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Aric Dacia is a 5th Century Visigoth whom the Spider Aliens, a race of blood-thirsty extraterrestrial arachnoids, abduct in 408 A.D. to have him serve them as slave and food-source aboard their starship. Aric is a fierce warrior who turns on his captors and steals their ultimate weapon, the Manowar Class Armor, a sentient suit of living armor powerful enough to lay waste to a planet.

When he returns home, Aric finds that 1,600 years have passed since his abduction and that he must now make a place for himself in a society where his honor and courage make him the only man worthy to wield the power of the most technologically-advanced weapon in existence.

As Aric struggles to adapt to the modern world, the Spider Aliens commence their invasion of Earth and he must prepare for the battle where he can finally take revenge on his captors!

Birth

Born as a barbarian, raised as an animal, and trained as a killer, Aric Dacia is a 5th Century Visigoth lost in the modern age who defends the planet Earth from the blood-thirsty Spider Aliens with the deadliest weapon of mass destruction ever created; the X-O Manowar!

Retribution Prologue

XO Cover

Aric Dacia escapes with the X-O Manowar

Ten thousand years ago on the Spider Alien homeworld, a planet beyond the boundaries of the Milky Way Galaxy, two First-Among-Equals, the Spider Aliens' spokebeings, led their worshipers to an immense forest on the surface of the planet to wait for a large silicon-based plant to give birth to the golden Manowar seeds. As the tree’s limbs moved, a First pointed excitingly up to it and alerted his companions that the time had come. While the Firsts performed a ritual for an event they had awaited for millennia, the worshippers used high-tech equipment and the bodily secretions from their hands and mouths to form a small cradle device that would serve as a receptacle for the seeds. As the tree continued to move, its limbs wrapped around each other as the foliage fell by the side, the worshippers placed their cradle down near its base just as a small fissure opened and released two small pods. As the Firsts led the others in a single file with their boon to a hovercraft that flew away from the garden, the tree withered and died.

While the hovercraft descended on a landing platform, two High Priests stood nearby to receive the incoming party, and as the worshippers filed passed them with the pods, they performed a ritual. Making their way through the labyrinthine temple to the lower levels, the priests came upon a receptacle by a doorway and secreted a fluid from his fingers that opened the entrance. While the priests and worshippers made their way through the hangar deck, other arachnoids hurried to get two alien ships prepared for take-off.

Inside the red room in one of the ships, a priest stood vigil while the other attached small metallic devices on a pod on the chest of a bipedal arachnid. As the priests watched in amazement while the seed metamorphosed and increased in size, tendrils protruded from its center and groped about the room and integrated with different sections and devices, including the biped. As the pod took the shape of the upper body and helmet of Manowar Class armor and continued to make adjustments while it grew in size, it wrapped around the biped and their consciousness joined as one. While the priests observed as the armor continued its integration and performed a ritual, their vessel assumed a standard orbit over the planet Earth.

On August 13th 399 AD in a region of Southern Europe in the providence of Dacia inhabited by Visigoths, Rolf Dacia showed off a new sword to his young son, Aric Dacia, who expressed his belief that its magnificence was the reason others in the village looked up to his father. As Rolf told Aric that others preferred to steal their weapons from the Roman pigs while he learned the art of sword-making so their people would not be reliant on stolen plunder, he held the blade in his hands and said that he made it for his uncle Alaric, the King of the Visigoths. When Rolf promised him that when he reached manhood he would make a blade for him, Aric told him that he would be a great warrior and make him proud. Suddenly, a distant cry for help from Inga Dacia, Rolf’s wife and Aric’s mother, roused their attention.

As Aric and Rolf came out of the blacksmith tent, they witnessed as legions of Roman Centurions wantonly slaughtered their brethren. Hurrying home, Aric and Dacia ran inside just as Marcus, a Roman Centurion, and his cohort were raping Inga. When Rolf ordered the Centurions to let his wife go, Marcus slid Inga’s throat with his sword to Aric’s dismay. Enraged, Rolf ripped Marcus’ cohort apart and urged Aric to flee to the forest, but the young Visigoth refused to leave his father and witnessed as Marcus beheaded him. Filled with rage, Aric skewered Marcus with his father’s blade, and as his body fell, he swore to kill all Roman pigs.

Nine years later in the village of Rieti in Northern Italy Aric and his best friend, Gafti, recklessly and mockingly beheaded a pair of Roman Centurions until Aric’s uncle, Alaric, King of the Visigoths, ordered them to dispatch the Romans. As Alaric reminded Aric that they were not there for him to exact his revenge, he ordered him and Gafti to take what they needed and put the rest to the torch as was the Goth way. Later, as they galloped to the edge of the city on horseback and Gafti laughed that Alaric did not approve of his blood oath, Aric told him that, while Alaric felt it clouded his judgment, the Holy Roman Empire owed him a debt of blood that he would collect as was the Goth way.

As they came upon a Roman Temple and Gafti reminded Aric that his uncle wanted provisions and weapons not gold, Aric joked that they could barter the gold for provisions and convinced Gafti to follow him. Inside the temple, Aric and Gafti kept to the shadows and witnessed as a Catholic Priest warned Mericus, a Roman Captain, that the Visigoth scourge was God’s wrath for his consent to enslaving Deidre, a beautiful Irish disciple of the God Lugh that the priest believed spread her heathen beliefs like a plague. Convinced by the priest’s words, Mericus proclaimed that Deidre had to die if they were to be cleansed of the Visigoth curse, but as he was about to kill her, Aric impaled him with his sword. After Aric slew the priest, he released Deidre from her bonds and took her with him because, even though she was a heathen and his uncle would disapprove, she was better looking than the women in his camp were.

That evening in the Visigoth village, Aric warned Deidre not to even think about escaping because she belonged to him and, to his surprise, she told him she would never leave because she owed him her life, and it was her people’s way to repay such a debt. When Deidre asked him how she could serve him, Aric took her in his arms and made love to her. Weeks later, Deidre told Aric that if they were to join in the eyes of Lugh the both had to drink from the same cup. As he drank from the chalice, Aric disowned the Roman God and proclaimed that he would gladly serve Lugh, who brought Deidre to him.

Several months later while on night patrol, Aric and Gafti came upon a clearing in the forest that he believed was an imperial encampment within the Visigoth perimeter. As Aric rode over the ridge to observe while Gafti and the others watched his back for treachery, he was appalled to see as the Spider Aliens devoured his people. Certain that they were demons from Hell in league with the Roman Emperor, Aric leapt through the foliage with sword in hand and split one of the aliens in half. When Aric lunged after one of the aliens, it shot him across the head with a blast from his ray gun and rendered him unconscious. After the alien dragged Aric inside its vessel in the belief that his spirit would serve them well in the slave pens, Gafti and the others witnessed in horror as the alien transport vessel vanished into space.

Seven years later, the Spider Aliens removed Aric from suspended animation to transfer him to a labor camp on asteroid LZ15, a refueling station. When Aric awoke and spat on the guard’s face, the alien disgorged a vomit from his mouth into Aric’s that tranquilized him for transport. Before he passed out, Aric vowed to kill all the Hard Skins, his name for his alien captors. Against his will, Aric worked for the aliens while they prepared their armada to invade the Earth, until, one day, he met the Map Giver, a prisoner who spoke his language that told him that he might be tough enough to fight his way to the aliens’ ultimate weapon. When the Giver asked him if he was brave enough to kill the aliens, Aric simply told him to show him the way.

Weeks later aboard a Spider Alien Transport Vessel in Earth orbit, the Map Giver told Aric that, after years in the aliens’ servitude, he had learned the layout of the vessel. While the Map Giver carved a map on Aric’s hand using a bone and warned him that the aliens kept their ultimate weapon in a heavily guarded room, and that when he found it he just had to pull the control ring, Aric assured him that he would not fail and many Hard Skins would die that day.

When a Spider Soldier came to take Aric away for a First Among Equals to sustain himself on his blood, at that moment outside the Earth’s atmosphere, Phil Seleski, the hero known as Solar, attacked the alien fleet and gave Aric the opportunity he needed to escape. Armed with an axe from one of his captors, Aric followed the giver’s directions to the Red Room, where he found a Manowar Class Armor with a ring sticking out of its chest plate. Though the aliens tried to stop him, Aric pulled the ring and the armor enveloped him. Amazed that the aliens would risk using their weapons inside the ship, Aric concluded that the armor was a Good Skin.

As an aliens’ blast blasted open a tear in the hull, Aric flew out of the vessel into the void of space. While confused by his surroundings, which differed from what he remembered, Aric remained surprised that the armor carried him where he wanted to go and obeyed his commands. When the alien vessel opened fire on him, Aric tore it apart and it exploded. As the force of the blast propelled him towards the Earth, Aric asked the Good Skin to take him away from the Hard Skins and back home.

The Rise of Lydia

In preparation for their invasion of Earth, the Spider Aliens established bases around the world hidden behind legitimate enterprises with agents strategically positioned within them. Lydia, a ruthless bio-engineered Spider Soldier and leader of these covert operatives, is on a mission to find new genetic material to preserve her people’s diminishing ability to reproduce and create a warrior capable of surviving the maddening effects of the Manowar Class Armor.

Deceiver

In an arena on an alien world far beyond the confines of the Milky Way Galaxy, a Spider Soldier garbed in X-O Wolf Armor loomed over a wounded soldier garbed in X-O Commando Armor and promised to make his end a swift one long as he yielded. Swatting his foe across the arena with a trust of his blade, the X-O Wolf mocked his foe’s helplessness against his armor and vowed that the prize would be his soon as his opponent’s juices flowed on the hallowed battleground, but then he suddenly let out a deafening shriek and collapsed. Standing up with a dagger in his hand, the Commando said that what they fought for was too important to leave to fate, so he took precautions to insure that victory would belong to him alone, then he severed the Wolf’s head and held it high for the crowd to see.

A few moments later, the Commando stood before a First-Among-Equals who told him that they were aware that he had poisoned the warrior before the contest, and that such treachery would prove valuable for the task to come. As they walked down a long hallway and the First told him that by the rules of trial-by-combat he won the right to lead the expedition to Earth, the Commando felt honored, but then the First warned him that honor would have little place in his mission of infiltration and subjugation.

Upon entering a laboratory where scientists had assembled Shanhara, a Manowar Class Armor, the First told the Commando that, as their vitality slowly diminished and their ability to reproduce dwindled, they needed new genetic material to preserve them and create a warrior capable of surviving the armor’s effects. When the Commando mentioned the rumors that Shanhara drove all who donned it mad, the First acknowledged their veracity and said that they had to instill individuality into their genetic make-up to cope with the armor’s artificial intelligence, but, once that was achieved, they could create an army capable of ensuring their continuation for millennia. When the Commando laid eyes upon Aric Dacia, a human the First told him they procured during their first scouting mission, he could not resist expressing his disgust at his appearance. While the First concurred with the Commando that Aric was a vile creature, he revealed that, as a race, they desperately needed his traits of individuality and adaptability to survive.

After the First shared their plan to manipulate his body for him to pass for human so he would secure a base of operations and procure tests subjects for genetic experimentation once he infiltrated Earth and their society, the Commando underwent an extremely painful process that altered his features into those of a human female. Several days later in a launch pad, as the First prayed that the alterations passed scrutiny, the surgeon responsible for the Commando’s alterations assured him that with the enhanced human sex pheromones and genetic mutagen in the Commando’s venom they were confident of success.

As a soldier informed her that all was ready for launch, the Commando reminded him that his orders were to refer to her as Lydia, and warned him that if he made that mistake again she would have him flailed alive. Moments later in her quarters, Lydia keeled over a sink soon as the cabin door closed from the unbearable pain and, as she stared at her reflection in the mirror, pondered that it was difficult enough to maintain power while she looked like a hideous human and she could lose her authority altogether if she appeared weak. As the scout ship departed the Spider Alien homeworld, it accelerated to faster-than-light speeds towards its rendezvous many months later with Earth. From orbit, Lydia and her crew monitored all TV and radio broadcasts and formulated a scheme to fulfill their mandate.

Several months later at the La Bas Jazz Club in New Orleans, the atmosphere of an early warm evening became exceedingly dangerous for a young man when he offered to buy Lydia a drink and she invited him to her parlor. There, as they became intimate, Lydia injected the man on the neck to inject him with a mutagen that killed him from fatal reaction. As she tossed the man’s corpse in the basement where she kept the remains of her with other failed tests, Lydia doubted that she would ever find the perfect patient zero.

Later that night, while Lydia took a shower to rinse off the gore from his latest victim, a holo-transmission from her ship informed her that the armada had begun to establish a base on the far side of the moon and that homeworld had ordered that she accelerate her timetable. Confidently, Lydia reported she had been cultivating a plan that would provide them with limitless resources centered around Harold Polk, the CEO and President of Orb Industries, a powerful international conglomerate, who she had been seducing for months and, by keeping in a mildly-sedated condition with her venom, made extremely malleable to her will.

When Lydia returned to New York City posing as Harold’s fiancé to impose herself into his life and usurp his power for their needs, she assassinated his business lieutenants and replaced them with her agents, Prather and Aristedes, who proceeded to bring their troops and technology to Orb facilities around the world. Two weeks, as Lydia seductively fed off Harold’s comatose corpse in his penthouse apartment, she mused that he had been the most accommodating husband on Earth, but, she feared, the time had come to move on.

With Aristedes and Prather assisting her in coordinating Orb worldwide, the trio formed a powerful hierarchy for the Spider Alien network on Earth, but, privately, Lydia resented sharing her power and made a resolution to assassinate them once the time was right. As it turned out, however, time had a way of changing priorities. From their first day in orbit, technicians fed human science and history into Shanhara’s database until it held nearly the total amassed knowledge of Earth. When the time was right, the most powerful Spider warrior was to don the battlesuit and use its knowledge to defeat his human enemies, but that time would never come, as Aric Dacia, the Visigoth the Spider Aliens took in 408 AD stole the armor and returned with it to Earth.

Two days later at the New York headquarters of Orb Industries in the Chrysler Building, Lydia accused Ken Clarkson, a devious effeminate schemer, of embezzling the company and warned him that she had no choice but to deal with him very harshly. Unfazed, Ken believed that Orb Industries was a front for Communists or terrorists and threatened to report them to the federal authority, but then Lydia mockingly assured him that they were far worse than he could have ever imagined and unveiled her fangs for him to see. While Ken trembled, Lydia offered to spare his life in exchange for his services and then ordered Aristedes to put Ken on a plane to Peru and have their agents herd Aric Dacia, who stole their most powerful weapon, where he could intercept him. As Aristedes escorted Ken out, Lydia said that Aric had a very valuable ring that belonged to them, and told him that after he had won his trust, he would bring the ring to her or die.

Retribution – Part I: Into The Fire

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On November 3rd 1991, aboard a Spider Alien transport vessel in orbit over the Earth, Aric Dacia fought his way through a nest of Spider Aliens with an axe he took from his captors that allowed him to break their hard skin and make their blood splatter on the floor. While he was aware that the aliens feared firing their weapons inside the vessel, Aric had no qualms about killing them, and, as he looked at the map on his palm, he knew he would soon have a hard skin like theirs. While the aliens’ fearfully battled Phil Seleski, Aric, whose skin was drenched in the crust of the aliens’ blood, crawled through a tube and entered the red room where they kept the X-O Manowar. Finding himself with nowhere to flee and nothing to fight with, Aric doubted that the armor would help him kill the aliens, but, when one of them saw him, he recalled that the Map Giver had told him to pull the ring from the armor’s chest plate and he did as bidden.

As the armor wrapped itself around him and protected him from the aliens’ lasers, Aric realized that the armor was stronger than the aliens’ weapons and fired on them with its gauntlet cannon, which tore a hole on the ship that sucked them into the void of space. Impressed by the armor’s power, Aric dubbed it the Good Skin, and as he wished to go outside, it carried him where he wanted to go. Though confused by his surroundings, which differed from what he remembered, Aric remained amazed with the armor, which took him back to the ship and gave him the strength to tear it apart.

As the ship exploded, the force of the blast pushed Aric towards the Earth and crashed on a snowy mountaintop in Peru. While dazed, Aric stood up to celebrate his victory over the aliens and lament the death of the Map Giver, whose spirit he considered worthy. After he discarded the armor, Aric thanked it for bringing him to a place where he could walk and then he made his way south. Shortly, Aric came upon a village whose inhabitants spoke a language that made less sense than the aliens’ tongue, and while he was prepared to kill them for their food, he was surprised when they did not run and gave him what he wanted.

Meanwhile, in the New York headquarters of Orb Industries in the Chrysler Building, Lydia met with Aristedes and Prather to discuss their options following the disintegration of their fleet. While Lydia believed that they were at risk, Prather told her that they still had options and refused to lose heart, while Aristedes noted that they were more than a fleet, and even cut off they remained the predators. Although Lydia warned Aristedes not to lecture her over how much they had left, she regretted the loss of their lifeline. Assuring Lydia that all they needed was the Manowar armor, Prather informed her that it they had tracked it to Peru, and that while Aric had the ring he could not have gone far. While Lydia worried that long as Aric had the ring he controlled the armor, Aristedes assured her that he had the brain of an ox and could not conceive of what they had.

Days later, while Aric plucked bananas from a tree, troubled by the Peruvians’ skin and tongue and worried that he was nowhere near his home, M’rrha, a beautiful villager, brought him a cup of water. While Aric drank from M’rrha’s cup, her brother, Carlitos, told her to ask Aric about his ring, and as she motioned towards it, Aric mused that it pulled her eyes as she pulled his. While Aric wondered how long it had been since he loved a woman, a driver on a jeep asked him if he was ready for their trek to the city and interrupted his train of thought. Eager to find a wizard who could tell him where he was and how to find his kin, Aric leapt on the back of the jeep, and, as he left, Carlitos noticed a fleet of helicopters coming towards the village.

Controlring

Aric Dacia with the control ring

Half a day later, while Aric mused that he only found worse air and heat than in the aliens’ litter, Carlitos ran into the city screaming that the helicopters had killed everyone in the village. While Aric failed to understand, he could tell that something had happened and rushed back to the village. Although Aric ran as fast as he could, his long captivity had weakened him and he was too late to save anyone. As he gazed at the villager’s dried husks, Aric lamented that he missed an opportunity to catch the aliens while they fed to kill them, when then he was horrified to see M’rrha’s head atop a spear. While Aric stroked M’rrha’s hair, he found an alien device pinned to it that played a message from the aliens that said that they had the Manowar armor and they wanted him to leave the ring for them and walk away or else they would continue to feed on his friends. Surprised that the aliens threatened him instead of kill him, Aric figured out that they feared him and the ring, which talked to him with a voice in his head that told him where the aliens took the armor. Determined to avenge M’rrha, Aric followed the ring’s voice north.

Sometime later in a warehouse in Northampton, Lydia met with Aristedes, who told her that Aric was making his way towards them. While Lydia felt certain that Aric was travelling on foot and was a stupid barbarian, Aristedes worried that his trek would be long enough for him to learn more about the ring and that he had tasted power. When Aristedes told Lydia that the armor would fight to be free long as Aric was in touch with it, she agreed that they needed the ring as soon as possible and proposed a piece of treachery.

Days later, as Aric systematically slaughtered the aliens that guarded the perimeter to their landing pads, he took his clothes off to move freely and used their own weapons to infiltrate their camp. While Malachai, a Spider Soldier, informed Lydia that Aric was costing him denizens and might get his hands on their weapons, Aric destroyed their helicopters with an alien bazooka. As her call with Malachai abruptly ended, Lydia felt certain that Aric had fallen into her web.

That night, Aric's quest took him to the capital city of Peru, where he came across a pair of prostitutes, one of whom spoke in a Germanic accent and another whose touch reminded him of M’rrha. While Aric wondered if the foreign prostitute knew his kin, a Spider Soldier leapt off a roof and bit him on the shoulder. After Aric snapped the creature’s neck, he wondered if it was the kind with poison on his teeth, but then he noticed that he lacked any green stripes on his clothing and he thanked Lugh for his good fortune. While Aric loomed over his foe, Ken Clarkson applauded him and commented that he was there looking for local color but he surpassed his wildest dreams. While he could not figure out Ken, who he thought sounded like a raven and clucked like a woman over his wounds, Aric believed that he was very bird-like and might be the wizard he was seeking, so he followed him to his hotel room. While Aric took a bath, he thought the shampoo and soap were strange oils that proved Ken was a wizard. Afterwards, while Ken showed him a couch where he could sleep, Aric wondered why he had not begun his wizardry and believed that he had to be refreshed before he could begin. Worried that with the fighting he had yet to do he was better off in a comfortable space, Aric slept on the wooden floor behind a potted plant.

The next morning when Ken woke up, he was dismayed to notice that Aric had vanished, but then he saw him behind the plant and joked that, if he wanted a brute to growl at him in the morning, he would have bought a St. Bernard. Worried for his safety, Ken told Aric to shave his beard so he could get him out of the country. At the airport, as Ken joked that Aric looked like a pro wrestler, Aric mused that he had not been without a beard since it sprang from his face and thought that Ken had taken him to his house to begin his wizardry. During their flight, as Aric mused that wizardry made the plane fly, Ken told him that he looked nervous and grabbed his hand, then, when he reached for the ring to look at it, Aric pushed him aside and pondered that, even though Ken was a wizard, the ring belonged to him.

Hours later at John F. Kennedy International Airport, as Aric thanked Ken for taking him north, Ken told him not to thank him while he was still a fugitive and asked him to wait for him while he made a phone call. While Ken informed Lydia that he had brought Aric to New York, Aric grew increasingly annoyed and decided to continue his journey, but then Ken stopped him and told him that he had found them a place where he would be safe. Since Ken could not understand him, Aric showed him the ring to indicate that he had to follow it and hugged him to thank him for his help. As Aric called Ken friend in Spanish, he mused that, while he did not understand men like him who liked other men, he thought they could be good wizards and that, someday, he would bring him great reward.

While at first Aric thought that Ken did not understand him, when he started walking north, he followed him to the tarmac certain that he had. Unable to understand Ken, Aric failed to grasp when he revealed he worked for the aliens and tried to warn him of an ambush, when, then, Malachai and a group of Spider Soldiers came out of hiding with a Spider Tank and shot Ken’s arm off. As Aric wondered how the aliens found him after he traveled so far north, he figured that Ken had never fought the aliens and hid him to spare him their cruelty. Certain that to save Ken he had to defeat the aliens, Aric drew their fire and they shot off a gasoline tank, and as the explosion engulfed him, he found himself pinned beneath the debris. As Aric heard the voice that told him to travel north again, he wondered if the armor could hear him as well and he called for it to come to him.

Back in the warehouse, the Manowar armor broke loose from the confinement beam that held it in place and Lydia exclaimed that it should respond to their commands because they made it, but Aristedes reminded her that they designed the armor to adapt to its user and that he warned her that Aric had tasted power. In a sudden flash of light, the armor assumed a spherical shape and escaped the warehouse.

As the voice in his head no longer whispered north, the armor arrived on the tarmac and kicked the debris away from Aric, and, as it wrapped itself around him like a bear skin, the soldiers fled in fear, while Malachai shot in the certainty that their weapons would destroy it. As Aric wished to jump away from the blast, the armor carried him towards the tank and he ripped its turret off its hinges, but then he found himself floating in mid air unable to move. When Malachai told Aric that watching him die would afford him great pleasure, Aric recognized his voice from the device on M’rrha’s hair and fired on the tank until it toppled on its back. Enraged, Aric pulled Malachai through the tank’s glass canopy and killed him to avenge M’rrha’s death.

While tarmac workers discovered the damage from the battle, Aric escaped with Ken to the woods, and as he loomed over him, convinced that he was a wizard since his spirit did not fly away with his arm, Aric felt pleased that he had avenged M’rrha and the others and then he set out to find a healer for Ken. As Aric mused that when the aliens took him from his home had could not kill them, he pondered that with new Good Skin he was the strongest one there was and that with it he would rule.

Back in New York, Prather conceded that Aric's savagery in their armor put them at risk, and he and Lydia planned their next move.

Retribution – Part II: Kingdom Come

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Early one evening in Lido Beach, Aric Dacia battled a Spider Soldier garbed in X-O Wolf armor that proved to be stronger than the everyday objects he used as weapons. After the alien punched him through the side of a house, Aric noticed that the Good Skin was harder than the poor weapons he had found and rammed his fist into the alien’s carapace. As the alien’s blood oozed freely through an open wound, Aric reproached himself for thinking like a naked warrior looking for sticks and proclaimed that, like a true warrior and his blade, he and the Good Skin were the strongest one there was. When Aric ripped off one of the arachnoids’ limbs and the soldier escaped, the Good Skin bore him up after him, and, once he caught up to his foe, he mused that death was a gift to a warrior who had lost a limb, and that, though his enemy had limbs to spare, he was a generous foe. After Aric killed the soldier, he thanked Lugh for his Good Skin.

Moments later in the offices of Orb Industries in the Chrysler Building, Lydia gently caressed a tarantula as she reminded Prather that she told him that, even with their best bio-engineered hunter, X-O Wolf armor was no match for Manowar armor, even with an ignorant barbarian in it. As Prather told Lydia that he considered the attack a reasonable attempt to reacquire the armor, she said the time for what he deemed reasonable was past and it was time for desperate measures. Though Prather was certain that an opportunity would present itself to kill Aric, Lydia worried that in time he would realize the extent of the power in his grasp and kill them. When Prather casually laughed at the idea that she wanted him to risk everything in an all-out assault, Lydia coldly told him that he should and asked him what they knew about Aric. As Prather replied that, other than being the first specimen they acquired on Earth, there was nothing remarkable about Aric, Lydia told him that an unremarkable man could not have done what he had and mused that Aric was a human whose frailties provided endless opportunities for treachery. As she left, Lydia told Prather to let her deal with Aric.

When Aric returned to Lido Beach, he found Ken behind a bush where he left him when the soldier swooped down on them watching as the police gathered around the house where he fought his arachnid foe. After Aric picked up Ken and took flight, he wished he could understand him, then, as he mused that Ken lamented the loss of his arm, he pondered that, since he was his friend, he should grant him the gift of a clean death, but then he considered that, since he was a wizard, he could grow a new arm. As they approached the house of Ken’s friend Bev, Aric thought that she lived in a castle, and after she patched up Ken’s injury and made them dinner, he thought that Ken was an important wizard for the queen herself to tend to his wounds and feed them. After Bev asked Ken what happened to him, he told her that he helped Aric escape from alien invaders who blew his arm off with a laser, but while she believed the part about the laser, she questioned the rest of his story. As Ken assured Bev that he trusted her and promised that, since they may need more of her help, he would explain everything, he told her that they had things to do and asked her to leave them.

When Ken signaled him to wrap himself in the Good Skin, Aric figured that he knew that when he wore the armor he understood him a little better and did as he asked. Certain that the armor was probably trying to help him understand, Ken told Aric that it was going to need time to develop a full rapport with him and asked him to try to get the drift of what he told him. As Ken told Aric that the beings that held him prisoner were from another world, he told him that when he destroyed their ship he stranded them on Earth, so they needed the armor to build a new ship, and long as any of them lived they would go after them, so he had to kill them all.

Later that evening, an Orb Industries helicopter landed in a warehouse in Northampton and, as Aristedes ran to welcome it, Lydia came out and asked him if he had done as she instructed him. As Aristedes informed Lydia that they began to work as soon as he received her message, he escorted her inside and showed her the assembled firepower he had gathered within the facility. Though Lydia applauded him, Aristedes doubted that all their weapons would be a match for the Manowar armor, but then she told him that all they had to do was momentarily stunned Aric and hammer open the tiniest fissure through which to inject poison, and that if they stroke with massive force, they would conquer him. When Aristedes wondered how they would lure Aric into their trap and make him hold position until they could unleash the barrage, Lydia pointed at the image of Ken on a screen and told him that their former employee, who had become Aric’s ally, was their bait. When Aristedes informed Lydia that Aric was still in Long Island, she ordered him to send in their commandos.

While Ken tried to tell Aric that the armor understood maps even if he did not and it would take him to the aliens’ facilities, Aric stared at Bev while she smoked a cigarette and grabbed it from her hand. As he stared at the cigarette and realized that it was a stupid way to breathe smoke, Aric tossed it and picked up an antique letter-opener. While Ken told Bev that Aric spent most of his life locked up and did not understand things, Spider Soldiers broke into the house. Certain that the soldiers were there to avenge their eight-legged brother, Aric confronted them head-on, but as he fought them off one of them absconded with Ken. As Aric killed a soldier with the letter-opener, he mused that, while the Good Skin was his weapon, a warrior should always have a blade. When the aliens left with Ken on a hovercraft, Aric bid his friend goodbye and mused that his spirit was worthy, but then Bev urged him to do something and he thought that she might random Ken and decided to leave before his enemies brought more harm to her castle. As Bev pointed at the corpses strewn over her house and asked Aric how he could just stand there, he thought she did not have any servants who could burn them, so he incinerated them himself, and as he flew away, he thought that none could ever say that he was not a grateful host.

Shortly, the Spider Alien hovercraft landed in a warehouse in Northampton, and as the soldiers escorted Ken inside, he warned them that Aric was going to rip them apart. Meanwhile in the control room, Lydia and Aristedes felt certain that Aric was preparing himself for their assault, but when they spied on him, they noticed that he was asleep. While Aristedes suggested that they should attack, Lydia worried that the armor would warn Aric and left to consider their next move.

The next morning somewhere off the coast, Aric woke up and thanked Lugh for the Good Skin that kept watch over him while he slept as it told him it would. While Aric searched for something to eat, he wondered if the voice that spoke to him was Lugh himself and mused how, once, he thought that those who claimed the Gods spoke to them were liars or mad. After Aric had his fill of a swallow’s eggs, he took flight on the armor and went to find the aliens to kill them all as Ken told him.

Later that morning, Aristedes informed Lydia that Aric had destroyed their base in Northern New Jersey and was moving towards Pennsylvania. Worried that Aric was not going to Massachusetts, Lydia thought it was time they spoke with Ken. Moments later, in a red room where Ken was strapped to a web of tendrils that held him upside down from the roof and walls, he sarcastically told Lydia that Aric was less simple than either of them thought. As Lydia noted that luring Aric into an ambush was risky business, she asked Ken for any suggestions on how to catch him out of the armor and unawares, but he just told her to say her prayers. While Aristedes wanted to torture Ken, Lydia did not think that he knew anything useful and said she had an idea. Sometime later, as Aric skewered the aliens with his ion beams, the voice called his name in words for the first time and he believed that Lugh, the grandest God of all, had spoken his name. When Aric asked Lugh what his was will, the wordless voice guided him towards New York, and though the sound differed from before, Aric believed that a God could speak with many voices.

