Rise of the PhoenixHawk
Chapter 2

Aaron stayed in the hospital until morning, recouperating from his battle wounds. The technology allotted by the Government for use by the Federal Bureau of Super-powered Affairs, along with his own mutated dna, allowed his body to recover in a fraction of the time an average person would have taken. During his stay, his thoughts drifted back to his youth over and over again.

Life during and after the Rikti War had been difficult for most humans. The invasion had destroyed huge areas of cities all over the world, and even after eventually being pushed back, Rikti war parties still roamed under several cities in unknown numbers. The advanced technology of the inter-dimensional invaders had been scattered about in huge quantities, and many groups like the Freakshow, or Crey Industries, sought that technology out to use it for their own purposes. That which they could not simply find, they would steal or kill to acquire. The United Nations had assigned the Vanguard to oversee the collection and study of Rikti technology, but the sheer quantity of weapons, metals, and machine parts left over since the war has made the job difficult.
In the cities where the fighting did not occur, or had been cleared of invaders, people tried to return to their normal lives. Schools stayed open, but children were drilled randomly on retreating into combat shelters. Businesses opened, transportation systems operated, but all eyes went to the skies daily, looking for the signs of inbound invaders.
Many people had lost everything; homes, family members, all of their posessions. The Government set up shelters in school gymnasiums and parks, churches opened their doors to try to feed the refugees. People banded together, opening their hands and hearts to those who had lost so much, communities began to become bonded together.
When he had been released from the hospital, Aaron had been sent to live in a refugee camp, where other children who had lost their parents had been taken. The men and women who volunteered at the camp worked tirelessly to help the children try to deal with their loss, but the tasks were often overwhelming. People had been assigned to look into the childrens’ family lines, see if any relatives had survived and could be contacted, but the work was slow with communications interruptions caused by the war. Those who had no family, like Aaron, were kept in hopes of finding volunteer families to take them in.
In the camp, Aaron had met Marrisa England, the only other survivor from the base where he had lived. There had been another boy, but he had not lasted the first night in the hospital. The doctors who had treated them guessed Marrisa had survived because she too had a mutated dna. What had been called 'defects' at birth were now being attributed to that mutation; the third eye set in her forehead, and the prehensile tail she posessed. She was fourteen years old, and struggled along with Aaron over the loss of her family. Aaron took the young girl under his wing, and developed a strong familial relationship with her; she became
his little sister.
The children in the camp were sent schools in the area, but Aaron never felt as though he fit in, and had twice gotten in fights when other kids had picked on Marissa for being different. Aarons powers began to manifest, his ability to manipulate raw energy came out during one of those fights when he punched a larger boy and in a cerulean flash the boy was hurled backwards twenty feet.

