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Shadow Guard Chapter 2
by Warpstone

Seven Months Ago
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>  The adjustment to hero life had been easy for Mary, now Amythys Miss.  She’d always wanted to make a difference and now she could.  The new body took some getting used to, but not in the ways she imagined.  It seemed that being made of crystal, she no longer needed to eat, drink, breathe or even sleep – though she could do all of those if she chose to.  She guessed most of the physical material her new body required came directly from the air surrounding her.  She could partially shut herself down, meditate or vegetate as it were, to replenish her energy quickly.  The little daydreams that immediately started in such a mental state were very pleasant and intense with detail, but she still remained fairly aware of her surroundings, able to jump to attention in an instant.  It was also a very useful state for learning; she’d absorbed three new languages by having instructional audios playing in the background while she rested.
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>  She was surprised at the strength of her new body, the crystal seemed delicate, but was stronger than steel and durable; the few rare times she did take any damage she recovered quickly.  She also found that she could focus her link to the dark side, channeling the shadow through her fists to sap the energy of any villains she encountered.  By concentrating, she could enter a state of near supersonic speed, though it was hard for her to keep her senses geared up to match her movement, losing detail of her surroundings.  Her ties with the dark gave her almost unlimited stamina.  Since she no longer had to worry about fatigue, she was capable of impressive feats of strength and endurance, literally throwing her entire effort into any physical task.  And since she was now so recognizable, she didn’t have the worry of a secret identity.  She was a full-time hero; even the loss of hair didn’t bother her greatly.
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>  In the half year of her new life she had made a bit of a name for herself in the hero business.  Warpstone had been a reluctant teacher, but he had answered any major questions she had about her new existence.  She thought the only reason he spoke to her at all was her greater understanding of their shared connection than any of the other heroes who were joined through the crystal.  And that was the only thing that left her feeling unfulfilled; she knew the full context of her link to those other heroes and she worried about it.  She had found out the details, so possibly someone else could as well.  The shadowy place that was the source of their power, the purple crystals that channeled energy to and from that place, feeding some *thing* all the baser desires and petty motivations of mankind in exchange for various super abilities.  Draining off the dark parts of civilization that weren’t worth keeping and leaving light behind.
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>  Eventually she’d decided to confront him with it, an idea half-worked in her head with exciting possibilities.  Of course, he’d already known.  They’d met at the Atlas Park train station, rather fitting she thought.  It was a bit of a surprise when Whisper in Shadow appeared suddenly, the slight chill heralding her presence as clearly as the wisps of darkness that fell from her form.  The three of them moved a bit to the side for privacy, though of course it wasn’t needed, the regular populace tended to give berth to heroes.  Especially heroes as outlandish as a man in black medieval armor, a woman of purple glass and another woman floating off the sidewalk literally dripping shadow.
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>  It was Whisper who spoke first, her voice dead and flat black eyes unblinking.  “Are you certain this is wise?  We do not wish to be found, the humans will not understand.”  Even now Amythys Miss found the woman unnerving, so certain the feel that the basically normal looking, brown-haired woman was nothing but a shell animated by the force of whatever it was they held ties to.
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>  “I think it’s the best way to do it.  I found out and eventually somebody else will.  If we all get together, we can cover our tracks better.  Coordinate.  Safety in numbers.  And what happens if one of the others pieces it together like I did?  I think at some point they’re going to wonder about that reporter who asked all the funny questions.  This way we can be there to help them sort it out, I can be there to help them sort it out, help them adjust.”  Amythys held her breath (an amusing affectation considering she didn’t breathe anymore), she really wanted this.
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>  It was Warpstone who spoke next, just as much an empty shell as Whisper, but not as disturbing; looking more like a statue than anything else, the purple flame dancing occasionally along his skin.  “Unwise but allowed.  A safe place to gather.”  His voice was light and hollow, a choir shouted down a long hallway til only the echo was left to whisper.  He turned away, heading toward city hall leaving Amythys to follow.  Whisper simply vanished, a quickly dispersing cloud of darkness left in her passage.   He moved to the glowing blue gateway that was typically the entry portal for many of the supergroups in Paragon.  She was surprised, had he already rented some secure place from the city in preparation?
