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Chapter 4

Brian Sutter stuffed the remains of News Flash’s uniform in the large capacity black garbage bag. Tossed aside like so many lives, he swore to never wear it again. If his plans were successful, he would not be alive after tonight anyway. The Circle of Thorns was about to receive their last headline. He cursed himself for the drunken stupor that he rained down on the apartment and his belongings. If he had cast the spell he planned to use in Oranbega, he would have easily destroyed this apartment killing even more innocents. Further proof to Brian that he was not the hero he pretended to be. He ignored the countless saved lives and good he did since he joined Onami Strike Force.

            Setting the trash bag in the kitchen near the refuse chute he decided to order Chinese again, something about eating two-day-old leftover macaroni and cheese out of the garbage can held no appeal to him. Even convicts where given a last meal. Brian made his way back into his large living room, or what had remained of it. He upturned the couch and dining room table, and recovered most of his photo storage boxes and tried to organize them back into their proper place. Truth be known only ten percent of his pictures were ever published and he had hundreds of stories he never submitted. He had more contacts and knew more things about the villains and heroes of Paragon City than anyone could ever suspect. He linked photos and documents into the boxes and built his cases. He even had pictures of one of his ex-super group comrades known as Voltech when the hero was still enlisted in the ranks of the Skulls. The ex-Skull had found redemption, leaving Brian with none.

            Brian attempted to vacuum the remnants of his crystal coffee table he somehow fell through. He did not remember what he did to fall through it, but being skilled in the ancient art of magic; a simple spell healed his wounds. It worked great on hangovers too. If only he could wave a wand and correct his mistakes in the past. He stopped his attempt at vacuuming realizing no one would notice in this condemned apartment. Grabbing the phone, he ordered his last dinner. He would have paid double to have them deliver a bottle of whiskey, but instead paid triple. He hung up realizing his answering machine was still missing under some scattered newspaper clippings and rogue photos. He fished it out and noticed he had a message.

            “Hello,” a familiar accented voiced said after clicking the button. “Mr. Sutter, this is Serge at Icon. The uniform you specially ordered is complete. I am quite proud of it as it came together quite nice. I will be sending it out this later this afternoon.”

            There was a knock at the door.

            Brian paused a moment wondering whom would be knocking at his door. He did not remember buzzing anyone up, maybe his delivery had arrived. He quickly walked over to the door and opened it.

            “Delivery,” Norman said his guilty smile curling up underneath his visor. He held a medium-sized box out in front of him and a garment bag was slung over his left shoulder.

            Dumbfounded, Brian stood silent for a moment. Still fighting the lingering effects of alcohol, he deduced why Protector Norman was here.  He also remembered he hated the metallic mystic helmet the Rogue Isle Protectors wore. Two points jutting from the end of the helmet to the left and right of the wearer’s lips looked like spider fangs and it plain freaked him out. To hide the creepy feeling the helmet made he just rolled his eyes and walked into his condemned kitchen leaving the door open, “You’re late.”

            “What, no smart ass remark?” Norman asked entering the apartment. He looked around in suppressing his shock horror. “By Hequat’s wrath this place is a dump. I much prefer your Founders Falls place much better.”

            “Sorry, money is starting to get tight.” The fact Norman was carrying his Icon delivery finally registered though his hazed mind. “My God man, where did you get that stuff?”

            “The delivery guy ran into my fist on the way up here,” Norman said.

            Brian hurried over to him, grabbed the box and garment bag, and slung them over his couch. “Geez, you didn’t hurt him did you.”

"He only had a slight nose bleed," the Protector responded.

"He'll probably call Longbow or the cops at the very least," Brian said glancing at the dirty floor and shaking his head. Being a reporter, he got to know some really unruly types. This particular Rogue Isle Protector was no different. Actually when he was first contacted by him a couple years ago he became a bit worried. He was sure the Protector could easily have killed him if provoked.

"Pfft," Norman said sounding like he sprung a leak. "The Longbow couldn't capture me if I surrendered to them and the police… they can’t find their way out of the doughnut parking lot.”

