15 - Visitors From The North

MCPD and MARS raided the Westside headquarters of the Black Aces gang today. They arrested a number of the gang members on charges of robbery and kidnapping related to the break in at the High Security Storage Bunker and the abduction of a number of visiting experts in Qularr technology. All hostages were rescued safely. Police seized over a dozen crates of Qularr technology and a number of alien weapons. They also arrested the alleged leader of the Black Aces gang, a man formerly known only as Ludwig.

WCOC reporter Julie Morgan has discovered the true identity of this Ludwig. He is actually Buck Murphy, a former member of PRIMUS who had been dishonorably discharged for theft, insubordination and discipline issues. He had been on his way to prison to face charges he had stolen Cyberline serum from PRIMUS facilities for his own use. However his transport was struck during the Qularr invasion and he escaped. It is unknown at this time how he ended up running the Black Aces. It is possible that the Black Aces were able to break into the High Security Storage Bunker because of knowledge Murphy gained while working for PRIMUS.

"The police are looking for you," said Witchcraft.

Cataclysm stiffened and her eyes immediately went to the door. Witchcraft followed her gaze and quickly said, "No, not like that. Well, at least not that I know of. And I don't want to know. I mean that they have been asking me about this new fire-based hero who's been operating in Westside."

Cataclysm scowled. "You know how I feel about that word."

Witchcraft put up a hand. "I'm just repeating what they said. They wanted to know if we knew anything about you because they'd be interested in working with you."

Cataclysm stared at her for a second. "And what exactly did you think my answer would be to that?"

"I figured the word 'no' buried in about ten minutes of profanity."

Cataclysm had to smile at that. "Well, I'm in a good mood today so seven, eight minutes tops."

Witchcraft shrugged, and Cataclysm thought she looked a little disappointed. "All right. I just wanted to pass along the offer. It should be your decision not mine. However there is one matter the MCPD has been asking about that I thought you might be interested in."

Cataclysm's smile faded. She was tempted to reject anything from the cops outright, but she trusted this woman so said, "I'm listening."

"A group of people wanted by Canadian authorities have been seen in Westside. They are known to be involved with a criminal organization in Ontario that primarily does counterfeiting and money laundering but also has their fingers in the drug trade, illegal immigration and a few other things. The concern is that they might be trying to trying to carve out a presence here to create a transport corridor into this country."

"And why should I care about that?" Cataclysm asked impatiently. Again she thought Witchcraft looked a little disappointed but the other woman continued.

"If they are establishing a presence in Westside, that means another gang dividing up the city. That's bad for all of the gangs, not to mention the citizens. Plus they've been seen in or near Maniac territory."

Cataclysm shrugged. "I still don't see the issue. Cop work. Let cops screw it up."

"The Westside precinct is already stretched thin due to the sudden spike in gang activity. Many of the heroes are tied up in," she paused, "other problems in the city." Every now and then Witchcraft got cagey about things going on in Millenium City. Cataclysm used to get annoyed--ok still did get annoyed--but she had to admit she didn't tell the woman everything that was going on with her either. They had become friends of a sort over the weeks they'd been together, but they still differed in some fundamental views on matters such as the role of law enforcement and personal freedoms and the right to crack someone's head open if he looked at you funny. Cataclysm also realized that sometimes the Champions knew about threats that the public didn't.

Witchcraft continued. "The other complication is that these five individuals are all superpowered. The Champions can't help right now. Sapphire and Ironclad are out of the country. Defender is here but tied up on another project. I might have to leave town in a few days. Kinetik is fast but I don't think he can cover the whole city by himself."

Five supervillains setting up a gang in Westside near Maniac territory. That couldn't be good. But it made her sick to think that she'd be doing police work. She still regretted the way she'd handled Poe. She wished he'd had the decency to die in combat rather than leaving her in the position to call for help.

"Shit," she sighed. She knew what the answer had to be. "Fine. Tell me about them."

Witchcraft looked relieved as she chanted a spell to open her pocket dimension storage. She pulled out a folder and handed it to Cataclysm. "There is more detailed information here. Golden Spoon is a some kind of genetic hybrid with sharp claws. Seven Fingers is a martial artist. Ginger Kid is the son of a human mother and demon father and knows earth magic. Powerbrawl uses special inertial gloves that give him punches strong enough to crack stone. Burner is a fire mage. Their superpowers are relatively weak. Any of them would give a police officer a problem but shouldn't be a threat for you. If you can manage to take them out one at a time you should be fine."

Cataclysm flipped through the folder skimming the information. "You do understand I'm going to handle this my way. The Maniac way." She closed the folder and looked at Witchcraft and said, "I'm not planning to arrest them."

Witchcraft looked dismayed. "What are you planning to do?" she asked slowly.

