Chapter 1

The Lohrman Building stood in the heart of Steel Canyon overlooking Blyde Square. Built in the early fifties it was, at that time, a modern marvel incorporating design and function unheard of in construction and architecture.

The Lohrman brothers, Martin and Albert, had always been at the forefront of development and business in Paragon City. Lohrman Brothers Mercantile Trading had grown from a dry goods store to its present standing as one of the premier precious stones venders in the world. It was as great a source of pride for the brothers as it was a temptation for the criminal element in the city. And with the emergence of supervillains Lohrman Brothers Mercantile Trading had become a very enticing target indeed.

On this day it had proved irresistible to the Freakshow. Seven of them had made their way in through a loading dock, into a freight elevator and up the fire stairs until they reached the 40th floor offices of the precious stone dealers. Visions of millions of dollars worth of diamonds and sapphires danced in front of their eyes. It would be easy, they told themselves. Get in, terrorize the people, get the goods, get out. But things went bad from the moment they stepped onto the floor.

They hadn’t counted on an emergency failsafe triggered by an alert guard, automatically shutting the gems in a time locked safe that proved impossible to break into.

They hadn’t counted on an alert secretary pressing the silent alarm.

They hadn’t counted on the Paragon City police cordoning off the building and sealing every exit.

And they hadn’t counted on Top Ten.

Several members of one of the largest and most powerful Super groups in the city descended upon the building. An explosion marked their arrival as a hole appeared in the 40th floor wall. A Tank Smasher and his gang of six stood transfixed for a moment, staring through the gaping hole and into the sunny blue sky over Steel Canyon. Blocking their view was a man and a woman dressed in blue leather, with yellow accents, and a shield of that same yellow upon their chests.

The woman leapt forward, landing directly in front of the Tank. He stood a head taller than her and he looked at his men with a smile. He raised his hammer hand high above his head and brought it crashing down, striking her, trying to drive her into the floor like a nail. The smirk left his face when he realized the blow had absolutely no effect.

The woman smiled sweetly and, flashing brilliant white teeth, whispered, "My turn." She jumped into the air and kicked the Tank squarely on the side of the head. When she landed she unleashed a series of strikes so fast and so powerful the eye couldn’t follow her hands and her target was left dazed on his feet. His six henchmen, mouths open in surprise, looked at each other and ran. She smiled and springing into the air, struck the Freak boss with a back kick, knocking him into a wall.

Her partner threw his hands forward and a bolt of pure energy surged through him and into the Tank, hitting him in the chest and knocking him through the wall and into the office beyond, his back nearly bending in two as he rammed into the heavy oak desk inside.

The woman, Buttercup, and the man, General Scrap, leaned in and looked through the hole, watching as the Tank slid off the desk and onto the floor.

"Impressive," Buttercup said, nodding her head.

Scrap grinned crookedly. "Not my first time."

They heard the sounds of battle around the corner and began to make their way towards it when suddenly a blast of white hot flame shot between them. They looked behind them and saw the Tank, on his feet but engulfed in the fire. Slowly he crumpled to the floor once more. The pair turned to seek out their benefactor and in the sky outside the ruined wall hovered Tropic, his eyes leaking red fire and his hands still smoldering.

Gracefully, he glided through the hole in the wall and landed in front of the pair. Buttercup smiled in greeting. General Scrap just nodded his head.

"You’re late," the big man said.

Tropic shrugged. "It’s a big city," he said in his low, gravelly voice.

The sounds of the fighting beckoned them again and they rushed to join the fray.

Rounding the corner they were greeted with the sight of a Freak Stunner hurtling towards them and not under his own power. Tropic and Scrap leapt to the side and Buttercup practically threw herself to the floor to avoid being struck by the criminal. He flew past them and hit the floor, bounced twice, and lay still.

Buttercup scrambled to her feet and saw WillowWind grinning at her. The energy powers she wielded had caused the Freak to careen down the hall. The dark haired woman yelled to her three teammates as she turned back to battle, "Sorry!", and looked directly into the face of a Freak Chopper, his axe already arcing towards her head.

Before the blow could strike the Chopper was knocked to the side, his head striking the wall with a crack and leaving a large indent in the plaster. A huge blade came crashing down across his chest and he fell unconscious to the floor. The tall woman leaned close to the thug and whispered in a strangely accented voice, "Broadsword beats axe."

She turned to WillowWind. "You OK?"

Willow smiled up at the tall blonde. "I was ready for him. It was part of my plan, Temptations."

"Your plan to get sliced in two?", Temptations grinned. "You may have to rethink your strategy."

