[IC] The Light Fades Away - Chapter 3: Duke Be Wit

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  1. This thread is the continuation and next chapter of The Light Fades Away, a story by @foodforpigs, @Wytchfinder, and @Sir Pinkleton.

    The first thread (Chapter 1) can be found here: The Light Fades Away (Retired Superheros)
    The second thread (Chapter 2: Shadow of the Dragon) can be found here: [IC] The Light Fades Away Chapter 2: Shadow of the Dragon

    Food, Pink, and Wytch Prod. Presents
    The Light Fades Away
    Chapter 3: Duke Be With Us

    The world had been plagued by the supervillain known as Remnant, an aspect of the Third Reich that persisted years after Germany had surrendered to the Allies. Remnant was unstoppable, able to drain the life essence of countless victims to increase his power and intellect exponentially. His schemes couldn't be stopped through simple head-on combat, as Remnant was patient, biding time in the shadows to enact his plans for the most devestating effect. World War II had officially ended, but another War had taken its place solely under his control. The superhero group known as the Freedom Five, combat veterans from World War II, powerful as they were, could only suppress Remnant, but never decisively defeat him permanently. It was only at the mythical Battle at Hoover Dam that Duke, leader of the Freedom Five, gave up his own immortality as a sacrifice to banish Remnant into another dimension.

    There was still a Freedom Five after the original team had disbanded. Most people call them the 'New' Freedom Five, to distinguish them from the original team of superheroes of Duke, Dragon, Nightwatch, Dr. Nucleus, and Sacrifice. The new Freedom Five, though capable, didn't have their mettle tested in war, nor faced an enemy as terrifying as Remnant. The only beings that seemed to compare in this new age were assassins Aftershock and Roche, independent assassins who had built a reputation of assassinating superheroes to fulfill contracts that, upon completion, had a rippling effect on crime syndicate and shadow government activity of a world recently torn by war.
    These people fought on a battlefield the new Freedom Five had a difficult time engaging. It was then something unthinkable happened. Aftershock stabbed into the heart of America by assassinating Dragon in her own home. "Dragon is Dead" was the headline of every paper, shattering America's quiet peace completely.

    There was a new prayer now, "Duke Be With Us", America's desperate plea for the return of their savior. As though responding to the prayer, the last three remaining members of the original Freedom Five brought themselves out of late retirement and out of their prime, to bring justice to Dragon's killer. They quickly found themselves at the mercy of Aftershock, a female changling who could morph her external body as an amalgamation of attributes belonging to any animal, on top of her extensive experience as a trained killer. It was only through luck that Roche, master martial artist, powerhouse, and archenemy of the original Freedom Five, had intervened to claim the kill on Nightwatch, fighting Aftershock long enough to buy the original Freedom Five enough time to build their final trap, a magical obsidean teeth shooting shotgun that accelerated the teeth through a virtually friction-less barrel. The buckshot was enough to pierce the hide of Aftershock's monstrous form and kill her.

    Yet, even with the death of Dragon's killer sealed, the new war was still far from over. Roche was still alive. He had been denied his kill when he realized that his quarry Nightwatch was now a cripple bound to a wheelchair, so instead of killing the original Freedom Five members, he revealed that he had a contract against one of the members of the New Freedom Five. This was his way of setting out to show how powerless Nightwatch had become, that even with Roche's contract in plain sight, he would not be stopped. The contractor for either Aftershock and Roche hadn't been found out either, a threat consisting only of unknowns. Now the New Freedom Five have entered the home of a former war-zone, destroyed beyond repair, with the gross corpse of the assassin upstairs. Here is the team roster.

    "Wyvern". The hot-headed son of Dragon, and the most vocal of the team; it is primarily because of these factors that he is seen by the public as the leader of the new Freedom Five. Like his mother Dragon, he can move at incredible speeds, but the full extent of his power has been largely left undeveloped due to lack of self-discipline and impatience. The scientist Dr. Nucleus called the part of his untapped power 'Beyond Bullet Time'; in a sense, it seems that Wyvern blurs time itself around him, moving to different spots and striking several targets, all at the same time. His signature technique mimics a multi-armed Shiva, his two arms become a stream of arms on each side, attacking all at once.

    "Eagle Eye". The daughter of Dragon, America's Sweetheart, and Roche's intended kill. It has been confirmed that she has super sight. The exact number of maximum yards for clear vision has yet to be confirmed, an uncertain estimate thrown about is 1000 yards, but its use has been clearly demonstrated in aiding her savant talent of wielding virtually any firearm. Though she didn't genetically inherit super speed from her mother, she makes up for it in terms of military trained reflex and dexterity, able to draw, fire, and reload her trademark handguns in the span of seconds, shooting targets with pinpoint accuracy.

    "Artillery". A man of super-strength, living artillery, weilding weapons that normal people aren't strong enough to carry or use on their own, such as gigantic rocket launchers, miniguns, lugging around boxes of ammo strapped to his back. He is a man of action, always willing to fight for the right cause. He is often associated with Duke and although he takes it as a compliment, he aspires to build an image of his own, to show the world that he isn't a Duke clone, but a hero all his own worthy of separate respect. He also continues Dragon's mission in sealing public perception that people of any color are equals, but more so, capable of acheiving great feats.

    "Pharoah". The de-facto leader of the new Freedom Five, who takes up the image and personality of a Pharoah: calm, collected, and logical. He can control the elements, most notably fire, water and lightning to his whim, though he cannot create it, for which he needs external sources. Though he doesn't intervene much in public affairs, his input is highly valued within the team itself, where he is more vocal about the courses of action the team should take.

    "Wolfmoon". An Iroquois descendant and the meekest member of new Freedom Five, whose shyness is criminal in public and within the team itself. Her input to a fight is usually overlooked because of how small she looks and acts, keeping away from the main fight as much as possible. She can call spirit animals to aid in combat, an unknown element to most combatants unable to fend them off with normal weapons. She is rumored to have other shamanistic abilities as well, but they aren't known by the public.

