It's all in the Game




It's not bad from a distance. City streets with people always milling around, always milling around. It could be 2 a.m. and you'll find some moron somewhere just walking. It's when you get up closer that you notice the ugliness. Some areas don't look so bad. There's parks and the sky scrapers. But as you walk further away from the statues and the man made waterfalls, you begin to notice that the streetlights aren't always working. There's the older buildings with thier fire escapes and open dumpsters that have that dank, sour, smell. People walk differently in the shadows. And you feel the short hairs on your neck begin to rise.

'Help! Someone!'

Sometimes it's one of the Hellions, other times it one of the Skulls. It really doesn't matter anymore. All that matters is the cold heat that runs through your body. You scan the area, trying to pinpoint the direction of the cry with your eyes. You can't help but smile, it's play time.

Edging your way to the thugs, you carelessly toss something down on the sidewalk. Little trinkets that hurt like hell when the bad guys step on them. At first you thought, marbles, but the caltrops worked better, they hurt more. Then once you know you're completely ready, you step out from behind the corner or boxes or whatever cover you were using. You feel the power surging through your body, almost like blood rushing through your ears and point your hands out toward the closest one.

Who could've imagined that all the old stories about being chosen were true? Year after year listening to your grandmother mumble about responsibility and tradition, who knew it could be so much fun? Even after you accepted the silly necklace, you didn't believe. Until that night when you were one of the stupid ones. Hard hands had tried to drag you into the shadows. Then before you even knew it the power burst from your fingertips and everything changed.

But not like they wanted you to be, never like the rest of the world. You had spent your whole life being different, no reason to start now. So with the same quirky sense of the ridiculous that annoyed all the professors, you turned your destiny into a one liner.

As the energy bolt struck home into the unsuspecting felon, you shout your slowly becoming known battlecry.

'Tag! You're it!'

Maybe you'll become one of the great ones, maybe you'll be dead next time. It doesn't matter. It's all in the game.



'I've got something that needs your special attention.'

The words echo in my ears as I press my body against the wall of the abandoned office. It seemed easy enough, go in and get some civies out. The fact that I had only an hour to do it just added to the fun. Yeah lots of fun. This was the first time I had come up against the Clockworks. I had heard the stories of the ill-fated Clock King but didn't really take it too seriously. It seemed kind of silly the tales of little mechanical creatures milling around the rooftops, building other mechanical creatures.

It stopped being funny when the first Telsa Knight laid one of it's cages on me. I was rooted in place and couldn't even twitch a finger. So much for the busting in with blasts ablazing. This mission required a little more skill. Skill would cost more time and time was something I didn't have much of. Not that the irony was lost on me, I had to beat the clocks.

I didn't know if it was the fact that the time limit was weighing heavy on my mind or not, but things trudged forward at a snail's pace. I found myself going back through my training with the Elders. Over and over they told me I needed to learn to take time and plan my attacks. Only in the confines of the cubicle where I got ready to take out the next machine would I admit that they had been right.

I could see the hostage cowering as the little (but not harmless) machines guarded her. I threw down some caltrops for good measure and then took a shot at the closest one. Amazingly enough his buddy didn't join with him. Once he got close enough I slammed him with a solid blast.

There's just something about watching the bad guys go flying, it's like opening a really good present.

One down, about 20 more to go.

I was finally down to the last clockwork. It was a big one. And a new thing, it spoke.

'Tag, you have interferred with the King's plan and you will be destroyed.'

'That really doesn't work for me,' I shouted from behind a partition. All the hostages were out so I figured I could afford a couple of banters.

I didn't give Clickity-Clock the chance to respond back. I tossed a web grenade at him for good measure and then let loose with all I could. He slammed me back with that darned draining blast, but I was ready. I had a pocketful of endurance boosters and kept my energy up. Finally, he went down.

'Tag, you're.....' I walked over to the fallen machine, exhausted. Then something hit me.

'What the....?' There were these little machines all zapping at my ankles. It took out one with an undignified stomp of my foot. I back pedaled away from them, lucky they couldn't move as fast as me. There were four of the little jerks but I finally got them all.

'Good Job, Tag.' My contact said when I checked back in.

