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Chapter 5

            The door to Norman’s office slid open and he swiftly strolled in, donned in his red and orange Protector-Mu uniform. He made his way over to his desk, which was placed just offset the center of the large room. Security sensors in the room recognized his bio-signature and began powering up his computer accessories and peripherals. The recessed overhead lights dimmed to a nice comfortable level for viewing backlit computer monitors. One of three large plasma screens near his personal training equipment turned on and restarted digital video footage of a montage of the hero Tropic of the Paragon City super group, Top Ten.

            Norman placed an aged leather pouch the size of large backpack, on a long wooden table set against the wall behind his desk. The table held a few ancient and newer tomes borrowed from several of the Mu leaders in Arachnos, and one from Sirocco himself. Norman turned around, watched the door to his chambers slide close, and clicked a switch on his desk locking the door.

            “Clear,” he said under his breath before a shimmering image of Ock quivered into existence in front of the desk. “You’re going to get me real trouble if we are caught.”

            “Nothing you couldn’t handle I am sure,” Ock commented moving behind the desk to the table holding the ancient tomes.

            Norman walked over to the video of Tropic and watched some of the action sequences of the fire-wielding hero. His mind drifted to recent events. Johnny Sonata had not been much of a problem; the singer just did not care about anything anymore since his soul was destroyed. Well, he did have a concern regarding the quality his soulless life would have, if left crippled and body burned beyond recognition. Norman promised he would be kept alive to endure the pain of the fire unleashed upon him. With proper motivation, people usually came around to his line of thinking. Ock claimed the incantations and ceremonies of Johnny’s spell would allow for someone to journey into another’s psyche and unleash forgotten memories stored in the voids. It was not the exact spell, but Ock said it would serve as a good foundation. Johnny also revealed from whom he received the scroll. Another visit to Hard Case, a demon hunter in St. Martial and a quick raid on a Circle of Thorn hideout revealed further pieces of the enchantment.

            The Protector moved to his training equipment and removed his cape and helmet. Part of an impervium metal girder lay fixed to the floor and rose vertically eight feet. In a sudden movement, he raised his arm and projected his thoughts into the bar sending forth waves of heat. The waves focused, answering the commands of his will. Within seconds, the center of the practically indestructible metal began to glow a dull orange. He strained to raise the temperature higher, but released the heat completely when flames began forming around his person.

            With a quick movement, he hit a couple of quick release latches on his armor breastplate and it fell to the ground. He slid his gauntleted gloves from his hands and let them fall to the floor with a clatter. Bare-chested, he began attacking the various punching bags near the pole and focusing on his Jeet Kune Do technique. The bags were filled with what was called Sands of Mu and practicing with them helped attune not only Norman’s physical prowess, but also the sands imbued the ability to unleash negative magical energies. All Protectors received training in the Way of the Intercepting Fist. It was their preferred mode of combat outside the mutant or science imbued powers. The idea of the martial art served as a foundation and greatly complemented whatever style a Protector brought to the table. Arachnos found JKD, free from the bias and misconceptions of choosing a style like karate, tae kwon do, Gung Fu, or even Wing Chun. JKD proved to easily cut through the traditions and offer a straight forward fighting style that was extremely effective. It also allowed for improvisation, a talent few could appreciate.

            Norman tried tuning his thoughts and chi into his training. His mind continually plunged blades of insanity into his heart forcing a confrontation against whom he considered his true love, Thauma Guard. The thought of her in the arms of her real lover PhoenixHawk unconsciously started to build an inner fury. The chaos was subtle at first but the more he mulled over the ex-dead hero’s betrayal the faster and stronger his muscles responded. Lost so far into his fury it took Ock a focused chi strike sent through his flames to knock Norman back into the present. The training bags were ablaze and Norman’s fire had sprung from him, licking his skin while craving the succulent flesh. Lost in self-pity he had manipulated his fire and martial arts with great skill. Self-discipline had proved vital when releasing his inner rage. How cruel the Fates, giving him the power of fire, but not the resistance to it. Intense heat and flame hardened his flesh allowing him to absorb vast amounts of physical and energetic damage, but it seemed to make him more flammable.

            “I can’t live this way anymore,” Norman said, lowering his head and staring at the black sand that spilled unto the floor from the bags. He nonchalantly dismissed the flames, extinguishing their essence, but never the hunger. “She haunts my waking thoughts and mocks my dreams. It’s only a matter of time before I completely lose control.”

            Ock looked at his friend and equal. They were both brothers by modern day science and that seemed to forge an inconceivable bond from the beginning. He reached out his hand and placed it on Norman’s shoulder.

            “Why can’t I have her?” Norman asked.

            “She is not yours to have.”

            “I know,” he sighed staring at his palms. He gently released the voracious flame and mocked its hunger by mentally keeping distance between it and his skin. The heat emanating from the burning tongues hardened his flesh.

            “I am here to help you; soon we will have the answers we need.”

            Norman stared at the flames flowing around his hands and dancing down his forearms. He was lost in their undulating dance of desire and hunger.

            “I am quite impressed. Your speed is accelerating,” Ock said, to change the subject.

            “Yeah?” Norman said, looking at the charred practice bags and smothering the tongued beast once again. The gear had been replaced several times before with varying degrees of flame resistant material. The building’s environmental system was already evacuating the smoke.

            “Maybe you should work on narrowing the gap between your human and dragon reflexes. I think you may be pleased.”

