Chapter One

Timeless and contemporary: in the eastern part of Atlas Park lay a sparkling urban jungle of steel and concrete. It was once the commercial center for trade and socialization, the pinnacle of fine society. Aristocratic movements and corporate cheese-heads spoke with their wallets and brought the once small town to the glittering chrome business enterprise of the Paragon City area. For the most part, things were kept clean, enough so that there came to be massive immigration from the plagued Fault line. The population boomed and the aristocrats of the area became powerful, and so influential was their wealth that the capital of Paragon City was nearly reinstated at the town. Yet, as the power of the aristocrats grew, so did the greed. The town grew to new heights, the slums expanded, and eventually this pocket of civilization fell prey to the world of underground black markets, leading to the formation of gangs. Violence became prominent, and the town was enveloped in a smog of greed and wrath. Rivalries formed, and aristocratic groups destroyed each other and their bases that had once made up the iron skyline. Skyscrapers that had once touched Heaven fell to Hell, and with the towers, so did the town. The once towering heights of the glittering urban city had been reduced to ruins, the majority of which lay scattered in a place now known only as Grendel's Gulch. As each aristocratic land owner fell, the predators of the town took the wealth into their own hands. Drugs became common enough that even the thought of a medicinal purpose would've been considered absurd and outlandish. Slowly but surely the ordinary citizens of the town left, and as the last bit of civilization crept away, the town's old name scattered with the wind. Given its emptiness, the once great urban monopoly that threatened to change Paragon City became known as The Hollows. The ruins of the town became the breeding grounds for renowned gangs, such as the Lost, the Trolls, Reapers, and Circle of Thorns. The level of violence intensified to the point where armed gates were deemed necessary to separate everyday citizens from this monstrosity. Even with the rise of vigilantes, only those with a security clearance of ten or higher were permitted entry into The Hollows. Since it was so dangerous, few heroes even willingly volunteered to help the Paragon Police Department with clean up efforts, especially while there were much safer towns, towns that still had a beating heart running the blood of life through it.

However, there are exceptions to every common belief, and given that, the PPD assigned one of the newer superhuman pairs to fight against the notorious Outcast leader, FrostFire. Although the team of Blue Animal and Kaida Masako was quite new, and despite the fact their personalities had no chemistry, their powers certainly did. Blue's willingness to stay true to her "conditioning" led her to be persuaded to take on this task. And so a small force of the Paragon Police Department waited for several hours around the perimeter of an old and decrepit building, a department headed solely by a man only known as "The Flux". The pair had been sent inside several hours before, and doubts had begun to form of whether the two had succeeded or even could, considering the task ahead of them.

Inside, taking an enormous leap over a wall of ice, Blue crouched on her haunches and leered at the mercenaries of FrostFire. Some, taken by surprise at seeing heroes even make it this far, froze, and others simply stared since...well, it wasn't everyday that one was attacked by a humanoid blue rat. With a scowl of relative disgust, Blue gave her wounded forearm a swift lick. They had assumed moments before that Blue could have well been one of them, given the way she acted and looked. Conditioning couldn't fix all her flaws, and in that way she was feral, like them. She even seemed fairly harmless, if one could overlook her glowering, poisonous abrasiveness, yet there had definitely been something ominous about how her outfit had strategically placed holes--and not in places that would make one assume she was a less-than-modest woman. One of the minions, whose arrogance out-spoke his common sense, had approached Blue with a snide remark. The mission was simply to kill FrostFire: by logic if she took him down, then the other minions would scatter. Blue had not intended to deal with the minions at all until that moment. In a swift movement, Blue gave a physical retort, and spikes flew every which way, and in following fluid movement she impaled one through the cretin. Enraged at their comrade's death, several minions had fled to FrostFire to warn him of the intruders, but the rest started to advance, which had caused Blue to leap onto one of the ledges, where she now was tending to her arm's wound, spikes no longer in sight.