'Any.....time, ' I quipped as I limped my way to the hospital. I could hear my contact chuckling.



Don't get me wrong. I knew once I put on this outfit that life wasn't going to go smoothly. Actually it was more the need for chaos and excitement that made me want this world. Oh sure, I could've easily been one of the masses. Lemming my way through existense but where's the fun in that? So bring on the the leotards and point me at the evil.

Look it's an evil twinkie....BLASTO!

So I wasn't naive about any of this stuff. I watched the other supertypes zipping over my head or buzzing past my ear leaving a trail of papers in their wake. I actually liked helping people.

Look! There's an evil chipmunk! BLASTO!

Anyways it all started when I woke up this morning. Did I say woke up, I meant was woken up. There was some kind of turf war going on right on my roof. Nothing like the Hellions and the Skulls for breakfast. So without even my first cup of caffine, I'm up and out to remind them that this isn't their playground, it's mine.

After leaving a nice little bundle of baddies for the security chief to sort out, I realized that it's hard to be a superhero without some food. I decided to head over to Spanky's (a little hole in the wall at Indepence Port, but they make a great grand slam breakfast).

Look! There's an evil toater! Blasto!

Now all I wanted was some eggs over easy and crisp bacon. Is that so much to ask? Well apparently the Tsoo had other ideas. Nice pajamas guys, but couldn't we do this after the most important meal of the day? Apparently not. I might have been a bit rougher on them than usual but I attribute that to low blood sugar. I apologized to the owner of Spanky's because his dumpster out back was full of Tsoo and trash day wasn't until Tomorrow. He didn't seem to mind and gave me my breakfast on the house.

Sounds like the day is shaping up right? Wrong! At first I thought I had eaten bad bacon when I was jumped by the weirdest looking group to come out since Slipknot but it was the Freaks. And for once the name fits. I'm not saying these guys are ugly but you need two bags, one for them and one for you in case their's rips.

Look! It's an evil 'Windows for Dummies' book! Blasto!

I decided to head over to Steel Canyon and spent the rest of my day rescuing people from ruffians. Now I don't mind helping someone, but let's face facts! If you are walking along and see a bunch of Vahziloks coming your way, don't just run away llike a chicken with it's head cut off. You know what it's like powered up for a sniper shot, only to have Little Sally Creamcheese mess it up by running into you.

And why do they feel the need to come back and say Thank You every friggin' time? Uh, dude, I appreciate your appreciation but there's still other evil right here.

Look! There's an evil coffe mug.

So after a long hard day of crimefighting, I just want to go home, take a bath, open up a bottle of something fermented and veg out. BUT NO! I got a phone call from my contact, they need me to go thwart a plan from the Evil Clock King. And just to make it more annoying, I only have a certain amount of time to get it done.

So that's my day, sometimes it sucks. Sometimes it doesn'.



The last echo of Tag's energy blast had faded, slowly she waded through the muck of the sewers to examine the fallen body. She was exhausted. The battle through the underground had been slow and painful. On more than a few moments she had thought she was finished, but she couldn't lose this fight, not with Skylark at stake.

Skylark had been her mentor when she first started out. It was Skylark who taught her how to wait and not to rush blindly into a fight. Tag felt a little smile curl her lips as she recalled their first few furious arguments. Where Tag was all one liners and action, Skylark was precision and patience.

Then Sanjay came to her and said that Skylark had gone missing. It had been 36 hours. Tag knew that something had gone wrong, something had gone horribly wrong. Skylark would be proud to see her now. Painstakeningly taking time to make the most of each attack, Tag finally had come up to what had to be the latest creation from Dr. Vahzilok.

Tag had danced with the leather-clad figure for nearly 15 minutes, dodging it's dark energy attacks and striking back with everything she could muster. Though she wanted to destroy it, she knew it might have a clue to where Skylark was, so she whittled down it's defenses and eventually it fell.

Tag could feel the warm trickle of blood running down her face but paid no attention to it. Slowly her shaking hand reached to pull the black mask from her foe.

" can't be."

She fell back, letting the mask drop into the running water.

"Is she not beautiful, Hero?" Tag spun to find the evil madman Dr. Vahzilok standing behind her.

