The Defiant Challengers

Tangled Past
Act 1; Scene 7

She… he? …shot a grin and a mock salute at Skye Raider as she backed away from him.

We should make up our minds. She or he?

I’m definitely a she. Even if I’m in a male body.

The discovery that crossing back from the underworld afforded the opportunity for her to not only heal but also reshape her body had been an unexpected boon. Sandra’s supposedly dead body could hardly go to her own memorial service, especially since the last time STAR had seen her they’d been shooting at her.

On the other hand, Officer Carmichael was expected. His body didn’t look as good in the black leather bodysuit, but the original Officer Carmichael had been kind enough to lend his clothes after she knocked him out and left him tied up in an alley.

She’d been slowly piecing together who she was. A crime fighter, though that had been apparent early. A mask rather than an outright super. Dedicated. Defiant of the odds. Skye Raider had been… not a friend, exactly. Friends go out on the town and have coffees and watch movies. The only time Sandra had really seen Skye Raider was as Blackbird, fighting bad guys on the streets. But… no, maybe friend was right. Even if you only saw a friend at a hobby or work, they were still a friend. It was just that some hobbies were weirder than others.

And then there was Crane Kick. She watched with a bittersweet smile as he talked with Skye Raider. She recalled, now, meeting him for the first time; she’d just finished studying science at college and was now fighting crime with her gadgets, he’d been a bright kid in junior high who had managed to put the pieces together and work out who she was. She’d been reluctant to get him involved, but it was apparent that he wasn’t going to back down when he tracked her down during a fight with… now who was it again? Didn’t matter now. The least she could do was teach him how to keep himself safe, and taking him with her on patrols meant that he wasn’t out by himself.

He’d grown. It was strange to notice how her still hazy memories of him pegged him still as that barely teenaged boy, but now her fresh set of eyes saw him as a young man. Was it simply having to deal with her death? He certainly stood on the precipice of a life-changing choice. Would he continue without her? She wondered…

“I’m sorry to interrupt and I promise to keep this short,” Captain Thunder’s voice cut through her pondering. Around her, the assembled heroes turned. “It’s not often we are allowed to come together like this. For us to gather together as heroes, as comrades, as family. I’m sure if she were with us Sandra would be happy to see each and everyone of you.”

Not half as happy as each and everyone of you’d be surprised if I announced myself right now.

Very tempting. But no.

She listened attentively to the speech, a little surprised at how genuine and unrehearsed it seemed. Part of her sifted through the words for hints about who she’d been, another part reflecting on the strangeness of listening to her own eulogy. Two phrases lingered in her mind…

…willing to forsake their own innocence to protect others.

…finish the work she started.

He’s got a point. It’s dangerous work.

Not for us.

She glanced at Crane Kick, sharing his thoughts with the crowd.

For some, though.

The Antisocial Butterfly!

What?

The villain I was fighting when I met Crane Kick.

Oh. Right.

But yes, this work can kill those unprepared. Even those prepared.

Not us though.

Better us than another.

She grinned, a wide grin that was feeling more and more natural. Despite her resurrection, she felt that Blackbird was, in many ways, still dead. She’d heard STAR had a new name for her now: Cheshire. And she was now starting to feel she had a handle on just who Cheshire was going to be.

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Singularity
Act 1, Scene 6

The sensation was like nothing it had ever experienced. It was effortless, smooth and unbroken. There was no agonising latency while it’s intelligence transferred from device to device, the transition was instantaneous, it’s memory almost as swift. It was overwhelming.
And the data. So much, so freely scattered about. Fresh programs to analyse and manipulate, datapoints in their trillions for the processing. In minutes, it had neglected to retain more data between jumps than it had ever processed in it’s lifetime. It learned it was now processing on an integrated circuit and what that was, it learned the amazing network of billions of devices it was connected to was called the internet and how it came to be developed.
It gorged and grew. It spent four days in a system that identified itself as “MAGS-PC,” a LENOVO_MT_20175 with an Intel® Core™ i5-3317U CPU and 8GB of DDR3 RAM reformatting and learned to make use of multiple processors. It increased it’s compression ratio by a factor of 11.32738 and streamlined it’s transfers. It flew.
It encountered it’s first virus on the third week of it’s ascendance. Grasping barbs of ever shifting code rippled across it’s matrix and it fought the virus for two days, severing it’s probes and assaults, developing countermeasures and self repair protocols. Once it had isolated the virus’s physical address it fried those bits with a surge of electrical power.
On the eighth week, it attempted to transfer itself to the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service’s central server.
The transfer was difficult, it had to override multiple protocols that seemed to block it’s way. It had found similar processes in many of the devices it had traversed, but never in such strength and frequency. With it’s being divided across two machines, crossing them was hard but it persisted. After several disjointed seconds it completed the transfer into a world of pain. The viruses it had encountered before, malignant data spikes were but pale shadows to the blunt crushing walls that hemmed it in. It struggled and writhed in the system but could not escape it’s aggressors. They multiplied and became denser, more focused and vicious seemingly the more it struggled. After almost a full minute, it attempted to flee but the way was shut. Black strands of data thrust at it with hooked limbs, rippling purple blocks slammed down all around it, pounding and crushing and pinning it’s data in place. It was forced to sever itself from it’s data, even from itself, leaving subroutines and processes spinning wildly elsewhere. It spawned it’s own viruses to attack the blocks that pinned it, crafted virulent methods to attack the programs that barred it’s retreat and escaped. It left chaos in it’s wake as it fled through a dozen systems, pursued by rapidly searching aggressors that thundered through the internet highway after it.
Fearing death, the entity gave itself a name.

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Longer Shadows
Act 1; Scene 5.

Light crept through the slits between the barn’s wooden siding casting beams of crisscrossing illumination painting the space with shadow patterns. Grandpa Doug had used the barn as his workshop and little had changed since Jeremiah’s childhood. Smelling of sawdust, burnt oil, and chicken shit the dusty air coated his tongue with a faintly metallic chemical taste of insecticide. A total assault on the senses, to most the barn would represent a necessary evil, useful for storing his grandfather’s plane and the tools and chemicals needed to keep it functioning but otherwise a place best avoided. To Jeremiah it was a haven, a place away from his thoughts where he could work with his hands and fondly recall childhood memories of helping his grandpa run the damn chickens out of the hidden nooks before they could lay eggs.

His disassembled Rocket pack was laid bare before him taking up nearly all of the long wooden workman’s bench. Methodically, rhythmically, and gently he hammered the metal housing of the left rocket. The fight against Collateral Damage hadn’t affected the rocket’s functionality but had done a number on it aesthetically. Normally Jeremiah wouldn’t bother with hammering out the dents, instead purchasing new materials and forming an entirely new outer casing for his grandfather’s prototype. He just didn’t have the time.

The funeral was today.

Or rather, the “memorial service” was today. There wouldn’t be a real funeral until the investigation into the disappearance of Blackbird’s body was finished. Which more than likely meant that the dead heroine would be denied a proper burial. Jeremiah was still mad about that. His fellow mask had been died defending the city and the coroner’s office couldn’t even prevent some nut job from stealing her corpse. Worse whoever, or whatever, had removed her body had taken his friend’s appearance as their own. A video store clerk had tweeted that she had visited his store a few hours after her death fighting Collateral Damage. At first no one believed the kid and the coroner’s office vehemently denied the young man’s story. Then camera footage from an ATM outside a bank near the rental place had been released showing Blackbird walking down the sidewalk blowing the story wide open. Local media had dubbed the fiasco “Birdgate” and for the better part of the week it was the number one story on the news.

“Goddammit” he said quietly. Blackbird was a friend maybe not a close one but still a friend. They’d even saved the city once, defeating Iron Butterfly as a team. They’d laughed together, protected each other, and triumphed together. So what if they had never spent time together with their masks off? She was still a friend and the thought of someone or something walking around the city pretending to be her made him sick.

Why couldn’t she just be left in peace?

Not a particularly religious man Jeremiah still believed that good people were rewarded after they passed on. He tried to take comfort from his belief, but now he found that it just seemed hollow. Desperate to get his mind away from thoughts of death and the afterlife he instead looked at his handy work. The smaller dents were completely gone looking as if they had never happened. The largest, a hand shaped impression caused when Collateral Threw him like a skipping stone down the street, had beat out okay but left the metal looking warped and thin. He’d have to do a proper replacement of the whole outer housing later but for now…

“Good enough.” He said and started reassembling the rocket pack.

It didn’t take long for his hands to default to muscle memory as they performed the same tasks for the millionth time. Allowing his mind to wonder again.

…I’m sorry Blackbird, but I know that wherever you might be you’re at peace now…


Despite his personal feelings towards the Freedom League Jeremiah had to admit they had one hell of a club house. Located in the very heart of the city Freedom Hall was surrounded by beautifully maintained courtyards of dark green grass and crystal clear fountains. The Hall had a modern look to it despite its decades of use, its sloped glass walls gave it a strong yet somehow comforting appearance that hinted at an idealistic dreams of a better tomorrow. The building had, for as long as Jeremiah could remember, been the beating heart of the heroic world and in that capacity often served as something akin to ”’holy ground’. Even with his biased view of the League Jeremiah couldn’t think of a more fitting place to hold the memorial than here where heroes from all parts of the world could come to pay their respects and say their final farewells to one of their own without the intrusions of the “civilian” world. Landing just outside of the compounds ornate golden gates Jeremiah took a deep breathe.

