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Chapter 10

            Norman, donned in his hardened orange-red Mu-influenced Protector uniform, noticed the Longbow Eagle well before his super jump peeked at its apex. Using his dragon-blood enhanced muscles, he angled his descent from the sky to a landing spot on the rooftop directly on top the unsuspecting scout. The satisfying crunch of his knee driving into the back of the Eagle and the head bouncing off the brick wall the scout hid behind put a smile on his face. The Rogue Isle Protector hated the Longbow. The paramilitary organization regularly conducted illegal terrorist operations against his homeland. It was only a matter of time before Lord Recluse bought enough corruptible officials in the United States and the United Nations to shed light on such actions to sway public opinion on the immoral and unethical operations. Until that time, Paragon City should expect a rising and continual Arachnos presence.

            The Eagle moaned in pain and Norman dragged him behind the enclosed stairwell. Norman disengaged his own stealth circuit that bent light waves around his body. The Protector reached up flicking a micro-switch on his mystic helmet tuning his vision to the infrared spectrum. He also amplified the surrounding noise, visually and aurally scanning the remaining area of the rooftop. Lately, Longbow had been supporting deployed teams with their own Special Operation troops. Exposing himself would force any cloaked figures to engage him, thus revealing their location. He was not in the mood to play hide-n-seek. Verifying the remaining area was clear he checked the health of the Eagle. The scout was seriously injured and would likely die if not immediately treated by medical personnel.

            Intending to leave the man to his fate, Norman walked around corner he had visited many times, especially of late. The perch gave a good view into his true love’s bedroom window. Restoring his vision to normal his eyes were immediately drawn to the roof, containing a gorgeous veranda with trestles, rainbow of flowers, small green trees, and furniture. More importantly, the woman who haunted his waking hours and assaulted his lonely nights was present. Her ebony skin glistened as she lay out in the sun. She was sprawled back in a sunning chair in wearing what Norman deduced was just a bath towel. Behind her, close to her head, a small table held a plastic basin. Norman lost himself in the moment, transfixed by her beauty, even at a distance. Unconsciously, heightened senses accelerated his time and what took a few seconds seemed like minutes.

            The Longbow Eagle’s moans annoying demanded the attention of the Protector.

            Norman’ maddening initial instinct was to break the man’s neck and finish the job, but something had been changing him from the inside recently. He fought against it, but he could not allow his presence to be discovered yet. No doubt, the Eagle was here watching Thauma’s love, Aaron, aka PhoenixHawk. That was expected considering PhoenixHawk had broken into a MAGI vault, kidnapped Azuria, and accosted Ex Libris. That was the whole idea. Norman removed the jet pack the Eagle wore and using a knife from his belt cut off the man’s uniform. Removing the Longbow’s mediport transmitter, the size of a beeper, he placed it in the injured man’s palm and wrapped the fingers around it. Norman watched the man melt into the air like a defeated foe in a video game.

            Fetching the Eagle’s jet pack, he removed a remote explosive device from another place on his belt, and planted it on jet pack. Tossing it on the roof of the stairwell, he walked back around the corner once again to the goddess of Beauty. Glaring at Aaron who gathered some items on a patio table under a large umbrella, Norman absentmindedly primed the electronic detonator imbedded in the left wrist of his gauntlet. When Aaron kissed Thauma and headed for the stairs carrying a tray, the time to approach the goddess privately, presented itself.

            Norman’s heart raced sending his pulse into the nineties. Oblivious to the read-out of the display in his visor, he swallowed hard finding his throat dry. Abandoning every discipline technique the Protectors taught him, he discovered he actually lacked the courage to approach. Gritting his teeth, he leapt into the air with all his mental strength violating the laws of gravity and the basic oaths he swore to Arachnos. Whenever he was around her, he seemed to carry those oaths on his sleeve.

