Heart of Steel (story)




Authors Note: This is my first attempt at posting a story here, my first attempt at writing anything in 16yrs actually. I was inspired by some of the writing I read here, predominantly by Khellendrosic's Toy Dispenser stories. The protagonist of this story is not even one of my favorite characters, but I liked his backstory the best, so I did my best in my limited time to flesh it out and wite it down. Feel free to comment, I would appreciate any feedback.

Chapter 1


The villain known as Stahlkrieger stood on a cliffside in the pouring rain, staring at his final opponent. Rain ran in rivers over his metal carapace, collecting and steadily dripping off his massive frame onto the ground, where it was consumed by the dark soil of Primeva. Stahlkrieger paid no attention to the rain, felt no discomfort, no cold. All of his attention was on the last of his foes, a Longbow Officer who looked as if he had seen much better days. The officer was at least a foot shorter than Stahlkrieger’s 7ft, and much less physically imposing, but he carried himself with a dignity and a quiet power that Stahlkrieger could not help but admire. Despite having witnessed his fellow Longbow defeated, their bodies strewn on the cliffside and down onto the beach below, despite having made repeated attempts to stop this robotic villain and coming out injured and unsuccessful, the Longbow Officer still held himself erect, and refused to give up. The outcome was no longer in doubt, Stahlkrieger possessed greater speed and power than he could hope to match, the officer knew that, but each minute he delayed gave the young rifleman the officer had entrusted with the data disk that much more time to get away. Stahlkrieger knew all this as well, and so while he could respect the officer’s courage, he could no longer afford this delay, nor could he afford to turn his back on a still potentially dangerous foe.

“A worthy effort, but this ends now.” Said Stahlkrieger to the officer. “The information on that disk will be mine.”

“I can’t let you have it, you’re dangerous enough. I can’t let you become anymore powerful. I can’t let you have it.” Replied the weary Longbow, glancing around for anything that might help him hold off the towering villain.

“You can’t stop me.” Stahlkrieger stated, and threw himself at the officer with a speed that seemed impossible for a being of his size and weight.

Throwing rapid punches, Stalhkrieger forced the officer to give ground, slowly backing him up towards the cliff’s edge. The officer tried to block and counter punch, but the robot was just so fast, dodging and striking back more quickly than the officer’s eye could follow. Try as he may, in his tired state, he could not land a blow on his enemy, and backed up, closer, ever closer to the edge of the cliff. Eighty feet below the surf pounded on a narrow strip of beach, littered with driftwood, rocks, and assorted Longbow whose mediporters had either been damaged, or had died too quickly to be teleported out. Seeing that he had no room left to maneuver, the officer held up his hand to signal his surrender, knowing that he had given all he had to give.

“If you get the disk, it won’t help you. Someone will come after you. Luminary, Citadel, maybe even Statesman. Not even you can beat them.” Said the beaten Longbow, breathing heavily through the pain of broken ribs.

“Its not a hero I’m looking to beat.” Said Stahlkrieger softly, and drawing on his own power, delivered a devastating blow to the officer’s chest. The Longbow Officer fell over the side of the cliff, falling to the rocks below, but dead before his feet had even left the ground, killed too quickly for his mediporter to activate and save him. Stahlkrieger inwardly winced, though no trace of discomfort showed on his metallic face. Drawing on his own inner power source to deliver the massive energy transfer always hurt a bit, but usually killed so quickly that the victim could not be saved by teleportation technology. The rifleman with the disk was gone by now, no use trying to catch up. This close to Agincourt, reinforcements were not that far away, and once he got out from under Stahlkrieger’s communications jamming, help would come quickly. Knowing he must leave, Stahlkrieger paused to look down at the wreckage of the Longbow officer. He had been a worthy adversary, and Stahlkrieger had felt no real malice towards him, but had killed him anyways. After all, he never turned his back on a dangerous foe.

Origins-Part I

Bryan Sullivan awoke to the sound of sirens. He usually woke this way, he didn’t even bother setting his alarm anymore. Across the room slept his twin brother Kevin. Kevin could sleep through anything, and it was up to his more responsible big brother Bryan (older by 7 minutes) to wake him up, typically by pulling all his covers off and waiting until Kevin got too cold to stay in bed any longer. This morning Bryan was in more of a hurry, so he settled for lifting one side of the mattress until Kevin rolled off, hitting the wood floor with a thud.

“Hey!” Kevin exclaimed, his voice muffled by the blankets that were twisted around him, “What’d you do that for, ya big jerk?”

“Big day today, bro, daylight in the swamp! Time to rise and shine!” said Bryan, grinning as Kevin tried to extricate himself from his bedding.

“I’m rising, but I ain’t shining.” Replied Kevin sourly, as Bryan made his way downstairs for breakfast.

The brothers lived in King’s Row, in one of the older houses originally built to rent out to workers when the economy was still strong in this area. Kevin and Bryan’s father had been a worker in one of the garment warehouses, and had lived with his wife and two sons in one of these low rent pseudo-slums until a fire in his warehouse had taken his life 10 years ago. Poor safety practices and disregard for worker welfare were commonplace in the Row, and their mother had received a pittance from the company he had worked for in compensation. All inquiries about his pension were pushed off, and then the warehouses had closed, the company had left, leaving the 3 remaining Sullivans to fend for themselves. Times were hard all over, but their mother had fought to keep her family from the streets. She had finally found a job over in Skyway City as cashier at a gas station, long hours and commute bringing her home late each night. Robberies were common, and even without the criminal element the job was tough, being on her feet for 10hr shifts, unloading delivery trucks, and fending off the advances of her aggressive and chauvinistic older boss. Still, she had 2 boys to take care of, and take care of them she did, ensuring that they focused on school, stayed out of trouble, and had a roof over their heads.

In all, Kevin and Bryan’s mother was lucky in the fact that her two boys were actually pretty good kids. With the hardships of poverty and promises of an easier living through crime, it was almost a miracle the boys did not end up with one of the myriad street gangs that roamed the row. Bryan however fully understood the sacrifice his mother was making on their behalf, and while Kevin could sometimes be more on the wild side, he always ended up doing whatever his brother did.
When they were old enough, the boys began working odd jobs to help out, making sure to never get lax in their schoolwork. They thought their money was helping to go towards the rent and other bills that seemed to never end, but their mother secretly put aside every penny they earned, plus a good part of what she herself earned, to save for an education, which she knew was her children’s only legitimate chance at a better life. So it was that 2 years after they graduated high school, on their 20th birthday their mother told them that she had saved enough for them to attend University right here in Paragon City. They would have to keep working part time jobs to supplement what money she had saved, but if they were frugal, they could afford a chance at better life.
This morning, as Bryan bounded down the stairs to the tiny kitchen, was going to be their first day of college, and Bryan couldn’t be more excited. The thought of having access to all the education and opportunities he had always thought were beyond him was intoxicating for him. Kevin was less enthusiastic, but he always did what his twin brother did, and this was no different. If Bryan wanted to go to college and get a fancy desk job, Kevin would be at his side. Their mother was in the kitchen cooking breakfast for them, she had taken a rare day off in celebration of their first day at university. The smells of scrambled eggs and bacon frying greeted Bryan’s nose as he kissed his mother good morning. They rarely got bacon, oatmeal or cereal were standard fare, but this was a special occasion. Ellie Sullivan was 44yrs old, but looked closer to 60. The death of a husband and a hard life since showed in every line on her face, and was reflected in her prematurely graying hair. Yet this morning she moved with a energy that Bryan could not remember seeing before, a small smile on her face as she hummed softly, turning the bacon in the frying pan. It was a look of contentment, a look of someone who finally found peace with themselves. Bryan was happy to see it, though he felt a little guilty at all she had had to sacrifice to give this to him and his brother, instead of giving herself a better life. I’ll make it all up to her, Bryan thought. When I’ve graduated and got a good paying job, I’ll move her out of here. I’ll take care of her. Me and Kevin, we’ll make sure the 2nd half of her life is happier than the first half.
Kevin came bounding down the stairs in his usually loud manner, coming over to the stove to pick his mother up in a big bear hug as she shouted in surprise and almost dropped the eggs on the floor.

“Morning, ma!” Kevin said. “Smells great!”

Ellie straightened out her apron and shoveled eggs on their plates, giving Kevin a playful swat on the shoulder. “You big gorilla!” She teased. “You shouldn’t go around frightening old women like that! Not if you don’t enjoy eating your breakfast off the floor, which is where it almost ended up!”

“Oh, you know you’re not old, ma. And this smells so good I’d eat it off the toilet if I had to!” Kevin responded, digging into his breakfast with alacrity.

Bryan stifled a laugh and his mother made a face at that. Both brothers ate the rest of their breakfast in silence, enjoying the pleasure of the good food and their mother’s company. After breakfast, they gathered their things. They had bought one set of class books for the two of them. They could not afford 2 sets of books, so they had signed up for all the same classes and would share. They preferred to stick together anyways. Kissing their mother goodbye, they headed out of the house, waving back to their mother, who managed to hold back her tears until they were out of sight. Then she sat down at the kitchen table and let herself have a cry. A cry of relief, of a burden lifted. She had struggled for so long, and now she felt the exhaustion and happiness of someone who has just won a long and difficult race.
Bryan and Kevin walked through the Row, past abandoned and condemned houses and buildings. Some were still occupied by legitimates, as they called them, many others were havens and hideouts for various groups such as the Skulls or the Lost. Occasionally they would see members of the Council recruiting. They usually went along that path. It was easier to turn down a persistent council recruiter than it was a gang of Skulls who wanted your wallet, or the Vazhilok, who wanted much more.
It was almost a mile to the Green Line Tram, which they would then take to Galaxy City, but the circuitous route they had to take to avoid known “trouble areas”, made the distance closer to 2 miles. Along the way, Bryan became aware of a white van they always seemed to be right at the periphery of his vision. Every time he turned around to take a look at it, it would turn down some side street, but a few minutes later, he would catch it out of the corner of his eye again. After a couple times of noticing this, he mentioned it to his brother.

“Hey Kev, you been noticing that van?” Bryan asked.

“What van?” answered Kevin, stopping to take a look around.

“A white van, one of those business types without the side windows.” Said Bryan. “I keep seeing it. It always turns down other streets, but then seems to end up behind us again.”

“Probably just lost or something, trying to find it’s way out of here, like everyone else. Or else he’s drunk, this is the Row, ya know.” Said Kevin, taking one more glance around.

“I guess… “ said Bryan, still troubled.

Bryan was looking behind them for some trace of the white van, and so was startled by Kevin’s sudden surprised cry as the same white van approached from ahead of them, barreling in and bouncing up onto the sidewalk, causing the brothers to fall to the ground in their haste to get out of its way. The side panel door swung open and 4 men in dark suits and sunglasses jumped out, two of them going to each brother and grasping them roughly by the arms. Before Bryan could protest, he felt the needle go into his neck, and a deep fatigue seemed to course through his body. The last thing he remembered seeing before he blacked out appeared to be a man flying overhead, one of the many heroes or “capes” that made Paragon City their home. It seemed to Bryan that the hero made eye contact with him, and then kept flying. Then the darkness came.

Duskfall Syndicate Base, Rogue Isles.

The teleporter made a soft popping noise as Stahlkrieger entered the supervillain base. The faint smell of ozone always came to him after a teleport, and for some reason, the smell of lemons, though nobody else he had ever talked to had ever mentioned such a thing. Most of the rain that had covered Stahlkrieger had been flash evaporated by the teleportation process. He wasn’t sure why it did that, yet didn’t harm the normal human body, which after all was composed primarily of water. Not that it concerned him, His robotic body had less in common with a human’s than it did a dishwasher, save the basic features of 2 arms, 2 legs, and a head. Running a diagnostic of his internal systems as he always did after a teleport, Stahlkrieger moved out of the teleport bay and into the base proper. He never fully trusted teleportation, too electrical in nature, and it seemed destined to fry his internal circuits someday, although everyone always said it was safe for android or cyborg heroes and villains.

Stahlkrieger walked down the hallway and into the common room, surprisingly quiet for someone 7ft tall and weighing over 500lbs. The common room was in use, masterminds Papa Rumble and his daughter, Crimson Bow were sitting at the couches, the latter working on one of her father’s cybernetic arms. Papa Rumble’s thug gang was strewn throughout the room, most of them engrossed in game of pool that seemed to involve more beer drinking and traded jests than anything resembling pool. Big Mike the bruiser was working out with weights in the corner, as he always was, and Trashman, the arsonist, was leaning against a wall, lazily playing with his lighter, and silently looking at Stahlkrieger with that perpetual creepy smile. Crimson Bow’s bots were silently watching the pool game, all except for Gearshaft, one of the battle drones, who kept trying to explain what the thugs were doing wrong in terms of physics and geometry, advice that was of course ignored.

Papa Rumble was an ex-bruiser himself. He had once worked for a mastermind by the name of Crusher Earl, who had sent Papa up against Captain Mako, the end result being both of Papa Rumble’s arms being ripped from the socket, and the loss of an eye, that Papa still swears he saw Captain Mako eat. Crusher Earl was, well, crushed, and Papa Rumble was an invalid without a job. Luckily, his daughter was something of a technical genius, and used her skills to create 2 cybernetic arms for her father. The arms looked quite impressive, and had many valuable abilities, but fighting was not one of them. They would not stand up in hand to hand combat, not that Papa Rumble had much desire for doing the fighting himself anymore. Instead he recruited his own gang to do the fighting for him, and had his daughter design several “traps” he could use to aid them. Papa Rumble still looked like a bruiser, with his camouflage pants, shirtless tattooed chest, bandolier, gunslinger moustache, ponytail, and of course the mechanical arms. The moustache and ponytail were streaked with grey now though, and although he always hid his missing eye behind an eye patch or sunglasses, the fact that he had lost much of his vision made him much more vulnerable in a fight than he once was.

His daughter, Crimson Bow, was still full of fire though. Although she relied mostly on her small army of battle robots, she personally preferred to carry a bow, and a quiver full of trick arrows to keep her enemies off balance. Taller than her father, who was short and broad compared to her tall and slim, Crimson Bow was as beautiful as she was dangerous, and crazy also, in Stahlkrieger’s personal opinion. A part of him could remember when he once would have been at the mercy of such beauty, but no longer. Such weaknesses of the flesh were much easier to ignore when you had no flesh. To Stahlkrieger, she was unpredictable and unstable, though he put up with her out of respect for her father, whose cautious and solid ways were more in line with his way of doing business.

“Look what the cat dragged in.” smirked Crimson Bow as she tightened down an access plate on her father’s arm. “The Terminator returns.”

That was her nickname for Stahlkrieger, one that he really couldn’t dispute. His appearance did resemble the robotic chassis of the terminator from the Schwarzenegger film, down to the glowing red eyes, though he was quite a bit larger than the robot from the movie, and could move much faster than that plodding thing. One enemy had once warned his cohorts that “a terminator on steroids” was coming for them.

“So, was it successful? You find what ya were looking for at that Longbow base at in Primeva?” asked Papa Rumble, looking up from the couch at his friend.

“No, and yes. Yes I found what I was looking for, but no, I did not retrieve it. Got held up by one of their officers while an underling got it to safety.” Answered Stahlkrieger.

“Ouch, I hate those guys.” Papa Rumble said, “They hit hard.”

“I hit harder,” replied Stahlkrieger, “I’m here, he’s probably feeding crabs by now, if the tide was coming in.”

At that Trashman the arsonist started giggling, then quieted down to continue smiling at Stahlkrieger in his discomforting way. Stahlkrieger ignored him.

“So you won the battle, but not the war?” Crimson Bow said condescendingly, a smile on her lips as well. She always took pleasure in the failures of others.

“The war continues, but this was not even a footnote in it. The data on that disk would have been useful to me, enhancing my power, but there are other routes to power. Crey, the Council, Sky Raiders, all have secrets that I can discover and use to my advantage.” Said Stahlkrieger.

“Why don’t you let me take a look at you? I am pretty handy with machinery you know.” Offered Crimson Bow, hopefully.

Stahlkrieger shook his head. “You just want to get a look at my hardware. As effective as your robots are and as clever as your arrows and Papa’s traps may be, my technology is far more advanced. It is not me you wish to aid, but yourself. I will keep my secrets to myself.” He said.

Crimson Bow just sniffed and turned away, while her assault bot began studying itself and Stahlkrieger, as if realization of its own shortcomings were just now becoming apparent. Crimson Bow finished her modifications to Papa Rumble’s arm, unhooking her diagnostic equipment.

“So how does that feel, dad?” she asked.

“Still feels too heavy, I feel like I’m one step away from dragging my knuckles like a gorilla. And the connection itches at the shoulders.” Answered Papa, experimentally working his arm to get a feel for it.

“Well if you’re going to act like a gorilla, perhaps its fitting that you look like one.” Replied Crimson with an annoyed look on her face. “If you didn’t insist on having all these traps and devices, the arms wouldn’t be so heavy. If you would just use a bow like me, I could design some nice lightweight composite alloy arms for you.”

“Yeah, those skeletal robot arms would look great on a slab like me, no thanks. I’m no Robin Hood, and these guys ain’t my merry men.” Said papa, jerking a thumb back in the direction of his thugs. “I’ll make do with these, they look pretty intimidating even though throwing a punch at someone would probably put me in traction for a month.”

“Suit yourself.” Replied Crimson, gathering her equipment and exiting the room. Papa Rumble watched her go, her robots in falling in line with a deafening clatter of clanking and whirring. Then he told his thugs to take a hike, leaving him alone with Stahlkrieger.

“She’s a good girl, impetuous and undisciplined, but powerful. Can’t really say I’m glad she followed my path, but at least I know she can take care of herself, and I get to spend some time with her. In this business, who knows how much time any of us have?” said Papa, his face seeming more careworn than Stahlkrieger remembered, his friend had definitely matured from the intemperate and fiery bruiser he had once been.

“She is….impressive.” Stahlkrieger admitted.

Despite her obvious character flaws and eccentricities, Crimson Bow was becoming a force to be reckoned with. He only hoped she would not become a liability to him. Her rivalry with Stahlkrieger had always been one sided, he had never considered her any threat. Now that she was becoming more powerful, she may decide to move that rivalry to a new level. Stahlkrieger knew she was dying to find out how he was constructed, what gave a robot like him self awareness and the superior fighting ability that went with it. As destructive and powerful as her bots were, they lacked any sort of initiative or strategic thinking of their own, she had to constantly direct them. It could be a severe limitation in some fights. There may come a time where she felt strong enough to try and take his secrets by force. Stahlkrieger felt confident that she would be no match for him, but if she were hurt in the confrontation, it may create a rift between he and Papa Rumble that could never be bridged. Papa Rumble was one of the few beings that Stahlkrieger considered a friend, perhaps the only one. Even if Stahlkrieger defeated Crimson Bow, he would still lose. Best to maintain his superiority to forestall any such conflict from ever happening. Besides, such an event would only be a distraction from his ultimate goal.

“You know, you’ve been pushing a lot of buttons lately.” Said Papa Rumble once his thugs had left the room. “You name seems to be popping up all over the place. Raids on Longbow, Wyvern, even Arachnos. I don’t have to tell you what kind of attention that can bring.” Papa Rumble looked pointedly at his two mechanical arms. “We may be bad, but there’s some heavy hitters out there that you don’t want to mess with. Whether they come from Paragon City or right here in the Isles, you get seen as too much of a threat or nuisance, you can expect a hot reception one of these times. “

“I am aware of the dangers,” replied Stahlkrieger seriously, “but I cannot sit idle. If I don’t strive to become as powerful as I can be, my enemies will. Battles with foes such as you refer to may be inevitable, I have to make sure I am prepared. In fact, I hope they do send someone after me, it may be time to test myself against a greater challenge than I have yet faced. I have to define the limits of my abilities so that I may identify my weaknesses, and correct them. I must reach my full potential to survive the days yet to come.”

“What is it you seek? Its not money, you have plenty of that. Whatever you’re looking for, maybe I can help. I can help you face these challenges.” Implored Papa Rumble.

“Thank you my friend, but no. My goal can be achieved my myself alone, I wish for no help. I must be strong enough to face my future on my own, only then can I find peace.” Replied Stahlkrieger.

