Sunday, October 28, 2007

Dear John

They stood side by side, only a thin wall of lacquered wood dividing them.

Ravyn stared down, unsure of what to think. How to feel about.... this.

Beside him, Lethane finished up and then looked over the wall and down at the focus of the ex-hero's attention.

"Damn, man."

Rayvn looked at him sharply. "Don't say it."

Lethane said it. "That had to hurt."

The snap punch caught Leth in the jaw so hard, it sent him backwards through the stall behind him, over the toilet, through the stall beside that and into the tile wall beyond. He left a small crater in the concrete, slumping to the ground before the debris of his passage had even settled.

Raven flushed, straightened his clothes, and went back out to find Mic and work out how he was going to pay the damages.

On the floor, still seeing stars, the blue elf grinned past a split lip.

"Heh... totally worth it."

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Waking Up is Hard to Do

His mouth tasted like the floor mat of a New York cab.


That was the best he could do. He had wanted to ask, "What happened? I don't remember anything after taking that drink." but his tongue was completely uncooperative. His lips weren't much better. They were forming the right shapes but not in the right order. The next few sounds were so unintelligible even he wasn't sure what they meant.

Across the dimly lit room, there was a vague bit of motion. It caught his attention but, because of how utterly drained his muscles felt, all he could do was incline his head and try to focus on whatever it was without being able to lift his head.

Because of this exhausted paralysis Ravyn spectacularly failed to dodge the thrown cushion coming for his aching face.


"Sh'up!" That was a growl from somewhere the direction of the padded projectile. The snarl with which it was spoken meant the person talking could be only one person.



A second cushion hammered the first one, shoving both into his head. Despite how soft they were, the force behind them made the impacts almost hurt.

"Shut up or I'm throwing the couch next, Duck."

From the sound of it, his blue-skinned shadow fatale was in some considerable pain. That almost gave him the strength to get up. Almost. He did manage to summon enough willpower to move his head from side to side, pushing the pillows into the floor so he could see again.

Whispering now, he asked, "Leth? Are you all right?"

The voice that answered him was hidden and muffled, apparently coming from a pile of shredded cloth and foam in the corner. It took Ravyn a few seconds to realize the debris was the remains of a second bed, several sheets and what appeared to be a waitress' uniform. Or two. Maybe three.


"No, dumbass. I's hunged over... Ummm... I'm hunged over. Feh. Hung overed." There was a snarl of frustration accompanied by the sleepy groans of at least two different people. "I was drunk. Now I ain't."

"Ah... I understand."

Leth's voice became a hiss. "You understand... and yet you still keep talking."

Ravyn fell silent, lifting his head just enough to regard the room more closely. There was a small pile of empty shot glasses on what was left of a table in the corner. He dimly wondered how the table could be such a wreck by the glasses still stacked neatly. He decided not to question that too much; it made his head hurt.

Actually, come to think of it, everything made his head hurt right now. His own breathing was really loud. There was a low, thundering noise that smashed painfully against his skull, making him wince in anguish.

So this was the downside of drinking. Before everything in his life changed, his incredibly fast metabolism made such things inconsequential. He could get drunk and sober in the space of a few minutes, none the worse for it. He had never experienced a hang over. This was an entirely new sensation.

It didn't take him long to decide something.

He never wanted to feel this again.

He looked around again, partially out of a growing need to do something unfortunate off the side of the bed but mostly because his awakening body - particularly his chest - was starting to send him some very odd signals.

"Leth?" He spoke as quietly as he could, only daring to make any sound because the question he needed to ask was one of dire import - one that truly had to be asked immediately.

"I will kill you. Don't doubt it, Duck."

"Just one thing, Leth..."

"Then will you shut up?" There was another groan, this one male. Apparently not all of those shredded clothes were from waitresses.

"I will."

"Good." The shredded lust nest moved a bit, eventually disgorging Leth's face from between a tangle of arms draped over him. "What?"

"I remember coming here to the bar."

The elf nodded, a black lace bra strap hooked over his right ear. "Yeah?"

"And I remember taking that drink... the Purgatory stuff..."

Leth nodded, his increasingly annoyed expression slightly mollified by the patterns of lipstick smeared all over his face. "Yeah?"

"I even think I remember passing out."

"Please, Duck. For the love of Elune would you get to the bloody point?"

Ravyn sighed, more than a little embarrassed by the next question. "I don't remember going out and getting this tattoo."

There was a slight grin from the elf now, his irritation gone for the moment. "Oh, the Anarchy symbol? Yeah. I figured you'd like it." Lethane rummaged around in the bed pile near him and lifted a sleeping woman's head up by her hair. "Beth here does good work, huh?"

Ravyn groaned. The mark, though painful, was not unattractive. It was several shades of red, fading from near black to blood red to crimson to a bright scarlet near the tips of each line. It was bigger than he'd have liked, covering his entire upper chest and extending down a little past his ribs. Still, it wasn't terribly painful. Compared to his pounding migraine, it was almost a relief to feel.

"Yes... I guess she does. Sorry, Leth. I'll be quiet now." He was getting tired again anyhow. Perhaps a long nap and a cold shower afterwards would kill the evil of this hang over.

"No problem, big guy."

Then, after a long silence, Leth added, "I was afraid you were going to ask about your new piercing."





Sunday, October 21, 2007


They walked in, both clad in black leather. The taller of the two, Lethane was wearing only a belt harness on his heavily muscled chest, the strap across his pecs framing his ripped upper body nicely. Blue skin moved beneath night black leather, oiled by a sheen of sweat from the warm weather of the night outside.

Behind him, dressed in a thin, torn white shirt and a silver-zipper lined black jacket and an identical set of motorcyclist's pants to the massive elf, Ravyn walked in slowly, standing in Leth's shadow in a pair of metal-plated biker boots and fingerless riding gloves.

Every head in the room turned, mostly because Armistice was not exactly the kind of bar that catered to men dressed this way. That bar was a little further down the street. Brothers, as the bar in question was called, was usually packed and would not have blinked an artfully-made up eye at their clothes.

The crowd in Armistice, being mostly white-collar types and the occasional supervillain willing to mind his or her manners, most definitely did.

One customer, a bit deep in his cups, opened his mouth to say as much as immediately closed it again. There was just something about Lethane's sudden look down at him that instilled a sudden caution, even in the most inebriated of people. Likely, it was the intense glee in Leth's glowing eyes. The look that just screamed, "Please! Please say something! I haven't killed a bitch in hours! Please oh please!"

They wanted up to the bar amid a dozen stares, a couple of which were open hunger from the establishment's female regulars. The waitress on staff, a lovely woman with a shirt two sizes too small and a smile at least one size too big at the sight of Leth's muscular chest, nearly dropped her tray and had to scramble to keep from pouring gin and tonics on her customers.

"So, what'll you have, mates?"

Lethane leaned against the bar, giving the waitress a good show as his back and shoulders rippled. "My usual and a Shirley Temple for the little lady."

Ravyn looked at Leth and sighed then back to the bartender with a shake of his head. "I need something painful. Something toxic enough that if I spilled it, I'd have to fill out an Environmental Impact Form."

Mic, the man on duty behind the bar tonight, laughed and nodded. "I know just the poison. No worries there." He went to work immediately, pulling out several bottles of opaque glass and setting them on the counter top. For Leth's drink, he just uncorked one of them, filled a glass and slid it to the big man's blue hand.

Leth picked it up, tipped it Mic's direction in silent thanks and downed it. The liquid in the double shot glass, for all of the three seconds it lasted, was lavender and steamed slightly on contact with the air.

Ravyn's drink was considerably more complex. Mic poured out several layers, one atop another, in a champagne flute. While Lethane obvious wanted to say something about the 'sissy' nature of the glass, the effort of the red-haired barkeep was holding his attention too much to do so. One by one, the layers floated over each other, a spectrum of dark and light.

"Here you go, sir. Just what you asked for."

Ravyn picked up the flute carefully, not wanting to disturb the drink. "Is it a shooter?"

Mic chuckled. "I'd recommend that, yeah. It's called a Purgatory. I really think you'll like it." Even as he spoke, the efficient Irishman was refilling Leth's glass.

"Interesting name," Ravyn told him, still obviously regarding the drink with some trepidation.

"Indeed it is. It's a little bit of Heaven, a little bit of Hell." Mic gave Leth a third round as he started setting up his bottles for another pass and wiped down the counter. "I tell you what. You down that and if you're still vertical in one minute, the next one's on the house."

"After last night, I almost hope I lose that bet." Ravyn closed his eyes, brought the glass to his lips and threw his head back in a long, quick draught. The flute emptied past his lips, each layer mingling with the others into a caustic looking black morass before hitting his tongue. From the sudden look of gastronomic terror on Ravyn's face, it must have tasted like one too.

He opened his eyes, the good one disfocused for a moment, and set the glass carefully back on its small coaster. "That..."

"Words can't describe it, eh?"

Leth looked between Ravyn and Mic, curious now. "Well, how was it? Was it good? Was it bad? Are you gonna die?"

In response, all Mic did was hold up a stop watch and press its button. Seconds began to tick past.


Ravyn turned his head to regard Lethane, his mouth still apparently chewing the taste. "It was like a car crash in my throat." He shuddered. "I can't really describe the flavor. There wasn't just one. It was like... licking a candy store after a four-alarm fire."

Mic laughed. "Good description. Best one I've heard all month."


Growling, Leth picked up the empty flute and unabashedly tried to sample what little was left at the bottom. The sight of his long violet tongue snaking down the tall glass was enough to make the waitress nearby groan and walk headlong into someone coming out of the restroom.

"It... tastes like nothing. Nothing at all." Lethane's thick eyebrows furrowed. "It's like black water in here."

The barkeep nodded and took the glass back, smiling knowingly. "The drink has a half life. A few seconds after it mixes, it breaks down."


Ravyn sighed deeply. "Well, I got the taste all right but that's about it. It felt like alcohol going down but now..." He shrugged. "There's no burn at all." He rapped his fingers once on the bar top, looking down at his hands as his eye eased back into full focus. "It was heady for a second but that's about it."


