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Chapter 1

Brian Sutter left the Yellow Line tram station in Kings Row and headed toward his new hole-in-the-wall apartment a few blocks to the northeast. The few factories remaining from economic downturns gave a glimmer of hope in a depressed part of Paragon City. He had recently moved from ritzy Founder’s Falls when his blood money inheritance from the Rikti War began to run out. His finances had not been squandered away recklessly; they were strategically invested in the ancient cold art of revenge. The reprisal was not aimed against the Rikti, the invading aliens causing the death of his family during his first semester in college; a common story repeated an umpteen number of times in Paragon City during the war. His vengeance was to fall upon the Circle of Thorns, the fanatical cult members professing belief in the god Ermeeth, which had been a catalyst for misery in his life. They always brought the bad out in him making him the shadow of a once kind and gentle person.

Brian stopped and changed direction remembering vital supplies needing to be purchased. He headed east to a liquor store just a stones throw from the tram juggling a box of his personal belongings from arm to arm.

“Ah, Brian I have your essentials right here,” the clerk said when Brian entered his shop. He brought a large neatly folded brown paper bag from behind his faded wooden counter and placed it on top. “Bit early ain'ch ya?” Sully prided himself on offering the best service possible, especially to customers that always paid in cash. If his motives were truly sincere, he would have worried about the amount of alcohol Brian always seemed to purchase at one time. He dismissed the idea shrugging off the morale weight like batting at bees on a warm summer’s day. Surely, a man scrawny like Brian would have been dead long ago trying to drink the amount of alcohol in the short period he purchased it in.

“Got off early today,” Brian responded hiding the fact that he had been just fired from his comfortable job at the Tattler, the box he carried being the remnants of that job. Not undemanding for anyone else, photography to him was like breathing and setting up great award-winning compositions was second nature. He laid five crisp twenty-dollar bills fresh from Paragon City First National Bank on the greasy counter from a white bank envelope he stashed in his wrinkled vest’s left pocket next to a much thicker manila envelope. He scratched his three day old unshaven chin which always seemed to be shadowed in five o’clock lately.

Seeing the cold hard cash now lying splayed out in front of him Sully breathed deeply and scooped the profit up to his nostrils to enjoy the smell of new ink from the recently minted cotton paper currency.  He failed to notice Brian's bloodshot hollow eyes and furrowed clothes. His customer’s tan pants and matching vest appeared to have been slept in and his once white shirt seemed almost beige. The russet fedora he wore over his light reddish auburn short kempt hair even appeared battered seeing better day’s years ago. Sully usually failed to see the foils of a paying customer, especially newer customers leaving tips.

“Thanks Sully,” Brian said snatching up the package and placing it gently, in his box. He removed a cellophane wrapped cigar from the display case next to the cash register and clenched the impulse purchase in his teeth nodding a thanks to Sully.

The store clerk smiled and glanced at the wiry young man who should have appeared much younger in years then he actually was if not for the slight drinking problem. Brian was sure Sully only saw dollar signs when he looked at him, but that was fine by him. He did not need a lecture from his prying shopkeeper on the dangers of alcohol and how he should stop. He only used to take the edge of his dreadful life.

Brian left the store and headed across the street to the Chinese take-out place, called Old China. He stopped for a moment thinking he spied someone lurking in the alleyway. Habitually he stared down the alley and half expected to see a gang member from the Skulls, but spotting garbage containers, empty cardboard boxes, and even an abandoned-shopping cart he continued to the outdoor ordering window. Balancing his box on the narrow ledge and his torso, he ordered crab rangoon and vegetable lo mien, his favorite dish of the corporate owned establishment. Brian unwrapped his cigar; using a simple magical cantrip he learned from his mentor Thauma Guard, cupped his hand up to the cigar, produced a small flame, and puffed deeply of the cheap tobacco letting it burn his lungs. It felt better then the emotional pain he was feeling. Once he could have afforded the best smuggled Cubans, but those times were long gone finding better memoirs to reside in.

Within minutes, the speedy meal was prepared and he placed it next to his liquor store purchases, extra rolls of film, manila folders, and nearly empty bottle of bourbon in the box containing his professional life. He managed to force a fake smile rolling the cigar in his mouth to the right side of his face and thanked the ladies before disappearing into the shadowed alley in a puff of thick aromatic grey smoke.

