Chapter 20: The Museum

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This event happened some time before that sudden explosion of light.

A small team consisting of five Peacekeepers and led by Blast Storm, rappelled down from a gunship helicopter. To differentiate the GoH’s from the ones used by the army, the Guild’s version was painted in deep blue with white stripes running on the side. The famous insignia, In Justice We Strive Forward, and the crest of a caped Superhero standing valiantly with the backdrop of a cityscape were also plastered on all visible sides of the craft. No one would mistake it for anything else.

Other than that, though, it was still a full-on assault vehicle equipped with many rockets and a powerful minigun.

After his feet landed on the solid ground, Blast Storm scanned his surroundings. He saw the faces of surprised, panicked civilians, scurrying away to a distance in order to escape the turbulence from the powerful spinning rotors and the gust of wind kicked up by their constant motions.

He inwardly apologized for the inconvenience. It really couldn’t be helped, since their destination was near a busy intersection and the helicopter had to hover over the grass bank of the Central Park, dropping the Peacekeepers and Blast Storm here in order to not disrupt the traffic flow. There may not be a lot of park goers today because of all the warnings, but still, there were enough around to feel disgruntled by this action. Some would think it was a bit of an overkill.

Sighing under his breath, Blast Storm raised his head towards the aircraft and buzzed the pilot through the mic.

“Stay in the vicinity. We might need you to track the target from the air if it comes to that.”

The pilot confirmed his understanding. Blast Storm took some distance and watched the craft rise up, all the while ignoring the continuous flashes of smartphone cameras around him.

“Okay, let’s move out.”

Blast Storm signaled to five men behind him and led them forward. All the men were also decked out in pseudo-military gear, also painted in blue, sporting the crest of the Guild. Each and every one was well-built, sharp, and trained by the best to react to whatever situation they might face. Wielding powerful semi-auto rifles and carrying communication equipment they followed Blast Storm’s orders without missing a single beat.

Blast Storm himself was no longer in a civilian clothing, instead fully outfitted in the GoH-designed combat gear – bulletproof vest, several stun grenades, cuffs to arrest the perps and the like.

Checking the screen of the PDA to reconfirm the coordinates, the team quickly covered the ground. The Peacekeepers ably kept up with Blast Storm’s pace, even though he was the only Super among them, the rest being regular humans.

The Peacekeepers were given lots of leeways, even though technically they were mercenaries, soldiers hired with wages. In normal times, such an activity would be deemed illegal under the laws of most nations, but the boys and girls receiving monthly cheques from GoH got a free pass.

Even during the last great World Wars, as long as a merc had the moniker Peacekeeper plastered on his or her vest, it was all hunky dory and above board. Many nations throughout the years wanted to oppose this system, but things didn’t work out for those politicians until now due to various reasons.

And of course, the numbers written on the paycheque was pretty damn alluring. The health benefits too, were more than attractive as well. Thus, there never was a shortage of former soldiers applying for a position at the Guild as a result.

The Guild didn’t just hire anyone, though – to be a Peacekeeper, the “compatible” personality – meaning no criminal tendencies – was a must, followed closely by the amount and the type of training received. Only the best and the dedicated could serve.

No wonder, then, that their movements didn’t lose out to Blast Storm’s Super-enhanced speed. Crossing the short distance to arrive at the last known sighting for the target Nico Gavalas was far too easy a job for these guys.

Once arriving at the intersection, Blast Storm took another quick glance around. He couldn’t spot Nico Gavalas but that was to be expected. Unless the target was standing around waiting for them, there was no way he’d be staying put in one place.

He sent the hand signal to his men, and as practiced, they separated, each men going over to different locations to question people. Meanwhile, Blast Storm checked the map on his PDA and scoped out all the important landmarks along the 5th Avenue.

There was a handful that caught his eye, the most prominent one being the Metropolitan Museum. A team led by a pretty awesome Superhero named Magnaterran was there already and Storm didn’t hear a word of anything strange happening there, so he looked Southwards, tracing the addresses and trying to suss out how the bad guy might behave.

He couldn’t help but feel like a fish out of water, however. Blast Storm wasn’t someone who usually went around doing stuff like this, this thing about investigating and tracking and stuff. He was a hitter, a finisher, not a scout. Just by him being here showed how stretched thin the resources of the Guild was at the moment.

Sir.

A radio chatter came over his earpiece after several minutes had gone by. One of the Peacekeepers Blast Storm brought along was trying to get a hold of him.

“Yeah? You got something?”

I’m not sure, sir. I got a fast food vendor here who might have talked to another Greek like him. Said the man admitted to being a tourist. But I showed him the pic of our target, and the guy isn’t sure if it’s the same person or not. How do you want me to proceed?

Hearing this, Blast Storm rubbed his chin for a second before deciding on his next course of action.

“What’s your position? I’m en route.”

Three hundred and fifty paces on your four, sir. In front of the subway entrance over at 5th and 59th.

Blast Storm was a San Diego native, and so he wasn’t too clued up on the Manhattan’s dizzying network of streets. But, by simply relying on his intuition and nothing else, he somehow didn’t lose his direction and found the man and his query quickly. The smell of Souvlaki wafted in the air as the masked Superhero approached the Peacekeeper.

“So, that’s the guy, huh.”

Blast Storm perused the worn fast food cart and its operator. All it took was one look and he knew that something was not quite right about this guy. It was as if….

Storm walked over the vendor and leaned in closer, startling the man.

“Oh, hey man. You are too damn close,” said the fast food operator while slightly backing away.

Mumbling his insincere apologies, Blast Storm studied the man and noticed a thin hazy veil cast in this guy’s eyes. Looked like some kind of hypnosis, a light one at that. He should know – one of his archenemies was quite proficient at it. Storm lost count the number of times he was attacked by random strangers under the hypnotic suggestion of that Supervillain in the past. His instincts told him that this fast food guy was also under a weak but well-hidden spell.

Blast Storm leaned back and pulled the image of Nico Gavalas on the PDA, showing it to the food guy.

“Sir, you sure you haven’t seen this man in the last half an hour?”

The Greek man shook his head. “Like I said to your pal over there, no, I am not sure, sir, uh, Mister Blast Storm.”

“Okay, but you did talk to a guy from Greece, right? What did you two talk about?”

“Uh, well, he bought chicken Souvlaki, we talked about the city, back home, our families, nothing major, really.”

“Okay, which way did he go off to? Can you remember that, at least?”

“Uh, maybe, uh, hmm. Uh, maybe…. um… I was serving other customers, you know? I didn’t really catch where he went off to. My bad.”

Blast Storm narrowed his eyes. Now he felt more convinced than ever. He pointed at one of the skewered meat on the food cart and asked the man.

“Hey, can I have one of these?”

“Sure, boss.”

As the food guy leaned forward, Blast Storm expertly raised his right hand towards the man’s right ear at the same time and clicked his fingers loudly. The shockwave of air slammed into the inner ear drum of the fast food vendor.

He shook slightly, his eyes glazing over for a second or two, before clarity returned to the pupils. He looked confused, before recognizing Blast Storm in front of him.

“Huh? What just happened?”

Blast Storm showed the man the image of Nico once more. “You were under a light hypnosis. I broke it. Now, look at this photo again and tell me if you saw this guy before.”

The food vendor’s eyes focused on the image until a certain gleam began to shine in them. He tilted his head and spoke.

“Yeah…. I did talk to the guy, but it’s strange, you know? It’s all a blur and I can’t really remember the details.”

Blast Storm impatiently asked the man. “Okay, fine. But which way did he go?”

“I’m pretty sure he went up North – oh, wait a second. He said something about the Met and one of the exhibitions they are going to show off next week. Yeah, I remember that now. I think he was heading over there.”

Storm came in closer at the man, staring deep into his eyes. The hazy cloud of hypnosis was definitely gone; he was speaking the truth.

Nodding his thanks, Blast Storm recalled all his men and instructed them to head towards the Metropolitan Museum of Art as soon as possible. He also radioed the gunship pilot to head over there and check the place out. Finally, he contacted the command center and updated them on what was happening, requesting for logistics support at the same time.

There was a bit of distance to cover, but for these muscle-bound men, such a thing was nothing but a trifling matter. In a matter of minutes, they traversed all the way up on foot, not a breath in disarray. The Met building came into view pretty quickly.

Outwardly, nothing seemed amiss. Blast Storm saw the usual cordon of uniformed cops and the Superheroes sauntering about, checking out civilians entering the museum. But it was too early to feel relieved; now that Blast Storm was aware of Nico possessing some sort of ability to hypnotize, any one of these guys could be under the spell. Hell, maybe even all of them could be affected, which would be of no laughing matter.

The cops belatedly noticed a bunch of heavily armed men arriving at their position and tensed up for a second, before seeing the figure of Blast Storm leading them. The Lieutenant in charge of the police force came over in a hurry wanting to find out what was going on.

Magnaterran and the other Super were updated on the status through the transmission from the HQ only a couple of minutes ago. Once they spotted the Peacekeepers and Blast Storm, they came to make a report and confirm.

Blast Storm hurriedly informed the Lieutenant and the Supers, letting them know there was a possibility that they were subjected to a light hypnosis. He asked if there was anything suspicious that had happened in the last thirty minutes or so, and the answer was as expected – nothing of note happened.

Storm didn’t ask because he was interested in the answers, though. He was actually checking out the status of the cops while they were giving their answers.

It didn’t take long before he found the anomaly. Almost every cop present, even including the two Supers, were under a light hypnosis. Out of them, one cop was under a much stronger spell. Blast Storm clapped his hands very loudly to break the mass hypnosis instead of clicking his finger like the last time. There were too many victims, and also they were outdoors, too many background noises and all.

The cop affected by the strong hypnosis needed a second or two to recover. His face paled visibly as he recounted carrying a suspicious gym bag inside the museum for a person who could very well be Nico Gavalas.

This was not a good news, never mind a surprising one. Blast Storm hurriedly contacted the command center, informed them what happened and asked for reinforcements that could specifically deal with the powerful hypnosis attacks. Then, he told the Lieutenant to contact the museum’s administrators to evacuate the civilians and close all the exits but no one answered the urgent call.

“Jesus, something bad is happening inside,” said one of the Peacekeepers, his face grim.

Blast Storm grimaced as well while formulating the next course of action for himself and the boys. The command center explicitly ordered him not to enter the museum until the back-up’s arrival, but he just couldn’t sit idly by and let the innocent civilians suffer when he could’ve done something to prevent that.

His fingers lightly brushed the ear-mounted communicator. There was a low-level anti-hypnosis frequency generator built within, which was useless against a focused hypnosis attempt but it could block out something like the attacks on the cops and that fast food vendor.

“Okay. Boys, we’re going in. We get the museum goers out from that place. Mister Magnaterran, I’ll leave the perimeter to you.”

Blast Storm decisively led his Peacekeepers into the museum, almost flying up the famed stone steps to the grand entrance named the Great Hall.

He expected to cause a stir among the museum goers – after all, they were carrying big guns, their faces were grim and solemn, and on top of that, he was a famous Superhero wearing a scary mask. It’d be weird if no one reacted from all of those factors. He quickly thought of things to say to calm the panicking civilians. It would not do if there were a mass stampede and serious injuries resulting from that. Not only would the human cost unacceptable for him, the resulting paperwork could probably bury him six feet under because of the stress.

However, whether because of his mind being occupied or due to the clever concealment, Blast Storm and his Peacekeepers failed to notice a very thin golden film when they rushed past the grand doorway.

“Everyone, please listen up!!” Blast Storm shouted out aloud as soon as he stepped into the Great Hall. “My name is Blast Storm from the Guild of Heroes. I believe the suspect wanted in connection with the JFK incident is somewhere within this building. Please cooperate with the Peacekeepers and exit the museum in an orderly fashion.”

Blast Storm prepared himself to deal with the ensuing panic but contrary to his expectations, no such a thing happened. Not one violent or angry reaction, not one word of abuse flew at his way.

If anything, everyone present in this large space was calm. Way too calm. The confused and dazed looks floated on the faces of the museum goers and the employees at work. Seeing them like this, an inexplicable chill went down Blast Storm’s back side.

He and the Peacekeepers exchanged the knowing glances. Their fears of mass hypnosis had come true, it seemed.

“What’s your call, boss?”

One of the Peacekeepers asked him while his eyes darted around the hall, focused and vigilant of even the tiniest hints of suspicious movements.

“What else? We free these folks and evacuate them outta here,” replied Blast Storm. “Okay, let’s do this.”

Gritting his teeth, Blast Storm gathered strength in his arms and was ready to create a powerful shockwave to break the mass hypnosis when a pleasant voice came out of the speakers placed in the hallways.

Oh, well. This is a nice surprise. And a good timing too, since I was really running short on quality blood sacrifices. Please, if you are trying to find me, head over to the Near East exhibit. I’m right there, enjoying the view.

Blast Storm doubted what he heard for a second, before realizing the implications of those words. He turned to his men to order their evacuation first, but the huge, solid doors closed shut by themselves. And right afterwards, several metal security shutters slammed down on them, preventing their escape. Even all the windows were blocked off by metal shutters.

There was no way out. Unless, of course, the one behind this blockade was defeated.

“How the hell did he gain the control of the museum?!” Another Peacekeeper, a Hispanic man in his early thirties, muttered dazedly.

The nervousness in the eyes of the men rose up a notch. They tried the doors and despaired slightly, knowing that the solid security barrier was designed to withstand Supers with devastating destructive abilities like Blast Storm.

If the back was blocked off, then in the front, the numerous hypnotized men, women and children could become puppets pulled along on a string. No matter how much one was optimistic, this didn’t look good.

Blast Storm snorted angrily before clapping his hands loudly. The shockwave spread throughout the Great Hall and all those caught within its radius woke up from the mass hypnosis.

“A challenge, huh? Fine by me.”

Blast Storm cranked his neck and flexed his muscles. His anger was reaching very high, almost to the extent he’d destroy the walls to get to where Nico Gavalas was hiding.

“Gentlemen, update the HQ on our status, then try to secure us the exits with the safety of the civilians as our priority. In the meantime, let me go and say hello.”

The Peacekeepers nodded wordlessly and spread out, coming to the aid of the confused and dazed museum goers who were beginning to understand what was going on.

Not one of the men offered to go along with Blast Storm, however, even though they knew it was dangerous to go alone. In truth, there was very little they could do to help Blast Storm. If anything, they would just get in the way of two high-level Supers duking it out.

That’s why Blast Storm didn’t even suggest the matter. He just chose to walk right into the den of the lion, trusting in his own abilities to pull through. He was only 50-50 on this, though, thinking that he had a serious monster as his target this time. Not many Supers in this world possessed two vastly different set of Superpowers, one to mass hypnotize a whole bunch of people without seemingly doing anything, and to turn a crowd of people into bags of sand.

If that wasn’t the very definition of a troublesome opponent, then he’d have no clue what else could be.

And Blast Storm also recalled that the Russian-sounding gangster was stabbed to death. Meaning, there could be a sharp weapon in the possession of the target as well. Thinking about this, Blast Storm couldn’t help but furrow his brows and click his tongue in irritation.

As he got in deeper into the museum, his expressions became uglier. The hallway leading up to the Near East exhibit was lowly lit and was eerily quiet. Way too quiet for Blast Storm’s liking, anyhow. It gave off a rather ominous feeling which he didn’t care for, not even for one bit.

Sure enough, his premonition of bad things came true. In front of the Sphinx-like mock-ups – Blast Storm didn’t know what they were called, nor did he care – he spotted two prone bodies on the floor, unmoving.

He quickly checked them out, but he knew right away he was looking at corpses. Two security guards and two fatal stab wounds near the heart.

But the darndest thing was that Blast Storm could not see a single drop of blood, not on the bodies, not on the floor, not on the walls, none at all. This only served to thicken the foreboding in Blast Storm’s heart.

It’d be a lie to say his instincts of a warrior weren’t getting excited, though.

A surge of adrenaline was rushing through his veins and he felt really pumped up, every fiber of his being alight with anticipation. Would he be able to face a truly powerful opponent and get to have a showy smackdown? He’d absolutely love that. A battle to end all battles, with the future of a city at stake. An event that’d be talked about for years to come.

Blast Storm could see only one tiny little issue, and that was the small fact of him surrounded by priceless artifacts and items sourced from all over the world. He didn’t really care what happened to them, but rampaging around here might cause unnecessary administrative bull crap for himself and for the Guild.

But what choice did he have? The target chose to hole himself in here, so Blast Storm had to go where the fish was in order to get a bite.

Plus, Blast Storm knew that he couldn’t negotiate with his target to vacate this building and have a go at each other outside. He just didn’t have the gift of the silver tongue for that. So, if a smackdown was to happen, then it was destined to happen anyway. No point in caring too much about it.

Finally, he entered the exhibit hall. Blast Storm noticed yet more bodies, all in similar condition – stab wounds to the chest, no blood. The victims were museum staff and the tourists. No mercy was shown, even to children.

Nico Gavalas was there, waiting. He was sitting on a bench, leisurely reading a brochure he held on one hand. On the other hand, a two-way radio, taken from one of the dead security guards.

“You seem really relaxed, for a someone who is about to go to jail for the rest of his life,” quipped Blast Storm as he took a threatening stance about ten paces away from Nico.

Nico shrugged his shoulders as he lowered the brochure. “What can I do? There’s still some time left before the reformation of the world commences. I didn’t wish to be bored, so might as well enjoy the rich heritage this museum offers.”

“Okay, whatever, man. Let’s make this simple, Gavalas. Quietly hand yourself over, and save me the hassle, okay? Just put these cuffs on your wrists and we call it a day. What do you say?”

Nico smirked before shaking his head. “Mister, you are a comedian, aren’t you? Tell me, when you’re this close to achieving your goal, would you throw all that away and obey some random passerby telling you to stop? Of course not. Such a thing will never happen, yes?”

Nico slowly got up from the bench. He dropped the brochure and the walkie talkie as he stretched his cramped limbs.

In his empty hand, an ornately crafted dagger suddenly appeared, drawing Blast Storm’s attention. Storm immediately recognized the weapon; it was Abyss’s tool of choice.

“Huh, that dagger. That used to belong to a vigilante. Mind telling me how you got a hold of that?”

Nico glanced down at the dagger in his hand and tilted his head. “Belonged to a vigilante? Mister, this weapon has only one master, and it’s certainly not you, me or that vigilante, for that matter. I’m just temporarily borrowing it. This is a relic of the divine god Enki, after all. Only he has the right to bestow this divine weapon to a chosen. I’m stepping on a sacrilegious ground just by wielding it like this.” Nico babbled on, shrugging his shoulders.

“Riiiiight. So you’re not only a murdering bastard, but a religious nutcase too. This is great. Just great,” groaned Blast Storm before he raised his dukes to cover his torso. “Well then, let’s get going.”

A surge of air gathered around Blast Storm’s upper torso, forming a barrier of sorts. Then he paid a careful attention to that dagger. He had to.

One of the main reasons why Abyss was such a difficult customer to deal with, was because of that damn dagger. Not only was it unnaturally sharp, but it also had a strange ability to change its length somehow.

No close observation on the weapon was possible since Abyss proved to be pretty good at evading all manner of pursuers coming after him. That was clearly a disadvantage, Blast Storm was sure of this fact.

Nico made his move first while Blast Storm was lost in his thoughts for no more than a millisecond.

To say he was taken by surprise was a small understatement. Blast Storm quickly shifted his body to his left side and dodged the dagger aiming straight for his heart. Good thing he had seen enough victims lying on the ground to give him hints, otherwise he might have been killed, right there and then.

Nico withdrew the dagger, his eyes glistened in a pleasant surprise. “Oh? That was a good reflex there, mister. See if you can dodge this one next!!”

Nico swung the dagger horizontally around the chest height. Blast Storm dodged backwards, but his pupils widened the moment the dagger’s blade extended in a flash, closing in on his torso.

Shouting out sharply, he rotated his body in mid-air, narrowly dodging the extended blade that acted like a deadly whip. The magical blade slashed across the entire exhibition hall, smashing and slicing apart all in its path. Not even the bulletproof glasses protecting the exhibits could withstand the attack.

The icy chill crept up on Blast Storm’s back, realizing that Abyss never extended his dagger this far out before, at least not to his knowledge. He quickly rolled on the ground to get in position to counter attack.

Rising up using his explosive strength akin to the compressed air, Blast Storm threw a perfect uppercut. His fist was encased in swirling air sharper than an industrial strength cutting laser and more stubborn than a crocodile biting down on its prey.

His fist caused a shocking sonic boom as he splendidly connected to the chest of Nico Gavalas.

The floor tiles shattered below each combatant’s feet as the enormous wave of energy exploded out of the attack. The entire building seemed to shake; the glass shards turned to powder, the prone, dead bodies were mauled by the deadly storm of wind and energy, and the fragile lighting bulbs got shredded apart from all the ricocheting debris, encasing the hall in total darkness.

Almost right away, emergency lights came on, dyeing the Near East exhibition hall in the bloody crimson hue.

Nico slammed into the wall, his chest caving in. The entire wall crumbled from the impact and Nico’s helpless, broken body fell down on the destroyed pieces of materials. He spluttered out a mouthful of blood, his limbs twitching occasionally. There he remained, limp and near death.

Seeing this, Blast Storm narrowed his eyes. This was…. a little too easy. In the past, he ran into a few sly opponents who tried to lull him into a trap. It was similar to this situation.

Obviously, Storm wouldn’t fall for such a cheap trick but upon a closer inspection, he could see that even if Gavalas was blessed with a power of insane regenerative ability, he’d still be dead in a minute or two. The chest injury was just simply too severe to survive. Not even the most advanced modern medicine could patch that kind of damage. Blast Storm grimaced a little, thinking that he might have overdone it and killed a man.

Now, that wasn’t a serious problem, but the Guild of Heroes had a strict rule for catching bad guys alive if at all possible so they could stand trial and the public’s scrutiny.

Still, something didn’t feel quite right. Blast Storm had to remain vigilant until this unease in his heart lessened.

He slowly approached Nico Gavalas, while searching for that dangerous dagger with his keen senses. It was not on Nico’s body nor in his grasp. Using a subtle vibration from the airflow, he could locate anything in this small confined area but oddly, the thing was not here. He figured that it could be buried under some rubble. That would explain why he could not to find it right away. Unfortunately, the low red lighting didn’t make it any easier to locate the damn thing.

He confirmed for one last time that Nico didn’t have the weapon on him. Only then, Blast Storm got in closer and spoke.

“It’s over, man.”

His voice was low and apathetic.

Nico chuckled slightly, coughing out more blood in the process. Then, he slowly shook his head. “Over for you, yes. But for me? It’s only the beginning.”

Blast Storm stopped his advance and carefully studied the dying man, trying to think if there was anything he had overlooked. Then it clicked; this guy could use hypnosis.

Storm left the ear-mounted communicator to emit the low-frequency hum to prevent Nico Gavalas’s hypnosis attacks from affecting him ever since he approached the exhibit hall, but could it be that he was already under its effects? The grievously injured, dying man in front of him could be a false image projected to his mind, in order to confuse him.

Grimacing slightly at the thought, Blast Storm decided to make sure. He gathered power in his hand and quickly clicked his fingers, causing a shockwave. This would be, usually, enough to break any illusions caused by hypnosis.

Seeing this, Nico’s smile grew slightly. As the shockwave swept across, he softly murmured. “Oh, you’re unexpectedly sharp, aren’t you?” He then raised his hand where the dagger materialized again. Pointing the edge, he smiled coldly. “Oh well, you’re wrong this time, though.”

The dagger’s blade extended like a bullet. It shot forward and before Blast Storm could react, penetrated his chest, bypassing the Kevlar armor the Guild specially developed for him and even the barrier of wind.

At the last possible second, he tilted his body, so his heart was spared, but the unbelievably sharp blade still managed to slice through every muscle, fiber, bone and tissue with ease.

Smiling victoriously, Nico stood up while holding the extended dagger. Then, he deftly flicked his wrist and the dagger’s supernaturally sharp blade cut cleanly upwards, exiting past Blast Storm’s right shoulder, splitting him nearly in half.

Blast Storm fell on one knee, his eyes glazing over at the sudden turn of the event. He felt his senses go numb at the massive loss of blood.

