Solanum kept far ahead of her team, despite their calls for her to come back. The group of Hellions they had just been fighting was defeated quickly enough, but one of them took off running. Not wanting to let a single one escape, she took off after him. Though she knew her running speed was nowhere near as fast as Stingray’s, she still found it fairly easy to keep on the Hellion’s tail.

As she chased him, she could see the change in terrain going from rolling Bettis Hills to becoming the mature-growth forest of Gaiman Woods. He was leading her south, towards Skyway City. If he got out of the park, she would lose him for certain. She wasn’t about to let that happen.

What had started as an arson rampage in Steel Canyon led to a knock-down, drag-out, no-holds-barred brawl that had now spilled over from their home in Silver Lake to Perez Park. The Hellions started firebombing houses in the neighborhood The Nameless called home. The twisted gangmembers realized quite quickly the mistake they made when all twelve residents of the Japanese-styled home came out in costume. They knew then, they had grabbed the proverbial tiger by the tail.

All the same, the Hellions still tried to fight the team. One of the gang still had an unlit molotov cocktail in his hand, which he ignited and hurled at Delilah. The little girl, to everyone’s amazement, managed to catch it and hurled it back at him, but with such force he was knocked back thirty feet when it struck him in the chest and exploded.

In that instant, all insanity broke loose. White Diamond herded Carlito and Delilah back into the house where her son, JT, was likely still sleeping. The remaining nine made short work of the band of Hellions until reinforcements came. Unlike the Blood Brothers, these were a good deal tougher, but they came with a number of minions.

People ran for cover as the fight became a running battle; Nightbringer, LiveWire, and Prismatic, all fliers, took to the air and began to strike at the enemy, following them as they ran. Vision attacked in a manner that looked like he was playing some sort of bizarre tennis match; teleporting on either side of the Hellion he had targeted. One of the gang threw another accelerant-filled bottle at them, the projectile struck Beguiler in the temple and rendered him unconscious. The moment it happened, Solanum whirled in the direction it had come. The Hellion knew, from the absolutely horrifying look on the woman’s face, he had to run for his life.

Ignoring everyone else, she took off after him. Other heroes that lived in the area helped The Nameless clean up the rest of the Hellions. Psirene and Medusa had tried to keep up with Solanum, but her lead on them was too great, her driving anger too strong for her to wait for anyone.

She would deal with this Hellion herself.

Solanum saw him run towards the old church and she paused. This was the church. She hadn’t set foot in here since…She brushed the shadows of the past out of her mind. There was no way a Hellion could know the significance of this place to her.

She looked at the entrance of the church like it was the gaping maw of some gigantic, otherworldly creature, waiting for her to enter so that it could swallow her up. Despite her trepidation, she cautiously walked up the stairs; in her mind, anger trumped fear any day.

To be on the safe side, she used her shadowy powers to aid her. She gathered the shadows around herself, making her virtually invisible and able to explore this place in relative safety.

She passed the rickety old staircase and resisted the urge to go up; a fight in the clock’s mechanisms was not something she wanted to repeat, if only for the psychological advantage her opponent would have over her.

The church had become more ramshackle and decrepit in the year-plus since she was here last. more pews had been damaged, more blood seemed to be on the walls, more windows broken. The altar was still there, along with a few items that were either valueless or too recently placed to have been stolen. She took a cursory glance at them; feathers, a small green stone, candles and a small circular mirror.

Great, more mirrors, she thought. She pounded her fist down on it, shattering it. As soon as she had done so, she heard what sounded like a hiss. She paused to listen; it sounded more like someone exhaling, but there was something unsettling about it.

She heard movement coming from below. If this church had held artifacts belonging to the Banished Pantheon, who knows what else might be down there, she mused. She decided to check it out.

The stairwell leading to the basement of the church seemed more like the descent into Hell. A pale orange light seemed to emanate from somewhere, but no light source could be seen. Cautiously, she made her way down the stairs, clenching her teeth as the ancient steps creaked and groaned under her. The sounds of movement had stopped, to be replaced with what sounded like talking.

A voice, a man’s voice, only deeper, almost gravelly in quality. She tried to listen to what was being said, making herself as undetectable as possible.