"Damn it, why must you continue to bother the citizens of this city," Brian said flicking the chest plate with his finger and pausing puzzled at the hardness. "What the hell is that, life getting tough for yah?"

Norman snorted and sauntered over to the couch draping the length of his cape over his left arm and sat. The scent of bleach assaulted his nostrils and the sheen on the furniture indicated they had been recently wiped down. "Nope, it is actually there to protect me from myself. My powers continue to expand."

Brian fought through the fuzziness coating his mind. Staring at the Protector sitting on his couch with his cape neatly arranged in his guest’s arm he internally summoned his magical energy. Norman glanced around the rundown apartment and looked back to Brian.

"Nice try," the Protector said recognizing the concentrated look on Brian’s face and flicked his red chromed mystical helmet. "I hope you’re constipated, because you will still find my thoughts well protected behind this from all forms of mind reading. Arachnos goes to the greatest lengths to protect its secrets.”

Brian released his energies letting their power subside back into the ether. "Please tell me you're here for business and not your unpleasant comments," he demanded.

Norman again looked at his friend's hole ridden multi-colored walls. He was sure the stains, layers of chipped paint, and peeling wallpaper were once a treasure map for some ancient lost cache of wealth. He reached behind his back and grasped a metallic cylinder the size of running baton that had been attached to his belt. He whipped the prize out and opened his palm presenting Brian with the key to his revenge.

The ex-hero stepped forward recognizing the significance of the cylinder and reached for the item.

Norman snapped the offer back, "There is the matter of payment.”

Brian reached into his left vest pocket, removed a thick blank manila envelope, and tossed it to the Rogue Isle Protector.

"It's going to cost you more," Norman said snatching the envelope from the air.

"What? That was our agreed upon price," Brian complained.

"Just information, I am background checking for some… projects of mine."

Brian glared at the Protector debating whether he should just put him to sleep or go along with the request. Knowing the helmet Norman wore would indeed protect his thoughts; he knew it did not fully protect him from mind assaults. Sighing, his shoulders slumped forward in defeat; this Protector had indeed become a vital source of information for the dealings of Paragon City and beyond. He hated to admit there was a sort of pseudo friendship bond between them. He set about the task of setting up his Internet connection and logged into his encrypted personal files.

Norman watched in silence debating whether to say anything about the obvious alcohol abuse. He could not believe Brian had fallen so far into the bottle. It was a sign of weakness and he wrestled with what that meant to him and his alliance.

"All right, what do you want?" Brian asked bringing up the search window for his database.

The Protector moved from the couch and strolled over to the table. "What do you have on a Christopher Wentworth or a Michael Wallis?”

“Michael Wallis…” Brian said pausing opened mouth. “Voltech?”

“Yes,” Norman said flatly.

“I am not telling you anything about any Onami members.”
            “Didn’t hurt to ask.”

“Then I will ask, why him?” Brian questioned looking squarely through the Protectors helmet where he thought the eyes were.

“He has some rage issues, yes, but a promising candidate. Arachnos could offer him his own private lab with unlimited funds.”

“He won’t join your gang,” Brian responded banging the other name into his keyboard.

Norman snorted slightly at Brian’s jab at Arachnos. His wit always made him smile.

With the other name entered into his laptop the hard drive whirred in searching, Norman wandered over to Brian’s boxes of dirt he had acquired on many individuals, groups, and organizations in Paragon City over the years. “Oh, yeah, that reminds me, that attack upon the naval destroyer last week. It wasn’t the Council. The military is hiding evidence they found. That tidbit is free.”

Brian looked over to the nosy Rogue Isle Protector. “The USS Clinton? Everyone was killed in that assault. The ship was left to drift the high seas until the Coast Guard arrived.”

“Correct. Word has it that it was revenge on an illegal assault the U.S. Military carried out earlier against a certain chain of isles.”

“I wouldn’t suppose you were there, were you?”

Norman hesitated before speaking, “You could say I am in the know.”

Brian focused on the results of his database search not wanting to go where the conversation was headed. He quickly sent an e-mail to himself reminding him of the new information. When his belongings passed to the Onami Strike Force by order of his last will and testament the information could be then acted upon.