He somehow willed his powers to stop the bleeding by concentrating the wind to form a thick barrier over his extensive wounds, but he was literally staring down the barrel of a loaded gun at this point. He knew that, unless help arrived in the next couple of minutes, he’d be dead.

And this realization thoroughly shocked him. Never before had he envisioned a situation where his life was ending like this. This was…. unreal. This had to be a bad joke, a terrible lie.

As the Super’s eyes wavered and began to lose the spark of life, Nico slowly walked closer, his caved chest visible and all. Out of nowhere, a stone tablet emitting a weak golden purple light emerged and slowly hummed in the air.

The blood of Blast Storm rose up like a dancing snake, swirling wildly before forming a vivid red ball. It began to draw more blood from Blast Storm’s dying body, going as so far to ignore the air barrier he had put up on his fatal wounds.

No f*cking way?!

Blast Storm watched the incredulous scene of his own body draining out of all the blood. Then his eyes shifted to that sphere in the air, unable to fully comprehend. His consciousness began to darken, and it became so much harder to maintain his kneeling position. Gradually, he fell on his back, shivering from the creeping cold.

With his final breath, he watched as the last of his blood fly up towards the tablet, merging into it. Then, the imperceptible texts on its surface glowed in bright red. Each word pulsated like a broken heartbeat, thumping noises echoing inside Blast Storm’s mind.

“Ohh, this is…. wow. Mister, you were one heck of a warrior, weren’t you? Amazing!! Not all of your blood has been sacrificed yet, but the gate of the guardian beast is this satisfied?! Wow, just wow!! Is this what you Americans call a jackpot?! Yes, it must be!!”

Nico cackled like a possessed man, not even caring about his chest wound. Bits of broken bone and flesh, mixed with the torn clothing made him look like a gruesome science experiment gone wrong, but he seemed perfectly fine, as if he didn’t feel any pain or even the slightest bit of discomfort.

Ahh, sh*t, so this is where I kick the bucket, huh. Blast Storm shuddered weakly. He was somewhat bitter about not being able to stop this lunatic, and by the look of things, he only managed to make the matters worse, somehow. Whatever that stone tablet was, Storm just knew it was a seriously bad news for his colleagues and friends.

Speaking of which….

God damn it. Vanguard, you better survive this calamity, you hear me? If you die and I see you up there, then I’m gonna kick your ass so hard….

His dying whispers were heard by no one. Not even Nico Gavalas heard it. He was too busy cackling in satisfaction.

Soon, the last bit of bloody Sphere was absorbed into the stone tablet. The sickly golden purple light was incredibly strong and bright now, almost all of the letters clearly legible on the surface. Nico nodded happily at this.

“Oh yes. With that much sacrifice, maybe I don’t need anymore? Hmm? Oh, maybe I do need a bit more. Hmm, oh, that is unfortunate. Really. Let’s see….. Ah!! The Seed of the End should be ready by now. Did I run out of time? Oh well. Shall I go and check it out?”

Chuckling in a good mood and babbling on and on to no one in particular, Nico turned on his hills and headed to the nearest staircase leading down to the storage below.

There were even more dead bodies here, workers and security guards of the museum lying cold and drained of their blood. Many of the wooden crates containing the stars of the exhibit in a few days’ time were left unopened, never to bathe in the light again.

Nico whistled as he approached a huge black vault. Its front door was sliced open, the thick metal and the security measures unable to stop him from accessing what was stored inside.

The gym bag was here, and so was the golden skull. The bizarre skull was placed atop an examination table next to a small box that would normally hold myrrh, but now, housing a small, black metallic seed.

The golden skull was emitting a deep, sickly golden glow, and the strange mark on its forehead was spinning rapidly as if it wanted to break free from its confines. Seeing the speed of the spin, Nico quickly moved and pulled out the bag, searching for the severed hand that held the old bronze mirror.

“Whew, almost didn’t make it, eh?”

Smiling, he unwrapped the jacket around the hand. The rigor mortis meant it was now solidly gripping the mirror, allowing Nico to use the entire limb as a sort of macabre tool.

As soon as he readied himself, the spinning mark finally broke free from the skull, and immediately shot out towards the black metal seed, submerging into it.

“Oh, here we go.”

Nico quickly grabbed the skull and hurriedly left the vault, not even looking back.

Less than a minute later, the black seed loudly rumbled. A keening, screeching noise shattered the eerie calm of the underground storage and the wooden box violently split apart. At first, a single black metallic vine as thick as a person’s thigh shot out from the seed, wriggling around in a disgusting manner. Then another one shot out, striking the inside of the vault, destroying countless fragile artifacts stored within. Then, yet another vine emerged. And another. And another.

In a blink of an eye. tens of thick, black metallic vines wriggled out of the once-small seed, expanding like crazy. Soon, the entire underground area was filled with the tumbling metal vines. The museum’s walls gave way, the concrete splitting apart weakly. Metal frames bent, the machines to carry large crates broke apart under the immense pressure and were instantly absorbed into the vines.

Nico had already exited the Near East exhibit when the whole building started to tremble as if an earthquake pounced on the unsuspecting city of New York. He hurriedly left the hall, laughing like a maniac as the walls were destroyed behind him, caving in, the numerous artifacts turning into nothing more than powder as the metal vines snaked out of everywhere.

The museum goers were gathered into the Great Hall, waiting for help to arrive. But as soon as the vines exploded out from everywhere, the hapless tourists were all swept away by the black tide, vaporizing into a fine mist of flesh and gore.

The Peacekeepers stood no chance as well, as they too were turned into nothing more than food for these vines. They fired their guns, threw their grenades, whatever – none of their desperate struggles could save them. Upon their demise, the guns and the equipment all split apart and became part of the metal vines.

Nico kicked the locked front door of the museum as hard as he could and jumped outside just as the black vines exploded out of the walls and windows and pretty much everywhere else. The entire museum crumbled into nothing as the mountains of vines erupted out. The cops and newly-arriving Supers were left stunned by this development, and was a tad too late to react.

When the vines shot out towards everywhere and wherever, absolute anarchy unfolded in the streets. Buildings, cars, people carrying guns, smartphones, whatever – none were spared as every single one of them were targetted. Bloody mist rose everywhere; blood-curdling screams of terror resounded in the center of the greatest city on earth.

When one of the vines came for Nico, he laughed and simply flashed the severed hand with the bronze mirror trapped within. The polished surface suddenly vibrated, and a dull brown light shone out, wrapping Nico inside it, forming a protective barrier around him. The metal vines avoided him from then on.

Laughing, Nico looked around him as the pandemonium of destruction broke out all over Manhattan. Buildings crumbled, cars exploded, the ground ripped apart and the subway trains were pulled up violently, all to become the part of the vines. And from where the Metropolitan Museum of Art once stood, an eerie black metal sprout was taking shape.

“Oh, it’s here!! It’s finally here!! Finally, after six millenniums in slumber, a Divine Tree is taking root!! Come, come and fulfill our wish, the divine and majestic…. Tree of the End!!”

Nico screamed at the top of his lungs in pure, frenzied delight. And as if to respond to his cries, the sprout began to emit a dazzling white light that blinded everyone on the continent, one that could be seen even by the astronauts in the international space station.

And when the light finally dimmed, there stood a gigantic metal structure that resembled a lightning rod, piercing the blue sky and shattering it, revealing the black starry space beyond. Almost half of the Central Park was gone, destroyed. The metal vines continued to wriggle and extend out, spreading all over the island, destroying and devouring everything in their wake.

And Nico was below the “Tree” smiling happily, his arms spread out wide. He fervently nodded his head and shouted loudly once more at the top of his lungs.

“Oh, my liege, we’ve finally done it!! The Tree of the End stands tall in this corrupted world once more!! With this, our gods shall finally make the triumphant return from the realm now long forgotten!! The glorious days of Bad-tibira shall return!!”


(Please support my writing by reading it, and talking to your friends about it. Any comments you wish to make are welcome, especially the constructive criticisms. Also, I would deeply appreciate if you show your love by donating some $$. Ahahaha. Well hey, I need “motivations” too, you know!!)

Please note, not edited/checked/PR-ed. You may run into a questionable grammar or two. If you happen to spot them, please let me know in the comments below. Thanks in advance!!)

This event happened some time before that sudden explosion of light.

A small team consisting of five Peacekeepers and led by Blast Storm, rappelled down from a gunship helicopter. To differentiate the GoH’s from the ones used by the army, the Guild’s version was painted in deep blue with white stripes running on the side. The famous insignia, In Justice We Strive Forward, and the crest of a caped Superhero standing valiantly with the backdrop of a cityscape were also plastered on all visible sides of the craft. No one would mistake it for anything else.

Other than that, though, it was still a full-on assault vehicle equipped with many rockets and a powerful minigun.

After his feet landed on the solid ground, Blast Storm scanned his surroundings. He saw the faces of surprised, panicked civilians, scurrying away to a distance in order to escape the turbulence from the powerful spinning rotors and the gust of wind kicked up by their constant motions.

He inwardly apologized for the inconvenience. It really couldn’t be helped, since their destination was near a busy intersection and the helicopter had to hover over the grass bank of the Central Park, dropping the Peacekeepers and Blast Storm here in order to not disrupt the traffic flow. There may not be a lot of park goers today because of all the warnings, but still, there were enough around to feel disgruntled by this action. Some would think it was a bit of an overkill.

Sighing under his breath, Blast Storm raised his head towards the aircraft and buzzed the pilot through the mic.

“Stay in the vicinity. We might need you to track the target from the air if it comes to that.”

The pilot confirmed his understanding. Blast Storm took some distance and watched the craft rise up, all the while ignoring the continuous flashes of smartphone cameras around him.

“Okay, let’s move out.”

Blast Storm signaled to five men behind him and led them forward. All the men were also decked out in pseudo-military gear, also painted in blue, sporting the crest of the Guild. Each and every one was well-built, sharp, and trained by the best to react to whatever situation they might face. Wielding powerful semi-auto rifles and carrying communication equipment they followed Blast Storm’s orders without missing a single beat.

Blast Storm himself was no longer in a civilian clothing, instead fully outfitted in the GoH-designed combat gear – bulletproof vest, several stun grenades, cuffs to arrest the perps and the like.

Checking the screen of the PDA to reconfirm the coordinates, the team quickly covered the ground. The Peacekeepers ably kept up with Blast Storm’s pace, even though he was the only Super among them, the rest being regular humans.

The Peacekeepers were given lots of leeways, even though technically they were mercenaries, soldiers hired with wages. In normal times, such an activity would be deemed illegal under the laws of most nations, but the boys and girls receiving monthly cheques from GoH got a free pass.

Even during the last great World Wars, as long as a merc had the moniker Peacekeeper plastered on his or her vest, it was all hunky dory and above board. Many nations throughout the years wanted to oppose this system, but things didn’t work out for those politicians until now due to various reasons.

And of course, the numbers written on the paycheque was pretty damn alluring. The health benefits too, were more than attractive as well. Thus, there never was a shortage of former soldiers applying for a position at the Guild as a result.

The Guild didn’t just hire anyone, though – to be a Peacekeeper, the “compatible” personality – meaning no criminal tendencies – was a must, followed closely by the amount and the type of training received. Only the best and the dedicated could serve.

No wonder, then, that their movements didn’t lose out to Blast Storm’s Super-enhanced speed. Crossing the short distance to arrive at the last known sighting for the target Nico Gavalas was far too easy a job for these guys.

Once arriving at the intersection, Blast Storm took another quick glance around. He couldn’t spot Nico Gavalas but that was to be expected. Unless the target was standing around waiting for them, there was no way he’d be staying put in one place.

He sent the hand signal to his men, and as practiced, they separated, each men going over to different locations to question people. Meanwhile, Blast Storm checked the map on his PDA and scoped out all the important landmarks along the 5th Avenue.

There was a handful that caught his eye, the most prominent one being the Metropolitan Museum. A team led by a pretty awesome Superhero named Magnaterran was there already and Storm didn’t hear a word of anything strange happening there, so he looked Southwards, tracing the addresses and trying to suss out how the bad guy might behave.

He couldn’t help but feel like a fish out of water, however. Blast Storm wasn’t someone who usually went around doing stuff like this, this thing about investigating and tracking and stuff. He was a hitter, a finisher, not a scout. Just by him being here showed how stretched thin the resources of the Guild was at the moment.

Sir.

A radio chatter came over his earpiece after several minutes had gone by. One of the Peacekeepers Blast Storm brought along was trying to get a hold of him.

“Yeah? You got something?”

I’m not sure, sir. I got a fast food vendor here who might have talked to another Greek like him. Said the man admitted to being a tourist. But I showed him the pic of our target, and the guy isn’t sure if it’s the same person or not. How do you want me to proceed?

Hearing this, Blast Storm rubbed his chin for a second before deciding on his next course of action.

“What’s your position? I’m en route.”

Three hundred and fifty paces on your four, sir. In front of the subway entrance over at 5th and 59th.

Blast Storm was a San Diego native, and so he wasn’t too clued up on the Manhattan’s dizzying network of streets. But, by simply relying on his intuition and nothing else, he somehow didn’t lose his direction and found the man and his query quickly. The smell of Souvlaki wafted in the air as the masked Superhero approached the Peacekeeper.

“So, that’s the guy, huh.”

Blast Storm perused the worn fast food cart and its operator. All it took was one look and he knew that something was not quite right about this guy. It was as if….

Storm walked over the vendor and leaned in closer, startling the man.

“Oh, hey man. You are too damn close,” said the fast food operator while slightly backing away.

Mumbling his insincere apologies, Blast Storm studied the man and noticed a thin hazy veil cast in this guy’s eyes. Looked like some kind of hypnosis, a light one at that. He should know – one of his archenemies was quite proficient at it. Storm lost count the number of times he was attacked by random strangers under the hypnotic suggestion of that Supervillain in the past. His instincts told him that this fast food guy was also under a weak but well-hidden spell.

Blast Storm leaned back and pulled the image of Nico Gavalas on the PDA, showing it to the food guy.

“Sir, you sure you haven’t seen this man in the last half an hour?”

The Greek man shook his head. “Like I said to your pal over there, no, I am not sure, sir, uh, Mister Blast Storm.”

“Okay, but you did talk to a guy from Greece, right? What did you two talk about?”

“Uh, well, he bought chicken Souvlaki, we talked about the city, back home, our families, nothing major, really.”

“Okay, which way did he go off to? Can you remember that, at least?”

“Uh, maybe, uh, hmm. Uh, maybe…. um… I was serving other customers, you know? I didn’t really catch where he went off to. My bad.”

Blast Storm narrowed his eyes. Now he felt more convinced than ever. He pointed at one of the skewered meat on the food cart and asked the man.

“Hey, can I have one of these?”

“Sure, boss.”

As the food guy leaned forward, Blast Storm expertly raised his right hand towards the man’s right ear at the same time and clicked his fingers loudly. The shockwave of air slammed into the inner ear drum of the fast food vendor.

He shook slightly, his eyes glazing over for a second or two, before clarity returned to the pupils. He looked confused, before recognizing Blast Storm in front of him.

“Huh? What just happened?”

Blast Storm showed the man the image of Nico once more. “You were under a light hypnosis. I broke it. Now, look at this photo again and tell me if you saw this guy before.”

The food vendor’s eyes focused on the image until a certain gleam began to shine in them. He tilted his head and spoke.

“Yeah…. I did talk to the guy, but it’s strange, you know? It’s all a blur and I can’t really remember the details.”

Blast Storm impatiently asked the man. “Okay, fine. But which way did he go?”

“I’m pretty sure he went up North – oh, wait a second. He said something about the Met and one of the exhibitions they are going to show off next week. Yeah, I remember that now. I think he was heading over there.”

Storm came in closer at the man, staring deep into his eyes. The hazy cloud of hypnosis was definitely gone; he was speaking the truth.

Nodding his thanks, Blast Storm recalled all his men and instructed them to head towards the Metropolitan Museum of Art as soon as possible. He also radioed the gunship pilot to head over there and check the place out. Finally, he contacted the command center and updated them on what was happening, requesting for logistics support at the same time.

There was a bit of distance to cover, but for these muscle-bound men, such a thing was nothing but a trifling matter. In a matter of minutes, they traversed all the way up on foot, not a breath in disarray. The Met building came into view pretty quickly.

Outwardly, nothing seemed amiss. Blast Storm saw the usual cordon of uniformed cops and the Superheroes sauntering about, checking out civilians entering the museum. But it was too early to feel relieved; now that Blast Storm was aware of Nico possessing some sort of ability to hypnotize, any one of these guys could be under the spell. Hell, maybe even all of them could be affected, which would be of no laughing matter.

The cops belatedly noticed a bunch of heavily armed men arriving at their position and tensed up for a second, before seeing the figure of Blast Storm leading them. The Lieutenant in charge of the police force came over in a hurry wanting to find out what was going on.

Magnaterran and the other Super were updated on the status through the transmission from the HQ only a couple of minutes ago. Once they spotted the Peacekeepers and Blast Storm, they came to make a report and confirm.

Blast Storm hurriedly informed the Lieutenant and the Supers, letting them know there was a possibility that they were subjected to a light hypnosis. He asked if there was anything suspicious that had happened in the last thirty minutes or so, and the answer was as expected – nothing of note happened.

Storm didn’t ask because he was interested in the answers, though. He was actually checking out the status of the cops while they were giving their answers.

It didn’t take long before he found the anomaly. Almost every cop present, even including the two Supers, were under a light hypnosis. Out of them, one cop was under a much stronger spell. Blast Storm clapped his hands very loudly to break the mass hypnosis instead of clicking his finger like the last time. There were too many victims, and also they were outdoors, too many background noises and all.

The cop affected by the strong hypnosis needed a second or two to recover. His face paled visibly as he recounted carrying a suspicious gym bag inside the museum for a person who could very well be Nico Gavalas.

This was not a good news, never mind a surprising one. Blast Storm hurriedly contacted the command center, informed them what happened and asked for reinforcements that could specifically deal with the powerful hypnosis attacks. Then, he told the Lieutenant to contact the museum’s administrators to evacuate the civilians and close all the exits but no one answered the urgent call.

“Jesus, something bad is happening inside,” said one of the Peacekeepers, his face grim.

Blast Storm grimaced as well while formulating the next course of action for himself and the boys. The command center explicitly ordered him not to enter the museum until the back-up’s arrival, but he just couldn’t sit idly by and let the innocent civilians suffer when he could’ve done something to prevent that.

His fingers lightly brushed the ear-mounted communicator. There was a low-level anti-hypnosis frequency generator built within, which was useless against a focused hypnosis attempt but it could block out something like the attacks on the cops and that fast food vendor.

“Okay. Boys, we’re going in. We get the museum goers out from that place. Mister Magnaterran, I’ll leave the perimeter to you.”

Blast Storm decisively led his Peacekeepers into the museum, almost flying up the famed stone steps to the grand entrance named the Great Hall.

He expected to cause a stir among the museum goers – after all, they were carrying big guns, their faces were grim and solemn, and on top of that, he was a famous Superhero wearing a scary mask. It’d be weird if no one reacted from all of those factors. He quickly thought of things to say to calm the panicking civilians. It would not do if there were a mass stampede and serious injuries resulting from that. Not only would the human cost unacceptable for him, the resulting paperwork could probably bury him six feet under because of the stress.

However, whether because of his mind being occupied or due to the clever concealment, Blast Storm and his Peacekeepers failed to notice a very thin golden film when they rushed past the grand doorway.

“Everyone, please listen up!!” Blast Storm shouted out aloud as soon as he stepped into the Great Hall. “My name is Blast Storm from the Guild of Heroes. I believe the suspect wanted in connection with the JFK incident is somewhere within this building. Please cooperate with the Peacekeepers and exit the museum in an orderly fashion.”

Blast Storm prepared himself to deal with the ensuing panic but contrary to his expectations, no such a thing happened. Not one violent or angry reaction, not one word of abuse flew at his way.

If anything, everyone present in this large space was calm. Way too calm. The confused and dazed looks floated on the faces of the museum goers and the employees at work. Seeing them like this, an inexplicable chill went down Blast Storm’s back side.

He and the Peacekeepers exchanged the knowing glances. Their fears of mass hypnosis had come true, it seemed.

“What’s your call, boss?”

One of the Peacekeepers asked him while his eyes darted around the hall, focused and vigilant of even the tiniest hints of suspicious movements.

“What else? We free these folks and evacuate them outta here,” replied Blast Storm. “Okay, let’s do this.”

Gritting his teeth, Blast Storm gathered strength in his arms and was ready to create a powerful shockwave to break the mass hypnosis when a pleasant voice came out of the speakers placed in the hallways.

Oh, well. This is a nice surprise. And a good timing too, since I was really running short on quality blood sacrifices. Please, if you are trying to find me, head over to the Near East exhibit. I’m right there, enjoying the view.

Blast Storm doubted what he heard for a second, before realizing the implications of those words. He turned to his men to order their evacuation first, but the huge, solid doors closed shut by themselves. And right afterwards, several metal security shutters slammed down on them, preventing their escape. Even all the windows were blocked off by metal shutters.

There was no way out. Unless, of course, the one behind this blockade was defeated.

“How the hell did he gain the control of the museum?!” Another Peacekeeper, a Hispanic man in his early thirties, muttered dazedly.

The nervousness in the eyes of the men rose up a notch. They tried the doors and despaired slightly, knowing that the solid security barrier was designed to withstand Supers with devastating destructive abilities like Blast Storm.

If the back was blocked off, then in the front, the numerous hypnotized men, women and children could become puppets pulled along on a string. No matter how much one was optimistic, this didn’t look good.

Blast Storm snorted angrily before clapping his hands loudly. The shockwave spread throughout the Great Hall and all those caught within its radius woke up from the mass hypnosis.

“A challenge, huh? Fine by me.”

Blast Storm cranked his neck and flexed his muscles. His anger was reaching very high, almost to the extent he’d destroy the walls to get to where Nico Gavalas was hiding.

“Gentlemen, update the HQ on our status, then try to secure us the exits with the safety of the civilians as our priority. In the meantime, let me go and say hello.”

The Peacekeepers nodded wordlessly and spread out, coming to the aid of the confused and dazed museum goers who were beginning to understand what was going on.

Not one of the men offered to go along with Blast Storm, however, even though they knew it was dangerous to go alone. In truth, there was very little they could do to help Blast Storm. If anything, they would just get in the way of two high-level Supers duking it out.

That’s why Blast Storm didn’t even suggest the matter. He just chose to walk right into the den of the lion, trusting in his own abilities to pull through. He was only 50-50 on this, though, thinking that he had a serious monster as his target this time. Not many Supers in this world possessed two vastly different set of Superpowers, one to mass hypnotize a whole bunch of people without seemingly doing anything, and to turn a crowd of people into bags of sand.

If that wasn’t the very definition of a troublesome opponent, then he’d have no clue what else could be.

And Blast Storm also recalled that the Russian-sounding gangster was stabbed to death. Meaning, there could be a sharp weapon in the possession of the target as well. Thinking about this, Blast Storm couldn’t help but furrow his brows and click his tongue in irritation.

As he got in deeper into the museum, his expressions became uglier. The hallway leading up to the Near East exhibit was lowly lit and was eerily quiet. Way too quiet for Blast Storm’s liking, anyhow. It gave off a rather ominous feeling which he didn’t care for, not even for one bit.

Sure enough, his premonition of bad things came true. In front of the Sphinx-like mock-ups – Blast Storm didn’t know what they were called, nor did he care – he spotted two prone bodies on the floor, unmoving.

He quickly checked them out, but he knew right away he was looking at corpses. Two security guards and two fatal stab wounds near the heart.

But the darndest thing was that Blast Storm could not see a single drop of blood, not on the bodies, not on the floor, not on the walls, none at all. This only served to thicken the foreboding in Blast Storm’s heart.

It’d be a lie to say his instincts of a warrior weren’t getting excited, though.

A surge of adrenaline was rushing through his veins and he felt really pumped up, every fiber of his being alight with anticipation. Would he be able to face a truly powerful opponent and get to have a showy smackdown? He’d absolutely love that. A battle to end all battles, with the future of a city at stake. An event that’d be talked about for years to come.