    Together they form a team that has only seemed to be a placeholder for the team that was before them, an unsatisfactory copy from the glory days. They receive limitless adulation and praise from the crowds of people that gather around them in the spotlight, but behind closed doors the same people will continue to pray "Duke Be With Us". The beacon of light has dimmed, darkness approaching all around to choke the last of the flame as the last of the oil is burned up. Though the team has done much to clear the streets of crime, their deeds are passed over, disregarded simply because they don't meet the high standard set up by their predecessors, of those great deeds that separate supers from true heroes. The members of the new Freedom Five have a long and arduous path before them, but they understand that becoming veterans is a gradual process. The new Freedom Five aren't discouraged. They understand what needs to be done, and they'll do it. Their nation needs them, even if their nation doesn't ask for it.
     
    #1 foodforpigs, Aug 1, 2016
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2016
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  2. Sacrifice sprang awake. When he lunged his head up from his resting position, he slammed his skull into the dumpster's lid and yelled loudly, "FUCK!", he then had spasm and kicked the moldy mop handle that had the other side of the dumpster cracked open for airflow. The dumpster made a loud 'CLANG' and the sound echoed in the alley he found himself in the night before...

    I hope that young cop tries to find you, and captures you, and touches my book Ridley. I CRAVE FOR A STRONGER KILLER.

    His arms shot to the book as quick as he could, Sacrifice clutched the old robe that wrapped around the flesh-bound tome and lifted the lid. Still in the corduroy jacket with an untucked tanned collared shirt which remained unbuttoned, the ex-vigilante climbed from the dumpster and stored the book under his armpit as he landed on the paved surface, his boots touching the cold ground. He adjusted his wrap around the book and stumbled into the busier streets, he jammed the face-mask from his black garment into the pocket of the faded jeans loaned to him by Dr. Nucleus. Sacrifice walked slowly and took off his dirty gloves to wipe the sand from his eyes as he walked. The man's head throbbed from the events of the night before and his mind wondered what became of his teammates. "I'm sure they're okay", he mumbled to himself as he walked, through the streets, "They will be under better protection at least, maybe that young pig could work with them to find out who sent Aftershock and Roche."

    Turning south to the city's center, activity on the street appeared to be around the time of 6am, people of all ethnicity roamed the street to get to their low paying jobs on time and wait for the bus, later the streets would fill with cars and more white men would flock for their well paying office job where they ignore phone calls and flirt with young secretaries. Sacrifice despised the growing financial disparity that existed within the city, corporations had taken over the downtown core and that damaged the homeless community greatly. Old places that were once good to sleep had long spikes poking from out of the pavement, installed by bankers and accountants that get paid to hold money that isn't theirs to begin with. At least central park had comfy grass and some decent shelter, with Duke at the front of a large charity to restore and clean central park, he and Sacrifice put plans into place to re-purpose the green space for a variety of functions. All of that had diminished in a short time however, after Duke died a lot of projects became pushed back and money was allocated for other endeavors. The park was changed, but was only maintained for 5 years. And it was the only place Sacrifice called home.

    The CP Freedom Fries had a banner streaming across the lip of it's navy blue roof, "Duke Be With Us, Dragon Guide Us", was written on the white banner with red ink for Duke and Dragon, and the other words in the navy blue that matched the flag. Sacrifice walked inside to use the restroom and he asked the woman at the counter for the key and she hesitantly handed it to him. After his business he returned the key and swiped a newspaper from an abandoned table inside. The headline read, HOWARD SEEKS TO REVISE GRACE ACT, and the front page showed a smiling wide eyed politician giving a speech, the caption read, Jamison Howard clearly announces his plans for his revision of the Grace Act, "It is for the pride of our nation that we fight for both sides of the ocean, under a single flag of solidarity, to combat terrorism."

    While he walked to a good spot to panhandle, he read a couple sentences of the article and folded it under his arm beside the robe, "What a load of horse shit", he spoke allowed. He tucked the book and his belongings behind his back and slumped down beside a phone-booth across the street from the place he got cheap coffee. He nodded at the other homeless close-by as he chose his location, they all had zones and he remembered to respect them. Some may have known him and his locations, but it didn't matter, most learned to stay way.

    Fucking human filth, at least humans with money don't smell like rotting camel. Killing the homeless would be a mercy, don't you miss it Ridley? Watching them scream as you terrified them with visions no drug could give them? Or when you threatened in the shadows? Instead you joined them!! Just as useless and weak as the lot of them. You used to control them with fear and now you're a spineless old man with his hand out for scraps, use my power Ridley, use it and I will fill your stomach and rid you of pain. USE MY POWER!, Samhain continued to talk to Sacrifice through their supernatural link as the man held out his hand to any passerby. Sacrifice got a variety of looks, but most most people repulsed or pitied him.

    "Spare some change for a veteran", he voiced to a young woman walking past him in her business skirt and heels who promptly turned her head away the moment he opened his mouth. "Get a job you piece of shit!", a young boy on his way to middle school screamed at him with a group of his giggling friends. A young girl in her teens gave him a dollar and didn't say a word. Later he exchanged words with a hitchhiking musician who gave him a cigarette. After a slow morning of panhandling, Sacrifice managed to acquire just under five dollars. He spent fifty cents for coffee from the old pot at the coffee shop and made his way to were the others gathered.

    Down by the bicycle bridge crossing a small river, Sacrifice saw Horace and Mo with their cart rummaging through the garbage containers for recycling and scouring the ground of any cigarette butts to later be hand-rolled into new cigarettes with the remaining smoked tobacco. Mo waved at Sacrifice, "Leperman, we still have your backpack, we din't rummage through it like we said we wouldn't. You wantit back?", Mo was dark skinned with semi-shaved grey afro hair puffing from his scalp, his beard was choppy and he only had a couple teeth remaining which appeared stained and twisted. His voice sounded raspy and beaten.