"What did you do to her?!" Tag could feel the bile rising up in her throat but swallowed it back down.

"I gave her a new life," Vahizlok chuckled. "She was quite finished with her old one, I assure you. And she is so much nicer than my first children. Much kinder to look upon."

"You monster!" Tag screamed.

"A monster!? Oh no, my young friend, I am a savior. I have overcome the weakness of the flesh and made something better. And you soon will see it for yourself. Take her now."

One of Vahizlok's abomination grabbed Tag from behind and she couldn't break free.

"I'll kill you! I kill you for Skylark!"

The fallen figure began to stir.

"Skylark is no more, Tag. She is gone. All that remains is my beautiful creation. Isn't that so?"

The Eidolon rose and stared with vague eyes at it's master. Then it turned to look at Tag.

"Skylark? Please, help me?"

One of the embalmed cadevars had shuffled over to them and suddenly the Eidolon grabbed it.

"What are you doing? Release him!! I command it"

Tag kicked against her captor with all her strength and managed to break free of his grasp.

"" Came a thread of voice that had once been Skylark's.

Tag looked into the last fading life in her friend's eyes and knew that this was Skylark's final gift to her.


Tag swallowed around the lump in her throat and tore through the waterways without looking back. She could hear Vahzilok screaming at his minions and then heard the explosion. She ran as fast and as far as she could. It wasn't blood she felt trickling down her face now.

When she reported back to Sanjay, he could tell something bad had happened. Tag was quiet.

"So Skylark is...." He found he couldn't bring himself to say the words.

"She's gone. She sacrificed herself to save me. I don't know if Vahzilok survived or not. I hope he did."


"I hope he did," Tag said looking stronger than Sanjay ever imagined she could look, "because I want him to pay for what he did. And it won't be as nice as getting blown up."



"Today we gather to honor one of the fallen. It is with the heaviest of hearts that we must mourn the loss of Skylark, truly a hero."

Tag stood rigid under the steady rain. It was good that it was raining, it hid the steady stream of tears. Around her were other heroes, all paying their respects to one of their own. Some even wore black armbands.

"Skylark was an inspiration to us all. Her beauty and grace was only surpassed by her sense of responsibility and justice. She never shirked from any task and always helped those who were need. We will never forget her last selfless act nor her ongoing battle to fight evil. Now we invite anyone who would like to speak on her behalf to step forward."

Tag moved through the crowd in a daze. She could hear some of the civilians whispering as she moved past them. Her eyes were unfocused as she made her way toward the podium. Finally at the top of the steps in center of Freedom Court, she looked out on the sea of mourners.

"I will miss my friend and my teacher." She began simply. Even though her voice was strong, it was raw with emotion. "I will miss our discussions, our fights, and our time together. I will miss her smile and her laughter. I will miss her strength. I will miss her compassion."

Tag paused for a moment.

"Skylark taught me what it means to be a hero. It isn't our powers or our gadgets. It isn't our strength. It is our love for this city and the people in it. It is our greater purpose. It's not the tights or costumes that make us heroes. It is the good that we do, those who we help."

"Skylark made the ultimate choice. She put the needs of the world ahead of her own survival, even when she was not supposed to be alive. Her will was stronger than any evil and she proved that when she fought and won against Dr. Vahzilok's evil."

Tag gripped the sides of the podium tightly, her knuckles going white with the strain.

"I will not let her death be in vain. I swear on this day that Dr. Vahzilok's evil is coming to an end. No more heroes will fall victim to his manipulations. No more."

Tag turned and began to walk away when there was a slow rippling sound beginning within the crowd. Someone had begun to clap. Then it grew, like a hungry flame. Suddenly the whole sea of people were cheering.

The black pit that had seemed to surround her heart, ebbed away at the sight of so many people honoring her friend. They were not destroyed by her death, they were empowered by it. It was as if Skylark's spirit had transfered to them. Tag stood taller and as if it was a sign the clouds broke and sunlight beamed down on them all.

"For you Skylark," she thought. "this is all for you."



