Once a Villain
By Zack Bouis

It is 20 years after the current time in Paragon City, the year 2026. In this time the city has changed much and yet remained the same. It still remains a city of heroes, bordered closely by a chain of islands known as the city of villains. But in Paragon City many things have changed. In the old gang wars the sides have shifted. Some once thought to be unstoppable have been brought to ruin. New challengers have made their mark on the battlefields of the streets and the borders and territories of their holdings have been altered dramatically. However, despite all this, some remnants of the old orders still exist, only now long forgotten....

The stern agent steeled himself as he walked down the cold dark corridors of the Long Term Confinement Division of Ziggursky Prison. Stone cold, from his years dealing with superpowered criminals he did not speak a word to the small man following behind him.

The lowly prison guard who had been assigned to back up Agent Oharan felt awed by the emotionlessness the man showed while walking along the cells of some of the most dangerous criminals the city had ever seen. Council Archons, along with a few of their vampiric versions as well, powerful Carnival psychics, and some of the most hideous, grotesque Freakshow the anarchists had to offer.

Rick Oharan’s hair had gone grey at a very young age, it had become his distinctive feature recognized by the criminals he dealt with. He now reached the cell at the very end of the hallway. The door was almost a foot of solid steel and he knew that it was also equipped with atomic force field generators, which could be activated at any time in the event of a lockdown. He removed his key card and slid it through the slot. He then punched in a series of numbers, and the combination finally opened the door. He stepped in quickly, along with the guard, as the door was programmed to only stay open for a few seconds.

The cell they had entered was larger than most. It came with the common toilet and bed as well as a small radio and bookshelf, some of the books on which had been written by the cell’s occupant. The most distinguishing feature of the cell though is that laying on the bed in the corner was a blue skinned man with glowing steel rings attached all the way up his arms and another on his head as if it were a crown.

Agent Oharan gestured to the table in the center of the room and he and the prisoner took seats facing opposite each other. The guard stood behind the inmate, his arms crossed with a taser in one of his hands.

The blue skinned prisoner looked curiously at the newcomer, he didn’t recognize this one. He had many visitors to his cell, since long term confinement prisoners were so rarely allowed to leave. This was partially to protect them from the other inmates and also to protect the other inmates from them. Also, he never had to share the cell; long term prisoners were always kept in solitary.

The grey haired agent was obviously going to be the one who initiated conversation. "Mr. Calhoun," he began, "I am agent Rick Oharan, of the superpowered criminals correction agency and we would like to renegotiate your parole."

Calhoun looked up quizzically, "but I’m in for life."

"Due to your past experiences as a superpowered criminal we believe that with your cooperation, your services can serve to benefit the city, and therefore the District Attorney will reopen your case allowing for a possible reduction in sentencing," the agent said.

The blue skinned prisoner was very unsure about the proposal, "that doesn’t make any sense," he said, "even when I was considered at my most dangerous there were still a dozen or more guys who packed more power than I did and dealt with a whole different class of criminals."

The agent responded, "while that may be true there are other factors that led to our decision."

The prisoner smiled, "you mean you took the time to read my psych file?" The inmate had a number of psychiatrists over the years, probably his most frequent visitors. The file on his psychological analysis must have been huge.

The agent hid his irritation at this statement, "your previous experiences showed that your cooperation was a higher possibility than other superpowered criminal assets."

The prisoner leaned back in his chair, "alright Rick, can I call you Rick?"

"You are to refer to me as Agent Oharan, or Correctional Agent numeric designation, #3688," his voice not even rising.

The criminal made a show of acting hurt, "god, you’re no fun, whatever happened to Nash I liked him better."

"Special Correctional Agent A. Nash died a month ago due to liver disease," was the agent’s response.

"Alright that’s fine but really why is it that you would need my help of all the other baddies in here?" he said.

The agent began taking a file out of his jacket as he continued, "well in particular you have previous affiliation with a group that targeted the specific street gang which is now under our investigation, in fact you were the leader of said group."

The prisoner looked onward as the agent opened up the file. "Under the street name of "FrostFire" you managed to band together one of the most dangerous gangs Paragon City has ever seen, in fact it is logical that you would have managed to gain control of the areas known as "The Hollows" and "Skyway City" if it weren’t for the efforts of your rival gang the Trolls. The obvious leader of your gang you formulated strategies that almost succeeded in driving the Trolls out of the Hollows except for after years of this effort, the Trolls ranks began to grow and they achieved new levels of power which eventually pushed you to a rampage through Skyway City in which several citizens and a small number of heroes were killed. Which is the real reason you’re here today with a life sentencing." Leonard Calhoun, aka FrostFire, stayed perfectly still while hearing the summarized version of his gang career read to him, silently absorbing information he thought about himself many a night.

