A City in Flames:

Steel Canyon

He had a loud ringing in his ears. His head spun, his memory coming back slowly. Newly recruited to the Hellions, his bosses had sent them out en masse to destroy and burn Paragon City to the ground. The capes seemed to come out by the hundreds, but that didn’t stop them.
The building his group had entered had gone up like a candle. His vision was returning, and he could see the flames leaping from the upper floors, reaching for him, smoke billowing out above the conflagration, but something didn’t feel right. His arms were being pulled up over his head, but nothing was touching them, and his ankle was killing him. The smoke didn’t seem right either. The flames seemed to be burning down towards him. And what the hell were the cars doing flying upside through the air? Why was the street up above him, and the people, so far away, walking upside down, almost as if they were on a ceiling. Why were the clouds down below his feet, and . . . HOLY CRAP!

The NyteHawk stood on the edge of the building, his right arm straining under the weight of his captive, one of the Hellions that had lit the blaze in this office building. One of the many office buildings that made up Steel Canyon, he and Father Stug stood on the roof twenty floors up, amongst the scattered and unconscious forms of the gang members.
“Wake up,” NyteHawk said, shaking his captive. The thick muscles in his black-skinned arm bulged under the strain of holding a man suspended over the edge of the roof by the ankle. His veins pumped glowing blue energy through the Blaster’s body, the same energy radiating from under the shroud that covered his head and his glowing blue eyes.
Finally the Hellion started to stir, then the realization of his predicament hit him and he started to thrash.
“Don’t struggle,” NyteHawk said. “I don’t know if I can hold you while you flail around, and if I can’t, I’ll just let you fall.”
The thrashing ceased.
“Let me down!” The Hellion screamed.
“Yeah,” Father Stug said. “Let him down. Just drop him and let’s go. I’m bored.”
“Not until you tell me what the hell is going on,” NyteHawk told his prisoner. “Why are the Hellions setting the city on fire?”
“B.b.b.b.because….death is our gift?” the gang banger stammered.
“What does that mean?”
The Hellion started to stammer through the response again, but the NyteHawk silenced him with a quick shake. A red aura sprung from the Hero’s black hand, followed by a subtle, but discernable, crack. The Hellion screamed in pain.
“That was a hairline fracture of one of the bones in your shin,” NyteHawk said. “The next time I squeeze will be a compound fracture. That will leave only one bone and some flesh holding your foot to your leg, and holding your body from the twenty-floor drop onto your head. If I have to squeeze again after that, the last bone will snap, and only muscle and ligaments will be supporting your entire body weight. I can’t guarantee, or even think, that your foot will be able to withstand the weight. Most likely it will just rip off, and you’ll drop, leaving a trail of blood behind you. Of course, it will only hurt until you hit the ground. You can save yourself that fall by telling me what is going on.”
“I don’t know! I’m just doing what they said.”
“What who said?”
“The Bosses.”
A loud clack sounded as a round jacked into the chamber of an advanced assault rifle. “This guy doesn’t know squat,” Father Stug said. “Let me shoot him and we can move on to another group. Let the firefighters get in here. There are more buildings burning.”
“Buildings will continue to burn until we find out why they are being torched, and put a stop to that,” NyteHawk replied.
“Or until we cap every Hellion in the city, which sounds like a better plan to me.”
“But much more time consuming, and too many buildings will be lost.”
“Yeah, but it would be a lot more satisfying to do it my way,” Father Stug said. A diminutive man, he had entered the priesthood and been helping run a church in Perez Park, before the gang violence took over the area. The Hellions had broken into the church, bent on some evil ritual that was supposed to bring about ‘Hell on earth,” which was, at the time, their highest goal. Father Stug and the others in the church had resisted, and most had died. One of the Hellions Bosses, known as the Damned, had attacked the small priest, scorching him with a series of fireballs, incinerating much of the priest’s upper body. Stug had lost both arms to the attack, but doctors had replaced them with robotic prosthetics, stronger and more agile than his original hands. His face he hid in a mask under a large brimmed hat, but the scars there couldn’t match those in his mind. He had never recovered, instead taking up arms and devices against the Hellions and Paragon’s other gangs in the process. The ‘justice’ he dealt out was swift and final. Often considered a rogue by the Hero Corp, Father Stug, called “Guido” by some because the hat and priest’s collar made him look like an old television character from the seventies, had met the NyteHawk while prowling the streets one night. The cold-blooded streak both had immediately sparked a friendship, and NyteHawk had talked PhoenixHawk and Thauma Guard into inviting Guido into the Onami Strike Force. Sometimes hard to keep on a leash during missions, often running in before the rest of the group was ready, every member of the Onami knew they could always count on Guido, Father Stug gone bad, to watch their backs.
“Should we just do things his way?” the NyteHawk asked the Hellion.
“Then tell me why you are burning Paragon down.”
“I don’t know!” The gang member was almost begging. “They sent us out to burn and destroy buildings. They said that every fire, every life, fed the Master more, and meant more power for us in the future. They said we would be the most powerful gang in Paragon if we burn enough buildings down.”
The strain of holding the man’s weight at arms length was beginning to wear on the NyteHawk. A light sheen of sweat beaded on his forehead, he could feel it run down past his eyes.
“Who is this Master?”
“I don’t know that either! That’s what they called him, ‘The Master’. They just said death would be our gift to The Master.”
The NyteHawk flicked his wrist and the Hellion spun off to the right, landing in a heap on the rooftop amongst his fallen comrades.
“You’re on your way to the Zig,” The NyteHawk said. “When you get out, I’d suggest you never put on gang colors again. If I find you in Hellions garb again, I’ll let him have you,” he nodded towards Father Stug.
The two Heroes leapt from the rooftop, sailing to the ledge of another office building a hundred yards away. Much of the fire that had taken Guido’s arms had also damaged his muscular system. The Technology used to replace his arms had also augmented his legs, allowing him to match the super leaps NyteHawk made through use of a magic spell his sister, Thauma Guard, had taught him.
“PhoenixHawk, you busy?” The NyteHawk said into the team communicator. The leader of the Onami Strike Force answered right away.
“Just got out of a building here in Atlas Park,” PhoenixHawk’s voice replied. “Celsius went to the hospital, but I suspect he’ll be back in the fight in an hour or so. Skida went with him. Tropic headed back to Talos to meet his team, so Thauma and I are moving towards the Hollows. What’s up in Steel?”
“Guido and I just questioned a brand-new Hellion after we put his group down. He says someone called ‘The Master’ ordered the Hellions Bosses to put the city to the torch. ‘Death is our gift’ supposedly refers to the power The Master gains from the destruction.”
“How is this Master gaining power through the fires?” PhoenixHawk asked. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
“I don’t know, and neither did my new friend.”
“What did Guido have to say to all of this?”
“He said, ‘let me shoot him. I’m bored.’”
“That sounds like Guido.”
NyteHawk looked at his small companion, but Guido was looking around for more fires, more Hellions to fight, oblivious to the conversation going on around him. Having started the day with Nova 1 in Independence Port, he had gotten bored with the lack of anything of interest occurring. The Family had tightened their grip when the Hellions went berserk, making sure to keep their followers in line, knowing the city’s Heroes would be out in droves. The Port being mostly quiet, Father Stug had moved into Steel Canyon to meet up with the NyteHawk.
Across several blocks a loud explosion rolled out. The buildings shook with the shock wave, the ground rumbling underfoot.
“Looks like we’ve got more work to do,” Guido said.
“Get to it,” PhoenixHawk told his teammates. “If you can find out anything more about The Master, let me know. I’ll start poking around that myself.”

