Sunday, September 30, 2007

One of Us

"Ya know... you ain't so bad!"

The speaker was mostly covered in metal, what flesh he had left visible between the plates and steel implants holding him together. Cyberstrike, as the silver and camo green man called himself since the accident that left him this way, was seven shots of everclear towards oblivion now, more than drunk enough to loosen his digital tongue.

"I mean, you used ta be a hero, you know, but now you've done time in the Zig like the rest'a us." Cyberstrike raised his eighth drink and lifted it vaguely in Bloodravyn's direction. "You're all right in mah book!"

It was everything Ravyn could do to not ask why a man who obviously couldn't read was doing with a book. It would not have been a wise comment to make right now; he was surrounded by thugs, most of whom could and did tear schoolbuses in half for fun.

This binge, which he suspected he was paying for, was his 'reward' for a hard day's work doing extremely illegal things. There was more blood on his hands now. Though he'd avoided killing anyone he didn't have to, a few unpleasant demises had been unavoidable. More faces to haunt his nightmares...

"Cyberstrike's an idiot but he's right tonight. Here's to Bloodravyn, the toughest bitch I know!" A beer bottle went into the air, hovering in a field of blue energy. That was Killer Instinct, a homicidal, homosexual psychic known for gruesome telekinetic crimes and... assaults. Being praised by a adman like him was not something Ravyn was particularly comfortable with but right now, silence was a lot safer than saying something. Or saying anything.

Bloodravyn lifted his own glass in silent response to the toast. K.I. winked at him and swigged back his drink, licking thin pale lips afterwards.

Yes, indeed. There goes the comfort zone.

Here Ravyn was, surrounded by eight of the most hardened criminals in the Rogue Isles, all free to walk Arachnos' streets because he's just broken them out of prison. The fight had been a rough one, taking him from the edge of the Zigguraut's outer wall all the way into the maximum security wing. There were hundreds of feet of broken walls and broken people there now, a testament to what he could do.

Before he was broken and left for dead in the Zig himself, Nightravyn had been a dangerous combatant, strong and enduring, but he could never have survived a frontal assault against the world's most secure facility. There were more than a hundred Longbow soldiers scattered across the shattered earth, many of whom would never rise again.

"Hey, cheer up, man!" There was a furry arm around his shoulders now. Feral, a massive lupinoid with clawed hands and a back covered in poisoned quills, was hanging off him with a 40 ounce malt liquor bottle in his other paw. "I think I know why you're all gloomy..."

Revyn cringed. Any weakness around this lot was a bad idea. If they suspected he was dwelling on all the innocent lives he'd taken today, he wouldn't be walking out of this bar.

Then Feral grinned viciously. "Don't worry, big guy. There's lots more Longbow to kill!" Then a wide toothy grin... and the combined smell of dog breath and beer. Lovely.

Ravyn tried not to gag. The hard clap across his back from Feral did not help.

Apparently the mingled look of illness and disgust on his face appeared to Feral as eagerness. The bestial villain grinned wide and downed his 40. "That's the spirit! We can go down to the docks and take out their subs when they come up under Fort Darwin." Feral swiped a random drink from the table and slurped it down, cleaning the glass with his impossibly long tongue. "It'll be great!"

"Ummm... sure."

Feral nodded and smashed him in the shoulder again. "We'll paint the beach red, man!"

Then Feral went down under the blur of a fist, moving a dozen times into his snout at a speed that made the air near Ravyn's face thunder violently. The drink Feral stole had belonged to Barrage, a rapid moving street fighter with a drug-enhanced metabolism and a fetish for wearing spiked chains. Apparently, Barrage had taken offense.

"Every day at lunch, you took my fucking milk. No FUCKING way you're doing it now!" Barrage was over the table and on top of Feral, hitting him with hypersonic haste. "No guards here to stop me, furry mother fu--!"

A table interrupted Barrage, making his face a form of red art deco. The only things moving faster than his fists now were his teeth, flying across the bar in off-yellow streaks of pain.

Holding the legs of the big, impromptu club, Fatale stepped across Ravyn to follow up her assault, pausing just long enough to cover his face with her amazing chest. The former wrestling pro-turned-assassin blew him a quick kiss before turning to her victim. Barrage was bubbling past his split lips as the shadow of the seven foot woman of doom passed over him.

"Remember the infirmary, meat?" She said, growling down at him as she broke one of the table legs off to make a nice, sharp stake. "Roll over, you bastard. I'm gonna to do you what you did to me." She grinned at the massive shard of wood in her fist. "And I promise... you'll feel me."

Through all this, Bloodravyn just sat quietly, more than a little stunned by the sudden, inexplicable violence. He was instantly brought back to his senses by the sound of a chair sliding across the floor to rest beside his.

"Don't worry. I'll keep you safe, sexy."

It was Killer Instinct.

And now there was a hand on his leg. And on his back. And on his arm. And on his...

Goodbye, Comfort Zone.

Across the room, sitting along amid the screams of impalement and sexual inhumanity, a blue-skinned elf chuckled to himself. Ducking a thrown bottle, Leth scooted back into the shadows until only his white, sharp-toothed grin could be seen.

This was getting hilarious.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Even for a broken down, nigh-condemned building, this seemed like a strange place to meet an mafia contact. That was all he had on the man, "an underworld contact able to put you on your path", but this place was just... unnerving.

High overhead, the sound of an ancient bell began to toll. The wind was getting fierce outside the old church. The tremulous sound shook the entire structure, sending a swarm of bats perched in the skeletal rafters overhead scattering in all directions. Their cries were as painful as the constant clamor of the huge, brass bell.

Wincing, he stepped into the comfort of a deep, granite cloister, one of the few left in the crumbling sanctuary...

...and immediately darted back out of it, moving as fast as he could to get away from the sudden hissing of something lurking in its shadows.

"You're late, Destinae." The voice was a strange mix of rasp and growl, as sibilant as it was hostile. Ravyn could not see the speaker clearly but the outline was most certainly not human. His mind started to draw a very unfortunate picture of what Kalinda might actually have meant by the word 'underworld'. Perhaps this had nothing to do with...

"The mafia? No." A truly unholy laugh echoed from the dark, stone-ringed room beyond. "Not even a little."

Bloodravyn sighed inwardly. Could everyone on Mercy Island read his damned mind?

Again, laughter slipped from the shadows. "No. Just anyone who matters." Then, with a sudden shift into a far more serious tone, "And be careful with that. Don't be so ready to call yourself damned. You are closer to that fate than you know, larval."

Ravyn focused on the darkness again, trying to see who was speaking. He did not like dealing with someone who could not see. The voice was disturbing enough. He suspected the actual form of this potential contact would be even more...

Wait. "Larval?"

"Worry not about that. There will be time for explanations later."

Clenching one hand, Ravyn forced himself to let the matter drop. For now. Whoever this was, he... she... it... was right. There were other concerns right now, most predominantly the influx of magic-wielding thugs on the streets of the Rogue Isles. Between them and the Circle of Thorns, vile druids and necromancers lurking in the only wild areas left in Arachnos territory, arcane power here was in some very wicked hands.

"Nothing wrong with wicked hands."

The voice sounded amused. Ravyn was most assuredly not. "Please get out of my mind."

"I am not in your mind. But if you keep shouting your thoughts, I cannot help hearing them, son of the dr..." The voice trailed off. Ravyn wanted to press for more but it was obvious from the now-total silence tat whoever this was would say nothing else on the matter. Fine. That could drop too.

But this wasn't over. Not by a long shot.

"You are here because the Lonely One wishes something done about the inheritors of Shitan, yes? That is why we are meeting?"

Ravyn nodded. He was no surprised the strange shadowy being knew about the reason for this visit already. Surely whoever it was had been contacted by Kalinda and asked to come here. Perhaps even paid, though he suspected that, like all his other meetings this past week, if there was a price for this aid he would be the one paying it.

Probably in trade. And likely by bartering violence.

"Yes, sir. These 'inheritors' as you call them are a rival power group on the Isles, something Arachnos cannot and will not allow. Rather than start a war, the Lonely One... ummm, Kalinda... wishes me to..."

Another laugh, this one softer but no less inhuman or menacing. "Miss." And to prove it, the figure came just far enough to the edge of the room's shadows that one long, sleek leg extended into the dim, silver moonlight. Though Ravyn could not see anything else, the silhouette of the dark being was most definitely... feminine.

"My apologies, ma'am."

"How gallant." The voice had no inflection, leaving him unable to tell if she was mocking him or not. Given past experience, probably.

"Tell the Lonely One that I will aid you. You amuse me."

Yes, indeed. Mocking. Damn it.

"As you wish, miss. I will tell Kalinda that immediately, and thank..."

"Kalinda?" There was a touch of confusion in the otherwise heavy, breathy voice. "You think I mean the puppet over the puppeteer? How..." He could see the silhouette of the night-clad woman raise her hand to her lips, playing over unseen lips for a moment. "How delightful."

"What do you mean?"

The woman slipped back a little further into the darkness. "No, no. If this is her game, I will play it a little longer. Tell Kalinda I will aid you in removing a few key pawns from this sorcerous gambit." She had moved farther away but her voice now sounded considerably more feminine. Feminine and now very amused.

"If that is what you wish, it will be done. Anything else?" Again, he was rapidly stepping outside his comfort zone here. Lethane cuddles had felt safer; how sad was that?

The shadows purred. No other word accurately described that sound of pleasure. "Mmmm... such tempting offer. But I'm not supposed to poach, so run along for now."

Ravyn wasn't entirely sure why but that suggestion sounded extremely good right now. He bowed and turned away, intending to to exactly that - run. Before he could talk a single step, a strange fluttering sound caught his attention and stopped him cold.

Laying just at the edge of the cloister doorway, a bundle of black cloth was piled loosely as if dropped there. A strange dark silver amulet rested on top of the freefall - a brooch for what appeared to be a cloak. He looked from it to the shadows, barely making out the dim outline of the figure again. Whoever... or whatever... she was, she seemed considerably less dressed now.

"Take that with you, midnight paladin. You'll need it in the coming days."

He knelt, picking up the cloth, marvelling at how smooth and warm the strange garment felt in his hands. "My thanks, miss, but why will I need it?"

She was gone by the time he looked up to ask that question. The cloister was empty, the bell was now silent and the bats were once more perched all around him on the stones and beams of the forsaken church.

