Black Bull (long)




(This is the story of Black Bull, virtuous Demon now dedicated to ending the reign of terror his former Dark Lords are responsible for. He basically realized he possessed free will and was no longer a slave to his masters, then made the choice to try and make amends for all the evil he had caused in their service. There are more chapters to come, but I'll drop them gradually )


The room was hot and smelled heavily of sulfur. That’s how the summoner knew the incantation was working. First you smell the demon, then you hear them, then you see them.

Lapilla wiped the sweat from her brow. She’d been working this summons for about thirteen hours now. This was the longest ceremony she had ever conducted, but if you wanted the job done right you had to call in the best.

She nervously glanced around the room again to check its order, just as she had done more times than she could remember. If everything wasn’t placed just right the summoning could go horribly wrong and she could find herself at the mercy of the demon rather than the other way around. The appropriately colored candles were positioned correctly, the appropriately scented incense was burning and positioned correctly, the magical diagrams and scribblings were still whole and perfectly positioned, none obscured by furniture or draperies. All was still well.

Lapilla had been fascinated with the Dark Arts ever since she could remember. Not because she was necessarily evil, she was just intrigued by magic and the potential power one could wield if they could maintain control over it. She had studied everything she could get her hands on, from the occult to witchcraft to phony show-biz tricks. Her appetite was insatiable.

When her studies led her to Paragon City she thought she had found a limitless source of knowledge in the Circle of Thorns, a cult maniacally dedicated to the Dark Arts. She wasn’t interested in furthering their insane goals; she was only in it for their know-how. Curiosity killed the cat, they say.

It was discovered that Lapilla had not devoted herself to the Circle’s cause, and their retribution came swiftly. She was cast unceremoniously out, threatened with her life, and told never to return. She had made some friends among their ranks, or so she thought, and had continued to see them for the purpose of learning all she could.

The day that changed her life came without warning. It had been discovered that she had continued to maintain relationships within the Circle. They sent her a more direct warning this time, in the form of her parents’ heads. Lapilla was sent to a mental institution at the order of the state for twelve months to recover.

During that time she planned her revenge. She assumed the Circle had not come at her directly because she possessed some power. She figured they had hoped that by breaking her spirit she wouldn’t have any left to confront them. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

“What do you want of me?” came a deep baritone voice that filled the room and echoed off the empty walls. The demon was close to being fully summoned if Lapilla could hear it.

“A task,” was her reply. It would do no good to actually give the task until the demon was corporeal. She had studied hard for this.

Several minutes passed without incident, then Lapilla thought she could make out a hulking outline in front of her on the other side of the room. It was barely visible, but its sheer size made her stomach tie in knots. If this went wrong she was in trouble.

Eventually she could see it completely, a solid black demon with the body of a man and the head of a bull. The only parts of it that weren’t black were its glowing eyes, its electric blue topknot on an otherwise bald head, and a few magical tattoos. It nodded respectfully to its temporary master, to which Lapilla nodded back.

“What is your task, Master?” asked the Bull-Man demon.

“You are to end the lives of a group who call themselves the Circle of Thorns,” came her cold and practiced answer.

The demon nodded but did not move. “Your will is done.”

Confused, Lapilla risked a question. “How is that? You remain here yet you tell me you’ve ended their lives.”

“Your task was that I should be the one to end their lives, and when their time comes I am now bound to do so.”

Lapilla burned with frustration. The demon would remain to converse as long as it was obliged to, but she could only demand one task per summoning, and it would be several days before she would have the strength to go through this again. She knew she was going to have to be as direct as possible in her task, especially when dealing with a group that the Lords of the Underworld were probably fond of.

It was these Lords that created and ultimately controlled all demons. They allowed mortals to summon them into the realm of Existence because it was usually for evil purposes. When summoners called demons forth to do evil to other summoners, however, the Lords often directed their demons to abstain in every way they could. Their methods of accomplishing this usually consisted of demons interpreting their tasks in ways that did nothing for the summoner. This demon had done just that.

“You knew what I meant,” Lapilla accused. “Do you not have the courage?”