"I didn't plan to deal with you cannon fodder, but if you insist to being the waste in the bowels of this worthless town, so be it." A slightly scaly blue tail flicked back and forth, and with incredible strength, Blue leapt to an enormous height, calling out for her partner's backup as she landed on top of the minion she had identified to possess the most dangerous weapon, and proceeded to use her special mutation to poison and maim her foes. With agility known to very few heroes, and fewer still humans, she gave vicious blows, and was able to dodge many of the attacks. Through her conditioning she had formed a very high threshold for pain, which protected her from the pain of her own spikes emerging as well as her enemies' blows. Blue pulled her spiked fist out of one man's stomach, the last to fall in this frigid hallway, resulting in an almost slurping sound.

"Out of all places, out of all missions we could have been on, we've arrived here. Yet, it is my-OUR duty to defend all of humanity against these scum." Straightening up, Blue reabsorbed her spikes and slicked back a patch of fur that had stuck up with her hand. Her rodent-like ears flicked silently as she attempted to hear the conversations in the rooms beyond. Blue had been told by her "mentor" during her conditioning that it was her duty to defend humanity, even though it wasn't hers to have. She was told that she could achieve greatness, if she only made a name for herself among the Paragon Police. Her conditioning had taught her many things for better or worse, which inadvertently resulted in her crude abrasiveness. Although she honored most with a swift, clean death, she was very violent for a hero, and her pursuit towards heroic greatness led her to actions not so much heroic as borderline villainous and a mindset unpleasant compared to most.

Personally, she didn't want, or, as she thought, need Kaida, but it had been expected that she would be assigned a partner, and so she persevered through the hopefully temporary contact. It had been explained to the local authorities when Project Variables had just shut down that it would be inhumane to kill Blue, even though she wasn't human, and having been created, she had a right to live. And so she was permitted make her way among the people of Paragon City...or so the record said. But in any case, Blue's feral and robotic nature bred by her conditioning led her to lead a solitary life, just one with very... rodent related interests.

"C'mon, coward." With a hand she beckoned Kaida forward. "He's down the hall to the right. 'Persuade' the guards around the door that we've been selected as an audience for FrostFire." Blue obviously didn't hold Kaida in the highest regards.

With a stormy glare Kaida hissed at Blue and gestured towards the wreckage that lay at her feet. "I thought we had agreed on stealth for this one. No making a scene, no calling hordes of addicts upon us, and most of all, no diving into a group of thugs to make a point. So sorry if I'm a bit late here, I was a bit busy with clean up from your last "chat" with these fools." The illusionist sighed and rubbed her temples mumbling something about the last time she had teamed up with a mutant. Considering that Blue had not yet been drained of her will to live and left in a corner covered in horrific wounds only she could see, Kaida believed this partnership was going quite well in comparison. And if you take into account that "the plan" she so firmly believed in had been thrown away so many times in this mission alone, she was being quite patient and calm about the violation of their unspoken agreement not to interfere with each other's decisions as long as the job was done. But still, if Blue was actually willing to let her sneak them into FrostFire's chamber instead of more pointless melee, she would accept that as a sign of good faith and not a pot shot at her abilities' usefulness.

As they rounded a corner of the hallway, they came to a brutish trio, flame wielders by the look of them and the desecration of the previously white walls, now charred with embers littering the partially melted tiles beneath their feet. Instead of her usual translucent approach, the redhead strode up to the nearest of the bunch confidently and placed two fingers of her right hand together between them. The pyro was a bit confused at first, both about whether she was friend or foe, and what she was doing there in the first place. As the first few precious seconds of stunned silence turned to a smirk for the leader and an exclamation for the two behind, she spoke the words to change their minds.

"Stop. We are here to see FrostFire. You've been expecting us, and have no reason to be alarmed. You recognize us and our names don't you? Kaida Masako and Blue Animal sound familiar do they not? Take us to FrostFire immediately. He will be angry if he waits. You don't want to see him angry, do you? Take us there and keep us out of sight of the others, or we might be late." From the first word a glaze formed over their eyes and they nodded their heads with a happy grin as they agreed to her words. What simpletons. A lack of mental capacity made them more aggressive and lowered their resistance to her. She could almost be grateful to FrostFire for making her job easier by hiring such cannon fodder, if touching the minds of these delinquents hadn't left her with a feeling of grease and slime that, she knew from experience, nothing but a mental cleansing would clear. Every mind felt different, but she had lost her taste for indiscriminant control over gang members after she had left the Circle and it was no longer expected as part of her job description.