It felt now like it was time for him to go. He was no longer welcome here.

Ravyn didn't question the instinct. Clutching his bundle, the fallen hero dashed out of the defiled temple as fast as he could run. There was so much going here that made so sense, a daily occurrence for him these days.

Running he knew. Getting back to his base, his room; all that that he knew. Reporting in he knew and Kalinda he knew.

Or did he?

Friday, September 28, 2007

A Pleasant Conversation

"Say that again, but without all the spit."

Tiger Shark growled at Leth, glaring at the request. "Thaa's hard ta do wiff maa jaw wrrd shut." The genetic slayer hissed in past his ridges of sharp teeth, inhaling all the moisture leaking between them.

Lethane grinned unsympathetically and took another shot of his favorite beer, Rogue. It was bitter, briny and it hurt like an angry mob going down. Perfect.

"Yeah. That really had to suck." Lethane looked around at the small room, smiling. "But hey, you got your own private suite to recover in, right? Mako treats his marshalls well, huh? Cable, a nurse on call and all the booze you can drink."

The piscine predator's gill slits flared in frustration. "Yeaa... Like ahh cahn drink anything like thisss. Assholl."

The blue bastard sitting beck to his bed raised the last of his bottle in a salute. "Good point. It'd be a shame to let all this go to waste though, so I'll help you finish it off." He swigged down the rest of the caustic brew and fetched another from the fridge. "That okay with you, Flipper?"

Tiger Shark just glared again, staying silent until he finally tired of watching the elf-looking son of a bitch down all his beer. "Cud you leave? Now?"

Lethane shrugged, pouring himself a glass of something considerably harder than beer. "Okay, okay. But first I need to make sure I got this all right. Then I'll go. Fair?"

The shark-grafted villain groaned in his recovery bed but nodded as much as the brace allowed. "Fine. Anything. Juss ashk and then get losht."

Swilling down the swill, Lethane didn't even bother trying to his his amusement at the injured man's injury lisp. "Okay, mate. Jusht keep your fins on."

Tiger Shark snarled, biting back the pain of doing so in his fury. When he got out of this body sling, him and blue boy here were throwing down. Preferably in a back alley, from behind, with however many thugs Shark had left. Oh yeah. It was so on.

Lethane pooured another tall drink and tilted it in a mock toast. "So, Lord Mako wanted you to recover Remorah's pendant. Right?"

Snarl. "Ah already told you that."

"I'm just getting it all straight. You went into the Last Word cemetery with your goon squad lookin' for trouble and hoping for an easy snatch." Lethane grinned and shot back the rum. "But things didn't go as planned, did they?"

Growl. "No. Like ah already shaid, ashholl. There wash summone already there."

"There sure was. And you told me the bug guy was trying to break the pendant with his bare hands?"

Tiger Shark nodded. "Yesh, yesh, yesh! Get on wiff it!"

Lethane shook his head. "No patience at all. Fish today, I swear..." Aother glass of rum disappeared down his tattooed throat. "Fine, so you broke in, found Kalinda's Chosen pet trying to break the damn thing with just fists and fire. So you... jumped him?"

"Nashurally. Ann ah beat him down too."

Lethane raised an eyebrow, making a point of looking over the broken shark-man from head to toe through his half-empty drink. "Really?"

"Sherioushly! He went fruu mosta mah guys doing it but ah had him on the ropesh!"

"Oooookay. So what happened?"

Tiger Shark looked away, growling and falling silent. Lethane nudged him but it was obviously the tug wasn't going to say any more. Not without some convincing first. He was okay with that, though. It had be a while since Lethane had really gotten to bust someone up nice and slow. He'd heard somewhere that sharks were all cartilage. No bones.

A few loud seconds later, he discovered that sharkmen had plenty of bones. That and Tiger Shark now had two fewer intact ones in his left hand.

"Dammit! Ah'll tell you! Shycho!"

Lethane rewarded the now-behaving thug with a shot of rum past his wired lips. Most of the drink actually made it into Tiger Shark's grateful throat. Blue hands poured another, holding it up with the obvious intent of giving him another if he started talking again.

"Ah told tha idiot thaa he couldn't break thaa thing that way. Poshiden's cresht is uselesh to warmbloods. It'sh only good for ush shea creatures. Coldbloodsh, ya know? Only we can wear it and only we can hurt it."

Lethane was already doing the math. "Then what?"

"He..." Tiger Shark hesitated. Another free drink and the implied threat of another broken finger loosened his swollen tongue.

"Then what?"

"He beat the hell outta me wiff the cresht until it shattered. I blacked out affer taht." Tiger Shark was glowering now, the absolutely worst combination of embarrassed and furious.

Lethane didn't hide this moment of amusement either. He laughed until Tiger Shark was literally seeing blood, the shark-spliced marshall glaring at him through crimson eyes. Lethane picked up the bottle of run, grinned without giving even the slightest damn and turned to leave. This delicious humiliation was going to keep him warm all winter

"See ya around, Shamu. Better luck next time!"

Tiger Shark fund his voice just before Lethane made it to the closed door. "Oh, ah'll have all kindsa luck next time, bashtard! Ah gotta tase o' Bloodravyn's blood so I can track him anywhere now! Ah'm hungry for ex-hero and he'sh gotta hit thaa spot juss fine!"

Lethane stopped. He looked down at the rum.

Well. Damn. Lethane had plans for Ravyn, plans that didn't involve him being dead just yet. Tigger here was a chump but the bloody boy scout wasn't very good at watching his back.

Damn it... Oh well. Time to be a bad guy.

"One problem with that plan, Sharky." His voice was cold. Dark.

Tiger Shark narrowed his lidless eyes. "Ann what'sh that?"

With one swift stroke, Lethane shattered the bottle against the wall and drove its jagged neck into Tiger Shark's wrenched one, piercing brace, skin and veins. As the shocked villain's blood washed over his face, Lethane pulled back his thin lips to reveal fangs of his own.

"I'm hungry too..."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

House of Stone and Blight

The buzzing sound echoed through the spacious office, sounding like an annoying fly amid a perfect, silent garden of steel and crystal.

Everything about the room was immaculate, from the glass furniture to the silver paneled walls. Track lighting hummed softly above, each illuminated column set in faceted quartz and focused through cubic zirconium panes. The colours playing across every corner of the room were breathtaking, all the more so because they were the only hues in the office itself. Everything else was clear, white, or grey.

Even the light blinking under the glassine plate of the room's monolithic desk was white, flickering to indicate the continuing call attempting to come through. The light blinked five times, disappearing just before an automated answer system could pick it up. Then, a few seconds later, it would start again.

The caller was persistent.

The sixth call finally move the lone occupant of the pristine chamber. Broad shoulders and huge hands moved the wheels of his silver chair, turning it away from where he was staring out over Pagagon City's famed Atlas Park. Though the wheelchair possessed one of the finest micromotors known to man, its occupant rarely found cause to use it. He preferred to use his arms to move about. At least they still worked.

Reaching out over the softly glowing desktop, the man touched directly over the flashing call light and ended the annoying buzz echoing from speakers set in every corner of his office.

"What is it?" His voice was deep and he was not bothering to hide his irritation.

"We have a serious problem."

The man in the silver chair looked down at his desk, not needing the information display scrolling across it to tell him the caller's identity. According to the gleaming letters and images on the glass, the call was coming from a location halfway across Paragon City and the moniker attached to it was "Teravolt". He knew the man by a different name. An older name...

"Yes, Tesla. I know."

Oscillation lines stretched and jumped like cragged waves during an ocean storm, eloquently showing the panic in the caller's voice. "You know?!? Were you going to bother to tell us about it or were you saving it for a rainy day?"

With a deep sigh, the man now known as Fortress considered ending the call with a stroke of his finger but decided against it. Tesla would just call back. For hours if he had to. For a man with the attention span of a mayfly, the overcharged annoyance was impossibly stubborn that way.

"I was not going to trouble you with it until my people had him back under lock and key."

"Lock and key? Lock and key?!? He needs to be under six feet of asphalt, Bul! You swore he'd never wake up. That's the only reason I went along with the whole stupid drug-nap plan in the first place!"

Fortress stared at the desk again, finally touching the button that let him see Tesla on the other end of the line. These days, Fortress had the video aspect of his incoming calls turned off by default. He liked being alone, three hundred feet above the city, surrounded by all the trappings of what wealth and power could provide.

His own personal Hall of Shame.

The small screen manifesting on the desktop was almost too bright to look at; Tesla... Teravolt now... was shining like a warning beacon and his face was becoming masked by dozens of small crackling bolts leaping between the connections of his containment web.

"Calm down, Tesla. You'll blow a capacitor."

Tesla's hand, equally tempestuous, came up into the image. Lightning arced between his fingers and his shock of white hair, masking him in a wreath of raw power. Though it looked terrifying, Fortress also knew that it was as much a curse as his paralysis. He had this chair; Tesla had the containment web bodysuit he would have to wear for the rest of his life.

"You want me to calm down? Do what I said we should have done a decade ago! I won't lose everything we've built because you and Ann were too soft to finish what we started!"

Fortress was getting very close to hanging up now, call backs or no. "What do you want me to do, Tes? Kill him. Is that your answer to everything now?"

Tesla glared. "What is that supposed to mean?"

He glared back, almost daring the man on the screen to deny what he was saying now. "Team Primus, anyone?"

"That was an accident! The Rikti energy manipulator set my powers to overload. I almost died too, you know!" Tesla looked indignant. Indiginance was the only kind of lie he did poorly.

"And the fact that Primus Technology was rising faster on the market than your company had nothing to do with your accident? Their patents all reverting to holding groups under your ownerships after their deaths? The bid you put in on their corporate assets the day you got out of the hospital?"

Tesla balked for a moment, the electron web lines on his face pulsing blue for a moment. That was all the tell Fortress needed to see. Tes could fool the public, the media, even the people in charge of Paragon, but he couldn't sneak his sins past a fellow sinner.

"Damn it, Bul! That's got nothing to do with what matters right now!" The lines on Tesla's face were glowing white again, showing his agitation. "I want Ravyn dealt with and I want it done right this time. You promised me...!"

