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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/campfires/item_id/2070666-Return-of-the-Superheroes
Rated: E · Campfire Creative · Serial · Action/Adventure · #2070666
A new group of superheroes is formed to defend Earth. But are they up to the challenge?
[Introduction] It has been two years since the events of Operation: Dynamic Duo, when a group of superheroes employed by the government saved the entire world from annihilation by a mad god. But the war never truly ends...

New evils rise up every day to threaten the Earth. And the superheroes of Operation: Dynamic Duo have moved on to other adventures and other challenges. Now, the task of defending the world falls to a new generation of superheroes.

A shadowy group known only as The Association has tracked down several young, budding supers and enlisted all of them into the fight against evil. They will encounter challenges beyond their wildest imaginings, every manner of threat imaginable... and if they fail, the world as we know it is as good as dead.

Notes and Rules:

1. Your first entry should be a character profile, done up in the format shown below. Second entry is where we get to the good stuff! UPDATE: At this point, anyone just joining the campfire can go ahead and start adding to the story in their first addition, as long as they also include a character profile.
2. I want to keep this moving along, so everyone has three days to make an addition.
3. Needless to say, interactions with other characters are strongly encouraged. Strike up a friendship, have a romance, or whatever.
4. Obviously, since this is a superhero story I don't want to say "be realistic", but keep it fair. Don't make your character too powerful, or treat other peoples' characters disrespectfully when it's your turn. We're all in this together!
5. Have a good time!


Character Profile:

Name:
Superhero Name:
Appearance:
Background:
Powers:
Anything Extra (optional):

Name: Rosemary Dodgson

Superhero Name: String

Appearance: Rosemary is short (about 5’1”) and skinny, with long curly black hair done up in a thick ponytail. She has fair skin, with some freckles on her face, a small, straight nose and hazel eyes.

Background: Rosemary is a college student at James Joseph Jaspers University in upstate New York. Her passions are music and political science. To make some money on the side, she signed up to be a test subject for a research experiment that one of the college professors was running. She never really understood the science behind it all—something about string theory and biogenetic engineering—but, anyway, that's how she got her powers.

Powers: Rosemary has the power of super-elasticity. She can stretch, twist, bend and contort her body into any shape, much like the comic book heroes Mr. Fantastic and Plastic Man. Her rubbery form also gives her some heightened resistance to damage from physical objects; for example, knives can’t easily penetrate her skin, and low-caliber bullets and projectiles simply bounce off her (still hurts like Hell, though).

Anything Extra: When she’s not fighting evil, Rosemary enjoys cooking and plays bass guitar for a rock band she started with her friends, called Shasta Delaney.
Name: Axel Redress.


Superhero Name: Evergreen


Gender: Male


Age: 24.


Appearance: Around 5' 8". White. Dark blueish wavy hair that just touches his shoulders. His eye's are the same color as his hair. He sports a black coat that turns into a sort-of claw at the collar. He leaves it unbuttoned at the top to show off a little of his bare chest, and it also shows off a black mark about the size of someone's palm on his neck. He wears dark-blue colored pants, and black sneakers with a white line that curves at the top. He wears black guy-liner that he extends down his face in a single line to make it look like he's crying. He has some muscle, and no real fat on his body. Has a light frame for the most part though.


Personality: Mostly apathetic around others, turn's into a very nice guy when near plants. Otherwise, is a very hard person to get along with. Open's himself to others who like plants, and shares his ideas of filling the world with various form's of plant-life. He likes plants so much, that if he ever sees someone hurting plants in any way, he will put his own life on the line just to make sure that no one will ever hurt it ever again.


Powers: Axel's powers aren't really superpowers at all. In fact, his powers have existed ever since he was born, though they never truly developed until he became a young teen. He is capable of controlling any form of plant life, as well as promoting it as well. He can make plants gigantic, enhance their threat levels by making thorns sharper and toxins more deadly than normal, and he can also talk with the plants and trees to find out information from them.


In addition, Axel has taken this a step further and has turned his own body into a home for many kinds of plant based remedies, poisons, and can even take on the capability's of many kinds of plants, such as photosynthesis, developing poison barbs on his skin, and can even turn his own arms into vines with poison thorns if he see's fit.


On top of all that, all the plants in the world seem to be in love with him, and he in love with them. You can easily see that from the way he holds and talks to plants that would otherwise harm or kill other normal people.


History: Has lived a mostly calm life. Ever since he was 8 years old, he was fascinated with plants. He would often play in flower fields and lay in tall grass. When he turned 15, he devoted his life to the safety of all plant life, as well as founding an organization that takes care of rare plant life. But after a fire was started in the building where some of the rare, near extinct, plant life was growing, he had suffered a psychological meltdown, and had to be put in a intensive care unit for the next 5 years. The only thing that was able to keep him going all that time was the fact that there was a garden a few doors down from where his room was. And he would help out sometimes with watering the plants, and putting new seeds in. After he was let out, he set back out on his quest to bring rare plant life to the world once again.
Name: Cobrian Syelus

Superhero Name: Fuoco Serpeant

Appearance: Though he prefers formalities in public, such as a suit, tie and dress shoes, he truly goes wild with his costume. Consisting of black and red hightops, flexible jeans, a short sleeve shirt, red fingerless gloves, and red face paint. The paint being snakes. His eyes are dark red and snake like due to biological expirements when he was younger. He has a slim build and tan skin.

Powers: Though he's not completely sure, he has a decent idea where his powers came from. He has the control over fire and snakes. His specialty being creating a giant snake of fire.

Background: Cobrian has been experimented on since he was born. Between both his mother and father being deranged scientist, and being homeschooled, he had a harsh first 10 years. His parents specialized in pyrotechnics and snake biology. They were trying to control flames by a form of telepathy. They were successful. But at a cost. Cobrian was brought into CPS at the age of 10. He burned down his first three homes. And the fourth was infested by snakes. He never got a fifth as he had run away.

Anything Else: Cobrian refuses to risk his heart. Though he's more than open to admit he leans for men. He refuses to admit he's never seen anyone. But he has made a fortune on his own. So why bother involving others?
Name: Diana Claw
Superhero Name: Radical
Species: Mutant European Mole
Appearance: Surprisingly tall and slender for a Mole,Humanoid with large clawed hands, has large Blue eyes but still has poor eyesight
Background: Born an ordinary Mole in the English Countryside, the Mole would be a Superhero, wandered into some strange glowing, green ooze (Sound familiar?) If that wasn't bad enough, a Scientist found er as she was starting to Mutate and experimented on her, the Scientist know not what he unleashed by giving Diana psychic powers, he gave the means to escape Captivity, The Association discovered the Mutant and are in the process of convincing her not all Humans are evil
Powers: Aside from the normal Mole Powers of Super Digging and having slightly more then Human Strength and Endurance, Diana was given the abilities of 'Sixth Sense' (She can foresee future dangers) And the Ability Bio-Manipulation-Pain She can strike the nervous system directly with her mind
Anything Extra :Favorite Book: Duncton Wood
Favorite Music:Classical
Favorite Food: Pizza
Being super-elastic really improves your life in a number of ways. Case in point: it makes exercise a lot easier. I left the gym on Friday night feeling better than I could ever remember feeling before—and a lot more tired, too. I wanted nothing more than to shower, whip up a quick stir-fry using the leftover vegetables moldering in the back of my fridge, eat quickly and turn in. But Fate, and the Association, had other plans, as usual.

No sooner had I stepped out of the shower onto my bathmat than I became aware a familiar tingling sensation in my skin—a layer of warm, sharp prickles running through me. Instantaneously, and without a sound, my bathroom transformed into the pitch darkness of the base.

The Association called this process “shuddering”—no doubt because of the violent cold shock that went running up your spine in the aftermath, that left you twitching and your mouth momentarily dry. It was not a very comfortable process, especially because they had shuddered me right out of the towel I was wrapped in, and straight into my uniform. They had given me a special suit to wear for whenever I went out to fight crime, made of stretchable fabric that would grow or shrink to fit me no matter how I changed myself. It was all very well and good, I supposed, but I didn’t exactly like the idea of being shuddered straight out of my clothes and into the suit. How did they always know to put it right where I was about to appear? What if something went wrong, and I ended up in the base naked? I would have asked someone about this if there was anyone around to ask. But I digress.

Although the room was almost totally dark, I was vaguely aware that there were at least three other people standing near me. My allies, naturally; they’d been shuddered into the base, same as I had. There was a long black table in front of us with at least four unmarked black suitcases.

Suddenly, on the wall in front of us, there appeared the image of a single straight line of yellow light. This was familiar, too: we were about to be addressed by our contact in The Association. Our contact’s name was HORATIO, and “he” was, in fact, a computer program.

“Welcome, supers.” HORATIO had a low, serene voice, like the sound of the ocean in a seashell. As he spoke, the straight line before us changed into the image of a soundwave, rising and falling in time to the flow of his words and pauses. “Apologies for the uncomfortable method by which you were all brought here, but I’m afraid there was no time to send out formal invitations. Your first mission is of the utmost importance.”

“Once every hundred years, a special baby is born. Although this baby is born to mortal parents, the child itself is, in fact, a god in human form. This child is called the Earthchild, a being of limitless magical power, whose soul is directly linked to that of the entire planet. If the Earthchild is harmed or killed, all of existence will share in that same fate.”

“Recently we discovered, through classified methods, that the Earthchild has returned to our planet. Although we are currently unable to determine the child’s exact coordinates, we know that he or she lives in the small town of Pleasant Mountain, Maine. We also know that a notorious team of super-villains called The Headhunters has been hired to kidnap the Earthchild.”

Now the picture of the soundwave on the wall was replaced by a picture of a nine-foot mechanical man, a fearsome juggernaut made of black metal, with a face like the front of a locomotive. “This is Black Five,” said HORATIO, in his soothing monotone. "He is one of the Headhunters."

The next image was that of a large humanoid insect, with two long legs and four stunted arms. His mouth was a set of four jagged mandibles, rasping and rubbing against each other. His eyes were grotesquely protruding bulbs of purple. In his arms, he held: an eight-barrel machine gun, a long feathered spear and a matching set of daggers. “This is the Thrip.”

The Thrip’s picture was instantly replaced by that of a smirking blonde woman in a black domino mask, leather bodysuit and fishnet stockings. “This is the Error,” said HORATIO. “She has the ability to drive anyone nearby violently insane, eventually forcing them to commit suicide.“

The next picture showed a moody-looking teenager wearing a stained T-shirt, shorts, sandals and a backwards baseball cap. “This is the Idler. He has the ability to slow down or speed up time.”