That night, as Spider Soldiers released Ken from the tendrils to transfer him to one of Lydia’s hideaways where she could devour him, he lured one of them with the blood from his stump and took his weapon to kill them both. As a firefight with the rest of the guards ensued, Ken held his position in the cell and mused aloud that he would dearly sell his blood and hoped Lydia would get indigestion.

Guided by what he believed was the voice of Lugh, Aric arrived at the Chrysler Building in New York City, which he thought was the castle of the king of his enemies, and slaughtered a nest of Spider Aliens garbed as Centurions that were waiting for him in the lobby. As the aliens wilted before him and fled at his approach, Aric grew convinced that the power of Lugh covered him like a cloak that filled them with fear. When a handful of the guards fled in an elevator, Aric swiftly went after them and slaughtered them all.

Meanwhile, in the top floor, Lydia and Prather garbed themselves as an emperor and his queen to lure Aric into a trap. As two soldiers encased him in a metalloid carapace, Prather worried that it offered him scant protection against Manowar armor, but Lydia assured him that the time for desperate measures had come and that she took the greater risk as, in her role she could not wear an armor. When he expressed doubt that their ploy would work, Lydia told Prater that Aric was stupid enough to believe in invisible Gods and that she lured him there with a simple directional signal and voice transmission of his name. As a soldier crowned him, Prather asked Lydia why she lured Aric to the very nerve center of their network and why she chose him, and she replied that the building would seem to Aric a proper tower for a king and that it was their duty. Ultimately, Lydia added that she would not trust the delicacy of their plot to anyone else.

As the elevator that carried Aric to the top floor, arrived Lydia reminded Prather that Aric came from an era of empire and they would offer him a token resistance and surrender so that, once he thought he had won, the game would be hers to play. When the doors opened, Aric thanked Lugh for guiding him there and proceeded to slaughter the guards that stood between him and Prather, Boldly, Aric blasted Prather’s head cleanly off his shoulders and took his scepter as a symbol of his victory, as well as the captain of the guard’s sword. As Aric loomed proudly over the aliens as they begged him for mercy, he wondered if Lugh’s purpose for him was to subjugate them or destroy them and wished that he would speak to him again, but then he decided that, unless Lugh bid otherwise, he would kill them.

When Lydia tossed herself at his feet, Aric found it strange than neither she nor Prather were aliens, and as he sat on the throne feeling confused, he ordered the aliens to bring Ken out so he could help him decide what to do about her. As Lydia ordered the soldiers to leave them in soothing voice that sounded like a soft musical tone like the sad, beautiful whisper of the night wind and a siren’s voice to him, Aric wished that he could understand what she said. When Lydia offered to bathe him, Aric mused that, while he did not find her to be beautiful, there was something strangely enticing about her and so he removed his armor to allow her to treat him like a conquering king.

Once there was no chance that the armor would translate her words Lydia soothingly called Aric by name and told him that she had studied him, and knew that, during the two thousand years he spent imprisoned on their ships, the only ones of her kind he saw were unlike humans. Insultingly, Lydia told Aric he was too primitive to imagine they could bio-genetically alter their bodies, and that those of them who conducted business on Earth could become almost indistinguishable from his kind. As she slowly caressed Aric’s neck and moved closer to it, Lydia voiced her discomfort with her human form and unveiled her alien teeth to bite him.

As Aric discerned that Lydia called him by name and realized that only Lugh knew who he was, he recalled that he knew better than to trust the aliens or the women that dwelled with them and stabbed her in the heart. When Lydia kept moving in spite of her fatal wound, Aric believed that she was a witch with no heart and donned the armor to overmatch her spells. As he grasped that Lydia had put what he thought was the voice of Lugh in his ear, Aric pulled her cloak off her and gazed at her arachnid body just as she fell out the window. While horrified that such a creature tried to seduce him, Aric retreated inside to search her lair for charms to protect him from her like.

Sometime afterward, Aric patched the armor into the aliens’ communications web and found Ken in the warehouse in Northampton. As he saw Aric on the screen looking at him, Ken realized that they had won.

Retribution – Part III: The Most Powerful Man In The World

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While wind blew through the broken window of the offices of Orb Industries in the Chrysler Building, Aric Dacia was kneeled on the floor eating an animal he killed while he read a children’s book to learn how to speak English at the behest of Ken Clarkson. Bored with the book, Aric thought that others should learn his language since he was stronger, but since he considered Ken his only friend in the strange world he found himself in, he did as he asked. As he flipped the page, Aric saw an image of a spider and recognized it.

Elsewhere in the building, a physician Ken brought from Boston told him he was lucky he lost his arm stumbling against a laser since the cut was clean and nearly cauterized, which kept him from bleeding to death and sped the healing immensely. As the doctor packed his bag, he told Ken that he was not entirely sure who he was, and Ken told him he was the new chief executive officer of Orb Industries. When the doctor noted that, while he had heard about Orb Industries he had never been entirely clear on what it might be, Ken said that his principle preferred it that way, and then, when the doctor asked him who his principal was, he sent him on his way.

Moments later, Ken entered the top floor office and told Aric that, if he had it his way, they would not let any outsiders in the building since people could never know who the principal owner of Orb Industries. Troubled, Ken noted that the Spider Aliens built Orb Industries into a powerful multinational corporation to serve as a front for their operations on Earth, but that it would all come crashing down if the world ever learned that an ancient Visigoth had captured it and become the most powerful man in the world. When Ken asked Aric how his lessons were coming along Aric angrily tossed the book aside and told him he wanted to go home, but Ken told him that he was home for the moment and asked him to believe that he knew what he was doing. While Ken said that the aliens did most of their work behind the scenes and no one outside them knew who ran their corporation, and that as far as anyone knew they had always been in charge and he had slowly transferred all their assets into his name, Aric sat on his throne and mused that Ken chattered too much.

As Ken thanked God he had the common sense to tell Aric to get rid of the aliens’ bodies, he said that, since the cops thought that mystery terrorists ransacked the building and no one knew what really happened except for them and, far as the world was concerned, Orb Industries was back to business as usual. Deviously, Ken told Aric that he was making Orb their business, and, once he was done, they would be sitting pretty and he would be able to go out again. When Ken suggested that they fix the window, Aric refused because the cold made him feel at home. While Ken told Aric that his home had not existed for two thousand years, he noted that one did not have to be a Visigoth to have trouble understanding that and asked him to forget he said anything. As they looked down at the city and Ken told Aric that, soon, they would be able to buy Germany or whatever the area he lived in had become, he said that they were lucky to have each other and that, as long as they were together, they were the most powerful men in the world.

Meanwhile in Tokyo, in the offices of the Harbinger Foundation, a non-profit organization that provided an environment where people with special abilities and talents could achieve their potential, Toyo Harada, the world’s most powerful Harbinger, mused aloud over what men would or would not do to obtain power while he reviewed the file on project Sniper. As Toyo read that Karl Breznoff, the mercenary called Sniper, had bionic ordnance implanted on his body, he exclaimed that he must had suffered tremendous pain in his lust for power. The next morning, Toyo offered Karl one million dollars to stop a cabal whose membership he refused to reveal out of fear he would think him insane. After Karl demonstrated his weapon's destructive power, Toyo told him that he would change from the agent of a discredited regime to an idol of the world and he was the man who would save the planet. When Karl asked him what was in it for him Toyo told him that all he wanted was satisfaction and that he could keep all the bows long as the world knew that no outside force ruled their lives.

Later that morning, Aric entered a conference room where he left the Manowar armor and was enraged to see Phil Seleski standing beside it. As Phil told him that he chased the aliens’ invasion fleet into space and he was afraid something awful could have happened while he was gone, Aric thought he was a wizard that wanted to distract him with his words. After Phil congratulated Aric for taking care of the aliens without understanding how he did it just with his will and heart, he told him that he was privileged to come back home during an exciting time for not just them but many others. As Phil vanished in a bright flash of multicolored lights, Aric donned his armor to bring him back since he was an emperor and wizards worked for emperors.

As he flew out the window, Aric told the Good Skin that he knew when he spoke to it, it could hear him, and, sometimes, he heard another voice in his head that he guessed meant it was a gift from Lugh. When the Good Skin did not answer, Aric worried he had talked too much, and, as he apologized, he begged Lugh to tell him where Phil had gone. While he flew over the city, Aric mused that the Good Skin might not know which wizard he meant since their castles filled the city, when then he came across Central Park. Certain that Lugh had placed the great forest there to answer his earlier plea to go home, Aric thanked him for giving him his freedom and removed the armor to frolic in the park, where ten bandits armed with clubs, knives, and chains surrounded him. As he thanked Lugh, Aric slaughtered the bandits with their own weapons. Pleased with the steam of new-spilled blood in the air, Aric mused that the city might become bearable with a forest like Central Park, wizards like Phil in the heights, and bandits in the depths that Lugh had provided for him.

After he donned the armor and took flight to return home, Aric realized he had only seen the outside of his castle once, but then he recalled that the Good Skin could lead him there and bid it to take him home. As the armor flew towards the Chrysler Building, Aric mused that, while wizards dwelled in the city, they would all bow to him. Suddenly, an unseen attacker shot Aric in the back, and, as he lost his balance, he ordered the armor to halt and he stopped falling. Amazed at how the armor responded to his commands, Aric turned to face his aggressor and saw Karl standing on the street below. When Karl shot him and said he had butchered worse men than him, Aric felt the blunt of the bullets and thought he was another wizard. As the momentum of the bullets pushed Aric through a brick wall, upstairs, Ken thought the aliens had staged a counter attack, but when he looked down at the street, he wondered what was happening.

While Karl confronted Aric, Toyo saw the battle through his eyes and mused that Karl was his stalking horse to scout the lair of the Spider Aliens, but he never expected they would have entrusted such power to one not of their kind and wondered how much more he ignored.

Enraged, Aric punched Karl to make him bow before him. When Aric tried to insult Karl, his unfamiliarity with English made him certain he was the target Toyo sent him to find. While Aric returned Karl’s fire with his ion cannons, he mused that, soon as he triumphed, he was going back to Ken’s book to learn how to say bad things about people’s mothers. As Aric’s lasers bounced off Karl’s suit, Karl proclaimed himself the hero of their battle and fired on him, but his bullets ricocheted wildly and hit the innocent bystanders. As Ken reached the street to help Aric, he made him notice that the people around him were dying. In a bid to safeguard the people from harm, Aric pointed at Central Park and challenged Karl to follow him there, a humanitarian act that surprised Toyo, but Karl thought he was escaping and shot him off the sky with a barrage of bullets. Though Aric called for Lugh to help him, he crashed on the pavement and Karl shot him with a bazooka that broke the Manowar armor’s helmet. Angered, Aric grabbed Karl and blocked his gun’s barrels with his gauntlets, and while Karl worried that if he fired and the armor did not give at close range he could die, he believed that if he did not try the world would die and opened fire, but the blast destroyed his implants. While Karl withered in pain, Aric wanted him to stand up and continue their battle, but Ken urged him to take them out of there because people were gawking at them.

While Aric and Ken flew away from the scene, Ken told Aric that they had to try to keep his identity a secret and that they would stay out of sight until dark and then sneak back into the building through the broken window. Though he felt the pain of the Good Skin in his head, Aric dismissed it as a ringing in his ears and told Ken that the city afforded him many fights and many bad wizards, but then Ken assured him that in the 20th Century there were no wizards.

Meanwhile in Tokyo, Toyo scanned the Manowar armor and learned that his foe was not an alien, but someone that even his foundation knew nothing about. Determined to learn everything there was to know even if it meant he had to involve himself personally, Toyo stood beneath his window to stare out at the rising sun and pondered what men would not do for power.

Retribution – Part IV: King’s Crossing

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On March 1st 1992 in the top floor of the Chrysler Building, Aric Dacia and Ken Clarkson reviewed a file that held all the data Ken could find on Sniper, who he had learned worked for Toyo Harada. Since he had never heard of Toyo before, Ken researched him and told Aric that he was incredibly wealthy as well as powerful, and involved in a vast pattern of behind-the-scenes manipulations on a global scale that made him a world power unto himself. Moreover, Ken told Aric that the Spider Aliens’ files were full of references to Toyo, whose resistance against them made them fear him. When Aric proclaimed that he did not fear King Toyo or the wizards he sent to kill him, Ken noted that he thought Toyo sent Sniper to kill him because he thought he was one of the aliens and ignored that he had stolen their greatest weapon and booted them out of their headquarters, a notion he hardly believed himself.

Just then, Todd Bevins, Toyo’s personal assistant, contacted Aric and Ken through a comm-link terminal hooked into the aliens’ private communications system that the aliens left behind. As Todd assured Aric and Ken that Toyo merely reacted to what his sources believed to be a threat, he said that Toyo had made a commitment to rectify the damage. Using a remote camera at one of their medical facilities, Todd told Aric and Ken that the victims of the battle had received the best care on hand and that they had generously compensated the families of those who died. When Todd said that Toyo would like to meet with them in their offices to discuss his vision of global peace, Ken refused and warned him that the offices were off limits. When Todd suggested that they go to New Orleans where Toyo was and showed them a video of dancing girls at the Mardi Gras festival, Aric eagerly agreed to go, while Ken terminated the transmission and promised to get back to him. While Ken worried that they were not ready to confront Toyo without a plan, Aric was tired of making plans, being locked up in the building, and of what he called Ken’s wizard games, and insisted on facing Toyo his way, with or without him. Since he had invested too much in Aric to let him put his head in the lion’s mouth, Ken halfheartedly agreed to accompany him to New Orleans.

Outside the broken window, Faith Herbert, a plucky fangirl with the power of flight, eavesdropped on Aric and Ken’s conversation and then flew down to the street to report her findings to the rest of the Harbinger Resistance, a loose organization of Harbinger renegades. When Faith told the others that Toyo arranged to meet Aric and Ken in New Orleans, Pete Stanchek, a powerful psionic of extraordinary power, proclaimed that Toyo’s presence in the States was their opportunity to stop him before he became a dictator. When John Torkelson, a goliath who sought to get even with those that wronged him, reminded the others that Toyo played for keeps, Kris Hathaway, Pete’s girlfriend, told Pete that he had to kill Toyo and reminded him that he was the only one of them who could take him on. While Faith worried Aric might try to stop them, Pete told her they would politely ask him to step aside because they were the good guys.

Later that day in the airport, Aric mused that he could fly them much faster with the Good Skin, but then he figured it be undignified to lug around a wizard like Ken like a saddlebag and it was important for wizards to seem dignified before an emperor like Toyo. As the plane took off, Aric lamented that Ken did not have time to grow a new arm before they left and thought he would be embarrassed. During the flight, as Ken exclaimed his comfort with their ability to charter their private jet with the wealth they appropriated and asked Aric if the damage that the armor suffered would be permanent. While Aric assured him the armor would re-grow its fallen pieces soon, Ken told him that, if it came to a fight, the armor was all that stood in the way of them meeting his great God Lugh. Valiantly, Aric said that he was not afraid to meet Lugh, and assured Ken that he was a great warrior before the Good Skin, and that if Toyo harmed him he would meet Lugh first. Though he found Aric’s attitude charmingly hostile, Ken noted that it ill-suited their diplomatic mission.

Sometime later in a hotel lobby, Aric mused that New Orleans was hotter than New York and planned to take his suit off as soon as they got to their room. While on the elevator, Ken reminded Aric that he would do all the talking when they met Toyo and he would not say anything. When Aric and Ken came into the penthouse, Toyo’s guards reached for the bag that held the Manowar armor to inspect it and Aric thought that they were bandits who wanted to steal it. As Aric punched the guards, Toyo asked him to end the conflict between their two camps and told him that it was his hope they could become staunch allies for the betterment of the planet.

While Toyo told Aric that, for many years, he had monitored the alien invaders’ communications, disrupted their flow of supplies, and thwarted their operations at every turn, he explained how, as he became familiar with their technology and recognized his armor to be of extraterrestrial origin, he presumed the worse and apologized for his actions. When Toyo expressed a desire to know what his involvement with the aliens was, Aric insisted to speak with him himself over Ken’s objections.

In his own way, Aric told Toyo how, after the aliens took him from his home and made him their prisoner, he waited for years for the time to kill them until, one day when they were not watching, he found the Manowar armor and used it to kill them and take over Orb Industries. Satisfied with Aric’s tale, Toyo told him that the spoils of his victory belonged to him as long as he did not oppose him, but then Aric accused him of attacking him and Ken. While he reiterated that the attack was a mistake, Toyo assured Aric he could rest easy and he had nothing to fear from him as they were there to forge a bond of peace. As they reached a understanding, Toyo invited Aric and Ken to partake of the Mardi Gras festival in a place where the drinks were cool, the jazz was hot, and Aric would have his pick of any woman. While Aric was eager to leave, Ken wished to discuss further business with Toyo, but he declined. As they left and Ken whispered to him that there was more to Toyo that met the eye and said that he did not trust him, Aric told him that he did not trust anyone.

That night in the French Quarter, Aric mused that New Orleans was a magical place where people sang and danced as if it was the great festival of Lugh and everything a man could want was there for the taking. As they sat to listen to Jack Boniface, a jazz player, play his sax in the La Bas Jazz club, Toyo offered Aric and Ken a glass of Sazerac, a renowned local drink. Shortly, while Toyo ingested a pill that spared him from the effect of alcohol, Aric became heavily inebriated and excused himself to go to the bathroom. While Aric walked away, the renegades waited in the bar for Toyo to become equally inebriated before they attacked.

As he stumbled dizzily towards the bathroom, Aric pondered Ken’s assertion that there were no more wizards and noted that something about Toyo smacked of wizardly since he seemed unaffected by their liquor. Just then, Aric came across Lydia, who leapt out of his way and fled, and though, at first, he seemed to recognize her, he dismissed her presence as the result of his inebriation and decided to return to the table to drink a few more just in case Toyo would not respect a warrior who could not hold his drink.

That night, as Toyo took Aric and Ken to Bourbon Street, the Harbinger Resistance attacked, and while Toyo called his guards, Aric, who believed the renegades were wizards attacked John, who punched him through a wooden fence. As the Good Skin cleared his head, Aric dispatched John and Charlene, but then Pete deflected his lasers and tossed his in the air against his will where Faith tackled him. As John grabbed Aric’s ankles, he tossed him against a shed, but when Charlene climbed down to check up on him, he used a broken water main to douse her flames. In a huff, Charlene evaporated the water around them and created a curtain of steam that hid Aric from her and allowed him to punch her out. Though Aric thought that the renegades were brave, he also though that they fought foolishly without strategy and easily defeated John and Pete. Suddenly, Kris drove up to the club and the renegades escaped in her car.

While Toyo ordered his guards to put all stations on alert to track them the renegades, he mused aloud that their attack had served his purpose and then nonchalantly told Aric that he fought magnificently and that he owed him his life. As he reassured Aric that he would find him an equally strong ally in the future, Toyo told him that he had some important matters to attend to and left. As they walked away and Toyo told his guard that Aric might prove to be a useful tool in the days to come or else he would terminate him, he called his secretary to cancel all his appointments for the next several days as he was enjoying himself in New Orleans and wished to stay a while longer.

Though Ken urged Aric to hide the armor before they attracted attention and told him he wanted to go back to New York because he had enough excitement for one day, Aric accused him of being a boring wizard and told him that he was not leaving until he had some fun. As Aric walked over to a couple of showgirls and told him to go back to the hotel, Ken shook his head and called him a barbarian.

As their car sped out of the city, Pete told the others that they would get another chance to get Toyo, but that they would have to lay low for the moment until he gave them another opportunity. Troubled, Pete worried that they now had two powerful enemies to deal with.

Revelations

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Fed up with Ken's reluctance to take him back home, Aric still had a problem grasping that Dacia no longer existed. Unbeknownst to Aric, Ken planned to kill him so he could have full control of Orb. Falling asleep while wearing the armor, Aric awoke to discover that the X–O had downloaded all the knowledge he required to understand the modern world into his mind, as well as revealed Ken's treachery, but Aric refused to believe that Ken would betray him. Throwing the armor away, Aric left in a huff. Later, as he decided that if he would not have his world back he would take the one he was on, Aric called the armor, but it did not come. Believing he had offended it, Aric used the ring to track the armor to a hotel room, where he discovered that Ax and his thugs had stolen the armor and kidnapped Ken, who he now believed had betrayed him.

Power Play

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While Aric Dacia fought the cybernetically–enhanced thugs, Ax donned an X–O War armor he stole from an alien base. Taking their fight outside, Ax used his ability to control two fighter jets and used their ordinance to attack Aric. Bombarded by missiles, Aric fell into the ocean, where Ax attached a scrambler to the X–O. As they resurfaced and landed on a beach, the scrambler cut off communications between Aric and the armor. Believing he had won, Ax was shocked when Aric removed the armor and beat him with his bare hands. As Ax’s thugs arrived, Aric traded them Ax for Ken. That night, inspired by Ax’s thugs, Aric instructed the X–O to replace Ken's missing arm with a cybernetic prosthetic that would ensure that if he tried to betray him again he would die by his own hand.

Unity

When Erica Pierce, the God–like entity called Mothergod, tried to achieve Unity, a convergence of all the timelines, the Geomancers of two eras gathered the heroes of Earth to stop her in one final decisive battle for all eternity in the Lost Land, a place outside time and reality.

A Call To Arms

After Aric promised Ken that he would someday remove the arm, he joined Geoff McHenry and the Harbinger Resistance in the Unity conflict, leaving Ken behind to watch over his empire. Soon after they arrived in the Lost Land, Aric engaged a squadron of pterosaurs ridden by robot jockeys that overpowered him with their weapons. Knocked out of the sky, Aric fell into a sub–basement prison within Mothergod’s citadel where he discovered the Skammers offering a group of human slaves as food to the Bionisaurs in exchange for weapons. Disgusted, Aric rescued the slaves, killing the Skammers and the Bionisaurs in the process. During the battle, a Bionisaur tried to eat Aric, but the armor saved him from his bite. After the battle, Aric led the slaves to the safety of the caves in the mountains to turn them into his army, but realizing that turning this gaggle into warriors would not be easy he turned back and decided to force the Skammers into becoming his army.

Crossroads

150 days into Unity, Aric Dacia led a raid of Mothergod’s facilities to steal a power converter. Finding Rai, who was there to destroy his prize, Aric convinced him to fight him over it at his camp. There, Rai, Magnus, and Gilad Anni-Padda talked Aric into destroying the converter so Mothergod could not use it. Three days later, Aric granted Mothergod an audience. Using his lustful eyes against him, Mothergod tricked Aric into bedding one of his bims in a ploy to get him to shed the X–O. While Aric and Cayla made love, Erica Pierce used her power to move the X–O away from him. Just then, a Bionisaur broke into Aric's tent and almost ate him. Responding to its masters cries, the X–O escaped Mothergod’s control and flew back to Aric. Wrapped in the Good Skin, Aric led the Skammers against Mothergod’s army, but in the end Mothergod slaughtered everyone. Awakening four days later, Aric learned much to his sorrow that it would take the Good Skin 10 years to make him whole away. Filled with hatred, Aric swore revenge on Mothergod.

The Lost Chapter

While searching for Mothergod, Aric found a group of Skammer scouts. Learning of the survival of some of his people, Aric enacted his revenge. The next morning, while the Skammers broke into one of Mothergod’s weapon caches, Aric killed the Bionisaur who ate Cayla. With the Skammers armed with Mothergod’s own weaponry, Aric led an assault on her complex that resulted in the apparent demise of all his followers. Joining the other heroes’ attack on Mothergod’s reactor, Aric assisted Solar in destroying its core. With the Lost Land self–destructing in a cataclysm of exploding energy, Solar laid down a temporal field penetrating all those who remained. Their thoughts lead them to their own respective times, and to the places they called home.

As Aric mused over what he could have accomplished with the manowar when he was first a warrior, he vanished in a flash.

Homecoming

Homecoming – Part I: Besieged

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Appearing over Rome, Aric realized that he was back in 408. Finding his uncle's camp, he promised to explain what happened to Alaric, but Mallak, Alaric's advisor, accused him of being in league with Satan. To earn Alaric's trust, Aric stole the emperor’s scepter and gave it to him. Reunited with Deidre, Aric told her what had happened to him. The next morning, Aric slaughtered a Roman legion waiting to ambush them. Afraid of the power Aric wielded, Alaric I joined with the Romans to kill his nephew. Using Deidre as bait, the Romans attacked Aric, who thanks to the Good Skin prevailed over everything they threw at him. Finding Deidre inside a temple, Aric learned that his own kin had allied with his enemies to kill him. Threatening to kill all of them unless they let Deidre go, Aric was unprepared when they used mirrors to deflect the X–O’s energy blasts, which destroyed the structure and killed everyone, including Deidre. Realizing that there was nothing left for him there, Aric buried himself deep within the ground at the X–O’s direction.

Homecoming – Part II: Takeover

A month after Aric vanished, a sudden quake rocked the Orb Industries building in Boston. Dragged outside by his arm, Ken ended up beside a tree that suddenly exploded and revealed Aric buried beneath it. As Ken helped Aric out of the ditch, the control ring slipped off Aric's finger and Ken picked it up. Taking Aric back home, Ken used the control ring to retrieve the X–O and hid it where Aric could not find it. Over the next few weeks, Aric regained his strength and prodded Ken to find the ring, but Ken would claim that it was lost. One day, Aric explained what happened to him to Lauren, but she did not believe him and broke up with him. That night, as Ken contemplated returning the ring to Aric after realizing that he could not kill him after all, a Spider Alien attacked him. Running away, Ken ran past other Spider Aliens on his way to Aric's room. As Ken threw the ring into his hand, Aric revealed that he knew he had it all along. As Aric called the X–O armor and it wrapped around him, they discovered that it had evolved into a different configuration.

Seed of Destruction

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Seed of Destruction – Part I: Alien Whispers

Discovering that the X–O had made a blade, Aric used it to kill the aliens. Four months later, Aric could not sleep as he expected the aliens to attack, while as the armor kept changing he feared it was not safe to use it. Following Ken's advise Aric went home, where after putting it off for many hours he went to sleep. That night, Aric had a dream that he was in an arena watching a red alien kill a green alien for a pod, when then he was awoken by a phone call from Ken, who had the same dream. The next day, Ken theorized that they had he same dream due to something the aliens were doing, but Aric dismissed him. That night, Aric faced the X–O and wondered what was happening to it. Having the dream again, Aric saw as a Spider Alien priest gutted the red alien and placed the pod inside him. As liquid metal covered the alien, Aric realized that he was watching how an X–O Manowar was made, when then the alien grabbed his neck and chocked him. Waking up, Aric discovered that he was floating in space inside the X–O Manowar flying towards the moon.

Seed of Destruction – Part II: Moonstruck

As Aric landed on the moon, the Good Skin told him that every 2,000 years it could produce a seedpod that spawned an X–O Manowar armor, and that the Spider Aliens on the moon were calling her. Entering the moon base, Aric came across Rexo, who the aliens sent to retrieve Shanhara's seed. That was the first time Aric became aware that the Good Skin was a living being with a name. Revealing a heard of humans kept captive by the aliens, Rexo offered to let them go in exchange for the armor, but the humans preferred to die rather than be his bargaining chips. After Rexo killed the humans, Aric slaughtered the aliens and crippled Rexo before he filled his helmet with alien blood so he would drown in it. As Aric flew away from the moon despite Shanhara's desire to remain, the aliens sent a squadron of Commando X–O War troops that engaged him in battle. Using dampening filaments, the few commandos Aric did not kill dragged him back to the moon. Back on Earth, Randy Cartier reported to Ken's office for her first day as Orb’s security chief.

Seed of Destruction – Part III: On The Dark Side

While the aliens dragged Aric to the moon, Solar flew out of the moon base and destroyed the filaments that held Aric captive. As the aliens fled, Solar told Aric to let the aliens have the seedpod, but feeling betrayed Aric attacked. As their battle took them to the moon, Solar managed to get Aric to follow him inside the base. There Solar explained that once the aliens had the seed they could make a spaceship that he would follow to their home world so he could destroy it, but Aric still refused. Solar took Aric to meet the aliens’ leader, the First-Among-Equals, in a sacred garden, where Aric removed the X–O and gave Solar the control ring. Under alien law, Aric challenged the First-Among-Equals’ champion for possession of the armor and the seedpod. Agreeing, the First-Among-Equals led Aric to an arena where Maka, the aliens’ champion, awaited.

Seed of Destruction – Part IV: The Darkside To Victory

While Aric fought Maka, Solar went to extract the location of the alien home world from a computer, but he discovered that the First-Among-Equals had transferred it to a data module. Back in the arena, Aric released all his pent up rage and killed Maka. Turning toward the First-Among-Equals, Aric claimed Shanhara as his rightful prize under the aliens’ law. Bitten by Maka during the battle, however, Aric fell to his knees as alien poison coursed through his veins. Damming their own law in the face of exile from their world, the aliens attacked Aric, who despite his weakening condition gave as good as he got. Returning to the arena, Solar threw the ring into Aric's finger. Calling the X–O to him, Aric instructed it to flush the poison from his system. While Aric exterminated the aliens, Solar searched for the First-Among-Equals, but unsuccessful in his hunt he decided to destroy the moon base. As Solar and Aric returned to Earth, the seedpod came loose from the X–O. Solar and Aric tacitly agreed to destroy the seed so the aliens would not have it.

Interlude I

The Coming Of Turok Dinosaur Hunter

Xofire

At the twilight of Unity, Turok fought a pack of Bionisaurs until he and Mon’Ark were the last two standing before the Lost Land collapsed into a black hole that transported them to Earth. Waking up in Columbia in 1987, Turok found Mon’Ark’s trail beside him. A month after returning from the moon, Aric and Randy debated the details of his wearing a beeper so she could track him, when then Ken interrupted with news that an Orb Industries division had successfully cloned dinosaur tissue. Traveling to Florida, Dr. Flint informed Aric of the discovery of dinosaur tissue samples in Colombia. Enraged by the thought of creating dinosaurs, Aric ordered the destruction of everything in the laboratory. The next day, Aric traveled to Columbia, where using the Good Skin he tracked down the Bionisaurs' cybernetic implants to a trading post where he met Turok., who had been trading dead Bionisaurs with mercenaries who sold them in the black market. Teaming up, Turok and Aric annihilated the mercenaries and agreed to continue hunting the Bionisaurs until they were all dead. Meanwhile, a time rift opened up and deposited a pack of Bionisaurs from the Lost Land in the middle of Central Park in NYC.