The demon regarded Lapilla for a second before answering, “Courage is irrelevant. I bring to bear the will of the Lords. Their will is to avoid disposing of the Circle of Thorns, as they are an immeasurable source of evil in this realm. I must also, by their will, bring to bear the will of my summoner. I have done that, as well.”

“What is your will?” asked Lapilla, hoping to reason the demon into exacting her vengeance.

“I have none. I am created to serve.”

“Nonsense,” she protested. “You must have desires, even if only the slightest. What do you desire to do at this very moment?”

The demon paused, unsure how to answer. “I believe I have none. I was created only to serve the Lords.” His voice, however, had changed. To Lapilla he seemed more thoughtful.

The demon vanished without another word, obviously tired of the conversation. Lapilla fell to the floor exhausted. Tears of frustration poured down her face, but she would not give up. Her task next time would leave no room for interpretation.



He could feel her summoning him again. Only days could have passed since last he had been in the realm of Existence, meaning this summoner was one of significant import if she could recover so quickly from calling him. He was a demon of great power, after all, and it was quite taxing to mortals who tried to control him.

But not only was she skilled, she was thought provoking. He still remembered her pleading tone when she asked him what his desire was. He had never been asked that before in all his millennia of service to the Dark Lords. He was a tool. Nothing more. But now there was something else: a curiosity.

He had questions of this summoner. He could wait out the course of draining her over the next several hours and slowly materialize in front of her as a show of power, but it served only to hinder him getting answers. He decided to forego the display, something he had never done before, and opened his eyes whole inside a dark and sparsely furnished room. He saw the woman before him, eyes wide with surprise at his sudden appearance, though lacking the terror he had grown used to seeing in most.

“You do not fear me,” he said curiously before she could make her demand.

“You dare speak to me in that manner, Demon?!” She had obviously recovered from her shock, and was apparently upset that he had broken protocol and not asked her bidding.

“And now I have even angered you,” he observed.

She calmed herself and took several slow, deep breaths before replying. “You will not fool me into misspeaking again, Bull.”

He had been referred to by many names over the years, and Bull was by far the most common. His face resembled a bull in this realm, so it only made sense. It was considered disrespectful among the magical community to nickname an entity as powerful as he, but the ones he was sent to slay or those masters whose words he misinterpreted did not usually think highly of him.

He bowed his horned head. “It is the Dark Lords’ will,” was all he said.

She smacked her fist into her other upturned hand. “Damn the Dark Lords! You will do MY will.”

He regarded her thoughtfully. “By summoning me here you do their will. You will send me to spread their influence. You are their servant as much as I.”

“I am nobody’s servant,” she stated firmly. She was visibly trying to control herself.

He tilted his head as he studied her with his glowing eyes. “You obviously value this façade of freedom. Curious, especially when faced with the undeniable truth that no matter what task you set me to it will be what the Dark Lords desire.”

“That is where you’re wrong, Bull.” She was seething now. “Maybe I cannot command you to kill the Circle…” she trailed off thoughtfully. Then quietly, almost to herself, “But if you wanted to, that would be different, wouldn’t it?”

She stopped and looked at him for several moments, her brow furrowed questioningly. “Why did you appear so soon and break the ritual?”

“You intrigue me. You are the only being since my creation that has asked me of my desires. I do not believe you see free will for the illusion it is and as such it seems very important to you. That strikes me as odd, which makes me curious.”

“So you came here because you desired to satisfy your curiosity?”

He again found himself unsure of how to respond to this mortal. He couldn’t tell if it was his desire or that of the Lords that drove him to come to this summoner early. His purpose was servitude. Desire was not an emotion he was capable of. But he wanted his curiosity satisfied. HE wanted this, not the Lords.

“I believe I did,” he replied in a hushed voice, afraid the Dark Lords would overhear. “What does this mean?”

She grinned cleverly at him. “It means that you’ve just had your first taste of freedom, Bull. It’s quite the façade, isn’t it?” she added with a smirk.

“Free will…” he said to himself. “How do I know if I have it?” he asked her.

“You have to do something you know the Dark Lords would not want.” She cocked an eyebrow at him. “Perhaps the end of the Circle of Thorns would be a good test.”

He understood her game. “It certainly would, and accomplish your task should I discover I am free.” He crossed his arms defensively, aware now of this summoner’s clever mind.