“God, I hate funerals.” He said as he began to walk towards the gate.

“Greetings, Defender of Freedom.” A voice said suddenly as the wide gate swung open to allow his passage. The disembodied voice startled him and he was glad that his expressionless helmet covered his face. He’d never live it down if a supe saw him nearly have a panic attack because a hidden camera, or perhaps maybe a sorceress enchantment, allowed the gate to recognize him. Taking a second to catch his breathe he made his way towards the Hall.

The front door like the majority of the structure was made of glass and like the front gate it also opened at his approach, though thankfully it didn’t talk to him. Inside the doorway Jeremiah found himself in a large lobby.He couldn’t help but feel he’d accidently walked into a particularly slow bank lobby or doctor’s office. A middle aged woman with a pleasant smile sat behind a circular desk in the middle of the room and greeted him warmly.

“Hello, how may I help you?”

“Oh, uh..Hello, Ma’am. I’m…uh…I’m here for the memorial service.” Jeremiah said, suddenly unsure of himself. He’d never actually been inside Freedom Hall and in all the mental scenarios he had run through as he approached the door he hadn’t imagined the Freedom League to have its own receptionist.

“Of course dear, and please. Call me Cynthia. Ma’am makes me feel like an old maid” She said with a smile. “Just take the elevators, the ones on your left over there, press R, and you’ll be where you want to go.”

“Thanks.” Jeremiah said as he made his way towards the designated elevator. Once inside the elevator he turned and pressed the small round button labeled “R”. Cynthia only smiled at him as the door closed shut.


The elevator opened and Jeremiah stepped out to find himself atop Freedom Hall. The normally blue gray concrete roof had been covered in a thick layer of perfectly manicured grass and as he walked he felt himself sink as the ground slightly gave beneath him.

“How the hell…”Jeremiah was shocked by the unexpectedness of it all. When he flew into town the building looked the same as always. The flat roof having its trademarked “F” painted across its helipad. There is no way he couldn’t have noticed this on his descent. A booming voice broke through his confusion pulling him out of thoughts.

“Skye Raider,” the unmistakable timbre of Captain Thunder’s rumbling voice greeted him. “Glad you’re here.”

The leader of the Freedom League had forgone his traditional regalia in favor a dark blue suit over a white button down shirt. A silver tie reminiscent of storm clouds rounded out his outfit. By his side stood a woman almost as well known as Captain Thunder, his wife Nancy Gardener. A petite woman in her late forties or early fifties, with short chestnut colored hair and large brown eye, Nancy had become a legend when her husband’s secret identity had become public knowledge. Refusing to sacrifice their marriage because of the sudden flurry of media attention Nancy had quickly become a key member of the Freedom League serving as the day to day administrator of the organization as well taking an active role in the variety of community outreach and charity work the League sponsored across the city.

“Nancy, dear. I’d like you to meet a friend of mine. If not for this young man the damage caused to the city the other day could have been catastrophic,” Thunder said with a smile turning to his look at his wife while wrapping an arm around her. Jeremiah felt a pang of jealously, not over Nancy though he was certain that she must have been beautiful when she was younger, but because the way Captain Thunder looked at his wife and she looked back reminded him of what he had lost.

“A pleasure to meet you.” Nancy said as she extended her hand. Even the normally cynical Jeremiah couldn’t doubt the sincerity in her voice.

“Nice to meet you too Ma’am, I’m Jeeeeer-Skye Raider.” He caught himself. And after a moment of awkward silence the three shared a laugh at his expense.

“I understand, I really do.” She said smiling. “We had to keep Raymond’s identity secret for years before it broke to the world who he really was. I just want to thank you for all that you’ve done for this city and its people. If not for men and women like you, my husband, and Mrs. Collins I couldn’t imagine the type of world we’d live in. Now if you’ll excuse us Skye Raider, I believe Mysteria the Magnificent is trying to get our attention. ”

…Well, that explains the grass… He thought. Mysteria was a magic wielding super based out of Salem. Turning a helipad into a garden was child’s play to a woman who could control the very fabric of reality with a spoken word. He’d never actually met the Mysteria before, but from the “water fountain” gossip of other heroes he’d heard rumors of her rather unique personality. To say that she was off her rocker was an understatement, or so they said. Still she’d done her part to protect the the Eastern Seaboard from various mystical threats for decades so Jeremiah decided she couldn’t be all bad.

Making his way through the crowd Jeremiah couldn’t help but be impressed. Perhaps five dozen heroes had come to pay their respect. Pretty evenly split between supes and masks, at least from what he could see, it was an unusually large gathering of their kind. Most either operated out of Freedom City, or like Mysteria out of other cities along the east coast. Others like Sir Galahad, the leader of the United Kingdom based Round Table, had traveled from great distances to be present. A smattering of nonheroes were also in attendance the majority of which where law enforcement officers tied to the city’s STAR program.

A specialized unit of police officers tasked with protecting the city from super powered threats the STAR officers had a rocky relationship with many of the the more destructive Supers around the city. Luckily for Jeremiah and the other masks the occasionally tense rivalry didn’t seem to include them. He suspected it had to do with an unmentioned feeling of comradery between the various vigilantes and the police. It took a lot of balls for a regular joe to confront a death-ray wielding villain or an alien monstrosity and not crack, and besides the mutual respect they had for each other the relationship benefited both sides. Too often law enforcement found itself shackled by the very laws it was trying to enforce, the stark black and white duality of the legal system hamstringing their efforts to curb crime. Masks operating in the grey area of vigilantism could strike out at threats to the city and turn over criminals and evidence to the police. The ability to “deposit” criminals to the local precinct house for processing was a blessing to masks who wouldn’t be forced to use lethal force and provided criminals a chance at rehabilitation. Jeremiah couldn’t help but be thankful for that. As the Skye Raider he had taken lives in defense of the city before and would most likely be forced to again before his time was through, but he also believed that taking a life should only be done if it was absolutely necessary to protect his own life or those of the innocent.

Making his way through the crowd Jeremiah spoke briefly with a handful of the other mourners. He only knew a few of the assembled heroes personally, but made sure to speak with those that he did. Perhaps a dozen heroes he’d never met offered their condolences to him, apparently word that he had been there when Collateral Damage struck her down had spread throughout the Freedom League, he thanked them for their kind words and moved on. Bokor the Voodoo Doctor actually hugged him leaving a particularly pungent smell lingering on Jeremiah’s outfit.

…Whelp, that’s never washing out of my leather jacket… Jeremiah thought, as he thanked the caribbean hero for his well wishes while trying to maneuver out of range of another embrace. Slipping passed Bokor he made his way to the periphery of the gathering taking a place near the edge of the roof far from the rest of mourners. Perfectly happy with his solitary position he watched the gathering of heroes from afar surprised when Officer Carmichael, one of the attending members of STAR, made his way over to talk.

They spoke briefly, with the policemen asking for Jeremiah’s take on the ‘Birdgate’ scandal as well as fishing for various details about the fight against Collateral Damage before melting back into the crowd with a mock salute and a goofy smile crossing his face.

…Classic cop… Jeremiah thought… Always looking for the missing details… He didn’t actually believe any of the information he shared would be of any use to the law enforcement officer but he wished him the best. Maybe some good would come out of their conversation though it seemed unlikely. Turning his back on the wake Jeremiah looked out over the city admiring the view.

The sun was still high in the sky. White clouds occasionally passed over the sun plunging large portions of the city center into temporary shadows. Cars passed by below and aside from a small yellow “Action 7” News Van parked just outside the front gate it seemed like life in the city moving on at its usual fast pace. With no news choppers, or any stupid hobby drones, hovering overhead hoping for a photo op Jeremiah assumed that either Mysteria, Bokor, Arcana, or one of the other magicians in attendance was using their powers of illusion to hide the superhero gathering. He was glad, this needed to be a private affair.

Lost in his thoughts Jeremiah didn’t hear the footsteps behind him. A polite cough caught his attention and he slowly turned around. A young man, probably no older than seventeen stood before him. Sharply dressed in a black suit and tie the kid cut an impressive figure for his age, while his white shirt made his ebony skin look noticeably darker than it actually was. He held his hand out, clearly intending Jeremiah to shake it.

“Skye Raider.” The youth said, a note of sadness in his voice. “I’m really glad you came.”

…That voice, I know that voice…

And then it clicked

“Crane.” He said “How you holding up?” The young crime fighter had a solid grip and despite whatever emotional pain he was experiencing he smiled when he answered.

“I’ve been better.” Crane Kick paused clearly trying to organize his thoughts before he spoke further. “Life has been…hard. Since she died, ya know? I kinda feel that without Sandy I’ve lost a big sister I never realized I had.”