Fortress growled and slammed his fist down on the glass desk plate hard enough to crack it, sending most of the displays into a pandemonium of sparking chaos. "Don't you dare bring up promises, Tes! Don't... you... dare." The master of Fortress 500, the biggest security firm in North America, had his limits. Right now, Tesla was damned close to breaking them.

And by the sudden flares of blue and green, the voltaic man knew it too.

"Okay, okay. I'm sorry. But look, Bul, we..."

"Fortress. It's Fortress." His voice was returning to its usual icy calm, an emotion not at all mirrored in his mind right now.

"Fine. Fortress. Whatever. This isn't just something that will go away. You know him. You know what we did to him. What we made him capable of. I'm not asking you to deal with him for me, but please... do it for Ann's sake."

For a moment, all Fortress wanted to do was tear the desk out of the floor and smash it into a thousand pieces, screaming at the man he'd once called friend. How could he do that?!? How dare he say that?! Tesla knew damn well that Ann was a sore point, so much so that the bastard must have thought just speaking her name would get anything he wanted...

...and he was right. Damn him. Damn them all. Tes was right.

Forcing himself to calm down, Fortress closed his eyes. "I'll do it. But she can never know. Does she know he's awake yet?"

Tesla shook his head, his web showing that he was also relaxing. Slowly. The bolts discharging across his face and shoulders were dimming, hardly more than static now. "No. And I can keep it that way. Take him out quick and she never needs to know. I can make sure of that."

"Good." There was nothing good about any of this. "One more thing."

Tesla smiled. It was that little "aren't I gracious" grin he always got when things were going his way. Fortress hated that look. He hated that face. But most of all, he hated that man.

"I never want to talk to you again. I'll kill Ravyn for you... for Ann. But after that, do not call me. Do not contact me. I am cancelling F-500's contracts with you and my security personnel will be leaving your bases within the hour. This is the last thing I will ever do for you."

Before Tesla could protest, Fortress stared down at what was left of the screen. "There is no room for discussion here. You and I are through."


And with that, the call ended. Fortress took his finger off the disconnect button, almost hoping the man did phone him again just so he could hang up twice.

But he didn't. The phone did not ring. A minute passed. Then two. Then five and still no call. It was actually over. A hundred times, that conversation had played out in Fortress' mind but he'd never brought himself to actually do it until now.

Fortress allowed himself a moment of relief.

Afterwards, it was time to get to work. Unlike Tesla, he was a man of his word. What started years ago would end tonight. There was no alternative now; if he didn't end this, Tesla would. And if that happened, the collateral damage would be... unthinkable. Tesla would think nothing of using any weapon, any tactic, any amount of force necessary to kill the monster they all had made.

This way, at least only one man would die. Someone who probably should died eleven years ago. In his own twisted way, Tesla was right. This had been inevitable.

Fortress pushed a hidden button on his wheelchair, turning to face the far wall of his office as it slide open. Behind it, resting in its charging station, was the culmination of everything his worldly success had attained for him - Fortress One, the finest example of tactical battle armor in all of Paragon City.

With this suit, he could walk. With this suit, he was capable of still being a hero...

and with this suit, he could murder a friend.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Morning After

[As a note, this story takes place directly after "Perchance to Dream", found in the Tower fiction blog. If you have access to that area, please go there and read it first. Thank you and enjoy the rest of the tale...]

Ravyn stared at the ceiling. His body ached. His mind was a whirl of emotion. And his sheets were a tattered mass of shredded confetti.

"What a night..."

Beside him, the only working light on the old radio started glowing and its barely functioning speakers chattered in static. A second later, "Afternoon Delight" began to echo forth. The song wasn't a great one to start with but it really suffered by playing in tinny, semi-stereo sound.

Still, it did remind Ravyn to turn his head and look at the clock. 1:32 PM

Fine. "What a night... morning... noon... whatever."

"And a fine good whatever to all you out in the Land o' milk and villainy! It's your friends here at radio. Radio! RADIO! Freeeeee Opportunity! We're coming at you like a school bus full of nuns with no brakes and a plushie Garfeld strapped to the grill!"

Ravyn groaned and sat up. After the dream he'd just reluctantly woken up from, the last thing he needed was this possessed thing talking to him again. He stood out of bed, hunting for a pair of pants and a clean shirt. Clean. Dirty. Right now, any shirt would do. Actually, scratch that.

Shower first. He NEEDED a shower.

"Now let's not hop under a shower jet just yet, boys and ghouls. There's always something to be had by getting up and staying tuned. Today, hot off the presses, is a news flash that might interest some of you! Just be the thirteenth caller to 1-666-101-7771 and you'll win a sneak peak at what your fellow mischief-makers will read in tonight's edition of the Rogue Isle Report!"

Ravyn stared at the radio, shaking his head and wandering into the small bathroom attached to his quarters. This room had everything he wanted right now. Water. Soap. Razor. Towels. They were simple needs but they were his.

"Yep! Just be the thirteenth caller and the info is all yours! Trust Radio; you'll like what you hear!"

Standing in the stall and turning on the stream to let it spray across his body was like a small shard of bliss. Sore muscles instantly loosened, stress pooling to his feet and draining away like the water coursing down his muscular frame into the silver grate below. He let several minutes pass without doing anything else. No scrubbing. No washing. Just baptising himself in steaming rain until nothing else mattered in this world or any other...

Once the shower, the long indulgent soak, was done he turned off the water and stepped out. Before he could reach for the handle of his black, military issue razor, the sound of squalling static broke his self-inflicted peaceful trance.

"Still time to get in on that exclusive offer, folks! Thirteenth caller, give us a holler!"

Ravyn shut the door to his bathroom, shaving in quiet harmony. He stared at his face in the mirror, even managing to forget to be angry at the sight of his scarred left eye and the permanent dark shadow surrounding it. He was blind on that side and had been since the night his old life ended but at this moment, he was able to let all that go.

Today, in this room, in this life, there was just him and his razor. Stroke up. Stroke down. Wash the blade off. Rinse. Repeat. Simple pleasures. Simple moments.

And a simple matter to interrupt it all just by opening the door again.

"Some of you out there aren't real bright, are you?"

Ravyn sighed, staring first at the ground and then at the old radio on his nightstand. "What the Hell do you want from me?"

"Sorry, loyal listeners. Can't name that tune unless you play the game."


"Some songs don't get sung unless the artists are willing to read the sheet music and keep up with the backbeat, street meat."

Bloodravyn pulled off his towel and started hunting for some shorts, shaking his wet head in confusion. "I have no idea what you are talking about but I need to get back to work around here."

"Oh for the love of evil, just pick up the bloody phone, Chode-sen One!"

The radio's only light was turning red and the announcer was starting to sound annoyed. Also, it might have been his imagination but the shadows in the room were beginning to look deeper. Darker. And... sharper.

Ravyn decided to play along, mostly because most of the growing darkness was between him and the bedroom door. Picking up his communicator, a cellular phone that was so small it looked like a toy to him, he was both surprised and resigned to find a programmed hot key labeled Radio on its touchable screen. He pushed it, trying to complete the call before all the light went out in his quarters.

It only rang once.

"Well what do you know?! The old Clue-by-Four still works after all these years! Hello; you're our thirteenth caller! What are the odds? Now listen up, dark lord of the waterfowl, because you're now in on the ground floor of a major opportunity. There's been.... Gasp! Horror!... a killing on Sharkhead Isle. Poor doomed soul was named Remorah and trust me, he won't be missed."

Raven started to ask something but his words were drowned out by the loud voice continuing to dominate his cell phone.

"Well, the obits are gonna plaster the final resting place of Ol' Remmie the Ravager and as soon as that ish hits the stands, every villain and his diabolical dog is going to be running, not walking, to the graveyard for a shot at what's been buried with him. Seems Remorah got all his powers from an artifact grafted to his sternum. Some kind of Greek god amulet... thing..."

Ravyn blinked at the radio. He knew Remorah; it was hard to believe the vicious bastard was dead. But if he was... and the power that made the man such a homicidal terror fell into anyone else's hands... It was a horrific thought. Some things needed to stay dead and buried. Remorah's embedded silver kraken was one of them.

"The bloated old barnacle is pushing up daisies now and if a certain someone wanted to get the drop on the competition, now would be a damn good time for a walk, don'tcha think? And Radio Free Opportunity highly recommends the Last Word Cemetary in Port Oakes. Lovely scenery and the drive-bys are allllllways free!"

The stereo went silent, its light dimming to nothing as the shadows pulled back to their usual corners. As unnerving as that was, Ravyn hardly noticed. He was lost in thought again, pulling on his armor and attaching power leads almost by reflex. The suit was different than what he was used to but many of the connections and systems were the same.


The waters around these parts were a lot safer with him gone. If someone else got a hold of that kraken artifact, they would either sell it to Mako or use it themselves to replace the bloodthirsty killer of the seas. He couldn't let that happen.

This facility had a quantum fusion reactor and Remorah's vile ornament had a date with the plasma fires at its core. A date Ravyn intended to chaperon no matter who got in the way. He strode out, obsidian and brimstone glimmering around the edges of his dark armor's plates.

A few minutes later, after Bloodravyn was out of the base and the hallways outside were completely silent, the radio crackled to quiet life.

"Worst.... villain... ever..."

Sunday, September 23, 2007

"For those just tuning in..."

"Select and detail."

Ravyn stared at the screen, a small landfill of empty coffee cups on the table next to it. He had been at this for hours. Long, painful hours. In that time, he had discovered quite a few things and learned how much more he had left to learn.

The first thing he had discovered was that computers were considerably better than he'd remembered. He had overheard a pair of Arbiters discussing Arachnet and made the assumption that it was a data storage network he could access and learn about other people in this vast organization.

Technically he was correct. The sprawling database that was Arachnet deserved its web-suggestive title. The network was gargantuan and rarely organized in any cohesive fashion. Between encoded files, directories that dead ended with nothing in them and password-protected subnets with seemingly nothing in them, he was essentially swimming in a murky pool of information with a blindfold and ankle weights.

The night had not been entirely wasted. He was far better at using a computer than he had been and had caught up to speed on his technical skills far faster than he'd thought he would. When he'd sat down at the keyboard nearly twelve hours ago, the network admin on duty had obviously considered him less than a beginner. Eight hours later when the young man went off shift, there was begrudging respect in his eyes. Ravyn had gone from knowing nothing about the network and the computers in the lab to programming search fields and rewriting his graphic interface to better suit him.