    "Hey Mo", Leperman nodded to the man and then at Horace, who looked up to look at Sacrifice but only acknowledged the man before returning to his scavenge. Leperman was Sacrifice's homeless name, he had attempted to be called by his last name originally, but with the transfer of knowledge as time went on and people that came and left or died, Leperman remained. "Yeah, I'll take back my bag and give you the two dollars I owe you for storage", he sipped on his black coffee in it's Styrofoam cup. It smelled and tasted burnt, but that was the price he paid for it.

    "Sure sure", Mo replied and handed Leperman the bag as the money was exchanged, Mo smiled his two tooth grin as he gripped the dollar bills. Two dollars, two teeth, reliable storage, Sacrifice remarked in his thoughts. "You need 'nthing else?", Mo asked with glossy eyed look across his face, obviously still a little drunk from the night before.

    "Yeah", Sacrifice placed his coffee on the ground opened his backpack, revealing a small tarp, a rainjacket, a bottle for water, and a half full bottle of vodka.

    "There was booze in there!!" Horace smelled the vodka as soon as the bag was opened and sauntered on his lame leg over to the other two scraggly old men. Horace claimed to be Russian, but Mo didn't seem to care, he watched Horace's back and Horace watched his. "If I knew there was vodka in that bag I would have beat up Mo and snuck a couple drinks", Horace smiled and his tar filled mouth opened and closed, the smell of trash compacter escaping from the man's breath.

    Sacrifice took the contents from the bag and put Samhain's book still wrapped in his cloak at the bottom before putting the raincoat and tarp back inside, he handed Horace the bottle and each man a dollar. "It's yours, but I need you two to help me with these kids that roughed me up yesterday."

    "Oh yeah Beatrix told me, the angry boy and the jail bait, we both saw them that same morning before they found ya", Mo responded while Horace took a swig from the bottle, "What dos two want wit-cha?"

    "Not sure, but I need to know if they come looking for me again, there may also be two old men, one is in a wheelchair, those guys are vets like me and Horace. I want you guys to keep your eyes and ears open for me and let me know if you see any of those people around our turf.", Leperman asked his cohorts, "I just need Horace to come over and let me know they're here. That's it."

    "Done", Horace drank from the bottle again and shook Leperman's hand without hesitation, "I'll keep watch, but only a week"

    "That's fine", Leperman nodded and remained with the two men for a short time. They discussed some scuffle that happened on the rich side of town the night before and how a dirty pig got beheaded. The media was having a good day apparently, Leperman traded his newspaper with Jamison Howard on the front page for the paper describing what happened at Edric Estates the night before. Sacrifice already knew what happened, but he wanted to know what else occurred with the knowledge the reporters obtained.

    At a bench Sacrifice finished the remainder of his coffee and set the empty cup at his feet, he read the newspaper and set it down after he read the article about the assassination attempt at Edric Estates. "The new Freedom Five has Nuke and Nightwatch", he said under his breath, "And Razor is on the loose..again... fucking great", he rummaged through his bag for his lighter and lit his cigarette. He took two long drags and exhaled, "Fucking great."

    ---

    Samhain was ecstatic. He found it amusing that Ridley did not recognize the face on the newspaper he traded with the other wretch, and he definitely should have. The demon chuckled as Ridley took puffs from his cigarette and waited. Waited for his new servant to free him from this weak fool.
     
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  3. Wyvern looked at Wolfmoon as soon as Mr. Baker had said that he needed the box from the car. She jolted from the suddenness of Wyvern's look, but then looked down, pressing her fingers together. Wolfmoon had been quiet the whole time the new Freedom Five had been talking to the two old men about Roche.

    "Keys?" she squeaked. Pharaoh looked at Dr. Wakefield. When Mr. Baker had been discussing how Razor was and his recent involvement, Wakefield had been repeating the grim truth under his breath, simply, that Dragon was dead. However, this truth slowly became mixed in with his previous mantra, of the equations that clouded his mind. Pharaoh didn't even hesistate before deftly fishing Wakefield's keys from his shirt pocket with a single finger, tossing them to Wolfmoon. After that, Pharaoh intently listened to Wakefield's mutterings.

    "Incredible." said Pharaoh.
    "Yeah, incredibly loony." said Wyvern.
    "You just don't understand." sighed Pharaoh. "This man has done more with his gift than all of us combined. Do you really think his development of Alzheimer's Disease was an accident, a mere coincidence? No. It is the result of a brain that has developed so many neural connections that the brain was bound to short circuit over time. Now there are dead neural forests in his brain, and yet, even now, his brain is in overdrive. He speaks pure physics."
    "Old junk, you mean." quipped Wyvern. "Alzies latch onto whatever bits they remember best, and discard the rest."
    "No. The equations were formulated entirely from scratch, with a singular intent to kill."
    "I thought Freedom Five was all about not killing if possible." commented Artillery.
    "Clearly, Dr. Nucleus didn't have the resources necessary to capture, and so he moved onto the next logical option." replied Pharaoh. "Hoover Dam, remember? Closing that black hole cost him virtually all of his power."
    "Yeah, yeah." dismissed Wyvern. "As soon as you're done jerking Wakefield off, we've got fucking work to do. The person that hired my mother's killer is still out there, as well as this Roche guy. I want this team to be ready for Roche."
    "As do I, but you could learn something from the remaining three members of Freedom Five, like teamwork."
    "They shouldn't have drawn out the assassin in the first place. I refuse to learn from these fools."
    "They won. That proves they were right." stated Artillery, simply. "What were they supposed to do? Wait in their houses for their turn to be assassinated?"
    "You people claim that I don't understand?" scoffed Wyvern. "You guys are completely blindsided by childish hero worship. They were lucky; that's it. If Roche didn't come along they would've been executed, and all Mr. Wakefield would've done was collect the team to die in a single place. And what did they accomplish, really? They killed our only potential lead in tracking down the actual person behind it all."