"Line us up some tequila shots, Mic." Lethane grinned. "Some bottled Mexican anger might do where your uber-drink failed. No offense, but some things are just classics for a reason."

Ravyn nodded as Mic turned his back to grab a bottle of good 15 year old agave tequila from the top shelf over Armistice's wall-length mirror. "I agree. I am just not feeling it. I suppose my body's not remotely human any more..." He trailed off, remembering what happened to him in that alley. With Fortress. And all the blood.

Lethane grinned and rubbed his hands at the sight of six small glasses, lined up in a row on the bar with golden liquor goodness pouring into each one. "Don't take it personal, Mic. He's just a freak. But I'll take his freebie if you don't mind."

Mic held up the stop watch and punched its button again, turning it around to show Lethane the dial.


"Bah!" The blue elf scoffed. "Don't go cheap on me now, man. Ravyn's fine, see?" He turned to face an empty bar stool. "Ummm... Rave?"

Looking down, he saw his drinking partner on the floor of the bar, dead to the world unconscious with a look of half bliss, half horror on his slack face. The occasional twitch shook through him, a thin line of drool running past his parted lips and down his cheek.

"Oh, that's attractive."

Mic nodded, that Gaelic grin of his getting wider. "He'll be out for a bit, mate. Perhaps we should get him upstairs to a bed for a while, aye?"

Leth sighed, looking down at Sleeping Scary. "Yeah, I guess..."

"After my tequila." He reached out, scooped the passing waitress up into his lap with only a tiny gasp of protest, and stuck the first shot glass in her ample cleavage before going face first after it.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

<< Two updates this time! >>


Uncomfortable Conversations

There was no delaying the inevitable. He had to tell her.

Teravolt reached for the rarely used button on his overhead console. His hovering chair revolved to bring it into easier reach but that did not make it any less of an effort to actually push. How long had it been since he'd last seen her? Two weeks? Three?

Did it matter? Everything was threatening to fall apart, no matter how hard he tried to save it. It was ironic really; he could manipulate electricity down to affecting the subatomic charges between quantum particles but he couldn't control the people in his life. He hated having no control. He hated it with a rage he only reserved for one other thing.


Even all but dead and forgotten, Ravyn had dominated the last decade of his life. Of all their lives. No matter what he accomplished, no matter how much Teravolt did for the world or for himself, nothing ever quite measured up. This immortal life was a worse hell than the one he'd escaped all those years ago. If he'd known then what the Beast's bargain would cost...

No matter. He pushed those thoughts out of his head. The past was gone. And soon enough, he'd dispose of its sole remaining legacy.

But for now, there was a call to make. He pushed the button.

As usual, there was no video. She never showed him her face any more. He didn't care if she was burned, he didn't care about the scars. He only wanted to see her. But Anthem... he corrected himself... Requiem never let anyone see her now. He did not even know where she was. That had been part of the divorce settlement.

"What is it?"

He sighed, knowing that was as polite as she would be. "Hello to you too, Ann." He used her real name, a slight dig at her to make himself feel better. He knew she hated it. Probably as much as she hated him.

She disconnected the call. He called back.

"What is it?"

"I wanted to talk to you."

"I don't want to talk to you."

"It's important. Please hear me out." He hated how much he bent for her, how deferent he acted in her presence. He had dozens of lovers that he used like toys but her... She was always the one who could make him crawl. Make him weep. Damn her for that.

"Fine. Be quick."

It was better than getting hung up on again. "Bulwark's gone. He's been killed." Of all the answers she could have given, the one he expected least was the one she gave.

"I know."

"You... you know?" He didn't like surprises. Especially not from her.

"He and I still converse on occasion. He has not returned one of my calls. The only reason for his delay would be illness or death. Since we cannot be ill, it follows that he is dead."

Still stunned, he asked quietly, "Do you know how he died?"

There was a long pause before her reply, long enough that he began to question her eventual answer of, "No."

"I have the incident recorded on surveillance. Do you want to see it?"

"Yes." That came quickly, almost too quickly. Ann had never hidden the fact that she was closer to Bulwark than him but he had never had cause to suspect they were working together against him. Now... no. That made no sense. Ann might have been that sneaky but Bulwark did not have a subtle bone in his huge, crippled body.

He was being paranoid again. Time to up his dosage. Again.

"All right. I'll upload the footage now." A few mental commands to his computer and the send was complete. "Done."


He sighed again. "Ann.... Dammit, Requiem?" He hated the name, mostly because he knew why she'd chosen it. And for whom. It did make him smile a bit to know that as soon as she saw the data feed, she'd see the bastard kill Bulwark. That should nicely hurt her. He loved the woman but part of him wanted her to feel like he did. Hollow. All the time.


"I mis-"

The connection terminated.

By the time the lightning storm finished raging through his office, there was virtually nothing left of it. Only a smoldering room, a hovering sphere and a man within it shedding crackling tears for a life he could never regain...

Dreams of Avarice

At a touch, he opened the sliding door and stepped into the huge office beyond. As he expected, the room was lit with the eerie electric glow of the Ambiance Chamber high above his head. His employer was awake, even at this ungodly hour.

"Sir, one of your surveillance probes is back. Shall I..."

The micro-speakers embedded in the sensor nodes of the Chamber all echoed Teravolt's voice at the same time. The reverberations and volume made the man sound like some kind of wrathful god. Of course, Randall had been here when his boss requested that they be installed for exactly that reason but knowing Teravolt was an arrogant ass didn't make the man any less impressive.

"Upload it."

Impressive or not, his employer's habit of finishing his sentences was as annoying as ever. Randall moved quickly though; he was well acquainted with the fact that when Teravolt become agitated, "uncontrollable" arcs of static sometimes jolted people in his office. Randall had some personal issues with just how uncontrollable these arcs were...

...but nothing he'd say aloud. No one had ever died from them. Well, there had been that one maid, but she was old and she'd had a heart condition. His boss had even directed him to send cheap flowers to her funeral. Touching, really.

Reaching the main console of the room's computer array, Randall extended a spooled lead from from the probe's spherical casing and attached it quickly. The rest was automated. All Randall had to do was wait for the audio/visual to upload and stand near a large metal object in the hopes that it would ground out his boss's displeasure. Just in case.

As the minutes crawled past in total silence from above, Randall creeped inches closer to the steel computer console. When the calm lasted far longer than the length of data on the probe, Randall seriously began considering getting behind the console instead. Even the Ambiance Chamber was motionless; its inner rings stationary.

It was never a good thing for Teravolt to be this quiet this long.



He looked up from his near-hiding place. "Yes, sir?"

"Has anyone else seen this footage?"

Oh, hell. He'd been with Arachnos long enough to know that question and what tended to happen to people moments after answering it. Not good. Not good. He started surveying the room, plotting out exits and how much cover he could get on his run out.

There wasn't a lot. He was pretty much screwed. No sense keeping the boss waiting.

"No one, sir."


As the word thundered through the room, one of the Chamber's emitters began to glow, building up what Randall well knew was a lethal charge. It could hit him no matter where he stood in the room, even blasting through the computer console if it powered up long enough. He was going to have to make a break for it. In his years on the Rogue Isles, he'd only seen one person answer that question and live. Everyone else had ended up as Snake food...

Wait. One person had lived! What was their answer again?

Randall cleared his throat. "Not even me, sir. I brought it to you unaccessed. I thought you'd want to be the first to see what it contained." He held his breath, not sure if that would stave off his boss' obvious intentions.

It wasn't a lie. Randall treated everything at TeraCorp on a need to know basis and as often as possible he made sure he had no need to know.

The emitter discharged, sending a massive arc of lightning straight down into the office's mirror-bright platinum collector array. From there, the captured current would be channeled into the building's underground capacitors and stored for use. The Ambiance Chamber released its charge that way four of five times a day, but had that been his employer's intention this time?

Randall honestly didn't want to know. He was alive and intact. That was enough for him. One doesn't work for TeraCorp without a certain amount of "flexibility".

"Will that be all, sir?"

"Not quite. When you get back to your desk, I need the following things handled immediately. Consider them EOD priorities."

Randall sighed. It was already 6:21 AM. His night shift ended twenty minutes ago, technically. Since EOD stood for End of Day, it looked like he'd be here a while. Oh well, as they said at6 Fort Darwin, "Sleep is for the weak."

"Find out if out contract cancellations with Fortress 500 have reached Legal. If they haven't, make sure they don't. Immediately reassign any F-500 personnel we have to the facility in Terra del Fuego."

"Very good, sir. Anything else."

"I want every available share of Fortress 500 purchased and in my control by Market Close. There's a dossier on your desktop now. That person has a 5% margin of stock. I need those shares. You know what to do."

Randall sighed. This was going to take all day. "Very good, sir. Shall I make sure we send flowers after the body is discovered?" He was already walking out, making notes on the PDA mounting in his artificial arm.

"Of course. Cheap ones."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Rage of Brothers

He looked up from the impromptu metal coffin surrounding him, closed as it was by a lid of meat. The taste of blood was in his mouth but it wasn't his. Not entirely his, at any rate. It was human and it was still warm.

With a testing shrug of his broad shoulders, Lethane forced his way, light finally streaming in on his face once he threw the heavy sacks of flesh off him. "Why are there bodies on top of me?"

While there were no immediate answers to why two men dressed in Penumbra uniforms were dead over where he'd crashed through the wall of the warehouse, their faces bleeding from every pore and their ears leaking, he other things to worry about...

Like ducking the incoming piece of burning metal before it ripped through him!

Diving to the alley street and rolling out of the way, he came back up in a shadowed corner and shook his head. Not usually one to hide, he was still disoriented by the shock of the attack that had flung him like a rage doll. Again.


Leth snarled and clenched his hands, letting his sharp nails rake the air in quiet fury. That was the second time in as many weeks he'd been jumped from behind. Watching after the boy scout was obviously dulling his survival instincts. He was getting soft, something he was damned well not going to let happen.

