Shadows of a Flame
by Myths n’ Wraiths

Chapter One

In its prime, before the Rikti invasion, Paragon City was a jewel of its country, a bustling and prosperous metropolis of unbridled potential. Places like Perez Park were teaming with the lives and events of the cities populous; while areas like Atlas Park were rich in history and esprit, untainted by the clutch of organized crime and gangs. The morning sun once rose over the waters of Telos Islands undimmed by the war walls that now dominate the horizon of each of the cities zones and the children of the great city were free to grow up without fear of oppression and struggle. Though the city once enjoyed such freedom from fear and the domination of men with evil purpose it was not because evil was not presence.
Heroes were not as common a site in the streets of Paragon City, prior to their unification during the Rikti crisis, but those that were there were no less needed and no less vigilant.
Nathan Essans, known to most as Victor, was one such hero. He was a mutant who had dedicated most of his life to stemming the growing gang threats in Kings Row, an area of the city that he had decided to make his home over a decade ago.
Victor had grown up in a secluded part of the mid-West where, like the majority of the rest of the world, mutants were treated harshly at best. Even his own parents had regarded him with a barely tolerable disdain since he first discovered his unusual abilities at the age of fifteen. The next three years of Victor’s life were an uphill struggle against prejudice and intolerance. Everything from his education to his very survival was a battle for him; so when Victor graduated from high school he was more than ready to put as many miles between himself and the place of his birth as was possible.
Following a documentary that he had seen on TV about how mutants were aiding elite police units in Paragon City, Victor made for the metropolis and the prospect of a more accepted existence.
Paragon was not free of prejudice by any degree but despite the obstacles in his path it did not take long for the dedicated young mutant to make his dreams come true. He found his place on one of the special task forces dedicated to undermining gang operations, where his incredible abilities to manipulate energy and wreath himself in a defensive aura of fire earned him the reputation as the best point man on the force, when it came to hostile incursion.
Affection and commitment were quick to follow in Victor’s new life. After six months on the police force he met the renowned Elizabeth Parlos, a powerful mutant mentalist that the police often employed as a special units coordinator. To most people she was known as Sage and to Victor she was quite simply the most captivating woman he had ever seen in his life. Though Victor would testify for the rest of his life that he was still at a loss as to how he was ever able to win the heart of such a beautiful woman, the fact that he did indeed do it was apparent to all because barely a year later the two were married and had a pair of twin boys on the way.
Victor had pledged the rest of his life to ensuring that his sons would not live with the same fear and uncertainty that he had endured in his earlier years. It was a pledge that he upheld every day and today was no difference.