A lone figure stood in the alley. Just the fact that he was alone in this part of Steel Canyon was a testimony to either how tough or stupid he must be. There was a very loud pop as he cracked his neck. He smiled, not unlike a dog baring his teeth, at the sound. It was a sound he enjoyed hearing. He liked it even better when it was someone else's neck snapping. His name is Brick. He's the leader of one the gangs that swarms over Paragon city. He is obviously waiting for someone and he's is running out of joints to crack. When Brick runs out of ways to amuse himself, people should hide. He is just about to leave when there is a sound behind him.

"You would make an excellent specimen."

Brick spun around to face the hulking figure of Dr. Vahzilok. If he was surprised or afraid, he didn't show it.

"You'd need alot of thread to sew up the bonebags you'd send my way."

Vahzilok chuckled.

"What do you want?" Brick wasn't much for discussions.

"I have a problem. There's an annoying thorn in my side and I need someone to remove it."

Brick leaned back against the wall. Now he understood. It was all over the streets. Vahzilok's crews were getting severely trampled by one of the tight patrol. He smiled.

"The great Doctor can't kill one little girl? Come on Doc, this ain't going to do well for your rep."

"I don't want to kill her," Vahzilok snapped. "I want her alive."

Brick shrugged.

"Whatever, so how much are you putting on the table? Bagging the Tag is going to be expensive."

"I offer something more valuable than money," Vahzilok took out an ampule.

"This is a new drug I have been formulating. It will make you more powerful, faster, stronger. Without any of the nasty side effects of Superdine."

Brick's eyes zeroed in on the vial.

"Wouldn't you like to be the strongest?" Vahzilok extended his disfigured hand.

"How long does it last?"

"This sample will fortify you for exactly one hour. After that, if you provide me with what I want, I will give you the permanent dose. Do we have a deal?"

Brick's mind raced over the possibilities. He knew that his crew were tougher than the Skulls or the Hellions. He knew he could stand toe to toe with the Trolls. But there was always someone stronger in the wings. There was the Tsoo and the Family. And beyond Steel Canyon there were the Freaks. With this extra boost maybe he could go even farther? His hand reached out and grabbed the vial.

"Yeah, we're good."

"Wonderful. Remember I need her alive."

"Alive, no problem. Is it okay if she's a little broken?"

"Just make sure she's alive, broken is fine."

Brick cracked his neck again.

"No problem."



"There are other problems out there," Sanjay staring intently into her eyes. "It's not just about your war against Vahzilok."

Tag turned away, pretending to be distracted by someone walking past.

"I'm not in a....well, I wouldn't call it a war."

"Vendetta then?"

"San, it's got to be done. After what happened to Skylark..."

Sanjay grabbed her elbow and spun Tag around.

"The hell it isn't a war. You are trying to fight it all by yourself and it's killing you! We all miss her, dammit. Stop acting like no one else cares!"

Tag couldn't look into her friend's eyes.

"I'm sorry....I just miss"

Sanjay fought the urge to pull the young hero into his arms, he longed to but couldn't allow himself to forget who she was and what their work required of them.

"I know," He held her arm a little longer and then let go. "But there are other things that need you out there as well."

"Yeah, let's hear all about it." Although her voice sounded like her old self, her eyes still seemed sad.

"The Outcasts have been causing alot of trouble lately. They usually don't bother too much in the residential areas but lately they've been popping up near the lakes and the parks. And there's been a few sightings of their leader, an extremely large fellow with a pleasant name of Brick."

"Brick? What kind of name is that?"

"Oh? Like Tag is any better?"

She gifted him with a smile.

"Alright so tell me where I should start off?"

A few hours later after chasing down a couple of the gang's members, Tag had a lead on where they were holing up. The warehouse looked abandoned but upon entering she knew that there were either some Outcasts there or very big rats.

She slowly picked them off, whittling away their size. It was going along very well. She was able to take each one out, without a miss. She was even beginning to enjoy herself.

"This has to be the easiest mission, ever." She chuckled as she took down another one with a single snipe shot.

"Must be all that hunting for Vahz I've been doing, "she thought. "I'm really nailing these losers. It's like they're just waiting for me..."

She was trailing one around a corner when a cold shiver went down her back. It was easy....too easy.

She just realized that the hallway was a dead end and when she turned around there was the man himself. Brick.

