THE GAME:
SUFFER THE CHILDREN


It was decided that Solanum and Psirene would go to the Sussex Academy to look into the disappearance of the children, while the others would go try and track them down. They knew they had to work quickly; word was that those in the villain underworld were bedeviled by The Gamester, and they might not show the same restraint against the children.

So as not to alarm any parents, faculty, or any villain, the two heroines changed into their civilian clothes, and hopped into Saraís BMW coupe. They raced through the straight, skyscraper-lined avenues of Steel Canyon to the winding, manicured boulevards of Founderís Falls, and into the pandemonium that was the parking lot of the Sussex Academy.

Cars were parked in every direction, no one bothering to observe the rules of the road or even display common courtesy. After Sara managed to squeeze her car into a little corner of the parking lot, she and Bianca got out and made their way through the slalom course of improperly parked vehicles and franticly running parents. They also had to avoid being hit by any incoming parents barreling into the parking lot at breakneck pace. In fact, a long black limo almost clipped Sara. With a quick flick of her nail, she cut a deep gouge into the rear side panel.

"Take that." she muttered.

"Sara, that was petty, vengeful and completely uncalled for." Bianca said, making sure her clothes and hair were properly in order. She pushed open the doors to the school. "I approve."

The pair went towards the gymnasium, which was where all the parents seemed to be streaming to. The faculty had made it into an emergency center of sorts, but due to the clamor of all the enraged parents, very little could be heard.

A red-headed, middle aged woman stood at the front of the gym, talking into the microphone. She looked like she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. She turned hopelessly to another faculty member before she tried talking again, only louder. Again, the din of the mob drowned her out.

Annoyed by the crowd, Bianca half-closed her eyes and issued a mental request to all the minds in to room to kindly shut up. Though she did not have the manipulative skills that her brother had, her telepathy was still quite powerful, and she got the desired affect. With a bewildered look, the parents all quieted down, and the woman at the head of the room began to speak again.

"Thank you, to whomever is responsible for that." she began. "Iím Madeline Greely, Dean of the Academy. First off, Iíd like to say weíre doing everything we can to find your children. Weíve contacted the police as well as Hero Corps. Unfortunately, with the current crisis going on with The Gamester, their resources are stretched rather thinly." she smiled apologetically at the assembled parents. "All we know is this: at about 10 oíclock this morning, the student body left."

"Sounds like nobody knows whatís going on, and these people had a ringside seat." Sara muttered.

Parents began to mutter angrily. This was not telling them anything they did not already know.

"Hey, look!" someone yelled out.

Everyone in the gym turned around. A teacher was bringing in a student, probably about fifteen years old. The boy looked sullen and defiant.

"Who is that?" asked Bianca.

"Jack Carlin-Webb. Heís kind of the school bully." whispered Sara. "Carlitoís told me about him. Heís kind of calmed down since Carlito and Delilah have been coming here."

The boy suddenly produced a shiny red package.

"Uh, oh." the two heroines said.

A woman came running out of the crowd and grabbed the boy, who seemed more annoyed by his mother fussing over him than anything else. The parents began to talk excitedly among themselves; maybe their children would be walking in next.

After extricating himself from his motherís embrace, the boy went to Dean Greely and placed the package down on the table next to her.

"A little something from The Gamester." was all he said, and opened the gift.

Sara and Bianca tensed themselves, ready to attack whatever came out of the box. Surprisingly, it was a small, round device. The kid pressed the button on top of it, and the crowd of parents were given a light show accompanied by strange circus music.

"Hello, there, dear parents. This is Dean Gamester speaking. The children are going on the ultimate field trip today. I cannot say when theyíll be coming back, nor can I say if theyíll be coming back. But I can say this: any attempts to stop them and you wonít see them again."

The anger in the parents quickly changed to worry and concern. The level of agitation rose sharply. The disembodied voice continued.

"Iím sure by now, you are wondering how I took your kids. After all, Sussex Academy has the tightest security, right? Allow me to introduce my dear Piper. Let his soothing sounds liberate you from any cash you may have on you right now. Besides, your money is the only thing that will save your children at this point. Not the police, and certainly not the heroes."

