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The Blister Boyz
Chapter 32: The Viper Bites

by Redspkscott

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Copyright on this story text belongs at all times to the original author only, whether stated explicitly in the text or not. The original date of posting to the MMSA was: 22 Aug 2008

The Blister Boyz
Ch. 32: The Viper Bites

The heroes:
Troy Manning – Heat Blister
Jason Klein – Ice Hazer
David Mercer – Smaqdown
Dennis Lowder – The Humiliator
Walt Hemingway – Major Fry
Brian Tannon – Murky Menace
Jorge Vasquez – Poison Punisher
Keith Grady – The Sticking Point

Most of the Blister Boyz were a bit confused and introspective about what they had learned, but not Jason. He was positively enthusiastic – almost giddy. This was validation of his studies, his argument that there were people who had developed a dependency on corporal punishment for personal development. Even though he got an A on his research paper, his human sexuality professor did question him that perhaps he was overanalyzing a fairly common sexual fetish to make it more than it was. She knew Omega Upsilon Chi's reputation and that Jason was a member and wondered if there wasn't just a little bit of self-justification going on.

After the team broke up for the previous night, Jason wandered around cornering any monk he could find, questioning them about what prompted them to join the Adepts of Discipline. He became a bit of a chatterbox, which happened sometimes when Jason got to talking about corporal punishment. David loved to talk about it, too, and that created a good bond between them when Troy, David's best buddy early on in college, hooked up with Jason. Troy didn't talk about it as much – he preferred to just do it – and eventually he had to give Jason an evening paddling just to calm him down a bit, find focus, and relax so he could sleep.

But the next morning, Jason was up before Troy wandering around the caves and learning, learning, learning. He let some of the monks give him his morning paddling to activate his powers and activated his bun warmers in the seat of his costume to keep his ass good and sore and his powers focused. Then he simply joined the monks analyzing various punishment occurrences taking place in Paragon City, adding his own insights. It was like he had already agreed to join.

After a while, the Augurer stopped by, following his discussion with Dennis, to see how Jason was doing.

"Why am I not surprised to see you fitting right in?" he asked. The big linebacker blushed a bit and grinned.

"Has everybody read my report?"

"Yes. It's actually now mandatory reading for new adepts. While it's a bit simplistic, given that you're only an undergraduate and was unfamiliar with the secret of Oranbega, it serves as a great starting off point for new monks trying to understand what they're observing."

The Augurer wandered around a bit looking at various reports the monks were putting together. It was clear to Jason that the mage was in charge of this element of discipline research.

"Sir, now that you're here," one of the monks piped up, "It looks like there was a bit of a spike in pain energy last night. The Freakshow may have been running their arena. If you would lead us in the chant, we can pull up visions of the event."

"Oh, that's good timing. Jason, since you're so interested. I want you to see this. Remember when I mentioned last night that there were two villain groups who actually produce a lot of discipline energy instead of abuse energy? Take a look at these guys."

Augurer and the monks began a deep chant and the big red crystal began to glow. Soon the images visible in the facets appeared to run in reverse. Eventually it settled on a view of a huge rooftop in some hazy industrial community.

"This is in Crey's Folly," the Augurer explained. Crey's Folly was one of the more ruined and dangerous areas of Paragon City. It was once the major research and industrial hub of the city. In the Rikti invasion a major Crey Industries research facility was targeted and destroyed, filling the area with nasty pollution and toxic fog. No industry took place there any longer. Instead, it was full of remaining Rikti aliens raiding these abandoned buildings for their technology, as well as strange animated plant and rock creatures known as the Devouring Earth, who apparently harbor some ill will toward humanity over these incidents. It was also the main gathering place for the Freakshow, cybernetic punk anarchists who live to cause trouble for authorities and the Paragon City establishment.

The walled-off area was far too dangerous for heroes as untrained and inexperienced as the Blister Boyz, and they lacked the proper security clearance to enter. However, more established heroes were sent on missions in there to try to facilitate cleaning up the area. As Jason watched, three of these heroes were dragged up to the center of the rooftop in the middle of a huge crowd of Freakshow.

"The Blood Brothers," one of the monks explained, looking through a computer database nearby. "These three guys are Army vets who developed powers from blood exposure to strange Rikti energies when they were injured together during the war. After so many heroes got killed, they decided to step up and help refill the ranks once they recovered. The one Jason's size with the flak jacket over the gray and brown unitard is Blockade – he's got super strength." Indeed, it took six guys to keep the muscleman from tearing free, and Jason doubted they'd be able to manage it without the additional strength accorded by their cybernetic arms.