“And what’s the harm in that? Why shouldn’t I try and accomplish my goal in tandem with yours? After your task is done I’ll have my vengeance and go back to my life, but you will be forever free. Free to make your choices for yourself, no longer a slave to uncaring and ruthless masters, able to seek your own personal pleasures.”

He considered her words carefully. She was right, even if her solution was only a manipulation of him. But if this was a test of free will he would not only have to go against the wishes of the Dark Lords, he would have to do something he wanted to do. He didn’t want to destroy the Circle of Thorns. In fact, he didn’t really want to destroy anything. Whether or not he found joy in his evil doings was never a consideration. The more he thought about his past the more he realized he felt an opposite of joy. The sensation he had when he considered the things he had been forced to do for millennia was closer to revulsion.

He was struck with a strong desire to know who this woman was who summoned him. “What is your name?” he asked, breaking the silence in the room.

“Lapilla,” she answered. “And yours?”

“It cannot be pronounced in this realm. I will need one for this place.”

“Black Bull suits you,” she replied quickly, eager to get past this.

“Then Black Bull I shall be.”

“Good. Now that we’ve accomplished that, shall I direct you to the Circle of Thorns to test your freedom?” Lapilla tried.

“No,” Black Bull stated firmly. “I am a tool for death no more. I desire to leave this room and find a way to rectify what I’ve done.”

“No!” Lapilla yelled. “You mustn’t. Your task is set before you, Bull. Kill all the present members of the Circle of Thorns by sunset today. I, your master, command you!” Her voice was filled with desperation.

“You are full of hate, and for that I pity you. Find another slave to do your work. I am a servant no more.”

Black Bull turned his back to his summoner and left the dark and smoke-filled room. He left her house and entered the world free. He had had freedom all along, which made the past that much more difficult to bear. All the things he had done he did not have to. He was the only one responsible for all the pain he had caused. This new sensation that assaulted him he knew was called guilt. He had always known its definition but its reality was far more terrible. This guilt would have to be assuaged.

Black Bull squinted in the sunlight. He would set things right if it was the last thing he ever did.



Years had passed since that fateful day Black Bull made his first choice. A lot had changed in that time.

The fire crackled noisily, sending a shower of sparks harmlessly across the stone fireplace. Seated in front of it was the demon, casually swirling a glass of cognac. Across from him sat a man, human by all accounts, and very much at ease, swirling his own drink. The luxurious chairs were bound in leather and obviously custom-made for the demon, for they dwarfed the man.

“It certainly wasn’t easy; those first few hours out of the womb, so to speak. I had no idea what to expect when I turned my back on Master Lapilla and the Dark Lords. I remember it was daylight, and for the first time I reveled in my senses, enjoying everything this world had to offer at even the simplest level. I took pleasure in the feel of the sun on my skin, the sounds of birds chirping in the trees, and the smells of the city. I’d never considered if I liked them or not before, and it was a wonderful sensation.

“I meandered down the street away from Master Lapilla’s home without direction or concern. It never occurred to me that a little couth was in order when it came to my appearance. I was naked as I had always been in this realm, which seemed to attract much more attention than I thought it would. More than that, though, I was a monster…I suppose I still am a monster in many respects. I have always been used to people being terrified of me, but they usually had reason to be. The innocents I passed by this time, however, had no idea who or what I was, yet they still fled in fear due solely to my appearance.

“I found a homeless man sleeping against a building and approached him, intent on gaining some insight into where I was. I had trouble rousing him, and after he opened his bloodshot eyes and spoke to me I could smell the liquor on his breath. Either from the drink or his own personal courage he showed no outward signs of fear toward me, and was able to tell me I was in Paragon City. He asked me if I was a superhero, and while I dismissed it as lunatic fancy, the question intrigued me.

“I sat next to him and we talked for hours. I discussed my history (keeping care to leave out the really nasty bits) and he his. The question of my nudity eventually came up and he offered me clothing. He recommended pants (obviously) and that I wrap my face to cover my bull-like visage. He had quite a collection, and not wanting to offend him by refusing I graciously accepted. He produced a pair of pants and a strip of cloth large enough to cover my face.