Blast Storm could see only one tiny little issue, and that was the small fact of him surrounded by priceless artifacts and items sourced from all over the world. He didn’t really care what happened to them, but rampaging around here might cause unnecessary administrative bull crap for himself and for the Guild.

But what choice did he have? The target chose to hole himself in here, so Blast Storm had to go where the fish was in order to get a bite.

Plus, Blast Storm knew that he couldn’t negotiate with his target to vacate this building and have a go at each other outside. He just didn’t have the gift of the silver tongue for that. So, if a smackdown was to happen, then it was destined to happen anyway. No point in caring too much about it.

Finally, he entered the exhibit hall. Blast Storm noticed yet more bodies, all in similar condition – stab wounds to the chest, no blood. The victims were museum staff and the tourists. No mercy was shown, even to children.

Nico Gavalas was there, waiting. He was sitting on a bench, leisurely reading a brochure he held on one hand. On the other hand, a two-way radio, taken from one of the dead security guards.

“You seem really relaxed, for a someone who is about to go to jail for the rest of his life,” quipped Blast Storm as he took a threatening stance about ten paces away from Nico.

Nico shrugged his shoulders as he lowered the brochure. “What can I do? There’s still some time left before the reformation of the world commences. I didn’t wish to be bored, so might as well enjoy the rich heritage this museum offers.”

“Okay, whatever, man. Let’s make this simple, Gavalas. Quietly hand yourself over, and save me the hassle, okay? Just put these cuffs on your wrists and we call it a day. What do you say?”

Nico smirked before shaking his head. “Mister, you are a comedian, aren’t you? Tell me, when you’re this close to achieving your goal, would you throw all that away and obey some random passerby telling you to stop? Of course not. Such a thing will never happen, yes?”

Nico slowly got up from the bench. He dropped the brochure and the walkie talkie as he stretched his cramped limbs.

In his empty hand, an ornately crafted dagger suddenly appeared, drawing Blast Storm’s attention. Storm immediately recognized the weapon; it was Abyss’s tool of choice.

“Huh, that dagger. That used to belong to a vigilante. Mind telling me how you got a hold of that?”

Nico glanced down at the dagger in his hand and tilted his head. “Belonged to a vigilante? Mister, this weapon has only one master, and it’s certainly not you, me or that vigilante, for that matter. I’m just temporarily borrowing it. This is a relic of the divine god Enki, after all. Only he has the right to bestow this divine weapon to a chosen. I’m stepping on a sacrilegious ground just by wielding it like this.” Nico babbled on, shrugging his shoulders.

“Riiiiight. So you’re not only a murdering bastard, but a religious nutcase too. This is great. Just great,” groaned Blast Storm before he raised his dukes to cover his torso. “Well then, let’s get going.”

A surge of air gathered around Blast Storm’s upper torso, forming a barrier of sorts. Then he paid a careful attention to that dagger. He had to.

One of the main reasons why Abyss was such a difficult customer to deal with, was because of that damn dagger. Not only was it unnaturally sharp, but it also had a strange ability to change its length somehow.

No close observation on the weapon was possible since Abyss proved to be pretty good at evading all manner of pursuers coming after him. That was clearly a disadvantage, Blast Storm was sure of this fact.

Nico made his move first while Blast Storm was lost in his thoughts for no more than a millisecond.

To say he was taken by surprise was a small understatement. Blast Storm quickly shifted his body to his left side and dodged the dagger aiming straight for his heart. Good thing he had seen enough victims lying on the ground to give him hints, otherwise he might have been killed, right there and then.

Nico withdrew the dagger, his eyes glistened in a pleasant surprise. “Oh? That was a good reflex there, mister. See if you can dodge this one next!!”

Nico swung the dagger horizontally around the chest height. Blast Storm dodged backwards, but his pupils widened the moment the dagger’s blade extended in a flash, closing in on his torso.

Shouting out sharply, he rotated his body in mid-air, narrowly dodging the extended blade that acted like a deadly whip. The magical blade slashed across the entire exhibition hall, smashing and slicing apart all in its path. Not even the bulletproof glasses protecting the exhibits could withstand the attack.

The icy chill crept up on Blast Storm’s back, realizing that Abyss never extended his dagger this far out before, at least not to his knowledge. He quickly rolled on the ground to get in position to counter attack.

Rising up using his explosive strength akin to the compressed air, Blast Storm threw a perfect uppercut. His fist was encased in swirling air sharper than an industrial strength cutting laser and more stubborn than a crocodile biting down on its prey.

His fist caused a shocking sonic boom as he splendidly connected to the chest of Nico Gavalas.

The floor tiles shattered below each combatant’s feet as the enormous wave of energy exploded out of the attack. The entire building seemed to shake; the glass shards turned to powder, the prone, dead bodies were mauled by the deadly storm of wind and energy, and the fragile lighting bulbs got shredded apart from all the ricocheting debris, encasing the hall in total darkness.

Almost right away, emergency lights came on, dyeing the Near East exhibition hall in the bloody crimson hue.

Nico slammed into the wall, his chest caving in. The entire wall crumbled from the impact and Nico’s helpless, broken body fell down on the destroyed pieces of materials. He spluttered out a mouthful of blood, his limbs twitching occasionally. There he remained, limp and near death.

Seeing this, Blast Storm narrowed his eyes. This was…. a little too easy. In the past, he ran into a few sly opponents who tried to lull him into a trap. It was similar to this situation.

Obviously, Storm wouldn’t fall for such a cheap trick but upon a closer inspection, he could see that even if Gavalas was blessed with a power of insane regenerative ability, he’d still be dead in a minute or two. The chest injury was just simply too severe to survive. Not even the most advanced modern medicine could patch that kind of damage. Blast Storm grimaced a little, thinking that he might have overdone it and killed a man.

Now, that wasn’t a serious problem, but the Guild of Heroes had a strict rule for catching bad guys alive if at all possible so they could stand trial and the public’s scrutiny.

Still, something didn’t feel quite right. Blast Storm had to remain vigilant until this unease in his heart lessened.

He slowly approached Nico Gavalas, while searching for that dangerous dagger with his keen senses. It was not on Nico’s body nor in his grasp. Using a subtle vibration from the airflow, he could locate anything in this small confined area but oddly, the thing was not here. He figured that it could be buried under some rubble. That would explain why he could not to find it right away. Unfortunately, the low red lighting didn’t make it any easier to locate the damn thing.

He confirmed for one last time that Nico didn’t have the weapon on him. Only then, Blast Storm got in closer and spoke.

“It’s over, man.”

His voice was low and apathetic.

Nico chuckled slightly, coughing out more blood in the process. Then, he slowly shook his head. “Over for you, yes. But for me? It’s only the beginning.”

Blast Storm stopped his advance and carefully studied the dying man, trying to think if there was anything he had overlooked. Then it clicked; this guy could use hypnosis.

Storm left the ear-mounted communicator to emit the low-frequency hum to prevent Nico Gavalas’s hypnosis attacks from affecting him ever since he approached the exhibit hall, but could it be that he was already under its effects? The grievously injured, dying man in front of him could be a false image projected to his mind, in order to confuse him.

Grimacing slightly at the thought, Blast Storm decided to make sure. He gathered power in his hand and quickly clicked his fingers, causing a shockwave. This would be, usually, enough to break any illusions caused by hypnosis.

Seeing this, Nico’s smile grew slightly. As the shockwave swept across, he softly murmured. “Oh, you’re unexpectedly sharp, aren’t you?” He then raised his hand where the dagger materialized again. Pointing the edge, he smiled coldly. “Oh well, you’re wrong this time, though.”

The dagger’s blade extended like a bullet. It shot forward and before Blast Storm could react, penetrated his chest, bypassing the Kevlar armor the Guild specially developed for him and even the barrier of wind.

At the last possible second, he tilted his body, so his heart was spared, but the unbelievably sharp blade still managed to slice through every muscle, fiber, bone and tissue with ease.

Smiling victoriously, Nico stood up while holding the extended dagger. Then, he deftly flicked his wrist and the dagger’s supernaturally sharp blade cut cleanly upwards, exiting past Blast Storm’s right shoulder, splitting him nearly in half.

Blast Storm fell on one knee, his eyes glazing over at the sudden turn of the event. He felt his senses go numb at the massive loss of blood.

He somehow willed his powers to stop the bleeding by concentrating the wind to form a thick barrier over his extensive wounds, but he was literally staring down the barrel of a loaded gun at this point. He knew that, unless help arrived in the next couple of minutes, he’d be dead.

And this realization thoroughly shocked him. Never before had he envisioned a situation where his life was ending like this. This was…. unreal. This had to be a bad joke, a terrible lie.

As the Super’s eyes wavered and began to lose the spark of life, Nico slowly walked closer, his caved chest visible and all. Out of nowhere, a stone tablet emitting a weak golden purple light emerged and slowly hummed in the air.

The blood of Blast Storm rose up like a dancing snake, swirling wildly before forming a vivid red ball. It began to draw more blood from Blast Storm’s dying body, going as so far to ignore the air barrier he had put up on his fatal wounds.

No f*cking way?!

Blast Storm watched the incredulous scene of his own body draining out of all the blood. Then his eyes shifted to that sphere in the air, unable to fully comprehend. His consciousness began to darken, and it became so much harder to maintain his kneeling position. Gradually, he fell on his back, shivering from the creeping cold.

With his final breath, he watched as the last of his blood fly up towards the tablet, merging into it. Then, the imperceptible texts on its surface glowed in bright red. Each word pulsated like a broken heartbeat, thumping noises echoing inside Blast Storm’s mind.

“Ohh, this is…. wow. Mister, you were one heck of a warrior, weren’t you? Amazing!! Not all of your blood has been sacrificed yet, but the gate of the guardian beast is this satisfied?! Wow, just wow!! Is this what you Americans call a jackpot?! Yes, it must be!!”

Nico cackled like a possessed man, not even caring about his chest wound. Bits of broken bone and flesh, mixed with the torn clothing made him look like a gruesome science experiment gone wrong, but he seemed perfectly fine, as if he didn’t feel any pain or even the slightest bit of discomfort.

Ahh, sh*t, so this is where I kick the bucket, huh. Blast Storm shuddered weakly. He was somewhat bitter about not being able to stop this lunatic, and by the look of things, he only managed to make the matters worse, somehow. Whatever that stone tablet was, Storm just knew it was a seriously bad news for his colleagues and friends.

Speaking of which….

God damn it. Vanguard, you better survive this calamity, you hear me? If you die and I see you up there, then I’m gonna kick your ass so hard….

His dying whispers were heard by no one. Not even Nico Gavalas heard it. He was too busy cackling in satisfaction.

Soon, the last bit of bloody Sphere was absorbed into the stone tablet. The sickly golden purple light was incredibly strong and bright now, almost all of the letters clearly legible on the surface. Nico nodded happily at this.

“Oh yes. With that much sacrifice, maybe I don’t need anymore? Hmm? Oh, maybe I do need a bit more. Hmm, oh, that is unfortunate. Really. Let’s see….. Ah!! The Seed of the End should be ready by now. Did I run out of time? Oh well. Shall I go and check it out?”

Chuckling in a good mood and babbling on and on to no one in particular, Nico turned on his hills and headed to the nearest staircase leading down to the storage below.

There were even more dead bodies here, workers and security guards of the museum lying cold and drained of their blood. Many of the wooden crates containing the stars of the exhibit in a few days’ time were left unopened, never to bathe in the light again.

Nico whistled as he approached a huge black vault. Its front door was sliced open, the thick metal and the security measures unable to stop him from accessing what was stored inside.

The gym bag was here, and so was the golden skull. The bizarre skull was placed atop an examination table next to a small box that would normally hold myrrh, but now, housing a small, black metallic seed.

The golden skull was emitting a deep, sickly golden glow, and the strange mark on its forehead was spinning rapidly as if it wanted to break free from its confines. Seeing the speed of the spin, Nico quickly moved and pulled out the bag, searching for the severed hand that held the old bronze mirror.

“Whew, almost didn’t make it, eh?”

Smiling, he unwrapped the jacket around the hand. The rigor mortis meant it was now solidly gripping the mirror, allowing Nico to use the entire limb as a sort of macabre tool.

As soon as he readied himself, the spinning mark finally broke free from the skull, and immediately shot out towards the black metal seed, submerging into it.

“Oh, here we go.”

Nico quickly grabbed the skull and hurriedly left the vault, not even looking back.

Less than a minute later, the black seed loudly rumbled. A keening, screeching noise shattered the eerie calm of the underground storage and the wooden box violently split apart. At first, a single black metallic vine as thick as a person’s thigh shot out from the seed, wriggling around in a disgusting manner. Then another one shot out, striking the inside of the vault, destroying countless fragile artifacts stored within. Then, yet another vine emerged. And another. And another.

In a blink of an eye. tens of thick, black metallic vines wriggled out of the once-small seed, expanding like crazy. Soon, the entire underground area was filled with the tumbling metal vines. The museum’s walls gave way, the concrete splitting apart weakly. Metal frames bent, the machines to carry large crates broke apart under the immense pressure and were instantly absorbed into the vines.

Nico had already exited the Near East exhibit when the whole building started to tremble as if an earthquake pounced on the unsuspecting city of New York. He hurriedly left the hall, laughing like a maniac as the walls were destroyed behind him, caving in, the numerous artifacts turning into nothing more than powder as the metal vines snaked out of everywhere.

The museum goers were gathered into the Great Hall, waiting for help to arrive. But as soon as the vines exploded out from everywhere, the hapless tourists were all swept away by the black tide, vaporizing into a fine mist of flesh and gore.

The Peacekeepers stood no chance as well, as they too were turned into nothing more than food for these vines. They fired their guns, threw their grenades, whatever – none of their desperate struggles could save them. Upon their demise, the guns and the equipment all split apart and became part of the metal vines.

Nico kicked the locked front door of the museum as hard as he could and jumped outside just as the black vines exploded out of the walls and windows and pretty much everywhere else. The entire museum crumbled into nothing as the mountains of vines erupted out. The cops and newly-arriving Supers were left stunned by this development, and was a tad too late to react.

When the vines shot out towards everywhere and wherever, absolute anarchy unfolded in the streets. Buildings, cars, people carrying guns, smartphones, whatever – none were spared as every single one of them were targetted. Bloody mist rose everywhere; blood-curdling screams of terror resounded in the center of the greatest city on earth.

When one of the vines came for Nico, he laughed and simply flashed the severed hand with the bronze mirror trapped within. The polished surface suddenly vibrated, and a dull brown light shone out, wrapping Nico inside it, forming a protective barrier around him. The metal vines avoided him from then on.

Laughing, Nico looked around him as the pandemonium of destruction broke out all over Manhattan. Buildings crumbled, cars exploded, the ground ripped apart and the subway trains were pulled up violently, all to become the part of the vines. And from where the Metropolitan Museum of Art once stood, an eerie black metal sprout was taking shape.

“Oh, it’s here!! It’s finally here!! Finally, after six millenniums in slumber, a Divine Tree is taking root!! Come, come and fulfill our wish, the divine and majestic…. Tree of the End!!”

Nico screamed at the top of his lungs in pure, frenzied delight. And as if to respond to his cries, the sprout began to emit a dazzling white light that blinded everyone on the continent, one that could be seen even by the astronauts in the international space station.

And when the light finally dimmed, there stood a gigantic metal structure that resembled a lightning rod, piercing the blue sky and shattering it, revealing the black starry space beyond. Almost half of the Central Park was gone, destroyed. The metal vines continued to wriggle and extend out, spreading all over the island, destroying and devouring everything in their wake.

And Nico was below the “Tree” smiling happily, his arms spread out wide. He fervently nodded his head and shouted loudly once more at the top of his lungs.

“Oh, my liege, we’ve finally done it!! The Tree of the End stands tall in this corrupted world once more!! With this, our gods shall finally make the triumphant return from the realm now long forgotten!! The glorious days of Bad-tibira shall return!!”


(Please support my writing by reading it, and talking to your friends about it. Any comments you wish to make are welcome, especially the constructive criticisms. Also, I would deeply appreciate if you show your love by donating some $$. Ahahaha. Well hey, I need “motivations” too, you know!!)

Please note, not edited/checked/PR-ed. You may run into a questionable grammar or two. If you happen to spot them, please let me know in the comments below. Thanks in advance!!)

This event happened some time before that sudden explosion of light.

A small team consisting of five Peacekeepers and led by Blast Storm, rappelled down from a gunship helicopter. To differentiate the GoH’s from the ones used by the army, the Guild’s version was painted in deep blue with white stripes running on the side. The famous insignia, In Justice We Strive Forward, and the crest of a caped Superhero standing valiantly with the backdrop of a cityscape were also plastered on all visible sides of the craft. No one would mistake it for anything else.

Other than that, though, it was still a full-on assault vehicle equipped with many rockets and a powerful minigun.

After his feet landed on the solid ground, Blast Storm scanned his surroundings. He saw the faces of surprised, panicked civilians, scurrying away to a distance in order to escape the turbulence from the powerful spinning rotors and the gust of wind kicked up by their constant motions.

He inwardly apologized for the inconvenience. It really couldn’t be helped, since their destination was near a busy intersection and the helicopter had to hover over the grass bank of the Central Park, dropping the Peacekeepers and Blast Storm here in order to not disrupt the traffic flow. There may not be a lot of park goers today because of all the warnings, but still, there were enough around to feel disgruntled by this action. Some would think it was a bit of an overkill.

Sighing under his breath, Blast Storm raised his head towards the aircraft and buzzed the pilot through the mic.

“Stay in the vicinity. We might need you to track the target from the air if it comes to that.”

The pilot confirmed his understanding. Blast Storm took some distance and watched the craft rise up, all the while ignoring the continuous flashes of smartphone cameras around him.

“Okay, let’s move out.”

Blast Storm signaled to five men behind him and led them forward. All the men were also decked out in pseudo-military gear, also painted in blue, sporting the crest of the Guild. Each and every one was well-built, sharp, and trained by the best to react to whatever situation they might face. Wielding powerful semi-auto rifles and carrying communication equipment they followed Blast Storm’s orders without missing a single beat.

Blast Storm himself was no longer in a civilian clothing, instead fully outfitted in the GoH-designed combat gear – bulletproof vest, several stun grenades, cuffs to arrest the perps and the like.

Checking the screen of the PDA to reconfirm the coordinates, the team quickly covered the ground. The Peacekeepers ably kept up with Blast Storm’s pace, even though he was the only Super among them, the rest being regular humans.

The Peacekeepers were given lots of leeways, even though technically they were mercenaries, soldiers hired with wages. In normal times, such an activity would be deemed illegal under the laws of most nations, but the boys and girls receiving monthly cheques from GoH got a free pass.

Even during the last great World Wars, as long as a merc had the moniker Peacekeeper plastered on his or her vest, it was all hunky dory and above board. Many nations throughout the years wanted to oppose this system, but things didn’t work out for those politicians until now due to various reasons.

And of course, the numbers written on the paycheque was pretty damn alluring. The health benefits too, were more than attractive as well. Thus, there never was a shortage of former soldiers applying for a position at the Guild as a result.

The Guild didn’t just hire anyone, though – to be a Peacekeeper, the “compatible” personality – meaning no criminal tendencies – was a must, followed closely by the amount and the type of training received. Only the best and the dedicated could serve.

No wonder, then, that their movements didn’t lose out to Blast Storm’s Super-enhanced speed. Crossing the short distance to arrive at the last known sighting for the target Nico Gavalas was far too easy a job for these guys.

Once arriving at the intersection, Blast Storm took another quick glance around. He couldn’t spot Nico Gavalas but that was to be expected. Unless the target was standing around waiting for them, there was no way he’d be staying put in one place.

He sent the hand signal to his men, and as practiced, they separated, each men going over to different locations to question people. Meanwhile, Blast Storm checked the map on his PDA and scoped out all the important landmarks along the 5th Avenue.

There was a handful that caught his eye, the most prominent one being the Metropolitan Museum. A team led by a pretty awesome Superhero named Magnaterran was there already and Storm didn’t hear a word of anything strange happening there, so he looked Southwards, tracing the addresses and trying to suss out how the bad guy might behave.

He couldn’t help but feel like a fish out of water, however. Blast Storm wasn’t someone who usually went around doing stuff like this, this thing about investigating and tracking and stuff. He was a hitter, a finisher, not a scout. Just by him being here showed how stretched thin the resources of the Guild was at the moment.

Sir.

A radio chatter came over his earpiece after several minutes had gone by. One of the Peacekeepers Blast Storm brought along was trying to get a hold of him.

“Yeah? You got something?”

I’m not sure, sir. I got a fast food vendor here who might have talked to another Greek like him. Said the man admitted to being a tourist. But I showed him the pic of our target, and the guy isn’t sure if it’s the same person or not. How do you want me to proceed?

Hearing this, Blast Storm rubbed his chin for a second before deciding on his next course of action.

“What’s your position? I’m en route.”

Three hundred and fifty paces on your four, sir. In front of the subway entrance over at 5th and 59th.

Blast Storm was a San Diego native, and so he wasn’t too clued up on the Manhattan’s dizzying network of streets. But, by simply relying on his intuition and nothing else, he somehow didn’t lose his direction and found the man and his query quickly. The smell of Souvlaki wafted in the air as the masked Superhero approached the Peacekeeper.

“So, that’s the guy, huh.”

Blast Storm perused the worn fast food cart and its operator. All it took was one look and he knew that something was not quite right about this guy. It was as if….

Storm walked over the vendor and leaned in closer, startling the man.

“Oh, hey man. You are too damn close,” said the fast food operator while slightly backing away.

Mumbling his insincere apologies, Blast Storm studied the man and noticed a thin hazy veil cast in this guy’s eyes. Looked like some kind of hypnosis, a light one at that. He should know – one of his archenemies was quite proficient at it. Storm lost count the number of times he was attacked by random strangers under the hypnotic suggestion of that Supervillain in the past. His instincts told him that this fast food guy was also under a weak but well-hidden spell.

Blast Storm leaned back and pulled the image of Nico Gavalas on the PDA, showing it to the food guy.

“Sir, you sure you haven’t seen this man in the last half an hour?”

The Greek man shook his head. “Like I said to your pal over there, no, I am not sure, sir, uh, Mister Blast Storm.”

“Okay, but you did talk to a guy from Greece, right? What did you two talk about?”

“Uh, well, he bought chicken Souvlaki, we talked about the city, back home, our families, nothing major, really.”

“Okay, which way did he go off to? Can you remember that, at least?”

“Uh, maybe, uh, hmm. Uh, maybe…. um… I was serving other customers, you know? I didn’t really catch where he went off to. My bad.”

Blast Storm narrowed his eyes. Now he felt more convinced than ever. He pointed at one of the skewered meat on the food cart and asked the man.

“Hey, can I have one of these?”

“Sure, boss.”

As the food guy leaned forward, Blast Storm expertly raised his right hand towards the man’s right ear at the same time and clicked his fingers loudly. The shockwave of air slammed into the inner ear drum of the fast food vendor.

He shook slightly, his eyes glazing over for a second or two, before clarity returned to the pupils. He looked confused, before recognizing Blast Storm in front of him.

“Huh? What just happened?”

Blast Storm showed the man the image of Nico once more. “You were under a light hypnosis. I broke it. Now, look at this photo again and tell me if you saw this guy before.”

The food vendor’s eyes focused on the image until a certain gleam began to shine in them. He tilted his head and spoke.

“Yeah…. I did talk to the guy, but it’s strange, you know? It’s all a blur and I can’t really remember the details.”

Blast Storm impatiently asked the man. “Okay, fine. But which way did he go?”

“I’m pretty sure he went up North – oh, wait a second. He said something about the Met and one of the exhibitions they are going to show off next week. Yeah, I remember that now. I think he was heading over there.”

Storm came in closer at the man, staring deep into his eyes. The hazy cloud of hypnosis was definitely gone; he was speaking the truth.

Nodding his thanks, Blast Storm recalled all his men and instructed them to head towards the Metropolitan Museum of Art as soon as possible. He also radioed the gunship pilot to head over there and check the place out. Finally, he contacted the command center and updated them on what was happening, requesting for logistics support at the same time.

There was a bit of distance to cover, but for these muscle-bound men, such a thing was nothing but a trifling matter. In a matter of minutes, they traversed all the way up on foot, not a breath in disarray. The Met building came into view pretty quickly.

