In a world without a name, where time, space, and the laws of normal reality held little sway, a solitary figure sat upon a throne. The ‘throne’ was more akin to a comfortable recliner, and the figure sitting within it was that of a woman, with golden metallic skin and green energy which flowed from her head in such a way as to resemble hair.
Exile stared at the space in front of her, where several glowing disks floated in the air. Each of them had images on the surface, almost as though she was watching though a window or TV monitor. She scowled at what she saw, knowing that she shouldn’t be watching, that she shouldn’t expose herself to such temptation, though she couldn’t help it.
“Damn,” Exile muttered in frustration.
After centuries in her self-imposed exile, Exile knew that she shouldn’t watch the other world, because it would only tempt her to interfere. And if anyone knew the cost of her interference, it was her. Her scowl deepened as she remembered what it had cost her, and the unbelievable price that she’d paid as a result. She couldn’t afford to do that again, no matter how much she wanted to help.
“This threat is no greater than any of the others,” Exile told herself with a sigh.
The world was constantly faced with threats, and the heroes were usually able to stop them on their own. Nevermore was about to smother the entire world in fear and darkness, but there was still a chance that the heroes could stop her as well. That window of opportunity was shrinking very rapidly, but it was still there. For now.
Exile was worried about the heroes who faced Nevermore, especially since she had a certain fondness for several of them. Nevermore could kill them…or do things to them that were far worse than death. And though Exile had the power to help them, and could stop Nevermore’s plan, she didn’t dare do so. The consequences would be too great.
Once, long ago, when Exile had been young and new to her powers, she’d thought that she could be a hero…that she could save lives and perform great deeds. However, she’d soon discovered that her powers were greater than she’d ever suspected, and that using them had a great cost.
For her, the cost had been her family…who had had accidentally been erased from existence, as though they had never even been born. She herself, was now a paradox, a being who shouldn’t exist…yet did. At other times, the consequences had been even more drastic and far reaching.
“The only thing more frustrating than being powerless,” Exile said with a sigh, “is being too powerful to risk using it.”
Exile closed her eyes as she pushed back the old feelings of guilt, as well as the temptation to help now. After a minute, she opened her eyes and let out another long sigh. She returned her attention to the images in front of her, and the current events they depicted. Though she couldn’t help the heroes, she could wish them luck…and did.
The door to the small office said that it belonged to an insurance agent named Allison Hargreaves. However, with the current situation in Baltimore, Sam had absolutely no idea if Allison was even still alive, or if she’d ever see this office again.
Just a short time ago, Sam had entered the building with her team, finding that the building seemed to be completely empty. However, there was lots of evidence that the creatures they’d encountered earlier had previously rampaged within. Most of the bottom two floors were torn to pieces, though as they made their way up the stairs to the fifth floor, they found things more intact. Allison’s office didn’t even look like it had been touched at all.
Sam was crouching down on her knees, positioned so that she could easily look out the office window without being noticed form the other side. She looked over the rest of the group, most of whom were similarly positioned.
Poison sat back, staring out the window with an intense look in her eyes. She was taking this reconnaissance mission that they’d volunteered for, very seriously. Alleycat paced back and forth on the opposite side of the room, pausing each round to look through the window, before she went back to pacing. Deadbeat stayed by the door, keeping watch in case anyone…or any THING came towards them from the hall.
“I can’t believe how bad that is,” Witch Girl said, verbalizing the very thing that Sam had been thinking. She was staring out the window with a worried expression.
Sam watched Witch Girl for a moment, thinking that the teenage girl looked far too young to be in a situation like this. Of course, she looked to be about the same age, but in her case, the youth was just an illusion. And then, Sam thought of their missing team members, the ones who should have been there with them, but weren’t.
Mystik was gone, having left them all to return to the base camp. Sam envied her a little, being able to leave this nightmare behind. At the same time, she couldn’t help but feeling that Mystik was abandoning them and had run away. Intellectually, she knew that this wasn’t the case. Mystik had just used up all her power, and had left before becoming a liability. Or a corpse.
“Mannequin,” Sam whispered, thinking of their other missing member. She hadn’t known the android woman very well, she but she felt a knot in her stomach when she thought about the way she’d been murdered.
“Loki will pay for Mannequin,” Poison promised. “And Nevermore will pay for everything else…”
Sam nodded at that, knowing that Mannequin hadn’t been the only casualty. She had no idea how many innocent people had been murdered because of Nevermore, only that a lot more would be killed unless they stopped that monster. With that, she looked back out the window.
