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From the Ashes
The office was spacious without being audacious. The wall to the right was lined with cherry wood bookshelves. The left was home to a large brown leather couch, set in front of a shining coffee table. Caddy-cornered to the couch was a large leather recliner that matched the rest of the office furniture. A large antique globe rested in the corner beside the large oak desk. The back wall of the office was a large picture window, outside which the lights of Paragon shone, the war walls visible in the distance. The light in the office was soft, from yellow lights inset in the ceiling, the air held the sweet smell of wood.
“Come in, gentlemen,” the man behind the desk said to the two others in his doorway. Marcus Cole rose and walked around his desk, offering a hand towards the couch along the wall.
Aaron and Tropic entered the office together. Both wore street clothes, a hat covered Tropic’s spiked white hair. Hiding his identity was not as easy as some others given his red skin, but the fedora’s brim was pulled down low enough that his face was barely visible. He wore long sleeves, covering his arms, the fires in his eyes he contained within, though looking directly into them they appeared as embers within a flame.
Aaron covered his identity as PhoenixHawk much more easily, simply wearing a pair of wraparound sunglasses, hiding the green glow from his eyes.
The pair walked around the coffee table and sat on the couch. Marcus sat in the recliner and leaned his forearms on his knees. His square jaw was set, hair neatly combed and parted. He looked more a politician than the established leader of the heroes of Paragon City.
“First off, I’ll say thank you for coming in quietly, without drawing attention.”
“The message your courier dropped off asked for us to be ‘incognito’, I believe was the word,” Tropic said. “I have no desire to hide my identity from the citizens of Paragon. Would you care to explain why I must?”
Aaron saw the muscles in Marcus’s face clench slightly. It was hard to envision the man early in the twentieth century nearly dying of mustard gas poisoning, yet here he was. Statesman. The figurehead that had been a part of Paragon since well before he was born, well before the Rikti invasion. Aaron was not nervous in the presence of the man, having spoken with gods and goddesses seemed to bring about a certain perspective, but he still would not have spoken so abruptly to the man as Tropic had. Perhaps living over three thousand years also brought about a certain perspective.
Cole nodded. “Fine, let’s dispense with any pleasantries and get right to the point. You present a . . .”
He was cut off when three beautiful women appeared out of nowhere standing in front of the coffee table. The three looked directly at Tropic and bowed their heads slightly as one, nodding a greeting as to an old acquaintance.
Cole stood. “Ladies, it’s been a while.”
“A fortuitous meeting,” one of the three said. All were dressed in flowing white dresses, ancient greek robes. The family resemblance was undeniable, though the each of the three bore traits the others did not. One of the three had black hair, another brown, the third auburn. The black haired woman held a tray with three wine glasses and a decanter with a ruby liquid within. The auburn haired woman poured the liquid from the decanter into the glasses, the third sister handed a glass to each of the men in the room.
Cole reigned in his surprise and gathered himself. “Gentlemen, may I introduce Alecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone, as they were known throughout history. They have taken more modern names of late, but history records them as…”
“The three Furies,” Tropic said.
“So we were named,” Tisiphone said, “in the time before even you were born.”
“Please drink,” Megaera said.
“We rarely get to share our wine with others these days,” Alecto added.
Aaron sipped the red liquid. The taste was sweet without the bitterness a lot of wines held beneath the surface. As the liquid slid down his throat, he could feel a warmth spread throughout his body. Not heat, but any ache or pain he had from his fight with Tropic two days before seemed to ease.
“What is this?” he asked.
“Ambrosia,” the three sisters said as one.
“To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit,” Marcus asked the sisters, sitting back in his chair.
The three sisters began to speak in fragments, finishing one another’s thoughts as though they shared a common mind.
“Thrice the Circle has been broken…”
“Thrice the box has been opened…”
“Three stand before you now…”
“And three sit before us.”
“When the three come full circle…”
“The last Circle will be broken,”
“Under the power of a crescent moon,” the sisters completed as one.
They continued once more with the broken speech:
“Power flows to this place…”
“As a moth drawn to flame…”
“Another true test of the third Age of Heroes comes…”
“So we followed the power to see where it will lead us.”
“And thus we are able to judge our own actions by yours.”
“How you handle this test will tell
“Put our questions to rest…”
“Finally,” they finished together. Together they bowed to the men, then faded from view as quickly as they had appeared.
The three men looked at one another, then to the glasses each held in their hand.
“What do you make of that?” Cole asked.
“I have no idea,” Aaron replied.
“They seemed to know you,” Cole said to Tropic.
Tropic nodded. “Apparently.”
Cole nodded. “Well, they have a way of confusing a lot of things. I haven’t seen them in years.” He took a sip from his glass. “Though I certainly missed this.”
The three men sat in silence, sipping the Ambrosia. Finally Cole spoke again. “You present a bit of a problem.”
“How so?” Tropic asked.
Cole stared at the red-skinned hero. “I’ll get to the details of your enterprises in a moment, but the two of you together, simply being here, has raised a lot of issues. Word spread like wildfire throughout the heroes and media of this city. First Tropic returns from the grave, then PhoenixHawk.” Cole shook his head almost sadly. “I spoke at your funerals.”
