"Simple, huh?", Johnny Cognito frowned as he wiped the dirt from his forehead with the back of his hand. It left a smudge over his right eye but he had already begun to rub his palms together, trying to rid himself of the dark earth. Behind Temptations he could see the HAZ-MAT personnel entering the park, beginning the depressing task of gathering the bodies littering the quiet landscape.

"Look around you, Tempt," he continued, waving his hands, "that thing just killed everything here. It’s not gonna be simple. It’s gonna be rough…and after seeing how it threw us around I think our chances are pretty slim."

Scrap walked up and laid his hand on Johnny’s shoulder. "So, we give up?"

Johnny looked at the man with a smirk. "Of course not, you know better than that." He shook his head and looked at the ground. "But we can’t beat it…not right now."

Cadecus nodded in agreement. He eyed the rest of Top Ten. Buttercup kneeled down by the edge of the lake, resting back on her ankles. She stared unseeing into the cool blue water as Miyaka stood next to her fiddling with her skirt, pulling the sides of her white panties up high on her hips so that the front and back dipped below the waistband and out of sight. Cad shook his head.

WillowWind and Valya were standing at the lake as well, Willow brushing some of the dirt from Val’s thick red hair and Val pulling a twig or two from Will’s dark mane. The leg of WillowWind’s costume, where the demon had grabbed her, was torn, ripped down the front and back exposing her smooth, tan skin. Tropic stood near them silently, staring with smoldering eyes in the direction the thing had run off to.

"We need to know more," the defender said. He looked at the group and asked, "What do we know so far?"

"It’s big, it’s strong and it’s pretty much impervious to whatever we threw at it," Buttercup said, absently rubbing her hand over the claw marks in her uniform.

"I don’t know about that," Willow shook her head, "I think Elendil and Tropic hurt it"

"No," Tropic frowned. The red-skinned hero turned to Willow and smiled. "I don’t think so, but…" He shook his head. "I don’t know. Anyway, I’m almost positive it’s not supposed to be here." The gathered heroes looked at Tropic expectantly. He shrugged and, shaking his head said, "It doesn’t feel like one of their Behemoths."

Johnny squinted an eye at him. "What? Another dimension or something?"

Cadecus nodded, one hand rubbing his chin. "That’s entirely possible: another dimension or plane of existence. The Circle are certainly capable of pulling something like that over or…it made the jump on it’s own." The healer shook his head, "We just don’t know…yet."

Miyaka sighed. "Well, we know we can’t hurt it."

"But it can hurt us," the voice said from above. Ryuuhoshi landed gracefully among his teammates, his eyes darting quickly past and around them, looking for the animal they had been fighting. "Is it gone?", he asked, the anger in his voice almost slapping his friends faces.

"Yes, a few minutes ago," Scrap replied. "Kunai is following it." He briefly recounted the final moments of the battle and then asked "How are Phreeze and Bzald?"

Ryuuhoshi looked at each hero in turn when he spoke, "Phreeze is in a coma. The doc’s think she’ll be alright but they want her to wake up on her own."

"And when do they think that’ll be?", Valya asked.

Ryuu shrugged. "Hour, day, week, month. Your guess is as good as theirs. They said they’ll wake her if she goes beyond a certain point but they didn’t tell me what that point was."

"And Bzald?" Willow eyed the dark ninja.

Even though the bottom half of Ryuuhoshi’s face was covered those gathered thought they could see him frown. "They think that…he may have…they don’t…"

"Just say it, Ryuu," Tropic said softly.

The ninja paused for a moment and then, "It’s his spine. He cracked it on that tree pretty hard. The doctors knocked him out and have him tied down so he can’t move and hurt himself further." The heroes were frowning, their brows beginning to knit together in worry and anger. "But there’s so much swelling in there they can’t tell if any bone shards or nerves or whatever are causing any damage. They said they had to wait but…" He paused again and this time seemed almost unable to speak.

"Go on, Ryuuhoshi," Cadecus urged.

"They think his legs may be paralyzed." The statement hung in the air between them with a presence all it’s own. Ryuu looked at his friends, his eyes showing all the emotion he felt. "They don’t know."

General Scrap sighed heavily, "Well, let’s find some people who know about this thing so we can hunt it down and make it pay." The rest of Top Ten looked at him, anger and resolve clearly etched on their faces.

"Well, we know it hates the Circle of Thorns," Miyaka declared.

"…or needs them," Tropic intoned, pulling on his lower lip.

WillowWind tilted her head as she looked at the blaster. "What do you mean, Trop?"

Tropic glanced at the bodies strewn about the landscape. "The others he killed but the Circle he sucked dry. I don’t think he was as interested in their lives as he was in the magic he could siphon from them." The shook his head and ran his hand through his tall spiky hair. "He wanted their magic. Their lives were just a bonus."

"But why?", Temptations wondered aloud.

Cognito shook his head and frowned. "Well, I guess if we need to know about the Circle of Thorns we need to go to the source. And there’s only one place I can think of."

"Oh, don’t tell me…," pleaded Temptations.

Buttercup sighed, "Oranbega."

"I hate Oranbega," Temptations said simply. The other heroes around her voiced similar sentiments. The magic city stood deep underground, a safe haven for the Circle to practice their arcane spells and brew their concoctions. It was fraught with portals and gates, demons and mystics that gave even the bravest hero pause. But Cognito and Buttercup were right: if one wanted to know what the Circle was up to Oranbega was the only place to investigate.

Elendil nodded. "All right. I think there’s a gateway within the thickest part of the park. Let’s get going before we…"

"Wait," General Scrap interrupted. "Not all of us."

"Why not?", Miyaka asked with a raised eyebrow.

"There’s someplace else to go too." Scrap looked at the expectant group and said finally, "Me, Cadecus, Temptations, Tropic and Buttercup will go to Oranbega. The rest of you go see Azuria at M.A.G.I. in city hall. Something this big, they’re probably already working on it. Let’s find out what they know."

Suddenly Tropic’s low, gravely voice was heard, "Look at the sky,’ he said quietly.

They looked up and saw the green tempest above them begin to dissipate. The nighttime sky could now be seen through the mist, the light of the stars finally showing through.

At that moment Scrap’s communicator sounded. "Yes?…Kunai! Where?…OK…I see…No! No, don’t do…I understand but it would be suicide…Yes…Yes…OK…Just keep following it and report back when it moves again…I understand…OK." He placed the device back on his belt and turned to the other members of Top Ten. "It’s in Faultline and it’s doing the same thing."

The heroes’ eyes narrowed and Valya whispered, "We have to stop it."

"All right, let’s get going," Scrap sighed. "Let’s meet at that park below the Green Line in Steel in…an hour, right?"

They nodded and began moving in the direction of their assignments. Tropic stood for a moment stroking his goatee’, a deep frown on his face. The thing was in Faultline now. "Lot’s of Thorns in Faultline," he thought. Tropic had the beginnings of an idea about the demon and he didn’t like where his thoughts were taking him. He breathed out heavily then turned and caught up to his friends as they sought out the entrance to the magic city.
Up Next: Down Oranbega Way!
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