He knew who was responsible for this. Thus, he knew who was going to die. Fortress was a walking corpse. The cripple just didn't know it yet. As soon as Lethane got his claws on the big bastard, the CEO of Fortress 500 was going home 'some assembly required'.

Another shard of burning steel, this one melting even as it hissed through the air past his hiding place, got Leth's attention and snapped him out of his violent musing. Following the glowing streak of plasma and metal vapor backwards, he caught of sight of what was making such a flaming mess...


The main stretch of alley between the warehouse and whatever sad, incendiary building was being gutted by fire across the way was cracked, glowing and utterly ruined. In the middle of the destruction, two massive figures were locked in vicious combat, blood and lava flowing in equal parts down the battling titans.

One was mostly clad in metal, alloyed plates that had once been silver but were now blackened and burned. What sections of flesh could be seen through the rents in the powered suit were nearly ashen, seared and cooking from the superheated metal shoved violently into every jagged breach. Very little was left intact on Fortress' steel outer body; every limb was missing panels and much of his reinforced chest was either caved in or melting away.

And glad as Lethane was to see the 'hero' in such distress, his pleasure was tempered with surprise by the other... thing... in the pit with Fortress.

Whatever it was, it was wearing Ravyn's armor. Or, more accurately, pieces of it. The creature was easily as tall as Fortress, placing it at nine feet with its legs slightly bent. Feet and hands both ended in talons of black bone, razor sharp if the rents in Fortress' chest and helmet were any indication. Rising out of the fiend's back, huge leathern wings arched like scythes overhead.

They weren't the only things sharp about what was fighting the ex-paragon. The crimson scaled beast was completely reptilian but still humanoid, like a Snake but far more dangerous-looking. It had a tail with dark, sweeping blades at its end and a row of night-black spines piercing out the back of its barely fitting chestplate. Its head, which Leth could only describe as draconic, was crested with similar edges of bone and obsidian, both as black as a void, and it had at least two rows of wickedly sharp teeth, many of which were trailing blood from the savage bites it kept taking out of its prey.

Prey. There really was no other way to describe the combat. The battle looked to have been incredible but it was nearly at an end. The thing wearing Ravyn's red shell had obviously taken a pounding but it was still standing. The same could be no longer be said of Fortress.

A massive swipe with the beast's left hand sent flaming talons down through the front of the hero's chest armor, shredding steel and servo systems from neck to stomach. Blood and oil gushed from the wound, sending the monolith of metal to his artificial knees. A second blow with the back of the creature's right hand struck Fortress in the side of the head and tore his helmet off, ending it like a comet through the brick wall of the burning building nearby.

Even down, Fortress was not completely defeated. Tortured motors screamed within his suit's arms, bringing up the one working cannon he had left. It was sparking down its crystalline barrel, most of its containment shroud torn away, but it was still functional. Before the scaled beast could react, it blazed to life and unleashed a point blank barrage of charged cryonic particles, slamming into the dragon man's chest in a sub-zero blast of sound and cold.

A sub-zero blast that did terrible damage to the beast's chestplate and none at all it its wearer. With a roar of rage so loud it actually hurt to hear, it opened its fanged maw and unleashed a torrent of pure magma.

The force of the glowing gout sent Fortress flying backwards, sprawling him against the street in a pool of instantly slagged asphalt. The sheer heat ignited Fortress' hair, scalding his suddenly bared face and blistering his blood-slaked skin. The man's cry of pain was drowned out by the low growl of the creature in Ravyn's clothing as it descended over its fallen foe.

It drove talons into Fortress' shoulders, the wet noise within making it painfully clear that at least one on each side found its way into flesh and bone. The crackle of cut power lines sent arcs of blue lightning across the ruined chestplate before grounding out in the beast's scarlet scales. With a snarl of savagery, it lifted Fortress up off his mangled legs. In the moonlight, the thing's scarred face could be seen clearly. One eyes burned while the other was a dark, ravaged hole but both stared directly into Fortress' face.

Past a split lip and a burned face, the ravaged man stared back. Despite his injuries, Fortress managed to whisper something through a broken jaw.

"This... is why... we had... to kill you... Ravyn."

The creature growled and raised its bladed hand, dripping talons poised to strike. Its one eye blazed like the sun while its missing eye was as dark and deep as an abyss. At the back of its blood-scaled throat, a rumble of fury given voice echoed up. It was a nightmarish voice, dark and forbidding, forged from the very essence of hate itself.

"You tried. You failed. You die."

Fortress closed his eyes, the look on his face somehow becoming peaceful despite the tortured state of his body. "Of course, my friend... I... I am sorry for... for everything. Forgive me." He leaned his head back, exposing his burned throat without another word.

Bloodravyn, fangs bared, flexed his talons high over his old friend's head, muscles trembling in anticipation of the killing blow. Antipication...

...or hesitation? A long moment passed, then another. The only sound now was the slow drip of blood and lava onto the sundered street. Even their haggard breathing had slowed, the tense second of battle's end stretching on into a quiet stillness with neither foe moving at all. What remained of Fortress had ceased to struggle and what might still remain of Ravyn within whatever his body had horrifically become was poised to strike yet holding back.

Gazing down at the metal-entombed man impaled on the claws of his left hand, Ravyn's draconic eye slowly dimmed, its flames burning lower and dimmer until there was merely a glimmer of heat surrounding the slit pupil.

"M... Markus..."

It had been so long since Fortress had heard anyone use his real name. The sound of it made him open his tired eyes and look once more into Ravyn's bestial face. What he saw there he had never expected to see. It changed everything. In an instant, resignation became hope. Not for himself, but for the terrible wrong he'd done so long ago.

The Beast had not entirely won. Something of the Man still remained. But for how long? Fortress closed his eyes again and sent a final command to his armor's core. It was time to do what he should have done a decade ago.

"Goodbye, Ravyn."

It was time to die.

The central controller of the Fortress-One armor turned off, killed by a master override from the wearer. When it did, all the feedback from the suit's many breaches and ruined neural receptors flooded unchecked into Markus' brain. The result was a massive, instantaneous cerebral hemorrhage. He was dead before the word "Ravyn" had escaped his lips.

There was no regret in him for this. It was not suicide so much as sacrifice. He had been living a lie on borrowed time. Now, at last, he could let go of the guilt. There was something within that did not belong to him. His last thought before oblivion embraced him was to give it back.

As his world fell into darkness, everything else became light. Fortress' body instantly became a flare of brilliant energy, blinding in its sheer intensity. A wave of power flooded outward in all directions, an explosion of the spirit. It engulfed everything in its path, consuming Ravyn and the now-empty armor in his grasp as it blossomed into a blazing column of radiance reaching all the way through the clouds overhead and into the heavens above.

When, a few seconds later, it burned out and faded away, all that was left in its wake was a steaming alley street and a single, naked man collapsed on his back. Unconscious and unharmed, Bloodravyn looked completely healed and returned to normal. His only wound was the old one, the scars around his lost eye. Those remained, the ruined orb slowly seeping a line of red in a single crimson tear...


Leth winced, blinking to clear his vision.

"Yeah. That was subtle." Then, under his breath as he slipped out of his hiding place and moved to Ravyn, "Quick, Darkwing, let's fire up the Come Eat Me signal as bright as we can!"

He hefted the unconscious man over his shoulder, noting with a low grunt that whatever just happened hadn't made the big guy any lighter. "Come on, Duck," he grumbled to the sleeper in his arms. "Let's grab your stuff and go. Every villain with eyes is going to be here soon to throw us a little going away party."

Slinging a bag and packing everything within easy reach, he added, "You know, that sounds fun... but you're in no shape to dance."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

What Lies Beneath

SecSpec Thomas of Beta Team was doing his sweep of the upstairs area of the target's facility when the small burst of static got his attention. His men were all downstairs securing the perimeter, searching through all the apparently stolen scientific equipment and trying to access the target's computer system. Of particular interest was the dismantled suit of Fortress armor on one of the heavy workbenches below. That would be a valuable find for the Council.

There were sounds of heavy combat outside but they'd just stopped. It was likely the target was now neutralized; that would make securing this location easier. The Council's database had a huge amount of information on the cape outside. Fortress was here on some sort of unauthorized mission and now that he was probably finished, it was against his personality profile to linger.

That meant the CEO of Fortress 500 would not stay behind to make their acquisition of this place more difficult than it already had been. The Council had lost more than a dozen men in previous attempts, all of them meeting with brutal fates best not contemplated. There had been some conjecture that the bite marks and sheer physical trauma on what was left of their corpses indicated an assailant other than Target: Bloodravyn. Since the target had no known associates and since what few DNA traces lifted from the bodies indicated something "alien", precautions against whatever security system the target possessed had been hard to protocol.

Enter Fortress. The legendary cape from Paragon City had been a godsend, or would have been if SecSpec Thomas believed in God. Fortress and his squad were outside destroying the target and whatever else might be aiding him, leaving the Council's Penumbra agents free to seize this location and everything inside. Perfect.

"Williams," he tapped his helmet's communicator. "Did you find out what just penetrated the east wall?"

That was when he discovered the static had not been from an external source. The low crackling buzz was in his earpiece. Cursing inwardly at the strange interference in this place, Thomas pushed the Channel Seek on his bracer. There had to be a clear signal band in here, even if he had to drop transmission strength down to radio channels.

What came up a few seconds later was definitely not his team's comm line.

"Hey there all you interlopers and instigators! Up next, direct by request, we've got a little number guaranteed to make even the most mundane B & E more interesting. So sit back, kick up your feet and enjoy the exit music!"

Before he could try another channel -


- a 200 decibel sonic pulse shattered his ear drum and liquefied half his brain. The pressure cracked Thomas' skull, sending gouts of blood from every pore from his scalp to his throat. The pain would have been unbearable but he was dead long before he and the rest of his twitching team hit the ground.

At the same moment, the old radio on the nightstand a few feet from his body turned on, speaker blaring at a less lethal volume...

Drowning in my sea of loathing,
Broken, your servant, I kneel...