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>  Again he seemed to know her thoughts, “for appearance,” he stated simply, then stepped into the portal.  She stepped in after him and found herself in a small, stone room.  Square, about twenty feet across and almost featureless.  The stonework was a dark rough hewn block, with no mortar filled between them.  She couldn’t tell where the dim light was coming from, it seemed to emanate from the entire stone ceiling.  There was a mild chill, not cold but cool, and she had a sense of tremendous age in the dry room.
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>  She turned to Warpstone to protest, “well this isn’t big enough, we’d need a room for dorms and maybe one for a living area  . . . . . “ she trailed off as the area changed while she spoke.  To her left the wall simply melted away, short hallways blossoming out into a series of larger rooms.  She looked around the corner and took in the simple furnishings.  In one room were low stone benches and a table, another room had large stone slabs for beds, shelves on the wall, all formed from the same stone, flowing out like mushrooms.  “Um, ok.  I guess it’s a start.”
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>  Warpstone spoke to her again, “You are the key.”  With that rather cryptic remark, he stepped back into the blue portal and vanished.  In short time she had opened up other rooms, the area responding to her thoughts.  While all the furnishings were of the same rough stone and anchored to the surfaces, it was a start until more comfortable materials could be brought in.  She knew of course where she would start, who she had been thinking about from the very beginning, the core reason she thought about gathering everyone tied to the crystal together at all.  One tired man who almost broke her heart, if she still had one, with the sadness of his situation.  Of course, she would need some way of offering him the choice . . . .
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>  In response to her train of thought the base responded, a small pedestal rose from the floor to her waist, the top of it seemed to bubble, and a single crystal floated to the surface to twinkle at her.  It was roughly the size of her closed fist, a perfect smooth sphere alive with purple light, thrumming like a heartbeat.  As she picked it up the light dimmed to a single point at the center and she gave a mental thanks to whatever dark forces allowed such joyful miracles.  The stone column melted back to the floor and she too stepped into the blue portal back to Atlas.  As she left the portal platform, she had a sense that should she wish it she could transport to the hidden base from anywhere at any time, this gateway was simply for the others who may want to come and go without drawing attention.
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>  It was a short trip by elevated rail, the thugs of Kings Row giving her an appraising stare before vanishing into the dirty alleyways.  She almost floated up the four floors of walkup at the tenement house, so thrilled and delighted at this victory.  It was with some sense of déjà vu that she knocked on the door with its still-peeling paint and heard the familiar, tired voice from inside.  “Go away you vultures!  I don’t have anything you want!”  She couldn’t help but smile at how perfect the situation was.  
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>  She spoke clearly when she though he was close to the door, “I am here to talk to you about Mindblight.”  There was a very long pause and she began to wonder if there was a problem.  The door opened and a confused looking older man stood blinking owlishly at her.  He looked at her for several moments, seemed about to say something, changed his mind, looked at her some moments more, then motioned her inside.  She moved to clear off a chair while he quietly watched, and then he sat down across from her.  It was not an uncomfortable silence, but she could tell he was running all the unspoken questions through his mind and seemed content not to voice them.  “And why is it that there are more questions about a hero who no longer does hero work?”
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>  She decided to play along, guessing he was worried that Crey might have listening devices.  “My name is Amythys Miss,” she stressed the name, “I am relatively new to the hero business and want to gather together a fulltime group.  People who share my goals and interests, folks I can trust to stand by me, stand with me, facing the problems of this city.  The right group can make a difference here, really help the city become what it should be.  And not just in the flashy stuff you see on the nightly news; block by block and neighborhood by neighborhood if needed.  I know . . . . Mindblight . . . would be perfect.  He was judged pure enough once before to unlock the potential of certain gifts.”  She pulled out the crystal from a white fanny pack and held it out to him. “I want to see him do so again.”
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>  The pinpoint of light still shone at its heart.  His expression was thunderstuck; slowly, as though thinking this might be a dream he reached out to gently take it.  His hand shook as though he was reaching into the fires of the sun itself, like it might burn him away with its purity.  At his touch the light flared at the center of the crystal and pulsed, the heartbeat of energy starting again.  Tears shone in his eyes and his face was a mask of joy, “I think you can count on that Missy.”
