A City in Flames
D. Heikes

     The post-Rikti war life of the citizens of Paragon City was not what the rest of the world would consider normal. Heroes still battled villains in the street daily, trying to put a leash on the wave of crime and violence that followed in the wake of the war. Police were stretched thin, clean up and construction crews labored to repair the broken buildings, and broken lives.
     While some areas of Paragon were completely overrun by the criminal element, others carried some semblance of everyday life; citizens walking the streets, going to and from work, and the like. It was still not uncommon for those areas to see the citizens fleeing, frantic to escape a battle that had broken out between Hero and Villain on their street.
The smarter of the citizens had left the city and moved somewhere that was not hit as hard by a primary target strike during the war. Several other cities, in several countries, were much like Paragon, with Rikti hunting parties still roaming free, and the smarter citizens there had moved on as well.
     Those who stayed could also be categorized, some not as smart as the others. Those would move out of the way when a battle raged around them, but would not move completely clear because that inane human tendency, that instinctive drive, to want to see what was happening, to try to feel like part of it, held them, and they would form in crowds around the fights going on, with little or no regard for the powers, bullets, debris that spewed forth from those battles.
     Such was the case today. The sun baked down on the Northeast, the temperatures in Paragon soaring into the high nineties. Towering cumulous clouds moved slowly overhead, threatening an afternoon thunderstorm, but they were mostly obscured by the thick black smoke that filled the sky.
     Helicopters circled the city, some operated by the Police, attempting to get a handle on the situation, others news helicopters looking for the award winning shot for the six-o’clock report. Those shots were of the conflagration that many of the buildings in Paragon had become at the hands of the Hellions. Something as yet unknown had set off the street gang, and they had gone on a pyromaniac rampage, lighting huge fires in building after building in the city.
     A high-rise office building in Atlas Park blazed like a torch in the middle of the city. Flames poured from the upper windows, glass exploding out and showering the street. The police had formed a barricade around the building, stretching yellow police tape to try to keep the citizens back, but that did not stop the afore mentioned not-so-smart people from forming a huge crowd around the blaze. The temperature, already hot, was like an oven all around the building, but that was the least of the Police officers’ concerns.
     A large group of Hellions had retreated into this building when the Police had cornered them, opening fire with any and all weapons they had. Gunfire poured from the building, turning the area around the building into a warzone. A flaming barrel soared from a mid-level window, exploding on a police car, the liquid inside sending out a deadly spray of fire.
The Police ducked down behind their cars, shooting over the hoods into the building. A grenade sailed out and clattered to a stop under the back end of one of the cruisers, the officers behind the car scrambling for cover, but not fast enough. The grenade went off, setting off the gas tank which added to the explosive force. Shrapnel flew in all directions, the two officers closest to the car flipping through the air like toys thrown by a petulant child.
Glass and metal flew back into the gawking crowd, setting off a panic in the front of the line as people were cut and pierced by the flying pieces of automobile.
     A voice in the crowd boomed above the rest, “Thauma Guard!!!”
     Out of the sky a towering, athletically built, ebony skinned dropped behind the remains of the police car, landing in a cat-like crouch. Dark tendrils of power flowed around her arms, and the air around her shimmered through her green dispursion field. Weaving magic quickly, she enveloped the police officers around her in protective force fields.
Another woman, smaller, light skinned with blue hair, dropped near the other, a green aura spreading out from her, covering the two injured police officers. Though their wounds remained serious, they began to mend under the power of the woman, easing the pain, stabilizing the wounded men.
     “That’s Skida Marink!” another voice in the crowd boomed out.
     The two Defenders went to work fortifying the Police around the building, but everyone ducked when automatic weapons fire began to pour out from a third story window. Looking up, Thauma Guard could see a steel barrier had been raised, an emplaced machine gun poking out and pouring a stream of hot lead projectiles down towards the street.
     Thauma Guard raised her communicator/cell phone to her lips. “That machine gun is going to be a problem.”
     “I’m on it,” PhoenixHawk’s voice came in reply.