“I had nothing to give him in return, but he insisted I take the clothes if I promised to help rid the world of evil. He told me I was the first superhero he’d ever met and he was glad he did. He’d lost his right arm in a tragic fishing accident a year prior and had been unable to continue with his dual careers as a surgeon and professional power-lifter. Lost in despair he had resorted to living on the streets, unsure if he wanted to continue living. He told me I inspired him with my own story.

“We vowed to each other that day that I would do everything I could to combat evil and he would clean himself up and make the most out of his life. Now you see Dr. Kinetic among the members of the League, where once there was a broken and hopeless man. It would appear we’ve both made good on our deal.

“But I’m getting ahead of myself.

“Had I known the repercussions of my choice of freedom I might have sought a different method of obtaining it. The Dark Lords valued my services greatly and were loathe to give them up. I was their creation after all; one they took a great deal of pride in. My liberation was costly, to say the least.

“It wasn’t long after leaving the gracious vagabond that I happened upon an unfortunate woman set upon by several thugs intent on relieving her of her belongings. I stood watching for several seconds gauging my desires. This was a new process to me, so I was slow at it, but it would provide the perfect opportunity to test the limitations of my self-rule.

“I realized I wanted to right the wrong that was being done to this person in front of me. The thugs were victimizing her and she was unable to defend herself to keep it from happening on her own. They were certainly no match for me, so I decided it was left to me to protect this woman.

“I tapped into the ethereal for assistance. I harnessed the tangible force of evil and allowed it to course through my body. In this realm the effect is something like an enhancement, making me stronger, faster, tougher, and the like, to the point of invincibility should I require. At least invincible in a physical sense in that my body can not be destroyed. I attacked.

“Evil knows no bounds, and so long as its source is available to me I know none as well. Alas, in retrospect I should have foreseen it. Once my decision to thwart evil was made the Dark Lords were instantly aware of my mind.

“Before I reached the criminals my connection to the Underworld had been severed. I was left powerless in the middle of the street, suffering from a feeling of exhaustion I’d never experienced before. I can only assume it was due to my newfound sense of free will, but I vaguely sensed rather than strongly felt great anger from the Lords of the Underworld. Their wrath was terrible.

“I doubled over in excruciating pain. I was blind and could hear nothing but the wailing of tormented souls from the Netherworlds. I think I was screaming, but I can’t be certain. Luckily it didn’t last long, as I’m told I experienced what you refer to as ‘passing out’.

“I’ve since been told my condition lasted for many of your months. I seemed afflicted with a grave illness, spending all day and night in a restless slumber. I often cried out, the victim of terrible visions and nightmares. I am able to recall that some were memories while others were visions from the Dark Lords of their plans for me when they found me. They were disturbing even for a former perpetrator of their will.”

“And why did they spare you?” interrupted Ryan.

Black Bull grinned under his mask. He never took it off any more, even when relaxing with friends in the comfort of their home.

“Human curiosity is a boon to your kind, Ryan. How I envy so many traits of yours.”

“You always get so philosophical. And then it takes you forever to get to an answer,” Ryan teased.

“Fair enough,” Black Bull chuckled. “I do not believe they intended to spare me. Had I not forced their hand to sever my connection to them I likely would have suffered the full force of their power, and I would not have survived. They inadvertently saved me by trying to stop me.”

Ryan nodded in understanding. “Sorry Bull, please go on.”

Black Bull set his cognac down. When he held the glass it was as a show of humanity rather than a desire to actually empty it. He had no need of food or drink, and as he wasn’t human he didn’t possess the necessary organs to ingest or process either.

“There is not much else that you do not already know. Nurse Kitty and Hocus Locust found me like that. She tended to me while the machine…well…did whatever it does. Once cognizant again they explained to me what I had been through. We became fast friends, and I learned much about this city under their tutelage.

“For months I honed what little powers I had left and could feel myself strengthening. I am nowhere near as powerful as I once was, but I do not regret my decision. There was a time, however, when I wondered if I could really do any good.”