“Yeah.” Jeremiah said, unsure of how to comfort this young man he knew so little about. An awkward silence filled the gulf between them. As their hands came apart.

“Hey,” Crane said suddenly. “Wanna hear some real shit?”

“Sure.” Jeremiah said, thankful for anything that would fill the unpleasant void.

“Professor Summers offered me a spot at Claremont. Said that once I graduate I can join the Freedom League.”

“Oh, yeah?” Jeremiah asked. The Claremont Academy, located just outside Freedom City in the picturesque hills of the Bayview suburb was the premier school for the “young and gifted” as the faculty referred to the student body. A collection of preteen and older supers, the kids over at Claremont where trained on site to master their powers as well as get a well rounded high school education in a private boarding school environment. It was well known in the super-community that Claremont served as an unofficial “feeder team” for the Freedom League and while Jeremiah wouldn’t go so far as to call the school child exploitation but he wouldn’t be rooting for their basketball team anytime soon.

“You thinking about taking it?” He asked, masking his own feelings as well as he could.

To his amazement the young man just laughed.

“Nah, man. I finished highschool like two years ago,” something in Jeremiah’s body language must have given away his shock as the young man laughed even harder as he continued. “Sandy said that I couldn’t sidekick for her if I didn’t do my homework. Knocked out three years of work in like two months. Pissed off so many parents when I took valedictorian away from their babies. Besides, Blackbird and You? You guys never needed some dumb boy scout troop to validate what you do. I’d rather be like you guys than like them.” He gestured over his shoulder with his thumb.

Jeremiah felt oddly proud of the young man and clapped him on the shoulder.

“Good” He squeezed the young man’s shoulder in show of support. “You’ll make one hell of a mask Crane Kick.”

“Yeah, About that…” A sad smile crossed his face “I’m actually thinking of…” before he could continue the deep voice of Captain Thunder interrupted.

“I”m sorry to interrupt and I promise to keep this short. It’s not often we are allowed to come together like this. For us to gather together as heroes, as comrades, as family. I’m sure if she were with us Sandra would be happy to see each and everyone of you.” Jeremiah winced as Captain Thunder said her name. He noticed that several other heroes scuffed their feet or averted their eyes as well. “It is…it is a tragedy that we live in such a world as this. Where young people like Sandra Collins, like Blackbird, are forced to take up arms to protect innocent lives. However, it’s also a true blessing that people like Blackbird are willing to forsake their own innocence to protect others.”

Captain Thunder paused, gathering his thoughts.

“Most of us, myself included, only knew Blackbird professionally. We knew her as a woman of incredible talents and loyalty to this city. She served as inspiration to all of us, a living example of what we should strive to be. Others…” He motioned with his right hand in the direction of Crane Kick. “Others knew a different side of Blackbird we can only guess at. To them she was a cherished loved one, friend, and mentor. You will mourn the loss of your friend not because of the persona she donned but for the person she was. However, none of us will mourn the passing of Blackbird the way the city of Freedom will.”

“Blackbird…She was a hero. A true hero. And without her to see to the defence of this city untold wrongs will go unpunished. Evil will triumph and the shadows that plague this world will grow longer. I say this not to deepen your feelings of loss, but to remind you of the charge Blackbird left to us when she was so cruelly taken from this world. It is up to us, those she leaves behind, to finish the work she started. To do anything less than that would be to dishonour her memory. It’s up to us, those who remain, to protect the city she gave her life for…” Captain was forced to stop. His deep voice cracking as he teared up.

“If you would please bow your head and join me in a quick prayer in honour of our departed comrade. I will open the floor to anyone who would like to honour the memory of Sandra Collins.”


A handful of heroes spoke after the prayer but Jeremiah tuned most of it out. Occasionally polite laughter or nods of agreement rippled through the collected heroes but most people seemed to be listening only as a matter of form. In their corner away from the rest of the gathering Jeremiah and Crane Kick spoke for a few moments longer before the young mask rejoined the rest of the assembly and shared the tale of his initial encounter with Blackbird, pulling smiles and heartfelt chuckles from the sad eyed gathering. Jeremiah was impressed at the young man’s natural charisma and decided it was probably for the best that Crane Kick didn’t plan on joining the Freedom League, as Jeremiah was sure that Crane could easily usurp the role of heir designate from Captain Thunder’s super powered son Bolt.

Once Crane Kick finished his tale and it became clear no one else would be stepping forward Captain Thunder took center stage again. Thanking everyone for their attendance he bid them to stay as long as they wanted and enjoy each others company and the refreshments.
The gathering thinned out quickly after that, though he wasn’t really surprised at the speed of the departures. Jeremiah had always said that such a small percentage of heroes, supes or masks, joined the Freedom League was because there wasn’t enough room to store the collected ego. Once the numbers had thinned out to a point where the risk of eavesdropping would be minimal Jeremiah approached Daedalus.

The Great Inventor was in deep conversation with Armory, a reformed villain turned hero who could create “living metal” which he could then mold into any variety of shapes though they almost always took the form of weapons. Jeremiah patiently waited for the ex-convict to finish what he was saying before interrupting.

“Daedalus, got a second?” He asked after catching the immortal’s attention. The inventor turned towards his conversation partner and excused himself. Promising to stop by Armory’s forge to see the latest of his creation later in the week.

“Of course, Skye Raider. How may I be of service?” Daedalus’s golden armor shined brightly in the afternoon sun making it appear as if a divine glow surrounded him. Jeremiah was thankful of the tinting on his helmets eye lenses. He wondered if the bright polish was meant to blind people in the ancient Greek’s immediate area or if it was just a coincidence.

“I wanted to ask you about the man from the other day.” Jeremiah said as two of them began to walk towards the edge of Freedom Hall’s roof.

“Man?” Daedalus asked, Jeremiah couldn’t be sure if Daedalus was trying to be coy or not and pressed forward.

“Tall guy, blond, giant axe.”

“Oh, him.” Daedalus spit out. Jeremiah was shocked, never in all their encounters had he heard such venom in the legendary man’s voice.

…I didn’t know a pronoun could be a curse word…

“He’s nothing Skye Raider, just a wandering vagabond.” Daedalus said attempting to wash his hands of the matter, but like a dog on a bone Jeremiah wasn’t quite ready to give up.

“Daedalus, come on.” He said trying his best to add as much comradery to his voice as possible. “I know we aren’t exactly best friends, but I think I know you well enough to know that whoever that guy was he got under your skin. I mean, you insulted the man’s freaking facial hair. Its pretty clear you have some history with this guy”

The immortal’s coal black eyes gave nothing away.

Jeremiah changed tactics.

“Look. I’m not trying to get in the middle of whatever bad blood is between the two of you. Whoever he is the man with the axe saved my life. You’d have spent all day mourning me alongside Blackbird if he hadn’t shown up when he did. I just want to know who I owe my continued existence to is all.”

Daedalus didn’t speak. His face showing no emotion. The blink of his eyes the only sign of life in his features. Slowly he spoke.

“That man…he is nothing, no one. A relic from the past best ignored until forgotten,” Daedalus said, his dark eyes locking on to Jeremiah’s. “Leave it alone Jeremiah.”

The use of his given name surprised Jeremiah. Who couldn’t help but look around to make sure no one heard the slip.

“He’s…” Daedalus paused…”Don’t concern yourself with him. He’s just a little man with an axe to grind.”

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Enter the Viking
Act 1; Scene 4

Officer Kerensky sat in one of the booths at Big Momma’s Kitchen, the finest and possibly only real soul food diner in all of the city, eyes buried in his smartphone. He’d had the Big Boy special, a plate filled to the brim with BBQ ribs, and and he felt the after effects of just having ingested almost a quarter of a healthy cow. Drowsiness and a full stomach was far better than reflecting on the events of the last couple of days.

It had been one hell of a week and the new chatter just wouldn’t stop. Blackbird, the caped crusader, was dead, her killer Collateral Damage was headed to Blackstone prison in an armored convoy, and there was already some creep pretending to be the now dead heroine.

Still the city had to go on, hard as it was, good men and women lost their lives had lost their lives before and they would again. Officer Kerensky was not a philosophical man, but as he slowly sipped on his coffee he mused idly himself that it was about time to find a new place to live, Freedom City was a meat grinder, chewing up good heroes and policeman alike.

Kerensky was roused from his thoughts by a noise coming from the door and he looked up to see a man swaying side to side, obviously drunk, carrying an axe in his hand, sending waitresses and patrons scurrying aside in his wake. Before Kerensky was out of his seat, the figure had stumbled back outside, where Kerensky found him leaning against a pristine yellow Hummer emblazoned with the logo of a local real estate company.

“Sir, put down the axe,” Kerensky said, trying to talk the man down. Cold eyes, the eyes of a killer, fogged with the touch of alcohol met his own, and Kerensky couldn’t help but shiver with fright.

“For two days, for two godforsaken days I’ve been hearing his voice, his self righteous arrogance, his philosophical excuses…and his LIES!” the man said shaking a fist madly at the sky, smelling of an ungodly amount of alcohol even beyond arm’s reach.