"Alright, so really what is going on?" obviously the agent had not clarified the situation at all to FrostFire.

The agent removed a paper from the file and laid it on the table. It was a biological diagram of a very bulky young man, with a prominent jaw, protruding tusks, a bald head with horns sticking out the top. Under the pictures outlining certain features of his appearance there was a caption which simply read "Grendel."

FrostFire looked up at the agent who nodded at him. "That’s right, the Trolls have been dead for years but there has been a new drug being introduced on the streets. It’s chemically a derivation of Superadine but it has been altered in a way that leads us to believe that it was engineered specifically for the purpose of quickening human mutations into Trolls."

FrostFire hid his shock at hearing this. A year or so after his (supposedly) permanent incarceration he got word that the Trolls had started to die out on their own steam. Their overdosing on the drug, to gain new powers, had led them to quickened deaths and after their short success with the Hollowing they had begun to die out. Eventually, Skyway City had almost been purged of their existence. He allowed the man to continue talking although the urge to bash in his head was still present.

"Groups of Trolls have started to form again, except this time they are different. Their individual powers are greater and it has become apparent that when they develop a tolerance to the drug the effect it has on their minds begins to lessen allowing them to retain more of their human intelligence." FrostFire, wondered about that one, Intelligent Trolls?

"Now what we need is someone to help us in combating their presence, so that we can ensure that their numbers stay down and so we can hope to control them. For this," Oharan slid the file over to FrostFire, "we have decided to call upon your previous knowledge of their group."

Silently refusing to open the folder FrostFire asked, "wouldn’t it be better to dig up some veteran Troll and let him do the talking?"

"There are no known surviving members of the Troll street gang," the agent responded.

"Alright then, but if you want someone who knows about them, there’s probably some old city historian, or scientist, or cop! so why come to me?" the former gang leader asked.

"It is more logical to obtain someone who has a history of combat with the Trolls," was the agent’s reply.

"So why not a hero then?"

"It was the agency’s decision, that we find someone familiar with the street attitude, someone who would be more familiar with tactical battles against the Trolls, and someone who was used to doing things in a more... illicit style." He said all this as though he regretted his superior’s decision. "And most importantly, you are no longer considered a U.S. citizen, you have no rights and that makes you... expendable."

"Alright then," FrostFire responded, "you know I’m not as young as I used to be." It was true. Leonard Calhoun had started his criminal career as a teenager, now he was a man in his mid-50's, hid somewhat by his odd hue of skin color, and his naturally athletic build.

"Excellent," the agent stated, retrieving his folder from FrostFire’s side of the table. "It looks like we can get started immediately."

With this Leonard Calhoun felt a sharp, burning sensation on the back of his neck, knocking him unconcious. He awoke in what appeared to be a busy hotel lobby, but upon closer inspection, the grand, large room had cubicles lined up like in an office building, one of which he was lying just in front of. He noticed that it was occupied by a young woman typing away furiously at a computer, and Agent Rick Oharan staring over her watching the monitor.

When the agent noticed FrostFire awakening he said, "sorry about that, but it was to assure that you wouldn’t be able to memorize the path to this building."

"You could have just blindfolded me," he responded rubbing the back of his head. While doing so he realized that the metal ring that previously encircled his head had been removed, while the ones on his arms were still present.

Noticing his realization the agent told him, "yes, you know those rings are power reduction bands. Invented to cancel out the powers of the Ziggurat’s prisoners. The ones on your arms prevent you from utilizing your elemental powers, while the one that was on your head is put on all prisoners because it reduces their normal bodily strength."

"So why did you take it off of me?" and then noticing he was not restrained in any way and the guard was no longer present he said, "and what’s wrong with you people? I could just run out of here, there’s nothing stopping me."

The agent responded, "Well even with your normal body strength, you’re still without your superpowers and if you tried to make a run for it from here this building’s pretty big and we’d be able to stop you before you got anywhere."