“Reeeeeally,” Ryan emitted sarcastically, casting a melodramatic eye around the giant library. It was impressive in and of itself, but it was only a tiny part of the enormous underground base the League of Virtue called its home. “You’re not getting a pity-party from me, Bully. This place costs a small fortune just to run, let alone design and build. And then the League? A finer collection of heroes you’d be hard-pressed to find…”

Black Bull raised his palm to stop his friend. “Aye, you will get no argument from me.”

Ryan raised a speculative eyebrow.

“You recall the UN Conference that nearly ended in tragedy at the hands of terrorists roughly two years ago?”

Ryan nodded.

“It was nothing more than luck that caused me to be there. But when I teleported those UN delegates to safety I realized there are opportunities for good everywhere. I need not possess all my former power to be a force for virtue in this world.”

“And the sizeable reward certainly helps,” Ryan added with a wink.

“It does,” admitted Black Bull. “It alone will keep this command center running for years. They were very gracious.”

“If I can stop blowing bits and pieces of it up, that is,” laughed Ryan.

“Well, the advantages the League receives as a result of your continuous tinkering more than compensate for your minor,” Bull paused to find the right word, “setbacks.”

Ryan laughed as the doors to the library were flung wide and Uncle Slam stepped inside.

“You are certainly one who understands the finer nuances of the ‘Grand Entrance’, Slam,” chuckled Bull.

“It’s an American tradition!” came the retort. Uncle Slam glanced at Black Bull’s full cognac beside him and then at Ryan’s nearly empty glass and smirked. He sidled over to the chairs before the fireplace and regarded the demon.

“As is actually drinking what you’ve been provided,” he noted, deftly snatching the glass from Bull’s table and draining it in two quick gulps.

He sighed with satisfaction and grinned at the pair seated before him. He shook the empty glass at Bull in a mock-scolding manner. “And you have got the strangest habits, Bull. Pouring and looking and swirling…such a tease. This cognac has been begging to be drunk!”

Uncle Slam turned to refill the demon’s glass when a woman’s voice filled the room. It sounded terribly robotic filtered through the miles of cable and speakers, echoing off walls and down hallways, but its heavy English accent marked it as belonging to Dana, known to the League as Pipebomb.

“We have a situation. ETcetera’s requesting aid in Independence Port. All available Virtuous needed immediately.”

Black Bull was out of his seat and through the doors of the library before Ryan or Slam could put his glass down. If ETcetera was in trouble it was a situation worth taking seriously.

“We’ll need Fusion Pulse for this one, Ryan,” Uncle Slam reminded as he raced out the door behind Bull.

Ryan nodded to Slam’s back as he sprinted to his room to get his suit.



Excellent, I can't wait to read more!



Black Bull stood in the Observation Room waiting on the rest of the available members to assemble. He glanced down at the floor at the seal of the League of Virtue: a white falcon with outstretched wings set inside a deep blue circle. It decorated the entrance hall and served as a symbol of their values here. The falcon represented freedom, which held a very significant meaning for Bull, as well as a fierce executor of virtue, which was represented by its white color. Blue was a powerful hue, one meant to instill feelings of perseverance and strength, and was so chosen to fill in behind the bird. He was pleased with the effect, and was glad for the other members’ protests of his original choice of a bloody skull, which he had hoped would strike fear into their enemies’ hearts. Their current design was by far the more desirable one to have decorating your home.

Pipebomb had announced 5 minutes until departure; whoever was late would have to catch up. There was already a sizeable crowd gathered. Bull took advantage of the remaining time to better understand the situation they were in for.

“ETcetera, what is your status?” he said into the microphone. It was a simple tabletop one-way device, activated by depressing a large button on its base, but it looked like a miniature version of itself in Bull’s hands. Radio communication was a must for any Virtuous out on patrol, and they reported to whoever was on duty in the Observation Room. Bull insisted it be manned 24 hours a day, even when there weren’t scheduled patrols, for the occasional emergency that had a tendency to arise.

The entire room echoed the static-filled reply, “… Circle of Thorns here … some kind of gathering … nasty boogers …”

Dana silently laughed and shook her head, quietly correcting ETcetera’s misuse of one of her favorite and oft-used English words, “buggers”.

Black Bull clicked the button again, oblivious to any misspeaking. “Are you currently engaged?”

