People Hurting People
by Scott Bennie, John Guilfoyle, Paul Cocker,
Sarah Del Collo, and Bob Mervine


There are limits to the amount of pain and sorrow that even an egocentric soul will endure, and Tom Champion had reached his limits days ago. The bereaved fog that had clouded him since his girlfriend's death was beginning to lift, but cognizance did not heal the wounds, it poured salt in them. Sarah was certainly a strong tether to keep him from falling into the abyss, but there was another thing that his spirit craved, and that was a good fight. For all his heroism -- and Omega was a hero -- there was a large part of him that reveled in bringing pain and suffering to others. Omega was a man who craved the sight of a tough man's blood caked on his knuckles; it was a Kansas City T-Bone steak for his soul.

And what better place to go looking for pain than a biker bar?

Tom Champion entered the Pig Pitt in his costume, knowing it would make him an outsider, a target. It was a deliberate provocation, as was his curly blond hair, his pretty smile, his boyish features. Youth had given Omega a slightly effeminate look; he was handsome in a way that would strike these people in their gut and in their balls, making them sick enough to fight. The place was dark and loud, and Tommy's smile got larger as he saw contempt pass over the faces of tough men, and a few tough women. Soon, some of them would be broken, and he might, just might, break enough of a sweat to notice.

The Pig Pitt was normally overflowing with drunken, masculine banter, but for the first time in anyone's memory it fell silent except for the music, southern '80s rock played at a drone with too much treble, the opposite of the bass-heavy clubs that Tommy frequented on the West Coast. Tommy concentrated for a moment, and all sounds around him dimmed, except for the sound of his voice.

"I'm looking for a man with a chainsaw," Omega announced.

There was a long pause. "Why, you got a tree that needs cutting?" Junkyard Joe, one of the regulars, half-snorted. He thinks he's making a joke. His fellow bikers think he's making a joke. Omega smiled too, but not from the joke -- from anticipation.

"Hey man, great joke," Omega said to Junkyard. The biker just grins and wonders what he's going to do next to get under the superhero's skin. "But I've got another one for you," the Nebraskan added.

The smile quickly vanished from Junkyard Joe's face, as Tommy grabbed his left shoulder, and slowly squeezed it. He squeezed it. And squeezed it. And his smile got larger.

And then Junkyard Joe made an inhaling howl, and then a scream, and then there was a cracking sound.

"Cracks you up, donít it?" Omega added in a flat voice.

Naturally, everyone in the bar was suddenly mute. Omega let go of the shoulder, then kicked the chair out from under him as an added insult. He ignored Junkyard Joe, who writhed in pain on the floor. It was the other patrons who interested him. Tommy inspected their faces in triumph.

"I've got a whole comedy routine to share. Did you ever hear about the superhero who had a real shitty week?" Omega asked, casually breaking a table in two with a punch, almost as punctuation for his sentence. "Okay, who wants to hear it?"

The normally rowdy crowd didn't make a sound.

"C'mon! This guy loved it. Everyone was laughing a minute ago. Take a look at the guy in the faggot suit who's lost his job, been framed for murder, had his best friend kidnapped, his girlfriend brutally killed, watched another friend go nuts and try to kill him at her funeral but I'm still smiling!"

For one brief moment in its history, the Pig Pitt was drowning in silent irony.

Omega scanned the room, looking for tough guys, particularly from those who had too much to drink. He stepped over to a table where a 6'7" tall grizzly bear of a biker was absolutely plastered on his third bottle of tequila; fortunately, Erik "Rotty" Johanssen was a mellow drunk -- he just stared into space. "Hi, I'm Tommy Champion."

The biker blinked. "You don't look like 'Dogleg,'" he muttered.

Tommy didn't understand the reference, and didn't particularly care. "Do I look like something that a dog lifts to take a piss?"

"No."

"Good. That's fucking progress. Now, what can you tell me about a guy in a hockey mask who came here a few nights ago?"

"He killed 'Dogleg,'" Johanssen answered.

"Dogleg?"

"Y'know, Dogleg."

Patience wasn't Omega's strong suit, and what little he had was quickly evaporating. Was this guy drunk or actually giving him useful information? He decided to try mining for information one more time before he got violent again. "What the fuck is a 'Dogleg?'"

"Everyone knows Dogleg."

"And the guy with the mask knew Dogleg?"

"I guess. He killed him. It was almost funny," Johanssen said, taking another drink.

Omega sighed, and tried to hold his temper for just a minute. "What else can you tell me? Did he go after anyone else?"

The biker winced hard, shook his head, and then thought hard for a second. "He couldn't. He had a showdown with the Big Dawg."

"Big Dog?"

"Y'know. Big Dawg."

"The guy who owns the place?" Omega speculated.

"Well, you could say that. Only because he's too tough for anyone to handle," Johanssen responded. "You see that area?" He points to a section of the bar that was taped off. "They tore the place apart."

"So he killed some biker named the Big Dog?" Omega asked.

"Shit no," Johanssen answered. "It ain't that easy. They fought for about thirty seconds, then the cops came, and they went their separate ways. Big Dawg ain't human."

"So he fought a metahuman biker named 'Big Dog?'" Omega asked.

"Well, that's what we call him. Big Dawg, Top Dawg, Big Fucking Dawg, Big Ass Dawg, you know." Johanssen took another drink. "He's got other names, of course."

"And he survived a fight with Hack?"

Omega's question was answered with a nod. Omega bent over the biker's table with extreme interest. "Tell me where I can find this 'Big Dog.'"

*****

Jakob Khan was taking a break from his routine, and for him that meant sex. He had a small retreat in the wilderness near the parkland of north New Jersey, a small cabin that he and his dogs often used to plan their operations. A pair of big-breasted women had strapped themselves to his body and raked his huge, hirsute, iron-thewed frame with sharpened fingernails. To Mastiff, that tickled.

It had been a reasonably quiet night, except for the moaning of his women. He had a tendency of tiring his partners out -- or injuring them, but these girls had stamina. But even sex had its limits for Jakob Khan, who couldn't quite get the fight with that freak show in the Pig Pitt out of his mind. Maybe if he got back on his bike, and returned to New York City, he'd be able to shake off any doubts or injuries he'd sustained in that fight. His back still hurt like a real son of a bitch, but his women were doing their best to make it feel better. They kept dragging him back into bed, even after he had put his clothes back on, they kept trying to seduce him. Mastiff wasn't the sort of person who took anything that even resembling an order from a woman, but he'd let them entice him: they were sexual pilotfish servicing a shark. Finally, they convinced him to surrender to a massage before he hit the road, so Mastiff sat back on the bed and took a deep breath to relax.