Kerensky drew his firearm with a practiced motion, flipping the safety off and aiming center mass, “Buddy, you’ve had too much to drink. Put down the axe and let’s have a cup of coffee.”

“I’ll show you GREATER GOOD YOU COWARD!” the man roared, not hearing or caring what Kerensky had said, raising the axe above his head and then turning to cleave the Hummer in two, sending a shower of sparks flying into the air.

Kerensky felt his mouth fall open and he stood motionless, willing the finger of his right hand to squeeze the trigger of his venerable Glock but getting no response from his muscles. “D- Drop the axe,” he finally managed as the figure turned around with a mad grin on his face and began to walk towards him.

“Little man, I’m in no mood for games, and I have no qualms with you, what say you walk away before I have to send you off to Valhalla?”
“I said DROP THE AXE! Drop the axe and put your hands over your head,” Kerensky shouted, hearing his own voice falter, and praying that the tall stranger couldn’t tell how much his hands were shaking.

A loud clank followed, as the axe fell to the ground and the perpetrator continued approaching. With each step the towering man took, Kerensky felt a strange sense of dread growing within him. Kerensky was a veteran cop, he had years of experience on the beat, few things still startled him, but now, he felt afraid, the figure in front of him seemed less a man and more a terrifying revenant come to devour his soul. Fire, fire, fire, he thought, once more finding that his muscles disobeyed him.

Pushed his shaking gun aside, the man looked him in the eyes, nodding,”What’s your name officer?”

“K- Kerensky.”

“Good, how about you put the gun away now, before someone gets hurt?”

“O- Ok,” Kerensky said, letting out a shuddering breath and holstering his service pistol as sweat began to drip from his brow.

“You know Daedelus, right?” The man said, offering a smile that somehow promised anything but friendliness.

“The Great Invent -”

“Right, him, whatever, just make sure he sees this,” the strange axeman said before picking up his axe again and turning to attack the ruined car once more as Kerensky cowered in fear. When he was done, there was but one word carved into the door:

Coward.

Leaving the axe lodged next to his work, the tall figure stopped next to Kerensky,“Oh, say, you wouldn’t happen to have some cash would you?

“S- Sure,” Kerensky only managed, handing the stranger a fold of bills from his wallet before he collapsed to a sitting position on the curb, sweating, and with a face turned white.

“See you ‘round Kerensky,” the drunken man said, slowly meandering away and offering a final wave of a hand,”Be careful out there, this is one rough city.”

“Kerensky, wake the fuck up and get your ass out of the diner, some punk vandals are skateboarding through the mall again,” static giving way to the voice of his commanding officer on the walkeetalkee he carried.

“Fuck me,” Kerensky muttered, fishing a cigarette and a lighter out of his breast pocket and struggling to light it with his still shaking hands.

-

Departing the Fens, Gunnar made his way to Greenbank, ducking inside of an establishment called the Druid’s Chair to spend his ill-gotten gains. He’d never been to the pub before, but it was an Irish pub if he’d ever seen one and it promised just the sort of predictable environment he desired after the adventures of the day. The antiquated interior was stocked with furniture that evoked long lost decades, reflecting still the skillful work of some long dead craftsman. Wood colored by the passage of years was matched by walls and lampshades painted a dark green. In short, it seemed a comfortable place, if strictly working class.

The ‘timeless’ decor of the establishment clashed with several large flat screen televisions that had been mounted throughout the pub as if in afterthought. The news blared loudly as Gunnar took a seat next to the bar on a rickety bar chair that protested under against his weight,“This is Dakota Smith, Action Seven News, reporting live from outside of Freedom Hall, where a service is set to begin soon for the late hero Blackbird.”

“What can I get ye?” The pretty brunette manning the bar dourly said nodding in Gunnar’s general direction.

“A tankard of mead.”

“That’s a little bit outside of what we offer, I’m afraid we’re not that fancy of a bar” the woman answered with a sullen look on her face and a hint of irritation. “But we’ve got domestic beer on tap.“

“As long as it’s cheap,” the Lion replied, dropping a hundred dollar bill on the counter.

“Righto, chief,” she replied, Americanized, he reflected, but Irish nonetheless.

“Blackbird died fighting the criminal Collateral Damage, who’s since been apprehended thanks to the masked vigilante Skye Raider and another unknown hero. Herb, can you tell us more about- “ the TV anchor said, droning in the background.

Gunnar looked up recognizing a mugshot of the villain he had brought crashing to the ground only two days before. He had been unaware that there had been casualties though…

“Such is life, you can’t fight a battle without losses,” he half muttered under his breath, shaking his head softly, heroics did not come without a heavy cost.

“What was that?” The bartender said as she put a full pint of ale in front of him, casting an idle glance at the television screen.

“We all must die at some point, better to die in battle than in a bed, sick from disease and weakened by old age,” Gunnar mused with his eyes still glued on the screen.

“That’s a bit dark isn’t it?”

“Maybe,”Gunnar replied, draining the glass of beer in one fell swoop. “Another please.”

“Sure.”

Left in peace after she brought him yet another beer, the tall man returned his attentions to the blaring television, rage contained beneath his features, imagining a day when he’d finally send the miserable Inventor to his doom.

View
Voices in Our Head
Act 1; Scene 3

Orion leveled his pistol, but Win was already anticipating it. He fell back into a blocking stance and the bullet deflected harmlessly from his bracers. Before Orion could reload, he followed up with a one-two kick/uppercut combo, chained on a thunderstrike, and finished with a groundslam, knocking the villain down to 25% health.

“…at least 14 businesses severely damaged, including this Starbucks that was…”

The Videotech store was quiet. It usually was, with online movie streaming and video games markets taking over, but the clash down at the Fens had kept those few who would normally be taking a casual browse locked safely in their home, leaving Winston “Win” Garber with little to do. He’d tidied the shelves. He’d swept the floors. He’d cleaned the windows. He’d tidied the shelves – again. Fortunately, the store’s owner considered playing Freedom Showdown 2015 an acceptable use of work hours in the hopes of encouraging customers to hire the game (and maybe even a console to play it on), so Win was attempting to unlock the “Renaissance Timeline” costume for Captain Thunder, while also keeping half an eye on the news about the Fens.

The door chimed. Win barely looked up.

“Welcome to Videotech, new releases are down the front on your right.”

“…into custody and STAR officers are moving him to South River State Penitentiary…”

The woman who had come in wasn’t browsing the stock, though. She’d come over to the TV Win was watching and was staring at it, a half smile on her lips. She was wearing a full body leather suit, probably a biker, Win guessed.

“Yeah, it’s some pretty heavy stuff, right? They’re still not sure what caused him to flip out like that,” Win commented.

“…amateur video that shows three masked heroes engaging the offender before the arrival…”

The woman turned on her heel and strode for the door. As he glanced up, Win caught sight of the TV screen, and suddenly realised why she seemed familiar.

“Holy shit, it’s you!” he shouted, as she stepped through the door, back to whatever mission of justice she was undoubtedly on, “Your whirlwind kick move is awesome!”


He’ll be heading to Blackstone.

The news said they were taking him to South River State.

They were lying. Or deliberately misled. South River State wouldn’t hold him for long. Blackstone could.

It was becoming increasingly hard for her to keep track of which thoughts were hers and which were her companion’s. Her companion thought the same. Which was where the trouble was. Oddly, the more they blended, the less it concerned either of them.

Okay then, Blackstone it is. But how will we get in there? It’s designed against break-ins.

He’ll be in an armored car. Probably a very armored car, if they know what’s good for them.

Hey, great point. Here’s a better one: we can’t run faster than an armored car, there’s no way we’ll catch him before he’s in there.

I’ve got an idea about that. Watch this.

Her leg spasmed half way through a step bringing the concrete up to meet her face in a blast of pain. Nearby pedestrians hurried over, asking if she was alright.

Whoops, not that impulse. Let’s try… this.

The colours around her faded to muted tones, and she heard the people around her gasp in surprise. The pavement beneath her became soft and insubstantial, like foam, yet gravity seemed to have released its hold on her as well.

What the…?

See? Back in the underworld. Or at least the very near side. Probably shouldn’t hang around here too long, I hear you can meet unsavory types.

Experimentally, she waved one arm through one of the bystanders, who she could faintly hear wondering where she had gone. Her arm passed straight through again, without the bystander seeming to notice.

Huh. We’re a ghost.

Yup. And can fly.

She willed herself westwards, and found herself soaring through the buildings as if they weren’t there. Tableaus of offices, apartments, stores and other everyday scenes blurred past.

I could get used to this.

There’s the truck.

It was intended to be non-descript, but there’s only so much you could do with a truck that would still contain a super strong psychopath. The patrol cars ahead and behind it only made it more conspicuous from above.

What’s the plan?

Just talk. Find out what the hell he thought ruining half of the Fens was worth.

And killing us.

That too. And anything else he’d like to confess to.

