” the driver snarled. “I came prepared for these bozos.”
    The driver pulled out a long cylindrical device from under the seat and stepped out of the armored car. He placed the shoulder mounted device and sighted it in, “Let’s see if you’re faster than a speeding rocket.”
    Capital Man’s eyes widened at the sight of the shoulder fired rocket and braced himself for the impact knowing that he would not be able to get out of the way in time and could not afford for the rocket to hit any innocent bystanders behind him. The weapon erupted with a roar as the rocket raced from the tube on a collision course with the red, white, and blue hero. The rocket slammed into Capital Man’s chest sending him careening backward into a parked moving van and imbedding him into the steel frame.
    The masked robber laughed aloud, “Nice catch Captain America! Better luck next time!”
    The robber jumped back into the armored car, squealing the tires, and raced off down the street.

     From high above a neighboring skyscraper, Ebony Bow sighted in her bow and released and released an arrow at the speeding armored car. The arrow, with pinpointed accuracy, impacted the back right tire of the armored car. The arrow harmlessly splintered like a swig against the bullet proof tire.
     “Damn!” Ebony Bow protested pulling another arrow from her quiver and affixing an armor piercing head to the tip.
    She drew back on her bow again, but released the tension realizing that the armored car had sped out of range. She began to affix her grapple to pursue the fleeing robbers when something in the distance caught her eye, a blur of yellow and blue swinging from high above. It was a figure coming down from the sky in pursuit of the armored car caped in yellow in a blue suit. Her eyes widened at the sight.
    “It couldn’t be?” she gasped. 

     The armored car sped through the city streets without regard for citizens in its path. The heavy vehicle smashed against civilian motor cars and crashed through police barricades. The armed robbers laughed in gleeful delight at their mayhem and the nearly ten million dollars in cash that was held safely in the belly of the steel beast. Police officers opened fire on the speeding vehicle that deflected the harmless rounds like classroom spit wads. The robbers cheered again laughing at the pointless endeavor to stop them until the heavy thump of something on the roof of the car caught their attention. The noise was ignored but heard again. 
    “Someone’s up there!” the passenger announced.
    “Not for the long,” the driver objected and began pulling the steering wheel to the left and right in a jarring breakneck retaliation.
    The armored car smashed into parked cars along the sides of the road and sent debris and sparks flying in every direction. The driver took a hard right turn at the next street sending the armor car up on two wheels then crashing back down on all four. The raucous maneuvers had the robbers in the back of the armored car sliding from end to end in a pile of scattered money. 
    “That should have done it!” the driver stated. “No body could hang on through that.”
    But before he could finish his words of triumph, the windshield was draped in yellow completely obscuring his vision. The driver panicked again swinging the steering wheel back and forth, but the yellow draping wouldn’t move. 
    “Get out there and get that son of a bitch!” the driver ordered the passenger who produced a handgun from his pocket and rolled down the window.
    The passenger began climbing out of the window when suddenly he was sucked through the opening as if caught by a vacuum. His body flushed through the window with a defiant scream and then he was gone. The driver gasped as two yellow boots swung into the cab of the armored car connecting with the his chin, sending him against the door window with a crash, and out cold. The yellow and blue clad hero pulled his cape from the windshields view and wrestled the armored car to a stop. Police cars surrounded the armored car and officers exited their vehicles with their guns drawn. The driver’s door flew open and the driver spilled from the car into a heap on the pavement. The officers gazed in amazement as the costumed hero emerged from the armored car’s cab pulling the unconscious driver up to his knees.
    “You’ll find another down the street in shackles; there are two more in the back. You’ll find the money is all accounted for,” the hero stated triumphantly.
    “The Hooded Avenger?!” one officer gasped. “But you’re dead!”
    The Hooded Avenger looked up from underneath his yellow shroud with a handsome smile, “Not anymore. I’m BACK!!!”

     Ebony Bow helped Capital Man to the scene of the apprehension. The patriotic hero’s titanium exo-skeleton had protected him from the blast of the missile but the impact had left him in a daze. Ebony’s eyes widened at a sight she could hardly believe. The Hooded Avenger, the hero who had saved her life more than five years ago, the hero who had compelled her to become a costumed crime fighter, stood posing for television cameras and being interviewed by reporters for the day’s biggest story. The confident hero smiled handsomely gloating about his dramatic apprehension as the reporters ate up his daring tale like a pack of ravenous dogs. The hero stood with his hands on his hips sticking his chest. He glowed with confidence. Ebony could hardly believe what she was seeing. The Hooded Avenger had indeed returned but he was unlike the hero she had remembered. The hero she knew never posed for cameras or basked in the glory of a victory. It was the same Hooded Avenger but this was a different personality that she had not seen before. 
    The Hooded Avenger watched as Ebony Bow and Capital Man approached and excused himself from the reporters.
    “So? What do you think?” the Hooded Avenger questioned with outstretched arms. “It’s the new me, well, the old me…whatever, I’m back!”
    “As I see,” Ebony Bow looked him up and down. “What happened? Where is the Zombie?”
    “The Zombie is…for lack of a better term, dead and buried,” the Hooded Avenger announced. “It’s the dawn of a new day.”
    “I don’t understand. How is this possible?” Ebony Bow questioned looking at the vibrant flesh that had replaced the dead decaying skin. 
    “It was your father’s cell regeneration formula,” he informed. “I had a friend develop it to last longer on dead tissue. I feel alive. It’s amazing!”
    The Hooded Avenger lifted Ebony Bow into the air and spun her around, “Now I can be the man that the Zombie could never be for you. We can be together, you and me!”
    Ebony Bow pulled from his grasp, “Wait, hold on. We need to talk about this.”
    The Hooded Avenger looked back to the crowd of reporters, “We will I promise, but I have to go. CNN is here, they want an exclusive on the return of the Hooded Avenger!”
    The hero turned and raced off toward the mass of reporters and flashing cameras.
    “He’s quite the glory hound,” Capital Man observed. “Was he always this self absorbed?”
    “No,” Ebony Bow sighed. “Something’s wrong.”
    “Well, he sure is happy.”
    “Maybe too happy,” Ebony Bow stated watching the hero with a keen eye.

     For the next week, the Hooded Avenger’s exploits dominated the headlines. “Twelve children saved from death at day care center fire”, “Returned Hero rescues twenty five after disgruntled employee takes hostages at gun point”, “Woman saved from thirty story fall”, and “Crime down 35% in a week, thanks to the Hooded Avenger”. Posters of the Hooded Avenger littered the billboards of Paragon City and every magazine and newspaper in town depicted a picture of the handsome hero. There were even street venders on every corner selling t-shirts of the hero and rumors of a live action movie were the biggest talk of the entertainment circuit.