Outwardly, nothing seemed amiss. Blast Storm saw the usual cordon of uniformed cops and the Superheroes sauntering about, checking out civilians entering the museum. But it was too early to feel relieved; now that Blast Storm was aware of Nico possessing some sort of ability to hypnotize, any one of these guys could be under the spell. Hell, maybe even all of them could be affected, which would be of no laughing matter.

The cops belatedly noticed a bunch of heavily armed men arriving at their position and tensed up for a second, before seeing the figure of Blast Storm leading them. The Lieutenant in charge of the police force came over in a hurry wanting to find out what was going on.

Magnaterran and the other Super were updated on the status through the transmission from the HQ only a couple of minutes ago. Once they spotted the Peacekeepers and Blast Storm, they came to make a report and confirm.

Blast Storm hurriedly informed the Lieutenant and the Supers, letting them know there was a possibility that they were subjected to a light hypnosis. He asked if there was anything suspicious that had happened in the last thirty minutes or so, and the answer was as expected – nothing of note happened.

Storm didn’t ask because he was interested in the answers, though. He was actually checking out the status of the cops while they were giving their answers.

It didn’t take long before he found the anomaly. Almost every cop present, even including the two Supers, were under a light hypnosis. Out of them, one cop was under a much stronger spell. Blast Storm clapped his hands very loudly to break the mass hypnosis instead of clicking his finger like the last time. There were too many victims, and also they were outdoors, too many background noises and all.

The cop affected by the strong hypnosis needed a second or two to recover. His face paled visibly as he recounted carrying a suspicious gym bag inside the museum for a person who could very well be Nico Gavalas.

This was not a good news, never mind a surprising one. Blast Storm hurriedly contacted the command center, informed them what happened and asked for reinforcements that could specifically deal with the powerful hypnosis attacks. Then, he told the Lieutenant to contact the museum’s administrators to evacuate the civilians and close all the exits but no one answered the urgent call.

“Jesus, something bad is happening inside,” said one of the Peacekeepers, his face grim.

Blast Storm grimaced as well while formulating the next course of action for himself and the boys. The command center explicitly ordered him not to enter the museum until the back-up’s arrival, but he just couldn’t sit idly by and let the innocent civilians suffer when he could’ve done something to prevent that.

His fingers lightly brushed the ear-mounted communicator. There was a low-level anti-hypnosis frequency generator built within, which was useless against a focused hypnosis attempt but it could block out something like the attacks on the cops and that fast food vendor.

“Okay. Boys, we’re going in. We get the museum goers out from that place. Mister Magnaterran, I’ll leave the perimeter to you.”

Blast Storm decisively led his Peacekeepers into the museum, almost flying up the famed stone steps to the grand entrance named the Great Hall.

He expected to cause a stir among the museum goers – after all, they were carrying big guns, their faces were grim and solemn, and on top of that, he was a famous Superhero wearing a scary mask. It’d be weird if no one reacted from all of those factors. He quickly thought of things to say to calm the panicking civilians. It would not do if there were a mass stampede and serious injuries resulting from that. Not only would the human cost unacceptable for him, the resulting paperwork could probably bury him six feet under because of the stress.

However, whether because of his mind being occupied or due to the clever concealment, Blast Storm and his Peacekeepers failed to notice a very thin golden film when they rushed past the grand doorway.

“Everyone, please listen up!!” Blast Storm shouted out aloud as soon as he stepped into the Great Hall. “My name is Blast Storm from the Guild of Heroes. I believe the suspect wanted in connection with the JFK incident is somewhere within this building. Please cooperate with the Peacekeepers and exit the museum in an orderly fashion.”

Blast Storm prepared himself to deal with the ensuing panic but contrary to his expectations, no such a thing happened. Not one violent or angry reaction, not one word of abuse flew at his way.

If anything, everyone present in this large space was calm. Way too calm. The confused and dazed looks floated on the faces of the museum goers and the employees at work. Seeing them like this, an inexplicable chill went down Blast Storm’s back side.

He and the Peacekeepers exchanged the knowing glances. Their fears of mass hypnosis had come true, it seemed.

“What’s your call, boss?”

One of the Peacekeepers asked him while his eyes darted around the hall, focused and vigilant of even the tiniest hints of suspicious movements.

“What else? We free these folks and evacuate them outta here,” replied Blast Storm. “Okay, let’s do this.”

Gritting his teeth, Blast Storm gathered strength in his arms and was ready to create a powerful shockwave to break the mass hypnosis when a pleasant voice came out of the speakers placed in the hallways.

Oh, well. This is a nice surprise. And a good timing too, since I was really running short on quality blood sacrifices. Please, if you are trying to find me, head over to the Near East exhibit. I’m right there, enjoying the view.

Blast Storm doubted what he heard for a second, before realizing the implications of those words. He turned to his men to order their evacuation first, but the huge, solid doors closed shut by themselves. And right afterwards, several metal security shutters slammed down on them, preventing their escape. Even all the windows were blocked off by metal shutters.

There was no way out. Unless, of course, the one behind this blockade was defeated.

“How the hell did he gain the control of the museum?!” Another Peacekeeper, a Hispanic man in his early thirties, muttered dazedly.

The nervousness in the eyes of the men rose up a notch. They tried the doors and despaired slightly, knowing that the solid security barrier was designed to withstand Supers with devastating destructive abilities like Blast Storm.

If the back was blocked off, then in the front, the numerous hypnotized men, women and children could become puppets pulled along on a string. No matter how much one was optimistic, this didn’t look good.

Blast Storm snorted angrily before clapping his hands loudly. The shockwave spread throughout the Great Hall and all those caught within its radius woke up from the mass hypnosis.

“A challenge, huh? Fine by me.”

Blast Storm cranked his neck and flexed his muscles. His anger was reaching very high, almost to the extent he’d destroy the walls to get to where Nico Gavalas was hiding.

“Gentlemen, update the HQ on our status, then try to secure us the exits with the safety of the civilians as our priority. In the meantime, let me go and say hello.”

The Peacekeepers nodded wordlessly and spread out, coming to the aid of the confused and dazed museum goers who were beginning to understand what was going on.

Not one of the men offered to go along with Blast Storm, however, even though they knew it was dangerous to go alone. In truth, there was very little they could do to help Blast Storm. If anything, they would just get in the way of two high-level Supers duking it out.

That’s why Blast Storm didn’t even suggest the matter. He just chose to walk right into the den of the lion, trusting in his own abilities to pull through. He was only 50-50 on this, though, thinking that he had a serious monster as his target this time. Not many Supers in this world possessed two vastly different set of Superpowers, one to mass hypnotize a whole bunch of people without seemingly doing anything, and to turn a crowd of people into bags of sand.

If that wasn’t the very definition of a troublesome opponent, then he’d have no clue what else could be.

And Blast Storm also recalled that the Russian-sounding gangster was stabbed to death. Meaning, there could be a sharp weapon in the possession of the target as well. Thinking about this, Blast Storm couldn’t help but furrow his brows and click his tongue in irritation.

As he got in deeper into the museum, his expressions became uglier. The hallway leading up to the Near East exhibit was lowly lit and was eerily quiet. Way too quiet for Blast Storm’s liking, anyhow. It gave off a rather ominous feeling which he didn’t care for, not even for one bit.

Sure enough, his premonition of bad things came true. In front of the Sphinx-like mock-ups – Blast Storm didn’t know what they were called, nor did he care – he spotted two prone bodies on the floor, unmoving.

He quickly checked them out, but he knew right away he was looking at corpses. Two security guards and two fatal stab wounds near the heart.

But the darndest thing was that Blast Storm could not see a single drop of blood, not on the bodies, not on the floor, not on the walls, none at all. This only served to thicken the foreboding in Blast Storm’s heart.

It’d be a lie to say his instincts of a warrior weren’t getting excited, though.

A surge of adrenaline was rushing through his veins and he felt really pumped up, every fiber of his being alight with anticipation. Would he be able to face a truly powerful opponent and get to have a showy smackdown? He’d absolutely love that. A battle to end all battles, with the future of a city at stake. An event that’d be talked about for years to come.

Blast Storm could see only one tiny little issue, and that was the small fact of him surrounded by priceless artifacts and items sourced from all over the world. He didn’t really care what happened to them, but rampaging around here might cause unnecessary administrative bull crap for himself and for the Guild.

But what choice did he have? The target chose to hole himself in here, so Blast Storm had to go where the fish was in order to get a bite.

Plus, Blast Storm knew that he couldn’t negotiate with his target to vacate this building and have a go at each other outside. He just didn’t have the gift of the silver tongue for that. So, if a smackdown was to happen, then it was destined to happen anyway. No point in caring too much about it.

Finally, he entered the exhibit hall. Blast Storm noticed yet more bodies, all in similar condition – stab wounds to the chest, no blood. The victims were museum staff and the tourists. No mercy was shown, even to children.

Nico Gavalas was there, waiting. He was sitting on a bench, leisurely reading a brochure he held on one hand. On the other hand, a two-way radio, taken from one of the dead security guards.

“You seem really relaxed, for a someone who is about to go to jail for the rest of his life,” quipped Blast Storm as he took a threatening stance about ten paces away from Nico.

Nico shrugged his shoulders as he lowered the brochure. “What can I do? There’s still some time left before the reformation of the world commences. I didn’t wish to be bored, so might as well enjoy the rich heritage this museum offers.”

“Okay, whatever, man. Let’s make this simple, Gavalas. Quietly hand yourself over, and save me the hassle, okay? Just put these cuffs on your wrists and we call it a day. What do you say?”

Nico smirked before shaking his head. “Mister, you are a comedian, aren’t you? Tell me, when you’re this close to achieving your goal, would you throw all that away and obey some random passerby telling you to stop? Of course not. Such a thing will never happen, yes?”

Nico slowly got up from the bench. He dropped the brochure and the walkie talkie as he stretched his cramped limbs.

In his empty hand, an ornately crafted dagger suddenly appeared, drawing Blast Storm’s attention. Storm immediately recognized the weapon; it was Abyss’s tool of choice.

“Huh, that dagger. That used to belong to a vigilante. Mind telling me how you got a hold of that?”

Nico glanced down at the dagger in his hand and tilted his head. “Belonged to a vigilante? Mister, this weapon has only one master, and it’s certainly not you, me or that vigilante, for that matter. I’m just temporarily borrowing it. This is a relic of the divine god Enki, after all. Only he has the right to bestow this divine weapon to a chosen. I’m stepping on a sacrilegious ground just by wielding it like this.” Nico babbled on, shrugging his shoulders.

“Riiiiight. So you’re not only a murdering bastard, but a religious nutcase too. This is great. Just great,” groaned Blast Storm before he raised his dukes to cover his torso. “Well then, let’s get going.”

A surge of air gathered around Blast Storm’s upper torso, forming a barrier of sorts. Then he paid a careful attention to that dagger. He had to.

One of the main reasons why Abyss was such a difficult customer to deal with, was because of that damn dagger. Not only was it unnaturally sharp, but it also had a strange ability to change its length somehow.

No close observation on the weapon was possible since Abyss proved to be pretty good at evading all manner of pursuers coming after him. That was clearly a disadvantage, Blast Storm was sure of this fact.

Nico made his move first while Blast Storm was lost in his thoughts for no more than a millisecond.

To say he was taken by surprise was a small understatement. Blast Storm quickly shifted his body to his left side and dodged the dagger aiming straight for his heart. Good thing he had seen enough victims lying on the ground to give him hints, otherwise he might have been killed, right there and then.

Nico withdrew the dagger, his eyes glistened in a pleasant surprise. “Oh? That was a good reflex there, mister. See if you can dodge this one next!!”

Nico swung the dagger horizontally around the chest height. Blast Storm dodged backwards, but his pupils widened the moment the dagger’s blade extended in a flash, closing in on his torso.

Shouting out sharply, he rotated his body in mid-air, narrowly dodging the extended blade that acted like a deadly whip. The magical blade slashed across the entire exhibition hall, smashing and slicing apart all in its path. Not even the bulletproof glasses protecting the exhibits could withstand the attack.

The icy chill crept up on Blast Storm’s back, realizing that Abyss never extended his dagger this far out before, at least not to his knowledge. He quickly rolled on the ground to get in position to counter attack.

Rising up using his explosive strength akin to the compressed air, Blast Storm threw a perfect uppercut. His fist was encased in swirling air sharper than an industrial strength cutting laser and more stubborn than a crocodile biting down on its prey.

His fist caused a shocking sonic boom as he splendidly connected to the chest of Nico Gavalas.

The floor tiles shattered below each combatant’s feet as the enormous wave of energy exploded out of the attack. The entire building seemed to shake; the glass shards turned to powder, the prone, dead bodies were mauled by the deadly storm of wind and energy, and the fragile lighting bulbs got shredded apart from all the ricocheting debris, encasing the hall in total darkness.

Almost right away, emergency lights came on, dyeing the Near East exhibition hall in the bloody crimson hue.

Nico slammed into the wall, his chest caving in. The entire wall crumbled from the impact and Nico’s helpless, broken body fell down on the destroyed pieces of materials. He spluttered out a mouthful of blood, his limbs twitching occasionally. There he remained, limp and near death.

Seeing this, Blast Storm narrowed his eyes. This was…. a little too easy. In the past, he ran into a few sly opponents who tried to lull him into a trap. It was similar to this situation.

Obviously, Storm wouldn’t fall for such a cheap trick but upon a closer inspection, he could see that even if Gavalas was blessed with a power of insane regenerative ability, he’d still be dead in a minute or two. The chest injury was just simply too severe to survive. Not even the most advanced modern medicine could patch that kind of damage. Blast Storm grimaced a little, thinking that he might have overdone it and killed a man.

Now, that wasn’t a serious problem, but the Guild of Heroes had a strict rule for catching bad guys alive if at all possible so they could stand trial and the public’s scrutiny.

Still, something didn’t feel quite right. Blast Storm had to remain vigilant until this unease in his heart lessened.

He slowly approached Nico Gavalas, while searching for that dangerous dagger with his keen senses. It was not on Nico’s body nor in his grasp. Using a subtle vibration from the airflow, he could locate anything in this small confined area but oddly, the thing was not here. He figured that it could be buried under some rubble. That would explain why he could not to find it right away. Unfortunately, the low red lighting didn’t make it any easier to locate the damn thing.

He confirmed for one last time that Nico didn’t have the weapon on him. Only then, Blast Storm got in closer and spoke.

“It’s over, man.”

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His voice was low and apathetic.

Nico chuckled slightly, coughing out more blood in the process. Then, he slowly shook his head. “Over for you, yes. But for me? It’s only the beginning.”

Blast Storm stopped his advance and carefully studied the dying man, trying to think if there was anything he had overlooked. Then it clicked; this guy could use hypnosis.

Storm left the ear-mounted communicator to emit the low-frequency hum to prevent Nico Gavalas’s hypnosis attacks from affecting him ever since he approached the exhibit hall, but could it be that he was already under its effects? The grievously injured, dying man in front of him could be a false image projected to his mind, in order to confuse him.

Grimacing slightly at the thought, Blast Storm decided to make sure. He gathered power in his hand and quickly clicked his fingers, causing a shockwave. This would be, usually, enough to break any illusions caused by hypnosis.

Seeing this, Nico’s smile grew slightly. As the shockwave swept across, he softly murmured. “Oh, you’re unexpectedly sharp, aren’t you?” He then raised his hand where the dagger materialized again. Pointing the edge, he smiled coldly. “Oh well, you’re wrong this time, though.”

The dagger’s blade extended like a bullet. It shot forward and before Blast Storm could react, penetrated his chest, bypassing the Kevlar armor the Guild specially developed for him and even the barrier of wind.

At the last possible second, he tilted his body, so his heart was spared, but the unbelievably sharp blade still managed to slice through every muscle, fiber, bone and tissue with ease.

Smiling victoriously, Nico stood up while holding the extended dagger. Then, he deftly flicked his wrist and the dagger’s supernaturally sharp blade cut cleanly upwards, exiting past Blast Storm’s right shoulder, splitting him nearly in half.

Blast Storm fell on one knee, his eyes glazing over at the sudden turn of the event. He felt his senses go numb at the massive loss of blood.

He somehow willed his powers to stop the bleeding by concentrating the wind to form a thick barrier over his extensive wounds, but he was literally staring down the barrel of a loaded gun at this point. He knew that, unless help arrived in the next couple of minutes, he’d be dead.

And this realization thoroughly shocked him. Never before had he envisioned a situation where his life was ending like this. This was…. unreal. This had to be a bad joke, a terrible lie.

As the Super’s eyes wavered and began to lose the spark of life, Nico slowly walked closer, his caved chest visible and all. Out of nowhere, a stone tablet emitting a weak golden purple light emerged and slowly hummed in the air.

The blood of Blast Storm rose up like a dancing snake, swirling wildly before forming a vivid red ball. It began to draw more blood from Blast Storm’s dying body, going as so far to ignore the air barrier he had put up on his fatal wounds.

No f*cking way?!

Blast Storm watched the incredulous scene of his own body draining out of all the blood. Then his eyes shifted to that sphere in the air, unable to fully comprehend. His consciousness began to darken, and it became so much harder to maintain his kneeling position. Gradually, he fell on his back, shivering from the creeping cold.

With his final breath, he watched as the last of his blood fly up towards the tablet, merging into it. Then, the imperceptible texts on its surface glowed in bright red. Each word pulsated like a broken heartbeat, thumping noises echoing inside Blast Storm’s mind.

“Ohh, this is…. wow. Mister, you were one heck of a warrior, weren’t you? Amazing!! Not all of your blood has been sacrificed yet, but the gate of the guardian beast is this satisfied?! Wow, just wow!! Is this what you Americans call a jackpot?! Yes, it must be!!”

Nico cackled like a possessed man, not even caring about his chest wound. Bits of broken bone and flesh, mixed with the torn clothing made him look like a gruesome science experiment gone wrong, but he seemed perfectly fine, as if he didn’t feel any pain or even the slightest bit of discomfort.

Ahh, sh*t, so this is where I kick the bucket, huh. Blast Storm shuddered weakly. He was somewhat bitter about not being able to stop this lunatic, and by the look of things, he only managed to make the matters worse, somehow. Whatever that stone tablet was, Storm just knew it was a seriously bad news for his colleagues and friends.

Speaking of which….

God damn it. Vanguard, you better survive this calamity, you hear me? If you die and I see you up there, then I’m gonna kick your ass so hard….

His dying whispers were heard by no one. Not even Nico Gavalas heard it. He was too busy cackling in satisfaction.

Soon, the last bit of bloody Sphere was absorbed into the stone tablet. The sickly golden purple light was incredibly strong and bright now, almost all of the letters clearly legible on the surface. Nico nodded happily at this.

“Oh yes. With that much sacrifice, maybe I don’t need anymore? Hmm? Oh, maybe I do need a bit more. Hmm, oh, that is unfortunate. Really. Let’s see….. Ah!! The Seed of the End should be ready by now. Did I run out of time? Oh well. Shall I go and check it out?”

Chuckling in a good mood and babbling on and on to no one in particular, Nico turned on his hills and headed to the nearest staircase leading down to the storage below.

There were even more dead bodies here, workers and security guards of the museum lying cold and drained of their blood. Many of the wooden crates containing the stars of the exhibit in a few days’ time were left unopened, never to bathe in the light again.

Nico whistled as he approached a huge black vault. Its front door was sliced open, the thick metal and the security measures unable to stop him from accessing what was stored inside.

The gym bag was here, and so was the golden skull. The bizarre skull was placed atop an examination table next to a small box that would normally hold myrrh, but now, housing a small, black metallic seed.

The golden skull was emitting a deep, sickly golden glow, and the strange mark on its forehead was spinning rapidly as if it wanted to break free from its confines. Seeing the speed of the spin, Nico quickly moved and pulled out the bag, searching for the severed hand that held the old bronze mirror.

“Whew, almost didn’t make it, eh?”

Smiling, he unwrapped the jacket around the hand. The rigor mortis meant it was now solidly gripping the mirror, allowing Nico to use the entire limb as a sort of macabre tool.

As soon as he readied himself, the spinning mark finally broke free from the skull, and immediately shot out towards the black metal seed, submerging into it.

“Oh, here we go.”

Nico quickly grabbed the skull and hurriedly left the vault, not even looking back.

Less than a minute later, the black seed loudly rumbled. A keening, screeching noise shattered the eerie calm of the underground storage and the wooden box violently split apart. At first, a single black metallic vine as thick as a person’s thigh shot out from the seed, wriggling around in a disgusting manner. Then another one shot out, striking the inside of the vault, destroying countless fragile artifacts stored within. Then, yet another vine emerged. And another. And another.

In a blink of an eye. tens of thick, black metallic vines wriggled out of the once-small seed, expanding like crazy. Soon, the entire underground area was filled with the tumbling metal vines. The museum’s walls gave way, the concrete splitting apart weakly. Metal frames bent, the machines to carry large crates broke apart under the immense pressure and were instantly absorbed into the vines.

Nico had already exited the Near East exhibit when the whole building started to tremble as if an earthquake pounced on the unsuspecting city of New York. He hurriedly left the hall, laughing like a maniac as the walls were destroyed behind him, caving in, the numerous artifacts turning into nothing more than powder as the metal vines snaked out of everywhere.

The museum goers were gathered into the Great Hall, waiting for help to arrive. But as soon as the vines exploded out from everywhere, the hapless tourists were all swept away by the black tide, vaporizing into a fine mist of flesh and gore.

The Peacekeepers stood no chance as well, as they too were turned into nothing more than food for these vines. They fired their guns, threw their grenades, whatever – none of their desperate struggles could save them. Upon their demise, the guns and the equipment all split apart and became part of the metal vines.

Nico kicked the locked front door of the museum as hard as he could and jumped outside just as the black vines exploded out of the walls and windows and pretty much everywhere else. The entire museum crumbled into nothing as the mountains of vines erupted out. The cops and newly-arriving Supers were left stunned by this development, and was a tad too late to react.

When the vines shot out towards everywhere and wherever, absolute anarchy unfolded in the streets. Buildings, cars, people carrying guns, smartphones, whatever – none were spared as every single one of them were targetted. Bloody mist rose everywhere; blood-curdling screams of terror resounded in the center of the greatest city on earth.

When one of the vines came for Nico, he laughed and simply flashed the severed hand with the bronze mirror trapped within. The polished surface suddenly vibrated, and a dull brown light shone out, wrapping Nico inside it, forming a protective barrier around him. The metal vines avoided him from then on.

Laughing, Nico looked around him as the pandemonium of destruction broke out all over Manhattan. Buildings crumbled, cars exploded, the ground ripped apart and the subway trains were pulled up violently, all to become the part of the vines. And from where the Metropolitan Museum of Art once stood, an eerie black metal sprout was taking shape.

“Oh, it’s here!! It’s finally here!! Finally, after six millenniums in slumber, a Divine Tree is taking root!! Come, come and fulfill our wish, the divine and majestic…. Tree of the End!!”

Nico screamed at the top of his lungs in pure, frenzied delight. And as if to respond to his cries, the sprout began to emit a dazzling white light that blinded everyone on the continent, one that could be seen even by the astronauts in the international space station.

And when the light finally dimmed, there stood a gigantic metal structure that resembled a lightning rod, piercing the blue sky and shattering it, revealing the black starry space beyond. Almost half of the Central Park was gone, destroyed. The metal vines continued to wriggle and extend out, spreading all over the island, destroying and devouring everything in their wake.

And Nico was below the “Tree” smiling happily, his arms spread out wide. He fervently nodded his head and shouted loudly once more at the top of his lungs.

“Oh, my liege, we’ve finally done it!! The Tree of the End stands tall in this corrupted world once more!! With this, our gods shall finally make the triumphant return from the realm now long forgotten!! The glorious days of Bad-tibira shall return!!”


(Please support my writing by reading it, and talking to your friends about it. Any comments you wish to make are welcome, especially the constructive criticisms. Also, I would deeply appreciate if you show your love by donating some $$. Ahahaha. Well hey, I need “motivations” too, you know!!)

Please note, not edited/checked/PR-ed. You may run into a questionable grammar or two. If you happen to spot them, please let me know in the comments below. Thanks in advance!!)

This event happened some time before that sudden explosion of light.