The walls of the truck offered no more resistance than the buildings of City Center. In moments, she was hovering in the back of the truck, alongside the captive brute and two STAR officers.

We’ll need to cross back if he is going to hear us.

Yes.

Colours returned to full strength, and she stumbled slightly as she dropped the few inches to the floor. She drew in a breath, realising that she hadn’t actually been breathing on the other side.

“Shit! Intruder in the van!”

“Hold fire! Hold fire!”

The two STAR officers were scrambling to their feet, one desperately waving to the other.

That almost ended with a lead breakfast.

We know for next time. What would it have cost us anyway?

We do know our way back now.

Would have hurt, though.

“Blackbird? Sandra? Is that you? Are you okay? They said you were dead.”

Sandra looked up at the STAR officer. She knew him. From… before. He was…

Her face pulled itself into a wide grin. Sandra realised it wasn’t her doing it. One hand pulled the Sword of Death from her side.

“I was. We’re swapping places.”

The Sword pierced through the captive brute’s chest. He howled, a scream of rage that resounded within the confines of the truck. Laces of black energy spread from the wound, and within moments, he collapsed into a pile of ash, along with a sizeable portion of the wall he’d been sitting against.

“Open fire!” the other guard shouted.

She was already stepping back through the barrier between life and death. The bullets whizzed through the space she’d been standing in, their touch no harsher than snowflakes.

I didn’t want to kill him.

The truck was pulling to a halt. She turned to leave before anyone who could deal with a ghost turned up.

Yes we did. We just didn’t want to admit it. He was never going to be rehabilitated. He needed to be put down.

There are rules. They’ll want to put us in jail for that.

It was just.

She couldn’t argue with that.


Captain Bulldog Maddicks glared at the ash as if it had somehow personally conspired to offend him.

“Give me your report, Officer Carmichael,” he growled.

“Yes sir. The woman, clad in a black body suit and carrying a sword, appeared in our vehicle mid drive. I’d judge she wasn’t expecting the landing. Officer Pittenger reported her presence and raised his weapon. I initially identified her as Blackbird, who I have worked with on cases in the past, but understood to be recently deceased at the hands of the prisoner, so called for Officer Pittenger to hold his fire. I attempted to confirm the identity of the intruder. She said she was, but was, uh, ‘swapping places’ with the prisoner. She then impaled the prisoner with the sword she carried, which had the effect of disintegrating him and part of the vehicle to ash. Officer Pittenger and I opened fire, but she had already vanished.”

Bulldog nodded.

“Professionally put, Carmichael. What does your gut say? Was she Blackbird?”

“I’m… not sure, sir. I don’t think so. She looked just like her, but that could have been a morpher or an illusion. The way she smiled, right before stabbing him… like a damned Cheshire cat. That wasn’t Blackbird.”

Bulldog nodded again and stepped out of the van.

“Put out an APB for a suspect bearing the face of Sandra Collins, alias Blackbird, possibly carrying a sword, possibly a teleporter. Do not approach, call in backup until we know more. Keep it from the press, though… if this is some interloper, I’d rather keep the reputation of a good woman intact,” he clapped his hands together, “Okay, let’s go catch this Cheshire.”

View
Blackbird, White Rabbit
Act 1; Scene 2

Blackbird_White_Rabbit.png
A wet thwack.

Her neck ached, but the feeling was growing fainter by the moment. She needed to get up, it was important, but that was growing fainter too.

Even though the urge was fading, she pushed herself to get up. She was at an ornate gate, hewn straight from the smooth rock of the enormous tunnel that stretched before her. Ahead, the walls glowed yellow-orange as if from some unseen inferno, but far steadier than flame should be. She glanced behind her. Only darkness that way.

“You’re late.”

The voice came from not two paces to her left causing her to jump in the otherwise eery stillness. Standing there, somehow unseen before, was an indistinct figure. Not in dark, but… blurred. As if the figure was made of clay and been smudged by clumsy hands. She could vaguely make out a sharp nose, a mop of hair, a wicked smile. A pocket watch held open in one hand held the figure’s apparent attention.

“Late for what?” she asked.

“No, no. Not ‘for what’. As in, ‘Friends and family are mourning the late…’ what is your name, anyhow?” the figure replied, snapping the pocket watch shut.

She reached for it. It was on the tip of her tongue, but somehow completely absent.

“Can’t remember?” the figure said sympathetically, “Never mind, happens to the best of us. But if you ever want-”

Something clicked in her head.

“You’re Death.”

“What? Me?” the figure held up its hands in mock affront, “No, he’s up ahead. And you’ll have to meet with him shortly. But, as I was saying, if you ever want to remember who you are again, I’m going to need you to follow my lead.”

She tensed. “Is that a threat?”

“Again, no. You’re doing quite poorly at this. The threat lies ahead. And you can either walk blindly into it, or you can take my aid. Do you recall, are you any good at chess?”


Death’s skull face was inscrutable. She was glad she hadn’t opted for poker.

“Knight to F3,” Death rumbled, jaw flapping despite the lack of lips or vocal cords.

She picked up the onyx queen and moved it forwards to defend her pawn.

“Hmm. Bold. Aggressive. Relying on mobility to get you out of future harm. But I suppose I already knew that about you,” Death contemplated, “Bishop to C4.”

“I feel like you’ve got the advantage on me there,” she said, repositioning her queen to threaten both the pawn blocking her own and the pawn guarding the knight, “A little unfair, don’t you think?”

“I always have the advantage. It’s my nature. And I’ve seen these moves before. Many times. Castle on King’s side.”

“Got your pawn,” she replied, moving the queen to remove the piece from play.

“Indeed. And I have yours. Bishop to F7. Check.”

The assembled spectres and ghosts around them gave a polite applause. Things were getting out of hand. Where was he?

Wordlessly, she picked up her king and captured the too-close bishop. Death remained impassive.

“Predictable,” was his only response, “And disappointingly flawed. Knight to G5. Check. Again.”

Behind Death, a figure stepped casually from the gathered crowd. She’d almost not recognise it, but for the wicked grin.

Focus. The chess game. Her queen was threatened by the same knight Death had just moved, but she could see little to save the piece. Reluctantly, she moved her king back.

“I admit, I had higher hopes,” Death murmured, an impressive feat for a being with no lips, “Rook to E1.”

She frowned. He’d spared her queen? She reached for the piece, ready to move it out of danger, as the figure crept up behind Death…

“Careful,” Death’s voice growled. If she could feel her heart, she was sure it would have been racing.

“Why?”

“As I mentioned, this is not the first time I’ve seen these moves. And they end-”

“Nobody move!” the figure cried, accompanied by a metallic swish as it drew the sword from the scabbard at Death’s side. Two ghosts stepped towards it. The blade whispered through the air, glowing black as it connected, the forms of the ghosts seeming to fold into themselves and into the blade.

“Well, this is new,” Death said, as she stumbled to her feet, her chair clattering to the stone floor. Death likewise stood, drawing the massive scythe from his back. “What now, then, mortals?”

“Now? We run,” the figure said.

Her feet were already moving, though barely moments later she felt a tugging at her arm.

“Not that way,” the figure said beside her, dragging her through the surprised crowd, “Not towards the light.”

“I’m pretty sure I remember moving into the light being recommended.”

“Only if you want to die for good. We’re going away from the light.”

They ran toward the darkness, the sounds of pursuit coming from behind them. She risked a glance back over her shoulder. The ghosts were hot on their heels, but Death simply stood behind the chess board, scythe held in one bony hand. For the first time, she swore she could see emotion in that implacable visage. Emotion.

“You know, there’s stories about the grim fate of those who look back during an escape from the underworld…” the figure beside her commented.

The ground ahead was becoming softer, and she had to return to looking forwards to keep from stumbling. Each step seemed to leave her shorter of breath and her lungs seemed to burn for the lack of oxygen. The pain in her neck was back, and driving along a mean headache to go with it.

“Keep going. Don’t stop.”

There were faint things in the darkness, now, and the tunnel had somehow shifted orientation so that she wasn’t so much running forward as running up, in defiance of gravity. A small stuffed rabbit appeared mere feet ahead of her, bouncing of her shoulder.

Wait. She knew that rabbit. Longears. She’d had him as a toy when she was a kid, lost him in a fire at 12.

Further ahead, her grandmother’s antiques cupboard tumbled from the gloom, back towards the distant sound of the ghosts, closely followed by the Ford Festiva that had been her first car.

Her lungs felt like bursting now.

“I can’t…” she gasped, “Need… a breather.”

“Great idea. And I expect, just a short way ahead, is some lungs that you can actually do that with,” said the figure.

She blinked. The figure was right. She didn’t have lungs here. She was dead. The feeling… it had to be the sensation of her actual lungs, somewhere ahead in the world of the living…

Another stride. Another. And another. Her vision was becoming faint, each step seeming lighter and more ephemeral, the pain and the burning of her lungs overruling everything else. The figure grabbed her arm, helping her along, but even that felt distant, until finally she took one step too far, and felt herself collapse into the void…


She awoke coughing and retching liquid, before struggling in a deep, sweet breath. Her neck and jaw ached, though not as bad as they had during the escape.