Would you give it to me?

Outside, Ravyn looked up with weary hatred at Fortress, staring at the cannon that spelled out his doom in glowing vents of energy on its sides. His remaining eye, slightly glowing, began to shudder. Within, the retina was literally tearing, changing into something less... circular...

It seems what's left of my human side
is slowly changing in me...

Would you give it to me?

A raw shock of pain traveled down both arms, stone blades and a mass of bloody crimson scales erupting from Ravyn's skin. He screamed, both in agony and in anger. Whatever was twisting his body, he could not let go of the emotion of the moment. He could not forget the sheer hate inside. In fact, that hate was burning every nerve, driving every change in his flesh!

Staring down in furious disbelief at his hand, Ravyn caught the image of himself in the pool of oily water at his knees. Back lit by moonlight, his silhouette was straight out of a nightmare. His nightmares. The terrible dreams he'd had night after night in the Zigguraut.

Looking at my own reflection,
when suddenly it changes,
violently it changes!

He rose on legs that were breaking and bending backwards, his feet warping to pierce his armored boots with long black talons of burning bone. Obsidian, bloodstone and thick scales were covering every inch of him now, even his face as it split and elongated, reforming into something...


Oh, no.
There is no turning back,
now that you've woken up the demon
IN ME!!!!!!!!!!!

The radio faded out.

What happened next had no need for theme music.

The screams were more than enough...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


The pain flared through him, as much from the tearing of his skin and the shattering of his ribs as the sudden, massive assault on his mind. The attack was total, brutal and devastating. It hit him with frigid cold, telepathic agony and the subtle but explosive effects of subharmonic dissonance.

In short, everything Bloodravyn was vulnerable to, all at once. The blast caught him in the chest, sending him through the metal door of his new home, a dozen feet of steel siding wall beside it and into a concrete support pylon.

It had been perfectly aimed, taking him the moment he stepped outside. He had gotten up to see if any innocents had been caught in the gang violence outside and become a victim instead...

He was almost blacking out by the time he hit the pole. Ravyn blinked in shock, gasping for air to fill his smashed lungs. Nothing was coming. The wind had been knocked out of him so violently, it might never be able to return again. For what felt like the second time in one night, he was helpless, unable to move and losing his fight to stay conscious.

With a painful groan echoing along his spine, Bloodravyn left a red trail down the pylon as he slid to the shrapnel-littered ground. He could still see, though his vision was blurring and he could still hear, though the harmonics had his ears ringing. Through the haze, he could see very little.

Just a bright light... moving very fast.... right at his face...

Instinctively, unsure of how he did it or how he knew to even try, Ravyn called out to the earth below him for protection. A jagged wall of solid rock rose out of the ground, intercepting the blast before it could finish what the first attack had left undone. The thunderous sound of tortured stone boomed through the abandoned alley, heralding both the quenching of the deadly attack and the sacrifice of Ravyn's sudden cover.

He was just aware enough to turn his face away from the spray of broken rubble, letting the shards of stone hit him on his scarred side. He was already missing his left eye; there wasn't much else the shrapnel could do to him.

The glow of the blast marked the attacker as coming from above. Likely a flying assailant, the conscious part of Ravyn's mind conjectured. He was hurt, likely critically, and yet some part of him was still playing tactician. He was sure that if Lethane has been in his mind at that moment, the bastard would have given him no end of grief for that.

Lethane! For a moment, Ravyn had a glimmer of hope that the elven brawler would be nearby and could come, annoyingly, to his rescue again. Then Bloodravyn realized that since he'd thrown Lethane out so he could get some sleep, that wasn't likely.

That meant no rescue. And with no clue how to raise another wall of stone, however ablative such a defense seemed to be, that meant the next assault would probably finish him off. Ravyn was already losing feeling in his limbs. Spinal damage, perhaps?

Not that it mattered. As he heard three sets of small jet turbines draw near and saw the shadowy outlines of an armored trio touching down, Ravyn closed his eyes. It had been a good run. He'd gotten careless and let his guard down. In the Rogue Isles, that meant death. The math behind survival of the fittest wasn't that hard to do.

He just hated being on this side of the minus sign.

Though he was trying to just make peace with his end, Ravyn could not help but wince at the sound of three blaster cannons powering up for their final shots. A few seconds now. Ticks of the last clock. Strangely, he found himself wishing he could have said goodbye to Kalinda.

Would she care that he was gone?

Would she remember him?

Did all of this play into the future she saw or would this rupture the tapestry of fate she'd been trying to weave?

And most importantly... why was he still alive to ask this many questions?

Still barely breathing, Ravyn ventured open his good eye to see why his executioners were delaying his demise. What he saw was a spectacle in violence second to none.

Lethane was crouching on top of one of the powered armored soldiers, blood dripping from his bared teeth, shimmers of black light playing over the tattoos inscribed all over his bare back and chest. Both hands were locked around the underside of his perch's helmet, his eyes glowing and glowering at another trooper. With a snarl of rage, the blue elf flexed the thick muscles in his arms and tore both helm and head off the man beneath him, hurling both at the unfortunate in his sights.

The soldier fell back, impacted hard enough by the grisly missile that he staggered for a moment. That was all Lethane needed; in that brief opening he was up off his decapitated victim and onto the stumbler's shoulders like a circus acrobat.

Even as the third mercenary raised his massive cannon to shoot Leth, the bare-chested villain was on the move once more. He first pirouetted, legs locked around the neck of the soldier he was standing above. There was a sickening wet noise and Lethane jumped free. His helmet turned completely around to face backwards, the second gunner dropped like a forgotten doll.

The sole remaining trooper started fighting blindly into Lethane's leaping arc. A spiraling bolt of conjoined energies streamed forth, a cerulean beam that tore open the side of a nearby building effortlessly. Unfortunately, the man could not apparently move the gun fast enough to keep up with the bloody wraith already descending over him. Leth came down onto the soldier, landing with both feet on the over-sized barrel of his own weapon. A flash of fangs and the wrenching of the merc's head sideways to bare his throat ended the game in a geyser of scarlet.

Lethane rode the dying man all the way to the ground, kneeling on the still-twitching corpse with a grin to rival the Cheshire Cat itself. He looked from his prey's shredded throat to Ravyn, smile widening to let the blood of his kill rain down his lips, neck and chest.

"I love it when they just stand there and take it in the ass." His voice was low and feral, a true shadow of the beast that seemed to live a half-heartbeat behind everything Lethane did. "Idiots didn't even look around before jumping in." The elf's smile became something wicked and vile. "People who don't pay attention deserve what they get, Ravyn."

Two sounds immediately followed those words, cutting Lethane's lesson in applied paranoia drastically short. The first was a thunderclap powerful enough to shatter windows all the way down the block. Intense and deafening, the sound was only a side effect, the roar accompanying a kinetic blast of massive intensity slamming into Leth's back and smashing him bodily throught the plated steel of the nearest warehouse wall.

The second sound was Leth's pained, furious voice howling as he was flung out of sight. "Hell no!!!"

Then Ravyn's blurred vision came into sharp focus. The street cracked under the sudden weight of a massive steel figure, a shape all too familiar to him. It was the same armor they'd fought before.

Fortress One.

His old friend was here at last. Somehow, Ravyn could feel that this time, there was flesh within the metal. This was no robot, no android covered in powered systems. This was no decoy. Bulwark was here. In front of him. Weapons raised and locked.

His friend was here to kill him.

Though it hurt to breathe, Ravyn forced himself to take in enough air to rasp out a single word before his old mentor could finish him off.


The armor stopped moving, arm cannons cycling but not firing. The whine of building energy was almost painful to hear but even above that din, Ravyn could hear his former friend and teacher's voice.

"There's no choice." Then, slightly softer, "You cannot be allowed to live."

Ravyn could only nod. The dream had reminded him, brought back moments he'd tried to forget. He knew what he was, what they had done, and he understood why they would do anything to kill him now. In a way, he could not blame Bulwark. Were the situation reversed, he would do the same... Wait. That was not true. That wasn't true at all. The situation could not be reversed because he would never have done what they did. He would have died for them. He had tried to do exactly that and they...

His vision blurred again.


His skin started to burn.

They had done....

Sharp pain started to shoot through his body, a convulsion running not only up his spine but through every limb.

They... the people he loved most... in all the world....


Ravyn's world dissolved in a red wash of pure fury. His body surged and before Fortress could react, his broken, kneeling quarry was no longer so broken. Ravyn was no longer kneeling.

And by the time he rose to his taloned feet, he was no longer Ravyn either...

Monday, October 8, 2007

Dreaming Darkly

His bedside table groaned with the weight of his greaves. Ravyn made a tired note to himself to modify the armor rack next to it to hold leg plates as well. He'd 'salvaged' it from a Snake's base and since those creatures had the lower bodies of serpents, greaves and boots weren't exactly standard options.

He hung his new cloak up, grateful for it in an academic sort of way. He had been told it would be needed in his battles against the Circle of Thorns and while he hadn't actually seen it do anything, he'd also not been affected by any of their truly lethal curses and hexes. Perhaps the cloak had protected him from them, perhaps not. Either way, the full cloak and shoulder cowl seemed to function as advertised.

If that was true, it would be the first bit of honesty he'd received on this whole damn island chain. That was enough for him right now. Simple truth was a rare thing to find these days...

Ravyn closed his eyes as his head hit the pillow. To be fair, there was one other bit of honesty in the Rogue Isles. Much as Lethane disturbed him, the blue elven stalker had never made any pretenses about himself. Leth was what he was, a feral beast with disturbing... but openly admitted... appetites.

Bloodrayn shook his head to clear it. The last thing he wanted to be thinking about before going to sleep was Lethane. That just seemed like a bad idea on so many levels. Desperate to have anything else in his thoughts as he went to sleep, Ravyn reached over on turned on the radio. He'd pulled the beat-up old boombox out of his quarters in Fort Darwin and brought it with him here mostly out of habit. Besides, the thing was bizarre but it was also undeniably helpful... a very annoying way. A lot like Lethane in that way.