And that's when the door came crashing down.

The women huddled over to the side, clutching blankets over their breasts. Mastiff was pissed, but he also sniffed the air to determine what he could smell. A single human male. There was not a lot of sweat, so despite the violence of his entrance, he wasn't angry or nervous. From the posture of the silhouette in the door, he'd guess he was confident. A metahuman or a really stupid federal agent. Either way, interrupting Mastiff in the act of sex, even boring, half-desired sex, was a capital offense.

"You're so dead...," Mastiff snarled.

"Big Dog?" the man said. Mastiff swore he heard that voice before, on television, but couldn't quite place it.

"The name's Mastiff," Jakob Khan answered. "What name should I forget to put on your headstone after I stomp a serious mudhole in your ass?"

"Omega," the intruder said. Mastiff felt a shot of testesterone jolt his system; he stiffened, and felt a slight jolt in his balls. Omega! Everyone had heard of that asshole, but he had no idea that Captain Nike would be stupid enough to invade his turf. Focusing through the night haze, he could now clearly see the symbol on Tommy's chest, the outline of his athletic frame and still-boyish face, and he could sense the smell of arrogance. Jakob could also feel Omega on a visceral level; Omega's powers forced people to notice him physically, to even admire him on some primal, subconscious level and recognize him as an alpha male. Given that Mastiff was also an alpha, that pissed the hell out of him.

"You are so dead," Mastiff repeated, rising out of the bed. Omega had earned a reputation as one of the alpha-level superhumans (possibly even on par with Avatar), but as far as Mastiff was concerned, his rep was just a creation of a corporate publicity machine that spoon-fed the idiots in the American public a shitload of brain-dead hype.

"Before we tussle, how about telling me what you know about Hack?" Tommy asked.

Mastiff laughed. "It ain't that simple, son. I was in the middle of something, and you busted my door and interrupted me. Now I'm gonna rip your throat open and tie your gullet in a bow." The metahuman biker advanced on the superhero, claws bared.

He took a swing at Omega, who deftly blocked the attack by grabbing his right hand and wrenching it. Jakob growled slightly -- he could feel the motion on his injured back, but he wasn't about to show his opponent that he was in pain. Jakob slashed with his other hand, and ended up in a test of strength with his slightly smaller opponent.

And so they struggled. Omega had heard about the biker, heard that he was a strong son of a bitch, but you donít really get to know another manís strength until you start feeling your blood vessels burst when youíre getting up close and personal with him. Granted, the rugged man was solid, roped in powerful sinews, but Omega had fought plenty of "muscle shows," and most of the time they were a disappointment. This time, he was up against a physical peer, and that caught Omega by surprise -- surprise and delight. These were the moments that made Tommy Champion feel alive. It wasnít until Tommy realized that he was having one of those moments that he knew just how dangerous Mastiff was.

The two angled for position, trying to throw each other off balance. Their hands were interlocked, knuckles bone-white, face to snarling face. Finally Mastiff bent Omega's arm back, the biker's greater height granting him a slight advantage. With a ferocious growl, Mastiff bent Omega farther, farther down.

"Shiiiit," Omega groaned unintentionally.

"School's in, kid," Mastiff said through grinding teeth. "The first and only lesson is to not fuck with me."

Omega winced, but then his face turned hard, almost angered. I didn't come hear to get my ass handed to me, he said inwardly, especially by some fucking S&M furball. The young hero flexed, shifted himself to broaden his vertical base, then dug his feet into the ground to use the strength of his powerful legs. Suddenly like that, he began to overcome the brawny biker's leverage advantage and move him back with raw power. Mastiff could see his opponent tense and smell his sweat, he felt the tightness in their bodies as they strained against each other, and he could feel his advantage slip away an inch at a time. Then Omega grunted, and his body convulsed in a wave of power, and Mastiff was finally thrown to his back, where he tumbled and rolled his way back to his feet with a snarl.

"That feels good. I think Iíd call that an 'A,' Teach," Omega mouthed at Mastiff. This was the first real fight that he had had since Rachel died, and the release was incredible. The strength orgasm, the tension that found a sudden release when he won the power contest, that was particularly satisfying. But it's one thing to win a test of strength, another to win the fight. Competing against Mastiff was a marathon endeavor for even the best of heroes -- and no one had ever finished the course.

Mastiff shook his head and let the humiliation sink in for a second. Shit, this guy's strong, he thought. But so am I. He charged Omega, took a swing, and connected. The claw caught Omega in the shoulder, and tore a rip in his costume, but it did little physical damage.

"Goddammit!" he snapped at the six-inch tear in the reinforced spandex suit. "How many times do I have to end up looking like Doc Fucking Savage?"

Mastiff almost smiled, but he didn't get the chance -- Omega caught him in mid-step with a solid clobbering right cross that rocketed him through the heavily reinforced log cabin wall. Omega leapt through the breach, only to run straight into a devastating punch to the face that deflected him like a pinball and sent him hurtling into an oak tree.

"Carve our initials, pretty boy," Mastiff snarled.

Omega got to his feet and grinned. "That's a good one," he mocked. "I was wondering how you wanted to handle the banter in this fight. Do you want to go for 'mock friendly?' How about 'Clint Eastwood tough?' Although with your name and your S&M look, maybe we should shoot for some over the top homosexual slurs. Or bad dog puns."

"Keep trying to talk like a man, kid." Mastiff shook his head. "There's nothing more pathetic than seeing a pansy-ass in ballet tights pretending to be macho."

"Nah. A macho man who gets his ass fucked by Barishnikov, now thatís worse." Omega sighed. "Why donít we try Plan B? You answer a few questions about Hack, and we go our separate ways? As much as I want to do the 'respect dance' with you, I got better things to do."

"Horseshit," Mastiff replied. "Word travels fast, and I heard the last time you met Hack you ran away like a spooked prison bitch. And you wanna mess with me? Go fuck yourself with a shoe."

Omega felt the blood flush his face. "We're dancing, asshole," he snapped.