 Royal Overlook – Steel Canyon 9:58 AM

    In the mansion of crime family Mafioso, Alfonzo Pazzo, a television set reported the day’s events.
    “Paragon Police released today that last Tuesday’s armed robbery of the First National Bank in Steel Canyon was orchestrated by members of the Pazzo Crime Family.  Officials have also implicated the Pazzo Family in the deaths of more than twenty people in connection with tainted street drugs, to include an eight year old Kings Row boy, and the death toll is still rising. A police task force in connection with local heroes has vowed to locate the origination of these drugs and stop their distribution before more deaths can be attributed. This news caster is confidant with heroes like the Hooded Avenger on the prowl, the Pazzo Family or whoever is responsible for these poison narcotics don’t stand a chance. For Channel 4 ‘On the Spot’, I’m Mercy Stevens.”
    Alfonzo Pazzo leapt from his chair behind his ornate desk, a nickel plated .45 caliber revolver in his outstretched hand. He plugged five rounds of ammunition into the TV screen while a collection of his lieutenants watched wondering who would be the recipient of the remaining two. The TV exploded with a pop, fire and smoke spilling from the picture tube. The crime boss slammed the handgun down on the desk and snarled through grit teeth. Alfonzo Pazzo wasn’t a big man; short in stature, slim, with a thick head of graying hair, a broad chin, and bushy eyebrows. His dark grey suit fit him like a glove and gold bracelets could be seen from beneath his cuff. He moved around from behind his desk like a shark encircling his prey. His finger wagged with frustration and his lips curled to the side in a sneer.
    “These God damned do-gooders!” he ranted in his raspy voice. “These tight wearing buffoons in their capes with their masks! I have had it with the lot of them. They’ve gone to far this time, cost me millions! I’m not going to take it any more.”
    He paced between his men making sure to make eye contact with each and every one of them.
    “There’s a new one of these poster boys each week!” he continued in his tirade. “Statesman, Amazing-Man, Flames Master, American-Knight, Kris Kaos, some damn fool Egyptian statute that walks around calling himself a God, and now this pathetic Hooded Avenger! I have had it up to my eyeballs with these caped monkeys. The Family has been here longer than all of them! Before the Malta, before the Counsel, before those cloak wearing Thorns, before the damned Invasion, and before these do-gooders came around stick’n there noses were they don’t belong. They’ve gone too far this time, the lot of’em. We’re gonna make these pigs squeal. No one gets in the way of this Family, NO ONE!”
    “But what’re we supposed to do, boss?” one of the lieutenants question. “They got super powers and stuff.”
    Boss Pazzo spun back to his desk and snatched his revolver sticking it in the questioning lieutenants face, “What do we do you say? We do what we always do…we get ruthless!”
    He fired the two remaining bullets into the ceiling sending his lieutenants cowering, “I want those drugs in every shopping mall, in every fast food joint, in ice cream shops, on playgrounds, and every classroom in Paragon. I want this city swimming in poison until those damn do-gooders can't go two feet without running into a body. Put it out on the street that those drugs are warehoused at Dock 52 in Independence Port, make sure everybody knows. When those caped idiots show their pretty little faces we’ll have a present for ‘em. We’ll show them just how ruthless we are. No body messes with the Family, not unless their looking to be fit for a toe tag.”
    The lieutenants licked their lips in anticipation, motivated by their mentor’s words. 
    “Get a move on boys,” Alfonzo Pazzo snarled with a wicked smirk. “We got work to do.”

 The Gish - Kings Row 4:18 PM

    A beat up Chevy roared around a busy street corner sending pedestrians scattering to avoid being struck. A band of marked patrol cars followed close behind, red and blue lights flashing, and their sirens blaring. Two thugs from the notorious gang known as the “Skulls” recklessly fled in the stolen car without regard for anyone’s safety.
    “Give it some more gas!” one Skull told the other.
    “I got my foot to the floor,” the other replied angrily. “This piece of $%!* ain’t got no balls!”
    “If those pigs find what out we got in here we’ll be in the Zigg for sure!”
    “I can’t go to prison,” one stated. “I ain’t got the stomach for prison!”
    “Then stomp on the #@%&ing gas before those rollers got us pinned!”
    The old Chevy screamed down the street, smoke beginning to pour from the rear exhaust. It barreled down the street reaching speeds of 80 MPH. The Skulls maneuvered the vehicle through traffic twisting and turning, smashing into the sides of innocent drivers, through red traffic lights, and with total disregard for human life. The police knew if these unruly felons were not stopped innocent lives could be lost. A block ahead, an officer laid down a spike strip to cripple the fleeing GTA’s tires and hopefully end the careless pursuit. The Chevy sped over the spike strip puncturing three of the four tires and sending chunks of rubber and asphalt into the air. The stolen car continued forward its bare rims digging into the black top shooting sparks in its wake. The desperate criminal became more determined to get away, high on adrenaline and fear.
    The Hooded Avenger watched the pursuit from above waiting for the right dramatic moment to strike. A crew of reporters had heard the perilous pursuit over the police band and responded ahead of the chase to get footage for the evening news. The courageous hero leapt from above dropping on top of the stolen car. The Skulls panicked pulling the vehicle to the left and right tossing the shrouded crusader from side to side. The speeding vehicle passed by the reporters as the Hooded Avenger winked and smiled for his adoring fans. The hero tucked his legs holding on to the sides then smashed his fist into the windshield spider webbing the glass. The Skulls pulled out their hand guns and began peppering the roof of the car with a spray of bullets. The hero’s grip slipped nearly sending him over the edge of the car. The Hooded Avenger dodged the rounds then tightened his grip on the sides of the car planning his next move. 
    The distraction left the felons vulnerable to what awaited ahead. Capital Man planted his feet and braced his shoulder watching the speeding Chevy race toward him at nearly 100 MPH. The fleeing GTA smashed into the titanium hero like a brick wall stopping the vehicle dead in its tracks. The Hooded Avenger flew forward rolling to a stop. He grimaced at the sight of the intruding hero thinking he had the situation perfectly under control. The Skulls jumped from the vehicle, amazingly unharmed. Ebony Bow sighted in her trust bow and fired a net arrow trapping the two reckless thugs and preventing their escape. 
    Capital Man wiped the car debris from his patriotic uniform totally untouched by the awesome collision. He watched as the Hooded Avenger stomped towards him with furious expression on his face. 
    The Hooded Avenger pushed the red, white, and blue hero’s shoulder, “I was doing just fine until you came along!”
    “Oh, yeah. You were doing great,” Capital Man stated sarcastically. “You’d have been a blue and yellow stain on the asphalt if I hadn’t come along. Besides, I wasn’t concerned with you. It’s almost rush hour and those fools were on a collision course with death. There were innocent lives to think of.”
    “I had it under control!” Hooded Avenger shouted. “If I needed your help I would have asked for it!”
    “What? Did I steal the headlines from you,” Capital Man teased. “Don’t worry, there will be another big save for you and then you can get your exclusive with Michael Williams for Dateline!”
    Hooded Avenger ground his teeth and pulled back his fist to strike.
    Ebony Bow stepped between the two heroes pushing them both back, “Enough already! We are all on the same team here!”
    “Tell that to your boyfriend,” Hooded Avenger spat.
    “You are out of line!” Ebony yelled back betting in the hero’s face. 
    Before she could say another word, a police officer at the trunk of the car alerted them to what he had found inside.
    Ebony Bow walked to the rear of the car and her eyes widened in surprise. The trunk was filled with bundles of the Pazzo’s poisoned narcotics. She picked up one of the bundles finding another layer of the packaged narcotics underneath.
    “Look how much is here,” she gasped. “This is getting out of control.”
    Capital Man joined her side, “Pazzo must be getting desperate handing this garbage over to simple street thugs to distribute. It seems like the more drugs we seize off the street the more show up.” 
    Hooded Avenger stared into the trunk with a questioning expression on his face, “I thought we took care of all of this. The warehouse last week…there was so much there.”
    “While you have been making headlines, we have been continuing to get these drugs off the street,” Ebony Bow explained annoyingly. “There have been at least another ten deaths since that warehouse bust. If you hadn’t been hogging all the big saves and getting your name in the papers you could have been helping us get this stuff off the street. It just keeps flooding in and we can’t get a firm connection to Pazzo to make an arrest.”
    “I didn’t know,” the Hooded Avenger gasped. “Ten more deaths, how could that be?”
    Ebony Bow was about to say something else when she heard the officer get a report over his radio that made him pale.
    “What is it?” she questioned.
    “The death toll just shot up by eight, but this time…” the officer paused unable to clear the lump in his throat. “It’s tragic…two blocks up. You better head over there. We’ll clean up this mess and get these two booked.”