"The guy in blue with the flight jacket and high-tech goggles is Kickback. He can fly and shoot energy blasts. It's a little like Smaqdown's energy fists but as a beam blast. He can knock a guy clear across the room with them, which is how he got his codename." The man struggled, but the Freakshow had his hands fairly well bound, making targeting impossible. It also turned out some Freakshow could fly, which Jason didn't know. They hovered overhead in case Kickback tried to escape.

"The last guy in the yellow and white spandex is Fuse. He has fire generation abilities, but without Heat Blister's range. He can actually set himself on fire and fight that way, burning people with his fists, without hurting himself. He can also explode with fiery heat that burns anybody close to him." As if on cue, Fuse pulled that trick, setting the three Freakshow dragging him to the center of the roof on fire. Unfortunately, his freedom was short lived as another group assaulted him. The burned Freakshow rolled around on the rooftop in pain. Nobody bothered to help them.

"What's about to happen?" Jason asked.

"It's the arena," the Augurer said. "You'll have to see it to believe it."

The Freakshow all hooted and hollered as the Blood Brothers were forced to the center of the roof. Peering closely, Jason could make out hundreds upon hundreds of Freakshow gathered around the edge of the roof or hovering in the air overhead. There was no way these three would escape on their own.

The cheering increased in volume as the rooftop fire exit door burst open and a humongous, hulking Freakshow man stomped out. His arms and legs were replaced with cybernetics and he was covered in an exoskeleton. One hand was a hammer; the other was a claw. He had a red mohawk and a vicious sneer.

"That's Spanktank," one of the monks explained.

"Spanktank?" Jason asked. "I think I see where this is going."

"It's actually spelled Sp4nkt4nk for some reason," the Augurer said. "They tell me it has something to do with the Internet and hackers."

Spanktank gave out a tremendous roar and cheering grew even louder. Eventually it tapered off as the giant stared at the Blood Blothers with an evil grin. The brothers glared right back, not showing any fear.

"Welcome to the arena, heroes! I haven't seen the three of you up here before, so I guess it's your lucky night. Since you're new, I'll go over the rules."

"We won't play your stupid games!" Kickback shouted. The Freakshow hooted as Spanktank rolled his eyes.

"Rule number one: Please spare us all the stupid fucking hero speeches, okay? You will play our games and let me show you why." Two Freakshow came over to Spanktank and with a couple of power tools, quickly unfastened and removed Spanktank's hammer hand. One of them held up a fairly large, flat metal attachment with holes drilled in it.

"It's a paddle!" Jason practically laughed as the paddle was attached to Spanktank's arm. "Oh, Jesus, this town's insane."

"If you want to forfeit, I'm betting you know what you're in for," Spanktank said as he gave the paddle a good hard swing. The wind whistled. "But you see, this is a legitimate game. You can win, you know. It's happened."

"Jacob has won this little fight a couple of times," the Augurer explained. "He actually likes to lose though, as you can probably guess. But Spanktank is telling the truth."

"There are five fights through groups of my Freakshow pals. You will be freed to fight each wave. Use your powers all you like – my boys can take it. If they couldn't they wouldn't be my boys any more. O' course your goal is to kick their asses until they can't fight no more."

"Then what happens?" Blockade asked. Spanktank pointed to a nearby metal trellis, which Jason thought was a crane arm. Looking more closely though, Jason could see a chain running through it leading to and through a large window broken open in the next building. Attached to the chain were large hooks, and as Jason watched, the chain began moving, pulling the hooks into the building.

"Over there is what we call the Fun House," Spanktank said. "Any of my boys you beat get hooked up to that chain and go on a fun little journey where they learn a valuable life lessons. Particularly why it's bad to lose. The lessons are applied to their failure punk asses. It takes a while because my boys try hard, you know, but they're kinda slow learners."

"What's in that building?" Jason asked.

"We'll show you in a minute. It's exactly what you probably think it is."

"A giant spanking machine?"


"Your last match will be against me. And I swear to you, if you win, my boys are instructed to hook me right up to this machine same as them. You can even help if it makes you feel righteous."

"This is true. Jacob has done it. Sent Spanktank right into the Fun House himself."


"And I'm gonna be kind since this is your first trip up here," Spanktank continued. "I never send heroes to the Fun House after their first loss. I'll take care of your punishment for trying to take us on myself, and even gently drop you guys off at the entrance to Brickstown so you can limp your way to the hospital. But if you ever set foot in Crey's Folly again I figure you must be masochists and then maybe I'm doing you a favor if I send you into the Fun House. We clear?"

