No one heard her desperate cries for help as she fled down the deserted streets. A year ago these streets would be busy with traffic and pedestrians, even after midnight, but a lot can change in a year. Even in New York City. These days, most people locked themselves in their homes as soon as the sun went down.
What were you thinking Tatiana! She scolded herself silently.
Normal people don’t go outside, though they were relatively safe from the creatures that stalked the night these days. For supers, on the other hand, it was a death wish. But ever since her best friend Kiden had gone missing she couldn’t content herself to just sit away inside; she had to search.
Her name was Tatiana Caban, and she was a mutant. Blessed (or cursed, depending who you asked) with the ability to take on the characteristics of any animal whose blood she touched, Tatiana spent her days in fear that the Shades would find her. As great as her fear was, the fear of being along was worse.
With a sample of beagle blood she kept in handy from her job at the local vet’s she had transformed into a half dog, half human hybrid. It was what Goofy would have looked like if he had been created by Steven King. It hadn’t taken her long to find Kiden’s scent, but unfortunately the Shades had discovered her just as quickly. Rumour had it the creatures could see from any shadow. Right now she didn’t care; she just didn’t want to die.
As she ran she used the beagle’s stamina to her advantage, running for much longer and further than she could have in human form. It was no use though, as she glanced over her shoulder she could clearly see one of the shadowy beasts running down the street behind her, while another leapt from rooftop to rooftop nearby.
She had no choice; it was either stand and fight, or run and eventually die. Of course a half human half beagle freak wouldn’t stand a chance against two Shades, she needed more firepower, and she knew exactly where to get it.
After running another block she found her self outside Pete’s Quality Meats, one of the better butchers in the area. With a tinge of guilt she hurled a garbage can through the window and leapt though the hole, while the alarms blared. Not wasting anytime, she jumped over the counter, reached into the refrigerated cabinet and grabbed the biggest, juiciest steak she could find.
She squeezed the steak like a wet cloth causing blood to run down both arms. Immediately the changes began; the beagle features faded away to be replaced by that of a bull. Her shirt ripped and she doubled in height as her shoes were destroyed by her new, hoof like feet; she was a veritable Minotaur. This was why she was a vegetarian; when any undercooked meat could transform you into a monster you learned to appreciate your broccoli.
The bull hybrid stood her ground as the two Shades stepped inside. In the dull light of the butcher shop she could make out the creatures clearly; they were two man shaped creatures of shadow. One stood tall and firm, like a man in the prime of his life, and carried something large and round on its wrist. The other was smaller and thinner, and crawled across the ceiling like a cockroach.
Neither made a sound, they simply approached with single minded purpose. Oh God this was it, she would have to fight, and yet she couldn’t bring herself to move. Fear froze every muscle in her massive body.
BLOONK! A group of figures suddenly appeared in the store, between her and the Shades.
A man with skin as white as snow said, “Never fear, beautiful princess, your white knight is he…uurrrgh! I though she was hot but she’s a total cow. Get it?” He elbowed a man dressed head to toe in a blue body suit. Spider-Man?
“Keep your head in the game!” cried a pink skinned woman in green, who hurled a pair of glowing sticks at the Shades. The sticks merely entered their shadowy bodies as if they were voids.
The Shades leapt in to attack her but were intercepted by a large woman in purple armour and a hairy blonde man with claws. The woman punched the smaller shade through a wall before diving through after it, while the clawed man ripped shreds off the bigger one. Still it didn’t make a sound.
The pink lady, the white man and the Spider-Man knock-off held a defensive position between her and the Shades while another blonde man, this one sporting an out of date mullet and leather jacket joined the fray. He slashed the beast up with several small blades held between his fingers and kicked it in the knee. The man with the mullet was handsome, but Tatiana couldn’t keep her eyes off the bigger, hairier man, as he ripped the Shade to pieces. There was something about his animalistic nature that resonated with her own.
“Things’ve got no organs,” he grunted with effort, “no muscles, just gotta take ’em apart,” soon the shade lay in pieces on the ground, which quickly dissolved into black, oily goo. A few second’s later the armoured woman returned, holding the head of the other shade in her hand, it too melted away.
The group’s eyes fell upon the stunned girl, who had unconsciously reverted back to human form.
“Now that’s more like it,” winked the white man, who seemed to have no real facial features.