    The three heroes raced up the street to a residential neighborhood where police and medical vehicles lined a house on the end of the street. Mothers and fathers hugged each other in tears grieving the worst. The looks on the responding officers’ faces couldn’t begin to explain what had happened here but the sight of multiple body bags being carried from inside the residence told them that whatever it was it was bad, really bad.
    Ebony Bow approached the police captain managing the scene, “What happened here?”
    The captain’s face was drawn and sullen, “Eight girls, ages 14 to 15, were having a sleep over here. One of them was about to turn sweet sixteen. I guess they decided to experiment; one of them brought some Devil’s Dust to the party. They weren’t found in time, we lost them all. They were all good girls, curious is all. It’s a tragedy. This drug problem is turning into a catastrophe.”
    Ebony Bow gasped fighting the tears and Capital Man hung his head in shame. 
    The Hooded Avenger looked as if he had gone numb; his eyes stared at the seemingly endless parade of body bags streaming from the residence. The cries of the parents was almost deafening in his ears. His head felt like it was spinning.
    “How could this have happened? How is this possible?” the Hooded Avenger stammered in disbelief.
    “It’s happening all over Paragon City,” the police captain explained. “Five young college frat boys were found OD’d at a party in Steel Canyon. Two of them died, the other three are in intensive care at St Can Medical Center. They don’t look like they are going to pull through and if they do; they’ll have serious brain damage. It’s become an epidemic. Most of the junkies have wizened up that Devil’s Dust is a killer. But there are those who are just too curious, or like these girls, looking for a cheep thrill and paying the consequences.”
    “All of this has been going on all along?” the Hooded Avenger questioned. “Why hasn’t the public been warned? Why isn’t this all over the news?”
    “The press covers what they want to cover,” the captain stated. “The big stories are the ones that draw in the viewers. It’s all about the ratings. A kid dying from an accidental overdose isn’t glamorous. It’s not like we have Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan, and that pop sings daughter sprawled out here. These are just some average girls here.”
    The Hooded Avenger felt as though he was falling apart, “This is my fault.”
    Ebony Bow was angry with his recent behavior but saw that her old friend was taking things too far, “It’s not your fault. There are people out there responsible for putting these drugs on the street. We’ll find them.”
    “No,” the Hooded Avenger’s eyes narrow and his teeth grit, “The dead…I should have heard the dead. The souls of the innocent, their voices, I can’t hear their voices! I could have put an end to this. Look how far it has come! I did nothing but put more lives in danger. I should have heard their cries…the call of the victims…the demand for justice, for vengeance.”
    Ebony Bow placed a hand on her friends shoulder seeing that he was tearing himself apart, “You aren’t him anymore. You’re not the one to hear those cries anymore. You have changed. You said he was dead and buried.”
    “Dead and buried?” the Hooded Avenger questioned seeming almost childlike, in a daze.
    “Yes,” she repeated. “Dead and buried. The Zombie is no more.”
    The Hooded Avenger’s teeth clenched, his fist balled, and his brow furrowed in anger, “Well I’m not dead. The ones who did this will pay for what they have done. There is blood on their hands and those innocents demand justice.”
    The Hooded Avenger began to push past Ebony Bow and Capital Man, but Ebony grabbed his shoulder, “The task force will handle the situation. We don’t need a vigilante.”
    The Hooded Avenger pulled her hand from his shoulder, “Then the task force better find them before I do.”