"Tag," he said. She started to draw up for a shot and was knocked back by his punch. It felt, pardon the pun, like being hit with a ton of Bricks. She fell back and hit the wall hard enough to crack the sheet rock.

"You're it...."

Before she could even get up, he landed the next punch. Now she knew why it hurt so much. His fists were actually rocks. She felt herself starting to fall into the darkness, outside the hard, sharp pain of his pummeling.

"Stupid....Skylark would be so pissed off....stupid way to die."

"These tights think they are so friggin' smart. She walked right into it like she wanted to get caught."

"Grief drives us to do foolish things," Vahzilok said, softly as he examined Tag's bruised face.

"Yeah, whatever, now about our deal? I want to be able to beat the crap outta more of them. That stuff was unbelievable. My hands actually turned into rocks."

"Yes, the enhancement takes on the properties of the user. In your case, your affinity for stone. You were not joking when you said you would break her."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Enough chit-chat. Where's my payoff?"

Vahzilok left the prone Tag lying on his medical table and turned to deal with his errand boy. He picked up the syringe he had promised him.

"Remember this will be permanent, are you certain you want it?"

"For the last time, hell yes! Let's do this thing!"

"As you wish," Vahzilok grabbed hold of Brick's arm and jabbed the needle without any gentleness. Brick didn't even flinch.

"You will feel a little burning as the mutagen's mingle with your blood. Then you will feel no more."

"No more pain?"

Vahzilok stood back to watch his handiwork.

"No, no more...You see, your work is done and I have no further use for you. Thank you for a job well done."

"What the hell are you blabbering about?" Brick lunged toward Vahzilok and suddenly realized that he couldn't really move.

"What the hell did you do to me?"

"What I promised. You like the stone aspect so much, I made it your reward. Pity, I would have loved to use you for my next project. Alas, you limbs will be quite occupied.

Brick felt a numbing sensation and he couldn't move his arms or legs.

"You double-crossed me?! No one does that to Brick!"
"Apparently, they do. Farewell."



The darkness was soft and comforting. In that place she didn't have to think about anything. It would be so nice to not have to feel pain, or loss, or anger, or anything at all. Her mind seemed so tired.

'But it's not done...'

"Leave me alone, I want to sleep."

'You are not finished, not by a longshot. Is this how you repay me?'

"What?" Tag tried to turn away from the voice that was piercing through the quiet.

'Some friend, get yourself captured, get yourself butchered like I was, great way to show me how much you care.'

"Stop it... I tried..."

'Ha! You call that trying? Oh boo hoo, my friend died and then I threw my life away. You're a loser.'

"Shut up!"

'No, I don't think so. I think you'll just lay there waiting for the final blow and then you'll be some monster, like he made me. You'll call him master and kiss his feet. Just like I did.'

"NO! You didn't!"

'Yeah, I did. I failed and then I was his puppet. I was weak and pathetic.'

"NO! SHUT UP! You're were the best! I won't let you say that!"

'Oh please, you're already on your way. He's coming for you and you'll be another one of his toys. Or maybe worse.'


Tag's energy seemed to burst through the enveloping darkness and shredded it away.

'Now, that's more like it. Remember, hero, you are the only one who can stop this...You're it.'


'Make me proud....' The voice seemed to fade but not before Tag felt something touch her mind, like a goodnight kiss on the forehead.

"She awakessssss" One of the zombies hissed.

"Good, I was concerned that my hired help had damaged her too much. Are you still with us, Tag?"

Tag opened her eyes to see the hideous visage of Dr. Vahzilok looking down at her.

"This must be Hell," she mumbled. Now that she was awake she knew she was alive, it wouldn't hurt this much if she was dead.

"Hell? No, Purgatory perhaps."

"What do you want? Why aren't I dead?"

"Oh my dear child, what kind of monster do you believe me to be? Yes, I do acknowledge that I have done some questionable things, perhaps even immoral. But I swear to you that I, myself, have not killed anyone. I find death very distasteful."

"You see, my work has always and will forever be about circumventing death. My life's work is to provide people with the opportunity to live on and overcome the tragedies that befall us. Do you think that is evil?"