Cataclysm shook her head. "You've always blinded yourself to what I am. Okay, I admit sometimes I've helped people out when I didn't have to. I've got a few soft spots under this tough exterior. But that's all you see. The softness. You ignore what else I am. What else I've done. What else I'm capable of doing." She snorted. "Your pet hero."

Witchcraft pursed her lips. "And have you ignored what else I am?"

"No. I've always been aware of it." Cataclysm sighed. "And I've always wondered what would happen if we ended up on the opposite side of things." Witchcraft was still watching her warily and Cataclysm finally gave in. "All right, I won't kill them. But I am going to make them regret coming into Maniac territory."

"And just what does that mean?"

Cataclysm held out the folder. "Take this back if you want. But if you want me to handle it, I do it my way."

Witchcraft looked conflicted. "You won't kill them?"

Cataclysm shrugged. "Well, I won't go out of my way to kill them. No promises." Witchcraft looked unsatisfied so Cataclysm rolled her eyes. "I'll do my best. That's all I can promise. Even a cop can't promise he won't kill someone in a gunfight."

Witchcraft still seemed unsure but said, "I have faith in you. I think those soft spots in you are bigger than you give them credit for." She looked away. "But remember that anything you do I'm going to have to live with."

Cataclysm wrinkled her nose as she descended the ladder. Why did so many of these villains end up in the sewers? There were plenty of areas in the city to hide out that didn't literally smell like shit. She also wondered just how much methane gas was down here and how bad an idea it would be to sling fire. Well, she was just looking around for now.

Her footfalls were loud but the flow of water covered the noise. Of course it would cover the noise of other people as well so she kept her eyes sharp. The tunnel was lit by a few trouble lights linked by bright orange extension cords. Someone was living down here and if it wasn't her targets, then maybe they would know where to find them.

She hesitated at the first cross intersection. She peered down each tunnel but none of them offered any clues so she decided to follow the first rule of navigating a maze: keep your right hand to the wall. She turned right and followed that tunnel. It rounded a curve and ended in three big, waterproof doors. One was open and she heard voices. She listened but couldn't make out the words. She could hear a woman and a man, so at least two people. She carefully peered around the corner but saw only a large cardboard box next to a broken down easy chair. The voices were coming from further inside. Maybe she could move in closer.

"What are you doing here?" demanded a man's voice in her ear. Her heart leapt into her throat as she whirled to see a man in a mohawk wearing a bandoleer of knives standing behind her. This was Seven Fingers, so named because he'd lost three fingers on one hand. Stories as to how he lost the digits ranged from a car accident to being bitten off by a zombie.

"Looking for the bathroom," Cataclysm said while her mind raced.

"Fingers? Is that you?" came a voice from inside.

"Yeah, we got a visitor." He shoved her inside the room.

Cataclysm needed to know how many were in the room before deciding her best next move. Now that she'd lost the element of surprise she was going to be in trouble if she didn't play this out very carefully.

She recognized the two inside the room: Golden Spoon and Burner. She glanced around and saw two other doors leading out. No idea where the others in the gang were.

The three thugs closed on her, sizing her up. She was boxed in now, nowhere to run. Fingers said, "You didn't answer my question. What are you doing here?"

One would be easy. Two she could probably take. Three, well, that was pushing it but one was the fire mage. He wouldn't be much of a problem. It was time to seize the initiative. "This is Maniac territory," she snarled. Technically that wasn't true since the border was about a block east, but they didn't know that. "I wanted to show you what happens when people like you come onto our turf."

The three thugs exchanged a glance. "Told you," Burner said. "Damn Maniacs. Knew they'd do this."

"Too bad," said Golden Spoon. "But maybe we can have some fun with this one."

"Yeah," Fingers said with a predatory grin. "You delivered your message. We have a reply for your boss. We'll carve into your corpse."

"Wait," said Burner. "My turn. You got first whack at the last guy who came down here."

Finger snorted. "Fine. But I hate the smell of burnt flesh." He backed off a step as Burner came around to face Cataclysm.

He reached out to stroke her cheek. "Don't worry baby. This won't hurt a bit. It will hurt a lot. Feel free to scream." He inhaled deeply and breathed out a spear of flame. It splashed into her chest and Cataclysm felt the heat trying to sear her flesh, but to her it felt like nothing more than warm sunlight. She held Burner's eyes as the flame licked over her shoulders, neck and face. After a second he looked confused but kept up the roar of fire coming from his mouth.

Burner continued to pour flame on her until his breath was gone. The blaze finally petered out and Cataclysm shook her head sadly. "Cute trick. But try it more like this." She blasted him with a powerful fire bolt, knocking him off his feet. She quickly circled around him until all of them were in front of her and then let loose with a cone of flame.