Following their new "friends", Kaida and Blue came to a sliding glass door through which they could see a room half frozen and covered in icy ramps and blobs, and half smoldering as bonfires are fueled with office supplies and furniture. In places they met there was an odd smoking effect as if there is a sauna line dividing his followers into separate factions. Even before the door opens the loud raucous voices of the gang bellow towards them.

"Heroes? Who needs them! We were doing just fine before those do-gooders started muscling in on our turf. And its getting a little crowded in here with the trolls getting a little too close if you know what I'm saying. Maybe we better pay them a little visit, make sure they know the rules and such."

"Yeah, and while we're at it, you know whose been pissing me off? That there Reaper- the gravedigger on the street corner, always bragging about his girlfriend and then whining when things get rough. Maybe he needs a lesson in manners too! Standing on our block yapping about some chit's latest gripe against him, either dump her or get a room, but shut up either way, right?"

"You shut up! Or maybe you didn't hear all that noise earlier, but we've got some bloody vigilantes in our hideout bashing heads downstairs." At this Kaida aims a swift glare at Blue before passing through the doors to their target. "Now who the hell is this? Don't tell me you just let them in here. What kind of guards are you anyways?"

Still holding up her index and middle fingers together, the illusionist starts towards that speaker slowly, knowing him by sight to be their true target here. "I'm just a friend who came to say hello." Kaida started, entrancing the guards nearest him without his knowledge. "Dear FrostFire, don't you remember? The Flux sends his regards."

Before the leader's eyes could even open in recognition and understanding, Kaida smirked and cast a veil of illusion over herself, shifting out of sight. "G-get them!" The few guards not yet under her control threw themselves forward towards where she had previously been standing, well within distance of Blue's spikes. Their mistake.

Blue's face contorted into a malicious, blood-thirsty smile as she saw panic creep into the thug's eyes. Before he could regain his footing and move out of the way, Blue shot spikes completely out of her body, sending several of the guards crumpling to the ground, and the ones closest to her receiving fatal wounds. Chaos was unleashed. FrostFire, who had just called for more guards, was attempting to get to higher ground in order to gain some distance between him and the rather violent blue rat. Sounds and screams echoed throughout the room and into the hallway. As more and more men filed into the room, they formed a circle around Blue.

"Give up, ya bitch, and if you ask nicely maybe we can reach an agreement."

"Hmph, if ya ask me, she is a bitch, looks more like a dog than a human to me."

"C'mere doggie! You're clearly outnumbered."

Despite the fact that she was tightening her fists to the point that her palms bled, Blue was managing to keep a relatively level head. It wasn't necessarily what they said that made her angry, for her "mentor" had informed her again and again that humanity wasn't hers to have, and that furthermore, she wasn't human so nothing they were saying was really that insulting. Blue obeyed her mentor like a dog, ironically, and even though she was off his leash, the idea of thinking freely, or disobeying those "laws" that her mentor had instilled in her never crossed her mind. It was the mere fact that those thugs were even trying to insult her that enraged Blue.

There was a long silence while they waited for a response from her, a silence only broken by the sound of some thugs shuffling their feet or loading their guns, until suddenly Blue startled cackling.

"Outnumbered, yes, but outmatched? I don't think so. So maybe if you ask me nicely I'll end your worthless lives quickly." As soon as she finished her sentence, Blue struck out in a flurry of blind rage, impaling and stabbing everything and anything that moved. Although she had an enormous threshold of pain, the force of the number of thugs was starting to wear Blue down a bit. She could see where her own blood was running down her arms, but was determined to defeat FrostFire, regardless of the numbers. Briefly she forgot everything else, including Kaida, who was trying to keep control of the situation by touching the minds of any who started to run or got too close to her, and was completely focused on the blood bath she was creating.

Finally, as the numbers started to dwindle, FrostFire began to shoot fire down upon Blue. Hissing, Blue spun around and barred her teeth. The ice on the floor made it hard for her to get a good leap, and her cut leg certainly didn't help. Although she didn't feel the pain of the cut, the fact was that it was there, and had cut deeply into her muscle tissue was a bit of a problem. She finally got a decent grip and leapt to the balcony where FrostFire was firing at them from.