     More shouts from the crowd went up as the green and black armored Hero arrived on the scene, hovering three stories up. Small blue arcs of power flickered about his body, but more hypnotizing were the piercing, glowing green eyes. Raising his fists, he sent a barrage of cerulean energy towards the fixed emplacement, but the steel shield dispersed most of the Energy.
     PhoenixHawk gathered himself for stronger blast, when a devastating bolt of flame shot over his shoulder, hitting the steel plate. The shield plate melted into slag from the intense heat of the blast. Taking advantage of the opening, PhoenixHawk poured a barrage of Energy into the group of Hellions that had manned the machine gun, scattering unconscious gangmembers and ruined gun parts in all directions.
     Turning to see where the blast had come from, PhoenixHawk found himself facing another Hero, hovering only a few feet behind him. Now that he was aware of the other Hero’s presence, he could feel the intense heat pouring off of the man. The Hero had spiked hair and a goatee, wearing black and red leather, his eyes leaking orange fire.
     PhoenixHawk offered his hand to the other Hero. “Tropic,” he said. “Nice to meet you.”
     Tropic nodded, shaking PhoenixHawk’s hand in a firm, and hot, grip. “Likewise.”
     Below on the street, a pair of blurs streaked past the police line, moving so fast they were nearly impossible to see. The leader was a small woman with a tail, holding a drawn Katana in her right hand. The man behind her was thin and wore red and white armor with a cresting wave emblazoned on the chest.
     “Shadow Pain?” Tropic asked.
     PhoenixHawk nodded. “And Kwang Ghe.”
     A black costumed figure wreathed in flames arced over a building from the west, landing next to Skida Marink. He spoke into a communicator similar to Thauma Guard’s. “P.H., what’s the situation?”
     “Hellions have been torching buildings all over the city, C.B.,” PhoenixHawk replied into his cell. “The cops cornered this group and they decided to fight it out.”
     “I just heard from Valya,” Tropic told PhoenixHawk. “She and WillowWind are on their way to Perez Park. The Hellions have hit several buildings there, and in the Hollows, too. The Corp is calling as many Heroes as they can spare into the area to try to keep the rest of the gangs from joining suit. Valya said she saw Big Puerto Rico and Solanum both leading teams towards Perez now.”
     “Who’s that up there with you?” Celsius Bane asked.
     “Tropic. He and I will head up to the roof and work our way down. You with me Pain?”
     “I’m here, kyodai,” Shadow Pain responded, addressing PhoenixHawk in the Japanese term for brother.
     “You ground pounders start at the bottom, we’ll meet you in the middle.”
     “Sounds good. The entrance is clear. Kwang Ghe and I found a bomb just inside the doorway, but managed to disarm it without setting it off.”
     “How long do you think we can work in this building before the fire gets to be too much?” Skida Marink asked.
    “Not long, from the looks of it,” PhoenixHawk said. “Several floors are already engulfed in flames.”
     “I’ll work on those,” Celsius said. “I’ll be able to stand the heat longer than you Blasters can. If it gets bad in there Skida can teleport me out.”
     “Ok,” PhoenixHawk said. “But be careful. Just because you’re a fire Tanker doesn’t mean your invincible. Both Tropic and I can manipulate fire as well, but we’re not immune to it. Just keep it in mind if the building starts coming down around your ears.”
     “I just got a call from Tirus,” Skida said. “He and Kemchi are over in Talos. He says it looks clear, but there is a lot of ruckus going on, and it has the Warriors stirred up. Hopefully they aren’t going to join the party and start lighting the Island on fire.”
     “Guido and N0VA 1 are over in Independence Port keeping an eye open over there,”           Thauma Guard said. “They say it’s clear there for now too.”
     “Couple of other members of the Top Ten, Buttercup and Cadecus, are over in Perigrine,” Tropic added. “The Nemesis and Malta seem to be enjoying watching all of us scramble to cover this crisis. My people will keep them under surveillance, let me know if it starts getting ugly over there.”