Omega flew at Mastiff, arms stretched out before him and in fists, like a living torpedo. Mastiff ducked under the charge and came up with his shoulder, ramming Omega square in the stomach. His legs launching him forward, the biker drove Omega back, slamming him into a nearby shed. The two spilled through the shed and fell back against a destroyed wall made from logs, sliding across a steaming floor in a barrage of bark and splinters.

Mastiff tumbled across Omega, tearing at his throat. "You're a shitty dancer, you little puke," he said, as Omega kicked him viciously. Mastiff's claws hooked Tommy's leg and drew blood as he flipped over, the young hero's chin slamming into the tiles, spider-webbing them.

Omega looked around. They were in a spa, or what was left of it. "Where's Hack?" he said, kicking Mastiff, then rolling to his feet.

"I just had this shed built!" Mastiff yelled, as Omega's fist connected with his jaw.

"Send me a bill." Tommy muttered, barely dodging a counterpunch. Shit, Mastiff wasnít just strong -- he was agile, experienced, tough, and just fucking ferocious. "Or better yet, tell me where Hack is, and we can end the bullshit right now."

Omega held Mastiff by the throat. He pushed with his feet and they slid several meters, and now the biker's head was dangling over the edge of the hot tub, the foaming hot water pulsating.

Mastiff kicked out and knocked Omega back. The biker scowled, the fury of his malignant stare on his opponent. "You think you can just come here and pry answers from me? Me? I'm gonna show you a world of pain."

Omega forced a mock laugh. "Do you know how much pain Iíve seen this week alone? What makes yours so goddamn different?"

"You wanna know the difference?" howled Mastiff. "Here's the friggin' difference!"

Mastiff plowed into Omega, pounding savagely at him, giving him no opening to mount any counterattack. The punches echoed like thunder and the ground shock with each strike.

Punctuating each sentence with a seismic punch, Mastiff shouted, "You're a wimp! You're a fake! You're a punk!"

The last punch broke Omega's nose, and as the Nebraskan farmboy went down, the vicious biker kicked him in the stomach for good measure.

Mastiff started to walk away, confidently rolling his shoulders and trying to relax himself. He was sure the fight was finished. But it wasn't. Omega slowly got up on his knees, then lifted himself up entirely.

"And you were showing me a world of pain?" Omega spat, blood pouring from his nose. "If you were a tour guide, Iíd want my fucking money back."

Mastiff spun to face Omega again. Grinning, he said, "Thadda boy. Prove to me that you're not the cupcake that everyone says you are."

With that, Mastiff advanced, claws bared. Omega pivoted away from a feint, only to receive a slash that caught him in the ribs. He responded with a kidney punch and an attempted grapple. Mastiff, having already gotten a taste of his opponent's immense strength, instinctively pushed away. Omega smiled. No words were spoken, but Mastiff knew what the smile meant. Omega recognized his strength advantage, and that Mastiff had conceded it. That was an insult. Mastiff closed back to melee range, slashed at Omega's stomach, dodged another roundhouse, then caught him with a solid fist between the legs. The former farmboy gasped a deep inward breath, then focused through the pain and answered the blow with a hard left uppercut. Mastiff blocked it with a forearm, and delivered a second shot to Omega's balls.

"You shithead...," Omega snorted. He ignored another punch, grabbed Mastiff roughly, and plunged downward. There was nothing below them but bedrock -- so Omega dug a tunnel and forced Mastiff to bear the brunt of its construction. "This dirty enough for you?" he snarled into his opponent's ear as they plummeted underground.

Mastiff growled, but said nothing. Instinctively, he let the lurching rock and dirt push him backwards, relieving the pressure. Mastiff managed to shift himself until he was perched on Omega's back. Omega threw several painful elbows; Mastiff responded by squeezing the Nike spokes-hero around his throat, choking him as he was dragged roughly through the earth.

This is painful, even dangerous, but it's one helluva fucking ride, Mastiff thought.

Omega howled and arced upwards, driving them through the roots of a big oak tree as they surfaced. Mastiff grabbed a root as they breached and tried to garrote his opponent, but the tool wasn't strong enough to do the job and snapped like an earth soaked twig. Omega shrugged Mastiff away -- a shrug that sent the gang leader hurtling twenty meters into the air. Omega tried to think of a snappy line as he watched, then mentally kicked himself.

"Fuck, now I'm living in an Arnie movie," he muttered.

Mastiff found himself in a roll as he catapulted upward. Grunting with effort, he grabbed several branches of a pine tree to slow his momentum, and then he spun around in a pinwheel around the trunk. Omega was aggressively pursuing his opponent, but found himself rewarded with a very solid kick for his effort. Omega suddenly felt like he had hit a brick wall, lost his momentum, and went flying back several meters.

Mastiff fared little better; he felt like he had kicked a brick wall, and plummeted down twenty meters through a lattice of stiff pine branches, landing on his stomach with a thud. At least it wasn't his back.

Omega dove downward, on Mastiff's blindside, but Mastiff, rolling to his feet, perceived the hero's leap with inhuman senses, side-stepped it, and slashed a double-handed claw swipe when Omega reached striking distance. Omega perceived the threat, and tunneled again on impact, blunting what would have been a serious fall with a mound of tossed pitch. It also partially uprooted a nearby pine tree, sending it toppling. Mastiff considered using it as a weapon.

"Captain 'Nsync!" Mastiff muttered. "Get your ass back up here so I can fuckin' kick it!"

Omega broke the surface again, and advanced on his opponent with an insane look on his face. Mastiff recognized the expression -- it meant this guy wasn't the poseur he thought he was. Omega caught Mastiff in the midriff and drove them both into the side of the cabin, collapsing the roof. Tommy, realizing what was happening, took a look at Mastiff's women as they cowered next to the bed and suddenly his stomach lurched. Omega teleported them out of the cabin before they could get hurt, but this also gave Mastiff a chance to evacuate the falling building. Omega could not escape in time. Mastiff watched with satisfaction as his opponent was buried under an avalanche of falling lumber.

"Tougher than I thought," he snickered, and he looked for his Harley.

Tommy broke through the wreckage and hovered in mid-air. He said nothing -- no jokes about log cabin debates, no jokes about it being a "fixer-upper." Mastiff shook his head, but not in disbelief. Not anymore.