A small team consisting of five Peacekeepers and led by Blast Storm, rappelled down from a gunship helicopter. To differentiate the GoH’s from the ones used by the army, the Guild’s version was painted in deep blue with white stripes running on the side. The famous insignia, In Justice We Strive Forward, and the crest of a caped Superhero standing valiantly with the backdrop of a cityscape were also plastered on all visible sides of the craft. No one would mistake it for anything else.

Other than that, though, it was still a full-on assault vehicle equipped with many rockets and a powerful minigun.

After his feet landed on the solid ground, Blast Storm scanned his surroundings. He saw the faces of surprised, panicked civilians, scurrying away to a distance in order to escape the turbulence from the powerful spinning rotors and the gust of wind kicked up by their constant motions.

He inwardly apologized for the inconvenience. It really couldn’t be helped, since their destination was near a busy intersection and the helicopter had to hover over the grass bank of the Central Park, dropping the Peacekeepers and Blast Storm here in order to not disrupt the traffic flow. There may not be a lot of park goers today because of all the warnings, but still, there were enough around to feel disgruntled by this action. Some would think it was a bit of an overkill.

Sighing under his breath, Blast Storm raised his head towards the aircraft and buzzed the pilot through the mic.

“Stay in the vicinity. We might need you to track the target from the air if it comes to that.”

The pilot confirmed his understanding. Blast Storm took some distance and watched the craft rise up, all the while ignoring the continuous flashes of smartphone cameras around him.

“Okay, let’s move out.”

Blast Storm signaled to five men behind him and led them forward. All the men were also decked out in pseudo-military gear, also painted in blue, sporting the crest of the Guild. Each and every one was well-built, sharp, and trained by the best to react to whatever situation they might face. Wielding powerful semi-auto rifles and carrying communication equipment they followed Blast Storm’s orders without missing a single beat.

Blast Storm himself was no longer in a civilian clothing, instead fully outfitted in the GoH-designed combat gear – bulletproof vest, several stun grenades, cuffs to arrest the perps and the like.

Checking the screen of the PDA to reconfirm the coordinates, the team quickly covered the ground. The Peacekeepers ably kept up with Blast Storm’s pace, even though he was the only Super among them, the rest being regular humans.

The Peacekeepers were given lots of leeways, even though technically they were mercenaries, soldiers hired with wages. In normal times, such an activity would be deemed illegal under the laws of most nations, but the boys and girls receiving monthly cheques from GoH got a free pass.

Even during the last great World Wars, as long as a merc had the moniker Peacekeeper plastered on his or her vest, it was all hunky dory and above board. Many nations throughout the years wanted to oppose this system, but things didn’t work out for those politicians until now due to various reasons.

And of course, the numbers written on the paycheque was pretty damn alluring. The health benefits too, were more than attractive as well. Thus, there never was a shortage of former soldiers applying for a position at the Guild as a result.

The Guild didn’t just hire anyone, though – to be a Peacekeeper, the “compatible” personality – meaning no criminal tendencies – was a must, followed closely by the amount and the type of training received. Only the best and the dedicated could serve.

No wonder, then, that their movements didn’t lose out to Blast Storm’s Super-enhanced speed. Crossing the short distance to arrive at the last known sighting for the target Nico Gavalas was far too easy a job for these guys.

Once arriving at the intersection, Blast Storm took another quick glance around. He couldn’t spot Nico Gavalas but that was to be expected. Unless the target was standing around waiting for them, there was no way he’d be staying put in one place.

He sent the hand signal to his men, and as practiced, they separated, each men going over to different locations to question people. Meanwhile, Blast Storm checked the map on his PDA and scoped out all the important landmarks along the 5th Avenue.

There was a handful that caught his eye, the most prominent one being the Metropolitan Museum. A team led by a pretty awesome Superhero named Magnaterran was there already and Storm didn’t hear a word of anything strange happening there, so he looked Southwards, tracing the addresses and trying to suss out how the bad guy might behave.

He couldn’t help but feel like a fish out of water, however. Blast Storm wasn’t someone who usually went around doing stuff like this, this thing about investigating and tracking and stuff. He was a hitter, a finisher, not a scout. Just by him being here showed how stretched thin the resources of the Guild was at the moment.

Sir.

A radio chatter came over his earpiece after several minutes had gone by. One of the Peacekeepers Blast Storm brought along was trying to get a hold of him.

“Yeah? You got something?”

I’m not sure, sir. I got a fast food vendor here who might have talked to another Greek like him. Said the man admitted to being a tourist. But I showed him the pic of our target, and the guy isn’t sure if it’s the same person or not. How do you want me to proceed?

Hearing this, Blast Storm rubbed his chin for a second before deciding on his next course of action.

“What’s your position? I’m en route.”

Three hundred and fifty paces on your four, sir. In front of the subway entrance over at 5th and 59th.

Blast Storm was a San Diego native, and so he wasn’t too clued up on the Manhattan’s dizzying network of streets. But, by simply relying on his intuition and nothing else, he somehow didn’t lose his direction and found the man and his query quickly. The smell of Souvlaki wafted in the air as the masked Superhero approached the Peacekeeper.

“So, that’s the guy, huh.”

Blast Storm perused the worn fast food cart and its operator. All it took was one look and he knew that something was not quite right about this guy. It was as if….

Storm walked over the vendor and leaned in closer, startling the man.

“Oh, hey man. You are too damn close,” said the fast food operator while slightly backing away.

Mumbling his insincere apologies, Blast Storm studied the man and noticed a thin hazy veil cast in this guy’s eyes. Looked like some kind of hypnosis, a light one at that. He should know – one of his archenemies was quite proficient at it. Storm lost count the number of times he was attacked by random strangers under the hypnotic suggestion of that Supervillain in the past. His instincts told him that this fast food guy was also under a weak but well-hidden spell.

Blast Storm leaned back and pulled the image of Nico Gavalas on the PDA, showing it to the food guy.

“Sir, you sure you haven’t seen this man in the last half an hour?”

The Greek man shook his head. “Like I said to your pal over there, no, I am not sure, sir, uh, Mister Blast Storm.”

“Okay, but you did talk to a guy from Greece, right? What did you two talk about?”

“Uh, well, he bought chicken Souvlaki, we talked about the city, back home, our families, nothing major, really.”

“Okay, which way did he go off to? Can you remember that, at least?”

“Uh, maybe, uh, hmm. Uh, maybe…. um… I was serving other customers, you know? I didn’t really catch where he went off to. My bad.”

Blast Storm narrowed his eyes. Now he felt more convinced than ever. He pointed at one of the skewered meat on the food cart and asked the man.

“Hey, can I have one of these?”

“Sure, boss.”

As the food guy leaned forward, Blast Storm expertly raised his right hand towards the man’s right ear at the same time and clicked his fingers loudly. The shockwave of air slammed into the inner ear drum of the fast food vendor.

He shook slightly, his eyes glazing over for a second or two, before clarity returned to the pupils. He looked confused, before recognizing Blast Storm in front of him.

“Huh? What just happened?”

Blast Storm showed the man the image of Nico once more. “You were under a light hypnosis. I broke it. Now, look at this photo again and tell me if you saw this guy before.”

The food vendor’s eyes focused on the image until a certain gleam began to shine in them. He tilted his head and spoke.

“Yeah…. I did talk to the guy, but it’s strange, you know? It’s all a blur and I can’t really remember the details.”

Blast Storm impatiently asked the man. “Okay, fine. But which way did he go?”

“I’m pretty sure he went up North – oh, wait a second. He said something about the Met and one of the exhibitions they are going to show off next week. Yeah, I remember that now. I think he was heading over there.”

Storm came in closer at the man, staring deep into his eyes. The hazy cloud of hypnosis was definitely gone; he was speaking the truth.

Nodding his thanks, Blast Storm recalled all his men and instructed them to head towards the Metropolitan Museum of Art as soon as possible. He also radioed the gunship pilot to head over there and check the place out. Finally, he contacted the command center and updated them on what was happening, requesting for logistics support at the same time.

There was a bit of distance to cover, but for these muscle-bound men, such a thing was nothing but a trifling matter. In a matter of minutes, they traversed all the way up on foot, not a breath in disarray. The Met building came into view pretty quickly.

Outwardly, nothing seemed amiss. Blast Storm saw the usual cordon of uniformed cops and the Superheroes sauntering about, checking out civilians entering the museum. But it was too early to feel relieved; now that Blast Storm was aware of Nico possessing some sort of ability to hypnotize, any one of these guys could be under the spell. Hell, maybe even all of them could be affected, which would be of no laughing matter.

The cops belatedly noticed a bunch of heavily armed men arriving at their position and tensed up for a second, before seeing the figure of Blast Storm leading them. The Lieutenant in charge of the police force came over in a hurry wanting to find out what was going on.

Magnaterran and the other Super were updated on the status through the transmission from the HQ only a couple of minutes ago. Once they spotted the Peacekeepers and Blast Storm, they came to make a report and confirm.

Blast Storm hurriedly informed the Lieutenant and the Supers, letting them know there was a possibility that they were subjected to a light hypnosis. He asked if there was anything suspicious that had happened in the last thirty minutes or so, and the answer was as expected – nothing of note happened.

Storm didn’t ask because he was interested in the answers, though. He was actually checking out the status of the cops while they were giving their answers.

It didn’t take long before he found the anomaly. Almost every cop present, even including the two Supers, were under a light hypnosis. Out of them, one cop was under a much stronger spell. Blast Storm clapped his hands very loudly to break the mass hypnosis instead of clicking his finger like the last time. There were too many victims, and also they were outdoors, too many background noises and all.

The cop affected by the strong hypnosis needed a second or two to recover. His face paled visibly as he recounted carrying a suspicious gym bag inside the museum for a person who could very well be Nico Gavalas.

This was not a good news, never mind a surprising one. Blast Storm hurriedly contacted the command center, informed them what happened and asked for reinforcements that could specifically deal with the powerful hypnosis attacks. Then, he told the Lieutenant to contact the museum’s administrators to evacuate the civilians and close all the exits but no one answered the urgent call.

“Jesus, something bad is happening inside,” said one of the Peacekeepers, his face grim.

Blast Storm grimaced as well while formulating the next course of action for himself and the boys. The command center explicitly ordered him not to enter the museum until the back-up’s arrival, but he just couldn’t sit idly by and let the innocent civilians suffer when he could’ve done something to prevent that.

His fingers lightly brushed the ear-mounted communicator. There was a low-level anti-hypnosis frequency generator built within, which was useless against a focused hypnosis attempt but it could block out something like the attacks on the cops and that fast food vendor.

“Okay. Boys, we’re going in. We get the museum goers out from that place. Mister Magnaterran, I’ll leave the perimeter to you.”

Blast Storm decisively led his Peacekeepers into the museum, almost flying up the famed stone steps to the grand entrance named the Great Hall.

He expected to cause a stir among the museum goers – after all, they were carrying big guns, their faces were grim and solemn, and on top of that, he was a famous Superhero wearing a scary mask. It’d be weird if no one reacted from all of those factors. He quickly thought of things to say to calm the panicking civilians. It would not do if there were a mass stampede and serious injuries resulting from that. Not only would the human cost unacceptable for him, the resulting paperwork could probably bury him six feet under because of the stress.

However, whether because of his mind being occupied or due to the clever concealment, Blast Storm and his Peacekeepers failed to notice a very thin golden film when they rushed past the grand doorway.

“Everyone, please listen up!!” Blast Storm shouted out aloud as soon as he stepped into the Great Hall. “My name is Blast Storm from the Guild of Heroes. I believe the suspect wanted in connection with the JFK incident is somewhere within this building. Please cooperate with the Peacekeepers and exit the museum in an orderly fashion.”

Blast Storm prepared himself to deal with the ensuing panic but contrary to his expectations, no such a thing happened. Not one violent or angry reaction, not one word of abuse flew at his way.

If anything, everyone present in this large space was calm. Way too calm. The confused and dazed looks floated on the faces of the museum goers and the employees at work. Seeing them like this, an inexplicable chill went down Blast Storm’s back side.

He and the Peacekeepers exchanged the knowing glances. Their fears of mass hypnosis had come true, it seemed.

“What’s your call, boss?”

One of the Peacekeepers asked him while his eyes darted around the hall, focused and vigilant of even the tiniest hints of suspicious movements.

“What else? We free these folks and evacuate them outta here,” replied Blast Storm. “Okay, let’s do this.”

Gritting his teeth, Blast Storm gathered strength in his arms and was ready to create a powerful shockwave to break the mass hypnosis when a pleasant voice came out of the speakers placed in the hallways.

Oh, well. This is a nice surprise. And a good timing too, since I was really running short on quality blood sacrifices. Please, if you are trying to find me, head over to the Near East exhibit. I’m right there, enjoying the view.

Blast Storm doubted what he heard for a second, before realizing the implications of those words. He turned to his men to order their evacuation first, but the huge, solid doors closed shut by themselves. And right afterwards, several metal security shutters slammed down on them, preventing their escape. Even all the windows were blocked off by metal shutters.

There was no way out. Unless, of course, the one behind this blockade was defeated.

“How the hell did he gain the control of the museum?!” Another Peacekeeper, a Hispanic man in his early thirties, muttered dazedly.

The nervousness in the eyes of the men rose up a notch. They tried the doors and despaired slightly, knowing that the solid security barrier was designed to withstand Supers with devastating destructive abilities like Blast Storm.

If the back was blocked off, then in the front, the numerous hypnotized men, women and children could become puppets pulled along on a string. No matter how much one was optimistic, this didn’t look good.

Blast Storm snorted angrily before clapping his hands loudly. The shockwave spread throughout the Great Hall and all those caught within its radius woke up from the mass hypnosis.

“A challenge, huh? Fine by me.”

Blast Storm cranked his neck and flexed his muscles. His anger was reaching very high, almost to the extent he’d destroy the walls to get to where Nico Gavalas was hiding.

“Gentlemen, update the HQ on our status, then try to secure us the exits with the safety of the civilians as our priority. In the meantime, let me go and say hello.”

The Peacekeepers nodded wordlessly and spread out, coming to the aid of the confused and dazed museum goers who were beginning to understand what was going on.

Not one of the men offered to go along with Blast Storm, however, even though they knew it was dangerous to go alone. In truth, there was very little they could do to help Blast Storm. If anything, they would just get in the way of two high-level Supers duking it out.

That’s why Blast Storm didn’t even suggest the matter. He just chose to walk right into the den of the lion, trusting in his own abilities to pull through. He was only 50-50 on this, though, thinking that he had a serious monster as his target this time. Not many Supers in this world possessed two vastly different set of Superpowers, one to mass hypnotize a whole bunch of people without seemingly doing anything, and to turn a crowd of people into bags of sand.

If that wasn’t the very definition of a troublesome opponent, then he’d have no clue what else could be.

And Blast Storm also recalled that the Russian-sounding gangster was stabbed to death. Meaning, there could be a sharp weapon in the possession of the target as well. Thinking about this, Blast Storm couldn’t help but furrow his brows and click his tongue in irritation.

As he got in deeper into the museum, his expressions became uglier. The hallway leading up to the Near East exhibit was lowly lit and was eerily quiet. Way too quiet for Blast Storm’s liking, anyhow. It gave off a rather ominous feeling which he didn’t care for, not even for one bit.

Sure enough, his premonition of bad things came true. In front of the Sphinx-like mock-ups – Blast Storm didn’t know what they were called, nor did he care – he spotted two prone bodies on the floor, unmoving.

He quickly checked them out, but he knew right away he was looking at corpses. Two security guards and two fatal stab wounds near the heart.

But the darndest thing was that Blast Storm could not see a single drop of blood, not on the bodies, not on the floor, not on the walls, none at all. This only served to thicken the foreboding in Blast Storm’s heart.

It’d be a lie to say his instincts of a warrior weren’t getting excited, though.

A surge of adrenaline was rushing through his veins and he felt really pumped up, every fiber of his being alight with anticipation. Would he be able to face a truly powerful opponent and get to have a showy smackdown? He’d absolutely love that. A battle to end all battles, with the future of a city at stake. An event that’d be talked about for years to come.

Blast Storm could see only one tiny little issue, and that was the small fact of him surrounded by priceless artifacts and items sourced from all over the world. He didn’t really care what happened to them, but rampaging around here might cause unnecessary administrative bull crap for himself and for the Guild.

But what choice did he have? The target chose to hole himself in here, so Blast Storm had to go where the fish was in order to get a bite.

Plus, Blast Storm knew that he couldn’t negotiate with his target to vacate this building and have a go at each other outside. He just didn’t have the gift of the silver tongue for that. So, if a smackdown was to happen, then it was destined to happen anyway. No point in caring too much about it.

Finally, he entered the exhibit hall. Blast Storm noticed yet more bodies, all in similar condition – stab wounds to the chest, no blood. The victims were museum staff and the tourists. No mercy was shown, even to children.

Nico Gavalas was there, waiting. He was sitting on a bench, leisurely reading a brochure he held on one hand. On the other hand, a two-way radio, taken from one of the dead security guards.

“You seem really relaxed, for a someone who is about to go to jail for the rest of his life,” quipped Blast Storm as he took a threatening stance about ten paces away from Nico.

Nico shrugged his shoulders as he lowered the brochure. “What can I do? There’s still some time left before the reformation of the world commences. I didn’t wish to be bored, so might as well enjoy the rich heritage this museum offers.”

“Okay, whatever, man. Let’s make this simple, Gavalas. Quietly hand yourself over, and save me the hassle, okay? Just put these cuffs on your wrists and we call it a day. What do you say?”

Nico smirked before shaking his head. “Mister, you are a comedian, aren’t you? Tell me, when you’re this close to achieving your goal, would you throw all that away and obey some random passerby telling you to stop? Of course not. Such a thing will never happen, yes?”

Nico slowly got up from the bench. He dropped the brochure and the walkie talkie as he stretched his cramped limbs.

In his empty hand, an ornately crafted dagger suddenly appeared, drawing Blast Storm’s attention. Storm immediately recognized the weapon; it was Abyss’s tool of choice.

“Huh, that dagger. That used to belong to a vigilante. Mind telling me how you got a hold of that?”

Nico glanced down at the dagger in his hand and tilted his head. “Belonged to a vigilante? Mister, this weapon has only one master, and it’s certainly not you, me or that vigilante, for that matter. I’m just temporarily borrowing it. This is a relic of the divine god Enki, after all. Only he has the right to bestow this divine weapon to a chosen. I’m stepping on a sacrilegious ground just by wielding it like this.” Nico babbled on, shrugging his shoulders.

“Riiiiight. So you’re not only a murdering bastard, but a religious nutcase too. This is great. Just great,” groaned Blast Storm before he raised his dukes to cover his torso. “Well then, let’s get going.”

A surge of air gathered around Blast Storm’s upper torso, forming a barrier of sorts. Then he paid a careful attention to that dagger. He had to.

One of the main reasons why Abyss was such a difficult customer to deal with, was because of that damn dagger. Not only was it unnaturally sharp, but it also had a strange ability to change its length somehow.

No close observation on the weapon was possible since Abyss proved to be pretty good at evading all manner of pursuers coming after him. That was clearly a disadvantage, Blast Storm was sure of this fact.

Nico made his move first while Blast Storm was lost in his thoughts for no more than a millisecond.

To say he was taken by surprise was a small understatement. Blast Storm quickly shifted his body to his left side and dodged the dagger aiming straight for his heart. Good thing he had seen enough victims lying on the ground to give him hints, otherwise he might have been killed, right there and then.

Nico withdrew the dagger, his eyes glistened in a pleasant surprise. “Oh? That was a good reflex there, mister. See if you can dodge this one next!!”

Nico swung the dagger horizontally around the chest height. Blast Storm dodged backwards, but his pupils widened the moment the dagger’s blade extended in a flash, closing in on his torso.

Shouting out sharply, he rotated his body in mid-air, narrowly dodging the extended blade that acted like a deadly whip. The magical blade slashed across the entire exhibition hall, smashing and slicing apart all in its path. Not even the bulletproof glasses protecting the exhibits could withstand the attack.

The icy chill crept up on Blast Storm’s back, realizing that Abyss never extended his dagger this far out before, at least not to his knowledge. He quickly rolled on the ground to get in position to counter attack.

Rising up using his explosive strength akin to the compressed air, Blast Storm threw a perfect uppercut. His fist was encased in swirling air sharper than an industrial strength cutting laser and more stubborn than a crocodile biting down on its prey.

His fist caused a shocking sonic boom as he splendidly connected to the chest of Nico Gavalas.

The floor tiles shattered below each combatant’s feet as the enormous wave of energy exploded out of the attack. The entire building seemed to shake; the glass shards turned to powder, the prone, dead bodies were mauled by the deadly storm of wind and energy, and the fragile lighting bulbs got shredded apart from all the ricocheting debris, encasing the hall in total darkness.

Almost right away, emergency lights came on, dyeing the Near East exhibition hall in the bloody crimson hue.

Nico slammed into the wall, his chest caving in. The entire wall crumbled from the impact and Nico’s helpless, broken body fell down on the destroyed pieces of materials. He spluttered out a mouthful of blood, his limbs twitching occasionally. There he remained, limp and near death.

Seeing this, Blast Storm narrowed his eyes. This was…. a little too easy. In the past, he ran into a few sly opponents who tried to lull him into a trap. It was similar to this situation.

Obviously, Storm wouldn’t fall for such a cheap trick but upon a closer inspection, he could see that even if Gavalas was blessed with a power of insane regenerative ability, he’d still be dead in a minute or two. The chest injury was just simply too severe to survive. Not even the most advanced modern medicine could patch that kind of damage. Blast Storm grimaced a little, thinking that he might have overdone it and killed a man.

Now, that wasn’t a serious problem, but the Guild of Heroes had a strict rule for catching bad guys alive if at all possible so they could stand trial and the public’s scrutiny.

Still, something didn’t feel quite right. Blast Storm had to remain vigilant until this unease in his heart lessened.

He slowly approached Nico Gavalas, while searching for that dangerous dagger with his keen senses. It was not on Nico’s body nor in his grasp. Using a subtle vibration from the airflow, he could locate anything in this small confined area but oddly, the thing was not here. He figured that it could be buried under some rubble. That would explain why he could not to find it right away. Unfortunately, the low red lighting didn’t make it any easier to locate the damn thing.

He confirmed for one last time that Nico didn’t have the weapon on him. Only then, Blast Storm got in closer and spoke.

“It’s over, man.”

His voice was low and apathetic.

Nico chuckled slightly, coughing out more blood in the process. Then, he slowly shook his head. “Over for you, yes. But for me? It’s only the beginning.”

Blast Storm stopped his advance and carefully studied the dying man, trying to think if there was anything he had overlooked. Then it clicked; this guy could use hypnosis.

Storm left the ear-mounted communicator to emit the low-frequency hum to prevent Nico Gavalas’s hypnosis attacks from affecting him ever since he approached the exhibit hall, but could it be that he was already under its effects? The grievously injured, dying man in front of him could be a false image projected to his mind, in order to confuse him.

Grimacing slightly at the thought, Blast Storm decided to make sure. He gathered power in his hand and quickly clicked his fingers, causing a shockwave. This would be, usually, enough to break any illusions caused by hypnosis.

Seeing this, Nico’s smile grew slightly. As the shockwave swept across, he softly murmured. “Oh, you’re unexpectedly sharp, aren’t you?” He then raised his hand where the dagger materialized again. Pointing the edge, he smiled coldly. “Oh well, you’re wrong this time, though.”

The dagger’s blade extended like a bullet. It shot forward and before Blast Storm could react, penetrated his chest, bypassing the Kevlar armor the Guild specially developed for him and even the barrier of wind.

At the last possible second, he tilted his body, so his heart was spared, but the unbelievably sharp blade still managed to slice through every muscle, fiber, bone and tissue with ease.

Smiling victoriously, Nico stood up while holding the extended dagger. Then, he deftly flicked his wrist and the dagger’s supernaturally sharp blade cut cleanly upwards, exiting past Blast Storm’s right shoulder, splitting him nearly in half.

Blast Storm fell on one knee, his eyes glazing over at the sudden turn of the event. He felt his senses go numb at the massive loss of blood.

