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From the Ashes

D Heikes

Chapter 1

            Thauma Guard felt the concussion as the Demon stomped its huge, clawed foot, shaking the earth beneath her.  Celsius Bane, shrouded in flames, athletically built but strong as a mountain, and Shadow Pain, the small three-eyed woman with a tail, wielding a gleaming katana, threw themselves at the beast.  The demon bellowed in rage at them.  The thing’s huge, dragon-like wings beat the air behind, fire flickered about its elongated muzzle with every breath.

            Skida Marink and Lady Emily were holding back, using their powers to heal the team members as they battled the huge, scaled, horror.  Every time a member of the team went inside the black nimbus that surrounded the Demon, it drained them, weakened them.  The empaths did all they could to counter the effects, but the Demon was beyond them.

            A backhanded swipe from the Demon’s muscled right arm sent Celsius and Shadow Pain sprawling into the defenders, bowling them over like pins.  The Demon saw the opening, and moved in to blast the group with an inferno from its mouth.

            Thauma saw the thing draw a deep breath, and concentrated, hoping the shield spells she surrounded the group with would protect them, but something told her that they wouldn’t be strong enough.  She struggled to rise, to help her friends get out of harms way, but knew she was too late.

            Just before the Demon incinerated the heroes, PhoenixHawk flew full force into the side of the Demon, slashing a burning sword of flame across the Demon’s head.  Thauma helped Skida pull their dazed companions to where Evangelica was throwing fireballs of her own at the creature, to little or no effect.

            Thauma was helping Shadow Pain clear her head when she heard Evangelica’s scream, telling the group that they had to help PhoenixHawk.

            Looking back she found her lover trapped underneath one of the Demon’s tree-trunk like legs, throwing cerulean blasts of energy at the Demon, which seemed to only enrage it further.

            “You’ve got to teleport him out of there!” Evangelica shouted. 

            Skida, Thauma, and Lady Emily all tried, but none could teleport the trapped hero through the energy void that surrounded the Demon.

            The Demon was saying something to PhoenixHawk, who snarled a reply as the Demon raised its right hand, ready to impale the hero on its blade-like talons. 

“No!” Thauma yelled, everything in her pouring out in a loud wail, as the Demon  smashed its right hand down into the hero’s chest, talons driving through him like spears.

The blast was like nothing she had ever seen.  She was blinded instantly as a ball of blue, white, and orange, energy exploded outwards, throwing chunks of earth and grass in all directions.

           

Thauma sat bolt upright in bed.  Sweat poured down her ebony skin from her spiked, orange hair.  She was breathing hard, almost panting, strong hands gripping the covers in clenched fists.  Looking around, gathering her bearings, reality slowly crept back into her mind.  She was at home, in the apartment she had shared with Aaron.

Her head hung down, the dream still vivid in her mind, as she collapsed backwards.  Digging the palms of her hands into her natural eyes she fought back the tears that threatened to come again, as they had so many times in the years since that day.  Since Aaron had died.

Absentmindedly her hands traced the six large vertical scars in her abdomen.  More than a year had past since she had been attacked, killed in the Onami base by an assassin known as Evisceral Shadow.  The six blades from the smaller woman’s gloves had ripped her open, shredding her muscles and organs, spilling her life’s blood across the floor.  Members of the super groups the Onami Strike Force, Nameless, and Archangels of the Apocalypse had fought off the assassin and her minions, I Doctor, Skida, and Emily barely saving Thauma’s life.   The heroes had been alerted to the attack by Norman, one of the feared Rogue Island Protectors, who revealed shortly before that a portion of the DNA he had been modified with had come from Aaron. 

During the brief period before the healers had brought her back from death, she had seen Aaron, alongside Hades, who ruled the domain of the afterlife.  She had been told that her time had not yet come, denied access to Hades realm.  She had begged not to have to return to her life.  She had lost Aaron, then her friend and former student Brian Sutter, the hero known as News Flash.  The losses had been compounded by the assassin killing the fighter known as Stateside.  It had all been too much for Thauma, the loss, the pain.  She begged for release from it but was denied, and returned to her life, though lacking the will to live.