"Kaida Masako, Blue Animal. Do you honestly believe that you are the first superhero team to try and thwart my plans? The Eastern Hollows have been under my control for years, I will not give it up without a fight. I applaud you for your valor, and even your abilities. However, your tricks won't work on me like they did my minions." FrostFire looked down from the balcony, and using his manipulative power over ice, covered the entire floor in ice to protect him from Kaida. In addition he iced the balcony, that way it would be quite difficult to get in melee range of him.

"FrostFire, by order of the Paragon Police Department, you are under arrest and will be in custody of the PPD by the end of the day. Prepare yourself." Blue paused, quietly assessing the situation before acting. Coming up with a plan, Blue ran forward and slid toward FrostFire, who was alarmed at her direct approach and shot fire at Blue. Blue was both unwilling, and unable to stop, and FrostFire, in a desperate attempt to not get stabbed, jumped off the balcony railing and hit the floor with a crack. He let out a guttural scream, swearing at his misfortune that he had landed on his leg and cursing even his own powers at the top of his lungs. Apparently the ice was a bit uncomfortable.

"Kaida, take out the trash." Blue smirked, putting leaning against the balcony rail. Carefully taking out her police radio, Blue contacted The Flux, who visibly relaxed outside of the building. "We got 'im. Get the truck ready, Blue out."

Kaida grinned despite herself. She had been waiting to bag this creep for a while but hadn't found a partner with the guts to take him on before Blue. The illusionist bent over the former gang leader--former, because what was left of his gang lay unconscious on the ice--and started her drain cycle. The Masako clan was full of philosophical ideas and beliefs, some more legal than others, but most importantly was the overwhelming sense of "rightness" and balance in the universe. In the beginning, these meant equality and justice, and half a dozen pretty words that were now lost on the majority of the clan. Over time, it had become less about retaining the balance of the world, and more about being aware of it, and taking advantage of it. What comes from one place must go somewhere else; where power is lost, the opportunity for power remains; waste is the only sin. Though throughout her life Kaida had tried time and time again to distance herself from her family, the beliefs they had instilled in her had come out in her powers. She drained his health first, taking in some of his life force and transfusing it to herself and her companion, healing their minor wounds. Then went his strength, and, as she absorbed it into herself, she felt her own weariness seep out of her as if she had been sitting down drinking tea instead of avoiding the blows of thugs while trying to hold control of their minds and avoid slipping on murderous ice. Finally, Kaida drained his speed, and as FrostFire went from a limp struggle to a sluggish forced acceptance Kaida felt her own body accelerate.

As Blue finished her brief report to The Flux, Kaida lifted the immobile, and no longer screaming, body with her newly acquired strength. Then, she grinned broadly and suggested something she would never say, especially to Blue, were she not on an energy high. "Race you out."

Before even waiting for a response, Kaida used her increased speed to slide across the ice and into the hallway from which they had come. She narrowly avoided office walls and bonfires, rounding corners as quickly as The Flash himself could have, occasionally losing grip on the ice or tile and catching herself at the last second. Two elevator rides, 12 corridors, 3 large rooms, and 8 flights of stairs later, Kaida's boost of speed started to wear off and she threw open the final door to the outside, only to see Blue already there, sitting on a fence with her tail curling around the nearest post. With a smug smile the rat pointed towards a skylight that had been above the room adjacent to Frostfire's den, which she had obviously opened and then used her acrobatics and strong leg muscles to beat Kaida out of the building with little to no effort.

Her senses regained, her energy high lost, Kaida slung the now unconscious body at the feet of The Flux with a slight flush and an embarrassed glare. "Here." And as The Flux started beamingly to tell them their reward, "Now this better be more than last time, it's not as easy as it looks and there were a few complications with all the ice. Besides, I haven't even started to bring up the cost of charcoal removal from wet leather."

The Flux blanched, but recovered quickly with a sheepish grin. As he reluctantly handed over a few tokens to exchange for enhancements he mumbled something that sounded vaguely like the number six thousand for the credit he would put in for them with the city. As one finished missions and jobs in Paragon, custom had long since been that the masked crusaders would receive credits instead of tangible money. Credits being a number linked to a city account, and as their influence over the city grew with their works of righteousness, more would become available for them.