Exactly how he knew how to do these things he was not entirely sure. There was virtually no instruction time being spent in anything he tired to do. He would look up a command or a technique and then put it into practice, even expanding on it intuitively. He was basically teleporting across his learning curves.

While this was fascinating in theory, in reality it was not getting him very far. Bloodravyn only knew slightly more about the Fortunatas and their Chosen Ones than he did half a day ago. He had names but when he tried to look them up, he got almost nowhere. He was at least grateful that knowledge about him was equally difficult to come by. A search on himself had yielded nothing more than he could find on the other Destinae.

He already knew about Lethane. He was the Chosen of Seer Marina, a former rising star in Arachnos. About a year ago, she stopped pursuing her goals and furthering her career for reasons unknown. Retaining her title as a Fortunata Prime simply because no one wanted to replace her under Mako's command, Marina was as big a mystery as Lethane himself.

Another competitor, the Chosen of Oracle Tyma, was well suited to Scorpion, his aligned lieutenant. Panzerfaust was apparently a technical genius with all the social skills of a hungry warthog and the tenacity to match. As encased in battle armor as Scorpion himself, Panzerfaust was known for his ability to charge at incredible speed and deliver a kinetic blow powered by micronized mass drivers in his arms. Beyond that, Arachnet offered nothing.

That left Bedouin; a more perfect a match for her lieutenant Scirroco could not be imagined. A trained knife fighter with naturally honed skill and 'powers' of misdirection and disguise, she was apparently a freelance assassin who failed to kill Vespe, her Fortunata Prime, and was offered the choice between execution and serving as Spiritus Destinae. Again, there were no details beyond that.

Ravyn sighed and crushed another cup in his tired right fist. Twelve hours and this was all he had to show for his time. While those three were out making names for themselves and competing against each other for the right to be Recluse's true second in command, he was alone in a room with computers and an old boombox with cracked plastic and a bent antenna.

An old radio that wasn't even on...

That he could fix. Ravyn stood up, stretching weary legs as he crossed the room and turned on the almost-antique stereo. No amount of fiddling with the tuning knob could change its one, vaguely static filled station. Still, any sound was better than silence. He headed back to the crackling strains of a Hank Williams/Hank Jr duet, sitting down carefully so as not to break the poor overtaxed metal chair.

As he began another search routine on Panzerfaust, the music warped slightly, echoing a bizarre feedback that almost hurt to hear. Moments later, the reverberations faded away and, over the still audible melody in the background, Ravyn could clearly hear a strange, oddly metallic voice.

"This just in, true believers! It would seem that that some of you out there are living in the past. Grooooovin' it Old School, you know? Well, time to wake up and smell the annum, boys and girls. Ya might wanna start by finding out what the annum actually is! Just a thought... and now, back to a guy in the grave and a son whose lousy voice probably put him there!"

And just like that, the oscillations stopped, the feedback faded away and the song returned to full volume. It was even clear now; there was no longer any static. Bloodravyn stared at the old radio, blinking for nearly a minute...

...and then checked the date and time function on the network terminal...

...and then forgot how to breathe for a while.

Eleven years. Eleven years?!?

He was only brought out of his shock by the warble of the radio. Another burst of feedback, sharp and loud, shook him back into the real world.

"It's good to know that you really can teach an old barker new tricks. And since some of you out there have finally decided to drop into this decade with the rest of us, why not go the extra mile and look up the rest of the puppies from your kennel? Give it a shot! What have you got to lose, after all? Just remember, when in doubt, mum's the word!"

The music faded back in, revealing itself to be something rhythmic and harsh with someone talking in rhyme instead of singing. Apparently an eleven year nap hadn't been long enough for rap to join the dinosaurs. Pity.

Bloodravyn had no idea what was going on with the radio but the suggestion was obvious enough. So obvious he wondered why he had not thought of doing it before. Was it because he did not really want to know? If they were live, if he discovered where they were, he would have to confront the darkest part of himself. The part that had awoken in that cell back at the Zigguraut.

The part that wanted to kill those he used to love.

He was making a life for himself here. It wasn't the life he'd ever thought he could have or even want, but it was real and it was all he had. If he took the radio's advice, strange as it was in delivery, and looked up the other members of the Vigilants, would he be able to keep himself from hunting them down right now?

He had duties here, patrons that would not look kindly on him leaving the Isles on some personal mission of revenge. He had already heard stories of what happened to villains who went against the will of Arachnos and struck out on their own. Most of those stories ended... poorly.

He brought up a new data search window.

If he did this, could he turn back? Could he learn about the others and not act?

He raised his hands, murmuring, "Manual Input" just loud enough for the computer's voice circuits to recognize his words and activate the keyboard. His fingers came down to touch the glowing letters.

Would they even be alive? Would they still be together as a team? If so, had they replaced him with another fool?


Part of him had to know.


Just a quick search on one of them, the one whose face was haunting him every time he closed his eyes...


Would that be so bad? Surely he could do this much. He wouldn't look them all up.


Bloodravyn closed his eyes before typing anything else. He breathed deeply, trying to regain control. Was this a mistake?


Already the memories were returning, overpowering him with sights, smells, touches. Emotions were welling up, threatening to break free. At the edges of his eyes, a glow of red was starting to build. They were tears, but not of saline. In his eyes, sorrow was taking a more magmic form.


He held his finger over the entry key, hesitating. Once he saw this, there would be no turning back. What appeared on the screen could never be unseen. He would see it, he would feel it and he would have to act on it. Part of him needed to know. Part of him was burning, literally and figuratively, to discover the truth. Around his eyes, lava was beginning to flow and fire was beginning to ignite.

Part of him need to know...

...but the rest of him forced his hand to hit the abort key instead. The screen went back to a system prompt. Ravyn typed in his shutdown command and turned the terminal off. His custom interface would erase all his activity from the network now. What he had discovered and what he had kept himself from discovering would leave no traces for anyone else to find.

Rising to clean up his workstation, eyes closed and superheated tears turning to vapor and dust on his cheeks, Bloodravyn left the computer lab as quickly as he could.

But not before hearing the radio squall again as he walked down the base corridor towards his room. He had shut it off before leaving but that didn't apparently matter to the damnable thing.

"Hello all you out in radioland! And a special hello to our blast from the past, the sunder from down under, quite probably The. Worst. Villain. Ever! Bloodravyn. Don't you worry none, son. Your secrets are safe here at Radio! Free Opportunity! We won't tell anyone how you flinched at the last second. How you managed to lose at playing Chicken with yourself."

"No sirree, we'd never do that. But we might just have to let a little bit slip to the right ear at the right time about how a certain Chosen One is stuggling with ghosts from his past when he should be embracing the here and now! Capishe, brother? Do you hear what the radio is blasting out?"

"But don't fret, vet! That's what we call a worst case scenario. To avoid that sadness, let's make with the madness. You can start by putting a sound system in your room. A certain retro chic, if you catch our analog drift!"

Ravyn growled under his breath. If he understood the blasted thing correctly, it wanted him to take it with him to his quarters.

"I don't believe this," he glowered under his breath. "I am being blackmailed by a boombox."

Twenty minutes later he was in bed, sleeping fitfully to the sound of Mozart on the nightstand...

Friday, September 21, 2007

Along Came a Spider

He had been strong but never this strong.

He had never been able to punch through plate armor, the body beneath it, and the stone wall behind both.

He had never been able to wade unharmed through focused electron bolts capable of tearing about bank vaults.

And he had never been able to crush a man's skull in one hand and fling his lifeless corpse through the body of someone else.

But here he was, doing those things without even really trying, his molten armor smouldering as blood dripped onto hm and vaporized from raw heat. Bones were splintering. Armor was exploding into scrap. Everything in his path was dying...

...and at the end of his path, there was a woman in trouble.

Bloodravyn had been warned about this. He had been told, by Lethane of all people, that Arachnos was not quite the unified front of supervillains it tried to present. Lord Recluse had total control of the Rogue Isles but within his own organization, chaos was apparently the rule of the day.

The master of Arachnos delegated authority over Arachnos' various component groups to four lieutenants - Mako, Scorpion, Scirroco and Ghost Widow. Each one had an agenda, some of which conflicted on an all-too often basis. When Recluse's seconds came up against each other, shadow wars broke out. Their resources were be pitted in battle, each side trying to take out key figures like a cutthroat game of living Chess.

Ravyn caught the end of an energy mace, squeezing hard enough to shatter its red focusing element and discharging its deadly blast. He felt a slight discomfort and a pressure that forced him to open his fingers slightly. The wielder of the mace was incinerated and his dusty ashes blown all over the courtyard.

There were only four more people between him and Kalinda, none of whom were paying him any attention. They were all garbed in the protective plating and long red cloaks of Wolf Spider Huntsmen - Arachnos' elite bounty hunters. Usually they were dispatched to track down and neutralize enemies of Lord Arachnos. That was usually; today wasn't usual.

Today they were here to kill Kalinda on behalf of their master - Scorpion. Each of the lieutenants had their own forces and, more importantly, their own primary fortunada. Kalinda belonged to the only woman right hand of Recluse, the enigmatic undead Ghost Widow. Each of the primary Fateweavers had a champion, one among many who they believed was the Chosen One, the Spiritus Destinae. Either these hunstmen were here to kill Kalinda over some imagined slight or power play of Scorpion's or as a strategic move by the man's fortunada to remove both the woman and her Chosen One from the game.

Ravyn tried to tell himself that he was in a frenzy of destruction merely to protect himself. He tried to rationalize this fury and rage at the people hurting Kalinda as just making sure that his place in Arachnos was protected. In a way, that was logical. If Kalinda fell, he would surely be next. She was his only contact within Arachnos and without a mentor, he would be like blood in the water.

Or, considering the nature of this place, a lone fly in a very hostile web...

The four huntsmen had Kalinda surrounded, a nullifier band clamped to one of her arms. Even with its psychic baffles going strong enough to make the device glow painfully hot, she was generating enough mental force to keep them at bay. Ravyn could smell the burning skin from fifteen feet away. Sooner or later pain would overcome Kalinda's focus and then she would falter. The huntsmen were poised, blades at the ready, for exactly that to occur.