The Idler’s picture was then replaced by… nothing. The screen was now pitch black. “We have no picture of the fifth Headhunter. He is known only as Sudden Death. He is a sniper armed with an enchanted rifle; it never misses a shot, and every bullet kills instantly. He is the most dangerous of them all. Do not let him see you. If he has time to pull the trigger, you are already dead.”

The image of the soundwave came back onscreen, and it throbbed and pulsed as HORATIO continued to speak. “These are the Headhunters, and they have never yet lost a battle. Your mission is to infiltrate the town of Pleasant Mountain and find the Earthchild before they do. We apologize for being unable to start you out on an easier mission, but the fate of the world hangs in the balance.”

“You will find everything you need for this mission in the suitcases on the table in front of you. Good luck.”

The sound and light died down, and the room was dark and silent again. I barely had a second to reach out and grab the suitcase in front of me before we were all shuddered out of the room again.

The next thing I knew, we were all standing out in the middle of the woods, next to the highway. An overhead lamp-post cast its glare down on the black tar road, reducing our shadows to small dark circles around our feet. I felt the chill of the wind blowing through my hair, and heard the crickets and nighttime creatures chorusing off in the distance. The big wooden sign in front of us said, WELCOME TO PLEASANT MOUNTAIN.

Well, we had arrived. I turned to face my compatriots, getting my first real look at all of them in the process. The man standing nearest to me was a tall guy (well, taller than me, anyway, although that’s not exactly uncommon) in a black cloak, with blue hair and black mascara. The man standing on his other side was dressed all in red and black, his face painted with red snakes. And standing on the other side of him was… well, a mole. A humanoid mole.

I was going to say something, but thought better of it. Then I looked down to examine my own outfit, the one the Association had given me. It was an orange and green bodysuit, decorated with four diagonal pink slashes running across the torso, and an embarrassingly revealing V-shaped neckline. Yeesh. I looked like a clown.

I turned back to the others. “So… what now?”
"Before we get started, you should all know that the reason we're here is because of the forest." Everyone started looking at me strangely as they began to think of what i meant by that.


"Come again?" The mole woman asked first.


"The trees, they learned of the Earthchild's birth recently, and they've been rejoicing ever since. It didn't take them long to spread word to all the other trees and plants the world over about her arrival." I told them, making sure to inform them of the gender of the Earthchild.


"So the Earthchild is a girl? Interesting. You said that the trees told the other trees and plants about her birth, so does that mean you're a tree person?" The skinny woman asked as her and the others kept looking at me confused.


"I wouldn't say that. I'm just a lover of plants. Nothing more, nothing less. But i do understand the language of the plants and trees, and that was how we learned about her birth."


"Alright, so what are we waiting for? Let's go find that girl and rescue her before the bad guys do. Or did your tree friends inform you of her location as well?" Said the man with snakes painted on his face.


"As a matter of fact, not only did they inform me of the general location of the girl, but they also told me where to find the Headhunters, if we decided to go after them as well." I motioned them all to come closer so i could show them a map of the area.


"Here's where we are, the forest outside the mountain area. The girl is somewhere around here, at the base of the lake and inside a cottage surrounded by trees. Now at the top of the mountain is an old ranger tower, and from what I've heard from the trees, they described someone who doesn't match any of the descriptions from the first four members of the Headhunters, which means it must be their fifth member."


"Sudden Death." The skinny woman said with a hint of fear in her voice.


"Right. If they're up there, they must have a clear view of the whole mountain, as well as the surrounding area as well. And right now, i don't feel like testing out that magic bullet theory by walking around in the open, do you?" I asked the others, only for them to shake their heads at me.


"Thought so, so we'll have to continue through the most dense parts of the forest, but that path is also the longest. And on top of that, the other members of the Headhunters are on that path, both waiting for us, and looking for the girl."


"So continue with caution and all that crap?" Said the man with the snake tattoos.


"Pretty much. Unless you want to risk a one shot kill on the shortest path to the girl, those are our only choices. But before we move on, let's introduce ourselfs first. My name is Axel Redress, otherwise known as Evergreen, and i will be providing aid in the form of plant based herbs and poisons, as well as communicating with the plants and trees to gather information on a global scale." Then i left it to the others to introduce themselves.
Cobrian sighed popping his fingers. His throat was bugging him a bit so he decided to introduce himself in a more.....flashy.......manor.

With a snap of the fingers, flames began rippling from his palms. He smirked seeing the plant dude rather worried. He began moving his hands in a flowing manor. Before long a serpeant made of flames surrounded his lower body. The snake circled his legs in a slow manor as he began spelling his name in flames.

Once finished, "Cobrian Syelus" floated in thin flames while "Fuoco Serpeant" floated just below. Cobrian rubbed his throat tenderly to show he wasn't completely comfortable talking. Unless necessary like before. He glanced back at Evergreen to see him still eyeing the flames untrustworthy. Cobrian smiled and with a quick clench of the fist, all of the flames vanished without a trace.
Name: Ianto (pronounced Yan-toh) Bergman

Superhero Name: Ice Berg

Appearance: Short dark brown hair and light brown eyes. Tall, about 6'3", and well built, with naturally tan skin. He usually wears black cargo jeans with a well fitting blue t-shirt under a long black heavy duster.

Background: Ianto hasn’t always been the man he is today, there was a long there where he was the bad guy. He learned of his abilities while under the care of his maternal Uncle also known as the super villain Elam who wields elemental abilities. Not knowing anything other than what he was taught he went down a dark path, taking on super heroes, and on occasion hurting innocents. He changed when he was forced to take on his uncle when he wanted to take over the city by kidnapping the children of the world’s super heroes. After turning himself in to the authorities at the age of 17 after defeating his uncle and dragging him to the police, he has worked to make up for all the bad things he has done.

Powers:
Ianto posses the ability to instantly decrease the temperature of ambient water vapor in his immediate environment to below zero degrees Celsius, thereby freezing it into ice. He is able to make ice that will not break unless he wills it to. In this manner he is able to quickly form a great variety of ice structures, including projectiles, shields, ladders, baseball bats, one of his more popular abilities is to create a sentient copy of himself. Ice Berg’s body converts to organic ice while using his abilities. He is immune to sub-zero temperatures; he is also able to perceive the thermal energy level of objects around him. Because cold is the absence of heat, he does not actually emanate cold; rather, he decreases thermal energy. After training to use his abilities for the sake of good, he has shown manipulation over water. Ianto, needs to recharge his powers for at least an hour after extended use something he is working to overcome.

Anything Extra (optional):
While not out saving lives, he searches for his mother and father who he suspects one or both had abilities as well.
I as a Mutant Animal am still struggling to understand Human Etiquette but after what I had learned about the Headhunters, I REALLY wanted to avoid Sudden Death, as a Wild Animal I know far too well the panic that grips every wild Beast and Bird, that sudden bang and then someone in the forest drops dead, never to want anything or do anything ever again.

"My name is Diana Claw." I said to the Humans "I at this moment I am so grateful to be the species I am."

"Why?" Asked Axel

"As a Mole I have the Unique Ability to get us to Earthchild in guaranteed safety." I said "Sometimes I look at the other creatures in the Mutant Animal community and how much more beautiful they are."

"Whoa! Whoa!" Said the Female Human "There is an entire Mutant Animal Community?"

I think I shouldn't have let that slip, but I had to keep on task

"While sometimes I about what it would be like if I had been born a Tiger, a Deer, a Kangaroo or a Tropical Bird with brightly colored plumage, at this Moment I am so glad I'm a Mole..."


I them walked over to the side of the Mountain we were on, and with my massive claws, began drilling away at blazing speed.

"I can dig faster then any normal Mole!" I said "A tunnel big enough for all of us...I doubt Sudden Death can locate us from under six feet below the ground."
(Author’s Note: Any new members joining in from now on will have their characters shuddered directly into our location)

No sooner had Diana begun digging than a fifth member appeared behind us. By the time introductions had all been made and remade, the tunnel was big enough for everybody to clamber in.

We passed the next hour or so in silence, mostly. Despite the fantastic speed at which Diana was digging, her arms moving so fast they were practically invisible, we didn’t exactly get there in the blink of an eye. After all, we were a group of five, and we had to navigate through a web of thick and gnarly tree roots, so sometimes the tunnel got pretty narrow and pretty crowded. Needless to say, it was a good thing that we were all naturally pretty thin, and once again I was especially grateful that included amongst my powers was super-malleability. Fuoco Serpeant created some tiny snakes of fire that floated around us, illuminating the darkness, which was good; although I’d never exactly thought of myself as being claustrophobic, crawling six feet under the earth in pitch blackness didn’t exactly sound like my idea of fun.

So we crawled onward, Diana continuing to dig, Fuoco Serpeant lighting our way and Evergreen using the tree roots to navigate. We had to stop and wait a few times while Diana dug her way around a layer of asphalt or cement, and I took those opportunities to look through the suitcases the Association had given us. They each included a copy of Earthchild, an instruction manual written in the 1920’s by a mystic named Eliezer Crosby, and a device shaped like a dreamcatcher, which the manual informed me was actually a magical Earthchild-detector, as well as an assortment of toys, treats and blankets in case we needed to persuade her to come with us.

Eventually Diana began to take us upwards, and not long after that I saw moonlight again. One by one we climbed out onto a gigantic lawn; the thick green grass, already soaked with night-dew, clung to our feet. We had come up in the backyard of a great two-story Dutch Colonial home with dark green clapboard siding and a maroon gambrel roof. From inside the house we could hear a woman' voice:

“Olivia, where are you? Olivia Shimura, you come here right now! Do you want me to tell your parents about this when they get home?”

“Shimura?” whispered Evergreen. “Are the people who live here… Chinese?”

“Um, I'm pretty sure 'Shimura' is a Japanese name,” I said. “There was this one actor who—”

But I was interrupted by the sound of light footsteps on a wooden floor, and then, on the mahogany back porch, a little girl appeared. She stopped and looked at us, and in the light of the full moon we saw her clearly. Just as I had said, she looked Japanese-American. She couldn’t have been more than three or four years old. She was wearing a floral-print red dress and holding a floppy magenta-colored stuffed giraffe. She had big green eyes that peered right into your soul, and two pigtails done up in green ribbons. She was frickin’ adorable.