Concrete Jungle

While Aric and Turok waited for Ken to pick them up at Kennedy International airport, Turok snatched a newspaper from a man with a story about three power company workers lost beneath Central Park. Pointing to the picture, Turok told Aric that claw marks on the walls of the tunnel were dinosaur markings. Boarding a private helicopter, Turok and Aric left for Central Park. On their way there, Aric himself as he was when he first arrived in the 20th Century reflected in Turok. Climbing down into the tunnel, Turok realized that the raptors had taken a hostage, which meant that they were hunting Bionisaurs. Calling the X–O Manowar to him, Aric donned the Good Skin so he and Turok could hunt down their prey. Meanwhile, the Bionisaurs forced their hostage to remove a tracker from the carapaces on their head so they would be free to protect their brooding nest. Following the raptor’s trail, Turok and Aric made their way to the sewers beneath the zoo and exterminated the lot of them, including their eggs in their nest. Two weeks later, Turok departed to look for his people, but before he left he and Aric swore their loyalty to one another, thus becoming blood brothers.

Family Matters

In an island in the New England Coast, Diana Dalton witnessed as men armed with Spider Alien weapons killed Robert Simmons, an employee of Dalton Industries. As the men discovered her, Diana ran for her life.

The next day, Ken informed Aric that he was leaving to investigate the disappearance of two employees from Dalton Industries, an Orb Industries subsidiary. The next day Ken met with Penelope Dalton, who dismissed his concerns over her employees’ disappearance. Soon as Ken left her office to go interview the people at the plant, Penelope called Javier Cortez, the man who killed Simmons. Making it as far as his car, Ken was blindsided and knocked out from behind. As Ken awoke inside a car surrounded by Javier’s men, X–O Manowar, alerted by Ken's arm that he was in trouble, swooped down and disabled the car. When the men fired at him with alien weapons, Aric became angered and killed all of them. That night, Diana called Penelope and accused her of killing her father, an allegation she denied. After Diana reluctantly agreed to meet with her mother at her father’s stables, Penelope called Javier to let him know where he could find his daughter, unaware that Aric and Ken were listening in.

Later at the stables, Diana disarmed a man sent to kill her before Aric and Ken arrived. After Aric explained that Penelope was selling Spider Alien weapons to a criminal cartel, he picked the man up and forced him to reveal Penelope’s location, and even though he did, Aric severed his fingers. Following the lead to Hamilton Cove, Aric destroyed Javier’s boats and the cargo of alien weapons onboard. Escaping during the commotion, Penelope came across Diana, who furious with her threatened to kill her. Verbally humiliating Diana, Penelope made her drop her guard and then hit her with a briefcase filled with Javier’s money, knocking her out so she could escape. Meanwhile, Javier’s men barraged Aric with laser fire and he fell into the ocean, but then rose back up and killed all of them. Several weeks later in the Greek Islands, Javier found Penelope aboard a luxury yacht and shot her across the eyes for taking his money.

Push And Shove

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Aric Dacia with the X-O Manowar

Returning to New York after destroying the remains of the Spider Alien weapons at the bottom of Hamilton Cove, Aric discovered that Ken was hosting a fundraising party for his Senatorial campaign at his home. Angered, Aric drew his sword and chased away off all of Ken's guests. Once they were alone, Ken tried to convince Aric to help him out as a friend, which only angered him furthered. Reminding Ken that he had betrayed him twice before, Aric made it clear that they were not friends and that he only kept him around as his servant because it suited his needs, then he ordered him to leave. Sick of this dishonorable modern world, Aric yearned to be a true warrior again like Turok, his only true friend. In Manhattan, Don Benito Carboni learned that Orb Industries planned to develop a strip of land that had been a dumping ground for undesirables of his organization for years. Realizing the problem, Carboni ordered Angelo Scalese to use whatever means necessary to convince the Orb higher ups that it was in their best interest to not develop the land.

The next day Angelo warned Ken not to develop the land in the name of the Carboni family, but Ken brushed him off. Later that day, Ken barely escaped a car bomb when Randy stopped him from getting into his car. Informed of what happened, Aric demanded that Randy set up a meeting between himself and Carboni so he could settle things his way, a plan that upset Randy as it severely undermined her job as chief of security. Several nights later, Aric met with Angelo, who took him out to sea in his boat and distracted him while one of his men hit him from behind and knocked him out. Chaining Aric's feet, Angelo’s men threw him over the side to keep him under the water until he agreed to withdraw from the land. Calling the Good Skin to him, Aric donned the armor and emerged from the water, scaring everyone onboard. Opening fire on the boat, Aric killed everyone except for a man he told to tell Carboni to leave Orb Industries alone. That night, as Carboni had the messenger killed, he decided to leave Aric alone and focus on Bloodshot, a more immediate concern.

The next day, Randy brought Aric a box with Angelo’s bloody ring and a note from Carboni apologizing for the incident. Angry at Aric's evasive personality and lack of explanations, Randy left determined to find out what he was hiding. Alone in his house, Aric stared at the sky and thought of following Turok’s path.

Operation Deep Freeze

Operation Deep Freeze – Part I: Ultimatums

In March, CIA agent Peter Garrett, Helen Mandrake of the IRS, and several others met in the Pentagon to discuss Aric Dacia in his X–O Manowar armor, and ultimately decided to make contact with him to determine if it was necessary to put Operation Deep Freeze into effect. Two weeks later, Randy asked Paul Bouvier, an old friend of hers, to rig her up a small long-range tracker she could slip into Aric so she could follow him. Agreeing to help her, Paul warned Randy of the CIA and IRS’ interest in Aric and to watch out for Garrett. Several nights later, a patrol car sent by Garrett stopped Aric as he headed home. Introducing himself, Garrett convinced Aric to accompany him to meet with [Senator William Ackerman to discuss a matter of national security. Taken to a house in the woods, Aric met the Senator and Ms. Mandrake, who threatened to take Orb away from him and throw him in jail unless he relinquished the armor. Telling them to go to hell, Aric left.

The next day, Garrett offered Ken a seat in the Senate in exchange for his help in acquiring the armor, but due to his arm Ken refused. As Garrett left his office, Ken damned Aric. That night, Aric received a package with instructions from Garrett telling him to travel to Antarctica. Just then, Garrett called Aric and explained that he had kidnapped Randy, and unless he did as told he would kill her. Hanging up the phone, Garrett instructed his cohorts to prepare to leave, when then the lights went out. Breaking in through the window, Paul shot Garrett and the other agents with tranquilizer darts and rescued Randy. At Randy's house, Paul used the tracker to find Aric headed toward the South Pole, where Randy knew the CIA had built an installation. Realizing that Aric was walking into a trap, Randy left to help him, while Paul stayed behind to provide Intel.

Two days later in Antarctica, Randy rented a chopper to follow Aric, who at that exact moment was under attack from a squad of helicopters, armed soldiers, and tanks. As Randy approached the scene of the battle, a chopper fired on her and knocked her down on the ground, while overwhelmed, Aric was loosing his ground. Aiming a gun at Randy's head, Garrett ordered a cease-fire and told Aric to surrender or he would kill her.

Operation Deep Freeze – Part II: Gentlemen’s Agreement

In exchange for Randy's life, Aric surrendered the X–O armor under the condition that Garrett keep his word not to harm them. Garrett’s men escorted to a chopper that took them to Amundsen-Scott Station, a research station built within a crater left by a battle two years earlier where Garrett planned to have the X–O analyzed. Once inside the station, Garrett introduced Aric and Randy to Doctor Zahn, the principle designer of the base. Amazed by the scale of the operation, which defied the reports she had read about it, Randy complemented Zahn on his achievements. Surprised by Randy's insight, Aric questioned how she came to know about the base, and Garrett revealed that Randy worked for the Canadian Secret Service. As Zahn informed him that Colonel Gardner would not arrive until the next day, Garrett had a trained CIA team armed with modified alien weapons escort Aric and Randy to a cell to wait for transport to Washington, an act that Aric considered a breach of their agreement.

Locked in a cell, Randy confronted Aric over his secrecy about the X–O armor and his lack of trust in her, to which he confronted her not telling him that she worked for the CSS. Changing the subject, Randy warned Aric about Gardner, who made Garrett look like a pansy. Telling Randy to trust him, Aric showed her his control ring and told her that, though Garrett had the armor, he still controlled it. Amazed, Randy told Aric to use the armor to copy every file in Garrett’s computers to use them as leverage against him. Summoning the Good Skin to him, Aric told Randy to wait for him while he took care of Garrett and his operation.

After dispatching Garrett’s forces, Aric went after Garrett himself. Chasing his helicopter as it flew over the fuel stores, Aric was unprepared for when Garrett ordered his men to shoot the fuel drums, which set off a massive explosion that buried Aric beneath two hundred tons of ice and snow.

Operation Deep Freeze – Part III: The Consequences

Escaping the rubble, Aric gazed down at the destroyed installation with glee until the remote eye he left to watch over Randy alerted him that she was in danger. Armed with a Spider Alien weapon she took from one of them, Randy stood her own against the CIA team, when then Aric arrived and rescued her before one of them set off an acetylene tank that killed everyone. Taking Randy outside, Aric left her to find a pilot that would take her to a friendly polar station while he followed a lead from Garrett’s computers to project Deep Freeze, an installation built for the single purpose of burying the X–O armor in a shaft beneath the ice. After destroying the installation, Aric returned to NYC to make the CIA face the consequences of their actions .

Several days later, Aric met with Toyo Harada to get his help in dealing with Ackerman as repayment for saving his life in New Orleans. That night, Aric warned Ackerman that he had 24 hours to clear his people from Orb Industries and return control of the corporation to him, or else he would make the information he retrieved from Garrett’s computers public. As Aric flew away, President Clinton called Senator Ackerman in Toyo’s behalf. The next day, Aric returned to Orb and resume control of his empire.

That night, Randy arrived at Aric's state to tell him that, thanks to Toyo Harada, he was now an official citizen of the United States, when then Aric, fed up and disappointed with the civilized world, told her that he was leaving on a sabbatical and giving the Good Skin to her for safekeeping. Placing the control ring on her finger as Aric left the room, Randy summoned the X-O Manowar to her and the armor swiftly enveloped her.

Interlude II

Strange Bedfellows

Startled by the X–O’s sentience, Randy ordered it get off her and went home to relax and decide what to do with it. There, Paul, worried for Randy after not hearing from her since she returned from Antarctica, offered to listen to what was troubling her, but so as to not betray Aric's trust she said nothing. That night, Randy went to bed frightened of the armor, which she asked not to do anything weird while she slept.

Two days later, Randy awoke to discover that the X–O Manowar had crawled on her during the night and healed her arm, a feat that amazed and terrified her. Just then, Ken knocked on the door. Initially furious with Randy for missing two days work, Ken walked away when he saw the control ring on her finger, which made Randy realize that he knew Aric's secret. Tired of being afraid, Randy summoned the armor learn what it could do. Awkwardly taking to the skies on the X–O Manowar, which took her up to the outer atmosphere, Randy reached the outer atmosphere. There, she told the armor to tell her everything she knew, a request that caused the armor to bombard her mind with its entire database. Overwhelmed, Randy lost consciousness.

Awakening sometime later, Randy returned home, where she discovered that Randy had led Ax and his cybernetic allies to her. Garbed in his Hunter–Class armor, Ax demanded that Randy give him the X–O Manowar. Just then, however, Ken demanded that Ax honor his promise to remove his cybernetic arm, but Ax double crossed him and ordered one of his cyborgs to rip the arm off Ken's shoulder. Seizing her chance, Randy blasted the cyborg with an ion beam that inadvertently disintegrated him.

Momentarily disturbed by the shock, Randy failed to avoid Ax’s tackle, then as the battle ensued, Ax hurled a handful of his scramblers at Randy, which disrupted her connection with the armor. Mustering ever ounce of will she had, Randy managed to activate the armor’s force field and shed the scramblers, then, after turning her right fist into a morning star, she punched Ax in the face and destroyed his visage. While Randy turned to stop one of Ax’s cyborgs from killing Ken, Ax escaped.

A week later in Peru, Aric returned to M’rrha’s village, the starting point for his pilgrimage.

White Kings And Black Knights

White Kings And Black Knights – Part I

Deep in the jungles of Peru, Aric saved a man named Elib from a group of Hovitos after they killed Hanewoe, his young companion. A Yanomama, Elib took Aric to his village, where Aric delivered Hanewoe’s body to his mother. Elib then took Aric to his Shapono, the communal hut, where he met Oware, a shaman who impressed by his ability to kill four the Hovitos with his bare hands called him a friend to the Yanomama.

Back in Boston, Randy and Ken’s tugawar for control of Orb came to an end when Randy used her control of the X–O Manowar to ascertain her hold on Ken’s prosthetic arm. That night, Randy had a nightmare of the time she was Wolfbridge’s prisoner six years earlier, the third one since the first time donned theGood Skin. Refusing to let her feelings of helplessness consume her, Randy called the X–O Manowar to her and took flight to find closure

That night in Peru, while Aric watched the Yanomama cremate Hanewoe’s body in a funeral pyre, Elib educated him on his people’s funerary traditions, which included mixing the ashes into a plantain drink for the entire village to drink. Later that night, the sound of a war cry awoke Aric and Elib from their sleep. Learning that the Hovitos had taken, and probably killed, Oware, Aric ordered Elib to gather the Yanomama’s best men so he could lead them on a raid of the Hovitos’ camp and kill all of them in retaliation for Oware’s murder. On their way to the Hovitos’ camp, Aric and Elib found Oware’s body hanging from a tree covered with spears. Making their way to the Hovitos’ village, Aric led a successful slaughter of the entire encampment, only loosing three of his warriors. Accepting Aric as one of their own, the hunters invited him to join their search for game to provide the feast for Hanewoe’s funeral. Feeling at home, Aric was elated.

Flying toward the moon, Randy felt alive, filled with a sensation of immortality given to her by Shanhara, which God–like power made her feel unstoppable. Though frightened, Randy also felt exhilarated. Returning to Earth, Randy headed to the Hawaiian Islands, where, wondering what the armor’s limits were, she recklessly dove into an active volcano to test how powerful theGood Skin truly was. Swimming in the lava, untouched by the heat, Randy felt herself changing, conscious that her encounter with Ax had triggered something, brought up some demons from her past, feelings of anger and helplessness she had tried to forget.

Emerging from the volcano, Randy felt that with Shanhara she was all-powerful, and that the armor gave her an outlet for her anger. Willing to become a callous woman as a consequence of the power at her command, Randy embraced her change and decided to finally lay her demons to rest and confront her forgotten past, all the while remaining oblivious to the fact that the armor was beginning to reflect the changes within her.

White Kings And Black Knights – Part II

Waking up from a nightmare, Randy donned the Good Skin and saw the armor’s hideous exterior on a mirror. Wondering if the alterations were a reflection of her inner self or of how the armor perceived her, Randy knew she could ask theGood Skin to find out, but she refrained from doing so. That morning Randy met with Paul Bouvier, who brought her a box with files that detailed the fateful operation against Wolfbridge that led to her capture and her husband’s Jean–Paul’s death. Confiding in Paul, Randy told him about her nightmares and her plan to find Wolfbridge’s camp and make sure that it was no longer in use. That night, after many hours of work, Randy finally pinpointed the camp’s location, as well as learned that whoever was in it had stocked it with ordnance. Just then, Randy noticed that she had not used her glasses all day. Gazing at the X–O Manowar, Randy realized that theGood Skin had returned her vision to normal, a revelation that filled her with confidence.

Meanwhile in Peru, a man called Reece arrived in the Yanomama village to force the villagers to leave so that his bosses at Spectar Enterprises, a logging company, could develop the land. Facing opposition from the Yanomama, Reece became belligerent and almost hit a child who spat on his face, until Aric stopped him. Telling him that the Yanomama were under his protection, Aric warned Reece to leave and stay away.

Two weeks later over Afghanistan, Randy arrived at Wolfbridge’s camp after barely escaping from three skud missiles. Filled with anger stirred by the harsh memories of the torture she suffered there, Randy razed the camp and killed everyone in it. Initially satisfied with what she had done, a cathartic experience, Randy was horrified when she recognized one of the men she had just killed as an ally who helped free her years earlier. Realizing that the power of the armor had made her arrogant and reckless, Randy was at odds with herself.

Several nights later in Peru, Hasupu, one of the villagers, told Aric that Elib went missing while looking at some caves. Following Hasupu, Aric went to look for Elib, but after two hours of searching he grew impatient and accused Hasupu of leading him in circles. Appearing nervous, Hasupu assured Aric that was not the case. Purposely turning his back, Aric gave Hasupu a chance to strike at him, which he seized to knock him on the ground. Holding Hasupu, Aric forced him to tell him where Elib was. Confessing that Reece and his men had killed Elib, Hasupu told Aric that Reece promised to spare his life if he kept him away from the village.

Realizing what Reece was planning, Aric returned to the village, which Reece and his men had set ablaze. Armed with two machetes, Aric killed as many as Reece’s men as he could, but in the end he was outnumbered a dozen to one. Shot in the face, Aric lost his balance, which gave Reece’s men the opportunity to severely beat him. Following Reece’s command, his men threw Aric into the river. Awakening two days later, Aric made his way back on foot to the village, which much to his chagrin had been razed to the ground. Staring at a sign for Spectar Enterprises, Aric was appalled to see the Orb Industries logo emblazoned on it.

Interlude III

Homecoming

Staring at the distorted X–O Manowar, Randy was convinced that theGood Skin was showing her the scars of her mental anguish. Feeling rueful, Randy removed the control ring from her finger and put it on a chain around her neck. Promising to no longer abuse the armor’s power, she then locked the X–O in Aric's room and left.

Two days later, Aric returned to Orb Industries much to Ken’s delight. After ordering Ken to shut down Spectar Enterprises and give him a full report of its activities in Peru over the last year, including personnel files, particularly Reece’s file, Aric asked if he had seen Randy. Warning Aric that he was in for a surprise, Ken told him that Randy had been plenty busy with his armor and had seemingly lost her mind.

Returning to Aric's house that night, Randy was surprised to find him standing in the living room. Moving past the initial shock of seeing him, Randy took Aric to his bedroom, where she returned the control ring to him and apologized over her failure to handle the armor’s power. As Aric donned the armor and watched how Randy had changed it, she expressed her hope that the change was not permanent. Assuring her than theGood Skin would adjust back to normal, Aric told Randy to stop apologizing for making mistakes, something he was just as guilty of doing himself. As Aric said that at least her mistakes did not involve hurting innocents, Randy repentantly assured him that he was wrong and invited him out for beers to explain what happened.

An hour later in a biker bar, after Randy gave him the entire story over two pitchers of beer, Aric assured her that Ax got what he deserved, and that the people at the camp were not the innocent men she once knew. Saying that she believed her motives were virtuous, Randy understood that despite her desire to be a symbol of purity the armor reflected the true ugliness of her subconscious. Walking over to the pool table, Randy asked Aric where he had been, so he told her about the Yanomama, Reece, and Spectar Enterprises. Blaming himself for the Yanomama’s deaths, Aric truly believed that if he had not left Boston they would still be alive today.

Just then, a man called Vic, who had been ogling Randy ever since she started playing pool with Aric, walked up behind her and grazed her behind. Lashing out, Randy hit Vic in the face with the cue and pushed him to the floor. Retaliating, Vic stood up and pushed Randy to the floor, which enraged Aric, who had been looking for an excuse to hit someone since he got back. While Randy watched from the sidelines with a biker chick called Scrumptious, Aric beat up Vic and his men. Bobbing and weaving about, Aric got Vic and his friends to beat each other up as well. As the last of the men fell down, Aric gave the owner a wad of bills to pay for the damages and then he and Randy went back to his place.

The next day, Aric visited Vic in the hospital and gave his brother Zoli a bag of gold coins to pay for their bill. Parting as friends, Aric, and Vic and Zoli went their separate ways. Meanwhile, in an abandoned armory in Hudson, New York, Doctor Zahn unveiled his latest creation, the first Armorines prototype.

Unit, Corps, God, Country

Unit, Corps, God, Country – Part I

Arriving to an abandoned armory in Hudson, New York, Harold Lewis, Antonio Cordova and James Earl Williams met with Colonel Gardner, who took them down to the Factory, a workshop where Dr. Phillip Zahn inducted them on the specifications of the Armorines battle–suits while Michael Sirot, an NSA agent attached to the project, demonstrated its weapons systems to them. Skeptical of Sirot’s code of honor, Lewis questioned his qualifications, so Gardner revealed the existence of the X–O Manowar to him and said hat Sirot was the only survivor of Operation Deep Freeze. Ordering Lewis and the others to report to Camp Pendleton to meet their co–pilots, Gardner told them that their first mission would be to seize and destroy the X–O Manowar.

Several hours later in Gardner’s office, Zahn expressed concern over the Armorines being ready to face Aric two weeks from then, as well as worry over what Peter Garrett would think. Dismissing his qualms, Gardner assured Zahn that once this affair was over Garrett would find himself in trouble with his superiors.

The next day at Camp Pendleton, as Lewis stepped out to the stairway for a smoke while he waited for the briefing to start he met Major Myra Lane, who he defined on the spot as being top of her class and decorated for superior performance during training but lacking actual combat experience, a combination he deemed dangerous. Before Myra could retort, Lt. Hossen walked in and let them know that the meeting had begun.

At the briefing, Gardner assigned the team’s configuration order; while Sirot became point man with Hossen as his co–pilot, James Earl and Antonio became Wing Men A and B backed up by Second Lt. Pierce and Lt. Dominguez respectively. Finally, Lewis became the unit’s anchor man with Myra as his co–pilot, a notion that did not sit well with him. Turning the meeting back on the issue at hand, Gardner told the Armorines that their primary target was Aric Dacia and the suit of alien armor in his control from which the Armorines’ technology was derived from, a threat to national security he confessed would not be an easy task to stop.

Twelve days later, in a top secret training field, Sirot’s inadvertent break from the team’s formation resulted in his getting shot by a tank during a live–fire exercise that he survived thanks to the protective field activated by his co–pilot. After destroying the tank with his PBC, Lewis chastised Sirot for his grandstanding.

Two nights later aboard a helicopter headed for upstate New York carrying the Armorines to their battle with Aric, while donning his battle–suit Lewis mused over how his teammates, even Sirot, had congealed into a unit. Meanwhile, at the Hotel Pullman Highland in Washington, Peter Garrett and Helen Mandrake mocked Gardner for believing the fake orders that they planted telling the Armorines to go after Aric, a ruse designed to have the Armorines kill Aric for humiliating her and push Gardner out of his way by getting him tried.

Unit, Corps, God, Country – Part II

Early one day at his house in Ulster County, Aric walked into the cellar and donned the Good Skin for the first time since his return from South America two weeks earlier, and much to his delight he discovered that the X–O, which he felt he had come to depend on, had healed from the effect of Randy’s psyche. Sometime later, after Aric and Randy had departed for Orb Industries, the helicopter carrying the Armorines landed outside the house and the marines hid throughout the property and prepared for Aric’s return.

An hour later at Orb Industries, Ken informed Aric that he had been unable to find any reference to Reece anywhere in Spectra’s records, a admission that greatly angered him. Calming Aric down, Randy offered to send three people from her department down to South America to uncover who bankrolled Reece and his men, a proposal that due to his lack of patience Aric was reluctant to accept, but nevertheless agreed to. That afternoon while leaving work, Aric saw Randy and Paul talking in the parking lot, and at her insistance that Paul was a friend he did not dwell on it. Meanwhile in Washington, Peter and Helen learned that the Armorines were close to engaging Aric and looked forward to their killing him.

While on his way home from work, Aric was anxious to don the Good Skin and let off some steam from the situation with Spectra, when just then Sirot shot his tires with an ion blast, which sent the car careening off the road. As the car flipped in the air, Aric summoned the armor, which broke through the walls of the cellar and toppled the Armorines as it flew towards its master. Garbed in the X–O, Aric rose from the wreckage of his car and confronted the Armorines, who he accused of being posers in fake good skins. Engaging the Armorines in combat, Aric was initially surprised by the similarities between their armors and his own, when then he discovered that, unlike the X–O, the Armorines could not fly, a discovery he used to his advantage against Sirot, who he enveloped in a tractor beam and dropped on the Ashokan reservoir.

Driving towards Randy’s house, Paul chastised Randy for what happened in Afghanistan, when then she saw the fight between Aric and the Armorines in the distance and told Paul to stop the car so they could help Aric. Surrounded on all sides by the remaining Armorines, Aric barely withstood a barrage from their ion cannons that forced him to crash into the ground. Investigating the crash site, James Earl fell for Aric’s ruse and was unprepared for a shot from his ion cannons that breached his armor’s integrity and forced him to eject and activate the self–destruct mechanism, which destroyed his battle–suit and maximized the X–O Manowar’s energy–absorption capabilities, rendering Aric defenseless. Emerging from the reservoir, Sirot joined Antonio and Lewis, who ordered them to regroup and make sure James Earl was okay before they converged on Aric. Back in Camp Pendleton, General Kendall arrived to arrest Gardner for issuing false orders to attack Aric.

Following Lewis’ lead, the Armorines assumed a formation in front of Aric to shoot him with their particle beam cannons to neutralize the X–O Manowar by causing a feedback on its systems. Before they could open fire, Randy and Paul came running down the hill and tried to stop them. Though Lewis initially hesitated to fire with civilians present, after Myra informed them that Randy and Paul were Canadian Secret Service agents possibly in league with Aric, Sirot ordered them to fire. Just then, Myra relayed General Kendall’s order to abort the mission in lieu of Gardner’s arrest, but , Sirot refused to obey and continued firing until his co–pilot cut his armor’s power. Enraged, Aric wanted to kill the Armorines for breaking his truce with Ackerman and the President, but Randy and Paul convinced him to let them go, which he reluctantly did.

One week later in Washington, Sirot and Garrett reached a deal for Garrett to leave the Armorines out of his plans in exchange for Sirot not revealing his indiscretions and role in Gardner’s arrest. Meanwhile in Ulster county, Gunny Lewis arrived at Aric’s house and assured him that they had dealt with the people behind the attack, and to learn from him the answers for all the questions he had that his superiors refused to give him.

Interlude IV

The Gift

Pondering his resentment with Aric’s pleasure in humiliating him through his synthetic arm while on his way home in the South End of Boston two days before Christmas, Ken was attacked by three thugs armed with knifes that came out of an alley and demanded that he give them his money. To the surprise of them all, Ken’s arm, acting of its own accord, crushed one of the thug’s hands in its grip and made him drop his knife, which Ken then grabbed and threw at one of the other men. As the thugs ran away while Ken yelled at them, Aric, who the arm had alerted of Ken’s predicament, arrived. Resenting Aric’s control over his arm, Ken lashed out at him and said that he did not need his help. Rising off the ground, Aric said that despite what Ken believed he was valuable to him, and that he would continue to look after him for as long as he remained loyal.

The next day, right as Randy approved a request from John, a board member, to make an addition to the guest list for Orb’s Christmas party that night, Ken entered the conference room and asked to speak with Aric. Once they were alone, an enraged Ken confronted Aric with his disgust over his use of excessive force against the thugs, which he blamed on his arm and called an example of how he was no longer in control of his life. Even so, praising his victory over his attackers, Aric had the arm stop Ken from leaving and ordered him to stay. That night, while Ken wallowed in his misery in his apartment, John, a spy that Don Carboni placed within Orb Industries, introduced the don to Abigail Sawyer, an assassin hired to pose as the CEO of Zimmerman Industries so she could kill Aric and blow up the Orb Industries building. Shocked by the don’s command, John pleaded with him not to kill any innocents for Aric’s offense against the family to no avail.

Later that night at the Orb Industries building, while John distracted Ken, Abigail ingratiated herself to Aric and convinced him to take her to his office under the pretense that she would make herself available to him. Once they were alone, Abigail slipped Aric a poisoned drink and left him in his office holding a gift box with a bomb inside. Leaving with her bodyguards, Abigail signaled John, who in his haste to leave told Ken that he was in danger, a warning that alerted him to John’s betrayal.

Rushing into Aric’s office, Ken took the control ring and summoned the X–O Manowar, which arrived soon thereafter and wrapped itself around Aric to cleanse his body of Abigail’s poison. Returning the control ring to Aric, Ken told him of the bomb inside the box. Taking to the skies, Aric chased Abigail’s helicopter and shoved the bomb into the cockpit before it exploded.

The next day in Aric’s office, Ken, apologized to Aric and asked him to let him take the arm off whenever he was alone or being intimate with someone. Grateful for Ken’s rescue, Aric rescinded the debt he had with him and revealed that the synthetic arm was in fact regenerating Ken’s missing limb, which once it fully healed he would remove the artificial appendage for good.

The Horror Below

The Horror Below – Part I

In 1320 AD, Gilad followed Sahbel the Geomancer to Transylvania to kill Baron Drakuul, a demon with a thirst for blood and a penchant for sleeping all day and rising at night. Pursued by Drakuul’s men, Gilad and Sahbel entered the demon’s castle shortly after dusk, arriving to late to kill the baron in his sleep. Risen from his crypt, Drakuul shot Sahbel and Gilad with arrows from his crossbow. Pushing the Geomancer aside, Gilad engaged Drakuul in a sword fight. Loosing his weapon during the melee, Gilad took the arrow from his chest and stabbed Drakuul with it. Fallen to his knees, the baron was helpless to stop Gilad from beheading him.

After learning that Lieutenant Thomas Morgan was in charge of an investigation the media had dubbed “the Vampire Murders” due to the lack of blood on the victims, Geoff offered to help solve the case. Holding a locket found on the latest victim, Geoff sensed an intense impression that showed him the woman’s killers corralling her in the park and drained her blood. Overwhelmed, Geoff kneeled over and said that the killers were inhuman monsters. Hesitant to send his officers to look for two vampires with no proof, Morgan suggested that they check the site of the latest murder so Geoff could learn more from it, while at Geoff’s behest, they recruited Stronghold and Livewire to help. Though she was hesitant to go as she had a date, Amanda agreed to help after Stronghold urged her to think of the victims and they people they could save from the killers.

20 minutes later, at the condemned warehouse on West Nineteenth Street where the police found the latest victim, the whispers led Geoff and the others down to the old path train tunnel at the Nineteenth Street station, where they found a hidden colony of Spider Aliens. Hiding in a tunnel overlooking the colony, Geoff and the others witnessed as a Spider Alien garbed in Baron Drakuul’s armor slayed the two killers they were hunting as punishment for their breaking their sacred law not to prey on humans other than homeless people.

Discovered, Geoff told the aliens that he knew who they were because Solar told him about them. Terrified of the Destroyer, the aliens panicked and tried to kill Geoff and the others so they would not reveal their survival to him. Though surrounded, the Secret Weapons escaped due to Stronghold weakening the tunnel to bury the aliens chasing them. Nonetheless, the aliens still captured them while Stronghold laid beneath the rubble.