    "Umm..." Wolfmoon approached the group and held out the box in both hands, her head bowed down to Mr. Baker. "I hope I got the right one."
    "Just give him the damn box!" said Wyvern, clearly wound up now. "Fuck this. I'm going outside."
    "We don't care." said Artillery.
    Wyvern walked away, giving Artillery a backwards middle finger. Eagle Eye was about to follow Wyvern, but stopped and turned around with a worried look on her face.
    "My brother does have a point, I hate to admit." said Eagle Eye. Wyvern was usually wound up even before the death of their mother. "What are we supposed to do?"
    "Good plans come in tranches." Pharaoh stated assuredly. "I am well aware of the present situation, despite Wyvern's claim that I'm blind. A bad plan might recognize the big picture, but fail to account for all the important details of that picture at every stage, and fail to be flexible enough should that picture change. We have to formulate a plan as the situation dictates, like the original Freedom Five has done."
    "Just point me to where I need to go. I'm itching to kick some ass." said Artillery.
    "We get Mr. Baker and Mr. Wakefield to safety. That is our first priority right now." said Pharaoh. "I want everyone to be on high alert. FBI will escort us by car until we get to home base."

    Mr. Baker was provided with another wheelchair, and wheeled off quickly to a black car along with Mr. Wakefield. Having clawed his way out of his most recent mental tie-up, he looked around again, terrifyingly lucid to all the wrong details. He didn't know why he expected a colorful and wacky Freedom Mobile like in the cartoon. The Freedom Five vehicle was as sleek as the other black FBI cars. It did have an easy ramping system for Mr. Baker, though; all he had to do was roll up on a ramp that led from the trunk. There was still quite a crowd around the house in Edric Estates too, though most were forced to disperse by police; the house itself, however, was now in visible ruin, even from a distance. Bullet holes were like boils and sword cuts like gashes of the walls. The tiled roof itself had a torn hole in it, like a small mouth that gasped its last breath. Mr. Wakefield patted down his shirt, realizing his keys were gone. When did that happen? He felt something else, and plucked it out. It was a card. O'Brien. He looked at it and frowned. What was this for, again? It looked important. He reached out to Mr. Baker with the card.

    "It really is an honor to meet you both." said Artillery, who rode in the back with them in a double seat belt.
    Mr. Wakefield turned to the man with a blank face. The double seat belt itself looked specialized, though Wakefield was too tired to even guess what stuff it was made of, or the how, or the why. Looked very durable. That's it.
    "Artillery."
    Mr. Wakefield nodded passively. "I think ... was it at Freedom Fries?"
    "Cardboard cut out, yeah. If you don't mind, I always wanted to ask you something, ever since I was a kid."
    Mr. Wakefield nodded again. He didn't affirm that he could answer.
    "What was it like, being in a power suit?"
    "Hmm..." Mr. Wakefield clenched his hands in a repetitive motion, as to call a feeling of testing power suit grip. "Big. I felt big. Like I could stop anything."
    "That's your big question?" said Eagle Eye from the front. "Not surprised. Tell him about your story with power suits."
    "It's not much of a story." replied Artillery. "Back when I was prepping to go to 'nam, the government wanted to design my own power suit. Trouble was, they were all too fragile. Not that it matters, since this was just before the implementation of the Grace Act."
     
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  4. Christmas Eve, 8:50 pm.

    "...began earlier today, witnesses reported hearing explosions and seeing pieces of the buidling itself falling to the ground below. Police evacuated the area and citizens were warned to stay far away from the building. Shortly after, the Freedom Five engaged a metahuman going by the alias, 'Caliber' atop the skyscraper. Before the fight even concluded, criminal metahuman mastermind, 'The Deacon' claimed responsibility for the event. Details have not been released yet, but Caliber's plan allegedly involved acquiring some object of interest. Caliber was stopped from leveling the building by the Five, though the exact details, as I have said, are not yet public. Caliber, however, managed to escape, bringing into question; Are the enemies of the Freedom Five becoming stronger, or is the Freedom Five losing its touch? With the recent escape of one Delroy Roche and the increase in metahuman crime, some have begun to call the team into question. Let's go to Senator Bill Richmond who's been asking, 'Can we really trust The Freedom Five to keep doing their job-"

    Nightwatch shut the screen off. It was noise. They didn't need to hear this. The other members of the Five sat around a large, round conference table, their faces sullen, concerned, perhaps downright fearful. Duke looked worse than anyone else. His face pulled tight, his brow furrowed. Outside, snow fell gently in an almost deliberate and spiteful contrast of the room's mood. A white card lay open on the table from the president, bright red letters set into the bone white of the card, 'Merry Christmas'. The basket of cakes and fruits next to it was still wrapped and untouched.

    John broke the silence, saying what they all knew, "Deacon's planning something, I think it's tonight. It's the only possible move he has, but..." he sighed, "I don't know what it is."

    The Deacon, real name Rupert Amos, was a mastermind, a criminal, and their enemy, but he was enemy to Dr. Nucleus most of all. The Deacon's greatest weapon, his mind, threatened to rival Dr. Nucleus' and since their first encounter they had planned circles around each other. Wakefield and Amos had been playing a match of chess over the past few months. A game The Deacon made sure would be played with lives, and whether Nucleus wanted to or not, he'd have to play along. A series of events had been building up and if Nucleus' predictions were true, it would all erupt tonight. Now, they sat in the Freedom Five headquarters, waiting for something to happen. The Deacon had left them no other options, no other leads, no other course of action than to sit and wait.