"Ok," he said walking over to the computer, "so what’s she doing?"
"Natalie here is pulling up all the known information we have on a certain Troll leader. In fact, I’m surprised you haven’t asked me about the name that was under the diagram of the Troll I showed you," said agent Oharan.

"Yeah... what about that?" the former Outcast leader said taking a moment to reflect on what he knew. Grendel was the supposed leader of the Trolls, but in truth he was little more than an urban legend who had arisen to explain who had been the first to bring all the Trolls together. But few, in the gang had ever been known of seeing him and although he had apparently accomplished legendary feats of brutal strength it was questioned as to whether he truly existed. With no real leader to guide the Trolls Atta had taken the reigns. After the Hollowing no one could question his order and he had become, in reality, the ultimate Troll that Grendel only ever was in legend.

Oharan responded. "Well there has already been a self proclaimed leader of these new Trolls, he claims to be the actual Grendel who led the Troll gang all those years ago." "Of course, this is a second hand account and we’ve also had reports saying he’s the reincarnation of the monster Grendel from the story Macbeth, or some mad scientist who’s masterminding this whole incident."

"The last one doesn’t sound so unlikely," in actuality, FrostFire’s assumption was that this new Grendel was just some overzealous Troll who realized he could gain authority in the gang by claiming to be their past great leader. But... that made less sense than any of the other theories.

"Wait a minute!" the former Outcast exclaimed. "The Trolls never decide their leaders by an influential title. Everything in the Trolls is decided by fights or Superadine tolerance tests. It would be going against their structure for one guy to just be decided leader."

Agent Oharan looked at the Outcast leader quizzically. "Well we know that these Trolls have more rational reasoning than the former ones. Perhaps, they have a new system."

"Look, you brought me here because of what I knew about this gang and I’m telling you, either these Trolls are completely different from the ones my gang fought, and I’m useless to you. Or this new Grendel has done something for him to have respect in this gang." FrostFire said.

Oharan paused for a moment before saying, "alright, we’ll proceed with the assumption that the Trolls are still competing for power through contests of strength. But, in the meantime, we have access to the most advanced database on superpowered criminals in the world. Anyone you want to look up right now?"

"Ok," he said approaching the computer, "Um, Natalie?" She paused in her typing for a moment to look up at him. "I want you to look up Keystone, he was my right hand man back in the day."

After punching in some keys, the woman replied with "searching," as a loading screen appeared.
"Accessing file on former Outcast Lieutenant, Keystone. After the incarceration of Outcast leader FrostFire he attempted to operate the Outcast street gang himself, but soon after a power struggle between him and SemiConductor, a factious member of the team, caused the Outcasts to fall apart with the different factions battling for power, Keystone eventually died in one of these battles. Shortly after the gang was disbanded entirely." After delivering her tale, Natalie again turned to stare at FrostFire, who was really starting to get weirded out by that odd, blank look that woman had.

However, this was a lot for him to reflect on. He had speculated that the Outcasts had probably fallen apart after his incarceration but he had just suspected that they died out slowly with the cops and heroes beginning to lean on them more. But no, his most trusted friend and his second in command had been killed trying to hold the Outcasts together. Who was this SemiConductor who managed to tear apart his gang? And then he remembered, she had become a Lieutenant a long time before he was brought in. Oh yes, a she. The only female member of the Outcasts ever. She was really different too. He often thought that she would have done better in the Freakshow or the Skulls. The Outcasts embraced violence, if only to inspire loyalty. But she was ruthless, and ambitious, but he had never given it much thought at the time. There was more important stuff to worry about then. Of course, it was a little late to do anything about it. Or was it?

"Nat, look up what happened to SemiConductor after the Outcasts were disbanded." Natalie looked at him, obviously annoyed at his abusing her name like that. "Damn," thought FrostFire, "what the hell is with these people and names?"

"Searching," the little computer geek said for the second time. "Found, the Outcast SemiConductor was incarcerated for five years after the disbanding of the Outcasts. Upon release, she began a profession as a social worker, and also held programs to aid reformed supervillains."

"What?!" "Wait a minute that can’t be right you’ve got to f***ing with me," was his outraged response.

Abruptly surprised that someone could use such crude language in her hallowed cubicle sanctuary, the computer technician replied, "I assure you sir, I am not f***ing with you about anything."

"What the hell is this about?" FrostFire thought to himself. SemiConductor was probably the most violent Outcast he had ever met in his life. It would have taken an act of God to reform her into a model citizen who actually cares about people!