The Blood Brothers all looked at each other. Fuse shrugged. It wasn't like they had a choice.

"We accept your terms," Fuse said. "Bring it on, you little punks!"

"Now we're talking!" Spanktank hollered. The Freakshow hooted their approval. Spanktank pointed to various men in the crowd. Ten men made their way out of the crowd to circle the Blood Brothers. These were essentially the lesser ranks of Freakshow. They had minor cybernetics compared to the others. They were well-muscled young street thugs with crazy hair, torn mesh, leather and denim clothes, strange facial tattoos and the occasional safety pin piercing.

"GET 'EM!" Spanktank shouted. The ten charged the Blood Brothers. Jason watched as the heroes cleaned the roof with the ten men. They were indeed serious heroes. It took less than three minutes to put the ten punks out of commission. Spanktank was as good as his word. The other Freakshow grabbed the losers as they were recovering from the fight and tied their hands behind their backs with tough wire. They dragged the men over to the chain and began hooking them up through their metal belt loops. This left them hanging as though they were standing bent over, their hands tied behind their backs and their asses extremely vulnerable. The men were slowly fed into the Fun House.

"Switch to a Fun House view so Jason can see what happens," the Augurer ordered. The monks chanted briefly and the point of view changed. Jason watched from inside as the first Freakshow was fed through the window, struggling in his bondage without getting anywhere.

Then Jason could make out the inside of the building. It was a six-story building that had been hollowed out in the inside. Instead it had been replaced with a massive automated machine. A giant spanking machine. Robotic claw arms ripped out the seat of the Freakshow's black jeans, leaving his round naked bottom exposed. After a few more feet, metal arms wielding paddles moved into position. A loud air horn blew and suddenly the paddles began smacking the young punk's ass, the sound of the swats and his cries of pain echoing through the facility. It took two minutes of travel before he passed out of the range of the paddle arms. The arms moved back to their start position as the next Freakshow was drawn down the line to start his punishment. It was like an assembly line for pain. The giant machine had dozens of sections like this with all kinds of implements. There was a section where the Freakshow was drawn through a series of straps attached to fast, powerful spinners. They slapped ruthlessly against the man's ass as he passed them, like a sadistic carwash device.

"I used to ... I used to fantasize about a machine like this," Jason said in awe.

"Here's the interesting thing about the Freakshow and the Fun House. What are the readings, guys?"

"The Freakshow are all burning blue, boss," one monk said.

"They're producing discipline energy?" Jason asked.

"Yes. Whenever they lose, they think they deserve punishment. The Freakshow are a huge source of discipline energy in Paragon City, which is a problem because they're also a threat to society. It's a strange contradiction we can't wrap our heads around. These guys will burn blue until about three-quarters of the circuit. Then it gets too intense for them and it becomes abuse. A full circuit takes about 90 minutes."

Jason's mind started spinning as he watched the Freakshow suffer in the Fun House. Jason noticed that the Blood Brothers must have won the second round, too, as more Freakshow were fed through the window.

"They're rebels, obviously. Or predominantly rebels," he mused. "But ... they lack a good enforcer. Spanktank looks like he's their enforcer, but he's not, is he?"

"We think he has some enforcer in him," the Augurer said. "But encouraging rebels to break the law is obviously not a pure manifestation of that role."

"Can a person be mixed between discipline and abuse influences?" Jason asked. "I mean, you say Keith's role is to help teach abuser types that there's a better way with discipline. People aren't just going to switch, right? There's gotta be a transition."

The monks all looked at each other and then to the Augurer. He nodded.

"An interesting theory," he said. "And there's some evidence to support it. The Freakshow are also active in the Rogue Islands. You'll be interested to note that they cause just as much trouble for the establishment there. But because the Rogue Islands are a repressive, violent place, the Freakshow are actually treated like heroes by many of the downtrodden citizens."

"Most of the Freakshow are rebels looking for a strong enforcer to rein them in," Jason mused. "The leadership wants to be enforcers, but I'm guessing there's nobody holding them accountable?"

"You're right. They're anarchists, of course, so very little leadership or direction. They have Dreck, the big Freakshow in charge, but he's not some mastermind like Nemesis or Countess Crey."