Ravyn "occurred" first. He reached the first of the bounty hunters, his burning obsidian talons sheering through armor and flesh with terrible ease. Even contained in a resistance suit made of the highest-grade polylaminates, the huntsman went down in a nerveless, paralyzed heap. he would die eventually but for now, the lack of intact spine would keep him out of the battle.

The other three were not so immobile. They turned, aware of Bloodrayn now. The two closest ones brandished their powered spears, coming in for deadly lunges on both sides. The other one cleared his automatic meson pistol and started his charge cycle. A leather handgun, the meson emitter needed six seconds to power up before it could be fired. Ravyn would have to deal with the two in front of him in five seconds or less; otherwise even his defenses would falter under a full quantum particle barrage.

He did it in three. One second was spent grabbing both spears and tearing them out of the huntsmen's clutches. Second number two involved smashing the butt ends into their stomachs and flipping the weapons around in each hand. The last second was bloody, violent and piercing. Ravyn leaped over Kalinda's shimmering sphere of force and landed fully on the last huntsman two seconds before the meson gun in the Wolf Spider's hand announced it was ready to fire.

Of course, the gun was in the man's hand at that point but the hand was no longer attached to an arm of any kind...

Bloodravyn, covered in the first half of his namesake, rose up out of the sudden crater to see more than four dozen more soldiers charging into the yard, weapons at the ready and targeting optics glowing red. Murmuring a curse, he felt the fires within his primal stone shell burn all the brighter. Clenching his tectonic fists, he crouched into a defensive stance and prepared to shield Kalinda with his body if need be. If he was going to die here, he would have a lot of company on the road to Hell.

A calming hand on the side of his face brought him out of the grim mood. "Stand down, my champion. These soldiers are mine." Her voice was light, only slightly echoing the terrible strain she had to be suffering.

Ravyn turned and grabbed both halves of the nullifier, glancing at her with a moment's warning before tearing it off her arm. To her credit, the fortunada did not scream. Her face completely obscured, her expression was unreadable but somehow he could feel her gratitude for the searing device's removal. Her powers returned with a flood of glowing energy, a sudden wave of psionic power filling the courtyard.

Each of the Wolf Assault soldiers at the edge of the yard stood at attention, the commander in the lead dropping to one knee. "Forgive us, your grace. We arrived as soon as we heard about your distress."

The lady in red and black waved her hand dismissively. "Of course. Return to base. As you can see, I have all the defense I need right now."

Past her, Ravyn could see the commander's face clearly. There was a man who'd remember this moment for a long time. Remember and revile. Bloodravyn hadn't made any friends tonight; that much was certain. Soldiers do not like humiliation. From the lowliest guard to the highest-ranked General, they all possessed a certain amount of personal pride. Kalinda, and thus Ravyn by proxy, had just wounded that pride.

"As you command, my lady." The soldiers all broke formation and headed away, returning to base as full march speed.

Once they were long gone, Bloodravyn let his concern show on his face. "Are you all right? Do you need to go to the infirmary?" He wanted to say something about offending the guards but this did not really seem like the right time for such worries.

Kalinda pulled her long cloak over her wounded, burned arm, hiding the injury as she stood up straight. Defiant, confident, unwilling to show her hurts. In that moment, she reminded him a lot of Anthem.

"No. I cannot afford to appear vulnerable. I will heal in time and I have you here to protect me. You are all I need right now, Lord Ravyn."

He sighed. The last woman to say that to him had done... terrible things.

Still, for better or worse, this was his home now. And Kalinda was a mystery to him and vexing in ways he didn't care to explore but she was his only link to any kind of life in this place. For now, he just had to bear the burden of painful memories and hope they faded in time. "I... I am here for you, milady. What would you have me do?"

She laid her hand on his shoulder, running gloves fingertips over the obsidian already flowing away from his body and disappearing under the plates of his armor. As more of it was revealed, she watched in silence.

"Milady? Is something wrong?"

It took her quite some time to answer. She was staring, he could feel she was staring. The sheer force of her regard was enough to make him step back. Had he offended her? Had he done something wrong?

Finally, she shook her head, the dark mirror of her helmet reflecting only his confusion. "No. Not at all. Where did you... never mind." She stood up straight again and started walking back to the Fortunes Tower where Ghost Widow's psychics maintained their residence. "Escort me to my quarters."

That much he could do. That much he understood. Bloodravyn walked behind her the entire way, watching for trouble, trying to ignore the trouble within. Everyone acted so strangely on this island. If this was where villains were forced to live, it was little wonder so many of them ended up like Lethane. The Rogue Isles were the temporal opposite of an asylum. This wasn't were insanity was kept. This was where insanity was created.

On the to Kalinda apartments on the penthouse floor, the fortunada started speaking to him. her voice was soft. It almost sounded affectionate, something that took him aback. "No one has ever defended me as you did today, Bloodravyn. You are a great man."

He did not answer for a while, waiting until they were in front of the lady's door. "I hope I prove to be the great villain you have foreseen, my lady."

She opened her door with a focused thought and paused as she crossed its threshold. "Lord Ravyn, I said you were a great man. You are... perhaps not the villain from our prophecy. You have a mighty destiny here. Of that I am certain, but the shape of that fate is yet to be seen." She turned to face him, her gaze intense enough to be felt even if it could not be seen.

He did not know what to say. "I am... sorry?"

Her hand returned to his face, caressing the side of his jaw. "Do not be sorry. What you are, what you could be, may be greater than the word villain. Than the word hero. I see so many futures for you, many bright... others brief."

Bloodravyn looked down at her bodysuited arm, watching the play of crimson-shadow silk as her muscles flexed in time to the gentle stroke of her fingers on his skin. "What would you have of me, milady? What should I do?"

She leaned closer, a gesture at once gentle and also conspiratory. Her voice became the softest of whispers. "Guard yourself. If I know your weakness, the other three will sense it as well."

"Weakness, my lady?"

Her hand strayed to his chest, resting over the front of his chestplate directly above his heart. "This, my noble champion, is not as dead as you wish to pretend."

Before he could respond, she brought her fingers to his his lips and then turned suddenly, disappearing behind the closing security door. This moment, whatever it was, had passed. He distinctly felt that it was time to leave. Walking down the stairs, he considered her warning, wondering why he was doing this for him. If he was unsuitable for the prophecy, why wasn't she casting him aside? Surely another Spiritus Destinae could be be found. Another trip to the Zig would yield her a better champion that he, certainly...

...but regardless, Kalinda was right. He needed to guard himself. And to be forearmed, he needed to be forewarned. Instead of going to his quarters, perhaps it was time to hit the computer lab. Arachnet carried files on all the notables of the Rogue Isles. That certainly included the other fortunadas, major and minor, as well as their champions.

Ravyn needed to do a little brushing up on the competition. Now.

Painful Memories

He clenched his fist, almost flinching as the carborundum blades flicked out of their bracer sheathes and slashed the air on either side of his arm.

"Who did you say this armor came from?"

Lethane grinned his usual wide grin. "I didn't."

Ravyn sighed and pulled back the concealed bolt that folded the blades back into their housing. His legs had similar gear-driven knives and even had a spike retracted into the knee plates. That one was impact sensitive; if he drove his knee into someone, the point of ruby crystal would come out with the force of a gunshot.

"Seriously, I want to know."

The big blue man, who was more cat than human, stretched languidly on the hood of the car he'd stolen thirty minutes ago. "Trust me, cub scout. You don't."

"Would you please stop calling me that?" As he spoke, his voice growing more exasperated by the moment, Ravyn checked the power leads into all of the suit's components. All of his old armor's systems were here, enhancing his powers and protecting his body...

...not that he seemed to need much of either any more. He had no idea why he was exhibiting any powers at all outside of a latent genetic strain increase-matrix, which was a fancy way of saying a field of tachyon emissions designed to complete the guanine and lysine gaps in his DNA and provide the biologic connections needed to access his mutant abilities.

Come to think of it, that was the fancy way of saying it. Basically, or as basic as he could phrase it to himself, the suit made him whole. It did what nature and the biologic trauma of nearly dying when he was six years old had kept him from doing during puberty. Only now, there didn't seem to be as much of a need for it. He was certainly not powerless now, with or without a suit of powered armor like this.

Of course, he never had these kinds of powers. As Nightravyn, he had been faster than normal, stronger than he had any right to be and he possessed the ability to fly.

Flying... He missed soaring through the sky with... with....

Her. His eyes darkened, remembering Anthem in a rush of emotion. Her smell, her soft, blond hair, the way she smiled every morning. He remembered the first time they met on separate assignments against the same villain. He remembered their first date. Their first kiss.

Their wedding.

The window near him did not survive. SHATTER!

"Hey! I just stole this thing!"

Ravyn glowered, trying to banish the memories. That was another life; he wasn't that man any more. He didn't have a wife. He only had enemies... "Well now it's got air conditioning."

Lethane clapped, grinning again. "That's the spirit! Now you are talking like a real Rogue Island thug! Wanna go hit a liquor store? I say we drive this one-windowed beauty into the front of the place without seatbeals and let the crash send us through the windshield and right into their faces! It'll be gr...!"

"No." Ravyn was already manifesting his stone armor, sections of cragged obsidian and basalt forming around his limbs as he turned and walked away.

Leth blinked. "No? But... why not?"

Bloodravyn's voice was a tectonic rumble. It no longer even sounded human. Plates of black glass had crawled across his throat and over his brow, forming a vicious looking mask and cowl of rippling, volcanic fury. "I have something better to do." He wasn't even looking back; he was just walking towards the labyrinthine fortress in the far distance.

Back at the car, Lethane tilted his head, still not apparently understanding the refusal. "But... killing people... and stealing.... and booze...." His voice was almost plaintive, as if no comprehending how anyone could turn down such a sweet plan.

A few minutes later, Ravyn heard a vehicle pull up beside him on the road. Idling forward at his walking speed, the car's driver side window splintered and broke outward, raining glass all over the sidewalk. He just kept going, grinding the little jewels into pale powder.

"Might as well make 'em match, right, Duck?"

Ravyn scowled inwardly but he refused to talk. If he ignored Lethane, perhaps the marauder would go bother someone else. Obviously, he did not know Lethane very well at all. The walk took half an hour. Leth idled the car next to him the entire time.

"Okay. No liquor store... but what in the Nether is so important you have to pass up on a perfect night for mayhem?"