“You shall be something new…something this world has not seen.” The voice said ominously.

“Yes…Master.” said another voice, that of a younger man. Solanum had a suspicion that it was the Hellion she had been chasing.

“You have pleased me well. You and your fellows are already receiving my power. Behold!”

Solanum moved slightly to get a better look; she hated eavesdropping. She always wanted to see what was going on. She saw that the orange light came from a suspended flame that gave off light, but no heat. Inside the flame were images of what was going on in the city. She thought she saw PheonixHawk and the rest of Onami fighting against Hellions who were now a lot tougher, resisting the high-powered assault.

“I have taken my power from those captured and given it to those who are free. But for you, since you have come to me and have faced me directly, I shall do something most special.” the speaker appeared to be a Hellion, but he looked different. There appeared to be an otherworldly glow about his skin and eyes, and it was definitely in his voice. His hands glowed. “Kneel.”

The Hellion did so. The being place a burning hand upon his forehead and muttered something in a strange language. Solanum still watched, curious, and confident that she was still unseen.

When he was done, he bid the Hellion to rise. The ganger looked himself over to see if any bizarre transformation had taken place. Seeing none, he looked to the Master with a curious look on his face.

“Go into the city, find the largest gathering of people. The power directed through you will be hundreds of times greater than any other Hellion.” His eyes blazed for a moment, then subsided. “Then their energies will be transferred to me.”

“What if I can get a bunch of capes?”

“Capes?” the Master asked. “Ah. The fools with the powers. If you destroy those, the power received will be even greater.”

“Cool. I know where I can find a whole bunch of ‘em.” With that, he ran up the stairs, brushing past Solanum, oblivious to her presence. She found herself in a predicament; find out who this being was, or follow the Hellion.

The Master made the decision for her. “I trust I have piqued your interest, dear lady.” he said over his shoulder. He had the flame attuned to the Hellion, who Solanum could see running through the park.

“You can stop pretending I don’t know you’re here. I could sense you the moment you stepped foot on these grounds.” he continued.

Solanum dispersed the shadows that had cloaked her. Stepping down into the room, she took a look at the Master. She recognized the face; he had been one of the Hellion bosses, a particularly thorny one known as Char. However, the demeanor and manner of speaking was different, like he had been possessed. She extended her claws.

“What will happen when he gets to his destination?”

“He doesn’t know it yet, but the human body can only take so much energy flowing through it. The power I will send to him will cause him to detonate, killing everyone in the immediate vicinity. As you have already heard, those deaths will benefit me.”

“Death is the gift?”

He smiled. It was a look of infinite creepiness. Solanum felt a chill run down her spine as he looked at her. “You’ve been talking to my followers, haven’t you?”

“What are you?”

His hands began to glow. “Since you will not leave this place alive, I shall tell you who I am. I am Xeqatl.” With that, he sent a fiery blast towards Sara, who rolled out of the way.

Solanum again cloaked herself in shadows, using their power to protect herself. The armor formed would prevent her from taking serious damage or being blown back from any explosions. Claws extended toward Xeqatl, she waited for a moment to strike.

Flames sprang up around her, like the cages she had seen Bluedragon, Tropic, and countless others use. She jumped straight up, easily clearing the fire, and as she landed gave wicked slash at the Master.

As she felt her claws rip through bare flesh and muscle, she also felt the sensation of fire burning her fingers. She drew back, hesitant to make any attack on him. He laughed as he moved towards her.

“What’s the matter, dear one? Is my blood too dangerous to touch?” He stood over her as she crouched in pain. “Your spirit will give me great strength. Look upon me.”

She did so, but what while she had been cowering before him, she had used the shadows to make her appearance one of abject horror to any who gazed upon her.

Xeqatl faltered. This was not the face of a mere mortal. This was a face heralding his doom, hinting that he would ultimately fail. He staggered back a few steps.

The space was all Solanum needed to get back up the stairs. Running at full tilt, she got out of the church. Once clear of the church, she used her extreme leaping ability to get back to Silver Lake. The others had to be told, and more important, they had to find that Hellion before he detonated.
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