"So, they don't have any equalizers, like you or Dennis, to hold leaders accountable." He tilted his head to the side while looking at the crystal. "That's what they want the heroes to do. Subconsciously they want the heroes to rein them in. But the heroes have to prove they're powerful enough to do it. Could it be that the Freakshow were rebels drawn here by Oranbega when they were all human, but then because abuse was dominant over discipline here they got led astray? After all, punks tended to avoid us jocks in school, so they probably never drew Omega Upsilon Chi's attention."

The men had all stopped their work to stare at Jason.

"These guys were probably meant to be the punk version of us, I bet," he mused. "I know there's a lot of punk types into the S&M stuff, so it's possible."

"Maybe if we handle this right, they could be someday," the Augurer said. "I see new Freakshow have stopped getting fed into the Fun House." There were about 40 of them now filling up the Fun House with their cries and objections as dozens of punishment implements blistered their bottoms. "I'm guessing the Blood Brothers must have lost. Return to our original view."

As the crystal headed back, sure enough, the heroes had fallen. Spanktank had Kickback forcibly bent over under his claw arm with his pants down. His muscular ass looked good and raw as Spanktank viciously assaulted him with the metal paddle. He kicked his feet in defiance, but Spanktank was even stronger than Blockade. There was no escaping the thirty minutes of non-stop paddling Spanktank was going to inflict on him.

"Kickback's burning blue, boss," one of the monks observed.

"I'm not surprised," the Augurer said. "These guys are tough. Ex-military. Probably plenty of enforcer influence on them. They think they deserve to be punished for losing, just like the Freakshow. That's a good sign. They might stick around when Paragon City starts to change."

"What does that mean?" Jason asked.

"That's a discussion your partner is probably having with Andrew right now," The Augurer explained. "There are a lot of issues and problems that face us in the coming months. How Paragon City's existing hero community reacts is something we're going to have to deal with."

Jason furrowed his brow and thought about The Augurer's words as he watched Spanktank grab the hulking Blockade, bend him over the metal guard rail on the side of the roof and paddle him until he bawled like a naughty little boy.

* * *

When Troy finally did rise, his first thoughts as he tracked down the waterfall shower were not of himself. Instead his mind went back to the previous evening and dwelled on how each of the Blister Boyz reacted to this information. Some of the boys handled it just fine. Jason, he knew, loved this information and was no doubt driving the other monks crazy with his questions. Walt, though, had some issues and Troy was going to have to talk to him to make sure things were square. Walt had a way of bearing a grudge. His paddling at Andrew's hands might have helped resolve that issue.

After the shower, Troy realized he didn't have Jason around to activate his powers. After thinking about it for a minute as he dressed himself back in his Heat Blister costume, he realized he wanted to have a private meeting with Andrew Porter anyway, so he'd ask the frat's international president to give him a quick paddling to get his powers functioning.

After questioning a few monks, he found his way to Andrew's office, who was looking over some paperwork on his desk already.

"Hey there, Troy!" he said brightly as Troy entered. "I was gonna send a monk to find you, but I had a strong suspicion you'd come see me on your own." He sighed as he looked over the paperwork. "Ratings. Wrestling dropped two percent over last week. Lawrence is going to have my ass for that."

"Is that how it works for you two?" Troy asked.

"Yes," Andrew explained. "I don't 'misbehave,' of course, but I need somebody to hold me accountable to my goals to keep me pushing forward. Stagnation or, worse, a step backward means a hefty dose of the paddle. It's just the grown up version of the frat boys who get paddled for bad grades."

"Speaking of the paddle, Jason is off exploring already this morning. Any chance I could impose on you to give me a few swats so that my powers will activate?" Troy explained that he had instituted a rule that they activated their powers every morning in the event of another ambush following Dr. Vahzilok's discovery of their identities.

"Sure, I could use the exercise," Andrew grinned. He pulled out his frat paddle and ordered Troy into the traditional ankle-grabbing frat position, spandex pulled down to his thighs.

"I don't get to paddle guys in this position much any more. It's always over the desk with the whole business motif. I could use the variety." Andrew, Troy had already painfully learned, was a masterful paddler. Here, he was able to perfectly slam the paddle against Troy's cheeks so that he caused the maximum amount of sting, but the force wasn't so hard that Troy would lose his balance. That was a game you played when you wanted to torment the pledges with extra licks if they fell over, but this wasn't such a case. Five minutes of good hard swats got Troy's ass good and red. The blond quarterback winced in pain with the swats, but avoided the kind of emotional display like the one from the limo paddling.

Troy pulled his pants back up and sat down gingerly in front of Andrew's desk as Andrew returned to his seat.