The Horror Below – Part II

On the British Colony of Massachusetts, amid the Salem Witch trials, as Nathaniel Prudence sentenced Annabella Hawthorn to burn at the stake for being a witch, a Spider Alien space ship suddenly appeared in the sky and pulled Nathaniel onboard using its tractor beam before it departed for space.

Breaking free from the rubble, Stronghold went to find Geoff and the others, who the aliens had taken deeper into the tunnels to a pit filled with bodies. Before the aliens could eat them, Gilad, who got a message Geoff left him, luckily arrived in time to rescue them. Once free from their bonds, the Secret Weapons went to find Stronghold, who had found the aliens’ human containment pods in a cavern defended by Nathaniel Prudence, who the aliens had turned into a cybernetically–enhanced guardian. Meanwhile, a hundred miles upstate, Turok and Aric followed a trail of Spider Alien blood to the caverns beneath the city not far from where Geoff and the others were. On the verge of kneeling over due to the pain that the alien technology running through the veins of the ground like a virus had caused the Earth, Geoff sensed that Stronghold was in danger.

Despite Stronghold’s assertions to the contrary, Nathaniel accused him of being in league with Satan and attacked him in the name of the lord, when then Turok and X–O Manowar broke through the wall and joined the fray, while behind them the Secret Weapons engaged the aliens. Thinking that Aric was Satan in an X–O Manowar, Nathaniel let go of Stronghold and went after the Visigoth, who pushed him against the pods away from the others. Feeling worthless, and believing that his ability to talk to things could not help the fight, Geoff broke off from the others and found the aliens’ computers, which was calling to him.

Once the others dispatched the aliens, Geoff showed them a display of the alien’s vast underground colony and the source of feelings of pain felt by the Earth he found on the computer. Though Aric was prepared to slaughter the lot of them, Gilad’s priority was to see to Geoff’s safety and that the others received medical care. Promising to contact Solar, Gilad took the others away, while Aric and Turok went after the aliens.

The Hunt

In the hours before Aric and Turok joined the Secret Weapons in the caverns beneath New York, the two of them spent the morning camping in the woods around Aric’s compound to drink and talk about the turns their lives had taken since the last time they saw each other. Noting that he saw Randy packing her things, Turok said that he thought that things between her and Aric were going well. Telling Turok that Randy was simply moving back to her house, Aric was at a loss for words when Turok told him that it seemed to him like he and Randy had become more than friends. Meanwhile inside, as Randy said that she was eager to return home and felt like she had imposed herself on Aric, Paul remarked that he found that highly unlikely given who she was, but before he could elaborate, Ken rushed inside looking for Aric and interrupted them.

Back in the woods, Turok gave Aric an Azze–Kloth, a satchel for him to place an object of personal value to help him stay focused while mediating on the part of himself shared by all things, a gift that bound them in spirit. Sometime later while on a hike, Turok found a severed arm covered in Spider Alien blood at the mouth of a cavern, so Aric summoned the X–O so they could follow a trail of alien blood into the cave. Meanwhile in the compound’s basement, Randy told Paul that she wished she had told him about the armor much sooner than she died, and that despite what happened she was glad she got the chance to make peace with her past. Returning upstairs, Randy found Ken trying to evict Christoff, Scrumptious, and Zoli from the kitchen. Assuring Ken that he knew who they were, Randy took them to play eight–ball with her and Paul.

Following the trail to a Spider Alien colony beneath New York, Aric and Turok found themselves surrounded by an overwhelming number of aliens. Worried that the armor would not perform well in close quarters, Aric blew a hole on a wall that opened into a cavern where the Secret Weapons were fighting Nathaniel Prudence, a cyborg who reminded Aric of Rexo. Accusing Aric of being Satan in a manowar, Nathaniel went after the Visigoth, who pushed him against the alien’s human containment pods in the cavern away from the others.

Acting sluggish, the armor failed to follow Aric’s command to fire the ion cannons, which opened a window for Nathaniel to push Aric off him. Colliding with a pod, Aric discovered its contents, a find that enraged him. Mustering all his will, Aric pushed the armor into releasing a massive ion blast that hit Nathaniel and gave Aric the opportunity to shatter his cybernetic limbs from his body. Slamming Nathaniel against the pods, Aric opened a tube containing Spider Alien blood that he used to drown Nathaniel. Believing he was victorious, Aric walked away to join the others, unaware that behind him Nathaniel’s remaining limbs were twitching.

Joining the others as Geoff showed them a computer display of the alien’s underground colony, as well as the source of feelings of pain felt by the Earth, Aric was ready to slaughter the spiders, but Gilad, whose priority was to see to Geoff’s safety and that the others received medical care, decided to take them to away. Vowing to contact Solar, Gilad left Aric and Turok to their hunt. Confiding in Turok that the armor was slow in responding to his command, Aric shared his feeling that the previous battle had been no more than a skirmish.

Meanwhile, in a Spider Alien den several miles from Aric’s home, Marc Anthony, a genetically–modified Spider Alien, informed his superior, Aristedes, an equally–modified kinsman, that the humans had breached their tunnels and would soon find them and their queen. Unaware that Aric was with the invaders, Aristedes, who seemed to know about the Good Skin’s illness, ordered Marc Anthony to send troops to Aric’s residence to fetch the primitive for him and kill any humans that stood in their way of their goal.

Carnage!

In an underground tunnel system somewhere in Ulster county, X–O Manowar and Turok battled the second batch of Spider Alien warriors they had encountered since Gilad took off with Geoff and the others. Learning from the Good Skin that one of the tunnels ran beneath his house, Aric and Turok returned there at once.

Deathshanhara

Back at Aric’s house, Randy, Paul, Christoff, and Scrumptious enjoyed a game of pool while Ken waited in a huff for Aric to return and Zoli went to get a beer. Hearing a scream coming from the kitchen, Randy and the others saw a Spider Alien eating Zoli while a group of his brethren broke into the house demanding Shanhara. Surrounded on all sides, Randy and Paul killed the aliens with a sword and a gun, when then Aric and Turok arrived and joined the fray. Forced to fight using only his sword due to the Good Skin no longer responding to his commands, Aric told Paul to take Randy out of there, but she refused to abandon him. Just then, the aliens shot Aric with neural disruptors that caused him and Shanhara great pain and knocked them out.

While keeping the others at bay, the aliens took a lifeless Aric to a house several miles away where Aristedes ordered them to take him to their nest, where their queen would feast on his juices. Moments later in the nest, Aristedes accused Aric of turning their race of predators into his prey. Mocking Aric, Aristedes said that when it became clear that Shanhara would become a threat to them they infected it with a silicon virus they poured in the water supply running into his house that weakened it enough for their most powerful weapon to kill it.

Watching from a ledge, Randy, Paul, and Turok opened fire on the aliens using their own weapons and freed Aric from the filaments holding him captive. Laying on the ground, Aric pleaded with Shanhara to answer his calls, but the Good Skin remained silent. Sitting inside an alien tank, Marc Anthony opened fire on Aric and the blast from his cannons shattered the Good Skin into smithereens, destroying Shanhara for good.

Desolation

Pouring himself a drink after dragging the aliens’ corpses to the basement for Aric to clear out after he came back, Ken sat down in the living room, when, suddenly, his arm exploded and he collapsed on the floor.

Several miles away, inside Aristedes’ lair deep beneath the Earth, Aric laid on the ground surrounded by Shanhara’s shattered pieces, falling in and out of consciousness. Opening fire on the aliens, Randy refused to let them take Aric away, but Paul stopped her from going to him. While Paul threw a Molotov cocktail at the alien tank to distract the aliens, Aristedes ordered his subordinates to take Aric to their queen. Telling Randy to stay behind, Paul left with Turok to get Aric back.

Awakening some time later, Aric found himself facing the alien queen, a giant arachnid. Spitting on her face, Aric enraged the queen, who slapped him. Just then, Turok and Paul came into the chamber, guns blazing. While Turok covered him, Paul went to get Aric, but the queen grabbed his legs and pulled him toward her. Grabbing the queen, Aric lifted her above his head and Turok killed her with one shot. While Turok, Aric, and Paul left, Aristedes and Marc Anthony fled, certain that with Shanhara dead nothing would stop the gathering. As Turok and Aric climbed the cliff face to reach the mouth of the tunnel, an alien grabbed Paul and bit him. Falling toward the alien, Aric killed him and then picked Paul up in his arms. Though Aric doubted that Paul would survive, he and Turok nevertheless carried him all the way back to his house.

Waking up, Ken discovered that his arm had fully healed just as Aric and the others walked through the door. While Ken and the others took Paul to the hospital, Aric stayed behind to mourn Shanhara. Hours later, Solar appeared in Aric’s den after receiving Gilad’s message. Telling Solar that he was too late, Aric said that unless he could fix Shanhara he should leave. Apologetic, Solar said that there was nothing he could do and offered Aric his condolences, but feeling insulted by Solar’s pity, Aric threw him out and trashed the den.

The next morning, Randy returned to Aric’s house and found him in his bedroom staring out the window into the distance. As Randy asked Aric if he was okay, he ignored her, so feeling that she had come at a bad time she walked away in a huff. Just then, Aric asked her how Paul was doing, and she told him that the doctors were unable to counter the effects of the alien’s poison, and that Paul’s legs were badly hurt. Cursing the aliens for destroying Shanhara, with which he could have healed Paul instantly, Aric lashed out.

Though Randy sympathized with him, Aric did not believe that she understood the loss he felt. Sick of people telling him to calm down, Aric decided to leave again, but saying that there were people there who cared about him, Randy stood in his way. When Aric tried to push her aside, Randy punched him across the face and pushed him against a vanity. Grabbing her hands, Aric noticed that Randy was in tears, so he took her in his arms, and, locked in an embrace, they made love for the first time.

Sometime later, Randy received a phone call from a doctor who told her that they had to amputate Paul’s legs.

Seeds Of Hope

Making his way through the underground tunnel system, Solar was appalled to find it covered by hundreds of alien corpses. Finding it strange that the aliens had left so many of their own behind, Solar surmised that they were in a hurry to leave. Feeling guilty that he arrived too late to help, Solar felt responsible for Shanhara’s destruction. Finding an injured alien, Solar asked him where he could find another Manowar class armor, but the alien told him that he had destroyed the only other armor in the quadrant months earlier. After granting the alien’s request that he end his life, Solar, certain that the aliens were planning something big and that without the X–O Manowar Aric was in danger, left for space to find the only other option at hand.

At Orb Industries’ medical center in Boston, Randy sat by Paul’s bed and apologized for what happened to him. Assuring her that it was not her fault, Paul told Randy that he knew what he was getting into. Speaking resignedly, Paul said that he would need to find another profession, as no one would hire a legless mercenary, while expressing her joy that he was alive, Randy said that she did not know what she would do without him. Asking Randy not to be melodramatic, Paul told her that he did not want her pity, when suddenly he keeled over in pain. Stopping Randy from going to get a nurse, Paul asked her to get him out of there.

Later that day, at Aric’s house, Turok found Aric sorting out his thoughts over his dependence on the Good Skin ever since he escaped the aliens’ vessel. Clutching the Azze–Kloth in his hand, Aric told Turok that he placed the armor’s control ring inside it. Calling the ring a reminder of his failures, Aric tied the Azze–Kloth around his neck and said that his obsession with the Spider Aliens’ destruction had cost too high a price, like Shanhara’s destruction, Christoff ‘s death, Zoli’s injuries, and Paul’s life. Reminding Aric that Paul was a brave and noble warrior without whom he and Randy would not have been able to rescue him, Turok urged him not to do Paul’s sacrifice a disservice and wallow in self–pity. Reminding Aric that the aliens were still out there, Turok told Aric that with Orb Industries at his disposal he had the power to do something about it. Shaking Aric’s hand, Turok bid Aric farewell and told him that if he needed him he knew where to find him. Sometime later, after Randy told Aric that Paul was dying from the alien’s poison, Aric ordered Ken to have Paul brought to the house so that he could spend his last moments there with them.

Elsewhere, Solar arrived on Saturn, where he had abandoned an alien inside an X–O Manowar years earlier. Aware that the armor was useless without the ring, which laid safely sealed away inside the armor on the dead alien’s finger, Solar was uncertain of how he would take it back to Earth, when then he saw a seed growing on the armor’s chest plate. Sensing Solar’s presence, the seed rose away from the armor into his hands. Grabbing the seed, Solar returned to Earth, confident that Aric would have himself a new armor after all.

Meanwhile, as Aric showed Paul to his new room, Paul wondered why Aric was being so nice to him since he barely knew him. Telling Paul that taking care of him was the least he could do after he risked his life saving him from the aliens, Aric confessed that he knew how much he meant for Randy, for whom he cared for very much. Aware of Paul’s background with the Canadian Secret Service, Aric offered to hire him as a consultant to work with Randy on getting a security system installed on the house once he got better. Assuring Paul that he was not offering him charity, Aric told him that he wanted his home’s security set up by people he could trust. Days later, Solar appeared in Aric’s bedroom with the X–O seed, with which he told him that he could grow a new armor. Warning Aric that the joining required the integration of a sentient life form with the seed, Solar told him that he needed a human host, unaware that Paul was outside the bedroom listening in on them.

The next morning, at Orb Industries, Ken urged Aric to deal with the armor’s loss and consider living a life of peace and quiet without it, but pondering the possibility that the aliens might attack them again, Aric knew that he needed the Good Skin back and that the seed was his only hope. That afternoon, Aric took the seed into the woods, where he sat by a tree and silently contemplated what to do while holding the ring in his hand. That night, as Aric returned home and told Randy that he had decided to use the seed, she asked him where he was going to find a human sacrifice, when just then Paul entered the den and volunteered to do it. Aware of his impending death, Paul viewed the joining with the armor as a chance to achieve immortality. Refusing to allow himself to become a helpless vegetable, Paul asked Randy to let him die with his self respect intact.

Though Randy objected, Aric accepted Paul’s sacrifice and swore to do his memory justice. Instructing Paul on what to do, Aric told him to make an incision on his chest and hold the seed against it, and within seconds, tendrils sprouted out of the seed and came out of every crevice, pour, and opening in Paul’s body. While Aric held Randy back, they witnessed as Paul became an X–O Manowar armor. Gazing silently at one another, Randy walked away while Aric reached into the armor’s chest plate and pulled out its control ring.

The next day, after seeing Randy off to Canada to attend Paul’s memorial service, Aric returned inside and donned the X–O Manowar for the first time, promising not to let Paul down and swearing that with this new Good Skin, Aric would rule!

Subterfuge

Subterfuge – Part I: Old Haunts

Lost in a fog, Aric came upon a graveyard where he saw Randy kneeled before Paul’s gravestone. Surprised, Randy asked Aric what he was doing there, while a man in the X–O Manowar standing behind her told him that he was not welcomed. Demanding to know who the man was, Aric was stunned to see Paul behind the faceplate. Turning into a skeletal monstrosity, Paul lunged against Aric, who recoiled in horror and awoke from his nightmare. Haunted by Paul’s sacrifice, the death of Shanhara, and Randy’s departure, Aric felt that he had not come to terms with everything that happened. Going to the den, Aric faced the armor and mused over how its birth left a bitter taste in his mouth, but then, while staring at the control ring on his finger, he blamed the modern world for making him soft. Donning the armor, certain that it would serve him well, Aric took flight and left to go be better acquainted with his new skin.

Somewhere near Vancouver, Randy stared out at the wilderness from a veranda in Paul’s cabin and mused over the many times that her husband Jean–Luc, Paul and her had been there before, when just then, June, an old friend of theirs from Department W, came up to the house. After sharing an embrace, the two women entered the house and Randy asked June when the others would arrive. Telling Randy that Ian, who had taken up drinking and smoking after Paul’s death, was around, June said that the others would arrive the next day. Holding a group photo of Department W, June expressed her disbelief that it took an entire department to take down one man and his operations. Changing the subject, Randy stared out at the forest and wondered what would happen to the land that had been in Paul’s family for generations now that he was gone. Surprising the women, Ian entered the room and abruptly revealed that Randy was the sole heir of Paul’s entire estate.

While flying somewhere over the Midwestern United States, Aric learned that the new skin’s name was Pol–Bekhara. Asking Pol if it could take him to the stars, Aric wondered if he was as fast as its brother. Reaching escape velocity, Aric hovered over the rim of the Earth feeling good to be there despite of his hatred of space travel. Grateful that fate had granted him the opportunity to be able to fly through the heavens again, Aric felt confident that with this new skin he would hunt down the remaining hard skins to make them pay for killing Shanhara. Reaching upwards, Aric swore to fill rivers with the blood of the Spider–Aliens.

At the PCB Plastics Plant, a subsidiary of Orb Industries scheduled for an overhaul after a safety inspection revealed problems with the structural integrity of the building, Scott and Tilly Milton, the temporary heads of security, oversaw the forced opening of a vault that only Aric had access to after they failed to locate him. Suddenly, a massive electrical charge hit the technician forcing the vault’s mechanism and killed him. Upset, Tilly ordered Mr. Bellview, the plant’s manager, to seal the area to prevent any more deaths while she and her husband went to find Aric and demand that he explain what he hid behind the vault’s door.

That day, at Orb headquarters, as Ken made his way into the office he found Scott and Tilly waiting for him. Upset, Tilly demanded that Ken take them to see Aric, unless he wanted to see him accused of manslaughter. Later, at Aric’s house, after Aric told them that he ignored what laid inside the vault, Tilly surmised that the vault may had been set up by the previous owners, while Scott suggested that Aric could possess a key to the vault in the shape of a credit card given to him during the transfer of Orb’s ownership. Realizing that he possessed such an item, Aric went upstairs to find it, and an hour later they were on their way to the plant.

That night, at the PCB Plastics plant, an intruder made his way to the vault and took aim at it with a high–tech rifle, but before he could fire, Aric and the Miltons walked in on him. Momentarily blinding them with a burst of light, the intruder vanished. Splitting up, Tilly insisted that Aric go with her. Hesitant to reveal his secret, Aric was unable to call the Good Skin in front of Tilly. Though he was aware that with Pol–Bekhara he could have found the intruder, Aric did not want to become too dependent on his new skin like he had on Shanhara. As Aric recognized the plant as a Spider Alien installation that he hit during his initial strike against them, he and Tilly followed a scream to a room where they found the intruder looming over Scott’s body.

Subterfuge – Part II: Blinded

Beaten and naked, Randy laid on the floor of a cell, when just then, Paul broke through the door and freed her. Getting Randy on her feet, Paul covered her with his coat and took her outside, where a jeep was waiting for them, before Wolfbridge’s men came by to check on her. Entrusting Azim to take her away from the combat zone, Paul assured Randy that she could trust Azim and then turned back to stop Wolfbridge from escaping. Seeing Paul running to him, Wolfbridge shot him in the eye, when then June woke Randy from her nightmare. Picking up the phone to call Aric while June left for the kitchen, Randy got his answer machine and hung up.

At the PCB Plant, Till, lunged against the intruder while Aric summoned his armor. Aiming his gauntlet at her, the intruder told Tilly to let him get what he was there for, but she insulted him and he hit her. Fed up, Aric warned the intruder that he would regret his actions, but retorting that he was not afraid of him, the intruder identified himself as Krollos and shot Aric with his gauntlets. Just then, the armor blocked the blast. Wrapping itself around Aric, Pol–Bekhara told him that Krollos was the Spider Alien word for nightslayer. Chasing Krollos, Aric shot him with a blast that went right through him, which momentarily confused him. Shooting Aric from behind, Krollos pushed him against a wall that collapsed on top of him. Crawling from the wreckage, Aric flew toward the vault to intercept Krollos before he reached it.

Elsewhere, during a get-together at Paul’s cabin following his memorial service, the surviving members of Department W reminisced about his life and their time together. After one of them, David, stepped outside on the veranda for some fresh air, Randy and June inadvertently followed him while discussing that it had been years since the Wolfbridge Group had assembled. Just then, Randy noticed David sitting on a chair, and when they walked toward him they realized that he was dead.

Back at the PCB Plant, as Krollos blew the door to the vault, Aric followed him and saw a Spider Alien vessel inside. Upset, Aric demanded that Krollos tell him why he betrayed his kind, but avoiding the question, he ran away. As Aric followed Krollos, the armor told him that Krollos was a Harbinger capable of projecting a false three–dimensional image of himself. Asking Pol–Bekhara to track the real Krollos, Aric was surprised when his arm jerked back and shot an empty void on the alien vessel, but then Krollos fell to the ground. Using the armor’s thermal sensors, Aric shot Krollos and destroyed his cloaking device. Though Aric ordered him to surrender, Krollos shot him with an energy blast that hit the ship and destroyed it.

Not long after that, Aric heard Tilly’s voice and ordered the Good Skin to leave. Meeting up with Aric, Tilly asked him what was inside the vault, but feigning that he just got there he asked her how Scott was doing. As Tilly told Aric that Scott would be okay, the security guards found Krollos laying on the ground still alive. Ordering the guards to take Krollos to Orb’s medical facilities, Aric told them to stay posted outside his room. Upset, that he was not calling the cops, Tilly stood up to Aric, but telling her that they were at war and that she would do as he told her, Aric walked away.

Elsewhere, as Aristedes oversaw the loading of fresh human corpses onto his ship, Marc Anthony informed him of the destruction of their vessel at the PCB plant. Upset, Aristedes decided to leave some of their human cargo behind to make room for their troops in preparation for their coming gathering.

Chaos Effect Delta

The Gathering – Part I: A Call To Arms

At the office of Toyo Harada in Bolivar, Aric Dacia asked Harada if he had any information about the Spider Aliens, whom he was certain were up to something after they sent a thief to steal a ship in Orb Industries. Confirming Aric’s suspicion, Harada said that he had recorded dozens of Spider Alien vessels leaving Earth. Presuming that they were gathering in space planning an attack, Harada told Aric that Omen Enterprises and the government faction that ran the Armorines were launching two shuttles out into space to investigate. Interfacing with Harada’s computer, Aric downloaded the location of the Omen spacecraft into the Good Skin and took his leave. Before Aric left, Harada reminded him that this was another favor he had done for him with no questions asked, and that he expected him to do the same for him someday.

Inside a van somewhere in Ohio, the kids from B-Squad drowned in Dr. Eclipse’s liquid body one by one until Butch MacFaddin let out a sonic scream that blew the top of the van off. Chocking on Eclipse’ fluid, yet still alive, the kids crawled into the road, where Victoria Martinelli saw Dr. Eclipse looming over them with a mocking smile on his face. Taunting them, Eclipse challenged the kids to take on him, so Sam Silently stood up to face him. Grabbing Sam in his oversized hand, Eclipse pulled him toward his mouth, when suddenly, the chaos effect enveloped the world and filled him with an influx of necromantic energy. Mad with power and delusions of Godhood, Eclipse took to the skies and left the B–Squad behind to wonder what was happening.

Amid glowing chemical lights, Harada told Walter, Katsumi, and others that he had spent two hours reaching out across the globe and felt the fear, confusion, and death left in the wake of the chaos. Explaining that the laws of nature no longer applied, Harada said that a dark energy was sweeping the world, blocking the sun’s rays and disrupting the electromagnetic spectrum, causing electricity to become erratic. Proclaiming that they were witnessing the fall of man and that they were spinning chaotically in a world that no longer welcomed them where science no longer ruled, Harada said that magic and faith were their masters. Fearing the worst, Harada told Walter that he believed that the Spider Aliens were behind the worldwide crisis, and that the Armorines, Omen Enterprises, and X–O Manowar might be battling them in deep space with the fate of everything hanging in the balance. Pointing out that communications were out, Walter said that there was no way they could find out what was happening, but Harada suggested that there was a way he could find them.

Somewhere in West Virginia, Faith Herbert landed in the woods to find shelter from the weather before she got lost in it. Just then, a dog called Chief jumped her from behind and threw her on the ground. Following Chief, Jack, a young kid, apologized to Faith and pulled the dog off her. Introducing himself, Jack told Faith that he and his uncle had a campsite nearby and invited her to join them. Five hours later, somewhere in Ohio, the kids from B–Squad gathered around a campfire beside their van and wondered when the skies would clear up again.

In Bolivar, while on their way to a specially prepared room, Harada told Walter that he planned to reach out mentally to the Omen shuttles in space to take possession of somebody’s body, preferably Aric’s, so he could not only see the end of the Spider Alien threat, but play a part in it as well. Disrobing to go inside a sensory deprivation chamber, Harada told Walter to transcribe everything he said, and that even if the chaos effect ended, he was not to be disturbed. Entering the chamber, Harada spent the next few hours focusing his mental abilities in an effort to reach out to any of the warriors fighting against the Spider Alien forces.

High above the Earth, the Armorines and HARD Corps engaged the Spider Alien fleet in a no holds barred battle. Astonished, Cordova could not believe that they were taking on an alien fleet in space, while Sirot was satisfied that the proof was right in his face. Seeing a squadron of alien warriors coming their way, Flatline suddenly grabbed his head and keeled over in pain as Harada took over his body. Staring out into the void of space, Harada looked at the others with contempt.

The Gathering – Part II: Search And Destroy

On the morning of June 20th, 1994, in a remote launch site owned by Omen Enterprises located somewhere in New Mexico, the space shuttles Voyager and Intrepid launched into orbit carrying the Armorines and HARD Corps within them. Inside the Voyager’s cargo hold, while Major Lane complained over the cramped space, Hossen felt elated that they were going out into space, but urging him to loose the starry–eyed attitude, she told him that they were going to war, not an episode of Star Trek. Behind them, Gunny agreed with Myra that they could not take the luxury of taking in the scenery, not when an alien invasion threatened the entire Earth. Soon, the shuttles reached escape velocity and were well on their way to rendezvous in high Earth orbit.

Down in ground control, Zahn told Sigmund Heydrich that he was surprised that he did not sent Softcore up with his agents since she activated their Harbinger powers. Explaining that they had found that they ran less risk of discovery by keeping Softcore at the home base on all of HARD Corps’ missions, Heydrich said that it gave them tighter control over the Corps’ members. Offering his due respects, General Kendall told Heydrich that he found the ability to brain–fry their own personnel on a whim to be somewhat disturbing. Telling Kendall not to be sanctimonious, Heydrich accused him of building his distinguished marine corps’s reputation on false propaganda and deceit. Looking to dissuade the argument, Zahn called Kendall and Heydrich’s attention to a monitor. Behind them, Softcore established contact with the HARD Corps aboard the Intrepid and told them that she would be switching them to shield mode until further notice.

Onboard the Intrepid, Flatline told Hotshot that he was not too keen on working with the Armorines, who tried to kill them. Agreeing with him, Hotshot said that if they turned on them while they were up there they would be dead meat. Calling them paranoid, Gunslinger told them that what happened before was a mistake, and that Gunny Lewis was a good man, when suddenly the shuttle wobbled and threw them off balance. Running to the cockpit to find out what happened, Gunslinger learned that there was some kind of major disruption in the Earth’s electromagnetic geosphere and that the pilot had lost contact with Voyager.

Reestablishing contact with Intrepid, the two crews learned that there was some kind of global disturbance that caused a communications blackout that left them completely cutoff from Earth. Contacting Gunslinger, Gunny turned his attention to a massive alien fleet in the distance that had spotted their approach. Back in ground control, Kendall found Zahn staring at the sky, amazed by the electric field that encompassed the Earth, and ordered him to return inside to help Heydrich’s staff. Telling the General that there was nothing they could do, Zahn said that the aliens may have caused the electrical freeze using some type of weapon to keep them defenseless for when their invasion force stroke. Looking at the sky, Kendall proclaimed that that could mean the end of everything as they knew it and Zahn concurred. Meanwhile, onboard a Spider Alien vessel, Marc Anthony told Aristedes that their mothership was not scheduled to arrive for a few hours and asked him what they were going to do about the two shuttles, which surely contained a human attack force. Reluctant to risk loosing anymore ships, Aristedes ordered Marc Anthony to sent out three squadrons of their finest warriors in Wolf Class armor to engage the humans in hand–to–hand– combat.

Equipped in EVA suits, the HARD Corps exited the Intrepid’s cargo bay through the open canopy while the Armorines approached them in their armors from the Voyager. Hearing Flatline complain about being stuck on shield mode and loosing their offensive strategy, Gunny realized that cut off from Softcore they could not switch to any of their other powers, which put them at an immediate disadvantage. Showing off a high–tech gun, Hammerhead told Flatline to be glad that he insisted that they bring those along. Nevertheless, Gunny suggested that they work together and watch each other’s backs. Agreeing, Gunslinger said that their first priority was to find a way to disable the aliens’ ships. Watching the alien’s first wave of defense troops bearing on them, Gunny ordered everyone to lock and load for a fight.

His heart pounding like a hammer, either due to an adrenaline rush or the cold fear at the sight of the aliens, Gunny wondered if they were going to have a chance against them and their technology. Contacting Myra, Gunny told her to scan the outer hull of the closest ship to find a weak spot they could penetrate with their weapons. Taking Gunslinger with him, Gunny blew a hole on the side of a Spider Alien vessel with his ion cannons and the two of them went inside to find its main power source and destroy it. Meanwhile, outside, Toyo Harada’s consciousness took over Flatline’s body. Taking the others by surprise, Harada used his Omega Power to switch powers and dispatch two alien warriors, then he flew away, leaving Shakespeare in doubt.

Inside the alien vessel, Gunny and Gunslinger reached the engine room. While Gunslinger kept the aliens at bay with his force field, Gunny fired his PBC cannon at the engine and destroyed it. Blowing a hole through the hull, Gunny and Gunslinger escaped the vessel before it rammed another ship. Taking cover behind a shield, the two withstood a massive explosion that resulted from the collision of both vessels. Floating aimlessly, at the mercy of two alien warriors, Gunslinger was too weak to put up another shield, while the energy levels in Gunny’s armor had dropped severely and were a few minutes away from going back on–line. Just then, X–O Manowar destroyed the aliens and rescued them. Cursing the hard skins, Aric promised that they would die like all the rest of their kind. Assuring one another that they were on the same side of the battle, Gunny, Gunslinger, and Aric went their separate ways to fight the aliens from multiple fronts.

Elsewhere, Harada in Flatline’s body watched as the Armorines and HARD Corps engaged the aliens in futile battle atop an alien vessel. Showing outer disregard for the other’s safety, Harada ripped the alien vessel to shreds. Taking cover behind a shield, Hammerhead told the others that he was beginning to believe that Flatline was not himself.