“Ah,” Brian exclaimed when pictures of Perez Park appeared on the screen along with the Paragon Times newspaper headline, ‘A City in Flames.’ “Chris Wentworth,” he began recalling the story from memory, “I was there photographing all the events at the time, the City was gripped in fear because of the Hellions. Your project actually was put into the hospital after the event. After Top Ten, Onami, and the Archangels of Apocalypse stopped the Hellions from summoning Xeqatl, a power vacuum exited in Perez Park and the Skulls took advantage of the Hellions… absence.”

Norman stopped his rummaging and took a set at the dining room table finding the information riveting.

“The official story is Chris Wentworth was found after the uprising was put down. He was almost killed considering the whole right of his head was crushed in.”

“Hmm…” Norman thought aloud. “I don’t recall hearing about any uprising like that. Something big like that would have been in the news. Who stopped it?”

“The Skulls did,” Brian responded wondering if an inquisitive look could be made out from underneath the Protectors helmet. “Unofficially, Chris led the uprising even forging a pact with the Circle of Thorns. They get to keep control of inside of Perez Park and the Skulls keep the surrounding streets. Unfortunately for him, Marrow Snap didn’t take the news lightly. When Chris had secured the streets he came across the Skull leaders meeting with members of the Family. Such a young upstart performing so much without his authority or blessing was unforgivable. It damned near cost him his life.” Brian produced the digital images of the meeting he took and revealed them to the Protector.

“Nice composition,” Norman said. It was truly amazing how Brian was able to get the photos he did. “How do you not get spotted?”

Brian just smiled interlocking his hands behind his head.

“Seems like a rogue, free thinking man got mixed up in the Bone Club. He saw beyond his position and took control. That would explain why he is cutting a swath threw Skulls, Hellions, and Family members on the Rogue Isles currently. Brian you’re a credit to the Press.”

Norman thought about his own origin. He had been left for dead after receiving the Protectors initial enhancement process. Supposedly, he died and they dumped his body in Paragon City framing Crey for the botched experiment. He had no recollections when he came to in the Zig, but apparently, he survived the process, and had awakened becoming some sort of raving lunatic. It took an entire super group teamed with the Paragon Protectors to even stop him, some had been killed in his capture, and he tried to suppress his evil twisted smile that grew from pride. He remembered nothing until before the process and after the Zig.

“What?” Brian said seeing the smile and becoming uneasy.

“Nothing, very good my friend,” Norman slammed the cylinder on the table and slid it to Brian.

Brian unscrewed the heat resistant container and removed an old cloth scroll. He held it gently cradling it like a newborn; his immediate future plans lay before him. After millions of dollars he was finally able to end his quest of vengeance. He unfurled the fabric, which was surprisingly very resilient. He could smell the musty age and breathed deeply letting its ancient wisdom penetrate his soul.

“I acquired that last night myself. Took out thee minor Circle demons in my raid.”
            Brian had heard nothing absorbed in the maze of pathways drawn by blood on the map showing the way to Oranbega. After a minute, he frowned. “Where the hell is the entrance?”

“I am not sure,” Norman said sneering. His calm cold calculating mind finally worked out his friend’s interest and stood up. “By the gods, if I knew you were foolish enough to go there I wouldn’t even have bothered.”
            Brian glared into the Protector’s visor. “It doesn’t matter what I want it for, it’s useless without a starting point.”

Norman stood there crossing his arms debating whether he should even argue. He could see the despair pouring from Brian’s eyes, desperation born from suffering. It all made sense now, the move, his requests for information, something bothered the reporter and he cared not to live anymore. The idea that Brian did this to himself disgusted him.

“Very well,” Norman began, “Perez Park in the woods near the center of the zone. There is probably even a wooden sign saying keep out, or some such curious phrase.”

Brian glanced back at the textured map and smiled insanely. He ran over to the couch and tore into the box. “Hat, boots, belt, and gloves, good it is all here. You need to go now.”

“Just wait a minute…” the Protector said as Brian brought his hand up and sent forth a bright white eldritch flash.


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