The heroes carefully followed
the thin trail through the thick trees, edging ever closer to the
entrance of the magic city. All had been there before, on one mission
or another, and all had hoped never to return. Oranbega’s cold stone
corridors seemed never ending, filled with Circle minions and worse.
It was a dangerous place made even more so due to the night’s events.
As they moved further into the dense forest they noticed that the
dead began to appear less and less until finally no bodies were apparent.
The team was silently thankful for that; they had seen too much death
tonight and this was a welcome respite. They also noticed there was
complete silence. No birds. Not even the buzzing of insects. It was
as though every living thing had fled in the wake of that monster.
It was…disturbing, to say the least.
Suddenly, they came to a glade
of soft grass and dirt and across the expanse a formation of rock
sprang up just at the tree line. Imbedded in it’s face was a wooden
door made up of four planks, "NO TRESPASSING" crudely written in black
paint over them. They crossed the glade, General Scrap and Tropic
in the lead, the rest spread out behind them.
"There it is," Scrap
"Hey! Over here!", Cadecus called out. The team gathered around
the healer as he crouched over the ground. A huge footprint was outlined
in the damp earth, the claws clearly visible.
"Well," Buttercup sighed,
"we know it was here."
"Or…there could be two of them," Tropic said,
his head low and hiding a crooked grin.
Temptations stared at the
red-skinned man with a raised eyebrow. "Oh, thank you very much, Tropic,"
she said with mock outrage. The fire blaster grinned and shrugged.
The others looked at him and, shaking their heads, and made their
way to the wooden gate and Oranbega.
They pried open the door and
entered the city. They stood in a type of foyer, floor and walls of
stone, and around them bookshelves holding arcane tomes and artifacts,
candles and bones. Directly ahead of them a triangular arch beckoned.
Beyond that lie the halls and buildings of the city.
But there was
Buttercup breathed in and frowned. "What’s that
Temptations had already noticed it and held her broadsword
at the ready. She looked at the archway then turned to her friend.
"Death," she said simply and quietly turned again to the arch.
blood," Tropic added, the iron-copper scent permeated the place. The
others may not have been able to sense it, but the fiery hero could.
He had smelled it enough in his long life. And he also knew that the
place reeked of it. And he knew how much of it was needed to cause
"Listen," Cadecus said softly. The heroes looked at each
other. There was no sound. No chanting. No shuffling footsteps. Nothing.
General Scrap frowned and said, "All right," and as one they entered
the archway and Oranbega.
They felt the eyes on them as
soon as they entered City Hall. Here was a place where fledgling heroes
began their careers, heads full of dreams of glory, their costumes
crisp and clean. In their thoughts every battle was won with effortless
skill and defeat was so foreign a concept it didn’t even register
as a possibility.
Then they saw Top Ten stride purposefully into the
building and across the great hall towards the hero assignment offices.
The six heroes were covered with dirt and grass stains, their uniforms
ripped and torn, but still walked straight with grim resolve. They
felt the eyes upon them and heard the murmurs of surprise and paid
them absolutely no attention.
They walked to the small hallway to
the right of the building and down the few steps to the assignment
area. This was the first stop for new superheroes in Paragon City
but sometimes even the more experienced crime fighters needed help.
Through the double doors on the right were the offices of the Modern
Arcane Guild of Investigation and hopefully some answers.
swung open and they headed for the reception desk where a disinterested
young woman sat, a hands free microphone and earpiece on the left
side of her narrow face. Her dark hair was pulled into a tight bun
and her blouse was buttoned up to her neck. The seam in the sleeves
of her business suit was razor sharp. Her lip curled slightly as she
looked the heroes up and down. "Yes?", she said with an exasperated
sigh, "may I help you?"
"We need to see Azuria right away!", Willow
"Do you have an appointment?"
repeated incredulously. "Um…No, but…"
"Well, I’m sorry but things
are a bit hectic at the moment," the receptionist interrupted. "If
you could be lambs and have a seat we’ll see if we can fit you in.
The heroes looked at each other with astonishment. Miyaka
stepped forward. "Look..," she paused to read the nameplate on the
corner of the desk, "umm…Renee, this is very important. There’s a…"
"And you are…?", Renee cut her off.
"And I would know
Miyaka turned to her friends her eyes wide, one eyebrow
arching upwards. Johnny Cognito answered, "We’re from Top Ten."
nodded, "Surely you’ve heard of us?"
"So…there will be ten of you…?"