The Gathering – Part III: Old Acquaintances

Leaving Harada’s office, X–O Manowar took off for space, delighted at the prospect of the coming slaughter. Satisfied that Harada’s information confirmed his suspicions about the aliens, Aric vowed that they would not escape his wrath. Urging the Good Skin to hurry and take him to his enemies so that he could fulfill his blood oath, Aric broke orbit right as the necromantic energy pouring out of Ivar’s time arc enveloped the Earth and momentarily lost touch with the armor. Staring at the Earth, Aric surmised that the aliens were responsible for the energy web around the planet and vowed to make them pay dearly, when suddenly he heard Paul’s voice screaming in his ears. Skeptical at first, Aric listened as Paul said that the X–O armor had not fully absorbed part of his consciousness during the joining due to his being a human host and not an alien. Deducing that the disturbance had awoken Paul, Aric promised to deal with the situation after they killed the aliens. Meanwhile, at the Orb Industries medical center, Ken and Tilly discovered that Krollos had escaped.

Above Earth’s atmosphere, Harada took over Flatline’s mind and flew away, while Sirot broke ranks and left. Aboard an alien vessel, Gunny and Gunslinger destroyed the ship’s power source, causing the vessel to ram another ship and explode. Delighted by the sight of so many hard skins, Aric inferred that the gathering must have been why Aristedes desperately wanted Shanhara out of the way. Holding Aristedes responsible for the death of Shanhara and Paul’s current predicament, Aric promised Paul that he would find him and make his juices flow. Floating aimlessly at the mercy of two alien warriors, Gunslinger was too weak to put up another shield, while the energy levels in Gunny’s armor had dropped severely and were a few minutes away from going back on–line, when then X–O Manowar destroyed the aliens and rescued them. Cursing the hard skins, Aric promised that they would die like the rest of their kind. Assuring one another that they were on the same side, Gunny, Gunslinger, and Aric went their separate ways to fight the aliens from multiple fronts.

Meanwhile, in a small town near Vancouver, Randy informed the rest of Department W that David’s autopsy revealed that whoever murdered him was an experienced assassin. Explaining that the coroner found a gelatin fragment and broken skin along the bruise on David’s neck, Randy said that David was poisoned. Calling it a unique method of assassination, Ian said that the only individual in their files that fit that mo was an assassin who called himself Snakebite, named after the legendary silent killers of World War II. Intent on tracking down Snakebite, Randy urged the others to help her. Just then, a sniper’s bullet killed Stephan.

Breaking into an alien vessel, Aric found Aristedes on the bridge and tore him asunder, then he blasted Marc Anthony into space. Elsewhere, Gunslinger and Gunny went to find Flatline, who unlike the other Corps was not stuck in shield mode. Contacting Myra, Gunny learned that Sirot was onboard one of the alien vessels and had shut off visual and audio contact with Hossen.

After ripping the heads off two aliens, Sirot linked his armor to the vessel’s computers, unaware that an alien had trained his weapon on him. Startling Sirot, X–O Manowar killed the alien. Grabbing the interface, Aric asked Sirot what he was doing, so he told him that the NSA wanted him to retrieve as much information about the aliens and their technology as he could while he was up there. Silently, Aric ripped the interface from the aliens’ computer and shattered it in his hand, infuriating Sirot, who accused him of being a stupid, arrogant brute. Just then, the alien ship shook up and threw the two men off balance. Lighting the darkened room with his omni beam, Aric told Sirot that the others might be trying to disable the ship from outside.

Finding Flatline attacking the Spider Alien vessel with arc charge, Gunslinger ordered him to stop what he was doing and told him that one of the Armorines was on board the ship. Calling him naïve for not realizing that Sam Kim was no longer in control of his body, Harada said that the aliens posed a threat to everything he had tried to built and that he did not care who got killed as long as those damned creatures were eliminated. Vowing that he would not be denied Harada delivered a fatal charge that destroyed the alien vessel.

The Gathering – Part IV: Unholy Alliance

Finding Flatline attacking the alien vessel, Gunslinger ordered him to stop what he was doing, and told him that one of the Armorines was on board. Calling him a fool, Flatline said that the Spider Alien posed a threat to everything he had tried to built and that he did not care who was in the way of his slaughter of all of those creatures. Vowing that he would not be denied, Harada delivered a fatal charge that destroyed the alien vessel.

Gathering the Armorines and the Corps, Gunslinger told them that Harada had possessed Sam, and that in his eyes they were expendable. Certain that Sirot was dead, Gunny accused Harada of murder, when then Myra informed him that Sirot was alive and headed their way. In awe, the Armorines and Corps watched as the X–O Manowar armor in its ball configuration flew toward them from the explosion and opened up to reveal Sirot and Aric inside it. After thanking Aric for saving Sirot, Gunny confronted Michael for shutting off visual and audio without permission, but all Sirot would say was that he had his orders. Interrupting Gunny’s reaming of Sirot, Major Lane informed him that one of the alien ships had broken formation and headed for the Voyager. While the others dealt with the fleet, Gunny and Aric flew toward the shuttle to take care of the aliens.

Soon, Aric and Gunny found the vessel attacking the Voyager, which was taking evasive maneuvers. Aware that the shuttle could not avoid the alien lasers for long, Gunny worried that if they did not save the shuttle, they would all be stranded in space. Attacking the ship from different flanks , Aric and Gunny destroyed it. Reaching the shuttle, Gunny raised Myra on their comm–link and told her that the shuttle was hit hard but the hull was not breached. Meanwhile, Sirot suggested that they kill Flatline, but Gunslinger told him that killing Sam to get rid of Harada was not an option as far as he was concerned. Pointing to the last three alien vessels, Shakespeare informed Gunslinger that they were reconfiguring and that Harada had gone on the offensive.

Contacting Harada, Gunslinger urged him to halt his assault, and told him that taking on the Spider Aliens alone was suicide, but Harada ignored his warnings and engaged a squadron of aliens in Wolf armor. Urging Harada to realize that he was jeopardizing the mission, Gunslinger told him that he if he really wanted to beat the aliens he would work with them. Though he was hesitant to work with his would–be assassins, Harada agreed to let the Corps and Armorines protect him while he single–handedly knocked out every alien ship. Protected by the Corps’ shields while the Armorines took out the aliens, Harada destroyed the alien vessels.

Weakened, Harada turned on his brief allies to avenge their assassination attempt on his life before he lost his hold on Sam’s body. Shooting Shakespeare out of his way and disabling an Armorine, Harada, certain that he would not harm him as long as he was in Flatline’s body, grabbed Gunslinger’s neck through his force field and threatened to blow up his helmet, when, suddenly, an Armorine tackled him and pushed him off Charles. Exhausted, and unable to hold much longer, Harada barely had enough strength to raise a force field to deflect a burst from Sirot’s PBC cannon. Regaining control of his body, Flatline came to unaware of what happened.

Sometime later, Gunny and X–O Manowar took out the remaining alien ships while the Armorines and the Corps took out the last of the armored aliens, bringing an end of the Spider Alien threat. Soon, while Gunny informed the team that it would take a few hours to make repairs on their shuttle, Gunslinger bemoaned the fact that as long as the energy field was around the Earth they could not get back, when then the disturbance disappeared as soon as it appeared. Contacting the Intrepid, Gunslinger urged them to reestablish contact with ground control. Shacking Gunslinger’s hand, Gunny told him that as soon as they made contact with ground control they should get out of there, while X–O would stay behind to help the Armorines get back safely. Parting ways, Gunny and Gunslinger agreed that they were getting too old for their line of work.

The Vengeance Trail

The Vengeance Trail – Part I: Quest

During the Chaos Effect, deep in the jungles of Peru in South America, King Agannon of the Skammers stood over a bonfire and called upon the dark necromantic powers, which spewed out from the flames and empowered him.

Several days later in South America, Aric Dacia and Ken Clarkson chastised Devanne and two other Orb Industries employees for allowing Spectar Industries to slaughter an India tribe. Assuring Aric that Spectar had nothing to do with what happened, Devanne told him that he found a witness whose description of the person that did it fit the one Aric gave them of Reece. Donning the X–O armor, Aric took off with Ken and Devanne to speak with the witness, Julio Pardiñas, while the others stayed there to gather the bodies. Later, as Aric and the others made their way across the jungle, Aric communed with Paul for the first time since their battle with the Spider Aliens in space. Unnerved by his ability to communicate with the armor’s host,, Aric suggested that maybe Randy could help them sort out their situation, but Paul objected as he did not want to hurt her again and made Aric promise that he would keep his existence a secret.

Meanwhile, in a small town near Vancouver, Randy and Ian met in a safe house beneath a church that she and Paul built years earlier. Refusing to sit around waiting for Snakebite to make his next move, Randy suggested that they hunt him down before he got the rest of them like he did Stefan and David. Agreeing with her, Pierre walked into the room and told Randy that he saw on the news that June died in a bad car accident soon after the storms caused by the Chaos Effect ended. Doubting that Snakebite was involved in June’s death, Pierre told Randy that he got a lead on Snakebite’s location in east Berlin, Germany. Expecting a trap, Randy suggested that they take certain precautions with their travel arrangements.

Back in South America, Aric and the others reached Julio’s cabin, where, after removing the armor at Devanne’s suggestion so he would no scare Julio, Aric asked him if he had seen Reece. Walking outside, Julio refused to tell Aric anything, and told hem to leave because he did not want anyone else to get hurt. Just then, a group of Skammers jumped off the treetops and held Aric’s group at bay with their spears. Surrounding Julio, the Skammers accused him of betraying their confidence to outsiders and threatened to take him to see Agannon, who was plenty mad with him. As Aric tried to appease the situation, a Bionisaur came out of the jungle and bit off a Skammers’ head clean off his body.

Though he wondered how the Skammers survived Unity, Aric put his concerns aside and donned the Good Skin to kill the Bionisaurs. Recognizing the X–O, a Skammer called Aric master, but another one exclaimed that Agannon was their lord. During the skirmish with the Bionisaurs, while Aric wondered who would dare to rule his Skammers, a Bionisaur killed Devanne while he and Ken tried to escape.

Once the Bionisaurs lay at their feet, Aric learned that for the Skammers it had been seven years since their war against Mothergod. Though one of the Skammers remained loyal to Aric, the others’ loyalty was for Agannon, so they took Julio and Ken hostage. Looking to settle the issue of who ruled the Skammers once and for all, Aric ordered them to take him to their new master. Several hours later, the Skammers took Aric and the others to a ridge overlooking the valley where they had settled their camp.

The Vengeance Trail – Part II: Deceitful Players

Deep in the jungles of Peru, X–O Manowar killed a snake and a crocodile to give their carcasses to Agannon as gifts to barter for Julio’s life. As Aric came out of the river dragging the animals behind him, Ken asked him why they could not just grab Julio and get out of there, to which Aric replied that this had turned into a matter of honor. Adding that he Skammers were his army during the war with Mothergod, Aric told Ken that he planned to reclaim them as his own by showing Agannon that he was no match for the power of the X–O armor to force him to relinquish the Skammers back to him.

Making her way across West Berlin on foot, Randy reached an apartment building where she knocked out an individual garbed in a parka who was following her using a duffle bag. To Randy’s surprise, her would–be stalked turned out to be June, who had faked her death to do some investigating of her own. Shocking Randy, June told her that somebody in their group sold them out, and that if they played it right, that could be the break that would help them catch Snakebite once and for all.

Meanwhile, in East Berlin, a man called Jacob met with Aaron, the assassin responsible for killing Stefan and David. Telling Aaron that Helena Wolfbridge, their leader, wanted to make the Wolfbridge Group squirm, Jacob said that their more inside their task force was going to lead them right into their trap.

Back in Peru, Aric and the others reached the Skammers’ camp, where he demanded to see King Agannon. Shortly, after Orgon, a Skammer, informed Agannon of Aric’s presence, Agannon emerged from his tent and met with the Visigoth, who presented him with his gifts and assured him that he wished him no ill will. Though Aric wished to discuss the misunderstanding between Agannon and Julio, Agannon dismissed it as a topic of debate for the next day and invited Aric to partake in a banquet to honor his return.

Later that day, Aric, sans the X–O armor, enjoyed the feast even though neither he nor Ken trusted Agannon. Taking Aric aside, Agannon told him that he hoped he was comfortable and that he wanted to make sure he got the special treatment he deserved. Just then, Orgon gave them two cups filled with mead that he warned them was particularly potent. Walking over to Julio, who was inside a makeshift cell, Aric told Agannon that he possessed information he needed and that he would like to see that no harm came to him while he took a drink from his cup. Explaining that Julio broke an agreement with them by bringing outsiders into their land, which could not go unpunished, Agannon offered to hand Julio over Aric in exchange for the armor. Suddenly, Aric became dizzy and passed out. Looming over Aric, Agannon told him that he might have ruled the Skammers at one time, but that he was their master now, and that with the X–O armor at his command he would be invincible. Ordering the Skammers to strip Aric of everything and tie him to the stake, Agannon said that he wanted to question him in the morning. Finding the X–O ring in Aric’s finger, the Skammers, unaware of its significance, threw it on a pile of booty they planned to distribute amongst them later. As for Ken, the Skammers threw him in with the women so he would provide them with some amusement later.

Meanwhile, in a safe house in West Berlin, Pierre informed Randy and Ian that his informant wanted to meet them at nine that evening to tell them where Snakebites’ hide out was, and that if they paid him enough he would even clue them in on Snakebite’s employer. Considering all that had happened lately, Pierre suggested that they split up and meet at the rendezvous as Snakebite could not tail all three of them at once. Having heard enough, Randy opened the door and allowed June inside while Ian trained his weapon on Pierre. Confronting Pierre, Ian asked him which one of them was supposed to die, while Randy told him to confess since June had found him out. Accusing Randy of being sanctimonious, Pierre said that she had it easy since their group disbanded as head of security of Orb Industries. Unexpectedly throwing the table against Ian, Pierre ran out the window into the fire escape, but Randy caught up to him and grabbed him. During their struggle, Pierre fell off into the street and died instantly upon hitting the ground. Standing over Pierre’s body, Randy told the others that after they disposed of the body they would go on to that meeting, which was obviously a trap set by Snakebite, and see how he liked it when the shoe was on the other foot.

Back in South America, Ken unsuccessfully tried to get a woman to help retrieve the control ring so he could give it back to Aric. A short distance away, Agannon told Aric how he had kept the Skammers alive after their arrival on Earth seven years earlier and that during the Chaos Effect the necromantic power filled his veins and signaled the time for his ascension as supreme ruler. Interpreting Aric’s arrival as a sign from the Gods, Agannon demanded that Aric tell him how the X–O armor worked. Damming Agannon to hell, Aric broke free from his bonds and punched him across the face, drawing first blood. However, as Agannon was empowered with necromantic energy, he brought his collection of animal carcasses to life and ordered them to attack Aric. Laughing while the animals threatened to devour the Visigoth, Agannon ordered the Skammers to throw Aric into the pit to see him die a painful death, so Orgon hit Aric over the head and knocked him out.

Shortly, Aric awoke in a pit with a dagger beside him and a Bionisaur looming over him.

The Vengeance Trail – Part III: Chasing Dreams

In a pit in the Skammer camp somewhere in the jungles of South America, Aric grabbed the dagger on the ground and stabbed the Bionisaur on the jaw with it while Agannon and a crowd of Skammers watched from the sidelines. While Aric futilely engaged the creature, elsewhere Ken begged the women to help him save his friend before the Bionisaur killed him, but since they did not speak English they did not understand him. Just then, Orgon approached them and brutally demanded food and drink for him and Agannon. As Orgon walked away after he slapped Mokari, one of the women, Ken did his best to tell her that if she got him the ring he would free her.

Meanwhile, in East Germany, Randy, Ian, and June stalked out Pierre’s informant from inside a van. While Ian and June debated whether to grab the man or wait until he lead them to Snakebite, Randy searched the square for the assassin they expected to kill them to no avail. Just then, the informant entered a car and left. As they followed him, Randy and the others saw a woman who they believed was Snakebite get into the car. Unfortunately, the informant and Aaron saw them and shot the van’s tire, which caused June to loose control and crash into the informant’s car. Simultaneously, both vehicles drove off the road and crashed.

In Peru, Mokari found the control ring and was on her way to give it to Ken, but just as she handed it to him a Skammer slapped him across the head and he dropped it on the pit with Aric. Leaping toward the ring, Aric slid it on his finger and called the Good Skin to him, and shortly he donned the armor before the Bionisaur could eat him. Tossing the Bionisaur out of the pit, Aric went to confront Agannon while the beast devoured the Skammers. Surrounded by the reanimated carcasses, Agannon escaped carried on the beaks of a group of vultures while Aric slaughtered the grotesque heard. Hearing Ken’s cries for help, Aric rescued him and Julio from the Bionisaur, who he put down with a blast from his ion cannon. Freeing Julio from his cage, Aric assured him that the Skammers would not bother him again and asked him once more to help him find Reece.

Shortly, Aric ordered Orgon to lead the Skammers in his absence, leaving him with the warning that next time he would not be so lenient on punishing those who betrayed him again. Before leaving with Ken and Julio to find Reece and exact his vengeance, Aric ordered the Skammers to release the women as no army of his should have slaves.

Back in East Berlin, Randy, Ian, and June stood over the corpses of Pierre’s informant and the car’s driver, when, suddenly, the two other men from the car opened fire on them. Splitting up, Ian took care of one of the men while Randy disarmed Aaron. During the skirmish, Randy killed Aaron, who before he died told her that Wolfbridge hired him to kill them. Standing over Aaron's corpse, Randy and the others refused to believe his claim, yet they still wondered if Wolfbridge was truly dead.

In Peru, Julio took Aric and Ken to a man called Emilio, who lead them Reece’s grave and told them that he died after an India speared him.

Elsewhere, Reece, who was very much alive, arrived on a secluded island where he met with Doug Freedman, the previous owner of Orb and Spectar Industries, and assured him that nothing he did in South America would be traced to either company. Pleased to hear that Aric found Reece’s grave and that he would no longer poke around in South America, the last thing Freedman wanted was for Aric to stumble into something that did not concern him. Curious, Reece asked Freedman when he, Freedman, would take back his company, and Freedman replied that he needed to find out a lot more about Aric Dacia before he began is takeover of Orb Industries.

The Wolfbridge Affair

The Wolfbridge Affair – Prelude: Chance Encounter

In the office of Toyo Harada at the Harbinger Foundation building in Bolivar, Aric Dacia confronted Harada over his interference during their recent war with the Spider Aliens. Nonchalantly, Harada told Aric that his so–called interference had insured their victory, and that he was only trying to help by doing him a favor. As Toyo and Aric argued over their abuse of their respective powers for their own needs, Walter Sakai burst into the office and informed them of an emergency in Springfield, Illinois, which he suspected was to release some inmates from what Harada referred to as a facility for unstable Harbingers that he hoped to reform some day. Acknowledging that he owed Harada a favor, Aric reminded him that his word was his bond and offered to handle the situation until he could get his own troops over there.

Meanwhile, at the Harbinger Correctional facility in Springfield, Snakebite freed a Harbinger female called Empath, who had made a deal to work for Wolfbridge and was going to help him free other inmates before Harada’s Eggbreakers arrived.

A short time later, X–O Manowar saw four escapees emerge from the facility through a hole in the wall while flying over the structure. Catching up to them, Aric ordered them to surrender or die, but ignoring his warning they ran in different directions. Following Claude, aka Field, who suffered from multiple personalities, Aric shot him with an ion blast, but Claude erected a force field that reflected the blast back to him and knocked him to the ground. As Aric fired a blast at Claude’s feet that knocked him down, Rage, who possessed the ability to channel his anger to make himself incredibly strong, charged against him and knocked the air out of him. Picking up a tree trunk in his arms, Rage repeatedly beat Aric until the Visigoth lost consciousness.

Waking up 20 minutes later, feeling like his chest was on fire, Aric blamed his cockiness for letting the inmates escape. Aware that Harada would not be pleased with his failure Aric knew that he had to assure him that it was only temporary, especially as he had a feeling that he would run into those lunatics again.

Somewhere in Germany, a helicopter carrying Snakebite and the three Harbingers landed on a compound on an island where an individual whose features laid hidden in shadow, told Snakebite to contact Webnet and tell them they would proceed with the operation in a few days, and that by that time next week all Europe would temple at the name Wolfbridge.

The Wolfbridge Affair – Part I: Opening Gambit

Outside the Harbinger Correctional facility in Springfield, Aric broke a tree on his leg to vent his frustration over his failure to stop the inmates from escaping. Walking toward Aric, Harada reminded him that he warned him that his inmates were dangerous, then he accused him of being careless. While Aric assured Harada that he would hunt down the inmates for him, Paul urged Aric to speak with him, but Aric told him to get out of his head. Sensing the communication between Aric and the armor, Harada suggested that the armor might be malfunctioning and said that he would hate to see Aric loose another one. Upset, Aric warned Harada that someday his arrogance would be his undoing, then he tried to return to the subject of the inmates, but Harada told him not to worry about them and to go home as he no longer needed him. Agreeing with Harada that they should leave, Pol–Bekhara took off into the air, startling Aric, who ordered the Good Skin to put him down to no avail, and wondered if the reason the armor was no longer following his commands was Paul’s doing. Angered, Aric demanded to know what Paul was trying to tell him, but the armor did not respond.

Somewhere in Germany, Helena Wolfbridge swore that she and Jacob would avenge Aaron’s death while holding a photograph of the three of them together in her hand. Facing a portrait of her father, Helena reiterated the vow and said that murdering the men she had loved most in her life was a mistake that Randy was going to pay dearly for, and that when she was through with her she would refer to her time in her father’s torture camp in Afghanistan as the good old days. Entering the computer center of her castle, Helena asked Terrance about the whereabouts of her task force. Informing her that the pilot checked in twenty minutes earlier, Terrance told Helena that he sounded concerned about the inmates, whose mental instability worried both of them. Reminding Terrance that the inmates were merely pawns to suit her purposes, Helena told him that with them on their side, they would soon have those Polaris missiles in their possession, and then the world powers would bend over backwards to meet their demands.

Somewhere in the Gulf of Antalya, Turkey, Snakebite and the Harbinger inmates escaped from a US military base on a transport carrying twin Polaris missiles followed by a group of soldiers. While Rage used a bazooka to blow up a helicopter flying over them, Field kept the misiles safe from the American troops with his force field. Driving a jeep beside the transport, Snakebite assured Rage that they were almost at the ruins of what once was the city of Belkis, where their reception committee was already in place. Shortly, as the convoy reached the ruins, Snakebite’s back up ambushed the American troops and killed them. Sometime later, at the coastline, the foursome loaded the missiles on a vessel.

Arriving at Paul’s former estate near Vancouver, Aric landed beside Randy, who wondered what he was doing there and how he knew where she was, but, confused, he was not sure of what to tell her. Communing with Paul, Aric told him that he thought he did not want to mention anything about his condition to Randy, when then, unexpectedly, Pol–Bekhara broke free of Aric’s control and bonded with Randy, leaving Aric unconscious on the ground. Leaving Aric’s finger, the control ring flew to Randy and allowed her to hear Paul, who assured her that he would not hurt her and asked her not to resist. Bewildered, Randy believed that she was going insane, when then Pol–Bekhara took off and lifted her in the air. Assuring Randy that she was not insane, Paul took her to a mountain top and explained how, somehow, his consciousness was not fully absorbed by the X–O armor when he became Pol–Bekhara. At first Paul assumed that the condition was permanent, but he was wrong, as lately it had been getting increasingly hard to establish contact with Aric. Though it took him awhile, Paul realized that the absorption process had not been complete, and it was taking longer because he was a human host and not an alien. Aware that soon he would be completely assimilated into the armor, Paul told Randy that maybe with her help he could become its dominant consciousness.

Musing that if only he could separate himself from Bekhara, to somehow bend it to his will and take complete control of the armor, Paul asked Randy to keep him in focus through the control ring and order the armor to let him do that. Assuring Paul that she would do anything for him, Randy told him that it was too late, and that he and Bekhara were now joined. Certain that if he tried to separate his consciousness there was a good chance they would both die and that Aric would never agree to that, Randy refused to help Paul, who, unable to maintain his link, tried to escape from the armor, which caused the Good Skin to scream in pain and crash on a beach below them. Realizing that he almost killed Randy, Paul apologized to her and accepted his fate.

Back at the estate, Aric woke up and discovered that his control ring, the X–O armor, and Randy were gone. Going inside the cabin to look for them, Aric came across Snakebite. Lunging against Jacob, who failed to recognize him without the armor, Aric punched him to capture him, but then Jacob shot him with a tetrodotoxin pellet that rendered him unconscious and Snakebite said would kill him within 20 seconds.

The Wolfbridge Affair – Part II: Pawns

Returning to the cabin, Randy could not believe that Paul was gone again and believed that the mess she had just been through could have been avoided if Aric had confided in her and told her that his consciousness was still a part of the X–O armor. Hearing the sound of commotion from the house, Randy flew inside the cabin and saw Snakebite looming over an unconscious Aric with a gun in his hand. Ordering the Good Skin to help Aric cleanse the toxin from his system, Randy leapt at Snakebite and faced him in hand–to–hand combat.

During the melee, Randy learned that the man they killed in Germany was Jacob’s twin brother Aaron, and that they had been dealing with two Snakebites all along. Picking up a piece of broken glass, Randy slashed Jacob’s face and demanded to know who hired him to kill the members of Department W, but, mocking her, he said that if she was such a hotshot intelligence agent she could figure it out for herself. Coming to, Aric struggled to get off the floor as the armor was nothing more than dead weight on him without the control ring. Demanding aloud that Paul answer him and tell him where Randy was, Aric saw her and Snakebite. Grateful to see that Aric was alive, Randy realized that he needed the control ring and threw it at his hand.

Regaining control of the armor, Aric grabbed Snakebite off Randy and asked him where the inmates where and how he found him, but then Snakebite tossed a grenade near to Randy to force Aric to choose between him and her. Tossing Snakebite aside, Aric picked Randy in his arms and flew her off the cabin before the grenade exploded. Returning to the cabin after making sure that Randy was alright, she and Aric saw Jacob running into the woods. Though Aric wanted to follow him, Randy convinced him to put a tracker on him instead so that they could follow him to wherever he was going. Shortly, Jacob escaped in a helicopter.

Sometime later, while Aric and Randy followed the tracker onboard an Orb Industries airplane, Aric coaxed Randy into telling him what the situation was all about. Unsure of where to start, Randy began by telling Aric that while she was in the Canadian Secret Service she was part of a task force dubbed Department W, the Wolfbridge Group, which purpose was to apprehend an international terrorist and extortionist named Kyle Wolfbridge. During that time Randy met Jean–Luc, her husband, who Wolfbridge murdered years earlier. Recounting how Paul helped her escape from Wolfbridge’s camp in Afghanistan, which was how he lost his eye, Randy told Aric that months later she tracked Wolfbridge down and killed him with her bare hands, an action that was not officially sanctioned by her employers, who fired her and disbanded Department W in an attempt to avoid a political scandal.

Getting to the recent situation, Randy told Aric that following Paul’s memorial service, where Department W reunited for the first time in years, Snakebite killed Stefan and David before they could track him to Germany, where he confessed that Wolfbridge hired him but died before they could learn more. Refusing to believe that Wolfbridge had come back from the dead, Randy had two of her ex–partners in Germany looking for answers, while she planned to continue to investigate from Canada, certain that Snakebite was dead.

Realizing that the man he fought the day before was Snakebite’s twin, Aric told Randy that Jacob broke three psychotic, but powerful Harbingers with fantastic abilities, out from one of Toyo Harada’s correctional facilities, which he failed to stop from escaping. As Randy wondered what possible connection there could be between the inmates’ escape and Wolfbridge, Aric traced Snakebite to somewhere in Germany. Anxious to get to the bottom of the mess they were in, Aric said that he hoped the armor did not act up again after what happened in Canada, a statement that upset Randy, who assured him that Paul was gone for good and that he would not be messing with his precious armor again.

Somewhere in Germany, the Harbingers arrived in Mistress Helena’s castle with the missiles. Elsewhere in the structure, Snakebite informed Helena of his encounter with Aric and Randy, which greatly upset him. Telling Jacob that his brother’s death had put them both on edge, but they could not let their grief stop them, Helena said that Randy would join their other two prisoners quite soon. Embracing Jacob, Helena told him that the Wolfbridge Group would suffer by watching as her father’s plans reached fruition, then she passionately kissed him. Discovering Aric’s tracker on Jacob, Helena said that the fates were kind, and that it looked like Randy might be joining them sooner than they thought.

Following the tracker’s signal, Randy and Aric went inside a large sewage pipe on the side of the mountain that came out over the ocean. Climbing up a ladder, the two came out into a room where they found themselves surrounded by the three Harbinger inmates.

The Wolfbridge Affair – Part III: Knight Moves

Somewhere in Germany, inside the old carriage house adjoining Helena Wolfbridge’s castle, X–O Manowar and Randy Cartier faced Snakebite’s renegade Harbingers. While Randy stayed back, Aric shot Rage with two blasts from his ion cannons, but, protected by a force field that deflected the blasts, the behemoth kept charging against him and pushed him against an empty suit of armor. Elsewhere in the room, Randy failed to escape from Empath, who shot her in the leg with an arrow from her crossbow and then hit her across the face with her own gun before she induced a state of panic in her mind using her ability. Watching Empath carry Randy over her shoulder down the same hole they climbed into the room through, Aric pushed Rage off him and then shot Field with all the power in his left gauntlet to force him to shut off the field protecting Rage. Grabbing a sword from one of the suits of armor, Aric slashed Rage on the chest and then flew out through a skylight. Turning back, Aric razed the house with his ion cannons, burying Rage and Field in the rubble, and then flew into the catacombs to search for Randy and Empath.

Shortly, inside a control center in the castle overlooking a room where June and Ian laid captive, Empath tossed an injured Randy at Helena’s feet. Introducing herself, Helena kneeled down beside Randy and, holding her jaw in her hand, called her the bitch that murdered her father. Revealing that Pierre came to her to sell the others up, Helena had her men take Randy down and tie her up on a gurney next to June and Ian. Looming over Randy, Helena revealed that taking revenge on Department W for the murder of her father was an added bonus to her true objective, which involved the two Polaris nuclear missiles her Harbinger task force stole the day before, which were hidden away on a remote island which location was a secret. Plotting to blackmail the world with the missiles, Helena turned to Terrance and asked him if they had heard back from the United Kingdom on their threat, but they had not. As the deadline she had given the world powers to respond to her threat loomed near, Helena stood in front of a camera ready to deliver her final warning, when then, Snakebite informed her that Field and Rage, who were both unharmed, had failed to defeat X–O Manowar. Upset, Helena ordered Snakebite to continue the search and find Aric, as well as any other intruders, unaware that at that very moment, Ninjak was standing on the beams over her head.