The other two had been stunned by what had just happened but now they moved, diving out of the path of the inferno. "Get in here!" shouted Fingers. "We're under attack. Everyone in here now!" As his bellow echoed down the tunnels, Catalcysm knew she had to act quickly.

With a feral scream, Golden Spoon leapt on her and tore at her skin with the thorny claws on her hands. Cataclysm pulled the fire back and wrapped it around herself. Golden Spoon backed off as she got burned but not before leaving deep gashes on Cataclysm's shoulder and chest. Cataclysm pulled healing from the fire, but it was slow and the other two were already striking.

Burner wasn't a threat. In fact he was a help as she was able to draw power from the fire he sent her way, healing her wounds and redirecting the flames at the others. And he was too stupid to see he was helping. She blasted Fingers as he closed but he dodged her nimbly and hammered her with chops and kicks. She dodged or blocked the ones she could but defense was not her strong suit. However the flames around her burned Fingers and he stepped back. She saw Golden Spoon circling around. She didn't want to get between these two.

Cataclysm leapt back and again bathed them with a cone of flame. They tried to move out of the way but this time she tracked Golden Spoon with the blaze. She had no defense and shrieked as the fire burned her flesh. She collapsed, her clothes burning.

Cataclysm grunted and stumbled forward as Fingers kicked her in the back. She whirled around and tried to blast him, but he again avoided her bolts. She sprayed the area with flame and hurt him but he was too quick. She had to break off to dodge as he threw a knife. However between her and Burner, everything in the room that was flammable was alight. The fire made Cataclysm stronger and she kept up her attacks on Fingers.

Ironically it was Burner who brought him down. A slow learner, he again tried to attack with his flame breath and didn't consider that Fingers was in the way. Fingers didn't know he was in danger until he was in the stream of fire. He whirled on Burner, but that just gave Cataclysm a chance to launch her own attacks. Finger fell and Burner looked horrified.

Any elation Cataclysm felt dissipated when the wall hit her in the face. She fell to the ground, dizzy and tasting blood. She looked up and rolled to the side as another huge chunk of rock smashed down next to her. Then she had to skitter backwards to avoid the metal fist that smashed down onto the floor, shattering the concrete. Cataclysm bathed the room in fire, hoping to drive people to cover, while she regained her feet and looked over the situation. As she had already figured out, Powerbrawl and Ginger Kid had arrived.

She wiped the blood out of her eyes and bathed the two of them in flame. Ginger Kid held his ground as a sheet of stone tore out of the ground and suspended itself between them to block the flame. Powerbrawl took a high flying leap at her, and she stepped aside to avoid his metal fist. But while she dodged the left he brought up the right and pain blossomed in her chest as he connected. She gasped for breath as she blasted him with fire, knocking him away.

Suddenly she felt a buzzing all over her body and her muscles all spasmed painfully. She collapsed to the ground disoriented and her body wouldn't obey her commands. She felt another impact against her back as she fought to regain control, though she didn't know if it was a rock from Ginger Kid or one of Powerbrawl's fists. She managed to turn her head to see the two needles in her upper arm and the wires leading from them to the taser in Burner's hand.

She knew the taser wasn't a threat anymore. It was just one shot and had already done what it was going to do. The same protective spells that guarded her from fire also helped divert electricity so she wasn't as badly stunned as someone else would have been. That's why she was able to clumsily roll to the side as Powerbrawl smashed at her again. But she didn't see the rock that smashed her leg and she cried out as pain shot through her.

Cataclysm had to focus on one of them and Powerbrawl was standing over her, raising his fist for another blow. She rolled onto her back and sprayed him with fire. He hesitated as the fire reached him and that was all the opening she needed. She continued to pour flame into him as she also drew the heat into her injuries. She saw another chunk of rock flying at her and she quickly popped up a defensive spell. She couldn't block such a heavy piece of concrete, but she was able to divert it so it didn't hit her. By the time Powerbrawl went down her muscles were feeling better.

She spewed fire at Ginger Kid, breaking his concentration long enough to let her regain her feet. Even injured and tired, she was still a better mage than he was. It was a foregone conclusion.

Cataclysm turned on Burner, who had gone back to his useless fire attacks after the taser attack. She gave him an evil grin. "You like fire? Then let's party."

She sat down heavily on the ground after she was finished with Burner. She wanted to rest for a few minutes but knew she couldn't stay here. The smoldering fires were filling the place with smoke and it was getting hard to breathe. However before she left she checked on each of the five, both to search them and to check if they were alive. If Witchcraft asked, then Cataclysm could honestly say they'd been alive when she'd left them...in a room in the sewer filling with smoke and packed with run-down furniture that was on fire.

Fingers had a piece of paper on him with an address, a time and today's date. Cataclysm pulled out her phone to check the time. Whatever this was it was still about seven hours away. Maybe she'd go practice healing spells until then.

Cataclysm painfully limped her way out of the sewer.