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>  They had gathered what few possessions he had that very day and transported them all to the base, directly from his house so none would immediately know it.  She could teleport herself or others from anywhere, eventually he would have to use the main portal in front of city hall.  The following week was a blur of energy as he worked with an almost mindless focus on building a new powersuit.  Some further adjustment of base layout as needed, a surprise discovery of an energy source to run his computers and equipment (though the actual workings of the large rotating crystal housed in bands of what looked like gold and platinum mystified her), strange, arcane equipment showing up as needed whose functions she barely comprehended but which he said were needed.  The furnishings of his apartment spread out to soften up some of the living areas of the base as he worked.  She made frequent runs to various sections of Paragon, picking up laundry lists of
>  material, salvage, equipment and food.  She even decided to bring in some more comfortable furnishings and plants while she was at it; working on the rooms in the downtime while he slept, having no need to sleep herself.
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>  The base blossomed into a livable space as the suit took shape and before either could believe it, all was ready.  And they stood before the portal to Atlas finally, Amythys turned to him, feeling nervous and excited all at the same time.  “Are you ready?  Last chance,” she asked, the weight of his life as a normal man in the balance.
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>  His voice was slightly modulated by the helmet but had no hesitation at all, “I’m ready, why would I ever go back?”  And then he turned to her and gently took her hand in one of his enormous, articulated black gauntlets.  “Thank you, thank you for coming back for me Missy.  I won’t let you down,” and then they were stepping through to walk over to hero registration and reintroduce Mindblight to the citizens of Paragon City.
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>  It was perfect that first month, even with the hounding of Crey agents every time they turned around.  Mindblight kept to the base in his off-hours, building useful items from the pieces of salvage they brought back, fleshing out the rooms and settling in.  She wasn’t sure where the base actually was, but Crey seemed unable to locate it, no matter how hard they tried.  She was happy to have him there, like a member of the family she hadn’t realized she was missing.  Even though he was older, and more experienced in hero work, he always made sure she was the leading figure of their duo.  Forcing her into a leadership position she found uncomfortable, but with his quiet support she became surer of herself.
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>  Finding the dirty secret of Countess Crey was just the finishing touch of perfection.  When the pressure of Mindblights capture was gone, she knew it was time to start gathering the others.  She went back to the ones she knew of to invite and it was surprisingly easy.  She suspected the shared link of the crystal had much to do with that, it seemed to convey subtle information between them, even if they were unaware of it.
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>  Punkupine signed up without knowing why, moving into the base to spend his off hours between hero work and his various deejay jobs.  The base suddenly took on the cast of a fraternity; loud music, mismatched décor, sports posters and empty pizza boxes littering the area.  Infernal Frost agreed to be a permanent member, though he didn’t want to leave his already custom-furnished apartment yet.  Amythys suspected that wouldn’t last long when he discovered the base could adjust to build furnishings specifically suited to his eight foot frame.  Chillbug signed on as an adjunct member, but his primary allegiance was Hero Corps, which had raised him from infancy and held his adopted mother on staff.  
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>  Amythys was surprised at how quickly Chillbug and Punkupine became fast friends, spending much off time together playing video games or making surprise appearances at some of the local dance clubs.  Punkupine even picked up the specialized sign language Chillbug required (given his lack of human mouthparts) in record time.  The adoptive mother pretended great dismay at the disruptive energy of Punkupine, but Amythys knew the woman was delighted that her ward had finally found a true friend that honestly didn’t care about his unusual appearance, with the bonus that Punkupine hardly slept, thus able to spend more time with Chillbug who never slept at all.  And Punkupine lamented loudly that it wasn’t fair Chillbug kept winning the video games since he had mutant enhanced reflexes, while Chillbug motioned that it didn’t matter since Punkupine had enhanced reflexes as well.  Punkupine laughing, Chillbug giving his low whistle-click of amusement while
>  they devoured unbelievable piles of pizza and buckets of soda during the marathon gaming sessions.