"What are you waiting for?" Mastiff snapped, beckoning him to come closer.

Tommy nodded and closed the distance. They traded three pairs of punches, punches that sounded like a pair of piledrivers in overdrive. Mastiff took the worst of the exchange, but not by much.

"You ready to fucking talk?" Omega snapped. Mastiff responded with a spit that landed square in the Nebraskan's face, spit composed of blood and two lower teeth. For a second, Omega was dumbfounded, then he laughed, grabbed the wobbly villain, and struck him in the face. "When I finish beating the shit out of you, are you going to bother to fucking talk?" Omega asked.

"You think you're going to win?" Mastiff almost laughed.

Omega looked into Mastiff's face and knew he'd gotten his answer. He wasn't going to get a lead on Hack, he wouldn't be able to track down Permafrost, this fight was all for nothing. Omega's scream, from deep in his lungs, sounded like the cross between a colic-stricken infant and a volcanic explosion. Even Mastiff winced at the sound. Concentrating on his muscles, adding thickness to his frame, Omega had become all blood and sweat and noise and heaving sinew, and the sharp burning in his muscles intoxicated him. Not that he didn't pay the price for each successful blow. An almost beaten Mastiff is still more dangerous than all but a handful of people on the planet, and if Omega doubted it before the fight, he didn't now. Only Sandstone had given him a tougher fight, and not by much.

After fifteen more seconds of trading punches that boomed through the woodlands, Mastiff finally stopped punching back. Omega didn't stop. After seven more seconds, Omega threw down his opponent and slammed his fist through an oak tree.

"Useless...," Omega said, looking down on his opponent. To his astonishment, Mastiff was still twitching and trying to recuperate. "Just fucking useless."

Looking down at the beaten Mastiff, Omega felt a wave of annoyance rush over him as he realized he could beat this fiend into the ground and still not be given any information on the target he hunted.

"You aren't gonna say shit, are you?" Omega asked with more than a little frustration in his voice.

"What did you expect asshole?" the feral meta barely moaned through a mouth full of blood and spit. He didnít even have the strength to lift his middle finger.

"I dunno. A fair fight, a dance or two, dinner and a show, and some answers at the end of the evening." Tommy shrugged. Mastiff managed to cough a weak laugh, and that's when Omega noticed it. Mastiff's eyebrows lifted slightly as his eyes widened almost the same moment Omega got a real sharp sense of danger, like a stilletto in the back.

That second, Omega heard the battle cry of what sounded like a mechanical demon straight out of hell. It echoed from all directions. Before Omega could react he felt searing pain race across his back, ripping through his nigh-impenetrable muscle. As he stepped forward to catch himself from the force of the blow he was met by another, then another. Five swipes in rapid succession that tore through the godlike hero with sickening ease. The world was awash in red -- red pain, and blood, lots of blood.

Omega hit the hardened north Jersey ground face first. He was disoriented for a moment, the attack seemed to come from nowhere and hurt like three fucking hells! He could feel the split skin across his back, the top part of his uniform was suddenly loose on his well-chiseled frame. He peeled it off like a banana skin, planted his arms more firmly than pillars into the ground and began to lift himself to his feet. Shit, he thought, someone's earned himself a lot of fucking pain.

As he pulled himself up to face his attacker he saw a large chainsaw blade with black long teeth come around and catch him in the gut. It ripped at his stomach, shredding skin, shredding muscle, drawing a gusher of blood like a Texas well, while the raw impact hurled Tommy backwards in a straight line twenty feet into a large, thick tree. Tommy couldn't describe the pain. His shredded back slammed into the tree and slid to the ground, peeling away the bark. He took three deep breaths, and watched the wounds close. Sitting at the bottom of the tree Omega finally saw the image of his attacker, it was Hack, the man-beast he was hunting.

Tommy laughed. Laughed? It was just so ironic. Hunter becoming the hunted.

"Hiya Hack! How's it hanging, you fucking cheap shot artist steroid monkey!" the hero shouted as he got to his feet. That took an effort -- getting to his feet -- his right hand instinctively clutched the gaping wound in his stomach, blood dripped through his fingers. He had just had one of the nastiest fights of his life against Mastiff, and was nowhere near the condition he wanted to be in when he faced an opponent of Hack's caliber. He worked hard to focus through the levels of pain that would level anyone, human or meta. At the moment, adrenaline was his best friend.

Hack held back, raising his chainsaw and revving it in triumph. He looked bigger than Tommy remembered from the alley Ė a mound of freakish, swollen muscle, grotesquely contoured, a grey-white man-mountain with a highway of veins. The monster chainsaw he was holding also seemed to have a life of its own. Tommy fingered his wounds. He had the feeling that Hack's onslaught should have killed him -- anything that can open those wounds should kill him -- but the body of a Chosen refused to be bested by black magic. Weird.

Hack grabbed the saw with both hands and made a charge for the wounded hero. Cocking the chainsaw back, Omega could hear the fury of the motor. She was hungry -- starving for blood and pain -- and craved more blood, more fear, more pain. And why did Omega think the chainsaw was a woman?

There was something in the back of his mind that told Tommy that the noise from the chainsaw had a psychic impact. Instinctively, he inured himself against the attack.

"Bring it on, bitch." Tommy whispered, ready as he could be against Hack's onslaught.

The big man cleared the twenty feet gap in a split-second, slashing the lethal blade of his murderous machine at the head of Omega. Omega in turn ducked the blow as the saw cut cleanly through a massive four-foot thick tree without even slowing down. Then he countered with an uppercut to Hack's jaw that caused his stomach wound to rebel with massive waves of pain. As Hack flew backward to the ground the sight was accompanied by the crashing sound of the ancient tree falling.

Tommy ignored the burning sensation in his mid-section, made a bicep and smiled (though it might have been more convincing if his entire body wasn't covered in a thick coat of blood). "Not bad for such a skinny boy, eh, lumberjack?" he taunted. "Why don't you put the toy down and fight like... man-style!?!"

Omega thumped his chest, took a brief moment to brace the mental shield that was resisting the constant mental assault coming from the masked monster. But as he glanced down, he finally noticed how badly he was bleeding; he could see more of his own spilled blood than he could ever remember seeing in his life. "Holy shit!" he gasped.