That night, after the fight, Aaron had been visited by a man who said he worked for the Genetic Investigation and Facilitation Team, a sub-group of the Federal Bureau of Super-powered Affairs. He told Aaron that he had heard about the incident, and warned that many young people who developed abilities from their mutation often lost control of them and hurt or killed themselves or someone else because of it. Aaron agreed to speak with someone who might be able to help him control his developing powers.
He continued to work out at the high school gym, and after school began teaching his little sister the martial arts his father had taught him. Marissa took to the study like it was second nature to her. Aaron would find out that in fact, it was.
After six months, Marrisa's grandparents had been located in an area north of Paragon City that hadn't been affected by the fighting, and they took her in. She convinced them to take Aaron as well. Aaron and Marissa continued to practice martial arts together, a park near her grandparents house became an outdoor training area. One afternoon, and ancient Japanese man approached them and complimented them on their studies. He offered to teach them, if they would promise to learn what he called 'the old ways', and pass them on to others. They both readily agreed.
The man, whose name was Katsuhito, was the descendant of a Samurai legacy, and he spoke often of honor, and duty. He taught the young pair about their 'ki', or spiritual energy, and how to control it. Though he had tried to move on with his life, Aaron had not been able to let go of his loss, and went through periods of harsh anger, followed by severe depression. Katsuhito's lessons helped Aaron control the rage that burned inside of him, helped bring him back from the brink of insanity on many occasions.
Marissa delved fully into Katsuhito's philosophies. Her mutant abilities came from the focus she learned was learning from the small Samurai. Her reflexes became unbelievably fast, and her ability to move at blinding speeds increased daily, but it wasn't until Katsuhito introduced her to the Katana that she truly found herself. The Samurai used to say the sword was linked to the soul of its owner. For Marissa, this could not have been more true.
Katsuhito had built a hardwood floored dojo in his basement, where he trained the children daily after school. One day while practicing, a small woman walked in and bowed to Katsuhito.
"Konnichi-wa, Sensei," the woman said to Katsuhito.
Katsuhito bowed in return, "Konnichi-wa, Lisa. O genki desu ka?"
The woman smiled. She couldn't have been more than twenty-five years old. "I am well, thank you. How are your young students doing?"
"They progress quickly."
Katsuhito motioned his students to him and introduced them. "This is Lisa Snyder. She is like both of you, gifted. People call her Shakti, after an ancient goddess."
The woman shook Aaron and Marissa's hands. "I was part of the group that found you two over at the base. I was working with Doctor Ward."
"How is Doctor Ward?" Marissa asked.
"He had an incident a couple of weeks ago. He was on a party much like the one where we found you, and his hospital unit was hit by a Rikti hunting party. They demolished the area, killing nearly everyone. Doctor Ward survived, but was badly burned. He has lost his eyesight, and most of the skin on his face, but they expect he will survive. Several years ago he developed an implant, a prosthesis that can be wet-wired into the brain to simulate eyesight. It has never been tested on a human. He is going to be the first."
"Will he be ok?" Aaron asked.
"He will live. Whether or not he will see again is unknown, but he is a brilliant scientist. He will never look the same however. Even with skin grafting, his face will never be anything but scars."
Aaron's face flushed. Doctor Ward had helped him recover, had listened to him through the initial part of his grief, had been there for him. It was yet another victim of the damned Rikti and the war that had cost so many so much.
Lisa put her hand on Aaron's shoulder. He could feel an intense heat from the palm of her hand. "You need to control your anger, Aaron. I can see it in your eyes, but more than that,, the temperature around you jumped significantly. Can you control the fire yet?"
Aaron shook his head.
"You will," Lisa said. She took her hand away, and Aaron could see it was sheathed in flame. The spot where she had touched his skin was red, but not burned. "Someday, you will be able to do this. It will be up to you to control it, and up to you to do what is right with your gift."
"What do you mean 'what is right'?"
"A Samurai does not use his abilities for personal gain," Katsuhito said. " He serves his master and his society, and works toward the betterment of both. You must use your gifts to help keep balance, and justice in the world. You must act with honor, and live a life of duty. That is the promise you made when you began your training with me. For you, Aaron, it is time to have a new teacher. The people at GIFT have assigned Lisa to that task. She will teach you to control the fire within you, and focus your KI in ways I cannot."
"Why can't you?" Aaron asked.
Katsuhito sighed. "I do not have the abilities that you do. I cannot summon fire, or manipulate raw energy the way you will be able to. I have seen it in your practice, even when you do not. You are a talented and strong young man, but your focus will never be physical combat, your KI simply does not achieve its highest potential that way. Shakti will show you the path to fulfill your potential."
"I don't want to leave here," Aaron said.
"You won't have to," Lisa told him. "Katsuhito-Sensei has been teaching heroes for sixty years. He stays in contact with all of his former students, and all of us do the same with him."
"I will be here for you," Katsuhito told him.
Aaron felt a lump in his throat, but swallowed it back, and bowed deeply to his teacher. He held the bow a long time, showing his heart-felt respect.
"What about me?" Marissa asked.
"You will be one of my greatest students," Katsuhito said. "I have rarely seen one meld with the sword the way you do. The focus of your KI is evident in every slash of your blade, and in the defenses you employ in combat. You I will train until you are ready to join the hero corps, and fulfill the promise you too made to me."
"I will not disgrace you, Sensei," Marissa said, bowing her head.
Katsuhito smiled. "You could not, child. You have already made me proud."
As the two continued their training, their abilities began to focus more every day. Aaron learned to hurl energy bolts with accuracy at great distance, and summon fire from within him. Marissa took her training to a level she would never have expected. Her mutation allowed her to focus her KI so intensely that she was nearly impossible to hit, and developed to the point where she could almost fade entirely from view. She found great joy in making Aaron jump when he was staring almost directly at her in his bedroom, and couldn't see her until she let him.
One day, during one of Aaron's darkest periods, he became frustrated in his training and his rage exploded in a violent blast around him. Shakti had been standing near by and had been blown backwards by the blast, but she remained unhurt. Aaron's heart collapsed as pent up guilt and anger filled his thoughts, frustrated at his lack of control, remorse for nearly hurting his friend, sadness over all he had lost. He collapsed in to the ground, wanting nothing more than to be able to self-destruct.
Shakti came over and pulled him to his feet forcibly. "Stop it," she told him. He tried to shrug her off, but she held firm. The strength in her small arms was incredible. "I didn't pull you out of that building so you could live your life wallowing in self-pity. Everyone has lost something in this war. Put that inside of you, swallow it, and learn to live with it. It hurts, and it sucks, but that is life. You rose up from the ashes once before. I need you to do it again. I need you to quit tearing yourself apart because you lived and your family didn't. So I need you to be like a Phoenix, and rise up once and for all above that."
Her words cut through Aaron like a knife. He had been told time and again that he was not to blame for his family's death, but something in Shakti's tone hit a nerve. "When they were killed, I had just come back from football practice. I haven't played since."
Aaron stared into Shakti's eyes, and she saw the fire there as she had many times before, but something was different. The hard edge was there, but it was contained more tightly than ever. She knew at that moment that he had begun to control his anger.
"My old team was the Hawks," Aaron said. "I'll rise from the ashes like a Phoenix, but will always be looking for those who killed my family like a Hawk."
Shakti smiled. "Like a PheonixHawk. I like that."