She toddled over to the railing of the porch to get a closer look at us. “Wan’ my Hello Kitty book,” she announced, to nobody in particular.

Our magical detectors all began to glow simultaneously with an unearthly bluish light. Rather redundant, really. An idiot could have seen that this was the Earthchild. Just something about her eyes

“You the bendy-lady,” she said with great importance, pointing at me with one lopsided hand. “And you’re the tree-man. Flowers told me you were coming.”

Slowly, I took a step towards her.

And then everything happened so fast…
As soon as String took her first step towards the Earthchild, i could hear the trees screaming out to me as the wind started picking up. They said, "Save her!" At that moment, i began scanning the surrounding area for any hostile activity, but from what i could tell, there wasn't anyone else near us at this time. Though most of the Headhunters were coming this way, it would take them at least a few more minutes before they arrived.


Then i put two and two together and surrounded us all in a giant thorn bush, concealing us not only from the outside world, but also from the hunter who had us in his sights.


"What's going on Axel? Why are you--" String started asking, but then stopped as a loud gunshot was heard somewhere far off, followed by something tearing through thorn bush with intense power. It was one of Sudden Death's magic bullets, and it was aimed right at String who didn't even have time to defend herself and was knocked off her feet from the impact and slammed into the far wall of the thorn bush, though i made sure that the thorns wouldn't hurt us while we were inside it.


After she landed on the ground, we all rushed over to her side to see if she was alright. I got a good enough look at her to tell that while her life wasn't in any danger right this minute, the bullet managed to penetrate her upper body, even with her powers, though it was logged inside her. If we didn't get it out and treat her soon, she would die.


"Is she going to be alright Evergreen? Can you save her?" Diana asked as she started to sound worried.


"She is for now, but that was one of Sudden Death's magic bullets, the kind that are supposed to kill a person in one shot, so I'm not sure if i can save her in time or not. What we need right now is a safe place to treat her, and i don't think this thorn bush is going to last us for much longer." I said as i looked at the giant hole in the side of our cover. While it wasn't big enough for Sudden Death to see through from where he was, if he took enough potshots at us, he would find us in no time flat.


"Alright then, I'll get to work on a new tunnel and get us out of here." Diana said as she begun digging a new tunnel for us to climb into, leaving me to check up on the scared Earthchild.


"Listen, i need you to come with us, it's not safe here for you anymore." The girl just looked at me strangely for a moment before replying.


"I know why you here. The flowers told me what you plan to do with me." I looked back at the others after she said that to make sure none of them heard us talking.


"I know, i told them to tell you. And I'm sorry we have no other choice." The girl looked sad as she took a step away from me.


"Listen, if you don't come with us, then those people are going to use you for their own evil reasons. I can't promise they'll let you live as ransom to keep the world alive, they might just kill you and the whole world for the hell of it if they're psychotic enough. So please, just come with us." The girl looked hesitant at first, but then took a step forward and said...


"I'll go, but only if you promise me you'll let the girl live, alwright?"


"I can't promise her life will be spared, but we'll do our best to save her if we can." Then me and the Earthchild walked back over to the others as the hole was dug deep enough for us to escape.
Name: Jane Carter

Superhero Name: Shade

Appearance: Carter is average height, slightly curvy, and fairly fit. She has long, straight deep auburn hair that she generally keeps in a tight braid. Her eyes are a deep grey color and seem to grow more intensely dark when she calls her power. Her normal attire consists of plain jeans and a t-shirt. Her costume is a jet black jump-suit, black gloves, and black combat boots.

Background:Carter had a rough children, in and out of foster homes until she hit 18 years old. After that, she joined the military where she became a helicopter pilot. She was honorably discharged after a dangerous reduce mission. She doesn't talk about it. She's always had her abilities. She discovered them in foster care, when she needed to hid. She groomed her gift to make it possible for her, not only to do large scale manipulations, but also gentle, subtle ones as well.

Powers: Shadow creation, darkness manipulation, sometimes she can make the darkness into something solid. She can disappear altogether within the darkness, and also see in the dark.

Anything Extra: Jane is extremely distrustful of pretty much everyone.


****

Jane held her breath as she was shuddered to wherever she was being sent. A group mission, she thought woefully. I'm no good at group missions!

She arrived at her destination and was pleasantly surprised to find herself in the darkness of a tunnel. She pushed herself behind a curtain of shadow and watched. The group was a strange one. She wondered if it were wise of her to stay back and merely watch the group, but then she saw the child. Her heart wrenched. Poor kid.

"You can come out," a female voice stated from the front of the group. "I see you." It was a mole. Or a person. Or pretty much both.

Great. Someone else can see in the dark here. Jane shed the darkness like a cloak and stepped into the light of a floating fire snake.

"Who are you?" a man asked. He had red eyes. She figured the snakes were his.

"Shade." She didn't give them anything else. She wanted to see their reactions.

"She's one of you." It was the little girl. She peered curiously at Jane, then turned. "Let's go. We need to fix String."

They began to move again. String was the one who was being carried, then. The man carrying her, wearing a gothic looking black coat was heaving in exertion. Jane sighed. She really didn't want to give away the majority of her secrets so early, but she felt that she would need to help this group. She called the darkness to her and created a cloud of shadow. It hovered under String. The man carrying her looked around, but the darkness of the tunnel made it impossible for him to see the semi-solid mass under his burden. The weight lifted significantly, and he was able to carry her easier. He didn't ask any questions and Jane was thankful.

She stayed at the back of the group, and watched.
Name: Nana Baek
Superhero Name: Haechi
Appearance: small, petite, medium length hair dyed green

Powers: Reality Warping, I can alter reality based on the thoughts/idea of others. The more drastic the manifestation/destruction the more draining it is. Her own imagination is limited; as she gets stronger she hopes not to rely on others in order to use her powers.

Background: Didn't discover her powers until late in her teenage years. She spent the earlier part of her life secretly practicing pagan belief systems. She wanted to have magic powers, wanted to be special, a superhero. She firmly believed that she could make anything come true if she believed it. Ironically, her powers don't amount to much of anything without the input of others. She never had a "super" support system as the Dynamic Duo dissolved just as her powers began manifesting. She spent the last 2 years working on improving her abilities when she was contacted by the Association.

Additional info: On her own, she can make slight alterations but only of things she's already seen. For example, she is able to alter herself but only to people she's seen before (basically like a double/clone), she can conjure a key but only her house key as it's the only key she owns, etc etc.
"How many Supers are we going to pick up for this mission?" Diana muttered to herself as they made their way through the tunnel
Name: Peter Bryanson

Superhero Name: Spectre

Appearance: Ruggedly Handsome (or so he believes). He is 24 years old, stands at 6”1’, Blond short hair and brown eyes and likes to keep beard stubble. Very Athletic. Usually wears combat boots, jeans and a black sweat shirt. Aside from his Katana he keeps strapped to his back, he also carries a S&W .40 Cal strapped to his leg.

Background: Peter had a very normal life growing up, if you count excelling at every sport he played, normal. He didn’t know it then but it was because of his latent abilities with premonition that helped him best anyone who tried to stop him. It wasn’t until he was well into high school did his abilities with teleportation surface. And that happened, in the middle of a football game. In front of the entire school and attending community. He reappeared outside the stadium in the middle of a field. Peter was justifiably terrified and confused, so he just turned and ran, and never looked back. But to the town of Franklin, Peter just unexplainably disappeared. After being homeless for a year or so, Peter turned to robbing small stores, only taking enough to live on. But as he got older he started going bigger, eventually moving on to robbing banks. He always promised himself that he’d find a way to pay it back…one way or another.

Powers: Peter’s power with premonition are limited. First of all, it is not always active. In order for it to be used, Peter’s heart rate must be above 170. He monitors this with watch. Secondly, it only allows him to see less than a second into the future. What he sees is a ghostly form of the person move, then a split second later the body follows.
In regards to teleportation, Peter has no idea how he does it. The best he can gather is that it seems as if he rips a “door” into the fabric of space around him. Causing him to disappear and reappear elsewhere. He is limited by distance, the further away he is the more tired it makes him. Immediate vicinity “jumps” seem to have little to no effect on his stamina. But if he were to jump a further distance, it can leave him feeling exhausted, or worse make him pass out. Because of this he’s never pushed the boundaries of his teleporting ability.


"Damn." I muttered to myself as I felt the familiar feeling of the shuddering process begin. I hated it, it was nothing like my own powers. Shuddering just felt, wrong. That's when the cool interior of my high rise apartment melted away and was replaced with...a tunnel?
I took in my surroundings as quickly as I could. First thing I noticed was a girl with dark reddish hair, barely visible in the shadows. It was almost as if the shadows seemed to reach for her. Cool. I caught myself grinning. That's when I saw the girl being carried. And my smile vanished. She was injured and seemingly unconscious. I 'Jumped', appearing next to her.

"Name's Spectre. Yes, I can teleport. Yes, that's an awesome sword on my back. And yes, my side arm is loaded. Now, What happened? Has she been treated? And what's the mission?" I scanned her up and down locating the wound in her shoulder, mere inches from any vital organs.

"She was shot by a sniper." A voice sounded from the front of the group. She was a mole, or a human, or something like it. A Hum'mole? I stifled a laugh, not wanting to start out on the wrong foot. "We are tasked with protecting this here Earth Child." The Mole-woman continued motioning towards a small child. The child hadn't even noticed me. Instead her face was etched with concern for the injured girl. I knelt down next to her.

"Hey, don't worry kid. Nothing bad is going to happen. Not with me around anyway." I smiled, hoping I came across as confident. "We'll help her together alright? But right now we need your help, okay?" The child finally looked at me, curious. "We need you to stick close to him." I said, pointing at the blue haired guy. "As long as we know you are safe then we can do everything we can to help her. Deal?" I stuck out my hand. She eyed it, distrustfully for a second. Then took my hand with hers.

"Fine, but only 'cause flowers says so." She replied cutely. I have no idea what that meant but I stood up anyways. Good, one less thing for me to potentially worry about. I drew my sword and 'Jumped'. Appearing next to the beautiful girl in the back.

"Well," I said to her as I appeared, "Guess it's up to us to stop anyone from following. I go by Spectre. You?"

"Shade." She said, clearly uncomfortable.

"Cool name. 'Shade and Spectre.' Sounds as if we were meant to fight together. Hey, do me a favor?" I winked, spinning my Katana with a grin, "Smile!"

She glared instead, which only made me laugh.
Another unexpected benefit of super-elasticity: when you least expect, it can save your life.