He somehow willed his powers to stop the bleeding by concentrating the wind to form a thick barrier over his extensive wounds, but he was literally staring down the barrel of a loaded gun at this point. He knew that, unless help arrived in the next couple of minutes, he’d be dead.

And this realization thoroughly shocked him. Never before had he envisioned a situation where his life was ending like this. This was…. unreal. This had to be a bad joke, a terrible lie.

As the Super’s eyes wavered and began to lose the spark of life, Nico slowly walked closer, his caved chest visible and all. Out of nowhere, a stone tablet emitting a weak golden purple light emerged and slowly hummed in the air.

The blood of Blast Storm rose up like a dancing snake, swirling wildly before forming a vivid red ball. It began to draw more blood from Blast Storm’s dying body, going as so far to ignore the air barrier he had put up on his fatal wounds.

No f*cking way?!

Blast Storm watched the incredulous scene of his own body draining out of all the blood. Then his eyes shifted to that sphere in the air, unable to fully comprehend. His consciousness began to darken, and it became so much harder to maintain his kneeling position. Gradually, he fell on his back, shivering from the creeping cold.

With his final breath, he watched as the last of his blood fly up towards the tablet, merging into it. Then, the imperceptible texts on its surface glowed in bright red. Each word pulsated like a broken heartbeat, thumping noises echoing inside Blast Storm’s mind.

“Ohh, this is…. wow. Mister, you were one heck of a warrior, weren’t you? Amazing!! Not all of your blood has been sacrificed yet, but the gate of the guardian beast is this satisfied?! Wow, just wow!! Is this what you Americans call a jackpot?! Yes, it must be!!”

Nico cackled like a possessed man, not even caring about his chest wound. Bits of broken bone and flesh, mixed with the torn clothing made him look like a gruesome science experiment gone wrong, but he seemed perfectly fine, as if he didn’t feel any pain or even the slightest bit of discomfort.

Ahh, sh*t, so this is where I kick the bucket, huh. Blast Storm shuddered weakly. He was somewhat bitter about not being able to stop this lunatic, and by the look of things, he only managed to make the matters worse, somehow. Whatever that stone tablet was, Storm just knew it was a seriously bad news for his colleagues and friends.

Speaking of which….

God damn it. Vanguard, you better survive this calamity, you hear me? If you die and I see you up there, then I’m gonna kick your ass so hard….

His dying whispers were heard by no one. Not even Nico Gavalas heard it. He was too busy cackling in satisfaction.

Soon, the last bit of bloody Sphere was absorbed into the stone tablet. The sickly golden purple light was incredibly strong and bright now, almost all of the letters clearly legible on the surface. Nico nodded happily at this.

“Oh yes. With that much sacrifice, maybe I don’t need anymore? Hmm? Oh, maybe I do need a bit more. Hmm, oh, that is unfortunate. Really. Let’s see….. Ah!! The Seed of the End should be ready by now. Did I run out of time? Oh well. Shall I go and check it out?”

Chuckling in a good mood and babbling on and on to no one in particular, Nico turned on his hills and headed to the nearest staircase leading down to the storage below.

There were even more dead bodies here, workers and security guards of the museum lying cold and drained of their blood. Many of the wooden crates containing the stars of the exhibit in a few days’ time were left unopened, never to bathe in the light again.

Nico whistled as he approached a huge black vault. Its front door was sliced open, the thick metal and the security measures unable to stop him from accessing what was stored inside.

The gym bag was here, and so was the golden skull. The bizarre skull was placed atop an examination table next to a small box that would normally hold myrrh, but now, housing a small, black metallic seed.

The golden skull was emitting a deep, sickly golden glow, and the strange mark on its forehead was spinning rapidly as if it wanted to break free from its confines. Seeing the speed of the spin, Nico quickly moved and pulled out the bag, searching for the severed hand that held the old bronze mirror.

“Whew, almost didn’t make it, eh?”

Smiling, he unwrapped the jacket around the hand. The rigor mortis meant it was now solidly gripping the mirror, allowing Nico to use the entire limb as a sort of macabre tool.

As soon as he readied himself, the spinning mark finally broke free from the skull, and immediately shot out towards the black metal seed, submerging into it.

“Oh, here we go.”

Nico quickly grabbed the skull and hurriedly left the vault, not even looking back.

Less than a minute later, the black seed loudly rumbled. A keening, screeching noise shattered the eerie calm of the underground storage and the wooden box violently split apart. At first, a single black metallic vine as thick as a person’s thigh shot out from the seed, wriggling around in a disgusting manner. Then another one shot out, striking the inside of the vault, destroying countless fragile artifacts stored within. Then, yet another vine emerged. And another. And another.

In a blink of an eye. tens of thick, black metallic vines wriggled out of the once-small seed, expanding like crazy. Soon, the entire underground area was filled with the tumbling metal vines. The museum’s walls gave way, the concrete splitting apart weakly. Metal frames bent, the machines to carry large crates broke apart under the immense pressure and were instantly absorbed into the vines.

Nico had already exited the Near East exhibit when the whole building started to tremble as if an earthquake pounced on the unsuspecting city of New York. He hurriedly left the hall, laughing like a maniac as the walls were destroyed behind him, caving in, the numerous artifacts turning into nothing more than powder as the metal vines snaked out of everywhere.

The museum goers were gathered into the Great Hall, waiting for help to arrive. But as soon as the vines exploded out from everywhere, the hapless tourists were all swept away by the black tide, vaporizing into a fine mist of flesh and gore.

The Peacekeepers stood no chance as well, as they too were turned into nothing more than food for these vines. They fired their guns, threw their grenades, whatever – none of their desperate struggles could save them. Upon their demise, the guns and the equipment all split apart and became part of the metal vines.

Nico kicked the locked front door of the museum as hard as he could and jumped outside just as the black vines exploded out of the walls and windows and pretty much everywhere else. The entire museum crumbled into nothing as the mountains of vines erupted out. The cops and newly-arriving Supers were left stunned by this development, and was a tad too late to react.

When the vines shot out towards everywhere and wherever, absolute anarchy unfolded in the streets. Buildings, cars, people carrying guns, smartphones, whatever – none were spared as every single one of them were targetted. Bloody mist rose everywhere; blood-curdling screams of terror resounded in the center of the greatest city on earth.

When one of the vines came for Nico, he laughed and simply flashed the severed hand with the bronze mirror trapped within. The polished surface suddenly vibrated, and a dull brown light shone out, wrapping Nico inside it, forming a protective barrier around him. The metal vines avoided him from then on.

Laughing, Nico looked around him as the pandemonium of destruction broke out all over Manhattan. Buildings crumbled, cars exploded, the ground ripped apart and the subway trains were pulled up violently, all to become the part of the vines. And from where the Metropolitan Museum of Art once stood, an eerie black metal sprout was taking shape.

“Oh, it’s here!! It’s finally here!! Finally, after six millenniums in slumber, a Divine Tree is taking root!! Come, come and fulfill our wish, the divine and majestic…. Tree of the End!!”

Nico screamed at the top of his lungs in pure, frenzied delight. And as if to respond to his cries, the sprout began to emit a dazzling white light that blinded everyone on the continent, one that could be seen even by the astronauts in the international space station.

And when the light finally dimmed, there stood a gigantic metal structure that resembled a lightning rod, piercing the blue sky and shattering it, revealing the black starry space beyond. Almost half of the Central Park was gone, destroyed. The metal vines continued to wriggle and extend out, spreading all over the island, destroying and devouring everything in their wake.

And Nico was below the “Tree” smiling happily, his arms spread out wide. He fervently nodded his head and shouted loudly once more at the top of his lungs.

“Oh, my liege, we’ve finally done it!! The Tree of the End stands tall in this corrupted world once more!! With this, our gods shall finally make the triumphant return from the realm now long forgotten!! The glorious days of Bad-tibira shall return!!”


(Please support my writing by reading it, and talking to your friends about it. Any comments you wish to make are welcome, especially the constructive criticisms. Also, I would deeply appreciate if you show your love by donating some $$. Ahahaha. Well hey, I need “motivations” too, you know!!)

Please note, not edited/checked/PR-ed. You may run into a questionable grammar or two. If you happen to spot them, please let me know in the comments below. Thanks in advance!!)

This event happened some time before that sudden explosion of light.

A small team consisting of five Peacekeepers and led by Blast Storm, rappelled down from a gunship helicopter. To differentiate the GoH’s from the ones used by the army, the Guild’s version was painted in deep blue with white stripes running on the side. The famous insignia, In Justice We Strive Forward, and the crest of a caped Superhero standing valiantly with the backdrop of a cityscape were also plastered on all visible sides of the craft. No one would mistake it for anything else.

Other than that, though, it was still a full-on assault vehicle equipped with many rockets and a powerful minigun.

After his feet landed on the solid ground, Blast Storm scanned his surroundings. He saw the faces of surprised, panicked civilians, scurrying away to a distance in order to escape the turbulence from the powerful spinning rotors and the gust of wind kicked up by their constant motions.

He inwardly apologized for the inconvenience. It really couldn’t be helped, since their destination was near a busy intersection and the helicopter had to hover over the grass bank of the Central Park, dropping the Peacekeepers and Blast Storm here in order to not disrupt the traffic flow. There may not be a lot of park goers today because of all the warnings, but still, there were enough around to feel disgruntled by this action. Some would think it was a bit of an overkill.

Sighing under his breath, Blast Storm raised his head towards the aircraft and buzzed the pilot through the mic.

“Stay in the vicinity. We might need you to track the target from the air if it comes to that.”

The pilot confirmed his understanding. Blast Storm took some distance and watched the craft rise up, all the while ignoring the continuous flashes of smartphone cameras around him.

“Okay, let’s move out.”

Blast Storm signaled to five men behind him and led them forward. All the men were also decked out in pseudo-military gear, also painted in blue, sporting the crest of the Guild. Each and every one was well-built, sharp, and trained by the best to react to whatever situation they might face. Wielding powerful semi-auto rifles and carrying communication equipment they followed Blast Storm’s orders without missing a single beat.

Blast Storm himself was no longer in a civilian clothing, instead fully outfitted in the GoH-designed combat gear – bulletproof vest, several stun grenades, cuffs to arrest the perps and the like.

Checking the screen of the PDA to reconfirm the coordinates, the team quickly covered the ground. The Peacekeepers ably kept up with Blast Storm’s pace, even though he was the only Super among them, the rest being regular humans.

The Peacekeepers were given lots of leeways, even though technically they were mercenaries, soldiers hired with wages. In normal times, such an activity would be deemed illegal under the laws of most nations, but the boys and girls receiving monthly cheques from GoH got a free pass.

Even during the last great World Wars, as long as a merc had the moniker Peacekeeper plastered on his or her vest, it was all hunky dory and above board. Many nations throughout the years wanted to oppose this system, but things didn’t work out for those politicians until now due to various reasons.

And of course, the numbers written on the paycheque was pretty damn alluring. The health benefits too, were more than attractive as well. Thus, there never was a shortage of former soldiers applying for a position at the Guild as a result.

The Guild didn’t just hire anyone, though – to be a Peacekeeper, the “compatible” personality – meaning no criminal tendencies – was a must, followed closely by the amount and the type of training received. Only the best and the dedicated could serve.

No wonder, then, that their movements didn’t lose out to Blast Storm’s Super-enhanced speed. Crossing the short distance to arrive at the last known sighting for the target Nico Gavalas was far too easy a job for these guys.

Once arriving at the intersection, Blast Storm took another quick glance around. He couldn’t spot Nico Gavalas but that was to be expected. Unless the target was standing around waiting for them, there was no way he’d be staying put in one place.

He sent the hand signal to his men, and as practiced, they separated, each men going over to different locations to question people. Meanwhile, Blast Storm checked the map on his PDA and scoped out all the important landmarks along the 5th Avenue.

There was a handful that caught his eye, the most prominent one being the Metropolitan Museum. A team led by a pretty awesome Superhero named Magnaterran was there already and Storm didn’t hear a word of anything strange happening there, so he looked Southwards, tracing the addresses and trying to suss out how the bad guy might behave.

He couldn’t help but feel like a fish out of water, however. Blast Storm wasn’t someone who usually went around doing stuff like this, this thing about investigating and tracking and stuff. He was a hitter, a finisher, not a scout. Just by him being here showed how stretched thin the resources of the Guild was at the moment.

Sir.

A radio chatter came over his earpiece after several minutes had gone by. One of the Peacekeepers Blast Storm brought along was trying to get a hold of him.

“Yeah? You got something?”

I’m not sure, sir. I got a fast food vendor here who might have talked to another Greek like him. Said the man admitted to being a tourist. But I showed him the pic of our target, and the guy isn’t sure if it’s the same person or not. How do you want me to proceed?

Hearing this, Blast Storm rubbed his chin for a second before deciding on his next course of action.

“What’s your position? I’m en route.”

Three hundred and fifty paces on your four, sir. In front of the subway entrance over at 5th and 59th.

Blast Storm was a San Diego native, and so he wasn’t too clued up on the Manhattan’s dizzying network of streets. But, by simply relying on his intuition and nothing else, he somehow didn’t lose his direction and found the man and his query quickly. The smell of Souvlaki wafted in the air as the masked Superhero approached the Peacekeeper.

“So, that’s the guy, huh.”

Blast Storm perused the worn fast food cart and its operator. All it took was one look and he knew that something was not quite right about this guy. It was as if….

Storm walked over the vendor and leaned in closer, startling the man.

“Oh, hey man. You are too damn close,” said the fast food operator while slightly backing away.

Mumbling his insincere apologies, Blast Storm studied the man and noticed a thin hazy veil cast in this guy’s eyes. Looked like some kind of hypnosis, a light one at that. He should know – one of his archenemies was quite proficient at it. Storm lost count the number of times he was attacked by random strangers under the hypnotic suggestion of that Supervillain in the past. His instincts told him that this fast food guy was also under a weak but well-hidden spell.

Blast Storm leaned back and pulled the image of Nico Gavalas on the PDA, showing it to the food guy.

“Sir, you sure you haven’t seen this man in the last half an hour?”

The Greek man shook his head. “Like I said to your pal over there, no, I am not sure, sir, uh, Mister Blast Storm.”

“Okay, but you did talk to a guy from Greece, right? What did you two talk about?”

“Uh, well, he bought chicken Souvlaki, we talked about the city, back home, our families, nothing major, really.”

“Okay, which way did he go off to? Can you remember that, at least?”

“Uh, maybe, uh, hmm. Uh, maybe…. um… I was serving other customers, you know? I didn’t really catch where he went off to. My bad.”

Blast Storm narrowed his eyes. Now he felt more convinced than ever. He pointed at one of the skewered meat on the food cart and asked the man.

“Hey, can I have one of these?”

“Sure, boss.”

As the food guy leaned forward, Blast Storm expertly raised his right hand towards the man’s right ear at the same time and clicked his fingers loudly. The shockwave of air slammed into the inner ear drum of the fast food vendor.

He shook slightly, his eyes glazing over for a second or two, before clarity returned to the pupils. He looked confused, before recognizing Blast Storm in front of him.

“Huh? What just happened?”

Blast Storm showed the man the image of Nico once more. “You were under a light hypnosis. I broke it. Now, look at this photo again and tell me if you saw this guy before.”

The food vendor’s eyes focused on the image until a certain gleam began to shine in them. He tilted his head and spoke.

“Yeah…. I did talk to the guy, but it’s strange, you know? It’s all a blur and I can’t really remember the details.”

Blast Storm impatiently asked the man. “Okay, fine. But which way did he go?”

“I’m pretty sure he went up North – oh, wait a second. He said something about the Met and one of the exhibitions they are going to show off next week. Yeah, I remember that now. I think he was heading over there.”

Storm came in closer at the man, staring deep into his eyes. The hazy cloud of hypnosis was definitely gone; he was speaking the truth.

Nodding his thanks, Blast Storm recalled all his men and instructed them to head towards the Metropolitan Museum of Art as soon as possible. He also radioed the gunship pilot to head over there and check the place out. Finally, he contacted the command center and updated them on what was happening, requesting for logistics support at the same time.

There was a bit of distance to cover, but for these muscle-bound men, such a thing was nothing but a trifling matter. In a matter of minutes, they traversed all the way up on foot, not a breath in disarray. The Met building came into view pretty quickly.

Outwardly, nothing seemed amiss. Blast Storm saw the usual cordon of uniformed cops and the Superheroes sauntering about, checking out civilians entering the museum. But it was too early to feel relieved; now that Blast Storm was aware of Nico possessing some sort of ability to hypnotize, any one of these guys could be under the spell. Hell, maybe even all of them could be affected, which would be of no laughing matter.

The cops belatedly noticed a bunch of heavily armed men arriving at their position and tensed up for a second, before seeing the figure of Blast Storm leading them. The Lieutenant in charge of the police force came over in a hurry wanting to find out what was going on.

Magnaterran and the other Super were updated on the status through the transmission from the HQ only a couple of minutes ago. Once they spotted the Peacekeepers and Blast Storm, they came to make a report and confirm.

Blast Storm hurriedly informed the Lieutenant and the Supers, letting them know there was a possibility that they were subjected to a light hypnosis. He asked if there was anything suspicious that had happened in the last thirty minutes or so, and the answer was as expected – nothing of note happened.

Storm didn’t ask because he was interested in the answers, though. He was actually checking out the status of the cops while they were giving their answers.

It didn’t take long before he found the anomaly. Almost every cop present, even including the two Supers, were under a light hypnosis. Out of them, one cop was under a much stronger spell. Blast Storm clapped his hands very loudly to break the mass hypnosis instead of clicking his finger like the last time. There were too many victims, and also they were outdoors, too many background noises and all.

The cop affected by the strong hypnosis needed a second or two to recover. His face paled visibly as he recounted carrying a suspicious gym bag inside the museum for a person who could very well be Nico Gavalas.

This was not a good news, never mind a surprising one. Blast Storm hurriedly contacted the command center, informed them what happened and asked for reinforcements that could specifically deal with the powerful hypnosis attacks. Then, he told the Lieutenant to contact the museum’s administrators to evacuate the civilians and close all the exits but no one answered the urgent call.

“Jesus, something bad is happening inside,” said one of the Peacekeepers, his face grim.

Blast Storm grimaced as well while formulating the next course of action for himself and the boys. The command center explicitly ordered him not to enter the museum until the back-up’s arrival, but he just couldn’t sit idly by and let the innocent civilians suffer when he could’ve done something to prevent that.

His fingers lightly brushed the ear-mounted communicator. There was a low-level anti-hypnosis frequency generator built within, which was useless against a focused hypnosis attempt but it could block out something like the attacks on the cops and that fast food vendor.

“Okay. Boys, we’re going in. We get the museum goers out from that place. Mister Magnaterran, I’ll leave the perimeter to you.”

Blast Storm decisively led his Peacekeepers into the museum, almost flying up the famed stone steps to the grand entrance named the Great Hall.

He expected to cause a stir among the museum goers – after all, they were carrying big guns, their faces were grim and solemn, and on top of that, he was a famous Superhero wearing a scary mask. It’d be weird if no one reacted from all of those factors. He quickly thought of things to say to calm the panicking civilians. It would not do if there were a mass stampede and serious injuries resulting from that. Not only would the human cost unacceptable for him, the resulting paperwork could probably bury him six feet under because of the stress.

However, whether because of his mind being occupied or due to the clever concealment, Blast Storm and his Peacekeepers failed to notice a very thin golden film when they rushed past the grand doorway.

“Everyone, please listen up!!” Blast Storm shouted out aloud as soon as he stepped into the Great Hall. “My name is Blast Storm from the Guild of Heroes. I believe the suspect wanted in connection with the JFK incident is somewhere within this building. Please cooperate with the Peacekeepers and exit the museum in an orderly fashion.”

Blast Storm prepared himself to deal with the ensuing panic but contrary to his expectations, no such a thing happened. Not one violent or angry reaction, not one word of abuse flew at his way.

If anything, everyone present in this large space was calm. Way too calm. The confused and dazed looks floated on the faces of the museum goers and the employees at work. Seeing them like this, an inexplicable chill went down Blast Storm’s back side.

He and the Peacekeepers exchanged the knowing glances. Their fears of mass hypnosis had come true, it seemed.

“What’s your call, boss?”

One of the Peacekeepers asked him while his eyes darted around the hall, focused and vigilant of even the tiniest hints of suspicious movements.

“What else? We free these folks and evacuate them outta here,” replied Blast Storm. “Okay, let’s do this.”

Gritting his teeth, Blast Storm gathered strength in his arms and was ready to create a powerful shockwave to break the mass hypnosis when a pleasant voice came out of the speakers placed in the hallways.

Oh, well. This is a nice surprise. And a good timing too, since I was really running short on quality blood sacrifices. Please, if you are trying to find me, head over to the Near East exhibit. I’m right there, enjoying the view.

Blast Storm doubted what he heard for a second, before realizing the implications of those words. He turned to his men to order their evacuation first, but the huge, solid doors closed shut by themselves. And right afterwards, several metal security shutters slammed down on them, preventing their escape. Even all the windows were blocked off by metal shutters.

There was no way out. Unless, of course, the one behind this blockade was defeated.

“How the hell did he gain the control of the museum?!” Another Peacekeeper, a Hispanic man in his early thirties, muttered dazedly.

The nervousness in the eyes of the men rose up a notch. They tried the doors and despaired slightly, knowing that the solid security barrier was designed to withstand Supers with devastating destructive abilities like Blast Storm.

If the back was blocked off, then in the front, the numerous hypnotized men, women and children could become puppets pulled along on a string. No matter how much one was optimistic, this didn’t look good.

Blast Storm snorted angrily before clapping his hands loudly. The shockwave spread throughout the Great Hall and all those caught within its radius woke up from the mass hypnosis.

“A challenge, huh? Fine by me.”

Blast Storm cranked his neck and flexed his muscles. His anger was reaching very high, almost to the extent he’d destroy the walls to get to where Nico Gavalas was hiding.

“Gentlemen, update the HQ on our status, then try to secure us the exits with the safety of the civilians as our priority. In the meantime, let me go and say hello.”

The Peacekeepers nodded wordlessly and spread out, coming to the aid of the confused and dazed museum goers who were beginning to understand what was going on.

Not one of the men offered to go along with Blast Storm, however, even though they knew it was dangerous to go alone. In truth, there was very little they could do to help Blast Storm. If anything, they would just get in the way of two high-level Supers duking it out.

That’s why Blast Storm didn’t even suggest the matter. He just chose to walk right into the den of the lion, trusting in his own abilities to pull through. He was only 50-50 on this, though, thinking that he had a serious monster as his target this time. Not many Supers in this world possessed two vastly different set of Superpowers, one to mass hypnotize a whole bunch of people without seemingly doing anything, and to turn a crowd of people into bags of sand.

If that wasn’t the very definition of a troublesome opponent, then he’d have no clue what else could be.

And Blast Storm also recalled that the Russian-sounding gangster was stabbed to death. Meaning, there could be a sharp weapon in the possession of the target as well. Thinking about this, Blast Storm couldn’t help but furrow his brows and click his tongue in irritation.

As he got in deeper into the museum, his expressions became uglier. The hallway leading up to the Near East exhibit was lowly lit and was eerily quiet. Way too quiet for Blast Storm’s liking, anyhow. It gave off a rather ominous feeling which he didn’t care for, not even for one bit.

Sure enough, his premonition of bad things came true. In front of the Sphinx-like mock-ups – Blast Storm didn’t know what they were called, nor did he care – he spotted two prone bodies on the floor, unmoving.

He quickly checked them out, but he knew right away he was looking at corpses. Two security guards and two fatal stab wounds near the heart.

But the darndest thing was that Blast Storm could not see a single drop of blood, not on the bodies, not on the floor, not on the walls, none at all. This only served to thicken the foreboding in Blast Storm’s heart.

It’d be a lie to say his instincts of a warrior weren’t getting excited, though.

A surge of adrenaline was rushing through his veins and he felt really pumped up, every fiber of his being alight with anticipation. Would he be able to face a truly powerful opponent and get to have a showy smackdown? He’d absolutely love that. A battle to end all battles, with the future of a city at stake. An event that’d be talked about for years to come.

Blast Storm could see only one tiny little issue, and that was the small fact of him surrounded by priceless artifacts and items sourced from all over the world. He didn’t really care what happened to them, but rampaging around here might cause unnecessary administrative bull crap for himself and for the Guild.