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>  There were some surprising members; during a sting against the Tsoo they had met Lotus Shadow, a graceful Asian woman in vivid green martial arts attire recently arrived in Paragon from Chinatown following leads against that dark brotherhood.  Amythys felt the connection at once and was scarcely surprised to discover the female hero used an ornately carved arm-guard as a focus for her energy-shifting powers; dragons with flashing, purple crystal eyes decorating the silver.  Pulling strength, power and movement from her foes and transferring them to her teammates.  After a whirlwind series of raids, the woman shyly asked if she could continue to work with the group and was enthusiastically accepted (with Punkupine offering only half-serious leers and bawdy comments).  Being a newcomer to Paragon, she had little other place to go, her presence at the base was a calming influence and Amythys was grateful to have another woman to talk to.
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>  Arcanovore seemed to be a demon, an actual flesh and blood demon from a violent alternative dimension who had been summoned to this one many centuries ago.  He had been bound with a human soul it was said, a gem sealed into his chest, forced into service for the good of mankind; captured and held in a mystic prison around 1129ce.  The group had rescued him from a Circle of Thorns ritual where the cultists intended to sacrifice him to some unknowable entity for power.  He was perhaps nine feet tall, thick and grey reptilian skin mottled with black, hooves and claws, a huge mane of black hair offset by blood red horns to the side of his flat, snake-like face.  The gem which was reputed to link him to this world was sealed away behind an ornate black metal breastplate, and though it was never seen, Amythys could guess what it looked like.  He was almost childlike, easily distracted by bright lights and sounds, spending most of his time in the base
>  researching humanity.  His voice and manner were surprisingly gentle despite his hulking appearance and towering fury in combat, an unmovable block of raw mass his opponents dashed themselves on while he fought back with impossible strength.  He and Lotus often went on site-seeing tours around the city, both learning the new culture, an unlikely pair.
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>  Mr. Nobody actually came looking to join the group, having followed them unnoticed during a mission.  It seemed that was more or less the sum of his existence, being unnoticed.  The man was in a perpetual cloaking field of unknown origin, blending into the background, not registering in the senses of all other creatures unless he took great conscious effort to do so.  Even then it was hard to focus on him long enough to take in the average sized, middle aged man with black hair, dark eyes, and olive skin dressed in street clothing.  He was a healer, able to wipe away the pains or injuries of others with a touch, calm troubled minds and remove toxins from their system.  Though he found it unpleasant to do so, he could also protect himself by channeling disruptive energy into blasts of darkness.  He spoke very little of his past, telling in his liquid and oddly accented voice only of arcane study amongst the native dwellers in the empty wastes of Turkey,
>  but Amythys saw the flashing purple crystal of his rings and was reassured.  His mere presence seemed to calm any group he was with, allowing them to focus their minds more easily and soothe over any personal quibbles they may have.  His motives were unclear, saying only that it was his time and place to join the group in their campaign to better the world.  Being such a non-entity, he was hard to track, but usually turned up when needed.
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>  And the last member to join, Monokrome.  Much like Mindblight he was a scientist who used technology to generate surprisingly realistic illusions, bursts of light and energy.  A short man, with nervous, stuttering manner who never spoke about the specifics of the techno-harness he wore over his lab coat.   He viewed the hero work as field-testing, tuning and retuning his equipment with every mission, spending much of his time in the lab, caught up in his own world of research.  Amythys worried about his ability to work with the assorted larger-than-life personalities of the group, but she could feel the silent song of the crystal somewhere in his creations, and Warpstone did not object.  While he may not have an outgoing personality, indeed, hardly any personality at all, he followed her lead without hesitation.
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>  Without being told, she knew that both Warpstone and Whisper would be available whenever needed.  This was the group she gathered, the Shadow Guard.  She hoped the name would simply distract anyone who sought to look too much into them.  She had often been told the best hiding place for an item of value was in plain sight.  Hopefully people would simply think the name was an affectation, the membership drawn because of the similarity of their abilities, not because they came from the same source.  And all had been right; until now.










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