"I have to get back to Kalinda." In truth, he wasn't sure why he felt that way. He just did. Thinking about Anthem had made him start to think about the fortunada woman. He had a need to see her. To talk with her and tell her about the Snakes. There was no reason for the desire but it was there all the same.

"Oh... sex." Leth said it like that explained everything. "Hell, man, we can get that in Cap au Diable. In fact, I can set us up with some hot bitches that work at Pocket D. Let me tell you, they have got some 'extra-dimensional spaces' of their own if you know what I mean."

Ravyn could feel the leer. It unnerved him but he just kept walking. "No."

Lethane sighed, then looked up from the steering wheel with a gleam in his eyes. "Oh! Well, I can get us some guys then. There's a new bridge going in and the rig workers are hot. Abs like granite and muscles for days!"

Ravyn almost stopped at that, stunned by the suggestion. "No. No women. No men." It was all he could to not to punch the annoying bastard in the face. It was at least another twenty minutes back to the Arachnos base and he had a feeling he was in for this all the way there.

Leth stared at him hard. "Whoa... okay, okay. Just for you, I'll go find you some sheep. It's not my thing but hey, whatever you are into, I'm willing to give a shot."

That did it. Ravyn stopped and turned to the car. "SHUT UP!"

The force of the shouting blew out the remaining glass in the car. It even broke the mirrors, cracked the dashboard and made Leth's hair billow backwards. It did nothing, however, to affect the blue-skinned mauler's victorious grin. "Heh. Made you stop. I win."

Ravyn had no idea if, when the car landed somewhere in the next few blocks, Lethane would survive the impact.

With his luck, probably...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Desperate Phoenix

He was dressed in a trenchcoat. He felt like a stalker. And all he wanted was to find an open store. Any open store.

The hardware shop was closed. Of course it was closed. It was 3:00 in the morning. The only things liable to still be doing business at this hour were bars (not a good idea right now) and fast food places. Unfortunately he really couldn't handle anything he would have to put in his mouth.

He really needed to spend this twenty dollar bill. Now.

In the distance, past a row of buildings on fire, there was the dim glow of a Stop n' Shop. The locals called them Gun n' Runs because of how often the little convenience store/gas stations got robbed in the Rogue Isles. The places had taken to hiring highly resistant superhumans as clerks at obscene rates of pay. It wasn't glamorous but it was work.

That would do perfectly!

He started running, surprised at how quickly he could move out of his armor. For a moment, he lamented his old suit, wondering if any of it was salvageable or if Lethane had ruined it all.

Lethane... That freak was the reason he was here right now. He blamed him for the drinking binge. He blamed him for skipping out on the check. He definitely blamed him for having to work these two very odd jobs. And he sure as Hell blamed him for why he had to get rid of this twenty dollar bill as fast as inhumanly possible.

The world, however, had other plans.

"Hey there, gaucho! Laundry day?"

Ravyn looked down. No. No no no... Not street punks. Not here. Not now.

Two leather jacketed men with baseball bats jumped down from the fire escape on the apartment building across the street. Two more, these with shotguns, joined them from the shadow of the alley below.

Yes. Street punks. From the white skulls in greasepaint on their faces, Gravediggers. Ravyn didn't have his armor; that meant no powers. This wasn't going to end well.

Then it occurred to him. Getting robbed was a good way to ditch the twenty! He slowly held it up as the quartet of miscreants approached. "Here," he said calmly. "This is all I have. Take it." Quietly, he hoped that was all they were after tonight.

"Oh we will, cooloh, but you got lots more than money. You got blood, homes."

Damn. Well, powers or not, he wasn't going to let these punks take him without a fight. He wilted visibly, letting them see fear. It wasn't entirely fake; he'd faced veritable titans in his career as a hero but now, without his armor to awaken his abilities, he was in real trouble here. He didn't have the power to help anyone in these torched tenements and he definitely wouldn't survive getting shot by one of those sawed-offs.

The punk in the lead lowered his sawed-off, grinned a rictus smile and shot him.

The impact tore open his coat, slammed into his chest and sent him hurtling back against the burning bricks behind him. A howl of cheering sent up through the punks as they charged his crumpled form, pounding him with gun butts and pale hardwood bats with kill marks carved into them.

All the while, Ravyn was in shock. Not from the gunshot...

...but because it didn't really hurt. None of it hurt. The shotgun had stung, certainly, but his coat was the only casualty. The buckshot hadn't penetrated his flesh. Far from it. Aside from a slight tingle, the kind one might feel after being slapped, there was nothing. And the bats were like the pummelling of children. He knew what that felt like now. Damn day care.

Once he got over the surprise, the rage set in. He rose up amid the flailing gangers, hands balled into fists that, quite on their own, were surrounded now in jagged obsidian and a wreath of furious fire. "You really should have taken the twenty."

His voice sounded hellish, almost otherworldly. Right now, he didn't care. Only one thing mattered. These punks? They had blood too.

And he wanted it. All.

By the time it was done, four bodies littered the street. Not all of them were intact and all four were unrecognizable. Between fire and seismic force, the Rogue Island Police would be identifying these unfortunates by their dental records. Assuming they could find all their teeth... and assuming they cared enough to bother.

Ravyn seethed, looking around in his anger for something else to kill. There was nothing. Nearby people were dying, surrounded by flames as infernos started by these now-dead bastards claimed their homes and their lives. t wasn't the same It wasn't as satisfying and ending someone with his bare, rocky hands. He could feel the fires, every one of them all around him, as they feasted on flesh and stone and wood and bone...

...and in a roar of denial, he called them all to him. The conflagrations leaped from the buildings nearby, soaring through the air as fire spouts to arch down and slam into his body. He screamed in half pain, half bliss as they entered him and became a brighter part of his burning soul.


He was lifted into the air by the force of the backdrafts, hovering several fiery feet off the ground before crashing back down to earth. He crouched there, one fist planted into the ground, his knees both touching the broken asphalt below. He was in a pool of smouldering tar and melted stone, completely unharmed by its boiling embrace. He... he...

He still had the GOD DAMN TWENTY.

As the volcanic glass and fires receded from his now completely naked form, he looked down into his left hand and saw the crumpled bill, perfectly intact despite everything that had just happened. There was a small streak of red on it, but that blood wasn't his.

"Son... of a... bitch."

A few minutes later, Ravyn walked quietly into the Stop and Shop wearing only a pair of leather jackets tied around his waist like some kind of Hell's Angel loincloth. He grabbed the first random item he could find, a teddy bear with a little doctor's smock and a plush "Get Well Soon" heart in its paws, and headed toward the rather surprised-looking cashier.

He never made it.

"That was quite a show out there, Duck!"

Slowly he turned, praying he wasn't about to see Lethane behind him. God, apparently, wasn't taking any calls right now.

The long-eared madman laughed and clapped him on the bare shoulder. "Quite brutal! But you still owe me a lap dance, sweetcheeks." Flippantly, Leth pointed at the twenty Ravyn was holding. "I did pay for it, after all."

Try as he might, and he tried a lot, Ravyn was incapable of braining himself into unconsciousness with a stuffed bear...

Monday, September 17, 2007

Uncomfortably Numb

It was three days later. Three long days later.

When he'd woken up, Lethane was gone. That was the good news. The bad news was that the blue-skinned bastard had skipped out on the tab, a bill with three big digits before the decimal point. The even worse news was that even if Ravyn had a wallet to begin with, it would have been on the floor of Lethane's lair, wherever that was, and it would have been empty anyway.

The bar, Armistice, wanted their money. They were used to serving super-villains and since they were still in business, they obviously had some way of collecting debts. It was only fair. he had consumed the drinks... well, half of them... so he needed to pay up.

Unfortunately, that was a little difficult with no money. It occurred to him that he could go rob someone but the idea was repulsive. He wasn't on the side of light any more, certainly, but there was no need to act like a common hooligan. Of course, part of him realized this was really just a rationalization. Fortunately, the rest of him was quite capable of grabbing that part and kicking its ass until it shut up.

Mic, the bar's night manager, was as understanding as a man could reasonably be asked to be. He told Ravyn not to worry about paying the tab in cash. Instead, he would be allowed to work it off. Seemed fair at the time.

Now, Ravyn was not so sure. He had expected anything from waiting tables to washing dishes. Manual labor wasn't something he detested. Far from it, that was how he was raised. Life in a state orphanage was good for teaching self-reliance. Chores were just a part of life. He had no problem with getting his hands dirty or his back tired.

But this? This wasn't work. It was torture.

"Mister Ravyn, I need to pee!"

Bloodrayvn had agreed to work the other jobs of two of Armistice's wait staff so they could pull extra shifts at the bar and make up for the lost revenue from his drinking binge. He wasn't entirely sure how that math worked but if Mic was willing to call things even, that was good enough for him.

The problem came in Ravyn not asking what those jobs were before agreeing to do them. Apparently, one of the waitresses also worked at a day care in Port Oakes. There were children everywhere, a few with burgeoning superpowers and most of them with burgeoning bowels. Between trips to the bathroom, diaper changes and the hell of Nap Time, he was no more exhausted than when he took on that entire pit of Snakes.

There was a little girl, no older than two, asleep on his back and two infants were trying to scream each other into oblivion. An aspiring wallcrawler with a lack of bladder control was doing a passable imitation of a sprinkler system on the ceiling above him and one of these little brats snuck a handful of raisins during lunch and was systematically hitting him in the head with them every time his back was turned.

This was Hell. A special form of Hell.

After three days of front-line duty at the Oakevale Child Centre, Bloodravyn was dim, tired and ready to just fall down wherever he was dropped off. Unfortunately, he still had work to do. The second waitress only needed him to cover one shift, not three, so that was a blessing. He went where he was told, almost dead to the world, and stood where he was instructed to stand.

Whatever this job was, at least he was well dressed for it. This place gave him a nice suit and a place to change. There had been others there but he'd paid them no attention. In truth, he had no attention to pay. He was half-asleep. He just wanted this over with so he could go take a nap. On a car. Or whatever...

When the loudspeaker kicked on, the feedback woke him up instantly.

All possibility of falling back asleep was dashed by the voice overhead.

"Now put your hands together, ladies. The Rogue Island Lounge is proud to present... Ravyn!"

The curtain opened.

There was a stage.

With a pole.

In a way, this explained why the suit had so much velcro...