“I apologize if we embarrass you,” Tropic said.
“That’s hardly the word. People all over this city, all over the world, have lost loved ones in the fight against evil. During the war thousands of heroes died, and hundreds of times that civilians. Many are brought back from the edge of death; Thauma Guard for example. But years you were dead. Gone. Then you return to the world as though it were nothing. How do I explain that to those whose loved ones will never come back?”
“You can tell them, in truth, that their loved ones are with them still, and they will see them again,” Aaron said, having taken off his glasses, his glowing eyes showing Cole the sincerity with which he spoke.
Cole nodded. “I suppose you would know. Still, for many, that is of little solace.” He looked at the glass in his hand, spun the liquid around briefly before draining the last bit. “However, after our visitors came tonight, I have little doubt there is something greater going on here. Can either of you enlighten me as to what it might be?”
Both Aaron and Tropic looked at one another. Aaron could read in Tropic’s eyes the request not to mention Annie.
“Artemis gave me the same message as our guests,” Aaron said. “There is something that has been coming for eons, and we have a part to play in it. I don’t know what it is, though.”
Cole nodded and stood. “These things have a way of being readily apparent when they arrive. For now I have to deal with the storm surrounding the two of you.” Turning to Aaron he said, “Your group has been working on assignment for Numina for some time. They brought you back as the end result of that, which Numina tells me was ‘necessary for the balance in the world,’ whatever the hell that means. But as I’ve already said, you being around raises questions and issues we simply cannot answer or handle.”
Turning to Tropic Cole’s eyes hardened. “You are another issue. Not only have you stirred the pot by stepping back into the world, but your actions have crossed well over the acceptable lines.”
Tropic stared at Cole without regret or remorse.
“I did what I did to protect my daughter.”
“I know what you did, and why. Protecting one’s family is one thing, annihilating entire offices full of people is something completely different. Only a few things have kept me from having you hauled off to the Zig: First those you attacked, those you killed, were all notorious at best. Second, most of those actions have been effectively covered from public view by your group, which leads to another problem.
“We cannot have any one, or any group, stepping so far outside of the law. At the same time, we cannot publicly rebuke or reprimand any Top Ten members for this without it all spilling into the light, and undermining the public’s confidence in the Hero Corp.
“The only course of action I have is this: From this time forward, I must prohibit you, Tropic, from participating in any Hero Corp sanctioned activity. I know WillowWind is the mother of your daughter, and your personal life is your own. However, you are hereby prohibited from any actions that involve the Top Ten as a group, acting in any way as part of their charter as a registered Super Group. You are, as of this time, no longer sanctioned to work under the Citizens Crime Fighting Act of 1937. Should you be found involved in any activity under the act, or acting with the Top Ten in any official capacity, the full weight of your actions will be used to prosecute not only yourself, but every member of your group that was complicit in covering those actions up.”
Tropic stared at Marcus Cole with a blank expression. After a time he nodded.
“So be it. But when the time comes, and my part to play in whatever approaches is necessary, I will act.”
Cole nodded. “As I said, we’ll deal with that as it comes.” Turning to Aaron he said, “Your actions, and those of your group, have been mostly beyond reproach. However, due to the sensitivity of the issues raised that we’ve discussed here, I ask that you refrain from acting in such a way that you become more of a public figure.”
Aaron nodded. “The Onami is just getting back on its feet. I have a lot of work to do with Thauma in reorganizing them. I let them down before. I hadn’t considered the consequences my friends, my family, would face if I were gone.”
The two now-censured heroes stood and walked from Marcus Cole’s office. Outside in the night air Tropic asked, “Will you really refrain from acting as the hero you are?”
Aaron shook his head. “It’s what I am. But, I have enough friends here that are geniuses in scientific
areas. I think I can come up with
something that I can hide within. I may
just have to come up with another name for myself.”
Aaron shook Tropic’s hand. “I’ll stay in touch.”
Tropic nodded, and said simply, “Yes.”
The two walked off in separate directions, knowing the bond recently forged would keep their lives intertwined.
* * *
Five thirty in the morning, Thauma Guard lay next to Aaron in the bed they had always shared. She rested her head on his chest, listening to the soft thump of his heartbeat, feeling the heat of his skin against hers. He slept a deep, peaceful sleep, something she had rarely seen in his life before.
Quietly slipping from the bed she pulled on jeans and a t-shirt and made her way to the roof. In the distance the sky brightened, orange and red as the sun approached the horizon.
Closing her eyes, she felt the first rays of the sun wash over her, felt the energy of the world around her, let is flow through her, the magic of life that filled Paragon radiating against her skin. She spoke a single word of magic, felt the surge of power in her legs, and leapt skyward. Sailing high above the building, rebounding from rooftop to higher rooftop, she found herself amongst the highest peaks of the skyscrapers that filled the city.
From her high vantage point she could see the sun break over the horizon, its energy caressing her like a soft wind. A smile broke her ebony face as she realized the weight that had been lifted from her soul in the last few days.
Leaping from the highest building, she soared above the city. Arcing down from her leap, she landed in a cat’s crouch, her face split in a smile, simply feeling the joy of the power she had.
Looking around she whispered a soft warning to the villains that lurked in every shadow of Paragon City.