The door to Top Ten's headquarters whispered shut, sealing The Arbiter and Over Cast from Paragon City. "Nice place." In fact, the massive structure was the envy of many other super groups. As the two men walked their footsteps echoed through the dark marble floored hall. Souvenirs from past victories crowded one side of the entrance hall, and the other side was a memorial to fallen heroes. The Arbiter stopped to read the plaque next to a battered red mask. Over Cast stopped next to him.
"That was taken from Tyrant."
"Who is Tyrant?"
"Tyrant was an evil version of Statesman on an alternate earth. He was stopped by this man here." He pointed to the opposite wall where a portrait hung. "Dr. DNA." The Arbiter read the tag.
"Founder of Top Ten. What happened to him?"
"We don't know. He just disappeared one day."
Over Cast's hand went up to his ear. "Come on, there's a couple of people that want to meet you."
"Hang on mate, you've got to sign in first." A glowing, green-skinned woman pointed to a clipboard on the desk. The Arbiter stared. "You use the pen big boy. Make little squiggly marks on the paper."
"Easy P.J., he's had a rough day."
"Try getting the smell of Banished Pantheon out of leather pants."
The Arbiter signed the clipboard. "There, that wasn't so hard, eh?" She slapped him on the back. It was like slapping a piece of granite. "Tank, eh? Rugged."
Green eyes met green. "Did you say something?"
They took an elevator down a few levels. As the stainless steel elevator descended, Over Cast noticed that there was still shrapnel sticking out of Arbiter's back. "Does that hurt?" He said, indicating the yellowish pieces of metal.
"It's not so bad. I am a little tired, though." He looked at his hands. They were bruised and covered with scars. "I guess I'll never be a hand model."
"Hold still for a second." The air in the elevator swirled for a moment and pieces of metal dropped popped out of Arbiter's back and fell to the floor. "Feel better?"
"Much. Thank you."
The elevator stopped and they entered Top Ten's bullpen. Heroes in blue and gold armor lounged about under the Neo-PD crest. A fire imp bounced into the room, following a barefoot man. Someone shouted “No imps in here! We've had enough fires this week!”
“Sorry!” The imp disappeared and Acacia Strain sat down, putting his feet up on a desk. He wiggled his toes and grinned. “Hey OC, who's the new guy?”
“This man just had a run-in with a Fake Nemesis.”
“How'd he do?” Acacia put his feet back on the floor and leaned forward. Over Cast dropped the ball of metal that was once a Nemesis mask on the desk. Acacia picked up the lump of metal and leaned back in his chair. “I'd say he did pretty well.”
“He needs our help. The owner of that mask is named Talbot and he got away. This man needs to find him and arrest him.” Over Cast took a seat at the edge of the desk.
“I didn't say anything about arresting him. I just want to find him.”
“We don't kill people here, we arrest them.” Over Cast eyed the big man.
“I didn't say I was going to kill him, did I?” Something about his expression suggested that there were much worse things in store for Talbot than death.
“Why do you need to find him?” asked Acacia.
“He killed my daughter.” The noise in the room died down. A few people stood up and started forward.
Acacia Strain stood up and extended his hand, “We'll help you find him.” The Arbiter shook his hand and nodded. Acacia sat back down, keyed a switch, and spoke into a microphone on the desk. “All available Top Ten personnel report in.” Acknowledgements squawked in over a speaker. “Tell me what you know about this guy Talbot.”
"You are a disappointment to me Talbot."
"Yes, Lord Nemesis."
"Who is this 'hero' and why is he interrupting my plans?"
"His name is Stone. He's the judge that put me in jail." It was difficult to concentrate with those unblinking glass eyes staring at you.
"And what are you going to do about it, hm? My time is too precious to be wasted on this little hero."
"He will be dealt with immediately, my lord." Talbot was beginning to sweat.
"Good. Leave my sight now." Talbot backed out of the room quickly.
I'm going to kill him, thought Talbot. He's going to pay for embarrassing me like that.
"...that's the situation. I need Talbot's location and I need volunteers to take him down." As soon as Dr. Silver finished speaking all 24 heroes in the room stood.
"Form teams of eight. Spread out across the city and start putting pressure on Nemesis operations. Find him." The heroes filed out, some already calling their contacts for information, others discussing which part of the city to squeeze. "Arbiter, you're with me and Acacia. We're going to pay a visit to Peregrine Island."
"Thanks, but I'd rather go to Crey's Folly. Someone there knows something."
"Less witnesses too, right?" Silver watched for a reaction.
"As a matter of fact, yes."
"All the more reason to-"
"Look, I appreciate the help but I can handle a few Dragoons by myself." The two locked eyes.
Silver's gaze never faltered. "Take this then." He handed over a small earpiece. "You'll be able to stay in contact with us." The Arbiter inserted the earpiece. "One more thing...around here we make arrests."
"So I've heard."
"That includes you. No killing." The Arbiter was silent. He turned and took the elevator up.
Over Cast sighed. "I feel sorry for Crey's Folly." Silver nodded.
"Talbot. Where." The Arbiter stood on a metal platform 200 feet above brackish green water holding a Nemesis Lance Sergeant by his heel. The soldier squirmed and struggled to grab the edge of the narrow ledge. An unconscious Dragoon propped up against the wall of the old smokestack was beginning to stir.
"I told you, I don't know!" The young man's voice climbed as he started to panic.
"Wrong answer." The scream from the man's fall shocked the Dragoon awake. He jumped to his feet but he wasn't fast enough. The Arbiter's powerful hands clamped over his throat and he was held, feet over the drop. "Your turn. Where. Is. Talbot." The Dragoon gurgled and tried desperately to free himself.