Ensuring nobody noticed him; he whispered the mystic words calling forth the eldritch powers imbuing him with the lightning speed his alter ego used. A dazzling yellow light rose from the ground underneath him wrapping its radiance around his well-used Italian black leather shoes and legs. Another painstakingly learned magical phrase rolled easily from his lips and a pinkish lavender mist coalesced from the ground underneath him enveloping the yellow glow. The mist was Hermes Magic Carpet and it was Brian's preferred method of travel. The super speed the magic spell endowed him with failed to make running any easier, just much faster. He still had to put forth an effort, and Thauma Guard tried to get him to work out with her to improve his stamina, but he disliked the exercise routine. The carpet spell allowed him to just glide along without effort like riding a skateboard. He rather liked the minor convenience because life was tough enough.

Brian arrived at his ramshackle apartment building, the Sage Shades, within thirty seconds as a flashed blurry streak. Managing to time his arrival with someone departing the building, he sped through the front door and into the elevator before it closed. He released the energy of his traveling spells and stabbed the button for his vacant floor while balancing the box with his left hand.

The thirteenth floor on the Sage Shades was all but abandoned save the new tenant. He preferred it that way, no one to stick their nose into his business. The stories of the floor being haunted were false although everyone had been murdered on this floor a number of years ago. A small band of cult members from the Circle of Thorns had recently perpetrated a bogus haunting in order to establish a new secret hideout in Kings Row. His alter ego, the hero known as News Flash, removed the threat, but kept the illusion of the floor being haunted. It was poetic justice he should plan the destruction of Oranbega, the Circle of Thorns most sacred lost city, from a place they themselves had previously occupied. When he moved in, he even was able to convince the landlord to rent the place on the floor for a discount.

“Lost City indeed,” Brian muttered the blasphemy under his breath exiting the elevator. It seems the forgotten metropolis lay somewhere under Paragon City and that fit perfectly into Brian's plan, if he could find it.

Brian made his way down the dark and shadowy hall, a dim light bulb weakly illuminated the old yellowed and browned wallpaper. He unlocked the paint-chipped sand colored entrance, which revealed its many layers of paint it held throughout the years and stumbled into his new apartment. Taped packing boxes with black, hand-written markings still lay scattered throughout the large neglected dwelling. Aged yellowed wallpaper dominated his new décor peppered with holes that angry spouses, drug dealers, and gang bangers added during their tenure.

Brian avoided stacks of boxes to his makeshift kitchen that even a corrupt city health inspector would have condemned. He plopped the box on the scuffed particle board counter, removed the bourbon bottle, and emptied the remaining contents into his gullet with one swallow. The memories causing him pain remained sharper than ever needing more than pathetic amount he consumed to be dulled. It amazed him places like this still existed in the modern era, but it was what he deserved.

He grabbed the Chinese food and package from the liquor store and headed over to a white ritzy leather couch that had no business in the dilapidated apartment. Throwing himself on the cool, supple smooth surface he cracked open a new bottle of liquid courage and took a large swig. He finished dinner surfing the Internet from his laptop he had set up on his Italian crystal coffee table.

An hour later Brian opened another bottle of whiskey and lurching over to his antique dining room table was able to tolerate his transgressions a day longer. Two open boxes and answering machine lay on the table. He fell into the chair and took another deep gulp from his bottle. The Onami Strike Force was falling apart and it was his fault. Tensions were high and members were snapping at each other. Only big crime events like the Carnival seemed to be the only thing keeping everyone together. Memories of his slain family flooded his mind when he went through the first box, filled with his stock photos. Whiskey gave him the fortitude to reminisce once more.

Coming upon his Onami pictures he paused at the group portrait, taken even before he had joined their ranks. Aaron, the hero known as PhoenixHawk, was centered perfectly in the group. Brian had attended the same school Aaron did, but had graduated the year before… before the Rikti War. The Onami leader was going to among the brightest football stars and had been only a freshman at that time. Sutter the “Shutter” they called him then, he had taken photos of Aaron’s pre-high school games for the school paper.

The Onami Strike Force was a well-oiled machine under Aaron’s leadership. Brian had failed his former leader causing his death. With tears welling in his almond, brown eyes he scanned the photo and to the right of the fallen leader he found Aaron’s center, the ebony skinned hero known as Thauma Guard. They were lovers until Brian pretending to be the hero, News Flash, let him die. That was the second time he had killed someone, the first time had been the easiest to do but the hardest to live with. The murder of PhoenixHawk dredged up the original event all over again.