Saturday, September 15, 2007


The bruises all over his body were a road map of agony, poignantly showing the path of the last three days. Three long, painful days...

"So let me get this straight?" Ravyn asked quietly.

"Yeah?" Lethane answered impatiently.

"So you released me."


"And then spent days beating the hell out of me."

"Yeah," Lethane grinned wickedly.

"And cutting me up like a Christmas ham."

"Heh. Yeah."

"And now... now..."

"Yeah?" The elven madman's blue-black eyebrows peaked in curiosity.

"You take me out for a beer?"

"Oh yeah!" Lethane raised his thick glass mug in a mock salute.

This was all putting Ravyn way outside his comfort level. He just stared at the elf over his own drink. "You really are completely insane, aren't you?"

Leth just grinned viciously. "That's what my shrink said while she could still talk." Then he threw his head back and chugged down the full beer with all the skill of a raging Viking warrior in a grand mead hall. Smashing down the mug on the hardwood table hard enough to shatter it, he let forth a trumpeting belch like the roar of an angry Thunder God.

Unfortunately, they were not in a mead hall. What they were in was a small tavern on the east side of Cap au Diable. Ravyn really had no clue about this place but given his limited knowledge of the Rogue Isles and its cities, that didn't mean much.

All he knew about this place was its patrons. Its normal, mundane looking patrons and the sheer look of shock and surprise on their faces. They were obviously not used to people like Lethane and the reverberating sound of a hypersonic belch making all the glass in the establishment vibrate dangerously around them.

"Lethane... where are we?"

The bastard hadn't even stopped grinning. "A bar." Then, condescendingly, "That's why they serve drinks here. You know... al-CO-hol."

Ravyn narrowed his eyes and sat back, grabbing his mug and downing it every bit as fast as Leth did. Instead of shattering it on the return, he put it back on its coaster exactly where it had been before. Staring back at Lethane, the challenge was clear.

"Oh, you are not serious."

Ravyn raised his voice, smiling slightly to the passing server as he asked for another round of beers. He wasn't sure what brand this was but it tasted pretty good. He wasn't a fan of most beer but this one was thick and rich like an Irish Guinnet or a cream lager. These he could drink, enough to wipe the floor with this grinning fool, anyway...

The waitress came back and put down three beers on either side. "I can see where this is headed, sugar," she told Ravyn with a playful smile. "So I brought you extras. Just try to leave the mugs intact, okay?"

Lethane leered at her and swatted her nice and hard on her skirted ass as she headed back to the bar. "No promises!" Then he turned back to Ravyn and grabbed the first mug. "You ready to lose in a whole new way, freak?"

Ravyn put on his game face and lifted his beer. "Funny. I was about to say the same thing."


The room was spinning. If it wasn't for the solidity of someone leaning against his back, Ravyn would probably have fallen over. In a way, that was hilarious. Everything was hilarious. Pretty lights...

Lots of pretty lights...

"You... ready... give up.... yet... Duck?" Leth sounds funny so he laughed. Funny Leth. Funny, funny killer man.

He tried to say "Heck no" but he was pretty sure it didn't come out right. Still, he wasn't gonna give up. No damn way. He was still conscious... probably... so he was still gonna fight. There was no chance he was going to surrender. At this moment, he couldn't spell surrender but he wasn't gonna do it. Not to Leth.

No. Damn. WHEEE!


Behind him, leaning against him hard, Lethane belched. His voice, muted and quiet for the first time tonight, came rumbling forth like a purring cat. "Whaa prollem?"

Ravyn frowned. He hoped he wasn't drooling a little too but there was no way to be sure. "I tink we is outta beer."

The floor shook. He figured that was because Leth just punched it. That or the Second Coming. Either way was good right now. The shuddering floor tiles made his butt feel funny so he laughed again.

"No way! I wann more beer! Dis ain't over!" Lethane sounded angry... so Ravyn laughed again. Funny killer man.

A shadow passed over them, a shadow sort of like a mountain and sort of like a man. It was a mountain man with big fists and no discernible neck. That was... awesome! Ravyn giggled again, pointing at the big brick of a bouncer. "It's No Neck the monster man!" He laughed so hard he almost made himself ill.

"Oh yes," came the stentorian voice above them. "They've had enough."

"No we ain't has had enuff!" Ravyn and Leth said in bizarre unison.

"Yes. You have." Two gigantic hands came down, grabbing each of them by their shoulders.

Leth growled, a sound that would have been a lot more threatening without all the hiccups. "Git yer hand off me, pansy *hic*"

The massive shadow called down over them with his gravelly voice, "You need to calm down. Sir." The bouncer's hands clamped down with the force of a train wreck and the constant strength of a steel vice.

"And *hic* you need ta go back *hic* to ballet class, man *hic* bitch!"

Without another word, the huge figure picked them both up, bashed them into each other until what little sense Ravyn and Lethane had left was beaten out of them and they slumped in his arms like ragdolls.

"I'll go dump these two idiots in the back room, Mic."

A voice across the room agreed. "Sounds good, Bry. Just don't hurt them too bad."

"Nah... I'll let their hangovers handle that for me."

The distant voice laughed. "Good call."

Th bouncer might have agreed not to hurt them but he did not apparently have a problem dragging them painfully to this "back room", a journey that required a flight of stairs, several hard door frames and being thrown at the end onto a bed that probably broke the Geneva Conventions for inhumane treatment.

"Sleep well, girls." The door closed and locked with all the subtlety of a bank vault.

Lethane started laughing uproariously.

Ravyn winced at the sound. The pain in his head was steadily getting worse. Multiple collisions on the trip here was apparently hastening the morning to come. "What in da Hell is so funneh?"


Ravyn shook his head. Life was easier right now with his eyes closed.

"Dis is why ah love dis bar!"

Ravyn sighed. "Leth...?"


"I hate you."

The big blue psychopath laughed again. "Tha's coo." Then he rolled over, cuddled up to Ravyn and passed out.

Bloodravyn been wrong before. NOW he was way outside his comfort level...

Friday, September 14, 2007

Fit to be Tied

He woke up with his hands and feet so cold they were burning.

He was standing, or rather hanging upright, with his arms stretched over his head, held in place with massive steel rings generating a crippling amount of raw cold. Heat baffles whirred at his wrists and ankles, draining all heat from the air around his limbs, literally freezing him in place. Everything else was darkness.

"Neat, huh? Like the accommodations, Duck?"

That was Lethane's voice but in the chill of the pitch black room, he could not make out where it was coming from. The air was so frigid it was amplifying sound, making the madman's vicious tones emanate from all around him.

"Quit c-c-calling me Duck!"

He knew why Lethane did it. It always got under his skin, ever since the day the blue-skinned monster started saying it. Duck was a reference to a silly cartoon character who used to say "evil-doer". Once, Ravyn had called Lethane an evil-doer and ever since, the son of a bitch would not stop calling him Duck. Duck or DW. Either way, it was infuriating.

"Awww, I'm sorry, Darkwing. Does it hurt your little duckie feelings?"

Without waiting for Bloodravyn to respond, Lethane continued. "You should be more grateful, you know. Those restraints are top of the line. They were designed for Inferus. You remember ol' Fernie, don't you?"

It was a cruel question. Of course Ravyn remembered the fiery mutant. Inferus was the first villain the Vigilants as a newly established heroic group ever fought against. They'd had several clashes since that initial encounter, each one more brutal than the last. But that wasn't the source of the painful memories brought up by the name.

Infernus was the first person Bloodravyn, then Nightravyn, ever killed.


There hadn't been any choice, not that such a thing made what he'd done any easier. The villain had both superhuman strength and the ability to vent solar heat from his pores, igniting the air around any part of his body he desired. Infernus was one of the toughest foes Vigilance had ever faced; every time they clashed with him, his powers took a heavy toll.

That last battle had been no different. Bulwark was trapped under a mass of molten tar, all that was left of a city intersection. Tesla hadn't fared any better; he was twitching and screaming around a super-conductive rod of molecular carbon, impaled through his shoulder and being drained of all his energy. Between grounding and blood loss, he wasn't long for consciousness, much less life.

But of them all, Anthem was the worse. Infernus had her by the throat, his fingers cutting off her airs and crippling her ability to make any sound at all. Choking, she was moments from blacking out under his crushing grip. But her real peril was the wave of white fire moving slowly down the villain's arm. It had already passed his elbow and was creeping ever closer to her all-too-fragile flesh.

He was doing it slow, forcing her to watch her own impending demise. She wasn't the only victim he was torturing this way. Ravyn was also on the ground nearby, pinned to the ground by a suit of armor too heavy for him to move now that its power packs were completely shorted out. Infernus had used a current rerouter to funnel one of Tesla's blasts into his armor's batteries, shutting him down instantly. Ravyn didn't actually have any measurable super powers; he was a mutant but all of his abilities were latent. The armor was his only way to tap his genetic potential. Without it, he was completely, helplessly normal.

"Watch me, worm, while I roast this little songbird. But don't weep too much. You'll join her soon enough!" Infernus had loved to gloat, thinking himself poetic in his murderous moments. He was unconcerned that Ravyn had managed to get the suit off one of his arms and still had one tool with a charge in it - a grapple gun.

Even as Ravyn hefted the climbing pistol into the air, Infernus was unimpressed. The mutant's fires were nearly halfway down his forearm. Anthem, Ravyn's asphyxiating wife, had only moments to live. "What are you going to do with that? Tie me up? It won't save your woman, you know! It won't save any of you!"

Ravyn fired the grapple gun but not at him. The cord lashed out, crossing the distance between them in the blink of an eye. It sailed past Infernus' head, coming within a scant inch of hitting him in the face.

The villainous firestarter laughed viciously. "You missed! One last shot and you missed!"

Ravyn forced himself to yank the cord back with all the strength he had left. "Did I?"


Wha was Infernus' last word, cut short by the end of the conducting rod still stuck in Tesla's shoulder smashing into the back of his head. The grapple gun had adhered to the side of the pole, yanking down to collide with Infernus' skull, cutting his scalp painfully.

The result was... messy. Nearly 200,000 volts of raw electricity slammed into the mutant's brain through the small wound caused by the rod. With nowhere else to go, the energy did the only thing it could do - it boiled the man's cerebral fluids instantaneously. The sheer pressure caused his head to detonate like a small bomb, throwing Anthem clear. She had also been shocked by the electrical discharge but better that than strangled or incinerated.