“But what is your goal? What is it you want?” asked Papa Rumble, worried about his friend.

“My goal is no different from the goal of countless others. My goal is what drives many to destroy themselves.” Said Stahlkrieger quietly. “Revenge.”



Chapter 2

Origins-Part II

Bryan Sullivan could hear voices in the darkness, faint, as if from at the end of a very long tunnel. He tried moving towards the sounds, but found he could not control his arms or legs, he could not seem to will himself forward. Slowly it dawned on him that the darkness was complete, and he could not be certain he even had arms or legs, he had no sensation besides that of floating in the dark, listening to whispers. Gradually those faint whispers seemed to come closer. He still couldn’t make out what they were saying, as if they were speaking a different language, one in which he only understood a few words. Struggling to make sense of what was happening, he focused all his attention on the voices, seeking them out with his thoughts and will, until they finally sounded closer, very close, and he began to understand a few words here and there.

. . . . . . Heartbeat is 120/80, pulse 65. Pulmonary res. . . .

. . . . . . . system online. . . .

. . . . . .temperature normal. . . .

. . . . calibration complete, parameters are. . . .

. . . . showing some activity. . . .

. . . . waking up. . . .

Bryan gradually felt sensation return to his body, his legs and arms were still there thankfully, though he could not move them. He was disoriented, but he could feel that he was lying on his back on some type of table. Slowly he forced his eyes to crack open, and closed them again immediately. The glare of a light above him was blinding. Once again he began cracking open his eyelids, slower now, giving them time to adjust to the brightness. He didn’t open them all the way, he didn’t want the owners of the voices to yet know he was fully awake, though from the snippets of conversation he had heard, it had sounded like they knew he was coming around. Peeking out from almost closed eyes, Bryan examined what he could of the room without moving his head and drawing attention. His mind felt slow and foggy, and it took him a little while to make sense of what he was seeing.

He appeared to be in some kind of operating room. Had he been in an accident? No, he could faintly remember someone grabbing him, the van had not hit him. What appeared to be doctors and nurses crowded the room, all busy going about their tasks, all anonymous behind their sterile face masks. Every now and then one of the nurses would head in his direction, and he would close his eyes all the way until he felt she had left, then crack them open again. He tried to recognize some of the equipment in the room, but he had little experience with hospitals or medicine, and all medical equipment these days just looked like one form of computer or another anyways. He wondered if he should let them know he was awake. If they were going to do some sort of surgery on him, he certainly did not want that happening while he was conscious! They did not seem to be preparing anything of the sort however. They seemed to be focusing their attention on something else in the room. Another patient? Bryan couldn’t tell without turning his head to see, which would alert the medical staff, and he wasn’t so sure they were as interested in his welfare as most doctors would be. After all, as far as Bryan could recollect, he had apparently been kidnapped. Maybe the van had gotten into an accident and he had been rescued, taken to the hospital? Maybe that hero he had seen flying by had done something after all, arrested the kidnappers, at least told the police, and he was here now recovering from his ordeal. Hope flashed in his mind, then died again. He realized the reason he couldn’t move his arms or legs was because he was strapped down. They didn’t feel like the padded straps they put on patients to keep them from hurting themselves, these were straps to hold someone down, and they were tight. Bryan wished he could see what the doctors were looking at, maybe it was his brother Kevin?

Kevin! In his disorientation he had forgotten about his twin brother, and now worry and fear flooded through him like a raging river, threatening to override his caution. He wanted to shout out, to call for his brother, to hear him answer, but he quickly controlled himself. He had to find out if his brother was here with him though, he had to know. Maybe his brother was the more injured, and they were focusing their efforts on saving him. Maybe his brother was dying right next to him, just a few feet away. Maybe this would be his last chance to see him. Slowly, seeing that the attention of the doctors and nurses attention were not on him, he gradually turned his head to the left, trying to get a view of the rest of the room. Several doctors and nurses were crowded near another table, busy in discussion that Bryan could make no sense of. There was obviously something or someone on the table, but Bryan could not see what it was through the crowd. Finally, one of the doctors moved aside, setting down some kind of tool, and Bryan got a glimpse of something. A skull! It was a skeleton on the table! No, that wasn’t right, it was too shiny. Metal? Bryan again tried to see, but the head was blocked from view again. At the other end of the table a clearing opened, and Bryan could see a sheet covering what was obviously feet. Could he have been wrong about the skull? Was it his brother lying there? No, the length from the feet to the head was quite long, his brother was only a inch over 6ft tall. Whatever was lying on that table had to be at least 7ft, and quite a bit more massive.

Just then he noticed that a doctor had come to stand beside his table, and was looking down at him. He was an older man, with gray hair, small wire framed spectacles, and a comforting smile on his face. He looked like a nice man, Bryan began to relax a little bit. His brother was not dying on the table next to him, and this kindly doctor was obviously here to help him.

“Coming around, eh?” asked the doctor, the slightest trace of an accent in his speech. German? Eastern European? Bryan couldn’t tell. “Well, no matter, awake or asleep, no difference.”

“Where.. where am I? Where is my brother?” asked Bryan, finding it hard to speak, he hadn’t realized how dry his throat felt, nor how incredibly thirsty he was.

The doctor ignored his questions, smiled kindly at him again, then moved away to talk with some of the other doctors in the room.

“We can begin anytime.” He told them. “The subject being awake will not have any effect upon the procedure, and the vessel is fully prepared.”

Nurses standing near his table now began making adjustments to the glaring light above him, which he could see now was not just a light, but something much bigger. Hanging from the ceiling from what appeared to be some sort of chain fall, the kind normally used for pulling a motor out of a car, was a large piece of equipment, with several display screens, switches and buttons, terminating in the fiercely bright light that shone down on him. He hadn’t noticed before how hot the light made him, he felt as though he was getting a terrible sunburn. The nurses maneuvered the device so that it was directly above his chest, suspended about two feet above him.

“What is that thing?” he asked, now becoming quite fearful again. Why wouldn’t the kindly doctor speak to him, didn’t he hear him? “What are you doing to me? Where is my brother? Where is Kevin?”

No one answered him. One of the nurses made eye contact with him, and for a second he thought he saw pity in her eyes, and hesitation. Then she turned and walked away.

“Everyone clear the room!” said the nice old doctor loudly. “We will watch from the control room!”

All the medical staff made their way out of the room, closing the door behind them as they ignored Bryan’s increasingly persistent pleas. He was alone. No, not alone, whatever it was on that other table was here with him. He looked over again at it. It wasn’t a skull he realized, it just resembled one, and it was made of metal. Thoroughly confused and feeling like he was losing a grip on his sanity, Bryan again looked up at the device above him, just in time to see the bright light flash, and to feel as if he had just been shot through the chest. Straining against his restraints, Bryan was in agony. In felt as if a bar of molten metal had been shoved through his chest, and left to burn him from the inside out. Every nerve in his body seemed to be firing, his muscles spasming uncontrollable. It then felt as if his skin was being simultaneously peeled from every part of his body, as if layer after layer were being removed. The torment was more than he could handle. Why can’t I just die? He thought. Don’t people black out when they’re in extreme pain? The pain seemed to be never-ending, it felt like he had never known anything but pain, he could remember nothing before it, it burned out all thought, all memory, all other feeling. Then, when he felt his mind was about to break, the pain suddenly stopped. He was in darkness again, floating, no sensation besides floating. Am I dead? He wondered? Is this what it feels like to be dead? Then he felt the cold. A creeping bitter cold that seemed to take the place of the sensation of body, arms and legs. Such cold as Bryan had never experienced, so cold that it almost made him long for the burning feeling of a few minutes before. Other sensations started to return also. He felt that he was again lying down on the table. The floating sensation faded, but the cold remained, and the darkness. Then he knew no more.

Longbow Base, 25 miles east of Paragon City, 700ft below sea level

Stahlkrieger moved quickly down the wide hallway of the Longbow base, moving faster than the Longbow agent with the minigun could track him. Bullets impacted the walls in a line, tracing their way to Stahlkrieger, then abruptly ended as the villain maneuvered one of the Nullifiers between him and the minigun. Forced to halt his fire for fear of hitting his comrade, the Longbow minigun agent swore and tried to flank Stahlkrieger once again to get a clean shot. Stahlkrieger wasted no time, laying into the Longbow nullifier with a series of blows, not giving his opponent any chance to respond. As the nullifier staggered back, Stahlkrieger focused his power to his hands, leapt into the air and brought them crashing down on the Longbow lieutenant, crumpling him to the ground. This time the mediporter did activate, and the nullifier was instantly teleported away for medical treatment. Without needing to worry about hitting his fellow Longbow, the minigun opened up again in a roar of fire, spitting out bullets fast than the eye could see. Stahlkrieger’s energy field managed to deflect most of the bullets, but a few made it through, driving him back, several systems moderately damaged. Instantly Stahlkrieger released his nanobots to repair the damage, tiny micro machines stored within him that could repair most injuries, so long as he did not suffer too much too quickly. Turning back to the minigun, Stahlkrieger rushed forward, moving from side to side, always seeming to be just ahead of the bullets. Reaching out he grabbed hold of the Longbow and threw him against the wall so hard you could hear his teeth snap shut, some of them breaking off and flying to the floor. Stahlkrieger reached out to the Longbow, found his mediporter device, and slowly crushed it in front of him, the shock and fear evident in the minigun’s eyes. Stahlkrieger then brought his hands down in an overhead bonesmashing blow, and the Longbow agent’s body sagged to the floor.

That should be the last one, Stahlkrieger thought. He had defeated the Longbow base commander, who had not proved as up to the challenge as the previous Longbow officer he had faced, and had defeated 3 squads of reinforcements that had tried to ambush him. Feeling he could turn his attention to his primary purpose for being here, Stahlkrieger went to the computer terminal at the far end of the room. Using the pass codes he had gotten from the inept base commander, Stahlkrieger accessed the Longbow technical files, specifically the one relating to the spec ops energy draining weapons. He had been on the receiving end of some of these weapons before, and knew how crippling they could be against the right opponents. He downloaded all files related to the weapons to his internal hard drive, then terminated the link, effectively unplugging himself from the Longbow mainframe. You never knew what kind of viruses some villain may have planted in there.

Suddenly Stahlkrieger became aware of the fact that he was not alone. Behind him in the room he could hear the faint sound of breathing, and a quiet clicking noise of claws on the floor. Berating himself for not being more attentive to his surroundings, Stahlkrieger turned to face this newest intruder. The other occupant of the room showed little similarity to the Longbow forces he had faced. The creature was nearly Stahlkrieger’s height, covered in white hair, with a bestial wolf like face, exposing long fangs. He walked on powerful rear legs that looked capable of catapulting himself across the room in an instant, and from his hands (paws?), extended long, wickedly sharp looking claws. He resembled an albino werewolf, or one of those creatures the council sometimes used. Stahlkrieger ran a check through his internal database of known heroes. Check, identity acquired. Windigo Spirit.

Apparently a scrapper of great martial skill, Windigo Spirit had been making a name for himself in Paragon City over the last few months, as much for his impressive abilities and victories as for his abrasive personality. Supposedly Windigo Spirit had once been a man, and not a very nice man. He had gotten in a fight in an Alaskan village where he was working on the oil pipeline, and a local Inuit girl had accidentally been killed. The angry members of the tribe had dragged him before their local leader, a powerful shaman, who cursed the man with the curse of the Windigo Spirit. Great power, but constant hunger. Only if he could control the beast’s spirit and use it’s power to do good would the curse be lifted. Windigo Spirit’s career in Paragon so far had been controversial. He disdained other heroes, preferring to work alone, and was known for his excessive force in apprehending criminals. While he did perform public services by rescuing civilians, he seemed to hold those who could not protect themselves in contempt. He certainly had not embraced his role as protector, though nobody could deny he was an effective force in fighting crime in the city. Now he was here, in the underwater Longbow base that Stahlkrieger had just ransacked. Echoes of Papa Rumble’s warnings came to Stahlkrieger, that someone more powerful than the local security would come for him, and now he had. Although he was not one of the major heroes that Stahlkrieger had expected to face, he was a formidable opponent, one that could not be underestimated. Those claws looked as if they could inflict great damage on his internal systems if he let them. Knowing the hero’s reputation, Stahlkrieger also knew this one would not hold back, and would more likely fight to kill than to apprehend.

“You’ve come a long way just to die, Windigo.” Said Stahlkrieger, mentally forming a strategy for dealing with his opponent.

“Die?” responded Windigo Spirit in a raspy guttural voice. “Death would at least be a relief from my curse, but I will not be the one to die today. I shall kill you, and be rid of this fate!”

“Curse? It seems to me you have great power, the opportunity to become wealthy beyond anything your former self could have imagined! Why would you want to go back to what you once were?” asked Stahlkrieger.

“Fool, you understand nothing! Curse I name this, and curse it is! I am a freak! What good is wealth to one such as me? What woman would have me? What life would I have? And the hunger…the hunger…”Windigo Spirit said, trailing off as he held his head in despair.

“The hunger? What about the hunger?” asked Stahlkrieger.

“IT NEVER ENDS!” shouted Windigo Spirit, and launched himself at Stahlkrieger, his long lethal claws extended.

Stahlkrieger sidestepped to the right incredibly fast, but not fast enough. Windigo Spirit’s claws caught him on the side, getting past his energy shields and piercing his armor, leaving long ragged lines of ripped metal and sparks. Spun around by the force of the cut, Stahlkrieger followed through on the spin, aiming a metal fist at Windigo’s head, but succeeding only in clipping his shoulder and knocking him back a few feet. Stahlkrieger used the brief pause to release some nanobots, but the damage was too severe too repair before Windigo was hurdling at him again, his claws resembling a spinning lawnmower blade. This time Stahlkrieger fell backwards, planting a foot in Windigo’s stomach and launching him past him, the claws coming bare centimeters from his face. Leaping back to his feet, Stahlkrieger saw that Windigo Spirit had managed to twist in the air and land on his feet, and was already charging again. This time Stahlkrieger stood his ground, blocking swipes and slashes, using his slight height and weight advantage to keep from being pressed into a corner. Analyzing the pattern of Windigo’s strikes, Stahlkrieger anticipated an opening, and when it came delivered a power energy transfer blow to Windigo Spirit, sending him crashing into the wall and falling to the floor in a heap, obviously seriously injured.

“Like I said, Windigo,” said Stahlkrieger, “you’ve come a long way to die.”

Stahlkrieger began closing on the injured hero, but astonishingly Windigo Spirit suddenly sprang forth, closing the distance himself, and delivering an air rendering swipe, creating a shockwave that sent Stahlkrieger flying back across the room. More stunned than hurt, Stahlkrieger got to his feet and watched as Windigo Spirit’s wounds closed by themselves. Bones that were obviously broken straightened and fell back into place, solid as before. In mere moments, Windigo Spirit looked completely healed and refreshed. Great, he has a healing factor, thought Stahlkrieger, and its much more effective than my nanobots.

The damage from Windigo Spirit’s first attack was still not fully repaired, and that damage had been much lighter than the injury he had inflicted on Windigo Spirit. Stahlkrieger knew he wouldn’t outlast the scrapper in a slugfest, even if he inflicted twice as much damage as he received, he would still come out the loser. The trick is, Stahlkrieger thought, not to take any damage, and to deliver enough damage in a short enough amount of time that his healing factor cannot compensate. The was all well and good, Stahlkrieger could be pretty tough to get hold of, but he had hit Windigo Spirit with everything he had, and while it had done a lot of damage, it wasn’t quite enough to keep him down. He could not deliver 2 such blows that quickly, his power sources would never handle the strain, something would be bound to give and he would be left vulnerable.

He’d better think of something quick, the scrapper was already at his throat again, lunging this way and that, his claws a blur. Stahlkrieger gave ground grudgingly, deflecting or dodging blows, taking minor hits but never letting the feral hero a chance at any of his critical systems. As fast as Windigo Spirit was, Stahlkrieger had the reflexes of a supercomputer, and his energy shields managed to sweep aside almost everything but a direct strike. Windigo Spirit seemed to prefer long swipes or slashes, which Stahlkrieger was able to deflect off his shields, and the occasional strikes were weaker in strength, and could be blocked with his arms, resulting in only minor damage, but which would become worse over time. Stahlkrieger made no attempt at striking back, instead conserving his energy, building it up for one large attack. Windigo Spirit was becoming frustrated with his inability to score a crippling blow on his enemy, and was becoming more and more aggressive, attacking with a wild abandon, seeking to wear his enemy down with the sheer volume of his attacks. As engrossed as he was in trying to score a hit on Stahlkrieger, he failed to keep track of his surroundings. As Stahlkrieger gave ground, he was slowly backing up towards a large power generator, the one that powered the massive mainframe in the room. Soon Stahlkrieger had no more room left to retreat, and Windigo Spirit howled in triumph. With even greater fervor, he attacked Stahlkrieger, swipe, slash, strike, swipe, slash, strike. He began to score some hits as well, Stahlkrieger was unable to maneuver to escape all the attacks from the furious assault, yet he always managed to block the strikes with his forearms, which were now beginning to shows signs of heavy damage. With his single-mindedness, Windigo Spirit had become predictable, thinking his foe all but beaten. This however was not the case. Stahlkrieger had carefully planned his retreat across the room, and had kept careful track of the timing of the scrapper’s attacks. Deflecting a swipe and taking yet another grazing slash across the chest, Stahlkrieger began raising his arm to block the incoming strike, but at the last moment instead shifted to the side, allowing Windigo Spirit’s straightforward strike to go past him and to sink his claws deep into the power generator.

Immediately Windigo Spirit’s body began convulsing as electrical current poured into him, causing his fur to smolder and his jaws to lock shut. The circuit blew and the hero was knocked backwards, injured by the electrocution and blast. Stahlkrieger gave him no time to recover. In a flash the robotic villain lashed out at Windigo Spirit with his energy transfer, supplemented by the excess energy he had built up during his defensive retreat. The effect of the powerful attack immediately following his injury from the generator was too much for the reluctant hero, and he fell, dead before he hit the floor. Stahlkrieger watched as the form of Windigo Spirit changed, shifting back into his human form. A scarred and hard looking man, probably in his mid to late 30s lay dead on the floor. Despite the way he had died, he looked rather peaceful now.

“I free you of your curse.” Said Stahlkrieger, and made his way back to the submarine that would take him back to the Rogue Isles.



Chapter 3

Origins-Part III

Bryan Sullivan became aware again at 08:13am EST, Thursday, May 5th, 2005. He was not sure how he could be so certain of the time and date, yet he had no doubt that he was correct. The bitter cold he had experienced before losing consciousness was still there, but felt distant, and caused him no real discomfort. He merely noted the fact, and then disregarded it as irrelevant. What was relevant was finding out where he was. He tried to open his eyes, only to find that they were already open, had been for quite some time without him being conscious of the fact. He tried to move, but he felt very heavy, so he stopped struggling and looked around to examine his surroundings. He was in what appeared to be the remains of some kind of lab room. The place was a disaster area now, broken equipment lay strewn about the room, small fires still slowly burning themselves out. Part of one of the walls had collapsed inward, bring in part of the ceiling with it. No sky was visible through the hole in the ceiling, just what appeared to be another room. A few bodies lay strewn throughout the room as well. Mostly they looked like scientists, still in their white lab coats, though smeared with blood. Some were burnt, some missing limbs, all dead. A few other bodies could be seen also, men in red and white uniforms, masks partially obscuring their faces. Longbow. Bryan recognized them from back in Paragon City. Back in Paragon City, where was he now? Was he still in King’s Row? Was he even in Paragon City? Time to figure that out once he got out of here. He had to find Kevin. He assumed they were both taken to the same place, so Kevin must be here somewhere. He looked around again at all the bodies and fear shot through him. Kevin couldn’t be dead. They had been no part of the conflict between the Longbow and whoever these scientists worked for, they were just innocent bystanders. If he had been spared, surely Kevin must have been also.