"No, no…it’s a Super Group," Ryuuhoshi tried to explain, "and we’ve
really got to see Azuria. It’s very impor…"
"Yes…well…as I said it’s
going to be very difficult to fit you in but if you’ll just have a
seat over there we’ll see what we can do. Thanks so much." Then she
turned and answered the phone, effectively dismissing the stunned
"Oh, that’s it," Valya growled.
Azuria looked at the report
in her hand and frowned. No matter how many times she read it, it
still said the same thing: dead in Perez Park with special attention
to the Circle of Thorns; swirling green mist over said park; some
monstrous entity causing both presumably. She smiled a bit. "They’re
all monstrous entities," she thought.
M.A.G.I. had been aware of something
for a couple of hours now, ever since they had all felt the…draining.
Some of her people were still very wobbly, others, like herself, had
throbbing headaches but all still worked, concerned over the occurrence,
especially because they really had no idea what was going on. All
the information they had was based on second and third person accounts.
No eyewitnesses had presented themselves as yet. The only things they
were sure of was that it was magical in nature and it didn’t belong
One of her aides handed her another printout. The mist in Perez
Park was dissipating and beginning to form over the area known as
Faultline. The young mystic tugged on her lower lip wondering what
that could mean when, from outside the double doors, there was a thud
and what seemed to be a very short scream.
Suddenly the doors burst
open and six costumed individuals stood there, disheveled and dirty.
A red-head with horns had a hold of Azuria’s receptionist by the scruff
of the neck, controlling the struggling woman effortlessly. Azuria
pinched the bridge of her nose and shook her head. Renee was very
good at her job, but was difficult to say the least. She had been
in no less than a half dozen other departments and had been moved
from each. It was only a matter of time before some hero or other
had had enough of her…abruptness.
"We need to see Azuria ASAP!", called
out the horned woman.
Azuria sighed and, looking at the woman said,
Valya’s head jolted back in surprise. "Umm…yes. How
"We know many things," the young woman replied. She stepped
forward confidently. "I am Azuria. What can I do for Top Ten?", she
said, smiling at their bewilderment.
Finally WillowWind stepped forward.
"In Perez Park," she said hastily, "there’s a demon. It’s killing
everyone. But it takes the Circle of Thorns and…"
Now it was Azuria’s
turn to be surprised. "You’ve seen it?"
"Seen it?", Ryuuhoshi snorted,
" We fought it!"
"Quickly, come in," and Azuria hurried to call her
staff to her.
A sly smile curled Valya’s lips as she looked at the
receptionist still in her grasp. In a voice that dripped with sugar
she said, "Could you be a lamb and wait outside, thanks so much,"
and with a flip of her wrist tossed the annoying young woman through
Renee landed with a thud on her backside, the skirt of
her prim and proper business suit riding up revealing a zebra striped
g-sting and matching garter belt holding up black lace top stockings.
She screamed as she tried to pull her dress down and her eyes shot
daggers at Elendil and Johnny Cognito as they watched her.
nodded as he looked at Elendil, one eye squinting at his friend. "It’s
always the quiet ones."
As he closed the doors, Elendil looked past
Johnny to their teammates Miyaka, WillowWind and Valya. Elendil shook
his head and said, "Dude, we don’t know any quiet ones!"
were all gathered Azuria spoke. "Tell me everything you know."
The quiet was the most unnerving. As they crept further into Oranbega
the unnatural silence seemed to press in on them like a great closing
They had at last become somewhat used to the bodies lining the
corridors and chambers of the magic city. Uncountable numbers of mages
and mystics, guides and slaves filled the whole of the place. All
were in the same condition as their brethren above in the park: drained
of life and magic leaving only a mummified husk which once was human.
Many of the Circle had literally been torn apart and pieces of bodies
blocked their path on more than one occasion.
At least Buttercup and
Cadecus had stopped throwing up. Tropic smiled with sympathy at the
woman. Although Buttercup was a very dangerous fighter she was probably
the gentlest soul he had ever met. Cadecus was having a harder time
of it due to his empathic nature. The very thing that made him an
extraordinary healer was also causing him the most distress. It was
as if he could feel the pain of the Thorns and it made him very unsteady
on his feet.
They rounded a corner and came upon a flight of stairs
leading downwards. Temptations had the lead and, holding her great
broadsword tightly, began to descend the stairs. She kicked a severed
foot from her path and General Scrap watched it tumble down the steps.