Reality faded around Brian his memories shifting to the fateful day. Lost in his thoughts he absentmindedly moved to a larger blown up picture he had given to Thauma only days earlier. He had snapped the picture just before Aaron was killed by the Envoy of the Circle of Thorns. The huge horn winged demon was seconds from its death strike that ended his friend’s life. He had betrayed Thauma, his mentor, and snatched her lover from her. If he could have acted with a simple distraction… anything, Aaron could have survived. All Brian did was snap the picture instead of helping. Thauma tried to tell him it was not his fault, but things should have been different. He cheated her of a life of joy and could no longer bear to live in his pathetic lying existence anymore.

Brian dropped the picture, buried his face in his hands, and sobbed. Once more, the pain of loss tempered with betrayal flowed from him shrugging off the dampening effects of alcohol. He composed himself long enough to empty half the bottle of whiskey. The brown raucous liquid burned down his throat and chest, but the pain was preferred over the feeling of guilt. He did not suffer this much when the Rikti murdered his family. Of course, he had not been the one who killed them.

Brian stood up quickly and steadied himself from his inebriation. Reflexively, he removed a picture from the back of the box and scurried to a darkened corner of his apartment lugging the bottle of courage with him. Crouching down to hide his secret from the world, he stared at the picture of Aura Mattson. It was her high school photo taken from U-Fab Shots. He had acquired the original after he murdered her. He may not have specifically performed the act that ended her life, but what he did to her was no different. Her bright golden blonde hair was cut to shoulder length and glowed. Blue whimsical eyes starred out taunting her killer. Her smile could have stopped the Rikti War alone beaming out from her fair complexion and perfect skin. The image was obviously digitally touched up meaning it was a sham, much like Brian’s heroic life.

Aura, having just graduated from high school went to Perez Park to meet her boyfriend. They were to have a nice romantic moonlit walk and go to dinner. Brian was working on an exclusive for the Paragon City Times on the Circle of Thorns. He had camouflaged himself well to capture them during one of their ceremonies. How was he to know he was to be a perfect ally? The Circle found her first. She ran and the cult members hit her with a crossbow bolt in an attempt to stop her from escaping. It penetrated her leg laming her, but the shot was accomplished at long range. There was still some distance from them to her. She stumbled and fell into Brian exposing him among a patch of white lilies. He pushed her down and told her to get away. She cried for help, a cry he still heard in the depths of his dreams and echoing into nightmares. With fear breathing down his neck and freezing his heart, he scrambled deeper into cover, ignoring the pleas of Aura when she wept for a hero. He wasn’t one. The Circle did not notice him when they snatched her up. Brian even had the audacity to snap the picture that was to become an exclusive for the article. Drunken self-loathing anger welled up filling his heart with a black viscous guilt reflecting the true image of the hero wannabe.

“I belong in the Zig or dead,” Brian murmured silently in the shattered remnants of his life. Only restless spirits heard him.

Brian flung Aura’s memorial picture and rose to his feet glaring through hazed vision. The world spun so he spun back. Angry with himself being that which he pretended to fight when he was his alter ego he threw the unfinished whiskey bottle across the dilapidated apartment. It created another hole in the crumbling walls that would go unnoticed to future tenants.

Agmen circumfero,” Brian spoke rolling the magical words from his mouth with perfect inflection.

He focused the spell into a cone catching the contents of his apartment in the psychic blustery storm. Boxes over turned, his couch slamming against the far wall by the silent wind. Papers, negatives, saved news articles, and stock photos filled the air stirred up by Brian’s emotions entwined into the telekinetic spell. He destroyed untold lives and now it was his turn to destroy his, time to finish the job. A photo whipped by him wounding him with a paper cut on his cheek. He cursed pressing the stinging cut with his index finger. His conscious mind dimmed and he enacted the spell responsible for his super speed. In one instantly distorted streak he rocketed off to run away from himself and the world, tripped over the upturned leather couch, and fell into his crystal coffee table shattering it into a glass sandy beach. Brian lay on the ground for amount of time and lurched to his feet staggering for the couch. The chaotic storm assaulting his apartment soon passed. Later the next day another tenant would move out of the apartment to get away from the evil spirits on the thirteenth floor.

Tiny cuts covered his face and arms like chicken pox, but he failed to feel the pain anymore. His descent into the bottle he used for protection was complete. He slumped into couch dotting the rich leather with speckles of red. He glanced down seeing his liquor store package and miraculously one bottle of scotch had not been broken. He reached down, snapped the top off, and leaned back to help gravity get the pain killer down his throat. Among his Pulitzer Prize photos, Brian passed out before finishing his bottomless swallow. The bottle fell to the couch mixing its contents with the blood staining what was once an untainted white piece of furniture.

News Flash was no more.


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