"I'm sorry, I don't think I heard that right. Did you say 6,000? I'm sure you must've meant at least 11 grand." Kaida stated plainly at her contact. Quietly, in a voice low enough for The Flux to miss but just loud enough to reach Kaida, Blue muttered something about how Kaida was starting to become more and more like her. It took a lot to stifle her laughter.

The Flux glared at her before snapping "Nine. Final offer. You're just lucky I'm feeling a bit generous today. If you want any more you'll have to do better than a minor crime lord too scared to leave his own lair. Tell you what, a friend of mine just called in a favor. Go clean up the Red River for a while and take care of some Trolls for me. Let's say.... 20 or so, and then go report to Julius the Troll on top of the bridge. He'll be your new contact, an inside man we found recently. Got it?"

Kaida rolled her eyes and started casting. If he was such a "minor crime lord" coward, then he could've taken care of the nuisance himself. But no matter, they had run into this particular gang of Trolls the week before, and the only lesson they had taught her was that it is easier to port directly there than try to speed through Grendal's Gulch. While Blue could easily be included in the port, Kaida believed that the rat was more than capable of leaping 30 yards into the air to depart the gulch without complications. Kaida was less fortunate in that regard.

A moment later Kaida was wrenched into existence on top of the cliff overlooking the Red River. Originally, the name had come from the high concentration of copper and clay in the waters, but as the town had changed, some businesses had decided to use it as a dumping ground for less than legal substances, permanently altering the river banks flora and fauna into hideous mutations, which were liable to attack any who dared to come close. Naturally, a particularly animalistic gang of Trolls had taken that as a personal challenge and claimed the area as their own, making the waters run red with the blood of any that dared to trespass.

Of course, these sad excuses for citizens, who were pumped up on Superadine, weren't exactly the brainiacs of the Hollows, nor did they have the self control or willpower to resist even the simplest seeds of suggestion which Kaida planted in their minds. Kaida sighed and just watched as they tore into each other as their most brutal, primal instincts took over. If she had wanted to join in the melee, she could've gotten into the fighting spirit by draining one of them, but doing that mid-fight usually led her to taking risks that would otherwise be deemed unnecessary, or at worst, downright foolish. Blue, on the other hand, was born--rather, created--with a fighting spirit, and loved nothing more than jumping right into the most chaotic fracases. More than occasionally this lead to a more feral Blue to be unleashed, and that was the side of her that the PPD feared the most. Though she reverted to what could be considered normal for Blue after she cooled off a bit, what would happen if she didn't? Either way, this fight was no exception, and Blue had leapt right into the middle of the group as Kaida's mind manipulation started to take effect. As Blue's spikes tore through the gang members one by one, she turned towards the cliffs briefly on almost a whim. However, just as her leg muscles tightened for a leap up there, she noticed a figure not there before, and then another, and another until an entire mob was assembled on top of the cliffs. She dropped onto her haunches with a hiss. As with wild rats, the fur on Blue's neck and arms rose up, making her appear quite larger and much more intimidating. "Kaida, looks like we've got company. And here I thought this day was going to be boring." Carefully, and almost maliciously, Blue ran her tongue over her very sharp incisors.

Kaida's breath stopped for a moment and she briefly lost all the concentration that had been holding the Trolls under her will. It was Him. And his current entourage of blind, naive recruits and delusional hardcore cultists, of course. She would've stood staring longer, but the Troll nearest her had regained his mind (or at least consciousness) enough to realize that she was not a Troll herself. Brilliant creature, he was. The greenish thug swung his fists clumsily towards her, relying more on brute strength than any sort of technique. Kaida flinched away from him in the nick of time, changing what would have been a crushing blow to a relatively harmless cut. The Troll himself did not last much longer after that because he became suddenly aware of agonizingly painful and fatal wounds that appeared magically all over his body. As he recoiled screaming, Blue approached and made those wounds a reality and ended his suffering. When the last of them lay at their feet, Kaida looked towards the cliffs where the Circle had been before.