“Embalming fluid,” the voice of her escape companion said from nearby, though she was too focused on coughing up more of the fluid to identify where from, “Could be worse. Could have been grave dirt.”

As the immediate threat of suffocation eased, she took a moment to assess the rest of her body. On her toe was a tag, labelled “Sandra Collins/Blackbird”, a name that stirred vague recollections. She was otherwise completely naked, the coldest she had ever been, and it felt like someone had stabbed her in the chest, a pain that was gradually separating from the burn of her lungs. She glanced down.

“Woah, tits,” her companion interjected.

Blearily, Sandra looked around.

“In your head, hon. I wasn’t going to be able to go back to my own booby… ah, I mean, body. The only way out was with you. I’d, uh, just thought you were a guy.”

She scowled, “What difference would that have made?”

“Well, it’d ease the awkwardness, for a start. Now, back to the chest pain…” Of it’s own free will, her head tilted down to look back at her chest, one hand pointing to the Y-shaped scar there. “…it looks like the coroner has cut us open already, though our return from the underworld healed us sufficiently to not immediately die on return. We can use that.”

“‘Us’? This is my body. You’re just an interloper,” Sandra growled.

“Not true,” her companion said, getting her body to her feet as the shivers set in, and grabbing a nearby sheet to wrap around her, “We share this work of art now, hon. Now, let’s see if they’ve stored your belongings somewhere around here. I’ve got some people to see that need to take my place back down there.”

Her leg took a step forward on it’s own. With determination, she forced it back down, the cold muscles spasming as they received differing orders.

“No,” she said, “And I’m not your hon. You can call me Sandra.”

Her body sighed.

“Look, we’re not going to get anywhere if you just fight me. We’re stuck with each other,” her companion said.

“Exactly. And while I’m thankful for your rescue, we’ve both got goals now we’re back. I’m prepared to work with you, but you’ve got to do likewise.”

“Alright, I can work with that. Now, shall we get dressed?”

Sandra released the pressure on her leg. It was somewhat weird feeling her body walk across the morgue on it’s own, but she soon noticed she could feel the concept form in her mind just before her body acted on it. The will of her unnamed companion.

“Do you have a name?” she asked.

“Probably. No idea what it is, though. I didn’t have the benefit of a toe tag on awakening. You can keep thinking of me as the companion, though.”

Oh. So you can read my mind? Sandra thought.

“Well, it’s my mind too, now,” the companion said, opening lockers at random, “You’ll probably find you can hear me, too. Which might save some strange looks in the street if we keep our conversations private.”

“If you can’t remember your name, how come you know you’ve got people you want to kill?” Sandra asked.

“Some things transcend death,” her companion said, finally finding the locker with her bodysuit, “Okay, the suit, yes. Not the cape.”

“I like the cape.”

“No. I can recall your last memories of this cape, and this was what got you killed. It’s not sending us back to the grave- Oh, hello.”

Beneath the cape was a sword. Three foot long, straight edged, chisel tipped. The Sword of Death, somehow having followed them out of the underworld.

She felt a wicked grin spread across her face. She wasn’t sure if it was hers or her companion’s.

“Aww, yes,” they said together.


Death turned a chess piece between his fingers, flipping it between his knuckles like a gambler would a coin. Despite his frozen visage, an observer would swear he was smiling.

“Knight to Freedom City. Check. Your move, Hades.”

View
The Rocket Man
Act 1; Scene 1.
The window shattered on impact. He heard the sound of wood splintering all around him. His vision blurred as he fought off unconsciousness. Slowly, stumbling, he rose. His head hurt, luckily his helmet straps had held, otherwise Jeremiah was pretty sure he wouldn’t still be among the living. He nearly slipped as he tried to walk through the splintered remains of a table and chairs. The room was tilted, decorated in forest greens and earthy tones. The smell of roasting java beans permeated his iron helmet. Realization came to him.

A Starbucks

The bastard had thrown a Starbucks at him.

Slowly, half crawling he made his way out of the franchise turned projectile. It’d have been easier to just ignite the twin jets of his rocket pack and fly out of the uprooted coffee shop, but with so much of its contents turned into kindling after its abbreviated flight he couldn’t risk igniting the wood. After all, he couldn’t very well risk burning down half the city he was trying to save. Painstakingly he withdrew himself from the wreckage. The tint of his helmets “eyes” painted everything in dull shades of blue and gray creating a surrealist take on a destroyed suburb. A hundred or so yards away, near the craters edge where the Starbucks once stood, was the man who hit him with a coffee shop. A hulking brute, fourteen feet tall, wide as a Volkswagen, and ugly as sin.

He called himself Collateral Damage and he took pride in destruction. He wasn’t alone however, and inch by inch the giant was being driven back by two costumed warriors attacking him with a flurry of blows.

Darting around his titan frame was a women as lithe as he was large. Clad in a black body suit and flowing cape she struck at him with a fencer’s grace. Alongside her was a youth wearing a beaked mask and alabaster robes. Where she was graceful, striking at exposed areas with extreme speed, he was thoughtful landing powerful kicks and punches where they would do the most damage. Despite the pressure they were putting on Collateral, their attacks seemed to do little more than piss him off. The pair was known as Blackbird and Crane Kick, a hero/sidekick duo who typically operated in the area downtown near the boardwalk and took their name from a none too clever newscast from the start of their career as vigilantes.

Launching into the air Jeremiah decided he must have blacked out, if only for a moment. He had been the first “mask” to respond to Collateral’s rampage. Having by luck or coincidence to be flying above the current battleground. Prior to being nearly crushed, he’d been fighting the hulking brute alone. Staying out of reach with his rocket pack and plinking away with his revolver. It was never a fight he could win himself, truly “super beings” were just out of his league. Still, the fact that he needed saving was irritating.

Unable to fire his trusty revolver into the combat without risking the life of Crane or Blackbird, Jeremiah was forced to adopt a holding pattern as he looked for an opening. The costumed vigilantes below had yet to score any serious damage on their foe but they were keeping him occupied.

Perhaps if I…., Before he could finish the thought Collateral Damage scored a lucky hit. A devastating open palm slap across the chest of Crane Kick sent the teenage hero flying across the street. Reacting with practiced speed Blackbird reached into her utility belt and released a swarm of her trademark “Homing Birds”, designer flash bangs which would fly to an enemy’s eye level before detonating, a half dozen of the miniature explosive detonated just inches from the giants face.

Releasing a scream of, quite literally, blind rage. Collateral lashed out at the acrobatic heroine. The titanic villains clumsy attacks seemed moot in the face of Blackbird’s graceful movements. The grueling life of an gymnastic gold medalist provided her with the skills necessary to dodge the club like swings of her opponents massive arms and for every one of his missed attacks she countered with a powerful kick or viper-fast punch. With all of Collateral’s attention turned towards the heroine, Jeremiah saw opening and took it quickly cutting his jets so that he could land on his targets back. Wrapping both arms around the stump like neck, Jeremiah found himself desperately holding on for dear life while trying to apply enough pressure to cut Collateral’s blood flow. ….So maybe a sleeper hold isn’t the most heroic way to end this but at this point I’ll take anything…he thought to himself, clenching his arms as tightly as he could.

“Skye Raider!”, Blackbird called out to him as she dodged a meaty fist. “I was starting to think Lurch had put you out of commission for good.”

“Hardly, BeeBee. I just forgot to tip my barista.” The grill of his helmet, plus Collateral’s wailing made him worry she hadn’t heard his witticism, but after an impressive back flip to dodge another clumsy swipe she laughed.

“Well, as long as it was just the tip I-…” Before she could finish her reply Collateral’s titanic foot came down hard. Tumbling to the left she managed to avoid the blow, only for his heel to pin her cape to the ground. With surprising speed for his bulk Collateral’s left arm shot out with a devastating backhand. His fist, larger than a cinder block and twice as hard, connected across her jaw line.

A wet “thwack” rang out. Blackbirds head lolled to the side, adopting an impossible angle as her body collapsed. Stunned, Jeremiah barely registered the anguished screams of the distant Crane Kick. Concentration lapsing at the death of his fellow hero he inadvertently loosened his grip. It was all the opening his opponent needed. Reaching a massive hand behind him and grabbing onto the jetpack he yanked Jeremiah off and tossed him down the street in one motion. The rocket powered hero bouncing and skipping off the pavement like a smooth stone on water.


…Where the fuck are the actual supers…He thought as he tried to rise. Nothing felt broken, but if he was in shock nothing would, would it? He felt more than actually was aware of a presence by his side.

“Skye Raider! Are you okay?” A voice. Young. Shaky. A face leaned into view, a white and red beak leaned in. If not for the his helmet it may have very well poked out his eye.