The Chainsaw's wail broke the heroís momentary inventory. Omega looked up just in time to see Hack in midair with the blade of the chainsaw a few short feet from his head, ready to split him from head to crotch. With barely a second to react Omega clapped his hands on either side of the blade to try and stop its approach, but the force of the blow (and the weight of his attacker) behind it was too much to stop with such little notice. The hero fell backward on top of the newly made stump, never surrendering his hold on the saw blade. Hack landed on the stump as well, standing with a leg to either side of Omega as he used all his strength and weight to push the tip of the chainsaw into the hero's face.

The blade of the mad machine inched ever closer to the Omegaís face. Several factors were working against him. The hold he had on the saw blade was compromising at best, the stump he was half laying on gave him no leverage advantage and the wounds he recently suffered from the chainsaw were protesting his every move. Realizing he had to do something before the black teeth of the saw bit into his face Omega mentally tried an empathic read on the saw hoping to find some weakness.

Beyond the wailing of the chainsaw, Omega was getting a strong feeling about the saw and its owner. He had to fight hard not to vomit. The most prevalent feeling was the taint of necromancy; which Tommy recognized all-too-easily as the influence the Black Priest; the rage that ran through every fiber of Hack was his work. "Fuck," he growled.

It was like Hack was covered in the dark skin of the Black Priestís influence, but just as he was about to turn away from the monster, he suddenly detected something else within the mound of muscle and homicidal rage. It was a meek voice, almost unnoticeable, calling for help. An anguished, plaintive plea that made the hero feel like he was watching a little kitten swimming for its life in a shark tank.

"Shit," Tommy said. "You poor son of a bitch."

That moment of sympathy weakened Omega's resolve just a little. The chainsaw blade moved slowly closer to the chin of Omega, promising pain and agony.

Omega strained to hear the voice calling for help within Hack's psyche; something told him to trust it. The shrill voice spoke one word, "Melvin".

The blade of the chainsaw was now nicking the chin of Omega, making barely a quarter inch wound when the hero spoke. Omega's powers sealed it almost as soon as it was opened.

"Melvin!?!" Omega said aloud like it was some kind of riddle.

Hack's eye's opened wide as the large man jerked in surprise, letting up on the pressure for a split second. That split second was all Omega needed.

Omega pushed the blade a good foot away from his face and kicked up with his right leg catching Hack in the back and knocking him off the stump. Omega quickly rose to his feet and glared at his foe.

"Hey, Melvin!" Omega called, scrutinizing the monstrosity. He had heard the call for help. It occurred to him this could be anyone -- even Permafrost, even he, had his fight with Sandstone gone the wrong way.

"Earth to Melvin. I'd like to play nice, but there's a fucking demon inside you, and I'm gonna have to beat the shit out of it if we're going to undo what's happened to you. Hope you understand, bud."

If Omega was looking for a reaction, he didnít get one. No change in posture, no change in eye movement, Hack was clearly still on the attack -- there was a certain grace in his motion that was frightening for such a huge man. Hack landed on the ground, chainsaw raised for his next strike. Omega commanded the earth and stone under Hackís feet to liquefy, then harden again around the big man's feet. As Hack tried to lift his foot out with no luck; Omega delivered a reverse flying clothesline to the back of Hack's head. It was pro rassliní bullshit, but the power of the blow ripped the 900 pound stone from the ground as it threw Hack a good fifteen feet to the ground.

Hack sat up, placing the chainsaw beside him as he began pounding his way out of Omegaís makeshift stone shackles with fifty pound fists. Meanwhile, Omega continued his flight, darting upward and breaking the canopy of the forest as he climbed. At three hundred feet, the hero changed course and dive-bombed straight for Hack who was still working on freeing himself.

Omega broke back through the canopy of the forest at such a speed he nearly defoliated every tree in a thirty-foot radius. Increasing the density of his outstretched fists he hit Hack with such force he actually felt some pain from the collision -- but it had to be better than what his foe was feeling.

When the momentum of the shot died and the two came to a stop they were twelve feet underground, with Omega laying on top of Hack.

Omega grabbed Hack by the throat with his left hand and cocked back his right, preparing to put out Hack's lights for a good time. But there was no resistance -- Omega suddenly realized that the big man had stopped breathing. Omega took a good look at Hack as he sat up on his knees. The man-thing's monstrous neck was bent kinda funny. Grotesquely funny.

"Shit!" Omega shouted. "Oh shit! Please, someone, don't tell me I killed the son of a bitch."

The voice of the Outsider rang in Omegaís ears, asking him if he had ever killed. Tommy remembered the contempt in his voice when he declared that he hadnít. And he heard the old vigilanteís reply, a ghost whispering in his ears: "you will someday."

Someday?

"Outsider, you fucking asshole, I hope you're going through fucking Hell over in Ireland," Tommy muttered.

He looked down on Hack's body. The body still didn't move -- he could revive him, but should he?

"There's a demon inside you," Omega said. "A killer. Whoever this Melvin is, he isn't stopping him." A tear rolled down his blood-stained cheek. "Was he willing, or unwilling? Did he join the demon from choice, or did that fucking bastard force him?" The questions were overwhelming. "Fuck! Goddamn this to Hell! First I get the power of a God, now I'm fucking playing God! Who the fuck am I to decide whether you live or fucking die?"

Hack sat straight up and grabbed Omega by the throat and proceeded to squeeze it.

Tommy laughed. The pain of the monster's grip was nowhere near as bad as the pain of the monstrous choice that had been taken away from him. It only took him a few seconds to grab Hack by the wrists and painfully pry the monster's hands from around the hero's neck. Hack was nowhere as strong as Omega (or Sandstone for that matter) but what he lacked in strength he made up for in creativity.

"You dumb-ass demon, I was just starting to feel bad about killing you!" Omega smiled as he delivered a strong right hook to the masked face of Hack.

Hack, of course, said nothing. The engine of destruction kept driving him forward. Tommy was hoping for more of a conversation.

"Come on Melvin, you demon's bitch, show me what you've got!" he demanded as he drove his fist into the gut of the man-monster. Hack's huge fist pounded a reply. "Show me, Mel, ol' bud!" They traded blows again. "Work that demon, Melvin! Work it good!"

