When they got to Brimstone's office, they walked into the section in Hell and started asking questions.
"Clarence? What kind of a major bad guy name is Clarence?" Dragon said.
"I don't know, Dragon. But this guy is powerful. And he was not extradimensional, I could see that. But somehow, he turned my gun into a snake. That's a pretty impressive magic trick."
"Could he be a mage?" Fire Opal asked.
Dave said, "Nope. Vagabond sensors read the energy output as chemical transformation. Not magic. It's keyed for that sort of thing, you know."
"So we're dealing with a powerful mutant." Dragon concluded.
"I know I've seen that face before," Brimstone muttered.
"Where?" Hammersmith asked. All Brimstone could do in reply was shrug.
"Have you worked for him?" Dragon offered. Brimstone shook his head.
"No, it's vague, like I've seen him on the street or something. But I would have remembered that outfit. He was dressed all in white, with a big gold name tag that read 'Clarence.' Big, round guy, with a really innocent face. He said something like, 'This is perfect. They'll have to let me stay now! The opposition is here!' Then he blasted my gun."
"The opposition?" Fire Opal said. "What did he mean by that? Could he be working for Xavier?"
"Is 'Clarence' not the name of an angel in 'It's a Wonderful Life?'"
Everyone turned to look at the Teacher after he said this. Dragon in particular looked shock.
"Some in the Dragon Cult do worship Christmas, Golden Dragon. We watch that accursed movie every year. And if Brimstone is a demon, then his opposition would be an angel."
"Wouldn't angels be extradimensional?" Dragon asked Brimstone.
Brimstone shrugged. "Far as I know, angels are a myth, made up to scare little demons."
Dragon put his head in his hands. Then he looked up and said, "Xavier. This guy has hit three Xavier warehouses. Maybe it's a war between God and Shiva. It's possible."
"Why would God bother with harassing warehouses? Why not just evaporate Xavier, or turn his building into a pillar of salt or something?" Dave asked.
"I don't know, Dave. I don't know what we're dealing with. All I do know is there are two more warehouses, and we should be on our guard, because he seems to be hitting one a night. And next time, we'll be ready for him."
Dragon went to the hotel to check on Kim and Mary. They were both asleep, so he decided not to wake them. Instead, he went to sleep with them. When he woke up, Kim was already up and dressed. She was talking on the phone while feeding Mary her bottle.
"Yes, see if you can line that up. No, put Henderson on that, he's better at evidence-based cases. Doesn't know how to cross-examine. Use Tomkins for the Dreyer case. Okay, well you've got the number, I should be here for a couple of days."
Kim put the hotel phone back into its cradle and hugged Dragon. "How's it going?"
"Not bad. Listen, I really appreciate you being understanding about all this time away from you and Mary."
"You're doing this to find our son, Dan. And as long as I know you want to be with us, it's okay."
"I still feel guilty. We're on stakeout again tonight, but the day is free, so how do you feel about spending the day in Japan? Maybe we could eat at some of those restaurants we visited last time."
Kim smiled. Dragon walked over to the door and opened it and Dave was standing there in a tuxedo, holding a huge bouquet of roses. He handed it to Kim and produced the card, which simply read, "I love you. Dan."
Dragon changed into a suit and offered his arm to Kim. "Madame, your chariot awaits."
Dave closed the door after they were all out and grinned at Dragon. "Smooth, Dragon. I think she liked the roses."
Dave cringed a little when he said the word "rose," but Dragon pretended not to notice it.
* * * * *
The older man was on his back, looking up at the thick green trees that hid his pursuers. Suddenly the leaves parted and dark black men dressed only in multicolored loin cloths stepped through, pointing their spears at him. The spears glowed with an unholy light.
"Where is it?" came a female voice from the back of the pack. The warriors split to reveal a dark form dressed in a hooded robe. She brandished a curved, glowing dagger menacingly.
"Where is it, old man?" she repeated.
The old man stood firm, just staring into the hooded eyes. "It is lost to you, evil one," he said.
"You had better pray that is not so," she replied.
* * * * *
Dragon got back to Chicago an hour before they were supposed to resume patrols. He kissed Kim good bye and went to Brimstone's office. Hammersmith and Fire Opal were already there, sitting with Brimstone in the outer office. Hammersmith now had on different, bulkier boots and two pods clamped onto the chest plate of his armor.