"You use people to expirement on....You made Skylark that thing..."

"I admit I may have been remiss in being more specific with my minions about their aquisitions but it was not my intention to kill anyone. And as to your beloved Skylark, that was unfortunate. But I am a man who does not waste opportunity and when offered the chance to work with such a fine specimen..."

"You're not...."

"Excuse me?"

Tag struggled to steady her broken voice.

"You're not a man. Have you looked in the mirror lately?"

Vahzilok seemed annoyed.

"Do not mock me child. I hold your very existence in my hands and you would be wise to hold that razor wit of your's behind your broken teeth."

"Yeah, yeah, get on with the speech then. This has to be the part where you unveil you master plan or whatever. So what are you going to do with me, Doc? Make me into another rag doll like my friend? Do me a favor and just kill me instead."

"Damn you, I am not going to kill you. I am going to free you. Imagine if you would never be a victim to your weak flesh ever again? Imagine if you could fight without fear of death or pain?"

Vahzilok turned away and returned with a syringe.

"I am going to make you a Goddess."

"Wait, what is that?"

"It is my redemption. It is your salvation. It is the future of Paragon City!"

"NO! Stop.....I don't want it!"

"You are hardly in a position to stop me."

"YEAH! But I AM!"

Sanjay burst through the doorway with the rest of the assault team. Behind them the police drones were still blasting away at the zombies. Vahzilok actually seemed surprised.


The needle stabbed down into Tag's arm. She screamed as the serum spread into her skin like fire.

Sanjay opened fire with the blaster, but he knew he was too late. His shots hit Vahzilok in his arm and head. Vahzilok roared in pain and swept the team members who blocked his way. The men hit the walls with sickening thuds. He plowed through the mob of fighting. Sanjay was about to give chase when he heard Tag screaming.

"I"m so sorry!" He raced to her side. She was convulsing on the table and energy seemed to spark from her body. He could feel the power radiating from her. Suddenly her body seemed to freeze, her back arched in one last throe and then she fell back against the table, limp.

"I was too late," he whispered as he gently touched her hand. "I knew I should have never let you go alone. I knew it wasn't safe. I just thought that I could follow you, protect you without you knowing it. Oh, my poor beautiful one, I should have never let you out of my sight."

He stood by her side while the assault force scurried around him. The leader told the others to leave them both alone for a moment, that this was private. Sanjay could only gaze at the seemingly peaceful face of the young hero.

"I was a fool. Once for falling in love with you and again for never telling you. You were magnificent."

".....sweet talker....."

Sanjay felt the hand in his tighten softly.


"...don't stop now...girls love flattery..."

"You're alive? How?"

"....not sure....I just feel really tired...but better. I think the lab guys are going to take a me."

"Your wounds, the bruises, they've all healed."

"...nice isn't it....don't know why....vahzilok....did something to me?"

"Let's get you somewhere safe," Sanjay went to get some help but found himself pulled back by Tag's strengthening grip.

"Hold it. You were saying something....about being a fool?"

" was upset...."

"Oh so you save your little romantic prose for the dying?"

Sanjay was about to say something when he found himself locked in an embrace. Suddenly any coherent thoughts went out of his head when he felt Tag's lips meet his.

"Ummmmm sir?"

"Yes, is it about Tag?"


"Damn, I liked that girl. I know that Sanjay liked her too."

"I'd say that was fairly obvious."

"What are you talking about soldier?"

"I think you'd better take a look sir."

The leader turned to enter into the lab and found Sanjay and the no-longer dying Tag locked in a passionate embrace.

"Well.....That's something you don't usually see."

"What's that sir?"

"A happy ending......"



Hi gang,

To any and all who read my scribblings, please feel free to share your opinions. I would love to hear your feedback as to whether you liked or hated my words. Also I would like to know what would have made it a better story?

Tag's my character I play on Pinnacle. She's a bit cocky and alot mouthy. Also, I took some liberties with the Vahzilok idea and made him something of a tragic hero. I don't know if that's what the creator's of this game had in mind, but I love good drama.

So fire away with your thoughts.

And again, thanks for reading the scrambled thoughts of woman who dreams of a world of heroes.