Elsewhere, Aric flew to the top of a tower to avoid Helena’s men and came across Ninjak, who told him where his friends where, but asked him to trust him that he could not barge in there until they learned where Helena kept the missiles. Later, after Ninjak guided X–O Manowar to Randy through the ventilation shaft, the two men stood behind a grate from where they listened as Helena threatened to erase Pitcarin Island from the face of the Earth, and do the same to Great Britain, unless they met her demands within an hour. Just then, Helena ordered Terrance to launch the first missile. Though it pained him, Aric agreed with Ninjak that he was the only capable of stopping the deadly weapon, so he left while Ninjak stayed behind to rescue Randy. Suddenly, after Aric left, Rage broke through the wall and pulled Ninjak out of the ventilation shaft, then he tossed him against a rock wall and Ninjak fell unconscious to the ground.

Later, near the Micronesia Islands, Aric located the missile, but since he did know what effect blasting it with his ion cannons or trying to interface with it through the armor might have, he tried using the tractor beam to veer it off course. Though the missile fought the beam, Aric managed to get it far enough away so it would not hurt any innocents, but then the missile fell into the ocean and exploded. Knocked out by the mushroom cloud, Aric fell into the ocean and lost consciousness.

The Wolfbridge Affair – Part IV: Checkmate

Within Wolfbridge’s command center, Rage beat up Ninjak, who hung from the roof with his hands tied to a chain, until Helena ordered him to stop. Goading Helena, Ninjak told her that he was disappointed in her choice of hired thugs, but unfazed, Helena retorted that she had heard that Dr. Silk was willing to pay a high price for Ninjak’s head on a platter. Just then, however, Terrance informed Helena that the missile missed its intended target. Upset, Helena ordered Terrance to connect her to someone on the island so she could speak with Beta–team directly. Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, Aric woke up amazed that the radiation had not kill him and the Good Skin both. Though his guts felt on fire, Aric put the pain aside and flew back to Germany to rescue Randy.

Back at Wolfbridge’s castle, Helena was pleased to hear that the British Prime Minister believed they spared Pitcairn Island on purpose, and that he would be ready to accept their terms within the next half hour due to the effect that the blast had on the atmosphere when the missile exploded. Just then, Helena noticed June looking at her, which displeased her greatly, so she picked up a dagger and killed her.

Suddenly, Aric broke into the castle and, despite feeling feverish, killed the guards. While Helena, Snakebite, and Terrence escaped up the tower, the Harbingers stayed behind to deal with Aric. Meanwhile, Ninjak escaped his bonds and freed Randy and Ian, who covered him while he accessed Helena’s computer to locate the other missile. Contacting Neville Alcott, Ninjak delivered the coordinates he needed and suggested that he deploy the Secret Weapons to neutralize Wolfbridge’s Beta–Team and secure the other missile. Moving on adrenaline, Aric blew up Rage’s leg with an ion blast, then he grabbed Field and broke his arms through his force field. Sneaking beside Aric, Empath coyly asked him if he was going to be that brutal with her.

Just outside the castle, as MI–5 helicopters opened fire on the structure, MI–5 soldiers parachuted into the courtyard and shot their way inside the ops room, where they found Ninjak, Ian and Randy, who went to find Helena.

Standing on the tower, Helena gazed down at the courtyard at the British that were storming the castle and mused that it was only a matter before they were forced to surrender, turning all their years of waiting and preparing into a waste. Just then, Randy and Ian ran toward Helena and the others with guns blazing. While Helena and Terrance used hoverpacks to fly away, Snakebite stayed behind to cover their escape, but then Randy shot Terrance’s pack, which exploded and seemingly killed him and Helena, who fell into the ocean in a ball of fire. Aiming her weapon at Snakebite, Randy wanted to kill him to make him pay for her dead friends, but Ian convinced her that there had been enough killing and she relented.

Meanwhile, Empath used her ability to immerse Aric in a delusion where he saw Deidre’s corpse. In a haze, Aric saw Deidre change into Randy, which caused him to lash out in disbelief and inadvertently hit Empath and knock her out.

A short while later, while Randy and Ian helped load June’s body into a chopper, Randy suffered from a sudden case of the shakes and had to turn back inside. There, she approached Aric, who she was thankful to see was alive. Suddenly, Aric took off and flew away without warning, leaving Randy behind to think that something was terribly wrong.

The Wolfbridge Affair – Aftermath

Somewhere in West Berlin, Germany, X–O Manowar strolled down a dark alley, his mind confused and feeling unbearable pain, when then he came across a group of Neo Nazis beating up an old man. Refusing to stand while they prayed on the weak, Aric beat up the three kids, but he was too late as the old man died. Feeling like the stench of death followed him everywhere, Aric took flight and left after he heard the sound of police sirens in the distance.

Back at Wolfbridge’s castle, as Randy and Ian walked away from the helicopter that was taking June’s body back to the mainland, they ran into Ninja, who told them that Neville had taken care of Beta–Team, but that Wolfbridge’s body had not yet been found. Walking away, Randy wanted to join the search for the corpse, but then Ninjak told her that he had news about Aric from West Berlin and that he could arrange a car for the two of them to go to him.

Back in West Berlin, Aric came across a group of Skinheads and Neo–Nazis who were torturing a couple of gay men. Using the armor to communicate with them in German, Aric asked them why they persecuted those who were innocent and defenseless. Filled with bigotry and ignorance, the men accused the men of spreading AIDS, an accusation that enraged Aric, who tossed their leader against a trash can and told the men that it was their own ignorance that continued to spread that plague. Accusing Aric of being a queer lover, the Skinheads rushed him, but swiftly dispatched them. Just then, Aric saw as a Skinhead poured gasoline on the gay men to set them ablaze, so he used his ion cannons to light them on fire as punishment for their behavior.

As Aric released the two guys, Randy and Ian drove up to the alley in a van. His head pounding, Aric asked the armor to let him out, but then the armor turned into a puddle of water and Aric collapsed on the floor. Taking the control ring from Aric’s finger and putting it on her own, Randy learned that the armor had cleansed its systems of any lingering radioactive dust, but that Aric would have to spend two weeks inside the armor for it to fully heal him. Commanding the armor to wrap itself around Aric and keep him sedated until his fever was gone and the pain had lessened, Randy ordered it to take him inside the van.

The next day at the airport, Ken oversaw as two Orb employees loaded Aric inside the corporate jet. Upset that he had to travel all the way to Germany, Ken told Randy that she could have ordered the armor to fly Aric back to the States, to which she replied that she did not want to take the chance of something happening to him along the way. Just then, Ian boarded the plane, and while introducing himself to Ken told him that Randy was trying to convince him to go work for Orb Industries, a notion Ken found most interesting.

Three weeks later, at Aric’s house in Upstate County, New York, Aric asked Ken if he had heard from Randy, but he told him that he had not. Upset, Aric ordered Ken to send the physical therapist away and said that he had had enough bed rest and it was time for him to start living his life again.

One month later, Randy approached Aric outside his house and, after apologizing for avoiding him, told him that when Shanhara was destroyed a few months earlier something changed between them in part because of Paul’s death and their becoming lovers. Saddened, Randy told Aric that it took her awhile, but she was no longer angry about Paul’s death, but that as far as their being lovers that was a mistake that should have never happened. Thought it sounded cliché, Randy told Aric that she did not want to hurt him, and that under other circumstances perhaps things could have been different, but that she was not ready for a relationship at that point, with anyone. Apologetic, Randy called Aric a good friend, but said that that was all they could be to each other and hoped he would understand.

Though she begged him to say something, Aric remained stoic and silent, even as Randy walked away from him. Raising his right hand, Aric garbed himself in the X–O Manowar armor and flew away, letting out a scream silenced by his helmet.

Interlude V

Blood Oaths

Somewhere in Italy in 408 AD, Aric Dacia attacked a Roman camp despite warnings from fellow Visigoths that his uncle Alaric would have his scalp for acting without orders. A prisoner of the Romans, Gilad Anni–Padda took great delight in watching Aric slaughter them, but then, a Centurion stabbed him with a sword and left him to die. Leaving before more Centurions arrived, Aric took Gilad with him to let Alaric decide his fate.

Sometime later, at Alaric’s camp in the providence of Dacia, Alaric scolded Aric and then ordered that Gilad be sent away once his injures healed. Coming out of a tent, a very pregnant Deidre ran toward Aric and held him in her arms, glad to see that he was unharmed. Several nights later, Aric saw Gilad walk away from the camp and, finding him unsettling, wondered if their paths would cross again. A week later, Gilad revealed the location of the Visigoth camp to General Stilicho in exchange for the release of Zenoba the Geomancer. Later that day, Zenoba implied to Gilad that his capture was part of an elaborate plan. A few days later, as Aric rushed back to camp in time for the birth of his child, he discovered that the settlement had been razed. Rushing into his tent, Aric was heartbroken to learn that his son died in the attack. The next morning, Aric departed to search for Gilad, who he learned had betrayed them to Stilicho. Some days later, Aric found Gilad and, after a brief skirmish, slayed him with the same sword he used to slay his parents’ killers. Several hours later, Zenoba found Gilad and explained the greater picture of the Earth’s plan for Rome to him.

In Rome, somewhere near Vatican City in 1994 AD, Aric and Ken were present at an auction where the sword that Aric’s father had forged went on sale. Firm in his desire to acquire the heirloom, Aric sustained a brief bidding war against Gilad, who was also present there, and ultimately stood triumphant. Shortly, as Aric confronted Gilad over his interest in the sword, he learned, for the first time since they had met in the 20th Century, that Gilad was the one who betrayed him and the others to the Romans. Enraged, Aric punched Gilad and knocked him to the floor before he could explain why he did what he did. Blinded by fury, Aric was ready to kill Gilad where he stood, but Ken managed to stop him from delivering a killing blow with the sword while Gilad convinced him to meet him at a place of his choosing to settle the matter.

Shortly before midnight, Aric arrived at the Coliseum garbed in the X–O Manowar and attacked Gilad, vowing to kill him. Repeatedly punching Gilad until the magic that kept him alive reached its limits, Aric broke every bone in his face that simply healed once he let up. Challenging Aric’s honor, Gilad made him take the X–O armor and face him like a man. With thunderous roar, Aric and Gilad engaged in a bloody battle, both of them refusing to give an inch, but in the end, Gilad stood triumphant over Aric. Looming over Aric, Gilad told him that Zenoba had manipulated him into giving Stilicho the location of the Visigoth’s camp, and that the raid in which his unborn child died was the last straw for Emperor Honorius, who, fearing that Stilicho and his allies were attempting to seize imperial power, ordered his faithful general executed. Gilad went on to say that Stilicho’s death paved the way for Alaric to lead his warriors against Rome and lay siege to the city, and within two years the capital was in the hands of a barbarian horde.

Telling Aric that his betrayal was necessary in order for the Roman Empire to fall, Gilas asked him if, by his own code, the death of his child was not worth the sacrifice. Silent at first, Aric sent Gilad on his way, telling him to consider the battle a stalemate and ordering him to stay out of his life. Once alone, Aric sat on a boulder and mourned his child.

X-O Manowar/Shadowman

First Impressions

During an otherwise uneventful evening in New Orleans, a nightclub suddenly exploded and many patrons died in the wake of the blast. Watching from afar, Ishmael, an assassin with deadly accuracy whose face was covered in bandages to hide the burns that he sustained during his last encounter with Shadowman, told his unnamed client that the destruction of the club put him one step closer to regaining control of all the night clubs in the area. As he took his leave, the client, pleased with Ishmael’s results, suggested that he eliminate face–to–face contact with his clients until his face healed. Stepping out of the shadows, Blister, the leader of the Cult of Shadowman in the 30th Century who found himself in the present during an encounter with Shadowman, told Ishmael that he was tired of waiting to play. Indulging Blister, Ishmael told him that he could do the next job, long as he did not get himself killed as he had big plans for him.

Sometime later, at Aric Dacia’s house in Ulster County, New York, Aric threw a tantrum to vent his anger over Randy leaving him. Trying to soothe Aric, Ken suggested that he accompany him to New Orleans, where he had some Orb business to take care of as someone had just destroyed one of their nightclubs there. Upset that a fool had declared war on him, Aric was eager to leave to make them pay in blood. That night in New Orleans, Blister crashed a car into a nightclub in the French Quarter. Walking out of the wreck while people died around him, Blister commented that the destruction made him very happy.

The next night, at the Resident Hotel, Jack Boniface watched a news report about the explosion at the Empora Club, the fourth target in the recent random series of destructive attacks in the area. Disheartened, Jack turned the TV off, when then Mamma Nettie turned it back, claiming that what was happening might be Shadowman business, but, angered, Jack tossed the TV on the floor. As Nettie told Jack that there were forces at work that he did not understand, Jack interrupted her and he was sick of her always telling him what he had to do, then he told her to leave him alone and get off his back. Walking away, Nettie told Jack to sulk for awhile and that she would see him later at the club. Enraged, Jack tossed the furniture around, when then, he saw his saxophone. Taking it to his lips, Jack played his saxophone to relax.

Several miles away, at the Orb Industries–owned Ritz Carlton Hotel, Obadiah Johnson, the manager of the Jelly’s Blues Bar at the hotel, introduced himself to Aric and Ken. Telling Aric that he knew he had contacts in the records business, Obadiah extended an invitation to him and Ken to see Jack Boniface, a great sax player he was certain would go far, play at the club that night.

Sometime after eleven, Devon and Nettie walked into Jelly’s Blues Bar to see Jack’s set. Upon seeing Aric in the audience, Nettie walked into the bathroom and, seconds later, emerged transformed into her younger self, which took Devon by surprise. Seeing Nettie walking towards him, Aric, bewitched by her beauty, could not take his eyes off her.

All of a sudden, during Jack’s set, a group of armed individuals in masks broke into the club and opened fire on the patrons with machine guns and flame throwers. Summoning the Good Skin, Aric donned the X–O Manowar armor and dispatched the assailants. Seeing Shadowman come out of the flames, Aric wrongly assumed that he was their leader. Alerted by the Good skin that Shadowman had Spider Alien blood cursing through his veins, Aric took great delight in the knowledge that he would wipe out the last of their kind.

As Aric fired an ion blast at Shadowman, both men were surprised to see a magic shield manifest out of thin air between Shadowman and the blast. Though he sensed dark sorcery at play, Aric was not discouraged and continued his tussle with Jack. Standing in the sidelines, Blister rushed toward Shadowman to kill him, but Ishmael stopped him and told him to wait and see if the armored thug would take him down so they could catch Shadowman at his weakest.

Empowered by a sudden outburst of necromantic energy emanating from the mark on his chest, Shadowman pummeled Aric repeatedly. Using the Darque Power to even the odds, Shadowman caused the Good Skin great pain and agony that made Aric feel that his mind was being ripped apart. Nevertheless, the Visigoth damned Shadowman and refused to surrender.

As the Good Skin morphed into a monstrous three–headed creature, Shadowman let out a blast of Darque Power that rendered Aric unconscious as well as left him powerless. Just then, Blister walked out of the wreckage of the nightclub and challenged Shadowman to a fight.

Aric

Shortly after 11 pm, a gang of hoods in ski masks armed with flame throwers busted into Jelly’s Blues Bar, ruining Jack Boniface’s act, which really upset him as he was playing real good and his friends, Devon and Nettie, where there. Suddenly, the X–O Manowar wrapped itself around Aric Dacia, who by the time Jack pulled on his mask, had dispatched the assailants, which Jack thought was a good thing, until Aric turned on him. As Aric proved too tough, Jack did not think that he could take him, but then, the Shadow Power kicked in, and necromantic energy flowing from the mark on his chest disrupted the X–O Manowar.

As Jack stood over Aric, who laid unconscious on the sidewalk, Nettie went outside to see how Aric was doing, while Devon tried to get Jack to calm down, unaware that Ishmael was watching them from the other side of the street. Back inside, Blister, who was upset that Jack left him in Oakland after he took him through time, came out of the men’s room and challenged Jack to a fight. Punching Devon aside, Blister rushed Jack.

Outside, as Nettie and Ken carried Aric inside his limo, the police arrived. Changing between her young self and old self, Nettie told the cops that strange things like they never see, that they never gonna forget, and that would give them nightmares for all their life were happening. Frightened, the two officers fled on foot, then Nettie got inside the limo and gave directions to the driver for where to go.

As Blister and Jack fought, Blister tossed Shadowman out through the front window into the sidewalk. Wondering why the Shadow Power had not kicked in, Jack was certain that with it he could fry Blister, who had gotten stronger since the last time they fought. Using a door that he ripped from a van, Blister tried to hit Jack, who leapt out of the way and jumped on his shoulders, but Blister, who had acquired new fighting skills while on the wrestling circuit, did a flip and slammed Jack against the sidewalk. All of a sudden, the leash around Blister’s neck zapped him and he ran away calling his master’s name. Recognizing Ishmael’s name, Jack followed Blister.

Hours later, in Nettie’s house, Nettie used a voodoo spell make Pol–Bekhara release Aric from its grasp. Staying behind with Nettie, who he was certain was young and beautiful when she touched him while he was laying on the street, Aric told Ken to leave and that he would see him later at the hotel. Embracing Nettie, accepting the mystery of her age, Aric passionately kissed her and, as she transformed back into her younger self, she promised him that he would not be sorry.

Before dawn, Shadowman followed Blister to an abandoned warehouse, where he ran across Ishmael, who ordered Blister to fight him again. As Blister rushed toward Shadowman, dawn broke and Jack could feel the strength ebbing. Looming over the two combatants, Ishmael mockingly told Jack that he hurt like him, but that he learned to embrace the intense pain. As dawn exploded, Blister knocked out Jack with one punch.

As Ishmael raised his walker over Jack’s face and released a scalpel inches from his eye, X–O Manowar broke into the warehouse and tossed Blister through the wall. Sensing that Ishmael was the more dangerous of the two, Aric turned his attention to him, but then Nettie walked into the warehouse and Ishmael shot her with phosphorus pellets from his walker that badly burned her. As Aric and Jack looked after Nettie, Ishmael fled.

Though Aric wanted to find Ishmael to avenge Nettie, Jack convinced him to take her to the hospital and leave Ishmael to him.

Interlude VI

Serenity's Boys

Somewhere in the Connecticut area, a group of mercenaries parachuted into the sprawling villa of known mobster Anthony Scalla and killed everyone insight, including Scalia and his family. Walking out of a helicopter to survey the slaughter, Sister Serenity contacted a Ms. D’Angelo on the phone and told her that, as per her request, they had excommunicated Anthony Scalia and his operation.

The next night, Aric Dacia and his date, Holly Chiles, arrived late at party on the roof of the Orb Industries branch offices in Manhattan. Learning that Turok was there, Aric rushed inside to see his blood brother. Telling Aric that came to visit him while on layover on his way to a lecture in Madrid, Turok said that he had a feeling that he might not get a chance to see him again for awhile. Calling Turok cryptic in his old age, Aric took him to drink some mead to celebrate their reunion.

Meanwhile, onboard a stealth chopper on approach to the Orb Industries building, Sister Serenity informed her men that Brothers Jacob and Jon would accompany her in retrieving their primary target for Crescendo, who was paying them handsomely.

Back at the party, Aric confessed to Turok that seeing him always put him in better spirits. While Aric looked for Holly, who Ken told him was inside somewhere fawning all over Walt Willey, Aric was shocked to see Randy walk into the party in a ravishing green dress with Ian, who told her that she did not have to be there. As Randy told Ian that she had to be there because she was head of security, and that she could not keep avoiding Aric, who she hoped was still her friend, she suddenly saw Sister Serenity’s men parachuting down on them. After contacting back–up to see to the guest’s safety, Randy grabbed a rifle to hold off the hostiles.

As Serenity’s men massacred the guests, Aric donned the X–O armor and took care of the bloodthirsty invaders. Concentrating their assault on Aric, Serenity’s men hit him with powerful energy blasts that sent him careening against three skyscrapers. Enraged, Aric flew back with his teeth clenched. Meanwhile, Sister Serenity and her men captured Ken while he ran away from the fight.

Shortly, while Turok, Randy, and Ian dispatched the attackers left on the roof Aric incinerated them with his ion cannons. Taking off, Aric destroyed Sister Serenity’s helicopters, then he returned to the Orb offices and asked Turok if he had seen Ken. As Turok told Aric that he saw Ken running back inside, Holly, who was soaking wet after the fire fight activated the sprinklers, yelled at Aric at walked away, leaving him to sarcastically ponder that the victor did not reap the spoils of this war.

Elsewhere, Sister Serenity loomed over Ken, who begged her not to kill him. Assuring Ken that her client did not want him excommunicated, Sister Serenity covered Ken’s face with a hood and told him that everything was going to be all right.

Reflections

Reflections – Prelude

Strapped to a torturing device, Ken Clarkson told his captor Aric Dacia’s story in exchange for his life.

Though he doubted that his subjugator would believe him, Ken said that Aric was a Visigoth barbarian related to King Alaric, the man that sacked Rome, who hailed from the days of the Roman Empire circa 408 AD, the year the Spider Aliens abducted him and took him away from everything he knew. Ken went on to say that the aliens never ate Aric, so he must have been a good worker for all the years they kept him captive.

Filled with hatred for the Spider Aliens, Aric stole their X–O Manowar class armor while he was on one of their spaceships, unaware that the armor was a sentient being that responded to his thoughts. After killing as many aliens as he could, Aric returned to Earth, where 1,600 years had passed since he left.

Almost as soon as Aric returned to Earth, Ken continued, he found that the Spider Aliens controlled Orb Industries, a corporate empire that he took from them after he destroyed them with his help.

Forced to continue, Ken said that Aric did not like the modern world, but the armor educated him so he could get along, like teaching him languages. Aric fought the aliens again, and went to the moon to wipe them out with help from Solar. Later he met Turok, another man out of his own time who became his blood brother.

Eventually, Aric hired Randy Cartier to be security chief at Orb, and allowed her to wear the X–O armor for awhile, which Ken confessed he never thought was a good idea. Around that time, Ken and Aric met Paul Bouvier, an old boyfriend of Randy’s from when they used to be spies.

Ordered to continue, Ken struggled to remember what happened next, but was able to recall that the Spider Aliens used a weapon to destroy the X–O Manowar, an event that Aric could not handle and lead him to hit the bottle and start a sexual relationship with Randy.

Though an X–O Manowar suit was so rare because it reproduced only once every 2,000 years, Aric gained a new suit thanks to Solar, who remembered a Spider Alien champion he had defeated on Saturn and went back to get that armor for Aric, but instead found a seed that grew the new suit for him. The thing was, however, that a seed needed a living host to hatch, so Paul volunteered because he was dying after a Spider Alien bit him back when they destroyed the original armor. Paul’s consciousness stayed alive in the new armor for awhile, and Aric and Randy actually communicated with him until he just faded away.

Tired, Ken said he did not know anything else, other than Aric had the armor and ran Orb with it. Swearing that he was not brave enough to hold anything back, Ken begged his captor to tell him what she wanted. Looming over him, the beautiful Egyptian princess Crescendo told Ken that she wanted everything Aric held dear, and had already begun to take away his life piece by piece.

Repentant, Ken begged God to forgive him for what he had done.

Reflections – Part I

Drenched in water, Aric awoke in a cell surrounded by Visigoths and a Roman called Carius who told him that he was in Rome, a declaration that he was hard–pressed to believe. Mocking Aric, Carius ordered one of his men to unmask their latest prisoner, Aric’s wife Deidre. Chained to a wall, Aric insulted Carius and told him to leave his wife alone, but Carius punched him across the face with a bucket and told him to behave. Looming over Aric, Carius said that Deidre put up quite a fight, but that he and his men agreed she was well worth the struggle. Taking their leave amid Aric’s threats against their lives, Carius said that once they had captured his uncle the fearsome Visigoths would be nothing more than a tale to frighten their children.

Once they were alone, Aric asked Deidre how she could be alive after he saw her crushed to death when the Romans leveled the temple at Rieti, then he turned to Gafti, who betrayed him and sought his death, and, convinced that those events took place long ago, took his hands to his face. Refusing to believe Deidre’s assertion that it was 410, Aric knew that everything he experienced, from the hard skins to the modern world, happened, but, upon accepting that he was in that jail, he concluded that the only possible explanation was that he had gone mad.

Hearing Deidre accuse him of speaking nonsense and tell him that he had been the empire’s prisoner for the last two years, Aric could not remember anything before Carius awoke him, and said that his memories were not of that place, or even that time. Musing over what he did remember, Aric recalled the night the hard skins put him in a ship that carried him to the stars, from where he escaped and stole the living thing they called the X–O Manowar but he referred to as the Good Skin, with which he was more powerful than anyone else.

Reflecting over how the world had changed since he was gone because hundreds had passed, Aric told Deidre that when he found the hard skins again he slayed them and took a thing called Orb Industries from them and turned it into an empire.

As Aric wondered how those things could not be true if he remembered them, and said that he did not even know how he came to be in that prison, Deidre told him that the Romans must had tampered with his mind and given him those delusions. Assuring Aric that he had been in that prison for years, Deidre reminded him that they lived in Dacia and fought the Romans with his uncle Alaric until they took him prisoner, and told him that those other things never happened. Placing her hand on Aric’s, Deidre asked him if he wanted his delusions to be real or if he would rather be there with her. Choosing to be with his wife, Aric said that while they might be prisoners of the Roman scum, with her at his side he had come home.

That night, Aric had a dream in which he found himself in a black void facing the Good Skin, who when he asked it to help him discern what was real from what was fake, tried to kill him.

Awakening from his nightmare, which had plagued him for weeks since he returned to his senses, Aric told Gafti that he finally understood that it was Roman treachery that made him believe those stories in his head, and that he was finally where he belonged, next to Deidre. Refusing to remain the Roman’s prisoner any longer, Aric told Gafti and Deidre that he would soon break his chains and they would rejoin his uncle.

While Deidre seduced a Centurion, Aric broke his shackles and choke him to death. Releasing Deidre and the others from their bonds, Aric said that they had made the first step in their long journey to escape from Rome, the heart of the empire. Swearing to Deidre that nothing in the world could make him leave her, Aric promised the others that they were bound for their homes or their graves, and swore that he would be free of his imprisonment or die trying.

Looming over Aric, who lay strapped to a virtual reality simulator wearing the X–O Manowar armor, Augur, Crescendo’s vizier, told his mistress that the Visigoth had begun to fight their control over him, but with a sly smile, she said that when she was finished with Aric there would be nothing left for him to fight for.

Reflections – Part II

Their faces reflected on the surface of the X–O Manowar’s face plate, Augur said that Aric was still struggling against their hold over him, a resistance that Crescendo attributed to his nature. Accusing Augur of worrying much, Crescendo assured him that she had gone to a great deal of effort t to place Aric at her mercy with technology that submerged his mind into a fantasy designed to her specifications, while the troopers they used in their campaign against Orb Industries answered to her. Concerned, Augur asked what would happen if Aric were to free himself, but Crescendo, who was certain that Aric would not succumb without some resistance, mused at the prospect. Taking her leave, Crescendo ordered Augur to keep her appraised.

Within the virtual scenario, Aric led the Visigoths out of their prison. Certain that the Romans would not let them leave their dungeon without a fight, Aric ordered Gafti to arm himself with any weapon they could lay their hands on and assured Deidre that soon they would be gone from that place. As Gafti reached for a pike, Aric recognized Ken’s head resting on it. As Aric wondered how he knew his name, Deidre reiterated that the Romans had tampered with his mind and made him believe those mad tales. Believing Deidre’s explanation, Aric tossed Ken’s head aside and followed her outside.

Ordering Gafti to steal horses from the stables and rejoin his uncle Alaric, Aric told them that he was going to find Carius and kill him just like he promised. As Aric asked Gafti to take Deidre with him, she refused and forced him to honor the promise he made to her never to leave her. Knowing better than to argue with Deidre, Aric told her to stay and then promised Gafti that soon they would ride against the Romans like before.

Reaching the Roman barracks, Aric offered the Romans to spare their lives if they left, but they laugh in his face and attacked. After slaying the Romans with their own steel, Aric faced Carius, who warned him that he could not escape and was trapped. Swearing that he was no one’s prisoner, Aric stabbed Carius and watched him slip on the floor to his knees. Standing over a pool of blood, Aric saw his reflection change into the Good Skin, but then Deidre diverted his attention when more Romans entered the room.

Leaping out a window with Deidre, Aric was shocked to see the Orb Industries building before them. Hearing Deidre say that Orb Industries was a multi–national conglomerate with diverse holdings in a variety of markets, Aric could not believe what he heard, but she denied saying anything and told him that they had to get away. As they ran through the streets of Rome, Aric was certain that something strange was happening, but Deidre said that they did not have time to argue because Randy and Ken were waiting for them in the boardroom, a statement that exacerbated his confusion. Grabbing Deidre, Aric demanded that she tell him why she said that, when then he saw a statue of Crescendo looming triumphantly over X-O Manowar.

Falling to his knees, Aric refused to believe that what he was seeing was happening, and accepted that the things that should not be there, like the Good Skin and Orb Industries, were real. Accepting that he lived in a different world, and that he had left the one he was currently in many years ago, Aric told Deidre that he wanted to stay with her but that their time together, while short, did not exist anymore and he had to break free of that false paradise. Walking away, Aric told Deidre that he always loved her. With each step that Aric took, the X–O Manowar wrapped itself around his body, while Crescendo’s visage loomed over him.

Watching as Aric’s hand tensed up, Augur called for more guards and yelled out that Aric was breaking free.

Reflections – Part III

Demanding to know the identity of his captor, X–O Manowar fought his way through Crescendo’s troopers to interrogate Augur. Pushing Augur against a wall, Aric demanded to know what was happening and what he did to him before he killed him, but the troopers swarmed him and Augur escaped to warn his mistress.

After dispatching the troopers, Aric took off to find the one responsible for his plight and make them pay, when then he heard a voice coming in from a dark from asking him for his help. Following the sound through the doorway, Aric was appalled to see Ken strapped to a torturing device expressing his sorrow again and again. Freeing Ken, Aric asked him what happened, but, traumatized, Ken continuously apologized for his folly. Slapping Ken across the face, Aric asked him what was going on and where Randy was. In tears, Ken pointed toward the darkness at Randy’s corpse hanging from a second device.

Taking his hand to Randy’s face, Aric told her that she did not deserve to die like and blamed himself for what happened to her. Begging Aric not to hurt him again, Ken told him that a woman called Crescendo was responsible for everything that happened to them, a revelation that surprised the Visigoth. Revealing that they were in the basement levels of Orb Industries, Ken said that Crescendo had her troopers built the machinery around them after they took over, and then captured the three of them. Telling Aric that Crescendo said that he would not remember anything after she hooked him up to her machine, which could make him experience anything she wanted, Ken said that once she had them, she went to work destroying Orb Industries, until it was all gone. Explaining that Crescendo tortured them for any information they had about Orb and him, Ken confessed to Aric that he gave Crescendo what she needed to run Orb and told her what she wanted to know about him so he would not end up like Randy. Asking Aric to forgive him for being a coward, Ken said that Crescendo was obsessed with him and wanted to make him her slave.