 Seven Gates “DJ’s Tavern” – Brickstown 10:27 PM           

     The Hooded Avenger took to the streets in a rage. His mind flooded with guilt. He blamed himself above all others, his ignorance, his selfishness was to blame. Professor Topffer had warned him but he failed to heed his words. The voices of the dead had once anointed him as their protector, their avenger. But those voices had silenced, abandoned by their champion. Now, innocents were dead and many more would die if something was not done. The Hooded Avenger shook down local street thugs and hit family hang outs in a pursuit of answers to why these innocents had to die. The desperate hero vowed to end the epidemic of poisoned drugs that filled the street, no matter what the cost. 
    The doors to DJ’s Tavern flew open and in the bars doorway stood the Hooded Avenger. DJ’s Tavern a known hang out for Family thugs became quiet at the sight of the hero. Only the jukebox could be heard in the background. The bartender pointed toward the door with a scowl on his face.
    “No capes allowed!” the bartender ordered. “Can’t you read the sign? We don’t want your kind in here.”
    “Sign?” the Hooded Avenger questioned tearing the sign from the door and wadding it into a ball. “I don’t see any sign.”
    The Hooded Avenger walked into the bar keenly eyeing each of the patrons sizing them up for the impeding fight.          
    “I’m looking for Ricky Pazzo,” the Hooded Avenger stated referring to Alfonzo Pazzo’s nephew who handled much of the king pin’s drug affairs. 
    “Piss off, hero,” a patron stated taking a swig of his beer then standing from his bar stool. 
    Other patrons stepped forward either holding beer bottles or pool sticks, ready for a brawl.
    “My beef is with Pazzo,” the Hooded Avenger stated. “There is no reason for any of you to get hurt.”
    The bar filled with laughter, “We’re Pazzo’s boys. That means the only one getting hurt around here is you.”
    Laughter filled the bar again, “Aren’t you the pretty boy on the news grinning like an idiot for the cameras?”
    “I’m not grinning now am I?” the Hooded Avenger kept moving forward as Pazzo’s boys began to close in as well. “If Ricky Pazzo was a man he would show his face.”
    “I’m right here,” a voice answered from the back of the bar from a young man who chalked his cue stick and began to rack a ball on a billiard table. “Mop the floor with that punk’s cape and toss him out in the street.”
    Pazzo’s boys grinned and cracked their knuckles ready to fight.
    “Have it your way,” Hooded Avenger sneered. “When I’m done with these fools, you’re next.”
       The thugs rushed upon the hero only to be met with hard punches with swift precision. The Hooded Avenger wasted no time blooding noses and breaking bones. The bodies of Pazzo’s boys soon littered the floor. Ricky Pazzo swung his stick around like a staff as the Hooded Avenger approached, “I said you would be next!”
    Pazzo swung the stick toward the hero’s head, which was quickly ducked. The Hooded Avenger swept Pazzo’s feet out from under him dropping him to the floor and knocking the wind out of him. Pazzo was drug back up to his feet where the Hooded Avenger clubbed him in the gut and tossed him across the pool table. The angered hero lifted up the young Mafioso’s nephew and carried him up into the air by his neck. Ricky Pazzo choked and gagged fighting helplessly against the Hooded Avenger’s enraged strength.
    “Always the hard way with you pathetic tough guys,” the Hooded Avenger spat. 
    “Whata you want?” Pazzo gagged.
    “The drugs,” the Hooded Avenger stated. “Where is your uncle keeping those poisoned drugs?!”
    “I can’t tell you,” Pazzo choked painfully, his face turning red. “They’ll kill me.”
    The Hooded Avenger lifted Ricky higher tightening his grip, “You better worry about me right now. I’ll kill you!”
    “Ok, ok,” Ricky gave in. “I’ll tell, lemme down.”
    The Hooded Avenger dropped the young man giving him a moment to rub his sore throat but then pushed him against the wall gripping his neck again, “I’m running out of patience!”
    “Ok, alright,” Ricky pleaded.  “They're being housed in Indy Port. Dock 52 in Steel Pier. The drugs are there. All of them, but you’ll never get in there. It’s guarded like Fort Knox. You’ll die trying!”
    “I’ll take me chances,” the Hooded Avenger released the young man and went for the door. He couldn’t waste any more time. 
    Ricky Pazzo waited for the Hooded Avenger to leave the bar and for the doors to close behind him. He reached for his cell phone from his pocket, flipped it open, and dialed a number.
    “It’s Ricky,” he stated into the phone rubbing his throat but forming a subtle smile. “The fish took the bait, Uncle Al. He’s on his way now.”
    Ricky closed his phone and looked around the room at his boys who lay scattered, moaning, and trying to get back to their feet, “Now you get yours hero. Time to even the score.”