    Duke was taking this particularly hard. Not only had the past few weeks been difficult, they had been demoralizing. The world saw him as the leader of the team, and their failures rested on his shoulders more than anyone's. Dragon kept swapping between almost chewing on her nails and balling her hand up to keep herself from feeding that nervous habit. Her nails were all chipped and jagged, some from fights, some from the anxiety of these past few weeks; every finger a witness to the stress they were under.

    The doors to the room swung open and two police officers rushed in. They were out of breath, they'd just run down two flights of stairs.

    "The Deacon! He's transmitting to the building! He, he's speaking to you, Doctor."

    The room was equipped to receive transmissions of every type, courtesy of Dr. Nucleus. The screen in the room came back on, but the polished anchorman was replaced with a dark image. A dark figure entered the shot, walking with a limp. It was difficult to see, but figure moved as if it wore braces on its legs and held canes in its hands for balance. Rupert Amos was a polio survivor; but the state of his body didn't matter, it was what he could do with his genius that was the threat. John alone had met him in person once. He had only barely escaped the trap.

    "Freedom Five. Doctor Nucleus. Merry Christmas. If everything has gone according to my plans, and they always do, you are all sitting in your little castle, waiting. I'm sure you've some idea of the resources I've... acquired and the allies I have on my side. I promise you, tonight will be a night you will never forget. For most of you, it will be because you simply will not live past it. By morning this city will be mine and the very people you protect will deliver you unto me. Whether or not this is bloodless, that is for you to decide."

    "My first demand will be simple. Easy. Child's play. But I wouldn't be surprised to see you fail, Nucleus. Your inferior intellect may be a match for pompous idiots like that moronic Professor Poof, but you are nothing more than a fool sitting on a false throne against me. You will find that everything you have seen from me up to this point was no more than a simple, mental exercise. No, Nucleus, tonight you will find that I pose a very real danger. Tonight is the night the Freedom Five dissolve, and the night that I break the good Dr. Nucleus."

    "I have hidden explosives in hospitals around the city. How many hospitals and which ones, that is for you to try and figure out if you think you can. If you fail, people will die when these bombs go off. But you can stop them. I want every police precinct in the city to step down. I want every officer sent home. I want every weapon, radio, and piece of equipment in every station piled on the street in front them. If my demand isn't met in two hours, I kill everyone in those hospitals. If you try to evacuate them, I set the bombs off early. After my demand is met or the bombs go off, I will issue my second demand and my second threat. Now go. It's your move. The clock is ticking."

    The transmission cut off. The next few hours would be hell. But the Five had no idea that this was only the beginning and that they were about to have one of the worst nights of their lives. One of the officers in the room removed his cap and spoke absentmindedly, "Duke be with us."

    ...

    "Duke be with us."

    The words floated towards Mr. Baker from the dispersing crowd. He grimaced. He had never liked that phrase. Even before Duke died, people would spout it. It was misleading, often downright deceiving. It had started as a simple catch, something to say to give hope to the people. To remember that their heroes were with them. When times got hard and days became dark, that phrase turned into a prayer. Something people would say as if Duke would hear them and absolve them of their pain. Duke had been a great man, but he was not a god. Yet when they began to praise and treat him like a god, they had also begun to expect him to be that god. And Duke was a man, not a god. He remembered how deep the words seemed to cut David when they'd fail and people would repeat that same phrase as if to remind him, 'You are our protector. Our god. Why didn't you stop this?' They were putting the burden of godhood onto a man, and Scott had seen his friend's shoulders buckle with the weight more than once. Had it not been for the rest of the Five, the weight would have destroyed him. It would have destroyed all of them. A few times, it almost did.

    That night so long ago had been one of the trials that had pushed the team to their limit. The papers had called it Ash Christmas, fulfilling the media's need to give everything a name so that rich politicians could argue about it and use it to show why their particular policies were better. That had been one of the worst effects of the media. The names, tying every event and villain to an identity to ensure no one ever forgot. Ash Christmas, The Razor Killer, The Metahuman Crisis. It made sure every one of their shortcomings was branded on their backs forever. They were expected to do the impossible and called out when their resolve wavered. And in the end, they often had no choice but to do the impossible.

    Mr. Baker nodded, but remained a bit dismissive of Artillery's enthusiasm. Not out of disrespect for the young man, but because his mind was still trying to put together these recent events and what they would mean for the next few days. He let Artillery and John talk, bringing his gaze down to the box.

    He realized he didn't know all that much about the new Freedom Five. He'd seen them like everyone else had, an article here and a news story there, but he didn't know them as people. The biggest connection he had to them was the generation they'd come from. His eyes met Wolfmoon's who promptly turned her gaze away. He'd read about where she was from. At the time he'd been surprised her mother had decided to have children at all, but then again that woman had come a long way since her first attempts at being a super hero.

    "You. You're Mystic's kid, right? I knew your mother when she was just starting out."

    Wolfmoon, unlike her mother, was quite reserved. She lacked Carmelita Diaz's enthusiasm; but she had her eyes. He was about to add something more when a pair of words caught his attention and his mind jumped on it. As if he could smell a lead, he turned to Artillery,

    "Wait, did you just say you had a power suit? Do you still have it? And how functional is it?" A power suit and someone who could use it. He might just be able to work with that.

    ...

    Ash Christmas, 3:59 am.

    "John, stop!"
    Nightwatch trudged through the snow, holding his side, his palm pressed against a bleeding wound. His body was beaten and battered, and the bullet he'd taken in the shoulder ached with every step as the cold seeped into him wherever his torn uniform exposed his body to the cold night air. His breath unfurled in white mist in front of his lips. A gash on his brow force his right eye closed as blood crept over it. Ash Christmas had put them all through hell, and it wasn't over yet. The past few hours had threatened to break them.

    "John, don't do this!"

    He didn't call for Dr. Nucleus, he called his real name instead. The Deacon had pushed John Wakefield to his breaking point. Scott stumbled through the snow until his legs gave in to exhaustion and pain.

    "John..."
     