Bryan began to try to rise again, but when it proved difficult, he quickly saw why. Part of the roof had collapsed on top of him! Looking down he could not even see his body through the rubble, debris and dust. Strangely, he felt no pain, perhaps he was in shock. Perhaps even now his life’s blood was leaking out beneath the remains of the ceiling, and soon he would close his eyes, never to open them again. No! He would not die not knowing what happened to Kevin. If there was any chance of saving him, Bryan would keep fighting. Straining against the weight holding him down, Bryan found that the pile of debris started shifting much more quickly than he had anticipated. He was doing it! The destroyed building materials began to fall away from him as he managed to stand up, and up. He felt odd, his surroundings seemed to have a different aspect than before, as if he was seeing the world from a slightly different angle. His vision was much clearer also. Bryan had always been one step away from needing glasses that he could not afford, but now his vision seemed fine. Better than fine, perfect. Better than perfect even. He could pick out the smallest details on the smallest objects in the room. If he concentrated on something, it even seemed to become clearer, as if looking though a telescope. He took a step towards one of the bodies, knelt down, and reached out to turn it over, to see if he could find any sort of identification to let him know where he was and who had kidnapped him. That was when he saw his hand. No, not his hand. Not his hand at all. Startled he fell back, trying to back away from the hand, but the hand came with him. It was attached to him. Slowly holding up the hand, Bryan examined it. It was metal for sure, a robotic facsimile of a hand, with five fingers and a thumb. He experimentally waggled his fingers, the robot hand waggled its fingers. It was his hand, yet not. Moving up from the hand, Bryan saw that it continued into a robotic arm, shoulders, chest, and on down to the legs. There was no trace of his original body, in its place was this mechanical construct. Confused and frightened, Bryan stood up, now realizing that the reason his viewpoint looked different was because it was, he was at least a foot taller than he should be. Frantically searching for a piece of glass, he instead found a piece of reflective metal. Holding it up, Bryan looked at his reflection, and began letting out a low moan, that rose in volume to become a wailing shriek that would have shattered the eardrums of any who were nearby and still alive to hear it. Although the reflective metal distorted the image, the reflection in the mirror was instantly recognizable. It was the skull. The skull that was lying on the table next to him in the operating room. He was now that machine.

First Blood

Stahlkrieger was in the base’s workshop, working on a new modification based on the Longbow technical designs he had stolen. The damage sustained in the fight with Windigo Spirit had long since been repaired, and now Stahlkrieger was trying to add a new weapon to his arsenal, mimicking the Longbow spec op’s ability to drain energy from enemies. He had made one twist to it, in this version, he could drain energy from his enemies, and transfer it back to himself. He had noticed in the fight with the rabid scrapper that his enemy seemed to have near limitless endurance, while Stahlkrieger had to judiciously conserve his energy by not counterattacking to save enough energy for the final blow. If he could weaken his enemies endurance while increasing his own, that would be a potent weapon indeed. He hadn’t figured out all the specifics yet, he would need some sort of medium with which to transmit the energy back to him. Also, he had to find a way to have the attack cost less energy to himself than he would receive from his opponent. So far, he could not drain as much energy as he expended, too much was lost in the transference, and he could not increase the range without dramatically increasing this negative effect. Still, he was certain he would unlock the means to make this a viable weapon soon. He was soon interrupted by another person entering the room. It was Psychbreaker, the diminutive grav/psi dominator. She wore a sleeveless black trench coat over black leather pants and sleeveless t-shirt, her long black hair tied back in a ponytail, and a mask covering the lower half of her face in an attempt to hid the terrible scarring resulting from a car accident many years ago. Though she hardly made an imposing figure at barely 5ft tall, she was a feared name in the criminal underworld. It was said that there was no secret you could hide from her, she would pry it out of you, one way or another.

“Stahl, Papa’s on the comm, he’s asking for you. It sounds urgent.” Said Psychbreaker, her speech distorted somewhat due to her injuries.

“Urgent? I’m coming.” Said Stahlkrieger, leaping up from the workbench and following Psychbreaker down to the communications room. Papa Rumble’s face was on the view screen, looking more worried than Stahlkrieger had ever seen him.

“What’s going on? What’s the trouble?” asked Stahlkrieger.

“It’s Katie, Stahl, I think she may be in big trouble.” Said Papa Rumble. Katie was his daughter Crimson Bow’s real name, though she forbade anyone to ever use it in her presence. “She was supposed to meet me at the Golden Giza hours ago. Its not like her to be late, and I couldn’t reach her, so I tracked down her latest contact to see where she might be.”

“And?” Asked Stahlkrieger, sensing he would not like the answer.

“Grandville.” Replied Papa Rumble wearily.

“Grandville?” Stahlkrieger was mildly shocked. Grandville was the seat of Arachnos power, and a very dangerous place. Even he had only journeyed there a time or two, and once had barely escaped intact. For a villain of Crimson Bow’s threat level, it was near suicidal. “What was her contact doing sending her there? I thought she had been focusing on Nerva and St. Martial lately.”

“I didn’t take time to find out what she was after, or why her contact sent her there, but believe me, when this is over, I will.” Answered Papa Rumble. “I followed the coordinates her contact gave me to an Arachnos base northwest of the Spider Tower. It looks like reinforcements have already gotten here, there are several arachnos guards posted at the door, and I’ve seen several more head inside, and that’s not all. Right after I got here I saw a large armored truck pull up to the door. I couldn’t get a good look at who got out of the back, but he was big, bigger than you Stahl. I think they may have brought in a heavy hitter. I need help if I’m going to get her out of there.”

Just great, thought Stahlkrieger. I have to risk my neck in Grandville to save Crimson Bow? Would she do the same for me? Stahlkrieger knew the answer to that question, just as he knew he had to go help. In almost every conceivable situation he would not risk himself to help another, but to help his only true friend, he would do nearly anything.

“Alright, send me the coordinates, I’m on my way.” Said Stahlkrieger. “I have Psychbreaker with me also. Wait for us to get there before going in.”

“Sorry buddy, no can do. I got a bad feeling about this, I think she needs help now. Just get here as quick as you can.” Papa Rumble looked very worried. “She’s my daughter, man. If anything happened to her…”

“Don’t worry, we’ll get her out.” Stahlkrieger said, ending the transmission. He loaded the coordinates into his internal map and handed the hard copy to Psychbreaker. “You up for this Psych?”

“I’m in.” replied Psychbreaker, her cool grey eyes showing no emotion. “You do know we’re raising the stakes here, don’t you? This isn’t Longbow or Wyvern here, this is Arachnos. You know, they guys who run the show around here? They’ve already brought in reinforcements, us going in is a serious escalation of the situation. This may bring a lot of heat on us.”

“I know. We can only hope that this isn’t one of Recluse’s personal operations. We’ll get in and out quick, before they can bring in more troops. Hopefully if we limit the collateral damage this won’t be as big a deal as I think it might be.” Answered Stahlkrieger. “Lets go.”

Stahlkrieger and Psychbreaker arrived at the coordinates Papa Rumble had provided, noticing the lack of guards outside the entrance. Papa Rumble must have taken care of them on his way in. Stahlkrieger also saw the armored truck that Papa had mentioned. It was large and black, with thick steel plating and heavy suspension. The back doors were open, revealing a cavernous interior.

“What the heck would they need a truck this big for? It doesn’t look like a normal troop carrier to me. What do you think they had in here?” asked Psychbreaker.

“We’ll find out soon enough.” Replied Stahlkrieger. “Lets go in.”

They made their way down hallways filled with the evidence of battle. Every few yards they would come across the body of an arachnos trooper, and the walls and floor were dented and scorched by the weapon fire that had recently occurred there. As they made their way deeper into the base, they began to hear the sounds of fighting, and quickened their pace in that direction. Now they came across more evidence of the battle. Shattered battles drones lay in pieces on the floor. A few steps further, one of Papa Rumble’s enforcers, Roller, lay in a heap, his neck bent at an odd angle and his eyes open wide, sightless, staring. Not good, thought Stahlkrieger. As they rounded the next bend the sound of battle was nearly deafening, and the sight of the melee before them caused them to stop for a moment to comprehend what they were seeing.

At least a score of arachnos reinforcements stood between them and their comrades, but they were not engaged in the fight, instead they were cheering on another, some were even placing bets with each other. Beyond them, in the middle of the wide hallway were Crimson Bow and Papa Rumble. Both looked wounded, and so focused on the fight that they did not notice Stahlkrieger and Psychbreaker’s arrival. Facing off against them was one of the largest villains Stahlkrieger had ever seen, a true monster. He was at least 8ft tall, and must have weighed 700lbs or so. The first thing that flashed into Stahlkrieger’s mind was Frankenstein. This thing resembled that literary monster, a thing that looked patched together from dead people and spare parts. Its skin was a deathly grayish hue, covered in scars and in places, what seemed to be rot. It was barefoot, wearing only a ragged pair of pants. It’s left arm was heavily muscled, but in some places the skin was sunken in to reveal bone. The right arm was purely robotic, and also massive, with a huge forearm and fist that must have weighed 75lbs. Enough to crush a man just by dropping it on him, let alone what the strength behind it could do. The head was the most frightening of all. Completely hairless, the head showed more extensive signs of decay around the mouth, his lips on one side completely gone, giving him a perpetual snarling look. His left eye was milky white, sightless, but his right held some sort of cybernetic device, the lens in the middle glowing a bright red. Other than his torn pants, the only other accessory he had was loops of thick chain around his body, as if someone had once tried to imprison him, and he had broken free.

Right now the creature had grabbed a hold of Crimson Bow’s assault bot, a juggernaut in its own right, but seeming somehow small compared to it’s foe. The creature was grasping it by it head in one hand, lifting it off the floor. Missiles swarmed forth from the assault bot to impact against the creature’s chest, but it hardly seemed to notice. Vainly the robot tried to bring it’s laser cannon to bear, but it was too close, so it began striking the villain in a desperate attempt to break free. To no avail however, the towering creature turned towards the wall and smashed the assault bot into it with tremendous power, burying it halfway into a hole filled with pipes and wires. The assault bot’s arms and legs twitched slightly, then went still. Screaming in fury, Crimson Bow shot out arrow after arrow, slowing the creature down in a glue-like substance, and splattering it with acid, but doing no discernible damage to it. Papa Rumble’s thugs fired their weapons at it, but the bullets just seemed to thud against the skin and fall to the floor, as if it were made of Kevlar.

By now several of the arachnos troops had noticed the new arrivals, and a cry of alarm went up as they turned to attack. Knowing that Papa and Crimson could not last long, Stahlkrieger threw himself into the mob, swinging fiercely to break through. Two Wolf Spiders advanced on Psychbreaker, raising their weapons, but then found themselves being lifted off the floor in an invisible crushing grip. Psychbreaker let them hang there for a second or two, then collapsed the field around them, crushing them with a sound of splintering bones and tossing their bodies aside. A Fortunata stepped forward, hands to her temples to direct a psychic attack against the dominator, but Pyschbreaker only laughed behind her mask. The Fortunata looked uncertain for a moment, and then fell to her knees as a devastating psionic attack seemed to lance through her brain. Psychbreaker left her huddled in the fetal position on the floor, chewing on her own tongue.

Meanwhile, Stahlkrieger was ripping into the arachnos himself, most unable to stand up to more than 1-2 hits from the powerful robot. A Fire Tarantula unleashed a spray of flame at him, but the flames were easily deflected by his shields, and he reached forward to grab the tarantula by one of it’s forelimbs, bringing his other hand down in a strike that sent energy into his enemy, exploding it from inside. More arachnos went down, but there were so many, Stahlkrieger despaired of being able to reach his friend in time. Then a void appeared above Psychbreaker, and out of the nothingness floated an entire car! It hung suspended in the air for a moment while the arachnos stared at it (some no doubt trying absently to make out the make and model), before she sent it crashing into them, bowling them back and crushing several. That was the chance that Stahlkrieger had needed, and he jumped into the mass of arachnos, trying to get back to their feet, and sent them crashing back down to the floor again. He glanced back at Psychbreaker to congratulate her, just in time to see a Bane Spider Scout rise behind her. Before he could shout a word of warning, the Bane Spider brought his mace down upon her head, caving it in and sending her to the floor at the same moment her mediporter activated and teleported her out of the base.

Stahlkrieger was enraged. Psychbreaker had not been a friend, but she had been a fellow member of the Syndicate and a respected ally. Although her mediporter had activated, Stahlkrieger knew it had been too late, all that would arrive at the base’s medical quarters would be her lifeless body. The damage to her head was too extreme. Closing the distance between him and the Bane Spider, he lifted the arachnos scout up above his head, his metallic hands around his throat. Vainly the Bane Spider Scout tried to lash out with his mace, but his attacks could not pierce Stahlkrieger’s energy shields. Holding the scout with one hand, he reached the other back and threw it forward into his foe’s chest, energy spilling forward into the bane spider’s body. The energy was too much for the scout’s body to handle, and his hands and feet exploded in a gruesome display, and a split second later, his head. The few remaining arachnos troops looked on in horror, several holding hands over their mouths and retching, before they retreated en masse for the exit.

Stahlkrieger now turned his attention back to the main fight, where Papa Rumble and Crimson Bow were hard pressed. All of Crimson’s bots had been destroyed, and she was down to her arrows only, which were having a negligible effect upon the huge adversary. Of Papa Rumble’s thugs, the bruiser, one enforcer, one punk and the arsonist were still on their feet, though they spent more time trying to avoid the creature’s attack then deliver their own. The arsonist, Trashman, put a lighter to his mouth and breathed out a swath of flame at the villain, momentarily obscuring sight of him, until a huge metal fist appeared through the wall of fire, crashing into Trashman and sending him sprawling across the room, his mediporter whisking him to safety in the instant before he would have struck the wall. Big Mike the bruiser bent down to tear a chunk of the floor loose, and hurl it at the behemoth. The huge villain merely raised his robotic arm and let the projectile smash against it, breaking apart and doing no damage. Then the creature itself bent down, and ripped out a chunk of floor at least 3 times the size of Big Mike’s and throwing it at him with tremendous force and smashing him into the wall. As the chunk of floor fell away from the large hole in the wall, there was no sign of Big Mike, his mediporter having taken him back to base, whether in time to save his life was uncertain. The huge villain looked at the two remaining thugs, and smashed his foot down into the floor, making it feel as if the base was undergoing an earthquake, and sending out a shockwave that toppled all around him. Crimson Bow fell against the wall, striking her head and going unconscious. Papa Rumble’s remaining thugs lay where they had fallen. Chunks of the ceiling had broken loose in the crash, and pieces had fallen on their heads, knocking them out. Papa Rumble was dazed, slowly lifting himself from the floor, and staring in shock at the unconscious form of his daughter lying only a few feet away. The Frankenstein monster advanced on him.

Suddenly Stahlkrieger was there, striking hard and fast, a furious assault that managed to drive the creature backwards, stunned by the speed of the assault. Where bullets had failed to make much impact upon the monster, Stahlkrieger’s energy blows seemed to have greater impact. Stahlkrieger could hear grunts of pain from his adversary as he struggled to come to grips with this newest threat. Driving him to his knees, Stahlkrieger leapt into the air to deliver a powerful two fisted overhead strike, and came down right into the creature’s fist as he followed through with a crippling uppercut. Stahlkrieger flew through the air, impacting heavily against the wall and falling to the floor. Trying to assimilate all the data coming to him from his damaged systems, Stahlkrieger saw that Papa Rumble had crawled to Crimson Bow’s side, and was taking off his mediporter and placing it on her. With the press of a button, Crimson Bow’s form shimmered, then in a flash of light disappeared. Papa Rumble then let his head collapse to the floor, unable to rise again. Stahlkrieger looked up in time to see his entire view obscured by the hulking form of his foe, who was slightly hunched over, clutching his ribs as if in pain. With his robotic right arm, he raised his massive fist, and brought it down on Stahlkrieger. Stahlkrieger went offline.

Origins-Part IV

Wandering through the seemingly empty remains of the building he had awoken in, Bryan Sullivan tried to convince himself this wasn’t some sort of bad dream. How had he ended up in this metallic body? Was his own body buried somewhere within all this metal? It was a brief hope, that he may be able to remove the shell and be himself once more, but he quickly realized that if his body was within the robotic form, it would have to be in pretty bad shape. Looking at his arms and legs, in places he could see straight through the wires and metal rods, out to the other side. No leg could be in there. The same with his arms. Although large in comparison to his normal body, the arms were of a skeletal robotic type, and would have been unable to conceal any human arm within. No, if his body was within the robotic form, at the most it could be his torso and head, a gruesome thought.

Unused to the size of his new body, Bryan kept bumping into things, hitting his head against doorways, and on the low hanging debris that partially blocked hallways and rooms. Room by room, level by level, Bryan searched the ruined building, looking for some sign of Kevin, his anxiety and dread growing worse with each fresh corpse he found. In many places the rooms had been completely buried in debris, or had been consumed by fire which luckily had been prevented from spreading by still functioning fire systems in adjoining rooms. There was no point in trying to search those rooms, and Bryan could only pray that his brother had not been within one of them. As he ascended up several more levels, he began so see sunlight filtering down through holes in the roof. Bryan had already guesses he was underground due to the lack of windows, and now he seemed to be nearing the surface. As he reached the level that he guessed was immediately below the surface level, he came upon the first signs of life he had yet encountered in the ruin.

Two Longbow agents were making their way through the debris. One appeared to have only minor wounds, and was helping support the other who appeared to be worse off. At the same time they spotted each other, and both parties froze in their tracks. Before Bryan could say anything, the Longbow agent with the minor wounds shoved his comrade out of the line of fire, brought out what appeared to be a Gatling gun, and sprayed bullets at Bryan, yelling a battle cry. Furiously Bryan tried to get to cover, but he tripped over his own feet, falling backwards into the stairwell as several bullets struck his metal armor. He tumbled head over heels down the stairway, crashing into the wall at the landing. Slowly he untangled himself and began to rise, but the Longbow agent was already there, sending another hail of lead at him. This time he took the brunt of the assault, the bullets piercing his armor in places, ricocheting off in other. The salvo felt like a hammer, driving him back into the wall again. His could not seem to move his left arm, and his vision was starting to flicker slightly.

Bryan was enraged. Here he was, a victim looking for help, and one of the supposed good guys was trying to kill him without even trying to find out who he was. If he died here, what would happen to Kevin? He would never find out who had done this to them. His mother would never know what had become of her sons. Anger grew red hot in Bryan, and before he knew it a golden glow had begun shimmering into place around him, barely visible but there all the same. He turned to face the Longbow who fired again, but this time most of the bullets deflected off the energy shield, sliding off to his right and left as if diverted by a strong current. Bryan advanced up the stairs towards the Longbow minigun, who was now not so sure of himself. Firing one more futile volley at Bryan he turned to run, but was stopped in place by the strong metal grip of Bryan’s right hand. Pulling the Longbow towards him, the hand crushed the agent’s shoulder, bones snapping as he howled. Bryan did not mean to do it, he did not yet understand his own strength, but he found himself pleased by the sound of his adversary’s suffering. Turning the Longbow agent around, Bryan saw that his fist was now suffused with a glow of its own, a reddish glow that bordered on pink, but was most definitely NOT pink. Dropping his enemy, Bryan paused for a moment to study his hand, feeling the potential energy stored within. As the Longbow agent began trying to crawl away, Bryan turned back to him. Walking over so that he was standing above the prone agent, Bryan again paused to look at his hand, and then threw a punch downward at the Longbow. Bones snapped once again, and a pulse of energy shot through his body, and then he lay still, dead.

Bryan straightened , then walked over to where the minigun had left his more seriously wounded comrade. That one had already succumbed to her wounds, and lay lifeless on a pile of rubble. Glancing around, Bryan could see no more sign of enemies, and also came to the conclusion that his brother was not here, there was nothing left of value in this ruin. Making his way towards a large patch of sunlight signaling an exit, Bryan finally noticed someone in a uniform other than the Longbow. This must have been a guard at the lab, one of the first to fall when the Longbow assault had begun. Looking at the guards uniform, Bryan instantly recognized the symbol on his chest. Everyone in Paragon City recognized this symbol, the symbol of the greatest terrorist network in the world. Arachnos.