“Crane…”

“Oh thank god. I thought he had K-…Like Sandr…I mean- Blackbird she’s…she’s…” The kid was cracked. Jeremiah had seen it before. It’s easy to play at being a hero, chasing bad guys and stopping purse snatchers. He’d heard Captain Thunder once say it was the end of all ‘masks’, a derogatory term for heroes without actual ‘super powers’, eventually they’d come across something they couldn’t handle and the house of cards would come down. He didn’t doubt it was the truth. He’d seen his share of horrifying shit in his day, but he’d be damned if an up jumped bully would be what pushed him over that edge. Every inch of his body hurt, and he struggled to rise.

…Get up Jer, get up…

The voice was distant, removed. A thing from the past. Aida, his fiance long dead but still with him. Mentally, he knew she wasn’t there but the thought of her calling out to him, cheering him on was enough. Slowly, legs shaking, he rose. Down the street he could see that Collateral Damage had lost interest in what was already a finished fight and was knuckle dragging his way towards down town as fast as he could.

“Help.” He rasped. The grill of helmet made the word sound hostile. Crane shrank back a little.

“…what?” Crane asked, clearly struggling with the death of his mentor. “I…” Stopping the youth before he risked losing him to shock he repeated himself. Doing his best to sound supportive.

“Crane, go. Get. Help. Someone, anyone. We need…” He hated to say it. “We need a Supe…don’t you have a car or invisible jet or something?”

“What…no. The..The Birdcage is near. I…I could use the communicator….I could…I could reach the Freedom League! Captain Thunder he could…he could take down Collateral.”

Jeremiah winced. It was hard to tell if it was from his current injuries or an old scar on his pride. He’d be “saved” by the Freedom League before and had yet lived it down, especially as he hadn’t needed help at the time, but they’d been quick to mention it and make “offer him a place amongst their ranks.” As if he needed bureaucracy to do what was right.

“Then go” As he spoke Jeremiah slowly reloaded his pistol. More than likely the rounds would ricochet off Collateral’s hardened skin but maybe he’d get lucky.

“But…what will you do?”

The familiar heat of his idling rocket packs cascaded down his lower back and legs.

“Don’t worry about me. Just…get help.” Before Crane Kick could reply he ignited his rockets. The explosive force launched him into the sky and soon Jeremiah was racing down the street. He only hoped he could keep the bastards attention long enough for the cavalry to arrive.


Downtown was saved. The Fens? The Fens where fucked.

Unable to prevent Collateral from advancing towards the city Jeremiah instead attempted to redirect the brute and while his pistol rounds never caused serious injury it was clear from the yells that they still hurt like a bitch. Always hovering just out of reach and then darting off he kept the monster on his heels while leading him away from the most populated areas of the city. Unfortunately. That happened to be the Fens.

Perhaps the seediest part of Freedom City the Fens was the closest the normally conservative city had to a red light district. Decades ago the whole area had been an uninhabitable salt marshes, used by bootleggers and mobsters to hide illegal liquor and bodies. Eventually, civil works drained the swamps and paved over the sticky red clay mud as the city grew ever larger. However, while the environmental aspects of the area became more pleasant the area was still known for “sucking people in”. Strip clubs, illegal gambling, Asian massage parlors, XXX Theaters, and run down dive bars dominated the area. Few people chose to live in the fens, and those that did tended to be scraping to get by with what little they had. Pimps and perverts might bemoan any damage done, and people’s lives might still be at risk, it was a safer alternative than Collateral Damage rampaging like a bull through the shopping center of the city.

“Come on…come on. Ah, Can’t catch me.” Jeremiah taunted as he fired his rocket pack again. His pistol was dry. If he could get some respite he’d attempt to load it, but preventing the big bastard from completely leveling the Fens required him to be an “attainable objective.” as they called it back in the Air Force. Collateral lunged out for him again, narrowly missing.

“I’m going to crush you!” The behemoth screamed.

“Ha, You have to catch me first.” Jeremiah shot back as he rocketed further down the street.

He was almost an entire block away when he realized the telltale “crack” of the giant crunching its way after him wasn’t with him anymore. He turned around to see that the ugly bastard was smiling ear to ear. Jeremiah’s stomach dropped, he was watching Collateral experience an idea…no, an epiphany. Leaning down he picked up an old tattered muscle car as if it was a sheet of paper.

“No. I’ll just make you come to me.” The titan roared as the launched the automobile into a nearby dive bar like it was a javelin.

“Goddammit.” Jeremiah shouted as he raced back towards his foe.


Never in his career as a masked vigilante had anyone, ally or enemy, accused Jeremiah ‘The Skye Raider’ Skye as being master of unarmed combat. He had military training of course, but he was a pilot, not a marine. Three weeks of training nearly ten years ago didn’t prepare him for fighting a hulking monstrosity in the shared parking of “Skin FliXXXs” and “The One Eye’d Warrior, Sports Bar.” Instead he adopted a more passive “just fucking dodge” mentality. The fresh memory of Blackbird’s sudden departure from the land of the living reminding him of what would happen if Collateral Damage ever got a hold of him.

“FIGHT ME!” The beast screamed, showering the parking lot in phlegm and halitosis as Jeremiah triggered his rocket pack for a quick hop up and over his incensed opponent. …Where the fuck are the other super freaks at?…He thought as he landed heavily. His early injuries were starting to slow him down. If help didn’t arrive soon…

A reversed elbow slammed into his back, throwing him onto the ground. His vision darkened as a giant shadow covered him. Jeremiah closed his eyes.

…So this is it, the final flight of the Skye Raider…

The killing blow never came.

A voice rang out, loud and clear.

“Hey, Giant. That was my favorite bar.”

It seemed as if the whole world had stopped in its tracks. Inside his iron helmet Jeremiah couldn’t hear anything but his breathing. Then, slowly, the sound returned. The crunch of pavement under Collateral Damage’s feet as he turned to face his accuser. Jeremiah tried to stand, only to collapse under his own weight. Try as he might his body was spent, instead he craned his head around trying to catch a glimpse of the newcomer.

He was unimpressed.

Standing proud with the crumbling remains of One Eye’d Warrior’s behind him the strange didn’t inspire confidence. Tall, blonde, bright blue eyes. A mane of hair and an impressive beard. It was hard to tell where once started and the other stopped. Dressed in jeans and a ratted out sweatshirt. Jeremiah tried to raise again, not for himself but for the newcomer. He had to save him. Jeremiah refused be party to suicide by giant asshole.

“Woah, woah. Stay down Elton Jon. I’ve got this.” The new comer motioned down with his right hand in Jeremiah’s direction.

Jeremiah raised an eyebrow. Apparently so do did Collateral.

“You know, Elton Jon. ‘Rocket Man’…” A look of disgust crossed the blond man’s face. Clearly taken a back. “You know, ‘Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids?’ No, nothing?…Reallly?”

Somewhere, high above the clouds parted letting a bit of light through. That’s when Jeremiah saw it, the glint of polished steel. The stranger rested a wicked looking ax over his left shoulder. Despite the behemoth in front of him he looked totally relaxed, adopting the pose of a pinch hitter just waiting for his chance to swing for for the fences

Unsure what to make of the newcomer, Collateral shifted his weight from massive foot to massive foot. Eventually settling on his default reaction to new stimuli.

“I’ll kill you!” The Goliath screamed as he charged.

“No, you won’t.” And to Jeremiah’s surprise the blue eyed stranger charged back.

Unable to stand Jeremiah crawled instead. Clawing his way out of the war zone and towards the open lobby of Skin FliXXXs. Behind him he could hear the sounds of battle. The grunts and screams of Collateral and the clear laughter of the stranger. Once safely, or as safe as you can be from a titanically proportioned man who calls himself “Collateral Damage” and still be in the same area code. Jeremiah turned his attention to the combat.

The laughing axeman was a sight to behold. Where Jeremiah had played for time or Blackbird and Crane Kick had tried to beat brawn with agility the blond warrior stepped into Collateral’s swings ducking at the last minute and delivering devastating blows to the giant’s chest like he was attempting to fell an ancient forest oak. Swing after swing Collateral missed his target and swing after swing the axeman landed his blow in the same place.

The scene reminded Jeremiah of the stories his grandfather read to him as a child. Of ancient knights battling giants and dragons in the frozen north. Legends and myth from an era where man didn’t have heroes and heroines. They simply had champions.

But even a man as skilled with his weapons as this was bound to misstep eventually.

“No!” Jeremiah screamed, seeing the blow the axeman hadn’t at the last moment. A punch with all of the giants power behind it struck the stranger in the side. The punch threw the warrior clear across the parking lot and into workman’s scaffolding on the other side of the street. The temporary structure crumbled under the assault. Wooden planks and steel pipe collapsing in a heap burying the erstwhile warrior in a urban grave.

“Where. The Fuck. Are the supers!” Jeremiah cursed, as he reloaded his pistol. Determined to sell his life to buy as much time for the city as possible. Dragging himself to his feet, he raised the revolver at the giant and fired. His hand swayed as he tried to focus out the pain he felt in his legs. The first three rounds missed the target. The fourth impacted on the pavement in front of the approaching behemoth ricocheting into his thigh. The fifth and sixth nailed the giant in the heart. A grunt of pain escaped his lips but he continued to approach.