Ravyn shook his head again, letting the strains of some female singer he'd never heard before take his mind off his pointy-eared homicidal shadow. She had a nice voice. Not the nicest he'd ever heard, of course, but that honor was held by someone...


...special.... ZzzZZzzzzZzzz.

A few minutes after Ravyn started snoring, the radio stopped playing music and its dimly glowing, slightly cracked dial flared red. The lights on its age-worn faceplate flickered to life and, even though its antenna had long since been broken off, the signal it was receiving grew considerably stronger.

"And a big hello to all you bad guys and badder gals out there in Villainland! We'll be here all night playing you the top hits from yesterday, today and even tomorrow, counting down the hits and up the charts. Stay tuned for a few old classics too, like this one for the golden days of radio rock. Coming in at number 128, its the Romantics with Talking in Your Sleep!"

The soft sound of Ravyn's snoring faded into the radio's background noise, covered by the music now issuing from its single functioning speaker.

When you close your eyes and you go to sleep...

Ravyn rolled over, groaning as his body settled into even deeper unconsciousness. The bed frame beneath him, reinforced with steel rebar and concrete blocks, creaked under the sudden shift of his now more than four hundred pounds of body mass.

And it's down to the sound of a heartbeat...

One of the radio's side LEDs, long since burned out, started to glimmer. Flashing on and off, it quickly settled into a steady rhythm, slow and constant.

I can hear the things that you're dreaming about...

A soft static crossed over the radio's music, like a second station trying to bleed through. At first, it was just ghostly interference, impossible to make out, but as the song continued, it became more audible.

When you open up your heart and the truth comes out.

The song faded into the background, the second signal now the dominant sound. After a few moments of continued feedback, the new sounds became clearer, more vibrant. Everything could be heard clearly, even ambient sounds in the background. Despite the radio's abused appearance, the signal was crystal clear and perfectly projected, filling the warehouse loft with the sounds of a nightmare...


"Is... is he...?" Anthem's voice was rasping and pained, both from concern and from the agony of her wounds. The scent of charred flesh was thick in the air, most of which was coming from her. Tiny gasps of pain escaped her lips, growing louder as she tried to crawl to Ravyn's side.

Pinned beneath the rubble of a shattered wall, Bulwark could do little to help. "Don't, Ann!" It hurt to speak; at least one rib was in his left lung. "Don't move! You'll only make it worse."

She looked up at her friend, tears streaming down her seared face. "I don't care! I.. I have to see him... have to see if he's... ahhh! See if he's alive." Slowly, agonizingly, she kept moving, dragging herself over the broken stone of the cavern with hideously burned hands. Every inch forward was a new symphony of pain, both figurative and, as her mutant throat transformed each cry of anguish, literal.

"What does it matter?" Tesla could be heard but not seen. Bulwark was partially buried but Telsa was completely covered by what had once been the side of the cave. Their battle with the terrible beast now lying nearby in rivers of its own glowing blood had decimated the landscape and the survivors.

"How... how could you say such a... such a thing!?"

The massive rock slide echoed with a choking cough. "We're all dying, Ann." Another tremulous hack, followed by the sound of crackling bolts of wasted lightning. "He just got there first."

Anthem kept crawling, ignoring the sharp stabs of agony as her tortured skin split open across her palms and legs. "Don't say that! He... he has to... has to be alive." She was so close now, just a few more feet of bleeding effort and she would be with her fallen husband.

Bulwark closed his eyes, unable to watch her hurt herself like this. "Ann, look at him. How could anyone have survived that?" He gestured with his one free arm, pointing to Ravyn's sprawled body. "He took the blow that would have killed us all, Ann." There was terrible regret in his pained voice, especially at the next words. "He's gone. He died to save us."

"No!" Anthem's voice made the cavern shake, her powers active even with her body so ravaged. The rocks covering her teammates trembled and shifted, several shattering into dust and shrapnel or rolling over the mass to fall into the pool of glowing, bestial blood at the base of the landslide.

"Not..." Another cough echoed out of the stones. "Not that it did us any damn good. Nice sacrifice, hero."

Anthem struggled to Ravyn's side, reaching out to touch his face even as she looked up at the cascade of rocks with furious eyes. "How... how could you say that!? You're only alive now... because of him!"

A long chain of choking coughs were Anthem's only answer at first. Then, once the wet noises calmed down, Tesla's scything tone returned. "Yes, great. Just lovely. Even when we're dying you're on his side. We wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for him!" Though his voice was no kinder, it was getting softer. Each breath was obviously becoming harder for Tesla to catch.

Bulwark's rumbling words interjected. "That is unfair, Tes." He tried, and failed again, to free himself from the crushing embrace of the earth. "We all agreed to come down here. You..." Bulwark had to wait for a moment as a sharp pain in his chest threatened to end his words in a scream. When it passed, he continued. "You can't blame him for us being here. If it wasn't for us, this ritual would have succeeded."

A faint, angry crackle send sparks shooting out of the depths of the rockfall. "So what?! So another nameless dark power gets some supplication by some mutant serpent people! We saved a room full of homeless people. Yay! We get to die so a dozen hobos can live to drink on a street corner another day..."

Anthem had all but tuned Tesla out. She was curled against Ravyn's side, clutching him, weeping as much as her burned eyes would allow. Lying beside him, surrounded by the rising tide of the beast's luminous blood, she was oblivious to everything. She felt cold. Alone. Afraid.

Bulwark was not. "Tes, that's enough!" He then spat up a mouthful of blood, his lungs rebelling against his own raised voice. "You know why we had to come down here. If this creature had been fully reborn, it would have given those snake-priests immortality and heralded the end of the world." His last few words were barely more than a whisper. There wasn't long left to him; his pulse was slowing. Everything was getting dark.

"Says who?! Some psychic bitch uptown? Well, you know what?"


"If this big lizard was still alive, I'd let his ass get reborn! Hell, I'd help! I don't want to die, Bul. Do you?!"


"No..." Bulwark sighed, breathing in past lungs that felt aflame. "No, I don't."

In the darkness of the landslide, the crackling light of Tesla's life flickered and dimmed. "I don't, either, big man..." Then, quietly, "Screw Ravyn and screw saving the world. I don't want to die like this."

Bulwark patted the stones near him quietly, consolingly. "Everybody dies, Tes. Try to take comfort in what we've done. We'll be remembered forever, my friend." He coughed up blood again, his lips now soaked. "That's true immortality."


Then, softer, Tesla murmured just loud enough to be heard. "Immortality?"

Bulwark nodded to himself. "Yes, Tes. No one will ever forget the sacrifice we've made today."

The depths of the stone slide glowed a little brighter, the exchange of tiny bolts of electricity within sending out a low rumble of thunder. "Sacrifice." Then, "Bulwark, you're a genius."

Nearby, ignoring everything around her, Anthem pulled herself up to rest on Ravyn's chest and weep. She did not care about the warmth welling in the massive wound across his chest. She did not even notice the heat of the shining blood now cresting over the sides of the rocky plinth beneath them. Nothing mattered now. Nothing at all.

And silently, helplessly, Ravyn laid beneath her. He could hear everything, feel everything... but he could not move. Paralyzed by the force of the dragon's death throe, he was powerless to move. All he could do was rest below a rain of tears and pray that the end would be kind to them all...


The sound of a machine gun on a nearby street corner shook Ravyn out of his sleep. The radio shut off instantly, dials and lights going dark before Ravyn could even see they'd been on. He jumped out of bed and dashed downstairs, hoping that no one innocent had been caught up in one of the gang wars that constant raged outside.

And in the shadows of the loft, crouched in the rafters, Lethane held very still. He had been there since Ravyn laid down. Watching. Thinking.


Sunday, October 7, 2007

A Fly on the Wall



"Yes, Leth?"

"Why did you just smack the back of your neck?"

"Something bit me."

"Well.... can I smack you too?"





"You're going to smack me anyway, aren't you?"




He followed the glowing lines on the floor, moving swiftly since he already knew the path to take. Randall Connors had walked this hallway a thousand times; he could find his boss' office in the dark. Not that it was ever dark here. No. Quite the opposite. This deep in, the building was kept so bright, everyone had to wear protective goggles with polarization lenses or eventually go blind. Everyone, that is, but his employer.

The door slide open as he approached it. That meant he was expected.

"Come in and report."

Randall slipped into the room and let the door slide closed behind him. The chamber was a huge hemisphere with the real office in its center. Randall had never been in that private room. Only his boss and Lady Requiem even had passcodes to get into it. It was possible he could have cracked the security code and bypassed the room's locks...

...but then, it was also possible he would have been terminated for doing so. And around here, termination was meant in the strongest sense of the word.

"Sir," he said quietly, looking up to where his employer was suspended above the ground. His boss, Teravolt, was in the Ambiance Cage again. Over the last year of Randall's service to TeraDynamics, he had seen his boss spend an increasing amount of time in that massive iridium-platinum sphere. It worried him, especially since he knew the Cage's purpose.

The Ambiance Cage was essentially a huge capacitor array, built to draw electrical energy from whatever was placed inside it and store it or channel it to the rest of Teradyne's twenty block wide facility as needed. The complex burned energy as fast as it could but even so, there were times when even the Ambiance Cage operated at near-capacity. That's why the lights here were so bright; they were a sign of how close the Cage was to being full.

"I said report."

Randall nodded and looked away. When Teravolt was in the Cage, he glowed like a captive nova; it was painful to stare at him for very long. "I'm sorry, sir. Forgive the delay. I just wanted you to know that your drone has returned with the sample you requested."

"Is it being analyzed?"

Randall nodded quickly. "Of course, sir. The genetic strain is very complex and it has a number of anomalies. I project it will be another seven hours before we have any readable results."

"Then why are you here?"

Randall shifted, wondering if he had intruded at a bad time. If Lady Requiem had been here recently, there was no telling what mood his employer might be in right now. "Again, pardon me, sir. I was just wondering if perhaps we should be concerned with ramifications should anyone from Fortress 500 find out about this experiment."