"I have to go meet her now," he said addressing the agent leaning against the cubicle wall.

Surprised he said, "what? absolutely not, I was considering allowing you to contact old allies for combat purposes but this would be taking time away from the mission and I won’t allow that."

"Fine," FrostFire retorted, "but the first chance I get I’m gonna go see what the hell has happened to her."

"Where is her practice?" FrostFire said addressing Natalie again.
"Its out of a ward in Lagrange Medical Center in Skyway City." She said before Oharan could stop her. Normally, her robot like way of responding to commands was a good thing.

FrostFire smiled at Oharan and he stared back. He knew that at the first chance that was given he would slip out and try to talk to SemiConductor.

"Come on," the agent grumbled.

Leaving Natalie at her computer, he took FrostFire to a back door where they went down a few flights of stairs leading to a small dark room with only a single lightbulb hanging above them, illuminating a table with a map of Paragon City on it.

"I was expecting something out of Star Wars, with holograms and giant computers and stuff," FrostFire said upon observing the room.

"Yeah well, this works just fine," he said deciding not to humor the prisoner.

"Budget not what it used to be?" FrostFire asked with a smile.

Agent Oharan decided to ignore it. "Probably hit too close to home," FrostFire thought to himself.

As they came to the solitary piece of furniture, FrostFire saw three other men come out of the shadows, all wearing police uniforms. "I’m still not impressed," he thought to himself.

Oharan stepped up to the map and cleared his throat, "ahem, all groups of Trolls we’ve seen so far have been in the Faultline area, here, here, and here." With each "here" he placed a thumbtack on the spot indicated.

"Now the groups we’ve seen have been from 20-30 in number but we suspect that their numbers are over 100. Any of the groups containing Grendel have been significantly larger. Now, lucky for us they’ve showed up in Faultline so we don’t have to worry about them doing much property damage or hurting civilians. They’ve injured one or two heroes since we’ve spotted them but nothing else since then. Mostly," he gave a look to FrostFire, "they’ve been fighting amongst themselves, however it hasn’t resulted in a death toll capable of thinning their numbers sufficiently."

"What about the dam?" FrostFire spoke up.

"That dam was decommissioned years ago," he responded giving an unreadible look to FrostFire."

"Anyway, there will be three teams sent in. All SWAT trained and SWAT equipped officers. FrostFire, will be the field commander for one of these teams." This caused the police gathered in the room to stare rather accusingly at the blue skinned man in their midst. "As though they didn’t already have a reason to stare at me," he thought to himself. But sincerely he knew that the men here were the commanders of the men he’d be fighting with and they all felt as though this was not one of the men to which they should entrust their soldiers lives. Although he understood their distrust it didn’t improve his opinion of them any, after all they were cops.

Acting unaware of the apprehension present in the room, Oharan continued on with his explanation. "We’ve sealed off the area so that no one can get in but us, and any heroes who want access to the zone will require top level clearance. Any Questions?" He looked up and saw that his companions in the room were still staring at each other, apparently the last part of his speech had been lost on them. "Oh well," he thought to himself, "we might as well get it on with."

Moments later FrostFire found himself flying over the city in a military attack chopper. He was grateful that they hadn’t knocked him out for this journey, but he was blindfolded and they even removed it when they were halfway through Skyway. It was definitely different to fly over Paragon City like this, they exceeded all but the fastest flying heroes. But, FrostFire would have preferred a slower flight. He wanted to be able to see how the city had changed while he spent all those years in prison.

As they entered Faultline, FrostFire noted that it looked pretty much the same. Of course, there was almost no way to make this place look worse, but there was more than aesthetic differences. There were significantly less villains in the area, probably due to the loss of the dam, which was a target for almost all of the asssembled lowlifes here. As they got farther in, he noticed a huge group of people amongst the slanted wrecks of buildings. Then he heard the beat of drums and the grunts and roars which could best be described as ten foot wild boars feasting on each other.

It had been a long time since he’d seen anything like this.

"This is what we brought you for," said agent Oharan, yelling over the helicopter blades. FrostFire then noticed him taking a small disk shaped device out of his coat pocket and scanning it over the power reduction bands on his arms. The glowing faded away and Oharan unclasped them himself.

"I know its been a while since you’ve used your powers so lets hope you get it back quickly," the agent said.

Still not wanting to fully release FrostFire on the world, he half said, half grumbled, "Good luck."
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