But what choice did he have? The target chose to hole himself in here, so Blast Storm had to go where the fish was in order to get a bite.

Plus, Blast Storm knew that he couldn’t negotiate with his target to vacate this building and have a go at each other outside. He just didn’t have the gift of the silver tongue for that. So, if a smackdown was to happen, then it was destined to happen anyway. No point in caring too much about it.

Finally, he entered the exhibit hall. Blast Storm noticed yet more bodies, all in similar condition – stab wounds to the chest, no blood. The victims were museum staff and the tourists. No mercy was shown, even to children.

Nico Gavalas was there, waiting. He was sitting on a bench, leisurely reading a brochure he held on one hand. On the other hand, a two-way radio, taken from one of the dead security guards.

“You seem really relaxed, for a someone who is about to go to jail for the rest of his life,” quipped Blast Storm as he took a threatening stance about ten paces away from Nico.

Nico shrugged his shoulders as he lowered the brochure. “What can I do? There’s still some time left before the reformation of the world commences. I didn’t wish to be bored, so might as well enjoy the rich heritage this museum offers.”

“Okay, whatever, man. Let’s make this simple, Gavalas. Quietly hand yourself over, and save me the hassle, okay? Just put these cuffs on your wrists and we call it a day. What do you say?”

Nico smirked before shaking his head. “Mister, you are a comedian, aren’t you? Tell me, when you’re this close to achieving your goal, would you throw all that away and obey some random passerby telling you to stop? Of course not. Such a thing will never happen, yes?”

Nico slowly got up from the bench. He dropped the brochure and the walkie talkie as he stretched his cramped limbs.

In his empty hand, an ornately crafted dagger suddenly appeared, drawing Blast Storm’s attention. Storm immediately recognized the weapon; it was Abyss’s tool of choice.

“Huh, that dagger. That used to belong to a vigilante. Mind telling me how you got a hold of that?”

Nico glanced down at the dagger in his hand and tilted his head. “Belonged to a vigilante? Mister, this weapon has only one master, and it’s certainly not you, me or that vigilante, for that matter. I’m just temporarily borrowing it. This is a relic of the divine god Enki, after all. Only he has the right to bestow this divine weapon to a chosen. I’m stepping on a sacrilegious ground just by wielding it like this.” Nico babbled on, shrugging his shoulders.

“Riiiiight. So you’re not only a murdering bastard, but a religious nutcase too. This is great. Just great,” groaned Blast Storm before he raised his dukes to cover his torso. “Well then, let’s get going.”

A surge of air gathered around Blast Storm’s upper torso, forming a barrier of sorts. Then he paid a careful attention to that dagger. He had to.

One of the main reasons why Abyss was such a difficult customer to deal with, was because of that damn dagger. Not only was it unnaturally sharp, but it also had a strange ability to change its length somehow.

No close observation on the weapon was possible since Abyss proved to be pretty good at evading all manner of pursuers coming after him. That was clearly a disadvantage, Blast Storm was sure of this fact.

Nico made his move first while Blast Storm was lost in his thoughts for no more than a millisecond.

To say he was taken by surprise was a small understatement. Blast Storm quickly shifted his body to his left side and dodged the dagger aiming straight for his heart. Good thing he had seen enough victims lying on the ground to give him hints, otherwise he might have been killed, right there and then.

Nico withdrew the dagger, his eyes glistened in a pleasant surprise. “Oh? That was a good reflex there, mister. See if you can dodge this one next!!”

Nico swung the dagger horizontally around the chest height. Blast Storm dodged backwards, but his pupils widened the moment the dagger’s blade extended in a flash, closing in on his torso.

Shouting out sharply, he rotated his body in mid-air, narrowly dodging the extended blade that acted like a deadly whip. The magical blade slashed across the entire exhibition hall, smashing and slicing apart all in its path. Not even the bulletproof glasses protecting the exhibits could withstand the attack.

The icy chill crept up on Blast Storm’s back, realizing that Abyss never extended his dagger this far out before, at least not to his knowledge. He quickly rolled on the ground to get in position to counter attack.

Rising up using his explosive strength akin to the compressed air, Blast Storm threw a perfect uppercut. His fist was encased in swirling air sharper than an industrial strength cutting laser and more stubborn than a crocodile biting down on its prey.

His fist caused a shocking sonic boom as he splendidly connected to the chest of Nico Gavalas.

The floor tiles shattered below each combatant’s feet as the enormous wave of energy exploded out of the attack. The entire building seemed to shake; the glass shards turned to powder, the prone, dead bodies were mauled by the deadly storm of wind and energy, and the fragile lighting bulbs got shredded apart from all the ricocheting debris, encasing the hall in total darkness.

Almost right away, emergency lights came on, dyeing the Near East exhibition hall in the bloody crimson hue.

Nico slammed into the wall, his chest caving in. The entire wall crumbled from the impact and Nico’s helpless, broken body fell down on the destroyed pieces of materials. He spluttered out a mouthful of blood, his limbs twitching occasionally. There he remained, limp and near death.

Seeing this, Blast Storm narrowed his eyes. This was…. a little too easy. In the past, he ran into a few sly opponents who tried to lull him into a trap. It was similar to this situation.

Obviously, Storm wouldn’t fall for such a cheap trick but upon a closer inspection, he could see that even if Gavalas was blessed with a power of insane regenerative ability, he’d still be dead in a minute or two. The chest injury was just simply too severe to survive. Not even the most advanced modern medicine could patch that kind of damage. Blast Storm grimaced a little, thinking that he might have overdone it and killed a man.

Now, that wasn’t a serious problem, but the Guild of Heroes had a strict rule for catching bad guys alive if at all possible so they could stand trial and the public’s scrutiny.

Still, something didn’t feel quite right. Blast Storm had to remain vigilant until this unease in his heart lessened.

He slowly approached Nico Gavalas, while searching for that dangerous dagger with his keen senses. It was not on Nico’s body nor in his grasp. Using a subtle vibration from the airflow, he could locate anything in this small confined area but oddly, the thing was not here. He figured that it could be buried under some rubble. That would explain why he could not to find it right away. Unfortunately, the low red lighting didn’t make it any easier to locate the damn thing.

He confirmed for one last time that Nico didn’t have the weapon on him. Only then, Blast Storm got in closer and spoke.

“It’s over, man.”

His voice was low and apathetic.

Only allowed on Creativenovels.com

Nico chuckled slightly, coughing out more blood in the process. Then, he slowly shook his head. “Over for you, yes. But for me? It’s only the beginning.”

Blast Storm stopped his advance and carefully studied the dying man, trying to think if there was anything he had overlooked. Then it clicked; this guy could use hypnosis.

Storm left the ear-mounted communicator to emit the low-frequency hum to prevent Nico Gavalas’s hypnosis attacks from affecting him ever since he approached the exhibit hall, but could it be that he was already under its effects? The grievously injured, dying man in front of him could be a false image projected to his mind, in order to confuse him.

Grimacing slightly at the thought, Blast Storm decided to make sure. He gathered power in his hand and quickly clicked his fingers, causing a shockwave. This would be, usually, enough to break any illusions caused by hypnosis.

Seeing this, Nico’s smile grew slightly. As the shockwave swept across, he softly murmured. “Oh, you’re unexpectedly sharp, aren’t you?” He then raised his hand where the dagger materialized again. Pointing the edge, he smiled coldly. “Oh well, you’re wrong this time, though.”

The dagger’s blade extended like a bullet. It shot forward and before Blast Storm could react, penetrated his chest, bypassing the Kevlar armor the Guild specially developed for him and even the barrier of wind.

At the last possible second, he tilted his body, so his heart was spared, but the unbelievably sharp blade still managed to slice through every muscle, fiber, bone and tissue with ease.

Smiling victoriously, Nico stood up while holding the extended dagger. Then, he deftly flicked his wrist and the dagger’s supernaturally sharp blade cut cleanly upwards, exiting past Blast Storm’s right shoulder, splitting him nearly in half.

Blast Storm fell on one knee, his eyes glazing over at the sudden turn of the event. He felt his senses go numb at the massive loss of blood.

He somehow willed his powers to stop the bleeding by concentrating the wind to form a thick barrier over his extensive wounds, but he was literally staring down the barrel of a loaded gun at this point. He knew that, unless help arrived in the next couple of minutes, he’d be dead.

And this realization thoroughly shocked him. Never before had he envisioned a situation where his life was ending like this. This was…. unreal. This had to be a bad joke, a terrible lie.

As the Super’s eyes wavered and began to lose the spark of life, Nico slowly walked closer, his caved chest visible and all. Out of nowhere, a stone tablet emitting a weak golden purple light emerged and slowly hummed in the air.

The blood of Blast Storm rose up like a dancing snake, swirling wildly before forming a vivid red ball. It began to draw more blood from Blast Storm’s dying body, going as so far to ignore the air barrier he had put up on his fatal wounds.

No f*cking way?!

Blast Storm watched the incredulous scene of his own body draining out of all the blood. Then his eyes shifted to that sphere in the air, unable to fully comprehend. His consciousness began to darken, and it became so much harder to maintain his kneeling position. Gradually, he fell on his back, shivering from the creeping cold.

With his final breath, he watched as the last of his blood fly up towards the tablet, merging into it. Then, the imperceptible texts on its surface glowed in bright red. Each word pulsated like a broken heartbeat, thumping noises echoing inside Blast Storm’s mind.

“Ohh, this is…. wow. Mister, you were one heck of a warrior, weren’t you? Amazing!! Not all of your blood has been sacrificed yet, but the gate of the guardian beast is this satisfied?! Wow, just wow!! Is this what you Americans call a jackpot?! Yes, it must be!!”

Nico cackled like a possessed man, not even caring about his chest wound. Bits of broken bone and flesh, mixed with the torn clothing made him look like a gruesome science experiment gone wrong, but he seemed perfectly fine, as if he didn’t feel any pain or even the slightest bit of discomfort.

Ahh, sh*t, so this is where I kick the bucket, huh. Blast Storm shuddered weakly. He was somewhat bitter about not being able to stop this lunatic, and by the look of things, he only managed to make the matters worse, somehow. Whatever that stone tablet was, Storm just knew it was a seriously bad news for his colleagues and friends.

Speaking of which….

God damn it. Vanguard, you better survive this calamity, you hear me? If you die and I see you up there, then I’m gonna kick your ass so hard….

His dying whispers were heard by no one. Not even Nico Gavalas heard it. He was too busy cackling in satisfaction.

Soon, the last bit of bloody Sphere was absorbed into the stone tablet. The sickly golden purple light was incredibly strong and bright now, almost all of the letters clearly legible on the surface. Nico nodded happily at this.

“Oh yes. With that much sacrifice, maybe I don’t need anymore? Hmm? Oh, maybe I do need a bit more. Hmm, oh, that is unfortunate. Really. Let’s see….. Ah!! The Seed of the End should be ready by now. Did I run out of time? Oh well. Shall I go and check it out?”

Chuckling in a good mood and babbling on and on to no one in particular, Nico turned on his hills and headed to the nearest staircase leading down to the storage below.

There were even more dead bodies here, workers and security guards of the museum lying cold and drained of their blood. Many of the wooden crates containing the stars of the exhibit in a few days’ time were left unopened, never to bathe in the light again.

Nico whistled as he approached a huge black vault. Its front door was sliced open, the thick metal and the security measures unable to stop him from accessing what was stored inside.

The gym bag was here, and so was the golden skull. The bizarre skull was placed atop an examination table next to a small box that would normally hold myrrh, but now, housing a small, black metallic seed.

The golden skull was emitting a deep, sickly golden glow, and the strange mark on its forehead was spinning rapidly as if it wanted to break free from its confines. Seeing the speed of the spin, Nico quickly moved and pulled out the bag, searching for the severed hand that held the old bronze mirror.

“Whew, almost didn’t make it, eh?”

Smiling, he unwrapped the jacket around the hand. The rigor mortis meant it was now solidly gripping the mirror, allowing Nico to use the entire limb as a sort of macabre tool.

As soon as he readied himself, the spinning mark finally broke free from the skull, and immediately shot out towards the black metal seed, submerging into it.

“Oh, here we go.”

Nico quickly grabbed the skull and hurriedly left the vault, not even looking back.

Less than a minute later, the black seed loudly rumbled. A keening, screeching noise shattered the eerie calm of the underground storage and the wooden box violently split apart. At first, a single black metallic vine as thick as a person’s thigh shot out from the seed, wriggling around in a disgusting manner. Then another one shot out, striking the inside of the vault, destroying countless fragile artifacts stored within. Then, yet another vine emerged. And another. And another.

In a blink of an eye. tens of thick, black metallic vines wriggled out of the once-small seed, expanding like crazy. Soon, the entire underground area was filled with the tumbling metal vines. The museum’s walls gave way, the concrete splitting apart weakly. Metal frames bent, the machines to carry large crates broke apart under the immense pressure and were instantly absorbed into the vines.

Nico had already exited the Near East exhibit when the whole building started to tremble as if an earthquake pounced on the unsuspecting city of New York. He hurriedly left the hall, laughing like a maniac as the walls were destroyed behind him, caving in, the numerous artifacts turning into nothing more than powder as the metal vines snaked out of everywhere.

The museum goers were gathered into the Great Hall, waiting for help to arrive. But as soon as the vines exploded out from everywhere, the hapless tourists were all swept away by the black tide, vaporizing into a fine mist of flesh and gore.

The Peacekeepers stood no chance as well, as they too were turned into nothing more than food for these vines. They fired their guns, threw their grenades, whatever – none of their desperate struggles could save them. Upon their demise, the guns and the equipment all split apart and became part of the metal vines.

Nico kicked the locked front door of the museum as hard as he could and jumped outside just as the black vines exploded out of the walls and windows and pretty much everywhere else. The entire museum crumbled into nothing as the mountains of vines erupted out. The cops and newly-arriving Supers were left stunned by this development, and was a tad too late to react.

When the vines shot out towards everywhere and wherever, absolute anarchy unfolded in the streets. Buildings, cars, people carrying guns, smartphones, whatever – none were spared as every single one of them were targetted. Bloody mist rose everywhere; blood-curdling screams of terror resounded in the center of the greatest city on earth.

When one of the vines came for Nico, he laughed and simply flashed the severed hand with the bronze mirror trapped within. The polished surface suddenly vibrated, and a dull brown light shone out, wrapping Nico inside it, forming a protective barrier around him. The metal vines avoided him from then on.

Laughing, Nico looked around him as the pandemonium of destruction broke out all over Manhattan. Buildings crumbled, cars exploded, the ground ripped apart and the subway trains were pulled up violently, all to become the part of the vines. And from where the Metropolitan Museum of Art once stood, an eerie black metal sprout was taking shape.

“Oh, it’s here!! It’s finally here!! Finally, after six millenniums in slumber, a Divine Tree is taking root!! Come, come and fulfill our wish, the divine and majestic…. Tree of the End!!”

Nico screamed at the top of his lungs in pure, frenzied delight. And as if to respond to his cries, the sprout began to emit a dazzling white light that blinded everyone on the continent, one that could be seen even by the astronauts in the international space station.

And when the light finally dimmed, there stood a gigantic metal structure that resembled a lightning rod, piercing the blue sky and shattering it, revealing the black starry space beyond. Almost half of the Central Park was gone, destroyed. The metal vines continued to wriggle and extend out, spreading all over the island, destroying and devouring everything in their wake.

And Nico was below the “Tree” smiling happily, his arms spread out wide. He fervently nodded his head and shouted loudly once more at the top of his lungs.

“Oh, my liege, we’ve finally done it!! The Tree of the End stands tall in this corrupted world once more!! With this, our gods shall finally make the triumphant return from the realm now long forgotten!! The glorious days of Bad-tibira shall return!!”


(Please support my writing by reading it, and talking to your friends about it. Any comments you wish to make are welcome, especially the constructive criticisms. Also, I would deeply appreciate if you show your love by donating some $$. Ahahaha. Well hey, I need “motivations” too, you know!!)

Please note, not edited/checked/PR-ed. You may run into a questionable grammar or two. If you happen to spot them, please let me know in the comments below. Thanks in advance!!)

This event happened some time before that sudden explosion of light.

A small team consisting of five Peacekeepers and led by Blast Storm, rappelled down from a gunship helicopter. To differentiate the GoH’s from the ones used by the army, the Guild’s version was painted in deep blue with white stripes running on the side. The famous insignia, In Justice We Strive Forward, and the crest of a caped Superhero standing valiantly with the backdrop of a cityscape were also plastered on all visible sides of the craft. No one would mistake it for anything else.

Other than that, though, it was still a full-on assault vehicle equipped with many rockets and a powerful minigun.

After his feet landed on the solid ground, Blast Storm scanned his surroundings. He saw the faces of surprised, panicked civilians, scurrying away to a distance in order to escape the turbulence from the powerful spinning rotors and the gust of wind kicked up by their constant motions.

He inwardly apologized for the inconvenience. It really couldn’t be helped, since their destination was near a busy intersection and the helicopter had to hover over the grass bank of the Central Park, dropping the Peacekeepers and Blast Storm here in order to not disrupt the traffic flow. There may not be a lot of park goers today because of all the warnings, but still, there were enough around to feel disgruntled by this action. Some would think it was a bit of an overkill.

Sighing under his breath, Blast Storm raised his head towards the aircraft and buzzed the pilot through the mic.

“Stay in the vicinity. We might need you to track the target from the air if it comes to that.”

The pilot confirmed his understanding. Blast Storm took some distance and watched the craft rise up, all the while ignoring the continuous flashes of smartphone cameras around him.

“Okay, let’s move out.”

Blast Storm signaled to five men behind him and led them forward. All the men were also decked out in pseudo-military gear, also painted in blue, sporting the crest of the Guild. Each and every one was well-built, sharp, and trained by the best to react to whatever situation they might face. Wielding powerful semi-auto rifles and carrying communication equipment they followed Blast Storm’s orders without missing a single beat.

Blast Storm himself was no longer in a civilian clothing, instead fully outfitted in the GoH-designed combat gear – bulletproof vest, several stun grenades, cuffs to arrest the perps and the like.

Checking the screen of the PDA to reconfirm the coordinates, the team quickly covered the ground. The Peacekeepers ably kept up with Blast Storm’s pace, even though he was the only Super among them, the rest being regular humans.

The Peacekeepers were given lots of leeways, even though technically they were mercenaries, soldiers hired with wages. In normal times, such an activity would be deemed illegal under the laws of most nations, but the boys and girls receiving monthly cheques from GoH got a free pass.

Even during the last great World Wars, as long as a merc had the moniker Peacekeeper plastered on his or her vest, it was all hunky dory and above board. Many nations throughout the years wanted to oppose this system, but things didn’t work out for those politicians until now due to various reasons.

And of course, the numbers written on the paycheque was pretty damn alluring. The health benefits too, were more than attractive as well. Thus, there never was a shortage of former soldiers applying for a position at the Guild as a result.

The Guild didn’t just hire anyone, though – to be a Peacekeeper, the “compatible” personality – meaning no criminal tendencies – was a must, followed closely by the amount and the type of training received. Only the best and the dedicated could serve.

No wonder, then, that their movements didn’t lose out to Blast Storm’s Super-enhanced speed. Crossing the short distance to arrive at the last known sighting for the target Nico Gavalas was far too easy a job for these guys.

Once arriving at the intersection, Blast Storm took another quick glance around. He couldn’t spot Nico Gavalas but that was to be expected. Unless the target was standing around waiting for them, there was no way he’d be staying put in one place.

He sent the hand signal to his men, and as practiced, they separated, each men going over to different locations to question people. Meanwhile, Blast Storm checked the map on his PDA and scoped out all the important landmarks along the 5th Avenue.

There was a handful that caught his eye, the most prominent one being the Metropolitan Museum. A team led by a pretty awesome Superhero named Magnaterran was there already and Storm didn’t hear a word of anything strange happening there, so he looked Southwards, tracing the addresses and trying to suss out how the bad guy might behave.

He couldn’t help but feel like a fish out of water, however. Blast Storm wasn’t someone who usually went around doing stuff like this, this thing about investigating and tracking and stuff. He was a hitter, a finisher, not a scout. Just by him being here showed how stretched thin the resources of the Guild was at the moment.

Sir.

A radio chatter came over his earpiece after several minutes had gone by. One of the Peacekeepers Blast Storm brought along was trying to get a hold of him.

“Yeah? You got something?”

I’m not sure, sir. I got a fast food vendor here who might have talked to another Greek like him. Said the man admitted to being a tourist. But I showed him the pic of our target, and the guy isn’t sure if it’s the same person or not. How do you want me to proceed?

Hearing this, Blast Storm rubbed his chin for a second before deciding on his next course of action.

“What’s your position? I’m en route.”

Three hundred and fifty paces on your four, sir. In front of the subway entrance over at 5th and 59th.

Blast Storm was a San Diego native, and so he wasn’t too clued up on the Manhattan’s dizzying network of streets. But, by simply relying on his intuition and nothing else, he somehow didn’t lose his direction and found the man and his query quickly. The smell of Souvlaki wafted in the air as the masked Superhero approached the Peacekeeper.

“So, that’s the guy, huh.”

Blast Storm perused the worn fast food cart and its operator. All it took was one look and he knew that something was not quite right about this guy. It was as if….

Storm walked over the vendor and leaned in closer, startling the man.

“Oh, hey man. You are too damn close,” said the fast food operator while slightly backing away.

Mumbling his insincere apologies, Blast Storm studied the man and noticed a thin hazy veil cast in this guy’s eyes. Looked like some kind of hypnosis, a light one at that. He should know – one of his archenemies was quite proficient at it. Storm lost count the number of times he was attacked by random strangers under the hypnotic suggestion of that Supervillain in the past. His instincts told him that this fast food guy was also under a weak but well-hidden spell.

Blast Storm leaned back and pulled the image of Nico Gavalas on the PDA, showing it to the food guy.

“Sir, you sure you haven’t seen this man in the last half an hour?”

The Greek man shook his head. “Like I said to your pal over there, no, I am not sure, sir, uh, Mister Blast Storm.”

“Okay, but you did talk to a guy from Greece, right? What did you two talk about?”

“Uh, well, he bought chicken Souvlaki, we talked about the city, back home, our families, nothing major, really.”

“Okay, which way did he go off to? Can you remember that, at least?”

“Uh, maybe, uh, hmm. Uh, maybe…. um… I was serving other customers, you know? I didn’t really catch where he went off to. My bad.”

Blast Storm narrowed his eyes. Now he felt more convinced than ever. He pointed at one of the skewered meat on the food cart and asked the man.

“Hey, can I have one of these?”

“Sure, boss.”

As the food guy leaned forward, Blast Storm expertly raised his right hand towards the man’s right ear at the same time and clicked his fingers loudly. The shockwave of air slammed into the inner ear drum of the fast food vendor.

He shook slightly, his eyes glazing over for a second or two, before clarity returned to the pupils. He looked confused, before recognizing Blast Storm in front of him.

“Huh? What just happened?”

Blast Storm showed the man the image of Nico once more. “You were under a light hypnosis. I broke it. Now, look at this photo again and tell me if you saw this guy before.”

The food vendor’s eyes focused on the image until a certain gleam began to shine in them. He tilted his head and spoke.

“Yeah…. I did talk to the guy, but it’s strange, you know? It’s all a blur and I can’t really remember the details.”

Blast Storm impatiently asked the man. “Okay, fine. But which way did he go?”

“I’m pretty sure he went up North – oh, wait a second. He said something about the Met and one of the exhibitions they are going to show off next week. Yeah, I remember that now. I think he was heading over there.”

Storm came in closer at the man, staring deep into his eyes. The hazy cloud of hypnosis was definitely gone; he was speaking the truth.

Nodding his thanks, Blast Storm recalled all his men and instructed them to head towards the Metropolitan Museum of Art as soon as possible. He also radioed the gunship pilot to head over there and check the place out. Finally, he contacted the command center and updated them on what was happening, requesting for logistics support at the same time.

There was a bit of distance to cover, but for these muscle-bound men, such a thing was nothing but a trifling matter. In a matter of minutes, they traversed all the way up on foot, not a breath in disarray. The Met building came into view pretty quickly.