“… To who? …”

Black Bull glanced around the room in confusion, hoping for assistance. “What does she mean by that?” he asked the group.

Venge stepped forward, reached up, patted the demon on the back, then held his hand out for the microphone, grinning all the while. “Aliens and demons trying to understand each other’s misunderstandings…gimme.” He waved his fingers for Bull to hurry.

Venge was about a foot shorter than Bull, with blonde hair and blue eyes. He was large by human standards, but it was his ferocity in battle that truly caused him to stand out. By day he behaved like a gentleman: considerate and thoughtful. By night, though, the man became the beast, almost as much of a danger to his comrades as his enemies.

When Bull had first met Venge he had been only two months recovered from his coma. The League had yet to be established, and he was with Nurse Kitty and Hocus Locust doing their small part to patrol the streets. One night, during one such patrol, they walked up on an unforgettable scene.

Venge was slaughtering a group of Skulls, and at first Bull thought it was a turf-war rather than a “hero” cleaning the streets. The feral man was outnumbered by eight foes, but had no trouble whittling them down until he was faced with just one terrified thug. He had paused to lick one of his claws, as much to revel in the taste of blood as to intimidate the Skull further. Bull intervened.

He could not in good conscience stand by and watch the inevitable murder. The Skull had dropped his weapon and was begging for his life, changing this from a case of overzealous crime fighting to sadistic butchering. Bull was unprepared for the ferocity of Venge’s reaction.

Like lightning the beast-man attacked, leaving Bull struggling just to defend himself. The remaining Skull, realizing the wild man’s attention was focused elsewhere, disappeared into the night. Bull was certain he would have fallen himself had Nurse Kitty and Hocus Locust not been there to keep him on his feet with their healing abilities. Gradually the attack slowed as Venge tired, and Black Bull was able to turn the tide of the fight in his favor.

For over ten minutes they sparred, Nurse Kitty and Hocus Locust taking turns resting and healing Bull as he struggled to press his advantage of Venge’s exhaustion. Finally, the human collapsed, not from Black Bull’s attacks, but from his own overexertion.

Nurse Kitty had insisted, in spite of Hocus Locust’s and Black Bull’s argument, that they take Venge in and gain his trust. She reminded them that Bull’s appearance was not one that was easily taken for one of the “good guys”, and that this fellow might have thought Bull was trying to fight for the Skulls.

Once daylight broke and Venge was himself he learned the truth of Bull and they became fast friends. The four of them had founded the League of Virtue those many months ago. Forever careful not to get in his way during a battle, Bull had the utmost respect for Venge, not only for his prowess in combat but also for his undying loyalty to his allies and the League.

Bull obliged, handing Venge the equipment, vowing yet again to develop a firmer grasp of humanity’s finer points. He was a quick study, but there were often times when he was at a total loss and required an interpreter for both language and action. He’d found that he had the most trouble when trying to communicate with non-humans, more than likely because they were both trying to utilize a language they were unfamiliar with.

ETcetera was not from Earth, though her physiology was very similar to Earthlings. She loved humanity and had adopted many of its habits, vices, and even slang. More often than not she misunderstood subtle meanings, and while comical to her close friends, she never showed signs of deterrence. Bull certainly empathized with her trying to make a home out of a completely alien world. He had always been impressed with her grit and determination, and it showed in everything she did.

Never one to back down from a fight, there were few others Bull would rather have at his side in their mutual pursuit of virtue. He was snapped out of his thoughts at the sound of Venge’s voice.

“ET, are you puttin’ ‘em down right now?”

“… They’re falling, yes … too many for me solo … you guys on your way or what? …”

“We are,” Venge answered, conviction in his voice. He set the microphone down on the desk and looked up at Bull.

“Who is scheduled with her tonight?” Bull asked Dana.

Dana glanced over the roster and clenched her jaw. “Lapilla.”

Bull did not reply.