From her position, Sam could clearly see a black and ruined space, which appeared to have once been a park. She could see bits and pieces of things like benches and playground equipment around the edges, though all of it had been melted and warped. However, it wasn’t what had been in this area that interested Sam, but what was there now.
Creatures, like what she’d encountered before, surrounded the outer edges of the blackened area and filled the nearby streets. As many as she’d already destroyed, there were at least three times that number gathered nearby. Those creatures were vicious, nasty, and evil, but even though there was an army of them, they still weren’t what really concerned Sam.
In the center of that dead and blackened area, was a black stone throne, which appeared to rest on top of a pile of human skulls. Nevermore sat in the throne, definitely female, though Sam couldn’t see her well enough to know if she was using the same body as the last time they’d encountered each other, or a different one. What she did know, was that she could feel Nevermore’s dark power, like an itch that demanded to be scratched.
Nevermore was not alone. Two men stood beside her throne, one on each side. Both were dressed in black, though one appeared to be some kind of a ninja while the other wore clothes that looked more like those of a Victorian gentleman. From those two, Sam could feel more of that dark power. It was the same kind of darkness she felt from Nevermore, though not nearly as powerful.
And then, there were three more villains just a short distance in front of Nevermore. Sam immediately recognized Force, the Scepter, and the female Loki who’d murdered Mannequin. Since the three of them were present, rather than guarding their obelisk, Sam was confident that they no longer had anything too guard. She knew this as a fact for the Scepter, but was quite confident that it was true for the other two as well.
“At least the Sinner is gone,” Alleycat pointed out. “That bitch was scary…”
“All of them are,” Witch Girl said with a worried look.
Sam nodded at that, then looked around the group, knowing that there was absolutely no way that the five of them would be capable of defeating all of the forces below. All of them together could probably defeat any one of the threats, but not all of them combined.
“Too bad we can’t hear what they’re saying,” Poison commented.
“Um,” Witch Girl started, looking a little chagrinned. “I might be able to help with that…”
“Why didn’t you say anything sooner?” Poison asked in annoyed tone.
Witch Girl looked a little embarrassed, but instead of answering Poison, she began to recite one of her spells, which sounded like it was in Pig Latin. A moment later, Sam suddenly heard Loki’s voice.
“I wiped those heroes out good,” Loki bragged, looking rather smug.
“You also killed the Sinner,” Force pointed out, glaring at Loki. “If you try anything like that with me, I’ll shatter every bone in your body…”
“She thinks she killed us,” Witch Girl e exclaimed. Of course, they’d already assumed as much since Loki had disappeared in the middle of the acid rain.
Poison smiled faintly, though it wasn’t a pleasant smile. “Her assumption is our benefit.”
Nevermore fixed his allies with a cold malevolent gaze and announced, “What I am more concerned about, is that the last pillar has just fallen…”
“WHAT?” Loki exclaimed, suddenly looking worried. “What are we going to do?”
“It is of little consequence,” Nevermore stated. “I have already gathered the power I require. It is less than I had hoped for, yet enough to suffice…”
“Then, what now?” Force demanded. He crossed his arms, looking imposing. “Whatever it is, let’s finish it quickly. I have my own business to take care of…”
“By any chance,” the man in the black Victorian gab asked. “Would this business happen to be with a pink haired girl?”
Force snarled, suddenly looking furious. “Don’t EVER mention her…”
Sam looked to the others, but it was Witch Girl who asked, “Does he mean Lady Knight?”
“Maybe,” Poison answered grimly. “But she wasn’t in the team that was sent after Force, so I don’t know.”
“The barrier is gone,” Nevermore said, looking at each of his allies again. “Soon, the heroes will come. You three need to go deal with them…” She looked at Force. “Show them how powerful you truly are as you crush them beneath your feet.” Her eyes went to Loki. “Unleash all the chaos and destruction upon them that you may…” And then, she turned her attention to the Scepter. “Prove your new power. Prove you are powerful enough to take a place in the new order…”
With that, the three villains turned and hurried off. Force flew up into the air while Loki raised her staff, vanishing a moment later in a flash of lightning. The Scepter remained behind, but not for long. She gestured to Ebon, the large black cat, who immediately came over so that she could climb onto his back. The panther let out a frightening roar, then ran off with his rider.
Once the three villains were gone, the man in the black Victorian garb asked Nevermore, “Do you think the three of them can defeat all the gathered heroes?”