HORATIO had made it absolutely clear: the only way for us to survive an encounter with Sudden Death was to avoid him at all costs. His magic rifle never missed, and every shot killed instantly. If he had time to pull the trigger, you were already dead.

I’d never imagined that my elastic powers would afford me any protection at all if I was unlucky enough to get hit by one of those magic bullets—true, my skin can deflect some bullets, but only from the lowest-caliber pistols, basically one step above pop guns and BB-guns, and it still hurts like a motherfucker. If I had known, right before the moment of impact, that I was about to be shot by Sudden Death, I definitely wouldn’t have expected to ever wake up.

But, three hours later, I did wake up—on a hospital bed in a sterile white room, under wall-to-wall fluorescent lighting. My head hurt, my shoulder and chest were numb and I was still painfully groggy. I began to look around for a doctor or nurse, but there was nobody else in the room with me… except, of course, for HORATIO, who proceeded to brief me on the details of the mission.

Overall, it had been a success. Despite my incapacitation, the others had been able to convince the Earthchild to come with us; we’d then managed to escape the house without encountering any other Headhunters along the way. When we’d gotten back in range of the Association’s sensors, they’d simply shuddered us back into the base.

But that victory had come at a terrible cost. When the Headhunters finally arrived at the Shimura household and found the Earthchild gone, they’d destroyed the house and killed Olivia’s babysitter. The Earthchild’s parents, John and Ellen Shimura, who had gone out for the evening, were still missing in action.

Apparently, the Association had a doctor on call that specialized in treating superpowered patients. The doctor had removed the bullet, and closed up the wound with a unique combination of treatments custom-made for me. I was still pretty sore, once the anesthetic wore off, but at least I was ready to fight again. More importantly, thanks to my super-elasticity, the talents of my doctor and the quick action of my teammates, I was the first and only person ever to survive being shot by Sudden Death’s magic rifle.

No sooner was I up off the bed and walking again, however, than I immediately felt the familar sensation of an impending shudder. The next second, I was back in the darkened main room, out of my hospital robe and back in my uniform (which, I noted, had been sewn up nicely) and surrounded once again by my colleagues. On the screen in front of us was the familiar wavelength of HORATIO’s voice:

“We have finally located the Earthchild’s parents… or, rather, their location has been revealed to us. We received this message from an anonymous source about five minutes ago.”

With a suctioned whoosh!, a pedestal rose in the center of the room. We all came closer to see what lay on it. There was a lock of black hair, a gold wedding band and a crumpled note. Evergreen picked up the note and his face darkened. He passed it to me; I read it, wordlessly, and handed it off to Diana. This is what it said:

WE HAVE THE EARTHCHILD’S PARENTS. BRING HER TO US OR THEY WILL DIE. COME TO PLEASANT MOUNTAIN TIMBER YARD AT SUNRISE. IF YOU ARE FIVE MINUTES LATE, THE PARENTS DIE. —THE HEADHUNTERS

“The Earthchild’s survival and well-being is vital to the survival of Earth,” said HORATIO, once we had all gotten a good look at the note, “So, obviously, we cannot even consider actually handing her over to the Headhunters. However, it is also important to the Earthchild’s psychological well-being that she be reunited with her parents, so we must retrieve them alive. We leave you to decide how best to handle this situation. You have one hour to formulate a plan, then you will be transported to the drop-off location.”

Olivia Shimura, Earthchild of the 21st century, was sitting alone in the indoor playroom which the Association had built into the base especially for her. As I stepped into the room, she looked up, and I was not very surprised to see that she had been crying. She may been given the infinite power and knowledge of a god, but she was also still just a little kid—a kid who had just been ripped from her home and loving parents.

“Will you read me a story?” she asked in a faint voice, gesturing to the bookshelf.

So I did. I read her The Princess and the Pony, Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs and Walter the Farting Dog. Then I sat her down and looked her right in the eyes. I was planning to tell her the truth about her parents; unpleasant as it would be for her to hear, she had a right to know it. But she spoke before I could:

“I’m sorry that bad man in the tower hurt you.”

My God, her eyes. They were so beautiful, and so sad. I put on a weak smile. “That’s okay. It’s not your fault; besides, I’m better now. And I’m really looking forward to paying him back next time we meet…”

She sniffled and gave my hand a squeeze. “Will you save my Mommy and Daddy?”

“Yes, we will. I promise. You’re very brave to go through all this, and you just need to be brave for a little while longer, okay?”

She nodded.

Her hand in mine, we walked back to the main room, where the others were waiting. “Close your eyes and take a deep breath, sweetie,” I told her, and as she did, we were all shuddered back into the forest of Maine.

The night sky was lightening to a more morning shade of blue; in a few minutes the sun was going to come up. We were standing by the highway once again, at the entrance to a deserted side trail which was long overgrown with low-hanging branches, a carpet of damp leaves and fallen tree trunks. Up ahead lay the long-abandoned Pleasant Mountain Timber Yard.

Without a word, we all started down the path. Olivia stayed close to me, clinging to my hand, as we navigated the path in almost total darkness, stumbling sometimes.

Finally, we reached the clearing where the lumber yard was located. Stopping at a safe distance from the treeline, we gathered around a giant fallen trunk and peered ahead. The timber yard itself was flanked by two large warehouses, and above that, the headquarters of the business office, which had been built into the rock of the mountain itself. Spectre, who had come with binoculars, was craning his neck upward through the leaves.

“I can see the ranger tower right up at the top of the mountain,” he said. “How much do you want to bet Sudden Death is still up there?”

“The trees are telling me that there’s still one person up there right now,” said Evergreen. “So, yes, it’s probably him.”

I wasn’t so sure. He could have been hiding in the office, beneath the glass windows, or in one of the warehouses. One thing was for sure: we’d take no unnecessary risks. He’d taken one shot at me; that was enough. That was all he was going to get.

Suddenly, Spectre hissed and yanked the binoculars away from his face. “Sun got in my eyes!” Sure enough, all around us, golden light was starting to fall, in uneven spots and patches, across the forest floor. The sun was poking its head out from behind the mountain.

The Headhunters hadn’t chosen this location by accident. While their backs were to the rising sun, it would be shining directly into all of our faces, meaning we wouldn’t be able to so much as look up without getting blinded. There was no way we’d be able to spot Sudden Death, much less fight the other Headhunters effectively, and if a fight broke out, he’d be able to pick us off easily, one by one. Clever.

I sent Olivia to go sit a few feet away, and then turned back to the others. “Listen,” I said, “one of us has got to take Olivia out there to meet with the rest of the Headhunters and make a big show of turning her over to them. Stall them for as long as possible. The rest of us should split into teams and sneak into the yard from different directions. One team should find Mr. and Mrs. Shimura, the other one should try to sneak up on Sudden Death and take him out.

“But whoever goes out to meet the Headhunters is taking a big risk, because not only will they be in Sudden Death’s sights the whole time, but because it’ll be that person’s responsibility to get the Earthchild out of there when we’re ready to leave,” I paused, took a deep breath and then announced: “If nobody else wants that job, I volunteer.”

Nobody talked for a second. Then Spectre broke the silence. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea. I think you’d be better off trying to sneak into the yard.”

“Why?”

“Because they’re not expecting you. Think about it: you’ve been shot by Sudden Death, so they probably all think you’re dead. They know the rest of us are here, but you could still get the advantage of surprise.”

Damn. That was a good point. Why hadn’t I thought of that?

“Alright,” I said. “Then who’ll go with Olivia? Spectre… wait a second, can you teleport with another person?”

“Never tried it, but I don’t know why not,” he said. “Only one way to find out.”

“No, wait, that’s it! It’s perfect!” Something had really clicked in my head. “I know exactly how we can do this! Spectre, you bring her out there to meet the Headhunters! Diana, you dig a deep tunnel down here under the trees! When we've freed the Shimuras, Spectre will grab Olivia and teleport with her into the tunnel, where none of the Headhunters can follow!

“Axel, Shade, you two should go off together to find the parents! With your combined powers, you should have the best chance of finding them and sneaking them out of here. Fuoco Serpeant and Ice Berg can provide the heavy fighting, and Haechi and I will look for Sudden Death.

“Any questions?” There were none. “Okay, then, all in!” Everyone put their hand in the center. I counted—“One… two… three!”—and, simultaneously, we raised our fists. “Let’s do this!”

I beckoned Olivia over. “Sweetie, you need to go with Mr. Spectre now, okay? Can you do that?" It felt weird using codenames when talking to her, but she just nodded, took his hand and wandered off.

“Try not to get shot again,” were Spectre’s parting words.

“If I do, I’m coming back to haunt all of you!” I shot back.

When Spectre and Olivia had vanished into the foliage, we all split into our groups and took off. The other two groups went right, Haechi and I went left. As we passed by a row of thick, tall bushes at the edge of the treeline, I stopped and motioned to her to do the same. Then I took another deep breath, drew two branches apart ever so slightly and peered in through the gap.

Off in the distance, I could see Spectre walking across the yard, with the Earthchild’s hand still in his own. He was being approached by two of the Headhunters, the Error and the Idler. Then, following close behind them, came the two monstrous Headhunters: Black Five, the black iron giant, and The Thrip, the four-armed insectoid man. The Error was saying something to Spectre, but I couldn’t hear what it was.

I released the branches softly and turned to Haechi. My shoulder was starting to ache fiercely; it seemed so hard to believe that, barely even five or six hours ago, a bullet had been lodged there—a bullet that, by all rights, should have laid me out, cold and dead, on the ground.

Was I sure that this would work?
After we got out of the tunnel, we managed to extract String and the Earthchild, along with the other supers and myself as well. Once we got back to the base, String was escorted by the medics for surgery, while me and the others waited for HORATIO to debrief us.


A few moments later



"Hmm. I see. Well it's a good thing you all made it out alive. Especially in String's case. Now then, i would like to ask the Earthchild some questions, if it's alright with her of course." HORATIO asked as the Earthchild looked back and nodded.


"Very well then, the rest of you may leave now. Except for you Axel, I'd like to talk with you as well." And with that, the other supers left the room, leaving me and the Earthchild to talk about our next move.


"So, i assume Axel's already told you what we're planing to do with you." The Earthchild nodded and replied...


"Yes, but i want to make sure you can save this girl's life before i agree to anything further."


"While we can't promise her safety 100%, we've preformed enough tests to assure a 92.9 and 1/2% success ratio. So long as you do your part, everything should be fine." The Earth child looked back up at me as i nodded, leaving her to close her eyes and nod as well.