Making his way into the sunlight, Bryan looked around, trying to figure out where he was. The buildings all around him were in a dilapidated state, many boarded up or falling into ruin. The entrance to the ruined building he had just come from had no markings on it, nothing to differentiate it from any of the other slum tenements littered throughout the neighborhood. Walking down an alley, trying to stay out of sight, Bryan soon saw water ahead, and walked towards it. At the end of the alley, the buildings ended at an old concrete boardwalk overlooking a beach. Beyond the beach were miles and miles of empty water, occasional seagulls flapping by, voicing their mournful cries. Bryan then became aware of a ragged figure besides a burning barrel, a street person, staring at him, his mouth hanging open showing few teeth.

“Where is this place?” Bryan asked, towering over the homeless man.

“Mercy, mister, Mercy!” answered the man, obviously frightened.

“I have no intention of hurting you, but I will if you do not answer my question.” Said Bryan, surprised at the steel in his voice and his lack of compassion towards this man.

“Mercy, mister! That’s where you are! Mercy Island!” said the man, cringing, obviously thinking of making a break for it.

“Mercy Island? Where is that? It sounds familiar.” Said Bryan, trying to recall his geography lessons.

“Why, this is the Rogue Isles, mister. Mercy Island is in the Rogue Isles!” and at that the man’s courage finally gave out and he ran away, disappearing into the warrens of slums.

The Rogue Isles. Seat of Arachnos power. He had been kidnapped by Arachnos, and now here he was, alone, abandoned, in the middle of one of the most dangerous places on earth. Well, thought Bryan, at least I bring a little danger with me. He curled his right hand into a fist, the reddish glow burning brightly with power.

Over the next two weeks, Bryan skulked about Mercy Island, trying to find information on where his brother may be. He moved mostly by night, wrapped in a dark cloak, though from what he could see the area was full of stranger sights than him. Still, he didn’t want to risk confrontation with a rookie villain trying to make a name for himself, so he stayed out of sight. He tested his new body, trying to find its powers and weaknesses. He found that he could deliver blows backed by an energy discharge that could be quite powerful. He also discovered that the strange energy aura emanating from his body made it much harder for him to be hit. In addition to these strange powers, his metal body was impressive in it’s own right. Though super strength was not one of his attributes, a 7ft, 500lb robot was bound to be much stronger than any normal human could possibly be. He could also move incredibly quickly, and jump approximately 3 times higher than any Olympic athlete. When damaged, as he was when he first escaped the ruins of the Arachnos lab, he could direct the release of tiny nanobots to repair the damage relatively quickly. He still wasn’t sure how he controlled this power, but if he concentrated, the damaged area of his body would be suffused with the faint greenish glow that always accompanied the nanobots in their work.

With all these powers available to him, Bryan preyed on arachnos patrols throughout Mercy Island, seeking information on where other bases, labs, or offices were located. There were two large arachnos bases in Mercy, and since the lab he had been in was located in neither of these, Bryan reasoned that it may have been a more secret operation, one not falling within the normal chain of arachnos command. Information beaten out of an arachnos patrol may lead to an office, which may contain some information on where another office may be. Following that lead, Bryan would raid the office, interrogating whomever was there, trying to get a clue as to where to look next. Over the next two weeks, Bryan raided 3 office buildings, one laboratory, and one small secret base. It was at the base where he found his first good lead. The Wolf Spider Huntsman in charge had revealed the location of a warehouse that had recently been the location of a lot of arachnos activity. He himself was not privy to the details of that particular operation, but had heard that they had brought a lot of high tech equipment into Mercy through that warehouse, and that just recently it had showed signs of being abandoned. Equipment was now moving out, not in.

Bryan seized upon this information. It indicated to him that whatever operation the warehouse had recently been used as a staging area for had just been shut down, perhaps violently. Making his way down to the warehouse by the docks on the west shore of the island, Bryan noticed that it looked empty. He could see no signs of vehicles or guards posted out front. Quietly making his way around the perimeter, Bryan found that there was still some activity on the small wharf behind the warehouse. There a boat, not much larger than a fishing trawler, was being loaded with various boxes and barrels. An arachnos soldier was overseeing what was being loaded, clipboard in hand, as dockworkers strained with their hand trucks or loaded pallets with s small gas powered forklift. When no one was looking, Bryan ducked in the back of the warehouse through the rolled up cargo bay door. The main room of the warehouse was nearly empty. Obviously, nearly everything that had been stored in here had been packed up on earlier boats and already removed. What little human activity that could be observed was taking place on the docks below. Creeping further into the warehouse, Bryan found a set of stairs against the back wall, leading up to an office overlooking the warehouse floor. There was a light on within the office, and Bryan could see indications of movement through the dirty window. Bryan went up the stairs, and stood listening at the door for a few moments. He could hear the sounds of things being moved around, and paper rustling, but could hear no voices. Taking the chance that whoever was in the room was alone, Bryan forced the door open.

Inside the office was an older man with graying hair and wire rimmed glasses, startled in the act of packing files into boxes for the move. Upon seeing Bryan he dropped the papers he was holding and stumbled backwards, falling over his chair to land with a crash to the floor.

“You! Impossible! You should not be active! You were destroyed!” said the man, struggling for words as he attempted to get to his feet while keeping the desk between him and Bryan.

Bryan recognized the man. It was the kindly old doctor he had seen in the medical bay, right before the pain, right before waking up in this body. Bryan reached down, grabbed the desk, and threw it aside, grabbing the doctor by his coat and pulling him close.

“Who are you? What have you done to me?” asked Bryan, bringing his face to within an inch of the doctor’s.

The doctor was obviously terrified, no doubt he did not expect to see the result of his work track him down and confront him, alone in this office without any support from Arachnos troops. The doctor struggled for words, gasping. He seemed to be having a panic attack. Bryan shook him roughly.

“Answer me, or I swear I’ll rip you apart piece by piece! You know I’m capable of it! Where is my brother?”

The doctor began making choking noises, then clutched his chest with his left hand, staring into Bryan’s eyes in panic. Obviously, the old man was having a heart attack, but what could Bryan do? He could not call for help, not without alerting the arachnos soldiers and possibly losing access to the doctor. He cared nothing for the life of the old man, but he had the answers he was seeking. He knew where Kevin was, Bryan knew it. Still, he could think of nothing he could do, and after a minute or so, the doctor lost consciousness, and was soon dead. Bryan let his body drop to the floor, feeling drained. He had tracked the doctor all this way just to have him die in his arms without divulging his secrets. Yet wait, what about all the files the doctor had been packing? Is it possible he could have moved all of the equipment out of the warehouse, and left the most sensitive files for last?

Renewed hope surged through Bryan as he picked the dropped papers off the floor and began looking through them, and through the files located in the boxes throughout the room. Finally, one of the files caught his eye. Project Stahlkrieger. Bryan opened the file, and found a picture of himself paper clipped to the inside cover. Starting at the beginning, Bryan read through the file. The doctor who had just died in his arms was apparently a German scientist, Dr. Karl von Holintz, originally of Hamburg, Germany. He was the head of Project Stahlkrieger (German for Steel Warrior), along with its sister project, Project Grabstein (German for Tombstone). Bryan did not understand many of the technical aspects of the file, and the doctor had had an annoying habit of randomly switching between English and German in his note taking, so Bryan could only read half of it. From what he could piece together from diagrams, photographs, and scattered notes in English was that his old body was gone. Completely gone, destroyed.

Somehow, the doctor and his team had found a way to remove Bryan’s soul from his body, his very essence, and transplant it into the robotic body he now inhabited. It was overwhelming. Bryan sat down heavily on the floor, digesting what he had just uncovered. Although his own thoughts had begun to stray in this direction over the past 2 weeks, reading it here made it somehow more real, more permanent. His body was gone, he was stuck in this one. Bryan took a minute to allow the ramifications of this brutal fact to sink in. He would never marry, never have children. He could never live a normal life again. He had already starting dealing with that possibility weeks before when he had killed the Longbow agent. Even though it had started as self defense, he had ended up killing him in cold blood, and he didn’t think he could ever go back to a normal life after that. Especially when he didn’t even feel bad about it.

Putting these thoughts aside, Bryan focused on the one thing more important than himself, his brother Kevin. The file had mentioned a sister project, Project Grabstein. Looking though the files, Bryan found the file marked Grabstein. As he had suspected, a picture of his brother was paper clipped inside the front cover of this file. However, there was little else to be found within, only an internal memo from Dr. von Holintz. In the memo, he regretted to inform that the patient had not survived the process, and that they had shut down work to focus on the more promising Stahlkrieger project. The remains had been disposed of, and as of now this project was officially terminated. Bryan felt as if his world was crashing down around him. His brother was dead. He had failed to save him. It was his fault that they had been there in the first place that day they were kidnapped. It was Bryan who had pulled Kevin out of bed, had browbeat him into going to class, had dragged him out into the street to go to school and instead, sent him to his death. Bryan tried to cry, but then realized how impossible that would now be, which made him even angrier than he was before. These people had stolen his brother from him! They had stolen his humanity from him! They had taken away his future, his best friend, his life. They had left him as a freak and a monster, on an island full of monsters and villains. What did he have left? Anger burning within him so hot he felt it might melt his metal armor, Bryan stood up, clutching the files in his hand. He would make them pay for this, all who were part of it, all who had any knowledge of it. Revenge would be what he would live for. He would take this power and use it as a weapon against anyone who would hurt him. He remembered the hero that had flown by as Kevin and he were kidnapped, not stopping to help. Hypocritical creatures, flying around with their superpowers as if they were gods, deciding who to save and who not to save, pulling the strings of the fates of normal people. And the Longbow, not waiting to see who he was, just taking one look at him and opening fire, trying to kill him. It would always be that way for him now. Among the so called righteous he would always be hunted, feared. He would stay here, in the Rogue Islands. Here was where arachnos was located, here was where he would find who was responsible for his brother’s death. Looking at the memo in his brother’s file, he looked to see who it was addressed to.
Ernesto Hess. The Black Scorpion.

The door to the office swung open, and an arachnos soldier stepped in, then stopped, obviously surprised to see the huge robot standing there with the doctor dead at his feet.

“Who.. Who the hell are you?” asked the arachnos soldier.

The robot turned toward the soldier, red eyes gleaming, the papers falling from its hand as it curled its fingers into fists.

“I am Stahlkrieger.” Said the robot, and he began his wave of destruction, which he would continue for the next two years.



Chapter 4

Duskfall Syndicate Medical Bay

Bryan Sullivan floated in the darkness, just as he had two years before. Subconsciously his new brain was aware of its surroundings, of the assorted machines in the medical bay working to repair him, of his own nanobots directing this repair and adding what work they could to the process. Subconsciously he was aware of laying on a medical bench, with a flurry of robot arms poking in and out of him, restoring a circuit here, fixing a broken wire there, sparks flying as damaged portions of armor were cut free and replace by new pieces. Subconsciously he realized that he was alone. All this awareness passed though his microprocessors in a nanosecond, and the information filed away, as was everything else he had ever seen, heard, or felt in his two years in this body. In the darkness though, Bryan Sullivan just floated, unaware of all this happening around him, to him. Memories long ignored came to him, not tinged with the bitterness and regret of his conscious emotions. Memories of his brother Kevin, of his mother, of his life, meager though it was before his transformation. Memories of life since his transformation came also. Being overrun by Longbow Forces that had sought to trap him, and being thrown in the Zig. There meeting Papa Rumble, who would become his best and only friend. The friend with whom he would later escape the Zig during a breakout of other prisoners by arachnos. The friend who stuck by him when they had nothing, building up their power together, taking down foes that they could not have stood against alone. The friend who helped him unlock his true potential and become the powerful villain that he was today. He remembered joining the Duskfall Syndicate, the clandestine but powerful criminal and terrorist organization headed by the ruthless and fearsome mastermind, General Doomsday. He remembered the new allies he had made in his path to power. The tortured Psychbreaker, the enigmatic Fastflux, the ruthless Rogue Abomination, the evil Terrorvolt, even the adversarial Crimson Bow. Allies, but not friends. Only Papa Rumble had been his friend, had ever cared to know him beyond what he could do for them. And yet, even to his only friend he had never told of his past, or of his ultimate purpose, to kill Ernesto Hess. Two years may seem a long time, but in his new body, Bryan for all intents and purposes would never age. Time just did not mean as much to him as it once did. All that mattered was that when he finally came face to face with the Black Scorpion, he would be ready. The last two years had been spent preparing himself for this. Acquiring new technology to enhance himself, growing in understanding of his powers, developing the strategy and skills required to take on some of the Rogue Island’s and Paragon Cities toughest foes, he had worked tirelessly towards his goal. Now the conscious awareness came to him that he had been damaged. He was not Bryan Sullivan anymore, he was Stahlkrieger, the Steel Warrior, the feared villain. He had been defeated in combat for the first time in a very long time, and he must awaken to assess the situation.

With a almost inaudible click and a faint whirring sound, Stahlkrieger’s photoreceptors came on line. Looking around the room, he saw that he was alone in the medical bay, all other beds were empty. He ran an internal diagnostic of his systems, finding that although he had sustained major damage in his fight, it was all repairable, no critical systems had been damaged. Stahlkrieger was essentially one of a kind, most of the equipment within him had been designed specifically for him, and the original technical specifications were lost forever when the lab he had been created at had been destroyed, and when Dr. von Holintz had died. Because of that, fixing or replacing critical systems could pose a problem. It added a degree of mortality to his life that he both embraced and shunned. It felt like a connection to his human roots, but he also saw it as a weakness. Although he could theoretically live an undefined but certainly elongated lifespan, he could be killed, that is, damaged to the point at which repair was no longer an option.

Satisfied that his nanobots could finish the remaining repairs on their own, Stahlkrieger shut down the medical equipment and stood up from the worktable on which he lay. Wanting to find out the status of all those who had been present at the fight, Stahlkrieger moved through the base, finding it mostly deserted. The only other current occupant besides himself was in the main hall, a room of stone and torches, contrasting the technical theme of the rest of the base. In this room, standing beside a huge fire pit in the floor and staring at glass encased trophies from past conquests stood the Duskfall Syndicate leader, General Doomsday.

The general was much shorter than Stahlkrieger, only being of average height, yet he held himself in such a way that anyone in the room would know immediately who the leader was. Supposedly, he had once been a great General in World War II, though he would never disclose his prior identity, nor even what side he had fought on. His identity before he had died. Now he stood with his arms crossed in front of him, looking at the glass cases holding so many trophies of battles won, foes conquered, and he did not seem so much a man that took pride in his accomplishments as he did a man who regretted he could not fight all those old battles over again. He turned towards Stahlkrieger, motioning with his hand for him to enter. His facial features were always obscured within his dark hood, though now and then the angle would be just right to see within, just for a second, leaving a fleeting impression of a grinning skull, though one was never sure if that was their imagination or not. Usually all you saw were the eyes, glowing orange within the darkness. General Doomsday always had an air of fear around him, many other members of the syndicate had mentioned feeling a coldness in their bellies when they talked to him, and of breaking out in a sweat even after he was gone. Stahlkrieger, being artificial, did not experience these feelings. He was not afraid of General Doomsday, he in fact suspected he had become much more powerful than the mastermind, but he did have a deep respect for him. General Doomsday had been around a long time, seen a lot of things. He was a brilliant tactician, a fearless leader, and a ruthless villain. He understood that in his position of leadership in the Duskfall Syndicate, he was really first among equals. There was no rank in the syndicate, no hierarchy. There were basic rules, and basic expectations. If you didn’t hold up your end, you were out, the general did not try to impose his will on others. Syndicate members followed him because it was almost always in their ultimate best interest to do so. The rewards for service far exceeded the costs, Stahlkrieger’s own rapid growth in power had been proof of that. The money, political influence and resources that were available to syndicate members were a result of General Doomsday’s leadership. Now, with this disastrous confrontation in Grandville, Stahlkrieger wondered if perhaps the general was displeased with them, if they had suddenly become more liability than asset. Stahlkrieger moved into the room , descending the stone steps to stand across the fire from General Doomsday.

“Costly, was this latest operation. Quite costly. I fear the syndicate has been greatly weakened by it.” Said the general, his voice low and hoarse, reminding Stahlkrieger of paper rustling in wind.

“It was a rescue. Crimson Bow got in over her head. We tried to get her out, but resistance was fierce.” Replied Stahlkrieger.

“Crimson Bow is safe, but she has left us, for now. Psychbreaker is dead, there was never a chance to save her.”

Stahlkrieger nodded, he had expected as much when he saw the wound she had suffered. “Papa Rumble?” he asked.

General Doomsday looked him in the eye, hesitating as if to gauge his mood. “He never returned. Crimson Bow is distraught. She knows she is ultimately to blame but she seeks another target for her anger, a way to replace the grief she feels with the grief of others. “

“She is to blame. She never should have been in Grandville. She knew it was too dangerous, and she must have known that her father would come to her rescue.” Said Stahlkrieger icily, his emotions fighting between seething anger and grief. Papa Rumble, his only friend, gone. He hadn’t been able to save him.

“Who knows what she thought? Her power has grown considerably lately, no doubt her confidence in herself had grown as well. Her contact in St. Martial had given her this assignment, doubtless she thought his trust in her well placed.” General Doomsday mused.

“Her contact. That is where to start in this, I must find him, find out why she was sent there. Do we know who he is?” Said Stahlkrieger, thinking of what he might do to him when he found him.

“His name is Lionel Crouch, not one of the regular players in St. Martial. In fact, not from St. Martial at all. It appears Crimson Bow was his only agent, and once he gave her this latest assignment, he disappeared.” Answered the general.

“Do we have any clue where he might have gone?”

General Doomsday turned towards him, and Stahlkrieger could swear he saw that faint sign of a grinning face beneath the cowl. “Of course I know where he is, he is below us, in the lower levels of the base. He has been here for two days while you have been recovering. Do you really think he could have hid from me in the shadows? I have lost two of my allies, three if you count Crimson’s departure. I had an interest in speaking to this man. The spider is not the only creature that can cast a web. I too have ways of finding my prey.”

“I want to see him. I will find the truth behind all of this. It cannot be coincidence that Crimson Bow was given this assignment, and that that behemoth was brought in. She was expected.”

“Of course she was. And there is no point in speaking to him yourself, I fear he is no longer in any condition to answer questions. My medic may be skilled in healing, but he also knows how to use his knowledge for extracting information. When I though he had gotten everything he could out of him, I paid him a visit myself, and managed to pry much deeper. There is a price for such knowledge though, and I do not believe Mr. Crouch will be of anymore use to anyone. His mind is quite gone, and his body will follow shortly.”

“So what did you learn? Why was Crimson Bow sent to Grandville?”

“She was sent to Grandville, because it was correctly assumed that neither Papa Rumble nor you would go there on your own. Its not that you cannot handle yourself, but you would be rightly suspicious of any attempts to send you there at your current threat level. Crimson Bow however always reached beyond her limitations, and her greed for more power led her to accept the assignment. It was reasoned that Papa Rumble would come to her rescue, and that you would come with him.”

“Me? What do I have to do with this?” asked Stahlkrieger.

“You have been a thorn in the side of many arachnos operations for a while, yet you are elusive. You are anything but predictable, and therefore quite difficult to catch unawares. Your friendship to Papa Rumble was known to certain higher powers, and this was used against you, to lure you into this trap.”

“Certain higher powers? Who?”

“You know who. The one you seek. The one who killed your brother.”

Stahlkrieger was silent a moment, stunned by this revelation. “You know about my brother?”

“I know much about you and more, Bryan Sullivan. I know of your past, and I know of the man you seek to kill. I know that he has been aware of you for quite some time, and that it was he who hired Lionel Crouch to help lure you to that base in Grandville. What I do not know is, why now? Certainly he could have had you destroyed before, why wait until you’ve become so powerful?”

“Maybe he felt I had become too much of a threat, and decided he could no longer risk my existence.”