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  5. "Had a power suit." responded Artillery. "The government had planned to completely disassemble my test run suits once the Grace Act was fully implemented into policy. You know, as a 'sign of good faith' to the rest of the world, to destroy a symbol of power which separated us from the common folk. After all, it takes a super to wield a power suit effectively."
    "Not that it even mattered." responded Wyvern, wryly, also from the front of the team vehicle. He had been silent almost the entire way, presumably stewing over a whole slew of things. "Fragile? From watching the old tapes, the steel bent and ripped as though it was made out of fucking tin foil. The suits didn't even need to disassemble; all that what was left was scrap."
    "Didn't matter on two counts." Artillery amended. "Thing is, there's still a war to be fought here. The suits are still offering big ass guns that no person could lift. The super power divide can't be ignored."
    "Impossible, considering the recent memory of --"
    "Don't you dare say it." warned Artillery.
    "We all know about it." sneered Wyvern. "It doesn't do us any good ducking around it. It's fact! We're not children for crying out loud."
    "Leave it." Somehow, Pharoah's voice carried over all the way from the front in the same tone of a commanding, assuring presence. "It doesn't do us any good to squabble over the past, not with what's now at stake. Stay alert."

    The car had become silent, and its occupants could now only hear the rolling of the tires underneath them and the occasional bump in the road. Everyone knew what Wyvern meant anyway. The phrase 'Ash Christmas' had become a taboo in polite conversation, for obvious reasons. Wakefield covered his eyes and ears with his elbows and hands, tucking himself away. For some reason, Pharoah's words stuck alongside the ghosts of Ash Christmas tormenting him. Wakefield was the past to be forgotten. Though Mr. Wakefield couldn't recall any particular event clearly, his body knew the response, to shrink, to be frightened, to despair. It itself was the definitively the void that Wakefield couldn't close at the Battle of Hoover Dam: the void of living without Duke.

    Wolfmoon no longer seemed at ease either, placing her hand over her chest, silently breathing in a rhythmic fashion, just like her mother, the great Mystic. It was the reputation of Mystic that allegedly carried Wolfmoon to the status of becoming a Freedom Five member. In seconds, Wolfmoon's breathing had become regular and she opened her inherited eyes. The rest of her facial features were stuck in anxiety and worry, but the eyes remained straight, unwavering, like her new breathing. Mr. Baker suddenly saw an image of Mystic during her prime, tall and gorgeous, wearing a revealing dress more befitting of a magic show assistant. She was above a shimmering crystal clear lake, still like a mirror. Mystic's toes touched the surface of the water, a great white shark burst from the water. Mystic didn't move in response as she was swallowed whole into the shark's mouth, then, in a flash of brilliant light, the shark exploded from the inside. Mystic stood above the lake again, but instead in her superhero uniform, covered in blood. She stood tall, not from pride, but from strength. Those eyes, once joyful, were now vigilant; the light remained strong within them. After Mr. Baker had the vision, Wolfmoon covered her mouth, as though stifling herself from whimpering. However, Mr. Baker could clearly see the instant when Wolfmoon raised her index finger in a hushed sign, pleading for Mr. Baker not to comment on what had happened; it only lasted half a second, for only him to see.

    "Any sign of muck-head activity?" said Artillery, breaking the silence.
    "No." said Eagle Eye, who had been scanning the surroundings of their own car with her super sight. "Not on the surface, anyway."
    "It hasn't been active in quite some time." commented Artillery further.
    "As much as I wish I didn't have to deal with the nuisance of muck-heads," quipped Wyvern. "Big Boss was probably biding its time for the next big hit. Now would be such a time for it to act. I'm ready."
    "You still hanging on your pet theory the thing's intelligent?"
    "Big Boss' strikes are too damn convenient to be anything but random." said Wyvern. "Sure at the start it was dumb, but there's a steady progression to what it has done. It learns. Pharaoh agrees with me."
    "Tentatively." amended Pharaoh. "It's a suitable hypothesis for the observed behavior of the being."
    "It's not just a being. It's one of our greatest enemies." said Wyvern.
    "High praise." said Artillery. "We've always found a way to send it slithering back to the sewers."
    "We've never defeated it, not until after the damage has already been done. It's a menace to be taken seriously."

    Silence returned to the vehicle once again. Wakefield was still hiding himself from the world, sick to his stomach. His mind now played on loop the way Aftershock's head exploded. He didn't want to ask what the heck Big Boss was.
    "We've arrived." said Pharaoh.
    There was a time Dr. Nucleus would know what the time was without looking at a watch, but now Mr. Wakefield had no veritable clue how much time had passed. It was nearing morning, probably. He wouldn't get enough sleep before the next sunrise, anyway. He was tired; that only made his stomach feel more queasy, because it was the only thing he could concentrate on.
    "We'll escort Mr. Wakefield and Mr. Baker to their respective rooms right away." ordered Pharaoh. "To say they've earned a good night's sleep is an understatement."
    "Yeah it is!" cheered Artillery enthusiastically. "Though if it were me, I'd be full of adrenaline and wouldn't be able to sleep. Must've been an awesome fight, looking at the house now."

    Mr. Wakefield didn't share Artillery's enthusiasm. He just felt sick inside, yet also empty, hollow, like a black hole was swirling inside him. Artillery looked to be the poster child for Vietnam recruitment. It would be a mistake to assume Artillery was ignorant of the terrors of killing and war. It was more likely Artillery adapted, to not be broken by the senseless violence that Dr. Nucleus wanted to save the world from. When Mr. Wakefield got out of the car, he stood in front of a building that awakened an unknown terror similar to what he felt over Ash Christmas. His knees instantly became wobbly, and knelt before the building. He looked behind him, his eyes searching for Mr. Baker to join him on the new wheelchair.