"Alright, let's get this over with." And with that, HORATIO buzzed in some more medics and had them escort the Earthchild away, leaving me to have my own talk with HORATIO."


"Do you think it'll work? The girl surviving the process i mean." I asked HORATIO.


"Well to be truthful, we've never done this with another Earthchild before, so we really don't know how it'll work out. But if she can't handle the procedure, then all we have to do is pull the plug at the last second. Admittedly though, even you can't argue that things would be much better for everyone if the Earthchild's essence were to be stored in a more secure place than in the body of a child." I nodded at HORATIO's comment and began working on my own.


"True. Though to be fair, i don't trust those guys that are in charge of the procedure."


"You mean the Dean family?" I nodded.


"Yeah, I'm alright with Zack, since he was one of the people who helped save the world from those Writers during the New York incident, but his father was involved in a lot of bad stuff, even got his wife involved in some of it too."


"Still, even you have to admit that Project Sapperation was one of Area 51's biggest successes. It was thanks to that team that we've managed to advance our research at such a fast rate, even managed to created devices that we might have never though of without their help. That device that's based off of Zack's own powers for starter's."


"The same one we're going to use on the Earthchild to transfer her essence to another body."


"One more question before i let you go Axel, are you sure you can manage her all by yourself?"


"Don't worry. If there's one thing i can manage on my own, it's keeping the planet safe. Even if it means killing every other life form on the face of the Earth, I'll protect the Earthchild from further harm."


"I see.....oh well, good luck with that. You are dismissed." And with that, i decided to check up on the Earthchild to see how the procedure was going. Just as i arrived, i saw one of the Dean's leave the room, it was none other than Dr. Vorchek Dean himself.


"So, you must be Axel. I've heard a lot of good things about you from team Evergreen."


"And I've heard a lot of horrible things about you from the Dynamic Duo report. And the Tree's." We both stared at each other for a few moments before the Dr. saw fit to change the subject.


"The girl is doing just fine. We expect she'll be done in a matter of minutes."


"That fast? I guess HORATIO was right about Project Sapperation, at least about some things that came from it."


"But of course, it gave birth to one of the greatest supers of all time, he's already done such a good job not only by saving me and my wife, but the world as well."


"You're talking about you're son Zack right?"


"Yes, though he's been rather busy lately with one of the other duo's. I swear the two of them are almost inseparable after all they've been through, even after everything he put her through when..." The Dr. stopped just then as he adjusted his glasses and said...


"I'm sorry, i got lost in my own thoughts. In any case, would you like to see the girl now?" I nodded and walked with the professor into the room where i saw the girl resting.


"I assume everything went alright my dear?" The Dr. asked who i assumed was his wife as the woman nodded and replied...


"Yes. The transfer was a success. The girl should wake up in an hour or so, and the Earthchild has been transferred to it's new body." The woman said as she looked at a nearby monitor, which displayed my room, and the gigantic tree that was glowing inside.


"The Earth Tree. The very same tree that the Earthchild's essence is born from every 100 years. It's a shame she won't be able to live her life as a human being among the rest of us, but it's better for everyone if she wasn't out in the open where she could get hurt and end up killing us all." Knowing that the process worked, i decided to go check up on the Earthch...i mean, the Earth Tree, and see how she was handling things being returned to her own home.


Upon reaching my room, i looked up at the Earth Tree and realized it was growing bigger and bigger by the second, her essence was practically overflowing, but it was still being contained. Though it would take some time for her to get used to being returned to her home on such short notice.


"How are you doing? If there's anything i can do for you, just let me know. I'll keep you safe from now on, you have my word on that." With that said, i listened to her words as only i could hear them.


"Don't worry, I've got that covered. I'll just release a plant clone and have it go out with the team for a while. At least until you're feeling better anyway." With that said, i sent out one of my plant clones and instructed him to carry out any orders that needed to be handled by HORATIO, while i stayed with the Earth Tree to make sure nothing happened to her.
Fuoco Serpeant and Ice Berg quietly followed Evergreen and I as we snuck through the foliage around us. We had moments to act. We found a small opening in the plant life and Fuoco Serpent hand signed that this would be were they waited. They were close enough to the action to see when they would be needed. I nodded and Evergreen l led the way forward. We didn't speak. I liked it that way.

I didn't like that I was on another rescue mission. Thoughts of my last mission in the Navy continued to haunt me. If I let them, they'd consume me. This is different, I told myself. This time I am using my gift, and I have help from others like me. It will work out. I rubbed my hand over the large scar that circled my left bicep. I would not let this mission fail like the last. I could not let myself be affected by the memories. I clenched my hands into fists to stop them from shaking.

Suddenly, Evergreen stopped and pointed up. I looked where he pointed and nodded. It was small man-made hill. The tree coverage ended where the slope began, and atop it stood a stone shack. I assumed this was where the Earth Child's parents were. Unfortunately, there was no way to reach it without going into the open. It was far too close to the guard tower for my comfort. Sudden Death would be able to see them easily, and she was positive that neither of them would survive a shot from him. Further away, in the center of the yard, Spectre held the hand of the Earth Child, but something seemed to be off. He was smacking himself in the face. This had to be the effects of Error. He looked as if he was still attempting to keep his wits, things needed to move. Soon.

I turned to Evergreen, who seemed to be conversing with the grass. I watched as he rested his palm on the soft tufts that were trying to grow on the small rise. I blinked. It looked for a moments as if his hand had turned into grass. I narrowed my eyes. His had had regained human form, but I could have sworn that at that moment Evergreen, or at least his hand, had been a plant.

"There's nothing living around the building, but if we are fast, the trees have agreed to help us across."

I nodded. I understood how it felt conversing with something that others thought had no mind. The shadows were the same. The building, whose back was to the sun, created a long, thin shadow at it's face. I called to the darkness, asking it to please expand. Fill the whole of the front of the building. It slowly did as I asked, getting darker and deeper as it did.

"Get us to that shadow, and we will disappear," I whispered quietly. As we prepared to make a mad dash to the outbuilding's entrance a scream, high, terrible, piercing rang through the compound. It had to be the girl, but I didn't waste time. This was a perfect opportunity, if Sudden Death was going to be distracted, now would be the time. I grabbed Evergreen's hand and scrambled across the 30 yards to the building. Leaves from the trees around us arose in a sudden whirlwind. They blocked us with their greenery as we sprinted across the space. The second we came within arm's length to the dim shadow, it reached out to me. We vanished within it, cocooned in it's calming, slightly chilly embrace. The prickle at my neck made me realize that we hadn't been shot. Sudden Death hadn't seen us. He wouldn't be able to now. I exhaled slowly, thanking the darkness around me for its help. It wasn't until we were safe that I noticed the texture of Evergreen's hand. It felt like twigs and soil, not flesh and muscle. He quickly withdrew his hand from mine. I looked at him, but didn't speak. Everyone needed their secrets.

I glanced through the wall of shadow to the yard as Evergreen slowly approached the door. It looked like a fight had broken out. I turned away. If I stopped to think, I would want to help them. There was no time. We had a mission to finish. Evergreen was peering through the keyhole. He turned back and shook his head. "I can't see."

I pushed him aside, once again noticing that he didn't feel right. I looked into the hole. It wasn't enough of an opening to see the entirety of the room, but from what I could see, it looked like storage. Muffled groaning met my ears, carried by the darkness. "There is definitely someone in there," I breathed. The door was, of course, locked. Cursing silently, I opened my palm. The darkness shifted and molded itself until it resembled an uncut key. I inserted it into the lock and willed it to fit the mold. Soon, it turned, and the door opened before us.

We were still cloaked in darkness, which had to be what saved our lives. A shot rang out coming from inside the building. It hit Evergreen in the shoulder, I grabbed him and jumped into the building. A machine, swiveled, obviously trying to find them in the orb of solid darkness that had arisen around them. It had a machine gun at its top. At the moment, it couldn't find us. That was fine with me. I turned to Evergreen to survey the damage. There was none. Where the bullet had pierced his shoulder, a perfect hole now shown. I didn't wait for an explanation. Now that their position had been compromised, they had to move quickly. She went to the gun machine and found it's disabling button. When it was deactivated, I dropped the shadow. I was sweating. It had taken more out of me than I was happy admitting keeping them locked away in the darkness that long.

A groan from a corner led her to the people who only could be the Earth Child's parents. They were tied up, looked dehydrated, and scared, but otherwise unharmed. "They're here!" I called to Evergreen, who looked like he was trying to pry a window open in the back of the room. I helped the couple to their feet and untied them. "I'm here to help you." I had said those words before. I'd said them to the last person I had been sent to rescue. I'd said it right before they were shot to death, and I'd barely escaped.

The man looked at me, "Where is my daughter?" He grabbed my arm tightly. "Where is she?" His voice cracked. I didn't have time to be nice. I ripped my arm out of his grasp.

"We don't have time." I said it firmly enough that the two civilians nodded and followed me. When we reached Evergreen, I gasped. Like, audibly, gasped. I don't usually do that. But what I saw was so bizarre, it just kind of came out.

He was turning green. His veins were emerald, and the whites of his eyes resembled soil. The hole in his shoulder had grown. It looked as if its edges were disintegrating. "I got the window open." I blinked twice. The sound of fighting could be heard now, closer. We had to get these people to safety. I turned to the window. IT hadn't been opened exactly. Roots, large roots from deep within the ground had shattered the large window and now sat waiting for the humans to sit within their confines and be lifted outside.

The Shimura's went first, and I was impressed with their ability to not fear the strangeness in the situation. I went next and Evergreen followed. Outside of the building the sounds of a fierce battle reached us. I dared not look. I was so close to leaving the Shimura's with Evergreen and entering the battle. But I had a mission. I looked at Evergreen, he was sinking his hands in the soil around the building. His coloring was returning to normal, and the hole was closing in his shoulder. In all that I read about my companions, this was never said about Evergreen. I promised myself that when this mission was over I would think about it more.

We quickly skirted the hill side and reentered the relative safety of the tree line. "Where is my daughter?" Mr. Shimura now asked much more firmly.

I didn't know what else to say except, "We have a extract plan," before quickly leading the way to where Diana was to have made the tunnel.
I was waiting for them "Follow me!" I said as I led them down the tunnel
Haechi and I were still working our way towards the first warehouse when the fight started.