"So, what neat tricks have you got for us today?" Dave asked.
Hammersmith tapped the two pods in sequence and disappeared. There was a slight disturbance in the air, but otherwise he was completely invisible. He appeared again and took a little bow.
"He can't blast what he can't see," Hammersmith said. "I didn't have time to whip up specialized defenses, so I used what I had."
"Okay," Dragon said, sitting down on Dolores' desk. She didn't look up, just kept her nose buried in her paperback novel. "We want to talk to this guy first. He's got the power, and odds are good he could transform us. Maybe permanently, especially if he hits you, Hammersmith. Far as I can tell, you're the only one here without some kind of magic in you."
"What do we say?" Brimstone asked doubtfully.
"Try to get him to talk about why he's doing this. If we can get a motive, we might be able to figure out who or what he is. And if he gets agitated, take him down hard. But no killing." Dragon emphasized this point, but no one in the room looked ready to argue.
"Dave will take the Vagabond and monitor the waterfront warehouse. If there is a problem, he will contact us and come and get us. Got it?"
Dave looked innocently at Dragon and saluted. "Hey, I always follow orders, Mr. Golden Dragon, sir. You bet, Mein General."
"The rest of us," Dragon continued, "will guard the other warehouse. Hammer and Fire Opal, you're together on the ground. Brimstone and I will cover the air, and Teacher will stay as close to the building as he can. Anyone runs into anything, you alert the rest of the team first. Clear?"
Everyone nodded. Dragon felt a surge of pride, thinking back to when he lead Wildside. Then he felt a twinge of worry, when he realized how most of those missions went.
The team was in position a few minutes later. Brimstone was talking quietly with Dragon as they circled the warehouse. Dragon was cradling Brimstone like a large baby.
"So, Dragon, are you learning?"
"Sort of. It's starting to come back to me. Honestly, I don't know where to go from here. The Wyrms could have my son anywhere on the planet, or in another dimension. I need a better lead."
"Hang in there, Dragon. If it's mystical, eventually it comes back to me, and you know I'll tell you anything I find out."
Dragon was about to reply when Hammersmith yelled out over the comm. "Dragon, we've got movement! All the guards just disappeared!"
Dragon gave the order to move in, and a second later, the door flew open as flames flew out from Fire Opal and struck the door like a physical blow. The Teacher slipped in through the opening, as quick as a shadow. Hammersmith and Fire Opal followed him in, and Dragon dove towards the opening.
When Dragon got down there, he saw Clarence throw a bolt of multicolored light at the Teacher. The Teacher waited until the last instant and moved out of the way. The bolt struck the wall behind him, harmlessly.
"Hold it! We just want to talk!" Dragon yelled.
Clarence turned, his fists glowing with different colors. It was almost comical. He had a look that was usually seen on enraged super villains, but from this balding, overweight man, it seemed almost pouty and cute. His face was scrunched together, and he had a gap between his front teeth. Sure enough, around his neck was a chain with a gold tag that read, "Clarence."
"What do you want?" he asked in a squeaky voice with a New York-accent.
"Why are you doing this?" Dragon answered.
"I'm an angel," he answered. "I have to do this."
"Why?" Dragon responded. "Did God tell you to?"
"No!" the man answered, a little too quickly. "It's just...if I do this, I'll get to see my family again."
"How does this help you?" Dragon asked, pursuing the question. He watched Hammersmith and Fire Opal flank Clarence on either side. The two of them were an amazing team, working together without a word. Dragon wondered if they were mind-linked.
"I can't talk to you anymore," Clarence said quietly. "I have to finish my work so I can see my family again."
The room around them burst into flames and Clarence disappeared in a flash of white light.
"Damn it!" Brimstone yelled. "He did it again!"
The team evacuated the burning building and called in Dave for a pick-up. On the plane, Brimstone was noticeably upset.
"Talk to him. We lost him again. Next time we shoot first!"
"We got what we wanted," Dragon answered. "He wants his family back. So he's probably local, acting around them. And if he's acting against Xavier, it's a safe bet they had something to do with his family. Plus, we've never heard of this guy before, so he's new. We look him up in Xavier Chicago records."
"Okay," Brimstone said. "I've got a contact with Xavier Security. I'll call him when we get back. You guys all get home. We'll meet at my office tomorrow morning."