     “Between the Onami Strike Force, the ArchAngels of the Apocolypse, and the Top Ten we have a lot o the city covered,” PhoenixHawk said. “I talked to Lady Emily earlier, she’s going to round up Ginger Blaze and Khazm. I’ll see if they can get over to the Hollows and lend a hand.”
      PhoenixHawk spoke into his cell briefly as he and Tropic flew up towards the roof of the building. The heat above the building was intense, the air thick with black, choking smoke.
     “Can you see through this?” Tropic asked, the flames in his eyes shielding them from the soot.
     “I’ll manage,” PhoenixHawk said.
     The door to the roof was locked, but flew off of its hinges as PhoenixHawk slammed a blast Energy into it. There was a short stairwell beneath that led down to the upper floor of the building. A large atrium opened up between three floors, stairwells running between the walkways that ran between the floors. Offices were spaced along the outside of the square.  The lights flickered and dimmed, over and over.
     The two heroes made their way down through the uninhabited atrium into the stairwell that led to the next sets of floors below. Smoke billowed from the stairwell, nearly blinding PhoenixHawk. The roar of flames could be heard below.
     “We just found another bomb,” Shadow Pain’s voice came through the cell. “This building is full of them.”
     “We’ve got to find them soon,” Tropic said. “This heat will set them off in no time.”
In the stairwell, coming up, were five Hellions. As soon as they saw the Heroes above them, they opened fire with the handguns they all carried. The bullets came in a cloud inside the tight stairwell. Armor chips pinged off the tight plates that covered PhoenixHawk’s chest. Tropic had shielded himself in flames, the heat taking much, but not all, of the bite from the attack.
     The two Blasters lashed out at the Hellions in return, a wave of Energy on top of a wave of Fire. The Hellions were blasted aside like leaves in the wind. Landing at the next floor down, they discovered a large canister of explosives rigged to a radio detonator.
     “Just found one up here,” PhoenixHawk told his team.
     “I found more than that,” Celsius Bane said. “I could probably use a hand with this on the fifteenth floor.”
     “Crap,” PhoenixHawk said.
     “What?” Tropic asked.
     “He never asks for help. It must be really bad.”
     “Perfect,” Tropic said.
     Three more groups of Hellions had to be overcome before PhoenixHawk and Tropic burst from the stairwell onto the fifteenth floor. A corridor went around a corner, flames pouring from the office spaces. The heat and smoke were nearly overwhelming.
     In the lobby of a huge office pandemonium had broken out. Kwang Ghe was locked in a hand to hand struggle with on of the Damned, the Hellions Bosses. The Scrappers feet and hands were a blur as he kicked and punched and spun and dodged the Boss’s attacks. The Boss was striking back in kind, adding blasts of Fire to the mix.
     Shadow Pain flickered in and out of visible existence, her Katana biting at the group of eight Hellions surrounding her. The gang members were swinging back with knives. Two of the Hellions had shot at the super fast Hero, but that hadn’t lasted long when they realized they were also shooting the other gang members.
     Celsius Bane was wrapped up with two more of the Damned, struggling over the detonation transmitter for the bombs in the building, three of which sat against separate walls. The Tanker had spread a sheet of Ice around himself on the floor in hopes of tripping up the Bosses, but the heat from the flames in the building quickly swept away the Ice Patch. The Hero Lashed out at the Boss with a Fire Sword, the flame exploding in a crowd around the Hellion. The Boss staggered back, but the other Damned moved in and hit the Tanker in the chest with a series of small fireballs, knocking Celsius back a step.
     The window to the office exploded outward and Thauma Guard and Skida Marink came in through the opening. The smoke in the room rushed to slip out the opening, fanning some of the flames higher.
     PhoenixHawk’s eyes burned, but the pain quickly dissipated as Skida spread out a Healing Aura through the room. Thauma Guard threw Force Fields around the Heroes, helping dilute more of the choking smoke.
     Tropic blasted the Damned that Celsius was fighting, the Hellion wreathed in flame. Celsius slammed a fist into the Boss’s face, as Tropic threw hit after hit of fire at the Damned.