Behind him Cadecus stumbled slightly and he reached out to grab him.
"You OK, buddy?," Scrap asked, the concern evident in his voice.
nodded. "Just not used to seeing unpeopled feet rolling around," he
"I’ll try to be more careful," Temptations said over her shoulder
and the healer grinned in gratitude.
Another flight of stairs identical
to the first appeared in front of the group. When they reached the
bottom a huge cavern opened up before them. Wooden bridges spanned
the gap between the stone ledge they stood on and an enormous building
on the other side of an underground river. Circling the cavern were
stone carvings of gigantic heads, waterfalls flowing from the sculptures
"Wow," Temptations whispered with awe. As she scanned
the area she saw more dead strewn on the bridge and floating below
in the water. "They haven’t been dead that long," she said confidently.
"How can you tell?", frowned Buttercup.
She pointed down at the bodies
in the water. "They’re not swelled up yet."
Buttercup grimaced. "Gross,"
she said matter-of-factly.
"Indeed," whispered Tropic, his gaze sweeping
over the building across from them. It was at least six stories tall
and they had to search every inch of it.
"Let’s get moving," Scrap
said and the team moved over the wooden bridge and entered the temple.
They began their search at the top and worked their way down. Every
chamber they entered contained the same grisly contents: dead and
dismembered bodies. The sightless eyes of the dead stared upwards
as if asking God why this had befallen them. The blood of the slain
had not had time to dry and their feet stuck in the vicious fluid.
Still they continued downwards, examining every room and hallway.
The team reached the bottom floor of the structure. They searched
a few rooms with the same results and then followed a short corridor
in back of the temple. Suddenly the hall opened up into a large cavern.
In the center of the cavern a large flat stone sat, marked with etchings.
Five lines lead away from it to five round stone platforms, one larger
then the other four.
Tropic froze in the corridors arch. "This is
where it came through," he said in a rough whisper.
"Are you sure?",
Scrap asked. His eyes surveyed the cave. "How can you tell?"
strode forward and stood in the center stone. "Here. Look. You can
see the scratches from it’s feet on it," he pointed down at the slab.
"They preformed some type of ritual," he said, waving his hand at
the other stones.
"Yes," Buttercup continued, "the lead mage stood
there at the larger stone," she paced to it and then to the other,
smaller stones in turn. "Earth, water, fire, air," she said indicating
each stone circle.
Temptations stood near Tropic, looking at the center
slab. "What are these markings on it mean?", she asked pulling on
her lower lip.
Buttercup joined them at the slab. "They were just
etched in recently," she frowned. "But the language…is that Sumerian?"
The others looked at her with raised eyebrows. She sighed and grinned,
"I work with ancient antiquities in the Paragon City Museum of Natural
"Huh," Cadecus smiled, "Super Librarian."
and then turned his attention to the markings. "No, not Sumerian,"
he shook his head. "It looks almost…it could be…" At once both his
and Buttercup’s eyes widened and they said in unison, "Arkandian."
Temptations looked at her teammates. Tropic covered his mouth with
his right hand, rubbing it back and forth. Buttercup had folded both
arms over her chest and looked as if she were going to hug herself
unconscious. "So…who are these Arkandians?", she asked.
Buttercup looked at each other as if trying to decide if their friends
could be trusted. Buttercup finally raised her hand and shook her
head as though she were giving permission for Tropic to explain.
fiery hero took a deep breath. "So far in history, there have been
maybe three arcane groups that were evil for the sake of evil. The
Hun Lords of the Feuer, who…created me, the Circle of Thorns and the
Arkandians. The Hun Lords and the Arkandians are no more. A millennia
or so ago they battled it out amongst themselves and regular humans
chose that time to strike and wiped them out." He looked deeply into
the faces of his friends. "They were evil incarnate and they’d make
the Circle of Thorns look like the Girl Scouts." He paused and looked
at the slab again. He shook his head. "The Arkandians were worshipers
of death, the hands of evil. If the Circle was messing around with
one of their spells…"
There was absolute silence in the cavern. Finally
General Scrap nodded. "Well, let’s keep looking. Maybe the others….did
you hear that?!"
The group stood shock still and they heard it again.
It sounded like a bottle rolling over a cement floor. And it was coming
from below them. They hurried out of the cavern to the outside of
the temple. There they looked down over a low rock wall to where the
waterfalls emptied far beneath the city.
They looked at each other
and, as one, leapt over the edge into the deluge.