The next morning, Dragon arrived bright and early with a complaining Dave. As they came in, Brimstone heard Dragon say, "I've been up for three hours training already, Dave, so don't complain about how early it is. Hi, Brimstone."
Brimstone was smiling from ear-to-ear. To anyone that didn't know him, the sight would have been mildly disturbing. He tossed a stapled packet at Dragon.
"That is 'Clarence.' Real name is Joseph Mailer. Former Xavier executive, big brain, saved the company millions. Problem is, he also saved some for himself."
Dragon whistled. "Says here he embezzled twenty-five million. From Xavier? This guy is definitely nuts."
"Yeah, well, big boss Alec Xavier found out about it, I guess. Next couple of days, Joe starts having problems. He's hearing noises in his room at night. Cops show up because something tripped his alarms. And then, just when he's really freaked, he comes home and finds his wife and two daughters chopped up and stuffed into various corners in the house. Took police four hours just to find all of the baby. Then the police nab the slasher responsible, turns out he's some sort of psychotic who escaped from a nearby mental hospital."
"Yeah, tell me another one."
"I did some checking. Officially, that psychotic had been in that hospital for over four years. Now, according to the cops who aren't corrupt, he checked in the day before. And he didn't escape, he was let out by hospital staff. And he certainly wasn't crazy."
"Where's this guy now?"
"Funny story about that. Cops were holding him, pending an investigation to determine if he was fit to stand trial, and when they went to check on him, he was gone. Vanished. Just wasn't in his cell. It was almost like he was..."
"Teleported. Xavier Enterprises. And of course, the investigating officer's were offered money or threatened into silence. Case closed. Except for Joe."
Brimstone sat back on his desk and looked at Dragon. "What we've got here is a major new mutant whose powers manifested because of a tragedy. And that tragedy warped his mind, too. Now he thinks he's some kind of angel out to cleanse Xavier so that he can get his family back."
Dragon was looking off into Hell and thinking. "Maybe we shouldn't stop him. I mean, he's not killing anyone, and he's doing major damage to Xavier."
"Come on, Dragon!" Brimstone shouted. "This guy is a human being, and he's so deeply messed up that he's torturing himself, thinking that his family is still alive and he'll be with them again soon! I don't care if he fits your plans, we have to try and help the guy! How would you feel if Kim and Mary died? Would you delude yourself? Would you go after whoever you blamed with a vengeance? And wouldn't you want someone to stop you, so you could get on with your life?"
"Alright!" Dragon roared. There was silence in the room. Dragon was visibly shaken by the thought of losing Kim and Mary. He nearly whispered, "We've got one more warehouse to cover. We need a plan."
Hammersmith and Fire Opal arrived about an hour later. Brimstone ordered out for sandwiches. They all opened their bags and pulled out the sandwiches, but Brimstone's was wrapped in odd foil. He opened the bag and light poured out, forming a ghostly face.
"I am coming for you, Brimstone. Be prepared."
Brimstone looked horrified. "Oh, man." He calmed down when he reached into the foil and pulled out a sandwich.
"Whew. For a second there, I thought I was getting an apparition instead of a corned beef on rye."
The four of them, with Dave's unwanted help, spent the day working out plans on dealing with Joseph. None of them had psychiatric training or telepathic powers, which was going to make talking to him difficult.
"I wish Rose were here," Dragon said. "Sorry, Dave."
"Why? Don't be sorry! I don't care! Don't even remember her! Rose who? I can't remember, must be somebody I didn't know, yep, that's it. Excuse me, I've got to go downstairs for a while."
Dave wandered off through the mist and into the Chicago office. Dragon looked out after him, concerned. Brimstone put a hand on his shoulder.
"Clarence now, Dave later, huh?"
"Yeah," Dragon said, shaking it off. They had plenty to worry about without adding more problems.
The plan they finally worked out was risky, and Dragon wasn't totally satisfied with it, but it was the best they could do with what they had. They got everything set up and ready by 4:00 that afternoon and settled in to watch the warehouse from the Vagabond.
It was after 9:00 when something triggered the sensors they had aimed at the building earlier. Hammersmith, sitting at a jury-rigged control center in the Vagabond, said, "Guards are gone. Sending you down."
Dragon, Brimstone, and Fire Opal were transformed into energy and teleported down. They appeared in the center of the now empty warehouse. Clarence was there, studying the walls.