 Steel Pier “Dock 52” – Independence Port 11:14 PM 

    The Hooded Avenger crept through the darkness, using the shadows for concealment, moving toward the largest warehouse on Dock 52. The hero kept him self weary of Pazzo’s guards watching the alleged drug storage facility, but to his surprise there was no one. He continued to believe that maybe Pazzo had taken the guards off of the front of the building to avoid suspicion. What better way to identify a location of importance but to have it surrounded by security. The hero approached the warehouse and tore the chain and padlock from the door giving him access. He carefully proceeded into the dark warehouse dimly lit by the moonlight that flooded in from the upper windows. The warehouse was filled with storage crates nearly from floor to ceiling. 
    “This has got to be the place,” he thought to himself. “I’ve hit the mother load.”
    The Hooded Avenger lost sight of the fact that the warehouse seemed to be void of any of Pazzo’s men. There wasn’t a single guard in sight, no movement, not a single sound. He bashed open one of the crates to confirm his suspicious. The hero’s eyes widened in disbelief, the crate was empty. Frustrated, the Hooded Avenger broke open another crate, then another, until splinters of wood scattered the floor, but all of the crates were empty. His mind raced with confusion, had he been so blind by his rage that he had walked into a trap. His head began to spin and his knees felt week. 
    “What has become of me?” he questioned feeling foolish and helpless. 
    The Hooded Avenger’s puzzlement clouded his thoughts and his senses, not hearing the multiple footsteps coming up from behind him. As he turned, the heavy end of bat struck him squarely in the face with enough force to nearly take his head off. The hero collapsed to the ground in a heap. Before he could react he was surrounded by an uncountable number of Pazzo’s men who kicked and stomped his battled body. He struggled against them but there were too many. Before he knew it he was completely overwhelmed by the angry thugs.
    He opened his eyes when they stopped kicking alerted by a presence that appeared from the shadows. Alfonzo Pazzo carefully walked forward a gloating smile on his weathered face. 
    “You foolish heroes with your blind devotion,” Pazzo laughed, his voice echoing in the warehouse. “How easily you fall for the simplest of traps.”
    The mob boss squatted down peering over the beaten hero’s body. He lightly slapped at the Hooded Avenger’s cheek and smiled, “There aren’t any cameras to pose for here.”
    Pazzo’s goons laughed in a chorus. The Mafioso stood and motioned for his thugs to carry the limp body over to a collection of crates where they laid his body holding down his arms and legs.
    “Too many times have you capes stuck your nose into my affairs! Costing me millions and putting my business in jeopardy. You think you can push Alfonzo Pazzo around? Put me outta business?” Pazzo spat. “I got news for you champion. I ain’t gonna lie down and take it no more. If its war you costumed do-gooders want, then its war you get. Consider yourself lucky. You’re the first casualty in the conflict. Don’t you worry about a thing. It will be quick, but hardly painless.”
    Alfonzo Pazzo sneered and snapped his fingers as two of his goons walked forward with chainsaws in their hands and plastic aprons over their dark suits. The Hooded Avenger peered through his swollen eyes at the two men then at Pazzo who grinned with devilish delight.
    “Don’t do this?” the Hooded Avenger pleaded. “It’s those drugs they are killing people. They must get off the street.”
    “Oh, it’s the drugs?” Pazzo nodded. “If people are stupid enough to pay for them then who am I to stand in their way? So a few kids get killed so I can turn a buck. Who cares! If their parents did a better job they’d be safe at home watching cartoons or something. I don’t give a rat’s ass who uses those drugs as long as I get a lil coin in my pocket…fugget about it!”
    “You will pay for what you have done,” the Hooded Avenger stated trying helplessly to pull from the vise like grip of Pazzo’s thugs.
    “And who’s gonna make me pay? You?” Pazzo laughed. “I don’t think so.”
    Alfonzo Pazzo motioned for his boys to come forward starting up their chainsaws and bringing them down upon the Hooded Avenger’s pinned body. The Hooded Avenger’s eyes darted from side to side and he pulled against Pazzo’s thugs with all of his remaining strength. The Hooded Avenger’s defiant screams echoed through the warehouse but were quickly drowned out by the sound of the chainsaws sawing through flesh and bone. The horrid sound caused Pazzo’s men to look away in disgust, but Alfonzo Pazzo looked on in sheer delight. A devilish expression washed over his face as he watched his men dismember the hero in torturous fashion. A fiendish laugh exploded from his lips adding to the squeal of the chainsaws. 

    Several hours had past and the screams had silenced. The warehouse was once again abandoned. Ebony Bow and Capital Man slowly entered the warehouse after following leads that had led them to Steel Pier. The Hooded Avenger had set out alone to take on the Pazzo Family and hadn’t been heard from since. Ebony Bow inspected the inside of the warehouse past the broken security chain to empty storage crates that littered the floor. She had a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach. With no sign of the Hooded Avenger the uneasy feeling was becoming worse.
    “Maybe he was never here,” Capital Man suggested.
    “The word on the street was that the drugs were being housed here,” Ebony stated. “It wasn’t any secret, it is almost like Pazzo wanted people to know, like he wanted heroes to know.”
    “Like it was a set up?” Capital Man determined. “A trap?”
    “That is what I am afraid of,” the heroine worried. “And Hoody walked right into it. He wasn’t thinking right. I’m worried about him.”
    Capital Man rounded a stack of crates where he found remnants of torn blue and yellow cloth but no signs of the Hooded Avenger, “Here, he called out.”
    Ebony Bow rushed to his side where her hand clasped over her mouth in shock, “What did they do to him?”
    She knew something bad had happened here and feared the worst.
    “I’m afraid your friend may have gotten in way over his head,” Capital Man observed seeing more than just the fragments of Hooded Avenger’s costume when he activated his infrared vision.
    “We have to find him!” Ebony Bow stated.
    “The tracking device you planted on him,” Capital Man suggested.
    Ebony Bow pulled the transmitter from a compartment in her belt and turned on the device. Her eyes widened with relief, “I’ve got a signal! I hope it isn’t too late!”

 Gaimon Woods – Perez Park 11:14 PM  

    Ebony Bow and Capital Man followed her transmitter deep into the dark woods of Perez Park. The darkness was unsettling but the desire to find their lost friend was overwhelming. The beautiful young heroine studied the transmitter following its signal into a clearing beneath the tall trees that canopied much of the massive park. She shined her flashlight across the open field seeing no trace of the missing Avenger. Capital Man activated his scanning vision and examined the clearing as well coming across an area where a mound of fresh topsoil appeared out of place. Dozens of heavy footprints littered the area around the mound and disrupted the precipitation that had begun to form on the surrounding grass. The scene was indicative of a place where something had recently been buried and with the transmitter indicating that the Hooded Avenger was here he could only come to one conclusion. 
    “Over here Ebony,” Capital Man stated reluctantly. “He’s here.”
    Ebony Bow approached and looked down at the fresh soil her eyes wide.
    “They buried him?” she presumed. “We’ve got to get at him.”
    The young heroine dropped to her knees and began pawing at the mound of dirt pulling handfuls soil to the sides, “Help me!” she demanded.
    Capital Man looked at his clean red leather gloves and frowned, “Who’s going to cover my cleaning bill? This is pointless. It has been hours. If he is underneath there then he’s done for.”
    “Don’t say that!” she screamed continuing to dig away at the dirt with her bare hands. “There still could be time. Get down here and help me!”
    Capital Man dropped his shoulders then sunk to his knees digging into the mound of dirt as directed. The two dug about three feet down until they felt something hard, cleared away the dirt, and found a plastic bag bound with a knot. They dug around the bundle and pulled it to the surface. The plastic bag was heavy, large, and bulky but did not have the shape of a body but of something in multiple pieces. Ebony Bow tore open the bag reeling in shock at her discovery.  The smell was stifling, revolting, and she almost vomited. The bag was filled with pieces of limbs, torso, and a severed head. The skin on the dismembered body was gray and decayed, maggots slowly making their way over the corpse. The face she recognized immediately, its lips pulled back baring its teeth and its pale eyes staring unresponsively. Ebony Bow shrieked and fell into Capital Man’s arms. 
    “What have they done to him?” she sobbed. “Cut him up, buried him, like an animal.”
    Capital Man was also in shock, “This is excessive even for Pazzo.”
    Ebony Bow regained her composure, “We’ll take him and properly bury him. Then we’ll go after Pazzo and his thugs. We’ll make him pay for this!”
    A groan from the plastic back of body parts made them jump as they heard a familiar, strained, and agonizing voice, “Pazzo is mine!”
    Ebony slowly crept forward peering into the back where she saw the severed head looking out in a ghastly undead stare, “Are you still alive?” She questioned as if maybe she had only heard the voice in her head though Capital Man’s astonished look told her otherwise.
    The severed head blinked causing the young heroine to almost jump out of her skin.
    “Put me back together,” the severed head ordered in a voice that ran chills up her spine.
    “Avenger?” she questioned again in disbelief.
    “Take me to Professor Topffer at Paragon University,” the severed head continued to order. “Put me back together.”
    Ebony Bow carefully pulled the plastic bag together and carried the limbs, now shifting grotesquely in the bag. She handed the bag to Capital Man who took a hold of the bag as if it was cursed holding it out away from his body.
    “You heard him,” Ebony Bow stated in a quivering tone.