The group was puzzled as the sound of flute music began to play. The song was a sprightly one, almost like a jig. Several people began to twitch. First one, then another, then another, until all in the room were beginning to move to the rhythm of the tune.

Sara and Bianca turned around to the source of the music. A man stood behind them, dressed in a red jacket and harlequin-patterned tights. He stood one-legged as he played his hypnotic song. He wore a hat with a long feather sticking out of it and a black mask around his face to cover his true identity.

Bianca quickly wrapped a psychic shield around herself and Sara to protect them from the effects of the song. The rest of the parents werenít so fortunate. Their rhythmic spasms had become full-blown dancing, and the people were trying desperately to stop, crying and screaming for mercy as their gyrations became more wild and frenzied. It was as if they were going to dance themselves to death.

Seeing that Sara and Bianca were resisting his control, Piper reached into his jacket and tossed something in their direction. A brilliant flash of light went up in front of them, in addition to a sharp, icy wind. When their eyes were no longer dazzled, they saw standing in front of them a Winter Lord.

The huge creature roared angrily. The parents, now in shock over the sudden appearance of the monster, all screamed and ran towards Dean Greely. The two heroines looked at the fifteen foot snow creature, whose gaze shifted from one woman to the other.

"Can we take him?" asked Bianca.

"Do we have a choice?" Sara replied, her claws unsheathing almost automatically when she first saw the thing. She could hear the crowd gasp in response.

With little effort, she jumped up to the same height as the snowy beastís head and lashed out with a savage strike to its face. The thing bellowed loudly and swung a backhand upwards at Sara. Unable to dodge the giant fist quickly enough, Sara took a sideways blow to her midsection that sent her sailing over to the other side of the gym. She crashed into the padded walls and lay on the ground, unmoving.

Thinking one opponent down, the Winter Lord advanced toward Bianca, who stared at it impassively. Her eyes half-closed, she unleashed a blast of psychic energy.

Winter Lords, being made completely out of snow and ice, had very little mind to speak of. Psirene remembered most of her psionic abilities had very little effect against them. However, she did have a psychic attack which did have an effect, at least on their physical structure. The Winter Lordís head suddenly exploded as if one had taken a bat to it, snow sprayed in every direction.

Bereft of its head, and sense of direction, Psirene began to make short work of the thing. Tapping into the same dark energies that both Nightbringer and Solanum controlled, she began to drain away the energy from the monster, and gave it to Sara. The redhead moaned slightly and began to move. Shaking her head, she saw what had happened, and quickly rejoined the fray.

Claws protruding to their greatest extent, Solanum jumped onto the back of the beast and began to tear huge chunks of snow out of it. Suddenly the thing collapsed from under her, and she could see a third hero had joined them. With his broadsword, he had literally cut the Snow Lordís legs out from under him. With very little substance left, the monster was quickly subdued, and was nothing more than a pile of melting slush.

"Who are you?" demanded Sara.

"I suppose I could ask the same of you, dear ladies. Sorry for being late with the assistance, but my sword has this nasty habit of setting off metal detectors." he gave them a wry smile.

"Still doesnít tell us who you are."

"Iím Valdrich. I guess you two are Solanum and Psirene."

The two gave him a puzzled look. "How did you know?"

"The billboard overlooking Kingís Row. Although, I must admit, Ms. Liberty looks a little out of place in the group." he chuckled. "I would rather have seen Ms. Moxie or WillowWind, personally."

"So would I." responded Psirene.

"Hey, Webb! How come your kidís here, and ours are still out there?" the three heard a parent shout.

"Great, now weíve got to take care of this before it gets ugly." muttered Sara. "I donít suppose you saw some clown leave the building, Valdrich?"

"I did, but unfortunately, he was leaving at a very fast rate of speed. I canít run that fast."

As they walked over to where the parents were, the argument between the two men had escalated into a fist fight. Psirene quickly "grabbed" both men.