The Rikti war had come to a close. The Vanguard had taken the fight back to the Rikti, and combat was far less widespread than it had been almost two years earlier. In the wake of the destruction, gang violence had begun to grow and run rampant. Law enforcement focused its attention on keeping the areas that weren't affected as badly safe, but many of the areas that had been blasted during the war were neglected, because a dwindled supply of law enforcement officials could not be spread thinly throughout the wreckage of twisted and broken buildings. Better to protect that which was still whole, than that which may never be whole again. The general consensus was to stabilize the unaffected areas, then slowly take back the other areas and begin too rebuild.
Though they had been warned not to let the knowledge they had been gaining go to their heads, or to overestimate their abilities, Aaron and Marissa began to slip out of the house at night and roam the streets. They would take the busses into Paragon, and prowl the darkness on back streets and alleyways in Atlas Park. Some of the areas of the city they knew were far too dangerous. Groups like the Tsoo, who had delved into magic and grown into nearly super-powered criminals would be far too much for the fledgling heroes to face. But the Skulls were weaker than the Tsoo or others like them. Though the gang was growing like a plague, only a very few of Skulls had learned enough magic to be of danger, and they had yet to acquire or use the Rikti weapons that were becoming hot on the black market.
Marissa could conceal herself in the shadows, invisible to any eye unless she was careless, and could strike like a viper, taking the gang members down before they even knew what was happening. Those who were not hit in Marissa's initial attacks Aaron would blast with bolts of blue energy, sending the flying about. The occasional gang member that got away would only get a few steps before Aaron could catch them in a ring of fire, and Marissa would slash them down while they were held.
After several weeks of prowling the same area, Aaron was silently looking down from a fire escape on a group of three Skulls talking.
Looking over his shoulder to where the street light faded into darkness, one of the Skulls said, "Stay out of the shadows."
"Why?" one of the others asked.
"You haven't heard?" the third Skull asked.
"No, heard what? What's in the shadows?"
"Pain," the other two answered at the same time.
"That is true enough," a voice said behind the three gangbangers.
The Skulls turned quickly, but Pain lashed out of the shadows with lightning speed. Two of the Skulls were down within seconds. The third was blasted from above by a bright flash of raw energy.
Aaron lept down with ease from the third story of the fire escape.
"Guess you've made a name for yourself," he said to Marissa.
"What's that?" she asked.
"Shadow Pain," Aaron said. The name stuck.

Aaron nearly jumped out of his skin at the voice that came from nowhere in his room.
"Are you going to lay there all day, Kyodai?" Shadow Pain asked, shimmering into existence at the foot of his bed. Marissa had addressed him using the Japanese term for brother since the day that Katsuhito had told it to her.
"Damn it, Rissa, how many times will you do that to me before I have a heart attack?" Aaron asked.
"Until you stop falling for it," She said with a smile. She walked over and kissed his cheek. "Are you ok? What happened."
"I've been questioning the Freakshow about a warehouse of stolen Ritki tech," Aaron said. "Tina Chung says they hit several research contractors last week, and took a couple of scientists as well."
"What happened to the Vanguard security?" Marissa asked. "Aren't they supposed to be armed with high enough level weapons to defend the Rikti artifacts?"
"Yes, they are. Tina doesn't know what happened at these places. She's hoping we'll find a clue or two about that, but mostly she wants that stolen tech back before it gets copied and grafted into a bunch of Freaks."
"Ever since that Freak-lympics thing a while back, they've been stepping it up," Marissa said. "Maybe we should ask Sister Psyche about it. She's handles setting up Freakshow task forces for things like this."
Aaron nodded. "Might be a good idea. If we're gonna do that, we should assemble as much of the Group as we can. Thauma should be here soon to take me home. When she gets here, we'll let her know."
Thauma Guard was a very tall hero with jet black skin and flaming orange hair. She and Marissa had become quick friends, sharing a common trait of having three eyes. Thauma, however, had not been born with hers. She had spent years studying arcane magic, and one of the spells she had learned had had the unexpected side affect of leaving her with a third eye, with which she could see into a nether world from which she could summon energy and tentacles. She had begun on a dark path of magic, but had turned from it and began using her powers to help heroes, surrounding them or herself in force fields that protected them from attacks. Marissa had introduced her to Aaron, and the two had developed a budding relationship.
Aaron had become somewhat of a natural leader, and had used that ability to form the Onami Strike Force. He had taken the name from a book of fiction that Katsuhito had on one of his many bookshelves. Onami was Japanese for cresting wave. Other members of the Onami were Shakti, and her husband Icee Frozen Pop, I Doctor, a scrapper that Dr. Ward had helped heal and create called Kwang Ghe, and Shakti's younger cousin Nova 1. New members came along slowly as the days past, those who were helped by, or shared the same philosophy, that the Onami was built upon. Though normally scattered throughout the city on various tasks set to Heroes, occasionally the Onami would get together as a whole, and would crash like the wave their name symbolized over the rising tide of crime in Pargon City. When they were together, they were nearly unstoppable.
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