The two behemoths traded blows in the makeshift crypt their fight had produced for about ten seconds before a form flew out of the hole. Seconds later Omega emerged; still covered in blood, with only a loose piece of fabric hanging over his crotch and his right leg keeping him from full frontal nudity. He definitely looked like someone who had fought two horrific back-to-back battles. He could have cleaned himself off and restored his costume, but every second counted -- and he wanted to show Hack what a human being could endure.

"Melvin!" Omega yelled. "Come out and play, Melvin! You're spoiling the fun!"

He scanned the area looking for Hack but the only person he could see was Mastiff who was sitting on his motorcycle enjoying the show. He nodded at his former adversary. Mastiff's eyes opened wide at the sight -- he'd never seen so much blood on a human body in his entire life. The biker was almost able to respect him.

"C'mon, Melvin, where are you?" Omega said. Shit. He'd come here to fight Hack so he could save someone -- now he found there was a second soul that he needed to save.

And then, suddenly, Hack answered the call in an unexpected violent way, appearing out of nowhere and throwing his chainsaw directly into the center of Omega's chest. Tommy felt his body go still for a second, and he felt himself begin to fall. A voice inside him told him this wound was bad. He fell to his knees. He grabbed at the chainsaw, not sure if he was going to remain conscious.

"Enough of this shit," Omega muttered, teleporting the chainsaw straight into the ground. He felt its hate as it vanished from his fingers. For an instant, Hack flailed in horror, then the chainsaw broke out of the ground and flew back into Hackís hands.

"Shit," Tommy said, on his knees. That was his last gasp. Death by chainsaw, what a fucking way to go. He looked up at Hack, who towered over him, chainsaw in two hands like an executioner's blade. "Sorry I couldn't be more help, Melvin."

******

Up on a distant hillock, within a dark, spiry Cathedral far from the fight, the Black Priest was reading over some archaic tomes when a realization hit him. He quickly dropped his book, resting his hands on his massive desk.

"Death moves for the Chosen...," he said quietly, a surprised frown etched on his pallid face.

"But sir," said the young man, who felt the dark powers churning in his craw, who felt Omegaís fate even more keenly than the Priest. "Donít you want Omega dead?"

"There are two great powers in the world -- Order and Chaos. They are constantly in flux, each acting to undo the other. Each has their unwitting agents, their chosen embodiments to help escalate this pendulum of influence over the world. The battle between Order and Chaos has within it seeds of even greater destruction than any of the Chosen would or could understand."

Black Priest clasped his hands together and rested his chin on steepled forefingers. "Omega, the so-called 'Champion of Order,' must not die today."

The young man tried not to look dumb-founded, tried not to insult his master's devices.

But the Priest ignored him. He just sat at his desk, pondered over his plans with quiet, intense, evangelical fervor.

******

As Hack prepared to place the deathblow to the top of the unconscious Omegaís head, something caught his eye to his right.

There was magic in the wind, unfriendly magic. The forestís leaf litter started to swirl and created a clearing. As the leaves blew from the center a ball of blue light formed and grew to a large bubble. The light then faded to expose the two forms of Knock-out and Dr. Wight.

As a duo, the pair looked rather humorous -- Knock-out, the tall, blonde bombshell, fairly towered over her bespectacled, sorcerous companion. There was nothing funny about their surroundings, however. It looked like a warzone. Mastiff's destroyed cabin, felled trees, great holes and ruts spotting the landscape, Omega's blood -- it was quite a dramatic, powerful scene. That scene, combined with the dizzying after-effects of Wight's teleportation spell, left Knock-out woozy and a little unsteady on her feet.

"Oh my God," she murmured, taking in her surroundings.

"Looks like we're just in time!" Wight exclaimed, pointing to where Hack stood poised to slaughter Omega."Tommy!"

Knock-out exclaimed, "Tommy, look out! Get up!"

When her friend didn't respond, the powerfully built young heroine surged forward, her legs pumping as she crossed the distance at phenomenal speed. "Stay back, professor!" Adrenaline raced through the girl's veins, but she felt her blood run cold when Hack turned to face her. He was gigantic, and horrific-looking.

Covered in criss-crossed scars, his hulking form bulged and rippled with corded sinew and muscles so large they threatened to burst out of his skin. The mask and chainsaw added to the girl's mounting terror as well, but her heart nearly stopped when the creature simply reached out a splayed hand towards her in a classic "stop" motion. The monstrosity's large, bloodshot eyes twitched behind his mask, and he didn't blink, didn't move as Knock-out slowed her approach.

Sensing the magical fear that gripped the girl's heart and clouded her mind, Dr. Wight gestured in the air briefly and uttered a few words of ancient power. Suddenly sheathed in invisible, mystical energy, Knock-out felt her mind clear without knowing why or how. All she cared about was getting Hack away from Tommy -- who already looked dead, though the young woman refused to even consider the possibility. Her strides increased again, powering her towards her foe.

"Be careful, Sarah! That saw is sharper than any metal of this Earth!" Wight called.
"Gotcha," Knock-out called back over her shoulder. Hack still hadn't moved an inch beyond extending his arm when Knock-out, not known for her finesse, plowed into him with a tremendous shoulder tackle. The pair landed forty feet distant on the ground, Knock-out on top of Hack's grisly form. Sitting up, she delivered a trio of powerful hammer blows to Hack's face with her titanium-belted right hand. She was surprised when the metahuman rolled away from her barrage and regained his feet like a cat. Blood trickled from the bottom of his mask, and Knock-out then knew she could hurt the beast, something she hadn't been sure of.

"C'mon!" Knock-out yelled, standing and raising her fists. You've been fucking following me everywhere -- well here I am! C'mon!" Hack simply looked at the woman mutely, backing away when she advanced. Something crazy was going on in his eyes. Some hint of... something... was there. Confusion?

Pleading? Some hint of humanity, perhaps? Knock-out didn't care. This freak had murdered a lot of people, he'd been stalking her, and now it looked like he'd killed or badly injured Tommy Champion. Ignoring his suddenly non-violent demeanor, she pressed the attack, throwing rights and lefts with abandon. Several connected, and the crunch of bone and splatter of blood resounded across the ragged forest clearing. One final roundhouse caught Hack square on the chin, and a sharp crack resounded through the air as his body spun through the air before landing in a heap. Using her foot to roll the monster over, Knock-out, winded from throwing so many punches, saw that Hack didn't look to be getting up any time soon.