"Nrgh!" His face was turning bright red. The grip loosened slightly.
"Warehouse! Talos!" The Arbiter pulled him closer and stared into the man's eyes. The Dragoon realized there was no use in lying. "Okay, I don't really know, just put me down!"
"As you wish." He let go. As the man fell The Arbiter was already looking for the next group of Nemesis troops. He started down the steps that wound around the smokestack. "Forty Nemesis. You'd think someone knew something."
Upstairs in his office, Dr. Silver hung up the phone and turned to Over Cast. "The police just called. Someone is massacring Nemesis in Crey's. They found a pile of about 15 of them. They weren’t…intact…so they’re not sure how many they were yet. One was still alive; his fall had been broken by his lance sergeant. The trauma was so bad he couldn’t give a description, but I think I know who it was.” He shook his head and sighed. “Are you sure this was a good idea, OC?”
The older man looked through the window to the water below. The sun was setting and it colored the harbor in shades of orange and gold. “Yes. He needs our help, and not just with Nemesis. I’m afraid of what will happen when he finally catches him.”
“Me too…I just hope he isn’t going to be a liability.”
“If he loses control I don’t know what we’ll be able to do. He was walking around with a 3-inch piece of Jaeger sticking out of his back without even noticing.”
“We’d have to call Nihilaa.”
“I’m not sure if even she could hold him. I hope we don’t have to find out.”
NoVak flew low over the rooftops of Peregrine Island. A shot rang out and suddenly he was falling. Frantically he hit his com, broadcasting his location to all nearby Top Ten heroes. “Sniper! Need help here!” Seconds later Ryuuhoshi stepped out of the shadows behind the sniper, who turned to fire and froze, cowering at visions only he could see. Ryu glided towards the man and struck, sending a dizzying flurry of punches into his body. The sniper crumpled and Ryu handcuffed him.
“Are you okay, NoVak?”
“I’ll be alright...just got the wind knocked out of me.”
“Good…then come pick up this guy. He’ll be on his feet soon.” A hulking dark shape dropped out of the sky.
“Looks like you beat me to him.”
“Hello Arbiter.” Ryu eyed him suspiciously. “I thought you were in Crey’s Folly?”
“I was. There wasn’t much activity there, and nobody wanted to give me a straight answer, so I thought I’d try here. Mind if I talk to your perp?” The Arbiter started towards the fallen sniper. Ryu stepped between them.
“Well, I thought I’d take this one back to headquarters to be questioned.”
The Arbiter smiled. “Of course. I’ll keep looking around.” The big man leapt from the rooftop and disappeared.
Ryu watched him go and keyed his mic, opening a direct channel to NoVak. “You’d better get over here quick. I’ve got some work to do.” He dialed in a new channel. “Buttercup, are you out there? I think we have a problem.”
Talbot put his new helmet on and picked up his staff. The powered armor activated the weapon and the large gear at end began spinning slowly.
A Hussar approached Talbot, snapped a salute and stood rigidly at attention. “Sir, there are more reports coming in. Stone is now in Peregrine Island.”
“Where exactly is he?”
“By the docks, sir.”
“Good. Activate the Warhulks.” The Hussar saluted again and turned on his heel, striding towards the rows of machines waiting in the dark.
Ryuuhoshi hid in the shadows waiting for Buttercup to arrive and watched The Arbiter. The tank sat motionless at the edge of a rooftop, staring down at the streets.
Without turning, he said “I know you’re there. I can feel you watching me.” No point in trying to hide now. Ryu stepped forward into the light. “I know you don’t like it, but I have to do this. I can’t let him escape again. If it means hurting them, so be it.” The Arbiter’s hands came up and hid his face. In muffled tones he said, “It’ll all be over soon, Elizabeth, I promise.” His shoulders shook for a moment and then he sat upright. Ryu quickly stepped back into the shadows just before the bigger man stood and dropped down to the street below.
Dr. Silver closed the door to the interrogation room where the sniper sat smoking a cigarette. He looked at Acacia and said, “They’re going to ambush him at the docks in Peregrine Island. He’s tough, but I don’t think he can handle this by himself.” Silver looked at the clock on the wall. “If this clown isn’t lying they’re already on their way there. Put out the call, we’ve got to move fast.”
The Arbiter’s feet hit the pavement and as he started to jump again he heard the rumble of the approaching robots. An explosion just overhead caused pieces of brick fall on him. He turned and saw the first wave of Warhulks charging towards him. He smiled.
Over Cast and Buttercup landed next to Ryuuhoshi moments after the first explosion hit, shaking the building they stood upon. Without speaking, Ryu and Buttercup leapt down to the street, where rubble was already piling up from the force of the Warhulks’ assault. Mists followed Over Cast as he flew down to stand beside his wife. He raised his hands and the air grew darker. Thunder rolled as a small lightning storm appeared and a hurricane centered itself on him. Buttercup grinned at her husband and said, “Well hello Mr. Fancypants,” before kicking the nearest robot towards Ryu, whose fists shattered the Warhulk’s torso. The scrappers turned to the next Warhulk in time to see it explode from a blast of electricity from Over Cast.
“Think he needs our help?” Over Cast pointed towards The Arbiter, who was surrounded by six Warhulks. One of the robots exploded.
“Probably,” said Ryu, “but he seems to be doing okay. That might be a problem though.” He pointed up the street where more Nemesis were pounding towards them. “I’d say that’s about twenty of them.”