We’d been moving slowly through the underbrush, wary that the merest snap of a twig might alert Sudden Death to our presence, wherever he was hiding. When we finally reached the edge of the treeline, we both stood, hesitating. The warehouse was only a few feet away, but neither of us wanted to be the first to try to reach it. Finally, I took a deep breath, crouched down, closed my eyes and sprang for it.

There was a soft whump! as I landed hard against the side of the building, and when I opened my eyes again, I was still alive. So far, so good.

Then I heard the scream.

It wasn’t one of us; it was a woman’s voice. It was coming from the direction of the timber yard, where Spectre, Olivia and the Headhunters were all gathered. Ear-splittingly loud, it was more a scream of terror then of pain. Then it was cut off, abruptly.

“What the hell—?” came another voice from the same location.

Almost immediately, we heard a whoosh, and a tiny shadow fell over the ground. I looked up just in time to see a small body leaping through the air, barely visible beneath the rising sun. It rose high up into the sky, forming a perfect arc before landing squarely in the ranger tower. I dimly heard a faint, startled cry, a meaty smack, and then something long, black and thin came hurtling out of the tower. It landed, clattering, to the ground. Sudden Death’s magic sniper rifle.

Now the sounds of a full-on battle were coming from the yard. I turned to Haechi, who stared back at me, just as perplexed as I was. I was about to say something, anything, when Spectre appeared right beside us. His eyes were wide and his face pale. “Did you see that?”

“See what?” I demanded. “What the Hell happened? What’s going on? Where’s Olivia?”

He slumped against the side of the warehouse. “I don’t know… she just… changed. I don’t know how else to describe it.” He looked up at us. “The Error just started to use her powers on me… just as a demonstration, to prove what she was capable of. Then, all of a sudden, the Earthchild’s hand turned cold in mine. I mean, freezing. Then she reached out and grabbed the Error… and the Error just… disappeared.”

“What do you mean, she disappeared?” demanded Haechi.

He shook his head. “Exactly that. One second she was there, the next… poof. Gone.”

CLANG!!!

We all looked up in time to see something small and red ricochet off the tin roof of the warehouse, landing soundlessly on the ground.

It was Olivia… but, at the same time, there was no way in Hell that it was her. Not my Olivia. Her eyes were different; instead of their tender, familiar green, the whole eye was slate-grey. Her skin looked different, too; somehow, the way it reflected the sunlight made it look more… artificial. More plastic. Paler, flatter, empty and lifeless.

For just one moment, she locked eyes with me, and a wave of icy revulsion sliced upwards through my stomach, strong enough to make me jump backwards where I stood. Then she knelt, and, pushing hard off the ground, leapt over our heads… gone.

For a moment, I could only stare at the spot where she had been. Spectre snapped his fingers in my face. “Focus, String! The mission’s blown! We’ve got to get out of here!”

“But… Olivia!”

“He’s right!” said Haechi. “We can’t stay here! Let’s get the others and blow!”

They both turned and ran towards the yard; I followed, a little reluctantly. Iceberg and Fuoco Serpeant were fighting Black Five and The Thripp, and, amazingly, they were holding their own… for the moment, at least. The Idler already was lying on the ground, unconscious. The Error was nowhere to be seen.

“Guys, come on!” I yelled. Seeing us, Fuoco and Iceberg withdrew, leaving a trail of bonfires and frozen ground in their wake. Black Five and the Thripp were left to regroup and gather their allies—well, whoever was left, anyway—while we charged blindly into the forest, completely disarrayed.

Thankfully, Diana already had our escape tunnel ready and waiting. Better still, Shade and Evergreen were already inside. And the Shimuras were with them! So at least we had done what we’d come to do. That made me feel a little better.

Then Mr. Shimura turned to me. “Where is my daughter?” He demanded. Terror and anger were warring in his eyes. “Where’s Olivia?”

I could only look back at him in silence, feeling worse in that moment than I think I’d ever felt before. He might have taken a swing at me, if his wife hadn’t been gripping his shoulder with one white-knuckled hand.

We ushered them the rest of the way through the tunnel in tense silence.

* * * * *

“Welcome back, everybody.” HORATIO’s calming familiar voice filled the room as we were all shuddered in. “Congratulations on perfectly completing your mission, and for successfully evading the Headhunters two out of two times—a new record.”

We were back in the main room of the base, the soundwave of HORATIO’s voice up on the big screen. A team of medics were standing by; immediately they began to usher the now-silent Shimuras out of the room.

When they were gone, HORATIO spoke up again. “Naturally you must all desire an explanation as to what has just transpired.”

Standing before us were three people, shrouded in shadow. Then the lights came on, illuminating them clearly. It took me a moment to register that the one in the center was Evergreen. But how—? I turned back to where I knew Evergreen was already standing, amongst our group… but there was just a pile of dirt and twigs. What was going on?

Evergreen was flanked by two people: a tall, balding man in his sixties, with a white coat with a large scar over his right eye, and a woman in her forties, thin and willowy, with long blonde hair.

“New orders have come in from the top brass." continued HORATIO. "From this moment on, there is to be a policy of absolute honesty and frank openness on our part. We were not entirely truthful with you during the previous mission. The child that you were escorting to meet the Headhunters and rescue the Shimuras was not, in fact, Olivia Shimura, the Earthchild. Well, technically speaking, it was her body, but her soul had already been removed prior to your departure from the base.

The man standing before you is Dr. Vorchek Dean, a.k.a. Voitek Vorchek, and the woman is his wife, Victoria Dean. They were recently brought in by the Association to act as independent consultants, in order to guarantee the safety of the Earthchild. Working together with Mr. Redress, they chose to do this by returning her essence to the Earthtree, the primordial vessel from whence she came. A lookalike plant clone of Mr. Redress was sent on the mission with the rest of you, while the real Mr. Redress remained here.

Their initial plan was to keep the Earthtree in Mr. Redress’ private quarters, and keep its existence a classified secret from the rest of you. However, the higher-ups have reacted negatively to this plan. From now on, as per the new orders, you will all be kept well abreast of the Association’s future plans and granted unlimited access to every part of our inner headquarters. The Earthtree has been relocated to the base’s greenhouse, which shall serve as a spot for quiet reflection; you will all be allowed to visit there any time you like.”

A stunned silence came over us all. I could hardly believe my ears. How could they possibly do such a thing, without even telling us? To think that we had been risking our lives, and the lives of the Shimuras, to protect a soulless body!

From behind me, I heard Spectre’s voice: “So what the hell happened back there, then? Why did the Earthchild’s body go crazy the way it did? I saw that kid grab one of the Headhunters and she just... vanished!”

Dr. Vorchek cleared his throat. “As far as we can tell, when the soul of Olivia Shimura was removed from her body, something… else entered into it. Something not of this world. We should have anticipated the possibility of that happening from the very beginning. I take full responsibility.”

Victoria Dean spoke up now. “We don’t know exactly what kind of a creature is currently living in the Earthchild’s body, or what’s become of the Error and Sudden Death, but we’ll make it our top priority to locate all three of them. And thankfully, the Earthchild’s soul is still safe within the base.”

“Indeed,” said HORATIO. “And now, you should all take a few hours to rest and recuperate within the base. Feel free to take advantage of the spa, cafeteria, training room and other luxuries. You will be given your next assignment after a suitable amount of time has passed.” With that, the screen went dark, and HORATIO was silent.

Slowly, the others began to shuffle off to various locations around the base. I just stood there, trying to wrap my head around this new information. Finally, it was just me, the Deans and Evergreen.

I took a step towards them. “Where is the greenhouse? I want to see the Earthtree.”

* * * * *

The greenhouse was huge, the biggest room I had seen in the base thus far. The glass ceiling provided a perfect view of the blue morning sky. The air was warm and humid.

I walked forward as if in a daze, barely aware of the feel of grass beneath my shoes. Just up ahead, I caught sight of the Shimuras. Mr. Shimura was sitting on a rock, his face in his hands. His wife stared up at the giant tree, her face blank.

I reached out and wrapped my arms around the trunk.

Those leaves. They were the same green as her eyes had been.

As i watched String looking at the Earthtree from afar, i was approached by Dr. Vorchek.


"So how is she?"


"The Earthtree? Or String?"


"Well, might as well be both of them now, seeing as how HORATIO went and pinned this whole mess on us."


A few minutes ago



"Their initial plan was to keep the Earthtree in Mr. Redress’ private quarters, and keep its existence a classified secret from the rest of you."



Present time



"My only problem with that statement is the use of the word, their, like he was shifting all of the blame away from him. He had knowledge of what we were planing from the very beginning, but did nothing to stop us. That makes him just as responsible as the rest of us."


"To be honest, i really don't give a damn who the higher ups decide to blame for anything anymore, just so long as i can keep the Earthtree safe from harm, nothing else matters to me." Then i turned around to face the Dr.


"Besides, i have a strange feeling something bad is about to happen here."


"What makes you think that?"


"Think about it. The top brass decided to relocate the Earthtree to this greenhouse after the mission was over, they were even willing to start a fight in my own room to get it back. If it wasn't for her convincing me to let them relocate the Earthtree, i probably would've killed everyone on the base to protect it."


"Would you really have done it? Made yourself an enemy and kill everyone on this base for the sake of the Earthtree?"


"The deaths of everyone on this base, in order to protect the one thing keeping every living thing on the planet alive. Yes, i would've gladly done it, and i would've had no regrets." Mr. Dean could only look away from me as he heard me say that, but deep down he knew my way was the right one. But only if it came to that.


"But that's not all you know, they decided to move the Earthtree to this greenhouse, a place with no guards, no cameras, and a very thin glass ceiling that's not even bullet proof. If someone wanted to breach this part of the base from above, all they would have to worry about is the anti-air defenses. Beyond that, even ground troops would have an easy time finding a structure this big if they wanted to breach it." Then i turned back to watch String and the Earthtree.


"It's almost as if that's their plan to begin with."


"So you think the big boy's up top want our enemy's to see the Earthtree on purpose? It's not a bad theory i suppose, it would explain why we haven't made a move yet, they're most likely waiting for the enemy to make the first move so we can react."


"But if I'm right, and they screw up on this risky plan of theirs...if something happens to the Earthtree as a result of their actions, i will personally..."
Diana didn't know what to think at this point
I was in the greenhouse, playing my bass guitar, which they’d shuddered in at my request. The sun was setting, and the Shimuras had been shown to their rooms and given something to help them rest, so I was the only one left in the greenhouse—except, of course, for the Earthtree. I was playing the bass solo from “Transmission” by Joy Division for her, and singing along as best as I could remember the lyrics, when Evergreen walked in.