Some distance away, Dr. Wight was kneeling over Omega's broken form, performing some kind of ritual to help heal the evil wounds that marked the young metahuman's body. Knock-out jogged over and knelt at Omega's side, her eyes wet and her heart aching. "Is he..."

"No," Wight said simply. "He's a very resilient young man, this one is."

"Tommy?" Sarah said softly. "Tommy, you've got to use your powers to heal yourself -- you've lost so much blood, Tommy..."

Champion's eyes flickered open. He gazed at Sarah for a few moments while his vision cleared. "If I joked about being in Heaven right now, would you think that was a line by a two-bit Hollywood hack?"

"Probably." Knock-out smiled.

"Speaking of Hack, where is he?"

Attempting to get up, Omega grunted at the effort and looked at Wight's silvery hand as the man gently pushed him back to the ground. "Easy, boy. These are magical wounds, not to be taken lightly. Give yourself a minute to recover."

"Hack's down for the count," Sarah answered, taking one of Champion's hands in both of hers. "Just rest a minute. I can already see you're healing, but Jesus, Tommy, he cut you wide open..."

A sudden, unintelligible roar sounded and before the trio knew it Hack was there with them, appearing seemingly out of thin air. He was bruised and bloodied, but as menacing as ever. With a powerful swat he broke the handhold Sarah and Tommy had had, then scooped the girl up under one arm and bounded away with his prize.

"Shit!" Omega muttered, and he rose into the air in hot pursuit. "No way, Melvin!" he added. "No way!"

Watching the broken landscape blur by, Knock-out seized the massive arm around her waist and squeezed with all her might. Bones popped and crackled, and Hack bellowed some further fury into the air -- but he didn't release his hold on the girl.

"Put me down, you fucking monster! Put me down!" Knock-out screamed, fighting like a hellcat. Hack winced at her words, then stumbled and fell as Knock-out finally managed to break his grip and trip him up. The girl rose before the monster, the blood of an unknown combatant smeared across her face. Grabbing the creature by the tatters of his ripped flannel shirt, she moved in close -- closer than she ever would have, had her mind not be bolstered with Wight's wizardry.

"You listen to me, 'Hack,' and you listen good -- your days of killing, of slaughtering innocent people are over. Over. And I don't know what kind of queer fascination you have with me, but you can just fuck off! You're a monster, and you belong in a cage, so that's where you're going."

His eyes wide behind his hockey mask, Hack mewled something pathetic and scurried back away from Knock-out, who held fast to the man's shirt and ripped it from his body. Standing when he'd put a few feet between them, Hack looked down at his massively muscled, thick-veined arms, at his grotesque parody of a human body. His head tilted first one way, then the other. Long, silent seconds passed before Omega, his chest on the mend, joined by Knock-out's side.

"Hey, Melvin," Omega said, his voice strangely serious. "You have got to want it, man. Is this bullshit, this psycho monster bullshit, what youíre really about?" He paused and cleared his throat. "Of course it isnít, Melvin. No oneís here to mess with you, no oneís here to force you into doing her dirty work, so give it your best shot." Tommy swallowed. "Fight the demon. Break its fucking neck."

Knock-out looked from Hack to Tommy and back again, but didn't say anything. "It's too strong," Wight sighed, coming to stand between the two sculpted, statuesque metas. "And whoever 'Melvin' is, he hasn't got the strength."

"Come with us," Knock-out suddenly exclaimed, catching Hack's eyes with her own and holding them. Later, she'd admit to herself she was unsure of the source of her sudden compassion -- and bravery. "Come with us, Melvin," she said again, more softly. "Dr. Wight can help you..."

In a long, tense pause, the four figures stood frozen in tableau. Hackís puzzled, strangely yearning look locked on Knock-Out  while Omega regarded him with a level, cautious gaze. Dr. Wight worked frantically, signing runes and sigils in the air as he strove to break the grip Hack held on whoever or whatever was inside of him.

The picture shattered as Hack broke into action. He lifted his eyes from Knock-Out to Omega and the confusion vanished, burned away by a seething bloodlust. With a shriek of hunger and delight, the chainsaw swung up. An instant later Omegaís hands rushed through thin air as he lunged to grab the killer. Staggering off balance, he found himself for a split second looking up into Sarahís horrified eyes, seeing her mouth open to scream as the chainsaw slammed into his back with brutal, punishing force. He could feel it gnawing his bones, every tooth of it ripping into his strength and his body. Raw instinct told him to roll with the punch; an instant later he was flying forward, his face and chest plowing a ragged trench into the ground. He lay there for a moment without moving, the earth cool and soothing against his torn skin. As the blackness began to creep in around the edges of his vision, it felt so tempting just to lay there just to lay there and go to sleep forever

Sarah shrieked, then lashed out as the towering monstrosity stepped toward her. Her winding right cross took Hack full in the chest and staggered him for an instant, but it left her more off balance than her enemy. One huge hand, bigger than her head, reached toward her, blotting out the sun as she looked up and readied herself for one last attempt at resistance. Knock-out clawed at him wildly, trying to grab at the man-monster in an attempt to throw him aside. Hack's greater reach obstructed her attack and left his hulking form unshaken. Knock-out drew back her fist, slowly backing away from the advancing form as she tried to read the eyes hidden behind the mask. There was confusion there, longing, pain but there was death there as well, death for Tommy and for a lot of other innocent people. She gulped as she took another step back, thumping up against a tree trunk with a sick finality as Hack continued to advance. Sarah bit her lip, wound up for the best haymaker she could throw -- then stared for a split second and threw herself flat.

Tommy Champion slammed into Hackís back at something close to Mach 1. He hadnít had much distance to accelerate in, and heíd been pumping his density as hard as he could, but heíd felt that thrumming vibration run through him as the sound barrier approached. He was barely able to aim himself; he had no fucking idea if he was going to survive this. But one way or another, Hack was going down.

Both fists smashed into the mountain of scarred flesh, striking in the arch of the back. The speed and force of the blow carried Hack and Omega into and through the tree, smashing it to splinters. They burst through a stand of smaller trees and saplings, leveling them in a swathe that ended in a huge old oak. As Sarah ran toward them, she could see where Omega lay, motionless, at the foot of it. Hack was wrapped halfway around the tree and sliding slowly to the ground. As it dropped to the forest floor with a heavy thud, Hackís body fell violently askew, bent at a sickening, broken-backed angle. As Tommy shook his head and then began to rise painfully to his feet, the stunned silence was broken only by the hoarse, labored breathing of his opponent.