            Ock returned to his research and Norman walked over to a contraption centered on the wall in his training area. It consisted of two large rotating circle attached to metal arms. Smaller rotating circles the size to cushion a blow form his fist rotated around the edge of each circle. Multi-colored blinking light-emitting diodes covered the circumference of all the circles and when he flicked a switch, the arms and circles spun at random patterns and at differing speeds. The device spun fast its diodes blurring into circles light streaks.

            Closing his eyes and standing before the machine, Norman slowly focused his mind to achieve a state of peace. His mind wandering again to her, but he was not surprised.

            I am a Protector damn it, he cursed. I control my own actions. I control my own thoughts. I am the stronger.

            He thought back to his initiating ceremony and his induction. The words of his oath he conjured into his mind’s eye. Rolling over their meaning, he tasted their bitterness for those candidates who failed to survive the program. The sweetness of loyalty, duty, and honor replaced the sensation. The memories of the love that never was and nor to be, fell away swallowed in a darkness greater than the faux love’s black skin. A greater society could be achieved through technology where the weak would be protected from the stronger. Those lost in the depravity and despairs of life were shielded from the horrors of living. The ends justified and validated the future, a utopian world of peace and security. Everyone would be safe. Everyone would play a role. Arachnos would show the way to the world, might he be lucky to give his life in fulfillment of that dream.

            From his trance, he smirked. Life? Death? The meanings of those words were lost to him. His embracement of his Mu heritage and the marvels of science have imbued him with a strange afterlife. All thanks to Arachnos. His powers grew stronger the further he studied the ancient mystical ways and the utopian reality neared. The Destined One he was, whatever that truly meant. The only question was -- whose Destined One? Arachnos? Mu? Dragons? His?

             He let that thought go, feeling his pulse lower and the outside environment drop away. Deeper and deeper his psyche traveled, allowing his senses to calm. The serenity trumped his fury and power spread out like a spider web entangling every stray thought. The office fell away next and so did the training contraption swirling about just past his enclosed eyes. He felt himself falling free in blackness… deeper… deeper…

            A light in the distance caught his attention. He heard voices in a language he did not even know, but oddly understood. Pinpoint lights spun in the distance and he felt a presence, no… several presences. He found himself at a precipice, but his eyes saw only darkness. He felt calmer than he ever did. The lights still spun in the distance like pinpoints barely aglow like a candle flickering. He heard a baby crying and stepped forward. The crying stopped, another picked up where the other left off, this from behind him. His chest heaved from breathing a sudden thickening in the air like black smoke.

            Another step forward and he fell off the edge of whatever he was experiencing. He watch the lights spin away from him toward what would be the heavens and exploded across the blackness creating the night sky. The stars twinkled in unison and twirled. Recognizing several of the constellations, he found he knew them by different names. Names foreign and alien to him, but they seemed… right.


            Norman opened his eyes. The training device before him moved through its chaotic pattern ever so slowly, even more than normal. The lights even seemed dimmer than their usual brightness. He had been able to perceive bullet paths and watch lightning bolts crack the night sky with intensity, but lacked the momentum to join them. Instinctively, he took up the centerline horse stance from the martial art Wing Chun. The technique helped him find focus in training. The spinning circles seem to slow further as he struck out hitting each target dead center. He felt a great elation with each strike.

            His breathing grew labored and suddenly, like a switch, the circles sped up again leaving blurred light trails. Norman coughed feeling his bones ache and bent over resting his hands on his knees.

            “Excellent brother,” Ock exclaimed striking him on the back.

            Norman cast a sideways glance at him, “I did it.” His breathing was labored but it could not hide his smile.

            “That is a big first step you made. Good timing too you will need that kind of focus if you are to survive.”

            “How long was I at it?” the Protector said straightening up and glancing at the clock. The amount of time that had passed surprised him.

            “A couple of hours actually, I finished a half an hour ago.”

            “What? Why the hell didn’t you tell me?”

            “You seemed much focused in your art,” the drake commented smirking and bowing low.

            “Damn,” Norman stammered. “You… Drake… sometimes I swear you’re just like your alter ego.”

            “And so are you,” the Drake replied holding his dramatic bow low.

            For once Norman laughed at that; maybe he was finally warming up to the idea of becoming a drake. Their brother, Occam’s Razar, was so positive that he should council him it actually repulsed the Protector. With what he just accomplished, he began to believe that being half-dragon or even part-dragon was a good thing. Norman made his way to his shower stripping the remains of his uniform from his body.

            “So what’s next?” Norman asked the drake from behind the frosted glass screen.

            “We are very close; I need to review the collected works of the Malleus Mundi.”

            “What!” Norman coughed shocked by the request. He knew of the ancient spell book and that it was actually much more than mere spells.

            “Azuria has it stashed away.”

            Norman could not help but laugh aloud.

            “What amuses you brother?” Ock asked inquisitively.

            Norman finished composing himself, “Whew, for a moment I thought we had a serious problem. I got a contact… hell, I just thought of a plan that’ll work even better. That is if you don’t mind posing as your better half.” Norman walked over to his closet and pulled out a green black costume looking very much like the hero, PhoenixHawk, wore.

            Ock just smiled, releasing his long mane from its ponytail and laughed. Knowing what Norman had in mind, he looked into a mirror running his hands through his hair to add the wild look his brother, Occam, had.

            “It just might work.”


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