Another friend, a half-dragon known as Occam’s Razor had taken her upon a journey to a fabled land, where the inhabitants she could only think of as elves, sheltered her in a place of peace and tranquility.  They taught to once again see some of the beauty in life.  After a year she had returned to the world she had known, though she still lacked the passion for life she had once had.

Upon her return she had found the Onami nearly disbanded.  The group still existed, the name held as an honor to those who had gone before, but their cohesiveness had slipped.

Voltech, a former Skull who had followed PhoenixHawk after his release from prison, had lost hope in the group, and been enticed by the Rogue Island Protector program, and the promise of limitless technology Arachnos had promised him.

Lately something was bringing the losses of the past back up to the surface, something that would happen soon.  Visions she had with her third eye occasionally offered some enlightenment, but not always.  Just as she had known, as the time had grown closer and closer to that fateful day, that something bad lay on the horizon, she knew now something was brewing.  She just couldn’t pinpoint what.

The dream returned more frequently these days.  She could still see it in her third eye, the Demon, the huge gathering of the Circle of Thorns mages. 

The damned Circle of Thorns.  Born in the late eighteen hundreds, the group of magic wielders, led by an ancient sorcerer called Baron Zoria, sought power, and dominion over the Earth.  Their numbers had swelled since the Rikti war, promising fledgling magic users a quick path to power.  She herself had nearly fallen upon that path.

Now Thauma Guard finally knew some of the rage that Aaron had lived his entire life with towards the Rikti.  The Circle had robbed her of her soul mate, though a small portion of him had been revivified in the Rogue Island Protector.  Norman had told her that he loved her, and she believed he did, though his very presence only reminded her of the loss she felt.  The Circle had left a hole in her heart, from which anger poured,  Hers was not the only life they had mangled. 

Even after Aaron’s death the Circle of Thorns were not to be undone.  Again they found a way to bring their ‘Super Demon’ to the world, only to be stopped again, this time by Statesman and the Freedom Phalanx.

Later they had tried again to achieve their goal, and had succeeded.  Many people had died at the Beast’s hands, including members of the Top Ten.  Only when Tropic sacrificed himself nearly the same way Aaron had had the thing been defeated.

Thauma Guard had vowed to herself that someday, somehow, she would help bring about the end of the Circle of Thorns, and Baron Zoria.

Making her way to the roof of the apartment building, she stood on the spot where Aaron had spent so many of his own sleepless nights.  The air was crisp, yet not uncomfortably cold.  The June night carried with it a breeze off of the ocean, several miles east, but close enough to feel its presence.  The light from the shield walls that separated Paragon City into distinct and separate zones lit up the sky, filling the night with enough light to diffuse most of the stars overhead.

Atlas Park spread out before her.  The huge statue of Atlas, the world held on his back, dominated the area.  Under the huge statue were several others, and Paragon City Hall, where the Federal Bureau of Superpowered Affairs kept offices for the newly registered Heroes to learn and gain information.  Looking at the dome of City Hall, lit up by the same floodlights that kept Atlas and the world illuminated throughout the night, something odd caught her attention.  Something she felt seemed to call her.

Speaking a word of magic, her legs filled with energy.  She leapt from the rooftop, to another roof, slightly lower and two hundred yards distant, immediately rebounding into another leap, continuing on until she landed at the steps to City Hall.

Azuria, one of the leaders of the Magi, the first contact fledgling magic users were assigned to, stood outside of the building looking at her.

“Thank you for coming,” Azuria said.

Thauma Guard’s brow knotted.  “That was you calling me?”  Azuria nodded.  “At three thirty in the morning?”

“I was told that you were awake, and looking over the city.”

“By whom?”

Azuria didn’t answer, only moved up the marble steps and into City Hall. 