The Ambiance Cage flared along its banded pylons, a sure sign of Teravolt's irritation. "Why should that be a problem?"

"Well sir," Randall said as disarmingly as he could, "I was led to believe we had agreed to let him deal with the rogue situation. If he discovers that you are involved directly..."

"He won't find out." The thunder in Teravolt's voice made the entire outer office tremble, nearly driving Randal to his knees.

"Of course, sir. Very good sir!" He was wincing now, hoping his ears weren't bleeding again. "I just thought..."

"Do you honestly think I pay you to think?"

With a half-sigh and a sardonic smile, Randall looked up at the glowing star that was his boss. "Is there any way I can answer that without it becoming a paradox, sir?"

There was a long pause, followed by a sound of static above him. It took him some time but Randall was able to make out the faint sound of laughter in the crackling ions overhead. His boss did not laugh often; there wasn't much precedent for recognizing the noise.

"Fair enough. I suppose I do pay you to think. But do not concern yourself with Fortress. He is my... problem. Just get me the data on that blood sample and then send the results to toxicology." The Ambiance Cage began to dim, showing a marked relaxation in Teravolt high above. So relaxed, in fact, that Randall could actually see a faint outline of the man inside the corona of radiant lightning surrounding him inside the Cage.

"Of course, sir. I do regret to inform you that we cannot get a second sample."

"Oh? Why is that?"

Randall sighed, hoping this news would not upset Teravolt again. "The fly drone we sent was almost melted upon return. Its outer surface temperature was nearly 650 degrees. By the time we managed to harvest the boiling blood from its internal reservoir, the unit was completely ruined."

"I see. Interesting."

Randall waited, apprehensive, but there was no marked increase in his boss' agitation or the Cage's radiance. "Anything else then, sir?"

"No, no. Dismissed. Come back when you have test results and a poison capable of killing the target."

He was all too happy to leave. This was actually a great job but there were times when Randall really wished he was still with Arachnos.

At least there, villains did not pretend to be anything else...

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Moments in Private

Adjusting his armor uncomfortably, the soldier waited for permission to speak.

This was not exactly an official meeting but he was still in the presence of a superior officer. In fact, he was in the presence of an officer so far above his station, he was unsure of the protocol. He should not even be talking to an Arachnos Prefect at all; this was extremely unusual.

Then again, so was his assignment. The one he'd just failed...


"Sir!" The soldier stood at attention before speaking. "The subject of the operation is unavailable, sir."

Even without being able to see the Wolf Spider Prefect's face behind the black chrome visors all higher ranking officers wore, the soldier could tell he was unimpressed with the answer. "Unavailable? Is that an odd way of saying he is dead?"

"No, sir. The subject was not at the designated target site. I was unable to complete the assignment, sir."

The prefect rested his arms on the table, touching the tips of each finger together and looking up at him over them. "I see. And the weapon you were provided? I assume then it was not used?" As he spoke, the prefect gestured to the black enameled desk top in front of him.

The soldier got the intimation immediately and unholstered the strange handgun at his side, laying it down gently. "Yes, sir. It has not been fired, sir." After a long, completely silent pause, he cleared his throat and shifted on his feet. "Sir? Permission to speak?"

The prefect did not bother to look back up at the soldier, even as he started to wipe the wet red that suddenly sprayed onto his visor. In front of his desk, the soldier twitched and fell, a long silver blade retracting from his chest. Behind him, a woman in a black bodysuit pulled her arm away from the dead man's back, crimson droplets running down over the red web-lines embroidered into her uniform.

"Permission denied," she whispered down at the corpse, a hint of amusement in her nearly emotionless voice.

"Isn't that my job, Blood Widow?" the Prefect asked after cleaning his mask.

"My apologies. Did you want to kill him instead?"

"No, but now we'll need a new cat's paw. I can't have any of my soldiers on this task and I certainly can't do it myself."

The woman stalked over to the desk after pulling a holster belt off the cooling body of the man at her feet. Strapping it on, she climbed up onto the glittering black desktop, sheathing the odd handgun with one hand and running two fingertips down the Prefect's chest with the other. "Why don't you let me handle it?"

The Prefect leaned back in his chair, not completely out of reach but far enough back that the woman had to stretch to keep touching him. Watching her arch, seeing her masked face come so achingly close to his own, it was all enough to make his black leather uniform very uncomfortable. "And just... what else... do you wish to handle?"

Behind a cowl of dark silk, she smiled and descended. "I thought you'd never ask."

He wasn't uncomfortable long...


Sometime later, the Prefect returned to his seat and made certain at least the top half of his uniform looked presentable. The bottom half... didn't matter. He reached out and activated his comm, punching in an untraceable code. Over the desktop, a holographic screen appeared.

At first it was blank but, after a few moments of static and light, it resolved into an image of atomic particles, dancing incandescently over a field of black and silver. The silence was broken by an obviously electronically masked voice.

"It is done?"

"Unfortunately not. The target is no longer stationary. We are having trouble locating him."

"I see. I am afraid I am going to have trouble paying you then."

The Prefect glared at the monitor, a wasted expression even if he hadn't been wearing his concealing helm. "Do not be so hasty. I have another operative willing to pick up the assignment. I am only contacting you because the target may have gone to Paragon City. If he has, my operative will need clearance to do the same."

There was a long pause before the answer came. "Fine. I will leave all relevant materials with our usual broker. Have your agent use your access code to pick them up."

The Prefect nodded. "Excellent. It will be done."

"It had better be. I am not a patient man and this has already taken too long."

"I agree. You have nothing to worry about."

"I want results, not reassurances. Do not contact me again until he's dead."

The screen went black instantly, leaving the Prefect fuming quietly in the dark. The day had started so well, too...


She stretched as she walked, her lithe body shifting under the silken body stocking in so many wonderful ways. Such a good day...

...and now for the the unpleasant part. She had to report in and that meant going into the depths of the Fort. Blood Widow worked her fingers over a hidden control panel, using a passkey known only to the Lady's personal attendants. Moving through the momentarily open secret passage, she slipped into the narrow passage beyond and climbed down through the tangled superstructure of the complex.

Eventually, she found her way into the inner chambers, seeking out her mistress' room with long-practiced ease. There was no light here; there did not need to be. Blood Widow could see in the dark naturally and she had been here so often the hallway could have been filled with smoke and she still would have gotten here quickly.

One tap on the door was all she needed to do. She had been felt coming quite some time ago; the tap was just a formality. Surprising a psychic, especially one that had bound herself to your mind years ago, just did not happen.

The door slip open, revealing the room beyond in all its spartan glory. There was little here; Blood Widow's mistress needed very little in the way of furniture. Just a round chair in the middle of the small chamber and a computer console in the corner. Beyond that, all the room held was the lady herself. Kalinda.

"Yes?" Her voice was calm as always.

"I am sorry for disturbing you," Blood Widow's voice was equally calm, tinged only with respect and admiration. "I bring news you must hear."

Kalinda was sitting in the deep shadows of the room, clad in her scarlet robe but without her tall, mirrored helmet. That was the only part of these meetings Blood Widow did not find pleasant. She always averted her eyes when she came here. She preferred the woman in her dreams to what rested behind that silver mask.

"Do you want me to put it back on?"

Blood Widow blinked, blushing suddenly behind her cowl. "N-no... I'm sorry. I didn't mean to..."

Kalinda waved her hand, dismissing the moment. "It is all right. Please." In the next moment, her face was concealed as her helmet settled into place with a silken sigh. "Continue. What brings you here, dear?"

The blush deepened. For the last few days, Lady Kalinda had been in such an affectionate mood. It was hard to tell for anyone else but for those few that Kalinda had been close to, the change was an obvious one. Aside from a bit of foolish, irrational jealousy, she was honestly glad to see the change. Even if it might have come from the arms of another, she hoped this mood continued. Kalinda had been so sad... for so long...

"Sweet? What brings you here?"

That only made her blush worse. "Oh... sorry. I was just... Forgive me. I wanted to tell you of a plot against your Destinae. One of the Prefects is working with someone on the mainland to have him assassinated."

Kalinda nodded, folding her hands in her lap. "And you have been given the task of doing it."

"Yes, mistress. Your orders?"

There was a long pause, long enough that the black-and-crimson stalker started to shift uncomfortably. "Mistress?"

"Your position within the circle of the Prefects is very valuable to me. I want you to do what you do best, Celeste."

As fond as she was of hearing her real name on the lady;s lips, those words brought only confusion. "Mistress? You want... me to complete the assignment? But..." She looked at Kalinda, trying to understand why the lady would give such an order.

The next sound she heard was a bewildering one. In her long years of service to the Fortunata, Celeste had never been a witness to the lady's laughter. It was almost heartbreakingly beautiful, though brief.

"No, sweet Celeste. But I do want you to make it look like you've tried."

If Blood Widow had blushed any harder, she would have passed out. "Oh... of course. I'm sorry. I should have known that was what you meant. I..."

In her mind, Celeste suddenly felt a calming caress. The lady's thoughts were soothing her, stroking her soul with warm hands and a whisper of a kiss along her cheek. The contact instantly eased her, relaxing her completely. She fell into the thought-embrace, letting go all of her apprehensions and worry.

The day had started so well... but the night was purest bliss.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Inner Fire, Outer Focus

"Okay... so what are you doing?"

Ravyn looked up from the workbench, a soldering iron in one hand and a spool of iridium wire in the other. "I told you, I'm crossing a set of terminals to facilitate the quantum flow from this particle containment cylinder."

Lethane blinked, tilting his head to stare at the gauntlet laying in front of Ravyn, its plates open and waiting for whatever the Hells it was Ravyn was building.

"Okay... so what are you doing?"

Bloodravyn sighed and shook his head. "I am trying to make sure the quark exchanges in this magnetic battery don't overload and ruin these circuits. Iridium is a nigh-perfect conductor and won't degrade like the tungsten alloy we're replacing."

Leth just looked at him, a deep breath showing his growing frustration.

