by Mike Valcarcel
The click of heels on concrete echoed through the abandoned warehouse, and reverberated off the towering stacks of forgotten wares. Long ago, the warehouses in Kings Row bustled with the activity of commerce. Now they were decaying husks, their life having been taken from them.
To Sara, the abandoned freight seemed to be a metaphor for Paragon City; seemingly alive, yet dying from within. She supposed she could drag out the illustration, but wanted to focus on her reason for coming to Kings Row. She tightened her grip on the briefcase she carried and sped up her pace. She prayed she wasn’t too late; the man had told her 1:30 a.m. She looked at her watch, she was early, but she didn’t want to take any chances. The life of her brother depended on it.
Of all the things Sara Shaughnessy cared about, none came close to her younger brother, Evan. Ten years younger than her, he seemed to have been deprived of everything that she possessed. She was tall, athletic, and beautiful. He suffered from a crippling disease since childhood, and for the past two years had been confined to a wheelchair. Despite his problems, Evan always maintained a cheerful outlook, and Sara did as much as she could to see to it that it stayed that way. Sara made sure that he lacked for nothing, and had moved him here after their parents had died so he could have access to Paragon City’s doctors. Whatever happened to her tonight, if it meant her brother’s freedom, then so be it.
She saw a group of five people standing by the loading docks. All were dressed in dark clothing and had skull masks, except for one. When Sara saw her, it took everything she could to hold back her red-headed, Irish temper from exploding with volcanic fury. Draped on the arm of one of the men was another model she knew both personally and professionally. Quickly hiding her anger, Sara walked up to the group.
The leader smiled, giving his mask-covered face a bizarre look. “1:30 a.m. on the dot. You are quite the punctual lady, Ms. Shaughnessy.”
Sara threw the briefcase at his feet. It landed with a loud thud and slid a couple of inches.
“There’s your money. Give me my brother.” she snarled with thinly veiled contempt.
“What, no time for conversation?” he asked. “You and Ms. Xandria are old friends aren’t you?”
“My dealings are not with her, they’re with you.”
“My, my, you are to the point, aren’t you?” the Skull leader turned to the tall blonde dressed in white leather. “Is she always this headstrong, my dear?”
“Usually.” Xandria purred. “You should have seen the fight she had with Donatella in Milan this spring.” she added as an extra barb.
“As much as I’d like to recap that fun little story, I’d rather get my brother and take him home.”
The leader picked up the briefcase and opened it. He was certain all the money was there. Xandria had told him that Sara’s devotion to her brother was so great, that she would pay anything for his safety. That’s why she was such an easy target, he mused. This was the easiest ten million dollars anyone could have made, and it didn’t even involve the cops, the feds, and especially the superheroes.
“He’s not here. We had another offer for him. A higher bid came in, and we took it.” He patted the briefcase. “Thank you, though. Goodnight, Ms. Shaughnessy.” He turned to leave.
“WHAT!?” Sara, unable to control her rage, flew at him, nails out like talons. She suddenly felt her body freeze in place. She felt like a statue.
“Hold it right there, darling.” Xandria said. “I’m sure your mother warned you about keeping your temper, Sara.”
“How did you? What’s happening?” she stammered.
“ The Skulls have helped me find my true potential, Sara. I’m going to give you the same chance.” Xandria opened her handbag and pulled out a syringe filled with a greenish fluid that had a dull glow to it. “This won’t hurt a bit.” she said as she jabbed it into Sara’s arm and injected the contents.
Sara started to feel sick. The room was spinning around her, and despite the paralysis, felt like she was falling….
When she came to, she was no longer in the warehouse. That fact did not surprise her. The person looking down on her did.
Unlike the Skulls, this man (she assumed it was a man, anyway,) was dressed in dark robes, hands folded together in a gentle, quiet manner. A silver ring adorned each finger, all different from the other. Whoever this man was, Sara felt she was no longer in danger, at least, as far as she could tell.
“I see you are awake. You’ve been unconscious for some time. I was beginning to worry.”
“Who are you?” she asked weakly. She felt like a train had run over her.
“To the Skulls and other groups that plague my beloved city, I am known only as The Nightbringer.” His mouth curved in a humored way. “But you may call me Jon.”