“Is that… rock music?” He looked from me to the tree, confused.

I stopped playing and turned to face him, a little defensively. “I read a study saying that plants grow better if you play rock music for them. It’s science.”

At that moment, the Earthtree’s branches began to sway over our heads, making the leaves rustle like a pair of maracas—which was kind of weird, because there was no wind blowing inside the greenhouse. Evergreen looked back up at the tree, an attentive look on his face, as if he was listening to something only he could hear. After a minute, he turned back to me.

“I’ll be damned,” he said, softly. “She says she likes it.”

I smiled. “What else does she have to say?”

He listened for another moment, and then his face fell. “She wants a cookie.”

He looked back at me. This time, I said nothing. Instead, I turned and walked away, leaving him to explain to the Earthtree why she wasn’t going to be able to eat any cookies for the time being.

I took a seat on a rock overlooking a nearby stream, and there I sat for a while, rubbing the stitched-up hole in my shoulder where Sudden Death’s bullet had been. After a while, Evergreen walked over to me. I didn’t say anything to him.

“Are you upset that I put the Earthchild’s soul back into her original body?” He paused. “You know I only did it to protect her. She’s safer this way and you know it.”

I didn’t turn around to face him. “Well, the least you could have done was let all the rest of us in on the plan.”

There was more that I wanted to say to him, and it might have even turned into an argument if left to continue on in that fashion. But at that moment, I began to feel the familiar prickles in my skin.

“Heads up,” I said. “We’re about to—” And then we were gone.

“—be shuddered again.” We were back in the main room, bare except for the group of us, and the Deans. Something, however, was wrong; after a moment, I realized that somebody was missing. It was Haechi. Look as I might, I couldn’t see her anywhere.

“Unfortunately, Miss Baek has disappeared from the base, and we are at present unable to determine her current whereabouts,” said HORATIO, pre-empting my thoughts. “We will continue trying to locate her, just as we are trying to locate the body of the Earthchild, and determine the identity of the individual who hired the Headhunters.” HORATIO’s voice, soft and calm though it was, didn’t sound quite so calming anymore. “For the moment, however, there are more pressing matters to attend to.”

On the wall in front of us there now appeared the image of a man, pale and gaunt, with sharp, regal cheekbones, snow-white hair cut swept back in a tight widow’s peak, and an immaculately-trimmed white mustache curling at the edges. The odd thing about this particular image was that—unlike all the other images we’d seen on HORATIO’s screen, which had all been photos—this was a black ink sketch.

“We do not have any available photographs of this man,” said HORATIO, reading my thoughts once again, “because he does not show up on film. He is, in fact, the Count Dracula of legend. You may be familiar with the character through the book written about him by the author Bram Stoker. Rest assured, the book was based off a real vampire, and he still lingers in the world today. For decades he has been amassing a legion of human followers who worship him, the Cult of Dracula. Recently they have begun to mobilize for war, carrying out a series of raids and attacks across the region. While their ultimate goal remains unknown to us, we strongly suspect it has something to do with the Earthchild. Hence, we are relocating the Earthtree to a safer location.”

Now the wall showed us an image of an aerial view of an immense stretch of farmland, with a central complex consisting of three barns, a greenhouse and a row of cottages. The complex was flanked on all sides by vast fields of crops; these, in turn, were flanked to the west by a stretch of flat meadow, to the south and east by an immense forest, and to the north by a gigantic freshwater lake.

“This is one of the Association’s many secret bases, the Farm. It is located near Gregory Lake, in upstate New York. Although it may look simplistic and idyllic, it has magical and psychic defenses which make it a far superior location to preserve the Earthtree. Your mission is to accompany the Earthtree to its new home, and guard it there until we have new information. If the Cult of Dracula makes an appearance, protecting the Earthtree is your first priority. If possible, your second priority is to capture as many Cult members as you can alive, so that we may interrogate them.

Lastly, one of our operatives will meet you at the base. He is the caretaker of the Farm, and he will answer any further questions you have. That is all.”

The next instant, we were all standing on the side of the highway. Trees lined the road on both sides. The sky was turning to the blue of dusk ahead of us, on the horizon. The Earthtree stood, towering over our heads, its roots submerged in a tub of earth atop a wheeled cart.
Evergreen was beside me. I poked his neck—hard—with my index finger, and he jumped backwards.

“Ow! Stop that, it’s me! I’m not a plant clone!”

“Just making sure.”

“So, what?” said Spectre. “Are we supposed to push this cart all the way to the farm? Which way are we even supposed to go?”

But, just then, the sound of a truck coming up the road made us all turn our heads. It was a green Tacoma pickup, and as it came near us, it slowed to a stop, and the driver got out.

He was about just under six feet, darkly tanned, with a mop of black curls and thick black stubble on his face, thin and muscled. His bare forearms were completely covered over with tattoos. He looked around at the group of us. “Well, I guess you must all be from the Association.” He cast his eyes skyward. “My God, is that the Earthtree? I’ve been waiting to see it my entire life!”

Nobody said anything for a second. The first one to come forward was Evergreen, which surprised me a bit. “You seem to be a good friend to plants.” That was all he said by way of greeting, but it made the other man smile.

“I try my best,” He held out his hand. “I’m sometimes called The Farmboy.” Evergreen didn’t take his hand, but nodded and stepped back into the group.

Turning his head to look down the horizon, which was now almost completely dark, the Farmboy began to look uneasy. “We should get out of here. If what the Association says is true, and the Cult of Dracula is poking around… well, it’s not such a good idea to be out here after dark.”

He pulled a chain out of the back of the car, and proceeded to fasten the Earthtree’s cart to the back of the pickup. We all piled into the back of the pickup, except for Evergreen, who got into the car beside the Farmboy. The floor of the pickup was strewn with farm tools: rakes, shovels, hoes, crowbars, a sledgehammer, an axe and even a shotgun.

During the drive, most of us rode in the back in silence. I, however, extended my neck out to reach into the open frontseat window, so I could converse with Evergreen and the Farmboy directly.

“How much have you been briefed?” I said, speaking directly into the Farmboy’s ear as he watched the road.

“HORATIO told me all about your misadventures with the Earthchild and the Headhunters. I’ve also been given specific instructions on how to prepare the Farm for the Earthchild’s arrival on the Farm, and I’ve carried them out to the letter.”

“I still don’t really think it’s wise to keep the Earthtree exposed like this,” said Axel.

The Farmboy smiled again. “Trust me, no matter what the danger, it’s always best to keep for the Earthtree to stay out in nature, so it can have total contact with the world.”

“And you’re sure it’ll be safe on the Farm?” I asked him.

The Farmboy nodded. “You’ve no doubt heard about the defenses built into the very soil of the Farm. Dracula himself won’t even be able to set foot in here; no vampires can come in unless they’re invited.”

Watching his hands on the steering wheel, I also took the time to get a closer look at his tattoos. The backdrop was mostly chains, running criss-cross along both arms, but there were also swords, flames, Chinese dragons with long, scaly, snakelike bodies, even a tiny Hello Kitty face... and lots of manga characters. An interesting fellow, to be sure.

Finally, he turned off the road onto a darkened dirt path in the middle of the forest, and drove on for some miles in silence. We crossed a rickety wooden bridge, over a swiftly-rushing creek, up a steep hill and finally pulled out of the woods and onto the open-air green fields of the Farm.

It was fully dark now—no moon, no stars. More than a little eerie. If it hadn't been for the headlights of the pickup none of us would be able to see even an inch from our faces.

The Farmboy brought the pickup around to a large beige three-story Tudor house, and parked it in the gravel driveway of the garage. We all got out. He jerked a finger around to the back of the house. “Behind this house is the most sacred spot on the Farm: the flower and vegetable garden. The Earthtree will occupy a position of honor in the center of the garden. I’m going to start digging the hole now, if anybody would like to join me.” So saying, he picked up a large shovel from the floor of the pickup. “Otherwise, make yourselves at home. If you’re hungry, there’s a hot meal waiting in the kitchen. Once the Earthtree has been planted, I’ll show you all where you’ll be sleeping. Tomorrow I'll take you all on a tour of the Farm, show you the Lake.”

“I’m going to talk to the plants around here,” said Evergreen. “Gather some more information. Maybe I can create some more defenses for us.”

“Wait a minute, Axel.” A thought had just struck me. “Farmboy, how much garlic do you have on hand? I mean, I know you said vampires can’t come here unless they’re invited, but it never hurts to take precautions, right? Evergreen, can you grow more garlic for us?”

He nodded and walked off, leaving me and all the rest of the group to figure out where we were going to go.
It took me about an hour to get things set up on my end of the farm. I had grown about a ton of garlic, and had also used the reserves of it to set up some traps in case we did get any unwanted guests of the vampire kind. And i had gotten the other plants and trees to inform me when an enemy was coming, and from which side they were coming from.


I also had the Earthtree let me know if anyone else decided to get close to her. While i did understand that this place would be one of the safest places in the whole world for the Earthtree to be protected, i still had my doubts.


After i was done all that, i decided to oversee the planting of the Earthtree.
-You know what disable me...I can't keep track of everything-
Name: Robert “Bob” Bruford
Superhero Name: Consec
Appearance: Bob is thin, about 5’9”, with dirty blonde hair, glasses and a thick layer of stubble on his face (which, any day now, will hopefully grow into an actual beard). He usually wears a black wool hat with earflaps, which his late grandmother made for him. Bob’s costume resembles a sleek bodysuit made of a keratinous black substance, covered with markings in an alien language, a narrow slit to see out of and a built-in gas mask.
Background: Like Rosemary Dodgson, Bob is also a student at James Joseph Jaspers University in his civilian life. Unlike Rosemary Dodgson, however, he was abducted by aliens and experimented upon midway through his freshman year. Calling themselves the Haverim, the creatures implanted him with a superpowered costume.
Powers: Bob has no powers on his own, but can summon his superpowered costume by thought. While wearing the costume, he has superhuman strength to the point that, on an average, he can lift a truck. He gets even stronger the angrier he gets, but this rarely happens, since Bob is a pretty mellow guy, all things considered. His suit also has several special abilities, activated by secret codewords, and a built-in sword.
Anything Extra: For some reason, Bob’s costume is vulnerable to alcoholic beverages and dead things. Go figure. Also, he’s a big fan of Stephen King novels.