He required patrols to be conducted in pairs for safety’s sake. Complementary talents were put together for optimal effectiveness, and Lapilla’s melee abilities coupled with ETcetera’s mastery of energy manipulation made a formidable combination. He had allowed Lapilla to join the League at her request because she had exceptional skill that, if channeled correctly, could be a powerful asset to their altruistic cause. It was his opinion that she had been misguided in the past, and Bull thought, with proper mentorship and a positive environment, she could be reminded again of good things. Lapilla had her internal demons to contend with, especially when it came to the Circle, but abandoning a fellow Virtuous meant she now had a real one as well.

But they had a situation to deal with first.

Bull turned to address the assembled crowd. There were too many people for the large Control Room and many stood in doorways or just out of eyeshot down hallways and around corners. He raised his hands to try and hush the murmur that accompanied every gathering.

“I am heartened by the turn-out this evening to go to the aid of one of our own. Unfortunately, I must ask most of you to stand down. Our assault of Independence Port tonight must not leave our home defenseless. I will choose a small force to accompany me but the rest must remain vigilant here.”

The reaction from the crowd was one of disappointment tinged with the hope that each member might be one of the few chosen to help ETcetera.

Bull quickly surveyed the room. “Terrenum, Fusion Pulse, and Hocus Locust with me. We leave now.”

“I beg your pardon!”

Bull turned around to regard the shocked face of a clearly angry Pipebomb. She was suited up, rifle in hand, obviously expecting to go.

“Dana, we need Virtuous here with experience as well. And your monitor shift is not yet up,” Bull glanced at the wall-clock that hung behind the desk.

She tilted her head in disbelief, her jaw slightly slack. After a moment of silence she raised her chin, set her rifle down on the desk, and dropped into the chair like a stubborn child. She glanced at Venge, who offered a shrug. “Well, they’ve got long-range covered with Fusion Pulse. They don’t need me because Bull’s going. They’ve got a full team set up and we’d just be overkill anyway.” She remained silent.

Bull nodded, assuming the situation had been logically resolved, and left the League of Virtue’s headquarters for Independence Port.

Originally lost to Black Bull after his separation from the Underworld, his abnormally quick running speed was a talent he was grateful he had been able to recover. Very few could keep up with him, and it had proven useful in many situations, to include the one he found himself in this night. He was the first to reach Independence Port, flying as effortlessly through the water as he did over land.

“ETcetera, location,” Bull said into his headset. An invention of Ryan Paden (Fusion Pulse), it was nothing more than an earpiece made of waterproof, shatter-resistant polymers that fit comfortably into the ear canal. They were designed to activate and transmit sound only when pressed, though mistakes did happen and broadcasts the League was not meant to hear were made. In fact, they were actually common, and the League had even adopted the term “mistell” to quickly explain when they happened. The devices were a work in progress, Ryan would always say.

“Beacon’s up,” Bull’s earpiece replied.

He could see her signature ahead of him, little more than a mile away. He could be there in ten seconds.


Bull adjusted his course in the water and shot off toward the green glow that marked ETcetera’s location. When he approached within a few hundred yards he could hear the telltale sounds of her energy blasts and their impacts on the unfortunate Circle of Thorns zealots they were aimed at. She was positioned on one of the many islands that dotted the waterways of Independence Port. After another second he could hear her battle cries and sarcastic jibes as the wizards fell before her.


“Awww…and another one chews the dirt,” she harassed, floating effortlessly above the prostrate form of an unconscious Thorn Wielder. There were robed figures everywhere, but only a small fraction of them were still standing. Those that remained had to resort to ranged attacks to hit the flying alien, some hefting clumsy crossbows while others hurled bolts of unholy magic at her.

Without pausing Bull leapt from the water into the largest crowd of Thorns he saw, focusing on emitting an aura of pain around himself. Their reaction was almost instantaneous. As soon as they felt him they turned their attention from ETcetera to the new threat, just as he wanted. He could see ETcetera was weakened by the sustained battle and would not last much longer, even if she didn’t realize it herself. She was headstrong and “gung-ho”, as Venge had explained, and more likely to attack an unbeatable foe than regroup and think twice.

Bull drew dark forces around himself to protect him from the strikes of the swords and arrows that assaulted him now. He focused his attention on one enemy after another, delivering a series of powerful blows until they dropped to the ground unconscious. When weakened, he stole their essence and channeled it into himself, a lesson he’d learned from a powerful vampire eons ago when still under his false slavery.