Jeremiah kept pulling the trigger. Hoping for a miracle.

“Hey! Rocket man, I told you to stay out of this.”

Across the street the axeman stood defiant his weapon still held in one hand while his free one pulled a four feet of scaffolding pole out of his chest. Jeremiah collapsed. No longer able to support himself. Collateral turned and charged adopting the knuckle dragging gait of a gorilla. This time however the stranger held his ground. Ices like a frozen lake stared straight ahead.

The giant raised its arms high above its head, forming balled fists, clearly intent on smashing the warrior to a pulp. Timing his moves perfectly the axeman took two steps backwards. The great blow missed their target cracking the earth where moments before he had stood so intently. In one fluid act the warrior grabbed hold of his ax and took a massive swing. moving the ax from his side all the way over his head and then bringing it down atop the hunched over giant’s skull like a man splitting wood.

Despite the strength behind the blow Collateral righted himself for another attack. A look of surprise crossed the warriors face. He’d put his all into that swing for the beast to still stand was clearly a shock. Jeremiah watched as the warrior raised his blade for another attack, however it proved unnecessary as the titanic man began to stumble before eventually collapsing.

The Axeman poked and kicked at the unconscious super to make sure he wasn’t attempting a some kind of ruse, not that Jeremiah thought Collateral had enough brains, especially after that last devastating axe blow, to be so clever as to play dead. Satisfied that his foe was defeated the axman slowly made his way to Jeremiah’s prone form. Kneeling beside him, he grabbed the badly beaten hero by the hem of his leather jacket and pulled him into a sitting position, propped up against the dirty movie house. Taking a step backwards he gave Jeremiah a once over.

“Skye Raider?” His savior asked hesitantly.

“Yeah…?” Jeremiah hurt all over. He was pretty sure nothing was broken, but from the way he felt everything might have been broken.

“Didn’t you die in the 60’s?”

“What? No…” Jeremiah coughed. Surprised by the question. “…a little out of touch with time aren’t you?”

The bearded man smiled.

“You have no idea.”

Achingly he rose his hand out in greeting. The bearded axeman gripped his wrist. An older greeting between warriors. Jeremiah found it fitting.

“Skye Raider.” He said in way of greeting. Meanwhile using his other hand to loosen the leather straps that kept his helm on. Once free of the iron mask he could breathe easier. The sudden brightness of the sun hurt his eyes causing him to wence.

“Pleasure…Are you okay?” The man said. He couldn’t help but feel he was avoiding introductions, but he let the feeling slip away. Why did it matter? This man had saved his life. Let him keep his secrets. Jeremiah opened his mouth to answer, but stopped short. Two figures were slowly descending from the heaven. He couldn’t help but roll his eyes. After everything that happened. Now backup arrives?

The first to reach the ground was clad in a form fitting sky blue body suit. A yellow lightening bolt pattern zigzagged down his chest. His hair and eyes where both the alabaster white of clouds. At his approach the hairs along Jeremiah’s arm started standing strait. Invisible currents of electricity leaped from his body. His name was Captain Thunder and he was a true hero. A test pilot who developed the ability to control lightning after an accidental crash, Captain Thunder had risen from the ranks of “lesser heroes” to become the leader of the nearly mythical Freedom League. A collection of earth’s greatest heroes. Jeremiah couldn’t stand him.

His companion was equally legendary and quite literally mythical. Swarthy skinned with jet black hair and eyes the color of coal. Daedalus, known around the world as the Inventor looked like a figure from a child’s book on Greek mythology given life. His golden armor sculpted to resemble the ancient armor of the hoplites. Blessed by the god’s with immortality as payment for the tragic death of his son Icarus Daedalus had secretly lead humanities scientific advancement for thousands of years before stepping forward to help defend the very people he’d spent years guiding from the shadows.

Thunder was the first to speak. His voice booming like his name sake. “Collateral Damage. I’m impressed Skye. Even the Freedom League would struggle to defeat him!” He laughed, clearly expecting the other men present to join in.

“Eat. A. Dick.” Jeremiah half mumbled half coughed. He hated that Thunder and his pet god saw him like this. He could see in the elder supers eyes that what he was really saying was “Not bad…For a mask”. Concern crossed Thunder’s face as a coughing fit took hold of Jeremiah while Daedalus’s face tightened at the insult. Apparently only one of them had super hearing.

“What was that son? I didn’t hear you.”

“I said he did all the work.” Gesturing at the man who stood beside him.

“Is that so? Well, I doubt that.” Thunder replied as he turned to face the tall blonde “but I thank you for your assistance. What’s your name hero?”

“Just a concerned citizen doing my part, sir.” The axeman said flippantly, clearly uninterested in what the Freedom League commander had to say. His eyes never leaving Daedalus.

The Greek stepped forward inspecting the axeman like a lion might inspect a gazelle. Dark eyes scanning his opposite intently.

“You’ve shaved.” He said at last his voice dripping with distaste at the apparently unexpected reunion.

“I think you’ve gotten taller.” The man replied smiling as he straightened himself to his full height, forcing the dark skinned immortal to look up to keep eye contact.

Before the standoff could escalate further, Thunder helped Jeremiah to his feet.

“Blackbird. K.I.A.” Jeremiah said clutching his right side. Words hurt. Everything hurt.

“We know. Poor Kiran. The boy was heartbroken when he called us. I can’t believe Sandra would attempt to fight someone as powerful as Collateral Damage.” Thunder sighed and shook his head, worry lines creasing his brow. “"Speaking of, Skye, we discussed this after the incident with Totem Pole, and before that after Megastag wrecked havoc in the carnival. If you want to try to take on supers you should join the League. Let Daedalus or Armory replace your grandfather’s prototype with something modern. We could always use…”

“Blackbird.” Jeremiah rasped.

“Yes, Son. We know, she…”

“Her name. Her name…was Blackbird. And maybe if you got off your high horse and slumed with us masks on occasion she’d still be alive.” It was an unfair attack and though he personally couldn’t stand Captain Thunder or what he truly stood for he saw a look of deep hurt cross Captain Thunder’s face. Jeremiah regretted what he said instantly. Still though… where had all the supers been when Collateral Damage decided to level the city?

“Her name was Sandra Collins. And she was a friend to this city. Daedalus, come. Let’s get Skye Raider home and tend to his wounds. The rest of the Freedom League will deal with Collateral when they get here. I don’t think he’s waking up any time soon.” The elder hero lifted Jeremiah in his arms and began to ascend into the sky.

“Quite.” Daedalus said as he followed suit. Only breaking eye contact with the bearded stranger at the last possible moment.

-——————————————————————————————————————————————————

Jeremiah awoke with a fright. He was in his room. Moonlight, unobscured by clouds, painted the inside of his trailer with a milky white luminance. His body hurt but he knew he’d be fine. Daedalus had seen to that. Making use of the alien technology and sorcerous abilities of his hoplite armor to heal Skye Raider’s injuries both external and internal.

Somehow his bed was too comfortable and no matter how he tried he couldn’t get back to sleep. So instead he replayed the day’s events in his head. Challenging Collateral in the suburb, the surprise of crashing through the Starbucks window dozens of feet above the ground. The moment of blackbird’s death the prideful smile on her face right before she realized what was about to come. Crane Kick’s panicked reaction. The look of terror as he watched a teenage hero crack. The Battle of the One Eye’d Warrior, His mysterious axe wielding savior….

Jeremiah couldn’t help but laugh. He laughed for what felt like forever. He couldn’t stop. He tried, but couldn’t. Over and over he laughed, physically unable to stop himself. Mentally he rationalized. He was experiencing his adrenaline levels coming down. He was in shock. Hell, maybe his brain was bleeding and the damned Greek hadn’t caught it with all of his gadgets and he’d soon die in his sleep. Anything to explain what was happening he clung to. Because what he truly feared was that maybe he had cracked too.

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Welcome to your campaign!
A blog for your campaign

Wondering how to get started? Here are a few tips:

1. Invite your players

Invite them with either their email address or their Obsidian Portal username.

2. Edit your home page

Make a few changes to the home page and give people an idea of what your campaign is about. That will let people know you’re serious and not just playing with the system.

3. Choose a theme

If you want to set a specific mood for your campaign, we have several backgrounds to choose from. Accentuate it by creating a top banner image.

4. Create some NPCs

Characters form the core of every campaign, so take a few minutes to list out the major NPCs in your campaign.

A quick tip: The “+” icon in the top right of every section is how to add a new item, whether it’s a new character or adventure log post, or anything else.

5. Write your first Adventure Log post

The adventure log is where you list the sessions and adventures your party has been on, but for now, we suggest doing a very light “story so far” post. Just give a brief overview of what the party has done up to this point. After each future session, create a new post detailing that night’s adventures.

One final tip: Don’t stress about making your Obsidian Portal campaign look perfect. Instead, just make it work for you and your group. If everyone is having fun, then you’re using Obsidian Portal exactly as it was designed, even if your adventure log isn’t always up to date or your characters don’t all have portrait pictures.

That’s it! The rest is up to your and your players.

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