"Now is not the time nor the place, gentlemen." she warned gently. "We will find the children, and now," she said, scooping up the device. "we have definitive proof of Gamesterís involvement. No doubt this will weigh even more heavily at his trial." She smiled warmly at the crowd.

"But first, we need to talk to Jack for a couple of minutes." Solanum said.

After the interview with the boy, the three headed out. Solanum made a quick call to the rest of the team to appraise them of the situation. It turned out Jack had been initially taken by Piper along with the other students. However, he managed to break the villainís hold over him. When that had happened, he said, Gamester himself handed Jack a "present" to give to the parents. Whether or not he was holding the kids for ransom was not clear, the part about demanding their money seemed almost an afterthought.

When pressed further, Jack couldnít recall where he had been or what exactly Gamester looked like. "It was dark, and he was kind of shadowy-looking. Heís keeping them in his playroom. All kinds of cool stuff there."

Psirene had wanted to enter his mind, but thanks to the Psychic Intrusion Law, she would need his parentís permission to do so. Their attitude towards the heroes was cool at best, and only after the other parents threatened him with a full-on beat-down did Dr. Webb relent to allow them to just talk to his son.

After relaying the information to Beguiler, the three headed over to join the rest of The Nameless.

Meanwhile, across town, the rest of The Nameless were busy tracking down the missing children. Apparently, they had broken up into smaller groups, but the heroes were focussing primarily on one.

"It would seem that my niece and Carlito are not the only superpowered children attending Sussex Academy. There are at least three others. More than I would have expected." Beguiler said as he relayed his findings to the team.

"Five kids? Thatís not a lot." scoffed Stingray.

"Considering most superheroes who do have children hire private tutors to instruct them, five superpowered children is a very high number. Itís almost too tempting a target for a villain twisted enough." the Brit explained.

"So, who are the other children?" asked Medusa. She scanned the streets below from their rooftop vantage point. The trail had somehow gone cold in Skyway City.

"Solanum said there was Svetlana Romanov, age twelve, emits radiation. Tyrell Holmes, age eleven, apparently can manipulate energy. Lastly there is Fiona Duncan, age nine. She regenerates any wound she recieves."

"How did Sara find this out?"

"She and Psirene have met Fionaís father. Apparently, heís a registered Hero as well. The others, I canít say for certain. I informed Director Davies about the other children. Whether or not their parents are superpowered, or are even aware of their children being such I cannot say." Beguiler shrugged.

"It appears from the security footage from Van Briesbockís that Carlito took the lead." said Nightbringer. "The others overwhelmed the guards and everyone else. Delilah ripped the safe door off its hinge and they made off with the diamonds." He held the small display screen out for the others to see.

"Did anybody see which direction they ran off in?" asked Vision.

"Towards Boomtown, I think." replied Prismatic.

Nightbringerís typically gloomy scowl turned even gloomier. "Boomtown is Outcast territory. Even if they do have super powers, those kids are in a lot of danger."

"Not half as much as you are, hero!" called out a mocking voice.

The group turned as one to face the speaker. They found themselves staring at a group of similarly dressed people; red jackets, black and white tights of various patterns, black masks across the eyes. The lead individual had a pair of knives in his hand, which he casually twirled about his fingers.

"And you are?" asked Stingray in the most apathetic tone he could muster.

"The agents of your destruction, dear boy!" replied the lead man. "But first, allow me to introduce ourselves. I am Jongleur, this," he indicated the massive man behind him, "is Strongman. The fellow to my right twirling those bright blue balls of energy is Jester and this lovely lady with the cards is Fortuneteller."

The womanís expression became devious, and she held a card to her forehead.

"I predictÖpain!" she cried, and tossed the card at The Nameless.

"Everyone duck!" Vision yelled, and teleported away.

The second the card touched the rooftop, it exploded, sending the heroes flying in every direction.


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TO:
THE GAME:
CAUGHT IN THE WEBB
TO:
THE GAME:
SUFFER THE CHILDREN PART 2>
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