Victor fumbled to throw an extra scoop of relish on the hot dog he had just bought from a local street vendor as he glanced inconspicuously around, taking in every aspect of his surroundings while giving of the impression of noticing nothing at all.
“Here’s your change buddy.” The vendor said with a broad smile as he handed a few coins over. “Enjoy.”
“Thanks man.” Victor replied as he took the change, dropped it, fumbled with his massive fingers to pick it up again and looked up at the vendor with a sheepish grin. “It’s these fingers,” He said with a chuckle. “Their bigger than your hot dogs and they aint good for a freakin’ thing.”
The vendor got a good laugh at the massive mutant’s expense and waved good day as Victor strolled away, swallowing his hot dog with two bites. He moved down the street with an overemphasized waddle in his stride and took a seat on a bus stop bench that was situated on relatively quite corner of the otherwise bustling neighborhood.
“Big V, you have got to tell me, why a klutz?” Victor heard the voice of his technical assistant, Danny Cole, crackle through the minute speaker that was concealed in his ear. “Why do you always act like a klutz on stakeouts?”
“Its simple,” Victor spoke lowly into his collar as he shrugged his massive shoulders. “The goal of any field man is to not be noticed until its time to move. Well that is kind of hard for someone who is 6’10” and 318lbs, so I go for the next best thing. I let everyone notice me and then pass me off as just another big fumbling giant. For some reason no one suspects a man who can’t walk across the street without tripping over the curb as being a cop.” It was an efficient rouse that had worked for Victor many times in the past but to the emotionally and physically battle scarred mutant it was far more than a casual front. Years of having a superficial judgment passed on him by the world at large had hardened the naturally gentle mutant and taught him the value of being able to show people the side of himself they needed to see in order to be comfortable around him. Even on the police force, where Victor was accepted and even respected more than any other place in his life, with the exception of his own home, he often had to downplay certain aspects of himself in order to overcome the seemingly genetic discomfort that normal humans had for his kind. Through out much of his life Victor felt that he was living behind a curtain, concealing who he truly was; the only thing that gave him the strength to go on most of the time were those rare but exhilarating moments when he could reveal himself and his incredible powers for what he truly was, something to be feared but also trusted.
“Interesting,” Danny said with a chuckle, after pausing for a moment to ponder Victor's words. “I thought you just got nervous.” He muttered shyly.
Now it was Victors turn to laugh. “Not likely man.” He responded, amused at the younger agents assumption.
“Kill the chatter gentlemen.” Saundra Chase’s voice cut in. “Our target has just left the apartment and is on his way to your location Big V.” The mood of both men instantly shifted to a staid professionalism.
“That’s a good copy Boss,” Victor said as he casually shifted his position on the bench to have a clear view down the street. Saundra was a cop’s cop who had made a name for herself as a narcotics detective in her early days on the force, and was one of the only people in the force that Victor respected enough to call “Boss”. Her talent for understanding the processes of a criminal mind and staying one step ahead of them was what gave her the edge she needed to be the first female who was given her own task force. She had put together an elite team whose sole mission was to eliminate the growing threat of a gang uprising in Kings Row, a team that Victor was proud to be a part of. For over three years they had kept gang related crimes at a record low for the city.
A drastic increase in petty crime over the past two months however, had changed all of that and the popular opinion that the local gangs had, for reasons unknown, begun recruiting members more aggressively began to gain ground in the minds of the local law enforcement. Saundra and her team had been given the task of finding the cause of the sudden outbreak and for the past two weeks they had stuck to the shadows, working their connections and informants and stalking people with known gang relations.
No one had to dig very deep before they discovered that one of the older gangs, the Blood Hounds, was aspiring to become a major power in King Row after a recent change in management. A lower level gang member, which had gotten arrested for assault, had snapped under interrogation and spilt the news about the previous Blood Hound leader’s disappearance and how the new leader was reorganizing the whole gang into branches that could operate in different areas of Kings Row independently of each other.
While the minion could not shed any light on the identity of the new boss or the reasons for the sudden organization he did give up the name of his branch leader. Now it was just a matter of Saundra and her team working their way up the food chain. They had tracked the name given to them by the incarcerated minion to an address on the south side of Kings Row. After five days of surveillance they had gathered enough information to get a warrant for the suspect’s house and a local pharmaceutical warehouse where it appeared he was running most of his operations out of.
"The target just turned the corner at Richard St. and George Ave. He is all yours Big V." Saundra said in the same commanding yet comfortable tone that Victor had grown accustomed to.
"I see him." Victor replied as he made a show of struggling to pull the wrapper off a stick of gum. "He just crossed the street and is cutting into the alley behind the pharmaceutical warehouse."
"Ok people this is it. We move as soon as Big V confirms the target enters the warehouse." Saundra responded as her voice grew more excited. Victor felt her excitement affect him instantly, like an icy wave of exhilaration rolling through him. It was not a nervous or uncertain excitement, it was that age old, barely controllable, thrill of the hunt and it was burning in the heart of every cop on the team in that instant.
It took every ounce of Victor's discipline to maintain his nonchalant appearance as he watched the target move cautiously down the back alley and slip inside a secluded door at the back end of the warehouse.
The piece of gum fell forgotten from Victor’s hand. "He's inside." he said in a cold passive tone that he held despite his enthusiasm.
Saundra's voice was electric as it responded across the police wire. "We are a go. All teams move in!"
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