     PhoenixHawk gathered himself, concentrating a hard Build Up, and launched a Sniper Blast into the chest of the Damned that had staggered from Celsius’ Fire Sword. The Blast knocked the Boss from his feet. Before the Boss could recover, PhoenixHawk hit him again with several smaller blasts, then a Power Push, again keeping the Boss off of his feet.
Shadow Pain had whittled her opponents down to two, which quickly became one, then none. She moved to Kwang Ghe’s side, the two scrappers hitting and fading from the third Damned in the room.
     The combination of Tanker and Blaster was too much for the Damned, Tropic dropping the Boss to the floor with an exploding Fireball. The two Heroes launched against PhoenixHawk’s opponent, quickly finishing off a second Boss.
    Kwang Ghe jumped and spun, his foot smashing into the Damned’s head, staggering the Hellion leader. Shadow Pain moved in and struck with a quick cross strike, her blade taking more of a toll on the Boss. The constant physical beating outlasted the Boss’s endurance, finally leaving the third Damned unconscious on the floor.
     The flames in the building had grown further, the heat rising noticeably in the room.
     “We need to get these bombs disarmed,” Thauma Guard said.
     The Heroes set about the methodical process of disarming the large explosives, but the heat in the room made the barrels of explosive fluid very unstable. Tropic held back, the natural temperature rise around him would only make things worse.
     Working together Thauma and Skida disarmed one bomb. Shadow Pain worked on another, but stopped abruptly. The barrel was physically moving. She could tell the pressure inside was becoming critical.
     Kwang Ghe moved to her side, working together they finally got the detonator separated from the core.
     “Too late,” Celsius said. He picked up the bomb that he and PhoenixHawk had been working on, and rushed the open window. The bomb sailed through the window, clearing the building barely, but not enough, as the heat from the fluid inside finally reached the detonator cap, setting off a blast that rocked the building.
     Shards of glass flew through the room like razors. Celsius Bane was launched backwards across the entire room, slamming his back into the wall behind. The rest of the Heroes were knocked from their feet in the blast.
     Ears ringing, eyesight fuzzy, PhoenixHawk crawled across the floor to Celsius Bane. Skida Marink came up alongside him quickly, soothing green energy healing his aching body. Celsius was on his back, coughing slightly. Skida worked quickly, doing all she could to heal the Tanker.
     Celsius held up a hand, and Skida took it in hers. “Ouch,” he said.
     “You going to live?” PhoenixHawk asked.
     Celsius nodded, grimacing at the pain. “Yeah, but I’ll be sore for a while. Probably could do with a little hospital time.”
     “We’ll see you there,” PhoenixHawk said.
     Celsius nodded and activated the Mediport transporter that all Paragon Heroes had, taking him to a special ward in the nearest hospital, where he could recover.
     “I’m going with him,” Skida said. Then she too vanished.
     Tropic looked a question at PhoenixHawk.
     “He’s her husband,” PhoenixHawk said.
     Tropic nodded, and pulled himself up from the floor.
     “We should probably get out of this building, before it completely collapses,” he said. “The firefighters may still be able to save it now that they won’t get shot or blown up trying.”
     “There’s more to do,” Thauma Guard said. “This building is just one of many that the Hellions torched.”
     The Heroes left through the bomb-blasted window, Outside, hovering above the city, Tropic extended a hand to PhoenixHawk.
     “It’s been good working with you. I’d better go catch up with the rest of the Top Ten.”
     “Look me up sometime,” PhoenixHawk said. “I’ll buy you a beer for the assist.”
     “You got it,” Tropic said, flying off in search of his team.
     PhoenixHawk dropped to the ground next to Thauma Guard, the crowd behind the police tape whooping and yelling loudly for the Heroes. PhoenixHawk just shook his head.
     “Ginger says they could use our help in the Hollows,” Thauma said. “Looks like the Trolls might want to join in. The Hellions Trial by Fire isn’t over yet.”
     PhoenixHawk nodded and leapt skyward, leading the Onami Strike Force once more into the fray.

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by Nelson Carrasquillo

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