    "I... I know this place." Mr. Wakefield uttered. "What is this place?"
    "It's the Dr. Nucleus Rehabilitation Facility, and also a temporary base of operations." said Pharaoh. It was surprising to Wakefield that even now he didn't sound condescending. "Let's keep moving."
    My name's on it? Why?!

    The facility looked absolutely menacing to Mr. Wakefield, probably because it was dark. When Wakefield had looked in any direction from the facility, there were merely fields, and at the boundary wire fencing. He saw some patrolling guards as well, with rifles. Wakefield got up quickly to catch up with the new Freedom Five and Mr. Baker. Nobody had asked, but it was now Wolfmoon behind Mr. Baker in case he needed assistance with the wheelchair. Mr. Wakefield gulped and entered through the heavy doors. He saw that there was a processing area, but for this group the staff at the facility weren't processing for weapons. The line was too quick for that. Instead there were people with ... pointy-light thingies, the one for ear examinations. What the heck for? Mr. Baker's box was still on his lap after all this time.

    Pharaoh got to an elevator, which also appeared just as old as the immediate foyer they had just entered. Now Mr. Wakefield assumed that nothing was replaced after all of this time, from the wooden walls, the framed pictures, or the tiling. It was clear that if he had his memory, he'd remark how grossly familiar it was. Some facility. It might as well have his name on it, being as worn by old age as he was. They went down a level, and already Wakefield could feel the weight of the implications. From now on, they were underground. Mr. Wakefield stepped out last from the elevator, and his eyes immediately darted to a potted plant.

    Potted plant. Wakefield looked ahead, to a floor that seemed empty, despite all the new innumerable furnishings that made this place a base, with computers, shelves of books, phones, and god knew what else.
    "Where is it?" Wakefield's voice carried in the silence.
    This time, Pharaoh didn't answer.
    "Where is ... he?" said Wakefield, feebly. Part of him didn't want to know the answer. "This same kind of plant was for him. The pots they're in, are the originals, aren't they?"
    "Yes. Professor Poof used to be here. Now he's not."
    "Did he serve his sentence?"
    "Professor Poof is dead, Mr. Wakefield."
    The cold, abrupt statement struck Mr. Wakefield hard. He was trembling, but he still had to ask. He had to know. He gulped. "How. How did he die?"
    "The ion-based solution had been contaminated." answered Pharaoh. "This caused the neural net of Professor Poof to be blocked. The neural signal was lost."
    Mr. Wakefield covered his eyes. "I would've given exact instructions on water treatment. I know I would have."
    "You did." said Pharaoh. "The staff was incompetent."
    "A man died!"
    "Yes."
    "What of the others?" Wakefield said frantically. "Where's Fritzie?"
    "Transferred. This place is vacant of criminals, transferred to different facilities. It was you that convinced staff to keep Fritzie here. Then he escaped and we had to take care of him. Don't you watch TV?"
    "He was making progress. We became friends. He's harmless. His home is here. Where is he?"
    "Classified."
    "Don't you care?!" protested Wakefield. "People can change. They can be redeemed."
    "He is fine. All the criminals you put here are fine in their new facilities."
    "Say that to Professor Poof!" yelled Wakefield. "I'm going up."
    "That's not advisable." stated Pharaoh. "In case of a proximity breach, the safest place is here."
    "I don't care if it's safe. I don't want to sleep on his grave."
    "The rooms are much farther back from here. Far enough away." assured Eagle Eye.
    "I'll find one myself." protested Mr. Wakefield. Eagle Eye followed a long distance away, anyways, just in case. It was only when Mr. Wakefield entered a simple bedroom, one that had been unlocked, and closed the door behind him did he fall onto the bed, and started to cry uncontrollably, until fatigue finally took him to pitch-black, quiet, sleep.
     
    #5 foodforpigs, Aug 21, 2016
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2016
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  6. "Our top story this morning, Officer decapitated at Edric Estates home", the young red haired news anchor, June McCain addressed the viewership, her pristine facial features like sculpted stone as she read from the teleprompter, "Last night at one in the morning, officers arrived to the scene of a domestic disturbance turned lethal. A masked assailant decapitated a police officer as he fled from the scene and left several other officers in critical condition as well as an unknown victim within the house", she paused a continued reading, "The police gave a statement later that night that Freedom Five has taken over investigation and are in the pursuit of the assailant", as June announced, the T.V showed footage of John and Scott escorted by Pharaoh and the others. "Freedom Five has two suspects in their custody and experts are now telling us that one of these men may be Original Freedom Five member, Professor John Wakefield. " June addressed her audience looking more determined as ever, "What connection does Dr. Nucleus have with this series of events? Who is the masked assailant with a katana? Who is the other suspect? The truth is out there and Vigilant News Network will keep you updated as more information presents itself, Thank you."

    Shattered glass exploded from the T'V in Eagle's Nest pub and in front of it was O'Brien; his gun steaming from the shot he fired. "Stupid bitch!" he yelled and slammed his hand on table, nearly knocking his french toast out of its plate with the force. Most of the members of his crew hadn't even arrived yet but most of the men present remained unfazed by O'Brien's sudden tantrum. He was pissed, and they all knew it. O'Brien would have to call his nephew, because the property was in his name, and likely send his nephew to Mexico to avoid all contact with the police; thus eliminating any connection that could be drawn between O'Brien and the Edric house. "Fuck!", O'Brien cursed loudly.

    Harley, the chemist who used the Edric house as his meth lab, scratched his bald scalp. He wasn't too worried, but he was still confused why Dr. Nucleus would use that same house. He spoke up in a raspy growl through a trail of smoke as he exhaled his cigarette, "Maybe Nucleus knew this was going to happen, You know boss? Maybe that old dog still has some tricks up his sleeve and he wasn't ready to croak just yet", the overweight man wrestled from his seat and stood up, "For all we know, you may have saved the Original Freedom Five, boss".