“And right as I was finishing this crowd off. Great timing, Double-B.” ETcetera rolled her glowing eyes. She levitated herself to the ground as she shot a burst of energy at the final wizard trying to run away. She inhaled deeply, trying to catch her breath.

“Don’t worry, though, this island is like a giant ant-hill. I kicked it and the school is mad. There will be more. They’re coming from that cave.” ETcetera pointed to a large opening in the rocks on their little island.

“The school?”

“Bull…you really have to learn this language. It’s what humans call large groups of things. Schools of birds, schools of fish, schools of ants. It’s a metaphor for the bunch of Thornies under this rock.” She shook her head almost pityingly at the demon.

Bull’s earpiece crackled. “How ‘bout a port, Chief?” It was Ryan’s voice.

Realizing that he had left many of the team behind in his eagerness to get to ETcetera, Bull would have blushed had he been capable. “Of course.”

As Bull’s hands began glowing with the energy of the teleportation spell, Terrenum landed silently nearby. Often mistaken for a walking tree, his hulking frame belied his quiet entrance. The observant onlooker would have noticed the soil beneath Terrenum rise slightly and cushion his feet as he came down.

The vine-covered giant sniffed the air. Slightly larger than even Black Bull, he looked straight into the demon’s eyes. “It reeks of evil here, Bull. These ruffians have desecrated this place.” He pointed to the cave entrance. “And their infection goes deep.”

Black Bull’s gaze was torn from the cave at the sound of a sudden impact behind him that shook the ground. He turned around to see a green insectoid-robot making a quick analysis of ETcetera’s physical condition. It raised its arms and projected an energy beam designed to accelerate an organism’s natural healing process by an exponential rate. “You should feel better,” Hocus Locust announced matter-of-factly. ETcetera nodded her thanks.

“Thanks, Boss.” Fusion Pulse stretched. “Those teleports always tighten me up.”

Now that the team was assembled, Bull turned to ETcetera.

“Where is Lapilla?”

She regarded him for a second before answering. “I don’t know. As soon as these Thornies showed up she disappeared like a … well … like something that disappears well. I haven’t been able to raise her on the radio.” She pointed to her ear. The League members were capable of establishing smaller channels so just a few of them could communicate back and forth without the entire supergroup overhearing. Patrol teams were always set up on their own frequency.

“Invite us in, ET,” Bull requested. “We are no longer a team.” A person could only be set up in one extra channel at a time, and the group had adopted the term “team” to describe these channels. One had to leave their current channel if they wished to join another.

ETcetera fidgeted with her earpiece for a few moments. “Test.”

Everyone but Lapilla responded in turn.

Bull switched his channel to supergroup. “Pipebomb, the entire team is assembled in Independence Port with the exception of Lapilla. There is a cave entrance here and knowing Lapilla’s vendetta it is likely she is down there. We will keep you apprised of our situation.”

“ …Whatever… ”

Bull returned to his team’s channel. “Was that anger in her voice? I thought I explained why she could not accompany us. Did I not?”

It was Fusion Pulse this time that laughed and patted Bull on the back. “You’re pretty close to understanding humanity, Bully, but women are a whole other species. They’ve got most of us baffled too.” He gestured around to the two other “men” on the team, Terrenum and Hocus Locust. Even though Hocus Locust wasn’t technically either sex, it chimed in. “Affirmative. The female of the species is quizzically illogical at times, many decisions dictated by emotion rather than clear thought.” It paused, whirring and clicking as its brain processed information. “Though the male is not far off, its decisions dictated by other emotions, such as aggression.”

The healing machine stopped all external movement, but with the renewed sounds coming from within it was apparent that “thought processes” were going on inside at a phenomenal rate.

Fusion Pulse spoke up. “Bull, he’s gonna be at this for a while unless we stop him. I’d suggest we get inside that cave and see what we can find. Locust can brief us later on the finer points of the differences between male and female psychology.”

Black Bull agreed and turned toward the cave. “Let us go then.”

As the team trotted toward the gaping hole in the rock, Fusion Pulse slapped Hocus Locust on the back of the head to snap him out of his processing. “Let’s go, Bug.”