She ducked suddenly as General Scrap jumped over her. Buttercup ran past them and said, "More to do!" She continued on, her gaze riveted to the end of the hallway. The remaining four Freaks had appeared there and had to be caught. Willow, Temptations and Tropic followed in their comrades wake.

Suddenly the four thugs were surrounded by a ring of fire and a huge blast of flame engulfed them. Scrap turned to Tropic, his long blonde hair whipping about. Tropic shrugged.

"Wasn’t me," he said simply.

The trapped Freakshow dropped and from around the corner Elendil appeared, his hands still glowing from the heat. Tropic smiled slightly. Elendil’s powers practically mirrored his own and he nodded his head in greeting.

Elendil stopped and bent over, resting his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath. He looked at the rest of Top Ten and shook his head. "That’s a lot of steps," he breathed out.

General Scrap laughed out loud. The fire blaster had climbed 40 flights of stairs and still took out four of the enemy. "Better late than never," he said as he helped the man stand up.

The hostages had been saved, the Freakshow were on their way to prison and the police had taken statements from everyone in the city, it seemed. When Top Ten was finally finished with the incident it was almost eight o’clock and night had fallen over Steel Canyon.

They had gathered on the sidewalk in front of the Lohrman Building and were discussing what area of the city was in most need of patrol when a voice called out to them from above. "Did I miss it?"

They looked up and WillowWind smiled in greeting. Her good friend Valya had arrived accompanied by Cadecus. Both were members of the Super group. Valya, a powerful warrior whose control of the earth was absolute and Cadecus, a valuable ally and friend, a fearless healer who had saved their lives more times than could be counted.

They landed next to their friends and Valya asked again, "Did I miss it?"

General Scrap shook his head. "You’re late."

Valya frowned. "It’s a big city!" She looked at Willow and grinned. "I was all the way at the crash site when I got the call," she said, brushing her thick red hair back from the two horns that sprouted from her head.

Cadecus nodded. "Yeah, I met her at the train in Brickstown and we got here as fast as we could."

Temptations laughed. "You missed it! Elendil had to climb 40 flights and he still took out four of…", her voice trailed off as she looked at her friends. "Cad? Are you all right?"

The tattooed man looked up at her. "I’m…not sure…," he said and fell dazed into her arms.

All around her, her teammates were beginning to waver on their feet. But no, not all of them she realized. Herself, General Scrap, Elendil and WillowWind all appeared to be fine. She had grabbed Cadecus and was holding the dazed man. Scrap supported Buttercup, Willow had Valya and Tropic was holding onto a lamppost for dear life.

And as quickly as it happened, it ended. The four affected heroes stood straight under their own power, shaking their heads as if trying to knock water out of their ears.

Elendil asked the question they all had on their minds. "What the hell was that?"

Buttercup looked up, rubbing her temples. "I don’t know. It felt like someone was standing behind me…breathing down my neck."

"And cold. It felt cold," added Cadecus, turning his head from side to side.

Valya frowned. "It was like something was trying to take the strength from me. Like it was taking…sucking the…"


They all turned toward Tropic. He was standing at the edge of the sidewalk almost in the street, staring off into the distance.

"What?", asked the General.

"Sucked some of the life out of us," he said quietly and spoke no more.

"But why you guys?", Temptations asked. "How come we all didn’t feel it?"

They stood in silence in the cool night air until finally, "Magic!"

They turned to WillowWind, who said it again. "Magic. Don’t you see? They all either got their powers from or use or are magic." She looked at Valya, the concern plainly visible in her expression.

"I guess that makes sense for now," Valya said, smiling at her friend, "but…". Her voice trailed off as she tried to think.

"I know," Cadecus nodded, "but what was it? And more importantly…"

"What could have caused it?", General Scrap finished the question, a deep frown etched on his face.

"Something’s here that shouldn’t be here." Tropic’s voice was quiet, no more than a rough whisper.

WillowWind looked at the rest of the team and then crossed to the fiery hero standing at the edge of the sidewalk. "What do you mean, Tropic?", she said from behind him.

He turned his head and spoke over his shoulder, "Something’s here," and returned his gaze to the horizon.

Willow turned to the rest of Top Ten and finally they all looked in the direction Tropic continued to stare in. An audible gasp slipped from Buttercup’s open mouth and all the hero’s eyes widened in surprise.

In the distance the sky above Perez Park glowed a malevolent green. It swirled and glimmered, not the reassuring, restful glow of the force field walls, but a color that was uncomfortable and disturbing. At that moment, two police cars headed for the park sped past the gathered heroes, their sirens wailing like a child waking from a terrible nightmare.

"Something’s here," Tropic whispered once more and then, as one, they began to make their way to Perez Park.
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