"What was that all about, Kaida?" Blue gave her partner a harsh look, quickly becoming irritated at the thought that she may not be able to rely on her partner's concentration either.

"I... I think we might have a slight problem." She whispered, voice faltering slightly. Why did he have to appear now? Why, after all of this time, would he dare to show his face? She looked for his face among the crags and rocks, searching for some sign of him, only to feel a shiver crawl up her spine. Slowly, she turned around, very much aware of his presence on the bank opposite the cliff.

There was a boyish grin on the young mastermind's face, contrasting a jagged scar running across his right cheek below his eye. Curiously, it looked as if it had been allowed to scar, as if it meant something, because there was little reason otherwise for anyone in the city to have such a mark with the free hospitals and healthcare, let alone someone in a position of power, as he obviously was from his stance.

"Been a while, hasn't it 'Sako?" He began, voice coated in honey as he uttered a nickname he knew she despised. "And we left on such great terms too." At this he gestured to his cheek and smirked at her as she flinched slightly.

"Who is this joker?" Blue gave Kaida a sideways glance as she poised herself for a jump. She understood that the nickname was a play-on of Kaida's last name, so obviously the two knew each other. "Kaida? Kaida!" She hissed under her breath, seeing a vacant, almost frightened look in her partner's eyes. She looked completely taken in by his presence, as if she could see nothing outside of him. Although she didn't consider Kaida brave in the context that she considered herself brave, there was an unmistakable dread in her eyes that even Blue saw to be uncharacteristic of her, which no amount of courageous action could take away.

Coward! Blue thought to herself, her brows lowering in frustration. If one allowed oneself to be consumed by such fears, then what kinda hero were they?

"Who are ya?" Blue smirked, the tips of spikes beginning to protrude from her skin. "I like to know the names of my victims. I don't know what you gotta do with Kaida here, but I ain't about to let you start something."

Briefly she glanced back at Kaida, and with a sigh, ran her tail on Kaida's lower arm in an attempt to gross her into responsiveness. Blue knew well that Kaida didn't exactly appreciate her rodent relations to say the least. However, she did need Kaida to be responsive if they were going to get out of this. Something told her this guy wasn't a regular crime lord, and the two of them had already had a long day. Not to mention the thought of taking on all of his friends up there after expending all of that energy wasn't a very attractive option. Stifling a squeal at the shock of the feel of it, she regained control over herself. Kaida flinched away from it and shot Blue a repulsed glare.

"Kaida, at least get us out of here. Give us a port. If I jump they can just follow our trail, c'mon." She whispered to Kaida, though she still kept her eyes on the distant figures. Kaida looked back up at the man, and her memory of him caused an uncontrollable flurry of emotion, from fury and regret to sorrow and uncertainty. Why had he come? A certain fear struck her heart, just knowing that he had the guts to return meant that things weren't over… and then there was Blue. How could she even begin to tell her? Blue was a hero, and wouldn't understand what she had been through. No, she couldn't possibly. But could she do this on her own? She had escaped once from him, but that was at a much different time, they were in a much different position, and they certainly had a much different relationship. Besides… What if he could track them even after she ported them? Could he? He was the one that had taught her how to in the first place. Would that allow him some control over where they went? What if they couldn't go at all! With her shaken concentration, Kaida found herself unable to channel the energy to begin a teleport. However, Blue was beginning to get irritated, and was about ready to do whatever it took to get them out of there.

"Blue, I..I..I just..."

"Masako, DO IT. NOW." Blue rapidly looked up at the approaching gang, which seemed to be multiplying as they spoke, and though she didn't have similar fears, there was no way she was willing to battle foes that were currently outmatching them. While she was more than ready to take them on in smaller groups, with her partner like this Blue didn't want to chance it. Kaida paused, unable to find her voice, when she felt Blue's sharp claws dig into the crook of her neck.

"Masako." The hiss sent chills down Kaida's spine, and between the fear of facing Him and Blue's cold fury, her instability, and undeniable urge to flee that was welling up within her, with a thunderous crack that characterized the imploding of air, the two partners vanished from the Red River.

This is Chapter One of a City of Heroes roleplay a friend of mine started, we have a million plot lines set up but limited time for writing, so updates might be sporatic. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, let me know. Thanks for reading!