Assuring Ken that he could not blame him for what he was forced to do Aric asked him where to find Crescendo, but unsure of where she might be, he surmised that she could be upstairs. Telling Ken to ready himself, Aric pushed him to follow him and go meet Crescendo to get their revenge on her.

Upstairs, in Aric’s former office, Augur told Crescendo that Aric was on his way toward them, and that it did not matter how many troopers they had because they would be merely fodder to him. Undisturbed by Augur's concerns, Crescendo said that she knew Aric’s kind too well to believe that she could hold him indefinitely, and that she exposed him to the fantasy of his former life in order to reopen those wounds and remind him of all he had lost to understand the utter depth of his defeat. Having waited a long time to achieve her revenge upon Aric of Dacia, Crescendo chose to wait for him to come to her despite Augur's warnings.

With Ken at his side, Aric fought his way through the troopers to his office, where he found Crescendo sitting in his chair. Enraged, Aric demanded that she get up and leave.

Reflections – Part IV

Looming over Crescendo, Aric reiterated his order that she leave before he killed her, then he killed Augur and said that Orb Industries was his empire and he would not tolerate any intruders. Mocking Aric, Crescendo laughed at his impression that there still was an Orb Industries, which angered him. With a scornful smile, Crescendo ordered Aric to show the respect she deserved as he longer gave the orders, then, as he grabbed her by the arm and demanded to know what she had done, she told him never to lay his hands on her again and shot him with an energy blast that disrupted the X–O Manowar.

Appalled at first with what was happening to him, Aric demanded that Crescendo tell him how she was able to perform her feats and who she was. Taking delight in telling him who had taken Orb away from him and brought him to his knees, Crescendo immersed Aric in a vision of her empire in ancient Egypt, an experience not all that dissimilar from the virtual reality scenario he was trapped in.

Telling Aric that she ruled in the tradition of Cleopatra before the Romans took the upper Nile, Crescendo said that they thought themselves small enough to escape notice and too insignificant for Rome, until the brutish northern barbarian Visigoths came from across the sea searching for plunder. Calling Aric’s people animals who were too savage and wild to bother with conquest, Crescendo said that they destroyed everything that she held dear and then dragged her away, leaving nothing but rubble and corpses in their wake.

Refusing to believe her, Aric told Crescendo that if her vision were true and she was that queen she could not be alive after all that time, but telling him to look at himself, she said that it was not unthinkable to believe that she had lived for so long. Refusing to say any more about herself, Crescendo pushed Aric with her finger and told him that she laid waste to his empire like his people did to hers, but then he swatted her hand away and told her that she was crazy.

Enraged, Crescendo lashed out at Aric with an energy blast that immobilized him and accused his kind of stealing everything from her and using her as a slave until she became what she was. Ranting that she attained wealth and power centuries earlier but had no purpose until rumors of a man from the past reached her ears, Crescendo told Aric that she learned he truly was a barbarian delivered to the modern world for her revenge.

Standing over Aric, Crescendo said that he was hears to play with as a toy and break, when just then Ken tackled her and told her to leave him alone. With clenched teeth, Crescendo shot Ken, a sight that rattled Aric, who rushed to his side and listened as his friend apologized for being Judas before he died. Turning toward Crescendo, Aric opened fire at her with his ion cannons, but she deflected the blasts with a force field.

Conjuring a virtual scenario, Crescendo trapped Aric in a cross, but he refused to believe his eyes and broke free. Using a vision of Deidre, Crescendo used Aric’s guilt over his loss and broken vow to bring him to his knees, then, as she asked him what he had to live, Ken rose up and stabbed her with a sword.

As her body crumbled to dust and reverted from her youthful self to an old crone, Crescendo vowed that the backlash of trying to kill her would destroy everything, but Aric, whose mind was his again, no longer cares for, as she has showed him, he had nothing to life for any more.

As Aric shot Crescendo with an ion blast and her body turned to dust carried in the wind, the Orb Industries building crumbled likewise and buried everyone inside it. Shortly, Aric crawled out of the debris holding Ken’s body in his arms and let out a scream silenced by his face plate.

Interlude VII

Pyre

Standing in the middle of the living room of his house in Ulster County looking down at Randy and Ken’s corpses with a sword in his hand while the X–O Manowar armor hovered behind him in its spherical form, Aric flew into a rage and, with the sword, destroyed everything around him until Turok stopped him.

Approaching Aric, Turok told him that he came as soon as he heard the news of Orb’s demise, but just then Aric raised his sword to keep Turok at bay and told him to leave, as he was not in the mood for guests. Reminding Aric that they were blood brothers, Turok told him that he was asking him to turn his back on him while he was in a state of grief, and that he could not hide from the world forever.

Enraged, Aric tossed the sword aside and said that his world was gone, stolen from him for the second time, and that with Ken, Randy dead, and Orb Industries gone, everything and everyone he cared about had been wiped away. Turning to face Turok, Aric asked him what he was left for him, but he had no answer.

Pleading with Aric, Turok told him that he knew how he felt since they both were separated from their world and their people. Reminding Aric that the warrior’s path was hard yet they chose to walk it, Turok said that it was not their way to accept defeat, and that the despair he felt was what his enemies sought. Though Turok offered Aric his hand, Aric, punched him across the face and told him to go and leave him alone.

Looking up at Aric while holding his jaw in his hand, Turok told him that he would regret his actions when he came to his senses, and that if he left he would be alone in a world that was a hard enough place. Looming over Turok while the X–O Manowar wrapped around him, Aric said that in that world he was nothing more than a cursed savage whose mere presence led to everyone close to him to die.

Feeling like a fool for keeping it in his armor as it did not serve any purpose, Aric tossed the Azze–Kloth at Turok’s feet and ordered him to get out of his house. Picking the pouch up, Turok told Aric that he needed its powerful medicine to cleanse his spirit and help him focus his mind more than ever, but as Aric reiterated his order to get out, Turok drew his blade and cut himself across his chest. As Turok’s blood flowed from him, he told Aric said that do did their kinship, and that they were no longer brothers or even friends. Taking his leave, Turok bid Aric farewell, and though he hoped that one day they would meet again, they were over.

As Aric approached Randy and stroke her cheek, a disembodied voice said that she still looked beautiful. Confronting the speaker, Aric was shocked to learn that Paul’s consciousness had not vanished from Pol–Bekhara as he once believed. Revealing that he never left the armor, Paul said that after he sacrificed himself to spawn it his consciousness went into hibernation, and that he thought maybe something Crescendo did to Aric’s mind woke him up. Explaining that he could not reveal himself before, Paul said that he had barely begun to figure things out within the alien place he found himself in, and that he was changing in ways Aric could not imagine that made him unsure whether he was becoming more a part of the armor or vice versa.

As Paul said that he saw everything that happened and could not help but think that he could have saved Randy if he had been able to make his presence in the armor known sooner, Aric told him to shut up and saw in chair to think until the sun went down.

Rising from his pensive stance, Aric released a massive blast of energy from his ion cannons that set the house ablaze. Standing still while the state burned around him, Aric did not move an inch while the structure collapsed and buried him.

Unfazed, Aric flew for parts unknown, leaving the remains of his house behind.

Losing Control

Returning to the site of Shanhara’s destruction, Aric picked its crest and, comparing the armor’s destruction to his life, said that neither could be mended. Troubled, as the cavern was where the Spider Aliens injected with their venom, Paul wanted to leave, but Aric told him to shut up and then sat down to muse over how he would gladly trade the armor for Paul, Ken, or Randy’s lives. Enraged, Paul reiterated his desire to go and, suddenly, the armor unexpectedly flew up in the air, an act that surprised both men. Taking his leave, Aric reminded Paul that the armor belonged to him and that his consciousness was merely a passenger.

In Germany, Berndt, a small child who lost his soccer ball, followed it into a hole at the foot of a flight of stairs that led him to a deserted underground facility. Following a voice asking him not to leave, Berndt came upon a darkened cell locked with laser bars. Engaging the prisoner in conversation, Berndt asked him if he was a bad man, but the prisoner said that he was an accident and that he did not want to gaze at him. Looking closer despite the warning, Berndt was shocked to see that the man was a monster and ran away horrified.

Incensed after wandering aimlessly since leaving the cave, Paul asked where they were going, but as Aric said that with Orb and his home gone there was no place for him to go and that he lost everything he cared about, he told him that he had no right to his despair. Telling Aric that while he lost nearly everything else he still had his life, which was more than Ken, Randy, or himself had, Paul said that he could touch, taste, and feel, things he would never do again. As Aric assured him that he was better off and no longer suffered the pain of the world, Paul, who was upset with Aric’s gull to tell him to be satisfied while he felt sorry for himself, told him that he could not begin to know what it was like to be nothing but thoughts trapped inside the armor.

Halting the armor’s movement in mid–air, Paul told Aric that he did not deserve the armor and accused him of wasting it and failing to use it to save Randy. Proclaiming that he would not have let Randy die if he was in control of the armor, Paul claimed control over the Good Skin and said that he was the armor. Refusing to let go of Pol–Bekhara since it was the only thing he had left, Aric fought Paul for control of the Manowar and during the struggle he crashed into a clearing in the forest.

Standing in a crater, Aric told Paul that he gave him cause to doubt his sanity, and that he would not surrender the power of the armor to a madman, but as Paul warned Aric that he was in no position to threaten him, the armor expelled him. Looming over Aric, Paul said that the armor would not exist without him and changed it into a reflection of his human body. Refusing to let Paul leave with his armor, Aric lunged at him, but Paul punched him and warned him that if he attempted to steal the armor he would kill him before he flew away.

Elsewhere, one of Crescendo’s troopers rose up from amid the ruins of the Orb Industries building.

Energized by the influx of power at his command, Paul proclaimed that Pol–Bekhara was better than his old body, and that he would live again while Aric wallowed in self pity. Flying over the forest while musing that nothing was beyond his grasp, Paul felt a sudden pull that drew him to the side of a lake where he came across Aric, who armed with a sword and the control ring that gave him command over the armor, ordered Paul to give it back to him.

Transformations

Transformations – Part I

Ordering Paul to give him the armor back, Aric leapt up in the air and slashed him across his body with his sword when he refused. Mending himself, Paul reiterated that he sacrificed himself to create the armor and that he deserved it more than Aric, then he shot him with his ion cannon but the blast hit the waterfall behind him. Raising his hand, Aric told Paul that while he still had the control ring he would not have the armor, then he rushed against him and impaled him with his sword, but Paul absorbed it into his body. Telling Aric that he had become one with the armor and understood what it was and could do, Paul slashed him with a sword of his own and said that he would not return to the nothingness from which he came from.

In Germany, Lummox, the monster behind the bars, begged Berndt not to leave and promised that he would not hurt him. Apologizing for beings scared, Berndt told Lummox that he did not seem so bad to him anymore and offered to let him out of his cell if he showed him how to do it. Stepping out of his cell after Berndt shut down the laser bars, Lummox found a broken picture of Aric Dacia that identified him as president of Orb. Upset with the men who ran the facility because they made him what he was using drugs and tests to change him into a new kind of man, Lummox held Aric responsible for his pain.

Looming over Aric with a bloody blade on his hand, Paul said that he had evolved into a higher form of life that his brain could not conceive. Enraged, Aric told Paul that the armor had corrupted whatever was left of his mind, then he leapt after him and said that a madman should not control the armor. Grabbing Paul’s neck, Aric offered to help him but ordered him to return the armor to him first. Mocking Aric, Paul said that he was the most powerful weapon in the universe and then punched him across the face.

As Paul shot Aric with a blast from his cannons Aric used the ring to absorb the blast and then punched Paul through the head with it and took back command of the armor. While Aric ordered the armor to envelop him, the Good Skin exorcised Paul’s consciousness, which hovered beside it as an energy ball. Accusing Aric of stealing his woman and his life, Paul swore that their conflict was not over and promised that he would have his vengeance before he vanished. Certain that Paul had faded to nothingness and the armor was his again, Aric remade the Good Skin in the image of his choosing. Unsure of where to go or what to do now that his friends were dead, Orb was no more, and everything from his old life was gone, Aric flew away.

Returning to the site of Shanhara’s destruction, Paul’s consciousness energized the remains of the shattered Manowar armor and created a body for itself.

Sitting on a mountaintop somewhere in the land that long ago was his home of Dacia, Aric believed that if there was anywhere he could find peace or some small comfort was there, but suddenly an energy blast hit him across the chest and sent him reeling off the edge. Looming over Aric’s unconscious body, Paul – who know called himself Alloy – reiterated his warning that he would have his vengeance and he would die.

Transformations – Part II

Slapping Aric awake, Alloy wanted him to see what he had made of him, but then Aric shot him on the face with his ion cannon and said that whatever form he had taken was his own doing and not his fault. Holding himself together, Alloy blamed Aric for his and Randy’s death and for his theft of the Pol–Bekhara armor that belonged to him, then he said that if he was to live at all he was left with Aric’s shattered Shanhara armor, which broken shell his consciousness inhabited. As Aric told Alloy that what was broken was his mind, which unhinged after everything he went through while part of the alien armor, Alloy proclaimed that he was an alloy of everything he experienced and would mark his rebirth with Aric’s death.

As the combatants collided with one another, Alloy tossed Aric against the side of the mountain with a tremendous push that caused an avalanche that buried the Visigoth. Believing himself to be victorious Alloy triumphantly raised his arms, but then Aric freed himself from his prison and ordered him to face him.

In Germany, Lummox flew into a rage and destroyed everything around him, which scared Berndt, who crawled under a console and begged him not to hurt him. Stopping, Lummox apologized to Berndt, who said that he was glad that they were friends. Turning back, Lummox said that creatures like him had no friends, only enemies, and told Berndt to forget that he ever saw him, then he left to find Aric.

As Aric and Alloy traded blows and Aric said that any loyalty he had for Paul was gone, Alloy grabbed Aric and flew him down the side of the mountain into the ground. Standing in the middle of a crater, the two enemies continued their brawl until the whole mountain came down on them.

Rising from the snow holding Alloy’s head in his hand, Aric proclaimed that their conflict was finished, then he dropped the head on the ground and walked away while the snow buried it.

Interlude VIII

Lummox

Standing amid the ruins of the temple of Rieti, Aric reminisced over how after he returned to 408 AD with the X–O Manowar his uncle Alaric and the Romans used Deidre to lure him there, and how, enraged by their betrayal, he killed her when he destroyed it. Rummaging through the temple ruins looking for Deidre’s remains, Aric caught the attention of Samantha Jones, an archeologist who watched him from behind a tree.

While Aric burned Deidre’s remains on a pyre, Lummox broke free of his imprisonment and came upon an encampment where he ordered everyone gathered there to take him to Aric Dacia. Standing over the fire, Aric hoped that now Deidre could rest and haunt him no further. Behind him, Samantha’s aide found her and told her that Dr. Petros called from in Munich. Suddenly, the sound of gunfire could be heard in the distance and Samantha, her aide, and Aric rushed toward the camp.

Enraged, Lummox demanded that Aric be brought before him while Samantha’s friends shot him. Just then Aric swooped into the camp and pushed Lummox against a jeep that exploded when they collided with it. Repentant and in tears, Lummox apologized for what he did and asked X–O Manowar if he would help him, but just then the light of the flames revealed Aric’s face beneath the face plate and he attacked him.

As Lummox pummeled Aric and said that he would make him pay in blood for turning him into a freak, Aric pushed him off him and over the edge of a chasm with his ion blasts. Looming over the edge of the chasm, Aric called Lummox a pathetic creature that fought without honor that deserved to die, then he looked around him and decided that there was nothing for him there. As Aric flew away, Samantha and her aide came running into the camp and tried to get him to notice them to no avail.

As Aric flew past the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere into space, a hand grabbed his foot and tossed him back toward the planet and he crashed into the desert.

A Blast From The Past

Lying in a crater in the desert, Aric wondered who dared toss him around like a rag doll, when just then the last of Crescendo’s troopers, the lone survivor of the destruction of the Orb Industries building, flew toward him and punched him with both fists. Standing on the edge of the crater while the sand cleared around him, the trooper proclaimed that Aric Dacia was finally dead, but just then Aric grabbed his ankle and threw him around like a doll. Hovering over the fallen trooper, Aric warned him that his vengeance would send him to hell and that he his mistress to thank for that as they both burned, but just then the trooper grabbed Aric by the neck and stooped him down before him while he fired an energy blast that enveloped his head. Expressing surprise with Aric’s resilience, the trooper said that his mistake was to underestimate him, then he tossed him across the field into the interior of a pyramid.

Back in Germany, Samantha Jones could not get Aric out of her mind and wondered how he knew where the skeleton was and where he got the armor. Certain that she had seen him before, Samantha went over old newspapers and found an article about Aric that said that he had disappeared following the collapse of the Orb Industries building. Learning how Aric came into possession of the company from the various articles, Samantha ran across a tabloid picture of Aric in the X–O Manowar armor and wondered who Aric truly was.

Taking the fight into the pyramid, the trooper opened fire on Aric and vowed to take his life, which Aric no longer cared for. Thrilled at the prospect of having broken Aric’s spirit, the trooper proclaimed his triumph and tossed him around the room, then he grabbed him by the collar and said that he would break his body as well. Though the trooper punched Aric repeatedly he would not die, which enraged him so he hit him harder to no avail. Laughing at the trooper, Aric proclaimed that he was the XO and would never die, then he punched the trooper and shattered his helmet.

Amazed that Aric could defeat him despite having nothing to fight for, the trooper groveled for his life, but Aric accused him of being as mad as his mistress and killed him. Looming over the trooper’s corpse, Aric said that his revenge ended as his mistress’, unfulfilled, and flew away. Unbeknownst to Aric, Crescendo’s spirit was in control of the trooper’s body all along, so as his body died she broke free and went after him.

Going after Aric, Crescendo’s spirit tried to take hold of him, but he flew free of its grasp into outer space and the energy returned to the pyramid. Watching from afar, an archeologist who witnessed the event decided to inspect the pyramid to make sure it was not damaged.

Dromak Tetralogy

Collision Course

Somewhere in deep space, the lone survivor of a Spider Alien expedition aboard a derelict arachnid vessel asked the Queen Mother to bring him a savior, when just then he detected the approach of an X–O warrior attuned to his beacon. As the alien ordered the computer to prepare for boarding and he rushed to meet his deliverer, he was shocked to instead find Aric Dacia, a human that he accused of defiling the X–O armor, waiting for him. His curses lost to the vacuum of space, Aric withstood a blast from the aliens’ weapon and then evaporated him with a blast of his own from his ion cannons.

Strolling through the ship, reminiscing that he left Earth to forget his past, Aric stared at a monitor screen that continuously replayed the defeat of the Spider Alien fleet during an encounter with an unseen foe. Taking great pleasure in the knowledge that the aliens died without honor just like they lived, Aric fired an ion blast at the control console and destroyed. All of a sudden, a powerful blast hit the vessel and destroyed.

Enraged, Aric stared at an alien vessel of unknown origin from which the blast came and attacked it to find its weak spot. Inside the vessel, the aliens’ leader ordered the dispatching of a small squad to deal with Aric. Continuing his attack while evading the blasts from the automated alien squadron, Aric destroyed his foes with ease and breached the mother ship’s outer hull. Inside the vessel, the aliens’ leader activated an emergency defense system that released a massive energy field that enraged Aric. Recognizing their foe’s X–O armor, the aliens deployed the TCR beam, a massive blast that destroyed the squadron vessels and, like a tractor beam, pulled Aric inside the mother ship and rendered him unconscious.

Awakening inside the aliens’ vessel, Aric found himself trapped within the TCR beam surrounded by a group of unknown aliens whose leader was eager to test him.

Test Run

Subjugated to inhuman stress levels designed to force him to relinquish the armor while held within the TCR beam, Aric showed no signs of weakening but did experience pain, a result that delighted the aliens’ leader. Granting his aide permission to conduct a mental probe of Aric’s mind, the aliens’ leader took his leave.

Hours later, while Aric’s lack of movement stumped the aliens, the Good Skin pierced the TCR beam with a tendril and released an ionic pulse charge that freed the Visigoth. Unaware that the aliens’ leader was watching him, Aric made his way through the vessel and killed anyone that stood in his way.

As an army of aliens came bearing down on him, Aric escaped through a duct behind a wall, unaware that an alien spy camera was following him. Confident that given the vessel’s massive size he could stay undetected for hours, Aric flew across the duct system. Just then, Aric sensed the alien camera that was following him and destroyed it, but then the aliens breached the duct walls and showed up. Though Aric was ready to engage his foes, the armor’s self–preservation mechanism took over and flew him away from the fight. Coming out into a hallway, Aric found himself surrounded by a group of aliens that pummeled him into unconsciousness.

Awakening in an arena at the foot of the aliens’ leader, Aric found himself facing his final test, a battle to the death against the aliens’ champion.

Gladiators

Sitting in his chambers aboard the Dromak vessel, General Krytos mused over how interesting the games and his exploration of Aric’s potential had been since his capture of the X–O Manowar armor to its escape. With the chase finally over, Krytos vowed that with the X–O armor at his command his name would mean power. Just then, Krytos’ aide informed him that it was time for the battle to begin.

Led into the arena with his hands cuffed in energy manacles, Aric mused that he now faced another battle in a different battlefield after he left Earth for space to escape his enemies. Watching from a balcony as their champion walked into the arena, Krytos proclaimed that there was no doubt about the outcome of the battle.

As the Dromak warrior turned to face the crowd and promised them a victory for the glory f Krytos and the Dromak Empire, Aric’s manacles vanished and he vowed that Krytos’ obedient pup would not defeat him. Though offered any weapon of his choice from the Dromak armory, Aric produced an energy sword through the armor and declared himself the only weapon he needed.

Tired of talking, the Dromak champion pummeled Aric with a blow of the 27th magnitude that he withstood unfazed. Impressed with the armor’s capabilities, Krytos was certain that with it he would be unstoppable and rule the empire.

As Aric leapt to deliver a killing stroke, the Dromak champion swatted him to the ground like a common fly. Realizing that he was fighting the Dromak’s way, Aric took the battle to him, but that brought him to close to his foe, who swarmed him with barnacles that protruded from his body. Trapped, Aric was certain that if he knew what the barnacles were he could break free, when just then the armor increased its analytical activity to analyze them and used an energy wave to free themselves. Freed from the aliens’ grasp, Aric retrieved his sword and, soon as he saw an opening in the barnacles that covered the Dromak’s body, he slayed the alien.

Proclaiming his ownership of the X–O Manowar in the face of Krytos’ demand that he relinquish the armor, Aric flew through the skylight and escaped into space, where he once again engaged the Dromak forces.

Back on Earth, Samir, the man who witnessed Crescendo’s spirit’s attempt to capture Aric as he flew away from the pyramid, returned to the tomb, where Crescendo’s spirit took over his body.

Returning to the Dromak mother ship, Aric confronted Krytos. Revealing that while he was in stasis they proved his mind, Krytos told Aric that they learned about the existence of Earth, a world he led them to filled with riches to plunder. Turning to a window, Krytos took great pleasure in showing Aric the Earth outside.

Last Stand

Defiantly standing before Krytos with his fists surrounded with ionic energy, Aric Dacia refused to allow him to take his planet, but, looming menacingly over Aric, Krytos told him that they had analyzed his armor and knew his strength and weaknesses better than he knew them himself. Surrounded by Dromak warriors, Krytos vowed to tear Aric out of the armor’s shell and use the Manowar to ravage the Earth.

Shouting that such thing would not happen long as he lived, Aric lunged against Krytos, who tossed him out of his way and threw him against a wall. Rising up mocking Krytos’ attempt, Aric promised him that it would not be enough and rushed against him. Punching Krytos across the chest, certain that he would defeat him, Aric blew a hole on the roof of the ship and it came down on top of Krytos.

On Earth, as scientists detected the Dromak vessel in orbit around the Earth and mobilized all field agents across the highest security channels, elsewhere the thief known as Gamin listened in on their conversation.

Boasting that his strategy was flawed and only annoyed him further, Krytos pummeled Aric around and ordered the fleet to prepare to invade the Earth. Vowing to drink Krytos’ blood and certain that the armor’s power knew no limits, Aric delivered a massive punch that knocked Krytos down and declared that for the Earth to survive the battle had to end.

As Aric prepared to deliver a killing blow, Krytos swatted him away with an energy ax, but then Aric shot him with his ion cannons and enraged him further. As Krytos ripped the floor and pummeled Aric with it, Aric punched him and ripped carapace of his armor that protected him from the barnacles in his body. Swatting Aric off him, Krytos, whose defenses were turning against, enveloped himself in the barnacles and escaped into space.

Leaping into space to face the alien fleet, Aric analyzed the composition of the TCR beam and began an ionic conversion that caused the entire fleet to explode.

Certain that the fleet and the flagship were destroyed, Aric returned home, unaware that Krytos remained alive amid the debris from the shattered vessels within a cocoon.

Home Alone

Monitoring X–O Manowar’s entry into Earth’s atmosphere, a governmental operative code–named Roswell pinpointed his landing trajectory off the coast of New York City. Alerting field agents to prepare Stonewall scenarios B through D, Roswell informed them to keep all civilians in the dark to avoid a scandal, but as Aric crash landed in the ocean, the agents doubted the scenario’s effectiveness.

Emerging from the water amid cheers from a gathering crowd, X–O Manowar headed for the State of Liberty and landed next to a group of agents garbed in black. Once he was certain that there was no damage from the falling debris of the Dromak fleet, Aric departed, unaware that Gamin, who had been watching him from the statue’s torch, sent a spy camera after him and that Roswell could track him anywhere he went in the city.

Meanwhile, in Egypt, Crescendo, whose body had taken possession of Samir, killed two tourists and took their jeep to leave the desert.

Looking to control his destiny, Aric landed on a terrace for a reprieve from the constant hounding he found upon his return. As the X–O Manowar removed itself from Aric and assumed its spherical shape to watch over him while he slept, elsewhere Gamin, astonished by the armor’s apparent life, decided to make contact.

Somewhere else in the city, Hotwire watched a news report on television about X–O Manowar’s sudden appearance and vowed to make Aric pay for what Orb and he did to him.

Later that night, Gamin snuck up on the terrace and injected Aric with a tranquilizer to steal his control ring. Convinced that the ring was the source of one of two energy pulses she detected earlier, Gamin put it in her finger certain that with it she could control the X–O armor. Just then, however, Aric woke up and startled Gamin, who leapt off the roof down into an alley.

Going after her, Aric followed Gamin’s trail and ordered her to give him the ring or else he would take it from her. As Gamin dared him to go through with his treat, Aric jumped at her, but to his surprise he fell through her she was a hologram. Watching from a roof, Gamin expressed her love for technology and introduced herself to Aric.

Giving chase, Aric followed Gamin to the top of a subway bridge just as a train came bearing down the tracks. Pushing Aric off the bridge onto a rooftop to save his life, Gamin then took off, but Aric took her bag of tricks and forced her to return the control ring to him. Slipping the ring on, Aric said that his kinship with it did not make him who he was, which made Gamin think that he meant being a hero, but he told her that he was referring to his simply being a man. Warning Aric that she would return for the ring, Gamin gave him a kiss and vanished, leaving him to wonder if he could be a hero.

Elsewhere, Hotwire killed a group of muggers and their victims and then vowed to destroy Aric Dacia, who he blamed for his condition.

Interlude IX

Shock Treatment

Standing on the top of a building surrounded by police and news helicopters, Hotwire demanded that they bring Aric Dacia to him or else he would raze the city to the ground. Flying toward Hotwire, X–O Manowar warned him that he had petitioned his rage with innocent blood, but just then Hotwire attacked him with an energy sphere that momentarily blinded him and caused him to collide with a wall.

Looming Aric, Hotwire joked that he might consider looking into adding polarized lenses to his headpiece once he was out of traction. Standing over Aric with his hands enveloped with energy spheres, Hotwire dared him to fight him and give the people watching on the news a hard look at his feet of clay. Just then, Aric reached out from the rubble to grab Hotwire’s foot and tossed him off the roof, but he hovered in the air just off the ledge. As Aric demanded to know Hotwire’s reasons for his animosity, Hotwire angrily offered Aric to engrave his motivation on his headstone and then rushed toward him.

Meanwhile, at Nuzhah International Airport in Alexandria, Egypt, Crescendo killed two would–be martyrs to prevent them from destroying a plane she plotted to board back to America.

Back in New York City, as the battle between Aric and Hotwire raged on in front of the TV cameras, Hotwire destroyed one of the news choppers, which distracted Aric and gave him an opening to destroy him. As Hotwire enveloped Aric in his energy field, however, the ion cannons in the Manowar’s gauntlets reacted to it and released a blast that sent them reeling on opposite sides of the rooftop and rendered Aric unconscious. Standing over Aric, Hotwire ranted that all he ever wanted was for Ken to look at him the way he looked at Aric, like a hero, which was why he underwent the experiments that gave him too much power that the scientists told him he could not control. Feeling like Aric robbed him of his chance to prove himself and show Ken that he was the better man, Hotwire accused him of getting Ken killed and vowed to make him pay.

Meanwhile, at the campus of the NYU staff offices, Samantha Jones opened a crate that contained Alloy’s severed head while she watched a news report about Hotwire and Aric’s epic battle.

Advancing on Hotwire, Aric warned him that if his obsession was with heroes he should look no further than the man whose memory he dishonored, then he pummeled him three times and told him that he would wish he had stayed down. Enraged, Hotwire lashed out against Aric with blasts from his fists, so Aric, realizing that reason had failed, flew toward him to put an end to their conflict through sinew and steel.

As Dana Dennero, a CNN field reporter on the Verrazano bridge, described that she was on the very site that X–O Manowar re–entered the public eye after having allegedly spent an unspecified amount of time in outer space, a hand suddenly reached out from the water and killed her and her camera man Lenny.

Flying away to buy himself some breathing space and give his system time to charge up, Hotwire opened fire on a car traveling on the bridge to distract Aric, who flew in front of the blast and took the blunt of it to save the civilians. Enraged, Aric shot Hotwire with his ion cannons and followed him to the top of the bridge, where he snared him with broken support wires. Lecturing Hotwire on his mistakes, Aric used the wires to electrocute him with his own power, then, while standing over him, said that victory was in the doing.

Watching the battle between Aric and Hotwire on television, Gridlock received a phone call ordering him to go after the Visigoth. Shattering the receiver in his hand, Gridlock said that by the time he was done with Aric, they would be calling him X–O D.O.A.