 Paragon University – Steel Canyon 7:48 AM

     Professor Topffer carefully gathered his lesson plan from his briefcase and set it upon his desk in anticipation of his eight o’clock class. The classroom was still empty and he treasured the silence knowing soon that it would be filled with eager young students. He turned to the chalk board and began writing out a list of formulas that he would be discussing. He enjoyed the tedious construction of the complex number and letter formulas, a true mathematician at heart. As he completed the theorem of the final formula a revolting smell entered his nose. The smell was thick and completely overwhelmed his senses, but he knew that smell and he knew it well. The professor spun around to see two heroes standing covered in dirt and mud. The male carried a large plastic bag and the female’s face was drawn and despondent. 
    “Sorry to interrupt you,” Ebony Bow stated seemingly exhausted. “But he told us to see you.”
    “He?” Professor Topffer questioned.
     “Him,” she motioned to the plastic bag.
    “Capital Man?” the professor seemed confused. “Do we know each other?”
    “No, sir,” Capital Man explained. “Him…in the bag.”
    “In the bag?” Professor Topffer seemed more confused and worried if he had two deranged heroes in this classroom.
    “Yes?” Ebony Bow insisted. “Is there somewhere we can go in private?”

     Professor Topffer led the two heroes to his laboratory where Capital Man spread out the contents of the plastic bag onto an examination table. The multiple body parts began to twitch and move uncontrollably. The professor jumped back unable to believe what he was seeing. Slowly he recognized the dismembered limbs and stepped forward looking into the eyes of his friend’s severed head.
    “Put me back together,” the severed head demanded its voice seemingly more strained than before.
    The professor was speechless, “What happened to him?”
    “Alfonzo Pazzo did this to him,” Ebony Bow explained.
    “Fix me!” the severed head demanded angrily, “Put me back together!”
    “Calm down, please,” the professor stated softly seeing that the other parts of the dismembered body had begun to writhe as well.
    The severed head growled and moaned is if in some kind of uncontrollable suffering.
    “What do we do?” Ebony Bow questioned with tears of frustration filling her eyes. 
    The professor turned to his work table collecting some high tension metal wire, scissors, and a thick needle. 
    “We sew him back together,” the professor explained. “But I’ll need one of you to hold him while I stitch him up.”
    Capital Man stepped back raising his hands, “I’ve had enough excitement for one day. This is a little much for me.”
    Ebony Bow hesitantly nodded her head holding back her disgust, “Where do we begin?”
    “We’ll start with the head,” the professor explained. “Maybe he can command the other parts to calm down.”
    “Let’s do it,” Ebony stated with a grimace on her face. “And let’s hurry before I change my mind.”

    After a number of painstaking hours, the corpse lay on the examination table completely stitched together like some sort of Frankenstein monster. The professor and the two heroes stood by waiting for a response from the reconstructed cadaver. Slowly the corpse sat forward looking at its arms and legs stitched with wire. It flexed its fingers and turned its body to step down from the metal table. The corpse’s feet stepped down to the floor and stood seeing that its body responded as it had before. 
    Ebony Bow looked at the corpse with concern placing her head down to make eye contact, “Z? Are you there?”
    The Zombie Avenger sat back down on the table running his hands over the decayed skin on his face and through the remaining strands of his broken hair, “I am here.”
    Ebony Bow smiled hesitantly relieved that he was still with them but was still in shock from the nights events.
    “You did well,” the corpse crusader stated looking again at the sutures that had pulled him back together. “Both of you.”
    “You had us worried,” the professor explained. “What happened?”
    “What happened?” the Zombie Avenger questioned himself. “I lost my way.”
    “Well you are back with us now,” Ebony Bow smiled. “We’ll have you good as new in no time. The professor said he could start working on that concoction to make your flesh new again. Get you back to your old self.”
    “No,” the undead hero interrupted looking at his undead flesh then to the reflection of his zombie face in a metal door. “This is who I am, I understand that now. The Hooded Avenger died during the invasion of Boomtown. Fate put me back in this body for a purpose, gave me these powers for a reason. The Hooded Avenger is dead and buried. I am the Zombie Avenger and there are innocents who need justice.”
    The Zombie Avenger’s head tilted back as his mind was flooded with visions of the dead. He could hear and feel the victims who cried in pain trapped between the world of the living and the dead until their souls could rest knowing that justice had been served. The innocents called upon their champion to avenge the wrongs that had been committed against them.  
    “Pazzo will pay for what he has done with his poison,” the Zombie Avenger proclaimed. “It is I who must bring him to justice. I understand that now. I was wrong to indulge my selfish desires. I lost my way, but I know my fate now. I know what must be done. I am the Zombie Avenger and those who dare enact wrongs against the innocent will face vengeance.”
    Professor Topffer pulled a tattered and torn purple and green suit from the drawer of a cabinet and handed it to the corpse crusader, “I saved it in hopes that I would see my old friend again.
    “You warned me but I didn’t listen,” the undead hero stated looking at his ragged costume.
    “Water under the bridge, they always say,” Professor Topffer smiled. 
    The Zombie Avenger pulled on his uniform and pulled down the hood to shadow his undead face. The darkness of his awesome powers surrounded him and encompassed the room as he called upon the shadows. The power of the darkness gave him back his strength and invigorated his undead body. The living zombie called into the darkness to heed the cries of the innocent. 
    “The Zombie Avenger lives again!”