Thauma Guard was tall, over six feet, but the vaulted ceiling beneath the dome always made her feel small, though she knew with ease she could leap up and touch the ceiling three stories above.

She followed Azuria through the open atrium, down the FBSA corridor, and into the Magi office.  The walls were lined with books on arcane knowledge and workings, some of which radiated power that Thauma could feel, but that power was a shadow compared to the radiant aura of the office’s other occupant.

“Numina,” Thauma Guard hissed.

Numina bowed her head slightly in response.  She was somewhat of a mystery, a powerful hero and mystic, her visions were often prophetic, and rarely wrong.  Just as rarely were they spoken clearly enough to be understood.  The power she had was so focused that even her death could not erase her being from the world.  The ghost she had become no longer needed her physical body to survive.

“It’s been six years since you called on me,” Thauma Guard said.  “The last I saw you was when that possessed Hellion sent the whole gang on a burning spree.”

“Yes,” Numina replied.  “And then I told you we would meet again, though time would have past, and that it would be of great importance.”

“What’s so important at three-thirty in the morning?”

“The dreams have come to you again,” Numina said.

Thauma’s eyes widened.  She knew Numina was a powerful seer, but they had never spoken since Aaron’s death.

“Yes,” Numina told her, “I know about the dreams.  They come more often, signifying and event looming, growing closer like storm clouds on a summer afternoon.”

“What?  What do they symbolize?”

“That which is coming.”

Great, Thauma thought.  The middle of the night and I’m not going to get anything but a headache from this.

            “You know that Tropic has returned?” Azuria asked.

Thauma nodded.  “Word is out.  Some say it’s not really him, that his body is still in its grave.”

“The body is merely a shell,” Numina said.  “What was Tropic in that shell will be Tropic regardless of the shell that surrounds it.”

“Rumor also has it that this is some thousand year old being pretending to be Tropic.”

“Three thousand years ago, Tropic was created when the Hun Lords forced the powers of a demi-god into him.  He resisted strongly, and though he was powerful, he never gave in to that which dwelled inside of him.”

“So this demi-god is really what’s returned?”

“It is Tropic that has returned,” Numina said.  “Only now he has fully embraced his power, and the demi-god begins to take sway over him.”

“What do you mean ‘take sway’?”

“He has become quite, eccentric,” Azuria said.

Thauma Guard shook her head.  She was tired, and going in circles aimlessly didn’t help much.

“What does this have to do with me?” She asked.

“We would like you to look into Tropic, and tell us what you perceive,” Azuria said.  “He has become very powerful.  If he were to lose control of himself, he would be difficult to stop.”

“Again, why me?”

“Because it must be you,” Numina said.  “And the Onami Strike Force.”

Thauma Guard looked at the ghost, her eyes wide.  “Why?”

“Because it must.”

“The Onami Strike Force hasn’t come together as a group in a very long time.  We haven’t been much since PhoenixHawk died,” Thauma said, her anger bubbling to the surface.

“It will be, as it must,” Numina said.

“Is that all you’re going to say?” Thauma Guard snapped.

“It is all that I can. When we last met, I told you that you must hold your team together.  No other team can undertake this task.”

Too little sleep, and too many unanswered questions were almost enough to push Thauma Guard past her limit, but she reigned herself in.

“I know it’s difficult to keep the team together,” Azuria said.  “It is a constant reminder of what you lost, for each of the members, not just you.  But you are needed.  This task is set for you, and the Onami, alone.  I don’t know why, but I do know that what Numina says is true.  You must undertake this.”

Thauma was quiet for several heartbeats, then turned for the door.  As she past through, she turned back.  The scars on her abdomen itched like crazy. 

“Fine,” she said.  “I’ll pull some of the group back together for this.  But if you understand anything of what it feels like for us to be together without Aaron, you’ll know this better be worth it.”

“It is of more importance than you know,” Numina said.  “It will be years before you fully realize how important this is.”

TO CHAPTER 2 >


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