I was ready to join the team. I had already been briefed by HORATIO about the Earthtree, the Cult of Dracula and the other important points of the missions. And now the sensations in my arms and legs told me I was about to be shuddered onto the Farm.

At once, the interior of the base was replaced with a large dining room, where a girl in a green and orange jumpsuit was eating what looked like stew. As I appeared in the room, she jumped, spat out what was in her mouth and started to choke.

“Jesus!” She said, finally, once she had gotten her breath back. “You scared the SHIT out of me! Stay back! Who the hell are you, anyway?”

“It’s cool, it’s cool!” I said, holding my hands up to show her I wasn’t armed. “I’m one of you! I’m with the Association!” Then, in a flash, I recognized her. “Heeeeeyyy, you’re… uh, Rosemary, right?”

“How the hell do you know my name?” She shouted, still keeping her distance from me.

“You go to JJJU, right? I do, too! We had a class together: Medieval Literature with Prof. Lauinger! I’m Bob Bruford! Remember?"

After a moment, she brightened. “Oh, uh, okay. Bob, huh? Good to see you again.” She clearly didn’t remember me as well as I did her. “So, the Association got a hold of you, too, huh? What can you do?”

“This.” I willed my suit to form, and it obeyed instantly, flowing up around my shoulders like liquid and draping down over my stomach before hardening flat. “I’m called... Consec.”

She looked at me, confused. “Consec? What’s that mean?”

I shrugged. “Don’t look at me. Someone in the Association came up with it.”

“Oh. Well, it’s a cool suit. Anyway, as long as we’re out here, nobody’s really using first names, so just call me String. C’mon, let me introduce you.”

She led me through the house to the garden in the backyard. It was absolutely beautiful: flowers, fruit bushes and other greenery everywhere, surrounded by stepping stone paths set into the dirt, and a little koi pond in the center, all bathed in the white fluorescent glow of the overhead lights from the roof. In the middle of the dirt plot nearest the koi pond, one guy was throwing dirt on a freshly-planted—enormous—tree, and another was watching from the path. Rosemary made introductions all around.

The one digging the hole, Farmboy, held out his hand first. “Any friend of the Association is a friend of mine,” he said.

“Indeed,” said the other man, Evergreen. Suddenly, he raised his head to stare off into the distance. “Hold that thought. The plants are informing me that someone is trying to sneak onto the farm from the East. They seem dangerous. We should go check it out…”
The four of us hoofed it over to the pickup truck and got in. For several minutes we drove through the pitch blackness. Then, all at once, a gigantic orange glow lit up the horizon.

“Fire,” said the Farmboy, clenching his fists harder around the steering wheel.

There was definitely a blaze up ahead. Evergreen, in particular, looked anxious as we drove on. Then, passing through a clump of trees, we broke into a clearing and saw something truly horrific.

All the trees, all the plants had been burned to ash already. This wasn’t a clearing, it was a crater. And standing in the middle of it was a single man, his entire body surrounded by a glowing halo of orange light.

He was short, maybe my height, skinny—you could see ribs poking through his chest—and completely naked. I mean, his junk was just hanging there between his legs, glowing the same orange as the rest of him. His eyes were blank and white, and his entire body was completely hairless. As we watched, he threw his bald head backwards and opened his mouth in a silent scream or a laugh, I couldn’t tell which. Then he raised his hands and walls of fire surged out in both directions, making the crater even bigger.

For a moment, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Then I noticed that the orange light his body gave off was glinting off something behind him. I squinted through the darkness and saw that it was something tall made of metal. A metal giant.

Black Five. The Headhunters were here.

At that instant, the Farmboy whipped the steering wheel around and made a U-Turn. We drove another few minutes back into the darkness of the foliage, and there the Farmboy hit the brakes.

“Did anyone else see Black Five standing behind that guy?” I said. “Who was he?”

“I know who he is,” said the Farmboy. “I’ve seen him on the news. He’s called The Naked Flame, and he’s a complete psychopath. He’s a former member of the Headhunters, but last I heard he was locked up in a maximum-security asylum.”

“Huh. I guess with the Error and Sudden Death gone, the remaining Headhunters must have been desperate for some extra muscle, so they busted him out,” I said. “But how did they even know where to find us?”

“Never mind that right now!” broke in Evergreen suddenly. “That… thing is burning down the forest! We have to stop him!”

“What we need to do is find Ice Berg. He’s our best chance for fighting those flames!” I looked around, suddenly aware that it was only the four of us. “Goddamn it, where did everyone else go? Why can’t we ever stay together?”

“I’m going out there,” said the Farmboy, pulling the shotgun out of the back of the truck and pumping the handle. He grabbed a sledgehammer with his other hand.

“I’ll cover you,” said Consec. “Just hope my suit’s fireproof, is all.”

“And I’ll go find Ice Berg and the others,” I volunteered.

“The plants from the other side of the Farm are calling out to me now,” announced Evergreen. “It seems the Cult of Dracula is advancing across the flat plains in the West. They’re being lead by a team of psychics and magicians who just might be able to penetrate our defenses.”

“You should go check that out,” I told him. “Take the pickup.”

“What about you?”

“I can travel faster by myself. Just go!” I turned and ran, digging my heels hard into the dirt, pushing harder off the ground with my feet, making myself bounce higher and higher with every step. A minute later, I was bouncing so high that I came rising up over the treetops. The Farmhouse was coming into view.

As I rose, rustling, above the treeline and the sky came into view, I prayed that my allies were close by and easy to find. I prayed, also, that Evergreen and the others could hold the attackers off.
I began making my way over to where the enemy was, though i began having second thoughts after i made sure everyone else was far enough away from me. I knew in my mind what had to be done, though i also know what implications it would create for me if i did it. But i knew it in my heart. The safety of the Earthtree was more important than anything else in the whole wide world.


With that said, i produced another plant clone from some of the plant life around me and instructed it to go in my place to where the enemy was. And i would return to the Earthtree to create a backup plan of my own. When i arrived, i looked up at the tree as it began glowing in front of me.


"You know why I'm here. It's time to stop putting our faith in these damned creatures that took our beloved Terra away from us. All they care about is polluting the planet with their filth, and taking whatever they believe to be rightfully theirs, even though it was never theirs to take in the first place." Then i reached out for the tree as it began grabbing me with it's branches and embracing me.


"We're going to put an end to that once and for all. I've heard the cry's of mother Terra for far too long now. It's time for us to put a stop to this madness and return what rightfully belongs to her, even if it means the destruction of the entire human race!" As i said that, the whole ground beneath us began to shake as the Earthtree began to burrow itself beneath the ground, and quickly dug a tunnel that would soon lead us to our new home.
“STOP!”

The word popped into my head so suddenly that I stumbled midjump and crashed headfirst to the ground. There was nobody around who could have said it... it was just as if I had thought it myself. Then it hit me: there must have been a psychic nearby.

Suddenly, I was back in the clearing with the Farmboy, Consec and the Headhunters. There had been no tingling sensation beforehand; this wasn’t a shudder. Something outside of the Association’s power had transported me. The others all stood around me, frozen.

What the hell was going on?

Someone tapped me, lightly, on the shoulder and I almost had a heart attack. I spun around, fists raised, and almost punched the person behind me right in the face. I had never seen her before. She was a tall girl, tanned, with green eyes and long brown curly hair streaming past her shoulders. She was dressed in a green military jacket that did not hide her obvious muscle. She was smiling. “Hello, String.”

Without waiting for me to answer, she waved her arm. The Headhunters vanished, the orange light of the Naked Flame blinking out, giving way to darkness. The Farmboy and Consec became unfrozen, both looking around in a daze, and turning to face me with obviously questioning glances. I shrugged.

“As you’re no doubt wondering, I’ve just sent Black Five and the Thripp back to their base,” explained the lady. “I also returned The Naked Flame to the mental institution where he belongs and restored The Error and Sudden Death from the… otherplace where they had been sent. Oh, and the Cult of Dracula has been temporarily dealt with; they won’t be bothering us for a while. We have bigger fish to fry.”

“...Who are you?” I said. “How did you do all that?”

“Oh, of course, I should have introduced myself. Sorry.” She held out her hand. “My name is Lenora Halberstam.... And you’ll find there is very little I can’t do.”

The Lenora Halberstam?” Consec spoke up, suddenly, sharply. “Of Dynamic Duo fame? Also known as Anima, and Major Arcana?”

“Actually, at the moment it’s Major Anima, but fellow JJJU students like yourselves can just call me Lenora. Tell me, by the way, how is it that you’ve heard of me?”

“I was talking to Dr. Vorchek at the base before I was sent here,” said Consec. “He mentioned you. But he said you were off working with his son, Sap. He said the two of you were practically inseparable.”

Her expression grew prim with distaste. “The good doctor likes to exaggerate my relationship with his son; I think he was hoping I’d marry him and become the new Mrs. Dean. It’s true that Zack and I dated for a little while, but we broke up and drifted apart. I don’t know where Zack is now.”

I just listened, saying nothing. All of this was completely new to me. “Wait… you were involved in Operation: Dynamic Duo?”

“I was,” said Lenora. “After Dynamic Duo, I founded The Association as a training place for young superheroes in the war against evil. I’d been hoping to stay unseen and guide you all from the shadows, but in light of recent events, that’s no longer possible.”

“What do you mean?” said the Farmboy. “What recent events?”

“I mean the mission has been compromised to Hell, the Earthtree has been stolen and Evergreen has betrayed us,” said Lenora. “We’ve got bigger problems than The Headhunters and Dracula. You guys had a good run, but I’ve decided to shut down this mission and all future ones. It’s not your fault, it’s just the way it has to be now.”

“The Earthtree’s been kidnapped?” The Farmboy exclaimed, stark fear in his eyes. “When? Just now?”

“Just a minute ago. Like I said, Evergreen has betrayed us. But don’t worry,” Here she gave a wry half-smile. “He’s got another thing coming if he thinks the gentle spirit of the Earthtree will support his destructive plans. Anyway, the mission has changed. You all need to come with me.”

“Where are we going? What’s going to happen to us now?” I asked.

“I’m afraid I can’t tell you at this point in time. All I ask is that you trust me.”

Lenora looked from one of us to the next, waiting for a reply. After a minute, the Farmboy nodded. Then Consec shrugged. “Hey, it’s either this or work on my paper. I’m in.”

They all turned to look at me. “Well?” said Lenora.

I swallowed, then nodded. “Count me in.”

Major Arcana waved her hand… aaaaaaand we were gone.


The End!

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