“You do not understand the Black Scorpion. He does not wait until you become a threat to him, he crushes all opposition as soon as it surfaces. He is not as honorable as Sirocco, nor as far-sighted as Ghost Widow. He does not respect a strong opponent as Captain Mako might. Ernesto Hess is at heart a coward and a bully, preferring to destroy the weak versus the strong. Oh, there is no doubt he is a mighty opponent, but the Black Scorpion has been trying to shield himself from death for years, behind his armor, and behind his political ties to Arachnos. That he would let you progress so far, knowing of your hatred of him, is troubling to say the least.”

“He probably had great faith in his new minion, that beast that defeated us in the base. Have you learned anything about him?”

“Very little. Apparently he goes by the name Lumbering Cadaver. A brute of incredible strength and resistance to damage. Whether he is Hess’s new 2nd in command is doubtful, Silver Mantis still seems firmly entrenched in that position. More likely he is a new bodyguard, a meatshield to deal with the Black Scorpion’s more troublesome problems. He is quite similar to Black Widow’s pet Wretch, but do not underestimate him. From what I have been able to find out, he is much smarter than he looks.”

“I didn’t get a chance to discuss theatre with him, I was too busy getting slammed into a wall. That guy hits harder than Statesman.” Said Stahlkrieger, remembering the power behind Lumbering Cadaver’s blows.

“I doubt very much you would still think so if you were to fight Statesman.” Replied General Doomsday, laughing lightly. “If it had been him, I would probably still be collecting the pieces, and trying to put you back together like a jigsaw puzzle.”

“Perhaps.” Said Stahlkrieger, remembering the sight of other villains who had run afoul of Paragon City’s mightiest hero. “So he lures us into a trap, kills two of us and defeats me and Crimson, but lets me live?”

“Doubtless he was unaware of your backup mediporter. When you arrived, it was obvious that your mediporter had been destroyed, and I discovered your secondary system. Without it, you would most likely be dead now. “

“Well, one of the keys to any operational system is redundancy. I’ve destroyed enough mediporters in my career to know not to rely on just one. So where does this leave us?”

“Us?” asked General Doomsday, unreadable.

“You’ve lost several members of your Syndicate, aren’t you going to do something about it?”

“What would you have me do? There are many hazards associated with life in the Rogue Isles and the pursuit of power. Your desire for vengeance against your enemy has led you into this conflict with the Black Scorpion. It was inevitable that this would happen, that others of the Syndicate were drawn into it is regrettable. They were valuable allies. But to draw the full power of the Syndicate into this matter could turn it. . . .political. Would you have me turn your personal vendetta into an all out war with arachnos? A war that you well know we cannot possibly win? I value your membership in the Syndicate, but not that much. So long as this is between you and the Black Scorpion, other powers will be willing to stand by and watch. If we were to potentially upset the arachnos power structure and operations on a large scale, we would soon face more foes than we could possible handle. Lord Recluse looks favorably on initiative and strength, not insurrection.”

“So I can expect no help from the Duskfall Syndicate in this matter?”

“You have the use of the base, its workshops and equipment, and its extensive financial and technological resources. I shall forward to you any intelligence that we receive regarding this matter. But no member of the Syndicate is to aid you further in this endeavor. You started this alone, alone you will finish it. Time to tend to your own backyard, Stahlkrieger. Time to end this, one way or another.” With that, General Doomsday, strode from the room. His two spec ops soldiers, Ghost and Mirage, detached from the shadows in which they had been holding vigil and followed him out, silent as always.
Stahlkrieger stood for a while longer, gazing at the myriad of trophies in the room, mementos of great battles won. He hadn’t really expected the Syndicate to get involved, hadn’t really wanted it to. General Doomsday was right, he had started this alone, he would finish it alone. He had hoped for some retribution for the loss of Papa Rumble and Psychbreaker in case he himself should fail, but as the General said, this was bordering on the political. In choosing the path of villainy, one accepted the many risks that came with it. Soon Stahlkrieger would have to face Ernesto Hess, the man not only responsible for the death of his only brother, but now his only friend as well.

Sharkhead Island

Stahlkrieger stood in the dim light of his private workshop, in a small underground hideout accessible only through the basement of an condemned foundry. Though he used the Duskfall Syndicate Base often, he did not live there, preferring to keep his own quarters in a separate and secret location. Upon leaving the base after speaking with General Doomsday, he had come here, to try and finish work on his energy draining device. He had had a minor breakthrough, not so much in a technological means to make it more efficient, but a more efficient way in which to employ its effects. The weapon’s effectiveness decreased dramatically with range, so it would have to be a short range weapon. Employed at a single target, it was difficult to drain as much energy as was used, so it would have to hit more than one. The solution was an energy draining field, with Stahlkrieger as it’s focal point. This way, all enemies in close combat with Stahlkrieger could be simultaneously affected by the weapon. He always closed with his enemies anyways, so range should not be an issue, and he was used to being outnumbered. This would allow him to replenish his energy, while sapping that of those he was fighting. It could make the critical difference in a fight.

Satisfied with his modification, Stahlkrieger closed the access panel in his chest where he had placed the weapon, and ran a self diagnostic to ensure it was not interfering with any other internal systems. He had also added some knew programming to his defense network, accenting his already impressive speed and agility with more defensive fighting skills. He called the new program Weave, for its boxer like style of keeping feet planted but being able to sideslip blows. This advanced fighting program along with his energy shields should lower the odds of being hit slightly, and Stahlkrieger would take any extra advantage he could.

It was then a proximity alarm went off, signaling movement in the foundry above. That was not surprising. Empty abandoned buildings were often prized by criminals as a place to hide out or establish an operation. Stahlkrieger had wrested control of this one from a band of Freakshow, who were using it as a place to graft their mechanical appendages to their bodies. On another occasion, the Circle of Thorns had made probes, seeking access to caves rumored to be below the foundry. Stahlkrieger had to do regular housecleaning to keep undesirables away from his private base. The robotic villain moved to the security station, looking at the bank of closed circuit monitors that provided remote viewing of the upper levels of the foundry. There it was, a solitary figure had entered the condemned factory, and was standing in the middle of the great floor, surrounded by masses of rusting and twisting machinery. It was impossible to tell who the intruder was with the poor reception on the monitors, and Stahlkrieger made a mental note to upgrade his surveillance equipment in the near future. Still the intruder only stood there, seemingly waiting for something. Stahlkrieger determined not to make him wait any longer. Taking one of the lifts up to the ground level, Stahlkrieger made his way through the twisting corridors and out into the huge room of the foundry, and walked up to the intruder.

The intruder lowered his cowl, revealing himself to be Fastflux, a member of the Duskfall Syndicate, a corrupter with a fearsome reputation. His eyes were completely black, except for a faint yellowish glow, and he was completely bald, the effects of the radiation in which he employed as a weapon. Fastflux said nothing, just handed Stahlkrieger a piece of paper, turned, and walked out. Curious, and also conscious of the fact that his secret base was not so secret after all, Stahlkrieger unfolded the piece of paper Fastflux had handed him. It note was written in General Doomsday’s thin, spidery script. It read only:

Shipment arriving at Cap au Diable docks, midnight tomorrow night. Ship is The Raven’s Fury, wharf 4. Hess expected to personally oversee cargo. Information easily obtained, expect trap. Do what you will with this. Good luck.

Stahlkrieger read it over twice. It almost certainly was a trap. Hess knew he hadn’t been killed by Lumbering Cadaver, and for his whereabouts to be so easily come by, and in a seemingly accessible location was too much of a gift to be taken at face value. This was more than a lure, it was a challenge. Hess was essentially saying come get me. Stahlkrieger knew it was a trap, it was possible that the Black Scorpion would not even be there to meet the ship when it came in, perhaps just Lumbering Cadaver again, or perhaps Silver Mantis. Still, Stahlkrieger had made up his mind. It was time finish what he began two years earlier. If Hess didn’t show up at the ship, Stahlkrieger would kill everyone there, and keep looking for him. He would take no other job, let nothing else distract him from his pursuit of Ernesto Hess. From here on, he would do nothing but pursue the Black Scorpion, to his end, or his own.

15 miles NE of Cap au Diable, The Raven’s Fury, 10:45pm

Stahlkrieger flew at wave top level, approaching the big container ship from the stern. It was dark, but a full moon shone down from a cloudless sky, and villain was all to aware of how visible he might be in the moonlight should anyone pay close attention. With luck, the slight phosphorescent glow from the ship’s wake would camouflage him from any attentive eyes. Stahlkrieger wasn’t too worried about being seen, this close to land most eyes would be on the shore, or in the darkness, on the twinkling lights barely showing the location of Cap au Diable in the distance. Minds would be on the end of the journey, home for some, just another place to get off the ship and get drunk for others. There would certainly be some arachnos troops on board, and they might be more wary, but they had made the whole voyage without trouble and they were almost in port, where there would be a relief force to take over security. Surely nothing would happen in the last hour of the trip.

Stahlkrieger scanned the stern deck of the ship with his infrared vision, verifying the absence of warm bodies before pulling up from the sea and alighting silently on the ship. The ship was already at drastically reduced speed, essentially coasting towards the harbor at Cap au Diable. Soon tugs would come out to help guide it into its berth at the wharf. Stahlkrieger had seen the trucks waiting at the dock, lightly guarded by arachnos troops. No doubt those trucks were not just for loading cargo, they were probably loaded with extra troops to spring the trap on Stahlkrieger. If he attacked at the wharf, the extra troops would flood in behind him, cutting off escape. That’s why Stahlkrieger had decided to get here early. He would sneak aboard the ship before it ever arrived. His plan was to trap the ambushers. He would use his time before arrival to weaken key areas of the ship. When the Black Scorpion and his troops came below to capture him, he would deliver the final blow to these key points, causing the ship to rapidly sink. The arachnos would be surprised, and would not have time to escape. Stahlkrieger would have a preplanned escape route already, and would mostly likely get out in time. If not, that was alright, so long as he took Ernesto Hess with him. Besides, who knew how long he may be able to last underwater? He was no submarine, but technically he could not drown. He was not specifically capable of operation underwater, but he was certain he could last for a time before his systems failed.

Stahlkrieger moved from the stern of the ship up along the port side, seeking a way below. He could not go through the ships quarters, he would be sure to be discovered if he took the stairs. Then he found it, an equipment hatch used for ships maintenance, to haul smaller motors and other mechanical systems from the dock to the lower levels of the ship. He snapped the lock with ease, opened the hatch, and lowered himself in. The inside of the hatch resemble an elevator or mine shaft, descending down into darkness. Luckily there was a ladder, so Stahlkrieger would not have to fly in such close quarters. Quickly he made his way down the shaft, until at last it opened into a large workshop. The main lights were out, the room was lit only by the eerie yellow glow of emergency lights used in case of power failure, to illuminate a egress route. He knew he had to make his way to the huge cargo holds. There, a breach in the hull could rapidly flood a large portion of the ship without the protection of bulkheads to minimize flooding. A large enough hole could fill that large space so quickly that the ship would lose buoyancy in minutes. The cargo hold was a perfect place for the arachnos troops to use their superior numbers to surround him. When the hull breached, the tremendous pressure of the water pouring in would immediately crush many of the troops. Others would go into shock from the cold water, and be unable to fight against its current as it drowned them, or slammed them with debris. The Black Scorpion himself would be taken by surprise, and would not be able to recover quickly enough to get through the mass of bodies and debris to get out before he drowned. Stahlkrieger planned on being close to the hull breach, and would magnetize certain points of his body so that when the water poured in, he would be immovable against the tide. When the ship sank, he would be right next to his escape point. That is, unless the ship tilted as it sank and buried the hole in the mud, in which case he would most likely die along with the rest.

Stahlkrieger moved silently through the bowels of the ship, making use of convenient maps posted at intersections along the way. He encountered no one, though he did catch the sound of voices now and then down hallways, and he stealthily detoured around those areas. He was beginning to feel like a stalker by the time he reached an entrance to the main cargo hold. It was not actually one large room, but a series of huge rooms, separated by a series of thick ponderous bulkhead doors. Stahlkrieger had not expected that, but he adapted his plan quickly. The doors looked like they would not close quickly, but taking no chances, Stahlkrieger moved through the series of holds, stopping at each door, and ripping out the hydraulic lines leading to the large pistons which helped close the doors. They could still be closed manually, but the immense weight of the doors coupled with the strength of the water flowing through them would make that impossible even for Statesman to achieve in time to save the ship. Feeling at ease about the bulkhead doors, Stahlkrieger began looking for the best place to begin weakening the hull. He hadn’t seen any guards so far, doubtless they were at all the exterior entrances, expecting any attack to come from that direction. They didn’t know their enemy was already within. Each of the cargo rooms was filled with boxes and shipping containers, so Stahlkrieger selected the largest room with the most containers in it, figuring that the more obstacles there were in the room, the harder it would be to escape. Making his way through the darkness, Stahlkrieger made his way to the starboard side of the hold, and examined the wall. He used a density analyzer to accurately gauge the thickness of the hull at this point, and doing the equations in his head as fast as any computer, determined the exact depth at which to penetrate the hull, while still leaving it structurally sound for the time being. He planned on making a series of penetrations in a half circle, 25ft in diameter, and reaching a height of 12.5ft from the floor of the hold. Once weakened in this way, it would only take a strong punch or two (from someone as strong as Stahlkrieger) to weaken it to the point of collapse. The small penetrations would be barely visible to someone not looking for them. Stahlkrieger opened up a panel on his arm, and pulled out the small energy drill he had adapted for this purpose. It was small enough that it would make almost no noise, emit almost no light, and would cut through steel at the rate of 3inches per minute. He would be cutting it close, but he could get it done in time.

Kneeling down, he was about to begin his first cut, when suddenly all the lights in the cargo hold burst forward in brightness. The doors to various shipping containers opened up, and out poured scores of Arachnos troops. Wolf Spiders, Bane Spiders, Huntsmen, and Fortunatas came out of their concealed hiding places, some fixing their weapons upon him, some setting up floodlights to further illuminate him. Robotic Tarantulas descended from the rafters where they had hidden inanimate until now, climbing quickly down on steel cables to take up positions all around Stahlkrieger. The sound of laughter sounded from behind the glare of the floodlights, feminine, yet not human. A silvery figure stepped forward from the hoard of troops and smiled wickedly at Stahlkrieger.

“My, my. Look what the cat dragged in?” said Silver Mantis mockingly.

Stahlkrieger was caught.



Chapter 5

Duskfall Syndicate Base, same evening- 09:03pm

The corrupter Fastflux’s mind had been wandering again. His thoughts drifted through time, trying to stop at a particular moment, only to find it elusive, slipping from his grasp before he could fully explore what it was. Occasionally a vision came to him of a woman, a beautiful woman in her mid thirties, with long brown hair and a loving smile, with small children playing in the background. These memories were not elusive, they were just ruthlessly repressed in a searing greenish yellow fire that almost caused physical pain as they were seared from his conscious mind. Fastflux could no longer even remember her name, would not let himself. He just let the heat of his radioactive body wash through him, burning away all memories, all emotions that caused him weakness or hesitation. It was almost a form of meditation for him, this searing of one’s inner self, the burning away of the past. It left him feeling cauterized for a time, no longer in danger from his memories. After time though, they would always start to bleed back through, and need to be burned out again. Each time though, it seemed a little easier. Soon there would be nothing left, no ties to his past, and that was what Fastflux wanted more than anything.

It was lost in these thoughts that he did not immediately notice the blinking red light on the screen in from of him. Tuning out the world around him, he did not at first hear the persistent chirping of the computer’s alarm, trying to get his attention. Finally he noticed it, and blinking his eyes, it took it a moment to register. Unauthorized Teleportation Traces Detected, Do you wish to activate defenses? Below this message was two icons, one for yes, one for no. Unauthorized teleportation traces could only mean one thing, the base was about to be raided, and any second. Cursing the fact that he had never made the activation of the defense network an automatic function in this scenario, Fastflux clicked Yes on the screen, and hit the general alarm button on the panel at his side.

Immediately sirens began to wail throughout the base, and turrets began to rise from the floor or descend from the ceiling. Throughout the base, those members of the Duskfall Syndicate who were present at the time leapt up from whatever they were doing, making their way into the hallways. It was too late to organize a resistance. The base defenses took almost 30 seconds to deploy and arm. Their targeting computers required time to follow boot up. Emergency power had to be shifted from basic base systems to critical systems. All this happened quickly, and had Fastflux seen the warning in time, or had the defensive deployment been automatic as it should have been, the attackers would have had a hot reception indeed. As it was though, the first attackers began porting in before the defensive turrets were online, and were quickly disabled before they could be brought to bear. Arachnos troops began appearing everywhere, immediately deploying grenades. Smoke grenades cut down visibility, concussion grenades disoriented many of the villains who attempted to put up a defense. Satchel charges filled with high explosives were tossed into rooms, destroying computers, teleporters, and electrical generators. The base went black as the power cut off, visibility was almost nonexistent. The sounds of frantic fighting could be heard throughout the base, strange sounds from villains with strange abilities, and the more recognizable sounds of the weapons the arachnos troops brought to bear.

A squad of Wolf Spider Tac Ops made their way down one hallway, the eyes on their helmets glowing red as they searched through the infrared spectrum for targets. Twenty feet down the hall, a figure stepped out in front of them, and before they could bring their weapons to bear, emitted a mournful cry that sent them to their knees in uncontrollable, irrational fear. Then, like a dragon, the figure breathed forth of stream of fire, burning through the troops in the crowded hallway, leaving their charred corpses behind. Jak o’Shadows had no time to gloat in their demise, as more troops fired blindly down the hallway, forcing him to flee from the overwhelming firepower. In other areas of the base, other villains fought madly. A stalker emerged from behind a Fortunata, and her claws emerged from that fortunata’s chest, but she was then cut down in a hail of gunfire, her mediporter whisking her away. A large brute swung an enormous stone hammer, batting soldiers aside, until he collapsed under the weight of robotic tarantulas swarming over him. Throughout the base, the members of the Duskfall Syndicate inflicted casualties upon the invading forces, but for every one they struck down, several more would teleport in to exact revenge for their fallen comrade.

In the rear of the base, in the Meeting Hall/Trophy Room, General Doomsday and his soldiers were monitoring what was happening. He tracked the mediporter traces of several syndicate members, but he also noticed an interfering transporter signal. The mediporter was not taking them where they were supposed to go, it was taking them elsewhere. Somewhere where the General did not think they would receive the best of care. He had never seen that technology in action before, but he understood it’s consequences. Defeat to fight again another day was one thing. Defeat and an honorable death was acceptable. Defeat and capture by forces such as these was not a consideration. As several more Syndicate members found their way into the room, General Doomsday knew there would be no victory here, but he would not sacrifice his chance to fight again another day. Moving behind the large podium at the end of the hall, General Doomsday uncovered a secret panel and typed in his code, causing the floor in the middle of the room and the roof above to split open. Up from beneath the floor came a flyer, similar to the type used by arachnos, but the size of a large helicopter. Above the opening roof, a tunnel cut through hundreds of yards of rock could be seen, giving way to the night sky above, barely distinguishable in the gloom.

General Doomsday ushered the syndicate members who had managed to make it this far into the flyer. Among them were the electrical brute Terrorvolt, the immensely strong Yukon Thunder, the corrupters Fastflux and Jak o’Shadows, and the diminutive stalker Duskhaven. General Doomsday took the pilots seat, with one of his spec ops soldiers, Mirage, taking the copilot spot. As the flyer lifted off from the floor, arachnos troops burst into the room, firing madly at the escaping craft, but failing to hit anything vital. The flyer shot from the end of the lava tube on the small, unremarkable island like a bullet from a rifle, and disappeared into the starlit sky. They had lived to fight another day, General Doomsday thought, and another day was coming sooner than their enemies might think.

The Raven’s Fury

Stahlkrieger stood frozen, surrounded by more than fifty arachnos troops, and Ernesto Hess’s lieutenant, Silver Mantis. Her metallic body moved with a dancer’s grace as she stepped forward, her movements so fluid that it seemed she was made of mercury, she didn’t seem to walk, she flowed.

“It seems we have a stowaway!” Silver Mantis said, laughing again. “I didn’t see your name on the cargo manifest! And just what would you be doing? Not trying to sabotage our fine vessel I hope, that would be most unkind of you. You haven’t come here to be unkind, have you?”