    "Shut the fuck up Harley", Leon laughed in his seat at the other end of the rectangular table, "If that is Dr. Nucleus, then I'm fucking Sacrifice. What a load of shit, the old freedom five is ancient history."

    O'Brien swore and exited the pub and kicked up pebbles and loose sand as he traversed to the phone booth in the parking lot. After depositing his coins into the phone and as the dial tone rang on the other end, a series of thoughts came rushing to O'Brien, IF Harley and VNN is right, that means that the other two war veterans that had lunch with us the other day could be Nightwatch and Sacrifice, and they only have two of them in custody...

    ---

    Sweat rolled from his forehead and the room suddenly became warm... and Sacrifice woke rapidly at the sound of his neighbor's shrill scream. The fire alarm for the apartment building had been deactivated and when Sacrifice quickly moved to his window to check outside, he was struck by the image of his entire city block in flames; along with his own apartment building.

    "Hellfire", Sacrifice breathed angrily as he stared out the window, "Only that bastard would torch an entire city block on Christmas Eve."

    I like his style, he isn't afraid to kill... unlike you Ridley. Hellfire has more balls than you ever will. Let yourself die in the fire and let me have a new vassal.

    "No way am I dying here, not while that son of a bitch is still breathing!", Sacrifice quickly put on his vigilante clothes and robe, knowing that he would be needing them to conceal his true identity if the press had already gathered. He opened the Book of Samhain on his desk by the window, gathered his wallet, and flipped the pages, trying to find a spell he had seen once before.

    In the hallway he heard his neighbors on the 3rd floor running passed his door frantically trying to decide to either go up the stairs or go down them, Sacrifice heard them yell both options at each other in a blur of screams until his fingers landed on the page he needed.

    Sacrifice summoned the obsidian blade from the shadows and read from the book as he reached the kitchen sink and drove the blade deep into his left forearm. The blade bled from the other end of his arm and he fell into his incantation., "My blood will mix with the blood of life, may the water that bonds with it flow forth.. TO QUENCH THE ENGULFING FLAME!", He yelled in Arabic as he writhed in pain leaning against the sink; his own dark blood dripping and gathering slowly down through the pipes. Sacrifice shook himself back into consciousness before the shock took hold of him and pulled Samhain's blade slowly from his deep wound, the obsidian gleamed eerily as Ridley's blood drenched the white sink and the tiles of his one bedroom apartment.

    The vigilante stiffened as he felt a trance take hold, and at his command, Sacrifice planned to release water from various pipes in the apartment building.He planned on damping the building with water so the blaze could be extinguished easier, and this would help residents escape. In his trance, Sacrifice felt as though he was weightless and had no body, as if he could no longer be bottled up in his entirety. He felt the heat that emanated through the building and at the extremely hot areas he exploded from the pipes and rained on the flames that wrapped around the building. Sacrifice's body twitched as it floated in mid-air and bled, the man dropped to the floor as his entire apartment flooded.

    He reach for a towel and wrapped it around his arm as he lied on the floor, he tied the knot over his wound and used his mouth to tighten it before he made his way to the door. Sacrifice leaped and body-checked the door, sending the fragile lock into the wall across the hall. He looked around through his mask and saw his neighbors panic as they gathered their property or collect their loved ones or pets.

    "You need to leave the building while you still can! The flooding won't stop the fire forever, everyone needs to get out of the building before it crumbles, Hurry GO!"

    Sacrifice yelled to a young couple holding their infant child, along with several other people of ethnicity that lived in the same building. Some mumbled, Sacrifice, as they passed by him and down the stairs, some of them still in distress, one woman asked to look at his arm but he shook his arm from her grasp as he bolted up the stairs to get the other inhabitants out.

    The vigilante ran with the last resident from the building as water washed out the front door into the scattered streets. Automobiles were backed up in apocalyptic traffic, some destroyed or aflame. In the dense streets there were people, some frantic, and others gathered in clusters outside their homes. Firemen fought the flames frantically but they were no where near Sacrifice's building yet. If Hellfire wanted to target him he would have made sure I'm at the epi-center, Sacrifice repeated in his mind as he looked back at the building.

    Three children were running on the roof. When the building collapsed, debris blasted as floors splintered and released a cloud of smoke and dust. A result from the vigilantes attempt to buy more time.

    Everything you tasted was ash, and you killed them Ridley. You murdered Hellfire. MURDERER.

    ---

    On a bench in central park, a bearded man with salt and pepper hair sprang awake in a cold sweat. He had been mumbling in his sleep but only a couple joggers this early in the day would have noticed him. Sacrifice reached into his backpack and swore when he remembered that he sold his bottle of vodka to Horace and Mo.

    Did you like that dream Ridley?, Samhain jested as Sacrifice sat silently on the bench, he did not want to remember that night. Lot's a things that happened that night had reflected poorly on some members of Freedom Five, and some say that Duke was the only reason the team stayed together.

    ---

    At the police department, Officer Quintana sat at his desk and sipped on his coffee, he hadn't slept since the events of the night before. The station was busy and flooded with homeless and prostitutes at were kept overnight in cells or in the drunk tank. Quintana waited for his phone to ring, he had been waiting for most of the morning after he had dropped off the torn cloth from the masked man's robe at forensics. All I need is some kind of DNA match, come on baby give me a homerun!, he thought to himself as he tapped his pencil on the wooden desk and took another drink from his coffee.

    "Quintana!", Police Chief Pohl yelled from his desk across the building, "My Office, NOW!"

    The entire station became silent as Quintana adjusted his blue uniform and walked a path that felt strangely like he was heading to his death. The eye's of hypocrites watching him silently enter the jaws of fate. Pohl stood at the door and slammed it behind the two of them and both men took their seats.

    "Alright kid, lets talk about your statement", Pohl said grimly as he open his desk drawer and tossed a copy of Quintana's incident report onto the dark oak.
     
    #6 Wytchfinder, Sep 9, 2016
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2016
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