            The distance between the buildings fell away and he descended on to the rooftop between Thauma and the stairs. The Protector felt light headed as he approached her and removed his gloves tucking them in his belt. The cognizance of his mind buzzed behind his eyes, and with each step, reality blurred and narrowed, the center focused on Thauma. He felt his consciousness leaving his body and experienced the sensation of watching himself from a distance, his body seemingly on autopilot. The short distance stretched out to infinity, time slowed. The sun seemed brighter. The air felt fresher. Colors deepened and grew brighter, more cheerful than a moment earlier. His uniform, which was form-fitted, felt itchier and stuffy.

            Approaching her from behind, Norman’s breath was stolen from him. Thauma laid back in the chair her head leaning back in a water basin. Her short ivory hair was wet and her eyes remained closed. She was soaking up the sun’s rays, the bright colors, the fresh air, and everything else in Norman’s world. He reached out with shaky hands and lightly touched her hair. The Protector was instantly transferred into a state of rapture. He gently massaged her scalp, causing her to sigh in pleasure. She smiled an innocent smile that enveloped Norman and she wriggled her curvaceous succulent body from goose bumps.

            “That was quick,” Thauma said stretching her muscles and keeping her eyes shut to the bright morning. She had promised herself never take Aaron for granted again and treasured every breathing moment they shared.

            Norman remained silent lost in a fuzzy blanket of deceit and darkness. Something about this situation felt right. Felt normal. The holes in his soul were filled, and he was so much at peace at the present he did not mind the fantasy. Why was it wrong?

            “Maybe we should finally take that long extended vacation we always use to talk about,” she continued.

            Still Norman remained silent. All he wanted was for her to be happy. So coupled and drawn to her with a great connectedness only true love could forge, he seemed lost in living memory of love. That is what hurt him most of all, he never felt this way about anyone before. Did he? So lost in bliss Norman was he failed to hear the footsteps of Aaron returning with a tray of fresh fruit. He failed to hear the glass bowls of said fruit shatter on the cobblestone path. In addition, the Rogue Isle Protector failed to get out of the way of a pure azure blast of jealous energy the revived hero launched toward him.


            Norman could not. Finally, coughing his chest racked him in pain.


            Norman felt calm and serene, at one with all things. The weight of the world was lifted from him. Still, there was the pain… and a gentle wind.

            Breathe asshole. Wake up! Are you that weak!

            Is that me speaking? He thought. What was I doing? Where am I?

            He could feel the warm sun through the nice breeze and fell weightlessly. He groaned and coughed in pain again while forcing his eyes open.

            The ground was large and racing toward him at an incredible speed.

            With only the reflex of his dragon-imbued blood brought out through meditation was he able to accelerate his personal time, slowing the perception he experienced out of his own body. He found he could not remember what happened or how he ended up falling, but even slowed he had no time to reminisce. Norman mentally descended deep within himself, where the wrath and hate of all that angered him was kept. Within a fraction of a second, he released it instantly sending dragon-enhanced adrenalin coursing through his system. His body temperature rocketed into the high triple digits and his form burst into a fiery ball of pure fury. The heat generated by those flames hardened his skin, like cement. A heat so intense its plasma formed a hardened bluish shell of armor. Norman somersaulted in air probably only twenty feet above the roadway and braced himself as he came to a sudden stop.

            The pavement buckled, even though new construction codes reinforced the surface to help prevent collateral damage. Three automobiles swerved to miss the fallen villain laying on the horns.  Already paint on the passing vehicles began bubbling from the heat emanating from the villain. Pedestrians walking by the building screamed from the surprise because even in a city full of heroes it was not everyday one just fell burning from the sky.

            Norman gritted his teeth at the sharp pain from his left knee shattering, collapsing his body to the pavement. So hot did the flames dance around him the reinforeced roadway began to melt. Sneering and with practiced indifference to pain he stood forcing the busted limb to explode his senses overwhelming his synapses. The Protector breathed deeply and forced an explosion of heat from his center hot enough to shift his yellow enveloping flames to green. He felt his knee’s cartilage and bone melt, or at least that was the sensation. The leg solidified back in place, completely regenerated.