"You again?" he screamed. "I'll destroy you!"
The walls suddenly faded and were replaced with white tile. Various shapes appeared in the room, making it look like a kitchen. A woman appeared, cradling a baby in her arms. A younger girl, about six years old, sat at a table drawing with crayons.
"What's happening?" Clarence yelled. "Why have you sent them, God?"
Clarence's attention was now away from the three heroes. Fire Opal spoke into her borrowed comm. "Okay, Hammer, voice-link the wife to me."
The woman looked up and started moving her mouth as Fire Opal spoke into her comm. "Joseph. Why are you doing this to us?"
"Irene? If I destroy the evil one, God will bring you back! And we can all be a family again!"
"No, Joseph. We want to rest. You are disturbing our rest and causing us great pain."
Dragon said, "Cue the baby, Hammer."
On board the Vagabond, Hammersmith keyed in commands to his console. The baby started letting out a wailing cry. "Irene" held it closer to her and looked with pleading eyes at Joseph.
"But...I want you back! It's not right! I'm an angel! Why should I be punished?"
"But you're not an angel, Joseph. You're a man. A man in great pain, and there are better ways to make things right. Help yourself, let others help you, but don't destroy in our names."
The baby stopped crying. Joseph looked over at the three heroes. He had tears rolling down his cheeks. His eyes were red.
"It's your fault that they're here! You're making them lie to me!" He raised his hands and aimed them at the team.
"Uh-oh," Dragon muttered. He yanked Fire Opal down as white light flew past and struck the wall, crumbling it into salt. Brimstone whipped out his shotgun and fired a burst of hellfire at Joseph.
The burst struck Joseph dead on. He screamed as the fire wrapped itself around his body and then went out. Then he fired a white bolt at Brimstone. Dragon jumped in front of it and caught it in the chest.
Dragon felt a burning sensation, but he wasn't transformed. The power of the gem fought back and let him shrug it off. He looked up at Joseph.
"Listen to me. I know what you feel. Xavier is evil, and he needs to be stopped. And having your family taken away from you, nothing can hurt more than that. I'm searching for my own son right now. I don't know if he's dead or alive. But your family wouldn't want this. You're not an angel. You are a man who needs help. Let me help you."
Joseph screamed. The warehouse erupted into flames and Dragon heard Hammersmith say over the comm, "Dragon, he's not stopping with Xavier! He just lit up the entire waterfront! His powers are increasing as we watch! If we don't stop him now, all of Chicago could go up!"
Dragon stared at Joseph, who was just screaming and letting his power flow out of him. Hammersmith was yelling at him, but all Dragon could hear was a roaring in his own ears. He watched as Fire Opal and Brimstone blasted Joseph with flames, but Joseph didn't even seem to feel them.
Almost whispering, Dragon said, "Initiate Final Measure. It's our only choice."
The holograms of Joseph's family shimmered and disappeared. The kitchen suddenly became spattered with blood, and there were police all over the area. One of them walked right up to Joseph, who was screaming but focused on the police officer.
"I'm sorry, sir," he said, holding up a clipboard. "But they're all dead."
Joseph screamed "No!" at the top of his lungs, and his powers increased, but the fires began to go out, swirling and closing in on him. Flames poured into his mouth, his eyes, his nose, until he looked like a human on fire. The fire burned for at least a minute, and then it went out. What was left was a golden statue of Joseph.
Brimstone knocked on the statue. "Solid gold. He turned himself into solid gold."
"Life signs?" Dragon asked hopefully.
"None," Hammersmith replied. The holograms faded, leaving only an empty, untouched warehouse.
"Dragon," Fire Opal said, putting her hand on his shoulder.
Dragon brushed it off lightly. "No. It's what we had to do, I know that. I just hope that someday I'll be able to forgive myself for doing that to him. I never like to kill in the line of duty, but to torture someone like that before destroying him...it's going to take some time."
Fire Opal and Brimstone teleported back up to the Vagabond. Dragon lifted the statue of Joseph and flew up to the plane. No one spoke as they turned the plane around and returned to Brimstone's office.
A week passed as Dragon recovered somewhat from the decision he had been forced to make. He trained with Brimstone and with the Teacher, and both told him his skills were improving. The statue of Joseph was turned over to PRIMUS Chicago with an explanation of what had happened.