Old Soldiers

One night in a subway station somewhere in New York City, a small child named Jamie fell into the subway tracks. Held back by the other transients, Jamie’s mother screamed for help, when just then X–O Manowar flew into the scene and stopped the train in its tracks before it ran over the young boy. Standing amid the crowd, two government agents reported Aric’s location to Gridlock.

Meanwhile, in the facility wing of NYU’s administration building, as Samantha Jones went over the pieces of an ancient medieval suit of armor, her aide returned from the laboratory with Alloy’s head in his hands. Explaining that the lab had sent it back up while they ran the test results because it made them nervous, the aide attached Alloy’s head to the suit of armor as a joke to scare Samantha.

Back in the subway, Gridlock rushed toward Aric while he was easting a bagel that Jamie’s mother bought for him and attacked him. Watching the two combatants fight while the crowd of bystanders rushed by them, the government agents requested tranq–grenades to bring Gridlock down by force once the battle was over.

As Aric and Gridlock’s battle spilled over into an incoming subway train, Gridlock mocked the Visigoth and pummeled him through the subway carts out into the rails. Impressed that Aric was still standing, Gridlock rushed at him and the two men collided in a massive crash that only Aric walked away from silently.

Enraged by Aric’s demeanor, Gridlock activated a strength–enhancement control on his chest and pummeled into him as hard as he could. Ripping the railing off the tracks, Gridlock tried to hit Aric with it, but X–O turned the tables on him and took the railing from him. Angered, Gridlock continuously punched Aric around the tunnel until he brought the roof down on them. Blinded by rage and the chemicals cursing through his body, Gridlock held the shattered ceiling over his head, exposing his control circuit for Aric to deactivate it. As Gridlock’s strength left him, Aric knocked him out with one punch and let the roof bury them.

Dragging Gridlock out of the rubble, Aric tossed him at the foot of the government agents, who told him that Gridlock was a rogue agent. Pitching Aric on their organization, which they claimed could use someone like him, the agents invited him to work for them, but he turned his back and left.

Elsewhere, Crescendo stood beside a window and wondered if the medias would be so enamored with Aric were they aware that the only reason he was in that subway station was for warmth, and why Aric would live like a homeless vagabond when he could take what ever he wanted. Thinking of Aric as pathetic, Crescendo mused that the time for scheming was over, the components assembled, and the joker laid hidden in the deck, the time had come for her revenge.

Dragging Lummox behind her, Crescendo entered a room where a Spider Alien, Alloy, and one of her troopers were waiting for her and proclaimed that their revenge would scald the barbarian Visigoth. Unbeknownst to Crescendo, Gamin was sitting on the girders watching her and the others.

Fair Game

Standing by a window overlooking the city, Crescendo warned the Spider Alien, trooper, and Alloy that any significant deviation from the agreed upon operational blueprint to fulfill any hidden agendas would not be tolerated, and that the X–O armor was to be brought to her intact with man inside it alive. Agreeing to follow Crescendo’s orders, Alloy reminded her that once she was through with Aric, he belonged to them.

Elsewhere, Aric rode the X–O bike, a configuration of the armor devised to keep it concealed, into St Marks place. Looking around, Aric pitied that the Good Skin could not morph into currency as it had been awhile since he had to plunder for food. Unable to recall when he had felt hungrier, Aric plotted to steal food from a vendor, but as he came within reach, a thug threatened the vendor’s daughter, so he punched him and warned him to walk away. As the thug lunged at him with a switchblade, Aric reached for a cleaver and cut off his ear. Using the cleaver, Aric proceeded to sever the noses, hands, and ears of the thug’s accomplices, while the X-O bike killed one of them before he could shoot Aric. Sending the thugs on their way, Aric warned them to learn the lesson that their wounds would teach them. Grateful, the vendor offered Aric a feast.

Making their way through the crowd in St Marks place, Lummox, Alloy, and the trooper followed the Spider Alien, who used a device to rack down the energy signature from the X–O Manowar armor. Concealed with a hood and cape, Gamin recognized the markings of a bloodbath and hoped that Aric was on the alert.

As Aric regaled Marta and her father with tales from the last time he experienced excruciating hunger when a Roman Legion cut him and his men off for days, Alloy and the others found him. Staring up at Alloy’s smug face, Aric spit in it and donned the X–O Manowar armor. After Aric shot Alloy with an ion blast, Lummox tossed him aside and the trooper lunged at him, but then Aric killed the trooper with his sword, the Spider Alien with a trash bin, and Lummox with a single punch.

Holding Marta in his grasp, Alloy threatened to kill Aric unless he surrendered, but, surprisingly, Aric dared him to do it and said that she meant nothing to him. Walking away, Aric told Alloy to kill her if such was his desire and that he would be waiting for him when he was truly ready to test his mettle. Just as Alloy had become convinced that Aric did not care for Marta’s life, the Manowar’s remote sensor came up from behind him and melted his face with an ion blast.

While Marta’s father consoled his daughter amid insults aimed at the Visigoth, Gamin revealed herself to Aric and told him that she knew where to find Crescendo, who was behind the attack. Picking Gamin up in his arms, Aric took flight to find Crescendo and make her answer for what she had done.

Pentalogy

Pentalogy – Part I

Walking aimlessly through the streets of New York City, Aric found himself beneath the Queensboro bridge, where he met Milo Gretcher, a homeless man who offered him a slug of his booze. Sitting next to Milo, Aric introduced himself and, as Milo reciprocated, he learned that he had been living on the streets for seven years. Just then, a former employee of Orb Industries who lost his job when Crescendo destroyed the company recognized Aric, which made him feel like he did not belong there, but Milo convinced him to stay. In exchange for Aric’s protection, Milo offered to introduce him to the other members of his community and show him around the sights, a bargain that Aric found to be fair.

Elsewhere, a painter looking for a muse showed one of his lackeys a video of the homeless taken by a lackey standing atop a rooftop looking down at them, and when the lackey failed to appreciate the harmony and juxtaposition of form that the painter saw, he shot him and called him a philistine. Ordering Augie, a third lackey, to take pictures of the body before he disposed of it, the painter retreated into his studio, where he stared at a wall covered with art pictures of mutilated corpses. After studying the images for a moment, the painter called Augie and told him that they would be using incendiaries against the homeless men to counter the dominant red of their blood and attain a sienna tone.

Beneath the bridge, as a homeless man who was concerned with the constant shakedowns, rip-offs, and killings that they suffered explained the concept of a Ronin to Aric and another man compared them to Don Quixote, the painter and his men set off an incendiary device which explosion killed many of the men in the group. Appalled with the burning corpses of the men who Milo introduced him around him, Aric went to find the ones responsible for their murder.

Waking out of the flames just as the painter was taking a picture of the carnage before the authorities arrived, Aric asked why he perpetrated such a slaughter, but the painter refused to provide him with an answer and ordered his men to pitch him into the flames. Enraged, Aric donned the X–O Manowar and silently killed all of the painter’s men until he was the last one standing. Grabbing the painter’s men, Aric reiterated his question, and when the painter refused to answer he burned his face and asked again.

Coming up from behind Aric, Milo explained that it did not matter what kind of spin the painter put on his actions, and that it all came down to doing it just because he could. As the painter insulted Milo, Aric tossed him up into the air and blasted him to dust with his ion cannons, then as the dust came down around him, he asked Milo to tell him about the Ronin again.

Pentalogy – Part II

Standing on a rooftop garbed in the X–O Manowar, Aric followed a police squad car to the site of a domestic dispute call, then, watching at the police, he overheard them dismiss the incident as inconsequential. Aghast, Aric took off and mused that his aimless wandering had accomplished nothing, and that many of the predators he sought hid within society’s legal structure. Deciding that there was merit in striking openly despite the consequences Aric returned to his home beneath the bridge, where he shared his idea with one of his friends, who told him that without knowing who to strike at and where he would just be tilting at windmills. Realizing that his plan required start–up capital, Aric asked around to learn from the others where he could find it.

Later, a group of armed men stopped Aric from entering a warehouse in the docks. Garbed in the Manowar, Aric gave the men ten seconds to vacate the area, and when they refused he killed them. Breaking into the warehouse, Aric slaughtered everyone inside and ordered their boss to reveal the location of his hidden safe.

That night, in a high–rise building in the city, as the mob boss ordered his lackey to kill the homeless men beneath the Queensboro to teach Aric a lesson, Aric opened fire on the office from outside and wrote a warning on their wall with his ion cannons telling them not to even think about moving against him.

At the Queensboro, Aric told his friends to act as his operatives but look like they were still homeless even though he was gonna see to it that they were well taken care of. Certain that they had proven the importance of staying street savvy and the vital importance of staying connected, Aric gave everyone a laptop to use as monitoring stations wherever they went and told Katsu to hack into the FBI, Interpol, and wherever else they needed to access the intelligence he would need to mount a crusade.

Elsewhere, Gamin followed Crescendo in her current form, determined to nail her location before bringing Aric. All of a sudden, Gamin watched as a bus ran over Crescendo when she crossed the street without looking. Initially shocked, Gamin walked away commenting that she had now seen it all.

Meanwhile, in New Orleans, the resurrected Master Darque summoned one of his operatives and ordered him to reactive his network of agents to risk one final endeavor. Requiring information, Darque sarcastically asked his lackey if he had ever heard the saying that the clothes made the man.

Pentalogy – Part III

At the New Orleans manor of Master Darque, Master Darque killed his lackey to use his blood to divine Aric Dacia’s exact location in Manhattan. Later, Darque traveled to New York City and startled Marissa, one of his former lackeys who he had previously released from her service. Using his power to remove Marissa’s mouth, Darque proceeded with his plan.

That night beneath the Queensboro bridge, after Gamin told Aric that she saw a bus run over Crescendo and he told her about his crusade, Marissa wandered into the area under Master Darque’s control and infected everyone with his necromantic energy.

As Aric and Gamin discussed his plans by the docks, the homeless men, all of whom were under Master Darque’s control and acting as a hive mind that spoke in his voice, ordered Aric to come to him or else they would all die. Donning the X–O Manowar, Aric agreed to follow Darque’s summons.

Following the summons, Aric found Darque standing on a rooftop savoring their coming combat and his glorious prize. As Aric demanded to know who dared challenged him, Darque lashed out at him with a burst of necromantic energy that caused him to crash down on the street.

Hovering over Aric, Darque demanded that he give him the armor, so Aric shot him with his ion cannons, but Darque repelled the blast with a force field. Continuing his attack, Aric tossed a car in Darque’s direction, but he cut it in two with a strike from his hand. Enraged, Aric punched Darque and sent him reeling into a building that collapsed upon impact. Floating over the debris, Aric cursed Darque to hell, but just then Darque walked out through the smoke and confined Aric with tendrils that emanated from his hand.

Ranting over how conflicts like the one they had just experienced left him drained and vulnerable, a much detested state he was all too familiar with, Darque said that he had suffered too many defeats due to that sad state of affairs, then he enveloped Aric with a blast of necromantic energy. Calling the X–O Manowar armor a perfect supplement to his necromantic talents, Darque used his power to strip the armor from Aric.

Telling Aric that he was not going to repeat his mistake not to bond with the armor, Darque loomed over Aric garbed in the X–O Manowar and laughed manically at him.

Pentalogy – Part IV

Lying in an alley after Master Darque took the X–O Manowar, Aric heard the sound of sirens in the distance and stood up to leave before the cops arrived, but weakened after Darque’s attack, he collapsed on the ground.

Flying over the city garbed in the X–O Manowar armor, which power he believed would make him invincible once added to his necromantic abilities, Darque discovered a rudimentary sentience within the armor that fitfully struggled against him and exerted his will over the Good Skin, then he flew away laughing manically.

Later, Darque looked out into the city from atop the Statue of Liberty and vowed that he would take revenge on those with whom he had scores to settle. Unable to decide who to go after first, Shadowman or Dr. Mirage, Darque took off and decided that the order mattered little when the end result would be the same.

After escaping from St Mary’s Hospital where the cops took him after they found him in the street, Aric went to the Museum of History and met with Dr. Ricca, a scholar who he asked for information on a mystic of great power with tattoos on their body.

At Master Darque’s manor in New Orleans, Master Darque summoned his lackey and ordered him to target Shadowman and dig up what he could on the X–O Manowar armor and its previous owner, who did into strike him as one to suffer a slight and, in hindsight, he should have slayed.

After Dr. Ricca told Aric that he could learn more about Darque in New Orleans, he boarded a plane for Louisiana to go recover his armor. During the flight, Aric mused that he made a mistake in trying to fight a civilized battle while Darque fought savagely and without quarter. Realizing that he lost the armor because he strayed too far from his roots, Aric decided that the only way he would reclaim what defined him and the Good Skin was to let the civilized veneer that he had assumed chafe away.

At Darque’s Manor, Darque’s lackey told him everything he knew about Aric Dacia, except for how he came upon the armor, which origins Aric hid well. Enraged with his lackey’s inability to learn Shadowman’s current location, Darque tossed him around the room. Meanwhile, at the airport, Aric got into a taxi.

At the manor, the armor resisted Darque’s influence, but he enveloped it within a necromantic field to silence its keening. Proclaiming that soon their bond would be forever and that the armor would come to embrace and crave his necromantic essence, Darque walked into his room to rest for the night. Chuckling that with the armor at his command the house’s security system was redundant, Darque wished the armor a good night.

That night, as Darque dreamt that he burnt Aric to dust with the armor, Aric slit his throat and abruptly awoke him. As Darque bled to death, Aric said that the armor, which would have protected him from anyone else except him as even though they did not bond they did connect, led him there through a low grade psionic call for help. As Darque passed away, Aric told him how to spell his name in case the devil asked who sent him.

Sitting next to Darque’s bed, Aric watched as the armor, corrupted by Darque’s energy, melted into a puddle. Kneeling beside it, Aric picked the Good Skin in his hands and wondered if he dared put it on.

Pentalogy – Part V

Standing in the middle of Master Darque’s bedroom holding the dying X–O Manowar armor in his hands, Aric Dacia wondered if he dared to bond with it, certain that if he did he would no longer be Aric and would become X–O Manowar until the day he died. Realizing that he had no choice and that he owed the Good Skin a great debt, Aric summoned it to him in the hope that together they might fight off the wizard’s corruption.

Overwhelmed with great pain, Aric flew out through the roof of the manor and screamed at the top of his lungs until he passed out. Rendered unconscious, Aric fell into the river and sank to the bottom of the harbor.

Dreaming that he was back in 408 AD fighting the Romans alongside his fellow Visigoths, Aric used the X–O Manowar to defeat their foes, but then, frightened of his power, the Visigoths abandoned him, preferring the company of the Romans to the pit of Hell. Yelling out that he had no choice because the Good Skin was dying and he had to repay the debt it owed it because its needs outweighed his own, Aric fell to his knees.

As his surroundings changed around him, Aric found himself aboard a Spider Alien vessel surrounded by an army of Manowar armors. Following them into space, Aric fought beside the armors against the aliens’ foes. As the battle drew to a close, the armors recognized that Aric was not like them and flew away from him.

Closing his eyes, Aric asked the armors to come back and let him understand, but as he opened them he found himself standing in the middle of an Orb Industries meeting room. Facing Ken and Randy, who represented the human side of his soul, and two faceless individuals who represented the armor’s side, Aric heard as Ken tell him that his decision had turned him into a liability, while one of the faceless beings said that they had acquired enough control to remove him. Defending his decision to bond with the armor, Aric was taken aback when Ken and Randy suddenly melted into puddles and drowned him.

Waking up in the bottom of the bay, Aric leapt into the docks and rejected the notion that he was no longer Aric Dacia that the fever dreams bore him. With the bonding completed, Aric felt no different, as the Good Skin still reacted to his commands and morphed as he wished it to, but just then the armor pulled away from him seeking to sever the bond between them.

After ripping the physical link that held them together, the armor hovered over Aric and used a tendril from its finger to remove the control ring from Aric’s hand. Holding the ring in its hand, the X–O Manowar then spoke in a broken mechanical voice and bid greetings to Aric.

Past Tense

Past Tense – Prologue

On May 15th 1996 in New York City, Ax, who had become a cyborg, attacked Aric Dacia in an alley. Filled with hatred for the Visigoth, Ax used a stasis field emitter to hold the X–O Manowar at bay while he ripped Aric limb from limb. Enraged, as he had warned Ax what would happen if their paths ever crossed again, Aric poked Ax’s human eye out and blinded him, then he shattered the emitter with a hammer and donned the armor once again. Certain that with the X–O Manowar he was invincible, Aric defeated Ax, who surrendered. Disgusted, Aric walked away as he found no honor in killing a coward, but then the armor tore the flesh off Ax’s bones against Aric’s will and killed him. Ordering the Good Skin to get off him, Aric wondered if his run–in with Master Darque had something to do with the armor’s action. As Aric walked away, a strange man in a fez looked down at Ax’s corpse and said that the beginning of the end of Aric’s journey was at hand.

Later that night, at the Eisenstein Café, Gamin, who knew little about necromancy, told Aric to speak with some people she knew of who had dealings with Darque before. As Gamin showed him a business card for Mirage Paranormic Investigations Inc, Aric realized that he knew who Dr. Mirage and Carmen Ruiz were.

The next morning, Aric arrived at the Mirage Estate in Nyack, where after he briefly introduced and explained himself, Hwen said that, although the armor’s alien design was unfamiliar to him, it was quite possible that its power cells might have stored the death energy from Darque’s passing, which, if true, would taint the armor’s systems. Hearing as Hwen explained that the more the taint grew it would need more energy that it could only get through the death of sentient organic matter, Aric realized that the armor would kill again. Suggesting that they use their new virtual reality imagining system, Carmen took Aric down to their laboratory.

At Aric’s insistence, the Mirage hooked him to a machine designed to create and explore 3–D simulations of spirit realms through computer recreations despite their misgivings, then, once Carmen activated the program, he found himself in a virtual reality realm filled with tendrils and black ooze that made him realize he never knew how alive the armor was. Searching for the power core, Aric found an unnatural black and pulsating entity residing within it, and though Carmen wanted to pull the plug, he refused and asked for a sword.

Using the computer program, Hwen simulated a weapon for Aric, but warned him that if the energy engulfed him it would suck the life out of his body. Proclaiming his ownership of the armor, Aric severed the creature in half, but that resulted in the creature replicating itself. Vowing that he would defeat the creature no matter how many of it there were, Aric continued his attack until the Mirage pulled him out of the simulation. Though Aric wanted to return to defeat the creature, Carmen suggested that they wait for the analysis results.

Minutes later, Hwen told Aric that Darque’s psychic imprint had fixed itself to the armor’s memory core, acting like a Master Darque program that sucked energy from human victims, and that the only way to reverse it was to purge the core. Refusing to destroy the Good Skin’s mind, Aric thank the Mirage for their help and left to find a way to win. As Aric got inside a limo that the Mirage got for him and told the driver where to take him, he failed to notice that the driver was the strange man with the fez from before.

Later, Aric stood in the ruins of his former estate and reminisced about Ken’s eternal whining and Randy’s warrior soul. Sitting down, Aric wondered why he went there and mused that maybe it was because he was about to loose another friend. Just then, Gamin showed herself and told Aric that the Mirage told her about his armor. As Gamin asked Aric if he intended to bury the armor, he told her that, though he was going to at first, he now believed that he could control it and bend it to his will.

Raising his hand with the control ring, Aric said that the X–O was all he had left in the world and he would not let it go without a fight, then, he called the Good Skin to him. As the armor wrapped itself around Aric, dark tendrils flew out from it and wrapped themselves around Gamin, and though Aric ordered the armor to stop, the X–O drained the life out of Gamin and killed her.

On April 1st 1997 in New York City, an angered landlady banged on a door with a broom and demanded that the tenant opened before she called the cops. Opening the door, a disheveled Aric Dacia demanded to know what the woman wanted, then, as she threatened to throw him out if he did not pay his rent, he broke her broom and scared her away.

Proclaiming himself the scourge of the Roman Empire, the slayer of Mothergod, and the destroyer of the Spider Empire, Aric returned inside and stood over a chest at the foot of his bed. Hoping that enough time had passed, Aric called himself the wielder of the mighty X–O and called the Good Skin to him, but as he opened the chest and heard the armor whisper that it hungered for death, he fell on the bed certain that he was lost.

Past Tense – Part I

On April 1st 1997 in Manhattan, Aric Dacia tossed a man out of a strip club for touching the girls and warned him that if he ever saw him in again he would rip his eyes out. Turning to Lauren, the stripper he met shortly after his arrival in the 20th Century, Aric told her to go inside and that the man would not bother her again. Thankful, Lauren offered Aric to show him her gratitude, but he was not interested and walked way from her. Refusing to join the sluts, pimps, and perverts that surrounded him in their wretched behavior, Aric asked the bartender for a double shot of Wild Turkey, then, as he was about to drink it, the man in the fez called him a Visigoth and said that strong drink was not the answer to his problems. Turning to face the man in the fez, Aric was shocked to see that he was no longer there and wondered how he knew that he was a Visigoth.

Hours later, Aric got home to his apartment in Alphabet City in time to watch Conan on TV. Sitting in front of the television repeating the man in the fez’s words, Aric fell asleep with a beer in his hand. Several beers later, Aric opened the truck that held the Good Skin inside and mused that it had been a long time since the joined in battle. Slipping the control ring on his finger, Aric thought hat maybe he should don the armor once more and wage war against their enemies, but as the armor lunged against him, he locked in the trunk and fell on his bed musing over his purposeless, meaningless, hopeless existence. Feeling trapped in someone else’s nightmare, Aric wanted to wake up.

Awakening in Crescendo’s lair surrounded by Crescendo, her troopers, and Augur, Aric found himself strapped to a virtual reality device staring at Ken, Randy, and a third prisoner in a fez trapped in similar contraptions. Certain that what he experienced was another one of Crescendo’s illusions, Aric broke free and swore to kill everyone. His mind and purpose clear, Aric grabbed Augur's throat to choke him, but the troopers opened fire on him and he had to turn his attention to them and allow Augur to escape. Standing on the corpses of Crescendo’s army, Aric rescued Ken, Randy, and the man in the fez and flew them out of the building.

Standing in a clearing, Aric stared at the Orb Industries building pleased to see it as it was before Crescendo destroyed it, but then the man in the fez told him that the building was an illusion and a metaphor as an entire kingdom did not collapse merely because a castle crumbled. Tired of the man’s riddles, Aric demanded to know who he was, but all he would say was that he was a friend all but forgotten by him until that moment. Sharing a passionate kiss with Randy, who thought she had lost him forever, Aric told her to leave with Ken, then he flew back into the building to kill Crescendo.

Breaking into his office, Aric killed Augur with a blast from his ion cannons and then stabbed Crescendo with his sword. Moments later, the building exploded and buried Aric, who was certain that as Crescendo died he would live again.

Digging himself out from the ground shouting that he would live again, Aric saw Ken running toward him from his car wondering how he ended up buried in the south lawn of the estate. Telling Aric to order the X–O to release him, Ken dragged him into his car and left him there while he went to hide the armor. Later at Aric’s estate in Ulster County, as Ken helped him into his bed, Aric said that he had visions of battles and foes that did not exist yet and dreamt that he and Randy were dead, but just then realized that Randy had not come to Orb Industries yet. As Ken left to prepare him something to eat, Aric mused that perhaps everything was a dream brought on by 1,600 years of hibernating in the armor, and that he was lost in time but found a way out. Telling himself never to loose hope, Aric then fell asleep.

Awakening in his apartment in Alphabet City, Aric, who realized that everything he had seen was a dream, saw the man in the fez sitting at the foot of his bed asking him who he was and why he kept returning there. Telling Aric that he was in a state of despair, a deep and dark place that dwelled within him, the man in the fez told him that if he was to conquer and rule despair had to be purged and destroyed, but Aric turned a deaf ear to him and warned him not to enrage him. Summoning the X–O Manowar from its chest, Aric was shocked to see it spring out from its confinement like a jack in the box with the face of a Spider Alien.

Telling Aric that the armor was lost much as he was, the man in the fez said that he was there to show him the way back. Calling himself Mallik, a wizard and alchemist of and Aric’s closest friend, the man in the fez said that in time Aric would remember, but that some memories exacted a high price and were extremely painful, then he transformed Monarch, Aric’s dog, into a Bionisaur just like the one that Aric fought in the Lost Land. Damming Mallik and his tricks to hell, Aric welcomed his time to die and stood on his feet as a warrior in front of the Bionisaur, who took him in his mouth and bit him in half just like it did once before.

Hearing the Good Skin’s voice calling him, Aric awoke somewhere in the Lost Land during Unity, then, after learning that his men were dead and that it would take the X–O 10 years to make him whole, he vowed to find the wizard Mallik and make him answer to him. Facing the distance, the distance stared at the Rainbow Tower that loomed before him.

Past Tense – Part II

Experiencing Unity day 158 for the second time in his life, Aric Dacia flew through the skies of the Lost Land toward the Rainbow Tower in search of Mallik. Proclaiming that he enjoyed the first time he destroyed them and that their deaths would be no less painful a second time, Aric engaged Mothergod’s dinoriders in battle over her complex, when, suddenly, the Skammers opened fire to protect their master. Having forgotten that some of his troopers survived the attack on their camp, Aric followed his men to their camp in the foothills.

A short time later, while the Skammers informed Aric that Mothergod had troopers looking for them all over the Lost Land, Aric told them that for some reason beyond his understanding his past was repeating itself but events were not unfolding the same as last time and that they were not the men who served him before. As the Skammers swore their loyalty to Aric, Mallik dropped the façade that concealed his face and showed his true self. Enraged, Aric demanded to know why Mallik kept tormenting him and ordered him to send him home, but explaining that that was what he was trying to do, Mallik ominously revealed that Aric was not experiencing his past, a statement that further confused the Visigoth and enraged him.

Giving Aric his helmet, Mallik, who insisted that whether he realized it or not he was the only real thing in his life, told him to put it on because he would need it where they were going. Though at first Aric refused to go anywhere with Mallik, he donned the helmet and found himself instantly transported to his uncle Alaric’s encampment outside Rome in 408 AD. As Aric turned to face Alaric, who demanded that he explain why he disobeyed a direct order on the field of battle and why he should not have him flogged within an inch of his rebellious life, Aric noticed that the armor had vanished. Taking responsibility for Aric’s actions, Mallik told Alaric that he had vital information concerning the enemy that he passed to his nephew because there was no time to summon a war council. Ordering Aric to escort the wizard to the edge of the camp, Alaric told him to flog him and leave him for dead in the deep woods as a lesson to all those who shunned the Christian God.

Confused over why unlike everything else these events were not familiar to him, Aric disobeyed his uncle’s order to flog Mallik and asked him why he brought him there. Explaining that he took him there to help him find his way home, as he requested, Mallik told Aric to wait and said, but that he had to leave. Promising that their paths would cross again sooner than he thought, Mallik told Aric that one day he would be king and he would stand with him. As the wizard disappeared into the woods, Deidre walked toward Aric, grateful to Lugh that he was still alive after his battle with the Romans. Passionately kissing Deidre, Aric thanked Mallik for letting him see his dead wife one last time.

The next morning, Deidre told Aric that she did not want him to go into battle because Lugh showed her portents that made her fear for his life, but telling her to dry her tears, Aric said that she could not begin to know the hell he had been through, and that since nothing was real nothing bad could happen.

As the battle with the Romans raged on and Alaric’s army forced them to retreat, Alaric ordered Aric to take Gafti and not return without their heads. Climbing on his horse, Aric rode off in pursue for Alaric and victory. That night at the patrol’s camp, Gafti told Aric that his men heard rumors of assassins waiting for them up the trail and that it was whispered that Alaric plotted his death because he feared his popularity and his outward defiance. As Aric asked Gafti if he knew what a telephone, a VCR, and a toilet were, and he confessed that he did not, Aric said that he did but was not sure if it mattered anymore. Recalling Mallik’s promise that one day he would be king, Aric wondered if that was why Alaric feared him or if it was something beyond all of them.

That night, as the sound of struggling awoke Aric, he led his men to the other side of the mountain, where he witnessed the Spider Aliens that abducted him long ago preying on Ken, Randy, and Mallik. While Aric’s men fled, Aric stood frozen in place, unsure of what to do and afraid to relieve the seven years of hell that he experienced aboard the aliens’ slave ships. Just then, Mallik placed his hand on Aric’s shoulder and told him to rejoin his men and escape since he knew what was going to happen if he stayed.

Confused, as he had seen the aliens preying on Mallik, Aric turned to face the attackers and their victims and realized that they were frozen in time. As Aric expressed his confusion over why Mallik brought him to that place, the wizard told him that he knew why but just did not want to accept it. Calling his abduction a pivotal moment in his life, Mallik told Aric that everything he experienced had not actually happened yet, and that the X–O Manowar, Orb Industries, his friends, and his enemies were all what was to come. Walking towards the alien vessel, Mallik revealed that Aric had been existing in a prophetic vision and experienced his own future, or at least a possible future if he lived.

Standing on the entrance to the ship, Mallik said that beyond the veil of the illusion Aric died aboard the alien craft after seven years of back–breaking labor, bizarre and hideous experiments, and disease and blood–feedings had taken him to the breaking point and he challenged a guard that poisoned him with a lethal bite. Explaining that he used all his alchemy skills to keep Aric alive, Mallik said that he did not respond, as if he refused to rejoin the world of the living, so he entered his mind and opened it to the possibilities of a future, a revelation that made Aric realize that nothing he experienced was ever real.

Promising Aric that much of it could be, Mallik said that he had to want to live even in the nightmare of slavery, then, reiterating his promise that he would be king, he told Aric that he had to find the will to go on and return with him. Dropping his sword, Aric followed Mallik inside the vessel, delighted to hear that with his gift of foresight he could shape the future as he wanted and recover Randy, Ken, and Orb.

Awakening in a slave pen aboard the Spider Aliens’ vessel, Aric saw Mallik standing over him. Falling to his knees, Mallik told Aric that when he slipped into the life of a barroom brawler he knew he had lost his will to live, so he had to intervene at that point. Tired of maintaining a trance state for that long, Mallik wanted to rest, but before he did Aric asked him if everything was a delusion brought on by poison or a prophecy. Unsure, Mallik told Aric that only time would tell.

Weeks later in Earth orbit on November 5th, 1991, Mallik took Aric to speak with the Map–Giver to fulfill his destiny. Shortly, the Map–Giver told Aric that he had to make his move while the Spider Aliens were preoccupied with their attack on Earth. Using a spear, the Map–Giver carved his map into Aric’s hand, then, while the vessel came under attack, Aric went to find his armor and his future.

Armed with a spear to break the Hard Skins with, Aric broke into their armory to fight for his dream.

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