            He stood in insolence, noticing Aaron was diving toward him from above, descending from the rooftop. Norman’s ribs still throbbed from the energy blast Aaron hit him with and his breathing was a bit labored. He needed to sit down and rest, knowing what hit him was beyond Aaron’s powers before he had returned from the grave. This new PhoenixHawk, risen fresh form the ashes only days earlier, seemed stronger than before. He knew this because there was not much he could not heal from, as long as he kept his flames burning.

            “You missed,” Norman defiantly spat at the approaching hero.

            Aaron stopped short and hovered in place about twenty feet from the Protector. His eyes glowed with a blazing bright green, “How dare you touch her!”

            “How dare you leave her!” Norman retorted.

            Aaron squinted confounded by the response. What kind of response was that? “I assume you’re the one responsible for stealing my image, causing all the commotion with Azuria.”

            “Well, you weren’t using it at the time,” Norman responded. “Besides, your pretty blue light show may have killed an ordinary super-powered being, but I find it… lacking.”

            Aaron summoned his energies and his hands began glowing in response to the power build up. He would strike down this villain from the Rogue Isles and remove this spawn of Crey and Arachnos science from his love’s sight forever.

            Norman recognizing the intent of his alter ego’s focus ignored the mild pain emanating from his ribs and positioned his stance ready to spring toward the mere blaster.

            “How dare you touch her, pervert,” Aaron yelled.

            Norman stood fast ready to rise up and crush the dead hero while forgetting why he came to Thauma’s apartment in the first place. The fire dancing around his body writhed with excitement sensing what was to come. Anger boiled over drowning any calming techniques. He decided the world was too small for two blood-borne PhoenixHawks. In a bright burst of flame and heat, Norman unleashed his fury in a roaring fiery embrace. The energy from the blood of Mu coursed through his blood alongside his science-imbued fire and the will to use the power dulled through the focused fury. Norman had never used his abilities outside his private training sessions with Scirocco and other Mu mentors. Now Paragon City would bear witness to a Destined One in all his glory.

            Norman taunted, “Go ahead dead man… impress me.” PhoenixHawk was still slightly out of melee range, but only by a fraction of a second.

            Aaron unleashed and those civilians not running for cover were thorwn to the ground from the concussion.

            The plasma shield forged from the heat that emanated from Norman absorbed the brunt of the attack from the brightest blue ray of energy the Protector had ever seen. For a moment, even the sun paled in comparison. The spillover energy hurt too, even causing Norman’s electronic blast shield to snap shut on his helmet. He took the beam fully in the chest and staggered back, but still stood his ground. Gritting his teeth in pain, he neither doubled over nor was he knocked down. He successfully resisted the impact, but the blast disoriented him and even faded the Arachnos symbol on his breastplate. Forged from impervium the material’s hardness held against the energy, the coloring could not.

            Norman forced himself to breathe pushing air through his lips. It was doubtless Aaron could hit harder than he used too if he had not been returned from the dead. He suspected the hero’s abilities might have been enhanced. Norman’s mystical research into deaths and the unique experiences returning from them had indicated the possibility. It really depended on why Aaron returned. Unfortunately, what little information he had on his own rebirth using the blood of phoenix had been shrouded in the history of humankind.

            Summoning his magical heritage abilities, Norman stretched out his hand--

            “Stop!” Thauma commanded. She was an angel sent from Heaven. Now wearing a pair of jean shorts and loose fitting t-shirt she leapt between the blaster and brute forcibly ending their hostilities.

            The effect on Norman was profound, his fires immediately ceased and he stood stoically in a small melted crater in the middle of the road. Underneath his helmet the blazing green eyes that flared up when he used his version of Aaron’s fire-powers, extinguished.

            “Please, Norman,” Thauma begged, “Leave us alone. Leave me alone.”

            Aaron descended from above landing to her right; his fists still pulsated with a cobalt glow.