Nevermore was silent for several seconds before answering, “It does not matter… Even if all three are slain, they will delay the heroes until it is too late…”
“We need to warn the others,” Alleycat blurted out, looking just as worried as Sam felt.
“If they’ve got Force, Loki, and the Scepter coming for them,” Sam agreed, “they need to know…”
Witch Girl removed her witch hat and rubbed her temples. “If the barrier is down,” she said after a moment, “I can probably send a message to my dad…”
“Then get to it,” Poison told her, only taking her eyes from the window for a moment.
While Witch Girl began to cast another spell, Sam watched Nevermore, who stood up and left her throne. She felt a knot in her stomach, still not sure what Nevermore was up to, only that it was very VERY bad. She took a deep breath, knowing that she had to stop Nevermore, but not being sure she could. After all, Sam seriously doubted whether she and her team would be capable of stopping Nevermore and her army of monsters.
“We have to try,” Sam muttered. “If we don’t at least try…”
But just then, Nevermore stopped in front of a black stone arch, which stood about twenty feet high. She held out her hands, and suddenly, red and purple lightning shot back and forth within the arch. Sam froze, feeling the sense of darkness growing more powerful. Before she could say anything, the insides of the stone arch began to glow with shimmering veil of red and black energy.
“She made a portal,” Witch Girl exclaimed, staring out the window with a look of shock and fear.
Alleycat quickly added, “It looks a bit like the ones the Face makes…”
“But where does it go?” Poison asked.
However, Witch Girl just shook her head, sounding worried as she admitted, “I don’t know…”
Suddenly, something emerged from the portal…a black bird that flew straight out of it. The raven swooped through the air, doing a quick circle around the dead and blackened park, then came back down, landing on the back of Nevermore’s throne. The raven looked around with glowing red eyes, then called out, “Nevermore…”
“It is I,” Nevermore answered. The raven nodded at that, then let out an eerie sounding ‘KAW’.
As soon as the raven let out that cry, a second raven flew out of the portal, followed by a third and fourth. Ravens began to pour out of the portal, darkening the sky above before each found a perch. Soon, every phone and powerline was filled with black birds, each of which stared down at the portal. Others began to land on the ground, where they flapped their wings and began to transform.
The first raven transformed into a man, with black armor and glowing red eyes. The one beside him became a woman, wearing an outfit similar to the ninja. In less than a minute, a hundred ravens had taken human form, each with glowing red eyes and black garb of one style or another. Most were visibly armed.
“Oh no,” Sam gasped, feeling the darkness that radiated from each of these ravens. But as horrific as that was, she could feel an even greater darkness coming from the portal.
Ravens had ceased emerging from the portal, yet now, something else was stepping through. Sam stared in horror as a woman appeared. From where Sam was, the pale skinned woman seemed tall, lithe, and beautiful. She wore a long black dress that somehow seemed to swirl and move independent from her movements. Her long hair was black as night and draped behind her, almost vanishing into the darkness of her dress. The only true bits of color came from her glowing red eyes, and the silvery crown upon her head.
To Sam’s complete and utter shock, Nevermore immediately dropped to her knees and bowed. “Welcome, my queen…”
All of the transformed ravens dropped to their knees to bow, while the man in the black Victorian clothing, called out, “ALL HAIL THE QUEEN OF RAVENS.”
“ALL HAIL THE QUEEN OF RAVENS,” the gathered soldiers yelled back.
Witch Girl looked around at the other heroes, her eyes wide. “This isn’t good, is it?”
“No,” Sam answered in a shaky voice. “No it isn’t.”
“Baron Nevermore,” the Queen of Ravens announced. “You have completed your task and brought me to this world. For this, you have earned my favor.”
“It was my honor,” Nevermore responded while still bowing.
“Arise my new consort,” the Queen of Ravens told her. With that, not only did Nevermore stand, but so did the army of raven solders. The Queen of Ravens looked Nevermore over for a moment, then commented, “As my consort, you will require a more appropriate form…”
The Queen of Ravens held up her hand and suddenly, Nevermore’s body began to shift and change, growing larger and more muscular. Seconds later, she was no longer a she. From what Sam could see, Nevermore had become a man again, with a well-trimmed black beard.
Sam gulped at the sight, then looked to the other heroes. All of them had pressed up to the window to get a better look, and each of the others looked just as stunned by these events as she felt.
“Baron Nevermore,” Poison stated in a grim tone that matched her expression. “Why do I feel like we just jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire?”
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