“Great. Lovely to meet you. What happened to me, and where am I?”
“For the second question, you’re at my place. As far as the first part, I can only guess that your friend injected you with The Serum. Flora and I intervened before they could take you away. They did the same thing several months ago to that telepath.”
“Xandria? She never had any sort of abilities. This ‘Serum’ stuff. What does it do?”
“It triggers mutation or enhances otherwise latent abilities. It’s different each time they’ve administered it. Sometimes they get a desired result, like with Xandria. Other times, they would get rid of the result.”
“So, what’s happened to me?” Sara was able to sit up, despite the fact she still felt like she was made of lead.
“I’m not sure. You know you best. I’ll leave you alone to check.” Jon began to leave. “I’ll be right outside if you need anything.” he added before shutting the door.
Sara managed to get out of bed and stagger to the large mirror. Her bare arm bore a wicked bruise from the injection site. Her skin did seem a little more pale than usual, but she dismissed that to the cheerless lighting. Jon must not be one for entertaining guests, she mused.
She continued looking herself over. No strange spines, no bizarre hair color, or anything else had happened to her. Then she looked at her hands.
Sara made sure her hands were always well-groomed, going for manicures on a regular basis. She was fortunate enough to have the type of nails that could grow reasonably long without worrying about them breaking. Now, her hands looked different. Her fingers seemed a little thicker around the joints, and the nails themselves seemed almost pointed.
She pressed on her palm, like she did on her cat at home to trim its nails. To her shock, her nails lengthened about six inches from her fingertip. She gasped loudly.
Jon burst into the room. “What? Are you ok?”
“Look what they did to me!” she shrieked in anger. “This can’t be happening! I’m a model! I have a career! I have a missing brother out there!” Sara howled in pain as her all her claws came out of her fingers, drawing blood as they emerged.
Jon stood somewhat calmly, but still amazed by what he was seeing. Throwing a blanket around the naked girl, he tried to comfort her.
“It is upsetting, Sara. But look at it this way; you say your brother is missing. The Skulls are the ones responsible for his disappearance. Unwittingly, they have given you the power to find him and exact your revenge.”
“But I just want my brother back.” she wept.
“Believe me, the Skulls will be looking for you. Not only will they want to find out what happened to you, they will probably try to bring you to their side.” He took her hand gently. “I will help to not give them that satisfaction.”
Two weeks had passed since the extortion swindle, and the young Skull ganger was feeling pretty good. His leader had given him extra duties, despite the fact that The Nightbringer and Madam Medusa had stopped them from giving that model the other injection.
Since that night, he wondered what had become of her. It was a shame they couldn’t give her the Persuasion. She would have made a very sexy addition to the Skulls.
He felt his stomach completely knot up when he saw the tall redhead standing under the streetlight. She looked even more lovely than when he had first seen her. Wishing he had the Persuasion with him, he still went up to talk to her. Maybe if he could get her to come with him, the boss would really favor him with position over the other newbies.
“Hey. Whatsup?” he said in his toughest bravado.
She looked him over coolly, reminding him of the same gaze Xandria would give the men. “Whatsup yourself?”
He couldn’t help but admire her. Whatever The Serum had done, he liked it. Instead of the rail thin model she was, she had become more curvy, and wore tight leather pants and halter top to accent the change. Her boots were black stilettos, making her taller still.
“You look great from the last time I saw you two weeks ago.”
Her eyebrow arched. “Really? You were there? At the warehouse.”
“Yeah. You look really hot now.”
She turned to face him, still leaning against the light pole. A thin smile crossed her face. “I have you to thank for my new look.”
He moved in closer. God, she was tall, he thought. “Have you thought about how to pay me back?”
“Oh, absolutely.” she purred.
He never knew what hit him. The first hit sent him flying in the air. While airborne, he felt himself being stabbed repeatedly by what felt like many knives. He crashed onto the sidewalk, bones broken from the fall, and blood flowing from his many wounds. She stood over him as a deathly apparition backlit by the lamp.
“Tell your boss that the seed of terror that had been planted weeks ago has grown and blossomed, and that the blossom is deadly.”
With a few bounds, she was gone from sight.