“I was just doing an inspection. You really should keep a cleaner ship. It has a terrible rat problem. They seem to be crawling out of everywhere.” Answered Stahlkrieger.

Silver Mantis’s grin slipped away, replaced by an icy look of anger. “You think to insult me? Is that your feeble attempt to show courage in the face of death? If so, it is wasted. I care nothing for your courage. Can you even feel fear? Is that even a part of your limited programming? The courage of the prey means little to the predator, you still wind up my victim.”

“Your victim? So do you plan on fighting me yourself? You shouldn’t have gone to all the trouble to invite all these others along then. You could have saved yourself the embarrassment of being beaten down in front of your troops. Or maybe you were afraid you wouldn’t be able to fight me? I’ve heard you have a weakness for men in metal.”

“You are not a man!” Silver Mantis raged, “You are a puppet! A science experiment! You are a lab rat who has escaped from his cage, and must now be exterminated! Soldiers! Destroy him!”

Stahlkrieger stood and faced the guns of the massed arachnos troops, and then, he disappeared. Silver Mantis screamed in fury and the arachnos soldiers began looking all around themselves in bewilderment. Had he teleported? They had not seen the signature flash that usually accompanied a teleport. Did he have some stalker-like ability? In truth, Stahlkrieger did not truly disappear. He adjusted his energy shields to form an energy cloak, that reflected light rather than allowing it to be absorbed. He had always thought the concept to be theoretically possible, but had never devoted much time to it. Skulking was typically for stalkers, not brutes. However in this case, he gambled on its effectiveness to get him out from under the guns of the soldiers, to perhaps buy him enough time to come up with a plan to salvage the situation. He was not truly invisible, he was just harder to see, but the momentary confusion allowed him to slip out from the floodlights glare and move in among the cargo containers where he would be less of a target.

“There he is!” Screamed Silver Mantis, pointing in his direction. “After him! If he leaves this ship, none of you ever will!”

The arachnos troops began firing wildly in Stahlkrieger’s direction, giving chase. Although they could now make out his general form, he was still more of a shadow, and the addition of his speed and maneuverability made him a very difficult target. Still, there were so many soldiers that it was only a matter of time. Individual accuracy counted for less when you had dozens of individuals. Stahlkrieger dodged and weaved his way through the various boxes and containers stacked throughout the room. The almost mazelike arrangement helped to nullify his adversaries advantage as well, they had to split up to find him. A Blood Widow leapt down from atop a large stack of boxes, her claws flashing toward his chest. In one fluid motion, Stahlkrieger sidestepped the blow and brought his own fist around, connecting with her head and sending her flying. A Fire Tarantula attempted to block his path, but a bone crushing double handed blow smashed it down to the floor. He heard movement behind him, and jumped out of the way just as a bane spider scout’s lasers seared into the ground where he had just stood. Picking up a crate, he flung it at the bane spider as a distraction, then closed the distance and pummeled him into unconsciousness with a series of blows. More soldiers came, and an energy mace flashed at him, bypassing his shields and spinning him partway around. He flowed into the motion instead of trying to correct, turning out of the line of fire and smashing through a Fortunata and Tacs Ops soldier who tried to slow his progress.

The individual arachnos troops were no match for him, but there were so many that he could only avoid their fire for so long before he sustained real damage, and they would not give him any time to recover. It was with this thought that Stahlkrieger turned down another corridor of containers, and was hit hard by Silver Mantis. He was knocked back against one of the metal crates, and in an instant a metal spike appeared in Silver Mantis’s hand which she plunged through his upper left arm, pinning him to the crate. He responded with a powerful energy transfer punch, which caused her to stagger backwards. Stahlkrieger reached for the metal spike and drew it out, noticing his energy cloak flickering, and then failing. He was only lightly damaged by the spike, but now he was totally visible, and Silver Mantis was calling out his location to the other arachnos, who were swarming in from all over.

Grinning a wicked grin, Silver Mantis straightened back up from the blow she had received, and began to advance on Stahlkrieger. That was when the roof exploded. A mighty tremor shook the ship as part of the roof came down, metal debris crushing several soldiers, the shockwave knocking others off their feet. Stahlkrieger and Silver Mantis both managed to avoid being caught under the collapsing section of roof, moving quickly out of the way as metal girders and steel plates fell like rain around them. Outside the now gaping hole in the ceiling, a flyer could be seen, its missile launcher still smoking from its salvo. Drop lines came down, and General Doomsday’s mercenaries began sliding down into the chaos, the automatic weapons already sending out a stream of lead to clear a path for the others. Yukon Thunder jumped from the flyer, his massive bulk landing in the debris with a crash, grabbing a nearby stunned arachnos soldier and throwing him into a group of his comrades. Fastflux floated down gracefully, his body glowing with radiation, laser beams shooting from his eyes to burn into a Fortunata. Terrorvolt, the electrical brute who was in reality a severely deformed dwarf inside a constructed metal exoskeleton teleported into the fray, lightning shooting out in all directions to knock soldiers off their feet. Jak o’Shadows came next, his face hidden behind a gruesome mask, shooting fire from his hands and causing many to cower in fear. A bane spider scout attempted to brain him with a mace, but before he could the tip of a sword erupted from his chest, and he slipped to the ground dead. Duskhaven, the diminutive stalker, used his uniform to wipe the blood off her sword before looking for her next victim. General Doomsday came last, accompanied by his commando bodyguard Renegade, who bristled with weapons and carried one of the largest guns Stahlkrieger had ever seen. General Doomsday strode through the fighting as if unconcerned, coming to stand before Stahlkrieger.

“Looks like they were more serious about you than I thought, Hess must be committing all his personal troops to your destruction. He must truly fear you.” Said Doomsday, surveying the massive battle around them.

“Or just truly hate me.” Replied Stahlkrieger. “Your timing is perfect, but I thought you weren’t going to get involved, I though you didn’t want this to become political.”

“Hess overstepped his bounds in this conflict.” Said General Doomsday, and related news to Stahlkrieger of the attack on the Duskfall Syndicate Base, and their resulting flight. “He made a mistake in attacking us. He made the first move, not us, he is responsible for this escalation of events. He dared to destroy my home, now I will destroy his men.”

“Well, there’s certainly enough of them to go around.” Said Stahlkrieger, “Plus one truly ticked off metal maiden!”

Silver Mantis had fallen back when the duskfall syndicate members first poured through the hole in the roof, but now she had rallied her soldiers and was counterattacking fiercely. Duskhaven struck at Silver Mantis, her slender sword a blur, but metal only rang off metal with a shower of sparks, unable to penetrate her armor. Metal spikes flew from the silver skinned villainess, catching Duskhaven in several places, ripping through clothes and flesh, her face a picture of frozen shock as her mediporter teleported her away. Terrorvolt waded through the arachnos soldiers, his lightning field causing painful burns as he struck at whomever was in reach. Soldiers fell back in pain, but then redoubled their efforts, attacking in great numbers and swarming him under. Several Wolf Spider Tacs Ops and Tarantulas attempted to rush General Doomsday and Stahlkrieger, but Doomsday leveled a fearsome stare at them, causing them to shrink back and lose heart, and then be blown back as the bullets from the commando’s assault rifle ripped through them. One of the mercenaries attempted to block Silver Mantis’s path as she rushed towards them, and immediately fell back with a spike in his forehead. The commando fired a rocket at her which served to knock her back and slow her down, but only for a moment, and not visibly damaging her. Stahlkrieger met her rush, using his superior size and weight to bring her up short, her arms whirling as she attempted to pierce his body with her spikes. Stahlkrieger deflected and dodged her blows, beating her back with his own. Howling in frustration, Silver Mantis attacked again, this time jumping over Stahlkrieger and almost lazily tossing a spike through the throat of a spec ops soldier as she kicked at Stahlkrieger, sending him tumbling backwards. She leapt forward to drive her metal spikes into him, but was knocked to the side by an explosion of flame delivered by Jak o’Shadows. As he was about to deliver another scourge, a tarantula fell upon his back and drove him to the ground. Yukon Thunder picked the tarantula off him and smashed it with one great fist, but a Wolf Spider Huntsman’s weapon took Jak o’Shadows in the side as he attempted to rise, and his mediporter took him away. General Doomsday’s mercenaries fired long bursts at Silver Mantis, the bullets ricocheting off her armor but driving her back with their force. Stahlkrieger used the distraction to get close to her, and a powerful overhead strike, followed by an energy transfer punch. Her mediporter detected that damage levels were too great, and teleported her away, her howl of rage echoing in her absence.

A shouted warning from Yukon Thunder brought their attention to the arachnos reinforcements arriving. Coming down the stairs were at least two dozen more troops. At the top of the stairs on the catwalk stood a hideous and familiar figure, Lumbering Cadaver.

“I’ll take him!” shouted Yukon Thunder, plowing through the troops like a bull.

“Wait for us!” Stahlkrieger yelled, but Yukon Thunder either could not hear him or did not want to, too intent on smashing another enemy into the ground.

Lumbering Cadaver silently watched him approach, then nonchalantly reached out and ripped a large metal pipe from the wall. Just as Yukon Thunder was almost within striking distance, he swung the pipe around with brutal speed, smashing it into the side of Yukon Thunder’s skull and sending him careening off the catwalk, falling thirty feet to the ground below to land in a cracking of bones. Death had been instantaneous. Lumbering Cadaver gazed down at the remaining syndicate members, then exited through the door behind him, stooping down to fit through. The remaining arachnos soldiers fought on, exchanging bursts of gunfire and lasers with General Doomsday’s surviving mercenaries, and trying to pin down the elusive corrupter Fastflux, who would launch a proton volley at a soldier and then retreat back behind the debris, only to appear elsewhere, lasers shooting from his eyes.

“Go after him!” yelled General Doomsday to Stahlkrieger. “If you’re going to get a shot at Hess, you need to deal with that monster first!”

Stahlkrieger met his gaze for a moment, then nodded. There were not all that many arachnos troops left, Doomsday and Fastflux could take care of them. The brief and bloody assault had broken the main arachnos force, but at a cost of many allies. Stahlkrieger could only hope that Yukon Thunder had been the only death among them, and the rest had been teleported to safety. Moving speedily through the remaining attacks, Stahlkrieger climbed the stairs to the catwalk, and went through the door.


The door led into a long passageway, which Stahlkrieger followed through twists and turns, always alert for an ambush. The corridor eventually led into a much larger room, smaller than the cargo hold rooms, but still quite spacious. Metal containers were stored in here also, but different from the ones below. Whereas those had been the standard container type, the kind normally loaded onto train cars, these were much fancier, and much newer. Gleaming white, they were covered in various signs and warning labels, serial numbers and shipping information. At the end of the closest container was an door resembling an airlock. Glancing around the room for any sign of Lumbering Cadaver, Stahlkrieger gave in to his curiosity and turned the wheel to unlock the door. The door opened with a hiss of faint escaping pressure, and Stahlkrieger could see that the interior was dark, lit only by the glowing lights of electrical equipment. Moving in slowly, he found a switch for the lights, and turned them on. The inside of the container was lit by an eerie greenish glow emanating from four liquid filled tanks along one side of the container.

Already guessing what was probably inside the tanks, Stahlkrieger stepped further into the enclosure to get a closer look. One look confirmed his guess, bodies. Four men were suspended in the liquid of the containers, their bodies in some kind of stasis. Here and there throughout their bodies were cybernetic attachments. An arm here, and eye there, seemingly random. They reminded Stahlkrieger of a TV show he had watched a long time ago, in another life. Star Trek. That was it, these men looked like an alien race from the sci-fi series, the Borg. Except at the same time they were different. They were larger than most men would be. Some were only slightly larger, so that it may have just been their natural size, but at least two of them were rather grotesquely enlarged, as if they suffered from one of those diseases where your body could not stop growing. Their musculature was very pronounced, overly defined, like one of those bodybuilder competitions. Then Stahlkrieger understood. Lumbering Cadaver. They were making more like him. One was bad enough, but here was the makings of 4 more, though none showed the signs of necrosis and rot that Lumbering Cadaver did, these all seemed intact despite their abnormal appearance. Stahlkrieger walked out of the container, looking around to see if he was still alone, and moving to the next one. He knew he should be hurrying his pursuit of the brute, but he had an irresistible urge to see what was in the other container. This container had a more ordinary door, not an airlock like the other one, though still thick and solid. He opened this door, and again was greeted by darkness, there was no indication of electrical equipment in this one however, no glowing or blinking lights that might signal any kind of monitoring apparatus. Stahlkrieger searched for and found a power switch again, turning it on. In contrast to the murky green glow of the previous container, these lights came on bright and harsh, bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling. On either side of a center aisle stood storage racks, and bins, containing a myriad of mechanical parts. From some racks hung several robotic arms, from others, legs. At a shelf near the far end of the container, several sets of eyes stared blankly back at him. His own eyes. Several skull-like robotic heads peered out at him from the shelf, lifeless, but giving Stahlkrieger a chill nonetheless. In this container were the parts for creating at least 4 additional copies of him.

His reverie at this discovery was interrupted by low, bass filled laughter echoing throughout the room. Stahlkrieger immediately exited the container, and saw Lumbering Cadaver standing across the room from him. Lumbering Cadaver again made that laughing noise, sounding guttural, animalistic, almost like a large animal coughing. Stahlkrieger stepped forward to face him.

“So you’re the Black Scorpion’s bodyguard, are you? Hate to think of where he dug you up from. Well, I have a old score to settle with him, but I guess I have time to settle one with you as well. You killed Papa Rumble, and while he wasn’t my brother, he was my friend. Whatever grave you crawled out of, I’m sending you back.” Said Stahlkrieger, feeling his energy levels rise in anticipation of the fight.

Lumbering Cadaver said nothing, just looked at him with his one red glowing mechanical eye, and seemingly with his milky white blind one a well. He glanced backwards for a moment, as if considering flight, then, faster than Stahlkrieger would have thought possible, grabbed the chain that hung from him and lashed out with it, as one would a whip. If Stahlkrieger’s reflexes been a half second slower, the fight may have been over before it started. As it was the chain flew by him with millimeters to spare, and crashed into a stack of metal crates with the force of a cannon, destroying them completely and sending debris flying like a fountain. Stahlkrieger moved to Lumbering Cadaver’s left, in order to make it harder for him to strike again with the chain held in his right hand, but the giant brute was fast, and again Stahlkrieger barely avoided a crushing blow. More debris rained through the air as Stahlkrieger quickly closed the distance between the two, striking blows at his opponents chest and stomach. Lumbering Cadaver staggered back and dropped his chain, bending over as if in pain, and then straightened up again with a savage backhand that caught Stahlkrieger full across the face, lifting him from his feet and spilling him into another stack of boxes. Lumbering Cadaver charged forward to tackle the android, but Stahlkrieger was already back on his feet, jumping out of the way before the monster could pile into him. Again he counterattacked, striking punches across the face and chest, forcing Lumbering Cadaver to defend himself. He could tell that for all the creature’s toughness, his blows were causing some pain, but the huge villain seemed able to ignore it and fight on. His resistance to damage was incredible, much greater than Stahlkrieger’s own, if he was to allow a blow to land, and this became all the more obvious when Lumbering Cadaver landed a solid punch at his chest, knocking him backwards a few feet. Lumbering cadaver followed that up by holding his hands out at his sides, and then swinging them together in a powerful clapping motion. A sound like thunder assaulted Stahlkrieger, and he found himself airborne, flying backwards to slam into the wall. He was momentarily stunned by the shockwave, and slowly came to his feet in time to have a huge section of floor smash into him, and drive him back into the wall again.

This was not going well, he thought. In a straight out slugging match, Stahlkrieger felt they were actually pretty equal. Lumbering Cadaver could knock him around quite a bit, but Stahlkrieger’s energy transfer punch had no rival that he knew of, besides those stalker’s shadowy assassin strikes. The problem was that Lumbering Cadaver’s resistance to damage was so great that he seemed to be able to heal from each blow before Stahlkrieger could mount up significant damage to slow him down. Stahlkrieger on the other hand was difficult to hit, but when he was hit, he was much more vulnerable if a second blow should land. He had to get close enough to land his punches without being knocked around the room by this behemoth. Then a new strategy occurred to him. Rising once again, Stahlkrieger closed with Lumbering Cadaver. As the superstrength brute threw punches at him, Stahlkrieger did not answer with any of his own. Instead, he concentrated on defense, ducking and weaving, moving just enough to let punches slide off his energy fields, never taking advantages of chances to strike where it might leave him open for a counterblow. Frustrated, Lumbering Cadaver attacked harder, becoming furious at this elusive opponent. Then Stahlkrieger activated his energy draining field. A blue wall of light emanated from him in all directions to a distance of just a few feet, enough to encompass Lumbering Cadaver. Stahlkrieger did not feel he had gained any energy from the exchange, but neither had he lost any. Lumbering Cadaver on the other hand looked momentarily nonplussed, not quite sure if he had just been attacked or not. Again he tried to destroy Stahlkrieger, throwing mighty blows that would have shattered nearly anything they came in contact with, yet they came in contact with nothing, save an occasional wall or metal crate which added its contribution to the debris strewn throughout the room. Stahlkrieger sidestepped, dodged, and fell back from the onslaught, giving ground, but never taking any serious damage, hardly being hit at all. Once again he activated his energy draining field, and once again he felt his energy levels remain constant, but this time Lumbering Cadaver could tell something was wrong.

Fatigue was becoming noticeable to him. This was not common, for normally Lumbering Cadaver had excellent endurance, and his fights never lasted very long. Now he was feeling…weaker. This feeling renewed his desire to finish the fight quickly, though for the first time, he began to have some doubts. Despite his crude appearance, Lumbering Cadaver was far from stupid. Processors implanted in his brain assimilated data at a high speed, and he could normally analyze situations quite well. He knew it was in his interest to let others think he was a mindless brute, but in truth he was smarter than most. However intelligent he was however, he was stubborn, and prior to this it was inconceivable to him that he could be defeated. His past victories had ingrained him with a certain fighting style that was almost impossible for his computer brain to ignore. That, plus his growing fury, made it difficult for him to adapt quickly to his opponents abrupt change in strategy, and though he sensed he might be in danger, his desire to SMASH and beat his opponent into submission overrode the logical part of him that told him he should retreat and reassess. Again, he threw himself at his infuriating robot opponent, trying to land that one big hit that would knock his opponent down and allow him to finish him off. That hit did not come. As he closed with his opponent again, Lumbering Cadaver again felt that blue field of energy wash over him, and it left him feeling weaker than before. His strength seemed to be failing him, his massive arms were beginning to feel quite heavy, his breathing becoming labored. Again he swung at Stahlkrieger, but it lacked the speed and skill of earlier attacks, and Stahlkrieger dodged it easily.

Now Stahlkrieger went on the attack, smashing his fists into necrotic flesh and grafted metal. The exhausted Lumbering Cadaver could barely strike back, and his punches were all weak and easily countered. Dazed and disoriented from many unanswered hits, Lumbering Cadaver’s resistance began to fail him. He started to feel pain, a pain which further tapped his resources, which made it harder to resist. Once more he tried to hit back, but Stahlkrieger lazily brushed it aside and slammed both fists into him, causing his knees to give and send him crashing to the floor. Stahlkrieger looked down at his fallen opponent. He was feeling the strain of the repeated attacks himself, with only one target, he could not replenish his endurance, but it did not matter. Where he was feeling battered and tired, Lumbering Cadaver was beaten. He no longer had the strength to stand back up again. Feeling the hatred welling within him at the thought of this foul creature killing his only true friend, Stahlkrieger felt energy rise within him, causing his fist to glow with potential energy. The he drove that fist into Lumbering Cadaver’s head, feeling the slight pain as some of his life energy was siphoned, but delivering a massive energy transfer into Lumbering Cadaver, completely overwhelming him, and leaving him in a heap. The milky white eye closed, and the glowing red eye went dim.



Chapter 6


Stahlkrieger stood silently over the crumpled but still massive form of Lumbering Cadaver. He sent nanobots out to start repairing some of the damage he had received, and tried shutting down any non-critical system to restore energy levels as quickly as possible. He had only been standing there a few moments when General Doomsday entered the room, accompanied by his commando Renegade, his special operations soldier Ghost, and one of his mercenaries, whose name Stahlkrieger could not recall at the moment. They all looked alike anyways. Stahlkrieger looked up at him.