"Okay... so what are you doing?"


The elf grinned and leaned back. "Oh. What didn't you just say so?"

"I am going to hurt you when I'm done here." Ravyn growled. "You know that, right?"

Lethane chuckled to himself, putting his feet up on Ravyn's computer core. The room was full of scientific equipment, most of which they had just stolen from several Arachnos outposts and unused bases. They were in a small warehouse, one of many in Cap au Diable. It had taken a long time but Leth had been able to convince Ravyn that going back to Fort Darwin was a bad idea right now. If Bulwark was really after him, the wealthy cripple would easily be able to pay off Wolf Spider guards to take him out in his sleep.

"You can try, boy scout, but I doubt it. You need me right now... or do you really want to have another family reunion without me for backup?" The question was accompanied by another grin, one Ravyn desperately wanted to smack off the elf's smug face. Unfortunately, the psychotic freak was right.

Not dignifying Lethane with a response, Ravyn turned back to his project. Once, long ago, he was a scientist, studying under Bulwark's expert tutelage. Everything the older man knew about technology, he'd taught his young student. Now, all those lessons had come full circle. Ravyn and Lethane had brought the ruined Fortress-One decoy robot to this abandoned building for study and dismantling.

The advancements in the decoy were impressive. There were devices integrated into its armor systems that Ravyn could only barely understand. Some of the pieces of the robot were also extremely complex and, if Ravyn hadn't known better, he would have assumed them to be of non-terrestrial origin.

"Are you going to be done sometime soon or should I find something to do while you poke at it? You know... like paint a house. Or build one?"

"Shut up. I'm almost... there!" Ravyn locked down the terminal casing and installed the power cell into his own armor's gauntlet. Attaching the leads, he put the armored glove on and felt its cerebral control mesh link to his nervous system. He understood this technology just enough to work with it. Right now, he was just hoping the power cell wasn't about to explode.



"Why are you looking at that thing like it's about to explode?"

"No reason."

"Okay... sure." Lethane was backing away, looking between the now-glowing gauntlet and a nearby window. "So what is that supposed to do?"

"I have been working to control these new powers. The Fortress-One suit is built much like my old armor but the internal network is far more advanced. Accordingly, it creates a quantum field that..."

Leth held up one hand. "The glove, Duck. I just want to know what the glove does."

Ravyn took a moment to consider how to answer and finally decided on just showing him. "Watch this, okay?"

With that said, Ravyn reached out and started to focus. The network now built into his armor and linked to the control elements in his new gauntlet channeled the fire rushing through his body. Unable to manifest it directly before, Bloodravyn could now feel the flames taking shape in his grasp. A ball of roiling heat ignited into bright, violent life in his metal palm, flaring like a sudden star.

"Okay. I admit it," Leth said quietly, still standing at a distance. "That is pretty cool."

Concentrating too hard to answer, Ravyn started to vary his visualizations. The ball became a field of fire covering his hand, then a shaft of flame in his grasp. Choosing the first shape that came to mind, the shaft widened until it transformed into a massive, blazing sword.

"And that's even cooler."

Releasing his focus, Ravyn opened his eyes and looked at the sword as it faded away. "That... was a lot more effort than it should have been." He frowned, opening the back of the gauntlet's containment panel. "I need to alter the neuron web. Perhaps if I raise the synaptic sensitivity to 10 picojoules?"

Leth fixed him with another tired look. "Please. You were actually approaching impressive a few seconds ago. Don't talk and ruin it."

"You're just upset because you don't understand anything I've said."

Leth jumped to the window ten feet above him, hooking one arm over the sill and swinging up onto its ledge. "True... but that's only half the problem."

Ravyn looked up from his work. "Oh? And the other half?"

Leth grinned wide and ducked out of the building to go find something... or someone... more interesting to do.

"I also don't give a damn, Duck."

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

(A Story Arc: Update)

Just to keep everyone apprised of things and make sure posts aren't read out of order, please note that One of Us, Acts of Violence and Brotherhood Lost are pieces of the same story arc and should be read in that progression.

Thank you!

Brotherhood Lost

When the flare of the dual plasma cannons faded away, both Lethane and Ravyn were down. Both were steaming. Both were motionless.

Fortress took another thunderous step forward, large bladed pistons unfolding and firing themselves into the asphalt to anchor his gargantuan suit of powered armor. Carbine steel rods drove deep into the ground, stabilizing him against the cumbersome reality of his suit's weight.

"I am almost disappointed. I expected more of a fight." Another step, followed by four ballistic pistons slamming earthward. "But this does make things easier."

Bloodravyn was buried upright in the brick wall at the alley's end. Directly below him, Lethane was a crumpled heap of pain and unconsciousness, only alive by the whim of fate and the density of his alien flesh.

The massive frame of the Fortress-One bodysuit lumbered forward, cannon ports retracting into the armor's forebracers. The helm tilted to the wounded-strewn street of the alley, scanning faces and genetics with an active probe that, had any of the villain's been awake, would have seriously hurt.

Killer Instinct, who had been half-faking his convalescence, whimpered and tried to lie perfectly still. If the huge armored figure noticed the reaction, it gave no indication. Instead, it just kept moving forward, slow step by piston-driving step.

"You have made this easy as well. Consorting with these... degenerates. Each and everyone is a villain with a Dead or Alive price and a crime sheet three screens long." Fortress raised his foot over Siegemaster, the first unconscious body in his way. "And you have become one of them"

Past swelling and the taste of bitter copper in his mouth, Ravyn struggled to consciousness enough to growl through his agonized lips. "P..please... don't... k... k..."

The 300 pound foot came down, crushing Siegemaster's upper chest. The pistons unfolded, positioned and fired, tearing the villain's corpse apart and pinning its largest remaining pieces to the red-stained alley road. "Dead or alive."

Disfocused from the massive impact into the wall, Ravyn was having trouble keeping his eyes open. But that, that he saw. A spike of fury shot through him, forcing him awake. " bastard! Bul...Bulwark, how could you?!" Even with new armor and a modulated voice, Fortress could not hide who he really was from Bloodravyn. Somehow, Ravyn could simply feel his old... friend.

With one foot actuator streaked crimson, Fortress strode forward and brought the other one down. It smashed through and then shredded the body of Feral. If the bestial villain hadn't been dead before, he certainly would be now. "These creatures are monsters and have no rights. I am doing a favor by taking them out this way." As if to prove his benevolence, Fortress raised his alloy-shrouded right forearm and extended his plasma cannon. Taking aim at the next villain on the ground, a bright lance of raw energy lashed down and left nothing behind but a burning grave nine feet deep and a pair of disconnected feet smouldering at one end. "It is quicker and cleaner than they deserve."

Ravyn groans and shook his head as quickly as his stupor would allow. "N...n-no! H...heroes... aren't exe-executioners!"

"I ended your life effectively enough once." Ravyn had no answer to that.

"And now I'll have to do it twice." Or that.

Fortress' murderous foot came down over the legs of the next villain in line. There was a sheering pain, a terrible sound of breaking, splintering bone and then Killer Instinct really was unconscious - this time from shock.

"Please, don't bother struggling." Fortress raised both cannons and aimed them at Bloodravyn as he dangled helplessly from the ragged wall. "These weapons are tuned to your genetics; they have been designed to knock out your powers, destroy your equilibrium and then end your existence."

The glow in the cannons was bright again, moments from the critical mass that meant the end of the road for Ravyn. He knew it, he sensed it but he could not avoid it.

Fortress calculated the throwback effect on two full burst plasma emitters and decided to shift his position. The suit's right foot rose into the air and started to come down over the next body in line - Fatale.

"NO!" Bloodravyn felt a strange surge of energy just as Fortress' constant monitors picked up a localized tremor in the ground beneath them both. Basalt tore its way free from the ground, spiraling around Bloodravyn and shedding a bright, warm green glow. In that instant, he was healed, free and clearheaded again. He was also covered in the now-familiar obsidian and basalt plates covering much of his armor.

Before Fortress could step down on the femme or fire his cannons, Ravyn hauled himself from the hold in the wall, smashing headfirst into Fortress' battlesuit. Upon retrospect and the need for massive doses of painkiller, Ravyn would have due cause to question that decision

The impact did serve to send both of Fortress' shots wild. Unused to missing, that stunned moment was enough to get him sent backwards almost to the mouth of the alley. Burning punch after burning punch kept Fortress' defense web unsure of what it should be combating - fire or high-impact. With the Fortress-One's suit systems in confusion, Bloodravyn knew the time to strike was now!


A moment's hesitation, Ravyn's fist clutched around a sword of raw fire, the blade drawn back to finish him off. In the next moment, he was flying backwards into the main street, nearly struck by a car. The Fortress-One was a state-of-the-art design; it would never be down for the count long.

"Do yourself a favor," Fortress's deep monotone echoed from a passionless speaker. "Just go down. Let me end this quickly." With each word, Fortress was smashing Bloodravyn into something else. Mail box. Trash can. Circle K. Car. If this was Bulwark's idea of quick, Ravyn was certainly glad his former friend didn't want this to linger.

Using as much speed as his connection to the earth allowed, Ravyn started anticipating swings through ground vibrations and dodging them because of the warnings. The fight took them back into the alley after trashing everything on the street outside. They fought and tangled, Ravyn finally fighting back, until they were almost at the end of the side road again, Fortresses back a few feet from the broken wall.

Bloodravyn had even managed to make sure there were no more collateral victims, though it had cost him a nasty set of blows to the back. He'd carried the survivors to the shadows of the alley instead of leaving them right out in the middle of it. Fatale and the others were safe... as long as he didn't drop. He was both certain of and disgusted to admit that if he went down, Bulwark would murder the bar's survivors. All of them.

That gave him another burst of rage, a surge of power that allowed him to smash through the Fortress armor's defense grid and weaken its shielding.