 Royal Overlook – Steel Canyon 8:13 PM

    Alfonzo Pazzo lifted a glass of champagne and puffed on a fat cigar laughing with disturbing amusement. His lieutenants stood around him in his luxurious study surrounded by hundreds of books and a marble fireplace in the corner. The lieutenants lifted their glasses as well, a triumphant display of victory.
    “The war has begun and the first victory is ours,” Pazzo celebrated as his men cheered. “The first of many. Who'd these capes think they was messing with? This ain’t no Saturday morning cartoon. The message has been sent. The Hooded Avenger begged for his life, he begged like a dog.”
    “And squealed like a pig,” another added with a chorus of laughter.
    “We’ll have them all squealing like pigs,” Pazzo grinned menacingly. “These capes is a dying breed. It’s our time now!”
    “But what if these masks get organized, boss?” one of the lieutenants asked. “With there powers and stuff we could be look’n at a lot of trouble here. Seeing as we took one of there own, I don’t think they’s gonna just lie down and roll over.”
    The other lieutenants nodded with a touch of concern in agreement.
    “I don’t fear these tight wearing prema donnas,” Pazzo spat. “With the money we’s raking in we’ll buy heroes to work for us. We’ll form a treaty with the other groups of Paragon and stand against these fools. We’ll overwhelm them with sheer numbers. The Tsoo, the Thorns, the Crey, Malta, Counsel, Lost, Skulls, Hellions, Trolls, even the damn cops will side with us after I control all organized crime in Paragon. We’ll give them high and mighty punks something to fear. Its time these heroes started running scared, running scared from me. I’ll show them the real meaning of fear!”
    Pazzo’s face twisted into a maniacal grimace. His laughter seemed to overpower the room, even unsettling his trusted cronies. Suddenly, the room went completely black. The frightened men tensed and clung to one another unable to see anything in the impossibly dark room. Pazzo pulled a book of matches striking one of them against the red phosphorous and held the lit cardboard stick out in front of him.
    “Settle down you morons,” Pazzo scoffed. “Probably just blew a fuse.”
    Alfonzo Pazzo passed the match past his men looking at the fearful expressions on their faces and frowned, “What’re you all afraid of the dark now? You’re like a bunch of children.”
    Pazzo continued to move past them with the lit match until the light fell upon the grotesque face of the undead; peering beneath a thick hood. 
    “Boo!” the face whispered blowing out the match and sending Pazzo’s men screaming for the doors.
    The terrified men pulled upon the heavy wood doors, but they wouldn’t budge. Capital Man stood on the other side holding them closed with his immovable strength.
    “You can’t go before its time for cake,” Capital Man smiled. “The party has just begun.”
     Pazzo’s men pounded and clawed at the door wanting anything but to stay in the blackened room with the horrifying sight they had just witnessed. The fearful men pleaded to anyone on the other side of the door to help them, to let them out, but there was no response. 
    Suddenly the lights came on and the men slowly turned toward the figure in the middle of the room. The Zombie Avenger stood before them, his decayed muscles tightened, his undead expression twisted into an agonizing glare, and black tendrils rose from his body and surrounded his undead form. Pazzo’s men’s eyes boggled and they trembled in fear at the sight of the corpse crusader. His pungent stench encased the room, but fright over rid their senses and masked their ability to know anything but the crippling fear. 
    “Kill him!” Alfonzo Pazzo ordered pulling his revolver from beneath his suit coat as the others followed suit. 
    Gunfire filled the room. Pazzo’s thugs unloaded their weapons into the Zombie Avenger sending countless bullets into the corpse crusader’s undead husk. The Zombie Avenger absorbed each one the harmless impacts without moving an inch. 
    The undead hero slowly inched forward, “You cannot kill what is already dead. What is already dead cannot be killed.”
    The Zombie Avenger leaned forward opening his mouth and letting his jaw hang slack. A terrorizing moan passed his lips then a storm of flies burst from his mouth. The flies swarmed over Pazzo’s thugs sending them into a terrifying frenzy. The thugs collided into one another blinded by the flurry of countless flies. A few of them fell to the floor rolling around in terror. Then, as quickly as the swarm of flies had come upon them, they were gone. The thugs battled with their sense of reality unable to understand what was happening to them. One of the thugs thought he could still hear buzzing in his ears and dug his finger into his lobe. He looked at his finger after removing it from his ear and saw a maggot squirming across the tip. The panicked thug quickly began wiping his hand on his pants when he began to feel something moving in his hair. He hesitantly ran his hand through his hair pulling out a handful of maggots that seemed to be appearing from every crack and crease of his body. The other thugs experienced the same as the maggots began to cover their bodies.   
    “Show me the real meaning of fear?” the Zombie Avenger chastised repeating Pazzo’s threatening rant. “You don’t know what fear is…yet!”
    The maggots subsided and the trembling thugs’ eyes danced around the room then back at the Zombie Avenger who stood before them taunting their fear. 
    “Get him!” Pazzo ordered pointing his finger at the corpse crusader in wide eyed desperation. 
    The thugs assaulted upon the Zombie Avenger who pounded his stone-like fists into the obedient lackeys.  One by one, Pazzo’s men fell at the Zombie Avenger’s feet. The thunderous sounds of impacted flesh and breaking bones filled the study until there was only silence. Pazzo’s men lay scattered across the ornate carpeting of the study and only Pazzo himself and the Zombie Avenger remained standing. The notorious crime boss backed himself against the door, turning to try to open them, then turned back raising his hands in mercy.
    “I’ll give you anything you want!” Pazzo screamed. “Money, gold, women, anything in the world!”
    “Anything?” the Zombie Avenger questioned stepping forward.
    Pazzo began to slide down to the floor, “Anything! I will give you anything just don’t hurt me!”
    “I want,” the undead hero stated slowly. “Your soul.”
    Pazzo’s eyes enlarged as if about to pop from his skull and his lip quivered in terror, “Please I beg of you!”
    “Begging?” Zombie Avenger’s expression twisted. “How many people have begged you for their lives? Begged you to spare them, to have mercy? Where was mercy for their lives? Why should there be mercy to one as cold and heartless as you? The devil has a special place for you in torment. You will burn for the lives you have stolen. But first you will know fear, you will know pain, agony, despair, sorrow, then you will know death.”
    The Zombie Avenger raised his hand toward Alfonzo Pazzo sending his dark powers upon the cowering crime boss. The fearful visions of death filled his mind. The sounds of the children screaming in pain, crying for mercy. The torment of a life cut short before its time, the defenselessness of the youth whose bodies were poisoned by the tainted narcotics that he had introduced to the streets. He could feel what the parents felt when they discovered their children were dead. The overwhelming grief of losing a child for senseless reasons. He could also feel the rage of the parents and the sense of hopelessness that plagued them. The emotions cut him deeper than and physical blade, devastating against his fragile psyche. Madness began to overcome the once powerful crime lord. Tears filled his eyes and he buried his face in his hands pleading for mercy, unable to take anymore of the suffering. 
    “Now you know suffering, now you now pain, now you know fear,” the Zombie Avenger’s agonizing voice stated. “The innocents demand justice Alfonzo Pazzo, and vengeance knows no mercy.”
    The Zombie Avenger pulled Pazzo up from the floor and carried him into the air. The undead hero’s powerful grip tightened around the crime lord’s throat ready to squeeze the life from his pointless existence. Pazzo gagged against the strangling hold but welcomed death over the visions of the innocents he had wronged. 
    Suddenly, a quiet voice came forward from the darkness placing a small hand on the Zombie Avenger’s arm to release his prisoner. The spirit of young Billy Horn stood before the Zombie Avenger, a calm expression on his kindhearted face. The undead hero couldn’t understand what he was seeing. The young boy’s spirit looked upon the quivering crime lord who had pulled his legs into a fetal position. He looked upon the old man with sad eyes then turned to the Zombie Avenger.
    “He doesn’t deserve to die,” little Billy stated mournfully. “He’s a bad man, but death should not be his punishment.”
    “But what he did to you?” the Zombie Avenger questioned. “There must be vengeance.”
    “He understands now,” Billy explained looking down at the quivering Mafioso who once commanded his crime family with a cold hearted resolve, but now shook like a child awaking from a nightmare.  
    “God should decide death, not us,” Billy stated with inner warmth that overpowered his soul’s desire for vengeance. His soul could rest easy now. “He won’t hurt any one ever again. He knows what he did was wrong.”
    Billy turned and walked back to the darkness pausing momentarily to wave his hand and smile at the Zombie Avenger. The darkness seemed to push away from Billy as he walked forward and a blinding light surrounded him, and then he was gone.