“Fastflux?” he asked, noting the corrupter’s absence.

“Taken down by a Blood Widow, she managed to get behind him and sink a couple inches of steel into him. I saw the mediporter activate, he’ll live, though I may kill him myself when this is true. He was the one on sentry duty when the base got attacked. He was slow in bringing the defenses online. Not that it would have made that much of a difference in the end, but at least more of us may have gotten out, and taken more of them with us.” Answered General Doomsday, obviously still angry. “The only reason I didn’t kill him before was because I though he might be useful in this attack, and there was a good chance he might have been killed here anyways. Should have confiscated his mediporter.”

Stahlkrieger nodded. He had no feeling for Fastflux one way or another, if General Doomsday wished him dead that was up to him. Fastflux would be smart to realize this and be far away by the time General Doomsday had time for him. Stahlkrieger cared little for any of the other syndicate members, besides their usefulness in helping him achieve his goal. They had served well in their timely attack on the ship, what happened to them from here was no concern of his.

“I see you managed to beat the bodyguard.” Said General Doomsday, looking down at the lifeless brute. “I figured you would find a way.”

“Of course he would!” replied a new voice, startling the two villains. Ponderously clanking into the room came the object of Stahlkrieger’s vengeance, the Black Scorpion himself, Ernesto Hess. Covered in thick armor with only his rather ugly head protruding, the Black Scorpion more resembled a giant beetle than a scorpion, that is, except for his deadly looking robotic tail. He was not all that tall, but he walked with a slow confidence, a confidence in his overwhelming power, both personal and political. “I had suspected he would emerge the victor, once I could get you two alone together. And I couldn’t be happier about it!”

“Happy?” asked Stahlkrieger, his anger and impatience seething at seeing his brother’s killer so close. “Your bodyguard is dead. I smashed the life out of him. Now nothing stands between me and you. Why would you be happy?”

“Well ask yourself,” said Hess, smiling, “What would you rather look like for eternity. You, or him?”

“What the hell are you talking about?” asked Stahlkrieger, confused by the Black Scorpion’s seemingly nonchalant, even festive attitude. “Eternity?”

“Yes, my friend, eternity.” Answered Hess. “Eternity. Immortality. The prize that all mortals strive for, and that I will possess. You see, I have realized through the years, that no matter how far I modify my original, pathetic form to become the awesome creation you see today, there is one enemy my armor and blasters cannot defend against. Time. Time will make victims of us all, and I enjoy being the victimizer far too much to just lay down and die, no matter what millions of years of evolution say! I have amassed wealth and power, and for what? To die of old age and let those less worthy pick at my scraps? To let Lord Recluse live on in his path to greatness whereas I fade away to be replaced, like a pet dog you would bury in the backyard? NO! I long ago set into motion the events that would lead to my immortality.”

Stahlkrieger felt dread as understanding came to him. He looked down at his robotic hand, at his robotic body.

“Soul Transfer” he said. “You plan on transferring your soul to an artificial body like mine. A body where parts that wear out can be easily replaced. A body that doesn’t age.”

“Exactly! A body who can fight against the one enemy that really matters, my nemesis, time. Ever living, unchanging. At least, until I can develop new and better vessels for myself. Of course I had to test the process on someone, make sure it worked. Then Longbow destroyed the laboratory, and I thought all was lost, until you showed up again, claiming as your moniker the very name of the very project which created you!”

“So if you knew about me, why didn’t you just come and get me, before I could gain so much power?” asked Stahlkrieger.

“Because I wished to see how powerful you would become! What better testing grounds for my prototype than the hazards of the Rogue Isles? And I must say, you have performed to satisfaction. I must consider the experiment successful.”

“Experiment? You kidnapped me from my home, took away my body. You killed my brother!”

“I killed your brother? No, you do not see. I did not kill your brother, you killed him. At least you killed him the second time. Didn’t you see the family resemblance?” said Hess mockingly, motioning towards the lifeless form of Lumbering Cadaver.

“What?” said Stahlkrieger, stunned and confused. “What are you talking about! That’s not my brother, Kevin is dead! I read the reports, he died before the Longbow attack. You killed him with your experiments!”

“Oh, I guess its true he did die. While your project dealt with transferring the soul to an artificial body, your brother’s project involved genetic manipulation and technology implants to make the body self sustaining, immune to the ravages of age, strong enough to fight off disease, pain, even death. It did not work as we had planned. While the genetic manipulation did increase your brother’s size and strength one hundredfold, it seemed his mind could not handle the shock of the change, even with the cybernetic implants we placed in his brain. He did die, and the project was terminated, your brother’s body was disposed of. Imagine my shock to find, a few weeks later, that not only you were roaming the streets, but a hideous creature bearing the very technology we had implanted in your brother! Turns out, while his body was decaying in the landfill we dumped him in, that computer in his brain brought him to life again, in essence, it rebooted him. He awoke, how do you say, ah yes, tabula rasa. A blank slate. No memories of anything before waking in the landfill, no idea who or where he was. He wandered into the streets like the Frankenstein monster, scaring local citizens and all that, and police radio mentioned a “huge lumbering cadaver” was attacking that section of the city. Some of my agents passed the report on to me, and curious, I sent a team. They liberated your brother from the hands of the police, and brought him to me. Realizing who and what he was, I decided to keep him, to re-educate him, to see what he was capable of. I knew that both of you surviving was no accident, it was fate. I would study both of you. One mentored by me, the other by the streets of the Rogue Isles. Who would become more powerful? That was the test. I knew that someday I would have to arrange events so that you two faced each other, so that I could see which one was truly superior. The ultimate field test for my prototypes, to see what sort of vessel would carry me forth through the ages. I must say I’m relieved it was you. The thought of looking like him” Hess gestured towards Lumbering Cadaver “for all eternity did not excite me. You however, you are most impressive looking. You will be a adequate template for my future self.”

Stahlkrieger was still in shock. “My…brother?” he said, quietly, looking at the monstrosity he had just killed. “Kev? No…it, it can’t be him. I can’t have…I never would have…”

“But you did. Anyways, he was hardly your brother anymore. He had no memories of you, would not have recognized you as his brother even if he did. He was exactly what I made him, an engine of destruction, a killer. He couldn’t even talk, did you know that? Vocal cords has deteriorated too much by the time we found him. Oh, we could have given him a new implant to make some sort of speech possible, but who needs a talking corpse? He suited my purposes just fine without speech. I had thought after your first encounter with him that he would emerge the victor, but I realized that that fight was not a true test. I needed the two of you to face off, one on one, each aware of the others capabilities. Probably the only time I’ve ever favored a fair fight in my life!” joked Hess, laughing. “And now that the experiment is complete, I really have no further need of you alive. I have instructed my scientists to take you apart, to study the effects of two years of service. I need to make sure your body is holding up well and not suffering any unforeseen difficulties before I take the leap myself. I am not so old yet, I have time to be patient a while longer.”

“Just how do you plan to take me apart?” asked Stahlkrieger, fighting against a whirlwind of hatred, sadness, and guilt. “Like you said, I won the battle. I am not so easily defeated. Your lieutenant, Silver Mantis has been beaten. Your..bodyguard,…my brother,…has been defeated. Your men have been scattered. You want me, you’re going to have to come and take me yourself.”

The Black Scorpion laughed as Stahlkrieger raised his fists and General Doomsday’s men began fanning out. From some unseen compartment in his armor, Ernesto Hess pulled out a device which looked like, strangely enough, a television remote, but with only one large red button on it.

“I don’t think that will be necessary, my little lab rat. I wouldn’t want to risk damaging you too much, and I must admit, even I would not wish to be struck by those powerful energy punches of yours. No, long ago when I began these experiments, it was foreseen that there could be difficulties controlling the specimens. What if the process drove you insane? We couldn’t very well have a 7ft robot destroying the lab and risking the good doctor’s life. And could you imagine the kind of damage your brother here would cause? He is not as discriminating in his application of power as you are. No, safety first, that’s my motto. That’s why I made sure that I could keep you both on a short leash. It came in quite useful at first with your brother. He was, how shall I say it, rather childlike at first. His tantrums could have gotten out of hand quite quickly. I rather think that I will claim back my property now, and then without your aid, your mastermind friend here will not last long. Shows over, Pinocchio, time to get back in your box.” Hess raised the remote control, pointed it at Stahlkrieger, and pushed the red button.

Stahlkrieger stared malevolently at the Black Scorpion, then began to slowly advance towards him. Hess looked confused, then pushed the button again, with no visible effect. Frantically now he began mashing the button, banging at it with his armored fist.

“Did you really think in two years of operation, in two years of battles, repairs, and upgrades that I would not discover something so obvious as a kill switch?” asked Stahlkrieger icily. “I removed that annoying piece of hardware within my second month on the streets. It would seem that Pinocchio is pulling his own strings now, Hess. And I have no further use for the puppeteer.”

The Black Scorpion shattered the remote against the floor in fury, realizing his ace in the hole had just been lost. Howling in rage he brought his weapons to bear on Stahlkrieger.

“I would have preferred to take you intact, but it seems you just enjoy being difficult. Very well, we’ll do this the hard way!” he said, his voice rising until the last words were shouted in challenge.

A blinding blast of energy erupted from his scorpion tail, blowing a large hole in the floor where Stahlkrieger had stood just a moment before. Stahlkrieger was already on the move, rushing by Ernesto Hess to deliver several quick punches before backing out of the way of his tail, which Hess swung like a mallet. General Doomsday, who had stood quietly during the supervillain’s lengthy revelations, now began barking orders to his mercenaries, and threw down a patch of spectral “tar”, dark energy which sapped his opponents speed and resistance to damage. Ghost, the surviving special operations soldier, threw flashbang grenades at the armored villain, trying to disorient him, while the commando, Renegade, launched a small missile at his feet, knocking him off balance. Hess recovered quickly, swinging around the large laser cannon in his left hand and sending a torrent of energy into Ghost, completely disintegrating him. Stahlkrieger renewed his attack, his punches making dents throughout the Scorpion’s armor, but not seeming to be able to break through. Hess whipped around quickly, battering his tail into Stahlkrieger at frightening speed and knocking him across the room. Renegade unleashed a stream of bullets at Hess, which cause small indentations in his armor, but little else. Moving faster than one would have though possible through the spectral tar, Hess grabbed renegade, picked him up over his head, and threw him into General Doomsday, knocking both of the to the floor. Renegade tried to rise, but was met with a powerful fist in his jaw, twisting his neck around at an unnatural angle and sending him out of the battle in the flash of a teleportation trace.

Stahlkrieger got to his feet, knowing that without his soldiers, General Doomsday would not stand a chance against Hess, but he already knew it was too late. General Doomsday looked over at him from the floor as the Black Scorpion towered over him.

“Kill the [censored] for me.” Was all he said before Hess’s tail shot down in a devastating strike, and the evil mastermind disappeared, his teleporter also taking him away.

Stahlkrieger was now alone with the supervillain he had sworn so long ago to defeat. He had read intelligence and heard stories about how powerful the Black Scorpion was, and he had known when the time came to face him that he would have his work cut out for him. Now here he was, having just fought several battles over the last hour and showing it, and the Black Scorpion was fresh, and had just defeated General Doomsday in a matter of minutes. Stahlkrieger was under no illusion that the strategy that he had used to beat Lumbering Cadaver, no, his brother Kevin, he reminded himself with a spike of mental agony, would work on Hess. The supervillain was now aware of that power, and was too smart to fall into the same trap. No tricks this time, this time it would be a straight slugging match, a battle to which Hess was more than suited. Stahlkrieger rushed towards Hess, and had to abruptly jump and role to the side to avoid being struck by a web grenade, which instead hit a computer terminal, coating it in a white, threadlike substance. Stahlkrieger barely lost his stride as he rolled back to his feet and continued his charge, ducking and weaving through a gauntlet of laser fire from the Black Scorpion’s tail and left fist. Reaching his target, Stahlkrieger threw several powerful punches, delivering damaging energy blows to the supervillain, further denting in his armor. Hess responded by whipping his tail over his shoulder in an overhead strike on Stahlkrieger, who managed to sidestep the blow and counter with a double handed smash onto his opponent.

Back and forth they fought, the battle regressing into an animalistic struggle for survival. Punches were thrown back and forth, some landed, some were blocked. Damage was done to both parties as they moved throughout the room, lashing back and forth, seeking a crippling blow. Stahlkrieger felt he was in trouble. His nanobots were unable to keep up with the damage he was sustaining, and he was beginning to tire. He was pushing his circuits to the limit to keep up his end of the fight, and he wasn’t even sure how much damage he had really done to Hess, it was impossible to tell behind all that armor. Certainly he didn’t seem to be slowing, and in fact, as if sensing Stahlkrieger’s doubts, he began smiling and attacking even harder. Stahlkrieger knew he would not get another chance like this, this was what he had been waiting for for two years, he would not let Hess beat him now. Calling upon all his reserve power, Stahlkrieger pushed his systems far past the danger point, overloading his circuits to bring every resource to bear for one last assault upon his foe. He would not be able to maintain these levels for long before a cascade failure would occur and his shields would drop. He would be utterly vulnerable then, so he had to make this fast. Calling upon his extra power, Stahlkrieger strengthened his shields, sent more power to his nanobots to speed repairs, and poured more power into his attacks. Furiously he launched into the Black Scorpion. Surprised by this sudden surge of strength, Hess fought desperately to defend himself. He threw powerful blows, but found it nearly impossible to connect with his opponent. The blows that did land seemed to have less effect, as if the android was repairing himself much faster than before. Hess had been sure that Stahlkrieger would not have been able to maintain his defenses much longer, but now he seemed rejuvenated, as if he had not been fighting for the better part of the last hour. Faster and faster came the blows upon him, and he could feel his armor giving in several areas, dents becoming tears in the metal, allowing more of the energy damage through. In a last desperate attempt, Hess turned and swung his metal tail at Stahlkrieger, trying to knock him back and make a run for it, but Stahlkrieger managed to turn just enough that the blow glanced off him, barely slowing him, and he leapt upon Hess, knocking him to the ground and pummeling him into semi-consciousness.

Stahlkrieger stood over his fallen foe, his body brimming with energy one moment, and barely able to stand the next. He was out of power. His shields flickered, then failed. His internal systems had all overheated and had shut down, needing time to cool off and repair themselves before they could be restarted. He could fight no longer, but he did not need to. Ernesto Hess lay at his feet, his armor looking as if he had been run over by a tank, his mouth hanging open and his eyes shut as he moaned softly. There was no need to throw any more powerful punches. If he wanted to, Stahlkrieger could merely lay his hand over Hess’s face and suffocate him, exacting his revenge with a whimper instead of a bang. He knelt down besides his fallen nemesis, and was reaching for him when a shadow from the light of the doorway filled the room, a shadow familiar to everyone in the Rogue Isles and probably most of the rest of the world as well. Lord Recluse.


The Archvillain known as Lord Recluse, despotic ruler of the Rogue Isles and most feared villain in all the world entered the room in which Stahlkrieger, the semiconscious Black Scorpion, and the lifeless Kevin Sullivan, aka Lumbering Cadaver, were in occupancy. Behind him came his three other lieutenants. Captain Mako, the ruthless killer, who stared at Stahlkrieger through alien black orbs and whose sharp toothed smile seemed pulled into a perpetual mocking grin. The honorable Sirocco, a regal bearing upon his noble face, his eyes white and seeming to see everything and nothing at the same time. Ghost Widow, ethereal, otherworldly, utterly beautiful and deadly. Lord Recluse himself was as imposing a figure as Stahlkrieger had ever seen. He radiated an aura of power and command that was almost tangible, as if you could reach into the air and grab hold of it. Crooked spidery arms protruded from his back and seemed to faintly claw at the air around him, almost like a blind man reaching out to ascertain his surroundings. His eyes were red orbs within his signature helmet, and those eyes locked upon Stahlkrieger, who found he could not look away. Behind this fearsome quartet of villains came several arachnos soldiers. Huntsman, Webmasters, and Night Widows, the cream of the crop, the elite of arachnos forces. Stahlkrieger stood to face the new arrivals.

“Well, I have to admit I’m a little tired, but I suppose I could take all of you on, since you’ve come all this way. I’d hate to disappoint.” Said Stahlkrieger, raising his fists in a gesture of defiance.

Lord Recluse laughed softly, while Captain Mako hissed and grinned at him, Sirocco looked upon him with respect, and Ghost Widow smirked ever so slightly. Folding his arms in front of him, Lord Recluse spoke with a voice that was full of power and authority, though he did not speak loudly.

“That will not be necessary, Steel Warrior. We have not come to fight. I believe there has been enough of that today, and you have proven yourself to be a powerful force. I have no wish to destroy you now, not one with so much potential.” Said Lord Recluse.

“Then why have you come? To see me end this piece of garbage’s life?” asked Stahlkrieger, giving the prone Ernesto Hess a kick. “Cause that’s the only show left around here.”

“I have come to collect my lieutenant. Though he has been defeated today, he still a great power in the Rogue Isles, and I have further need of his services. He has displeased me with his actions of late, but I still have many plans of which he is a part, and it would be..inconvenient if he were to die here today.” Explained the Arachnos Ruler.

“Well then, prepare to be inconvenienced, cause that’s exactly what’s about to happen. This sack of scrap here,” said Stahlkrieger, giving Hess another kick, “kidnapped me and my brother. He stole my body and put my soul into this construct, took away my humanity. He turned my brother into a monster and then left him for dead, and then when he found out he was alive again, turned him into even more of a monster, so that I would have the privilege of killing my own twin. If that doesn’t give me the right to kill him, I don’t know what does.”

“You are correct. Ernesto Hess is responsible for all of these things, but what have you been responsible for in the years since you became what you are? What crimes have you committed, what lives have you destroyed?” asked Recluse. “Hess did what he did because he was strong enough to do it, and you defeated him here today because you were strong enough to exact your revenge. If you are determined to kill him, I will not stop you. You have earned the right to kill him. But if you would spare him, I would offer something in trade for his life.”

“A trade? What could you possible have that would be worth more to me than my revenge? Money? I have plenty and can always get more. Power? The only power I ever needed was the power to kill Hess, and I already possess that. My life? You can take it, so long as it is after I kill this scum. What could you have to trade?”

“In the course of this conflict, several of your criminal syndicate allies were captured by Hess. I have obtained them from his custody, and will release them to you if you spare his life. If you do not, I will dispose of them.”

“Dispose of them then, they mean nothing to me.” Said Stahlkrieger. “Allies they may have been, but not friends. I would not expect any of them to sacrifice anything for me, and I will not sacrifice my revenge for them. Kill them if it suits you. No trade.”

“Not your friends? Not any of them?” asked Recluse, and motioned towards the guards by the door. Two more arachnos troops, came into the room dragging a limp form between them. They brought him to Lord Recluse and unceremoniously dumped him on the floor. It was Papa Rumble. “This one was badly injured, he would have died had we not taken possession of him. He still will, unless he receives further care. But why should I? He holds no value for me, and I don’t believe in saving things I have no use for.”

For what seemed like the hundredth time today, Stahlkrieger felt stunned. When General Doomsday had told him Papa Rumble had not returned, he had assumed that meant he had died along with Psychbreaker. He had given his mediporter to his daughter, and Hess didn’t seem like the type to take care of an injured enemy. He had thought his only friend, the only person who had given his loyalty to him without hope of reward, the only person that he felt could fill the void left by the loss of his brother was dead, and now he was here alive. Alive, so long as Stahlkrieger spared the life of Ernesto Hess. He had fought through so much to get here, to stand over his fallen enemy and snuff out his life, how could he possibly give that up? Stahlkrieger seethed with the injustice of it. He was a villain now, wasn’t he? He had done terrible things in his path to power, and he had no regrets, felt no guilt. He would throw away the lives of the other syndicate members without a second thought to claim his vengeance. That was what a villain did, look out for number one, let nothing stand in your way. Yet Stahlkrieger already knew that he could not turn his back on Papa Rumble so easily. In the life of a villain, having someone in who you could put your complete trust was a rare thing indeed. Papa Rumble had always stood by him, showed his loyalty as a friend. As much as his logic circuits told him it was the wrong thing for him to do, Stahlkrieger knew he must repay this with loyalty of his own.