            Norman had held back his electrical blast hard enough to feel its energy bite back at him. The pain was irrelevant, his rapture evident. He reached up and removed his helmet revealing his multi-colored eyes. Although he thought it impossible, she looked even better when viewed with his own eyes.

            “I thought things were square between us?” Thauma asked.

            Norman held his tongue, seeing she standing next to him ignited a spark of jealousy deep down where he kept his emotions. He struggled with the raging fury of emotions realizing he wanted to hurt her for hurting him. What made him even more furious was he allowed this obsession weaken him. He knew better, but seemed to matter not.

            Thauma waited, grabbing Aaron by the hand in hopes it would get him to relax his powers. It worked.

            “How’s Brian?” Norman spat twisting the name like a knife. Staring at the love between Thauma and Aaron, a love he was denied, overwhelmed him for the moment.

            “What?” Thauma gasped. “You passed yourself off as Aaron to assault Azuria and rob from the MAGI so you could come here and ask about Brian.”

            Guilt, the shrapnel of regret exploded in Norman’s gut. He let his emotions seize control of him and ruin the encounter. He silently cursed himself a thousand times for speaking.

            “You of all people know how hard it’s been to track down information about that night. It is going to take time.”

            “Sorry,” Norman said which almost sounded like someone begging. “I… I need your help.”

            Aaron snorted at the comment, but Thauma knew how hard that had to be for Norman to ask. Her narrowed brow softened, but she did not smile. She squeezed Aaron’s hand to get him to remain quiet.

            “I will not help you sell your ill-gotten gains if that’s--”

            “No, you don’t understand. I need your help to reclaim my past.”

            Aaron kept quiet not sure what the Protector meant.

            “Well… let’s talk about that,” Thauma said.

            “I don’t have the time to talk,” Norman said acutely. “You must come with me now.”

            “Guess again,” Aaron, breaking Thauma’s grip, said. He stepped forward determined not to accept any of the Protector’s lies and manipulations.

            “Please,” Thauma said turning to face Aaron, who promptly displayed the look of innocence. “I have taken care of myself since you left, I can still manage.” She smiled to her love squeezing his shoulder to indicate she was okay.

            “That’s right dead man, you- left her,” Norman prodded Aaron who only glared back at him.

            Aaron sneered, returning Thauma’s glare with a nod. He fully trusted her, unconditionally.

            Thauma walked over to Norman staring directly into his brown and blue eyes hoping this was not a ploy of his to get close to her. It was rare to have a calm moment with the Protector with all his dealings and for once, she was surprised. The cold stoic look that was normally reflected in his gaze was gone. She could see the grief she once felt. Never had she seen a deep sorrow, except what mirror reflected after Aaron was taken from her. Thauma actually felt pity for Norman, and hoped she was not the cause of such despair. She bit her lip and closed her eyes. Sighing deeply, she knew there was only one answer she could give. Perhaps it was time to be a better person, acknowledge her Protector’s past performance, and give him the benefit of the doubt.

            “Okay.” A bitter taste she thought, but not all that bad.

            “Wha— what?” a shocked Aaron said. “No way. Honey, what are you—“

            Thauma turned to Aaron who rushed over to her, but she fended him off by gently placing two fingers on his lips following them with a kiss.

            “Okay,” Aaron said giving in. But, I am going with. That is non-negotiable.”

            Thauma turned back to Norman bringing her hand to her chin. She studied the Protector with a hard gaze that would have cracked brick. He had put himself in harm’s way for her and her team many times before. Maybe there were hidden agendas or maybe it really was out of general concern for her. If this was some ploy then as the saying goes, hell hath no fury.

            “Very well,” Norman said, “To Croatoa then.”

            Thauma smiled bitterly. She saw something odd reflecting in her Protector’s strange eyes. Nothing the marbled chiseled man had displayed in all their dealings before, and one she thought lost to those of the Rogue Isles.

            Was it hope?

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