Unfortunately, while he was saving lives and hurting a force field, Fortress had been badly injuring a Bloodravyn. He's scored three solid hits so far, one of which was finally taking its toll. The pain of a cracked bone in his upper leg sent Ravyn to the ground, staring up at a raised foot. The glowing aura protecting Fortress shifted completely to the front side of the armored suit. From this position, with that field in place, there was nothing Ravyn could do to defend himself.

"Forgive me, brother, but this could end no other way. You fought well but you cannot beat me."

Ravyn sighed and looked down, shaking his head as the foot descended toward him. "You're right, Bul. I can't. I never could." The sound of shearing metal and grinding gears was deafening, making him wince away from the sound even as his death loomed overhead.

When the noise stopped, the foot did too. Mere inches from his face, it ground to a halt and left the suit with only its other boot, fully anchored, to keep the armor upright. Not that such fine points would matter any longer to the wearer of the Fortress-One. A huge hole was torn through the front chestplate from behind, a vicious set of clawed fingers clutching something pulsing and leaking.

Ravyn looked up at the brutality, wincing and looking away again. "I'm sorry, Bul. There wasn't any other way..."

Lethane, still smoking, dropped the gushing thing and yanked his hand out the back of the suit before pushing it over with a growl. "Oh, get over the waterworks. That wasn't a heart. It was a hydraulic pump."

Bloodravyn looked up, blinking. "What?"

From the look on Leth's face, if he'd had a tail it would have been lashing angrily. "Hydraulic pump. There's no one in the suit. Your 'buddy' Bulwark send a drone in his place." Leaping straight up forty feet, Lethane landed on a rooftop and shouted out, "CHICKEN SHIT! STRAP UP AND BRING IT, YOU OLD CRIP!"

Below, Ravyn was ignoring Leth. He was kneeling beside the suit of armor, looking inside it at the automaton systems still sparking from Lethane's 'reprogramming'.

Bul hadn't been in it. He had not killed his best friend.

And while his best friend had not killed him either, there was no shadow of doubt any longer.

No way to deny it now. The Vigilant wanted him dead. They could strike at any time, from any direction, with nigh-infinite resources. Sooner or later, one of them would succeed.

And there was only one way to keep that from happening.

One brutal... terrible way.

Leth's way.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Acts of Violence

The sheer waves of heat coming off the building were enough to force them both back several feet. Wood and metal merged in raw fire, fading away into pillars of glowing ash.

"Damn it," Leth cussed under his breath. "I liked that bar."

Ravyn punched him, hard, in the arm. He wanted to hit him in the face but after the display Big Blue had just put on in what used to be a Cap Au Diable tavern, it was probably best not to upset Leth that much. "Was that really necessary?"

Lethane shrugged. "It's my fault liquor burns?"

Bloodravyn glared at him before plunging through the walls of flame, saying before the rush of fire drowned him out, "When you are the one lighting it? YES!"

The tall blue elven marauder sat down on what was left of an outside cafe' table and waited. He knew the boy scout would not be harmed by the fire inside. He wasn't sure exactly what had changed 'Nightravyn' so drastically where the man's abilities were concerned but he knew that someone who dripped lava when he was angry wasn't going to be hurt by a little thing like a burning building.

Even if the building was technically Leth's own fault. "Oopsie." He suppressed a grin as the center of the old bar collapsed in a flare of light and smoke. "My bad."

The metal side door staved outward, so fused in its frame that it took two kicks from the inside to knock down. Out Ravyn came, coughing as he drug someone unconscious from the conflagration. Looking up as he set down his burden gently, he scowled at Lethane. "Are you going to help?!?"

Twisting a long lock of blue hair around one still-bloody finger, Leth considered...
...for about two seconds. "Nope."

"Ass." Ravyn growled and plunged back into the fires. Sections of superheated brick fell inward across one wall, the waves of air rippling outward becoming visible even in the dark of the abandoned alley. Lethane idly wondered how many people the big idiot was going to try to save.

Five apparently. Well, six, but one was dead before he got the poor bastard out. Gosh. Leth was really going to miss Feral. Poor guy, dying like that, all burned and...

Nah. He couldn't pull off sympathy, even when it was fake and only to himself. Still, he was going to miss one thing. Charbroiled like he was, Feral wouldn't be any use as prey now. Leth had been looking forward to hunting that bastard down later and now he was a pork rind. Pity.

While he was lamenting the loss of a good night's stalk, Lethane watched Ravyn work himself into a frenzy saving the five he'd pulled out. Honestly, Leth had no idea the big boy scout knew CPR and first aid... but it didn't surprise him. Somewhere under all that body armor, the big stone-plated sissy probably had a Life Saving merit badge in the shape of a fucking Care Bear.

"Hi. I'm Woosy Heart Bear! Do you need a hug?"

"What?!" Rayn was looking up at him, kneeling as he was beside the unconscious body of a woman in tight black leather. Fatale, unconscious and vulnerable. Now that had possibilities. Well, it would if Ravyn was game to play along... or get out of the way... Neither was likely to happen. Pity.

"Huh?" Leth asked.

"You just said something about a bear hug?"

Lethane grinned and shook his head. "Nah, nothing. Keep playing doctor." He watched Ravyn scoff and turn back to bringing Fatale back from the brink. Did the fool not realize not one of these people would so much as spit on him were the positions reversed?

Did he? Probably not.

Would it stop him if he did? Definitely not.

After a few minutes, the five survivors were all breathing again, though not a one of them had regained consciousness. Well, except for Killer Instinct. There was a better than fifty/fifty chance the son of a bitch was faking it just to get more mouth-to-mouth. Perv. Leth highly approved, not that his appreciation was going to make him go any easier on Killer when next they met. Half this carnage and property damage was K.I.'s fault, after all.

"I wouldn't bother saving him. I'm just going to have to kill him later, you know."

Again, Ravyn looked up from his knees. He was busy checking the pulse of some villain Leth had never seen before. Deep in the heart of a moving shadow that seemed to cling to the man's body, this strange new villain would bear investigating in the future. Assuming, that is, the man lived. Somehow, Leth suspected he would, if only because Ravyn had already proven himself too damned stubborn to let anyone die.

Well, except Feral, but given that this whole conflagration had started because Leth set the furry beast-man on fire, the savage villain's demise had pretty much been a foregone conclusion.

"What?! I still can't hear you!"

Lethane grinned and shrugged. "Never mind. Not important."

The exasperation in Ravyn's tone was evident. "You know, you could come the Hell over here and help me."

That made Leth laugh and nod. He jumped up to his feet, talking a step forward. "You're right." Then he stopped, took a step backwards and jumped up onto his dumpster again. "I could. I won't, but I could."

"Bastard," Ravyn grumbled and moved to the next burn victim, pulling off Siegemaster's steel gorget to open his breathing passage. There was blood in the man's spit but none of it was pink or frothing yet. "You know this disaster is your fault, right?"

"Hey!" Leth hopped down again, looking pissed. He was still basically just amused but he hated being blamed for things he didn't do. Lethane much rather preferred to take credit for his carnage and this lovely bit of inferno-roasted mayhem was not completely his doing. "I'm not the one who decided to use Feral as a flying pinata of death!"

Ravyn nodded, glancing at Killer Instinct, unable to see the small smile on the man's lips from where he was crouched. "True enough but who set him on fire in the first place?"

"I asked him not to smoke!"

"You poured a bottle of rum on him and kicked him into the fireplace!"

"Yeah..." Leth grinned, chuckling. "That was great."

"Great?!? How many people just died, Leth?"

Another shrug. "I dunno. Ummm... lots?" Then he grinned, his white Cheshire's smile visible even in the shadows of the fading firelight. "Lots and lots?"

Bloodravyn shook his head, disconnecting the healing injectors from his chestplate and inserting them into Fatale's right wrist. The chemical flow instantly began to stabilize her, easing her ragged breath and faltering heartbeat. "You are hopeless. Utterly hopeless."

Leth snarled. The boy scout was pushing it. "I'm hopeless?!? Wake up and smell where you are, dumbass! You aren't in Paragon City anymore. These twinks you are trying so hard to save give less than two rat shits about you. There are no innocents here. This is the ROGUE ISLES, mate!" Lethane's eyes began to glow intensely, a brooding amber that sat his face in a harsh silhouette. "What part of City of Villains was unclear?"

Ravyn looked down, unwilling or perhaps unable to meet his gaze.

"Noble will get you killed here, man. You think any one of these losers will thank you for what you've done?" Lethane snarled , his white smile becoming a vicious scowl. "They'll knife you in the back the moment there's more profit in your death than in keeping you around."

He held up one finger, trying to get Ravyn to pay attention. "Learn this, man, and commit it to memory. Not one of these people will owe you crap for this. They won't care, they don't care and they won't have a moment's hesitation leaving you to burn someday."

Again, Ravyn wouldn't look up or look away from the glowing lines running from his armor to the woman at his knees. All the same, Lethane could tell he was listening.

"They are villains, Ravyn. They live here and living here, you can't be anything else." Leth's voice softened just a little, desperately hoping to get through to the former hero. "They get it, Ravyn. Why can't you?"

Finally, Bloodravyn disconnected the lines and reeled them back into his suit. There was a long, tense silence, broken only by his quiet voice in the shadows between them. "I... don't know, Leth. Part of me understands what you are saying. Part of me agrees."

"Well," Lethane growled as he slowly walked closer. "That part had better kick the shit out of the rest of you or someday, when you least expected it, you'll get gunned down and you'll never even see it coming."

There was a bright flash of light from behind Lethane. A split second later, the blue-skinned elf hurtled forward, arching over Ravyn and smashing into the wall far behind him, a trail of smoke billowing from the ruined flesh of his back!

Before Bloodravyn could react, the earth shuddered from the impact of a huge metal shape slamming down to block the mouth of the alley. Plate after plate of ballistic armor covered the massive figure, silver and grey on black with a steaming plasma cannon mounted to each raised arm, the intruder took one step forward out of its own crater.

"That was good advice." The titanic armored man took another step forward, twin glows building to blinding radiance. "Unfortunate that it will do you no good."

And with that, the paired cannons fired, turning Ravyn's world into a hell of light and pain...