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Chapter 2

Norman stood like an ancient stone gargoyle in the littered alley contemplating the nuances of alliances. The early morning brought a brisk cool breeze to Kings Row blowing his cape, gently wrapping it around his legs. Sweat still trickled from underneath his gleaming red visor helm and pooled above his upper lip. He licked the salty liquid before it evaporated and remained motionless. If anyone had noticed the figure in the dark morning, they would have thought him to be a statue left there by city builder’s decades ago. For him, the wait was a matter of discipline. The wait was an exercise in patience. Patience, discipline, and loyalty were qualities worth more than their weight in gold, for undying loyalty to the cause was the apex of faith. Above all else, he relished control. Control over his environment, control over his powers, and control over his destiny. There were few super-powered individuals not able to survive the use of their own powers and it was his complete mastery of those abilities saving his life from one moment to the next.

He focused his science imbued gift forcing the creation of a ball of heat between his shoulder blades. The invisible globe shimmered in the morning disrupting the breeze and rolling down his back across his left leg. He maneuvered it back up the appendage with a mere thought and sent it down the right leg before he rolled it diagonally to his abdomen. It then went up his chest and paused at his head. There was no doubt the heat and thermo sensors of those searching for him would find him easily in time, but their mild diversion would irritate him costing them their lives. He would not show his anger, for such a display would not be in control and was very unbecoming for his rank and status. His thoughts drifted to her, if he were to ever lose control it would be for her.

She had ebony black skin like from the color of the rarest of ocean pearls. Her skin glistens when she sweats and the thought alone sent shivers down his spine repelling the ball of heat. He momentarily left his daydream almost accidentally igniting the globe. Again he sent it through its patrol over his body writhing through its waypoints like an ouroboros snake. She was as least as tall as him, a feature he usually found lacking among the other women he used to enjoy. He could not explain how she beseeched his soul or why she captured his heart. Maybe she actually bewitched him with her spells. He recalled seeing her for the fist time in Pocket D’s, the multi-dimensional dance club some rogue disk jockey gifted with extraordinary abilities set up bridging this dimension and the next.

“Thauma Guard,” he whispered afraid if he spoke to loudly the image of her in his bubble of reality would pop and she would cease to exist.

Thauma obviously enjoyed the cat and mouse game because she always played hard to get or tried to ignore his passes, but he could see the passion hidden behind her eyes. Again, he marveled at how chaotic she made him feel whenever he was able to get near her. The mere idea of getting lost in her thrilled him even when it should not. He heard the approach of the three amateurs from behind before they even noticed him.

“What’s this then?” one Skull gangbanger asked dressed in the typical grey and white demanded of their low status.

“It’s a Cape,” the other equal ranked minion said not catching the significance of the emblem on Norman’s cape.

The trio’s leader, a Death Head by title known to the police and heroes of Paragon City, stepped out of the darkness glints of light reflecting off his chain-studded biker jacket from the brightening morning sky to the east. All three wore human skulls over their face like masks standing out eerily against the darkened alley like floating heads.

“It’s a dead Cape,” the Death Head spat in disgust before realizing too late the red spider emblem centered on the heroes black cape was that of Arachnos.

The Protector, one of a few chosen to protect the Rogue Isles’ and the future of the Arachnos organization, slowly turned around annoyed at the interruption. Obviously, these miscreants were ignorant, incompetent, and suicidal, thus their lives were forfeit. His lessons in respect were to be final.

The first one came at him from the right swinging a red Rawlings aluminum bat and the second from the left charging with a generic switchblade indicative of the punk’s short life. He calmly raised his right hand catching the blunt arc of the bat at the last moment. It rang hollow against his wrist the black metallic glove with red-streaked isles pattern reverberating the sound. Norman, much stronger than the young punk, gripped the bat where it contacted him and forced it back against the foolish assailant clobbering him in the nose. Blood and cartilage exploded from the hit blinding the Skull and sending waves of pain throughout his nervous system. He shriek clutching the source of the bloody pulped explosion.

The knife wielder quickly stepped in looking for a cheap shot. Norman caught the blade with his left gauntleted hand and shot out his right catching the Skull by the throat lifting him off the ground. The Protector heard the shotgun blast and watched in slow motion the traveling slug closing the distance heading right for him. He was always amazed by the sight of bullets in their trajectories, how they slowly spun or tumbled through the air. He never noticed such minor details in his life before he joined the program that turned him into one of the zealot Rogue Isle Protectors. His only wish was that he had been given the speed necessary to move out of the way.

The path of the slug took it toward his midsection and he began shifting his angle slamming the helpless Skull in his grip against the building. He let the slug impact his hard-shelled body plate torso. The shotgun blast irked him to no end, but his pulse and blood pressure remained normal, the Heads-Up-Display (HUD) in his red metallic mystic helmet indicated his vitals only barely rising above the sixty beats beat per minute. His average core temperature rose a little from one hundred and twelve degrees to one-twenty. He could not remain hidden in the alley any more. He snapped the neck of Skull with his left hand and sent his ball of heat to envelop his body and gain intensity. The Longbow, a detachment of Freedom Corps, would no doubt be upon him within minutes interrupting what was to be a simple delivery.

Norman crossed the distance to the Skull leader igniting the very air. Although fire does not actually burn the air and Arachnos scientist were at a loss to explain his powers, he always referred to it as burning the air. Flames sprang to life over his protective suit licking his skin trying to nibble his flesh. His mind held back the hunger only driving the formless beast into a frenzied ravenous monster. He sent the creature out and around him to feast upon the surroundings and the Death Head. With the gunshot breaking the morning silence, his silent vigil was complete, and he could not think of any reason to hold back any longer.

A column of flame twisted and spun in the alley growing larger and stronger rising up in the early sky and only through mental exercise was the Protector able to prevent the buildings catching afire too. Norman simply focused one of his intense globes of heat on his fists and pummeled the Skull leader. Each strike sent even more flames to feed upon the fool igniting the leader’s fabrics. Within seconds, the charcoal remains of the gangbanger burst apart sending his remains to drift in the cool breeze wafting through Kings Row, the area was now a thriving memorial for the Skull’s ineptitude.

Norman again willed the animal back drawing the flames around him, but not letting it savor his own soft tissue. Like a human candle, he walked over to the broken nosed Skull, grabbed him by the collar, and tossed him against the brick wall. He held the bloodied face punk against the brick and jerked him back and forth.

“You get to live. If any of your kind ever fails to show the proper respect to a representative of Arachnos again, I swear I will personally purge Paragon City of your little bone club myself. Only the ashes of your bones will remain and I will stomp them in the dirt with the heel of my boot.” Flames licked off the Protector angry at the forced starvation and started to feed upon the collar of the minion’s jean jacket, “Starting with you!”

Norman tossed the smoldering bloodied proletarian back down the alley and leapt into the air traveling some two hundred yards before bounding off a roof of another rundown apartment building. He did not care if the bastard burned or not, time to find a new place to wait. He noticed his pulse rose to 65; he would have to work on lowering it for the next battle. Norman found ironies in the fact two potential recruits on his recruitment list were ex-Skulls. The fact they were prior members worked in their favor and showed how they outgrew the weak bone club. If only some of his other associates were as easily influenced, the image of a scorned clawed woman came to his mind. If ever there was chaos it was her, for she tested the limits of his patience. It was then he decided to pay a visit to Crey Industries for some light warm up exercises

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