"So, let's talk about the future," Andrew said as he settled back in.

"I don't suppose there's a crystal that will show us that, too?" Troy asked. "It'll make things a lot easier." Andrew laughed.

"Nope," Andrew said. "Believe it or not, free will is still in play here. I have no intention of trying to force any of the Blister Boyz's hands with this information."

"You don't have to, though, do you?" was Troy's response. "You know full well that it would be our inclination to help with this once you told us about it. You had to know that none of us would walk away knowing that we can play an important role in keeping the city from being enslaved by evil abusers."

"This is true. To be blunt, I've already moved forward with a few plans on the assumption that you would at least be open to these new roles." Troy nodded. "However, I want to make this perfectly clear: I have absolutely no intention of usurping your role as leader of the Blister Boyz. I will not be giving you orders. I don't have a clue what it's like to be a hero. But I can give plenty of advice, and Blitz Media will be fully bankrolling all your needs."

"Wow. Really?"

"We have ten floors underground. I'm clearing out the seventh floor for your needs. Having the frat serve as the base is a bit of a danger. Of course, I imagine you won't really want to move out of the frat house until graduation. But it'll be there to plan and practice and do your ... hero business ... as needed. It will also give you easy access to these caverns and the advice of the adepts."

"What are we going to do with the other boys? The ones who didn't join? I'm going to guess you'd rather not fill them in on all this just yet, right?"

"Correct. The eight of you fit well together in one team based on the discipline archetypes. It would be preferable to keep the group intact as is. However, I'll trust your judgment if you decide to bring more Blister Boyz into the fold."

"I think the size of the team right now is the most I can manage."

"There's more, however. We do want to encourage the other boys to consider ultimately becoming heroes. There's a larger issue."

"What do you mean?"

"Let me show you." Andrew grabbed a device off his desk that looked like a remote control and walked over to the large crystal that had been installed in the room.

"This remote is actually magical," he explained. "The Augurer enchanted it for me so I could keep an eye on things without having to bother the monks every time." He clicked a few buttons and the crystal started to glow. Images of discipline began to flicker across the facets.

"Here's a very important thing to understand about Paragon City," he explained. "Oranbega drew most of the villains here, that much is pretty clear. Sure there are a number of them that are motivated by pure greed, but as you watch these scenes, you'll see that pretty much every single major villain organization in the city manifests some sort of abuse against the heroes and citizens here." Troy watched as various punishment images flickered across the facets. The Circle of Thorns mages converted another two young men into satyrs. Another hapless new hero got the baseball bat treatment from a Hellion leader in Perez Park. A crew of construction workers in Founder's Falls were bound up in roots drawn from the earth and were being flogged by angry tree creatures of Devouring Earth. He even witnessed a few seconds of Major Fry and the Sticking Point getting electropaddled by the Clockwork.

"Most of the heroes here have been drawn here not by Oranbega, but by the villains. Most of them are not motivated by pain the way you guys are. They're here because they're needed. As a hero grows more powerful and starts taking on the secrets of the city, they eventually uncover much of this story on their own. They don't know as much as we've told you, but all the major heroes of the city have a pretty good sense of the corporal punishment tendencies. They don't like it." He flicked through a few more images of punishment.

"Some of the big-name heroes know the whole truth and know me and the secrets of Omega Upsilon Chi. When you guys first hit the scene I got calls pretty quickly from a couple of them wondering if I was responsible. You see, they're hoping for heroes like you to rise up from the ranks. They want heroes who are motivated by pain."

"Why is that?" Troy asked.

"Because they don't want to be here," Andrew explained. "They're not motivated by pain, but they understand that the only true counter to the forces of abuse is the countermeasure of discipline. But because they're heroes, they're not going to turn their backs on their sense of duty. So they stay and fight and try to keep people safe. An irony though, is that when they lose they make the situation worse. Because unlike Walt and Keith, when they get captured and paddled by the Clockwork, they produce abuse energy. They actually perpetuate the problem. They help make the Circle of Thorns stronger."

"Wow." Troy watched the images flicker by. "You need new heroes to replace them so they can go fight villains elsewhere."

"Yes. The good news is that once we figure out away for Paragon City to become a little more open about its corporal punishment tendencies, we probably will draw some more discipline-focused heroes who haven't been drawn into Oranbega's orbit yet."

"But, doesn't Paragon City have thousands of heroes? Will we get that many?"


"That's a problem."