Paragon Police Precinct 1 – Steel Canyon 2:15 PM   

    Ebony Bow and Capital Man carried the sobbing crime boss Alfonso Pazzo into the police station. His body was limp, his eyes swollen and red, and he still sobbed pleading that he was sorry over and over.
    “I didn’t know,” Pazzo blubbered. “I’m so sorry…those children…those people…what have I done?”
    The officers took custody of the sniveling crime boss and lead him toward the holding cells.
    “I hope confession is good for the soul,” Capital Man stated.
    “I don’t think it matters,” Ebony Bow answered. “That man has felt more suffering than most could feel in a dozen life times. That’s the last we will ever hear of Alfonzo Pazzo.”
     “Is it the last we’ve heard of the Zombie Avenger?” Capital Man questioned.
    “I don’t think so,” Ebony Bow smiled. “I think this is only the beginning of the Zombie Avenger’s story.”
    “I guess dead men do tell tales,” Capital Man smiled.

 Horn Residence – Kings Row 5:29 PM

    Catherine and William Horn sat clutching one another on their living room couch. The room was quiet and sullen. A vase of wilted flowers sat on a hutch from their son’s wake. A picture of little Billy Horn, a grand smile on his precious face, sat on their coffee table with a candle burning next to it. The grief still lingered like a fog. The seemingly endless misery suffocated their lives. They hadn’t left the house since the funeral, hadn’t stopped crying, and barely eaten since his body was wheeled to the morgue. The grief and blame fell heavily on their shoulders wondering why God had chosen to curse them in such a way. They couldn’t believe he was gone and couldn’t image the trying days ahead of them without their beautiful little boy. Catherine and William blamed themselves for their son’s death. Like a knife twisting in their stomach, they questioned where their parenting had failed. What could they have done to prevent such a tragedy? Why couldn’t they have protected their son from the evils of the world? 
    William turned and looked again at the picture of his little boy; he had sworn to be the father to him that he had never had. He failed. William questioned his own sanity as he watched the candles flame seem to dance in the still air of the cold dark house. The flame rose and fell, swayed from side to side, grew dim then bright, as if it was dancing for him. The reflection of the flame mirrored in Billy’s picture brightening his features beyond the heavenly smile that crossed his angelic face. 
    “Why our Billy?” Catherine mumbled. 
    William rocked his shattered wife in his arms, “Shhhh…” he whispered so softly. 
    “I miss him so much,” she sobbed.
    “I know, dear,” William added over his quivering lower lip. “I miss him too.”
    William stared up toward the ceiling as if looking beyond the pitched roof, through the clouds, and up toward the heavens. He clenched his jaw trying ever so greatly to be strong, trying ever so greatly to believe in God, or believe in anything at all. 
    The shadows of the room began to grow and surrounded the mourning couple. The darkness became dense as if it had become something tangible. Williams’s eyes widened as he watched the consuming shadows begin to climb the walls and ceiling. Catherine began to notice what was happening as well. Her hands gripped Williams’s shirt unable to form the words to describe what she was seeing.
    From within the darkness the figure appeared. His face distorted in a torturous expression. He wore a drab green hood and tattered purple tights with a skeletal hand print on the chest. His cape seemed to gather about his legs like a death shroud. The darkness, the shadows, appeared to be a part of this being; an enchantment from a nightmare standing before them. The figure moved forward silently revealing more of its hideous appearance. The figure seemed to delight in the couples fear as if drawing strength from it and making their fear his own. 
    William and Catherine sat speechless clutching one another unable to comprehend what was occurring. 
    The figures voice was agonizing, painful to the ears and made their skin crawl, “Your son’s death, a tragedy, was not your fault.”
    The couple sat breathless.
    “Billy is a good boy with a good heart. He is safe and loves you very much.”
    “Our Billy?”
    “He is in good hands and will be well taken care of. He will be waiting for you when it is your time to join him. He said to think of him playing. He said not to cry but to smile and laugh. Billy wanted you to know that you were good parents and he is sorry. He wants you to sing and laugh again. He will always be with you. He is a good boy.”
    The darkness crept away and the Zombie Avenger was gone. Catherine and William embraced each other feeling as though a weight had been lifted off of their shoulders. They thanked the nothingness and began to believe again. One day they would smile and laugh again, and see their little boy in a better place.

     Above the sprawling city of Paragon, the dead man watched the world with new eyes and a new purpose. The cries of the fallen beckoned their champion. The undead hero would answer voices of the dead and bring vengeance to the wronged. God help those who dared enact evil upon the innocent. For fear has a name, punishment has a hand, revenge has eyes, and vengeance has a voice…The Zombie Avenger Lives!!!

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