"Oh my God, are you okay?" Sarah darted forward, helping Tommy to his feet as he shook the blood from his eyes. He looked awful. His body was a mass of gore, mud daubing his naked skin where his costume hung from him in shreds.

Tommy cracked a weak grin as he clambered to his feet, hands clutching his back and his chest. Fuck it hurt, but this was no time to pussy out.

"Not yet." He pushed down the misgivings and tried to focus on being pragmatic. He didnít want to kill this Melvin guy -- but his back and his chest were telling him that heíd better finish this. Now. He turned to face the fallen behemoth as a sudden blast of cold air rattled the branches around him. "Sorry, but Iím afraid you up used the last ounce of pity I have left, Muh--" He started as a figure came into view beside Hack, and his eyes narrowed. "You." Omegaís lip curled in hate.

"You son of a bitch." Orchidís eyes blazed with feral hatred as she crouched over the broken form of her companion. She glanced down, hands moving in helpless, jerky motions over his ragged wounds. As she looked up again, her glowing eyes locked with Tommy Championís. "Iíll take you to Hell myself," she snarled. She coiled to spring as Tommy wearily lifted his hands and Sarah squared up beside him.

At that moment Hack spoke. "Janey."

His voice was hoarse and wheezing. His chest heaved with the effort, and blood choked the words to a whisper. Orchid looked down.

Shock wiped the vicious snarl from her face, leaving an expression of horror and what in a person still human might have been called tenderness. With one white hand she touched his hair, pushing the blood-clotted strands back from the mask as her lips framed a single nearly silent word.

"Melvin."

She glanced up and around, lost for a moment, as if she had no idea where she was or how sheíd gotten there. "Iíll get you out of here." She placed her hands on his chest and shoulders. As Tommy and Sarah began to draw closer, she lifted her face, now set in steely determination. Curling her lip, she sneered at Knock-Out. "Back off, Barbie. Youíll get your turn. And you, Tommy." Her voice dropped softer, but her eyes opened into absolute blackness. "I will write my name in the blood of your people."

He lunged and caught air. They were gone.

Omega shook his head, turned and gave Sarah a long look. "Her name is Jane. His name is Melvin. Not much to go on," he said, and he turned aside. "Weíll need to check missing person records for a Jane and Melvin. Letís start with the university district, starting from the time of the first sorority attack and working backwards."

"Lad," Dr. Wight attempted to interrupt him.

"We donít have much time," Omega said. "We have to track them down before she hurts anyone"

"Calm down, Tommy," Knock-out said. "Sheíll be too worried about Hack to attack right away." It took several seconds for the wisdom of her remark to sink in. "But even if we find a three month old address, is that really going to be a useful clue?"

"People." Dr. Wight waved Hackís torn shirt in the air. "Must I remind you both that I am in fact a practitioner of the arcane arts? We have a piece of Hack's clothing, and with it I can try to track him through divination?"

Omega managed to crack a smile. "The direct approach. I can relate. Just as long as all of my blood on that thing doesnít throw off your spell" He heard Mastiff revving his bike in the distance; the Harley-Davidson made a tribal, feral roar. He never noticed that before. "Hold on for a few seconds"

"Can you really track Hack down with his shirt?" Knock-out asked, stepping closer to the dwarfish detective.

Dr. Wight nodded. "I have performed such a feat before. Hack is a supernatural being. There will be residual traces of Hack's magical composition on his shirt, and from it I should be able to trace his whereabouts."

"I guess you're kinda like a--" Sarah bit back her comment. She had a good feeling the doctor wouldn't like being compared to a bloodhound.

"Kind of like a dowsing rod, yes," Wight answered. Knock-out blushed slightly as she looked at him, but she sensed a bit of amusement in his features.

Cleaning himself off, Omega flew over to Mastiff. The huge bikerís scowl barely acknowledged his opponentís presence. "Thanks," Tommy said.

Mastiff rolled his eyes and pantomimed and masturbatory gesture. "For what?" he asked in a bark.

"You could have made it two on one. You didnít. That deserves a thank you."

"What are you talking about?" Mastiff laughed. "Hack puréed your ass. He fucked you up good with that chainsaw. I had the time of my life just watching it all."

"Fine," Tommy said. "Glad you were so fucking entertained. By the way, if you want a rematch, just ask. Iím a very giving person."

Mastiff's brow creased, his menacing eyes like daggers. "You should quit while you still have a pulse, kid. Besides, Hack and that cute Gothic broad aren't exactly through with you." He nods his head towards Dr. Wight and Knock-out. "Better get back with Poppa Smurf and that school girl with tits. You've got two psychos catch."

"I wasnít talking about today," Omega snapped. "Right now I wouldnít last five seconds against the Zebra. But if you ever get a mad-on about a rematch, you donít have to wreck half of Los Angeles just to get my fucking attention." He took a deep breath. "Much as that shithole deserves it."

Mastiff howled in laughter, then he stopped. "Listen, Nancy Drew. If you catch Hack, and manage to hold him, I'll shake your hand. And if catch that babe in leather and heels, give me a call. I'd love to rock her world."

"She has a prior engagement," Omega replied. "And speaking of priors, Iíd better go before I remember those thirty-five outstanding warrants against you."

Mastiff chuckled, revved his Harley and sped away in a streak of rubber and smoke. "I'll be seeing ya, kid!"

Omega closed his eyes for a moment and fought an urge to sigh. "Heís a problem for another day," he allowed himself to say. Clearly, the big problem had shifted from the Black Priest to Orchid. He couldnít ignore the mad bitch anymore. "Well, you may cost me some jail time, Janie," he said out loud, where Sarah and the Doctor couldnít hear him. "But the blood of 'my people' is gonna stay in their bodies where it fucking belongs. Too bad about yours."

Somewhere, the Black Priest was laughing. Tommy knew it too, he could practically hear it. But heíd gotten used to it. He turned away from Mastiff and looked at Sarah and Dr. Wight, hoping they might provide a strong enough lifeline to pull him from the abyss that he could see that he was rushing toward at a breakneck -- no, make that soulbreaking -- speed.
 

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