"Yes. I need to show you something. I need to trust that you will keep this to yourself for now. It is too dangerous for others to know, even the rest of the team." Andrew strode back to his desk. The crystal flickered back to darkness. Troy nervously trailed after him.

"I don't like keeping secrets."

"I know," Andrew said. "That's how you ended up down here several weeks before we were ready for you and with a blistered ass. Nevertheless, this is important."

Troy thought it over. Despite his anger at Andrew and Pete's secrecy, once he found out the truth he understood and agreed with their decision. He had to trust that Andrew had good reason yet again.

"Okay. You've proven yourself right so far." Andrew pulled out a set of keys and unlocked the bottom drawer of his desk. He pulled out a lockbox and set it on top. He dialed a combination on the box and popped open the top. Wordlessly, he spun the box around and showed the contents to Troy. It was full of vials of some unidentified chemicals.

"What are those?" He asked.

"This is PSGE-398," Andrew said, "also known as Posterior Stimulus Gene Enhancer." Troy stared at him blankly. "This is the chemical that gave you boys your powers." Troy exhaled with a whistle and leaned back in his chair.

"You may recall Pete telling you guys they tracked down barrels of some chemical from the warehouse where you boys were all exposed."

"Obviously you didn't dispose of the stuff."

"Obviously. Furthermore, we researched it and can duplicate ourselves, though it takes a while."

"I'm beginning to think it was not an accident we were exposed to that stuff. Were you involved?"

"No, not at all. However..." Andrew paused to choose his words carefully. "There's a lot about how the magic of Oranbega works that we don't know. The Augurer is fairly certain it creates some sort of magical field that alters probability. To make an environment that gives those motivated by pain what they need ... for better or worse. How else does that magic pull work? It doesn't eliminate free will, but things happen that encourage those motivated by pain to remain here and succeed here. I don't think it's a coincidence that you boys were exposed, but I can't really explain how it just so happened that a bunch of boys into spanking ended up exposed to a chemical that gives them powers for doing what they're naturally inclined to do."

"It makes a certain sense." Andrew nodded.

"So this chemical, to be honest with you, is intended to give powers to those we believe can handle the responsibility, are motivated by discipline, and will want to be heroes here." Troy cocked an eyebrow and looked up at the ceiling and laughed.

"Gee, where would we find men like that?"

"Does the idea of turning the fraternity into a breeding ground for new heroes, bother you?"

"Yes ... no. I don't know. ... It feels like social engineering." Andrew nodded.

"But what you have to realize now, based on what you've seen here, is that our fraternity was founded to engage in discipline-related social engineering."

"Can you promise me that anybody we approach will have complete understanding of what it means for them and what the consequences will be prior to any exposure? And that they will have no obligation, even if they accept, to serve us?"

"Absolutely. Free will, always. There's always a choice."

"Well, as much as Oranbega gives us, apparently," Troy muttered. Andrew nodded in understanding as he picked up the lockbox and prepared to shut it away again.

Troy noticed a flicker, almost, to his right, like a slight heat distortion in the air next to desk. Before his mind had time to process what was happening, somebody manifested out of nowhere in that spot. It was the young men in the black and red vest and black pants who rescued him from the Circle of Thorns mages back in Perez Park just a couple of days ago. His sword moved in a blur before Troy could react.

Two things happened: one bad, one horrifying. With a flick of the sword, the lockbox was hurled from Troy's desk. The vials flew from the box and clattered to the rock floor, cracking open and dumping their contents. The sword work continued as Troy, distracted, watched the lockbox fly. Then he heard Andrew gasp. Troy quickly turned back to see a red stripe slashed across Andrew's chest. Blood began to seep out and he collapsed back in his chair. Less than three seconds had passed.

"NO!" Troy screamed. Instinctively, he lashed out with a burst of flame, but the man, the bottom half of his face obscured with a black ninja mask, was already running. The fireball struck a nearby wall as the man fled from the hall.

"HELP! ANDREW'S DOWN!" Troy shouted. He heard the commotion out in the hall and resisted the urge to run out to assist. Andrew needed help. He pulled Andrew out of the chair and laid him flat on the floor. The big man was breathing shallowly, and clearly in shock. Troy began pulling off Andrew's shirt. One of the monks ran in and started to freak out as he took in the scene.

"Get me Poison Punisher – Jorge! Now!" He ordered. The man ran back out. "Why? Why? Why?" Troy muttered angrily as he checked Andrew's vitals. Why would a guy who had saved him from the Circle of Thorns turn around and try to kill Andrew?

NEXT: Another villainous interlude!

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