She would be fine, as would Tesla and... once he crawled his way up out of the oozing mire of 5th and Main... Bulwark. As for Nightravyn, there would be weeks of therapy and terrible dreams. Theirs was violent work at times but, as with lovemaking, you can never really forget the first time.


A sharp, harsh laugh brought Bloodravyn back to the freezing present. "Trip down memory lane? Yeah, I heard about how Fernie checked out. Hope you brought a mop."

Ravyn struggled but his body betrayed him. Half frozen to death, he could barely move, much less try to escape these arctic restraints. "You bastard! You have no idea what it was like? How could you? You... you...!"

Ravyn could feel breath on his cheek, warmth after so many long moments in the cold. "Go on. Say it, big man. I wanna hear it."

With every bit of effort left in him, Ravyn smashed his head the direction of the breath, impacting his forehead of something slightly softer than hard concrete. The pain was excruciating but the attack hit its mark. The unseen Lethane reeled back with a cry of raw shock and what very much sounded like a tooth cracking.

The roar of anger gave way quickly to the sound of malicious laughter.

"That... was... awesome! Oh FUCK yes!"

The restraints came open a moment later, sending Ravyn crashing to a steel covered floor. Slow heating jets kicked on in the darkness all around him. He huddled, realizing now that he was completely naked, covered only by the shadows of the unlit room.

"Hurry up and thaw. I have GOT to kick your ass again!"

The laughter continued for more than a minute, getting fainter all the time. A door opened. A door closed. The sound was muffled and then faded away completely. He was alone now, still shivering but slowly warming back up. Sensation was returning to his arms and legs, something he almost immediately regretted as the pain of waking nerves began.

"In-s-s-s-ane," Ravyn stammered under his ragged breath.

"The man is c-c-completely insane."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Unpleasant Reunions

Pained step by agonized painful step, he crawled out of the crater.

Rocks shattered in his path, providing handholds and foot rests exactly where he needed them. The ground itself helped him make his way out of the abattoir that once had been a Snake lair. Blood streaming down his armor from both his own wounds and the brutality he'd inflicted on the serpent men, he was only half-conscious by the time he reached the pit's edge...

...and completely unconscious a moment afterwards as a fist lifted him by his face up and over the far side of the chasm below, sending him in a sprawling arc through the air!

Ravyn felt the wind leave his lungs as he landed, flat of his back, on broken asphalt. Reeling, gasping for breath, he stared up in shock as his assailant leaped over the pit towards him. The man crouched, sprang into the air and cleared the wide scale-strewn gap before Bloodrayn could focus or move.

Booted feet caught him in the stomach, forcing out the thin bit of breathing he'd been able to draw, suffocating and crushing at the same time. Only Ravyn's armor kept him from rupturing under the huge man's weight but it still hurt. A lot.

A fist greeted his face again, followed by another. And another. And another. He was being pummeled too fast to gather his wits, too hard to shrug off the impacts. His lip split again, his eye began to swell and his ears were ringing. The assault was blinding and impossibly strong, powerful enough to start powdering the earth beneath Ravyn's cracking skull. Whoever this was, the man's intent was clear. He was out for blood.

Well, if he wanted blood, he could choke on a bit of his own. Snarling and acting out of instinct, Ravyn let his aggression take hold. If he wasn't going to get time to think, he wouldn't waste another second on thought. As the next dark fist came down, he smalled upwards, catching it with the hardest part of his forehead as he called forth more of the strange black stone to protect the spot.

The sudden move was rewarded with the sound of shattering bone and a vicious curse! The man leaped free, sending another shockwave through Ravyn's vitals while jumping to the nearest rooftop and staring down in fury and pain. Climbing to his feet, Bloodravyn shook his head to clear his blurring vision. If he was going to fight this man, he would have to be able to see him first.

They stared at each other, murder in the eyes of one and confused rage in the other. It took less than a second for Ravyn to recognize his attacker; the man had always been distinctive, unchanging since the day he and the other Vigilant put the homocidal bastard behind bars...


The cussing man flexed his broken hand, grinning past obvious pain as his fingers started resetting within moments. "In the flesh, Duck." Blood was streaming past his teeth and only then did Ravyn realize that during the punch flurry, Lethane had also bitten him on the shoulder. There was a seeping wound there, the plate that once protected it torn completely off and crumpled nearby.

The pause was a good thing; Ravyn's eyes were coming back into clear vision and he was breathing again. There was poison in his system - a legacy of the serpents he'd just massacred. They had taken their toll on him, unfortunately. He would have been hard pressed to take this villain before the coma even with a team beside him. Now, alone and wounded, he was outclassed and he knew it.

"You're on the wrong side of the sea, Duck. Let me help you get back home, hero!" Lethane leaned into a hunch, shoulder out, and sprang straight down off the roof. Ravyn did everything he could to avoid the blow, dodging to the side as fast as his battered body would allow. The main force of Lethane's crushing strike hit the street beside him, sending concrete and tar in a violent spray! Try and he might, Bloodravyn couldn't completely evade the pale blue killer in black leather straps.

One fist collided with his chest, sending him flying as far and as fast as the shrapnel of the villain's landing. Ravyn's breastplate split open from the force, tearing away as every strap burst and every power line exploded in a spark shower of guttering plasma. His flesh underneath cut open by a dozen shallow blades of bent steel, Bloodravyn hit the ground and rolled out of his ruined armor. "Ahhhhh!"

Lethane stood up out of his own small crater, wiping blood from his lips. "Mmmm... My favorite song." His inhuman eyes flashed feral as he broke into a blurred sprint, closing the distance between him and Ravyn at breakneck speed. Likely, his speed, Ravyn's neck.

Ravyn did the only thing he could. With no time to stand, he rolled to the side and lashed out with his plated leg, kicking at shin level as Lethane reached his prone body. The impact was enough to spin Ravyn around and crack his leg through an inch of ionic-hardened steel. But as much as it hurt him, it had a far greater effect on his leather-garbed foe.

Lethane howled in frenzied pain as his legs swept out from under him. Unable to jump away because of the sudden lack of footing, he tumbled out of control past Ravyn and smashed head first into... and through... a six story building. Bricks and timbers rained down from the marauder-shaped hole he left behind.

Bloodravyn staggered to his feet. His leg was aching like it was on fire. In fact, it was on fire. Not that the flames were hurting him, though. They were writhing over the obsidian spikes plating every inch of his limb from knee to ankle. His other leg was quickly growing to match, armoring itself in tectonic fury. Shaking his head, still not understanding what was happening to his body, Ravyn lumbered as fast as he could into the ragged hole after Lethane. If he gave the agile madman a chance to recover, this fight would be very short and very one-sided.

Lethane was nearly nine feet of lithe muscle, almost elven in the Tolkien sense of the word, and all slayer. Sharpened teeth, razor claws and incredible strength in a midnight cerulean frame as resistant to damage as hardened titanium, Lethane had been one the hardest captures of his life as a member of Paragon City's finest. That was five years ago and as far as Ravyn knew, Lethane had been languishing in the Zig since that titanic battle.

He moved slowly through the wreckage of the abandoned building, wasting exactly five seconds wondering how Lethane managed to get out of the Zig before realizing what a stupid question that was. Moving past a broken mirror, covered in dirt and cobwebs, he looked directly at the fiend responsible for this killer being on the streets.

Gritting his teeth, he continued on, determined to put an end to this sin.

He found Lethane tangled in a mass of steel cables, a toppled set of old city clothes lines bent around him. The rampaging beast was breathing heavily, wounds from his ballistic passage through the tenement house all over his body. Eyes wandering, teeth clenched around rasping anger and bubbling anguish.

"Proud... proud of yourself, Duck?" It was obvious Lethane was trying to move but his bonds had him lashed in terrible angles, broken bones keeping him from freeing himself.

Ravyn didn't answer. Instead, he wrenched a huge piece of rebar out of the ground, breaking it off at a sharp angle. Instantly, the end of the huge impromptu spear burst into plasmic fire. Bloodravyn hid his surprise at the ignition, raising it over his head as he advanced on Lethane's trapped body. "This ends... now..."

Lethane grinned, seemingly unconcerned by his peril. "Looks that way, hero." Then, spitting blood, he laughed. "Oh wait, not hero any more, is it?"

That shocked Ravyn into delaying his coup de grace. "You... you know about that?"

The bestial killer nodded as much as the wire around his neck allowed. "Oh yes. You're the other 'Chosen One'. Of course I know about you, idiot." Here Lethane was, trapped and about to die and he still had more balls than brains.

Ravyn hefted the girder again, watching Lethane's face through the slow waterfall of molten metal dripping from its burning point. He needed to end this, to undo this mistake... but curiosity was staying his hand. "Other Chosen One?" He couldn't help himself. He had to know what Lethane was talking about.

Lethane licked his lips, apparently liking the taste of any blood. Even his own. "Yeah. The Fortunatas have been talking about the Chosen One from the Zigguraut for years, Duck." He was still heaving for breath but the pain was calmed now. He was healing even as they spoke. There wasn't much time left to finish this battle. "Some think it's you."

Another spit of blood. "Some think it's me."

Ravyn had heard enough. This was all just a stall tactic and he couldn't dare let it go on any longer. The fiend was as resilient as he was fast. Any more time to recover and he'd be able to break free regardless of the pain. "Well, this should settle the matter." He brought the rebar back up; this had to be the end of it. There was no room for mercy with a man like this...

Lethane chuckled. "Shouldn't you be falling down right now?"

Ravyn blinked again. "What?"

"You know, from the hemlock."

He looked at the trapped man in abject bewilderment. "Hemlock?"

The long eared slaughterhouse with legs grinned again. "Yeah, hemlock. I eat it every day. Don't hurt me one bit, of course, but it gets in my skin. My blood. My..." He licked his teeth. "My spit."

The strength started to flood out of his arms, forcing him to drop the steel beam as he crashed down under his own weight. "You... sadistic... bastard..."

Evan as he started to black out, Bloodravyn heard the snap of steel cords nearby and the shift of tangled metal as his quarry struggled free. "You have no idea, my little Duck." A shadow fell over Ravyn, the shape of man concealed in the darkness of his own blackout.

The last thing he heard before tumbling into unkind unconsciousness was an evil laugh and soft words right next to his face.

"But you will..."