The police in Paragon City had sent out messages over every news broadcast and radio station, requesting the citizens to remain in their homes, unless that home came under the eye of the rampaging Hellions. Most people had heeded that warning, but not all. A crowd was fleeing the falling debris around the building where the bombs had just gone off. Paramedics were tending to police officers and civilians alike who had been blown about by the blast, or ripped open by flying shrapnel. A block over the flames from yet another building could be seen.
While the police were trying to contain the damage being done by the Hellions, the Outcasts, who ruled Steel Canyon’s crime market, had taken the opportunity to fill their pockets with goods from stores being neglected by the distracted police force. Where they encountered the roving packs of Hellions, fights broke out, gang member shooting at one another with hand guns, or the lieutenants blasting back and forth with enhanced powers. The Outcast Shockers letting loose with jagged bolts of electricity, only to have the fires of Hell thrown back at them.
Members of the Hero Corp fell amidst the embattled gang members, but more and more fights seemed to be popping up. Paragon City had once again become a war-zone.
The NyteHawk and Guido landed at the base of the bombed building, not stopping or slowing down as they burst through the front door. The first floor was empty with the exception of a single Hellion guard who hadn’t seen the Heroes enter. A crashing blow from the butt of Guido’s assault rifle had put the gang member on the floor.
The second and third floor had bombs planted on them. Father Stug had become somewhat of an expert at destructive devices, and easily disarmed the two timers attached to the barrels of explosive fuel. The fifth floor held a small group of Hellions, who fired weapons at the oncoming Heroes. Bullets pinged off of Father Stug’s robotic arms, but a grenade launched from the former priest’s rifle sent the group sprawling. The NyteHawk sent blast after blast of bright blue energy at the Hellions, taking two down as they tried to regain their feet. One Hellion rolled to his feet, blasting the Heroes with a shotgun. The NyteHawk leapt at the man, the red nimbus surrounding his fist at it crashed into the Hellion’s face, sending the gang member flying backwards into a wall. The Hellion hit the wall and landed with a dull thud in an un-moving heap.
The building shook violently as more bombs went off on higher floors. Slowly, more cautiously that Father Stug would have liked, the two Heroes made their way up, fighting several groups from floor to floor. The bodies of dead office workers could be seen in a few rooms, and graffiti that looked as though it were written in blood covered walls on three of the floors. It took quite a while, but eventually the Heroes cleared the building of the violent gang members.
Seeing none left to question, the two Heroes moved from the building, going in search of the next crisis spot.

Sitting in darkness in the basement of a burnt out church, Xeqatl fed on the lines of power, drawing energy from every life taken throughout the city by his minions’ rampage. His body, which had recently belonged to one of the leaders of the Hellions, was covered in the blood of the Circle of Thorns mystic who had been responsible for opening the doorway from Hell for him. The mystic and Hellion had both thought to control Xeqatl, foolish mortals that they were. It had been nothing more than a flick of his mind to take the Hellion’s body, put the Circle mystic down and feed on his corpse. The Hellions who had accompanied their Boss had easily been swayed to do his bidding, and carried his message, and power, into Paragon. Every follower of the Hellions, and even those who added to their sacrifices unknowingly, passed energy and life force into Xeqatl. He in turn fed a portion of that power back to his minions, making them stronger, more able to fight the Heroes of Paragon than the Hellions had ever been before. Death truly was the gang’s gift to him, and he in turn gave them the gift of power. Soon the symbiotic relationship would blossom, and Xeqatl would be able to leave the basement where he dwelt, and move into the sunlight. After that, Hell would come to Paragon City, and to all of the Earth.
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