Outwardly, nothing seemed amiss. Blast Storm saw the usual cordon of uniformed cops and the Superheroes sauntering about, checking out civilians entering the museum. But it was too early to feel relieved; now that Blast Storm was aware of Nico possessing some sort of ability to hypnotize, any one of these guys could be under the spell. Hell, maybe even all of them could be affected, which would be of no laughing matter.

The cops belatedly noticed a bunch of heavily armed men arriving at their position and tensed up for a second, before seeing the figure of Blast Storm leading them. The Lieutenant in charge of the police force came over in a hurry wanting to find out what was going on.

Magnaterran and the other Super were updated on the status through the transmission from the HQ only a couple of minutes ago. Once they spotted the Peacekeepers and Blast Storm, they came to make a report and confirm.

Blast Storm hurriedly informed the Lieutenant and the Supers, letting them know there was a possibility that they were subjected to a light hypnosis. He asked if there was anything suspicious that had happened in the last thirty minutes or so, and the answer was as expected – nothing of note happened.

Storm didn’t ask because he was interested in the answers, though. He was actually checking out the status of the cops while they were giving their answers.

It didn’t take long before he found the anomaly. Almost every cop present, even including the two Supers, were under a light hypnosis. Out of them, one cop was under a much stronger spell. Blast Storm clapped his hands very loudly to break the mass hypnosis instead of clicking his finger like the last time. There were too many victims, and also they were outdoors, too many background noises and all.

The cop affected by the strong hypnosis needed a second or two to recover. His face paled visibly as he recounted carrying a suspicious gym bag inside the museum for a person who could very well be Nico Gavalas.

This was not a good news, never mind a surprising one. Blast Storm hurriedly contacted the command center, informed them what happened and asked for reinforcements that could specifically deal with the powerful hypnosis attacks. Then, he told the Lieutenant to contact the museum’s administrators to evacuate the civilians and close all the exits but no one answered the urgent call.

“Jesus, something bad is happening inside,” said one of the Peacekeepers, his face grim.

Blast Storm grimaced as well while formulating the next course of action for himself and the boys. The command center explicitly ordered him not to enter the museum until the back-up’s arrival, but he just couldn’t sit idly by and let the innocent civilians suffer when he could’ve done something to prevent that.

His fingers lightly brushed the ear-mounted communicator. There was a low-level anti-hypnosis frequency generator built within, which was useless against a focused hypnosis attempt but it could block out something like the attacks on the cops and that fast food vendor.

“Okay. Boys, we’re going in. We get the museum goers out from that place. Mister Magnaterran, I’ll leave the perimeter to you.”

Blast Storm decisively led his Peacekeepers into the museum, almost flying up the famed stone steps to the grand entrance named the Great Hall.

He expected to cause a stir among the museum goers – after all, they were carrying big guns, their faces were grim and solemn, and on top of that, he was a famous Superhero wearing a scary mask. It’d be weird if no one reacted from all of those factors. He quickly thought of things to say to calm the panicking civilians. It would not do if there were a mass stampede and serious injuries resulting from that. Not only would the human cost unacceptable for him, the resulting paperwork could probably bury him six feet under because of the stress.

However, whether because of his mind being occupied or due to the clever concealment, Blast Storm and his Peacekeepers failed to notice a very thin golden film when they rushed past the grand doorway.

“Everyone, please listen up!!” Blast Storm shouted out aloud as soon as he stepped into the Great Hall. “My name is Blast Storm from the Guild of Heroes. I believe the suspect wanted in connection with the JFK incident is somewhere within this building. Please cooperate with the Peacekeepers and exit the museum in an orderly fashion.”

Blast Storm prepared himself to deal with the ensuing panic but contrary to his expectations, no such a thing happened. Not one violent or angry reaction, not one word of abuse flew at his way.

If anything, everyone present in this large space was calm. Way too calm. The confused and dazed looks floated on the faces of the museum goers and the employees at work. Seeing them like this, an inexplicable chill went down Blast Storm’s back side.

He and the Peacekeepers exchanged the knowing glances. Their fears of mass hypnosis had come true, it seemed.

“What’s your call, boss?”

One of the Peacekeepers asked him while his eyes darted around the hall, focused and vigilant of even the tiniest hints of suspicious movements.

“What else? We free these folks and evacuate them outta here,” replied Blast Storm. “Okay, let’s do this.”

Gritting his teeth, Blast Storm gathered strength in his arms and was ready to create a powerful shockwave to break the mass hypnosis when a pleasant voice came out of the speakers placed in the hallways.

Oh, well. This is a nice surprise. And a good timing too, since I was really running short on quality blood sacrifices. Please, if you are trying to find me, head over to the Near East exhibit. I’m right there, enjoying the view.

Blast Storm doubted what he heard for a second, before realizing the implications of those words. He turned to his men to order their evacuation first, but the huge, solid doors closed shut by themselves. And right afterwards, several metal security shutters slammed down on them, preventing their escape. Even all the windows were blocked off by metal shutters.

There was no way out. Unless, of course, the one behind this blockade was defeated.

“How the hell did he gain the control of the museum?!” Another Peacekeeper, a Hispanic man in his early thirties, muttered dazedly.

The nervousness in the eyes of the men rose up a notch. They tried the doors and despaired slightly, knowing that the solid security barrier was designed to withstand Supers with devastating destructive abilities like Blast Storm.

If the back was blocked off, then in the front, the numerous hypnotized men, women and children could become puppets pulled along on a string. No matter how much one was optimistic, this didn’t look good.

Blast Storm snorted angrily before clapping his hands loudly. The shockwave spread throughout the Great Hall and all those caught within its radius woke up from the mass hypnosis.

“A challenge, huh? Fine by me.”

Blast Storm cranked his neck and flexed his muscles. His anger was reaching very high, almost to the extent he’d destroy the walls to get to where Nico Gavalas was hiding.

“Gentlemen, update the HQ on our status, then try to secure us the exits with the safety of the civilians as our priority. In the meantime, let me go and say hello.”

The Peacekeepers nodded wordlessly and spread out, coming to the aid of the confused and dazed museum goers who were beginning to understand what was going on.

Not one of the men offered to go along with Blast Storm, however, even though they knew it was dangerous to go alone. In truth, there was very little they could do to help Blast Storm. If anything, they would just get in the way of two high-level Supers duking it out.

That’s why Blast Storm didn’t even suggest the matter. He just chose to walk right into the den of the lion, trusting in his own abilities to pull through. He was only 50-50 on this, though, thinking that he had a serious monster as his target this time. Not many Supers in this world possessed two vastly different set of Superpowers, one to mass hypnotize a whole bunch of people without seemingly doing anything, and to turn a crowd of people into bags of sand.

If that wasn’t the very definition of a troublesome opponent, then he’d have no clue what else could be.

And Blast Storm also recalled that the Russian-sounding gangster was stabbed to death. Meaning, there could be a sharp weapon in the possession of the target as well. Thinking about this, Blast Storm couldn’t help but furrow his brows and click his tongue in irritation.

As he got in deeper into the museum, his expressions became uglier. The hallway leading up to the Near East exhibit was lowly lit and was eerily quiet. Way too quiet for Blast Storm’s liking, anyhow. It gave off a rather ominous feeling which he didn’t care for, not even for one bit.

Sure enough, his premonition of bad things came true. In front of the Sphinx-like mock-ups – Blast Storm didn’t know what they were called, nor did he care – he spotted two prone bodies on the floor, unmoving.

He quickly checked them out, but he knew right away he was looking at corpses. Two security guards and two fatal stab wounds near the heart.

But the darndest thing was that Blast Storm could not see a single drop of blood, not on the bodies, not on the floor, not on the walls, none at all. This only served to thicken the foreboding in Blast Storm’s heart.

It’d be a lie to say his instincts of a warrior weren’t getting excited, though.

A surge of adrenaline was rushing through his veins and he felt really pumped up, every fiber of his being alight with anticipation. Would he be able to face a truly powerful opponent and get to have a showy smackdown? He’d absolutely love that. A battle to end all battles, with the future of a city at stake. An event that’d be talked about for years to come.

Blast Storm could see only one tiny little issue, and that was the small fact of him surrounded by priceless artifacts and items sourced from all over the world. He didn’t really care what happened to them, but rampaging around here might cause unnecessary administrative bull crap for himself and for the Guild.

But what choice did he have? The target chose to hole himself in here, so Blast Storm had to go where the fish was in order to get a bite.

Plus, Blast Storm knew that he couldn’t negotiate with his target to vacate this building and have a go at each other outside. He just didn’t have the gift of the silver tongue for that. So, if a smackdown was to happen, then it was destined to happen anyway. No point in caring too much about it.

Finally, he entered the exhibit hall. Blast Storm noticed yet more bodies, all in similar condition – stab wounds to the chest, no blood. The victims were museum staff and the tourists. No mercy was shown, even to children.

Nico Gavalas was there, waiting. He was sitting on a bench, leisurely reading a brochure he held on one hand. On the other hand, a two-way radio, taken from one of the dead security guards.

“You seem really relaxed, for a someone who is about to go to jail for the rest of his life,” quipped Blast Storm as he took a threatening stance about ten paces away from Nico.

Nico shrugged his shoulders as he lowered the brochure. “What can I do? There’s still some time left before the reformation of the world commences. I didn’t wish to be bored, so might as well enjoy the rich heritage this museum offers.”

“Okay, whatever, man. Let’s make this simple, Gavalas. Quietly hand yourself over, and save me the hassle, okay? Just put these cuffs on your wrists and we call it a day. What do you say?”

Nico smirked before shaking his head. “Mister, you are a comedian, aren’t you? Tell me, when you’re this close to achieving your goal, would you throw all that away and obey some random passerby telling you to stop? Of course not. Such a thing will never happen, yes?”

Nico slowly got up from the bench. He dropped the brochure and the walkie talkie as he stretched his cramped limbs.

In his empty hand, an ornately crafted dagger suddenly appeared, drawing Blast Storm’s attention. Storm immediately recognized the weapon; it was Abyss’s tool of choice.

“Huh, that dagger. That used to belong to a vigilante. Mind telling me how you got a hold of that?”

Nico glanced down at the dagger in his hand and tilted his head. “Belonged to a vigilante? Mister, this weapon has only one master, and it’s certainly not you, me or that vigilante, for that matter. I’m just temporarily borrowing it. This is a relic of the divine god Enki, after all. Only he has the right to bestow this divine weapon to a chosen. I’m stepping on a sacrilegious ground just by wielding it like this.” Nico babbled on, shrugging his shoulders.

“Riiiiight. So you’re not only a murdering bastard, but a religious nutcase too. This is great. Just great,” groaned Blast Storm before he raised his dukes to cover his torso. “Well then, let’s get going.”

A surge of air gathered around Blast Storm’s upper torso, forming a barrier of sorts. Then he paid a careful attention to that dagger. He had to.

One of the main reasons why Abyss was such a difficult customer to deal with, was because of that damn dagger. Not only was it unnaturally sharp, but it also had a strange ability to change its length somehow.

No close observation on the weapon was possible since Abyss proved to be pretty good at evading all manner of pursuers coming after him. That was clearly a disadvantage, Blast Storm was sure of this fact.

Nico made his move first while Blast Storm was lost in his thoughts for no more than a millisecond.

To say he was taken by surprise was a small understatement. Blast Storm quickly shifted his body to his left side and dodged the dagger aiming straight for his heart. Good thing he had seen enough victims lying on the ground to give him hints, otherwise he might have been killed, right there and then.

Nico withdrew the dagger, his eyes glistened in a pleasant surprise. “Oh? That was a good reflex there, mister. See if you can dodge this one next!!”

Nico swung the dagger horizontally around the chest height. Blast Storm dodged backwards, but his pupils widened the moment the dagger’s blade extended in a flash, closing in on his torso.

Shouting out sharply, he rotated his body in mid-air, narrowly dodging the extended blade that acted like a deadly whip. The magical blade slashed across the entire exhibition hall, smashing and slicing apart all in its path. Not even the bulletproof glasses protecting the exhibits could withstand the attack.

The icy chill crept up on Blast Storm’s back, realizing that Abyss never extended his dagger this far out before, at least not to his knowledge. He quickly rolled on the ground to get in position to counter attack.

Rising up using his explosive strength akin to the compressed air, Blast Storm threw a perfect uppercut. His fist was encased in swirling air sharper than an industrial strength cutting laser and more stubborn than a crocodile biting down on its prey.

His fist caused a shocking sonic boom as he splendidly connected to the chest of Nico Gavalas.

The floor tiles shattered below each combatant’s feet as the enormous wave of energy exploded out of the attack. The entire building seemed to shake; the glass shards turned to powder, the prone, dead bodies were mauled by the deadly storm of wind and energy, and the fragile lighting bulbs got shredded apart from all the ricocheting debris, encasing the hall in total darkness.

Almost right away, emergency lights came on, dyeing the Near East exhibition hall in the bloody crimson hue.

Nico slammed into the wall, his chest caving in. The entire wall crumbled from the impact and Nico’s helpless, broken body fell down on the destroyed pieces of materials. He spluttered out a mouthful of blood, his limbs twitching occasionally. There he remained, limp and near death.

Seeing this, Blast Storm narrowed his eyes. This was…. a little too easy. In the past, he ran into a few sly opponents who tried to lull him into a trap. It was similar to this situation.

Obviously, Storm wouldn’t fall for such a cheap trick but upon a closer inspection, he could see that even if Gavalas was blessed with a power of insane regenerative ability, he’d still be dead in a minute or two. The chest injury was just simply too severe to survive. Not even the most advanced modern medicine could patch that kind of damage. Blast Storm grimaced a little, thinking that he might have overdone it and killed a man.

Now, that wasn’t a serious problem, but the Guild of Heroes had a strict rule for catching bad guys alive if at all possible so they could stand trial and the public’s scrutiny.

Still, something didn’t feel quite right. Blast Storm had to remain vigilant until this unease in his heart lessened.

He slowly approached Nico Gavalas, while searching for that dangerous dagger with his keen senses. It was not on Nico’s body nor in his grasp. Using a subtle vibration from the airflow, he could locate anything in this small confined area but oddly, the thing was not here. He figured that it could be buried under some rubble. That would explain why he could not to find it right away. Unfortunately, the low red lighting didn’t make it any easier to locate the damn thing.

He confirmed for one last time that Nico didn’t have the weapon on him. Only then, Blast Storm got in closer and spoke.

“It’s over, man.”

His voice was low and apathetic.

Nico chuckled slightly, coughing out more blood in the process. Then, he slowly shook his head. “Over for you, yes. But for me? It’s only the beginning.”

Blast Storm stopped his advance and carefully studied the dying man, trying to think if there was anything he had overlooked. Then it clicked; this guy could use hypnosis.

Storm left the ear-mounted communicator to emit the low-frequency hum to prevent Nico Gavalas’s hypnosis attacks from affecting him ever since he approached the exhibit hall, but could it be that he was already under its effects? The grievously injured, dying man in front of him could be a false image projected to his mind, in order to confuse him.

Grimacing slightly at the thought, Blast Storm decided to make sure. He gathered power in his hand and quickly clicked his fingers, causing a shockwave. This would be, usually, enough to break any illusions caused by hypnosis.

Seeing this, Nico’s smile grew slightly. As the shockwave swept across, he softly murmured. “Oh, you’re unexpectedly sharp, aren’t you?” He then raised his hand where the dagger materialized again. Pointing the edge, he smiled coldly. “Oh well, you’re wrong this time, though.”

The dagger’s blade extended like a bullet. It shot forward and before Blast Storm could react, penetrated his chest, bypassing the Kevlar armor the Guild specially developed for him and even the barrier of wind.

At the last possible second, he tilted his body, so his heart was spared, but the unbelievably sharp blade still managed to slice through every muscle, fiber, bone and tissue with ease.

Smiling victoriously, Nico stood up while holding the extended dagger. Then, he deftly flicked his wrist and the dagger’s supernaturally sharp blade cut cleanly upwards, exiting past Blast Storm’s right shoulder, splitting him nearly in half.

Blast Storm fell on one knee, his eyes glazing over at the sudden turn of the event. He felt his senses go numb at the massive loss of blood.

He somehow willed his powers to stop the bleeding by concentrating the wind to form a thick barrier over his extensive wounds, but he was literally staring down the barrel of a loaded gun at this point. He knew that, unless help arrived in the next couple of minutes, he’d be dead.

And this realization thoroughly shocked him. Never before had he envisioned a situation where his life was ending like this. This was…. unreal. This had to be a bad joke, a terrible lie.

As the Super’s eyes wavered and began to lose the spark of life, Nico slowly walked closer, his caved chest visible and all. Out of nowhere, a stone tablet emitting a weak golden purple light emerged and slowly hummed in the air.

The blood of Blast Storm rose up like a dancing snake, swirling wildly before forming a vivid red ball. It began to draw more blood from Blast Storm’s dying body, going as so far to ignore the air barrier he had put up on his fatal wounds.

No f*cking way?!

Blast Storm watched the incredulous scene of his own body draining out of all the blood. Then his eyes shifted to that sphere in the air, unable to fully comprehend. His consciousness began to darken, and it became so much harder to maintain his kneeling position. Gradually, he fell on his back, shivering from the creeping cold.

With his final breath, he watched as the last of his blood fly up towards the tablet, merging into it. Then, the imperceptible texts on its surface glowed in bright red. Each word pulsated like a broken heartbeat, thumping noises echoing inside Blast Storm’s mind.

“Ohh, this is…. wow. Mister, you were one heck of a warrior, weren’t you? Amazing!! Not all of your blood has been sacrificed yet, but the gate of the guardian beast is this satisfied?! Wow, just wow!! Is this what you Americans call a jackpot?! Yes, it must be!!”

Nico cackled like a possessed man, not even caring about his chest wound. Bits of broken bone and flesh, mixed with the torn clothing made him look like a gruesome science experiment gone wrong, but he seemed perfectly fine, as if he didn’t feel any pain or even the slightest bit of discomfort.

Ahh, sh*t, so this is where I kick the bucket, huh. Blast Storm shuddered weakly. He was somewhat bitter about not being able to stop this lunatic, and by the look of things, he only managed to make the matters worse, somehow. Whatever that stone tablet was, Storm just knew it was a seriously bad news for his colleagues and friends.

Speaking of which….

God damn it. Vanguard, you better survive this calamity, you hear me? If you die and I see you up there, then I’m gonna kick your ass so hard….

His dying whispers were heard by no one. Not even Nico Gavalas heard it. He was too busy cackling in satisfaction.

Soon, the last bit of bloody Sphere was absorbed into the stone tablet. The sickly golden purple light was incredibly strong and bright now, almost all of the letters clearly legible on the surface. Nico nodded happily at this.

“Oh yes. With that much sacrifice, maybe I don’t need anymore? Hmm? Oh, maybe I do need a bit more. Hmm, oh, that is unfortunate. Really. Let’s see….. Ah!! The Seed of the End should be ready by now. Did I run out of time? Oh well. Shall I go and check it out?”

Chuckling in a good mood and babbling on and on to no one in particular, Nico turned on his hills and headed to the nearest staircase leading down to the storage below.

There were even more dead bodies here, workers and security guards of the museum lying cold and drained of their blood. Many of the wooden crates containing the stars of the exhibit in a few days’ time were left unopened, never to bathe in the light again.

Nico whistled as he approached a huge black vault. Its front door was sliced open, the thick metal and the security measures unable to stop him from accessing what was stored inside.

The gym bag was here, and so was the golden skull. The bizarre skull was placed atop an examination table next to a small box that would normally hold myrrh, but now, housing a small, black metallic seed.

The golden skull was emitting a deep, sickly golden glow, and the strange mark on its forehead was spinning rapidly as if it wanted to break free from its confines. Seeing the speed of the spin, Nico quickly moved and pulled out the bag, searching for the severed hand that held the old bronze mirror.

“Whew, almost didn’t make it, eh?”

Smiling, he unwrapped the jacket around the hand. The rigor mortis meant it was now solidly gripping the mirror, allowing Nico to use the entire limb as a sort of macabre tool.

As soon as he readied himself, the spinning mark finally broke free from the skull, and immediately shot out towards the black metal seed, submerging into it.

“Oh, here we go.”

Nico quickly grabbed the skull and hurriedly left the vault, not even looking back.

Less than a minute later, the black seed loudly rumbled. A keening, screeching noise shattered the eerie calm of the underground storage and the wooden box violently split apart. At first, a single black metallic vine as thick as a person’s thigh shot out from the seed, wriggling around in a disgusting manner. Then another one shot out, striking the inside of the vault, destroying countless fragile artifacts stored within. Then, yet another vine emerged. And another. And another.

In a blink of an eye. tens of thick, black metallic vines wriggled out of the once-small seed, expanding like crazy. Soon, the entire underground area was filled with the tumbling metal vines. The museum’s walls gave way, the concrete splitting apart weakly. Metal frames bent, the machines to carry large crates broke apart under the immense pressure and were instantly absorbed into the vines.

Nico had already exited the Near East exhibit when the whole building started to tremble as if an earthquake pounced on the unsuspecting city of New York. He hurriedly left the hall, laughing like a maniac as the walls were destroyed behind him, caving in, the numerous artifacts turning into nothing more than powder as the metal vines snaked out of everywhere.

The museum goers were gathered into the Great Hall, waiting for help to arrive. But as soon as the vines exploded out from everywhere, the hapless tourists were all swept away by the black tide, vaporizing into a fine mist of flesh and gore.

The Peacekeepers stood no chance as well, as they too were turned into nothing more than food for these vines. They fired their guns, threw their grenades, whatever – none of their desperate struggles could save them. Upon their demise, the guns and the equipment all split apart and became part of the metal vines.

Nico kicked the locked front door of the museum as hard as he could and jumped outside just as the black vines exploded out of the walls and windows and pretty much everywhere else. The entire museum crumbled into nothing as the mountains of vines erupted out. The cops and newly-arriving Supers were left stunned by this development, and was a tad too late to react.

When the vines shot out towards everywhere and wherever, absolute anarchy unfolded in the streets. Buildings, cars, people carrying guns, smartphones, whatever – none were spared as every single one of them were targetted. Bloody mist rose everywhere; blood-curdling screams of terror resounded in the center of the greatest city on earth.

When one of the vines came for Nico, he laughed and simply flashed the severed hand with the bronze mirror trapped within. The polished surface suddenly vibrated, and a dull brown light shone out, wrapping Nico inside it, forming a protective barrier around him. The metal vines avoided him from then on.

Laughing, Nico looked around him as the pandemonium of destruction broke out all over Manhattan. Buildings crumbled, cars exploded, the ground ripped apart and the subway trains were pulled up violently, all to become the part of the vines. And from where the Metropolitan Museum of Art once stood, an eerie black metal sprout was taking shape.

“Oh, it’s here!! It’s finally here!! Finally, after six millenniums in slumber, a Divine Tree is taking root!! Come, come and fulfill our wish, the divine and majestic…. Tree of the End!!”

Nico screamed at the top of his lungs in pure, frenzied delight. And as if to respond to his cries, the sprout began to emit a dazzling white light that blinded everyone on the continent, one that could be seen even by the astronauts in the international space station.

And when the light finally dimmed, there stood a gigantic metal structure that resembled a lightning rod, piercing the blue sky and shattering it, revealing the black starry space beyond. Almost half of the Central Park was gone, destroyed. The metal vines continued to wriggle and extend out, spreading all over the island, destroying and devouring everything in their wake.

And Nico was below the “Tree” smiling happily, his arms spread out wide. He fervently nodded his head and shouted loudly once more at the top of his lungs.

“Oh, my liege, we’ve finally done it!! The Tree of the End stands tall in this corrupted world once more!! With this, our gods shall finally make the triumphant return from the realm now long forgotten!! The glorious days of Bad-tibira shall return!!”


(Please support my writing by reading it, and talking to your friends about it. Any comments you wish to make are welcome, especially the constructive criticisms. Also, I would deeply appreciate if you show your love by donating some $$. Ahahaha. Well hey, I need “motivations” too, you know!!)


Cultivation Novel, 7x chapters per week. Book Mark Now!!

Title: Omnipotent Overlord | Tags: Cultivation, Second Chance
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
"Where?"
"Earth!"
The Great Galactic Era had begun.


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