“Who…are you?” she asked, hesitantly. All the heroes of the world were meant to be gone.
“We’re the Exiles kid, and we’re here to help you save the world,” grinned the clawed man.
The Crystal Palace; nowhere, nowhen.
Heather cursed the viewing screen as the girl fled; they laid it on too thick too fast. The past ten minutes were probably the most traumatic of her life.
But it wouldn’t be the first time the Exiles had made a mistake, in fact it was because of a series of mistakes that the team existed in the first place. First, an insectoid race known as the Timebreakers had discovered a pan dimensional viewing station known as the Panoptichron and in the process damaged reality. Instead of repairing the damage themselves, they utilised the newly discovered technology to assemble a team from across the multiverse; the Exiles. After countless missions, and many team mates lost, the Exiles took over operations.
Sadly, things didn’t get any easier after that. Mimic, one of the team’s founding members and lover to their leader Blink, was lost and a horrible evil was unleashed on reality. After a harrowing few weeks, the evil Proteous was defeated, but only by sacrificing team mate Morph as a living prison. Proteous now possesses the kind hearted mutant, though he actually believes himself to be Morph, thanks to some handy brainwashing technology.
Heather tries best not to think about it; even with the entire multiverse at her disposal she has been unable to help rid her friend of the vile creature controlling him. It didn’t help that they had been thrown into another perilous situation so soon after taking down Proteous either.
Just over a week ago, a man named Axel Asher had been blasted into the Crystal Palace. Something powerful had sent him hurtling across reality, damaging numerous universes in the process. The team raced the clock to save each universe, or else it would create a domino effect, essentially collapsing the entire multiverse.
Asher, who in reality was actually a fragment of a very old multiverse, was still unconscious. The Palace’s scanners indicated his brain was functioning normally and he should be waking up, but still he remained catatonic. It was frustrating because they still had no idea what had blasted him across reality, though she knew it had to be something pretty powerful.
She snapped herself back to reality and focused on the task at hand; monitoring the Exiles’ progress and providing direction where needed. It was vital that the team finds and protects the girl; without Tatiana Cabon, Earth 170983 is doomed.
A slight scuffling noise behind her broke her attention; it was likely one of the worker class Timebreakers here to attend to her.
“Could you grab me a cup of coffee thanks…Argh!” she jumped in fright when she realised it was not a Timebreaker but a sickly looking man standing in the doorway.
“Axel, you’re awake!” She stood up, clearly surprised by the man’s sudden appearance. Something in his eyes held her back from attending to him though; he seemed to look right through her, as if she wasn’t there. He was a young man, in his early twenties, and kind of handsome, but whatever ordeal he had endured had aged him.
“Pan…optichron,” he said softly, gazing around the room with bleary eyes.
“You…you know this place?” she asked, although it was more likely he overheard the term in his sleep.
“I know you’re coming…I’ll stop you…” he spoke to no-one in particular.
“Who’s coming Axel? What’s going on?” It was then she realised he was holding a long, sharp shard of pink crystal. Greenish liquid dripped from it; Timebreaker blood.
“Asher what have you done?!” Finally his head snapped around to attention, and bloodshot eyes quickly focused.
“Heather Hudson of Earth 3470,” he seemed to recognise her, before his focus once again drifted away, and his forehead crinkled in frustration, “I’m sorry…I split you.”
“W…What?” Now was definitely a good time to call the team back.
“Don’t touch that dial!” The unhinged man brandished his crystal shard like a knife and took a menacing step forward.
Heather put her hands up in surrender, it would take took long to call the team back, Asher could easily stab her in that time. So it was up to her to save herself.
“Axel, I’m a friend. No one here is going to hurt you,” she used her most soothing tone of voice.
It seemed to have some effect, as the man lowered the shard, before clutching his head with his free hand. “Just stop it, get out of my head,” he cried weakly, “Stop whispering to me,”
A sovereign class Timebreaker had the misfortune of entering the room at that time, “Exile Heather Hudson, is everything satisfactory?” it asked, startling Asher. “Go away!” he yelled, and the creature disappeared in a flash of light.
“What did you do?!” cried Heather. Could he have atomised the poor alien? No, it was more likely he used his abilities to teleport the thing away, but where? It could be anywhere in the multiverse.
Suddenly she realised she had a lot more to fear than a sharp piece of crystal.