“Alright, I agree. Release Papa Rumble and the other hostages, and I will not kill Hess. For now. If and when we meet again in the future will be another matter. I will not forget what he has done to me and my family. Better tell him to watch his back.”

“I understand.” Said Lord Recluse, gesturing to the guards who placed a mediporter on Papa Rumble and activated it, causing him to disappear in a flash of light.

“And one other thing.” Said Stahlkrieger, as the troops began placing a mediporter on the Black Scorpion.

“Yes?” asked Lord Recluse, his tone saying in effect- don’t push your luck.

“I want my brother’s body. I want to give him a proper burial. I don’t want him just thrown out as trash again. I want to take him home.” Said Stahlkrieger, pointing at Kevin’s corpse.

“Agreed.” Said Lord Recluse dismissively. “And have no fear about the rest of Ernesto’s prototypes, you will be seeing no copies of yourself or your brother on the streets, all of this will be destroyed. Ernesto Hess sought immortality, but once Statesman is dead, that mantle will be mine and mine alone.”

Stahlkrieger looked behind Recluse at his other lieutenants, at Mako and Sirocco who tensed visibly at their master’s statement and looked sullen, and at Ghost Widow, who only smirked again. Arachnos troops activated the Black Scorpion’s mediporter and he disappeared in the telltale flash, managing to postpone his fate until another date. The other three lieutenants exited the room, followed by Lord Recluse, who paused at the doorway and looked back at Stahlkrieger.

“I will be in contact with you sometime soon. It is not your fate to disappear into obscurity now, I sense you have a great destiny ahead of you. Who knows? Perhaps one day you will stand right below me, and fight at my side.” Said the archvillain, who then left the room before Stahlkrieger could respond.

Stahlkrieger stood silently a moment, then turned back to his brother’s body. Using every ounce of his considerable strength, he hoisted the immense dead weight of Kevin Sullivan over his shoulder, and carried him quietly from the room.





In the fading light of King’s Row, another day was coming to an end. Those people that were able to find employment were trudging home to their dilapidated homes, or more often the case, to some tavern to drink themselves into a stupor. A chill wind signaled the beginning of Fall, and every now and then a drop of water could be felt, as if the sky could not make up it’s mind if it wanted to rain or not. On a worn and cracked sidewalk on a nondescript street filled with unloved and uncared for homes, a dark cloaked figure stood, staring across the street at a boarded up house, seemingly no different from any other on that block. The figure made no move, except to clutch at the robe to keep the occasional gusts of wind from pulling it open. Bryan Sullivan gazed out at what had once been his home, where he had grown up alongside his twin brother, where his mother had worked so hard to care for them. The memories that recently had begun to seem more distant, like trying to remember a movie he had seen once, were now vivid and very real. He could almost hear his mother’s voice, could almost see he glancing out the window, wondering when he’d be home. But she wasn’t at the window, the window was covered in plywood and smeared with graffiti, the house empty and cold. Seeing a scruffy looking child sitting on a stoop nearby staring at him, Bryan walked several feet towards him and stopped.

“Did you know the woman who used to live in that house?” Bryan asked the youth, who may have been anywhere from six to ten years old, it was hard to tell, he was skinny and obviously malnourished.

“Yeah, I knew her.” Said the boy, obviously very nervous but not knowing if he should be. This large, frightening stranger could be a hero, they didn’t always look like Statesman, some could look really scary, even if they were the good guys. “We moved into this neighborhood a year ago, she still lived here then.”

A year ago, that was why Bryan did not recognize the boy. With most of the houses on the block being rentals or frequently abandoned, people would often be there one day and gone the next. Sometimes people would pass through, renting a house while they looked for work, only to move on again when they could not find any.

“Do you know where she is now?” Bryan asked. “Do you know when she moved?”

The boy seemed more nervous now, as if he did not want to answer the question, as he was unsure of how the stranger would react.

“She didn’t move anywhere. She died. She was already kinda crazy when we first moved here. She was always staring out the window, or standing on the front steps talking to nobody. She would have arguments, you know, like, with herself? She got worse though. My mom tried to give her food sometimes, but she would hardly ever eat any. My mom finally got sick of it and told us just to ignore her. Then a while back, she got worse. She would sometimes scream for no reason, and wander around, pulling her hair. Then nobody heard anything for a few days, so my dad went over to her house. That’s where he found her body. She had just died, sitting there in a chair, looking out the window.” The boy looked at Bryan, looking for any sign of anger that would send him running, but Bryan just stood there for a long moment, then nodded, barely perceptible within his hood.

“Do you know what they did with her body?” he asked the boy.

“Same thing they do with all the bodies that nobody wants, city took it, I heard they put her in the old company cemetery.” The boy answered.

Bryan knew of the cemetery the boy was referring to. It was nothing more than a dead patch of ground beneath power lines in an area of the Row even more run down than most. The old companies that used to do business in King’s Row would use it when one of their employees died who had no family. Simple wooden crosses adorned some of the graves, though most had been stolen by vandals. After the companies left, anyone without enough money to give their loved ones a proper burial would go there in the middle of the night to bury them themselves. Since many of the graves were unmarked, they would often accidentally run into previous occupants, resulting in the graves becoming shallower through the years. More recently, it was rumored that Vazhilok visited the place, usually soon after someone was buried. Bryan wondered if they had dug up his mother after she was buried, but then decided it didn’t really matter. Taking one final look at the house across the street, Bryan pulled his cloak close and began to walk away. He shouldn’t stay here too long. Blue Steel was supposed to be stationed in this area of Paragon, and Bryan was not in the mood for a fight right now. As he turned to go, the boy called out to him.

“Mister? Are you one of those heroes?” he asked.

Stahlkrieger turned back to him, and his red eyes glowed within the folds of his cowl. “No. I’m not.”

With that, the boy jumped up in fear and ran into his house, slamming the door behind him and shouting for his mother. Stahlkrieger walked away from King’s Row for what he hoped was the last time.

Back in the Rogue Isles, deep below an abandoned building in St. Martial, Stahlkrieger worked on some of the equipment in his new base of operations. He had not gone back to the Duskfall Syndicate, although General Doomsday was rebuilding the base and recruiting new members. Of all the other syndicate members involved in the battles aboard The Raven’s Fury, only Yukon Thunder had not survived. The others had been safely mediported away, and most were fully recovered from their injuries. Papa Rumble was also mostly recovered, and was gathering new thugs to replace those who had been killed. He was also searching for his daughter, Crimson Bow, who had not been seen since the fight in the Arachnos base nearly three weeks ago. Stahlkrieger had not spoken to him since the events, though he had heard that Papa Rumble had been asking about him. Ernesto Hess, the Black Scorpion, had returned to Grandville to recover from his injuries and resume his duties as one of Lord Recluse’s lieutenants. Rumor had it that with the loss of so much men and material in the recent fiasco, Hess had fallen temporarily to the bottom of the pecking order among the four archvillains, and was staying rather close to Recluse for protection until he could rebuild his forces. From Lord Recluse himself, Stahlkrieger had heard nothing, but he had received covert messages from Captain Mako, Ghost Widow, and Sirocco all, congratulating him on his recent “achievements” and some subtly, others not so subtly offering their patronage to him.

Stahlkrieger had answered none of them. He had sequestered himself within his new base, little more than a basement really. Computer terminals and piles of car batteries littered the room, with wires crisscrossing the floor in random order creating a tripping hazard. The “base” was dimly lit, Stahlkrieger needing little illumination to do his work, and he had no need of any other comforts. Right now his large robotic frame was hunched over a small computer screen, as he typed away at the keyboard. Outside, the sun moved across the sky, another day passing for the denizens of St. Martial, and then setting as artificial light began illuminating the city. Inside his base, Stahlkrieger’s internal chronometer tracked the passage of time, but the android himself took no notice of it, so engrossed with his task as he was. Finally he stopped, and stared at the screen. On the computer screen appeared a message: Download Complete, do you wish to Restart Now? Followed by the standard Yes and No options. Stahlkrieger paused a moment longer, and then clicked Yes.

The computer whirred as it executed his command, and a small blinking hourglass appeared on the screen. And across the room, lying on a huge metal slab of a table, Kevin Sullivan awoke, his milky white eye staring up at the ceiling sightlessly, the glowing red mechanical eye beginning to process visual data. Lumbering Cadaver was back online.

The End



Has anyone read this yet? Any comments? I'd appreciate any feedback.



Has anyone read this yet? Any comments? I'd appreciate any feedback.

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I've read the story, and I really applaud the work. You done a great job fleshing out the concept of Stahlkrieger and bringing him to life. The same goes for all the other minor characters that been introduced; I felt like I empathized with almost all of them.

Although, when you gone and describe these characters strictly by they're powerset and archtype that took me out of the immersion. Why? Because I was reminded that this story was set inside a game and it draws attention to its mechanics. Instead of saying Psychbreaker's a grav/psy dominator, I'd rather say she's a "metahuman who can warp gravity and space with her thoughts". A villain is not 'magic fire/dark corrupter', he's an 'hellfire warlock (or demon)'.

This is a personal opinion, but I doubt anyone would refer to themself as a corrupter, scrapper, tanker or dominator. You might get away with saying Brute or Mastermind. But, I'd see if you can think of a way to describe a character without mentioning their archtype.

I really liked the ending. It was nice.



Although, when you gone and describe these characters strictly by they're powerset and archtype that took me out of the immersion. Why? Because I was reminded that this story was set inside a game and it draws attention to its mechanics. Instead of saying Psychbreaker's a grav/psy dominator, I'd rather say she's a "metahuman who can warp gravity and space with her thoughts". A villain is not 'magic fire/dark corrupter', he's an 'hellfire warlock (or demon)'.

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Very good point. Thank you. I guess I was making too many references to the game instead of just relying on the story to create the characters. In some cases I tried to describe them in a way that would make it clear what their powersets were, other times I flat out said it. It doesn't really matter what the "powersets" are, it just places too many limits on characters. Thanks for the feedback.



Anybody else read this? I've only had one response, would appreciate feedback, good or bad. Thanks!



Grr. And here I thought I was being so original by making my story about villains instead of heroes.

Seriously, though this is quite a story. Overall, I liked it. I give it an 8. If you hadn't bumped it back up I would have missed it completely. So, thanks for that. I hope others who may have missed it caught it this time around.

If you'll excuse a plug I hope you check out my current thread Operation: Mayhem! It has some similarities with Heart of Steel like villains coming into their own in the CoX universe, however it is lighter in tone and is paced like a monthly comic where you chose a darker graphic novel approach (sans pictures of course). Wow, that is the longest sentence I ever typed.

Are you working on a sequel?



Thanks for your comments!

I wasn't planning a sequel, for one, because I'm not really into that character, haven't played him in a while, I just liked the short bio I had made for him and wanted to flesh it out. He's been sitting at 37 for a year or so. Second, I'm much more busy at work now, which is where I did all the writing on this one!
I am currently considering writing an origin story on some other character of mine. I have lots of characters, its just a matter of finding one that may be able to connect on some level with readers. Some of my villains are just too evil for anyone to relate too. I might possibly write an origin story for the hero Windigo Spirit, who has a part in this story, but seeing as his ending as already been written, would probably be anticlimatic. Thats the problem with many of my characters, they have cameos in this story which means if I want to be true to this story, I have limited them by having to tie them in someway.
I'm glad you read the story, I know its kind of long, but I love getting comments. I'll be sure to check out Operation: Mayhem!.



Just trying to get this back on the front page after a long time, please give it a read!



I liked this story. You clearly spent a lot of time on the background of the characters involved and had them pretty thoroughly laid out before you started.

Overall, it worked for me. Someone already mentioned the business of callling people by their archetypes. That's an easy correction to make. I didn't actually find it all that jarring.

Since you're looking for feedback:

I never really got a good sense of revenge-seeking from Stahlkrieger, but that may be partly because you were pretty true to the idea of him being a machine with a soul. Essentially, his emotional range is limited.

I applaud you for using several tried-and-true tropes of the genre (Like the arrival of Lord Recluse to collect Scorpion) and playing them straight while avoiding making them overly corny. I think the best compliment I can give you is that, except for one thing, the story was believable from beginning to end.

The one thing I questioned was the ending. It's a nice twist; I certainly didn't expect it. It's an interesting close, because of the promise of more to come. However, I'd question whether Bryan would really reboot Kevin like that. Scorpion made it pretty clear that Kevin is dead and gone. Unlike Stahlkrieger, Lumbering Cadaver is just that - a giant animated corpse, no different in nature than one of Doc Vahzilok's cadavers. When he returned to King's Row, I expected him to bury what was left of Kevin.

Then again, maybe that just shows how far Stahlkrieger has fallen from being Bryan.

In retrospect, I think I'd also say that I found the story of the boys' mother to be unnecesarily horrible. I realize that the story paints a pretty bleak picture of King's Row. Overly bleak, IMO, but everyone has their own idea of what The Row is like. It just seemed to me that the horrifying ending of the boys' mother didn't add anything that wasn't already present in the story by the fact that "Bryan's mother died broken-hearted waiting for her boys to someday return home". Her life was already bad enough, given that the day representing the triumph of everything she'd worked for turned out instead to be the worst possible thing that could ever have happened to her. Her life was a ruin from beginning to end. Basically, it was a downer, where the "down", for me, didn't bring anything to the table except horror for its own sake.



Thanks a lot for your feedback, you make a lot of good points.

The one thing I questioned was the ending. It's a nice twist; I certainly didn't expect it. It's an interesting close, because of the promise of more to come. However, I'd question whether Bryan would really reboot Kevin like that. Scorpion made it pretty clear that Kevin is dead and gone. Unlike Stahlkrieger, Lumbering Cadaver is just that - a giant animated corpse, no different in nature than one of Doc Vahzilok's cadavers. When he returned to King's Row, I expected him to bury what was left of Kevin.

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I was basically trying to portray Bryan's commitment to his brother When he defeated him, he didn't know it was Kevin, and probably wouldn't have been able to fight him if he had known. When he "reboots" him at the end, he's hoping against hope that there may be something left in there that is his brother. Its a stupid thing to do, but he has nothing else in his life, he's willing to take the risk.

In retrospect, I think I'd also say that I found the story of the boys' mother to be unnecesarily horrible. I realize that the story paints a pretty bleak picture of King's Row. Overly bleak, IMO, but everyone has their own idea of what The Row is like. It just seemed to me that the horrifying ending of the boys' mother didn't add anything that wasn't already present in the story by the fact that "Bryan's mother died broken-hearted waiting for her boys to someday return home". Her life was already bad enough, given that the day representing the triumph of everything she'd worked for turned out instead to be the worst possible thing that could ever have happened to her. Her life was a ruin from beginning to end. Basically, it was a downer, where the "down", for me, didn't bring anything to the table except horror for its own sake.

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That is true, it is a bit melodramatic and depressing. I did it to show that Bryan had no living family to go back to, that his days of being a villain wouldn't end with his defeat of Black Scorpion. If his mother was still alive, it would have been a possible source of redemption for him, and I wanted to set up the closing part with Lumbering Cadaver, to show how Bryan was truly all alone. If he still had a chance to reunite with his mother, he may not have made the foolish decision to try to bring back his brother. The whole died of a broken heart thing is a bit over the top, I just couldn't think of a good way to kill her off that Bryan could blame in some part on what was done to him and Kevin.

Thanks again for your response, I appreciate that you really tried to understand the characters. Hopefully I can write something else soon, just have to find another character interesting enough.



Well .... I've read the other comments here:

A) If you wrote this at work, I completely understand why you used the AT names instead of working up some other way of describing how the characters used their powers. That was just simply due to lack of time.
B) I kept wondering why I empathized with Stahlkrieger at the beginning, but that became clear when I read the origin chapter(s). Plus, there was this one minded pursuit of his brother's supposed killer the whole entire time - man that was just amazing. Fits an android perfectly. (Kinda reminds me of Lore's dogged antagonizing of Data in ST: TNG! Just with hella more action.)
C) You've gotta write some more - where is Crimson Bow?
D) A great, tragic story. Totally bleak. Whereas so many enter the Rogue Isles to gain infamy and fortune, not so the case for Bryan Sullivan, a.k.a. Stahlkrieger - and you've worked it out with near perfection. (The whole thing with the ATs is just nitpicking...and could probably be taken as more a tribute to the game then anything else.) Probably some grammatical errors, definitely some typos. Those are no big deal though compared to the entire story.

Overall I'm just impressed. From beginning to ending. I lost track of how long that took me to read. I'm still waiting to read more already.



Write a book. I'd buy it and read it. All i can say

But yeah seriously very nice read. Took me awhile but enjoyed every minute of it.



I'll chime in- that was a solid read. The bit about the Arachnos soldiers idly trying to make out the make and model of the car that Psychbreaker hucked at them made me smile (of course, I've always been a sucker for Propel), and overall, it's a good origin story for a villain. If you can still edit the earlier stuff, might I suggest making it clearer that Brian 'knew' that Kevin ahd died?

I'm mostly suggesting that because I didn't realize that Kevin was supposed to be dead, rather than missing, until Brian's shocked denial that the Lumbering Cadaver could be Kevin... and honestly, I found myself wondering why he didn't see it coming; Lumbering Cadaver's first appearance had me going "Ah, that's where Kevin ended up." *shrug* Other than that relatively minor nitpick, a well-crafted and enjoyable (if rather tragic) story.

"A soft answer turneth away wrath. Once wrath is looking the other way, shoot it in the head." Seven Habits of Highly Effective Pirates

MA Arcs: #12285, "Small Fears", #106553, "Trollbane", #12669, "How to Survive a Robot Uprising"



Very well written. I personally didn't mind the mention of the ATs as I always kinda imagine them as in character designations. People love to classify things and if Paragon City can have five government branches for each origin then I'm sure they subdivide thier heroes into the ATs we're familiar with. And if the heroes do it I don't see why the evil geniuses of the Rogue Isles wouldn't come up with their own designations for what a villain is capable of. That's just my take.

Also the ending where the boy relates what happened to Stahlkreiger's mother didn't bother me so much. I acutally was kinda releived you killed her off and let her find a sort of peace. As a new parent I particularly empathized with her when you abducted her kids on the day of her greatest triumph for them. In fact it's all I've been thinking about this afternoon. Very well done. A tremendous amount of emotional impact without melodrama, and that's hard to do - especially in a short story. Of course you could just say being a dad has made me soft, but I can live with that.

Overall very good. You got me involved enough with the characters I was supposed to care about so I cheered when when they triumphed and felt for them when they fell. And there was enough emotional detachment from the extras that were killed off that I felt bad, but wasn't detracted from the overall mood of the scene.

If I had to make a nitpick it would be the fact that Brian became a villain. Somehow I expected it would take more than a hero passing him by and being shot at by Longbow to push an upstanding young man who had avoided gangs all his life into a life of crime. Of course that could just be explained by that fact that he's a soul in an android body and that morality doesn't have quite the same impact that it once did - which I think is what you were going for. Anyway, I think that could have been expanded on some more but who cares? It was still a great read and you are truly talented.

Scrappers: Because no plan survives first contact with the enemy intact.




Also the ending where the boy relates what happened to Stahlkreiger's mother didn't bother me so much. I acutally was kinda releived you killed her off and let her find a sort of peace.

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See, I didn't see that as finding any kind of peace. In fact, this is Paragon City we're talking about. I wonder what Stahlkrieger would do or feel if his path took him through that part of King's Row some day and he discovered that his mother's insane spirit is still waiting in that little apartment...




See, I didn't see that as finding any kind of peace. In fact, this is Paragon City we're talking about. I wonder what Stahlkrieger would do or feel if his path took him through that part of King's Row some day and he discovered that his mother's insane spirit is still waiting in that little apartment...

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Well, he wouldn't feel much being that he's an android now. He might go on a rampage through the Row.

He might just say something to the effect: "Go figure..."